- Counter-Currents - https://counter-currents.com -

Jonathan Bowden Has Something to Axe You

fasces3 [1]2,599 words

Jonathan Bowden
Axe [2]
Edited by Alex Kurtagić
London: The Palingenesis Project, 2015

“Write as you speak!” is the cliché — second only to “Write what you know!” — given to the writer, professional or amateur, who finds himself at a loss. I suppose it may be good advice for some — clichés, like stereotypes, do, as we on the Right know, have at least some basis in fact.[1] 

Now, it was Jonathan Bowden’s gift — or curse — to be able to do just that: to write as he spoke. Sounds good so far, but a moment’s second thought reminds us of what we’ve read and heard about the considerable difference between the written and spoken word; how very different the two rhetorics are, how, in short, the same method — repetition, say — can be enormously effective in the one, while in the other producing boredom or the impression of imbecility, calling for the quite different method of “elegant variation.”[2]

So once again here, in the second volume to appear in Alex Kurtagić’s admirable project to reprint the essays appearing in Bowden’s self-published — and somewhat ironically titled — Collected Works, vol. I,[3] we find a written text that seemingly dares you to read it.[4]

This is the sort of writing that for years I found unreadable, as I perversely tried to grasp it by imposing the rigid structures of logic (If P then Q) that I had come to expect from reading too much philosophy “up at uni.” Then I realized that there was an entirely different kind of rhetoric at work here, and that one just had to lie back and enjoy it.[5]

Oddly enough, it was Dr. Deck who provide the clue (if only I had been clever enough to see it; how damnably Platonic of him!), way back in his own doctoral dissertation on Plotinus; who, he says, does not so much prove his conclusions as accustom us to them by talking around them:

His presentation . . . is “spiral” rather than linear.[6] In many places he does not so much prove his propositions and notions as accustom his hearers and readers to their truth. The result is that it often seems that he is proving conclusions by premises and premises by conclusion, when in fact he is elaborating an intuition . . . and rendering it plausible and acceptable.[7]

What the reader needs to do with such writing as this, is to learn to notice and appreciate two things, form and content; the amusing, intriguing, or useful nature of this or that point along the way, and the way the author spirals back, returning to earlier points now seen in a new light.

BowdenAxe [3]Bowden begins, strangely enough, with some remarks on Wyndham Lewis, whose presence and impact on my old school, the last place you’d expect to find an exponent of Vorticism, I’ve expanded on many times in the past.[8] But Bowden is interested in Lewis only to move from the particular to the general, and establish that artists have something to communicate, to transmit, and this gives us the ability to “comprehend and celebrate artists down the ages,” particularly in terms of the political division of Left and Right.

Bowden then swerves his attention to a painter I must confess was unknown to me: Andrea Mantenga. In fact, if it weren’t for Kurtagić’s annotation I would have guessed him a “modern” painter, not a contemporary of Leonardo, which makes Bowden’s point, the curiously modern nature of Mantenga’s work, which “infuses in stone the deliberations of politics,” his art being “about order and finite judgments in the mind as a prelude to chaos, and observance of extremity.” This Medusa-like quality reminds him of Beckett, for some reason, by which I mean that we will eventually find the connection — between stone, order, and Beckett — for ourselves.

Bowden begins to meditate a bit on the idea of animal or vegetative life mutating, “transmogriphing,” into stone or crystal, which leads him to the work of J. G. Ballard, especially, of course, his apocalyptic novel, The Crystal World (1966).

At this point one wishes Bowden would have chose, or been able to, bring in the work of Guénon, who, in The Reign of Quantity[9] expounds the significance of the move “From Sphere to Cube” as part of the increasing “solidification” of the world in the Kali Yuga; the post-apocalyptic New Jerusalem is a cubic city, composed of precious metals and jewels, the polar opposite of the original Garden, yet bearing the two-fold significance of petrification, pulverized into dust (“Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla”) on the one hand, and on the other, providing an encapsulation of raw materials for the reconstruction of the new cycle.

As Bowden circles — or rather, spirals — around various themes, from reminiscences of his mother’s (literally) Stalinist stepfather and their typically lugubrious British summer cottage, to the quarrels between Sartre and Camus[10] and the breakup and dispersion of the Sorbonne’s radical academic faculty, a theme gradually insinuates itself into the reader’s mind:
“the nature of meaning and its absence.”

That theme is expressed most powerfully in a passage bodying forth the modern worldview:

Life itself is little more than a programmatic spasm, a moment of contingency, meaningless, viduity [sic] and the absence of despair; a lake of mud, a plenitude of despondency, across which human beings drag themselves, talking to themselves, remembering certain absences from their past.

