Tag Archives: Political philosophy

Fanaticism

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Alberto Toscano.

Toscano Fanaticism

Although “fanaticism” is a pejorative of highly varied applications, sometimes significantly opposite to one another, Alberto Toscano’s book is not a mere study of rhetoric. It delves into a long modern development of paradigms for the fanatic, ranging from the German Peasants’ Revolt to Islam to the French Revolution to Marxism.

Reading this 2009 book and considering current usage made me realize that “fanatic” has somewhat fallen out of vogue, with “extremist” taking its place in the vernacular. Chapter 2 had me reflecting on Q-anon under the category of “millenarian crisis cult.” A point of repeated emphasis is the divergence between viewing fanaticism as benighted irrational passion on one hand and uncompromising adherence to abstract ideals on the other. Although I was less familiar with the latter tendency, Toscano supplies many important instances of it from the eighteenth century to the present.

The examinations and arguments here engage a long span of continental philosophy, from Kant and Hegel to Agamben and Derrida. The penultimate chapter does a good job of rescuing Marxist insights on religion from being tossed out with the facile secularization hypothesis to which they are commonly attached. And the final chapter was of special value in its examination of the “political religion” diagnosis, where thinkers “consider extreme or illiberal political ideologies as types or perversions of religion.” Toscano admirably teases out the motives and consequences of such a move, and I was fortunate to have fresh in my memory a good narrative to anchor some of the high-flown analysis here, having read not too long ago Benson’s 1907 novel Lord of the World.

This book is a work of genuine theory, suspicious of recent intellectual trends, and alert to the accumulation of arguments around its focus. It is not at all an easy read, and I often had to make a second pass at a paragraph to be sure I had grasped the sense of it. Toscano also took as given the reader’s awareness of various modern thinkers, and if I had been just a little less well-read myself, I suspect that much of the attention I gave to this text would have been unrewarded.

Mind and Nature

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Gregory Bateson, forewords by Sergio Manghi and Alfonso Montuori.

Bateson Mind and Nature

Mind and Nature is Bateson’s last book, although two followed it posthumously, and in the colloquy with his daughter that closes Mind and Nature he discusses his ambition to write a volume called Where Angels Fear to Tread that would more directly treat concerns about consciousness, aesthetics, and the sacred. Mind and Nature is preliminary to that latter book (which became Angels Fear), laying out the epistemology and notions of organization and change that would underlie it.

This book treats the features that human thought (i.e. perception, ideation, logic, and explanation) has in common with biological change in individuals and populations (adaptation and evolution). Bateson characterizes these two fields (the “mind” and “nature” of the title) as the “Great Stochastic Processes.” Beginning with an emphasis on “the pattern that connects,” he introduces a kit of ideas with putatively universal application in what he calls — taking a cue from Jung’s usage in Septem Sermones ad Mortuos — the Creatura. He uses contemporary biology for his understanding of nature, but he uses philosophical materials and cybernetic theories in preference to the products of academic psychology.

I found this book a fast read, but it is not for the intellectually lazy. Although there is a glossary of particular words Bateson felt his readers might find alien, his general lexicon pulls no punches. He makes great hay out of Russell’s theory of logical types, metaphorically expanding its application to the whole panoply of hierarchical phenomena and systems. Most of the text is organized into long chapters containing sets of numbered theses, each treated in a few pages of discussion and example.

In some respects, the part of the book that most excited me on this re-read was the appendix “Time Is Out of Joint,” a memorandum circulated to the University of California Regents (of whom Bateson was one). In less than seven pages, Bateson sums up his most important arguments from Mind and Nature and applies them to the difficulties of governing an educational institution. The result is startlingly similar in content, if not in form, to Aleister Crowley’s early essay “Thien Tao: Or, the Synagogue of Satan.” Bateson and Crowley alike try to communicate the need for human striving to comprehend complementary poles, in order to progress by dialectical transcendence. It is a matter of enantiodromia, rather than compromise: not to say, “Light — Darkness — I am the Reconciler between them” like the officers of a Golden Dawn Equinox ceremony, but rather to say, “I am Light, and I am Darkness, and I am that which is beyond them” like the Crowned and Conquering Child in the utmost aire of LIL.

A moral critique of capitalism, emphasizing the ways in which it leads to suffering, only reinforces capitalist realism. Poverty, famine and war can be presented as an inevitable part of reality, while the hope that these forms of suffering could be eliminated easily painted as naive utopianism. Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism’s ostensible ‘realism’ turns out to be nothing of the sort.

