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Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2019 08:04PM
Machen referred to the Sangraal (Holy Grail) in a passage I quoted above from one of his writings other than Hieroglyphics. The Graal's haunting of Machen's imagination is one of the main things about this author. In his fiction we have the unsatisfactory novel The Secret Glory and the excellent wonder-tale "The Great Return." Less well-known are various nonfiction pieces, such as "The Secret of the Sangraal" -- collected in the book The Glorious Mystery.

The first place to go, for those who want to trace Machen's reading, is the book his Hermit has already mentioned more than once in Hieroglyphics, Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur. This is written in early modern English, not Old English (like Beowulf) or Middle English (like The Canterbury Tales.

Another Arthurian book with which Machen's imagination was involved is the old French book about Sir Perceval, the Perlesvaus. What Machen seems to have known specifically was Sebastian Evans's 1898 translation, as The High History of the Holy Graal. This book was readily available in inexpensive editions. Evans used a prose style similar to that of his contemporary William Morris's romances (such as The Wood Beyond the World, The Well at the World's End, and The Water of the Wondrous Isles -- all of these being reprinted in Ballantine's fondly-remembered Adult Fantasy Series under Lin Carter's editorship. Used copies of Evans's book are available cheap from abebooks.com.

If someone is interested in the Perlesvaus but put off by the old-fashioned prose, there is an alternative, the rendering by Nigel Bryant published as The High Book of the Grail. But I'm enjoying the reading of the version Machen read.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 4 Oct 19 | 08:06PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 5 October, 2019 12:29PM
Oldjoe quoted Clark Ashton Smith on Machen's Hieroglyphics in the first posting of this thread: "I have another of Machen's books, entitled "Hieroglyphics," one of the best things on literature and literary values that I have seen for a long time, apart from the writings of John Cowper Powys."

I looked in Lovecraft's Library, & sure enough HPL had a copy too, which he is said to have read in 1925 & mentioned in a letter to Lillian Clark printed in Selected Letters vol. 1.

Does anyone know if Two-Gun Bob Howard read this book?

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 6 October, 2019 11:30AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Oldjoe quoted Clark Ashton Smith on Machen's
> Hieroglyphics in the first posting of this thread:
> "I have another of Machen's books, entitled
> "Hieroglyphics," one of the best things on
> literature and literary values that I have seen
> for a long time, apart from the writings of John
> Cowper Powys."
>
> I looked in Lovecraft's Library, & sure enough HPL
> had a copy too, which he is said to have read in
> 1925 & mentioned in a letter to Lillian Clark
> printed in Selected Letters vol. 1.
>
> Does anyone know if Two-Gun Bob Howard read this
> book?

Dale, let me first state that I am deeply appreciative of the insights and references to resources that you've thoughtfully provided. You are, in my opinion, an extremely rare, talented, and thoughtful scholar. Not one of this age...

That said, while I have enjoyed immensely your posts on this topic, I can only contribute peripherally, and if it seems that I'm diverting the discussion unduly, please feel free to either ignore my post or try to steer it on track, as you see it.

This last message you've written, while I read it, and especially about which of the Big Three of Weird Magazine might have read and digested "Hieroglyphics", I thought to myself, "Howard probably did not read it--no real reason to think that he did, since in my view, much of his work was a statement of worldview, like much of Heinlein's. It was not, per se, an attempt at aesthetic expression so much as a statement of personal philosophy."

Then it followed that you've actually shown literature to be at least two types of meals for the mind: a full and elaborate feast, by some of the esteemed and timeless authors you've mentioned; and something less than that--perhaps a bento box, or even a dinner served at a favored local tavern.

Much of what I read is of the latter variety, and this is because objectively I'm much closer to Sancho Panza than to Don Quixote. My gut (hah!) feeling--response to the aesthetic/artistic signals sent to me, as a reader, by the Big Three, is that all of them were necessarily concerned with the commercial success of their works, but that only Lovecraft may have tried for it in his prose. Smith, I think, probably tried for in in his poems, and his unusual (and actually is quite cinematographic, in many cases) prose style conveys a hint of conscious aesthetic ambitions. This was more incidental than intentional, I suspect.

