Skip to main content

A Note About Canonical Essentialism

This short piece was written today to provide my book with an important summary of how canon is sexually dimorphic in relation to Cartesian thought; i.e., heteronormativity and maps as they routinely manifest under Capitalist Realism: power fantasies whose assorted, us-versus-them refrains (especially videogames) divide, then fetishize, alienize and ultimately rape nature (and workers) in order to serve profit. I'll be including it in the latest editions of my book volumes, which I'll be updating today.

About my book: My name is Persephone van der Waard and I am currently writing and illustrating a non-profit book series on sex positivity and the Gothic. Made in collaboration with other sex workers, the project is a four-volume set called Sex Positivity versus Sex Coercion, or Gothic Communism: Liberating Sex Workers under Capitalism through Iconoclastic Art. As of 2/14/2024, my thesis volume and manifesto volume are available online (the other volumes shall release over the remainder of 2024). To access my live volumes, simply go to my website's 1-page promo and pick up your own copies for free. While you're there, you can also learn about the yet-unreleased volumes, project history and logo design/promo posters!

A Note on Canonical Essentialism

…latitude, like genetics and ecology, is not destiny. We echo earlier concerns about the perils of single factor explanations and suggest that chance, and perhaps factors that promoted colonial empires, need to be more seriously considered as potentially important drivers of human inequality (source).

—Angela M. Chira, et al"Geography Is Not Destiny: A quantitative Test of Diamond's Axis of Orientation Hypothesis" (2024)

Watching Rebecca Watson first discuss the widespread critical backlash received by Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel (1997) after its debut, then offer up various counter studies since the book's publication ("Study: Guns, Germs, and Steel was Wrong," 2024), I thought of my writings on Capitalism and canon; i.e., as things to oppose through iconoclastic art when developing Gothic Communism, mid-opposition. For the next four pages, I want to quickly mention and reflect on the essentializing nature of canon within Capitalist Realism—both why the latter requires the former to succeed, but also how it manifests in ways we should routinely keep in mind.

Per my thesis statement, Capitalism sexualizes everything in a heteronormative (vertically arranged, sexually dimorphic) scheme; canon achieves heteronormativity by essentializing biology, ecology and geography (economics, etc) in equal measure in order to achieve and maintain a Cartesian outcome: domination of the natural world (and workers) to serve profit. This happens through the routine gendering of Nature vs Society (vis-à-vis Raj Patel and Jason Moore) by Cartesian thinkers; i.e., in ways that men like Francis Bacon and René Descartes started, but continue to remain relevant under Capitalist Realism as a more recent affair that neither patriarch lived to see: a raping of nature as Promethean, meaning in this case "primed for abuse, ad nauseum." Nature is Medusa; Medusa must obey and die (over and over).

(artist: Shardanic)

In turn, said Realism yields neoliberal fantasies (often videogames) that present nature as good or evil in essential terms, and by extension, gendered ones that are biologically and ecologically divided along problematic moral categories whose territory is geared towards a settler-colonial outcome: the mapping and execution of conquest, thus genocide through us versus them, reliably framing "us" as human and "them" as inhuman through various black-and-white binaries that serve capital, thus empire (or humanizing inhuman groups—e.g., white cis-het women [above]—to recruit them harmfully into a centrist story that prolongs settler-colonial conflict; i.e., for profit's sake, instead of permanently ceasing hostilities by actually addressing the socio-material conditions that historically lead to them: pro-state workers triangulating through the equality of convenience ["boundaries for me, not for thee"] to unironically punch down in defense of the state against intersectional solidarity and workers, animals and the environment at large).

It bears repeating that said execution of conquest involves a map of a location, the latter filled with enemies (e.g., orcs) who must be cleared by human agents or token enforcers, doing so step-by-step, person-by-person, room-by-room to effectively "sweep" the entire area of perceived hostilities. Doing so is meant achieve one cycle of capital in miniature; i.e., moving money through nature to achieve profit as expressed concentrically on all registers. Likewise, the basic categories of land, sexual biology and ecology manifest in a variety of refrains canonizing Cartesian dualism (and its harmful divisions) through Capitalist Realism. My book pointedly highlights two: Tolkien's and Cameron's.

(the map exhibit [1a1a1h2a1] from Volume Zero: "…Videogames are war simulators; in them, maps are built not merely to be charted and explored, but conquered through war simulations. The land is an endless site of conquest, war, rape and profit carefully dressed up as "treasure," "liberation" and "adventure," but in truth, brutalizing nature during endless wars of extermination borrowed from the historical and imaginary past as presently intertwined:

·         top-left: Tolkien's refrain, "Thror's Map" from The Hobbit, 1937

—source: Weta Workshop

·         top-right: Thomas Happ's map of Sudra from Axiom Verge, 2014

—source: magicofgames

·         bottom-left: Team Cherry's map of Hallownest, from Hollow Knight 2017

—source: tuppkam1

·         bottom-right: Bungie's map of the West from Myth: the Fallen Lords, 1997

—source: Ben's Nerdery

[…] Under Capitalist Realism, Hell is a place that always appears on Earth [or an Earth-like double]—a black fortress threatening state hegemony during the inevitable decay of a colonial body. Its widening state of exception must then be entered by the hero during the liminal hauntology of war as a repeatable, monomythic excursion…)

