The following text is the transcript by V.S. of Jonathan Bowden’s lecture “Robinson Jeffers: Misanthrope Extraordinaire” at the 9th New Right Meeting in London on January 13, 2007. You can listen below. If you can make out the passages marked unintelligible, please post comments below.
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I’ve always wanted to talk about Robinson Jeffers for various reasons, partly because he is American, partly because there was an enormous cult in literature of him in the 1930s and ’40s, as big in our literature—in the literature of English-speaking peoples—as that of D. H. Lawrence. And yet Jeffers has dropped through a memory hole just like that. Stanford University in the 1980s produced a four volume version of his poetry from the 1920s on, and that’s sort of archival, and it’s basically of purely academic interest. He’s important for several elements in restorationist English-speaking poetry in the 20th century.
Jeffers represents in one crucial way an alternative America and an alternative discourse within America that has got completely lost. We heard earlier from other speakers references to McDonald’s, references to Coca-Cola, references to American cultural imperialism, as the French New Right would call it, and all of these are true. But it’s important to realize that there is another strand in American life, in their literature, in their art, in their films from early in the 20th century.
The founder of Hollywood cinema in some ways, cinematographically, is a man called D. W. Griffith, who did a film called Birth of a Nation in two parts. And there was a prize at the Golden Globe and these other awards well into the 1990s called the D. W. Griffith Award. And then somebody remembered some of the films that he had been responsible for. Not Intolerance, not the founding of United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and various other people, but a film called Birth of a Nation. And quietly and slightly guiltily Hollywood and its bureaucracy gave up on a man who actually, in some ways–as a Southerner and as a proud white American–founded that industry, culturally and artistically.
He is just one example of another strand in American discourse, which theoretically involves people like Harry Elmer Barnes writing about the First World War and American involvement in it, involves Francis Parker Yockey after the Second World War, involves a professor of classics and Indo-Aryan languages called Professor Revilo P. Oliver that straddles these two particular individuals, that goes to one side and links to the theory of writing of Lothrop Stoddard, who wrote quite a large number of books in the first three to four decades of the 20th century, such as The Rising Tide of Color or Racial Realities in Europe or The French Revolution in San Domingo. The prominent black Marxist intellectual C. L. R. James wrote a book, which is part of Black History Month and is on the official book list for all schools in Hackney, where there is a library named after him, called The Black Jacobin, so he’s actually responding to Lothrop Stoddard who got in first, and so on.
There is also within American art and letters a strand of extreme white racialism and self-affirming ethnicity and a strand of Eurocentrism as it would be called today. This is perhaps best explicated by Jack London. Even in writers who are Communist leaning, like Theodore Dreiser, an irreducibly European and partly WASP and white and Anglo-oriented–irrespective of the European ethnicity of these particular Americans–comes over in their work.
You get a whiff of it when you listen to somebody like Patrick J. Buchanan, for example, in the contemporary American media. A man who doesn’t stumble over his words, a man who doesn’t need an autocue, a man who doesn’t need everything written for him, a man who wrote Reagan’s speeches in the first term and so on, a man who goes around in the studios with a dickey bow-tie, a man who quotes ancient Greek and Latin literature when he’s talking to trash American channels. You just get a whiff of another America, of a European inheritance in that society which is gone, basically, from most mainstream discourse, just as this poet and his work have gone down the memory hole.
Now, he’s part of a tradition, part of a Gothic tradition in some ways, in terms of his temperament, which is very quintessentially English in certain respects, even though he was of Ulster Scots ancestry himself. When one thinks of the dark, macabre stories of Poe, their replication in the 20th century by a sort of Aryan mystic and ultra-conservative like H. P. Lovecraft, whose work was misunderstood for many years, you begin to realize that there is a whole hinterland out there of another America.
In the southern states of the United States, which Jeffers had no particular connection with, there is a different doctrine to the one that prevails in the larger society. If you talk to a Southerner about the American Civil War, those who are self-identifying don’t call it the Civil War. They call it, slightly more needfully and controversially, the War Between the States or, even more radically, they talk about the War of Northern Aggression. Because there are different versions of America. Just for a moment consider what would have happened to the history of the world in the 20th century if the South had won that war. If the South had won that war everything in human history in the 20th century would be distinct and would be different.
