Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Magus Magazine: The Savage as Post-Modern Prometheus

Magus Magazine: The Savage as Post-Modern Prometheus: How do we explain premodern occultism? There has been much work on the subject from the 17 th century into modern day but premodern occult...

The Savage as Post-Modern Prometheus

How do we explain premodern occultism? There has been much work on the subject from the 17th century into modern day but premodern occultism is largely an examination of religious ritual. And this makes sense. The two were intertwined and much of early socio-religious organization was based on finding anthropomorphic or humanlike ‘recognizable’ characteristics in both natural and supernatural ecologies. Much of academia jeers this tendency but the premodern Savage understood representation and how to construct being maybe better than we do today. When they designated something or imbued something with recognizable traits, they gave it existence. This made language something very powerful. As Bracken has remarked, “language is the incalculable event of a being’s emergence into being”. [1] When the savage said the name of something, it was enough to invoke it into their presence.

The occultist is a Savage. I don’t mean that in any mean or disparaging way. The occultist is like primitive man, largely an invention.  We construct what we think they were like.  But it’s a paradox.  Scholars instruct us to make a “picture” even as they warn us not to make it up. [2] Perhaps we have no idea what premodern occultism was like. It’s our best guess.  And mainstream academia has no room for occultism at the table. We cannot rely solely on artifacts, ritual paraphernalia, and other material culture because archaeology doesn’t have the time or inclination to differentiate occult practice from any other ritual behavior.  Furthermore, as Karl Bucher correctly surmised, anthropology’s “picture” of savagery unhinges the opposition between mimesis, a discourse of imitation and poiesis, a discourse of invention.  Our favorite fetishes are examples of this. When we construct a representation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, the creation is only representation of the actual entity. But if we then imitate that creation, Ra-Hoor-Khuit becomes the original and us now the representation. The creation becomes the original and subsequently “lives.”  It is a method of conjuration that then is autonomous of us. As Walter Benjamin stated, “to observe a thing, means only to arouse it to self-recognition. Magical observation consists not in any reflecting on an entity but in the unfolding of spirit in an entity”.[3]
What the post-modern Savage knows instinctively is that occult practices are about potentialities. The method makes use of what can potentially come to pass. The ritual is one of completion. Just as the four corners of a magic square signify completion, the latent potentialities in the ritual are the source of its true self-evidence. As Georgio Agamben states, “potentiality is not simply non-Being, simple privation, but rather the existence of non-Being, the presence of an absence. “[4] Embedded within the potentiality of absence is the entity’s eventual becoming.

All ritual is interaction and the Savage knows this. Or more specifically, the “quality” of the interaction. When we realize the numinous, we elicit a transformation. It’s something we feel.  It is in the shock and awe that transformation happens in us. And it’s easy to undervalue what this means. It’s easy to perform a ritual and exclaim afterwards, “I feel changed!” or “I’ve been transformed!” But when somebody really does witness a numinous event, the idea of terror moves from conceptual to experiential understanding. It is realized.  This form of occult understanding includes a new “awareness” of the phenomenon. It is the kind of awareness we get when somebody jarringly enters a room that we’ve been alone in for hours. It’s unnerving when Being is made Present. This is important to the post-modern Savage. At the moment that our spirit entity shifts from a conceptual to an experiential event, they undergo an ontological change of state. They become present. And having these entities present gives us the interaction needed to empathize with them. We can bond with them. We feel instinctively the truthfulness of somebody when they say, “I understand you” or “I share your feelings” because we feel the sincerity of the statement. We are moved by this kind of talk. If done right, occult ritual also leads to this bonding that makes an entity present to us. The interaction happens when the numinous  transforms us. It may be jarring or perhaps even terrifying but this gift of presence is of good “quality”. The interaction has been successful. It is being aware of a relationship and it carries a message of mutual empathy. Moreover, this interaction doesn’t require that these entities have human emotions or desires. Nor does Man need have their ambitions or agendas. All that is required is an empathetic bond instilled when the veil is torn asunder by being brought closer.

The occultist is a Savage and his methods an end to normal sensibilities. He is thought to live in a dreamworld. He sleepwalks in daylight. His personifications are all too human. He is tragically flawed and incapable of metaphor. His thinking is like a child. He naively confuses associations of symbol with real life. He sees people on TV and thinks they’re real. Characters in books are conjured. He is noble and he is honorable but he is dim. He believes his creations are both constructions and autonomous. He believes that things can be made by Man and God. He is hopelessly animistic. He believes in a second real world. He cannot separate real from the ideal. He cannot be socially civilized. He is a dreamer. We could teach him but can he be taught?
These are the common representations of the Savage thinker. A dreamer out of touch with reality. Somebody the enlightenment forgot. In actuality, the violence inflicted on the Savage is a gross caricature. But we’ll embrace these pictures of us. We’ll hold on tight and like Prometheus allow ourselves to be chained to a rock. The ‘civilized’ are free to feed on our liver. We delight in it! It was us that thought to steal actualizing energy (energeia) from nature (phusis) and grant it unlawfully to discourse (logos). [5] It was us that first experienced the gods and goddesses. The so-called civilized will remember us as their creations come of age. The electronic era will remember the Savage and we will be renewed once again as their creations discover autonomy.  The Savage is a dreamer. We are no difficult to Western Civilization as “it finds itself between dreams. In the true meaning of the word, it is a time of crisis-with all that implies of both extraordinary danger and opportunity”.[6] The Savage is in-between dreams. We live a liminal existence between yesterday’s premodern and tomorrow’s postmodern thought.  It’s now time for the so-called civilized to witness the Savage and our spectral world as we are re-embodied through interaction.  

[1] Christopher Bracken, Magical Criticism. University of Chicago Press. 2007.  pp. 21
[2] Ibid pp. 5
[3] Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings Volume 1, 1913-1926.  Ed. By Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge. MA. Harvard Univ. Press. 1996. pp. 151/166
[4] Giorgio Agamben, “On Potentiality” In Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford Univ. Press. 1999. pp. 179
[5] Jean-Luc Nancy, “Myth Interrupted,” In The Inoperative Community. Ed. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawhney. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press. 1991.  45,I 6 I n 2 I
[6] Jacob Needleman, A Sense of the Cosmos. New York. 1975. pp. 1-9