and if, then

a phantasmagoria’s revenge

Mayhem as Ritual



Smash with me then, if you will,

these chariot wheels

for the making of walnuts.

We’ll see if there’s meat in them.

If not,

what good are they?


Watch me.

I can convolute the sunlight into

little beaten rays of gleam

to cut down a forest that you

didn’t even know existed.


So leveled and so wheeled,

I will gallop, I and you,

across the emptiness together empty

in a freedom mostly bound.



for that little glimmer,


of a firefly I never could quite catch.


That one gleam makes a laugh

of all the rest.

As if,

if in the emptiness of what once was grammar would stand nothing less coarse, less ugly than either hate or hunger.

As if,

if we were to find this instinct by blind, random speech-foraging luck it would take the place of grammar without grammar transferring intact its trauma.

The instinct McDuffee refers to here seems to be the impetus for brute survival—that is, hatred for the rival, the other, emerging from the jealousy of hunger. It is a need to repel rather than embrace, to take rather than give. You are not I, therefore you may not have what I want.

The revision intensifies this further. McDuffee calls it ‘a more coarse taskmaster’ than grammar, ‘uglier than either hate or hunger’ who will ‘rise to taw our souls’. Here it is not simply an animal impetus for survival that supplants the exchange of words, but a third thing, a terrible thing. This is the tyranny of the Overman, the cruel assertion that ‘I’ must subjugate ‘Thou’, since to be ‘Thou’ you cannot be ‘I’. It is the arrogant psychopathology of the Nazi, sending books and people to the fire, damning all attempts to reach from I to Thou—not merely ‘I must survive’, but ‘you ought not exist’.

And suffering continues anyway. Suffering is made worse. The trauma of grammar—the knowledge of suffering and art’s caprice—remains even when grammar has been taken away. If in a grammarless world, an instinct of endurance could be found, even a noble instinct unlike the one usually found, nothing would be better. We proceed with all solemnity and educated words into chaos, embracing the destruction of ourselves.

As if,

if the instinctive gambit played out as grunts and screams absent cathartic abandonment would free our mere twitching from the burning amino acids scraping the membrane of our brains with their tiny clawed tentacles of guilt, beauty, grief and madness.

As if,

if we venture this risk we do anything more than perform one more tedious ritual in mayhem, as usual our only ongoing continuum, committing nothing more than just another murder, producing nothing more than yet another shoddy exegesis in anger over sin, rule and desire.

Attempts as dehumanization, McDuffee insists, never truly dehumanize. How is it, as twitching bundles of amino acids and water, the jitters of electricity can inflict our carrion selves with wonder, horror? With guilt at having jittered one way and not another? With grief that another bundle of protein stopped twitching? The hammer of ungrammar seeks to rid of all these things, console us with the pleasant knowledge that we are not free, we need to worry about being free, we must only worry about who are the leaders and who are the followers, who is over and who is under, who is hard and who is soft. Yet we are still ‘We’, and We still suffer, as if still afflicted with speech.

Mayhem—‘as usual our only ongoing continuum’. Driven to another denial. Another mindless killing. Another whimsical hammering. The process of confusion, of unpredictable and meaningless action, becomes in this place sacerdotal. Even in chaos we are not free. Mayhem must follow the proper motions and movements. It must walk in the patterns of unthinking buzzwords and grave despair. Each person an island cut off from all other. Each raindrop falling unrelated to the next. Everything we do, we reassure ourselves, is nothing more than chance, than happenstance. It doesn’t matter.

As if,

we’d be better off if we’d drown our consciousness in discourse coerced as containment incurred through the redoubling feeling of bitterness felt again as resentment receding, becoming duller severed from either memory or meaning, exposing the belly of our unconsciousness to the uncaring sunlight of ordinary daily life, forcing it to rot away like a beached whale, leaving the bloated stench to settle down upon our sickening souls, sagging beneath the weight of the stillborn winds of change.

Humanness thus exposed, it rots. I without Thou is an I unrefrigerated. So, the revision claims, the ‘belly of our unconscious psyche’, rotting in ‘the disintegrative sunlight’ of day to day life—quiet desperation, mayhem arranged in an illusion of order—relieves ‘its Ragnarok bowels’. It defies our attempt at building ourselves into Overmen through unleashing the doom of the gods. All things end. The promise of life becomes its own curse. We might still be. We might have been. But unwilling to embrace ‘we are’—we decay unchanged. I without Thou is nothing but the reek of dimly remembered despair.

And yet we know we suffer. And yet art’s capriciousness gives us a weird hope for the world to be other. And yet you are not I, nor I you. We are we.

‘That one gleam make a laugh/of all the rest.’

The violence of speech awakes us to our knowledge of grief, of loss. The elusive nature of art heals our souls with wonder, with quest. The presence of another calls us into that sacred space, that welcoming space, where I and Thou can join as We, where grief and consolation can join as healing. Perhaps our rituals are simply controlled mayhem—panic pacing instead of running. Yet grammar hints they may mean more. Have we forgotten the meaning? Still there are words. The ritual of grammar deflects the scoffing hammer, and underneath our mayhem there is music.


‘As if, if’ ends on a note of harsh whimsy:

As if,

to end this nonsense if as a reader of this text who had not written it, its meaning could make of this medium of difference a writer who perfectly understands it.

Nietzsche remarked, ‘To invent fables about a world “other” than this one has no meaning at all, unless an instinct of slander, detraction, and suspicion against life has gained the upper hand in us: in that case, we avenge ourselves against life with a phantasmagoria of “another”, a “better” life.’ His grammarless, godless world would be the single place where he would have life live.

So perhaps this, then, is the phantasmagoria’s revenge. To take a text written by another, and unwind the regeneration of a reader into a writer. The quaternion overturned turns over again.The text begets a text. The reader becomes a writer.

Not because words are futile, and grammar a lie. But because God is in grammar and elves are in the grass. Because, for all our hammering, there still are words.

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