In Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism, the anonymous author says the following during his chapter on the Sixth Major Arcanum, The Lover:
Regarding the antichrist, this is the phantom of the whole of mankind, the being engendered through the whole historical evolution of humanity. He is the ‘superman’ who haunts the consciousness of all those who seek to elevate themselves through their own effort, without grace. He appeared to Friedrich Nietzsche and showed him ‘in an instant all the kingdoms of the world’ which have existed, exist and will exist, in the circle of eternal return (die ewige Wiederkehr); he invited him to cast himself down into the domain which is beyond good and evil (jenseits von Gut und Böse), and to embrace and announce the gospel of evolution, the gospel of the will-to-power (Wille zur Macht)—this, and this alone (‘Gott ist tot. . .’, i.e. ‘God is dead’), transforms stone (inorganic matter) into bread (organic matter), and organic matter into animal, and animal into man, and man into superman (Uebermensch), who is beyond good and evil and who obeys only his own will (‘O mein Wille, meine Notwendigkeit, du bist mein Gesetz. . .’).
He appeared to Karl Marx and showed him ‘in an instant all the kingdoms of the world’ where all the slaves of the past are transformed into sovereign masters who no longer obey either God, having dethroned him, or Nature, having subjugated her, and who eat their bread which they owe solely to their own knowledge and effort in transforming stone into bread.
And the phantom of humanity has appeared to many others. He appeared also to the Son of Man in the desert. This was the meeting of divine Law made flesh and the law of the serpent—biological and historical evolution—made soul.
Every chapter is roughly 20 pages of tangential, encyclopedic insights into mysticism, as each symbol of the tarot has rich enough energy to inspire endless revelations of our own humanity, and show to us our own personal, maybe dormant, understanding. The author sees The Lover (Tarot de Marseilles), as part of a spiritual journey that is connected to his interpretations on the previous cards—The Pope, who signifies the spiritual quality of poverty, and The Emperor, who signifies the spiritual quality of obedience—and flowing into the next card, The Chariot, which represents the dangerous spot beyond Good and Evil, where one is always tempted to abandon his or her humility. The Lover signifies spiritual chastity, “the fruit of obedience and poverty,” which works as the third and final method of spiritual discipline.
The giant quote above got me thinking about artistic impulses, the willpower needed to create a work of art, and whether there’s any truth to the gnostic belief that this entire material world, and the evolutionary process along with it, serves only evil intentions. Let’s just entertain the idea that this is the case, that no matter how much effort we put into something we think of as our own vision, and something that we see worth devoting a substantial amount of our energy into, that it will all turn out to be a fleeting piece of the material world that, at best (worst), will lead to a path for someone’s, or a group’s, inevitable evolutionary direction, but no matter which direction it goes it will still be on the same ultimate path toward an amoral singularity. It makes me wonder what engine it is that spurs some of the best creative work, and if the ‘personal’ drive—the intentions—can be extracted from a critical look at a work. Can you, for instance, see the confrontations with demons in Dennis Cooper’s Period, which would suggest that his narrative standpoint is from some small holy place outside the grasp of the evil inside that he wishes to extricate? Is it the lack of careerism or marketing intentions that give old works like The Iliad, The Divine Comedy, The Tale of Genji their divine grace? That these works were created for some other intention besides a simple expression of feelings, that their forms intended to aim at something outside our material conditions instead of trying to succeed inside them?
Sartre made the distinction between physical reality and a non-material substance imbedded within us in Being and Nothingness, but didn’t ascribe moral implications to Being (In-Itself) and Nothingness (For-Itself), the latter otherwise known as consciousness, the soul, the emptiness, holiness, the hole in our wholeness, the touch of the eternal, the death inherent inside of us struggling for its escape. This is the indescribable area that we throw names at that can’t stick, where artistic creation happens, however it happens; this is the area, our essence, where original thought stems from by synthesizing all the input from our senses. The only evidence of its existence (in an objective sense) is from its output, a creative object graced with an artistic quality, with ‘life,’ with a seeming newness, uniqueness, something that demands consideration and a place in memory, and something that very likely overwhelms the nervous system and makes the one experiencing it, for an instant, think that the world is bearable, as it reflects and verifies this same space inside of us.
Lumping all things into Good and Evil categories is pretty antiquated from the standpoint of our generation. But if we entertain the idea, the furthest one could take this dichotomy would be to say that, as the anonymous author further illustrates, every aspect of our physical world is Evil and only this immaterial area or spark within us is Good.
