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vendredi, 13 juin 2014

The Anti-Modernism of G. K. Chesterton

Neither Progressive nor Conservative: The Anti-Modernism of G. K. Chesterton

By Keith Preston

AlternativeRight.Com & http://attackthesystem.com

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) bears the distinction of being a writer who resisted virtually all of the dominant trends of his era. He lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, precisely the time that modernity was fully consolidating itself within Western civilization more than a century after the apex of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Chesterton began his writing career as a young man and as the twentieth century was just beginning. As much as any other writer from his era, he predicted the horrors that century would entail.
A man of many talents and interests, Chesterton was a playwright, novelist, lecturer, journalist, poet, critic of literature and art, philosopher, and theologian. His work in many of these areas stands out as being among the very best of the era and continues to offer immense insight even in the present day. Among Chesterton’s circle of friends and intellectual sparring partners were such luminaries as H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, and George Bernard Shaw. His relationships with these men are themselves highly significant as each of them were among the leading “progressive” intellectuals of the era and fully committed to the modernist values of rationalism, secularism, and socialism. As these were all systems of thought that Chesterton adamantly opposed, it is striking that he could also count some of these figures as friends and engage them in amiable debate. It was during an era when the old liberal values of rational discourse and gentlemanly civility still prevailed, even among those who in many ways held polar opposite world views. It was before the time of the radical political polarization of modern intellectual life that began with the growth of the totalitarian movements of the early to middle twentieth century. The friendly exchanges between Chesterton and Shaw, for instance, even on topics of intense disagreement in many ways serve as a refreshing contrast to the rhetorical brutality that dominates much of today’s public discourse.

The dramatic changes that had occurred in Western society over the course of the nineteenth century had dramatically impacted the thinking of its leading intellects. The growth of industrial civilization has raised the general standards of living to levels that were hitherto not even dreamed of, and the rising incomes of the traditionally exploited industrial working class were finally allowing even the proletariat to share in at least some middle class comforts. The rise of new political ideologies such as liberalism and democracy had imparted to ordinary people political and legal rights that were previously reserved only for the nobility. Health standards also increased significantly as industrial civilization expanded and life expectancy began to grow longer. Scientific discovery and technological innovation exploded during the same era and human beings began to marvel at what they had accomplished and might be able to accomplish in the future. Religion-driven superstitions had begun to wane and the religious persecutions of the past had dwindled to near non-existence. Societies became ever more complex and out of this complexity came the need for an ever expanding class of specialists and more scientific approaches to social management. While only a hundred years had passed between the world as it was in 1800 and the world of 1900, the changes that had occurred in the previous century were so profound that the time difference might as well have been thousands of years.

The profundity of this civilization-wide change inspired the leading thinkers of the era to tremendous confidence and optimism regarding the future and human capabilities. If one surveys the literature of utopian writers of the era one immediately observes that many of these authors expressed a confidence in the future that now seems as quaint as it is absurd. The horrors of the twentieth century, with its genocides, total wars, atomic weaponry, and unprecedented levels of tyranny would subsequently shatter the naïve idealism of many who had previously viewed the advent of that century with great hopes that often approached the fantastic. The early twentieth century was a time of joyous naivete. Bertrand Russell would later insist that no one who was born after the beginning of the Great War which broke out in 1914 would ever know what it was like to be truly happy.

“Pick a star, any star” – the retro-futuristic optimism of the past

But G. K. Chesterton, while far from being a cynical or overly pessimistic figure, was not one who shared in this optimism. Indeed, he was one who understood the potential horrors that could be unleashed by the new society and new modes of thought as clearly as any other. To Chesterton, the progressives of his time were over confident to the point of arrogance and failed to recognize the dangers that might befall mankind as humanity boldly forged its way into the future. Perhaps one of Chesterton’s most prescient works of social criticism is Eugenics and Other Evils, published in 1917. [1] At the time the eugenics movement that was largely traceable to the thought of Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, had become a popular one in the world’s most advanced nations such as England, America, and Germany. It was a movement that in its day was regarded as progressive, enlightened and as applying scientific principles to the betterment of human society and even the human species itself. Its supporters included many leading thinkers and public figures of the era including Winston Churchill, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, John Maynard Keynes, Anthony Ludovici, Madison Grant, and Chesterton’s friends Wells and Shaw. Yet Chesterton was one of the earliest critics of the eugenics movement and regarded it as representing dangerous presumptions on the part of its proponents that would likely lead to horrific abuses of liberty and violations of the individual person which it eventually did.

One of Chesterton’s most persistent targets was the growing secularism of his era, a trend which continues to the present time. That Chesterton was a man of profound faith even as religion was being dwarfed by science among thinking and educated people during his time solidifies Chesterton’s role as a true intellectual maverick. It is this aspect of Chesterton’s thought that as much as anything else continues to win him the admiration of those who remain believers even during the twenty-first century. Chesterton was always a man of spiritual interests and even as a young man toyed with occultism and ouija boards. The development of his spiritual thinking later led him to regard himself and an “orthodox” Christian and Chesterton formally converted to Catholicism in 1922 at the age of forty-six. His admirer C. S. Lewis considered Chesterton’s writings on Christian subjects to be among the very best works in Christian apologetics.

In the intellectual climate of the early twenty-first century, religious thinking has fallen into even greater disrepute than it possessed in the early twentieth century. In relatively recent times, popular culture has produced a number of writers whose open contempt for religious believers has earned them a great deal of prominence. While intelligent believers who can offer thoughtful defenses of their views certainly still exist, it is also that case that religious belief or practice is at its lowest point yet in terms of popular enthusiasm in the Western world. Less than five percent of the British population attends religious services regularly and even in the United States, with its comparatively large population of religious fundamentalists, secularism has become the fastest growing religious perspective. Chesterton would no doubt be regarded as a rather anachronistic figure in such a cultural climate.

Abandoned church

The contemporary liberal and left-wing stereotype of a religious believer is that of an ignorant or narrow-minded bigot who is incapable of flexibility in his thinking and reacts with intolerance to those holding different points of view. Certainly, there are plenty of religious people who fit such stereotypes just as overly rigid and dogmatic persons can be found among adherents of any system of thought. Yet, a survey of both Chesterton’s writings on religion and his correspondence with friends of a secular persuasion indicates that Chesterton was the polar opposite of a bigoted, intolerant, religious fanatic. In his Christian apologetic work Orthodoxy, Chesterton wrote,

“To hope for all souls is imperative, and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable…In Christian morals, in short, it is wicked to call a man ‘damned’: but it is strictly religious and philosophic to call him damnable.” 

Of his friend Shaw, he said, “In a sweeter and more solid civilization he would have been a great saint.”

In his latter years when he knew he was dying, H. G. Wells wrote to Chesterton, “If after all my Atheology turns out wrong and your Theology right I feel I shall always be able to pass into Heaven (if I want to) as a friend of G.K.C.’s. Bless you.” Chesterton wrote in response:

“If I turn out to be right, you will triumph, not by being a friend of mine, but by being a friend of Man, by having done a thousand things for men like me in every way from imagination to criticism. The thought of the vast variety of that work, and how it ranges from towering visions to tiny pricks of humor, overwhelmed me suddenly in retrospect; and I felt we have none of us ever said enough…Yours always, G. K. Chesterton.” [2]

It was also during Chesterton’s era that the classical socialist movement was initially starting to become powerful through the trade unions and labor parties and virtually all leading intellectuals of the era professed fidelity to the ideals of socialism. Yet just as Chesterton was a prescient critic of eugenics, he likewise offered an equally prescient critique of the totalitarian implications of state socialism. Because of this, he was often labeled a reactionary or conservative apologist for the plutocratic overlords of industrial capitalism by the Marxists of his era. But Chesterton was no friend of those who would exploit the poor and workings classes and was in fact a staunch critic of the industrial system as it was in the England of his era. “Who except a devil from Hell ever defended it?” he was alleged to have said when asked about capitalism as it was practiced in his day. [3]

Indeed, Chesterton’s criticisms of both industrial capitalism and state socialism led to the development of one of the most well-known and interesting aspects of his thought, the unique economic philosophy of distributism. Along with his dear friend and fellow Catholic traditionalist Hilaire Belloc (Shaw coined the term “Chesterbelloc” to describe the pair as inseparable as they were), Chesterton suggested the creation of an economic system where productive property would be spread to as many owners of capital as possible thereby producing many “small capitalists” rather than having capital concentrated into the hands of a few plutocrats, trusts, or the state itself.

The prevailing trends of the twentieth century were towards ever greater concentrations of power in large scale, pyramid-like institutions and ever expanding bureaucratic profligacy. Chesterton’s and Belloc’s economic ideas were frequently dismissed as quaint and archaic. However, technological developments in the cyber age have once again opened the door for exciting new possibilities concerning the prospects for the decentralization of economic life. Far from being anachronistic reactionaries, perhaps Chesterton and his friend Belloc were instead futuristic visionaries far ahead of their time.

It is clear enough that Chesterton was in many ways a model for what a public intellectual should be. He was a fiercely and genuinely independent thinker and one who stuck to his convictions with courage. Chesterton never hesitated to buck the prevailing trends of his day and was not concerned about earning the opprobrium of the chattering classes by doing so. He was above all a man of character, committed to intellectual integrity, sincere in his convictions, tolerant in his religious faith, and charitable in his relations with others. In his intellectual life, he wisely and quixotically criticized the worst excesses of the intellectual culture of his time. The twentieth century might have been a happier time if the counsel of G. K. Chesterton had been heeded.


[1] Chesterton, Gilbert Keith. Eugenics and Other Evils. Reprinted by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition (November 20, 2012). Originally published in 1917.

[2] Babinski, Edward T. Chesterton and Univeralism. Archived at http://www.tentmaker.org/biographies/chesterton.htm. Accessed on March 12, 2013.

[3] Friedman, David D. G. K. Chesterton-An Author Review, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to Radical Capitalism. Second Edition. Archived at http://daviddfriedman.com/The_Machinery_of_Freedom_.pdf. Accessed on March 12, 2013.

Originally published in Chesterton: Thoughts & Perspectives, Volume Thirteen (edited by Troy Southgate) published by Black Front Press.

mardi, 22 avril 2014

In America è boom di vendite per il libro “1984″

In America è boom di vendite per il libro “1984″

Ex: http://luciananonconforme.wordpress.com

L’opera deve il suo nuovo successo allo scandalo scoppiato dopo le rivelazioni del giovane informatico Edward Snowden, che ha svelato al mondo alcuni dettagli sul programma di sorveglianza dell’intelligence statunitense

Il Grande Fratello, il personaggio immaginario creato da George Orwell nel suo celebre libro “1984″, sta avendo un nuovo successo commerciale alimentato, molto probabilmente, dallo scandalo intercettazioni che coinvolge l’intelligence americana, come rivelato dallo scoop del quotidiano britannico Guardian.

Su Amazon le vendite di “1984″ non hanno cessato di aumentare negli ultimi giorni. Il romanzo, pubblicato nel 1949, un anno prima della morte del suo autore, alle 16,30 italiane era uno dei cinque libri più venduti delle ultime 24 ore, ed era balzato dalla 6.208 posizione alla 193esima.

L’opera deve il suo nuovo successo allo scandalo scoppiato dopo le rivelazioni del giovane informatico Edward Snowden, che ha svelato al mondo alcuni dettagli sul programma di sorveglianza dell’intelligence statunitense. Nella società che Orwell descrive, ciascun individuo è tenuto costantemente sotto controllo delle autorità.


jeudi, 03 avril 2014

My hero: George Orwell

My hero: George Orwell
by John Carey

Ex: http://www.theguardian.com

Orwell was a truth-teller whose courage and sense of social justice made him a secular saint


George Orwell
George Orwell with his son in 1946. Photograph: Veina Richards


I admire Orwell for how he lived as well as for how he wrote. He would have sneered at the notion that he was a saint – he once described the Christian heaven as "choir practice in a jeweller's shop". All the same, for me he was a secular saint. His road-to‑Damascus moment came when he resigned from the Indian Imperial police in 1927. He was aware, he said, of an "immense weight of guilt" he had to expiate, so he joined the beggars and outcasts, as described in Down and Out in Paris and London and "How the Poor Die".

He was a truth-teller, admitting to feelings others would hide. In Burma he had found the taunts and insults of the radicalised Buddhist priests hard to bear. Part of him thought of the British Raj as a tyranny, but another part thought "the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts".

He admired courage and "the military virtues", regarding pacifism as a luxury others pay for. He wrote: "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf." He regretted having been too young for the first world war, but in Spain he fought against fascism with the POUM anarchist militia, was shot in the throat and almost killed.

Spain opened his eyes to the ruthlessness of Soviet communism. The communists had no intention of allowing the anarchists an independent role; they were hunted down and liquidated. Orwell and his wife Eileen only just escaped. He also witnessed the communist media's rewriting of history – battles in which he had fought were completely misreported. His vision of a totalitarianism in which the very concept of objective truth vanishes grew into Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Comradeship with common soldiers in Spain clarified what socialism meant to him: that the highest-paid would not get more than 10 times what the lowest-paid got; that hereditary privilege would be abolished; that the public schools and universities would be filled with state‑aided students chosen simply for ability. Far too much like social justice for anyone to advocate now.

• John Carey's The Unexpected Professor is published by Faber.

mercredi, 01 janvier 2014

Arthur C. Clarke, La Cité et les Astres

Chronique littéraire: Arthur C. Clarke, La Cité et les Astres, 1956.

Ex: http://cerclenonconforme.hautetfort.com

Edition Denoël.jpg

Le Paradis Galactique perdu

Ecrit il y a plus d’un demi siècle, la Cité et les Astres est un roman-clé de la science-fiction dite « classique ». C’est aussi l’un des ouvrages les plus riches d’Arthur C. Clarke, l’auteur britannique de 2001, l’Odyssée de l’Espace.

Dans un futur extrêmement lointain, Diaspar – anagramme de Paradis - est le dernier bastion d’humanité sur terre. Une bonne partie de l’univers a été ravagé par une guerre entre empires galactiques, et les rares hommes survivants ont constitué une sorte de base autonome durable ultime au cœur de la vaste étendue désertique que constitue désormais la Terre, à mi-chemin entre Matrix et la Cité idéale de Brunelleschi. Un jeune adolescent un peu à part,  Alvin, choisit de se détourner du petit confort ultime de Diaspar pour diriger son regard vers les Astres, vers les contrées lointaines, qui terrifient ses congénères…

Jusque-là, rien de bien original. Et pourtant, il me semble qu’on aurait tort de passer son chemin.

Ce qui frappe dans cet ouvrage, c’est tout d’abord le foisonnement des sujets abordés. On y trouve en effet la plupart des thèmes chers aux auteurs de SF classiques : l’immortalité, l’eugénisme, la mise en question du divin, mais aussi un certain nombre d’éléments propres au space-opéra : les robots, les extra-terrestres et autres envahisseurs, les pouvoirs télépathiques, télékinésiques, la téléportation, etc., le tout mâtiné d’un certain nombre d’éléments issus des civilisations indo-européenne : l’ aspect cyclique du temps, la philosophie, l’omniprésence de l’art - mosaïques, sculptures intégrées à l’espace publique -, permanence de la vie culturelle, de l’architecture qui défie les âges…

A première vue, Diaspar se présente comme une sorte de société idéale : plutôt qu’à un monde post-apocalyptique, on est confronté à un univers propret, auto-suffisant et quasi-immuable, caractérisé par une sorte d’état de béatitude perpétuel. La guerre, la maladie, et même la mort elle-même ont été éradiqués.

Même si le terme n’est jamais mentionné directement, on ne peut s’empêcher de songer à un retour à l’Âge d’or, après plusieurs millénaires d’une interminable décadence intergalactique, ayant atteint son paroxysme avec la destruction de la majorité de l’humanité par de mystérieux Envahisseurs : ainsi la cité s’organise-t-elle autour d’une colline, réminiscence de la montagne sacrée, de l’axe cosmique, du nombril de la terre[1], au sommet de laquelle se trouve un édicule abritant la statue du Créateur de la cité, un peu à la manière d’un temple ; de plus, la réincarnation et la réminiscence des vies antérieures assure virtuellement sur Diaspar l’immortalité, et donne d’ailleurs à la mort un visage totalement différent de celui qu’on lui trouve habituellement : certains protagonistes, dans le livre de Clarke, se donnent volontairement la mort pour échapper à tout problème qui leur semble de trop grande envergure, presque sans état d’âme, parce qu’ils sont assurés de se réincarner plus tard. L’homme n’ayant plus à craindre la mort, les problèmes existentiels récurrents subissent des inflexions monumentales. On trouve aussi le thème de la prééminence de l’esprit sur la matière, puisque les hommes de Diaspar peuvent créer et détruire à volonté tous les objets de la vie quotidienne, par la seule force de la pensée.

Bien que Clarke ne fournissent que peu de détails quant à ces étranges pouvoirs, il semble que toutes ces mystérieuses facultés psychiques soient fournis par une sorte de processeur hypertrophié, tout à la fois cœur et cerveau de cette cité idéale aux allures de Paradis perdu et pourtant dystopique à maints égards…

Le versant dystopique

Car ce mystérieux Âge d’or n’aurait probablement pas trouvé grâce aux yeux d’un Guénon ou d’un Evola. La première dissonance perceptible dans l’ouvrage de Clarke consiste en une phobie insurmontable pour tous les habitants de Diaspar : celle de l’éventualité même de se confronter à quoi que ce soit ayant un rapport avec le monde extérieur à la cité. Les grands espaces inspirent aux hommes de Diaspar une peur qui semble venue du fond des âges. Ce premier élément discordant est très révélateur de la mentalité d’une société qui pense avoir atteint une sorte d’état de grâce en empruntant la voie de la technologie. Car au-delà des apparences, Diaspar n’est rien d’autre qu’une société régie en totalité par les seuls moyens  matériels. Les robots sont quasi-invisibles mais omniprésents, et assurent le bon fonctionnement de la Cité ; un cerveau-machine, appelé Calculatrice Centrale, fait office de divinité locale - et universelle en raison du caractère unique de Diaspar. Les hommes de Diaspar se sont donné les moyens matériels de maîtriser à la perfection leur microcosme et chacun de ses composants, et il semble donc tout naturel que ce soit une machine omnipotente qui leur tienne lieu d’entité divine.

Le confort de tous les instants implique un autre phénomène : la seule notion d’effort physique, et partant, tout ce qui peut constituer une aventure authentique, est devenue étrangère aux habitants de la cité ; le héros du roman en fera d’ailleurs l’expérience au cours de ses pérégrinations. Dès lors un grand nombre de qualités humaines parfois triviales mais absolument essentielles - le courage, la patience, le dévouement… ne trouve plus de champ d’expression. Il en va de même des liens entre les hommes, qui se trouvent totalement dénaturés : immortels, les habitants de Diaspar se connaissent ou se reconnaissent tous, mais ne sont même pas en mesure d’éprouver l’authenticité des liens qui semblent pourtant unir certain d’entre eux : l’amitié comme l’amour sont sur Diaspar des abstractions supplantées par des éléments plus directement sensibles et superficiels, comme la simple attirance physique par exemple.

Les dissemblances avec la société traditionnelle apparaissent à mesure que l’on progresse  dans la lecture de La Cité et les Astres. La conception de la cellule familiale, par exemple, est réduite à peau de chagrin : la procréation elle-même n’a plus de finalité génésique ; la maternité n’existe plus, et l’éducation à proprement parler se réduit à une simple formalité, les individus de Diaspar sortent préfabriqués idéalement d’un « temple de la Création », déjà physiquement âgés d’une vingtaine d’années, et les parents de chaque individu sont attribués de manière aléatoire.

Ajoutons qu’au cours du roman, l’auteur nous gratifie d’une confrontation particulièrement éclairante avec un autre type de société régie par un système de valeurs radicalement différent, ce qui a le mérite de procurer plus de profondeur encore au propos, et de donner un second souffle à l’intrigue.

Un bon exemple de roman de science-fiction intelligent

Arthur C. Clarke.jpgLe microcosme que Clarke nous fait entrevoir semble donc idéal, et fondé en apparence sur un système traditionnel ; pourtant il ne faut pas longtemps pour découvrir au contraire une société hédoniste, nombriliste et dont la vanité est à peine voilée par les avancées technologiques éblouissantes, qui agissent comme autant de narcotiques sur la conscience de chacun. Bien à l’abri au cœur de leur petit monde  contemplatif, esthétisant, intellectualisant, désacralisé au possible, aux antipodes des protagonistes de la République du Mont Blanc de Saint Loup, les habitants de Diaspar sont des « super-hommes » sur le plan physique ou même culturel, mais sont à des années-lumière du surhomme de Nietzsche. Une vie passée à méditer et à créer n’a aucun sens, aucune valeur, si rien ne vient mettre quoi que ce soit en péril, si rien ne vient troubler la quiétude égocentrique de l’homme, car c’est seulement lorsqu’il est confronté aux difficultés que celui-ci est capable de s’élever au-dessus de sa médiocre condition.

Toute ressemblance avec une société existante ou ayant existé n’est donc plus tout à fait fortuite : l’idéal d’une société capitaliste, fondée sur la soumission de l’essentiel aux seuls impératifs économiques, censés apporter le Salut à l’homme occidental par le confort matériel, sécularisée jusqu’à la corde, ne constitue-t-il pas un prototype de Diaspar ?

Les parallèles que l’on pourrait établir avec le monde actuel ne s’arrêtent pas là : on peut lire aussi La Cité et les Astres comme un prolongement de 1984, puisque la société qu’on y trouve est bâtie sur une série de mensonges complaisamment entretenus par un système donné. Tout comme dans 1984, un seul individu, le personnage principal de l’œuvre, semble avoir les yeux décillés. C’est à partir de son expérience, dissidente, déstabilisante, comme le serait un virus dans un système informatique, que se développe le roman.

Plusieurs éléments du roman de Clarke renvoient au thème de la religion, parfois d’une manière très allusive ; de façon générale on peut remarquer que l’auteur met en cause, si ce n’est la spiritualité dans son ensemble, au moins l’idéal dogmatique des religions révélées. Je ne vous en dis pas davantage afin de ne pas déflorer ce qui est sans doute l’un des passages les plus surprenants et les plus inventifs de tout le roman, mais je ne ferais pas preuve d’une grande honnêteté en présentant ce livre comme un plaidoyer pour un retour à la spiritualité. A mon avis Clarke a plutôt choisi dans cet ouvrage d’insister sur l’importance vitale de l’éducation, de l’épreuve, et d’autres vertus propres à l’homme – ce qui, dans le fond, n’a rien de théologique, mais présente au moins le mérite de faire appel à un ensemble de valeurs supérieures.

L’auteur nous livre, au final, une vision relativement positive de ce que peut devenir l’homme dans une société hypermatérialiste, puisque d’une part la société de Diaspar échappe à la guerre de tous contre tous, et que d’autre part, à l’inverse de ce que l’on peut lire dans certains classiques d’anticipation tels que 1984 ou Farenheit 451, on trouve sur Diaspar des aspects de vie culturelle ou philosophique. Mais les habitants de cette petite utopie sont dépourvus de vitalité, de sève, de force intérieure ; la vie sur Diaspar se développe exclusivement sur le plan horizontal. Ce roman met en scène de  façon assez intelligente l’éradication de la troisième dimension de l’homme, qui fait que chaque individu devient non pas un être humain doté de sens critique, mai un logiciel incarné.


[1] consultez Mircea Eliade si ces notions ne vous sont pas encore familières

jeudi, 19 décembre 2013

The Life & Ideas of Colin Wilson


A Heroic Vision for Our Time:
The Life & Ideas of Colin Wilson

By John Morgan

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

Colin Wilson, the English author of well over a hundred books on subjects as diverse as philosophy, literary criticism, criminology, and the occult, as well as many novels, essays and short stories, passed away last Thursday (December 5, 2013) at 11:45 PM local time, in the presence of his wife, Joy, and his daughter, Sally. He was 82.

It was unfortunate that Colin’s death came within hours of Nelson Mandela’s, as it ended what little chance it had of being reported in the television news media, as would have been fitting for an author who I believe to have been among the most important authors of the latter half of the twentieth century. A number of obituaries have appeared in the British press this week, most of them full of mockery and some venturing shamelessly into insult. This was not unexpected, for reasons that I will discuss further on.

Colin’s name is probably not familiar to many younger readers in the United States, unless they have unusual reading tastes. Even in his native England, Colin isn’t very well-known among the younger generations, apart from his popular true crime and occult-themed books, which is a pity, since Colin’s work encompassed much more than that. Indeed, his first book, The Outsider [2], which has been variously classified as a work of existentialism, sociology and literary criticism, was published in 1956, when Colin was only 24 years old, and became an instant bestseller throughout the English-speaking world, and was, briefly, the talk of the literary world. Few would have imagined at that time, I suspect, that he would end up passing into obscurity. It is certainly unjust that his exit from this world should have been upstaged by Mandela’s, since Colin was undoubtedly the more important of the two men.

I am probably biased in making this judgment, since Colin was a personal acquaintance of mine. I remember first coming across his book, Beyond the Outsider [3], on the remainder table outside of the downtown Ann Arbor Borders during a period when I had dropped out of my classes at the University of Michigan out of despair and frustration. Colin’s writing opened up a whole new intellectual vista for me. Unlike much of what went on in my university classes, Colin’s ideas really struck a chord with me. This was no dry intellectualism or critique of the guilt of the modern West, and still less a “deconstruction” – this was a philosophy of and call to unabashed and unapologetic heroism, based upon the best (and now discredited by the mainstream) aspects of the Western tradition. It was, in part, my enthusiasm for Colin’s work that led me to finally return to and finish school. I was also inspired to set up the first Website dedicated to Colin in 1996, which soon led to me getting in touch with the man himself. We corresponded for many years, and I was fortunate enough to meet him at a conference of the International Fortean Organization in November 2000, where he was a speaker. I can’t claim that Colin was a close friend of mine, but he was certainly an acquaintance, and served as a great inspiration to me during a crucial time of my life. Therefore, the news of Colin’s death came as a blow for me, although not an unexpected one, considering his age.


wilson-262x300.jpgColin wrote two autobiographies: the first, Voyage to a Beginning [4], was published in 1969; and Dreaming to Some Purpose [5], in 2004. These are the best sources for learning about Colin’s life, but I will offer a few essentials.

Colin was born on June 26, 1931 in Leicester, England to a working-class family. He developed an early passion for reading and ideas, although his first love was science. He left school, as was normal for teenagers who were expected to go to work, at age 16, and got a job as an assistant in a chemistry lab. He has described how his early enthusiasm for science quickly waned, as he discovered that it alone failed to answer many of the essential questions, such as the meaning of life and his place in it. Gradually sinking into despair, he describes how he went to work one day with the intention of killing himself. Upon arriving, he took down a bottle of hydrochloric acid that he knew would kill him immediately. But once he opened it and was about to drink, he suddenly saw himself as two people. One was a depressed and confused teenager; the other was the person he realized he could become. He realized that it didn’t matter at all if the first killed himself, he said; but if the first Colin Wilson died, he would be taking the other one with him, and that would be a tragedy. So he put the bottle back and went about his work.

Colin discovered his new passion in literature, philosophy and writing, which he threw himself into with feverish enthusiasm. Supporting himself through a series of low-paying jobs for the next several years, he began gestating the ideas that would eventually become his first book, The Outsider [2].

It should be of interest to Counter-Currents readers that, at this time, Wilson befriended Sir Oswald Mosley, whom he met at a café. (Wilson later claimed that he knew nothing of Mosley’s political activities at the time.) Wilson and Mosley shared an interest in many of the same writers and philosophers, and apparently their friendship continued until Mosley’s death, over 20 years later. Mosley even penned a very laudatory review of The Outsider [2] under a pseudonym in his journal, The European, shortly after the former’s publication. Wilson, for his part, never disavowed his friendship with Mosley, although he did disavow fascism and wrote, in a review of two books about Mosley that he published in 1961, that he considered Mosley to be a great man in spite of his error, in Wilson’s view, of embracing fascism. Nonetheless, this relationship was one that was to dog Wilson for the remainder of his career, and more than one journalist attempted to brand him with the “fascist” label.

It was in 1955 that Colin, frustrated at the amount of time and energy that he was spending just to make ends meet instead of reading and writing, gave up his flat and took up residence in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath, a park in London. He would spend his days in the Reading Room at the British Museum, studying and working on The Outsider [2]. (He later confessed that, when it was particularly cold, he would spend the night at his then-girlfriend Joy’s place.) It just so happened that the supervisor of the Reading Room at that time was the novelist Angus Wilson, and he and Colin struck up a friendship. When Angus learned that Colin was working on a book, Angus asked to see it, and was so impressed by it that he decided to show it to his publisher, Gollancz, which soon agreed to publish it. And when the book was published in both the United Kingdom and the United States in 1956, it became an instant bestseller, earning widespread praise even from established literary figures like Cyril Connolly, Philip Toynbee and Edith Sitwell, all of whom assured their readers that Colin’s career was greatness in the making. For a 24-year-old author publishing his first book, it was unheard-of. It was every young writer’s fantasy brought to life, and might seem to have been almost too good to be true.

And it was.

Upon the publication of the second book in what came to be called Colin’s “Outsider cycle,” Religion and the Rebel [6], in 1957, the critics who had previously been so full of praise had now turned vicious. It was obvious, many of them claimed, that they had been fooled – Wilson was nothing but a pretentious, egotistical hack who was attempting to grapple with issues that were beyond his knowledge and maturity. This established a pattern in the British press that has continued up to the obituaries being published about him at present. Either Colin Wilson was to be ridiculed, or else ignored altogether.

There are many reasons for this. Jealousy was no doubt a factor. Another was that the press made Colin into a celebrity, and he, at age 24, was too naive to realize how he was being used by them, as he himself later conceded. People became sick of seeing Wilson’s name and picture in the newspapers and magazines (he even made the cover of Life magazine). Another factor was an incident in early 1957 in which Joy’s father came across some notes that Colin had been making for a novel he was working on (which later became Ritual in the Dark [7]), in which a character is a sexual deviant. Thinking that these notes were Colin’s own beliefs, Joy’s father immediately went over to his apartment, bursting in on them while they were having dinner and famously crying, “The game is up, Wilson!” As he refused to listen to Colin’s explanations, the police were called, and although the incident quickly came to an end, the reporters were already on their way, and soon the story about the young literary celebrity getting his comeuppance was in every newspaper in Britain. The fate of Colin’s reputation was sealed.

It just so happened that the publication of The Outsider [2] coincided with the premiere of 26-year-old John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger [8], which, although it failed to garner the critical acclaim of Colin’s book, became very popular with audiences, and was seen as a sign of the British Zeitgeist. As a result, the press decided to lump Wilson and Osborne together with several other writers, including Kingsley Amis, Alan Sillitoe, Harold Pinter and others, and dubbed them the “angry young men.” Although their specific styles and ideas had little in common, these writers were young and discontented with British society of the 1950s, and came from lower-class backgrounds. So, Colin was now part of a literary movement. Another of the angry young men was Bill Hopkins, a lifelong friend of Colin’s, who in later years befriended Jonathan Bowden. Although Hopkins was soon to abandon his writing career in favor of becoming an art dealer, he did publish a single novel, The Divine and the Decay (later republished as The Leap!), which explores fascistic ideas. (See Jonathan Bowden’s excellent lecture [9] on Hopkins.)

The Outsider

So what is The Outsider? The book is still in print – and, as far as I know, has been continuously since 1956 – so readers still have ample opportunity to find out for themselves. But I will provide a brief overview. It is a survey of writers, artists, and mystics who Colin believed defined the outsider identity. This included H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Hermann Hesse, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, T. E. Lawrence, Vincent van Gogh, Nijinsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Blake, Ramakrishna, and G. I. Gurdjieff, among others.

Colin defined “outsiders” as those individuals who feel alienated from the society they live in, and who feel compelled to defy the conventions of their time and attempt to forge something new that transcends it, either in their work or in their own lives (sometimes both). He once said that outsiders are the warts that appear on the face of a civilization that has lost its health and sense of meaning. Colin believed that the existentialists, who were at the peak of their popularity in Continental Europe at the time he was writing, held the key to understanding this predicament. The existentialists recognized that life has no meaning apart from what we ourselves give it, which Colin agreed with. But he took the French existentialists to task for coming to what he saw as negative conclusions. Sartre and Camus, he held, saw it as a tragedy that man has no essential meaning and that he was “condemned” to be free. Such a view led Sartre to come to the rather ridiculous conclusion that, all meanings being equal, he should embrace Communism. For Colin, existentialism should not be about making false commitments, but rather of affirming the boundless potential freedom of the individual to realize himself.

The mystical experience was a vital proof of this. (“Any system of values must ultimately be mystical,” he wrote.) Rather than interpreting mysticism in a religious way (Colin was always uninterested in any form of institutionalized religion), he saw such experiences as a crucial factor in human evolution. An analogy he frequently used was the “Christmas morning” experience that a child has, when everything seems alive, fresh and infinitely complex, or the “absurd good news” referenced by G. K. Chesterton. In Colin’s view, psychologically healthy people have such experiences all the time. He believed that those who were among the elite of human society (which he estimated as being 5% of the whole) would actively seek such states through various means such as adventure, danger, sex, drugs, battle, art, and/or asceticism. For Colin, this was more than just a psychological phenomenon – it was a presaging of an entirely new form of consciousness that humans are only just beginning to explore, but which will eventually bring about an entirely new phase in our development. “The outsider stands for truth,” he wrote.

Career and Ideas

In spite of the savagery his second book sustained at the hands of the critics, the success of The Outsider had at least provided Colin with enough money to purchase a home in Cornwall, where he and Joy were to remain permanently, and they began raising a family – Colin eventually had three sons and one daughter. He also now had a reputation as a writer, and this enabled him to begin supporting himself entirely from his writing, although this proved to be a challenging task for a man with a family, and no doubt explains his prodigious output. His intensive need to make his living by his pen even led to a nervous breakdown in 1973, from the strain of overwork.

In typical Wilsonian fashion, Colin was inspired to take one of his ideas from the experience, which he termed “the ladder of selves,” by which he meant the various levels of consciousness that one can attain. Most, he felt, never venture beyond the lower rungs, which are accessible by anyone with merely biological impulses. But those with a drive to realize their will, he believed, could access the higher rungs, and discover previously unknown layers of their own personalities. Colin believed that multiple personality disorder was a corruption of this facet of human nature.

Nevertheless, Colin persevered, and always earned his living as a writer (with occasional teaching gigs, lecturing, and television appearances to go along with it). Wilson also had a reputation for being a voracious book and record (LPs, for the young) collector. He is reputed to have acquired many tens of thousands of volumes over the course of his life, and eventually had to construct a series of sheds on his property in Cornwall in order to house them.


Colin’s writing career had two distinct phases to it. The phase that commenced with The Outsider, and which comprises his work of the 1950s and ’60s, I would term his “New Existentialism” phase, and is undoubtedly the era of his most important books. This is when Colin laid down the premises for his work, primarily through philosophy and literature, although he also began to engage with psychology. He befriended Dr. Abraham Maslow, and adopted from him the term “peak experience” to describe the mystical states of intensity which outsiders experience. Maslow believed that peak experiences come and go, but that one couldn’t control them. Colin contested this idea, believing that they could be induced at will, and he actually worked at developing techniques by which they could be attained.

At the same time, he was also laying the foundations for a new school of existentialism that was free of the pessimism that defined the French incarnation of it. Colin was very adamant that pessimism was detrimental to human development, and believed that pessimism could even affect perception and thus alter one’s ability to accurately perceive and know the world. This was an overriding concern of his throughout his career. An illustration he frequently used to make this point was the existence in the course of Van Gogh’s lifetime both of the painting, “Starry Night,” and Van Gogh’s suicide note. When one looks at the painting, one is awestruck by the wonderment of the scene. It gives the impression of an overflowing of the senses, of gifted perception made permanent. And yet the man who was capable of seeing the world in this way was also capable of despising life to the extent that he could destroy himself, leaving a note that said, “Misery will never end.” “‘Starry Night’ was true, the suicide note was false,” Colin was fond of saying. I still believe that the basis for a new existentialism upon the premises that he outlined remains an as yet unexplored potential worthy of further consideration, and may even offer a worthy alternative to postmodernism.

In 1971, this interest in the mystical led to one of Colin’s most important works, The Occult [10]. This was the book that launched what came to define the second part of his career: the mystical and the supernatural, which Colin believed provided further evidence for the coming change in human consciousness. Colin’s interest in such matters wasn’t motivated by any interest in demonic powers or such things, but rather his view that such phenomena are manifestations of unsuspected powers of the human mind, which he thought we would eventually learn to control and exploit. The Occult became the first of many books that Colin would write on the subject. Beginning in the 1990s, he also wrote a series of books which I personally found fascinating on the evidence for an advanced, worldwide civilization on the Earth in prehistoric times (along the lines of Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods [11]). Even these books tie into his interest in consciousness, since he believed, along with Julian Jaynes, that the ancients possessed a different form of it than we have today.

The other genre that defines the second part of Colin’s career is true crime, which actually began in 1961 when he co-wrote Encyclopedia of Murder [12], although he began writing much more on the subject beginning in the 1970s. Murder is also something that occurs frequently in Colin’s novels. Colin was always fascinated by it, and by serial killers in particular. He viewed serial killers as a sort of flawed type of outsider – he believed they were artists whose creative powers had become misdirected into violence, and that the thrill they got from transgressing the moral order (which he thought induced a type of peak experience in the killers) became addictive. Colin thought that some criminals could be successfully rehabilitated by offering them an artistic outlet while they were in prison, and he helped to design experimental programs that were used in prisons in the United States.

Some people who had been admirers of his early books were disappointed by the turn that Colin’s work took from the 1970s onward. Apart from occasional essays, Colin largely abandoned philosophy and literary criticism – he wrote no major works on those subjects after the early 1970s. Part of this was no doubt because he discovered that it was easier to sell occult and true crime books than books on philosophy. However, I do believe that he said everything that he wanted to say about philosophy in those early books, and his later books – the best of them, at any rate – can be seen as a continuation of his earlier concerns in other mediums. Colin’s perpetual subject was always consciousness and its possibilities, and while some may disagree with the direction he took, there is no doubt in my mind that he genuinely believed that the study of the occult and of the criminal mentality could offer vital clues as to how consciousness is evolving, and thus help to resolve the “search for meaning” of the existential outsider.

