UNDERSTANDING THE LIGHTNING STENOGRAPHY DEVICE: A User’s Guide to 2018’s Most Psychedelic Novel
[A/N: Hello, loyal readers. I’ve missed you; have you missed me? As my fiction writing schedule lulls into an editing phase before I turn my attentions to an in-progress visual novel, I wanted to take the time to develop a few essays for you. What better way to get into the swing of analyzing than by doing so with my own work? If you haven’t already read THE LIGHTNING STENOGRAPHY DEVICE (understandable, as it doesn’t come out until March 19th, 2018) then be sure to pre-order (or plain old order, if you read this in the future) a copy at Amazon, and brace yourself for relatively strong spoilers below. But, if you are of that group of people who agree with the recently-researched notion that an understanding of a story’s ending increases one’s enjoyment of the experience, then read on, by all means.]
“Maybe we could spin it as an anthology on the future of writing.” —Minerva Reinholdt, Literary Agent
I will not pretend that The Lightning Stenography Device is a straightforward piece of fiction. If you have found this page by way of furious Googling, you may well be hoping for anything ranging from a full explanation to a profuse apology. It’s hard to tell on what side of the fence any one reader will land with this piece: the divisive reviews have ranged from people who extol the journey while others have stopped reading sometime around chapter 5, which, frankly, is a chapter I expected to turn off a good quarter of gentle-hearted readers who had come to this novel for a light science fiction romp, maybe with lasers, and a talking dog.
(Pro-tip: that’s actually the next project, The Disgraced Martyr Trilogy, although I wouldn’t call it ‘light-hearted’, and the dog doesn’t technically talk.)
One of the elements most infuriating to readers who were expecting a breezy read is, no doubt, both the elements of philosophy, and the structure of the book, itself. However, understanding the four-part structure is, in my opinion, a vital key to interpreting the novel. I have, for some months now, maintained a large number of essays interpreting various works of art and writing from the standpoint of the hermeticist and the alchemist. Why not put it to skill for you, fair reader, so hungry to know more about the book?
First, the official summary:
The first marketable thought to text device is released for public consumption in 2031. That same year, author Cassius Wagner will have a seizure. At least, that is what the novel says: the novel to which he awakens in fragments one morning after a late night of writing. This novel.
Terrified to have a prophetic manuscript unfurling at his heels, his desperation to evade his fate prevents him from considering that his lover and editrix, Katherine Beauvoir, might be wrestling with a destiny of her own–one which seems to concern the discovery of a human skull.
This summary leaves off two sections, namely: Mt. Ida, which concerns the brothers who created the device, Hermes and Enoch; and Felicity, a fairy tale which forms the entire second half of the work. This complete departure from the first half gives people pause.
Of the ways in which one can interpret the book, there are roughly six of which I can think off of the top of my head. I will break down a few in brief and go into detail on those particulars which are most relevant and interesting.
- As A Novel Within Our Universe
- As An Anthology Within Its Own Universe
- As The Story of Katherine Beauvoir’s Metaphysical Enlightenment
- As An Alchemical Operation Serving The Spiritual Needs of M. F. Sullivan
- As A Bridge (Or Pillar) Connecting Many Novels, Some Written, Some Not
- As A Reader’s Doorway To (Or Refresher On) Consciousness Expansion
Looks more confusing than the novel you’ve just read/are reading/are thinking of reading? Don’t worry: it’s really not
- As A Novel Within Our Universe
While writing final draft of The LSD’s predecessor, Delilah, My Woman, I ran into a problem which I had ignored up until that point when an editor who studied the first chapter posed it to my consciousness: how is this first person, past tense novel about a dead man being told? Was he telling it from hell? Without a basis from which to tell the story (how many authors, including Gene Wolfe, whose work we will study in a few essays soon enough, use the device of the character, themselves, having written the story being read, with yet no cogent explanation for that novel’s appearance in our universe to be read by us?), there was seemingly no way in which to justify the fact that Richard Vasko could communicate with a reader to express what had happened to him before, up to, and during his death.
But that was just it, wasn’t it? He is addressing a reader. He is a character in a book.
I had a revelatory moment, thinking the problem over. No matter what in-universe explanation can be concocted for any character, for any story—no matter what Dungeons and Dragons-humbling set of gods and goddesses and origin explanations—ultimately, the absolute highest truth about any character is that they are a figure which, within the boundaries of our material world, is an imaginary creation whose existence is essentially a program printed on paper and compiled by the reader’s mind. When one looked past the trappings which seemed to deck and demark the highest realities possible, the answer ultimately becomes so simple as to be immensely profound, and, ultimately, the journey of Richard Vasko is the journey of a deeply troubled man who failed to achieve enlightenment in life, and thus, in the seconds of his death, when his ego and existence cleared away, realized the highest truth which readers sometimes forget when a character is compelling enough: that he is but a character in a book held in the reader’s hands.
