Goto Thread: PreviousNext
Goto:  Message ListNew TopicSearchLog In
Goto Page: Previous1234567AllNext
Current Page: 5 of 7
Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 7 October, 2019 10:21PM
The second paragraph of Chapter 5 includes this:

----I will put the question in its plainest, crudest form, and I will
make you ask, if you please, whether Charles Dickens had any
consciousness of the interior significance of the milk-punch, strong
ale, and brandy and water which he caused Mr Pickwick and his friends to
consume in such outrageous quantities. It sounds plain enough and simple
enough, doesn't it, and yet I must tell you that to answer that
question fairly you must first analyze human nature
, and I needn't
remind you that _that_ is a task very far from simple. "Man" sounds a
very simple predicate, as you utter it; you imagine that you understand
its significance perfectly well, but when you begin to refine a little,
and to bring in distinctions, and to carry propositions to their
legitimate bounds, you find that you have undertaken the definition of
that which is essentially indefinite and probably indefinable
. And,
after all, we need not pitch on this term or on that, there is no need
to select "man" as offering any especial difficulty, for, I take it,
that the truth is that all human knowledge is subject to the same
disadvantage, the same doubts and reservations. _Omnia exeunt in
_ was an old scholastic maxim; and the only people who have
always a plain answer for a plain question are the pseudo-scientists,
the people who think that one can solve the enigma of the universe with
a box of chemicals.------

That's a good excerpt to keep in mind with which to suggest Machen's conviction over against reductionism. Below, some further quotations as resources for eventual discussion, maybe.

The passage from Machen suggests to me, also, a key to understanding Lovecraft, and I will throw this out as something to be discussed, if at all, please please, in a separate thread if anyone wants to. I hope I'm not blundering by putting it here. But here's the thesis. Lovecraft was inwardly divided. On the one had he was receptive to the sense of beckoning sunset vistas, he felt the pull of the unknown, there was that in his consciousness that wanted to expand, move outward, discover new heights and depths, etc. On the other hand, he was pledged to materialism. He was pledged, in advance of all further experience, to the notion that anything that he yet could encounter, anything he could learn, even if he lived somehow for centuries, was and must be, in principle, understandable in the reductive terms he was fond of expounding; there was and could be nothing that was not explicable in terms of material factors, material causality, mindless physical forces. The amount of information yet to be discovered might be enormous, inconceivable, but he already held the key, and he "knew" that whatever there was to learn, it could not really challenge the intellectual outfit he had acquired (largely, I suppose, by reading 19th-century writers like Huxley). The maxim Machen quoted could not, in principle, be ultimately true; contra Machen, everything doesn't and can't depart into mystery; there really is no mystery about It All; it's nothing but the mindless motions of material factors grinding on into a pointless future. Ipse dixit.

In contrast, Machen stands with, for example, the poet William Blake:

I give you the end of a golden string;

Only wind it into a ball,

It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,

Built in Jerusalem’s wall.

That is, as Machen might say, you can start even in some drab, grimy London back street off the Gray's Inn Road, and if you discipline your intellect and emotions and imagination aright, this experience can open out for your spirit into open-ended vistas. The "commonplace" of ordinary awareness veils the infinite. That drab-looking London couple with the baby -- ah, Machen says, did you realize it? They have partaken of wonders. Beauty and wonder surround us, but we have to have eyes to see them, and fine literature suggests this, testifies of it in the language of symbolism, etc.

One can decide that this is all bosh, but what if Machen is right?

What if, just as there are tools for gaining certain, useful, and quantitative knowledge of what is less than ourselves, we may also, for example by reading fine literature well, begin to enjoy something of that which belongs to us as a birthright, distinctively as humans?

Here, from Tolkien's poem "Mythopoeia," is the materialist view:

----You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are `trees', and growing is `to grow');
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, Inane
where destined atoms are each moment slain.----

Tolkien goes on to write about man the Artist in terms that Machen would have appreciate:

---The heart of man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with elves and goblins, though we dared to build
gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sow the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.----

These passages are from his poem "Mythopoeia." I won't here expound how they seem to me to relate to Machen in Hieroglyphics.

