A VISIT TO HELL
Copyright © 1979-2010 John O'Loughlin
1. The Aesthetica
2. Hanley's Concept
3. A Literary Trinity
4. A Visit to Hell
5. The Reckoning
6. Occupational Species.
7. The Christian Compromise
8. An Extraordinary Rumour
It was with mixed feelings that Francis Daly shook hands with several of the members of the club to which Miss June Faye had introduced him. Although he was relieved to have surmounted the initial hurdle of arriving at the club, he was less than certain that his arrival had really been appreciated, since it appeared to coincide with the hasty departure of someone else. Yet even if the angry-looking man who had pushed his way through the crowded room towards the exit at the very moment when the young writer first entered it was the real source of embarrassment on the faces of those for whom Francis' arrival necessitated a formal handshake, one could hardly feel proud of oneself for having arrived at such a seemingly inopportune moment! The embarrassment was there for all to see, particularly the newcomer, who did his best not to appear offended.
"Well!" sighed Miss Faye as soon as the formal handshakes had been courteously dispatched and his hand could return to its customary position of solitary confinement within his trouser pocket, "I do hope you'll get to like it here."
This statement struck
Francis as slightly out-of-context with what he had just experienced
gentleman that he was, he lost no time in
benevolent hostess that he would. More,
he stretched his politeness to the well-nigh absurd extent of informing
honoured he felt to have been elected a member of such a prestigious
club. Was there a more exclusive
However, Miss Faye, ever the presiding genius of the place, was not one to allow matters to stagnate and, before the young writer could say anything further by way of assuring her how honoured he felt to be there, she had taken him in tow, as it were, and was showing him around the premises, taking especial care to point out the paintings and/or enlarged photographs of the various aesthetes whom the club had chosen to honour.... Not that one could have overlooked them! For there wasn't a wall in the room, nor in any of the other main rooms of the club, which hadn't been taken over by portraits of famous aesthetes of one persuasion or another! But as much for form's sake as anything else, Miss Faye had no intention of being deprived of her duty in acquainting new members with the exhibits on display, as she proceeded to lead the way past the serried ranks of time-honoured men.
"A most revealing photograph of Baudelaire, don't you think?" she opined, suddenly halting in front of one of the leading 'saints' of her 'church'.
"Indeed," Francis concurred, realizing that he couldn't very well demur or express a contrary view while the author of Les Fleurs du Mal leered down at them from piercing eyes, his gaze almost withering in its ferocious intensity. And his mouth was clamped so tightly shut by the overbearing jaws that one might have supposed him incapable of ever opening it. Not that he ever did, when considered merely as a photograph!
"You won't be surprised that he should have this man as neighbour," Miss Faye remarked, pointing to another of her literary 'saints', this time a well-known photograph of Oscar Wilde in his prime. "He's one of our bona fide aesthetes," she added, staring up admiringly at the well-dressed figure with a large carnation in his lapel, "the majority of our cultural forebears being fringe aesthetes."
"Fringe?" Francis queried, not quite understanding her.
"Yes, writers of quality who were never specifically part of an aesthetic movement," she informed him. "Like Stendhal and Flaubert, for instance."
The young writer smiled his acknowledgement of her statement. No doubt, it explained why there were also paintings or photographs of men like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Coleridge on display. There was something intrinsically aesthetic about the writings of any genuine homme de lettres, and even philosophers of a certain stamp weren't excluded from contributing their share to that ineffable something.
"The most important
qualification for membership of our club, whether the members be dead
is a predilection for certain authors, artists, or musicians who might
be described as kindred spirits," Miss Faye declared, ignoring the
that had erupted from the quivering nostrils of her latest protégé, and
indicating, by a broad sweep of her arm, the contents of an adjacent
wall. It contained large photographs of Aldous Huxley, Hermann Hesse,
A little old man, who was evidently a kindred spirit, glanced up from the crumpled newspaper on his lap and smiled across at Miss Faye through gold-plated teeth. There was something distinctly Wordsworthian about his polished skull, though his face was uniquely his own.
Allow me to introduce our new member," she said, responding to the elderly gentleman's recognition. "Mr Francis Daly, Dr Henry Faye, my father."
"Delighted to meet you," the latter croaked, thrusting out a withered hand for Francis to shake. "Let me congratulate you for having passed our entrance examination with such distinction. It was an extraordinary result for a person of such youth."
Francis blushed faintly, as he withdrew his hand from the arthritic clutches of his latest acquaintance. Such praise, legitimate or not, made him feel distinctly uncomfortable.
"My father is chiefly responsible for setting the questions," Miss Faye revealed, blushing in turn, "as well as for marking the answers. His are the real brains behind 'The Aesthetica'."
The old man chuckled drily. "Not that my daughter is entirely bereft of them," he remarked, casting her a fondly paternal glance. "Although she can be swayed by sentiment from time to time. It's not for nothing that her favourite Flaubert novel happens to be L'Éducation Sentimentale."
"Oh father, don't be such a bore!" Miss Faye protested, dragging Francis by the sleeve in the general direction of a large glass case which broke the monotony of the bookshelves lining the nearest wall. "This is where we house the first editions of various significant works," she informed him in a reverential tone.
'A veritable tabernacle', Francis mused, as he stood before the glass case and perceived a number of worn volumes which time had evidently endowed with additional significance. Amongst them were The Unquiet Grave by Palinurus (alias Cyril Connolly) and The Meaning of Culture by John Cowper Powys. A few of the twenty or so books on display he had never even heard of, much less read.
"I expect you're familiar with most of the titles," Miss Faye commented, briefly scanning the title pages of those volumes approximately on a level with her eyes.
"Indeed I am!" came the confident response from the noviciate of first editions, his face momentarily indicative of pride.
"Over there we house the rest of the first editions in our possession," his hostess declared, pointing to a glass case of identical construction and size to the one in front of which they were still reverentially standing. It was evident that the aesthetic creed required a fair number of testaments.
"Most impressive!" Francis averred by way of a verbal response to the case in question, which appeared to be more copiously stocked, if anything, than the nearer one.
"I'm glad you think so," Miss Faye commented with a graceful smile and, catching hold of his sleeve again, she dragged him past the nearby first editions in the direction of a tall, thin man of moderately handsome appearance, who happened to be thumbing through a book in front of the right-hand rows of bookshelves that lined the wall. "Allow me to introduce you to one of our most brilliant Aldous Huxley scholars," she went on at once.
At their approach, the Huxley scholar looked-up from his literary preoccupations and was duly introduced as Martin Foley.
"So you're the author of 'Trysting Violets'," he remarked, extending a trembling hand in Francis' direction.
"I'm afraid so," the latter admitted, smiling wryly. He so hated to be reminded of the fact!
"How interesting!" Foley exclaimed. There then ensued a verbal pause while they completed their handshake and peered into each other's faces. "Curious, but I had no idea what you looked like actually. Not at all what I'd imagined."
"Really?" Francis responded, feeling slightly puzzled. "I trust my face doesn't make too unfavourable an impression on you."
"Unfavourable? Good God, no! It's just that I had imagined someone older and more academic-looking," Foley confessed.
"Oh, I see! Well, it just goes to show that you can't always tell what an author looks like from his books," Francis declared.
"Indeed not," Foley agreed, nodding sagaciously. "Although you might learn a thing or two about his books from his face! Take my word for it. As soon as you discover that a particular author has an ugly face, avoid his books! They're bound to be just as ugly."
Francis felt vaguely amused. "D'you really think so?" he asked.
"Yes, in a majority of cases," Foley replied. "Ugliness begets ugliness, beauty begets beauty." And he proceeded to lecture both Francis and Miss Faye on the criteria of the Beautiful and one's duty to uphold the cause of beauty in a world increasingly beset by the ugliness of industrial and urban pollution. "'A thing of beauty is a joy forever'," he concluded, recalling the poetry of Keats.
Francis wasn't absolutely sure about that, but he allowed Foley the benefit of a couple of politely affirmative grunts, all the same. It wouldn't do to complicate matters on one's first visit to the club. Even if the world at large was more in tune with ugliness these days, and would have preferred to hear that a thing of ugliness was a woe forever, the fact nevertheless remained that 'The Aesthetica' was a law unto itself, an oasis of beauty in a desert of ugliness, against which it was unwise to rebel.
Meanwhile Miss Faye must have remembered her duty to 'The Aesthetica's' latest member, for she took hold of his sleeve again and began to drag him along past the rows of books that presented their glossy spines to one's admiring gaze and vaguely suggested an army regiment which one was obliged to review in passing. "Such a pleasant chap," she remarked, as soon as Foley was safely out of earshot and reduced to his former preoccupations again. "But dreadfully sententious!"
They had crossed the threshold of the third and ultimate room of the club, a room twice as large as the library and containing twice as many people as the other two rooms put together. At the far end of it was a platform upon which a red-bearded man of medium height and fiery eyes was standing at a table and speaking to an assembly of people in the seven or eight rows of chairs in front of him. At first Francis couldn't understand a word of what was being said. For the man's accent was so unequivocally Scottish and his vocal inflexions so uniquely his own, that one became distracted from the meaning of his words by their mode of presentation, at once beguiling and eccentric!
"This is our lecture room," Miss Faye hastened to inform him in a respectfully subdued tone-of-voice. "We hold lectures here every week, each member of the club being expected to deliver one in due course."
"Oh, really?" gulped Francis, suddenly experiencing a distinct qualm at the prospect of his subsequently having to deliver one, too.
"All good fun, I can assure you!" Miss Faye opined in response to the slight agitation now discernible on her young protégé's face. "And usually most educative!" At which point she led the way towards the back row of upright padded chairs serving the audience, and invited him to take a seat. Above their heads the deep voice of the Scots lecturer continued to weave exotic patterns of sound in the air, though by now it had just about become possible for Francis to discern the drift of their import.
Francis cast a shyly suspicious glance at Miss Faye, who seemed uncritically engrossed in the lecture which this member of the aesthetic cult was severely delivering. To be sure, a lecture on sex wasn't exactly what he had expected to hear when first entering the room, and he was almost embarrassed by it or, more specifically, by the use of certain words which the lecturer had selected. But there was a ring of truth about it all the same, a ring which sufficed to make him prick up his ears again and continue listening.
"... thus we can differentiate between true sex and false sex, the sex that revitalizes and the sex that devitalizes, the former transmitting a positive current and the latter a negative one. Unfortunately it's the false sex that dominates our age, and it's from this, ladies and gentlemen, that a majority of us are now suffering. Too many relationships arise which should never have come about in the first place, too many men and women are locked together without feeling any genuine love or respect for each other, without that sine qua non of true sex. The spirit of Tropic of Cancer prevails over that of Lady Chatterley's Lover, in consequence of which the world becomes an ever more hellish place in which to live. Instead of climaxing simultaneously, couples climax either separately or not at all. And even those who are right for each other, the couples whose simultaneous climax is likely to revitalize rather than devitalize them, even they, ladies and gentlemen, are all too apt, in a majority of cases, to smother the beneficial effects of such a harmonious climax by the debilitating use of condoms and other life-denying contraceptives!"
A number of gasps and sighs suddenly erupted from the throats of various members of the assembled throng. One man shouted "Reactionary rubbish!", and immediately stamped out of the room. Another drew everyone's attention to the fact that AIDS had made the use of certain contraceptives, particularly condoms, virtually de rigueur. But the lecturer was apparently unmoved, for he quickly resumed: "I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, the use of sheath-like contraceptives can be equated with coital masturbation. For the 'orgone' feedback - to use a Reichian expression - which results from a simultaneous climax and provides the revitalizing warmth, or energy, is prevented from taking place by the sheath and accordingly negated."
Renewed gasps and sighs erupted from the assembly, this time more unrestrainedly than before. However, the lecturer was far from impressed, but continued: "And, unfortunately, the pill isn't quite the wonder drug it was once cracked-up to be, since, by upsetting the natural hormone balance, it can cause severe depression and radically affect menstruation."
"Here, here!" a young dark-haired female shouted from the second row.
"In short, ladies and gentlemen, it should be obvious that nature is a sovereign power that won't tolerate being dictated to by a meddlesome humanity. But modern science, that brainchild of the Industrial Revolution, is generally loathe to admit this fact. There are branches of modern science which presuppose an ultimate victory over nature, being considered a means of tricking it out of its traditional hegemony and sovereignty. But whenever one tampers with nature, one pays the price for doing so. Who knows, ladies and gentlemen, but that price could well be the ultimate nemesis of our civilization one of these days, the just retribution of the gods? For the more one tampers with nature, the closer draws that nemesis which is its inevitable consequence!"
Here he paused to let his words sink into the stunned minds in front of him, paused to survey his audience with a stern and almost contemptuous expression. Droplets of sweat glistened on his domed brow and his face was flushed with righteous indignation, like some Old Testament prophet or early Protestant.
"But I have no wish to go into details of the scientific perversions to which our decadent civilization is subject these days," he confessed, briefly consulting his notes, "for they are legion and scarcely to be corrected by mere words. Of course, we can criticize the various attempts man makes to gain an ultimate victory over nature, since the consequences are generally disastrous. But we cannot prevent him from pursuing his folly merely through recourse to reason. We must seek to understand why he has become a victim of this folly in the first place, a policy which may or may not lead to the formulation of a practical solution to his dilemma. Unfortunately, the only practical solution of which I can conceive as a means to overcoming his current plight isn't one that's likely to win widespread approval or support. For his current plight is essentially a consequence of the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent development of heavy industry, inevitably giving rise to the modern metropolis and the extensive urbanization which characterizes our time. In short, a majority of us are so cut-off from nature in our giant cities that we're obliged to act the unenviable part of madmen, which people deprived of regular contact with nature's vitalizing influence sooner or later invariably become. Hence the scientific audacities of our time, the preposterous attempts to overcome nature which are less a hatred of it than a consequence of being so cut-off from it!"
Again gasps and sighs erupted from the throats, now somewhat hoarse, of various members of the audience, some of whom now accused him of being superstitious and ultra-conservative, whilst others simply yelled four-letter expletives at the platform. Even Francis felt a familiar malaise enter him at this point. For he knew, well enough, how detrimental prolonged confinement in any large city could be to the spiritual life, and how one was invariably transformed into a kind of robotic machine only fit, seemingly, for the mechanical routines which an industrial and technological society required.
Unperturbed by the
uproar, however, the bearded Scotsman went on: "And the fact that so
of the human kind are now isolated from the soul-enhancing life of
inevitably means that their sex lives, to return to our principal
more likely to be of the false variety than of the true.
Yes, the fact is that the regeneration of
Gasps and sighs erupted from more throats than on any previous occasion. One man leapt to his feet and shouted "Reactionary bastard!" at the lecturer. Another, unable to take apocalyptic rhetoric in such strong doses, hurried from the room, as though from the proximity of a deadly virus. At his side, Francis noticed that a vague smile had taken possession of Miss Faye's lips, as she apparently stared at the heads of a few of those seated in the front rows. He wondered what her thoughts could be at this moment?
"Yes, ladies and
gentlemen, you find what I have to say somewhat disagreeable," the
fiery-eyed man on the platform pressed on, seemingly unperturbed by the
which his argument had now engendered, "and for that I cannot blame
you. But disagreeable or not, the facts
of contemporary life are there before you, as are the facts of Eternal
the life governed by nature. Now the
latter are somewhat stronger than the former and won't tolerate being
for ever! The longer we persist in our
folly, the worse things will become.
Eventually we shall have no option but to commit mass suicide. For unless we get back to nature - not,
assuredly, in a strictly Rousseauesque
simply in terms of living closer to it - there'll be no alternative. And as matters stand at present, there is
no way back to nature, not, at any rate, for those of us who are
obliged to live
and work in the giant modern cities. We
cannot pull down thousands of buildings and exterminate millions of
the intention of reducing all modern cities to a maximum population of
two- and three-hundred thousand, thus making regular contact with
than a vague possibility. We cannot do
this, for the simple reason that it would be impossible, impossible to
the world-wide network of business associations and reduce
"Of course, we can
continue to use contraceptives, to worship the god of sterility, and do
with our 'accidents' with the aid of abortion.
But we shouldn't thereby consider ourselves especially
beneficiaries of genuinely progressive developments!
On the contrary, our so-called progressive
developments are usually regressive, detrimental makeshifts expedient
crippled humanity, which have been forced upon us by the exigencies of
context. If we've been fooled by liberal
propaganda into thinking the contrary, so much the worse!
Our delusions won't prevent us from remaining
or becoming their victims. Admittedly,
the economic climate of industrial
There was a titter of laughter from a middle-aged lady in the second row, who evidently had the courage to be flippant about the devitalizing influence of modern industrial civilization, whilst a few yards to her right a "Here, here!" broke loose from the young woman who had earlier responded, in an identical fashion, to the lecturer's opinion on the pill.
Meanwhile this latter worthy, having cleared his throat with guttural relish, swallowed some water and briefly scanned the faces of his audience, as though to gather fresh strength from their receptivity, now proceeded with renewed voice: "I hope there'll come a time when men and women will profit from one another more than they do at present, when the true sex of Reich and Lawrence will replace the false sex of the typical city perverts of the age, and humanity will blossom anew in the grace of the living God. That there are people scattered around the world who would seem to be fortunate enough to share in the miracle of creation these days, I don't doubt. For a majority of people, however, the sterile influence of the big city will have to be endured until such time as fate dictates otherwise.... Not being a worldly confidence-trickster, I have no desire to put false hopes into you. I cannot offer you any immediate or short-term solution to your problem, for the simple reason that, short of the ultimate nemesis we previously touched upon, there just isn't one. All I can hope to do is disillusion you with the confidence tricksters, and thus make you more aware of the extent of your plight. In that respect, I believe I have temporarily succeeded."
With a parting bow, dispatched with perfunctory contempt for the small audience which, with few exceptions, had responded to his severe diagnosis of contemporary social ills with such sarcastic derision, he abandoned the table and quickly disappeared through a door to the left of the platform. A general outburst of derisory noise duly erupted from the assembled aesthetes, following his departure.
"Well, what did you think of all that?" Miss Faye inquired of the young man seated beside her.
Francis blushed faintly and half-shrugged his narrow shoulders. "I'm not absolutely sure," he replied, in the teeth of a temptation to say it was a load of scare-mongering cowpiss, "though I suppose there's some truth in what he says."
Miss Faye agreed, nodding. "As one
of our foremost aesthetes, he knows what he's talking about alright!
"Really?" Francis exclaimed with surprise. "But surely such a man wouldn't take so great an interest in sex and nature and all the rest of it?"
"On the contrary," Miss Faye responded, "most of our senior members have little else to take an interest in these days, considering that they're well past the age when beauty, as you or I may understand it, held any real charm for them. They invariably become puffed-up pessimists with an apocalyptic axe to grind." And, getting up from her seat with a sigh of despair, she slowly led the way back towards the library, where her father was still reading that day's paper in Olympian oblivion, seemingly, of the throng of senior and junior aesthetes who filed by on their way to or from each of the other rooms.
It was with some surprise that I responded to Pat Hanley's confession that he had formulated a new concept of God. "You have?" I exclaimed, my memory not recalling any old or previous concept of the Divine which Hanley may have formulated. All I could remember was that at one time, when we were at school together, he had confessed to atheism.
"Yes, Daniel, and a very simple and rational concept it is, too," he boastfully admitted, wiping some tea from the corner of his mouth with a paper napkin. "You see, God, as I conceive of Him, is both body and spirit, like you or me."
"Really?" I impulsively responded, even though I wasn't particularly enthusiastic at the prospect of learning about Hanley's new theological concept in a tea shop! In fact, I wasn't particularly enthusiastic at the prospect of hearing about it at all, ex-priest or not.
"For too long man has been willing to conceive of God in terms of either body or spirit," Hanley averred, his large blue eyes suddenly lighting-up with the enthusiasm he was evidently feeling at the opportunity of revealing his latest spiritual or, rather, religious profundities to someone like me, who might be supposed to appreciate them, even though I no longer dressed like a priest or even felt like one, having exchanged the proverbial 'dog collar' for a tee-shirt quote some time ago. "There have been pantheists who were only too willing to equate God with nature, and spiritualists who were only too willing to equate Him with the Holy Spirit, or some such mystical abstraction like the Clear Light of the Void. But such equations are apt, it seems to me, to be lopsided, giving undue emphasis to one or another of God's manifestations whilst ignoring His entirety, as it were."
"I see," I mumbled while chewing, with bashful self-consciousness, a piece of the most delicious fruit cake it had ever been given me to experience. "And so your concept of God has the unique merit of not being lopsided?" I managed to add, in the teeth of Hanley's impatience to continue.
"Indeed it has," he affirmed with a look of such self-satisfaction on his ruddy face ... that one might be forgiven for having supposed he had just won first prize in a lottery. "For I could no more accept the notion that God was either a body or a spirit than that we were either the one or the other. It just doesn't make sense."
"Perhaps not," I graciously conceded, before washing down the cake in my mouth with a drop of mild tea. But I was still waiting to hear his revelation, or so I imagined.
"What does make sense, however, is that the spirit of God should be identified with the sun, and His body with nature," Hanley averred, beaming across the table at me with eyes that were positively burning with enthusiasm. Was this the revelation, I wondered?
"But surely," I objected, putting down my teacup with an unexpected suddenness, which caused Hanley to jump in his chair, "surely this identification of God with the sun and nature is really one and the same, and amounts to no more than the usual crass paganistic pantheism?"
His visual enthusiasm was by no means weakened by my critical response. Quite the contrary, it appeared to grow stronger, as though its possessor had anticipated such criticism and was only too glad for an opportunity of belittling it, the crafty devil! "Of course, people have included the sun in nature and pantheistically conceived of that totality in terms of God," he impatiently admitted, "but they haven't bothered to distinguish between God's body and spirit, like me. Thus while they may have included the sun in their concept of Him, they haven't specifically equated it with His spirit."
"Are you quite sure of that?" I asked doubtfully.
"Sure?" he echoed incredulously.
I could clearly see, to my bottomless disgust, that he was perfectly sure of it! Nevertheless, still desiring to weaken his enthusiasm, I ventured to suggest that some other people or peoples just might have come to a similar conclusion without his knowing about it. After all, was it likely that Patrick Hanley, one-time correspondent for 'Scientific Briton' and current editor of 'Industrial Technology', another tediously factual periodical, had the privilege of being the first man in the entire history of the human race to know exactly what the true nature of God was? Hadn't Pascal pointed out the impossibility of one's having absolute knowledge of Him? And even if Pascal had been mistaken, which was by no means inconceivable, wasn't this relative concept of God likely to have entered into other people's minds, from time to time, during the long and painful history of established religion? Yes, it appeared that I had found a tiny chink in Hanley's theological armour. For the glare of his enthusiasm quickly faded from his eyes, and they became momentarily less bright.
"Naturally, Daniel, it could well be that a few people or peoples have come to a similar conclusion about the nature of God without my knowing about it," he ruefully conceded, his voice betraying a slight impatience with the gist of my argument. "But, although I can't lay claim to a complete knowledge of the world's religious beliefs, I haven't succeeded in reading of such a conclusion to-date."
"Not even concerning
the traditional beliefs of certain Indian tribes in
"No, and not
concerning the traditional beliefs of the Aztecs either," he rejoined
renewed zest. "The fact that
primitive peoples have equated God with the sun is, of course, well
known. And even in
"And, presumably, you disapprove of both concepts?" I surmised.
"I most certainly do," he affirmed, the beam of his visual enthusiasm having reasserted itself on its previously intense level.
Feeling a shade discouraged, I hastened to compensate myself by sampling another piece of fruit cake. Despite my discouragement, however, the cake tasted as delicious as ever, enabling me to beam back at Hanley my appreciation of its quality. Alas, my beam was still the weaker!
"As I explained to you just now," he rejoined, ignoring my baser enthusiasm, "I cannot abide the concept of a lopsided God. For the idea that His spirit should be considered His entirety seems to me as preposterous as the idea of considering His body such."
"But what makes you so confident that the sun can be equated with His spirit?" I gently objected. "Surely there is just as good a reason for equating it with His body or, for that matter, with both His body and His spirit?" Curiously I felt quite proud of myself for launching such a theological bombardment so shortly after my last humiliation. How would he defend himself against that, I wondered?
"No, absolutely not!" he replied, much to my disappointment. "For the driving-force behind anything can only be equated with its spirit, or will, not with its body. The sun, you see, is a producer of energy. It produces energy through the conversion of hydrogen into helium, and this energy suffices to drive the planets on their paths around it and to engender the life of nature."
"Isn't that rather
Newtonian?" I objected, recalling to mind
Einstein's concept of curved space to the detriment of
"Yes, as far as the
driving of the planets is concerned," he conceded with a wry smile. "But I have great faith in
It was a question that no-one had put to me before, and one I hardly felt competent to answer, even without an awareness of its probably rhetorical nature. Nevertheless it did seem unlikely that the planets of the Solar System would continue to behave in exactly the same fashion if deprived of the sun, and, slightly shamefacedly, I confessed as much to Hanley, seeing that the Solar System presupposed a solar component.
"Where the planets would go without the restraining influence of the sun is anybody's guess," he ironically remarked, much to my annoyance. "Though it seems probable that, if they didn't disintegrate, some other star or stars would claim them in due course! However, speculation aside, the fact of the sun's influence cannot reasonably be denied. Neither, it seems to me, can the fact of other stars' influences in the Galaxy which, because of their cosmic proximity to our own, would seem to exert what one might term a competitive attraction on the planets, and thereby prevent them from being sucked-in to the sun."
