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Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Oldjoe (IP Logged)
Date: 29 September, 2019 12:12PM
In reading through the Hippocampus Press edition of letters between CAS and George Sterling, I came across CAS' commentary on Arthur Machen's Hieroglyphics (in letter #208):

Quote:
...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 notice Tartarus Press has an edition of Hieroglyphics that is still available, but I've never read any of Machen's non-fiction, so I'm curious if anyone on this forum has read the book, and if so, can you share your thoughts and impressions?

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 29 September, 2019 12:22PM
I'd like to read this again. This short book is in the public domain -- you can download it for free:

[www.gutenberg.org]

[archive.org]

Let's read it now and discuss it! CAS would approve.

DN

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Oldjoe (IP Logged)
Date: 29 September, 2019 04:57PM
Thanks for the links! Having just read the Prefatory Note, this does indeed seem like it will be a fascinating read, both because of the welcoming warmness of Machen’s authorial voice, and the enticing statement of purpose, which seems to be best captured in this paragraph:

Quote:
I should scarcely be justified in calling him a literary monomaniac. But it is true that Art in general, and the art of literature in particular had for him a very high significance and interest; and he was always ready to defend the thesis that, all the arts being glorious, the literary art was the most glorious and wonderful of all. He reverenced music, but he was firm in maintaining that in perfect lyrical poetry there is the subtlest and most beautiful melody in the world.

I personally feel a great sympathy for the sentiments expressed in that quote, so I’m eager to read on!

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 30 September, 2019 03:27PM
Bravo!

I expect to post comments soon.

I know Machen thought highly of Bach (as do I), but does anyone know of other Machenian musical favorites too?

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 30 September, 2019 06:33PM
The subtitle of Hieroglyphics is A Note Upon Ecstasy in Literature.

THIS is ecstasy, if you ask me:
"... the house had been built in the early eighteenth century, and had been altered and added to at various periods, with a final "doing up" for the comparative luxury of someone in the 'tens or 'twenties; there were, I think, twenty rooms in it, and my friend used to declare that when a new servant came she spent many months in finding her way in the complicated maze of stairs and passages, and that the landlady even was now and then at fault. ..."

And this, to extreme degree:
"... the room in which we sat was hung with flock paper, of a deep and heavy crimson colour, and even on bright summer evenings the crimson looked almost black, ..."

And it is decadent. Especially that wallpaper. (Surely, no one settles their walls like that today? - And how we are missing out! Right?) Are "ecstasy" and "decadence" kindred terms somehow? For some persons? What really is the attraction of decadence? Is it something highly evocative only for those of us rare dreamers who prefer our past and own roots over artificial modernity?

I would also think that "Ecstasy" can be interchanged with "Life". Real Art, to be called such, must be suffused with Life, and intellect and craft alone cannot reach this; the mind must also be allowed to enter mystical state to receive.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 30 September, 2019 06:47PM
Knygatin, Machen and the Recluse don't say that the Recluse's residence embodies are induces "ecstasy," so that could be a hitch right there.

But we will see that Machen offers works such as Dickens's Pickwick Papers, the Oedipus Rex, the Odyssey, Wuthering Heights, &c. as works that induce "ecstasy." It will be an interesting definition of "decadence" that would accommodate these works -- wouldn't it?

I think Machen outgrew "decadence" pretty early in his literary career. I always think that "decadence" doesn't work as regards "fine literature" (the Recluse's term) because it implies a reaction to, a relationship with, something else. Thus "decadent" clothing needs other fashions in clothing that it can react against. "Decadent" witticisms assume conventions about what may be said or implied, against which the wit can exercise himself. In the 1890s, open homosexuality could seem daring, dashing, and, so, could be appealing to those who fancied themselves to be members of a "decadent" culture. Now high schools sponsor clubs for gay teens, bisexual teens, queer teens, trans teens, etc. I suppose the kind of stuff like what Helen Vaughan's disciples did secretly in "The Great God Pan," whatever it was, now is celebrated in Pride parades and Drag Queen Story Hours for kids in Cincinnati. Right? Literary "decadence" is a dead end, at least in as profoundly permissive a society is that of North America and Western Europe.

I think Machen/Recluse are aiming at literature that can make far higher claims than to "flutter the dovecotes" of an (assumed) stodgy Establishment.

Dale Nelson



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 30 Sep 19 | 06:58PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 06:48AM
I try to stay away from the artificial outgrowths of modernity, because my nerves and sensibilities don't appreciate it. When I speak of decadence, I think of something more subtle and aesthetic, something that highly pleases me, generally connected to old age. Decadence as of something decaying, that was once good but now falls apart, or that even may improve through strange alchemy of seeming deterioration, to form a vintage. For me it is mainly seen from a material and visual perspective. Also strange or outmoded motivations, from some different time that may have been more truthful or honest, but today is looked upon as unacceptable. That may not be the correct applied meaning of decadence as of social and moral downfall. But that is what I do with it anyhow. Limit it to what I like. It is an escape from the present, politically induced, decadence.

For example, some of the most delicious wines are made from grapes that have been covered by fungus and allowed to partly rot, before being pressed. Enjoying such wine (or just the thought of it. Remember the wines served in Zothique!) is to me connected with a wonderful sense of decadence. Or of old cultural artifacts that may not be very efficient now, but which still were made under great effort. And lovingly built architecture, with charming leaning roofs and floors (they did as well as they could, with what tools they had, under divine organic inspiration. Often much longer standing than today's soulless high-tech assembly line housing.); some remaining quarters still have a rare abundance of such 400 year old wooden buildings, with eaves overlapping, and nearly toppling over each other, crumbling, partly rotting. That is decadence for me, and further, it shows signs of genuine past Life, still vibrating in the surface, lines, and proportions! That is the beauty of it. Certain colours may be seen as excuding decadence, for example deep crimson and other dark colours. The literature of Machen, Lovecraft, and Smith, are full of similar references. That is decadence for me. And it offers aesthetic ecstasy.

I don't recall that particular episode in "The Great God Pan". But I would be very disappointed in Machen if he by his forbidden and hidden horrors was referring symbolically to that which we now see openly in society. I think rather, that he was meaning genuine deeper cosmic and mystic secrets of existence, too grand for our senses to fully take in, and of actual supernatural presences like the "little people". I don't think he used these as symbols for social criticism. Modern writers use the supernatural as symbolism, but I don't think he did. Neither did Algernon Blackwood.

On the side, from your more direct definition of decadence, I don't fully agree with you that "literary "decadence" is a dead end", at least in as profoundly permissive a society as that of North America and Western Europe", because there is vast intellectual scope for putting forth constructive criticism differing from the established norm. You may have difficulties getting it published, and reaching out with it, but that is another matter; it is not impossible to do for the persistent.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 07:05AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ... there
> is vast intellectual scope for putting forth
> constructive criticism differing from the
> established norm.

I meant that it can be put in a different literary light, to show its decadence even to those who today can't see it. Most see it, but we live under opinions dictatorship, so we are not allowed to criticize.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 01:34PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I'd like to read this again. This short book is
> in the public domain -- you can download it for
> free:
>
> [www.gutenberg.org]
> -h.htm
>
> [archive.org]
> /page/n4
>
> Let's read it now and discuss it! CAS would
> approve.
>
> DN

Excellent suggestion!

I'll get a copy and get thru it as soon as possible. This will be a great opportunity for me to learn much of interest.

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: 1 October, 2019 02:55PM
Knygatin, the problem with taking a term like "decadence" and giving it a personal definition is that the word brings with it a history. You seem basically to be using the word while thinking of its personal connotations for you, while for readers its denotation might be different. So, use it or not, it's up to you, but don't be disappointed in reader response if readers seem to be missing your point.

Much of what you put under the heading of "decadence" sounds to me like "antiquarianism." I love the antiquarianism of M. R. James's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, and Machen's enjoyment of forgotten London byways -- I went to the trouble of getting a copy of a book he loved, Cunningham's Hand-Book of London, Past and Present (1850), and a set of facsimile London maps from about 1865. Lovecraft relishing a door with a colonial fanlight -- there it is again, antiquarianism.

These things may appeal to us, in part, because we feel drawn to things in the depths of a past that is so often overlaid by mass-produced ideas and objects.

We look to the future (of course one can't really look to the future) -- and we imagine a dreary extrapolation of what we see now. But we look to the past, and it seems to us surely a great realm, partially illuminated, to be sure, and partly, to us, dark, that darkness possibly concealing riches. Language and literature can give us some access thereto.

I'll bet that, like me, you are or will be dismayed by the thought of a noted "Shakespeare Festival" (in progressive Oregon, as it happens) "updating" the poet's language. I suspect that, like me, you will think it would be better for audiences to familiarize themselves with language and references before seeing the play. Let's not hear someone say "Too busy!" Carve some time out from your social media and so on and you will find the time if you try to.

DN 1 Oct 19



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 1 Oct 19 | 03:12PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 03:02PM
Here is something, Knygatin and anyone else interested, that I think has affinities with Machen's eventual notions. I omit that Russian author's name; he was implicated in some detestable policies. But without endorsing every word, I think he says here something worth considering as we move towards Hieroglyphics.

----Only fools have clear conceptions of everything. The most cherished ideas of the human mind are found in the depths and in twilight: around these confused ideas which we cannot classify revolve clear thoughts, extending, developing, and becoming elevated. If this deeper mental plane were to be taken away, there would remain but geometricians and intelligent animals; even the exact sciences would lose their present grandeur, which depends upon a hidden correlation with eternal truths, of which we can catch a glimpse only at rare moments. Mystery is the most precious possession of mankind. Not in vain did Plato teach that all below is but a weak image of the order reigning above. It may be, indeed, that the grandest function of the loveliness we see is the awakening of desire for a higher loveliness we see not; and that the enchantment of great poets springs less from the pictures they paint than form the distant echoes they awaken from the invisible world."----



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 1 Oct 19 | 03:12PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 03:09PM
We should take careful note of the fact that Machen associates the Recluse with Coleridge.

Coleridge needs to be better known by readers of weird fiction, of which genre he was certainly a founder (in "Christabel," "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," etc.).

He became one of the Tory Romantics, the greatest of them, as opposed to the Romantic radicals such as Blake and Shelley and folk such as Hazlitt. I suppose Thomas de Quincey was another of the Tory Romantics, also Robert Southey, disdained by today's literary establishment, but at the least a very good letter writer! If I may digress to share a specimen or two -- If you’re a book accumulator, you’ll feel that Southey was one of us. He moved to Keswick and unpacked his abundant books: “I can scarcely find stepping places through the labyrinth, from one end of the room to the other. Like Pharaoh’s frogs, they have found their way everywhere, even into the bedchambers.”

Years after he settled in Keswick, he visited Netherhall, “a strange old house.” He told a correspondent an anecdote about the place. A former owner, finding his hall lacked room for statues and altars of Roman gods [that had been] discovered in the area, “instead of building a room for their reception, appropriated to their use (I must tell the story) a certain apartment in the garden, which I must not further describe than by saying it was the oddest place in the world for a museum. And thither, with the imperturbable serenity of an antiquarian, he used to conduct his guests, and explain the inscriptions to them.” However, one time a noted researcher and his draughtsman assistant visited, and were so delighted with the Pantheon, that they stayed in the said structure throughout the day except for meals. “A watch was kept at the windows, but in vain. The children were dispatched to look in from time to time, even that hint was disregarded; Lysons and the draughtsman went on with their work.”