In the 1920s, an immigration act was passed thanks to the machinations of an enormous organization called the Ku Klux Klan, that had 4 million members who marched on Washington, District of Columbia, in the 1920s to basically get an aliens act imposed. When the Kennedys and Johnson after them came in the 1960s–forget the stories of drug taking and bonking with Marilyn Monroe and all this sort of dark side of Camelot nonsense–the destructivity of the Kennedys was the undoing of this deep European tradition in the United States.
Since the winding down and the closing off of the immigration act which dates from the 1920s, 17 million persons of color have entered the United States, since the late 1960s, and have totally transformed the nature of that society. Not entirely in its clerisy, but in its demography. You walk around American cities now, and they have changed out of all recognition just as many Western European cities have during the same period. Indeed, there is a replication the one of and against the other.
But there’s always been a contrary discourse, culturally, within the United States. Usually it’s mentioned in inverted commas today and is sneered at and is regarded as somehow unwholesome or even slightly morally unclean. But the word is rather neutral and is called “isolationism.” This was the idea that America did not want to be an empire, but wished to be a republic–to adapt one of Buchanan’s slogans, “republic not empire”–and this tradition of White European people, with the small aboriginal groups that existed on the North American plains before them, forming a society to one side of the rest of Europe and not, maybe with the exception of Central and Latin America and the Caribbean basin, wishing to intrude into the rest of the world, which many of them had gone from.
Imagine for a moment a United States that kept out of the First World War. It went isolationist after the First World War, of course, and then veered again towards militant policies of what has become, transparently, a form of world imperialism since then. The whole of the post-war era delineates that fact in every country on Earth, because almost every society on Earth, almost every race on Earth is reacting to elements of global Americana. Through resistance you react. Through absorption and acceptance you react. Through a half-way house position you react. Even the European New Right is in some ways a reaction to what the Croatian thinker of partial American extraction–in the sense that he lived there and became a university professor there–Tomislav Sunić calls Homo Americanus, American Man, the alleged American Century and the alleged American Man.
Often you do find, particularly amongst Europeanists and people who are very hostile to modern America, a sort of gut reaction which forgets the dignity of white Americans, forgets that many white Americans are not responsible for what their government does in many parts of the world, that an ordinary white American living in Missouri or something has as much control over Bush and his clique as we have over Blair and Brown and theirs. But there are Americans who’ve always delineated a separate and a dignified and actually what is an American nationalist course for them in the situation that they have found themselves in.
I want to look at this man, Robinson Jeffers. Now, he’s an extraordinarily gifted man who went to university when he was 15, because he was so intellectually superior they just let him in, basically. He could speak Hebrew; he could speak Latin; he could read ancient Greek. Like Enoch Powell, he was a great linguist. He was educated by his father. He came of pioneer stock. And like a large number of the original founders of the country and the framers of the American constitution, he was Ulster Scottish in ultimate derivation. That’s an important identity within some of the deeply white sub-groups that founded this republic as it became.
Jeffers in the title of this talk is called a misanthrope extraordinaire, and his reputation in the 1920s and the 1930s was as a hater of humanity, or a man who goes into a cave like Zarathustra and casts anathemas on the world. But what he was rejecting was what America has become: crassly and vulgarly materialist, grotesquely swinish in its attitudes towards all questions of moral worth and dignity and hierarchy. He represented, if you like, a pure spirit that wished to live on the frontier, that wished to be isolated in relation to nature. He wanted a smaller America, a more ecologically sufficient America, a more natural America, and a more pagan America.
He was brought up in the tradition of Calvinist radicalism and extreme individualism, which of course is part of the metaphysic of American life. It’s the belief that you don’t call in the state but you deal with things on your own in the woods with a gun. Because all these people in their own ideology and as fact are born gun in hand. And they have a different attitude towards the nature of what it is to be human and post-European in an enormous environment, an environment of space and the dimensions of air and, in California, of light of a sort that shocks Europeans when they first see it, because it is a New World, quite genuinely.
The white artistic response from the late 18th century on to this new experience, this post-European experience, is actually an extension of our experience. But we’ve lost it today because the America that we think of is that which click! MTV appears on the screen. While the logic that has led to that, this man and people like him were the inversion of that.
Now, it’s interesting that this man rejected Christianity. “I rejected the Christ,” Jeffers said, “when I was 15!” Which is quite early. And he rejected it in a fundamentalist American society, far more so than even now, because even the fundamentalism that exists now is this synthetic, psycho-babble fundamentalism where people are “born again” every thirty seconds. He came from a deeply Presbyterian Ulster Scottish tradition that believed in that sort of rhetoric, but actually also created Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and many other thinkers with whom Jeffers has a correlation.
