Dario Fernández-Morera’s Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Spain

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Publish by ISI

In The Twilight of the Idols (1888), Friedrich Nietzsche expressed his wish to philosophize with a hammer, that is, to make smithereens of the false images that leeringly prevent a candid vision of life, the world, and history.  Nietzsche wrote that “there are more idols than realities in the world.”  He wished, with his instrument, preliminarily, to “test” the idols – expecting to detect “as a reply that famous hollow sound which speaks of bloated entrails.”  If that were the sign, the hammer might come fully into play.  Like the supreme iconoclast of the German language, Dario Fernández-Morera, a Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Literature at Northwestern University, has decided to test a certain gallery of idols, the much-revered ones connected with a persistent, but, in light of accessible knowledge, dubious legend.  The old legend of Islamic Spain (for that is the story in question), of its tolerance and enlightenment, and of its convivencia of all peoples, has gained new currency with the rise of the anti-Western, anti-Christian ideology known as multiculturalism.  The university departments of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, having transformed themselves into publicity businesses for the new militant phase of Islam, their acolytes, politically correct to the core, have propagandized the utopian narrative of the Umayyads, Almoravids, and Almohads in Spain.  Those same acolytes have either ignored the achievements of Visigothic Spain and its successor polities in the northern part of Hispania or have denigrated them by invidious, non-factual comparisons.  Honoring the facts, which he has patiently gleaned in a decade of impressively disciplined study, Fernández-Morera has written The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (ISI, 2016), which, with its handsome dust jacket, is nevertheless a warrior’s cudgel.  The myth of that supposed paradise will not withstand its prodigious action.

The basic vocabulary of the Andalusian Myth reflects a mendacious agenda, as Fernández-Morera takes care to point out in his opening chapter, on “Conquest and Reconquest.”  In modern accounts of Spain under the Muslims, scholars of the departments invariably refer to a geographical entity called Iberia.  In a detailed summary of the historical background to the centuries of Muslim hegemony, Fernández-Morera reminds his readers that the Romans, who were active in the peninsula from the time of the First Punic War, never named it by any other name than Hispania.  That same Hispania became a province of the Roman Empire, providing it with emperors and artists over the centuries, and playing a role within the imperial structure in the west only second to Italy.  When the imperial administrative structure in the west broke down in the Fourth Century, and the Visigoths inherited the Roman mantle south of the Pyrenees, they too still called the region Hispania.  Spain had thus been Spain to its inhabitants for nearly a thousand years before the Muslim invasion.  After the invasion, Spain remained Spain to its Spanish-Christian inhabitants, as Fernández-Morera demonstrates by bringing into evidence documents from the period in question.  The academic use of the term Iberia conveniently deletes these facts, just as it deletes the spiritual resistance of the actual Spaniards (the Spanish-Roman-Christian-Gothic people of Spain) during the relevant centuries against their militant overlords of another religion.  Fernández-Morera therefore prefers the terms “Spain, medieval Spain, and Islamic Spain” to Iberia.  Indeed, Fernández-Morera characterizes both the Muslim attempt, beginning already in the Eighth Century, to replace standing Latin toponyms with Arabic labels and the modern recursion to that replacement-nomenclature as imperialistic gestures.  He writes that medieval Spaniards “considered the lands conquered by Islam to be part of Spain, not part of Islam, and therefore they did not use the term Al-Andalus,” the Muslim name for the subdued region.

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Fingerpost to William Wildblood’s Meeting the Masters

Each of us is a pilgrim on a road that we hope will take us to the Celestial City.  But we must admit this is very often a dark road, haunted by murderous footpads and crowded on either side with the strip malls, billboards and seedy motels of Vanity Fair.  In out of the way places where they have yet to attract the notice of the highway department, one may, however, stumble upon a fingerpost pointing to an inn of godly refreshment.  I recently raised my tired eyes to one such fingerpost at Bruce Charlton’s  Notions, and have since spent some grateful hours supping by the hearth of a five-star inn of godly refreshment called Meeting the Masters. My hospitable host is William Wildblood, author of a book of the same name (which I will be reading) and occasional contributor at Albion Awakening.  Many Orthosphere readers no doubt frequent B.C.’s Notions, and therefore have already turned at his fingerpost and made their way to Meeting the Masters.  I’m setting up this fingerpost by the wayside for those who don’t, and haven’t.  First-rate fare for weary pilgrims!