There are also some books of his that defy easy categorization. There is A Book of Booze [13], his book on one of his greatest loves: wine (and I can report that we polished off several bottles at his insistence on the evening that I was fortunate enough to join him for dinner). There is Brandy of the Damned [14], his survey of one of his other greatest loves: classical music. There is L’Amour: The Ways of Love [15], a book he wrote on sex to accompany a series of erotic photographs. And there are also his many novels, including several written in the world of the Cthulhu Mythos of Lovecraft; but trying to do a survey of them goes beyond the scope of this essay.


As this is appearing at Counter-Currents, I feel I should also write something about Colin’s relationship to politics. Colin himself always eschewed politics, and rarely mentioned it in his work; he said at times that he didn’t think writers should engage with contemporary politics, and suggested on more than one occasion that writers who did so were wasting their time. He also claimed that he really didn’t understand politics himself. Nevertheless, there are a few interesting things to be said. I have already discussed Colin’s relationship with both Sir Oswald Mosley and Bill Hopkins. In his autobiography, he says that he considered himself to be an anarchist in his youth; in the 1950s and ’60s, he expressed sympathy for socialism in some of his public statements. In the 1970s, he aroused some controversy for writing a review of Richard Verrall’s Did Six Million Really Die?, a work of Holocaust revisionism. The controversy arose not because Colin defended Verrall’s thesis, since he remained noncommittal about it, but simply because he said that the evidence presented was compelling and was worthy of being taken seriously. Given the problems he had encountered earlier because of his connection to Mosley, this has also been presented by some as proof of his fascist sympathies.

I also recall reading an uncollected essay by Colin that was published in the 1970s on the subject of Hitler. The essay as a whole was rather unremarkable, but something Colin wrote at the end of it struck me and stuck in my memory. I don’t have a copy at hand, but I remember he pointed out that Hitler’s power derived from his ability to create a myth that inspired and motivated the German people to incredible feats. At the end, he wrote something to the effect of, “If the civilization which defeated Hitler is actually to demonstrate that it is better than his was, then it needs to create heroic myths of its own, rather than embrace nihilism.” I think this aptly sums up the primary difference between  the traditional worldview and that of liberalism.

By the 1980s, Colin had taken a more decisive turn toward Toryism. This was underscored by what I believe to be his sole venture into the world of contemporary politics: a volume he co-edited in 1987 entitled Marx Refuted: The Verdict of History [16]. It is an anthology of essays opposing Marxism which includes one by no less a person than Margaret Thatcher, as well as contributions from Arthur Koestler, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A. L. Rowse, and Milton Friedman, as well as from Colin himself. How this book came about or why Colin chose to do it, I don’t know, but it is an interesting footnote to his otherwise total disinterest in politics.

Something that is not very well-known about Colin, however, is that his books are extremely popular in the Middle East, and many of them have been translated into Arabic and Farsi (although he once mentioned to me that he profited little from this popularity, as most of the books were pirated editions). In 1973, he was invited to Beirut, where he was met at the airport by the mayor of the city on a red carpet. On the same trip he was invited by some Palestinian guerrillas to visit one of their camps. The experience made him very sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and he wrote an essay in favor of them at the time. He also related to me that on this same trip, he went to Damascus, where he was met by the then War Minister, General Tlas, who regaled him with a story from when he and his comrades had been imprisoned by the previous regime. They had read Colin’s novel Ritual in the Dark by tearing the pages out of a copy and passing them from one to the other as they read.  As a token of thanks, he presented Colin and Joy with Arab robes and a bronze plaque. Colin was also invited to Iran at the behest of the government in the 1970s, but he said the plan fell through after the Shah was overthrown.

The most interesting connection, however, is between Colin and Colonel Gaddafi. Gaddafi made frequent complimentary references both to Colin and to The Outsider throughout his reign. (I remember seeing a transcript of a speech he had given in the 1990s in which he chided the Clinton White House for inviting Salman Rushdie there, but not Colin Wilson.) Colin told me that he had been asked by the Libyan embassy to make a visit to the country at the government’s behest, but that he had declined out of fear that such a visit would have made it seem as though he were endorsing Gaddafi’s politics.

I would not call Colin a Rightist or a traditionalist. To do such a thing would be to read something into his work that simply isn’t there. At the same time, however, Colin always remained an unabashed elitist, from start to finish. He often reiterated his view that it is only 5% of humanity that comprise a potential elite, and that the majority of men, as he once put it, ought not to have bothered to be born at all. As such, his work is entirely consistent with a hierarchical view of life and civilization.


I no longer view Colin Wilson as the demigod that I saw him as when I was in my mid-’20s, when I took his word as gospel and believed that he had the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (Julius Evola and René Guénon, whom I discovered shortly thereafter, soon knocked him off of that pedestal.) His critics are at least partially correct when they say that Colin sometimes overstretched himself, and was perhaps guilty of too much generalization and unfounded speculation on occasion. And I certainly would not suggest to anyone that they attempt to read through his entire corpus – anyone who has read many of Colin’s books will attest that only a third of them, perhaps, are truly great. The rest of them contain a lot of repetition, and some of them were obviously only written for money (such as many of his occult and true crime books, entertaining as they can be). But that third is genuine gold, and I believe is worthy of being read by anyone who is looking for worthy alternatives to the prevailing way of thinking about the nature and destiny of humanity in modern times.

Colin Wilson occupies a unique place in late twentieth-century thought. In an era of extreme specialization, he dared to range across the entire gamut of human endeavor in pursuit of understanding humanity’s untapped potential. In an era when the culture and figures of the West are frequently derided, Colin based his work unapologetically on the best minds of our civilization, and never worried about political correctness. In an era when equality, conformity and consumerism is valued over genuine achievement and self-development, Colin offered a vision of heroism, which affirmed that not only can an individual rise above the monotonous, bourgeois reality of our times, but that, for the outsider, it is an absolute must.

His vision will remain a compelling one long after his death.

His Chief Works

For those interested in delving into Colin’s work, I can offer a few suggestions. Many of Colin’s older works are long out-of-print, but it’s usually not difficult to find used copies.

His most important works, few would argue, are those in his “Outsider cycle.” The sequence is comprised of The Outsider, Religion and the Rebel [6], The Age of Defeat [17] (an abridged edition was published in the United States as The Stature of Man), The Strength to Dream [18], Origins of the Sexual Impulse [19], and Beyond the Outsider [20]. A seventh volume, variously published as The New Existentialism [21] and An Introduction to the New Existentialism [22], presents the ideas from these books in brief, and can serve as a good summary for those uninterested in reading the entire series.

The Craft of the Novel [23] is probably Colin’s most important work of literary criticism. In it he discusses his conception of “Existential Criticism,” in which he held that a work of literature should be evaluated first and foremost on the basis of the ideas and worldview it presents.

In terms of his occult work, The Occult [10] and Mysteries [24] are his two primary works, of many he wrote on the subject. Beyond the Occult [25] seems to have been an attempt by Colin to reconcile his later interest in the occult with his earlier, existential ideas.

A Criminal History of Mankind [26] is undoubtedly Colin’s most important work in the area of criminology. New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution [27] was the product of his interaction with Maslow, and it examines the idea of the “peak experience” at length.

And lastly, there are his novels. He wrote many, including “novels of ideas,” mysteries, and science fiction. My personal favorites would include Ritual in the Dark [7], which is about a struggling young writer named Gerard Sorme who is obsessed with the meaninglessness of life, until he begins to worry that a friend of his could be a serial killer who is on the loose in London. Another I enjoyed was The World of Violence [28], which is about a young mathematical prodigy, Hugh Greene, who becomes dissatisfied with the intellectual world and becomes attracted to violence, becoming embroiled in a criminal gang, guns and the hunt for a serial killer. And then there is The Philosopher’s Stone [29], which is set in the world of the Cthulhu Mythos. Colin was enticed into the Lovecraftian world by August Derleth, who had challenged Colin to write the earlier novel The Mind Parasites [30], also a Cthluhu Mythos story. Derleth praised Colin for his efforts. The Philosopher’s Stone [29] is about a scientist, Howard Lester, who is conducting experiments in an effort to extend the human lifespan, but accidentally discovers an operation on the brain which results in greatly enhanced mental powers. As he begins to explore the new powers of his mind, Lester comes to realize that there are ancient and powerful hidden forces which are seeking to prevent humanity from evolving beyond its current state. Bits of Colin’s philosophy always find their way into his novels.

There is also a good anthology of selections from several of Colin’s works intended to introduce his chief ideas entitled The Essential Colin Wilson [31]. Colin also regarded a survey of his work written by Howard F. Dossor, Colin Wilson: The Man and His Mind [32] to have been the best and most comprehensive to date.


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/12/a-heroic-vision-for-our-time/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/wilson.jpg

[2] The Outsider: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0874772060/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0874772060&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[3] Beyond the Outsider: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000CMF88/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0000CMF88&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[4] Voyage to a Beginning: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0006CZ5MU/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0006CZ5MU&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[5] Dreaming to Some Purpose: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0099471477/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0099471477&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[6] Religion and the Rebel: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0575012587/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0575012587&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[7] Ritual in the Dark: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0914171631/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0914171631&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[8] Look Back in Anger: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0140481753/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0140481753&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[9] lecture: http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/07/bill-hopkins-and-he-angry-young-men/

[10] The Occult: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0394465555/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0394465555&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[11] Fingerprints of the Gods: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0517887290/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0517887290&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[12] Encyclopedia of Murder: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0006AX7B8/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0006AX7B8&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[13] A Book of Booze: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0575018313/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0575018313&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[14] Brandy of the Damned: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000CMCCT/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0000CMCCT&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[15] L’Amour: The Ways of Love: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0006C2USC/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0006C2USC&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[16] Marx Refuted: The Verdict of History: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0906798728/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0906798728&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[17] The Age of Defeat: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000CKD1W/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0000CKD1W&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[18] The Strength to Dream: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0349137366/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0349137366&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[19] Origins of the Sexual Impulse: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000CLQME/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0000CLQME&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[20] Beyond the Outsider: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0881847046/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0881847046&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[21] The New Existentialism: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0704504154/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0704504154&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[22] An Introduction to the New Existentialism: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000NUOT0O/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000NUOT0O&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[23] The Craft of the Novel: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0575019972/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0575019972&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[24] Mysteries: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1842931857/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1842931857&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[25] Beyond the Occult: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FIMWELS/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00FIMWELS&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[26] A Criminal History of Mankind: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0881846465/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0881846465&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[27] New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0575027967/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0575027967&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[28] The World of Violence: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1939140269/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1939140269&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[29] The Philosopher’s Stone: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0874775094/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0874775094&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[30] The Mind Parasites: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0974935999/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0974935999&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[31] The Essential Colin Wilson: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0890874727/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0890874727&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

[32] Colin Wilson: The Man and His Mind: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1852301767/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1852301767&linkCode=as2&tag=countercurren-20

jeudi, 28 novembre 2013

Alcune riflessioni sul linguaggio di Tolkien ne Il signore degli anelli


Alcune riflessioni sul linguaggio di Tolkien ne Il signore degli anelli


Ex: http://www.centrostudilaruna.it

tolkienUn articolo uscito non troppo tempo fa sul Corriere della Sera, a firma di Dario Fertilio (1), ripercorreva le più sensazionali, e in molti casi inspiegabili, bocciature per il Premio Nobel per la letteratura; a conferma del fatto che forse è più illustre la lista degli esclusi che quella di coloro a cui è stato conferito il celeberrimo riconoscimento (2). Tra coloro giudicati “non all’altezza” compare anche il nome di J. R. R. Tolkien. Il motivo della bocciatura ha del sorprendente, ovvero sembra che l’inglese utilizzato dallo scrittore e linguista nei suoi romanzi non fosse degno di un tale premio. In questa analisi intendiamo fornire, per ovvi motivi di spazio, solo delle prime indicazioni e chiavi di lettura su un argomento decisamente complesso e quasi per nulla studiato dalla letteratura di settore in lingua italiana. Tornando al succitato articolo di Fertilio, leggiamo come i giurati scelti dalla Accademia Reale Svedese delle Scienze abbiano a suo tempo etichettato l’opera tolkieniana quale “prosa di seconda categoria”, e poco importa se si ha a che fare con uno degli autori più letti e apprezzati nella intera storia della letteratura mondiale. L’assurdo lo si raggiunge quando si pensa che non solo Tolkien è stato professore di Letteratura Inglese Medievale a Oxford, ma persino esperto traduttore di testi antichi (3). Su questo tema, potrebbe essere utile citare un interessante saggio dell’accademico anglosassone Ross Smith, nel quale si evidenzia la passione di Tolkien per l’inglese antico, dunque per le radici stesse di questa lingua: “Una relazione del professor Tom Shippey intitolata Tolkien and the Beowulf-Poet comincia con la seguente domanda retorica: ‘Tolkien si è mai chiesto se lui potesse essere il poeta del Beowulf reincarnato?’” (4). Ciononostante, l’inglese di Tolkien è stato considerato da molti e per lungo tempo non abbastanza buono.

defending-middle-earthGiudizio avventato? Svista clamorosa o semplice miopia intellettuale? In fondo, non si diceva la stessa cosa di Joseph Conrad, altro mostro sacro della letteratura anglosassone? Se per quest’ultimo la ragione della sua presunta inadeguatezza letteraria era da imputare al fatto di essere di origine straniera (5), l’inglese non essendo in effetti la sua prima lingua, per quanto riguarda Tolkien, crediamo di non azzardare un giudizio privo di fondamento se affermiamo che la sua “colpa” risiedeva proprio nella forma di letteratura in cui si esprimeva: il (6) Fantasy. Tuttavia, Tolkien non fu l’unico a essere “maltrattato”, in quella occasione, dai giurati del Nobel (7). Non è un mistero per nessuno del resto che la distribuzione geografica fra i paesi e un equilibrio fra destra e sinistra (con una prevalenza per quest’ultima) presiedano da sempre ai criteri di scelta. Il preconcetto storico nei confronti di Tolkien è principalmente legato alla accusa di fuggire dalla realtà, di non essere un autore impegnato ma solo un buon mestierante che si cimenta a scrivere complesse favole per bambini troppo cresciuti. Lo scrittore Howard Jacobson, tanto per citare uno dei numerosi casi di ostilità intellettuale susseguitesi negli anni, reagì con rabbioso disprezzo all’incredibile successo delle opere del nostro autore: “Tolkien… quello per bambini, no? O per adulti ritardati…”. Raramente un romanzo ha causato tante controversie e il vetriolo della critica ha messo in evidenza lo scisma culturale tra i letterati “illuminati” e il pubblico dei lettori. A difesa di Tolkien, qualche anno addietro, si è levato con vigore Patrick Curry, il quale in un suo studio (8) afferma senza mezze parole che Il signore degli anelli è tutto tranne che una “fuga dalla realtà”. Per Curry, Tolkien non ci fa solo la predica, come avviene in John Ruskin o G. K. Chesterton, sui pericoli del mondo moderno. Egli ha infatti tessuto con la sua opposizione alla modernità una narrazione ricca e intricata che offre una alternativa, con la creazione di un mondo completamente diverso, ma che è a sua volta una proposta per una riscoperta della nostra Tradizione.

Gli ostracismi nel mondo anglosassone verso Tolkien si ritrovano anche nelle parole di Chris Woodhead, dal 1994 al 2000 a capo del Servizio Ispezioni Scolastiche in Inghilterra, il quale stigmatizzava le basse aspettative culturali della opera tolkieniana, affermando in più occasioni come Il signore degli anelli è un libro che si legge benissimo, ma non è il prodotto migliore della letteratura inglese di questo secolo”. Woodhead dava voce alle preoccupazioni di molti pedagogisti presi alla sprovvista dal successo di Tolkien. Dunque, da un lato il malcelato snobismo intellettuale di molta critica, dall’altro il timore degli educatori che romanzi quali Il signore degli anelli potessero deviare i giovani dall’apprendimento di un perfetto inglese e dal costruirsi una solida cultura, grazie alla frequentazione di autori canonici.

ring-of-the-wordsLa ostilità verso Tolkien ha avuto anche la sua “scena” italiana (9). Difatti, sin dalla sua prima edizione, quella del 1970, nella quale compare anche quel dotto e suggestivo riassunto introduttivo a firma di Elémire Zolla, intorno al nostro autore nacquero vari pregiudizi. Non potendo ovviamente svalutare il linguaggio di una opera in traduzione, a Il signore degli anelli venne imputato di essere una storia reazionaria, vicina alle simpatie di una destra neofascista. Tuttavia, sulle qualità di quello che lo stesso Zolla definì “il maggior studioso di letteratura anglosassone e medievale” (10) si volle tacere, poiché Tolkien era tabù e lo restò per molto tempo. Se si intende analizzare le capacità linguistiche di Tolkien, è fondamentale tenere a mente come il suo primo lavoro al ritorno dal fronte della Prima Guerra Mondiale fu quello di assistente presso il prestigiosissimo Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (11). Lo stesso Tolkien ha affermato di aver imparato di più in questi due anni che in nessun altro uguale lasso di tempo nella sua vita. Pochi sono gli autori che hanno tratto così tanta della loro vena creativa dalla storia e dai mutamenti dei singoli vocaboli. Dal suo amore per le parole e il modo di utilizzarle possiamo trarre una ulteriore prova di come egli ricercasse con assiduità un linguaggio ricco, quanto vario, come si afferma nell’attento studio The Ring of Words (12), nel quale si parla di Tolkien anche come un creatore di parole (13).

Tolkien è stato inoltre un traduttore puntiglioso (14). Sempre Ross Smith evidenzia quanto la traduzione come concetto fosse onnipresente nel nostro scrittore, persino nei suoi lavori creativi: “Parlando ora della prosa di Tolkien, è interessante notare come nella Appendice F de Il signore degli anelli ci dica che tutta la sua storia epica è per l’appunto una traduzione” (15). Chiaramente i personaggi della Terra di Mezzo non parlano inglese, difatti il loro linguaggio o lingua-franca è il Westron. Il “trucco” escogitato da Tolkien è quello di affermare di aver solo tradotto in inglese Il signore degli anelli, così da rendere comprensibile anche all’uomo moderno questa storia. Ovviamente, l’autore si diverte solo ad ammiccare alla possibile veridicità del proprio romanzo, creandone però un piacevole divertissement letterario.

master-of-the-ringsTornando all’argomento chiave di questo nostro breve ragionamento, è un fatto decisamente curioso che una persona tanto attenta al significato delle parole – questa è infatti la qualità principale di un traduttore – non fosse tuttavia capace di utilizzare un inglese di qualità. Questo crediamo sia un altro punto abbastanza solido a favore di chi sostiene, e chi scrive è tra questi, che per lungo tempo i romanzi di Tolkien sono stati vittima di più di un mero fraintendimento e che il suo linguaggio sia degno di uno studio attento e imparziale. Parlando ora più da vicino proprio del linguaggio di Tolkien, riteniamo che esso sia ricco, grazie alla presenza di un vocabolario vario e ricercato. In più occasioni lo scrittore ci offre descrizioni meravigliose, con un tono evocativo che fa talvolta della lingua virtù. Soprattutto, egli crea un universo di mito, magia e archetipi che risuona nei più remoti recessi della memoria e dell’immaginazione del mondo occidentale. Tolkien era uno studioso di prim’ordine che attingeva dalla vitale eredità anglosassone.

Giunti a questo punto, analizzeremo ora alcuni brevi estratti dal tomo I della Trilogia, presenti nel capitolo intitolato Il ponte di Khazad-Dûm (16). Si è scelta questa particolare sezione della opera tolkieniana per due motivi. Il primo è che essa è tra le parti più conosciute della saga de Il signore degli anelli. Il secondo, come vedremo, perché in questo capitolo si trovano molti degli elementi distintivi dello stile narrativo dell’autore. I brani sono tre, a dimostrazione di altrettanti aspetti del linguaggio del Tolkien scrittore.

Il primo è un significativo esempio di quanto la presenza di una idea della cultura antica (in inglese lore) aiutasse l’autore a pensare al suo lavoro come a un libro dentro un libro, creando in tal modo un significativo esempio di metaletteratura e ipertestualità. Così avviene durante la lettura da parte di Gandalf del diario del popolo nanico che un tempo abitava le Miniere di Moria. Le parole pronunciate dal mago si fondono con le vicende dei protagonisti della storia, l’orrore che un tempo distrusse gli abitanti di quei luoghi, pagina dopo pagina, mentre il mago grigio è intento a leggere, si sta per riabbattere sulla Compagnia dell’Anello: “A sudden dread and horror of the chamber fell on the Company, ‘We cannot get out’, muttered Gimli. ‘It was well for us that the pool had sunk a little, and that the Watcher was sleeping down at the southern end’” (423) (17).

Il secondo brano che abbiamo scelto potrebbe essere definito un “classico”, ovvero un esempio di come Tolkien abbia in buona parte codificato il linguaggio delle scene di azione del fantasy, con l’utilizzo di determinate parole per rappresentare azioni e suoni: “There was a crash on the door, followed by crash after crash. Rams and hammers were beating against it. It cracked and staggered back, and the opening grew suddenly wide. Arrows came whistling in, but struck the northern wall, and fell harmlessly to the floor” (426) (18). Che le frecce “sibilino” (whistle) è ormai un modo di dire codificato in questo genere narrativo e tutto l’impianto linguistico delle scene d’azione in Tolkien, come ben dimostra questo estratto, rappresenta il canone di ogni battaglia fantasy scritta dopo Il signore degli anelli.

Infine, l’autore inglese possiede anche quella visibilità (19) del linguaggio tanto cara a Italo Calvino: “The flames roared up to greet it, and wreathed about it; and a black smoke swirled in the air. Its streaming mane kindled, and blazed behind it”  (432) (20). Qui la narrazione tolkieniana dimostra di avere quella fondamentale capacità di creare una astrazione nel lettore, grazie all’uso del linguaggio, così da suggestionarlo e, proprio come afferma Calvino, che riprende le parole di Dante, portarlo in luogo altro, quello della pura letteratura: “O immaginazione, che hai il potere d’importi alle nostre facoltà e alla nostra volontà e di rapirci in un mondo interiore strappandoci al mondo esterno, tanto che anche se suonassero mille trombe non ce ne accorgeremmo” (21).

Forse alla giuria del Nobel saranno sfuggite le qualità linguistiche e letterarie di Tolkien o, più verosimilmente, non era possibile dare un premio tanto blasonato a un autore di “storie per ragazzi”. Magari i giurati avranno giustificato la scelta di cassarlo, individuando, ad esempio, qualche incoerenza nella sua scrittura, come nel posizionamento di alcuni avverbi prima o dopo gli ausiliari, nel diverso modo di scrivere parole come toward e towards, addirittura a distanza di poche righe (458) o, sempre a breve distanza (454), l’alternanza nello scrivere il verbo “essere” (to be) al congiuntivo, con la grafia sia giusta (were), ma anche con quella sbagliata (was), benché da anni questa ultima sia accettata dalla maggioranza dei linguisti.

Concludendo, anche se la scrittura di Tolkien ha le sue piccole debolezze, come del resto avviene praticamente per ogni autore, esse sono davvero così tante e gravi da offuscare la vastità della sua visione, la fecondità della sua immaginazione, il potere ritmico del suo linguaggio? Riteniamo di no, considerato che abbiamo a che fare con uno scrittore in cui la lingua e la letteratura sono una cosa sola: “Tutte pagine di un unico libro, di un esperimento linguistico prima e culturale poi” (22). Dunque, Tolkien andrebbe apprezzato anche come creatore di un logos tipico del fantasy – magari provando a leggerlo in lingua originale – nelle cui pagine si incarna la idea del “mito come linguaggio” (23) e grazie al quale non è solo stato codificato un genere narrativo, ma anche un modo di scrivere.

* * *

(1) Si fa riferimento al numero uscito il 7/1/2012.

(2) Ricordiamo, ad esempio, la triplice bocciatura di Yukio Mishima, per motivi esclusivamente politici. Costui è considerato ormai da anni dalla critica internazionale come uno dei più importanti scrittori giapponesi del Dopoguerra.

(3) Sue sono varie importanti traduzioni, tra tutte quella della pietra miliare della letteratura medievale inglese (Old English e Middle English), il Beowulf, il cui autore e la datazione di composizione sono tuttora incerti. A Tolkien si deve inoltre quello che viene ancora oggi ritenuto il maggior lavoro critico, del 1936, su questo testo antico: The Monsters and the Critics and other Essays, HarperCollins, Londra 1997.

(4) R. Smith, J. R. R. Tolkien and the art of translating English into English, pubblicato nella rivisita online English Today, 99, settembre 2009, p. 1. Il saggio a cui fa riferimento Smith è: T. Shippey, Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien, Walking Tree Publishers, Zurigo-Berna 2007, p. 1. Traduzione mia.

(5) Il suo vero nome era Józef Teodor Nałęcz Konrad Korzeniowski, nato a Berdicev (Polonia) nel 1857. A esser precisi, l’inglese fu la terza lingua che imparò: la prima fu, ovviamente, il polacco e la seconda il francese. Ciononostante, molta critica ritiene che l’inglese di Conrad sia decisamente ricco, con un uso del linguaggio evocativo e a tratti simbolico. Lo scrittore non aveva forse competenze da madrelingua nel parlato, visto che il suo accento tradiva una origine straniera.

(6) Preferiamo non seguire il costume abbastanza diffuso in Italia di utilizzare questo termine al femminile, dunque la fantasy, visto che la lingua inglese non attribuisce generi ai sostantivi. Ragion per cui, crediamo sia più corretta una interpretazione legata alla locuzione ellittica: “il genere fantasy”.

(7) Vi furono altri illustri bocciati nel fatidico 1961. Fra questi, due colossi della letteratura del Novecento come Graham Greene e Karen Blixen. Questi ultimi, tuttavia, ebbero un trattamento ben diverso da quello riservato a Tolkien, giacché si piazzarono rispettivamente al secondo e al terzo posto, dopo essere stati attentamente soppesati per le loro qualità letterarie.

(8) P. Curry, Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity, HarperCollins, Londra 1998.

(9) Uno dei più attenti studiosi tolkieniani italiani, Gianfranco de Turris, ha tracciato una precisa evoluzione storica di questo fenomeno, evidenziando come il periodo di maggiore ostracismo verso Tolkien nel nostro paese sia individuabile tra il 1977 e la fine degli anni ‘80. Cfr. Dal terriccio alle foglie, in “Albero” di Tolkien. Come il signore degli anelli ha segnato la cultura del nostro tempo, a cura di G. de Turris, Bompiani, Milano 2007.

(10) J. R. R. Tolkien, La compagnia dell’anello, Bompiani, Milano 2006, p. 11.

(11) Questo dizionario è da tempo considerato come il canone per l’inglese britannico ed è spesso messo in contrapposizione con il suo “rivale” storico, il Cambridge Dictionary. Se il primo, difatti, rappresenta la tradizione linguistica inglese, il secondo tende a incoraggiare l’utilizzo di un International English di chiara impronta americana. Non è un caso dunque che Tolkien, futuro filologo e linguista, sia uscito dalla scuola dell’OED.

(12) P. Gilliver, J. Marshall, E. Weiner, The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary, University Press, Oxford 2006.

(13) La sua vasta conoscenza del lessico inglese è dimostrata dal gran numero di arcaismi presenti nella sua scrittura. Una lista di questi si può trovare anche su Internet: http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/words.html.

(14) Ha tradotto specialmente opere medievali della letteratura angloassone. Un suo altro importante lavoro in questo campo è rappresentato dalla traduzione del poema anonimo del XIV secolo: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo, a cura di C. Tolkien, Allen & Unwin, Londra 1975.

(15) R. Smith, op. cit., p. 9. Traduzione mia.

(16) Trattasi del capitolo V del primo tomo della Trilogia. Il titolo originale è The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm.

(17) In corpo al testo i numeri di pagina della edizione originale in inglese: The Fellowship of the Ring, HarperCollins, Londra 2001. In nota, invece, sono riportate le traduzioni in italiano, a cura di Vicky Alliata di Villafranca, dei brani citati. “Una paura e un orrore improvvisi di quella stanza s’impadronirono della Compagnia. ‘Non possiamo più uscire’, mormorò Gimli. ‘È stato un bene per noi che lo stagno sia sceso leggermente, e che l’Osservatore stesse dormendo all’estremità sud’”. J. R. R. Tolkien, La compagnia dell’anello, cit., p. 424.

(18) “Un colpo risuonò con fracasso contro la porta, seguito da un altro e da altri ancora. Arieti e martelli battevano con forza sempre maggiore. Il battente scricchiolò vacillando, e la fessura si aprì improvvisamente. Delle frecce entrarono sibilando, ma urtando contro la parete caddero in terra inoffensive”. Ivi, p. 427.

(19) Ci riferiamo ovviamente all’omonimo capitolo, facente parte del celeberrimo testo di Italo Calvino: Lezioni americane, Mondadori, Milano 1993, pp. 89-110.

(20) “Con un ruggito le fiamme s’innalzarono in segno di saluto, intrecciandosi intorno a lui; un fumo nero turbinò nell’aria. La criniera svolazzante dell’oscura forma prese fuoco, avvampandolo”. J. R. R. Tolkien, La compagnia dell’anello, cit., p. 433.

(21) I. Calvino, op. cit., p. 92.

(22) A. Bonomo, Nostalgia di un’innocenza perduta: disobbedienza e sacrificio in The Hobbit di J. R. R. Tolkien, in Rivista di Studi Italiani, Anno XXIX, n° 1, Giugno 2011, p. 291.

(23) Ivi, p. 288.

* * *

Tratto, con il gentile consenso della Redazione, da Antarès, n. 03/2012, J.R.R. Tolkien. Un’epica per il nuovo millennio, http://www.antaresrivista.it/Antares_03_web.pdf.

lundi, 25 novembre 2013

Cinquant'anni fa moriva C. S. Lewis


Cinquant'anni fa moriva C. S. Lewis, il creatore di miti che oggi sanno ancora incantare

Annalisa Terranova

Ex: http://www.secoloditalia.it

Clive Staples Lewis, l’inventore del ciclo di Narnia, il fine medievista, il divulgatore della fede cristiana, l’amico cui Tolkien leggeva le sue saghe, l’ideatore della science fiction “catartica” e metafisica,  morì cinquant’anni fa a soli 65 anni (era il 22 novembre del 1963). Autore prolifico e di enorme successo, si fece “strumento” del genere fantastico e con i racconti simbolici dal paese immaginario di Narnia (i sette volumi di questa fiaba per bambini e adulti uscirono tra il 1950 e il 1956) divenne uno degli autori più apprezzati dentro e fuori l’Inghilterra. È vivo nella sua opera l’insegnamento di George MacDonald (tra i primi teorizzatori dei canoni della letteratura fantastica): “Noi roviniamo per avidità intellettuale infinite cose che già esistevano prima”. Non bisogna dunque farsi tentare dagli artifici ma tornare alla semplice visione che è propria dell’infanzia, farsi piccoli come gli gnomi e recuperare lo stupore della visione che si fa conoscenza. E la semplicità era anche la cifra stilistica adottata da Lewis nei suoi scritti (questo uno dei suoi consigli: “Invece di dirci che una cosa era terrificante, descrivila in modo da terrorizzarci. Non dire che era meravigliosa: fa’ sì che noi diciamo meraviglioso quando ne leggiamo la descrizione…”).

Era convinto che la forza del mito può risvegliare nell’uomo il desiderio di Dio. Per questo un recente studio dedicato a Lewis lo definisce “maestro dello spirito”. Scrive l’autrice Anna Maria Giorgi: “L’eroismo della quotidianità, ecco quello che ci propone C.S.Lewis con le sue opere e con il suo stesso stile di vita, sulla linea dei santi che sono diventati grandi facendosi piccoli come bambini. Generazioni di lettori si sono convertite leggendo i suoi libri: tra questi, per citarne uno solo, lo scienziato americano Francis Collins, scopritore del genoma umano,il quale si definiva un ateo di ferri finché non si imbatté in un libricino di Lewis, Mere Christianity“. Nella conversione di Lewis, invece, furono cruciali le conversazioni con l’amico Tolkien, con il quale diede vita ad Oxford al club letterario degli Inklings, fucina di idee per le pagine più note e amate della letteratura fantasy.

45528.jpgPaolo Gulisano ha scritto che il simbolismo di Lewis non è sentimentale ma “sacramentale”: “Le sue immagini funzionano spesso come simboli, che hanno la capacità di mostrare la verità e di farle raggiungere la coscienza del lettore e destare la sua meraviglia”. Non meno importante dell’altrove immaginato con Narnia è il viaggio dello scienziato Ransom nella trilogia fanta-teologica che comprende i romanzi Lontano dal pianeta silenzioso, Perelandra e Quell’orribile forza: “Durante il suo involontario viaggio interplanetario Ransom – scrive ancora Anna Maria Giorgi – sa comunque aprire gli occhi a scoprire una bellezza non solo fisica in quella che è la grande danza dell’universo, comprendendo che ‘spazio’ è una parola fredda e inadeguata per definire ‘il sommo oceano di splendore nel quale navigava’ “. Nel personaggio di Ransom, tra l’altro, rivivono alcune caratteristiche dell’amico Tolkien. Lewis non fu solo narratore di fiabe e inventore di miti ma anche un convinto propagandista. Il suo obiettivo polemico, sempre “aggredito” con senso dello humour e leggerezza, senza mai contaminarsi con il fanatismo, era la mentalità scientista e relativista, finché non scelse convintamente di far prevalere in lui l’uomo immaginativo, l’unico in grado di far nascere Narnia: “In me l’uomo immaginativo è più vecchio e opera con più continuità, e in questo senso è più basilare sia rispetto allo scrittore religioso, sia al critico…”.

Clive Staples Lewis era nato a Belfast nel 1898. Fece il suo ingresso all’università di Oxford nel 1916 ma i suoi studi furono interrotti dalla Prima guerra mondiale, alla quale partecipò rimanendo ferito. Nel 1924 comincia sempre a Oxford l’insegnamento di Lingua e letteratura inglese. Nel 1929 abbraccia la fede cristiana. Quattro anni dopo fonda il circolo degli Inklings di cui, oltre a Lewis e Tolkien, fece parte anche lo scrittore Charles Williams. Nel 1942 pubblica uno dei suoi libri più fortunati, The Screwtape Letters, che racconta in forma epistolare il fallito tentativo del diavolo Berlicche di istruire il nipote Malacoda nell’arte della tentazione. Nel 1950 comincia la pubblicazione delle Cronache di Narnia e successivamente sposa la scrittrice Joy Davidman Gresham, che morirà precocemente lasciando Lewis in preda allo sconforto e al dsiorientamento come lo stesso Lewis racconterà nell’autobiografia del 1955, Sorpreso dalla gioia (Surprised by Joy).

mercredi, 18 septembre 2013

D. H. Lawrence on the Metaphysics of Life


D. H. Lawrence on the Metaphysics of Life

By Derek Hawthorne

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

1. Life and the “Creative Mystery”

Lawrence believes that the chief thing modern science simply cannot explain is life itself. And he regards life as an irreducible, and ultimately inexplicable, primary. Further, he believes that there is no such thing as disembodied spirit, or immaterial existence. The only meaningful distinction is that between living and non-living matter.[1]

In addition, Lawrence believes that non-living matter is merely the dead remains of the living. (A position that will strike many as utterly bizarre.) Lawrence makes this claim many times, especially in Fantasia of the Unconscious, but also in his strange, Hermetic essay “The Two Principles.” He writes there, “Inanimate matter is released from the dead body of the world’s creatures. It is the static residue of the living conscious plasm, like feathers of birds.”[2] And: “death is not just shadow or mystery. It is the negative reality of life. It is what we call Matter and Force, among other things. . . . The cosmos is nothing but the aggregate of the dead bodies and dead energies of bygone individuals. The dead bodies decompose as we know into earth, air, and water, heat and radiant energy and free electricity and innumerable other scientific facts.”[3]

Obviously, if the non-living comes from the living and is its residue, then living things must have existed before there were any non-living things. But this seems to present a whole host of difficulties. Where did these living things reside, if not on the non-living rocks we call planets? If they were like the living things we know, then wouldn’t they have had to have breathed oxygen and consumed water? And oxygen and water can hardly be classed as “alive.” Lawrence finds a way around this problem, however, by postulating that in the beginning there were no living things; instead, life was “homogeneous,” and not divided into distinct creatures.

He puts this idea forward in his 1914 philosophical essay “A Study of Thomas Hardy”: “In the origin, life must have been uniform, a great unmoved, utterly homogeneous infinity, a great not-being, at once a positive and negative infinity: the whole universe, the whole infinity, one motionless homogeneity, a something, a nothing.”[4] (I will have reason to return to this quotation later for, as we shall shortly see, Lawrence qualifies this statement in an important way.)

Lawrence’s conception of an undifferentiated, homogeneous “life” is very close to Schopenhauer’s “will.” Recall that in The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer argues that the will is an impersonal, self-perpetuating force, and that it lies at the root of all that exists. Lawrence seems to have held some version of this theory for most of his life. In a letter from 1911 he writes: “There still remains a God, but not a personal God: a vast, shimmering impulse which waves onwards towards some end, I don’t know what—taking no regard for the little individual, but taking regard for humanity. When we die, like rain-drops falling back again into the sea, we fall back into the big, shimmering sea of unorganized life which we call God.”[5]

In Women in Love Birkin often expresses Schopenhauerian ideas: “Well, if mankind is destroyed, if our race is destroyed like Sodom, and there is this beautiful evening with the luminous land and trees, I am satisfied. That which informs it all is there, and can never be lost. After all, what is mankind but just one expression of the incomprehensible.”[6] And, later in the novel, Lawrence expresses Birkin’s thoughts after Gerald’s death:

If humanity ran into a cul-de-sac, and expended itself, the timeless creative mystery would bring forth some other being, finer, more wonderful, some new, more lovely race, to carry on the embodiment of creation. The game was never up. The mystery of creation was fathomless, infallible, inexhaustible, for ever. . . . The fountain-head was incorruptible and unsearchable. It had no limits. It could bring forth miracles, create utter new races and new species in its own hour, new forms of consciousness, new forms of body, new units of being. To be man was as nothing compared to the possibilities of the creative mystery.[7]

Lawrence also sometimes refers to “the pan mystery,” and at one point says “God is the flame-life in all the universe; multifarious, multifarious flames, all colours and beauties and pains and somberness. Whichever flame flames in your manhood, that is you, for the time being.”[8] Finally, in one of Lawrence’s last works of fiction, The Man Who Died, he writes,

And always the man who had died saw not the bird alone, but the short, sharp wave of life of which the bird was the crest. . . . And the man who had died watched the unsteady, rocking vibration of the bent bird, and it was not the bird he saw, but one wave-tip of life overlapping for a minute another, in the tide of the swaying ocean of life. And the destiny of life seemed more fierce and compulsive to him even than the destiny of death. The doom of death was a shadow compared to the raging destiny of life, the determined surge of life.[9]

Unlike Schopenhauer, Lawrence never settles on a single term for this “life force,” and so I have chosen to follow his language in Women In Love and to refer to it consistently here as the creative mystery. I take Lawrence’s discussion in “A Study of Thomas Hardy” of primordial life as a “great unmoved, utterly homogeneous infinity,” as yet another description of the creative mystery that lies at the root, and origin of all things.

