13 September 2016


'To call up a demon you must learn its name.' — Gibson, Neuromancer 

'There is no return for one that has started on this path.' — Crowley, Liber CCCXXXIII, §23.

'The beginning is the end.' — Heraklitus, Fragments, §70

It is Friday evening in the Deadlines bar, informal lair of a certain slice of Pacific Rim society, driven into loose conspiracy by nothing stronger than a vague sense of exodus from other, more legitimate loci of macrocultural conviviality. Only a few tables boast occupants. Improbable combinations for the most part: professional con artists, arms-dealers, off-the-clock sex workers sheathed in glittering but deadly nano, a few ragged pseudo-intellectuals wired on the newest blackmarket nootropics, stim addicts, at least one well-connected yet morally dubious politician ... and the usual handful of literary dissolutes, momentarily dissolving their special brand of self-directed despair in the bar's unusual cocktail menu, a master-catalogue of neurological sabotage that seems to have been decanted directly from the Book of Lies. The bartender appears to have a cybernetic arm, althoughas with all the latest Shenzen somatechit can be hard to tell. The inorganic provenance of the red glint in its eyes nevertheless remains overtly readable, for ostentatious effect. Screens blink lethargically in various neon hues from the depths of the bar. The lighting is uneven, fluctuating unsettlingly as regions of dense smoke from the archaic analogue cigarettes certain patrons refuse to abandon migrate across the ceiling. The cumulative effect is that of a blinking cursor, calmly awaiting input. 

It's only my second time here. I find the place intensely troubling, yet somehow irresistible. I was handed the address almost entirely by chance after cementing an online exchange with a dyslexic tech dealer who, fatefully, mis-transcribed the sixes in the pick-up address as nines. After realising the mistake, I nonetheless resolved to remain and observe the clientele. Some kind of literary meeting was underway at the time and the participants were reading samples of their work to one another. It seemed opportune, as I considered myself somewhat of a failed poet and was on the point of abandoning my practice for more, let's say, respectable pursuits. So I settled in at the bar, savouring the temporary anonymity afforded by the situation, ordered one of the abominable cocktails on offer and began, as discretely as possible, to listen in. It wasn't long before the discussion converged on something I would come to find peculiarly relevant to my current predicament. The problem of beginnings.

The conversation went roughly like this:

“‘Beginning is the most difficult thing.’” 
“That’s it?”
“Yes, those words, exactly.”
“Double embedded?”
“Surely, yes … That’s all it takes. Then it’s happening.” 

The catalyst for this exchange seemed to be the work of an absent, little known horror-porn writer, referred to by one of the conversants (who appeared to me, despite the seediness of the environment counselling against the propriety of such a conclusion, to be a high-ranking Party member) as 'Mary Karno'. Karno had an unusual practice, something that had been inadvertantly divulged to the latter via an explicit video recording, obtained, without Karno's knowledge, via some kind of Party-sanctioned spook rig. Karno was, obviously, an intense writer, so much so that the simple utterance of her name seemed to usher a strange energy into the room, something I wasn't entirely ready to attribute to the hallincinatory effects of the cocktails I'd been demolishing with increasing diligence. She seemed to hover over the space, electrifying it, as if her very absence functioned as a kind of presence in itself. The suspected Party member continued his disquisition.

"It was all there, on the video. I actually watched her start a new story – two actually – open an immaculate notebook, with a giant question mark, jot down a few scrappy thoughts, cross-legged, meditating or some shit, then cross some kind of threshold – you could see it, as if something had cut through her body, switched her – and then she seriously set to work, patiently, full of – what the fuck do you call it? – intention, rolling back the rug, chalking a huge diagram on the floor, all swirls and numbers and ancient evocations, then building what I can only describe as a voodoo shrine, pasted together out of candles, clippings from poetry books, kitchenware, pictures, drug paraphernalia, bits of dead animals, and electronic trash. She’d get up, wander around the number maze in loops, muttering some cryptic stuff, in a whisper – the audio was too crap to pick it up – then back to the shrine, shifting pieces about, nudging it towards convergence. It was mad as fuck, obviously, but the horrible thing was that I began to pick up on the purpose, I could see it coming together, like a wave out of hyper-space, the necessity of it, I just couldn’t stop watching, seeing it arrive. I mean, holy fuck. And then a jolt went through her, harsh and electric. She snapped out, crossed over to her laptop, and typed in the name.”

