Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Paradox and Nonsense: Crowley and Deleuze # 2

This continues the previous post.  Once again, the virtual anamesis of Robert Anton Wilson  has agreed to join us. Caveat emptor: it can get paradoxical and nonsensical explicating the function of nonsense and paradox; just the nature of the beast.

Gilles Deleuze supplies a metaphysics for Thelema, thank-you Gilles!  Aleister Crowley presented an orientation and methodology for the voluntary evolution and continuous transformation of the human animal.  They both emphasized the use of paradox and nonsense to introduce an element of disequilibrium for the purpose of breaking set; to shatter and destroy our habitual ways of seeing things in order to introduce something new.  Another way to put it, they use paradox in an attempt to blow apart commonly held belief systems in order to move around in bigger, better, more beautiful, humorous and creative reality tunnels.  (for an excellent essay that covers "breaking set," see Christopher Hyatt's Introduction to the Eye in the Triangle, by Israel Regardie.)  Robert Anton Wilson and his early associates took it further and developed a religion out of paradox and nonsense called Discordianism with its motto, "we stick apart."  Wilson's later development of the literary technique Guerilla Ontology shows a direct formative relationship to paradox and nonsense.

The books in which Deleuze and Crowley dive deepest into paradox are both considered tour de forces in their respective literary careers.  For Gilles Deleuze, this is The Logic of Sense, a title that appears paradoxical in itself.  Logic indicates a formal reasoning of some sort. How does reasoning formalize sense?  It might help if we knew what he meant by sense? (The sense of sense?  I'll try not to introduce additional paradoxes and confusion) He clearly indicates that sense represents more than the limited definition of sense as "meaning."  In the second paragraph in the Preface: From Lewis Carroll to the Stoics Deleuze tells us what sense "is": "We present here a series of paradoxes which form the theory of sense.  It is easy to explain why this theory is inseparable from paradoxes: sense is a nonexisting entity, and in fact,maintains very special relations with nonsense."

Every chapter in The Logic of Sense is called a Series with the first one being: First Series of Paradoxes of Pure Becoming.  They are series, not chapters, to convey a more dynamic, kinetic and nonlinear approach to both the writing and reading of it, as we shall see in a moment.

"Sense is a nonexisting entity" obviously sounds paradoxical.  It might even seem like nonsense making it even more of a paradox. How can something nonexistent have relations, special or otherwise?  Later in the book he tells us that sense is very fragile.  How can something nonexistent have a fragile quality?  So he doesn't really tell us what sense is, only that it has life, an entity is alive, and that it doesn't exist; two completely opposite meanings.  This could be the ultimate agnostic statement.  If you follow the meaning in both directions, it cancels.  That  proposition may appear like  nonsense paradoxically intended to convey what sense is.  Deleuze uses examples from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to show how Carroll uses nonsense to communicate a sense of something. In the Deleuzean formulation, nonsense can donate sense to a proposition. Also, the title of the Preface, From Lewis Carroll to the Stoics appears paradoxically out of time as the Stoics wrote nearly 2000 years before Carroll.

In the third paragraph of this short Preface Deleuze points out the nonlinear nature of the book:

 "Thus to each series there correspond figures which are not only historical but topological and logical as well.  As on a pure surface, certain points in one figure of a series refer to the points of another figure: an entire galaxy of problems with their corresponding dice-throws, stories and places, a complex place; a "convoluted story."  This book is an attempt to develop a logical and psychological novel." 

Later on, in a remarkably magical passage from The Logic of Sense (LS) I will demonstrate that Deleuze uses puns to communicate on multiple levels, as would any self-respecting fan of James Joyce.  I will also demonstrate that Deleuze uses qabala from time to time. If you were to substitute the word "series" in the above quote with either "sephiroth" or "path on the Tree of Life" then you get an excellently poetic and concise description of how qabala works.  The last sentence in the quote appears paradoxical in its common meaning, the book has no obvious resemblance to any kind of novel, postmodern or otherwise, and it's not presented as fiction.  Looking at it as a magical pun, it appears Deleuze presents the aim of transformation into something new: "...a logical and psychological novel;" logic referring to the logic of sense - the logic of "pure becoming" (known in its static representation, a state it never reaches, as being; the logic of being); novel = new; esoterically dramatized in film as the character "Neo" from the Matrix trilogy.  Deleuze puts "convoluted story" in quotes for some reason.  That the "c" and "s" initials add to 68 looks very significant to me.  The number 68 appears on the first page of both Illuminatus! and Masks of the Illuminati, by Robert Anton Wilson.  I've written about its importance before (Tiphareth + Hod, Christ + Mercury, The Sun + communication; see Crowley's, The Paris Working for the magical genesis of that concept). Taking this interpretation here in LS may appear like confirmation bias on my part, but in the subsequent post Deleuze and Qabalah  I will confirm that bias even further with examples.