It is easy to see that the creative mystery forms the basis for Lawrence’s ontology, his theory of Being.[10] If Lawrence merely followed Schopenhauer and identified the creative mystery with Being (as Schopenhauer himself never explicitly does), he would fall squarely within the tradition of what Heidegger calls “ontotheology.” Ontotheology is the error of identifying Being-as-such with the highest or most basic of all beings, or things that have being. The error is analogous to declaring that the characteristic of Tallness is just the same as a thing that happens to be tall (i.e., a thing that “has” tallness). To recognize what Heidegger calls the “ontological difference” is to recognize that Being is not simply another of the beings, no matter how special.

If the creative mystery is something that has Being, then it cannot be Being-as-such. Fortunately, however, Lawrence does not make this error. One of the few places where Lawrence explicitly refers to Being occurs in his essay “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”: “The clue to all existence is being. But you can’t have being without existence, any more than you can have the dandelion flower without the leaves and the long tap root.”[11] Essentially, for Lawrence Being is the emergence of individuals out of the creative mystery. The creative mystery itself is not Being, but what one might call the “ground of Being.”

This ontology comes very close to Heidegger’s understanding of the Pre-Socratic conception of Being as phusis. And surely this is no accident. Lawrence’s understanding of the creative mystery and what emerges from it was not formed solely through his encounter with Schopenhauer. His descriptions of it also reflect his encounter with pre-Socratic philosophy, which he also studied carefully. In particular, one can detect a strong hint of Anaximander’s “indefinite” (apeiron), out of which all things emerge and into which they return. I will return to Lawrence’s ontology later when I discuss his theory of the “Holy Ghost,” which “draws” individuals out of the creative mystery and into the flowering of Being. For now, however, we must continue to investigate Lawrence’s understanding of the creative mystery itself.

2. The Holy Ghost

Earlier I quoted Lawrence’s essay “A Study of Thomas Hardy” concerning the origin of life, when it was “uniform, a great unmoved, utterly homogeneous infinity.” However, he qualifies this statement in the next sentence: “And yet it can never have been utterly homogeneous: mathematically, yes; actually, no.”[12] Indeed, Lawrence makes it very clear elsewhere that he believes in the primacy of the individual.

In Fantasia of the Unconscious he writes, “Life is individual, always was individual and always will be. Life consists of living individuals, and always did so consist, in the beginning of everything.”[13] Later in the same text Lawrence remarks that living individuals are “the one, pure clue to our cosmos.” And then: “I only know there is but one origin, and that is the individual soul. The individual soul originated everything, and has itself no origin.”[14]Lawrence is here going a step further. Life is always individual life, but what accounts for individuality as such is “the soul,” or what he calls elsewhere the Holy Ghost. Lawrence has acquired these terms from his Christian upbringing, but he uses them in a highly unusual way, as we will see in the next section.

But here we must pause to raise a troubling, and obvious objection: doesn’t all of this completely contradict the idea Lawrence puts forward that in the beginning only life existed, but that it was an “utterly homogeneous infinity”? Yes and no. Lawrence frankly admits elsewhere that he does not believe there ever was a literal beginning to the universe. So what was the point, then, in telling us what happened “in the origin”? Is Lawrence simply spinning out myths? The answer is yes: Lawrence is consciously and deliberately expresses his ideas in mythic form.

When Lawrence speaks of a homogeneous life “in the origin” this is a mythic way of speaking of the creative mystery that is the source of all things. In a way, one can say that this is the “origin” of all things. However, the creative mystery has always existed in and through individuals. Because these individuals are all expressions of the creative mystery, they are all one; but the one creative mystery exists only within the many. As Lawrence says, “life” is homogeneous “mathematically,” but not “actually.”

Now, some might charge that the foregoing is merely a facile way of trying to resolve what is quite simply a glaring contradiction in Lawrence’s thought. But this is not the case. Lawrence makes it quite clear, in fact, that he means us to interpret him exactly as I have suggested. In his essay “The Two Principles” Lawrence writes: “When we postulate a beginning, we only do so to fix a starting point for our thought. There never was a beginning, and there never will be an end to the universe. The creative mystery, which is life itself, always was and always will be. It unfolds itself in pure living creatures.”[15]

For Lawrence, existence “begins” with an undifferentiated life force, which then progressively and infinitely individuates itself. Of course, we must remember that Lawrence does not believe in a literal beginning. When this is taken into account, his position comes extremely close to that of Schopenhauer: existence is, at root, an infinite will that never exists as such, purely by itself, but is continually “expressed” through individuals. Lawrence’s account of the course of creation then becomes, in effect, an alchemical ontology giving us the ultimate qualities and categories of being itself—the most fundamental of which are Fire and Water.

Lawrence develops his “creation myth” in Fantasia and in “The Two Principles.” It is complex and obscure, and best set aside for the moment. Instead, I will turn now to another issue, and an important one. We have seen that for Lawrence the purpose of existence itself is individuation: the coming-into-being of individuals of various forms, each unique and, to one degree or another, independent and self-sufficient. But how, in metaphysical terms, can we account of the arising of the individual? Lawrence answers this question with his idiosyncratic theory of the “Holy Ghost.”

Writing of the positive “sun-pole” and negative “moon-pole” in Fantasia, Lawrence states that “Existence is truly a matter of propagation between the two infinities. But it needs a third presence. . . . The hailstone needs a grain of dust for its core. So does the universe. Midway between the two cosmic infinities lies the third, which is more than infinite. This is the Holy Ghost Life, individual life.”[16] Lawrence also speaks of the ‘individual soul” as the “one clue to the universe.”[17] We shall see that the soul and the Holy Ghost are, in a way equivalent.

The Holy Ghost, Lawrence tells us, mediates between dualities. In the language of “The Two Principles” the Holy Ghost is that which “draws together” Fire and Water to produce a new individual. In his essay “The Crown,” Lawrence remarks that every new (living) individual is “a glimpse of the Holy Ghost.”[18] And in “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine” he writes that “All existence is dual, and surging towards a consummation into being. In the seed of the dandelion, as it floats with its little umbrella of hairs, sits the Holy Ghost in tiny compass. The Holy Ghost is that which holds the light and the dark, the day and the night, the wet and the sunny, united in one little clue. There it sits, in the seed of the dandelion.”[19]

Lawrence’s concept of the Holy Ghost is not unlike Aristotelian entelecheia, or full or completed actuality. It is that for that for the sake of which each thing strives: its end, or, in Lawrence’s terms, its “fullness of being.” The entelecheia of a thing is just the fully-accomplished being or acting of the thing, yet it has the status of an ideality which is, in a sense, logically and ontologically prior to the existence of the thing. This comparison may seem a bit of stretch, so let us consider the following statements Lawrence makes in his essays. In “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine” he writes,

Any creature that attains to its own fullness of being, its own living self, becomes unique, a nonpareil. It has its place in the fourth dimension, the heaven of existence, and there it is perfect, beyond comparison. . . . At the same time, every creature exists in time and space. And in time and space it exists relatively to all other existence, and can never be absolved. Its existence impinges on other existences, and is itself impinged upon. . . . The force which we call vitality, and which is the determining factor in the struggle for existence is, however, derived also from the fourth dimension. That is to say, the ultimate source of all vitality is in that other dimension, or region, where the dandelion blooms, and which men have called heaven, and which now they call the fourth dimension: which is only a way of saying that it is not to be reckoned in terms of space and time.[20]

dh-lawrence-women-in-love.jpgIn “Him with His Tail in His Mouth” (1925), Lawrence writes “Creation is a fourth dimension, and in it there are all sorts of things, gods and what-not. That brown hen, scratching with her hind leg in such common fashion, is a sort of goddess in the creative dimension.”[21] And in “Morality and the Novel” (1925), Lawrence tells us “By life, we mean something that gleams, that has the fourth-dimensional quality.”[22] Nothing in Lawrence is ever completely clear, but it seems clear enough in these passages that he thinks that living things exist in two ways. In space and time they exist alongside other creatures, and in large measure are what they are in contrast or opposition to those other creatures. In truth, however, their being is located in a realm beyond space and time.

So far, this seems Platonic. However, Lawrence tells us that any creature that attains its own “fullness of being” becomes unique, and “has its place in the fourth dimension.” In other words, being, for Lawrence, is an achievement. When creatures actualize themselves through becoming what they are, this actuality (what Lawrence calls “vitality”), achieved in space-time, partakes of the eternal.[23] Employing Aristotelian terminology to explain these ideas is almost irresistible—but I hope at this point that the reader sees that my use of this terminology is not misuse.

The Holy Ghost is the actuality of each individual living thing, existing “prior” to it, drawing it on to its achieved fullness of being. Lawrence’s statement that in the fourth dimension “there are all sorts of things, gods and what-not” is tantalizing. I take it to support my claims about the Holy Ghost (i.e., that it is a non-spatio-temporal ideality). But Lawrence’s remark about the hen shows very clearly that, as I shall argue more fully later on, each individual thing is itself God or a god insofar as it follows its Holy Ghost and achieves its fullness of being.

As we have seen, the universe for Lawrence tends toward individuation—or, to put it another way, the creative mystery realizes itself through the perpetual blossoming of myriad individuals. “While we live, we are balanced between the flux of life and the flux of death. But the real clue is the Holy Ghost, that moves us into the state of blossoming. And each year the blossoming is different: from the delicate blue speedwells of childhood to the equally delicate, frail farewell flowers of old age: through all the poppies and sunflowers: year after year of difference.”[24] The blossom is the “completed” individual, which is a wholly unique creation; an unrepeatable expression of the creative mystery.

Lawrence tells us that “Blossoming means the establishing of a pure, new relationship with all the cosmos.”[25] According to Lawrence’s fanciful cosmogony, “first” the creative mystery abides as the one existing individual. Yet, in this form, it is simply undifferentiated “life plasm”—and, in truth, it is no individual at all, for it has no other against which it marks itself off as a specific something. The creative mystery then comes to actualization as an individual, not through the introduction of a foreign other, but through “othering itself”: through expressing itself as an infinite plurality of individuals, whose identities mutually determine each other – who are drawn forth from the mystery in blossoming, abide for a while, then die. The residue they leave forms the material out of which other living things are grown, and on which they depend for shelter and sustenance.

That Lawrence is aware that he is formulating an ontology is clear from the language he uses. For example, to repeat a quotation from “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine,” he states that “The clue to all existence is being. But you can’t have being without existence, any more than you can have the dandelion flower without the leaves and the long tap root.”[26] By “being” Lawrence means “blossoming,” which not only bears a strong similarity to the Aristotelian entelecheia, but also, more generally, to the Greek phusis, mentioned earlier. Existence, on the other hand, refers to the concrete forms through which blossoming takes place: individual flowers, animals, human beings, etc.

Lawrence is telling us that the clue to understanding beings is Being, but that there is no Being without beings. So long as one understands the specific sense Lawrence gives to Being—“blossoming”—these are not vacuous statements. Things exist only insofar as they are, in essential terms, the blossoming forth of an underlying, primal reality—and this underlying, primal reality only exists through the concrete forms of blossoming in terms of which it “specifies” itself.

Unsurprisingly, Lawrence goes on to identify his Holy Ghost with God. To Heideggereans, of course, this means that Lawrence’s ontology slides over into the fallacy of ontotheology, discussed earlier. Lawrence remarks that “The flower is the burning of God in the bush: the flame of the Holy Ghost: the actual Presence of accomplished oneness, accomplished out of twoness. The true God is created every time a pure relationship, or a consummation out of twoness into oneness takes place. So that the poppy flower is God come red out of the poppy-plant.”[27]

In truth, however, this is not ontotheology. Lawrence is in actual fact telling us that there is no separate being called God. If however, what we mean by “God” is simply the most fundamental fact or, we might say, the most fundamental act in the universe, then we may identify God with Being or blossoming as such. Lawrence’s imagery in the above quotation is a particularly brilliant example of both his skills as a writer, and as an interpreter of myth. God is the burning bush—but in truth every bush, every flower, every living thing is the fire of God: the fire of “accomplished oneness.” God, for Lawrence, just is individuation, and God comes into being, in the world, each time a new living individual blossoms forth.

So far I have spoken in general terms of the Holy Ghost as, in effect, an ideality all living things are striving, in Aristotelian fashion, to “realize.” But nothing has been said specifically about the Holy Ghost in us, and our experience of it. In his 1924 essay “On Being Religious,” Lawrence tells us that “Only the Holy Ghost within you can scent the new tracks of the Great God across the Cosmos of Creation. The Holy Ghost is the dark hound of heaven whose baying we ought to listen to, as he runs ahead into the unknown, tracking the mysterious everlasting departing of the Lord God, who is for ever departing from us.”[28]

The Holy Ghost is an “ideality,” in the sense that it is something being striven for, but in the human being it is not the intellect or a part of the intellect. In so far as Aristotle seems to identify the actualization of the human animal with the actualization of its intellect, this is definitely a point on which Lawrence parts company with Aristotle. As I have argued in other essays, for Lawrence the “true self” is not to be identified with the conscious, socially-constructed ego, nor is it to be identified with intellect. In fact, for Lawrence, the Holy Ghost in human beings is more or less the same thing that he calls the true unconscious (see my essay “D. H. Lawrence on the Unconscious [2]”). It is the primal self that knows without abstract concepts, and guides without words and rules. It is this primal self that draws us on to the realization of our “fullness of being.”

Our Holy Ghost is our being—and it is an expression of the ultimate being, the creative mystery. Thus, when Lawrence tells us that “Only the Holy Ghost within you can scent the new tracks of the Great God across the Cosmos of Creation” he means that if we are to identify ourselves with our primal self—if we are able to become, in a sense, just that—then through it we know all of life, all of the universe. Lawrence’s position is, again, structurally similar to that of Schopenhauer. In Schopenhauer’s philosophy, we come to know the will in nature through the will that manifests itself in our deepest self. Indeed, that is the only way in which we may become aware directly of the will as the source of all that is.

“We go in search of God,” Lawrence writes, “following the Holy Ghost, and depending on the Holy Ghost. There is no Way. There is no Word. There is no Light.”[29] Lawrence means that there is no way to God, to awareness of ultimate reality and ultimate goodness, except through following our own Holy Ghost and letting it draw us into blossoming, into fullness of being. In other words, because God just is Being or blossoming, there is no way to God except through each of us becoming what we are.

Words cannot get us there, nor can following a path marked out by others, or a light kindled by others. Each of us is alone before God, and each way to God is individual because God is individuation. Recall the passage quoted earlier: “Creation is a fourth dimension, and in it there are all sorts of things, gods and what-not. That brown hen, scratching with her hind leg in such common fashion, is a sort of goddess in the creative dimension.”[30] In a sense, each living thing is God insofar as it achieves its fullness of being.


[1] “There is no utterly immaterial existence, no spirit. The distinction is between living plasm and inanimate matter.” Phoenix II, 230 (“The Two Principles”).

[2] Phoenix II, 230 (“The Two Principles”).

[3] Fantasia, 150-51.

[4] Phoenix, 432 (“A Study of Thomas Hardy”).

[5] Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. Diana Trilling (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1958), 10. Note that Schopenhauer does not identity will with God. His is an atheistic philosophy. But Lawrence has already gone beyond Schopenhauer and given a religious dimension to the will doctrine. Also, there is no direct evidence that Lawrence read The World as Will and Representation. However, we do know that he read Schopenhauer’s essays, and that they made a major impact on him.

[6] D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love (New York: Viking Press, 1969), 52.

[7] Ibid., 470.

[8] Phoenix II, 426 (“The Novel”).

[9] D. H. Lawrence, The Man Who Died (New York: Ecco Press, 1994), 17-18.

[10] I capitalize the B in Being to distinguish it from a being, or thing which has Being. In other words, beings (things which are) have Being.

[11] Phoenix II, 470 (“Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”).

[12] Phoenix, 432 (“A Study of Thomas Hardy”).

[13] Fantasia, 150.

[14] Fantasia, 160.

[15] Phoenix II, 227 (“The Two Principles”).

[16] Fantasia, 158.

[17] Fantasia, 150.

[18] Phoenix II, 396 (“The Crown”).

[19] Phoenix II, 470 (“Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”).

[20] Phoenix II, 469 (“Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”).

[21] Phoenix II, 431 (“Him With His Tail in His Mouth”).

[22] Phoenix I, 529 (“Morality and the Novel”).

[23] In “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine,” Lawrence writes “Being is not ideal, as Plato would have it: nor spiritual. It is a transcendent form of existence, as much material as existence is. Only the matter suddenly enters the fourth dimension” (Phoenix II, 470). I take Lawrence to be expressing here (without realizing it) essentially the Aristotelian alternative to Platonism: the being of the thing is not another “thing” existing in another reality. Instead, in some sense a living thing becomes eternal—becomes fourth-dimensional—in its actualization. At the same time, we may speak of this “actualization” as something transcendent precisely because it is not a spatio-temporal “thing” at all, but something ontologically “prior” to things. Insofar as it is the actualization of some spatio-temporal living thing, however, in another way it is immanent.

[24] Phoenix II, 396 (“The Crown”).

[25] Phoenix II, 471 (“Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”).

[26] Ibid., 470.

[27] Phoenix II, 412 (“The Crown”).

[28] Phoenix I, 728 (“On Being Religious”).

[29] Ibid., 729.

[30] Phoenix II, 431 (“Him With His Tail in His Mouth”).


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lundi, 02 septembre 2013

D. H. Lawrence on the Meaning of Sex

D. H. Lawrence on the Meaning of Sex

By Derek Hawthorne 

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

D. H. Lawrence is best known to the general public as a writer of sexy books. In his own time, his treatment of sex made him notorious and caused him to run afoul of the authorities on a number of occasions. I have no desire to rehearse in detail the well-known history of Lawrence’s troubles with censorship, but for those who do not know anything of it a few details will suffice.

rainbow.JPGIn September 1915 Lawrence’s novel The Rainbow, one of his major works, was published by Methuen. By November it had been banned by court order, largely due to Lawrence’s brief (and, by today’s standards, extremely tame) depiction of a lesbian affair. The following year Lawrence finished what is arguably his greatest novel, Women in Love. However, owing to the notoriety of The Rainbow as well as to Women in Love’s much more frank depiction of sexuality, he could not find a publisher for the novel until 1920. Disgusted by his treatment at the hands of his fellow countrymen, Lawrence moved himself and his wife Frieda to Sicily that year, thereby beginning a long sojourn abroad that would take them to Sardinia, Ceylon, Australia, California, and New Mexico.

Lawrence was deterred neither by censorship nor by the frequent vilification he suffered at the hands of the press. In 1926, on a visit to Italy he wrote the first of three versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his most sexually explicit work and, in fact, one of the most sexually explicit “serious” works of literature ever written. A small edition of the novel was brought out in Florence in 1928, and another in Paris. Various pirated editions were also printed.

Copies of the novel were seized by customs in both the United States and Great Britain, and the reviews that appeared were brutal. One English critic declared that the novel was “the most evil outpouring that has ever besmirched the literature of our country. The sewers of French pornography would be dragged in vain to find a parallel in beastliness . . . Unfortunately for literature as for himself, Mr. Lawrence has a diseased mind.”[1] (The famous court case in Britain occurred thirty years after Lawrence’s death, when Penguin Books brought out an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley.)

In 1926 Lawrence had started to paint. He wrote to his friend Earl Brewster, a Buddhist, “I put a phallus, a lingam you call it, in each one of my pictures somewhere. And I paint no picture that won’t shock people’s castrated social spirituality.”[2] Predictably, when an exhibition of his paintings was held in London in 1929 it was raided by the police, though, as Jeffrey Meyers notes, the officers “politely waited to carry out their orders until the Aga Khan had finished viewing the pictures.”[3]

Why was Lawrence seemingly so preoccupied with sex? The answer is that he saw sex as a means to awaken the true self, and to discover not only our own inner being but the inner being of all things. In Fantasia of the Unconscious he writes, “To the individual, the act of coition is a great psychic experience, a vital experience of tremendous importance.”[4]

Lawrence was unquestionably influenced by Schopenhauer in his views about the metaphysical significance of sex. In his unpublished notebooks—summing up views he expressed more circumspectly in his published writings—Schopenhauer states

If I am asked where the most intimate knowledge of that inner essence of the world, of that thing in itself which I have called the will to live, is to be found, or where that essence enters most clearly into our consciousness, or where it achieves the purest revelation of itself, then I must point to ecstasy in the act of copulation. That is it! That is the true essence and core of all things, the aim and purpose of all existence.[5]

However, Lawrence (unlike Schopenhauer) saw the inner essence of things as having religious significance. He felt that the “life mystery” at the core of all was the only thing that he could honestly call God. Hence, he regarded sex as sacred—indeed as an act of divine worship—since it opens us to the life mystery. In a posthumously published essay Lawrence writes, “In the very darkest continent of the body there is God.”[6] This is the real key to understanding Lawrence’s treatment of sex: it is reverential; he regards sex as sacred, not as profane. The public attacks on Lawrence’s work as “smut” are hugely unjust, for Lawrence had a lifelong hatred of pornography precisely because he saw it as a profanation of sex.

An illustration of Lawrence’s attitude is his reaction to James Joyce’s Ulysses. As Jeffrey Meyers notes, it was, in part, Lawrence’s hostile reaction to Ulysses that spurred him to write Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In a letter Lawrence stated, “The last part of [Ulysses] is the dirtiest, most indecent, obscene thing ever written. . . . This Ulysses muck is more disgusting than Casanova. I must show that it can be done without muck.”[7] This may seem a trifle ironic, given how others had attacked Lawrence’s own work with similar invective. But, in fact, Lawrence’s attitude to Joyce is not hypocritical. He is not attacking the explicitness of Joyce’s treatment of sex, but rather what he regarded as its unforgivable irreverence.

dhl.jpgIn Fantasia of the Unconscious Lawrence writes, “In sex we have our basic, most elemental being.”[8] Further, he declares that the procreative purpose of sex is “just a side-show.”[9] Lawrence rejects the reductive, scientific understanding of sex; part and parcel of the scientific will to nullify beauty and mystery and to make everything mundane and “practical.”

Sex can lead to reproduction, but it is no more correct to say that the “purpose” of sex is reproduction than it is to say that the purpose of eating is to fill our stomachs. More often than not, we eat not because we happen to really need nourishment just then, but because we take pleasure in eating, in the taste of food, and in the company of those we eat with. And frequently the food we enjoy ingesting has little actual nutritional value. If the purpose of eating were simply to acquire nourishment, then we ought not mind the idea of simply ingesting a tasteless paste full of vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates three times daily.

Sex, Lawrence tells us,

is our deepest form of consciousness. It is utterly non-ideal, non-mental. It is pure blood-consciousness. It is the basic consciousness of the blood, the nearest thing in us to pure material consciousness. It is the consciousness of the night, when the soul is almost asleep. The blood-consciousness is the first and last knowledge of the living soul: the depths.[10]

When we enter into what Schopenhauer calls “ecstasy in the act of copulation,” there is a sloughing off of intellect, of self-consciousness. The act is ecstatic precisely to the extent that this is accomplished. The Greek ekstasis could be translated literally as “standing outside oneself.” In ecstatic acts we have the sense of leaving ourselves, and certainly our consciousness of ourselves (our inner monitor, inner censor, inner doubter) behind. Insofar as we cannot accomplish this, the sexual act will be dissatisfying. The woman may experience little pleasure, and the man may even be unable to perform, should he fail to disengage the intellect.

Of course, when we are caught in the ecstasy of sex we are not literally unconscious. What happens, in effect, is that a different sort of consciousness takes over: what Lawrence calls “blood-consciousness.” What Lawrence means by this term is the pre-reflective, pre-conceptual, subterranean depth in consciousness: what he sometimes confusingly calls the “unconscious.”

Sometimes this type of consciousness is derisively labeled the “animal” in us. This is misleading, for we have a tendency not to think of ourselves as animals, and labeling the blood-consciousness “animal” becomes a way to disown it. But it is our own, and, of course, we are animals. In the heat of true, ecstatic sexual passion, one loses a sense of individuality. It is common to hear the participants speak (later on) of losing the sense of bodily boundaries, and feeling as if the two bodies merged into one. Strange, animal-like cries are uttered and motions become automatic rather than deliberately willed.

In sex we surrender our intellect and self-consciousness, and open ourselves to the blood-consciousness, to our primal self—so that we become, for the space of the act, that primal self. And this is the reason why modern people are so sex-obsessed.

To live in modern, industrialized society means to live almost constantly from what Lawrence calls the “upper centres,” from intellect. And it means to live surrounded at all times by the products of intellect, cocooned in a synthetic, human world built over top of the natural world, operating according to human ideas and ideals. Almost always, this life requires us to lead an existence that is false in certain fundamental ways; false and inimical to life and to the natural, primal self. Passionate sex, insofar as modern people can even manage it, is the only respite from this that most people know. As such, Lawrence believes that in sex we are fundamentally truer than at most other times in life. And reflection on what the sex act means may help us to recover this trueness in daily life, outside of sexual activity.

All of the above is an attempt to say “what sex is.” But Lawrence holds that ultimately it is ineffable:

We can never say, satisfactorily. But we know so much: we know that it is a dynamic polarity between human beings, and a circuit of force always flowing. . . . We know that in the act of coition the blood of the individual man, acutely surcharged with intense vital electricity—we know no word, so say “electricity,” by analogy—rises to a culmination, in a tremendous magnetic urge towards the blood of the female. The whole of the living blood in the two individuals forms a field of intense, polarized magnetic attraction. So, the two poles must be brought into contact. In the act of coition, the two seas of blood in the two individuals, rocking and surging towards contact, as near as possible, clash into a oneness.[11]

Lawrence’s remark about his use of the term “electricity” tells us that we should not take this description very literally. When he speaks of an “electricity” in the blood of a sexually aroused man or woman, he uses this term, for lack of a better one, to describe the peculiar sense of acute, tingling “aliveness” that one feels in sexual ecstasy. When he speaks of a “magnetic attraction” between the blood of man and woman, he means the uncanny, overpowering, and unchosen sense of attraction that one experiences for the other. It is a sense of attraction that at times makes men and women feel that they must come together or die.

We attempt to deflate the mystery of this attraction by chalking it up to “chemistry.” Indeed it may somehow be chemical, but to describe the physical conditions necessary for a profound experience to take place does not render it less profound, or less mysterious. It might seem a bit ironic, given Lawrence’s criticisms of science, that his own language has a kind of scientific veneer, with its talk of “electricity,” “magnetism,” and “polarity.” But Lawrence’s “science” is, in fact, a throwback to the vitalistic philosophy of nature of the Romantics.

Lawrence attempts to sum things up as follows: “Sex then is a polarization of the individual blood in man towards the individual blood in woman.”[12] At the root of this idea is a basic conviction of Lawrence’s, which cannot be overemphasized: that men and women are fundamentally and radically different—metaphysically different. (See my essay “D. H. Lawrence on Men and Women [2].”) In the same text he writes, “We are all wrong when we say there is no vital difference between the sexes.”

Lawrence wrote this in 1921 intending it to be provocative, but it is surely much more controversial in today’s world, where it has become a dogma in some circles to insist that sex differences (now called “gender differences”) are “socially constructed,” and that the only natural differences between the sexes are purely and simply anatomical. Lawrence continues: “There is every difference. Every bit, every cell in a boy is male, every cell is female in a woman, and must remain so. Women can never feel or know as men do. And in the reverse, men can never feel and know, dynamically, as women do.”[13]

dhl2.jpgInterestingly, I believe that Lawrence derives the idea of “cells” being male or female from Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character, a text he was definitely familiar with. Weininger writes: “every cell of the organism . . . has a sexual character.” And: “In a male every part, even the smallest, is male, however much it may resemble the corresponding part of a female, and in the latter, likewise, even the smallest part is exclusively female.”[14]

Setting Weininger aside, this is Lawence’s way of emphasizing that men and women are different all the way down, and that there are ways in which they can never understand each other, and never see as the other sees. Lawrence is concerned in particular (though this is not obvious) to guard against the claim that there are borderline cases of men and women who are (psychically) androgynous, straddling the divide between male and female:

A child is born sexed. A child is either male or female; in the whole of its psyche and physique is either male or female. Every single living cell is either male or female, and will remain either male or female as long as life lasts. And every single cell in every male child is male, and every cell in every female is female. The talk about a third sex, or about the indeterminate sex, is just to pervert the issue.[15]

The reference in the last sentence is to the ideas of figures like Magnus Hirschfeld and, indeed, Otto Weininger, both of whom argued that homosexuals were sexually “intermediate.” Part of the reason Lawrence is so vehement in this passage is that he had strong homosexual inclinations (as any honest reader of Women in Love, especially its deleted “Prologue,” will admit). Early in life he saw himself as an androgynous being, with a hefty share of femininity in his soul. However, he came to repudiate this idea and to regard it as having hindered his development as a man.

The Phallus

In coition, Lawrence writes, “the two seas of blood in the two individuals, rocking and surging towards contact, as near as possible, clash into a oneness.”[16] The means by which this connection occurs, where the blood of the man and the woman is brought together, is the phallus. One of Lawrence’s most important philosophical essays is “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover,’” which he wrote partly to answer criticisms of the novel, and partly to make explicit and expound upon the novel’s message. He writes at one point that “The phallus is a column of blood that fills the valley of blood of a woman. The great river of male blood touches to its depths the great river of female blood—yet neither breaks its bounds.” The two blood streams, the male and the female, “encircle the whole of life.”[17] They never literally mingle, but coition is essentially an act in which the blood of the male, enfolded within an extension of his flesh, enters the blood-engorged flesh of the woman—and the two blood streams come as close to mingling as they ever will.

The result is a crisis; an ecstatic moment in which—as in the Zen experience of satori—there is the sudden, non-verbal intuition that this here now is all there is, and there is a loss of the sense of individual separateness and isolation; a sense of becoming absorbed into a greater unity. Lawrence describes the orgasm as follows: “There is a lightning flash which passes through the blood of both individuals, there is a thunder of sensation which rolls in diminishing crashes down the nerves of each—and then the tension passes.”[18]

In his later works, Lawrence writes often and explicitly of the metaphysical, indeed the divine significance of the phallus. For example, in the second of Lawrence’s three versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (published posthumously as John Thomas and Lady Jane) there is a scene in which Constance Chatterley lies beside her sleeping lover, contemplating his flaccid penis. “Wasn’t there a weird, grotesque godhead in it?” she asks herself, and what follows is a passage of great significance:

To most men, the penis was merely a member, at the disposal of the personality. Most men merely used their penis as they use their fingers, for some personal purpose of their own. But in a true man, the penis has a life of its own, and is the second man within the man. It is prior to the personality. And the personality must yield before the priority and the mysterious root-knowledge of the penis, or the phallus. For this is the difference between the two: the penis is a mere member of the physiological body. But the phallus, in the old sense, has roots, the deepest roots of all, in the soul and the greater consciousness of man, and it is through the phallic roots that inspiration enters the soul.[19]

Lawrence makes a traditional distinction in this passage (though, as usual, he is slip-shod about it) between the penis and the phallus, which is the erect penis. In cultures that have worshipped the penis, it always the erect penis that is depicted and revered. Why? Because, in a real sense, the phallus does not belong to the individual man. It is—notoriously—not under the control of his personality, his mental self-conscious being. It has a will of its own. It is the “second man within the man,” meaning that it is a direct expression or, if you will, externalization of the deeper, truer, self; of the unconscious, or blood-consciousness.

This self is “prior to the personality,” and indeed it is fundamentally the same in all men. So it transcends the individual—indeed it is an expression of the life mystery which permeates all of nature. The penis, Lawrence tells us, is a “mere member of the physiological body,” but the phallus is something that rises from out of the chthonic depth of nature itself. The phallus is our connection to those depths. When Lawrence says that it is “through the phallic roots that inspiration enters the soul” he means that it is insofar as we are able to surrender our intellect and mental awareness that we are guided by the wisdom of the blood-consciousness.

If a man’s mental self dominates him and grips him, refusing to let go, preoccupying him with thoughts, then he cannot achieve an erection. His mind has “blocked” the primal, unconscious self. This is all that the mind can do to the primal self—it cannot command it. Hence there is no “willing” an erection. But if a man can momentarily surrender his mental self, then the blood-consciousness is awakened, and the phallus comes to life. The virile man is admired because he has a connection to the primal force. The impotent man is pathetic in our eyes, because he has lost that connection. He is literally without power.

Thus, for Lawrence, sexual arousal in the male and the sex act following upon it become emblematic of what must take place if there is to be a general return to the blood-consciousness, and thus an achievement of lasting happiness, lasting satisfaction in the whole of life. There must be a surrender of idealism, and of the tendency to live strictly from the “upper centres.” There is no way to get to the natural self by way of intellect and its ideas, just as there is no willing an erection. All that mind can do is to let go—to do nothing. Then the blood-consciousness takes over and the result is that there rises up from the root of us a new man, a new self. New only in the sense that it is unfamiliar to us, for in truth it is actually the oldest of old selves.

Erection and a full, ecstatic sexual experience symbolize for Lawrence the successful reawakening of the primal self that is needed if we are to again become natural creatures and achieve our “fullness of being.” But they are not merely symbolic. Lawrence also sees coition as the deepest, most profound, and profoundly mysterious way in which we come into contact with our chthonic depth, and the chthonic depth of the natural world itself. Hence, in “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’” he says the following

[The] phallus is the connecting link between the two rivers [of male and female blood], that establishes the two streams in a oneness, and gives out of their duality a single circuit, forever. And this, this oneness gradually accomplished throughout a life-time in twoness, is the highest achievement of time or eternity. From it all things human spring, children and beauty and well-made things; all the true creations of humanity. And all we know of the will of God is that He wishes this, this oneness, to take place, fulfilled over a lifetime, this oneness within the great dual blood-stream of humanity.[20]

Here Lawrence makes it quite clear, as he does in innumerable other places, that his reverence for the phallus is a religious one. Indeed, it would not be a distortion to call his own, personal religion a form of “phallic worship.” This is, of course, a provocative choice of words, but not an inaccurate one. There is, in fact, a remarkable similarity between Lawrence’s views and Hindu Shaivism, the oldest surviving phallic cult in the world.

The God Shiva is a personification of what Lawrence means by the life mystery or “pan power,” as well as what Schopenhauer meant by the will in nature.[21] Alain Daniélou, one of the foremost Western interpreters of Shaivism, writes

As Lord of Yoga, Shiva is named Yogendra, Yogeshvara, Mahâyogi, since it is he who taught the world the Yoga method through which man can know himself, realize himself and communicate with subtle beings, beasts, plants and gods. He also teaches the dance and the music which leads to ecstasy, the intoxication which takes man out of himself. . . . His festivals are those of Spring, of the Renewal of Life, and of creative Eroticism. . . . He is naked, libidinous, and preaches rapture, love, detachment, and friendship with nature. God of Sensual Pleasure and of Death, he is present in the forest and the funeral pyre. Shiva is at the same time benevolent (Shambhu) and terrible (Bhîma).[22]

Although these and many other qualities are attributed to Shiva, the sacred Shaivite texts indicate that the true Shiva is beyond all human categories: “Shiva (the supreme divinity) is without sign (without sex), without color, without taste, without odor, beyond the reach of words or touch, without qualities, immutable and immobile.”[23] This being can therefore only be known through some tangible sign that it gives of itself in the physical, perceptible universe, and that sign is the phallus.

The Sanskrit word for phallus, lingam, literally means “sign.” Daniélou writes, “The lingam, or phallus, the source of life, is the form by which the Absolute Being, from whom the world is issued, can be evoked. . . . In the microcosm, which is to say in man, the sexual organ, the source of life, is the form in which the nature of the formless manifests itself.”[24]

Daniélou quotes liberally from ancient texts in order to explain the Shaivite attitude toward the phallus and its relationship to Shiva. One such text states, “Shiva said ‘I am not distinct from the phallus. The phallus is identical with me, and therefore must be worshipped. My well-beloved! Wherever there is an upright male organ, I myself am present, even if there is no other representation of me.”[25] This passage indicates that the phallus is not, in fact, merely a symbol of Shiva, but is a physical “expression” of the god—the most perfect expression of the god, in fact. In a way, Shiva is distinct from the phallus, but in a way the phallus is Shiva.

We find just the same sort of mystical logic in Lawrence: the phallus is an expression of the life mystery, as the blood-consciousness that animates it is an expression of the life mystery; but the phallus, and blood-consciousness just are the life mystery, as it expresses itself in us. The phallus is our link to the life force itself. Daniélou writes, “The penis is therefore the organ through which a link is established between man . . . and the creative force which is the nature of the divine.”[26] Lawrence expresses precisely this Shaivite conception in John Thomas and Lady Jane, when Constance Chatterley has an argument with her very modern and irreligious sister:

“I don’t care!” she said stubbornly to Hilda at bedtime. “I know the penis is the most godly part of a man. . . . I know it is the penis which connects us with the stars and the sea and everything. It is the penis which touches the planets, and makes us feel their special light. I know it. I know it was the penis which really put the evening stars into my inside self. I used to look at the evening star, and think how lovely and wonderful it was. But now it’s in me as well as outside me, and I need hardly look at it. I am it. I don’t care what you say, it was the penis gave it me.”[27]

According to Daniélou, Shaivism regards the procreative purpose of sex as “a side show” – just as Lawrence does. Daniélou writes that the phallus has a dual role: “the inferior one of procreation and the superior one of contacting the divine state by means of the ecstasy caused by pleasure (ànanda). The orgasm is a ‘divine sensation.’ So whereas paternity attaches man to the things of the earth, the ecstasy of pleasure can reveal divine reality to him, leading him to detachment and spiritual realization.”[28]

The orgasm, for Lawrence as well as for Shaivism, is a religious experience in which selfhood is transcended and we become reabsorbed, momentarily, into the life mystery; connected to “the stars and the sea and everything.” Daniélou quotes another Shaivite text: “Every orgasm, every pleasure is a divine experience. The entire universe springs forth from enjoyment. Pleasure is at the origin of all that exists.”[29]

Just as Lawrence’s ideas about the metaphysical significance of the phallus and intercourse can be likened to Shaivism, his views about the use of sex as a means to “awakening” can be likened to Tantra. Tantra refers to the set of practical techniques and methods used to bring the individual to union with the divine source.