By now I had taken out my tablet and begun, as surreptitiously as I could manage, to make notes. A decision, mind you, I would only perceive the utter fateful recklessness of long after it was too late to take any of it back. The key components of Karno's method seemed to be a diagram and the extraction of a name. Beyond this, the act of writing appeared to unfold automatically. From what I could gather, Karno had recorded, cryptically, the details of this process in an essay entitled Ascryptions: Practices for Writing on Reality. The effect of this information was akin to learning of the existence of a newly synthesised drug. I wanted to try it ... and I left the bar that evening full of naive ambition, swearing that I would do anything I could to get hold of Karno's essay and experience the thing myself. 

I will spare you the details, save to say that it took a lot longer to obtain the text than I had initially hoped, and I'm not one who usually has trouble procuring contraband items. The essay opened me up to an experience of ... well, to an experience I had not thought strictly possible. That sounds trite, but let me assure you, it is trueto the utmost extremity of unfathomable ruinand if I could undo the damage it has since wrought, I might just reconsider. Might. For Karno's method works. The question is how long one can continue to survive it and returnintactto write. Maybe that stops mattering after a while.

A beginning is also an initiation. Necessarily decoupled from the tyranny of linear time, that iswhen cybernetically understood'beginning' indexes something like 'an initial kick'. Similarly, an initiation, properly carried out, cannot be undone. Both processes are collapsible into a simple diagram, one that I have come to use more and more in my own experiments: that of a spiral. In the essay, Karno writes, somewhat unintelligibly, of a 'communion with the Outside'. Perhaps, most curiously, her references to 'the Outside' are always couched in positive terms, construing the effective difference (between the writer and that which they struggle to capture, the self and the Other, the identical and the nonidentical, phenomena and noumena, inside and outhowever one wishes to characterise it) in an entirely alien way to the one I had been forced to study as part of an initiation of an altogether more banal kindalways defined in terms of the negative – and pedalled by a certain variety of religious zealot, the ridiculous canon of which had detained me for far too long in my attempt to understand the various dynamics of creative and social processes alike. No, Karno's Outside was truly different ... it was difference in itself. Its positivity blazed like a dark beacon in a world of increasingly insufferable illumination. For her, the modality of this communion was to be understood as one of affirmation. One that folds the outside into the insidesomewhat erotically, it must be saidvia an act of ultimate, emancipatory, submission. (SUBMISSION, I would later learnas my adeptness in certain magical practices grewis embedded numerically in the word ASCRYPTION.) This is, necessarily, an involuted process. One cannot simply covet communion with the Outside and expect that, by desiring it in its difference, it can be easily subsumed. That would be to understand it negatively ... not to mention being far too straightforward and not nearly horrific enough for Karno's tastes. The real mechanism is more akin to apprehending the fact that it has been part of you all alonghidingjust beyond the lip of the fragile equilibrium that constitutes whatever it was you took to be yourself, perpetually poised to tear that superficial construction to pieces. It suffices to disturb the balance just a little to ignite it, or more clearly, grasp that itin factis what ignited 'you' in the first place. The truly horrifying insight being that its emergence, when it does appear, is nothing other than a return. I was beginning to understand why critics called her work 'fundamentally unbalanced'. 

This, however, didn't answer the question of the diagram. 

What was this abominable cipher that Karno had apparently 'chalked on the floor, all swirls and numbers and ancient evocations'? My humble spirals seemed insufficient in comparison to the terrifying dimensions she had managed to conjure up. The more I meditated on her words, the more it became clear that the real esoteric clue to her literary proficiency was to recognise that to diagram is not simply to describe the thing that is already there, but to invoke it. A diagram is a nascent invocation. To set if off in a particular direction, one needs only to coax from it a name. Hence the opening few sentences of the essay: 'Writers get stuck when they forget that every story has a demon. To begin, you have to learn its name.’ Somewhat naively, I had searched for 'ascryption' in dictionaries, ecyclopedias, and writers' reference texts of all genres, to no avail. Now, finally, I understood why it didn't exist in any legitimate semiotic registry. It was one of those names itself. Ascryption: ascription’s cryptic double. While the latter attributes effect to cause, the former, a species of hyperstitional revalencing, attributes cause to effect. Reverse ascription: the name brings about the thing. 

