Towards an Interdimensional Poetics (part 4)

Two Serpents

There were two serpents… and the sixties was busy discovering the antithesis to the reigning dragon, not understanding the Mosaic consequences that still held them in its grip: the name… Rothschild. deleted, originally, in The Cantos. This was known by Pound as early as the twenties, in purely economic terms, but later he understood it in symbolic, quasi-Biblical terms. It wasn’t until much later that the fragment addenda were made known.

The Evil is Usury neschek
the serpent
whose name is known the defiler,
Beyond race and against race
the defiler
τόκος hic mali medium est
Here is the core of evil, the burning hell without let-up,
The canker corrupting all things, Fafnir the worm,
Syphilis of the State, of all kingdoms
Wart of the common-weal,
Wenn-maker, corrupter of all things
Darkness the defiler,
Twin evil of envy,
Snake of the seven heads, Hydra, entering all things,
Passing the doors of temples defiling the grove of Paphos,
neschek, the crawling evil,
slime, the corrupter of all things
Poisoner of the fount,
of all fountains, neschek,
The serpent, evil against nature’s increase,
Against beauty…

Written in 1941 this fragment pre-dates David Icke by a half century or more, yet much of it is pure Bible, in a seemingly Gnostic aspect (where Pound and Blake, not always comfortable bedfellows in literature, overlap?)

D.H Lawrence is both problematic and interesting here. He believed that the fallen Lucifer was a pagan entity made evil by mainstream Christianity. Once you build an image it becomes a real presence (as the Torah understood in its will to censorship). So, yes… possibly a reigning entity now… but not necessarily in origin. Satanism is a parasite on the church… so, of course, they really do use this spiritual presence for black masses etc. Yaldaboeth, also. Ba’al is the fallen aspect of Bel, the god known in ancient Ireland (and also known to the Gnostics). What tends to happen is that they take a god and they bring it into fallenness by their own impure intentions, having no creative intention of their own (that they are soulless, in this?) Gods, or spiritual presences, to me, are never entirely earthly… they tend to straddle dimensions. They become ‘lower forces’ via man’s baser instincts. But can become aspects of higher dimensions if the will of an individual, or community, is strongly focussed toward the good. (We must also understand that these senses of lower and higher are only used for explanation of certain physical and ideological emanations… they are Dantean social terms, ascending and descending into the holarchy, source of life. Hierarchy is what we as social beings must immediately relate to…?)

Bards and seers literally hold the unity of dimensions in place via works of art. And here comes Shelley’s dictum; “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. There is a lineage so deep and wide in that word; ‘unacknowledged’ that it would take a book or two to unravel. For me, the whole thing has everything to do with the ‘Flight of the Earls’, the loss of the Bardic and Druidic influence in modern life. Poets are also combatting mendacious influences. Since the Druidic line has fallen into the control of a few depraved bloodlines and their American, African and Asian cousins.


He learns this other writing. He is the scribe
Who drove a team of quills on his white field.
Round his cell door the blackbirds dart and dab.
Then self-denial, fasting, the pure cold.

By rules that hardened the farther they reached north
He bends to his desk and begins again.
Christ’s sickle has been in the undergowth.
The script grows bare and Merovingian.

…from Alphabets (1987). Heaney at his most pre-Renaissance-best. A perturbation in the language itself. The whiff of language-conspiracy. But Heaney, himself, one of the first modern Irish college poets… and a fear, a lack of daring, comes with it. Perhaps his best work is in the translations. He picks, and takes comfort in, similar epochs to myself. I don’t buy the idea that the Irish are really a renaissance-oriented people. We seem to leave that to Southern Europe and its newer corresponding American traditions. Although there is always the Latin that comes heavily into the Irish and the English, from Chaucer’s language onward, at least. (But McDevitt is right in this; that a wildness has been missed. Whether it be manifest in the modern is a much bigger question. My Surrealism, I believe, is an indicator).

Similarly, Conor MacDari, telling me the word Rome comes from the Irish Language. What I was most uncomfortable with, reading Mein Kampf, was not what our modern age’s mores may have expected me to dislike from the shrieking liberalist perspective… but that Hitler – as with Holderlin, and to a certain degree with Goethe – was holding up the classical age as the be-all and end-all of civilization. Yet, Blake – and the good Celt? – knows Rome was a barbarian culture built etymologically and mythologically, by the regions it conquered, their triumph of worship and belief becomes its pantheon in descent (the reason, also, that Blake is forced to invent divine and scientific powers outside of the Greek pantheon. This would deserve an essay in itself). One should read and study classicism on the grounding of that fact (and, of course, it doesn’t negate my enthusiasm for the classics, and classically-inspired poetry and literature; the name of H.D comes most forthrightly to mind here). But the Romans were the first to make their thievery dignified by virtue of their civic pragmatism. Blake knew this. Kathleen Raine turns Blake’s deeper search into an older Britain, but into a romance of only classical and Greek proportions, via the works of Thomas Taylor. In her metaphysics she is reaching in the right direction, yet she’ll only ever find a small portion of the story from that standpoint. Does this connect with the same interest and antagonism Yeats had to Plotinus? Not directly, perhaps, but it sits on the fringes of that debate. Between Raine and the Royals we see the occult connection between the benign yet powerful poetic instinct for creation and the parasitic magical powers of their very real sins, a connection the wider populous is – to one degree or another – at least ignorant of. In modern times we have seen this explicit connection of the Royals – their dabbling in spiritual and occult practices – since the time of John Dee onward (and Tsarion is right to suggest that the need for sacramental blood ritual has been the cause of most modern wars, being an inheritance of the notion that the basest forms that underpin this dimension they believe must be held in place in order to sequester knowledge that would otherwise assist in man’s transcendence – or spiritual reconfiguring – of this dimension, as it stands. The will toward a perpetual circus of fear etc).

Regardless – moving on, and to return to our mythological serpents: – in dimension-theory, as it were, the reptilian is supposed to hold sway in the fourth dimension… yet much of man’s psychic and spiritual abilities are in the fifth and sixth dimensions. Celtic lineage and metaphysics cannot be divorced from a mythological reptilian theory, and from the very real existence of black magic on the side of our current European monarchs (which is not to say monarchs are bad, or that monarchies in the past have not been benevolent… the Celtic Revival, and the Victorian – and Pre-Raphaelite – modes of interest at least understood the value of the concept of a benevolent lineage of the High Kings of British and European antiquity… yet Joyce’s procedures partially negate this, which is another failure embedded in high modernism, tempered by the very anti-Manichean notion of the senses as a means for wit, and for wordplay… which is very much the domain for instinctual searching of the lighter and higher precepts for laughter. Through Breton the use of ‘black humour’ has similar ends in mind. Black humour being a purely European sensibility?)

It is just that, behind pure classicism, there is a stolen knowledge, a sequestered – and halted – path the sages of antiquity engendered. This is the history of the last two to three thousand years… its absence just more visible in the last three hundred or so. Parasitism is the formalised endeavour of Elohim in their fallen aspect. But an aspect, only, of influence… in its most negative hue. These entities loathe the fact that all dimensions are open to the human, and that their powers only allow them to monkey around with very limited facets of our total pan-dimensional reality.

Equally there is the good serpent, Kundalini – and used with differing nomenclature, through different metaphysical traditions – used with moral discipline, and as a servant of life, and nourishment. Eros is its social and political aspect (but only Greek through its most recent form) darkened by most current leaders. Lawrence understood this serpent-dialectic – its clear in his book Apocalypse, and in The Plumed Serpent– but most people, lost in surface conspiracy research, paint the serpent with an entirely negative hue. That could’ve even been Pound’s limitation, also?

Incidentally, Pound uses neschek for the modern Hebrew nashah. Though I need to look into this more.

From Lawrence’s Apocalypse:

A hero was a hero, in the great past, when he had conquered the hostile dragon, when he had the power of the dragon with him in his limbs and breast.When Moses set up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, an act which dominated the imagination of the Jews for many centuries, he was substituting the potency of the good drago for the sting of the bad dragon, or serpents. That is, man can have the serpent with him or against him. When his serpent is against him, he is stung and envenomed and defeated from within. The great problem, in the past, was the conquest of the inimical serpent and the liberation within the self of the gleaming bright serpent of gold, golden fluid life within the body, the rousing of the splendid divine dragon within a man, or within a woman.

What ails men today is that thousands of little serpents sting and envenom them all the time, and the great divine dragon is inert. We cannot wake him to life, in modern days. He wakes on the lower planes of life: for a while in an airman like Lindbergh or in a boxer like Dempsey. It is the little serpent of gold that lifts these two men for a brief time into a certain level of heroism. But on the highest planes, there is no glimpse or gleam of the great dragon


the Logos, the great dragon of the beginning of the cycle, is now the evil dragon of today. It will give its potency to no new thing, only to old and deadly things. It is the red dragon, and it must once more be slain by the heroes, since we can expect no more from the angels

Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell forms the background to Lawrence… and yet Lawrence never really debated in depth the consequences of Blake. The two serpents are implicit here. The man must equal or transcend that dragon, in its evil, energetic aspect… via the original force of the dragon. The duty of the Filidh is to inhere, to understand the ramifications of a dualism… to guide the man or woman out of it. A magician, employing and overcoming, by use of triskelia and gyre. To perceive the descent inherent in the dragon’s actions is to perceive, see, beyond him… which immediately brings about its opposite; ascent. To depart, truly, into further exploration. All of Hegel’s dialectic implies this problem (and Icke, and other netizen researchers misuse Hegel in thinking this dialectic is simply a dialectic of descent only. It is what a man does with a dualism. That is the imperative. And it is the most visceral imperative for the Filidh. To be gleaned by him. Abjectly unregarding of social convention. The Flight of the Earls occurred for a reason; a misuse of natural, telluric force).

And that Bardic strain; conceptual and Celtic predominance of the magic of the psyche… even before the term had gained currency through the “Celtic” revival a century and a half later. New minds open up their ecstacies and prejudices. No man, aloof from them (and yet, as Nietzsche understood, the ubermensch would be deemed as necessarily aloof, a descendant of Shelley’s expulsion from Oxford… always the distance, the aloofness, of that balancing of reality and justice). Lawrence follows Nietzsche too closely though. He disregards the esoteric to a certain degree although, apparently, being well read in it… I wonder what would have happened had he met A.E, George William Russell… a poet schooled in avatardom, in a wholly different conception… and yet, in portions of Lawrence’s Apocalypse, we see similarities between these two men:

The new dragon is green or golden, green with the vivid ancient meaning of green which Mohammed took up again, green with that greenish dawn-light which is the quintessence of all new and life-giving light. The dawn of all creation took place in greenish pellucid gleam that was the shine of the very presence of the Creator. John of Patmos harks back to this when he makes the iris or rainbow which screens the face of the Almighty green like smaragd or emerald. And this lovely jewel-green gleam is the very dragon itself, as it moves out wreathing and writhing into the cosmos. It is the power of the Kosmodynamos coiling throughout space, coiling along the spine of man, leaning forth between his brows like the Uraeus between the brows of a Pharoah. It makes a man splendid, a king, a hero, a brave man gleaming with the gleam of a dragon, which is golden when it wreathes round a man.

Where Yeats has the gyres, Lawrence sees dragons as epochal powers. Aeons over Archons? The dragon. Red and green. What do I remember of David Jones’s discussion of the dragon in his two books of essays? Not much. But his sense of the dragon obviously applied, symbolically, to a discussion of the Welsh flag. We have more of a positive sense of the dragon there. How is it that shades of nationalism, aspects of the discussion of power, appear in symbolical terms? Which is danger, in the modern western mind, at the point where triskelion turns into swastika (the danger only being where on epoch truly overlaps the nearness and distance of another, modern with post-modern, in this case… that it is only a breath away). Yet my first real sense of that latter symbol appeared, not through the usual eighties’ British school brainwashing, but by a scattering of such symbols in the lining of tatami mats… in a room in Kobe, Japan, somewhere around the summer/autumn of 1999? And, since then, a mark of – not Nazism – but generic East Asian Buddhism. India. Japan. South Korea. But ultimately Aryan and European, given MacDari’s reinstatement of the west-to-east movement; de-exoticizing Asia for the European, to a certain degree of usefulness. There are waves of this stuff, the cross-fertilizings between Occident and Orient; but the take-off was 19th Century, and there will be no landing. Blake, Schopenhauer, Max Muller, Whitman etc each trading on the Atman and the Brahmin, to different degrees.

This is reclamation of an own culture… as Mandelstam pointed out, when asked what Acmeism was: a yearning for world culture. The power structures of the western world, for the most part, attempt to harness and dissipate that yearning’s energy, so as to manifest their power. Whatever powers do machinate under the banner of Illuminism then they do not intend nationalism; their greatest enemy? Through nationalism, through localism, world culture is realised (or maybe worldfeeling, weltfühlen, might be a better expression? Lessing speaks of this in her novel Shikasta). Globalism apes it in order to dissipate it. Through an independence of spirit a nation joins the world. And not before. Thus my support for all the independence movements in the U.K (but not necessarily their most prominent mouthpieces. Farage is quite obviously an interesting man. Just leave the room, or turn off the video, when he starts talking about Churchill, is my first thought in the negative).

Is it also prescient that, prior to Orwell, Lawrence died in the company of that great creator of modern western dystopia, Aldous Huxley? Or that the theme of Aaron’s Rod is a Masonic take on Mozart’s The Magic Flute? A Magic Flute with Australian terrorist explosions in its finale. How much mantic intuition, how much conscious Luciferian conspiracy…? Lawrence’s writings are so shot-through with prophecy that some have attempted to lump Lawrence in with the progenitors of the future evil he was fighting.

The implosions, then, of modernism. Yet it is not so clear cut. There’s more… more colours, at least:

The dragon of Nebuchadnazzar is blue, and is a blue-scaled unicorn stepping proudly. He is very highly developed. The dragon of the Apocalypse is a much more ancient beast: but then, he is kakodaimon.

But the royal colour was still red: the vermilion and the purple, which is not violet but crimson, the true colour of the living blood, these were kept for kings and emperors. They became the very colours of the evil dragon. They are the colours in which the apocalyptist clothes the great harlot woman whom he calls Babylon. The colour of life itself becomes the colour of abomination.

For me, at least, Lawrence rescues a dignity there, somehow. In my poetry (something often – I hope! – gleaned hypnogogically, or half-hypnogogically? a process that allows for the admittance of all procedure, all method) I have always felt an adherence to the active form of the verb living and a worry, a disgust – perhaps – to the words life and live. (There is also the notion of the word ‘live’ being the word ‘evil’ backwards? So we have this arch-Gnostic inherence… in the negative conception, in the perhaps supra-Hebraic conception certain Gnostics misused to establish a doctrine of the retreat from matter?)  So. The retreat from matter. And yet matter is ours, with Berkeley intact. For good or ill. A world is ours, while we can still admit – with the best mystic – There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. And the faux gnostic (Manichean?) brag of the evil of the world, and of the human, is always set against Blake’s The most sublime act is to set another before you.

Blood and Sin, Blood and Immortality

Blood follow’d, but immortal; ichor pure,
Such as the blest inhabitants of heav’n
May bleed, nectareous; for the Gods eat not
Man’s food, nor slake as he with sable wine
Their thirst, thence bloodless and from death exempt

…tells Cowper’s translation of The Iliad. Which returns us to the blood aspect (also reiterated in the work of Rudolf Steiner). There is also the theory that man, in his immortality, did not have red blood… an excess of copper, or other elements, suggests it was green, originally. All commercially produced foods leave the taint of sugar in the blood stream, and thus disease, all modern illness… prevalence of cancer and diabetes. Lack of minerals. I see Morrissey and Ted Hughes in a boxing ring… Hughes, the monarchist, upholding the tradition of the hunter, Morrissey; appealing to something earlier. Something of modesty and purity (despite my present inability to rid myself of those habits completely. I watch a piece by Norman Finkelstein, where he suggests that meat-eating, in a hundred years, will be deemed utterly barbaric; close to cannibalism or pedophilia). The consequence of all this, completely allowing for the notion that to be ‘of the gods’ one must at least act with their same stringency. Thus the most radical thinkers are in a condition of such detox that the most heretical ideas can flood in. In the blood, in the DNA, and also a product of ruthless investigative thought and daring. There being, also, a generational aspect – in tandem with the synchro-mystic idea of a completely genuine sense of ‘God’s plan’ – that one idea must come to fruition in sequence, via its human host. In this conception it would be entirely correct that Tsarion, or another researcher of his generation, would reject flat earth. (As I have said before, it is entirely useful that Heraclitean change must assert itself to the degree that each generation asserts a markedly different viewpoint, disregarding the sometimes-Marxist notion that the family unit need not be retained. This is why parenting is good for the soul, as it allows for the parent to witness change and human variety in those one is most close to).The man of knowledge, while rejecting time would not necessarily reject chronology. The agon regarding Kronos is multi-faceted, not specifically biological, not specifically philosophical, not specifically political… but combining all of these. The sage, then, is one the acolyte must exhaust and transcend. And this would be to convert parasitism into The Good of someone like Plotinus. I hope one day that I will not need William Blake. And it behoves me to know, very precisely and clearly, when that moment will come. The same process is intended with child-rearing. It is the way of all growth. The same is known to us through our different forms of relationships. Creation and destruction, both divine and physical, come to us through human interaction (and in so doing mirror other realms of spiritual and supernatural interaction). Crisis is their emblem, and comedy and tragedy their outcome. If this were not true the whole gamut of writing, of voicing – from Aeschylus to Chaucer, from Hesiod to Swinburne – would have slipped from our attention long ago.

The Serpent, Modernity, Nature, Shakespeare’s Existentialism

The entropic serpent, as evil – which Blake identified simply as energy – has had his moments, even in artists of creation… I think of Baudelaire, most precisely. But this was essentially a spiritual phenomenon, manifested… which is to say I shrink from legitimising the myriad of truely nefarious activities, in the physical, that have occurred on this plane since the post-flood period (but most distinctly obvious in the various problems that have arisen since WWI. The sixties, however, represented a swing away from energy into the uber-liberal notion of forgiveness and equality. Baudelaire, although happily integrated into that epoch, is not at home in this type of thought). Yet, in some intellectual strains, at least, Yahwism is rightly dissipated, and yet replaced with… the new age?

In this, could John Lash be correct in transcending some of Baudelaire’s more Catholic standpoints, by seeing that The Fall was not a human fall… but the fall of the goddess that maintained us, in a holistic sense (it’s just that I don’t see that her name was necessarily Gaia…) And Yeats would follow this (with spiritus mundi) but would have little to do with Wordsworth, in seeing a commune with nature as satisfactory. Are there gradations?

In Dickinson we see a great worth in ferreting out the beauty in the minutiae of nature, and yet she is not a Wordsworth, not, in any mode, a philosopher (where Wordsworth most definitely is… the tension had previously appeared in Wordsworth’s antagonism to Colderige’s Kubla Khan). She is an artist primarily of the soul, using nature as tool for gleaning what was previously of the soul. Hamlet’s discomfort, via Dickinson’s interest in nature – is over what is finally unfulfilled in man: hiraeth.

…I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Shakespeare transfers the medieval argument – or relationship- between Yahweh and man, and inserts the focus of man-toward-man. Nietzsche lived in Hamlet’s world. This is ressentiment three centuries prior to him, however. The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals… Yes! Senor De Vere… you may not need to finish that speech (and Mr. Lawrence, similarly — after Blake’s proverb? — would prefer you didn’t). Here, the stirrings of humanism, existentialism, modernism. Yet somehow Lawrence’s work feels to be something of an update on it? The men who were Shakespeare seem more driven by the classical world, and obviously – by extension – the specific mode of the Greek tragedians. Lawrence is wild and tribal and less navel-gazing. Much of his prose is a correction to too much of Greece in literature. Yet Shakespeare, via Hamlet, seems to reject all of nature but maintain only the quality of human proclamation, the Gnostic rejection, inherent in ancient forms of tragedy.

Lash is only partially correct… he still stays within the bounds of an epoch (he has not, then, entirely escaped the sixties). The blame gets shifted into the realm of a supreme goddess who is a part of God. Baudelaire’s influence imagines for us a perpetual demiurge – Biblical or not – that uses sin as an energetic function. Devised by an artist the notion becomes less Yahwist and more a question of the extremities of self-interrogation man must bring upon himself. A para-moral guardianship, via intuition, if you will. And this is echoed in Hamlet… a kind of proto-artist at the end of his rope. Why is it that I see Yeats’s Celtic Twilight as a way out of this tragic bind? There is something of the entropic serpent in Hamlet’s angst, a loss of human magic, as it were. Yeats and Lady Gregory, perhaps inadvertantly, replaced the modern agon of man’s Greek wrath at the world – and man’s wrath regarding man – with a spiritual and metaphysical dynamic hitherto unseen across the usual structures of power we’ve been familiar with since the time of Shakespeare.

Serpents & Spirits

This last claim, then, intends more serpentine meanderings, perhaps in a different hue. The intro to The Gonne-Yeats Letters

After he left, Maud wrote to tell him a most wonderful thing had happened – ‘the most wonderful I have met in life. If we are only strong enough to hold the doors open I think we shall obtain knowledge and life we have never dreamed of.’ Yeats noted, in the white calf-bound manuscript book Maud had given him for recording their astral unions and visions, that he had ‘made evocation’ on the ‘night of 25th’ and sought union with her. Her letter of 26 July told him of her having seen an Egyptian-like form floating over her, dressed in moth-like garments and with gold-edged wings, which she thought was herself, a body in which she could go out into the astral. She put on his body and desired to go to him. They went somewhere in space, he in the form of a serpent, and they kissed and melted into each other till they formed ‘one being, a being greater than ourselves who felt & knew all with double intensity’. She had this experience three times, each time being brought back by a noise in the house. Afterwards she went to bed and dreamed they discussed this spiritual vision. In the dream he said it would increase physical desire, which she said ‘troubles me a little – for there was nothing physical in that union – material union is but a pale shadow compared to it

The bind, here, is that – in the new century – we’re somewhat in the hands of Icke (and his analysis of the earthly powers is cogent and incredibly useful)… and yet Celtic mythology (and Ovid, at least in the classical tradition) is fairly au fait with the reptilian, and with shapeshifting (the Hindu tradition, also… ditto The Djinn in The Koran). And yet we’ve not really overcome Nietzsche – never mind Man! – in his throwing away of the gods with the big monotheos; God, himself. What the reptilian implies is incredibly complex, and yet – while many conspiracy researchers are busy seeing the reptilian in any number of evil political figures – we see that reptilian aspect in the eyes of Manly P. Hall, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe…  do we deem all these similarly driven by psychosis and pathological societal manipulation? I suggest not. It’s what you do with those eyes that count. But just don’t give me The Prince of Wales or Kathleen Raine; a purely Greek emanation of Blakeanism, for your avatars. We are older and stronger than these. And it behoves us to imagine a positive  emanation of the serpent, particularly in a survey of literature, in so far as it may have the potential to unveil that force through spiritualism and the supernatural. Not that Freud and the other various writers of psycho-analysis are not worth engaging with, but that spiritualism suffers under the weight of psychology, to some degree.

An Anti-Literary Serpent, The Tribes of Blake

Icke took the reptilian and ensconced it, finally, in a kind of metaphysical cartel for the planet Saturn, despite his incredibly acute understanding of the lower natures inherent in the third dimension. It was the earthly evil gone interplanetary (not that I deny the planetary… but that it seems essentially to be dokos; a playground for materialist scientists to pontificate over). This same solar system, poured into the modern mind since the mid-1900s, is child or both academic research and alternate research… yet it comes out of a mind that could not quite imagine the Infinity Blake intended, with such announcements as:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern

All manner of internet researchers have applied the Biblical satan to a new ‘otherworldly’ evil. But somehow it doesn’t jive. I attribute much of the failure of human spirituality to ascend its material circumstances to the something of the force that ColinWilson lays out in his The Mind Parasites. If we take this universe as a playground for their domain then we are able to take most of the modern scientific models for universe with a pinch of salt. Which is to say; I do not trust either the solar system, the universe model or the pluriverse model as any indication of what the human being spiritually finds himself in. By necessity, I see the primal influence of sun and moon as holding sway over the mind of man, and his physical circumstances… and yet these are limits upon him that he is either wholly or partially unaware of. In the mystic experience of Wilson’s peak experience, or a revelling in The Now, we see these earlier facts of science loosening their grip. I also believe the precept for all artistic production implies such forms of mystic retrieval, no matter how socially or politically embedded. Meaning; I distrust the Russians’ wholesale dismissal – Akhmatova’s particularly- of mystic experience, and summise that it came out of the political pressures Bolshevism engendered in the populous, the reign of fear and constant social maneuvreing etc. (I would see the use of surrealist modes as equally a threat to this also. In the Russian context its most easily considered in certain films of Sergei Parajanov… who, perhaps despite himself, became an exemplar of dissident surrealism shorn of all the ill-advised political opinions of Breton himself). This reign of fear and fake art gets transposed into a more technological and capitalistic form in the west, and becomes the psychological burden for would-be artists in western Europe and North America; the essentially liberalist paradigm.

The sub-par black magic conspiracy that the political world has introduced and augmented up until recently is really without much theoretical backbone (and Ginsberg and Lamantia, here were at least partially correct). We know, at least by Blake’s standard, by his proclamation, the sane rejoinder of… Thus men forgot that / All deities reside in the human breast… (yet the objective dream world in which the gods inhabit has its own parallel forms of emphases, both separate and attached to the physical world?) This does not negate God, it enacts his supreme permission; that man create his own morality. That he have permission to fail, or succeed, in the attempt. that he create his own parameters for what is deemed success and failure.

We are not conjoined with the Mosaic god because of an abstract worship. He is ours only by the test of a faith, and the important point there is that it is a faith in the singular. (The test of European man’s spiritual strength). Thus secularism, in the west, allows for both faith and doubt… one up on many world cultures. I hear the cry of civilization in that. A spiritual civilization that begins in the body, but is product of the angels. The triumph of the body is that it is tested by eminently swimming in plurality. It monitors both ideological coherence and incoherence. But here, Kierkegaard chimes in with, often-times, the retort of a pure monotheism (and even Dylan Thomas – on the level of Bardism – would concur, in his preface to The Collected Poems; These poems, with all their crudities, doubts and confusions, are written for the love of man and in Praise of God, and I’d be a damn fool if they weren’t). Pagan animism is absolutely allowed for in the western dynamic, and yet it exists inclusive of the established church (now, unfortunately diminished by an in-crowd satanism, a fallen Luciferianism, and the usual accoutrements and exemplars of a very real black magic). Yet! That same monotheos, the fallen Yahweh, blinds the modern Celt to a power rife within its own line of Kings. Which is to say, I do not buy the Welsh Barddas of Iolo Morganwg wholesale. There are pieces here and there. There are reclaimings… a remnant of a system. And it is the Welsh line of Bards, of Druids, that stayed longer than the other Celtic traditions… perhaps with the assistance of people like Williams (pseudonym of Iolo etc) but it is Thomas’s urgency systematised (and now the Druidic tradition most directly absorbed into the black arts of the British Royals?) I wonder what it would look like wiped clean of Yahwism? Probably rather jolly… like Spinoza. But a variation on him, in some manner.

In all this, however, Williams’ system is not to be too closely related to Thomas, given that Thomas also partially echoes Blake’s reference to man’s connections to God as a form of benign, and possibly-transcendant anthropocentrism; the joy and function of poetry is, and was, the celebration of man, which is also the celebration of God (Thomas writes in Answers to an Enquiry, New Verse, 1934). The difference would be that Blake – being Irish? – would be inclined to the pantheon of Gods (or, more distinctly, in his case; the pantheonizing of his gods, either by actual visitation, or simply via the faculties of a prime Imagination) rather than Thomas’s strict sense of simply God and man. (And I’d suggest the Irish, proto-Atlantean lineage, as perhaps being the more sophisticated… but the outcome is arguably very similar).

Regardless, in both cases we remain witnesses, like it or not, to a takeover within the Bardic network… and The Flight of the Earls is its most potent symbol of the subsequent degradation. We do not, for example, place the work of Blake or Yeats in relation to this historical occurance. But if we take Blake’s Irish lineage seriously; a fact which Yeats had discovered early on in his Blake studies… then we can see the effect of it on the wider literature, both inside Ireland, and outside:

I have been busy with Blake. (I told you). You complain about the mysticism. It has enabled me to make out Blake’s prophetic books at any rate. My book on him will I beleive (sic) clear up that riddle for ever. No one will call him mad again. I have evidence by the way to show that he was of Irish extraction — his grandfather was O’Neal who changed his name for political reasons. Ireland takes the most important place in is mystical system.

…that was the letter to John O’Leary, May 7th 1889. It comes up again in his letter to Douglas Hyde a few months later:

Did I ever tell you my good fortune in finding out that William Blake — on whose Mystic System myself & a friend are making a big book  — the devil take all this prose — was an O’Neal. His grandfather was a Cornelius O’Neal who changed his name to Blake. Ireland makes much noise in his Mystic System & always holds a high ideal place.

