Sunday, January 26, 2020

From Things to Come Into The Space Trilogy-Part Three

First published in 1943, Perelandra by C.S. Lewis is an astonishing work of the imagination. It is the middle book of the author's Space Trilogy and superior, I think, to the first, Out of the Silent Planet, from 1938. (In those five years, Europe went from the Anschluss and Kristallnacht to the slaughter at Stalingrad and the growing lethality and horror of Auschwitz: could real-world events have led Lewis to ever greater insight and power in the writing of his book?) The influence of A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay (1920) is here, but there is also something of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian novels and other utopian, anthropological, or ethnographic fiction in Perelandra, and in Lewis' trilogy as a whole. Avatar (2009), made in contrast by a muddleheaded atheist, agnostic, or whatever-ist, is from the same mold. Avatar is pretty execrable, though, again in contrast to The Space Trilogy.

In fantasy, men often go native. Civilization, after all, has its discontents. The problem for us is that no matter how hard we try--no matter how much slumming, slum tourism, poverty porn (1), Mardi Gras or Carnaval do Brasil, tattooing, piercing, scarring, mushroom eating, or other primitive experience we might chase after--we can't get back to that time before the apple. In our ignorance and nostalgia, we strive for Paradise-on-Earth--for Utopia--not realizing that such a thing is now and will forever be beyond our reach. Our Creator made Eden. We are not capable of remaking it for ourselves, despite all of our aspirations to godhood or delusions of godlike power and wisdom we might hold. The people of Perelandra--its Lady and King--still live before the apple, though, and it is this state of grace that Weston seeks to ruin. As he says, "The King [the one man on Perelandra] must be forced to be free." (Chapter 10) (2)

I have written before about the uncanny valley, a supposedly new concept but one foreseen, it seems to me, by C.S. Lewis in Perelandra. Weston, formerly a human being, has become transformed into something demonic or satanic:
     Ransom kept his eyes fixed upon the enemy, but it took no notice of him. Its eyes moved like the eyes of a living man but it was hard to be sure what it was looking at, or whether it really used the eyes as organs of vision at all. One got the impression of a force that cleverly kept the pupils of those eyes fixed in a suitable direction while the mouth talked but which, for its own purpose, used wholly different modes of perception. [. . .] It was impossible to point to any particular motion which was definitely non-human. Ransom had the sense of watching an imitation of living motions which had been very well studied and was technically correct: but somehow it lacked the master touch. And he was chilled with an inarticulate, night-nursery horror of the thing he had to deal with--the man-aged corpse, the bogey, the Un-man. (Chapter 9)
All of this takes place as Ransom, the Lady, and the Un-man ride on the floating islands of Venus, over swells and into deep valleys . . . uncanny valleys. (The islands in Avatar float, too, but in the air instead of upon water.)

I find that passage chilling, too: its author, being not a materialist but a believer, knew down in his bones and blood and soul what evil is, what we are up against on our own planet of quarantine, and that there is indeed an Enemy among us. Now here we are in the twenty-first century inviting him into our lives, most obviously in the form of transhumanism.

We have our machines and gaze into their screens, wanting and hoping to see ourselves in some perfected or ideal form there. Weston shows the Lady of Perelandra a mirror. She sees her own face for the first time. She shrinks from it, her own face:
"My face--out there--looking at me. Am I growing older [i.e., falling away from innocence] or is it something else? I feel . . . I feel . . . my heart is beating too hard. I am not warm. What is it?" [. . . ]
     "What is it?" she repeated.
     "It is called Fear," said Weston's mouth. [. . . ] "Now that you know Fear, you see that it must be you who shall taste it on behalf of your race. You know the King will not. You do not wish him to. But there is no cause for fear in this little thing: rather of joy. What is fearful in it?"
     "Things being two when they are one," replied the Lady decisively. "That thing" (she pointed at the mirror) "is me and not me."
     "But if you do not look you will never know how beautiful you are."
     "It comes into my mind, Stranger," she answered, "that a fruit does not eat itself, and a man cannot be together with himself." [Emphasis added; from Chapter 10.]
Not only did C.S. Lewis understand and foresee the uncanny valley, he also foresaw our smartphones, our social media, our whole selfie culture. Now we have slow-motion selfie video so that we can watch ourselves in all our glory. Now, also, there is a television show called Black Mirror. The title refers to the omnipresent smartphone screen, the mirror in which we strive to be together with ourselves and to eat of the fruit that is ourselves.

