Faust is Real, or Mephistopheelin’ Groovy

Content Warnings: Satan, God, Religion, Sexism, Violence, the Occult, the one link to youtube is NSFW audio, some image links are a bit gory or lurid Renaissance style.

Alright, I haven’t done a deep dive into the hard facts on this, but based on some shallow research, it looks like Faust – the guy who sold his soul to The DevilTM – was an actual historical figure.  Christ’s miracles weren’t attested to in any writing that survives from within his own life, but the misdeeds of Faust were already being fictionalized within his own.  Like the historicity of Jesus, Faust’s existence isn’t important.  It’s just fun to say.

I did a Faust once.  I was having a lonely time in life, feeling melodramatic on my way home from work, or maybe it was on the way home from the dive bar I went to on my 21st birthday.  A wide busy suburban street without proper sidewalks, just two feet of grass and garbage against a short chain link fence.  I might have ducked into an unlit side street overgrown with short, untrimmed trees.  I recall it was darker than the headlights and taillights of randos driving by would have allowed.

I went to my knees and I said something like, “Satan, I give you my soul forever if you appear to me and show me that anything magical exists in this world.”  At the time I was working for Pizza Hut, where all of my pay raises over the years were erased by increases to the minimum wage, and I was already half bald and still a virgin, so forgive my melodrama.  I later realized based on the way I phrased it, Satan could let me live to a hundred a philosophical materialist, then show up on my deathbed and snatch me up.  Well, it was going to happen anyway.  Might make dying a little more interesting.

distorted goat head pentagram

The first version of Faust I read was Goethe’s play, which was surely inspired by Marlowe’s much earlier play, which was an adaptation of a then very recent translation of the quite fictionalized but not long posthumous German biography of Faust himself.  A little merry-go-round between those cultures.  I’ve been reading the Marlowe play Doctor Faustus at the moment, from this 2005 edition.  From what I’ve read in the foreword, editions can be extremely varied.

This is the frustrating thing for anyone who seeks authenticity in antique texts.  Marlowe’s play survived in a small number of iterations from within a few years of when he died young.  Which was closest to the original was argued extensively one way, then the other.  What we can know with certainty is it was changed in subtle but significant ways within just a few years of his passing.

Before Marlowe there were pamphlet-style legends about Faust, oral legends, and these influenced each other, and by the time the full-length (24 pages or less) German Faust book was printed, how much did it include or omit?  What was lost?  But it’s a mistake to try to wonder after those kind of answers in the first place, as the legends were much inspired by stories that preceded Faust’s birth, which in turn surely had cultural cross-pollination and roots reaching before written history.  It was bullshit all the way down.  But my modern mind, trained by late twentieth century copyright culture (Disney propaganda), is always trying to find that original.

…I return to this draft having read most of Doctor Faustus.  It’s a slim little play.  While it would take more effort to perform than to read, it would still be a very short show.  No intermission.  It’s also not very deep.  It’s just japes and foolery and some token religiosity to keep the censors off the playwright’s back.  I’m a fan of badassery in fiction, and there’s a truly macho quote in here, but it’s wasted in the mouth of a toss-off character that never appears again:

“I am Wrath.  I had neither father nor mother: I lept out of a lion’s mouth when I was scarce half an hour old, and ever since I have run up and down the world with this case of rapiers, wounding myself when I had nobody to fight withal.  I was born in Hell; and look to it, for some of you shall be my father.”

That line alone moves me, more than the scene where Faustus is turned invisible so he can box the pope’s ears.  But then, speeches about being PO’d tend to be rousing – like that Russell Crowe bullshit in Gladiator, the dueling taunts in Romeo and Juliet, or the opening line of The Cask of Amontillado.  It does contrast starkly with the featherweight treatment of the supposedly heavy material in the play – rejecting jeezy, throwing your soul away – and makes me wish that I was reading something with more heft.  Heft like a case of rapiers.

Speaking of badassery, my favorite detail from the wikipedia page on a possible historical Faust is this:  He allegedly died in an explosion, an alchemical experiment in a hotel room.  His mangled body was reported to have the mystical property of always facing away from heaven.  His neck was broken such that however you turned the body, it would face the ground.  Bad ass.

…Having read a bit more, oh my GAWD Faustus is a flip-flopping inconstant binch!  Behold:

OLD MAN:
I see an angel hovers o’er thy head,  And, with a vial full of precious grace,
Offers to pour the same into thy soul:  Then call for mercy, and avoid despair.

