The Star of Gnosia by Damian Murphy

The Star of Gnosia by Damian Murphy

Review by S. D. Stewart

The majority of Damian Murphy’s books are lavish, limited hardcover editions published on arcane imprints based in mystical places like Bucharest, at a price point beyond the budget of a vague librarian whose precarious position is in dire risk of elimination. That they are such elusive, solid yet still transitory, tomes somehow seems fitting given the nature of Murphy’s writing, each page of which seems to transmute into thin wisps of smoke as it is turned. Thankfully, Snuggly Books has begun publishing much more affordable paperback editions of his books, allowing me to finally pass through the ornately wrought gates into his esoteric literary universe. While these editions are print-on-demand and thus lack the decadent opulence of the hardcover editions they will suffice for now, at least until I decide to abandon my sense of reason and pursue procurement of one of the greater alternatives.

This 2018 collection of novellas, all previously published by Ex Occidente Press except the titular The Star of Gnosia, is the most recent of these Snuggly paperbacks and it has far exceeded my expectations. From the interstices of so-called reality, Murphy fashions a liminal space between dreaming and waking life. His often somnolent characters wander a timeless expanse in their pursuit of gnosis, passing from the banal everyday to sudden cryptic encounters with both the sacred and the profane. Along these winding paths through uncertain locales Murphy places familiar jewels, name-checking revered writers in clever ways, such as in the opening novella The Imperishable Sacraments where his character Simone keeps a collection of white bound volumes of her favorite authors’ lost works, the spines hand-painted with their titles, included among them the infamous missing unpublished Robert Walser novel Tobold. How many Walser devotees have wistfully pondered the possible contents of this mysterious manuscript?

The oneiric borderlines of Murphy’s tapestries are so finely woven as to appear seamless with waking life. It’s almost as if they dissolve before one’s eyes on the page. This is perhaps most evident in the final piece, The Star of Gnosia, an original, lightly absurd take on the ‘kids home alone’ trope. With their father away on business, three teenage siblings conspire to form a secret Gnostic order and embark on individual spiritual quests within the confines of their manor house. By developing and performing their own specific rites in separate areas of the house, they experience visions and traverse their inner sanctums through dream life. As their experience heightens, an etheric double of the house begins to emerge, blurring the lines between two worlds. But what will happen when their father Esteban returns?

In closing, a passage from The Apostatical Ascetic:

Sitting at my desk, the same desk that I sit at every day, in the same space by the window which looks out onto the narrow street, with a sliver of sunlight filtering in through the dusty glass, I sometimes allow myself to become so removed from what I’m doing that the weight of meaning lifts entirely from the words and numbers on the ledger before me. The symbols become purely abstract, leaving nothing but the trace of naked semiotics. Relieved of the burden of comprehension, the empty signs and characters become refined. I permute them and combine them, I measure and compare them, I place them in the alembic and distill their subtle essences. They become lighter still, until all that’s left are dried out husks which contain no meaning. These can be read only through an abandonment of effort. They reveal to me the mysteries of sleep, of the void, of the empire of oblivion.

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