THE FALL OF LOVE
Copyright © 1979-2010 John O'Loughlin
1. Classic and Decadent Literature
2. Music in the Western World
3. An Outline of Transcendental Meditation
4. Partial Knowledge
5. Urban Sterility and the Modern Soul
6. The Fall of Love
CLASSIC AND DECADENT LITERATURE
fundamentally always two kinds of art: the classic and
the decadent. "What are called
Most people are undoubtedly familiar with the romantic aspect of decadence as exemplified in the music of composers such as Liszt, Beethoven (particularly his late works), Schubert, Chopin, Weber, et al., where 'the whole' is generally subordinated to 'the parts' and sentiment gets the better of form. Likewise most people are familiar with the classicism of Mozart, Haydn, the early Beethoven, and even much of Mendelssohn, where 'the parts' are generally subordinated to 'the whole' and form gets the better of sentiment. This classic/romantic dichotomy is especially apparent in music, but it is also apparent in the arts of poetry, literature, sculpture, architecture, and painting, where one or another of the two creative tendencies are usually found to predominate.
Some artists, it is true, seem to be a subtle combination of both classicism and decadence (to use the more comprehensive term), or at least they display a mostly classic or decadent approach to their respective arts at different stages in their creative lives. But a majority of artists seem to be mainly one or the other, and to remain fairly consistently so, throughout the course of their creative lives. It also seems that the classic tends to alternate with the decadent, and that an epoch in art may be characterized by the prevalence of whichever tendency happens to predominate during that time. On average an art epoch tends to last between twenty and forty years, and each successive epoch becomes a revolt, in one way or another, against the preceding one. This is especially true of the early twentieth century, which heralded in the works of authors like D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, André Gide, Hermann Hesse, and John Cowper Powys a classical revival in reaction to the predominating tone of fin-de-siècle decadence which had immediately preceded it.
There are, however, always exceptions to the general rule, and one finds certain writers producing works seemingly quite out-of-character with the prevailing tendency of their epoch: writers, for example, like Knut Hamsun, who wrote predominantly classic literature during the last decade of the nineteenth century, and, conversely, Aldous Huxley, who, in his otherworldly and mystical predilections, was arguably an outsider in relation to early twentieth-century classicism! Of course, one could argue that Hamsun, who continued to write in a predominantly classical spirit well into the twentieth century, was really a herald and forerunner of the classical revival, and that Huxley was effectively a protracted extension of fin-de-siècle decadence. But whatever the case, it should be apparent that this general alternation between the two schools of art provides the necessary incentive for each school to flourish in the manner most suited to itself, since without a tension of opposites there would be little or no chance of maintaining either!
I began by citing Havelock Ellis' definitions of the two main kinds of art, and in order to clarify the differences between them, as well as extend our study of this into an investigation of the leading creative tendencies of a number of individual authors, I would like to define, in greater detail, exactly what I consider to be the two chief forms of literary classicism and decadence respectively.
Firstly, there is the classicism of what Ellis calls "The love of natural things", which is to say, the appreciation of nature both as it confronts our vision as external phenomena and our understanding as internal phenomena. Thus these natural phenomena may range over a vast area of experience which encompasses anything from the splendour of a brightly-burning sun glimpsed at midday to the celestial beauty of certain star formations seen at midnight; from the mystery of birth to the mystery of death; from the changing generations of man to the constancy of human life; from the daily intake of food and drink to the daily voiding of excrement and urine, and so on. The love of natural things, which was brought to such a high pitch in the pagan culture of the early Classical Age, only to be superseded by Christian decadence, with its emphasis on the Beyond and the futility of worldly life, finds one of its earliest and most notable Western supporters in Michel de Montaigne, who lived towards the close of the Middle Ages and whose legendary tower, containing thousands of mostly classical writings, provided him with both the necessary vantage-point over and isolation from his age through which to transcend its decadent limitations and, by turning his scholarly attention back towards the ancient Greeks, to indirectly point the way forward towards the long-awaited future revival of the classical ideal, as understood by a love of natural things.
In more recent times, however, one finds this form of classicism brought to a veritable apotheosis in D.H. Lawrence, who must surely rank as one of the few great classic poets of Western literature, as also in some of the works of André Gide, notably Fruits of the Earth, and still more recently in Gide's great classical heir and spiritual disciple, Albert Camus, whose outstanding fictional character, Patrice Mersault, remains one of the most poignant examples of twentieth-century classicism that we possess. With his emphasis on sun and sea, human love and human happiness, sensual enjoyment, travel, frugality, physicality, etc., Camus returns us to the simplicity and ancient nobility of pagan life, and never more seductively so than in lyrical essays like Nuptials (1939) and Summer (1954). "Over the sea," he writes in Nuptials at Tipasa, "hangs the vast silence of . Every beautiful thing has a natural pride in its own beauty, and today the world allows its pride to seep from every pore. Why, in its presence, should I deny the joy of living, if I can avoid enclosing everything in this joy? There is no shame in being happy. But today the fool is king, and I call fools those who fear pleasure." - This indeed is the voice of the classicism we are attempting to define, a voice which has become stronger since the decline of Christian values and which, while by no means the only voice to be heard in the modern world, is certainly one of the loudest!
But there is another voice which runs roughly parallel with what may be termed secular naturalism, and has also become louder in recent times. I refer, of course, to the voice of religious naturalism. This classicism extends beyond the largely aesthetic surface appreciation of nature by those authors dedicated to secular naturalism, and embraces a pantheistic or semi-pantheistic appreciation of it, such as one finds to varying extents in Goethe and Rousseau in the eighteenth century, in Wordsworth, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Arnold in the nineteenth century, and in Hardy, Hesse, and, most poignantly, John Cowper Powys in the twentieth century. This religious aspect of man's relationship to nature is perfectly expressed in Wordsworth's Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, wherein the poet tells of:-
"... a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man."
Likewise we find, in his essay On Nature, Emerson writing: "It seems as if the day was not wholly profane, in which we have given heed to some natural object." - This, then, is the positive side of classical naturalism, the side we find predominating in John Cowper Powys, particularly in works such as The Art of Happiness, A Philosophy of Solitude, and In Defence of Sensuality, where his philosophy of 'Elementalism', or the cult of nature worship, draws our attention to a partly spiritual rather than simply material identification with nature. If D.H. Lawrence stands out as the leading British exponent of profane naturalism in the first-half of the twentieth century, then John Cowper Powys must surely rank as the leading British exponent of religious naturalism - its spiritual counterpart.
However, contemporaneously with the natural form of classicism we find another form, on the whole a less noble and agreeable form but, nevertheless, one which has also made itself increasingly heard in recent years: what might be termed the classicism of social phenomena, or the love of everyday life. If the most suitable term we could find to define the first form of classicism was naturalism, then this second form of it can only be defined in terms of realism, albeit a realism that accepts rather than rejects the society or life it strives to portray. Indeed, such a classical realism regularly delights in the minutiae of everyday commonplace life, committing itself to a portrayal of even the most seemingly trivial actions and situations. It is not the sublime colours of various kinds of flowers, the beauty of a sunset, the mystery of birth and death, or a spiritual identification with plant life which mostly concerns the authors of this school but, on the contrary, such things as the baseness of certain people, the seductive powers of various women, the financial positions of particular individuals, the nature of so-and-so's clandestine amours, etc., which goad their pens into scathing action.
To some extent one might divide this school of writers into nobles and plebeians, or those who, whatever their social background, grant most of their literary attention to the portrayal of grand-bourgeois and upper-class life and, conversely, those who grant most of it to the portrayal of working-class and petty-bourgeois life. This distinction is, I believe, relatively significant, because it helps us to know whether the realism in question is likely to be clean or dirty, proud or humble, prim or obscene, rich or poor, choice or vulgar, etc. etc., according to the context. The most typical examples of the 'noble' classical-realist tradition are authors such as Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust, Turgenev, Henry James, and Thomas Mann, while the tradition of 'plebeian' classical realism calls to mind authors like Dickens, Balzac, Zola, Hamsun, Joyce, and Henry Miller. Obviously there are exceptions and borderline cases, and no-one can be classified as wholly one thing or another. But, for purposes of a fairly tenable categorization, such generalizations are not without some merit.
Having briefly dealt with the main classical literary approaches based solely on theme, it is now time for us to examine, in slightly greater detail, their decadent and more prevalent antitheses, which, at least in one of their popular manifestations, correspond to what Havelock Ellis defines as: "The research for the things which seem to lie beyond Nature." As I attempted to describe the classic forms in a given order, I shall do the same with their decadent counterparts, and thereby endeavour to highlight the corresponding antitheses to each classic form.
Firstly we have the
decadence which stands in opposition to profane naturalism, the
namely, of profane antinaturalism and
aestheticism. One finds here a
predominating tone of disgust with natural facts and occurrences, a
against the natural-world-order, against the apparent beauty or utility
various natural phenomena, against the imposition to eat, drink, sleep,
copulate, urinate, defecate, etc., which invariably characterizes the
lifestyles of human beings. It's as
though man, the eternal slave of nature, wishes to overcome nature, to
a spirit of reckless defiance, outside of and beyond it.
A very clear example of this disgust with the
natural-world-order, particularly that aspect of it entailing
defecation, is to
be found in Jonathan Swift in the eighteenth century.
But more recent examples undoubtedly include
Baudelaire, Wilde, Huysmans, Beckett, Genêt, and Sartre, whose various natural bêtes
noires confirm their respective claims
to the kind of
decadence we are characterizing by disgust with natural phenomena. In the late-nineteenth century this disgust
reached a veritable apogee with Huysmans' Against
Grain, whose leading character, Des Esseintes,
live in complete solitude in his specially-designed villa at Fontenay, to pass much of his time there in a
highly-sophisticated aesthetic contemplation of certain choice works,
literary and plastic, and to avoid, as far as possible, any direct
the outside world. Unfortunately for him,
this life of aesthetic sophistication - with its unbounded admiration
for such hyperdecadent artists and poets
Luyken, Moreau, Poe, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé - eventually leads to a series of
which, in their final consummation, make it imperative for him to
return to the
less-unnatural world of Parisian society from which he had so earnestly
fled. As is well known, Against the
Grain was to have a profound influence on Oscar Wilde, and his Picture
Gray, though less decadent than its great French prototype,
brought this kind of writing to a head in late-nineteenth-century
However, with the general change of literary approach to one of classicism in the early decades of the next century, profane antinaturalism, though not entirely vanquished, played a much-less pervasive role. But its voice began to reappear from time to time in the 'thirties, and never more unashamedly so than in Sartre's Nausea (1938). Like the protagonist of Huysmans' novel, Antoine Roquentin lives against the grain. But he lives against the grain of life as life rather than as time spoilt by human folly, without even the consolation or raison d'être of the sophisticated aestheticism which Huysmans' tragic character reserves for himself. If human folly is a sufficiently strong motive to drive Des Esseintes into a monk-like isolation from society, in order to lead a life he considers to be of some intrinsic value (the Nietzschean overtones of which are impossible to ignore), the only motive strong enough to isolate Roquentin from humanity is the sheer absurdity of life itself, the apparent pointlessness of an existence which exists for no other reason than its inability not to exist, and the contemplation of which engenders that disgust and revolt epitomized by the word 'nausea'. When, trapped in a moment of such nausea in the local park at Bouville, Roquentin shouts: "What filth! What filth!", it is with all the poignant anguish of one who realizes that existence is eternal and inescapable, and that it's therefore impossible for anything, including the idea of existence, not to exist. The man is virtually suffocating in the oppressive consciousness of existence, which, aggravated by the realization that external phenomena are like masks over the uniform substance of things, is as apparent in the sight of a gnarled tree root as in the rest of the tree itself. Fortunately for him, however, this oppressive consciousness is an intermittent rather than a permanent condition, so Roquentin is enabled to breathe a clearer air, so to speak, once the 'nausea' has passed.
While discussing Sartre's general approach to decadence, which is essentially Protestant in character, it is worth drawing attention to his psychoanalytical biography of Baudelaire, a key work in the understanding of decadent consciousness. For by dwelling on the psychological rather than the purely material or factual aspects of his subject's life, Sartre lays bare the underlining consciousness of profane antinaturalism with a sureness and deftness only to be expected from a profoundly kindred spirit. Speculative though much of the work may be, we are inexorably led towards the conclusion that the dedication and fastidiousness with which Baudelaire applied himself to the regulation of his decadent lifestyle - and thus to the perpetuation of a calculated degree of spiritual sterility (aecidia) - was of such a magnitude as to make even the lifestyle of Huysmans' Des Esseintes appear comparatively naturalistic!
As a spiritual counterpart to the above-mentioned types of decadence and antithesis to the classicism we defined as religious naturalism, we find the decadence of supernaturalism, or religious antinaturalism. Unlike its profane cousin, this is a positive decadence, and one which, since the decline of Christianity (hitherto its chief Western manifestation), has increasingly come to be identified with spiritualism, visionary experience, mysticism, astrology, the occult, etc. With an emphasis on that which seems to lie beyond nature, supernaturalism has been championed by poets and writers such as William Blake, August Strindberg, J.K. Huysmans, Barbey D'Aurevilly, George William Russell (A.E.), W.B. Yeats, Aldous Huxley, Dennis Wheatley, and Colin Wilson, each with his own particular field of investigation. Thus, for example, we find William Blake and George William Russell bringing to their writings the fruits of mystical and visionary experience more usually perceived by artists, that is to say, on a lower plane than the predominantly religious natures. In this context, mysticism is identified with partial experience of the Godhead, or World Soul, through meditation of a less pure and impersonal kind than with the non-artistic and predominantly religious natures, while visionary experience is likewise identified with psychic spectacles of a less pure and impersonal kind: human figures, chimeras, transparent fruit, palaces, sickle moons, etc., which are individually illuminated from the inside by variously- or uniformly-coloured lights that set them off against a dark background. Or, alternatively, with spectacles of magnificent landscapes, seascapes, or airscapes which are embellished with self-luminous objects, like gems. The highest visionary experience tends to involve the contemplation of an intensely pure inner light, but, as a rule, this is not the visionary experience given to artists.
Indeed, it is primarily on account of his knowledge about such psychic phenomena that we are justified in placing Aldous Huxley in the context of the kind of decadence we're now discussing. For although he passed his life devoid of any genuine mystical or visionary experience, his interest in and knowledge about such matters makes him an invaluable source of information to anyone anxious to acquire a general outline of what they entail and whom they concern. (It is interesting to note that the change of visual orientation Huxley experienced through the judicious use of mescaline, as described in The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell, admits him, via the contemplation of a few flowers in a small glass vase, to "The miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence", which, in complete contrast to the naked existence experienced by Antoine Roquentin in Nausea, is "Neither agreeable nor disagreeable. It just is.")
Similarly one might argue that the sceptical Huysmans (not the later Catholic convert) possessed a tendency to investigate and relate that which was fundamentally alien to his fundamental nature, and nowhere more clearly so than in the novel Down Below (Là Bas), where, largely in consequence of his historical research into the life and crimes of the notorious fifteenth-century Satanist, Gilles de Rais, its leading character, Durtal, becomes acquainted with late-nineteenth-century Satanism, though purely as an outsider. Here, too, we find Huysmans confined, as an artist, to a mainly objective knowledge of occult phenomena, since a high degree of subjective knowledge here would inevitably have turned him into a religious propagandist and thereby prevented him from functioning as a genuine writer. Conversely we find that Yeats, who was definitely a genuine writer, laid claim to a certain amount of subjective knowledge in spiritualism, and certainly his experiments in psychical research would seem to make him less of a 'spiritual outsider' than most other spiritually-inclined writers. But, even so, there was much of the sceptic about Yeats and, though spiritualism may have appealed to his curiosity, it is doubtful that he would have become such an important poetic figure in early-twentieth-century literature had he allowed it to play a greater role in his life and writings than it apparently did. And the same, I suspect, may be held true of Strindberg, whose Occult Diary stands as a fairly isolated phenomenon in an otherwise predominantly rational output.
However, let us now progress to the second form of decadence, a decadence which may also be subdivided into a positive and a negative approach, and deal, firstly, with what we shall term positive antirealism - the antithesis of 'noble' classical realism. This type of decadence also has a number of branches at its disposal, but each of them is dedicated to the sole end of transcending, on as imaginative a plane as possible, the usual references to the everyday reality of the classical realist. Thus it is a positive decadence because, like the supernaturalism referred to above, it does not directly attack its antithesis but, on the contrary, seeks to overcome it through the establishment of its own unique world, an imaginary world with a realism peculiar to itself.
The most famous
contemporary example of this kind of writing is undoubtedly J.R.R. Tolkien's The
of the Rings - a work
of such imaginative scope as to be virtually in a class by itself. Frankly, there is nothing in the comparative
decadent literature of any age or time that can be placed by the side
colossal feat of the imagination, and the human race may have to wait
years yet, before anything of equal import is produced, assuming
that could ever be produced again. For
in this sphere of creativity, Tolkien has
peer. He is virtually a god, a monster
of the imagination whose other works, including The Hobbit, Farmer
Ham, and The Silmarillion, both
consolidate his reputation as the foremost imaginative author of the
the extent that we are categorizing various authors according to their
creative tendencies, it should be apparent that, inasmuch as his
was solely dedicated to this particular branch of antirealism, Tolkien is one of the easiest and most clear-cut
categorize.) Other examples of this kind
of decadence include Lewis Carroll's
However, with this highly imaginative branch of positive antirealism, which mostly appeals to children, there exists another and more adult branch, which again comes in various guises and which may be characterized by creations, on the one hand, like Goethe's Faust, Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, and Lautréamont's Maldoror (whose omnipotent hero is able to do anything from turning himself into a cricket in Paris drains, to swinging Mervyn, a helpless victim of his spleen, around on the end of a rope on the top of the Vendôme Column, with a view to precipitating him, projectile-like, in the general direction of the Panthèon), and by creations, on the other hand, like Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, and John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. The first type tends to involve men or beings who have been supernaturally endowed with special powers, usually to the detriment of other men, while the second type, in complete contrast, focuses one's attention on the struggle between men and nonhuman or subhuman aggressors who are stronger and more formidable than their human adversaries. In both cases, an unreal world is created, but unlike that of Tolkien's hobbits, which is pure fantasy, it is one in which human beings are directly involved and, as a consequence, usually in a context not terribly far removed from the bounds of plausibility.
But there exists, in addition to these otherworldly interpretations of positive antirealist decadence, another interpretation which, while providing one with a glimpse into a different world from that usually portrayed in classical realism, nevertheless remains more attached to the real world than to any imaginary one. I refer, of course, to the 'romantic' decadence of authors such as Gerard de Nerval, whose Journey to the Orient unfolds vast worlds of exotic experience not to be encountered between the pages of Stendhal, Flaubert (except in Salammbô), Proust, or Henry James. One could of course argue that works like Journey to the Orient are essentially classic, insofar as they endeavour to portray, objectively and unmaliciously, a society existing abroad rather than the one into which the author was born. But, on deeper reflection, it does seem that the desire to portray a society other than one's own is fundamentally or implicitly a rejection or, at the very least, criticism of that society, and therefore something that can only be interpreted in terms of 'romantic' decadence: the need to turn one's back on familiar reality and, in consequence, explore the relatively unfamiliar reality of a different people.
