Keith Logan hadn't been to a party in years and, now that he had met the hostess and been escorted into the tightly packed room where the festivities were taking place, he felt curiously shy and embarrassed, like a young adolescent on his first date. The room was certainly more crowded than expectations had led him to believe, and with the crowd went the noise of chatter and laughter, occasional coughs and shouts, elaborate gestures and sudden jerks.
Casting around for psychological support amidst the welter of strange faces, Logan's gaze fell upon the rather large head of the art critic Martin Thurber, and he immediately set about drawing the man's attention with a clear if rather brief wave of his hand, which, as if by a miracle, duly produced positive results. It was Thurber who had invited him along to the party in the first place, so it was only proper that the one familiar and vaguely sedate face in the room should act as a kind of life-support harness and straightaway come floating to his rescue through the choppy sea of animated faces swimmingly at large there. The hostess, who had so promptly answered the door to him a moment before, was already being pulled away by the call of duty to answer it to someone else, leaving Logan stranded in her turbulent wake just inside the large brightly lit drawing room in which he now floundered. Hence the curious shyness and embarrassment which had so suddenly descended upon him, in the absence of his customary self-confidence.
But Martin Thurber was coming to his rescue, brimming over, it appeared, with self-confidence and pleasure. "So glad you could make it, Keith," he announced, extending what seemed like a life-saving hand to the new arrival's nearest shoulder and gently patting it a few times. "I was beginning to fear you weren't coming."
Logan smiled in an ambivalent cross between apology and reassurance at the fair-haired, clean-shaven face before him, the light-blue eyes of which twinkled mysteriously and even a shade mischievously, it seemed to him, in the festive atmosphere. It was a wonder to himself that he had actually come, since the prospect of visiting this Highgate house unaccompanied, and without any foreknowledge whatsoever of who or what he would encounter there, had more than once cast a serious shadow of doubt over his prior resolution to turn up. But to have backed down at the last moment, after he had assured Thurber of his pressing desire to attend, would hardly have contributed towards the friendship which had recently sprung-up between them and, since he had precious few friends anyway, he thought it expedient not to disappoint the poor fellow. "I didn't want to turn up too early," he averred, following the termination of his ambiguous smile.
"And no difficulty finding your way here, I trust?" Thurber remarked.
"Nothing to grumble about,"
"Good." Thurber's eyes twinkled in an even more mysterious, not to say mischievous, fashion. He was just about to add some banality about no address being easier to find when a burst of piercing laughter from a group of revellers to their left interrupted the flow of his thoughts, inducing him, instead, to say: "Well, now that you've arrived, allow me to introduce you to our host."
A few yards to their right a well-groomed, silver-haired man of average build but more than average height was standing on the edge of one such group, gracefully chatting to an attractive young woman with light-green eyes who peered into his handsome face like a person intent upon discovering the secrets of the universe there. It was towards him that Thurber boldly advanced, dragging his reluctant acquaintance along by the sleeve.
"Allow me to introduce a highly talented novelist by name of Keith Logan," he respectfully interposed, compelling the man's attention. "Keith, this is Edward Hurst, our magnanimous host!"
Hurst smiled magnanimously before extending a rather clammy hand, which the newcomer dutifully clasped. "Delighted to meet you," he announced, focusing a sharp pair of dark-grey eyes upon the latter's aquiline nose. "I've heard a little about you from Martin, though I haven't yet got round to reading any of your books. But let me introduce you to someone who may have - Miss Greta Ryan, who is something of a writer in her own way."
He was of course referring to the attractive young woman beside
him, whose attention had, in the meantime, shifted down a gear, so to speak, in
its change of direction. She extended a
slender hand and smiled shyly through a moist pair of sensuous lips. "I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you
too," she confessed, as
"He's purely an abstractionist," Thurber revealed, coming to his social rescue again. "So what he writes is senseless from a representational or, rather, narrative and descriptive standpoint."
The dark-haired woman to whom he had just been introduced wanted to know why readers should be made conscious of the 'sound and symbolic nature' of words instead of being told a story, as with most novels. It didn't quite make sense to her, she confessed.