Robert Anton Wilson reports keeping a copy of The Book of Lies by Aleister Crowley on his nightstand for years referring to it frequently.  It encouraged me to take up this practice, too. Wilson loved all the puns, literary and logical puzzles and the qabalistic riddles. He illustrates a few of the paradoxes therein in Cosmic Trigger I.  The full name of the book is: THE BOOK OF LIES WHICH IS ALSO FALSELY CALLED BREAKS, THE WANDERINGS OR FALSIFICATION OF THE THOUGHT OF FRATER PERDURABO.  A contraction of the full title sprang up:  The Book of Lies (Falsely So-Called).  This rendering highlights the title's paradoxical character.  A book of lies falsely so-called is a book of truth.  Why would a book of truth start with a falsehood?  Crowley has a commentary for the Title Page and jumps right in with what sounds like either nonsense, paradox or both, following it up with a statement he appears to contradict later.

"...However, the "one thought is itself untrue," and therefore its falsifications are relatively true.
This book therefore consists of statements as nearly true as is possible to human language."

A different view gets expressed in the Commentary to Chapter 45 Chinese Music:

"The Master (in technical language the Magus);does not concern himself with facts;  he does not care whether a thing is true or not: she uses truth and falsehood indiscriminately, to serve his own ends. Slaves consider hir immoral and preach against hir in Hyde Park."

This disregard for "truth" may seem wild and anarchistic, but as Deleuze points out in LS, the production of sense ("pure becoming; the event) has nothing to do with truth or falsehood.  A proposition can be factually wrong yet still give a strong sense of something.  Absolute truth requires an omniscient, transcendental agency of some kind to arbitrate and judge what is true.  Deleuze in his antipathy to omniscient transcendental agencies grabs ahold of Antonin Artaud's fiercely cathartic radio play title, To Have Done With The Judgement of God for a rallying cry.

The first page in The Book of Lies (BL) consists of a sole, centrally located question mark.  In the first book he ever wrote, Empiricism and Subjectivity, An Essay On Hume's Theory of Human Nature published in 1953, (ES) Deleuze says:

"... a philosophical theory is an elaborately developed question, and nothing else; by itself and in itself, it is not the resolution to a problem, but the elaboration, to the very end, of the necessary implications of a formulated question. " 

"To the very end," which Deleuze italicizes in the text recalls Aleister Crowley's motto, his subject for BL, Perdurabo, that translates as "I will endure unto the end."  After the question mark is a page with a central exclamation point - symbolizing the question taken to its limit?  These two pages also refer to Crowley's seminal essay, The Soldier and the Hunchback on the subject of skepticism and certainty. The commentary on the question mark and exclamation point calls it "The Chapter that is not a Chapter."  It begins with a paradox.

Alice in Wonderland

Is not Humpty Dumpty himself the Stoic master? Is not the disciple's adventure Alice's adventure?

- Logic of Sense p.142
Crowley called his feminine persona Alice.

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass appears highly regarded by many of the best contemporary esoteric writers.  Aleister Crowley included both books in the curriculum of the A.'. A.'. with the note "Valuable to those who understand Qabala."  Along with the Stoic philosophers, Gilles Deleuze makes analysis of the Alice books the basis for his study of sense and paradox in The Logic of Sense.  He also includes Carroll's adventure's of fairyland characters Sylvie and Bruno as part of the study calling it a masterpiece.  A complete reading of both parts of Sylvie and Bruno will show Deleuze's bias to what Crowley called The Great Work.  Crowley calls the Alice stories "Valuable to those who understand Qabala."  They were certainly quite valuable to Deleuze. I will assert that Deleuze understood and communicated using Qabalah in a subsequent post.  

The Stoic master Humpty Dumpty turns up in a clear reference on the first page of Finnegans Wake (FW), " .. that humptyhillhead of humself ..." right after "the fall" and Joyce's first hundred-letter thunderword that he then connects with a fall off a wall.   In the analysis of nursery rhymes in Magick, Book 4, Crowley says that Humpty Dumpty's fall symbolizes the descent of spirit into matter. This seems a good way to start an epic work like FW.  James Joyce has a line that renders a similar interpretation through the lens of Qabalah: "... sends an enquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes.." one = kether, the most refined spirit; toes = the material world by qabalistic reckoning that superimposes a human body over the Tree of Life for one of its rhizomatic tendrils of correspondence and association. "Humptyhillhead" suggests, to me, the climb up to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, to use Crowley's nomenclature; "tumptytumtoes" suggests tummy, thus food and the sense of nourishment from spirit (we return to that theme in the next post); "humself" followed by the rhythm and rhyme of what follows suggests the flow of music.  The influence of music in the form of FW, as well as JJ's use of qabala seems well established in both academic and nonacademic circles.  Humself lets us know that he's not giving us a static subject, but rather one that changes and flows like the river that starts the book. It might also suggest the subject bringing itself into musical being/becoming, but perhaps I'm getting carried away.