Another more striking example of this 'romantic' interpretation of positive antirealism, however, can be found in works which either take one back in time to 'the Culture' or to 'the Civilization' (in the Spenglerian sense of those terms as described in The Decline of the West) of a remote society, or forward in time to what the author supposes a future society will be like. Flaubert's Salammbô is an excellent example of this tendency from the historical point-of-view, while Hesse's The Glass Bead Game endeavours to portray an elite society of ultra-refined intellectuals who live, a few centuries hence, completely isolated from the everyday world of commerce in a civilization (Castalia) dedicated to the study, appreciation, assessment, and, where possible, manipulation of what is best in Western culture. The devotees of this cult of the past do not, as a rule, create anything original themselves. For as members of a late 'Civilization' they are obliged to sustain themselves on the accumulated cultural wealth of earlier centuries, rather like the ancient Greeks during the Hellenistic period. To some extent they are future Diderôts, compilers of a vast 'encyclopaedia' of Western culture; an achievement, however, which is destined to be discarded, along with its compilers, the 'Bead Game' players, come the dawn of a subsequent 'Culture'.
It is worth noting that Hesse, the outstanding master of this branch of antirealism, had previously taken us back to the world of Medieval Germany, to the heart of the Western 'Culture', in his novel Narziss and Goldmund, where Goldmund, its principal character, carves a picaresque-like role for himself in blatantly heathenistic opposition to the prevailing Zeitgeist, through his desire for sensual gratification. The ascetic Narziss and the hedonistic Goldmund, representing the contrary claims of spirit and body, are finally reconciled, however, when Goldmund, certain to be executed for crimes appertaining to his former lifestyle, is rescued from prison by Narziss and brought back to the monastic order from which he had sought worldly escape: a sort of Des Esseintes in reverse, from spirit to body and back to spirit again. One might say that whereas the body ultimately triumphs (through Joseph Knecht's resignation from the Castalian order) in 'the Civilization' of The Glass Bead Game, it is the spirit which is compelled to triumph (through Goldmund's reconciliation with the monastic order) in 'the Culture' of Narziss and Goldmund, and so we are made conscious of the profound logic and inevitability of the events underlining its impressive dénouement.
Having dealt with the chief branches of the decadence we have described as positive antirealism, it is now time for us to deal with its spiritual counterpart, which we shall describe as negative antirealism. This type of decadence stands in an antithetical relationship to what we earlier termed 'plebeian' classical realism, and its chief manifestations inevitably take the guise of defeatism, rebellion, and satire. Now whereas the 'plebeian' classical-realist attitude more or less accepts the society it portrays or, at any rate, doesn't unduly attack it, the negative antirealist attitude makes an attack on society its very raison d'être, the lifeblood of its tragic inspiration. Such a book, for example, as Celine's Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage au Bout de la Nuit), belongs very much to the class of defeatist literature, a class which has proliferated, this century, with the spread of megalopolitan civilization, and which can be traced, in varying forms, to the works of authors like Kafka, Beckett, and Ionesco. The predominating tone of such literature seems to imply a disgust with megalopolitan society, a world-weariness, a fatalistic feeling of "What's the use?", coupled to an almost apocalyptic pessimism concerning the future course of world events and man's helplessness in the face of the mechanistic hell he has unleashed upon himself. Indeed, there is more than a hint of this tone in various of the writings of Henry Miller, T.S. Eliot, and J.K. Huysmans too, although not to the extent that one generally finds it in the aforementioned authors.
But if disgust with and despair at a society best characterize the defeatist decadents, then it is above all in their contempt for and indifference towards a society that we find what could be called the rebellious decadents most characterized, and nowhere more tellingly so than in George Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying, whose mock-hero, Gordon Comstock, turns his back on the money-worshipping commercial society of his day to pursue a career, doomed from the outset, of lyric poet on a meagre salary secured by his humble position as book-shop assistant. The rebellious young Comstock is fundamentally a late-romantic in a society which has long ceased to have any romantic pretensions, to produce, understand, or revere great poets, and, as such, his career goes from bad to worse, losing him one job after another, until, reduced to the meanest of book shops, he is finally brought to his senses by the love of a young woman he has made pregnant and whom, as a last resort, he decides to marry. The materialistic society from which he had tried to flee may not have been conducive to the fostering of his romantic ambitions as a poet, but it was still capable of exhibiting the redeeming power of womanly love, that eternal theme of the generations, and so, thanks in part to the generosity of his previous employer, our mock-hero returns to the money-dominated world of advertising he had earlier rejected. A moral here there may well be, but, realist that he was, Orwell also had a strong streak of the genuine romantic about him, and this is certainly apparent when we consider his horrified reaction, voiced in the essay Inside the Whale, to the social passivity, resignation, and seeming indifference of Henry Miller with regard, for example, to the existence of concentration camps, purges, putsches, totalitarian regimes, weapons of mass destruction, etc., which he was unable to accept or face with the same apparent complacency. But nowhere is this romantic streak more evident than in his practical opposition to Franco which, to the utter bewilderment of Miller, led him to venture out in the name of democracy, to do battle with what he would have considered to be an authoritarian ogre.
There are, of course, other examples of rebellious antirealist decadence to be found in Orwell, and to some extent one also finds this tendency in authors like Hamsun (Hunger), and Hesse (Steppenwolf), though with a very different emphasis in each case. I think, for example, the plight of Harry Haller in Steppenwolf becomes easier to understand once one sees this work in relation to what follows it, that is to say, once one sees the contemporaneousness of its setting in relation, on the one hand, to the past 'Culture' of Narziss and Goldmund and in relation, on the other hand, to the envisaged future 'Civilization' of The Glass Bead Game, and thereby realizes that, as a man caught between two ages in a transitional period from, symbolically speaking, the spirit to the body, Harry Haller had a lot to learn about the body and, as a consequence of the spirit's predominance in the recent past of the Western 'Culture' - not to mention, if one takes Haller for Hesse, in the history of his own deeply religious family - was neither particularly happy nor, despite his previous (failed) marriage, really conditioned to do so. ("Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap. A man of the Classical age who had to live in medieval times would suffocate miserably just as a savage does in the midst of our civilization. Now there are times when a whole generation is caught in this way between two ages, between two modes of life and thus loses the feeling for itself, for the self-evident, for all morals, for being safe and innocent." - Here, in his preface to Steppenwolf lies the key to what follows.) I think the fact that the body, symbolized by the world, finally 'wins out', thanks in large measure to the assistance of Hermine, Maria, Pablo, et al., should be seen as a pointer towards The Glass Bead Game where, in strict accordance with the prevalence of an advanced 'Civilization', Joseph Knecht ultimately resigns from his post as 'Magister Ludi', thereby signifying the triumph of the body over the spirit. For the cause of Haller's dilemma centres, it seems to me, on the battle between 'Culture-man' and 'Civilization-man', and, in accordance with the historical change destined for the Western soul, the latter was ultimately fated to gain the ascendancy.
is unquestionably one of the Western world's greatest authors and, for
reason, one of the most maligned and misunderstood.
I do not think he is likely to be seen in his
true stature by anyone not well acquainted with the works of Spengler and Jung.
For the literary surface of
The meaning of satire is, I think, sufficiently appreciated by a majority of people not to warrant any additional explanation here, and very few of us would be ignorant of the satirical qualities to be encountered in authors like Swift and Pope, where the vices and follies of various persons are held up to ridicule in the clearest of critical lights. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that satire is a relatively rare product of the creative imagination, demanding from its exponent a degree of intellectual sophistication of sufficient magnitude to carry weight in an area where attacks on society or individuals can all-too-easily degenerate into or remain mere attacks, without the power to convince one of their moral legitimacy. Thus the great satirist is ever a first-rate critic, but a critic whose criticism could never be confounded with malice for the sake of malice, or vengefulness as a consequence of former hurts, or prejudice against particular people, or propaganda in the interests of personal belief, political allegiance, etc. The essential thing is that we should come to understand and appreciate the fundamental logic underlining a satirist's criticisms. For true satire has nothing to do with that kind of writing, so easily mistaken for it, which merely acquaints one with the personal prejudices, grudges, revolutionary ambitions, or whatever, of its author. Works in that category are almost invariably in the guise of either defeatist or rebellious decadence, both of which we briefly investigated above.
I think one of the best examples of genuine satirical writing can be found in Strindberg's The Red Room, a novel published in 1879 which virtually lampoons everything from the civil service to brotherly love, from art criticism to publishing, from journalism to politics, and from Stockholm society to acting. Indeed, there seems to be little that doesn't fall for a scathing criticism of one sort or another in this daring novel, which must surely rank as one of the greatest satires ever written, and certainly one of the finest creative achievements of a man whose imaginative genius was virtually unparalleled in the entire history of nineteenth-century literature.
Another fine example of modern satire is Wyndham Lewis' The Roaring Queen, the publication of which, scheduled to take place sometime in the 'thirties, was held-up for a number of years on account of the 'libellous nature' of its criticism of Arnold Bennett who, in the 'infamous' role of Shodbutt, is made the chief representative of a species of literary dictatorship which Lewis, seemingly, was unable to stomach. Other works by this outstanding satirist of modern times, including Tarr (which Ezra Pound considered a masterpiece), are also worth noting in the context of negative antirealism, the decadent antithesis, you will recall, to what we earlier described as 'plebeian' classical realism.
We have discovered, then, a perspective relating to the various modes of literary activity which enables us to differentiate between the two kinds of literature, viz. the classic and the decadent, and, further, to divide them into two forms, viz. the naturalist and the realist, which we in turn subdivided, on the one hand, into profane and religious, and, on the other hand, into 'noble' and 'plebeian' types, providing, in each case, the appropriate decadent antithesis. We also discovered that each literary form, whether in terms of the classic or the decadent, could be divided into a positive and a negative approach. Thus we agreed that the type of classical naturalism which dealt with the love of natural phenomena on a religious plane, as pantheism or elementalism, was positive in relation to the purely profane or secular appreciation of nature encountered in its classical counterpart. Likewise we discovered that the decadent antithesis to each classical form could also be divided into a positive and a negative approach. And so we agreed that the type of anti-natural decadence which dealt with a hatred of natural phenomena was negative in relation to supernaturalism, its decadent counterpart, which took a distinctly positive stand in the investigation of or belief in worlds apparently existing beyond the boundaries of the everyday one. With these particular divisions and subdivisions at our disposal, we were able to classify various authors in terms of what we took to be their leading creative tendencies. But in so doing, we were obliged to accept the fact that, in a majority of cases, such classifications could only serve as loose guidelines, as rough approximations to an author's main creative approach rather than as immutable criteria by which to place him in a definitive category. To be sure, we found that certain authors, such as Camus and Tolkien, could be classified more easily in this manner than others, like, for example, Huysmans and Hesse (whose works were divisible into two or more categories), and although we satisfied ourselves that these others have been classified in the most suitable way within the confines of a given form, we are not beyond acknowledging the fact that contrary approaches to literature can also be encountered in various of their writings, albeit to a much lesser extent.
Finally, it is important for us to remember that, thus far, our categorizations have been based solely on thematic material within the sphere of literature, not on syntax, vocabulary, formal structure, etc. Thus we have confined ourselves to the essence of literature. Also, except in passing, we have not presumed to touch upon the relative classic/decadent dichotomy in art, music, architecture, or sculpture, which, were we competent to deal with such subjects in a similar way, would necessitate a considerable extension to the current essay! In this context it must suffice us to realize that a dichotomy between the two main creative norms does indeed exist within all of the other arts, though, needless to say, not in exactly the same way as with literature. Similarly, it must suffice us to realize that a parallel division can be found in philosophy between the, as it were, classical philosophy of the philosopher whose work directly relates to life and can in some way affect the life of its time in a positive manner and, conversely, the decadent philosophy of the philosopher whose work exists in a kind of ivory tower of thought-for-thought's sake, without any real or positive applicability to the life of its time.
But let us now briefly
turn our attention to the question of vocabulary, syntax, phraseology,
literature, so as to differentiate between the classic and the decadent
approaches to style. You will recall
that I cited
I think this fact is made amply clear when we contrast the predominantly classic prose of a novel like Madame Bovary with the predominantly decadent prose of Against the Grain, the extremely well-chosen, expansive, tortured and tortuous vocabulary, complex syntax, methodical phraseology, and unusual, not to say unique, formal structure of which signify the veritable apotheosis of the decadent style. It appears, from a general survey of decadent literature, that the chief hallmarks of its style can usually be found in the use of rhetorical effusions, highly technical expressions, exotic references, carefully-selected adjectives and adverbs, esoteric foreign words-and-phrases, elongated sentences, and a structure which has been subordinated to the interests of the parts; whilst a similar scrutiny of classic literature will indicate, by contrast, that the chief hallmarks of its style are usually to be found in the use of short, simple sentences, exact rather than hyperbolic utterances, relatively simple adjectives and adverbs, parts that are subordinated to the interests of the overall structure, an appropriately formal or conventional syntax - in short, by the use of moderate as opposed to extreme techniques. One might contend, furthermore, that the authors of a classical subject-matter tend to employ a classic technique, those of a decadent subject-matter a decadent technique, though this is by no means invariably the case, as can be seen, for example, by the predominance of decadent prose in James Joyce's Ulysses, which, thematically considered, is essentially a classic work, and, conversely, by the mainly classic prose of J.R.R.Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which fundamentally belongs to the realm of the decadent.
However, whatever the technique and subject-matter of any given work may happen to be, there inevitably arises a serious question relating to the comparative merits of the two kinds of literature: the question, namely, as to whether the classic and the decadent are of equal importance or whether, artistically speaking, the former is superior to the latter? Havelock Ellis was of the opinion that they were of equal value in the stream of Western literature, but I incline to the view that the classic is generally artistically superior to the decadent. There are, I fully admit, examples of decadent literature which, like The Lord of the Rings and The Glass Bead Game tower above many shorter and lesser classic works. But, on the whole, it seems to me that the subject-matter and technical treatment of classic literature must inevitably grant it precedence over the corresponding attributes of the decadent. Naturally, one's taste or temperament may predispose one to prefer the decadent, even to loathe the classic. But I do not seriously believe that it would entitle one to consider the decadent of equal artistic value to that which, by dint of its intrinsic proportion, beauty, wholesomeness, pertinence, and relative positivity, must always remain the perfect art!
MUSIC IN THE WESTERN WORLD
Music may be continuously changing from generation to generation, but it doesn't necessarily change for the better. There would no more seem to be a straightforward progression in music than in any of the other arts. What one may hear in the context of twentieth-century composition does not, as a rule, signify a progressive refinement upon the music of earlier centuries. On the contrary, it signifies the inevitability of change, the overwhelming concern of modern composers to compose differently from their predecessors. The essential qualification for a modern composer is that he should produce compositions of a different nature from those of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, et al. The originality of his approach to music should, in large measure, justify his claim to compositional authenticity.
Some people, including several contemporary composers, have maintained that the sense of beauty changes from age to age, so that what was regarded as beautiful by the people of one age may appear as anything but beautiful to those of another. The conclusion one should draw from this is obviously one that will justify the often cacophonous sounds of contemporary composers in terms of a different sense of beauty among the moderns! Yet beauty isn't something that is one thing now and a completely different thing later, in some other age. Beauty is the same in any age which has anything approximating to a serious culture. A beautiful face will remain distinctly beautiful for specific reasons, including form and texture, whether it belongs to a person living in the seventeenth century or to one living today. The capacity to achieve and judge the Beautiful may of course vary from age to age, but beauty will remain a constant nonetheless.
Like any other fine art, music is capable of attaining to great beauty, of arousing one's aesthetic admiration through the fact that sounds have been organized in the best possible way or, failing that, in an indisputably ingenious way. There is a maximum aesthetic height to which music can aspire, a maximum potential of well-ordered sound, which lends it the distinction commonly known as great music. But great music, like great beauty, isn't something that is one thing now and another and completely different thing later. Great music is great for all time, because it signifies the best possible combination of sounds. The only real alternative to such music is poor music, i.e. music that is petty, bogus, ugly, and insignificant - call it what you like. The greatest music will be that which signifies the Beautiful most commandingly. The worst music, by contrast, will fail even to approach the Beautiful. Its composers will scorn the criteria of the Beautiful as being arbitrary, contingent, transient, subject to whim. Instead, they will apply other criteria, which they'll consider to be more tenable than traditional criteria, and, ipso facto, people will be expected to believe that the age has acquired a different sense of beauty. Music will have 'progressed' to new concerns, and aesthetic ingredients formerly considered sacrosanct will be systematically discarded in the interests of continuous experimentation. A musical idea that is broken off before it can become a phrase will be deemed representative of the new beauty, and the polished phrases of Haydn, Mozart, and other such classical composers duly held up, by liberal academics and radical composers alike, as choice examples of historic beauty: an approach to beauty strictly appertaining to the aesthetic criteria of a former age.
I have stated that there is a maximum aesthetic height to which music can aspire, a height commensurate with the most commanding representation of the Beautiful. It is now necessary for me to define beauty in terms of specific aesthetic criteria, the most obvious of which being the best possible organization of melodic sound. Fundamentally music is melody, an arrangement of sounds according to pitch and rhythm, the one presupposing the other. You do not make music when you tap a finger on the table to a given rhythm, and you mostly make only a very uninspiring type of music from notes (variations in pitch) which are all the same duration. Clearly, to get the most satisfactory results it is necessary to combine pitch and rhythm in the best possible way. For although pitch usually takes priority over rhythm, it cannot achieve anything really notable without some form of rhythmic assistance. Thus the finest music will inevitably contain the most enjoyable melodies, and it will flout these melodies with all the assurance of their intrinsic beauty, or proportion. In the hierarchy of compositions, the more ingenious melodies will take precedence over the less ingenious ones, the more aesthetically-satisfying melodies over the less aesthetically-satisfying ones, and so on.
But melody by itself, even when beautiful, does not make for great music. It requires the support of harmony, the enrichment of its line by combinations of notes which both define and embellish its modality, adding flesh, so to speak, to the notational skeleton. The very word 'harmony' presupposes something congruous, a combination of notes which complement one another. Discords do not form a harmony, and the phrase 'discordant harmony' would be a contradiction in terms. If the notes combined are not concordant, they can only be discordant, and the resulting effect on the eardrums will be suggestive of cacophony - the opposite of harmony.
Thus great music will require a primary ingredient and a secondary one: the most satisfying melody supported, though never dominated, by the most appropriate harmony. And with this indispensable combination of musical ingredients there will, of necessity, arise considerations of logical or congruous form, to be followed, in the hierarchy of compositional ingredients, by considerations of tone and touch, modulation within a logical framework, tasteful instrumentation, carefully-balanced sound, subordinate virtuoso passages, etc., which form the icing on the cake, as it were, of great music. However, there will never be more icing than cake in such music, and, consequently, virtuoso passages will always be subordinate to the leading melodic ideas. A composition where this is not the case can never make for the finest music, just as Paganini and Liszt, for all their instrumental brilliance, don't make for the finest composers.
