This topic seems to be something we’ve been struggling with in this blog. In a sense, this became the last word on the subject and was posted on the Reveille website on January 18, 2018. This may have been the last posting on the old website, so everything moving forward should be new.

You’ve heard it. The good ‘ole USA is on the wane and the divide that wracks the nation is a sign of the death of the republic. Those who lament for a workable society have stressed we must mend the divides and find “common ground”.

What brought America together in the first place? Unlike other nations who found their common bond in race, ethnicity or religion, America was different. This was a place where the world could come together based upon a set of great ideals. Shared dreams of freedom, equality and of justice would transform a youthful nation built by disparate peoples into the melting pot of hope for an entire world.

The questions are many. America and the world are really at a crossroads. Is there a “common ground” where we can rebuild the trust and the respect and rediscover the values we share, the values that vaulted this nation from a grand experiment into the beacon of hope for the human spirit?

I believe in America. I believe we really can.

So we have this question. What exactly is “common ground”? Is there a truly American answer to this question? One really doesn’t need to dig too deep to find that America has provided an answer to this question all along.

For America itself really is what we can call “common ground”. From a variety of races and ethnicities around the world we came together to form a single nation. We are its natives, we are descendants of slaves, we are former slave-owners, immigrants and the exiles cast aside by nations from around the world. Our beliefs, how we worship, and indeed how we live has highlighted our differences, yet we have made this work by respecting, tolerating and, yes, even loving one another.  

America has continuously renewed itself. This renewal is part of the revolutionary spirit from which we tore away from Empire and the tyranny of colonialism. American culture has always been more fluid than monolithic. Our aspirations have reached the heights of human endeavor and together we have become a better example for the world.

America, it seems, must also have its dark side. There are forces aligned against these grand ideals. There have long been those who have wished for another America – one they can shape for their own – an exclusive America for the privileged few.

This has always been a part of our makeup and one might argue that the forces that work against the American ideals are inevitable. It may be that hard fought ideals are threatened when complacency sets in and a republic like America needs debate and conflict to grow and become greater.

This characteristic of the American struggle has been highlighted by moments in history like the American Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, the counter-culture revolution and counter-revolution, the labor movement and its suppression, the rise of corporatism and the technological revolution we are in the midst of today.

There are those who would exempt all but the “white race” from this America they wish for today. Some may want to ban Jews or gays or those who identify themselves as transgender.

That leaves us with the question: can we have common ground and really leave anyone out?  

There are those who would wish to exempt the sinners.   

As a Christian, I have a different take on this. Christ wasn’t one who moved within the circles of the rich, the powerful, the clergy of Judea, but was to be found with the unclean and the sinners: whoremongers and prostitutes, tax collectors, the derelict, beggars, fishermen and other undesirables and villains of ancient Judea.

When the righteous confronted Him about eating with the unclean, Christ answered that those without need of a physician seek not the physician, but those in need of a physician will seek him out and the physician will search for those in need of healing.  

These words are easily translatable for us today. They inform us where common ground is. It is not in the higher places reserved for the most privileged of society, but is somewhere “down below” where the masses can freely congregate. This is somewhere where we can all come and discuss what makes us similar and what makes us different. This is our Agora.

So to refuse any of us this “common ground” is to fly in the face of everything we mean by common ground. Those who would exclude any, only exclude themselves like the deafly righteous who once complained to Christ. 

This is an absolute of common ground.

We will accept no exception or any compromise on this.

This is America. We tore free from the aristocratic monarchists of the British Empire and formed a nation where all were to stand shoulder to shoulder and work for a better life. This hasn’t happened overnight and we continue to struggle for these great ideals, but this is the ground upon which America first flew its flag of freedom and unity.

To wish for an exclusive America is to refuse to enter this common ground. It is they who move away from this place. This place that really is without the borders or walls that the exclusivists wish to build.

Common ground is even more than human, of course, but that is another story.

Racism, sexism, religious persecution, oppression, bigotry and even hatred have no place in common ground. The narrowness of these ideas stand in opposition of the human and humane principles from which this nation was formed. They are simply un-American.  

Now, where do you stand? All are welcome here.


Art Project – Postcards from Hell – Mail art 2017-2018

Art must embrace ambiguity. Why is this, you might ask? Well, the best art brings you, the audience, into the creative process. Ambiguity gives you room to fill in the blanks and finish the work. Indeed, the best art is never complete when the painter puts down his brush or the writer her pen.  

While collaboration is often preferred, in a real sense there is always a collaborative construction taking place and collaboration can bring the third mind into the creative process. Artist, audience and work evoke the mystical. There are a variety of mythical symbols that are shared through the unconscious – something that Jung would call the archetypes.   

One way to allow the ambiguous to thrive is when the craftsperson lets go and allows apparent “random events” to shape the work without the conscious will of the artist interfering with the process.  

Now for an overview of the project called Postcards from Hell.

Number 1: Postcards From Hell and Mail Art revival

Gnostics see the world as upside down or as it is formalized: the Gnostic’s world has been created by the dark force personified as the devil. Simply put, this world is Hell. From a Gnostic perspective, one can not begin to comprehend what’s going on without recognizing this core truth. 

Today, many of the formerly affluent American middle class can reach similar realizations and see that throughout history what we have long called “reality” is actually something that has been constructed by the hands of man and not by God or some other benign power.

Those with the prestige and the very real power of wealth have long wished to satisfy their own insatiable desires and this, in turn, has only worked to heighten their thirst for power. The sort of personal, self-gratifying Epicurean utopia they wished to build for themselves has perversely only fed their misery and their isolation. This was no heaven for the rest of us either, but a living hell of neglect, intolerance, oppression, distortion and violence, exploitation and humiliation. As the ever expanding abyss of death and extinction widen, all are to find a miserable and unsatisfying end…every one of us.  

This first postcard in the series finds its roots in the late 1970s industrial music scene that emerged alongside, or really just below, the “underground” punk rock movement. Just as abstraction destroyed the plastic arts, so punk was to shatter rock and even more deeply, as noise, industrial sounds came to shatter all musical form.

With roots in the Italian Futurist movement industrial music likely drew more from Dadaism and Surrealism than from preceding musical traditions. This tends to make more sense when you consider what it is we are dealing with here.

Like punk, industrial music was open to all comers as it embraced primitivism and the creativity of the do-it-yourself. Anyone could make noise just like anyone could bang a guitar and call it punk. All it really took was a tape recorder and some imagination.

The musicians and the work could flourish. Networks were established and the scene in the late 1970s gave rise to trading cassette tapes, do-it-yourself magazines, theories, broadsides, poetry and other imaginings often through what was called Mail Art. This established an informal exchange between artists and patrons and allowed otherwise obscure work to be seen and heard.   

Some of the magazines became important on a wider scale such as Anna Banana’s Vile magazine:


So this first postcard went to my baby brother.

It is called Nikesight. This was a puzzle (or the work as a puzzle piece) and an anagram for the Reveille website url: (an Icelandic domain). A number of industrial artists are within the piece. In the lower right corner is Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle along with the whole band over her right shoulder (minus Chris Carter who has been cut out). Above this is an image of front-man Genesis P-Orridge with William S. Burroughs. Along with the original innovator Brion Gysin, of course, Burroughs used the cut-up method of writing that, like abstract expressionism, basically destroyed the literature as a form – most critically in his masterpiece Naked Lunch. Burroughs would become an iconic figure and mentor to early industrial musicians. The forth member of Throbbing Gristle, Sleazy Christopherson, partly obscures Genesis and is by the letter “g”. Sleazy went on to form Psychic TV with Genesis and later Coil with his partner John Balance. The striking “cone-headed” freak in the lower center part of this postcard is the cover of Clock DVA’s debut album White Souls in Black Suits.

Now you should sample some of this music, especially if you aren’t familiar with it. 

Throbbing Gristle – “Hamburger Lady” preferably a good live version, but if unavailable the studio version will work. Originally on studio album D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle (1978).

SPK – “Suture Obsession” from their debut album Information Overload Unit (1981).

Nurse with Wound – Sample portions of Spiral Insana album (1986).

Coil – “Circle of Mania” from Horse Rotorvator (1986).

Like any complicated work of music, these must be heard a few times to be fully appreciated and feel free to incorporate your favorite mind enhancement herbs, fungi or cacti.

Postcard #2: Exploring Dystopian Themes

While the initial piece was inspired by a reading of S. Alexander Reed’s Assimilate, this piece was inspired by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century and its descriptions of the Black Death.

A most striking aspect of our dystopian times today is the number of apparent “existential crises” we are experiencing including the real threat of contagion. We can bring this upon ourselves through the weaponization of disease and biological substances, but we are also living with reduced stockpiles of vaccines in an era when big Pharma is pursuing more profitable miracle cures and treatments for popular diseases.

