Friday, January 31, 2020

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-Part Five

There are now more parts to this series than there are to The Space Trilogy. It's been this way for several days now. This is the end of it, though, and it comes on a momentous day in English history mostly by serendipity. I should point out that this entry also makes 1,001 posts in the history of my blog--one thousand and one Tellers of Weird Tales.

You can fairly say that the villains in The Space Trilogy are not three-dimensional characters at all but strawmen. Maybe the whole thing is an allegory (or a melodrama) and so characterization takes a back seat to the author's main purpose. In any case, C.S. Lewis sets up his villains and then easily mows them down again, not so much with the events of his plot as with the weakness of their own words and beliefs: he leads us to see them as they truly are, as dangerous fools, liars, and charlatans. His villains don't stand a chance against his fully operational faith in greater things. People in the real world would seem fuller and a little more complicated than this comic book- or science fiction-type villain, but then Crazy Bernie or one of his acolytes spouts some bit of nonsense and you begin to see that there really are strawmen in the world. Stupid, ignorant, and dangerous in the extreme, they are in dire need of being mowed down.

I have been writing about gnosticism, which has reared its head again and again throughout history and since the nineteenth century in the form of Marxism and socialism. It's in science fiction and fantasy, too. In The Space Trilogy, it drives first Weston, then the people of N.I.C.E., towards an ultimate goal of pure-spirit. Here is one of them, Gould, in That Hideous Strength:
"In us organic life has produced Mind. It has done its work. After that we want no more of it. We do not want the world any longer furred over with organic life, like what you call the blue mould--all sprouting and budding and breeding and decaying. We must be rid of. By little and little, of course. Slowly we learn how. Learn to make our brains live with less and less body: learn to build our bodies directly with chemicals, no longer have to stuff them full of dead brutes and weeds. Learn how to reproduce ourselves without copulation."
He concludes:
"There will never be peace and order and discipline so long as there is sex. When man has thrown it away, then he will become governable." [Emphasis added; from Chapter 8.]
That is the goal and thus, I think, the anti-sex, anti-body (or mind-over-body or mind-more-important-than-body) attitude of progressivism and leftism, of socialism and statism, exhibited in 1984 for example but also explained in Anthony Burgess' 1985:
Fornication is forbidden by the State, since it offers a pleasure the State cannot control. To make love physically is an act of rebellion. (p. 101)
Remember, too, the story of Whittaker Chambers' conversion, recounted by Jonathan Leaf (from the website Stream, here):
     Suffering from melancholy and loneliness, Whittaker desperately wanted to believe in a cause that would offer him hope. And, for a time, the Communist movement offered him this. But there were costs involved in being part of it. One was that the Communists did not believe that their cadres should have children, as the party wanted their total devotion. Thus, when his wife became pregnant, the couple was told that she should have an abortion.
     This was a turning point for Chambers.
     He and his wife wanted a family, and they came to realize that the Communist Party’s ideas were in the most literal sense anti-life. [Emphasis added.]
The progressive/leftist/socialist/statist cause is of course notorious for its anti-life and by extension anti-body and anti-sex attitude. Or maybe it's the other way around: a person becomes anti-life, anti-body, and anti-sex before he goes looking for a creed that might affirm him in his convictions. I guess the reason is that true believers of this kind strive to be as gods or angels, just as in That Hideous Strength the members of N.I.C.E. attempt to become sexless, bodiless, and deathless, like the angelic eldila:
 "He says they don't breathe. He said also that they don't reproduce their species and don't die." (Chapter 9)
We should remember that Marx saw himself as being above ordinary people. There are people today--they will always be with us--corrupted to their souls with the same kind of arrogance and contempt for their fellow human beings. Is it bad of me if I say it will come as a kind of satisfaction to watch them become old, frail, and sickly--to see them finally on their deathbeds? Will they finally realize, in the confrontation, their own bodiliness? Their own mortality? Where will all of their aspirations to godhood be then?

* * *

At the end of Chapter 9 of That Hideous Strength, there is a long statement as to the nature of the crisis at hand:
The physical sciences, good and innocent in themselves, had already, even in Ransom's own time, begun to be warped, had been subtly manœuvred in a certain direction. Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result. [. . .] Dreams of the far future destiny of man were dragging up from its shallow and unquiet grave the old dream of Man as God. The very experiences of the dissecting room and the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stifling of all deep-set repugnances was the first essential for progress.
Here, then, is the program:

1. "Despair of objective truth" to be insinuated not just in scientists but in everyone. (Paul Johnson diagnosed more or less the same problem--that there is nothing fixed and all is relative--in his history Modern Times.)

2. "A concentration upon mere power": here is O'Brien in 1984:
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. [. . .] The object of power is power." (From Part 3, Chapter 3)
Here is that dingbat congresswoman from New York recently, letting the mask slip before hiding herself again:
"So I don't want your money as much as we want your power. The people, not me."
It's always in the name of the people.

3. "[T]he old dream of Man as God", the gnostic dream, I guess, of escape from the body and the confines of Earth, into bodilessness, into pure-spirit, free to remake the Creation and to wander unbound over its vastnesses.