In an earlier talk, I talked about Nietzsche, and there’s an element to which this extreme Protestantism–which is part of our tradition in these islands, let’s face it, which is still manifest in places like Ulster–does have important lessons which can be used for our future. Technically, in philosophical terms and theological terms, I suppose Jeffers would be described as an antinomian. This is somebody who takes a particular Calvinist heresy of strength and of glory and of pride and of power and of masculinity and of the ruthlessness of nature and wrenches it out of Christianity. In extreme Protestantism, there are certain discourses, which if you push them a bit further, cease to be Christian at all. They go outside.
There’s an extraordinary novel, which is one of the great novels of our tradition and one of the great novels of Scottish literature, by a man named James Hogg, called The Confessions of a Justified Sinner and which was partly rescued, in other words, brought back to textual attention, in the 20th century by André Gide, who was influenced himself strongly by Nietzsche. Now, this novel is about this particular Calvinist sect in Scotland. Don’t forget, the Church of Scotland is not Anglican, is not a mild Evangelical, middling, and Catholic hybrid, but is a really Protestant dispensation, collapsing and dying now as most of these Christian dispensations are throughout the British Isles. But they were powerful once, and they led to powerful traditions and forms of European identity once.
The interesting thing is that Jeffers takes these ideas of election. In extreme Calvinism, whatever you do in this life doesn’t determine what will allegedly happen to you in the afterlife because destiny, God has decided. The elect may know or may not know themselves, but the elect are set above. And if you have an idea of an elect which is sovereign and irrefragable, they step outside the remit of Christian morality, which is why this became a rather dangerous heresy rather quickly. Because you’re actually talking about people who are so superior in their post-Christianity they can actually dispense with quite a lot of its ethical system.
But Jeffers went a little bit beyond this and embraced a type of radical and non-humanist paganism which has rarely been seen in the 20th century. The critic, Colin Falk, who does the introduction to this short version of Jeffers’ shorter verse published by Carcarnet, which is a Manchester-based firm that gets Arts Council money. As always with these things, the arts state spreads its largesse in all sorts of ways and yet they often don’t realize the sort of people that they’re explicating because the truth of the matter is that the spirit of this man and his revulsion against modern Western societies is almost, almost morally terroristic.
Jeffers is a fanatic and an outsider and a deep pagan and an extreme anti-materialist. He believed that human nature has never really changed, that we’re essentially primordial. All of his work is a revolt against dualism. In liberalism and in Christianity–if you consider liberalism in part, for many people, to be a secularization of elements of Christian ethics–you have the idea that there’s a force of evil and a force of good, and the two war with each other. It’s a Persian concept in some ways. It’s a Zoroastrian concept.
Jeffers cuts completely through that. Like many of the things I’ve just mentioned in relation to him. To him, life is a totality, and when an eagle comes down and tears its prey to pieces in the stump of a tree there’s no talk of good or evil, but of life and of glory. Imagine he’s seen these things in a Californian sun, this pellucid light, this land that was virginal, certainly in 1900, 1910, 1920. Almost unsettled some of these areas where he chose to live deep on the Californian coast. These were sort of primal, aboriginal lands conquered, at least mentally as well as physically, by white people.
Now large parts of Hispanic America have come up to take California. Californian Whites are now a minority in their own state. Don’t forget California is the 12th most powerful economy on Earth, considered as a state. They just elected a body-building actor to be their governor, of course. But it’s all a bit too late. He may hang a few gangsters from Los Angeles, may put the syringe in their arm and that sort of thing. He may terminate a few of them. But I’m afraid that’s all over.
But a man like Jeffers warned against what America has become. Half of Texas is non-White. All of these societies are changing. But when he wrote, these lands were virginal and were open and were a sort of Alsatia for European experience in the New World and in a new era.
But the interesting thing is, like all artists that seek out the primal, Jeffers wanted to base identity and art on things that were deeper than reason and which were instinctual and which were ultimately biological. So, in a sense, he’s a primal artist, and primal artists are dangerous now and are rather tidied away, because they inevitably bring up ideas that our civilization isn’t about to the right to shop, that such things as the heroic and the glorious exist and are just waiting in certain circumstances to be brought back. These are dangerous ideas.