Crowley quotes from Jabberwocky for the title of Chapter 48 BL: Mome Raths.  The whole chapter outlines a glyph for working hard.  In the note under the Commentary for this chapter, he quotes the whole line, " The mome raths outgrabe" and remarks that mome is also Parisian slang for "young girl" while rath = Old English for "early."  He then quotes a line from Milton that uses rath and communicates more information about what the early work hopes to produce.  It's a short, but important chapter worth studying.  When students of HGA conversation encounter the number 48 in unusual or coincidental ways, they will tend to attempt 'kicking it up a notch or two."  The "young girl" refers to the aspirant, an association that becomes more obvious when discovering that the BL explicates and implicates, using paradox and nonsense among several other techniques, a process that Delueze calls "becoming-woman."  This, of course, has nothing to do with human gender, but rather describes a necessary shamanic step for working beyond the normal body.

One quick way to demonstrate this claim to resonance with "becoming-woman," is to look at the very beginning of BL and the very end.  The first chapter title is O!, meaning chapter zero.  In the next chapter, 1, he begins with the exact same figure, O!, only this time indicating it as the letter O.  The full first line reads: O!, the heart of N.O.X., the night of Pan.  Right away, Crowley tells us to pay attention to puns, that the same exact image can have multiple meanings. O corresponds with The Devil in the tarot, the "medieval blind"  for archetypal male energy. The final chapter 91 only has one word, presented as an unanalyzed formula.  This word asymmetrically ends BL with A.M.E.N.; definitely seems a pun there, one that presents a view of the book as a journey of becoming-woman.

For a Crowlean interpretation of "outgrabe" (that's what the mome raths are doing) see Chapter 23 BL wherein he gives the O.U.T. formula.

Another interesting thing with that first line of Chapter 1 is that Deleuze maintains that the investigation into any process or cycle begins most productively in the middle and that's exactly what Crowley does with, N.O.X., the prime formula of BL.

So far we have established that three major artists at the top of their fields, the Occult, Philosophy, and Literature i.e. Aleister Crowley, Gilles Deleuze, and James Joyce, were profoundly influenced by Lewis Carroll's Alice stories.  I'm sure we could find dozens or hundreds references to \Wonderland in contemporary culture - I once saw an Alice play that put a strongly affective Gurdjieffian spin on the drama. I'll limit myself to a few more references of interest.  

The Matrix trilogy of films contains a great deal of esoteric knowledge.  This includes blatant qabala - for example, the female protagonist is Trinity; also next time watching, as a student of Magick or proactive Philosophy, pay attention to the beginning location, you'll see a sign that clearly labels the building.  A little later, as we get into the story, Neo begins getting obscure signs and coincidences directing him to some kind of hidden point of contact, as one might with the HGA.  His computer tells him to "follow the white rabbit," not long before he notices a white rabbit tatooed on girl inviting him to join their group on the way to a night club.  He first turned the invitation down, then saw the tatoo and changed his mind in order to follow the instruction.  Neo meets Trinity for the first time at the club and she gives him a piece of the puzzle.  The white rabbit is, of course, straight out of Alice In Wonderland; following the rabbit is how she got into Wonderland; following the white rabbit eventually puts Neo into a completely different world, it totally changes his life.

There's a great reference to Wonderland right off in Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus!: . " For instance, I am not even sure who I am, and my embarrassment on that matter makes me wonder if you will believe anything I reveal." (p.7)
 The phrase, "I am not even sure who I am" is a mirror reflection of  "I am that I am," Yahweh's answer to Moses when asked for his name.  This corresponds to Kether, the title of the chapter.  That phrase is also the gist of what Alice tells the hookah-smoking caterpillar when she is asked, "Who are you?"  It seems very helpful to read the first few paragraphs from the chapter in Alice, Advice from a Caterpillar to catch the transformational theme inherent to Illuminatus! In the very next sentence following the one quoted above, the Alice-like character describes being aware of a squirrel in Central Park "leaping from one tree to another."  That squirrel appears cognate with the white rabbit, and if this is true, then perhaps the authors are suggesting following this avatar from one Tree of Life to another; in other words, paying attention to Qabalah.  This interpretation may appear farfetched until one realizes that the alchemical motherlode strata of  Illuminatus! serves as a guide to Qabalah. 