I'm going to post this entry with the request, again, that it be regarded as something to be taken up, if at all, after one has read Hieroglyphics, and, in the case of my theory of Lovecraft's divided mind, NOT taken up on this thread, but elsewhere, if at all. Let's not have Oldjoe's original posting disregarded and becoming swamped by discussions of that remarkable fantasist of Rhode Island. Please. Thanks.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 October, 2019 11:49AM
Chapter 5 has more about Rabelais, which, again, since I haven't read him and all, I'll pass over. But the chapter has some classic Machenian remarks on art.

For contrast -- when, or after, you read this chapter, place alongside it these pieces on the highly-paid art and architecture of our own time. Here is a mini-anthology. Of course, you can click on the links any time you like -- I just mean that if you have these fresh in your mind when you read Machen's chapter, that will probably give it added piquancy.





I didn't find a piece I looked for, from some years ago now, by the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, that hazarded the guess that one of the things fueling Muslim rage was the ruining of traditional skylines in the Middle East by hideous, inharmonious, brutalist buildings so loved by the modern architect and his or her followers. (No, of course the rape of the skyline, gross a violation as that was, does not justify the maiming and killing of human bodies.) But I did find this BBC program in which Scruton was allowed to speak up for beauty.


I had to chuckle around 28:00 to hear him citing things like Malory's Morte. Yet I don't suppose Sir Roger has been reading Arthur Machen. But again, around 30:00, when he is commenting on Rembrandt: beauty is all around us....

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 8 Oct 19 | 12:27PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 October, 2019 02:30PM
Pages 127ff: The Hermit offers another "commonplace" thing for our consideration, along with the earlier one of the office-boy gambling, or that of the young couple in A Fragment of Life, namely the slum girls dancing to a crude musical instrument. Somewhere -- I hope to track it down soon -- Machen commented on the prayer that goes like this: "O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." Machen was upset because someone had tinkered with the liturgy, adding a word that, he felt, dreadfully altered the meaning. The innovator had written it, "that we finally lose not the things eternal." Machen meant that the original version conveyed the idea that we should, with gratitude to the Creator, use temporal things as means by which we apprehend things eternal -- if you like, that we should use even the commonplace things "sacramentally." The revised version, Machen fumed, suggests that we should disdain temporal things so that we might be good and earn the reward of eternal things. So the Hermit would pause to see the girls, probably not taught elegant dancing, and dancing to music that probably was not very lovely, as a temporal manifestation of the Joy at the heart of things. These girls, in their unconscious way, were mediators, did we but see it, bringing by art into the sensory world something of the eternal.

P. 141: Keynotes was a collection of stories by a woman who wrote under the pseudonym George Egerton. The stories were dedicated to Knut Hamsun, Norwegian author of Pan, Hunger, Victoria, and Mysteries. The "Egerton" stories are said to concern the "eternal feminine," etc. Machen appears to be what is now, usually with disapproval, called an "essentialist," in contrast to, e.g. the "social constructionists" who dominate colleges of education. If he seems old-fashioned to you, this is part of the reason why.

Page 142: The Hermit refers to the "subconscious" as "that convenient name for the transcendent element in human nature. Here again his opposition to reductionism (e.g., as Schucmacher points out in A Guide for the Perplexed, that of the once-famous Desmond Morris who characterized man as the "naked ape").

Page 145: Art is from the "inmost being" of man which is, thus, not accessible to his consciousness because it is within rather than without.

Page 154: The Hermit adds Keats to the short list of authors of fine literature, on p. 158 mentioning specifically the Ode on a Grecian Urn.

Pages 160ff: Trunnion and Hatchway are in Tobias Smollett's Peregrine Pickle. Smollett was a favorite author of Dickens. However, the Hermit doesn't say that he wrote fine literature.

Page 161: The Hermit says religion is the foundation of the fine arts.