"You mean the nearest foreign stars also play a part in determining the nature of planetary orbit around the sun?" I suggested, fairly bewildered by the implications of this notion, which transcended anything I had ever studied on the matter.
"I find it difficult not to assume so," Hanley soberly declared, "seeing that the Galaxy is a unit in which there's evidently a subtle balance of mutually attractive and repellent forces at work, a delicate symbiosis, as it were, where each component has a specific role to play in maintaining the overall equilibrium or integrity of it, and where the absence of various stars and/or planets would surely result in a predictably different arrangement of its components."
"All this takes us a long way from your latest concept of God," I reminded him, helping myself to another piece of fruit cake and staring across the table at Hanley with what I supposed would look like an ironic expression on my face.
"Not that far," he corrected me, beaming brightly. "For science and religion are but two sides of the same coin, a coin centred on man's need to comprehend the nature of total reality, the only difference being that on the heads side, as it were, one looks at such reality literally, whereas on the tails side one looks at it figuratively or symbolically. It's easy to turn a coin from one side to the other, you know, and this one is no exception."
As usual I had to concede that Hanley had a point. The possibility of oscillating between the literal and the figurative interpretations of reality couldn't very well be denied. For the one presupposed the other, the one to a certain extent even depended on the other, and it could be argued that both were equally necessary to the overall integrity of the human spirit. However, it was on the nature of God, or the figurative side of this metaphorical coin of man's need to comprehend total reality, that Hanley had set out to lecture me, and it was accordingly this that I now expected to hear about. Thus I admitted, while chewing yet another piece of delicious fruit cake, that the spirit was a driving force, an energizer upon which the body depended for its motivations.
"Now what applies to the human body applies just as much to God's body," Hanley smilingly affirmed, "a body which manifests itself in the vast panorama of nature, and which depends upon His spirit, the sun - if I may reverse our coin again - to animate it. That human beings, animals, fish, birds, etc., are also a part of His body, or nature, should be sufficiently apparent, since without the light and energy being transmitted to them by His spirit, they would be unable to live. Like the lower components of God's body, viz. plants and vegetables, the higher ones, or autonomous life-forms, develop through successive stages of their being - through youth, maturity, and old age - to die when their spirits return to that greater spirit which is the spirit of God, and upon which their individual spirits depend. Yet autonomous life-forms aren't merely or simply manifestations of God's body, like their companions in the plant and vegetable worlds, but, possessing separate spirits, are also a part of His spirit, and therefore stand closer in essence to the entirety of God than either of His two chief manifestations taken or considered separately. It's first and foremost for man, and then the other creatures in life, that both the spirit of God, as manifested in the sun, and His body, as manifested in nature, primarily exist. Consequently it's God who serves man as a rule, not vice versa! Prayers, you may recall, are always fundamentally of two kinds: either the petitionary or the thanksgiving. In the first case, we ask God to help us, to forgive us, to protect us, to stand by us, etc., whereas, in the second case, we thank Him for what he has done for us, we acknowledge His goodness in answering our petitionary prayers, or we're just grateful that things are running relatively smoothly. In both cases it will be observed that we are addressing a servant, an immensely powerful servant in whose keeping we're fated to pass our days, but a servant nonetheless! Only a small minority of people also serve God, and they're the priests and religious philosophers, the missionaries and evangelists, the monks and nuns, who, besides being served by Him, specifically dedicate their lives to keeping the idea of God, the cause of a figurative interpretation of reality, alive in the world, so that a personal relationship may be presumed upon in the interests of one's spiritual and physical well-being."
"Wouldn't such a cause still remain alive if they weren't there?" I asked, feeling it was about time I said something again.
"Of course it would," he replied, "since the mind requires both the literal and the figurative approaches to reality. But, I ask you, Daniel, how could the professional servants of God not be there? They're a consequence of human reality, not something arbitrarily imposed upon it."
I realized the absurdity of my question and admitted as much to him. Clearly, Hanley's theological edifice, though crassly primitive, wasn't as shaky as I had first imagined. Nevertheless, the idea that God served man still seemed a little strange to me, what with my background of clerical service. But before I could comment on that, he had proceeded to the next part of his revelation.
"As a rule, the works of man serve and glorify man, not God," he maintained, his eyes burning with that intense fiery look again, "because the body and the spirit of God depend upon man's consciousness and are brought together, as it were, in man, made doubly manifest in man, who was, after all, the inventor of God. You cannot therefore expect God, in the forms I've ascribed to Him, to show direct appreciation of, say, Milton's Paradise Lost or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or John Martin's Belchazzar's Feast ... for the simple reason that, literally conceived in terms of the sun and nature, He isn't in a position to appreciate them. You can address a reading to the sun if you so desire, but it's highly unlikely that it will listen, having neither a pair of ears nor a command of the English language!"
"Now you're turning the coin over again, turning it backwards and forwards, as though unappreciative of the advantages of the figurative interpretation of cosmic reality," I reminded him.
"Yes, I fully appreciate that fact," he guiltily conceded. "Though, being a man of both religion and science, you can hardly blame me! However, there's an important lesson to be learnt from this coin, Daniel, a lesson, alas, which too many pantheists have failed to register over the centuries, and it is this: that, contrary to popular belief, God isn't nature, and not because He's also the sun but ..." Hanley hesitated a moment, as though desiring me to continue for him, a thing, however, I had no intention of doing "... because God and nature are two mutually exclusive contexts, the figurative and the literal, and one cannot look at both sides of a coin at once!"
I smiled my appreciation of his logic across the tea table at him, an appreciation tempered by the realization that, for men of our dualistic stamp, it was only too easy to confound the two contexts, even though I was an ex-priest and he a one-time scientist. "God is God," I hastened to assure him, "a being we've invented in order to have someone to whom we can pray, and whose real place is in the mind rather than in the cosmos, where, by contrast, there are only stars and planets and things."
"Yes, or bearing in mind my concept of Him, one might say that God is both the Holy Spirit and the Multiplicity of Organic Matter, or something of the kind," Hanley opined.
In spite of the inherent contradiction in his logic, I marvelled at the thought of it. How was it possible that I had never conceived of the Holy Spirit in terms of a mystical abstraction from the sun before? And even more extraordinarily, how was it possible that Daniel Forde had never bothered to ascribe God a separate body, but had been content merely to equate Him with nature? I poured myself, Hanley declining, another cup of tea and helped myself to a digestive biscuit. Eat digestive biscuits too quickly and you'll get indigestion, my mother used to tell me. I couldn't prevent myself from remembering it now. But no sooner had I given way to and dispatched the trivial ... than the profound returned to my mind in the form of a perplexity concerning Hanley's concept of the body of God, what he had bafflingly termed the 'Multiplicity of Organic Matter'. Taken to include the whole of nature, plants and vegetables alike, it undoubtedly made some sense. But surely, if one was consistent, one would have no option but to include the inorganic as well, to include the planet as a whole, its mineralogical formations: in short, everything that was distinct from the sun. And not only that, one would have to include the rest of the planets in the Solar System as well, the planets and their moons! The body of God, then, could hardly be defined by or described as the 'Multiplicity of Organic Matter', and I hastened to inform Hanley accordingly. But, contrary to my expectations, the old devil's eyes grew brighter, much as though I had merely confirmed him in his own opinion.
"Quite so," he admitted, leaning his elbows on the table and crossing his fingers with the air of a man who was about to reveal something terribly important. "There's no reason why we should limit our concept of God's body to nature, as we generally conceive of it in the world about us. The seas, rocks, bowels of the earth, together with the entire constituents of the other planets in the Solar System, have just as much right to be included in this context. Viewed impartially, there's no reason why each planet, with its unique atmosphere, constitution, size, etc., together with any attendant moon or moons, shouldn't constitute a part of God's overall body. That there are parts of this body which, as in the case of the Earth, are intrinsically superior to other parts of it ... is nothing extraordinary. For are there not parts of our body, like the brain, which are intrinsically superior to other parts of it and which we accordingly regard with more esteem? And yet, in recognizing this, we don't attempt to do away with the less noble or beautiful parts, the stomach, bowels, bladder, etc., because we realize they play an important role in maintaining the body's overall perfection; that by aiding digestion or disposing of waste-matter they enable us to continue gratifying ourselves in the modes of life we most esteem, be they intellectual, emotional, athletic, creative, or whatever. Unless we're somewhat perverse in this matter, as was Dean Swift with regard to the bowels and their function, we accept the lesser parts of the body in the interests of the nobler parts because it suits us to do so. We recognize the underlying logic behind the body's natural hierarchy. Likewise there is no reason, once we agree to the concept of God's body, why we shouldn't do the same with God, and thus see in the nearest and farthest planets to or from the sun - alas, I was unable to prevent myself from reverting to the literal again at the expense of a purely figurative, and hence anthropomorphic, reference-point - the lesser parts of the body upon which the nobler parts, manifesting in the Earth, duly depend."
"You mean, the inhabitable planets are blessed with the function of making life possible on Earth by being what and where they are?" I ventured to speculate, boldly turning my back on the figurative interpretation again.
"Indeed I do," Hanley responded with enthusiasm, a warm smile momentarily illuminating his sagacious countenance. "For I'm quite convinced that if, for example, Mercury didn't exist, this planet would be a lot hotter than it normally is in summer: too hot for even the most sun-hardened Arabs to tolerate for long. Without Mercury, I venture to guess that the Earth would follow Venus in closer to the Sun and enable Mars to take up a planetary position roughly corresponding to the one we're in now, so that, after a number of centuries had elapsed, it would be Mars rather than the Earth which was the life-sustaining planet. As to what might happen with the removal, shall we say, of Pluto, Neptune, or Uranus, I hesitate to guess. But I think we would be fairly justified in assuming that, once again, life on Earth would become an altogether different proposition from what it is currently."
"Somewhat colder I should imagine," I half-heartedly suggested, finishing off the digestive biscuit, most of which was already under the control of my stomach - that drudge-ridden slave of my eating habits - and being methodically digested. Whether the Earth would become a lot hotter or colder, with the hypothetical disappearance of one or more of the 'lesser planets', wasn't something that I need trouble my plebeian stomach about, even if the mental indigestion my noble brain was experiencing in consequence of such an hypothesis might have led me to make the attempt. But, joking aside, I was suddenly made aware of a fact which Hanley's latest concept of God didn't appear to take into account: the fact, namely, of the sun (to return to the spiritual interpretation of Him) being merely relative, not absolute. After all, weren't there a thousand million or so other stars in the Galaxy besides this one and, assuming each of them had a number of planets revolving around it, weren't they equally entitled to being equated with manifestations of God's spirit? Similarly, weren't the hypothetical planets of one kind or another just as entitled to being equated with manifestations of His body? Surely there was more to God than the solar system relative to us? I put this point to Hanley as soon as the remains of my digestive biscuit had been washed down with a mouthful of lukewarm tea.
"Perfectly right," he admitted, smiling approval of my growing commitment to his theme, "all the other stars and hypothetical planets in the Galaxy - as, for that matter, throughout the Universe in general - have a right to be figuratively interpreted in the same manner, though not in terms of monotheism but of polytheism."
"You mean each star in the Universe represents the spiritual part of a separate deity?" I exclaimed, my tone-of-voice betraying a degree of incredulity which took even Hanley by surprise.
"According to the
concept of God that I've already outlined, I most certainly do,
he averred, a reassuring beam of enthusiasm issuing from his large eyes. "You see, the Western concept of God as
'Creator of the Universe' stems from days when next-to-nothing was
the Galaxy - indeed, when next-to-nothing was known about the Solar
and it was possible for man to consider himself at the centre of the
with the Sun revolving around him and other such patent nonsense. There was no reason for him to adopt a cosmic
polytheism under the circumstances of his ignorance, and so, with the
development of Christianity partly from Hebraic sources, he settled for
largely monotheistic approach to God, as practised by the Jews. Well, as you're probably aware, the old
Ptolemaic concept of the Earth's position and importance in the
eventually dispatched by Copernicus, who established something
our current knowledge of the Solar System and made the subsequent
of Kepler and
"Perhaps that was inevitable," I calmly remarked. "After all, the Church is built upon a 'rock', as you say, that cannot be shifted about and radically altered to suit the latest scientific discoveries. It depends on the Bible, and the Bible remains the same no matter what happens. If it didn't, how could it lay claim to truth, and what basis would there be for faith?"
Hanley curtly nodded his large head. "That may well be," he conceded. "But, in light of recent scientific progress, one can hardly be surprised if such enforced inflexibility should prove such a grave stumbling-block in the path of its own salvation. All things have their day, and the Church would seem to be no exception! However, it's not for the upholders of that venerable institution to throw-in the towel, as it were, and capitulate to science, as though there was nothing more to religion than metaphorical fantasy and figurative hype. The mask must be worn for the sake of Christ until such time as it's no longer required, the interpretation you choose to apply to that being your own business."
"I can't help but think in apocalyptic terms myself," I confessed with a wistful smile.
"No, I suppose not," Hanley commented, vaguely smiling in turn.
"Anyway, getting back to what you were saying with regard to your concept of the Divine, it would appear that the Universe is polytheistic, that each hypothetical solar system signifies a different deity," I resumed.
"That's more or less my contention," he agreed, uncrossing his fingers and folding his arms in the manner of one who has just concluded an important address to an attentive gathering. "There's room in my theological concept for both a monotheistic and a polytheistic approach to the figurative interpretation of reality, the monotheistic being more important to us, however, because of greater relevance to this planet."
I knitted my brows in some perplexity.
"In other words," he continued, "it's obvious that the sun - to reverse the coin again - upon which we depend ... is of greater importance to us than are any of the stars upon which, in all probability, beings on other planets elsewhere in the Universe may depend, and consequently it's to the sun that we look for the energy which will sustain us and enable nature to thrive. The sun, then, is the principal creative-force behind all life on Earth, and, because the principal creative-force is always spiritual, it may be equated, through reversing the coin, with the spiritual part of the deity who presides over our solar system. Now whilst I acknowledge the deity appertaining to the world in which I find myself, I also choose to acknowledge the deities who, in all likelihood, appertain to worlds alien to this one, to solar systems which we, as yet, know absolutely nothing about. But in acknowledging them - and we can be pretty certain that the spiritual parts of these numerous gods exist by dint of our awareness of the stars, and can infer from that the likelihood of corresponding material parts - I realize the greater part of my worship must, of necessity, be directed towards our god, since the others are too far away to be of any real importance to me."
"'Our Father Who art in Heaven'," I intoned, recalling to mind that part of the Lord's Prayer which seemed to lend itself to a Hanleyian interpretation, however little the Lord may have had to do with the Father, in the sense of Creator.
"Yes, that smacks of figurative truth," he admitted, beaming brightly. "Although, personally, I'd like to add a prayer beginning: 'Their Fathers Who art in more distant Heavens', or something of the kind, so one could be reminded that, whilst it's perfectly sensible to attach greater importance to 'Our Father', there are other 'Fathers' throughout the Universe who should at least be acknowledged. Thus one would recognize that one's monotheism was relative, not absolute, and that the Absolute, if it existed, was polytheistic, the sum total, in short, of all the gods of the Universe."
In spite of moral misgivings, I had to smile in admiration of Hanley's spiritual integrity, an integrity which appeared to transcend both the religious and scientific establishments. It was indeed refreshing to hear such a concept, to be sitting face-to-face with a man who had actually bothered to think about God, and in such a thought-provoking manner! After all, who or what else could God be when considered in basic terms? Was he a giant man-like Supreme Being Who sat on a throne somewhere in the centre of the Universe and lorded it over His creations, directing the movements of the stars and the revolutions of the planets? Really, a man of Hanley's thoughtful disposition could hardly be expected to stomach that childish nonsense! Or was He a spirit, a kind of magnetic force that swept through the Universe and animated its manifold components? If regarded as distinct from the stars, that seemed rather unlikely. And even in terms of the stars, what about His body? Could one leave the body out of account and imagine that spirit existed for no other purpose than itself! Or was Hanley simply a dupe of the mentality of attributing undue importance to unitary appearances at the expense of disjunctive essences, a crude materialist whose unitary concept of God conveniently exempted one from sin or the responsibility of owning up to it? And God purely as body, as matter? That didn't appear to make much sense either, though perhaps a little more than merely as thought or words!
Yes, the reduction of God to 'the Word' could hardly be expected to inspire the utmost confidence in Him in terms of Creator, since words were a product of thoughts, and thoughts were posterior to Creation and thus a sort of antithesis to dreams, in which Creation was effectively manifest. Thoughts were ideological and dreams religious, like the figurative fantasies usually associated with them. So, really, what was there, apart from an ideological distrust of religion, to prevent one from taking some of Hanley's notions seriously? After all, when you thought literally or scientifically about the Universe, what did you think about? Not God, for one thing, but stars, planets, moons, space, comets, meteors, meteorites, quasars, etc. There wasn't any room for a giant, man-like Supreme Being lording it over things.
Ah, but according to Hanley, there was another side to the coin of man's relationship with the Universe, namely a figurative or religious side, and there, suddenly, one was made aware of God or gods instead of stars or planets. And God, being made in man's image in the Judeo-Christian West, had human characteristics, so that one could talk to him through prayer and hope for a favourable response to one's prayers. He it was who dwelt as a wonderful Being in the Universe and could understand everything, all the languages of the world simultaneously impinging upon His consciousness through prayers, and simultaneously respond in kind as well! Anything could be attributed to God, for He was a grandiose figment of the imagination, and nothing was too fantastic or difficult for this grandiose figment, this figurative extrapolation from some primal star. Conventional religion was a convenient fiction, enabling a man to get down on his knees and offer-up thanks or petitions to that which, in factual reality, would have been incapable of hearing, let alone responding, to them. And whether one preferred to dwell on the literal or the figurative side of the metaphorical coin Hanley had conjured up, as though from a magician's hat, the facts remained the same in either case. The scientists could no more destroy God than the priests could destroy the Solar System. The one side of the coin presupposed the other and, without a figurative side, the probability was that the literal would have lost definition in terms of the 'heads' sanity it apparently signified.
But today, ah! today the scientist's side was uppermost. The metaphorical pendulum of man's spiritual endeavour had swung from acknowledgement of the figurative to acknowledgement of the literal, not exclusively of course (for even in their extremes men are never quite absolutes), but predominantly, and largely at the dictates of an artificial, or urban, environment, with its technological advances. A creature with an approximately equal capacity for both the figurative and the literal approaches to reality had been transformed from one who, under nature's influence, attached greater importance to the former ... to one who, under pressure of the Industrial Revolution and its subsequent extensive ubanization, now attached greater importance to the latter, as was apparent in the world around us. As far as the Zeitgeist was concerned, God was indeed 'dead', though not perhaps in the way some philosophers, including Nietzsche, had imagined, since His death was more figurative than literal, a consequence of the fact that, cut-off in their great cities from real contact with nature, with 'God's body' (as Hanley had metaphorically called it), the majority of people were unable to recognize His spirit, and thus saw only the sun, only the literal, scientific side of the Janus-faced coin of human reference. The figurative interpretation of reality, diverted from its original source, was obliged to seek other outlets less nourishing to the soul, with a consequence that a kind of religious anarchy prevailed which made for widespread spiritual unrest and instability. Clearly, this unfortunate state-of-affairs could not be corrected so long as man persisted in his current materialistic direction.
"Well, Daniel, what d'you think of my concept of God?" Hanley at length asked, the smoke of a cigarette briefly interposing itself between us and causing his gaze to appear less bright.
"Up to a point I quite like it," I confessed, instinctively leaning back in my chair to avoid the encroaching fumes. "But I'm not altogether convinced that God should be defined in terms of both a spirit and a body myself, since if God had a body, the concept of sin would be meaningless and we could indulge the appetites of the flesh with impunity - as, unfortunately, is all too often the case in those societies which uphold a unitary view of divinity. Yet a concept that allows for the possibility of monotheism and polytheism can't be bad, especially when it's mindful of the figurative nature of fundamentalist religion and in no way inclined to imagine that God, or gods, actually exist other than as figments of the imagination originally extrapolated-out from some primal cosmic source which science compels us to regard in literal terms, whether solar or stellar. It would appear that you've established yourself as quite a thoughtful heretic, wouldn't it?"
Hanley smiled his gratified acknowledgement of this observation. "I suppose you could say that," he noddingly replied, "though I've no intention of converting anybody to my viewpoint, believe me! The facts of contemporary life are there before us, and they won't be changed by the opinions of a man like me. If our recent ancestors knocked God from his figurative perch with the factual reality of bricks and steel and glass and concrete, we can't very well expect to put Him back - or back together - in His former position with nothing but words. A society which is sufficiently evolved to be built around man instead of God has no alternative but to look after itself and live out its humanistic destiny in its own fashion."
"To be sure," I agreed unhesitatingly, peering through the coiling smoke of Hanley's cigarette. "By putting himself beyond God, man unconsciously brings about his own salvation, since he is then obliged to put his own house in order, so to speak, and not rely upon any external power or deity to do it for him. Without a figurative crutch to rely on, man must stand on his own two feet and face-up to the trials of life in as factual a manner as possible. Otherwise he'll continue to delude himself with theological panaceas long after they're no longer helpful, because more a hindrance to his self-will than an encouragement of it."
"Right!" cried Hanley, beaming across at me from behind the slowly-evaporating smoke-screen of his smouldering cigarette. "Which goes to show that my concept of God, although well-intentioned, can hardly be regarded as a valid contribution to the edifice of applied theology, since priests depend upon the figurative no less than scientists upon the literal, and cannot assert that there is a dual-sided coin, much less that it is reversible. For God isn't nature or the sun, the reason being that you can't look at both sides of a coin simultaneously. On the contrary, God is simply ..."
"A figurative myth relevant to religion," I impatiently interposed, tired of going over the same old ground and getting bogged down in the same sterile contradictions. "If we've learnt anything worthwhile from our little discussion this afternoon, it should be that God cannot be explained in terms of science but only in terms of religion, and that your concept of Him is therefore a hybrid unworthy of both!"
As might be expected, Hanley sighed and said nothing, which was just as well, since I'd had enough of God and concepts for one day! More than enough, too, of simple materialists whose unitary deity was as gross a delusion as any that a person susceptible to figurative myths could conceive of, even though the figurative was largely responsible for its concept in the first place. As everyone well-knew, no head without a body, and no mind without a head!
A LITERARY TRINITY
The painting I had commissioned from Nigel Hughes was at last finished. My desire to see what I liked to think of as 'the blessed trinity' of twentieth-century literature exhibited on one canvas was about to be realized. The artist had only to remove the drape under which he had ceremoniously concealed it ... for me to witness the realization of a desire I had cherished these past five months. I was on tenterhooks. Would it meet with my expectations, I wondered? Seated in an armchair in front of the easel on which the finished product was resting, I bade my friend go ahead with the unveiling. The drape slid to the floor and there, before my eager eyes, the nude body of the canvas was at last revealed!
"You like it?" he asked hopefully.
So great was my excitement at seeing the completed work, at last, that I could scarcely reply! Besides, the question seemed a little premature, not allowing me sufficient time in which to come to a proper appreciation. But it was soon apparent to him, by the spontaneous appearance of delight on my face, that I did like it, and very much so! For he sighed his relief and turned a proudly complacent smile upon me.
"Exactly as you specified," he declared.
"Even better," I managed to correct, looking from the elderly face of John Cowper Powys on the left of the canvas to the middle-aged one of Hermann Hesse in the centre, and then across to the youthful face of Aldous Huxley on the right. The 'blessed trinity' of twentieth-century literature as I conceived of it, the three great cultural authors of the age. From Nature-Worship to Buddhism via Zarathustrianism. Pantheism, dualism, and mysticism; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And each face portrayed with consummate skill and infinite care!
"It will look even better hanging in my study," I opined, once this reassuring inspection had run its course and enabled me to relax, in some measure, from the anticipatory strain experienced prior to the unveiling. "I shall grant it a privileged position above the mantelpiece. The presence of such a painting there will have a salutary effect on my writing."
Nigel smiled sympathetically and, abandoning the canvas, sat himself down in the nearest armchair. "And who is the one whom you most relate to as a writer?" he at length asked.
"Yes, I take your
point," Nigel responded, smiling a shade contemptuously.
"In some respects I dare say it is," I answered, turning my attention full upon him, "since my dualism incorporates the integration of antitheses not only on a theological plane but also on an ethical one, the plane of good and evil generally. Unlike Hesse, and to an even greater extent Tolstoy, whom it's probably worth mentioning in this respect, I don't make a point of creating characters who are either angels or demons, as it were, but strive to integrate good and evil in each of them. Thus instead of one character being good and another evil, my characters are both good and evil, and therefore men rather than lopsided monsters. The character who loses our respect in one context or place in the novel is just as likely to win it back in another, and vice versa."
"Tolstoy certainly wouldn't have approved of that approach," Nigel frowningly averred. "He wanted the author to take a moral stance on the side of good and to denounce the evil character or characters in no uncertain terms!"
"Which is something I cannot bring myself to do," I said. "For Tolstoy wanted authors to create either angels or demons, not men. But angels and demons are merely figments of the imagination rather than reflections of human reality. The man who's incapable of evil is no man at all. He would be just as incapable of good. But even Tolstoy, moral cretin that he aspired to being in theory, was fundamentally a man, not an angel, and consequently he was perfectly capable of facing-up to reality and indulging in evil."