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 03:22PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The subtitle of Hieroglyphics is A Note Upon
> Ecstasy in Literature.
>
> THIS is ecstasy, if you ask me:
> "... the house had been built in the early
> eighteenth century, and had been altered and added
> to at various periods, with a final "doing up" for
> the comparative luxury of someone in the 'tens or
> 'twenties; there were, I think, twenty rooms in
> it, and my friend used to declare that when a new
> servant came she spent many months in finding her
> way in the complicated maze of stairs and
> passages, and that the landlady even was now and
> then at fault. ..."
>
> And this, to extreme degree:
> "... the room in which we sat was hung with flock
> paper, of a deep and heavy crimson colour, and
> even on bright summer evenings the crimson looked
> almost black, ..."
>
> And it is decadent. Especially that wallpaper.
> (Surely, no one settles their walls like that
> today? - And how we are missing out! Right?) Are
> "ecstasy" and "decadence" kindred terms somehow?
> For some persons? What really is the attraction of
> decadence? Is it something highly evocative only
> for those of us rare dreamers who prefer our past
> and own roots over artificial modernity?

This is an intriguing point.

To me, to this point, I've found that the "pull" of decadence, as expressed in art, is the most subtle and most intoxicating when the medium is visual. To me, Klimt is perhaps the most effective, with Lautrec and Beardsley right up there.

I'd suppose that Baudelaire is sort of emblematic, but you know, CAS, with his Zothique stories, seems to me to really capture the essence of literary decadence. Some of his poetry, too.

In this aspect, alone, he differs markedly from Lovecraft, whose writings have no discernible element of literary decadence in terms of tone and voice.

As always, my opinion, only...

>
> I would also think that "Ecstasy" can be
> interchanged with "Life". Real Art, to be called
> such, must be suffused with Life, and intellect
> and craft alone cannot reach this; the mind must
> also be allowed to enter mystical state to
> receive.

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: 1 October, 2019 04:11PM
Smith's writing often works on me very differently from Machen's -- though I admit that I haven't read a ton of Smith (mostly the first three Ballantine Adult Fantasy releases, I suppose), and none really recently.

Take Smith's "Dark Eidolon" -- one of his most famous stories. It piles on the sensational material -- I seem to remember one or more skeletons marching around with ruby-eyed rats in their ribcages, etc. As someone who's hardly had a cocktail in his life, my analogy will be dubious, but the story strikes me as like a cocktail with a high alcohol content (let's say gin), that burns the palate a bit. As, after drinking a cocktail like that, one's tongue's ability to savor other drinks could be impaired, so is the effect of the "Eidolon"; one could turn to other writing that one knows, from past reading, to be good, (say one of William Morris's prose romances), and find it seems insipid (for a while). The fault is not in Morris but in the "palate" having been seared by Smith's "cocktail."

I don't find that that's how Machen affects me, in general. Reading him, I could find myself approaching, with renewed relish, anything from Sebastian Evans's The High History of the Holy Graal to Cunningham's London Hand-Book. Machen endured a lot of poverty, but from what I know he seems to have retained a taste for life and literature to the last, and I think reading him tends to affect his readers the same way. You read hims writing and you want to read things he read. Perhaps before I ever read a Dickens novel, Machen's enthusiasm for The Pickwick Papers disposed me to be receptive towards the great Victorian novelist. Machen can stir you to relish reading about everything from the Vision of the Holy Graal to a coffee-house plate of beef and potatoes -- not, mind you, that he is lacking in discrimination. But the man and his writings convey such gusto! And, to take things farther, Machen is an affirmer of the reality of (shall we, nondenominationally, say) mystical Glory. He is a yea-sayer. Smith, from what I know of him, seems to have been a nay-sayer, like Lovecraft, a futilitarian, self-limited. And this seems to come across in their writings.

At any rate, we will be compelled to see Hieroglyphics as a testament of yea-saying vis-à-vis literature.

Now it's true that the Recluse is going to depreciate some classic works. He doesn't think very highly of George Eliot's Middlemarch, I think -- though he will allow it to achieve something impressive in its limited sphere. But his criticisms seem to me, as I recall this little book, to be largely for the sake of things he loves more profoundly.

But in any event, Hieroglyphics is not what I would call a "decadent" work (whatever the wallpaper!). The Recluse isn't advocating literature that cleverly mocks the conventional tastes, but rather he's inviting us all to think about that ready human love for the sense of wonder -- note well, something that he seems to think is innate in people, though it may be stifled; he isn't (like a decadent) pluming himself over against the dullards on account of his scented notepaper and limp-leather editions of poems in limited editions. Right?

The decadent poses at the bar with his glass of absinthe. If everyone was drinking absinthe he would drink something else. But Machen is happy to drink good beer, or burgundy, or, for all I know, an occasional absinthe if it's really what would suit his palate just then.

There's a funny little Machen anecdote about absinthe, by the way, which I'll have to relate here.



Dale Nelson 1 Oct 19



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 1 Oct 19 | 04:34PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 04:57PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Here is something, Knygatin and anyone else
> interested, that I think has affinities with
> Machen's eventual notions. ...

Yes, that is indeed a very good text, with deep implication!

Dale, thanks for clarifying the general use of "decadence" alongside "antiquarianism". I will probably start using "antiquarianism" a little more, perhaps, but I will still adhere to my view of "decadence" in the context of material decay and rot. I am afraid this (misunderstanding) is so very deeply ingrained in me since many years back. Perhaps you may agree that the mindset itself of being attracted to visual decay, could be called to be a form of decadence.

Sawfish, always good to read you comments. Your idea of aesthetic decadence seem somewhat close to mine. A visual perspective rather than addressing only social moral decay.
How would you define the tone and voice of Lovecraft? Neutral? Socially correct and mannerly?

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 06:29PM
Knygatin, I suppose the attraction of decay depends on what's decayed, etc. There's The Pleasure of Ruins -- to name a book by Rose Macaulay that I must get hold of -- and there's the disgust and pity we feel at the sight of roadkill. But both are examples of decay. A mouthful of carious teeth shows decay, but who likes that sight? But many people would rather than streaks on weathered urban stone were not power-washed off to restore a uniform surface.

It's an interesting topic.

Dale N.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 06:41PM
Knygatin Wrote:

[Much snipped...]

>
> Sawfish, always good to read you comments. Your
> idea of aesthetic decadence seem somewhat close to
> mine. A visual perspective rather than addressing
> only social moral decay.
> How would you define the tone and voice of
> Lovecraft? Neutral? Socially correct and mannerly?

Hmmm... I'll have ti think...

[burning smell... ;^) ]

Let's see...

To me, in decadence there is a very strong flavor of sensuousness--a luxuriating in the senses at the expense of profundity of thought or moral compass.

To my sensibilities, Lovecraft is one of the least sensuous of writers. His attraction (for me) his central concept of multiple unrecorded cycles of life on Earth, and the degree to which their existence creates something like "racial memory" as expressed in various human religious cults, and also actual genetic connection, as per the Marshes of Innsmouth.

It's hard to put into words, but there seems not a trace of decadence in any of this.

Your views?

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

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 06:52PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Knygatin, I suppose the attraction of decay
> depends on what's decayed, etc. There's The
> Pleasure of Ruins -- to name a book by Rose
> Macaulay that I must get hold of -- and there's
> the disgust and pity we feel at the sight of
> roadkill. But both are examples of decay. A
> mouthful of carious teeth shows decay, but who
> likes that sight? But many people would rather
> than streaks on weathered urban stone were not
> power-washed off to restore a uniform surface.
>
> It's an interesting topic.
>
> Dale N.

Very interesting exploration of this topic!

OK, to a large degree, much of aesthetic decadence is accompanied by a certain glamour--one that has the appeal of being forbidden by convention.

So this eliminates roadkill, huh? ;^)

But does it eliminate liches and the like? Not sure that it does, entirely. It could be that mummies, representing a certain glamour, differ from common worm-grubbing zombies.

So might we consider the Nazgul decadent, or not? It's hard, because the Lord of the Rings trilogy does not to me seem decadent, although some discrete decadent elements might exist.

Your thoughts?

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

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 1 October, 2019 09:13PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> To my sensibilities, Lovecraft is one of the least
> sensuous of writers.
>
> It's hard to put into words, but there seems not a
> trace of decadence in any of this.
>
> Your views?

I don't know ... My mind is blank here. ;)
Really, I don't have enough of a literary poetic sensitivity, or ear, to be able to distinguish tone and voice from the actual story ingredients. I see much of aesthetically delicious decay, and antiquarianism, in Lovecraft's stories. And I find his portraits, of for example Cthulhu, very sensuous. Or of grandmother Marsh living under the sea; who really wouldn't like to surrender, draw his lungs full of water, and completely embrace her?


Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> the Lord of the Rings trilogy
> does not to me seem decadent, although some
> discrete decadent elements might exist.

That the elves are leaving Middle Earth, is to me as clear a sign of spreading decadence as could possibly be.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 06:44AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > the Lord of the Rings trilogy
> > does not to me seem decadent, although some
> > discrete decadent elements might exist.
>
> That the elves are leaving Middle Earth, is to me
> as clear a sign of spreading decadence as could
> possibly be.


As a writer I think J. R. R. Tolkien is the complete opposite of decadent. He stands opposed to everything decadent (aside from pipe smoking), celebrating the pure and wholesome. But he is also able to effectively warn us of greed and decadence, by portraying it.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Oldjoe (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 07:54AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> And, to take things farther,
> Machen is an affirmer of the reality of (shall we,
> nondenominationally, say) mystical Glory. He is a
> yea-sayer. Smith, from what I know of him, seems
> to have been a nay-sayer, like Lovecraft, a
> futilitarian, self-limited. And this seems to
> come across in their writings.

This is very thought-provoking. The contrast between the personal philosophies of Machen and CAS is quite intriguing. The "yea-sayer" vs. "nay-sayer" dichotomy is simplistic, but not without some truth. I know CAS' work much better than I know Machen's work, and to some degree I want to rise to CAS' defense, but I can't really muster contrary evidence at the moment (and perhaps cannot do so at all!)

This is a very insightful discussion thread - thanks to all that have contributed so far!

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 10:10AM
Oldjoe, if one sticks to narrowly literary concerns, the yea-sayer vs. nay-sayer dichotomy need not imply that an author, or the works of an author, of the first type are superior to those of the second. So perhaps Smith doesn't need defending on this particular score. Here's something I posted many months ago at the SF Chronicles Forums site:

As far as I have found it was in its Dec. 1974 issue that Esquire asked two noted authors their response to a big question, whose formulation I don’t remember, regarding (let’s say) “life.” However it was put, Eugene Ionesco said “No,” and Isaac Bashevis Singer said “yes.” (One of my professors passed around the Singer article in an American literature course I was taking.)

Anyway, it might be interesting to list authors whose works suggest that they are primarily yea-sayers or nay-sayers, and to discuss things that come up accordingly. (It will be seen that these temperaments, if that’s the word, may both be found among the religious, the irreligious, and the anti-religious.)