Likewise, a composition which takes little or no account of the natural hierarchy of musical instruments but, for the sake of novelty or experimentation, gives its leading melodic ideas to lesser instruments ... will never make for the finest music, either. Strictly speaking, the violins take precedence over the violas, the violas over the cellos, and the cellos over the double basses in all great music centred in or employing strings. Now this same hierarchy, based on pitch and tone, applies equally well to the woodwind and brass sections of an orchestra, where flutes and trumpets, respectively, take the leading roles.
But there is, in addition to these separate hierarchies of individual instrument families, an overall hierarchy which is even more important in the logic of great orchestration, and which descends from the strings to the woodwind, and then from the woodwind to the brass, with other instruments, such as timpani, harp, celesta, etc., positioned at the base of the instrumental edifice. Of course, I do not mean to imply by this that strings are technically superior, per se, to woodwind, or woodwind technically superior, per se, to brass, but, rather, that the higher strings (violin, viola) are technically superior to the higher woodwind (flute, oboe), the higher woodwind technically superior to the lower strings (cello, double bass), the higher brass (trumpet, horn) technically superior to the lower woodwind (clarinet, bassoon), etc., so that considerations of pitch and tone also cut across the three main instrument families, thus making the final choice of instrumentation a very difficult yet still definite art.
Now, in addition to the final choice of instrumentation, a decision must arise concerning the total number of instruments to be employed, the greatest music almost invariably making use of a specific number of the best instruments, and no more! For just as 'too many cooks spoil the broth', so, in orchestral terms, do too many instruments spoil the music, and nothing genuinely first-rate can be expected from them. But, as I hinted above, it isn't enough that orchestras should be of the right size; they must also contain the right instruments and the best possible combination of them, if first-rate results are to be achieved.
We therefore have before us certain indispensable criteria for determining the general nature of great music, criteria which cannot be set aside without producing or resulting in degenerate compositions. The most beautiful or ingenious melodies, to briefly recapitulate, should be supported by the most appropriate harmonies, the combination thereby established being accorded a logically satisfying form, and the form itself, which is essentially a product of the artful linking-up of diverse melodies, duly being articulated with the best possible combination and number of musical instruments. If this is not achieved, then there is scant possibility of truly great music being produced!
It stands to reason, however, that in addition to a hierarchy of instruments, there must also be a hierarchy of compositional forms, a hierarchy starting with compositions for single instruments and extending up the scale of chamber and concerto music to the noblest and grandest form of them all - the classical symphony. Beyond the symphony at its greatest there is nothing higher, nothing which evokes a stronger challenge than the artful combination of numerous instruments, and so it is inevitably in the realm of symphonic composition that one will find the greatest music. The concerto, particularly for piano, will come next in line, and behind this will follow large-scale instrumental compositions, opera, ballet, chamber music, piano sonatas, sonatas in general, miscellaneous piano compositions, songs, etc. Naturally, this hierarchy of compositional forms does not imply that the finest piano sonata, for example, is of necessity musically inferior to the weakest piano concerto, but that, generally speaking, the great sonata will stand lower in the scale of musical forms than the great concerto, even if it towers above the weakest concerto on account, for instance, of its superior melodies and harmonic accompaniments. But even if, to extend our argument, there are great piano concertos which are musically superior to various second-rate symphonies, it is my firm conviction that no piano concerto, no matter how great, can be considered musically superior to a really first-rate symphony - the crowning glory of all serious music.
I do not know how many of my readers are familiar with Spengler's The Decline of the West, or indeed with any of his other major works. But I will say, for the benefit of those who are, that I wholeheartedly subscribe to the veracity of his thesis concerning Western decadence, and am in complete accord with his contention that Western music has been steadily on the decline since approximately the end of the eighteenth century. In the transition, defined by Spengler, from 'Culture' to 'Civilization' of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there set in a systematic attack within music, as within most other things, on the preordained cultural forms. Instead of signifying a continuous expansion on the forms brought to perfection in the classicism of Mozart, musical composition has increasingly signified a disruption of them, a gradual reversal of that which grew to perfection in the prime of 'the Culture' and could not be improved upon.
Thus a majority of serious compositions in the nineteenth and, more especially, twentieth centuries signify an aesthetic regression rather than a straightforward cultural progression, an aesthetic regression paralleling that from Christianity to liberalism, and thus from beauty and love to ugliness and hatred. It is, above all, in the music of Vivaldi, Corelli, Scarlatti, Couperin, Rameau, Purcell, Telemann, Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and the early Beethoven that we hear the progressive growth of Western civilization. But already in the late Beethoven, in Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and Chopin, the seeds of revolution which were sown towards the end of the eighteenth century are beginning to sprout in the form of romanticism, to be cultivated to a much greater extent by Wagner, Liszt, Bruckner, Brahms, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Franck, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, et al., in the latter-half of the 19th century. It is in romanticism, which (to use a Spenglerian phrase) is essentially 'musical socialism', that we find the voice of 'the Civilization' beginning to assert itself over the classically-inspired 'Culture' from which it sprang, and with increasing boldness from decade to decade. For socialism, as outlined by Spengler in The Hour of Decision, is fundamentally nothing less than the systematic destruction of Western civilization by means of a gradual undermining of its slowly-evolved traditions, a destruction as apparent in the class struggle and the resultant growth of the Labour Movement, as in the anti-Christian polemics of any rationalist philosopher; as apparent in the rise of feminism and the resultant demand for equal opportunity (as a springboard to female dominance for a creature rooted, inflexibly, in a XX-chromosomal genetic integrity), as in the cacophonous music of the avant-garde. It is a fact of contemporary life, not something to be condemned as though it shouldn't have happened but, on the contrary, understood in the context of the transition from 'Culture' to 'Civilization' through which Western society is passing and out of which it should emerge, if total chaos is to be avoided, in a new and anti-socialist guise. At bottom we are all socialist in certain respects, even if only to the extent of despising Christianity or admiring the music of Liszt, when socialism is thus comprehended as the process of undermining everything that was systematically evolved and considered sacrosanct in and by 'the Culture'. But this process, I shall argue, was inescapable, a phenomenon to be encountered in various guises in the corresponding epochs of former civilizations, and not a contingent anomaly peculiar to Western Europe alone.
Thus it transpires that the growth of romanticism - which, despite changes in terminology, has continued virtually unabated since the early decades of the nineteenth century - is not something to be foolishly condemned in a spirit of philistine ignorance, but, on the contrary, accepted as an historical inevitability, and its chief exponents perceived as victims of time's dictatorship. If classical music, brought to perfection by Mozart, signifies the musical Right, to adopt a political analogue, then the Romantic Movement inaugurated by Beethoven very definitely signifies the musical Left, or the gradual undermining of classical criteria in terms of a development which was aesthetically regressive, as from poetry to prose. Of course, there are classical elements to be found in all romantic composers and, conversely, romantic elements in even the most classical ones, Mozart not excepted. But such elements very rarely play the leading role, particularly in the music of late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century composers, where the distance between 'the Culture' and 'the Civilization' is greater than it was for either the late classicists or the early romantics.
It should be evident from the foregoing remarks that serious music began to decline from an all-time high of classical perfection throughout the nineteenth century. The criteria of musical greatness, stemming from the brilliance of melody writing and extending, via a variety of channels, to the manipulation of the best possible instrumental combinations, were being increasingly discarded in the interests of the romantic Weltanschauung. Where, formerly, the parts of a given composition were strictly subordinated to the interests of the whole and perfection of form was considered of consummate importance, the whole gradually gave way, as in political socialism, to the interests of the parts, and form, if and when it appeared, duly acquired a much looser guise. Where the sonata form, hitherto the basis of sonatas, concertos, and symphonies alike, was seen as a foundation and help by classical composers, the Romantics mostly regarded it as an imposition and hindrance, to be supplanted by leitmotivs, idées fixes, and other such recurrent themes, which would enable them to explore the passions and simultaneously extend the range of virtuoso playing to an unprecedentedly high level of instrumental complexity. Likewise the growth of melodic complexity throughout the nineteenth century signalled an inversion of the cultural standards, and harmony, hitherto largely confined to a secondary and subordinate role, increasingly began to dictate the direction music should take, in defiance of melodic sovereignty. And with the corruption of harmony as a support for melody came the corruption of harmony as harmony, and the gradual incorporation of discordant and inharmonious elements into its formerly congruous structures - an exact musical parallel, it seems to me, with the phenomenon of feminism within the necessarily anti-Christian structure of liberal freedom.
But if melody, formerly a relatively natural and straightforward ingredient of musical perfection, and harmony, its subordinate component, could be radically altered to suit the romantic Weltanschauung, then there was very little to prevent composers from radically altering everything else as well, and to do so, moreover, under the illusion of continual progress! Thus arose the use of extremes in pitch, volume, and tone; the use of unprecedented combinations of instruments; the ever-increasing size of orchestras; the important roles played by instruments which stood relatively low in the instrumental hierarchy; the greater attention to virtuoso playing; a preference for large-scale works, and other such radical alterations in composition which contributed, step by step, to the progressive degeneration of music from the classical zenith attained to by Mozart. For musical beauty, to repeat, is ever a mean, a product of instruments which have been combined in the best possible way to produce the most satisfying aesthetic results, and whenever that mean is tampered with, be it to extend the range of pitch to its extreme depths or heights, or to utilize greater extremities of tone and volume than ever before, or to score parts for combinations of instruments which appeal to the sense of novelty rather than to a profound aesthetic charm, the only possible consequence is a disruption of the delicate balance of harmonious relations which make for beauty and their replacement, to varying extents, by less-harmonious and less-balanced relations of sound that make for ugliness.
Thus we find that, throughout the nineteenth century, musical ugliness is slowly and painfully gaining the ascendancy over musical beauty, an inevitability of the times largely brought about by the impossibility of improving upon earlier composers, who had set definitive standards of musical greatness. Here, if anywhere, is evidence of the fact, acknowledged by Arthur Koestler in his retrospective book Janus - A Summing Up, that the various fine arts don't necessarily progress in a straight line of increased perfection or greatness from generation to generation, but are largely conditioned by the standards set by precedence, which may or may not allow for artistic improvement. In the case of Western music from Beethoven onwards there has, I repeat, been a steady decline, an aesthetic regression from the standards set in the eighteenth century, which could not be improved upon. Hence every romantic composer was, to a greater or lesser extent, consciously or unconsciously, coerced into producing worse music than his immediate predecessors. He was compelled not to respect his predecessors' innovations, but either to extend them or dedicate himself to the formulation of other innovations and thereby produce his own music. But his own music, unlike that of the great composers who had been engulfed by 'the Culture', and therefore composed at its theocratic behest, was predominantly a matter of his own doing, an indication of the musical anarchy, born of democratic freedom, which gradually turned composers from service of 'the Culture' to service of themselves, in an effort to transcend the standards set by their predecessors and thus attain to musical originality.
One might say that where, formerly, the macrocosm of 'the Culture' had governed the microcosm of individual composers, this process was gradually reversed throughout the nineteenth century, and the microcosm of individual composers began to act increasingly like an autonomous whole in the vast stream of Western music, paying less and less heed to the macrocosm of 'the Culture' against which it had been forced to rebel in the interests of constant change, particles superseding wavicles. Naturally, it is fair to say that some composers were more conservative than others vis-à-vis the radical changes which stood for the onslaught of 'the Civilization' and its collective values. Nevertheless, even they were irreversibly caught-up in the swift current of musical socialism that bore everything along in the direction of greater dissolution and anarchy. Even Brahms and Bruckner indicate a more anarchic turn-of-mind than Mendelssohn and Schumann, their two outstanding predecessors, and these latter composers are certainly less conservative, in their turn, than either Beethoven or Schubert, and are veritable radicals when compared with Haydn and Mozart! But if such classic-romantic composers appear conservative or reactionary when compared with the more fervent musical socialists such as Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Chopin, Franck, and Dvorák, they are still significant contributors to the continuous march of musical regress, a march which was to find an even firmer footing in the twentieth century, as free enterprise gained in momentum to the detriment of centralized patronage.
Thus far, twentieth-century music is chiefly characterized by two disparate tendencies: the tendency, on the one hand, to further the rot of romanticism initiated by Beethoven, and the tendency, on the other hand, to stem the rot either by indulging in a form of neo-classicism or, alternatively, by subscribing to the incorporation of jazz elements. Let us examine the first tendency first.
The attack on 'the Culture's' leading representatives is much fiercer in the twentieth century than at the time of Brahms, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, and Bruckner. By comparison with Mahler (the first really powerful voice of the twentieth century), Stravinsky, Bartók, Prokofiev, Ives, Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Varèse, Sibelius, et al., the music of even the most radical late-nineteenth-century composers seems beautiful or conservative or classical, depending on your viewpoint. The discords used by composers of the previous century seem tame and sparing when compared with their more radical use by the representatives of 'the Civilization' in the first-half of the twentieth century. And the melodies, whether complex, elongated, or fragmented, of those same late-romantic composers likewise appear beautiful when compared with the greater complexity, elongation, and fragmentation of melodies composed during the early decades of the twentieth century. In virtually all aspects of musical composition, late-romantic works have been made to seem conservative, and the ongoing aesthetic degeneration of serious music has more than kept abreast of the stupendous technological advancements being witnessed by modern man. (It hardly needs emphasizing that while the capacity to progress has been inhibited in certain contexts, it has by no means been inhibited everywhere, so that the continuous improvements on the design, for example, of the automobile is achieved at the cost of the continuing regression of music from a maximum beauty towards a maximum ugliness. The technological advances of this century are generally paralleled by its cultural retreats.) Not only have orchestras become even bigger, viz. Mahler, Strauss, Holst, et al., but the traditional combination and balance of instruments has been still more radically altered, and, with this, the parts played by the various instruments. Even the, by classical standards, excessive importance attached to the double-bass parts by Brahms, whose father was a bassist, is moderate when compared with certain more recent scores, where the bass parts, besides having extra work to do, are further strengthened by the incorporation of additional bases! And, similarly, the brass sections, which many musicologists would claim to have been used excessively by Franck, Bruckner and Saint-Saëns, have undergone a transformation of importance and acquired a stridency of effect that could only have horrified any late nineteenth-century composer.
However, just as there
were relatively conservative composers and even relatively conservative
compositions occasionally being written, in the nineteenth century, by
composers who were anything but conservative, so there were
tendencies at work in the first-half of the twentieth century, and for
reasons. Considering that England had
been musically rather quiet for at least two centuries, it isn't
surprising that some of the most conservative neo-classical tendencies
have come from there, and nowhere more notably so than in the guise of Elgar, many of whose works, including the
Variations and the Cello Concerto,
belong spiritually to the late-nineteenth century and not to the steady
of atonal cacophony which was destined to dominate serious composition
throughout the subsequent decades. But
if the Catholic Elgar may be considered
musically socialist than a majority of his contemporaries, he was still
compelled to pay court to the twentieth century and be carried along,
willy-nilly, in the direction of greater aesthetic dissolution. In
In the case, for example, of Ravel, who, for all his innovations, was fundamentally more conservative than his two great compatriots, the dissolution into the cacophony of large orchestras that was fast befalling many contemporary composers was partly avoided by a concentration on lighter music and the concomitant use of smaller ensembles, the music occasionally veering in the direction of Jazz, a direction which Satie was also to take in a number of compositions, most notably his Ragtime Parade. However, in Debussy's case the introduction of the whole-note pentatonic scale lent his music a more radical bias than that of his musical contemporaries, and the impressionistic haze of sound that resulted from this should be seen as a greater concession to the romantic debunking attitude underlining modern developments than can be found in either Ravel or Satie, romantic though much of their music undoubtedly was! But even in Satie, who regularly endeavoured to simplify his music to the utmost possible extent, the romantic attitude of debunking the classical norm was not without its radical overtones, as we discover in his predilection for jazz rhythms, strange harmonic and enharmonic juxtapositions, odd combinations of instruments, and unprecedented tonal effects. The overwhelming distinction between Bach's legendary Prelude and Fugue in D Minor and Satie's Ragtime Parade looms gigantic over Western music, though the only real alternative to this is not to be found in Elgar's Enigma Variations, nor even Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto, but in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. For the continuing expansion of romanticism into still greater melodic and rhythmic complexities has inexorably led to the cacophonous triumphing over both neo-classical and romantic-jazz composers alike, with an inevitable consequence that modern composition has brought music the furthest remove from the classical height attained to by Mozart and plunged it deeper and deeper into the overriding decadence of 'the Civilization'.
Whether or not music can become even more degenerate, even more anarchic, with the passing of time is something that remains to be seen or, rather, heard; although it does seem unlikely, at present, that it will either come to a complete standstill or retrace its steps. If the world is not destroyed in a nuclear apocalypse, then there is a fair chance that the leading composers of contemporary Western civilization will appear relatively conservative to the ears of a future generation, whose foremost composers may have regressed beyond mathematical and electronic investigations of sound to some completely unforeseen investigation that will take music a still further remove from the aesthetic 'gold standard', from which it was initially plucked in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and drive it deeper and deeper into musical anarchy.
I stated at the beginning of this essay that beauty is a constant quality, not something that changes from age to age. It requires a certain number of components to be arranged in a certain order, too many or too few inevitably disturbing the overall balance and, depending how they are arranged, making for a less beautiful or even an ugly effect. Thus beauty is ever the product of a golden mean between components and the way they are arranged, a golden mean ultimately dependent upon the taste and discretion of its creator, the composer. For if its creator lacks a capacity to appreciate and formulate a high standard of the Beautiful, then nothing but a second- or third-rate composition can be expected from him. Great works require great men, not mediocre men who are willing to work hard. And great works can only be created during a limited period of time, while the possibility of progressive development prevails, not after both the best materials and the best means of exploiting them have been exhausted. Once a given soil has been properly cultivated, it is necessary to move on to the cultivation of another soil, even if it be less good and can only supply a limited number of rather seedy-looking crops in consequence. As in agriculture, so in music!
This, I think, is sufficient to explain the revolutionary changes which Western music has recently undergone, and to point out the reluctance in some people's minds to admit to the constancy of beauty. For they were born too late to witness the creation of real beauty, and can only look back with mixed feelings of envy and wonder at the quality of music created while 'the Culture' was in its prime. If they are not to feel unduly sorry for themselves or to despise themselves on that account, they will make some effort, no matter how reluctantly, towards overrating the efforts of contemporary composers, even if this entails the deception of a shift in their sense of beauty! But, deep down, there are few cultured people who would consider the breaking off of an uninspiring musical phrase in mid-flight superior to the completed, not to say inspiring, phrase of earlier composers. Or the use of random atonal 'harmonies' superior to the use of carefully-calculated tonal harmonies. Or the reiteration of banal rhythms without apparent melodic development superior to the beautiful melody whose rhythmic content follows naturally and inevitably. For it is, above all, to the sense of novelty that so many of these modern developments appeal, supported, as they usually are, by the democratically fashionable, though fundamentally superficial, notion that art primarily exists to wake one up to new creative possibilities, instead of, as traditionally, to arouse one's admiration through the strength of its aesthetic charm. But when the aesthetic charm is lacking because it can no longer be attained, it is easy to see why such a notion becomes so important in the realm of art dogma, and why so many people are gradually brainwashed into believing it! After all, it was only with the twentieth century that notions of that order became necessary, and it was possible for various artists to formulate eccentric theories relating to the nature of beauty and ugliness.