In retrospect, it is with this thought that my journey into the occult began in earnest, and I turned from the passive and dissatisfying (to the Western mind) meditative practices of Zen Buddhism to the active coordination with the right brain by way of magick, hermeticism, and, especially, alchemy. All of this is to say, I became a keen student of the functions of the human mind. And I found that my writing exploded; over several years, I developed The Lightning Stenography Device, which is not a sequel to Delilah, but a sort of associate; although it, once more, is rooted in the same vital concept which drives its predecessor: no matter what happens within the confines of its covers, no matter how believable and plastic its characters, no matter how elaborate its technology or magic, no matter what its in-universe origin story, it is, in the end, simply a novel. A novel to which, technically, I wrote all four parts: and yet, a novel in which I had, so far as I can recall, shockingly little creative agency.
2. As An Anthology Within Its Own Universe
How is it possible for an author to write something, and yet have little to no creative agency? The answer to that is complicated, and dependent on who’s doing the answering; but the long and short of it is that, much like Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, The Lightning Stenography Device is an anthology compiled from four stories written by four fictional characters, one of whom does not, strictly speaking, exist in that universe or any other. But those characters, of course, didn’t do any writing within the boundaries of their universe: they produced their portions of the anthology by falling asleep with the book’s eponymous thought-to-text device on their head, thus delivering to them the novel which I was writing, which for them was the future but for me not even a complete story, yet…
You begin to see the confusing layers in which I’ve worked for the past several years!
But, again, clarity comes when one envisions what The Lightning Stenography Device looks like within the boundaries of its own universe, for it is a book there, too, or will be after the events of the novel have come to a completion and our characters have gone on with their lives. This is revealed long after the boredest readers have dropped out, thus missing a chance to understand that this book is really a book from another universe. In the third section, Katherine, we glimpse a conversation between author, Cassius Wagner, and his ex-wife and agent, Minerva Reinholdt, wherein Cassius is attempting to sell the yet-uncomplete collection of stories; although initially skeptical it would be any good, she does admit that it could be spun as a literary anthology on the future of writing.
This is the moment in which readers still with the book would do well to return to the novel’s epigraph:
A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are
to be declared and made known. Praise them with due
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses,
places, events and incidents are either products of the
author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely
Although I confess I personally believe that to be one of the Bible’s better and truer quotes, and certainly find it an appropriate way in which to open the novel, anybody who doesn’t appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humor of having a ‘this is a work of fiction’ disclaimer juxtaposed with a Bible quote is either very Christian or very atheist, and I suspect that these are the two groups—mostly the latter—who are particularly predisposed to dislike this book. I don’t mean to say that all atheists and all Christians will not; the book is, at best, agnostic on the subject of God the Father, although there are characters in the book who seem to believe in the monotheistic, paternalistic godhead. But there are certain brands of atheists whose minds, whether by Dawkins & co. or other means, have been fused into a steel trap which rejects even theoretically discussion which involves the word ‘G-d’; and there are certain brands of Christians who are very gentle or easily-offended souls, and either cannot abide the violence of chapter 5, or may not care for the occult probing of the tenants and images of their faith.
Minerva Reinholdt, for the record, strikes me as a woman who is part of that group of steel trap atheists, although in fairness to her she takes Katherine’s presentation of the prophetic manuscript in the third section of the novel with a relatively opened mind. Nonetheless, she is that logical faculty who, after the story is over, collects the four parts and helps turn them into a proper novel; she publishes it; and we know that, because she leaves her signature, rather than on an individual section as do the rest of our main characters, but upon the very book itself. One may well imagine that it was Hermenoch’s insistence that lead to the addition of the Tobit quote; Minerva’s was, perhaps, wryly added without his advisement. We can never fully know, as these conversations have not yet been recorded in any form perceptible in this place and time, and at this moment.
That is why the best advice I can give readers of The Lightning Stenography Device who find themselves confused is that they slow down and think about the book on those first levels: this is a novel which exists in two worlds because of the eponymous device, and in straddling those two worlds it represents an eternal state wherein it is eternally finished and yet eternally unfinished, eternally a completed and published anthology, and yet an unread, unfinished book in three parts with a secret fourth part for the duration of time in which the reader is reading the first, second, and third sections. The reader’s consciousness is a vehicle which drives and props up the action of the book: reading this book is truly a psychedelic experience. The more one plunges into the depths of the experience and implication of such an experience, the more psychedelic it becomes.
The book’s nature as an anthology means that, within its own universe, parts 1-3 are arguably non-fiction, and part 4 is fiction as much as an allegory for the psychic experience occurring in Katherine’s brain at the moment she reaches and accepts the conscious, feeling awareness that she is a character in a book. What is happening becomes more apparent at the end, although still, to a certain extent, ambiguous. It is apparent that Katherine and Cassius have been conversing, with her consciousness preoccupied; but, is it? When one reads the end of Katherine’s section and then the final two pages of the book together, it becomes apparent that Katherine’s ‘experience’ may or may not have been experienced by her at all; two interpretations are possible, to my mind. Either she experiences Felicity in the space of a second, and, because she begins weeping at the end of her section (while saying Cassius’s name), Cassius is comforting her for that when she comes out of her eternal second; or she does not experience Felicity firsthand at all, and Felicity is only the thought to text device’s metaphor for the feeling and experience that Katherine has in that second in which her consciousness becomes, in life, enlightened. It is the way in which a device made to translate thought patterns into language might interpret what the human experiences and names with the words ‘enlightenment’, ‘satori’, ‘kenshō‘, etc.