In the West, we tend to associate Tantra exclusively with a kind of “sex magic,” and although there are other forms of Tantra this is, in fact, the one that I am drawing on in making comparisons to Lawrence. Tantric sex actually involves a rather overwhelmingly complex collection of ritual preparations, mantras, and physical positions. None of these are truly relevant to our concerns here. Suffice it to say that the theory behind Tantric sex involves the belief that if intercourse is approached properly, with an understanding of the metaphysical significance of the act, it affords the participants the opportunity to achieve a state of transcendence.

They lose their sense of individuality and merge with each other, and through merging with each other—through bringing together the male and female natures—they participate in the creative power represented by Shiva. Again, the parallels to Lawrence are obvious. He too regarded the man and the woman as representing eternal male and female powers, and he saw in intercourse a way in which the two become one (“the highest achievement of time or eternity”) and in so doing, lose themselves in the life mystery.


[1] Quoted in Jeffrey Meyers, D. H. Lawrence: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 362.

[2] Quoted in Meyers, 367.

[3] Meyers, 369.

[4] D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious in Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (New York: Penguin, 1971), 106.

[5] Arthur Schopenhauer, Manuscript Remains, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Oxford: Berg, 1988–90), vol. 3, 262.

[6] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix, ed. Edward McDonald (New York: Viking, 1968), 759 (“The Novel and the Feelings”).

[7] Quoted in Meyers, 362.

[8] Fantasia, 185.

[9] Fantasia, 106.

[10] Fantasia, 173.

[11] Fantasia, 106–07.

[12] Fantasia, 185.

[13] Fantasia, 102.

[14] Otto Weininger, Sex and Character, trans. Ladislaus Löb (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 17.

[15] Fantasia, 96.

[16] Fantasia, 106–07.

[17] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix II, ed. Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore (New York: Viking, 1971), 505 (“A Propos of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”).

[18] Fantasia, 106–07.

[19] D. H. Lawrence, John Thomas and Lady Jane (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 238.

[20] Phoenix II, 506 (“A Propos of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”).

[21] Alain Daniélou argues that the Greek Pan is equivalent to Shiva. See Alain Daniélou, The Phallus, trans. Jon Graham (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1995), 47–48.

[22] Alain Daniélou, Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus, no translator credited (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1992), 51.

[23] Linga Purána, 1.3.2–3. Quoted in Alain Daniélou, The Phallus, 11.

[24] Daniélou, The Phallus, 11–13.

[25] Quoted in Daniélou, Gods of Love and Ecstasy, 56.

[26] Ibid., 56.

[27] John Thomas and Lady Jane, 312.

[28] Daniélou, The Phallus, 18.

[29] Ibid., 18.


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vendredi, 30 août 2013

D. H. Lawrence’s Phallic Traditionalism


D. H. Lawrence’s Phallic Traditionalism


By Derek Hawthorne

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

Sex and Religion

D. H. Lawrence argues that through the sex act, individuals participate in some kind of mysterious power running through nature. But does this momentary experience have any kind of long-term effect on them? Lawrence directly addresses this question. When the sex act is over, he writes, “The two individuals are separate again. But are they as they were before? Is the air the same after a thunderstorm as before? No. The air is as it were new, fresh, tingling with newness. So is the blood of man and woman after successful coition.” He states further that coition alters “the very quality of being, in both.”[1]

But how? Not surprisingly, Lawrence actually says little about how the experience changes the woman, but as for the man he has plenty to say. After coitus, “The heart craves for a new activity. For new collective activity. That is, for a new polarized connection with other beings, other men.”[2] As we have seen, Lawrence believes that sex involves an encounter with the creative force at the basis of nature. This encounter renews the male’s own creativity. He is eager, after the encounter, to break away from the woman for a time and to take action in the world, to bring something new into being: “Men, being themselves made new after the action of coition, wish to make the world anew. A new, passionate polarity springs up between men who are bent on the same activity, the polarity between man and woman sinks to passivity. It is now daytime, and time to forget sex, time to be busy making a new world.”[3]

The man yearns for union with the woman. At the time, all other considerations other than that union become trivial. Union must be achieved. But once it is achieved, he is renewed and yearns now to come together with other men in a new kind of union: a union directed toward the accomplishment of purposive activity. Again, however, what of the woman in all of this? Doesn’t she yearn for a purposive activity beyond the marriage bed? Lawrence answers that, in the main, this is not the case. He writes, “Primarily and supremely man is always the pioneer of life, adventuring onward into the unknown, alone with his own temerarious, dauntless soul. Woman for him exists only in the twilight, by the camp fire, when day has departed. Evening and the night are hers.”[4]

Lawrence’s view is that in life we must oscillate between an encounter with the source—through sex, for example—and purposive, creative activity. In other words, we must oscillate between blood-consciousness and mental consciousness. Lawrence is not anti-intellectual. Mental consciousness exists in order to allow us to carry out the inspirations we have received from blood-consciousness (recall that “it is through the phallic roots that inspiration enters the soul”). It is when mental consciousness is cut off from blood-consciousness and tries to make itself radically autonomous that problems result.

Lawrence at one point frames the issue of the relation of the two forms of consciousness in terms of “nighttime” and “daytime” selves:

Well, then, we have night-time selves. And the night-self is the very basis of the dynamic self. The blood-consciousness and the blood-passion is the very source and origin of us. Not that we can stay at the source. Nor even make a goal of the source, as Freud does. The business of living is to travel away from the source. But you must start every single day fresh from the source. You must rise every day afresh out of the dark sea of the blood.

When you go to sleep at night you have to say: “Here dies the man I am and know myself to be.” And when you rise in the morning you have to say: “Here rises an unknown quantity which is still myself.”[5]

When Lawrence speaks of rising in the morning, he means emerging from the world of dreams. Like Jung, Lawrence believed that we encounter our primal, pre-mental selves in dream. But he does not just mean this. He means that whenever we emerge from an encounter with the source – whenever we have sloughed off, for a time, our individuality and then put it back on again – we must be prepared to be changed, to be inspired with something that has emerged from the source. We must be willing to bring this into the light. He alludes to this idea in Studies in Classic American Literature when he tell us he believes “That my soul is a dark forest” and “That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back.”[6]

Human beings generally make the mistake of absolutizing either the daytime self or the nighttime self; either making sex the be all and end all, to the exclusion of purposive activity, or vice versa. Lawrence writes that “With sex as the one accepted prime motive, the world drifts into despair and anarchy.”[7] In the sex act, as we have said, the sense of individuality, of personal identity is lost and the participants have the sense of merging into some larger unity. But what of the rest of life? We must live as individuals, with a sense of ourselves as separate beings for most of our waking existence.

But what are we to make of our individuality? Some people find the burden of separate, individual existence so great that they seek to have the sort of transcendence one can experience through sex on an almost constant basis, through alcohol or drugs or thrill-seeking. And what we often find with such individuals is that their lives come to pieces, they drift into “despair and anarchy.”

We have, according to Lawrence, two selves: the nighttime self which is the same in all of us, and which is an offshoot of the worldself, the life mystery; and the daytime self, which is different in each of us, and individual. To deny either is unnatural. We must shuttle back and forth between the two. If we absolutize the nighttime self, then we are destroyed as individuals. And any society that tries to found itself on the nighttime self would quite literally descend into chaos. (Consider the case of Woodstock, for example.) “Assert sex as the predominant fulfillment, and you get the collapse of living purpose in man. You get anarchy.”[8]

But it is equally mistaken to assert purpose above everything. This is, in effect, the mistake of idealism. There are individuals who deny sex or any act that involves a contact with the source. Such acts involve a loss of control, and a temporary breakdown in the sense of individual separateness. And this is terrifying to many people. So they live, as it were, from the neck up and devote themselves wholly to achievement, to productive work, to purpose. This is essentially what Freud means by the sublimation of the libido. Such individuals may not literally cease to have sex, but their sex is mechanical and without any real sensual depth. “Assert purposiveness as the one supreme and pure activity of life,” Lawrence writes, “and you drift into barren sterility, like our business life of today, and our political life.”[9]

Lawrence sees in these observations a key to understanding world history. “You become sterile, you make anarchy inevitable,” he says.[10] In other words, if a society asserts purposiveness above all, eventually it reaches a mass psychological breaking point, and the society will abandon itself to pure sensuousness. If this happens, however, things are destined to cycle back again. Someone or some movement will arise in response to this sensuous anarchy, and it will put forward the solution: abandon sensuousness, in favor of pure purpose, or pure idealism. And so on. To quote Anaximander (one of Lawrence’s favorite philosophers), “they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of time.”[11]

For Lawrence, the solution to this problem is for individuals to live in complete acceptance of sex and the blood-consciousness. They must accept these not only without guilt, but with positive reverence. Sex and all that puts us into touch with the primal, chthonic source is to be regarded as the touchstone of life. All plans and purposes of human beings are to draw their inspiration from the encounter with this source, and must be compatible with the free, regular, sensual contact with it.

Lawrence writes that “no great purposive passion can endure long unless it is established upon the fulfillment in the vast majority of individuals of the true sexual passion. No great motive or ideal or social principle can endure for any length of time unless based upon the sexual fulfillment of the vast majority of individuals concerned.” And just to make sure we have gotten his point, he says again a few lines later, “You have got to base your great purposive activity upon the intense sexual fulfillment of all your individuals.”[12] (Mysteriously, he adds, “That was how Egypt endured.”)

To sum up, it is certainly true to say that Lawrence was preoccupied with sex. But that was because for him sex was religion. In sex we awaken the deepest part of ourselves; we become that part, which is itself part of the life energy of which we are an expression. In sex we contact this mystery, and draw creative strength from it. Lawrence insists, however, that we cannot dwell forever in this mystery. Our lives must be a perpetual shifting back and forth between blood-consciousness and mental consciousness. Contact with the chthonic blood mystery spurs us on to purposive action. And in terms of what our purposes are to be, we draw inspiration from opening ourselves to the chthonic and whatever it may bring forth. 

Sex in the Head

Ideally, sex should not be the only means by which we contact the life mystery, but for modern people it usually is. That is, when they can manage to have fulfilling sex at all. The trouble is that modern people live almost exclusively from the intellect, from conscious, mental awareness. And they live with rigid conceptions of selfhood. These are constructions of the intellect and, not surprisingly, they make intellect central to selfhood.

We tend to think, in other words, that we are minds simpliciter. But it is actually worse than that. We tend to think of ourselves almost as disembodied minds, and we relate as one disembodied mind to another. We invest a tremendous amount in maintaining these conceptions. Anything that would break down or challenge our sense of individual distinction is regarded as a threat.

Consequently, as Lawrence tells us over and over again, we have “got our sex into our head.”[13] This is a favorite expression of his. As much as we may locate our sense of self in the head, we cannot ever fully extinguish thereby the flame of the “lower self.” Rather than cede any of its power to the lower self, intellect must find some way to get sex into the head and control it. Sex becomes a matter of ego-aggrandizement, and the object of myriad neuroses. Even sexual arousal comes to be controlled by the head. The instinctual, animal sexual response that nature equips us with is suppressed by intellect. The head develops its own fixations and these become “cues” which trigger arousal.

For example, fetishism is a sexual response triggered not by the presence of an actual man or woman, or male or female genitalia, but by something which somehow symbolizes or refers to these. For example, the fetishist who gets excited over women’s underwear but has difficulty getting excited in the presence of a real woman. This is a person whose response is, again, intellectual and unnatural. He is disconnected from natural sexual feelings, and achieves arousal by routing information through the intellect: “I associate panties with women’s crotches, and they’re sexy, therefore this is sexy.”

The head may even declare some sexual feelings “wrong,” because they are incompatible with the ego’s self-conception. Repression and terrible inner conflict are the result. The more we get our sex into our head, the more a natural, fulfilling sexual response becomes impossible. The end result is almost inevitably impotence in the man and frigidity in the woman. Lawrence would not have been surprised at all had he lived to see the plethora of drugs that have now become available to treat sexual dysfunction, and the massive profits made by the companies that produce them.

One would think that getting sex into the head would put modern people off of sex, but instead it actually makes them terrifically hungry for repeated, transient sexual experiences. Lawrence writes, “The more individual the man or woman, the more unsatisfactory is a non-individual connection: promiscuity.”[14] By identifying only with the “daytime self,” with the mental self alone, we in effect disown our bodies and their sensations and urges. But the urges remain, and we must satisfy them. So we go to a sexual encounter, but because we have rendered our bodies largely insensate, we wind up feeling very little. And because we are terrified of anything that might break down or transform our sense of ourselves, we emerge from the act unchanged.

We are unwilling to surrender ego and make ourselves vulnerable, and so the sex act becomes merely a gymnastic exercise, followed by some mildly pleasurable muscular contractions. Dimly, we sense that something is missing—or that we have missed out on something. So we are driven to go on to another encounter, but the old pattern repeats itself. Of course, part of what drives us to another encounter is the biological sex urge itself, but Lawrence believes that the sex urge alone cannot explain the extraordinary promiscuity of modern people.

A solution to promiscuity, of course, is to find a steady partner, ideally one to hold onto for a lifetime. But modern people tend to approach this from the head as well. Lawrence writes,

We have made the mistake of idealism again. We have thought that the woman who thinks and talks as we do will be the blood-answer. . . . We have made love and sex a matter of seeing and hearing and of day-conscious manipulation. We have made men and women come together on the grounds of the superficial likeness and commonality—their mental and upper sympathetic consciousness. And so we have forced the blood into submission. Which means we force it into disintegration.[15]

We relate to potential love partners through the head, looking for intellectual agreement and a “shared mutuality of values.” This is much more so the case today than when Lawrence wrote. It has become increasingly the case in today’s world that one feels obliged in certain contexts (for example, the workplace) to suppress one’s feelings of magnetic attraction to the opposite sex, and certainly never to give voice to it. Some find an expression of such feelings to be somehow degrading or demeaning, no matter the context. And so men and women tend now to relate to each other primarily through talking, and talking mainly about ideas, opinions, and preferences.

The other side of the coin, of course, is relationships based upon physical attraction. While these may seem superficially more healthy than the relationships just described, in their modern form they are in fact no better. Modern people, as I have said, are caught up in preserving ego boundaries, and that means they are caught up in not losing themselves in the other, in not going too far in the direction of sensuous abandon. Hence, after a while, modern relationships based upon sex reach a dead end, where neither partner is willing to go further for fear of actually becoming something other than what he or she already is. The sex becomes overly familiar, overly mechanical, and, for lack of anything else to sustain it, the relationship ends.

Between dissatisfying sexual encounters, modern people (especially males) steel themselves against the possibility that the next time might be a profound, transformative experience by making a smirking joke of sex; by treating sex as a game in which numbers count: number of conquests, number of orgasms, minutes elapsed before ejaculation, inches of erection, etc. Sex becomes a possession of the ego, something I do which elevates me in my own eyes, a selfish pursuit. What it should be, in fact, is the most selfless pursuit of all—not in the sense of being altruistic, but in the sense of being egoless and ecstatic:

But today, all is image consciousness. Sex does not exist; there is only sexuality. And sexuality is merely a greedy, blind self-seeking. Self-seeking is the real motive of sexuality. And therefore, since the thing sought is the same, the self, the mode of seeking is not very important. Heterosexual, homosexual, narcissistic, normal, or incest, it is all the same thing. . . . Every man, every woman just seeks his own self, her own self, in the sexual experience.[16]

Contrary to appearance, modern people hate and fear sex. They hate and fear the loss of control, the loss of ego, and the abandonment to the life mystery that real, “blood-conscious” sex involves. So they reduce sex to smut and laugh at it, and at themselves for wanting it. In his essay “Pornography and Obscenity,” Lawrence writes, “Pornography is the attempt to insult sex, to do dirt on it. This is unpardonable.”[17] Further, as we have already discussed, scientism conspires with pornography to deflate the sex mystery and render it all a mundane matter of chemicals and “procreative drive.” “The scientific fact of sex is no more sex than a skeleton is a man,” Lawrence writes. “Yet you’d think twice before you stuck a skeleton in front of a lad and said, ‘You see, my boy, this is what you are when you come to know yourself.’”[18]

The “scientific” approach to deflating sex is largely the hard-headed approach of the sexually-repressed male. The sexually-repressed female has given us the “lovey-dovey” approach. Sex is “something wonderful and extra lovey-dovey, a bill-and-coo process of obtaining a sweet little baby.” Both approaches are, Lawrence tells us, “disastrous to the deep sexual life.” “But perhaps,” he adds, “that is what we want.”[19] We want, at some level, to destroy the sexual life because it threatens the ego and the control of intellect.

Phallic Traditionalism

Fear of sex, Lawrence tells us in John Thomas and Lady Jane is “fear of the phallus”:

This is the root fear of all mankind. Hence the frenzied efforts of mankind to despise the phallus, and to nullify it. All out of fear. Hence the modern jazz desire to make the phallus quite trivial, a silly little popgun. Fear, just the same. Fear of this alter ego, this homunculus, this little master which is inside a man, the phallus. Men and women alike committed endless obscenities, in order to be rid of this little master, to be free of it! Free! Free! Freedom![20]

Remember that the phallus—the erect penis—is the second man within the man: the expression of the primal, chthonic self. It is the bodying-forth in the male’s body of the unconscious, or the blood-consciousness. It is not a thing of intellect; its roots go much deeper. And because of this, it is an affront to the intellect, which prides itself on its autonomy. Lawrence is telling us that all of our reductive scientism, our pornography, our sanitized “lovey-dovey” smarm about sex, indeed most of modern life, are a concerted effort to deny the power of the phallus and to assert the radical autonomy of intellect.

It would be a mistake to understand Lawrence as simply saying that modern men and women fear a physical organ. In a way, Lawrence is saying this. The erect penis represents, in the minds of most people, the primal self within the self, deeper than intellect. And, indeed, it is under the control of that primal self; again, an erection cannot be “willed.” But recall also that for Lawrence the phallus is an expression of the life mystery that permeates all of nature.

The fear of the phallus thus represents, in another way, the fear and hatred of that which is greater than ourselves. It is no accident that the scientific “deflation” of sex usually goes hand in hand with atheism. They spring from the very same sort of mentality, the mentality that fears losing itself in something that would break the bounds of ego. To prevent this from ever happening, it must deny mystery, beauty, and God. These are all, in a way, the phallus. It must deny these or somehow explain them away. And above all it must deny itself pleasure. The fear of the phallus goes hand in hand with a fear of pleasure, for pleasure threatens to carry us away and give us a transcendent experience in which we feel absorbed into something greater than ourselves. As a Shaivite text says: “every pleasure is a divine experience. The entire universe springs forth from enjoyment. Pleasure is at the origin of all that exists.”

In “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’” Lawrence writes that “the bridge to the future is the phallus, and there’s the end of it.” At this point, as strange as it may seem, it should be unsurprising to hear Lawrence make such a claim. What is surprising, however, is that he insists that he is not saying that the bridge to the future is sex. In the same essay, Lawrence goes on to say that if England (and, by extension, the entire modern, Western world) is to be “regenerated . . . then it will be by the arising of a new blood contact, a new touch, and a new marriage. It will be a phallic rather than a sexual regeneration. For the phallus is the only great old symbol of godly vitality in a man, and of immediate contact.”[21]

What can Lawrence mean by “phallic rather than sexual”? One must keep in mind that which the phallus represents. Lawrence is calling upon us to return to consciousness of the life mystery, in every way that we can. Sex is only one way. The phallus is “only the great old symbol of godly vitality in a man,” and it is this godly vitality that we must put ourselves back in touch with. But what does Lawrence mean when he says, further, that the phallus is the old symbol of “immediate contact”?

Here he refers to his provocative claim, discussed earlier, that the phallus “is a column of blood that fills the valley of blood of a woman.” The phallus is the means by which the two great rivers, which are metaphysical opposites, are brought together wordlessly, and more profoundly than any words or ideas could convey. The phallus represents this and all other forms of “blood-contact,” meaning instinctive or intuitive, non-verbal contact between individuals.

Lawrence believes that individuals relate to each other in countless, mysterious ways that he often designates by the term “vibrations.” We relate to the opposite sex through these vibrations. No matter our sexual orientation, the vibrations are there. We relate to members of our own family, or our own ethnic group, or to members of another, different ethnic group through these vibrations. We must learn somehow to recover our awareness of these, and cease attempting to relate to one another exclusively through words and ideas. But this is only part of what we must do to get back in touch with “the phallus.”

In the same essay, Lawrence speaks of the necessity of establishing an entire life lived in connection to the phallus:

We must get back into relation, vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe. The way is through daily ritual, and the re-awakening. We must once more practise the ritual of dawn and noon and sunset, the ritual of the kindling fire and pouring water, the ritual of the first breath, and the last. This is an affair of the individual and the household, a ritual of day. The ritual of the moon in her phases, of the morning star and the evening star is for men and women separate. Then the ritual of the seasons, with the Drama and Passion of the soul embodied in procession and dance, this is for the community, in togetherness. And the ritual of the great events in the year of stars is for nations and whole peoples. To these rituals we must return: or we must evolve them to suit our needs.[22]

This is, of course, a description of the kind of life our distant ancestors lived. It was a life lived, in effect, in constant meditation upon and connection with the phallic mystery, the pan power. The phallus is the “bridge to the future,” but this bridge takes us roundabout and back again to the distant past.


[1] D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious in Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (New York: Penguin, 1971), 107.

[2] Fantasia, 108.

[3] Fantasia, 108.

[4] Fantasia, 109.

[5] Fantasia, 182–83.

[6] D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: Penguin, 1977), 22. Italics in original.

[7] Fantasia, 110. Later in the same text he declares, “Sex as an end in itself is a disaster: a vice” (Ibid., 187).

[8] Fantasia, 111.

[9] Fantasia, 111.

[10] Fantasia, 111.

[11] The Presocratic Philosophers, trans. G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 118.

[12] Fantasia, 110–11.

[13] Fantasia, 85.

[14] Fantasia, 175.

[15] Fantasia, 175.

[16] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix, ed. Edward McDonald (New York: Viking, 1968), 381–82 (Review of Trigant Burrow, The Social Basis of Consciousness).

[17] Phoenix, 175 (“Pornography and Obscenity”).

[18] Fantasia, 114.

[19] Fantasia, 114.

[20] John Thomas and Lady Jane, 239.

[21] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix II, ed. Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore (New York: Viking, 1971), 508 (“A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”).

[22] Phoenix II, 510 (“A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”).




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dimanche, 07 juillet 2013

D.H. Lawrence’s uncensored poems

D.H. Lawrence’s uncensored poems published for the first time


DH Lawrence painting.JPGWhen the ban on D.H. Lawrence’s controversial novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was finally lifted in 1960 it was a watershed moment for censorship in Britain. But many assume it was only Lawrence’s novels that suffered at the hands of the censors.

Now, nearly 100 years after Lawrence wrote them, a collection of his poems have been published for the first time in their original uncensored form by the Press.

The two volume edition – the first ever critical edition of Lawrence’s poetry and the final part of the Press’s 40-volume series of Lawrence’s Letters and Works – restores deleted passages and lines removed by publishers fearing government intervention because of Lawrence’s anti-war stance and his attacks on British imperialism.

Some 860 poems are published in the new edition. They include, All of Us, a sequence of 31 war poems never before published in full and many others unpublished in Lawrence’s lifetime. One poem, Rose Look Out Upon Me, is previously unpublished in any form and was discovered by the volume’s editor Christopher Pollnitz in a typescript formerly held in the private collection of George Lazarus, now located at the University of Nottingham.

Pollnitz said “Few of Lawrence’s poetry collections escaped censorship.  Faber & Faber omitted three poems because two referred to the Victorian statesman, W. E. Gladstone, one to the former Home Secretary of the Tory government, Sir William Joynson-Hicks. And Lawrence’s most important collection of poems, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, suffered extensive censorship at the hands of his American publisher. The new Cambridge volume returns to the original manuscripts and typescripts and what emerges radically shifts our understanding of Lawrence as a poet.”

The Cambridge Edition of the Works of D.H. Lawrence: The Poems, edited by Christopher Pollnitz is published by Cambridge University Press, price £130.00

mercredi, 19 juin 2013

Dichter der Tradition


Dichter der Tradition

von Prof. Paul Gottfried (Gastautor)

Ex: http://www.blauenarzisse.de/

T S. Eliot verkörpert in Europa die US-​amerikanische Spielart literarischer Moderne. Der Schriftsteller selbst sah sich im Dreiklang von „Monarchie, Klassizismus und einer anglokatholischen Einstellung”.

Der „Stockneuengländer” mit anglikanischen Vorfahren aus Boston kam 1888 in St. Louis/​Missouri zur Welt und steuerte früh auf einen europäischen Bezugspunkt zu. 1914 reiste er nach Marburg und siedelte sich schließlich in Oxford an. Als Harvard-​Absolvent mit einer schon bewährten literarischen Begabung brauchte der junge Autor des modernistischen Klassikers und Versepos The Waste Land von 1922 eine Lebens– und Mitwelt, in der er sich seelisch zuhause fühlen konnte. Der von ihm in seinem theoretischen Schrifttum hervorgehobene Dreiklang „Monarchie, Klassizismus und eine anglokatholischen Einstellung im theologischen Bereich“, bezeugt Eliots Suche nach einer allumfassenden, sinnstiftenden Identität.

Die englische Tradition

Was Thomas Stearns Eliot begrifflich und dichterisch herstellte, entsprang seiner Schöpferkraft, die unter anderem eine traumhafte, archaisierte politische und kulturelle Landschaft der Gegenwart als Folie heraufbeschwor. In seinem Gesamtwerk zeichnen sich seine immer wiederkehrenden Vergangenheitsbeschäftigung ab und – nicht weniger hervorstechend – sein Bedauern über den Verlust einer aristokratisch-​priesterlichen Pracht.

Ein scharfsinniger Deuter des angloamerikanischen Dichters, Adrian Cunningham, betont Eliott Schwepunktsetzung auf die „englische Tradition“. Formelhaft und anhand des französischen Monarchisten Charles Maurras gelangte Eliot zu einem Verständnis der Tradition als geteiltem Erbgut, das er mit seiner kunstvoll konturierten englischen Vergangenheit in Verbindung brachte. Eliot ging diese intellektuelle Übung in seiner 1992 gegründeten Literaturzeitschrift Criterion an, ohne Rücksicht auf die Besonderheiten seiner eigenen Familienvergangenheit zu nehmen. Bei Eliots Zerlegung „des gewöhnlichen Handelns“ tritt wenig Erlebtes und Prägendes aus dem eigenen Elternhaus im mittleren Westen der USA heraus. Dabei wanderten seine angesehenen Vorfahren aus England aus und siedelten sich im 17. Jahrhundert in den amerikanischen Kolonien an.

Mehr Soziologie als Theologie

elio1101500306_400.jpgWenn Eliot seine Glaubenslehre verteidigt, läuft seine Darlegung Cunningham zufolge eher „auf einen soziologischen als einen theologischen Standpunkt“ hinaus. Der Dichter verstand sie als Bestandteil der Idee einer „universalen Kirche“ im Kontext der römischen und orthodoxen Konfessionen. Nach dem strengen Katholiken Cuningham scheiterte das Verfahren in dem Maße, dass Eliot von einer selbstbezogenen Vorstellung ausging, ohne in einer wahren religiösen Tradition verankert zu sein.

Seine Schaffensfreudigkeit wurde dauernd mit einer Kritik der Moderne verknüpft und zugleich mit dem Auftrag, eine für seine Lebensmission geeignete Tradition vorzufinden oder sich auszudenken. Cunningham betont Eliots Besorgnis über den ausufernden Relativismus, der ihn in seinem aus den Fugen geratenen Zeitalter erschütterte. Umso größer blieb Eliots Bedürfnis nach einem sittlichen Rettungsanker. Er trauerte um den Verlust ästhetischer Maßstäbe, die in einer noch erkennbar aristokratischen Kultur gediehen waren. Durch sein Werk wollte der Dichter diese glühend verehrte Vergangenheit versinnlichen.

Doch Eliots angenommene Identität und sein Festhalten an einer monarchistischen, hochkirchlichen Tradition hätte dessen Vorfahren kaum angesprochen. Im Gegensatz zu seinen calvinistischen, republikanisch gesinnten Ahnherren, die in die Neue Welt einwanderten, entschied sich Eliot für den Monarchismus und für die seine Wahltradition begleitende Dogmenlehre.

Verschlossenheit und Wandel

Daraus erwuchs ihm und der englischsprachigen Literatur im Zwanzigsten Jahrhundert ein großer Gewinn. In Dramen wie Murder in the Cathedral (1935) und der umfangreichen Lyrik verbirgt sich eine schöpferische Genialität, die Eliots steife und verkrampfte Außenwirkung Lügen straft. Wie seine angenommenen, englischen Mituntertanen des Königs hat Eliot oft eine sprichwörtliche Verschlossenheit bekundet. Das kam ihm zugute, als er mit einer Menge von Schwierigkeiten zu ringen hatte. Als seine erste Gattin, Vivienne, geisteskrank wurde, litt der Dichter und fühlte sich gedrängt, sie in ein Sanatorium einzuliefern.

Modernismus und vergangene Pracht

Bis heute tobt eine stürmische Kontroverse um die Frage, ob Eliot für seine junge temperamentvolle Frau hinlänglich sorgte und ihre Einweisung berechtigt war. Außer Zweifel steht, dass Eliot bis tief in seine mittleren Jahre hinein bedürftigen Umständen gegenüberstand. In einer Bank rackerte er sich tagsüber als Kassierer ab. Seine literarische Leidenschaft konnte er sich nur nachts und daher häufig übermüdet widmen. Trotz des unerwarteten Erlöses, der ihm dank The Waste Land zufiel, versiegte sein Wohlstand rasch. Eliot fehlte das Geld, sich ganz der Dichtkunst zuzuwenden. Erst als er 1948 mit dem Literaturnobelpreis geehrt wurde, zeichnete sich langsam ein Wandel ab.

Bemerkenswert bleibt, dass Eliot gerade in seine theologisch-​politischen Schriften viel Mühe investierte. Wenn heute seine umständlichen Essays, etwa The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), nicht derart bekannt wie die Gedichte sind, dann muss beachtet werden, dass Eliot in seinen geschmacklichen und politisch-​theologischen Aufsätzen seine mit Wehmut angehauchte Weltansicht am stärksten enthüllt. In seinen Gedichten tritt dagegen eine mit dem Modernismus verwachsene Schöpferkraft zutage, die ebenso auf neue literarische Ausdrucksmöglichkeiten vorausweist, wie sie in eine vergangene Pracht zurückführt.

Schon in seinen ersten bedeutenden, satirischen Gedichten, The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock, die bereits 1917 herauskamen, erschlossen sich einige Zeichen des Experimentierens mit Versformen, die die schon damals hervortretenden Modernisten kennzeichnete. Sie arbeiteten vor allem mit freien Versen und eingestreuten Glossen über die Verkommenheit der Massenkultur. Als Wegbereiter galten Leitfiguren wie Ezra Pound, Gottfried Benn, und Louis-​Ferdinand Céline, die den Aufruf zur ästhetischen Mobilisierung mit konservativen oder rechten Zuneigungen verquickten.

Pietät und Märtyrerleiden

Im Gegensatz zum genialen Ezra Pound, der mit ihm die Erstfassung von The Waste Land umgearbeitet hatte, blieb Eliot aber von neuheidnischen Gedanken unberührt. Diese Zeitströmung, die im letzten Viertel des 19. Jahrhunderts einsetzte und mit Namen wie Nietzsche, D’Annunzio, und Pound in die kulturelle Tradition einzog, prallte von Eliot gänzlich ab. Aus seinen Dichtungen und Schauspielen entströmt, wie bei dem katholischen, französischen Schriftsteller Paul Claudel (18681955), ein betont christlicher Geist. In etlichen Schöpfungen wie Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch, 1930) und Murder in the Cathedral bleiben die Thematiken unverkennbar anglokatholisch.

Auch bei Eliots Bewunderern erschöpft sich manchmal die menschliche Geduld, wenn Eliot seine Pietät wiederholt unterstreicht. In den Schauspielen Murder in the Cathedral, das die Tötung des Erzbischofs Thomas Beckett auf Befehl des ihm entfremdeten Königs Heinrich II. schildert sowie The Cocktail Party (1948), das das Befestigen einer Missionarin an einem Ameisenhügel irgendwo in Afrika nacherzählt, zeigt sich die finstere Seite des Gläubigen. Märtyrerleiden übten auf Eliot zeitlebens eine große Faszination aus. Zweifelsohne, Eliot ging konsequent einen ganz eigenen Weg. Von anderen ließ er sich unterrichten, ohne ihnen zu verfallen.

jeudi, 11 avril 2013

Thomas Carlyle: Over helden en heldenverering


Thomas Carlyle

(vertaling Bert Bultinck)

Over helden en heldenverering

| Vijfde Lezing – De Held als Literator.
Dinsdag, 19 mei 1840

Held-goden, Profeten, Poëten, Priesters. Het zijn allemaal vormen van Heroïsme die tot de oude tijden behoren, die al in de vroegste tijden verschijnen; sommige van die vormen lijken niet langer mogelijk, en kunnen zichzelf niet meer tonen in deze wereld. De Held als Literator, waarover we vandaag zullen spreken, is al bij al een product van onze nieuwe tijden; en zolang de wonderlijke kunst van het Schrift, of van het Paraat-Schrift dat we Drukwerk noemen, blijft bestaan, mag men veronderstellen dat hij één van de belangrijkste vormen van het Heroïsme zal blijven voor alle tijden die nog volgen. Hij is, in verschillende opzichten, een zeer bijzonder fenomeen.

Ik zeg dat hij nieuw is; hij is er amper langer dan een eeuw. Nooit, tot zo’n honderd jaar geleden, was er enig beeld van een Grote Ziel die op zo’n abnormale manier apart leefde, niemand die poogde de inspiratie die in hem was uit te spreken in Gedrukte Boeken en die plaats en levensonderhoud vond door middel van wat het de wereld behaagde hem daarvoor te geven. Er was al veel ver- en gekocht; en achtergelaten om de eigen prijs op de markt te vinden; maar de bezielde wijsheid van een Heroïsche Ziel nog nooit, op die naakte wijze. Hij, met zijn copy-rights en copy-wrongs, in zijn vieze zolderkamertje, in zijn versleten jas; die vanuit het graf hele naties en generaties regeert (want dat is wat hij doet) die hem tijdens zijn leven al dan niet brood wilden geven – hij is een curieus spektakel! Er zijn weinig vormen van Heroïsme die nog meer onverwacht zouden kunnen zijn.

Helaas, de Held uit de oude dagen heeft zich in vreemde vormen moeten wringen: de wereld weet bij tijden niet goed wat met hem aan te vangen, zo vreemd is zijn verschijning in deze wereld! Het leek ons absurd, dat mensen, in hun brute bewondering, één of andere wijze grote Odin als god namen en hem als zodanig vereerden; of een wijze grote Mohammed voor een door god bezielde, om diens Wet twaalf eeuwen religieus na te leven: maar dat een wijze grote Johnson, een Burns, een Rousseau als doelloze slampampers worden beschouwd, en af en toe een paar muntstukken toegeworpen krijgen om van te leven, als zouden die enkel bestaan om de leegheid te amuseren: dit zal misschien, zoals reeds eerder gesuggereerd, ooit nog wel een veel absurdere stand van zaken lijken! – Ondertussen moet, aangezien het spirituele altijd het materiële bepaalt, deze Literator-Held als onze belangrijkste moderne persoon worden beschouwd. Hij, hoe hij ook moge zijn, is de ziel van alles en iedereen. Wat hij verkondigt, zal de hele wereld doen en maken. Hoe de wereld hem behandelt is het meest significante kenmerk van de algehele staat van de wereld. Als we goed naar zijn leven kijken, kunnen we misschien een glimp opvangen, zo diep als ook maar mogelijk is voor ons, van het leven van die bijzondere eeuwen die hem hebben voortgebracht en waarin wij zelf leven en werken.
Er zijn authentieke Literatoren en inauthentieke; zoals bij elke soort zijn er authentieke en onechte. Als we Held als authentiek opvatten, dan zeg ik dat de Held als Literator voor ons een functie zal blijken te vervullen die voor altijd de meest eerbiedwaardige, de hoogste is. Hij spreekt, op zijn eigen manier, zijn eigen geïnspireerde ziel uit; alles wat een man, in elk geval, kan doen. Ik zeg geïnspireerd, dat wat we ‘originaliteit’, ‘oprechtheid’, ‘genie’ noemen, die heroïsche kwaliteit waar we geen goede naam voor hebben. De Held is hij die leeft in de innerlijke sfeer van de dingen, in het Ware, Goddelijke en Eeuwige, dat altijd, onopgemerkt voor de meesten, onder het Tijdelijke, Triviale leeft: daarin ligt zijn wezen; hij openbaart dat uitgebreid, door een handeling of een uitspraak, en door zichzelf uitgebreid te openbaren. Zijn leven, zoals we vroeger al zeiden, is een stuk van het eeuwige hart van de Natuur zelf: dat is het leven van iedereen, – maar de zwakke velen kennen dat feit niet, en zijn het meestal ontrouw; de sterke weinigen zijn sterk, heroïsch, standvastig, want het kan zich niet voor hen verstoppen. De Literator, net als elke Held, is er om dit uit te dragen, zoals hij dat kan. Intrinsiek is het dezelfde functie waarvoor de oude generaties een man Profeet, Priester of Godheid noemden; om die dingen te doen, door woord of daad, waarvoor alle soorten van Helden de wereld ingestuurd worden.

