The Sphinx, or, The Caresses, by Fernand Khnopff

[NB] Leviathan Glamours

NB: From my journals, so please read the tone as more on-the-fly ponderings than anything else, but I’ve done some editing here for clarity.

Heathen Chinese posted a fantastic article on TWH that links (conceptually) with my thoughts on glamours & egregores, thought-gods—of “leviathans” (via Hobbes[1] & elsewhere) as aggregate entities, social “golems” assembled in the guise of states, capital, corporations, commonwealths, etc. to live at the expense of others’ bodies, closed off from the world & Other. And as these social worlds, glamours, egregore leviathans seek power-over, they spur other cultures to form counter-leviathans just as bad. And Leviathans thrives through opposition, & they inhere into persons through Reichian character armor[2] as we harden & obscure, cover over our selves (and our light & fire) & join the leviathan—and the leviathan induces us to turn our fires to its, their ends, to feed them as the sprawling intelligences they are. An aggregate of shells projecting its dream—its nightmare of order onto reality, its worlding. And it hedges itself off from actually connecting to and integrating the Other as anything other than opposition while rendering the Other as demonic in aspect.

And that’s honestly how the light I’ve been getting at is obscured.

The leviathan induces us to give up our intimate awareness of our body to pass as what suits the leviathan’s image, & to conceive of relationships—of societies—in statist, tribal ways—“imagined communities,” but those communities grow strange when the embodied liberty shines forth—e.g., queer & dancing, 19th and 20th century nudist movements, etc.—music & movement & art—theater, cosplay!—anything that encourages people to become aware & free with their bodies, without armor, & engaging with the world & others.

Because toxic masculinity & misogyny (and body image policing for both men and women) are very much of this phenomena—or are ways to police bodies.

Heroic warrior masculinity tied into the service to the state—

Fredy Perlman (Against His-story, Against Leviathan, which Heathen Chinese links in the article) analogizes the Leviathan to Yeats’s sphinx in “The Second Coming,” while noting Yeats projects the sphinx’s monstrous body into the Near Eastern Other.

[I should note that Perlman’s text offers a reading of the rise of polities and empires, and while it can read far more as pseudo-historical conspiratorial “history,” it also offers an allusive and evocative take on the uses of toxic masculinity and the social machines and “imagined communities” (to use Benedict Anderson) that have created the last four or so thousand years of political history. Although Perlman does not explicitly advance a “magical” reading of history, his references to inner light and Reichian armor and the ideological apparatuses involved work well with considering one.]

Perlman’s notes, his “historical” argument is that, in essence, greed and toxic masculinity led to the rise of instrumental reason (commodifying, reifying people, nature, ideas, etc.), & character armor spread. The leviathan consumes even the archon/prince/sovereign, who become subject to the leviathan & its parts/segments. And the leviathan is toxically male, violent—

Perlman argues the sovereign installs & cultivates his own “gods” (who are typically very violent), while usurping authority to regulate orthodoxy re: the divine.

Furthermore, Perlman frames the leviathan as a “dead” body that cannot “stay dead.” And they are gears, cogs, parts, social & cognitive things—

Actually, I would say that they’re magical, chimerical, infectious & viral—the “Western Spirit”—Otherworldly imaginative power turned to a dream of iron and empire.

Now, Perlman does have a decidedly anarchic bent that also sees writing as Archonic techné, but—[3]

He traces Moses[4] in the desert, who projects his armor & the remnants of leviathan in his heart, the egoic sovereign, onto the cosmos, & deifies leviathan, & makes the Israelites into his new Leviathan while exterminating the non-compliant. They also declare war on the Wilderness (framing Nature as Wilderness, a social Other-ing of Nature as something humans must tame and colonize). Meanwhile, Perlman associates prophets as essentially the mouth pieces of the leviathan & armor & the imaginative policing of the polis.

Of course, for Perlman, Art is just a substitute for actual freedom & mysticism (what Adorno calls entertainment, really).

“the freedom of commodity circulation, not the freedom of people”—re: Pericles & ancient Greece

Plato founds “the ideal Leviathan” that Chinese Legalism advanced without frills—sustaining leviathan via “perpetual war and preparation for war.”

And Perlman speaks of the Light within obscured, smothered by Leviathan & character armor—toxic masculinity, oppression, violence & instrumental reason & reification—monological disenchantment within & without. And that’s what it is—the hatred, the desire for vengeance, the oppositional “hero” drama (art, magic, meaning) that closes us off & blinds us—that Archonic, Leviathanic armor,—& the light is obscured.

