11 April 2006

R. Scott Bakker’s definition of sorcery

sorcery— The practice of making the world conform to language, as opposed to philosophy, the practice of making language conform to the world. Despite the tremendous amount of apparently unresolvable controversy surrounding sorcery, there are several salient features that seem universal to its practice. First, practitioners must be able to apprehend the "onta," which is to say, they must possess the innate ability to see, as Protathis puts it, "Creation as created." Second, sorcery also seems to involve a universal commitment to what Gotagga calls "semantic hygiene." Sorcery requires precise meanings. This is why incantations are always spoken in a non-native tongue: to prevent the semantic transformation of crucial terms due to the vagaries of daily usage. This also explains the extraordinary "double-think" structure of sorcery, the fact that all incantations require the sorcerer to say and think two separate things simultaneously. The spoken segment of an incantation (what is often called the "utteral string") must have its meaning "fixed" or focused with a silent segment (what is often called the "inutteral string") that is simultaneously thought. Apparently the thought incantation sharpens the meaning of the spoken incantation the way the words of one man may be used to clarify the words of another. (This gives rise to the famous "semantic regress problem": how can the inutteral string, which admits different interpretations, serve to fix the proper interpretation of the utteral string?) Though there are as many metaphysical interpretations of this structure as there are sorcerous Schools, the result in each case is the same: the world, which is otherwise utterly indifferent to the words of Men, listens, and sorcerous transformations of reality result.


kylark said...

Philosophy is sorcery with a heavy emphasis on ethics.

Out the door again. More later if I can.

kylark said...

While I was flippin' out last year I was dating a fellow who was getting his Ph.D. in [sorcery] philosophy at the U of MN. I started talking... I can't recall about what at the moment... and he said I can't just state things, that philosophers have an ethics about the way they talk about these things. It was a charged moment that happened within the context of me thinking I was doing something with my words. My impression was he thought what I was doing was ethically wrong for reasons much bigger than just agreeing on definitions in a conversation. But then again, I was flippin' out at the time.

I'm still catching up on reading from that episode. I'm reading Pynchon's V. right now. Need to read some Wittgenstein and Heidegger.

channel null said...

What about drawing pictures of albino moose (meese?) on the cave wall to make them appear? No words there. Maybe it has to do with the interplay of image and words, like hardwiring a new semantic into the triad of signifier, signified, and extention. Maybe not.

Fell said...


I think the thing that struck me most about Bakker's description is the semantic concepts here. That the utteral needs to be fixed by a personal denotation of a word or cant. One must truly, in their hearts and souls, have a meaning by which to fix the utteral. This is akin to the concept of "power" we were discussing, which you posted about.

"The practice of making the world conform to language, as opposed to philosophy, the practice of making language conform to the world."

I love that.

It's interesting, as I tend to really speak my mind. I receive many comments about how straight-forward I am, or impudent, depending on your relation to me. But as I press myself to "call it as I see it," I begin to really describe events and people more as symbols or relative interpretations of what only I can really understand. Of course, it tends to make sense to others as well, but much to the dismay of those I am speaking to or about. Abandoning social ethos and mores, I speak from the heart. It's not perfect, but it's mine. My interpretation, my language, my perspective, my understanding. Very rarely hampered by the need to please others.

(Fortunately, in doing so, I've come to try to expand my care for others, too. Thus, I am generally kind and it's not out of any need to please, but out of a desire to perfect myself.)

So I will be taking Bakker's concept here and playing with it. Just today I walked home and tried vocalising an intent while simultaneously conceptualising the inutteral. It was only for a brief moment, but I experienced shivers. Whether that's due to my body reacting to my imagination or something less exctiing, I don't know yet. But Bakker waxes poetic with his understanding of metaphysics so I am going to milk them as the new symbolic works in my world to learn from.


We used to draw albino moose in the snow for posterity's sake. BA-DUM-BUM!

Fell said...

Actually, here is the text from The Thousandfold Thought where two characters speak of the Gnostic Cants:

To limit Kellhus’s vulnerability to Chorae, they had agreed they should start with everything—linguistic and metaphysical—short of actual Cants. As with the exoterics, instruction in the esoterics required prior skills, arcane analogues to reading and writing. In Atyersus, teachers always started with what were called denotaries, small precursor Cants meant to gradually develop the intellectual flexibility of their students to the prodigious point where they could both comprehend and express arcane semantics. Denotaries, however, bruised students with the stain of sorcery as surely as any Cant, which meant that in some respects Achamian had to start backwards.