Nigel looked puzzled. "What kind of evil?" he asked.
"Oh, the usual kind: the actions or thoughts which proceed from negative as opposed to positive feelings," I answered.
"You mean, one's feelings inevitably condition the nature of one's morality, whether one is doing good or evil?" said Nigel doubtfully.
"Of course!" I confidently declared. "What other criterion can one have? There's no escaping reality, no doing away with evil for the sake of good. Everything competitive pertains to evil, everything cooperative to good. Why? Because in the first case one's feelings are negative, whereas in the second case they're positive. So when he attacked other authors in print, Tolstoy was doing evil, a perfectly legitimate and sensible form of evil admittedly, but evil nonetheless!"
"Even when the authors fully deserved being attacked?" Nigel queried, a somewhat sceptical expression marring an otherwise handsome countenance.
"Most especially then," I assured him, nodding. "For one is likely to write more scathingly against them in consequence. One can only combat evil with evil, not with good, which, by contrast, would lead one to ignore it, to 'turn the other cheek', as the saying goes. And, in combating evil with evil, one inevitably produces more evil. For evil thrives on negativity, and aggression of whichever kind in whatever context pertains to the negative. So even the lopsided preacher of goodness was a man, a scowler as well as a smiler. And because he knew how to utilize both good and evil to his advantage, if unconsciously so, he was a successful man, a famous one. That's the way of the world. Those who most successfully approximate to reality, who accept the responsibility of being human, have their kingdom in this world rather than in any other. They're enabled to indulge their good and evil sides, within the framework of the law, to the limit of their ability, as demanded by their integrity as men."
"How d'you mean?" Nigel wanted to know.
"Take the case of a composer," I proceeded to explain, "a composer, shall we say, who writes for the piano. Supposing he transmitted only positive vibrations, only good feelings through his music, it would be akin to that of an angel's and we would eventually grow tired of it. The gently lyrical sounds would be pleasing for a while, but the longer they persisted the less we would appreciate them. Conversely, supposing he transmitted only negative vibrations, only evil feelings through his music, it would be akin to that of a demon's and, similarly, we would eventually tire of it. In both cases, the composer, transmitting only one of the two sides of man's dual nature, would hardly achieve lasting recognition as a truly great musician. In fact, the chances are that he wouldn't be appreciated. But as soon as he combines both the good and the evil approach, the positive and the negative vibrations, in the most balanced and ingenious manner, ah! then our attention is held and he would be recognized as the genuine man he was, the whole rather than part man. Now his greatness as a composer would depend upon the extent of the good and evil to which he could attain, and would accordingly be in direct proportion to this. Thus the greatest composers would combine in the same work, though not necessarily in the same movement, the most angelic sounds with the most demonic, the sweetest with the sourest, through various gradations in between."
"Hence the greatness of Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Saint-Saëns, Rubenstein, Franck, and other such manly composers?" Nigel suggested with a slightly roguish - or romantic - glint in his eyes.
"Absolutely!" I agreed without a moment's hesitation. "Their greatness as men is reflected in the spectrum of their music, which is somewhat wider than that of lesser men. Indeed it's, above all, in the nineteenth century that music most comes to reflect man's dual nature, that man appears in it as he really is. For prior to then, music was predominantly in the service of what Spengler, the philosopher of history, calls 'the Culture', roughly corresponding to Medieval and Reformation Christendom, with its emphasis on the ideal of a good God, viz. Christ. As such, composers were expected to approximate to this ideal as best they could, and thus produce mainly positive or pleasant sounds. But with the gradual decline of 'the Culture' throughout the eighteenth and, in particular, nineteenth centuries, music increasingly came to reflect man's secular reality and accordingly utilized a more balanced spectrum of sounds.
"However, only in the late-nineteenth and, to a much greater extent, early-twentieth centuries does it become apparent that service to an ideal is returning. For with the development of what Spengler calls 'the Civilization', which sprang from the decline of 'the Culture' as the Age of Reason superseded the Age of Faith, so the balance of good and evil was gradually superseded by the predominance of evil, of cacophonous sounds, which would seem to reflect service, if unconsciously, to a devil, the devil, we may reasonably suppose, of contemporary megalopolitan life. To have attained, however, to true humanity, instead of being lopsided on the side of either the angels or the demons, seems to me the mark of the greatest men, whether they be composers, artists, writers, actors, statesmen, or whatever. The Deists and Satanists, by contrast, are almost monsters, though never quite what they appear to be, no matter how hard they may try to excel themselves. Even Bach and Bartók were fundamentally men, even if, from the viewpoint of their respective creative extremes, somewhat lopsided ones!"
"And 'the blessed trinity' of twentieth-century literature were also men, I take it?" Nigel remarked, turning his critical gaze upon the painting.
I affirmed, smiling. "Although the
one in the centre, the Spenglerian
There was a short pause in the conversation whilst I respectfully surveyed the three faces before me again: the exponent of Elementalism, or sublimated nature-worship, with his belief in a Janus-faced First Cause; the Zarathustrian dualist, with his Abraxas-like concept of God embodied in the Self; and, finally, the advocate of the Perennial Philosophy, with his penchant for the Clear Light of the Void and blissful absence of conflict. Then, realizing that I had nothing further to add to my previous comment, I bade Nigel Hughes wrap up the painting and wrote him out a cheque for the fee required. What, exactly, people would think of Andy Hammill's latest painting, I didn't know. But I was pretty confident it would cause quite a theological controversy nonetheless!
A VISIT TO HELL
A ghastly shudder shot through me at the thought of it all ...
"So what happened?" Heather asked again, staring at me with genuine concern. "I want to hear all about it!"
I could tell by both the concerned look on her face and her demanding tone-of-voice that she really did want to hear all about it. Not for a long time had I endeavoured to explain any such experience to her.
"Well," I began, feeling slightly nervous and self-conscious but relieved, all the same, for the opportunity of being able to unburden myself, "I had just come out of a large West End bookshop in the vicinity of Tottenham Court Road and was slowly walking along the pavement when I felt a hand on my arm, a hand which sufficed to stop me in my tracks. 'Excuse me, sir,' the bearer of this hand - a tall, dark, handsome man of about thirty-five - said, 'but aren't you the philosopher, Justin Thomas?'
"Not surprisingly, I was somewhat startled by this mode of introduction, if such it was," I went on. "For no-one, having recognized me as the said person, had ever stopped me in the street before, considering that I'm not particularly famous or subject to public curiosity. Yet, much as I dreaded the prospect of having to listen to this man's appreciation of my work or, worse still, answer questions about it and justify myself to him in some way, I was secretly gratified that someone had recognized me in these terms and thought it worth his while to confess the fact."
Heather smiled her understanding of this egotistical confession. "Ambivalent as ever," she commented in a playfully reproachful tone.
"Anyway, realizing that an acknowledgement was expected of me, I replied in the affirmative, though not very positively, since I couldn't be certain that the stranger would be appreciative of my work. But his hand was still on my arm and, much to my dismay, he tightened its grip on me. 'I'm so glad to meet you,' he proceeded in a smooth well-educated accent, which indicated a person of some social distinction. 'For there's something I have to tell you.'
"'There is?' I responded, my initial misgivings beginning to worsen.
"'It's about your wife,' he whispered, tightening his grip still further on my arm until it became virtually paralysed. 'She's being unfaithful to you.'"
Heather's expression suddenly turned apprehensive, as though in anticipation of some such accusation from me.
"'But that's impossible!' I cried, momentarily forgetting where I was, as I allowed my feelings their instinctive expression. 'How can you say such a thing?'
"'Because I know the man with whom she's being unfaithful to you,' the stranger asserted, automatically fixing me with a hard stare.
"He must be a madman, I thought, flinching from his smouldering gaze and politely endeavouring to extricate myself from his clamp-like grip on my arm.
"'And I can prove it to you this very afternoon,' he continued, ignoring my impatience.
"'You can?' I responded involuntarily.
"'Provided you're prepared to make it worth my while,' he hissed."
At this point, I couldn't help noticing a deepening of the apprehension which had come over Heather's ordinarily passive and charming face. Could she really be expecting an accusation of infidelity from me? I wondered.
"'In what way?' I asked, unable not to take him seriously, despite my misgivings.
"'To the sum of £500,' he gravely replied.
"'Five-hundred pounds?' I felt outraged, the victim of a mean exploitation.
"'Come, come!' he gently chided me, patting the arm he had just released from his clutches with a reassuring benevolence before summarily returning it to them again. 'This is a very modest sum for the services rendered, I can assure you. Once you learn what your wife gets up to while you're out lecturing at college, you'll consider it a bargain. Now by coming with me this very moment to the scene of the crime, so to speak, you'll learn about it in no uncertain terms, and with the minimum of inconvenience.'
"Despite my outrage over the amount required and, as I quickly realized, the base accusation being levelled against you, Heather, I felt my resistance to his proposition breaking down, giving way to a mild curiosity as to whether you could, in fact, be betraying me behind my back. After all, could I be absolutely certain you weren't?"
Heather's apprehension suddenly burst through the reserve in which she had patiently contained it ... to voice itself in a grievous complaint. How could I say such things to her?
"I'm sorry, darling," I responded sympathetically, "but you did want to hear all about what happened."
"Yes, but, really, Justin! I didn't think it would be like this!" she objected.
No, of course she didn't, and I was fairly ashamed of myself for not having bothered to spare her the details. Still, now that I had committed myself to an account of this extraordinary experience, I felt I had to press on and bring it to completion. Besides, the part of it which dealt with her alleged infidelity had been accounted for, or almost so, which meant that most of what was to follow probably wouldn't disturb or worry her quite so much. Of this I now informed her in my most reassuring manner.
"Oh, go on then!" she sighed, slightly encouraged.
"Well, having come to a brisk arrangement whereby I would consent to writing him out a cheque for £500 only after I'd seen what he had allegedly to show me, I followed him down a nearby side-street to a waiting car, a large black limousine which he said he owned and which would take me to my destination within a mere twenty minutes. Since the rear windows of this limo were tinted black, I couldn't see into its interior and felt a distinct misgiving at the prospect of having to get inside. But when he opened the nearest rear door and ushered me in with a wave of his powerful arm, I realized that, short of making a damned fool of myself by betraying my trust in him, I had little option but to comply. Thus it happened that I found myself sitting on the back seat and staring at the rear of the driver's head through a plate of transparent glass which served to compartmentalize the limousine. Who-the-devil the driver was, I didn't know. But no sooner had the man of whom I'd just made the acquaintance opened the front door and taken a seat beside him ... than I became aware of a strange smell entering my nostrils and, before I could say or do anything, quickly lost consciousness."
By now Heather had got over her bout of self-pity and was once more looking at me with unfeigned concern. "You were evidently gassed," she concluded, her voice harmoniously supporting her expression.
"Well, when I came to my senses again, or perhaps I should say was brought to them again, I found myself in a large square room without windows and lit solely by fluorescent lighting. I was sitting on a couch in front of a tall, medium-built man of indeterminate age, a man who, in my dazed state-of-mind, I initially took for the one who had earlier accosted me in the street. But as soon as the ability to focus returned to my eyes, I realized that this man was in fact a complete stranger to me, someone whom I had never seen before and, to judge by the cruelly inhuman nature of his face, someone whom I hoped I would never see again, assuming I got out of there alive! Draped in a long black cloak, he seemed closest in appearance to the popular conception of Count Dracula, though there was something about his fiery eyes, contrasting pale face, sharply aquiline nose, sardonic mouth, and pointed chin which suggested the possibility of someone even worse. Not until he opened his mouth and smiled down at me through jagged teeth, however, did I realize that he actually was someone much worse! For, in addition to this terrible dentition, I now noticed that he was also the bearer of two small red horns which jutted out of his temples beneath a mass of curly red hair. I almost screamed my horror at this recognition of the demonic, and would have got up from the couch and run towards an exit, had my limbs not been bound to it by invisible fetters. Besides, there wasn't an exit in evidence to run towards. In this room, doors had no more place than windows!
"'Welcome, Professor Thomas!' the creature's voice suddenly addressed me with guttural relish. 'I've wanted to make your acquaintance for some time now: in fact, ever since the publication, last year, of your most recent book. What you said in it suggested a profounder grasp of the modern world than I'd have expected from a mere mortal, a grasp which, while not omniscient and by no means tallying with all the facts, nevertheless caused me a few doubts over my power to influence it for the worse.'
"'Who are you?' I managed to ask, in spite of the state of my nerves and, more surprisingly, the stark evidence of my horrified senses.
"'I am the personification of evil in the world,' the fearsome creature replied, clearly not a little relieved for the opportunity of being able to verbally advertise himself. 'In vulgar parlance, the Devil.'
"I quaked at the mention of it! Could I be imagining things? Surely the Devil was nothing more than a perverse figment of the imagination, a superstition of bygone days? And even if he wasn't, what could he possibly want with me? What had I done to deserve his horrible company? I put a question to that effect to him.
"'Haven't I already told you, Professor?' he responded, a menacing smile revealing the jagged edges of his monstrous teeth again. 'I was both impressed and concerned by your latest publication, and would accordingly like to clarify a number of issues you raised in it, to put you in your place, despite your considerable knowledge, and to demonstrate how deluded you are to imagine that I can be conquered and driven into moral exile. To put it frankly, I was a trifle disconcerted by some of the things you wrote. Yet I'm confident that, by lecturing you on the actual extent of my influence on the modern world, and the Western part of it not least of all, I'll not only be able to break your self-confidence but, more importantly, enhance mine in the process!'
"'But what about my wife?' I asked, recalling to mind the ostensible reason for my presence there. 'Aren't I to witness her alleged infidelity?'
"The personification of evil bared his gruesome teeth in an even more menacing fashion than before. 'All in bad time, all in bad time, Professor!' he replied. 'In the meantime, however, you must be patient and allow me to defend myself.'"
Once again I could see that Heather's facial expression had veered in the direction of apprehension, that her concern for me had duly turned into a concern for herself, albeit silently.
"As soon as the Devil had said this," I continued, centring my concentration as best I could on what there was to relate, "he clicked the thumb and middle finger of his right hand - if hand it was - and immediately the room fell into darkness, a darkness which was instantaneously relieved, however, by the projection on to the wall in front of a bright light. From behind me came the whirring sound of a film projector and, before fear could take possession of my soul again, I realized that I was about to be treated to a film show; that the Devil, contrary to my expectations, had not taken a step nearer me in order, presumably, to strangle me in the dark, but had gone over to stand beside the picture which now appeared on the wall in front. By craning my neck around as far as I could, it was just possible for me to discern the outline of a figure seated behind the film projector a few yards to my rear, a figure who had evidently appeared, as though by magic. Because of the partial darkness, however, I couldn't quite discern his facial features. Nevertheless, I wasn't particularly grateful to discover that the Devil had company!
"'Now then, Professor,' the latter's blood-curdling voice rang out above the whirr, 'pay careful attention to what I have to show you!'
"I made a brave attempt to. From aerial clips of small villages in various parts of Europe and North America, the film progressed to similar clips of towns, and from those to cities, the largest cities, principally, of the Western world. One saw, in quick succession, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Paris, Berlin, etc, with occasional clips of the countryside in between. Although it wasn't possible to see the Devil's face very clearly or distinctly from where I sat, I could tell, as much by the nervous twitching of his facial muscles as by various of the comments he was making, that he much preferred the cities to the towns, the towns to the villages, and the villages to the countryside, with due gradations of feeling in between.
"'As you correctly pointed out in your book,' he remarked, while the projector whirred on, 'Western society underwent a radical transformation with the Industrial Revolution, one that was to undermine the entire fabric of rural life and, in its more obvious manifestations, isolate a majority of the rapidly rising population of the cities from regular contact with the land. See how the Culture, in Spenglerian parlance, was supplanted by the Civilization, which is its very antithesis, in consequence of this transformation brought about by the Industrial Revolution. How faith, grounded in nature, was replaced by reason, that artificial growth of the great cities, and how the man-made came to predominate, in these places, over natural creation. See how little vegetation there is in these urban environments, Professor, and how wonderfully sterile they are by contrast with nature, how they set themselves up against it!'
"Frankly, it wasn't
difficult for me to see how much this deplorable state-of-affairs
Devil, and how he gloated over the immensity of the largest cities like
whose personal dream of success had literally come to pass there. At that very moment, we were looking at
numerous tall buildings in
"'Delightfully sterile,' the Devil went on, pointing towards some of the tallest and most grandiose of these buildings, a few of which were clearly skyscrapers, 'and admirably indicative of the triumph of man over God. As you rightly remarked, Professor, the Culture blossomed with the collaboration of nature and withered once that collaboration was impaired by the rapid development of both industrialization and urbanization. Ah, how it delights me to behold this cancer of industrial technology eating away at the foundations of life! You can well imagine, Professor, that nothing would delight me more than to assist in the further growth of these monstrous cities until nature has been eaten away altogether and my triumph is complete! Alas, man has still not succeeded in entirely banishing God from the world, even in the cities. As yet, there are still remnants of faith and allegiance to God there, though particularly in the villages and smaller towns. Believe me, Professor, the chief threat to my power comes from these latter places, places, in short, where there's still too much nature!'
"He turned his evil eyes upon me for an instant, causing me to quake anew. With an element of anger on his hideous countenance, he was even more menacing than previously.
"'By comparison with the country and provincial clergy, the city clergy are virtually atheist,' the Devil continued, returning his attention to the film, which was now showing the denser, more built-up parts of London. 'The city clergy are surrounded by too much concrete, glass, and steel to be of any real threat to me, and, with notably few exceptions, are as much the victims of their sterile environments as the laity. Whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not, they've fallen under my influence, their worship of God is little more than an hypocrisy, a mere shadow of genuine worship, a mask which the civilized West, rotting in its decadence and moral deceitfulness, considers it incumbent to wear for appearance's sake. For God, as you well know, has long ceased to play a major role in the big cities, and his churches are really quite out-of-place there.'
"At this point, I wanted to protest against the Devil, to defend myself from his hateful opinions. But, even though I opened my mouth to speak, nothing emerged, and I was left to my troubled silence.
"'You can't imagine the pleasure it gives me to spy on the clergy who most struggle against my influence, who do everything they can to strengthen their tottering allegiance to God in the face of their sterile environments!' the Devil went on grinningly. 'How it has amused me to watch them at work in their tiny gardens, trying to rejuvenate the sickly-looking plants there, or strolling in the nearest public park, or taking day trips into the country in order to acquire some contact with nature! And how I have delighted in the defeat, disappointment, and humiliation of those who were desperately keen to secure a country or provincial parish for themselves but, due to fierce competition, failed to do so! Ah, to see them return to their city manses with a look of deep dejection on their pallid faces such as would have shamed even the least of the medieval clergy! How I delighted to see these so-called men of God up against it! Particularly the brightest and most sincere, the ones who, despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them, fought night and day to protect themselves from me. I can assure you, Professor, that there aren't too many of them in the large cities!'
film had progressed from aerial shots to close-ups of various
buildings, and it
was not before I had seen about thirty such buildings that I realized
intention was. Again, from relatively
small towns with large cathedrals, one progressed to large cities where
cathedral was literally dwarfed by commercial and other secular
gigantic proportions. Where tradition
was strongest, the cathedral still dominated the town, establishing or
reflecting the natural hierarchy of nature over civilization, God over
religion over commerce. But where, by
contrast, the vast cities were concerned, the cathedral, surrounded by
towering concrete, was comparatively insignificant, since smothered by
numerous secular buildings which dominated the skyline and proclaimed
triumph of civilization over nature, the State over God, and commerce
"'I trust you're getting the picture, Professor?' the personification of evil at length sarcastically remarked, inflicting what seemed like a conspiratorial glance upon me. 'One can learn a lot more from these aerial and close-up shots of your civilization than you might have thought possible. Take the churches. Have you noticed the extent of the dilapidation into which so many of the older ones are falling, and deduced from this the apparent reluctance of the relevant authorities to restore or renovate them in any degree? And what about the newest ones, those built during the last thirty or so years - isn't there something distinctly secular-looking about a majority of them, comparatively few and far between as they are, which could lead one to confound them with any of the smaller commercial organizations?'
"The Devil was pointing out one such 'church', a building which one might have taken for a factory or even a dance hall, so far removed was it from any traditional concept of church!
"'It would appear that the God Whom men worship in such buildings isn't given quite the acknowledgement or respect He used to get in the days before His works were shut-out from their lives to the extent we now see about us,' the Devil sarcastically averred. 'Being predominantly surrounded, as the vast majority of city-dwellers now are, by the works of man, it isn't altogether surprising that the latest churches should come to be patterned on them, and thus approximate to a reflection of contemporary urban society as opposed to an acknowledgement of God's essential transcendence. Yet that, as you doubtless realize, amounts to a contradiction in terms. Before long, city people will have no need of even those buildings, Professor, but will either cease worshipping God altogether - if one can call what now goes on by that name - or worship me instead.... Which is mostly what does happen, if unconsciously, in any case. For I am at work as much in the design and erection of the new churches as in encouraging the dilapidation and neglect of the old ones. Admittedly, I don't have as much influence on the Church as on the secular establishments. But what influence I do have is certainly no disgrace to me! Believe me, Professor, it's growing all the time, and not only in the cities! My corruption is gradually spreading to the towns and villages as well, though not, alas, on a very large scale at present. For wherever nature prevails over civilization - as it still does in a number of places - resistance to my influence is at its strongest and I therefore have to make do with small gains. Fortunately, however, the city has more influence on the town than vice versa, so I needn't fear for my future! Every year, billions of words compiled in the cities are disseminated throughout the provinces in the forms of newspapers, magazines, periodicals, leaflets, and books, especially of the paperback variety; thousands of films, documentaries, and TV serials made in the cities are likewise disseminated there; and, thanks to the benefits of mechanized transport, millions of city-dwellers are unleashed upon the towns and villages to spread their urban corruption far and wide. With such an onslaught, there's little the provinces can do to resist being tainted. My evil dominion grows stronger and more firmly entrenched with every new day!'
"The Devil bared his jagged teeth in indication of his immense satisfaction at this fact, and induced me to quake yet again. How much longer, I wondered, would I continue being subjected to these frightful revelations, these ghastly scenes? But before I could wonder anything else, the evil creature had become reabsorbed in the film, which was now showing the interior of an elegant-looking room in which an audience, garbed in eighteenth-century costume, were listening to a chamber orchestra performing one of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, the Fourth, as I quickly recognized by the music which issued from the direction of the film projector to my rear. Surprised as I was by the sudden introduction of music into the room, and no less so by the historical spectacle before me, I duly fell under its spell and allowed myself, in spite of my surroundings, to take a certain pleasure in its gracefully-flowing melodies and harmonies. Yet it wasn't long before I realized that the Devil was feeling anything but pleasure at this performance, that he was patently agonized by its euphonious nature. The twitching of his facial muscles, which I had already noted in connection with various provincial environments, became intensified here to a point which made it seem that his face was alive with millions of tiny worms writhing and criss-crossing it in all directions, as though goaded-on by some unspeakable agony of spirit. Also, his breathing became so heavy, so tensed and laboured, that one might have expected to hear it above the music. But just as he appeared to be on the verge of collapsing or exploding - it was impossible to tell which, though it was evident from the noise coming from his lungs that the Devil was a heavy smoker - the film suddenly switched from the clip of an eighteenth-century audience entranced by the heavenly sounds of J.S. Bach to one of a contemporary audience seated in front of a large symphony orchestra in some vast concert hall and listening to it perform a modern work, the title and composer of which completely eluded me. Almost at once, however, I could see that the Devil was immensely relieved by this abrupt change of musical context. For both the agonized twitching of his facial muscles and the heavy breathing to which his smoke-infested lungs had been subjected by the preceding scene quickly calmed down, to be replaced, as the music progressed along its allocated route, by signs of mounting pleasure. But was this intensely discordant and seemingly chaotic composition to which I was now obliged to listen really music? Wasn't it really a noise, one of the most diabolical noises I had ever heard, full of scrapings and bangings and sharp blasts of disjunctive sound? I couldn't help noticing, while the Devil gloated over his pleasure, the agonized and hate-filled expressions on the faces of the musicians, which sharply contrasted with the serene and comparatively joyful expressions of the chamber orchestra in the previous clip. And, by a similar contrast of experience, it was apparent that the audience were being infected with expressions and emotions corresponding to those of the musicians. To all appearances it seemed like a species of sadomasochism was in progress, a torture chamber for ears and mind!
