“To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language . . .”
William Cullen Bryant “Thanatopsis” (1817)
It is hard to say whether Man or Nature is more subject to moods, and therefore whether Bryant’s “various language” originates in peculiarities of the tongue or of the ear. If silence can be taken as a sort of language—and there can be no doubt that silence is expressive, we cannot deny that Nature often withdraws into cold taciturnity, and that in this mood she appears as the beautiful but icy queen that I yesterday called la belle dame sans mercy. Continue reading
“I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful, a faery’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.”
John Keats, “La Belle Dame sans Mercy” (1819)
A beautiful woman must disappoint most of her many suitors, and the rejected men will naturally salve their vanity by calling her la belle dame sans mercy. They may of course use coarse and vulgar words, but this is what they mean: she is a beautiful lady without pity, a beautiful lady with a heart of stone. But the imputation is almost always unjust, since the heart they allege to be made out of stone will someday melt—has perhaps already melted—like butter before the ardent passion of another man. Continue reading
I encourage you to read this recent post by Malcolm Pollack, a life-long agnostic who, with some anxious chagrin, finds himself figeting on the porch of the Church. I should really say on the threshold of theism, but my mood this morning is metaphoric rather than alliterative. Be sure to read the excellent comments. I was particularly delighted to see comments by Deogolwulf, a genius of blogging who is now sadly (and he says permanently) silent. His Joy of Curmudgeonry ended in 2012, but I keep the site bookmarked, and on those days when I find the Internet nothing but rubbish and tripe, refresh myself at that cool spring of mordant philosophy. The pithy penetration of his comments shows that the silence of Deogolwulf is not owing to senility or stupefaction. The other comments are also very good, and the the whole post is a model of serious reflection and exchange.
My essay on Stuart Holroyd, Gnosticism, and the Occult Wave appears at Voegelin View. Holroyd’s is an unfamiliar name in 2020, but it circulated fairly widely beginning in the mid-1950s through to about the turn of the century. It helped that he associated himself with Colin Wilson and Bill Hopkins, in whose publicity wake Holroyd might be said to have ridden. The three of them considered themselves to have constituted the avant-garde of a particularly English school of Existentialism that took its foundations in a severe critique of Sartre and Camus and that incorporated a sympathy to mysticism and – especially in Holroyd’s case – to religion. Holroyd’s first two books, Emergence from Chaos (1956) and Flight and Pursuit (1959), deal with the same topics as Wilson’s Outsider (1956) and Religion and the Rebel (1957). Beginning in the late 1950s, Holroyd entered into a period of commercially oriented writing that he designed to take advantage of the burgeoning interest in the arcane, the occult, and exotic religion of the time. Among these is his Elements of Gnosticism (1994), a remarkably sane treatment of the Late-Antique religious movement that parasitized Christianity and Neo-Platonism. My essay compares Holroyd’s “take” on Gnosticism with that of Elaine Pagels, who effusively praised the view of the Gnostic adherents in such titles as The Gnostic Gospels (1979) and Beyond Belief (2004). It speculates on the relationship between the Occult Wave and the pseudo-religiosity of contemporary leftist politics – with comments on Marianne Williamson. I offer a sequence of paragraphs from Part II of the essay. –
Holroyd readily perceived that certain aspects of modernity wear a Gnostic guise. In his first chapter, he remarks on the Gnostic proclivities of notable literary figures of the last three centuries. Holroyd proposes the following names as members of the Gnostic club: “Voltaire, Goethe, Blake, Melville, Yeats, Jung, [and] Hesse.” Under the claim that “there is… a substantial corpus of modern Gnostic literature,” Holroyd invokes “the literary-philosophical school of Existentialism,” which can boast “many affinities with classical Gnosticism.” Later, in Chapter 7, Holroyd returns to these names, but in most cases his explanations fall short of full persuasiveness. Voltaire seems somewhat alien to a list of Gnostics, except that he rejected the standard theodicy and introduced into Candide a character who describes himself as a Manichaean. Goethe qualifies as visionary, but to conflate vision and gnosis would be an error. Blake makes a better candidate than Goethe: His “Nobodaddy” resembles the Gnostic Demiurge. Melville, in Moby Dick, linked Captain Ahab to “the ancient Ophites,” but that served the purpose of underlining Ahab’s fanaticism, a gesture that cannot, by itself, induct Melville’s novel into the ranks of Gnostic belles-lettres. This is so despite the fact that Melville took an interest in Gnosticism. One could say the same of Yeats as one says of Goethe. Now Jung and Hesse, on the other hand, knew of Gnosticism, felt its allure, and might indeed have espoused it – but the latter’s Glass Bead Game could easily be interpreted as a critique rather than an expression of late-modern Gnosticizing elitism.
“Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason.”
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)
I think we must grant that the Left is more slavishly addicted to Reason than the Right—or at least than the genuine Right. There are, needless to say, many spurious men of the Right who betray their spuriosity by boasting about their ruthless reasoning; but genuine men of the Right have always been chary of Reason because they see that Reason is ruthless.
And because Reason is ruthless, they see that it must be kept on a very stout chain. Continue reading