"It's not supposed to make sense!"
"No, in actual fact it only makes sense from a
philosophical and avant-garde angle," said
"Even to the extent of writing meaningless novels?"
This opinion could hardly be expected to win much approval from
people like Edward Hurst and Greta Ryan, who were already a trifle tipsy and
therefore not particularly interested in hearing what a sober abstract novelist
had to say concerning the justification of his craft. If
It wasn't really, but Logan pretended otherwise, saying: "Yes, a beer would do fine," as he briefly turned towards the table on which bottles of wine, sherry, gin, whisky, and beer stood packed closely together waiting, like whores in a brothel, for prospective clients. Although the table was partly obscured by intervening guests, enough of it was visible from where he stood to leave him in no doubt as to the heterogeneous nature of its alcoholic contents, about which he felt obliged to entertain a private misgiving.
But Greta Ryan, who was less under the influence than their magnanimous host, seemed unwilling to let the matter rest where Logan had so awkwardly dropped it and asked him, in a slightly-strained and mocking tone-of-voice, whether he really thought what he wrote would induce people to turn away from symbols and dedicate themselves to the elusive attainment of pure knowledge and enlightenment instead? Wasn't it more likely that they would simply become bored with it and return to something more meaningful?
"Well, whether or not they do, the essential thing is that I should continue to explore the field in which I'm working until it wins wider approval, and not be disheartened or deflected by the indifference and even hostility it may incur from various people in the meantime," Logan replied confidently. "As a pioneer in the realm of literary progress, I must continue to forge ahead, in accordance with an appropriately pertinent response to the contemporary urban environment, no matter what others might think. If a majority of the reading public prefer straightforward stories of one kind or another, that's too bad! I can't force everyone up to a level transcending the fictional or, indeed, expect them to appreciate what I'm doing when they're insufficiently motivated or qualified to do so. I can only set an example, lead the way forwards in response to my duty as a serious writer, and hope that the comparatively small percentage of persons who now appreciate my work will be augmented, in due course, by a much wider public. By which time, however, the equivalent of the present few will doubtless have given-up reading altogether, having attained to a more transcendental context than currently exists, in which abstract literature, no less than abstract music or art, would have ceased to appeal to them."
Thurber had meanwhile returned with a glass of foaming beer,
which he handed straight to
"Yes, I feel that it may be of some significance in furthering the rapidly escalating process of de-intellectualization upon which we're currently embarked, and thus contribute towards freeing us from the tyranny of verbal concepts," the abstract novelist averred. "It's merely a milestone on the road to total emancipation, timeless bliss. Whether we outgrow language, and hence literature, in another century or after several centuries ... is relatively unimportant. The essential thing is that we should eventually outgrow it, and I have no doubt that this is what we're currently engaged in doing - each according to his own fashion. If primitive men were beneath language, then it seems not unlikely that future men will be above it, especially the most advanced future men - those on the point of becoming godlike."
Thurber shook his head slightly and tipped back a stiff draught
of wine. The conversation was much too
serious for his liking, and hardly the kind of thing he expected Eddie Hurst
would take kindly to, bearing in mind his hedonistic nature. The beer in
"Well, in a way I suppose I do," Thurber replied half-heartedly, unsure of whether to take a conservative or a libertarian stance. "At least I'm of the opinion that, largely thanks to media like cinema and television, we're now taking pure seeing and abstract contemplation more seriously than ever before. Some of us are, at any rate."
"And would you agree that we're in the process of becoming godlike?" Greta asked, an ironic smile on her lips. "Or even goddess-like?" she added, as an afterthought.
Thurber glanced uneasily at Keith Logan and noted the slightly pained expression on the latter's ordinarily bland face. "Well, that's not really for me to say," he confessed, "since I don't make a study of such matters - unlike my, er, learned friend here. But for what it's worth, I do believe that we're closer to the godly these days than to the beastly. We're advanced men of sorts."