Tolkien's refrain gentrifies war in a fantasy-themed cartography (the map of conquest in novels, movies and games, video or otherwise), which neatly and consistently divide land and occupant between good and bad, human and orc (or spider, demon, ghost, etc). Cameron's refrain, the shooter and the Metroidvania, was first inspired by Robert Heinlein before likewise being injected into popular media as conducting military optimism[1] abroad: insectoid places to go and bomb/shoot into oblivion. Doing so happens while simultaneously popularizing it back home through military urbanism and urban warfare inside the Gothic castle (versus the land around the castle, as Tolkien tends to do; i.e., the open battlefield). There is always an enemy of nature to kill and destroy in ways that fetishize the larger alienating process, turning "empowerment" into a Promethean Quest through a Faustian bargain. It becomes Romanticized, nostaglic, endlessly remediated (a Cycle of Kings, ruins, graveyards). By extension, war is dimorphically sexualized as us-versus-them, the hunt (and its associate tensions, reliefs and anxieties) celebrated with a lucrative fakery to maintain the lie of Western sovereignty through the ghost of the counterfeit's usual process of abjection. The West, including its fantasies, remain haunted during the liminal hauntology of war as a routine appearance within a structure; e.g., Dracula's castle.

On this generic spectrum and its assorted cartographic architecture, one thing remains constant between the two refrains (and their imitators and offshoots): nature is monstrous-feminine, queer, non-white and non-Christian, etc. This includes its land and various human and non-human occupants being deliberately prepared for endless invasions and harvests by Capitalism's architects and usual benefactors: white cis-het men (and token agents) of various monomythic positions. There is a good land and a bad, a good people and a bad, a good nature and a bad, and the centrist nature of the larger structure sanctions and essentializes canonical violence by the good against the bad; i.e., reliably justifying the former invading and brutalizing the latter to move money through nature by cheapening nature. Nature becomes Hell by design, amounting to a documentation process required by Capitalism to function in essential perpetuity.

In short, nature becomes canon, a mandate for how to think, thus behave regarding the usual benefactors and victims within a settler colony and the state of exception found in or between its surrounding areas of influence. There must always be a good and bad land, but also good and bad occupants according to biology as essential (and connected to gender) in terms of a heteronormative ordering of workers within nature as something to control, thus dominate; i.e., there are white cis-het men and anything else is alien to varying degrees; e.g., white women are alien, but not as alien as trans people provided they behave within the structure. "Rocking the boat" through intersectional solidarity against capital invites collective (and selective) punishment through reactive abuse to keep these dichotomies not only installed, but constantly enforced through physical, mental and/or socio-ideological forms of menticidal violence; i.e., dogma insofar as canonical essentialism aids and abets in Capitalist Realism concealing capital functioning as it always does. As something to criminalize and dominate, nature is always alien, fetishized, incorrect, criminal, outside, black, etc…

The proof is in the pudding. Or rather, it appears in the "pudding" of people as expressed through commodities that—when reclaimed by active, emotionally/Gothically intelligent and conscious workers synthesizing praxis—assist in said workers' chaotic liberation (camp) as part of the natural-material world enslaved and exploited by Capitalism through routine, orderly conquest and genocide (canon); i.e., by dissolving the very boundaries, thus binaries, that trap and exploit us in home as foreign: a settler-colonial project for which we are not strictly welcome and for which internal and external tensions hyphenate clean divisions like inside/outside or correct/incorrect into something far more liminal, messy and grey. "There is no outside of the text," insofar as people and their interactions with each other (and the various cultural markers of coded behaviors that lead to or resist genocide) become something to acknowledge ipso facto. We see the aesthetic of torture, for instance, in calculated risk as a proletarian function; i.e., a Gothic fetish that aims to express power through its theatrical absence/disparity as an informed means of negotiating state trauma. In viewing it, we must learn to recognize the human, thus autonomous, person involved in defense of nature, of workers, of our land, sexualities, bodies, genders, etc, as constantly under attack by capital.

My friend, Harmony Corrupted, is but one example. Consider how this book is full of similar people, places and things. Seek them out, but also recognize the ones I do not have time to list. Do so to achieve class and culture war yourselves; i.e., as a cathartic sexual undertaking with non-heteronormative (thus non-Cartesian) results. We're in this together, comrades!

[1] From Persephone van der Waard's "The Promethean Quest and James Cameron's Military Optimism in Metroid," (2021):

Just as Alien evolved into Aliens, the Metroid franchise has become increasingly triumphant over time. Abjuring the Promethean myth, it instead offers military optimism—the idea that seemingly unstoppable enemies can be defeated with patience and, more importantly, military resources; the more victories, the more resources there are to use (even if these are little more than looted plunder in the grand scheme).

Samus repeatedly embarks on the Promethean Quest. Over time, this quest has become less cautionary and more professional. The Promethean past isn't something to fear or avoid; it's something to shoot. This attitude removes the quest's cautionary elements, especially where the military is concerned. This creates a franchise much more fixated on Samus as a neutral figure with military ties. Rather than fight them, she does their bidding and is celebrated for it (source).


Persephone van der Waard is an anarcho-Communist, sex worker, genderqueer activist and Gothic ludologist. She sometimes writes reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews for fun; or does independent research for her PhD on Metroidvania and speedrunning every now and again. She's also an erotic artist and a writer. If you're interested in her work or curious about illustrated or written commissions, please refer to her website for more information.