No guarantees that I finished any of these. I drop a lot of books, even ones I like.


The Occult Roots of Nazism
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

I have read about 40 pages at time of writing. So far, I've always conceived of Nazism through a high school history education and the pop-cultural backdrop of History Channel shows, where Hitler is eating ground up mummies or whatever. I am only a little ways through the book, but it really does make sense of why Nazism was able to take hold. As a layman, the question of "how could this happen" looms large over the holocaust--how could the German citizenry accept such a thing? Obviously anti-semitism was widespread in the late 19th century, but in Germany it was part of a bigger nationalist-theosophist milieu.

Germany was a jigsaw puzzle of regions and ethnicities leading up to WWI, and a bunch of reactionaries wanted to unify (ethnic) Germans as Germany. This is the material reality of the whole thing. As this antagonism develops between Austrian Germans and e.g. Slavs, theosophy starts to take hold, professing a pseudo-Hinduistic cosmic caste system where spirits can ascend through the racial hierarchy over lives, eventually becoming Aryan. These guys love swastikas, but theosophy is not nationalistic in and of itself, it's a hodgepodge of esoteric beliefs and took root in many countries. It also calls itself a science, and has a place in occult magazines alongside the hard science of hypnosis.

The catalyst for Nazism seems instead to be the "volkisch" fantasy of medieval German peasantry, rituals praising Wotan, and worship of nature in general. Paganism, in a word. The practice of volkisch activities in the late 19c. served to create a mythical thread of history through Germany, professing the continued existence of a German volk since time immemorial. This was allowed to mingle with theosophy's racism and provided it a pseudo-scientific basis for anti-semitism. So we have this occult-nationalism on one side, and an occult-science of racism on the other. It's an ideology with a powerful emotional and psychedelic effect, and it legitimizes itself as a science. If these ideas infect powerful people, what do you think is going to happen?

WWI left Germany more of a jigsaw puzzle than before. It was destroyed and punished unjustly by the "international community" and this real grievance was melded with all the occult shit. Everything was up in the air and it offered the perfect social environment for some crazies to seize power.

To me there was a striking resemblence to Qanon, although the current formulation of reactionary politics hasn't done any outright genociding yet. The American right loves the myth of the founding fathers, which establishes an American historical bloodline mostly through the legal instrument of the constitution. For years, American values have been "under attack" from any number of commie, non-white, or non-straight groups. Qanon is the occult science. Adherents try to divine the occult meaning of the Q drops, and they have unwavering belief even as prophecies fail to materialize. It is a revolutionary gnosticism that wants to destroy leaders of the material world so as to pass into the spiritually perfect Trump-universe. I don't know, I'm just riffing here.

The book itself is dense, listing many names, years, and events in a fairly dry way. This overload of information serves to establish the broad popularity of what Goodrick-Clarke usually calls pan-Germanism. Interesting details still stick out, and he establishes the lineage and mutation of the ideas he is discussing, even if my eyes kind of glaze over at the incredible specificity.

The Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka

I picked this story up again for the first time since high school. I was thinking about the phrase "bug man" and the story seemed like a good thing to consult. There are two parts of the Metamorphosis that I found scary: The way that Gregor totally normalizes his situation, and the way his attempts at communication are always interpreted as malicious. The bug part is gross, but not scary; it is scary for the family but we're in Gregor's perspective the whole time and so we kind of normalize his situation as well.

That's what really sticks in my head, and where the Metamorphosis does kind of dovetail with the whole "live in the pod eat the bugs" thing. Gregor rationalizes an insane situation. His main problem at the beginning of the story is that, because he is an insect, he cannot get out of bed and go to work. His insistent rationalizing leads to each of his injuries, his familiy's hatred of him, and his death. The phrase "America is Already Great" comes to mind, liberals writ large insisting that nothing is wrong while everything gets worse. MAGA itself was and is a symptom of that country's profound sickness but liberals are unwilling or unable to deal with that and retreat to their usual platitudes.

Anyway. Kafka's prose is well-suited to the kinds of stories he writes, I would describe it as serviceable in the best possible way--not at all flashy, but serves to focus our attention on the proper details. It is not suited to "classical" horror (slasher/cosmic/whatever), but is perfect for a character like Gregor: the "normality" of the writing contrasts with the situation and is an integral part of the story's horror. This is also a big part of the appeal of his famous horror-beaurocracy novels. Although I must admit they aren't really my thing.