A nay-sayer writes works that might be “depressing” or might not be, but that suggest a final absence, or withholding, of grace or goodness from the order of things. A nay-sayer may “enjoy life” but you get the sense that he or she thinks it might have been better if nothing had come to be. A nay-sayer’s implied narrator might affect a stance of detachment, and a nay-sayer is likely to write works pervaded by irony. A nay-sayer might, as a rule, convey scorn or disdain for human beings, or might convey pity or compassion for them. A yea-sayer may suspect that nay-sayers often haven’t really earned their angst.

Works by a yea-sayer gravitate towards affirmation of things even if passion, crime, foolishness, etc. are in the foreground. A yea-sayer may have been disillusioned at some point, but if so, has passed through the experience to affirmation. A yea-sayer’s works probably suggest that the order of things justifies love. A nay-sayer may feel that the yea-sayer “doesn’t get it.”

In short: some authors suggest that the answer is No, other that it is Yes.


Yea-Sayers

Asimov

Ray Bradbury

Chesterton

Arthur C. Clarke

Dante

Dickens

Dostoevsky

Ursula Le Guin

Simak

Tolkien

Colin Wilson

Wordsworth


Nay-Sayers

Borges

Joseph Conrad

Dunsany

Harlan Ellison

Hardy

Robert E. Howard

Stephen King

David Lindsay

Lovecraft

Melville

V. S. Naipaul

Clark Ashton Smith

Swift

Evelyn Waugh



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 2 Oct 19 | 10:26AM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 10:41AM
Here is a passage from Machen that shows him to be a yea-sayer. It's from his preface to the Knopf book The House of Souls. Machen writes about walking with a friend in an undistinguished part of the London metro area:

…….he who adventures in London has a foretaste of infinity. There is
a region beyond Ultima Thule. I know not how it was, but on this famous
Sunday afternoon, my friend and I, passing through Canonbury came into
something called the Balls Pond Road--Mr. Perch, the messenger of Dombey
& Son, lived somewhere in this region--and so I think by Dalston down
into Hackney where caravans, or trams, or, as I think you say in
America, trolley cars set out at stated intervals to the limits of the
western world._

_But in the course of that walk which had become an exploration of the
unknown, I had seen two common things which had made a profound
impression upon me. One of these things was a street, the other a small
family party. The street was somewhere in that vague, uncharted, Balls
Pond-Dalston region. It was a long street and a grey street. Each house
was exactly like every other house. Each house had a basement, the sort
of story which house-agents have grown to call of late a "lower ground
floor." The front windows of these basements were half above the patch
of black, soot-smeared soil and coarse grass that named itself a garden,
and so, passing along at the hour of four o'clock or four-thirty, I
could see that in everyone of these "breakfast rooms"--their technical
name--the tea tray and the tea cups were set out in readiness. I
received from this trivial and natural circumstance an impression of a
dull life, laid out in dreadful lines of patterned uniformity, of a life
without adventure of body or soul._

_Then, the family party. It got into the tram down Hackney way. There
were father, mother and baby; and I should think that they came from a
small shop, probably from a small draper's shop. The parents were young
people of twenty-five to thirty-five. He wore a black shiny frock
coat--an "Albert" in America?--a high hat, little side whiskers and dark
moustache and a look of amiable vacuity. His wife was oddly bedizened in
black satin, with a wide spreading hat, not ill-looking, simply
unmeaning. I fancy that she had at times, not too often, "a temper of
her own." And the very small baby sat upon her knee. The party was
probably going forth to spend the Sunday evening with relations or
friends._

_And yet, I said to myself, these two have partaken together of the
great mystery, of the great sacrament of nature, of the source of all
that is magical in the wide world. But have they discerned the
mysteries? Do they know that they have been in that place which is
called Syon and Jerusalem?--I am quoting from an old book and a strange
book._


So far, the Machen reading. Machen has been wide awake to the drabness of the urban scene. He's noticed a young family that, it would be easy to assume, is completely predictable and commonplace, a man and a woman with their baby setting out of an evening of banal conversation. An adherent of decadence might secretly sneer at these "breeders" and their conventional world. Machen could have aligned himself with the nay-sayer, but rather he writes, in his message for American readers, as a yea-sayer.

The story of his own that Machen is thinking of is, of course, "A Fragment of Life."

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 11:07AM
Now: to proceed to Hieroglyphics:

page v. Machen refers to the monologuist not as the Recluse (the word I used earlier in this thread) but as the Hermit.

I've been reading a book that Machen thought well of, Sebastian Evans's 1898 translation of the medieval Perlesvaus, published as The High History of the Holy Graal. There are numerous hermits in the book. Unlike "recluse," the word "hermit" suggests someone who has withdrawn from society for the sake of religious contemplation and devotion and who is available to other people for hospitality and healing.

Let's keep that in mind as we read Hieroglyphics. Machen may have chosen his word with care.

The hermit is not primarily a recluse who has turned away from the world because he has been hurt and feels sorry for himself, though that might have been an element in the lives of some hermits. But his primary motivation is that he recognizes a vocation, a calling.

P. ix: The suggestion of a quasi-religious calling is reinforced when Machen refers to the Hermit as a "disciple in Coleridge's school" and refers to Coleridge as being the Hermit's "master."*

p. xi: Machen tells us that the Hermit earnestly desired the truth and sought it. He and the Hermit seemed to experience glimpses of the eternal (p. x). Surely this is not a put-on from Machen, even though this book has its playful, ironic moments. He means what he says. This book is a real challenge to the way we think now. One constantly gets the sense, now, that when people talk, they are really just performing. They are performing rituals of conformity to one or other of the standard-issue "identities" ("Identity" is such a common word now) available off the rack. Many young people, by the way, go to university to find an identity to pick off the rack. Earlier, the decadent dandies were consummate performers of a self-assumed identity. But the Hermit is up to something more serious -- even though he and his interlocutor have fun with him occasionally assuming the manner of Coleridge!

But the Hermit seeks "the truth," Machen says. The truth is out there; it's not a matter of "finding your own truth," it's not a matter of the "social construction of reality." The Hermit thinks and speaks from within a great tradition that our culture is disconnecting itself from at every turn.


*Incidentally, if anyone wants to look into two other "disciples" of Coleridge, I would refer him or her to the Scottish fantasist and preacher George MacDonald and to the philosopher Owen Barfield. But many readers will first want to enhance their sense of Coleridge himself. My prescription: read the great poems "Christabel," "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and "Kubla Khan" (the last-named being kind of the seed of Lord Dusany's fantasy) plus the selection of letters edited by H. J. Jackson, or, at least, the sequence of five autobiographical letters to Tom Poole, 1797-1798.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 11:14AM
Here are the Coleridge autobiographical letters that I mentioned:

[inamidst.com]

[inamidst.com]

[inamidst.com]

[inamidst.com]

[inamidst.com]

These are by no means a complete statement of the mature Coleridge's view of his life! He was still a young man when he wrote them. But they are full of charm and were written about the time he wrote the "Ancient Mariner."

STC's father was a pastor and schoolmaster, 1770s. From Coleridge's 4th autobiographical letter:

My Father (who had so little of parental ambition in him, that he had destined his children to be Blacksmiths &c, & had accomplished his intention but for my Mother's pride & spirit of aggrandizing her family) my father had however resolved, that I should be a Parson. I read every book that came in my way without distinction -- and my father was fond of me, & used to take me on his knee, and hold long conversations with me. I remember, that at eight years old I walked with him one winter evening from a farmer's house, a mile from Ottery ---- & he told me the names of the stars -- and how Jupiter was a thousand times larger than our world -- and that the other twinkling stars were Suns that had worlds rolling round them -- & when I came home, he shewed me how they rolled round -- / . I heard him with a profound delight & admiration; but without the least mixture of wonder or incredulity. For from my early reading of Faery Tales, & Genii &c &c -- my mind had been habituated to the Vast ---- & I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief. I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions not by my sight -- even at that age. Should children be permitted to read Romances, & Relations of Giants & Magicians, & Genii? ---- I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative. -- I know no other way of giving the mind a love of 'the Great', & 'the Whole'. -- Those who have been led to the same truths step by step thro' the constant testimony of their senses, seem to me to want a sense which I possess -- They contemplate nothing but parts -- and all parts are necessarily little -- and the Universe to them is but a mass of little things. -- It is true, that the mind may become credulous & prone to superstition by the former method -- but are not the Experimentalists credulous even to madness in believing any absurdity, rather than believe the grandest truths, if they have not the testimony of their own senses in their favor? -- I have known some who have been rationally educated, as it is styled. They were marked by a microscopic acuteness; but when they looked at great things, all became a blank & they saw nothing -- and denied (very illogically) that any thing could be seen; and uniformly put the negation of a power for the possession of a power -- & called the want of imagination Judgment, & the never being moved to Rapture Philosophy!

----I relish the juxtaposition of astronomy and fantastic tales in this passage as STC describes his youthful imaginative development. The bringing together of astronomy and the Arabian Nights reminds me of Lovecraft's boyhood (but I admit I rank STC higher than HPL).



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2 Oct 19 | 11:17AM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 01:51PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Oldjoe, if one sticks to narrowly literary
> concerns, the yea-sayer vs. nay-sayer dichotomy
> need not imply that an author, or the works of an
> author, of the first type are superior to those of
> the second. So perhaps Smith doesn't need
> defending on this particular score. Here's
> something I posted many months ago at the SF
> Chronicles Forums site:
>
> As far as I have found it was in its Dec. 1974
> issue that Esquire asked two noted authors their
> response to a big question, whose formulation I
> don’t remember, regarding (let’s say)
> “life.” However it was put, Eugene Ionesco
> said “No,” and Isaac Bashevis Singer said
> “yes.” (One of my professors passed around the
> Singer article in an American literature course I
> was taking.)
>
> Anyway, it might be interesting to list authors
> whose works suggest that they are primarily
> yea-sayers or nay-sayers, and to discuss things
> that come up accordingly. (It will be seen that
> these temperaments, if that’s the word, may both
> be found among the religious, the irreligious, and
> the anti-religious.)
>
> A nay-sayer writes works that might be
> “depressing” or might not be, but that suggest
> a final absence, or withholding, of grace or
> goodness from the order of things. A nay-sayer may
> “enjoy life” but you get the sense that he or
> she thinks it might have been better if nothing
> had come to be. A nay-sayer’s implied narrator
> might affect a stance of detachment, and a
> nay-sayer is likely to write works pervaded by
> irony. A nay-sayer might, as a rule, convey scorn
> or disdain for human beings, or might convey pity
> or compassion for them. A yea-sayer may suspect
> that nay-sayers often haven’t really earned
> their angst.
>
> Works by a yea-sayer gravitate towards affirmation
> of things even if passion, crime, foolishness,
> etc. are in the foreground. A yea-sayer may have
> been disillusioned at some point, but if so, has
> passed through the experience to affirmation. A
> yea-sayer’s works probably suggest that the
> order of things justifies love. A nay-sayer may
> feel that the yea-sayer “doesn’t get it.”
>
> In short: some authors suggest that the answer is
> No, other that it is Yes.
>

[LIST SNIPPED]

This is *very* enjoyable and interesting, Dale!