Finally, in answer to the collectivist Weston and collectivists everywhere, including no doubt H.G. Wells and his hero--our villain, or at least my villain--Cabal, there is this:
"Because we are with Him [the Creator], each of us is at the centre. It is not as in a city of the Darkened World where they say that each must live for all. In His city all things are made for each. When He died in the Wounded World He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been made the only man made, He would have done no less." [Emphasis added; from Chapter 17.]
(1) Here's a pertinent quote from Anthony Trollope: "Poverty, to be picturesque, should be rural. Suburban misery is as hideous as it is pitiable." From The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847), a novel about my father's and grandfather's people, published in the midst of famine but taking place before it. We still think of poverty as picturesque, but in our age, urban poverty--dense, overcrowded, miserable, dirty, urban poverty--has become picturesque, too.
(2) "The King must be forced to be free": an echo and inversion of a sentence from We: "If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be to force them to be happy." Forced freedom, forced happiness, forced equality--things like these form a pattern in our understanding of the mind of the tyrant.

To be continued . . .

When it came to publishing Perelandra in paperback, Avon got there first with this 1950 edition, subtitled World of the New Temptation. Unfortunately, the identity of the cover artist is unknown.

Pan published an edition for British readers in 1953 with cover art by Carl Wilton. Note the alternate title, meant, I'm sure, to evoke Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, from 1920. By the way, if you haven't read it, Lindsay's book is one of the essentials.

Finally, the Macmillan edition of 1965 with cover art by Bernard Symancyk.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, January 23, 2020

One More Thing . . .

So, what we have so far:

In working on this series, I have quoted from a website, which shall remain nameless:
A member of the Pulitzer Prize jury, the late Frank McConnell helped science fiction gain standing as serious literature. [. . .] Initially believing that science fiction is primarily one of many forms of storytelling, McConnell gradually recognized science fiction as a modern expression of Gnosticism, rejecting bodily concerns for an emphasis on spirituality. [Emphasis added.]
In one of my replies to a comment from a reader, Randy Stafford, I wrote:
Harold Bloom [. . . .] wrote on Gnosticism, too, including in a book called The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (1992, 2006). In that book (I haven't read it), he evidently proposed a unified-field theory of his subject, saying that American religion is essentially Gnostic.
In various political movements, science and religion have become wed: any science fiction that is progressive, leftist, socialist, or Marxist in nature would seem to have been born from that union. Science fiction certainly has its gnostic progenitors and practitioners, including Joseph Smith, Madame Blavatsky, Richard S. Shaver, L. Ron Hubbard, and even Charles Fort. In one of his comments, Mr. Stafford pointed out that Philip K. Dick "is frequently cited as gnostic, especially [in] The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch." I'm sure there are other gnostic authors, novels, and characters, including Weston, the villain in C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy.

Randy Stafford also wrote: "I think Brian Aldiss had the notion that [science fiction] was essentially gothic." Mr. Aldiss put forth that idea, I think, in his book The Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction (1973). (Unfortunately I don't have a copy of this book.) Here is a quote from that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, from Mr. Aldiss' book:
Science fiction is the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science) and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode.
There is plenty of gothic science fiction to be sure, from Frankenstein (1) to Neuromancer to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which might be the most gothic of all of the Star Wars movies so far. (This is assuming that Star Wars is science fiction and not something else.) (2) Now I have this, from a book I picked up over Christmastime:
Science fiction does not tend to support a given political establishment, but on a deeper level it almost invariably backs the basic tenet of Western civilization: that is, the concept that the individual man is worth more than the organization--whatever it may be--and that nothing is more important than human freedom. (3)
So according to whom you believe, science fiction is essentially gnostic, or gothic, or classically liberal. I'm not sure that any two of these things are easily reconcilable. I'm more inclined to think that some science fiction is gnostic, some gothic, some classically liberal, and some other things altogether. It's probably too simplistic to say that science fiction is all basically one thing--not that anyone is saying that, I guess.

And here's a thought: why do we not have theorizing like this about weird fiction? Could it be that weird fiction comes from a pre-intellectual or pre-academic culture? Is weird fiction, being an essentially conservative genre, necessarily anti-intellectual and so defies this kind of theorizing?

(1) Frankenstein is subtitled The Modern Prometheus. I think that like Frankenstein's monster, Mary Shelley's book is a hybrid: a proto-science fiction novel and a gothic romance. Well, as it turns out Ayn Rand's protagonist in Anthem, Equality 7-2521, takes the name Prometheus once he has gained--or made--his freedom. The theme, I think, is much the same in both books as in so much of our popular literature: a man reaching for godlike power. In Frankenstein, written perhaps by a closeted conservative, he falls short, but in Anthem, a book by an atheist and innovator, he may yet succeed. In any case, Anthem is a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel, a genre that is very often gothic in its mood and imagery. Even 1984 has its gothic elements.
(2) The scenes in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that take place on the planet of the Sith are obviously infused with gothicism. They remind me of the drawings of Piranesi, more yet like images from Barlowe's Inferno by Wayne Douglas Barlowe. As for the Sith themselves, well, they are ghost-like or wraith-like figures in black robes and hoods (hoodies like the guy pirating the movie in the public service announcements before it begins) and chant like they're in Carmina Burana. Their world waits in darkness and drips with decay. William Basinski could easily have composed the score for their part of the movie.
(3) From "The Role of Science Fiction" by Ben Bova in Science Fiction: Today and Tomorrow, A Discursive Symposium, edited by Reginald Bretnor (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1974), p. 11.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, January 20, 2020

