Beresheet בראשית crash site :: Earth’s Moon 2019
By Miroslav Griško
Among the forty-six “lessons and observations” 1 written after his sixteen-year sentence (1937-1951) in the Kolyma, Siberia punitive lager (GULag), Varlam Shalamov identifies two states which must be attained in order to survive under conditions of absolute emaciation. Lesson number sixteen, “I learned that one can live on hate alone”, 2 is followed by the lesson, “I learned that one can live on indifference alone.” 3 Indifference is a classical technique of asceticism and describes an anabatic upstream journey to God through an unweighting of the soul from the gravity of the world. Hate alongside indifference takes place in the endlessness of a purely katabatic dimension and the death camp reality of near-total metabolic collapse. The mystery of God is replaced by the mystery of survival, which now becomes intelligible through the dissolution of life into a minimal number of functional strategies. Hell on earth has a logic and a structure.
Experiments on tardigrades (superphylum ecdysoza phylum tardigrada) demonstrate their ability to autodehydrate and survive in the radioactive vacuum of space. 4 Sentenced to slow extermination in the northernmost Siberian taiga, an almost annihilated camp inmate discovers within his species the properties for survival in the vacuum of the world. 5 Hate and indifference are the extremophilic qualities of Shalamov’s race. An obliviousness towards everything which attempts to liquidate the human organism collaborates with the organism’s simultaneous disdain for the entire dynamic. Shalamov throughout his writings makes references to the brain damage he suffers during -60°C GULag long winter – forgetting words, the inability to form coherent thoughts, and profound disinterest in anything other than sleep. But what remains after neurological deformity are inerasable, almost self-sustainable states, and nullified cognition becomes like discovering the secret of the world. 6 Unlike a mystical unknowing, discovery of the secret is the same as apathy and contempt towards it.
Indifference is hyperreactive and alert only to a quantitative overload of threats. The need for excessive calculation is regulated and controlled by an uncaring and aloof mental state towards all other forms of life. Overabundant malevolence of the environing world demands some minimal capacity to predict the future, and the particularity of “who can kill me?” is replaced by the generality of “from where can I be killed?” Because hostile forces are everywhere, the only effective response is to emit deadness to whatever may come close. The practice and refinement of indifference generate an anaesthetized man, who cannot be affected by the world, and also, despite the heaviness of his new armour, can now float above it. A state of total detachment simulates an overman to the menace of the surrounding environment, which is the same as this overman’s creation since extreme conditions and the delirium they inevitably cause cancel the ability of enemies to distinguish between an authentic creation and its copy.
In a strictly anabatic dimension, the mystical practise of indifference also neutralises the division between an authentic creation and a simulation, to the extent that every creation is derivative of its source in God. Creation by God is, first, the instantiation of an essence, which is only later materialised, whereas the ascetic’s practice of indifference is to lead back to the zero degree of a primaeval soul. 7 Anabatic indifference negates the superficiality of all affects, all apparently limitless becoming, so as to recover a pure essence. In a katabatic domain, this zero degree also obtains, as indifference and its deadness continually peel back all layers of life, culminating at the extreme point where survival can only mean to survive as an essence. Hate is the intensity of an essence. If the intensity is always allied with a concept of becoming, and becoming always conceptually opposes essence, hate is intensity as the hatred of becoming (militant anti-Spinozism).
Extremophilic qualities of a race have nothing to become, and, therefore, no future. Hate is the active side to the reactive side of indifference, and both gain in force at the moment when time halts and becoming stops. Time and becoming will always be annulled because biocide is a redundant name for life. But even in a dead landscape of entirely drained existence, there remains a strategy that can outlive and even immolate the surrounding world. Indifference replicates the vacuum in which survival takes place, acting as a counter vacuum to the world, which hate then escalates in degree. Their perfect overlap and execution are the same as the awareness that the intensity of an essence is not the immortality of a soul, but the immortality of a practice.