Blake’s unknown – until Yeats – transposition into an Irish milieu, again, throws light on the political tenure, and problematic, at the heart of early 17th century British politics. When one witnesses the waste land of the 18th century for the arts we can see it replaced by a continental philosophy shorn of Celtic, and more generally, north and western European influences. The O’Neill lineage would also include my own lineage, to some degree, and that Blake becomes a form of supreme vengeance upon the established literary canon up to the end of the 17th century. It is such for many whose lineage, in any concrete way, reaches back into the early-to-mid 17th century. After Blake the reading-through-of-established-literary-figures becomes more proletarian, in some sense. I think primarily of what artists like Keats and Yeats made of Spenser, for example. Spenser was a firestorm on the revelation of the supernatural in literature, and Keats updated him very differently to Blake. But, despite Yeats’s extending of that sensibility it has been cut-short, mainly because of spiritualism’s lack of traction into the era of late Joyce. The morass of Joyce’s Wake has to be legitimized through the prism of that earlier movement (which I intend to discuss in another essay). After the war this fight is lost almost entirely, and is liberalized by the likes of Ginsberg and Lamantia.

Although one could argue for a much longer and sustained descent in relation to the Irish arts, Kant – philosophically, for good or ill – is the most distinct marker for our own worldview, today. It is a battle that finds coherence in literature over a period of 250 years. Modernism did NOT recall that very particular philosophical fall (Pound’s, and later, Olson’s, primary exclusion of the fact of Blake – as opposition – attests to it, though certain strands in British literature at least shadow it; David Jones and David Gascoyne come to mind) and the consequences of the rejection of Blake’s Urizen, in its utter totality, have yet to be seen.

If there is a contemporary Celtic-Aryan understanding of poetry, of the world, it is very much delineated closer to Romanticism, the Neo-Romantic, and to the Pre-Raphaelites. Joyce understood this in his hailing of Mangan, yet he rejects it in the Celtic Twilight only partially justified, in that yes, it had transposed a certain convenience for Protestant spiritualism and its less talented aesthetic hangers-on. But that modernism would become hyper-grounded and philosophical, perhaps Joyce could not predict. Perhaps the reason for this is that the Wake, by inference, grounds any spiritualism it has via the figure of Vico?) Similarly, Thomas understood this through figures like Beddoes.

There are other traces elsewhere that lead us further back. Give me Mr. Dylan Thomas any day, but these are fallen Celts (at least in the social sense… Thomas himself admitted that Yeats was the man, but that he enjoyed Hardy more… Pound too, concluded that he couldn’t move beyond Yeats)… we are people overtly of a supernatural tradition… spiritualism and psycho-analysis cannot contain us. But are indication. Always. And, to become little men of a tawdry communism? (another monotheos!?) So many ungrounded Celts of the twentieth century seem gone to seed under the faux grace of a Marx or an Engels, these most anti-poetic of men.

(I would even go further and suggest that the reason Yeats is so much loved is precisely – unlike Pound and Browning – he fostered a very real investigation into the occult and the supernatural. While men, in quotidian mentation, refuse the supernatural and the spiritual, their heart daily yearns for it. Yeats received the historical opportunity because he was lucky enough to establish himself before the rise of Bolshevism, both in its Soviet aspect and its western aspect. (As I traverse the airports and people of Europe, this last year… – England – Ireland – Hungary… my only word to describe it? Bolshevism. Pure Bolshevism).

But can we even speak of ourselves, the Celts, further back in history… can we say that, for instance, we are not men of the Renaissance, in any fundamental sense. And Yeats understood this when he wished he preferred Chaucer over Shakespeare (and what was Pound reading when journalists came to visit him on one of his visits to a poetry festival in Venice in ‘66? Chaucer, of course).


our wealth, dirty – & beaten into bankers’ rows – doors
stripped clean, ye hands! for stems of poverty’s flowers?

& O cracked mirrors, quiet graves, of white men. (Tend,
childless – we Britishers – a St. George of the perpetual mind…

or see how the more we go south & east, they say, is
where most money, contacts… contracts, be. (But another hit-piece

in The Guardian,

Isolation Chamber

As John C.Lilly stepped into the sensory deprivation chamber so I got on a plane to Mumbai. That was January 15th 1999. A necessary break from all things western. But exactly what sort of ‘little’ did ye know, pilgrim? Which is to say: I learned two things… 1/ who I was, and 2/ what was not me. I learned, in real terms, very little about India, Nepal, or – later – Japan. I was not there long enough to know very much at all. But, once sealed off from my own culture, I immediately began to build it from scratch, as Joyce did in Ulysses. And who were you, prey tell? The answer is almost nothing. I was a complex of what the College Road library in Shelton, Stoke, and the Bolton Library, could furnish me with. And then a mishmash of all the parental cultural laziness that floundered in on me, also. Yet! What I was not cannot completely be separated from what I was. A racial grounding developed in me, unconsciously, through all the wanderings. I knew that I was both inert, introspective… and yet outgoing in the truly adventurous sense, when being satisfied that I already knew what my own people were in their present moment; which is an essentially atomised, hyper-individualized broken populous lost in insignificant gossip and empty hedonism, who – in all its forms of cultural production – is bankrupt and entirely without force, strength or faith. Which is to say; I’m outgoing when not around my own, ostensibly… perhaps in egalitarianism there, but an egalitarianism staunchly rooted in the newer realisation that reincarnation manifests itself at a slant to the world, at random… and, as the healthy immune system attacks the first inklings of a disease so the mature soul reincarnates exactly in locations where worldfeeling is most degraded.

As I’ve already mentioned; I had a sense that travel might be  useful to inform the mind of man (convenient, given that the young intelligent middle-class man from Europe, in the nineties… would become an essentially nomadic being over the course of the next twenty years… not necessarily by choice, but by the machinations of the E.U. But there was a turning point around the first few years after 9-11… no longer would foreign experience of work be of much interest to English employers… but we did have humanities degrees after all!) but I’ve concluded that travel for the most spiritual of us brings us certain gleanings, but for the 99% very little. I have no truck with the backpacker ethic, per se. I put very little emphasis, even, on how long a person may have lived abroad. Most surround themselves with their own, and appeal for their livelihood and political views on the most base elements of the majority that surrounds them. And the same goes for the foreign elements in English culture. They are stale yes-men whose authority comes from no strength of analysis or mind. Ignore them. Ignore them, or die of their insignificant priorities for human life. And, at the same time, listen out for everything. This is the way of societies, in general. The ethnic imperative, augmented by very real celestial powers, and with powers of mentation, and with potential discursive powers of social cohesion.

Strange, then, that in what one disregards is what goes with one. I take the strength of the family, and one’s eminent disagreements among them to be of service, in the much longer term. Experience is code for later use. Very little of what one most immediately experiences, with the mind of that present, is of much interest. And yet it is as if centrifugal and centripetal forces press in on one… so that the opposite is also true. Strength of paradox and contradiction, then? Because the mind of the present moment (though eternal) – through coagulation of decades-old experience – is itself a being unto generation and the unregenerate. A cycle of construction and deconstruction presents itself. Intent and utter lack of intent converge. The consequences for this, perhaps most pertinently in the fact of the institutions of man – his educative limbs, as it were – are immense. How to have the regular scholastic disciplines run through this poetical inherence I just mention? As I say; not to abolish the seriality and specialization of the institutions, but to perpetually bring fresh perspective to the already established? How to capture the old soul for new disciplines of societal rumination? There is perhaps only a very minor sense in which man’s powers of social and political organisation can ape the twists and turns that artistic inspiration follows. There is perhaps no modification, education-wise, the years since WWII could fundamentally impose useful social change upon, unless it studied quite dispassionately the tradition it had lost in the century previous. This was not done… which leave us now with homeschooling and limited interaction with the larger institutions of learning as possible ways for amendment.

Again, though, it ultimately seems that this randomness of spiritual genius incarnating without any law of physics or reincarnation, can be trusted only in forms that the universities do not yet deem valid, and must be adjusted in other more home-grown ways. Travel and study are modes of discovery, and yet strangely – to a certain point – they give in to more abstruse psychic and spiritual states, most specifically. Travel as lifestyle choice (very much a mode of the nineties and early noughties) is not the answer either. A combination of both oikos and cultural adventure need to be achieved (and very much adjusted to the needs of a group or individual).

Travel, Geist, Insouciance

I like to read accounts of westerners abroad. I was even under the impression that travellers abroad – and blessed with a modicum of English – somehow enter a zone of de-conditioning, and that they may be just a tad more worth talking to. And yet everywhere you go, there you are. And mysterious languages sprawl in front of you. Still, a tiny tiny minority break out of their set cultural mode. It is spiritual. My appeal to pre-destination sets me wondering on this. So to say, that a visit to The Louvre or to The Pyramids would rarely cut it? But in saying that, experience still stands as spiritual material, if that is not a contradiction in terms.

I remember looking at the picture of John Clare’s grave stone on the net. The inscription on the headstone intrigued me. Reading these few words makes for a sombre, rather brutal –but enervating – brand of frankness: John Clare. 1793-1864. A Poet Is Born Not Made. (Ah, all those Social Studies lessons, as a sixth former, in front of a teacher mumbling on about ‘nature versus nurture’! Give me Homer’s golden chain of being, anyday…) If there is reincarnation then there is the whole gradation of intelligence one enters the world with. If you are born then you are born experienced already. But how experienced… in this life thing? A poet is born and made. But mostly born. And, when ‘perfected’ then absent (as the Hindu knows?) Before he bows out he commits a crime… a great work of art… the greater it is the longer linear time will take to assimilate it. Death is the greatest work of art. All the best art has this feeling of the penultimate about it. (Is that Lev Shestov? It might be).

Or this, appended to a Jimmy Page interview on youtube; “Jimmy Page, an old soul…”

And the same goes for the traveller; a man prey to conditioning. The walls of scepticism have long been raised in my mind. I was a journalist for a time, I guess. If you’re in with the wrong crowd chances are your preconceptions will get the better of you. News stories, flashing for centuries, across the retina. And no knowledge therein. No truth. You are the scavenging bird on the rock of your faculties of perception and judgement, partially misaligned by psyche but maintained by intuition; a melange of both the political world and The Unconscious. The presence of the world, its acutely moving silences and moods.

Between 2002-2003 and 2006-2008 I was back in England… apart from these brief forays it has been the long Asian merry-go-round for me. And the steadfast feeling I remember from even those later days (and particularly those later days) was that England is a strange circus. (In this I am a foreigner to western man… I often take pains to avoid him altogether. My arrogance is to think that, stripped of his societal conceits, I will advance beyond with just wit, instinct and intuition, certain disability of conceit, perhaps).

In this, do I take on Lawrence’s post-‘Great’-war weariness?

Witness Lawrence, in the later essay, Insouciance, musing on the difference between what is naturally present and what is politically prescient in the Italy of 1928.

They care! They simply are eaten up with caring. They are so busy caring about Fascism or Leagues of Nations or whether France is right or whether Marriage is threatened, that they never know where they are. They certainly never live on the spot. They inhabit abstract space, the desert void of politics, principles, right and wrong, and so forth. They are doomed to be abstract. Talking to them is like trying to have a human relationship with the letter x in algebra.

There simply is a deadly breach between actual living and this abstract caring. What is actual living? It is a question mostly of direct contact. There was a direct sensuous contact between me, the lake, mountains, cherry trees, mowers, and a certain invisible but noisy chaffinch in a clipped lime tree. All this was cut off by the fatal shears of that abstract word FASCISM, and the little old lady next door was the Atropos who cut the thread of my actual life this afternoon. She beheaded me, and flung my head into abstract space Then we are supposed to love our neighbours!

To hold in a single thought reality and justice. For those that pontificate on what Lawrence’s reactions would have been to the various European political movements leading up to World War II – had he lived after 1930 – we’re left in little doubt here. And yet even to ask that question would be to fall prey to the problem Lawrence describes here. I have sympathy for it. We grow old… abstract caring matters less. A time for engagement, a time for leaisure. Pound’s Tempus loquendi, / Tempus tacendi,

And yet it matters. It matters? Our children would die if it did not? Brute insouciance would make us simply fall into anarchism, a set of notions I feel less and less interested in. Government, regardless of utopias and dystopias, has magnificent potential. The thought for me, here, is a kindly whisper in the ear of an old soldier; “you care about the lakes and mountains, she cares for something that doesn’t interest you. So be it. Let her care!”

The balance inherent in Yeats’s coinage implies being present to both the lakes and mountain, and the woman gossiping about international politics. I have been that woman. We all have. And one day a friend said to me; “You’re tired”. ‘Nuff said. Get some kip. The dream of this world you steer with your spirit, and when you do so you see how the world is also spirit, but only insofar as you steer it, being – yourself – an incarnated spirit. (The classical conception of soul not to be confused with spirit here, but more related, as I see it, with the theosophical; Steiner and Yeats).

Surrealism Reconfigured

The thing I didn’t retain properly in my analysis of surrealism was hierarchy (Breton was not only a political smoke screen but a metaphysical smoke screen… I’d caught him on the family, the nation, community etc… all the other lunacies of his ilk… but I had disregarded Pound’s more sensible sense of aristocracy). As Morris was for Yeats so Breton is for me. An influence… but politically and socially beyond the pale? What is retained? There are ripples, ruptures, folds, pleats… in that feeling that crosses Lawrence’s insouciance. It works through artists (Keats, Browning). I see it everywhere but am more interested in what it is doing through Yeats and into the 20th century. Perhaps it will have something to do with race soul. Olson and Pound both make a move against the Wake. (The modern Celtic and British veer toward it but there are strands of the Celtic further back that don’t adhere to this). Bunting leaves surrealism behind. Joyce moves in his own orbit. The revolution of the unconscious voice leaves almost no room for intention toward social organisation… Joyce – as I have implied earlier – sees the artistic imperative as outside of any form of explicit social organisation. And I picture Yeats re-reading Hopkins and not knowing what to make of it (and ditto Mallarme?) It is easy to buy the no-hierarchy thing if you’re raised vaguely Celtic and, at least, non-committal regarding monarchy. They get confused. But our monarchy is not aristocratic… not Brehonic.  It is a clutch of black magicians. An aristocracy of artists? How could that cohere? Every man an artist, or at least artistic. Property is theft??! Property is I! The glory of the hearth, the wonder of lineage. Woman, for the most part, the home maker.

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The Halls of Intuition

Nothing was ever discovered by logic. All things are discovered by intuition, as the lives of the great mathematicians and scientists prove again and again. Logic plods after intuition, and verifies discoveries in its own pedestrian way. Logic is a mere servant of the imagination. To exalt it – as modern thinkers tend to – is to invite spiritual anarchy.

—Colin Wilson, Religion and the Rebel

I see that the current polis (and do I want to emancipate that word from its Greek connotations?)… the current body’s avatardom… I see that it has a back door, or a front door? I take Blake’s isolating of the ‘senses five’ as the sensorial equivalent of a certain brand of attention. Attention, and its sister: history. Yet history too will morph with that deepening in acuity of the world. A natural high. And so it will not be an End of History… instead, simply a re-conceptualizing of history, under the aegis of imagination. It is the deepening of attention, via intuition, that needs midwifery. Something of the ‘gut instinct’ – or usage of the body in all its manifestations of soul – which would be the full extent of an attention built on intuition, this itself, being the beginning of a whole panorama of other senses, soon to be manifested by way of a kind of communal and individual excitation. It is in a transitional mode, at present. I seek its full fruition, if full be the right word. It is essentially endless. It does not care for transhumanism… it is the switching of astral and bodily modes at will. It is organic. Certain forms of technology can be used to encourage it… but any one form will not be its modus absolute. A perpetual transcending of forms. Heidegger only really scratched the surface in his The Question Concerning Technology. We know it is on the way. Those who refuse it also know it is on the way. The synchro-mystic enactment. Sometimes it seems a little dreary, but it is we who are dreary, being here to make ourselves less dreary. If Bishop Berkeley intended anything then that is his jag. What you pay attention to becomes your fate. Choose well, for it is militant… and Jehovah hasn’t seen anything yet.

Could wit also play a part? The very fiery wit, in communion with itself or others. Here is the usefulness of social presences. Pre-sense and presence, again. What is this back wall the sensoria attempt to mingle with? You have a part in it. It seeks you to fulfill itself. Throw your body upon the body of the world, as I once stuck into a painting. Embrace everything. Yes, even fire. Even death. Embrace death by rejecting it utterly. A foreign concept. You are not welcome here, Death, amongst us immortals. We have given you up… we know the power – the spell – of an idea, and your influence has worn off. I cannot spell you. You are not a word in my language. For death, also, is a covert pursuasion toward immortality, as is evil. Once you put your finger on evil… it shrinks from you. You are protected by intuition. She is a power you have only partly uncovered. Logic and philosophy are her children.

The internet has rendered null and void a certain number of forms that it now deems obsolete. Newspaper media… conventional forms of journalism. Mr. McCluhan, I sit – tonight – with your ghost, laughing my arse off. They hang around as feint chimeras of a few million untrained psyches… but their time is over. Yet it is not really the internet that has done this. People have. People who are trained – perhaps even unbeknownst to themselves – in a deeper form of intuitive capacity. This is what generation is for. Generation and regeneration seek no end. Entropy -death-in-life – is the perception of an end. Syntropy denies it. Dualisms simply flex their muscles, and void is simply the unachieved; the opposing force of The Dagda’s cauldron.


All well and good… but this – at no point – seeks abstraction. We want concrete, and hyper-political – if need be – node points. Wars… civil unrest… will occur… but I don’t see these things in the same prism as the old, real wars (before the bankers wars, I mean). Extremes of violence, through intermittent periods of the old violence, will fade? No there will always be violence… but perhaps reconceived. But a violence of self-interrogation, a kind of leaping of the mind in reflection and vatic strangeness. There is nothing wrong with a good, clean fight, for those that like fighting. We will not have the old dirty fighting. Give me pistols at dawn, or the Irish pantheon of gods, to adore. As with humans, I will choose my own alignments.

And as the powers of intuition are loosened and re-vitalized people will understand what Blake meant when he said They Became What They Beheld. You like your pain? Well, let it go, then. Let go of a world. Yet you must let go of it first by intuition, and second through investigation. It will not follow… you have investigated it into non-existence. It doesn’t matter. No solipsistic brag, this. The question is: do you dare? Do I dare? By the doorways of madness comes in a freshness like a holy breeze as the ancients of The Rig Veda knew. Her mother, intuition, under the spell of language, feeds on us, and expands very literal horizons.

I finally wrote a decent poem. It took me three hundred thousand discarded ones. Twenty three lifetimes. I don’t give a fuck. I’m here for good. A hundred Shakespeares sit around the gambling table of another ten centuries. And I see the demons – as usual – descend on them (they have done it before; Homer, Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Byron). It does nothing. It’s just the three lonely dimensions of this cognized space doing their boring little dance again. In drips and drabs, before, it came. I wonder if it will speed up. But you get to choose your perspective on it. Are you going to do that whole dying thing again? That whole unconscious life thing again? A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. If you want to be wise do not follow fools. How simple genius is. And how complex. Follow your nose, seek the grail etc. These are agons of distillation you are after. There is free will, and yet shit occurs. You made it… deal with it… but don’t sit on it. The Self would not approve. Your mother died to teach you a lesson. The bus came two minutes early to teach you a lesson. A child is murdered (and I’ll speak more of British pedophilia and black magic in another article). A crow picks through the winter rubbish. You see no end of evil… you see no end of good? Over this next word… I am poised. What will happen? It is kind of interesting… it is everything. Here is the devil… there goes the devil… he is different from the previous one… you are not that man anymore. You need another devil (the higher you build the bonfire the bigger the perceived darkness, to paraphrase McKenna). You need another devil in order to know (and possibly punish) – then disregard – then forget – who he is. Intuition has sent you somewhere else, its little cruise-ship masts rippling in the ocean breeze.

Moral law – first perceived by intuition – mirrors dimensional precepts inherent in the individual. Intuition acts as assistant to the true perception of any given space, made by the mind, and cleansed by the mind, in the act of intuitive searching. In that activity the soul in emotional paralysis of the lower dimensions is stripped of fear – by means of entering fear -and thus is wiped clean of the claim of seriality, and of time. The body begins to generate Time instead of leaking it, and dying as a loss of energy. I think of the instinct of Ezra Pound, in the writing of The Cantos… an artist, in the holistic sense, following his nose, and – in doing so – sensing the contiguous simultanaity of all history. Shrinkage of time.

Which is also to imply there is no journey? The journeyer is in a position of consistently negating the journey by means of the conversion of a new kind of space (since hitherto we have only understood space as a physical phenomenon, and not a spiritual one). In flux how there is also the unregenerate, by way of paradox. Change occurs to one who spies change. I am trying to be very still, and yet I still know the phrase expect poison from the standing water. Which is to say utter change and utter stillness converge, are converging, will converge. The bird hops along the lawn. But who is this odd man looking at it? All comedy comes from the seeing of oneself seeing something. It makes you giggle just thinking about it. Aren’t I funny? Aren’t I a weird ol’ thing? Yet here I am. Looking at you, bird.

Physical life is not the be-all and end-all. It is useful for writing poems amd organizing societies. Bodies are good for artists, as the spirit is good for God. I am the terminus… a bus station, in Hanley, Staffordshire… a harbour in Kobe, Japan. God imagined it, and now I’m doing It. All memory, even in the most docile and belligerent of fools, coalesces around a number of peak experiences, from the avatar’s perspective. These spiral up to God. The memories of those truly thick are incredibly dull to the soul’s apprentice. That is hell. And The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You. Such is the inevitable maw of experientia. Those who know no joy should be pitied. And then quickly forgotten about. Or killed, if they get in your way? (So, thus we die. Ah well. here comes another body. Hold on tight. Tony Blair’s offspring may be down there somewhere!)

Is it that the most immortally minded of us do not mind death if our words intend true meaning? We see life in the use of meaningful words. Logos is our life. Physical violence seems to occur when the meaning and intention have left the use of words, via either listener or speaker, or both. Yet, tomorrow’s dictator is softened by the dream of a poet who lived eight hundred years ago, without him even knowing. Is this why poets are passive souls… since linguistic clarity requires physical distance when combat requires action. The action of language and the action of physical confrontation – both requiring intuition – have two very separate functions. Perhaps we have come too close to life? Those who worship the body and its empty promises see violence as a means of immediate change. It is. They are right. It is. But I sit down tonight and read the words of a poet who died 3000 years ago. He is surrounded by misfits and dodgy politicos… yet he has already decided on the dream. And it doesn’t include them. He knows them, and – knowing them – does not allow them into his spelling. They will die an almost-eternity of meaningless deaths. When a broader, more nuanced distance is achieved will human violence lessen? Man, by intuition, will also physically kill, if need be. He is in history, but not of it. But intuition, soon, will we be unable to imagine the death of another at the hands of our own frustrated mentation? The more spiritual we become the more we understand that ignoring what is not vital is a form of death for that form also. Yet the dualism implies social upheaval. In the past we killed for the pleasure of seeing what we deemed aberrant die. Out of physical violence the baser outcomes of imagination are achieved, yet this is the denser outcome of imagination’s ultimate purpose; to pluralize forms of experience so as to allow for greater spiritual levels of consternation, doubt and faith. Out of self-interrogation comes a way for passivity.  I do not fore-give you. It is not the turning of the other cheek. It is the power of looking entirely away, and, simultaneously, killing a man. That is Jesus, Regained? A loss of interest (but this could only occur when man has seriously spiritually regained himself, returned into the purview of The Self, into reflection, and been obeisant enough with  spiritus mundi). Man – with his higher instincts – could very well achieve what we would call – from a physical perspective – passivism. Yet this would be replaced, through intuition, by a more inward and spiritual self-interrogation. Telepathic and discursive. Creation will out. Bad people will die, or be killed. The newborns will incarnate as a corrective. It is unhealthy to be impatient. There is some form of extra-dimensional nexus (not here, necessarily) where evil is less urgent. It is not allowed bodies. And its urgency – or insurgency? – decreases as the mind’s true power gains a handle on itself. Demons enter physis because we have such a mind, collectively. Intuition smells them coming, and inserts meaningful words into a given poet. Thus, creating the world of 2846 (and still no asteroids have hit!)

I have never been of the pursuasion that one must adjust one’s self to the seasons. It is good for the skin and the diet (buying local and all that malarkey… all well and good) but I distrust the sun, having worshipped it for several yugas. A device, it is good for mystic poets and gardeners. Electric light is fine also. Use the sun’s light to render the truth of intuition as a complex of sensation, of sorts. But don’t devote yourself to it. There are too many angels around for this world to truly lay a full grip on you. The seasons are good for physical life… it is a convenient service. I see both sides of astrology, also… a kind of mirror wrapped round the universe of Sophia’s fall. But a window, also?

Anyhoo, that was yesterday. And today this poem just dropped out of my heart, and it seems to have nothing to do with my body. Yet it is a body. I can only find the word heart in order to explain what is fundamentally inexplicable, at least in process. I have discovered my intention, through intuition, unto the inexplicable. God imagined it, and – in writing it – I imagined a strand of his imaginings. Creation is the best form of demonic protection. The last a demon wants is more of the soul. Yet I like a demon. A demon demands great art… he seeks to be known, inside and out, and known thus… is destroyed. Such is psycho-spiritual function.

Andrew O’Donnell, February ’17

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The Enigma; A Higginson-Dickinson Complex

If, as opposed to the Archon, the artist is the arch-maker of epochs, the poet, the singer, the composer… if this is true then science – instead of working in a materialist mode against the poet’s fashioning of his mystic faculties – must work in unison with the kind of apprehension the poet and artist utilizes to bring into reality the truth of poetry. There is a hint of this in what Francis Crick did with McClure’s poetry, particularly McClure’s experiences of LSD. We see it again in the technical innovations Steve Jobs took from LSD usage. Regardless of the exploitation of hallucinogens in these cases the concrete example is that of following intuition, or a collection of other hidden senses and faculties hitherto not very well delineated or discussed between the arts and the sciences. After talent and teknos – for any long-practicing artist – comes instinct, intuition and bravery of the sayable. For performing such a hard-won road the artist is essentially, and – seemingly – always as enigma. The poet – working from within his own modes and trajectory – is entirely ungovernable. This is not necessarily to say he has governance over himself in any moral or political way (although these will come, as Blake has it when he says Let the fool persist in his folly and he will become wise)… but, ultimately, the poet puts his life into the service of art. After teknos has steadied him into a textual and vocable discipline he functions on pure combinations of instinct and intuition… and – out of instinct – he discovers other senses by apprehension of the Akashic, or by other bodies of thought that literally choose to embody him, the body of the poem being the trace of what was momentarily and physically embodied. This is an often perilous trail that a poet like Jack Spicer (or, indeed, Yeats) could at least partially understand… with understanding, though, after Wordsworth, being a last matter, of a sort. Reflection being decisive, but not reflection only.

The best example, however, is what I’m calling the Higginson-Dickinson Complex. An aspiring poet reaches out to an expert in contemporary literature for advice on poetry. (Dickinson’s side of the correspondence is represented more fully at the website of The Atlantic). Here; some excerpts and observations:

Mr Higginson,

Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?

The mind is so near itself – it cannot see, distinctly – and I have none to ask –

Should you think it breathed – and had you the leisure to tell, I should feel quick gratitude –

If you make the mistake – that you dared to tell me – would give me sincerer honor – toward you –

I enclose my name – asking you, if you please – Sir – to tell me what is true?

That you will not betray me – it is needless to ask – since Honor is it’s own pawn –

at first I tried a little, – a very little – to lead her in the direction of rules and traditions; but I fear it was only perfunctory, and that she interested me more in her – so to speak – unregenerate condition. Still, she recognizes the endeavor. In this case, as will be seen, I called her attention to the fact that while she took pains to correct the spelling of a word, she was utterly careless of greater irregularities

I want to exploit this as emblem because I think it is important. When science can consider the being of artistic genius; its godly inhabitance in the body of that avatar, indeed to understand genius as avatardom (as nexus between the stuff of world and the soul’s body) the science will understand how world begins. Poetic being is the beginning of form, by virtue of aping God and nature, and -ultimately – of an oeuvre. Was world our body? Is world what we have already, creatively, sloughed off? Here the moment reigns, and yet memory (contrary to the latest theories of poetry) also, gets re-momentized. Essentially, what we are talking about is an abject over-abundance of meta-invention. World pluralizes itself… and every moment of existence allows for a multiplicity of perspectives.


