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.

Noa Noa

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Paul Gauguin.

Gauguin Noa Noa

Although based on his journals, Noa Noa is really a crafted memoir of Gaugin’s time in Tahiti. At the outset, it seems as if it is going to be a tragic tale of the European seeking to escape alienation by immersing himself in a traditional culture of the colonial sphere, only to find that his condition is inescapable, and that he himself perpetuates it no matter where he goes. And that reading could be sustained–but it’s not Gaugin’s assertion. Instead, he claims to have succeeded in “going native” sufficiently to be spiritually rehabilitated and creatively inspired. 

A considerable section toward the end of the book is given over to an attempt to describe indigenous Tahitian religion, with special attention to cosmogonic myths and the rituals involved with the secret society of Areois which is supposed to have ruled the island in the pre-colonial period. Most spectacularly, Gaugin relates his understanding of the Matumua ceremonies transacted with the enthronement of a new king. This rite allegedly culminated in a royal gang-bang: as Gaugin suggests (in more circumspect phrasing), it was a formalized opportunity for the people to screw the king before he’d screw them.

Gaugin’s language emphasizes the sensuous throughout, although he refrains from being too explicit regarding the conspicuous erotic contents of his own experiences. His relationship to his eventual native bride offers the unselfconscious intimation that the way he exploits the island paradise may not be so far removed from the other agents of that prudish and dirty Christian civilization he professes to deplore.

She […] placed her forefinger on her mouth with an air of entreaty. She was counseling me not to show myself in my true colors to Zaius. I obeyed her without understanding the reason for these mysteries and, convinced that I had an ally in her, promptly resumed my intelligent animal attitude.

Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Boulle Planet of the Apes forefinger on mouth obeyed without understanding the mysteries intelligent animal attitude

The Postmodern Explained

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jean-François Lyotard, edited by Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas, trans. Barry Don, Bernadette Maher, Julian Pefanis, Virginia Spate, and Morgan Thomas, afterword by Wlad Godzich.

Lyotard Godzich The Postmodern Explained

Postmoderne expliqué aux enfants could potentially be read as “The New Aeon Explained for Babes of the Abyss.” Lyotard suggests that modernity is characterized by a critical position common to Augustine and Kant, contrasting with the “empiricocritical or pragmatic” posture of the postmodern. (63) Technoscience and capital together have effected an “escape of reality from the metaphysical.” (9)

The author has sometimes been misunderstood as an advocate for the postmodern, rather than a diagnostician of it, and in several pieces of the correspondence collected here the reader can see his frustration that the public misses his opposition to “capitalism’s regime of pseudorationality and performativity.” (73) He is not at all smug about the demise of the elements of modernity that give way to the postmodern, but he is also convinced and convincing that retreat to the modern is not a viable option.

In discussing the failure of modern strategies of legitimation, he glosses Hegel to the effect that “the sole normative instance, the sole source of law, the sole y, is pure will — which is never this or that, never determined, but simply the potential to be all things. So it judges any particular act, even when it is prescribed by law and executed according to the rules, as failing to live up to the ideal. Terror acts on the suspicion that nothing is emancipated enough — and makes it into a politics.” (54) While the ideology of capitalism does not itself give rise to such terror (because it deals in evanescent needs rather than final norms), it is still vulnerable to it, in ways that have become ever more evident in the decades since Lyotard wrote the “Memorandum on Legitimation” that is the longest of the missives and essays collected here.

The afterword by Wlad Godzich constitutes an insightful summary of Lyotard’s efforts prior to the publication of Postmoderne expliqué, and it might be profitable to read it first for those who have no previous familiarity with either The Postmodern Condition or The Differend. Reading it myself, I conclude that it will indeed be the child who will master the aeon, but I also register how difficult the achievement of childhood is becoming.

The Devourer Below

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Devourer Below [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells, cover by John Coulthart, book 5 of the Arkham Horror series.

Llewelyn-Wells The Devourer Below

The Devourer Below is the fifth volume of Arkham Horror fiction to be issued under the Aconyte imprint. While the previous four have been novels, this one is a collection of short stories by various authors. I was thus expecting a wide assortment of tales, joined only by their early 20th-century Arkham, Massachusetts setting and the involvement of assorted investigator characters from the Fantasy Flight Arkham Files games. I was in fact pleasantly surprised to find that these stories are far more interrelated than that.

Players of Arkham Horror: The Card Game may recognize “The Devourer Below” as the title of the third and final scenario of “The Night of the Zealot,” the campaign included with that game’s core set. All of the stories in this book relate to that starter campaign, featuring the servitors of the Great Old One Umôrdhoth. (Umôrdhoth is based on Mordiggian, from Clark Ashton Smith’s story “The Charnel God.”) Such servitors are largely a mix of ghouls and human cultists.

Specific enemy characters from the card game campaign figure in the stories, as do the important investigator allies Leo De Luca and Lita Chantler. Investigator protagonists include Tony Morgan, Carolyn Fern, Joe Diamond, Daisy Walker, Agnes Baker, Wendy Adams, and Finn Edwards. On the whole, I found the enemy-focused stories more satisfying than the investigator-centric ones, but I liked both and appreciated the variety.

As a suite of connected tales of yog-sothothery, The Devourer Below is just fine. As a supplement to the Arkham Horror games, it is good. As an amplification of the core set adventure cycle in Arkham Horror: The Card Game, it is very good.

This book appends a “tease” reprint of the opening chapter of Ari Marmell’s Arkham Horror novel Litany of Dreams, oddly included in the table of contents as if it were one of the stories written for this volume. It also sports the third Arkham Horror fiction cover art by John Coulthart. I like these highly detailed multi-panel covers a lot.

I lost my head and once again behaved like a madman. As a matter of fact, I was literally mad with rage. I screamed and yelled like the men of Soror, showing my fury as they did by hurling myself against the bars, biting them, foaming at the mouth, grinding my teeth, behaving in short in a thoroughly bestial fashion.

Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Boulle Planet of the Apes lost my head madman rage screamed yelled thoroughly beastial fashion