“The Wild Boys Smile”:
James J. O'Meara
Reflections on Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John, Part 3
Part 3 of 3
While smiling a lot, the colonists in Odd John don’t talk much at all, which just adds to their creepiness.
One of the most disconcerting features of life on the island was that much of the conversation of the colonists was carried on telepathically. So far as I could judge, vocal speech was in process of atrophy. The younger members still used it as the normal means of communication, and even among the elders it was often indulged in for its own sake, much as we may prefer to walk rather than take a bus. . . . . Speech was but an obbligato to the real theme. Serious discussion was always carried on telepathically and in silence. Sometimes, however, emotional stress would give rise to speech as a spontaneous but unconsidered accompaniment of telepathic discourse. In these circumstances vocal activity tended to be blurred and fragmentary like the speech of a sleeper. Such mutterings were rather frightening to one who could not enter into the telepathic conversation. At first, by the way, I had been irrationally disturbed whenever a group of the islanders, working in silence in the garden or elsewhere, suddenly began to laugh for no apparent reason though actually in response to some telepathic jest. In time I came to accept these oddities without the “nervy” creepiness which they used to arouse in me.
As for the Wild Boys, “What unifies their agenda is the refusal of talk, of representation in the form of religious belief (‘priest talk’) and social or political ideology (‘mother talk, father talk, . . . country talk or party talk’)” (Murphy, p. 164).
“Fido” the narrator was right to be concerned:
The Wild Boys themselves do not speak much, and when they do, they speak in performatives, like the lies they tell to lead the American forces sent against them into a trap in the desert. . . . They use the representational structure of the socius against itself by sending out false calls for help to police units and by impersonating the police themselves to undermine their authority.
Just as the colonists psychically brainwash intruders into madness or suicide, or simply to make false reports the absurdity of which lead to their public disgrace.
The Wild Boys do not demonstrate or denounce; they simply seduce and destroy, leaving others to explain their work.
John: “You will laugh when I tell you I want you to come and use your journalistic prowess upon us. In fact I want you to write that threatened biography after all, not for our sakes but for your own species.”
This is consistent with the imperative to forget rather than to consolidate power. Even their methods are parodies of representation, based as they are on Burroughs’s viral theories of language: they kill by spreading “trained killer viruses” (WB 133), literally contagious forms of laughter, sneezing, hiccuping, and coughing that render their victims helpless and defenseless before the Wild Boys’ killer legions. (Murphy, pp. 165-67)
Remember this odd freak-out from John’s biographer? “I had passed the screaming point and could not scream. I believe my terror was largely a wild dread that John was about to laugh, and that his laugh would annihilate me.”
Since, as we’ve suggested, the two utopias, one of genetic sports and the other of runaway boys, can be linked by their mutual “queerness,” it’s no surprise that both manifest an intense interest in eugenics. John’s colony is a kind of cross-breed of Huxley’s dystopia Brave New World (from near-contemporary 1932) and his later Buddhist utopia, Island (1962), as if the one’s Savage had run away to an island, taking Our Ford’s technology with him and combining it with his native religion:
I was shown a series of thirty-eight living human embryos, each in its own incubator. These startled me considerably, but the story of their conception and capture startled me even more. Indeed, it filled me with horror, and with violent though short-lived moral indignation. The eldest of these embryos was three months old. Its father, I was told, was Shahîn, its mother a native of the Tuamotu Archipelago. The unfortunate girl had been seduced, brought to the island, operated upon, and killed while still under the anaesthetic. The more recent specimens, however, had been secured by milder methods, for Lo had invented a technique by which the fertilized ovum could be secured without violence to the mother. In all the more recent cases the mothers had yielded up their treasure unwittingly, and without leaving their native islands. They were merely persuaded to agree to comply with certain instructions given by the supernormal father. The technique apparently combined physical and psychical methods, and was imposed upon the girls as a sublime religious ritual.
