I received a mysterious text message earlier in the week from a British phone number. I was confused. I thought they all hated me in the United Kingdom. The message involved an event at The Drawing Center, a venue that I knew nothing about. Presumably, it was a safe place for lonely people to sketch on their pads or for reenactments of Shirley Jackson’s famous story. No drawing, not even of the lottery variety, was to be had on Tuesday night. (Honestly, if one must be stoned by a crowd, I can’t think of a better evening than Tuesday.)
Instead, about seventy-five artsy people were treated to a formal lecture, styled “Inauthenticity: The International Necronautical Society Reveals the Comic Secret of Literature, Art and Philosophy,” delivered by INS General Secretary Tom McCarthy and INS Chief Philosopher Simon Critchley — two men who were quite serious about their topic. No sherry was served. After inquiring about this with a few trusted sources, I was assured that the INS was a bona-fide credentialed world organization — of what authority, none of them could say. When I later asked the two INS representatives for appropriate accreditation, they ran away, suggesting that I was bifurcating the Hegelian ideal of dichotomous discourse. They may have had a point. I should have taken better notes.
“That depends upon how you define press,” I replied.
There weren’t many literary people in the crowd, except some guy I knew who was obsessed with Mr. Critchley’s furrows. And what impressive furrows they were. Mr. Critchley, it should be noted, was quite bald and very serious. Perhaps more serious than Mr. McCarthy. In fact, if I had to trust one of the two INS representatives to kill someone, it would probably be Mr. Critchley. I was not close enough to see if Mr. Critchley had assassin hands, but it seemed pretty clear he was a carnivore in some sense.
The two men sat at a table, covered with the finest white tablecloth that a desperate run to Costco could get you if you were a particularly careless philosopher with a spending habit you were trying to control. Behind them were six framed photos of the Earth, as seen from space.
The crowd then settled down and McCarthy announced that this was “the first beachhead in the Americas.” Agents, sleepers, and moles, along with agencies, subcommittees and transmission centers were prepared to be unfurled in the United States, presumably under the employ of the INS.
“We’re in your house,” said McCarthy. And the gist I got was that this was some sort of intellectual terrorist organization to be feared or reckoned with.
Critchley promised a history of the beginning, a declaration about the INS, and a summation of what the INS could do.
McCarthy mentioned Queequeg’s tattoos and how Melville’s character represented a layout of the heavens which imputed a mystical treatise that Melville had openly pondered. I wondered how far we were from Melville’s place of employment.
Captain Ahab, Critchley noted, was, by contrast, a narcissist. Queequeg and Ahab were locked in a struggle representing “that of Western man in general.”
It didn’t seem evident to me at the time, perhaps because I was getting lost in the references to Aristotle and Baudelaire. But I started to get the sense that McCarthy and Critchley were switching off, perhaps because neither of them could speak about these important precepts for more than five minutes. The crowd stared in intellectual rapture, stunned by the almighty ideas and inauthentic import.
As I said, I took poor notes, in large part because my writing implement was inauthentic, parched of ink, and otherwise pining for the rubbish bin. But here is a quick overview of some of the thirty-nine points laid down by the two gentlemen:
- Failed transcendence was the first and possibly most important point of the INS dogma. Novels were not the plenitude of one, but ellipses, absence, incompleteness, and the experience of disappointment were the foundation upon all knowledge claims.
- The art of consequence of failed transcendence followed the first point. An icon, not being original, was thereby a copy of the icon and a repetition of the copy.
- The experience of failed transcendence represented the classical opposition of form vs. matter. As Plato had observed, knowledge is form (eidos) and, as Aristotle had observed, knowledge came from essence (fusio).
- The highest knowledge is of God, the most real thing.
- If form is perfect, then how does one explain imperfection? Matter then was our undoing.
- How do we let matter matter? This was in the spirit of Maurice Blanchet, presuming that the spirit could be spirited.
- Interestingly, the only subpoints came from Point 7. Point 7.1 expressed that separation involved importing all of reality into a single thought, the single goal shared by Hegel and De Sade. Point 7.2 represented the other option: Let things thing. Let flowers flower. Let oranges orange. Point 7.3 was “sponge.” Point 7.4 was “sponge.” It is helpful to know that a porous kitchen item might possibly be philosophical salvation.
- The Necronauts are poets who reflect the antithesis of poetry.
- How do we navigate? Inauthenticity. After a failure of metaphysical transcendence, the unified people will abandon the idea of people. Therefore, the Necronauts will be divided. (A person in this state can likewise be referred to as a “dividual.”)
- Inauthenticity is the constant of self.
- More positive, less heroic — this is comic advancement.
- The key aesthetic is not the tragic, but the comic, which represents a mechanical splitting of self.
- The sense of the comic can be represented in a person simultaneously tripping and watching himself trip.
- Comedy is the temporal realism of death.
- In referencing the facets of authentic death, the Necronaut does not die.
- Freud pondered the prisoner condemned to be hanged, representing the self being hanged.
- Ergo: “I am but I do not have myself. I find myself.”
- How does one die properly? Wile E. Coyote faced an endless repetition of deaths, comparable to Vladimir and Estragon facing repetition in Waiting for Godot, with the possibility of a hard-on curtailing this repetition.
- In death and dying, dying is something we cannot control. This is the paradox of suicide.
- Tragedy is second-hand. It is the limiting of existence. Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying is not presented with a scene in which she is permitted to die proper. Thereby, her self is denied.
- Thinking begins with disaster.
- In relation to trauma, the subservient life does not feel real.
- Trauma bequeaths prosperity to repeat. All art from Aeschylus to Tristram Shandy is interconnected in this respect.
- There are three Rs paramount to these precepts: repetition, repetition, repetition.
- As McLuhan observed, the true content of each medium is the previous medium.
- An ant’s dirty secret is inauthenticity. Everything must lose some mark, some accident of which we remember.
- “Listen, the world is a sign of restless divisibility no greater than six.”
- “Going once.”
- SAFA — Taxes May Apply. Other Taxes May Apply.
- Cities, countries and continents. We are going to crash.
- How does one become a Necronaut? I’m afraid that I can’t reveal the precise details here.
- Illusion is a revolutionary weapon.
As I said, my notes were wholly insufficient and perhaps, to some degree, inauthentic. One night later, I am left with the definitive empty vessel, sometimes a mug and sometimes a stein, scooping from a salty sea of ambiguity where the trauma is large, inconsolable, and predicated upon the blood, sweat, and tears of an undeniable bedrock of precepts.