Neoreaction a Basilisk (2017) by Elizabeth Sandifer

An astonishingly thorough examination of neoreactionism, the strands of thought that led to it, its specific manifestations and ideologies, three men and various media that provide fascinating windows into understanding it, often filtered through other thinkers and media Sandifer herself finds relevant.

Sandifer, a doctor who cut her teeth on her unique longform psychochronographic examination of Doctor Who, displays a dizzying ability to thread coherent throughlines through masses of disparate information and history. It extends far beyond recounting and exploring the three men the book chiefly revolves around. She confidently synthesises an insane array of texts and thinkers to create a ridiculously fascinating, thorough, always coherent journey through the bizarre titular movement and everything it means.

A personal highlight was the way she threaded together Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal television series, Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina, Eliezer Yudkowsky’s AI-box thought experiment, John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost and the Biblical conception of Eve in general to make a coherent, comprehensive point about “textual hacking”, a concept adjacent to “pwnage” (’to take unauthorised control of something else or something belonging to someone else by exploiting a vulnerability’) and the specific self-defeating way such a concept works in the movement. Sandifer goes on to work it into a brilliant point about freedom and invasion. The way she finds original, novel points to make in wading through so much muck is very enjoyable to read. Sandifer is particularly skilled at really closely examining and picking apart the nuts and bolts of people’s ideologies, then taking them to their logical conclusions to demonstrate the flaws, hypocrisies, lapses and such they’re littered with. Using Thomas’ Ligotti’s Lovecraftian antinatalism as an extension of a reading of Paradise Lost that brilliantly interprets the mere act of speech as inherent sin, transgression, to neutralise the half-measures of the titular ideology was particularly inspired.

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The title essay forms the bulk of the book and is by far the best part of it. The essays that follow it generally relate in logical enough ways, but are definitely lesser works. The psychogeographic examination of Donald Trump is short but sweet, making some interesting points largely not made by others. The economically focused essay co-authored by Jack Graham makes some fascinating points, some less related to the title essay (”the superficially liberatory idea of ‘self-ownership’ espoused by many praxeological Austrians and libertarians is a coy way of conceptualising people as commodities, which is probably how these supposed lovers of liberty so often end up defending slavery”), some moreso (the phrasing of “amputation of context” is used by Graham to make a point about libertarians but applies naturally and obviously to the title movement in Sandifer’s main essay).

An extraordinarily fascinating, novel work, written with great skill. Four scales and a basilisk.

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