11 Questions: Pandemonium: A Visual History of Demonology by Ed Simon
Describe your book in three adjectives!
Unnerving, uncanny, unsettling.
What is one of your favorite sentences from the book?
When the satirist, raconteur, and Enlightenment philosophe François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was about to either merge with eternity or become vermiculated for the conqueror worms (your perspective on which depending on metaphysical inclinations), some unlucky Roman Catholic priest was tasked with administering the sacrament of extreme unction to the dying freethinker. As is the liturgy for those whom are receiving the last rites, the priest would have asked Voltaire, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his works?” Anecdotal legend has it that the learned and famed philosophe waggishly responded that “I see no reason to start making enemies right now,” and then promptly died.
Name a book or writer that inspired or guided you as you wrote.
Jeffrey Burton Russell’s four volume history of the Devil remains one of the most illuminating accounts of the concept of absolute evil, because it brackets out the question of literal existence while acknowledging that the experience of Satan has for many people often been very real, a distinction which allows for a richer conversation than some secular approaches would have.
What is something you discovered in the process of writing this book?
That when writing a history of demonology as a discipline, the usual occult suspects will need to be considered (i.e. Cornelius Agrippa, John Dee, Aleister Crowley), but that there are some fascinating and surprising convergences with the mainstream of philosophy as well (i.e. Rene Descartes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hannah Arendt).
What was challenging about the process?
Making sure that a thread of argumentation remains sustained throughout, despite all of the digressionary threads that such a subject necessarily encourages.
What was sustaining about it?
When writing about a subject that’s so vast, the ability to continually pivot and provide a sampling of a new period, a new figure, a new reading, or a new interpretation serves to enliven the process.
What’s a song that would be on the book’s soundtrack?
Rezső Seress’ 1933 jazz standard “Gloomy Sunday,” rumored to have been written with some Faustian negotiation.
Who are some of the people you wrote this book for?
I wrote Pandemonium for anyone who, despite being certain that demons, devils, specters, spirits, and imps are superstitious figments of the imagination, aren’t going to take any chances.
What are some of the communities that shaped it?
I was never a goth growing up, at best I was goth-adjacent, or goth-sympathetic, a kid in khakis who had more than a few friends who wore out the entire Black Sabbath discography. Some of the spirit of that perennial counter-culture, the attraction to the macabre and the morbid, can’t help but inspire a lot of Pandemonium. At the same time, inheritor of a barely catechized part-Catholic background, there was a real motivation that whatever language we use to describe it, it’s important not to minimize that evil is real.
What kinds of work do you want your book to do in the world? What are your hopes for its afterlife?
I would be delighted if the book becomes an idiosyncratic entry into the voluminous literature on Satan, something that focuses less on the big man himself than on all of those lesser figures associated with him. I want Pandemonium to be the sort of book that somebody finds in a library, and flipping through they think to themselves “What the hell is this?,” and even though it unnerves them a bit, they keep coming back to that shelf.
What are you doing next? (Does not have to be a writing project!)
For years I’ve wanted to write a “biography” of Dr. Faust, from the earliest versions of the legend until the contemporary day, and I think that my experience with Pandemonium has given me ample experience to work with (well, not personal Faustian experience, but research on the topic). I’ve also, in a distinctly non-Satanic direction, been kicking around an idea about a book of essays intimately concerned with the experience of space and place, a kind of atlas of what it means to be a person in spaces ranging from an airport to a rain-forest, a library to a prairie.
Briallen Hopper is editor of KtB, and author of Hard to Love: Essays And Confessions (Bloomsbury, 2019). She teaches writing at Queens College, City University of New York, and holds a PhD in English from Princeton. Learn more at her website, www.briallenhopper.com, or follow her on Twitter @briallenhopper.