"Yes, I think it's fair to say that the principal tendency
of human evolution is towards the godlike,"
"And how, pray, do you conceive of the godlike?" Greta wanted to know, taking up the challenge.
"Yes, how do you?"
Unruffled, Logan replied: "The godlike appertains to a condition of life beyond man, in which the superconscious completely triumphs over the subconscious, and consequently egocentric dualism, appertaining to man at virtually any stage of his evolution, is transcended."
"Neither had I," Greta echoed, with a titter of disrespectful laughter.
"Well we do, which is why we happen to have a
"More correctly, the fusion-point between the subconscious and superconscious parts of the psyche which, translated into physiological terminology, corresponds to what has been called the old brain and the new brain, as discussed by Koestler in, amongst other works, Janus - A Summing Up," Logan replied, "the old brain being predominantly an emotional and sensuous phenomenon, the new brain, by contrast, having intellectual and spiritual implications which set it morally apart."
"I'm afraid I haven't read the book in question,"
"Well, whether or not you've read it," the writer rejoined, "the fact remains that a dichotomy in the psyche has long been acknowledged by psychologists and thinkers, and this dichotomy should be equated, in psychological terminology, with the subconscious and the superconscious, the meeting-point of which gives rise to everyday consciousness as we generally understand it."
Edward Hurst appeared to be even more perplexed than before. He didn't like the idea that Freud and the few other psychologists he had bothered to read in the past may not have said the last word on the psyche or, indeed, that what they had said may not always have corresponded to absolute truth. He didn't like it one little bit! Even so, he wasn't prepared to believe that this abstract novelist, whom he hadn't even set eyes on prior to Thurber's impertinent intrusion, was in possession of a more comprehensive assessment of the psyche than the textbook authorities themselves, irrespective of whether the textbooks he happened to have read weren't exactly the most up-to-date ones but, like their authors, a shade time-worn. Still, let the novelist speak, let him entertain! Consciousness, then, was a consequence of the fusion of subconscious and superconscious minds, and all one had to do to become godlike was transcend this fusion and break away into - what?
"Pure spirit, in which the ego ceases to have any say and
we attain to the post-human millennium, to the blissful salvation which, in its
wisdom, Christianity has been promising us for centuries,"
"You mean our future descendants will," interposed Thurber, who was reminded of what he had already learnt on the subject from previous discussions with the novelist.
"Yes, precisely!" the latter rejoined. "Not us personally but, rather, those who'll correspond to the culmination of human evolution and thus vindicate, through their spiritual perfection, the long and often difficult struggle of humanity to perpetuate itself. We exist, believe it or not, as mortal links in the chain of human evolution, as means to a higher end, torchbearers on the road to ultimate truth. Even the great mystics, such as Saint Teresa and St John of the Cross, were no more than links, if relatively important ones, in the evolutionary chain - pointers, as it were, in the general direction of millennial salvation. Their occasional moments of ecstasy, of spiritual enlightenment, during which the ego was eclipsed by the superconscious, would indeed appear paltry by comparison with the ecstatic experiences of people living, say, hundreds of years into the future, who will doubtless be able to tune-in, as it were, to their superconscious minds on a much more frequent, not to say intensive, basis. And compared with beings who spent all of their time in the superconscious, who had become completely godlike, such transient ecstasies of transcendent beatitude as were experienced by the leading mystics of the past would indeed pale to a comparative insignificance - highly significant though they undoubtedly were to their recipients at the moment of experience! But anyone who had transcended the subconscious - and hence egocentric reference - to the extent of existing wholly in the superconscious wouldn't be concerned with what had gone before anyway, with the comparatively modest degree of enlightenment attained by those who'd had the misfortune to have been born into a lower stage of human evolution. For his consciousness would be totally immersed in the divine light, and, as such, no reflections on the thorny subject of spiritual progress through the centuries would occur to him. He would have ceased to relate to the world of human evolution, having left the last vestiges of humanity behind."