Chapter 6 ends Hieroglyphics except for some pages labeled "Appendix." By the time we end the six chapters, it may be evident why Machen gave it its peculiar title, referring to "sacred carvings." Part of this is that he sees Man as a priest, mediating by art between the visible creation and a realm of which we may gain awareness, a realm which could be called the inner side of the outward world, etc. He allows for some indefiniteness when we write about these things because they don't belong to the things that can be defined exhaustively, if indeed there are any such outside pure mathematics (the language to which the scientific method aspires since it seeks exactness).

(Machen has been called "anti-science," but I think it is "scientism" that he opposes, the belief that the scientific method is adequate for the ascertaining of all true knowledge and of all that concerns human beings.)

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 8 Oct 19 | 02:58PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 October, 2019 05:00PM
And so to the Appendix.

The Hermit begins by contrasting essential truth with "information" about accidental things -- "accidental" referring to the transitory, contingent, etc.; the particular rather than the universal. I suppose, for the point of view that Machen opposes, there are not universals, though there are accumulations of particular that lead to statistical high probabilities for a time, at least.

Machen seems to be getting at what's sometimes called poetic knowledge, in contrast to what people often mean by "knowledge."

Perhaps this will help. In one of his stories, Machen quotes an esoteric saying: "In every grain of wheat, the soul of a star lies hidden."

From the point of view that Machen opposes, this is a nonsensical sentence, no different from "In every carburetor the wings of a moth are calculating taxation increments.”

For some readers, though, the first statement, about the grain of wheat, will strike them as meaningful, though it can't be reduced to "knowledge" in the ordinary sense.

I went into this topic more, here:


The Appendix allows us to add two more works to the list of fine literature -- Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and New England stories of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. I am eager to look into those!

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 October, 2019 06:13PM
"Condescension towards the past has never been more enormous than it is now." -- Clive James in the Guardian today.

One of the things I love in Machen is how he stands and speaks against that patronizing attitude. I hope a lot of people here will read his old book, which is largely about even older books.


Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 9 October, 2019 06:58AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
> Your source for these assertions, Knygatin? (I'm
> aware of the apparent grieving of elephants for
> dead elephants.) If all that you say is true,
> then these are things everyone ought to know.

Since this ability in elephants was discovered, humans have turned it into a commercial thing, and sadly I have seen elephants chained and being forced to stand and paint portraits all day long for paying tourists.

Anyway, they paint a whole lot better than most humans do. Here are three very interesting videos:

[Baby elephant painting.]

[Excellent painting by elephant.]

[Older elephant doing some brilliant painting.]

If you are interested in reading more about similar subjects, you can always Google after information. Or rather, avoid Google and use instead, because Google has turned into an ever growing NWO tool for private identity registration and over state control.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 9 October, 2019 06:16PM
Knygatin, please read this:


Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 05:25AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
> Knygatin, please read this:
> []
> g/

I have already said that I strongly dislike that the elephants are abused. That is a different matter.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Oldjoe (IP Logged)
Date: 15 October, 2019 09:12AM
Now that I have a hardcopy version of Hieroglyphics, I've started reading and noting comments in this thread as I go (thanks much to Dale Nelson for so much insightful commentary). I'll probably have more to say once I finish my read-through of this fascinating volume, but in parallel I continue to read through CAS' poetic works, and today came across an interesting echo of Machen's conception of "ecstasy" in literature. In the poem "Symbols," CAS uses the phrase "Communicable mystery" to describe a certain strain of creative intent:

To body forth my fantasies, and show
Communicable mystery, I would find,
In adamantine darkness of the earth,
Metals of any sun; and bring
Black azures of the nether sea to birth—
Or fetch the secret, splendid leaves, and blind
Blue lilies of an Atlantean spring.

Much of what is quoted above amounts to a list of artistic inspirations, but the questing after "Communicable mystery" strikes me as perhaps being inspired by Hieroglyphics, since we know from his letters that CAS had read Machen's volume by the time he wrote the poem "Symbols."

The full text of "Symbols," with a small typo in the second line, is available right here on The Eldritch Dark:


Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 18 October, 2019 10:54AM
Should that be "bind" rather than "blind" in the CAS excerpt?