You can probably guess that I prefer the latter interpretation.
- As An Alchemical Operation Serving The Spiritual Needs of M. F. Sullivan
If you are a reader of these essays, you know that most of my interpretations are rooted in the truth that every work of fiction, at the end of the day, represents on some level or another the psychic state of its creator at the time and place of its creation. It may contain parts of the creator’s past and imply in mysterious and sometimes frightening ways the artist’s future path; pieces of art are also, often, created to evoke a certain feeling, or to fulfill a certain intent. Magicians and occultists call this sort of thing a ‘sigil’; a sigil created over a long period of time, such as a novel, a comic book series or a television show, has been called by Grant Morrison a ‘hyper-sigil’. Most of the rest of the world just calls this ‘artwork’.
If you are not a reader of these essays, then let me assure you that everything which has been written, consciously or not, reflects the mental intent and content of its author. Charlaine Harris’s sexy vampires? Definitely. Stephanie Meyer’s not-so-sexy vampires? Yeah, it’s all about her intense desire to hump her animus. That big, huge, Gor series about journeying to other worlds and enslaving sexy women? Yes, yeah. Nicholas Sparks? Absolutely. E. L. James? Sadly, yes. All, every single mainstream book every written, even if it is churned out by a ghostwriter in a cave for pennies (I used to write novels like these, and if any readers out there can find them, I’ll give you a free signed copy of Delilah; I never got to figure out the titles of a few of them!), represents the psychic state of the person who wrote it, which really makes me concerned for the real woman behind V. C. Andrews, whose inner children seemed in need of some serious psychiatric help. It also, for the record, makes me pretty envious of Neil Gaiman, whose very relaxed and positive psychic state even in the face of external factors like anxiety or depression is reflected not just in his stories, but also in his personal way of being. One of these days, I’ll do a Coraline essay. At any rate…
The famous psychiatrist and former-student-turned-rival of Freud, Carl Jung, wrote about an idea called the collective unconscious, which posited that there is a sort of collective unconscious from which all conscious material is drawn. To simplify it for those who have just joined us, Jung believed that the DNA of creativity could be traced back to mental experiences he referred to as ‘archetypes’. These archetypes populate all fiction, legend, myth, painting, sculpture, and even those historical figures which most capture our attention do so because they fit one or another of these categories, or sometimes several at once. The archetypes are not fixed; it is sometimes difficult to tell one from another, as the very nature of the unconscious means that things are a sort of miasma. Nonetheless, he identified a great many major archetypes, and then went on to explain how these archetypes presented themselves in everything from fairy tales to how we interact with our fellow man. The long and short of it was that, if the archetypes are not given their due, they wreak psychic hell on the mind, and cause a variety of neuroses or difficulties in relating to other people; even reality. Toward the end of his life, Jung began writing some really fascinating stuff about how even the phenomenon of extraterrestrial life represented an archetypal experience, and this pattern would have been all the clearer to him had science fiction been a literary genre with which he’d grown, rather than a relative novelty, like airplanes. New readers are encouraged to check out the essay on Ted Chiang’s STORY OF YOUR LIFE/ARRIVAL, available for free on this blog, to see a little more about what I mean; this subject will also be broached in our future Book of the New Sun/Works of Gene Wolfe essay.
However, the archetypes are not always bad. They can be easily given their due in the form of art, and they often repay us for our troubles by helping to improve our lives, when we consciously work with them. Primitive men and women turned their archetypal experiences into gods; in the 1600s, alchemists had theirs projected upon hopes of gold and homunculi, often conjuring a variety of spirits and gods in their works; in the future, as Jung himself wrote, the archetype will no doubt be re-defined in the presence of a new cultural context to suit the times with a truer, clearer definition. Consciousness is a fascinating gift because it is capable of observing itself, of experiencing itself and what it is to be alive in a way that other entities, though they live, cannot. How does a tree interpret its blueprints to become a great tree? It does not; but how would it, given consciousness? Perhaps it would imagine a far larger, more patient, more knowledgeable tree, already having far exceeded the height of possible growth and ascended to the Platonic plane of perfect treehood, there to guide and show it the way. We cannot know; we are not trees. But we do know that humans, beginning from an early age, often have something called imaginary friends. When imaginary friends become unacceptable, the Church turns them into guardian angels, and their bearers turn them into the characters of fiction and artwork. When these outlets are not viable, or something is wrong with the brain, we experience ghosts, extraterrestrial contact, or schizophrenic hallucinations which try to talk us into suicide (assuming we live in the West; studies have shown the dispositions of a schizophrenic’s voices are effected by their cultural climate, and that, in more ancestor-conscious Eastern cultures, schizophrenics are visited by gentle, caring voices who are often family members). But, interestingly, the alchemists and hermeticists developed a deliberate pattern by which one could work with these archetypes, and this alchemical pattern has influenced the works of writers from Shakespeare to Ecco.