Howard seemed thematically too wrapped up in revealing his worldview--which is just fine. I think it's wise to recognize that the elements of Kull are within us all, to a greater or lesser degree, and await a call to the forefront from the circumstances in which we live. I hope I'm not simplifying too much by assuming that he's all about what, at the most basic level, drives mankind to survive and prosper.

I'll now return to my lunchpail: Larry Heinmann's "Paco's Story". :^)

Great discussion, Dale. Reading your contributions has caused me to "switch on" my brain, for once...

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 6 October, 2019 12:04PM
Thanks, Sawfish. I'll keep posting notes! It is a real pleasure, rereading Hieroglyphics after such a long time.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 6 October, 2019 12:34PM
You are generously sharing the insights contained in "Hieroglyphs", plus we get the added benefit of excellent, insightful comments!

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 6 October, 2019 01:34PM
Thanks.

On pp. 88-90, the Hermit comments some more on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I think he misunderstands that story. To make a distinction that Chesterton made somewhere, this story is not really (as the Hermit thinks) the story of one man who is two; it is the story of two men who are one. The Hermit says it has a chemical that "can turn a man into another man," but no, it is about a chemical that allows Jekyll, who is the idealistic doctor and also the cruel sensualist, to indulge the sensualist with impunity. At the story's catastrophe we learn that this evil Hyde and the well-respected doctor are, and always have been, the same man.

I'm glad at least that the Hermit doesn't make the mistake of the movies that see Hyde as Jekyll's "primitive" side, which they indicate by makeup suggesting a less-evolved hominid than the doctor.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 6 Oct 19 | 01:37PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 6 October, 2019 05:49PM
There’s an essay called, modestly, “On Stories,” by C. S. Lewis that has come to my mind often, and again just now in rereading Hieroglyphics.

Lewis knew and loved fantastic literature well – things like Malory’s Morte d’Arthur -- and loved Dickens and Milton too, like Machen. He too uses the Odyssey as an example of “supreme excellence” (p. 11 in my copy of On Stories and Other Essays on Literature).

He says that one of the “functions of art” is “to present [to our imaginations] what the narrow and desperately practical perspectives of real life exclude” (p. 10).

Isn’t that a lot of what Machen’s Hermit was getting at?

Our “common consciousness” is narrow and practical – and, of course, necessary if we are to live, but it’s not enough for us. We want, also, what can, for convenience’s sake, be called the poetic.

Lewis says, “To be stories at all, [all stories] must be a series of events: but it must be understood that this series -- the plot as we call it – is only really a net whereby to catch something else. The real theme may be, and perhaps usually is, something that has no sequence in it, something other than a process and much more like a state or quality. …The titles of some stories illustrate the point very well. The Well at the World’s End – can a man write a story to that title? Can he find a series of events following one another in time which will really catch and fix and bring home to us all that we grasp at merely hearing the six words?” (pp. 17-18)

Earlier in the essay, Lewis says “No merely physical strangeness or merely spatial distance will realise that idea of otherness which is what we are always trying to grasp in a story about voyaging through space. …To construct plausible and moving ‘other worlds’ you must draw on the only real ‘other world’ we know, that of the spirit. …No man would find an abiding strangeness on the Moon unless he were the sort of man who could find it in his own back garden.” (p. 12)

And Machen wrote, in Things Near and Far: ““And it is utterly true that he who cannot find wonder, mystery, awe, the sense of a new world and an undiscovered realm in the places by the Gray’s Inn Road will never find those secrets elsewhere, not in the heart of Africa, not in the fabled hidden cities of Tibet. ‘The matters of our work is everywhere present’, wrote the old alchemists, and that is the truth. All the wonders lie within a stone’s throw of King’s Cross Station.”

Those two authors are on the exact same page here, surely.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 6 Oct 19 | 05:51PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 6 October, 2019 07:05PM
The latter part of Chapter 3 of Hieroglyphics has an admitted digression on children and "primitive" people that might have been better omitted or placed elsewhere, as a distraction. I'll just say, "for further reference," that the Hermit is stepping into territory explored more extensively in Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, which is a denser, more learned book written, like Hieroglyphics, by a real Coleridgean.