Jeffers doesn’t believe in human equality. He doesn’t believe in democracy. He doesn’t believe that men and women are the same and should be treated the same. He doesn’t believe in peace. He doesn’t believe in anti-slavery. He doesn’t believe in intervening in the rest of the world. In other words, he’s a bit of a monster! He’s a bit of a rogue, you know! He’s a bit of a Jesse James.
And there’s an irony about many of these outlaw figures. Because many of these figures about whom country and western artistes strum and so on, many of them are actually white paramilitaries because many of these people were irregular, post-Confederate people who fought against the Republican carpet-bagging restorationist regime, Reconstruction it was called. In the southern states of the United States of America. They were actually guerrillas essentially, and they entered into folk music with a Confederate flag, which of course is the Scottish flag, behind them representing their particular dispensation in the United States.
Now, Jeffers wasn’t a southerner. He has no absolute connection with Allen Tate and those who mourned the Confederate dead. He has no particular connection with the movement in arts and letters known as the Southern Agrarians that begins in the 20th century to put forth a revisionist thesis about the United States. Because there is a revisionism, not outside in the rest of the world, but inside America.
You have to understand given the size of this enormous federation, many Americans think of themselves as the world. I know an American who went back to America recently and a chap said to him in a gas station, “Hey buddy, isn’t it good to be back in the world?” He obviously meant America! It’s all here! Never mind the others! But when you realize that England can fit into Texas twelve times and Britain eight times, when you realize the dimensions of this society, foreign news is Oregon. Foreign news is what’s happening in New York.
I know a chap who went to a rodeo in the United States recently, and the chap said, “Is there anyone from New York here? Anyone from New York here?” And one bloke with the ubiquitous baseball cap shyly put his hand up and he said, “Buddy, welcome to America!” And that is their sort of attitude, their sort of redneck attitude. Jeffers represents, in some ways, the way Enoch Powell in a way did and a way the British masses understood that he did, the extreme intellectualization of primal emotions that almost everybody feels.
All sorts of youths and soccer fans and so on in the late 1960s on terraces used to chant “Enoch! Enoch!” This is a man who, superficially, they had little connection with, a man who used to write ancient Greek poetry for his own amusement when he was 12. But there is a degree to which this man, who like Nietzsche was given a professorship when he was 24, at the University of Sydney, this man the masses understood that he incarnated what they feel, and what most intellectuals in the 20th century have signally failed to do, because they are beholden to and philosophize about ideas which are separated from life and which are separated from vigor and identity: sexual identity, racial identity, power, and violence.
Art is always primal at base. The far Right began with tragedy, split into comedy, and its power always to move our people and any people is primal. All art begins with a folk. It begins with a people, and you go up from that, depending upon the intellectual level that you want to ascend to and lead in accordance with your aptitude, your mind, your circumstances, and your desire to be ennobled.
This is why poetry, of course, has an oracular power–with music, and poetry aligned to music is in some respects even more powerful–that many other arts don’t have. It’s a bardic tradition. It’s a tradition that’s almost before all other traditions. In the Homeric tradition, in the tradition that leads to the explication of Beowulf in our culture, you have a man who is a skald, who has a musical instrument with him or an accompaniment of same. He improvises. Modern theoreticians like to call it the white form of jazz.
But it is actually something else. You have an idea, but you don’t know where you’re going. You know the story of Beowulf, you know Grendel comes, you know Grendel’s mum comes, but you partly live it again in the performance. Because the performance is dynamic. And the audience is part of the performance. That’s why it’d be rather strange doing it on your own, you know. They are part of it. They are necessary. They are a character within it. Because they are your echo and beyond that.
This sort of bardic element within poetry in the 20th century has been completely lost sight of. Poetry’s about itself. Poetry is about language. Poetry is about the navel-gazing of the poet. Poetry is about what other poets say about you.
Kingsley Amis once wrote a poem saying that poetry should no longer connect mythically with the Western tradition, because we’ve got rid of all that. There’s a degree to which even this other week a not uninteresting poet called John Heath-Stubbs died. Not that widely known, but John Heath-Stubbs, who was blind, represented that sort of bardic and oracular tradition. Of course, one doesn’t need to mention Milton or Homer, but there is a degree to which in oral traditions if one loses a sense and is blind, of course, words become immensely powerful, because it’s a compensation for the sight that you’ve lost and therefore it’s a redirection of energy.
