:: Article

Immortality Isn’t Forever

By Richard Marshall.

9781603090261

Eddie Campbell, Bacchus Omnibus; Volume One, Top Shelf, 2015.

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

“I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.”
― Raymond Chandler, Philip Marlowe’s Guide to Life

Immortality isn’t forever’ fixes the glum ambition of this mighty work, and its bleak take on the nature of Bacchus half reverses Chandler’s dead-pan observation that dead men are heavier than broken hearts. Something of the heart is truly broken here, which means the appetite feels intimidated and defensive. But everything feels broke as well as broken, as if it’s a story where the cheque bounced and that was all you had left. This, after all, is about the guy Nietzsche told us we could depend on, the one guy we should put our money on to stave off the emptiness and the horror. What we get instead of help is a little parenthesis of light with a hell of a lot of dark, and the feeling that there’s a whole lot more of the dark coming. There’s a fading out hope in these tales, which means they’re incapable of hurting beauty and sure, in that alone there’s a reason to read them, but it leaves you guilty of facing something less than noble at the brink of nothingness. The truths Campbell distills are those that warn the heart, and kill time with difficulty and hangovers.

Writing it probably started as a case of mistaken identity – good things usually are. Bacchus here is neither lubricious Dionysus nor the Roman flesh drunk with the grapes. He’s a gnarled old sea dog type, forever drinking wine, wearing a flat cap and donkey coat, who talks about the old days of Greece and Rome like he’s taken a course and lost the jazz of it. He’s too indebted to Robert Graves and his version to be believed and sometimes he’s just filling in whilst looking for something else. The form in the end is not the novel or the story, not even the lecture notes, but the fragile scream that comes when life has moved in such a way that everything adds up to just a gallery of lost statues. His Bacchantes and fellow deities are caught and tangled by our homogenized market-driven hypercapitalist culture and Campbell’s Bacchus character perfectly captures this zeitgeisty mood of existential defeat.Throughout you watch as his virginity grows back, as if he’s set a deadly trap for himself and it worked.

So Eddie Campbells’ ‘Bacchus’ has rightly been greeted over the last decade or so as a welcome twist away from what might have been expected from a comic book series about the deranged maniacal Greek God. Its pared back, ‘American-style comic book’ story gives us this ageing, dying, weary existential hero instead of the deranged, liquid-transmutational force we might have expected. This brings with it the rewards of a downbeat, noire-glow atmosphere that Campbell explains as being the result of his at first ‘… working hard at articulating those larger-than-life figures, trying to move their colossal volumes around’ whilst avoiding ‘… superhero posturing…’ With fantastic black and white drawings, jumpy narratives that have enough magic, murder, mayhem, gods and sex to keep the reader entertained, this Omnibus edition of the first half of all the stories gives us more than we deserve.These are stories for those of us trying not to scream out loud. Having said that, what’s lost in this version of the character is the hermaphrodite element, the strange inner femme-fatale who lives inside even the most acid-faced virgin and is capable of magic. The image here is the armour-clad male, and it hums with a reach-me-down machismo that radically misreads Dionysus/Bacchus. Of course, this is in one respect a very stupid criticism. The whole point of the stories is to retell them and redirect us to new understandings and possibilities within the mythic tales. And that’s right. But I was slightly disappointed by the fact that what we have is a quite traditional burnt-out- case rendition of the male ego running through his memories of the past like a daemonic whisky priest out of Grahame Greene coupled with something Philip Marlowe might turn into were he to make it into old age. Mind you, just as there are no bad westerns, just westerns and great westerns, there are no bad noires, just those with blondes and those without. The wonder of these tales is the fact that Campbell, as Neil Gaiman says, has created an epic sprawl of ‘…air hijacks and ancient gods, gangland drama and legends, police procedural and mythic fantasy, swimming pool cleaners and classics’ and its eager playfulness reaches the heroic accomplishment of characters and worlds that are fittingly a little wilted.

Nevertheless:

Bacchus is Dionysus, and Dionysus is the God of flooded endorphins, increased alpha wave activity, the occult manifest of autoerotic visualization and tactile engorgement, the arousal time of psychological and psychic energies unleashed in sinister currents of altered state intensity, neural instinct and intoxicated eros. He is the magical demarcation point of reliability and strength unmatched by rivals striving to attain bliss and carnalised existential ecstasies. Filtered by the horrified, illicit imaginations of the prurient conditioned reflex-response of hysterical monotheism he is the Black Sabbath, Hellfire Club, Parisian Black Mass, Hammer Horror figure of potent, Saturnalian frenzy, a carnal figure of erotic metaphysics disrupting the daily grind with semen-dripping trickster license. This hidden figure could have been presented as a contemporary lupercalian of fun and lascivious manner, as Livy might have slyly expressed it, working in liminal sacred space and time, bringing the idealized freedom of anterior time to the earth, an atavistic, primitive bestiality that lurks across the spectrum of taboo, predatory and animalistic, an agrarian wet dreamer moving in hallucinatory intoxication with bands of raving dangerous wimmin, the maenads, ripping apart animals and flesh in insane orgies of furious haunting celebration, dynamos of trance, random pairings and magic promiscuity. That’s what he could have been shown as, and it’s something the modern sensibility craves in moments of anti-ascetic despair.