S. T. Coleridge on Imagination & Politics

Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)

Part I: Coleridge’s Theory of the Imagination. Poetry is, of itself, often a theory of poetry.  Consider, under this thesis, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan or: A Vision in a Dream” (1816).  In the opening lines, Coleridge plays with the etymological definition of poetry as making.  The Khan decrees that the pleasure-dome should rise whereupon his servants presumably conjure it forth:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round;

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

The decree itself already functions as a kind of making or articulation; it is imperious, magical, even a bit demonic or demiurgic.  The calling-forth of the artificial paradise entails, moreover, the transformation of nature through her re-creation under an idea: Thus the girdling walls enclose the “twice five miles of fertile ground” in a gesture of delimitation.  That the ground is “fertile,” as Coleridge (1772 – 1834) writes, suggests that the labor of elevating structures on it has a generative relation to the fecund matter on which the labor operates; the two elements of the event have an a priori and complementary relation to one another.  The matter has no features in the description, but presents only a blank aspect, like a mass of clay unformed; even the “gardens bright and sinuous rills,” seemingly natural, result artificially from the determination of a shaping will.  The act itself and that which is acted upon thus match one another, forming dual aspects of a concluded whole in which pregnant formlessness has acquired a pleasing form, as in the endeavor of the Demiurge in Plato’s Timaeus.

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The Pagan Ordeal of Dominique Venner

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Dominique Venner

My article on the late Dominique Venner (1935 – 2013) has appeared at The Sydney Traditionalist Forum in three parts (here, here, and here), handsomely presented by the Forum’s convener, Edwin Dyga, whom I would like to thank publicly for his care and thoroughness in the matter.  Venner, whose death took the form of a ghastly suicide in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris, was a founder of the French New Right and a prolific author of articles and books.  As far as I can tell, only  one of Venner’s books is available in English, The Shock of History (Arktos 2015), which seems to be based on material for his last book to be published in French, Un Samouraï d’Occident: Le Bréviaire des insoumis (Pierre Guillaume de Roux 2013).  I have addressed, in the article, Venner’s Histoire et tradition des Européens: 30,000 ans d’identité (Éditions du Rocher 2002), summarizing and commenting on its overarching thesis: Namely that there is an indubitable, traceable, coherent European Identity whose basic motifs can be followed back through Medieval and Classical history into the archeology of prehistory and finally to the cave-paintings at Chauvet, which science now dates to 30,000 years ago.  The Histoire also contains a potent double critique of modernity and liberalism comparable to similar critiques undertaken in the Twentieth Century by such as René Guénon and Julius Evola.

Part I of the article explores the possible motives and the meaning – or lack of motive – of Venner’s self-destructive act; Part II concerns itself with Venner’s oeuvre, especially the Histoire.  Part III deals with the grossly hypocritical journalistic reaction to Venner’s demise and attempts to set his work in a larger Traditionalist context by showing how its argument often converges what one might call Christian Traditionalism.  I argue, for example, that passages from Father Seraphim Rose on the topic of nihilism could be traded with passages by Venner on the same topic, and that the switch would be undetectable.  I am, finally, an advocate for Venner’s work, which I would like to make available to an English-language audience.

[The title Un Samouraï d’Occident: Le Bréviaire des insoumis might be translated as A Samurai of the West: The Breviary of the Unsubjected; the title Histoire et tradition des Européens: 30,000 ans d’identité might be translated as History and Tradition of the European People: 30,000 Years of Identity.]