"The Devil, however, had other opinions. 'Quite delightful!' he exclaimed, indicating to his mysterious assistant, by a gesture of the hand, that he wanted the music's ear-shattering volume turned down a little in order to make himself heard. And most flattering so far as I am concerned. For I am now the ideal to which, knowingly or unknowingly, a majority of contemporary composers dedicate their vile compositions, the primary source of inspiration for their cacophonous worship! Yes, how long I've had to wait for this, how long I've had to wait for so many things! But I had patience, believe me, Professor, and I wasn't altogether inactive even when God had the better of me. I knew that, eventually, things would swing in my direction, that my long-awaited dominion over Western man would come. And behold, it has come, Professor, as surely as you have! Here is yet another proof of my power over contemporary man, one dependent on the ears. This, too, is music, Professor, but music, I'm relieved to say, which is lopsided on my side instead of on God's. The euphonious sounds which your society required of composers writing in the service of the religious ideal, the worship of a good deity, have been systematically supplanted by the cacophonous sounds you now hear before you. Your composers have swung from one ideal to another, though not, it must be admitted, without a transitional period in between, when they seemed to ignore ideals altogether and concentrated on simply being themselves, on reflecting man instead. But that era, approximating to the nineteenth century, subsequently gave way to the modern era, with its emphasis on the discordant, or service to me, to an ideal which is diametrically antithetical to the previous one. This, then, is my music, Professor, and you can see how much it delights me, even though there's still room, as far as I'm concerned, for further improvement, for the possibility of even greater delight! Indeed, I'm not entirely satisfied with this particular composition so far as an approximation to the infernal ideal is concerned. It could be still more cacophonous, still more discordant, in my opinion. Perhaps in a year or two from now I shall have an opportunity to hear the work of a composer who can go beyond this and produce something so cacophonous, discordant, diabolical, and therefore decadent from a Western standpoint, as to be virtually indistinguishable from the outright barbarism of the worst pop music, acoustic and electric distinctions notwithstanding! Yet even this predominantly cacophonous composition by some contemporary American composer is quite a delight to me, especially when I think back to what I used to suffer at the hands of the greatest seventeenth- and eighteenth-century composers. The sheer agony of it all! Bar after dreadful bar of hateful euphony, composition after dreadful composition dedicated to my hereditary enemy, Le Bon Dieu! Oh, how absolutely unendurable it all was! You can hardly be surprised, Professor, when, at the end of my demonic tether, I vowed to put every ounce of brain muscle I possessed into pulling musicians away from God. What a nerve-racking tug-of-war it turned out to be! From about the mid-eighteenth century, when I really dug my heels into it for the first time, I had to labour away well into the twentieth century before I was convinced that the contest had been won. Throughout the nineteenth century, compositions continued to reach my ears that sounded as much on God's side as on mine, and in the case of composers like Schubert and Bruckner, I actually lost ground and almost slithered back to the deplorable state-of-affairs that existed in Mozart's day. To be sure, the Austrians were harder to pull away from God than both the Germans and the French put together, particularly Bruckner, whose tonal innocence, coming relatively late in the nineteenth century, caused me one of the worst humiliations of my entire satanic career! Fortunately to say, Bruckner was more or less involved in a lone-handed fight as the century wore on. For most of the leading composers, including Liszt, Wagner, Saint-Saëns (who, despite his name, was no musical saint), and Franck, were increasingly veering in my direction, so that by the time Richard Strauss made his mark on the scene I was fairly confident my victory had come, in spite of that Austrian, Gustave Mahler, who rather set my teeth on-edge. Even some of the early-twentieth-century British composers, including Elgar and Vaughan Williams, didn't make my task any easier. But with an ever-growing number of Continental and American composers coming over to my side, I was in no doubt about the final outcome. These days I scarcely need exert myself at all, since my initial efforts to pull composers away from God appear to have resulted in a veritable avalanche of hell-bound idiots falling in my direction, the few who most resist my influence usually being swept along by the rest.'
"It was apparent, with the termination of these terrible confessions, that the Devil had more or less had his say as far as the orchestral performance was concerned. For the film once more changed course and, much to my relief, presented me with the spectacle of assorted paintings passing in fairly swift succession before my well-nigh hypnotized eyes. Not possessing the most comprehensive knowledge of art, I nevertheless soon realized that the intention of this part of the film was to chronicle the rise and fall of Western art from approximately the fourteenth century to the present day. Beginning with religious works by artists such as Cimabue, Giotto, Pisaro, Tura, da Vinci, Bellini, and Mantegna, it progressed, via Dürer, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Veronese, Rubens, Rembrandt, and El Greco, to the more secular artists of the past three centuries, the most prominent of whom were Boucher, Fragonard, David, Delacroix, Ingres, Hogarth, Turner, Constable, Bourne-Jones, Manet, Renoir, Picasso, Beckmann, and Ernst. As happened in that part of the film dedicated to the contrasting musical styles, the Devil's face responded to the stimuli before it in an appropriately agonized or delighted manner, the great religious works, on the one hand, causing him such acute spiritual discomfort that he was obliged to sharply avert his gaze from them on a number of occasions, whereas the great and lesser secular paintings, on the other hand, enabled him to recover from his agony of spirit and achieve varying degrees of pleasure, depending on the content of the works in question. Although the progression on film from religious to secular paintings wasn't as clear-cut or continuous as one might have expected, the occasional secular painter of value, like Dürer, appearing among the predominantly religious ones and, conversely, the occasional religious painter of value, like Dali, appearing among the predominantly secular ones, it was sufficiently clear, as one progressed through the centuries, that a division of sorts did indeed exist, and that the movement away from God followed a time-pattern not unlike the one established by music, a time-pattern, however, the principal criterion of which hinged upon subject-matter rather than sound and the way in which this subject-matter was treated. Thus from religious paintings, at one end of the scale, with smooth, clear, bright, and harmonious techniques, one descended, at the other end of it, to secular paintings with rough, hazy, dull, and discordant techniques; from works praising and acknowledging God, one descended to works dedicated to man, and from man on down to the machine; from the countryside and nature in general to the city and its manifold concomitants in particular; from the concrete to the abstract, from art to anti-art, with all due gradations, such as Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, Dada, Surrealism, etc., right down to the present day, coming in-between. Exceptions to the general tendency of artistic decline there undoubtedly were, but the general tendency was indisputable and made adequately manifest by this film. It was only, however, when it had arrived at a number of the most abstract contemporary paintings that the Devil, who had in the meantime lit himself a cigarette, next decided to speak.
"'Ah! what satisfaction it brings me to behold such wonderfully sterile and chaotic works,' he confessed, briefly turning in my direction, 'to witness the extent of my disruptive influence on contemporary art! How gratifying that a medium which once served my great adversary - and served Him in such style - should now be reduced to this, to grovelling before me! That the Most Evil should have come to supplant the Most Good in such unequivocal terms - truly, I've rarely felt so flattered! Just look at them, Professor, at all these works of so-called art which your society has been obliged to produce in such abundance, and see to what extent it is now in my grasp! Merciless hell, how long I've waited for this! How my eyes were tortured by all those Blessed Trinities and Madonnas and Crucifixions and Ascensions and Last Suppers and Benedictions and Conversions and Visitations and Immaculate Conceptions and God-knows-what-else the greatest artists, in serving God, contrived to inflict upon me! Even in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there were artists who, like William Blake and John Martin, fought against me with more courage and tenacity than I'd have expected from mere mortals. But even they were tarnished by my brush, even they were forced to give so many of their religious productions a rather satanic twist. The apocalyptic damnations of Blake and Martin - how paradoxically true! Such Biblical damnations were indeed befalling their own society, as they doubtless realized. Even while Gainsborough and Constable were painting their accursed landscapes, I was gaining the upper-hand and slowly forcing God out of the picture. By the turn-of-the-century there was very little of Him left in it; for whatever He had created was being transformed by the perverse brushstrokes of the Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionists, Expressionists, Symbolists, Decadents, and such-like into something more to my taste: an artificial world which set itself up against nature! Ah, my hateful disciples, my contemptible brethren in fin-de-siecle iniquity, how I curse you all! You couldn't please me enough, not even when you bent over backwards to do so! You were but a stage on the road to my current dominion, a stage of the infernal star, so to speak, which your successors have left severely in the lurch!'
"As I could tell by the succession of abstract paintings which were now passing before my hypnotized eyes, the extent to which late-nineteenth-century painters had been 'left severely in the lurch' was indeed staggering, revealing to my bewildered mind the incredible tenacity with which the Devil was working to bring art closer to his demonic ideal! Where the art of the next century would lead, I could scarcely imagine. For it seemed inconceivable that painting could sink any further and thus approximate more closely to the Devil's infernal ideal of chaotic sterility. Was this really the end of our long and glorious civilization, the death-rattle of a sickly dotard? I shuddered at the thought of it! Why hadn't I been born at a better or, at the very least, less bad time in the history of the arts? What had I done to deserve all this? And when, exactly, would the last Western painting be painted? Alas, despite my interest in art, I was unqualified to answer such vexing questions! I would have to make do with uncertainty.
"'Do you recall, Professor, that hateful essay by Leo Tolstoy entitled: What is Art?' the Devil was asking me, 'and the conclusions it reached about the necessity of art - art in the broadest sense - being both in the service of the cultural ideal and universal as opposed to exclusive, or upper class?'
"I nervously nodded my head.
"'Whether Tolstoy was fundamentally a late Christian or an early Communist is irrelevant to me,' the Devil continued disdainfully. 'But what is relevant is that his plea for adherence to the cultural ideal - the ideal of goodness and brotherhood as he defined it - has been systematically ignored by the majority of modern artists who, to my immense satisfaction, have taken art far beyond even the wildest anarchy of his contemporaries and, in the process, made it so exclusive ... that even I am sometimes at a loss to understand it. Not that there haven't been sporadic attempts at making it universal, which is to say, popular.'
"The Devil was sarcastically staring at a painting which depicted three different-sized squares, one atop the other, the largest of which was red, the smallest yellow, and the one in between orange. 'I doubt if there's a cretin on earth who wouldn't appreciate this,' he rasped, drawing my flagging attention to its utter simplicity. 'If, by universal, Tolstoy meant that art should be reduced to its lowest-common-apparent-denominator, then it would certainly seem that this painting admirably fulfils his simplistic requirements!'
"I felt strongly resentful towards the Devil's disrespectful attitude to Tolstoy's criteria of art and would have attempted to defend them, had not the Evil One suddenly turned his hideous countenance in my direction again and, with a penetrating stare, halted my resentment in its emotional tracks. Whether or not the Op, Pop, Kinetic, Post-Painterly Abstraction, and Concept Movements were indebted to Tolstoy, I would have to resign myself to a begrudging silence and allow one of the nineteenth-century's finest minds to be ridiculed at will. After all, could I really expect the Devil to show respect for a man who was so unequivocally on the side of God? I held my tongue and, desiring to escape my satanic host's fiery eyes, stared ruefully at what was to be the final painting of the series: a horizontally oblong canvas painted red.
For now, to my great relief, the film progressed to the next stage of its didactic mission, a stage providing one with glimpses of various writers, both literary and philosophical, and, subsequently, the titles of the books they had written ..."
At this point in the narrative I became conscious that Heather had yawned, so, not knowing whether through boredom or sleepiness, I asked her if she was still interested in hearing what I had to say.
"Yes, I am still interested," she replied, offering me a reassuring nod. "In fact, more so now than before."
"Good," I said and, feeling slightly relieved, duly proceeded with my narration. "As in the cases of music and art, it soon became apparent to me that literature and philosophy had also passed from the service of God to the service of His diabolic antagonist the closer one came to modern times, though not always consciously or with a clearly definable continuity. Of the earlier writers exhibited on film, the Devil's greatest displeasure appeared to be aroused by the faces of St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, Erasmus, Dante, Sir Thomas More, Pascal, Bunyan, Spinoza, Milton, and Fielding, each of whom caused him to avert his horrified gaze a moment, while, of the later writers so exhibited, his greatest pleasure appeared to be aroused by the faces of Voltaire, Diderot, de Sade, Byron, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Lautréamont, Rimbaud, Huysmans, Alistair Crowley, James Joyce, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, and Denis Wheatley, each of whom, in varying degrees and with differing emphases, had evidently furthered his diabolical cause. Not that there weren't exceptions, once again, to the general trend. For I was made manifestly aware of these when the Devil, swallowing rather than smoking his cigarette, gnashed his hideous teeth together in overt disapproval of them and temporarily averted his fiery eyes from the film. Being the possessor of a fairly comprehensive knowledge of modern literature, however, I didn't have to pay too much attention to his evil countenance to know that the faces of writers like D.H. Lawrence, John Cowper Powys, Aldous Huxley, Hermann Hesse, and Malcolm Muggeridge would prove distasteful to him, particularly in light of his powerful influence on the twentieth century. It was indeed gratifying to know that pockets of resistance to his death-dealing advance could still be found, though not, alas, to any great extent! But, at this point, the series of faces, culminating in an elderly Henry Miller, came to an abrupt end, to be replaced by the spectacle of individual books upon some of which, dating from the earliest days of Western civilization, the Devil chose to comment.
"'Ugh, how I loathed Pilgrim's Progress!' he growled, as the title of Bunyan's masterpiece, following on behind a series of books which he could only bring himself to look at through his claw-like hands, duly appeared on the wall in front. 'How I laboured to have it burnt and banned as soon as I'd read it! You can't imagine the tormented state-of-mind I was in as a consequence of this accursed man's ability to taunt and humiliate me before the civilized world! If only Christian had fallen into my clutches instead of achieving his heavenly objective in the Celestial City - how I would have rejoiced! Even Milton and Goethe showed some mercy on me, much as I could have hoped for more!'
"From Paradise Lost and Faust respectively, the latter of which the Evil One confessed to a begrudging admiration, we passed to various works by Voltaire and the Philosophes, which my host found more to his liking, indeed contrived to praise more for their opposition to Rousseau, with his cult of the 'Noble Savage' and advocacy of a return to nature, than for any atheistic seeds sown by them. Not altogether surprisingly, it was of Diderot that the Devil spoke most warmly, considering that he was the most intelligent and outspoken of the Philosophes, the one most gifted in the art of undermining the Christian faith and thus of furthering, no matter how indirectly, his satanic majesty's abominable cause. However, not until we arrived at the nineteenth century, and particularly the second-half of it, did the Devil show signs of being really interested in the books that flashed before his infernal gaze. For it was now that such titles as Maldoror, Les Fleurs du Mal, Une Saison en Enfer, The Anti-Christ, Notes From Underground, Là Bas, and The Picture of Dorian Gray appeared on the wall, and it was at this juncture that he once again flashed his jagged teeth at me in order, presumably, to impress upon me the overwhelming evidence in favour of his mounting success.
"'If Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, it was left to Huysmans to proclaim the triumph of the Devil and to the twentieth century to prove it!' he at length resumed. 'And not merely through its books, Professor, but also and more unequivocally through the worst wars this planet has ever experienced, the expansion of the city and consequent desecration of nature, the tyranny of the machine, the mass-murder of millions of innocent people, the fragmentation of society and dehumanization of people, the sexual perversions of the masses, the dictatorship of money, the commercialization of the arts, the plethora of violent films, the growth of Jazz, the politics of Bolshevism ... oh, don't let me unduly torture you, Professor! I was quite forgetting that you're a mere mortal, unable to take evil in such strong doses as myself. Nevertheless, what I say is no exaggeration, as I'm sure you'll be aware. Even those who most hate me are powerless to conquer me, and neither can they entirely escape my influence. The likes of Tolstoy, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, John Cowper Powys, Hermann Hesse, et al., may have bravely battled against my growing dominion over Western civilization, but they were unable to check my advance or restore God to His former pre-eminence. Their words were no match for my acts. For the facts of modern life persisted, in spite of their efforts to fight or criticize or ignore them. Had they not spent so much of their lives in the country or provinces, they would probably have fallen under my spell to a much greater extent, and their works might have been more akin to those of my closest disciples, who almost invariably live in the biggest cities. As it was, their proximity to nature partly shielded them from the fate which befell a majority of their fellows. And so, I regret to add, did their comparatively high intelligence. But their influence on the West was negligible compared with mine, which continues to spread despite the obdurate attacks made upon it by the likes of them. If someone were to write a book like Pilgrim's Progress these days, he would be laughed at or ignored. But the fact that books regularly appear with titles like The Devil Rides Out, The Devil's Advocate, The Devil's Alternative, Satan in the Suburbs, The Satanic Verses, and Demonomania is taken for granted, and simply confirms the extent of my current power!'
"I could hardly accuse my evil host of lying about that fact! Now that the procession of books on film was drawing closer to the present, it was sufficiently evident, by the huge number of crime, thriller, gangster, horror, war, occult, sci-fi, and other such literary publications on display, that the Devil held a virtual monopoly over the printed word, a monopoly which extended, I scarcely needed to remind myself, way beyond the confines of books! However, for every book which may have had tenuous connections with God, there were at least ten times as many boasting of strong connections with His arch-enemy. The monotony of it all was beyond belief! And, as before, one found oneself wondering how much worse books could possibly become over the coming decades, whether, in fact, it would be possible for the Devil to get a stronger grip on their production than at present or whether, satisfied that things had reached a diabolical climax there, he would exclusively dedicate himself to the more overtly barbarous medium of film instead, effectively abandoning the crooked cross for the straight star. But no sooner had a novel entitled Black Mass been flashed before my weary eyes ... than the film once again changed track and plunged me into an even more depressing scene, one in which a middle-aged man was vigorously masturbating over a magazine depicting, on the glossy pages in front of him, a model's body exposed in some of the most shamelessly erotic postures imaginable! From a vaginal close-up of the illusory model, one was obliged to witness a phallic close-up of the all-too-real masturbator as he endeavoured to bring himself to an orgasmic climax. And from a revolting shot of his lewd and sickly face, one was returned to the garishly erotic photographs in the magazine, no less revolting under the circumstances!
"'I trust you're aware of what's happening here, Professor,' croaked the personification of evil, briefly turning his gratified eyes in my direction and inflicting yet another burst of jagged teeth upon me. 'The subject of sex is one which greatly interests me, particularly when it's of a kind such as this and is therefore sufficiently perverse to attest to my influence on its practitioner. Never before have there been so many wankers in the world, never before has sexual perversion attained to such a grand scale! How wonderful to behold so much wasted and maltreated sperm, so much sexual anarchy! How delightful that men should be reduced to this! And not only to this, Professor, but to so many other, and grosser, forms of sexual perversion as well!'
"The film had passed from the disgusting masturbation clip to one in which prostitutes were at work offering their swollen vaginas to a series of clients, each of whom appeared to take the frightful impersonality and sexual aridity of his copulation for granted, merely content to dispose of his semen in the nearest sexual orifice to-hand, irrespective of the lack of any positive feeling. It was evident, from the spectacle in front of me, that sex meant no more to these men than a mechanical process which had to be regularly indulged in for the sake of some promiscuous excitement. Of real sexual gratification there was not the slightest hint, no matter how hard the prostitutes worked to simulate it. The criterion of mutual love, upon which any worthwhile copulation ultimately depends, was totally absent and, as such, no number of convulsions, gasps, sighs, or groans could overcome the fundamental obstacle its absence engendered, could transform or nourish their practitioners. Here one was brought face-to-face with the cold, impersonal 'fuck', the 'fuck' which Wilhelm Reich and D.H. Lawrence had dedicated so much of their literary careers to denouncing, and it required little intelligence to see, from the washed-out and deadened appearances of its chief perpetrators, just how right they were! Deprived of its raison d'être, sex was nothing less than a sin against the spirit, for which the latter paid dearly.
"'Ah, if only I could force all men and women to indulge themselves like this,' the Devil continued, as the film persisted in highlighting scene after barren scene of mechanical copulation, 'my victory would be complete! Alas, there are still too many people who, partly under my enemies' influence and partly through good fortune, attain to something akin to the real God-given experience. But they're a dwindling number, Professor, and love is getting harder for them all the time. My influence is so ubiquitous, these days, that the word "love" has come to be ridiculed as a bourgeois affectation and maudlin indulgence unworthy of "enlightened" minds. It is "free love" which has supplanted love, Professor, whether in the decadence of extramarital infidelity or in the outright barbarism of multipartner promiscuity, and such "free love" owes nothing to love, as any God-fearing person would define it. On the contrary, it's only through freedom from love that such hate-filled promiscuity can flourish, so that my materialistic advance proceeds according to plan. Here and there an intelligent voice is raised against me, but, thanks be to evil, it's quickly smothered by the vast reality confronting it, the reality, I need scarcely remind you, of my hateful influence, which engenders either a conspiracy of silence or, more usually, one of mendacity and hypocrisy. Indeed, my propaganda machine is so powerful ... that a majority of would-be enemies lose heart and resign themselves to the status quo, as though they were deluded to suppose it was really as bad as they thought. Working through their fallen fellows, I attack their self-confidence on all fronts, pressing on until such time as it cracks and grants me an entry into their sexual integrity. And believe me, Professor, there's scarcely a man on earth who hasn't got at least a tiny crack in his self-confidence, who isn't partly in my grasp, even among my greatest opponents!'
"I felt distinctly uncomfortable at the mention of this, and pretended not to notice that the Evil One was staring at me through mocking eyes, perhaps searching my soul for one such crack that, once found, would brand my show of resistance to him as a mark of hypocrisy, if not a pretentious futility. By now, however, the film had progressed to a clip highlighting what at first sight looked like yet another species of sexual perversion, one in which, to judge by appearances, women were trying their utmost to look and think and act like men. Or were they? Dressed in trousers or jeans and doing work that had hitherto been confined to men, it was difficult to know exactly what to assume. For the scene seemed relatively innocuous and sufficiently commonplace to preclude any allegations of perversion. But the Devil had other opinions, as I now discovered, to my considerable dismay.
"'The position of women in the contemporary world is one that particularly gratifies me,' he remarked, intently staring at the film. 'For your society has become so male-dominated, since I first got a tight grip on it over a century ago, that women, poor things, have been coerced into emulating men to the extent they can, and at the expense, needless to say, of their innate femininity. From a society centred around intuition and faith, a naturalistic society which made the Virgin Mary a symbol of its essential femininity, the West changed, under pressure of its industrial and urban expansion, to one in which reason and technology prevailed, where masculinity was made the governing principle, and where it was therefore necessary for woman to adjust herself to this materialistic state-of-affairs as best she could. Contrary to superficial appearances, woman hasn't taken the law into her own hands, and thereupon declared her will to freedom, her desire for equal opportunity, democratic rights, social regard, etc., as so many simple-minded fools now suppose. Instead she has been obliged by environmental pressures, by a subtle species of behaviourism, to adopt a social position contrary to her own traditional interests, in order to serve those of man. Her much-vaunted liberty, about which so much fuss has been made on both sides of the gender divide, is essentially liberation from herself as woman, a desperate attempt at denouncing and negating her femininity in accordance with the artificial standards imposed upon her by a male-dominated society. It's nothing less than a betrayal of woman by woman, a betrayal which I initiated and encouraged with the growth of my power over the industrialized world and which, to judge by the scenes before you, has blossomed quite extensively. Given a few more years, women will be so much more like men that a majority of the younger ones will absolutely refuse to sacrifice their careers for children. In fact, they'll absolutely refuse to have any children in the first place, deeming it against their liberated interests. The birth-rate will continue to fall and the abortion rate to rise, while contraceptives, sterilization, and other deterrents to propagation will be in greater demand than ever before. Truly, I foresee a great future for myself, a future in which I shall continue to pull the wool over the eyes of countless women, who are convinced that they're best serving their own interests when most going against them! And I shall employ more men, moreover, in attacking the cruder aspects of behaviourism, so that its subtler aspects, those depending upon environmental changes rather than social conditioning, will be simultaneously undermined. Being by nature egotistical, a majority of people still refuse to accept the fact that they're being dictated to by external forces. They prefer to see their various liberation movements in terms of an ongoing cause which they've initiated, rather than as something brutally thrust upon them. But I've thrust these liberation movements upon them, Professor, and I shall continue to inflict a cruelty upon them which, in their blind optimism, they'll mistake for a self-imposed kindness. Whatever authors like J.B. Priestley may write about the importance of restoring woman to her proper place in society, and thereby establishing a balance between femininity and masculinity instead of allowing the present trend of male domination to continue, my influence on that society will persist, and no amount of counter-revolutionary preaching will do anything to eradicate it. The irony of it all is that while people like Priestley may know what needs to be done to check the growth of my influence, they're absolutely powerless to do anything, because the root cause of the problems they see - in other words, the nature of the environment which gives rise to such problems in the first place - persists in spite of them, and will doubtless continue to persist until such time as, desiring an intensification of my diabolical satisfactions, I decide to inflict a major catastrophe upon it in order to eradicate the problem once and for all! In the meantime, they'll have no option but to persevere with my dominion and continue to live in a predominantly masculine society, where woman must do what she can to approximate more closely to man. But there are some women, Professor, who, even in this day and age, are less under my influence than others, and who accordingly lead something approximating to a healthy feminine existence. I refer, in particular, to your wife.'
"A ghastly dread overcame me at the sight of you on film, Heather. For I suddenly remembered that I had allowed myself to be brought along to this room for the specific purpose of witnessing your alleged infidelity and, having forgotten all about the matter during the Devil's black and largely lying sermon, I realized that this was what I was now about to do."
I didn't have to pay Heather too much attention to see that her initial apprehension had returned, and with even greater intensity, if anything, than before. Could it be that she really was being unfaithful to me, I wondered? This was no time, however, to embark on an official inquiry. Nevertheless, her state of mind was somewhat odd ...
"So what happened?" she asked, showing visible signs of impatience.
"Well, no sooner had the film acquainted me with your presence in our bedroom than you must have heard someone knocking at the door," I responded. "For you immediately opened it to admit a man whom I was granted a brief glimpse of from behind but whom I couldn't recognize, at least not at that moment. Yet, as he bent over you to kiss you on the mouth, a vague recollection dawned on me that I had in fact seen him before, if only briefly. But where? If nothing further had happened and his head had remained perfectly still, I might have been able to figure it out. But, in the ensuing seconds, the sight of you being fondled and stripped by him gave me such an unpleasant shock ... that I could scarcely believe my eyes, let alone think. And when I saw him drag you to the bed and, having impatiently stripped off the remainder of your clothing, throw himself down upon you, I was virtually beside myself with outrage. 'Who-the-devil is this man?' I cried, breaking, in one frantic breath, the long intimidated silence that had been imposed upon me since the commencement of this singular film.
