SH | Here we have a mind-melting combination of occultism, technology, new media discourse, outsider art and psychedelia, wrapped around a book and a set of Tarot Cards, which accompany Suzanne Treister’s multimedia Hexen 2.0 project.
The astonishing dialogue I experienced with Alan Moore, in a pub in Northampton, in 1996, alongside Christian Martius, revealed that magic is language, and language is magic. Fine, pragmatic, sensible. But we always need to ask, magic how, and language how? Thinking historically in this way, it is therefore appropriate that Treister has taken Web 2.0 as the centre of the posthuman-language-magic universe.
Tarot, after all, began as a game, rather than a divination aid, so maybe the technology which first appeared to the public as early blip games – then quickly turned into scrying mirrors for the masses – is highly appropriate to drag into new Tarot Cards. Here, Aldous Huxley is The Fool, and Timothy Leary is The Magician, beginning to play with meaning and therefore magic in this new world.
Andrew Pickering’s article on Treister’s work for Mute also describes the ‘open-ended relationships between militarism and counter-culture, science and sorcery’ to be found here. He says that ‘Hexen 2.0 echoes and amplifies Donna Haraway’s famous Manifesto for Cyborgs.’ Haraway saw the cyborg as the new posthuman atopia, ‘lacking any essence, with no ideal form given by God in the Garden of Eden, the cyborg could become anything.’
Pickering seems to be suggesting that this hybrid creature, created by the military in the dark secret corners of WW2 – he means us – can still experience a new set of becomings, its potentia is not exhausted. Leary himself suggested that the Tarot system represented human progress, from infant to maturity, and Jung used it as part of the individuation process. But we are actually very far from whiggish timelines and ‘progress’ here, in fact we are very far from ‘man’. Aristotelian language such as ‘potentia’ is perhaps appropriate to use though, because, as Pickering tells us:
‘Tarot is premodern. It does not belong to the modern scientific vision of the world as orderly, knowable, linear. It belongs instead to a world where hidden sympathies hide beneath the surface, arcana, affinities that always wait to be explored further. Her five overall maps especially remind me of the frontispieces of obscure alchemical and Paracelsian tomes that connect names, substances, planets and magi together in combinations that we should meditate upon. History is like that, it is not like the univocal chains of cause and effect that historians and sociologists like to offer us.’
Yet Lars Bang Larsen’s essay on Treister’s work describes it as a kind of radical enlightenment project, which traces new genealogies and represents them anew, albeit paradoxically, via ancient epistemologies. I think he’s correct in this, but only if we follow his leads into Adorno and Horkheimer, and refigure the myth in our contemporary enlightenment, as they did for theirs. This, for me, is essentially what Treister is doing here.
Despite this, Treister’s project will, of course, be dogged by conspiracy theorists and outright nutcases. While idly thinking about this, and how to tackle it in review, I was strongly reminded of a line by Seamus Heaney on the occult interests of W.B. Yeats. Heaney wrote that ‘while it is important to insist on the centrality of unorthodox spiritual disciplines in Yeats’s life, it is a mistake to think of him as a gullible consumer of superstitions.’ Yeats, says Heaney, ‘possessed a robust, sceptical intelligence and his grasp of what was happening in his own times was at least equal to that of the most secular and topically focussed minds of his generation.’ This passage is a good caveat to put in place against some of the more literal interpretations of the magical act, but it is also an appropriate metonym for the work under review. Treister understands all too well what is happening in her own time, and this work is very far from the gullible consumption and regurgitation of fuzzy superstitions. It is playful, yes. It is engaging, it entertains – and why shouldn’t ‘deep’ work do all of this – but it is not a project which anyone can lightly brush off in the name of some confused empiricism.
There’s an interesting moment in Robert Graves’ White Goddess, when Graves, according to editor Grevel Lindop, breaks with a discourse on poetry which ‘radiates magic’, and begins to ‘write like an ordinary Magus.’ At that point, Graves was writing about Tarot Cards, in a passage pulled from a later edition of the book. Graves links his insights into the White Goddess to the historical shift of language, from moon goddess, matriarchal bardic poetry, to sun god, Apollonian verse, via the battle of the trees – secret alphabets – and eventually the Tarot pack. The Druids tried to keep their alphabet secret, and this is what the battle of the trees refers to, it was a struggle for language, and therefore culture and power.
We can follow this line straight into Treister’s new work. The new battle of the trees is currently being won by Google, the scrying mirrors of the masses are becoming the scrying mirrors of the Magi. By taking our technologically-connected present and putting it in pre-modern containers, Treister hasn’t so much upgraded our past as downgraded our futurism.
Alan Moore has been promising to deliver his magical masterwork for some time, but unfortunately Suzanne Treister just beat him to it.