Eliade on the Sacred and the Profane

Bird 10 Willmann, Michael (1630 - 1706) - Creation of the World (1668)

Michael Willman (1626 – 1679): Creation of the World (1668)

The Romanian born anthropologist Mircea Eliade (1907 – 1986) led a hectic life in his thirties.  Embroiling himself in politics on the right, he became a target even so of right-wing ire on the accusation that his novella Domnișoara Christina (1936) partook in pornography and obscenity, but the very next year he enthusiastically espoused the Iron Guard’s program that Romania should reconcile itself with its Byzantine, and therefore Christian, origins.  No one in the 2020s knows anything about the Iron Guard except, when hearing it mentioned, to categorize it automatically with “fascism.”  Eliade left Romania after the Communist takeover in 1945, migrated to France, and taught in Paris; he migrated to the United States in 1956 and lectured at the University of Chicago and elsewhere on the topic that obsessed him in the second half of his life – the meaning and function of religion, especially of the sacred.  That Eliade had a stake in Romanian Orthodoxy is not contradicted by his opposition to “spiritualism.”  In his twenties, Eliade read the French writer René Guénon (1886 – 1951), and came under his spell.  Guénon also opposed “spiritualism,” by which he indicated the various theosophical banalities descending out of the Nineteenth Century, including Theosophy itself.  Guénon wrote a hefty volume on the fraudulence of Helena Blavatsky’s mystical posturing and the quasi-criminal undertakings of her dubious followers.  Elsewhere Guénon consistently emphasized the radical difference between his own Traditionalism and the somber but hollow tenets of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine (1888).  Theosophy belonged to pseudo-initiation and counter-initiation, Guénon argued.  These Guénonian attitudes became Eliade’s own; they inform his work.  With Guénon and Julius Evola (1898 – 1974), Eliade constitutes the stable core of what might be called Twentieth Century skeptical esotericism.

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Long Spoons: a Misguided Allegory

7In hell, people sit around a pot of food. They are chained in place. They sit three feet from the pot, but their spoons are six feet long and they are unable to get the food in their mouths, so they are all starving and miserable.

In heaven, people sit around a pot of food. They are chained in place. They sit three feet from the pot, and their spoons are six feet long. Each person is feeding the person next to him and all are content.

There is nothing selfless about the heaven scenario. Each person gets an immediate benefit from his actions. The allegory relies on the goodness of reciprocity as a moral assumption. No one has no spoon. In that world, the rule would seem to be “feed he who has a spoon and though shalt be fed.” It is true that there can be a benefit from helping those who cannot help you in return; but the allegory emphasizes mutuality and cooperation.

The parable highlights a key misguided aspect of the liberal mindset. Namely, a total neglect of self-sustaining independence. In real life, this would be coupled with an emphasis on extractive state policies providing all needs to which everyone has a “right.” The liberal is likely to look askance at charity. Being voluntary, charity does not provide full-fledged security and a guarantee of food and housing. The government can remedy the vagaries of this, and forcibly take money and property from the successful and give it to others, regardless of how those others ended up in a state of total dependence. Never mind the fact that this diminishes the incentive to be successful in the first place and provides no penalty for sheer laziness. Continue reading

The True West and the One Dark Wing

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“What is Numinor?”
“The true West,” said Ransom

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1945)

You have no doubt heard that the American newspaperman Horace Greeley gave the advice, “Go west, young man!  Go west!”  Greeley actually borrowed the phrase from an obscure newspaperman at the Terre Haute Express, where it appeared in 1851, but he certainly did not need an obscure Terre Haute newspaperman to tell him that opportunity was waiting somewhere beyond the Mississippi.  Americans appear to be born with a belief in the magic of westward migration.

But the west to which they migrate is not the “true West.” Continue reading

Kill Ill: Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit

1Friedrich Dürrenmatt, wrote The Visit[1] (Der Besuch der alten Dame) in 1956.  Dürrenmatt is a twentieth century Swiss playwright (1921-1990) who gets mentioned alongside Beckett, Camus, Sartre, and Brecht. Like them, he is interested in examining moral dilemmas with wider social import, bearing a tendency toward the nihilistic, and a “you just can’t win” attitude, such as can be seen in Sartre’s Men Without Shadows (Morts sans Sépultures), No Exit (Huis Clos), and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The Visit is overtly “philosophical” in the manner of existentialism: a despairing morality play.[2]