In one such theory, it was alleged that art made from ugly materials and focusing on ugly subjects could be just as good, i.e. artistically meritorious, as art made from beautiful materials and focusing on beautiful subjects - quite as though beauty and ugliness were equal qualities and not subject to the value differentials which accrue to all antitheses, where the positive component of the duality, viz. beauty, is qualitatively superior to its negative component, viz. ugliness! In this instance, the value-differential focuses on the pleasant effects created by the Beautiful and, by contrast, on the unpleasant effects created by the Ugly. The face of a beautiful woman will arouse a very superior emotional response in most men to the face of an ugly one, to a woman who, instead of being admired for the pleasure she brings, will be despised for creating a disagreeable and even painful effect. Now, by a similar token, the spectacle of a painting which depicts a dirty backyard, where dustbins are crammed to overflowing with rubbish, will engender, if not an outright disagreeable emotional response in the viewer's mind, then certainly a less agreeable response than that engendered by the spectacle of a painting which depicts a beautiful sunset over an aesthetically-satisfying landscape. Clearly, the latter painting would be qualitatively superior to the former both on account of the subject it employs and the response it evokes. The only instance in which an ugly painting might be considered artistically or, at any rate, creatively superior to a beautiful one ... would be if the latter was much smaller and thereby testified to less effort, on the part of its creator, than the former. Then it might be possible for one to judge the respective creative values of the two paintings chiefly on the strength of the amount of work and skill apparent there, even if the ugly one - a canvas, say, depicting overturned dustbins infested by rats - evoked an inferior emotional response to the beautiful miniature. And the same, I venture to guess, could be held true of musical compositions with a similar compositional differential. But in two works of identical size and length, wherein an approximately equal amount of work had been put into each, and where one testified to a preoccupation with ugly materials or subjects while the other, by contrast, bore testimony to a preoccupation with beautiful materials or subjects, it is only logically possible to conclude the latter artistically superior to the former, since beauty is ever qualitatively superior to ugliness.
Yet in an age which, to a significant extent, has been deprived of the creation of beautiful work because virtually all of the possibilities relating to it have already been exploited, it is virtually inevitable that a kind of Nietzschean "revaluation of all values" should also manifest itself in art theories, and that the leading artists of the day should do their best to elevate the few scraps of creative possibility left them to an absurdly pretentious level! If the art propaganda initiated by progressive artists has had the desired effect in the service of their free enterprise, i.e. has been generally accepted by the so-called culture-loving public, then it should be possible for people to conclude the works of Bacon equal in value to those of Rembrandt, or the works of Stockhausen equal in value to those of Mozart, and perhaps even superior to them, depending on the culture-loving public's readiness to accept new criteria without criticism (its being generally understood that professional artists and critics know best, and that lay criticism of the new topsy-turvy doctrines is therefore apt to be superficial!)
Thus when modern arts propaganda is successful, the progressive degeneration of the Arts is seen as progress, and the concept of art as novelty, or something that wakes one up to new creative possibilities, becomes the overriding concern of a majority of artists, who, by classical standards, are really anti-artists with the sole intention, consciously or unconsciously, of furthering the rot that set-in with 'the Civilization' at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and who will doubtless continue to wage war on everything 'the Culture' evolved until such time as they are unable to regress any further and a new age begins to dawn on the Western world. It was not Henry Miller who initially took literature off the 'gold standard', and it is not Miller who has taken it the furthest remove from there. A comprehensive history of Western literature and anti-literature, art and anti-art, sculpture and anti-sculpture, music and anti-music, has still to be written. It will doubtless be done by men of a future epoch or civilization!
But let us return to the present and, more specifically, to the subject of music, which is the branch of the Arts we are most concerned with here. Simultaneously with the continuous decline of Western music this century, another music began to arise, not an African or an American phenomenon but a phenomenon of the black man in North America - in short, the music of the American Negro. It arose out of the Civil War, when the newly-emancipated Negro was obliged, in a large number of cases, to consider an alternative means of earning a living and, if he had musical predilections, began to acquire and learn how to play whichever musical instrument most took his fancy or, more probably, came most readily to hand. It developed quite steadily throughout the remaining years of the nineteenth century and, shortly after the turn-of-the-century, it split into two distinct forms - namely, the Blues of the solo performer and the Jazz of the group. Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century Blues and Jazz continued to develop quite steadily, the one emerging as the music of the underprivileged Black, the other as the music of the intellectual Black. Thus within a relatively short space of time, from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Second World War, i.e. within three generations, the American negro had evolved his own equivalents of white popular and serious music, and had succeeded, moreover, in making the impact of these forms felt throughout the greater part of the Western hemisphere. Not only did blues and jazz elements find their way into white serious music - as, for example, Ravel, Satie, Gershwin, Copland, et al. - but Blues and Jazz began to acquire general acceptance among the white populations of the various Western countries as an alternative or supplement to their own musical forms and, no less importantly, one to be imitated by white musicians who were interested in spreading the gospel, so to speak, of black creativity.
Now, since the Second World War, this revolution in music has conquered even the English and German nations, hitherto among the most conservative peoples in their attitude towards Negro music. However, it is also true to say that, in the past fifty or so years, black music has itself undergone a profound revolution. For not only have the blues and jazz structures been radically altered in accordance with evolutionary demands, but Blacks have increasingly felt the impact of the white world upon themselves and modified their music accordingly. Thus one finds a situation arising whereby Blacks and Whites play in the same band and create a type of fusion music from the combination of Rock (sophisticated pop, adulterated classical, etc.) and Jazz, or, broadly, white and black musical forms, whereas formerly, in the early decades of the twentieth century, segregation obliged black musicians to keep to themselves in the creation of their own specifically jazz music. But if the Blues, initially the music of the underprivileged Black, has itself undergone a radical transformation in recent decades and re-emerged in the guises of Soul, Funk, Funk-Soul, etc., the music of the average rather than necessarily underprivileged Black, then the transformation of Jazz into Modern Jazz and/or Fusion Music has been just as radical, and the intellectual and predominantly instrumental Black has continued, with the aid of Whites, to develop his own essentially serious music. Hence, broadly speaking, Blues and Jazz have been transformed into Soul and Modern Jazz - the black equivalents of Pop and Classical. We are primarily concerned, in this essay, with serious music, so let us leave the black pop equivalence out of our investigations and take a more detailed look at Modern Jazz.
There are, in this sphere of creativity, two distinct tendencies at large. On the one hand, there is what could be called the Dionysian tendency towards excess and, on the other hand, the Apollonian tendency towards refinement. In varying degrees, this duality has always existed in serious music, whether we are dealing with a symphony by Beethoven or an extended improvisation by Charlie Parker. There are the loud and the quiet passages, the quick and the slow, the heavy and the light, the rough and the smooth, the emotional and the intellectual, etc. Every extended serious composition demands this alternation between Dionysian and Apollonian elements, and even in the classicism of Mozart it is unthinkable that an entire symphony or concerto could be all quick or all slow, all loud or all quiet. However, it is also possible for us to generalize, where different types of music are concerned. For although we are aware that classical music-proper, viz. Haydn, Mozart, the early Beethoven, is not entirely Apollonian, we should be entitled to consider it essentially such in contrast to romanticism, which, especially from the time of Liszt, we should regard as distinctly Dionysian. In fact, we should have no hesitation in categorizing everything that stands in opposition to 'the Culture' in terms of the Dionysian, even though we are aware that Apollonian qualities may well be in evidence. As regards Modern Jazz, however, the categorization or generalization towards which we are led is decidedly the Apollonian, inasmuch as, stemming from a non-European source, Modern Jazz doesn't signify an attack on 'the Culture' so much as a new voice which happens to find itself juxtaposed with the down-dragging musical currents of contemporary Western civilization. Modern Jazz is not the music of 'Faustian' man, irrespective of the number of 'Faustians' (Westerners, in Spenglerian parlance) it may enrol in its service, but the music of Afro-Americans, and, as such, it signifies an upward growth analogous to that of a new culture. It has, to be sure, certain Dionysian elements within the overall framework of its structures which maintain, as in other musical forms, a balance with its Apollonian elements. But the equilibrium thereby established need not prevent us from generalizing it into an Apollonian, upwards-growing phenomenon which, willy-nilly, stands in stark opposition to the down-dragging Dionysian phenomenon of contemporary Western music!
I think this factor is of crucial significance in explaining both the abrupt rise and the immense popularity of black music, whether popular or serious, within the traditionally white nations, a large number of whose inhabitants have been enabled to take refuge from the regressive musical trends of their civilization in the shelter provided by a relatively young, exuberant, and progressive subculture. In this context, the finest examples of Modern Jazz could be thought superior, in musical terms, to the compositions of avant-garde composers, and would provide a spiritual crutch for the jaded sensibilities of Western man who, by compromising with the music of a subculture not strictly compatible with 'the Culture' from which he springs, is enabled to acquire a modicum of defence against the Dionysian plague which threatens to completely engulf him and to deprive him, inevitably, of even the faintest intimation of genuine music.
But if the contention implicit in the Apollonian/Dionysian confrontation of Modern Jazz with the avant-garde ... leads us to the conclusion that the former is musically superior to the latter, we must nevertheless endeavour to provide tangible proofs which will lend credibility to such a conclusion. For it must be acknowledged that even though Modern Jazz pertains to a growing subculture, it is unlikely that it has yet grown to full maturity and thereupon fully realized its dormant potential. The concept of Jazz as an art form is of comparatively recent origin, stemming, in the main, from Charlie Parker, whose breathtaking performances on the saxophone in the nineteen thirties and 'forties fairly revolutionized the then-existing position of Jazz in the Western world. Now, since him, many other great musicians, including Bud Powell, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, and McCoy Tyner have likewise contributed towards the growth of Jazz as a serious art-form. Thus the past five decades have witnessed an increase in sophistication of both techniques and compositions - an aesthetically progressive rather than regressive development.
Regardless of this progression, however, it has to be admitted that only a small percentage of the total jazz output of any one decade actually aspires to the status of fine art, and that, partly in accordance with the Afro-American predilection for rhythms and melodic reiterations, the bulk of it remains firmly attached to the fundamentally 'primitive' criteria from which it initially sprang. For it must be remembered that, even in an exuberant and progressive context, genius is a product which cannot be manufactured in bulk - a majority of the musicians currently engaged in the production of Modern Jazz being anything but men of genius! However that may be, the element of genius which can be found in this context is sufficient to lend weight to our contention regarding the musical superiority of the finest jazz compositions over the Dionysian compositions of contemporary so-called 'classical' composers. The criteria upon which we can base our argument are manifold, but it will suffice if we list only the main ones.
Thus the first and most important consideration in favour of Jazz is the prevalence of melody, sometimes of a very beautiful nature but almost invariably, in the better compositions, of an attractive or aesthetically-satisfying nature. The second consideration must entail harmony, not cacophony or the dissolution of harmony into the inharmonious, but genuine diatonic harmony used in a subordinate and largely supportive role. The third consideration must bring to our attention the prevalence of form, sometimes of a simple nature, sometimes of a fairly complex nature, but generally appertaining to a recognizable pattern of congruous import. These three primary considerations, which constitute a sine qua non in the hierarchy of compositional value, we investigated earlier, and to them were added subordinate considerations, such as instrumentation, tone, volume, number of instruments, etc. In like manner, similar subordinate criteria may be applied to Modern Jazz, so that a composition, for example, with the best possible instrumentation will usually make for a more successful result than one where the logic of instrumental values or positions in the overall hierarchy has been overruled, not to say inverted, in the interests of novelty, change, socialistic radicalism, etc. Similarly, the instruments combined together in a jazz ensemble will make for a better or worse effect depending on the total numbers employed.
Of course, these criteria cannot be taken in a literal classical sense. For although the number of instruments employed and the way they are combined appertain to the basic criteria of classical music in general, great divergences exist in terms of the particular. Thus, for example, the number of instruments appropriate to the finest classical music is vastly different from the number most suited to the best jazz compositions, in which the use of only a few electric instruments can make for a greater volume of sound than could be obtained from a large body of acoustic instruments being played as loudly as possible, and for which it is therefore imperative to use fewer instruments in order to obtain the most effective or satisfying results. And even the best combination of instruments differs in particulars from the classical ideal, to the extent that we are dealing with a subculture originated by negroes, who were fundamentally spiritual outsiders in relation to the dualistic integrity of Spengler's 'Faustian' man. If Jazz attaches more importance to the use of percussion than does the serious music of the white man, it should be seen as partly deriving from the fact that drums of various shapes and sizes constituted such an important role in the music of the American negro's African ancestors, in consequence of which the urge and perhaps even the ability to play them was culturally inherited. To be sure, there is nothing in the entire history of Western music which corresponds to the Negro predilection for complex rhythms: the percussion parts relating to virtually all orchestral compositions being frankly elementary when compared with the rhythmic complexities continuously being utilized by the finest jazz drummers, a majority of whom are black.
Indeed, one might expect an orchestral percussionist to criticize Jazz for the - to his way of thinking - overwhelming amount of percussion relating to it. Though such criticism would testify to a misunderstanding of the vastly different importance attached to percussion by the leading black exponents of the American subculture, whose African ancestry would seem to have endowed them with their own rather more rhythmically-oriented scale of musical priorities. For Jazz does not imply an excessive use of percussion. On the contrary, it entails an African-derived use of percussion which appertains to a different and arguably older cultural ideal. But Jazz is not, of course, an African phenomenon. It is a hybrid resulting from the amalgamation of black and white cultural trends into a new synthesis. The American Negro was induced to add a greater consideration for melody to his ingrained store of rhythmic vitality. Thus he produced Jazz. And so arose a subculture under the nose of the Western ideal.
To this has been added, in recent years, a still greater integration of black and white cultural elements, the Afro-American no longer producing Jazz simply because his forebears had been brought under the white man's influence, but also influencing and being further influenced by him, so that, in the course of time, a new music arose which blended the predominantly black Jazz with the predominantly white Rock. The fact that there are many white drummers in today's world is ample testimony to the influence of Jazz on the white man, just as the number of black keyboardists and guitarists in it testifies to the ubiquitous influence of Western civilization on Blacks. But if Jazz and Rock were to some extent already hybrid forms on that and similar accounts, then the coming together of the two into yet another synthesis has resulted in an even greater hybrid - namely, that of Fusion Music.
Now this term need not imply that Blacks and Whites invariably play together in the same band, even if this is the usual implication of it. The essential thing is that Jazz, with its emphasis on rhythm, should be further combined with melody and harmony than would otherwise be the case, if it remained purely jazzy. The improvisatory qualities of the form are still there in some degree, if generally confined to a more subordinate role, and, by a like-token, the qualities extracted from Rock, such as vocals, harmony, persistent melodic motifs, clear-cut form, etc., are likewise 'watered down' to blend-in with the new compromise commonly known as Fusion Music. Admittedly, the term Modern Jazz has also been used in this context, though one might argue that it chiefly appertains to music which has remained predominantly Negro, with a stronger emphasis on rhythm and improvisation. However, irrespective of whether or not one chooses to differentiate between these two tendencies, there nevertheless remains a constant interplay between black and white elements in this subculture, and I venture to guess that even the most jazzy of the moderns is, deep down, probably less self-consciously black, in his intentions, than were his predecessors in the early decades of the twentieth century.
But it should be evident that if we are to compare recent jazz trends with the regressive trends of contemporary Western music, and to contend from such a comparison that the former is musically superior to the latter, we must base our contention on factors which relate more closely to the essence of the 'Faustian' soul than to that of the negro soul. In other words, it is necessary to pit a music with fine melodies and appropriate harmonies against a music which lacks these essential ingredients of musical value - as most contemporary Western compositions do - if we're not to get ourselves caught in futile cross-references between one culture and another.
Now if we are to differentiate between Modern Jazz, as being predominantly rhythmic, and Fusion Music, as signifying a greater compromise between rhythm and melody, then it must be the best examples of the fusion form that we are most entitled to compare with and consider superior to contemporary Western compositions, rather than those examples of Modern Jazz which adhere to very different criteria and more or less go their own way in the interests, primarily, of the American negro soul. If, as the term suggests, Fusion Music is closer to the Western soul than the predominantly black Modern Jazz, then it is, above all, from this closeness that we are enabled to draw comparisons with traditional musical developments and, in accordance with the musical superiority of that tradition vis-à-vis the decadence, pit these comparisons against the degenerate sounds of the avant-garde. Thus it is from the finest compositions of fusion composers such as Jean-Luc Ponty, Jan Hammer, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Barry Miles, Stanley Clarke, and George Duke that we should look for the diatonic alternative to the mostly cacophonous sounds of the Western world's contemporary composers, who have been compelled, willy-nilly, to drive serious music a still further remove from the cultural 'gold standard' set by Mozart and Beethoven than did their immediate predecessors. For it is largely on account of the fact that the best elements in both the black and white cultures have joined forces to produce Fusion Music, that the Whites most affected by this synthesis have not followed the downhill path to atonal cacophony of their more academic cousins but, on the contrary, have retained a melodic, harmonic, and diatonic approach to composition commensurate with the rhythmic essence of Jazz.
But if many of the essential criteria of high-quality composition are to be found in Fusion Music, how, then, does it compare with the best traditional manifestations of Western music - with the compositions, for example, of Mozart and Beethoven? The answer to this question is, I believe, that it doesn't compare too well. Or, put more comprehensively, the best of today's Fusion Music is probably musically superior, note for note, to the worst of the compositions of the great composers, but by no means superior to their finest compositions. For, although I have listened to an abundant supply of the most outstanding Fusion Music, from Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra to Weather Report and The Mothers of Invention, I haven't heard anything to match or surpass, for sheer beauty and creative profundity, the finest music of Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Weber, et al., which sprang from the depths of the 'Faustian' soul when 'the Culture' had not yet degenerated into 'the Civilization' that we are now witnessing. To be sure, most fusion composers may utilize more genuinely musical means than their partisan contemporaries of the avant-garde. But they are still essentially products of 'the Civilization' and, in many respects, its materialistic victims, lacking the great spiritual and intellectual depths to be found in the works of the greatest classical, classical-romantic, and even romantic composers.
It is only with the twentieth century and, most especially the latter-half of it, that one can seriously turn one's back on contemporary Western composition in favour of the, by classical standards, second-rate achievements of the most outstanding fusion composers, whose music is, I contend, genuinely superior. (It is interesting to note that, in Hermann Hesse's classic novel Steppenwolf, Harry Haller found Jazz in the nineteen twenties "repugnant ... and yet ten times preferable to all the academic music of the day." - It was not by pure chance or creative whim on the part of Hesse that Haller's cultural heroes were Mozart and Goethe, the men who represented 'the Culture' at its prime, or that he found both Wagner and Brahms striving for redemption in the 'purgatory' of the 'Magic Theatre' for the crime of "thick orchestration" which, so we are told, was "a fault of their time.") Naturally, one's taste and temperament may lead one to prefer Chick Corea or Al DiMeola to Mozart or Beethoven. But, in the light of objective criteria, that would be no reason for one to seriously consider the music of the former composers inherently superior to the music of the latter! In musical criticism, there are certainly more considerations to bear in mind than those relating to one's personal taste, significant as that may be up to a point.