Zo’n veertig jaar geleden gaf de Duitse Filosoof Fichte een zeer opmerkelijke reeks lezingen over dit onderwerp in Erlangen: ‘Über das Wesen des Gelehrten, Over De Natuur van de Literaire Mens.’ In overeenstemming met de Transcendentale Filosofie waarvan hij een groot leermeester was, stelt Fichte eerst en vooral: Dat alle dingen die we zien of waarmee we werken op deze Aarde, in het bijzonder onszelf en alle mensen, als een soort overjas of zinnelijke Verschijning zijn: dat er onder dat alles, als hun essentie, datgene ligt wat hij de ‘Goddelijke Idee van de Wereld’ noemt; dit is de Realiteit die ‘aan de grond ligt van elke Verschijning’. Voor de massa is zo’n Goddelijke Idee niet te herkennen in de wereld; zij leven enkel, zegt Fichte, onder de oppervlakkigheden, de praktische probleempjes en de uiterlijkheden van de wereld, en dromen niet dat daaronder ook maar iets goddelijks is. Maar de Literator wordt speciaal hierheen gezonden om, voor zichzelf, dezelfde Goddelijke Idee te onderscheiden en om die, voor ons, duidelijk te maken: elke nieuwe generatie zal dit Idee aan zichzelf kenbaar maken in een nieuw dialect; en de Literator is er om dat te doen. In die bewoordingen drukt Fichte zich uit; en wij hoeven dat niet te betwisten. Wat hij op zijn manier benoemt is datgene wat ik hier, in andere woorden, op onvolmaakte wijze tracht te benoemen: dat waar momenteel geen naam voor is: De onuitsprekelijke Goddelijke Betekenis, vol van glans, van wonder en terreur, dat in het wezen van elke man ligt, van elk ding,– de Aanwezigheid van de God die elke mens en elk ding heeft gemaakt. Mohammed verkondigde dit in zijn dialect; Odin in het zijne: alle denkende harten zijn hier om dat, in één of ander dialect, aan te leren.

Daarom noemt Fichte de Literator een profeet, of zoals hij hem liever noemt, een Priester, die voortdurend het Goddelijke voor de mensen ontvouwt: van tijdperk tot tijdperk vormen Literatoren een eeuwig Priesterschap, dat alle mensen leert dat er nog steeds een God is in hun leven; dat elke ‘Verschijning’, wat we ook zien in de wereld, niet meer dan een overjas is voor de ‘Goddelijke Idee van de Wereld’, voor ‘dat wat op de bodem van de Verschijning ligt’. In de ware Literator is er dus altijd een, al dan niet door de wereld erkende, wijding: hij is het licht van de wereld, de Priester van de wereld: - hij leidt de wereld, als een heilige Vuurpilaar, in diens donkere pelgrimstocht door de woestijn van de Tijd. Fichte onderscheidt gepassioneerd de ware Literator, die we hier de Held als Literator noemen, van de massa valse onheldhaftigen. Wie niet volledig in deze Goddelijke Idee leeft, of voor wie er slechts gedeeltelijk in leeft en er niet naar streeft, als naar het enige goede, om er volledig in te leven, – hij is, waar hij ook leeft, in welke praal en voorspoed dan ook, geen Literator; hij is, zegt Fichte, een ‘zielige, een Stümper’. Of, hij kan, op zijn best, als hij van de prozaïsche streken is, een ‘loonslaaf’ zijn; Fichte noemt hem elders zelfs een nul, en heeft, om kort te gaan, geen genade voor hem, geen verlangen dat hij blijmoedig onder ons blijft! Dit is Fichtes opvatting van de Literator. In zijn eigen uitdrukkingsvorm zegt het precies wat we hier bedoelen.
Vanuit dit standpunt beschouw ik Fichtes landgenoot Goethe als de meest opmerkelijke Literator van de laatste honderd jaar. Wat we een leven in de Goddelijke Idee van de Wereld kunnen noemen was ook, op een vreemde manier, aan die man gegeven; een visioen van het innerlijke, goddelijke mysterie: en vreemd genoeg, rijst uit zijn boeken de wereld eens te meer op als goddelijk verbeeld, werk en tempel van een God. Geheel verlicht, niet in woeste onzuivere vuurglans als bij Mohammed, maar in milde, hemelse stralen; -waarlijk een Profetie in deze hoogst onprofetische tijden; mijns inziens, veruit het grootste, zij het één van de stilste, van alle dingen die in deze tijden gebeurd zijn. Als specimen van de Held als Literator zouden we deze Goethe verkiezen. En het zou me zeer aangenaam zijn om het hier over zijn heroïsme te hebben: want ik beschouw hem als een echte Held; heroïsch in wat hij zei en deed, en misschien nog heroïscher in wat hij niet zei en niet deed; wat mij betreft een nobel spektakel: een groot heroïsch man van vroeger, die sprak en zweeg als een Held van de oude tijd, in de verschijning van een uiterst moderne, welopgevoede, zeer gecultiveerde Literator! Wij hebben zo geen spektakel gehad; geen man die daartoe in staat was, de laatste honderdvijftig jaar.
Maar momenteel is de algemene kennis van Goethe zodanig dat het meer dan zinloos zou zijn om het in deze kwestie over hem te hebben. Hoe ik ook over hem zou spreken, Goethe zou voor de meesten onder jullie vaag en problematisch blijven; geen indruk behalve een valse zou ik kunnen meegeven. We moeten hem voor later bewaren. Johnson, Burns, Rousseau, drie grote figuren van een vorige tijd, uit een veel slechtere staat van omstandigheden, passen hier beter. Drie mannen van de Achttiende Eeuw; hun levensomstandigheden lijken veel meer op wat die van ons nog altijd zijn, dan op die van Goethe in Duitsland. Helaas, deze mannen overwonnen niet zoals hij; ze vochten moedig, en vielen. Ze waren geen heroïsche bezorgers van het licht, maar heroïsche zoekers ervan. Ze leefden in bittere omstandigheden; worstelden als onder bergen van obstakels, en konden zich niet ontvouwen in duidelijkheid, of in een zegevierende interpretatie van die ‘Goddelijke Idee’. Het zijn eerder de Graftombes van drie Literaire Helden die ik u wil tonen. Daar zijn de monumentale bergen, waaronder drie spirituele reuzen begraven liggen. Zeer somber, maar ook groots en vol belang voor ons. We blijven een tijdje bij hen.¹
In deze tijden wordt er vaak geklaagd over wat we de gedesorganiseerde staat van deze maatschappij noemen: hoe slecht veel geordende maatschappelijke krachten hun taak vervullen; men kan zien hoe zoveel machtige krachten op een spilzieke, chaotische, zeg maar ongeordende manier functioneren. De klacht is meer dan terecht, zoals we allemaal weten. Maar misschien, als we dit bekijken vanuit het standpunt van Boeken en van de Schrijvers van Boeken, zullen we er als het ware de samenvatting van elke andere desorganisatie vinden; – een soort van hart, van waaruit, en waar naar toe, alle andere verwarring in de wereld circuleert. Als ik kijk naar wat schrijvers in de wereld doen, en wat de wereld met schrijvers doet, dan zou ik zeggen dat dat het meest abnormale ding is wat de wereld vandaag laat zien. – We zouden in een onmetelijk diepe zee terechtkomen, als we hier verslag van zouden willen doen: maar omwille van ons onderwerp moeten we er even een blik op werpen. Het ergste onderdeel van het leven van deze drie Literaire Helden was dat ze hun zaken en maatschappelijke positie zo chaotisch vonden. Via de platgetreden paden kan men behoorlijk makkelijk reizen; maar het is hard labeur, en velen gaan eraan ten onder, als men een pad door het ondoordringbare moet creëren!

Onze devote Vaders, die goed aanvoelden hoe belangrijk het spreken van man tot menigte was, stichtten kerken, vonden fondsen en maakten reglementen; overal in de beschaafde wereld is er een Preekstoel, omringd door allerlei soorten van complexe, waardige accessoires en hulpmiddelen, zodat van op die preekstoel een welbespraakte man zijn naasten zo voordelig mogelijk kan toespreken. Ze vonden dat dit het belangrijkste was; dat er zonder dit niets goeds was. Dat werk van hen is waarlijk vroom; mooi om te aanschouwen! Maar nu, met de kunst van het Schrift, met de kunst van het Drukken, is die hele aangelegenheid totaal veranderd. De Schrijver van een Boek, is hij geen Predikant, die niet preekt voor deze of gindse parochie, op één of andere dag, maar voor alle mensen van alle tijden en plaatsen? Zeker, het is van het grootste belang dat hij zijn werk goed doet, wie anders het ook slecht moge doen; – dat het oog niet foutief rapporteert; want dan dwalen alle andere leden! Wel; hoe hij zijn werk doet, of hij het goed of slecht doet, of hij het überhaupt doet, is iets waarvoor geen mens in de wereld ooit de moeite heeft gedaan om over na te denken. Voor één of andere winkelier, die geld voor diens boeken probeert te verkrijgen, als hij geluk heeft, is hij nog van een zeker belang; maar voor elke andere man van geen enkel. Waar hij vandaan kwam, en waar hij naar toe trekt, via welke wegen hij hier aankwam, en via welke hij zijn tocht zou kunnen voortzetten, vraagt niemand. In de maatschappij is hij een accident. Hij zwerft rond als een wilde Ismaëliet, in een wereld waarvan hij als het ware het spirituele licht is, ofwel de juiste ofwel de verkeerde gids!
Van alle dingen die de mens ontworpen heeft, is de kunst van het schrift zeker het meest miraculeuze. Odins Runen waren de eerste vorm van het werk van een Held; Boeken, geschreven woorden, zijn nog altijd miraculeuze Runen, in hun meest recente vorm! In Boeken ligt de ziel van de hele Voorbije Tıjd; de heldere, hoorbare stem van het Verleden, wanneer het lichaam en de materie ervan volkomen verdwenen zijn als een droom. Machtige vloten en legers, havens en arsenalen, uitgestrekte steden, met hoge koepels en veel werktuigen,- ze zijn kostbaar, groot: maar wat wordt er van hen? Agamemnon, de vele Agamemnons, Periclessen, en hun Griekenland; alles is nu verworden tot enkele brokstukken, stomme, sombere wrakken en blokken: maar de Boeken van Griekenland! Daar leeft Griekenland – zeer letterlijk – nog steeds voor elke denker; en kan het terug tot leven geroepen worden. Geen magische Rune is vreemder dan een Boek. Alles wat de mensheid ooit heeft gedaan, gedacht, gewonnen of is geweest: het ligt als in magische bewaring in de bladzijden van een boek. Ze zijn het uitverkoren bezit van de mensen. Is het niet zo dat Boeken nog altijd de mirakels verrichten die volgens de legenden de Runen altijd deden? Ze overtuigen de mensen. Geen roman uit een leesgezelschap, beduimeld en verslonden door dwaze meiden in afgelegen dorpen, zo verschrikkelijk, of hij helpt de praktische kant van trouwerijen en huishoudens van deze dwaze meiden in goede banen leiden. Zoals ‘Celia’ zich voelde, zo handelde ‘Clifford’: het dwaze Theorema van het Leven, in deze jonge breinen gestampt, komt op een dag terug te voorschijn als vaste Werkwijze. Vraag u eens af of enige Rune, in de wildste verbeelding van de mytholoog ooit zulke wonders heeft verricht, als diegene die, op de feitelijke vaste aarde, sommige Boeken hebben gedaan! Wat heeft St. Paul’s Cathedral gebouwd? In essentie, was het dat goddelijke Hebreeuwse BOEK – gedeeltelijk de wereld van de man Mozes, een vogelvrij verklaarde die zijn Midianitische kudden hoedde, vierduizend jaar geleden, in de wildernissen van Sinaï! Het is uiterst vreemd, maar niets is meer waar dan dat. Met de kunst van het Schrift, waarvan de Boekdrukkunst een eenvoudig, onvermijdelijk en relatief onbetekenend uitvloeisel is, begon voor de mensen de ware heerschappij van mirakelen. Het Schrift verbond, met wonderlijke nieuwe raakpunten en eeuwige nabijheid, het Verleden en het Verre met het Heden in tijd en ruimte; alle tijden en alle plaatsen met ons feitelijk Hier en Nu. Alle dingen veranderden voor de mensen: leren, preken, regeren, en alle andere dingen.
Laten we eens naar het Leren kijken, bijvoorbeeld. Universiteiten zijn een opmerkelijk, respectabel product van de moderne tijden. Ook hun bestaan is wezenlijk aangepast door het bestaan van Boeken. Universiteiten ontstonden wanneer er nog geen boeken verkrijgbaar waren; wanneer een man, voor één enkel boek, een heel landgoed moest geven. In die omstandigheden was het noodzakelijk dat, wanneer een man enige kennis wou meedelen, hij dat deed door de mensen die wilden leren, van aangezicht tot aangezicht, rond zich te verzamelen. Als je wou weten wat Abélard wist, dan moest je naar Abélard gaan luisteren. Duizenden, wel dertigduizend, gingen naar Abélard en diens metafysische theologie luisteren. En nu kwam er voor elke andere leraar die iets van zichzelf had aan te leren een nieuw gemak: zoveel duizenden die gretig wilden leren, waren daar al verzameld; van alle plaatsen was dat de beste voor hem. Voor elke derde leraar was het nog beter; en werd het altijd maar beter, naarmate er meer leraars kwamen. De Koning moest nu alleen nog dit nieuwe verschijnsel opmerken; de verscheidene scholen doen fusioneren; het gebouwen, privileges en aanmoedigingen geven en het Universitas, of School van Alle Wetenschappen noemen: en de Universiteit van Parijs, in grote trekken, was er. Het model van alle volgende Universiteiten; die tot op vandaag, zes eeuwen lang al, doorgegaan zijn met zichzelf te stichten. Dat, stel ik mij voor, was de oorsprong van Universiteiten.

Het is niettemin duidelijk dat met deze eenvoudige omstandigheid, het gemak om Boeken te verkrijgen, alle voorwaarden van de zaak veranderden. Eens je de Boekdrukkunst uitvindt, verander je ook alle Universiteiten, of maak je ze overbodig! De Leraar moest nu niet langer alle mensen persoonlijk rond zich verzamelen, om zo hen te kunnen zeggen wat hij wist: druk het in een Boek, en alle leerlingen van heinde en verre, hadden het elk bij hun haardvuur, voor een kleinigheid, en konden het veel efficiënter studeren! – Zonder twijfel heeft het Spreken nog steeds een bijzondere kwaliteit; zelfs schrijvers van Boeken kunnen het, in sommige omstandigheden, passend vinden om ook te spreken, – getuige onze huidige bijeenkomst hier! Men zou kunnen zeggen – en dat moet zo blijven zolang de mens een tong heeft – dat er een apart domein voor het Spreken is, zowel als één voor Schrijven en Drukken. In alle opzichten moet dit zo blijven; zoals onder andere bij de Universiteiten. Maar de grenzen van beide zijn nog nooit aangetoond, vastgesteld; laat staan in praktijk gebracht. De Universiteit die zich volledig rekenschap zou geven van het grootse nieuwe feit van het bestaan van Gedrukte Boeken, en van eenzelfde niveau zou zijn voor de Negentiende Eeuw als die van Parijs was voor de Dertiende Eeuw, is nog niet tot stand gekomen. Als we er goed over nadenken, is alles wat een Universiteit, of een Hogeschool, kan doen, nog steeds slechts wat de eerste School begon te doen – ons leren lezen. We leren lezen, in verschillende talen, in verschillende wetenschappen; we leren het alfabet en de letters van allerlei Boeken. Maar de plaats waar we onze kennis gaan halen, zelfs theoretische kennis, is bij de Boeken zelf! Het hangt af van wat we lezen, nadat allerlei Professoren voor ons hun best hebben gedaan. De ware Universiteit van deze dagen is een Verzameling Boeken.

Maar door de introductie van Boeken is voor de Kerk zelf, zoals ik al suggereerde, alles veranderd, wat het preken betreft, wat haar werking betreft. De Kerk is de werkende erkende Vereniging van Onze Priesters of Profeten, van zij die door wijze lessen de zielen van de mensen leiden. Zolang er geen Schrift was, vooral waneer er geen Gemak-Schrift of Drukken was, was de preek van de stem de enige natuurlijke methode om dit te doen. Maar nu er Boeken zijn! – Hij die een Boek kan schrijven, om Engeland te overtuigen, is hij niet de Bisschop en de Aartsbisschop, de Primaat van Engeland en Heel Engeland? Ik zeg dikwijls dat de schrijvers van Kranten, Pamfletten, Gedichten, Boeken de echte werkende en wezenlijke Kerk van een modern land zijn. Nee, niet alleen onze preken, maar zelfs onze eredienst, worden zij ook niet verricht door middel van Gedrukte Boeken? Het nobele gevoel dat een getalenteerde ziel voor ons in melodieuze woorden heeft aangekleed, woorden die melodie in ons hart brengen,– is dit niet essentieel, als we het goed begrijpen, voor het wezen van de eredienst? Er zijn er velen, in alle landen, die, in deze verwarde tijd, geen andere manier van verering hebben. Hij die ons, op welke manier dan ook, op een betere wijze dan we ervoor kenden, toont dat een veldlelie mooi is, toont hij ons dat niet als een uitvloeisel van de Fontein van alle Schoonheid; als het handschrift, daarin zichtbaar gemaakt, van de grote Maker van het Universum? Hij heeft voor ons een klein vers van een heilige Psalm gezongen, hij heeft het ons met hem doen meezingen. Wezenlijk wel. Hoeveel te meer hij die de nobele handelingen, gevoelens, stoutmoedigheden en beproevingen van een man en een broeder bezingt, uitspreekt of op een andere manier naar ons hart brengt! Hij heeft werkelijk ons hart geraakt als was het met een gloeiende kool van het altaar. Wellicht bestaat er geen eredienst die authentieker is.
Literatuur, in zoverre het Literatuur is, is een ‘apocalyps van de Natuur’, een openbaring van het ‘open geheim’. Het zou best, in de stijl van Fichte, een ‘voortdurende revelatie’ van het Goddelijke op het Aardse en het Gewone genoemd kunnen worden. Het Goddelijke duurt daar werkelijk steeds voort; het komt te voorschijn, nu eens in dit dialect, dan in dat, met verschillende graden van helderheid: alle werkelijk getalenteerde Zangers en Sprekers doen dit, bewust of onbewust. De donkere stormachtige verontwaardiging van een Byron, zo wispelturig en pervers, kan er enkele trekken van hebben; of nee, de verdorde spot van een Frans scepticus,– zijn bespotting van het Valse, een liefde en verering van het Ware. Hoeveel meer nog de sferenharmonie van een Shakespeare, van een Goethe; de kathedraal-muziek van een Milton! Zij zijn ook iets, die nederige echte leeuwerikennoten van een Burns, – veldleeuwerik, die begint van de nederige voor, ver boven het hoofd in de blauwe diepten, en die ons daar zo authentiek toezingen! Want alle werkelijke zang is wezenlijk een verering; zoals men inderdaad kan zeggen dat alle ware arbeid dat is, – waarvan die zang voor ons slechts de neerslag, en passende melodieuze voorstelling is. Fragmenten van een echte ‘Kerkliturgie’ en ‘Preekbundels’, vreemd verborgen voor het gewone oog, vind je zwalkend op die enorme schuimoceaan van het Gedrukte Woord dat we vaag Literatuur noemen! Boeken zijn ook onze Kerk.

¹ Dat doen we niet: deze tekst is een fragment van een lezing waarin Carlyle zijn ideeën over de Held als Literator illustreert aan de hand van drie grote voorbeelden: Samuel Johnson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau en Robert Burns. Hier worden enkel de meer algemene opvattingen van Carlyle gepubliceerd.


Le Meilleur des Mondes, c'est maintenant


Aldous Huxley

Le Meilleur des Mondes, c'est maintenant

par Stéphane Blanchonnet

Ex: http://a-rebours.ouvaton.org/

article d'abord paru sur a-rebours.fr puis repris dans L'AF2000

   Au moment où un gouvernement entreprend de liquider l'institution du mariage en en dénaturant la définition, au moment où un prétendu "droit" au mariage et un prétendu "droit" à l'enfant se substituent à la plus naturelle des institutions sociales (quelles que soient les variations de ses modalités dans le temps et l'espace), il est urgent de se replonger dans un livre où l'auteur représente une société future dans laquelle la famille traditionnelle a été abolie, les notions de père et mère ont disparu des mémoires, la reproduction et la sexualité ont été totalement dissociées (les enfants sont tous le résultat d'une fécondation et d'une gestation artificielles), la liberté sexuelle, enfin, est devenu le plus efficace moyen de contrôle social de l’État sur des individus sevrés de plaisir mais devenus pour cette raison irresponsables et incapables de responsabilité comme d'esprit critique. Ce livre, vous l'aurez sans doute reconnu, est le remarquable roman Le Meilleur des Mondes d'Aldous Huxley, qui est aussi un profond apologue, dans la grande tradition des fables et des contes philosophiques.

    Dans son essai, Retour au Meilleur des Mondes, paru en 1958 (vingt-cinq ans après le roman), Huxley se livre à une passionnante comparaison entre son propre livre et le chef d'œuvre de George Orwell, 1984. Il y écrit notamment ces lignes qui expliquent que là où Orwell avait en vue les régimes autoritaires et militaristes, lui-même dénonçait plutôt les potentialités totalitaires des démocraties libérales : « La société décrite dans le roman d'Orwell est continuellement en état de guerre, aussi le but de ses dirigeants est-il d'abord, bien entendu, d'exercer le pouvoir, générateur de grisantes délices, et ensuite de maintenir leurs sujets dans cet état de tension croissante qu'une lutte permanente exige de ceux qui la livrent. En faisant croisade contre la sexualité, les chefs parviennent à entretenir le degré de tension voulu chez leurs satellites et en même temps à satisfaire de manière extrêmement agréable leur propre appétit de puissance. Celle qui est décrite dans Le Meilleur des Mondes est une société mondiale dans laquelle la guerre a été éliminée et où le premier but des dirigeants est d'empêcher à tout prix leurs sujets de créer des désordres. Ils y parviennent (entre autres méthodes) par la légalisation d'un degré de liberté sexuelle (rendu possible par l'abolition de la famille) qui garantit pratiquement les populations de toute forme de tension émotive destructrice (ou créatrice). Dans 1984, l'appétit de puissance se satisfait en infligeant la souffrance ; dans Le Meilleur des Mondes en infligeant un plaisir à peine moins humiliant. »

    L'ouvrage d'Huxley est sans doute le plus intéressant pour comprendre la logique de notre société consumériste, hédoniste et surtout progressiste qui prétend émanciper les individus en les déracinant (la table rase permanente à l'égard de la culture, des traditions et désormais de la filiation) alors qu'elle ne fait que les couper des contraintes normales qui, en circonscrivant le périmètre de la nature humaine, lui permettent tout simplement d'exister en tant que telle. Ceux qui participent à ce mouvement littéralement insensé vers l'indifférenciation et l'indétermination absolues ne voient pas qu'un changement, qui n'est qu'un processus, un ”accident" pour parler comme les philosophes, suppose un sujet à ce processus, une "substance", donc une nature, un certain nombre de déterminations sans lesquelles il n'est pas plus de conservation nécessaire que de progrès légitime mais un pur chaos inintelligible !


samedi, 06 avril 2013

Isaac Asimov: Rivedere 1984

di Isaac Asimov

Avevo scritto un articolo in quattro parti per il Field Newspaper Syndicate all’inizio di ogni anno per molto tempo fin agli anni ’80, pensando all’avvicinarsi del 1984, FNS mi chiese di scrivere un critica al racconto 1984 di George Orwell. Ero riluttante. Non ricordavo quasi nulla del e lo dissi – ma Denison Demac, la ragazza amabile che era il mio contatto con FNS, semplicemente mi spedì una copia del testo e disse “leggilo“. Così lo lessi e mi sorpresi meravigliato di ciò che leggevo. Ero sorpreso di quanta gente parlasse del testo in modo così spigliato, senza averlo mai letto; o se l’avevano fatto, non lo ricordavano affatto. Sentì di voler scrivere la critica solo per avvertire la gente. (mi dispiace; mi piace farlo.)

A. Lo scritto 1984
Nel 1949, un libro intitolato 1984 venne pubblicato. Era stato scritto da Eric Arthur Blair con lo pseudonimo di George Orwell. Il libro cercava di mostrare come la vita sarebbe stata in un mondo totalitario in cui il governo si mantiene al potere con la forza bruta, distorcendo la verità, riscrivendo in continuo la storia, insomma ingannando il popolo.  Il mondo da incubo esisteva a 35 anni nel futuro, così che le persone di mezza età, al momento della pubblicazione del libro, avrebbero potuto constatare se avrebbero vissuto una vita normale.  Io, al contrario, ero già sposato quando apparve il libro, e oggi siamo a meno quattro anni dall’anno apocalittico (il ’1984′ è divenuto l’anno associato con tale minaccia grazie al libro di Orwell), e io ero contentissimo di poterlo vedere.
In questo capitolo, parlerò del libro, ma prima: chi era Blair/Orwell e perché scrisse questo libro?
Blair nacque nel 1903 figlio di funzionario inglese, il padre era nel Indian civil service e Blair stesso visse la vita di un ufficiale imperiale inglese. Andò a Eton, servì in Birmania, ecc. Tuttavia, era sempre al verde per esser un “English gentleman” completo. Allora inoltre, non voleva passare il resto della sua vita alla scrivania; voleva essere uno scrittore. Ancora, si sentiva in colpa per la sua condizione di borghese medio-alto. Così negli anni ’20 fece quello che molti giovani americani fecero negli anni ’60. In breve divenne un cosiddetto ‘hippie‘ ante litteram. Viveva negli slum di Londra e Parigi, confondendosi e identificandosi con i vagabondi e i diseredati degli slum, cercando di sollevare la propria coscienza e, allo stesso tempo, di raccogliere materiale per i suoi primi libri. Divenne di sinistra, un socialista, combatté con i lealisti in Spagna negli anni ’30. Si ritrovò intrappolato nella lotta settaria tra fazioni di sinistra, e finché credeva in un socialismo da bravo inglese, era inevitabile che fosse nel lato perdente. Opposti a lui vi erano gli appassionati anarchici, sindacalisti, e comunisti spagnoli, che amaramente subivano il fatto che le necessità della lotta ai fascisti di Franco venissero sostituite dallo scontro fratricida. I comunisti, i meglio organizzati, vinsero e Orwell lasciò la Spagna, era convinto che lo avrebbero ucciso. Da allora fino alla morte, condusse una guerra letteraria contro i comunisti, determinato a vincere, con le parole, la battaglia che aveva perso sul terreno.
Durante la seconda guerra mondiale, dove venne scartato dal servizio militare, si associò con l’ala sinistra  del British Labour party, ma non legò molto con il partito, poiché il suo blando socialismo gli sembrava fin troppo ben organizzato. Non era preoccupato, apparentemente, dal totalitarismo nazista, per lui c’era spazio solo per la guerra privata contro lo stalinismo. Perciò, quando il Regno Unito combatteva contro il nazismo, e l’URSS combatteva da alleato nella lotta e contribuì molto in vite umane perdute e in coraggio risoluto, Orwell scrisse “La fattoria degli animali” una satira della Rivoluzione Russa e di ciò che seguì, dipingendola come la rivolta di animali domestici contro i padroni umani. Completò “La fattoria degli animali” nel 1944 e ebbe problemi nel trovare un editore fin quando arrivò il momento buono per attaccare i sovietici. Appena finita la guerra, l’Urss divenne il nemico e “La fattoria degli animali” venne pubblicata. Venne accolta con ovazione e Orwell divenne sufficientemente ricco per andare in pensione e dedicarsi al suo capolavoro: 1984.
Il libro descrive una società come una super Russia stalinista mondiale in stile anni ’30, cioè come veniva dipinta dai settari di ultrasinistra. Altre forme di totalitarismo giocavano un ruolo secondario. Vi erano uno o due menzioni del nazismo e della inquisizione. All’inizio almeno due o tre riferimenti agli ebrei, avrebbero dovuto dimostrare la loro persecuzione, ma ciò sparisce subito e Orwell non vuole che il lettore identifichi i cattivi con i nazisti. L’immagine è lo stalinismo, e solo lo stalinismo.
Quando il libro apparve nel 1949, la guerra fredda era al culmine. Il libro divenne, perciò, popolare. Era una questione di patriottismo in occidente comprarlo e parlarne e, forse, persino leggerne una parte; è mia opinione che molta gente che lo ha comprato lo ha più discusso che letto, poiché è un libro ostico, statico, ripetitivo e didascalico. Fu molto popolare, all’inizio, presso le persone di destra, conservatrici, per essi era chiara la polemica contro l’Urss, e il quadro della vita lì mostrata nella Londra del 1984 era proprio quella immaginata dai conservatori nella Mosca del 1949.
Durante l’era di McCarthy negli USA, 1984 divenne sempre più popolare presso i liberals, poiché sembrava che gli USA dei primi anni ’50 scivolassero verso il controllo del pensiero e che tutti i mali che Orwell aveva descritto si stessero avverando. Quindi, in una prefazione di una edizione pubblicata in paperback dalla New American Library nel 1961, il psicoanalista e filosofo liberale Erich Fromm conclude così: “Il libro di Orwell è un potente allarme, e potrebbe essere una sfortuna se il lettore interpretasse 1984 come l’ennesima descrizione della barbarie stalinista, e non è detto che appaia, da noi, in quel modo.
Anche quando lo stalinismo e il McCarthyismo scomparvero, sempre più statunitensi divennero consapevoli di come fosse divenuto “grande” il governo; di come fossero alte le tasse; di come la vita quotidiana e gli affari fossero sempre più regolati dalle leggi; di come l’informazione riguardante ogni fatto della vita privata entrasse nei documenti del governo, ma anche del sistema bancario privato.
1984, quindi, significava non più stalinismo, o dittatura, ma il semplice governo.  Anche il paternalismo governativo sembrava ispirato a 1984 e la frase il “grande fratello ti vede” significava tutto ciò che era troppo grande per il controllo del singolo.
Non vi era solo un grande governo o un grande business che fosse sintomo del 1984, ma anche una grande scienza, un grande lavoro, un grande tutto. Infatti, la 1984-fobia penetrò nella coscienza di molti di coloro che non avevano letto il libro o avevano nozione del suo contenuto; ci si preoccupava di ciò che sarebbe accaduto entro il 31 Dicembre 1984. Una volta arrivato il 1985, con gli USA che erano ancora una realtà, e affrontava i molti problemi quotidiani, come esprimeremo la paura sugli aspetti della vita che ci riempiono di apprensione? Quale data inventeremo per sostituire il 1984?
Orwell non visse per vedere il proprio libro divenire un successo. Non vide il modo in cui fece del 1984 un anno che avrebbe perseguitato una intera generazione di statunitensi. Orwell morì di tubercolosi in un ospedale di Londra, nel gennaio 1950, pochi mesi dopo la pubblicazione del libro, all’età di 46 anni. Era consapevole della sua fine imminente, e l’amarezza l’aveva riversata nel libro.

B. La fantascienza di 1984
Molti pensano che 1984 sia un racconto di science fiction, ma l’unica cosa che supporti ciò e che 1984 sia ambientato nel futuro. Non è così! Orwell odia il futuro e la storia è più geografica che temporale.
La Londra in cui si svolge la storia si svolge a 30 anni di distanza, dal 1949 al 1984, e si svolge a migliaia di miglia a Est, a Mosca. Orwell immagina il Regno Unito colpito da una rivoluzione simile a quella Russa e che abbia attraversato tutti gli stadi dello sviluppo sovietico. Non prevede variazioni sul tema. I Sovietici ebbero una serie di purghe negli anni ’30, così il Ingsoc (English Socialism) ha avuto le sue purghe negli anni ’50. I Sovietici convertirono uno dei loro rivoluzionari, Leon Trotsky, in un nemico, e al contrario, il suo oppositore Josip Stalin, in un eroe. L’Ingsoc, tuttavia, converte uno dei suoi rivoluzionari, Emmanuel Goldstein, in un nemico, e il suo oppositore, con baffi come Stalin, in un eroe. Non è difficile fare piccole modifiche, Goldstein, come Trotsky, “dalla faccia di ebreo, con la grande cresta di capelli bianchi e la barbetta di capra“. Orwell apparentemente non vuole confondere il tema dando un nome diverso a Stalin e così lo chiama semplicemente ‘Grande Fratello‘.
All’inizio della storia, è chiaro che la televisione (appena nata al momento della stesura del libro) serviva come continuo mezzo di indottrinamento del popolo, che non può essere spenta. (e, apparentemente, in una Londra fatiscente, in cui nulla funziona, tale dispositivo è sempre acceso.)
Il grande contributo orwelliano alla tecnologia del futuro é che la televisione funziona nei due sensi, e la gente che è forzata a vederla può essere veduta e ascoltata e essere sottoposta a una costante supervisione anche quando dorme o è in bagno. Ecco, perciò, il significato della frase ‘il Grande Fratello ti vede‘. Questo è il peggior mezzo per controllare tutti. Avere una persona che è sotto controllo ogni momento significa averne un’altra che la guarda sempre (almeno nella società orwelliana) e farebbe assai poco, per questo vi è un grande sviluppo dell’arte della recitazione e dell’espressione mimica. Una persona non può guardare più di un’altra in piena concentrazione, e può solo farlo in un breve periodo di tempo, prima che l’attenzione scemi. Posso testimoniare, in breve, che dovrebbero esserci almeno cinque persone per osservarne una. E certo, gli osservatori stessi sarebbero osservati, poiché nessuno nel mondo orwelliano è libero dal sospetto. Perciò, il sistema di oppressione attraverso la TV interattiva non può funzionare.
Orwell stesso lo capisce, limitando il lavoro ai membri del partito. I ‘proles‘ (proletariato), verso cui Orwell non può nascondere il suo atteggiamento borghese inglese, sono largamente lasciati a presentarsi come subumani. (A un certo punto nel libro, dice che ogni prolet che mostra abilità è ucciso – come facevano gli spartani con gli iloti 25 secoli fa.) Inoltre, vi è un sistema di spie volontarie in cui i bambini controllano i genitori e i vicini si spiano tra di loro. Non è possibile che funzioni bene, poiché se tutti spiano tutti, il resto verrebbe abbandonato.
Orwell non era capace di concepire i computer o i robot, o di mettere tutti sotto il controllo non umano. I nostri computers arriva a farlo con l’IRS (servizio immigrazione, NdC), nel credito bancario e così via, ma nel 1984 la cosa non ci coinvolge direttamente, tranne che nella più fervida immaginazione.  Computer e tirannia non vanno necessariamente mano nella mano. I Tiranni hanno lavorato bene senza i computer (vedi i nazisti) e le nazioni più computerizzate oggi, sono le meno tiranniche (ancora oggi è così? NdC).
Orwell era privo della capacità di vedere o inventare dei piccoli cambiamenti. Il suo eroe trova difficile nel mondo di 1984 avere lacci per scarpe o lame per rasoi. Così il vero mondo degli anni ’80, utilizza mocassini e rasoi elettrici. Allora, anche Orwell aveva la fissazione tecnofobica che ogni progresso tecnologico è una scorciatoia. Perciò, l’eroe quando scrive, “mette la penna nel calamaio e ne risucchia l’inchiostro. Fa così perché sente che la bella carta color crema sia destinata a essere scritta con un vero pennino invece che essere graffiata con una penna a inchiostro“. Presumibilmente, la “penna a inchiostro” è la penna a sfera che era appena stata introdotta quando 1984 venne scritto. Ciò significa che Orwell descrive che qualcosa sia scritta con un vero pennino ma rimane graffiata dalla penna a sfera. Ciò è, tuttavia, precisamente il contrario del vero. Se sei abbastanza vecchio da ricordare che i pennini graffiano fragorosamente e si sa che la penna a sfera non lo fa.
Tutto questo non è science fiction, ma una nostalgia distorta del passato che non c’è mai stato. Sono sorpreso che Orwell si sia fermato al pennino e che non abbia fatto usare a Winston una grossa penna d’oca. Né Orwell era particolarmente previdente negli aspetti strettamente sociali del futuro che presenta, con il risultato che il mondo orwelliano di 1984 è incredibilmente arcaico comparato con quello vero degli anni ’80. Orwell non immagina nuovi vizi, al contrario. Egli era tutto gin e tabacco, e parte dell’orrore del suo quadro di 1984 è l’eloquente descrizione della bassa qualità del gin e del tabacco. Non prevedeva nuove droghe, non la marijuana, né gli allucinogeni sintetici. Non un aspetto della s.f. dello scrittore è precise e esatto nella sua previsione, ma certamente ci si sarebbe aspettato che inventasse qualche differenza.
Nella sua disperazione (o rabbia), Orwell dimentica le virtù umane. Tutti i caratteri sono, in un modo o nell’altro, deboli o sadici, sleali, stupidi o repellenti. Questo dovrebbe essere il modo in cui la gent,e o come Orwell vuole indicare, siano sotto la tirannia, ma mi sembra che sotto le peggiori tirannie, vi siano uomini e donne coraggiosi che affrontano i tiranni fino alla morte e che tali personalità storiche abbiano illuminato l’oscurità circostante. Solo per questo 1984 non assomiglia al vero mondo degli anni ’80. Né prevede alcuna differenza nel ruolo delle donne o nella debolezza dello stereotipo femminile del 1949. Vi sono solo due caratteri di donna di qualche importanza. Una forte donna ‘prole’ senza cervello che  è sempre lavandaia, che canta sempre canzoni popolari con parole del tipo famigliare negli anni ’30 e ’40 (a cui Orwell descrive fastidiosamente come ‘spazzatura’, in piena e beata assenza di anticipazione dell’hard rock).
L’altra è l’eroina, Julia, che è sessualmente promiscua (ma almeno mostra coraggio per il suo interesse nel sesso) ed è d’altronde senza cervello. Quando l’eroe, Winston, legge il suo libro che spiega la natura del mondo orwelliano, lei risponde addormentandosi, ma visto che Winston legge in modo estremamente soporifero, ciò è una buona indicazione del buon senso di Julia piuttosto che del contrario.
In breve, se 1984 deve essere considerato science fiction, allora è pessima science fiction.