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-A Final Aside

I'm still catching up on last year, on my reading and writing. After reading 1985 by Anthony Burgess late in the year, I read another dystopian novel, Anthem by Ayn Rand. This was the first time I had read either of these authors. As it turns out, my reading of Anthem was timely in two ways. More on that in a while.

First published in Great Britain in 1938, Anthem was Ayn Rand's second novel. It is not only dystopian but also post-apocalyptic: in its pages, a new dark age has descended upon the world after disaster has also descended. The book is brief. I have the Signet edition of 1961 in which the text of the story is only 112 pages long. It starts off well. In fact, it's fascinating. Like Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, from 1924 (in the English-language edition), Anthem takes the form of a diary of a young man caught in an oppressive, totalitarian, and thoroughly collectivized society. Also as in We, the characters lack names. Ayn Rand cleverly gives them codewords associated in her time and ours with the progressive/leftist/socialist/statist cause, followed by a numerical designation. The narrator then, is Equality 7-2521, but there also these alphanumerics: Union 5-3992, International 4-8818, Liberty 5-3000, Fraternity 2-5503, Solidarity 9-6347, Collective 0-0009, Democracy 4-6998, Unanimity 7-3304, Harmony 9-2642--you get the picture. It's kind of like a commie phonebook from the 1940s or '50s ("Beechwood 4-5789 . . ."). Significantly, Liberty--the only word among these untainted by the real-world collectivism of the twentieth century--is the name of Equality 7-2521's girlfriend, the woman who will inspire him to rebel against his condition.

Anthem goes downhill pretty quickly about midway through when the reader starts to realize that this is not so much a work of fiction as a vehicle for its author's wacky ideas. (There's even a postcard in my paperback edition that you can use to send away for more Objectivist wackiness. The whole business reminds me of Scientology.) Before you reach that point, though, you encounter some genuine power in the plight of the protagonist, in his struggles to assert his individuality, and in his yearning to love the young woman named Liberty . . . who kind of fades away once they have gained their freedom. Maybe it wasn't love after all that he wanted.

Before that, the collectivism in Anthem has reached a point where there aren't any singular personal pronouns. A person calls himself "We" (shades of Zamyatin's earlier novel) and the other person "They":
"Speak these words again," they whispered.
"Which words?" we asked. But they did not answer, and we knew it.
"Our dearest one," we whispered. (p. 60)
Only when they are free and living in a house from olden times do they encounter for the first time the word "I." But then it becomes "I", "I", "I," never "you," or better yet, "Thou." Like I said, the girlfriend fades away.

I found out not long after reading Anthem that Merriam Webster dictionary decided that "they" would be their word of the year for 2019. The context and meaning are different, but the purpose, it seems to me, is more or less the same: as in 1984, it is to change the meaning of words and language so that our perceptions of reality might be altered and so that we might be deprived of our ability to think independently and to dissent from prevailing thought: to call a man "he" and a woman "she" will soon be a thoughtcrime, if isn't already.

That's the first timely thing about my reading of Anthem. The other is that Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for the rock group Rush, died on January 7, 2020, at age sixty-seven.  (He was born on the day the Flatwoods Monster came to earth.) As it turns out, the late Mr. Peart was influenced by Ayn Rand, specifically by Anthem. Strange world.

* * *
Ayn Rand may or may not have read Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, but George Orwell read it. We know that because he wrote a review of it published seventy-four years ago this month, in January 1946. (It seems pretty likely to me that she read it, too, inasmuch as her own Dystopia resembles Zamyatin's, plus he was her countryman: she would surely have heard of him and his book. She would also have had the advantage of reading it in the language in which it was written, for whatever that's worth.) Orwell read C.S. Lewis, too. You can read his review of That Hideous Strength ("The Scientists Take Over") by clicking here. The British scientist J.B.S. Haldane also read and at least twice criticized Lewis' Space Trilogy. You can read his articles ("Auld Hornie, F.R.S." and "More Anti-Lewisite") by clicking here.