Recovered adult photo of Emily Dickinson (left) and Kate Scott Turner, 1859

The meeting between Higginson and Dickinson begs one of the biggest questions we can touch upon – as humans – surrounding the problem of the meeting between metaphysics, politics and art. But it is an embodied fight. An embodied strangeness that starts with the entrance of genius into physical life. The greatest of poets live closest to physical death… and why? Because social life lives closest to spiritual death… just as the child would retreat from the lunacy of adult social construction, so Dickinson’s genius lives only by its own unregeneracy. And let us be clear; this is not about physical ability to reproduce… but always about the incredible productiveness inherent in that retreat. The academy suggests that Dickinson’s supposed agoraphobia, late on, is simply the cliche they believe is overcome… and yet cliches come from somewhere, and Dickinson was outside of the reigning epoch of her day precisely because she was so close to the soul, which would allow for world having very little cognitive appeal. What genius can do with even a second of existence mass man cannot achieve… not even in hundreds of years of experience. This is what the poet, born and not made, suggests. (Meaning that any theory of art that leaves out the reincarnational aspect of invention is doomed to the temporal and journalistic demands it places upon itself). But let’s cut to Higginson’s commentary of his meeting with Dickinson:

After a little delay, I heard an extremely faint and pattering footstep like that of a child, in the hall, and in glided, almost noiselessly, a plain, shy little person, the face without a single good feature, but with eyes, as she herself said, “like the sherry the guest leaves in the glass,” and with smooth bands of reddish chestnut hair. She had a quaint and nun-like look, as if she might be a German canoness of some religious order, whose prescribed garb was white piqué, with a blue net worsted shawl. She came toward me with two day-lilies, which she put in a childlike way into my hand, saying softly, under her breath, “These are my introduction,” and adding, also, under her breath, in childlike fashion, “Forgive me if I am frightened; I never see strangers, and hardly know what I say.”

What is purity of soul? It is purity of language. And language, in its most vatic, song-like urgencies, knows no arbitration. What we witness in these circumstances is the dissonance – and seeming incoherence – between social arbitration and the workings of the soul, via language. Here comes a being -perhaps out of another dimension? – that the convention of the day is at pains to bring into its communal self. That genius defies, continually, the deafness of timely speech. Why does the joy of reading poetical innovation struggle, always, in comparison with the machinations of social cognition? It it even tiring putting it into prose. And yet – particularly early in life – that outstanding quality of poetic inherence Dickinson exemplifies comes into conflict with any social acceptance. My mention of science is intentional here. If science is to have any kind of future it must follow the paradoxes and contradictions of poetic inspiration. In Higginson this attempt at comprehension is still in its birth-pangs:

She went on talking constantly and saying, in the midst of narrative, things quaint and aphoristic. “Is it oblivion or absorption when things pass from our minds?” “Truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it” . . . “How do most people live without any thoughts?” . . . Or this crowning extravaganza: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

The corollary attempt, made here, between book and world… textualis and physis. We already have, via Pound, this sense of poetry as a medium by which cognition is subverted… and yet we still, ludicrously, cling to the notion that we have the explicatory apparatus to apply social convention to the workings of the soul, or spirit. In the words of another writer; “Man seems, spirit is”. When we read a work of great poetry, of great artistic intelligence, we are put back in touch with What Is… this cannot be gained by explanation (and yet the world of prose and social explanation will be its result, I do not deny that). We are not in the world of Alexander Pope. But… bodily… bodily… what lies hidden here?

I never was with any one who drained my nerve power so much. Without touching me, she drew from me. I am glad not to live near her.

Genius, at least in its most potent and world-shattering aspect, is bodily eros. The madness of convention should, and will, by virtue of the limitations of this dimension, feel absolutely deligitimised simply by virtue of the presence of genius. Lawrence was sincere when he talked of Noli me tangere. Just as the good die young, so the poet lives more briefly, as fire, in order to illuminate the whole of life. In twin-madnesses does the poet enter a world… the madness of the social world, and the seeming-madness of the true artist’s sanity in the face of this. So what might good sense, or sanity, really mean, as far as we apply it to someone like Dickinson’s genius? It reaches further back into the black regions of the soul, via the act of poetic retrieval… to access a pre-sense, a presence, which is ultimately finalised in the poem. Higginson’s response to his meeting with Dickinson reminds us of the danger, the dread, this creates socially, which is essentially the worry over how much of one’s self one really is. In the presence of genius, bodily, we are reminded, simply by pure exposure, that we are not wholly present enough. It is embarrassing. It feels invasive because are reminded that our thoughts are tawdry, distracted, not fully formed. But it is a necessary metaphysical invasion.

Both pre-sense (presence) and non-sense can be applied to this. If Lewis Carroll were nonsense, for example… we can easily turn the dualism around, and suggest that nonsense or pre-sense have a sense – a ring of truth? – to them… as in the phrase make sense. Making sense does not necessarily mean to only appeal to the acuity of one’s bodily organs to provide knowledge and awareness. In fact, have we ever really yearned for the sensible? Not very much. World is overcome, evolved, by what one is in one’s soul, sight unseen. And this has incredible and interesting consequences for the scientist who would pry more into the nature of poetic genius and inspiration, and its physical consequences – perhaps via the innovations of Wilhelm Reich? – so as to see that world exists because poets, artists, musicians breathe.

Andrew O’Donnell, January 2017




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Towards an Interdimensional Poetics (part 3)

What has been juggled for the two years since this site was last active? Many things… psychological location, physical location. A surfeit of locations. A gaggle of contributors to The Fiend… many gone to the wind. But there is a narrative somewhere in this tangle of memories. It involves politics.


How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics,
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.

Yeats’s last poem has been analysed perhaps many times. The last time I heard this done was by the now-deceased poet Geoffrey Hill somewhere in the depths of youtube, telling me that it was not a very good poem. For a number of reasons. At that time I agreed with him, at least partially. It does not have that swansong quality Ray Carver’s Late Fragment has, or the inadvertant adieu of Shelley’s The Triumph of Life (inadvertant because Shelley was most probably murdered? Yes, I will join that ‘conspiracy jag’). The swansong is in the personified ramifications of the thing. It is a quieted swansong… and, in that sense, has majesty. It is also a paen to politics as youthful fundament… of a life essence of sorts. I see it this way; a girl stands looking at herself in a mirror. The word mirror is not in the poem directly… but the implication is everywhere in Yeats’s metaphysics, much of it springing – in a much more imagistic fashion – out of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. As Yeats himself said: “some articulation of the Image which is the opposite of all that I am in my daily life, and all that my country is.”

The mirror’s there simply inasmuch as Yeats’s process of artistic production is the implication of the poem, along symbolic lines. This definition of the politic, in memory, in the human form, mingles with the tradition of personification in Irish literary tradition; the embodying of an Agon. As time exists so the politic and its own vision of itself shifts and mutates. We are able to see, in Yeats’s concision, the ‘life of the politic’ drawn out from the ‘event of the politic’, its various cultural manifestations.

This obviously implies a politics that is pluralistic in its definitions, and this implies (at least, for me) a permission to give a small summary of how western poets themselves have defined politics and their relationship to it. A re-assessment of a sort.

I’ve reversed my opinion on the poem a little. I like it. Would Joyce have? Most probably not. It is elegy… that most poetic of lyric forms. Joyce, being the most anti-historical of writers (if only in the most Freudian, most subconscious/unconscious sense… postmodernism has died in order to describe it properly, without becoming it). Another writer in the same mould might be another Celt… Dylan Thomas. I read recently Thomas’s response, by letter, to a criticism that he was not a very political writer:

You meant, I know, that my poetry is not concerned with politics […] but with poetry […] the idea you gave me was that you actually consider me unaware of my surroundings, out-of-contact with the society from which I necessarily outlaw. You are right when you suggest that I think a squirrel stumbling at least of equal importance as Hitler’s invasions, murder in Spain, the Garbo-Stokowski romance, royalty, Horlicks, lynchlaw, pit disasters, Joe Lewis, wicked capitalists, saintly communists, democracy. the Ashes, the Church of England, birth control, Yeats’ voice, the machines of the world […] but I ‘am’ aware of these things as well.

Thomas defines, by the workings of poetry, a mythos of inclusion and exclusion (while showing the slightly Celtic-communistic colours that were prevalent in his era). What the poem, in insouciance, excludes, makes its majesty just as valuable. What my response would be is that Thomas felt he had no overt, journalistic interest in putting the social world in order. His perhaps-ill-advised social worldview does not ostensibly enter the poem. Earlier in the same letter he says: I am broadly, (as opposed to regimented thinkers and poets in uniform) antisocial, but am extremely sociable. An artist, particularly in the Celtic stripe, instinctively retreats into the soul – thinks from the soul – in order to order a social awareness that is true to it. And that this – again, in dualism – is correct and incorrect… part of Thomas’s jealousy of Pound’s onslaught on usury via deep politics was perhaps so counter to his own inclination? Thomas, being too culturally and sociably amiable than Pound? These jealousies of poets as diverse as Ezra Pound and George Barker (in Barker ‘the political’ is more diffuse, straddling his early work and his very late poems), I think, is manifest in the ease with which social and political movements of their times enter the work. In Thomas we only have – as explicitly political – a handful of almost-journalistic pieces that seem to relate directly to his work in the BBC (that most propagandistic and pernicious of cultural outreach programs. The hand that signed the paper is the most cogent example… a mediocre poem, at best. Mainly because it doesn’t have the concrete detail of Yeats’s more political work). Pound – for the most part – stands outside of this. The insouciance of Thomas and the cultural urgency of Pound, though, provides an interesting dialectic.

Yet, after the war, we hear a poet like Robert Creeley saying simply ‘everything is political’… a wonderful way of obscuring the fact that his poetry has very little of the social, the public in it… meaning; the social and the public imply polis, imply commentary on binding forms of social interaction. We all know what political is. Yet our definition of it – as with history – is a political process, in so far as – like any human phenomena – it is an angel of constant flux and mutation. The other trains of thought – philosophy, science etc – bolster it when it is an object of focus, regardless of ethical considerations.

Creeley is not overtly a political poet, thus he is forced to say that ‘everything is political’ because there is something in a man that does not want to ignore entirely the political, no matter how mystical, philosophical or metaphysical certain of his artistic instincts are. What happens is that the claim ‘everything is political’ allows for an absorption of the social self, the public self, into minutiae and fragmentation. And this is not to say that Creeley’s investigations of male-female relationships, ostensibly, are not useful… but it, perhaps despite itself, allows for the disintegration of the public voice in poetry. I’m thinking particularly of the descent into L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E poetry, so that – by the 70s -American poetry is now ensconced in a poetry that is, by method, anti-public, in general. Is Joyce, within the American paradigm, then, also a fragmentation of the public aspect of artistic production? That is absolutely an interesting problem, and implies a whole critique of the ‘stream of consciousness’ mode (and if Freud is the cause of this – he was not explicitly a cause, in the cases of Lawrence and Joyce – there is still a problem there in terms of a cultural permission toward the inner voice. Joyce being much more an example here). But one would have to counter that with the claim that Joyce’s voice of an unconscious, as it were, gave literary life to a concept hitherto only theorised. This is one function of art; to give life to a concept… linguistic life, given the body is not only physical, but a function of language. Logos, making matter… assumes, from that divine standpoint, ethical import. The descent in contemporary art, in the 21st Century, is that it confuses the conceptual with that embodying, and enlivening, of language. The critic, essentially, has become the artist. And theory or concept, in its purest forms, then gets lost in mercantile considerations. This occurs to the point where it cannot create outside of a set of rigid theoretical and political stances.

In the British poets of the thirties (sometimes grouped under the short-lived Apocalypse banner) the tone, particularly in Gascoyne and Barker very much seems to be one of social engagement. Contra Joyce. And it strikes me, the more I think about these poets, that – when we discuss the political – we are actually talking about forms of thought, of psyche. Stream of consciousness, though, is a radical alternative to the social, the socially sayable. Perhaps valid, perhaps not (for Roger Scruton – whose youtube videos I’ve perused in extremis of late – Joyce’s mode is no comfort, and no extension, to his anti-modernism… what we forget about Joyce, though, is that – out of the unconscious voice- he extended the socially sayable… but at the expense of the public voice… what I think we witness here is advent of forms of thought that do not consider social voice… a problem we still have not grasped the consequences of. Suffice to say, both Buckie Fuller and McLuhan attest to the idea that all social infrastructures of western nations would have to take account of the reconfiguration this dissolution into dream-life and dream-utterance… utter pre-educational invention, would herald).

With the poets of the thirties we get the impression that the poetic voice is an extension of what is socially sayable. Psyche, by contrast is of great use, but she is not always entirely to be trusted, also. This is something, in modernism, that has become confused… an approach that only the Victorian would have understood. Which is to say that the Apocalypse school – even though its individual poets imagined themselves to be modern (and despite Thomas’s hatred of Tennyson!) – were more ensconced in a thread of poetics that didn’t see that contraction of the public voice into the inner voice as real. There is more throat in Thomas’s mode than dream, or mind, in the Eastern sense.

But, to get back to Psyche. Just this morning, this quote in a copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

Arabs could be on an idea as on a cord; for the unpledged allegiance of their minds made them obediant servants. None of them would escape the bond till success had come, and with it responsibility and duty and engagements. Then the idea was gone and the work ended – in ruins. Without a creed they could be taken to the four corners of the world (but not to heaven) by being shown the riches of earth and the pleasures of it; but if on the road, led in this fashion, they met the prophet of an idea, who had nowehere to lay his head and who depended for his food on charity and birds, then they would all leave their wealth for his inspiration. They were incorrigibly children of the idea, feckless and colour-blind, to whom body and mind were for ever and inevitably opposed. Their mind was strange and dark, full of depressions and exaltations, lacking in rule, but with more of ardour and more fertile in belief than any other in the world.

Psyche is what occurs when Principle is partially or fully absent. Psyche, the pull of the social. And a woman, a goddess. Inferno, Purgatory and Paradiso. Pure politics is something absolutely in tune with the hierarchies of nature, and thus by extension the spiritual hierarchies present in the unseen. Seer is not at all a flippant term in this context, not only in a spiritual context… but also in politics; in separating wheat and chaff. Our attraction to Dante after over 800 years remains because of our attraction to the hierarchical, both in politics, in nature and in spirit. And Psyche, in this world – I’d say – is incontrivertably public and social.


Conceptions of Mind, Nomenclature

But also politics; child of the ideological. Adjective for the word idea, ιδέα, ratio, idée, Vorstellung. The translations leave and arrive in a Clapham Junction of the soul (that last word itself, with numerous translations… anima, âme, esprit, alma… anyone? The Spanish for soul is the Hungarian for apple, by the way. Interestingly toroidal, then. Geist…anyone? The making of I’s… Is… Eyes… I… θεός… I Theos… I… Deus). Thus, also, the ideal. ‘Of myself and God, god/gods’? The ideal.

The fall into conflations, permutations, alchemy… compounds. Wordgains-and-losses. You can see that strain, that argument, in Yeats – The Victorian? – ‘s All Soul’s Night:

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world, can stay
Wound in mind’s pondering,
As mummies in the mummy cloth are wound;
Because I have a certain marvellous thing to say,
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock

Yeats applying the Joycean procedure? Except that Yeats seizes the midway and Joyce goes for – ultimately – the inexplicable (in some sense The Mystic… but more precisely what Duncan named Language Mysticism. This would not be to Akhmatova’s liking. No Russian fails – or succeeds? – in terms of that procedure). As with Nietzsche, there is an implicit sense that mind is a protectress here… something whose function is to not stray too vehemently into materiality. But Yeats trades on the Hindu usage of ‘mind’ here, and yet ‘mind’ in the western usage also has a ‘fallen’, earthly aspect. In this argument Lawrence’s preference against ego, against ‘mind’ won out. So that ‘mind’ in English has something of a dirty connotation in poetry after WWII. In Hindu thought it doesn’t have that quality.


In the 20th Century only Corso and Stevens seem to dissent from it, with Ginsberg acquainting it with moloch. Moloch exists though… but it is only one kind of mind. (Philip Lamantia saw it in The Owl, possibly splayed across the psycho-geography of Washington D.C? & that this is absolutely an element of the spiritual degradation of our current political elites).

But that is the Indo-Aryan tradition. Descent and ascent of etymology. We had to split the mindbody up in order to conceive of its parts. When scientism is over in the west then what will be the resolve? What is politick is the social. But it is the social redefined… with Joyce very much part and parcel. I turn from the goddess at my shoulder… and perceive that I am living in a world of others. Sartre, a true Hebraic avatar, found that rush-in of The Other debilitating. Hell is other people. Blake counters it with; the most sublime act is to set another before you. When you cannot take something from the pure presence of another then you are morally lost. We have lauded Sartre’s arrogance and drawn it too far into ourselves. Unknown to each other along the happy street, each dials up 100 other streets in the world… by the hour. The All (one of Yeats’s most used words), or The Internet-All… more succinctly appears on the radar of The Each. Expansions and contractions. Yet, a nation to contain it? Definitely, yet the terms slip and slide… but, again, the nomenclature sticks while the definition changes. Destruction and conquest of space. NASA not included. We needed a globalism to be a foil for the true yearning for world culture. To see that the deeper spiritual obeisance to cultural interaction had to have characteristics, that definition and nomenclature are interactive. That western civilization be, in general terms, a place for people who are white and of European descent. The dying arts of multicultural values and international diplomacy depend entirely upon the idea that values are allowed to become ill-defined over decades, and – in many contexts – centuries. What Hell is other people also did, was to allow for the idea that if such a thing were true, it needn’t be that bothersome to define who the social other was. If the other was from a totally different culture that did not share your language or values, you could simply appeal to that all-too-general totem of despair. Meaning; defy definition of any system of values or tradition.

On a more philosophical footing, though, perhaps the modernists, as children of Nietzsche, had to suffer The Other for a while. That The Other is teacher. Modernism… hmm, how anti-social is it? It really hinges on the now-almost-entirely-disappeared notion of The Great Man, and that this had ties to genius in literary artistry. Despite the lunacy of ‘The Great War’, the entire period from the end of the 19th Century through to the early 20s is permeated with the idea that a single individual can be a prime agent of social change… and, whether one believes in the politicos of that era, we can at least believe that the artists were similarly driven, and implied hierarchy

You are held in the world by your own devising… the noli me tangere of Lawrence… still a choice. Mass man is to be held at bay so as to eventuate the artist, as proto-politician (in slow motion) to go about making epochs. The contemporary workplace, though – at least for the acutely sensitive – reduces him to quantified object (hold on while I put on Nick Drake’s Place To Be). And yet there is still a pull -the magnetism – that exists in the man, out of time. The danger in this is the post-Creative-Writing-course idea that mass man has creative tendencies. Education seeks to level and equalize the creative tendencies of man in totality. I remember the words written on John Clare’s gravestone: A Poet is Born, Not Made. An absolutism now foreign to us. The implication being something that the arts – their scholar minions – can reconfigure the artistic impulse and make it sociable, nurturable; the long-held stance of the social sciences… this ridiculous dualism of nature vs. nurture. Thomas and Yeats would laugh at that, I would imagine… and thus could not function as popular artists in the 20th Century… so festooned is it with government grants and inorganic opportunities for poem-lending; as the muse of usury were conjured in some arm of The Bank of England.

And thus Polis… could it only be corrupting? Blame Baudelaire. That great saint and sinner of modernism. I feel acutely, bodily, this Yahwist sense of man in the mass… of him as an amorphous enemy that came out of the tradition of the Old Testament, and which Nietzsche, perhaps despite himself, lauded… held up, but held up to his own contempt (or Bob Dylan, in Don’t Look Back, when asked what, exactly, his feeling is, when confronted by another… his reply, in no uncertain terms, being; “I don’t like them!”) But this is only part of the story. That staying wound in mind’s pondering… how much of that wound-ness encompasses the social? It even has a sense in which, in its attempt to maintain reality, there is an evasion from the more spurious and unprincipled senses of the politic, what the polis encompasses, or would encompass. We have retreated from each other, and drawn closer to each other. We know that mass man could be sick, dangerous… could be simply ‘herd’. And yet also he is his own emancipator.

Myth attempts to solve this; let us not be ourselves, let us be Story… and, in story, be ourselves. Two travellers meet in a forest grove. What is your story? Why are you here? Odysseus affirms Scruton’s οἶκοςoikos – the rapture and yearning toward – home – but only in as much as he has been Away, and knows what Away really signifies. Is this only respiration, breathing?

To be a tourist in one’s hometown, to be at home abroad. Liberalism is simply surfeit of the latter. The traveller, so long Away from Home that he simply inserts Away into his conception of Home, inviting all foreigners to fill up that conception. It would seem natural, that way? But is not.


A Descent

This, from an online review of Yeats by Adam Kirsch:

there is also a cost to this way of writing poetry, which you can see in some of Yeats’s other poems from this period. For if the world as it should be is all that matters to a poet, the world as it is can’t help looking a little contemptible—and that goes for all the people in it.

Kirsch, like the good puppy dog of post-modernism, takes only from the former part of Yeats’s acclaimed pronouncement of ‘to hold in a single thought reality and justice’. It is the great error of almost all poetry since the end of the war. The loss of the ideal in favour of the real, but not even the real…! morelike a kind of co-opted uber-materialist real which denies tradition, denies modernism… at least in the aspect the better ‘modernists’ had, of imbibing the romantic poets’ legacy while still allowing themselves a more urban, more quotidian vocabulary at times. The heart, however, is on the wane. It would take a re-reading of Lawrence’s Look! We Have Come Through! to reinstate the romantic into modernism. I take it on trust that contemporary literature courses, lost to their feminist and Marxist paradigms, could not go back to a book like that without severely tainting it it with critical theory.

What is… that is the great and false chiming at the heart of every production of poetry. What one loves, what one prefers, what one admires… all matters of the heart… these are absent in the contemporary world of poetry. What is published now by poetry publishers is simply the entropy of a single technique. And to bring them back is traditionalism. Is Dangerous. Is simply ‘out of our era’. (And when I hear an uber-liberal poet like Niall McDevitt respond to the poetry of Arseny Tarkovsky as ‘old-fashioned’ or ’19th Century’ (the excerpts published here at The Fiend) it tells me something about the way the public voice in poetry has been co-opted into a different fragmentation, that of the post-Ginsbergian minor compainant. It also tells me of the great cultural descent against the spiritual, and against religiosity, in western culture. (It seems to always be one of those two strands… either Creeley’s implied permission toward L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E or the Ginsbergian social wailing. McDevitt’s work is more than that, I’ll accede to… Pound is there, but the grandeur of the spiritual poets of the Victorian era is entirely gone. Perhaps that is his intention; something he is comfortable with… but what interests me about it is that there is something so traditional about British and western culture implicitly lost in this. That the liberal, in his vision of literary progression, is simply blind to).

Because in Kirsch, as in a myriad of other contemporary commentators it is vital that we understand the extreme loss of any imagination in literature and literary criticism. They simply cannot acknowledge the primacy of the imagination, and the legacy of the romantic in Yeats’s conception. In Soviet Russia they had leaders, and policies, they thought not to offend. In twenty first century Europe and North America we have an era we cannot offend, a sensibility. Liberalism. Neo-liberalism. I call it Post-Liberalism, in that it is a paradigm unaware of its own impending death. And to know that sensibility – as the foreigner does – is to have the tools to avoid it. One would need a retreat from the cultural to such a degree that my 10-15 years abroad would seem to be only scratching the surface. (How would Dante have appeared to his contemporaries in the fifty years after the Divine Comedy appearing in the world? It is incredibly difficult to begin to see it as his contemporaries did. But I suspect that they saw it very much in the same light that a few hundred American universities – and god knows how many academic scholars – see Pound’s Cantos. They do not get it. They hack away at its corners like so many cheese-hungry mice. While the public gleans something entirely emancipating, and holistic, in it).

In England, the government, and a large gaggle of government-funded poetry magazines, keep that same little politically correct paradigm firmly in place. It is in that tiny playground where all the awards are doled out, where all the reputations are made. That is the U.K. It shrunk down modernism to fit its own tiny size.

It took me a while to figure out it is the same in America (and something of my bad editorial choices at The Fiend have been a part of that learning process) but I did come to such a conclusion. I just read the other day that students of the University of Pennsylvania pulled down a prominent portrait of Shakespeare, protesting that he didn’t reflect ‘a diverse range of writers’… ironic, given his work is most probably the result of a range of writers, as a Facebook commentator wrily pointed out… and doubly ironic, given this university is home to Pennsound… one of the main sites my earlier writing on Robert Duncan, in particular, had been based on.

One understanding I gleaned from Pennsound, though, is how one can see the magnitude of the drop-off in poetic quality between, say the mid-60s and the turn of the century. Why the mid-60s? Well, because, ostensibly, this time is when the writers that were mature between the wars die out, and they are replaced by a baby-boomer generation who have seemingly taken none of their teachings on board. They are simply bad interpreters. And good interpretation allows for the resurrection of the memory of the poet, the vitality of their elusive teachings. The prime example of this would be the lives – and deaths – of Charles Olson, Ezra Pound and Yukio Mishima. In England Gascoyne, Barker and Elizabath Smart continue into the 80s and 90s but they are very much the weaker link and are not as openly politically engaged as the American strain I mention. Thus the desert…


Inaugurations, Maskmaking

I am in a friend’s room in Gwangju, South Korea. We are watching the entrance of Barack Obama into The White House.

I am in a small restaurant in a suburb of the same city… watching the inaugeration. I am a complicated human adult, a poet, of tiny, almost anonymous reputation; to others and myself. Back in my friend’s house we are most probably having a couple of beers, and he is perhaps holding forth on the change that is afoot in American politics. I am polite… he is happy that the Bush era is over. So am I. He thinks that Obama can change things. I am polite. Do I think Obama will change very much? Life is mysterious. Politesse; also politic? Social regard. That is all these meanderings come down to? And everything it comes down to. Quality of attention. A foreboding… a definite insouciance.

Now we know Barack Obama is a waste of space. Who will be next, in the psychological polis? Emergence of Mr. Trump. Mr Farage. Better… but not best?

But back to Mr. Kirsch:

What the spirits taught Yeats, underneath all the odd machinery of A Vision, was that the world is not as it appears; that there is another order in the universe, a hidden and majestic and powerful order, which a few choice spirits can learn to see. For Yeats, this revelation confirmed the definition of poetry he had long held: that it was a matter of disciplining and transforming the ordinary world. “As I look backward upon my own writing,” he once said, “I take pleasure alone in those verses where it seems to me I have found something hard and cold, some articulation of the Image which is the opposite of all that I am in my daily life, and all that my country is.

Tradition, then, in opposition? But that he had also made sacrifices too sacerdotal (and Maud Gonne did not forgive him for his senatorial role, for his naivety, that ol’ brag of ‘changing them from the inside’… De Valera; England’s Greatest Spy etc). Kirsch continues:

This was the opposition that Yeats meant to capture when he wrote that his mystical metaphors “…helped me to hold in a single thought reality and justice.” The famous phrase could be the motto of the whole generation of poets that we now know as the high Modernists. For poets such as Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens, reality —the world as it is, as we see it in the newspapers and on the street— is incomplete on its own. It needs to be balanced, corrected, and maybe even replaced by a contrary vision of justice—the world as it should be, and as it can be in great works of art and literature. For Yeats and Pound, in particular, the effort to “hold in a single thought reality and justice” was responsible for what was best in their poetry. But it was also responsible for much that was morally questionable—which helps to explain why one of their greatest successors, W. H. Auden, came to repudiate that high ambition.

There is some meat here (but how Kirsch could only relish that; some articulation of the Image which is the opposite of all that I am in my daily life, and all that my country is? Again, the overdose of outsiderdom is what is entirely fringe also… what is abominably popular? The actress and the bishop).

Yeats’s maskmaking is both a departure and a confrontation. Departure, as in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, advising: My brothers, do you then want to suffocate in the fumes of their animal mouths and appetites? Better to break the window and leap into the open air. / Avoid this bad odour! Leave the odolatry of the superfluous! / Avoid this bad odour! Leave the smoke of these human sacrifices! (advice for people regarding black magicians like The Clintons!?) Surfeit of outsiderdom, anyone? It is too much departure without confrontation. Or no?

In that intermingling of departure and confrontation art leaps out. The gyres ascertain a vehicle, a group-soul – both predestinational – and spontaneous in the pan-reincarnational will. Nietzsche’s Will to Power is only half the battle. That curious addendum ‘…and nothing besides’ is where the worrisome element of his tack is found. As, through a glass darkly, the gods reproduce themselves, mingle with the heart. Power, in such a conception, is purely social… humility, even in one’s utmost strength, one’s utmost power, must inevitably fall to a humility… and, in that mystic humility, the gods will do their work. In the group-soul, mirroring that individual template, only the bard, Fili, shaman has the necessary acumen to glean its utterances (and all conversation everywhere is an indicator but not a pronouncement… one also pronounces in response to it as much as being ‘of it’ or representative of it. Which is also why I distrust all ideas of poetry as an  ‘everyday’ or quitidian dictation. The spiritual other will not conform as the social other does. Zukovsky, O’Hara limit themselves in wallowing in it).