One could say that it is a matter more of a great scientific intellect and the will of an experimenter which is revealed in natural evolution (the existence of which one can no longer deny), rather than divine wisdom and goodness. The tableau of evolution that the natural sciences—above all biology—have at last obtained as a result of prodigious work reveals to us without any doubt the work of a very subtle, but imperfect, intellect and a very determined, but imperfect, will. It is therefore the serpent, ‘the most artful animal of the fields’, that the world of biological evolution reveals to us, and not God. It is the serpent who is the ‘prince of this world’, and who is the author and director of the purely biological evolution following the Fall.
So, all of biological evolution has been a trial and error exercise in perfecting the darker, more insidious sides of our collective character. In the process, this demonic formation known as evolution has subsumed many of its more well thought out theories of opposition, and as a result, they lead to dead ends—hopelessness or delusion, blindness—and stay alive in historical thought resulting from their inherent Evil—because only Evil survives in the evolutionary process if evolution is revealed as Evil. It’s the liberation theories’ inability or unwillingness to secede from material life that give them this quality. Marx described in unmatched detail the burgeoning of capitalism, a system that builds upon itself with the full spectrum of material life by utilizing the energy harnessed through dialectical conflicts, a system that mechanized its own bastardized form of natural law—Social Darwinism—from a common understanding of natural selection. Marx, more than likely unknowingly—why would he have wasted so much time?—generated a false hope in workers and academics of every following generation by claiming that equality is an attainable goal by the means of practical materialism. The reason this can’t happen, using our primary text as the standard here, is because equality is an ideal saved for paradise, not our world of sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, not for, in the words of Hardy’s Tess, our ‘blighted star.’ Equality is morally Good, and therefore can’t be included in the Evil evolutionary process. The only ideas that are allowed to come into fruition and get disseminated on a massive scale are ones that aid the progress of Evil or halt the path toward understanding Good. The most genuinely well intentioned of all human actions must therefore be useless, in terms of cause and effect
Antonin Artaud, I think, understood this. He ends ‘Fragments of a Journal in Hell’ with these two selections:
Life will perpetuate itself, events will go on happening, spiritual conflicts will be resolved, and I will play no part in them. I have nothing to hope for on either side, moral or physical. For me there is perpetual sorrow and shadow, the night of the soul, and I have no voice to cry out.
Cast your riches far from this numb body, for it is insensible to the seasons of the spirit or the flesh.
I have chosen the domain of sorrow and shadow as others have chosen that of the glow and the accumulation of things.
I do not labor within the scope of any domain.
My only labor is in eternity itself.
And in the fragment, “Here is Someone …” he says:
If one could take pleasure in one’s own Void, if one could settle down in his own Void, and if this Void were neither a certain kind of being nor also completely a death.
It’s so hard to no longer exist, to no longer BE, as a part of something. The real pain is to feel thought shifting inside you. But thought, like a point, is not definitely a pain.
One of the most unique qualities of a truly good artist who subscribes to this gnostic, the-whole-world-is-evil mentality, is how he or she manages to find some reason to stay alive and working, almost as if just to spite nature, as if to prove the point, perhaps only to him- or herself that the human will can be used for something useless, in other words, for something Good, as in not contributing to the progression or evolution of evil. It’s the height (or base) of humility to do so, to do something that cannot biologically survive in our Evil flow of collective human actions, as the anonymous author of Meditations says in the chapter on The Chariot Arcanum:
For humility, like charity, is not a natural quality of human nature. Its origins can in no way be found in the domain of natural evolution, since it is not possible to conceive of it as the fruit of the ‘struggle for existence’, i.e. natural selection and the survival of the fittest at the expense of the weak. Because the school of the struggle for existence does not produce humble people; it produces only strugglers and fighters of every kind. Humility is therefore a quality which must be due to the action of grace, i.e. it must be a gift from above.”
It’s no wonder that the first hexagram of the I-Ching makes Heaven synonymous with The Creative. The last set of questions I have are, Are these symbols from the Tarot or the I-Ching a part of our material world, and if not, how else would we be able to recognize them without their material counterparts? If they are a part of the material world, why would we not dismiss them like everything else that we lump in with Evil? Perhaps they are symbols so rich that the path from their image to their substance (or lack thereof) is really just an exercise in their own logical unraveling, so that their meaning can be revealed as nothingness in a world where meaning can do nothing but create Evil.
For all concepts and abstract ideas can become icons or ‘sacred images’ when one considers them not as the end, but rather as the beginning of the way of knowledge of spiritual reality… An icon is the beginning of the way to spiritual reality; it does not replace it—as an idolatry—but gives an impulse and direction towards it.