As an unknown artist, one of the struggles is finding an audience. Mail Art effectively forces consumption of the work, so, like the Lost and Found project, it gets the work in front of an audience. This particular one went to a long-time friend and trusted supporter and is called Mister Tummy Ache Comes to Town:

Postcard #3: Regurgitation

Art can perform a cathartic function. Artists are visionaries. In our post-modern culture, artists serve the purpose of society’s prophets, agitators and sages. What they see, though, isn’t always beautiful especially as they look into this world we’ve hobbled together from our fractured selves disconnected, as we are, from what is imperative and truly real and truly beautiful.

Art is highly complicated. It is necessarily flawed as is everything we make with our hands. Ultimately, art contains ugliness and its beauty can only be a pale reflection of the truthful beauty of our natural earth and the universe. At least partly, art must draw from the dark side since this is the source of both destructive and creative energies.

Consider that the construction of this world is destructive of the earth and in resurrecting the earth, we must dismantle this world.  

You may question this, but this contradiction of forces feeds my work and contributes to its ambiguity.

This one was sent to the oldest son of the artist’s baby brother and is called American Dreemin’:

This is a complaint about poverty that has become more and more abject and about the everyday banality of evil. The theme and look and feel would be carried through with other pieces in the series. The photographs of the pieces, like the one included here, only give a sense of the actual piece.  

This particular postcard had deep levels of images – some of which appear on the final piece and others remain buried within. This gave the final piece a vibrant complexity. It’s very dark with almost exclusive use of black and white images. The sign at the bottom center says, “I used to be your neighbor”. I guess that sums up the piece for me.  

Again, and importantly, these cards are puzzle pieces. There ends up being reoccurring themes – primarily death, misery and injustice – and this one certainly puts these on display.

  1. Duality and Our Broken Existence

The project kept going. Next was a card for a much loved close-by cousin. Eventually, the work became a diptych, so her artistic husband was included.

This was a “Me-Too” piece and at its core it speaks about our broken halves. The piece is based on the belief that we – men and women – were formerly united in spirit and part of our actualization as humans is the process of uniting these fractured halves to reform our whole being. Humans were meant to be a balance of the masculine and the feminine, but when one overpowers the other well…things get messy.

So in these diptychs titled Boss Coil we see the reoccurring themes of violence, objectification, oppression, dismemberment, exploitation and how our world – the patriarchy – is a reflection of our Humpty-Dumpty selves.

Boss Coil – Left Diptych to the husband (the masculine half).  

Boss Coil – Right Diptych to the wife (the feminine half). You might be able to notice how these two pieces can be fit together like two pieces of a puzzle (fitting but not really “fitting” wholly together).

Postcard 5: Connecting in Madness

It was during the production of all this work in the Trumpian era, that a member of our house received in the mail a painting of a dragon from a niece who was approaching her teen years. So there was a connection through the third mind that obviously compelled the artist to direct the next piece to the artistic niece. No question, we were working from the same source.  

The card was already in motion and was all about madness and murder. This is what we now teach our children from the get-go: yes, Monsters are Real.  

Horror and science fiction, particularly in film, has inspired me from my earliest childhood. This connection to the genre is most especially found in the complex layers of meaning and metaphor found in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

It was apparent that there was a shared appreciation with my young niece who had an ancient soul with the monsters that emerge from the darkness.

Certainly, the piece ended up being a bit disturbing. Like the other pieces, the juxtaposition of the various images from the collages is more or less “random” and attempts to tap into this thing we are calling the “third mind”. In the lower right corner is our former (current at the time) attorney general enjoying a goblet of vino next to the smirking visage of Heinrich Himmler. Something eerie connects the two visages.

This detail of the upper central portion of the piece gives an idea of the variety of subjects one may miss on the full depiction:

So notably we see David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz and a green-tinted Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The detail helps you see Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez through some of the green and black paint holding up his left hand to display the pentagram he has on his palm. So nice of him to let us know who he is. Of course, the secret to these monsters’ success is looking like you and I. That’s G. Gordon Liddy, the Gipper (or is it?) and Nancy, and the haunted eyes at the bottom and next to Karloff’s Mummy belong to our time’s mass shooter Devin Patrick Kelley who killed dozens at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Texas not quite a year ago.

The personalized message included the warning that the piece was “…about scary ones, phony ones and the worst ones, but it’s not about good monsters.” So even though one might see a good monster or two in the piece, the work is definitely not about them. Audience participation too – so you decide in the end who is a good monster and who is a bad monster or phony monster and…well…then there are ones you may not be entirely sure about. See…monsters like ambiguity too!

Postcard #6: More Man-Made Monsters

Sometimes the intended recipient of the card is known even before the start of the collage and at other times this becomes known while I am working on the piece. The piece itself always ends up taking a life of its own whether the recipient is known or not. The images being collected can help guide the theme of the piece or the theme can help with the image selections. By the end of the assemblage there is always something being sought after.

Somewhere along the line with this one, I decided to send one to a good friend and artist in New Mexico. So this one had to be about technology and humanity’s search for redemption in the creation of the perfect being – a being we’ve constructed with our own hands.

Art is artifice and constructed by the imperfect hands of man, so what should we expect from that one might ask? Our fabrications are either pale reflections of true beauty or meant to show the ugliness of imaginings made manifest. Like Shelley’s creature, the man-made man or man-made monster, if you will, is part of our pursuit for redemption currently trending in the transhumanist quest for eternal life and possibly even some event of singularity.    

So it’s another one of these existential crises. Global capitalism demands that commerce pushes technology to the fore without forethought or consideration of its effects on our civilization, our species or upon the planet. AI is like throwing a lighted match into a powder keg.

Call this one IT:

This card was a bit different in that certain elements were manipulated consciously to produce a skeletal framework for the piece. This is mainly evident in the face within the machine. An item of interest might be the eyes of this face. They are backwards and are indeed the eyes of the beast – our master.

Number 7: The last is always best

The final postcard titled Post-Modern Return to the Modern Aesthetic is here:  

This card had a theme developed shortly after completing IT. A friend in Alabama had sent me a short note in the mail with some concern about my psychological state, so it was easy enough to choose who to send this to.

Disturbingly, many of the discussions I have with generally affluent and politically conservative white Americans (this likely classifies many of the people I know), bring to light their view of what is wrong with our world today. Inevitably, it is demographics as not only a symptom of global social problems, but for literally every conservative I have this conversation with it’s the source of the problems. That’s right, it’s not capitalism or greed, it’s not the disparity of wealth or our violent cultures or even imperialism. It’s not environmental, it’s not nuclear proliferation or the animal agricultural industry or any of that. It is simply global overpopulation. They all agree on this and point to this as the summation of what’s going wrong in the world today. 

OK, so then they’ve nailed down the source of all the world’s darkest and most profound problems. What about solutions? Well, that’s where things get a bit disturbing.

Of course, I’ll always discuss the only real solution I’ve ever seen that is worthwhile – to elevate the third world to enough affluence that populations are brought under control – you know educate, provide access to affordable health care, improved childhood mortality, etc. You see it in developed nations – birth rates will actually go into negatives.  

Not a solution to these conservatives. No surprise there since their values really begin and end with their own personal well-being. Their solution is well…it’s been called the Final Solution. It’s genocidal. “Let them die”. Starve them, deny them access to healthcare and basic needs…a pox on them or a war or some other horrible and evil path.

So genocide – along with slavery a guiding principle of America’s founding – is really their “unspoken” answer. The severed heads, the crucified children, the rows upon rows of emancipated corpses laid like firewood…this is the modern aesthetic. The modern aesthetic of evil and like so much we once believed purged from our civilized society has never actually gone away – thus the return of the modern aesthetic in our post-modern times.

Here is a shot of the piece before the final trim and paint was applied:

In the lower left corner you can pretty clearly see the bottom half of a classic lynching picture from the south (I think Alabama) with all the white people and the festive attitude they bring to the event. One man is smugly pointing to the hanged black man (completely covered in the collage). There is a repeating pattern of crucified young girls from the Armenian genocide. There are the repeating themes from other cards like masks, monsters, disease and addiction, and poverty as it is all interrelated to this topic.

The art, and certainly these postcards, relies on the third mind and a sort of “random” juxtaposition of lines, colors, figures, etc. to provide another picture within the picture. The idea is to produce something hallucinogenic and encourage an altered sense of reality so that the hidden pictures become a product of the individual mind of the viewer and his/her imagination and the “chance” serendipity or synchronicity, if you will, that arises when the third mind is invoked.

Each card relies on the viewers’ interpretation. This is always the most important perspective and is why the artist leaves the work “unfinished” in this way. While one could come up with something completely off track by not really paying attention or having too strong preconceptions, once one gets a sense of the artist’s intentions, then it is the viewers’ interpretation that becomes the most meaningful and valid. This can all be supported when a number of viewers reach similar impressions.

This card seems to have brought this project to a close, although I don’t believe we are done with Mail Art or even postcards. As always, stay tuned.