The Passenger
Cormac McCarthy

Strange, brooding, lost. I can't decide if it's his best or his worst but it's one of my favourites. If it's his best novel, then it's mankind's greatest work of art. It wrestles with a dense tangle of ideas and I can't help but think it's allegorical. The name Bobby Western. Characters sometimes exaggerated to the point that they feel archetypal.

The schizophrenia scenes struck me as remarkably similar in tone to parts of Gravity's Rainbow (and Pynchon's other stuff, but GR is what I'm most familiar with). The book as a whole almost feels like America's side of the story--where Pynchon was obsessed with the psychosexual effects of the Rocket, McCarthy laments the atomic bomb. Physics, psychology, and paranoia loom large in both novels, but the comedic parts of GR are horrific here in the Kid and his circus. Also Thalidomide Kid/Kenosha Kid. Not sure if there's anything substantive there, just making connections.

The NYT interpretation is interesting also, that the Kid is Blood Meridian's Kid. The warped Americana is certainly consistent, and would mark a sort of closing by return where the violence of the early American west catches up with a child of the nuclear bomb. Apparently McCarthy has been working on the Passenger since the 80s, so it's not too crazy to think that the two books may be contiguous.

But the Judge's preaching is nowhere to be found here. Maybe the Judge is science itself, this thing that promises meaning and Truth but seems to just kill everyone it touches. Maybe the judge was right, and the human world is a crystal grown from the seed of war. I don't know.

This note is getting long in the tooth, but I am constantly thinking about Blood Meridian's epilogue. It is so stormy and abstract but it almost certainly refers to a post-hole digger i.e. the enclosure of the West within fences (and legalized property). The spirit of War is no longer in the Glanton gang's flamboyant bloodletting but is transferred into these property relations. Whatever McCarthy intended, it's such a prescient passage and the way he wrote it renders the whole thing into a nightmare.

Stella Marris
Cormac McCarthy

A companion or coda to the Passenger, entirely in dialogue. While the characters are charming and well-rendered, believability is strained for me and the novel at times felt like a reading list more than a novel. It must be McCarthy's densest piece of writing, I will have to read it again to make heads or tails of it, but on my first reading it was a bibliography disguised as a Cormac McCarthy novel.

I did enjoy it though, and it led me down some fun research rabbit holes. Grothendieck is fascinating.

William Shakespeare

I don't have anything to add to the conversation about Shakespeare, he's remembered as great for a reason. Both as an architect and master of the English language. This stuff really went over my head when I was younger but it's almost dizzying how good of a writer he was. And he did it within the limitations of blank verse!

...and Forgive Them Their Debts
Michael Hudson

A book about the history and function of debt in antiquity, and the widespread practice of periodic debt forgiveness. The concept of silver (business) debts and grain (personal/subsistence agricultural) debts activates my almonds. The origin of numbers in the counting of valuable cattle. The biblical stuff is of particular interest, the church's early merging with the Roman state served to erase Jesus' more radical messages about forgiveness. We are always in the shadow of finance.

Nine Stories
J.D. Salinger

I love Salinger's style. Actions are always rendered raw, as in the ending of A Perfect Day for Bananafish while the dialogue of its (usually privileged) characters is often obscure or precocious. The friction between these things is what makes Catcher in the Rye such an interesting book, an interplay between Holden's interpretation of reality and the bare truth.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
Shoshana Zuboff

Identifies Google's innovations in advertising and metrics as a genuinely new form of capitalism. Her proposals for how this system works are not super interesting and the book is steeped in Liberal nostalgia, but the author conducted tons of original research and took special care to explain the tricks Google and co. have used to normalize surveillance over the years. She also made the same connection as me, between this stuff and B.F. Skinner's research, which felt nice.

Pokemon Go and the shadier parts of the StreetView project were headed by the same people. This is a great point for Pay to Win, to connect the whole surveillance capitalist project to games and explain Zuboff's guaranteed outcomes in terms of game-mechanical incentives.

Introduction to the Reading of Hegel
Alexandre Kojeve

Kojeve's lectures on Hegel were attended by all of the big name French existentialists, but it doesn't seem like they got much out of them. The way Kojeve bridges Hegel and Marx and blends in his own interpretations is fascinating, I really want to read his original works. I think about the diagrams all the time.