Chapter 4 of Hieroglyphics is largely on another literary work that Machen's Hermit adds to the list of fine literature, namely Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, which, not having read it, I will forbear to discuss, other than to say I think we can see what the Hermit is getting at fairly well even if we haven't read Rabelais, and to say that, if I were going to read it (not being up to speed in French) I would turn to the Urquhart translation and not a more recent one. The august authority of Wikipedia says, "There is a perfect match of temperament between author and translator. Urquhart's learning, pedantry and word-mad exuberance proved to be ideal for Rabelais's work. It is a somewhat free translation, but it never departs from the spirit of Rabelais."

I suspect this chapter of Hieroglyphics may be skipped.

But the Hermit's final sentence in the chapter makes me think of a different book that may provide someone with "the spectacle of his own naked soul, and a vision that is splendid, certainly, but awful also, in its constant apposition of the eternal heights and the eternal depths." I refer to Dostoevsky's wonderful Brothers Karamazov (in the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation).



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 6 Oct 19 | 07:49PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 7 October, 2019 05:24AM
With all due respect for your wide literary knowledge concerning the generally accepted classics. Some of your earlier advice struck a personal chord in me for new reading inspiration.

But I strongly disagree with some of the foundation you have authoritatively laid here for this topic, such as your perfunctory separating of man from all other animals, putting man on a (typically religiously conditioned) pedestal, and your condescending dismissal of all other animal intelligence. For example, I hold dolphins (partly from first hand personal encounter) to be more intellectually intelligent than humans, and possibly elephants being that also. That neither of them can express a "promise" in the English or other specific human language, or inscribe it in stone or on paper, is of no concern. Promise is not worth more than dedication and commitment, a very basic animal function and intention. Promise is just an abstract expression for presenting that intention, and besides empirically proven not to be of much worth either in the usually unstable human interactions. And that neither dolphin or elephant stand upright, use freed hands, and rule the world, is of no concern either; an insect, or a mould, could rule the world. Ability to superficially control and rule the world, and making smug deductions, is not the absolute measurement for intelligence. In addition, many higher animals have an intuitive intelligence, and sensitivity awareness for true intentions, that most humans have lost all contact with; and I am not talking about simple instinct. The human brain is a degenerate, effective for certain applications, but on a very similar level and nature to the other monkeys; except for our studied cruelty and destructivity, especially evident among some races. Man could evolve by displaying some healthy humility. Plants may have a spiritual intelligence, and awareness, that our crude instruments are unable to register.

Also it seems that you are out on a mission to prove to everyone visiting this site that there are better writers than Clark Ashton Smith. Dale, it is a pity that you were not here earlier, while Dr. Farmer was still alive and who did not share your low opinion of Smith. It would have been interesting to hear this battle between the two English professors.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 7 October, 2019 10:25AM
Knygatin, Arthur Machen has been a favorite author of mine for many years, and in recent years I've been trying really to come to grips with his thinking, particularly his thinking after he left behind the Decadence of early work such as "A Double Return" and The Hill of Dreams. He clearly was a thoughtful man and a developing artist. Many of Machen's readers are fascinated by his knowledge of little-known occult books that, for most of the years since Machen was writing, weren't easy to come by (they are likely now to be available as free downloads, e.g. Henry Vaughan's alchemical classic Lumen de Lumine may be read at archive.org). But he was also deeply read in once-standard works of literature such as the Hermit enumerates. Many people who are serious readers would benefit from reading and rereading these.

There are explicit references to such books in his fiction and nonfiction. Some of the books he refers or alludes to used to be much better known than they are now, and there are Machen readers who will be interested to learn about them.

For example, everyone here has probably read "The Great God Pan" more than once. Do you remember Clarke's vision in the first chapter, in which he hears a voice that cries "Let us go hence"? I was excited, years ago, to discover that that is evidently taken from the first-century historian Josephus. We might not have heard of him, but several generations back his work was well known (Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War). I can prove that, but won't offer my evidence in this posting. Josephus describes the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, the weird aerial manifestations of the time, and how, before the Temple was destroyed, a voice was heard crying "Let us go hence." I won't, at this time and in this place, expound further what I believe is going on in Machen's story, and how I believe his "Inmost Light" also helps us to understand that. We are likely to miss important clues to Machen's meaning if we have never read the authors whom he read. They are often worth reading in their own right, too.

