Tag Archives: T Polyphilus

The Island of the Day Before

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco, trans. William Weaver.

“I challenge anyone to find himself abandoned on a deserted ship, between sea and sky in a vast space, and not be ready to dream that in his great misfortune he at least has had the good fortune to stumble into the heart of time” (273).

The Island of the Day Before is a fantasy about fantasy, with a documentary conceit and no genuinely supernatural elements. Some details of the seventeenth-century science may now seem rather occult, but the essential metaphysics of the entire tale are very much of our world. It is a tale about a quest for the secret of determining longitude, and it seeks to celebrate the mystery of the antipodes in the paradoxes of an international date line.

Although this story was set a century earlier, I found it rather reminiscent of Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. Both are big beefy novels written in the waning of the 20th century, and concerned with the exploratory push of European powers (in early modernity and the Enlightenment, respectively), as well as the relationships between objective and subjective worlds. But their titles show the biggest difference between the books. Mason & Dixon has two protagonists, and the surfeit of plot (to be expected from Pynchon) concerns their relationships to each other and their world. The insular Eco novel is instead nearly solipsistic in the extent to which characters other than the protagonist Roberto are practically reduced to figments of his imagination–the plot, such as it is, is largely in his reminiscences, dreams, and eventually, composed fictions.

The book is a long one, with many short chapters, and the slow pace of the plotting makes it easy to pick up and to put down. It took me more than a month to read it through. My two favorite chapters in the book could each stand on their own, and with particular reference to my occult interests. Chapter 26, “Delights for the Ingenious: A Collection of Emblems” is a long meditation on the symbolism of doves. Chapter 37, “Paradoxical Exercises Regarding the Thinking of Stones,” is a contemplative demonstration of getting stoned in line with the discussion “On the Final Will” in Liber Aleph vel CXI.

The metafictional elements are pronounced in this novel, where the principal character himself ends up writing a “romance,” in which his imagined half-brother and rival becomes his alter-ego. Eco makes both the opening and the closing of the book rather disorienting and unconventional, as part of his reflection on the composition of imaginative literature, and he uses the premise of working from a discovered three-hundred-year-old manuscript both to assert and to undermine the credibility of his story. [via]

Cannabis

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cannabis – Philosophy for Everyone: What Were We Just Talking About?, edited by Dale Jacquette.

Since this book was issued in 2010, the circumstances of cannabis prohibition in the US have changed considerably, but not so much as to obsolete any of the issues that it treats. (Following the consequences of the relevant 2016 referenda, marijuana possession and consumption–without medical sanction–is now legal in eight states, including the entire Pacific coast, and accounting for a majority of the US population, although Federal prohibition remains in effect.) The volume collects essays by an assortment of authors with different intellectual specialties, treating a variety of concerns, such as phenomenology, ethics, aesthetics, psychology, and sociology. The trend overall is toward a somewhat favorable view of moderate cannabis use, but the mix of perspectives includes at least a couple of pieces that condemn it.

More than one of the papers notes the mystery involved in the origins of the US-cum-global cannabis prohibition of the 20th century, but none provides an adequate explanation. Mitch Earlywine, whose “Pot Politics” piece does a good job of raising the question, only goes so far as to note the suspicious coincidence of the end of the alcohol prohibition and the start of the Federal marijuana ban. None of the papers note the significant racist component of US drug policy, evident in both the origins of laws against marijuana, and their later selective enforcement as a conscious anti-civil-rights strategy directed at the non-white population of the US.

Still, political science is not the book’s center of gravity. Several of the papers include a component of psychological and psychiatric literature review, and most, in keeping with the title, attempt to address basic dilemmas or obscurities of cannabis use. I especially appreciated the chapters on escapism and “weakness of will.” Gilbert Shelton’s famous comics freak notoriously quipped “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope,” and the adage is cited in this book. The writings collected here make a decent case that getting stoned is a better conundrum for philosophy than philosophy is for stoners. [via]

The Sign of Glaaki

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sign of Glaaki by Steven Saville and Steve Lockley.

Although this novel is published as a supplement to the Arkham Horror games franchise, it only includes one Arkham Horror character, and that in a minor supporting role: Joe Diamond the P.I. The central characters of novel are in fact historical figures: the young English WWI veteran Dennis Wheatley (prior to his days as an author) and escapologist Harry Houdini. Additionally, the screen actor Max Schreck has a part in the story, and it seems as though the meta-cinematic film Shadow of the Vampire (2000) had more than a little influence on the plot of the novel.

Despite the presence of Ramsey Campbell’s ancient god Glaaki in the book’s title, the god and its cult as represented here have little detail in common with “The Inhabitant of the Lake.” Glaaki is still in a lake, but has been transposed from the Severn Valley in England to Dunwich, Massachusetts. The Dunwich setting notwithstanding, there are no explicit allusions to the events of Lovecraft’s “Dunwich Horror,” even when the investigators visit Professor Armitage at the Miskatonic University Library.

The story uses many conventions of the murder mystery genre in addition to its horror elements, and these are fairly effective at moving the plot along. The disappearance of a movie actress and the murder of her replacement are–at first–the central subjects of investigation. What might have been a tame denouement in the final chapter pivots the focus back from mystery to horror. [via]

Aleister & Adolph

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Aleister & Adolph by Douglas Rushkoff and Michael Avon Oeming.

