MARK: I used to believe, like Oscar Wilde and a fair number of nineteenth-century intellectuals, that man was at bottom good.† But these days I'm not so sure.
COLIN: To me, the idea that man is naturally good is one of the worst illusions of the nineteenth century!† For the more natural a man is, the more correspondingly evil is he.† At bottom, man is anything but good.† Rather, he is sensual, lazy, mean, vindictive, mendacious, lecherous, violent, and quite a number of other disagreeable things to boot!† No, if you want to discover what is good in man, you must consider what progress he has made towards a more artificial state-of-affairs.† You must look at the extent to which civilization is manifest in him, consider what he has done to overcome and transcend nature.† The pernicious idea that man is naturally good stems, in large measure, from Rousseau and his cult of the 'noble savage'.† Sheer nonsense, of course!† Nonetheless, a fair number of people have seen fit to believe it.
MARK: Well, you and I evidently know better.† We needn't make any rash attempts to return to nature in order to purge ourselves, as it were, of civilized values, like D.H. Lawrence.
COLIN: No, we must look to the progress of civilization as a means to making us better, to gradually overcoming our baser self.† Everything that is good has to be struggled after, it doesn't come naturally.
MARK: So, presumably, all religious, political, aesthetic, social, and scientific progress presupposes a struggle?
COLIN: Indeed it does!† And a very difficult one at times, too!† Like those fish that swim against the current, we have to struggle against nature if we are to progress upstream, so to speak.† For that is the only way to get beyond nature and thus embrace the supernatural, which is commensurate with salvation.
MARK: A statement that doubtless applies as much to literary progress as to any other?
COLIN: Certainly!† Literature is only meaningful to the extent that it reflects contemporary progress away from earlier values and norms.† Once literature was a matter of illusion, with imaginary characters, settings, plots, et cetera, in an unashamedly narrative unfolding.† Now, on the other hand, it is increasingly becoming, in the hands of the better writers, a matter of truth, with autobiographical, philosophical, propagandist, and factually descriptive content.† It hasn't ceased to be literature just because it now takes quite the opposite form it used to - any more, for that matter, than art has ceased to be art with the development of non-representational tendencies.† Rather, it is the highest kind of literature that has ever been written, because factual rather than fictitious, subjective rather than objective.† These days I dislike the term 'fiction' immensely, since it connotes with something outmoded, anachronistic, bourgeois, commercial.† Naturally it is still being written and read, but not by the more enlightened or evolved people!† If the latter read literature at all, it's more likely to be of the factually subjective variety, whereas the less enlightened require objective fictions, since they are accustomed to being phenomenally selfless rather than noumenally selfish, and only really relate to the objective.
MARK: No doubt, women figure prominently in the latter category?
COLIN: They do, which isn't altogether surprising since the majority of women live a century or two behind men intellectually.† For whereas men were into fiction in a big way during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these days women are the main readers and writers of fiction, men having, in the meantime, evolved to more strictly intellectual, philosophical, factual works.† That is basically as it should be.† For there is ever a gap between men and women, a gap which only the most mendacious or stupid of people would attempt to deny!† However, instead of being a straight sexually dualistic gap, these days, it is one formed on the positive, masculine side of the dualistic divide, so that the balance of the sexes has tipped over, as it were, in favour of the male, and women are increasingly being regarded as 'lesser men', actual men having effectively become, through a corresponding evolutionary progression, 'greater men'.
MARK: And these 'greater men' are more likely to read novels by, say, Henry Miller or Arthur Koestler than by Agatha Christie or Barbara Cartland, and her cartload of books, are they?
COLIN: Oh yes, that has to be admitted!† I, myself, waded through the bulk of Henry Miller's literary oeuvre some years ago, and very fond of it I was too!† As an artist, Miller undoubtedly ranks with the most subjective writers of the century.
MARK: And do you really consider him an artist, not just, as some people would contend, a writer?
definitely!† As already remarked, the
criteria of literature may undergo radical change with the demands of
contemporary life, but that doesn't prevent the result from being literature in
any higher sense, nor its creator from being an artist.† To be sure, Henry Miller may have scorned the
traditional criteria of novel-writing more consistently and thoroughly than a
majority of his contemporaries.† But that
is simply a reflection of his greatness as a modern author, and shouldn't lead
us to regard his work as bogus literature - as autobiography rather than
novel-writing.† Autobiography there is
certainly no shortage of in Miller's work, but it tends to take the place of
fictional narrations, becoming their factual replacement.† So, of course, does the philosophical
content, which becomes an intellectual accompaniment to the autobiography,
preventing the monotony that would otherwise arise.† Perhaps there has always been a philosophical
content in the best literature, which, if so, is to be commended, since it
testifies to a straining towards supernatural subjectivity and, hence, the Holy
Ghost.† With the twentieth century,
however, it has gradually expanded, and to the point, in novels like Huxley's
MARK: Yes, I entirely agree!† But literature continues to progress and presumably the more autobiographical and/or philosophical it becomes, the higher it stands in relation to the past.