But eruptions, disruptions, rhizomatic as the Otherworlds & people resist, for freedom is not a priori—

—Perlman assumes freedom did exist, but resistance to that within ourselves & to without—that Foucauldian, Prozerovian notion—[5]

& the ancients, at times, sensed or knew the mutability, the po-mo reality of discourse, language & systems—

The first step is in resisting your self, your demons, your armor, your biases—your complicity in the Leviathans. The disenchantment that infects yourself & the social sphere—

Leviathans, thought-gods, want you to imagine, in their terms—conquest, victory, etc.—not sustained resistance, self-possession, vigilance, etc.—the resisting subject who doesn’t necessarily fight the Leviathan directly—but subverts & plays. Who denies it the hold over your spirit it wants. Be cunning & do good for the world’s & your & peoples’ sake.

But I also ponder the Dead in Perlman’s system, & the Otherworlds in general, for he seems convinced the gods “died” (even as Death makes Leviathan immortal…) Perlman has his vision of it all, but it is dated & a product of the ‘80s.

The gnostics, like it seems lots of folks,[6] were interested in getting out of the armor & official religion because the religion represented the interests of the Leviathan (civic religion & the armor).

Movements that go into heroic, oppositional, adversarial woo enter into the armor & a kind of egoic fashioning as the outside world calcifies, worlds in a static manner. Anarcho-revolutionary tribal types wanting to establish a return to the Old Ways kinda just want to make their own leviathans.

The Leviathan emerges, I would argue, out of ambitious, opportunistic politics that embrace instrumental reason, that privilege toxically masculine conceptions of “heroism” & binary logic—Us vs. Them, & power-over thinking. It privileges the composite social body, the “body politic” over body natural & projects the leader’s or even the Leviathan’s idealized body (& ego) onto the people.

It induces people, especially men, to submit & assimilate themselves to the aggregate body, while excluding contrary, Other bodies.

Love & romantic intimacy can unlock the armor, so the Leviathan must have men hate & abuse women & outlaw anything queer, for the queer subverts the body logic of the Leviathan. It is, of course, a glamour that thrives on its appeal & our complicity, as any imaginal does.

Image: The Sphinx, or, The Caresses, by Fernand Khnopff

[1] That is, via Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, which frames the commonwealth as a separate, monstrous social body.

[2] That is William Reich’s theories of character armor which argues, essentially, that we embody our complexes and stress and more within our physical body as “character armor” that we should work at freeing ourselves from.

[3] It seems to me that there’re shades of Pharmakon and the “literacy destroyed matriarchy” pseudo-history here.

[4] There seems to be some potential anti-Semitism here in the argument—admittedly, Perlman traces the rise of Christianity and the modern world back into Judaism, but—readers should be aware.

[5] That is, Michel Foucault but also Sergei Prozorov, who argues that in favor of the resisting subject as those who best discover and enact freedom. Prozorov frames freedom as an empty sign that states define to their advantage (no state really calls itself un-free) and as not a pre-existing state. People are not born free, so they must resist ideologically, politically, etc.

[6] Gnostics, hermetics, and, well, all sorts of “fringe” groups who didn’t play well with state religions and philosophies.

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5 thoughts on “[NB] Leviathan Glamours

  1. But I also ponder the Dead in Perlman’s system, & the Otherworlds in general, for he seems convinced the gods “died” (even as Death makes Leviathan immortal…)

    Yeah, I noticed that part where he argued that Leviathan is deicidal, and chose not to mention it in the article. I think he argues that the shift in certain civilizations towards city temple worship somehow reduces the worship and/or the worlding of the gods in other places (i.e. in the springs and groves of the physical world, though not necessarily in the Otherworlds themselves), and the political-religious ideologies of kings also usurp the power of the gods.

    I’m not entirely convinced, since the gods who presided over various expansionist empires seem to me to have been pretty active…but perhaps by clearing the way for monotheism and modernity, those empires did ultimately contribute to the decline of polytheist religions.

    As a devotee of the Morrigan, do you think there’s a way to incorporate warriorship and the heroic ethic into one’s life without getting trapped in one’s armoring? Conceptually, I very much think there is, but on a personal level, I’m still trying to figure it out.

    Perlman’s family were Czech Jews who fled the Nazis, and while that doesn’t mean that his analysis couldn’t be appropriated by anti-Semites, I don’t think that was his intention.

