Monday, May 29, 2023

The Impersonal Adventure


The Impersonal AdventureThe Impersonal Adventure by Marcel Béalu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, a huge thank you to Goodreads friend Nancy Oakes for gifting me a copy of the book. It was an incredibly kind gesture. Please go take a look at her blog, Reading Avidly!

Wakefield Press continues to do the (insert your favorite deity here)'s work, especially with their sub-series "The School of the Strange," a series of possibly forgotten novellas and collections by some of the 20th-Century's most under-rated and lesser known European writers in translation. Through the books I've read in this series (Malpertuis, Waystations of the Deep Night, and now this) and several other gems from other publishers, I've developed a strong taste for continental European works in translation. I suppose having spent half my childhood in Europe has something to do with it, but I've become enamored of finding and exploring these works. Since my German and Latin are sub-par, and since there are so many languages I don't have time to learn, I really appreciate what Wakefield (and others) has done here. They've presented an excellent primer for works of "The Weird".

Marcel Beaulu's The Impersonal Adventure continues this trend. The title, as one might guess, is tongue-in-cheek, with several meanings, at least a couple of them laced with irony. The situations that the main character, Fidibus, finds himself in speak to the crumbling of individualism, the loss of "me" in what I will call crowded situations. Simultaneously, Fidibus discovers that his singular importance has been hidden even from himself by the overwhelming tyranny of the majority in which he finds himself. And what if the majority imposing such tyrrany is altogether mad? What if it is so mad that you are unsure of your own sanity? And when one comes to their senses, what happens when the fact that everything making sense doesn't make sense anymore? There's a powerful sense of surreality throughout, which the appended analysis of the novella interprets in Freudian terms (while disavowing a proprietary interpretation - it is pointed out that this is only one way in which the text may be interpreted and acknowledges that this is probably the wrong way to approach the book anyway). Even this last essay at the end of the book adds a further element of ambiguity.

What is not ambiguous about the work is the sheer atmosphere presented here. In my notes, I characterized it as Alfred Hitchcock meets David Lynch, and as I continued reading the book, this feeling never diminished. I felt as if I was immersed in a world created by these two, but in an admittedly anachronistic sense. If you're a fan of Vertigo and Twin Peaks, for example, I think you'll like this book!

This novel becomes more and more claustrophobic, in a social sense, as it goes along. Questions of personal identity vis-à-vis other's expectations and the expectations of society at large are at the forefront. In sum, this might be the greatest gaslighting story ever told, but its surreal tone and bizarre conclusion make it much more than that.

View all my reviews


If you like my writing and want to help out, ko-fi me at Every little bit is seen and appreciated! Thank you!

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Strange Attractor Journal Five


Strange Attractor Journal FiveStrange Attractor Journal Five by Mark Pilkington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Eclectic" does not begin to describe the wide-ranging forays of Strange Attractor. The fifth installment is no exception. With such disparate essays, there's no place to begin but the start, so . . .

Being crucified is not on my list to do. It is pretty impressive, though, if that's your thing. Could crucifixion be done as performance art? Maybe, maybe not. An "event" in 1968 is even more shrouded in mystery now than it was at the time the news made headlines, as explored in William Fowler's "Fact or Crucifixion? The Story of the Hampstead Heath Messiah". The world may never know what truly happened there, but do we really want to know anyway. This is the sort of happening that myths are made of.

Hmm. E. H. Wormwood (is that a real name?) examines the use of toads in witchcraft in "the Green Crucible: Speculations on the Cult of the Natterjack Toad". And now we know why witches often had toads as familiars. Hint: it has to do with the witch's ability to fly. Can you connect the dots?

"Haus Atlantis," by Karen Russo, is an intriguing ride through mythmaking, ultra-nationalism, and Nazi aesthetics (yes, there was such a thing, apparently), along with competing notions of the place of art and myth in society. A fascinating read.

Musician and writer Phil Legard's essay "Tree Spirits and Celestial Brothers" is a brief biographical sketch of the magus known as Charubel. I would like to have known a bit more about Charubel's connection with Gustav Meyrink, as Legard opens the essay with an anecdote about this relationship. Nevertheless, this is an excellent overview of what one might refer to as a working man's cunning man. While I'm praising Legard, you should definitely check out his musical forays as half of the duo Hawthonn. I strongly recommend giving their album Red Goddess (of this men shall know nothing) many, many listens.