(whisper the last lines)


…and I saw rising from the oceans the great behemoth and the leviathans – Harvey, Irma, and the raging Maria. Cthulhu had been released from the wet, cold depths by the hand of man. Secret covens of warlocks and vampyrs called Republicans and chief executives. The new state and the soft fascism of the globalized corporate rule….

In this feverous dream, next was the body of our victims locked away in a chest looking at me with that blank stare of doll’s eyes. Wide black eyes, its head tilted to mine. Seemed to ask a question…why? Another rotting in the mattress within my bed…it was my victim. My only victim… I hit her no more than once. It must have been lights out. It was enough.

So the virus spread and all hell was knocked offline in that moment. You know it’s the end when the lights go out and all the death you’ve engorged becomes so much writhing serpent of maggots filling you like a gas-bag ready to explode. You can’t wretch it all like so much tangerine bilious solvent either…it just circulates, eroding your consciousness…spinning you into madness and finally…cool oblivion.

It wasn’t so much that we changed as we became more…ourselves really. Our lost selves who barely recognized the visage in the mirror…. No meaning, nothing to set your foot on, vertigo, and the world upending with the spasms of a wretched mother giving birth again to the fetid squalor of nine hundred bloated specimens of horrid decay. Our children come to life once again to look at us blankly asking eyes our own without pity or remorse. After all there was nothing under the bed that night. It was only peaceful emptiness…or maybe something else…?

Clattering china and waves pounding porcelain tile…we didn’t panic…yet. Locusts in numbers with Panhead Fat Bobs and softail choppers whipped into speed, teeth gnashing and fist rites sting like some mad Scorpio rising. Metal and flesh…bones crushed and snapped for Colonel Sanders’ gravy banquet. Spinning again and then it was all quiet really. Darkness…. They didn’t take us this time.

When the rain came and the sewers overflowed, they lived in palaces far away. Island bunkers, golden submarines, luxury siloes, walled cities, and even a space station orbiting with the orangey cheesy moon. Why worry when the world’s problems can disappear with a splash of lye and antiseptic spray? As long as you still have your shoes…right?

The fire demons, efreet and smoke deranged goblins they held capture and could set loose over each horizon. Like ash and wormwood spirits spitting fire to envelop and release forever that lively fluid of peaceful silence and spinning death. Embrace it little ones. This is our world. You who barely knew to wipe your privates each morning or saw the brittle glass they squirmed wet with sweat. Writhe now and sleep huddled in your little nest. We have you now.

Fire, flood, waste, thunder and a reeling world turned upside down. Inside out. This by the hand of man is really only our doing. You may share the joy, but only as you feel the precious agony deep within. Up on the 32nd floor of this nightmare…. Our place under the sun while you grimace in these chains we’ve forged for everyone. Sealed like matrimony to the death and despair you’ve raised and nurtured like so many fields sown with dragon teeth.

Into this lovely world of grace, power, and gilded trappings we give you our love in the same form one thousand times again. He is the destroyer, but he levels in the name of gods we secretly sanctify over again. Loosed ten thousand times, this day he thirsts for you and your love. Run. Hide if you can, but our demons spread throughout the land eating and vomiting…pulsating and raping innocence in the name of our holy cause. It is for blood and this world we call our very own.

He built this land and from his hands raised that mighty tower over mighty tower. Built on your bones like so much refuse littered in a pile…discord and confusion were to follow, but these are the means of antichrist. Temple of irony, tower of lies, cathedral vile now venomous, ambiguous waves of nausea and stark platitudes of man…you can call him many names, but it’s god in this realm. What were you thinking? Were you slaving in these pits to build his monument to callous antipathy without really seeing? Didn’t you feel anything or was that all over by then? Shaving and sprinkling your carcass with so much formaldehyde and ginger patchouli…only to wince when the axe came down…and then it was all over again until you looked within that silvered space once more….

Go up that highest hill again and burn your fleshly offering. It is the entrails of your own viscera. Your own hollow being you lived in zomby shambling. Cry above and drink this blood. You have cooked the flesh once more and a million cries will follow. It spread across the universe like the statically loud bang that brought the flesh from amorphous rock into unholy being and worship ripened with death’s stink.

You are his slave. He only wants what he had, but has now found maddenly unobtainable. To sleep without dreams…to be obliterated, but no matter how much death and blood it still is only wracking pain and sorrow…lies and spinning fear…to live and not sleep.

How many times? Is this the last? There’s nothing left to burn…I just want to go home, he said. I just want to find that peace. Is this the way out? Is this how it is all to end after all? You go home and no one’s there anymore. Only the sound of phantom footsteps that follow…. Mother and father murdered. The children in little pieces along the hall and in the basement…is this your end?

Cry you old man. Cry and bend a knee in servitude. Your master will betray you in the end. You knew it all along, but you bent to that ancient altar again and again. Cry those bitter tears before you rise again and come back to something you never thought would exist. Something grown up, yet child-like…innocently precise in wonder, wildness and…that’s it…something to look forward to after all…the moment of eternity like a pebble held in fists of sand. Deep down the sigh is nothing more than a breath of life. You live…again. You may find peace…but waiting for it all again…that speeding train…would be the end.

The end.


The end.


This poem first appeared on the Reveille website on October 11, 2017


The first three parts of this should have been read before perusing this final section (part 4 of 4 parts). Go down the blog page to find older posts.


Although directed through the natural world, Victor’s drive for immortality and the creation for a new life is a wholly unnatural act of egotistical power (Levine 8). It is Frankenstein and not God who takes on the mantel of Creator to eliminate the “ideal bounds” of life and death and to “pour a torrent of light into our dark world”. He is to be the father of this new race that will worship him with blessings and praise, but his dreams are rapidly overthrown into a horrible and bitter nightmarish hell (61-2, 68). Like a “never-dying worm” crawling through the despairing core of his heart there is “a hell within me, which nothing could extinguish” and “no language can describe” (111, 113). According to Sherwin, “Condemned by nature’s gods to limitless suffering, the aspiring hero learns his properly limited human place” (883). Without God, Frankenstein’s rebellion is against nature, but, like God, nature’s lawgiver is an obstinate judge.

In his search to redeem humanity, Frankenstein has brought doom upon himself and those that he loves. For Joyce Carol Oates in “Frankenstein’s Fallen Angel”, he becomes “a demonic parody (or extension) of Milton’s God; he ‘is’ Prometheus plasticator, the creator of mankind; but at the same time, by his own account, he is totally unable to control the behavior of his demon” (545). He becomes like his creation or even Job’s Satan as “Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible” (113). For Sherwin, he is “By now wholly the Creature’s creature, he must be considered a florid psychotic, pursuing the naked form of his desire in a fantastic nowhere that is his own” and taking “a detour through reality” falls a second time “into the center of the earth” for “a shamanistic descent into chaos, a place of filthy creation” (886, 895). Loosed from the grave, the Creature is “a release of the force of repression over violent and irrational energies that belong to Victor as they do all of mankind in this novel” (Cottom 63-4). Frankenstein is God, Frankenstein is the Creature, Frankenstein is Satan, and Frankenstein is Humanity. He is “a thief of fire” and “the power source he taps is a constituent element in an ongoing process, a continuum of animation and deanimation according to whose subtle rhythm of recurrence we live and die every moment” (Sherwin 897). Frankenstein, reaching for eternity only to fall again, takes on all the meanings that are the Creatures. For the Monster, “the apple was already eaten, and the angel’s arm bared to drive me from all hope” (255). For Sherwin, “The creature…is hell’s bottom” (897). Finally, this is where we all reside.

The Creature is eventually consumed in the self-loathing that is the horrible face of all evil. His plea to Walton is that Frankenstein has not suffered “the ten-thousandth portion of the anguish” that was the Creatures. The Monster eats himself alive in his own vengeful destiny before he is consumed by the flames of his funeral pyre. Finally he relates, “Some years ago, when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer, and heard the rustling of the leaves and the warbling of birds, and these were all to me. I should have wept to die, now it is my only consolation. Polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death” (302-3). For Frankenstein’s monster, to Oates “is the Word, the secret wish for destruction, made Flesh” (553). This monster of ours is, simply put, our subconscious desires fulfilled – it is our Thanatos or our Id.

 Mary Shelley’s tale of “a Modern Prometheus” explores, through a thoroughly secular and modern setting, the most fundamental questions and moral issues that have faced humanity. At the heart of this is the question of “who’s responsible?”. As for Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, the environment that has nurtured the rebel must be accountable for the criminality of its child (Sutherland lec. 29). This is the age old question of evil that civilization has wrestled with, or “if God created all things, then he must have also created evil”. For all the morality of Mary Shelley’s work, as Oates points out, “no one in Frankenstein is evil – the universe is emptied of God and of theistic assumptions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Hence, its modernity” (550). Mary Shelley, through the “spiritualism” of her secular work, though, seems to raise this age-old complaint that the father must be responsible for the sins of the children. For Levine, “the Frankenstein metaphor implies great ambiguity about where the burden of good and evil rests” and the monstrousness of Frankenstein’s creation is really the monstrousness of those that would damn him (12-3). The unresolved problems of orthodoxy raised by the author are likely another reason that the novel is without God. In the end, Frankenstein displaces responsibility to all of us who have created, and who participate in the world that in turn manifests our demons and criminals.