FAUSTUS:
Ah, my sweet friend, I feel  Thy words to comfort my distressed soul!
Leave me a while to ponder on my sins…

OLD MAN:
I go, sweet Faustus; but with heavy cheer,  Fearing the ruin of thy hopeless soul.
(Leaves.)

FAUSTUS:
Accursed Faustus, where is mercy now?  I do repent; and yet I do despair:
Hell strives with grace for conquest in my breast:
What shall I do to shun the snares of death?

MEPHISTOPHILIS:
Thou traitor, Faustus, I arrest thy soul
For disobedience to my sovereign lord:
Revolt, or I’ll in piece-meal tear thy flesh.

FAUSTUS:
Sweet Mephistophilis, entreat thy lord  To pardon my unjust presumption,
And with my blood again I will confirm  My former vow I made to Lucifer!

All that shit, loosely translated:

SOME RANDO:
Still doin’ that Satan stuff, huh?  How about…  Jesus?

FAUSTUS:
Oh god, really?!  Yes!  Jesus rocks!  Sign me up!

SOME RANDO:
(Leaves.)

FAUSTUS:
I suck so much, gotta get redeemed ‘n’ shit.

MEPHISTOPHILIS:
What the fuck, bro?  I thought we were cool!

FAUSTUS:
What?  Oh yeah, Hail Satan.  WTF was I thinking LOL.

Goethe’s Faust was a heavy-headed intellectual with grandiose feelings, Marlowe’s was a child that couldn’t decide whether to drink his juice box or take nap time like a good boy.  (Off topic:  Both plays were hugely sexist, Marlowe’s less offensively because it was such a slight and simply written work.)  Either way, I’m not advocating for either of these stories.  A case has been made that Christopher Marlowe was, at least, an atheist.  And gay.  He also was a spy and may have been a brash homicidal asshole, which are not endearing traits.  But the atheist interpretation of Doctor Faustus is fun, and not without merit.

The Faust literature and other stories of sinners, as well as stories of saints such as the contents of the Golden Legend, are full of fantastically morbid and sensual imagery.  They were an imaginative outlet for European people in scary times, when modern medicine hadn’t reduced the frequency of mysterious or horrible deaths around us,  and before global corporate capitalism had pushed the horrors of production onto poorer nations.

You’d never want to be a sinner, oh no.  That’s the worst.  But they’re interesting to watch.  As a moral lesson.  Wouldn’t it be just the worst if somebody turned invisible and punched the pope?  Heaven forfend.  Nothing appealing in any of this, I assure you.  And you don’t want to see the saints suffer do you?  It’s terrible what bad people did to those holy sweet saints.  Throwing them in bondage and scouring their (presumed) fair flesh, oh no.

But now we’re in gentler times, for the “first world.”  We aren’t face to face with death and depredation – not the same as the people dealing with the avarice that props us up and devastates faraway places.  I have personally never seen a person die, except on TV.  The constant wars and plagues of medieval to Renaissance Europe, the immediacy of having your family with you instead of carted off to a big hospital and closed behind doors – these guaranteed most people had some experience of seeing bodies corrupted broken or bereft.  Sci fi and fantasy weren’t off the ground yet, but the fictions of the day – with or without the seal of canon – provided entertainment morbid enough to reflect the world as they knew it.

Maybe that’s getting a bit off topic.  Doctor Faustus was pretty mild in its violence.  But the perversity is there.  The desire to throw off the rigid social order of the day to get what you want, live for yourself.  It’s a shame the idea of achieving freedom is often bound to selfishness – as Ayn Rand’s vile religion demonstrates.  I imagine it’s because when we are indoctrinated to the mores of our cultures, we are told it’s because doing otherwise would be selfish.  We sacrifice what we desire to get the social harmony we all need, per the dogma.  But you can be free without saying “fuck the world.”  If anything, greed enslaves us all.

Again, off topic.  I don’t know what I want to say about Faust, about Doctor Faustus.  Faust in most iterations is, ostensibly, a cautionary tale for xtians.  It can be a cautionary tale for satanic strivers as well – pursue freedom from god, throw off the shackles of the holy.  Hail some Satan.  But be kind, share the fruits of your infernal achievements with others, and you can go to Hell knowing you lived your life well.  And don’t wuss out like our boy Dr. F.  “Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven, That time may cease… That Faustus may repent and save his soul!”  What an embarrassment.