About ten years ago, E.J. Gold asked if I knew Alice in Wonderland.  I did as a familiar story, but had never put much study into it.  He suggested I reread it and said I should revisit it every five years as a sort of barometer. About five years before that I recorded and mixed the album Alice for Tom Waits.  It comprised songs he'd composed for Robert Wilson's play of the same name about the relationship between Carroll and the real Alice the stories were told to.  It's an extremely evocative, mood-drenched album with slight echoes of the Wonderland otherworldliness in between the grooves.  It was mixed at lightening speed by high velocity; rushed through the bardo.

Paradox and Mirror Reflection

 In First Series of Paradoxes of Pure Becoming (the Kether chapter of LS, if you will), Deleuze starts by invoking Alice and Through the Looking Glass using her growing and shrinking to explain the nature of paradox.  "Good sense affirms that in all things there is a determinable sense and direction; but paradox is the affirmation of of both senses or directions at the same time." p. 1
 In this case, he means the two opposite directions of Alice growing and shrinking - to affirm them both at once.  "Good sense," in Wilson/Leary nomenclature = the societal/cultural belief systems programmed into us, i.e. our ordinary way of seeing the world; that which we try to peek past from time to time to go out.

Learning to affirm two opposite meanings as possible and true as well as looking at things backwards to FIND the opposite meaning, reversing directions, contemplating both directions at once becomes fundamental practices to students of Qabalah.  One of AC's exercises involves thinking and believing  the exact opposite to some strong opinion, or position you hold as a kind of waveform cancellation; another way to break set, to temporarily knock through belief systems and reality tunnels.  Affirming both senses or directions at the same time shines a lot of light on Crowley's mystique - the self-annointed Anti-Christ who said his school could produce Christs - as well as the Great Work in general.

We find a qabalistic lesson of reversed direction in The Book of the Law II 19: "Is a God to live in a dog?" An excellent example of looking in a reversed direction to unlock the sense of something occurs in the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers when Groucho remarks that there is a dog missing in the fake painting put up to replace the one that's been stolen.  The plot of the film then revolves around the stolen painting.    The whole film appears a masterpiece of qabalistic transmission; highly recommended for regular study.   One can see Animal Crackers as a very literal title related to the BL/ becoming woman project of Deleuze and Crowley.

Schrodinger's Cat, RAW's continuation of Illuminatus! in its aspect of a guide to Qabalah, or, as it's literally put in the book, A Shamanic Manual, has the character Blake Williams - an obvious reversal of illuminated poet William Blake.  Wilson includes a subtler reversal between Williams' party dialog and the qabala implied.  The qabala sounds more like William Blake. 

More Nonsense

At the end of the Nineteenth Series of Humor, a chapter which nearly begins with a crack of the Zen Masters staff, with the word "staff" seeming like a pun on a musical staff, Deleuze describes a different relationship between sense and nonsense: "Becoming-mad changes shape on its way to the surface ... and the same thing happens to the dissolved self, the cracked I, the lost identity, when they cease being buried and begin, on the contrary, to liberate the singularities of the surface.  Nonsense and sense have done away with their dynamic opposition in order to enter into the co-presence of a static genesis - as the nonsense of the surface and the sense which hovers over it.  The tragic and the ironic give way to a new value, that of humor. ... humor is the co-extensiveness of sense with nonsense." LS p. 141
He goes on to say more about what humor does, basically saying that it leads to an enlightening state.

The use of nonsense and humor to produce sense appears to aptly describe the best works of two prominent occult writers, Robert Anton Wilson and James Joyce, but it also describes the writing style of Aleister Crowley and sometimes of Deleuze and Guattari.

In some of his works of fiction Wilson explored the cut-up technique which he picked up from Burroughs and Gysin.  This technique of cutting up any writing, from Shakespeare to the daily newspaper, then randomly rearranging it to see what new combinations get made by chance, becomes a way to generate sense out of nonsense.  This technique has been successfully used to come up with great song lyrics by both David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. 

Robert Anton Wilson quite brilliantly uses humor and nonsense, with a dash of paradox for flavor in his Introduction to the play Wilhelm Reich in Hell to communicate a particular kind of sense.  Our old friends the Mome Raths show up in this introduction - that's the only contribution from Alice which seems to echo Crowley's use of Mome Raths in BL 48

To be continued ...