“I’d start talking about the dark and darkness, cold, loneliness, aging and illness, money, and how the hell can anybody keep making a living through a whole lifetime? I’d get myself all wound up and just rattle on in my head about the scariest shit I could think of” (2).
It was a cold day in hell when I began reading Anthony’s Beloved Demons: Confessions of an Unquiet Mind. Literally.
An ice storm hit parts of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area and knocked out our power. For about three days in late December 2013 we had neither heat nor light, but plenty of cold and darkness. I felt absolutely helpless before Nature and my personal demons as my parents’ home became a dark and icy tomb. Suffice to say, this book came to me at a very appropriate time.
It was on the second day that I got Anthony’s book early in the mail: the postman having somehow navigated across the treacherous ice-crusted ground and overhanging crystalline pine hedges to deliver it right to the mailbox on the doorstep of our deathly cocoon. It’s similar to the way I will also have to navigate through this book.
One challenge I really had is that even though I wanted to look at Beloved Demons in its own right, in a manner similar to how I examined the theme, interrelation of stories and, of course, what I related to in Lunatic Heroes, this book still remains stubbornly intertextual. What I mean by that is it’s almost as though Anthony’s beloved demons want to war and fight alongside his lunatic heroes and define themselves by this ancient conflict. While you can read Beloved Demons as a standalone book, it has a whole other dimension if you take its predecessor into consideration.
So first off, what does Anthony possibly mean by a “beloved demon”?
It is said that the ancient Greek poets, when singing stories of heroes attempting to find home, war, or both, would evoke the muse — or the daimon — before they began to recite their tale. “Daimon” is also the root of the contemporary words “angel” and “demon.” In addition, daimons are known as forces of nature that pass through and influence human beings. So it is only fitting, and in keeping with the ancient idea of the daimon, that “Cocoon Talk: Confessions of a Psychology Intern” begins with Anthony singing on the road on a warm summer’s day.
It’s also tempting to mention that demons have traditionally been used to incarnate a particular vice, evil, or negative thought in order to ward off, exorcise, or otherwise purge it from a subject. Certainly, “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” is a pretty good example of an attempted exorcism. However, I feel that Anthony draws on Carl Jung’s idea of the daimon much more and, in doing so, it brings an older mythological resonance to mind.
The Roman equivalent to the daimon is the genius loci: a very clearly monstrous or non-human spiritual being that protects places and people. These genii also tend to embody their spaces: to serve as their souls. And, if you think about it, it can apply well to Anthony’s Beloved Demons. His short story “Sign” is an example of a space with great emotional resonance to that regard. In other words, places can be spaces, and spaces can be memories. And Anthony evokes their souls like the daimons that they are.
Each one of the nine stories in Beloved Demons is like a different and yet interconnected reality. “Swept” is the only story that focuses solely on Anthony’s childhood. Almost all of his stories focus on the aftermath of his youth and how it affected his developing adulthood. The crowning achievements of this process can be found in the narratives of “Cocoon Talk,” “Sign,” and “Feast of the Hungry Ghost”: for just as daimons served as intermediaries between mortals and the divine, so too do these stories seem to function as bridges between Anthony’s past and adulthood.
As such, Anthony’s “Cocoon” is a nice complement to his last book’s short story “Swamp”: except that while Bullfrog was a symbol of enlightenment and the casualty of Anthony’s childhood sense of powerlessness, the butterfly is Anthony’s personal adult casualty. But the thing to understand about this butterfly’s death isn’t so much that Anthony was responsible (he was driving as it hit his vehicle after all), it is the fact that the butterfly, among other things, represents change. It is said that the wind from a butterfly’s wings can utterly destroy a mountain on the opposite side of the world. And while no one ever truly suspects the butterfly, Anthony seemed to believe the potential omen all too well and tried to prepare for the resonance of the change: the change that he ultimately experiences.
In fact, even more so than Lunatic Heroes, time seems to collapse faster than a landslide in Beloved Demons. It’s as though all the experience and time within Anthony that had been contracted into itself, into himself and his inner world back in his first book begins to expand out in extreme, ricocheting vengeance in “Cocoon”: a process that he makes even more clearly explicit in “Feast.” Anthony is breaking out of the confines created from the trauma of childhood: the continued suppression and the emotional starvation caused in “Force Fed” becoming an expansive and terrifying “Feast of the Hungry Ghost.”
Anger and passion are definitely elements of this great change. It is no coincidence that, for seemingly the first time, Anthony reveals his first legal name to be Carmine (30): the colour of red and fire and blood, of the wine-drenched Dionysian god and associated today with demons.