Lissenup, SJW Scumbags!

Today I found out that we’re all supposed to be into critical theory.  If ya ain’t into critical theory, get outta the movement!

Now I know some of you are already using it to do stuff like explain why you can find a parable for a transgender life in Harry Potter, despite our knowledge of authorial intent.  You’re saying how through the critical lens of a trans person it is possible to see the story in a way that isn’t what the author intended, and that it’s valid from said perspective.  Tremendous.

But a lot of you are slacking on this tip.  From now on, whenever you engage with any element of culture, be it a work of fiction or a common aphorism or a commercial product or a philosophical construct, I expect you to justify your opinion of it through thoughtful analysis of your cultural biases and an effort to consider at least a few perspectives other than your own.

If I don’t start to hear better critical analysis of your opinions in my comment section or elsewhere, motherfuckers you are CANCELED.  You dig?

Content Warning: Led Zeppelin

Given that the dudes from Zepp were most likely rapists, and given that even if they weren’t, they literally have songs about impregnating teenage children, it’s fair for anyone to disregard their music, avoid them like the plague.  Certainly I don’t advocate giving them money.  But I would like, if I may, to make a puerile observation about one of their puerile songs, and if possible, keep the tenor of the discourse puerile as well.  That is to say, don’t read this if you don’t want to speak with light-hearted amusement at the horndogging foolery that is Led Zeppelin’s catalog.  Proceeding thusly…

[Read more…]

First Draft of The Septagram, Finished!

Anyone interested in reading a fairly rough draft of my complete new novel The Septagram, have at it.  There aren’t an egregious number of typos and such, just writing that will surely need a lot of care in subsequent drafts.  I have a problem not giving character’s distinctive enough voices.  Not all the time, not every character, but I think it happened here.

It’s a little shorter than a Dean Koontz novel.  This was an attempt to make a horror-themed supernatural adventure story in a style like Hideyuki Kikuchi, who wrote Vampire Hunter D and Wicked City – so take from that what you will.  The content warnings are at the link.  I wasn’t as scrupulous in my anti-ableist language stance as usual, so bear that in mind as well.  Bon appetit!

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, eh?

Remember our atheistical comrade of yore, Douglas Adams, and his cheeky mild-mannered British novels?  Sadly, he is non-living.  But worry not.  The spirit of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is alive and well represented by FtB’s own Abbey St. Brendan in this very professional and amusing little video.  This kind of thing takes waaay more effort than you might imagine, and content creators love positive feedback for that effort.  Enjoy it, and comment at her blog.  Or on the yewchewb, where, as the kids say, you may like comment and subscribe!

 

Germany and Japan

What happens when Germany and Japan get together for artistic anarchy instead of fascist imperialism? A demented good time. Content warnings for butoh dance (looks like physical torment), brief NSFW, noisy audio, and performance so uncomfortable it borders on self harm. Also flashing lights starting at about 5:49:

The eighties were, in some ways, a very good time. Thank you, Einstürzende Neubauten.

RIP to Harry P fans, but…

…I’m different, as the meme goes.  You know we’re two minutes to tumblr bios that read “Terflepuff” “Terffyndor” and such, right?  I’ve never been so glad to avoid all fandom shit like the plague.  (This post may seem frivolous given our political moment, but bear with me.)  I feel the worst for people who let that stuff replace xtianity in their liberal hearts.

Cultural Potterians.  People who related every incident of moral importance in the news to ostensible lessons or wisdom found within the holy texts.  People who invested twenty years of their young lives framing everything they encountered in terms of baby wizards and their foes.

Good luck replacing your religion guys.  I really do mean that.  If you went that far in the first place, you’re the kind of person who really does feel most comfortable having a bedrock fiction to believe in.  Maybe look into Unitarian Universalism or one of the progressive xtian denominations out there.

The original version of this post over on my tumblr account ended with saying that nihilism is the alternative for those brave enough to free themselves from the need for comforting narratives.  This being an atheism-themed blog network, I feel the need to retool that, but to say atheism is an alternative rings false, when all the mainstream atheist orgs are represented by intellectually shallow creeps that avoid the darker aspects of facing reality by replacing it with evopsych justifications for culturally xtian biases and comforts.

Anyway, on the FtB, I like to think we know better than to hold up heroes of any kind.  It’s safer than having stars which can fall, when you get used to it.

