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An Introduction to Arithmetic Sorcery

Cyclonopedia – Complicity with Anonymous Materials (, 2008), a “theoretical-fiction novel” by Iranian philosopher and writer Reza Negarestani is reviewed by Neo Muyanga. 

Cyclonopedia cover

First of all this is definitely a hyper-modern, rather than a ‘contemporary’ work, aesthetically speaking. It is very much like reading one of those overhead transparencies we used to use in high school, except this one has writ on it the superimposed ravings of Credo Mutwa crossed with Mikhail Bakunin on top of Aleister Crowley collaborating with Buckminster Fuller making spirals like Matila Ghyka on a really hot (and I mean tropically) heat-waving summer’s lunchtime.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are contemporary (even pop) references in here too, the writings of Dean Koontz and box-office hits like The Exorcist and Beowulf, say; but the fare in the main is frankly more of the ‘beautifully assaulting’ ilk.

At the very beginning, one isn’t completely clear who is narrating the prologue, but then you quickly realise the person telling the story is on somewhat friendly terms with the author, Reza Negarestani – a cyber-pen pal perhaps.

We meet this ‘friend’ en route to Istanbul, there to meet said author who, it turns out, is nowhere to be found. The anonymous friend uncovers a series of cryptic clues leading to the discovery of a manuscript that eventually becomes the published work, Cyclonopedia – complicity with anonymous materials.

In the main body of the book Negarestani introduces an additional narrating device: the voice of Dr Hamid Parsani, a dissident Iranian scholar, whose heretical notes and writings are the basis upon which Negarestani attempts to interrogate and apprehend the nature of the Middle East, and of existence as a whole. He also manages to get Dr Parsani to say quite a number of dogma-shattering things like, “Capitalism is not a human symptom but rather a planetary inevitability. In other words, capitalism was here even before human existence, waiting for a host,” or “I do not look at monotheistic religions as Serat-o-al-Mostaghim (the straight path), nor do I curse them as ghouls of repression. I simply see them as generous mothers pregnant with their minorities – thousands, millions of them; a female scorpion devoured by its own children, ripped apart from the belly. This is what Ibn Maymun taught us, the minority holocaust.”

The whole story is not easy to relate in a neat little package. This is because the book is about epic religions like capitalist democracy, Christianity and Islam. It is a tally of the economics and the nature of war as much as it seeks to describe, in segue, what is satirical, divine and sadistically evil about our existence.

Quoting texts both ancient and modern, including those of Parsani, Negarestani warns that all pious folk actually have very little to no knowledge and/or understanding of the nature of God.

Cyclonopedia Page Extract

Cyclonopedia extract

Through an explication of what seems like a blueprint of order and disorder, the Gog-Magog axis of creation, the author contrasts the qabalistic tree of life with the Cross of Akht.

This becomes the springboard to a game of “arithmetic sorcery” where the writer constructs a grid using numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and then shows how, by adding either the two numbers at each end (0 and 9), or adding any two numbers positioned at symmetrically opposite notches along the number line (for instance 1 and 9; 2 and 7; and so on) the sum always comes out as 9.

The author expounds on how this ternary geometry of 9 is, by destiny, thwarted and reduced to a square (or binary) paradigm, this process being the genesis of what are called the oil economics of “petropolitics”, a beast that the author says “…come[s] in two’s” – here my conspiratorial mind reads in references to the World Trade Centre twin towers or even the Bretton Woods complex.

The argument goes further to suggest that the very nature of oil, even at a sub-molecular level, pre-establishes evil in the world. That is, evil which is extant before any evidence of causality.

Negarestani develops a fully articulated lexicon of the nature and variety of evil – demons who predate life as we know it, and whose purpose is to “possess”, like a poltergeist in the movies, all of existence’s modus operandi with the express aim of bringing about the total annihilation of Every Thing.

To quote from the author quoting the friend quoting the doctor, “in his book, Parsani questions the irony of creation: if dust composes creation out of its own logic and order, it is because for dust, creation is the very essence of sadism: giving birth to something, feeding it, waiting and then reducing it to dust”.


Neo Muyanga is a composer based in Cape Town and co-curator of the Pan African Space Station. This article first appeared in print in Chimurenga 16

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