Category Archives: Hermetic Library Reading Room

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism in a broad sense, and Aleister Crowley’s Thelema. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Inherent Vice

The librarian John Griogair Bell reviews Inherent Vice: A Novel by Thomas Pynchon.

Thomas Pynchon Inherent Vice

Somehow Inherent Vice is the first Thomas Pynchon book I’ve read. Generally I found this book to be delightfully unexpected, as I simply didn’t know what I was missing; a little bit Thompson gonzo, a little bit Tom Robbins …

In specific, however, I realized somewhere near the middle of the book that I did not care at all about any of the characters, and felt detached from them and the story. Normally I find myself daydreaming, and thinking, and pausing to consider, and visualizing scenes and blocking and performance; but, in spite of the delightful intellectual trip in the story and writing, I was not particularly moved in any other way. I neither liked nor hated anyone in this story, and the action was not visceral to me. However, as I mentioned, it was definitely a fun intellectual trip in both style and substance.

Except for one thing that just rubbed me the wrong way. I recognize that the author has a particular and peculiar vernacular use of the apostrophe, a style. However, every time I saw “seeing ‘s” in the text, my skin crawled. , but the way it was seems completely wrong to me. First, this contraction of “seeing as” might be confusingly rendered as “seeing’s” though that seems more proper to me, as a contraction. Second, if this isn’t a contraction, but rather an indication there’s a full stop, then … no one actually talks like that, do they? Bah. Allergies. [via]

The Eternal Footman

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Eternal Footman by James Morrow.

James Morrow The Eternal Footman

This book is the third of James Morrow’s Corpus Dei trilogy, following Towing Jehovah and Blameless in Abbadon. I might have enjoyed it the best of the three, although I think the second stands out in terms of its literary interest and philosophical coherence. More than the second, this third book presumes an orientation to the other volumes of the series. It could probably be read on its own with enjoyment, but it reintroduces characters from Towing Jehovah in key supporting roles.

The conceit of this book is that in the final stage of the dissolution of the deceased Abrahamic God’s monstrous body, His bare skull flies up and assumes a geostationary orbit over the Western Hemisphere, from which its baleful influence instigates a strange metaphysical plague. The disease, called abulia (“will-lessness”) centers on the victim’s interaction with his own personal genius, represented as the malign personification of his death, also called a “fetch,” or a “leveler.” These entities begin by introducing themselves personally to the victims, who subsequently vomit black “fear syrup,” become catatonic, develop horrific skin conditions, and die. The process can be rapid or very slow.

The plague causes the general collapse of civilized society in the Western world, and much of the story follows the odyssey of an English-teacher-cum-florist’s-deliverywoman in her efforts to find a cure for her teenage son, who was the first to contract abulia, although a slow-moving case that has lingered while millions of others have died from it. A complementary story arc, eventually joining with the first, is the tale of the religious sculptor Korty, who is enlisted to create idols in a new religion intended to provide a cure to the plague.

There are a number of inspired sub-plots that widen the satirical scope of the novel. But what interested me most (in retrospect, at least) was the nature of abulia itself. The fetches all have supernatural powers and praeternatural intelligence, particularly with respect to the humans to whom they are attached. Their own motivations are unexplored, but their aims and effects do not seem to be consistent. In some cases, they seem to be a positive force for both the individual and humanity. In Thelemic magick the individual’s interaction with the personal genius is understood to furnish “occult puberty” and to be “the central and essential work of the Magicians.” The Eternal Footman seems to raise the objection that most people (in the modern West, leastwise) are not cut out for such metaphysical adulthood, and would receive “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” principally as a death sentence.

On the other hand, perhaps what has happened in the story is that the climate of the divine skull has sickened these genii, who are ordinarily both more benign and less conspicuous. That would fit with the general suppositions of Thelemic occultism, as well as the overarching narrative of Morrow’s Corpus Dei. [via]

Story of the Eye

The librarian John Griogair Bell reviews Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, translated by Joachim Neugroschel.

Georges Bataille Story of the Eye

Meh. Perhaps I am simply too jaded, a beneficiary of the sea change such books brought about, but I had high hopes for Bataille’s Story of the Eye, with its substantial reputation and with my previous reading of some French pornographic literature. My high hopes were dashed. This is pornography and literature, to be sure, but it is great at neither. Far from that, this seems to be juvenilia, which the author himself admits in the explanatory text that follows the story. There is metaphoric kenning here, but the tepid prose (Could it be the translation?) lacks too much to be obscene, and thus doesn’t quite manage to attack the boundaries of art any longer.

I’m dubious that this has a place in the continuum of literature that pushes boundaries of literature, as seems to be its reputation. In the continuum from Sade to Desclos/Réage and Arsan, this little story seems vestigial, an appendix which could be removed without any further concern.

The high point for me was the obscene mass, which I, of course, immediately compared to the narrative of the Gnostic Mass, but that was likely the most horrible vision in the book back in its day.

Personally, I found the included essay, “The Pornographic Imagination” by Susan Sontag, to be much more interesting, all in all, than the actual story itself. The inclusion of this ancillary essay gains this book one more star than it would have had alone, and if this had been a collection of essays of similar nature instead, that imaginary book might have been worth 5 stars. [via]

The Art of Dejah Thoris and the Worlds of Mars

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Art of Dejah Thoris and the Worlds of Mars by Robert Greeburger, Alex Ross, J Scott Campbell, & al.