C. Il governo di 1984
Il 1984 di Orwell è il ritratto di un governo totalitario, e ciò aiuta a comprendere la nozione del ‘big government’ assai eclettico. Dobbiamo ricordare, che il mondo dei tardi anni ’40, quando Orwell scrive il libro, vi era un solo vero e cattivo “big governments” con un vero tiranno-individuale il cui desiderio, anche se ingiusto crudele e vizioso, era legge. Inoltre sembrava un tiranno irremovibile eccetto che dalla forza esterna.
Benito Mussolini dell’Italia, dopo 21 anni di dominio assoluto, venne rovesciato, ma solo a causa della sua sconfitta in guerra. Adolf Hitler della Germania, dittatore assai più forte e brutale, dominò con pugno di ferro per dodici anni, e anche se sconfitto, non venne abbattuto dall’interno. Sebbene l’area che dominava si restringeva e gli eserciti nemici lo circondavano a est e a ovest, rimaneva dittatore assoluto nell’area da lui controllata, anche quando era solo nel bunker in cui si suicidò. Finchè si tolse di mezzo, nessuno poté abbatterlo. (Vi furono dei complotti contro di lui, certo, ma fallirono sempre, grazie, spesso, alla fortuna, che sembrava incredibile solo pensando a qualcuno come lui.)
Orwell, tuttavia, non badava a Mussolini o Hitler. Il suo nemico era Stalin, e al momento in cui venne pubblicato 1984, Stalin governava l’URSS da 25 anni ininterrotti, era sopravvissuto a una guerra tremenda in cui la sua nazione soffrì perdite enormi e ora era più forte che mai. A Orwell, ciò sembrava che né il tempo né la fortuna potessero abbattere Stalin, ma che sarebbe vissuto per sempre, aumentando di forza. Era così che Orwell presentava il Grande Fratello. Certo, non era vero. Orwell non vise abbastanza da vedere la morte di Stalin, tre anni dopo la pubblicazione di 1984, e non molto dopo il suo regime fu denunciato come dittatura – indovinate da chi? – dalla leadership sovietica. L’URSS è ancora URSS, ma non è stalinista, e i nemici dello stato non sono più fucilati (Orwell diceva ‘vaporizzati‘ invece, ma tale piccola differenza era tutto quello che sapeva fare) pratica presto abbandonata. Anche quando morì Mao Tse-tung in Cina, e mentre egli stesso non venne denunciato, i suoi più stretti collaboratori, la “Banda dei quattro“, vennero subito rimossi dallo stato di divinità, e ora la Cina è rimasta Cina, ma non è più maoista. Franco della Spagna  morì nel suo letto e fino al suo ultimo respiro, rimase il leader indiscusso per quasi 40 anni, subito dopo il suo ultimo respiro, il fascismo sparì subito dalla Spagna, così in Portogallo dopo al morte di Salazar.
In breve, Grande Fratello muore, o dovrebbe farlo, e quando muore, il governo muta sempre in senso moderato. Non si sa come i nuovi dittatori si sentano, ma dovranno morire, anche. Alla fine nei veri anni ’80 sappiamo i dittatori passano e che il “Grande Fratello“  non è una minaccia reale.
Se nessun governo, infatti, degli anni ’80, sembra così pericoloso. L’avanzata della tecnologia concede nuove armi potenti – esplosivi, mitragliatrici, auto veloci in mano a terroristi urbani che possono rapire, sequestrare, uccidere e  prendere ostaggi con impunità mentre i governi sono più o meno aiuti privi di aiuto. Inoltre la immortalità del Grande Fratello, che Orwell presenta come i due modi altri modi di mantenere una dittatura eterna.
Primo -presenta qualcuno o qualcosa da odiare. Nel mondo orwelliano era Emmanuel Goldstein da odiare e che era costruito e orchestrato in funzione di masse robotizzate. Nulla di nuovo, certo. Ogni nazione nel mondo ha usato i vicini allo scopo di odiare. Tale tipo di cosa è facilmente gestito e emerge come la seconda natura dell’umanità che meraviglia perché vi sono gli odi guidati organizzati nel mondo orwelliano. Necessita poca psicologia delle masse per fare odiare gli Arabi con gli Israeliani, Greci con i Turchi e cattolici Irlandesi con i protestanti Irlandesi – e viceversa in ogni caso. Per essere sicuri i nazisti organizzavano incontri di massa da delirio a cui ogni partecipante sembrava unirsi, ma non vi erano effetti permanenti. Una volta arrivata la guerra sul suolo Germanico, i tedeschi si arrendevano e non hanno mai più detto Sieg-Heil nella loro vita.
Secondo – riscrivere la storia. Quasi ogni individuo che incontriamo in 1984 ha come lavoro, la rapida riscrittura del passato, il riaggiustamento delle statistiche, la revisione dei giornali, con tutti preoccupati di fare attenzione al passato comunque. Tale preoccupazione orwelliana per le minuzie storiche è tipica del settario politico che sempre riporta ciò che è stato detto sin passato per provare a chiunque dell’altro lato che è sempre citato qualcosa che è sttao detto o fatto dell’avversario. Coma sa ogni politico, nessuna prova di qualsiasi tipo è mai richiesto.  È solo necessario fare una dichiarazione – qualsiasi – per avere una audience che vi crede. Nessuno vedrà la bugia rispetto ai fatti e, se lo fa, non crederanno ai fatti.
Pensate che i tedeschi nel 1939 fingessero di credere che i polacchi gli avessero attaccati e iniziando la Seconda Guerra Mondiale? No! Quando gli si disse che era così essi vi credettero come io credo che essi attaccarono i polacchi. Sicuro, i sovietici pubblicarono nuove edizioni della loro Enciclopedia in cui politici che avevano lunghe citazioni nelle prime edizioni, venivano all’improvviso cancellati totalmente, e ciò è senza dubbio il germe della nozione orwelliana, ma la possibilità di portare ciò al livello di descritto in 1984 sembra nullo – non perché è oltre la malvagità umana,  ma perché non è necessaria.
Orwell presenta la ‘Neolingua‘ come organo della repressione – la conversione dell’inglese in uno strumento limitato e abbreviato dove il vocabolario reale dei dissensi sparisce. Parzialmente acquisì la nozione dell’indubbia abitudine dell’abbreviare. Diede degli esempi: la ‘Internazionale Comunista‘ divenne ‘Comintern‘ e ‘Geheime Staatspolizei‘ divenne ‘Gestapo‘, ma non è una invenzione del moderno totalitarismo. ‘Vulgus mobile‘ divenne ‘mob‘; ‘taxi cabriolet‘ divenne ‘cab’; ‘quasi-stellar radio source’ divenne ‘quasar’; ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation’ divenne ‘laser’ e così via. Non ci sono segnali che la compressione della lingua renda più debole il modo di esprimere.
In realtà l’offuscamento politico tende a usare molte parole invece che poche, lunghe invece che corte, a estendere invece che a ridurre. Ogni leader poco istruito o dalla intelligenza limitata si nasconde dietro una esuberante e inebriante loquacità. Quindi, quando Winston Churchill suggerisce lo sviluppo di un ‘Inglese Basico’ come lingua internazionale (indubbiamente similmente alla “Neolingua“), la suggestione era forte. Non possiamo, tuttavia, avvicinarci alla Neolingua nella sua forma condensata, ma abbiamo già una Neolingua nella sua forma estesa e sempre l’avremo.  Abbiamo un gruppo di giovani tra noi che dice cose come “Vabbene, uomo, sai, è come prenderli tutti assieme, sai, uomo, penso, come sai tu” e così per cinque minuti quando la parola che i giovani cercano è il loro ‘Huh?‘ Perciò, tuttavia, non è Neolingua, è sempre stato così da noi. È qualcosa che in Veterolingua è chiamato ‘mancanza di articolazione’ e non è ciò che Orwell aveva in mente.

D. La situazione internazionale di 1984
Sebbene Orwell sembri, di massima, essersi inesorabilmente bloccato nel mondo del 1949, in un aspetto si mostra assai previdente, cioè la previsione della tripartizione del mondo negli anni ’80.
Il mondo internazionale di 1984 è un mondo di tre superpotenze: Oceania, Eurasia e Estasia – e che combacia, assai rozzamente, con le tre attuali superpotenze degli anni ’80: gli USA, l’URSS e la Cina. (Potremmo anche fare con USA, Unione Europea e Cina degli anni ’90; NdC)
L’Oceania è la combinazione di USA e Impero inglese, chi è stato un ufficiale imperiale civile, non avverte che l’impero inglese stava esalando l’ultimo respiro nei tardi anni ’40 e stava  per dissolversi. Sembra supporre, in effetti, che l’impero inglese sia il membro dominante della coalizione anglo-americana. Alla fine, L’intera azione si svolge a Londra e frasi come gli ‘USA’ e ‘americani’ sono rare, se mai, menzionate. Ma, ciò è assai tipico nei racconti di spie inglesi in cui, fin dalla seconda guerra mondiale, il Regno Unito (adesso l’ottava potenza militare economica del Mondo) appare come la grande avversaria dell’URSS, o della Cina, o di qualche inventata cospirazione internazionale, con gli USA mai menzionata o ridotta a piccola comparsa con la cortese partecipazione di qualche agente della CIA.
Eurasia è, naturalmente, l’URSS, cui Orwell fa assorbire tutto il continente Europeo. Eurasia, inoltre, include oltre all’Europa, la Siberia, e la sua popolazione è per 95 % europea in ogni modo. Quindi, Orwell descrive gli Eurasiani come ‘uomini dall’aspetto robusto con visi asiatici privi di espressione‘.  Orwell viveva in un periodo in cui gli ‘Europei‘ e gli ‘Asiatici‘ erano rispettivamente l”eroe‘ e il ‘cattivo‘, era impossibile attaccare l’URSS con spontaneità se non pensandola come ‘Asiatica’. Ciò avvenne sotto l’inebriante Neolingua Orwelliana detta ‘doppio-pensiero‘, qualcosa che Orwell, come ogni uomo ritiene, buona cosa. Certo, potrebbe darsi che Orwell non pensi all’Eurasia, o all’URSS, ma la sua grande ‘bestia nera’ è Stalin. Stalin era un georgiano, e la Georgia, che si estende nel Caucaso meridionale, geograficamente è in Asia. Eastasia è, certo, la Cina e varie nazioni tributarie. Qui fa una profezia. Al momento della stesura di 1984, i comunisti cinesi non avevano il controllo del paese e molti (gli USA soprattutto) ritenevano che l’anticomunista, Chiang Kai-shek, avesse il controllo. Una volta che i comunisti ottennero il potere, divenne credo accettato degli occidentali che i cinesi fossero sotto il controllo dei sovietici e che la Cina e l’URSS formassero un blocco monolitico comunista.
Orwell no solo previde la vittoria comunista (vedeva la vittoria dovunque, infatti) ma inoltre previde che Russia e China non avrebbero formato una potenza   monolitica ma sarebbero stati nemici mortali. In tale caso, è stata la sua esperienza di settario di sinistra ad aiutarlo. Non aveva le superstizioni di destra riguardo alla sinistra come unificazione di indistinti cattivi. Sapeva che avrebbero combattuto tra loro spietatamente sopra i punti assai controversi della dottrina come i più pii cristiani. Inoltre previde uno stato permanente di guerra tra le tre potenze; una condizione di permanente mutazione delle sempre instabili alleanze, ma sempre due contro il più forte. Questa era il vecchio sistema di “equilibrio del potere” presente fin dall’antica Grecia, nell’Italia medievale, e nella prima Europa moderna.
L’errore di Orwell risiede nel pensare che vi fosse una guerra per mantenere  il controllo dell’equilibrio. In effetti, nella parte più risibile del libro, presenta la guerra come mezzo per consumare le risorse e la produzione mondiale e quindi mantenere la stratificazione sociale  con classi superiori, medie   e inferiori. (ciò suona come un vera spiegazione di sinistra  della guerra come risultato di una cospirazione attuata con grande difficoltà.) Nei fatti odierni, le decadi dal 1945 sono state segnate dall’assenza di guerre rispetto ai decenni precedenti. Vi sono state guerre locali a profusione, ma non una generale. Ma la guerra non è ritenuta un mezzo disperato per consumare le risorse del mondo. Ciò può essere fatto con altri metodi, come l’incremento senza fine della popolazione e dell’uso dell’energia, mai considerate da Orwell. Orwell non prevede alcuni significativo mutamento economico che sono stati attuati dopo la fine della seconda guerra mondiale. Non prevede il ruolo del petrolio o del declino della sua disponibilità o l’aumento del suo prezzo o l’incremento della potenza di quelle nazioni che lo controllano. Non ricordo alcun riferimento al ‘petrolio‘. Ma forse in ciò è Orwell abbastanza vicino da prevederlo, se sostituiamo
guerra fredda‘ con ‘guerra‘. Vi sono stati eventi, in effetti, da continuare, più o meno, la ‘guerra fredda‘ che serviva a mantenere l’occupazione elevata e a risolvere a breve termine i problemi economici (al costo di crearne di assai più grandi a lungo termine). E questa Guerra Fredda è sufficiente da esaurire le risorse. Inoltre, l’alleanza mutevole, come previsto da Orwell è assai vicina alla realtà. Quando gli USA sembravano potentissimi, URSS e Cina erano ferocemente anti-statunitensi, e si allearono. Quando la potenza USA diminuì, l’URSS e Cina si divisero. E ognuno si contrappose egualmente contro gli altri due. Allora, quando l’URSS apparve divenire abbastanza potente, si ebbe una alleanza tra USA e Cina, e cooperarono per contrastare l’URSS, e parlare moderatamente ognuno dell’altro.
In 1984 ogni cambio di alleanza sfociava in una orgia di storia riscritta. In realtà, tale follia non era necessaria. IL pubblico scivolava facilmente da un punto all’altro, accettando il cambio di circostanza senza alcun problema per il passato. Invece, i giapponesi, negli anni ’50, cambiarono da cattivi senza speranza in amici, mentre i cinesi passarono nella direzione opposta, senza aver commesso nessuna Pearl Harbour. Nessuno ci fece caso, per buona stupidità. Orwell ha volontariamente dimenticato l’uso della bomba atomica nella guerra tra le tre potenze, sicuro che tali bombe non sarebbero state usate nelle guerre dopo il 1945. Ciò, tuttavia, a causa che le sole grandi potenze nucleari USA e URSS, hanno impedito la guerra tra di loro. Se ci fosse una guerra adesso,  assai dubbio che le parti non credano, infine, necessario premere il bottone. In ciò, Orwell manca, forse, di poco la realtà. Londra, tuttavia, ha sofferto attacchi di missili, cosa che richiama le armi V-1 o V-2 del 1944, e la città è in una bolgia stile 1945. Orwell non può rendere 1984 assai differente dal 1944 in tale aspetto. Orwell, infatti, rende chiaro che in 1984, il comunismo universale delle tre superpotenze ha soffocato la scienza e ridotto il suo uso tranne che per le necessità della guerra. Non vi sono domande su quale nazione investe di più nella scienza dove le applicazioni per la guerra sono chiare, né vi è modo di porre domande sulla separazione delle applicazioni per la guerra da quelle per la pace.
La Scienza è una unità, e ogni cosa può essere concepita in relazione alla guerra e alla distruzione. La Scienza, inoltre, non è stata soffocata ma continua non solo negli USA e nell’Europa Occidentale e Giappone, ma anche in URSS e in Cina. I progressi della scienza sono numerosi, ma si può pensare ai laser e ai computer come armi dalle infinite applicazioni pacifiche.
Insomma: George Orwell in 1984 era, secondo me, impegnato in una guerra privata con lo stalinismo, piuttosto che cercare di prevedere il futuro. Non diede alla scienza alcuna plausibile funzione prevedibile in futuro, e oggi, in ogni caso il mondo di 1984 non è correlato al mondo reale degli anni ’80. Il mondo può essere comunista, me non nel 1984, che per qualcuno non è una vera tarda data; o dove sembri che la civiltà stia per essere distrutta. Se accadesse, tuttavia, accadrà in modo diverso da quello descritto in 1984 e se tentate di prevenirne l’eventualità immaginando che 1984 sia accurata, allora dovrete difendervi dagli assalti provenienti da direzioni sbagliate e perderete.

Traduzione Alessandro Lattanzio

mercredi, 03 avril 2013





par Frédéric Schramm

Ex: http://livr-arbitres.com/

A propos du prix Nobel 2001 de Littérature, écartons d’emblée la question de l’éventuel opportunisme politique dont auraient pu faire preuve certains juges séduits par la position radicale du lauréat sur la question islamique[1]. Le lauréat échappe à toute comparaison simpliste avec un écrivain tel que Salman Rushdie, qu’il avoue d’ailleurs n’avoir jamais lu.

Qu’elle soit niée ou revendiquée, une loi récurrente s’impose à tout ce qui a attrait au domaine de la création à l’échelle humaine. Elle inverse le postulat d’une prétendue raison pure détachée du monde comme la feuille morte se détache de l’arbre : « Je pense ce que je suis » présuppose l’œuvre créée en général et l’œuvre littéraire en particulier. Celle-là n’est jamais que le témoignage d’une réalité existentielle inexpugnable et l’univers littéraire de Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, exact reflet de son parcours identitaire et de l’enseignement sur le monde qu’il en a retiré, s’inscrit dans cette perspective.

Originaire des îles caraïbes de Trinité et Tobago, Naipaul est issu de la troisième génération d’Indiens[2] exilés dans cette possession britannique. Ecrivain anglophone, il devient en 1989, comme il l’avoue lui-même, citoyen des Lettres anglaises plutôt que véritable citoyen britannique, peuple auquel il reste définitivement étranger autant par la culture que par le sentiment d’appartenance nationale : un Britannique de papier, en somme mais dans le sens le plus noble du terme. Dès lors la comparaison revendiquée avec le Polonais Jozef Conrad Korzeniowski s’impose à bien des égards. La colonisation vécue par ceux qui la subissent ou « Marlow de l’autre côté du miroir » : ainsi pourrait se résumer la contribution de Naipaul. Mais loin des revendications geignardes et manichéennes, l’écrivain jette un regard sans complaisance sur les peuples colonisés en même temps qu’il poursuit la réflexion sur l’idée de la sauvagerie et des ténèbres entamée par Joseph Conrad[3].

Conscient d’appartenir à un peuple doué d’une forte identité, Naipaul oppose la solidarité communautaire[4] à l’individualisme occidental même s’il reste lucide face à de sa propre acculturation, ses ancêtres issus des hautes castes ayant perdu le véritable sens mystique de leurs rituels hindous. Fondamentalement opposé au mimétisme de classe de la part des plus éduqués parmi le peuple colonisé, qui se contentent de singer les classes supérieures colonisatrices, il annonce le leurre des sociétés démocratiques américaines, agglomérat de races à prétention égalitaire, la réalité des faits obligeant l’une de ces races à prendre le dessus. Et sans s’embarrasser de sous-entendus, il annonce clairement dans son roman Guérilleros[5]. qu’il ne peut pas s’agir des Afroaméricains, leurs tentatives aboutissant au même chaos que dans les états africains calqués sur des normes occidentales contredites par les réalités tribales et morales africaines, thème du roman A la courbe du fleuve5.

Profitant de ses voyages en Asie, il poursuit ses réflexions sur la nature des civilisations, leurs normes et l’effacement de leurs valeurs par les exemples hindous dans L’Inde brisée5 et L’illusion des ténèbres5 et islamique dans Parmi les croyants5 et Crépuscule sur L’Islam5 En Inde, il constate la contradiction profonde entre l’immuabilité du regard hindou sur le monde et le modernisme de l’Inde du parti du Congrès. Son jugement de l’Islam est beaucoup plus sévère puisqu’il dénonce son  intransigeance, son refus de la conscience individuelle, son caractère intrinsèquement fanatique et sa société acculturante par l’obligation de se soumettre à une oumma, communauté religieuse inexistante dans la réalité des faits mais idéalisée[6].

[1] Les prix Nobel restent à l’image du pays qui les décernent : neutres mais intéressés pour les prix littéraires et scientifiques suédois, ignoble pour l’improbable prix Nobel de la Paix, décerné par la Norvège, membre de l’OTAN délivrant ces dernières années leur rançon à des individus ou des organisations favorisant les intérêts bellicistes ou financiers de l’organisation criminelle et terroriste.

[2] Présente dans les quatre coins de l’Empire britannique, cette communauté atypique présente le double désavantage d’avoir été victime de la sanglante colonisation anglo-saxonne tout en l’ayant renforcée par sa participation à la repopulation des terres conquises.

[3] Notons qu’à cette fin, il utilise le même procédé de l’opposition entre le village et la brousse, les mêmes métaphores animales pour l’inanimé et l’humain.

[4] Affirmant pour l’occasion l’opposition entre les notions de Peuples ou Nations et celles de Patrie ou Etat.

[5] Editions 10/18

[6] Rappelons la tentative de coup d’état islamique perpétrée à Trinité, le 27 juillet 1990 par le Jamaat Al-Muslimeen de Yasin Abou Bakr (plusieurs dizaines de morts).

lundi, 25 mars 2013

Chesterton the prophet of menacing Americanisation


1920: Chesterton the prophet of menacing Americanisation


 By Nicolas Bonnal

Ex: http://english.pravda.ru/

But to-day personal liberties are the first liberties we lose.

In 1920 Chesterton visits America where he gives some lectures. The British (yet Catholic) genius is intimidated by this great country which horrifies and amazes then many European writers. Think of Kafka or Celine who describe a curious mega-machine.


Yet America happens -at least for Chesterton- to be a problem, because this is the country that will become the matrix of globalization (we all agree that being that matrix ruin the ancient Americans as a people). And when the author of father Brown gets to the control area, he is asked some very indiscreet questions such as: are you an anarchist? Then the questionnaire asks him naively if he is "ready to subvert by force the government of United States!" And what would answer our poet? ''I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning'.

The questionnaire is not over. It asks then if the traveller is a polygamist! This time Chesterton is somewhat upset, like should have been the future travellers when asked if they are Nazis, anti-Semites or of course communists, Islamists or terrorists (what else, carnivores?). And he unleashes this terrible phrase:

Superficially this is rather a queer business. It would be easy enough to suggest that in this America has introduced a quite abnormal spirit of inquisition; an interference with liberty unknown among all the ancient despotisms and aristocracies.

So, let us think of inquisitive America as the land of the modern inquisitors (I think of course of Dostoyevsky). And, as if he had known we were doomed to an endless clash of civilizations between Muslims and Yankees, Chesterton evokes his visit to Jordan and compares with bonhomie Arab administration to the American one: 

These ministers of ancient Moslem despotism did not care about whether I was an anarchist; and naturally would not have minded if I had been a polygamist. The Arab chief was probably a polygamist himself.

Of course Chesterton, having quoted the Muslim world, had to speak of prohibition. That American prohibition too is hard to swallow for our drinker of beer (he deals with the subject -and with Islamism too- in the scaring novel the flying inn). And beyond the classical denunciations of hypocrisy and Puritanism, prohibition inspires him the following witty lines:

But to-day personal liberties are the first liberties we lose. It is not a question of drawing the line in the right place, but of beginning at the wrong end. What are the rights of man, if they do not include the normal right to regulate his own health, in relation to the normal risks of diet and daily life?

Chesterton knew he was entering in a no smoking area. The Americanization of the world would mean an exigent agenda of rules and orders to comply in all fields.  It is linked to the reign of the lawyers and congressmen, the cult of technique, a past but resilient Puritanism and of course the desire to homogenize all migrants. And he concludes on this matter with his sarcastic and efficient remark:

To say that a man has a right to a vote, but not a right to a voice about the choice of his dinner, is like saying that he has a right to his hat but not a right to his head.

Another subsequent menace is the Anglo-American friendship. Chesterton guesses that the anglo-American condominium means a general police of the planet and a future world order. The end of his strange and genial book is dedicated to the future new world order, whose prophet and agent is the famous sci-fi writer H.G. Welles. The motivation of this world state is mainly... fear, the artificial fear of the machines (think now of gun control).

He tells us that our national dignities and differences must be melted into the huge mould of a World State, or else (and I think these are almost his own words) we shall be destroyed by the instruments and machinery we have ourselves made.

But America has given to Chesterton enough reasons to fear its matrix, its efficiency and its blindness too. This is why America is too the magnet of heretic and modernist H.G. Wells. A country founded by Illuminati and masons has to become the mould and model of all.

Now it is not too much to say that Mr. Wells finds his model in America. The World State is to be the United States of the World... The pattern of the World State is to be found in the New World.

And although he speaks English and is an Anglo-Saxon, Chesterton, who is above all a Christian, a democrat and a humanist who mainly enjoys French and Russian peasants, then plundered by bolshevists, and he understands the American menace: the Americanisation of this planet, Americanisation that nothing will stop. The American menace consists in destroying any resisting nation in order to create the new united states of the world.

 The idea of making a new nation literally out of any old nation that comes along. In a word, what is unique is not America but what is called Americanisation. We understand nothing till we understand the amazing ambition to americanise the Kamshatkan and the hairy Ainu.

Let us be more humoristic, but not optimistic. For the new American order will be established on the models of a nursery. This is where the blatant American feminism interferes:

And as there can be no laws or liberties in a nursery, the extension of feminism means that there shall be no more laws or liberties in a state than there are in a nursery. The woman does not really regard men as citizens but as children. She may, if she is a humanitarian, love all mankind; but she does not respect it. Still less does she respect its votes.

Our European commission works like this nursery. And of course our genius thus seizes American paranoia and the perils of modern pseudo-sciences, say for instance the theory of the gender. As if he was predicting infamous patriot act, Chesterton writes:

Now a man must be very blind nowadays not to see that there is a danger of a sort of amateur science or pseudo-science being made the excuse for every trick of tyranny and interference. Anybody who is not an anarchist agrees with having a policeman at the corner of the street; but the danger at present is that of finding the policeman half-way down the chimney or even under the bed.

That's not all. Why this American matrix imposes her strength so easily? Chesterton has already remarked that American political order incites citizens - or pawns- to be repetitive, trivial and equal: I think they too tend too much to this cult of impersonal personality. Thanks to fast-foods and commercial centres, business cult and universities, television and movies' omnipresence, this model has been applied in fifty years everywhere, event in the resilient Muslim countries, making the globalization more a mind-programmed attitude than a free will. But this is where we are. 

But friendship, as between our heroes,

can't really be: for we've outgrown

old prejudice; all men are zeros,

the units are ourselves alone.

Eugene Onegin


Chesterton, what I saw in America, the project Gutenberg e-book.


Nicolas Bonnal

mercredi, 27 février 2013

La politique de Tolkien

dimanche, 17 février 2013

Some Sort of Nietzschean

Some Sort of Nietzschean

By Alex Kurtagić

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

Wyndham Lewis in 1917 

Wyndham Lewis in 1917


Paul O’Keefe
Some Sort of Genius: A Life of Wyndham Lewis [2]
London: Pimlico, 2000

In his acknowledgment pages Paul O’Keefe states that it took him a decade—not including the years of research already donated to him by another writer—to complete his biography of Wyndham Lewis, a project he began in 1990 while he was president of the Wyndham Lewis Society. And this is apparent, for this volume, holding 700 pages of tightly packed print, offers an indefatigably detailed and masochistically researched account of the British modernist artist and author’s life.

Biographies differ in emphasis, depending on the author’s biases, and the tone here is set early in the first chapter, which consists of a detailed description of Lewis’ bisected brain—now preserved in the Pathology Museum of the Imperial College School of Medicine—and the progressive destruction (through compression of the adjacent structures) caused by the growth of its pituitary tumor, medically known as a chromophone adenoma. O’Keefe’s narration is temperate and balanced in the extreme, abstaining from either celebration or condemnation, or indeed evaluation, of his subject. Instead, we are presented with unvarnished facts and restrained descriptions of circumstances, and, where records have not survived or never existed and witness memories were unavailable, with the most disciplined of inference.

Initially, the effect of this cold detective approach is a certain literary anhedonia: the narrative barely raises the pulse, despite Lewis’ turbulent social life, truculence, and extraordinarily difficult personality. One feels that another author would have been able to produce much more dramatic prose with the same information.

All the same, O’Keefe’s biography is impressive, and after a somewhat laborious account of Lewis’ Bohemian early life and career—which, ironically, includes his most significant artistic period, coinciding with Cubism and Futurism, and now referred to as Vorticist—the pace picks up once we get to 1930, the year Apes of God (London: Arthur Press, 1930), Lewis’ savage satire of London’s literary scene and the Bloomsbury Group, was published. We learn, as we race through the decade, that Lewis would routinely ridicule his friends and patrons in his novels, where they would appear thinly disguised under a pseudonym. Few were spared, which led to many a falling out, libel writs, and loss of patronage. This, plus Lewis’ quarrelsome, irascible, ultra-individualistic, cruel, secretive, litigious, and somewhat paranoid personality, kept him always on the verge of bankruptcy, despite his tremendous creative energy and productivity. Indeed, when a group of friends decided to contribute monthly to a fund so that Lewis could work without financial worries—for he was always in arrears and in debt—he very quickly and rudely alienated his benefactors. This was probably because he resented being beholden to anyone. Any well-meaning gesture was an affront.

The book is hard to put down as we pass through the 1940s. From the late 1930s, when Lewis travelled to North America, where he alternated between Canada and the United States and where he remained until after the end of the war. There we are taken to what was probably the most bitter and penurious period in his life. By this time he had difficulties finding a publisher, having become notorious for attracting libel suits, locking horns with his earlier publishers, and not delivering manuscripts for which he had been paid an advance. In the United States his books were deemed by some not the most marketable. Commissions for portraits and other art, which he desperately needed and assiduously sought, were scarce and not proof against upsetting his patrons. They were also not terribly popular—in 1938 his portrait of T. S. Eliot had been rejected by the Royal Academy [3]. And speaking engagements, greatly facilitated by the publicity efforts of friend and future media guru Marshall McLuhan, proved insufficient and disappointing financially—Lewis was no Jonathan Bowden, in any event. Thus, he and his wife survived in cheap hotels and grim rented accommodation only a dollar, sometimes a few cents, away from eviction until 1945.

Lewis’ situation improved marginally thereafter, though by this time his eyesight was in steep decline, owing to his as-yet-undiagnosed pituitary tumor compressing his optic nerve. His 1949 portrait of T. S. Eliot would be his last painting. All the same, Lewis marched on, continuing to author substantial and difficult books—including the last two volumes of his Human Age trilogy, the first of which had been published many years earlier—even after he went blind in 1951. In his final years, Lewis benefited from the radio dramatisation of his trilogy and from his Civil List Pension, which, though exiguous, provided him with a bare minimum of security.

O’Keefe’s narration continues through to a search of Lewis’ condemned flat soon after his death and to his final resting place inside a niche in a wall at Golder’s Green Crematorium.

Despite its comprehensiveness in all that pertains to Lewis, O’Keefe’s biography has two major deficiencies, which stem from the fact that all we learn is tightly circumscribed to the facts and events relating to Lewis and his immediate social periphery. Firstly, aside from a few clinical descriptions, we learn very little about Lewis’ art and writing, or their cultural significance. By the time he finally receives a modicum of institutional honors and recognition, it comes almost unexpectedly; it is as if there had been a sudden sea change and the invisible powers who had previously been critical, suspicious, or unimpressed suddenly decided to relent. Secondly, there is virtually no wider historical, cultural, or sociological context, leaving Lewis’ life and work somewhat abstracted; the points of reference appear shadowy, remote, and somewhat peremptory. One can go too far in the opposite direction, of course, which would detract from a work that aims to be objective, devoid of opinion and coloration, or about an individual as opposed to his times, but it seems O’Keefe was a little too careful to avoid this.

We do obtain some perspective through Lewis’ relations with (and on occasion anecdotes involving some of) the various and now illustrious members of Lewis’ circle—which included Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and W. B. Yeats—but this perspective remains somewhat shallow, and the individuals concerned remain somewhat distant. This may well be because Lewis was a study in detachment; we learn that for him friends were there to be used, and were friends only in so much as they were useful. Bowden described him [4] as “a bit of a rogue” and “a rascal,” and one can see why.

Having said that, in this biography Lewis does not come across as the iron-hard Right-winger that Bowden made him out to be. It is admitted that Lewis wrote a book called Hitler (London: Chatto and Windus, 1931), but he wrote it hastily and it seems he later regretted it, writing The Hitler Cult and How It Will End (London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1939) and The Jews: Are They Human? (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1939), the latter of which is an attack against anti-Semitism. (O’Keefe also documents the frustration with Lewis of German National Socialists visiting the United Kingdom in the early 1930s in the face of the British author’s refusal to identify Communists as Jews—although this may have been recalcitrant individualism on the part of Lewis, for an anecdote a few hundred pages later on in the biography suggests he was aware of the “Jewish question,” a state not necessarily incompatible with dismissing anti-Semitism as “a racial red-herring.”)

It is admitted that Lewis met William Joyce and Oswald Mosley (O’Keefe, p. 370), but any relations in this biography appear vague and non-committal, his article in the British Union Quarterly notwithstanding. It is admitted also that, he wrote two other books (Left Wings Over Europe [London: Jonathan Cape, 1936] and Count Your Dead: They Are Alive! [London: Lovat Dickson, 1937]) which have been interpreted as in support for Mussolini and Franco respectively, but they are anti-war tracts. Later, Lewis would write Anglo-Saxony: A League that Works (Toronto: Ryerson, 1941), which is pro-democracy, and America and Cosmic Man (New York: Doubleday Company, 1949), where he pledges allegiance to a cosmic or cosmopolitan utopianism (Cosmic Man, p. 238).

Lewis’ politics were complex. Not Red, certainly, but not pure Black either. Now, Bowden, who knew O’Keefe for a time, described the latter as a liberal, and told in his 2006 talk about Lewis how, while being a member of the Wyndham Lewis Society, he told those present at an AGM that the society was “based on a lie”—proceeding then to accuse its members of revisionism, timidity, and denial. It may be that Bowden saw in Lewis want he wanted to see, or that his interpretation of Lewis as a Nietzschean metapolitical fascist owed to Bowden’s approaching his subject as a Nietzschean and a Stirnerite. Or that he focused only on the parts of Lewis that interested him, obviously the inter-war and then the late period.

In O’Keefe’s biography, certainly, Nietzsche does not figure in relation to Lewis. This is not to say, however, that Lewis was not a Nietzschean force or cannot be seen as such: aside from what can be gleaned from his prose or the conceptual elitism of his 1917 manifesto (“The Code of a Herdsman”), Lewis was certainly always against, always difficult and “rebarbative,” and always—despite his navigating a fairly wide circle of leading modernist artists and literati, alone against all, unabated by poverty and refusing to throw in the towel even after he went blind.

The reason for the above remarks is that I read this book as background research for a biography of Jonathan Bowden. Bowden mentioned Lewis frequently in his early writing, and among his effects after his death several books by Lewis were found, including Childermass (London: Chatto and Windus, 1928), The Revenge of Love (London: Cassell and Co. 1937), Self Condemned (London: Methuen Press, 1954), Apes of God, Snooty Baronet (London: Cassell and Co., 1932), Tarr (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1918; London: Chatto and Windus, 1928), and The Demon of Progress in the Arts (London: Methuen Press, 1954).

From the present biography of Lewis one can easily see the reasons why Bowden could have conceivably either identified with or seen something of himself in Lewis. Both lost a parent in early life. Both were prolific painters and writers, both of an experimental sort, though Bowden more than Lewis. Both identified with the politics of the Right, while also being aggressively individualistic, though, again, Bowden more than Lewis. Both were unafraid of—and indeed enjoyed—including friends and acquaintances in their prose, where these victims of cruel and often libellous psychoanalysis appeared quasi-cartoonified and only thinly disguised under pseudonyms. Both moved frequently during early adulthood and later lived closed off, hidden away at a recondite and obscure address. Both were secretive in their personal lives, which they strictly compartmentalized—in Lewis’ case, many of his friends were unaware of the fact that he had a wife and several children (by previous lovers) until Lewis was in late middle age; initially, he never mentioned her, few ever saw her, and no one was ever given access to the flat hidden behind a door below his studio, where she lived with him, until many years later. Both found wealth elusive, and were mostly interested in recognition. And there are other parallels. On the whole, however, Bowden was more consistent philosophically, harder politically, and a more extreme artist and writer.

Irrespective of your thoughts on modernism in general, Wyndham Lewis is sufficiently interesting on his own for this major biography to be educational and entertaining, though I suspect it will be those familiar with Jonathan Bowden’s oratory who will get the greater profit.


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/02/some-sort-of-nietzschean/

mercredi, 23 janvier 2013

T. S. Eliot reads "Journey of the Magi"

T. S. Eliot reads "Journey of the Magi"

mardi, 22 janvier 2013

"The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot (poetry reading)


"The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot (poetry reading)

lundi, 03 décembre 2012

A Note on the Art of Political Conversion

A Note on the Art of Political Conversion

T.E. Hulme
T.E. Hulme

Some day a wonderful book will be written on the art of persuasion, a new sophistic. One may suppose that psychology will ultimately become as complete a science as geometry and mechanics are now. It will be possible then to predict the effect of an argument on a man’s mind as surely as one can now predict the eclipse of the moon. On the basis of this developed science will be built an infallible set of rules for converting a man to any opinion you like. The mechanism of mind will be as bare as that of a typewriter. You will press the right levers, and the result you want will follow inevitably. The lover will sigh no more, but will consult the manual and succeed—unless the lady be similarly armed. So dangerous will the art be that the knowledge of it must be confined to a special caste, like Plato’s guards, disciplined and trained not to make any malicious use of their power. Or more probably the then prevailing form of government will seize it and make a monopoly of it as they now do of armed force, and used it for their perpetual preservation.

Pending the arrival of this political canvasser’s millennium, one can sketch out the beginnings of the thing. Materials for the art already exist: Schopenhauer’s “Art of Controversy,” Pascal’s “Pensées,” the manuals which the credulous Protestant imagines that the Jesuits are brought up on, and, more recently, James’s “Will to Believe,” and “L’Arte di Persuadere” of the brilliant Italian pragmatist Pezzolini, who would bring all philosophy to the service of such a sophistic.

