Category Archives: Literature

“At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft: Exploring the Subconscious Mind

This novella is one of Lovecraft’s most famous works. It is the story of a group of explorers in the Antarctic who discover the existence of an alien race that forged the evolution of humanity. But the real power of this tale is in the symbolism. Lovecraft uses the story as a vehicle for probing into humanity’s collective subconscious.

The mountains themselves are symbolic of the border, or threshold, between the two states of consciousness.

Little by little, however, they rose grimly into the western sky; allowing us to distinguish various bare, bleak, blackish summits, and to catch the curious sense of phantasy which they inspired as seen in the reddish antarctic light against the provocative background of iridescent ice-dust clouds. In the whole spectacle there was a persistent, pervasive hint of stupendous secrecy and potential revelation; as if these stark, nightmare spires marked the pylons of a frightful gateway into forbidden spheres of dream, and complex gulfs of remote time, space, and ultra-dimensionality. I could not help feeling that they were evil things—mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss. That seething, half-luminous cloud-background held ineffable suggestions of a vague, ethereal beyondness far more than terrestrially spatial; and gave appalling reminders of the utter remoteness, separateness, desolation, and aeon-long death of this untrodden and unfathomed austral world.

Once an individual has crossed the boundary and entered to dark caverns of primordial consciousness, that person begins to lose his or her grasp on what we deem sanity in our state of normal awareness. Our mythology is full of tales warning about this. It is the metaphor of “looking back,” of shining a light on the dark past of human consciousness which should remain buried. Lovecraft alludes to these metaphors as the protagonists desperately attempt to escape the nether-regions and return to the world of sanity and normal consciousness.

So we glanced back—simultaneously, it would appear; though no doubt the incipient motion of one prompted the imitation of the other. As we did so we flashed both torches full strength at the momentarily thinned mist; either from sheer primitive anxiety to see all we could, or in a less primitive but equally unconscious effort to dazzle the entity before we dimmed our light and dodged among the penguins of the labyrinth-centre ahead. Unhappy act! Not Orpheus himself, or Lot’s wife, paid much more dearly for a backward glance. And again came that shocking, wide-ranged piping—“Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!

Lovecraft concludes his tale with a stark warning: there are some things that should remain buried in the subconscious. That probing too far into the darkened and obscure recesses of the mind is dangerous, both for the individual and for humanity as a collective whole.

It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.

If you have not read this story, I highly recommend it. It is well-written, thrilling, and deeply thought-provoking. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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Thoughts on “Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

This book, part of Marvel’s Epic Collection, contains reprints of the earliest Doctor Strange comics. The book contains the tales published between July 1963 and July 1966.

So without sounding too nerdy, I have to say that I really love Doctor Strange. I find the material fascinating: parallel universes, astral projection, mysticism, these are all things that are near and dear to me. But the real beauty of the early Doctor Strange is the artwork. Steve Ditko’s psychedelic representations of other realms and interdimensional struggles are nothing short of mind-blowing. It should come as no surprise that Pink Floyd included an image of Doctor Strange on the cover of their second album, “A Saucerful of Secrets.”

In one of the tales, Doctor Strange is ensnared in a mind-trap. The text, representing Strange’s thoughts, and the accompanying illustrations, capture the sensation of becoming overwhelmed as a result of an hallucinatory experience.

It has encircled me again! But this is a new mental weapon – – with a different power! It is the most dangerous one of all – – for it feeds the brain hallucinations! I cannot tell what is real, or what is imaginary! Unless I can shatter this web of wonderment, all is lost! My mission will be forgotten – – I will be doomed to a life of aimless imagery!

(p. 258)

Next year, Marvel is supposed to release the second Doctor Strange film. It is amazing that a comic created nearly 60 years ago can still feel relevant today, and can still inspire generations. I for one am looking forward to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” currently scheduled to hit the theaters on March 25, 2022.

Thanks for stopping by and reading. Cheers!

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Monstress: Issue 35

While reading this installment of the Monstress series, I came across a snippet of dialog that resonated with me.

“Life is very strange, isn’t it?”

“… Stranger … than I … could have dreamed …”

Life is truly strange, and it keeps getting stranger. Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined an existence like the one we have today. What was it Hunter S. Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”? I guess that can be applied to our strange lives.

Anyway, hope you are safely navigating these strange waters. Thanks for stopping by.

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Thoughts on “Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe’s version of the Faustian legend is a cautionary tale for those who are obsessed with learning, the occult, and who suffer from pride and arrogance. “It was written sometime between 1589 and 1592, and may have been performed between 1592 and Marlowe’s death in 1593.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Early in the play, Faustus conjures the demon Mephistophilis and asks him a series of questions, including questions regarding Lucifer.

Faustus. Was not that Lucifer an angel once?

Mephistophilis. Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov’d of God.

Faustus. How comes it, then, that he is prince of devils?

Mephistophilis. O, by aspiring pride and insolence;
For which God threw him from the face of heaven.

(Act I: scene iii)

It is important to note that Faustus also suffers from “aspiring pride and insolence,” like Lucifer. Marlowe is foreshadowing the inevitable tragic fall of Faustus.

As is often the case, it is only when Faustus is faced with his death and eternal damnation that he realizes his mistakes and suffers the pangs of remorse.

But Faustus’ offence can ne’er be pardoned:  the serpent
that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus.  Ah, gentlemen,
hear me with patience, and tremble not at my speeches!  Though
my heart pants and quivers to remember that I have been a student
here these thirty years, O, would I had never seen Wittenberg,
never read book! and what wonders I have done, all Germany can
witness, yea, all the world; for which Faustus hath lost both
Germany and the world, yea, heaven itself, heaven, the seat of
God, the throne of the blessed, the kingdom of joy; and must
remain in hell for ever, hell, ah, hell, forever!  Sweet friends,
what shall become of Faustus, being in hell forever?

