Ancient Rome, Animals, Belles Lettres, Biology, Coffinfish, Death, Deep Sea, Dragonfish, Earth, Empedocles, Essays, Fangtooth, Genghis Kahn, Geology, Gibbon, history, Latin, Life, Literature, Maasai, Madness, Man, Mount Etna, Nature, Philosophers, Philosophy, Pliny the Elder, Romans, Suicide, Truth, Viperfish, Volcanoes, Writing
The part of the earth in which life is the most intensely concentrated is its core. Centrifugally tracked, life shrinks and diminishes, becomes progressively more diluted and adulterated, until, at last, its peripheral and secondary forms, which flourish on the earth’s surface, appear. The weaver ant. The marble-headed whip snake. The white rhinoceros. And, most conspicuous of all, that mysterious phantom of markedly bizarre habits: man. These phantasmagorical surface-forms are deficient in the fiery intensity of being which is life’s fundamental attribute. Shadows of life is what they are. But man, who has the monopoly on biological discourse, and who measures life by his own lack of it, is unfazed by this inconvenient truth. These surface-forms especially, and himself particularly, he privileges as living.
How refulgent and vibrant things must have been on the intellectual plane before the delusions of civilization melted the human mind into the formless mass of indescribable obtuseness it has become today! May we be permitted to envision an antediluvian time vibratile with knowledge, when it was universally understood that nothing on this planet is more alive than its molten core? And if this essential knowledge once existed, how was it lost? Or, if it was not lost, what conspiracy of scoundrels is responsible for spiriting it away? Some atrocity must have transpired to separate succeeding generations from precious truths they were entitled to receive by transmission. Whence the present rarity of the primitive insight required to perceive a volcano’s livingness and to worship it as a god. Where now will we find truths coextensive with vitality? in whose consciousness have these boiling, bubbling liquids been preserved? A volcano is, alas, an object of perplexity to all but a few discerning Africans like the Maasai.
My younger self’s central ambition was to write a history of Rome that would not only rival but supersede Gibbon’s. Nothing seemed to me more deserving of attention than the shifting fortunes of this great civilization whose rise and fall formed the exclusive object of my thoughts for half a decade. Then it happened: I discovered the Romans had no idea what a volcano was. So vast was my disappointment that instead of simply turning away from Rome, I began to revile it. Ridiculous how much reflection I had squandered on a civilization so disconnected from the essential, a civilization whose eyes were closed to the divine mountain which can connect us to life, since it constitutes a direct channel to the core of the earth. The one word no language should be without, Latin wants. It cannot say “volcano.” To state this is to instantaneously refute any argument that Latin still is, or ever was, worth learning. Of all the Romans, however illustrious, it is only Pliny the Elder whom I honor, because he perished in the eruption of Vesuvius. Though he can’t have known what was happening or why he was dying, he died the most fitting death imaginable for a natural historian and, by dint of this death, redeemed Rome’s ignorance of the surface’s most essential feature.
Volcanic truths, truths emanating from, or having some esoteric correspondence with, the earth’s core, I ask once again: where, in the sources we are familiar with, can they be found? In vain will you comb any work of philosophy, either famous or obscure, in quest of them. All the philosophies hitherto forged are surface philosophies, fit only to further fade and devitalize the surface-dwelling phantoms who revere them, ignorant of the burning jewel of indissoluble life which lies concealed four thousand miles beneath their feet. If any philosopher is worthy of honor it is he who seems to have understood what no other so much as glimpsed: Empedocles. Exasperated with the shadow play which passes for life here on the surface and determined to penetrate to the core of the earth, Empedocles leapt into a volcano and put an end to his days. At least we say he put an end his days. But maybe it is we who have reached the end? Perhaps we even started there. Whereas Empedocles, on the day he dove into the flames of Mount Etna, may—who knows—have discovered the Beginning.
Man, I am afraid, would be beneath notice, were it not for the fact that, among the forms which inhabit the dream-realm of the surface, it is he that most often approaches that fiery intensity of being which is the fundamental attribute of life. However, only during his fits of madness, when the blood in his veins conflagrates and becomes like a flowing river of molten lava, does he reach this level. Hence, of all men, the madman alone can, stricto sensu, be called living. Around this uniquely and bafflingly vital figure millions of phantoms flit, unaware of being phantoms, and grope, without realizing they are groping, after a life forever denied them.
Is the madman’s equal to be met with in some other kingdom of the surface? Who can say for sure? Maybe the predatory animal approaches that fiery intensity of being which is the fundamental attribute of life at the precise moment when he lunges, with a desperation born of the fear of starvation, toward his prey. (A movement at once wild and calculated, a superb display of hopeless power!) But only by dint of this act of killing to which he is driven by his terror of death can this pitiful creature touch and taste a life as true and hot as that which emanates from the core of the earth.
To become acquainted with life, we must move toward the earth’s core: we must descend. In point of pure aliveness the deep sea creature has no peer. The total, impenetrable darkness in which this underwater marvel makes his home is suffused with life-energy communicated to it by the earth’s core. A sunlit playground full of laughing children is like a sepulcher compared to this fluid mass of inky blackness populated by aquatic monsters who, as they swim, enjoy the sinister caresses of ascending columns of volcanic smoke. What is the difference between life and non-life, the difference between life and death? If you dare to find out, bid farewell to science, philosophy, and every other bogusly prestigious method of mirage-making practised here on the surface and dive. Become the sincere and loyal disciple of the viperfish, the dragonfish, and the coffinfish. Seek out the fangtooth in the seemingly inaccessible places where he dwells and request from him access to the secret teachings of which he is the sworn guardian. Bow respectfully before the vampire squid, proving yourself worthy of the treasures of wisdom he protects. My brothers, let us no longer accept as life what is, at most, the simulacrum of life, or—worse still—the simulacrum of life’s simulacrum! Let us liquidate the source of the authoritative lie by razing to the ground our most venerable institutions of learning with the ruthless violence of a Genghis Kahn! And these hymns from the biological missal whose incessant recitation over the course of the modern age has mesmerized us into falsely imagining we’re not dead (a fertile source of error and hallucination)? Of them let us build a bonfire with the same dimensions as Shishapangma, and plunge, without delay, to the bottom of the sea!