In case you're keeping score at home, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a former atheist who became a devout believer and Christian apologist, George Orwell (1903-1950) was a socialist, thus presumably also an atheist but also strangely enough a kind of conservative, J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) was an atheist and thoroughgoing Marxist (I guess he and Orwell would have been on opposite sides of the same side during the Spanish Civil War), Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was an atheist, a rabid individualist, an advocate of capitalism, and a kooky cultist, and Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) was an Old Bolshevik but also the first writer to have his work censored once the new Bolsheviks--you know, the killing kind--came into power in Russia in the early 1920s.

One more thing. (There's always one more thing in this Columbo universe.) George Orwell encountered We for the first time because of the poet and literary historian Gleb Struve (1898-1985) of the original Magdeburg Struves. (Gleb's father was Peter Struve, first a Marxist, then an anti-Marxist.) Well, Gleb's second cousin (I think, if I have my Struves lined up right) was Otto Struve (1897-1963), an astronomer who initiated Project Ozma, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence carried out at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, West Virginia (the same state in which the Flatwoods Monster came to Earth), in 1960. That led to many things, directly or roundabout-ly, including a good deal of science fiction such as "The Listeners" by James Gunn (1968), The Day of the Dolphin (1973), and Contact by Carl Sagan (1985).

There are not only six degrees of Kevin Bacon, there are six degrees of everything.

One more thing: These asides are getting to be longer than the original series.

One more thing and then I promise you I will go: Today, January 20, 2020, is the 136th anniversary of Yevgeny Zamyatin's birth under the old calendar, so Happy Birthday to Him!

Famous Fantastic Mysteries, June 1953. Cover story: "Anthem" by Ayn Rand. Cover art by Lawrence showing a hunky 1950s guy with a death grip on Reddy Kilowatt, and his hot girlfriend, whom he unfairly ignores here and in the conclusion of the novel, relegated to the background.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 17, 2020

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-Another Aside

In the 1960s, large-format, hardbound, popular periodicals of history, culture, and ideas were common. American Heritage was one. Horizon was another. I pick these up whenever I can. They and other books of old are becoming the detritus of a society hurrying towards Digitism.

Last month I found an old copy of Horizon, from exactly half a century before: Winter 1969. A theme in the issue is things, and so there is an article by British historian John W. Burrow on the materialist yet anti-thingist Karl Marx. From the opening paragraph:
We are used to seeing [Marx] in the guise of an angry prophet, beard bristling with outrage at the iniquities of his opponents [. . .]. The beards of the saints of European communism seem a part of their roles: Marx's leonine and denuciatory; Engel's brisk and worldly; Lenin's a jutting icebreaker, forging forward toward the happy land over the always-receding horizon. (p. 52)
Burrow's thesis is that Marx was in his youth a romantic and an idealist, and only later did his "youthful fervor" become "transmuted into scientific rigor." (p. 52) (I would have written pseudoscientific, but then this wasn't my article.) Anyway, in that opening paragraph are the words prophet and saints. There is more religious imagery elsewhere in the article, here for example:
Paris [in 1848] was revered by young men as the holy city of revolution. As the Russian socialist Aleksandr Herzen put it, "I entered the city with reverence, as men used to enter Jerusalem or Rome." (p. 52)
Then there are these words: zeal, visionary, apocalyptic, ecumenical, human spirit, godlike creative power, and so on, suggesting as we have since seen for ourselves that although Marxism may have been the religion of one man in the nineteenth century, it became in the twentieth one of millions of men who would murder their fellow men by the millions, too, because their god required it. Now, in the twenty-first, we have become so steeped in Marxism that we don't even know anymore that what we want and have is Marxist, and because it is Marxist, also ruinous, oppressive, and murderous in the extreme. Having become materialists and believing ourselves gods or at least godlike in our power and wisdom, we believe also that we are in possession of a clear vision of the fundamentals of the universe: this is our gnosis.