But even if the finest Fusion Music does not and cannot, through historical necessity, attain to the standards set by those composers born when Western civilization was in its spiritual prime and not yet far gone in materialistic degeneration, we should at least be grateful to its leading exponents for the work they are doing to keep melody and harmony alive in a world increasingly beset by atonal cacophony. Who knows, but humanity may not have heard the last note yet from a music which, if history is to record, could well transpire to have been the noblest cultural achievement of the twentieth century?
AN OUTLINE OF TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION
These days meditation has become quite popular. It is practised daily by thousands of people throughout Europe and North America, and even in other non-Eastern parts of the world. It is simple and effective and, above all, extremely economical. In fact, it needn't cost you a penny. You can both relax yourself and 'get high' absolutely free-of-charge, with no possibility of serious addiction. True, you might become a little too fond of it and subsequently find yourself without friends or money or opinions about world events. But, in the main, you won't be seriously impaired by a daily fidelity to meditation. On the contrary, you'll be enriched by it and, in some cases, quite considerably so!
But what, then, is meditation? Is it a religion, a cult, a method of contemplation, a way of life, a protest against society, or what? Basically it is none of these things, though it can certainly be turned into something approximating to any one of them, if you so desire it. The truth is that meditation is simply a way of enjoying your own company, a means of acquiring a better opinion of yourself. It need not have anything whatsoever to do with mystical contact with the Godhead or World Soul or whatever you would like to equate divinity with, in spite of claims to the contrary by practising Transcendentalists. If you wish to associate a pleasant feeling with the Godhead, that is your affair. But it isn't absolutely necessary. The essential thing is that you should eventually come to experience a state of mind which will free you from the tyranny of petty worries, complaints, miseries, rivalries, etc., if only from 5-10 minutes a day. After all, a feeling approximating to bliss is worth acquiring for even that short period of time. And if you appreciate it enough to attempt extending it from 10-20 minutes a day, well and good! It won't cost you anything extra.
There are, however, different methods of meditation, some dependent on breathing routines, others, less physical, which require a greater degree of willpower in concentrating psychic attention within the head. The method that most appeals to me at present is the Taoist form of breathing from stomach to crown-centre, for which the most important requirements are a fairly stable pair of lungs and the willpower to continue breathing within the confines of a pre-established routine for at least twenty minutes. You cannot get high without making some sort of effort, and even good moods have to be earned one way or another - usually at the price of bad ones! So unless you are prepared to put some physical effort into your breathing routine and put-up, initially, with a degree of vertigo partly resulting from this, you won't acquire a particularly satisfying level of tranquillity.
How, then, does one set about meditating in this manner? Let me explain! To begin with, it helps if you have something soft to sit on, either a bed or a cushion or a settee. Once you are comfortably seated, you can cross your legs, put your hands on your kneecaps, or just let them hang loosely in front of you. But make sure that your back is straight! A bent back won't assist your breathing.
After you've done these simple things you are ready to proceed with the breathing exercises, breathing in-and-out through the nose as, presumably, you would normally do, but with greater vigour. The object of the initial exercises is to stoke-up the fire of your metabolism, so to speak, for the more refined exercises to come. So it is important to inhale as deeply as possible without, however, doing yourself a serious injury in the process! The lower stages of this particular type of meditation are always somewhat mechanical and uninspiring, but they are well-worth persevering with, if you hope to reap the full benefit of the higher stages later on.
Thus, aided by the self-imposed deception that your lungs are in your stomach, you concentrate attention on the stomach as you inhale, so that it is drawn-in with the breath. When you exhale, however, you let your concentration flag with the breath, so that the stomach regains its normal posture. Thus there is a centripetal/centrifugal alternation between concentration on the stomach, as required by the inhalation, and the natural dissipation of that concentration engendered by the exhalation. This process of steady, full breathing should be continued for at least five minutes, so it is a good idea to keep your eye on the time while you are struggling - though hopefully not flagging - with your deep breathing. The temptation to give-up after 3-4 minutes of this exercise may well present itself. But if you remember that everything worthwhile has to be earned, one way or another, then you should find the courage or willpower to proceed to the next stage of the routine, which will demand a shift of concentration from the stomach to the lungs.
Since one invariably inhales into the lungs anyway, there is no need to impose a deception upon oneself here; though one should still alternate concentration on the lungs, as one inhales, with a dissipation of that concentration as one exhales, so that the centripetal/centrifugal balance of forces is maintained. This second stage of the routine is usually the hardest, because the effort of deep, steady breathing is combined, to a greater extent than in the previous exercise, with a feeling of vertigo, which is, of course, engendered by both the effort itself and the continuous increase of oxygen in the bloodstream resulting from it. You may feel a bit sick at this stage, but unless you had eaten a heavy meal just before you began these exercises - a thing, incidentally, you oughtn't to have done! - you should survive the feeling on a settled stomach.
After five minutes of this exercise, you move to the third stage of the routine and focus your attention upon the throat, much as though the throat was the receptacle into which the oxygen must now pass before you exhale. Here, too, some vertigo, tempered by what I like to call psychic flickering, may persist. But take courage! You have come through the hardest stages of this meditation technique and are already beginning to feel a growing tranquillity pervade your mind as, with calmer inhalations and exhalations, you note the five minutes slipping by.
Now when this time has elapsed, it remains for you to shift attention to the crown of your head, technically termed the crown-centre, and to breathe up through your nostrils with the impression that the oxygen inhaled is not entering your lungs but caressing the centre of your brain (which, needless to say, it most certainly isn't doing!). So here, too, it is necessary to maintain a deception, as you imagine that cool streams of air are caressing the centre of your brain as you inhale, and then completely forget about yourself as you exhale. This fourth and last breathing exercise will be smoother, easier, more refreshing than the previous ones, and, as the five minutes quickly pass, the blissful tranquillity which you have been faithfully anticipating will begin to flood your mind, making you momentarily conscious, it may be, of a purity of being not altogether incompatible with the elevated mentality of Nietzsche's mountain recluse - Zarathustra!
The build-up of oxygen in the blood produced by the breathing exercises is beginning to fully assert itself, not now in terms of vertigo, but in a steady stream of blissful coolness and calmness. So all that remains for you to do, once the final five minutes have been dutifully dispatched, is to experience it where you sit, without particularly concentrating on any part of your body, and without consciously interfering with your normal breathing routine. Completely enveloped by the tranquillity within you, freed from petty thoughts, unannoyed by any neighbour or family noises which may be penetrating the thin walls of your room, though very alert to the slightest sound, your soul is detached from the narrow confines of the ego and becomes both a passive receptacle and an active generator of the purest feelings.
For 5-10 minutes you sit perfectly still, wallowing in the purity of your being, experiencing yourself with a sublimated feeling of pride, a secret exultation that your soul is capable of experiencing such a satisfying condition, with nothing vulgar to pollute it or pull it from its Zarathustrian heights. The discomforts of the breathing exercises are soon forgotten with the consummation they have brought about - a consummation which, if you bothered to reflect on it, would seem to be well-worth the previous discomforts!
And so, detached from the usual claims of the ego in the face of private and public opposition, you experience a form of transcendental meditation, or meditation enabling you to transcend the narrow confines of the conscious self. This product of the twenty minutes breathing routine will normally only last, however, from 5-10 minutes, after which time the mind will return to a less-exultant condition, as the build-up of oxygen in the blood gradually recedes to a level compatible with the continuation of normal breathing. And with the decline in the oxygen content to its normal level, your meditation officially comes to an end, so you might as well return to your usual preoccupations, as continue to sit on the bed or settee or whatever with legs crossed.
Altogether, then, this experience has demanded thirty minutes of your time: twenty for breathing exercises and ten for transcendental meditation. However, you may feel thirty minutes is too long and that the breathing exercises demand too much effort and are essentially too boring to be worth 5-10 minutes' blissful tranquillity. If so, then I suggest you cut the breathing routine to three minutes with each of the four exercises, so that after a twelve-minute accumulation of oxygen you will experience tranquillity from 3-6 minutes. But be warned! These 3-6 minutes won't grant you such a pleasurable state-of-mind as would have been acquired from a twenty-minute breathing routine! If you do not wish to put much effort into the giving, you cannot expect to reap big dividends from the taking. It's as simple as that!
I have endeavoured to describe a method of meditation which is based on a simple but very effective breathing routine derived from the Chinese Tao te Ching. It can be practised twice a day, morning and evening, or once a day, preferably in the evening. It can be practised every day of the week, or just one or two days a week, depending how you feel about it. There are some people who practise it regularly for years on-end, but there is no disgrace in practising it for merely a few months, if that is all you can manage. You may feel that regular practice of this meditation technique will simply result in your becoming stuck in another rut, with one more boring habit as your master. If so, then continue it only for as long as it means anything to you, and abandon it as soon as you begin to weary of the stereotypical experience it seems to evoke. After all, there is a place for other things in life besides meditation and, although a place for meditation can easily be found, there is no reason why it should come to dominate your activities to the exclusion of other agreeable preoccupations. Naturally, like virtually any other subject on earth, meditation has its hard-core of fanatical extremists. But if you are not cut-out to be such a person yourself, there is little point in trying to follow suit. Just practise it when and where you want to experience your soul with a new pride, and it will speak for itself with all the justification that everything worthwhile invariably has on its side.
But is meditation of this nature for everyone? Theoretically one could argue that it is for everyone, insofar as almost everyone has a pair of lungs, a throat, a stable heart, etc. But, in practice, one is obliged to admit that only a comparatively small minority of people are really qualified to indulge in it. To begin with, one must have the right temperament, the right character, to enable one to take it seriously in the first place. It is therefore unlikely that a majority of the working or middle classes would be qualified to meditate in this manner, especially those who are always in a rush! And it is unlikely that people who are too fat, and consequently unable to get themselves into an upright sitting posture, would be particularly qualified to do so, either. Likewise, one might argue that people with poor lungs, whether from general ill-health or tobacco addiction, would be no-less poorly qualified to indulge in the increased flow of oxygen to the bloodstream, just as the elderly would not be a particularly good proposition in that respect. Obviously, one cannot preach a crusade for universal, dynamic meditation among the masses, any more than one can preach a like-crusade for anything else. And neither can one be surprised by the vast numbers of people who, not being qualified to meditate in this manner, are coerced by what little self-respect they still possess into deriding it.
Put frankly, meditation is essentially something which appeals to that relatively small percentage of the population of any given country who are always interested in the promulgation of techniques for improving the quality of life, so that the individual interested in them may adopt as positive an attitude to life as seems compatible with the formulation of any genuinely moral or noble orientation. Meditation, clearly, isn't for those whose egocentric relationship to the world leads them to instinctively shy away from attitudes or practices which imply gratitude to life, or a complacency not really commensurate with rebellious strictures. It depends to some extent where one lives, whom one's friends are, what one's experiences in life have been, the condition of one's health, etc., as to whether or not one will take a positive attitude to meditation. One can be perfectly justified in deriding it, just as one can be perfectly justified in praising it. Those who do not meditate aren't necessarily fools on that account. It is simply not for them, and any attitude which ignores this is undoubtedly mistaken. You may, as a devotee of meditation, despise cigarette smokers as much as you like, but your feelings towards them will not entitle you to consider them wrong to smoke instead of to meditate. Superior to many of them you may well be, but their inferiority is perfectly legitimate, since the foundation, often enough, upon which your own superiority has been erected. The only alternative perspective to this is one of presupposing that what is right for oneself should be right for everyone else as well, irrespective of how sadly mistaken one could be!
But let us leave these wider philosophical issues and return, finally, to transcendental meditation, which, so we have argued, is not for everyone. I intimated earlier that meditation isn't a religion or, at any rate, need not become one. The fact is that it can be driven in either an ideological or a religious direction, depending upon the nature of the people who practise it and their motives for doing so. By itself, meditation doesn't amount to a religion. But in the hands of mystically-minded individuals, it can certainly be used as a very important ingredient in one - as, for example, with a number of modern fringe cults who practise their own kind of meditation as a means to identification with the Godhead.
The kind of meditation that I have outlined here does not aspire to any mystical identification with God conceived, say, in terms of Creator of the Universe, but is simply an occupation which, carried out in all sincerity, can provide one with a highly satisfying state-of-mind for 5-10 minutes whenever one chooses to practise it. You can call this a process of self-realization if you like, though there is always an element of doubt, these days, as to exactly what is meant by this all-too-pervasive expression, and a limit, moreover, as to how far it can be taken, since, as the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher John Hume pointed out, sense impressions do not constitute the self any more than the thoughts one thinks - full knowledge of the self, as thing-in-itself, ultimately being beyond one's cognitive grasp. All one can do, it seems, is to acquire a rough approximation of the self, and in this respect the Orient has more to teach and better techniques at its disposal for the acquirement of this elusive self-approximation than both the Occident and the rest of the world put together!
But internal sense impressions certainly can be experienced through transcendental meditation, and, as already intimated, the purity of these sensible impressions is well-worth the initial struggle to attain them. For in a world increasingly beset by chaos, noise, anarchy, restlessness, tension, doubt, etc., meditation can be of considerable value in enabling one to take temporary refuge from the plethora of diurnal events which constantly bombard one's sensibilities and threaten to destroy all genuine peace of mind.
Yet the course of action I have described here has very little to do with the pitiful artaraxia of the ancient Greeks in their Hellenistic decadence or, alternatively, with its Buddhist equivalent of indifference to pleasure and pain. It is not a kind of spiritual suicide carried-on with the sole intent of shutting out the various contradictory emotional impressions which inevitably befall anyone who goes about the world in a natural, open, adventurous manner. Certain so-called sages of the East have long been renowned, it is true, for their imperturbability - an imperturbability, however, which too often smacks of defeatism in the face of life's manifold demands on the human spirit and which, in many Westerner's minds, is still wrongly associated with any form of meditation.
But that is a specifically Buddhist form of meditation which has very little to do with the thirty minutes combination of breathing routine and the transcendental tranquillity resulting from it. On the contrary, we are concerned here with a positive experience, not a defeatist one which smacks of world-weariness. We are concerned here not only in taking a little refuge from the commonplace demands and experiences of everyday life but, more importantly, in equipping ourselves with another weapon for dealing with them. For, in the battle of life, meditation may not be the most powerful weapon at our disposal, but it is by no means the least powerful, and many people's lives are richer and saner for a daily fidelity to thirty minutes spent in the above-mentioned fashion than would otherwise be the case. It can help, for one thing, to ease depression, and, as well as providing one with a temporary sanctuary from noisy neighbours, it can put one in a more positive frame-of-mind for appreciating the fine arts, especially music - the most idealistic art-form of them all.
However, like most things, meditation has to be indulged in moderation, otherwise the advantages to be acquired from it will quickly be replaced by disadvantages, and one may subsequently find oneself meditating to the exclusion of talking or reading or walking or any other such important activities. The rule, as ever, is to approximate to Aristotle's 'golden mean', which, in popular parlance, means that 'variety is the spice of life', with no undue emphasis on any one subject to the total exclusion of everything else. Easier said than done, of course, but generally followed nonetheless!
One is always amazed by the vast number of works of art currently existing in the world, particularly in the Western part of it. What man alive, no matter how well-educated or cultured he may happen to consider himself, has viewed every great painting or listened to every serious musical composition or read every book of literary value? The chances of one's stumbling upon a man who has a complete knowledge of works of art in any one field are, to say the least, extremely remote. And yet there are men who dedicate the greater part of their lives to the study of a given art form, men who can talk about painting or music or literature with the assurance of people who never waste an opportunity to expand their knowledge and who know - or imagine they do - as much about it as anyone. But when all's said and done, how much do they really know? Who among them could, with equal assurance, say: "I have nothing further to learn about my subject; everything is known to me"? Is it not more probable that even the most highly-informed specialists would have to admit, if they were honest with themselves, that their knowledge of art or music or whatever was partial, and that, in contrast to all the material corresponding to their subject currently available in the world, its partiality represented only a tiny fraction of what would be the case, were one ever to arrive at a complete or total knowledge of the subject in question. What artist or art critic, for example, could inform one as to exactly how many paintings and/or drawings of quality are to be found in, say, Western Europe or North America in general? And, similarly, what composer or music critic could inform one as to the exact number of serious compositions which have come down to us from approximately the seventeenth century to the present day?
Clearly, there is a limit to the total number of works of art available. But is it a limit with which anyone is truly familiar? One may indeed have to wait a long time before one meets or hears of anyone who professes to such a familiarity! Perhaps it would be necessary for even the most intelligent and studious of cultured men to live two or three times the average life-span, in order to have seen or heard or read everything of value in the arts. And perhaps even then it wouldn't be possible. One might find oneself with a fairly thorough knowledge of everything West European or North American, but with a comparatively scant knowledge of everything African or Asian or Middle Eastern or East European or South American or Australasian. The total number of valuable works of art available in any one field, be it visual or aural or otherwise, would, I suspect, suffice to make even the most cultured people amazed at the extent of their ignorance where many such works are concerned. The only alternative to a fairly thorough knowledge of the works of one's own culture-complex, or civilization, would seem to be a general smattering of the works of all culture-complexes, both past and present.
Being cultured, like being well-educated, is always a question of degree, of knowing either more or less than someone else but never knowing everything. The most cultured people are probably ignorant of more things appertaining to their particular subject than their impressive knowledge would suggest. What they have learnt may, by average standards, be phenomenal and yet still be relatively insignificant in terms of the totality of what is potentially there to be learnt. For all we know, their knowledge of the works of a given art-form might amount to no more than 10% of the hypothetical totality of relevant knowledge. It might even be less. And yet, human nature being what it is, we needn't expect them to be in any degree ashamed of or humiliated by this relatively humbling state-of-affairs. Fortunately, where matters of learning are concerned, our pride in what we know far outweighs any shame we may feel for what we don't know, simply because we usually aren't in the least aware of the probable extent of our ignorance! And this, of course, also means that we generally aren't aware of our exact relationship to other cultured people - whether, for instance, they are more cultured or less cultured than we like to imagine, or whether their culture, their knowledge of art or music or literature or sculpture, is superior or inferior to our own. In this respect, as in so many others, we are isolated in our individual worlds, obliged to construct hypotheses relating to our cultural positions, as it were, in the overall hierarchy of cultural knowledge. Now sometimes we mistake these hypotheses for literal facts, and thereupon wrongly assume that we are more cultured than an objective appraisal of the situation would in fact indicate.
Thus it may happen that a man with knowledge, shall we say, of six hundred paintings will convince himself, on the strength of this fact, that he is highly cultured. Another man may have knowledge of two thousand, a third of six thousand, a fourth of ten thousand, and so on. In all probability, they will all regard themselves as highly cultured, and take a certain pride in their knowledge. But can we reasonably suppose, other things being equal, that the man with six hundred paintings to his credit stands on an equal footing, in terms of art appreciation, with the others, or that all the others stand on an equal footing with one another and are thus equally cultured?