Speaking of music, for those who think that electronic music has it's roots in the Forbidden Planet soundtrack (which is excellent, by the way), you'll have to dig a little further back for the truly earliest Electronica. This is exactly what Daniel Wilson does in his essay "Electromania: The Victorian Electro-Musical Experience".

The essay "On Losing One's Head: Musings from a Labyrinth: Acéphale, Bataille, Crowley and Seth-Typhon" is fantastic. This is the sort of thing I was hoping for from SA5. The other stuff so far has been good, too, but this is off the charts amazing. Christopher Jossife's "musings" on Acéphale provide a glimpse into Bataille's headless, godless religion. It was taken, in all seriousness, by (most) of it's members, not a mere surrealist bon mot. There was even talk and the offer of human sacrifice (Bataille offering himself as the victim) which, thankfully, didn't culminate in the actual act. Interesting that the dawn of WW II was a harbinger of the Acéphale's eve. One wonders if they helped unleash darker forces than even they know how to reckon with?

I minored in anthropology (with a primary emphasis on archaeology) as an undergrad and have a particular penchant for ice age art. So, I enjoyed Robert J. Wallis's essay "Cave Art, Sex and Death: An Archaeology of the Lascaux 'Shaft Scene'." The analysis is sound, from the viewpoint of comparative anthropology, and well-reasoned, with the usual academic ambiguities (which is not a bad thing, in this case).

I really need to watch Donald Cammell's Performance after reading Nadia Choucha's essay "Scottish Fairlyore, Occult Dulity and Donal Cammell's Performance". I'm intrigued. So intrigued by Choucha's analysis, in fact, that I might be sorely disappointed by the movie itself. Maybe I'll just imagine it for myself. "Aguirre's Performance," sort of like Jodorowsky's Dune, but only in my head.

Ghosts and shapeshifters have an ambiguous relationship with each other and the living in "Humans With Animal Faces: Kows, Tuts, Barguests and Other Shape-shifting Spirits" by Jeremy Harte. The vagaries are the interesting part, where hauntings are, perhaps, not hauntings at all. Or maybe so. Who can tell?

Chris Hill introduces us to an obscure (outside of Italy, that is) mystic in "'Gustavo Who?' - Notes Towards the Life and Times of Gustavo Rol; Putative Mage and Cosmic 'Drainpipe'.". Rol was an intriguing figure, to say the least, enigmatic in his humility and purported miracle / psychic abilities. An interesting biographical exploration of an interesting man.

Elvis, James Dean, and Kaiju are not the major focus of the screenplay "LET ME DIE A MONSTER" by Ken Hollings and David McGillivray, but they all feature prominently. It never hit the actual screen, but it's surreal enough that one would be tempted to see it, should some enterprising director take a wild chance on it.

The Brothers Quay piece "The Flies of Orta San Giulio" is what originally pulled my attention toward this volume of Strange Attractor. It is a very minor piece in the Quay's oeuvre, but it drew me in to this excellent eclectic volume, and that can't be all bad, can it?

So, Strange Attractor Journal Five: how does it all "hang together"? Well, it doesn't. It doesn't have to. I appreciated the divergent subjects and styles throughout, all of them interesting. It reminds me of the Monsters of Rock concerts at Donnington, UK that I attended as a kid. Except that rather than being wildly uninhibited, these monsters are cunning and calculating. There's a certain bacchanalian sensibility to the Pilkington's brainchild here, but also a steady hand barely restraining the weirdness herein. Here, one is in a liminal zone, on the border of something indescribable, something one must experience in order to appreciate the fullness of its meaning. Strange Attractor pulls the reader to the edge of the precipice and allows them to hold academic distance, or take the plunge!

View all my reviews

If you like my writing and want to help out, ko-fi me at Every little bit is seen and appreciated! Thank you!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life


Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny LifePuppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life by Kenneth Gross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Puppets and I go way back. I want to say that the Muppets and Sid and Marty Kroft shows (HR Pufnstuf, Far Out Space Nuts), though the latter was more costumed humans than puppets, I admit, introduced me to bodies animated by unseen humans. But, outside of television (and that P movie by that D company), I quite fondly recall my mother making little puppets out of felt and doing little puppet shows for me. She was a drama-girl all the way. Furthermore, I remember seeing street puppets when I lived in Italy as a boy and at least one Punch & Judy show in Brighton, England, when I lived in the UK as a teenager.

