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The Para-Academia Series

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The Para-Academia Series
Ongoing workshops co-produced by the Public School New York and the Hollow Earth Society

A Shadow Genealogy of the Ivory Tower/Producing the Unwriteable


The para is the “alongside,” that which comments on the official or normative. While academics debate the finer points of Shakespeare and Kant, para-academics aggregate around shadow-commentators whose works do not so much categorize (striate) and enlighten (bring light into) difficult terrain, but produce that terrain, creating obscure spaces and nebulous discourses that are immune to traditional academic approaches.

Blogs, speculative medievalisms, Cyclonopedia, Charles Fort, teratology, print-on-demand—these and other tentacles of a polycephalic (many-headed) para-academia have entwined to produce an addendum and, finally, an ultimatum to established disciplines and practices.

The Public School New York and the Hollow Earth Society will explore these emerging ideas and modes of expression through a series of discussions and writing workshops, with audio available after each session.


Next session

Para-Academia | Session 6: Cybernetics [Title TBA]
Facilitated by Ethan Gould

Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 8:00pm
Observatory at Proteus Gowanus, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn

Description to come


Ideas for future sessions/wish list

***We are looking for facilitators: If you are interested, please send us a message via the comment board below***

• Genetic Engineering in Your Basement
• Meme analysis as para-academic
• Twitter and media without criticism, networks that parasite their parasites
• Bolano and the fictive depiction of academics/somehow relate to terror, earlier talks on limits of depiction of such
• Mikhail Epstein and "Proto": What Comes After Post-Modernity?
• Guy Maddin, David Cronenberg, and David Lynch: cinema of the unnameable, the invisible, the beyond: beyond the limits of cinematic terror/semiosis
• Deleuze and his Appropriation By/Infinite Utility to the Neo-Liberals, Neo-Conservatives, and the Freaks
• P. K. Dick and the Gnostics
• Abe Kobo, the homeless' box/the hospital (urban wild), the ice age, the desert, and marriage: future biomes of today/biomes of the apocalypse
• Derrida
• Borges, Serres, and para-time (and para-academics/professors in fiction) Michel Serres: para as between disciplines, what has been omitted by specialization—to Serres, a form of or means for freedom of thought
• Bataille and Erotism: the New Sociology of Consumption and Taboo in the Infinite Sexual Economy
• Nietzsche and nihilism
• Necromomicon! - HPL, Pavic, Nabokov, Cyclonopedia, even Capitalism and Schizophrenia: How do these diverse incompletable texts work to generate the anti-discourse merely observed by/in most criticism and even most speculator fiction?
• Nick Land, Accelerationism, CCRU (Nick Land, Sadie Plant, Matthew Fuller, Kode 9, Kodwo Eshun, and Mark Fisher, see, Hyperstition
• Kodwo Eshun, Afrofuturism, Otolith Group
• Pataphysics, Alfred Jarry, Oulipo
• Baudrillard, pata-physician; Fatal Strategies; definition of theory-fiction
• Vilém Flusser (media studies, exile and creativity); collaboration with Louis Bec: Vampyroteuthis Infernalis (writing and illustrations as "philosophical fiction")
• Comte de Lautréamont and Maldoror
• Aby Warburg, Mnemosyne, Giordano Bruno, library
• The Diagram—graphical memory devices of Ramon Llull, Giordano Bruno, Peter Ramus and Rhetoric, etc.; Frances Yates’ Art of Memory, Deleuze 
• John Zorn, Tzadik, John Coltrane, and other avant-garde composers (music as theory-fiction?) 
• Fernando Pessoa, heteronyms, The Book of Disquiet 
• Dexter Sinister ---> The Serving Library, “para” publishing and “para” libraries (also The Reanimation Library) pushing us toward the future of the page, the screen, and beyond
• Zach Blas; networked media, queerness, and politics; Queer Technologies 
• Harry Everett Smith, cross-sections of musicology, occultism, film, drugs, etc.
• Robert Smithson, George Kubler, and information theory/Cybernetics


