Showing posts from January, 2017

Weaving art inside 'madness'

As a young man of twenty four, Angus MacPhee left his home on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides to go to war. He was a member of Lovat's Scouts and was posted in 1940 to occupy and protect the Faeroe Isles. He did not see combat because, before the Lovats fought in Italy, Angus had succumbed to what was diagnosed as 'simple schizophrenia'. This form of schizophrenia presents all the passive symptoms without the accompanying, more familiar, active ones. It debilitates rather than excites, saps rather than disturbs. After a brief spell at home, he found himself in a mental asylum near Inverness.

Unlike the subsequent crafted images of such places, popularised in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', this was an institution of benign care where the continuing mysteries of mental illness were addressed with the limited techniques at hand broadly in an environment of safety. In Angus' case, it was an environment enhanced by its ownership of a farm on which he worke…

The Lives of Sri Aurobindo

If you choose to write a biography of a man when certain of his followers (and, more broadly, certain cultural forces) would prefer a hagiography, you are going to encounter difficulty with the book's reception. People will question your credentials, your motivations. They will argue with your facts - usually by simply denying them rather than showing up your errors. They will accuse you of disrespect or worse. They will vilify and vituperate forgetting most of the values impressed upon them by the very person they purport to defend.

All this, and more, has greeted Peter Heehs' biography of the Indian sage, Sri Aurobindo. No doubt this intemperance is raised to its heights by the fact that Heehs is an 'insider', has been (or still is) a member of the Aurobindo ashram and has helped collate and develop its archives.

Knowing this before reading the book (and admiring Aurobindo myself), I prepare for the worst - for the insensitive, scurrilous and reductionist account bu…

Benighted or The Old Dark House

The excellent Valancourt Books are republishing (after long neglect) several of the novels of J.B. Priestley.

That Priestley's work is so variously assessed is, at one level, understandable and yet, at a deeper level, incomprehensible.

The surface distancing is intelligible because there is something in the style that is resolutely of its time and that creates a certain clunkiness. The closest analogy would be an 'old film' where the sets are obvious, the seams show and the acting is precisely that 'acting'! But allow for that, accustom yourself, and you quickly realise that you are in the hands of a master - a fine storyteller, adept manipulator of diverse genres, and consistently able to strike the depths as he carries you across the plane of the story (or stories).

Priestley's second novel was 'Benighted' (that was turned into a film 'The Old Dark House' by James Whale in 1932 and adapted for theatre only last …

Inner Work

I cannot remember how long Robert Johnson`s `Inner Work` has languished on my bookshelves unread. It is surprising since I think his autobiography, `Balancing Heaven and Earth: A Memoir of Visions, Dreams and Realizations` is the most remarkable text of a dream infused inward (and outward) journey since Jung`s own `Memories, Dreams, Reflections`- engaging, magical, humble and wise. Meanwhile, his short book on what Jung called the shadow (that part of our self, in our personal unconscious, that we repress, hold at bay) is consistently illuminating, not least in reminding us that its contents represent not only those aspects of ourselves that we would rather forget for their presumed negativity but for those dimensions of ourselves seen as too great to handle, from which we shy away. Our shadows hide gold as well as scrap metal!

I presume that this was, in part, because the book is partly a manual - a how to book - from which INFJ`s instinctively recoil. We intuit or we die! We do not…