Every year I post a year end “stack” of whatever I read in the preceding twelve calendar months. What with the pandemic, stay-at-home, working and teaching from home, the list has expanded massively this year compared to previous years.
I’d also invite you to follow me on goodreads, where I’ve been much more active on lately. For this year’s reading, I need to thank my wife and my friends for recommendations and conversations. I’d also like to thank Phil and JF over at the Weird Studies podcast, who have very much influenced this reading list. The list is in no particular order. I’ve included some mini reviews and links below.
- Daniel Ingram – Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha
Ingram presents the insight stages and the concentration states in clear language with a lot of personal experience from practice and teaching. It offers relatively straightforward ways of assessing one’s progress on the path.
- Roberto Calasso – The Celestial Hunter
One of my favorite writers of all time (Thanks Dave Nichols for introducing me!) I just started this so no thoughts yet other than YAY new material. Everybody who hasn’t should go read Ka or The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony.
- Jean Gebser – The Ever-Present Origin
The first time in a few years that I’ve been captivated by a “big tome” of Western philosophy. Gebser’s argument that the history of consciousness moves and spirals through mutations – linearly presented as archaic, magical, mythical, mental and integral – and that individual perspective, having emerged out of consciousness, is now transforming into an “aperspectival” view…. Very compelling arguments drawing on the history of science, mythology and art, pointing to an “integral” future that I find way more compelling than say, the arguments of Ken Wilber.
- William Irwin Thompson – the Time Falling Bodies Take To Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture
What was society before patriarchy? What happened in the translation from matriarchy? How much was lost? Is there any way to spiritually connect to matrilineal practice?
- William Irwin Thompson – Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth And Science
Fairy tales and myths contain coded evolutionary knowledge. In the first essay, Thompson details how the original version of the Rapunzel tale can be shown to house insights from modern biology, despite coming from a tradition hundreds of years older than those scientific insights.
- William Irwin Thompson – Coming into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness
Thompson’s Gebser-inspired compilation of essays.
- Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche – Moonbeams of Mahamudra: The Classic Meditation Manual
Very technical, but the definitive manual for Mahamudra meditation.
- Byung Chul Han – The Burnout Society
Read and discussed this with Alice Chi and Kevin Vanscoder. I was fortunate enough to discuss the text in a podcast episode with my wife.
- Letters from the Yoga Masters
Thanks for the gift Nancy!
- Joshua Ramey – The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal
Deleuze has been an author I’ve been intimidated by since college. Ramey’s argument that there are precursors to Deleuze’s rhizomatic thought in Pico della Mirandola and Giordano Bruno was too tempting to pass up. The notion that philosophy itself is an ecstatic practice of generating new concepts and destabilizing old ones is intriguing, as are the surprisingly occult origins of many of Deleuze’s ideas.
- J.R.R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion, illustrated by Ted Nasmith
This is better than the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Yes, I’m ready to fight on it. The worlding that Tolkein achieved in fully envisioning an immersive cosmos of his own reaches depths here that the more story-like novels only hint toward.
- J.R.R. Tolkien – Unfinished Tales of Numenor & Middle-Earth, illustrated
This new illustrated edition is fantastic.
- David Tibet – The Moon at Your Door compilation
Great compilation of weird, gnostic/gothic fiction. Dreams, vampires, spirits, misperceptions…
- Eugene Thacker – In The Dust of This Planet (Horror of Philosophy Vol. 1)
What does Dante have to do with black metal? Can you read Immanuel Kant like you read Lovecraft?
- Eugene Thacker – Starry Speculative Corpse (Horror of Philosophy Vol. 2)
Similar to above, not as good, unless you love Schopenhauer, in which case you’ll probably like this even more.
- Brian Evenson – Song for the Unraveling of the Word
As devastating as it sounds – cosmic horror. Not for the faint of heart. After Ligotti and Barron, I wasn’t sure who to turn to next for metaphysical dread. “Smear” still keeps me up at night, and not because of the violence.
Pretty nice review: https://www.npr.org/2019/06/12/731726812/unraveling-sings-a-cohesive-unsettling-song
- Robert Aickman – Cold Hand in Mine
Terrific, luxurious ghost stories.
- Usula K. Le Guin – the Lathe of Heaven
What if your dreams re-organized reality such that sometimes when you wake up, reality is not recognizable from yesterday but does resemble your dreams? What if your therapist decided to imprint his will on your subconscious dreaming self?
- Ted Chiang – Exhalation: Stories
A modern sci-fi/magickal realist short story compilation that brought tears to my eyes multiple times. Scary, funny, and horrifying too. Chiang is an American writer whose family is from Taiwan.
- Philip K Dick – 4 Novels of the 1960s
The Main in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?, Ubik.
- Lionel Snell / Ramsey Dukes – SSOTBME: An Essay on Magic
Interesting philosophical essays over and against the curse “May everything be exactly as it seems” uttered in Clive Barker’s Imajica, almost an antidote to it actually. Stylistically I imagine this is what would’ve happened if Ludwig Wittgenstein had gone further down the linguistic rabbit hole into Borgesian and Crowleyan realms.