I find that by this definition I'm personally of the "nay-sayer" frame of mind, and am attracted, for personal and aesthetic satisfaction, to the works of nay-sayers.

There are a couple of continental writers who come to mind immediately--authors I've read and enjoyed, but do not have a lot of currency: Celine and Fallada. These guys seem to be right in the center of those who might be nay-sayers.

Thanks very much for your contributions to this thread!

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

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 01:59PM
Again, a terrific addition to the discussion.

As a kid I was completely fascinated by The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; it was vivid, almost like a film, in my mind's eye. Better than any movies I was seeing.

His views as expressed here are intriguing and thought-provoking. I'm not sure that I completely agree with his materialists vs mystics dichotomy I think it exists, but in this passage he simplifies the sensibilities of the materialist, almost trivializing the viewpoint--and I say this s a self-admitted materialist--but the schism between the two certainly exists, in my opinion.

Thanks!

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: 2 October, 2019 02:24PM
Sawfish, the passage from Coleridge's letter may be relevant to materialist-vs.-mystic, but it's more directly relevant to methods of education. Coleridge is saying that he knows there are those who think it's "dissipation" for children to read fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, etc. Those people would emphasize an education that focuses children's attention on Facts and the Useful. Dickens caricatures these educationists in Hard Times with the schoolmaster Gradgrind -- remember him, the teacher who makes the children memorize a definition of horse as a "gramnivorous quadruped," etc., with the implication that this is an adequate representation of the animal -- whereas a healthy child will know the horse as a noble, mighty servant of mankind, powerful but submissive and worthy of great respect, a very emblem of something essential about creation, etc. Gradgrind wants such fanciful rubbish stamped out. He is a stern utilitarian. Today we have a pervasive reductionism instead.

On education, you could not do better than to read C. S. Lewis's little book The Abolition of Man, which deals with just such things -- starting, in fact, with a criticism of the treatment, in a high school textbook, of something from Coleridge. The authors of the textbook took a passage where Coleridge observed two people looking at a great waterfall. One of them said it's pretty, the other said it's sublime, and Coleridge regretted the former and approved the latter. The textbook authors basically say, "Fooey--both statements were really the same thing, nothing but statements people made about how they felt." Lewis takes this treatment apart and, courteously, devastates the textbook writers....

As for materialism vs. mysticism -- the materialist is necessarily a reductionist. He has to say that everything is [u]nothing but[u] the inevitable product of physical forces that are mindless and meaningless. The materialist will, then, tend, if he or she is an an educator, towards the utilitarian notion that the bottom line for education's purpose is "equality" and the preservation, extension, and progression of health and comfort, since these are things over which we have some control. In fact, control is a key word; some people will be in charge of others. In Soviet Russia, the Party was in charge. In contemporary America, the university-educated network of "global citizens" with solid progressive credentials would be the ones who should be in charge, according to sentiment common among professional educators.

Hence, by the way, Lovecraft's late-in-life attraction to socialism (=the planned society). It was consistent with his materialism.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2 Oct 19 | 02:39PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 02:55PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish, the passage from Coleridge's letter may
> be relevant to materialist-vs.-mystic, but it's
> more directly relevant to methods of education.
> Coleridge is saying that he knows there are those
> who think it's "dissipation" for children to read
> fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, etc. Those
> people would emphasize an education that focuses
> children's attention on Facts and the Useful.
> Dickens caricatures these educationists in Hard
> Times with the schoolmaster Gradgrind -- remember
> him, the teacher who makes the children memorize a
> definition of horse as a "gramnivorous quadruped,"
> etc., with the implication that this is an
> adequate representation of the animal -- whereas a
> healthy child will know the horse as a noble,
> mighty servant of mankind, powerful but submissive
> and worthy of great respect, a very emblem of
> something essential about creation, etc.
> Gradgrind wants such fanciful rubbish stamped out.
> He is a stern utilitarian. Today we have a
> pervasive reductionism instead.
>
> On education, you could not do better than to read
> C. S. Lewis's little book The Abolition of Man,
> which deals with just such things -- starting, in
> fact, with a criticism of the treatment, in a high
> school textbook, of something from Coleridge.
> They take a passage where Coleridge observed two
> people looking at a great waterfall. One of them
> says it's pretty, the other says it's sublime, and
> Coleridge regrets the former and approves the
> latter. The textbook authors basically say,
> "Fooey--both statements were the same, nothing but
> statements people made about how they felt."
> Lewis takes this treatment apart and, courteously
> but devastatingly, devastates the textbook
> writers....

It's hard to say which comes first, however, the materialist who insists on educating children to standards that Coleridge finds constraining, in which the child is never exposed to mystical ideas, or the chid, a willing believer of almost anything presented authoritatively, who thru his lack of exposure to The Arabian Nights, e.g., later becomes a teacher and being ignorant of spirituality or mysticism, does not introduce his charges to these attributes.

It seems integral to Coleridge's ideas is the assumption that mere exposure makes one sensitive to the mystical, and conversely, lack of exposure excises or stultifies attachment to mysticism. But I don't see it as that simple. I think that an individual, exposed to fantastic literature and ideas, with no criticism from authority figure for reading and enjoying many of the yea-sayers on your list (Clark, Asimov, Simak, etc.), then later exposed to the scientific method, carries the seeds for both mysticism and materialism. Conversely, those with no formal exposure to mysticism will still feel its pull, it seemingly hard-wired into the human psyche.

Then, depending on the facts of their adult lives, they find that if they must make their own way without assistance, the materialist view yields consistent and predictable outcomes, while the mystical is inconsistent and unreliable--all the while being much more satisfying. So they are two domains, co-existing but not mutually exclusive.

At least that's how I see it... :^)

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

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: TomGoff (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 03:24PM
I don't know precisely what musical favorites
among composers Arthur Machen had, but one definite
friend was the British composer John Ireland.
Ireland's "Legend" for piano and orchestra was
written after the composer experienced a Machen-like
visitation of mysterious human apparitions
on the Sussex Downs. Ireland wrote of this
vision to Machen, who sent back a postcard
reading, "Oh, so you've seen them too."

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 04:17PM
I enjoyed the Ireland musical piece. Wasn't it, in fact, dedicated to Machen?

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 04:24PM
Generally I think nay-sayers are greater creative artists than yea-sayers, with richer, more feverish imaginations. Their disappointments in life give them a strong urge to seek alternate realities and beauty. They are obsessive about reaching out for something else. Yea-sayers are more content with life, and tend to portray things closer to the way they already appear.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 10:43PM
Pages 2-4: The Hermit speaks approvingly of low-stakes gambling. I believe he is on to something of the greatest importance here.

In order to gamble, one must possess at least four faculties: (1) a sense of one's self; (2) a sense that other people are selves like oneself; (3) the capacity to make, and keep, promises, which implies language; (4) so that one may make and keep promises, one must add to the sense of being a self and the sense of others as selves, the sense of the future, the ability to distinguish the present in which one is from the time in which one will (presumably) be. Children manifestly possess this awareness from very early in their lives.

So far as we can tell, only man possesses these capacities. Thus a very brief definition of man could be: an animal that makes promises.

Because he possesses these capacities, the difference between man and the "other animals" is profound indeed. There is a hiatus, a gap, a differntia between ourselves and (so far as we can tell) all of the other animals, which, to be sure, also do share some important characteristics with us. A very good discussion of these matters is available in a readable little book that has some affinities with Machen's thought, A Guide for the Perplexed by the economist E. F. Schumacher.

We need to have some sense, if we are going to proceed with the discussion of literature in Hieroglyphics, of the nature of man. Perhaps this thought will help us with that.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 October, 2019 11:01PM
Page 11: the Hermit says it is the presence or absence of ecstasy that denotes whether a given piece of writing is fine literature or not. He offers other words and phrases that get at what he has in mind: rapture, beauty, adoration, wonder, awe, mystery, sense of the unknown, desire for the unknown. These are positive indications. Negatively, if the work at hand is characterized by "common consciousness," it will not be fine literature.

Here are three observations.

1.The positive terms are mostly ones that have religious connotations. Whatever drug or experience "ecstasy" suggests to us, in our own pathetic time, historically the word suggests a spiritual state, a rapture in which the consciousness or soul has been lifted up. "Beauty" -- as in, perhaps, "the fair beauty of the Lord." Jews and Christians are obliged by their sacred texts to believe that beauty is not the same thing merely as taste (which is what "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" suggests) but is an attribute of God; it is something that, in its essence, existed before creation, it is something that always was (Psalm 27:4). "Adoration" obviously suggests a "religious" state, as in the Adoration of the Magi, etc. "Wonder" and "awe" are words that suggest a felt humbling of the beholder in the presence of something beautiful, majestic, etc. "Mystery" may suggest a puzzle to be solved -- at which point, when it's solved, there is no longer a mystery. Or it may suggest something that can be contemplated but cannot be resolved, explained away, etc. The word originally, I believe, suggested sacraments and sacred ritual -- something to which the believer resorts and that renews him and is ever fresh, and perfect. As for the two phrases, they suggest passages of the Sacred Scriptures such as St. Paul saying "Now we see as in a glass, darkly, but then face to face," etc.

2."Common consciousness" is evidently "fallen." We shall see, I think, that it is inattentive; as Colin Wilson puts it, it is "robotic." Here, I think Machen is thinking of something that is always a danger and is, sadly, all too often the default condition for human beings.

3.In our time, professors and grad assistants teach undergraduates to "approach" literature with the methods or "lenses" of "critical theory." The hapless student is compelled to read a work using a feminist, or "queer," or deconstructive, or postcolonialist method. This kind of teaching really works against the experience of literature in which Machen's "ecstasy" may be experienced. (It also encourages misunderstanding, as perhaps I will show in a while.)



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2 Oct 19 | 11:05PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 3 October, 2019 10:46AM
To understand Hieroglyphics well, we need to grasp Machen's beliefs about man.

Yesterday I referred to a “hiatus” between animals and man. A definition of “hiatus” is “a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.” I was thinking of the traditional scheme of levels of being explained in Schumacher’s Guide for the Perplexed. It goes like this.
There are four levels of visible being.

The first is that of rocks, minerals, stones. They exist. They don’t have life and don’t reproduce; you can split a rock into two, but there is no new rock there. They are found in the greatest abundance, on the surface and below the surface of the world.

There is a gap between that level and that of plants. They exist, but they additionally possess life, and can reproduce. They may make their environment usable by breaking it down, e.g. roots of a tree cracking a sidewalk. They are the most abundant of living things, found over virtually all of the earth’s surface and deep in its oceans.

There is a gap between the plant-level and that of animals. They exist, possess life, reproduce, and here we see also consciousness. They may not only break down their environment but may take raw materials and make something more orderly than what was there before, and useful to them, e.g. a beaver lodge, a bird’s nest. They are abundant but less abundant than plants.

There is a gap between the animal-level and that of mankind. Human beings exist, possess life, reproduce, are conscious, and moreover possess a quality of inner awareness because they are selves. Human beings may freely choose to work not only on their environment but on themselves, e.g. as when someone decides to invest several years to study English literature. (Animals do not do this, and can’t, because they do not possess self-awareness, so far as we can tell, at least!) Human beings can recognize other human beings as also being selves. Concepts such as love, freedom, guilt, repentance, etc. are meaningful to them. Their consciousness and their consciences are closely related. Art enters the scene at this level, as distinct from the instinctual capacity for creating designs such as honeycombs. There are, I suppose, no animal geniuses, but genius occurs in humankind. Human beings are less abundant than minerals, plants, and animals.