Anyway, I have sensed for a long time that Marx longed for the days of feudalism (days in which he would no doubt have been an aristocrat due to his obvious and demonstrable superiority over his fellow men). Now I have found the first direct indication that this was so:
From the ringing opening [of the Communist Manifesto] [. . .] to the final celebrated call to action [. . .], the idea is hammered home that capitalism is not the permanent state of mankind but simply the latest phase of historical development. The bourgeoisie is not respectable and law-abiding; it is dynamic and rapacious; it has won its way to power by smashing the ancient privileged regime of feudalism. (p. 54)
I have sensed also that people who call themselves or consider themselves progressive, leftist, or socialist are actually together simply another kind of reactionary or counterrevolutionary. They want a return to a feudal society in which there are a few aristocrats on top (they themselves) and masses of ignorant serfs below them, dependent upon them and loyal to them under threat of being killed, starved, or imprisoned. The real historical revolution, though, seems to have been liberal, middle-class, and towards economic and political freedom. As reactionaries or counterrevolutionaries, leftists and socialists hate the middle class as usurpers of the power, position, and prestige that they see as properly their own. And because we no longer have a hereditary aristocracy, ours has become intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual). I think this as much as anything explains the extreme and vicious hatred our self-appointed aristocracy feels towards our current president. I sense that they see him naturally as not one of them: he is a middle-class usurper who has broken down the gates of the palace and tracked mud and grease on the spotlessly white carpet and tile within. Or, in Burrows' words, he is "not respectable and law-abiding" (as they keep harping, "No one is above the law"). He is "dynamic and rapacious" (whereas they are static and rapacious). Like Marx and so many other progressives, leftists, socialists, and statists, this aristocracy has emanated from the middle class and yet hates the middle class, especially its champions and exemplars. Our aristocracy should probably get used to the usurper in the White House, though, because it looks like he'll be there for another four years come November.

One more thing: if Marxism and its associated belief systems really do hearken back to the days of feudalism, then that's only one more piece of evidence that we continue to live in the aftermath of the fall of the Roman Empire. More than that, maybe we can say that the epoch of the Roman Empire is the central event of human history.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-An Aside

Last year was a good one for me. I'm sure you have noticed, though, that I didn't write very much here in 2019. I'm pretty sure that I have regular readers; I should apologize to them--to you--for not keeping up with things. I hope to write more this year, especially considering that your vision and mine for the duration is 2020.

When I last wrote, I was working on a series about H.G. Wells, who appeared in Weird Tales, and C.S. Lewis, who did not. Here is Lewis on the subject of pulp fiction magazine, specifically, I think, science fiction magazines:
He [Weston] was a man obsessed with the idea which is at this moment circulating all over our planet in obscure works of "scientifiction," in little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs, and between the covers of monstrous magazines, ignored or mocked by the intellectuals, but ready, if ever the power is put into its hands, to open a new chapter of misery for the universe. (From Perelandra, Chapter 6)
I don't know whether Lewis ever saw Weird Tales. Maybe he would have had a kinder view of it as a magazine of fantasy rather than of science fiction. (I wonder what he would have made of the Christian or very nearly Christian fiction of Francis Stevens.) More likely, I think, he would have looked down his nose at American brands of fantasy as so many people--British or not--have and still do.

Since writing last, I have read 1985 by Anthony Burgess, a combination non-fictional look at 1984 by George Orwell and a fictional update of British dystopia for the 1980s. I had never heard of this book, but I snatched it up as soon as I saw it on the shelves of a now nearly extinct species: the independent used book store. It's a very admirable book, especially, I think, the non-fictional part. I had never read Burgess before. I find him a good stylist and a clear and sound thinker.

On October 25, 2019, I wrote:
In any case, Weston, like so many of his fellow travelers in the real world of today, claims to love humanity but no single member of humanity, nor does he love the human body. We have seen and continue to see that lovelessness--actually an outright loathing--of the human body, i.e., the "completed creature" made by God, in our real world, too, in ancient and medieval Gnostic beliefs and in modern-day iterations of Gnosticism such as socialism, generic kinds of leftism and utopianism, the entirety of transgenderism, and a politicized and scientified (or pseudo-scientified) brand of homosexuality. Within Lewis' Space Trilogy, that loathing or disregard of the body rears its head again in That Hideous Strength
In 1985, I read these words by Anthony Burgess:
     Traditionally, we have always hated a thing because it is intrinsically hatable. [. . .] There was a time when we knew what the hatable qualities were; now we are no longer sure. [. . .] Tolerance is weakness, cowardice is prudence. The notion of intrinsic loathability no longer exists.
     It seems to follow that lovability does not exist either. Love comes into Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it is neither the disinterested, generalized love of the Gospels nor the romantic love of nineteenth-century novelists. It is certainly not a love appropriate to marriage vows. [. . .] The love that [Julia] claims to feel for him [Winston] is, we learn, based on a recognition that his political orthodoxy is imperfect, and that his disaffection is ready to be expressed in the only form she knows--a willingness to fornicate. Fornication is forbidden by the State , since it offers a pleasure the State cannot control. To make love physically is an act of rebellion. [Emphasis added.] (pp. 100-101)
We have already seen for ourselves that the State--not the fictional State but the real overarching State slouching towards total control of people's lives--hates love, marriage, and family and wishes to destroy these things as threats to its power. It should come as no wonder that Big Brother and everyone he oppresses would see physical love as an act of rebellion. Burgess finds a problem with Julia's expression of love, though, and equates it to the State's own mockery of traditional values. He continues:
     The main fictional weakness of Nineteen Eighty-Four lies here. There is an insufficiency of conflict between the individual's view of love and the State's. Winston and Julia do not oppose to Big Brother the strength of a true marital union and, by extension, the values of family. (p. 101)
And from there moves on to predictions of a kind:
In 1984 [the year, not the book], whether Big Brother is there or not, the traditional view of love will have disappeared, and through no fault of the repressive State. (p. 101)
Big Brother [. . .] will be delighted to see the weakening of marital values. (p. 102)
Communism has tried to kill the family [. . .] since the family is the original of which the State tries to make a grotesque blown-up copy; it is far better for the family to kill itself. (p. 102)
So if totalitarianism, statism, socialism, and utopianism (science fiction, too) are essentially gnostic, then it only follows that all would express a hatred, loathing, or dread of the human body, moreover, of love itself, and would reduce physical love to a mere sexual act and of all individual human beings to objects. Or maybe it's the other way around: that the desire to shed the body and become a pure spirit leads to gnostic belief, in our world expressed nowhere so much as in progressive/leftist/socialist/statist politics. Others before me, I'm sure, have seen that in order for their program to be implemented, people of this stripe must destroy not only religion but also the family (and every other institution) that intervenes between the individual and the State. In other words, the individual must be stripped: naked, alone, and powerless, he must be prostrated before it, for to love, be married, and be a member of a family is to be loyal and devoted to something other than the State. That cannot be permitted.