Now, Jeffers believed that life would go on much as it had done for ever and ever, without change. He was an anti-progressive. He didn’t believe in the Enlightenment, which is the theories that dominate the minds of most of our professors. When you go to the university these days, and you express an illiberal opinion, when they say, “You’re a monster! You’re one of these far-Right fanatics! You’re one of these outsiders” what they’re actually saying is that you don’t agree with certain ideas that philosophically entered our civilization in stages but in their core way in the late 18th century. And Jeffers rejects the Enlightenment. Even the term “Enlightenment,” of course, is a slogan. It’s a piece of propaganda. Why so? Because if you’re not enlightened you’re unenlightened, aren’t you? You’re a barbarian. That’s what they’re saying. “We are enlightened. We are progressive. You are a reactionary. You’re an outsider. You’re uncivilized.”
If you’ve ever been into liberal studios to debate about politics, and you have a view which is to the Right of UKIP, you will soon know that liberals actually have, in part, not a physical fear of you, but a moral fear. Oh yes, they do! Because they think you actually represent evil. They do think that, because it’s a system of ideas that most of our most clever people are loyal to, which is why it surrounds us, why it’s in the ether at the popular level, at the middle level, at the elite level. It’s everywhere! And it’s everywhere because most of our elite minds have only been trained to think in this way.
Those who are outside, even the professors who are metaphysical conservatives–that means they’re illiberal conservatives–people like Professor Roger Scruton, for example, people like the late Professor Maurice Cowling, who I knew, these sorts of people, they’re almost demonic. They’re treading on the edge of the pit . . . and they are! I once said to Cowling, “Did you know that a group called National Alliance sells one of your books?” And he said, “I don’t want to know!” And they sold that book because Dr. William Pierce recognized in Cowling’s book on the diplomatic response to Hitler, which is probably his major academic book [The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policy, 1933–1940--Ed.], he recognized a sensibility which was untainted by liberalism, a sensibility that fought for itself outside of the correct moral compass.
Professor George Steiner, who was comparative professor of culture at Cambridge at the same time as Cowling, was once asked about Cowling. Somebody said, “What do you think of Cowling?” And he said, “Oh, a brilliant man, but he represents unregenerate evil.” Unregenerate evil. Unregenerate evil! This is a man who had non-humanist and contradictory views in relation to liberalism, and he’s really actually a conservative of an extremist type, although, you know, definitions can vary, and there’s a subjective element to that.
But there’s a degree to which people have to understand that the values of elitism and inequality are morally wrong. The reason we have redirection points for meetings like this is because in the past significant numbers of people wanted to really attack you, because the post-’60s generation that went through the radical Marxist groups really believe that they were attacking evil. That’s why they could get so worked up.
Because people in a strange way, when they think they’re defending the truth and the light, can do almost anything. And this is the irony about these people who preach humanism and preach universalism and preach the universality of love. Pol Pot, Stalin, [unintelligible], Lenin, Trotsky: all these people preached this sort of thing. Trotsky said, “We will have after the people’s revolution a Kant on every corner; we will have a Goethe on every corner; we will have a Tolstoy on every corner; we’ll have a Shakespeare on every corner; we’ll have a Milton on every corner!” Garbage! You won’t have any of that! Because if you melt down to nothing you will create a civilization of ants, and you won’t create anything of glory at all!
But I mustn’t get carried away. Somebody called Lee Barnes said on Stormfront that I was a rabid fascist. Rabid! A rabid fascist who shouldn’t be listened to, shouldn’t be listened to. But you’re listening to me, so we’ll continue.
Jeffers was a sort of oracular poet, and Colin Falk has chosen two lines of D. H. Lawrence: “It was a world before and after the god of love.” In other words, Jeffers represents a sensibility–because this is Falk choosing this from Lawrence to talk about Jeffers–before Christ and before the Christian revelation and after. One of the interesting things about Jeffers is that he predicts Christianity’s collapse. Now, you can say that’s unoriginal because Nietzsche predicts this collapse amongst others at the end of the 19th century.
But Jeffers is going even deeper than that because he’s predicting its moral collapse. The importance of Christianity is its ethical system. The cathedrals are glorious. Much of the art is glorious. It’s the ethical system that’s wrong with this faith, because it’s a faith that says ultimately, “You push me, and I’ll feel sorry for you.” When of course you push them back, because that’s a law of life! And those who don’t push back will be eaten: by fate, by destiny, and they’ll become compost of other groups.