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Nietzsche’s ‘Ja-Sagender’ – stands ‘… in the midst of the universe with a joyful and trusting fatalism’, where ‘… in the totality everything is redeemed and affirmed – he no longer denies’, and this is what Dionysus is, the tantric left-handedness of the Kali-Yugic ecstatic divine intoxication, an androgynous willed lucidity ceaselessly transforming human lifestreams into carnality and cunning self-deification. It’s the source of every writer and artist , the crucial fever that stops us from flinging ourselves under rush-hour trains.

Blake sat with Dionysus hallucinating the solar-streams of orgasmic electricity in ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ in 1790, naked in a poplar tree over a cold London street, a fetched hermaphroditic mystery text disclosing hilarious contrasexuality in winding Serpentine transmutations, such as;

‘All bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following errors:
1. That man has two real existing principles: viz: a body & a soul.
2. That energy, called evil, is alone from the body: & that reason, called good, is alone from the soul. But the following contraries to these are true:
1. Man has no body distinct from his soul; for that called body is a portion of the soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of soul in this age.
2. Energy is only life, and is from the body; and reason is the bound or outward circumference of energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.’

Dionysus was there when the Kalivilasa Trantra and the Mahanirvana Tantra were limning the wild female erotic energes of Kali, the insane surge of esoteric dissolution, chaos, discord, writhing through the nightshade symbolic characters of revelation times, the primitive Babylon that initiates a time of illumination – Christian Apocalypse, Ragnarok Fatal Destiny, Gotterdammerung twilight where the Fenris Wolf is unleashed by the sinister Loki to eat the sun. Honour bonds snap like dead branches under hood night, wrath and terror betroth monstrous broods becoming Dionysus/Loki incarnate and nothing is ever the same again. World’s end becomes the kick-start. Mexican Aztecs talk about the time of the fifth sun where the cosmos dies, and desolation becomes a sign of extreme and wiled self-metamorphosis, ushering the new estate, birth-soul’s rebirth. The psychic eternity state is what cranked up high fraudster Aleister Crowley misunderstood as an era of time in his mental ‘Aeon of Horus’ which he designated as 1904. This completely regressive piece of illiteracy and bullshit summarises everything he did, and his relative popularity has distorted the occult mysteries of Dionysus for anyone who gets taken in by his ignorance. And although Campbell’s is in a different league to Crowley, it’s a shame that generations will read his downbeat version and maybe miss the potential necessary force of Nietzsche’s hero.

The violent, insane and chaotic daily world that grinds our waking faces into an opposite and male ascetic stringency isn’t the trail left by Dionysus. It cannot match the lunar hallucinatory violence, chaos and insanity that Dionysus brings outside historical actuality where a core lies beyond the reasoned perceptions of ascetic consciousness, language, reason and power. And maybe because Campbell’s version is so closely aligned to the ascetic planet he’s now permanently living in there’s an atmosphere of dense hopelessness that runs against the grain of Nietzsche’s frenzied alternative. As Nietzsche understood, the stationary divisions of ascetic life have to be melted into liquidity, into a constant Heraclitean stream, a flowing image that possesses Shakti as a carnal agent of illumination appearing as midnight-black Kali as an aroused crouching necrophiliac over the white dead flesh of an equally deranged Shiva, cosmic gendered forces absorbed into perpetual ecstasy, the climactic inner androgyne surfacing as a dark muse, as a scarlet woman, an Ishtar blissout, a complexity of life caught up in a matrix that consumes all the distinctions. And it is Dionysus who brings this derangement of the senses and the logic of the carnal dream into the hallucinatory kingdoms of Camelot – think of that Lady of the Lake gifting Excalibur to Arthur for a while, think of Morgan La Faye and think of what you might possess if ever you find the Grail. Masculinity becomes a silence and stillness drawing on containment of inner forces and femininity violent sinuous chaotic vital activity, opposite powers reversed and then blended.