The modern habit of reductionism wants to collapse the differences between the levels as much as possible, so that, for it, man is understood as not really being free, or at least reductionism wants to minimize the sense of man as possessing free will. Reductionism wants to minimize the differences between animal sexual behavior and human sexuality, or (to put it another way) wants an account of love that maximizes the “explanation” thereof in terms of evolutionary biology, etc. Reductionism wants to explain, or even explain away, human existence as much as possible in terms of what is lesser that itself. As Machen writes about Art, fine literature, etc., he has a different agenda, that is, he suggests that in the creation and enjoyment of Art, the distinctiveness of man is evident; he understands the lesser in terms of the greater, not explaining (or explaining away) the greater by means of the lesser. Reductionism seeks wherever it can to reduce things to matters of quantity. Machen seeks to understand things in terms of qualities.

It is while we are subdued by mere "common consciousness" (p. 11) that we are more likely to fail really to notice the human distinctives. Art, I think Machen would think, can help to quicken us out of that kind of inattentiveness. By the way, I hope everyone will be sure not to confuse "common consciousness" with the "common man." Machen's Hermit is not saying that "ordinary" people are "common consciousness" nobodies. Remember that he started this discussion by talking about habits of "ordinary" people who place bets on horses, etc.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 3 Oct 19 | 11:01AM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Yluos (IP Logged)
Date: 3 October, 2019 10:58AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Generally I think nay-sayers are greater creative
> artists than yea-sayers, with richer, more
> feverish imaginations. Their disappointments in
> life give them a strong urge to seek alternate
> realities and beauty. They are obsessive about
> reaching out for something else. Yea-sayers are
> more content with life, and tend to portray things
> closer to the way they already appear.


If we're speaking only generally, then in some ways I can agree. Someone who doesn't care for the popular trends and expectations of the time are likely to grow more miserable or seek more desirable alternatives. I'm just not sure how much I can agree with a stark dichotomy.

It doesn't seem entirely honest to define people with terms like yea-sayers and nay-sayers, because anyone can say yea or nay to any different thing. I've seen metalheads say nay to fascism, and metalheads say yea to fascism. And Smith can't be a full-blown nay-sayer, because based on accounts from his friends he sounded fairly content in this world for various periods of his life.

How would you define yea-sayers and nay-sayers in the context of this discussion? If a nay-sayer is someone like today's metalheads or satanists, then I'm afraid I find most of their art to be flat, insincere, and uninspired; it's often just huge swathes of black paint and human blood with clichéd images like goat skulls and middle fingers. All of it has meaning of course and is a response to the normal folk, but it's about as rich and artful as an adolescent purposefully dating someone who annoys their parents.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 3 Oct 19 | 11:00AM by Yluos.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 3 October, 2019 02:40PM
Yluos, I agree with the things you say in your post (although there are also some gifted individuals in the music genres you mention, all of it is not garbage.).

I was speaking only from my general impression, as my favorite artists are often persons who appear somewhat introverted, socially inhibited, with a somewhat moody, miserable, or pessimistic outlook. It may also be that their art, although of high quality, does not appeal to the broad and shallow masses, which makes it difficult to make a living out of it, leading to economic worries and unhappiness.
Artist who are more happy and content, tend to adapt well to society, but their art is often less original, more generic or shallow, or perhaps humanistic and spreading "goodness", in other words insipid (except for someone like A. C. Clarke who does it on a grand spectacular cosmic scale beyond our human comprehension of what is ultimately "good"); although their art can often be of very high technical proficiency.

But again, these are only generalizations. I agree that it is very difficult to classify persons into yea-sayers and nay-sayers. We don't know what's going on inside people. Some person may hold up a successful front, smiling, suave and charming; but may actually be planning suicide. Someone else, like Smith, may appear to be a nay-sayer, from his sad droopy eyes, poverty, shoddy clothing, because he doesn't live up to normal people's outer standards of success; but they are unable to see his inner quality of life, ecstasy and artistic pleasures, because he reaches for something else, something completely different, in a different area of life, which they can't understand from their materialistic or more normal outlook. Hence he is looked upon as a nay-sayer.

I know from reactions to my own person, it all depends on who I am talking too. Some judge me as pessimistic and moody, others see me as cheerful and ambitious. You need to share a somewhat similar outlook, or get along on a personal level, to get a positive reaction, and enhance each other, to bring out the best.
Dr. Farmer confirmed that Smith was a positive and content person.

A person has several qualities, both optimistic and pessimistic, negative and constructive, weaknesses and strengths, in different areas of life, some up-front, others more hidden; we can be complicated, which makes it impossible to classify and pigeon-hole a person into fitting just one category out of two. But often we do, and it mainly lies in the eye of the beholder. And, a person also matures and changes over time to some degree, of rather finds himself and his own functional tracks.

I don't otherwise use the terms "yea-sayer" and "nay-sayer", except that I wanted to step in a bit and try the words introduced in the ongoing discussion.

I feel much doubt toward the list, made earlier in the thread, of yea-saying and nay-saying authors. I agree that some of these authors generally appear more optimistic, and some more pessimistic. But it's not that simple. Some of the optimistic ones may have dark strains (A. C. Clarke not least), and some of the pessimistic ones may have very uplifting qualities (Lovecraft, my good man!).

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 3 October, 2019 03:19PM
Could I gently ask that the discussion focus on Arthur Machen's Hieroglyphics, the nature of fine literature, etc.? Perhaps I goofed in bringing up the yea-sayer and nay-sayer topic, which was supposed to kind of get the ball rolling and help us to settle into a discussion about literature.


Is anyone here actually reading the book other than me?


I have ventured, by the way, to offer what may seem to be digressions -- about levels of being, etc. But Machen is manifestly working from an understanding of what man is that affects his understanding of what art, and especially literature, is. If we don't get some sense of where he is coming from, we are likely to keep reading past his remarks on pp. 33-38 on "faithfulness to life" with a vague sense that we're not getting it but maybe we'll just keep reading him till we find something we understand..... I hope we will do better than that.

Machen's Hermit starts by denying that "faithfulness to life," as often used by reviewers, is a necessary criterion of fine literature. He says, as it were, "Can you really be serious, Mr. Reviewer, in holding a standard of literary excellence -- this 'faithfulness to life' of yours -- that would rule out The Odyssey, Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," and Wordsworth's Ode ("Intimations of Immortality")? Oh, you never thought of it that way?"

But then the Hermit says that "faithfulness to life," in another sense, is the very "differentia" of fine literature. The artist mirrors nature in its eternal, essential forms. The aim of art is truth.

I think that, without some preliminary work, we are likely to arrive at these pages unprepared to understand what Machen means. There is precious little in the daily lives of most of us to turn our attention to what he calls the "eternal, essential forms" of "nature." Arthur Machen is in earnest here, but people living in our time are going to have to pay attention and work at it if we're to get what he is saying. Hieroglyphics was a book against the age when it was published -- almost 120 years ago! It is, I suppose, even more of a book-against-the-age today.

And I hope we can follow Coleridge's dictum, which, I'm sorry to say, I am unable to quote in his own words; but the gist of it is that we ought to make the effort of understanding someone before we disagree with him. So, who is on board with a plan to read, to seek to understand, and then to agree (or not) with Arthur Machen in Hieroglyphics?

By the way, my page references are to the online version at Project Gutenberg:

[www.gutenberg.org]



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 3 Oct 19 | 03:54PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 3 October, 2019 06:39PM
Let's keep track of works that Machen's Hermit cites as fine literature. So far we have had

The Odyssey
Sophocles' Oedipus the King (a play)
Malory's Morte d'Arthur (long medieval prose romance)
Shakespeare's King Lear
Cervantes' Don Quixote (sometimes regarded as the first novel)
Milton's "Lycidas" (a poem of just a few pages)
Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" (a short poem, with a prose introduction if you wish)
Wordsworth's Ode (Intimations of Immortality)
Dickens's Pickwick Papers (a long novel)

The Hermit hedged a bit about Poe's detective stories of Auguste Dupin, which are "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt," and "The Purloined Letter." They are "almost" fine literature.

Surely these are works that should be well known to people who enjoy literature. There might be some discussion about which translations are best, for the non-English titles. (I believe Fitzgerald's of The Odyssey is a safe choice, and the Rutherford translation for the Quixote. That's one I haven't read yet.)

I recently completed a project of reading all 14 1/2 Dickens novels (over a period of many years), and I have to admit that I found The Pickwick Papers probably the hardest of the lot to stick with. I'm willing to believe much of the problem was with me and that it might be well to pick it up again sometime. But we know from Machen's introduction to A Handy Dickens that Machen relished more than just that one novel. For a first Dickens novel, I might recommend David Copperfield, Bleak House, or Our Mutual Friend.

If anyone wants to tackle Malory, he or she might get the Oxford World's Classics edition of Morte Darthur and read xxxi-iii, 3-80; first paragraph on 95, 118-119, middle of 167 (Gareth and Lancelot); 281-527 (351-372 may be skimmed). Notes on the Morte begin on page 531. This will give you the "origin" story of Arthur, with Merlin, the founding of the Round Table, the Graal quest, & the destruction of Arthur's Logres, but skips the eraly story on Arthur's campaign against Rome and the lengthy Tristram and Isoud story, which I fear some readers would bog down in.

One of the fun things about Hieroglyphics is the way Machen whets your appetite for reading.

Earlier I quoted Machen's observation of a young family -- an "ordinary" sight. It's interesting to consider that Machen's gradually extending list of fine literature names books any of which you might find in the humblest, most forlorn charity bookshop.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 3 Oct 19 | 07:32PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2019 12:20PM
I checked my reading log & found I have read the entire Hieroglyphics only once, and that was in late October and early November of 1975! I mean to read the entire book & to post notes on it here. If anyone else reads the book & posts his or her own observations, that could really enrich this thread. If anyone wants to respond to my comments, fine, but I hope the focus can remain on understanding Machen here & applying his insights and notions to the experience of reading, etc. As we get a handle on what the Hermit means by "ecstasy," perhaps we can suggest literary works not mentioned in the book that we think could have stood with the Hermit's own selections, as I've begun to list (see above). But let's please hold off on offering our own nominations until we have read, say, at least HALF of Hieroglyphics. That's just my preference, of course.

P. 43: Notice this! The Hermit is not saying that we should read only works of fine literature -- only those works evoking "ecstasy." He says he's always reading Thackeray -- who is one of the authors he has adduced who do not, in his view, write fine literature.

