Forthcoming: Maniac Lullabies
by Daniel Stewart
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh’s brilliant book Omnicide is the subject of the upcoming Mont publication Maniac Lullabies.
Maniac Lullabies features excerpts from the transcript of a
conversation between Robin Mackay, Amy Ireland and Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh. I
originally heard this conversation on Mackay’s Urbanomic soundcloud, and was
captivated by the cadence of Mohaghegh’s voice and the mutual determination of three
thinkers with a good dynamic, a good rhythm.
The subjects of Omnicide are serious, they are sites of trauma, sites that can seduce thinking into the
delicious despair of nihilism, and it is good that the conversation acknowledges
and avoids these potential pitfalls, a tribute to the courage and heart of the
After a couple of listens to this sprawling, inspired conversation, I
asked their permission to print a
transcript for Mont. What follows is an excerpt from Mohaghegh’s introductory remarks.
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh,
Omnicide: Mania, Fatality, and the Future-In Delirium (Falmouth and New York: Urbanomic/Sequence
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh: The first thing that animated me was the challenge of deciphering how catastrophe becomes a form of elegance, if not the most elegant formulation of consciousness. In this sense, my first five books are each engaged with some overarching concept: chaos, violence, silence, extremity and disappearance. And so, with this book I was seeking a centrifuge that would coalesce these five thematic elements, almost simultaneously, into a single gesture, and ‘mania’ seemed to capture that combination rather powerfully, taking us across the rungs of a ladder from desire to annihilation.
But just at the outset, to clarify the book’s own definitional title: Omnicide for me, for the record, was not about a nihilistic surrender to extinction. It’s about precisely summoning the creative will to a certain threshold whereby it’s forced to devise something fascinating in the face of imminent despair. In this way, it’s a kind of perfect testing ground for the beauty of doomed thought. You ask what someone might dare dream when everything is collapsing around them. An attempt to conjure lightning, the lightning of radical originality within darkness and erasure. Again, ‘omnicide’ is not a passive fixation with destruction, but rather a gamble that certain ultimate registers of creative possibility are reached only at the threshold of universal collapse.
Somewhere in the book, I think, I call it ‘the visionary’s last gift.’ The idea that there is some rare, for lack of a better word, sacred geometry of intensity or becoming attained only amid the final throes. Or the paradoxical discovery of an avant-garde that emerges only at the moment of scorched-earth events.
That’s what I’ve found with these figures: that they stare into a world that’s gone too far, beyond the point of no return, and the almost miraculous thing is that they do fashion something. In the total absence of a future, on borrowed time and in states of almost incomprehensible solitude and with no promised audience in the wake of pure futility, somehow in the desolation they decide to dance or recite or sculpt something; they show a heightened manifestation of their craft.
The literary figures that I chose, as you know
they are ten writers from various locations in the so-called Middle East and
North Africa. They share a few things, but most importantly in my mind, all of
them have quietly sworn an oath to a challenge that was set forward by the
ancients. Namely, they possess an acute knowledge of the fact that the earliest
civilisations of the region—Babylonians, Sumerians, the Persians, the Egyptians
– and this is a remarkable thing for me, that almost alongside the invention of
poetic and cosmological writing, these civilisations give rise to another genre
of writing, which is doomsday visions. And so, sometimes these were prophetic
and embodied by strange gods or brutal natural forces, sometimes they were
forms of nomadic storytelling and narration, but either way, it’s a millennia-old
game to contemplate this question of what words belong to the last night of
existence. And this is something that these authors carry right through the
heart of modernity and beyond. So, despite the fact that there is a sanitised
public perception of each of them, every single one of these authors in Omnicide has in some fugitive hour composed a line or a verse that has this apocalyptic
So, my job then was to hunt after those dangerous
occasions and catch them in that split second of wrath or delirium where no one
is noticing how far they are willing to take their talents. Sometimes it’s more
subtle, for example, it’s kind of a whisper of condemned breath, like when
Forough Farrokhzad says “and sometimes I weep for the garden,” and sometimes it’s more flagrant, like when Adonis, the great Syrian poet, says
“and I tell my brothers: bring your axes”. But either way, whether it’s
soft or jagged, the book discovers them in those faraway provinces where they
stand at the cliff’s edge and unleash either the burning, freezing, flooding,
poisoning or disintegration of entire cities. And the way that I interpret that
is that it is precisely how they measure their ability to become both
enchanting and unstoppable. Writing in the Middle East is no joke, I always say
that, and it often comes at severe cost, a cost that seems foreign to us in the
Western world, so the wondrous figures on that list of ten, however eloquent,
however stunning—and they are among the most iconic and revered voices of their
lands—each one of them has experienced prison, torture, exile, famine, war,
extreme poverty or persecution beyond belief, which means that each has walked
with omnicide as a kind of existential reality at various moments.
Every poem or passage, and this is quite literal—every
poem or passage that they conceive has the ominous potentiality of maybe being
their last passage, which is why they are merciless in the way that they
compose elegy after elegy, anthem after anthem, because they quite literally
face unbearable circumstances and horizons.
So, this is another thing that I wanted to explore,
which became an omnicidal principle, and I’ll end with this point, which is how
these figures and these strands of thought or experience are only capable of
becoming the most cruel because they’ve also been the most vulnerable.
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Babson College. He is the author of
The Chaotic Imagination; Inflictions; The Radical Unspoken; Insurgent, Poet, Mystic, Sectarian; and Elemental Disappearances (with Dejan Lukic). He is coeditor of Manifestos for World Thought, and Cofounder of the 5th Disappearance Lab.
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh, Omnicide: Mania, Fatality,
and the Future-In Delirium (Falmouth and New York:
Urbanomic/Sequence Press, 2019)