Forty-six lessons and observations, among them two ineliminable qualities, are the sum total of human knowledge. Together they form the entire corpus of a katabatic gnosiology. When describing the logic behind his writings, Shalamov contrasted an image of the journey of Orpheus to and from the underworld with a paradoxical image of “Pluto rising from Hades,” 8 and aligned his literature with the second, since it is entirely devoted to the bleak inertia of descent. What matters in life are only the inevitable moments when everything breaks down, and, as a result, with all ruined, what is learned over the course of a life can be reduced to a few sentences, and, ultimately, a few words. Although written under seemingly different conditions, for Michel Houellebecq, in his Rester vivant, 9 survival is also communicable as a “method”, and, following the minimal form of Houellebecq’s text, this method, like for Shalamov, can only be sparse. Stripped-down survivalist knowledge and its practice have an obvious inverse, through which, like after the application of a contrast dye, the method can become clear – the overflow of knowledge that is abstracted by a concept of civilisation.
Civilisation obscures an essential knowledge, and both Shalamov and Houellebecq discover their method in the midst of civilisational ruin: for Houellebecq, slow Occidental decay, and for Shalamov, the black hole that is always present at the heart of every civilisation. The first of Shalamov’s forty-six lessons reads: “the extreme fragility of human culture, civilisation. A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labour, cold, hunger and beatings.” 10 The precondition of civilisation is the technical specialisation of practices, and civilisation grows insofar as specialisation is unbound. 11
Divisions of labour in tandem with continuous technological upgrades tend towards exponential growth, which yields a surplus material and cognitive stockpile. Civilisation encourages an equality of practices, so as to induce the accretion of knowledge necessary for its massive gnosiology. In this growth, there is always the danger of over-extension, after which the bind between practice and what is essential is annulled. Civilisation is founded on a concept of technics that is the reverse of Shalamov’s, for who the technical gradient is reductive, eliminative, and always pulled down to the most base level. A deeper vulnerability continues to run through the bloodstream of a civilisation’s accumulated historical infrastructure, and Shalamov adheres to the basic principle behind all survivalist tendencies. Practice multiplication also produces fragility, and every civilisation by definition elides the precise technique of how to survive in a vacuum. After inevitable civilisational collapse under its own gnosiological weight, hate and indifference can survive in this final implosion site. The intensity of an essence subsists within empty cities and dead countrysides. Just like there are an order and hierarchy of practices, there is an order and hierarchy of apocalypses. Survival in the vacuum of civilisational implosion is a documentation of this order. A quiet and desolate apocalypse is the lord of all apocalypses. 12
The inverse of a quiet apocalypse and civilisational inner dissolution is techno-industrialised civilisational collision and the apocalypse of a world war. Shalamov’s sixteen-year imprisonment is due to his political alignment with Trotsky during the Stalinist round-ups of the 1930s. But any commitment to a hypothetical universal civilisational emergence after Trotskyite world revolutionary war 13 disappears in the civilisational void of Kolyma. At the other geographical pole of the Cold War, a group of American Trotskyists will, although as the Cold War nears its end, have a similar realisation. The intellectual nucleus of US neoconservatism is formed by a disillusioned Trotskyist cadre who have adopted a model of the clash of civilisations in place of a model of world revolutionary war. Whereas this neoconservative concept of civilisation is, in its emphasis on civilisational robustness, the apparent opposite of Shalamov’s, it is, in fact, close to the survivalism which he formulates in the Soviet camps. For Samuel Huntington, the creator of the model, the end of the Cold War is the end of a purely “ideological” war. The civilisational blocs that remain are not classified through a typical form of ideological critique, but instead, designate almost unkillable, extremophilic entities powered by a fusion of race war and culture war – the Orthodox Christian world, the Muslim world, etc. 14
Clash of civilisations as a civilisational world war is animated by something that is taken to be more real and virulent than the Cold War ideologies which have disappeared – a type of synthesis of an exoteric, organic biochemical war, and an esoteric, ethereal eschatological war. Shalamov experiences the exoteric racial dimension of the clash in the late 1920s-1930s when Georgians (Stalin) and Jews (Trotsky) enter into a gang war for control of the USSR. As a Slav who takes sides in a tribal war in which he does not truly belong to any of the antagonistic parties, Shalamov’s decision can only lead to the indefinite death of GULag vacuum. But if there is no contrasting and explicit esoteric moment in his program of survival, other than its still significant technical overlaps with ascetic practice, Shalamov also descended from a long line of Orthodox priests. During his prison sentence, the initial political decision against his bloodline drifts, and takes on nuances of an Orthodox position, to the extent that Shalamov’s survivalist conclusions are motivated by the experience at Kolyma that hell is real. Orthodox Christian doctrine understands the concept of apokatastasis – universal salvation for all of the creation – to be heretical, and, as a result, hell is also eternal. There is no common destiny for the soul of man because some souls will only go on a katabatic trip. Universal revolutionary civilisational renaissance – new world order – evaporates in the annulment of a corresponding universal human history. Any universalism that remains could only be the self-evident universalism of the inevitability and endlessness of hell on earth. After a dark night of the soul that lasts sixteen years, even the honest vanguardist comes to the basic realisation – the war was never about what we thought it was about.