All these are founded on a recognition of the basic fact of the absolute impotence of a mere idea to produce any change in belief. All conviction, and so necessarily conversion, is based on the motor and emotional aspects of the mind. No intellectual conception has any moving force unless it be hinged on to an emotion or an instinct. In every man’s mind there exist certain fixed instincts and prejudices, certain centers of emotion, tendencies to react to certain words. The expression “center” is not merely metaphorical. In all probability there does exist a corresponding organization of the neurones in the brain. These are the parts of a man’s mind which lead to conviction expressed in action, ballotwise or otherwise. You have got to get hold of these to produce any change. If you can’t do this, then the idea is “dead,” it has no motive power, the most logical presentation will have no effect. There must be in any successful propaganda, then, an element more important than good argument. A good case is the last, not the first part of a successful conversion. In practice men have always known this. Practice remains constant throughout the ages; it is not reserved for any particular century to “discover” anything new about the ways of the human. With theory, however, it is very different. That may be wrong continually, and may, at a definite moment, be put right. In this case it certainly is so. For a long time reason was given a too predominant place in psychology, and to it all other faculties were subordinated. Gradually, during the last 50 years in philosophy, instinct and emotion have asserted their rightful place, until at the present time the reaction has gone so far that the intellect is regarded merely as a subtle and useful servant of the will, and of man’s generally irrational vital instincts. Bergson, Le Roy, Croce, Eucken, Simmel are all anti-intellectualists.

The particular effect of this change of view which concerns me here is that of the difference it makes to the theory of politics. Formerly the prevailing conception was something of this kind—you perfected the mechanism of democracy until each man’s carefully thought-out opinion had its effect. You then, on any particular measure, set out on a campaign of careful argument. Each side stated their reasons to the best of their ability, the elector heard both sides, and recorded his vote accordingly. All this, of course, sounds very fantastical now in the light of what actually does happen at a General Election. But the Bentham-Mill School honestly regarded it as a possible idea. We all recognize this now as fantastical, but what must be substituted for it as a true account of the psychology of the matter? This kind of inquiry would have to go into two parts — an account of the process by which the mass of the electors are converted, and the quite different process in the minds of the intellectuals, The first has been done very completely and amusing by Gustave Le Bon in “Psychology of the Crowd,” and in Graham Wallas’s “Human Nature in Politics.” They recognize quite clearly that the process of conversion here is anything but intellectual.

They show the modern politician frankly and cynically recognizing this, setting out deliberately to hypnotize the elector, as the owners of patent medicines hypnotize the buyers. They don’t argue; they deliberately reiterate a short phrase, such as “Pears’ Soap” or “Pea Food,” until it gets into the mind of the victim, by a process of suggestion definitely not intellectual. But no one has yet given any connected theory of the more interesting part of the subject—the conversion of the “intellectual,” of the leisured middle-class wobbler. Wallas himself somehow leaves you with a suspicion in your mind that he does still think that the “intellectual” is in the position which Mill, in the age of naive belief in reason, imagined him to be—that of weighing arguments, and then calmly deciding a question on its merits. Now, nothing could be grater nonsense. No one can escape from the law of mental nature I have referred to. We are all subject to it. We may be under the delusion that we are deciding a question from purely rational motives, but we never are. Even the detached analyst of the phenomena is himself subject to the law. Conversion is always emotional and non-rational.

Now this does seem to me to be a point of practical importance if it helps us to convert this class. For though the type may not be numerous, it does have, in the end, a big influence in politics. Not very obviously or directly, for in no country do the intellectuals appear to lead less than in ours; but ultimately and by devious ways their views soak down and color the whole mass. The first step is to recognize the fundamental identity of the two processes of conversion — that en masse, and that of the intellectuals; in this respect that mere logical presentment is of very little use. As the modern electioneer sets out on a cynical recognition of the fact to convert the mass, so he should just as directly try to capture the smaller class.

There must be two quite different methods of attack, for what attracts the one repels the other. Great words empty of sense, promises of Elysium a few years ahead, have been, and always must be, the means by which the mass can be stirred, but they leave the few very cold. In this case, sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander, for the only resemblance is the fact of appetite. Now, here seems to me to be the weakens of the Unionists. They emphatically do not provide any sauce for the gander. They practice the other art well enough, the art which Graham Wallas analyzes — that of manipulating the popular mind by advertisement and other means. But the smaller one they neglect, for no one can seriously think that Mr. Garvin is fit food for the adult intelligence. I have in mind a particular minor variety of this class: the undergraduate who, arriving in London, joins the Fabian Society. Now there is nothing inevitable in this. He may imagine that an intellectual process landed him there. Nothing of the kind. The Fabian Society provides him with the kind of stuff to fit in with his complex prejudices, and the Conservatives do not. He is merely a Socialist faute de mieux. The emotions involved are fairly simple—an insatiable desire for “theories,” the vague idea to be “advanced,” and the rest of it. There is no reason in the nature of things why the other side should not cater for this. In France, Action Française has made it rather bête démodée to be a Socialist. The really latest and advanced thing is to be a Neo-Royalist. They serve their victim with the right kind of sauce. So successful has this been that Jaurès recently warned his followers against the cleverness of the bourgeoisie.

To get back, however, to the main position. I take the view for the time being that we are not concerned with truth, but with success. I am considering the problem that should present itself to the acute party entrepreneur—did such a mythical person exist—how can this particular type of people be converted? Here is the type; how can it be caught? They must be converted exactly as everyone else is—by hitching on your propaganda to one of their centers of prejudice and emotion. But the difficulty comes in the analysis and discovery of these centers. They must be there, but they are complex and elusive, and sometimes unknown even to the subject himself. Here is where the difference comes in between this and the other sophistic. The problem in the case of the laborer is not so much to find these centers as to get hold of them before the other man does and to stick to them. Some day, I surmise, all this analysis will be done for us in a neat little manual.

But meanwhile, I can give data for the future compiler of such a book by analyzing one of these typical complexes, which I found embedded in my own head and influencing my politics without my knowing it. I probed my mind and got rid of it as I might of a tumor, but the operation was a violent one.

It came about from watching my own change of mind on the subject of Colonial Preference. I was, I suppose the typical wobbler, for while politically inclined to be a Protectionist, yet, as a pupil of Professor Marshall’s, theory pulled me in the opposite direction. Now, amid the whirlwind of that campaign of argument, I noticed that two apparently disconnected and irrelevant things stuck in my head had a direct influence on my judgment, whilst the “drums and tramplings” of a thousand statistics passed over me without leaving a trace. The one was a cartoon in Punch—Mr. Chamberlain landing at Dover and being passed quickly by the Customs officer: “There is no bother here, sir; this is a free country.” The other was an argument most constantly used at the time, I imagine, by Sir Edward Grey, and recently revived by a supposedly Conservative paper which does most of its thinking in its heels. “To attempt,” he said, “to bind the Empire together by tariffs would be [a] dangerously artificial thing; it would violently disturb its ‘natural growth.’ It was in opposition to the constant method which has made us a successful Colonial power. Let other nations fail through trying to do things too directly.” This had a powerful effect on me, and I imagine must have had on a great many other people; for this reason: that whereas we all of us had a great many emotions and nerve-paths grouped round the idea of Empire, these were by this argument bound up with Free Trade. It seemed to bring Preference in conflict with a deeply seated and organized set of prejudices grouped round the word “free” and “natural,” for the moving force of the cartoon and Grey’s argument were the same. This may look like an intellectual decision, but it isn’t. I could not, at the time, have formulated it as definitely as I do now. It was then just a kind of vague sentiment which, in the intervals of argument, pulled one in a certain way. This was so because, as I have maintained, conviction is in the end an emotional process. The arguments on each side were so numerous that each one inhibited the slight effect the other might have had, and in the resulting stalemate it was just odd little groups of emotions and prejudices, like the one indicated, that decided one.

Now this is only a prejudice—why should one have a definite distrust of any constructive scheme, and think that leaving it to nature was so much better and so much more in the English tradition? Looking at it from an a priori standpoint, it seems probable that a definite policy directed towards a certain end will gain that end. Examples are all around us to prove it—that of German unity in particular. There was no leaving it to nature there. Yet, in spite of its absurdity from a reasonable point of view, this idea of what is “natural” and “free” remained a fixed obsession. It was too deep-seated to be moved by any argument, and had all the characteristics of one of those complex prejudices which I said must be analyzed as preliminary to the art of conversion. It has all kinds of ramifications, and affects opinion in many directions, on conscription, for example, and a score of other matters. It can be traced back from its origin in the disputes of rival schools of medieval physicians scholastically inclined. Berthelot has analyzed the influence of these medical doctrines on politics. It can be seen particularly well in Quesnay, at the same time a doctor and an economist, from whom Adam Smith borrowed the theory of free exchange. It can be followed through Adam Smith, Coleridge, and Burke to the formation of the political theory of laissez-faire which dominated the 19th century. This theory of politics — and, of course, it is this which produced the personal prejudice which influenced me — may be considered as a kind of Hippocratic theory of political medicine whose principal precept in the treatment of the social “body” is that on no account must the “natural” remedial force of nature be interfered with.

Now, once I had got the theory out fairly and squarely before me, had seen its origin and history, its influence over me had gone. It was powerful before because I really didn’t know that it existed. The thing that most interested me was how it got so firmly fixed in my mind-center without my knowing it; and here comes really the only practical part of this paper. In my own case, the prejudice, I ma certain, had been formed in this way—the histories I had been brought up on, while never stating this view as a theory, had yet so stated all events in our Colonial history as to convey it by suggestion. Always the English were shown as succeeding as by some vague natural genius for colonization or something of that kind. Never by a consistent constructive effect. The people who did make definite plans, like the French under Colbert, and later the Germans, were always represented as failing. Now, this was the reason that the idea was so embedded in one. If it had been presented definitely as a theory, it would have been destroyed by argument. It became an instinct because it was suggested to one in this much more indirect and subtle way.

It took me years to get rid of the effects of this. For when an idea is put into your head in this indirect way, you are never conscious of its existence. It just silently colors all your views. Born with blue spectacles, you would think the world was blue, and never be conscious of the existence of the distorting glass. Ideas insinuated like this become in the end a kind of mental category; the naïve person never recognizes them as subjective, but thinks they lie in the facts themselves. Here, then, is my practical point. This kind of thing is dangerous. One is handicapped, as far as clear-thinking about politics goes, by being educated in Whig histories. It takes strenuous efforts to get rid of the pernicious notion implanted in one by Macaulay, say. My remedy would be this—prevention. I should adopt for secondary schools what was recently proposed as a solution of the religious difficulty in primary ones. Let there be so many hours set apart for history each week, and let each political party be allowed to send in their own historian. The first step towards this must be the writing o a definitely Tory history. The Whigs have too long had it their own way in this sphere. I can give a definite example of a recent successful accomplishment of this kind of thing in Charles Maurras’s history of the French Monarchy, which is converting scores of young Republicans.

After all, there is nothing ridiculous in the idea itself. It only appears so because it is a logical, definite application in a small scale of a process which is taken as a matter of course in greater ones. All national histories are partisan, and designed to give us a good conceit of ourselves. We recognize that even while we laugh at the American school-books and the Belgian accounts of the Waterloo campaign. But we are not familiar with the same process in small affairs inside the nation. But it is coming rapidly. I can mention Howell Evans’s history of Wales, recommended recently by the Welsh Education Council, which ends up with a panegyric of the late Budget. Or take Mrs. Richard Green’s history of Ireland, now being sold at half-price to all secondary schools of a Nationalist character. It is definitely written to convince the Irishman that his country was not civilized by the English conquest, but had itself, in earlier times, the most cultured civilization in Europe. It is done by a careful selection and manipulation of old manuscripts. It goes flat against the known facts, for the poet Spenser described them as naked barbarians. But what does that matter? It fulfills its intention. Anyone who still has a lingering dislike of this frankly partisan type of history is under the influence of an opposite ideal. He would prefer an impartial record of facts. But this ideal standard by which he condemns the party history does not exist. True, there has been a school of scholars who definitely took it as their ideal — the modern Cambridge historians. But I remember the late Dr. Emil Reich telling me that the greatest triumph of his life took place in a room at Cambridge, when, after an argument on this very subject, he was able to take down from the bookshelves a well-known Jesuit history of the Elizabethan persecutions which contained nothing but facts, no biased comment or theory, but which, at the same time, produces an extreme anti-Protestant effect. According to his own account, this entirely silenced them.

No, the whole thing is impossible. No history can be a faithful mirror. If it were, it would be as long and as dull as life itself. It must be a selection, and, being a selection, must inevitably be biased. Personally, I don’t regard this as a disagreeable necessity; I like the idea. After all, who would care an atom about the past were it not a reservoir of illustrations to back up his own social theories and prejudices? For purposes of political argument, I myself specialize in the history of the 4th century, for no casual opponent knows enough to contradict me. If I rashly illustrated them from the French Revolution, everyone can remember enough facts to back the opposite view.

Originally published in the Commentator, Feb. 22, 1911; March 1, 1911; March 8, 1911.

T.E. Hulme (1883-1917) was an English poet and critic whose books include Speculations: Essays on Humanism and the Philosophy of Art and Notes on Language and Style.

T. E. Hulme: The First Conservative of the Twentieth Century

T. E. Hulme: The First Conservative of the Twentieth Century

Ex: http://www.imaginativeconservative.org/

[significantly modified and expanded from a previous post at STORMFIELDS]

History should never have forgotten T.E. Hulme, and we would do well to remember him and what he wrote. Indeed, the German shell that took his life in the early autumn of 1917 might have changed a considerable part of the twentieth century by removing Hulme from it. Our whole “Time of Troubles” as Kirk defined it, might have been attenuated by the presence, personality, and witness of this man.

Eliot, certainly one of the greatest of twentieth-century men, understood the importance of Hulme in 1924. Eliot saw him as the new man—the twentieth-century man. In April 1924, he wrote: “When Hulme was killed in Flanders in 1917 . . . he was known to a few people as a brilliant talker, a brilliant amateur of metaphysics, and the author of two or three of the most beautiful short poems in the language. In this volume [the posthumous Speculations, edited by Herbert Read] he appears as the forerunner of a new attitude of mind, which should be the twentieth-century mind, if the twentieth century is to have a mind of its own.”

Hulme is, Eliot continued, “classical, reactionary, and revolutionary; he is the antipodes of the eclectic, tolerant, and democratic mind of the end of the last century . . . . A new classical age will be reached when the dogma. . . of the critic is so modified by contact with creative writing, and when the creative writers are so permeated by the new dogma, that a state of equilibrium is reached. For what is meant by a classical moment in literature is surely a moment of stasis, when the creative impulse finds a form which satisfies the best intellect of the time, a moment when a type is produced.”

Eliot continued to praise Hulme in his private letters. In one, he stated bluntly to Allen Tate, “Hulme has influenced me enormously.” In another, Eliot claimed Hulme to be “the most remarkable theologian of my generation.”

Historian Christopher Dawson believed that Hulme, almost alone in his generation, understood the dangers of progressivism: “The essentially transitory character of the humanist culture has been obscured by the dominance of the belief in Progress and by the shallow and dogmatic optimism which characterized nineteenth-century Liberalism. It was only an exceptionally original mind, like that of the late T.E. Hulme, that could free itself from the influence of Liberal dogma and recognize the sign of the times—the passing of the ideals that had dominated European civilization for four centuries, and the dawn of a new order.”

In hindsight, the praise of such magnitude from both Eliot and Dawson should give any twenty-first century conservative pause. Who was this man who profoundly shaped the thought of two of the most recognized conservatives of the last century. Unfortunately, the name of “Hulme” no longer rolls off the tongue when we think or our lineage. We might think: Godkin, Babbitt, More, Nock, Eliot, Dawson, Kirk . . . . But, rarely does a conservative mention the name of Hulme.

Yet, at one time, few would have questioned his shaping of a movement.

In 1948, the Jesuit periodical, America, proclaimed Hulme as the model—mostly in thought, if not in person—for a literary revival. The English poet offered a “charter,” as the author put it, of Catholic arts and literature.

A writer in the New York Times in 1960 summed up Hulme’s influence nicely: “T.E. Hulme had modified the consciousness of his age in such a way that by 1939 his name had become part of a myth.”

It is a myth that we—those of us writing and reading the Imaginative Conservative, Ignatius Insight Scoop, Front Porch Republic, Pileus, etc.—would do well to revive.

Hulme, from all accounts, possessed a rather powerful personality, able to form communities of thought and art around himself. As just mentioned, he might well serve as a model for our own conservatism as we think about rebuilding what two decades have torn apart in terms of our coherence as an intellectual movement and what centuries have deconstructed in terms of culture and the rise of Leviathan and Demos.

If Hulme is remembered, he’s best remembered as a poet of influence. Most credit Hulme with founding Imagist poetry.

Imagism, as our own John Willson has argued, connected the horizon and the sky, the vertical and horizontal, time and eternity.

F.S. Flint, a companion of Hulme’s, remembered the creation of the Imagist movement in 1908, in the May 1, 1915, issue of THE EGOIST:

“SOMEWHERE in the gloom of the year 1908, Mr. T. E. Hulme, now in the trenches of Ypres, but excited then by the propinquity, at a half-a-crown dance, of the other sex (if, as Remy de Gounnont avers, the passage from the aesthetic to the sexual emotion. . . the reverse is surely also true), proposed to a companion that they should found a Poets' Club. The thing was done, there and then. The Club began to dine; and its members to read their verses. At the end of the year they published a small plaquette of them, called For Christmas MDCCCCVIII.”

Hulme’s poem “Autumn” appeared.

“A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.”

While this poem doesn’t strike me as anything profound in terms of its theme (though, maybe I’ve not spent enough time with it), I can readily see its influence on the work of Eliot. Could Eliot have produced The Wasteland, The Hollow Men, or the Four Quartets without the influence of Hulme and the school of poetry he founded? The Four Quartets is arguably the greatest work of art of the twentieth century. If for no other reason, I’m truly thankful Hulme contributed what he did simply in offering this new form of poetry.

Like Eliot, Hulme adopted and accepted modernist forms of art while rejecting the meaning and essence of modernity. In one of his most powerful essays, defining the nature of humanism, properly understood, Hulme argued that all scholarship and art must begin with the premise (fact) of original sin. “What is important, is what nobody seems to realise--the dogmas like that of Original Sin, which are the closest expression of the categories of the religious attitude. That man is in no sense perfect but a wretched creature who can yet apprehend perfection.”

Rousseauvian/enlightenment thinking had moved society away from understanding this fundamental truth of the human person. As Hulme saw it, Rousseauvianism is a “heresy, a mistaken adoption of false conceptions.” By focusing on feelings and individual desires and blind lusts (and glorifying them) it attempts to allow man to become a God—and, as a result, “creates a bastard conception of Personality.”

The human person only overcomes his depravity though heroic virtue, Hulme argued: “From the pessimistic conception of man comes naturally the heroic task requiring heroic qualities. . . virtues which are not likely to flourish on the soil of a rational and skeptical ethic. This regeneration can, on the contrary, only be brought about and only be maintained by actions springing from an ethic which from the narrow rationalist standpoint is irrational being not relative, but absolute.”

When Hulme received a commission in the British Army during the Great War, he embraced what he had preached, and he gave his life as a patriot of western civilization.
Even in the trenches, before his death, Hulme continued to shape his contemporaries. “In all this [group of poets] Hulme was ringleader. He insisted too on absolutely accurate presentation and no verbiage; and he and F. W. Tancred, a poet too little known, perhaps because his production is precious and small, used to spend hours each day in the search for the right phrase. Tancred does it still; while Hulme reads German philosophy in the trenches, waiting for the general advance.” [EGOIST, May 1, 1915]

Critically, Hulme published a series of war notes from France. In one, he attempted to explain to the liberals that their version of history rested on dubious assumptions.

“Similarly our Liberal friends may be reminded that the lines now making a map of Europe are the result in every instance of local circumstances governable by men; and as they were determined by men they can be changed by men. Europe, in short, is a creation, not a blind evolutionary product; and nothing connected with its mental features is any more fixed than the present relations, as expressed in the trench-lines, between the Allies and the enemy.

Another prevalent Liberal assumption, hostile to a proper appreciation of the significance of the war, is that progress is both inevitable and of necessity in one direction. That change, like the girl in the play, may of itself or by the intention of those who bring it about, take the wrong turning seems never to enter the heads of some of our most popular doctrinaires. All that is not Liberal in Europe or elsewhere is in their opinion not even fundamentally anti-Liberal or other-than-Liberal,—it is merely an arrested development of an evolution which in any case must needs be Liberal in the end, or a reaction against, but still upon the line of Liberalism. This, I need not say after stating it, is not only an error, but a particularly insular error. In the first place, evolution in our sense of the word—that is, evolution towards democracy—is not only not inevitable, but it is the most precarious, difficult and exigent task political man has ever conceived. And, in the second place, far from it being the predestined path of every nation and race, only one or two nations have attempted to pursue it, while the rest deliberately and even, we might say, intelligently, pursue another path altogether as if that were progress, and are thus sincerely hostile to our own.” [Quoted from Karen Csengeri, ed., THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF T.E. HULME (1994), 333]

If only Hulme’s mind—per Eliot’s wishful thinking in 1924—had become the “twentieth-century mind.” We might very well have avoided a “progressive” world immersed in ideological terror on one side and in flabby citizens demanding unearned health care and subsidies for big businesses (so-called stimulus packages) on the other.


dimanche, 02 décembre 2012

Wyndham Lewis: Radical for the Permanent Things

Wyndham Lewis: Radical for the Permanent Things
by Stephen Masty
Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), dead for more than half a century, may still take celestial delight in remaining so frustrating: he certainly tried hard enough.
Firstly, his enormous breadth of talent overwhelms today’s overly-specialised critics in their imposed pigeon-holes: some still call him England’s greatest Twentieth Century portraitist and draughtsman, his substantial shelf of novels could keep another league of critics busy, and his volumes of social criticism a third. Next, nobody could be so marvellously abrasive without lots of practice, so whomever you adore from the first half of the Twentieth Century, Lewis said something snarky about him at least twice. Lastly, he had an almost magnetic attraction to being politically-incorrect, giving any sniffy modern who has not read Lewis a good excuse to dismiss him out of hand. So he is largely ignored: a big mistake.
When Lewis is recalled apart from his paintings it is usually for his invective. In one book, he devoted a whole chapter called “The Dumb Ox” to Ernest Hemingway, who went berserk after reading it in the famous Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris, smashed a vase and ended up paying thousands of francs (but he got even and described Lewis as having the eyes of “an unsuccessful rapist”). Virginia Wolfe was scared to show her face in Oxford or Cambridge, the students were so impressed by the drubbing she got from Lewis. James Joyce’s “Ulysses” he described as “a suffocating moeotic expanse of objects” that would remain among the canons of literature, “eternally cathartic, a monument like a record diarrhoea” (if I go “halves” will anyone help get this carved in stone?).
While his best friends, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, called Lewis, respectively, “the only English writer who can be compared to Dostoevsky,” and “the most distinguished living novelist,” he said the former lacked even “a trace of originality,” and accused the latter of “dogmatic insincerity.” However the context is lost to me, they remained friends nevertheless, and this entertaining gossip is still only the “People Magazine” of literary criticism, a nutrition-free distraction.
The man who taught Marshall McLuhan everything he knew about “the global village” (except for the phrase itself), Wyndham Lewis remains desperately timely in his critiques of the youth-cult and its cultural effluvia, the treachery of capitalism, the paucity of well-manipulated bourgeois democracy, and above all the dumbing-down of Western culture and society. If by your friends we shall know ye, think of T. S. Eliot, Roy Campbell and Russell Kirk: in other words he was a conservative defender of The Permanent Things although an ultra-radical, avant-garde modernist, as contradictory as that sounds at first.
Born to an English mother and an American Civil War-hero father on a yacht off Nova Scotia, (Percy) Wyndham Lewis was later to write a novel in which, perhaps unique in literature, the heroine kills herself out of sheer hatred for Canada. Educated at Rugby School and The Slade School of Art, he painted and drew for several small groups attempting to forge Modernism out of the artsy-craftsy movements of the late Victorian era, culminating in Vorticism.
The Vorticists, England’s first indigenous avant-garde movement, were captivated by Cubism and were among the earliest to embrace abstraction, often with industrial themes. Vorticism rebelled against a populist fin-de-siècle fashion for the feminine, the floral and the facile but its thrusting and very masculine techno-optimism died in the trenches of the Great War along with some its talented members.
Its flat, mechanistic images were fine teething-material for Lewis’s draughtsman’s eye and unerring hand, and Vorticism proved a good marketing platform for the ambitious young artist at a time when various Modernist movements seemed to run a dime a dozen: Cubism, Futurism, Tubism, Suprematism, Expressionism, Verismus (may I stop now?) all trying to cram art into an ideological suitcase that was, of course, fully branded, wholly marketable and potentially lucrative. Ultimately, after a stint as an artilleryman, Lewis returned home and moved on, while Vorticism became what veteran art-critic Brian Sewell calls “in the history of western art, no more than a hapless rowing-boat between Cubism and Futurism, the Scylla and Charybdis of the day.”
Vorticism’s inspirations had been far from only graphic and Lewis developed them into a more coherent and visceral rejection of perceived decadence, with antecedents including Hegel and Nietzsche: the former in a belief that art is generated by a conflict resembling the dialectic, differing little from Eliot’s more sophisticated assertion that art progresses through clash but may achieve union, through tradition, with the timeless. Influenced by the latter, Lewis rejected the bourgeois effect on art, which today one might call “dumbing down.”

As Lewis began to write more and paint less, he looked beyond graphic art to see larger forces at work including science, united against individualism and excellence, and this separates him from futurist-utopians of the day such as H. G. Wells. He became, in effect, an anti-Modern Modernist, writing:
“The puritanical potentialities of science have never been forecast. If it evolves a body of organized rites, and is established as a religion hierarchically organized, things more than anything else will be done in the name of 'decency.' The coarse fumes of tobacco and liquors, the consequent tainting of the breath and staining of white fingers and teeth, which is so offensive to many women, will be the first things attended to.”
Russell Kirk described their mutual friend, the poet Roy Campbell, as “a hot hater” and Lewis fit the description to the letter, so his objections are often clearer than his beliefs. But Lewis was, fundamentally, a conservator of social dynamism in the same sense that Eliot believed that modern art could be well-applied to defend The Permanent Things.
Even then, the Left’s thus-far relentless Long March to Cultural Revolution identified modernist reforms only with revolution, chiefly through an overly-simplistic notion that new graphics or literary styles somehow had to go hand-in-hand with new, ideologically-driven systems. Hence the startling originality of Lewis on canvas, or Eliot in print, must have confounded Leftist aesthetes who perhaps rarely fathomed how modernism can be part of traditionalism. As both men knew, Western values and vigour are worth conserving, not the delivery-mechanisms.
Propelled by his excellent choice in enemies but still a child of his age, Lewis echoed Oscar Wilde in charging Revolution with the high-crime of being a bore:
“Revolutionary politics, revolutionary art, and oh, the revolutionary mind, is the dullest thing on earth. When we open a ''revolutionary'' review, or read a ''revolutionary'' speech, we yawn our heads off. It is true, there is nothing else. Everything is correctly, monotonously, dishearteningly ''revolutionary'.' What a stupid word! What a stale fuss!”
Yet Lewis, in his diagnostic skills a political sophisticate, saw revolution as a mere con-job by ruling elites, part of the intentional process of dumbing-down that strengthened control. He wrote:
“A sort of war of revenge on the intellect is what, for some reason, thrives in the contemporary social atmosphere...The ideas of a time are like the clothes of a season: they are as arbitrary, as much imposed by some superior will which is seldom explicit. They are utilitarian and political, the instruments of smooth-running government.”
Lewis would have regarded today’s simplified political bifurcation, so essentially American, as hopelessly naive: Capitalism good, Socialism bad. He complained that, “In the democratic western countries so-called capitalism leads a saturnalia of 'freedom,' like a bastard brother of reform.” He deplored:

“a new familiarity and a flesh-creeping homeliness entirely of this unreal, materialistic world, where all sentiment is coarsely manufactured and advertised in colossal sickly captions, disguised for the sweet tooth of a monstrous baby called the Public, the family as it is, broken up on all hands by the agency of feminist and economic propaganda, reconstitutes itself in the image of the state."

The forces of feminisation, homogenisation and dumbing-down were many, while true artists manned the last barricade. Whether by cheap products, cheap art or cheap politics, the herd was stampeded by its clever masters, chiefly under the banner of equality:
“The intelligence suffers today automatically in consequence of the attack on all authority, advantage, or privilege. These things are not done away with, it is needless to say, but numerous scapegoats are made of the less politically powerful, to satisfy the egalitarian rage awakened.”
Lewis flirted briefly with Italian Fascism as a means of redirecting society away from self-centred decadence, but soon found that Mussolini’s vainglorious strutting and attempting to replicate Roman glory were retrograde, backward-looking. Briefly in the early 1930s, he thought that Hitler might be a force for peace and cultural reinvigoration but he denounced Nazism in one book and Anti-Semitism in another, even though years before he had fictionalised Jewish characters unflatteringly. The twin verdicts may be that, as so many others, he entertained views now wholly and happily anathema, but he never feared to reverse himself honourably; a better record than many of his adversaries who pimped for Stalin until much later or unto the bitter end.
Meanwhile, Lewis had a remarkable gift for seeing far down the socio-ideological train-track.
In his 1928 “The Doom of Youth,” he described a cult that plagues us yet. A society that destroys faith in the hereafter can live only for earthly life, taking refuge from death in an unnatural fixation with youth and protracted adolescence; hence maintaining the appearance of youth until it becomes ludicrous. Since real youths lack experience, achievements and contacts, “official” public youths will be older and older. Politicians, he predicted, will jump onboard with bogus youth-wings, nevertheless controlled by middle-aged party-apparatchiks; presupposing the Hitler Youth Movement and even the fat, balding and comically-inept, 50-year-old, KGB “youth representatives” sent to international youth conferences to mingle with real Western and Third World teenagers into the 1980s. On to then-trendy monkey-gland treatments, more complicated cosmetics and foundation-garments, real and fake exercise regimens and the rest, until nowadays where in any Florida geriatric home (“God’s waiting-room,” my dad calls it) are toothless, pathetic wrecks hobbling around dressed as toddlers.
Lewis was by no means a systematic philosopher, he was an artist; but his draughtsmanship alone can imply an insistence on precision in thought. Taking art seriously, he saw creativity as a moment of intense thought looking ahead and essentially prescriptive, creating something needed and new yet influenced by tradition.
In his 1927 “Time and Western Man,” he attacked a decadent and romanticised aesthetic that sapped modern creativity of its forward-looking dynamism. Yale critic Kirsty Dootson explains Lewis and:
“...the 'time-cult,' which he perceived to be the dominant philosophy of the early twentieth century promulgated by Henri Bergson...and practised by authors such as James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. Lewis condemned the demonising of 'space' due to the rise of the 'time-mind' as, for him, Bergsonian time stood for all that is degenerate in art: flux, change, romanticism, the crowd and the unconscious, whereas space represents all that is desirable: stability, fixity, classicism, the individual and consciousness...The former separates us and keeps us still, while the latter binds us all together and keeps us constantly moving.”
Time can be a muddle and a cul-de-sac: is the child the father of the man?  The focus turns inward to the self, its influences, conflicts and reactions, and can lead to navel-gazing, solipsism, inertia and paralysis. Space describes the road ahead, even though the artist travels with the essential baggage of values, culture and tradition that influence his every act.
Lewis’s friend Roy Campbell, says Professor Roger Scruton, “began to see the three aspects of the new elite—sexual inversion, anti-patriotism, and progressive politics—as aspects of a single frame of mind. These three qualities amounted, for Campbell, to a refusal to grow up.” For Lewis, the time-cult enabled the process.
A prescient collaboration between Lewis and Campbell resulted in “Satire and Fiction,” a 1930 pamphlet promoting the former’s savage, satirical novel “The Apes of God.” There the authors argue that satire becomes impossible in a rootless age lacking normative behaviour, for satire mocks things against an unstated but presumed cultural norm: Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” would not have succeeded satirically had Georgian Englishmen actually approved of eating Irish babies. Without shared values, satire cannot function: forty-two years later, Terry Southern remarked belatedly that satire became impossible after Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the same decade Lewis returned to painting, establishing his reputation as being perhaps England’s greatest portraitist of the last century. Walter Sickert put him in an even bigger league as “the greatest portraitist of this or any other time.”
Critics attempt to analyse his ingredients of success, some saying that his draughtsman’s attention to detail, or his hybrid of portraiture and caricature, provided the impact. It may be something different augmented enormously by his technical mastery, namely his rare ability to perceive essences of character in those whom he portrayed. The sense of melancholy in his portrait of Eliot, so callously overlooked by the Royal Academy in 1938, is sometimes said to be modern Britain’s finest portrait. Or his picture of the aristocratic and aquiline Edith Sitwell in a cold room, wearing a vast turban and surrounded by her old books, is another example of many. The sparse sketch of a handsome and oddly lissome, young Roy Campbell, drawn with the disciplined, concise lines of a Japanese master of sumi-e brushwork, is one more.
Russell Kirk met Lewis in London circa 1950-1951, living in a condemned flat in Notting Hill that the artist referred to wryly as “Rotting Hill.” He soon gave up his job as art-critic for The Listener (clever it was, uniting his graphic-eye and writing skills for a radio-review magazine) because he began to go blind due to a pituitary tumour. Dr. Kirk memorialised him in a chapter of “Confessions of a Bohemian Tory,” recalling that the old lion feared sightlessness slamming shut a door that would nevermore be opened.
Lewis died in 1957, within a few months of his friend Roy Campbell who was 19 years his junior, and almost eight years before T. S. Eliot. Lewis was long interested in Catholicism but never converted, and his ashes are buried in London’s Golders Green Cemetery.
Besides his startling graphic talent and his socio-political prescience, Lewis deserves the attention of Imaginative Conservatives by blasting the still-prevalent notion that modern art needs be the private preserve of the Leftist, the revolutionary, the meddler and the moon-calf. He lived what he preached with relentless vigour, and in that sense his portrait-bust sits comfortably beside that of T. S. Eliot: two radical-conservatives, modernist-traditionalists and indefatigable champions of The Permanent Things.
Stephen Masty lives in Kabul and London.

Eliot, Pound, and Lewis: A Creative Friendship

Eliot, Pound, and Lewis: A Creative Friendship


It may be a source of some pride to those of us fated to live out our lives as Americans that the three men who probably had the greatest influence on English literature in our century were all born on this side of the Atlantic. One of them, Wyndham Lewis, to be sure, was born on a yacht anchored in a harbor in Nova Scotia, but his father was an American, served as an officer in the Union Army in the Civil War, and came from a family that has been established here for many generations. The other two were as American in background and education as it is possible to be. Our pride at having produced men of such high achievement should be considered against the fact that all three spent their creative lives in Europe. For Wyndham Lewis the decision was made for him by his mother, who hustled him off to Europe at the age of ten, but he chose to remain in Europe, and to study in Paris rather than to accept the invitation of his father to go to Cornell, and except for an enforced stay in Canada during World War II, spent his life in Europe. The other two, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, went to Europe as young men out of college, and it was a part of European, not American, cultural life that they made their contribution to literature. Lewis was a European in training, attitude and point of view, but Pound and Eliot were Americans, and Pound, particularly, remained aggressively American; whether living in London or Italy his interest in American affairs never waned.

The lives and achievements of these three men were closely connected. They met as young men, each was influenced and helped by the other two, and they remained friends, in spite of occasional differences, for the rest of their lives. Many will remember the picture in Time of Pound as a very old man attending the memorial service in Westminster Abbey in 1965 for T.S. Eliot. When Lewis, who had gone blind, was unable to read the proofs of his latest book, it was his old friend, T.S. Eliot who did it for him, and when Pound was confined in St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, Eliot and Lewis always kept in close touch with him, and it was at least partly through Eliot’s influence that he was finally released. The lives and association of these three men, whose careers started almost at the same time shortly before World War I are an integral part of the literary and cultural history of this century.

The careers of all three may be said, in a certain way, to have been launched by the publication of Lewis’ magazine Blast. Both Lewis and Pound had been published before and had made something of a name for themselves in artistic and literary circles in London, but it was the publication in June, 1914, of the first issue of Blast that put them, so to speak, in the center of the stage. The first Blast contained 160 pages of text, was well printed on heavy paper, its format large, the typography extravagant, and its cover purple. It contained illustrations, many by Lewis, stories by Rebecca West and Ford Maddox Ford, poetry by Pound and others, but it is chiefly remembered for its “Blasts” and “Blesses” and its manifestos. It was in this first issue of Blast that “vorticism,” the new art form, was announced, the name having been invented by Pound. Vorticism was supposed to express the idea that art should represent the present, at rest, and at the greatest concentration of energy, between past and future. “There is no Present – there is Past and Future, and there is Art,” was a vorticist slogan. English humour and its “first cousin and accomplice, sport” were blasted, as were “sentimental hygienics,” Victorian liberalism, the Royal Academy, the Britannic aesthete; Blesses were reserved for the seafarer, the great ports, for Shakespeare “for his bitter Northern rhetoric of humour” and Swift “for his solemn, bleak wisdom of laughter”; a special bless, as if in anticipation of our hairy age, was granted the hairdresser. Its purpose, Lewis wrote many years later, was to exalt “formality and order, at the expense of the disorderly and the unkempt. It is merely a humorous way,” he went on to say, “of stating the classic standpoint as against the romantic.”

The second, and last, issue of Blast appeared in July, 1915, by which time Lewis was serving in the British army. This issue again contained essays, notes and editorial comments by Lewis and poetry by Pound, but displayed little of the youthful exuberance of the first – the editors and contributors were too much aware of the suicidal bloodletting taking place in the trenches of Flanders and France for that. The second issue, for example, contained, as did the first, a contribution by the gifted young sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska, together with the announcement that he had been killed while serving in the French army.

Between the two issues of Blast, Eliot had arrived in London via Marburg and Oxford, where he had been studying for a degree in philosophy. He met Pound soon after his arrival, and through Pound, Wyndham Lewis. Eliot’s meeting of Pound, who promptly took him under his wing, had two immediate consequences – the publication in Chicago of Prufrock in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine, and the appearance of two other poems a month or two later in Blast. The two issues of Blast established Lewis as a major figure: as a brilliant polemicist and a critic of the basic assumptions and intellectual position of his time, two roles he was never to surrender. Pound had played an important role in Blast, but Lewis was the moving force. Eliot’s role as a contributor of two poems to the second issue was relatively minor, but the enterprise brought them together, and established an association and identified them with a position in the intellectual life of their time which was undoubtedly an important factor in the development and achievement of all three.

