Towards the Primeval Lightning Field

Will Alexander

1998 • 116 pp. • $10.50
ISBN: 9781882022304
Literary Nonfiction, African American Studies

A Litmus Press/O Books Second Edition with new introduction by the author and postface by Andrew Joron

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In the course of the story, the inventors learn how to “slow down” the playback of this instantaneous Signal of signals in order to read the individual messages contained within it.

Likewise, every one of Alexander’s sur-rational propositions has the quality of a slowed-down Dirac beep. (The “beep” also bears a strong similarity to Andr¾ Breton’s “supreme point,” wherein all contradictions between past and future, life and death, are reconciled.)

Alexander’s propositional “pulse” begins at the end: with the assumption that a totality of meanings is realized immediately within the first lightning-signal. The philosopher-poet’s task, then, is to decelerate this instantaneous burst, so that its contents may enter into Language.

The prodigality of the lightning-strike demands a like extravagance in the language employed, not only to describe this Ur-phenomenon, but to conceive and embody it. “Primeval lightning” seeks the sign of a free expenditure that, as Bataille has shown, must transgress the boundaries of all restricted economies of meaning. Hence Alexander’s aggressively transgressive use of language: the neologisms, archaisms, and etymological dislocations; the focus throws between denotation and connotation; the radical recontextualization of specialized vocabularies.

Alexander’s methodology here is neither deductive nor inductive, but conductive. Thesis passes into antithesis with electric fluidity, never terminating in synthesis: the relationship between statements (as in Dirac transmission) is non-hierarchical and non-cumulative.

In the essay “Language Leap as Inscrutable Physic,” Alexander contemplates “language near its origin,” as “alchemic fulcrum.” For words too must be understood under the sign of the Emergency of Emergence. The more closely the moment of origin is approached, the more things start to resemble one another, and to overflow their conventionally assigned boundaries.

It is at this point, when mirrors turn molten, that reflection proves equal to creation.

In this work, there is no generic discontinuity between philosophy and poetry. Indeed, the book in hand might have been subtitled Against Discontinuity, or perhaps Against Exilic Abstraction: for its whole argument consists of making resoundingly concrete connections (via lightning and other conceptual leaps) between an encyclopedic array of facts and figures (the “information burst”).

Against the “linear Babels” of alienated discourses, Alexander argues for a “new perpendicular burst, transmuting in demeanour,” for a language in which the vocabularies of magic and science become (once again, but as never before) interchangeable.

This “unified theory” of science and magic appears to consummate the unfinished project of Renaissance philosophy (cut short by the rise of the mechanical worldview in alliance with capitalism). Of course, Alexander’s open-ended, dynamical universe hardly resembles the static Renaissance conception of nature. Yet he shares a great affinity with the scientist-magicians of that era; his strategies of textual recombination are prefigured especially by the work of the sixteenth-century magus Giordano Bruno.

Bruno inscribed – just as Alexander does here – a version of magical animism upon the classical texts of scientific materialism. According to historian Frances Yates, “Bruno found the conceptions of infinite space and innumerable worlds in Lucretius’ De natura rerum. But he absolutely transforms the Lucretian notions by imparting to the innumerable worlds magical animation, totally absent from Lucretius’ cold universe.” And just as Bruno has appropriated the discourse of ancient atomism for Hermetic ends, Alexander draws upon the latest scientific findings for the purpose of “join[ing] forces with the Great Work, with the hallucinatory beatitudes of magic.” In the work of both poet-philosophers, the “cold universe” of science is aufgehoben: at once cancelled and raised to a higher level of imaginal fire.

As Yates points out, “the imagination… was Bruno’s chief magical method.” For him, its potency far exceeded the more widely recognized methods that rely upon the manipulation of talismanic objects. The “magically animated imagination [was] ‘the sole gate to all internal affections and the link of links.’ Bruno’s language is excited and obscure,” Yates continues, ” as he expounds this, to him, central mystery, the conditioning of the imagination in such a way as to draw into the personality spiritual or demonic forces which will unlock its inner powers.”