This is a remarkable presentation of the situation obsessively explored by Beckett, for example, particularly in his later works, such as The Lost Ones and others, where even the earlier tramps and cripples are displaced by nameless semi-hominoids crawling about various loathsome, post-apocalyptic or extra-planetary environments. And although Beckett is mentioned a couple of times, and already on page 3, he goes un-alluded to here, occluding his presence, the way Bowden makes his grand spiral back and leaving the reader to connect the dots.

The modern artist, then, is one who — correctly — perceives the modern world as nihilistic; to reach for another Traditionalist meme, the vertical dimension of value — what the Right calls ‘hierarchy’ — has collapsed, and man crawls about horizontally in the mud.[11]

The Left and Right then, can be distinguished, in their art as in their politics, by the one delighting in the mud,[12] or at least, like Beckett, finding some honor in Stoic steadfastness and refusal of consolation;[13] and on the other hand, the Right, the urge to fight on and re-establish, to the extent possible, the true Order.[14]

All of which climaxes with an unexpected and challenging defense of terror, but only as practiced by the Right. The Right is justified in the use of terror because only the Right both recognizes our immoral, or post-moral, condition, and understands that therefore remedial action can only take place outside the — anyway unavailable — concept of good and evil,[15] while the Left childishly and step-motherishly — and hypocritically — nags us about “good and bad,” “right and wrong,” “legal and illegal” in the midst of an apocalypse.

A challenging and provocative text, then, that more than repays the reader’s patient attention and thoughtful reflection. Of course, it only pays back as much as you can give it, and when some readers stare into the abyss of this text, they may only find the abyss staring back.

The problem, though, as I’ve noted before in reviewing these Palingenesis productions, is that the “light hand” Kurtagić brings to the editing results in a text littered with errors, many perhaps minor, but all distracting from a text that already demands the utmost attention from the reader,[16] thus losing the point of producing either a relatively expensive limited edition, on the one hand, or, equally, a text useful for future scholars, to say noting of violating the implicit compact with the ordinary reader, to produce a readable page.

Take that Beckett-esque quote up there. I was prepared to write off “viduity” as a misprint for “vacuity,” but turns out it’s a real word, meaning [4] “widowhood.” So, I’ve learned a new word, perhaps, but is it the word Bowden wrote? And if so, was that a mistake? Widowhood would be an interesting way to present the state of being in a de-sacralized world, and a basic principle of textual analysis suggests keeping an odd word rather than smoothing it out (scribes are more likely to accidentally write a common word, or try to suppress possible heresy), but Kurtagić’s general performance leaves me doubtful. Just look at the very next phrase — “the absence of despair” — surely a mistake (possibly “excess” or the rather Bowden-esque “abscess of despair”), made by Bowden in writing or Kurtagić in reading, but who can tell?

Perhaps this is can be given a more positive spin; consider it just another challenge to the determined reader; or perhaps a way to set the reader off onto accidental tangents of his own (those future scholars be damned!). In any event, don’t let them scare you away from submitting yourself to that unique experience: an essay by Jonathan Bowden; you’ll enjoy it!


[1] My mentor, Dr. John N. Deck, once solemnly advised me to obtain “one of those pocket-sized cassette recorders” (this was the ’70s) so as to record the long treatises, diatribes, and arias I was wont to deliver in “the Coffee Department” (viz, the cafeteria), which somehow never seemed to materialize on exam books or term papers, but the technology was still too primitive. What I really needed was access to a young lady typist, like Henry James. I mean, he hired one, not that he was one. Today, modern word processing (what James might call “the dear, the blessed ‘cut and paste’ method”) and the internets have, like so much else, rendered such domestic help redundant. The resulting essays have been called “Gonzo Traditionalism”; how Hunter Thompson got similar effects with just an IBM Selectric and a fax machine (“the Mojo Wire”) suggest he was right about drugs: “They’ve always worked for me.”

[2] Hunter S. Thompson claimed to be a “Doctor of Journalism” not on the basis of class work but the hard school of professional sportswriter. Reflecting on the genius of Grantland Rice, Thompson notes that while Rice knew he was writing for simpletons — “Rice understood that his world might go all to pieces if he ever dared to doubt that his eyes were wired straight to his lower brain — a sort of de facto lobotomy, which enables the grinning victim to operate entirely on the level of Sensory Perception . . .” — he also knew he had to mix things up a little: “He carried a pocket thesaurus, so that “The thundering hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen” never echoed more than once in the same paragraph, and the “Granite-grey sky” in his lead was a “cold dark dusk” in the last lonely line of his heart-rending, nerve-ripping stories . . .” “Fear And Loathing At The Superbowl: No Rest for the Wretched” by Hunter S. Thompson, Rolling Stone, February 15, 1973; online here [5].