Gaia & Beyond

The Earth, for instance – at least for Nietzsche’s Zarathustra – does not enter into that process. It does not inform that process. Would Blake’s nervousness regarding Wordsworth’s nature worship find a corollary here? Yet there is a feeling that earth, under some new conception, could encompass psyche and polis, and would not – like Zarathustra – have to throw out too many of the gods. I move more towards Wordsworth in my dotage. Blake says There Is No Natural Religion… the condition of religiosity, if it be a perpetual form of the Welsh hireath – yearning for what is not – perpetually gives permission to forms of spirit. Psyche – if fallen! – perceives matter as spirit. Yet nature is here to recapitulate a reversal in this. It says; “I am here to give you leisure but to remind you of what you are not… an example of More Than This, is what you are.” But how could you know this, without reference… without comparison? This is the only way to rest easy in a consideration of both Blake and Wordsworth. When I’m tired I read Wordsworth. When I am energetic I read Blake.

But the bucket spills in different directions. Humanism is overload of the human upon itself, as Heidegger understood it. An appeal to nature, as modus, is ‘un-earthly’ by being a possibility of the anti-human (Shelley fell into this habit, at least early on… I am still plagued by what Shelley, the vegetarian – the proto-disciple of Kundalini, of Eros – could’ve achieved… even given another decade).

Suchly, when you look at the girl’s holiday snaps you realise she is lonely. There are only landscapes. No people. Or nothing of human vitality in the capturing of those landscapes? Nature is barren, inert, without the potential majesty of the human soul inherent in poetic apprehension. This is photography.

It would be tempting to go back to the Yeats poem and have Our Lady Politic be also some form of Gaia, or some other earth-force representative. Something of the immanence of James Lovelock and John Lash? And I am very nervous about that possible connection between the goddess and Sophia, and Lovelock’s Gaia. Which is to say… I don’t see it. I see goddesses and gods prancing around. I see Nietzsche ignoring them in order to launch a post-enlightenment anti-materialist argument. And becoming, at least partially, a materialist. I see Jesus Christ replaced by Zoroaster, instead of Christ as successor. Yes, the Persian lineage in European culture is the triumph of a Caucasian genius, and that Zoroaster is an instance of that. O.K. But – as with Tristan Tzara – the gods are diminished. Pound counters it with:

…The hells move in cycles, 
No man can see his own end 
The Gods have not returned. “They have never left us.” 
They have not returned. 
Cloud’s processional and the air moves with their living….


And Nietzsche replaces the appeal to Greece in his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, with (and despite himself?) Persia and Zoroaster, later on, in Thus Spake Zarathustra. We see it in all that comes down to us from Ahura Mazda. Rumi. All solid stuff (as with Rudolf Steiner’s delineation of it) but still an obfuscation that, after MacDari, ensures the west-to-east movement is only ghosted. We Celts appeal to ourselves when we look into Ahura Mazda. A rejection of Ahura Mazda is not the issue here. Ahura Mazda and Zarathustra are simply children of an earlier Celtic pantheon.

The Sufis (and not the milkwarm version of them come down to a Ted Hughes and a Doris Lessing… these were the Mohammedans persecuted by Islam… not Islam’s preogenitors) as they have come down to us in modern Britain, are, of necessity, only the facile hint of a much wider tradition of which we were once a part. It could even be that Nietzsche – by his extensive use of Zoroaster – is a reincarnation of that historic personage; troubled, wise, dictatorial etc. What he does have in his favour, though, is this ability to broaden his psyche further than the classical… most of the German romantics simply fell into a worhip of the south, and of Greece (Heidegger – later – could be included here). Only Goethe and Nietzsche fully break out of this (Goethe, in his interest regarding the Biblical East, and via Hafiz… Nietzsche via Zoroaster).


Die Götterdämmerung 

Scanning through a copy of Maud Gonne’s letters to Yeats a few days ago, I come across this:

I have been thinking over the Celtic rite you read to me & away from the glamour of the musical words I see some defects which I think I should [?signal] to you.

As I said at the time it is far too much influenced by Neiche [Nietzsche], not only as to expression but as to fundamental thought, for Neiche is not Celtic, though his intense individualism & his rushing fiery paradox & his impatience & his contempt for the banalite & smallness of the many useless ones, appeal to us – Nieche’s central thought seems to do away with the Gods, & to reverence & to recognise nothing greater than himself, this is most contrary to Celtic thought.

The Celts have always worshipped & striven after an ideal purer, more spiritual, higher than themselves & it is no abasement to them to kneel before such an ideal […] to me it seems the spear of the soldier piercing the side of Christ & letting the essence of God flow into the Graal cup is the same symbolism as the spear of Lug piercing the night & letting the essence of God the spark of fire of the soul flow down into the Cauldron of regeneration & rebirth, & the font of baptism & the holy water seem to me the same as the purifying Cauldron of Dana which begins initiation, or the deep well by the tree of knowledge!

The altar of sacrifice & of glory is it not the stone of sacrifice & empire? & the sword which was to the warriors of old an inspiration as well as a defence is it not symbolised in the pure sword of Bridget the holy. What do I care if the Great Mother is called Mary or Dana or Bridget or the Captain of the Armies of Heaven is called Lug or Michael.

‘Nuff said? That the Celt is so mythologically and romantically driven that Nietzsche’s dialectic between Christian and Anti-Christian can be bypassed – or balanced? – without losing any of its argumentative drive. Yeats leaves that question wide open, yet Thomas – in his celebrated prologue to the last Collected Poems – appeals to pure monotheism.  I want to know why the Irish and the Welsh are so different in this. It is as if I am re-playing an ancient drama between god and gods; the schism of old… praps Julian Jaynes could’ve told me. Spinoza and Thomas… curiously interesting compadres?


Fake Dualisms, Culture & Counterculture


But to return to that holding in a single thought reality and justice, departure and confrontation. By the time we get to Ginsberg something else has occurred, and it calls itself ‘counterculture’ (with all the usual parallels with the Frankfurt school included, of course). The first question we might ask is; did we buy into culture enough, so as to buy into counterculture? In the forest of false dualisms I shall fear no theory-spouting wolf… a little Ezra Pound meme I saw recently; ‘the technique of infamy is to invent two lies and to get people to argue heatedly over which one of them is true’. Yet, Pound DID have culture, or Kulchur… and the spelling is somehow necessarily different. Not Cult-ure. And many will be familiar with Mr McKenna’s Culture is Not Your Friend speech? The surrealists and the dadaists would warm to that, I’d imagine.

And yet I find myself requiring balance. I can take Tarkovsky’s stance on this, his traditionalist fever… retain culture via an aristocracy of artists? In order to get over the word culture a countering was necessary in western thought… and yet the Russian knew better to enter that dualism. We have not yet understood how antithetical Tarkovsky is to western liberalism. His take on women alone would make the hordes of British and American feminists shriek like banshees. Let them have their epoch, their dwindled anti-vital psyche, let them watch it shrink into the gleaning of an utmost cowardice, an evisceration of self and Self.

I can also enjoy Lamantia’s A Civil World (the lambasting of a totally crazed modern America) and yet there is something juvenile in it, amusing though it may be. What was juvenile in my earlier pieces on Dimensional Poetics was just that. They (the Beats, many of the surrealists, in their brute liberalism and communism) had decided the west was doomed. And so it has been? No… not exactly… the confontation has to find its root, its truest cause. And yet counterculture was psychologically founded upon a shying away from cause… and a retreat into symptoms.

Shame is Pride’s cloak. The utterable is sophistication, refined by the Fili. How much satire can one take? How much lungspace for laughter? Nobility of all language… that also doesn’t cut it (Zukovsky, O’Hara, as I mention… these artists worship, perhaps despite themselves, a materialism, instead of seeing that the workings of language itself are partly spiritual and even supernatural). Newspeak, you will have to go. De-constructionspeak, be warned! In the desert there are many things to laugh at, yet under the usual liberal and neo-liberal auspices it is the one thing on repeat… capitalism, capitalism, and now the Illuminati, as monogram (though the truth be much more complex than this). The conspiracy and alternate research fields had to be reborn to re-enter where political and religious engagement had been cut off prior to World War II. And that is where the Ickes and the Alex Joneses of this world enter. In the former an end-times interplanetary meme, in the latter a more timid Reaganite agenda. And, while I see the Alt-Right as antidote to this I wonder what figures on the right can be taken as heroic from our most immediate past. I would take Nixon over Reagan and Thatcher anyday… my Irish lineage will not allow for Thatcher’s approach re: Bobby Sands etc. What is most symbolic, in terms of poetry, is the fall from conservatism into the Marxist approach. Yet! It would have to be a conservatism almost completely shorn of the twentieth century. The last great figures of conservatism, in the past century, would have to be Yeats, later Eliot… and Pound (with many artists of a later Celtic strain – Thomas among them – falling for communism… and why? Because the Celt seeks the unitary in social life, and in certain functions of artistic purpose, and thus is fooled into notions of equality).

Is it not tragic, for example, that the academies take The Waste Land, The Hollow Men… as their totem, instead of Four Quartets? Yes, those earlier things were necessary – and if WWI was the beginning of the end for the west, understandable – but this liberalist body, in its worship of entropy, simply pitches them into the future as an infinite condition, rather than a historical weeping. It is not Adorno, but it is not far from it.

Both McKenna and Alan Watts, in their own separate ways, indicate something other than modern western culture in their philosophies… the problem therein is the building of a notion of creativity that truly opposes. Dada, likewise, chooses to introduce creative method as anti-art… meaning that Beat literature and contemporary poetry, for the most part, follow that approach, inheriting the ‘anti-art’ stance, in the popular sense; through Dada, surrealism, and beyond WWII. Post-modernism, then, becomes an imperative in descent… pushing an anti-artistic imperative, a fake rebellion in freefall. Satire, insofar as it was used by progenitors of those two movements of the WWI era, had its place. But in post-modernism it is the only imperative… an experiment in sardonic deconstructionalism gone insane. A supreme ironist’s stance. Insane enough to allow for – and absorb into itself – any of the faux-political media stories that come its way.

In Irish poetry of the nineteenth and early twentieth century we always have examples of satirical verse. What post-modernism does, though, is create a monogram of cultural rebellion in line with cultural Marxism. Nietzsche called this ressentiment; an endless spiral of intellectual one-up-man-ship. But if the subject, in dialectic, becomes trivial, those involved in it circle – in perpetuity – the magnetic argument their own powers of insouciance must transcend. Would Joyce embody that power of insouciance via dream language, or nay? Black humour, wordplay and punning would all fall into the category – for me – of a form of transcendence. Breton however, also could not sanction Joyce… proving that surrealism, and its barrage of motifs, could not accept the Joycean in early twentieth century art. That which doesn’t seem to have explicit worldly reference, or is at least formally framed to appear as such, is damned… since it does not claim to paint an apparent world, apparent under the aegis of the mass; a democratic envisioning. Celtic art, at least under Joyce’s terms, is the most undemocratic form of art, possibly in the world. Although it trades in the mythic and the classical, in the minutiae of its expressive power it denies any social world. Which is creation, but a problematic hyper-individualism? Only problematic for the politician or statesman… not problematic for the artist. Breton, despite his aiming for a Reality, elsewhere – the glow of the divine – would always fall back into forms of political adventure, of theory. Again, there is the glimmer of the statesman, the critic, in such an attitude.


Facts of Historical Perception, A Second Descent

And, regarding the subject of Pound, here’s a piece that exemplifies tranference. Transference of poetry as culture, descended under the aegis of poetry as counterculture:

War Profit Litany
To Ezra Pound

These are the names of the companies that have made money from this war
nineteenhundredsixtyeight Annodomini fourthousand eighty Hebraic
These are the Corporations who have profited by merchan-
dising skinburning phosphorous or shells fragmented
to thousands of fleshpiercing needles
and here listed money millions gained by each combine for manufacture
and here are gains numbered, index’d swelling a decade, set
in order…

The opening lines of a Ginsberg poem from ’68, the year of the Paris riots. What fascinates me about this poem is that, unlike The Cantos, it doesn’t do exactly what it claims it is doing… and does so in the name of Ezra Pound. It does not name… (all that importance of Kabbalistic naming?) and the best it can do is demonstrate an empty intention.

The passing, in this case, from one generation to another comes down to an empty gesture. We are treated to the problem of ‘corporations’ without knowing which ones are the most problematic to us, and who we should investigate, both personally and legally. Pound’s fight is reduced to a few crocodile tears. And so it goes with a whole host of writers in the same generation. It is the ghost of departure, the empty departure… the empty confrontation. Ginsberg is necessary to liberalism because he maintained that empty gesture of political confrontation so that others could get on with other things.

The performance aspect of the thing is so abnegating of the truest political struggle at that point that it almost makes me laugh. Nietzsche is taken to the most performative conclusion that that sense of the wrongdoing of mass man is magnified without, somehow, being truly witnessed. The excuse, in a more supportive reading of the poem, I guess… would be that Ginsberg is simply aping Pound, he is seeing his own performative and protesty element in The Cantos and projecting that out onto the reader. And providing… generalities? (If you are going to kill someone, name them! Do not name their type. You would have a bloodbath on your hands and still there would be the rumour that you may not have brought your enemy to justice).

Interesting… all this… but still somehow a dissolution of Pound’s original intent. If it were me, as reader, I would expect a true meeting. A meeting of twin-Justices.

There also seems to me to be an absence of the jovial, not only in this, but in the heave of the social after the war (a book would be needed to do justice to this, and the names McClure, Ginsberg, Dylan, Olson would have to be up there for crit)… so that where the artist can carry Ginsberg with them, the researcher can take their Chomsky. Both men can feel truly accommodated in a false intelligence while the true naming can be permanently stalled…. the jovial – in life – by the saintliness of the newspaper, the information… in flux constantly, and without any depth of instinct and intuition. My way out is John Pilger, gentlemen.

But compare late Ginsberg with Goethe. You really get to see the true descent of western literature. Hollow, juvenile, Buddhistic platitudes with the most careless of journalistic investigations. It is an example of fake Gnosticism that was appalled by all that is physical. Ginsberg’s ethos of the body is almost pornographic (to expect anything else, by a confirmed supporter of NAMBLA?) and the individual, reduced to an end in itself. The heart lost somewhere behind the mires of ego avoidance and, contradictorily, a faux exemplar of the informed intellect. A paradox in descent. (And Hughes’s latent Manichean elements thrown in…? That is possibly for another essay).

But, to return to Kirsch on Yeats, in the light of War Profit Litany;

…there is also a cost to this way of writing poetry, which you can see in some of Yeats’s other poems from this period. For if the world as it should be is all that matters to a poet, the world as it is can’t help looking a little contemptible—and that goes for all the people in it.

To hold in a single thought reality and justice. The world as it should be… the ideal, justice. The world as it is… reality. And yet there is no penetration, no dreaming toward justice… it is too much with the world, as Wordsworth would say. What Kirsch is really saying is that Yeats’s methodology sits in the purely ideal realm… and that reality – somewhere downwind from it – is garbage because of it. The essence being; because you live in such a high pitch of the ideal, my ‘real’ is disturbed and looks to be awful because of it. This is loss of respect. Reality -twinned to the ideal – impaired because only a shallow form of justice sought. A saint of only the real. Blunt badness of the world. Bedfellow of The Information.

The Celts solve this by being able to glean beauty in another’s efforts toward the ideal; a sometime-correction of the real. In Kirsch, thought – the real – is contemptible because the critic gathers it into himself, in the face of the invasion of that poetic ideal. What is that mode, then? To be blunt, it is a nihilistic, envious criticism, a mode that envies, and sees the real, as hellish, and other… in the face of beauty, and of the ideal. And that has been the reigning mode since 1945… its seeds planted much earlier, as early as the switch from the Victorian age to the modern age (and I say ‘modern’ only in the literary sense). Criticism against the highest tone, then… instead of the complement. Which does not necessarily imply ‘With’, or ‘In Agreement-with…’ Criticism must complement, and can quite easily complement in simultaneity with opposition.

While surrealism was subjectivity gone to the nth degree counterculture was subjectivity simultaneously destroyed and energised by The Information, the journalistic approach. Loss of elegance. The transcendental without a body… or if the body exists it is masturbating in a corner over a copy of The New York Times. And when Ginsberg said he was obsessed by Time magazine he meant it. It reminds me of this little sliver from Thomas’s ‘…Long-Legged Bait’. Time, and her other way, or to metaphorise the literal:

Time is bearing another son.
Kill Time! She turns in her pain!
The oak is felled in the acorn
And the hawk in the egg kills the wren.

(This meets any rule of the prophetic mode any Poundian could throw at it. Human nature as form of nature turned in on itself. Penultimate entropy).

Interesting, then, conspiracy fans… that the great critics of Ginsberg, in Beat literature, all seem to end in absence, in early deaths. Spicer. Kerouac (who, not unintentionally, named Ginsberg ‘Marx’ in his fiction) and Cassady.


His American Asia

Between Obama’s inaugeration and somewhere around 2011 or 2012 I would have been happy to have left that instinct against what I had perceived occurring between the hand-over from Pound to Ginsberg for someone else to look into and criticise. I was also busy reading into a lot more of American poetry than I’d hitherto taken account of. Robert Duncan. Charles Olson. Robin Blaser. Jack Spicer. Robert Kelly. Clayton Eshleman.

For a long while Eshleman lay closest to me somehow, perhaps only because he had, like me, spent time in Asia… I was fascinated by the connection between him and Cid Corman (who was still around, living in Kyoto, just a 40 minute train ride from my place in Kobe, Japan). I attempted to get Eshleman published in a small English language magazine in South Korea.

The thing didn’t last long because I actually perceived that my role as editor would be taken seriously, not realizing that all foreigners are editor-puppets of Korean bosses, these in turn, beholden to government funds that came through the largest university of that town, and did very little for any conception of true journalism in that scene.

(I’d even go further and say any foreigner – in the face of a political and cultural majority – tends to turn into a pet fairly swiftly. I am sceptical of minorities – and I am most sceptical of them when I am racially living amongst them… they will do anything to raise the eyebrow of a fresh majority figure… so weak is the human soul in our times. Always, and always, the foreigner is simply parsley on the wider cultural agenda of any given country… his language – in my case, English – absorbed into whatever fashion is then current in that other country. In this way, I generally distrust the members of any minority in a country… as they are always quick to appeal to the current social mores of the majority. Innovation and ‘the unknown idea’ always come from out of a majority, though – though in a different way – often exiled. This implies the idea that one is only of use to the people of one’s own racial heritage. The Celt does seem different, however… at least in the western world, his lineage is prized as possibly superior and separate. In so far as other races are aware of the Celt, they are pulled into knowledge of them by a fundamental sense of respect and curiosity, regardless of the various stupidities and political backbiting that quite happily goes on in Celtic countries… the fundamental oikos in western man toward the antediluvean, and yet his total shunning of it at the conscious conversational level).

But, regardless, the magazine was simply a way for rich Korean business owners to promote their wares, and to be a voice for foreign and Korean visiting political dignitaries’ vapid pronouncements on domestic and international affairs. Satan gets around…?!

I was fighting wars on all fronts… the cowardly foreign sub-editors who would do anything to bolster the opinions of the Korean bosses, and trying to soothe the always-fragile egos of real writers, who I perceived Eshleman, at the time, to be one. The Korean editors, poorly instructed in English/Konglish/Korean eventually managed to fuck up the type and spacing in the magazine, an immense problem which Eshleman, from his distance, could not get his head round. I lasted a few more weeks at the magazine, trying to work with an idiot co-editor (some local American communist ex-pat who was related to George Schultz somehow) then called it quits. Shitty, happy, not-so-happy days.


Copernicus, The Keening, or To Take a Metaphor Literally, To Mis-take

Monsieur Zarathustra:

Where I beheld my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: it was the Spirit of Gravity – through him all things are ruined.
One does not kill by anger but by laughter. Come, let us kill the Spirit of Gravity!
I have learned to walk: since then I have run. I have learned to fly: since then I do not have to be pushed in order to move

Nietzsche against gravity (as with the flat earthers). The danger of taking metaphors literally. The enjoyment of taking metaphors literally… absorption into the spiritual and social other. Do-able, with balance. Gravitas. The child, smirking at the adult’s seriousness. The child’s total dependence on the adult. (Thomas’s absorption into childhood – by any schema of theory on art – again, as with Joyce, shuns the socially explicable forms of contemporary art).

Kant performed a Copernican Revolution. The spirits said the same to Yeats. Don’t keep retreating into philosophy, mate. Between Agatha Christie murder mysteries he kept getting wrapped up in it. Hegel. Kant. I have just started reading McTaggart. Now there’s a man that interests me. Hegel, possibly.

I’ve written of Kant’s noumenon elsewhere. It appeals to the mystic, the Parmenidean, in one. As with the eye of the needle… But what if Kant was simply saying: I’m tying the philosophical up – at least for the western mind – right… here! Fuck youse all! Now go and swim in the categories for eternity… never mind faeries and Tir Nan Og.

We know -being more sensible – that the attack on pure reason was not exactly natural science or enlightenment… and yet why a Copernican revolution, folks? Do we distrust a man who never left his home territory? (as with Dickinson?) I’ve no evidence, but Kant was writing in a Europe festooned with Jacobins and Weishaupt disciples.  Why but why did he apply his new philosophy to a cosmological concern? Modern European philosophy has always been intensely gunshy of cosmology, particularly given its research – and great reading – in the ancients. The Chaldeans would shake their heads in dismay. Particularly given that Kant’s appeal is so misplaced. The Alt-Right, bar a small number of modernists, may also make a similar error. It is shy of art… but this may be that its social conceptions are simply so young that only a few artists can forge a new power of the inexplicable within this new political attitude. Which begs the question; which comes first, a remaking of the divine under the purview of the artist, or an artist traversing the socially and politically new?

We have also been shy to accept the racial element in philosophy. I like certain things because it is in my blood to like them. But is that to confuse things? The racial absolutely is involved with philosophy. One can read outside of one’s race, but one’s tastes are simultaneously forged by it. Why do Spinoza, Whitehead, Heidegger, Schopenhauer, McTaggert appeal to me over so many others? These – despite their appeal to classical mores – are really the barbarians of European philosophy… and if they had been living in ancient Europe I assume that Plato and Aristotle would’ve put them in their place. We are critical of these, from instinct, because the philosopher king is inadequate. For the same reason Heidegger appeals to Heraclitus and Parmenides. Heretics to a republic, surely? More poetic than Plato could ultimately acknowledge. Heidegger’s End of Philosophy at least implies a return to artistic fervor, and the societal rule -in some format – of the artist. Except that he has no historical blueprint to lay out the theory properly. Why? Because he is stuck with purely classical forms of thought, and does not see the Greek as an essentially fallen being. There is not really fault in that. Except to say that forms of law would need to take into account earlier systems of social arrangement. The Irish, in ancient epochs, can solve the vagaries of Heidegger’s attempt by example of the Brehonic – and earlier – systems. I have not yet read into Schelling extensively… but from the little I know of him he suggests something very different in post-Kantian thought. I only know of Evola – and now Tsarion – who take Schelling incredibly seriously.


More Kant

2004? I am climbing up the side of a hill that is the ancient tomb of some Chinese king in Xian. It is a big deal. You can look it up on the net. I have become friends with a German couple, and the guy seems to have talked to me about Kant for nigh on a whole day. I like the Germans… the only problem is they’re the only bunch of people to be more brainwashed than the English. Nietzsche would be proud of me, I guess. (And yet, O’Donnell… I’ve seen you sneaking a peek at that Modern Library edition of Kant from time to time… how dare you?)

(But… again, why a Copernican Revolution? Kant was a philosopher… not a cosmologist! Let the numinous be your projection, the theoretical crystal ball… and wrap yourself in the categories for 200 and some odd years… all the way up to that cold 2004-Chinese night, pilgrim.


Gravitas & Revelation

2015? Well… Eric Dubay is all over the internet telling us the world is flat. I can handle it. Can you? There is no gravity. All those attendant theories I hold in my mind with a certain neutralised passion. Counterculture, there goes yer Einstein. Monotheism: the search for anti-relativity. And here, also, the wrath of Blake’s identification of Urizen as supreme scientistic malevolence. The names are known in this anti-pantheon; Locke, Bacon and Newton. It is all pretty straightforward. They are named, at least. Still, why not add the names of Kepler, Galileo, Bruno and Einstein to that mix? Again, this is harder to unpick, and I would be a little shy of putting Bruno in there without much more research… and yet what we do know is De Vere’s utter contempt of Philip Sidney and his circle, the same circle that most wooed Bruno. We know less of what the general public may have thought of Bruno around the time he was in England, and after. Could Rome have intentionally created a martyr in order to forward the heliocentric model? Yet, simply, that it wouldn’t entirely close until a good way into the 19th century? And that between those two eras, begun with Bruno’s death, sits Immanuel Kant.

Still, I am not building an argument, for example, against astrology necessarily. I am — though — interested in its use by people like H.P Morgan and Ted Hughes, for instance. Further, I am aware that both Gaia, or what we are now familiar with as the known universe, is an unreal fallen aspect of God mirrored – in Christian tradition – with the fall of Lucifer. The consequence of this is that we should study, in tandem, both the working facets of that dokos; the stars, and thus move – by intuition – to an understanding of what God, outside of dokos, is. To exercise the unknown senses that lie beneath the known five, we must proceed by the road of laughter, nonsense, wordplay and glossolalia. In a not-dissimilar way to Rimbaud’s proclamation: Je dis qu’il faut être voyant, se faire voyant. Le poète se fait voyant par un long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens. And the purest racial soul’s nonsense will seem more sensible than that of the artist pouring out a world from pure concepts and maneuvers of theory? (And yet one would want the mind – that prickly word – to be part of that process, too).

But does Nietzsche also contribute to the drama of gravitas and geocentrism, with The Madman? Seamus Heaney, strangely, also provides a parallel, unconscious of that fight, in his poem, Antaeus. Heaney remains a convert of the earthly… in many ways it is advisable (!) All of the art of the early twentieth century has been a tension between the earthly and the divine. After WWII, however, we are stuck with the earthly; Heaney, in essence, follows Hardy in this. Hardy – that great cataloguer of folk event and folk wisdom and attitude – takes on something of Heaney’s poetic imperatives (remember also, that Yeats got nothing from Hardy… Hardy – at least for me – is something to be gotten out from under… why? Because, again, in his era, he produced art against the strictest forms of religious doctrine… he fell into a dualism. You could also argue against Browning for the same reason. The angels visited only through the receptacle of earthly pastime. It was this or nothing… ? an absence of the other, yet commendably within the right mode and tradition. In modern times we see, in a highly hermetic manner, the angels of the Gnostic – and other writings – re-entering the minds of those conventionally religious, or writers enthusiastically of a folk tradition of a sort).

Antaeus  deserves the second glance, though. (Levertov, also rejects it; the purely spatial, the un-anchored mind… in her later poetry).

When I lie on the ground
I rise flushed as a rose in the morning.
In fights I arrange a fall on the ring
To rub myself with sand.
That is operative
As an elixir. I cannot be weaned
Off the earth’s long contour, her river-veins.
Down here in my cave
Girded with root and rock
I am cradled in the dark that wombed me
And nurtured in every artery
Like a small hillock.
Let each new hero come
Seeking the golden apples and Atlas:
He must wrestle with me before he pass
Into that realm of fame
Among sky-born and royal.
He may well throw me and renew my birth
But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth,

My elevation, my fall.

I recall the little lightning conduction rods that used to hang behind the rear wheels of cars in the 80s. How suspicious we all were… the vengeance of Zeus wrought upon some delicate Fiesta or Mini. But the vehicle, always reassuredly earthed. The lifting of man, in the crush and rush of the planets. A necessary fiction? Still, there an epoch ends, an aperture closes in the pyschic accretions of The Aeons, in order to allow the myth to be seen afresh. It can even be seen in the pure-planetariness of Icke’s new ‘Saturnian’ evil.

And, in opposition, why the Russians could not, via Solovyev, approve of wholehearted mysticism… they could see what havoc the long slide between Aleksandr Blok’s Poems to The Lady (John Lash’s Gaia; Sophia, in another aspect?) and his pre-eminent error of The Twelve could do. The poem that Christianized Bolshevism, and also had Hitler reeling over Christianity as its manifestation? Blok’s poem, more a threat to literary unrest than twelve Mayakovskys lined up against a wall denying mythology, denying folklore… or the rose of futurism placed in the barrel of a gun that will ultimately blow them away? Mayakovsky, destroyed by a same lack of insouciance. I do not see him as the great humorist… he is something of a kiljoy, his laughter had network, social conscience and the whiff of theory about it. The same has been levelled at Lawrence, particularly the complaint of his Nettles. But elsewhere we see much satiric humour, biting wit. In his poetry he divides himself too much as time, through the twenties, proceeds. In prose his insouciance continues unabated, and yet in poetry he becomes more earthly and pitiable… at least in patches. Perhaps why he and Joyce seem the most opposite.