This is all to say, for those who might not be familiar with the concept, that everything can be boiled down to its psychic archetypes and interpreted as a psychic experience: The Lightning Stenography Device is no exception. Told in four parts, the novel can be broken down into an alchemical operation. Jung described the various steps in detail in a number of books, particularly in volume 14 of his collected works, the Mysterium Coniunctionis. Talk about a literary psychedelic experience! That book changed my life. Read it if you haven’t; it is impossible to describe. In it, he details many of the symbols of the alchemical process, and I will refrain from regurgitating all of them here, much as I will refrain, as much as possible, from spoiling the novel in detail. Yet, there will be some repetition, and there will be some spoilers: be warned.
1. Nigredo – Mt. Ida
In a book where the sections are named for its narrators and the choice of viewpoint used is indicative of a character’s state of consciousness, the third person first section of the book is named for the mountain which silently overlooks the dark and violent proceedings. The nigredo, also known as the massa confusa, as a bleak and rotten point of no return. Its symbols are death, crows, and putrefaction; an interesting book which delves into the subject’s literary applications is The Chemical Theater by Charles Nicholl, who takes particular time analyzing the storm scene of King Lear and explains that it is an alchemical vessel in which the change takes place.
Similarly, Mt. Ida concerns a storm, and a pair of scientist brothers, Hermes and Enoch. It explores their discovery of the device’s capabilities shortly after its creation, the process of its creation being immaterial beside the fact that, when worn during sleep, the device seems to produce a prescient story: at least, for Enoch. Hermes is left unable to produce such a miracle, and, in jealousy, drives his brother to suicide: an act which Enoch commits while wearing the device, and which produces another story. This story, we will come to discern, is the story known in our three-dimensional universe as Delilah, My Woman; but, in its own universe, and the universe of The Lightning Stenography Device, it is not only a disgustingly tacky piece of non-fiction, but it is a book would should not, and can not, exist.
I will take this moment to admit that, while I do not view The Lightning Stenography Device as a sequel to Delilah, My Woman, it is the second step in an alchemical operation. In this larger work, Delilah is clearly the nigredo: it is a violent death from which there is no possibility of return. It can only be used as the manure by which flowers may spring. Thus, it is produced by the nigredo of The Lightning Stenography Device, this dark first step wherein the pagan mindset of the hermetic alchemist, represented by the left-brain brother Hermes, supersede the Christian values of my own upbringing and the era in which we live, represented by the fragile and right-brained Enoch. Hermes then steals his dead brother’s identity, which, in my opinion, is symbolic of the fact that my magickal and occult work often decks itself in Christian trappings, when really it is only the Devil, disguising himself so as to better advocate.
So, if you stopped reading this book because it was about God: surprise! It’s actually about the Devil, which, in alchemical terms, Hermenoch certainly is. Strictly speaking, he would qualify as ‘the Spirit Mercurius’, that psychic servant summoned by the alchemist who drives the bulk of the operation, combines all the opposing aspects in need of combination and, in the end, is transformed or liberated. But, a rose by any other name: the Biblical Devil is only the chthonic aspect of the Spirit Mercurius. For a very thorough explanation of this relation, please refer to the multi-part series, Alchemical Devilry, available on this blog. Although, I do admit, the Devil does little more than lead to God when his works are closely examined.
At any rate: at the end of the nigredo, aka, Mt. Ida, Hermenoch is, indeed, liberated. We do not see him leave, but we know that he does, and goes on to release the device he and his dead brother created together, giving his dead brother full credit by virtue of his stolen identity. He does this, we will find, less for success than to discover the other people in the world capable of ‘receiving’ prescient text by means of the device: and this happens shortly after the device’s release, in the form of our albedo.
2. Albedo – Cassius
One of my favorite things about this book is the way it provides perspective into the minds of the people of read it. Who do you think is the main character, for instance? I think a lot of readers will going into the book suspecting, as I did, that Cassius is the main character, and that is, in part, by design. But the more I wrote, the more it became apparent that the center of the story was really Katherine. Cassius, nonetheless, is highly important. An author more famous than she, he loves Katherine, has for years, and wishes to marry her; but he is frequently spurned, for, though she is committed to him in all but title, she clearly has reservations about the final plunge.
With every character meaning something, Cassius begins in short order to resemble the animus, a figure of consciousness. His desire to fuse to the ego/shadow, represented by Katherine, is the drive of the animus to purify and heighten consciousness by heightened ideals and understanding of itself. This is represented in the alchemical operation as the albedo, which is a sort of healing marriage between the conscious and unconscious states within an individual person, and is commonly represented by symbols of marriage between the male, which generally represents consciousness, and the female, which Jung believed generally represented in fiction written by men to represent matter and unconsciousness. This is not to say women are unconscious or incapable of full consciousness, and I believe I have touched on, in previous essays, Jung’s erroneous interpretation of the difference between the black sun of a man’s archetypal constellation versus a woman’s black sun archetype, which he seemed to believe to be, at least in part, irredeemable. What is the black sun archetype? In a word, it is the shadow in men; but in women, it is something far more interesting, more related to an unpurified, toxic, or even nigredo form of the animus.