Here we are in the territory of Plato where in the ‘Symposium’ he has Aristophenes explain that women and men were once two sides of a single hermadaphrodite that Zeus split as punishment for some rebellion. The poems of Ted Hughes are ferocious renderings and invocations of these magical esoteric truths. His ‘Crow ‘ sequence works like a never-ending coupling of universe-destroying reversals, trickster God games that close the gap between the extreme puritanical asceticism of his blunt Yorkshire lingo and the great rite of luminous liquid derangements caught in the myth nets of Shiva/Shakti, Wotan/Freya, Set/Asarte, Lilith/Samael etc etc. Dionysus reverses through awakening opposites to the realm of the other – after all, just reversing is too easy, and if constantly repeated it may well be a drag, and worse, if used just to shock the ignorant or establish a vanguard code of elitist belonging, reactionary.

Goethe (who alongside Beethoven, Nietzsche and Napoleon is the most cited person in Nietzsche’s works) was an adept of the ‘Eternal Feminine’ and his Faust is an adept of alchemy, Gnosticism and Germanic sex magic. The deranged organic systems mix the masculine with the feminine, and Jung wrote stuffed-shirt prim academical books about this stuff in his ‘The Development of Personality’ when he writes;

‘Every man carries within him the eternal image of woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image. This image is fundamentally unconscious, an hereditary factor of primordial origin engraved in the living organic system of the man, an imprint, or ‘archetype’ of all the ancestral experiences of the female.’ Nevertheless, despite his rigid underwear, Jung understood the idea of the Anima Mundi and recognized that Goethe’s Faust is all about this ecstatic shamanistic force, a world soul energized by its female, animalistic shapeshifter guide.

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Dionysus was conceived by Zeus disguised as a serpent. He dribbled nectar into Semele, intoxicating her and vines sprouted around her bed. Zeus cried out ‘Evoe’ at the moment Dionysus was conceived. Semele is burned to death. Fire is wherever you go beyond the limit. Dionysus and Apollo stalk the edges of that border. This catches a divine echoe of the hidden Kundalini waking as a serpentine orgasmic fire inside the body of the initiate, an unreality that hypnotizes. This is the Sanskrit female deity whose name links to Kundry the sorceress Dionysus in Parsival, a Persian of ‘far Araby’ , intimate of the wizard Klingsor and deamon of the Grail itself. It is a root for ‘cunning’ and ‘cunt’ where we can link the trickster with the sex demoness Holda, the German hidden force-field Vrowe Hulda the medievals lived with, which enforces the obvious point that the Grail was the link between Western and Eastern(Indo-Iranian) veneration for lubricious yoni. Jakob Bohme’s disciple Gichtel writes about ‘serpentine fire’ in his ‘Theosophica Practica’ of 1696, a fire in the spine that runs out to the borders of India and becomes the dragon, Tiamet of Mesopotamian myth, Leviathan of the Bible’s last book, the Gnostic Edenic snake in the Bible’s first book, Sophia , and ancient Egypt’s sex maniac woman-god Set. Dionysus is the divine androgyne, born a boy but with horns on his head as a picture of the womb and the crescent moon – hysterically transmuted by the ascetic world into the horns of the Devil – hysterically attacked by the Gods as a child boy and transformed into a shimmering girl at sometime, someplace, in some way.

Dionysus is at ease with women. He never takes them and then releases them, like Joe Theseus who is a strictly ‘wham bang thank you maam’ man. In contrast Dionysus is forever seducing, never ceasing – not before, not during and not after. His slogan is: ‘Sovereign is all that is moist.’ Dionysus is liquid, a stream around us. He doesn’t need to show his virility. When going to war to India his army giggles. His phallus is hallucinogenic not coercive, a fungus, parasite, a toxic grass. It doesn’t intoxicate to promote growth. Dionysus is the god who loosens and unties. Weavers are his enemy. Born a boy, raised a girl, sexed up and insatiable with his raving wimmin, the killer grrl mob Maenads, supernaturally transformed by Rhea from man to female, Dionysus is the fire of the spine and brain, the etheric body crashing cymbals and bells in a deranged sonic hallucinatory sensational force against the ascetic deviations of our modern planet.

Dionysus uses Artemis to kill Ariadne for him. He’s impure and promiscuous. Artemis, proud virgin, later asks Dionysus to kill Aura the mountain virgin girl for her. Aura dreams of Eros offering Aphrodite and Adonis a lioness caught with an enchanted girdle – an erotic ornament for capturing wild beasts. Aura had her arms on their shoulders, and Eros presents the captured lioness saying Aura loves only virginity whose enchanted girdle bends the stubborn will of the lioness. She wakes split as both prey and huntress. Aura later watches Artemis bathe and is gripped by insane lust and says so, enraging Artemis who goes to Nemesis asking for revenge. Nemesis goes to Aura, cracking her whip of snakes across her neck so she falls under its necessity.

