Tag Archives: philosophers

Prophets of Dissent

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Prophets of Dissent: Essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche and Tolstoy [Amazon, Bookshop, Project Gutenberg, Local Library] by Otto Heller.

Heller Prophets of Dissent

Otto Heller was a native of Bohemia who immigrated to the US in 1883. He had a lifelong career as an academic, including a doctorate from the University of Chicago. He wrote Prophets of Dissent during World War I, while he was Professor of Modern European Literature in Saint Louis. It collects four essays on “the foremost literary expositors of important modern tendencies” (vii). There is little or no mutual reference among the component essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche, and Tolstoy, even when one mentions a figure treated by another; each will stand on its own for a reader. In each there is a good overview of the literary figure including both biographical details and bibliographic notes.

Of the four writers treated here, Maurice Maeterlinck is the one whom I have read the least and am most likely to read in the future. Heller’s treatment of Maeterlinck, whom he classes as a “mystic,” was encouraging in this regard. He also characterizes Maeterlinck as working within the “new romanticism” of his period (13). The features of Maeterlinck’s work that Heller observes to have been off-putting or even risible to early readers are all attractive to me: a preoccupation with transcendent realities expressed through subtle and enigmatic symbols.

Heller’s study of August Strindberg–whom I have read extensively, but long ago–glosses the notorious Swede as an “eccentric.” I think the observations here are incisive and accurate, if often dismaying. For example, “In Strindberg’s case, religious conversion is not an edifying, but on the contrary a morbid and saddening spectacle; it is equal to a declaration of complete spiritual bankruptcy” (100). The essay necessarily treats Strindberg’s eventual keynote of misogyny, his self-torment, and his apparent ideological fickleness, and gives him credit for “the extraordinary subjective animation of his work” (104).

Friedrich Nietzsche features as the “exalted” figure in Heller’s treatment. As a reader of Nietzsche, Heller would not have been dependent on other translators, and I assume the quotes and fragments that he presents in English are his own translations. These compare favorably with other translations on my shelf. For example, he quotes Also Sprach Zarathustra: “All great Love seeketh to create what it loveth. Myself I sacrifice into my love, and my neighbor as myself, thus runneth the speech of all creators” (128). Heller is of course at pains to dissociate Nietzsche’s intentions as an author from the Great War policies of his countrymen. He surveys the doctrinal leitmotifs of Neitzsche’s work and scores him as a powerful and admirable advocate of self-realization, if nearly useless as a reference for social reform.

The chapter on Leo Tolstoy the “revivalist” marks him as a spiritual successor to Jean Jacques Rousseau, and possessed of a similar “inconsistency between principles and conduct” (205). Heller rates Tolstoy highly as a social critic, while pointing out the unworkability of the author’s proposed solutions in light of actually existing society. (For myself, I see Tolstoy as a puissant modern agent of the Great Sorcery, and I find his moral aspirations somewhat noxious.)

Throughout the book Heller’s own prose is full of little gems. He was clearly a perceptive reader and skillful writer, confined to criticism and academic study through want of his own determining inspiration. This book (along with a separate study of Ibsen) seems to be his principal intellectual legacy, and it is a pleasant and informative read for those of us interested in its subject matter.

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.

What Sarah kept to herself was the incredible feeling that some of the subject matter of these ancient poets, mystics and philosophers resonated powerfully with the research that she surreptitiously snooped on, attending seminars on the latest advances in theoretical cosmology

Oliver Harris, The Dulwich Horror

A Course in Demonic Creativity

A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius by Matt Cardin is available for download again, as a free ebook.

Matt Cardin's A Course in Demonic Creativity

“Where does creativity come from? Why do ideas and inspiration feel as if they come from ‘outside,’ from an external source that’s separate from us but able to whisper directly into the mind? Why have so many writers throughout history — and also composers, painters, philosophers, mystics, and scientists — spoken of being guided, accompanied, and even haunted by a force or presence that not only serves as the deep source of their creative work but that exerts a kind of profound and inexorable gravitational pull on the shape of their lives?

These are all questions addressed by A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius. The book’s starting point is the proposition that we all possess a higher or deeper intelligence than the everyday mind, and that learning to live and work harmoniously and energetically with this intelligence is the irreducible core of a successful artistic life. We can call this inner force the unconscious mind or the silent partner. We can call it the id or the secret self. But muse, daimon, and genius are so much more effective at conveying its subversive and electrifying emotional charge, and also its experiential reality.

Your unconscious mind truly is your genius in the ancient sense of the word, the sense that was universal before it was fatefully altered several centuries ago by historical-cultural forces. Befriending it as such, and interacting with it as if it really is a separate, collaborating presence in your psyche, puts you in a position to receive its gifts, and it in the position to give them to you.” [via]

Theology is God-talk

Hermetic Library fellow Sam Webster has posted a discussion of the discipline of theology over on his Arkadian Anvil blog at “Theology is God-talk“.