On Elegance

As Richard Aldington, contemporary of both Lawrence and Joyce, writes, in his 1932 introduction to Lawrence’s Last Poems and More Pansies:

At two opposite poles of modern literarature stand D.H Lawrence and James Joyce. Lawrence, no doubt, is more widely read since nearly all his books circulate freely and are kept in print. Joyce has been much more the prey of the swarms of imitative writers who want to appear original, and this is because he has made numerous technical and verbal experiments which can easily be copied. The contrasts between the work of these two men can be elaborated almost indefinitely. The great difference I want to touch on now is that Joyce’s writing is founded on the conception of Being, and Lawrence’s on the conception of Becoming. It is not merely the difference of Catholic and Protestant (though, of course, Joyce is as essentially Catholic as Lawrence is Protestant) because this fundamental dilemma was stated long before Christianity by pre-Socratic Greeks.

How best to perceive differences in two of the great modernists…? In line with Heidegger – and with Joyce – we see the acting out of Being, and in literary expenditure… with the latter. In Heidegger it is the explaining of Being, in Joyce it is the embodying – via myth’s seizures – of Being. And that this is simply an elegance refuted by Lawrence. Is there any reflection in Joyce. The memories stand in their glass jars. Unhurried. Breathing. Lawrence allows for an admittance to failure… a thoroughly anti-philosophical stance.

And again, why did the instructors refute Yeats’s immersion in philosophy? It is because it would impede his own creative impulses. In the same way, then, Lawrence enters the fray. Philosophy – possibly shorn of the more humanistic assertions of Nietzsche? – always centres itself in System (and Nietzsche’s response to Schopenhauer’s system-building would confirm that, to an extent). System – child of Plato – demands at least a semi-pliable will toward rightness of assertion. Its intention is civilization. The philosopher destroys himself through that same assertion. Lawrence’s inelegance of Becoming treats system to forms of constant openness, and to self-paradox. Contrary to scholarly wisdom on Lawrence, this is an extremely humorous position to put oneself in.

Ulysses is static and solid, logically planned, smelling of the lamp, a sort of unchristmas present to the Lord in Whose sight a thousand years are as a day, a day is as a thousand years. It is a little static cosmos, like a huge rigid glass bubble blown out of the top of a head. It is, and there is nothing to be done about it. A strange, perfect, rather awful product of man’s will and mind, a sort of literary Frankenstein which has devoured its creator.

Now turn to Lawrence’s work – how fluid, how personal, how imperfect, a series of inconclusive adventures only related because they all happened to the same man. There is nothing static about this – everything flows. There is perpetual intercourse with the Muse, but the progeny is as surprising to the parent as to anybody else. Lawrence’s writing was not something outside himself, it was part of himself, it came out of his life and in turn fed his life. He adventured into himself in order to write, and by writing discovered himself.

Aldington then; correct… in that same invocation of panta rhei  πάντα ῥεῖ… everything flows (Heraclitus). The emphasis on Lawrence’s work as a poetic of Becoming. And right… in his understanding that this is an old pre-Socratic jag replayed. Yet we know that – dated to 1932 – he is somewhat out of the loop regarding what Joyce is currently up to. A couple of decades in the making, Joyce’s prima materia is yet to be unveiled… writing this statement he is not entirely aware that we at least partially live under – and are ensconced in – that Joycean shadow. What Joyce made, to become mingled with the ethos of pure concept, pure intellectuality; the post-modern ressentiment, of Nietzsche’s phrasing… Adorno and Derrida, its most potent exemplars? If Joyce could be maintained in holarchy perhaps only Kerouac, in later popular literary culture (and another Celt, removed slightly… in French Canada) would be a child of his moods of playfulness (yet the political landscape has changed irrevocably, and no longer could a writer maintain – in the same manner – the level of insouciance the earlier modernists studiously managed to achieve). By 1961, regarding The Joyce Industry we have this quipping response to what the world has done with Joyce, by Flann O’Brien:

The Irish Government would be in order in refusing a visa to any American student unless he had undertaken, by affidavit on oath, not to do a ‘thesis’ on James Joyce and subsequently have it published as a book. All literature has been defaced by so many abortions 

…and of Joyce himself, he says

He often committed that least excusable of follies, being ‘literary’. His attempted demolition of language was his other major attainment. What would you think of a man who entered a restaurant, sat down, suddenly whipped up the tablecloth and blew his nose on it? You would not like it — not of you owned the restaurant. That is what Joyce did with our beloved tongue that Shakespeare and Milton spoke…

History as we know it, and history as Joyce configured his work to be an emancipation from, though, is intended to fall away in an attempt at retrieving information from the unconscious that reveals the pre-diluvian miasma we were racially born from. It begs the question how linguistically explicable is moral and para-historical consciousness. What is explicit in all this is that the human paradiso did occur, and that history, through a series of floods, became base and sundered by greed. (Paradiso and Tir nan Og being synonymous with each other?) It is the old Biblical magnetism (or in Lash; The Fall of Sophia). Yet Joyce did not simply wish to be a Blavatsky or a Rudolf Steiner. He chose to remake the pre-conscious world as dream utterance, by sheer fact of the magic of wordplay. If God is utter permission, then to immerse oneself in the Wake, is to understand no public or social law, other than biological drift and joy’s invitations. If life is made up of a series of utterances, a stack of languages for social transcendence then the implication – via Joyce’s Wake – is that no explicable public or social voice will ever allow for civilization, that only language mysticism will out. His antidote to history is curiously historical, in that, with any attempt at summary, comes the embarrassing idea of a thing rendered somehow ludicrous; irreal. In detail it is important… from a distance it seems somewhat opaque and meaningless. But still, this resurrection of a mind Homer’s gods could recognise and interact with? Utterance of the Bicameral Mind, the bringing of a counter-dream into life, to instill something of the sting of the unreality, the dream, of waking life?

I think again of McKenna’s machine elves… the idea of all materiality being made out of language, out of Logos, somehow. That man singing is somehow parallel with God’s bringing the world into being. Of the standing stones and dolmens, lifted with a technology literally in tune with that urge toward singing. But how possible? Between Aeons and Archons the singer brings pieces of the world into being. For world to utter a magnetism of disbelief. The mightier the artwork the longer it takes to be accepted (400 years for us to fully interpret Shakespeare’s plays and poems properly, and identify the men behind them. 200 years to get our heads round Shelley etc). In the meantime this dimension is busy with its timely sub-speech contained by bodily and psychological fear. Prose. Journalism. And – in line with this sense of the materiality of words – the dimensions, also, are sung into being. By God. The singer or Fili becomes extra-dimensional in perceiving and acting out the truth of each dimensional space. If Joyce’s Wake has any validity, it is an indicator of the dimensions as functioning on the basis of high forms of play and pun. Seeing one thing in another. Meta-phor. If it has any weakness it would be that social order, communally established forms of  language, needn’t have any place in art. Though I’m sure Joyce would defend his choices by saying that social order comes about as a consequence of art despite art’s incoming formal investigations, and despite the social order’s changes and reformations… that the connection between them need not be explicable.

The other consequence of The Wake is that it renders the soul’s developing nature as inexplicable, in its inception. The inceptive! And in Christian tradition; the glossolalic. A rendering of the source into World. The child, sitting close to the babble of source… Robert Kelly’s thesis; that The Wake is most real to children, and most enjoyed by them. The childhood of the world, being Atlantean, antediluvean? The philosophical in Blake becomes a creature of purer linguistic invention in Joyce. Paradox is the essential framework of Lawrence’s sense of Becoming. Paradox, in Joyce, shunned… because dualisms flicker and switch; mental efforts and choices are more constringed, more thickly present. In the title itself; the elegance of kenning, of punning. Delineation of a man deemed to be dead, actually immortal… and simply, in humour, resisting death’s touch (as Yeats says; Man has created death). Lawrence appeals to the ideological in man, Joyce – closer to source – despite all intention, attempts to abolish all paradox by virtue of a mystic joy. The ancient Kabbalistic preservative holds that all is revealed in a name. Joy for Joyce. Pound for pound, for financial and social economy. Law for Lawrence? Yet these are only partial disclosures, methinks.

Between Freud and the present, then, enters Joyce’s stalwart experiment. And out of Nietzsche’s madness. Pound’s Silence, Mishima’s ritual seppuku. Fractures in what became the neo-liberalist armour. Charles Olson, ‘drunk, and drinking…’ at the 1965 Berkeley Reading. Talking, out of turn, out of time, about Ernst Zundel, of all people (go back to the recording, people)… many found him infuriating… some found him inspiring.

Lew Welch walks out into the mountains of California with a pistol… his body, never found.

Say something very true. And we will take the piss out of it. All as it should be… syntropy, entropy.


“No, I ‘m David Irving!”

Fringes. Lovely cornices. We are the adultchildren – toroidal! – and we have come to save you… for you know not what you do. Oh, for a group-soul that could roll back the mind-control of the 60s. There was never any 6,000,000 folks. It is very complicated. The numbers keep shifting. Every time Amschel Rothschild’s ghost has a bowel movement strange noughts shrink and expand. (Death, thank goodness, is not racial, though soul is?).

And then there was Eisenhower, leaving god knows how many soldiers and civilians (Jew and gentile alike) to starve in death camps after the war. The museum pieces of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, to maintain the legend… and keep Theodor Adorno in work for close to another quarter century. (The works of Herodotus and David Irving burned in a pyre on Trafalgar Square).

Meanwhile, in Waterstones, a naive student purchases a copy of a Will Self novel with the first of his new semester’s Student Loan which he will pay back – when his hair turns to its first of many shades of grey – with his pension? The novel will not last as long… neither in his possession, nor in his memory.

Or ‘Meanwhile, Jack Kerouac, naive alcoholic, tells a journalist he thought Eisenhower, a good man… – a kind man…Or… Angela Merkel – mid-meeting – gazing serenely out of her office window, toward… a dim grey corner of The Bundestag… The Reichstag? While the spectre of Stalin – as in Being John Malkovich – ingests her business luncheon on her behalf.

Andrew O’Donnell, Dec ’16 – Feb ’17

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Response to Jerome Rothenberg’s ‘A Poem for the Cruel Minority’

[The following is an unedited response, initially posted on facebook. I intend to work my rejection into a larger piece of prose on politics, particularly in relation to contemporary western poetry and its more established figures. It was not only that Rothenberg had written a dull, predictably liberal response to the political zeitgeist that raised my ire… it was that he was also spreading his ridiculous propaganda regarding the American ‘Alt Right’ into the same facebook post that he appended to the online publishing of his poem. My response urges him to get brave and actually look behind the journalistic smoke screen]

The poem does not ‘work’ because it has come out of a post-liberal consciousness entirely on the wane since the first poem was drafted. You’ve got it entirely the wrong way round: the ‘minority’ you refer to is now the majority. And, of course, you’ll let others deal with it… because, as I say, you are a coward (and have written a cowardly out-of-touch poem).

To clarify my ‘baby-boomer’ point. Anyone coming into ‘adult political consciousness after WWII’ (and I knew when you were born when I made my ‘pre/baby-boomer’ statement. So the ‘I am not a baby-boomer’ statement is a cheap avoidance of the issue).

The following posters obviously don’t have access to any sound information on the Alt-Right, and resort to the usual liberal/post-liberal slurs. Maybe they’ve been dosed with multiple episodes of NPR or somethin.

In a way, though, I’m thankful for the poem… as it clarifies what I’ve suspected for about five or six years. That not a single English speaking adult poet who has gained any kind of artistic reputation in the English speaking world after WWII (and I include those consistently published on very small presses and giving semi-regular talks or readings of any kind) have the tools in front of them to glean what Brexit, Trump and the Alt-Right really mean. (And, in saying that, I wouldn’t put all my cards behind Trump but would see his rise as an indication of a philosophical turning point immense and, in the main, positive). And that there is a whole other pool of younger artists, researchers and writers that do. They are a ‘minority’ that the ‘majority’ are proud of. In their home-lives, in their social circles, and in their wider communities. If you want to know what the Alt-Right really means search on ‘Red Ice NPI 2016’ at youtube and you will have all ten hours of their most recent conference, without the usual journalistic misinterpretations, in front of you (there are two long videos… or the speeches themselves have been separated out and can be ferreted out). And note that, for ‘murderous fascists’ it is more than a little ironic that They are the ones being attacked violently during the course of this conference!!

Image result for richard spencer alt right

Richard Spencer, organiser of this year’s NPI conference

I have spent a long time reading the arena of writers I mention. But no more. All of modernism was not sifted through entirely (including all of Pound’s output, for example… incl. Jefferson/Muss and the speeches) or thoroughly and effectively enough… and now we have reaped the consequences of that. Perhaps Lamantia will survive it, I’m not sure (for other reasons, perhaps… his politics I loathe though… and that would go for Eshleman and Alexander, also… they are unable to escape the post-liberal meme, although metaphysically interesting, and sometimes reassuringly Ickean). That strain of poetics is now dying, in Britain and the U.S, because it has managed to exist with all the wrong cultural reference points for decades. It is also dying because it is largely a child of the modern academy, and because it is a child, and prisoner, of a certain form of liberal governance (and that could include times when there have been ‘conservative/republican’ governments in those countries also). But, regardless, here’s to its quick death!

If you brought Yeats or Pound back from the dead and sat them down at an NPI conference I would imagine they would quite happily be engaged in what was being said. The problem is; between their era and our own (particularly the seventies up to the present) we’ve had an epoch of utter political stupidity, and the poets have wallowed in that stupidity more than most. And this poem exemplifies that.

I also find it funny that Blake was mentioned. A figure I believe is at least a proto-nationalist in his philosophical system… and the mythological elements at least imply it. That, ultimately, might be to reduce him (I’ll have a shot at writing about this soon) BUT I would prefer ‘the Blakean’ outside of the hysterics and whining that this poem employs, to say the least.

I will post this rebuttal on my fb page, and at my online mag; ‘The Fiend’, and have ‘unfriended’ you on here, Jerome… but if you ever want to find out more about the depth of discussion and philosophy your poem reponds to in a vapid and knee-jerk manner then by all means, seek me out. Otherwise, I’ll leave you to your blind, sycophant disciples.

Andrew O’Donnell, Nov 26th 2016………

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On Music, c.t.d – Colin Wilson

from ‘Modern Music – The Problem’ (Part Two)

Stravinsky is more difficult to discuss than Schoenberg and Hindemith because his character seems to be more intricate. Moreover, there has been so much learned discussion of his stature and place in modern music that it is difficult to keep the source of one’s intuitions about him untainted. The dissenting opinion on him was expressed typically by Brockway and Weinstock in Men of Music; they feel that he ceased to exist as a serious composer about 1930, and has since shown only spasmodic signs of life.

In all essentials, it might be said that Stravinsky followed the familiar course that we traced in Schoenberg and Joyce: early romanticism, the sudden alarm in mid-career and the feeling of the need for brakes, followed by a deliberately cultivated intellectualism. The intellectualism at least served its purpose of impressing the intellectual critics, so that Stravinsky, like Schoenberg, now tends to be discussed on a theoretical level that is miles above the reality of his music, and that has little relation to its content.

leemillerigorstravinskyIt is easy to understand why Stravinsky should have felt the need for some new direction in his music. The great musicians of the latter part of the nineteenth century are grim warnings. Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, all display the same failure to develop beyond a certain point; mid-period Wagner sounds like later Wagner; Bruckner’s first symphony sounds much like his ninth. This does not diminish  their greatness; most of us would not be without a single symphony of Bruckner or Mahler. But this kind of thing could not go on for ever; people had begun to lose interest in Richard Strauss forty years before his death because it looked as if he would go on indefinitely composing sequels to Rosenkavalier and Ariadne. Stravinsky’s master, Rimsky-Korsakov, was a case in point. Except for certain additional ripeness in the orchestration, no one could guess that more than forty years separate The Golden Cockerel (1908) from Sadko (1967).

Stravinsky’s artistic intellect, and his will, were a great deal stronger than Rimsky-Korsakov’s. But even these qualities cannot make musical inspiration spin out indefinitely. What seems to be lacking in Stravinsky is a heavyweight artistic personality. No one doubts that he possesses a genuine musical personality; even T. S Eliot, who is not given to passing judgements on music, has written: ‘Mr Stravinsky is a real musician.’ The question is whether this personality has shown a development commensurate with his musical ‘development’ from The Firebird to Threni, or whether Stravinsky has forced himself to experiment in order not to repeat himself. In the music of certain composers – Mozart, Beethoven and Bartók in our own century – one feels that changes in the musical idiom are a by-product of a development of the composers’ whole spiritual being. Does Stravinsky’s music show this kind of development?

If Schoenberg’s development is paralleled by that of Joyce, Stravinsky’s artistic personality has affinities with that of Eliot. Both began as heirs of a ‘decadent’ tradition, both made an early reputation as artistic rebels, both announced their conversion to classicism and traditionalism and developed ‘detached’ personalities, both later made religion their artistic centre of gravity. But the parallel fails to hold in one important respect. Eliot accepted the consequences of his subjective attitude, declared, in effect, that his inner life was no one’s business, except in so far as he chose to reveal it in his poetry, and consequently ceased to write poetry. Stravinsky also had a try at the haughtily detached attitude (at one point he told his critics: ‘There is nothing to discuss or criticize’); but it was clear  that this was an assumed personality; he is naturally self-explanatory, even garrulous, as becomes clear from his volumes of Conversations with Robert Craft. His musical output has likewise remained enormous, like that of Hindemith; but much of it produces the same sense of lack of inner compulsion.

There can be no doubt that, if judged on the level of a musical innovator, Stravinsky must be regarded as a great composer. Like Schoenberg, he has been determined always to be an interesting composer; there is plenty of material for discussion in his work. But the question still remains: is it valid development, or simply a kind of game, like Joyce’s development after Ulysses? An examination of his career throws some light on the problem.

If Stravinsky had died in 1912, he would have been regarded as a minor follower of Rimsky-Korsakov, who took Rimsky’s style further in certain respects, much as Strauss ‘developed’ Wagner’s style. The Firebird or Petrouchka are pleasant works, slightly more interesting than Rimsky’s Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh or Coq d’Or suites simply because Stravinsky has also learned something from Debussy, and his palette contains some transparent water colours as well as the garish pigments of Scheharazade.

When an artistic personality feels  that it has reached a limit in a certain direction, its tendency is to explode, to produce something that has nothing in common with what has been before. This kind of thing never occurred in Mozart or Beethoven simply because they developed organically, never feeling that they had reached a limit. (Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata is perhaps the only analogous example.) We feel that with The Rite of Spring Stravinsky is momentarily disowning his Russian nationalism and all that it implies – particularly the music of Scriabin, who was then regarded as the last word in musical sophistication and mysticism. The Rite has no musical ‘argument’, even though it proceeds  in a series of episodes; it stands at no opposite extreme from a work like Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony, that develops slowly, statement by statement. The Rite is a musical explosion, a shout of defiance. It is also, of course, an orchestral showpiece, like Strauss’s Don Juan or Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche. But my own experience is that it will not bear repeated listening; once once one knows it, one knows it, and there is no point in listening to new performances, even by someone as dynamic as Leonard Bernstein. Generally speaking, showpieces are of limited musical interest; no one is likely to maintain a lifelong affection for Beethoven’s ‘Battle’ Symphony or Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, any more than for such eminent descendants of the Rite as Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite or Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin. At the most, one buys the latest stereophonic recording to astonish and deafen one’s friends. Historically speaking, the Rite may be the most important piece of music of this century; but from the perspective of half a century later, we can see that the critic who said that it was the twentieth-century equivalent of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was talking nonsense.

Stravinsky FirebirdThere followed what must have been for Stravinsky a period of artistic anxiety. The warm nationalistic manner of The Firebird was not susceptible of development; but if anything, The Rite of Spring was even more of a dead end. Fortunately for Stravinsky, it was also, for the time being, the end of his association with the Diaghileff ballet, so that for a few years he could afford to stop worrying  about the public who looked to him for new thrills. The next few years, 1913 to 1918, produced only a few minor works – a few songs, short piano works, pieces for string quartet, and the completion of an opera begin in the Firebird period, The Nightingale.

There was only one major work, Les Noces, written in 1917, and it shows Stravinsky attempting to develop the rhythmic implications of The Rite of Spring. Many regard it as a masterpiece; its first five minutes certainly arrest the attention with their rhythmic vitality and the oriental sound of the vocal line (which, in this respect, bears some resemblance to Ravel’s Two Hebrew Melodies written three years earlier). But continued acquaintance reveals the same defect as in the Rite; the lack of a melody is tiresome; the ear grows tired of barbaric  rhythms, which have the same effect of blunting the sensibility that one finds in some of Wagner’s noisier passages. The same thing applies to the ‘burlesque tale’ Reynard, although here a certain lightness of touch gives the work the quality of an agreeable romp.

The Soldier’s Tale (1918) again shows Stravinsky preoccupied with helping out the music by buttressing it with words. The attempt would have been more successful if it had not been for the puerile nature of the text by C. F Ramuz. The quality of the music shows that Stravinsky is not entirely at home when he cannot rely on his rhythmic effects (the music having been written for seven instruments). Nevertheless, The Soldier’s Tale succeeds in holding the attention for forty minutes, and in this respect may be regarded as his most successful work since The Firebird.

The twenties were Stravinsky’s phase of ‘time travelling’ (to use Constance Lambert’s description). The 1923 Piano Concerto became associated with the catch phrase ‘Back to Bach’, and is the first of a number of ‘harmonically sour and emotionally dry works’. It would appear that Stravinsky had come fully to realize that the actions and reactions of his early years were essentially rootless, and had decided that ‘tradition’ should give him the dimension that he 55_vaslav_nijinsky-theredlistotherwise lacked – the ability to develop logically. Tradition, to begin with, meant various eighteenth-century procedures. And what is equally clear is that Stravinsky himself was not enough of a personality, that is, a living and suffering human being, to develop in the existential manner of a Mozart or Beethoven. His colleague  Nijinsky sensed this instinctively, and wrote of him: ‘He seeks riches and glory… Stravinsky is a good composer, but he does not know about life. His compositions have no purpose…’ He goes on to tell how Stravinsky and his wife declined to look after Nijinsky’s child while the dancer toured America and implies, what Madame Nijinsky states flatly, that Stravinsky was a cold fish. Certainly one feels about all the music written after Petrouchka that it is ‘cold fish’ music, that it was never written as a spontaneous outpouring of something that had to be expressed. This unsatisfactoriness is easiest to pin down in the works based upon other composers: Pulcinella (based on Pergolesi), The Fairy’s Kiss (Tchaikovsky), and Norwegian Moods (Grieg). Somehow the ‘Stravinsky-izing’ of the music has the effect of devitalizing it, removing its flavour, like putting salmon into tins; it is like putting it through some processing machine.

The thirties and forties were, on the whole, a bad time for Stravinsky. He produced a number of remarkable works that compare favourably with Les Noces in rhythmic force: the Symphony of Psalms, the Concerto for two pianos, the Danses Concertantes and the Symphony in Three Movements (1945), as well as some works that have all the characteristics of of the processing machine, and that seem as colourless and unsatisfactory as the ‘classical’ works that Hindemith was producing at the same period. In 1948 he began work on what Roman Vlad has described as the culminating work of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period, the opera The Rake’s Progress. As with The Soldier’s Tale, this work holds the interest – the libretto is a great deal better than the one by Ramuz, in spite of a few absurdities, such as the bread-making machine, and the marriage to the bearded lady – but the music is frequently even less inspired than in The Soldier’s Tale; there are long ‘Mozartian’ recitatives that are accompanied by a tuneless plinking on the harpsichord. This would be excusable if they were separated by arias of Mozartian melodic invention; but there is no other work of Stravinsky in which it is so clear that he has no melodic gift of any kind.

Once again Stravinsky found himself at the end of musical tether. By this time both Schoenberg and Webern were safely dead. Up till this point Stravinsky’s name had been mentioned with sneers by the ‘serialists’, and to have shown any interest in Schoenberg would have seemed a capitulation. But twelve-tone music now provided another avenue of development – the only possible one, in fact. Stravinsky therefore began to experiment with twelve-tone procedures. One of the first of these works was a setting of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. It is intended as a dirge for Thomas, and  the instrumentation – string quartet and  four trombones – is deliberately lugubrious; but the music itself is completely undirge-like; it rises and falls arbitrarily, and again manages to give the impression of being machine-made. It was something of a mistake on Stravinsky’s part to set the text of such a well known poem, since anyone can grasp the emotion of the poem, and decide whether the music expresses its feeling. He here show none of the delicate feeling for words that Britten often displays in his setting of poems.

Possibly warned by his experience, Stravinsky returned to the setting of a Latin text in his next major work, the Canticum Sacrum, a procedure  that had produced one of his most successful operas, Oedipus Rex. In its way, Canticum Sacrum is as effective as Oedipus; the frantic trumpets at the beginning contrast strangely with the ‘churchy’ associations of the organ and choir (a hint that Britten borrowed for the War Requiem). Roman Vlad describes it as ‘the most comprehensive… synthesis of elements it is possible to imagine at this particular stage in the evolution of European music’, and speaks of its various influences: Gregorian chant, Webern, Byzantine modes, polytonality and atonality. One can imagine the late Constant Lambert wrinkling his nose and muttering, ‘Pastiche again.’ The same basic objection applies to the Canticum Sacrum as to the Dylan Thomas poem. In Schoenberg’s twelve-note music, one is aware of the underlying emotion; in Stravinsky’s, it is difficult to perceive any underlying emotion. There are moments when it becomes moving or exciting – usually moments of sudden contrast, when the old rhythmic Stravinsky breaks through – but for the most part it sounds like ruler-and-compass music.

Since the Canticum, Stravinsky has produced two more twelve-note works: Threni and The Flood. Threni is a great deal longer than the Canticum, but on the whole the same remarks apply to it. (Once again, it is apparent that Britten has noted certain effects for his War Requiem.) According to some critics, it can be regarded as the culmination of Stravinsky’s life work, a lofty and inaccessible masterpiece that will not be generally understood for many years. At this stage, it is too early to decide; one can only say that if it is true, then it is the first time in his life that Stravinsky has been lofty and inaccessible; most of his works set out very obviously to make an immediate impact.

Judgement must be reserved on The Flood, a short opera commissioned by television. It is perhaps the worst text that Stravinsky has set since The Soldier’s Tale. One wonders what to make of passages like this:

Mother, we beg you all together,
Come into the ship for fear of the weather.
The flood is flowing in full fast,
For fear of drowning we are aghast.

Admittedly, the text is supposed to be a medieval morality play; even so, was Stravinsky unaware of its comic naïvety? Or was this perhaps a part of the intention? If so, the twelve-note music, which sounds mostly as abrupt and disconnected as Webern, is completely inappropriate and likely to ruin any joke. It is almost as if Stravinsky wanted to test the faith of his admirers by deliberately making himself a sitting target for unbelievers.

When writing about a composer’s shortcomings, it is difficult not to sound completely destructive. It seems to me that Stravinsky’s development has not been entirely authentic, and that Constant Lambert was right when he said that Stravinsky chief desire was to remain fashionable and controversial. There is, it seems to me, distinctly an element of insincerity, of the desire to be thought a great composer rather than to become, as far as possible, a complete human being. This insincerity may not be entirely conscious; it is clear, from the irregular line of his development that Stravinsky is an exceptionally suggestible person. (And from reading the Conversations with Robert Craft, one suspects that Mr Craft may be the Svengali behind some of his most recent metamorphoses.) But it undoubtedly makes it impossible to consider seriously the claims that he is, in the final sense, a ‘great composer’.

And yet all this is only to say that Stravinsky will probably be placed one day in the gallery of minor composers, which includes his master Rimsky-Korsakov, and that probably includes Schoenberg himself. This is not to say that his music has not its own authentic value; only that, for the present, this value is enormously overrated.

The problem stated at the beginning of this chapter now presents itself in a new light. The followers of Schoenberg, Hindemith,and Stravinsky can see only that these artists were wholly sincere; they can also point out that these artists were wholly sincere; they can also point out that they were accomplished musicians, not mere rebels. (Schoenberg and Hindemith both composed classic textbooks on musical composition, and Stravinsky has also written on the ‘Poetics of Music’.) Their opponents, on the other hand, are aware mainly of the preposterous mystique that has come to surround these figures, and which is due mainly to intellectual snobbery. Schoenberg’s principles of composition are justified because, in many cases, they have produced impressive music; the same goes for Webern and Berg. But it is preposterous to pretend that therefore serial music has a general and universal validity, and that non-serial composers are betraying their frivolity. Joyce wrote the manuscript of Finnegans Wake in different-coloured inks on different-coloured sheets of paper; this does not mean that this method should become de rigueur for all serious writers. The most that can be said is that serial music demands a fairly serious approach to composing, and therefore may help to sort the sheep from the goats. But it does not guarantee anything.