Despite its secularity, then, Mary Shelley’s work is not without moral valuations. The Monster, for Sherwin “a giant form of Solitude, an existence made absolute by its confinement to the hell of being itself” is consumed with a fiery anguish by the novel’s end (890). This “hypostasis of godless presumption, the monstrosity of a godless nature, analytical reasoning, or alienating labor” becomes a sort of Gothic hero entangled in a schizophrenic struggle “between himself and himself” (Sherwin 890, Wilt 39). In this sense, Frankenstein’s monster is a representation of the modern, existential man.  

The “insatiable thirst for vengeance” resulting from the Creature’s “impotent envy and bitter indignation” give rise to the most despicable and horrible acts one can imagine (299). By the end of it all, he experiences the lowest point of alienation and psychological disunity – the Monster utterly loathes his own existence. Like humanity abandoned by an apparently disinterested God, the Creature is left to a despair that is, for Sherwin using the words of Kierkegaard, “an impotent self-consumption…whose movement is constantly inward, deeper and deeper” (897). For Mary Shelley, universal laws are at work and all of our actions are not without consequences. As the work of Victor’s own hands is the cause of his downfall, so the Creature suffers the fate he has destined for himself.  

Frankenstein, concerned with this “fallen” state of humanity and the desire for some sort of return to grace, ultimately for Lamb quoting Anne Mellor, deals with “’what, finally, is being,’ and how is it constituted?” (305). Creation becomes an act of differentiation or, more precisely, an act of identification. In a Hegelian act of realization, we only understand ourselves by understanding what we are not. All definition is really an explanation of what something is not. For Sherwin, what Frankenstein creates is not only a “distance between his daemonized self and a newly alienated reality”, but a “fantastic medial zone where the boundaries between self and world are impossible to distinguish” and in this “void, between two created ‘nothings’, self consciousness appears” (893). “Reality must yield if the self is to appear” and there is a “rupture” between “what may loosely be termed consciousness (of self, an extravagantly augmented self so full of itself as to allow neither time nor space for self-awareness)” and “all that is not mind” (Sherwin 892). The antithesis of consciousness, or non-consciousness, is necessary for self-awareness to take place, or the act of creation defines the creator by setting the creator apart from what is created.

In the end, creation is “a case of I and the abyss” (Sherwin 896), or something that functions to separate and identify. Within this creation, then, can we discover the mysteries and wonders that are the essence of life or is this something that is only treacherous and absurd? For Milton, the Fall was necessary or was felix culpa, that is, ‘happy sin’ (Sutherland lec. 12). For a like-minded Blake, this might be expressed in his “Proverbs of Hell” that “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom”, or without contraries, progress is not possible (Sutherland lec. 24). The “archaic model”, for Sherwin, misrepresents because “transcendence is equivalent to transgression, and the presumptuous deed is invested with the aura of a primal sin against nature that somehow justifies the ensuing retributive bothers” (883). “The Fall” then could hold an important place in what it is to be human. Lows may be necessary for one to appreciate and embrace the highs of life, and innocence lacks a fulfillment that only the wisdom of experience can impart.

As Levine explains, Victor’s revolt causes his isolation while the Monster’s isolation causes his revolt and in the end “the ‘work or agency’ does not rebel against the creator but actually accomplishes what the creator wants” (11-12, 17). In the familiarly modern world that Mary Shelley presents, the hero is one that “recognizes the unbridgeable gap between those things s/he seeks to unify (the finite and the infinite, different aspects of the self, humankind and nature, the arts and sciences) and who continues the Promethean struggle” (Manson and Stewart 240). Existence is then best typified through the contest itself as meaning can only be invented through the heroic struggle. The infinite, a non-existent quality, is simply non-existence.  

Sherwin claims that Frankenstein is “uncannily subject to the recurrence of his dread of time, space, and the body of death” (897). For Wilt, the Creature is reenacting the mythological cycle of creation through his shifting identities as Adam – Satan – and then Cain while Victor, “Thinking he has sought life in the embrace of death,…has in fact been seeking death in the embrace of life, seeking death to kill it like a virus. And his creature/son, his hold on immortality, his dilated self, deliberately made (not begotten) too gigantic to be overturned in the going-out of time and matter, has this same nightmare in his makeup” (38-39). In this material world of matter and motion there really is no room for what is infinite or immortal. This “space” or this “infinity” is nothing but nothingness. The most ambitious flights of man – whether it is immortality through art, science or even dreams – can only result in death. This is the reality of the godless world of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and is the inevitability of creating life from death. All things return to form.

Judith Wilt dramatizes the novel’s conclusion and its ambiguity through her characterization of two of the “persons” of the “Holy” and “Unholy trinity” that seek to “materialize” a third person in their long trek to the frozen north. This “third person” may either be the Holy Ghost or the Unholy Ghost. The

serenity and even nobility of the ending of the novel seems to promise the former, the creative spirit, brooding over northern waters and keeping alive in the explorer Walton and his men somehow both prudence and aspiration. Perhaps. But the content of the wish, the word’s word at the end seems unequivocally Decreation, the invoking of the reign of Night and Chaos. On his self-made funeral pyre the creature expects ‘light, feeling, and sense will pass away…my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds…the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish’. (41)

For this reader, the novel’s conclusions leave little question. A godless world, the world that Mary Shelley has created, is a frozen wasteland in which we have been utterly abandoned by our “creator” into the bleak despair of loneliness and complete isolation. Like for our monster, our only comfort in this world is the promise of death and the oblivion of a dreamless sleep.

Frankenstein is truly a tale for modernity. Set after the “second fall”, we “can create worse monsters” than even Mary Shelley’s novel has (142). As Levine points out, “The uncontrolled technological creation is particularly frightening and obsessively attractive to modern consciousness because it forces a confrontation with our buried selves. It promises to reveal to us our deepest and most powerful desires, and enact them” (17). Our modern monsters, for Oates, “‘are’ ourselves as we cannot hope to see ourselves – incomplete, blind, blighted, and, most of all, self-destructive. For it is the forbidden wish for death that dominates” (550). All of the characters within the central narrative face the inevitability of death that permeates the novel. The void that results from this literary holocaust is absolute. Only Walton, like a Fortinbras, is left in the end to limp home to his sister and the “comforts” of “domestic affections”, or to the promise that some alternate balance of home and the Promethean Struggle can indeed offer him something greater. Frankenstein, more like the modern myth of Sisyphus, offers very little hope that there is redemption. As the fog of ambiguity lifts, Mary Shelley’s novel seems clear – without God, the image in the mirror really is a monster.


Works Cited

Cottom, Daniel. “Frankenstein and the Monster of Representation.” SubStance, Vol. 9, No. 3, Issue 28. 1980. pp. 60-71. <>.

Ellis, Kate. “Monsters in the Garden: Mary Shelley and the Bourgeois Family.” The Endurance –of Frankenstein. Ed. George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1982. pp. 123-142.

Lamb, John B. “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Milton’s Monstrous Myth.” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 47, No. 3. Dec. 1992. pp. 303-319. <>.

Levine, George. “The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein.” The Endurance of Frankenstein. Ed. George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1982. pp. 3-30.

Levine, George and U.C. Knoepflmacher. Preface. The Endurance of Frankenstein. Ed. George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1982. xi-xvi.

Manson, Michael and Robert Scott Stewart. “Heroes and Hideousness: ‘Frankenstein’ and Failed Unity.” SubStance, Vol. 22, No. 2/3, Issue 71/72. 1993. pp. 228-242. <>.

Oates, Joyce Carol. “Frankenstein’s Fallen Angel.” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 10, No. 3. Mar. 1984. pp. 543-554. <>.

Pollin, Burton R. “Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein.” Comparative Literature, Vol. 17, No. 2. Spring 1965. pp. 97-108. <>.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 3rd ed. New York: The Modern Library, 1993. 

Sherwin, Paul. “Creation as Catastrophe.” PMLA, Vol. 96, No. 5. Oct. 1981. pp. 883-903. <>.

Sutherland, John. “Classics of British Literature.” The Teaching Company. 2008.

Wilt, Judith. “Frankenstein as Mystery Play.” The Endurance of Frankenstein. Ed. George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1982. pp. 31-48.

Woodward, Charles R. “The Archetype of the Fall.” College English, Vol. 28, No. 8. May 1967, pp. 576-580. <>.