I came across a Coleridge passage (quoted in a book I have just started, the historian Lord Elton's Such Is the Kingdom), referring to Wordsworth's Intimations Ode, that seems to me close to what the Hermit gets at in his championing of fine literature:

"But the ode was intended for such readers only as had been accustomed to watch the flux and reflux of their inmost nature, to venture at times into the twilight realms of consciousness, and to feel a deep interest in inmost modes of being, to which they know that the attributes of time and space are inapplicable and alien, but which yet cannot be conveyed save in symbols of time and space. For such readers the sense is sufficiently plain..."

Btw, looking ahead, I see that Elton cites Machen.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 18 Oct 19 | 10:55AM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 22 October, 2019 01:06PM
Machen valued Coleridge and Wordsworth highly, as does D. G. James, author of Scepticism and Poetry: An Essay on the Poetic Imagination (1937), from which I quote (p. 242):

---The work of literary criticism is not one which can hope to be carried out successfully without a synoptic view of human nature in all activities and experiences; it draws its vitality, such as it may be, from sympathetic contact with the whole range of human apprehension of the world.---

I wondered what Machen might say to that. On the one hand, Hieroglyphics certainly deals with a "view of human nature." Hence a lot of the comments posted earlier on this thread. On the other hand, Machen may seem to write off many "activities and experiences" as not suited to fine literary art (see his dismissing of Jane Austen's novels, for example).

I would prefer to focus on the "view of human nature." Machen is much at odds with what I take to be the notions prevalent in English studies today. Machen believes in some great givens about human nature, about essentials in what it is to be human. The prevalent view in English studies -- which puts the professor at odds with most of the standard authors and works (for which he or she may have little enthusiasm) -- would reject such "essentialism," preferring the notion that one is born a blank slate except for some programming that is nothing but genetics. Hence, the professors' progressivism, even utopianism: since there is little or nothing innate, nothing that unites the human beings to a perennial order of things, then the human being can, theoretically, be shaped and reshaped at will. The idea is that this has been done, so far, in Western cultural, by Straight White Males for the sake of power and privilege. They have been heard from, now they need to shut up and sit still and listen to women, nonwhites, non-straights, and so on. From one point of view everything is up for grabs (since there is no cosmic order with which the human being needs to seek alignment in order to flourish), from another, they certainly do not see everything as up for grabs -- "freedom" was the buzzword for the Sixties, but they have retired it for the sake of "equality."

I suppose that, if Hieroglyphics is to be a "living book" in our time, it will be so for scattered individuals and a few small communities. I may say, it doesn't seem to be getting a lot of traction here....! : )

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 23 October, 2019 05:32PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
> I suppose that, if Hieroglyphics is to be a
> "living book" in our time, it will be so for
> scattered individuals and a few small communities.
> I may say, it doesn't seem to be getting a lot of
> traction here....! : )

The Eldritch Dark has a very long tradition of representing the silence of the spaces in-between the stars. You mustn't feel bad about it. Welcome to the club. But I must say, you do seem to take it with good humor! I highly doubt I myself would have done the same, after so much effort. Others have responded less patiently, over not being seen, in documented rage and disgust.

Posting on the Eldritch Dark should be done solely for ones own solitaire pleasure, without any expectations of replies from others. On occasions generous responses come in on rare tides, and hit upon this desolate shore with enlightening phosphorescent surf.

I still believe you may expect some ripe fruit dropping down from OldJoe, Sawfish, and Platypus, if you are patient.

However, I personally think your preconceived strictly set standards for receiving academically formed replies in keeping with your own expectations of value, and your overwhelming authority in treating other forum members as students given an assignment, may have had some intimidating effect on replies.

Did you try this or a similar discussion over at SFFChronicles also? I don't know what intellectual predilections they have over there. But is seems to be pretty wide.

