Tag Archives: books

Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way is a rendition by Ursula K Le Guin from many sources of the classic wisdom text about the Tao.

Le Guin’s rendition makes some aspects of the poems much more approachable. For example, she avoids use of the term “empire” or masculine-exclusive language in her version, which she intends to be for a wider audience. She provides extensive end notes about the rendition and a list of her sources ranked in order of utility, and many poems have personal commentary about her thoughts on specific poems in the collection. It’s a personal project. It’s also a fine model of how one might organize one’s own similar project, if one were into that, for this or another source material.

However, there’s still places for me where I’m totally into it one part, for just one example, the anti-capitalist sentiments, and completely repulsed the next, especially in places where I become uncomfortable or disagree with the ideas of what Lao Tzu thinks is good government, involving, for example, keeping the population in the dark about their true conditions and about the tools used by those in power to manipulate them.

On the whole, it just isn’t for me, in spite of a few bright spots. Le Guin’s rendition of Tao Te Ching is okay and interesting, but it’s not astounding or amazing to me. The intentionality in making the text more approachable is laudable. I think a lot of my issue is with my perception of a weakness of the source material, which just isn’t my path or sense of things, though there are a few place where there are hints worth the time to cross the ages and approach the work of Lao Tze as it is, for what it is. It has value, but it doesn’t speak to me in a voice with authority or accuracy per se, so have a hard time recommending it for others. But, if you’re going to approach this material, this seems like is a fine-enough way to do it.

I made 58 highlights.

Originally posted over on my personal blog at Tao Te Ching

This gentleman was naturally of an atrabilarious temperament, and much troubled with those phantoms of indigestion which are commonly called blue devils.

Thomas Love Peacock, Nightmare Abbey

There was something rather Elizabethan about him—his casual versatility, his good looks, that effervescent combination of mental with physical activities. Something a bit Philip-Sidney-ish. Our civilization doesn’t often breed people like that nowadays. I made a remark of this kind to Rutherford, and he replied: ‘Yes, that’s true, and we have a special word of disparagement for them—we call them dilettanti.

James Hilton, Lost Horizon: A Novel

Capacity which, in her nature, had reached the extreme of active life, seemed in him to have entered the contemplative, so much had his art become a thing of his soul. Where, in their own separate private affairs, he interfered so little as almost to seem inefficient, she was so efficient as almost to seem interfering.

Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell

Demons by Daylight

Most of the narrative in the stories collected in Demons by Daylight by Ramsey Campbell occurs at night. Daylight, my ass. That’s about the level of quality here, with a few brief but truly good creepy spots that shine, in this rather mediocre repetitive-feeling collection not really worth the light needed to read the pages. I ended up finishing this out of spite, not because I cared at all for it. Publishers Weekly, with glowing blurb on the cover, was smoking crack in a gutter, if they saw any stars at all. Keep this in the dark where unpurchased things lurk, and don’t bother.

I made 11 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Demons by Daylight

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson is full of luscious Lovecraftian dread and danger that wakes to well answer the faults of its inspiration, a fine example of new Cosmicism with nostalgia and foreshadowing and familiar and novel. Plus, there’s talk of libraries and a magical cat.

I made 18 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

Civilization and Its Discontents

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud, with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens.

Civilization and Its Discontents presents itself as a direct sequel to Freud’s Future of an Illusion. Where the earlier text was chiefly concerned with the irrational adherence to religious ideas, this one starts out inquiring into the “deepest sources of religious feeling” (9), what might in more sympathetic hands be termed the psychology of mysticism. In section II of the essay, Freud at first tries to relate such sources to the chief means of palliating life’s suffering: i.e. “powerful diversions of interest, … substitutive gratifications, … and intoxicating substances” (10), which three may be taken as another iteration of the chief Platonic frenzies (dropping the Muses as was done by Ficino and his successors): oracular, erotic, and mantic. (In the writings of Aleister Crowley these become the musical, sexual, and pharmaceutical methods of inspiring ecstasy.) At the end of this section, Freud seems to imply that a chief function of religion is to guard against the abusive individual indulgence in the frenzies, and to supply a deferred substitute in the form of metaphysical guarantees. (As Crowley wrote, “No religion has failed hitherto by not promising enough; the present breaking up of all religions is due to the fact that people have asked to see the securities.”)