Machen's writing is pervaded by a traditional understanding of man that may not to be your taste, but if you are interested in learning about Arthur Machen and this understanding, the current discussion might be useful. If you would like to start a thread contending that there are no better writers than Clark Ashton Smith, the Eldritch Dark forum would be a good place to have that discussion.

As regards the present thread -- the point about man as the animal who makes promises is a way of getting at human distinctiveness, which was a key element in Machen's thought all his life.

Whether or not we keep all our promises, we possess several remarkable capacities that are necessarily implied in promise-making: the sense that the promise-maker is a self, the sense that the person to whom the promise is made is also a self and can understand what we are saying -- this implies language; and it implies an awareness of being in time: I tell you that I will do X.

An animal that can do these things is manifestly of a different order of being than an animal that can't and doesn't, however clever that animal might be. If that isn't obvious, I guess we had better just drop it. But one of the implications of human nature is this: that while we can be, and are, and should be stewards of the other animals, they are not and cannot be stewards of us -- even though they may protect us (like a German shepherd dog), serve us (like an ox), and delight us with their play and their beauty.

On the Death of a Cat, by Franz Wright

In life, death
was nothing
to you: I am

willing to wager
my soul that it
simply never occurred

to your nightmareless
mind, while sleep
was everything

(see it raised
to an infinite
power and perfection)–no death

in you then, so now
how even less. Dear stealth
of innocence

licked polished
to an evil
luster, little

milk fang, whiskered
night
friend–

go.



Knygatin, you are much mistaken if you read into my remarks a disdain for animals, Knygatin. For a book about animals that speaks to me, but that you might find you couldn't bring yourself to finish, pick up Matthew Scully's Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. You might find you can't bear to read it not just because of what it says about animals but because of its understanding of man.

There is an excerpt from the book here:

[lvk104.wordpress.com]



Edited 6 time(s). Last edit at 7 Oct 19 | 11:07AM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Oldjoe (IP Logged)
Date: 7 October, 2019 11:38AM
This has evolved into a really interesting discussion thread, and I only regret that due to life circumstances, I haven't been able to read as far into "Hieroglyphics" as I had hoped to by this point. Online reading generally doesn't work very well for me, so I have a copy of the Tartarus Press edition of "Hieroglyphics" on order, and intend to really get cracking once I have that in my hands!

So thanks to all who have kept the discussion going, since there is a lot to absorb here, which I plan to do once I can make a real start on the volume of interest!

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 7 October, 2019 12:53PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> Whether or not we keep all our promises, we
> possess several remarkable capacities that are
> necessarily implied in promise-making: the sense
> that the promise-maker is a self, the sense that
> the person to whom the promise is made is also a
> self and can understand what we are saying -- this
> implies language;
>
> An animal that can do these things is manifestly
> of a different order of being than an animal that
> can't and doesn't, however clever that animal
> might be. If that isn't obvious, I guess we had
> better just drop it.


Dolphins have a highly developed spoken language that resembles human language in its complicated structure of communicating back and forth between individuals.

Elephants also have highly developed interactive social behavior. And they mourn their dead relatives, even visiting the bones of the dead long after. Elephants also are able to express themselves through art; some elephants who were given brush and paint and canvas, spontaneously painted portraits of elephants (to the same artistic degree as a young human adolescent, although that is not really the important thing here). Which implies a degree of self awareness or awareness of their friends, at least as much as your hobbyhorse "the promise" communicated through a spoken language implies this.

Besides, language may take different forms, it doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of spoken words, it can also be expressed in tactile form. The conscious commitment of a promise to another doesn't need words.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 7 October, 2019 01:30PM
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. However, it wouldn't be fair to fault Machen for not knowing these things, since it seems that few or no one else knew them during his lifetime. In any event, what Machen thought about mankind, man's place in nature, and the bearing thereof upon literature, is key to the discussion of the book designated by this thread's title.

I suppose most people here have read Machen's short novel of mysterious killings that turn out to have been executed by animals, called The Terror. Pasted below are its concluding paragraphs. They support my contention that Machen believed in "levels of being." He didn't see this position in the ontological hierarchy as meaning that man has the "right" to abuse animals. He sees it, it seems, primarily in terms of human responsibility rather than privileges.