In Christ’s time, the faith of Israel, as it was practiced, had become corrupt. He stated that He was not sent to overthrow the law, but to put it back in its rightful place. His greatest ire would be directed at the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes who dominated worship of the faithful in the temple. After all it was they who were leading the sheep astray.   

Why do so many Christians today not question the authority of their religious institutions or even the written testament of Christ’s life and teachings? It’s as if God would ensure the integrity of the faith despite apparently, before Christ’s time, neglecting to do the same for Judaism. 

History teaches us that early Christians shared an attribute that made them unpopular in the ancient world – complete and utter pacifism. The Roman Emperor Constantine was a warrior and a conqueror. He was instrumental in forming a unified Church – the universal Church we now call Catholic. During the papacy of Sylvester I, the first churches were built and first Masses recited, 300 years after the resurrection.  

This Catholic orthodoxy remains the foundation of Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy and most other faiths ascribed as Christian. Since the time of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, Christianity has most obviously become more and more a tool for those who use violence to attain their worldly ends.

Indeed an outsider religion scorned by other faiths had gone “mainstream” under Constantine. It seems that Christianity may have changed more than its followers and in a real sense a religion of slaves became an institution for slaveholders.

This degradation into an acceptance of violence is among the striking aspects of the change we can see in Christianity – if for no other reason than pacifism was among its most distinguished and notable credos.  

The Christ we see in the written gospels appears purely a man of peace. Could it be that His message and life were so pure of any sort of aggression that this is an attribute that simply can’t be turned on its head or truly obscured in any effective way?     

So this Christ of our gospels told us that if we are struck on one cheek, to then turn the other cheek so we can be struck there as well. He also told us if asked for our cloak, to offer our coat as well.

Is this just crazy or maybe something reserved only for Christ and His closest followers? Does Christ actually expect us all to act this way? Have you ever considered this?  

How do you feel about that? What does your heart (forget your head for a moment) tell you about that?

Look around you and see. Hatred breeds.

It’s like the complaints of “reverse racism” we hear in the white community of America today. This is some sort of racism that whites perceive that they experience from people of color.

Forget for a moment what you’ve heard or seen about this issue. Hatred breeds. Sure, we are asked to go down the racist road and forget that it is those with the wealth and the power who are the masters of the oldest games in the book such as Sun Tzu’s classic: “divide and conquer”.

So one side hates and then the other side hates. One side ravages and then the other side ravages. What’s happening and where does it stop?

Christ knows this doesn’t work. He told us it doesn’t work and look around you. It doesn’t work.

Remember, this is the teacher who told us that although we had heard to love our neighbors, we were to love our enemies!

Is this more outrageousness… or actually something all Christians are expected to aspire to?

This is what works – it’s a little secret knowledge although it is something that should never have been secret and should never have been held up as a secret. Yet this mystery seems so obvious from His teachings even if we are so very distance from the time and place of His mission on Earth.  

When one does what Christ says and gives love when hatred is received it is exactly like a mirror. The person projecting hatred feels it come back to them three-fold. You have just given that person something…something that they refuse to give themselves. This is Love.

Man…that hurts.

Simple, but very critical this is. It is powerful and it is highly effective. Look around you. Hatred doesn’t work and it simply breeds more hatred. Give that same person hatred. You won’t win even if you’re otherwise in the right or at your best and you may even think you’ve won, but the war isn’t one battle and if you’ve believed that it is then you certainly haven’t thoroughly studied Sun Tzu after all…much less Christ.

The one who is projecting hatred and violence is self-loathing and reveals this in his or her projections. This feeds the self-loathing as one realizes this truth on some very real level or another and can finally reflect that they are most fundamentally acting in a self-destructive manner through their aggression, hatred and violence.

Love conquers all in the end as this is God. We are being had – every single one of us in this society. Never forget that either. We are being conned and only a very few of us recognize this.

No one said this was the easy route. No one told early Christians it would be easy. There have been plenty of martyrs. There has been much blood and tears and toil all for peace and justice. It is not expeditious, but it is the only way to bliss and to joy.

In the end this isn’t some system of arbitrary good and evil or right and wrong. There are good feelings and there are bad feelings and bad feelings generate bad feelings and good feelings make for more good feelings. This is also Karma or “you reap what you sow”.  

You are what you project.

Brothers and sisters, be at peace and give your love freely. While the enemy will plant violence in your ranks to justify the violence brought upon you, don’t do their dirty work for them.

Choose violence and we all lose. This is their craft and their means, not ours. The Devil always wins his own game. Of course, it’s rigged. When one truly surrenders to God and becomes His perfect tool, a shield, well then the Devil will always run and hide.

Love will win this war against war. The first battle is the one between your heart and your mind. Do what you feel. Make it love – not hate.


Hey Brother…where are you now?

Nowhere but down?

All alone…

Falling…through that pit…?

…Aint no home.

What can you hold onto now…brother?

It’s not there?

Long way…down….

Where is the One? Where are those we love…our brothers and sisters?

…Aint no home.

How can you even think of surrender? …Still it is a struggle?

What about all that death? What about the blood?

How many more of us fell before you?

…a moment that is replayed over and over again….

It’s not there?

Nothing you can hold?

I ask, Where are you now?

Your guns so precious….

To protect…or for this death and murder?

It’s not there?

Was your life filled with these rites…?

…what of love and of brotherhood?

Long way…down….

You may have thought it would be over now, but this is only another beginning.

You may have thought you would be where everyone else ends up, but well…

What do you have to hold onto now?

All alone…

Above it all on the 32nd floor…

So you thought, but really….

It’s not there?

Where are you now?


“He is dead…currently…”.

You start again. Alone…from a better place…?

All alone…

How many dead? How many lives have been torn open in your bloody feast?

How much pain?

It’s not there?

Coming back again, can you see it…?

“He is dead…currently…”.

Where are you now my brother?

It’s not there?

Yes, I’m talking to you.

All alone….

May God have mercy on your everlasting soul….



This lament originally appeared on the Reveille website on October 3, 2017.


This is the third of four parts about Mary Shelley’s great modern myth. One more part to come.

Unlike Milton’s epic, Frankenstein is purely rooted in the physical universe and is a secular reformation of the Genesis myth. In this world, there is no God and the angels and demons are merely metaphorical creations. Mary Shelley’s presentation of man and monster is starkly modern – humanity is alone in the universe. Like the Creature, we have been abandoned to a godless existence.

For the lonesome Creature, “sin” becomes his good and death his desire (299). He warns humanity, “Beware, for I am fearless, and therefore powerful” (225). The Creature has reached the point of desperation and has “nothing to lose” in his state of complete wretchedness. The overreaching Victor is only potent through the act of creation. Like others in the story, he is ineffective against the power of the Creature. George Levine summarizes the writings of D.H. Lawrence on the subject of post-revolutionary notions that imagined the perfectibility of humankind. Mankind was given the power to shape man and “‘The ideal being was man created by man. And so was the supreme monster’” (28-9). This godless, fearless super powered being might be seen as an early Nietzschean prototype of the anti-modern man (the “modern man” as thoroughly impotent). While the Monster is a deformed Byronic hero, Victor as a failed Gothic hero becomes “a tiresome neurotic whose presence impoverishes the larger portion of the novel that bears his name” (Sherwin 898). 

In the 1818 novel’s introduction, this condition is allegorized through “the tale of the sinful founder of his race whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise” (xvi). For Shelley, this is our fate as well as the fate of the house of Frankenstein and his seemingly deathless creation. Wilt describes this doom as “an economical universe” or by Levine using technological jargon, it is “entropy” (Wilt 36, Levine 17). Technology and, most importantly, the technological world that we have created is the very cause of the stunning powerlessness of modern mankind. This impotence – the broad theme of much of modern twentieth-century literature – is ultimately the albatross around our necks as we stumble through existence in search of some light of hope.

Ultimately, the Creature represents the world that we’ve created. The Creature is ours. Fallen humanity, using its mind or what it believes is the best tool available to it, has pieced together this world from the relics and dreams of the past. George Levine summarizes this well:

The duality of our relationship to creator and creature is an echo of our relationship to the technology that we worship even as we recognize that it is close to destroying us. Another way to express the duality, in technological terms, is through the idea of entropy. Victor’s overreaching is an attempt to create new  life. He fails to recognize the necessary secular-scientific myth of entropy: that in any closed system, the new energy generated will be less than the energy expended in its creation, and that ultimately the system will run down. It took a great deal of death to make the new life; the making of the Monster is at the expense of all of Victor’s immediate world – brother, father, bride, friend. The world of mere matter is both finite and corrupted. Without the incalculable presence of divine spirit, creation can only entail destruction larger than itself. It is, ultimately, this nightmare image that the Monster represents to our culture. (17)

The mitosis of these meanings for Mary Shelley’s monster is indelibly linked to both our subconscious and the formations that come from our mental complexes. This demon is what we, as faulted humans, create. It is what we will. In Milton, as in Genesis, humanity exchanged knowledge for immortality. Ever after, we have sought to regain what we have lost – that is Life – through the very gift that was to be our greatest curse in this Faustian exchange. Like Adam and Eve, humankind remains convinced that knowledge can bring us closer to some higher state – whether it is the aloofness to simply accept our doom or the means to return to some sort of utopia. The promises of the Enlightenment, rational and empirical thought, science and technology have lifted our hopes to the heavens. Frankenstein is a very clear rendering of the height of these dreams and the precipices that fall dangerously below us.

This search for redemption – for paradise – has consumed our thoughts since ancient times. As Woodard explains, “If man’s dominant trait is the will to survive, he has another almost equally strong: to recapture the lost perfection which he knows through his emotional and neural inheritance to lie somewhere in his past” (577-8). Yet these myths of our genesis point to the flaw in our intellectual strategy, or have we forgotten knowledge has come with a price?

The participant in Mary Shelley’s work witnesses young Frankenstein’s intellectual pursuit as a consumption of his energies leaving him numb to external influences. At one point Victor comments that, “nothing contributes so much to tranquillise the mind as a steady purpose – a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye”, yet later he feels “like one doomed to slavery to toil in the mines” (7, 65). For Manson and Stewart, this is modern heroism in “the Promethean struggle against the bounds of the finite, driven simultaneously by the individual’s capacity for divine-like creativity and the ironic recognition of his limitations” (232). The pagan myth of Sisyphus is also evoked with this heroic imagery.

“If the riddle can be answered” Frankenstein has found more than just a temporary paradise of his own creation (7, Woodard 578). What we see in Victor’s singular pursuit, though, is he has “lost all soul or sensation” and he asks, “why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute, it only renders them more necessary beings. If our impulses were confined to hunger, thirst and desire, we might be nearly free, but now we are moved by every wind that blows, and a chance word or scene that that word may convey to us” (124). As Woodard concludes, “The growing cortex, which was to be man’s glory, was also to be the source of his most traumatic experience” (577). For Sherwin, “the universal life principle” that Frankenstein thinks he has captured through is intellectual creativity, “can never be his instrument for correcting existence” (897). Similarly, the intellect is powerless to solve its own problem of existence. Ironically, the answers seem buried in humanity’s need for the puzzle to be solved with a simpler and more platonically sensual experience without the constant throbbing of our troubled minds.  

The monster of our collective neurology is the world that we have created. Mary Shelley’s novel anticipates modernity and the darkest fruits that our minds have conjured like no other writer before her. The strides of medical science have allowed us to extend the quality and length of life, while making it possible to transplant animal parts into human bodies, eliminate whole populaces through the release of man-made plagues and chemical substances, and possibly even clone soulless replicants for organ harvesting. The Creature represents the gadgets and machines we worship, the buildings, power lines and smoke that have replaced our natural surroundings and the computers, televisions and Blackberries that have taken over our lives. In its most gruesome reality, possibly, is the Monster as atomic weaponry.

Somewhere in all of this is the human soul that stands alone and remains disconnected like Frankenstein’s creature. The existence we continue to tunnel for is just a childhood memory that once gave us, like Victor, “exquisite pleasure” – a memory that barely registers among the complex clutter of playthings and maddeningly noisy pacifiers that make a modern life (39). We remain disconnected from this place we have made and these things that are our creations. For Paul Sherwin this is critical: “The result of all this frantic alienated labor is a being geared in self-torment. As such, the Creature is also a figure that reveals, with more startling accuracy and profundity than discursive reason can command, the existential condition of its progenitor: his relation-disrelation to his world, his thoughts, and himself” (896). The world, like our intellect, is the symptom and a cause of all modern woes.

Paul Sherwin’s psychological probe into Mary Shelley’s novel strikes more than a few chords of the modern condition. Frankenstein, for Sherwin, has removed himself from the stark reality of his world and from “ordinary awareness and relatedness”. This world “recedes from him in much the manner that a dream fades at the instant of awakening” until he can curl up in “a zone of reality where he can be utterly alone” (892). The Monster is “a marginal or boundary being” that Sherwin calls “a powerful representation of our uncertain lot, suspended as we are between knowledge and power, nature and supernature, objectivity and subjectivity” (891). In the attempt to find ourselves, we have made ourselves a monster (Cottom 60). The monster we are dissolves from one reality into another and is most monstrous, in fact, because it can not be satisfactorily defined. The law-breaking bolt of lightening that reanimates the animalistic parts of our being deepens our madness with every crashing repetition of our recreation. We come to represent something we have never understood and have never really been willing to confront. In the end, like Frankenstein, we are, after all, the Creature itself.

Mary Shelley uses the imagery and evocations of the natural earth to establish a striking contrast with the “filthy” creation of Victor Frankenstein. Victor’s power, as Sherwin understands it, is “the power to wound” and the natural world is the victim of this monstrousness we’ve constructed (886). For Daniel Cottom, “All power, whether it be over nature or over society, represents a monstrous misrepresentation of desire” (66).

Frankenstein, is rooted in the ideals of Romantics like Wordsworth, Coleridge and, of course, Percy Blythe Shelley. Nature is contrasted with what is monstrous in the novel. The delights of natural beauty and peace almost entirely escape the notice of Victor as he works in his lab, is pursuing his creation, or is steeped in his miserable suffering. His “eyes were insensible to the charms of nature” in “a most beautiful season” (63). He is so immersed in his work that sights that had always provided “supreme delight” such as “the blossoms or the expanding leaves” are missed (64-5). His “labours” are no longer “alleviated by the bright sun or gentle breezes of spring” (187). Through the sweat of his brow, Frankenstein is blinded to what is truly sublime and real.  

Nature proves its healing properties after Victor collapses in emotional exhaustion and after he has been confronted by the Creature in the cottage (74, 180). In better circumstances nature could create “the most delightful sensations” and fill Victor with “ecstasy” or cheer him with “emotions of gentleness and pleasure” (85, 185). The Creature also has his spirits lifted by the beauty of nature. He exclaims, “the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy” (149-150). Thoughtlessness in a moment in time seems the only place that can transcend the miseries of this world.

Frankenstein, like the rest of humanity, struggles to recapture something that is lost, and yet the redemptive qualities of nature are all around. Victor’s friend Henry Clerval, likened to the Romantic Percy Shelley, best represents humanity’s connection with nature. Clerval was “alive to every scene; joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise, and recommence a new day. He pointed out to me the shifting colours of the landscape, and the appearances of the sky. ‘This is what it is to live’, he cried, ‘now I enjoy existence!’” (205-6). For Clerval was “a being formed in the ‘very poetry of nature’” and “his soul overflowed with ardent affections” for the nature “he loved with ardour” (208). Manson and Stewart comment that nature is “the medium which the individual of heightened imaginative capacity is able to penetrate and so experience the infinite in which all is unified” (229).

Mary Shelley’s Romantic dualism is evident in Walton’s initial description of the half-dead Frankenstein that “Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, the every sight afforded by those wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth”. His life is “a double existence” and through his misery, he is seen as able to lift his being “like a celestial spirit” as he is able to “retire into himself” (25-6). So as Frankenstein’s creature takes on multiple meanings, nature stands as a literal rock that is central, but separate, from this world. Nature is paradise, peace, tranquility and filled with the powers of healing. It is most markedly, what the Monster is not. In all its complexity and rich ambiguity, the mythos that Mary Shelley has created can be reduced to a simple binary language.

Nature becomes the other important character of the text. It is most directly connected with the possibility of the infinite and through the cycling of its seasons, the fixtures of the earth are the most permanent and least affected by the mortality that haunts the other characters of the piece. Lightening is the creative spark that brings the Creature to life. The mountains of Switzerland stand as gods that can “prognosticate peace” or “mock at [one’s] unhappiness” (92). Victor’s journey into the valleys of his boyhood paradise is “a scene of singular beauty” that is “wonderful and sublime” and appears as “habitations of another race of beings” (120). In his dreams that night, after the crashes of lightening and rushing of the river lull him to sleep, the “grand shapes” of “maternal nature” – “the unstained snowy mountaintops, the glittering pinnacle, the pine woods, and ragged bare ravine; the eagle, soaring amidst the clouds” gather round and “minister” to him (120-1, 123). These are the only spirits that seem to dwell in Frankenstein’s world as there are no other gods to hear the pleading of the mortal suffering below.

Marina Abramović – the Grandmother of Performance Art

The last great Avant-garde movement in the pictorial arts was its commodification by artists like New York’s Andy Warhol. Warhol’s approach was holistic and his art was inexorably interconnected with our modern lives, culture (even lack of…) and with the images we created both for and of ourselves and that were so essential in how we were to be presented on the world’s stage for our “fifteen minutes of fame”. For Warhol, performance was always a part of art and the artist him/herself became an integral part of the body of work.

