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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The Zero-Gravity World

Thirty years ago, men who coveted a reputation for deep thinking were wont to discuss Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. I was such a man and I remember such a discussion, sitting on the roof of a Boston apartment building late one night, in the company of an unemployed actor, who was connected to the sister of a woman with whom I was connected.   As is so often the case with rooftop conversations, I remember the circumstances better than the substance. I clearly remember the John Hancock Tower rising up before us, against a backdrop of phosphorescent clouds; I clearly remember people below us, spilling onto the sidewalk before the Berklee College of Music; I clearly remember the roar of traffic on the Mass Pike and the earnest and sonorous voice of the unemployed actor.   My memory of what the actor said is not so clear, but I believe it was in an existentialist vein, and that he laid considerable weight on such things as the “authentic life,” the “deliberate act,” and “the deed.” My memory of what I said is no clearer, which is just as well, given the sorts of things I said thirty years ago. Continue reading

Nihilism and the Neighbor from Beyond the Hill

Is Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” really a reproof against borders? To read modern journalists, one would certainly think so, for they can hardly type the phrase “border fence” without feeling an inspiration to add, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

When this happens, we should remember that a close reading of the poem shows that there is also something that does. Love a wall, that is. Frost’s neighbor from “beyond the hill” loves walls very dearly—so much so that he more than once remarks, “good fences make good neighbors.” Continue reading

The Cuisine of Sacrifice

I recently finished another of my favorite sort of book, the sort that brings order and intelligibility to a mass of fascinating facts, many of them new to me: The Cuisine of Sacrifice Among the Greeks. It is a collection of papers by European classicists and folklorists, mostly French, edited by the eminent scholars Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Three key insights inform everything in the book:

  1. In the ancient world, essentially all the meat available for consumption in human settlements was the fruit of sacrificial rites.
  2. Cookery and sacrifice were therefore aspects of the same procedure. Sacrifice was the way animals were slaughtered and butchered in preparation for cooking; cooking the meat was part of the sacrificial rite.
  3. Participation in the communal feast on the fruits of the sacrifice was the rite of social assimilation. To share the common meal was to declare loyalty to the cult, and to the settlement that it informed. To refuse participation – as with, e.g., vegetarian cults like that of the Pythagoreans – was to refuse membership in the community.

The book examines various aspects of animal sacrifice in myth, history, and down to the present day. It is well worth a read, if only for the factoids that litter its pages by the hundred. What follows are some of my marginal notes, organized not at all. Many of them are speculative; I do not present them as anything more than a record of suggestive associations that occurred to me in reading.

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Gnosticism in Modern Scholarship

Gnosis 02 This is the third in a series of four articles exploring the phenomenon of Gnosis or Gnosticism from a “Non-Voegelinian Perspective.” Eric Voegelin (1901-1986) in The New Science of Politics (1952), Science Politics & Gnosticism (1965), and elsewhere used the term “Gnosticism” to refer to the “closed” or ideological-totalitarian systems that, for him, expressed the essence of modernity. Voegelin was a critic of modernity, just as he was a critic of the ideological-totalitarian systems, and in his usage the term Gnosticism (taking it out of quotation-marks) always carried a strong pejorative connotation. In Voegelin’s view, as expressed especially in the multi-volume study Order and History (1957-1965), Gnosticism sought to triumph but failed to do so in Antiquity, but then emerged anew in the early modern period to become the dominant Weltanschauung of the later centuries. Voegelin did not mean – as some took him to mean – that specific Gnostic doctrines, surviving in latency during the Medieval Period, then sprang back to life in all their details; rather, Voegelin argued that the difficulty of coming to terms with the “tension” (the perceived imperfection or even hostility) of existence inclined some people to deny existence by constructing an elaborate “second reality.”

The “second reality” eliminates, by various gestures of denial, anything inimical to the maladjusted ego in the real world. The “second reality” is a flight from reality – a fugue. The real world persists, which means that the advocates of the “second reality” find themselves in perpetual conflict, both rhetorical and psychological, with existence. Ideology, for Voegelin, is a magical gesture aimed at altering the structure of reality through unanimous declaration; the requirement for unanimity means that the Gnostic polity must quash all dissenting voices.

Voegelin did not evoke the topic of Gnosticism in a vacuum. The scholarship of Gnosis goes back to various students of G.W.F. Hegel, particularly to Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860), whose pioneering study, Die Christliche Gnosis (Christian Gnosis, 1835), remains a touchstone. Nevertheless, the take-off of Gnostic scholarship happened in the Twentieth Century. A pivotal work appeared in The Gnostic Religion (1958), by Hans Jonas (1903-1993), reissued in a revised text in 1963, 1991, and 2001. With Kurt Rudolph (born 1929), whose Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism appeared in 1977, Jonas was a dominant presence in the field right up to his death. More recently, the names of Giovanni Filoramo (born 1945) and Yuri Stoyanov (born 1961) have become obligatory references. So has that of Michel Tardieu (born 1938) for his succinct book, Manichaeism (1981; English version 2008). It should be emphasized that Voegelin was never a primary scholar of Gnosticism. Jonas, Rudolph, and Filoramo, with whom the present essay deals, were and are primary scholars of Gnosticism. Their objectivity distinguishes them from well-known others (J. M. Robinson, for example, and Elaine Pagels) whose interest in Gnosticism is rather more advocative than rigorous. Continue reading