• Christine Skolnik

Introduction/Invocation

by Sam Stoeltje

At last, the Paracultures blog manifests! But what is, or are, paracultures exactly?

In the spirit of anarchy, metaphysical and otherwise, I’m not inclined to be definitive here. Paracultures is something we four have been working on for a while, but we have never gone so far as to specify what exactly we mean by the term.

We are leaving the door open.

Which is, I guess, bad magical practice, in some (protective) circles.

In lieu of a dictionary entry, I’ll suggest what paracultures might mean for me in coming posts. Let’s go ahead and be as direct as we can, though: the “para-“ in paracultures we have detached from “paranormal.” And we do so under the auspices of a certain scholar, Jeffrey Kripal, for whom we all have a special fondness. At one point, Kripal defines the paranormal as “the sacred in transit from the religious and scientific registers into a parascientific or ‘scientific mysticism’ register.”

The paranormal exists “in transit” between epistemologies.

Me? I’ve been thinking about what maybe I’ll just shrug and call the “non-rational.” Non-rational metaphysics. Those philosophies, spiritualities, belief systems, phenomenologies, phenomena themselves, that find themselves oriented against a certain something that calls itself “Reason.”

What, then, is Reason? I’m not convinced any of us really know. But to be clear: the “reason” (although I really prefer the egregoreal uppercase R) against which my persons and texts, beings and becomings of interest seem to stand - or float, or apport, as the case may be – this reason is a socially constructed mode of thought, and utterance, and being. Which is not to say that it is not real.

It can’t be said enough: just because something is socially constructed, just because it exists in the imaginary, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have real consequences. And if it has real consequences, I think it might be fair to say that in some sense, it is real.

But then, who can say what is and isn’t real?

Reason certainly thinks it can.

My commitment here is to give attention (at the very least!) to something I’m calling the non-rational, without being super precise about what I mean. For me, the non-rational is paracultural: it is that host of ideas, spirits, angels, demons, and monsters that seem to keep manifesting alongside (one of the things “para” means is “alongside”) the dominant culture.

As this dominant culture happens to be heteropatriarchal, white supremacist, antiblack (not the same thing), neoliberal capitalist, ablist, and in at least a U.S. context, settler colonial (among other toxicities), it is important for my purposes here to be clear that my intention is to build metaphysical alliances among paracultures against the dominant culture.

So the “para” turns out also to be a “contra” (counter, as in, counterculture). Which should not surprise us, given how non-rational and generally spooky countercultures have tended to be; see e.g. U.S. Spiritualism and its influence on women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery. (For a much more difficult thinking-though of the “contra” of “para,” see Derrida, “The Parergon,” in which he takes apart Kantian aesthetics in about fifteen or so pages.)

Am I reaching? I don’t think so. The “para” is never just alongside – it is excluded, marginalized, abjected – as Fort, but also possibly Fanon, would have it, it is “damned.”

So I have put myself in the position, it seems, of making an infernal convocation (here, in my first post on this blog; perhaps things have gotten away from me a bit).

Ok then, an infernal invocation. But in the name of justice, against the Reason that thinks itself God, in the monotheistic register, when it is only a god, and a shitty one at that. And, I can’t stress this enough, against fascism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism, “traditionalism,” and all reactionary politics, even the trendy kind that know how to “talk theory.”

Less conceptually: I am so looking forward to exchanging thoughts with this group of scholars. I am myself a graduate student in an English literature department, and I intend to use this forum as a place to do some of the kind of writing that doesn’t really fly in more conventional academic spaces. It seems like that will turn out to mean a lot of film analysis, because I love movies, and because (along with comic books) movies do the lion’s share of paracultural representation that most of us (at least, but not exclusively, in the global north) encounter. Image credit: https://www.deviantart.com/estalaveda/art/Magical-doorway-104271788

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