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    1. Well, in many cases, I suspect that Leviathanic cultures projected It onto select and appropriate deities while accepting (or creating?) other deities to model culturally appropriate behavior. That is, I see some combination of the following occurring within the polytheistic cultures (even as I speak in overly broad terms here; order is for reference rather than implying precedence):
      (1) Old gods’ cultus and images are appropriated as the “user-interface” for aspects of the Leviathan
      (2) Imaginal access to the gods is constrained along Leviathanic paths, and dealings with the “gods” becomes more the ego communicating with its armor and not actually paying attention to the gods. This result leads I think to #1 in the end.
      (3) The leviathanic mask for the gods includes cultural allegories for acceptable behavior represented as lesser, servile deities to the main head(s) of the Leviathan. This process can link to #1 and 2, of course.

      I suspect that any heroic warrior armoring emerges out of exclusivity, to a good degree, and any kind of prioritization of a warrior elite (leading to tribal warrior heroes, knights, soldiers, etc. etc.). I mean, I can imagine and point to mythical threads that seem appropriate, but we’re honestly talking about connecting mythic realities to earthed practice. You have to guard against gender exclusivity, class/estate exclusivity, ethnic exclusivity, age, etc. etc. I suspect you need to have a strong therapeutic element to the culture (spiritual, psychological, and physical), especially for people who have suffered battlefield and other traumas, for PTSD and such is a probable origin for some of that armor in the end.

      And that martial aspect has to connect into the culture while not usurping authority within the culture (and you want to avoid that happening elsewhere within the culture). You still have to defend the community from martial threats, and the leviathanic armor is an amazingly efficient technology for efficiently committing violence and subjugation. It’s tempting to make your own leviathan to “defend” against others.

      Openness helps escape the leviathan, or is a part of trying to free yourself of the armor–but can you still “armor” and protect yourself. I had this thought the other day and realized I’d be using “I armor myself with light and songs and eternal things”–not usually successfully, but my poetic choice had me wonder if there were options there. However, I don’t think the Leviathan is “dead” or even anti-enchantment: it’s an imagined thing that seeks to exclude alternative imagined realities. It’s an enchantment of dis-enchantment, in the hopes of monopolizing our belief, focus, and energy. So while I think “light and songs and eternal things” might be something to look into–it’s very easy to turn such mythic Otherworldly concepts into just something else. My mind goes to Moorcock’s persistent criticism of how the imaginal nature of romanticism provided mythic paths for Nazis to cloak themselves in glamours.

      I think it’s a matter of polylogical vs. monological (maybe even dialogical) systems? The Leviathan wants to be the only source of knowledge, logic, and passion within the culture, and it reacts violently to alternative voices. You need an integrated society, and I use integrated here in a far more integrative practice of self-possession here rather than how I think the term gets used when speaking socially (at least in the US). I actually cut out a line in my original notes for this post that amounted to, “What is the Great Work at the social level?”

      So, um, I think my short answer is “not really, but I’ve pondered it.” I think my perspective on An Morrigan’s “martial” and violent aspects are slanted differently from those I’ve seen online.

      Re: anti-Semitism: aha! Noted. I think I can see how anti-Semites could appropriate Perlman’s concepts, but I also know folks have appropriated anti-anti-Semitism, too.

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      1. Also, I’m personally of the opinion that the gods never went away–we were just led to not see them, or to just see the reflections on the inside of our armor/sphere of sensations/talkers that were molded into disenchanted shells.

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      2. You wrote, “Imaginal access to the gods is constrained along Leviathanic paths,” and “I don’t think the Leviathan is “dead” or even anti-enchantment: it’s an imagined thing that seeks to exclude alternative imagined realities.” I think that’s a useful way to think about it. The gods exist, independent of humans, but the language and symbolic thought we humans use to try to understand them is invariably shaped by our own societies. The Morrigan is a queen, which means that She is powerful, but that specific word only means something in a society that possesses the concept of monarchy. Now that we do have that concept, regardless of how that concept is applied in human society, it’s a useful way to describe Her power.

        I do think that it’s possible to have warriorship without Leviathan. Perlman and primitivist thought always run the risk of falling into the noble savage stereotype, but anthropological studies do suggest that warfare exists in many relatively non-centrally-and-hierarchically-organized societies, often as an extension of the principle of personal and familial vendetta. Of course, these methods aren’t terribly effective against Leviathan, which invariably leads to the temptation to form counter-Leviathans. I do think that the therapeutic element you bring up is extremely important: Cu Chulainn being doused in barrels of cold water comes to mind.