"'Don't panic, Professor,' the Devil answered, lighting himself another cigarette as though to savour the spectacle more complacently. 'Everything will be revealed to you in bad time.' And, as though these words were a cue for the enactment of his sordid revelation, the mysterious 'lover' suddenly disengaged his lips from yours and looked back over his shoulder at me with a mocking smile on his face.
"'Don't forget the £500, Professor Thomas,' he hissed in an equally mocking tone-of-voice.
"With a gasp of disbelief, I recognized the man who had earlier accosted me in the street and induced me to believe that you were being unfaithful. 'But that's impossible!' I cried, staring aghast at his lustful countenance. 'You told me ...' But before I could say anything else, a burst of sardonic laughter erupted from the vicinity of the film projector to my rear and, craning my neck around, I now beheld, to my utter astonishment, the very same man whom I had just seen on film! And it was at this point, Heather, that I screamed and woke up!'"
Once again a horrible shudder shot through me at the thought of it, of all I had experienced during the course of this harrowing nightmare. How could anyone actually dream all that? "Tell me, Heather, that n-none of it was true and that I w-was only imagining things," I stammered, in the throes of my distress.
But, contrary to my expectations, Heather simply put her arms about my neck and drew me closer to her chest, like a mother about to offer succour to her infant. "There, there!" she responded soothingly. "It was only a dream."
"What, in a nutshell, is modern diplomacy with the East, Near or Far, all about but an attempt by the West to stave off the possibility of a third world war for as long as possible, so that people like us can continue to absorb as much of our cultural heritage as possible?" the journalist Julian Brown was saying to Timothy Young, a long-term friend of his. "All this frantic rushing around Europe, all these urgent trips to various museums, galleries, cathedrals, etc., in which people like us tend to indulge, how symptomatic it all seems of our desire to see as much as possible before the great cataclysm erupts and we are all ploughed under! And not only us, but our bloody cultural heritage as well!"
"There was and continues to be a great deal more to modern diplomacy than that!" Young retorted to the middle-aged man beside him, who still seemed to be wrapped, despite the collapse of Soviet Communism, in the wintry embrace of the cold war. "But I grant you it's in our interests to preserve ourselves for as long as possible. Whether the great cataclysm, as you mysteriously put it, will erupt this century, next century, or in two or more centuries time ... is anyone's guess. Though, if recent diplomatic bunglings are anything to judge by, we needn't be surprised if something analogous erupts sooner than later, and not necessarily in consequence of war, either!"
"And that may well be
before you've had an opportunity to visit all of the major cultural
"Oh, Julian, do spare us the sordid details!" Bridget Ryan protested, turning a quite peeved expression on the face of her latest boyfriend, who sat in-between. "Here we are, in one of the prettiest parks in London on one of the warmest days of summer, and all you can talk about is the hypothetical future overcoming of Western civilization by some hypothetical barbarians from the East! Really, you are the limit! Anyone would think you actually wanted it to be overcome."
Her boyfriend gave vent to a short sharp burst of cynical laughter. Poor Bridget, she could never face-up to the nuclear and biological threats of the contemporary world, not even in the heart of summer. She preferred to ignore them, to pretend that they would disappear if one chose not to dwell on them, and to see in every temporary or expedient change for the better which the East or some other godforsaken part of the world underwent, an irreversible change for the best. And yet, she was by no means untypical in that respect. Almost everyone had an optimistic streak in him these days, though it didn't necessarily require Glasnost and Perestroika to bring it out. "Yes, to some extent I suppose I do want it to be overcome," he gravely admitted. "To some extent, I think we all have a little suicidal demon egging us on, reminding us that our civilization is fundamentally moribund, that there's no possibility of our being able to reverse time and restore it to anything like its former glory. One need only view the latest examples of modern art, or listen to the latest examples of modern music, or read the latest examples of modern literature ... to realize that we're fast drawing to a close. We have 'had our day', if you'll forgive me the expression, and all we can do now is await the end, await the death and destruction that the uncivilized enemy or accident or whatever will mete out to us all in due course. After all, could one really expect it to be otherwise? Hasn't every civilization worthy of the name, from the ancient Egyptian and Chinese to the slightly less-ancient Greek and Roman, had its allocated time-span? Is there any reason for us to assume that we're an exception? No, not the slightest! Only fools and ignoramuses are convinced that the West, conceived in traditional civilized terms, has a long and glorious future ahead!"
There ensued a period of solemn silence during which Timothy Young, profoundly bored by his friend's apocalyptic pessimism, reflected on his literary ambitions and brooded over his comparative lack of success. Like Julian, he was acutely aware of the feebleness and inanity of most contemporary artistic productions. Yet, unlike that forthright man, he had not been discouraged by it from pursuing a literary career, but had blundered on with his creative desires as though that was the most sensible thing to do. Preferring to believe that literature, no less than the other arts, still had a future, he had thrown himself into the production of novels which, by contemporary standards, were intellectually daring and ideologically precocious, only to realize, much to his dismay, that the reading public generally had little or no taste for such literature, being more attuned to the latest commercial fiction of what might be called the pro-filmic avant-garde. Unfortunately, his profound distaste for the equivalent commercial developments in art and music had sufficed to put him off the production of literary parallels, in consequence of which he now found himself faced with no alternative but to abandon his literary ambitions and follow Julian Brown into the philistine world of commercial journalism, which he still despised from an artist's standpoint, the standpoint, needless to say, of a subjective reinvention and reinterpretation of things. If the reading public had accepted his more philosophical approach to literature, all would have been at least relatively well. But his endeavour to bring literature to new conceptual heights had not met with a wide appreciation, obliging him to conclude that the genuine writer was as much out-of-favour, these days, as the genuine priest. Only the pro-filmic antiwriter, like the pro-cosmic antipriest, had a chance of surviving, of acquiring a sort of negative prestige. For at least he was relevant to the times instead of effectively anachronistic, and stood as both a chronicler and mouthpiece of the age. Unless one had the willpower to face-up to the creative requirements of contemporary Western society, and thus produced material of a cinematic nature, there was little place for one in the modern world. Like art and music, literature was essentially a thing of the past, and those who were well-versed in it and genuinely appreciative of its true nature could hardly be expected to take a leading role in the furtherance of the materialistic productions which had come to supersede it at the behest of the market. With very few exceptions, anyone who, because of his creative endeavour, considered himself an artist ... was simply deceiving himself. Artists, like the works they produced, were also a thing of the past, an outmoded species of man for which the age had no real use. Strictly speaking, there was no 'modern art'. If one didn't like the works of the pro-photographic anti-artists, that was too bad. One had to lump it. The 'Call that art?' mentality was simply ignorant of the current position of cultural activities in the Western world, as, for that matter, were those who replied with a 'Yes' to their detractors.
This period of solemn silence was eventually broken, however, by the loud voice of Julian Brown, who expanded on his previous comments with a remark about the likelihood of various important art treasures being saved from martial destruction either by judicious underground storage or timely transportation to remote places, in the event of the great cataclysm eventually breaking out; though he thought it unlikely there would be time or inclination to store or transport that many. "And yet, I dare say some Western art treasures would survive a third world war and be treated with respect by a future civilized people some decades or centuries after the Atilla-like purge on Western institutions and cultural creations had run its demented course," he added wistfully, turning first towards Timothy and then towards Bridget.
"What makes you suppose the West would come off worst in any such hypothetical nuclear war?" the latter asked, still impatient with her boyfriend's apocalyptic preoccupations, which struck her as symptomatic of the pessimistic imagination of a petty-bourgeois intellectual who refused to accept the inexorable march of proletarian history, as bearing upon the arts, so that he had a sort of blind sport for cinema and photography.
"Simply knowledge of the fact that Western civilization is dying," Brown irritably replied. "Whether the enemy would be vanquished along with us or come out victorious, we cannot of course be certain. But, either way, the outcome could only be bleak for the West. You see, the enemy is ideologically opposed to our religious, political, economic, social, and cultural traditions. He has assumed, consciously or unconsciously, a raison d'être of opposing the West, and this seems to accord with historical precedent, with the inevitability, almost, of a barbaric opposition to tottering civilizations, in order that the ground may be cleared, as it were, for subsequent cultural development. You couldn't have expected decadent Rome to pull down its own pagan temples for the sake of a future religious development called Christianity, and neither, it seems to me, can you expect the decadent West to destroy its own Christian churches, the very symbols of its cultural integrity. Too many vested interests are at stake and, besides, what would be the point of destroying that which purports to offer one Eternal Life? No, that is only likely to be done by barbarians, by a strong outside power, corporation, industrial conglomerate, or whatever which, in opposing Western civilization, may succeed in sweeping it into the rubbish bin of history. And, believe me, our civilization may not have much longer to go before that happens!"
Both Bridget Ryan and Timothy Young knew that, fundamentally, Julian had a point, though they also knew that one couldn't make a point of being overly concerned about it, since, to all appearances, Western civilization had already been swept away by the world barbarism of the proletarian arts, including film and photography, and was only hanging-on in the background, as it were, of its religious and cultural traditions. And for those who valued such traditions, the great art treasures of Europe were there to be visited and viewed as frequently as possible. Another decade, another two decades, and the works of Crevelli, Tura, Mabuse, Mantegna, Bellini, Botticelli, Tintoretto, and other such religious masters might be beyond one's grasp, shut out for ever from the admiring eye, banned or destroyed. The great galleries might be blown to smithereens, the great cathedrals, museums, libraries, and stately homes along with them. Then Western civilization would truly be dead. At present, however, it was still there, a sort of death-in-life traditionalism which had been effectively eclipsed by the vigorous modernity of world barbarism, a barbarism which shone with a vibrant light from every cinema screen, camera lens, TV screen, light bulb, flashbulb, colour magazine, and rock stage in the country, and which only those marooned in bourgeois culture could be expected to regard with a condescendingly critical and even aloof eye. Clearly, Julian was one such person, and so too, up to a point, was Timothy Young. Though Bridget fancied herself to be more in-tune with proletarian modernity, and thus effectively an enemy of the very civilization for which Julian Brown appeared to be standing up, despite the fact of his never having contributed anything particularly original to it himself. In fact, the thought of this caused her to laugh outright, and when asked by her tetchy companion exactly what she found so amusing, she simply replied: "The prospect of you two idiots traipsing round Europe like a pair of cultural dinosaurs, in search of dead culture upon which to feast your cadaverous imaginations!"
"Oh," said Julian, who blushed with shame in realizing that Bridget held him in such low esteem, "then it doesn't matter to you what fate befalls the cultural masterpieces which our civilization has produced over the centuries?"
"Not in the slightest," said Bridget, to her boyfriend's further dismay. "The only thing that matters to me is that I should continue to live and be able to experience the culture of my time, no matter how barbarous it may be in relation to what you choose to regard, in that finicky way of yours, as civilized. For the only way to the future is through the present, not the past, and if you had an ounce of real imagination and courage, either of you, you'd drop the culture of the past and concentrate on living in the present or, better still, find some way to overhaul and transcend it in the interests of a more civilized future!
"I can't deny there's some truth in what you say," Young conceded, frowning with what seemed to Bridget like an overly sententious solemnity. "But, frankly, I don't see how that can be done, especially when you've been accustomed, like me and Julian, to an academic background."
"Quite," the latter seconded, nodding in the process. "Timothy and I are too fixed in our ways to be able to change now, and, besides, what would be the point? We'd never succeed in becoming anything but second- or third-rate punks."
"Then you really are a pair of cultural dinosaurs," said Bridget.
"Who deserve to perish, is that it?" he angrily rejoined.
"By my reckoning, you're already dead," she retorted. "For the longer you live off the art of the past, the more dead you become to the present, and the less chance there is that the future will revive you. Your physical demise will simply be the culmination of a process which began on the spiritual plane several years ago."
"Better to die in civilized conceptualism than as a perceptual barbarian," Young somewhat sententiously opined.
Bridget smiled wearily before concluding, as she rose to go, that although there may be some truth in such a statement as far as he was concerned, Julian, with his professed love of art, was more orientated towards the perceptual in any case, and therefore doubtfully civilized in regard to that criterion.
"Oh, don't be so pedantically paradoxical!" he exclaimed, not fully understanding her. "I'm as civilized as I damn-well want to be and in the way I want to be, and that's all."
"You said it!" laughed Bridget, walking away.
"Better luck next time," Timothy said to his friend, who just shrugged in exasperation and cried: "Women!"
Personally, I prefer them to wear something different every day, giving me plenty of variety. Too many of them tend to dress in exactly the same boring fashion day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It's rather depressing to see them, particularly when they dress like men, and thus wear pants or jeans all the time.
Ah, you agree with me! I thought you would. Variety is the spice of life, after all. Well, that's my idea anyway. Someone who knows she's a woman and gives one the maximum experience of what a woman is or should be. These days, however, there are too many women who look and act and think just like men. It's a mark of the times. You can't altogether blame them, though you can't particularly admire them either. They're sacrificing too much of their basic femininity, their sexual distinctiveness. They're victims of the age, forced into the unisex cult. Well, I can assure you that that isn't my idea of the ideal. If I had the good fortune to live with a beautiful woman, I'd make damn sure she behaved like one! And I wouldn't want her to dress in jeans every day.
No, certainly not! Jeans are all very well now and again, two or three times a week, if you see what I mean, but not every day. She might as well be a man as wear them that often.
No, what I would want from her, apart from the obvious, is variety, as already remarked. Not too much, mind you, but just enough to keep me interested, giving me a pleasant surprise from time to time.
Yes, that's it! For too much variety would be as bad as too little, wouldn't it? A woman must have a personality, a temperament, mustn't she? And good looks too, of course. But not so good that she lacks character and intelligence. When there are too many charms on the outside, you can't really expect very much inside, or under the physical surface in the depths of her psychology, can you? That's what I've always found, anyway. Too many charms in one context generally mean too few in another! Take my word for it. A beautiful blockhead isn't the most exciting of people to live with, believe me! You might regret the fact that you had been fooled by her superficial charms into imagining there was something profounder about her.
That's right, I entirely agree! Quite so. For the converse case of a woman who's highly intelligent but relatively ugly is no real improvement, either. You've got to put beauty before brains, admittedly. But not to the extent that you discount brains altogether! That's the whole point. It's a question of achieving a sort of golden mean. After all, who wants to discuss philosophy or psychology or history with his woman every evening? Not I, at any rate! You might as well live with a man as do that!
Absolutely! Of course, it's an advantage if your wife or girlfriend does know something about the intellectual life and can therefore discuss such subjects with you now and again, when you feel like it. But to have them thrust upon you every night - ugh, how revolting! Particularly after you've put in a hard day's grind at your own philosophy or literature or whatever. Then you're only too keen to take a break from your intellectual commitments and sample a little marital relaxation, or something of the kind.
Yes, absolutely! I'm glad you agree with me. A thoroughly Strindbergian viewpoint, I'll admit. One needs to get away from the concerns of man after one has been up to one's eyes in them all day, and how better than by approaching those of woman? And her principal concerns are man and the propagation of the kind. That's the way I see it anyway, whether or not people think me old-fashioned. The world and that which keeps it going, as Schopenhauer would say. Two opposing standpoints. So one shouldn't expect women to have all the same abilities and interests as men, should one?
Quite! But too many fools now do, which again is typical of the times. They see companionship primarily in terms of being able to discuss all the same authors, painters, musicians, etc., and of having the same or similar views on everything. Ugh, could anything be worse? Imagine one's beloved with her beautiful head regularly buried in the works of Nietzsche or Spengler or any other great thinker, in order to be able to discuss them with one and thereby offer one intellectual companionship! Ugh, how awful! One really shouldn't expect women to behave contrary to what they are by nature. It's shameful.
Indeed! Yet all too many of them are obliged to compromise themselves in the most unseemly and unfeminine manner these days, to close their legs and open their mouths, sacrificing their co-operative traditions to compete with men! Quite obscene, in fact. More frigging obscene than anything out of Felician Rops!
Yes, I entirely agree. If things continue as they are at present, there'll be no hope for anyone, men included. And the way I see it, there's scant chance of things not continuing as at present.
Oh yes, I know all about them alright, all about the confidence tricksters and other intellectual charlatans of which the world is currently so well-stocked, but I can't put much faith in their solutions, believe me! It's all very well for some sophisticated Oriental to say that contemporary Western society needs to be changed, if it isn't to destroy itself. But when he goes on to suggest that the only way to change it is by one's undergoing a personal revolution which will similarly influence other people, and thus bring about the desired amelioration, I must confess to a certain astonishment that he should expect such an idea to be taken seriously on a large scale, let alone put into practice under the existing circumstances! One might be led to assume that the world, or at any rate the Western part of it, was populated by people who could be relied upon to indulge in the desired personal revolution at the drop of a hat, and were consequently only too willing to give it a try. But that's nonsense, as I'm sure you'll agree. For in a world where it 'takes all sorts', as the saying rather blithely goes, one can only expect a tiny handful of people to be such as would, through temperamental or other reasons, take it seriously. And they would be unable to influence more than another tiny handful, if, indeed, they influenced anyone at all, which seems to me somewhat doubtful. No, all these exhortations to personal revolution as a means to saving contemporary industrial society are entirely beside-the-point, and simply amount to playing with words on the part of their literary perpetrators, who assume environment doesn't matter, that it can be overcome at will in the interests of one's personal revolution. Typically Eastern attitude to reality or, rather, the traditional Oriental inability or reluctance to give external reality its due and treat it as something more than mere 'maya', or illusion!
Quite, I entirely agree! No shortage of illusion in their heads, though. Main reason why they're so popular here these days. For the truth is becoming increasingly difficult to bear. Fake panaceas generally preferred. Still, you do get the occasional lucid and outspoken writer in the West, don't you? Like myself, for instance. Not afraid to disillusion people concerning the crassly materialistic nature of contemporary reality, and by no means unaware of the soul-destroying influence which this reality exerts on most people, reducing them to the dehumanized level of so many 'scumbags', 'piles of shit', 'cunts', 'pricks', 'assholes', 'bums' and other such denigratory epithets which follow from a materialistic premise.
Absolutely! And that is probably why the name Adrian Holland is never found on the current best-seller list. My writings are generally too depressing for popular consumption. I refuse to be impressed by the fake panaceas. Instead of feeding people false hopes, I give them the truth about their society in relation to the system of things, the sphere of God, or whatever else you would like to call that eternal manifestation of life which stands outside and above the predominantly temporal preoccupations of contemporary man. I don't exhort them to improve themselves with the aid of meditation or self-analysis, and thereby change society for the better, because I know that no amount of hypothetical self-improvement on the part of the relatively small number of people who just might be interested in trying it ... will do a thing to change the attitudes and natures - yes, temperamental and physiological dispositions - of the great majority of people who, indifferent to or ignorant of my writings, will doubtless continue in their well-worn tracks without even realizing that I may have suggested some such self-improvement in the first place. And why shouldn't they, considering that life is an affair of types of people, not of any one type, and certainly not of any one type of person who may imagine his type capable of influencing and changing the other types! No, the self-improving, meditation type certainly has his place in the world, but it's only one place amongst others.
Yes, if they wish to believe that any personal revolution their self-analysis or whatever may bring about will help to change society in general, good luck to them! But I don't see that anyone who isn't of their type should necessarily be impressed by it. Revolutions are going on all the time, and mostly they're anything but personal, as you well know.
Yes, absolutely! Not exactly the most encouraging prospect for anyone who hopes to change contemporary industrial society for what he considers to be the better, is it? Especially when the cost of living is going up and up so rapidly, and the wage demands are going up and up even more rapidly, and the standard of living is going down and down so rapidly that you can hardly keep-up with it!
Yes, I quite agree. It makes you wonder how some people got it into their heads that we're a single species, a nice big family of bipeds whose desire for self-improvement should lead to a rosy brotherhood of man some time in the not-too-distant future. Think of it - the homogeneity of man! Everyone helping everyone else because everyone is the same as everyone else! Really, I can't begin to fathom the mentality of the type of person who imagines that because we all go on two legs - at any rate, those of us who aren't crippled or legless - and have two hands, two eyes, two ears, etc., we must belong to the same species! Is one to suppose that, instead of being a more subtle and sophisticated version of the jungle and its jungle laws, modern society is an institution where everyone cares for everyone else and endeavours to further the noble cause of man? I must confess to being somewhat perplexed by such a supposition! One would think that we were all sheep-like or horse-like or goose-like or even ant-like. Imagine it, to think of man as one might think of goats or pigs or rabbits, that is to say in terms of a particular species rather than of a particular kind! How odd or deficient the reasoning powers of such people must be! Instead of being equated with the animal kind or the bird kind or the fish kind, mankind is regarded by such people as constituting one of the many species which make up the animal kind, only a more sophisticated species of animal than those which ordinarily go on four legs.
You laugh, my friend, but I assure you this nonsense is taken perfectly seriously by many people, perhaps even by a majority of them, who are convinced of their social homogeneity. Never for a moment would they dare think of mankind the way they might think of the animal kind or the bird kind. That would be to betray their long-cherished illusion that, in consequence of having two legs, two arms, etc., their neighbours must belong to the same species as themselves.
No, because their neighbours eat meat with the aid of knives and forks, speak the same language, vote at elections, brush their teeth twice a day, visit the local doctor from time to time, watch television, and wear shoes, they cannot conceive of them as belonging to a different species. And yet, the chances are pretty high that their neighbours do belong to a different species! Unless they happen to live in a neighbourhood where everyone is pretty much alike, or the species vary only slightly, the chances are that their neighbours will belong to such a different species ... that they would be unable to communicate with them on anything but the most rudimentary or commonplace terms, like the state of the weather or the cost of petrol. Yes, if the truth were known, it's likely that mankind contains more individual species, these days, than both the animal and the bird kinds put together.
You laugh, my friend, but I assure you I'm not joking. I take the concept of human heterogeneity very seriously. I see no reason to suppose that all those who go on two legs are necessarily any closer to one another, spiritually or physically, than all those that go on four legs or, like birds, two legs and two wings. On the contrary, it seems more reasonable to suppose that there are even greater differences between them than between all the different species of animals and birds, not to mention insects and fish. Naturally, there's still a basic division between predator and prey. But how much more complicated and multifarious it is in the human kingdom than in each of the other kingdoms, where nature rules supreme and accordingly dictates the exact form the facts of life or survival must take. Believe me, even the most predatory of us regularly ends-up prey, albeit with less serious consequences, as a rule, than would be the case were we not human beings. But there you are, the survival laws of human society are so much more subtle and sophisticated than those of the jungle ... that we often fail to grasp the connection between them, fail to recognize the jungle foundations, so to speak, upon which our society is built. We imagine a homogeneity of purpose akin to that of, say, the ants or the bees, and leave it at that, confident in the supposition that the fellow who sits next to us on the bus or stands in front of us on the subway escalator is essentially of the same species as ourselves, a fellow-worker, it may be, in the glorified nest or hive we habitually refer to as society. But, really, how foolish to equate men with ants or bees or any other homogeneous species of insect! Ant and bee equivalents there may well be among the heterogeneous crowd of men, but they would no more be representative of men in general than ants and bees of insects in general.
Yes, I realize I was speaking of the jungle a moment ago. But the barbarous laws of that ancient institution are no less applicable to insects, indeed are no less applicable to birds and fish as well - at any rate, as far as the predator/prey relationship is concerned. In respect of survival techniques, the laws of the jungle are just as evident in the depths of the ocean or in the heights of the air or in the lengths of one's back garden as in the breadth of the jungle, whichever jungle you care to name.
Absolutely! Life lives on life, whether that life happens to be found at the top of the Telecommunications Tower or at the bottom of the deepest ocean. How could it be otherwise? Only, where human life is concerned the living-on process is generally so much more subtle and sophisticated, as already remarked, that half the time you aren't aware you're actually being lived on. You imagine you're getting value for money and money for value, which is quite often the case. Quite often. But there are times, too, when nothing could be further from the case, and you may or may not be aware of it.
Cynical? Yes, I suppose you could say I'm being a bit cynical. But only a bit, mind you! Perhaps you've had better luck than me recently?
Yes, well, whatever the case, you have to admit that life lives on life, even if human life doesn't always live on human life. It's all very well to eat roast chicken or lamb or beef or turkey, and think of the brotherhood of man. But equating 'living on' merely with eating isn't exactly the most comprehensive of viewpoints, is it?
Quite! You've got to stretch the metaphor as far as you can, so that working and buying are also included. In other words, the means you utilize to earn your living, the methods by which you acquire money, determine the species of man to which you belong, as, to some extent, does what you do with the money once acquired.