Lewis was born in 1882 on a yacht, as was mentioned before, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Pound was born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho, and Eliot in 1888 in St. Louis. Lewis was brought up in England by his mother, who had separated from his father, was sent to various schools, the last one Rugby, from which he was dropped, spent several years at an art school in London, the Slade, and then went to the continent, spending most of the time in Paris where he studied art, philosophy under Bergson and others, talked, painted and wrote. He returned to England to stay in 1909. It was in the following year that he first met Ezra Pound, in the Vienna Cafe in London. Pound, he wrote many years later, didn’t greatly appeal to him at first – he seemed overly sure of himself and not a little presumptuous. His first impression, he said, was of “a bombastic galleon, palpably bound to or from, the Spanish Main,” but, he discovered, “beneath its skull and cross-bones, intertwined with fleur de lis and spattered with star-spangled oddities, a heart of gold.” As Lewis became better acquainted with Pound he found, as he wrote many years later, that “this theatrical fellow was one of the best.” And he went on to say, “I still regard him as one of the best, even one of the best poets.”

By the time of this meeting, Lewis was making a name for himself, not only as a writer, but also an artist. He had exhibited in London with some success, and shortly before his meeting with Pound, Ford Maddox Ford had accepted a group of stories for publication in the English Review, stories he had written while still in France in which some of the ideas appeared which he was to develop in the more than forty books that were to follow.

But how did Ezra Pound, this young American poet who was born in Hailey, Idaho, and looked, according to Lewis, like an “acclimatized Buffalo Bill,” happen to be in the Vienna Cafe in London in 1910, and what was he doing there? The influence of Idaho, it must be said at once, was slight, since Pound’s family had taken him at an early age to Philadelphia, where his father was employed as an assayer in the U.S. mint. The family lived first in West Philadelphia, then in Jenkintown, and when Ezra was about six bought a comfortable house in Wyncote, where he grew up. He received good training in private schools, and a considerable proficiency in Latin, which enabled him to enter the University of Pennsylvania shortly before reaching the age of sixteen. It was at this time, he was to write some twenty years later, that he made up his mind to become a poet. He decided at that early age that by the time he was thirty he would know more about poetry than any man living. The poetic “impulse”, he said, came from the gods, but technique was man’s responsibility, and he was determined to master it. After two years at Pennsylvania, he transferred to Hamilton, from which he graduated with a Ph.B. two years later. His college years, in spite of his assertions to the contrary, must have been stimulating and developing – he received excellent training in languages, read widely and well, made some friends, including William Carlos Williams, and wrote poetry. After Hamilton he went back to Pennsylvania to do graduate work, where he studied Spanish literature, Old French, Provencal, and Italian. He was granted an M.A. by Pennsylvania in 1906 and a Fellowship in Romantics, which gave him enough money for a summer in Europe, part of which he spent studying in the British museum and part in Spain. The Prado made an especially strong impression on him – thirty years later he could still describe the pictures in the main gallery and recall the exact order in which they were hung. He left the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, gave up the idea of a doctorate, and after one semester teaching at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, went to Europe, to return to his native land only for longer or shorter visits, except for the thirteen years he was confined in St. Elizabeth’s in Washington.

Pound’s short stay at Wabash College was something of a disaster – he found Crawfordsville, Indiana, confining and dull, and Crawfordsville, in 1907, found it difficult to adjust itself to a Professor of Romance Languages who wore a black velvet jacket, a soft-collared shirt, flowing bow tie, patent leather pumps, carried a malacca cane, and drank rum in his tea. The crisis came when he allowed a stranded chorus girl he had found in a snow storm to sleep in his room. It was all quite innocent, he insisted, but Wabash didn’t care for his “bohemian ways,” as the President put it, and was glad for the excuse to be rid of him. He wrote some good poetry while at Wabash and made some friends, but was not sorry to leave, and was soon on his way to Europe, arriving in Venice, which he had visited before, with just eighty dollars.

While in Venice he arranged to have a group of his poems printed under the title A Lume Spento. This was in his preparation for his assault on London, since he believed, quite correctly, that a poet would make more of an impression with a printed book of his poetry under his arm than some pages of an unpublished manuscript. He stayed long enough in Venice to recover from the disaster of Wabash and to gather strength and inspiration for the next step, London, where he arrived with nothing more than confidence in himself, three pounds, and the copies of his book of poems. He soon arranged to give a series of lectures at the Polytechnic on the Literature of Southern Europe, which gave him a little money, and to have the Evening Standard review his book of poetry, the review ending with the sentence, “The unseizable magic of poetry is in this queer paper volume, and words are no good in describing it.” He managed to induce Elkin Mathews to publish another small collection, the first printing of which was one hundred copies and soon sold out, then a larger collection, Personae, the Polytechnic engaged him for a more ambitious series of lectures, and he began to meet people in literary circles, including T.E. Hulme, John Butler Yeats, and Ford Maddox Ford, who published his “Ballad of the Goodley Fere” in the English Review. His book on medieval Latin poetry, The Spirit of Romance, which is still in print, was published by Dent in 1910. The Introduction to this book contains the characteristic line, “The history of an art is the history of masterworks, not of failures or of mediocrity.” By the time the first meeting with Wyndham Lewis took place in the Vienna Cafe, then, which was only two years after Pound’s rather inauspicious arrival in London, he was, at the age of 26, known to some as a poet and had become a man of some standing.

It was Pound, the discoverer of talent, the literary impresario, as I have said, who brought Eliot and Lewis together. Eliot’s path to London was as circuitous as Pound’s, but, as one might expect, less dramatic. Instead of Crawfordsville, Indiana, Eliot had spent a year at the Sorbonne after a year of graduate work at Harvard, and was studying philosophy at the University of Marburg with the intention of obtaining a Harvard Ph.D. and becoming a professor, as one of his teachers at Harvard, Josiah Royce, had encouraged him to do, but the war intervened, and he went to Oxford. Conrad Aiken, one of his closest friends at Harvard, had tried earlier, unsuccessfully, to place several of Eliot’s poems with an English publisher, had met Pound, and had given Eliot a latter of introduction to him. The result of that first meeting with Pound are well known – Pound wrote instantly to Harriet Monroe in Chicago, for whose new magazine, Poetry, he had more or less been made European editor, as follows: “An American called Eliot called this P.M. I think he has some sense tho’ he has not yet sent me any verse.” A few weeks later Eliot, while still at Oxford, sent him the manuscript of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Pound was ecstatic, and immediately transmitted his enthusiasm to Miss Monroe. It was he said, “the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American. Pray God it be not a single and unique success.” Eliot, Pound went on to say, was “the only American I know of who has made an adequate preparation for writing. He has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own.” Pound sent Prufrock to Miss Monroe in October, 1914, with the words, “The most interesting contribution I’ve had from an American. P.S. Hope you’ll get it in soon.” Miss Monroe had her own ideas – Prufrock was not the sort of poetry she thought young Americans should be writing; she much preferred Vachel Lindsey, whose The Firemen’s Ball she had published in the June issue. Pound, however, was not to be put off; letter followed importuning letter, until she finally surrendered and in the June, 1915, issue of Poetry, now a collector’s item of considerable value, the poem appeared which begins:

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table …

It was not, needless to say, to be the “single and unique success” Pound had feared, but the beginning of one of the great literary careers of this century. The following month the two poems appeared in Blast. Eliot had written little or nothing for almost three years. The warm approval and stimulation of Pound plus, no doubt, the prospect of publication, encouraged him to go on. In October Poetry published three more new poems, and later in the year Pound arranged to have Elkin Matthews, who had published his two books of poetry to bring out a collection which he edited and called The Catholic Anthology which contained the poems that had appeared in Poetry and one of the two from Blast. The principal reason for the whole anthology, Pound remarked, “was to get sixteen pages of Eliot printed in England.”

If all had gone according to plan and his family’s wishes, Eliot would have returned to Harvard, obtained his Ph.D., and become a professor. He did finish his thesis – “To please his parents,” according to his second wife, Valerie Eliot, but dreaded the prospect of a return to Harvard. It didn’t require much encouragement from Pound, therefore, to induce him to stay in England – it was Pound, according to his biographer Noel Stock “who saved Eliot for poetry.” Eliot left Oxford at the end of the term in June, 1915, having in the meantime married Vivien Haigh-Wood. That Fall he took a job as a teacher in a boy’s school at a salary of £140 a year, with dinner. He supplemented his salary by book reviewing and occasional lectures, but it was an unproductive, difficult period for him, his financial problems increased by the illness of his wife. After two years of teaching he took a position in a branch of Lloyd’s bank in London, hoping that this would give him sufficient income to live on, some leisure for poetry, and a pension for his wife should she outlive him. Pound at this period fared better than Eliot – he wrote music criticism for a magazine, had some income from other writing and editorial projects, which was supplemented by the small income of his wife, Dorothy Shakespear and occasional checks from his father. He also enjoyed a more robust constitution that Eliot, who eventually broke down under the strain and was forced, in 1921, to take a rest cure in Switzerland. It was during this three-month stay in Switzerland that he finished the first draft of The Waste Land, which he immediately brought to Pound. Two years before, Pound had taken Eliot on a walking tour in France to restore his health, and besides getting Eliot published, was trying to raise a fund to give him a regular source of income, a project he called “Bel Esprit.” In a latter to John Quinn, the New York lawyer who used his money, perceptive critical judgment and influence to help writers and artists, Pound, referring to Eliot, wrote, “It is a crime against literature to let him waste eight hours vitality per diem in that bank.” Quinn agreed to subscribe to the fund, but it became a source of embarrassment to Eliot who put a stop to it.

The Waste Land marked the high point of Eliot’s literary collaboration with Pound. By the time Eliot had brought him the first draft of the poem, Pound was living in Paris, having left London, he said, because “the decay of the British Empire was too depressing a spectacle to witness at close range.” Pound made numerous suggestions for changes, consisting largely of cuts and rearrangements. In a latter to Eliot explaining one deletion he wrote, “That is 19 pages, and let us say the longest poem in the English langwidge. Don’t try to bust all records by prolonging it three pages further.” A recent critic described the processes as one of pulling “a masterpiece out of a grabbag of brilliant material”; Pound himself described his participation as a “Caesarian operation.” However described, Eliot was profoundly grateful, and made no secret of Pound’s help. In his characteristically generous way, Eliot gave the original manuscript to Quinn, both as a token for the encouragement Quinn had given to him, and for the further reason, as he put it in a letter to Quinn, “that this manuscript is worth preserving in its present form solely for the reason that it is the only evidence of the difference which his [Pound’s] criticism has made to the poem.” For years the manuscript was thought to have been lost, but it was recently found among Quinn’s papers which the New York Public Library acquired some years after his death, and now available in a facsimile edition.

The first publication of The Waste Land was in the first issue of Eliot’s magazine Criterion, October, 1922. The following month it appeared in New York in The Dial. Quinn arranged for its publication in book form by Boni and Liveright, who brought it out in November. The first printing of one thousand was soon sold out, and Eliot was given the Dial award of the two thousand dollars. Many were puzzled by The Waste Land, one reviewer even thought that Mr. Eliot might be putting over a hoax, but Pound was not alone in recognizing that in his ability to capture the essence of the human condition in the circumstances of the time, Eliot had shown himself, in The Waste Land, to be a poet. To say that the poem is merely a reflection of Eliot’s unhappy first marriage, his financial worries and nervous breakdown is far too superficial. The poem is a reflection, not of Eliot, but of the aimlessness, disjointedness, sordidness of contemporary life. In itself, it is in no way sick or decadent; it is a wonderfully evocative picture of the situation of man in the world as it is. Another poet, Kathleen Raine, writing many years after the first publication of The Waste Land on the meaning of Eliot’s early poetry to her generation, said it

…enabled us to know our generation imaginatively. All those who have lived in the Waste Land of London can, I suppose, remember the particular occasion on which, reading T.S. Eliot’s poems for the first time, an experience of the contemporary world that had been nameless and formless received its apotheosis.

Eliot sent one of the first copies he received of the Boni and Liveright edition to Ezra Pound with the inscription “for E.P. miglior fabbro from T.S.E. Jan. 1923.” His first volume of collected poetry was dedicated to Pound with the same inscription, which came from Dante and means, “the better marker.” Explaining this dedication Eliot wrote in 1938:

I wished at that moment to honour the technical mastery and critical ability manifest in [Pound’s] . . . work, which had also done so much to turn The Waste Land from a jumble of good and bad passages into a poem.

Pound and Eliot remained in touch with each other – Pound contributed frequently to the Criterion, and Eliot, through his position at Faber and Faber, saw many of Pounds’ books through publication and himself selected and edited a collection of Pound’s poetry, but there was never again that close collaboration which had characterized their association from their first meeting in London in 1914 to the publication of The Waste Land in the form given it by Pound in 1922.

As has already been mentioned, Pound left London in 1920 to go to Paris, where he stayed on until about 1924 – long enough for him to meet many people and for the force of his personality to make itself felt. He and his wife were frequent visitors to the famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Co. run by the young American Sylvia Beach, where Pound, among other things, made shelves, mended chairs, etc.; he also was active gathering subscriptions for James Joyces’ Ulysses when Miss Beach took over its publication. The following description by Wyndham Lewis of an encounter with Pound during the latter’s Paris days is worth repeating. Getting no answer after ringing the bell of Pound’s flat, Lewis walked in and discovered the following scene:

A splendidly built young man, stripped to the waist, and with a torso of dazzling white, was standing not far from me. He was tall, handsome and serene, and was repelling with his boxing gloves – I thought without undue exertion – a hectic assault of Ezra’s. After a final swing at the dazzling solar plexus (parried effortlessly by the trousered statue) Pound fell back upon the settee. The young man was Hemingway.

Pound, as is well known, took Hemingway in hand, went over his manuscripts, cut out superfluous words as was custom, and helped him find a publisher, a service he had performed while still in London for another young American, Robert Frost. In a letter to Pound, written in 1933, Hemingway acknowledged the help Pound had given him by saying that he had learned more about “how to write and how not to write” from him “than from any son of a bitch alive, and he always said so.”

When we last saw Lewis, except for his brief encounter with Pound and Hemingway wearing boxing gloves, he had just brought out the second issues of Blast and gone off to the war to end all war. He served for a time at the front in an artillery unit, and was then transferred to a group of artists who were supposed to devote their time to painting and drawing “the scene of war,” as Lewis put it, a scheme which had been devised by Lord Beaverbrook, through whose intervention Lewis received the assignment. He hurriedly finished a novel, Tarr, which was published during the war, largely as a result of Pound’s intervention, in Harriet Shaw Weaver’s magazine The Egoist, and in book form after the war had ended. It attracted wide attention; Rebecca West, for example, called it “A beautiful and serious work of art that reminds one of Dostoevsky.” By the early twenties, Lewis, as the editor of Blast, the author of Tarr and a recognized artist was an established personality, but he was not then, and never became a part of the literary and artistic establishment, nor did he wish to be.

For the first four years following his return from the war and recovery from a serious illness that followed it little was heard from Lewis. He did bring out two issues of a new magazine, The Tyro, which contained contributions from T.S. Eliot, Herbert Read and himself, and contributed occasionally to the Criterion, but it was a period, for him, of semi-retirement from the scene of battle, which he devoted to perfecting his style as a painter and to study. It was followed by a torrent of creative activity – two important books on politics, The Art of Being Ruled (1926) and The Lion and the Fox (1927), a major philosophical work, Time and Western Man (1927), followed by a collection of stories, The Wild Body (1927) and the first part of a long novel, Childermass (1928). In 1928, he brought out a completely revised edition of his wartime novel Tarr, and if all this were not enough, he contributed occasionally to the Criterion, engaged in numerous controversies, painted and drew. In 1927 he founded another magazine, The Enemy, of which only three issues appeared, the last in 1929. Lewis, of course, was “the Enemy.” He wrote in the first issue:

The names we remember in European literature are those of men who satirised and attacked, rather than petted and fawned upon, their contemporaries. Only this time exacts an uncritical hypnotic sleep of all within it.

One of Lewis’ best and most characteristic books is Time and Western Man; it is in this book that he declared war, so to speak, on what he considered the dominant intellectual position of the twentieth century – the philosophy of time, the school of philosophy, as he described it, for which “time and change are the ultimate realities.” It is the position which regards everything as relative, all reality a function of time. “The Darwinian theory and all the background of nineteenth century thought was already behind it,” Lewis wrote, and further “scientific” confirmation was provided by Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is a position, in Lewis’ opinion, which is essentially romantic, “with all that word conveys in its most florid, unreal, inflated, self-deceiving connotation.”

The ultimate consequence of the time philosophy, Lewis argued, is the degradation of man. With its emphasis on change, man, the man of the present, living man for the philosophy of time ends up as little more than a minute link in the endless process of progressive evolution –lies not in what he is, but in what he as a species, not an individual, may become. As Lewis put it:

You, in imagination, are already cancelled by those who will perfect you in the mechanical time-scale that stretches out, always ascending, before us. What do you do and how you live has no worth in itself. You are an inferior, fatally, to all the future.

Against this rather depressing point of view, which deprives man of all individual worth, Lewis offers the sense of personality, “the most vivid and fundamental sense we possess,” as he describes it. It is this sense that makes man unique; it alone makes creative achievement possible. But the sense of personality, Lewis points out, is essentially one of separation, and to maintain such separation from others requires, he believes, a personal God. As he expressed it: “In our approaches to God, in consequence, we do not need to “magnify” a human body, but only to intensify that consciousness of a separated and transcendent life. So God becomes the supreme symbol of our separation and our limited transcendence….It is, then, because the sense of personality is posited as our greatest “real”, that we require a “God”, a something that is nothing but a person, secure in its absolute egoism, to be the rationale of this sense.”

It is exactly “our separation and our limited transcendence” that the time philosophy denies us; its God is not, in Lewis’ words “a perfection already existing, eternally there, of which we are humble shadows,” but a constantly emerging God, the perfection toward which man is thought to be constantly striving. Appealing as such a conception may on its surface appear to be, this God we supposedly attain by our strenuous efforts turns out to be a mocking God; “brought out into the daylight,” Lewis said, “it would no longer be anything more than a somewhat less idiotic you.”

In Time and Western Man Lewis publicly disassociated himself from Pound, Lewis having gained the erroneous impression, apparently, that Pound had become involved in a literary project of some kind with Gertrude Stein, whom Lewis hated with all the considerable passion of which he was capable. To Lewis, Gertrude Stein, with her “stuttering style” as he called it, was the epitomy of “time philosophy” in action. The following is quoted by Lewis is in another of his books, The Diabolical Principle, and comes from a magazine published in Paris in 1925 by the group around Gertrude Stein; it is quoted here to give the reader some idea of the reasons for Lewis’ strong feelings on the subject of Miss Stein:

If we have a warm feeling for both (the Superrealists) and the Communists, it is because the movements which they represent are aimed at the destruction of a thoroughly rotten structure … We are entertained intellectually, if not physically, with the idea of (the) destruction (of contemporary society). But … our interests are confined to literature and life … It is our purpose purely and simply to amuse ourselves.

The thought that Pound would have associated himself with a group expounding ideas on this level of irresponsibility would be enough to cause Lewis to write him off forever, but it wasn’t true; Pound had met Gertrude Stein once or twice during his stay in Paris, but didn’t get on with her, which isn’t at all surprising. Pound also didn’t particularly like Paris, and in 1924 moved to Rapallo, a small town on the Mediterranean a few miles south of Genoa, where he lived until his arrest by the American authorities at the end of World War II.

In an essay written for Eliot’s sixtieth birthday, Lewis had the following to say about the relationship between Pound and Eliot:

It is not secret that Ezra Pound exercised a very powerful influence upon Mr. Eliot. I do not have to define the nature of this influence, of course. Mr. Eliot was lifted out of his lunar alley-ways and fin de siecle nocturnes, into a massive region of verbal creation in contact with that astonishing didactic intelligence, that is all.

Lewis’ own relationship with Pound was of quite a different sort, but during the period from about 1910 to 1920, when Pound left London, was close, friendly, and doubtless stimulating to both. During Lewis’ service in the army, Pound looked after Lewis’ interests, arranged for the publication of his articles, tried to sell his drawings, they even collaborated in a series of essays, written in the form of letters, but Lewis, who in any case was inordinately suspicious, was quick to resent Pound’s propensity to literary management. After Pound settled in Rapallo they corresponded only occasionally, but in 1938, when Pound was in London, Lewis made a fine portrait of him, which hangs in the Tate Gallery. In spite of their occasional differences and the rather sharp attack on Pound in Time and Western Man, they remained friends, and Lewis’ essay for Eliot’s sixtieth birthday, which was written while Pound was still confined in St. Elizabeth’s, is devoted largely to Pound, to whom Lewis pays the following tribute:

So, for all his queerness at times–ham publicity of self, misreading of part of poet in society–in spite of anything that may be said Ezra is not only himself a great poet, but has been of the most amazing use to other people. Let it not be forgotten for instance that it was he who was responsible for the all-important  contact  for James  Joyce–namely  Miss Weaver. It was his critical understanding, his generosity, involved in the detection and appreciation of the literary genius of James  Joyce. It was through him that a very considerable sum of  money was put at Joyce’s disposal at the critical moment.

Lewis concludes his comments on Pound with the following:

He was a man of letters, in the marrow of his bones and down to the red rooted follicles of his hair. He breathed Letters, ate Letters, dreamt Letters. A very rare kind of man.

Two other encounters during his London period had a lasting influence on Pound’s thought and career–the Oriental scholar Ernest Fenollosa and Major Douglas, the founder of Social Credit. Pound met Douglas in 1918 in the office of The New Age, a magazine edited by Alfred H. Orage, and became an almost instant convert. From that  point on usury became an obsession with him, and the word “usurocracy,” which he used to denote a social system based on money and credit, an indispensable part of his vocabulary. Social Credit was doubtless not the panacea Pound considered it to be, but  that Major Douglas was entirely a fool seems doubtful too, if the following quotation from him is indicative of the quality of his thought:

I would .. make the suggestion … that the first requisite of a  satisfactory governmental system is  that it shall divest itself  of the idea that it has a mission to improve the morals or direct  the  philosophy of  any of  its constituent citizens.

Ernest Fenollosa was a distinguished Oriental scholar of American  origin who had spent  many years in Japan, studying both Japanese and Chinese literature, and had died in  1908. Pound met his widow in London in 1913, with the result that she entrusted her  husband’s papers to him, with her authorization to edit and publish them as he thought  best. Pound threw himself into the study of the Fenollosa material with his usual  energy, becoming, as a result, an authority on the Japanese Noh drama and a lifelong student of Chinese. He came to feel that the Chinese ideogram, because it was never entirely removed from its origin in the concrete, had certain advantages over the  Western alphabet. Two years after receiving the Fenollosa manuscripts, Pound published  a translation of Chinese poetry under the title Cathay. The Times Literary Supplement  spoke of the language of Pound’s translation as “simple, sharp, precise.” Ford Maddox  Ford, in a moment of enthusiasm, called Cathay “the most beautiful book in the  language.”

Pound  made other translations, from Provencal, Italian, Greek, and besides the book of  Chinese poetry, translated Confucius, from which the following is a striking example, and  represents a conception of the relationship between the individual and society to which Pound attached great importance, and frequently referred to in his other writing:

The men of old wanting to clarify and diffuse throughout the empire that light which comes from looking straight into the heart and then acting, first set up good government in their own states; wanting good government in their states, they first established order in their own families; wanting order in the  home, they  first disciplined themselves; desiring self-discipline, they rectified their own hearts; and wanting to rectify their hearts; they sought precise verbal definitions of their inarticulate thoughts; wishing to attain precise verbal definitions, they sought to extend  their knowledge to the utmost. This completion of knowledge is rooted in sorting things into organic categories.

When things had been classified in organic categories, knowledge moved toward fulfillment; given the extreme knowable points, the inarticulate thoughts were defined with  precision. Having attained this precise verbal definition, they then stabilized their hearts, they disciplined themselves;  having attained self-discipline, they set their own houses in order; having order in their own homes, they brought good  government to their own states; and when their states were  well  governed, the empire was brought into equilibrium.

Pound’s major poetic work is, of course, The Cantos, which he worked on over a period of more than thirty years. One section, The Pisan Cantos, comprising 120 pages and eleven cantos, was written while Pound was confined in a U.S. Army detention camp near Pisa, for part of the time in a cage. Pound’s biographer, Noel Stock, himself a poet and a  competent critic, speaks of the Pisan Cantos as follows:

They are confused and often fragmentary; and they bear no relation structurally to the seventy earlier cantos; but shot through by a rare sad light they tell of things gone which somehow seem to live on, and are probably his best poetry. In  those few desperate months he was forced to return to that point within himself where the human person meets the outside world of real things, and to speak of what he found there. If at times the verse is silly, it is because in himself Pound was often  silly; if at times it is firm, dignified and intelligent, it is because  in himself Pound was often firm, dignified and intelligent; if it  is fragmentary and confused, it is because Pound was never  able to think out his position and did not know how the matters with which he dealt were related; and if often lines and  passages have a beauty seldom equaled in the poetry of the twentieth century it is because Pound had a true lyric gift.

As for the Cantos as a whole, I am not competent to make even a comment, much less to  pass judgment. Instead I will quote the distinguished English critic Sir Herbert Read on  the subject:

I am not going to deny that for the most part the Cantos present insuperable difficulties  for the impatient reader, but, as Pound says somewhere, “You can’t get through hell in a hurry.” They are of varying length, but they already amount to more than five hundred pages of verse and constitute the longest, and without hesitation I would say the greatest, poetic achievement of our time.

When The Waste Land was published in 1922 Eliot was still working as a clerk in a  London bank and had just launched his magazine, The Criterion. He left the bank in 1925 to join the newly organized publishing firm of Faber and Gwyer, later to become Faber  and Faber, which gave him the income he needed, leisure for his literary pursuits and  work that was congenial and appropriate. One of his tasks at Fabers, it used to be said,  was writing jacket blurbs. His patience and helpfulness to young authors was well known–from personal experience I can bear witness to his kindness to inexperienced publishers; his friends, in fact, thought that the time he devoted to young authors he felt had promise  might have been better spent on his own work. In spite of the demands on his time and  energy, he continued to edit the Criterion, the publication of which was eventually taken  over by Faber. He attached the greatest importance to the Criterion, as is evidenced by the following from a letter to Lewis dated January 31, 1925 which is devoted entirely to  the Criterion and his wish for Lewis to continue to write regularly for it, “Furthermore I  am not an individual but an instrument, and anything I do is in the interest of art and literature and civilization, and is not a matter for personal compensation.” As it worked  out, Lewis wrote only occasionally for the Criterion, not at all for every issue as Eliot had proposed in the letter referred to above. The closeness of their association, however, in spite of occasional differences, may be judged not only from Eliot’s wish to have something from Lewis in every issue, but from the following from a letter to Eliot from  Lewis:

As I understand with your paper that you are almost in the position I was in with Tyro and Blast I will give you anything I have for nothing, as you did me, and am anxious to be of use to you: for I know that every  failure of an exceptional attempt  like yours with the Criterion means that the chance of  establishing some sort of critical standard here is diminished.

Pound also contributed frequently to the Criterion, but at least pretended not to think much of  it–“… a magnificent piece of editing, i.e. for the purpose of getting in to the  Athenaeum Club, and becoming permanent,” he remarked on one occasion. He, by the  way, accepted some of the blame for what he considered to be Eliot’s unduly cautious approach to criticism. In a letter to the Secretary of the Guggenheim Foundation, written  in 1925 to urge them to extend financial assistance to Eliot and Lewis, he made the  following comment:

I may in some measure be to blame for the extreme caution of his [Eliot’s] criticism. I pointed out to him in the beginning that there was no use of two of us butting a stone wall; that he’d  never be as hefty a battering ram as I was, nor as explosive as Lewis, and that he’d  better try a more oceanic and fluid method of sapping the foundations. He is now respected by the Times  Lit. Sup. But his criticism no longer arouses my interest.

What Pound, of course, wished to “sap” was not the “foundations”of an ordered society,  but of established stupidity and mediocrity. The primary aim of all three, Pound, Eliot  and Lewis, each in his own way, was to defend civilized values. For Eliot, the means to  restore the health of Western civilization was Christianity. In his essay The Idea of A Christian Society he pointed out the dangers of the dominant liberalism of the time, which he thought “must either proceed into a gradual decline of which we can see no end, or reform itself into a positive shape which is likely to be effectively secular.” To attain,  or recover, the Christian society which he thought was the only alternative to a purely secular society, he recommended, among other things, a Christian education. The purpose of  such an education would not be merely to make people pious Christians, but primarily, as he put it, “to train people to be able to think in Christian categories.” The great mass of any population, Eliot thought, necessarily occupied in the everyday cares and demands of life, could not be expected to devote much time or effort to “thinking about the objects of faith,” their Christianity must be almost wholly realized in behavior.  For Christian values, and the faith which supports them to survive there must be, he  thought, a “Community of  Christians,” of people who would lead a “Christian life on its highest social level.”

Eliot thought of “the Community of Christians” not as “an organization, but a body of  indefinite outline, composed of both clergy and laity, of the more conscious, more spiritually and intellectually developed of both.” It will be their “identity of belief and  aspiration, their background of a common culture, which will enable them to influence and be influenced by each other, and collectively to form the conscious mind and the conscience of the nation.” Like William Penn, Eliot didn’t think that the actual form of  government was as important as the moral level of the people, for it is the general ethos of the people they have to govern, not their own piety, that determines the behaviour of  politicians.” For this reason, he thought, “A  nation’s system of education is much more  important than its system of government.”

When we consider the very different personalities of these three men, all enormously  gifted, but quite different in their individual characteristics–Pound, flamboyant, extravagant; Eliot, restrained, cautious; Lewis, suspicious, belligerent–we can’t help but wonder how it was possible for three such men to remain close friends from the time they met as young men until the ends of their lives. Their common American background no doubt played some part in bringing Pound and Eliot together, and they both shared certain characteristics we like to think of as American: generosity, openness to others, a fresher, more unencumbered attitude toward the past than is usual for a European, who,  as Goethe remarked, carries the burden of the quarrels of a long history. But their close association, mutual respect and friendship were based on more than their common origin on this side of the Atlantic. In their basic attitude toward the spirit of their time, all three were outsiders; it was a time dominated by a facile, shallow liberalism, which, as Eliot  once remarked, had “re- placed belief  in Divine Grace” with “the myth of human  goodness.” Above all they were serious men,  they were far more interested in finding and expressing the truth than in success as the world understands it. The English critic  E. W.  F.  Tomlin remarked that a characteristic of  these three “was that they had mastered their subjects, and were  aware of  what lay beyond them. The reading that went into Time and Western Man alone exceeded the life-time capacity of many so-called ‘scholars.’” The royalties Lewis earned from this book, one of the most important of our time, which represented an immense amount of work and thought of the highest order, didn’t amount to a pittance, but Lewis’ concern, as he put it toward the end of his life, was for “the threat of extinction to the cultural tradition of the West.” It was this mutual  concern, on a very  high level, and an utterly serious attitude toward creative work that  brought them and held them together.

Why did Pound and Eliot stay in Europe, and what might have happened to them if they had come back to this country, as both were many times urged to do, or to Lewis if he had  gone to Cornell and stayed over here? In Pound’s case, the answer is rather simple, and was given in essence by his  experience in Crawfordsville, Indiana, as a young man, and the treatment he received following the war. There is no doubt that in making broadcasts on the Italian radio during wartime he was technically guilty of treason; against this, it seems to me, must be weighed the effect of  the broadcasts, which was zero, and his achievement as a poet and critic, which is immense. One can’t expect magnanimity from any government, and especially not in the intoxication of victory in a great war and overwhelming world power, but one might have expected the academic and literary  community to have protested the brutal treatment meted out to Pound. It didn’t, nor was there any protest of his long confinement in a mental institution except on the part of a few individuals; his release was brought about largely as a result of protests from Europe, in which Eliot played a substantial part. When, however, during his confinement in St.  Elizabeth’s, the Bollingen prize for poetry was given him for the Pisan Cantos, the liberal establishment reacted with the sort of  roar one might have expected had the Nobel Peace Prize been awarded to Adolf Hitler.

Lewis spent some five years in Toronto during World War II, which, incidentally, provided him with the background for one of his greatest novels, Self Condemned. He was desperately hard up, and tried to get lecture engagements from a number of  universities, including the University of Chicago. A small Canadian Catholic college was the only representative of the academic institutions of North America to offer this really great, creative intelligence something more substantial than an occasional lecture. Since his death, Cornell and the University of Buffalo have spent large sums accumulating Lewis material-manuscripts, letters, first editions, drawings, etc. When they could have done something for Lewis himself,  to their own glory and profit, they ignored him.

The American intellectual establishment, on the other hand, did not ignore the Communist-apologist Harold Laski, who was afforded all the honors and respect at its  command, the  Harold Laski who, in 1934, at the height of Stalinism–mass arrests, millions in slave labor camps and all the rest–had lectured at the Soviet Institute of Law.

Following his return to England the Labour government gave Lewis, “the Enemy” of socialism, as he called himself, a civil pension, and the BBC invited him to lecture regularly on modern art and to write for its publication, The Listener. He was even  awarded an honorary degree by the University of Leeds. Can anyone imagine CBS, for  example, offering a position of any kind to a man with Lewis’ unorthodox views, uncompromising intelligence, and ability to see the world for what it is, the Ford  Foundation offering him a grant, or Harvard or Yale granting him an honorary degree? Harold Laski indeed yes, but Wyndham Lewis? It is inconceivable.

The following taken from letters from Ezra Pound, the first written in 1926 to Harriet Monroe, and the second in 1934 to his old professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Felix Schelling, puts the problem of the poet in America as he saw it very graphically:

Poverty here is decent and honourable. In America it lays one open to continuous insult on all sides.  . . Re your question is it any better abroad for authors: England gives small pensions; France provides jobs.  . . Italy is full of ancient libraries; the  jobs are quite comfortable, not very highly paid, but are  respectable, and can’t much interfere with the librarians’ time.

As for “expatriated”? You know damn well the country wouldn’t  feed me. The simple economic fact that if I had returned to  America I shd. have starved, and that to maintain anything like the standard of living, or indeed to live, in America from 1918  onwards I shd. have had to quadruple my earnings, i.e. it wd. have been impossible for me to devote any time to my REAL work.

Eliot, of course, fared much better than Pound at the hands of the academy. As early as  1932 he was invited to give the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard, many universities honored themselves by awarding him honorary degrees, he was given the  Nobel Prize, etc. One can’t help but wonder, however, if his achievement would have been  possible if he had completed his Ph.D. and become a Harvard professor. He wrote some  of his greatest poetry and founded the Criterion while still a bank clerk in London. One can say with considerable justification that as a clerk in Lloyd’s Bank in London Eliot had more opportunity for creative work and got more done than would have been possible had he been a Harvard  professor. It was done, of course, at the cost of intensely hard  work–in a letter to Quinn in the early twenties he remarks that he was working such long  hours that he didn’t have time either for the barber or the dentist. But he had something  to show for it.

It is impossible, of course, to sum up the achievement of these three men. They were very much a part of the time in which they lived, however much they rejected its basic assumptions and point of view. Both Lewis and Eliot described themselves as classicists, among other reasons, no doubt, because of the importance they attached to order; Lewis  at one time called Pound a “revolutionary simpleton,” which in certain ways was probably justified, but in his emphasis on “precise verbal definitions,” on the proper use  of language, Pound was a classicist too. All three, each in his own way, were concerned  with the health of society; Eliot founded the Criterion to restore values; in such books as  Time and Western Man, Paleface, The Art of Being Ruled, Lewis was fighting for an intelligent understanding of the nature of our civilization and of the forces he thought were undermining it. The political books Lewis wrote in the thirties, for which he was violently and unfairly condemned, were written not to promote fascism, as some simple-minded critics have contended, but to point out that a repetition of World War I would  be even more catastrophic for civilization than the first. In many of his political judgments Pound was undoubtedly completely mistaken and irresponsible, but he would  deserve an honored place in literature only for his unerring critical judgment, for his ability to discern quality, and for his encouragement at a critical point in the career of each of such men as Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot, Frost, and then there are his letters–letters of  encouragement and criticism to aspiring poets, to students, letters opening doors or asking for help for a promising writer, the dozens of letters to Harriet Monroe. “Keep on remindin’ ’em that we ain’t bolsheviks, but only the terrifyin’ voice of civilization, kultchuh, refinement, aesthetic perception,” he wrote in one to Miss Monroe, and when she wanted to retire, he wrote to her, “The intelligence of the nation [is] more important than the comfort of any one individual or the bodily life of a whole generation.” In a letter to H. L. Mencken thanking him for a copy of the latter’s In Defense of Women, Pound remarked, almost as an afterthought, “What is wrong with it,  and with your work in general is that you have drifted into writing for your inferiors.” Could anyone have put it more precisely? Whoever wants to know what went on in the period from about 1910 to 1940, whatever he may think of his politics or economics, or  even his poetry, will have to consult the letters of  Ezra Pound–the proper function of  the artist in society, he thought, was to be “not only its intelligence, but its ‘nostrils and  antennae.’” And this, as his letters clearly show, Pound made a strenuous and, more often than not, successful effort to be.

How much of  Lewis’ qualities were a result of his American heritage it would be hard to say, but there can be no doubt that much in both Pound and Eliot came from their  American background. We may not have been able to give them what they needed to realize their talents and special qualities, they may even have been more resented than  appreciated by many Americans, but that they did have qualities and characteristics which were distinctly American there can be no doubt. To this extent, at least, we can  consider them an American gift to the Old World. In one of Eliot’s most beautiful works,  The Rock, a “Pageant Play written on behalf of the forty-five churches Fund of the Diocese of London,” as it says on the title page, there are the lines, “I have said, take no thought of the harvest, but only of perfect sowing.” In taking upon themselves the difficult, thankless task of being the “terrifying voices of civilization” Eliot and his two friends, I am sure, didn’t give much thought of the possible consequences to themselves,  of what there “might be in it for them,” but what better can one say of anyone’s life than “He sowed better than he reaped?’’

Originally published in Modern Age, June 1972. Reprinted with the permission of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Henry Regnery (1912-1996) was an American publisher.