Many years after writing Hieroglyphics, Arthur Machen was still referring to Dickens and Thackeray, the one in terms of fine literature and the other not, in a BBC radio program, which, happily, we can listen to here:

[www.youtube.com]

This was broadcast 22 March 1937.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 4 Oct 19 | 12:22PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2019 03:37PM
Incidentally, by the time one has read a couple of chapters of Hieroglyphics, one might wonder whether Machen believed himself to have written what he calls fine literature. A remark in Far-Off Things, his wonderful first autobiographical book, suggests he didn't think he had. "But now, with riper understanding, he perceives, as he did not perceive in the days of his youth, the depth of the gulf between the idea and the word, between the emotion that thrilled him to his very heart and soul, and the sorry page of print into which that emotion stands translated. He dreamed in fire; he has worked in clay." But perhaps he thought of himself when he wrote, in The Hill of Dreams, “He knew how weak it all was compared with his own conceptions; he had seen an enchanted city, awful, glorious, with flame smitten about its battlements, like the cities of the Sangraal, and he had moulded his copy in such poor clay as came to his hand; yet, in spite of the gulf that yawned between the idea and the work, he knew as he read that the thing accomplished was very far from a failure." True, this is said of Julian's writing, not Machen's own.

Specifically, Machen wrote in Far-Off Things about "The Great God Pan." He had hoped "to pass on the vague, indefinable sense of awe and mystery and terror that I had received” from his responses to “the valley of Usk … on one of those strange days of summer when the sky is at once grey and luminous … and there is no breath of wind, and every leaf is still." But “I translated awe, at worst awfulness, into evil; again, I say, one dreams in fire and works in clay.”

Perhaps I'll look around & see what he thought of "The White People," a better story. For what it's worth: I think perhaps we'd have been better off if Machen had left us with just the first chapter ("The Experiment") of "The Great God Pan" and had discarded the rest. That first chapter can be read as a self-contained short story (and I wonder if that's not what it was at first). It has affinities with something by Hawthorne, who, as we will see, Machen recognized as a writer of fine literature. The rest of "Pan" is quite obviously a horror-mystery story.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2019 04:00PM
The Hermit comments on Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter on page 62. He admires the artistic skill with which Hawthorne omits "a world of unessential details that a lesser man would have put in. ...there is the dim, necessary background of time and place, but in reality the scene is Eternity, and the drama is the Mystery of Love and Vengeance and Hell-fire." So this romance may be added to our list of works cited by the Hermit. In case anyone here hasn't read it yet, or started it and didn't persist: as often with the novels of Sir Walter, it's safe to skip some upfront matter; my rule of thumb is to start with the second chapter of a Scott novel, and, in the case of The Scarlet Letter, you may ignore the introductory essay called "The Custom House." I feel sorry for people who read this book in what I suppose to be the typical college classroom of today, with a graduate teaching assistant or professor treating it as a "text" (it is a novel, it is a [i]romance[i]) to be read with the "critical lens" of feminist theory, or queer theory, or whatever. Far better off the intelligent adolescent who finds a worn copy of his great-grandparents' Everyman's Library edition in red cloth, with the ornate gold-leaf lettering on the spine, and settles in to read it in a quiet corner. ...There might be a good illustrated version of this book somewhere, but if there is, I don't remember having seen one.

The Hermit mentions Hardy's Two on a Tower a few sentences further on. My memory is that this novel was open to objections as to silliness and yet I enjoyed it. The tower is where the hero has gone for use of his telescope. Lovecraft's interest in amateur astronomy will be well known to Eldritch Dark folk.*
But amateur astronomy was also an interest of the Tolkien family's. According to Scull and Hammond (The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader's Guide, first edition, p. 877),

---Priscilla Tolkien [JRRT's daughter] once wrote that her father had a general interest in astronomy,

-------as he did in a vast number of subjects, and he encouraged my brothers and myself to be interested in various ways: my brother Christopher [editor of JRRT's posthumous writings] had a telescope, and I was given a book when I was a child called The Starry Heavens [by Ellison Hawks, 1933] which was an admirably simple introduction to the subject....My brother and I looked at the stars through the telescope and learnt their names and the constellations. My father also talked to us about eclipses of the sun and moon and about the planets and their satellites.------

I'd like to link that passage from Priscilla Tolkien with the passage above from Coleridge's autobiographical letter.


*Here's a photo of what's said to be a telescope of HPL's.

[www.flickr.com]

And here is a piece with passages by Lovecraft on visiting the Ladd Observatory, etc.

[tentaclii.wordpress.com]



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 4 Oct 19 | 04:14PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2019 04:08PM
P. 65: The Hermit mentions a specific painting, Botticelli's Primavera. I have often used that painting as the desktop image on my computer.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2019 05:34PM
The Hermit gets down to cases, with extended remarks on Don Quixote -- which he can read only in translation -- and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

P. 73: The Hermit says: Fine literature is simply the expression of the eternal things that are in man; fine literature always draws itself away and goes apart into lonely places far from the common course of life.

So Don Quixote expresses "the eternal quest of the unknown." I suppose that, ever since reading Machen on Don Quixote over 40 years ago, I have had in the back of my mind the idea that I should read it, and this notion was further encouraged by Dostoevsky's very high regard for the book (which, I suppose, he too knew only in translation). So I have taken it from its shelf. The Hermit refers to "that longing, peculiar to man, which makes him reach out towards infinity." Does that help to show why, many postings back on this thread, I included those remarks about the nature of man? (See also page 84: "man is a sacrament, soul manifested under the form of body, and art has to deal with each and both.")

How different that is -- reaching towards infinity -- from what goes on in the typical classroom taught today by inculcators of literary theory. How banal seems their endless preoccupation with arcane terminology and leftist politics.*

I was blessed, I would like to say, with not just one but two professors who did know about that longing and reaching. I have written about them at length in a piece that will appear this month in William Breiding's Portable Storage. Their names were Brian Bond and U. Milo Kaufmann. Both, by the way, had connections with the fannish world.

P. 82: You can see how Machen probably had Stevenson's novella in the back of his mind, in "The Inmost Light" and "The White Powder." Machen is disappointed with RLS -- who had a great idea, Machen says, but fell short in realizing its potential, writing a story too much concerned with empirical psychology.

I don't sign on with Machen when he affirms a statement he attributes to Poe, that allegory is always a literary vice, because doing so would tend to lead unsuspecting readers to skip some very fine works, such as the Faerie Queene of Spenser -- and yet, after all, though I know from personal experience that the Faerie Queene may be read, and reread, with high pleasure, perhaps this requires a careful attitude towards the allegorical element, such that while reading you let it exist just as a sort of undertone but don't dwell on it. I don't know what C. A. Smith thought of Spenser, but my understanding is that Donald Sidney-Fryer was an admirer of CAS and a very great admirer of the Faerie Queene.

*If you are wondering what I am thinking of, look over the essay on King Lear here:

[www.winthrop.edu]

This is, notice, an award-winning paper. One wonders if the modern academy is a place in which people may write award-winning essays about fine literature and never be attuned to the qualities in those works that Machen's Hermit celebrates. There may be professors of literature for whom literature, in Machen's sense, has in some way never happened.

I'm not without hope, though. I knew a feminist English professor who got a course on women's literature added to the catalog, and who also wanted Shakespeare taken out as a required course for English majors. I won't go into details of our differences. But I would have been wrong to write her off in my mind, I think, as someone who taught literature but for whom literature had never happened; one day we happened to have an encounter by the photocopy machine, and she mentioned that she had gone to England once, on some kind of English student tour I think, and had seen the manuscript of The Pickwick Papers -- and had teared up. I very much hope that that meant some of Dickens's magic had got through to her despite the carapace of theory. It may be that, at that time, she had not been as hard-boiled in theory as, I fear, she may have become. I don't know, but I'm hopeful for her. Perhaps literature really had been a love of hers and perhaps there's been some estrangement from it thanks to the "activist" spirit of the current scene but she will return to her "first love" some day. I wish her well.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 4 Oct 19 | 05:35PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2019 05:43PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> P. 65: The Hermit mentions a specific painting,
> Botticelli's Primavera. ...


I am not surprised. Botticelli's Primavera is pure ecstasy, especially Flora's dress, and the flowers on the ground. And the (pregnant?) woman in the middle, Venus, her asymmetrical yet beautifully painted face; ecstasy too. Otherwise, the most notable thing about the painting, aside from the mythological details, I think is the extreme contrast between black and bright. Truly wonderful. Of course, I need not say that it is a masterpiece, one of the greatest.

I skimmed through a library copy of Hieroglyphics in the 1990's, and made notes of everything I could find about "ecstasy" in it. Since then I have gotten my own copy, which I intend to read properly, at my own pace. I don't have time to read it now, because I am still immersed in R. E. Howard's complete Conan, which I must get done with. I can only make loosely based comments. But as far as I know, Oldjoe, the thread starter, has not put any specific limits to the thread saying that it should be kept in the form of a strictly structured academic treatise. But by all means, I don't mind, I like varied forms of contributions. The Eldritch Dark forum is much too quiet otherwise.

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.

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
mysterium
_ 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.

[newcriterion.com]

[www.independent.co.uk]

[www.firstthings.com]

[kunstler.com]

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.

[www.youtube.com]

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:

[wormwoodiana.blogspot.com]

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.

[www.theguardian.com]

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 duckduckgo.com 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:

[www.snopes.com]

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

Quote:
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:

[www.eldritchdark.com]

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.

[firstknownwhenlost.blogspot.com]

[www.johnderbyshire.com]

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.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2019 07:33PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> 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.
>
> [firstknownwhenlost.blogspot.com]
> ok-thy-last-on-all-things-lovely.html
>
> [www.johnderbyshire.com]
> l
>
> 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.

I want to reassure you, Dale, that I'm in no way discomfitted by your very obvious personal passion for literature in general and fantastic literature in particular. To me, it's nothing less than a mark of commitment to a quality analysis and discussion of topics that may--or conversely, may not--be of deep interest to me.

On the topic of Machen's Hieroglypics as a hybrid statement of his own worldview and how it relates to written works of art I'm not deeply interested, and here's why...

My own outlook is so deeply materialist that I can conceive of no actual reason to discuss anything other than the personal enjoyment of beauty solely for its own merit so far as the observer is affected by it. In short, I really don't care if my personal reaction to de la Mare's "All Hallows"--as uniquely subtle as it strikes me--is rooted in minute and as yet unobservable physical phenomena, or the mystical and wondrous. All I care is that I enjoy the hell out of some literature (and other works of art), I don't really know *why*, but also (since as a materialist, nothing ultimately matters), and ultimately, I don't really care.

Nihilism is for the philosophically lazy, I'll admit... ;^)

In the end, I enjoy your extensive comments and examinations, Dale; I tell you honestly that they are better than all but the best of my college Lit professors from 50 years ago, as an English undergrad.

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: 25 October, 2019 08:36PM
Sawfish, I'll suppose for the sake of argument that materialism is true, but what I'm not sure I see is why and how one would discuss questions of value with regard to literature... well, I guess you are saying: Right, there really isn't a point in discussing questions of value when "value" can only refer to the inevitable preferences of individuals (i.e. inevitable based on their genes, the accidents of their personal histories, the tastes and experiences characteristic of their time and place -- and so on).

This doesn't mean that materialism isn't true, of course, but it would mean, among other things, that professing literature isn't really legitimate. Literary history, as the recounting of biographies, the development of schools, the discovery of new techniques and recovery or forgetting of old ones, art as propaganda... all those could still be legitimate. But criticism like Machen's would be basically illegitimate, however well done someone might think it had been done.