No, it's not simply a matter of class. For class is too vague, too
general a scale of reference to be anything but of the most basic use to us. All class really tells you, in the long run, is whether you're predator or prey, not what sort of predator or prey. It doesn't indicate your species, if you see what I mean. You could find yourself in the company of fellow upper-class people who had as little in common with one another as spiders and lions, sharks and eagles, beetles and wolves, hawk and pike, bats and snakes. Or, alternatively, you could find yourself in the company of fellow lower-class people who had as little in common with one another as sheep and cod, chickens and worms, snails and rabbits, sparrows and goldfish, cows and frogs. There are so many different methods, objectively considered, which members of either the upper or the lower classes can utilize to earn a living ... that the concept of class is of little help to us in pinpointing a given species of man. For class is general, species particular. The banker, composer, judge, priest, doctor, and professor may all belong to the same class, but in terms of species they're effectively as far apart from one another as lions, bears, sharks, eagles, hawk, pike, etc. And what applies to the upper class applies no less to the lower, indeed, may even apply more, insofar as it's such a populous class. Of course, we do speak of classes within both the upper and lower divisions, I'll grant you. But does the plural tell you exactly which species of man is being referred to at any given time? I mean, doesn't it usually imply royalty, peers, gentry, priests, politicians, professionals, and businessmen on the one hand, but lower-middle class and working class on the other hand, whether these be white-collar or blue-collar, skilled or unskilled? Again, its use is general, isn't it? Only if the plural was used in a more specific sense, so that, for example, professionals were divided up into the various professions which currently exist, and each profession was ascribed a distinct class, would I be satisfied that the term 'class' was being used to indicate species. Then one could speak of the doctor class, the lawyer class, the teacher class, etc., and the word would signify the human equivalent of species. But is it used like that? Are we really thinking in terms of a distinct species then?
You're not convinced and neither am I, because it seems that neither of us uses the word in anything but a general sense, and has little experience of anyone who doesn't. Still, the idea is interesting! We could speak of classes instead of species, if we consistently intended to assign each individual profession or each type of job a separate class. But it would be confusing, because the usual use of the word to signify aristocratic, upper middle-class, lower middle-class, and working-class distinctions, both singular and plural, would have to be discarded in the interests of our particular occupational divisions. One might speak of upper middle class one minute, upper classes the next, and lawyer or doctor class the minute after, which would, to say the least, be pretty confusing! So I can't see that use of the word 'species' is a bad idea, particularly in light of the immense differences of occupation and ability which do in fact exist between different members of the same class. To a large extent one is born into a given class but not, as a rule, into a given species.
Yes, absolutely! The fact of one's father being a lawyer doesn't necessarily mean that one is destined to become a lawyer as well. On the contrary, the chances are that one will become something else, something which can be equated with the same class but not the same species. One may prefer to become a politician or a stockbroker or a priest or a writer. Admittedly, professions do run in families, but not as often as one might suppose. Thus while there may be little doubt as to the exact class into which one was born, there's certainly no guarantee that one will follow in one's father's footsteps and develop into a member of the same species. The complexities and subtleties of human society are so great that you might find yourself habitually utilizing a method of survival, or earning a living, which is so far removed from your father's as to preclude all but the most trivial or generalized of conversations from taking place between you. The gulf of dissimilar conditioning and knowledge would open-up before you, making you acutely conscious of the fact that, to all intents and purposes, you belonged to different species of men, to men who, while belonging to the same class, had little more in common with each other than different species of animal predators would have if obliged to live together. Indeed, it might even transpire - if one is to take the analogy with other life forms seriously - that you had less in common. For who can seriously deny that human life is more diversified, these days, than the lifestyles of virtually all the other life forms that live on this planet taken together? Is there anywhere, from the heights of the tallest mountain to the depths of the deepest coal mine, from the heights of the air to the depths of the ocean, where men don't venture or exist? Are there not men who, through regular use of aeroplane or submarine, are closer in kind to the birds and the fish, respectively, than to the animals? Where, formerly, men were confined to the land and sea surface, they now have regular access to both the heights of the air - not to mention space - and the depths of the ocean, an access which turns the chief inhabitants of those places into species akin to birds and fish. Thus it may happen that a man accustomed to living in a submarine for months on-end could find himself being transported through the air, one day, by a species of man, i.e. a pilot, with whom he would probably have as little in common as a whale with an eagle.
Yes, you laugh, but it's perfectly true! Even when they speak the same language and have the same colour skin, men can be as environmentally different from one another as are the most dissimilar species of non-human life, indeed even more different from one another! For what bird has ever flown to the moon and walked about on its surface? What fish can travel for miles under the North Pole and go or stay down as deep as the greatest submarines? No, one cannot confine man to a single kind these days, and thereby equate him with or oppose him to the animal, bird, fish, and insect kinds. It would seem that mankind is the most heterogeneous kind, the only kind that can make use of more than three environments by producing species akin to each of the other kinds. For just as some men are closer in occupation to birds and fish, so others exist who are closer to animals and insects, men whose land-based occupations bring to mind connotations with other land-based life forms. And, of course, there are those species of men - undoubtedly the more numerous - who are uniquely human, men whose occupations provide us with no parallels in the non-human worlds whatsoever, and who may be said to constitute the backbone of mankind, the essence of its uniqueness. We have already alluded to spacemen, but we could just as easily refer to writers, lawyers, sculptors, comedians, priests, judges, lecturers, typists, newscasters, taxi drivers, disc jockeys, barbers, etc., who live in a world strictly fashioned by man without reference to other life forms. Yet, even with the relatively few species of men that I've just named, what a world of difference there is between them! Could any two animals be further apart or have less in common with each other than a lawyer and a disc jockey, or a barber and a priest, or a judge and a comedian? Can you imagine such people seeing eye-to-eye with each other on everything, or being able to understand each other on everything? My God, they speak of the brotherhood of man, but, in reality, how tenuous and superficial such a brotherhood really is! A brotherhood, one can only suppose, which distinguishes those who go on two legs, wear clothes, and speak a language, from those that don't, meaning the animals, etc.
Yes, I entirely agree! One might just as well speak of a brotherhood of animals, one which overlooks the fundamental differences between predator and prey in the interests of the fact that, with relatively few exceptions, they all go on four legs.
Absolutely! But, then again, few of us take the idea of a brotherhood of man very seriously in any deeper sense, these days, anyway - least of all in practice. We're generally much too sensible and logical to kid ourselves that all those who go on two legs belong to the same family. Brothers in the battle for physical survival we may well be, but hardly brothers to one another! Only to some, to those, if you like, who belong to the same species as ourselves, to a lesser extent to the same class as ourselves, and to a lesser extent again to the same type as ourselves.
Yes, I was speaking about type a little while ago, mentioning the fact that it took all types to make a world, and stressing the impossibility of any one type being able to change the fundamental natures of the other types in the name of self-improvement, world-improvement, or whatever. Type corresponds to temperament, character, and build. It can be psychological, as in the case of Carl Jung's eight-fold classification of Psychological Types, viz. introverted and extroverted feeling, sensation, intuition, and thinking types; or it can be physiological, as in the case of W.H. Sheldon's three-fold classification of Physiological Types, viz. fat, medium, and thin, which I believe he called endomorphic, mesamorphic, and ectomorphic. Or, better still, it can be a combination of both. However you prefer to regard it, type is something that cuts across occupation and class, the species and the genus. Hence one can speak of the composer species but of different types of composer, the writer species but of different types of writer, the artist species but of different types of artist, and so on. One type may be predominantly romantic, another type classic; one type may be predominantly idealistic, another type realistic; one type may be predominantly intuitive, another type sensual, depending on their respective internal and external, mental and physical characteristics. Thus you may find the romantic type of composer, for example, relating to the romantic types of painter, poet, sculptor, etc., who each pertain to different species of men. And, conversely, the classic type of composer likewise relating to different species of men who yet pertain to the same type. Viewed objectively, however, even the most dissimilar composers are going to be closer to one another, in terms of species, than to men of other artistic species whose types may nevertheless correspond more closely to their own. It's a strange fact, but true nonetheless! Species-specific rivalry is one thing, inter-species rivalry quite another! No amount of quarrelling between brother and brother can alter the fact of their being brothers. Similarly, no amount of professional rivalry between, say, one type of composer and another can alter the fact that they're both members of the same occupational species. In the jungle one lion may attack another over a dead zebra.
Yes, I entirely agree! But I think I've said enough about dissimilar species of men to preclude my having to draw tentative analogies with dissimilar species of animals. In theory, it does seem rather strange that one should think in these terms when the evidence of the senses would suggest that all those who go on two legs more or less belong to the same species. But, in practice, in the artificial way contemporary society actually works, it's apparent that men, no less than other life forms, function as members of different species, their dissimilar conditioning and occupational contexts establishing the essential heterogeneity of mankind, or of the human kind, in contradistinction to any subsidiary or natural heterogeneity based on race or type or class.
Yes, you might think it odd but, irrespective of language barriers or racial differences, a Chinese painter and an American painter are likely to have more in common with each other - as befits members of the same occupational species - than either of them would have with, say, bankers or lawyers or politicians of their own race. You could equate them, in analogical terms, with geographical variations on the different species of elephant or bear or eagle which, while being dissimilar in relatively small ways, nevertheless function according to a uniform pattern of survival, one kind of elephant being pretty much akin to another, and so on. The painter species, then, is universal, not confined to any one country or geographical locality. It supports itself in a given fashion, a fashion we may define as 'the painter's method of survival', whilst all around it, in houses or buildings perhaps no more than a few-hundred yards away, different species of men are preparing for or indulging in their particular methods of survival, much more subtle and sophisticated as a majority of those methods generally are to anything encountered more naturally in the jungle, the ocean, or the air.
But what of women, you ask? Well, I was unconsciously including women under the noun 'men' or 'mankind', insofar as they also pertain to different occupational species, have various methods of earning a living, etc., which enables us to classify them accordingly. But as I began talking to you about women, I suppose I may as well finish by doing so, since it's a subject which is of great interest to us both. Nowadays there are more species of women than ever before, because an increasing number of females are obliged or choose, depending on their circumstances, to indulge in methods of survival which lie outside the traditional framework of family life. Strictly speaking, woman is much less inclined to the formation of different species than man. For her rightful profession, her chief raison d'être in life, traditionally lies in ensuring the survival of the kind, as I think I remarked earlier. Naturally, there are exceptions to the general rule, and they must be tolerated. But I'm sure that most women would be inclined to view any woman who, well-advanced in years, had not produced a child or children with a mixture of pity and contempt, much as though she had somehow lived in vain, not done what she was put into the world specifically to do, and therefore failed as a woman.
Yes, you smile, but I'm pretty confident that, even these days, this is the way most normal healthy women, young or old, would secretly feel towards such a childless woman. Traditionally, then, women belong to one occupational species, which is essentially concerned with producing and raising children. These days, however, society has encouraged more women than ever before to acclimatize themselves to occupational activities outside the family, with a consequence that they've become divisible into numerous species and are accordingly more man-like than ever before. Admittedly, there are still more species of men, more jobs or professions which are exclusively a male preserve - professional football and cricket not least among them - but, even so, the transformation of women into the numerous species which now exist marks a social revolution of an unprecedented nature and scale. Never before have women fallen so much under the influence of men. Not only do large numbers of them work like men, they often endeavour to look like men, dress like men, think like men, act like men, and even talk like men, as was remarked at the beginning of our discussion.
Yes, our technological society has so transformed women that many of them are scarcely recognizable as women! Of course, a large number of them still produce children and thus revert to the natural maternal species to which women traditionally belong, albeit studies usually indicate this reversion to be temporary, confined to the latest months of pregnancy and the earliest years, if not months, of child-raising, after which time financial necessity or occupational enthusiasm may induce them to return to the artificial species of woman they had been before. Naturally, circumstances vary with the individual. But you can be pretty certain that the pressure is on women to behave increasingly like men, to give precedence to the artificial rather than to the natural species to which they belong, so that any woman who has the strength or good fortune to swim against the current of ongoing male domination for any length of time certainly deserves our respect as a genuine rebel in the cause of women's traditional rights! Unfortunately for the so-called fair sex, however, the current is so strong that only a comparatively small number of them remain consistently loyal to their natural species, an increasingly large number falling victim to the contraception/abortion mentality which mainly results, I believe, from fidelity to the artificial species which contemporary society has imposed upon them.
Yes, absolutely! If the present is severe on women, the future will probably be even more so, leading towards a society not all that far removed from the one Aldous Huxley outlined in Brave New World, where technological expertise will have made it unnecessary for women to live as women even temporarily, thus saving them the time and trouble of having children by mass-producing babies in test tubes, etc., and thereby maintaining a maximum work force for the male-dominated industries of that lopsided age.
You laugh, but, believe me, that's the kind of society we are heading towards and would probably arrive at, were the expansion of contemporary mechanistic trends allowed to continue unchecked throughout the coming decades. Personally, I don't believe it will. For the hardships would be too much for anyone to bear, men included, and would probably culminate in mass suicide. Yet whatever happens between now and doomsday, there's not much possibility of our being able to do anything to alter the course of contemporary Western society, since it would take the greatest revolution the world has ever known to reduce our cities and populations to a scale commensurate with a less unnatural, and possibly more healthy, mode of existence, and that is unlikely to happen. If the small-minded wish to doubt it, let them. But we must stand by our intellectual perceptions and relate to matters as they actually exist. And if we're fortunate enough to possess a woman, a real woman and not just a distorted caricature of one, we must do everything we can to protect her from the pressures increasingly being brought to bear on women to sacrifice their essential femininity to the false idols of industrial expansion and technological advancement. As victims of contemporary society, we may not be able to do a great deal in that respect, but we should at least do what we can to encourage her to dress, behave, talk, and generally live like a woman. After all, it's our loss if she doesn't, isn't it?
Yes, I thought you'd agree with me!
THE CHRISTIAN COMPROMISE
Whether or not they would appreciate what I, an itinerant American philosopher by name of Paul Gertler, had to say, I couldn't of course be sure. But I could tell by the expectant hush that suddenly descended on the lecture theatre, with the termination of their polite clapping, that these undergraduates were eager to give me a hearing. So, obedient to my role as guest speaker, I cleared my throat and then proceeded to speak.
It was first of all necessary to give them a brief outline of the essence and direction of human evolution as I conceived it, since this was indispensable to a proper understanding of what I subsequently had to say on the subject of religious art. Thus I began with comments to the effect that evolution was in large measure a consequence of man's tendency to pit himself against nature and establish a world of his own, a consequence, one might say, of his spiritual essence, which inevitably rebels against sensual tyranny. "Evolution is a phenomenon," I continued, "leading man in the direction of a higher spirituality, a spirituality not hampered by the sensual but able to entirely transcend it. From predominantly sensual beginnings in nature, Western man has evolved to a predominantly spiritual context in large cities, where he finds himself regularly isolated from nature's sensuous influence and therefore no longer under its sway to anything like the same extent as his historical forebears. Naturally he's still partly sensual, since sensuality is a condition of man, but by no means as sensual as he would otherwise be, if life in the big city had never been invented, so to speak. The trend of evolution is consequently pushing him towards a lopsided spirituality, a spirituality which may well culminate in the transformation of man into superman, where the sensual will cease to have any part to play and human evolution accordingly attain to its apotheosis.
"Hence the path of evolution is mapped out from the beastly to the godly, with three stages of human life coming in-between. The first stage is early man, or man surrounded by and imprisoned in nature. With this stage goes a religion which gives priority to the sensual, since man is so much under its sway, and this religion takes the form of phallic worship, fertility rites, pantheism, animism, etc. One might say that it is essentially the Creator Who is being worshipped or feared at this early stage of man's religious development, since it's a very mundane type of religion that prevails.
"But, unlike the beasts, man doesn't 'stand still', in a given mould, but evolves. So the struggle with nature continues, as villages turn into towns and towns into small cities, and when a kind of balance has been struck with nature, when his civilization has evolved to a point where he is no longer smothered by nature but exists at a fairly safe remove from it and in a fairly harmonious relationship with it, exists, in other words, as its equal rather than as its inferior, then we may claim that man is in the second stage of his evolutionary development, which marks his high-point as man. Now emerges a religion which reflects this balanced stage of his development, testifying to his environmental progress, and which thus embraces both the body and the spirit of man. It's at this juncture of compromise between the sensual and the spiritual that the tendency to anthropomorphize God fully presents itself, and so arises Christianity, with its faith in the man-god, the Son of God, meaning effectively the logical religious development beyond the Father, or Creator. Here the mundane and the transcendent balance each other out, in accordance with the environmental context of second-stage man.
"However, this is by no means the end of man's evolution. For the villages, towns, and cities continue to expand, to multiply, to be transformed into larger and stronger representations of man's ongoing evolution in the face of nature, and when the larger towns and cities arrive at a point of growth where man is no longer in a balanced compromise between nature and civilization - ah! then it's 'all up' with his second-stage religious awareness ... as a new awareness, appertaining to his artificial environment, makes its appearance, to usher in the third stage of his evolution. For now that man has isolated himself, or been isolated, to such an extent from the proximity of nature, its influence is much less apparent than before, and consequently the religion of compromise between the sensual and the spiritual is no longer relevant. Only that which acknowledges the spirit of man is now acceptable to him, and this we call transcendentalism. Thus the three stages of man's development are accompanied by a corresponding religious awareness in each case, an awareness in large measure attributable to the nature of the environment in which he happens to live at any given time. It is, in effect, a journey from the Father to the Holy Spirit via the Son. A journey, in other words, from paganism to transcendentalism via Christianity - the evolutionary Trinity of Western man's religious evolution."
I paused here partly to let my words sink into the undergraduates' minds, and partly because I had given them a brief outline of my conception of human evolution. Now it was time to proceed to the next part of my lecture, and for this I required the assistance of the projector I had brought along, with which I intended to project enlarged colour slides of various works of religious art onto the large screen behind me. I could tell by the students' respectful attention that the first part of my lecture had been relatively successful, so I felt more confident now, as I walked across to the waiting projector, that what followed would also meet with their approval. The subject of Christian art was what I intended to embark on, now that they had a better understanding of Christianity. For Christianity, I hastened to remind them, was the religion of compromise between the sensual and the spiritual, as appertaining to second-stage man. To be a Christian, one had to believe in Christ as the Son of God, as the man-god come to earth. One took anthropomorphism for granted. There could be no question of one's regarding Christ merely in mundane terms, as a highly-talented and influential preacher who happened to get himself posthumously taken for God. And neither could one conceive of God in terms of the Inner Light, or some such mystical abstraction. If one did, one wasn't a Christian, even if one attended church twice a week every week of the year, and accordingly entertained a contrary opinion. One either accepted the compromise between the mundane and the transcendental, or rejected it in favour of some absolute. There could be no indecision. For there was a clear-cut divide between second- and third-stage man, as between the town and the big city.
Today, however, third-stage man predominated, though it was still possible to be a Christian, particularly in those less-urbanized parts of the Western world where villages and small towns still prevailed, and the people were accordingly exposed to the context of compromise between nature and civilization in which second-stage religious awareness especially thrives. But where, on the other hand, civilization had the advantage over nature, where civilization had supplanted nature, ah! then it was not anthropomorphism but transcendentalism which was more relevant to the environment, since it signified a break with the sensual realm. Thus the traditional religious awareness could not be conceived as an end-in-itself. For third-stage man, Christianity was simply a pointer in the direction of transcendentalism, a midway stage between man's sensual beginnings and his spiritual endings. Now he could understand it in light of man's ongoing evolutionary struggle with nature. He could get it into perspective and leave it behind him without any Nietzschean bitterness towards it. For it was indeed a very ingenious, logical, and objective record of second-stage man's spiritual evolution towards the transcendent.
Yes, he could leave it behind him without any serious regrets, since he was now on a higher plane of evolution than second-stage man, a plane which would lead him towards his ultimate destination in spiritual transformation. Viewed from this higher perspective, the decline of the West, about which Spengler had written at such great length, wasn't something to regret but, on the contrary, something for which to be grateful, because it attested to Western man's ongoing spiritual development. All that had really declined was the old religious sense and the aesthetic culture appertaining to it, and this had declined because industrial and urban expansion were making the establishment of a higher religious sense possible - namely a transcendentalism which had no need of cultural illustration. For cultural illustration is only relevant to a sensual/spiritual compromise in which, paradoxically, the spiritual has to be illustrated in sensuous terms, not to a transcendentalism in which there is nothing but spirit, and therefore no place for illustration. Thus to third-stage man, the decline of Western culture is no cause for regret. It is not the Son of God but the Holy Spirit on which he will fix his religious aspirations: the third and highest part of the evolutionary trinity, wherein cultural illustration has no meaning.
Having said which, it was necessary for me to add a word or two about the great European art nations before proceeding with the projection of successive examples of Christian art onto the screen in front. "For purposes of categorization," I continued, "it will be expedient for us to divide nations into primary and secondary art-producers. Briefly, primary nations are those, such as Italy, Spain, Flanders, and Germany, which flourished at the height of the Christian culture, when the anthropomorphic impulse was strongest, and produced mainly religious works. Secondary nations, by contrast, will be those, like Holland, France, and England, which flourished at the tail-end of this culture, and thereby produced mainly secular works, works more suited to industrial civilization. The primary nations will therefore have had approximately the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries at their disposal, the secondary ones ... the seventeenth to twentieth centuries. Some overlappings and exceptions to the general rule there will of course be. But, for categorical purposes, this division of nations into primary and secondary producers of great art isn't without value.
"Thus it's to Italy, Flanders, Spain, and medieval Germany that we must turn for the greatest art, since the religious should take precedence over the secular in a cultural context, as it illustrates the foundations upon which the Christian culture was built. Now the Christian culture was built, as I've already remarked, upon foundations of compromise between the mundane and the transcendent, and so in any objective assessment of Christian art it is necessary to bear this fact in mind, just as it's necessary to bear in mind the direction of evolution for a proper appreciation or understanding of it. This, then, we'll now endeavour to do, as we study the slides I intend to show you."
I switched on the projector and requested that the theatre lights be dimmed. On the screen ahead, some thirty yards from where I stood, The Annunciation by Jan Van Eyck was presented to the scrutiny of the undergraduates' gazes, as I proceeded to comment on it in the light of what I had just said about the foundations of compromise, which in illustrations of the Annunciation were a foregone conclusion, being specified in Scripture itself. "This is a good compromise," I assured them, "between the mundane, represented by Mary and the room she is in, and the transcendent, represented in part by the angel and in part by the dove and beam of divine light to Mary's head, which testifies to the transcendental influence of the spiritual upon the sensual, and endows her with a partly supernatural significance. She is to become the Mother of God, which effectively means that the transcendent principle of god-like spirituality, signified by the dove, will take on human form and thus dilute itself for the sake of humanity, and she will be the receptacle through which this divine spirit enters the world in due course." From the Van Eyck we progressed to similar Annunciation scenes by Van der Weyden, Piero della Francesca, Rubens, El Greco, Titian, Botticelli, and da Vinci, all of whom illustrated the Christian compromise with varying degrees of success, according to their respective temperamental or artistic biases. Piero della Francesca, for example, preferred to leave the dove and beam of light out of his interpretation altogether and to endow Mary with a halo, as did Botticelli and da Vinci, whilst El Greco - one of the most transcendental painters - contrived to add an orchestra of angels, perched on luminous clouds, to the angel, dove, and beam of spiritual light which already adequately represented the transcendent, thus upsetting the Christian compromise in the general direction of mysticism. At the other extreme, Van der Weyden was merely content to represent the transcendent with an angel, dispensing altogether with halo, beam of light, and dove, and consequently tipping the balance in favour of the mundane. My contention was that the more balanced compromise made for superior art, from a strictly Christian standpoint, to the less-balanced one which both El Greco and Van der Weyden represented, and was therefore worthier of our critical appreciation.
But the Annunciation was only the beginning of our investigation into the relative merits of religious art, which was now to be focused on the Nativity, the Adoration of the Shepherds, and the Adoration of the Magi, in that order. Of the Nativity paintings, the most successful compromise between the mundane and the transcendent was achieved, in my opinion, by Van der Weyden, who appeared to atone here for his previous lapse in favour of the mundane by including six small angels: three stationed in the sky to the upper left of the painting and three kneeling on the ground next to the Mother of God in adoration of the baby Christ Who, like His Mother, was haloed in indication of the transcendent. "This work," I hastened to inform the undergraduates, "is undoubtedly one of the finest Nativity paintings in existence, doing full justice to the dual integrity of Christianity." But such eulogistic comments could not, alas, be extended to The Nativity by Piero della Francesca, which was devoid of even the faintest traces of transcendentalism and seemed not to represent the birth of the Son of God but, rather, a son of man. Whether or not the five female figures to the left of the kneeling Mary - three of them playing musical instruments and two singing - were intended as angels, there was no evidence of wings or haloes to support one's confidence in the possibility, and this absence led one to the conclusion that the work was too mundane in appearance to serve as a leading example of great Christian art. On the other hand, the Mystic Nativity by Botticelli veered in the opposite direction ... towards transcendentalism, so many angels did it contain, and could hardly be praised as a leading example of such art, either. However The Adoration of the Shepherds, painted in 1475 by Hugo Van der Goes, maintained a good balance between the two extremes, the shepherds and angels, and so brought back my enthusiastic appreciation, as, curiously, did the 1612-14 version of this same theme by El Greco, who supplied a sufficiency of different-sized angels to complement the various mundane components of this excellent work.
As, however, for The Adoration of the Magi, it was upon works by Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse, and Mantegna that I bestowed my critical appreciation. For the compromise in both paintings was excellently handled, the three kings being complemented by angels, and this I pointed out to the undergraduates in regard to the Christian position. Less good from this dualistic standpoint, however, were the works of Van der Weyden and Botticelli, which were predominantly mundane, the first making use of only the faintest haloes on the heads of the Virgin and Christ respectively, the second providing only a small star above the heads of St Joseph and the Virgin. But if they at least made some attempt to remind the viewer that he wasn't looking at an ordinary mundane scene but at a partly transcendental one, in which the Son of God was being worshipped by three wise men, then Jan der Beer, Rubens, Dürer, and Titian made no attempt at all in the slides of their respective interpretation of The Adoration of the Magi which I next chose to project onto the large screen in front. From the standpoint of an artistic illustration of the foundations of compromise upon which the Christian culture had been reared, these works were simply disastrous, suggestive of a kind of pagan or pre-Christian interpretation of the Magian adoration, in which only the mundane mattered. Especially guilty of this omission, I duly informed my audience, was Titian, whose 1557 version of the above-mentioned theme was followed, in 1560 and 1566, by two more equally mundane versions, works which could only lead one to the conclusion that the treatment of religious themes in secular styles marked a transitional stage between the era of religious art-proper and the era of secular art which was to follow. Titian, clearly, wasn't among the greatest religious painters. As a leading light of the High Renaissance, he evidently wasn't entitled to be!