We note the casual use of human material, which will come up again. Burroughs’ approach, oddly enough, is far more genteel; apart from their smiling recruitment posters and other means of seducing the young, the Wild Boys make use of black market surrogates–presumably no more involuntary than any other transaction in the “corrupt border towns” (WB 153-54)–cloning themselves, and ultimately, purely mental power:
A boy with Mongoloid features steps onto the rug playing a flute to the four directions. As he plays phantom figures swirl around him taking shape out of moonlight, campfires and shadows. He kneels in the center of the rug playing his flute faster and faster. The shape of a boy on hands and knees is forming in front of him. He puts down his flute. His hands mold and knead the body in front of him pulling it against him with stroking movements that penetrate the pearly grey shape caressing it inside. The body shudders and quivers against him as he forms the buttocks around his penis stroking silver genitals out of the moonlight grey then pink and finally red the mouth parted in a gasp shuddering genitals out of the moon’s haze a pale blond boy spurting thighs and buttocks and young skin. The flute player kneels there arms wrapped tightly around the Zimbu’s chest breathing deeply until the Zimbu breathes with his own breathing quivering to the blue tattoo. The attendants step forward and carry the pale blond Zimbu to the blue tent. (WB, p. 160)
Although John’s colonists do not abandon their technological experiments to concentrate entirely on such group contemplative efforts until the outside world begins to encroach, this scene already resembles the musical/dance gathering previously described: “But you have missed the point, you old stupid. You’ve made it into a love story. Of course, what you say is all right–but it’s all wrong too, you poor dear.”
We have again the “queer pipes”–flutes this time–and while Burroughs does not discuss music specifically, the North African setting and his own involvement with the Master Musicians of Joujouka, whose “Pipes of Pan” were described by his friend Brion Gysin as “a four thousand year old rock and roll band,” suggests that like Traditional Indian and Chinese music discussed in my essay on Partch, both John and Burroughs’ utopias call upon the literally creative power of authentic, Traditional music.
Of course, this only works in the hands of a Realized individual, or in John’s case, a homo superior. Thus we find in John’s gatherings the same stone language we’ve seen before in such context, but now having an even more appropriate relation to the ithyphallic symbolism Evola discusses:
The library and meeting-room was a stone erection which had evidently been built to last, and to delight the eye.
There was silence. Having had some experience of Quaker meetings, I was not at first ill at ease. But presently a rather terrifying absolute stillness came upon the company. Not only gross fidgetings, but even those almost imperceptible movements which characterize all normal living, ceased, and became noticeable through their absence. I might have been in a roomful of stone images. On every face was an expression of intent but calm concentration which was not solemn, was even perhaps faintly amused.
But what after all is the point of John’s utopia, how do they live from day to day? It’s hard to pin down, which is likely the best strategy for fiction. Again, it seems like a combination of Brave New World and Island, but with the cosmic consciousness (though drug-free) and Polynesian free sex of the latter combined with a positive–i.e., utopian–view of eugenics.
More generally, Stapledon seems to imagine some kind of post-Communism:
“Yes,” said John, laughing, “Comrades, you have the wrong approach. Like you, we are Communists, but we are other things also. For you, Communism is the goal, but for us it is the beginning. For you the group is sacred, but for us it is only the pattern made up of individuals. Though we are Communists, we have reached beyond Communism to a new individualism. Our Communism is individualistic. In many ways we admire the achievements of the New Russia; but if we were to accept this offer we should very soon come into conflict with your Government.”
As we noted before, Stapledon is you typical ’30s British academic com-symp, but, as also noted before, he shows odd little touches of pro-German and pro-National Socialism that I don’t know how to explain biographically, but only, as in The Flames, due to his remarkable freedom of imagination–perhaps the “objectivity” his super-humans practice, which is the “inhumanism” Lewis condemned.
Here, for instance, he might be trying some kind of Trotskyite anti-Stalinism (which became neo-conservatism) or proto-New Leftism (which became post-’60s liberalism), but “our Communism is individualistic” also sounds like the kind of fascism Maurice Bardèche defined, in which threats to society were ruthlessly dealt with, while leaving a wide margin of freedom in the purely personal arena.
It’s those threats, as well as the way they are dealt with, that makes John’s island seem rather National Socialist. For one thing, the threats come from Britain and the Soviet Union; now, this is certainly an accurate depiction of the Great Powers of the Pacific in the ’30s, but it also recalls the NS view of Germany’s encirclement.
There’s also the remarkably casual “racism” even for the ’30s. John may mock South Africans but then there’s that Africa baby they claim for themselves, “who somehow acquired the name Sambo,” Ng-Gunko is described by the narrator as “nigger-brown” (and earns a warning from an Amazon reviewer to those of delicate PC sensibilities), and a Japanese diplomat casually referred to as a “Jap” like one of Dr. Seuss’s war propaganda cartoons.
