Portable Darkness Indeed

The Tree of Life an etching by Athanasius Kirc...

The Tree of Life (etching by Athanasius Kirchner, published in his Œdipus Ægypticus in 1652)

I’ve always been a little weary of tackling Aleister Crowley, which is ironic, because I used to own so many of Crowley’s books when I was a teenager — The Confessions (which I actually read), The Book of Lies, the complete Book 4 (Liber Aba), and The Book of the Law (I think there was one more, but the name escapes me) that you’d think I was a total Crowley nut. All of those books were in German and because German translations can render a text that is perfectly understandable in its original form completely opaque and convoluted [1] I did not understand them at all. And I was also lacking any context to make sense of them, so I ended up giving all my Crowley books away.

Now, more than 15 years later, I’ve come around again and decided to give it another shot and bought Portable Darkness, a Crowley Reader, and am completely blown away. Not only do I (more or less) understand the points, but I am also struck by the similarities between Crowley’s writing on ‘Writing’ and the post-modern language philosophy of Derrida in particular and linguistic theory in general. Plus, the analogy of Thoth and the ape is a great one;

“The use of speech, of writing, meant the introduction of ambiguity at the best, and falsehood at the worst; they [the Egyptians] therefore represented Thoth as followed by an ape, the cynocephalus, whose business was to distort the Word of the god; to mock, to simulate, to deceive. In philosophical language one may say: Manifestation implies delusion.” [2]

Now, I remember reading accusations that Derrida’s understanding of language would stem from his Jewish background and Jewish mysticism and seeing that Crowley uses the Qabalah as the basis of his system the similarities are not really a surprise. However, I can’t help but be struck by this, because it’s as if two lines of my past — academics and magick — suddenly converge and complement each other. On the other hand, I’m not that surprised that all of this makes more sense to me now, because I was, what, in the middle of my teens when I read Crowley for the first time? No wonder I didn’t get it, not the least because I was also buys to keep track of my hormones…

Anyway, the book is divided into 5 parts, each focusing on one particular area of Crowley’s work; Qabalah & Magick, Yoga & Magick, Sex & Magick, Liber AL: The Book of the Law, and The Book of Lies. Each chapter comes with a lengthy introduction by the editor, Scott Michaelsen, that summarizes and explains the texts and excerpts that follow. Plenty of footnotes, too. As far as I’m concerned, this is a great introduction to Crowley’s work and I’d highly recommend it.

And if that got you interested, there is a lot of material connected to the OTO and A∴A∴ at http://93beast.fea.st/, including some issues of The Equinox, writings on the Qabalah, etc…

Say what you will, but synchronicity sure is odd sometimes.

[1] That’s because some German translators don’t know when to end a sentence and just go on and on and on… I don’t speak French, but if you compare the German and English translations of Jacques Derrida or Claude Lévi-Strauss you’ll see what I mean. [back]

[2] Crowley, The Book of Thoth[back]


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