Burgess' hybrid 1985 was published in 1978. Its author foresaw much, but he evidently did not foresee that Margaret Thatcher would become prime minister in just the following year. She as much as anyone headed off his laborite Dystopia. Last month, in December 2019, British voters went further still, and despite their continued descent towards dystopia of a different kind, put an end to Labor's dream of power. In any event, Margaret Thatcher famously said, in tacit opposition to progressives and other statists, "[T]here's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families." (1987) I believe that to be true--and the truth will out, now and forever. But what Anthony Burgess, also a conservative, foresaw is that it would be the people themselves rather than the State who would try to destroy love, marriage, and family. Have they--we--succeeded? I don't know. One thing is certain and that is that we have learned the lesson of twentieth century totalitarianism, that it is far more efficient for us to tyrannize ourselves and each other than for the State to work overtime in attempting to do the same thing. We have internalized tyranny and readily--eagerly--impose it upon ourselves. As Pogo says, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, October 27, 2019

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-Part Two

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) is in the Space Trilogy. Out of the Silent Planet, from 1938, begins with this disclaimer from its author:
Note: Certain slighting references to earlier stories of this type which will be found in the following pages have been put there for purely dramatic purposes. The author would be sorry if any reader supposed he was too stupid to have enjoyed Mr. H.G. Wells's fantasies or too ungrateful to acknowledge his debt to them.
Are we to believe him? I'm not sure. Maybe C.S. Lewis was too polite to go at Wells and his ideas outside the bounds of fiction. It seems to me, though, that Lewis had more than a little to say about the overweening faith in science and technology, also the materialism, collectivism, and progressivism, exhibited so obviously in Things To Come. Maybe Lewis saw that film while he was planning or beginning to write his book. (1)

Here is a pertinent quote from The Science of Fiction and the Fiction of Science: Collected Essays on SF Storytelling and the Gnostic Imagination by Frank McConnell (2009):
It was once fashionable to attack Wells for his optimism--to denigrate his boyish insistence that if only the world could he handed over to the engineers and the scientists, they would produce a clean, sane, chromium and glass civilization.
This optimistic side of his vision is expressed most unabashedly in his one screenplay, Things to Come (1936). The Marxist critic of the 1930s, Christopher Caudwell, accused Wells of being irresponsibly "spiritual" in his hopes for the future. C.S. Lewis, at almost the same time, accused Wells of being overly "materialistic."
So Lewis accused Wells of being "overly 'materialistic'." Great! That fits my thesis. Except that the late Mr. McConnell admitted that he was unable to find a source for the quote and the accusation. Drat! That's kind of a problem. But do we really need a quote from Lewis directly about Wells in order to see that they were at odds, or that at least Lewis was at odds with Wells? Maybe not. Maybe the works speak for themselves.