No, it would seem unlikely - if the criterion of numbers is to be taken seriously - that we can. For their dissimilar knowledge must mean that one is more cultured than another, and that the man with a knowledge of ten thousand paintings has a greater right to consider himself highly cultured, in this respect, than the one whose knowledge embraces a mere six hundred! And yet, there is still no reason for us not to suppose that the latter will consider himself highly cultured on the strength of what he does know or, alternatively, that the former - the man with ten thousand paintings to his credit - may not be as highly cultured as he appears to be when contrasted to someone with, say, a knowledge of thirty thousand paintings. Indeed, one begins to sense how contingent and provisional an opinion of oneself in terms of the degree of one's culture could be in relation to other people. If a man with a knowledge of thirty thousand paintings is more cultured than one whose knowledge embraces ten thousand, what is to prevent us from supposing that even he might not be as highly cultured as he imagines, that, compared to someone with fifty thousand paintings to his credit, he may only be moderately cultured?
Yet what exactly do we mean by 'knowledge of paintings'? Is it a question of having viewed a painting and memorized who it is by and what it is called? Is it, rather, a question of having memorized the general theme and technical outlines of a painting? Or is it a question of having analysed a painting in some depth, so that one is familiar with whatever symbolism it may contain, or with the techniques employed in its execution, or with its colour scheme? Obviously, one could ask other such questions relating to this problem 'knowledge of paintings' and, in answering them or having them answered by others, find that one man's definition of the concept was very different from another's - indeed, that what one man meant by it was insignificant compared with what another meant, and so on. At the risk of further complicating matters, one might even find that, in consequence of a profounder interpretation of 'knowledge', the man with a mere six hundred paintings to his aesthetic credit was more cultured than a majority of those who had viewed or studied a greater number, but not viewed or studied them as thoroughly. Who knows, but the world is full of such complexities, and we are simply being superficially presumptuous when we strive to impose our simplicity upon it.
This is essentially what, in a rather roundabout way, I am driving at in this essay: namely, the uncertainty of so much of our knowledge about ourselves in relation to other people, and the degree of self-deception to which subjectivity in our opinions about ourselves can accordingly lead us. And in terms of how cultured or well-educated we are, there is indeed room for a great deal of self-deception! What to one man may seem like refinement may appear unspeakably crude to another. What we took to be a vast reservoir of cultural information in one man may be little more than a drop in the ocean, so to speak, of a truly comprehensive cultural knowledge. We simplify out of habit and necessity, and we are so accustomed to doing so ... that we often overlook the fact that the complexities are still there, no less real than before. But self-doubts still lurk behind the mask of complacency, and it is to our credit that we occasionally remove the mask and air them to the extent that we can, enabling ourselves to extend the boundaries of knowledge and explore a few of those complexities to which custom had hitherto blinded us. Thus it is that we may come to view our cultural opinion of ourselves with less certainty and more sceptical detachment than would otherwise have been the case, had we not bothered to question ourselves but allowed our presumption to take root in a false security.
Returning to the subject of art and to the varying extents of our knowledge about it, we are obliged to confess that what we took to be a high level of cultural awareness may not be as high as we imagined, if only because there are so many paintings, drawings, etchings, engravings, etc., which we have still to view. And in the totality of the existing works of art, it could well transpire that even the most well-informed of us is some way short of having viewed everything, both within and without their own culture-complex.
But what applies to art in particular also applies, in large measure, to the arts in general - to music, literature, and sculpture, where the overwhelming mass of available material makes virtual dilettantes of us all, including the most cultured and specialized of us, whose immense knowledge, if it were computable, would shame any layman intelligent enough to appreciate the virtues of scholarship into respectful silence. Here, too, in music and literature no less than painting, there are doubtless many misunderstandings and misconceptions concerning the extent of one's knowledge or the degree of one's culture. Some people are much more cultured than others, and yet this doesn't prevent a number of those who are less cultured from assuming that they are highly cultured. And neither, of course, does it prevent some of those who, in relation to the latter, are highly cultured from assuming that they have little more to learn. In each case, human vanity works the same way, so that a majority of people with any degree of culture are generally going to think better of themselves than facts, if known, might otherwise convince them. Again, of all the works of literature or serious music currently available in the world, one needn't be particularly surprised if it could be shown that even the most knowledgeable of people knew no more than about 10%, and, in all but a few cases, this tiny fraction would take the form of a provincial or national thoroughness, as it were, rather than a universal smattering.
But I do not intend this comment to be taken for an indictment, still less as an example of cynicism from some smart-aleck who thereby hopes to make himself out to be cleverer or better-informed than he really is. The author of this humble essay makes no claims to cultural omniscience himself (unlike certain learned Frenchmen) and would hesitate to consider himself highly cultured, particularly vis-à-vis the arts of painting and sculpture, for which, in any case, he has a rather limited interest. What culture he has acquired may indeed be somewhat in excess of that meted-out to the average man, but it is altogether doubtful whether, in relation to his relative youth, it would entitle him to consider himself among the most highly cultured of persons. As yet, he still has some way to go, a number of decades ahead, during which time he will probably continue to peruse books, listen to music, and scrutinize various paintings, drawings, objects d'art, etc., with his customary perseverance and, no less importantly, critical reserve.
No, much as facts may compel this writer to recognize his own limitations, they in no way invalidate his contention concerning the overwhelming amount of serious art in the world and our relative ignorance of it - an ignorance of which no-one, including the most highly cultured, need feel ashamed. Whether, in accordance with Nietzsche's prophecy of the Superman, we shall ever arrive at an age abounding in superaesthetes, who will make today's leading 'culture vultures' seem comparatively philistine, remains to be seen. Though we can be pretty certain that if we do, it will not be for some time to come! In the meantime, a majority of intelligent, culturally-disposed people will doubtless continue to bruise their brains over the arts, without appreciably advancing their capacity to absorb and appreciate whatever the world has to offer them by way of cultural nourishment.
I have written at some length on our ignorance of the totality of great art available in the world, and of the efforts various people make, according to their individual capacities, to extend their knowledge of art as far as possible. At present, even the most cultured of us are confined to a tiny fraction of the world's cultural resources. Now if this is staggering enough, how much more staggering is it to think in terms of hypothetical cultural resources on other planets throughout the Universe and to contrast, in imagination, the totality of art on Earth with the possible totality of art elsewhere! If the mind boggles when confronted by the vast amount of man-made art currently in existence, whether in painting, literature, music, or anything else, how much more must it do so once we take into account the possibility of advanced life elsewhere in the Universe, and the unbelievable quantity of cultural wealth the Universe could hypothetically contain!
Imagine for a moment the possibility - and it is possible - of millions upon millions of other habitable planets, many of them far bigger than the Earth, upon which the arts have flourished, in one form or another, for thousands if not millions of years and, no less astoundingly, make the totality of Earth art (if I may be permitted such a precociously comprehensive term) seem but a tiny drop in the vast ocean of all art currently existing anywhere in the Universe! A fantastic hypothesis, to say the least, but not one that any man alive could seriously refute! For the hypothesis of man being the only art-producing life-form in the entire Universe would seem far more fantastic to me than any hypothesis concerning the possible existence of alien works of art. Our rapidly-expanding knowledge of the immensity of the Universe makes it increasingly difficult, not to say unreasonable, for us to consider ourselves to be the only advanced or, at any rate, intelligent life-form in existence, and now that we have arrived at a more open attitude concerning our relation to it, there seems to be sufficient reason for us to entertain the notion that other intelligent, evolving beings may also have produced - and still be producing - works of art which match, if not surpass, anything created here on Earth. With such speculation, it soon becomes apparent that the cultural wealth of the Universe could be so great, so unbelievably vast, that not even the most advanced superaesthete would have as much as an inkling of its total extent. Floundering in the accumulated wealth of Earth cultures, he would have to rest content with a vague intimation of the possible magnitude of creative endeavour throughout the Universe, and leave it to his descendants to acquire, step by step, a slightly more comprehensive knowledge of all the arts.
However, in returning to the present, one might conclude that the objective of acquiring a really comprehensive knowledge of the totality of cultural achievements here on Earth still remains to be achieved, and will probably not be achieved for some time yet - if, indeed, it ever is. Lacking time and method, we shall have to content ourselves, in the meantime, with a partial knowledge of our cultural heritage - a knowledge which even the most highly cultured of us must inevitably regard in relation to that greater ignorance which makes the acquirement of culture such a fascinating and, at the same time, continuous lesson!
URBAN STERILITY AND THE MODERN SOUL
The real tragedy of modern life is the overwhelming size of the largest cities. A majority of people are no longer in close or even regular contact with nature, with the pulsating life of natural phenomena, but are constantly surrounded by the man-made lifeless forms which constitute contemporary megalopolis. They live so close to concrete, steel, glass, lead, rubber, aluminium, plastic, etc., that they are invariably drained of a great deal of their vital life-force, drained, if you like, of spiritual potentialities which their less-urbanized ancestors generally experienced and doubtless took for granted, as the natural property of mankind. Shut out from regular contact with natural phenomena, with soil and crops and trees and flowers, they take on the quality of the sterile environments in which they live or, rather, exist, becoming increasingly like automata - soulless figures in a soulless world, that of the big city.
How painful it can be for anyone with a knowledge of the biological necessity of one's living in close proximity to nature ... to stand on the pavements in one of the more built-up parts of a big city and note the absence of vegetation! There are streets in most major cities where there isn't a tree or a bush or a flower in sight, where the inanimate so dominates the area that one seriously wonders how anyone can manage to survive there, so lunar is the resulting impression. And even on streets where some effort has been made to acknowledge nature, where a few small trees or saplings have been planted at regular intervals along the edge of the pavement - how inadequate they usually appear when contrasted with the predominantly commercial or industrial surroundings in which, one can only suppose, they are doomed to fight a losing battle, to languish pitifully and painfully in the indifferent and sometimes hostile environment of concrete, steel, glass, petrol fumes, noise, etc., which inevitably takes precedence over them!
How hateful to such a person, a person keenly aware of man's current plight, is the spectacle of crazy paving in so-called front gardens, where the residents are either too lazy to tend the soil or too busy doing other things to have any time for gardening, and have accordingly capitulated to the tyranny of concrete, abdicated their private right to stand-up for natural phenomena in a society whose ever-increasing preoccupation with the man-made, with artificial phenomena, is bringing about its own downfall and inevitable spiritual and moral death. For how can life, human or otherwise, possibly thrive in a society where the inanimate has come to play such a dominating role? Is it any wonder that the great majority of long-term city-dwellers appear so washed out, sickly and mean, or that their feelings are so often apathetic, shallow, callous, and negative?
No, of course not! You cannot spend the greater part of your life out-of-contact with the living pulse of nature and hope to remain healthy. Sterility begets sterility, and, by contrast to their more fortunate ancestors, the souls of a majority of contemporary people are most certainly sterile! They may not be completely dead, but they are undoubtedly a long way from being fully alive! If they have any feelings at all, such feelings either don't run very deep or are apt, in the worst cases, to turn negative. Their possessors are too greatly the victims of their lifeless environments to have any real comprehension of or empathy with the soul, to be in a position to properly grasp the significance of the cultural life from which modern civilization has irrevocably banished them. As idolaters at the shrine of the intellect, they can only concur with Nietzsche that "God is dead" and marvel that churches should still exist. For in relation to the maimed state of their souls and the preponderance of the inanimate, those manifestations of man's acknowledgement of the more-than-human - in short, of nature and that which presides over and also exists supernaturally above it - have indeed become anachronisms, scarcely to be countenanced by the modern mind.
As Spengler, the German philosopher of history, so eloquently informed us, 'the Civilization' of contemporary urban and industrial society is essentially the reverse of 'the Culture' of medieval and catholic spirituality, and whatever pertained to 'the Culture' can hardly be taken to heart in 'the Civilization', with its materialistic values. Truly, the West is indeed on the decline! Modern men are not the super-enlightened, anti-superstitious people that the liberal intelligentsia may prefer us to regard them as but, for the most part, unfortunate wretches who have lost or are in the process of losing their souls. They have simply been transformed, largely through environmental changes, from predominantly sentient beings into predominantly existential ones; from creatures firmly under the sway of the divine life-principle to creatures increasingly coming under the domination of its diabolic antithesis, and, without a shadow of a doubt, one is less fortunate in the latter context than in the former! It is better to be a soulful being in close contact with nature than a veritable automaton who has lost proper contact with it, because the society in which he lives, in becoming the victim of its industrial and technological genius, has increased its population to a point where cities are so large ... that the artificial comes to predominate over nature and to dominate people's lives, obliging them to live a kind of environmental blasphemy.
A kind of environmental blasphemy? Yes and no. 'Yes' because, objectively considered, whatever sets itself up against the natural order of life, and thereupon forces people to pervert themselves, must be an irreverence, a profanation, a hubris, in which man pits himself against the preordained nature of things through wilful disobedience and inevitably brings about his own downfall. Thus his anti-natural confinements and lifestyles in large cities could be seen as constituting a species of practical blasphemy.
However, a society in which, largely through the aforementioned reasons, "God is dead" ... can hardly be accused of blasphemous activities, insofar as it has ceased to have any genuine relationship with God, having changed its scale of values in accordance with purely secular or materialistic criteria. Such a society does not commit blasphemy when it indulges in heart transplants, for example, because the heart has ceased to mean anything beyond being a muscle which pumps blood through the body. It has been reduced, through the materialistic influence of urban civilization, to the literal status of a pump, which fights shy of any medieval, and hence cultural, associations with the "seat of the soul" or other figurative interpretations proper to 'the Culture'. Where formerly the heart, to all cultural purposes, was more soul than pump, it is now merely a utilitarian entity, subject to medical diagnosis, on a par with the liver or the kidneys! The figurative interpretation has been swept away to leave - what? A very matter-of-fact conception which ceases to appeal to the imagination but is in perfect accord with the scientifically-biased tendencies of urban man, who, having sacrificed his soul to his intellect, will doubtless regard the medieval estimate of the heart as an unnecessary superstition!
Such is how matters proceed on the temporal plane, where allegations of blasphemy would seem to be quite irrelevant. Shut off as it now is in its own urban isolation from adequate contact with nature, modern industrial society will probably proceed, if time permits, to develop heart surgery and perhaps even brain surgery to a point where the Frankenstein myth will become reality, where the creation of human monsters will be hailed as one of the great achievements of medical science, and the propagation of such monsters duly be sanctioned by the state, presumably with law enforcement or military security in mind!
Fortunately, modern society hasn't quite arrived at that point, but there can be little doubt that it is steadily advancing towards it with or without the guidance of prognoses, or symptoms, like Brave New World. Divorced, as it largely is, from the moral-world-order implicit in nature, such a society must increasingly fall victim to the immorality inherent in any perversion of that order, and thus eventually reap self-destruction. For much as it may prefer to wallow in its urban isolation, the natural-world-order still exists, both within and without, and won't tolerate persistent abuse for ever. In the long-run, we pay for our crimes against life, whether they have been inflicted upon us by society or inflicted upon society by us. Man is the ultimate loser, not God. [ I should like to assure the reader that the foregoing attack upon city life is not indicative of a form of Manichean dualism, whereby matter is considered evil and only the spirit, by contrast, good, since I have no desire to consider Nature, or natural phenomenal in general, inherently evil. On the contrary, if I regard the man-made as evil it is only so in excess, not in moderation. Thus the vast scale of the largest cities, with their detrimental effect upon the soul, compels me to regard them as being in opposition to Nature, and thus fundamentally evil.]
So what, if anything, can be done to reverse this trend and restore society to something like a healthy state of soul? Not much, it would appear. Having abandoned nature in the development of our principal cities, we can't very well return to it again. The large populations which were originally made possible by the Industrial Revolution have to be fed and housed somewhere, and so the necessity of people living in close proximity to one another in vast conurbations cannot reasonably be denied. Whatever the immediate future holds in store for us, we cannot possibly reverse the trend of 'the Civilization', to revert to Spengler, and thereupon effect a return to 'the Culture'. Our buildings, populations, industries, and technologies are the chief reasons for 'the Civilization', and they can only be accepted on their own terms. Knowing why we are in the position in which we now find ourselves may be of some interest to us, but it cannot reasonably be expected to open the way for a return to former and intrinsically superior standards. If there is a price, materially and spiritually, for everything, then Western civilization is no exception. The price we are paying, not only for our industrial and technological advances but also for our social and urban expansion, is a high one. It involves a loss of soul which would have horrified our cultural ancestors, accustomed as they generally were to a less-urbanized and more freely natural environment. The fertile 'Culture', in which they lived and for the most part spiritually thrived, was sold down river for the comparatively sterile 'Civilization' of today. Trapped, as a majority of us now are in the great cities which technological advances made possible, victims of the sterile pavements, roads, and buildings which surround and imprison us on all sides, we can only live in accordance with the spiritual limitations such an environment inevitably imposes upon one, only react in a modern way to the cultural riches of the past.
Strange though it may seem, even the greatest of our technological achievements are inherently inferior to the greatest cultural achievements of the past. The television, radio, gramophone, aeroplane, rocket, car, train, computer, telephone, etc., may all be wonderful inventions and phenomena of which Western man can justifiably be proud. But by comparison with the greatest paintings, music, poetry, literature, cathedrals, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, etc., of the past, they signify a secondary order of achievement. Why? Because 'the Culture' takes precedence over 'the Civilization'. Because the creation of works in, and made possible by, a largely natural environment is superior to the creation of works in, and made possible by, a largely artificial one. Because the spirit is naturally superior to the intellect, and works which testify to spiritual greatness can only take precedence over those testifying to intellectual greatness. Whether we like it or not, the fact is that we live in an age which, no matter how great its technological achievements, is intrinsically inferior to the one that preceded it. We have shut ourselves off from nature to such an extent that our souls, deprived of the nourishment they require to thrive, have generally atrophied and accordingly ceased to govern our conduct. Handed over to the intellect, as to a hangman, we have become increasingly like automata, bereft of feeling, enthusiasm, imagination, strong desire, real creative power. Our souls are still there of course, but, like invalids in a sick ward, they function in a thoroughly thwarted and enfeebled manner.
