Sex, Lies, and Oil Paint

Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse's "The Death of Messalina" (1916) is one of those paintings you really need to see in person to appreciate. Your eyes need to be able to focus on the various components separately -- the anger of the soldier as he grips her hair, the patrician's douchebro smirk as he grips the execution order,... Continue Reading →


Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld

Ereshkigal , Sumerian goddess of the underworld, was also called Irkalla, the name of her land, in the same way that in the Greek, Hades is both the name of the realm and its king. Compare to Hela in the Norse pantheon or Persephone or Hecate in the Greek. Ereshkigal was the older sister of... Continue Reading →

On the cult of decline

"On every new thing there lies already the shadow of annihilation. For the history of every individual, every social order, indeed of the whole world, does not describe an ever-widening, more and more wonderful arc, but rather follows a course which, once the meridian is reached, leads without fail into the dark. Knowledge of that... Continue Reading →

The only original American art

It's been said that blues, jazz, and their progeny, which includes rock n roll and hip hop, are the only indigenous American art forms -- that is, ones that did not exist earlier somewhere else. This is not a slight to the first nations. Native peoples of the southwest, notably the Navajo, are famous for... Continue Reading →

A fiction truer than reality

It might seem like all fiction tells stories, but that's not true. I read Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities" last week, and like a lot of literature, it didn't so much unfold as describe. At the border of storytelling are books like Lord Dunsany's "The Gods of Pegana," which I'm reading now, or even Lovecraft's "At... Continue Reading →

(Music) Ambush from Ten Sides

A single ethnic group constitutes fully 18% of the human species. At 1.3 billion in number, Han Chinese are the largest "tribe" in the world. There is simply nothing analogous in the West -- not just their size but their unbroken antiquity. Chinese people speak the same language(s) as their forebears. Mandarin and Cantonese have... Continue Reading →

Encountering the Old Gods

There's a trend in contemporary fantastic art so pervasive that I feel it needs it's own genre: the casual hierophany. A hierophany is a manifestation of the divine other. The name implies more than a mere appearance, however, which could come simply in a vision. A hierophany is an eruption of divine force in our... Continue Reading →

The myth of interpretation

The French philosopher and literary critic Roland Barthes developed an extension of Saussure's semiotics that he called mythology, an apt name since '-ology' technically means 'study of' rather than simply 'collection.' For Barthes, the semiological system of signifier/signified/sign was itself collectively another signifier that could be parsed, second-order, into a meta-language of myth. He gives... Continue Reading →

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