Following on behind The Adoration of the Magi, however, came slides of The Virgin and Child, which I once again presented more or less in order of ideological merit, beginning with good compromises and ending with the mundane and transcendental extremes. "In this version by Van der Weyden," I remarked, "a subtle balance has been achieved between the exposed right breast of the Virgin, which is giving suck to the infant Christ, and the halo which crowns their heads, reminding one of the partly mundane and partly transcendental nature of the portrayed. El Greco has likewise achieved a fairly good compromise in his version of this theme, the haloes being replaced by angels and cherubs, although the balance has, if anything, been slightly tipped in favour of the transcendent, as we note the absence of an exposed breast. To my mind, angelic beings of whatever age or rank create a more transcendental impression than haloes, and so, once again, we can perceive in El Greco the growing preoccupation with mysticism which, from the strictly Christian standpoint, was to spoil so much of his later work. On the other hand, the Titian, painted in 1560, contains neither angels nor haloes, being, like so much of his work, extremely mundane. In point of fact, he painted quite a few versions of this theme and, like the one here, it is generally the case that transcendentalism is absent. One might be looking at any young mother and child. More surprising in this respect, however, is The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen by Robert Campin which, painted before 1430, is very mundane indeed. Here, too, a complete absence of angels and haloes." And so onwards, through The Madonna of the Book by Botticelli which, with the use of haloes, achieved a good compromise, a compromise that was shamelessly discarded, however, with The Madonna of the Pomegranate, in which this same Botticelli contrived to add six angels to the haloes of the Virgin and Child, thus giving the work a predominantly transcendental slant. A slant, it transpired, which was similarly endorsed by Mantegna, in The Madonna and Child with Angels and Four (haloed) Saints. But to bring the undergraduates firmly down to earth and momentarily deflate their mystical pretensions, I concluded this part of the proceedings with Dürer's Madonna and Child with Pear - one of the most mundane religious works ever painted!
Skipping lightly over a few other religious themes, I proceeded to project examples of The Baptism of Christ onto the screen, beginning with Piero della Francesca, who, with the use of a dove over Christ's head and some angels to His right, achieved a good compromise between the two extremes, and continuing with examples by Van der Weyden, El Greco, di Tito, and Tintoretto, whose work also did justice to the Christian position. Especially meritorious in this respect was the 1580-85 version by Tintoretto, in which a very bright light emanated from the dove at the top of the painting and shed its beams upon a haloed Christ. The baptizer was entirely mundane. Less convincing, however, were the examples by Masolino da Pincale and Giovanni di Paolo, whose work appeared too transcendental. Not content with merely a halo for Christ and a dove above His head, di Paolo chose to include the Father, five haloed angels flying in the sky, and three haloed figures standing on the bank by the side of the river in which Christ was being baptized. But the inclusion of the Father, represented by a bearded head in the sky, could be regarded as a mundane or, at any rate, pagan component if one equated Him with first-stage religion, so that His presence might be said to balance, in some degree, the conspicuous transcendentalism otherwise apparent. Thus the Christian cynosure of this work was linked to the past, in the guise of the Father, and to the future, in the guise of the dove ... symbolic of the Holy Spirit. A religious continuity had been maintained.
Taking leave of the life of Christ for a moment, I next projected onto the screen The Temptation of St. Anthony, painted by Tintoretto in 1557, which I regard as one of the few really great works on a theme which is, after all, of no small importance in the evolutionary development of Western man. In this work, Christ appears in a blaze of light to St Anthony, who is surrounded by three figures whose nude or semi-nude bodies leave one in no doubt as to their seductive intentions, intentions which the Devil, stationed immediately behind the group in the foreground, is busily encouraging ... by pulling the dark drapery off one of these bodies via the body of St Anthony himself, as though to draw him closer to the woman in question and thus expose him to still greater temptation. "Only the intervention of Christ, it seems, can save the saint from sensual degradation and sustain him in his battle against the flesh," I averred, by way of comment on the scene before us. "For a battle it truly is, in which the spiritual aspirations of man are pitted against the reality of sensuous nature, represented in this instance by the three figures tempting the beleaguered saint. For Anthony is a progressive, a follower of Christ, pointing humanity in the direction of its evolution towards a higher spirituality, and therefore he isn't particularly keen to sink back down to the sensual hell out of which Christian humanity is slowly climbing. Sensual preoccupations usurp the spiritual domain, reduce one to the base level of the beasts, and thus obstruct one's advancement towards the Beyond. Anthony knows this, and so he battles bravely in the name of the spirit. And how he needs to battle! For the semi-nude bodies to either side of him are both extremely beautiful, are they not? They offer a sufficiently alluring bait to tempt the progressive idealist back to his human reality, to remind him that he isn't the Son of God but only a man, and therefore fallible.... Which is doubtless something that the nude tempter on the ground in front of Anthony also realizes, as he pulls at the latter's modest raiment. But thanks in large measure to the intervention of Christ, symbolizing the spiritual principle, St Anthony holds firm, his frozen posture an encouragement and reminder to future humanity of the anti-sensual direction evolution is taking."
Likewise the slide showing the 1515-24 Joachim Patinir and Quentin Massys version of this theme won my warm-hearted critical appraisal for the sufficiently-convincing seductive powers of three of the four women who accost the saint in the middle of a pleasant landscape, one of the three holding out an apple to him, whilst a small monkey, suggestive of the bestial, tugs at his clothing. Clearly, these two Flemish artists understood something about fleshy temptations! One had no doubt that Anthony was being tempted. But the versions, on the other hand, by Bosch, Jan Mandyn, and Peeter Huys, which I subsequently projected onto the screen, gave one little confidence in the idea, since too fantastic in style to warrant serious consideration in this respect. Of the three, the temptress of Bosch's Temptress in the Hollow Oak seemed the least likely to achieve anything palpable, her nudity partly hidden by the hollow trunk in which she was standing, a coy maiden whose existence at some distance from the saint merely served to distract him from his reading. Almost as strange, however, was the Sassetta slide I had singled out for the undergraduates' scrutiny. For the temptress of the haloed saint in this version wore brightly-coloured wings and had all the appearance of an angel. Could it be, I wondered, that Anthony was susceptible to the enticement of angels? Or maybe just to fallen angels? Sassetta undoubtedly had a very transcendental concept of the temptress! But if he took St Anthony up higher than the context really warranted, then Titian very definitely brought Christ firmly back down to earth in his Noli Me Tangere, painted approximately 1512, in which a scantily-draped Christ is accosted by the Magdalene fully clothed. A little too mundane-looking to satisfy the canons of good religious art, this work, but an attractive and skilfully-wrought achievement nonetheless!
Having dispatched the above-mentioned slide, I immediately projected another Titian onto the screen, this time The Agony in the Garden, which I ventured to praise on the strength of the compromise between the mundane and the transcendent achieved by incorporating the appearance of an angel to the agonized Christ, a comforter and reminder of Who He was. El Greco had likewise included an angel in this context, but Correggio and Bergognone had gone one better, as it were, by placing a halo on the praying Christ's head, which left no room for doubt as to Who He was. And Tintoretto's 1580 interpretation of this tragic scene, while dispensing with halo, had permitted a very bright light to emanate from the angel as it held out a chalice to the kneeling Christ. Once again, it was Tintoretto who received my critical homage for the ingenious compromise attained. But Carpaccio's work, on the other hand, gave no importance to angels or haloes or chalices or anything transcendental at all, and was accordingly deemed too mundane to pass muster as true religious art. Even Giovanni Bellini could have made something more, I felt, of the chalice-bearing angel he contrived to place in the sky at an indeterminate distance from Christ's head.
And so the projector whirred on, and it was now the turn of The Crucifixion and kindred works to stand trial, as it were, in our assessment of their relation to the Christian compromise. Would the Son of God be recognizable by the presence of a halo and/or angels, or could He be mistaken for some common criminal nailed to a cross? That question was quickly and efficiently answered by the slides I now presented to the undergraduates' respectful attention, the most successful religious works leading the way. Here, then, it was the turn of Giotto, El Greco, and Castiglione to steal the limelight, while Tintoretto, though by no means mundane, made a slightly less-favourable overall impression on me - and, I trusted, on the students - in consequence of a tendency to overcrowd the scene with mundane figures: soldiers, peasants, mourners, etc., in which Christ seemed less significant. This was especially true of his 1560-65 and 1565 versions of The Crucifixion, though the work of 1588 succeeded in banishing the crowd, mostly composed of soldiers, to the background, and thus allowed the haloed Christ to stand out in a more dignified perspective, relatively speaking. However, it was the Giotto, with its tiny angels and Byzantine haloes, and the El Greco of 1596-1600, in which three flying angels are balanced by three mourners at the foot of the Cross, that I considered the more perfect representations of this scene, and about which I spoke at some length for the students' benefit. I also reminded them that the man-god had to die because, as chief representative on earth of the spiritual principle, he was incompatible with the human predicament and too spiritually superior for mundane men to properly relate to at that more primitive juncture in time. He taught them about the future, about 'the kingdom of God within the self', but they could only live in the present, being recipients less of the Holy Spirit than ordinary dual men with sensual ties to nature. They were still too close to Jehovah, that old wrathful God of first-stage man, to be able to appreciate Christ's message of love, and so they had Him put to death. This, at any rate, was how I figuratively interpreted it for the students' benefit, since it was necessary to take anthropomorphism seriously if one hoped to understand the development of religious art. Looking at the paintings by Giotto and El Greco, one could be under no doubt that a divinity was being represented on the Cross, since the angels and haloes did ample service to the transcendent dimension, as, indeed, did the judicious use of haloes by Castiglione, who preferred them to angels.
Another good example of religious art was furnished by Lucas Cranach, who likewise preferred to omit the angelic in his Christ on the Cross, and to distribute haloes according to the requirements of the occasion, Christ and four of the ten figures at the foot of the Cross being transcendentally endowed, while the two thieves to either side of it retained their mundane status. But if this highly-gifted artist struck a balanced compromise in the 1500 version of this theme, then his 1503 work gave no place at all to the transcendent and was accordingly criticized by me for its infidelity to second-stage religion, a criticism I was also obliged to level at examples of The Crucifixion by Rubens, Mantegna, Titian, and Castagne, whose preoccupations with a purely or predominantly mundane rendering of the scene might have led one to confound the Son of God with any common criminal, or to suppose that they preferred a paganized interpretation of Him which would have been more relevant, had they but known it, to the Father in His capacity of Creator.
Be that as it may, it was now the turn of The Resurrection to pass briefly before our eyes, as I projected first a Mantegna and then a Tintoretto onto the screen in front, and commented approvingly on the results obtained in each case. As with The Annunciation, the theme with which we began our investigations, this aspect of Christian myth was a foregone conclusion as far as the inclusion of the transcendent element was concerned. Consequently, it wasn't strictly necessary for one to mentally congratulate the artist for having provided angels, haloes, aureoles of light, etc., when he had little choice in the matter, but, rather, to congratulate him for tipping the balance of compromise in favour of the transcendental ideal without, however, entirely giving way to the mystical. Thus it was necessary that he should remain loyal to second-stage religious awareness, with its dualistic compromise, even at its most transcendental point, which, as it happened, both Mantegna and Tintoretto had admirably done, the latter more successfully in his 1576-81 version of The Resurrection, by offsetting the radiant Christ and four angels with approaching mundane figures to left and sleeping figures to right of the canvas. And, similarly, The Transfiguration by Raphael had achieved a delicate compromise which rightly favoured the transcendent, as Christ ascended into Heaven in an aura of dazzling light, His spirit aflame with the Holy Ghost - the religious focus of third-stage man.
"But if human evolution was slowly proceeding towards the most spiritual interpretation of God and would eventually reach its goal in blessed union with the transcendent," I remarked, "then it was also true to say that there was a price to be paid by those who lagged behind in this respect and, through allegiance to the sensual, would drag man back to a first-stage religious impulse. For those who were insufficiently spiritual, whose activities went against the grain of evolution, there was the penalty of Damnation, banishment from the heavenly scheme. The Church pointed the way forwards, but those who chose not to follow its example and to indulge in sensual pleasures would be going back, back towards the beasts, towards an earlier religious impulse which could hardly be equated with the path of Salvation. And the further back they went, the closer they would be to Hell. For Heaven and Hell signify the opposite extremes of evolution, the spiritual and the sensual.
"In effect, the path of human evolution leads from the hell of our bestial beginnings to the heaven of our godlike endings, the three stages of religious development lying in-between," I continued, warming to my thesis. "Thus by not following this path to Salvation, one is doomed to the hell of sensual torment. By not following the example of Christ, one is forced to live with the beasts. Needless to say, we all follow it to some extent, for we're human beings, and human beings, at that, who are gradually drawing nearer to our ultimate transformation. But for purposes of allegorical interpretation, the Church was obliged to overstate the consequences of sin in order the better to encourage men towards the Inner Light, to hurry their evolution along towards the godlike transformation which would signal their entry into the post-human Beyond. In reality, however, Hell is something in the past, Heaven yet to come, and the condition in which men live a kind of purgatory. But it could well transpire that the future transformation into the transcendent, symbolized by the Last Judgement, won't be possible for everyone, including those who are insufficiently spiritual, and that they'll either perish or be forced to persevere with the purgatorial state in which we exist, until such time as they or their descendants are spiritually qualified to enter the post-human Beyond, and thus abandon the world of humanity. In the meantime, we must press-on with our spiritual evolution as third-stage men and be grateful that we are one stage closer to the possibility of that ultimate transformation than were the Christian contemporaries of the great painters on whom I have chosen to comment. But let us look, finally, at some examples of the Last Judgement, as the Christians conceived of it, and thus relate them to the compromise between the sensual and the spiritual."
With these words I projected onto the screen a slide of Michelangelo's Last Judgement, which I considered a fairly good example of the above-mentioned compromise. Here Christ, situated next to the Virgin in the upper portion of the fresco, was seen passing judgement on both righteous and sinners alike, the former supported by His angels approximately on a level with Himself, the latter plunging into Hell with the assistance of demons. Clearly, the presence of both angels and demons (police and soldiers?) testified to the dualistic compromise one expected. Though the stern mien and resolute gestures of Christ suggested an emphasis on the damning of sinners rather than the saving of the righteous. One felt, in contemplating the passionate intensity of this work, that the muscular Christ of Michelangelo was closer in character to the wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament than to the Saviour of Man which the New Testament represented. By nature, Michelangelo was better qualified to depict Old Testament characters, and it's above all this aspect of his work in the Sistine Chapel that merits our approval. However, if the vengeful attitude of the Saviour, as Michelangelo conceived of Him, may not have constituted the best, or most dualistic, interpretation of the Last Judgement, then the overall conception as such was certainly in harmony with the Christian position. A harmony that was even better-illustrated, in my opinion, by the 1560 version of this theme by Tintoretto, who had likewise divided the painting between angels and demons, the former naturally stationed in the upper portion of the work and the latter lower down. Here Christ, situated near the apex of the painting, appeared a good deal gentler-looking than the Christ of Michelangelo, as though His very position in Heaven - a realm of peace and bliss - necessarily precluded the slightest agitation on His part. Surrounded by and impregnated with the light of the Holy Spirit, He radiated love throughout His kingdom, the beam of this divine love coming to an end with the darkness of Hell, into which the Damned were falling or in which they lay helpless, as in a swamp, at the mercy of demons. The contrast here between the light and the dark, the spiritual and the sensual, was admirably achieved, and elicited my critical approval. From the symbolic standpoint, this work was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished interpretations of the Last Judgement in existence, the very fact of Christ being situated near the apex of the painting rather than actually at the apex ... doing full justice, it seemed to me, to the spiritual superiority of the Holy Ghost, which shone, as a cloud-like halo, just above His head.
However, if Tintoretto had almost said the last word in painting, it was to Giotto that I next referred my audience's attention, as a slide of the fresco decorating the whole of the West Wall of the Arena Chapel at Padua was projected onto the screen in front, and his interpretation of the Last Judgement duly investigated. Here it was the fate of Christ to sit in judgement, saving with His right hand and damning with His left, flanked on either side by His apostles and crowned by angels, while beneath Him two angels supported a Cross which divided, along its length, Heaven from Hell, and thus permitted the establishment of another masterly compromise between the mundane and the transcendent. If this work was structurally less good than the Tintoretto (the parallel positioning of Heaven and Hell to either side of the Cross, rather than in a vertical arrangement, being notably inept), it nevertheless made-up for its structural deficiency with the aid of a fastidious application to particular symbolic details which emphasized the antithetical natures of Salvation and Damnation respectively. Thus the realm of Heaven to the right of the Cross put due emphasis on the blissful passivity of the Saints and the Elect who peopled it, while the realm of Hell to its left writhed with the tortuous activity of the Damned in the clutches of ravenous demons. Here I specifically drew the undergraduates' attention to the latter's beastly appearance: fur-covered creatures pre-dating man, whose ghastly activities were appropriately sensual. In Giotto's Hell, the emphasis was clearly on the sexual organs as constituting the chief offenders against the spirit, though other sensual sins, like gluttony, were also represented and duly punished. To be sure, it was rather disquieting to behold people being hung upside down from their genitals or physically assaulted by demons, but nonetheless highly educative and suggestive, moreover, of the most explicit allegorical teaching possible at the time. One could be under no illusion, at the sight of this ghastly scene, exactly why the Damned were in Hell, even if one was somewhat puzzled by the exact applicability of the proceedings to the Last Judgement, or puzzled, it may be, by the moral position of the Saviour in relation to it. But for all its weaknesses when viewed from the strictly objective angle of post-Christian man, this fresco remained one of the greatest early figurative interpretations of human evolution, a tribute to the patronage of Enrico degli Scrovegni, who is himself immortalized in the small dedication group at the foot of the Cross, in which the patron places a model of the chapel, held by a friar, in the hands of the Virgin, accompanied by a saint and an angel, to the greater glory of God and early fourteenth-century Italian art.
But if this work signified a good compromise between the mundane and the transcendent, the two slides which I now chose to conclude with focused exclusively on one or other of the two extremes: the first going back, it seemed to me, to the beginnings of human evolution, and the second pointing man towards his ultimate salvation in a future Beyond. Now if, in his portrayal of Hell, Giotto had put the emphasis on sex, it was left to Rubens, in The Fall of the Damned c. 1620, to put it firmly on the flesh, as the slide depicting the fall of numerous flabby bodies all too poignantly attested. To me, the flabbiness inherent in so many of Rubens' nudes had always excited a certain disgust, but in this context, disgusting though it arguably still was, its pertinence was beyond dispute, elevating Rubens to the rank of the very greatest damnation painters. Naturally mundane as so much of his work ordinarily was, one felt that no other artist could have dealt with this theme better than him. For here his predilection for the flesh was perfectly in its element, containing not the slightest intimation of ambiguity. Whether the falling bodies were destined to be devoured by monsters or tortured by demons, there could be no doubt that the fate awaiting them was strictly in accordance with the sinful nature of their lives on earth, lives which had induced them to turn their back on the godly and because of which they were helplessly plunging towards the beastly. For those already in the monsters' jaws it was the end of what little humanity they still possessed, the beginning of their fate as beasts. Here, for all its repulsiveness, was the ultimate gluttony, the ultimate comment on sensual sin. What one was looking at wasn't Christian, nor even pagan, but effectively primeval, a world totally dominated by the beast. Christian symbolism embraced both the beginning and end of human evolution!
But if Rubens preferred to return to its beginnings in this horrific work, then it was left to Tintoretto to have the final word on man's ultimate destiny, as I projected a slide of his 1577-94 mosaic of Paradise, from the San Marco in Venice, onto the screen in front, and thereby gave the undergraduates an opportunity to study the wonderful symbolism of this highly transcendent work, a work which, in abandoning the Christian compromise, had more relevance to them, in this post-Christian age, than they might have at first imagined! Not surprisingly - and to the eternal credit of Tintoretto - it was the dove, symbolic of the Holy Ghost, that formed the most important ingredient of this work, its position in the upper right-hand corner of the mosaic constituting a sort of cynosure from which radiated the light of spiritual love informing the figures of Christ, the Virgin, angels, saints, and the elect respectively, in a descending hierarchy of spiritual importance. If Tintoretto's earlier versions of Paradise possessed the symbolic advantage over this one of portraying the spiritual hierarchy vertically rather than horizontally, from right to left of the mosaic, they had not achieved such a convincing portrayal of the superiority and importance of the Holy Ghost, which in this work more than adequately testified to the apex of spiritual evolution, the consummation of divinity in eternal bliss. Thus it was fitting that I should have selected this version of Paradise to represent the climax of Tintoretto's achievement from the mystical standpoint, even if it could not be equated with the finest Christian art on account of its lopsided transcendentalism.
And so, with the showing of this slide, my projections came to an end, and the lights were accordingly switched back on again. The world of Christian art faded into memory in the minds of the students, as I reminded them of the direction of evolution towards the spirit of God and away from the anthropomorphic compromises of our cultural forebears. "Second-stage man is now largely a phenomenon of the past, a phenomenon that is destined to grow rarer as we progress further into third-stage life, and thus draw closer to the Inner Light, otherwise known as the Holy Spirit, of transcendental man. What second-stage man had dreamed of, we are destined to realize, and so bring human evolution to a climax. Our future salvation draws nearer with every new day, draws nearer in spite of all the obstacles we either choose or are obliged to put in its way. Somehow, it will all come right in the end. Third-stage man is the last and most spiritually advanced of human beings, the closest yet to the post-human Beyond, otherwise known as Heaven, of the Superman. On that account, he has good reason to rejoice!"
I could tell by the enthusiastic applause which descended on my ears, as I terminated the lecture at this point, that a majority of the undergraduates had, indeed, appreciated what I had said. For it was as much as I could do to hear myself think, as I slowly made my way towards the privacy of an adjoining room for a well-earned rest.
AN EXTRAORDINARY RUMOUR
"Did you hear that Michael Estov actually experienced Infused Contemplation the other day?" Stephanie Voltaire asked, primarily addressing herself to Serge Riley, her senior colleague at the Galactic Research Unit.
"No, I can't say that I did," replied Riley, who happened to be seated opposite.
"Maybe that explains why we haven't seen him so much recently,' Adam Kurtmüller commented, an ironic smile subtly qualifying his suggestion. "He probably considers us all infra dignum now." At twenty-three, Adam was the youngest and most promising of the Unit's junior research team, a high-level graduate in galactic geology from the University of Europe.
"Yes, I wouldn't be surprised," Stephanie admitted, offering the young man to her left a complementary smile. "Anyone who experiences that ... usually takes a rise in his own estimation. He becomes one of the spiritual elect."
"Virtually a superman," Adam confirmed, drawing on his Nietzschean scholarship. "Isn't that so, Serge?"
"So I'm told," the latter languidly replied. "Though I must confess to not having anticipated any such spiritual breakthrough from him. He never struck me as being one of the more accomplished or dedicated meditators before - not, at any rate, when he used to attend my centre. Doesn't do more than five hours a day, does he?"
"No, he doesn't actually," Stephanie confirmed while looking out through the narrow window of the small rest room in which she and her two colleagues were seated. It gave-on to a view of another department of the Galactic Research Unit, some twelve yards away, and usually permitted her to watch or, rather, spy on the activities of various personnel there, activities which sometimes amused and often intrigued her. In this instance, however, she was slightly baffled by the violent gestures a Senior Administrator was making, as he engaged himself in soundless conversation with an attractive young woman in a standard white one-piece zippersuit. She wondered what he could be saying; for it wasn't often that one saw elderly men gesticulating in such a seemingly passionate, not to say theatrical, manner. Perhaps he had fallen in love? It still happened occasionally, though society took good care to protect itself from atavistic eruptions of this ancient passion by isolating its victims from contact with the rest of humanity, thereby precluding the possibility of contagion. For the most part, however, love had been successfully stamped out, consigned, thanks to environmental and moral progress, to the rubbish bin of emotional history. The modern world had neither use nor place for it.
"Still, he may have achieved a more concentrated method of meditation without our knowing about it," Adam was saying, as Stephanie returned her attention to the occupants of her room and recalled the subject of Estov's spiritual breakthrough to higher levels of mystical experience. "Some people have apparently perfected a technique which enables them to approach the threshold of total enlightenment in a much shorter time, with a mere 4-5 hours' meditation a day over as short a span as ten years. I've heard of a number of cases in which a surprisingly quick breakthrough to pure knowledge has been achieved in recent years. Our local meditation centre reported three such cases last month, one of which also involved astral levitation."
"Well, I doubt if I shall ever have such good fortune," Riley commented. "Even after thirty years' meditation at six hours a day for five days a week, I haven't achieved nearly anything so spectacular. My transcendentalism has evidently been less ambitious. There must be something about my temperament which inhibits real spiritual progress."