Those of us who remain loyal to the Arts, whose business it is to leave a cultural record of the times, are acutely aware of this, and whether the name be Bacon, Moore, Beckett, or Tippett, the record left is not one that anyone with a healthy, well-nourished soul would care to witness! In an age when the soul is starved and maimed, the most sincere artists have no alternative but to convey, through whichever medium they exploit, the prevailing spiritual condition, to offer a protest on behalf of the sick soul, and thus acquire for themselves a relatively negative status. This is, needless to say, a deeply regrettable situation! For no genuine artist wishes to convey negative feelings and impressions if he can possibly avoid doing so! The greatest art is ever a highly positive phenomenon, a record of spiritual wealth, a testimony to spiritual wellbeing. Such it generally was from approximately the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries, when cultural activities were uppermost. But from the late-eighteenth century a reversal of this trend increasingly began to set-in, as, with the expansion of his towns and cities, man grew progressively more estranged from nature and forced into an increasingly unnatural lifestyle. Not surprisingly, the artist, no less than most other people, felt the impact of this environmental transformation, and, if he didn't attempt to flee from it by portraying imaginary realms of the past, and thus creating an inferior because largely irrelevant brand of art, was obliged to record its effects upon his soul and, by analogy and observation, the souls of the men of his generation or time. Needless to say, the closer one comes to the present the more, by a corresponding degree, the true artist is obliged to convey feelings and impressions of a lower, coarser, more chaotic and sickly nature. The genuine artist invariably has to do this, since he must relate to the spiritual context of the age, not desert it for some historical or fantastic realm of compensatory illusion or, worse still, desert the realm and function of art itself by endeavouring to glorify that which is fundamentally antithetical to art, that which pertains exclusively to 'the Civilization' rather than to 'the Culture', and takes an overly materialistic form.
Thus there can be no question of the genuine artist, the genuine painter, shall we say, creating works which glorify the machine, industrialism, technological advance, large-scale urbanization, science, etc., because such phenomena run contrary to the domain of art and are essentially inimical to it. Art is for ever at the service of the divine ideal, the ideal dependent upon and stemming from nature, which treats of the life of the soul. Hence its allegiance to religion, myth, people, and the feelings which these phenomena inspire. When the divine ideal is uppermost, as it must be when artificial environments aren't too extensive, art attains to its greatest peaks. But as soon as this ideal is threatened and eventually supplanted by the diabolic ideal ... with its priority on intellect, reason, technological advance, science, etc., art inevitably declines, being in legion with the soul. As we have seen in recent decades, it can decline to a very low level. But it cannot disappear altogether, for the simple reason that nature and the divine ideal cannot completely disappear, even in the most materialistic of societies. No matter how ugly a given painting may be, it is still art if it remains loyal to the natural foundations upon which true art is built. Inferior art it may well be, but in an age which is hostile to the arts, where inferior art is the best that can be expected, it is still preferable to both anti-art and the prospect of no art at all.
Concerning anti-art, there are, I believe, fundamentally two main kinds. Firstly, there is the kind of production which, in turning its back on the natural concerns of genuine art, seeks to identify with or draw inspiration from the machine, technology, science, urbanization - in sum, from those predominantly artificial factors appertaining the 'the Civilization'. A majority of vorticist and cubist paintings are undoubtedly of this order, reflecting a futile attempt at sex-change, so to speak, on the part of art. But just as a man will cease to be masculine if he undergoes a sex-change, so art ceases to be art when it abandons its legitimate role in support of 'the Culture' and goes over to 'the Civilization'. As far as art is concerned, there can be no question of its identifying with or drawing inspiration (sic) from science and technology! Whatever seeks to do so is anti-art, which is intrinsically inferior to poor art.
Aside from this manifestation of anti-art, however, which has more recently manifested itself in op(tics) and kinetics, there is a second and possibly more prevalent manifestation at large in the Western world, which usually takes the form of anarchy and destruction. Perhaps abstract expressionist paintings are the chief offenders here, though there are undoubtedly a great many expressionist, dadaist, and surrealist works which are equally guilty of making war on art through their practitioners either failing to understand the true nature of art or refusing to accept that art is still possible. In this kind of production, there may be a pleasure in destruction for destruction's sake, with a total disregard for the rules and principles of art carried out in a thoroughly anarchic manner. If art is no longer possible, then one must do one's bit to illustrate this point by making as chaotic a mess of painting as possible. Such, one feels, would be the credo of the purveyors of this second kind of anti-art who, not being genuine artists themselves, doubtless cherish a private satisfaction that circumstances enable them to do what they do without incurring widespread public disdain. Lacking a deep sense of tradition, the anti-artists are all-too-ready, one way or another, to identify themselves with modern times, to turn against art with the kind of atheistic loathing one might expect from a scientist or an industrialist, and to produce works - if such they can be called - which probably appeal to these latter as being largely in accord with their own materialistic mentalities!
Fortunately to say, there are still genuine artists to be found in the world, artists whose work, while not being particularly great by Medieval or Gothic or Rococo standards, is nevertheless preferable to anything the anti-artists might produce. Aware of the artist's function in society, such men continue to grant allegiance to the soul, to the divine ideals inherent in nature. Whatever the styles they have adopted, the soul is portrayed as it is or appears to be in contemporary life, portrayed in the abject condition to which it has been reduced by progressive industrialization and urbanization, and thus portrayed with an underlining implication of despair, dejection, outrage, horror, etc., as the case may be, but never with either defeatism or acquiescence in the status quo! So far as our spiritual/cultural life is concerned, things may never have been worse. But the genuine artist, if he can survive, will not be one to throw in the towel, as it were, and go over to the enemy's camp. If he cannot be the good conscience of the age, the recorder of positive feelings, then he must be its bad conscience and offer the world or the society in which he exists the distorted reflection of its starved and maimed soul in the mirror of his art. And offer it, moreover, in the most accurately reflective of contemporary terms. For any painter who is not also the critic of his age, whether positively, as in the past, or negatively, as in the present, is not really an artist at all, but either a charlatan or a traitor. Now what applies to painters applies no less to writers, sculptors, and musicians, who must serve the cause of the soul in opposition to any mechanistic principles 'the Civilization' may have put in their way.
Admittedly, where many modern works are concerned, particularly in painting, it may be difficult to distinguish genuine artists from sham artists. For the artist is obliged to record such a pitiful state of soul, these days, that his works are often as chaotic and repulsive-looking as those of the anti-artists who set themselves up against him in their glorification of materialism. In extreme cases, the ultimate criterion must rest with the artist himself, who should know whether his work is a reflection of contemporary society or an abdication of art, a criticism, implicit or otherwise, of technological domination or an unabashed acquiescence in it. But, generally, it should be possible for one to form a fair estimate as to which side of the cultural fence a given work is on - whether it is poor art or no art at all, according to the nature of the subject-matter (if any) and the way in which it is treated. Where no criticism of the modern environment is apparent, as mostly transpires to being the case with vorticist, cubist, op, and kinetic works, one can be pretty certain that one is in the realm of anti-art. For the cold, mechanical objectivity and impersonality of such forms betrays an allegiance to the technological age from which they spring, and cannot possibly be equated with genuine art. In terms of fidelity to the soul, even the most hideous or pathetic-looking expressionist painting will be of a superior order of creation to the most intricate and aesthetically-arranged cubist painting, if it corresponds to the artist's anguish of soul in the face of contemporary materialism. Poor art it may be, but at least it will be art, not a double-crossing, self-deceiving identification with contexts inherently inimical to the spirit and thus to art in general, or, as in the case of many less-representational works, an identification with destruction for destruction's sake, or chaos for the sake of chaos, as befits the other kind of anti-art, of which dada is a notable example. If we do not perceive a protest on behalf of the sick soul in an age which has turned against the soul, we do not experience an artist!
That the condition of the soul he is reflecting is unlikely to get better but, on the contrary, to grow still worse, shouldn't prevent him from making his protest or criticism known. Doubtless, he will have to adjust his interpretation of the soul's worsening condition in accordance with the degrees of its worsening, and we shall judge him on the basis of his accuracy in pinpointing those degrees, according to environment, and reflecting our actual state, not underestimating or overestimating it. Irrespective of the fact that he has no option but to produce poor art, the finest artist will continuously be the best diagnostician of the soul, even if, through no fault of his own, he cannot also be the doctor who cures it. If we do not like his diagnosis - and it has to be admitted that a majority of contemporary people certainly don't - then we have no alternative but to accept it, to see it as a legitimate concern of his, and to treat that concern with due respect. The temptation not to do so is, however, very real, particularly since it casts such a poor reflection upon ourselves and is so painful to behold!
We needn't be surprised, therefore, if the genuine artist is becoming an increasingly feared and hated member of society. For his frank portrayal of our sickness is not the most flattering of achievements, and by no means the most conscience-quieting! No wonder that so many industrious citizens should privately - and sometimes publicly - be of the opinion that artists ought to be done away with! Aren't they a luxury we can no longer afford? Aren't they a damn nuisance, what with their ugly and mean creations, their stunted caricatures of upstanding people? What has become of art?
Yes, but why not, rather, what has become of our souls ... that artists should be obliged to portray us in such an ignominious fashion? And what would become of us if we got rid of all artists, all genuine artists, that is, and thereby lost contact with the state of our souls altogether, lost contact, that is to say with a record of the extent of their sickness? Surely it would be a more unfortunate thing to blunder-on in the darkness of our technological preoccupations, without anyone to remind us of the harm we are doing to ourselves, than to have a record of it there right before our eyes, like a bad conscience, pinpointing the extent of our spiritual deprivation! Why don't we give the artist a welcome opportunity to paint less disconcerting and possibly more agreeable paintings, by improving our standard of living, i.e. by reverting to a social environment less detrimental to our souls?
Alas, I think I made it sufficiently clear, in the opening paragraphs of this essay, that such a reversion was out of the question! For we cannot do away with millions of people and pull down thousands of buildings in order to bring nature closer to us, when these people and buildings are an integral part of our current system, our industrialized lifestyles. Yet it is the very fact of our being so cut off from nature which has made for our spiritual sickness - such as it is.
No, social expediency and common decency prohibit any drastic measures aimed at restoring our souls to a healthy condition! We have no alternative, short of suicidal madness, but to accept things for what they are and resign ourselves to living in 'the Civilization', the age of little feeling and great intellect. Thanks to industrial progress the human population of the West was enabled to increase as never before, and, consequently, the cities were obliged to expand as never before, to shut out more and more of the pulsating life of natural phenomena, thereby confronting the bulk of their inhabitants with the urban sterility to which we have grown so painfully accustomed. No wonder that our souls began to atrophy and our minds to become increasingly atheistic! Isn't it perfectly logical, perfectly inevitable? Imprisoned in our concrete hells, we could no longer feel God, no longer relate to natural phenomena. We had no option but to adjust to an inferior lifestyle, to resign ourselves to the death-in-life which our sterile environments were imposing upon us, and put our trust in the future of the machine. Abandoning God, we entered 'the Civilization', as upon an epoch of Hell, a few to become disillusioned by the course of events, many to fall victim to the great liberal delusion of universal progress and enlightenment.
Progress? Yes, technological advancement there certainly was and, needless to say, continues to be. But personal spiritual improvement? Not a hope! We progressively reduced ourselves to our current state of enfeebled feeling and tyrannous intellect, and called the result enlightenment, an emancipation from the soul, a kind of liberation from life. And so, having starved our souls of natural phenomena and maimed them amidst all the artificial phenomena which we either chose or were obliged to impose upon them, we managed to get along without religion. For religion is an acknowledgement of life, more specifically the life of the soul, and when one no longer lives but merely exists in existential lunacy - ah! then there is no point in religion, is there?
No, none at all! Though we needn't be surprised or offended if there are still priests of one sort or another to be found amongst us, men who, like genuine artists, are there to remind us that we still have souls, if rather maimed ones, and will doubtless continue to remind us of this fact (even if they cannot do anything to heal them), until such time as our civilization either destroys itself or is destroyed from without. But let us not forget that priests, no less than artists, are representatives of a higher and better kind of life, even if, like artists, they are generally looked down upon in this day and age as nuisances, madmen, and anachronisms. Less soulful they may well be than their more fortunate forebears, who lived in healthier times. But if they are true to their vocation, they will still know that a life governed by the soul is superior to an existence lived in the intellect. For, as Christ said: "What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?"
I believe that we are in a better position to appreciate the value of such a rhetorical question now than ever before, since we have first-hand evidence of what it means to exist in a world inimical to life. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, with its invocation to "become hard", may well be the leading testament of 'the Civilization', but it is somewhat inferior, in essence, to the leading testament of 'the Culture', which circumstances have largely obliged us to ignore. We have indeed become hard, even harder than the negative theologian who invoked us to could have imagined or would probably have wanted. But in the cyclical development of life, which Nietzsche himself endorsed, it is perhaps to be hoped that, if humanity can survive any future catastrophe which science or technology may have in store for it, a time will come when we shall become, if not exactly soft, then at least well-balanced again, when people will know what it means to live on the higher plane of their souls in close contact with nature, rather than on the lower plane of their intellects in close contact with all the life-denying forces of the big city. In the meantime, we can only persevere with our condition and at least try to get our facts straight. A knowledge of our plight is better than an ignorance of it, no matter how seemingly hopeless things may now appear.
THE FALL OF LOVE
Despite all the romantic poetry, romances, and love songs which our cultural past has bequeathed to us, we live in an age when love, signifying a strong and lasting emotional attachment to someone, has virtually become a thing of contempt, an outworn sentimentality that, so we believe, only the most foolish or backward of people can be expected to take seriously. It is almost as though anyone who does manage to fall in love with another person should be secretly ashamed of the fact, just as he should be secretly ashamed of himself if he undergoes a conversion to Christianity and thereupon discovers the reality of faith. Somehow he is living against the grain of the age, which has declared emotional love to be an anachronism and supplanted it with free love - the backbone of our ostensibly promiscuous society. And yet, strange as it may seem, people do still fall in love and remain loyal to a given person over a lengthy period of time, even though the age may effectively disapprove of the fact and flaunt its promiscuity. Love, despite the derogatory connotations heaped upon it by the liberated practitioners of free love, continues to manifest itself in varying intensities, and even its critics aren't wholly immune to its influence. Free lovers can become bound, just as bound lovers can eventually become free.
But why, one may ask, has love recently become so suspect, so quaint and contemptible? Surely an experience which, if all goes well, cannot be bettered in the here and now, is its own justification? Even if it doesn't compare with that eternal, impersonal love appertaining to the higher mystical state, who, having experienced it, could possibly deny its legitimacy? Isn't it a manifestation of divinity on earth translated, as it were, into temporal terms, a physical parallel to that ultimate spiritual love which, in any case, only a comparatively small minority of people are ever fortunate enough to experience? So why should one look down on it as upon something reprehensible, something to be avoided? Why indeed?
I suspect the answer to this question could be traced to the nature of our modern industrialized society, with its priority on intellect, cold rationality, business efficiency, scientific rigour, and all those other materialistic factors peculiar to a very technology-dominated, urbanized lifestyle. Having abandoned the soul-based world in close and regular contact with nature for our technological advances in large cities, we inevitably turned against the emotional life, indeed were forced to turn against it by our environmental transformations, and thus came to regard love as a hindrance or threat to our mounting intellectual bias, a powerful spokesman, as it were, for the life of the soul which we had abandoned and could no longer take seriously. Tending increasingly in the anti-natural direction of modern life, which puts an ever-stronger intellectual clamp upon our emotions, we see love as an unpleasant reminder of that other life from which we are in the process of escaping, a life centred on and governed by the soul rather than the intellect, and are consequently inclined to denounce it. Not all of us, of course! But, still, a great number, perhaps the majority who, consciously or unconsciously, relate to the general mechanistic tendency of the age.
Yet love, whether or not we endorse it, remains a fact of life, and nothing we can do to strengthen our intellectual stranglehold on life can entirely eradicate it. Deep down we don't really want to eradicate it anyway, for our essential being knows well enough that there is nothing to compare with it in the here and now, and how wonderful an experience it can be to really love someone with "all our heart", even when we are victims of the head. But, superficially, in terms of the intellect and what we are doing to ourselves and what contemporary society is doing to us, we are ranged against it, as against a powerful adversary who may usurp the domain of our rational control. For the past two-hundred years the intellect has been steadily gaining control over us, becoming increasingly powerful and autocratic. It has not, however, succeeded in becoming the complete autocrat, nor, unfortunate exceptions notwithstanding, is it ever likely to. But its progress in that direction is by no means insignificant, and what it has achieved it shows no intentions of relinquishing. Goaded-on by our industrialized society, it is now more powerful than ever before and accordingly much less inclined to tolerate competition from the soul.
A very notable example of the modern fear of the soul is afforded by Arthur Koestler's suggestion, in Janus - A Summing Up, that science should develop a special pill which will correct what he alleges to be an imbalance between the old and new brains, thus providing the intellect with greater power over the emotions. Apparently, the ostensible lack of proper co-ordination between the two brains signifies a biological mistake that should be rectified if man is to survive, since, so the argument runs, the emotional-bound old brain is responsible for most of our irrationally destructive tendencies, not the least of which is war. In light of my own argument, however, one might question the assumption that the old brain is still as powerful - and therefore problematic - as formerly. For the very suggestion put forward by Koestler would seem to betray an allegiance to the mounting imbalance in favour of the intellect, rather than constitute a valid objection to emotional tyranny. If we need to fear or curb anything, it is surely the growing power of the intellect! For it is primarily this part of our "divided house", to cite Koestler, that is responsible for the sophisticated weapons of mass-destruction now at our disposal.
The intellect wants to be the boss, but it fully realizes that when love enters the soul it ceases to be the boss, since love is more powerful than reason and soon dethrones it from its false position. Love unequivocally reasserts the sovereignty of the soul over the brain, the essential spirituality of life, and this it is loathe to accept. For contemporary society is geared to technological advancement, and for this it requires brain rather than heart, intellect rather than soul.
Thus love, when it comes, is a subversive threat to that society, being in direct opposition to the materialistic principles for which it stands. Love pulls in the opposite direction to intellect, back towards the soul, towards religion, art, nature, and everything else we have abandoned for what Spengler calls 'the Civilization', the modern materialistic epoch par excellence. Love belongs to 'the Culture', is the essence of 'the Culture', and therefore cannot find favour with 'the Civilization', which has set itself up against all that is natural and soulful. When love enters our hearts it does so stealthily, like a thief in the night, come to rob us of our prize possession - the intellect. What to cultural people would have signified a gain, a further increase in spiritual richness, is seen by us as a loss, a return to antiquated circumstances. And yet, in objectively non-historical terms, it is still very much a gain, the best temporal experience that can ever befall us, even if our intellects, our cocksure minds, persist in opinions to the contrary. As victims of the intellect-over-soul perversion our industrialized society has inflicted upon us, we have little alternative but to view such an experience back-to-front, upside down, and inside out. Yet, for all that, the experience remains essentially what it always was - a temporal manifestation of the eternal fact of Divine Love, a nourishment imperative to the life of the soul, and therefore not something detrimental to our individual wellbeing.
But how many people genuinely experience true love these days? How many people fall deeply in love with someone? Is it not evident that a majority of people, accustomed to the soul-denying conditions and routines of city life, either experience love in moderation, which is to say, in a weakened guise, or not at all? Is it not evident that the maimed and stultified condition to which we have reduced our souls through confinement in artificial environments has generally robbed us of our ability to love, our desire to love? For true love must have the right environment in which to flower. It must be cultivated like a rare and delicate plant, nourished in the right soil. It cannot grow in an infertile soil, one deprived of proper, regular, and sufficient nourishment. But if our souls, as the soil of love, are not only insufficiently nourished but maimed and poisoned, moreover, by the artificial environments in which we are obliged to live, how can they be expected to produce a passion worthy of the name love, which will endure for years with an intensity beyond mere infatuation?