He began by teaching him Gilcûnya, the arcane tongue of the Nonmen Quya and the language of all the Gnostic Cants. This took less than two weeks.

To say that Achamian was astonished or even appalled would be to name a confluence of passions that could not be named. He himself had required three years to master the grammar, let alone the vocabulary, of that exotic and alien tongue.

By the time the Holy War marched from the Enathpanean hills into Xerash, Achamian started discussing the philosophical underpinnings of Gnostic semantics—what were called the Aeturi Sohonca, or the Sohonc Theses. There was no bypassing the metaphysics of the Gnosis, though they were as incomplete and inconclusive as any philosophy. Without some understanding of them, the Cants were little more than soul-numbing recitations. Whether Gnostic or Anagogic, sorcery depended on meanings, and meanings depended on systematic comprehension.

“Think,” Achamian explained, “of how the same words can mean different things to different people, or even different things to the same people in different circumstances.”

He racked his memory for an example, but all he could recall was the one his own teacher, Simas, had used so many years ago. “When a man says ‘love,’ for instance, the word means entirely different things depending not only on who listens—be it his son, his whore, his wife, the God—but on he who he is as well. The ‘love’ spoken by a heartbroken priest shares little with the ‘love’ spoken by an illiterate adolescent. The former tempered by loss, learning, and a lifetime of experience, while the latter knows only lust and ardour.”

He could not help but wonder in passing what “love” had come to mean for him? As always, he dispelled such thoughts—thoughts of her—by throwing himself into his discourse.

“Preserving and expressing the pure modalities of meaning,” he continued, “this is the heart of all sorcery, Kellhus. With each word, you must strike the perfect semantic pitch, the note that will down out the chorus of reality.”

Kellhus held him with his unwavering gaze, as poised and motionless as a Nilnameshi idol. “Which is why,” he said, “you use an ancient Nonman tongue as your lingua arcana.”

Achamian nodded, no longer surprised by his student’s preternatural insight. “Vulgar languages, especially when native, stand too close to the press of life. Their meanings are too easily warped by our insights and experiences. The sheer otherness of Gilcûnya serves to insulate the semantics of sorcery from the inconstancies of our lives. The Anagogic Schools”—he tried to smooth the contempt from his tone—“use High Kunna, a debased form of Gilcûnya, for the same reason.”

“To speak as the Gods do,” Kellhus said. “Far from the concerns of Men.”

Following a fleet survey of the Theses, Achamian moved on to the Persemiota, the meaning-fixing meditative techniques that Mandate Schoolmen, thanks to the Seswathan homunculus within them, largely ignored. Then he delved into the technical depths of the Semansis Dualis, the very doorstep of what had been, until the coming of the man who sat before him, a final precursor to damnation.

He explained the all-important relation between the two halves of every Cant: the inutterals, which always remained unspoken, and the utterals, which always were spoken. Since any single meaning could be skewed by the vagaries of circumstance, Cants required a second, simultaneous meaning, which, though as vulnerable to distortion as the first, braced it nonetheless, even as it too was braced. As Outhrata, the great Kûniüric metaphysician, had put it, language required two wings to fly.

“So the inutterals serve to fix the utterals,” Kellhus said, “the way the words of one man might secure the words of another.”

“Precisely,” Achamian replied. “One must think and say two different things at once. This is the greatest challenge—even more so than the mnemonics. The thing that requires the most practice to master.”

Kellhus nodded, utterly unconcerned. “And this is why the Anagogic Schools have never been able to steal the Gnosis. Why simply reciting what they hear is useless.”

“There’s the metaphysics to consider as well. But, yes, in all sorcery the inutterals are key.”

Kellhus nodded. “Has anyone experimented with further inutteral strings?”

Achamian swallowed. “What do you mean?”

By some coincidence two of the hanging lanterns guttered at the same time, drawing Achamian’s eyes upwards. They instantly resumed their soundless illumination.

“Has anyone devised Cants consisting of two inutteral strings?”

The “Third Phrase” was a thing of myth in Gnostic sorcery, a story handed down to Men during the Nonman Tutelage: the legend of Su’juroit, the great Cûnuroi Witch-King. Bur for some reason, Achamian found himself loath to relate the tale. “No,” he lied. “It’s impossible.”