Wednesday, January 31, 2024

On Pirates

There's a fragment of Cicero's Republic from around 51 BC that recounts the story of a captured pirate captain who was brought before Alexander the Great. Alexander has one main question for the pirate, and the anecdote finishes like this:
 . . . for when he was asked what wickedness drove him to harass the sea with his one pirate galley, he replied, "The same wickedness that drives you to harass the whole world."
– Cicero, Republic 3.14 (translation by C.W. Keyes)

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Burned Cities

Thanks to my sister, I've been lucky enough over the last year or so to go to a couple of performances of the immersive production The Burnt City. It takes place in a Troy which is simultaneously Schliemann's excavation, the ancient city, and a Blade Runner-type Art Deco dystopia. As their own website says, "As night falls, Gods, mortals, dreamers and lovers come alive – one last time."

So I was interested recently when I came across this passage from Arthur Evans' excavation report on Knossos, The Palace of Minos III (1930):

The Grand Staircase as thus re-compacted stands alone among ancient architectural remains. With its charred columns solidly restored in their pristine hues, surrounding in tiers its central well, its balustrades rising, practically intact, one above the other, with its imposing fresco of the great Minoan shields on the back walls of its middle gallery, now replaced in replica, and its still well-preserved gypsum steps ascending to four landings, it revives, as no other part of the building, the remote past. It was, indeed, my own lot to experience its strange power of imaginative suggestion, even at a time when the work of reconstitution had not attained its present completeness. During an attack of fever, having found, for the sake of better air, a temporary lodging in the room below the inspection tower that has been erected on the neighbouring edge of the Central Court, and tempted in the warm moonlight to look down the staircase-well, the whole place seemed to awake awhile to life and movement. Such was the force of the illusion that the Priest-King with his plumed lily crown, great ladies, tightly girdled, flounced and corseted, long-stoled priests, and, after them, a retinue of elegant but sinewy youths—as if the Cup-bearer and his fellows had stepped down from the walls—passed and repassed on the flights below.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Big Gaps Before the 80s

One of the things Letterboxd lets you do is see what films you've watched by release year. Here's what my efforts so far look like.

Letterboxd Films By Year

1988 seems to be the year I home in on, but I could do with watching more films from before the 80s in general.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

It's Literally a Spectre. It's Scary as Hell.*

To what extent Marx and/or Engels encountered occultists or their literature is not known, and is certainly not a question that has interested any of their biographers. It cannot be said that the passing references to alchemy and the Philosophers' Stone in their writings indicate any familiarity with original hermetic sources. We do know, however, that they shared Hegel's high esteem for the sixteenth-century German mystic and heretic Jacob Boehme, saluted by Marx in the Rheinische Zeitung in 1842 as "a great philosopher." Four years earlier Engels had made a special study of Boehme, finding him "a dark but deep soul," "very original " and "rich in poetic ideas." Boehme is cited in The Holy Family and in several other writings of  Marx and Engels over the years.

One of the things that may have attracted them to Boehme is the fact that he was very much a dialectical thinker. Dialectic abounds in the work of many mystical authors, not least in treatises on magic, alchemy and other "secret sciences" and it should astonish no one to discover that rebellious young students of Hegel had made surreptitious forays onto this uncharted terrain in their quest for knowledge. This was certainly the case with one of Marx's close friends, a fellow Young Hegelian, Mikhail Bakunin, who often joined him for those all-night discussions at Proudhon's. As a young man the future author of God and the State is known to have studied the works of the French mystic, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, "The Unknown Philosopher" and "Lover of Secret Things," as well as of the eccentric German romantic philosopher, Franz von Baader, author of a study of the mysterious eighteenth-century Portuguese-Jewish mage, Martinez de Pasqualis, who is thought by some to have had a part in the formation of Haitian voodoo (he spent his last years on the island and died in Port-au-Prince in 1774), and whose Traité de la réintégration is one of the most influential occult writings of the last two centuries.
- Franklin Rosemont, "Karl Marx & The Iroquois", (1989)

*This joke stolen from a Nick Pinkerton Tweet that now seems to have been deleted.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Nom de guerre


That symbol on the green chest patch is a Wolfsangel, as used by the 2nd SS Panzer Division, so I suspect he knew what he was doing when he told them that his surname was "Friekorps".

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Importance of Procopius

The historical King Arthur seems to have been a petty British King, a commander of allied cavalry, whom the Romans left to his fate when their regular infantry were withdrawn from the garrison towns of Britain at the beginning of the fifth century. If a Procopius had been his chronicler, the ogres and fairy ships and magicians and questing beasts would not have figured in the story except perhaps as a digressive account of contemporary British legend. Instead we should have a lucid chapter or two of late Roman military history – Arthur's gallant attempt to preserve a remanant of Christian civilization in the West country against the pressure of heathen invasion. And Arthur's horse would have been a big-boned cavalry charger, not a fairy steed flying him wildly off towards the Christian millennium.

- Robert Graves, Foreword to Count Belisarius (1938)

Friday, December 31, 2021

Films I Saw in 2021

 Now that I've started using Letterboxd I can pull up neat statistics about what I saw this year. Here's a list of what I saw:


and here's a world map of where they're from (Hong Kong not visible at this scale):