While the Super Humans are of various races, even African, they are mostly blue-eyed and fair-haired (even Ng-Gunko has one blue eye and red hair, like a Nation of Islam nightmare), mostly Asians, and the original mutation is traced to Central Asia.
Above all, Jews are conspicuous by their absence from this utopia of “super intellects.” Stapledon, by intention or not, has done the same thing he did in The Flames. There, the grand symbol of our time, Judaics burning in furnaces, is traduced, like Joseph K: an alien race lives unscathed in our stoves, plotting takeover by mind control. Here, the intellectual elite take over someone else’s country, massacre the natives, and plan their benevolent world rule; and it’s the goyim!
OK, I’ve mentioned “dealing with threats” and just now the ethnic cleansing of their island, so let’s finally deal with perhaps the most telling similarity to NS Germany: the eugenics goes along with a most casual attitude to killing, mass and otherwise. John murders a policeman while committing a burglary at age 10, and by the time he and his crew, essentially pirates now, have set sail they will be machine-gunning the survivors of a shipwreck (lest they reveal their mission) and exterminating the aborigines of their uncharted island.
I did not hear about these original inhabitants till much later, when I visited the island. “They were simple and attractive creatures,” said John, “but, of course, we could not allow them to interfere with our plans. It might have been possible to obliterate from their minds every recollection of the island and of ourselves, and then to transport them. But though I had learned much from Langatse, our technique of oblivifaction was still unreliable. Moreover, where could we have deposited the natives without rousing protests, and curiosity? We might have kept them alive on the island, as domestic animals, but this would have wrecked our plans. It would also have undermined the natives spiritually. So we decided to destroy them. One bit of hypnotic technique (or magic, if you like) I felt sure I could now perform successfully on normal minds in which there were strong religious convictions. This we decided to use. The natives had welcomed us to their island and arranged a feast for us. After the feast there were ritual dances and religious rites. When the excitement was at a climax I made Lo dance for them. And when she had done, I said to them, in their own language, that we were gods, that we needed their island, that they must therefore make a great funeral pyre for themselves, mount it together, lie down together, and gladly die. This they did, most gladly, men, women and children. When they had all died we set fire to the faggots and their bodies were burnt.
The machine-gunning in particular recalls typical British anti-Hun propaganda. Once more one wonders how a British Communist academic could write this without having some kind of ulterior agenda.
John’s biographer and lifelong friend struggles to make the reader understand and perhaps . . . approve:
I must make it clear that in reporting John’s behaviour at this time I do not seek to defend it. Much of it seems to me outrageous. Had it been perpetrated by anyone other than John, I should have unhesitatingly condemned it as the expression of a self-centred and shockingly perverted mind. But in spite of the most reprehensible incidents in his career, I am convinced that John was far superior to the rest of us in moral sensibility, as in intelligence. Therefore, even in respect of the seemingly disgraceful conduct which I have now to describe, I feel that the right course is not to condemn but to suspend judgement and try to understand. I tell myself that, if John was indeed a superior being, much of his conduct would certainly outrage us, simply because we, with our grosser sensibility, would never be able to apprehend its true nature. In fact, had his behaviour been simply an idealization of normal human behaviour, I should have been less disposed to regard him as of an essentially different and superior type. On the other hand it should be remembered that, though superior in capacity, he was also juvenile, and may well have suffered in his own way from the inexperience and crudity of the juvenile mind. Finally, his circumstances were such as to warp him, for he found himself alone in a world of beings whom he regarded as only half human.
And another time:
I cannot defend this act. But I may point out that, had the invaders been members of the normal species, they would probably have baptised the natives, given them prayer books and European clothes, rum and all the diseases of the White Man. They would also have enslaved them economically, and in time they would have crushed their spirits by confronting them at every turn with the White Man’s trivial superiority. Finally, when all had died of drink or bitterness, they would have mourned for them.
And yet again:
Perhaps the only defence of the psychological murders which the supernormals committed when they took possession of the island would run as follows. Having made up their minds that at all costs the island must be theirs, and unencumbered, they did not shirk the consequences of their decision. With open eyes they went about their task, and fulfilled it in the cleanest possible way. Whether the end which they so ruthlessly pursued did in fact justify the means, I simply do not feel competent to decide. All my sympathies lie with the view that murder can never be justified, however lofty the end at stake. Certainly, had the killing been perpetrated by members of my own kind, such a deed would have deserved the sternest condemnation. But who am I that I should judge beings who in daily contact with me constantly proved themselves my superiors not only in intelligence but in moral insight?
