Tuesday, June 21st: Gnostic Vertigo in Bataille and Lovecraft

The Public School NY Para-Academia Series #2: Gnostic Vertigo in Bataille and Lovecraft
Observatory (543 Union St., Brooklyn)

The para is the “alongside,” that which comments on the official or normative. While academics debate the finer points of Shakespeare and Kant, para-academics aggregate around shadow-commentators whose works do not so much categorize (striate) and enlighten (bring light into) difficult terrain, but produce that terrain, creating obscure spaces and nebulous discourses that are immune to traditional academic approaches.

Blogs, speculative medievalisms, Cyclonopedia, Charles Fort, teratology, print-on-demand—these and other tentacles of a polycephalic (many-headed) para-academia have entwined to produce an addendum and, finally, an ultimatum to established disciplines and practices.

The Public School New York will explore these emerging ideas and modes of expression through a series of discussions and writing workshops.

The second session of this series will consider links between two highly disparate authors whose work during the 1920s and 30s concerned, among other things, the unspeakable, the limits of philosophy, heterology (study of extreme “Otherness”), and cosmic terror.

Though they were on different planets politically, French anti-philosopher Georges Bataille and American horror luminary Howard Phillips Lovecraft shared a common concern for the foundation of a new, materialist mythology that can see beyond Reason, reconnect man to the world of things (and shit, and horrible creatures), and speak to the unutterable terror of being alive—of being trapped on a ball of mud circling a much larger ball of fire hanging in a void. (The realization of this terror produces “gnostic vertigo.”)

Following a brief investigation of each writer, we will search for the moment of gnostic vertigo in both fiction and philosophy. Organized around short texts, the class will allow for open discussions on key themes (a new materialist mythology, aporia/unspeakable-ness, the limits of philosophy, Other-ness in extremis).

We will also share brief essays of our crafting in the heterological tradition of Bataille. That’s right! You have a writing assignment (optional but recommended) to complete before class: Please write a 1–2 page essay on a single heterological theme. Bataille wrote short, powerful meditations on the eye, the big toe, human sacrifice in Aztec culture, Dali’s paintings, cave paintings, Van Gogh’s sacrificed ear, the solar anus (the sun, the anus, things you “can’t” look at), and other taboo/totally “Other” elements. Please pick some heterogeneous element and investigate it totally from the standpoint of science/materialism/use value/economics (work), society/history (taboo), mythology (archetype, literature), and religion/the unconscious (dream).

Examples include Bataille’s “Eye” and “Rotten Sun” in the course packet. Random thematic suggestions for potential Lovecraftian crossovers include tentacles, jellyfish, sponges, clay/mud, pillar cities/weird architectures, whispers/rasps, and the like.