There is also a sense of space that becomes dilated between certain kinds of individuals, particularly sensitive ones such as Anthony, over time. For instance, I find there to be an interesting parallel between “The Wild” and “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” in which people, from well-meaning and voyeuristic to impatient and completely disrespectful, try to know more about — and even interfere with — the more intimate parts of Anthony’s life. In many of the stories from both Lunatic Heroes and Beloved Demons this, unfortunately, seems to be a recurring theme — of people wanting to know or control the passion inside him that he has been trained from childhood to avoid, while he is attempting to find and understand it himself in the midst of people constantly violating his personal space.
As a result, his space seemed to be small and narrow at times against a much larger world. At one point Anthony writes “I threw my eyes like an ocular ventriloquist” (18). It was Anthony’s reaction, ingrained from his mother, to avoid looking at people, while at the same time dealing with the perverse reflex to subvert authority and follow his own natural curiosity. Anthony’s account of Jackie not wanting him to look at “the crippled boy” in “Cocoon” is an interesting complement to his short story “Carnival” and his childhood reactions in that one as well.
You can even take this internalization a step further. In fact, “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” does take it further when the Devil and she-devils, which were seen as secretly forming and liberating within Anthony’s subconscious in Lunatic Heroes‘ “Carnival,” now become fraught with anxiety and desire: with a fear of judgement.
This leads Anthony to all but come out and describe the creation of a kink in “Feast”: or at least his kink. He seems to hypothesize that a combination of familial shame, religious fear, and suppressed desire culminated into a need for submission and masochism on the BDSM spectrum: with a particular focus on a darkly eroticized female archetype and a craving for punishment (144-45). After explaining how it is a feeling of wanting to get away, but eventually give into the fantasy scenario, he then describes a sensation in his stomach that he calls “‘the sugary feeling,’ which was both weakening and wonderful” (145). It is a striking description: particularly the latter aspect because it, above everything else, portrays a bridge between something that is both loved and feared: a beloved demon.
As I write this, I feel as though I am analysing themes in English class, and the very sense of my life depended on it. Whereas my review of Anthony’s Lunatic Heroes looked at many of his possible influences or what his tone at times sounds reminiscent of (I compared it to Will Eisner’s unsentimentality), it now really feels like Anthony’s own voice resonating throughout this entire series of linked narratives.
That said, there is one intriguing idea I would like to note. When Anthony talks about his cat Java mourning the death of his old dog and rejecting the new (110), it is very reminiscent of the narrator in Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane being “enraged” at having his pet die while some adults, in their ignorance, attempt to replace him. It is interesting to consider that Neil seemed to have created this particular story around the same time Anthony was working on Beloved Demons‘ predecessor. In any case Neil’s novel, according to Amanda Palmer, seems to have “dialed down” the setting on his own “creative blender” — of that place in an artist’s mind where their personal experiences and imagination intermix to make a story — and I can’t help but wonder if reading and working with Anthony might have influenced this in some part.
Certainly, this can be seen even more overtly when you consider that Neil actually wrote an Introduction to Beloved Demons in which he’s not only very candid about death, but he even writes out the Buddha’s entire quote on self-conquest (xxii) to which Anthony alludes in the conclusion of the book (193). And make no mistake: while Lunatic Heroes was obviously a personal narrative, an autobiography through-and-through, Beloved Demons delves deep into the personal and adult aspects of not merely “an unquiet mind” (which is one of the biggest understatements I’ve seen in Anthony’s work) but a forming mind attempting to find its individuation or, rather, its own sense of centre.
It is a dark and grueling process. I think that out of all the narratives, and aside from “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” coming to some kind of revelation through pain, pleasure and eventual acceptance, it is “Sign” that presents that unsettling feeling most of all.
Whereas “The Wild” was merely a hint of Anthony facing the primal part of his nature — his “Other” long controlled, vilified, alienated and chained as an animal — it’s in “Sign” where it truly comes to the fore in the form of power. It is very disturbing, to know that passion can be warped into the capacity for violence and the desire for control over another, and that this struggle is within all of us. But Anthony spells it out in himself and … it is unsettling.
I suspect it is meant to be so. This is something that wants to be free from all constraints: from his family’s expectations, societal duties, and his wife at that time. There are patterns and dynamics that Anthony finds himself bound by and wanting to fall back into. But there is more at work in “Sign”: a greater work if you’d prefer. You begin to realize that all of these impulses and thoughts in his mind are reaching a state of at least narrative transformation. As he finds himself back in his childhood home, it’s as though he is attempting to find stability amid his own change and he goes back to the place where he sketched out the sign of a crucifix — a cross — on a door frame so long ago.
