The Worst Filing System Known To Humans

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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Monday, May 30, 2016

StIT Reviews: The Gnostic and the Satanic

Many of my articles are driven, to a greater or lesser extent, by necessity. I have to weigh writing an article against considerations like: can I fill out a full 3000-4000 word piece on this topic? Or: does anyone but me give a shit about this thing? Or: has anyone but me even HEARD of this thing?

So, frustratingly, I often find that there's stuff I'd like to write about that just doesn't fit the usual format of StIT. Nevertheless, there's loads of stuff I want to cover, and I have enough of a readership now that I want to make people aware of smaller projects that they might otherwise miss.

With that in mind, I'm going to start putting out articles like the one you're about to read: articles that are composed of smaller reviews or spitballing about particular topics, linked by some sort of loose theme. These are articles not intended to scoop up new readers but as something for longer-term readers of the blog, stuff designed not to get hits but to open up space for me to explore stuff I'm passionate about in a fairly off-the-cuff way.

The following reviews are just four of a nine that I've written so far. The rest can be viewed by my backers on Patreon starting at the $1 tier. I'll be adding more reviews periodically, but right now this exclusive body of work contains writing on Grant Morrison's Action Comics, a summary of China Mieville's theories of Weird and Hauntological horror, some discussion of squid people, and a review of the first two books in the Song of the Lioness quartet from my perspective as a transgender person.

If this stuff seems interesting, I welcome you to become a backer to see all the reviews.

It's kinda like a direct line into my brain as I respond to what I'm reading.

Oh, and hey, you know what I have banging around in my brain a lot?

Gnostic Christianity.

Particularly since Homestuck just ended with a conclusion that was, as I predicted four years ago, Gnostic as fuck.

So let's talk about some stuff that's engaged with Gnosticism in interesting ways.

Panel from Lady of the Shard



Fallen London and the Liberation of the Night

Usually when we think of Gnosticism we think of light. Or at least I do. 

You probably think "oh isn't this that thing Keeper yammers on about periodically." 

But nevertheless, the light of revelation, enlightenment, of Sophia, divine wisdom, this is all stuff juxtaposed with the blindness of Yaltabaoth or Samael, and the dark shadows that are the Archons. This is the central sort of cosmology of texts like The Apostasis of the Archons: the world begins in the light of Pleroma, Sophia in error creates Yaltabaoth the Demiurge, flawed and broken god, and he in turn creates the world and imprisons humanity within it. A dark world ruled by a blind god and his shadow servants, trying to escape and become en-lightened, trying to return to the light of Pleroma.

So it's weird that the revolutionaries in Fallen London (which I've talked about before here, if you need a refresher) seek liberation for humanity through the snuffing of light and the darkening of all reality.

See, the 'Neath is a place without light, which is to say that it is a place that, to some extent, is without The Law. And yet for both those people still on the surface world, and for those who are caught in the sway of Space Bat Capitalism of the Bazaar, a loosening of the Law hasn't meant true freedom.

Now, this requires a delve into the deep, deep lore of Fallen London so there are by nature going to be some pretty high level spoilers here, but I think understanding this context deeply enriches one's understanding of the game, so, you know, up to you whether or not that's worth it to you.

See, there's a reason that Light and Law are unified in Fallen London. There's a reason why people returning to the surface world are often obliterated by the sun's light.

Turns out that actually stars are conscious entities called Judgments. They eat souls, and they use their considerable power (and angry space dragons) to dictate that things like say "death" or "not having cool tentacles" are immutable laws of reality, and above all else they maintain a Great Chain of Being that dictates a kind of feudal logic over all creation. Basically, it's the philosophy of feudal social organization turned into an indestructible code of existence. And it clearly fucking sucks.

But so does Space Bat Capitalism. The Bazaar, in smashing a hole in the Earth into darkness in order to escape the Judgments just set up a new kind of Law--a Law of exploitation, brutality, and antagonism, fostered by the Masters of the Bazaar for some inscrutable long term plan involving love stories and possibly a slight easing of the requirements of the Chain.

The Revolutionaries have looked at this state of affairs and said, effectively, fuck this noise, we're going to literally blow up not only the Bazaar but every star in the fucking sky too, because we're sick of humanity being dicked around by Space Dragon Feudalism and Space Bat Capitalism.

And this is all very exciting to me because it fuses together political radicalism which I love with a kind of gnostic relationship to gods and kings which I also love. But it's fascinating because rather than an ascent into light and absolute truth and singular unity, what the Revolutionaries offer, in scrubbing away the Law itself by killing the Judgments, is something we aren't really that equipped to even imagine. We can already see in the Neath the sliding away of death as a meaningful thing, and a certain shiftiness in geography and identity and memory, and we have entities like the Rubbery Men who freely practice crimes of amalgamy, where different entities in the Chain are merged together to create whole new beings... but to truly be in the dark, with no Law to dictate hard limits on possibility? What would that look like?