--------In my opinion, and it is only an opinion, the source of the great revolt of the beasts is to be sought in a much subtler region of inquiry. I believe that the subjects revolted because the king abdicated. Man has dominated the beasts throughout the ages, the spiritual has reigned over the rational through the peculiar quality and grace of spirituality that men possess, that makes a man to be that which he is. And when he maintained this power and grace, I think it is pretty clear that between him and the animals there was a certain treaty and alliance. There was supremacy on the one hand, and submission on the other; but at the same time there was between the two that cordiality which exists between lords and subjects in a well-organized state. I know a socialist who maintains that Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" give a picture of true democracy. I do not know about that, but I see that knight and miller were able to get on quite pleasantly together, just because the knight knew that he was a knight and the miller knew that he was a miller. If the knight had had conscientious objections to his knightly grade, while the miller saw no reason why he should not be a knight, I am sure that their intercourse would have been difficult, unpleasant, and perhaps murderous.

So with man. I believe in the strength and truth of tradition. A learned man said to me a few weeks ago: "When I have to choose between the evidence of tradition and the evidence of a document, I always believe the evidence of tradition. Documents may be falsified, and often are falsified; tradition is never falsified." This is true; and, therefore, I think, one may put trust in the vast body of folklore which asserts that there was once a worthy and friendly alliance between man and the beasts. Our popular tale of Dick Whittington and his Cat no doubt represents the adaptation of a very ancient legend to a comparatively modern personage, but we may go back into the ages and find the popular tradition asserting that not only are the animals the subjects, but also the friends of man.

All that was in virtue of that singular spiritual element in man which the rational animals do not possess. Spiritual does not mean respectable, it does not even mean moral, it does not mean "good" in the ordinary acceptation of the word. It signifies the royal prerogative of man, differentiating him from the beasts.

For long ages he has been putting off this royal robe, he has been wiping the balm of consecration from his own breast. He has declared, again and again, that he is not spiritual, but rational, that is, the equal of the beasts over whom he was once sovereign. He has vowed that he is not Orpheus but Caliban.

But the beasts also have within them something which corresponds to the spiritual quality in men—we are content to call it instinct. They perceived that the throne was vacant—not even friendship was possible between them and the self-deposed monarch. If he were not king he was a sham, an imposter, a thing to be destroyed.

Hence, I think, the Terror. They have risen once—they may rise again.-----

Incidentally, it's beyond me to imagine how the sense of touch could communicate something such as "I promise to meet you here in an hour," etc. But we don't need to try to find ways to anthropomorphize animals in order to love and respect them, even in practical ways such as when my son donated his federal tax return to a no-kill animal shelter.


So far as I have learned, humans are the only animals who make promises. They also seem to be the only ones that tell weird stories.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 7 Oct 19 | 01:40PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 7 October, 2019 02:43PM
Knygatin or anyone else who is well-read in Clark Ashton Smith -- when you have read Hieroglyphics, could you post here your thoughts on why Smith thought so well of Machen's book?

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 7 October, 2019 07:02PM
Having come this far, I wonder if Machen and his Hermit are have left themselves open to two objections.

1.So far at least, they seem to minimize the importance of the language in which the idea is expressed.

In fairness, they might be able to enlist the formidable C. S. Lewis in support of this idea, specifically by turning to his discussion of Myth in his late, short, rich book An Experiment in Criticism. There, he contends that there are certain stories that possess great imaginative power even if the words in which we encounter them are undistinguished. As an example, he offers the myth of Orpheus. He also mentions a novel by Kafka that someone had retold to him; when he actually read it, he found that nothing was added to what he already had. There's something here that probably needs discussion.

2.I'll have to look it up, but the Hermit permitted himself that digression about youngsters and "primitive" people experiencing literary ecstasy through things that an adult like ourselves might find do not supply it. This must mean either that the youngster and the primitive possess a receptivity that we tend to lose, or that the Art in fine literature is not as objective a quality as he usually suggests.

I ask that no one jump on these two topics based on what I have written, sketchily and tentatively, here, but suggest that these might be topics to discuss once one has read the book.

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