(Act V: scene ii)

While it is generally accepted that the legend of Doctor Faustus is based upon an historical figure, Johann Faustus, who lived in Germany from about 1480 to about 1541, I could not help wondering if there was another inspiration for Marlowe’s adaptation of the legend. My first thought was that Marlowe was using the character of Faustus to criticize John Dee, one of his contemporaries who was a well-known magician and practitioner of the occult.

John Dee (13 July 1527 – 1608 or 1609) was an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, teacher, occultist, and alchemist. He was the court astronomer for, and advisor to, Elizabeth I, and spent much of his time on alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy. As an antiquarian, he had one of the largest libraries in England at the time. As a political advisor, he advocated for the founding of English colonies in the New World to form a “British Empire”, a term he is credited with coining.

Dee eventually left Elizabeth’s service and went on a quest for additional knowledge in the deeper realms of the occult and supernatural.

(Source: Wikipedia)

While Marlowe could have been writing about John Dee, there is another possibility that I could not avoid considering, and that was that he was writing about himself. Marlowe died shortly after completing the play, and a close reading of the text demonstrates that Marlowe likely had studied occult philosophy. Did he sense that he was nearing his death, and did he harbor any remorse about things he did, or practices he might have engaged in? This is nothing but pure speculation on my part, but I feel that one could make a case.

As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Have a blessed day.

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Thoughts on “The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt” by Ken Krimstein

So a while back, I said that I was going to be changing the format of the blog and just posting quotes instead of sharing my thoughts. Well, as you have likely surmised, I have gone back to my original format. There were a couple reasons why I went full circle:

  • I discovered that posting quotes regularly did not really take that much less time; in fact, I think I spent even more time, since I felt compelled to post more often.
  • My daughter was all excited because she Googled something by Umberto Eco and one of my blog posts was the top Google search result.

Anyway, I figure I will write when I can, and not sweat it if I get too busy to write. That said, my thoughts on this book.

I came across this at a community center where there was a table of free books (a dangerous thing for a bibliophile). Most of the books were of no interest to me, but this one immediately caught my attention. While in college, I had read Hannah Arendt’s masterpiece of political theory, The Origins of Totalitarianism. The book was one of those that left a strong and lasting impact on me. I cannot tell you how many times I have observed the behaviors of political leaders and listened to their words, then thought back to Arendt’s book. Essentially, she wrote the book on totalitarianism. The term did not exist until she coined it.

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt is a biographical graphic novel. It provides a witty overview of Arendt’s life, how she fled Europe during World War II, established herself as a political theorist and philosopher, and eventually went on to become the first woman to be appointed full professor at Princeton University.

While most of the book tells the story of Ms. Arendt’s life, it does briefly summarize some of her political ideas.

As fire lives on oxygen, the oxygen of totalitarianism is untruth. Before totalitarian leaders can fit reality to their lies, their message is an unreeling contempt for facts. They live by the belief that fact depends entirely on the power of the man who makes it up.

(p. 167)

The graphic novel quotes Arendt as saying, “Whatever I do, I am simply unable to avert my eyes from the reality of the world around me.” (p. 126) I feel the same way. It is impossible to ignore what I see going on in the world. And if you ever read The Origins of Totalitarianism, you will also not be able to look at the behaviors of political leaders the same way again.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share in my musings. I hope you find these posts interesting. If so, please let me know. As long as there is interest, I will do my best to keep writing.

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Intelligent Dialogue

All this talk is useless blather, worse than gibberish. But at least I am able to find one intelligent, truth-telling person to talk to, to argue with sensibly, to dialogue with. Myself.

Ken Krimstein. The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt

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A Stroll Around Paris

… and then, after I left the Louvre, the American tourists buying bushels of postcards of the Mona Lisa, I followed my nose down a web of back alleys and I saw it, bricks and planks, which I tore down with my bare hands: what signaled the find was an 1832 handbill for a wild beast show, so I knew, through that portal the past would spread her loins, a vestal virgin, and when the shroud collapsed, the rusted ruins of a mouldering arcade embraced me – a broken cat’s eye marble, the chipped arm of a porcelain doll, its milky glaze supple to the touch, physical evidence of time, the past gushing ahead of the non-existent future, an electric buzz to rival hashish or cocaine or opium, a true phantasmagoria of the space that echoes the passion of the gambler, the narcotic continuous present.

Ken Krimstein. The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt

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Three Treasures

I have Three Treasures, which I hold fast and watch over closely. The first is Mercy. The second is Frugality. The third is Not Daring to Be First in the World. Because I am merciful, therefore I can be brave. Because I am frugal, therefore I can be generous. Because I dare not be first, therefore I can be the chief of all vessels.

If a man wants to be brave without first being merciful, generous without first being frugal, a leader without first wishing to follow, he is only courting death!

Lao Tzu. Tao Teh Ching

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A Reflection on Dying

Umberto Eco

I am one of those people who don’t miss their youth (I’m glad I had one, but wouldn’t like to start over), because today I feel more fulfilled than ever. But the thought that all my experience will be lost at the moment of my death makes me feel pain and fear. The thought that those who come after me will know as much as I do, and even more, fails to console me. What a waste, decades spent building up experience, only to throw it all away. It’s like burning down the Library of Alexandria, destroying the Louvre, or sending the beautiful, rich, and all-wise Atlantis to the bottom of the sea.

We remedy this sadness by working. For example, by writing, painting, or building cities. You die, but most of what you have accumulated will not be lost; you are leaving a message in a bottle.

Umberto Eco. Turning Back the Clock

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What a Piece of Work is a Man

Lawrence Olivier as Hamlet

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust?

William Shakespeare. Hamlet

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