“Theology is God-talk. It is a relatively recent discipline. They did not have this in ancient, pre-Christian times. They did philosophy and that served in the same role as what will become theology. When you wanted to discuss what is meant by myth and ritual, or what the world is, or how life should be lived, this was called by Pythagorus first ‘philosophy’, or the love of wisdom. Those called the ‘theo-logoi’ in the ancient world where the poets like Homer and Orpheus, and but at times even Empedocles and Plato, because according to Porphyry, they wrote allegorically and had hidden meaning in their writings, not because they wrote rationally. Philosophy had the exegetical task of trying to tease out the meaning buried in the poem and dialogues. The philosophers therefor developed methods for interpreting the poems and myths created by the theologians and developed all the major categories of what will become theological discourse, as well as the culture to critique them.” [via]

An Historical Summary of Angelic Hierarchies from Part VII: The “Seven” Thrones in In Operibus Sigillo Dei Aemeth by David Richard Jones.

“These Thrones, who are assigned to govern this heaven, are not great in number, though the philosophers and the astrologers have estimated it diversely according to how diversely they have estimated its rotations, although all are agreed on this point: that there are as many of them as there are movements made by the heaven.” [via]


Dante Alighieri


Human, All Too Human

You may be interested in Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits by Friedrich Nietzsche, recently released over at Project Gutenberg.


“All philosophers make the common mistake of taking contemporary man as their starting point and of trying, through an analysis of him, to reach a conclusion. ‘Man’ involuntarily presents himself to them as an aeterna veritas as a passive element in every hurly-burly, as a fixed standard of things. Yet everything uttered by the philosopher on the subject of man is, in the last resort, nothing more than a piece of testimony concerning man during a very limited period of time. Lack of the historical sense is the traditional defect in all philosophers. Many innocently take man in his most childish state as fashioned through the influence of certain religious and even of certain political developments, as the permanent form under which man must be viewed. They will not learn that man has evolved, that the intellectual faculty itself is an evolution, whereas some philosophers make the whole cosmos out of this intellectual faculty. But everything essential in human evolution took place aeons ago, long before the four thousand years or so of which we know anything: during these man may not have changed very much. However, the philosopher ascribes ‘instinct’ to contemporary man and assumes that this is one of the unalterable facts regarding man himself, and hence affords a clue to the understanding of the universe in general. The whole teleology is so planned that man during the last four thousand years shall be spoken of as a being existing from all eternity, and with reference to whom everything in the cosmos from its very inception is naturally ordered. Yet everything evolved: there are no eternal facts as there are no absolute truths. Accordingly, historical philosophising is henceforth indispensable, and with it honesty of judgment.”


Of course, you may also be interested in Friedrich Nietzsche, The Vindication of Nietzsche, Discourse on the Eighth Article, Julius Evola: Theosophy and Beyond, OZ: Liber LXXVII, & c.

Zombie philosophers gang war!

Last night, I think I got served. Here’s an exchange between Jeffrey S. Kupperman (publisher of The Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition) and I about starting rival motorcycle gangs:

@Demon_Writer: I’d start a Platonic motorcycle club/gang called the Logoi, except for the not having a motorcycle thing. Or a gang.

@jgbell: Stupid rules always get in the way of having fun anyway. I’m in the same boat! * looking enviously at @IlluminatiMC *

@jgbell: And @LogoiMC in 3 … 2 … 1 …

@hermeticlibrary: My biker gang of dead white guys can beat up your biker gang of dead white guys.

@Demon_Writer: Zombie philosophers gang war!

@hermeticlibrary: Now I just have to come up with my rival biker gang name …

I helped grab the twitter for @LogoiMC so no one would squat in before Jeffrey got around to it and turned that over this morning. (I really should have held it hostage for coup! I may be too nice to be the leader of my own gang.) But, now I’m in a pickle. Can’t let this go unanswered. Must represent!

So, what is the motorcycle gang for the Hermetic Library to be called? Shall it be the Pneumatikoi MC? Perhaps the Eleutheroi MC? Then again, what about a Liber OZ inspired Anthropoi MC? οί ελεύθεροι άνθρωποι? Or something else entirely?

And, does any one or more people want to take a run at creating a design for the gang’s colours and patches? I’d think seriously about putting Abraxas on a motorbike (on a penny-farthing?!) for this, but I fear it would look like cosplay for George A. Romero’s Knightriders … but, maybe that’s going so far as to come around the other side to being cool again.

I like the motto “My biker gang of dead white guys can beat up your biker gang of dead white guys.” But, I’ve also got stickers over in the swag shop with “This machine kills Old, Dead White Guys” which would be perfect for this also. No reason to settle on just one, of course.


I have the vaguest memory left over from being in The Orpheum, a specialty music shop, on the north end of Broadway atop Capitol Hill in Seattle, WA back in the 90s. One of the guys that worked there, and I think lived in the house behind the place, had on a leather jacket with a motorcycle club patch on it. I’m pretty sure it was for the Illuminati MC. Did they exist then? Anyhow, that patch immediately caught my eye. When I asked about it, the guy, who I only really knew because I was hanging out in the store regularly, asked if I wanted to join. I thought about it, asked if I’d actually need a motorbike which I didn’t have; and, reflecting on how I’d probably end up killing myself way too easily riding; I declined. I think about that moment every once in a while as a missed opportunity of epic proportions.