"Ditto for me," Stephanie confessed, smiling temperamental complicity upon her senior colleague. "Perhaps our scientific duties here detract from our transcendental potential? After all, we have a fair number of mundane tasks to attend to, during the course of our two days work each week, don't we? Studying the flora of the planet Galbrais isn't exactly the most spiritual of tasks."
"Neither is classifying the fauna on Sestos," Riley declared, referring to his latest duty, which pertained to a smaller planet in the same solar system as Galbrais. "But it has to be done. Just as the rock formations on Hebatta have to be ..."
"You needn't remind me!" Adam interposed, throwing up his arms in mock exasperation. "I've been trapped in those damn rocks for the past three months! Frankly, I envy Estov his investigations of the mineral deposits on Fulmer. Those gems can hardly be accused of obscuring his view of Eternity!"
"Whatever such a view happens to look like," Riley commented, as though from afar. "Still, we mustn't grumble. The path of evolution may be leading us towards a spiritual transformation into godlike entities, but we still have to attend to the more mundane affairs of this galaxy in the meantime. As yet, we're still men, even if relatively advanced ones. So our scientific activities cannot be discarded or underestimated, particularly with the prospect of a galactic war hanging over us! Who knows, but the other alliance may be preparing to overrun our solar system at this very moment and plunge us all into slavery?"
"Well, it won't receive a very warm welcome if it is," Stephanie asseverated, her noble countenance stern with the knowledge of contemporary ideological rivalry. "Our laser beams should be more than sufficient to repulse any such invasion."
"I sincerely hope so," said Riley. "For if not, then our beloved transcendental meditation won't be of much help to us. If we're to attain to the millennial salvation which technological progress has been promising us for the greater part of the past two centuries, we shall certainly have to keep ourselves out of the gruesome clutches of the Kibalatics. For if they get their greedy hands on the world, we'll be set back hundreds of years."
This was fairly common knowledge among the Earthlings of 2200 A.D., even though no Kibalatic invasion had yet occurred and it seemed unlikely, in view of the fearsome potential of the then-existing military resources, that such an invasion would ever occur. But if the earlier interplanetary wars had been anything by which to judge, then the possibility of a first galactic war between five or more different solar systems could by no means be ruled out, the Kibalatic League, comprising a military alliance between three of the most powerful planets in the Galaxy, being the most probable instigator of such a conflict. However, the Earth, as one of four members of the Stanta Alliance, was prepared for the worst and had accordingly amassed a large arsenal of laser-defence weapons to safeguard its citizens from alien aggression.
Meanwhile Stephanie had changed the subject to one more congenial to herself, by embarking on a conversation to do with the extraordinary rumour being spread about the sex-life of a certain Maria Gomez, a laboratory technician who, so it appeared, was indulging in clandestine sex as regularly as once a month.
"Once a month!" Adam exclaimed, his eyes fairly bulging with the mental shock of this extraordinary allegation. "But that's preposterous!"
"So it sounds," Stephanie conceded. "But that's what I was told by Phillippa Stuart, who happens to be a close acquaintance of hers. Apparently, Maria's official sex partner is too ascetic for her needs, so she has acquired herself an unofficial one to take care of them on the sly, a certain Franz Jones, who isn't as spiritually conscientious. And he doesn't ask questions."
Adam Kurtmüller could scarcely believe his ears! The fact of someone's having sex in naturalis as many as twelve times a year was virtually unheard of! It was strictly against the moral code to indulge in naked carnal appetites that often. Why, one could risk official disgrace and summary dismissal from one's profession! One could even be sent away somewhere to labour at some unsatisfying task. None of the intelligentsia - which included those working in scientific research - was permitted natural sex more than four times a year as a rule, once every three months. It was against the grain of evolution to commit oneself more frequently to such a primitive passion or, rather, act. For evolution was leading man towards the post-human Beyond, towards his ultimate spiritual transformation, and consequently away from the sensual. No-one in any degree spiritually developed could possibly countenance the prospect of voluntarily submitting to the sensual to any great extent, least of all to an extent of twelve times a year! Wasn't the widespread recourse to artificial insemination and test-tube reproduction, not to mention the use of plastic inflatables, or so-called 'sex dolls', and the availability of a variety of gadgets used in conjunction with certain types of approved sex videos, ample evidence of modern man's distaste for the sensual, proof of his ongoing spiritual evolution? Hadn't it been conclusively demonstrated to people that sensual preoccupations were contrary to their deepest interests and to the will of God? Hadn't Christianity - that ancient religion of second-stage man - put due emphasis on salvation of the spirit through sexual moderation, if not abstinence? Hadn't it been shown by a certain twentieth-century philosopher that Hell signified consummate sensuality and Heaven consummate spirituality, and that the path of human evolution was accordingly leading men away from the hell of their beastly beginnings towards the heaven of their godlike endings, towards their ultimate salvation in transcendent union with true divinity? And weren't they now closer to that heaven than ever before, now that they were approximately two-hundred years into third-stage life? How, therefore, could anyone in his right mind possibly allow himself to be dragged back towards the hell of man's sensual past by copulating with another person to the extent of twelve times a year?
Adam was astounded, and so, too, was Serge Riley; though, being older and more experienced in worldly affairs, he managed to hide his feelings to a greater extent than the young man who sat next to Stephanie and looked as though he had just been accused of some such sexual promiscuity himself. But, in reality, Kurtmüller's past sensual record was a model of late-third-stage sexual morality, a testimony to the advanced state of spiritual evolution prevailing at the time. Ever since coming of age, he had scrupulously adhered to the specifications laid down by the canons of transcendental ethics, and accordingly limited himself to just four sexual engagements a year. Despite his tender years this had never proved too difficult for him in any case, not only because he was by nature predominantly cerebral and of a physiological disposition which W.H. Sheldon, a twentieth-century American psychologist, would have classified in terms of ectomorphy, i.e. leanness, but, no less significantly, because the society into which he had been born was so spiritually advanced ... that categorical limitations on sensual indulgences seemed the only reasonable and proper procedure. It wasn't as though, by obeying this restriction on sexual activity, one was putting oneself out or undergoing punishment. On the contrary, one's sexual appetites were usually so slight that the avoidance of regular natural sex (not to be confounded with artificial sex) proved as easy and logical a procedure as adherence to an artificial diet, in which vitamin capsules played a more significant role, or reliance on the artificial oxygen that was manufactured on a systematic basis. So little incentive was there for one to indulge in regular sex, even when the women were pretty - as incidentally was more often the case - that one took one's celibacy for granted, grateful to know that one stood on a higher rung of the evolutionary ladder than the billions of more sensual men and women who had populated the Earth in times when nature had a much stronger influence on human behaviour than at present.
In actual fact, nature currently had very little influence; though what it did have was still enough to prevent one from becoming ultimate divinity. However, that someone who was ostensibly one of the spiritual elect - a brilliant chemistry graduate and zealous meditator - should have found it desirable or necessary, in this day and age, to rebel against the wisdom of spiritual progress and degrade herself in the manner described, Adam simply couldn't understand, no matter how hard he tried! It was even stranger than if a caveman - ugh, horrible creature! - should have elected, through some inexplicable paradox, to spend more time meditating towards unitive knowledge of the Godhead than copulating with some beastly woman! It was so entirely out-of-context. And yet, if rumour was true - and they generally were concerning such distinguished people as Maria Gomez - then one would have no alternative but to accept it for fact, accept the fact, namely, that someone preferred Hell to Heaven, and carry on as though nothing unusual had happened.
"D'you think she's gone mad?" asked Adam, becoming intimidated by the embarrassing silence which had fallen between them, like a cloudburst.
Stephanie shrugged her shoulders, but briefly smiled acknowledgement of such a possibility. It wasn't altogether implausible, considering that a number of responsible people - mostly female - had cracked-up under pressure of keeping abreast of the times in recent years, and thereupon reverted to an earlier stage of spiritual development. But as she didn't know Maria Gomez personally, she was hardly in a position to say. Only Phillippa Stuart could tell them the truth, assuming she was qualified to judge, of course. Still, it was most unusual nonetheless, especially where people of her background and reputation were concerned. Even among the European masses, the fact of anyone's having sex more than ten times a year was virtually unheard of; though it was still permissible for them to indulge their natural appetites from between eight and ten times, considering that they were generally less spiritually advanced than the intelligentsia, and therefore weren't expected to adhere to exactly the same criteria of transcendental ethics. Only in certain parts of Africa and Latin America, where the level of sensuality had been traditionally so much higher on account of the climate, was it socially permissible for people to copulate more frequently: to the extent of fifteen times a year for the broad masses and ten times for the intellectual elite. But in the most developed and least sensual parts of the world, particularly in Northern Europe, such criteria would have been at least a century out-of-date and hopelessly irrelevant to the moral dictates of the day, dictates that were slowly but surely goading the European people towards a still higher level of spirituality, such as had already been attained to in certain Oriental regions, where the leading lights could go without sex altogether and the masses confine themselves to a mere three or four times a year.
Be that as it may, Europe was what essentially mattered to the three people in the private rest-room at the London-based Galactic Research Unit, and, as such, it was upon European criteria of spiritual evolution that they based their feelings. Whether Maria Gomez had actually gone mad or simply regressed, through imperious atavistic eruptions from her subconscious, to a level of sensual criminality totally unworthy of a person of her intellectual calibre, there could be little doubt that the nature of her alleged promiscuity was utterly reprehensible in a society which put so strong a priority on transcendental progress and was justly proud of its advanced stage of spiritual evolution. Madmen and criminals were equally dangerous to the cause of enlightenment, especially highly intelligent ones!
"Let's hope for her sake that, if what I heard is true, she doesn't get caught," Stephanie remarked, turning her gaze towards the window and briefly staring across at the department opposite, where the two occupants of the room most accessible to her view were still engaged in soundproofed conversation, albeit less passionately than before. "Personally, I'm not one to go around informing on people myself," she went on, "but I'm fully aware that there are a number of persons here who, from a variety of motives, would relish the prospect of embarrassing this unfortunate woman by bringing her to trial and winning official favour for themselves."
"Yes, you can say that again!" Riley exclaimed, nodding knowingly. "Maybe this Maria-creature has already been reported by someone and deprived of her professional status? Who knows? After all, things happen pretty fast these days."
"Especially where sexual indiscretions are concerned," Stephanie rejoined. "The authorities are very stringent with 'the carnal enemies of progress', as we all know."
"Yes, and not least of all by subjecting them to the ugly spectacle of various Christian paintings depicting the wrong side, as it were, of The Last Judgement," Riley confirmed, a sly smile on his lips. "The sight of the Damned being punished for their sensual crimes, or sins, is certainly an excellent reminder to offenders against the spirit of what they're doing to themselves and where they'll end-up if they don't watch out: namely in a hell of their own making. Now obviously, very few people wish to have their fate spelt out to them in such blunt terms these days."
"You're not kidding!" Adam exclaimed, a slight but perceptible shudder shooting through him. "The sight of a Damnation scene would be enough to precipitate me into Hell. It's one of the worst psychological punishments imaginable!"
"Fortunately, however, very few people have to undergo it," Stephanie reminded him, smiling reassuringly. "Not, at any rate, among the intelligentsia. We're much too spiritually disposed to run the risk of backsliding, and thus jeopardizing or ruining our impending prospects of Salvation. We're much too aware of the direction in which our deepest interests lie, to run the risk of preferring the hellish to the heavenly."
"Quite!" Riley seconded, nodding reaffirmatively. "Although I have to say, in all fairness to my own gender, that that applies slightly more to the men than to the women, as a rule."
Stephanie frowned impulsively and lowered her head, as though to hide the incipient shame and regret which were threatening to tarnish her relations with the older of the two men. She recalled a remark Serge had casually let drop, a few months previously, about evolution working against the traditional interests of women, and it humiliated her slightly. To be sure, there had been an element of truth in it, insofar as women were generally more sensual than men, having more fat on them, quite apart from the milk in their breasts, and therefore weren't qualified to embrace the spiritual with quite the same gusto. But something about Serge's mode of communication at the time suggested a faint tone of mockery, much as though he secretly relished the fact.
Yes, it was almost as though he had been subtly reproaching her for being a woman, criticizing, through her, the fundamentally sensual nature of women in general. And she had resented it, considering it wasn't her fault that she had been born a woman anyway and, even so, she was pretty spiritual as women went - more spiritual, in fact, than a number of men she knew! But now the thought came back to her and irritated her slightly. She could almost feel a kind of mockery in Serge's presence beside her, an oblique mockery which sought to condemn her for being spiritually pretentious. A delusion probably, but nevertheless hardly the most ennobling of delusions! And it only sufficed to unearth depressing material from the depths of her subconscious, like the recollection, amongst other things, that she had more than once gone beyond the bounds of the current sexual morality herself in recent years, and 'made love' to another person to the extent of six or seven times a year. And that without anyone but her regular sex-partner knowing. Just as well, she reflected, that neither Serge nor Adam were mind-readers!
But, even so, she was beginning to regret that she had brought-up the subject of Maria Gomez's alleged promiscuity in the first place. Hadn't she been slightly envious of Maria's immorality, and wasn't the fact that she had brought it up sufficiently indicative of her status as a woman, a creature for whom the sensual or sexual was never very far away, not even in the year 2200, and therefore apt to manifest itself subliminally and indirectly, if not concretely and directly? Yes, in all probability! And yet she was spiritually earnest, like most contemporary women, being only too keen to spiritualize herself to the extent that she could, irrespective of the pressures put upon her by feminine sensuality. Evolution might be working to undermine the fundamental or traditional interests of women, but that was the way it had to be, and all one could do was adjust oneself to the reality of the situation as best one could and endeavour to take it for granted. For what else could one do? Men were always the deeper and stronger sex, the sex that shaped the world, and, as such, one had to follow their lead. As a woman, it was one's duty to help them thrive, not hinder them. One had to go along with whatever was in their best interests, even if this meant that some or most of one's sensuality would have to be sacrificed in the process. And at the highest point of human evolution, at that point where women had most spiritualized themselves, one would have preferred to be treated as a man than regarded as a woman. Yes, absolutely! Otherwise one would be damned, left behind in a world which man, in attaining to his spiritual transformation, no longer inhabited. So one had better make a determined effort to keep abreast of the latest spiritual developments, even if one couldn't be expected to lead the way. For in spite of the emphasis on sexual equality, these past two-hundred years, men and women were still fundamentally different creatures who couldn't be expected to act and think exactly alike. Women would generally have a stronger sensual allegiance than men, no matter how spiritual they strove to make themselves.
Not particularly surprising, therefore, if the majority of people punished for sexual immorality these days were females, and that even the ranks of the female intelligentsia weren't immune to sensual aberrations, as they were somewhat euphemistically termed by the spiritual authorities. What would happen to women in due course, remained to be seen. But Stephanie sincerely hoped that they wouldn't be 'left behind' when men took off, as it were, for a higher realm of transcendentalism. That would certainly be unfair on them, especially when one bore in mind the immense efforts they usually made to live in the spirit!
Indeed, ever since the Women's Liberation Movement initiated the drive towards sexual equalitarianism, way back in the twentieth century, woman had increasingly made efforts in this context and, by and large, she had been highly successful, witnessing, over the passing decades, the reduction of sexual intercourse from as many as a hundred times a year to as few as three or four times, with a corresponding fall in the ratio of sexual promiscuity. Thus she had sound reason to believe that evolution was as much a fact of her life as of men, in consequence of which she would be properly rewarded in due course. But how ironic that Women's Lib, as it used to be called, should have been feared and misunderstood by so many men when it made its first appearance in the European world, in response to the exigencies of commercial and/or industrial progress, and accordingly precipitated women in the general direction of greater professional responsibility and, as a direct corollary of that, increased intellectualization. As Serge had once remarked to a colleague in Stephanie's company one day, it was a wonder that so many men had either openly or secretly opposed this liberation movement, since it was in their interests that women should increasingly assume responsible roles in society and thereby testify to evolutionary progress away from the sensual!
For a society in which woman was very much in her sexual/maternal element and man, under nature's domination, was largely sensual and worldly in his social outlook, still had a long way to go before any spiritual transformation could come about. But a society, on the other hand, in which woman was making a determined effort to spiritualize herself, in response to the artificial ideals of industrialism and its corollary of large-scale urbanization, had reason to believe that the long-awaited consummation of human evolution was closer to-hand than at any time in the nature-bound past, where the worldly ideal of mundane sensuality was uppermost and the otherworldly ideal of transcendent spirituality no more than a distant dream. Like so many other aspects of twentieth-century change, however, this one hadn't been widely understood or appreciated at the time, and was consequently subject to varying degrees of pessimistic interpretation.
To be sure, one cannot now be surprised that the twentieth century, as the great turning-point in Western man's evolution, should have been the source of so much confusion, since it signalled the transition between second- and third-stage development, between middle and late man, town and city man, and thus provided sufficient grounds for uncertainty. In shaking off the old anthropomorphic religious impulse, many people were convinced, after Nietzsche, that 'God was dead' when, in effect, all that had really died was the old way of conceiving of divinity. And out of this futile conviction, born of ignorance and confusion, had come various absurd philosophies of a nihilistic import which sought to repudiate the existence of God! As if God were here one moment and gone the next!
No, it was subsequently realized that only second-stage man had gone, his outdated concept of God being replaced by the transcendental concept appertaining to his more spiritual successor. That was what had happened, though it wasn't absolutely clear to most people at the time, just as the Women's Liberation Movement had caused quite a degree of uncertainty or hostility, whilst other developments, both political and scientific, were likewise exposed to varying interpretations, some of which were highly unfavourable. And yet things eventually sorted themselves out, in spite of all those who believed that the end of the world was nigh and man's religious evolution accordingly drawing to a close. The transition between the two stages of Western man's spiritual evolution was successfully bridged and weathered, willy-nilly, in the interests of posterity, who repudiated the absurdities and confusions of the twentieth century and pressed-on with the destiny of humanity towards its ultimate goal in spiritual transformation, a transformation which, two centuries into third-stage life, had still to come about, but was a great deal more feasible now than in the age of writers like Aldous Huxley and Henry Miller. With transcendental meditation five days a week, mankind was now closer to its ultimate salvation than at any previous time in the world's history, even if a few sensual mishaps still occurred, from time to time, and not everyone had direct experience of Infused Contemplation. Perhaps when the working period was cut from two days to one day a week, as rumour suggested it might soon be, more people would have a better chance of breaking through onto the higher levels of mystical contemplation and thus of achieving a real glimpse of the post-human Beyond, the millennium of millennia which would last not merely a thousand years but for ever?
This was a prospect, however, which Stephanie Voltaire half-cherished and half-feared. For deep down in her sensuous nature she didn't want evolution to proceed too quickly, although she was fairly resigned to its gradual progress. Frankly, there were still too many things in life that mattered to her besides God, not the least of which was her growing fondness for Adam Kurtmüller, the shy, sensitive young research colleague to her left, who was now in conversation with Serge Riley about the latest development or, rather, scandal at the meditation centre they both frequented - a different one, incidentally, from Stephanie's - in which a promising scientist by name of Gregory Smith-Solti had been requested to take-up a new position in the ranks, in consequence of the fact that he had only recently discovered he was gay and therefore not entitled to sit among the men.
"You know, I almost missed his presence in front of me yesterday," Adam was saying, his lips curved into a sardonic smile, his eyes bright with the ironic amusement which the scandal in question had engendered, "and was slightly distracted from my concentration by the different-shaped head there."
"You're lucky he didn't make a habit of sitting behind you," Riley disrespectfully joked, warming to his younger colleague's amusement. "Otherwise you might have distracted him from his concentration. After all, you can't be sure, can you?"
"No, I guess not," Adam conceded, before bursting into a little snigger which merely served to embarrass him in the presence of Stephanie and elicit a perfunctory apology on his part. And, as though this gave him the necessary inspiration, he continued: "I expect he felt humiliated, having to sit behind the women for the first time, especially as he'd been regarded as a heterosexual all along."
"Yes, I expect he did indeed!" tittered Riley, newly elated by this further consideration. "It's the only occasion I've known such a thing to happen, you know. Quite remarkable really! I'm surprised he didn't keep quiet about his little self-realization and carry on meditating with us in the male section of the centre. No-one would have known any better, would they?"
This semi-rhetorical question momentarily managed to upset young Adam's moral equilibrium and thus precipitate a few additional sniggers, which were duly qualified by a "Hopefully not!" Still, it was less than fair of them to treat poor Smith-Solti's predicament with levity, so Adam quickly brought a degree of seriousness to bear on the ticklish subject by reminding Serge of the absolute necessity of honesty in such matters, as well as conveying to him his personal admiration for Smith-Solti's moral integrity in the face of psychological inconvenience and possible social repercussions.
"Oh, I quite agree," Riley rejoined, slightly taken-aback. "It was the correct and proper thing to do. The question is, why did it take him so long to discover that he was, in fact, homosexual? After all, he'd been sitting among the men for at least three years. So if the regulation regarding a person's sexuality - or assumed sexuality - in relation to his position in the meditation centre is to be taken seriously, it would seem that he has defied convention ever since he first took his place amongst us. Which is no minor indiscretion!"
The regulation to which Riley was referring had been introduced approximately 150 years ago, in response to a growing demand for greater fidelity to transcendental ethics. It required that all meditation centres throughout Europe maintain sexual segregation, in order to preclude the possibility of anyone's being distracted from his devotions by the immediate and visible proximity of members of the opposite sex. If one was hoping to attain, through regular meditation, to a higher level of spirituality, it wouldn't help to be surrounded by the visible embodiments of sensuality and thus exposed, at any moment, to lustful temptation. On the contrary, one had need of a context in which there was no place for sex, if transcendentalism was to properly flourish. And so, traditionally, the males sat in the front half of the centres' meditation areas and the females sat behind them, out of sight. Nowadays, however, the sexual instinct was generally so much weaker than when the law regarding sexual segregation had first been introduced, that it was scarcely necessary to maintain it. Though the spiritual authorities were still in favour of its retention, if only for form's sake and because it did, after all, signify fidelity to the nature and direction of human evolution. So the males continued to sit in front and the females behind. But in such exceptional cases as that to which Riley had just referred, it was deemed necessary for the homosexual to sit right at the back, behind the women, where he wouldn't be exposed to carnal desires at the sight of certain males or, conversely, expose certain females to such desires on his account. Moreover, a further clause of this regulation stipulated that if, due to lack of space, he couldn't sit right at the back, he should have at least two-thirds of the women in front of him, which quite plainly meant that he shouldn't sit immediately behind the men in the first rows of female meditators but, rather, as far back as possible, in order to be delivered from the sight of them. Furthermore he should not, under any circumstances, have other homosexuals seated immediately in front of him, but either in the same row as himself or hidden from view somewhere among the female ranks. Since a meditation centre normally held approximately 350 of each sex, there was sufficient scope for making this arrangement feasible, as a rule. Though it must be admitted that in some centres the clause wasn't always scrupulously adhered to, there being so many homosexuals in the locale. However, very few people quibbled with its logic, even among the lesbians who, logically enough, sat right behind the males. And so, despite the progressive weakening of the sex instinct, it retained general respect among the meditators, primarily dedicated, as they were, to spiritual matters. Hence Riley's concern with regard to Smith-Solti's delayed sexual self-realization and consequent social indiscretion of having sat in the wrong half of his meditation centre for over three years. And hence, too, the humour that preceded it. Poor Smith-Solti's personal discovery and appropriate transference to another part of the centre had come as quite a shock to his fellow-transcendentalists, not least of all to Serge and Adam!
"Oh well, I guess his self-discovery is better late than never," said Adam in sympathetic response to his senior colleague's previous comment. "The meditation masters won't punish him for it."
"No, not these days," Riley admitted, half-smiling. "Though they certainly would have done a century ago. He'd have been obliged to pay a heavy fine and/or meditate in solitude for a number of weeks."
"It almost sounds funny now," Stephanie opined, thrusting her way back into the conversation and thereby reminding the two men of her existence. "One simply can't imagine anyone being punished, these days, for what, to us, is such a minor offence. I'm sure most people in his situation would have kept quiet about any such sexual self-realization in those days."
"Not least of all when of a gregarious nature," Riley rejoined, smiling. "Still, what Smith-Solti has been doing, these past few years, is nothing compared to the alleged promiscuity concerning Maria Gomez, is it? In all probability, his sexual incertitude owed more than a little to the infrequency of his heterosexual commitments and to the correspondingly modest character of his copulatory appetites, which we must regard as a credit to our environmental and moral progress. In the future, no-one will have any copulatory appetites at all, so no such embarrassing indiscretion will arise. One must assume that even sensual aberrations like Maria Gomez's will cease to occur."
"I sincerely hope so!" declared Adam, glancing uneasily at Stephanie who, at that moment, was staring out through the room's narrow window again at the scene opposite, which, in respect of the Senior Administrator and young woman, had become relatively calm. Not the slightest agitation discernible on the faces of the two people, who were now, it appeared, just sitting quietly, oblivious of each-other's existence. It seemed that they had concluded their argument.
"Yes, so do I," Stephanie seconded, suddenly aware of Adam's puzzled curiosity and anxious not to appear sympathetic towards Maria Gomez herself. "One can only hope that more people will follow Michael Estov's spiritual example and thereby attain to the higher levels of mystical experience. For in that lies the key to our ultimate salvation."
"Right on!" exclaimed Adam and Serge, each of whom felt newly strengthened in his transcendental resolve.