But it was later in life that I learned to appreciate the uncanny nature of puppets. In the early 90s I discovered the movies of Jan Svankmajer, which sometimes featured marionettes, then, in the early 2000s, I discovered the stop motion films of The Brothers Quay, which have become an obsession of mine. Back in 2003, I believe it was, I saw another Punch and Judy show (this one in Minneapolis, of all places), I took my kids to a live puppet show (with puppets more reminiscent of Frank Oz's early creations, than anything else) not many years after. Then, in 2019, while on vacation in Europe, my wife and I visited Salzburg, Austria and attended the Salzburg Marionetten Theatre. And just tonight, I signed up for a Domestika course on making wooden marionettes.

I think I'm becoming a little obsessed. Maybe I was obsessed all along and am just now admitting it.

Back in 2021 (it feels strange to say that - has it really been that long?), I read and reviewed Victoria Nelson's outstanding book The Secret Life of Puppets, which I had stumbled on at Goodreads, if I remember correctly. Then, my favorite podcast, Weird Studies, did an episode on this same book in November of 2022. They followed this with an episode about the movie Evil Dead II, which also dipped into the uncanny nature of puppets. This is where I first saw reference to the book being reviewed presently.

It is this uncanny aspect of puppets that Kenneth Gross examines in Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life. All the while I was reading, I felt as if I had the voice of Mark Fischer whispering in my ear. His book/essay on The Weird and the Eerie could have formed the skeleton for Gross's essay, though Gross's work preceded Fisher's by five years. So, perhaps it is the other way around? However, I find no reference to Gross's work in Fischer's bibliography. Maybe this is just another magical synergy that seems to happen so often with these sorts of confluences.

The movement and intelligence that are apparent in a puppet is "weird" (in Fisher's sense) because there should be no movement or intelligence or intention in unliving material, yet that intent seems to come through the unliving (perhaps undead?) material of the puppet. There is movement in what there ought not to be. This offends our logic while simultaneously spiking our curiosity, a morbid curiosity for that which is incapable of morbidity, strangely enough.

It feels quite natural for humans to view these artificial beings as artifacts with some connection to the past. I've seen countless cast off dolls in the mud, for example, and it piques my sense of wonder. How did this get here? Who lost it? Is there some latent connection with a past owner? This begs the further question: Are puppets, dolls, and marionettes some sort of mana batteries, storing energy from some past life force? Perhaps the mystery of these unseen lives that live behind the figures is what we hope to see through to, with the "little people" serving as scrying devices into past lives, their joys, and tragedies. But are our visions clouded and warped by looking through these anthropomorphic lenses? Could some malevolent spirit twist or visions of the past if we are not careful? Do we dare look into their eyes?

Puppets and the stages on which they come "alive" ae not like us. They are exaggerated and often missing many of the subtle and not-so-subtle things that make up life. This creates what Fisher termed "the eerie". Much that should be "there" is not, yet some law of puppetry seems to govern their universe, laws that do not apply in the same way to us. Nor do our laws apply to them. So which reality is real? Which laws actually inhere?

Just as the paradox of life seemingly manifest in dead things causes unease and fascination, the utter unknowability of what it feels, tastes, smells, or sounds like to be a dead thing that was once living simultaneously terrifies us and fills us with curiosity, longing, even, to know and, with much fear and uncertainty, to experience what the dead experience. It is the age old push and pull of existential dread, brought to life(?) by the infusion of seeming intent into dead matter. The puppeteer possesses the puppet with life-force, animating it, the living possessing the dead in a reverse-seance. Who is the medium here?

Puppeteers I have met indeed often speak of waiting for some impulse from the puppet they hold, a gesture or form of motion that they can then develop often being shocked by what emerges.

The act of puppeteering blurs the line between tool and wielder. yes, the human informs the dead material, but the dead material imposes its own limitations, resisting, even fighting back!

