Iain Cameron's Diary
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2005-08-25 - 10:52 a.m.

SUBLIME OF THE SMALL 4
(span of the century)

The twenty five years between the publication of BNW and Hux’s take on DHL - SP’s studies at Newnham, the cultural dynamic in that period in the UK can be sketched in cartoon terms as follows. Political polarisation in the 30s was followed by the heroic but exhausting role the UK played in the 2nd world war. This heroism provoked a resurgence of neo-romanticism and , in the immediate postwar aftermath , expressionism.

DHL was (quite reasonably) seen as an advocate of dark mystical materialism echoes of which could be found in elements of Nazi culture. Huxley had advocated pacifism and decamped to the US at the end of the 30s. So between them , Hux and DHL were , after WW2, about as mistaken as you could be within the terms of the prevailing culture in the UK.

Leavis overplayed the positive side of DHL placing him within a liberal humanist framework acceptable to the 1950s but, as interest in DHL continued into the 60s , the elements of Lawrence’s vision that Hux had highlighted inevitably came to be noticed more - more particularly as youth culture generally moved in the same direction - not least in the supposition that intense interpersonal relationships represented an ultimate end outside normal space and time.

"‘But where can one go?’" Ursula asks Birkin in Women in Love: "‘After all, there is only the world, and none of it is very distant’"; Birkin replies: "‘One wants to wander away from the world’s somewheres, into our own nowhere. . . . It isn’t really a locality . . . . It’s a perfected relation between you and me, and others—the perfect relation—so that we are free together’"

You can imagine how that might go down after a couple of spiffs with your girlfriend. Never felt magic as crazy as this etc.

Huxley died on the same day that President Kennedy was shot and that helped make his death relatively unremarked. But about a decade on there was renewal of interest eg with the publication of Sybille Bedford’s autobiography and Philip Thody’s study in 1973.

While Hux’s intellectual development in LA, and in particularly in the 50s, makes him a genuine founding-father of the counter-culture , we can see DHL doing the old Kantian aesthetic, for example, here , explaining how Van Gogh does the coding:

When Van Gogh paints sunflowers, he reveals, or achieves, the vivid relation between himself, as man, and the sunflower, as sunflower, at that quick moment of time. . . . You cannot weigh nor measure nor even describe the vision on the canvas. It exists, to tell the truth, only in the much-debated fourth dimension. In dimensional space it has no existence. It is a revelation of the perfected relation, at a certain moment, between a man and a sunflower. . . . It is in-between everything, in the fourth dimension.


And here he is doing the sublime - a propos a Hopi snake dance he saw in 1925:

"The Sun, the nameless Sun, source of all things, which we call sun because the other name is too fearful, this, this vast dark protoplasmic sun from which issues all that feeds our life, this original One is all the time willing and unwilling. Systole, diastole, it pulses its willingness and its unwillingness that we should live and move on, from being to being, manhood to further manhood. Man, small, vulnerable man, the farthest adventurer from the dark heart of the first of suns, into the cosmos of creation. Man, the last god won into existence. And all the time, he is sustained and threatened, menaced and sustained from the Source, the innermost sun-dragon. And all the time, he must submit and he must conquer. Submit to the strange beneficence from the Source, whose ways are past finding out. And conquer the strange malevolence of the Source, which is past comprehension also.

Man, little man, with his consciousness and his will, must both submit to the great origin-powers of his life, and conquer them. Conquered by man who has overcome his fears, the snakes must go back into the earth with his messages of tenderness, of request, and of power. They go back as rays of love to the dark heart of the first of suns. But they go back also as arrows shot clean by man’s sapience and courage, into the resistant, malevolent heart of the earth’s oldest, stubborn core. In the core of the first of suns, whence man draws his vitality, lies poison as bitter as the rattlesnake’s. This poison man must overcome, he must be master of its issue. Because from the first of suns come travelling the rays that make men strong and glad and gods who can range between the known and the unknown. Rays that quiver out of the earth as serpents do, naked with vitality. But each ray charged with poison for the unwary, the irreverent, and the cowardly. Awareness, wariness, is the first virtue in primitive man’s morality. And his awareness must travel back and forth, back and forth, from the darkest origins out to the brightest edifices of creation."

The idea that there is a dark cruelty which we need to embrace to be truly human - so that we can get an authentic link between passion and reason, nature and culture - this is still fairly out - in the light of ample historical evidence in the 20th century - from Guernca to Srebrenica and all the detail that went into Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

As Hux moved away from BNW one of his main accomplices was Gerald Heard, a polymath who graduated from Caius in 1916. Heard became the BBC’s frst Science Editor aeound 1930. As a result Hux and Heard broadcast for BBC on the subject ‘Is Cruelty Out of Date?’ in early 1932. Hux is in high-liberal mode doing the prescience:

‘Italy and Russia understand the force of propaganda and make it a State monopoly…I believe myself it is the substitute for force. Propaganda can make it psychologically impossible for people to disobey you….Force will be out of date the moment our rulers are educated enough to apply the results of modern psychology to their business og governing. The trouble with politicians is that they are always fifty years behind the time.’

Blair and New Labour got to this point about 60 years later.

“The new technique of mass suggestion exist but they do not use it. They are the helpless victims of propaganda, not masters of it. News flies around the world with the speed of lightning and as often as not it is unfavorable to the rulers.’