One can’t help but be reminded of Savitri Devi’s defenses of National Socialism at various times: Thou hypocrite! And: Get thee behind me, Satan! You kill innocent animals for food, for shoes and belts, even for sport, and perform horrifying, usually unnecessary experiments on them; above all, you fight the largest and bloodiest and most “inhumane” wars of all time; and yet, you would deny to us the opportunity to rid our society of the genetically inferior “humans” that perhaps not deliberately but inevitably coarsen our society and contaminate our race, as well as those aliens among us that directly seek to harm us. Who among us, forced to live in cities overrun with the former, and conscious of the alien elite above us, has not had similar thoughts respectively?
The same must be our answer to those who promote ideas of “color-blind” America and bemoan “past racial violence [white on black].” In reality, such “violence,” wildly exaggerated anyway, was simply the means of ensuring a country built by White people would stay White, and not become what it is now: Black Run America (BRA),
. . . dominated politically by “color-aware” black people, while “color-blind” white people moan and cry over their displacement (“collectivism is racism,” they’ll shout, on their way to Galt’s Gulch); demand ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ all you want, but the black District Attorney is shopping for his next hoodie.
“Color-blinded” into oblivion, doomed to walk a country their ancestors created without a territory to call home; a fitting epitaph for white Americans.
After all, if we are “White-guilty” for acts we haven’t done, then nothing should stop us from acts involving any additional “real” guilt.
Above all, and in the end, the island resembles NS Germany, because, like most utopias, it must be destroyed at the end. Of course, like tragic lovers, this obviates any anti-climactic petering out in reality; ending on a high note, as it were; better to burn out than fade away. The Savage in Brave New World commits suicide; the Island of Pala is invaded by oil interests backed by a local tyrant; Kurtz’s command is terminated to the tune of the Doors’ “The End.”
But the destruction of John’s island goes even further, utterly annihilated and sunk by some kind of deliberate super-reactor explosion, an act of fiery mass suicide (again, an inversion of accepted history, where the “good” Allies used atomic weapons homicidally against the “bad” guys) that inevitably calls to mind the Götterdämmerung chosen by Hitler. “From our point of view it is better for our colony to be destroyed than to be enslaved by any alien Power.”
And reverting to Burroughs’ utopia again, here is how Timothy Murphy describes the denouement there:
The novel concludes with a chapter entitled “The Wild Boys Smile,” which is also the last line of the text. In it, an unidentified narrator (perhaps Audrey, who is pronounced dead in the penultimate Penny Arcade Peep Show, or Rogers from “The Chief Smiles”) joins the Wild Boys in their struggle for the streets. . . . At the conclusion of the chapter, the narrator and his companion, confronted by policemen and photographers at the “time barrier” (WB, p. 181) that separates the Wild Boys’ “dead” world from our “live” historical world, escape by throwing a film grenade at them; this grenade, like the novel itself, is meant to blow a hole in the ideological “reality film” that controls social reproduction (as well as the producers) under the existent socius. After it goes off, we are left with the final fading images in the Penny Arcade Peep Show—naked boys fucking, laughing, and gaming—as the Peep Show (and the novel itself) burns out:
The silver screen is exploding in moon craters and boiling silver spots.
“Wild boys very close now.”
Darkness falls on the ruined suburbs. A dog barks in the distance.
Dim jerky stars are blowing away across a gleaming empty sky, the wild boys smile. (WB, p. 184)
Since they must forget power if they are to avoid duplicating it, the Wild Boys cannot smile in triumph over their enemies. Instead they smile in invitation to the reader; such an invitation is precisely what the book of the dead must offer if it is to be a viable subject-group fantasy.
Again, one thinks of Savitri Devi: the National Socialists may not have been able to triumph, in the conditions of the Kali Yuga, but their example remains to inspire our own efforts.
The National Socialist angle may bring to mind another book, Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus. Mann’s work is also a fictional biography, written by a childhood friend whose love for his subject almost makes up for a considerable intellectual disparity–Serenus Zeitblom might have better reason to be called “Fido” than John’s narrator. While John stages his Götterdämmerung in 1935, Adrian Leverkuhn dies in 1941, but only after a Nietzschean decade of mental collapse. The latter is the result of a “devil’s bargain”–hence the title–in his youth, in which he deliberately acquires syphilis from a prostitute so as to supercharge his musical creativity.