EDIT TO ADD:  Given FtB’s recent output, maybe the alternative to comfortable fictions is collecting or creating knives.  Blacksmithing is unavailable to those of us living in apartments, but maybe we could make shivs and brickbats.  Yeah…

Interview With The Artist

My colleague Mr. Beast wrote a really positive article on his writing blog, When No One Cares About Your Writing.  It’s about finding the motivation to continue writing when discouraged – or indeed making any kind of art.  The article is useful because it shows that a person without self-esteem or hope can still find motivation.  Worth a read

 

 

Great American Satan:  And worth a discussion.  Welcome back to my blog, Beast.  Long time no see.  How’s the celebrity life been treating you?

drawing of the Beast from Seattle, a blue devil

 

 

The Beast from Seattle:  Pretty wild, but I’m hanging in there.

GAS:  Nice, nice.  Save some cocaines for me.  Oh, before we get into this, I understand you wanted to say a little about your writing blog and the motivation behind it.

BfS:  I’d always planned to do something like this, but never got around to it until recently.  With the quarantine, I thought people might appreciate some encouragement and advice about writing.  Also saves me a bit of time so I don’t have to re-explain my suggestions when I talk to people.  Just beforehand I’d been going through some writing e-courses I got in a bundle and was incredibly disappointed with the content.  None of it was about actual writing, just marketing and getting published.

GAS:  I recall you complaining about that at length.  Writing that positions itself as being about how to write, in practice being about nothing but commerce.  Capitalisms, babey.

BfS:  Guess that’s what sells the classes.  My hope was to make posts that are actually helpful and to the point.

GAS:  Fangtastic.  Meanwhile, let’s talk about your newest joint.  The article proceeds from the assumption that no one cares about us – the readers.  That’s brilliant I think because for a lot of people positivity is just not believable.

A lot of “encouraging” articles and media proceed from the idea that the only possible motive is hope, and try to instill it.  I remember assemblies about self esteem and bullying from back when I was in high school that just felt like bullshit.  Not believable, therefore not useful.

BfS:  Also, I don’t know people’s lives; there are plenty of people out there who might literally have no one who cares about their writing.  Nothing more dejecting than looking up advice for a real problem that insists it’s not real.

GAS:  Exactly!  False positivity is a real problem.  I think Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided has something to do with that.  Never got around to reading it.  But the point – of fucking course a lot of us have no one who cares about us.  Literally not a soul.  A lot of us are not attractive or interesting or smart or cool.  Where’s something the abject of the world can believe in?

BfS:  Well, it sounds corny to say ‘believe in yourself,’ but even if you have abysmal self esteem, you could maybe still figure out how to entertain yourself & take care of yourself as much as you’re able to.

GAS:  Do you mind if I spoil your article?  Take its main points and discuss each.

BfS:  Heck, why not.

GAS:  The article goes through reasons to create in the face of universal disinterest.  Point One: A sense of accomplishment.  This is a bit of an old canard, but in the context of this article it is freshened up.  Most people think “sense of accomplishment” and they assume some kind of reward will come with that.  What if the accomplishment is all you have to show for yourself?

BfS:  I compared it to making an elaborate recreation of architecture in Minecraft or making a difficult risotto.  Why do that at all? Because there can be personal satisfaction in doing a feat of skill, or just doing something productive when you weren’t being forced to.  Even if the only bragging rights you get are with yourself, it can still feel good.

GAS:  Still, for some people pride is unachievable.  This point is a little weaker on that count, I feel.  Am I wrong?

BfS:  Well, there’s still sort of a bar to clear in getting anything done at all.  I don’t know if I have the chops to encourage someone who can barely take a shower to also get their writing done.  Still, it’s an activity you can do on your own, without much physical requirements or help from other people.

GAS:  Not to shoot it down.  I’m sure it would work for a lot of people.  But I do believe you wrote your points in order of ascending strength.  Point two: Make your art to build your skill.  Not a bad one.  If you’re going to do something, getting better at it is surely worthwhile.  Again, what if someone finds it hard to be proud of a skill?  Well, it still has use.  But then, what if they are – for whatever reason – incapable of getting better?  You’ve seen artists who stagnate for decades, yes?

BfS:  I included that reason because a lot of people still haven’t absorbed the ‘all first drafts are shit’ mantra, and get very dejected by not having beautiful prose straight out of the gate.  I think just about everyone will get better with practice unless they’re being hindered by ‘if it’s not perfect why bother,’ and not working on polishing rough drafts.