The unliving puppet is, of course, innocent, as it can only react to others' manipulations. Yet many puppet shows are transgressive and anything but innocent (go watch a Punch and Judy show, if you don't believe me). Here the inherent innocence of the puppet allows for a buffer to the audience. Hence the shocking nature of the horror trope of puppets and other artificially animated human stand-ins possessed of self-realized inimical animation.

Remember, though, that's it not always the humans facing the puppet that have need to fear that strange intersection of life and death, of immaterial energy and material existence. As Gross implies, this liminal zone is fraught with danger for all:

Then there was the marionette of Antigone who had hung herself with the very strings that had earlier given her life. That had its own kind of truth.

View all my reviews


If you like my writing and want to help out, ko-fi me at Every little bit is seen and appreciated! Thank you!

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Games I Haven't Played

 Tabletop Roleplaying Game conventions are a thing of wonder. Scores, sometimes hundreds of games to choose from. I still have my preferences, as I outlined in my post on TTRPG Conventions Tips and Tricks, but we don't always get what we want, do we?

So, here is a list of games I ended up not playing at conventions, either because I had scheduling conflicts with other games, because availability slips so rapidly (DCCRPG, I'm looking at you), or because the GM had to cancel. I supposed this is a sort of hauntological view of  "what might have been," that strange, forward looking nostalgia for a future that was never fulfilled. Ah, well, there's only so much time in life and I can only give up so much sleep. Anyway, here goes, these are the ones I really wanted to play, and had a fighter's chance at getting into, but just missed out on. Had I not gotten some of my first choices, or if availability wasn't snatched away from me by those pesky gold ticket holders, I might have played:

Gamehole 2016, I wasn't keeping good notes back then. Sorry!

Garycon 2017:

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea: Black Briars and a Dead Rabbit

DCCRPG: The Heist (Run by Harley Stroh, whose games are notoriously difficult to get in to because they sell out so fast)

Metamorphosis Alpha: Androids, Androids, Androids

AD&D 1e: The Tomb of Aethering the Damned (run by my friend Julian Bernick)

Gameholecon 2017:

Fantasy Trip: Guerillas in the Mist

DCCRPG: Symptom of the Universe (run by my friend Brendan Lasalle. Brendan's games sell out FAST!)

 Call of Cthulhu: The Star on the Shore

Chill: A Lamp Gone Dark

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea: Shooting Star Watcher

Garycon 2018:

Traveller: Secret of the Ancients

Traveller: Into the Kinunir (featured event run by Marc Miller, the creator of Traveller. Sigh.)

AS&SH: The Palace of Xambaala (run by the creator, Jeff Talanian, as well)

Call of Cthulhu + DCCRPG(!): Crawl of Cthulhu

Gameholecon 2018:

Fantasy Trip/Melee/Wizard: Introductory demo game

GURPS: BPRD (yes, that BPRD)

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Blood in the Chocolate

Garycon 2019:

Traveller: Prison Planet

Operation Whitebox WWII: Operation Peardrop (run by Bruce Cunnington, the coolest englishman I know)

Call of Cthulhu: Midnight under the Bharat Sun (run by the always awesome You Too Can Cthulhu crew - I try to get into at least one of their games every convention)

Gameholecon 2019:

Delta Green: Fire from Heaven

Empire of the Petal Throne: Beyond the Plain of Towers

Empire of the Petal Throne: Hinlakte Hijinx

Garycon 2020 was virtual, so I didn't take great notes on my schedule. 

Gameholecon 2020 (Virtual). Seems like I inadvertently nuked my notes on this. 

Garycon 2021 (Virtual):

DCC: The Jeweler that Dealt in Stardust

DCC: Descent into the Depths of the Earth

Gameholecon 2021 (back to in-person!):

Troika!: The Black Pearl (run by my friend Jon Carnes)

Call of Cthulhu D10: A Nightmare on Sesame Street

Tales from the Loop: Time After Time

Cthulhu Dark Ages: People of the Book

Star Fleet Battles

Garycon 2022:

The King in Yellow: The Unspeakable Oath

Barbarians of the Ruined Earth: Meeting the Metal Menace

DCCRPG: Return to the Purple Planet

Troika!: So You've Been Thrown Down a Well

DCCRPG: Dark Sun Arena Bloodbath

DCCRPG Dying Earth: Escapades and Expeditions of the Dying Earth (Julian Bernick)

Gameholecon 2022

Traveller: Getting Up

Trail of Cthulhu: The Coldest Walk

DCCRPG: Blood in the Brutal Lands (Michael Curtis, whose games also fill quickly)

Solar Blades and Cosmic Spells: Temple of the Cyber Lich

Traveller Seminar: Advanced Traveller (with Marc Miller, who had to cancel. Sigh.)