I guess if we imagine Machen and Lovecraft sitting down together in 1930 to talk about literature, we would have to assume they could talk about favorites, and each might recommend some books the other hadn't read yet, but basically... they would have nothing to say to each other.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2019 09:28PM
Interleaved, below:

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish, I'll suppose for the sake of argument
> that materialism is true,

I can't say that it is for certain "true" but it appears to me to have the best answers to the reality that I can perceive.

> but what I'm not sure I
> see is why and how one would discuss questions of
> value with regard to literature... well, I guess
> you are saying: Right, there really isn't a point
> in discussing questions of value when "value" can
> only refer to the inevitable preferences of
> individuals (i.e. inevitable based on their genes,
> the accidents of their personal histories, the
> tastes and experiences characteristic of their
> time and place -- and so on).

Yes, this comes close to the way I see existence, but again, this is for *me*, mine, my view, and my view is no better informed than your own, Dale. And certainly not as well informed as your view of literature and art.

>
> This doesn't mean that materialism isn't true, of
> course, but it would mean, among other things,
> that professing literature isn't really
> legitimate. Literary history, as the recounting
> of biographies, the development of schools, the
> discovery of new techniques and recovery or
> forgetting of old ones, art as propaganda... all
> those could still be legitimate. But criticism
> like Machen's would be basically illegitimate,
> however well done someone might think it had been
> done.

Hmmm...

Not sure that I see that one is more, or less, legitimate than the other. I would like to hear your rationale for differentiating them.

Are we diverging too much? I'm content to continue, or to branch off in a new thread, if warranted.

>
> I guess if we imagine Machen and Lovecraft sitting
> down together in 1930 to talk about literature, we
> would have to assume they could talk about
> favorites, and each might recommend some books the
> other hadn't read yet, but basically... they would
> have nothing to say to each other.

Alternatively, what *might* they say?

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: 25 October, 2019 10:30PM
Sawfish, what I meant (not sure I need to clarify, but --) was that, from a materialist point of view, English studies as literary history could still be legitimate -- a field of study in its way as valid as, say, spectrographic analysis of gases. Literary history could deal with the lives of authors (and publishers, illustrators, etc.), the characteristics and leading figures of various literary movements (e.g. the Pre-Raphaelites) as historical phenomena, the history of the discovery of, say, perspective, and of lost arts (e.g. William Blake's secret method of engraving), and the long and complicated story of art in the service of the state, or revolutions, or churches, and so on.

These could all be discussed -- maybe -- from the point of view of "objective description." One could even deal, materialistically, with hypotheses about why certain aesthetic experiences work the way they do. For example, do turn from literature to the visual arts, why, from a materialist point of view, did landscape painting arise, specifically representations of places that would in no way conduce to species survival? One could explain a painting of a lush water meadow in terms of its suggestion of a temperate climate, fertile soil and capacity for supporting food animals, etc. Why would humans ever have taken to painting scenes of high mountain peaks that have nothing to offer in those ways, but relate to values (presumably merely projected by the artist and the viewer -- but that begs the question of why anyone would project feelings of awe, etc. onto a representation of a scene of rocky soil where nothing but lichens maybe grows...?

So I'm saying that I could see lots of room for literary and artistic discussion by people holding materialist premises, but would also think that they would find discussions of value, like Machen's pointless -- "values" being illusions or even delusions.

Maybe I don't need to reiterate.

I think we have an issue here that is relevant to Hieroglyphics, but I don't know if it can be taken much further. Hence my imaginary meeting of Machen and Lovecraft.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 01:47AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> These could all be discussed -- maybe -- from the
> point of view of "objective description." One
> could even deal, materialistically, with
> hypotheses about why certain aesthetic experiences
> work the way they do. For example, do turn from
> literature to the visual arts, why, from a
> materialist point of view, did landscape painting
> arise, specifically representations of places that
> would in no way conduce to species survival? One
> could explain a painting of a lush water meadow in
> terms of its suggestion of a temperate climate,
> fertile soil and capacity for supporting food
> animals, etc. Why would humans ever have taken to
> painting scenes of high mountain peaks that have
> nothing to offer in those ways, but relate to
> values (presumably merely projected by the artist
> and the viewer -- but that begs the question of
> why anyone would project feelings of awe, etc.
> onto a representation of a scene of rocky soil
> where nothing but lichens maybe grows...?
>

From a materialist perspective the painting of a mountain peak may perhaps point to new fertile frontiers from a longer time perspective, that lie hidden in the future, not yet realized, inspire the effort to overcome seemingly impossible barriers. Perhaps the aesthetic pleasure of looking at this kind of painting, its majestic height, even hearkens vaguely to a related specific sense in the human being, that of longing to reach for the stars, and eventually other worlds that will offer new material opportunities.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 11:13AM
Knygatin, your speculation about the mountain peak painting seems far-fetched to me, but then I think it's possible that for any or almost any theory of things, there will be some things that it seems to explain very well and others that it has to strain to explain.

Thus, there was a time when the adherents of the Ptolemaic conception of the universe resorted to what seem to us now far-fetched explanations of "epicycles." But there were other phenomena for which the Ptolemaic theory worked very well. But effort had to be put forward to "save the appearances," until the Copernican understanding carried the day.

Today, the theory of the multiverse seems far-fetched to some, a desperate effort to "save the appearances" in order to preserve materialism/naturalism*; all right, its advocates say, we grant that our universe does seem astonishingly fine-tuned for life; but then it is only one of a vast number, or, heck, even infinite number, of universes, that are not necessarily fine-tuned for life; we just happen to live in the very rare exception. Somewhat similarly, my "young earth creationist" brethren resort to far-fetched supposals to explain the "appearance" of great age for the universe. (It should be said that "young earth creationism" is a highly visible but minority view; I suppose most Christians who've gone into the matter think the universe looks old because it is old.) I'm sure that, if I were debating my own belief, some of the arguments I would put forward (where someone else would do it better) would seem far-fetched.

One of my favorite Christian writers, the novelist and poet Charles Williams, went so far as to write, "Patterns are baleful things, and more so because the irony of the universe has ensured that any pattern invented by man shall find an infinite number of facts to support it." I admit I'm not entirely comfortable with that statement!

….So, Knygatin, I have my doubts about your speculation regarding the explanation of the appeal of paintings of inhospitable mountain ranges, but I can respect it as a good try for "saving the appearances" on behalf of materialism.

Machen's Hieroglyphics could be discussed thus -- and I wish we would one of these days. What are the things, relating to the experience of literary art, that he deals with in a reasonably compelling way? What are his weaknesses? Where are there places that he simply seems not to notice, so that he neither deals with them convincingly nor unconvincingly? Does he cherry-pick his data? Or does he really point to some basic and important things about the experience of literature that tend to be neglected in our highly politicized literary scene today?


*[www.theatlantic.com]


Re: today's politics and literature:

[harpers.org]

[www.theguardian.com]

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 01:38PM
I may add that I was raised in a Christian upbringing. And I went to a Catholic kindergarten. I still pray to God. But now see the Christian religion as foremost a specific cultural expression of set morals for controlling the people. Though some of its values are universally applicable for good living.

I believe in the spiritual dimension, and see no conflict in that to materialistic thinking. For example, if I need to fix something with my car, I don't sit down and pray to God, but instead use my brain and think logically. Although I admit, an inner spiritual balance is helpful, so my mind doesn't drift away worrying over other things so that I loose my concentration on what I am doing at the moment.

Well then, how do You interpret the fascination with a mountain peak painting, from your particular perspective? Is the fascination a reflection of the longing to meet God? I would not reject that interpretation, and see no conflict in having that stand parallel to my earlier interpretation.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 26 Oct 19 | 02:05PM by Knygatin.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 02:15PM
The materialistic world and the mechanisms of the Cosmos, is always too complicated for us to completely grasp it intellectually. Much of it may therefore seem mystical.

Or why not quote what A. C. Clarke once said: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 02:33PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>
> Well then, how do You interpret the fascination
> with a mountain peak painting, from your
> particular perspective?

Particularly in the context of a discussion of Machen's Hieroglyphics, I might not want to say more than that painting scenes of inhospitable mountains shows something distinctive about human nature over against animals, and, so, it relates to the Hermit's fascination with "ecstasy," the sense of wonder, the sense that beauty matters for more than obvious utilitarian reasons, and so on.

The Hermit somewhere says, I think, something to the effect that art -- including "fine literature" -- is of the soul. Materialism tends to explain away the human mystery, or the human depth, seeking to understand mankind wherever possible in terms of what is less than ourselves, i.e. in terms of animals and so on. Fine literature, great art, etc. provide signals of transcendence -- that there is much in us that isn't obviously resolvable into "nothing but" our animal needs. They are part of our distinctively human habit of (Korzybski's term) "time-binding."

I think Machen would agree with Tolkien that

-------Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
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 sowed the seed of dragons -- 'twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we're made.

Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.------

The mountain wasn't made by the man, but the picture of the mountain was. There's one Creator, but perhaps as many "sub-creators" as there've been human beings.

(I want to use material explanations where they are appropriate for the situation, e.g. I want to get well by increasing my Vitamin D if a lack thereof is making me feel sick. But to understand myself, others, and art, I believe I sometimes need to understand these things in terms of the greater or "higher," e.g. when considering the soul, beauty, art, freedom, making promises, time-binding, etc.)

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 04:55PM
The quality of the work of a mystical writer like Arthur Machen (or Sheridan Le Fanu) who comes from a deeply religious background, is very clearly different from the work of a more materialistic intellectually oriented writer like Lovecraft. I like both expressions. Arthur Machen puts his trust to the mystical to guide him, without too much intellectual analysis; trusting his instinct. And with Machen's life experience, talent, and authority, all melding together, the literary achievement becomes very genuine and deeply moving, steeped in a mystical aura that can't be dissected. More intellectual writers, on the other hand, like Lovecraft, I find generally have a more innovative imagination. Machen is more of impressionist than expressionist. Clark Ashton Smith's approach I would say is closer to Lovecraft's than to Machen's. I am freely associating here, and may have to reevaluate some of it later.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Oldjoe (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 05:09PM
Having finally completed a careful read of Machen's Hieroglyphics, I'm still wrestling with the central argument presented by the "hermit". Right towards the end of the Appendix, we get the sentence that really boils things down:

Quote:
"I will give you a test that will startle you; literature is the expression, through the aesthetic medium of words, of the dogmas of the Catholic Church, and that which is any way out of harmony with these dogmas is not literature."

I fully understand that the argument is leaning on the quality of the experience of Catholic dogmas, and not on the superficial wrapping that is the Catholic Church itself. More to the point, I understand that the appeal is to spiritual experience, rather than the humdrum banality of any organized religion.

Given that I was not raised with any religion, and have not sought it during my adulthood, I have absolutely no reference to approach what is intended by the selection of the example of "dogmas" of the Catholic Church, and thus I almost feel that the core argument of Hieroglyphics reaches beyond my own personal experience, which leaves me somewhat adrift.

That said, the advocacy of specific novels like The Pickwick Papers, The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, etc is made with convincing force, and I'm already more than a hundred pages into The Pickwick Papers and enjoying every bit of it. So while Hieroglyphics remains something of a cypher for me, I don't regret the experience of reading it at all.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 06:22PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
I am freely
> associating here, and may have to reevaluate some
> of it later.