Accustomed to what is imposed upon them, our souls are unable to produce that flower of flowers which, in temporal terms, is their chief justification for being, but are reduced, instead, to the arid production of weedy sentiments, silly infatuations, and empty pleasures which quickly bore or exasperate us. No wonder, then, that love becomes increasingly suspect, and the tributes paid to it by sensitive poets, novelists, and musicians of the past appear to us as gross exaggerations of romantic sensibility! How can one know what real love is with a sick soul, a soil (to return to our horticultural analogue) in which only emotional weeds and thistles can grow? How, then, can one be expected to take love seriously? Away with all this nonsense about the nobility and purity of love! Down with all those sentimental fools who mistake their weeds for flowers! Let us make do with free love, for at least that can be indulged in without sentimentality, without the consent of the soul, and, no less importantly, without emotional attachments! Who needs strings now that everyone can be free to live and work as he pleases? Away with all emotional attachments!
Thus speaks the voice of 'the Civilization', in which the intellect parades its victory over the soul in the guise of spiritual freedom. Love, religion, art, nature: these are no longer relevant, no longer meaningful. Only their substitutes will now suffice, of which sex is the most important. Sex is love without a soul, and love without a soul is free love - in a word, 'fucking' or 'bonking'. Bodies are there to be exploited, and the more bodies one exploits, or 'fucks', the freer one becomes. So one had better set to work as quickly and ruthlessly as possible! Eventually one may become so free that one can dispense with bodies altogether and either depend on what is left of one's imagination or, failing that, utilize pornography instead. And after that, well, why do anything at all? The truly free being ceases to live. He becomes a machine.
Yes, unfortunately, the modern definition of freedom does indeed point in that existential direction. For the more we turn against the soul in our preoccupation with the intellect, the more we abuse it in our technologically-dominated urban society, the more do we come, in consequence, to resemble the machines which are not so much our salvation as our undoing as human beings! (In this respect we needn't be surprised if it transpires that never before have people had such a capacity for or ability to tolerate solitude as today. For true friendship depends on the workings of a properly-nourished soul, and the more the soul is starved and maimed, the less need we have of friends. Our predilection for solitude is largely a consequence of this mechanistic condition.) We make love like a machine, like a mechanism that has been programmed to do a certain thing but to do it without any feelings, including feelings for the other person. Mechanical sex comes to replace love sex, and the latter is looked down upon as something for which an enlightened, emancipated humanity has no need. One travels a lot faster without it. Indeed, one needs to travel a lot faster because the loss of emotional commitment has to be compensated for by a greater physical commitment, by a more frequent, violent, and varied physical commitment to offset the tedium, as far as possible, that sex without love inevitably entails. It is the example of Van Norden in Tropic of Cancer rather than Mellors in Lady Chatterley's Lover which the industrialized world must follow, accustomed as it is to the domination of the machine. And sex must not only be indulged in as often as possible but, under the prevailing circumstances of our inability to experience genuine love, be rendered as exciting as possible, which is where recourse to all manner of sexual stimulants, aids, aphrodisiacs, perversions, and fetishistic accoutrements comes in; though no amount or combination of them can ultimately compensate, it seems, for the loss of spiritual content which has made them necessary in the first place!
Alas, even with the most up-to-date and erotic of sexual paraphernalia, mechanical sex remains a very inferior affair to love sex, and will doubtless continue to remain such, no matter what people endeavour to do to make it less so! Deprived of the emotional raison d'être which both enhances and ennobles sex, there will simply be more and more chaos, sterility, and absurdity in the sex lives of a majority of modern people who, having lost vital contact with their souls, are reduced to the level of beasts, to the level, one might say, of automata.
No wonder, therefore, that marriage becomes an increasingly meaningless institution for so many of them. For what is marriage, after all, if not a testimony to the bond of love which has sprung-up between two people and made them desirous of living harmoniously together and of propagating their kind? There can be no doubt as to the validity of marriage when the souls of the couple concerned are alive and well, and nourished on the most intense passion known to man. For how could either of the lovers possibly tolerate being estranged from each other, or tolerate the intervention of a third party into their sex lives? "What God has joined together, let no man pull asunder" reads the matrimonial injunction. Yes, but where true love is concerned, how could any man or woman not party to that love really be expected to pull it asunder? True love is its own master, against which external physical forces are doomed to labour in vain, if labour they dare. It testifies to the sovereignty of soul over matter, a sovereignty which will remain unimpaired no matter how many other people the lovers may come into contact with or, no less significantly, how many miles should separate them. Admittedly, if and when it subsequently wanes, there is perhaps a slender chance that the hitherto inseparable recipients of its bounty may be exposed to the temptation of infidelity or even of divorce. But whilst it remains at full-strength, so to speak, there is next to no possibility of this happening. Indeed, its duration should cover the period of time sufficient for the propagation and rearing of offspring, after which there is no real need for its continuation in the same form or degree, and no real need for the establishment of other sexual relationships either. For sex, after all, centres around the propagation of offspring, a duty which should use up a man's best years and take care of his sexual needs while they are at their strongest, which is compatible with the intensity of his love and the virility of his physique. After this time has elapsed, sex becomes progressively less important, less meaningful, and less wholesome, so that the formation of other sexual relationships is rendered unnecessary, if not downright ridiculous!
Such, at any rate, is how matters stand between people who have known true love and found it sufficient unto their needs. Strictly speaking, there is no substitute for it, and the chances of one's experiencing it more than once or twice in life are, frankly, pretty slim. It isn't a phenomenon that is here today and gone tomorrow, a brief interlude in one's life that may be sloughed off at will. On the contrary, it is a very deep and lasting experience which cannot be replaced or repeated on a regular basis. One either loves deeply or not at all. For how can an experience which is intended to lead to propagation and the rearing of offspring possibly be shallow? How can one enter into the difficult and responsible task of rearing a family on any but the deepest, most solid foundations? Is not love the very justification for the production of offspring, the divinely-inspired mediator which guarantees the couple concerned that whatever they produce has been sanctioned and authenticated by its presence? How, therefore, can one hope to produce anything worthwhile without the sanction of this mediator from 'On High'?
Truly, there can be few greater misfortunes than to be born to parents who were not in love with each other! For how could the child of such parents be legitimate, legitimate in the profoundest sense of the word? Even a child born out-of-wedlock would, I contend, be relatively authentic if the couple responsible were deeply and genuinely in love. He might be technically a bastard on the strength of his progenitors' unlawful relationship, but he would still be more fortunate than a child born to a married couple who were no longer or had never really been in love, and therefore weren't strictly justified in producing offspring. Whatever the physical strength or intelligence of a person brought into this life 'illegitimately', in the absence of love, there can be little doubt that he will be a freak of nature who is likely to cause more trouble in the world than anyone sanctioned by love. He may not be a spastic or a victim of mental retardation, but he will certainly be unfortunate by comparison with those whom God or nature or true love, as you prefer, has provided with an authentic soul. Perhaps it is simply this fact that distinguishes the children of light from the children of perdition, of which the world is always composed in varying degrees? Whether one is of God's or the Devil's party in life would seem to be determined from the moment of conception, whether the egg of a future child was fertilized through love or lust, soul or flesh. Thus no amount of careful nurturing subsequent to this moment could really transform the fundamental nature of the 'illegitimate' child's soul, which would remain fundamentally what it had been fashioned as throughout the remaining years of his childhood and into adulthood. For children inherit either the graces or the sins of their parents, and the way they are brought up is likely to reflect this fact. Consequently, the victim of loveless parents is unlikely, in any case, to receive the most loving of upbringings.
But any loving upbringing, even one conducted in the humblest of circumstances, would be preferable to one in which love had not played a part, no matter how wealthy the parents may happen to be. There is no substitute for genuine love, and, as such, there is no real justification for loving couples deciding to postpone a family commitment until they can 'afford' it. Unless they are without any means of support whatsoever, they should take advantage of their feelings for each other while those feelings are at their peak, and thus produce offspring in accordance with nature's prompting. For what is the point of being in love with another person if one is not intending to start a family? One doesn't fall in love simply for the sake of love. And any procrastination of procreation is not only the thief of valuable time, it is a base concession to materialism, to the opinion that children should only be brought into the world at the dictates of the pocket rather than of the heart. Procrastinate too long - if procrastinate one can - and the strength of one's love may be reduced in intensity to a very mediocre level, may even disappear altogether, so that one might subsequently be obliged to propagate in cold blood, as it were, in a context not altogether conducive to the formation of legitimate offspring. For those who are in love but do not take full advantage of it to start a family are inevitably their own worst enemies. The consequences of their procrastination will be visited, if they subsequently decide to propagate, on their offspring and, through their offspring, on them personally.
But perhaps I have said enough about the role of love in relation to happily-married 'traditional' couples to permit me to return from the conventionally idealistic platform upon which I have stood, during the last few paragraphs, to one closer to the decadent realities of the present, with its lack of genuine love and consequent breakdown of marriage. Ideally, then, one falls in love at the best possible time in one's life in order to get married and have children. There is little need, as a rule, for divorce, because the love is so intense that it keeps the couple together, even after it has waned and their children grown up. Love fulfils a necessary function in maintaining the survival of the kind on as legitimate a basis as possible. One is not properly mated until one is in love. So far so good! We shouldn't quibble with the laws of nature, which testify to the workings of a higher mind. They were not put there as a punishment but, rather, as an aid to our spiritual wellbeing.
However, even in times more conducive to our essential wellbeing, it has to be admitted that many people weren't able to take full advantage of them. Falling in love with someone isn't guaranteed simply because one lives in close contact with nature. One has to be fortunate enough to meet someone with whom it is possible to fall in love, with whom the formation of a life-long relationship is desirable. Obviously, many people don't have that good fortune and therefore have to settle for something less, for a relatively loveless and predominantly sexual relationship such as would more likely result in the propagation of 'illegitimate' offspring and the continuation, thereby, of unhealthy souls. Judging by the God-bound nature of our past culture, however, we may suppose that such 'illegitimate' offspring were formerly rather more the exception than the rule. For it seems that love and marriage were taken more seriously in the past than at present, because the soul of Western man, being in regular contact with nature, was in a much stronger position to experience true love then than now. Consequently, such love flourished and marriage was upheld as a sacred gift, not to be treated flippantly or regarded as an unnecessary imposition. Once the bond of love was formed, it had to be honoured. There could be no question of divorce.
But, subsequently, with the development of the industrialized society he inherited from the nineteenth century, Western man's capacity for love began to wane, in consequence of which the role and importance of marriage became questionable, and the institution of the family duly threatened. Cut off from nature, his soul grew progressively weaker as his intellect mounted in strength, imposing on his value-judgements an entirely new attitude to love and marriage, an attitude which we are only too familiar with in light of our cultural decline. For marriage rests on the bond of love, and where that bond is weak or, worse still, virtually non-existent, it ceases to have any real significance. Hence it must be disposed of, though not all at once. There are stages to everything, and the disintegration of marriage is no exception. The restriction to small families, say, one or two children, is a good beginning and leads, via extramarital infidelities, to divorce of an ever more frequent order, culminating, one can only suppose, in the demise of marriage altogether and a return to pre-cultural patterns of free love, or sexual relations akin to those of our very distant, savage forebears. For a return to barbarism is the only possibility in store for a declining civilization, and we are rapidly heading in that direction. Fortunately, we haven't yet entirely disposed of marriage. One still finds people who aren't completely destitute of love or the desire to have and raise children. But it has to be admitted that, under the circumstances of our diminishing capacity for love, the number of successful marriages are steadily declining in proportion to the number of unsuccessful ones.
Indeed, it would seem that we have now arrived at a point essentially the reverse of the cultural norm. For if the propagation of 'illegitimate' children, in the rather paradoxical sense in which I am here employing that term, was the exception in those centuries when Western man could love deeply and lastingly, it has now become the rule, as more and more children are brought into this world through parents who were unable to love each other or to love each other sufficiently deeply to keep their marriage together. The relative ease and frequency with which so many modern marriages break up testifies to this tragic fact all too poignantly, and goes some way towards explaining why the world is becoming an increasingly meaningless and even hateful place in which to live. For the children of light, the children whose souls were legitimized by the presence of true love in their parents, are growing fewer and fewer as the parental incapacity to love grows ever more firmly entrenched under the domination of our technological society, which continues to develop along lines inherently inimical to the soul. Small wonder that each generation tends to be more violent, callous, and destructive than the previous one! That vandalism and juvenile delinquency continue to mount! How could it be otherwise, when love is becoming such a rare commodity, when the soul has been maimed to such a deplorable extent, that all but a minority of parents are incapable of achieving love and thus passing it on to their children? Alas, our age is so tragic that we don't even comprehend the real nature or extent of its tragedy! If we are not gulled by it, like most of the liberal intelligentsia, we're more inclined to criticize and condemn it, to point out the absurdity or fundamental evil of so many of the anti-social activities in which various people regularly indulge, such as rape, vandalism, drug abuse, mugging, theft, etc., in a spirit which would suggest that such activities could be done away with, if only the people concerned would change their ways for the better.
Alas, if only they could! If only it were possible for people to transcend the materialistic influence of the environments which have imposed such absurd or evil activities upon them, and thereupon revert to lifestyles and principles akin to those of their more fortunate ancestors! Yes, if only! But, unfortunately, it isn't possible, as anyone with any real intelligence must inevitably realize. It isn't possible to discount the detrimental influence of our industrialized and urbanized society on the health or strength of the soul, and accordingly expect people to behave in a more soulful and, hence, responsible manner, clearly able to distinguish right from wrong. It isn't possible for people who were put into this world without genuine love to behave other than in the callous way they do. We must bear the consequences of what we have brought upon ourselves, and the spiritual consequences of large-scale severance from nature can be nothing if not extremely grave.
Liars, fools, and hypocrites will doubtless have their own opinions about this. But they are hardly opinions which anyone with the slightest degree of moral integrity need be expected to take seriously. The truth of modern life may not be very flattering to our egos, but it is no less of a truth for all that! For, knowingly or unknowingly, we live in an age which worships sterility, which has turned its back on the life of the soul in the name of the love-denying, soul-destroying forces of the city, and there is little we can now do to reverse the mechanistic trend of 'the Civilization', to revert to Spengler again. Love may not be completely dead but it is sadly on the wane, not, except in rare cases, entering our souls with anything like the same intensity as it did in the heyday, as it were, of 'the Culture'.
Thus arises the modern tendency to free love, to sexual promiscuity rather than emotional fidelity. And thus arises, too, most of the sexual perversions of which our age is rife, including the widespread use of pornography. For what is pornography but another indication of the triumph of the intellect over the soul, the brain over the heart, the mind over the spirit? The intellectualization of sex, against which the soulfully-oriented D.H. Lawrence wrote so vehemently, is nothing more than a consequence of our technologically-dominated age, in which the intellect continues to grow stronger at the expense of the soul and thereby, to cite Nietzsche, "revaluate all values". Needless to say, sex should not be a thing of the mind. But under the prevailing circumstances of our mind-dominated civilization, one cannot be surprised if it should increasingly become so. And neither, curiously, can one be surprised if pornography should paradoxically indicate the triumph of the body over the soul. For the voyeuristic contemplation of photographs of nude bodies necessarily rules out soulful commitment, and simply testifies to Western man's growing allegiance to the merely physical aspect of things. Like the practitioner of free love, the porno enthusiast can indulge himself in one body after another, one photograph after another of different models, because there is no emotional commitment, and therefore no lasting fidelity to any given female. Unfortunately, so long as Western society continues to pursue its technological and industrial bent, there is unlikely to be a decrease in mind-oriented attitudes to sex. On the contrary, we can only expect a rapidly growing allegiance to this further manifestation of anti-soulfulness, which also manifests itself in sex films, wherein the never-ending routines of mechanistic copulation continue to hypnotize millions of sex-crazed eyes and to fill millions of vacuous minds with lurid images of sexual depravity. If this is yet another example of free love, then it is the freest Western man has thus far evolved for himself - free love at a voyeuristic distance!
But there is, it must be admitted, a more radical manifestation of the triumph of the intellect over the soul currently in progress in the world which, if it catches on (as there seems to be every chance of its doing), will doubtless hasten our downfall and bring about the total destruction of morality, or fidelity, in other words, to the preordained natural order of things. I am referring to the idea, commonly associated with the latest eugenic developments, of deposits of sperm - previously stored in deep-freeze 'sperm banks' - from males with allegedly high I.Qs. being introduced into the wombs of suitable females via artificial insemination, with the express intention of producing a 'master race' of technological geniuses. If both the donor and recipient are highly intelligent, then the offspring of such a procedure should, so the argument runs, also be highly intelligent, and consequently better equipped to aid the nation or cause or whatever in its struggles against political, scientific, religious, or other external threats.
Yes, we can see the intellectual side of this argument plainly enough. For it usually transpires that parents with high I.Qs. produce intellectually superior offspring. But what of the spiritual aspect of the thing, the aspect we generally prefer not to consider these days but which still persists, like the dark side of the moon, in existing and exerting an attractive influence, no matter how feeble or perverted, upon us? Isn't it evident that love is the determining factor in deciding the spiritual status of a child - whether it is legitimate or otherwise - and that, without love existing between the parents, there can be little hope for the spiritual authenticity of the child? Is it not therefore evident that this latest eugenic strategy for producing higher intelligences can only result in the propagation of still more 'illegitimate' children, and children, moreover, whose spiritual illegitimacy will be even more radical, if anything, than those who are currently the victims of 'conventionally' loveless parents, given the enhanced impersonality coupled to higher intelligence?
Truly, one shudders for the future of humanity, a future in which an ever-increasing number of moral cretins will be let loose upon the world to further the Devil's cause in opposition to the spiritual needs of mankind! For how can a woman who elects to accept a donor's sperm in such an impersonal manner possibly be expected to experience love for him, on the basis of the scant information conveyed to her? And how can the donor be expected to feel love for the recipient, whom he may never even have seen, let alone met? If we are given sufficient reason to feel concern over the growing difficulty which couples who live together generally have in experiencing genuine love for each other, how much greater reason do we have to feel concern over a strategy of propagation which takes this problem one stage further away from the individual and endows it with a collective impersonality one stage closer to the cold, mechanical aridity of Brave New World! Does it not seem that Huxley's nightmare vision of the future is becoming more of a reality every day, especially now that methods of artificial mating are being taken so seriously in some quarters?
Alas, there would seem to be little we can do to alter the direction in which we are heading! For we cannot now return to the centuries of soulfulness in which love and marriage flourished. Shut out from nature in our giant cities, we can only press-on in the dismal course originally set for us by the Industrial Revolution and accept the destruction of traditional values as an inevitability. But we need not pretend that sex-for-sex's sake or free love or pornography or 'sperm banks' or any of the other destructive aspects of modern life which now confront us in ever-more brazen guises mark an improvement on those traditional values which 'the Civilization' is denying us. On the contrary, if we are perfectly honest with ourselves, and courageous enough to face-up to the truth of the situation, we will know only too well that true love cannot be bettered, and that it is a real tragedy of our time that, unable to experience such love properly, so many of us should be obliged to regard it with superficial disdain.