[3] See my review of the first, Demon, here [6].

[4] Just as Coleman Francis’ magnum opus, Red Zone Cuba, “dares you to watch it” (MST3k, Episode 619). In both cases, I suggest you make the effort, and will be rewarded, but as always on the internets, your mileage may vary: “I maintain that this is easily the worst movie MST3K ever did, and is in the running for worst movie EVER MADE (and, yes, I’ve seen “The Apple”). And for that reason, I LOVE this episode.” — MST3k Episode Guide, here [7].

[5] Like one of Saucy Jack’s victims? See Demon, note 3 above.

[6] Constant Readers know of my love of the spiral, and the contrast — fueled by the writings of René Guénon (Symbolism of the Cross; Multiple States of the Being) and Alain Daniélou (Music and the Power of Sound) of the Traditional spiral with the anti-Traditional circle; see variously here [8] and especially the essays collected in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).

[7] Nature, Contemplation, and the One: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus (Toronto: 1967), p. x; reprinted 1991 (Burkett, NY: Larson Publications), p. 16. That this method is applicable to Bowden as well can be seen by reflecting on Plotinus’ idiosyncratic style: “Plotinus is the most difficult of any recognized author to translate. The Greek that he uses is not of the best. His was of using it borders, at times, on the contemptuous. Add to that the fact that he came to composition very late in life and composed with an unreflecting swiftness that was the astonishment of his contemporaries and refused to reread what he had composed with a disinterestedness — or concern for his fading eyesight — that was their admiration.” – The Essential Plotinus: Representative Treatises from the Enneads; selected and newly translated with an introduction and commentary by Elmer O’Brien, S.J. (New York: Signet, 1964; reprinted Indianapolis: Hackett, 1978), p. viii. “Therefore,” O’Brien adds, “much reliance has been placed on the books, monographs, and articles that have appeared . . . from the piled desks of their small, wholly admirable, international group of authorities in Plotinian research.” Kurtagić’s editorial project, rescuing Bowden’s writings from obscurity and presenting them in cleaned-up, annotated editions “so that they may be studied and / or enjoyed by present and future generations” thus resembles that of Porphyry, who posthumously prepared Plotinus’ writings, creating the now customary division into nine sets of nine treatises (hence, the Enneads) and adding a biography, or rather, hagiography.

[8] As has Bowden; see, or rather, hear, “Jonathan Bowden on Wyndham Lewis,” here [9].

[9] Ghent, N.Y.: Sophia Perennis, 4th rev. ed., 2001; Chapter 20; see also Chapter 17, “The Solidification of the World.”

[10] The justification of the rather nifty cover portrait of Sartre, again contributed by Kurtagić himself, although I think we shall see that Beckett would be more representative of Bowden’s concerns.

[11] Mud, of course, is just wet dust, continuing the metaphor of solidification leading inevitably to brittleness and then pulverization and dispersal into dust. Can we note that that stepfather of the author’s mother is named Clay?

[12] “Zola, or the delight in filth” — Nietzsche (Twilight of the Idols). Colin Wilson has remarked on Ulysses and other works of that modernist ilk, as products of the “urge to do dirt on Life.”

[13] At a rehearsal, an actor suggested that the lifting up of the sole character at the end of one of Beckett’s late plays suggested he had found salvation at last, to which Beckett replied, in his best Northern Irish accent: “Oh, no, he’s finished.”

[14] This is, then, the true meaning of Spengler’s image of Western Man being like the Roman guard buried alive at Pompeii rather than leave his post; not passive complicity but making the most of the hand you’ve been dealt in the Kali Yuga.

[15] I’ve explored this notion before, from the perspective of the Männerbund as the extra-societal creator and restorer of Aryan society, in “’God, I’m with a heathen’: The Rebirth of the Männerbund in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, here [10] and reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012). Whatever his actual involvement, both Italian Rightist youth and the authorities found justifications for terror in Evola’s writings, especially Men Among the Ruins, which contains his own account of the Männerbund. All of which provides, perhaps, some justification for the otherwise puzzling way Thomas Mann derives terrorism, in theory and practice, from the speechifying of his rather Evola-like Naphta in The Magic Mountain.

[16] For example, among too many: “pain and violent” (violence), “awash with finds” (funds), “on a part” (par), etc. To say nothing of a line of text repeated on p. 45.