Sometime I might write about the fallacy of the notion of talent, especially in regards to writing.  A lot of people give up on writing because they feel like they’re not talented, and it must be much easier for more practiced writers.  I suppose if someone is incapable of feeling like they’re improving, or incapable of feeling good about improving, they’d have to move on to my next point.  😛

GAS:  I do feel like your last point was the strongest – the one that stands up the best, can be used as encouragement for a creator with zero self esteem for real.  The point is that you can create art that is perfect for yourself, and thus entertain yourself in the future.

Now you and I have both done this – read our own writing, with some distance of time, and been greatly amused by it.  But I was thinking of another example just now.  What about the artist whose crude work is miles from getting to where they’ll actually like it?

To that guy I say this: Your fave artists can make better art than you, maybe they always will, but they’ll never be able to draw your favorite fetish perfectly.  You can create the clown-paint alpaca with a bouquet of horse cocks in place of its head that you want to see in the world.

BfS:  Haha, I suppose that’s one way to put it!  Besides just hyper-specific content, your own writing can have your preferred amount of tension, your sense of humor.  The trickiest part to realizing this goal of entertaining yourself, is breaking free from the desire to write to please others, and to write the ‘correct’ way.  As long as you know what you were trying to say, it doesn’t matter if it’s chock-full of typos and grammar mistakes.

GAS:  This last point I was interested in seeing expanded.  What happens when we aim only to entertain ourselves?  Even a professional writer with an audience of millions might have secret writing – something only for them.  I’m probably still thinking about fetishes here, but bear with me.

BfS:  Heh, surely.

GAS:  I was thinking of that seriously.  If you change the goal of art to a wholly private and self-motivated endeavor – and I admit this is very off topic – how does that change the rules?  Henry Darger of course comes immediately to mind.

BfS:  I don’t think it needs to change the rules that much.  (Almost) no one is so aberrant that there isn’t someone out there who would enjoy their weird stuff.  I know I’d sure like to read Darger’s books if they put it out there.  I think the biggest change is that one could take a lot of shortcuts because they would understand what they meant more easily than an outsider would.

GAS:  Outsider is the word.  What shortcuts would you take, understanding your own internal meaning?  I think the reason shorthand had to be formalized for secretarial work is that any given shorthand we create on the fly could be forgotten by us at a future time.

BfS:  Oh certainly.  Anyone who’s done programming/scripting knows how quickly inadequate comments can leave you scratching your head as to what the hell you were thinking.  I think for myself, I’d still probably hew to typical fiction standards, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  I might still be willing to drop plotlines when I grew bored of them and pick them up wherever seemed interesting.  I believe Darger did some ‘reboots’ of his plotlines, and big digressions about anthropomorphized tornados.  Gotta admit though, I would still be interested to read that.

GAS:  Darger, for people who don’t know, was a private guy with a menial job who was discovered posthumously to have written a truly massive and very peculiar illustrated novel. Sadly the people who gained conservatorship of it have never released the bulk of the text, so we don’t get to see just what he did – with the freedom of feeling like nobody else was ever going to read it.

BfS:  It’s a shame that his work was discovered by the art world instead of a publisher.

GAS:  Yep.  People like Matthew Barney that wanna gatekeep art to those with deep pockets.  Whatever to them.  We can all be our own Henry Dargers and make fucked up art for ourselves.  Last question – any chance you’d let us know what your own “The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion” would look like?

BfS:  Haha, that’s a bit private, isn’t it?  Well, to whatever degree I haven’t shared unfinished writing, we could consider it all my Realms of the Unreal until I do.

GAS:  And if you even dropped a hint on us here, that would instantly steal it away from that special place.  Well thanks for visiting the show.

BfS:  No problem, thanks for having me.

GAS:  Alright folks, when we get back from commercial, enjoy The Barenaked Ladies!

Ghost Pangolin Breath

I’m sure there’s a billion people in china that don’t go in for medical woo that involves slurping down nature’s rare wonders. I just wanted to say to the other ones, this is not the recommended use for chopsticks motherfuckers.

To be honest I find the idea covid entered humans via pangolin consumption a little suspect, if only because it seems tailor-made to appeal to aggrieved environmentalists like myself. It is an evocative idea, isn’t it?