Friday, December 30, 2016

Philosophy and Magick: Deleuze and Crowley with Special Guest Robert Anton Wilson

Magick could be called applied philosophy.  Philosophy can provide blueprints and start the ignis for affirmative action and intentional change. The two disciplines have been entwined dating back to antiquity.  The pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles introduced the division of matter into the four elements: Air, Water, Fire, Earth that continues as one fundamental principle of ritual magick to this day.  According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Empedocles: "has been regarded variously as a materialist physicist, a shamanic magician, a mystical theologian, a healer, a democratic politician, a living god, and a fraud."  Except for the democratic politician, that could pass for a description of Aleister Crowley.  The IEP goes on to say: "Empedocles did not make a clear separation between his philosophy of nature and the more mystical, theological aspects of his philosophy, and so may well have seen no great difference in kind between healing ills through empirical understanding of human physiognomy and healing by means of sacred incantations and ritual purifications."

An essential work of contemporary magical literature, The Tree of Life, A Study in Magic, by Israel Regardie, presents a clear and comprehensive overview of Golden Dawn-style magic.  The beginning of Chapter 3 starts with the section: "Necessity for philosophic training prior to undertaking practical work." Regardie makes the point quite clear:

Insisted upon by all the eminent Theurgists of past time of being of equal importance with practical work, and as a radical necessity giving precedence to that work, the august Philosophy which underlies the theory and technique of Magic is a prerequisite to any further discussion.  Indeed there can hardly be a real understanding of the rationale of Magic, and certainly no realization of the complexities taking place within and without the constitution of the Magician, if the corner stone of philosophy is not firmly laid in hir mind."

Couple of things about this quote: the subject "Theurgists" identifies the kind of Magic under discussion - magic to raise consciousness not magic to directly change something in the environment such as casting a love spell or winning the lottery.  Philosophy "as a radical necessity" squarely aligns with the approach of Gilles Deleuze - philosophy as a response to problematics.


Robert Anton Wilson, Aleister Crowley, and Gilles Deleuze share a common philosophical lineage in Friedrich Nietzsche.  I would add G.I. Gurdjieff  and P.D. Ouspensky to that list though in Gurdjieff's case it seems less verifiable.  We find much mythology over the sources of Gurdjieff's teaching and not much documented fact, to my knowledge.  Yet blatantly Nietzschean concepts find their way into his program to become elaborated and expanded upon.  We know from Ouspensky that Nietzsche was all the philosophical rage in Russian intellectual circles in the years immediate prior to Gurdjieff emerging upon the world stage in Russia.  Aleister Crowley candidly details his philosophic explorations in Confessions and elsewhere.  Several of Nietzsche's concepts get expanded into key points in Crowley's system: the crossing of the Abyss, the creation of the Overman, the revaluation of all values, etc. Crowley recognized Frederich Nietzsche's genius by anointing him a Saint in his Gnostic Mass. Nietzsche, in turn, was influenced by Baruch Spinoza.  Deleuze calls Spinoza the Christ of philosophers, "and we (i.e. other philosophers) are his disciples." Spinoza has been referred to as the first modern pantheist.  He was called an atheist in his time for rejecting the Judeo-Christian God in favor of an impersonal God of Nature - Nature's God.  This may have inspired the title for  third volume in Robert Anton Wilson's Historical Illuminatus series, Nature's God.  Wilson quotes Spinoza in Schrodinger's Cat at the beginning of the chapter Dancing Photons: "The intellectual love of things consists in understanding their perfections."