This question seems somewhat to be in the air. I gather it's a concern in Dark Souls (perhaps you've heard of it I hear some people are pretty into it) as well: the central choice of the game seems to be to either maintain the age of light created by gods, using humans as fuel, or allow the age of fire to come to an end, entering an age of darkness where humans rule (and possibly turn into weird mutant monsters). What interests me about these games is that we do have the fundamentally gnostic quality of an escape from unworthy gods, a true escape that doesn't just represent a satanic inversion but a move into unknown realms of existence, but that move is strange and unimaginable. It's not a big happy thing where we all become one with eternal godness and ascend into light and eternal understanding, it's a fraught future that is disorienting and even a little terrifying.

But for all that I think it's a future that's also alluring and beautiful in its own way. This gnosticism-of-darkness seems to offer a strange fourth path apart from the three paths most often seen in sort of Abrahamic myth-making, a move in an even weirder direction. And that, to my mind, is a direction worth exploring, at least narratively.

But just what are the three initial possibilities?

Let's see if we can pick that apart a little.

Neoreaction A Basilisk

I'm not sure where to even begin with Neoreaction A Basilisk, the slim volume by Phil Sandifer that's in its last 24 hours or so of its campaign on Kickstarter. That's partly because I'm still not sure I really even understand it--as I write this the ending's still eluding me to a pretty profound degree.

Nevertheless, here's my attempt at summing up.

Neoreaction A Basilisk starts from the idea that we're fucked. Human civilization is fast approaching a point of total collapse, and this book assumes that there's not gonna be a good way of stemming the tide. NRxaB takes this as a jumping off point to analyze how three people associated with the alt-right subculture of Neoreaction, or the Dark Enlightenment, respond to this impending oblivion (and how they all fail, often in hilariously catastrophic ways). Phil, who for some reason is a fan and supporter of this very blog, and who sent me a draft of the book about a month ago to pick over, basically has created something in a form that should be somewhat familiar to Homestuck fans: he's created a text that among other things is an example of what it's trying to analyze. In this case, Phil treats the visionary tracts of Eliezer Yudkowsky, Nick Land, and Mencius Moldbug as a kind of literary genre, and his own response to them and analysis of them has a winding, baffling kind of narrative arc to it, taking the form of a kind of journey through a dark fractal maze in search of a monster.

It's great stuff, even if I'm still not quite sure I understand the Gainax Ending to this horror story, and watching a bunch of crackpot racist cryptofascists get their asses handed to them is always a delight, but what I'm particularly interested in here is how many implicit if not explicit parallels there are between the materials Sandifer uses and gnosticism. I mean from the outset the premise--let us assume that we are fucked--both presents a kind of gnostic assurance that the world is a broken thing, something that's going to reverberate throughout the text, while also refuting the hope at the end of gnosticism, the hope of an escape to a higher plane of being. Interestingly, Phil seems to acknowledge at points that there MIGHT be such a hope... but it's not one he really cares about, compared to the breeding for more and more abominations in the darkness of a world on the brink of collapse.

It's... actually way, way funnier than it sounds from that description, though, like for real. In the podcast I did with Phil a few weeks back I called it philosophical schlock horror. It's less The Call of Cthulhu, more John Dies At The End Of This Book.

Anyway some of this comes from just the sources at work here. Phil makes some pretty heavy use of both Milton and Blake and both those guys while not being gnostic per se offer some pretty interesting parallels, enough that like if you give as much of a shit about scriptural canonicity as I do which is to say you give actual negative shits then it's not too hard to fold them into a kind of syncretic tradition of People Pissed Off At An Unworthy God, and once you've got that starting point it's pretty easy to see how gnosticism sort of permeates the work in interesting and unexpected ways, if you're inclined to read it that way. In fact, the Blakean tradition that Sandifer is working from as a literary theorist and occultist provides ways out beyond the mere inversion of the Satanic: rather than providing a simple opposition where Satan's nature decays further and further from Godliness, Blake--and in a sense the divine feminine and the tree of knowledge in Gnosticism--involve a kind of proliferation and growth of possibilities that can't be constrained by what holds them.

Except, of course, that the book begins with a hell of a First Premise--let us assume that we are fucked--and every moment when this proliferation seems poised to take off and bathe us in a kind of revelatory light, Phil drags things back down into the abyss. Every time we might tip in either the direction of the Gnostic or the Satanic, the book plunges us toward hell again.