Garycon 2023

DCCRPG: Day of the Kaiju (run by my friend Hector Cruz)

Traveller: Derelict Starship (run by my friend Victor Raymond)

Call of Cthulhu: Eve of Darkness (You Too Can Cthulhu)

Star Wars: Shadowport, All Jawas

Call of Cthulhu: The King in Yellow

There you have it, the games that I had not. Despite all of these misses, I have had a fantastic time at every Gameholecon and Garycon I've attended. They are a wealth of riches, and these are just some of the gems that spilt out of the bag. Of course, if you're reading this, and you ran one of these games, and wanted to run it again, who am I to stop you? Just save me a seat!


If you like my writing and want to help out, ko-fi me at Every little bit is seen and appreciated! Thank you!

Thursday, April 13, 2023

TTRPGs versus Competition

 While listening to a Patreon-subscriber extra on my favorite Podcast, Weird Studies, it dawned on me why I love tabletop roleplaying games in a way that I don't love miniature wargames or boardgames. Now, don't get me wrong. I love miniature wargames and many boardgames, but they have a "low ceiling" when it comes to fulfillment for me. There's something that rings in my soul when playing or running TTRPGs that isn't present with the others.

I've thought a lot about why TTRPGs are my main hobby of choice. What do I get out of it? It's not mere nostalgia for having played the games as a kid. I have nostalgia for other things (the past ubiquity of used bookstores, the freedom of being a more-or-less free-range child, video game arcades, and so forth), but, whereas those things are nostalgic explicitly because I can't go back to them, tabletop games are still around and I feel like they've grown with me. But that's not the reason I love them.

Here's the secret: I'm a competitor. In fact, I'm very competitive. My wife and I used to play Risk a lot when we were first married and had no money (but we had a beat up copy of Risk), but we discovered that we simply could not play the game together because we are (gasp!) both competitive. That competitiveness has served us well when we're facing the rest of the world, but we have learned to compromise, to give, forgive, and work around our competitive streaks.

Back to the present (more or less): Not long ago, I was playing a miniatures game. I knew the person running the game and I knew two other players. Three of the other players were strangers to me. One of these seemed to know the game master or had had some past interaction with them. As we progressed along, I got a sort of irritated vibe from this particular player, especially when the game wasn't moving at the pace he wanted it to. Truth be told only two people at the table had played the game before, and one of them was him (I was not the other - this was a brand new mini game to me). He became increasingly curt with . . . well, everyone who wasn't him, if I'm being honest. He was extremely rules-lawyerly, which I can understand in a mini's game where measurements matter, but this guy was borderline belligerent. I admit, I pushed back a bit, and he finally backed down, but, to be frank, it felt yucky. I realized, upon stopping to think about the man's behavior for a bit, that he was really, REALLY competitive.

Now, I've known some people to be overly competitive while playing TTRPGs. In games and people that I normally play with, those players are looked upon as anathema. I've seen people acting like jerks being jettisoned from a table by a DM and I'm glad it was done. It was ugly, but necessary for the enjoyment of the rest of us. I've been lucky in that I've never had to eject someone for being a jerk. But I would, in a heartbeat, because I believe that TTRPGs are a cooperative venture, even, at times, when there is some "player versus player" element present or, more properly, "character versus character". 

It is this cooperative aspect, unbounded by proscriptive rules, that I think draws me to TTRPGs above other genres of game. I've played cooperative boardgames and rather enjoyed them, but these are bounded by the rules as written. The cooperation in TTRPGs is of a different hemisphere, or another order of magnitude, where an individual's creativity can transcend the bounds of the game by creating something with other players that the writers of the game could have never anticipated. It is a meeting of the imaginations of the players, rather than a forced constraint provided by the machinations of the game designer. Perhaps this is why the proverbial "rules lawyer" is universally despised by all but himself? TTRPG players, for the most part, want freedom to choose and the freedom to interact within a set of agreed upon rules. The "rules lawyer" breaks this assumed social contract.