The worst aspect of all this is the influence it has had on young composers, who have swallowed their serialism as eagerly as writers of thirty years ago gulped down their Joyce, Eliot and Proust, and who, in some cases, feel that real originality demands that they go ‘beyond Schoenberg’ (since, they argue, Schoenberg displayed conservatism in retaining any kind of ‘scale’). There was recently published a volume of interviews with British composers, ranging from John  Ireland to Peter Racine Fricker and Alexander Goehr, which reveals the kind of total split that exists in the musical world. Thus the interviewer (Murray Schafer) can open his interview with Goehr (born 1932) with the staggering remark: ‘In comparison with your European contemporaries you might be called a “reactionary”. Your music owes more to Schoenberg than to Webern…’ (Goehr sensibly replies that the merit of a composition does not depend on whether it is experimental or not, and that experimentalism has been greatly overstressed.) The result is that the symposium  has the curious effect of a volume on philosophy written by a mixture of mythical atheists and bigoted Roman Catholics.

pierre boulezThe younger composers are hardly to be blamed for this. The need for discipline of some sort is generally felt by all healthy minds, and if their elders assure them dogmatically that Schoenberg may be the greatest composer of all, it is not surprising if they come to accept that serialism is the only serious way of composing. the result is that experimental music becomes an offshoot of the mainstream of music, rather like jazz, and its adherents announce that their method is the only true way of salvation. All this is not the result of the musical theorizing of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Hindemith, but of the systematic overrating of these interesting minor composers. (The constant use of the word ‘greatness’ in connection with Britten is another example.) The result of this overrating is that the argument tends to proceed to extremes, and Henry Pleasants can speak indignantly of ‘the twelve-tone aberrations of Boulez and Nono (neither of whom are serialists), and then go on to suggest that the twentieth-century American music, including jazz and the musical, is fundamentally more valuable than European ‘serious’ music of the same period; while on the other hand a composer like Sibelius is ignored in several reputable volumes on twentieth-century music, and is no longer played on the BBC Third Programme.

There is of course, a fundamental fallacy in Mr Pleasants’s way of arguing. It is not in the least difficult to show that Beethoven inevitably gave way to Wagner who in turn gave way to Bruckner and Mahler, who set the scene for twentieth-century music, and that therefore twentieth-century music finds itself in a cul-de-sac from which there is no escape, no possible route for creative development. One is reminded of how literary critics of the forties argued in the same way about the novel and poetry, and ended by pointing to the dearth of important writers since Joyce and Eliot to prove that their diagnosis was correct. The literary revival of the fifties, in America as well as Europe, proved that the real problem was lack off writers with something to say. The same is true of music. Tradition is important; it can enable a minor composer to produce a major work. Conversely, a lack of tradition (or the inheritance of a moribund tradition) produces the ‘race for originality’ that may prevent a serious composer from finding his feet. (This seems to me to be true of Tippett.) But ultimately the great composer creates what tradition he needs, or manufactures it from odds and ends of other ages. If the music of an age is disappointing, it is for lack of musicians with something important to say rather than because the musical tradition has become enfeebled. History may be to blame, but only individuals with the courage to be subjective can remedy it.

–Colin Wilson (originally published 1964)



Colin-Wilson-1956The first part of Wilson’s essay on modern music is at The Fiend, and is a part of the new edition of the book ‘Brandy of the Damned; Colin Wilson on Music’ by Foruli Classics released earlier this year.

Born in 1931, Colin Wilson was a highly prolific British writer of creative and critical prose, writing 150 books over 50 years, and covering subjects of philosophy, literature, mysticism, the occult, religion, science fiction, spirituality, crime, and studies in consciousness. He is arguably best known for his first book ‘The Outsider’, for his philosophic amendments to popular European existentialism, and for his compendiums on the occult. He died in December of last year.

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Surrealist Resurgence; Nouveau’s Midnight Sun

(ed. John Thomas Allen)

The poet John Thomas Allen is on a mission. From reading the introduction to this short but powerful anthology; Nouveau’s Midnight Sun, comes an urgency very unique to 21st Century English language poetry, is it something not seen since the doings inside The Cabaret Voltaire almost a century ago? And it enters the living rooms of a rather sick and ailing western psyche right on time, as far as I can see.

While pictorial art has made many more inroads through the surrealist attack on what was once called ‘the bourgeois mindset’, or ‘culture’, the word; the written arts (that Antonin Artaud would not deign to degrade by calling them ‘literary’ or ‘literature’) have always had a much rougher ride, particularly outside of their native (and now ‘ancestral’?) tongue; French. We are children of the surreal, whether we’re aware of it or not… and yet those writers that most acutely possess and invest in this artistic lineage are often more marginalized than the popular conception of the word surrealism implies.

Nouveau’s Midnight Sun, and its attendant group of writers; The New Surrealist Institute… (or N.S.I… yes, I like the possibility of that pun on N.S.A) consists of an attempt to explode the notion of a surrealism either confined to one language or to be a purely European affair… and, in a number of different ways, to broaden the reader’s notion of what the 21st Century surrealist enterprise might be. The introduction itself makes exciting and gutsy reading for starters… gone is the purely distanced critical voice that inhabits so much poetry discourse… this is up close and soul-personal writing of the utmost intent, as much of Breton’s Surrealist Manifestos, were. And what mattered in the manifestos matters here (and then some). Allen opens the anthology with this quote:

Across the spectrum of religious experiences—from the archaic and chthonic experience of sacred power to organized religion—surrealism arises in that elusive threshold between the sacred and the profane, between the illuminations and of everyday life and the more formal expressions of the sacred. The mysterious, contradictory nature of this liminal zone is embodied in surrealist literature and art: matter becomes metaphor; the ordinary object becomes extraordinary; and images evoke emotional disturbance and ambiguity rather than specific ideas. The ambivalent force of the surreal resists conventional rational categories of intellectual discourse. Behind its elusive potency of mood and charged associations lie the fundamental ambivalence and non rational power of the sacred.

—Celia Rabinovitch, Surrealism and the Sacred

Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

The initial attempt of surrealisme to expand, to bring western philosophy up to the seemingly inexplicable weight and depth of sacral vision is more than hinted at here. It points toward the breaking of all the parameters that Plato, to some extent its godfather (although he is a philosopher), implied in his allegory of the cave. Is it any error that 20th century philosophy was born with Fourier, and with The Romantics we’re now all so familiar with (that we prefer to group them under that nomenclature; “roman-tic”, is something of an academic error… that they, having Greek and having Latin for sure, relate equally, or more so, to Provencal and to the Occitan line than to pagan Rome). Or even that the general pantheism or pagan atheism of the romantics also has a presage of monotheism in Kant’s noumena? at the very earliest? Perhaps Breton’s surrealisme would wish it that way? The Marriage of The Noumena and The Real? How so comfortably philosophical and dialectical. Yet each could be equally inexplicable… and yet Kant; being the über-Kind of his time, surely strove to apply system to that wink of the noumenal void?! Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and finally Andre Breton, entered, tutting: The Un-system-men.

Notice that I don’t include Tzara in this mix, despite mentioning The Cabaret Voltaire already. Why? Because Tzara’s Seven Dada Manifestos can sound so much like a post-Victorian Aristotle or Thomas More; a kind of brutal anti-theologian constructing horrible paradises while millions of men die in the trenches. Tzara was, most probably a great poet, but, like Pessoa’s Álvaro de Campos chanting hymns to the machine age, there is more than a whiff of the P.T Barnum about his manifestos (humour, though, wasn’t that the point? I might say to myself; warmth! into all your deconstructionist and structuralist distances, your analysand’s corners) and can only assume that Tzara’s poems were wondrous, all of his explications; faulty… although, to my mind, his shunning of Marinetti was a very sensible move.

One has only to utter a sentence for the opposite sentence to become DADA. I’ve seen Tristan Tzara asking mutely for a pack of cigarettes at the tobacconist’s; I have no idea what was wrong with him. I can still hear Phillipe Soupault insistently demanding live birds at the hardware store. As for myself, at this moment I might be dreaming.

—Two Dada Manifestos, André Breton

Tzara is the anti-sophisticate to Breton’s Kant. He soothed the human rage for rational dialectic, for material solutions (throwing up, instead, the suggestion that if the pre-Archontic God exists, he is no answerer but the mightiest of questions, which existentialism surely began, in order to be a meme, or cognate, of that same relation). Yet, it took The Beats to add the angelic to that first surrealist stew… and have we exhausted, yet, this vein of enquiry…? which still might throw an Origen, Plotinus, Philo, Aquinas, Paracelsus, or The Irishman; Eriguena, at the wall of the Bretonian void (… but there is always no-time, or all-time to do it in, surely?) And existenz, from Kierkegaard to Heidegger, seems also the bare soup from which surrealisme’s first wave fed.

And so it was Pared Down Ontology… nothing but Being and the respiratory infusions of an anti-philosophic Marvellous to run the modernist boat on. Only in a ghosted, inherited manner, did Heidegger know what was coming, and for him to further every western philosophical precept since Plato he knew he could do only one of two things. The first; to fulfill all the highest hopes of philosophy by becoming Hölderlin; ascend into poetry and (if Nietzsche’s presumptions were anything to go by) onward… into music; a new ‘bodily rationalism’ of ‘daylight-glossolalia’ with the prosaic left as utilitarian, proto-gnostic prop (where a Gnosticism inclusive of Plotinus’s The Good, enters Christianity) a more resonant form of dialogue; The Word, most famously given form by John’s gospel (in Koine Greek it would be The Logos) the beginnings of which, in Aramaic transliteration; the language of Christ, reads:

1. In the beginning [of creation] there was the Milta*; and that Milta* was with Allaha; and Allaha was [the embodiment of] that Milta.* 2. This was in the beginning with Allaha. 3. Everything was within his power*, [otherwise] nothing would ever exist.* 4. Through him [there] was Life* and Life became the spark* of humanity 5. And that [ensuing] fire* lights the darkness and darkness does not overshadow it. 

Testament of Youkhanna [Aramaic Gospel of St. John]

Aramaic BibleThis “Milta,” or Logos, was present to communally terra-form a world before the descent into linear time, and which surrealism’s ultimate Reality attempted to mystically reveal  (which is what we have been manipulated into doing, unbeknownst to us, via Satan in what was lost in the mythos of The Fall… we begin, thus, to see the mythos of Satan transposed into historical terms… it is time, now, to re-enter  our first world with the fullest and most piercingly self-sundered conscience, a kind of pre-social mode of consciousness that endlessly enquires and digests by un-masking maya, by re-discovering its own artistry upon the instrument of the entire de-located mind-body, as The Present; the stopped instrument for Time).

Man’s fall, in dualistic and philosophical terms, apes Heidegger’s second option: to ‘become’ a philosopher-of-the-end-of-philosophy, set up a kind of repetitive meme of all the presumptions of the last 2500 years and have them on a mono-stylistic loop, recreating the scenes of all those happy minds in full historico-spirographic scribble, feigning variety in a world of rapidly increasing hyper-realities. The world of Alvin Toeffler’s Futureshock.

Martin Heidegger in 1933 (bottom right, marked by a cross)

Martin Heidegger in 1933 (bottom right, marked by a cross)

He chose the latter, at least in the sense that he felt something coming in from the Outside that western philosophy couldn’t withstand, and keep any base terminology in proportion to. Joyce’s Wake arrived. Existentialism, like Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit, was not to develop. It has existed only as a potentiality up until the present. Woefully, it was to be ideologised, i.e- to be made Sartrean.

Just as Breton had been Trotskyite, now Sartre locked a few million students into the mind-game of Marxism and the rather dully apparent anti-capitalism which still goes on to this day (the un-seer of Das Kapital wedded to Soviet revolutionary rhetoric… now there’s a thing to get Pacman-trapped in…). The procedure of the cultural arbiters, being; ‘give them a general theme, but keep them away from the true crimes etc… ‘capitalism’ rather than these very very very particular capitalists (the two R’s;  Rothschild, Rockefeller). Thus The Beast works in us, with capital as degraded offspring, using any device for the purpose of slavery (only appearing because the populous willed it so) while the God behind ‘the god/s’ that wreak havoc waits patiently for the individual to remake, or re-ensoul, himself, so as to reconfigure the characters of the dream. The dream, being very real. And not real enough. Surrealism, perhaps despite Tzara and much of Breton’s writing, apprehended The Real as the shaman enters Dream-time, and the first Nazarean mystics fell upon God as eternal Hebraic mystery, through the figure of Yeshua.

It is no surprise that the first major writer in English who became enamoured of surrealism; David Gascoyne (who we’ll come back to shortly) had pondered Heidegger’s problem, also. And Allen is well aware of this, and quotes liberally from Gascoyne’s prose, appertaining to the issue:

In the words of Saint John at the end of the Gospel according to the logos, ‘even the world itself is not great enough for the books that there would be’, if one were to try to explain rationally the origin, coming and dispersion of the Word, so that it is hardly to be hoped that one could say very much that is relevant in a mere aphorism on what is the true significance of the word logos.

“When I was younger, I spent some time wondering whether I could formulate what I wanted amateurishly, to be called Logontology; but I soon realize I had neither the time, intellect or learning I would have needed to do the thing properly.

When I came to study Heidegger, I began to wonder whether or not the Fundamental ontology he has sought to find and lay foundations for might be just what I had dreamed of once. I’m still not really sure about this philosopher; and no doubt he is no longer at all sure, either. But the great thing is that neither his nor my project is any longer absolutely necessary.

The great I AM has already been found to be founded quite satisfactorily enough.”

—David Gascoyne, The Sun at Midnight

3401863_1_lNo surprise, then, that surrealism is a small and incredibly energetic child when Heidegger is giving birth to Sein und Zeit. In this, religion had to become philosophically secular for it to absorb the sacred more forcefully (in that crucible, then, there is no atheism, as there is no death) so that we see The Bible as initial apocrypha, or as the baby’s head appearing out of a mother’s labour, the birth-pang! and the invisible limbs of a truer Christianity, that we’re in the midst of… that this is a mythical, trans-religious force (which The Beast has attempted to unsuccessfully replicate throughout all the major religions, banking and cultural programs etc) and not a strictly rational or anti-rational risorgimento, as I’ll return to.  This lineage is a seed, only now coming into view, but understood by Breton, at least in principle (and which explains why most of his later years were taken up in studies of esotericism; the lunatic fringe of the religious sensibility… just as Gascoyne had also sensed in his The Sun at Midnight but Breton refused to admit to; that the name remains but its meaning evolves).

The scriptural scribe of the internet (which had to be born as the print form was entrenched, and beholden to a critical stasis methodologically some hundred years out of date) gets married to the pre-promise of a Gutenberg, as Nazarean gnostic theurge becoming The Christian, and is pitted against The Beast; last vestiges of monarchy, of ego, of hierarchy. If post-modernism meant anything at all it was the final dualism of Artaud’s “En finir avec les chefs-d’œuvre” but only to entirely admit the I as supremely Partial, thus only to bring forward the previously unseen Self that the material self, the societal self, loathed to admit entrance. (This is key; cultural control, especially that mindset that has become prevalent since the end of WWII,  depends on a radical re-emphasis on the individual, AND the communal, the mass… each notion is tweaked to fit the social engineering of these years, that of inauthenticity, whose only partisanship is falsely wedded to a mass, through manipulation via change agents etc).

And just as Freud mistook Consciousness for The Unconscious (the dualism meant, up till-then, The Conscious, with ‘the unconscious’ being the brain, unjustly persuaded of its bodily superiority, an iron Plato in the territory of a glossolalic Parmenides and Heraclitus) so surrealisme had to provide the method of no-method. (On top of the evolutional meaning and force of consciousness; the evolutional meaning and force of unconsciousness! Freud’s question brought down to us).

Philip Lamantia in 1953

Philip Lamantia in 1953

For surrealisme to travel, though, it needed emissaries… in essence; emissaries in other languages. In English we were fortunate to have two ‘envoys of The Marvellous’ in Breton’s time, the British poet David Gascoyne (previously mentioned) and the U.S teen-poet Philip Lamantia… from two separate generations (and unbeknownst to each other? Yet, we know that Lamantia read Gascoyne’s A Short Survey of Surrealism early on, as well as being inspired by surrealist painting) although it would be a mistake to speak of them as purely or wholly surrealist, particularly in the case of Gascoyne.

Each, at least, used surrealist techniques but abandoned parts of Breton’s thinking (here I’ve no use for Breton’s Trotskyism, since Trotsky, and Bolshevism, were simply a paid off front for western industrialists to give Russia a ruthless makeover… the same ‘un-free market’ they’ve given the west).

Gascoyne split with Breton when he began being interested in the sacred more seriously (was it the Duchampian ‘game’ aspect that Breton wanted to retain for the surreal? What was it about the sacred that scared him off, I wonder)… all this, while Lamantia eventually got busy adding other more uniquely North American feathers to his cap. Une béatitude de la gouttière? L’héroïne? Jazz. What the beat ethic of the fifties and sixties did was to undermine the top-down alchemical theatre of Literature (it could be argued that this never really happened in Britain, and that the academy, in the wake of The Movement, was never really dislodged, and if it was, it became a customer friendly counterculture, and in the last few years, domain of the post-modern ironist, where the poet, stranded from surrealism’s original attack on culture or rationalism, neither aspires to The Real, The Irreal, or The Miraculous… and has absolutely no thought for The Mythic (maker of the real, but historically bound to a density of consciousness)… this new breed of poet’s concerns are wholly intellectual and apolitical, and their world inheres to that of the materialist socialite. Ironic, then! that the Baudelairean and Kierkegaardian emphasis on irony in the face of universal suffering that so characterized what became modernism in the 19th Century has now so overdosed itself on the same irony (with a helping hand from very limited readings of Frank O’Hara) that it has now so eviscerated its techniques of what Terence McKenna called ‘the felt presence of immediate experience’; one of poetry’s great tools (thus a surrendering of wonder to intellect down the years).

Yet there was a spiritual imperative in Breton’s cause, an imperative innate to language itself, that corrects our fall into ‘intellectualis procul’ just where the twin-stars of Baudelaire and Rimbaud crossed the night skies of that still young century.  One can only read prose like this, and attempt to locate it:

At an early age children are weaned on the marvelous, and later on they fail to retain a sufficient virginity of mind to thoroughly enjoy fairy tales. No matter how charming they may be, a grown man would think he were reverting to childhood by nourishing himself on fairy tales […]

Words, groups of words which follow one another, manifest among themselves the greatest solidarity. It is not up to me to favour one group over the other. It is up to a miraculous equivalent to intervene—and intervene it does.

File1380Both The Marvelous and The Miraculous up-end the Ecclesiastic and historical energetic framework, which seems to be a kind of tantric oppression, ultimately… I mean the wrangling of human and Platonic relationship into a wholly subsumed eros, an arch physicality of de-spiritualized matter. (Heidegger understood it, via Husserl, as the phenomena… Hegel alchemically manipulated the same to fit our quite understandable yearning for God through experience of matter. Aside from Breton, was it only Rilke that got closest to it, in its positive and active form between those epochs of Hegel and Heidegger, with an oeuvre that consistently keens to the presence of God-in-thing/s?  All well and good. To discover the question! But there was something trans-disciplinary about all this that failed Heidegger’s grasp, ultimately). If, indeed, spirit had wholly slipped through matter in the western sensibility, one could also have a certain amount of sympathy for Gascoyne’s impatience with Breton… but what bothered Breton (and what has bothered many since) is that the form of the sacred that surrealisme implied ultimately rendered his product a little less marketable (or, to lay the responsibility for this with his interpreters? a little too dependently social than the solitude of Rilke’s God. That the foundation of great art, as physical convection, must necessarily stand in relation to a clarity of thought that demands the solitude that inheres to the foundation, and fountain, of ley-line and vorticesal geode).

Compared to this The Beats lived in a strangely a-religious realm, with Michael McClure’s “MATTER IS ALIVE, BY GOD! / MATTER IS ALIVE! / The grains of crystal slide. / It is the molecular consciousness! / ((I must be a Pagan / to survive it / — TO SURVIVE this vision.” (from Star)—after enjoying the freshness of this piece the reader’d be incredibly attentive to the notion of the sacred being non-religious or anti-religious, or even being put in the position of one standing before the building of the edifice of Christianity, in a mixture of dread or awe, anterior to the sequestering of Christ’s message. Except I don’t think this is entirely true of the generations born since McClure’s poem was read… when most of the abuse of the church (that tantric oppression again) and the psychological damage it has accrued and engendered in men is second and third  generation, and the whole reputation has slipped out of the hands of most of the institutions, so that we can be both spiritual and religious rather than being spiritual in order to be anti-religious. Kerouac’s obviously anti-secular devotions, particularly in his poetry and in books like Visions of Gerard, temper the ferocity of McClure’s statement in favour of paganism, without invalidating the reality of his vision. (Let it also be said here that Lamantia, after Artaud, clearly identified the opposite of this; an anti-Eros; the earthly Satanic tantric oppressions of pedophilia, rape and torture early on).

Both Gascoyne and Lamantia did at least see, and effect, in their own different ways, a similar variegated spiritual imperative in the achievement of Breton’s manifestos, and in what they had meant holistically for writing in a more para-literary sense (with Joyce’s Wake, first, and then with Borges, the notion of the meta-voice and the meta-narrative would have drawn attention in direct parallel to Lamantia’s, and most of the beat writers’ development as artists.  Yeats’s Spiritus Mundi was also in the air. The ‘spiritual being of earth’ was not simply leftover terminology from theosophy, or from the natural philosophy of the 18th Century scientific reformers. It corresponds to the solitudinal, biological and geological potential the great artist is moved to en-soul that I mentioned earlier. In the same way Allen takes up these concerns and tries to move beyond them in a visceral, un-programmatic and engaging way in his introduction):

There were antinomies other than the ones Breton had attempted to resolve which still seemed to hang in the air. The real and the imaginary, dream and reality, the sacred and profane? The metaphysical and the secular? Was that even my question? What truth was so elusive? Why now? Why was I dreaming words of poetry, prose, literary criticism written by Frenchmen so long ago when my physiological state and it’s attendant continuing well being was the immediate concern?

The answers came, slowly. My state of consciousness at this time could not be called idiosyncratic; indeed, by clinical standards I was having a serious bout of megalomania. While lying in bed and coughing spasmodically, I felt nothing but the most unearthly hope; I envisioned Rene Char opening his ‘Leaves of Hypnos’ deep in the Paris Catacombs as bits of multicolored grains began reabsorbing themselves in blue frost on the reptilian, jeweled tongue of Artaud, stuck forever to the lamp-post where Nerval had taken his own life, slowly reconstituting into green cotillions of mechanized insects with esoteric marching orders, sizzling anagrams, falling deeply from the sky’s black canopy. I walked determinedly with a collapsible cane, experiencing in different shocks, seizures and spasms, the violently profane and sacred finding unity in my being.

Breton insertThe antinomies he speaks of are not only of ‘movements’ or within ‘literature’, they lie at the heart of our whole attitude to The Real, spread over the last hundred years like his strange black canopy; the emergence of an exit sign slowly, and then more quickly, flickering up to full neon glare, in some corner of the apocalyptic circus tent? The bombshell of language that occurred in St. John’s rendering of the word-as-spirit cleaved into matter, and recovered here in shamanic ordeal (and anyone doubtful about the physical effects of revelation should take peyote, or speak to someone who has taken peyote, using that exact nomenclature; Ordeal. Ordeal, too, as in our current political lunacies which are simply humanity putting a gun up to Satan’s forehead, and every media-meme fastening itself to the myriad (but ultimately dull) shock-projections of The Beast (where the counterculture, in the conception of a hope-killing post-sixties Ginsberg, would surely collude? Which I’d class as the great opposition to the mythic in the post-modern arena of poetry. Might we conclude, in this, that the ‘beat mode’ ran out of steam exactly because it ignored surrealism, and that artists like Michael McClure and Philip Lamantia outlasted it because they continued to develop?)

But, in short, have we understood how NEW metaphysics is to the production of poetry, or to conceptions of poetic utterance?? No one before Donne saw it function so acutely as part of poetic practice. Even so-called ‘modernists’ like Basil Bunting managed quite well to carve out an entire oeuvre without it, or in dismissal of it (despite his mixing with the great surrealists of the twenties). Perhaps a purveyor of Robert Duncan’s Language Mysticism (the experiencing of the sacred, of God, through language… without any middleman… brings Duncan, as he implied through his lectures, closer to Luther than to the academy in its most papal manifestations) might concur on this point. And it’s also something John Thomas Allen has wholly ingested,

If surrealism didn’t contain a metaphysic, why were so many prepared to sacrifice their lives (Unica Zurn, the ill fated and mercurial muse of puppeteer Hans Bellmer, who had jumped to her death from a high rise window) (David Emery Gascoyne, expatriate British surrealist poet who would write his alchemical collection, ‘The Sun at Midnight’, before crashing into an amphetamine-induced psychotic depression for years after) and their sanity to it? The constellate diamond of Surrealism, rather like the Star of David sparking on a workbench joined to a seismographic body with an ivory crucifix as the lever in shining perpetuity, was more than a mere “art movement” and always had been.

Between disagreements on this matter, it is also obvious Allen’s proto-Bretonian project could be held to the leftover dogmatisms of the pope of surrealisme himself. Yet the introduction to this anthology is written with such a warmth and graciousness absent in other editors or would-be editors that this worry is quickly dispelled.

Andrew Joron - Neo-SurrealismWhile there isn’t space here to go into a full comparative analysis of what has happened with surrealism in English since Gascoyne and Lamantia first imbibed it (Andrew Joron’s Neo-Surrealism would perhaps take care of the North American side of things?) and since the works of the early surrealists started appearing in translation it’s worth stating that surrealism in a purely written English-language sense, seems still something of an outsider art, despite, like existentialism, its having a slow burn of energy from the immediately post-WWII years through to the 60s and early 70s (particularly in the U.S… interesting to note that its effects were all over American and U.K marketing and yet Breton, in the years up to his death, and in the years immediately following, had less and less influence in Europe). Any neo-surrealism of a name is due to a number of small presses in the U.K and the U.S (Atlas Press in the U.K, and Black Widow Press in the U.S might be the most recent of these, with many surrealist translations now available, particularly from the latter). As the reader can guess, generally speaking, the cause of surrealism seems to have remained much stronger across the Atlantic (the extreme polyglot nature of the U.S, its carried-down resource of other languages may also allow for this) and this naturally befits the correctness of the location from which Allen’s anthology should hoist its proud flag of Illogic from.

That Blake’s work is shadowed in the book’s subtitle; Transcriptions from Golgonooza and Beyond whets the curiosity. Breton’s insistent lineage for surrealism was, markedly and unsurprizingly, French language orientated, but I often wondered why he was so hard on Joyce’s work, as a near-contemporary, and failed to mention Blake in his first manifesto (perhaps the case of Blake’s absence is more easily understood, as his work was only just appearing in print at the time of the manifestos). It seems to me that, in certain English-ized approaches to The Marvellous certain key personages in European romanticism would, as I’ve already pointed to, definitely bolster Breton’s stated lineage. Blake’s dictation of his later poems, Coleridge’s composing of Kubla Khan… both of these, although not ‘automatic’ in the Breton-and-Soupaultian sense, they are extremely close. And compare Coleridge’s famed championing of Wonder in literary composition with Breton’s citing, and framing, of The Marvellous are all worth bearing in mind (and where, if we go back to Gascoyne, his straying into Ecclesia occurs. Ironic, that Breton; being ‘pope-like’ to his admirers, is, in this reader’s eyes, the most secular of pamphleteers… I see no contradiction in that at all!)

But let us allow the poems to do the rest of the talking. David Shapiro’s A Book of Glass opens the anthology:

On the table , a book of glass.
In the book only a few pages with no words
But scratched in a diamond-point pencil to pieces in diagonal
Spirals, light triangles; and a French curve fractures lines to ellisions […]

It has something of the European quality. But there is also the North American plain-spokenness about it. Impersonal and displaying an ambiguous journeying quality, it plays with inner tones and sensual enquiries. It’s a very good poem, and I notice Shapiro has no more. Shame. Not so with Christina Zawadinsky, who is fairly amply represented… which is a great editorial move, as she is obviously one of the most talented poets in this gathering. Her prose poem Fifteen Years Was Not Enough begins thus:

Near the piano the globe of Pluto spins and then tries to fly away on its black wings. In front of the television there’s a circle of light where you would sleep and stretch out your arms in the darkness. Outside the door every stranger in the world knew not to come even one inch closer. You smiled and the earth cracked open and out walked crows and angels carrying toys and tiny pyramids. Now beyond the windows the willows are swaying and shaking out their long cold hair. But you were always there, you didn’t fear the darkness or snow or the sun.

There’s something of the elegy to it, obviously… but her work displays sudden outbursts of phantasmal or oblique imagery which would plant it more precisely in a surrealist mode. Note, also, Pluto and The Sphinx. These disparate elements; the galactic and the ancient in collusion somehow. For me, this is where the future is for surrealism and its updates; Fourier in an inner entanglement with Philip K. Dick and John Carpenter.