A dark night of the soul is not an inner personal crisis initiated by doubt in the existence of God. It describes instead a series of trials and stations in the mystic’s anabatic journey. Saint John of the Cross gives the name “dark night” to the journey’s entire itinerary, whereas the Orthodox concept of “Godforsakenness” (Богооставленность) corresponds to the particular station of dereliction (John of the Cross’s derelicto) experienced during the dark night. 15 In the ongoing interchange between God and the mystic that shapes the mystic’s ascent towards union with God, at the station of Godforsakenness, God deliberately withdraws himself from the world. The remoteness of God is now experienced at the level of the world, although not as a remoteness that evokes God’s absolute transcendence over the world, but rather as a complete abandonment, which evacuates the world of any divine presence. In this withdrawal, the mystic directly experiences the “hell of Godforsakenness” 16 – the perfect symmetry of hell and the world in the absence of God. As a station in a journey, Godforsakenness is a transitory phase. But for a mystic unable to progress beyond this trial, hell on Earth would remain a neverending state. The state which Shalamov describes at Kolyma is not like that of a mystic who cannot go beyond the station of Godforsakenness and hell on earth, but rather that this station has somehow become the reality of the entire world. If there was a mystic for who Godforsakeness had become an endless state so that he was eternally trapped in a glitch of the spiritual journey, but who at the same time carried such a force and significance that everything which exists could be drawn into the hell which he now forever experiences, this hell would become the permanent experience and reality of the world. A mystic with this power could only be the primordial, first man.
For the Kabbalists, Adam Kadmon emerges from an originary vacuum, which is created by God through the deliberate contraction of his infinite light. In the self-limitation of hyper-abundant light, the black hole which then appears in its absence operates as if it were a mirror, upon which God projects a ray of divine luminescence. The diffracted light gives form to the creation, and, at its most intense point, the crown of the creation – the first man –, whose entire paradisical life is devoted to the contemplation of the infinite mystery of an infinite God and the beauty and order of his creation. Hell begins to take shape when Adamic meditating light loses its concentration, and the world beneath this light, in consequence, shatters. In this shattering, fragility reverses into its opposite, as mystagogical radiance becomes all the more dense matter, and katabatic hell on earth arises with the fall of the primordial man. But this hell is still shot through with an anabatic current and the now blunted charge of divine light. The elect who continue to be addressed by the voice of God learns that the permanence of hell on earth is a deception, and are assigned with the task of leading the creation back to the primordial state, where the world transforms again into light. The historical and cosmic progress of this mission makes itself legible in Signs of the Times and the hints that God leaves his elect during nocturnal conversations with them. In The Book of Zohar, the return of the Jews to Israel is predicted to occur in the twentieth century, 17 and the recovery of Jerusalem after almost twenty centuries of exile indicate, on the level of the material world, the proximity of the recovery of a higher deified state. When the Jews return to Israel, the triumph of a Messianic light and the restoration of the entire creation is imminent.