Weston, the villain in Out of the Silent Planet, makes a return appearance in the middle book of The Space Trilogy. Called Perelandra, it is my favorite of the three. Although he is only human in the first book, Weston descends into a demonic or satanic state in Perelandra. What I mean is that he's really bad. Really, really bad. For he wishes to seduce and corrupt an entire innocent people even before they are a people. He is the serpent in the garden of the planet Perelandra, what we call Venus, and he wishes to do to it what Old Nick has done to us here on Earth. (Or I guess what we have done to ourselves by succumbing to his temptations.) Weston has arrived--or soon will--on the planet, and this is where the ideas of H.G. Wells once again show themselves. Pay attention, because this is the earliest mention that I have seen within a work of fiction itself of the opposition fantasy (or at least Lewis' brand of fantasy) has to science fiction (or at least Wells' brand of science fiction):
He [Weston] was a man obsessed with the idea which is at this moment circulating all over our planet in obscure works of "scientifiction," in little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs, and between the covers of monstrous magazines, ignored or mocked by the intellectuals, but ready, if ever the power is put into its hands, to open a new chapter of misery for the universe. It is the idea that humanity, having now sufficiently corrupted the planet where it arose, must at all costs contrive to seed itself over a larger area: that the vast astronomical distances which are God's quarantine regulations, must somehow be overcome. This for a start. But beyond this lies the sweet poison of the false infinite--the wild dream that planet after planet, system after system, in the end galaxy after galaxy, can be forced to sustain, everywhere and for ever, the sort of life which is contained in the loins of our own species--a dream begotten by the hatred of death upon the fear of true immortality, fondled in secret by thousands of ignorant men and hundreds who are not ignorant. (Chapter 6) (2)
Weston, who has evolved since his debacle on Mars, explains himself again in the pages that follow. You can read them for yourself. Here's the really important part, the meat of his desire:
"The goal, Ransom, the goal: think of it! Pure spirit: the final vortex of self-thinking, self-originating activity."
Weston adds:
"Time is one of the things it will transcend."
He then describes a Force--yes, that's his exact word--
"a great, inscrutable Force, pouring up into us from the dark bases of being. A Force that can choose its instruments. [. . .] I've become conscious that I'm a man set apart. [. . .] It--the Force--has pushed me on all the time. [. . .] It is through me that the Spirit itself is at this moment pushing on to its goal."
So not only did Lewis respond to Wells, probably to Things To Come, and without a doubt to what he called "scientifiction," but he also anticipated the atheistic/materialistic space-fantasy of George LucasStar Wars, as well as the ideas of Lucas' mentor Joseph Campbell and the latter-day, half-baked, quasi-Marxist and early science-fiction fan Paul Krugman. And when I say he anticipated them, I mean that he headed them off, making their ideas obsolete even before they were formed.

Anyway, there is a lot of talk here of things that have traditionally been within the domain of faith, theology, and religion: spirit, transcendence, immortality, immanence, eschaton, and so on. I'm not a philosopher or theologian. I'm not exactly in my league in writing about these things. But it seems to me that the leftist-socialist-progressive drive, exhibited so often in science fiction, is towards a new kind of religion, one that is atheistic/materialistic and that wishes to bring about transcendence, immortality, and a material perfection called Utopia within the bounds of Time and Space. In this religion there is and will be no God, no heaven, no hereafter, no eternal life. (Sounds like lyrics from a John Lennon song.) And now I find that the same Frank McConnell whom I quoted above had these words written about him on a website, which shall remain nameless:
A member of the Pulitzer Prize jury, the late Frank McConnell helped science fiction gain standing as serious literature. [. . .] Initially believing that science fiction is primarily one of many forms of storytelling, McConnell gradually recognized science fiction as a modern expression of Gnosticism, rejecting bodily concerns for an emphasis on spirituality.
I love it when these things come together.

And now I wish I had his book. Anyway again, I think that Gnosticism, one version of which was a medieval Christian heresy, has showed up again in the modern world like in a game of Whack-a-Mole. I by no means have diagnosed this problem. In fact I have about as much as I know about it from a twentieth-century German-American philosopher named Eric Voegelin (1901-1985). He's another I would like to read. But for now we're on C.S. Lewis and there are one and a half books in his Space Trilogy to go.

To be continued . . .

(1) Lewis dedicated Out of the Silent Planet to his brother, Warren H. Lewis (1895-1973), "a life-long critic of the space-and-time story." I guess the question is this: Does "critic" mean "one who criticizes"? I don't think so. More likely, Lewis meant that his brother was a person who read and judged the merits of what we now call science fiction.
(2) I'll refer you once again to William Gibson's essential short story "The Gernsback Continuum," from 1981. The Gernsback of the title, yclept Hugo, was the originator of the term scientifiction and a successor to Wells in the field of utopian, progressive, and even a faintly fascist or socialist science fiction.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, October 25, 2019

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-Part One

I'm going back farther now into the past, into spring when, in a week when I was sick, I read The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. Things To Come (1936) was still fresh in my mind when I read these books. That freshness may have influenced my thoughts on Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). I shouldn't spend too much time on this, but I'm sure I will. There is a lot in The Space Trilogy and it's hard to move past some of these things without commenting on them and applying them to issues current in this blog and in our world of today.