Our species contains many groups that no longer exist, many cultures that no longer exist. You drill down into the earth and you find all sorts of individual strata of civilizations and cultures that no longer exist. The Philistines had quite a significant culture, and another group said they didn’t, and that’s why we in turn we use that word for anyone who is uncivilized today. So, don’t always believe what’s on Channel 5 or Channel 4 or 1 or 2 or 3.
What we have to cleave to in our society are those people about whom our children are never taught. You have to understand that literature today is constructed in a way that will prevent “racism.”
There was a debate recently at Oxford University about 2 or 3 years ago on the chair of poetry. Chair? Not even a chairman, you see? “Chair of poetry.” And a third of the dons wanted to give it to Benjamin Zephaniah. They wanted to give it to Benjamin Zephaniah! He was offered an OBE in the same year. He said, “White man, I spit on your OBE!” The Order of the British Empire! He said, “We want nothing to do with that empire!”
Now, he lost that Oxford vote, and you bet your bottom dollar that many of the Oxford dons who voted for him had never read a word of his dub and ragger and deep bass poetry. They’d never read a single word of it! They were voting ideologically, and they were also voting so that no one in the common room could say, “He didn’t vote for Zephaniah!” “No, no! I did! Don’t hold it against me!” That sort of thing, you know.
In the end, C. H. Sisson won, and C. H. Sisson is actually an interesting because in some ways he’s a naturalist, a normative conservative, had connections with Wyndham Lewis towards the end of his life, and so in a strange way you actually have a moderate Right-wing poet elected on the flipside of everyone cheering and waving to Zephaniah when they’d never read a word of him.
But it’s interesting that a lot of our people know a lot about Black history, which is a pretty short subject, and they know very little about our own history and our own identity because we, with the odd exception, have created through our cultural elite the greatest literature on Earth, the greatest art on Earth. As Camille Paglia says, 90% of that which is of cultural value from the past in present modernity is a creation of dead white European males. Dead white European males. DWEMs they’re called in politically correct ideology. And they’re people like Jeffers.
Jeffers wrote many poems. Many of them are about nature, which he saw in a manner similar to Ted Hughes, but Ted Hughes, a sort of aboriginal Yorkshireman in a way, had no metaphysical basis. Hughes saw nature raw. I remember when I did O Level a long time ago. It’s not called O Level anymore. We did a poem called “Pike,” which is an amazing poem in a way. It’s a sort of primordial and cannibalistic hymn, a paean to the pike. But you always think with Hughes that there isn’t a larger or a greater spiritual basis to the nature of the diction, whereas in many ways there is with Jeffers.
Now, Jeffers was lionized in the early 1930s. His first book was privately published and it didn’t make much of an impact, but this book Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems was taken up. This was published by the Modern Library of New York. This was Penguin Modern Classics. It was hardback then, of course, because they didn’t have cheap paperback books so much then. But this was as high as you could get. This was Penguin in every shop in contemporary American terms. New American Library, say, would be the contemporary American equivalent. The irony is that these sorts of poems were lauded. Some people liked them because they were conservative and non-modernistic, but most people rather liked them because they were daring, because they were transgressive. There was a moment in the culture of the 20th century where pagans, particularly before the Second World War, were regarded as a bit shocking, a bit thrilling, a bit erotic, pulling the Victorian underclothes, sort of the way Lawrence was received.
If Lawrence had lived longer there is the possibility that what happened to Jeffers would have happened to him. Because he was known to be slightly partial to certain governments in southern Europe that increasingly became frowned on, and what his attitudes towards things later on would have been one really doesn’t know. But one sort of suspects that although he wouldn’t have gone quite down the memory hole in the way that Jeffers has in American literature, the same sort of thing could occur.
Most people actually find his views too much, even the people who explicate them. Let’s have a dip in:
. . . no thought nor emotion
that all his ancestors since the ice-age
Could not have comprehended. I call that a good life; narrow,
but vastly better than most
Men’s lives, and beyond comparison more beautiful
[—From “The Wind-Struck Music”—Ed.]
Jeffers believes that pain and suffering are morally good. He believed it’s ordained by nature. He believes that illness and death are divine, because they’re principles of decay. When people say, “I’m sorry” because you’re suffering, his sensibility would say “That is part of the generality of glory.” We’re all going to die. We’re all going to suffer. Nietzsche once said that sympathy multiplies misery. These are the reversal of Christian ideas. They believe in strength as morality. The liberal view is “This is harsh; it’s inhuman; you’re punishing people who are weak, people who are defenseless.” The flipside of this view morally is that those who are weak can be built up towards strength, and that is morality. Rather than sympathize you assist, and if they push the hand away, and they don’t want it, well, they don’t get it. But if they want to be brought up to strength, that is what morality is.