In The Visit, Claire Zachanassian has been wronged by the town of Guellen (Liquid manure town) located “somewhere in Central Europe,” and Alfred Ill, and she has returned forty-five years later to exact her revenge.[3] Claire and Ill were lovers. Claire became pregnant but Ill wanted to marry someone else who had a shop and money. He bribed two witnesses to say that they had also slept with Claire. Claire’s paternity suit is thrown out and the town sniggers as she is forced to leave town for the life of a prostitute. In this capacity, she meets and marries a billionaire and a succession of other husbands until she is the richest woman in the world. In her capacity as such, she represents an all-powerful monster capable of bending the world to her wishes. A grotesque figure, two of her limbs have been replaced by protheses; an ivory arm and a leg. At one point Ill asks, “Claire, is everything about you artificial?” She uses a lorgnette. These spectacles with a handle held away from the face, suggests she has her own very particular outlook on things and creates a distance between her and the people she observes. Claire has returned to Guellen with a macabre retinue who include the false witnesses whom she has castrated and blinded, the judge who presided over her case and who is now her butler, a black panther, two bodyguards, her husband number VII, and a coffin. Continue reading

The Quaintness of the Regia Aeronautica in World War II

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Fascist Poster from 1938 Inviting Young Men to Try Out for the Air Force

Italian participation in World War II started late and ended early.  Italy only entered into combat when the Germans had rolled their Blitzkrieg over France and were conducting the final maneuvers that led to the armistice of 22 June 1940. The members of Benito Mussolini’s Grand Council, with the assent of the king, declared war on their Gaulish neighbors and attacked.  The main action took place in the air with the Regia Aeronautica or Royal Air Force making attacks on French fortifications and airfields.  The bombing and strafing raids were largely ineffective however because while the Italian air arm looked good in propaganda films, it deployed few modern types and of those — few proved themselves efficient in combat.  The obsolescence of Italy’s air-inventory had its roots in Mussolini’s participation in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Nationalists.  In 1936 the Regia Aeronautica deployed an air arsenal that included up-to-date types, like the Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 trimotor bomber and the Fiat CR.32 biplane fighter.  The latter acquitted itself marvelously against the inferior French and Russian aircraft fielded by the Republicans.  The Cucaracha, as it came to be called, represented the perfection of the biplane interceptor and could also undertake ground-attack and close-support duties.  A Fiat V-twelve with six cylinders in each bank propelled the sleek, streamlined airframe pulled through the air by a two-bladed metal propeller.  The CR.32 had a maximum speed of about 230 miles per hour, fast when Italy introduced the type in the early 1930s.  The Cr.32’s two machine guns stood as adequate for the time.  The SM.81 followed the planform of a Savoia-Marchetti airliner, which meant that it had not begun life as a proposed military type.  Again, SM.81 performed adequately considering the opposition, as it had in the Italo-Abyssinian war of 1935 – 37, against no opposition at all.  Italy sent other types to Spain, including the Breda 65 ground-attack aircraft, which even managed to score a few victories in air combat, a role for which its designers did not intend it.

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Innovation for Its Own Sake is Noisome

Innovation per se is not stupid. Pushing the envelope can be socially salutary; but not when it is done only for its own sake, or for the sake of notoriety, of fashion, or of fame. There is a difference between Evel Knievel and Planck, e.g.; or, between the insane, inane and therefore utterly stupid useless absurd extravagances of the fashion industry on the one hand, and the experiments at the bleeding edges of the changing limits of practically useful and therefore generally appealing clothing design (whether for purposes of mere fabulous sexual allure at one end of the spectrum, or of survival in harsh environments at the other) as fabrics and materials – and preferences – all evolve.

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To be a Christian, Part II: Why Do It?

[Part I, which lays out basic Christian teaching, is here.]

Christianity is not like any other thing you can join.

You join other things because they are enjoyable, or beneficial, or their cause is important to you. Otherwise, you have no reason to join.

Granted that it can be enjoyable, beneficial, or an important cause, Christianity is not like other things you can join. When it comes to ultimate issues, the criteria for joining a thing are different.

There are two basic reasons why you should join Christianity. One, unless your sins are forgiven you face eternity in hell, and forgiveness of sins comes only through Jesus of Nazareth. All humans live forever, but some live forever in a bad place.

The other reason is this: The completely true description of what reality is and how it operates comes only from Christianity, because God revealed this knowledge in the Bible. When a society rejects Christianity (as ours is doing) it cannot function correctly (as ours increasingly does not.)

