Searching for paradise in the hidden Himalayas

At moments of dislocation and intense social uncertainty people will appear offering the possibility of another land where people will be blessed, liberated and genuinely at home. In this case, it was not 'Brexit' but a hidden land of actual immortality, enfolded within the mountain ranges around Mt Kanchenjunga on the Nepalese/Sikkim border. Unlike Shangri-la, Beyul Demoshong was not simply a physical space, carefully hidden (as imagined in Hilton's Lost Horizon) but an occulted place spiritually hidden.

The person offering this journey and opening the way to it was the 'crazy lama', Tulshuk Lingpa. Lingpa was a 'terton' a finder of 'terma' which were texts magically hidden until discovered at the right moment for them to be of maximum usefulness to people's spiritual development. They were often hidden by Padmasambhava, the robust wonder-working bringer of Buddhism to Tibet; and, Tibetan Buddhism is alive with such discoveries (though undoubt…

Good Companionship

The novel's author, J.B. Priestley, was ambivalent about, 'The Good Companions'. Whilst it was the novel that made his name and secured his livelihood as a writer, it was the novel that threatened to overwhelm and encircle his name as the author of 'The Good Companions'.

It was as if Dickens found himself seen as the author of 'The Pickwick Papers', that everything he did was seen through that lens alone or, to use an appropriate theatrical analogy, Priestley found himself typecast. Like, say, the great Richard Briers always being seen through the lens of having 'been in' the exemplary BBC television comedy, 'The Good Life' but never being seen for his performances, say, in Shakespeare.

It is an apt comparison because, as with 'The Good Life', 'The Good Companions' is an exemplary novel of its kind. In this case, a picaresque tour de force that takes three disparate 'amateurs' and plunges them by coordinated accident…

A Forgotten Kingdom

Peter Goullart was a White Russian emigre in China who progressed from being a clerk through being the tour guide to wealthy Westerners to a promotor of co-operatives on behalf of the Chinese Nationalist government in the remote province of Yunnan from 1939 to 1948. He left on a plane never to return shortly after the brutal arrival of the Chinese communists who were to change the life of Yunnan for good. Ironically in the process destroying the co-operatives that Goullart had laboured to help launch and which had encouraged a significant momentum towards prosperity. Their grassroots collaborative agency naturally distressing the centralised directives of a collectivist state in the making.
Goullart's "Forgotten Kingdom: Nine Years in Yunnan, 1939-1948" is his charming account of his life there. It is an accomplished text where he sees with a clear eye - compassionate, balanced and engaged. This is an account with neither romanticism nor cynicism but one of a place actu…

Without vision the people perish...

John Carey in his admirable biography of Golding says of  "Darkness Visible" that a simple summary of its plot would sound preposterous and, agreeing, I will not try here.

At its heart are three figures. Matty, an eccentric who appears out of the fires of the Blitz in war torn London hideously disfigured by fire. Mr Pedigree, a pedophile school teacher, whose life enters a downward spiral having been betrayed by Matty`s remorseless honesty.  Sophy, who with her twin Toni, grow up in the same town that connects Matty with Mr Pedigree and where their failed attempt to kidnap a child from a local public school brings the denouement that is Matty`s death and Mr Pedigree`s presumed redemption.

The outward narrative that connects these three figures together is, as Carey notes, mostly unbelievable and yet this detracts from the novel not one whit. What matters consistently is the inward dynamics that propel the principal characters outward actions and here Golding`s vision is rem…

The uncanny biography

I was on my way to bed on Tuesday night and found myself contemplating Andrei Bely's "Kotik Letaev' his experimental novel that follows a child from birth onwards capturing the unfolding of its awareness whilst mirroring Rudolf Steiner's understanding of the development of consciousness. What, I found myself thinking, do I really think about Rudolf Steiner? The next day, over breakfast, I open my current book, John Cary's excellent biography of William Golding and within a page, I learn that Golding's first teaching appointment was at a Steiner school (as one of his lifelong friends, met at Oxford, became a minister in the Steiner inspired, Christian Community). Golding himself, whilst initially impressed by Steiner's work, found Steiner's followers less appealing. I smiled at the coincidence and thought no more of it.

On Wednesday evening, I found myself thinking of how and when did my early, thirteen-year-old, introduction to Transcendental meditati…

Christ in high culture and in the vegetable patch.

Richard Harries' 'Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith'  is a series of explorative essays on how, in a growingly secular age, key poets and novelists have responded to Christian faith. Such an exploration requires choices to be made most especially of who to focus on, who to exclude. Harries includes twenty key figures, broadly explored chronologically, from Dostoyevsky to Marilynne Robinson and, with only two exceptions, Dostoyevsky and Shushaku Endo, from the Anglo-American world, fifteen men and five women.

This spectrum encompasses primarily people who have converted to the faith (or re-entered after adolescent disillusionment), have found it deeply nourishing yet remain conflicted; and, four authors - Samuel Beckett, Edward Thomas, William Golding, and Philip Pullman - who have remained (in different ways) outside and, in the last case, are passionately critical whilst adhering to the notion of an ordering imagination in the universe that is …

Poets go to war

It was not a universal view that the First World War came as a strange relief but it was a widespread one. A relief partly because it seemed increasingly inevitable (even though its actual breakout can be read as a casual sequence of blunderings) and partly because the world seemed stalled, stifled in its 'Victorian' mores, trapped by its complacent empires, bursting with nationalities denied a home of their own; and, gripped in a struggle between capital and labor.

The war came and the poets mostly exalted - even measured, non-martial ones like Rilke seemed to lose their heads in the gathered enthusiasm of a war that would be a cleansing fire and usher in a new age, a reconfigured politics, new countries and interconnections between countries and gleaming with the technology and speed in which the Futurists positively exalted.
After, however, the terrible love of war crashed against the numbing reality of conflict matters changed generating complex responses. Some remained r…