Which brings us to Marina…. I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a philistine and have the cultural sophistication of the country mouse showing off an underdeveloped intellect for his city cousins. For me, though, on the heels of the Pop Art movement, Marina Abramović was able to propel art forward and keep it on the cutting edge where art must continuously move or it will surely decay from its own inertia. To do this, she and her fellow performance artists had to confront more than just the art establishment, but all norms we held so dear including those of the patriarchy and the fractured self. They did this by bringing the audience into the art on a deeper, more intimate level through the use of the body and the personification of this “new” medium.

Certainly, others are more qualified to show how performance art developed, but it has obvious roots in Dadaism, Surrealism, and apparently emerged from post-Minimalist “happenings” that started to take place after the war and which saw expression through the expositions that were part of the Counterculture Movement of the 1960s. Plastic art had become passé, so a new, living art was made manifest in each moment of the performance.

Marina’s work explored postmodern and feminist themes, the body and dualism, ritual vs. mysticism and the important issues surrounding love, emotion and relationships. Her years of work with her long-time companion and partner, Ulay, explored our male and female halves and the intersections of our lives.

It seems that a great deal of performance work is beyond the reach of many and that’s ok and what one might expect from a movement that is so recently of the Avant-garde. I am reminded of something Joseph Campbell said in Hero with a Thousand Faces and that was undoubtedly a piece of ancient wisdom, “Anyone unable to understand a god sees it as a devil and is thus defended from the approach.”

So Marina’s work remains unapproachable for the masses, although I suspect it’s becoming less exclusive now that we’ve seen tribalism, tattoos, body-piercing and a less self-conscious body awareness as part of our social masque.

My original exposure to performance art was through the genius of Laurie Anderson and a late appreciation for Yoko Ono and her marvelous work. Then I saw the film The Artist is Present about Marina’s MOMA retrospective and show. I was stunned. It was absolutely beautiful, powerful and moving.

In art, I experience one of my many apparent, and in this case, too real contradictions. Art is our darkness merging with our light and this is where human beauty and frailty must fully emerge. Marina, through her strength, humanity and artistic sensibility embraces this darkness and makes it something I can only call angelic. She is that powerful of an artist and the medium is of such a purity of truth. It is a lightness of being that explores the darkness as something that we should never really be threatened by. See her Relation in Space with Ulay, Freeing the Mind and see what you can of Rhythm 0, A Living Door of the Museum or Lips of Thomas. Performance pieces are meant to be repeated by other artists and in a real sense they are “owned” by all of us, although I suspect that no artist will be able to fully replicate the experience of Rhythm 0 will they? That’s another great Abramović innovation – living art that rides along the mouth of the abyss.

Her masterpiece, The Artist is Present, is literally as universal and as eternal as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and at least as profound and important of a work.

These blogs are never really about the artists or judgements of them as individuals, but explorations of their art. There is something disingenuous in this though and, indeed, downright impossible with Marina and her work. In Marina’s work, Marina is always there deeply and richly human. In a sense you must make a judgement, but she isn’t just Marina anymore either. You become part of the work as much as she is. Her vulnerability becomes your vulnerability. The art isn’t just a body of work, but something intangible, emotional and powerfully spiritual. Her strength becomes your strength. If you see her work as only feminist, well you’re missing at least half of it.

Nothing impacts me more than her best work – nothing, because it is holding a mirror up to myself and exposing who I really am without the masks and the artifice. As an artist, and it is the artist in me that tells you this…well, I am completely in love with Marina Abramović. Is there anything more beautiful than that?

This was originally posted on the Reveille website on September 28, 2017.


Ecce Aeon: The Last Temptation – A Gnostic View

Gnostic Christianity is different than orthodoxy in very critical ways and one of the most important is the role of Christ in humanity’s ultimate salvation. From the apostle Paul, orthodox Christians were taught that it was belief itself: in Christ; in His sacrifice; and in His resurrection from the dead, that provided the faithful salvation and redemption from original sin. Faith itself became central to Orthodoxy and the role of works became somewhat ambiguous or at least debatable within post-Reformation Christianity.

Gnosticism, on the other hand, was always about the knowledge or the Way. Works were central and Christ could be seen as the culmination of a long-line of spiritual teachers through history. Salvation, for Gnostics, was to come from works or by following the path that Christ had led us.

Certainly, it should be understood that Gnosticism was and always has been as varied as early Christianity itself. So despite this view being somewhat distilled for simplicity’s sake and coming from one perspective, this is generally what the believers in “secret knowledge” held to be true with Christ and his role in our salvation.

Critically, for Gnosticism, the mythology and the symbolism surrounding this mythology has always been less important than the historical Christ himself. Call it spirituality stemming from a real-universe pragmatism and not some seemingly arbitrary set of laws and rites coming from on high. Darwinism becomes completely compatible with this form of Christianity as one comes to recognize that Christ, as the Son of Man, must be the first, or at least among the first, fully evolved or “actualized” humans on planet Earth. Without getting too much into the essentiality of reincarnation and its relationship with Gnosticism here, suffice it to say that we are all evolving through a succession of lifetimes and on our way to a Christ-like existence that will return us to Paradise.

This is an important part of the Gnostic view of Christ and is consistent with the Jesus we can see from a purely historical perspective. Christ was an Apocalyptic and Messianic Jew. Indeed, if one sees nothing else about the historical Jesus, one is left with this. His life and gospel centered on this belief. The Messiah was to come and lead the people back to the garden – to a New Jerusalem – and this was something that Christ believed and that was critical in His message. Indeed, as His understanding became complete, He saw His own destiny and the destiny of his disciples intertwined with this truth.

He taught this message to his followers. He taught them His belief that this would all happen in their lifetime. Then, at some point, near the end of His mission on Earth, something happened.

So orthodoxy struggles with this event that we have come to call the last temptation of Christ.  According to the orthodox canon, this is what took place in the Garden of Olives on the night before Christ was betrayed by Judas and taken into custody by the authorities. The somewhat ambiguous orthodox reading we generally get of this event is a view of the human-side of Christ struggling with the fear of death. For Gnostics though, there is an entirely separate reading possible.

Before we get into that though, it is important to provide the sort of historical perspective we have today of Christ and his relationship with our world. Certainly, we can see a Christ who was at odds with the world of His time. Apocalypticism was set against the worldly and the Messiah was to bring us to a more spiritual existence here on Earth than what the world had provided.

As the dominant form of Christianity in the west since the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine, orthodoxy has an interesting relationship with the world we live in today. In a real sense, orthodoxy must indeed claim some responsibility in helping to create and maintain the world that we live in – at least in the west. It is apparent that the success of orthodoxy is founded on its very institutionalization and eventual acceptance in this world.

For the heretical Gnostic though, the world has always been one of evil and rampant injustice. The world, for many Gnostics, has always been a sort of living hell lorded over by Satan and not by God. Indeed, if not for some strength found in this knowledge, Gnosticism would have been truly eradicated from existence thanks to millennia of efforts by those who claim the right belief of orthodoxy.

So for Gnostics, the world is really the same today as it was in the time of an Apocalyptic Christ. There is no demand on Gnosticism to explain their part in maintaining a world that indeed oppressed and even attempted to eradicate them. There was no Apocalypse, Christ was crucified and the world was not saved, but the world continued to exist in sin and evil. The righteous continued to be sacrificed and oppressed. Real orthodoxy (“heretical” Gnosticism) was suppressed while heresy (“orthodox” Christianity) sat on the right hand of its lord and master – Satan.

Christ’s gospels – His good news – can be summarized in two words: “Follow me”. Through this life that became known as the “apostolic” life, He and later His followers showed the Way and proselytized the Word. So while orthodoxy, particularly the Protestant brand of orthodoxy, focuses on the crucifixion and that Faith (alone) can bring about salvation, Gnosticism presents a savior who provides knowledge of the truth and shows us “the Way” to salvation through His teachings and life.

Remember, there was no emphasis on faith in Christ’s teachings. The importance of faith over works was a later innovation that reflected a less active and less socially subversive form of Christianity.

Which brings us to the last temptation of Christ. Quickly summarized, this is when Christ and the disciples were at Gethsemane after the Last Supper and prior to His betrayal by Judas. That night, Christ who had recently been made aware of God’s exact plans for Him asked God to “let this cup pass” before calling for God’s will and not his own.

The traditional reading, it seems, is one of a human Christ fearful of death. We can look to mainstream cinema with Mel Gibson’s apparently fearful Christ begging for release from the traps that have been set for him. One might even go so far as Nikos Kazantzakis’ reading that a doubt-riddled Christ was tempted by the visions of a mundane life he could have shared married to Mary Magdalene (apologies if I missed any of this never seeing either film or reading Kazantzakis’ text). All of this is completely understandable from our own existences and perspectives.

For Gnostics though, one need not agree with any of this. Christ was a part of a legacy of martyrs whose courage would be more in line with Leonidas than our own fear-ridden selves. If indeed sacrifice was something that Christ was willing to accept when it was presented to him, than it is likely that this individual – likened to God Himself – considered others before Himself. This, it seems, is more consistent with the Messiah who actualized a life lived through supreme sacrifice.

