Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Continuing addiction: yet more books



After yesterday's companionable three, today no less than five books arrived in the post. Where I wonder is the local branch of Bookbuyers Anonymous? Publishers have partners and children to support, I suppose.

The most beautiful volume physically is 'New Collected Poems: David Gascoyne' published by the excellent Enitharmon Press, who have been this great poets continuous support. Gascoyne (pictured above) was a poet whom T.S. Eliot regretted having not published on his highly influential Faber list. This omission, coupled with the eccentricity of Gascoyne's career, has led to his neglect, especially in his native England (that is, in any case, often negligent of its genius). Gascoyne was a man of extraordinary sensibility and fragility. His mid-life was marked by lapses into derangement (including once trying to storm the Elysee palace to warn General de Gaulle of some impending danger or necessity) until he was gifted into the protection and care of the woman who became his wife, Judy.

He was, in the words of the poet Kathleen Raine (also regretfully overlooked by Eliot), the most imaginatively gifted English poet of the century after Yeats and I concur. Most notably the most gifted religious poet or possibly, more accurately, spiritual poet that absorbed and transcended the difficulty of expressing religious truths in a world gone secular. Here a simple poem about snowfall becomes both celebration of an obscured metaphysical unity and a prophecy of future sundering violence.

Snow in Europe

Out of their slumber Europeans spun
Dense dreams: appeasements, miracle, glimpsed flash
Of a new golden era; but could not restrain
The vertical white weight that fell last night
And made their continent a blank.

Hush, says the sameness of the snow
The Ural and Jura now rejoin
The furthest Arctic's desolation. All is one;
Sheer monotone: plain, mountain; country, town:
Contours and boundaries no longer show.

The warring flags hang colourless a while;
Now midnight's icy zero feigns a truce
Between the signs and seasons, and fades out
All shots and cries. But when the great thaw comes,
How red shall be the melting snow, how loud the drums!

The next two books were by a representative of the preceding generation to Gascoyne - Aldous Huxley - a replacement copy of his utopian novel, "Island', counterpoint to 'Brave New World' and 'The Divine Within' a collection of essays on enlightenment and the 'ultimate reality' (it boldly declares on the back cover). I have an unadulterated affection for Huxley (leaving aside numerous disagreements) for the faithfulness with which he pursued the lure and consequences of his own experience. He was too a good man and a counterpoint to Gascoyne. Huxley was a philosopher who happened upon being a novelist clothing ideas in imagined yet stilted forms. Gascoyne was image haunted, hunting patterns of thinking to which his dreams gave cause. Huxley too was, I think, the most prescient of twentieth century dystopians - the lure of artificial happiness being a better guide to our dilemmas than imposed authoritarianism - and in recognising that religious life would increasingly become possible only if grounded in an embodied empiricism. We will become mystics or nothing.

This may be the theme of William Irwin Thompson's 'Beyond Religion: The Cultural Evolution of the Sense of the Sacred from Shamanism to Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality' - the breathless title suggests that it might be so!

And finally there was a posthumous novel (or fragment thereof) by Patrick White: ' The Hanging Garden'. This brings us full circle to Gascoyne for if he was the most imaginatively gifted poet, White, in my opinion, was the novelist equivalent. If Huxley traded in ideas, White traded in images (he had wanted to be a painter) and distrusted the power of words to capture truth, You see truth, dance it, taste it through White in a way that is extraordinarily compelling. Sit, wait, taste, see and an extraordinary world unfolds - biting, humourous, complex, visionary - his novels are an education in the slow digestion of truths through every sense.

Addictions are not always bad...

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