Campbell and Blair repeatedly made this point as justification for their attempts at spin and news management.

As far as organized force is concerned., Huxley comments:

‘That’s the trouble with organised religion. It provides so many justifications for violence. It is a matter of historical fact that humanitarianism has declined. For when you think you know what absolute truth is, you feel justified in forcing other people to agree with you: and if your faith is sufficiently strong you stick at nothing in your violent compulsion.’

‘There is a real corelation between asceticism and cruelty. Ascetics are people who are hard on themselves - and if you are hard on yourself you don’t mind being hard on other people……Modern psychologists have shown that suppressed sex is almost as bad as perverted sex, It tends to make people turn to cruelty…..perhaps if there is a reaction towards virtue we shall take to torture again.’

Hux has been pointing his crystal ball at the first decade of the 21st century prior to this broadcast which went out in January 1932. The broadcast suggests that at the time Hux was actually writing BNW he was on Mustapha Mond’s side - and in that sense the novel is tragedy of the Savage - who represents the creative side of our civilization.

Cruelty really does seem to be the problem - mystical materialsim threatens to license cruelty. The history of the last 100 years teaches forcibly - and in contrast to the essential optimism of Kant and Hegel - that human cruelty is so cunning that it will take any opportunity to express itself on a disastrous scale. The great 20th century theorist of cruelty was Artaud, active in France in the 30s and 40s. His ideas reached the US via John Cage in the early 50s and his thinking helped radicalise UK theatre in the 60s.

I want to acknowledge Artaud but to step a generation and go straight to the French philosopher who brings together Artaud and D H Lawrence - Gilles Deleuze - born 1926.
Deleuze is the last of the great French post-structuralists - he gave the oration at Foucault’s funeral. Up to the late 60s he mostly wrote studies of past philosophers - Hume, Kant etc but les evenements galvanized his thinking and a series of profoundly original works followed, particularly Difference and Repetition and the Logic of Sense.

Difference and Repetition is hard work - even with a commentary - but the Logic of Sense is much easier as it is written as a set of short ‘series’ on specific themes. You may wonder whether Ted and Sylvia find their way into the Logic of Sense. They surface as Bruno and Sylvie - the final children’s book of Lewis Carroll - for the Logic of Sense is an exploration of Carroll’s thought within a Stoic setting. This leads to marvelous reflections such as no 13 which is entitled The Little Girl and the Schizophrenic.

This brilliance shouldn’t mislead us into missing the originality of Deleuze - he is doing large scale classic philosophy. His aim is to overthrow Hegel and Freud.

But he starts small - as indeed according to Hawkins does the universe - and oddly they both start in the same place - the singularity. For Deleuze, we are singularities - each of us. Deleuze quite simply rejects the classic Kantian starting point - we have knowledge of the world so how must things be for such knowledge to be possible - this is what is known in the trade as transcendental reasoning and its how Kant creates the basic structure of his philosophy including his aesthetics.

Deleuze thinks that the problem with this approach is that it secretly smuggles onto the stage ‘the supreme self’ - an infinitely and completely determined being - and Deleuze wants to go smaller. The transcendental approach coerces into accepting this being with the threat that without it everything is chaotic and formless. Nietzsche - a hero for both Deleuze and Lawrence - found the way through when:

‘the explained the world of impersonal and pre-individual singularities, a world he called Dionysian,…… free and unbounded energy.’

‘The subject is this free, anonymous, and nomadic singularity which traverses men as well as plants and animals independently of the matter of their individuation and of the forms of their personality.’

Deleuze’s plan is to free us from the bourgeois subject - to let us out of the mall.

“ {in this discovery} Nietzsche glimpsed, as if in a dream, the means of treading over the earth, of touching lightly, of dancing and leading back to the surface those monsters of the deep and forms of the sky that were left”

There is something more fundamental on the side of subjectivity than the heavy chains of personal identity. This is about as unWittgensteinian as you can get - in the late Wittgenstein subjectivity is boxed in by sociology - we only know who we are because of what everyone keeps telling us lest we forget.

This new metaphysics brings with it a set of brilliantly refreshing principles. For example we habitually distinguish between the real and the virtual - there’s a real world and then there’s its virtual simulation on our pcs or in our mental imagery or our dreams. Well we can ditch that. In Deleuze we are nomadic singularities and in our domain there is no fundamental distinction between the real and the virtual.

For this to be so we need to recognise the primacy of the surface - it is in their common surfaces that the real and the virtual come together. Surface primary and depth secondary. The surface - the place where the real and the virtual meet - is always under threat - most obviously by the eruptions of schizophrenia as Deleuze explains in The Schizophrenic and the Little Girl:

“A great poet may write in a direct relation to the child that she was and the children she loves…….We might have thought to be still amongst little girls and children but we are already in an irreversible madness. We might have believed to be at the latest edge of literary research at the point of the highest intervention of languages and words: we are already faced by the agitation of a convulsive life - in the night of a pathological creation affecting bodies.”

Deleuze is effectively picking up the baton from Lawrence - for the last 3rd of the 20th century and beyond - overthrowing Hegel and seeking to create a genuine platform for the future from the heritage of mystical materialism - embracing Artaud and the omnipresence of cruelty - placing Alice in the middle of it all.

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