The weirdest manifestation of this is in Nick Land's work. Phil describes Land as conceiving of capitalism as this kind of nightmarish Outer God that we're being used to birth and the grim meathook future we're moving towards will end with something new and awful being born from the wreckage of humanity. Land ends up basically joining up with a bunch of white supremacists because hey, if anyone's likely to accelerate our hurtle towards the nightmare hellscape of Final State Capitalism or whatever, you can't go far wrong with a bunch of jack-booted fascist thugs, I guess. This is like a cruel inversion of Gnosticism--escape the Cathedral, escape the Garden, and you find yourself beholden not to the beautiful light of Pleroma but the glaring LED gaze of the capitalist AI singularity godhead.

This is a pretty glib summary of an already pretty glib lit review but I'm not really trying to give a full account of what these wackadoo racists (and also Eliezer Yudkowsky who's in here not because he's an outright wackadoo racist, though I'd be the first to point out that his sexual politics are absolutely wretched, but because his ideas are so bizarre in such similar ways that he kinda had to be from like... a narrative standpoint basically) believe, I just want to give a sense of the idea here of these titanic ruling god figures that actually made up of social and political forces: Marxism as Cosmic Horror.


It's an idea that's pretty fertile for use and it's one that is going to crop up in some of the other things I want to look at, so I think it's well worth exploring Neoreaction A Basilisk when it comes out.

Electric Six

Ok this is cheating a bit, or at least getting dragged down pretty far from the original cosmology. Electric Six isn't so much gnostic as outright satanic. But the way they're satanic is really fascinating, and dammit I'm going to shove them in here.

Electric Six a bizarre kind of experience as a band because they're totally predicated on irony but not in just the straightforward shitty "it's not offensive if it's ironic" way but in the sense that their songs are constantly undercutting themselves, collapsing into a parody of masculinity and 80s-era yuppie excess. And make no mistake, this is absolutely a band of the 80s (in one song lead singer Dick Valentine declares that "We're from the 80s and we're here to help!"), taking everything from disco and dance music to Reaganomics and spitting them out endlessly in a kind of disintegrating mush of cultural touchstones, whether it be cocaine and neoliberalism or Jimmy Carter and satanic panic. The last four decades all kinda collapse together into this black hole of capitalist playboy excess from which no light can escape (so you'll need a little night vision).

This is where Electric Six really excel at creating a kind of sense of pan-demonium. The characters in Electric Six songs are constantly making bargains with underworld forces, for wealth, or power, or sex, or simply because they have the bad luck to be sucked into the abyss because they had the late shift at McDonald's and some otherworldly party figure stomped in and declared that time was dead and the space had been taken by some unending nightmare party.

Like, consider the song After Hours for example:



This pretty much has all the quitessential parts of an Electric Six song. It barely makes any kind of sense, first of all, which is pretty important to the aesthetic, but we start with cocaine references and launch at frantic pace into a paranoid diatribe. "I wish I didn't know what I know/and that's why you were hired! hired!/Don't do your job and you'll be fired! fired! You can't get tired after hours!" We start the song with a narration of some horrible revelation, jump in the second verse to a declaration that "you can't go blind blowing your load/and that's why God's a Liar! Liar!", and finally conclude with the promise of "Eternal life in Satan's powers!"

The sun ain't the REAL reason "vampurrs" die, apparently.

Interspersed in all this is a mix of seedy night club sleaze and visions of the rise of vast skyscrapers, monuments to capitalist extremes. And this connection between Satan's powers and capitalism is explicit throughout the band's work. Whether it's the anti-hero of Pink Flamingos declaring that his nebulously explained power and wealth and boundless perversity will be memorialized even after he is brought low in the form of the titular "statue of the demon," or the unstoppable corporate force that is the uncanny Future Boys ("No weapon on earth could ever defeat them... Here we see the creature in his natural habitat/can't take away his money 'cause he's got too much of that"), or the larger than life government agent who has naked pictures (of your mother) in the song of the same name, who has the most obvious parallels with the Satan of the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil.

The masculine and demonically tinged figures of Electric Six are both absurd and pathetic at turns, often because the hypermasculinity is overplayed to the point of absurdity (and the band's music, which might be described as something like "disco metal," pushes this dynamic further) but within that there's this weird sort of vision of a world that Reagan still haunts, where there's no real hope of salvation because the devil, in the form of endless money making, reigns supreme. 

Is it weird to include this with a bunch of other serious gnostic texts?

Oh hell yes.

But on some level I think it fits, if only because what we've got in Electric Six is another vision of the real monster waiting for us at the End Of History being an endless money making drug fueled dance party demonic orgy neon frenzy that drives us ever deeper and deeper into the abyss, and man if there's not room in my articles for a bit of campy grindhouse nonsense then why the hell am I writing, anyway?

It's my desire!


