Antechamber to Horror

I’ve been planning an expedition into horror, for which the Kurtz of Conrad and of Coppola is an essential way-station – perhaps even a terminus. The mission is to articulate horror as a functional, cognitive ‘achievement’ – a calm catastrophe of all intellectual inhibition — tending to realism in its ultimate possibility. Horror is the true end of philosophy. So it counted as a moment of synchronicity to stumble upon Richard Fernandez quoting (Coppola’s) Kurtz — and it had to be passed along immediately. There is, of course, only one passage that matters, so it is no coincidence that Fernandez selects it:

I’ve seen horrors… horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! I remember when I was with Special Forces… seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it… I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that […] these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.

To pluck out one sentence for repetition: “It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means.” How, then, to learn what ‘horror means’ … (even in an armchair)?

August 12, 2013admin 36 Comments »
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36 Responses to this entry

  • Karl F. Boetel Says:

    RE: Fernandez,

    God I wish people would stop pretending they know what the hell happened in the Congo Free State. There’s exactly ONE primary source in existence, plus a couple letters ‘n’ stuff saying “hey i was there and that didn’t actually happen” because it turns out the guy who wrote the one source was so biased, Conrad said he had “no mind” — all heart, all feelings; a real ‘anti-racist’ (“Al Sharpton” indeed).

    “The Hands” — oh, the hands, the hands… were all gathered by native soldiers who were too dumb to realize what Leopold was actually asking them to do, I’ve read the ONLY primary source, so stop with the ‘evil white people’ narrative.

    “And yes the Belgian King committed atrocities almost as great, if not absolutely greater than those of Adolf Hitler” — oh my God shut the %&^$ up, every single statistic on death tolls in the CFS was literally just made up out of thin air: “let’s see we have a report from one minister in one church in one year that says attendance is down 50%, therefore white ppl murdered half of everyone in the Congo, so backtracking from the first census in 1920-whatever, that means they killed 30,000,000 people, let’s publish that number and pretend we’re historians” — %&^* you, shut the #$&% up.

    Anyhoot.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Congo from the Dark Side:
    Unamused: 1, 2, 3, 4
    Moldbug

    [Reply]

    Doug Reply:

    The Moldbug piece contradicts the Unamused piece. The latter’s thesis is pretty much that the Congo’s shitty because it’s filled with Congolese. Moldbug’s source material pretty much says the opposite, that the Congolese when properly governed in the 1950s, was actually a pretty damn nice place. There’s also a little East/West Berlin natural experiment with Rhodesia to the South. Rhodesia right next to the Congo Free State was far more developed. With essentially the same people in two different countries, Cecil Rhodes runs a far better country than King Leopold.

    HBD oversell the importance of its effect on national success. HBD is only really a major issue in a democratic, post-Cathedral world. A Congolese democracy is of course going to be a shithole compared to a Finnish democracy. On the other hand a well-run reactionary state made up of a Congolese population should only slightly lag the Finnish equivalent. Colonialism isn’t even required, there’s plenty of smart, manly Congolese who would run the place well without the Cathedral’s tendrils poking around. If the War Nerd’s to be believed Laurent Nkunda was well on his way to filling this role, until the “international community” stepped in.

    The Unamused piece is fundamentally wrong. The DRC is a shithole, like almost all of Africa, because its a democratic-ish state with a low intelligence electorate. The CFS was a shithole 100 years ago for an entirely different reason, Leopold was a just plain incompetent sovereign. The former you can square at the feet of the Congolese, the latter you can’t.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I’m not trying to launch a Congo discussion, so anything that comes up in this regard is purely a comments thread phenomenon. Those links are there because:
    (a) Karl has written a Congo series, so I thought it was relevant background to his comment
    (b) The Moldbug discussion is the closest thing I’ve seen anywhere to the substantial argument made in his comment
    There’s no attempt on my part to present a coherent thesis.
    The anticipated topic is horror (– it’s not about Vietnam either).

    Karl F. Boetel Reply:

    Your comment seems to affirm everything that you call “fundamentally wrong.”

    Manjusri Reply:

    “A Congolese democracy is of course going to be a shithole compared to a Finnish democracy. On the other hand a well-run reactionary state made up of a Congolese population should only slightly lag the Finnish equivalent.”

    We’ll find out soon if sub-Saharan African nations run along Singaporean lines can work, as that’s the very experiment that Paul Kagame is undertaking in Rwanda. The results, so far, are quite promising: social stability, dramatic crime reduction, 8% GDP growth yoy, one of the lowest corruption ratings in Africa (after Botswana, natch), improvements in education and health care outcomes…

    Rwanda, however, is only twice the size of Singapore population-wise. It remains to be seen if this can be translated into a larger state.

    Handle Reply:

    Is the one primary source – and/or the refutation letters – online?

    [Reply]

    Karl F. Boetel Reply:

    It is… not, last time I checked. It’s called the “Casement Report,” and I had to get it out of a university liberry. And I found two (?) references to these letters — from (I believe) Congo mercenaries — in a different library book related to the Casement report — maybe an annotated edition of the report. (I was writing an essay debunking Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost” at the time and needed it.)

    [Reply]

    Handle Reply:

    I’ll work on it. In the meantime, The Treatment of Women and Children in the Congo State, 1895-1904

    Handle Reply:

    And, from Unz’s archive, Booker T Washington’s ‘Cruelty in the Congo Country’

    Karl F. Boetel Reply:

    Oh, that’s right, *Morel* had something on the later CFS. He was from the Congo Reform Association that sprang up after the Casement Report. So there’s more than one source after the early period. (And more contradictory sources than just that mercenary.)

    Handle Reply:

    @Karl: I’m with you man. I’m just putting out all the references I can find with some quick scrounging that all seem to be hysterical Angle/American Protestant Missionaries raving about the evil Belgians, themselves mainly pointing to Casement (a weird fellow himself, but that’s another discussion) or other Missionaries. When I get a digital copy of the Casement report from HCPP (or something), I’ll send it your way.

    Anonymous Reply:

    Handle, your Washington link is broken. Here is the original and here is what you probably wanted.

    Doug Reply:

    I think you’re heading too far into crackpot territory. While the common numbers may be over-estimated, it’s pretty clear that the Congo Free State practiced widespread democide. There is mountains of photographic evidence and first hand accounts to confirm. Even if the common 15 million figures are off by an order of magnitude, that still leaves a seven figure death toll. Even strong defenders of colonialism have to acknowledge CFS as a major state failure. There are several important lessons for reactionaries to draw:

    1) CFS was a strange hybrid between Victorian age colonialism and the 20th century humanitarian internationalist approach to the third world. Leopold didn’t gain CFS through manly prowess in terms of conquest or exploration. Rather he lobbied the proto-UN international organizations as a defender of human rights, against the demonized Portuguese who held claims on the area. Leopold also excluded the much more successful and archetypical colonialist Cecil Rhodes from annexing large parts of Southern Congo, again through the use of international lobbying.

    2) Leopold was probably one of the worst business managers of all time. He still failed to turn a profit despite being given for free a giant rubber plantation when rubber prices were at record highs. Most of the deaths can be attributed to Leopold’s desperate and cockamamy schemes to threaten death for low production. Even if one (fairly correctly) views 19th century colonies as little more than giant slave-holdings of their sovereigns, the democide doesn’t necessarily follow. For example antebellum slaveowners certainly didn’t need to brandy execution to achieve high slave productivity. Only a totally incompetent manager needs to threaten death to get his employees to perform.

    3) CFS can be considered the first large-scale socialist nation state in human history. All economic activity was conducted centrally through the state, and private enterprise of any sort was basically prohibited. As in any socialist economy the calculation problem will assure that productivity lags drastically behind capitalist peers. Inevitably middle managers will be put under more and more strain to “do something”, which almost always takes the form of increasing blame on some scapegoats. Under enough pressure the mid-level managers will eventually start killing the “enemies of the state” as production will invariably always lag.

    [Reply]

    Posted on August 12th, 2013 at 8:46 am Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    I am going to answer as if all of what you are saying is on the surface. Which it may not be, but for practicality…

    Don’t confuse justice with war BUT – “Justice must stand on judgment” isn’t so bad.

    You can make a friend of horror. But you may not make it out the other side.

    I met some Ugandan soldiers in the mid-90s [in Uganda]. I also had the opportunity to read their local English language newspapers. After all the drama and slaughter of Dada they had reached the conclusion that the soldiers and the government must have a code of honor and discipline. This made them more effective. In fact they began to take it to lengths of incorruption, although not extreme.

    The same conclusion had been reached by the Tutsi armies of Rwanda, they won through discipline. The same conclusions by the Ethopians post Mengistu. And so on..

    The same conclusion of Frederick. Catherine, and 18th century European warfare.