Past sessions

Para-Academia & Theory-Fiction | Session 1: On Commentary
Facilitated by Nicola Masciandaro
Thursday, May 19, 8:00pm 
Observatory at Proteus Gowanus, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn

Questioning the concept of the 'marginal', this session will consider commentary as a para-academic and theory-fictional mode of thinking and writing. Specific topics to be discussed include: geometrics of commentarial thought, contemplation vs. speculation, hidden writing and acontextual scholarship, philological eros, destructive reading. A theoretical introduction will be followed by open discussion of the texts and dialogue about the futures of commentary. 


Giorgio Agamben, "Project for a Review." (also available on AAAAARG) 
Anna Kłosowksa and Nicola Masciandaro. Beyond the Sphere: A Dialogic Commentary on the Ultimate Sonetto of Dante's Vita Nuova. (also available on AAAAARG)

Further reading/listening:

Nicola Masciandaro. “Becoming Spice: Commentary as Geophilosophy.” Collapse VI: Geo/Philosophy (2010): 20-56. 
Nicola Masciandaro and Reza Negarestani. "Black Metal Commentary." Hideous Gnosis. 257-66. 
"The Future of Commentary." A roundtable discussion with David Greetham, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Avital Ronell, Jesus Rodriguez Velasco. MP3 here:

Para-Academia & Theory-Fiction | Session 2: On Bataille/Lovecraft
Facilitated by Wythe Marschall
Tuesday, June 21, 8:00pm 
Observatory at Proteus Gowanus, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn

The second session of this series will consider links between two highly disparate authors whose work during the 1920s and 30s concerned, among other things, the unspeakable, the limits of philosophy, heterology (study of extreme "Otherness"), and cosmic terror.

Though they were on different planets politically, French anti-philosopher Georges Bataille and American horror luminary Howard Phillips Lovecraft shared a common concern for the foundation of a new, materialist mythology that can see beyond Reason, reconnect man to the world of things (and shit, and horrible creatures), and speak to the unutterable terror of being alive—of being trapped on a ball of mud circling a much larger ball of fire.  (The realization of this terror produces "gnostic vertigo.")

Following a brief investigation of each writer, we will search for the moment of gnostic vertigo in both fiction and philosophy.  Organized around short texts, the class will allow for open discussions on key themes (a new materialist mythology, aporia/unspeakable-ness, the limits of philosophy, Other-ness in extremis).

We will also share brief essays of our crafting in the heterological tradition of Bataille.  That's right! You have a writing assignment (optional but recommended) to complete before class: Please write a 1–2 page essay on a single heterological theme.  Bataille wrote short, powerful meditations on the eye, the big toe, human sacrifice in Aztec culture, Dali's paintings, cave paintings, Van Gogh's sacrificed ear, the solar anus (the sun, the anus, things you "can't" look at), and other taboo/totally "Other" elements.  Please pick some heterogeneous element and investigate it totally from the standpoint of science/materialism/use value/economics (work), society/history (taboo), mythology (archetype, literature), and religion/the unconscious (dream).

Examples include Bataille's "Eye" and "Rotten Sun" in the course packet.  Random thematic suggestions for potential Lovecraftian crossovers include tentacles, jellyfish, sponges, clay/mud, pillar cities/weird architectures, whispers/rasps, and the like.

Wythe Marschall is a writer and artist.  He works in advertising during the week and teaches writing at Brooklyn College on the weekend.  With illustrator Ethan Gould, Wythe is the founder of the Hollow Earth Society, a pacifist army, conceptual art movement, and para-academic educational network.