- Aleister Crowley – Book 4
It’s a classic, and includes some fascinating insights on yoga, pranayama and meditation.
- Alan Chapman – Advanced Magick for Beginners
Chaotic neutral text is about as effective as its cover image. Random experiments in developing magickal consciousness, uprooted from any sense of tradition and crammed into a little book with potency on every page. Best to try these in the context of a tradition, with a container of some sort.
- Frater Acher – Holy Daimon
The idea of each person having a guardian angel has matriculated down into pop culture and esotericism, but the origins of the idea vastly predate monotheistic religion. Acher lays out the history of the idea of a personal daimon based on Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Persian thought and lays out some practices for getting in touch with that higher self or protective spirit.
- Patrick Harpur – Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld
Are aliens actually fairies? Stay tuned. I haven’t made it very far yet in this one…
- Gary Lachman – Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump
Critique of Trumpism based on an analysis of the cult of positive thinking, the origins of QAnon and parallels with chaos magick and Russian propaganda. Highly recommend.
- Gary Lachman – Secret Teachers of the Western World
Broad strokes overview of the history of Western esotericism from early Greek philosophy to Blavatsky, Crowley, Gurdjeff and William James.
- A. N. Whitehead – Adventures of Ideas
Lives up to its name. This is my first time reading Alfred North Whitehead, and I can see what all the fuss is about.
- Guy Armstrong – Emptiness: A Practical Guide for Meditators
The concept of sunyata, or emptiness, in Mahayana Buddhism is frequently misunderstood – particularly it is often equated with existential angst thanks to the emptiness discussed in Jean Paul Sartre, for example. Armstrong gives 3 sections on emptiness of perception, emptiness of self and emptiness of world consisting of practical philosophy related to every day life, and actual exercises leading to the experience of the various forms of emptiness. Very approachable.
- M.C. Richards – Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person
This text has been a constant inspiration for the classes in yoga, breathing and meditation I teach. The idea of centering as an eccentric, dynamic activity rather than an act of grounding or stilling has been very effective in my life and practice.
- Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega – The Triadic Heart of Shiva: Kaula Tantricism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir
Scholarly exposition of the philosophical and mystical writings of Abhinavagupta. Inspired after Marcia Miller guided me to take a class by Daniel Odier on Kashmir Shaivism. I’m now on a quest to a0 understand the philosophical underpinnings of that tradition and b) compare them to the Tibetan Mahamudra lineages I’ve been practicing in for the last 5 years or so, see below.
- Herbert Guenther – Ecstatic Spontaneity: Saraha’s Three Cycles of Doha
Guenther interprets the origin of the Tibetan Mahamudra lineage, the Indian mahasiddha known as Saraha and his awakening songs from the early Tantric period.
- Mary Hunter Austin – the Land of Little Rain
Thanks for the gift Kevin!
- Spanda Karika: The Divine Creative Pulsation, translated Jaideva Singh
One of a few key texts from the Kashmir Shaivite tradition.
- Joan Stambaugh – Impermanence is Buddha Nature: Dogen’s Understanding of Temporality
She translated Heidegger’s Being & Time, Schelling essay and other major works into English. More importantly, she was an original American philosopher in her own right – and very interested in the intersection between German philosophy and Japanese Zen. This text is a blast to read, joining Heidegger and Dogen in a dialogue.
- Erik Davis – TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information
Been on my radar due to the Weird Studies podcast. Davis recently wrote HIGH WEIRDNESS, which is about Phillip K Dick, Terrence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson. This text is about how various spiritual idioms and ideologies have grown up around our use of tech, from telegrams and electric grids all the way up to social media, from technopagan rituals to Bible-thumping televangelism, from dungeon chatrooms to university portals – Davis tracks the bizarre history of information technology and speculates about its future. He points out for example that many early technologists were into seances and that new technologies often spook people, an interesting way to inhabit the space of wondering where tech is taking us. Written in 1998 but updated somewhat a few years ago, it doesn’t really feel dated, but where it does I am down for the 90s throwbacks.