Right-wing views are more than just opposing the European Union and being against the fact that England’s 14% non-white. Right-wing views are spiritual views about nature and man and identity. All groups have a Right-wing. And eventually in a couple of decades it won’t even be called Right-wing because these are terms from the French Revolution about who sat to the right and the left of the speaker. The only difference between Left and Right is really moral and spiritual. But they believe equality is a moral good! A moral good. And it should be imposed!
The irony is that the contemporary Left is more extreme than the revolutionaries of the 19th century. More extreme even than Lenin and Marx. They never denied biological inequality. They believed it should be completely socially re-engineered so as to minimize the cruelty and naturalness of its effects. The contemporary New Left denies that there’s any biological inequality at all, which is a nonsense! Absolute nonsense! They talk of fairness, they talk of justice.
Jeffers’ response is to go around a nursery, to go around the cots of newborn infants. Some are born hale and hearty; some are going to be spiritually strong, smoke three packs of Capstan Full Strength, and die in their bed at 90. Others don’t have eyes and don’t have legs and are born misshapen and diseased and malformed. And yes, it’s a tragedy. But nature spews out life, all the time, and some are destroyed, and others move towards the sun. This is really what our people believe, or at least feel instinctively. Everyone feels, or most people feel.
Because, let’s face it, everyone in this society has accommodated with liberalism in some way. Everybody has, because we have to live in the society as it now is. I’m 45 this year. 1962 is the year I was born. The year Jeffers died. I know nothing but liberalism. Nothing my entire life. People who are older have known a sort of slightly more traditionalist Britain that was different. We’ve never known it, but there are people, of course, who in a sense have reacted against indoctrination. But just to react is not enough. What you have to do in my opinion is reconnect with that which is primal and that which is glorious. Everyone has it. People basically manifest it at different levels of intellectual complexity, but everyone has primordial emotions.
When I was young, I liked “God Save the Queen” and all the rest of it. But to me it’s not fierce enough! It’s not powerful enough! Unfortunately, most English people like it a bit softer, actually. It makes them feel more comfortable. You have to find in some ways a method that makes them feel comfortable about being primal again. That’s what the sort of politics that we’re involved in is about really. It’s making our people feel comfortable with being militantly themselves to the degree that if somebody stands on your foot you don’t say, “Oh, sorry.” You say, “Get off my foot!” And that’s how we have to be in the future.
Because, in actual fact, a terrible sort of divorce of sensibility has occurred in our civilization. I once had a conversation about this with a printer called Tony Hancock, and I said to him, “One of the great dilemmas that we have is the total split between the mind and the body that exists in people in our group.” Then you have intellectuals of extraordinary abstraction and capacity for intellectuality– someone like Samuel Beckett would be an example–who create culture totally for other intellectuals, totally introverted and turned on itself. Very gifted, but completely desiccated and contrary to the instincts of life.
And you have a mass of people for whom comprehensive education is to be a great glory, but 40% of them can’t read, can’t write, can’t add up! This was brought in by Labour politicians who prated for decades that they were doing it for working-class people. They weren’t doing any such thing! They have adopted methodologies whereby people can hardly have any knowledge of who they are by virtue of the education they receive. That’s a far greater “betrayal” than any snobbish Tory ever did to them! That’s what they’ve done to our people!
What we have to do, particularly what intellectuals have to do, is recompose the mind and the body together, the fist and the brain together. As I once said to Hancock in a private conversation, “Too many of those who have courage have no intellect and too many people with intellect have no courage at all.” No courage at all! About anything! Which is why we’re totally legalist in this society, in the church, in the government, in the Commons, in the Lords, in the courts, in the universities, in the media, even in the armed forces! All over the society there is no leadership at all! Nobody who says I’m bringing the mind and the body together. Nobody who says were British and European by culture and Caucasian by race. This is our culture and our society!
