:: Essays archive ( 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

Children of the Moon, Dancing to Death published 28/09/2015

André Breton claimed, in the Surrealist Manifesto, that madness is a self-evidently American trait: only a ship of fools would have agreed to sail off with Columbus in 1492 into a seemingly endless ocean. In Book VI of Republic, Plato introduced the “ship of fools” parable in order to argue against Athenian democracy. If everyone claims the right to steer the ship, regardless of skill or aptitude in navigation, the ship will surely flounder and fail.

Amanda Wasielewski on Western historical representations of apocalypse and madness.

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City of Exiles – an Excerpt published 21/09/2015


As the Cold War thaw extended across the Eastern Bloc, Poles and Russians took their chance to enter the city via East Berlin. 200,000 people from the former Soviet Union had moved to Berlin within a couple of years of the Mauerfall – about 40,000 were Jews who were given special visas as part of a belated GDR war compensation policy. Tens of thousands of Balkan refugees also arrived in the early ‘90s from the warring former Yugoslavia. In the wake of reunification, Berlin, again the great metropolis of Central Europe, quickly resumed its role as transcontinental refuge.

Stuart Braun on Berlin.

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Photogene published 18/09/2015

I think that Ali Smith as a girl must have worried about the impossibility of being everything at once. The word she uses for this now, a grown-up writer, is ‘synchronicity’: all kinds of different things going on at the same time in different places. We can’t write them down properly because writing means giving them an order. And taking a photo means making a choice. Think Sylvia’s tree of figs. Think Instagram, a grid life cherry-picked, without the sag, no gum stuck to the underneath, or positioned so you can’t see it. An infinity of sculpted choices.

By Sarah Murphy.

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Parsing the Master’s Design: A Close Reading of Theory-Praxis Polarity published 11/09/2015


At any rate, a restructuring of the world’s economies is not just possible it is categorically imperative. To borrow the words of Naomi Klein, the global economies must be restructured so that the most vulnerable are protected, and so that those most responsible for today’s crippling issues are the ones “bearing the bulk of the burden.” What we need, then, is a strategy for this restructuring.

Frank Smecker on the theory-praxis divide.

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Curiosity and the Cat: Quantum Theory and the Coen Brothers published 07/09/2015

Anything outside of our Newtonian comfort zone seems immediately counter-intuitive, unreal, and often disturbing. But we’re in a comfort-zone nonetheless, because what we might like to think of as ‘real’ is bigger. We know that now. At the level of ultimate detail, the one on which everything else is built, the rules of engagement are different. Welcome to the quantum level. And welcome, too, to the Coen Brothers. Now we see it… or do we?

By Seb Sutcliffe.

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Horror of Philosophy published 24/08/2015


What if we read Poe or Lovecraft as philosophers rather than as writers of short stories? What if we read Poe or Lovecraft as non-fiction? This means that the typical concerns of the writer or literary critic – plot, character, setting, genre, and so on – will be less relevant to us than the ideas contained in the story – and the central thought that runs through much of supernatural horror is the limit of thought, human characters confronted with the limit of the human.

A systematic, comprehensive exploration of the links between philosophy, religion, and the horror genre: excerpt by Eugene Thacker.

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Conspiracy in Literature published 21/08/2015


This logic and discourse of conspiracy in the popular political imagination is not, on the whole, that of Eco, or Shea and Wilson. Dan Brown, in his artless way, has captured the zeitgeist far more faithfully. This is the conspiracy just below the surface, but which most are too lazy to see, which Explains It All. It is a Manichean black and white world of good and evil, with one all controlling, all powerful secret at its heart. Once the dark, hooded, (and possibly albino) agents of the controlling conspiracies have been vanquished, then the truth will out, and we will be set free.

Ben Granger on conspiracy in literature.

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Kant’s Depression published 19/08/2015


The significance of Kant’s philosophy is, however, counter-balanced by its notorious difficulty. Reading through the table of contents alone, with its dazzling and labyrinthine array of sections, sub-sections, and sub-subsections, is a task in and of itself. Nevertheless, if Kant’s philosophy achieved one thing, it was a renewed optimism in philosophy, much in line with Enlightenment ideals concerning the advantages of secular reason and the “maturing” of humanity as a whole. Reading through Kant’s works, with their patient and rigorous divisions and sub-divisions, there is a sense of philosophy as an all-encompassing, totalizing endeavor. Philosophy, in its Kantian modes, knows everything – it even knows what it doesn’t know.

Philosophy meets horror against the backdrop of an indifferent, unhuman cosmos, in this excerpt from Eugene Thacker‘s Starry Speculative Corpse.

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Death’s Dream Kingdom published 18/08/2015


The inability to confront death directly may be why in America state executions are mediated through the polite theatrics of curtains drawn and undrawn: the botched executions of Dennis McGguire, Clayton Lockett and Joseph Wood last year provided rare glimpses into the netherworld beyond the screen when the grim choreography goes awry.

Zaheer Kazmi on death, dissent and religion in the secular imagination.

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Marcel Duchamp does not exist published 17/08/2015


In 1918 Marcel Duchamp left New York for Buenos Aires. When friends asked him why he’d chosen such a remote destination, he spoke vaguely of some distant acquaintance who ran a brothel there. The joke, or whatever it was, clearly masked more candid hopes… Two months after his arrival though, he came to describe the Argentine capital as “just a big provincial town full of rich people with absolutely no taste, and everything bought in Europe,” finally declaring that “Buenos Aires does not exist.”

Cioran McGrath on Marcel Duchamp in Buenos Aires.

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