Sex, Movies & Traditionalism on Mars

Of possible interest to Orthosphereans, my essay concerning Sex, Movies & Traditionalism on Mars  has appeared at Angel Millar’s invariably edifying People of Shambhala website.  The essay concerns independent Minnesota-based filmmaker Christopher Mihm, whose Saint Euphoria Studios has found a niche – and an audience – in the production of low-budget black-and-white retro-pastiches resembling the B-grade science fiction and horror movies of the 1950s.  I argue in Sex, Movies & Traditionalism on Mars that Mihm’s Cave Women on Mars (2008) is a cryptically non-politically correct film that employs a studied rhythm of low-comic japes and serious storytelling to argue for sexual dimorphism, with all its attendant and historically understood differences, as the basis of social life, expressing itself most essentially in the formation of the customary family, with its aim of bringing procreation under morality.

The essay also explores the question whether, in a politically correct environment, it might nowadays only be possible to articulate traditional insights, in public, by indirection. Mihm’s  film-festival audiences are undoubtedly liberal, and it appears that he has found a formula for making his dissentient points subliminally and covertly.

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An Image for Our Time

Atlantic Abomination 01 (Art by Richard Powers)Edmund Alexander “Ed” Emshwiller (February 16, 1925 – July 27, 1990) was a commercial artist and illustrator and later, in the 1960s, an auteur of so-called experimental film.  He is notably identified with the science fiction genre, having contributed scores of covers to Galaxy magazine, and other similar periodicals, in the 1950s and 60s.  Emshwiller’s illustrations also graced many a paperback cover, as in the case of the Ace paperback edition of John Brunner’s Atlantic Abomination.  I have posted Emshwiller’s Abomination (so to speak) previously at The Orthosphere.  It is time to display it again.  Emshwiller’s painting instantiates the possibilities that lay within the popular and commercial genres of art in the middle of the last century.  It is a powerful image with many resonances in the archives of painting and drawing, which, to my mind, speaks deeply to our condition.

I invite commentary on Emshwiller’s image, or indeed on Brunner’s story, his lone foray into H. P. Lovecraft territory, should anyone have read it.

P.S. I call dibs on any That-Woman interpretation of the image.

Dominique Venner on Nihilism and “The Religion of Humanity”

Venner

I offer, as best I can, a translation of a section from Dominique Venner’s masterwork Histoire et tradition des Européens: 30,000 ans d’identité [The History and Tradition of the Europeans: 30,000 Years of Identity,] published in French in 2002 by Éditions du Rocher.  The excerpt originates in Chapter 10, “Nihilisme et Saccage de la Nature” [“Nihilism and the Exploitation of Nature”].  Venner wrote in a style that runs to the ironic and telegraphic: Phrases in brackets represent my attempt to overcome the occasional obscurity that his tendencies of irony and compression, or self-allusion, entail.  Flora Montcorbier, whom Venner cites in the excerpt, is a writer of the French New Right.  I give the French original of the text first, followed by my attempt at an idiomatic English rendering.

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Of Possible Interest: Flaubert on Early Christianity

Flaubert

Given the productive discussion that has ensued from my quotations from Constantine’s Edict of Milan and Theodosius’ Codex here at The Orthosphere, I thought that it would not be inappropriate to call attention to an article of mine that appears in the latest number of Anthropoetics, the online journal of Generative Anthropology and related sciences.  The article bears the title, Flaubert’s Tentation de Saint-Antoine : Three Approaches.  Educated people know Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880) mainly as the author of Madame Bovary (1857) and A Sentimental Education (1869), classics of the Nineteenth Century social novel – and simply of the novel.  Like the poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867), Flaubert stands in a line of dissentient artists and intellectuals who, in France, stem from the counter-revolutionary thinking of Joseph de Maistre (1753 – 1821).  That fact by itself should attract the interest of Traditionalists; but more than that, Flaubert maintained a lifelong fascination for the history of religion, most particularly that of Christianity.  Indeed, the work that occupied Flaubert longer than any other and which he considered to be his masterpiece, is La tentation de Saint-Antoine (final version 1870).  La tentation is difficult work to describe.  It is in some fashion a novel, but it is otherwise a drama of the imagination in the form of an internal monologue by the famous instigator of desert monachism (the Thebaïd) whose life spanned the last half of the Third and the first half of the Fourth Centuries.