Lady of the Shard

Go figure, I get done writing a bunch of short reviews of things to sort of glom together in one big post on gnosticism-adjacent stuff, and what drops the next day? Some comic about a queer goddess and her devoted acolyte and their struggles against an old creator god, a creator god that was once banished and now threatens to return to reclaim and dominate Her creation.

One of the things digital comics can do that's a little more difficult in print is they can have kind of wall to wall color bleeding, a somewhat more costly process in regular printing. And hypercomics can take advantage of this by having this wall to wall color scroll and spread out across a range of images. This is comics as environment. There's a sense to this, I think, of spaciality that you don't quite get in print comics, and for a story about a failed god who has has Her control of the universe wrested from Her that sense of movement through a cosmos, and between different realities even, is important.

The gnostic resonances of this story seem pretty straightforward. A creator god is bested by a woman who takes a fragment of the god's power in order to free humanity? Yeah, there could be something gnostic in that, I'd say.

But what's interesting to me is the sort of line of flight from the basic gnostic premise offered here. While the Old God has elements of Yaltabaoth (probably my favorite line about Yaltabaoth comes from On The Origin of the World, where it's said that after he gets done destroying everything else, "he will turn against himself and destroy himself until he ceases to exist," which applies pretty well to the Old God's attitudes toward Her creation I would say), the comic presents an alternative to simply defeat and escape, or the establishment of a new (satanic, in a sense) hierarchy in the Old God's absence.

And make no mistake, there are elements of both of these approaches in the comic. The universe we see in the comic early on is a dark one, one that fills our screen in fact with blackness, a world in which God has been defeated and banished, and in Her place? The Lady of the Shard has sought to rule over her new domain at a remove, hoping not to reiterate the mistakes of her predecessor, and yet the entire narrative is a mirrored one, one of love between mortals and goddesses leading to the defeat of those holy powers. The attempt to establish a new order is, in the end, unsuccessful, and the Old God soon returns to reassert Her power.

And in a sense, this power is almost a visual relief, bringing it with it solidly defined form, gradations of color, light that floods the screen, replacing the former darkness. As with the light of the Judgments, though, this is a light that represents dictatorial control, and even as the lush tones of this space are lovely they are also repellent, as they bring with them mental domination and sensual enslavement of the main character.

When your choices are between a pink aesthetic hell paradise, and a darkness that can never quite escape the echoes of the old order, what do you do?

Embrace empathy and forge a new path.

This is a myth where, instead of destroying, defeating, and opposing, the operate words might be connecting, amalgamating, and loving. There is no escape to Pleroma here but instead the failed lines of flight are replaced by a transformation of opposing forces into something new, joined by the power of... uh... gay smooches, I guess. Hey, you could do worse with myths than this kind of right-to-be-invaded. Much, much worse.

Means of Egress or Regress

Common to this Gnostic material I think is the notion of the line of flight, the way out. Whether explicitly political or not, there is something valuable in this kind of myth-making, I would say, in the way it encourages one to consider the possibility of transcending systems. If some of this gets mired down in Satanic inversion, powerless to escape, I think there's some interest at least in exploring the possibility of third or fourth or fifth paths. If Gnosticism is based in the Tree of Knowledge spreading its vitality through those who eat of its fruit, it shouldn't come as a surprise that knowledges proliferate.

I wouldn't be surprised if more works along these lines pop up in my reviews in the future.

Storming the Ivory Tower is produced because of the generosity of my patrons. You, too, can become one of these generous patrons by subscribing to my Patreon. For $1 you can view other reviews like these. And don't forget that for $5 you can read my most recent article collection on My Little Pony, Neighquiem for a Dream, and will be supporting my next collection, A Bodiless and Timeless Persona: Essays on Homestuck and Theme

2 comments:

  1. This is great.

    I've always hesitated to use the term "ironic" when describing Electric Six because while they can't really be called sincere, even in a affectionate parody kinda way like The Darkness, it invokes the image of something much less interesting like the shitty "it's not offensive if it's ironic" attitude you mentioned. It also kind of undersells the level of raw conviction they put into the music.

    I always saw E6's use of rock cliches as less of just a punchline and more of the medium it uses its absurdist fuckstorm. As an autistic person who can have difficulty grasping song meanings, it's kind of refreshing to see all these familiar song elements mashed into something deliberately nonsensical while still making the bare minimum amount of sense.

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  2. This brings to mind We Know The Devil, an indie VN by Aeevee Bee and Mia Schwartz. I'm not versed enough in gnosticism to be confident in my thinking but I'm pretty sure that game explicitly casts Satan as "Sophia" and the Biblical, Christian God as the demiurge. Also interesting in that most of society actively serves him by that measure?

    Anyway it's also got magical girls and gay so

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