Ransom is the protagonist in The Space Trilogy, yet much of the narrative turns on the actions of its villains (as is so often the case in our popular culture). In Out of the Silent Planet, the villain is Weston. When he explains himself in Chapter 20, he reminds me of Raymond Massey's character Cabal in Things to Come, which was released in 1936, just two years before this book was published. The premise is that Earth, called Thulcandra, the Silent Planet of the title, has been quarantined from all others because of the influence of its "bent" Oyarsa, or planetary leader. Weston himself is referred to as "bent," meaning, I think, fallen in his nature and given to pride and other sins (as we all are). Not satisfied with confinement to Earth, Weston seeks, as Cabal does, to conquer the universe. Speaking to the Oyarsa of Malacandra (Mars), he says:
"To you I may seem a vulgar robber, but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race. Your tribal life [. . .] has nothing to compare with our civilization--with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system which is rapidly annihilating space and time. Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower. Life [. . . .] has ruthlessly broken down all obstacles and liquidated all failures and to-day in her highest form--civilized man--and in me as his representative, she presses forward to that interplanetary leap which will, perhaps, place her for ever beyond the reach of death. [. . .] It is in her right [. . .] that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man on the soil on Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet, system after system, till our posterity--whatever strange form and yet unguessed mentality they have assumed--dwell in the universe wherever that universe is habitable."
The comparison between Weston and Cabal is imperfect. I don't want to overstate it. But it looks as though Weston is, like Cabal, a Darwinist, thus more or less a materialist, also a believer in the March of Progress and a subscriber to Scientism. I think you could fairly interpret Weston as a seeker after transcendence within a purely material universe, one that exists solely within Time and Space. To him there is likely no hereafter. Like too many real-world people today and of his own day, he appears to be a seeker after an immanentized eschaton. Like Cabal, too, he is a collectivist rather than an individualist. Cabal says: "Rest enough for the individual man, too much and too soon and we call it death, but for man, no rest and no ending." Weston, speaking in pidgin Malacandrian, echoes and simplifies Cabal's thought: "Me die. Man live."

Weston expresses a more complex idea--or his creator, C.S. Lewis, expresses it--through an exchange between Weston and the Oyarsa, summarized by the Oyarsa:
"Strange!" said Oyarsa. "You do not love any one of your race [. . . .] You do not love the mind of your race, nor the body. Any kind of creature will please you if only it is begotten by your kind as they are now. It seems to me [. . .] that what you really love is no completed creature but the very seed itself: for that is all that is left."
I'm not sure what Lewis was getting at here unless it is that Weston, and by extension all of us, is not satisfied with the "completed creature" made by God but wants instead to make of himself/humanity something new, created by himself/itself through technology, or maybe by a corrupted Nature. Call his desire a kind of transhumanism. In any case, Weston, like so many of his fellow travelers in the real world of today, claims to love humanity but no single member of humanity, nor does he love the human body. We have seen and continue to see that lovelessness--actually an outright loathing--of the human body, i.e., the "completed creature" made by God, in our real world, too, in ancient and medieval Gnostic beliefs and in modern-day iterations of Gnosticism such as socialism, generic kinds of leftism and utopianism, the entirety of transgenderism, and a politicized and scientified (or pseudo-scientified) brand of homosexuality. Within Lewis' Space Trilogy, that loathing or disregard of the body rears its head again in That Hideous Strength. Anyway, some of the philosophy or metaphysics of these three books is a little beyond me: I'm happy to hear other interpretations and opinions.

To be continued . . . 

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, the Avon edition of 1949 with a cover illustration by an unknown artist.

Avon reprinted Lewis' novel in 1956 with new cover art by Everett Raymond Kinstler. 

The version most readers know is probably the Macmillan edition of 1965. The cover artist was Bernard Symancyk, who I find is missing from the Internet. So . . .

Bernard Edward Symancyk was born on November 4, 1917, in Westfield, Massachusetts, to Konstanty and Marion Symancyk. He lived in Massachusetts and New York in the 1930s and '40s. By the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 15, 1942, he had received two years of college education and was working as a commercial artist. Symancyk served in the army until October 11, 1945. Previously, in 1943, he had married Dorothy Margaret Curry.

I don't know much about Symancyk's career as an artist, but in the 1940s, he was a practitioner of an art movement called Perceptionism. In the 1960s, he created stylized or conceptualized scientific and technological-type illustrations. His covers for the Space Trilogy are his only genre works listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Symancyk died on July 13, 1987, and is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, New York.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley