This time we are honoured and delighted to welcome special guest Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast (etc) to talk to us about her new (and excellent) book Off The Edge, a history of Flat Earth, the current state of the Flat Earth movement, and our cultish and conspiratorial times generally. A fun and thoughtful – and sometimes melancholic – discussion.
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Grant Morrison triumphantly ended their run on Doom Patrol.
“To learn to play seriously is one of the great secrets of spiritual exploration.” – Rachel Pollack, The Forest of Souls
Grant Morrison stepped off of Doom Patrol at the end of 1992, just before the launch of Vertigo. Taking over the title for the new imprint was Rachel Pollack, a novelist and Tarot scholar, who recounts that she got the job when “At a party I met the editor, Tom Peyer, and after gushing about it confessed it was (then) the only monthly comic I really wished I might someday have a chance to write. Tom told me that Grant was ending his run, and if I wanted to send him a sample script he’d consider it. So I did, and it became my first issue.” This account is at least slightly improbable, given that Pollack’s first arc, cheekily titled Sliding Through the Wreckage, is heavily rooted in the status quo that Morrison left, which, much like the stati quo Drake and Kupperberg had left, basically amounted to the entire team being out of commission, with Dorothy the team’s sole representative in the real world and thus Pollack’s initial focus character, quickly pulling Cliff back from Danny the World, with a pointed lack of clarification over what happened between him and Jane. (Eventually, well into her run, Pollack establishes that they broke up, although in practice this was forced by Morrison’s request that Jane be left alone.)
Pollack’s early run suffered the fate that most follow-ups to tremendously successful and iconic runs do, namely comparison. Obviously, given that she was writing the ongoing Doom Patrol book for Vertigo, a line that was centered on the post-Moore British Invasion that Morrison was a key part of, there was good reason for her to follow in their footsteps. And Pollack’s first six issues read in many ways like a toned down and accessible Morrison, with enemies who speak in indecipherable dialogue like “Backwards glances like dead trees? Tradition valued with new sprouts” and a fetus-headed entity that steals things from the world and replaces them with pieces of paper with the names of the thing written on them. It’s not bad, and indeed to a reader who finds the excesses and occasional incoherences of Morrison’s weaker efforts particularly intolerable could even be argued to be the stronger work, although most would be forced to admit that Pollack’s version lacks the vital spark of urgent and visionary weirdness that animated Morrison’s work, instead contenting itself to rearrange the pieces of their run in a series of capable imitations.
At least, for the first six issues. But with Doom Patrol #70 the picture begins to decisively change. This is not entirely a sudden shift—as soon as Pollack got past Sliding Through the Wreckage she began shaping the team into something that was her own, first by giving them a new headquarters—a rural house haunted by a bunch of ghosts who died in sex-related accidents that Caulder insists on calling sexually remaindered spirits, cheekily shortened to SRS.…
“Some sort of pulse of accelerated time, radiating out from the Worldshaper. Seasons are coming and going in seconds!” – Grant Morrison, Doctor Who Monthly
Underlying this entire arc is Niles Caulder and his plan, which he explains in terms of the mathematical notion of a catastrophe curve, which Morrison explains as a “topological model which represents the introduction of sudden, discontinuous change into a stable system.” In slightly more layman’s terms, it studies the way in which change within a system can suddenly move from a linear, sensible change to a sudden, rapid, and potentially destructive change—the way, for instance, a bridge will happily bear weight right up until the moment it dramatically stops doing so.
Catastrophe theory was first developed in the 1960s by French mathematician René Thom, but was popularized in the 1970s by the British mathematician Christopher Zeeman, who talked about the subject in his Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution, televised on BBC Two in 1978. Its supposed applications were widespread—there was a vogue in trying to use it to model international relations and the way in which two nations could go from smoldering tensions to open warfare very suddenly, and for a while it was the hot scientific concept du jour in popular science articles. It is in this spirit that Morrison invokes the concept, with Caulder revealing that he caused the accidents that created the Doom Patrol out of a desire to study the results of catastrophes on people, and that he now plans to use catastrophe theory to enact mass social change in a manner reminiscent of what Vernor Vinge, following John von Neumann, called the technological singularity.
Ultimately, however, Morrison turns his back on the idea of catastrophe curves, and not simply because Caulder’s scheme was, broadly speaking, some supervillain shit. The conclusion of the arc, which sees Cliff delve into Caulder’s computer and experience a form of ego death, suggests tat Morrison was aware of the common critique of catastrophe theory, which is that it required an aggressive simplifying of systems—international relations, for instance, had to be modeled entirely in terms of the variables of how threatened a nation felt and what the cost of action was, which is self-evidently an egregious oversimplification of how foreign relations take place. And in a book that had aggressively been about the value of the glorious and variable weirdness of the world, this simplification was enormously suspect.
Although ultimately Morrison’s comment that they “made a conscious decision to be arty rather than scientific. Interestingly, I used to be fairly good at mathematics and physics, and then I became hopelessly inept at them overnight. I don’t understand science, but I’m interested in it in a poetic fashion. It’s not hard science, it’s science used as metaphor” suggests that they were not engaged in a critique of catastrophe theory per se, one can readily identify the competing trend within popular science that they were inclined to sympathize with by glancing back at the same essay in issue #20 where they cited the influence of experimental filmmaking and When Rabbit Howls.…
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Late in Morrison’s run they brought back the Brotherhood of Dada, who were spectacularly killed off in an arc full of a bitter and angry cynicism that their run had not previously indulged in.
“It exists outside space and time, but is also technically in the same place as Earth, because of the reality anchor we dropped there.” – Warren Ellis, The Authority
Nothing about the arc overtly points to the end of Morrison’s tenure being near, but there’s a clear sense of finality here—a sense that the whimsical party that’s been rolling on for thirty-three issues now is coming to an end. To some extent, of course, this was an inevitable direction for Doom Patrol to go in. Morrison opened their run by making the book about trauma, and their subsequent focus on whimsy could only ever be borrowed time. Eventually the book would have to pay off the implicit promise of that first issue—the sad and mournful question of what you do when you just can’t be strong anymore. The party had to end, and had to end for the exact reason Mr. Nobody said in his dying words—that people don’t want a strange and magical world of madness and wonder. They want to get up, go to work, and vote for George fucking Bush. And so the sudden and violent turn into that, with John Dandy unleashed and everything going terribly and brutally wrong for the Brotherhood of Dada, was inevitable. Because that’s what normal people have: safety. In the end, this is what happens to the queers and the madmen of the world: the cops come and shoot them dead.
In the wake of the second Brotherhood of Dada arc Morrison followed with two one-offs—the Jack Kirby pastiche already mentioned, and an issue entitled “Aenigma Regis” that focused on Rebis, who had shed their bandages and gone through some sort of strange and inscrutable ascension back at the end of the sex arc. This issue was an oddity within Morrison’s tenure. Much of their run was “weird,” at times aggressively so, but “Aenigma Regis” tipped wholesale into symbolic narrative, providing a deeply inscrutable narrative that was by some margin the closest the comic came to actually mirroring the heavily associative storytelling of Kenneth Anger or Maya Deren.The result seems to have gone over a fair number of readers’ heads. Tom Peyer, when the letter column finally got to covering the issue, offered the laconic assessment that “Some of you recognized Grant’s exploration of alchemy in issue #54’s ‘Aenigma Regis’ Some of you were puzzled by it” before suggesting buying “a textbook on alchemy” and rereading the story. No letters representing the “recognized the alchemical themes” side of the ledger appeared, however, save for one by Rachel Pollack, a writer and Tarot scholar in the Hudson Valley of New York who had been engaging in a long-running joke of writing into the letter column asking to take the book over when Morrison left.…
Human Bondage returns with a banger of an episode on The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore’s classic third outing as James Bond. It’s a good time: we cover nuclear bombs, submarines, and conclusively solve the problem of Steven Moffat.…
In rank defiance of all the various conflicting things we’ve told you Episode 105 would be about, here is an episode about 2015’s (and sadly also 2022’s) Lauren Southern (lying, untruth-telling nazi liar-nazi) and the mainstreaming and normalising thereof.
In this episode we consider Lauren’s career (in brief, owing to the fact that chronicling her trail of lies and evil acts has become something of a cottage industry for the online left), her departure from politics and regrettable return, her ostensible changed nature (lol), her pub-excluding ideological lenses, and her sitcom life which comes complete with eccentric stereotype boyfriend, slapstick boat adventures and rollerblading accidents, and snarky one-liner strewn bickering with her mismatched (or is he really so mismatched?) buddy ‘Destiny’.
We take a stop-off with fan-favourites Posobiec, Elijah Shaffer, and (by mention) Rittenhouse, via Lauren’s lie-filled ‘documentary’ Crossfire. We listen in on Lauren’s conversation with Nicky-Boy Fuentes’ old friend (turned undeadly enemy) James Allsup back at the time of Unite the Right. Then we also pop in on Lauren’s friendly and boozy and giggly stint as a guest of our old ‘person we talked about’ Tim Pool. It is possible that unflattering nicknames were mentioned, and not just Tim’s. We then round it off with some seriously nerdy shit. Elvish swords at the ready for the protection of pan-Western civilisation or some such stupid bollocks.
We were sitting together in her living room, while she scripted a video, when her new boyfriend emerged from the bedroom. George Hutcheson, who was 30 at the time, runs a Canadian group called Students for Western Civilization, which works to “advance the interests of European peoples.” Her most recent boyfriends had also been adherents of far-right ideologies. She had nearly gotten engaged to a prominent conspiracy theorist, and had had an on-again-off-again fling with a Croatian neo-Nazi. “Maybe I’m too picky,” she’d mused before Hutcheson joined us on her IKEA couch. In appearance, Hutcheson is the caricature of the Aryan ideal. His undercut haircut, known in the alt-right as the fashy(short for fascist), and his fit, thick, soldier-like frame give him a Teutonic air. He and Southern decided to go out to dinner, and to let me film them. Hutcheson refuses to eat food originally from nonwhite countries, such as ketchup, whose origins are in China, so the two, facing limited restaurant options, chose the British-style Oxley Public House in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood.
“The country’s disintegrating. What’s happened to America? What’s happened to the American Dream?” “It came true. You’re looking at it.” – Alan Moore, Watchmen
Satisfyingly. Morrison’s take on the character focuses intently on the toxic masculinity of the concept. This is implicit in the basic hook—the Beard Hunter, real name Ernest Franklin, does what it says on the tin, hunting men with beards down, killing them, and shaving off the beard as a trophy. This targeting of an overt symbol of masculinity is part of a larger pattern of intense sexual anxiety—at one point the Beard Hunter is hit on by a pair of women and is angry and uncomfortable, talking about how “I shouldn’t have worn those tight jeans and the ripped shirt,” and only not killing them because of their lack of beard. Subsequently it becomes clear that he’s nondescriptly mentally ill and off his medication, living with his mother (who has nothing but contempt for him), and, it’s suggested, is a self-closeted gay man. (His mother describes how he keeps ordering magazines with titles like Physique and Trunks, to which he sadly stammers, “That’s not fuh-fair! It’s… it’s huh-health and buh-body building! You’re just trying to make it sound dirty,” and subsequently retires to his room to sulk about how “I know a hundred ways to kill a man using a box of matches and a TV remote control. Who needs girls? All they ever want to do is go to the movies and play hard to get. The guys down at the gym talk about it all the time.”)
It is impossible not to notice the degree to which this is exploring the same terrain as Rorschach, an impression that is not lessened by a sight gag when Ernest visits the Bearded Gentlemen’s Club of Metropolis in which a portrait of “Our Founder” hangs that is very obviously none other than Alan Moore. Equally, there is no reason this has to be deliberate. It would, frankly, be quite a surprise if a 1991 Grant Morrison did a comic full of beard jokes that didn’t have an Alan Moore joke in it. And parodying the Punisher without ending up in the same basic territory as Rorschach would be a challenge. Rorschach, after all, is an acerbic commentary on the pathology of loner vigilante heroes, while the Punisher is more or less the most stereotypical rendition of that trope imaginable. Rorschach is such a thorough and comprehensive riff on the trope that any subsequent effort is either going to end up adjacent to it or end up being facile and toothless. And Morrison was never going to be facile and toothless.
Equally, the Beard Hunter is not the same sort of thing as Rorschach. Rorschach was a key component in a larger deconstruction and commentary upon the superhero genre. He existed to take certain lines of thought to a logical endpoint so as to observe and document the precise ways in which they broke down.…
This time, we look at the recent AFPAC conference, Nick Fuentes’ gathering of the Groypers, i.e. the even worse version of CPAC, attended by Marjorie Taylor Greene and Joe Arpaio, among many horrible others. Controversies, squabbles, coalition-building, Christian dominionism, and very long, weird speeches. Daniel and Jack both do voices.
Previously in The Last War in Albion: The conspiracy theories about the Pentagon that Morrison engaged with in Doom Patrol owed an obvious debt to the foundational text of Discordianism, the Principia Discordia.
“Then I was cast down. Back to a world of killers, rapists, psychos, perverts. A brand new evil every minute, spewed out as fast as men can think them up. A world where pitching a criminal dwarf off a skyscraper to tell his fellow scum you’re back is a sane and rational act.” – Garth Ennis, The Punisher
As the dates suggest, this was a work that emerged out of 1960s counterculture, beginning in the post-Beat tradition and fully blossoming in the wake of the hippies. (It will not escape attention that the 1970 edition was printed in San Francisco.) The whole business with the number twenty-three emerges from the former influence, specifically and inevitably from Burroughs. Robert Anton Wilson, writing in the Fortean Times in 1977, recalls talking to Burroughs and hearing a story about “a certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark’s ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard. Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another captain Clark and the flight was Flight 23.” This led both Burroughs and Wilson (more about whom shortly) to begin collecting instances of the number twenty-three. This was, within the Principia Discordia, reframed as the Law of Fives, explained thusly:
POEE subscribes to the Law of Fives of Omar’s sect. And POEE also recognizes the Holy 23 (2+3=5) that is incorporated by Episkopos Dr. Mordecai Malignatius, KNS, into his Discordian sect, The Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria.
The Law of Fives states simply that:
ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN FIVES, OR ARE DIVISIBLE BY OR ARE MULTIPLES OF FIVE,
OR ARE SOMEHOW DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY APPROPRIATE TO 5.
The Law of Fives is never wrong.
In the Erisian Archives is an old memo from Omar to Mal-2: “I find the Law of Fives to be more and more manifest the harder I look.”
Obviously there is no small quantity of joke here, especially in the final comment, which all but admits that all of this is a case of deliberately engineered apophenia. But this is in keeping with Discordianism, which is very much a satire of religion, albeit one that is typically engaged with in utter sincerity, both because that’s funnier and because a joke taken sincerely is an entirely credible vector for mystical experiences. And perhaps more to the point, because a religion based on the worship of Eris, the Grecian goddess of strife best known for kicking off the Trojan War cannot be entirely serious. Discordianism at its core is an emphatic and wholesale embrace of the trickster god, and its followers act precisely how you’d expect a bunch of post-hippie trickster god worshippers to act.…
Hey Eruditorum Press readers. I have two new shows out. I genuinely think both these shows are, in their different ways, among the best shows I’ve been involved with recently.
The first is a new episode of It *IS* The Same Log, with myself, George Daniel Lea, and Elliot Chapman. This one is on Nicolas Roeg’s mesmerising and mysterious film about grief, marriage, murder, and precognition in Venice Don’t Look Now (1972).
Here. (My Patreon supporters got this a week ago.)
The second is, of course, a new episode of I Don’t Speak German with Daniel Harper, this one on the removal of Art Spiegelman’s classic graphic novel about the Holocaust and historical memory, Maus, from the curriculum by the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee.
So, McMinn County School Board in Tennessee decided to remove Maus – Art Spiegelman’s classic graphic novel about the Nazi Holocaust and historical memory – from their syllabus, on the grounds that some simply sketched mouse nudity and a few very mild swears would upset and corrupt their pupils, which is obviously very reasonable and evidence of extremely well balanced priorities. Actually, alongside the epidemic of attempts across the US to remove certain sorts of books from school libraries and curricula, it is evidence that an insidious reactionary agenda is gaining traction.
In this episode we talk about the decision of the school board, and look through the minutes of the meeting. Daniel even gives an impromptu dramatic reading. We talk about where the appalling decision comes from, and what it really means both for the students and in terms of the wider culture. Along the way we consider the lies of slimy propagandist Christopher Rufo and the spluttering fanaticism of the increasingly unhinged James Lindsay.
Content very much warnings.
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“Continuing the recent spate of conservative book-banning initiatives, The Mcminn County School board just voted to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “MAUS” by Art Spiegelman from all of its schools, citing the inclusion of words like “God Damn” and “naked pictures” (illustrations) of women.”
The December ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) workshop was led by the Heritage Foundation’s Bridget Weisenberg and featured Heritage’s Jonathan Butcher and Angela Sailor, Discovery Institute’s Christopher Rufo, American Enterprise Institute’s Ian Rowe, and Woodson Center’s Robert Woodson. Thirty-one state legislators from 20 states attended, along with corporate representatives from Guarantee Life Insurance, EDP Renewables, and State Farm Insurance.