At this point, Greta Ryan cast a dubious glance at her host and
sought temporary refuge in the sweet wine to-hand. For his part,
No, he didn't like the idea of being no more than a fragile link in a terribly long chain one little bit! Yet although he was impatient with the conversational trend, and annoyed that a perfectly frivolous evening was becoming, in spite of alcoholic indulgence, a matter of serious debate, he couldn't resist the temptation to ask his guest what he thought about the Afterlife - in other words, about the prospect of life-after-death - and whether it didn't have more applicability to salvation than this business of a post-human millennium. "I mean, don't you think that salvation will come, if it's to come at all, the other side of the grave?"
Keith Logan emphatically shook his head. "I've no use for traditional concepts of life-after-death," he confessed, casting his gaze upon all three listeners successively. "Neither in the sense of a paradise to which the Good are admitted, nor in the rather more puzzling sense of a disembodied state which enables spirits to travel around, visit elderly females and dictate messages, dream their own dreams, perform miraculous feats of a mathematical order, or do any number of other things scarcely imaginable to the living."
"What about the Oriental concept of a posthumous Clear Light ... with which the spirits of the dead either merge, and thus experience spiritual salvation in undiluted transcendence or, assuming they can't bring themselves to do that, continue to dream their past and, indeed, certain future experiences until such time as, circumstances permitting, they can return to the world in the guise of a new-born child?" This time it was Greta who was putting the question, and she was of course alluding to the type of afterlife hypothesis explored by Aldous Huxley in Time Must Have a Stop - a novel in which Eustace Barnack, its principal character and afterlife 'guinea pig', is given a choice between merging with the Clear Light of the Void or retaining his egocentric personality, and eventually opts for the latter, thereby necessitating reincarnation.
"That isn't a view Aldous Huxley would have agreed with," Greta countered, recalling to mind what the great author had written on the subject of the Ground and its relation to the Father in The Devils of Loudun.
"I quite agree,"
"So, according to your assessment of religious evolution, the Ground is purely illusory," Greta rejoined in a solemn tone-of-voice.
"I find it difficult not to believe so," confirmed Logan, who was now obliged to compromise with the reference he had made to Huxley's theory and not deepen the discussion to include a distinction between the Creator as Jehovah and the Creator as Father, Judaic and Christian alternatives, and the possible closer association of the Ground to the former than to the latter, which, after all, was less an Oriental extrapolation from, in all probability, a major star of the Galaxy ... than one partly extrapolated, in Occidental fashion, from the sun and partly from the phallus of pagan precedent, in order to accommodate both the earthly Mother and the lunar Son - a thing which the Jews, with their religious objectivity in regard to the concept of Creator, had been unprepared to do. And for good reason, since there is no contiguity between what is truly stellar on the alpha plane of creative deity and what is extrapolated from the moon as a 'Son of God', and therefore no possibility of a solar Father in the Christian sense. "All that really concerns us as post-Christian transcendentalists," he went on, "is this intimation of God - as joy, light, spirit, etc., - in the superconscious mind. Outside of it there is just the world, the planets, stars, galaxies. If the Holy Spirit is to emerge from anywhere, it can only be from the superconscious."
Having maintained a discreet if peeved silence during the preceding rather too esoteric conversation for his liking, Edward Hurst now ventured to ask the novelist whether he really thought that man would eventually become godlike by transcending the subconscious mind altogether. "After all," he continued, snorting slightly in supercilious detachment, "isn't it somewhat unlikely that man will ever desire to live wholly in a transcendent state-of-mind, and thus forsake all consciousness of the outside world?"
Greta endorsed this question with a snigger. "And how would he survive?" she wanted to know.
"Obviously, I'm not in a position to know for sure what
At this remark,
"I shouldn't be at all surprised,"
"Well, I'd find it extremely difficult to believe that we just appeared on the face of the earth, kind of out-of-the-blue, especially in a world where everything can be claimed to have evolved from something lower, including the apes themselves," Logan retorted, frankly surprised by Hurst's naiveté. "After all, we know that the earliest men tended to look more beastly, more ape-like in appearance, than their properly human successors. In all probability, their immediate predecessors were if not apes then certainly something correspondingly bestial and pre-human. They doubtless went on four legs, or two legs and two arms, more often than they walked."
