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 Labour'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


  1. Your last line reminds me of a Prisoner episode with the usual battle between Number 6 and Number 2 concluded with the Patrick McGoohan convincing his superior he is a traitor: "I'm not going to report you. You're going to report yourself.

    I've never read 1985. I did write about another Burgess dystopia, The Wanting Seed, at https://marzaat.wordpress.com/2018/12/23/the-wanting-seed/. It also looks at the place of love and procreation under an authoritarian state.

    1. Hi, Randy,

      I guess we should remember, too, who is the revealed Number 1. Anyway, people now report themselves and flog themselves for their own transgressions. They retract their own statements and repent. Sometimes they are allowed back into society. Other times they have to wait out a period of being outcast.

      I have never read The Wanting Seed, but I'll put it on my list, as I'm always on the lookout for dystopian fiction.

      Thanks for writing.