    We’re due for a turn of limited warfare, it’s seen in History from time to time.

    And Good King Freddy loved it.

    It also solves the couch problem – most people would rather not be combatants. By leaving them out of it, they need not be factored.

    And I have reached this conclusion: Control of the People is Not the Objective. Do not make war upon the People, that is Evil. . This formula eliminates Mao and the attendant evil dramas, COIN and it’s dysfunctions.

    You can make a friend of Horror, but you’ll fatally confuse Ends with Means.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    ‘Spengler’ gets onto this wavelength (in a way that’s, at the very least, interesting).

    [Reply]

    Posted on August 12th, 2013 at 11:47 am Reply | Quote
  • Mark Warburton Says:

    “Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?

    Willard: I don’t see any method at all, sir.”

    This exchange sums up the dissolution at the end of the river, for me – pretty horrific. On a more general note, I thought the Redux is a required viewing. The original really misses the French old colonist house..

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Yes, short but bitter.

    [Reply]

    fotrkd Reply:

    Redux (which is the version I have) has always annoyed me. I always felt it broke the tension (detrimentally). I’d be interested to hear a contrary view.

    [Reply]

    fotrkd Reply:

    Sorry – by ‘it’ I meant the excursion into French Colonialism.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “I always felt it broke the tension (detrimentally).” — Yes.

    [Reply]

    Posted on August 12th, 2013 at 6:07 pm Reply | Quote
  • Arred Says:

    Just back after a week in a Mississippi correctional facility. Wrote an article for Vice while I was in there about riding freight trains with members of the Zeta cartel in January. Will share with the armchair dwellers after publication.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Coolest excuse for truancy ever.

    [Reply]

    Posted on August 12th, 2013 at 8:18 pm Reply | Quote
  • Neener Says:

    Is it possible that horror is metaphysically set up in such a way that doesn’t allow it to be captured by words?

    By metaphysical I mean that the connection is between some aspect of the world and the mental state of the person witnessing the horror (not that I’m putting forward some dualistic explanation here, both mind and world are part of the same thing, here I’m talking of mental states rather than a mind-body distinction). The state of affairs is set up in such a way that seems to bypass language (then again, a counter-example might be horror fiction, but is horror fiction horror?).

    Would a philosophical analysis of horror have to capture both the properties/characteristics of the horrific thing in the world, and the attributes of a horror-fied mental state? Or would the mental state be enough?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    These are great questions, but I don’t think there’s a short-cut response — the only ‘answer’ is the series itself.

    ” is horror fiction horror?” — for this investigation, horror fiction will be considered as an exploration of horror — although it might be destined to ‘fail’ for reasons touched upon in your questions here

    I don’t think your ‘epistemological’ question (concerning the purchase achieved by the ‘horrified’ mental state) is any different to the one philosophy has long engaged, which only makes it more serious — and even ‘horrific’

    [Reply]

    Posted on August 13th, 2013 at 2:47 am Reply | Quote
  • John Hannon Says:

    Do you still (did you ever?) find Bataille’s take on horror compelling? In particular, I’m thinking of “The Tears of Eros” where, apropos a gory sequence of Chinese torture snuff pics, he declares –

    “What I suddenly saw, and what imprisoned me in anguish – but at the same time delivered me from it – was the identity of these perfect contraries, divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror.”

    Interestingly, this “identity of horror and the religious” only revealed itself to him when –

    “… in 1938, a friend initiated me into the practice of yoga. It was on this occasion that I discerned, in the violence of this image, an infinite capacity for reversal… From the most unspeakable to the most elevated.”

    What exactly this yoga practice consisted of he doesn’t say, but it seems to have afforded him the same transrational vision of the identification of contraries as I’ve experienced myself through experimentation with anesthetics and psychedelics (the former in particular).

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I have to bracket that question for now (because it nourishes a counter-productive tendril of psychological continuity).

    [Reply]

    John Hannon Reply:

    The meta-logical coincidence of contraries – or in the words of Benjamin Paul Blood –

    “that for which the speech of reason has as yet no name but the Anesthetic Revelation.”

    The following is from a letter written by the poet Doug Oliver to the novelist Iain Sinclair, which Iain reproduced in his novel “White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings.” Hopefully it will have some relevance here.