COLIN:† Yes, that is my view at any rate!† Henry Miller's novels continued to develop in
subjective terms, showing little or no interest in traditional criteria.† Curiously it is often the way with Americans
that they latch-on to new trends with an eagerness and thoroughness which
Europeans rarely if ever experience, or only come around to gradually ... after
the Americans have paved the way.†
Miller's novels stand head-and-shoulders above those of the majority of
his contemporaries and are scarcely bettered even now, some decades after his
last important work.† In England, there
was Huxley who, though less radical than Miller, showed a willingness, with
time, to expand his novels philosophically, so that his late-period works, written,
interestingly enough, in America, rank as his best.†
MARK: Though, in England, we don't seem to have an equivalent of Henry Miller, do we?† I mean, we haven't yet produced an artist with such a radically autobiographical and philosophical style.
COLIN: I disagree!† As the British equivalent to Henry Miller I
would suggest the late Malcolm Muggeridge, who, curiously enough, was Miller's
exact contemporary.† Now, as an artist,
he is underrated by the literary conservatives, which isn't altogether
surprising, since they cannot conceive of literary excellence in factually
subjective terms but are all the time measuring artists according to the
fictional yardstick of the past.† And
yet, from the contemporary autobiographical and philosophical standpoint, there
can be few writers, in
MARK: And yet there is also about Muggeridge something of the enfant terrible, the rebel, the outsider, the guilty conscience of his class which, even now, prevents him from being entirely respectable from a middle-class point of view.† It is as though his public reputation largely rested on notoriety in controversy, and had to be sustained on that basis, so that, as you implied, his Christianity was rather unorthodox and he remained something of a rebel even in old age.
COLIN: An opinion which may also be said to apply to Henry Miller who, as an American, represented a still more radical deviation from the norms of bourgeois propriety.† Yet even though neither of them could be wholly tamed and forced into the fold of complacent bourgeois respectability, nonetheless they remain firmly anchored to their class and are now regarded as honourable, distinguished members of it.† No doubt, every class requires internal critics and guilty consciences to keep it in check or, at the very least, remind it of what it's doing to itself by rejecting spiritual values, and the middle class are clearly no exception!† How long it will be before the working class acquire their Millers or Muggeridges remains to be seen.† Though, if Solzhenitsyn is anything to judge by, it won't be for some time yet - not, anyway, until they are wholly triumphant.
MARK: Assuming they ever will be!
COLIN: Frankly, I have no confidence in the presumed permanence of bourgeois civilization!† And neither, may I add, did Malcolm Muggeridge, whose controversial reputation enabled him to suggest possibilities for the future transformation of Western society which no orthodox, right-thinking bourgeois would even have countenanced, let alone uttered!† The notion, for instance, that Western civilization is destined to be superseded by some experiment in collective living ... is far from alien to Malcolm Muggeridge's mind, which was well furnished not only with Marxist scholarship, but with Spenglerian scholarship moreover.† He was certainly no stranger to The Decline of the West.
incidentally, am I, though I disagree with Spengler on a number of counts, and
am more inclined, in light of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, to
identify experiments in collective living or other significant social changes
which may be in store for Western civilization with closer European integration
and the development of a federal Europe.†
However, the real trouble with the West, and particularly
COLIN: I take your
point with regard to myself, but I don't entirely agree with your assessment of
England, widespread though it tends to be among the more adventurous
spirits.† This country is by no means the
negative place it is often regarded as being.†
On the contrary, it is precisely the opposite quality which makes it
objectionable to you - namely, the fact of its positivity.† For it is now resting on its laurels, so to
speak, and availing itself of what it has achieved in the past, making the most
of its particular stage of civilization.†
You see, positivity is aligned with passivity, not, as may at first and more naturally appear the case, with
activity or doing.† It is precisely the
latter which is always negative.† For it
stems from the infernal roots of life in the Cosmos, which constantly seethes
with external activity, and there is nothing more negative than stellar
energy.† Now whereas positivity tends to
make for a passive or conservative society, in which revolutionary change is
frowned upon as an unwarranted interruption of the experience of being ...