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Fisher Capitalist Realism moral critique capitalism suffering reinforces realism nothing of the sort

It is worth recalling that what is currently called realistic was itself once ‘impossible’: the slew of privatizations that took place since the 1980s would have been unthinkable only a decade earlier, and the current political-economic landscape (with unions in abeyance, utilities and railways denationalized) could scarcely have been imagined in 1975. Conversely, what was once eminently possible is now deemed unrealistic.

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Fisher Capitalist Realism realistic was once impossible once eminently possible now deemed unrealistic

Events at Treadwell’s for February and March, 2014

Here is a selection from the upcoming events at Treadwell’s Books in London for February and March, 2014, which may be of interest.

Treadwell's Books in London

 

Antinous: Last God of the Ancient World
24 February 2014
John J Johnston

John J Johnston Antinous at Treadwell's Books

When, in 130 AD, the beautiful youth Antinous, favourite of the Roman emperor Hadrian, drowned in the Nile, under suspicious circumstances Hadrian proclaimed him a god and his cult survived until the eventual fall of the Empire. Drawing upon archaeological and textual sources, tonight’s lecture explores Antinous’ religious and artistic legacy from the time of his death and apotheosis until the modern age, and examines the importance of his name and image to gay men since the 18th Century. John J Johnston is Vice-Chair of the Egypt Exploration Society. This event celebrates LGBT History Month.

Price: £7
Time: 7:15pm for a 7:30pm start

 

Crowley and Politics
19 March 2014
Book Launch Party with Marco Pasi

Marco Pasi Crowley and Politics at Treadwell's Books

Tonight join us for the launch party of a seminal study of Crowley’s relationship with the politics of his times, published by Acumen. Crowley sought an alternative way to express his religious feelings, which led him to elaborate his own vision of political and social radical change: he announced a new era, echoing the ideal of a new man proposed by the totalitarian regimes and the radical politics of his era. Author Marco Pasi has worked with many unpublished documents and his study offers fresh insights. Joining us at the launch is Marco Pasi, Assistant Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. Signed copies will be available on the night. Please note this event is a book launch party and not a formal lecture.

Price: Free but reply essential to be added to guest list
Time: 7pm to 9:30pm, speeches 7:46pm

 

The Oldest Sex Magic Text?
20 March 2014
Lecture — An Early Mesopotamian Tablet

The Oldest Sex Magic Text? at Treadwell's Books

A very early tablet, written in cuneiform, refers enigmatically to a sex magic act. Our speaker tonight reveals this brief but important discovery and uses it to shed light on ancient Mesopotamian ideas of ‘sacred marriage’, goddess power, sovereignty, hallucinogenic drugs and — yes — sex magic. Our speaker is an academic scholar in the field with a deep interest in magic. Tonight is for everyone with a fondness for Ishtar, Ereshkigal, Inanna, Enkidu, Tammuz, Pazuzu and the wonderful world of the Tigris-Euprhates valley. This is a repeat lecture: those who came in January and wish to re-attend may do so without charge: please email or ring.

Price: £7. Ring 0207 419 8507 or book online
Time: 7:15pm for a 7:30pm start

 

Alchemy’s Mutus Liber
24 March 2014
Paul Cowlan

Paul Cowlan Alchemy's Mutus Liber at Treadwell's Books

The Mutus Liber (The ‘silent’ or ‘symbolic’ Book), first appeared in the town of La Rochelle in 1677. The author ‘Altus’, is now thought to be Isaac Baulot, a local apothecary and physician. There is no text, and the work consists of fifteen plates apparently illustrating an alchemical process, a process which inspired the successful plant alchemy of Armand and Jacqueline Barbault in the 1960s. Some believe it to be entirely psycho-spiritual in its intent, while others interpret it qabbalistically. In this illustrated talk Paul explores each plate, offering comments and suggestions on the symbolism .We promise an enriching exploration of one of alchemy’s most famous enigmas. Paul Cowlan is a spiritual alchemist of over twenty years’ experience and a popular speaker.

Price: £7
Time: 7:15pm for a 7:30pm start

 

Magic in 17th Century England
26 March 2014 (Wednesday)
Alexander Cummins

Alexander Cummins Magic in 17th Century England at Treadwell's Books

Seventeenth-century England — with its Civil Wars, Revolution, and Restoration — was a tumultuous place. It was also a period where early modern people consulted astrologers, magicians, and cunning-folk for a variety of occult services and magical objects. The stars’ influence was traced in all aspects of life: from planting crops, to political propaganda, to medical care and guidance counselling. In investigating early modern English astrology, this lecture will explore fascinating historical perspectives on the nature of time, meaning and human life. Alexander Cummins is an historian of magic and emotion. He is currently finishing his doctorate at the University of Bristol.

Price: £7
Time: 7:15pm for a 7:30pm start