This pre-Romantic idea of the imagination as “the link of links” still dwells in the thought and practice of Alexander. Here, the energy of the imagination has not yet been harnessed (as it would be in Romanticism) to the goals of bourgeois subjectivization. It can never be a matter of “possessing” this imagination, but only (as in the communalistic spirit of voudou) of being possessed by it. Imagination is the conductor of primeval lightning, the fiery trickster leaping between frozen and fragmented realia, the universal translator of the multitude of tongues (both human and Inhuman) emitted by the Signal of signals.

The Alexandrian imagination is a compendium of Brunian links, an infinite library of “lucid catacombs and spirals.”

After the conquests of Alexander, a city was founded in his name on the northern coast of Afric. There, in the third century BCE, the world’s first universal library was built, a storehouse (in its metaphysical form, at least) of all the books that had ever been written and that ever would be written. The First Philosophy of Alexander is situated exactly here, at the intersection of African, Asian, and European land masses.

The library was destriyed by fire and rebuilt, only to be destroyed again. (The fire itself was stolen and returned to these writings, only to be stolen again.) Within the form of this book, the Library of Alexandria is still burning.


Will Alexander (born 1948) is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and visual artist. He was the recipient of a Whiting Fellowship for Poetry in 2001 and a California Arts Council Fellowship in 2002. Over the years he has worked several jobs (including the LA Lakers box office), taught at various institutions, and has been associated with the nonprofit organization Theatre of Hearts/Youth First, working with underserved, at-risk youth.


It is not with the steepness of vultures that I seek to procure an arcane stability in the void, but by the blending of halts and motions, like the vertical equilibria of fire, brought, to an incandescent pitch of value. To evolve from the bottoms of nigrescent stone by means of cleansed pyretical umber is to forge new voids, new cells, new pennae, above the common moth line of the species, which continuously dwells downward, within collapse, after collapse, after collapse. And by the species, I mean the counter-balance of species by the alchemical imperator crowned upon a ignited obelisk or a slab. This ignited imperator is one who spins within blankly inspired rulings, no longer an advocate of the regnant powers of iron, of weighted tourniquets of blood, of falsely embellished spasmodics. The sum of each living inequity now ascribed to alchemical frictive, to a glance at culminate hematopias, with each possession no more than a corpse spoiled at the juncture of a lateral anti-departure, robed like a sphinx and placed upon a stunning rural carpet, so as to contemplate its cells, its powers entwined in oceanic lightning. One thinks of a bird with its osmotic claws anomalously riveted to a strange Venusian death light, to a darkened flambeau.

This is to take as image a disengaged expectation, a prolapse of trumpets, an embittered numerical deduction as fragment or bastion. I have come to the conclusion that each volt, each decibel of dishonour must be revalued and reborn and given the utopian germination of a spurrious hydrogen feather, or of a thought which shatters in working daylight or geography, non-equatable with siblings evolved from a blackened source projected in a sky of colourless adrenals.

Once my hands were of the core of scripture and punishment, once they seized on a series of stunted parochial astonishments, only to remain within the gravid pressure of Hominidae, subject to stabilization and nuance within a limited amalgam sacrificially combusted within the plebiscites of the dialectic of known and unknown being. And outside of such dialectical jaundice exists heresy, the shapeless and vulgarian definition of decadence, which brews its ciphers in a fraudulent anti-wool, in drearisome spells of darkness. But for me it is always the lamp upon the torrid monarch’s scaffold of transmuted injury and blight, of ulterior assassination by charisma. And so, as one so duly rendered, as one who has lived by the language of shadows, I am him who has ceased to recognize himself within the psyche of a post-Hellenic turpitude, recognizing my brooding post-luminal body within “the picture which is not in colours.”