Dionysus wrestles the girl warrior Pallene. He finds her sexually alluring and enjoys the feeling of being almost like a mere mortal. He enjoys wrestling with a woman he cannot dominate. He yearns for the unattainable body. Her father Sithon stops the fight and gives Dionysus the victory but Dionysus stabs him to death, knowing him to be a murderer and Pallene’s incestuous abuser. At the wedding Pallene mourns her father who had killed her previous twenty lovers and left their severed heads across the palace door. Frustrated by Pallene now becoming his too available lover he goes off to the mountains. He seeks a stronger, less obtainable woman, as capable of hurting him as he her. He watches Aura in the wilderness and is told by a hamadryad living in pine roots that only in the forest, binding her hands and feet, would he have her. He must not leave her gifts afterwards. Ariadne visits him as he sleeps, tells him to give his next victim a spindle and asks why he forgets so quickly each of his lovers.

Dionysus drugs Aura with wine, ties her up as she sleeps and rapes her. Aura dreams of her arms becoming one with alien flesh with wrists writhing in terrible pleasure that wasn’t hers but theirs. She saw her head bowed like the captured lioness in the first dream, as if consenting to her own ruin. Here she becomes an oracular, necromantic tool, a trance machine-state of deified submission. Dionysus creeps away, leaving no gifts. She wakes to find she has been raped. She runs down the valley ripping to shreds everyone she meets. Shepherds and hunters are shot and sliced in a deranged murderous riot. She whips the statue of Aphrodite at her temple, roaring Sadean defilements, threatening to attack the sun and set fire to all the world, adding a metaphysical edge to the atavism of the hunter, the cruel Feminine Daemonic of contrasexual force. She swears she will kill the gods themselves as demented revenge. Artemis appears and mocks her. It is all a deranged hallucinatory drama.

Aura gives birth to twins. In unutterable mental agony she is about to kill them. Dionysus asks Nike to help him prevent the pain-crazed Aura from killing the twins born out of his raping her. Nike is another murderous virgin huntress he has drugged and raped in the past, one who is now reduced to being a stone-faced drudge worker at a loom. Dionysus has had a child from her born out of the same insane circumstance. Aura has already torn to pieces one of her twins before Artemis snatches the other one and runs off to the forest, eventually giving the rescued child to Dionysus. The two children born of his two rapes are given to the Bacchantes of Eleusis. Aura’s child was Iacchus. Anyone who saw him was happy. Those who didn’t didn’t know what happiness meant.

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Dionysus’s first love was a boy, Ampelos. Ampelos ignored Dionysus’s warning about a bull and is killed by the beast. Dionysus can’t retrieve him from Hades because he’s immortal. He wants to kill all bulls but Eros says that another love will cure his mourning. Dionysus never weeps, it just isn’t in his nature to do so. But at that moment Dionysus does cry, and the world becomes insane. A vine is planted around Ampelos’s corpse. The grapes from Ampelos’s dead body taste differently from anything ever tasted before on earth. Their intoxicating power removes the soul from ones grasp. Once you don’t own your own soul you speak with ingenious detachment but don’t know it. Dionysus, the god who never weeps, has wept and introduced wine to humans at Attica. His Bacchantes are drunk, intoxicated, insatiable orgiastic elementals, hazardous, dangerous sex-maniac wimmin from another sphere, the obsessives of joyous electronic right hemisphere neural activities, the mystic figures William Burroughs writes about when he says,

‘… The magnetic nature of the sexual attraction between these beings and their subjects interferes with other physical sexual forces. Any strong sexual hallucination I have had has cut down on my actual sexual experience, and has proven to be quite destructive from that point of view….’

When Dionysus stopped his rampaging he sat at the table of Twelve Gods on Olympus next to Apollo. Campbell shows what happens next, introducing us to the likes of The Eyeball Kid and Joe Theseus, and it’s a world where the derangements have been substituted for more whimsy and sentimentality than perhaps its tragic forces can endure. On the other side of all this is the great abyss of horror where we precariously, day by day, hour by hour, live out our meaningless, terrible and unredeemable lives. I’m not sure there’s much more than exhilarating terror we should be feeling towards the only force that moves us from despair, but Campbell’s version seems more approachable somehow and because of that less potent and more honourable. Like a noire detective the character is not going to despoil any virgins, has a sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham and a contempt for pettiness, is a strong man without meanness walking the mean streets, neither afraid nor tarnished, nor yet so dull that life is handed over all the way to the juviniles. This isn’t the Dionysus that Nietzsche hoped would make life bearable, but maybe it’s the entropic version that fits our unfolding zeitgeist.


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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, September 5th, 2015.