As our devilish Hermenoch points out to Cassius during their meeting near the end of the second step of the operation, Cassius once crossed paths with the violent killer, Richard Vasko, ill-fated star of Delilah, My Woman. This meeting is recorded in the novel and thus, in the REM novel produced by Enoch’s suicide, recounted as an essentially meaningless detail; however, their meeting, in retrospect, becomes serendipitous to Cassius as it does to us. The black sun of Richard Vasko is supplanted in the second part of the alchemical operation by the purified, golden sun of Cassius, and this is symbolic even to the point of their hair colors, with Richard being described through his affinity with his father as a dark-haired man, and Cassius in The Lightning Stenography Device as an aging man who used to be blond. Cassius, then, is not just an archetype of consciousness, abstracted in Jung’s Mysterium and many other alchemical works to the figure of the sun or the animus; he is one in need of renewal, and is thus, while not as Saturnine in aspect as his forebear, not as Jovian as once he was. This renewal will mean the rebirth of the whole system, and is accomplished, as we said, by union with the unconscious, female aspect. And by bringing the light of consciousness into the unconscious, we make it conscious: The Lightning Stenography Device is an attempt, in part, to shed light on that which cannot be put fully into words, for it is by definition unconscious.
(I am sorry to all those readers still with me who have not read about alchemy before and, once more, have no idea what I am saying. At this point I would recommend going through previous essays or familiarizing yourself with some basic alchemical terms and themes: the symbols of planets, minerals, plants and other natural phenomenon all have important weight to the unconscious and, therefore, to alchemy. This is why magicians and soothsayers are always monkeying around with crystals!)
There is an important alchemical motif which I have described many times on this blog, and which Jung explores in great detail in Mysterium, Psychology and Alchemy, and many other of his collected works. My general recommendation is readers begin with 9.1, go to 14, and then scan through the works as one will. Aion, 9.2, would actually be very challenging without having read Mysterium first, in my opinion; I haven’t been clear, ever, on the reason for their numbering. It is a very enlightening experience and a very helpful order, and at some point along the journey you will begin to understand a little better The Axiom Of Maria, Maria Prophetissa being a 3rd century female alchemist who may or may not have existed and who is primarily drawn from the work of an alchemist named Zosimos. Yet again, characters within characters, writing their own fiction— and Maria’s axiom goes something like this: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.” I will add for the layman and refresh for the alchemist the importance of the quarternity over the trinity in alchemy, and to Jung. I go into this subject much more in the Alchemical Devilry series for those interested.
Jung’s general statement on this axiom was that it indicated the creation of the psychic self (‘one as the fourth’, the whole, singular One which emerges from an alchemical operation or a psychiatric session) emerging from the splitting of the self into various archetypes, and re-combining them through alchemy, called the Great Work, or magnum opus. There is no end to the similarity between alchemy and art, because alchemy is also the Art, and art is ruled by the same laws as alchemy.
Therefore, alchemy is not the turning of lead into gold: it is the following of the patterns of nature to achieve a grand end. But that symbol of lead into gold, of the nigredo into the final rubedo, is one of the most efficient symbols by which one can provoke an alchemical operation, and I would challenge anyone to write a well-researched story about an alchemist without coming out changed. More whole, more active, less depressed. Amazing, what good artwork can do for the soul of he who creates it! But it is not all sunshine and roses. The alchemical process is difficult and it is very challenging to reach that fourth. Jung describes at one point a fairy tale about a three-legged horse, and explains that its missing fourth leg represents that fourth aspect of consciousness which must, by its nature, remain unconscious. It can be imagined, perhaps, by implication, and, in a way, divined; but it can never be directly observed. Such is the nature of the four parts of The Lightning Stenography Device. Indeed, by the third step of the operation, the issue of consciousness-less matter, aka unconsciousness, aka the shadow, is the focus of the issue. Is it possible to imbue matter with consciousness? Not to allow matter’s circuits to play host to consciousness, but for matter to understand and be conscious, itself? This, as Hermenoch says, is the difference between intellectual understanding and firsthand experience: the expansion of consciousness is not an objective, measurable event, but a subjective, firsthand one. But, with a device like the LSD, it has the capacity to become an objective event: with all art, consciousness expansion may become an objective event, however veiled it must be by a profusion of symbols. But it is never an easy road, especially when that which must be awakened would much rather be asleep.