In contrast, we have prose poet extroardinaire John Olson, with a piece named Afternoon of an Autonomy (surely this is a reference to Mallarmé’s L’Apresmidi d’un Faune? I even feel like putting on the Debussy to remind myself of it set to music. And Olson’s mood is characteristically irreverent),

The autonomy of a monotonous mood rolled by with a sigh. It crashed into an abandoned pile of socialism. A crow arrived and furnished the bruised autonomy with glasses. The glasses were French ocher and veined with absent-minded rivers. The autonomy hurried to wear them, but stopped to paint an exhibit of alcoholic ice skates. The clatter of naked peculiarities produced by the creative fervor of the short-sighted but determined autonomy worried a nearby elephant, a female from Sri Lanka named Sathyanga who sparkled with telepathic alphabets and blew aromatic furloughs from her oracular trunk.

Olson has a seismic imaginal reach for crackling strangenesses, and the overriding tone of his lines seem to fall somewhere between sarcasm and playfulness, existing somewhere Benjamin Péret and Francis Picabia (you could also throw in Max Jacob or even Shakespeare). He is a troubadour of the oblique and absurd, and this anthology is all the more interesting for his presence. The poem How Sentences Are Born also sees some fascinating flights:

There is a candle whose light awakens the sheen of a grand piano. Let’s use that light to navigate our way through all the debris and chaos that life throws at us: objects falling on a hardwood floor. Zombies disembarking from a tour bus. Bugs and abstractions boxing in a baked eye of intuitive goop. Personal injuries weeping in a mirror of hungry sand.

…and later he falls into a similarly weird, probing and elevated mode:

Think of yourself as words on a radio. Busy, probing, inquisitive, confident, but basically ephemeral. Waves. An ellipsis boiling over with miracles of protein. That’s when it’s time to seize the rain and squeeze it until it assumes the shape of Wisconsin.

…or how about this, from the Hopkins-like Each Time a Vowel Catches Fire:

Art’s fondest dream is to push its interior meanings into globular lumps of morality which writing does when it really starts to tremble and become a maelstrom of silver the crackling of ink beside the mind of an ant attracting rain and Pollock pushing a little blind eye into a dangerous glamour to sweeten the sharpness of death a nail in a declension of wood.

File432…nice, how punctuation takes a holiday in that last piece, leaving all the expressivity supercharged in only word-meaning (which aspires to all meaning?) and, further, how the exploitation of the prose poem form allows him to drop into reflexive philosophical statements that never entirely find conclusion and, instead, add to what John Ashbery has called ‘a poetry of continuum’. Whatever furthers the poem, imagistically and observationally, is its own sustenance. If you do not have any of Olson’s work I highly recommend it.

The first of two pieces by Adam Cornford also catches my eye, and I soon go back to re-read it; Red Venice:

In solitary London
all the stone steps are connected

In brave Accra
dolls float in the lagoons

In silent Munich
night has a long tongue

The poem succeeds not only through syntax and image, but here through the unlikely juxtapositions of places themselves: London, Accra, Munich… offering odd new lines of dreamy travel à la Roussel. His next poem, Philosophical Panorama, has:

At sunset the line of hills undulates like a lazy signal in the infra-red
and behind them curtain gray curtain paling the mountains
cordilleras fluttering with infinite slowness in the geological wind
like worn muslin the strata exposed  and angled near vertical
a decor of ghosts the ancient shells hanging in the tatter and     weave

Symmetry, asymmetry, dissonance. Distance. Nearness. The surreal collapses space and time. Transposes it into space-Time. Verdant connectivity of dissimilars, nearness into distance, distance into approximate intimacy. Abstraction and concretion. As Jim Morrison once joked in an interview; ‘the dead will have to fend for themselves’ to the question of human lives becoming longer, and by degrees, more and more spiritual. We ghost the dead, we see them by creating them in imaginary forms. Anna Karenina exists as long as the book does. And yet she is nowhere. Our creations, then, share vital qualifying principles with the dead. Is this  pure imagination? We inhabit our own Guadalahara… as Ashbery, himself ghosting Roussel, implied. The wind, in Cornford’s poem shares a concrescence with rock and soil. The nothing-is-something tone. There, and now… here. The marvellous receives its energy from that communion of spiritual and material; this is the liminal implied by Allen, and also in the poetry of Michael Rattigan (whose writing is also reviewed at The Fiend).

The liminal eventualizes correspondences, as Allen’s anthology exposes. That’s why, I would assume, he has broken up the work into chapters or sections so that the overall impression is something akin to a conversation, a menage, even, between Arthur Cravan, Plato and Loy… or as in his own poem Genome Dice:

Surrealism is Eros, the woman in sepia gelatin. How could she be reached? She’d been given a blue ring of ochre that rang and sang, he’d spent nights and days with her, but a gelatin freeze remained. How could she be reached? A word fallen like lead thumbs? A scream so horrifying it would render Lucifer deaf? He couldn’t maintain her face, it shifted. Strange is a mathematics of semiotic dislocation now. This is not Arnim, or Achim, or the uncanny. A sense of dislocation related to civilization is not the same as the uncanny… A cryptographer struggling with a code as some struggle with poppers of sea salt asthma, and the molecules were pleasing him in nostril shock, porcelain worms freezing into small hickory smoked bullets burning.

…not only are the images tantalizing but it also (more broadly) makes me think that, formally speaking, it is surrealism that has done more for the prose poem than any other approach. Ever since Baudelaire the race has been on to undermine the traditional form for poetry and the structures and strictures inherent in prose. Surrealism led the charge. Lautreamont discovered the sleeping road of nightmare and found it consoling; an ugliness absorbed into beauty by compassion’s black wand. Desnos’ prose seeped into poetic metre, Breton and Soupault’s Les Champs Magnetiques prefiguring Charles Olson’s projective Field by a quarter century? (along with Einstein’s greatest theory: not relativity, but the theory of the Magnetic Field, not coming to any school near you not soon; the moment when Einstein could inherit from Tesla cleanly and honestly without obfuscation)… prose as prophetic gate into oblivion’s sacristy etc. Prose imbued with the first ballad-like urge of man?? Switches in forms, cross-embuements, or cross-fertilizings of the physical and of the spiritual. Kant, Schopenhauer and Hegel had all built systems on the before then shabbily treated liminal (but none apprehended it Les Champs Magnetiqueas symbol of process until Bergson and Whitehead) but it wasn’t until The Marvellous that the sacred implied in the psalms and the gospels became at least partially present and a visible presence in modernity. No philosophy could swallow it whole. It was like Socrates knelt at the place where Empedokles was plunged into the boiling lavas of Etna. No one could dive in. Platonism could dutifully return to Pythagoras but Empedokles was for the entirely betwitched or the ecstatically brave. All this, the innate balladry of the plain prose sentence stored up… needing the novel to encourage it through the 18th and 19th centuries, before, in Baudelaire, it could expend the fullest extent of its potentialities.

In this context, the wholly book-tied pieces of J.Karl Bogartte are worth delving into (Bogartte doesn’t explicitly name anything he writes as formally ‘poetry’ or any other form of creative writing. The writing seems simply a part of an entire creative ethos that encompasses much visual art, and is formal only insofar as it is contained by the printed book or the webpage etc. The following sections in the anthology are from the book A Spindle’s Arc).

Portrait of X (2013) - J. Karl Bogartte

Portrait of X (2013) – J. Karl Bogartte

Night, ridiculous angles. Glance, eating muses by candlelight, she is eating her placenta, by instinct, your precious amanita… At dawn you are a translation, the nearness of another language, the flowing of locks capturing a sense of clairvoyance, windows of night-presence for a serum of words, a ridiculous corridor of invisible twins… You and you…


The glow between living and ceasing to live, emulates the long-legged cascade in her whispering circuitry, the gaze of rain is corrupted film, caught in the act, disguised by pleasure purring in gradually brightening passwords.


Deception is a lunar state of unconditional ill repute, a ravaging stone held close and indigoed into a conception of fire rising through the body, facing the other direction. A lancing misconception.

'Swallow the Ghosts of Your Whispers' (2014) - J. Karl Bogartte

‘Swallow the Ghosts of Your Whispers’ (2014) – J. Karl Bogartte

Sometimes the lines can seem very choppy and terse. Other times they can be very angular, dissonant and pre-thoughtful… entirely instinctual. Nothing, however, feels formulaic or procedural. As with the images in his visual work they have, and appear out of, both an abrupt and consoling darkness of pagan clarity, along with the vagueness of a not-wholly-grasped memory; the illusiveness, but Real, exactitude of déjà vu (literally; the already-seen, the re-minder). Which is to say they’re always surprising and disturbing, in the most visionary sense. In his pieces the madness feels to be its own rational un-system. And, for me, this always invites the primal self-reflection which process philosophy imbibed from; the surrendering to a secret, rather than the arguing into submission. And this, I think is implied in one of Yeats’s great titles; The Cold Heaven. Distanced absorptions? Joy’s onenesses; felt again in the ekstasis of Julian Semilian’s Poetry Reading, whose title similarly flexes back upon its own performance, so that the writer is submerged beneath an initially prosaic setting that turns into a glee’s linguistic gymnastics, language thrown back into the glad ferocity of its own signifying waves…

        ah, the dedications of voluptuaries! A hand for them! a hand like a swarm of flutes to grant fortitude at the funeral of friends, a temporary gathering at best.  But the crimson! engrossing you in the kelly-green of the asylum where we read, now emerald, now viridian, now aquamarine! porphyry quavering amidst the adoring of cadavers! […]

The Marvellous as language repository itself has had a certain traction in critical theory ever since works like Breton’s L’union Libre and Les Vases Communicants or Joyce’s Wake. In the final poem I’ll quote from, that notion is pitched to an entirely Other landscape which, again, proves that the alchemical, the science- fictive, the cognitive leaps, the boundary dissolutions, continue this tradition of surrealism, felt first in those now-almost-centennial works.

Sutton Breiding’s untitled poem appears thus:

I am sewn
to the words
waxwing and binary system
I am hypnotized by the special effects
before the sky’s blue screen
here are echoes
of all poems in poems of the Poem

the million mirrors reflecting dead teasel
in a rubble of shadows and toys
I am sewn
to the taste
of night rains
and the berryjuice of memory on hot country lanes
where I scrawl in post-language’s cool fire
a pre-language of dust from everyone’s Martian childhood



Andrew O’Donnell, Nov ’14

71anFyLlLFL‘Nouveau’s Midnight Sun; Transcriptions from Golgonooza and Beyond’ is published by Ravenna Press, and is available through their website, and the usual online booksellers. John Thomas Allen is also the author of ‘The Other Guy’ (2012) and ‘Lumiere’ (2014).

David Gascoyne’s ‘New Collected Poems’ was released this August, through Enitharmon Press. Philip Lamantia’s Collected Poems was released last year, and is available through University of California Press.

[All uncredited photographs by the editor.]



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The New Isaiah: A Forgotten English Poem of the 1930s – Niall McDevitt

David Gasgoiyne.inddFlicking through the fine hardback New Collected Poems of David Gascoyne (Enitharmon, 2014), I finally saw in the contents list the name of a poem I’d always wanted to read. All I’d ever known of it was the title, The New Isaiah, and a quoted paragraph which I’d seen in Robert Fraser’s biography Night Thoughts: The Surreal Life of the Poet David Gascoyne from 2012. However, the poem itself was not in my edition of an earlier Collected Poems, nor in any selection I had seen, nor was it online, nor in any anthologies I’d come across. Perhaps it was lost? Or juvenilia? Or not one of his best? Or maybe English poetry’s best-kept secret, David Gascoyne, was still keeping secrets from those few who knew his work? When I heard of this new collection I was hoping it would include the poem. My first anxious scan through the contents list missed the title, perhaps not thinking it would appear so early. A second search spotted the shibboleth, The New Isaiah, page 19. It had been published in his precocious debut Roman Balcony. At last, I began to read:

Across the highways strewn with ashen filth
The ragged pilgrims come to the new Metropolis,
That cruel City, built of stone and steel,
where unveiled passions, unashamed crimes,
the windy avenues traverse, where lust
wars bitterly with lust, where naked lights
illumine nightly what the day concealed.

Reading it doesn’t disappoint, but it does exasperate. How can this early masterpiece, and one of the better English poems of the 1930s, have been excluded from anything? Editors of Gascoyne and of poetry anthologies can only have been thinking quantitatively and left it out to save space. (It runs to three pages.) Or they underestimated its grandeur and cadence. Its unavailability has led to a gap in the skyline, akin to a missing edifice. This is an outstanding poem and yet apart from Robert Fraser’s signpost no one ever writes about it, talks about it, quotes it, republishes it, until now that is. All credit to Roger Scott, the editor of the new volume, for bringing it back into the public eye. A forgotten lyrical monument is publicly unveiled again.

The introductory stanza takes us into its negative cityscape as Dante takes us into Dis. I’d have preferred ‘traverse the windy avenues’ to the inversion but the poem plays with archaism as so many modernists were wont to do. Joyce looks back to Homeric epic, Eliot to Arthurian epic via Joyce, Gascoyne to Biblical epic via Eliot and Joyce. The ancient/modern parallelogram is erected again.The second stanza changes texture. Its vista of rural migration not only has a Shakespearean feel, but subliminally seems to imagine Shakespeare himself as the English Everyman who quits the provinces for the capital, leaving Ann Hathaway for theatreland.

They come in hordes, they come all day,
the oafs, the ignorant, the louts,
who tire at last of retch and sweat
on farms, on all-too-barren fields
whose crude desires, unsatisfied
by buxom cheek of dairymaid,
by greasy thigh of country-wench,
come hither in an eager rout
in search of painted lips and faces,
of limbs by nightly libertines embraced.

Gascoyne's debut poetry collection, 'Roman Balcony'

Gascoyne’s debut poetry collection, ‘Roman Balcony’

The 1930s was an excellent decade for English poetry, which saw the artform not only revelling in new techniques but using them to return poetry to its prophetic roots. Poetry became engaged again as politics explored extremities. MacSpaunday – the four-headed beast MacNeice/Spender/Auden/Day Lewis – dominated the mainstream, but there was a fecund fringe at work and a fruitful clash of generations. Everyone knows September 1, 1939 is a great 1930s poem but even admirers of David Gascoyne may not have read The New Isaiah until now. That said, Gascoyne’s brilliant Zero is another virtually unknown visionary classic of 1939. The problem, I believe, is not just the spiritual sincerity but the true radicalism of Gascoyne, which makes for a poetry that is slower to assimilate because harder to digest. Being resistant, it meets more resistance. A recent two-hour BBC documentary on 20th century British poetry chose to highlight among others John Betjeman. Gascoyne went unmentioned. This is how blinkered (and blinkering) the traditional survey of English poetry can be. Elsewhere, he is excluded from Michael Schmidt’s Lives of the Poets except for the phrase ‘like David Gascoyne on a rare good day’. Ridiculously, this is in a passage criticising ‘stylistic irony’and lamenting a lack of sincerity in poetry. Such a throwaway comment looks like revenge for some slight, but ripples out generating more prejudice. Even an enthusiast, Darran Anderson, sees Gascoyne as a kind of one-hit wonder whose oeuvre fails to live up to the greatness of And the Seventh Dream is the Dream of Isis. The hapless author is ‘A writer who connected briefly with genius and wrote a poem so monumental it casts a long shadow over everything else he wrote or failed to write.’ This is a reductio ad absurdum from the usual reduction of Gascoyne to mere Surrealist, but at least proselytizes for another 1930s Gascoyne poem. It’s an all-too-secular verdict, replaying Breton’s anti-Christian dismissal.

libra-1-isis_smallPublished a year after The New Isaiah in 1933, And the Seventh Dream is the Dream of Isis is both a showcase poem of English surrealism and modernism’s most stylish ‘white goddess’ poem – even when modish, he is religious – but full immersion in this poet’s output finds the sublimest depths elsewhere. Still a ripe target for contempts and condescensions, pigeon-holed by a few early poems, Gascoyne is something of a modern Blake, an outsider poet whose presence swells by the decade. He is a poetic ‘crisis manager’, capable of registering personal-political upheavals. Sane poets only go so far; Gascoyne goes further. His own psychological and financial difficulties and his more slow-growing, underground reputation make him a – superficially – less attractive figure than the highly successful Eliots, Audens, Betjemans of this world. Gascoyne is not a poet of the tournament but of the wilderness. He has what all poets should have, but surprisingly often don’t… profundity. The New Isaiah is a textbook example of how a poem/poet/poetry can extend its depth by turning to contemporary philosophy for guidance.

They come to toil at City desk,
to serve in cafes or in shops,
to balance on the scaffolding
of building-sites, to dig the roads,
to wait in the weary, rain-drenched queues
that straggle outside the Labour Exchanges;
or if the City finds them fools,
they sit and sleep like sodden sacks
on the rusty seats of embankments or suburbs.

Elementary as it is, this stanza captures our present as well as Gascoyne’s, connecting the Great Depression of yesterday with the ‘economic downturn’ of today. To the riddle of the title, the dedication supplies a key. Oswald Spengler is the recipient of the poet’s benediction, alive at the time of writing and to whom it may have been sent. (Gascoyne, though shy, still found the courage to make contact with people he admired.) The poem has several notable qualities. It is a foreboding versification of the ‘Downfall of the Occident’ metanarrative; a British-Israelite portrait of London between the wars; an ambitious young poet’s attempt to vocalise the city in the aftermath of Eliot; and an important forerunner of such later Gascoyne urban explorations as A Vagrant and Night Thoughts. The philosophical starting-point allows him to ruminate on his native city of London as a Spenglerian world city. His observations and lucubrations coalesce into poetry. Quotidian sights and sounds are symptoms of a terminal fall.

When night descends, when the last toil is done,
the City streets, garbed in beguiling lights,
invite the labourer to every vice,
and laughter squalls, and crowds go arm-in-arm,
the whores come out to wait in alleyways
where sudden drunks from hidden corners lurch,
and Pleasure Palaces and smoky dens
alike proclaim their diverse cheap attractions.

Oswald Spengler

Oswald Spengler

The civil servants of English poetry baulk at the idea of the prophetic, and this is perhaps why this poem – like a whistle-blowing document – has been filed away. The New Isaiah is a prophetic poem in that it is stylised as such, but tells an unusual story as it humbly passes the prophetic mantle to someone else. It is as much a praise poem for the thinker Oswald Spengler as it is a condemnation of the evils of the polis. In other words, in his call-and-response relationship to The Waste Land Gascoyne is not trying to step into the shoes of Eliot as poet-prophet, but is versifying the theory of one of the most idiosyncratic and controversial thinkers of the time, one who became a touchstone for the most out-there and abandoned literati to follow, most famously Miller and Burroughs. Steeped in the twin pessimisms of Spengler and Eliot, the poem makes no attempt to rebut the pessimism of Eliot, as Hart Crane and others did, but echoes Eliot without imitating Eliot. The major difference is that while Eliot’s poem expresses a patrician malaise, Gascoyne’s is much more socially mobile and much more rooted in the metropolis in question, London, and its native people. Even though Eliot uses London placenames, while Gascoyne opts for a universal urbs, the London of the ‘Labour Exchange’ is recognisable. There is something Hogarthian in its concerns. Gascoyne, born in the aptly named London suburb of Harrow, may seem as condescending to the rustics who flood into his capital as Eliot is to the cockneys he ventriloquizes, but Gascoyne was always a considered anti-fascist and a sometime communist. Their politics are not the same, nor backgrounds, Gascoyne being of petit-bourgeois-cum-bohemian origin. Nor does Gascoyne share the incrementally right-wing politics of Spengler. As it happens, the coolly neutral The New Isaiah is not concerned with class analysis but with the plight of an industrious if licentious people who are sacrificing themselves to a machine, a machine that is falling from a state of disrepair into a state of disuse. This poem of godlessness differs from Eliot’s in that it is comprehensible all the way, though it retains mystery. There are stanzas of blank verse and free verse, pentameters and tetrameters interchanging, but nothing of the outré stylistics of The Waste Land. What makes this substantial poem work is its confident switch between free and formal verse, (or perhaps free-ish and formal-ish verse.) The prosaic offsets the poetic as if by shift work. As Eliot references the urban laureateship of Baudelaire in his ‘Hypocrite lecteur!’, Gascoyne homages the Frenchman by breaking into intense rhyming quatrains. Some of the lines are ringing Alexandrines such as ‘… and with our brushes paint disintegration’s signs.’ Rather than the discombobulating polyphony of The Waste Land, there is dialogue between a narrator and the prophet. The narrator is Gascoyne, the prophet is Spengler, but the prophet is also the man in the street listening to himself. This is folk prophecy reminiscent of Piers Plowman – as in the alliterative line ‘they sit and sleep like sodden sacks’ – not written de haut en bas, but shared. The seemingly humdrum vistas of the opening stanzas suddenly intensify. Realism explodes into expressionism.

In stinking sewers open to the sky
the worn-out profligates lie down to die:
and rank contagion fills the germ-laid air
from poisoned corpses that the wind strips bare.

Midst clawing shadows and the web of crazy nights,
in stuffy rooms that paralyse the mind,
the weakened bodies of this later race of men
beget a stunted and deformed mankind.

Nor art nor music flourishes in this decline;
the world degenerates, has lost its mind.
We hang our harps upon the streets to weep
and with our brushes paint disintegration’s signs.

There is a herd instinct among some literati to react to an utterance as grave and concerned as this with snide indifference. Another contemporary critic, Andrew Duncan, has dismissed Gascoyne as ‘pedestrian and hysterical.’ Aside from the wrongness, my objection to this is a lexicological instinct never to deploy the word ‘pedestrian’ as a critical term. There’s nothing wrong with walking, quite the opposite, so it should never have become a metaphorical basis for the putting down of poetry. I first noticed this critical oxymoron in an essay by Jeremy Reed – introducing Gascoyne to the readers of the anthology Conductors of Chaos – who eulogised Gascoyne’s night walks in Paris (from the poem ‘Noctambules’) whilst accusing the Larkinian mainstream of ‘pedestrianism’. It’s a paradox too far. For a poet, pedester is equester. Gascoyne’s poems were inspired by his colossal walks through London as Rimbaud’s and Blake’s had been before him. Much poetry would benefit from being more pedestrian, less desk-bound. I have looked through Robin Skelton’s skeltonPoetry of the Thirties and other anthologies to see if they contain any poems as good as The New Isaiah. The good thing about this Penguin tome, which more than makes up for its abysmal cover, is that the mage-like Skelton was an informed Gascoynean and included a half-dozen poems by the misfit, though not The New Isaiah. Auden’s Spain, Barker’s Elegy on Spain, MacNeice’s Autumn Journal are brave contenders; but Gascoyne’s poem has the advantage of timelessness. True, there is the fashionable Spenglerian theme, but Gascoyne is drawing on the old Isaiah too to paint a pestilential ever-recurring London. Black Death, fire, blitz, apocalypse are all visible within its perimeters. Too often, poets write about what they see by daylight. Auden’s fine epistle to Isherwood; To a Writer on his Birthday concludes with an image of ‘I smoke into the night’ but begins with a ‘Daily’ and a ‘lulled by the light’. It is solar not lunar poetry. And it is desk-bound. Gascoyne has night vision, mobile as the moon, and sees what is rather than projecting his own charms and circumstances onto the object. The poem is free of any intention whatsoever to make the reader feel good.

All aim and faith has gone. Men do not grope
within this xanthic fog, nor do they hope,
but toil and grovel as the years proceed.
They toil for nothing; nor do they feel need.

Though the earlier line ‘in stuffy rooms that paralyse the mind’ is Eliotian, suggesting Preludes, Gascoyne shows how determined he is to differentiate himself from Eliot in his phrase ‘xanthic fog.’ All xanthic means is ‘yellow’ but if he had said ‘yellow fog’ it would be literally quoting from Prufrock. Xanthic offers a completely other texture, and sound, to describe the same phenomenon. The stanza is filmic, the celluloid rolls, and we seem to see footage of somnambulant workers in satanic mills. It’s hellish and irredeemable, but for the trumpets:

The ranting whirligigs revolve and scream
in acrid breath of smoke and steam;
the lights are harsh and dazzle every eye
to signs of omnipresent Destiny.

But Destiny’s brass trumpet wakes the wise.
They see decay, they see the falling globe,
they see the slow inevitable decline
of nations, and the twilight of the West.

The despairing tone is not unique. Gascoyne himself later compared the two novelists Henry Miller – a personal friend and hero – and Louis Ferdinand Celine, finding ‘the same unbounded pessimism, the same catastrophic vision of a world stifling in disease and filth’. Celine’s bitterness and Miller’s joie de vivre contrast, but Gascoyne’s variation on a theme is the rhythmic deeming of a lyric poet to the accompaniment of bass drum. Of course this youthful Gascoyne has seen less, but he has seen. The consolation for the populaces limned within is that a prophet is walking among them, a waking conscience, an illuminated soul who records the mass descent of humanity into what Blake calls ‘the Nether Abyss’. The clarity and simplicity of the language convey a stately effect. It’s been carefully worked but doesn’t show it and has been pared down to what it is, a social cri de coeur. The second of the two quatrains above slips out of rhyme as the poem resumes its other form, the larger blank verse stanza. The intense pitch stays. Is it good news that a prophet is among the people once again? Is it good news that Isaiah has returned in a new incarnation? It almost is. It could be. The obvious snag is that the people will ignore his importunings, as they always have. A masterful iambic pentameter couplet takes us to the heart of the matter.

A new Isaiah walks the City streets
with burning coals of fire on his head
who cries his warnings to the careless crowds
who heed him not but arm themselves for wars,
who whet their swords for one another’s blood,
who go a-whoring with their own inventions
deaf to the cries of one who sees their fate:
’As Rome fell, ye shall fall,
as falling ye are now.

A new Isaiah walks the City streets
with burning coals of fire on his head:
’The world-metropolis is built on dust,
with fruitless labour, by the sweat of lust.

To dust it shall return nor shall it rise again
till the world writhes in the tremendous pain
of a new birth in a far distant dawn,
nor can you hope to see that new world born.

‘You cannot turn to God for there is no God left:
Your God is the Machine, of soul bereft.
Through all the discords of a striving host
the machine drones on, a steel ghost.

‘Out of the foul refuse that the mob ignores
old vices rise that no one now deplores.
New Sodoms and Gomorrahs flourish in the dusk
which suck their foul fruit dry and throw away the husk.

‘You cannot check the wheel of Fate.
The years are late. The years are late.
The West declines, Metropolis is falling…’
through the loud shade the prophet-voice calling.

The sun has gone. The City’s lights
shine out with fevered brilliance.
When at the last these brilliant lights shall fail
how dark and terrible the Winter night!
E’en now, above the giant roofs
rises a pale and waning moon –

Tis but a few can read the signs.