Nietzsche may have influenced Deleuze even more than Crowley or Gurdjieff.  Deleuze began his literary oeuvre with a series of historical portraits of, at the time, outsider philosophers like Hume, Nietzsche, Spinoza and Bergson.  He became known for using the history of philosophy for his own purposes, drawing out conclusions and interpretations to present a Deleuzean vision. Deleuze's Nietzsche appears quite different in significant ways then other interpretations.  Nietzsche has an image of great thinkers shooting the arrow of their work as far as possible with that arrow to be picked up by the next philosopher where it lands and flung further; building upon the work of your predecessors.  Both Deleuze and Crowley responded quite literally to this metaphor in different, but resonant ways. Deleuze wrote a significant and unique interpretation, Nietzsche and Philosophy, that revived interest in his philosophy in France just in time for the 1960's cultural revolution.  One of the last essays of his life beautifully summarized Nietzsche's philosophy.  In it, Deleuze claims to have found at least 12 different interpretations of the famous, " God is dead" proposition in Nietzsche's literary corpus. One of Deleuze's overall projects was to complete the concept of the Eternal Return which he said Nietzsche didn't have time to fully develop.  Deleuze notably does so at the conclusion of Difference and Repetition.  His interpretation disavows the common one, that everything repeats exactly the same, instead making the theory stand on its head to affirm difference as that which repeats.  The Eternal Return = repetition AND difference.  The film Groundhog Day provides an oversimplified example: it's always the same day, but there's always something different. The Eternal Return, as it appears in Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, became an early topic of discussion in the Tales of the Tribe course that Robert Anton Wilson gave. Finnegans Wake perfectly illustrates the difference and repetition of the Eternal Return.  Various cycles repeat themselves, sometimes frequently, yet they reveal something different every time.  Deleuze, for his part, borrowed the portmanteau term "chaosmos" - chaos + cosmos - from Finnegans Wake to describe the mixture of randomity and chance (chaos) with the ancient Greek philosophers who attempted to overlay order upon the world (cosmos).

 The Will to Power and Do What Thou Wilt.

It's said of some early 20th Century philosophers that one of their projects was to provide a
metaphysics for science.  We will offer a suggestion that Gilles Deleuze  provides a metaphysics for Thelema, the name of Aleister Crowley's agnostic religion.  It seems useful to look at Deleuze's interpretation of "the will to power, " a concept Nietzsche introduced, but didn't have time to fully explicate, in light of Crowley's "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" formulation. According to Ronald Bogue in Deleuze and Guattari, Deleuze defines the will to power as:

the genealogical element of force, both differential and genetic.  The will to power is the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation.  The will to power here reveals its nature as the principle of the synthesis of forces. (Nietzsche & Philosophy, p. 50, 56.)

Bogue gives an interpretation of Deleuze's interpretation:

It seems that Deleuze is here positing the will to power as a kind of inner center of force, a general orientation of becoming that only manifests itself in specific forces but goes beyond individual forces to link them in a line of development.

These two quotes are just an example of how the will to power can inform an approach to do what thou wilt.  The will to power, in this context, seems never about acquiring power over others, but rather getting power over yourself.  It seems you can acquire power over yourself through constant intentional change, or in other words, magick.  Through magick, you can gain self-mastery by making the self disappear.  Magick doesn't necessarily have to be exclusively improvised or directly followed from Crowley's rituals.  "Every intentional act is a Magical Act." (Magick, p.129). In the book Dialogues with Claire Parnet, Deleuze equates the will to power with the libido: "... an unbounded, free-floating energy which Freud called libido and which Nietzsche called will to power."  Crowley understood this same connection with his Do what thou wilt formula as evidenced by the sex magick instructions given in The Book of the Law, The Book of Lies and elsewhere in his writings.

Perhaps the core gist of Crowley's theurgic magick can be seen by how he composed his letters.  His correspondence to all and sundry always began, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."  This magically consecrates the letter with the collected forces and intentionality of this writing event (the letter) according to "the law."  After the body of the letter he tell us what law when signing off with, "love is the law, love under will."  In other words, no matter what they say, all of Crowley's correspondence used this magick formula to make them an intentional act of love under will; higher emotional, mental and somatic forces collected and given a specific direction; the preferred weapon of healers everywhere. At the start of Robert Anton Wilson's Crowley's 101 online course in 2005 ( the 101st anniversary of the reception of  The Book of the Law), Wilson began and ended his posts in the same way making them all acts of love under will.  He appeared quite fastidious about that for a time.