John and his kind need no such aid, being in a sense born infected, but the result is the same–prolonged adolescence, uncanny creativity, and a moral sense that several characters, and even the narrator, call “satanic” and “devilish.” There is the same eerie music-making.
Above all, Leverkuhn’s career is intended by Mann as a typically heavy-handed allegory for Germany’s fall (or rise, as some of us might prefer) into Nazism. As we’ve seen before (e.g., Green Lantern) to the Christian–even a lukewarm “lover of the humanities” as Zeitblom or Mann himself–the Superman can only be seen as Satanic. As Mann says, theology inevitably becomes demonology.
And yet, Mann, like Stapledon, has to resort to the favorite meme of the Satanic Nietzsche or Hitler, namely genetics, race, the Superman. Is it possible, that one must inevitably avail oneself of such language, if on wishes to speak at all?
Lester Bangs once wrote that Lou Reed was constantly lying because he took so much speed that he’d run out of things to say if he stuck to the truth. Perhaps that’s the function of political correctness–a concept invented by Stapledon’s beloved Soviets–to keep thought from its . . . um . . . natural, genetically sound paths.
1. See the remarkable material quoted in Alain Daniélou’s Music and the Power of Sound: The Influence of Tuning and Interval on Consciousness (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995).
2. “They are poisoning and monopolizing the hallucinogen drugs–learn to make it without any chemical corn”–William S. Burroughs, Nova Express (1964).
3. “[T]he Wild Boys themselves, bands of young homosexuals who reproduce by a kind of fantasmatic parthenogenesis . . .” (Murphy, p. 146). Perhaps Burroughs himself is a genetic experiment? “Kim Carsons, as an amalgam of trace elements gathered here and there, also represents the successful result of breeding, like a eugenic model. In Burroughs’s early work . . . the protagonist was someone much like Burroughs himself: a hard case, cynical and grimly humorous, with the junkie’s agelessness and the con man’s radar. In The Wild Boys (1971), this figure gradually receded in the face of the tidal wave: teen-aged homosexual guerrillas, precivilized, preliterate, parthenogenetic, like an all-male version of the Primal Horde. Afterward, the aging con man became available only for walk-on parts. The wild boy had triumphed, and he rides through Ah Pook is Here, Port of Saints, Cobble Stone Gardens, Cities of the Red Night, and the present novel.” Luc Sante, “The Invisible Man,” NYRB May 10, 1984.
4. Like the narrator of The Flames, Jacqueline performs her own kind of “relief work” in Germany: “During the war of 1914-18 she was drawn into overstraining herself once more. So many tragic cases came her way. And after the war, being wholly without national prejudices, she moved to Germany, where the need was greater. “
5. See “The Fascist Dream,” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Greg Johnson’s “Remembering Maurice Bardèche: October 1, 1907–July 30, 1998” here.
6. The colony is more like D’Annunzio at Fiume in 1920 than Brook Farm; see Hakim Bey’s “March on Fiume” here, and more generally, his Pirate Utopias (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2003).
7. “Black Knockout Game Attacks (Flash Mob Violence) are Politics by Other Means,” Stuff Black People Don’t Like, Monday, November 25, 2013, here.
8. Murphy, pp. 166-67. As we have said before, Guénon frequently point out that symbolism must be applied in an inverted fashion: the “defeat” of the ideal is its real triumph.
9. See, for example, Gold in the Furnace: Experiences in Post-War Germany, ed. R. G. Fowler, Kindle Edition (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2013).
10. The idea of his 12-tone system being appropriated, to say nothing of being attributed to a syphilitic madman, did not sit well with Mann’s fellow LA exile Arnold Schoenberg. Things must have been pretty tense around the poolside, until Mann agreed to add a prefatory note acknowledging Schoenberg as the owner of the system. Partch, of course, despised Schoenberg and the other “avant-garde” academics; he would have counseled Adrian that he was on the wrong track altogether, and would not have been surprised at his fictional crack-up. The Mann-Schoenberg kerfuffle seems as silly as the time Columbia Pictures sued the maker of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies because the original title, The Incredibly Strange Creature: Or Why I stopped Living and Became a Mixed-up Zombie, was “too similar” to Kubrick’s upcoming Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The filmmaker was: Ray Dennis Steckler!
11. See “Green Nazis in Space” and the literature cited there.