Our ancestors have created extraordinary things, and our culture is dying around us. When I attend salons and posh parties, people who know who I am cross the room, cross the room and say, “We can’t associate with this terrible man and his terrible views.” My war against them, just to personalize it through me, is that these are the people in their softness and luxuriance who have an effete view of the values of their own civilization. They’ll go and see Aeschylus; they’ll go and see Sophocles; they’ll go and see Euripides–and Jeffers did a version of one of Euripides’ plays; they’ll go and see these things, but it’s a circus. It’s not even a circus, it’s a museum. It’s a memorialism. You can have that as long as you don’t insult anyone else. No, don’t insult anyone. But you can have that. You can have Radio 3.
Radio 3 is very interesting actually, because you’ll have Wagner, you’ll have Bruckner, and then you’ll have an Auschwitz hour! And then you’ll have Shostakovich, and then you’ll end with a bit about Stalin added on for reasons of balance. You know, balance. Then you’ll have some Mozart and that sort of thing. You can have the one, but you’ve got to have the other. What they’re doing with that is they say you can have a memorial and soft and desiccated version of it.
Matt went to see a Shakespeare play in Stratford-upon-Avon recently. I think it was Julius Caesar. Forty percent of the cast was black. Forty percent. I don’t remember a black character in Julius Caesar actually! I know Orson Welles did a black version of it in Harlem in the 1930s and had to be guarded to the theater by heavies, because that was the nature of Harlem even then for a man who wasn’t black.
But there is a degree to which the fear of self-identification of our own culture, the fear of our own music, the fear of the power of our own art is extraordinary in people. The whole point of multiculturalism is that the thing is mixed together so that no group feels slightly alienated. On the other hand, all groups are simultaneously alienated from their own culture and us as the indigenous more than anyone, because we are the ones who can’t [unintelligible].
I’ve got a friend in the party that I am in called Eddy Butler. And sometimes Eddy’s very practical, very electoral, very focused on “the meat that’s on the street” and this sort of thing. He says the trouble with that is it’s all airy-fairy stuff. It’s all up in the air, you know. But my view, of course, is what is really wrong with our people? What’s really wrong with them? Is it physical? No, it’s not. We’re essentially much the same as we’ve always been, really. It’s what’s up here that’s wrong. It’s the spiritual mentality of our people that’s wrong, that’s cowardly, that’s weak, that’s afraid, that’s afraid of life, afraid of people’s opinions. Who gives a damn for other people’s opinions? English and British people have conquered large stretches of the world because we didn’t give a damn about other people’s opinions.
This is an era where, in a sense, we’re living in a very, very chaotic and dangerous time. To just for a moment reintroduce some of the topics that were discussed earlier, there are considerable noises off in foreign and diplomatic circles that Israel has decided on a bombing of Iran later this year or early next. They’ve got to do it in the next two years because Bush will put out an umbrella for them. But even the Americans won’t do it for them. They’ve got to go alone, and America will support. America will refuel their jets in mid-air. Now, whether it happens or not, one doesn’t know. But it may work and indeed the inclusion of a “far Right” leader in the Israeli government is probably part of a precursor to a consensus within that society for that strike. So, we’re living in very, very radical and very, very dangerous times.
The isolationists like Jeffers who opposed American involvement in the Second World War, who opposed American involvement in Vietnam, which was a demonized and yet then came to be an acceptable even progressive opinion, particularly because Democrats supported that war because they had to prove that they were anti-communist in relation to conservative critics inside America. Hence Kennedy and Johnson radicalized that war. Jeffers lost. The spirit of this poet, and the spirit of people like him lost.
The America that Stoddard and Oliver and Yockey and Lovecraft and Jeffers and Mencken and London and all these other people wanted: that doesn’t exist. But I’ve always had a great sympathy for these deeply white, deeply European, dignified, and highly cultured Americans who, if you like, are un-American now in relation to what’s happened in their own society. This man is a poet of extremity, of sacrifice, of violence, and of joy. He’s a man who believes in strength through joy, essentially.
Let’s just read one poem that I’ve just chosen in a sort of automatic writing way, page 51:
A little too abstract, a little too wise,
It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
Let the rich life run to the roots again.
I will go to the lovely Sur Rivers
And dip my arms in them up to the shoulders.
I will find my accounting where the alder leaf quivers
In the ocean wind over the river boulders.
I will touch things and things and no more thoughts,
That breed like mouthless may-flies darkening the sky,
The insect clouds that blind our passionate hawks
So that they cannot strike, hardly can fly.
Things are the hawk’s food and noble is the mountain, Oh Noble
Pico Blanco, steep sea-wave of marble.
Let it be. I give you the life of Robinson Jeffers: American misanthrope.
Thank you very much!
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