**Texts available as a PDF for download here

Primary texts:

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu, 1928 
Georges Bataille, "The Pineal Eye," in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939

Supplementary texts:

Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Volume 1: Consumption, 1967 
Georges Bataille, Selections from Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 
Georges Bataille, Conclusion from Theory of Religion, 1973

Extra supplementary texts:

Georges Bataille, "The Cruel Practice of Art," 1949 
Georges Bataille, "The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade, 1930 
Georges Bataille, "The Story of the Eye," 1928

Para-Academia & Theory-Fiction | Session 3: Nabokov, Coincidence and Otherwordliness
Facilitated by Steve Aubrey 
Tuesday, August 23 at 8:00pm
Observatory at Proteus Gowanus, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899-1977) is perhaps most famous for Lolita and Pale Fire, novels of startling linguistic and literary playfulness. But as his wife, Vera, wrote in a foreword to a collection of his poetry in 1979, the true watermark of Nabokov's work is the concept of "potustoronnost" or otherwordliness. Though much of Nabokov's work may seem straight-forward and realist, lurking underneath his fiction is an entire pantheon of ghosts, shades, demons and devils that comprise the true world of Nabokov's writings. 


Please read the following short stories by Nabokov: "Signs and Symbols" and "The Vane Sisters". They can be found here


In his famous letter to Katharine A. White, the chief editor of The New Yorker, while explaining the intricate riddle‐like structure of "The Vane Sisters," which had been rejected by the magazine, Nabokov mentioned that some of his stories are composed according to the same system "wherein a second (main) story is woven into, or placed behind, the superficial semitransparent one." This second story was frequently mystical or supernatural making his stories a collaboration between this world and the next. 

Try and write your own text (story, poem, dialogue) where the real and supernatural worlds collaborate. 

Stephen Aubrey descends from hardy New England stock. He is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, dramaturg, lecturer, storyteller and recovering medievalist. His writing has appeared in Publishing Genius, Commonweal, The Brooklyn Review, Pomp & Circumstance, Forté and The Outlet. He inexplicably holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Hollow Earth Society and is an instructor of English at Brooklyn College. 

He is also a co-founder and the resident dramaturg and playwright of The Assembly Theater Company. His plays have been produced at The Ontological-Hysteric Theater, The Flea Theater, The Collapsable Hole, The Brick Theater, Symphony Space, the Abingdon Theater Complex, UNDER St Marks, The Philly Fringe and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where his original play, We Can’t Reach You, Hartford, was nominated for a 2006 Fringe First Award. 

He has an MFA from Brooklyn College where he received the Himan Brown Prize and the Ross Feld Writing Award and a BA with Honors from the College of Letters at Wesleyan University. 

He is—for the record—not a Christian singer-songwriter. He does, however, hold the dubious distinction of having coined the word “playlistism” in 2003.

Para-Academia & Theory Fiction | Session 4: Complicitous Continuums: The Horrors of the Cosmicist Earth
Facilitated by Ben Woodard
Saturday, September 17 at 1:00pm
Observatory at Proteus Gowanus, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn

This course will explore the Geo-philosophical earth as theory-fictional node for explaining a cosmicism/universalism in which the outside is continuously advancing upon all purportedly firm grounds and solid bodies. Weirdness, as in the weird of weird fiction and the darkness of dark romanticism and the crumble of the gothic, will be explored as the intrusion of the non-local upon the local, arguing that all stability is in fact subject to continuous degradation, shift, and collapse. 

The first half of the course will be a lecture and the second will be a discussion. To help in facilitating discussion please write a 1-2 page response to any/all of the readings with the relation of the geological to thinking in mind. 