I think I'll wait to say more till you decide whether or not you want to do so. But for now I'll say that a takeaway from your comment is that "weird fiction" -- which might seem like a narrow subgenre to someone who hasn't read much of it -- is pretty capacious. Probably most of what gets published as such isn't worth reading (cf. Sturgeon's Law), but even within the ranks of the generally acknowledged major authors, what a range of attitudes and beliefs may be indicated or at least allowed, from Machen and (I take it from what you say) Le Fanu to de la Mare and M. R. James to Blackwood and Poe and Smith and Lovecraft. (I'm not saying that that list should be taken as my idea of a "spectrum.")

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 06:47PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The materialistic world and the mechanisms of the
> Cosmos, is always too complicated for us to
> completely grasp it intellectually. Much of it may
> therefore seem mystical.


"Seem" would be important, if you take Lovecraft's view of things. Because his materialism means that, although there is much we don't know in detail, in principle we already know it all; it might seem "mystical," but not only everything we know now, but everything we ever could know, is, in principle, only an example of materialism. Everything is, for him, fundamentally, on the same level, whether it be microbes, ourselves, Yog-Sothoth, daisies or dust on the surface of a planet on the other side of the Milky Way from us. There's really nothing to be done except to fill in the details. We already know everything is just the product of the grinding away of mindless natural forces. Everything is always basically the same thing.

Machen is "mystical," though that's a word, like "romantic," that can be defined too many ways to be used precisely unless further explanation is given. But I agree with you. I would say he is "mystical" in at least this sense, that he believes in a hierarchical ontology, or levels of being (as I've suggested earlier in this thread).

We find ourselves in a middle- or meso-world, in more than one way. In terms of measurement, we are (roughly) in the middle between the nano-world on one hand, the almost infinitely meta-microscopic, and, on the other hand, the macroscopic, the realms of galaxies like grains of sand in the inconceivable immensity of the cosmos. We also (it has been believed) find ourselves between, on the one hand, the realm of things that have "inert" existence (of course, even a motionless rock is not literally unchanging throughout the millions of years of isotopic decay) but no life, no reproduction, no consciousness, and no freedom; and, on the other hand (it has been almost universally believed till the past 300 years or so), a perhaps innumerable array of beings that are less bound by time and space than we are (and so more free than we are).

Well, if something like this is true of Machen, then he's "mystical" because he sees us as possessing great knowledge of certain things, less knowledge of other things, and less still of still other things. Or at least as possessing progressively less knowledge of them the more we attempt to understand them using tools of thought that are not suited to them: mathematics, the laboratory, etc. Here again we can recall the maxim he liked, omnia exeunt in mysterium, all things pass into mystery -- even those rocks I mentioned above; since we do not know their ultimate origin nor their final (?) destiny, not, anyway, by the exercise of reason narrowly conceived. I don't think he is against science, just against the idea that science as usually understood is adequate for understanding all that exists.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 07:09PM
Oldjoe Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Having finally completed a careful read of
> Machen's Hieroglyphics, I'm still wrestling with
> the central argument presented by the "hermit".
> Right towards the end of the Appendix, we get the
> sentence that really boils things down:
>
> "I will give you a test that will startle you;
> literature is the expression, through the
> aesthetic medium of words, of the dogmas of the
> Catholic Church, and that which is any way out of
> harmony with these dogmas is not literature."
>
> I fully understand that the argument is leaning on
> the quality of the experience of Catholic dogmas,
> and not on the superficial wrapping that is the
> Catholic Church itself. More to the point, I
> understand that the appeal is to spiritual
> experience, rather than the humdrum banality of
> any organized religion.
>
> Given that I was not raised with any religion, and
> have not sought it during my adulthood, I have
> absolutely no reference to approach what is
> intended by the selection of the example of
> "dogmas" of the Catholic Church, and thus I almost
> feel that the core argument of Hieroglyphics
> reaches beyond my own personal experience, which
> leaves me somewhat adrift.
>
> That said, the advocacy of specific novels like
> The Pickwick Papers, The Life of Gargantua and of
> Pantagruel, etc is made with convincing force, and
> I'm already more than a hundred pages into The
> Pickwick Papers and enjoying every bit of it. So
> while Hieroglyphics remains something of a cypher
> for me, I don't regret the experience of reading
> it at all.

Glad you're relishing Pickwick!

Machen's Hermit is deliberately being provocative. I'll attempt, a little, to unpack what his remark means.

By "Catholic Church" he doesn't mean the Roman Catholic Church, but what's often called the Una Sancta, the Church that's confessed in the Creed that says "I believe in... one holy catholic [or "Christian"] Church."

The "dogmas" he evidently has in mind I suppose include these:

1.There is one Divine being, but even the word "being" (or "spirit") may only be used with cautions. God is not one, not even the greatest, of a series of "beings." God is a "ground of being," we may say, except that sounds non-personal. God is far more "personal" than any created being, being the source of all persons. God is the great mystery, in that God may be contemplated, but God cannot be understood exhaustively. In this sense the finite is not capable of the infinite.
2.However, in another sense the finite is capable of the infinite. This is Machen's "sacramentalism." Anything that exists, since it has its origin in God, points to Him, even in a sense "bears" His presence.* The finite manifests the infinite. So he liked the traditional prayer, "O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O Heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake our Lord. Amen."

This implies the cultivation of a conscious, deliberate discipline vis-à-vis ourselves and things. Machen likes literary works that, he feels, align with this intention, and regards as inferior those that don't. So, therefore, he likes literary works that celebrate a childlike delight in this wide world (Pickwick) and doesn't greatly care for works that might seem to express the idea that a complete understanding of the world in social terms (Middlemarch) is possible and sufficient.

I wonder if the works he likes aren't the ones that, in some way or other, invite us to "childlikeness."

*Machen's use of "sacrament" is not utterly idiosyncratic, but, on the other hand, it should be remembered that "sacrament" as usually used has a more specific meaning. Baptism is a Sacrament, which could be defined as a material thing or operation to which the efficacious promise of God is joined in a rite of the Church; on the other hand, when "there's a feeling I get when I look to the west, and my spirit is crying for leaving," this isn't strictly "sacramental," though for Machen's typical usage it might be. Machen, then, probably would endorse Blake's maxim, "Everything that lives is holy," and even might say, "Everything is holy," in this sense. In another sense, the "holy" is what's set apart for particular sacred purposes. A consecrated wafer is holy in a way that a slice of bread is not, though they may be made of the same ingredients.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 26 Oct 19 | 07:57PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 07:55PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Lovecraft's
> view of things. Because his materialism means
> that, although there is much we don't know in
> detail, in principle we already know it all; it
> might seem "mystical," but not only everything we
> know now, but everything we ever could know, is,
> in principle, only an example of materialism.
> Everything is, for him, fundamentally, on the same
> level, whether it be microbes, ourselves,
> Yog-Sothoth, daisies or dust on the surface of a
> planet on the other side of the Milky Way from us.
> There's really nothing to be done except to fill
> in the details.

I would expand on Lovecraft's view, and replace the term materialism with science instead. Science could continue to expand its frontiers to conceivably one day encompass less materialistic or non-materialistic components, developing into what today is not measurable but experienced as the spiritual dimension, now seen as separated from science. The material and the spiritual may so to speak become one and the same. The created Universe one day finally in itself becomes the Creator (which it already is, without realizing it), and so the full circuit of discovery through time is completed.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2019 08:45PM
Knygatin wrote, "I would expand on Lovecraft's view, and replace the term materialism with science instead."

That's a lot more than a replacement of a term, of course.

HPL was committed to materialism not just as a procedure but as a philosophy, as in fact the "explanation of everything."

Someone who knows more about his thought than I might be able to say whether or not he took any account of the vital importance of consciousness (in the observer) and physics. My sense is that he didn't.

This article from ten years ago, on biocentrism --

[discovermagazine.com]

-- is probably still worth reading.

What needs to be emphasized is that it posits the vital importance of consciousness -- but consciousness remains elusive for science, certainly for materialism. (To offer "just so" stories about it may be worthwhile, but doesn't substitute for real knowledge.)

This posting is not a departure from Machen and Hieroglyphics, by the way -- which we should spend more time on, if possible. But that book is -- though it might never use the word -- about "consciousness." It's not a book to be classified as psychology, but Machen, I think one could argue, keeps coming back to fine literature and great art as those works that are evidence of and experiences of an elevated consciousness -- i.e. elevated above the humdrum kind of task- oriented mental activity that is devoted to the navigating of our "animal" needs and that tends to think of ourselves in "animal" terms.

So I could well imagine Machen being pleased and stimulated by the Lanza and Berman article, where Lovecraft would need to depreciate it. He would sense that it is not friendly to his outlook.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 26 Oct 19 | 08:48PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2019 07:49PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Knygatin, your speculation about the mountain peak
> painting seems far-fetched to me, but then I think
> it's possible that for any or almost any theory of
> things, there will be some things that it seems to
> explain very well and others that it has to strain
> to explain.
>
> Thus, there was a time when the adherents of the
> Ptolemaic conception of the universe resorted to
> what seem to us now far-fetched explanations of
> "epicycles." But there were other phenomena for
> which the Ptolemaic theory worked very well. But
> effort had to be put forward to "save the
> appearances," until the Copernican understanding
> carried the day.
>
> Today, the theory of the multiverse seems
> far-fetched to some, a desperate effort to "save
> the appearances" in order to preserve
> materialism/naturalism*; all right, its advocates
> say, we grant that our universe does seem
> astonishingly fine-tuned for life; but then it is
> only one of a vast number, or, heck, even infinite
> number, of universes, that are not necessarily
> fine-tuned for life; we just happen to live in the
> very rare exception. Somewhat similarly, my
> "young earth creationist" brethren resort to
> far-fetched supposals to explain the "appearance"
> of great age for the universe. (It should be said
> that "young earth creationism" is a highly visible
> but minority view; I suppose most Christians
> who've gone into the matter think the universe
> looks old because it is old.)

Here's a more recent article on the multiverse idea/strong theory.

[www.wsj.com]

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Oldjoe (IP Logged)
Date: 15 December, 2019 09:22AM
Not sure if anyone else here is following the Weird Studies podcast, but the latest episode has an interesting discussion of Jonathan Demme's film The Silence of the Lambs with reference to Machen's Hieroglyphics.

The discussion doesn't get to Hieroglyphics until close to the end, but the podcast hosts essentially build up to it throughout the episode, and they conclude with Machen's ideas providing a perfect aesthetic framework with which to interpret the film.

Well worth a listen!

[www.weirdstudies.com]

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 22 February, 2020 11:26AM
Is anyone up for a discussion of some other nonfiction by Machen? How about Far-Off Things, his first volume of autobiography? It is available online.

[www.gutenberg.org]

If anyone wants to go ahead with that, let's start a new thread.

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 21 March, 2020 02:08PM
Knygatin spoke up for elephants some months ago. He and other ED folk might be interested in thisarticle:

[archive.wilsonquarterly.com]

Re: Machen's Hieroglyphics
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 21 March, 2020 07:52PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Knygatin spoke up for elephants some months ago.
> He and other ED folk might be interested in
> thisarticle:
>
> [archive.wilsonquarterly.com]
> hant-within

THANK YOU, Dale! That is an extraordinary document! If God is good, and I am sure He is, because He always points us towards the Truth, then He will bless you.



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