This is also why I am not opposed to character versus character interactions, so long as allowing such interactions was agreed upon before the start of the game. Of course, there must be full consensus here, so players must ask themselves what do they really want out of the game? Are they willing to sacrifice some comfort for the sake of the communal game? And what is "too far"? All of these questions (and I'm certain I'm missing some) need to be considered in this instance.

What do you think? Do you also find more freedom of expression in TTRPGs than in boardgames? Are there exceptions? If so, I'd love to hear about specific boardgames that allow the same degree of freedom and creativity among players. 


If you like my writing and want to help out, ko-fi me at Every little bit is seen and appreciated! Thank you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2023



MalpertuisMalpertuis by Jean Ray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Malpertuis is a brooding work of dark genius. It is a puzzlebox, a mystery . . . of sorts. A slow, grey carnival, solemn, but unholy, slowly unfolds. The setting, the house Malpertuis, is like a decaying body, with the inhabitants its organs, fitfully straining to beat, to move, to live. But the dolor that hangs over the place and its . . . people(?) is loden with malaise and despair that eventually stifles all attempts to escape the somber veil of thwarted history that is wrapped in the tangled skeins of fate to the point where the Sisters themselves are strangled by their own threads.

The pace is deliciously plodding. There is a strong sense of something that once was, but is no longer. A vitality that has been sapped and bled into a dry husk blown about by the slightest breeze.

It is beautiful and ugly at the same time. But there is little to hope for in Malpertuis. The cursed place was condemned to crumble by the ambitions of the sorcerer Cassave, whose misdeeds and perversities I will not recount here. Even the author (who may or may not have identified with the un-named thief/narrator) is loathe to approach Cassave's sins directly. If the reader is looking for direct explanations and so-called "plot," they will be hard pressed to find anything of the sort.

Ray's perambulations serve a higher (lower?) purpose: to bring the reader into the gothic labyrinthine walls of Malpertuis. Reading the book is, like walking a labyrinth, a meditation, a strange shelter from the outside world, an escape into an inner world both fascinating and excruciating.

At first, I thought I might be entering a Gormenghast-like space combined with Knives Out. It didn't take long before I realized that this was not the conceit that Ray was working with. In Malpertuis, we are not bound by contemporary notions of plotting and novel structure. This is a kaleidoscopic work, a shattered mirror of perspectives and prose. It is deeply fascinating, in this regard, with the "story" being revealed from different points of view, along with different attitudes toward the subject matter. I used the word "vortical" in my notes while reading, and I stand by that description. This is a whirlwind into which the reader is not merely drawn, but yanked with great force, to be buffeted about non-stop by strangeness and unwelcome revelations.

Now, I know I use this argument all the time, but one of my methodologies for evaluating a work is "would the Brothers Quay make a movie of this? Could they?" The answer here is a resounding "yes". The book has had a cinematic treatment, which is its own piece of art, but not nearly as sublime as this amazing opus.

Strongly, strongly recommended! I can see myself revisiting Malpertuis many, many times. But then, isn't that just the nature of the place itself? I am happily caught in its labyrinth!

View all my reviews


If you like my writing and want to help out, ko-fi me at Every little bit is seen and appreciated! Thank you!

Monday, February 13, 2023

Exiting Modernity


Exiting ModernityExiting Modernity by James Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the record, this page is 590 pages long. For whatever reason, Goodreads doesn't have that information. So know when you are going into this, you're getting a lot.

But a lot of what?

Ellis can be, at times, obscure to the point of inscrutable. But his sometimes frenetic approach also allows multiple points of entry to readers who are constantly beset by the incessant demands of modernity. He uses the weapons of modern capital and consumerist social media against them. What I thought was annoying, initially, I eventually found quite brilliant as confusion resolved into clarity.