    “Eliphas Levi was fond of the thought that great evil demands as great a soul as does great good. I disagree. On the visionary level it is perhaps true because the quality of the vision elevates what it deals with. At certain points of the “dialectic” it is perhaps also true: fear can call for a “grand soul” to overcome it. Also, seen in a vision of a coincidence of contraries, it may again seem true. Yet still I disagree: my own experience of good and evil is that the former ennobles and the latter diminishes the perpetrator in stature. The reason is, in a sense, dialectical: in their “fall” from the visionary ontology into human action it is the nature of evil to limit and depress and disgust – to be small-minded and furious – and it is the nature of good, in its fall, to enlarge and make sunny and bring wider acceptance. Cosmologically, it’s the nature of “evil” to be small and furious, and of good to expand “in love” as the neo-Platonists used to say. We cannot deny the universality of dark/light. But we have no referent for value unless our ontology works towards the good – takes that as direction.

    We do need to explore the cosmology on its dark side, to make our vision unflinching and accurate. But we also need to see that the allure of the cruel is a false allure: that it only holds as grand when seen in its transcendental form (for in transcendence, in their “eternal” phantasm, all things look grand, though our joy and fear tell us so immediately the difference). The more evil becomes precise, personalized and located, however, the more it belittles itself: Brady and Hindley listening to those appalling tape recordings (such a small bestiality); Gilles de Rais fondling children (such a stupid cruelty); the affinity of the Belsen pictures with the rubbish dump; the cruel schoolboy in Amin or in the Krays; the fact that the schizoid is, in a sense, a smaller psyche. All this compared with the grandeur of any small act of kindness in a concentration camp. It is, of course what Iris Murdoch calls “The Sovereignty of Good,” and I believe that the phenomenology, so to speak, of good and evil, in their declension from angel/demon transcendent phantasms, separates into the much-in-little and little-in-much. Great evil is a grand conception by our common terms: that is its allure.

    In act, it is the implosion into nothing whereas good is the simultaneous fructification of nothing. They are utterly interdependent dynamically and yet good is the sovereign just as “all we have” is sovereign over “all that we shall not have.” Unless there is the gradient of value – unless the very coincidence of contraries in the Blakeian sense has itself this gradient – I can explain neither our actions or our words.

    I’m hostile to all literatures which think there’s a standing from which the self phantasm can disappear. That is, the self phantasm must be fully awakened into a more universal dynamic but the law is that in all higher awareness hte lower forms of awareness persist: they are simultaneously present within the higher awareness. That is why the self and its phantasms must be recognized before self-“disappearing” can enter the simultaneity of true knowing.

    I shall say, therefore, that grand evil is macro-petty because it scares us stiff into smallness and protection of the self. It is also petty, because, seeing the coincidence of good and evil in the true dynamic, it rejects the coincidence (which is, I think, joyful) and chooses the obviously worse of the alternatives. We cannot fail to choose because, short of being gods, we must otherwise vegetate. Only by choosing the good, because it is expansive, can we begin to accept the dynamic in its duality and yet make a choice. It more truly reflects life process to see that it is creative rather than destructive, at least while time’s arrow points in the direction it does and our universe expands: for if evil were sovereign nothing would exist.”

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    A lot rests on how we make sense of the dark heuristic: “it’s judgment that defeats us.”

    Posted on August 13th, 2013 at 10:27 am Reply | Quote
  • Neener Says:

    @John Hannon

    As a side note to John’s post, notice in war and strategy there is this interplay between contraries and contradictories. Edward Luttwak’s Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace is a book length treatment of this “logic of war,” where seemingly paradoxical behavior can lead to tactical, operational, and strategic victory (mostly because of the surprise of doing things the opponent does not suspect). See also The Thirty-Six Stratagems from Chinese military history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-Six_Stratagems

    Apart from the obvious physical, psychological, and moral aspects of war, these paradoxical and surprising behaviors might also be generators for horror in the minds of people.

    [Reply]

    Posted on August 13th, 2013 at 10:54 am Reply | Quote
  • Alex Says:

    Horrific cultural artefacts:

    http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/4220-1254#sthash.RzlT5Kuy.dpbs

    http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/4220-1253#sthash.KkT8szWT.dpbs

    [Reply]

    Posted on August 15th, 2013 at 12:37 am Reply | Quote
  • Fotrkd Says:

    And what happens once we know what horror means (to whatever degree)? Do you recommend a holiday while the cognitive dust settles?

    [Reply]

    Posted on August 20th, 2013 at 3:08 pm Reply | Quote
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    Hey R. L. Stein, maybe it will be in your best interest to write some fiction on the JQ.

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