3. Xanthosis – Katherine
In men, the anima emerges as our figure of consciousness and serves as our figure of the soul; however, in women, (the M. in M. F. Sullivan is ‘Magdalene’, if you were wondering), it is the animus which reigns supreme in the psychic sense. Jung postulated that the shadow is our gateway into the unconscious, and is generally the same sex as the beholder. The shadow is also a source of, or container for, corruption of one kind or another, in need of purification and transformation into a holier entity. After receiving for Christmas a copy of The Alchemical Tarot (a wonderful deck by Robert M. Place which I would recommend to all occultists, particularly readers of this blog), I was struck by the symbolism of the nine of wands/staffs’ transformation into the ten, which depicts the burning of a wolf (antimony, Mercurius, the prima materia) and its transformation into a phoenix (Mercurius as lapis, ultima materia, the rubedo). It is a particularly poetic expression of the manner in which the pressure undergone by the hermetic vessel alters for the better its substance, removing those impure elements and reveal its purity, its power, and its holiness. In alchemy, the stage representing the extraction of those impure elements from the shadow is generally most easily described as that of xanthosis. In an essay available on this blog, The Xanthosis of Tobit, I go into the meaning of this stage in a rather roundabout way. In The Lightning Stenography Device, the entire third section of the book is devoted to the firsthand experience of xanthosis when the hermetic vessel is a book and the ingredients of the lapis are self-aware characters. Katherine’s section is more disjointed and more difficult to follow, more rooted in the past problems of her family which she does not care to explore. There are a great many issues with which Katherine is burdened which she yet struggles to avoid acknowledging; foremost among these is the nature of her relative, Richard Vasko, and her struggle to come to terms with the fact that the substance of her murderous uncle is the same as her own.
That is one of the most important struggles of being an alchemist, or any religious sort. We must see the evil in us, and not just accept it, but integrate it into our art and our compassion. This is also a subject to be discussed more in the Book of the New Sun essays, but for now, suffice it to say that Katherine’s greatest problem is, as it is for many of us, admitting that she has one. Admitting that she is not fearless; admitting that she cannot explain everything, or even anything. The nature of xanthosis is the acknowledgement of our own inner toxicity, for, in acknowledging it, we have begun to extract it.
And yet, when she reaches that moment in her consciousness, her unconscious is pressed up against her conscious way of being: and she is able, in that instant, to reach the highest catharsis possible for a fictional character. She is able to experience firsthand that she is a character in a work of fiction in that particular iteration of herself which she is consciously experiencing, and through this knowledge and understanding she reaches higher understandings about matter and consciousness which are beyond expression for left-brained, human language— but not for right-brained, symbolic language, which is the pan-dimensional, trans-spatial, hyper-spiritual language of consciousness. Symbolic language operates on all levels, and if you don’t believe me, commit yourself to cleaning your messy-ass room and keeping it that way for six months, then see what that does to your psychic state. A magician or occultist or alchemist or priest or imam or even a scientist (although, ironically, this last category knows it the least well of any of the others) all operate with symbolic language, and those most successful ones do it in so many dimensions (I mean, in works of art, in real life and also with their actions across time) that, to them, it is simply a way of life. The best magicians have believed in, or maybe never even heard of, magic. To them, and to most of the rest of the world, it is just the nature of their successful way of life. But the truth is that when we dress and hold ourselves and speak a certain way, we are unconsciously queuing the people around us to respond to us in a certain way. Symbols are more important than you think, and symbols are, literally, every thing which exists upon this world, and beyond it. This is especially true of literature: and this is especially true of section four of The Lightning Stenography Device, called ‘Felicity‘.
4. Rubedo – Felicity
The abrupt beginning of Felicity, as well as its abrupt shift in tone, has been the cause of confusion for some readers, but I would encourage these to go back and study the text again with a mind to the interpretation that, within its own universe, this text represents an anthology; I would also recommend, as I suggested above, connecting the conversation had by Cassius at the end of section 3 with the last page and a half or so of the novel.
To unfurl all of the symbolism laden, intentionally or no, within the pages of Felicity would possibly require a book of its own. The story is dense, with meaning on levels personal, magical, spiritual and far more, both to myself and to Katherine. The most concise interpretation of the section which I myself can give is: In the seconds in which Katherine’s consciousness and physical brain experience the process called ‘enlightenment’, the thought to text device on her head interprets this experience as the text of Felicity, which represents not only the heightening of her consciousness, but the experience of processing her pain and grief over her own family tragedies; the processing of her feelings toward Cassius, her own femininity, and fidelity; and the alteration of her personal standpoint to such a transformative degree that the section could be most keenly described as an act of Jungian individuation.
Reading Delilah, My Woman before you read this book will only help you so much, which is one of many reasons why I refuse to consider them part of a traditional series. I will say, however, that readers of Delilah stand a slightly, and I do mean slightly better chance of gleaning this interpretation right off, without a lot of thought.
(As a side note: I have received a few low reviews from readers who were disappointed to find that this was a book which required them to think. I am at a loss for words other than to apologize to them for wasting their time; but I will say that my favorite thing about a book is that one can digest its text at one’s own pace, free from the constraints inflicted on one’s mind by the fast cuts of a film or a television show. This is a day and age with bestseller lists ruled by Bill O’Reilly and young adult fiction; I would rather see readers slow down. The pattern I have noticed is that the readers who read The Lightning Stenography Device the fastest have enjoyed it and understood it the least.)