Flaubert wrote a number of other works with a religious content, notably his Trois Contes or Three Tales (1877), one of which is about Herod, John the Baptist, and Salome, another about St. Julian the Hospitaler, and the third about a naive but pious woman who lives out her life in the confines of small village. Flaubert’s Salammbô (1862), set in Carthage just after the First Punic War, treats the notorious Moloch Cult in detail.

The article not only offers an interpretation of La tentation  from three perspectives – Voegelinian, Girardian, and Gansian – but it also traces the unexpected influence of the masterpiece on later writers. John Dos Passos’ first important novel, Three Soldiers (1921), an autobiographical fictionalization of its author’s wartime experiences, frequently alludes to and may be said to absorb La tentation.

Of Possible Interest: The Degeneration of Right Order

Ruins with Jihadis

I am pleased to report that an essay of mine, René Guénon and Eric Voegelin on the Degeneration of Right Order, has appeared (Part I of two parts) at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum.  I hope that it might be of interest to Orthosphereans.  The essay discusses the disastrous cultural and civilizational consequences of the ancient empires, especially those empires whose ambitions intersected in the Central Asian region known in Antiquity as Bactria.  Both Guénon and Voegelin were fascinated by the seemingly perpetual flux and reflux of imperial ambitions in that region, where global powers remain locked in contention to the present day.  The essay explores Guénon’s discussion in Spiritual Authority & Temporal Power of the “Revolt of the Kshatriyas,” a social upheaval that weakened the Indian states in the Fifth Century BC and made them vulnerable to Persian and Macedonian intervention; it also explores Voegelin’s discussion in The Ecumenic Age of “concupiscential exodus,” exemplified by Alexander’s Asian campaigns, as a destroyer of the civilized order.  I argue in Part II, which will appear in the same venue next week, that the commentaries of Guénon and Voegelin on this topic are eminently applicable to the modern condition.

When Nothing Changes

Zola Paradise

In case my tendency to allude to the classroom might strike anyone as tedious or repetitive, I offer an apology in advance and invite the uninterested to skip the following.  The classroom is nevertheless a consistently renewed sample of the contemporary cohorts as they advance up the ladder of what remains of actual social initiation hoping to join the ranks of the accredited when testing the job market for the first time as prospective adults.  In my classroom, a mid-tier state-college classroom, I therefore have the opportunity (and I take it) to observe the diminishing returns of the near-criminal enterprise of North America’s public primary and secondary instruction, especially where it concerns the inculcation of literacy of both the strict and cultural varieties.

In the just-completed semester, my department chair had asked me, as she regularly does, to supervise the graduate-level “Business in Literature” course that English teaches at the behest of and as a favor to the School of Business’s five-year accountancy program.  I like teaching this course because over the years the five-year accountancy students have demonstrated themselves to be cooperative and disciplined in degree sufficient to distinguish them from the general run of students.  In any given semester, I ask the students to read a short anthropological study – The Gift  (1925) by Marcel Mauss – and three or four novels that take as their setting a recognizably “business” milieu.  This semester’s syllabus obliged the enrollment to read the two “Vinland” sagas, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) by William Dean Howells, Tono-Bungay (1909) by H. G. Wells, and The Paradise of Women (1883) by Emile Zola, the last the basis of two recent television serials and a forgotten French sound-film from 1932.  As a means of putting moral pressure on students to complete the reading, I require them to turn in reading-notes, documenting in detail their progress through the chapters, on a regular basis.  I am fairly certain that most of the accountancy enrollment in the just-completed semester did ninety percent of the reading.  (By contrast, in most of my classes, I would estimate that only sixty per cent of students do as much as sixty per cent of the reading.)

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