In the third of the essay’s eight sections, Freud pivots to concentrate on the business indicated by its title. He begins to explore the tensions between individual gratification on one hand and social growth and welfare on the other. In particular, he focuses at first on the occasional hostility toward cultural development as such, and the idealization of a pre-lapsarian state. As the discussion continues on to the etiology of culture generally, it becomes distinctly androcentric (“Women represent the interests of the family and sexual life; the work of civilization has become more and more men’s business,” 33) and culminates with a presentation of 1930s family life and sexual discipline that seems positively Victorian in the most pejorative sense of the term.

Returning to religion, Freud identifies the social instrumentality of the religious “love of neighbor,” as well as the insupportable demands that it makes of individuals. This context is the one in which he develops an outline of the conflict between Eros and Thanatos, the life-instinct and the death-instinct. The instinctual bind is what he then hypothesizes as the motive force in the development of the super-ego (i.e. conscience) in the individual.

In the closing passages, the idea of the super-ego of a community or of “an epoch of civilization” is introduced, and Freud proposes that such super-egos take their particular forms in reaction to perceived human figures, such as Jesus bestowing the “love of neighbor” fixation on the collective super-ego of Christian culture. The possibility to personify such a collective psychic function makes it provocatively similar to the “Aeon” as used in Thelemic parlance, especially when Freud posits the derangement and replacement of such a super-ego. And in this final section, while disclaiming “any opinion regarding the value of human civilization” (70), he does seem to come full circle to the critique of culture, suggesting that the survival of humanity itself may be dependent on the arrival at a new covenant between Eros and Thanatos at the collective level. [via]

The dense black clouds were driving restlessly athwart the sky; and when the vivid lightning gleamed forth with rapid and eccentric glare, it seemed as if the dark jaws of some hideous monster, floating high above, opened to vomit flame. And as the abrupt but furious gusts of wind swept through the forest, they raised strange echoes—as if the impervious mazes of that mighty wood were the abode of hideous fiends and evil spirits, who responded in shrieks, moans, and lamentations to the fearful din of the tempest.

George W M Reynolds, Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis edited by Scott R Jones.

I enjoyed this anthology of contemporary yog-sothothery. Many of the stories keep clear of the canonical names and standard fetishes of the micro-genre, but even the ones that mention Arkham, Shub-Niggurath, or the Necronomicon have a distinct remove from the original Lovecraftian tone. While the stories might still be horror, the protagonists in this book all have (or develop) a conscious appetite for the thrill of congress with the inhuman, or “The Black Gnosis” as it is denominated by the subtitle. Protagonists are generally not “cultists” per se: although they might be votaries of some praeterhuman entity, they largely fall outside the bounds of even cult communities.

The longest story and “star” of the collection is Ruthanna Emrys’s “Litany of Earth,” which I had read in its earlier online publication at Tor.com. It is in many ways more involved with the Lovecraftian canon than other stories in the book, but in a highly revisionist manner that inverts many of the perspectives in the earlier fiction. It follows an Innsmouth native as a sympathetic survivor of the government raids and arrests in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Emrys’s social comparanda are not just the internment of Japanese-Americans, but also Nazi Versuchspersonen. The integration of the Yith into the lore of the Esoteric Order of Dagon was a little surprising at first, but I thought the story sold it well. It held up for me on its second reading, and I am seriously contemplating a go at the author’s novel Winter Tide centered on the same character.

Other stand-out contributions here include Gord Sellar’s “Heiros Gamos” exploring the Eleusinian Mysteries, a mother-daughter team of eschatologists in John Linwood Grant’s “Messages,” a thing on many doorsteps in “Feeding the Abyss” by Rhoads Brazos, and the outre apprenticeship and epiphany of Stephanie Elrick’s “Mother’s Nature.” In addition to short fiction, there is a sprinkling of poems and manifestos adumbrating the Black Gnosis, and these, along with the more straightforward explanations of editor Scott R. Jones’s introduction, have me interested in his “auto-enthnographical work” When the Stars Are Right. [via]

it is intended to be a place where those who earnestly aspire to spirituality may find the external conditions necessary to cultivate it and to acquire the true “magic staff” that will securely support them on their voyage through eternity; namely, the power to recognise divine truth within their own selves–not by any capacity of their own, but by the power of the Light itself, which comes to all men if they are willing that the darkness should be driven away.

Franz Hartmann, With The Adepts