Ellis is not as a-political as he thinks he is, but I do think he makes a good-faith effort to try to push explicitly political opinions aside. It's not always clear where his loyalties lie, but there is a strong libertarian streak throughout his work, but thankfully without much of the conspiracy-craziness that so often accompanies that bent. When he's talking about personal freedom (whether of expression or work or goals), he is at his best. At times, Ellis tries way too hard to prove he's an iconoclast, and when he gets "in the way" of his thoughts, he muddies the clarity of his own vision. Of course, I'm certain he'd deride any call to tone things down, but really, the guy needs some editing.

And while his ideas are always controversial and often intriguing, the real test of such a book as this rests in the answer to the question "did it make any meaningful change in my life"? And the answer, in this case is, "yes".

Perhaps it's just in the timing, but this book pushed me over the edge of indecision and caused me to drop Twitter. There were a number of touchpoints leading up to that final decision.

It's no secret, at least to those who read my blog, that I have been contemplating a move away from some social media for quite some time. When I took my trip to Europe in 2019, I largely abstained from social media, and it was . . . liberating. The next year, I read the book Digital Minimalism, which led to a short social media fast (among other things!). I recorded some of my findings in this exploratory phase, including falling in love with blogs all over again. Next, I tried to go with a three weeks on, one week off approach. But that only lasted a couple of months until I was scrolling away again - mainly on twitter - to the point where I actually forgot I had committed to that approach. Much later, I watched the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. That made me wary for a while, and I set timers on Twitter, Instagram, and Redditt (I had already largely given up Facebook by that point). But it was really this book that finally pushed me over the edge to deactivate my twitter account. Why not delete it? Apparently it's really easy for conniving individuals to "take over" your old account if you delete it. So it sits dormant, now. It's been a few weeks now and I feel . . . liberated . . . again. The point of all this is that Ellis convinced me to drop Twitter, and that is not a decision I made lightly. Since I am an author (albeit very part-time) Twitter was the ideal place to huck my wares, so to speak. But I think I'm content to let my content (books, stories, RPG supplements, etc) speak for themselves. I'll keep blogging, as I feel that blogs are a more "meaningful" medium than social media. Besides, I'm done with doom-scrolling. I only have so much time left in life (could be tomorrow, could be fifty years from now, who knows?) and I don't want to be on my deathbed full of regrets because I wasted so much darned time on Twitter.

But social media critique is only one aspect of Exiting Modernity and, truth be told, it's not even that big of a deal in terms of the percentage of pages devoted to it. Much of the critique is aimed at social engineering at large, with media being only a small portion of "the problem". I'll spare you all the details of "the problem," as I agree with some aspects of Ellis's thoughts more than others and, well, you should read this book and find out for yourself!

Ellis' critique of measurement hues very closely to the critique in Technic and Magic, which I read very recently. I consider it an (improbable) and happy accident(?) that I read these one after the other. This really refreshed some thoughts that have been coalescing in my mind for many years regarding what I really want from life, and what I really don't want!

I was going along just fine until I encountered the section on Accelerationism, where Ellis drops the casual tone and goes for a jargon-filled philosophical analysis, which people smarter than me are likely to love. For me though, hitting this section was like taking my car to top speed on the autobahn, then encountering a wall of feather mattresses around the curve.

That didn't happen. Well, not the part about the feather mattresses. Though I did have to eventually slow down on the autobahn.

I really struggled with this section, then FINALLY! on page 213, Accelerationism was clearly defined. I would have liked this, oh, 120 pages earlier.

The largest fault of this book is not a fault of content, but of order. The last two sections on Accelerationism should have been put at the beginning of that section, not the end. The way it is structured now might have been true to the order in which Ellis' blog was created, but moving from the specific to the general does no favors to readers new to the material. The last 200 pages or so were an utter slog until the last section on "The Genealogy of Foucault's Numeric Power Structures - Man Under Number," but, then again, I read a lot of Foucault back in graduate school, so that background helped, no doubt. My very slight grasp of Deleuze made the section immediately preceding it almost tolerable, but not comfortable. There are obvious gaps in my philosophical knowledge that I'm trying to fix, but the last part of this book came, well, out of order in my philosophical life. I'll have to reread those latter sections again once I've got more philosophical reading under my belt, so to speak.

In time. In time . . .

View all my reviews


If you like my writing and want to help out, ko-fi me at Every little bit is seen and appreciated! Thank you!