"And presumably they were subject to subconscious dominion," Greta suggested, returning to the fray.
"Certainly to a greater extent than the earliest men,"
"For a life form completely dominated by the subconscious," he went on, warming to his theme, "one has to turn to the plant world - to vegetables, trees, flowers, shrubs, etc., which are wholly sensuous and constitute the lowest level of organic life, a level which evolution is gradually working away from in the guise of man who, if he subsequently succeeds in transcending his humanity, should attain to a level radically antithetical to that of subconscious stupor ... in superconscious bliss, and thus bring evolution to completion. Thus it isn't so much the beasts that are antithetical to the godlike as ... the plants - those victims of perpetual darkness. And because a life form exists which signifies complete enslavement to the subconscious, we have no reason to doubt that a life form can't eventually be brought into existence which will signify complete freedom from the subconscious and, consequently, total allegiance to the superconscious. The fact of the existence of the one presupposes the possibility of the future existence of the other - the former in diversity, the latter in unity. We have no reason, therefore, to deride it out-of-hand."
"So it would appear that earthly evolution is a journey, so to speak, from plants to gods or, rather, the godlike," Thurber remarked, feeling it was about time he contributed something to the debate again, "and that animals and men are the in-between developments en route, the sharers of utilitarian consciousness."
"You must have a poor opinion of nature," Greta deduced, following a short pause.
"Generally speaking I suppose I have,"
"But surely nature is a part of God's creation," Hurst objected, frowning menacingly, "and that if one is to worship God, one should do so through His creations, through the beauty of the flowers and the goodness and wholesomeness of the fruit, vegetables, grain, etc., which He has caused to grow. Not to mention through the beauty of the autonomous life-forms He has also made."
"It's all very well to worship what you call God through such natural creations as we can take pleasure in or deduce some profit from," Logan retorted. "But what of those creations that we can't? What, for example, of all the stinging nettles that exist and would doubtless exist in far greater abundance if man didn't take the trouble to root them out or cut them back? What of all the weeds that likewise would exist in far greater abundance if allowed to do so? What of those trees or bushes upon which grow various types of poison berry? What of the prickly thorns, dense bracken, destructive creepers, poisonous toadstools, hurtful brambles? What, too, of the disease-ridden swamps, treacherous quicksands, man-eating plants, active volcanoes, periodic earthquakes, suffocating jungles? What of tarantulas, vipers, piranhas, sharks, mosquitoes, vultures, lice, rats, skunks, barracudas, stingrays, men-of-war, wolves, foxes, pythons, flies, gnats, crocodiles, locusts, wasps, etc., ad nauseam?
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night.
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
"And what of all those creatures who go on two legs whom
one is unable to take pleasure in - congenital lunatics and criminals, ruthless
oppressors and exploiters, mass murderers and torturers, hypocrites and liars,
bullies and vandals, rapists and perverts, et al? Is one to thank God for having put them into the world,
too?" He looked from face to face,
dwelling more lengthily on
"So you assume!" snapped Hurst with the air of a man who knew better, and, desiring to restore himself to the party spirit the intellectual intrusion of Keith Logan had effectively dampened, he abruptly turned away from the three people in whose presence he had spent the past thirty minutes and swiftly headed in the direction of a vivacious group of conversationalists across the far side of the room, whose revelry suggested that they were oblivious of anything Logan might have said.
"Well," sighed Greta, suddenly conscious of an uneasy vacuum created by their host's departure, "I suppose I ought to refill my wine glass while the opportunity prevails." And, so saying, she took herself off in the general direction of the booze.
Thurber shook his head slightly and sought temporary refuge in
his own glass of wine. The evening
hadn't really turned out as he had hoped, and largely because he hadn't
"Well," Logan sighed in turn, after he had taken stock of the room's other human contents, most of whom looked pretty unprepossessing to him, "is there anyone else you wish to introduce me to?"
"Er, yes, I suppose there is," Thurber responded somewhat shamefacedly, and this time he emitted a faint but audible grunt of despair.