It was around this time that I discovered the work of another writer connected to the group at Deadlines, one (an appellation, yes, that is unnecessarily perverse) Nemo Duzsl. His texts seemed similarly difficult to track down, although one piece in particular fell into my hands almost as efficiently as the corrected address that had set this whole expedition in motion. It made me start to suspect that this wasn't all happening by coincidence ... or rather, that coincidence itself wasn't as innocent a mechanism as I had once believed it to be. Sensitive to a new set of cryptographic references as a result of the research I had been undertaking to comprehend the Karno essay, I read into Duzsl's text an occulted initiation ceremony, one that, as the account goes, gives birth to both Duzsl and Karno (with whom Duzsl is paired across the abyss of a gambling table) as effective agents in the terrain of an occulted, virtual war. (But now I am telling you too much. Some things need to remain hidden, at least for a little while yet.)

From where I now stood, a return to the question of beginnings was inevitable:

“Wrong,” he countered with a humorless laugh. “The problem’s hardly started."
Hardly started … again. I’d begun to get a bad feeling about that.
“It’s like a mantra with you guys, isn’t it?” I ventured. “Hardly started. At first I thought you were saying ‘it’s only just begun,’ but now it’s sounding more like a hard reboot, a crash relaunch.”
“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” said the Girl in the Little Red Dress, not unkindly. “We’re here now, aren’t we?”

What Duzsl appeared to be describing were the initial steps in what would become his own Great Workin the full, esoteric sense of those words. A particular path was being trodden, one (I was sure of it) that stretched between two great oceans, connecting them across a debris-field of ecstatic shipwrecks, which, in the delirium accompanying my apprehension of this fact, re-enciphered themselves as my own abandoned texts, drawing me irresistibly into the whole terrible complex against my individual will ... and yet, somehow, in accordance with an even more profound one. I was slipping. The initial kick. Was this it? As I continued the labour of decryption, names began to collapse into numbers, and the numbers started to fuse and resonate in more ways than I thought technically possible. I knew that if I continued on this route the way back would be sealed off forever, and still, I persisted. Apophenia or true decryption (was therereallya difference?), my newly acquired propensity to treat everything as a signal wasn't flagging. I discovered more texts, and even in those I saw the twin thematics of initiation and the fulfilment of a Great Work appearing together (“Start work?” [...] “Absolutely. Why not right now? You’re here after all..."). There was more. I discovered my own names. More often than not they appeared only when any residual compact between sound and sense was severed. Some of them were just screams ... but they caused something to happen. Fully enmeshed in the rigorous madness of this trajectory I had somehow chanced upon, I decided, once more, to attempt to reconstruct Karno's diagram.

That was six weeks ago. I have been writing furiously ever since. It is with dim hopes of seeing Karno read that I have dragged what remains of my fragile self back to Deadlines tonight. There is a meeting, or a ritual (I'm not sure where the two diverge in this particular context) taking place in the feebly-lit corner to my left. The suspected Party member is there, with his girlfriend, a stunning, middle-aged Han woman of impossibly slight stature. Next to them, arched over a laptop, is his interlocutor from before, a blogger of ill repute and, from what I have managed to infer over the last few hours of clandestine surveillance, owner of some decrepit small press. A devilish looking man, who nonetheless shot me an utterly disarming grin when, earlier, I mistakenly caught his eye, opening a regrettable aperture in the camouflage I have so patiently been cultivating here, alone, at the bar. There are a few others, an augmented couple from the Litgen community, their hangers-on, a deflated looking teen with sockets, a small paranoid character sporting a greasy, twisted rat-tail. Karno isn't among them. The invisible magnetic topology of the space would have shifted obscurely if she had been. I hang about nonetheless, just in case. She doesn't strike me as the kind of person who turns up to things on time.

A pneumatic hiss from the direction of the bar snaps me back to more immediate considerations. It's the bartender, inquiring if I wish to order another drink. 
"What's in the 'Oyster'?" I ask. 
"Try it and find out," it responds coyly. 
I feign offence. Ultimately, I can't fault its allegiance to empirical principles. "Okay, sure, give me an Oyster."
The bartender smiles arcanely and proceeds to compose the drink from the contents of five separate bottles, each emblazoned with an ominous looking V. As I put the ridiculous silver goblet the thing comes in to my lips, a flash of positive nothingness charges through my entire perceptual apparatus, flushing the lines of residual sensory material completely, then the bar returns, its chaotic backdrop of neon-stippled screens glinting more luminously than before from the darkness beyond the counter. The drink has a determinedly fishy aftertaste.
"It's intentional," the bartender offers. 
I'm not certain how extensively that phrase warrants decryption. Surely it's nothing more than an innocent rejoinder to the grimace I must have inadvertently made upon sampling the brew for the first time. 


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