A non-Christian society can sometimes function adequately, based on its partial understanding of reality that man can attain because he is made in the image of God and is therefore capable of grasping many truths. But America lacks even this pagan common sense. Our rulers are anti-reality, not just non-reality, in their basic orientation. We need the sanity (to say nothing of the wisdom) that comes only from Christianity. Continue reading

Fighting against Sleep: Colin Wilson’s Necessary Doubt as Phenomenological Thriller

Doubt 01
I recalled the last phases of my former life, that darkling climax of pursuit and anger and universal darkness and the whirling green vapors of extinction. The comet had struck the earth and made an end to all things; of that too I was assured.
But afterward? . . .
And now?
The imaginations of my boyhood came back as speculative possibilities. In those days I had believed firmly in the necessary advent of a last day, a great coming out of the sky, trumpetings and fear, the Resurrection, and the Judgment. My roving fancy now suggested to me that this Judgment must have come and passed. That it had passed and in some manner missed me. I was left alone here, in a swept and garnished world (except, of course, for this label of Swindells’) to begin again perhaps…
***********
The miracle of the awakening came to me in solitude, the laughter, and then the tears. Only after some time did I come upon another man. Until I heard his voice calling I did not seem to feel there were any other people in the world. All that seemed past, with all the stresses that were past. I had come out of the individual pit in which my shy egotism had lurked, I had overflowed to all humanity, I had seemed to be all humanity; I had laughed at Swindells as I could have laughed at myself, and this shout that came to me seemed like the coming of an unexpected thought in my own mind. But when it was repeated I answered.
H. G. Wells, In the Year of the Comet (1906)

That the comet’s “green vapors” amount to a Deus ex machina is no reason not to notice the real interest in the passage: The description, which goes on for pages, of the metamorphosis of consciousness that permits the narrator to see the world at last — as if the Blakean “Doors of Perception” had been flung wide.  The narrator has ascended to a new order of existence. He is now a kind of superman, at least where keen-sightedness and self-clarity are concerned.  The state of heightened consciousness is a recurrent motif in Wells’ oeuvre; so is the Nietzschean Übermensch.  In Kipps (1905), the priggish Walsingham, who “had been reading Appearing roughly five years after Ritual in the Dark (1959) and roughly five years before The Philosopher’s Stone (1969), Colin Wilson’s ambitious novel Necessary Doubt (1964) represents its author in the moment when, beginning to appropriate genre formulas (murder mystery, science fiction, espionage novel), he simultaneously began to foreground philosophical themes and to exploit a version of Platonic dialogue for the dramatic exposition of ideas.  Necessary Doubt echoes Ritual in a number of ways, particularly in granting to its point-of-view character the privilege of withholding testimony by which he would cooperate with official charges against an acquaintance other than perfectly innocent.  The protagonist in Necessary Doubt is Professor Karl Zweig, an existential theologian of Austrian origin whom Wilson models in part on Paul Tillich.  Zweig’s relation to the dubious and off-putting Gustav Neumann is somewhat analogous to Gerard Sorme’s relation to Austin Nunn in Ritual although Neumann differs from Nunn in his degree of social pathology (less acute than Nunn’s) and intelligence (higher than Nunn’s).  As for The Philosopher’s Stone, Necessary Doubt anticipates it in the notion that access to intensified consciousness might be mediated by psychotropic drugs or by neurosurgery.  The metallic substance that accomplishes this goal in The Philosopher’s Stone is called the Neumann Alloy, in a direct backwards link to the earlier work, as Nicolas Tredell has noted.[i]

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Idle Talk is a Duty, Hence Idle Reading Also

“I seldom can have anything particular to say; I scarce go out of my own house, and then only to two or three very private places, where I see nobody that really knows anything—and what I learn comes from newspapers, that collect intelligence from coffee-houses—consequently, what I neither believe or report.”

Horace Walpole, Private Correspondence (1820)

This line appears in the last letter of Horace Walpole, which he dictated six weeks before his death, in 1797, at the age of seventy-nine.  It came to mind when I read Bonald’s latest post on the fatuity of reading the news and gloating over one’s shallow knowledge of current events. Our newspapers may print more than the tittle-tattle of coffee houses, but that does not mean they print better.  I will nevertheless say a word in defense of idle reading. Continue reading

Journalism and the vice of curiosity

Heretofore, my criticisms of journalism have concerned its global effects. To summarize (see, e.g. here and here)

  • By controlling the public’s perceptions of the wider world, the mass media constitutes an unaccountable ideological tyranny. The incentive structure of democracy makes the consolidation of an information monopoly almost inevitable.
  • Its scandalmongering and hit pieces against nonconforming groups undermines competing, traditional authorities and demoralize their leadership, producing a social desert of atomized individuals, suspicious of all their neighbors, cut off from God and their ancestors, utterly helpless before the media’s mind-control machine.

Nevertheless, some will object that the public’s desire for the sort of knowledge provided by the press is, in itself, morally neutral or even positive, so some way should be found to provide it. Many thinking thus proceed to seek the chimera of a not-evil, not-anti-Christian press. Is there a way to understand the evil of journalism at the personal level, how consumption of news is bad for the viewer?

Well, obviously consuming Satanic propaganda is bad for your soul. However, what shall we say to people who don’t recognize news as propaganda, or think that they are immune to propaganda, or think that the information gain outweighs the spiritual damage?

Knowledge is good, but in certain cases its pursuit can be accidentally bad, as Thomas Aquinas explains in describing the vice of curiosity.

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