One of the biggest misunderstandings in Crowley's work to new friends and old foes alike is misinterpreting do what thou wilt for do what you want.  This seems completely wrong by the fact that it appears to inject the personality of the ordinary self into the equation.  "Thou" and "you" can't be exchanged without changing the entire sense of the statement.  A big mystery in the formula: who or what does "thou" represent?  What is meant by "thou?" If I recall correctly, it's somewhere in Illuminatus! where Wilson suggests that thou indicates the union of the personal will with God's will. Thou gets commonly interpreted as the source of the True Will  - the will of the deep self or true self as opposed to the human animal's will.  This still renders the meaning of "thou" as something mysterious, abstract, and difficult to grasp in a concrete way.

Deleuze's philosophy demonstrates the illusory nature of the subject - any subject, the idea of the subject as a real thing, a static entity transcendent and separate from its actions.  He takes this up from Nietzsche and other philosophers who say the common view of unchanging sedentary subjects who do things or have properties appears ultimately a consensual illusion programmed into us by the subject/predicate nature of language.  Loosening and getting more flexible with the programming of self, the world and God and of the ordinary way of seeing things seems an initial step in any mystery school. On page 3 of The Logic of Sense, Deleuze uses the "contesting of Alice's personal identity" in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass stories as an example of language and identity.  Deleuze writes:

"But when substantives and adjectives begin to dissolve, when the names of pause and rest are carried away by the verbs of pure becoming and slide into the language of events, all identity disappears from the self, the world and God.'

Although it sounds like the subject due to the requirements of language, "thou" in do what thou wilt can't be a set subject because we have no set subject. (In Egyptian mythology the god Set, of course, becomes the enemy of Horus, the "crowned and conquering child" of Thelemic chaosmology). Crowley affirms this with a comment in The Book of Lies: "Man is only himself when lost to himself in the charioteering;" i.e. the subject gets lost in the process or what Deleuze calls the event.

The reason that Nietzsche and Deleuze and others don't like a static subject is because it implies something, a metaphysical critter of some sort, continuously and permanently transcendent (outside) the conditions of its existence; a ghost in the machine.  Gilles and Friedrich prefer immanence to transcendence on the grand scale.  Although I suspect he didn't pick the title, Deleuze's last slim collection of essays released posthumously was called Pure Immanence to reflect the nature of his passion.

Nietzsche vehemently opposed the Christianity of his time because it subjugated its victims to the oppressive rules of a transcendent philosophy.  It is said that God made man in his image, but it seems more likely that man ended up making God in man's image with the help of the transcendent philosophies propounded by Plato, Aristotle and their followers.  The Christian God became an abstract, anthropomorphic ideal outside and beyond human experience.  You could only get to God by transcending human life when you died, but only if you behaved in the proscribed way.  All life, to the true believers, became beholden and regulated to a set of abstract transcendental ideals.

The philosophy of immanence, on the other hand, supposes that nothing happens outside of natural life - no abstract ideals serving as models for how to live life.  With his historical profiles, Deleuze championed philosophers of Immanence, in particular Spinoza and Nietzsche and updated the concept in ways particularly productive for the theurgic practitioner.  Aleister Crowley's extravagant claim that his school can produce "Christs," (Postcards to Probationers) could only be realized if that circuit (C6 in Leary's model) has an immanent relationship to the student's process.  To have any effect at all, magick require a philosophy of Immanence.  Crowley's 12th Thereom clearly reflects the immanent nature of magick:

WoMan appears ignorant of the nature of hir own being and powers.  Even hir ideas of hir limitations appears based on experience of the past, and every step in hir progress extends hir empire. There seems therefore no reason to assign theoretical limits to what she may be, or to what she may do.

 - Magick, p. 130, (translation modified).

One of the most significant books in Aleister Crowley's secondary literature is Illuminatus! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.  On one level, the book presents a guide to qabala (or cabala as they quaintly spell it), the ten chapters are named after the sephiroth on the Tree of Life.  The first chapter, the first sephira is Kether which refers to God in a general way without indicating or advocating any specific theist belief system though later on it seems pantheism becomes resonant with Kether.  The first sentence in Illuminatus! reads: 

It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton. 

Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, says that the phrase originated in 1952 as a political theory in Eric Voegelin’s. The New Science of Politics.  It means: “trying to make that which belongs to the afterlife happen here and now on Earth” or “trying to create heaven here on Earth.”  Wilson and Shea immediately align themselves to a philosophy of Immanence in alignment with the Thelemic current for which they contribute an unique exegesis.  Incidentally, the first narrator in Illuminatus! sounds remarkably like Lewis Carroll’s Alice when she’s unsure about who she is.  Illuminatus! begins right off with uncertainty about personal identity while, as mentioned, Deleuze confronts this point almost immediately in The Logic of Sense.  Uncertain personal identity challenges the reality and validity of the subject getting replaced by the dynamic process, or the event.  “I seem to be a verb, “ as Buckminster Fuller used to say.

For further research: this first sentence, "It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton."  adds to 80.

Repetition and Love Under Will

In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze radically redefines the regular meaning of repetition.  He divides repetition into two kinds, bare and clothed.  A bare repetition is something that repeats in exactly the same way with no change.  A clothed repetition repeats something, but always in a different way which can include bringing in something  a little bit new, something different, or at the other end of the spectrum, a complete transformation.  Deleuze deals almost exclusively with clothed repetitions.  Whenever Deleuze uses the word repetition he means a clothed repetition unless indicated otherwise.  For him, repetition is how change occurs.  It occurs due to the difference each repetition can potentially bring.  When you add intention to the mix it becomes magick - causing change to occur under will.  You repeat the same ritual over and over and each time it's different in some way, different results, different affects and sensations.  Mix engineers naturally and instinctively know this.  Setting up an audio mix requires listening to the same piece of music repetitively for hours at a time.  Every playback has something different about it, something different gets perceived even if no changes were made to the mix. In general, over a lifetime you can listen to a song or a piece of music many, many, many times and hear it, feel it, sense it, and dance to it differently each time.  Never just repetition, always difference and repetition.

Repetition + Difference + Intention = Magick.

Difference and Repetition was Gilles Deleuze's first book devoted to his own philosophy. Up until that time, 1968, all his publications were historical sketches of other philosophers.  Difference and Repetition was his doctoral thesis.  On page 2 he writes:

The head is the organ of exchange, but the heart is the amorous organ of repetition.  (It is true that repetition also concerns the head, but precisely because it is its terror or paradox)."

The definition of amorous: "inclined or disposed to love, especially sexual love.  Practitioners of tantra, sex magick, and kundalini yoga maintain that sexual energy and spiritual energy refer to different uses of the same energy.  Calling the heart an amorous organ, giving it a sexual force obviously not a physical one, aligns with the efforts of the yogis to draw the kundalini energy up the spine  opening the heart chakra among all the others. The head as repetition's terror or paradox will get examined in a subsequent post that compares the use of paradox by Deleuze and Crowley.  It will be seen that creative repetition for Deleuze requires the cooperation of the head, the heart, and the somatic or sexual forces.  This appears to link repetition with difference to the will to power.  Combining repetition, as Deleuze describes it, with his interpretation of will to power seems an awful lot like love under will.

The way I see it, Deleuze beginning his doctoral thesis by identifying the heart as the organ of repetition (remember, he means clothed repetition, repetition with something different, repetition that brings change) seems cognate with Aleister Crowley insisting to students of the A.'. A.'. that all initial magical efforts should get directed to or focused upon attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.  This operation represents one of the two main tasks in Thelema and takes place in the sphere of Tiphareth, the central Sephiroth on the Tree of Life, the Sephiroth connected to the heart chakra.  Illuminatus! begins in New York's Central Park, an obvious representation for Tiphareth.  Where else could you start if you're writing a guide to qabalah as one of Crowley's brightest students?  I suspect Wilson wrote most or all of the Crowley material in Illuminatus! unless it was Shea.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Crowley/Deleuze show featuring the use of paradox.