And this, here, I believe captures the essence of why Anthony writes. The crux of it, I believe, can be seen when he asks himself: “I wonder why I made that mark? Perhaps to save something of myself from that time? Or to create a future a memory? To say I was here … To see the sign. Or perhaps I only carved into the soft, painted wood with my thumbnail, and that’s it … nothing more; then, all those years later, made a story of it. Just to make a story. The world isn’t created of atoms and molecules, but of stories” (88).
It becomes very apparent here that not only are Anthony’s books his “cross” for us to see that he was here — that perhaps all autobiographical stories function in this capacity to help us remember who we are, who we were, and perhaps to see where we are going by comparison — but it also hits home another crucial point. Dominance and submission war inside him, and these are forces, within him which he can neither deny nor completely surrender to, he attempts instead to master: that he does to the point of transcending his own sense of self and stating something very important about his book, autobiography and literature itself:
“Making stories from memories … I think it has something to do with looking back and fabricating meaning in events that, at the time, just happened. Maybe writing stories is the same as the tiny sign of the cross in the molding. Perhaps that was my first story, my first memoir, to be known about and read only by me. Now, it seems, I mark the entrance to my childhood with these symbols on paper and share them so others will know I was here, understand me, and help me understand myself, before I’m gone and can’t return” (88-89).
Any way you look at it, however, Anthony’s stories have become his beloved demons, even as he understands now that he is his own.
I am about done here. Now that I have talked about the symbolism and interlinking of stories in Beloved Demons, I want to write out some quotes that I think are very interesting and that found sympathy with me: you know, as if I haven’t already.
Anthony talks about love and perspective: “I loved her in the only way I could love then” (51).
At the beginning of “Cocoon Talk” Anthony makes a statement about the origins of human conflict: “I was always babbling, always unsure of what I was saying yet revealing nothing, and never truly trusted people who said they knew themselves or suggested that they knew me. Never really wanted anyone to see me” (3). It strikes me that the root of all problems and conflicts within relationships is that people claim to understand others and their intentions without actually doing so. No one ever truly or fully knows anyone, and the very act of proclaiming that “You don’t know me” is not only an act of anger and defiance in and of itself, but also a reminder that in all of our connections with each other we are our own sovereign spaces and should be respected as such.
In addition to the spaces in ourselves, Anthony writes about personal demons and how they can begin as weaknesses and become our strengths: “Through fantasy, we enter the screening room of an obsessed mind. And in our private theaters, we watch the show through the projector of our damaged narcissism — where the phantasmagoria transforms weak pariahs into prevailing superheroes, the shamed and the shunned into the celebrated, and places us, the marginalized extras, right at center stage … And here, we come not merely to tolerate, but to accept and finally embrace our demons — as if we willed them into life out of passion and the need to survive” (150).
I think my favourite quote, however, is the one that seems to describe how Anthony envisioned himself interacting with his desires. He states, “Nothing was nearly as captivating as this special pursuit, along with my role as undercover superhero- disguised as a pale and twitchy kid, foisting a dazzling subterfuge on a coterie of torment-skewed girls. A superhero, whose special power is getting his covert muscle charged by girls without their knowledge — surreptitiously slipping Kryptonite into their hands in order to feel his strength deliciously melt away” (152).
This last statement has a great affinity to me not only due to the “superhero” reference and how he applies it to his kink, but also in how it is different from my own personal vision of myself. Whereas Anthony seems to describe his childhood as him pretending that he is powerful and giving that power to others for his own enjoyment, I have always liked the idea of seeming to be mild — of actually being mild and kind — while underneath entertaining the fact that I can bring to bear great fury and power on everyone and everything around me. And even then, I’ve always considered what I am doing now, slowly building up my connections and experimenting carefully with that core of energy within me, as exercising that power in careful and clever ways until I can gain what I want: to take what is rightfully mine.
So if Anthony is a “superhero,” then I am definitely a Dark Lord of the Sith. Perhaps Anthony’s story “Swept” and what he learned from his father might have come in handy with my own education to that regard.
Finally there is the fact that, apparently, Anthony’s dog Poochy is “a food-operated boy” (72). Yes. He went there. He went there. If you want a hint of what to expect from Beloved Demons beyond what I’ve written, here is a video of its book launch in which not only do we hear Anthony reading “Sign” and “Dog,” but we also get to listen to Neil read his Introduction to the book and Amanda … basically making you feel. Her song Bigger on the Inside (an appropriate title for more than one reason) certainly made me do so.
I finally understood where the statement originated from and what it means. It will give you all more background on Anthony and perhaps on both of his books. As such, and in no way due to any implied threat, I give Beloved Demons a five out of five. The fact of the matter is that what I said about his quote on his dog Poochy applies to the rest of his book.
He went there.
He went there into the cold and the darkness, melting the warped and stratified ice of his surface interactions, singing like a rat, and I have to give the Devil his due … just as Anthony gave his demons their own.