Christ believed that He was on this Earth to fulfill His ultimate mission – to lead us, His flock, to the Promised Land or back to the Garden that was the Kingdom of God on Earth. He was an Apocalyptic after all. This was the ultimate fulfillment of His destiny that was tied directly to the redemption of all of humanity. This was to be all of our moment, but instead it had become evident that none but Christ were prepared for this. Other than Christ, none had become truly fulfilled or actualized through the holy knowledge and the Way shown to us by Christ.

Indeed, after the temptation, the disciples are found asleep. Christ commented that, “…the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” It seems likely that this shed light on humanity’s ultimate failing and helped Christ see the purpose behind God’s plan. Once the authorities had come for Christ, the disciples quickly took a powder and once the shepherd was smitten, the sheep were scattered. By the next evening, even his closest disciple, Simon Peter, who had followed the incarcerated Christ, would deny him thrice before the cock crowed twice.

In a very real sense – and this is something people have failed miserably to see – we all crucified Christ. We were all complicate. We all are guilty. In the most fundamental and real sense – we are all, like Jesus Christ himself, Jews! We have all fallen short and this is no less true today than it was over two thousand years ago in ancient Judea.

Here’s the reality check folks…. None of us were ready. Through hindsight, we can see that Christ was at least two thousand years early and his experiences with His sleeping and fleeing disciples has emphasized this for all of us. If they weren’t ready, how could we have been ready? Turns out we had a whole lot more burning to do before we could join Christ in Paradise after all.

Christ was a subversive. The leadership of Judea, Herod and the rabbinical council, used the powers of persuasion to make sure the people would have Barabbas, not Christ, pardoned for the Passover Feast. Although he washed his hands, Pilot and the Roman Empire weren’t to tolerate Him any more than the Jewish leadership would.

A story goes that when the apple on a tree ripens, one morning one of the apples has fallen from the tree in full readiness. Some days later, one or two more will follow and then one morning all but a few stubborn apples will have fallen from the tree. Christ is the Son of Man – fully actualized or the fully “evolved” Human. He was to find the truth and the Way before anyone else – someone had to do it.

For Christ, the greatest joy was the salvation of humanity through the realization of this Heaven on Earth. His brothers and sisters would find the peace and the joy that He had found – nothing could be greater for Him than this. Nothing. Recall He is not like us in this, but has completely surrendered to God the Father, has become one with the Father, and simply enacts God’s will. He is no longer really the self but the oneness of All and this is the transformation of the wholly sacrificial life – only superficially a sacrifice in that one abandons the worldly life for the spiritual oneness with God. God’s will was always Christ’s only real prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, that beseeches the Father that His will be done. This was ultimately His prayer that night as it was every other night.

Simply put, Christ’s ultimate fulfillment and joy can only come with our redemption. Indeed, He is the good shepherd who leaves the flock of many in search of the one lost sheep. This key characteristic is lost in the swirl of confusion and distortions surrounding an orthodoxy that maintains a stark division between those to receive grace and those who are to be denied the same.

There are scriptural indications in this canon of orthodoxy that Christ believed this human destiny for the Kingdom of Heaven was near at hand. When He became aware that He was to be crucified, that dream, His greatest hope for humanity, was immediately smothered – for the time being anyway. He had to ask God to pass this cup. Not for Himself, but for all of us. He was being perfectly consistent in His last moments – in the time of His last temptation – and in the end would remain consistent for, if anything, the fully realized Christ is consistent.

…Yet we know not what is best for any of us at any given moment. We do not have perfect understanding, thus we pray only one prayer in the end and then give thanks. We surrender.

Religious studies textual critics have found clear evidence that supports this argument or at least that refutes a great deal of the orthodox line. It turns out that the oldest manuscripts match the calmer Christ of Luke’s gospel who only asked the cup be passed once, and not the Christ of Mark who is “troubled unto death”. Luke’s gospel wasn’t without alterations either though, and the appearance of the soothing angel and a Christ sweating drops like blood were both later additions. According to scholars, proto-orthodox leaders were attempting to quell the docetists like Marcion by playing up the humanity of a Christ who was fearful of death.

Christ’s agony wasn’t fear of his own mortality, but something much greater than this. Christ suffered in the knowledge that His generation – His flock – was not to find this ultimate salvation and peace.

So orthodoxy presents us a Christ who really is a victim and who shows the agonizing and all-too human fear of someone with the realization of their impending role as victim and sacrifice. With Gnosticism, we lose a great deal – if not all – of the joy of the crucifixion (and, presumably, the resurrection) since there is the additional sorrow one feels for a Christ who faced His destiny with thoughtless courage for Himself and selfless care for all of us sinners who were, ultimately, the very ones who saw to His riddance from this miserable world.

The path of the avatar is always the same. In the beginning, the searcher goes inward or into the desert where it is only him and his demons. Once he reaches the enlightened state, the path must be forever outreaching – to truly serve God’s will and be his instrument on Earth one must serve every living creature and bring them into the peace and holiness that the enlightened one has found.

Remember, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Christ simply can not be truly fulfilled – can not be in the Heaven of the Garden – if there is even one lost soul who is left out. Christ will be “out” searching for that one last, lost sheep. Christ must lead us to the Garden, but we are so weak that He must also hold that gate open for us! So He is the last one in, because He is the one with real strength. His humble, deceptively human appearance hides the angelic superhuman who is the Son of Man.

The Last Temptation of Christ showed us this strength, not His human weakness.

So get ready brothers and sisters. Get ready for eternity. Live life not only as it is your last day, but the first day of eternity. Actualize. Go ahead and burn. Go ahead and be yourself. Do what you feel.

Then, and only then, will you find the Way.

This post originally appeared on the Reveille website September 28, 2017.


Walter L. Wakefield in his Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition in Southern France, 1100-1250 includes an appendix that relates the documented inquisitional deposition regarding one Peter Garcias of Toulouse that took place in 1247. What’s interesting, of course, is the accused heretic’s description of his heretical or Cathar beliefs in the mid-thirteenth century. Here’s a rundown.

  • The heretic was unsure if there were indeed two gods or not, although he claimed the one who made the visible world was not Him that made the invisible.
  • The heretic made the Marcion claim that ‘…the law of Moses was nothing but shadow and vanity, and that god who gave that law was a scoundrel and malign’.
  • The heretic made the docetic claim that Christ, the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist came from heaven and were not of this flesh. He further stated that John the Baptist was one of the ‘greatest devils there ever was.’
  • When showed a hand and asked if flesh will rise again, the heretic replied that ‘flesh will not rise again except as a wooden post, striking a post with his hand.’ This was a refutation of the essential orthodox belief that in the end of days the dead would literally rise from their graves to live again.
  • The heretic insisted that ‘Jesus led no one out of hell’.
  • The heretic stated that ‘matrimony was prostitution and that no one could be saved with his wife’. Further, he claimed that ‘the fruit forbidden to the first parents was nothing other than the pleasure of carnal coition…’. He claimed that the only accepted matrimony was ‘that of the soul with God’.
  • The heretic stated that ‘justice ought by no means to be carried out by condemning anyone to death.’ Not only were his beliefs against capital punishment, but against the war and violence that characterized society.
  • The heretic pointed out that it was during the pontificate of Sylvester I (r. 314-355) at the time of Constantine’s rule that the Church started celebrating the Mass and started owning property. Further, he argued that the Roman Church was ‘a harlot who gives poison and the power to poison all who believe in it’ and that it would be gone in twenty years; that the ‘Mass was worthless’; ‘all preachers of the cross are murderers’; and the cross was nothing more than ‘a bit of cloth on the shoulder’ or ‘wood’. These statements refuted the magical qualities of transubstantiation where orthodoxy held that during the rite of the Mass, the bread literally turned into the body of Christ and the wine transformed into the literal blood of Christ. These heretics also disdained the sign of the crucifix which they saw as an instrument of murder and argued against the powerfully magical and mystical qualities of holy relics and artifacts. Indeed, the heretic claimed that ‘no miracle which can be seen by the eyes is anything’. It is hard for us to realize how important these beliefs were to orthodoxy and the awesome power that was to be contained in these rites and artifacts.
  • The heretic derided the use of Latin, a language that the vast majority of worshipers did not understand, in church and stated he owned the gospels written in the vernacular. Owning the vernacular gospels was a sign of heresy. Pre-Reformation orthodoxy held that the Church must intercede between lay humanity and God.
  • The heretic denied there was purgatory and any power for alms or prayers to aid the dead. Indeed, he went on to discuss the heretical belief that the unsaved departed were reincarnated into another being.
  • The heretic claimed only the select angels who fell to Earth would be saved.

This post originally appeared on the Reveille site September 20, 2017.