Robert Greenberger The Art of Dejah Thoris

This book collects what seems to be most, and perhaps all, of the cover art to its date (2013) for the various Dynamite comics based on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The page size is large, about twice that of a US comic book, and all of the reproductions are in full color on glossy paper. There is a text introduction discussing the history of depictions of the Martian princess Dejah Thoris and her world, with some thoroughness and detail. But for most of the book, the only text is the identification of the artists and original publication info for each image.

As a comics publisher, Dynamite has the annoying practice of producing comics with alternate cover art, presumably in an effort to get fans to buy multiple copies of single issues. In this book, though, they do collect all of the alternates along with the basic cover art, and they include “risque” covers (originally available as retailer premiums), which are often variants of other cover art in which the princess is en déshabillé. However, the character (as originally delineated by Burroughs) wears so little clothing in the first place that such a difference often amounts to little more than whether her nipples are golden or flesh colored!

The quality of the art is not uniform, but the good stuff is awesome, and hardly any are miserable. Artists whose work I particularly favor include Joe Jusko, Paul Renaud, Wagner Reis, Lucio Parillo, and Jay Anacleto.

This book really is beautifully produced, and it’s worth more to me than all of the original Dynamite comics combined, with its generous size and text-free presentation. The title is accurate: although there are some well-imagined tharks, Martian apes, and banths, and John Carter appears occasionally, the clear focus throughout is on the paragon of Barsoomian pulchritude herself. [via]

Pretty Deadly

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Pretty Deadly Volume 1 by Kelly Sue Deconnick, and illustrated by Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles.

Kelly Sue Deconnick Emma Rios Pretty Deadly

This collection of the initial issues of Pretty Deadly is a good read, with lots of sex, violence, and numinosity, set in the Old West. The storytelling is inventive, and on the mythic level which is central to the narrative, it deals with the ruler of the Land of the Dead, and issues surrounding that character’s affines, other relations, and succession of office. The art is loose and dynamic, with a muted palette — very different than superheroic four-color.

Although the story ends with a momentous climax, and it seems to conclude a reasonably full plot, it may be intended as simply an “origin” scene-setting for a continuing series. [via]

The Carnelian Throne

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Carnelian Throne by Janet Morris.

Janet Morris The Carnelian Throne

The Carnelian Throne is the fourth and last of Janet Morris’s “Silistra” books, and while I enjoyed it well enough, it was something of a disappointing ending to the series. In general, it was not as engaging as the previous books. It was further detached from them by two mechanisms. First, the three central characters were removed to another continent about which they were largely ignorant, and where none of the elaborate dynamics of the daykeeper-ruled Silistran society had ever obtained. Second, a new pivotal character Deilcrit was introduced, with his parallel adventures described in the third person in chapters alternating with the first-person narrative of Estri that continued from the earlier volumes.

I didn’t much care for the “happily ever after with more adventure to come!” spirit in which this book concluded, which differed from the clouded and ironic endings of the other volumes. It almost seemed as if this book were an effort to create an episodic format that could further extend the series, rather than a truly intentional ending. Most significantly, this last segment failed to address some conspicuously ominous portents from the earlier books, where the narrating protagonist had looked back ruefully on her own decisions without detailing what was to come. All of these books were written over forty years ago, and there now seems little hope that the author would ever return to complete the story. [Spoiler! Hover over to see . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]

Still, the novel had some of the features that made the rest of the series interesting: strange forms of inter-psychic phenomena, sexual rivalries and peculiarities, and civilization-toppling fulfillment of personal destinies. [via]

The Club Dumas

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Club Dumas by Fred Miller Robinson.

Arturo Perez-Reverte The Club Dumas

This novel enjoyed some international popularity for some time before it became the basis of Roman Polanski’s delightful thriller The Ninth Gate. Happily, that movie does not exhaust the merits of this book, being an adaptation of only one of the two interlaced central plots, the duplicity of which are fundamental to the story being told.

From my own perspective, The Club Dumas is notable for being a modern novel to involve the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Pérez-Reverte’s protagonist Lucas Corso is a broker of rare books and manuscripts. Besides the explicit mention of a 1545 (second edition) Hypnerotomachia (47-49), it is apparent that Poliphilo — as well as H.P. Lovecraft’s imagined Necronomicon — has influenced Pérez-Reverte’s conception of his plot-crucial imaginary grimoire, the 1666 De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis, with its offensiveness to Christian sensibilities, provocative woodcut illustrations, impenetrable text, and Venetian origin. The novel includes the illustrations, which are richly iconic Tarot-like images.

But all that is within the plot-line harvested for The Ninth Gate. At the same time, Corso in the novel is involved with an attempt to locate an alleged fugitive original manuscript of a chapter from The Three Musketeers, and it is the phenomena of textual obsession, multiple authorship, and criminal intrigue that tie the literary and occult halves of the story into a braided whole. The novel is lively, not dense: a genuine pleasure read for the bookish. [via]