“At the heart of information theory, then, is probability, which is the measure of the likelihood of one specific result out of an open ended field of possible messages. Probability plays a powerful role in the predictions that scientists are wont to make about the world, but even as a no-nonsense statistical science, it is something of a trickster. Probability slips between objectivity and subjectivity, randomness and order, the mind’s knowledge and the hidden patterns of the world – a conceptually hairy zone that the mathematician James R Newman called ‘a nest of subtleties and traps.’ The sharp diagrams of information theory are etched on shiftier sands than at first appear. “
- Robert Anton Wilson – Prometheus Rising
Student of Aleister Crowley named Israel Regardie wrote the preface and I agree with his take – — this book synthesizes a lot of 1960s and 70s countercultural theory and praxis with older systems or magick and yoga. Regardie says his only disagreement with Wilson is on his techno-positivism, several places in the book (written in the early 80s) he theorizes that drugs and technology will make dying irrelevant for most people by the early 2000s. of course, he himself passed in 2007, some of his last public words are that dying “seems absurd”
What he does here though, is utilize Timothy Leary’s doctrine – first I’ve heard of it – of 8 Neuro-Biological circuits to show how humans get stuck at various developmental phases, and to guess at what purpose/dimensions drug experiences and mystical experiences seem to link on to. The book is very funny – dude was not only friends with Leary and William Burroughs, but I think he also knew Phillip K Dick — and the best part is about how people get stuck in the lower developmental circuits – which sync up with Freud’s anal and genital stages, for example, as well as some of Jung’s archetypes. Particularly it is notable for the very 70s idea of the brain as a computer – and looking at your instincts, imprints, conditioning and learning as software programs. Much of the book is about identifying how the circuits you are stuck in keep you running the same programs over and over and not realizing, something he calls a “reality tunnel”. He suggests that entire political systems and cultures are self-replicating reality tunnels. Each chapter ends with exercises for breaking out of a reality tunnel relative to the circuit he is discussing – not quite as new age as it sounds, more philosophical in nature. Such as: “7. Spend all day Sunday looking at animal shows on TV (getting stoned on weed if that is permissible to you”, then go into the office the next day and observe the primate pack hierarchy carefully,like a scientist.
- Alain Danielou – While the Gods Play: Shaiva Oracles and Predictions on the Cycles of History and the Destiny of Mankind
Interpretation of the Siva Sutras, another key Kashmir Shaivite text.
- Jeremy D. Johnson: Seeing through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness
Fantastic small book about a large book. Jeremy Johnson writes a conceive and useful introduction to thought of Jean Gebser, who’s Ever-Present Origin I listed above.
Jean Gebser moves me in a way that no other figures from the “Integral Scene” ever have. His ability to think and be with the particulars, and to de-hierarchize his understanding of mutating structures of consciousness is an extremely helpful tool for integrating time.
Jeremy Johnson introduces the major themes and concepts of Ever Present Origin. I would have liked even more concretion and less hinting-at the integral structure with inspiring turns of phrase. Maybe that’s still to come. Will prepare you to read Gebser and will inspire you to spiral off in related directions.
- Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism: Is there No Alternative?
Mark Fisher is a great writer. Here he considers why we have such a hard time overcoming Capitalism as an aesthetic and epistemological project — capitalism is so threatening to our ability to imagine a different future because it reinscribes (literally, sells) our visions back to us or to other people.
- Timothy Morton – Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World
Read and discussed on Resonant Zones episode 1 with Kevin Vanscoder.
- Rashad Shabazz – Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago
Thinking about the origins of militarized police and mass incarceration? This book provides a powerful frame by looking at the evolution of policing in Chicago and the beginnings of mass incarceration there.
- Eric Voegelin – Science, Politics & Gnosticism
The essence of what I’m picking up is that any political ideology or plan that is not Christian and “practical” (ie, accepts large swaths of the status quo) is “gnostic”, presumably because it does not embrace the world “as is” & seeks to reform it in a way that is guided by an invisible (not-yet-present) order. In reading this, I think it made me proud to be a gnostic! The deepest irony is that Voegelin ignores the close ties between Christianity and gnodticism, and hisnbemoaining that positivists, communists etc overturn the transcendent order is -absolutely- a gnostic ontological basis for a transcendent metaphysics. So lol Voegelin, nice try, not compelling at all. I do dig the coining of the term “immantenize the eschaton”, which I interpret to mean what happens when political movements literalize their metaphysical ideals, or more specifically their apocalyptic fantasies.
- Angela Davis – Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement
With everyone throwing the word “ally” around all year, Davis’ commitment to aligning parallel international causes shows what an ally really means: fighting the fight at home while supporting others in their local struggles, collaborating and edifying each other as much as possible.
- Timothy Snyder – On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Nice antidote for Trumpism.
- Nick Land – Fanged Noumena
Nick Land is a very weird thinker. He started in an anonymous early-internet-age collective called the CCRU, associated with a lot of hypermodern marxists and critics (including Mark Fisher, above) playing with a lot of cybergoth and early accelerationist language. Over the years, he has migrated to a weird alt-right stance on accelerating capitalism. This book, featuring scathing and interesting articles on Marx, Kant, Heidegger, and Lovecraft mostly heaps on the Matrix-like aesthetics while hypothesizing about a non-human world consciousness emerging from the internet, which is rad. I don’t see any signs of the odd conservative political flip here but I’l keep looking.
- Gilles Deleuze, et al. – COLLAPSE: Philosophical Research & Development
Some of Deleuze’s earliest writings paired with various other related scholarship.
- S. Alexander Reed – ASSIMILATE: A critical history of industrial music
The discovery and making of industrial music is one of the formative events of my teenage years, and this text helped me relive that process, learn more about the politics and the sounds, and also discover some artists and bands I had glossed over before. I also got to spend some of the summer blasting noisy drum machine hits and synth stabs on my headphones while running around the dungeons of DOOM, which was a perfect 2020 coping mechanism if I’m honest.
- Plato – Phaedrus
Read and discussed this with Dave Nichols