Another site that has had healthy Machen and also de la Mare discussion threads, is the Ligotti forum. But be aware that this site is dominated by leftwing liberal forces, and marinated in anti-white male self-hatred, embodied particularly in a one-man show member. A pity, because it is otherwise a very good site. If you so much as breath your traditional views there, he will explode, call out "Fascist!", Nazi!", and demand that you immediately be banned from the forum. He usually has his will, because everyone gets exhausted by his rants, and of course because he stands on the side of the PC-fascist establishment, which cultivates the majority population through school and media from early childhood and on. Poor misled guy who has not withstood. And he doesn't know if he is a man or a woman, because he thinks they are only social constructions which we can choose between. (And in today's completely insane society they have become that in our mindsets. Even kindergarten children are encouraged by the school board and sick parents to arbitrarily choose their own gender, not allowed to play with traditional gender toys but instead having them switched, and at least in the UK (don't know about the US) preteens are even allowed to undergo medical operation to remove penis or alter vagina to look like penis. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. It is Liberalism gone haywire. Or more essentially, it is Satanism moving forward its positions. Freemasonry. A confused, mixed and weak world population is also easier to control. ...). But when he is more focused on literature, he uses his brain quite well. I may add that he only reads traditional white male authors, from his own culture stream. (And by that I certainly don't mean to imply that one can't enjoy expressions from other cultures.) He has quite good taste in fine supernatural literature. But, in his hypocrisy, thinks that everyone else should be "tolerant" and "open-minded" to multiculture, and be forced against their own will to read and listen to literature and music from the Arab world, because it is an "obligation" for every white European to accept our own replacement. ...... I think we have some really good source material here for aspiring horror writers.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 23 Oct 19 | 05:37PM by Knygatin.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 23 October, 2019 06:53PM
Knygatin, your kindly reply moves me to apologize for some overbearing manners earlier in this thread. It's one thing to try to keep a focus on Machen's Hieroglyphics and ideas underlying it, another for me to be a bit schoolmarmish about digressions from it.

As for your final paragraph -- I have quite a bit of sympathy with your antipathy to woke-ism. Somehow you brought a poem to my mind. It's by the late Kingsley Amis, writing years ago. It uses a word I try to avoid myself. One might read, first the Walter de la Mare poem that Amis must have had in mind.



I also agree with your dismay about paedo-transgenderism or even the adult version. I'm replying to you here since you commented here, but I regard the topic, for myself, as closed hereafter on this thread.

Having said that: I believe that the case for reading literature should be made primarily on the basis of its own inherent value. Too often people try to justify it on utilitarian grounds (e.g. it will help you to be a "well-rounded person," it will help you to develop "critical thinking," etc.). But -- but -- ! Having said that, I want to say that I am grateful for a benefit thereof, extrinsic if you like, and that is the degree of freedom it can give you from your own time. It is a great good, that ability (which I possess only a very little) to stand outside one's own time. And we may be able to acquire that ability by becoming well-read outside our own time. It is, thus, not hard to think: How very, very bizarre our time is likely to look to historians living in the future, supposing there are any. Just as we may look back and shake our heads in wonder over some of the passions that inflamed the majority 400 years ago, so may our descendants look at us. "How, how could they?" And this idea that handing children over to be... Well, enough from me. I hope that, if anyone wants to discuss this topic, it could be done on a separate thread. So, there's my reply, Knygatin.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 24 October, 2019 06:03AM
Thank you Dale for the poem by de la Mare; for me essentially about halting our rush through life and seeing the beauty around us, always there to energize us in spite of passing transience. And your final paragraph feed back to this. I find some of de la Mare's poetry difficult to grasp, with its mystical quality, but if read several times, the inner meaning finally emerges. De la Mare had a very advanced mind, an intricate intellect.

The poem by Kingsley Amis seems a bitter antithesis to Mare's poem, written in caustic irony. I can see why the darkness in my previous post reminded you of this one.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 24 October, 2019 11:01AM
Yep -- the Amis poem really does tack on (while you're at it") to the de la Mare.

There is a pretty nice de la Mare collection in this house, and I mean to get back to it: probably Behold, this Dreamer!, one of his anthologies. I wonder what Machen and de la Mare thought of each other's work, supposing they had encountered specimens thereof, and if they ever crossed paths.

Goto Page: Previous1234567AllNext
Current Page: 5 of 7

Sorry, only registered users may post in this forum.
Top of Page