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.

You help yourself by helping others. There are no hermits in the desert unless they are thinking big thoughts that will eventually help others.

Edward De Bono, H+ A New Religion?

Hermetic quote de Bono H-plus help

Ancient Light

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ancient Light by John Banville.

Banville Ancient Light

John Banville’s two previous novels about Alexander Cleave and his daughter Cass (Eclipse and Shroud) were synchronized with one another, so that neither was needed to appreciate the other, but either would “spoil” the other’s ending. I expected this third book, focusing on Alexander Cleave a decade later, to be a continuation of Eclipse for which Shroud would not furnish any explicit background. I had not reckoned on Banville’s ability to construct one of the most elaborate instances of dramatic irony I have ever encountered on the printed page. It started early, and continued for nearly the entire book within one of the two major plot strands. I don’t know how the book would have read in the absence of that very vivid irony, which depended entirely on familiarity with Shroud.

“Cleave” is aptly named in this book, split between memories of his sixteenth summer, when he had an affair with his best friend’s thirty-five-year-old mother, and his first movie role fifty years later, coming out of retirement from his stage acting career. Just as the titles of the previous books applied to their contents in over-determined polyvalent ways, so too does “ancient light.” The other titles appear again, subtly worked in to the closing passages, where Banville also quite overtly opens towards a possible further volume.

I liked Ancient Light better than Eclipse and perhaps not quite as much as Shroud. Consistent with the others, the prose is writerly, but still tailored to the voice of the principal character, and the book is filled with sensuous observation along with both epistemological and emotional difficulty. Critic Keshava Guha derided Ancient Light for its “vagueness,” but I found it to have a real precision in the construction of its characters and the development of its themes.

it is no longer individuals only, or cities, that enrich themselves by distant commerce and export; but whole nations grow rich at the cost of those nations which lag behind in their industrial development.

Petr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread

Hermetic quote Kropotkin Bread rich

Conan the Free Lance

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan the Free Lance by Steve Perry.

Perry Conan the Free Lance

I had honestly hoped–and with good reason, I think–that Conan the Free Lance would be the worst Conan novel I had ever read. But I’m afraid that distinction still belongs to the same author’s Conan the Indomitable. The two do have formal similarities that are worth remark in the larger world of Conan pastiche novels.

Despite frequent invocations of the geography invented by Robert E. Howard, Steve Perry’s setting for Conan tales seems more like the planet Mongo than it does the Hyborian Age. It teems with intelligent species of widely divergent origins, and he seems happy to introduce two or more exotic races per book. In this one, we have Pili (naturally-evolved lizard-men), Selkies (thaumaturgically-created fish-men), and other creatures formed by sorcery: skreeches, eels of power, and the Kralix.

There is more use of a comic narrative tone than is customary in Conan pastiche, and not with Howard’s original sense of black humor. The various sexual incidents, although not presented graphically, have a sort of juvenile camp atmosphere. And the climactic battle in this book has more than a whiff of farce about it. The chief villain, despite his vast sorcerous power, is injudicious to the point of witlessness. Also, feigned archaic diction is thrown in with some unwelcome regularity, and it manages to sound “wrong” even when it’s grammatically correct.

The characters are flat, and the plot is unremarkable. All I got from this book was the satisfaction that it was almost as bad as I thought it would be.


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Unflattening by Nick Sousanis.

Sousanis Unflattening

Unflattening is a book-length comics composition–hardly a “graphic novel,” since it is a work of non-fiction. Author/artist Nick Sousanis adapted it from his own academic dissertation. The contents are highly reflexive, and consist for the most part of a discussion of parallax and its value in perception, epistemology, social change, and even biology. It is an inspirational book that is entirely free of supernaturalism or speculative “woo.” Although its first and primary explanatory paradigm is the hypergeometry intimated by Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, Sousanis does not insist on a fourth spatial dimension, only further conceptual dimensions beyond those of the reader’s conscious orientation.

Although the book has only eight short chapters, the individual pages are “long.” There is an exhibition of parallax in the complementary but non-identical content of the the words and images, a phenomenon explicitly discussed in the course of the book. Part of the “distance” between the verbal and visual contents is the difference in the form of citation. When the text cites a writer (e.g. Buckminster Fuller or George Lakoff), Sousanis mentions the source at the site of the reference. But when the images cite precedent visual sources (e.g. the Mona Lisa or Doctor Who‘s TARDIS) these are usually just verbally identified in the endnotes, if at all. (There are some exceptions: “after Boticelli,” “after Watterson.”) One or two pages might be enough for a single sitting, if one “reads” them carefully–attending to the images, reading the words, and reviewing both to see the ways in which they inform one another. The reader should be attentive to the full page as the unit of composition, rather than allowing the gutters between panels to restrict attention. Sousanis emphasizes the value of simultaneity in visual presentation, as opposed to the linear seriality of text.

This volume encodes a lot of valuable concepts, but none of them were really new to me. It expresses an outlook with which I am in sympathy, and it does so in a manner that I think is really admirable.

They bore witness, in a serious and ceremonious manner, to the unravelling of this union.

Uvi Poznansky and Zeev Kachel, Home

Hermetic quote Poznansky Kachel Home unravelling

There are elements of good and elements of evil in every man, and it depends on ourselves which class we desire to develop. From a cherry stone nothing can grow but a cherry tree, from a thistle seed nothing else than a thistle; but man is a constellation of powers in which all kinds of seeds are contained

Franz Hartmann, With the Adepts

Hermetic quote Hartmann Adepts seeds

In time, each of the criminals wrote a book or did a television program describing his part in the rape of American civil rights, and each was paid lavishly by the stupid American public, which seems to have a peculiar impulse toward having their noses rubbed in their own shit.

Trevanian, Shibumi: A Novel

Hermetic quote Trevanian Shibumi shit