        “Leviathan wants to be the only source of knowledge, logic, and passion within the culture.” You wrote about Carl Schmitt and the state of emergency the other day. Leviathan wants to hold the monopoly on violence as well, and I don’t think we should cede it. Walter Benjamin wrote, and I agree, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.”

        Speaking of Benjamin, have you read his “Critique of Violence?” I skimmed it, but am still trying to wrap my head around it.

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  2. Firstly, I’m going to apologize because I feel like I’m very very disorganized here. Thank you for reading my maximum verbosity.

    re: the imaginal, context, queens. Precisely so–I think we also see a phenomena where people saw and continue to see POWERFUL OTHERWORLDLY PRESENCE, and they/we parse it as “oh, that must be mother, father, queen, grand arch-semi-duke,” and the paternalistic, monarchical, hierarchical, Great Chain of Being metaphors come through and inflect what’s being experienced. I suspect that the actuality (such as you can, or would want to, concretize the Otherworldly power into rigid forms) is far more nuanced but not particularly *complicated*. I think the reality is rather easy and relaxed. Our armor (and Daseining) conditions us to expect or to react in particular ways to authority in general, but to divine presence (or the otherworldly more broadly, depending on how you want to class “divine”) in very monarchical lines. I’ve had the experience where I react along those “Great Queen, Phantom Queen Scary Morrigan” lines, but I find that things become far more filial and intimate when I can slough off the armor.

    I also agree in that I think there’re martial approaches that individuals can adopt and which societies can embrace that make the leviathan constrained, unfed, or at least–and maybe the armor metaphor offers its own solution–removed when not needed. In many ways, we’re talking about paradigmal shifts at the social and global level that run in, from the typical human perspective, glacial time frames. Subversion leads to containment except for what subversion erupts through. With that subversion in mind, leviathanic cultures purposefully erode self-reflection and critical engagement by subjects at the institutional level, so people have to cultivate that in their communities.

    Accordingly, I think we have to confront several tendencies within our own communities: trying to make our own Leviathans, even if we keep those Leviathans at the “merey” social, imaginal level; giving into despair; growing impatient; growing complacent. We’re going through a moment, I think, where the Leviathans sense they’re in danger and are wanting to spur/find rivals to smother the polylogical, cosmopolitan danger.

    (I’m wondering now if “heroes” should actually be kept within the Otherworlds, as a form of community ancestor practice, while discouraging trying to imagine the living (let alone oneself) as a *living* hero. But I think a good chunk of this problem includes how we choose to imagine ourselves–as individuals who want to live with power and agency and will–and as communities.)

    Re: Benjamin: When I talk about Schmitt, Agamben’s never far away in my head, and as you now point out, that sense of the “emergency” that Benjamin points to correlates to what Schmitt and Agamben get at with the (eventually in Agamben a permanent) “state of exception.”

    I’ve actually not done much with Benjamin despite how many folks I follow online have been looking at him. I’ve actually come at a lot of this by way of Renaissance political theory (Montaigne, Machiavelli, Ponet, Goodman, & etc.) leading into Schmitt, Agamben, Foucault intersecting with its aesthetic & linguistic (semiotic?) dimensions (Heidegger, Adorno, Horkheimer, Arendt, Eco, Derrida, Barthes) before you get into, for me, primarily other elements of the Frankfurt School and Deleuze (though Deleuze slantingly). I’ve also been hip deep into the polytheism through Renaissance memory locus & hermeticism stuff (which intersects quite a bit with the rest) leading into, well, 19th and 20th century esoteric practices. Oh, and Jung again, of late, though I think he sold out.

    Finally, I think the metaphors matter. I’m planning on posting some more stuff here soon on my leviathanic notes and some of the other stuff (that I can’t help but see also as threads in this enterprise), but the armor and leviathan become but one, if a significant and fruitful one, metaphor/way of perceiving what we’re on about, but it’s not been the only one. I’m gonna talk about some of the others, but other ways of conceiving it are out there. I also think that the Leviathan is a very overt part of this thing we’re confronting: I suspect there’s a whole “pantheon” of concepts and constructs to consider (or the leviathan is an aggregate or “child” of that pantheon that has been earthed into mundane reality very effectively) (to use other metaphors).

    Finally finally, a lot of this comes down to how do we negotiate the personal and the public.

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