Aleister & Adolph is Douglas Rushkoff’s comic-book version of the “Magical Battle of Britain,” told from the perspective of a young American propaganda agent, and nested within a 1990s frame story that connects the occult phenomena of the story with twenty-first century current events. The starkly black-and-white art by Michael Avon Oeming is a little cartoonish, but never silly, and is quite effective for some necessarily impressionistic passages of the plot. The story is a fast read, and a good one. With only 77 pages to the body of the book, it can easily be digested in two sittings. Despite Hitler’s presence in the title, there is no personal focus on him comparable to the one on Crowley.

A foreword by Grant Morrison heaps praise on the book, and while I found Rushkoff’s writing refreshingly free of clinkers, Morrison’s claim of “impeccable historical research” is maybe a bit over the top. On the count of positive history, though, it’s certainly a lot better than Alan Moore’s From Hell–or Symonds’ Medusa’s Head, for that matter. Selections from the artist’s sketches appended to the book include some text by Oeming that made me glad he hadn’t been the writer, e.g., “I’m still not sure if Crowley was truly evil or just a performance artist…” as if that exhausted the possibilities.

On the whole, this graphic novel is a stylish little taste of occult history, with some genuinely chilling storytelling. [via]

My Barbarian Lord

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews My Barbarian Lord by Andrew J Offutt.

This free-standing sword-and-planet novel is fun enough, although its greatest virtue may have been to provoke its Boris Vallejo cover art. The far future setting has no conscious relationship to ancestral earth, and the interplanetary civilization that forms the setting is just surfacing from a medieval dark age. There is a post-apocalyptic theme of the rediscovery of ancient technologies. The barbarian of the title is a newly-crowned warlord of one of the “Six Worlds,” and the tale concerns imperial intrigue touched off by the prospect of his possible betrothal to the daughter of the Emperor.

Although the setting and action are very much in line with Edgar Rice Burroughs, the running commentary on “barbarism” makes for a more interesting comparison to Robert E. Howard. Both emphasize the heroic virtues of men who succeed in conditions of barbarism. Offutt’s protagonist Valeron is rather embarrassed to be considered a barbarian, which Howard’s Conan never was. (Conan would simply take advantage of the way in which it would cause civilized folks to underestimate him.)

There are some consistent verbal affectations: “it seemed not deep,” “Maybe Darcus could have done defeat on the Sungoli,” etc. But the prose is fast-paced nevertheless, as is the sequence of events. The end of the story is abundantly foreshadowed, but not hopelessly predictable. [via]

Horus Rising

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Horus Rising by Dan Abnett.

Earlier this year, I had written that I was done with Warhammer 40,000 literature for a while. I had certainly more than satisfied the appetite for “lore” that was first instilled in me by playing Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game. But I recently got my hands on the game Forbidden Stars, a much larger-scale affair of conquering multiple star systems in the WH40K setting. Thus inspired, I returned to the novels, this time picking up with the start of the interminable “Horus Heresy” series. It was much better than I expected it to be, and I read through it quickly.

The saga appears to be the history of the origin of the Chaos Space Marines, covering events centuries prior to the game setting, and this first volume precedes even that. It presents the Warmaster Horus in his glory as Primarch and chief envoy of the Emperor of Mankind, mostly as seen by the straight-arrow Space Marine Captain Garviel Loken, a leader within the Warmaster’s own Luna Wolves legion. The mystical veneration of the Emperor, so well-established in the game setting, takes a nascent, clandestine form in this book. Also of great interest to me was the depiction of an unsanctioned system of Masonic-style lodges within the Space Marine legions.

The book is divided into three parts, each addressing a different world where Horus and the Luna Wolves conduct warfare and/or diplomacy. There is an isolated human civilization that believes itself to be the original Solar System, a planet of hostile arthropod “Megarachnids,” and a human-led, mixed-species “interex” that spans a swath of star systems. I do have the next book of the series—in a box somewhere. I’ll read it when it turns up. [via]

Who Travels with the Doctor?

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Who Travels With the Doctor?: Essays on the Companions of Doctor Who, edited by Gillian I Leitch and Sherry Ginn.

This collection of pop-scholarly papers concerns itself with the “companion” characters in the half century of Doctor Who science fiction television. The majority of these are treatments that are principally preoccupied with gender. Several of them identify one or two companions for lengthy analysis. Such treatments are provided for Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Rose Tyler, Rory Williams, and River Song.

I think I best enjoyed the papers on outlier topics that concluded the volume: one on “companions who weren’t” (i.e. Madame de Pompadour and Astrid Peth) and the other on companion characters in novels written during the inter-series hiatus of 1991-2005. In general, the papers concerned with the “classic” series seemed to be of a higher quality than those focused on the 21st-century episodes.

The authors are all academically credentialed, and clearly writing for an academic audience, despite often wearing fandom on their sleeves. Each paper is endnoted, and there is a full reference bibliography. Hardcore fans may find some enjoyment here, but on the whole, the scholarly tone tends to dampen enthusiasm, while the pervasive tendency to hypostatize fantasy television characters creates a sense of misplaced priorities. [via]