4. "[A] conviction that the stifling of all deep-set repugnances was the first essential for progress."

Then, a related question:
What should they [the people of N.I.C.E.] regard as too obscene, since they held that all morality was a mere subjective by-product of the physical and economic situations of men?
The French philosopher Paul Virilio (1932-2018) asked questions like it in his book Art and Fear (2003). You can read some of his words and what I wrote about him and his book by clicking here. (I should point out that this point--and Virilio's point--is just one more bit of evidence in support of Brian Aldiss' statement that all science fiction is gothic and descends from Frankenstein.)

There are of course people still at work trying to implement that program. Lewis recognized them in his day and predicted them in our own. In That Hideous Strength, they are defeated, at least for a while. Like the plague in Camus' novel, though, their ideas are certain to go simply back into a trunk, only to flare up again on another day. In any case, they're back, and they'll keep coming back, in one form or another, for as long as there are people, and wherever we happen to live in this universe. As Lewis wrote in the first book of his trilogy, we are bent and because of that we are to be quarantined on this silent planet.

* * *

George Orwell objected to the supernatural elements in That Hideous Strength. (You can read his review here.) He objected specifically to the resurrection of the old Arthurian wizard Merlin. I'm not sure that Lewis handled this part of his story very well. I admit to being confused by it, the way Orwell seems to have been confused. There is an idea that struck me in the Merlin plot, though, especially considering current events. After the crisis is resolved, Dimble, one of the good guys, observes:
". . . gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting."
     "What haunting?" asked Camilla.
    "How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven't you noticed that we are two countries? [. . . ] There has been a secret Logres [i.e., the original Arthurian realm] in the very heart of Britain all these years; an unbroken succession of Pendragons. [. . .] [I]n every age they and the little Logres which gathered round them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her." (Chapter 17)
This might be a strange thing for an Irishman like Lewis to write. Nonetheless, it resonates on this day--finally, finally--of Brexit, a day upon which England (Wales, too, Lewis' original home country) backs away from the elitism, internationalism, and so on of what is called "Europe" and into its own sovereignty and independence again. I wish I could say that Brexit also means a backing away from tyranny, but maybe we can't have everything all at once. If we could, where would the excitement be or the struggle originate? Anyway, I would like to congratulate the people of England and Wales--and anybody in Scotland and Northern Ireland who wants it--on their freeing themselves from an unwanted association with the Continent. The legend is that King Arthur would return one day to save his country. Who would have thought that he would become embodied in an American-born, upper-crust, tousle-haired Etonian? Then again, maybe England isn't saved just yet. In this week also of impeachment (I write on January 25), when the leaders of one American party, with their overweening pride in themselves and the perceived fineness of their own minds and ideas--contemporary gnostics, I suppose--are busy trying to undo the results of the last election and prevent the results of the next, and when the man they're trying to impeach eloquently speaks at a Pro-Life march in Washington, D.C., we might have reason to believe that God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

* * *

At last, towards the very end of That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis has the merest mention of a book, Trahison des clercs, and no mention at all of its author, Julien Benda (1867-1956), or any of his ideas. I haven't read this book and can't really speak to it. I guess Lewis threw it like the kitchen sink into That Hideous Strength and there it lies for us to consider.

And so ends this series.

That Hideous Strength, a paperback edition issued in 1955-1956 by Pan Books with cover art by "Sax," Rudolph Michael Sachs (1897-1969). The horse and rider at the bottom remind me of the painting "The Race Track" or "Death on a Pale Horse" by the American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder.

The book was called The Tortured Planet in an American edition from Avon, 1958. The cover art was by another horse--a workhorse named Richard M. Powers (1921-1996). The surname and Powers' Roman Catholic faith make me think that he was of Irish descent.

Finally, another British edition, from 1960, again with art by Sax. Note the gothic imagery of decay and apocalyptic destruction in both of his covers.

By the way, in my posting the other day on Anthem by Ayn Rand, I closed with a pulp-magazine cover showing her hero, who has renamed himself Prometheus, grasping a lightning bolt, representing his rediscovery of electrical power. Well, in That Hideous Strength the symbol of N.I.C.E. is described as "a muscular male nude grasping a thunderbolt." (Chapter 10) Remember that Frankenstein is subtitled "A Modern Prometheus." I guess if we are to displace God at the head of the universe and become godlike in our power and wisdom, we must literally steal his thunder.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

2 comments:

  1. Notice that the Avon paperback was abridged by Lewis himself. I wish I still had a copy of that paperback as I would be interesting to compare the full and edited texts to see what Lewis thought expendable.

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    1. Good catch, Carrington,

      I saw the word "abridged" and looked right past it. That would be an interesting comparison, sort of like a Reader's Digest book only abridged by the author.

      Like I said, I think that "That Hiddeous Strength" is overlong and pretty densely written in a lot of places. It could stand some abridging. I'm glad the author had a chance to do it.

      Thanks for reading and writing.

      TH

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