compatible with the degree of civilization manifest there, negativity, by
contrast, presupposes an active or revolutionary society bent on effecting widespread
change, both internally and abroad.† Of
all the major countries in the world at this juncture in time, Russia is
undoubtedly the most negative, the most active, while the Western nations, and
Britain and America in particular, remain the most positive, America doubtless
more positive than Britain, given its penchant for extremes - a penchant which
led Henry Miller to embrace Buddhism, the most being-orientated of all
religions, whereas Malcolm Muggeridge was content to avail himself of the
blessings of Christianity, which has usually emphasized doing at the expense of
being, phenomenal selflessness at the expense of noumenal self.† Paradoxically, however, the extremism of
America can also mean that, in certain other contexts, there is always more
negativity prevailing there than is generally the case in Western Europe, since
it is more fiercely Jekyll and Hyde than the latter on account of its
'communistic' culture, of which film is the epitome and effective nature of the
'American dream'.† But this fact doesn't
detract anything from my contention.†
For, despite its negativity,
MARK: Curiously, I was
reading a book by the American journalist Janet Flanner the other day, in which
she remarks how, just prior to the Second World War, Europe was fundamentally
divided into two camps of conviction - the active Nazi/Fascist camp on the one
hand, and the passive Democracies of France and Britain on the other, the
former regarding war as a summon bonum, the latter, by contrast, as a
summon malum.† The Nazi/Fascist
camp still had something to achieve, namely the conquest of
COLIN: Yes, which
simply confirms what I have been saying about the respective natures of
positivity and negativity - the former having passive associations, compatible
with expiring civilization, and the latter ... active associations, compatible
with neo-barbarism.† Hitler gambled on
overthrowing Western civilization and lost, largely because he made the fatal
mistake of taking on a stronger barbaric country in the process.† Had he not been so greedy in regard to Nazi
ambitions, he might have succeeded in destroying the Democracies,
MARK: So you don't agree with Malcolm Muggeridge, to bring him back into the picture, that Soviet Communism and National Socialism were but two aspects of the same thing - the Slavonic and Teutonic versions, respectively, of dictatorial socialism.
COLIN: Not quite,
though I concede that Muggeridge had a point if we substitute autocratic
neo-barbarism for dictatorial socialism, in that both regimes did represent such a
phenomenon in relation to democratic civilization.† Yet although there were superficial analogies
between Stalin's 'Socialism in One Country' and Hitler's National Socialism, we
shouldn't be led to overlook or underestimate the profound differences that
existed between the two movements - differences, we may infer, which would have
become very apparent had either country succeeded in overrunning the
world.† For whereas Soviet Communism,
even under Stalin, would have led to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and to
the gradual restructuring of capitalist economies in the proletarian interest,
German Nazism would simply have resulted in the subjugation of defeated peoples
in the German interest.† There, if
anywhere, lies the essential difference between Soviet Communism and Nazism -
the one revolutionary in its social aspirations on behalf of the proletariat,
the other reactionary where Marxism was concerned and therefore harking back to
the age-old policy of conquerors to subjugate the conquered in their own
interests.† Thus Nazi hegemony of
MARK: Though one may perhaps be forgiven certain doubts as to the authenticity of whatever claims Stalin might have made as regards the latter ambition.† His was by no means orthodox Marxism!
COLIN: To some extent
that is perfectly true.† Though it is
easy, these days, to exaggerate Stalin's discrepancies at the expense of his
achievements, which, from an historical viewpoint, were quite considerable.† The
concept of 'Socialism in One Country' isn't as irrational or
counter-revolutionary as some people, more usually Trotskyite, have
imagined.† On the contrary, it is the
most realistic of attitudes to the development of socialism, given the firm
entrenchment of bourgeois power in traditionally democratic countries like
MARK: No doubt, that is
something Hitler must have realized when he opted for nationalism as the means
not only of effecting
COLIN: Yes, one can
only conclude that Hitler was first and foremost a German patriot bent on
securing German interests at the expense of Germany's enemies, with scant
regard, in consequence, for international ideals.† Internationalism would have seemed to him
somehow beside-the-point in the context of Germany's humiliating treatment at
the hands of its Western opponents, the willingness of German communists to
identify with their French or British counterparts being an obstacle in the
path of German vengeance on the Democracies.†
So, from Hitler's patriotic viewpoint, they had to be got out of the
way, as, on a similar though by no means identical account, did the Jews.† The fall of the largest communist party in
MARK: And so, too, I suspect would the negativity of
COLIN: Possibly, though
we mustn't assume that negativity in a nation inevitably leads to Hitlerian consequences.† It can be a factor in world progress if used
in the service of a liberating, revolutionary ideology.† Hitler's negativity, as we've seen, was put
to the service of an enslaving, reactionary one, the unfortunate consequences
of which are still, to a certain extent, with us.† We must hope that, now that Stalinism seems
to have died from old age in
MARK: And presumably that applies to the future of literature as well, which should continue to evolve to greater heights of truthfulness.
COLIN: I sincerely hope so!† After all, we can't leave the last words with Henry Miller and Malcolm Muggeridge, much as we may admire them.† Life must continue, and men grow better.† Which is to say, ever more civilized and, hence, artificial!