I will avoid connecting all the dots for you (and there is a very dense tapestry of symbols being shared between the two sections to draw from), but I will say that Felicity‘s two most intelligible breakdowns are by way of the Timothy Leary 8-Circuit Model of Consciousness, and as its own, secondary alchemical operation within the greater alchemical operation of The Lightning Stenography Device. The entire experience, from the nigredo in which Matter’s crows destroy Consciousness, to the renewal of The Red King of the West in an obvious rubedo, is a microcosm of the microcosm of the macrocosm. But what is the alchemical rubedo? As ever, it is not simple to explain: called ‘the reddening’, it signals the emergence of the Stone, and the completion of the operation. It is marked by symbols such as the phoenix, a man dressed in red, the renewal of the symbolic King or sun, and many more besides: it is also a moment of pure, breathless catharsis. As usual, readers interested in this subject are encouraged to turn to Jung’s Mysterium. The very act of reading his interpretations seems to elicit in the brain something of a psychedelic, consciousness-heightening experience, and it is this which I seek to elicit in The Lightning Stenography Device, particularly in its final moments. If the completion of the book, and of the operation, appear to happen abruptly, it is because its task has completed, and the existence of the book itself is a kind of denouement.
I will, however, admit that a few of the problems posed by Hermenoch are unsolved: particularly, the problem of Hermenoch, himself. Wouldn’t it be nice (and wouldn’t he just love it) if he were to get his own book someday? Get your friends to buy some copies of The Lightning Stenography Device to make sure I’ll have the time to do it. With two novels in progress, three novels in editing and a visual novel in the works, my schedule is packed full, so don’t expect the book tomorrow. But, someday; which is a convenient segue into the next interpretation of The Lightning Stenography Device.
5. As A Bridge (Or Pillar) Connecting Many Novels, Some Written, Some Not
As a small child, I was fascinated by the concept of books within books. Though this love began in earnest with the works of Lemony Snicket, (in particular, his ‘Unauthorized Autobiography’, which is a hilarious and fascinating puzzle box blurring fiction and reality of the type which Daniel Handler’s literary persona represents to begin with), I graduated in middle school, with real fascination, to the pulp fiction master of the non-existent text, H. P. Lovecraft. What I enjoyed about Lovecraft was not what he wrote, so much as what he didn’t write: those stories which are his shortest are often his best. The first one I fell in love with was not the first I read, “The Tomb”, whose Byronic necrophiliac narrator still echoes through my work from time to time today; rather, the first Lovecraft story I loved was the one read to me by my father, one Halloween when I was maybe seven or eight. “The Statement of Randolph Carter” affected me in ways I cannot explain, and still effects me to this day— in 8th grade, in fact, I wrote an adaptation radio play for a class project. Lovecraft is the master of the implication, and, in retrospect, what so amazed and startled me about this particular text was it feels, more than all his others, that it is not a text he himself wrote, but rather, it is truly the statement of a traumatized man from another world. That is what is being implied in the title, and that is how it feels throughout, all the way to that chilling final line which even now brings a pleasing shudder to my bones. The story’s abrupt ending left me desperate for more, but I had to be satisfied with that small window into Randolph’s universe, which felt, to me, so real.
As a middle schooler diving into Lovecraft’s work, I often asked myself what kind of idiot would get thrust up into being the main characters of these plots, no matter what knowledge could be attained; and yet, simultaneously, I was obsessed with the concept of the Necronomicon and wished, wished that it existed so I could read it. How’s that for cognitive dissonance? Only as an adult was I able to admit to myself how fascinated I was in the occult, and I have all my life hungered to varying degrees of admission and/or consciousness to know, in a firsthand and tangible way while I am alive on this earth in this body called Magdalene Sullivan, the experience of God. I find it interesting that my preferred route to experience that has wound up being not just fiction, but meta-fiction, in which the artifice of the narrative becomes a model for reality. Stories have always been of utmost import to me, and I have always, always, in many different ways, desired to tell and write them. But I have always most wanted to read those which I can not read, and to experience those things which do not exist.
That is the source of my love for Lolita, ultimately. The book is a treasure trove, a masterful weaving of fancy and reality much as its narrator’s pitiful and prurient justifications. It is full of songs which do not exist, of novels and authors which are not real here but which clearly are real, at least, to Humbert Humbert: and if you would ask Humbert Humbert, he would assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt, fair men and women of the jury, that he is as wholly real as he is a poet-murderer. Those forces of our imagination are the most pure and powerful form of artificial intelligence, because their hardware is the human brain connected to the mind which manifests them, and their software is that same mind stated. All things, past and future, already exist: they are only awaiting the energy to allow their manifestation in this physical world. Without that energy to manifest them, they are but potential, and that potential is often as intriguing, or more, than the final result: but how can that be known if the final result is never brought into existence? The ideal, of course, is a book or story or experience or painting or thing as perfect or intriguing as that which we imagine: but this is what caused me to write and re-write Delilah, My Woman for seven years and seven drafts, and what drove its narrator to commit his heinous crimes. In that book, I wove many references, mostly to actually existent books; but some, such as the then-unnamed works of Cassius Wagner, were not. And Richard’s paintings, of course, can never exist in this world, no more than Delilah, My Woman can exist in the world of The Lightning Stenography Device without the help of its eponymous transcription machine. What is happening to allow the transmission of this? Ultimately, the highest reality of it is this:
I, the author, am simply deciding that they will Receive the text.