Adam Kadmon wears a death mask with a protological and eschatological face. While the rabbis understand that the seal of the mission is near and the Messiah will soon be crowned in Jerusalem, in February 2019 an Israeli probe Beresheet (בראשית – the first word of the book of Genesis – “in the beginning”), carries a cargo of human DNA samples and thousands of extremophile tardigrades to the Earth’s moon, so as to test tardigrade survivability and establish a “back-up” genetic database on the dead lunar surface. 18 Although the history of the Jews has followed a trajectory which, travelling from the death camps of Egypt and Sobibor to new Jerusalem, indicates that the station of Godforsakenness can in fact be surpassed because this history has been a seemingly endless hell on earth, the voice of God cannot be entirely trusted by his elect. If the dark night of the soul lasts forever, there will never be any recovery of immortal Adamic light from a vacuum, and only the practice of survival within this vacuum is eternal. For any new beginning away from an infernal Earth, it is then necessary to research the essence of survival, assess its limits, and test the extremophilic qualities of a phylum, a species, and a race. But even if the katabatic path is immediate and direct, while the anabatic path, although it can never be entirely excluded, is always uncertain and obscure, both coincide with the mystery of survival in its strongest and harshest form. Either survival in a vacuum measures the limit point after which biochemical life can no longer continue forward in a void, or it describes the solitude of the individual soul before the wrath and judgement of God.
* * * *
In April 2019, two months after Beresheet‘s launch, space.il, the firm directing the mission, reported that the probe had crashed approximately five hundred kilometres away from its intended landing destination in “the Sea of Serenity”, a smooth balsatic plain located within the Moon’s largest crater. Sources within space.il speculate that due to both the robustness of the nickel and epoxy resin payload in which they were contained and the ejection mechanism for the payload which had been designed for Beresheet in case of an accident, the tardigrades most likely survived the crash and are still alive on the Moon’s surface. Varlam Shalamov died of pneumonia in a nursing home managed by the Union of Soviet Writers on January 17, 1982 at the age of 74. He had one daughter – Elena.
- Varlam Shalamov, “What I saw and learned at the Kolyma Camps”, (https://shalamov.ru/en/library/34/1.html
- Although Shalamov’s word “злоба” has been translated as “spite” (see: https://shalamov.ru/en/library/34/1.html), because злоба evokes an active, negating force, it is translated here as “hate”, following terminology such as “hate crimes.”
- From Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita to Christian asceticism, where indifference or apatheia is described by Evragius as the “flower of ascetic struggle.” Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (London: Routledge, 2005), 37.
- Laura Howes, “How do Tardigrades Survive in Space?”, Chemical and Engineering News, Vol. 97, Issue 41, October 19, 2019. https://cen.acs.org/biological-chemistry/biochemistry/tardigrades-survive-space/97/i41
- The writer and literary critic Andrej Sinjavskij describes Shalamov’s prose as a “handbook about the resistance of human material.” Cited in Drago Bajt, “Pluton, ki se dviga iz pekla” (afterword) in: Varlam Šalamov, Kolimske zgodbe (Ljubljana: Modrijan založba, 2011), 763.
- Shalamov: “I am something like those fossils / which appear accidentally / in order to deliver to the world in wholeness / a geological mystery.” https://shalamov.ru/library/10/60.html
- For example, Maximus the Confessor’s concept of the logoi: the prototypical individual essences on the basis of which the creation is instantiated in its original form. The same motif is, of course, found in other traditions.
- Varlam Shalamov, https://shalamov.ru/library/21/45.html
- Michel Houellebecq, Rester vivant, Paris: Flammarion, 1991.
- Varlam Shalamov, https://shalamov.ru/en/library/34/1.html
- See Isaac Arthur “Advanced civilisations,” link below:
12. One of the supreme examples of this is Hitoshi Ashinano’s manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yokohama_Kaidashi_Kik%C5%8D.
13. See, for example, the research of Arsenije Dusanic & Plamen P. Plenev “The Influence of Neoconservative Movement on U.S. Foreign Policy”, Connections, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 91-99. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26326171
14. Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilisations?”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49.
15. See the research of Mikel Hill: Elder Sophrony: The Grace of Godforsakenness and the Dark Night of the Soul,https://www.academia.edu/33773317/The_Grace_of_Godforsakenness_pdf
16. The terminology of Elder Sophrony.
17. According to Qabbalistic astrology, “the Age of Aquarius”, or redemption.
18. Daniel Oberhaus, “A Crashed Israeli Lunar Lander Spilled Tardigrades on the Moon”, https://www.wired.com/story/a-crashed-israeli-lunar-lander-spilled-tardigrades-on-the-moon/