Of course, Spengler isn’t walking the streets in this fashion; but Gascoyne the pedestrian poet is, intoning internally, firing mentally.The line ’The years are late. The years are late’ is very Eliotian but the stanza it features in is not. Again, it’s a well-executed versification and vindication of Spengler. I particularly like the way the quotation mark returns after the third line, signalling the breaking off of the prophet. From the fine line ‘the world-metropolis is built on dust’, the prophet speaks in definite rhyming couplets, the most consistent stretch in the poem. It’s a poem I wish I could hear Gascoyne read, but I’m not aware of a recording. The new Isaiah, like the old, prophesies the coming of a messiah but warns his listeners to entertain no hope of seeing the messianic age. In a way, the poem is an entertainment. It is a blast against complacency; it would be funny if all the people contained in the poem could become its audience. Had Gascoyne recited it in a London pub, it would have been understood by laymen – that is one of the miracles of the poem. The British-Israel mystique appeals to something deep in a populace nourished on the King James Bible. Most Gascoyne stuff is not as accessible. This poem so goes against the grain of entertainment deployed in most public address, including poetry,that it somehow entertains despite itself, as Piers Plowman entertains even as it reprimands. The utterance, the musicalisation, do not cause despair but something more like relief. The unutterable has been uttered, the truth is out. The metrics are pleasing. Such is this poem’s ‘brief authority’ the reader who has not yet read Spengler may feel there is no need; the poem has condensed the two-volume book into a song. Is there a moral? It is certainly not in the earlier stanza about the ‘later race of men’ who ‘beget a stunted and deformed mankind’. Gascoyne is absolutely not advocating the eugenics of so many of his contemporaries. This is merely a detail in the poem’s necessary hyperbole. Both species and system are dying. It includes us all, not a victimised underclass. The moral must surely have something to do with Gascoyne’s choice of prophet. We may have assumed it would make no difference had he called the poem The New Jeremiah, that it was a matter of style, of sound. But the prophets are distinguished by their teachings. The New Jeremiah could have worked well as no one foresaw the destruction of civilisation – nor incarnated the poetry of despair – better than the author who gave his name to the jeremiad. However, it is the choice of Isaiah that offers something like hope to the reader and indicates where Gascoyne is coming from. Isaiah is above all distinguished by his concern for the welfare of ordinary people in prioritising social justice over religious ritual, and by his famous anti-war message about converting swords into ploughshares. Gascoyne’s poem empathises with its own population, but only so far. As soon as Isaiah himself enters the stage, he turns on the people for their warlike ways. Suddenly it’s not hard to see that Gascoyne is addressing his own nation, still recovering from the military-industrial nadir of WW1 while preparing for the madness of WW2. Again, he does not aim the blow at a section of society but at all of society. And ruin is predicted. Gascoyne is telling the British Empire in no uncertain terms – and with total accuracy – that it is going the way of the Roman Empire. The archaism of the ‘ye shall fall’ is Biblical English. Spengler’s ‘Faustian’ Germany would fall first, Gascoyne’s Britain soon thereafter. The war will be won, the peace will be lost.

calamiterror george barkerAmid the poetry of the 1930s there is much seriousness, because many of the poets had tasted the brutalities of war and because many were clamouring for social reform. When they write in lighter veins, the result is still a very high-minded satire of which MacNeice is probably the best exponent, but which even Betjeman can rise to in a poem like In Westminster Abbey, a parody of religious jingoism. There is the sensual and sardonic wit of Geoffrey Grigson, most moving in the love poem And Forgetful of Europe. There is George Barker’s Blakean epic Calamiterror. There are the well-crafted but bland posturings of the pseudo-revolutionaries Day Lewis and Spender. It might be argued that the poetry then was too much political and not enough spiritual, but the apolitical Dylan Thomas comes to mind with any number of hip Christo-pagan classics, as well as the converted Eliot of Ash Wednesday. Gascoyne certainly fills the spiritual void and is one of those rare poets who can combine the political and religious in a single poem. The New Isaiah is a very early example of this. The mystery is how someone born in 1916 and who published his first volume in 1932 could have written such a serious poem. The New Isaiah was most likely composed when the author was 15 years old! One explanation is his schoolboy years in Salisbury as a member of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir, a highly accomplished musical ensemble, performing and recording such works as Edward Elgar’s setting of Cardinal Newman’s The Dream of Gerontius (with Elgar in attendance.) Chanting this high religious poem in 1929 was one of the most moving experiences in Gascoyne’s life, according to Robert Fraser, and it was in the same year that he began writing poetry. He must have sung countless psalms and hymns in his five or so years in Salisbury, before his voice broke and he was made redundant. But his 1930 return to London added a new stimulus: not the Regent Street Polytechnic but the allure of bookshops including Foyles, Zwemmers, A.H. Mayhew, Watkins Books, and the Poetry Bookshop where he encountered Eliot the man reciting Christina Rossetti. There are other fine poems in his first collection, most notably Seaside Tragedy which brilliantly turns a local newspaper article about a widow’s suicide in Bournemouth into a modernist lyric-epic, a work which sophisticates and dignifies its subject, creating a tragic poem about an ordinary person. It’s also a fine nautical poem. Prison is thought to be describing his low-ceilinged room in the family home at Richmond Road, East Twickenham. There is the opulent minimalist fantasy of the title poem, Roman Balcony, a clue to the fascism of the era. Each is its own work of art with its own materials. The Roman theme is courtesy of Pater’s Marius the Epicurean. However, it was not just the bookshops of London but the city itself that provided the Jerusalemite/Babylonian/Roman vistas for The New Isaiah and a template for the politico-religious urban poetry that Gascoyne would revisit. That a teenager could pen such a mature poem probably signifies genius. That critics such as Schmidt and Duncan can be so dismissive of David Gascoyne suggests he is probably one of those poets who divide readers in extremis. Visionary Londonists such as Iain Sinclair tend to be admirers. Academia has yet to fully catch on; a serious study would only garner a few dozen customers. Roger Scott has taken that route and a PHD has led to this monolithic new edition. The poems pipe on to their dedicated inspectors and find new ears. The New Isaiah is both caring and careful, addressed as it is to ‘careless crowds’. These must include the literati who failed to notice the poem. It’s not an epochal poem like The Waste Land, but it is an important, special, powerful poem. And it hasn’t been hacked to death. The deft, once-off repetition of the key couplet ‘A new Isaiah walks the City streets / with burning coals of fire on his head’ is compelling, as is the capitalization of the capital City. Who could disagree that herein lies a modern formula? This is urban shamanism. I like the image, suggestive of the ‘imbas’ that is Gaelic for a poet’s inspiration i.e. the ‘fire in the head’ (as well as the Shelleyan image of inspiration as a fading coal). It is based on a vision from Isaiah 6:

Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the
LORD of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his
hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with
it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and
your sin is forgiven.”

It is a fire unafraid of simplicity and profundity, with much heat and light to bestow. Adolescent? It is a clean-lipped poem.

Isaiah, depicted by Michelangelo

Isaiah, depicted by Michelangelo

Niall McDevitt, Oct ’14


David Gascoyne, ‘New Collected Poems’, Enitharmon Press, £25. An introductory bio (of sorts) for David Gascoyne, can be found here. The book can be ordered through Enitharmon’s website, or via the usual booksellers.

Niall McDevitt is a London-based Irish poet, and a recent bio for him can be found with an earlier piece on David Gascoyne. His recent essay on the poetry of Clayton Eshleman forms part of a project of criticism on the work of that poet, entitled ‘The Whole Art’, and is currently available through Black Widow Press.

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One Poem – Heller Levinson

of if as in pertaining to


of if as in pertaining to persuasion conviction convincing conniving

creating consensus (assemble   gather   bundle   congregate) the urge to

avalanche to bring to fore (fruition   fructification   frequencies   flocking)

the flocking impulse — purpose → the establishment of   attaining to

purpose is viscera is the human stuff what nations warfare & peace

negotiations are & poetry & science & billabongs   to be purposeful in action

fusillage & forethought preambling foreskin to attain given or achieve such

the warp of  contradiction pursuit here education such a ruse the misfit in the

assembly the rust in the machine packets of annihilation designed to render

highways of truculence bitterroot whangdoodle whippy

when angling for purpose

persuade yourself





of if as in pertaining to equidistance Pythagoras hilarity come holy come

hole wholly come 1  2  3  if you will wont want font subterfuge trillion trillion

on a trolley collar on a dollar disparity contrareity bespoke holy smoke far

away another day come early come quick go licketysplit guard the wick pick

up stick(s) wish I might with I will fuse to lonesome whippoorwill song









of if as in pertaining to melancholia truancy purports curvilinear

homeopathic medicinals prevail especially in a time of drought hillsides with

sufficient snow provide sledding whisk whisking through passin’

triumvirates prosper from gaiety dish dishing doling jubilee bails

oxgenation blasts terminal velocity termination the teardrop term tunes

spliced from mourning laced with persuasion circumlocution-braced

lachrymal-fretted eke out ferret time left the rub






of if as in pertaining to equality equilateral quasi-matter

circumlocution circumnavigationally cursory crusade conjunctive dispatch

come one come all irrefutable the stall the billabong the wall the staunch

raunch uncontrollable smear-blear only the weary dum-dum-dum-dumdy-

doo-wah would accept a tragi-one dimensional bereft void of heft gross

vitality theft hear the lonely if only exceptionally were






hinge-trio-dustjacket-frontHeller Levinson lives in New York where he studies animal behavior. He has published in over a hundred journals and magazines. His publication, ‘Smelling Mary’ (Howling Dog Press, 2008), was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the Griffin Prize. Black Widow Press published his ‘from stone this running’ in 2012. ‘Hinge Trio’ was published by La Alameda Press in 2012.  Forthcoming is Heller’s ‘Wrack Lariat’, slated for publication by Black Widow Press, Fall 2014. Additionally, he is the originator of Hinge Theory (and be sure to check out Paul Stubbs’ brilliant essay on Hinge Theory here).



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On Music – Colin Wilson

from ‘Modern Music – The Problem’ (Part One)

The essence of the ‘Modernist’ controversy was stated in the 1880s by Max Nordau in his book Degeneration; since then it has turned up in various forms, sometimes modestly, as in Haggin’s chapter on modern music in his Musical Companion, sometimes thoroughly aggressively, as in Henry Pleasants’s Death of a Music. As Mr Pleasants’s book is the most recent, I may as well take it as the starting-point.

death of a musicModern music, says Mr Pleasants, has edged itself into a cul-de-sac; it has become intellectualized to an extent where it is meaningless to the general listener. And it may well be that the musical historian of the future will see jazz as the vital musical tradition of the twentieth century. Why do we snobbishly insist that a symphony must be a more important form of music than a Broadway musical, when the musical may be artistically vital and the symphony arid and formal? Is it not time that we faced the decadence of our serious music, and stopped looking down on jazz and popular music?

It is difficult not to feel at least some partial agreement with Mr Pleasants. The ‘modernists’ argue that all important artworks are ahead of their time, and that Schoenberg, Webern, and Boulez will one day be as acceptable in the concert hall as Bach is today. They may point out that contemporary critics accused Eliot of a kind of deliberate practical joke in offering The Waste Land as poetry, while nowadays any college student can appreciate its emotional force. But, as Mr Pleasants points out, Wozzeck, Pierrot Lunaire, and The Rite of Spring sound as strange today as they did fifty years ago; they have not been assimilated in the same way.

And yet it seems to me that this kind of arguing fails, to some extent, to grasp the essential root of the matter. We cannot argue as if popularity in the concert hall were the only criterion of value. Artistic experience is related in a curious way to the personality of the spectator. One might say that it affords an escape from personality, a broadening of the personality. Men can mature only by allowing themselves natural expression; the emotions have to be taught to flow. The inner being has to be kept in motion. In the same way, a woman might feel that she must have a child if her personality is to find its natural expression. But there is an obvious difference. In becoming a mother, a woman has allowed a certain part of her personality its fullest expression; having a dozen children will not necessarily enlarge it further. But the fulfilment brought about by certain artistic experiences has no clear limitation. A youth may discover that the music of Wagner brings about an inner release, an expansion of his personality; but that is not to say that he will not find still greater release in Schoenberg or Bartók.

schonberg1rWe do not yet know enough about the psychology of personality to know whether it could go on developing indefinitely, or whether it has a certain limit of expansion analogous to the blooming of a flower. The artistic career of such men as Yeats and Gide seems to indicate that there are no true limits. But since it is impossible to know how far a personality is capable of development, it is equally impossible to make rules about whether various forms of art are valid or not. It may be true that Pierrot Lunaire remains an intellectual rather than a musical experience. But then, it is possible to imagine a person for whom its strange sounds create an experience that he could find nowhere else in music.

In short, the point that is generally overlooked in arguments about modern music is the question of the psychology of the kind of people who enjoy it. Both the attackers and defenders write as if music had an absolute value, to which Schoenberg either conforms or does not conform. This is like assuming that everyone who professes to be a Roman Catholic has carefully thought out his beliefs, and weighed them against the claims of Buddhism and Mohammedanism. In fact we know that, ideally speaking, religion and philosophy ought to be concerned only with ‘truth’. And yet we only have to hear a convinced Catholic arguing with a convinced Communist to know that the emotional needs of the personality play an important part in a man’s conception of ‘truth’. The true philosopher is not discouraged by this; he attempts to allow for his emotional prejudices. But the philosopher has the advantage of being able to appeal to the laws of logic. The logic of art is an altogether more difficult matter, since art is essentially an appeal to the personality rather than to the reason.

It must therefore be conceded that for certain people the rarified atmosphere of ‘modern music’ is pleasant to breathe. To some extent, then, modern music is justified. But it might be contended that previous revolutions in music – from modal polyphony to diatonic harmony, from classicism to romanticism – were natural evolutions of public taste. Wagner may at first have sounded odd to the admirers of Bellini, but it did not take too long for the general public to find the new music assimilable. Is it ever likely that the general public will follow the admirers of Schoenberg, or come to accept Boulez’s Marteau Sans Maître at a concert, sandwiched between the Beethoven Fifth Symphony and Debussy’s La Mer?

Conceding that the answer is ‘probably not’, might it yet be contended that serial music is the central musical tradition of the twentieth century, whether the public accepts it or not? After all, no one denies that the theory of relativity is a natural development in physics, even though the general public does not understand it.

Again, this seems to be missing the point. Music is not eventually judged by how it says things, but by what it says. Beethoven seemed a difficult composer to the general public of his day, and his late quartets are still as ‘difficult’ for the average listener as any Schoenberg; but the manifest importance of what he had to say carried the day. The proof that the public responds to what is being said can be found in Alban Berg, whose only ‘popular’ works are Wozzeck and the Violin Concerto, both clearly driven by a powerful emotion. The Chamber Concerto or the Altenberg Songs say nothing of comparable importance, and are seldom heard.

The emphasis in all the discussions seems to have got misplaced. Composers who have defended their right to compose ‘difficult’ music include Schoenberg, Copland, Roger Sessions, and Hindemith. If any of these men were obviously of the stature of Beethoven, there would be no argument; the works themselves would carry the day.

Where Schoenberg is concerned, the unpopularity is very clearly a matter of content as well as form. The artists of the early nineteenth century tended to be ‘popular’ in that they spoke of unifying emotions, of the brotherhood of man. The late nineteenth century – the era of ‘decadence’ – cultivated a kind of artistic solipsism, and the idea of individualism was sometimes carried to an absurd point of selfishness, as in Lautreamont, who seemed to believe that a man would be justified in murdering a baby if it gave him pleasure. Far from feeling universal brotherhood, the ‘decadent’ poet tended to make no secret of his contempt for his reader, the ‘hypocrite lecteur’. So it was hardly surprising if most readers responded with coolness to the work of these artists. Now Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern most emphatically belong to this tradition. Berg set Baudelaire poems in Der Wein; Schoenberg and Webern both set Stefan George. The strange, solipsistic world of decadence is always present in Schoenberg’s music. In the Gurrielieder, Verklärte Nacht, Pelléas and Mélisande, the First Chamber Symphony, and the First String Quartet, it is open and undisguised. It is still obviously present in the choice of text of the George songs (op. 15), Pierrot Lunaire, Erwartung, Die Glückliche Hand, and Herzgewächse. An unkind listener might still detect it in the over-dramatized self-pity of the Survivor from Warsaw (which has always seemed to me Schoenberg’s one total artistic flop). Schoenberg’s admirers claim that Moses and Aaron reveals a greater Schoenberg, preoccupied with the universal issues of man and God; but again, one observes that the centre of the opera is the dance about the golden calf, and Schoenberg’s text dwells on the lust and violence with an obvious satisfaction that recalls Oscar Wilde. (People eat raw meat, a youth is murdered, four naked virgins are sacrificed, then men strip women and possess them on the altar; Schoenberg spares no details in describing the orgy.)  Moreover, when Schoenberg returned in later life to writing ‘tonal’ works – the Second Chamber Symphony and the Suite for String Orchestra (1936) – they sound as if they had been written thirty years earlier. (The Second Chamber Symphony was, in fact, begun in 1906.) The idiom is still that of Verklärte Nacht. Finally, we have the curious fact that Schoenberg never expressed any kind of dissatisfaction with his earlier music. Most critics have seen in this only evidence of his iron consistency, his recognition that his development had proceeded according to a rigorous musical logic. But when one considers his lifelong failure to escape the romanticism of his youth, it seems equally plausible that his development after 1908 was a technical development only, concealing an inability to develop in a more fundamental sense. The curious rigidity of Schoenberg’s personality, his lack of humour and the unwavering hatred with which he regarded anyone who was even lukewarm towards his music, tends to reinforce this probability.

chamber musicThe comparison with James Joyce affords some interesting parallels. Both began by writing in a naïve and romantic idiom; both showed a curious innocence in their total self-preoccupation. Both suffered a number of early snubs, and developed a formidable intellectualism to cover the over-sensitivity. Joyce also refused to ‘disown’ his early work – the poems Chamber Music (1907) reveal an unexpected strain of Irish sentimentality – and the later Pomes Penyeach show that Joyce was writing exactly the same kind of poetry twenty years later, although the achievement of Ulysses came between the two volumes. Acquaintances who knew Joyce in his later years have all remarked on a certain naïve element in his personality: the childish sense of humour, the constant dwelling on the past, which seemed to indicate that, in a certain way, he never grew up. His stature as an intellectual was considerable, since he had forced it on himself as Shem the Penman in Finnegans Wake shows that he still saw himself in exactly the same light as thirty years earlier , when he wrote Stephen Hero; pride and self-pity are still the leading traits of his character. One might also observe that the sexual perversion and violence that erupt in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake bring to mind the central scene of Moses and Aaron; the same perverted romanticism is apparent.

All this is not intended to minimize the achievement of either Joyce or Schoenberg. The achievement remains; but it must be recognized that it was largely an achievement of will, not the true development of the whole human being that we find, for example, in Beethoven. One must recognize this in order to see the music of Schoenberg in perspective. It is something that one would not realize from reading books about Schoenberg, or listening to the kind of discussion of him that is presented on the Third Programme: for example, a recent (December 1963) discussion of Pierrot Lunaire between Hans Keller and Egon Wellesz that seemed to be based on the assumption that Schoenberg is the only interesting composer of the twentieth century.

The parallel with Joyce raises a further question. Joyce’s influence in literature has been equal to Schoenberg’s in music; and yet, in a certain sense, his work is a dead end. No one can continue it, and one might perhaps be forgiven for suggesting that Joyce himself never really continued the work began with Ulysses. Finnegans Wake is an elaborate game rather than a living work of literature. Joyce’s influence was not fundamental and seminal; no one could say, as Dostoevsky said of Gogol’s Overcoat, that a whole literature came out of it. Joyce’s technical influence is present in Döblin‘s Alexanderplatz, Berlin, in Wolfe’s novels, even in Graham Greene of the 1930s; but only in the most superficial sense.

In the perspective of another half-century, Schoenberg may well be seen in the same light. His language has obviously exercised an enormous influence; but how profound is this influence? Has it, like Gogol’s Overcoat or Schiller’s Robbers, really created a new kind of sensibility, a new ‘world outlook’ that will continue to bear fruit?

For a new language to exercise a genuinely profound influence, it must be an integral part of a new sensibility, a break with old patterns of feeling as well as of expression. The language of Wordsworth and Coleridge was such a breakaway from the sensibility of the age of Pope: hence its seminal influence on the nineteenth century. But, as we have already pointed out, Schoenberg’s ‘feeling’ is a continuation of the ‘feeling’ of Wagner and teuton symbolMahler; he might be regarded as the last fruits of their line of Teutonic romanticism, rather as Delius could be described as the ultimate expression of the French school of musical impressionism. Delius has exercised no influence comparable with Schoenberg’s because his technical procedures had less to offer; but it may well be that, in many other ways, he is Schoenberg’s musical equivalent.

The only way in which the listener can judge this is, of course, by ear. And the difficulty of Schoenberg’s musical language may make it difficult to reach any conclusion. Berg’s musical language is easier to come to terms with. It presents initial difficulties in the more formal works, but the listener can have no difficulty in recognizing the relationship between the Violin Concerto or the D Minor Interlude of Wozzeck and the world of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. And yet Schoenberg’s language is not so inaccessible, as soon as one has an inkling of what he is ‘saying’. Getting to know Schoenberg’s music is like getting to know a person whose haughty and abrupt manner conceals shyness and a desire to be liked. The listener is advised to begin with the Verklärte Nacht, the two Chamber Symphonies and the 1936 Suite for String Orchestra; after these, the transition to the Violin Concerto and Piano Concerto should prove both interesting and pleasant. The language of the Violin Concerto may seem strange at first, but the opening cadences make it clear that this is a romantic concerto wearing a false moustache. There is none of the harsh feeling of torn silk that one gets from Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto. In fact, Schoenberg’s concerto is in many ways reminiscent of Berg’s, allowing that Berg’s feeling is tragic, while Schoenberg’s is only dreamily romantic, somewhat after the manner of Verklärte Nacht. The Piano Concerto is equally easy to get to know. One critic described it as ‘Brahmsian’, and in fact much of the orchestration has a curiously Brahmsian sound. A great deal of the concerto sounds as if someone had accidentally played a tape of a Brahms concerto backwards.

Part of Schoenberg’s difficulty in finding wider appreciation is undoubtedly due to the excessive claims made for him by admirers who seem determined that admiration for him shall be confined to a small clique. Hence we have Hans Keller writing (on a Schoenberg sleeve note): ‘The sole trouble about Schoenberg is that he is the first composer of supreme greatness who is more talked about than played. This is our age’s fault, not his, and if he is the least played and most talked about, that may only go to show that he is the greatest of them all.’ The uninitiated listener is thus prepared for tremendous messages of Olympian profundity; and if Schoenberg is the ‘greatest of them all’ composers of ‘supreme greatness’, then this profundity must, at the very least, be equal to that of the late Beethoven quartets. These absurdly excessive claims only tend to conceal from the listener the fundamentally simple romanticism of Schoenberg’s music; they seem, in fact, designed to increase its inaccessibility.

schoenberg2Schoenberg has been accused of many things including deliberate faking – musical confidence trickery. But the worst that can fairly be alleged against him is that the complexity of his musical language is not true complexity – the complexity that is the attempt to communicate a complex emotion. (Eliot once made the same point against Milton, citing Henry James as an example of ‘true complexity’.) Moreover, it would be unfair to say that Schoenberg tries to pretend to be profounder than he is. Irritation at the cliché-ridden nature of one’s language is a legitimate reason for trying to change it. The linguistic complexity of Mallarmé, Valéry, Joyce, and Dylan Thomas is of this kind. No one can blame an artist for making what he has to say as interesting as possible. It is true that the greatest artists have never had need to resort to linguistic fireworks for their own sake, and that extreme preoccupation with technique is usually a sign of a certain dilettantism. But it might be said in Schoenberg’s favour that he is a German, and the Germans have a tradition of making heavy weather of self-expression. No one claims Kant or Hegel were fakes because they did not express themselves as clearly as Hume or Descartes.

The other composers who are mentioned in attacks on ‘modern music’ (I continue to write ‘modern music’ in inverted commas, meaning ‘difficult modern music’) are Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Webern. Thirty years ago Bartók was usually mentioned as well, but time has shown that his music has a far wider appeal than that of the others.

webernWebern is the easiest to justify. He is a musical contemplative who never set out to be popular. He practised music with the same mystical devotion that Flaubert and James practised writing. The most essential Webern works are very short, and for small numbers of instruments; it is typical that many should regard the Piano Variations, op. 27, as his masterpiece. One cannot conceive of Webern writing an opera; even the songs (many to Stefan George poems) strike one as ‘impure’ Webern.

He sits above music like a hermit on a mountain-top; or perhaps a better simile would be a great chess player looking down on a chess board. At long intervals he reaches down and makes a single move. Webern reminds us of a line of Yeats:

Like a long-legged fly
His mind walks upon silence.

It is pointless to include a musician like Webern in an attack on modern music, because he seems to have almost no interest in communication: he plays music like a game of patience.

Hindemith is a totally different matter, and the objections raised against him by Constant Lambert in 1933 still hold good today. It is slightly difficult to understand why Hindemith should be regarded as one of the three colossi of modern music (the other two being Schoenberg and Stravinsky) if men like Poulenc, Milhaud, and Honegger are to be regarded (rightly, in my opinion) as minor composers. The sheer quantity of his musical output is impressive; but so is Milhaud’s; he owes much of his reputation to his teaching, but so does Milhaud. One can only assume that his fashionable creed of ‘classicism’ and his German  seriousness recommend him to people who are irritated by Milhaud’s Gallic frivolity.

W. J Turner has an interesting passage about Bach that applies, in many essentials, to Hindemith. ‘Bach had arrived at the point of being able to sit down at any minute of any day and compose what had all the superficial appearance of being a masterpiece. It is possible that even Bach himself did not , and it is abundantly clear to me that in all his large-size works, there are huge chunks of stuff to which inspiration is the last word that one could apply.’ Haggin, who quotes this, goes on to remark that he agrees with it, and that he has also come to find only certain passages ‘moving’.

The word ‘moving’ causes one to pause for reflection. Modern Bach enthusiasts often claim that what they like about Bach is that he is not moving – that he was aiming for something quite different, a kind of mathematical perfection. And it is as well to remember at this point what Constant Lambert said of this idea that emotional and romantic music is a ‘late and decadent excrescence’. ‘Music, far from being abstract, is… naturally emotional… The romantic and emotional nature of music is latent in its origins.’ (Music Ho! Penguin edition.) And elsewhere he points out that ‘classical music has little sense of horror about it, not because classical composers despised such an appeal to the nerves, but because they were unable to achieve it.’ Bach may strike us as unemotional if we have been listening to Wagner; it is doubtful if he saw himself in this light.

paul-hindemith-06Now Hindemith appears to be suffering from the mistaken notion that Lambert exposed in Music Ho! – that there was a time when music was a kind of abstract exercise, meant to appeal to the mind alone. This is the kind of music that he writes. Listening to Hindemith is often like listening to Bach in the sense that there are often long periods in which very little seems to be happening. The consequence is that when Hindemith wishes to be moving and impressive – as in the climactic passage of his opera The Harmony of the World, where the music has to suggest music of the spheres – he has forgotten how, and the result is totally unexpressive.

There seems to be a kind of fallacy in Hindemith’s music. It may be that Lambert is right when he suggests that the whole idea of Gebrauchsmusik (utility music for everyday purposes) is a misunderstanding of the nature of music, since ‘there is no regular demand for musical material as there is for writing material or boxes of matches; there is only a demand for something which creates its own demand – a good piece of music…’ One can see that, in Hindemith’s early days, the unexpressive quality of his music must have contrasted piquantly with the violence or satire of his chosen subjects, as in Murder, Hope of Women, Das Nusch-Nuschi (which has a chorus sung by monkeys), and Cardillac, based on a Hoffmann story about a jeweller who murders his customers because he cannot bear to part with his work. It was this Hindemith who exercised a dubious influence on the young Kurt Weill – dubious because the Hindemithian passages of Mahagonny are the dreariest in the score – and who was regarded as the enfant terrible of his generation. But in the ‘respectable’ later Hindemith there are only occasional flashes of beauty or power to sweeten the pill. Gebrauchsmusik has been translated ‘bread and butter music’, but Hindemith’s later music better deserves to be called ‘bread and water music’! As with Schoenberg, one feels that his music must be understood as an attempt to escape a romantic heritage; but Hindemith’s method of escape is altogether less interesting than Schoenberg’s. In his best works, Schoenberg scrambles his language, but does not betray the emotion he wants to convey. Hindemith deliberately turned his back on his romantic heritage for many years, and wrote what Haggin describes as ‘harmonically sour and emotionally dry works’. Later he allowed a certain romantic element back into his music, but it only served to underline the mechanicalness of long passages of textbook variations. Works like the 1940 Symphony in E flat and the ‘Harmony of the World’ Symphony begin with purposeful-sounding fanfares that promise an interesting musical journey; but within minutes the traveller is in the old musical desert, with miles of flat, bare country on either side.

Part of the trouble is Hindemith’s unwillingness to write anything that sounds as if it has a definite key. But unlike the music of Schoenberg and Berg, which has a harsh, mountainous quality, Hindemith’s music moves along so uneventfully for much of the time that the ear feels that it ought to have a key. The consequence is that the ear often feels a kind of embarrassment, as if in the presence of some disability, like a stutter or a tendency to sing slightly off-key.

The truth is that, whether Hindemith likes it or not, he is by temperament a romantic composer, and romantic music must have a feeling of a key centre. The most effective moments in some of his works – the opera Mathis der Maler (not the symphony, which tends to aridity), the 1939 Violin Concerto, the 1937  Symphonic Dances, the ballet Nobilissima Visione, the Concert Music for Brass and Piano, op. 49 – have a strong feeling of tonality. (This need of romantic music for a key centre can be seen even more clearly in Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny; at its best – the scene in the ‘Do-what-you-like’ bar, the chorus ‘Rasch Jungens, hé!’ – it is romantic, tonal, and has a sense of musical economy and drive; when it is being avant garde in the manner of Hindemith, as in the long passage following the Benares song, it loses direction and drifts.)

Like Schoenberg and Bartók, Hindemith has achieved one of the few individual styles of the twentieth century; any piece of his music identifies itself in a matter of seconds; but it is the dubious individuality of the club bore, whose voice sends everyone scurrying for magazines to hide behind. It is a pity that the man who could achieve the bizarre effects of Cardillac and the sense of weight and sincerity of Mathis der Maler should have chosen to be identified with Gebrauchsmusik written according to a Bachian formula, and should become best known to concert audiences for the comparatively trivial Metamorphoses on a Theme of Weber.



colin-wilsonBorn in 1931, Colin Wilson was a highly prolific British writer of creative and critical prose, writing 150 books over 50 years, and covering subjects of philosophy, literature, mysticism, the occult, religion, science fiction, spirituality, crime, and studies in consciousness. He is arguably best known for his first book ‘The Outsider’, for his philosophic amendments to popular European existentialism, and for his compendiums on the occult. He died in December of last year. This essay was first published in ‘Brandy of the Damned’ (1963) and later as ‘Colin Wilson on Music’ (1967). It was re-published by Foruli Limited in July. (A second part is forthcoming).




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