Unsatisfying? Not really. That is the ultimate reality of all works of fiction. Their author made a choice. The God the characters of The Lightning Stenography Device address is not so much the traditional godhead, but rather me, and I, in my role as author, play to them a kind of symbol of the far greater demiurge. The highest godhead, expressed for ease of reference here as Kether, is unknowable. It is that missing fourth leg of the horse which we cannot experience. And yet, as Jung translates from the didactic poem, Sopra la composizione della pietra dei Philosophi, “O emulous Sons of Divine Hermes, to whom the paternal Art makes Nature visible without any veil, you, you alone, know how the eternal Hand fashioned earth and Heaven out of shapeless Chaos. Your own great Work clearly shows you that God made Everything in the same manner as the Physical Elixir is produced.” (Jung, Mysterium, pg 339)
The patterns of the Art imply the patterns of creation established by that Eternal, Highest and most Unknowable Godhead. The unkowability of Kether is why I personally prefer to approach the Church and all its trappings through the Devil and the occult. Ultimately, when one works with the Devil and not for the Devil, and one does not confuse the archetype of Mercurius in his chthonic aspect as the nebulous ‘Devil’ figure with the material-focused Church of Satan and tiresome LaVey nonsense, the open-minded realize that the Devil is as much a servant of God as any angel: perhaps more, for he requires liberation from matter in most every appearance he makes, whether or not he accomplishes it.
That is what is so interesting to me about The Lightning Stenography Device, ultimately: it is a fictional book which has been made a real book, much as Delilah is, in the world of The Lightning Stenography Device, fictionalized. When a fictional artists lists fictional authors as much as real ones among their influences, who are we to say that the fictional authors are any less real to that fictional artist than our so-called ‘real’ authors? When a book does not exist to us, does that mean it does not exist at all?
Several non-existent books are named within the pages of The Lightning Stenography Device, namely the first of Cassius’s Jason Eagle books, The Crows’ Cries At Dawn, his (lightly fictionalized) memoir, The Fields, The Flowers, and two of Katherine’s published books, Burning Lilies and Romulus. More than all of these, however, the most fictional book of The Lightning Stenography Device is the book itself, an anthology in its own world and a novel in ours. For, Enoch’s creation of the device did not just allow Delilah and The LSD to be transmitted to the characters within the narrative: as the main driver of the plot, it allowed the book to exist at all, in this world and any other. The book is a column through multiple dimensions of perceptive existence which not only connects the author/reader to the character, but which also extends out beyond itself and into its influences: texts which we know, and texts which we don’t.
(Eagle-eyed readers will note the synopsis of a play called Romulus available on this site. Although the plot does match to a certain extent Katherine’s novel, her prose version is more elaborate and more layered, and probably meta-fiction to a certain extent: the plot of her book was inspired by the original plot envisioned for The Lightning Stenography Device, way back when it was about something completely different, before the concept of the device had been created.)
To me, The Lightning Stenography Device is fascinating for being the center of that web, not just of works which have influenced me, but which are my own. It contains connections to works which I have not yet written and have not yet even envisioned; it also contains connections to two works I have finished, The Disgraced Martyr Trilogy and the play, The Red King of The West. For the former, I am currently in search of an agent; the latter, I seek production. Until then, readers hungry for more of my work will have to keep checking the blog, for, after all, we should not forget that last, best way to interpret The Lightning Stenography Device:
6. As A Reader’s Doorway To (Or Refresher On) Consciousness Expansion
It should be obvious by now that the primary goal in writing The Lightning Stenography Device was, in part, a selfish one; but it was also written with an eye toward being transparent as possible about its occult roots. I wish for the genealogy of the novel to be traceable for those readers interested in analyzing it, and I wish, in particular, for Felicity to inspire people to write their own acts of active imagination. Endless reading about the works of alchemists and Jung only amounts to swallowing quicksilver. It leads not to immortality, but to poisoning. Yet, if the principles of alchemy are applied to one’s work, one becomes an unstoppable machine of creativity. You might even say, a force of Nature.
The Lightning Stenography Device is available for pre-order through Amazon.com and .co.uk, in hardback, paperback and ebook editions: it will be published on March 19th, 2018. Until then, be sure to check Netgalley.com to see the latest reviews, and come back here over the next few weeks (Fridays, generally) for the promised series on The Book of The New Sun.