Tag Archives: psychological

Briefing for a Descent Into Hell

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Briefing for a Descent Into Hell [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Doris Lessing.

Lessing Briefing for a Descent into Hell

This novel is beautifully written. I felt like it was very demanding of my attention, because although styles and speakers vary in the course of the text, there are no full page-stop chapter breaks. In the absence of dialogue, paragraphs tend to run for multiple pages, and the prose (sometimes breaking into poetry or incantation) has an insistent restlessness in keeping with its subject matter–especially in the first half, where a narcotized sleep is an ambivalent power for desired healing or feared imprisonment.

“I never learned to live awake. I was trained for sleep. Oh let me sleep and sleep my life away. And if the pressure of true memory wakes me before I need, if the urgency of what I should be doing stabs into my sleep, then for God’s sake doctor, for goodness sake, give me drugs and put me back to dreaming again.” (139)

This waking/sleep dialectic is one of the features that insinuates a mystical subtext throughout. Others include the intimation of people destined for companionship, the foreboding of illusion in consensual phenomena, and reflections on the urge to engender praeterhumanity in our children.

There are many different levels of storytelling involved, of which the outermost is a set of clinical notes and correspondence surrounding the hospitalization of a man with what seems to be traumatic amnesia. Within that setting are conversations, and within those are dreams and memories. In one dream an entire governance of the solar system is set forth as background to the protagonist’s sense of dislocation and urgency. In an unreliable memory, guerrilla warfare becomes the setting for a tragic encounter with idyllic nature.

Others have noted that this is a book worth re-reading, and I’m inclined to agree.

Graham switched on the lights and bloodstains shouted at him from the walls, from the mattress and the floor. The very air had screams smeared on it. He flinched from the noise in this silent room full of dark stains drying.

Thomas Harris, Red Dragon [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Harris Red Dragon lights bloodstains shouted air screams smeared noise silent dark stains

Cruelty has a Human Heart, and Jealousy a Human Face, Terror the Human Form Divine, and Secrecy the Human Dress. The Human Dress is forged Iron, The Human Form a fiery Forge, The Human Face a Furnace seal’d, The Human Heart its hungry Gorge.

William Blake, Songs of Experience, quoted in Thomas Harris, Red Dragon [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Blake Harris Red Dragon cruelty human heart jealousy face terror form divine secrecy dress iron forge furnace gorge

(An Open Entrance To The Shut Palace Of) Wrong Numbers

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews (An Open Entrance To The Shut Palace Of) Wrong Numbers by Franklin Rosemont:

Franklin Rosemont's Wrong Numbers


Chicago surrealist Rosemont is not particularly coy about the fact that his book Wrong Numbers is an alchemical operation. The work transpires on several planes. On the most obvious, it is an effort to transform the base matter of accidental telephony into the gold of poetry. The book also contains a level of anecdotal autobiography comparable in some respects to Br. DuQuette’s My Life with the Spirits.

Yes, the book is actually about the “wrong numbers” of telephone misdialing. In addition to accounts of his personal experiences, the author sidles up to his topic from various angles: historical, cultural, psychological, and even magical. He champions the derided experience of the Wrong Number, not to rehabilitate it as an object, but rather to assail and transform the “miserablist” perspective of its detractors.

The text is complemented by a set of splendid drawings by Portuguese artist Artur do Cruzeiro Seixas, a surrealist comrade of Rosemont’s. The drawings too demonstrate an alchemical sensibility, in which beings and substances appear transformed, sublimated, and precipitated.

The heterogeneous details of the book, which manage to include multiple references to such disparate topics as Paschal Beverly Randolph, Bugs Bunny, and the IWW, should not obscure the fact that it does indeed express a single, magically puissant will to achieve “Freedom and the Marvelous, Now and Forever!”

Insightful, sincere, funny, and artful, this book would inherently resist being called “important,” yet it addresses the most fundamental dilemmas of our society. Read and enjoy. [via]



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