Required Reading:

“The Festival” by HP Lovecraft 
“A Bit of the Dark World” by Fritz Leiber
“The Metamorphosis of the Earth,” by Clark Ashton Smith 

Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani. In particular these selections: 
Machines are Digging 41-68 
Telluro-Magnetic Conspiracy Towards the Sun I Solar Rattle 145-153 
Telluro-Magnetic Conspiracy Towards the Sun II The Core 161-166

Suggested Reading:

“The Last Feast of the Harlequin” by Thomas Ligotti 
“Solar Inferno and The Earthbound Abyss” – Reza Negarestani 
“Triebkrieg” by Reza Negarestani 
“Drafting the Inhuman” by Reza Negarestani in The Speculative Turn 

Further Suggested Reading: 
Edgar Huntly by William Brockden Brown 
Collapse v VI ed. Robin Mackay 

Ben Woodard is a PhD candidate at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario. His work focuses on the concept of Nature in German Idealism, philosophies of becoming, contemporary philosophy, as well as in Weird and Speculative fiction. In addition to On an Ungrounded Earth, his book Slime Dynamics: Generation, Mutation, and the Creep of Life is forthcoming from Zer0 books. He blogs at Speculative Heresy and Naught Thought.

Para-Academia | Session 5: 
A Crossing without Borders: Death in the Thought of Jacques Derrida
Facilitated by Jonathan Basile 

Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 6:00pm 
Observatory at Proteus Gowanus, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn 

What is death? How does our being mortal shape the possibilities of our cognition and our desire? How should we live in order to come to terms with the term of life, and how does our orientation towards a good death become an art of living? How does the history of thinking about death shape our understanding of these possibilities, and how do the cultural and other differences surrounding the treatment of death play a part in constituting those very differences—the demarcations of ethnicities, nations, religions, genders, etc.—all the lines drawn on this side of the division between life and death? What does thinking about death in general reveal to us about death in our culture—about our medical industry, about our political furor over “death panels,” about a culture industry obsessed with the equation of youth and beauty, for example? 

We will discuss these themes as they are developed in two of Derrida’s major works on death: The Gift of Death and Aporias. In all of our thinking about life in this world, about responsibility, authenticity, temporality, finitude, or mortality, for example, it seems that we always surreptitiously introduce some infinite beyond into the constitution of the here-below, a transcendence that may be utterly unknowable despite our complete reliance on it. It has gone by many names throughout history: the Form of the Good, God, the unnameable possibility of the name, the Unconditioned, the Inverted World, Being, Differance, or the secret; we will consider what it would mean to nickname it “Death.” 

Reading Assignment 
The Gift of Death, Chapter 3 (p. 53-81)

Recommended Reading 
The Gift of Death, Chapter 4 

Writing Assignment

Most every representation of death throughout Western thought has sought to offer a vision of death that could be incorporated into one’s sense of responsibility in this life, into one’s sense of being a free agent, accountable for one’s own decisions and their consequences up to death and beyond. Such representations present certain paradoxes for human beings laboring under them, not the least of which would be the attempt to bring death under our control as something we could actively will and take responsibility for, despite it’s seeming to always take us by surprise, unawares. For example, the Christian representation of death as a final judgment and afterlife as an infinite reward or punishment for actions in this life attempts to make sense of the infinite responsibility the Christian adherent feels as a result of her original sin, and offers a death that is a complement to the life of sacrifice she should lead (storing up her treasures in heaven, knowing all the while that a Father who sees in secret will reward her). 

Try to write your own representation of death or the afterlife. Keep in mind what sort of an idea of life or the individual human your particular representation is reinforcing. (Bonus points to anyone who offers a vision of death or the afterlife that undoes the patriarchal bias of the Platonic and Judeo-Christian representations. This tendency is best exemplified by Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac—in order to prove his adherence to his absolute duty towards God, Abraham must renounce everything he holds dear in this world, to show that he is completely dedicated to its beyond. To make this infinite renunciation requires proving his willingness to kill his own son, without saying a word about it to his wife. It seems that the vision of individuality that one receives from this tradition of thinking about death is uniquely masculine or patriarchal.) 

Jonathan Basile is a volunteer with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, visiting hospice patients and their families. He currently studies at Brooklyn College, working towards an MFA in Creative Writing. This past summer he organized a series of discussions on death in Western philosophy through The Public School New York, focusing on the work of Plato, Hegel, Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida.

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