A Most Hideous Strength: Counter-Initiation and Subversive Politics in C.S. Lewis’ Imaginarium
In this analysis of C.S. Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength, Mihai Marinescu provides us with a whole range of insights on posthumanism, counter-initiation, mass media, conspiracy culture and much more. Lengthy, exhaustive and not to be missed – just the way we like it on Kali Tribune.
Clive Staples Lewis is a name rarely given much attention in deep politics research, conservative or traditionalist circles, although this seems to be changing lately. Perhaps he is unjustly associated with writing children’s literature, though even his books for children have at least the potential of reaching a far-wider audience; or perhaps it is the total lack of scholarly wrapping in which most of his wide-spread books are presented. For the conspiracy audience, too, his traditional Christian world-view as well as his staunch asketical focus make his works completely unfit to be integrated into to blue-pill/ red-pill, “connecting the dots” narrative or “being awake” in a strictly activist sense..
That being said, we’ll offer this short introduction into the nature of his works.
C.S. Lewis, besides being a Medieval and Renaissance scholar in his professional work, held a wide array of interests during his life. He was for some time an atheist and nihilist, dabbled for a while in things like theosophy and occultism before finally converting back to Christianity under the influence of some of his friends (among whom was the well-known J.R.R. Tolkien).
He remained an Anglican throughout his life, but that is only half of the story. He was well-acquainted with traditional Christian theology – both Western and Eastern – although the point of view from which he frequently writes has more in common with the thought of Eastern Fathers; indeed he has been called by some Orthodox in the West as “an Orthodox in disguise”, although he himself would have been surprised by such a title. He has indeed written an introduction to St. Athanasius’ treatise On the Incarnation and judging by his books he was quite well-versed in a number of other Eastern authors.
But his eastern stance should not be understood as mainly a mental standpoint, it was more like an “existential” one. This is certainly a lasting influence on him exercised by George Macdonald, an author whom Lewis pays homage in one of his works and whose cosmological and soteriological views where certainly very Eastern (being himself influenced by the likes of, among others, St Gregory of Nyssa). In this way, traditional Eastern thought was integrated in Lewis in a very “organic” way.
Lewis’ books can be said to be characterized by a thorough, subtle and deep knowledge of the human soul (a knowledge due mainly to his own personal experience and meditative inclinations rather than to theoretical study) intellectual and logical rigor, as well as an unrelenting determination to be interested in writing and following nothing else but the Truth in everything. His writings are very accessible in terms of language and terminology but he manages to write about very difficult subjects in a very simple and straightforward way, humility being one very important characteristic.
As for some negative points- there are every now and then certain inevitable limitations, sometimes brought about by tendencies in the Anglican milieu he could not wholly avoid, as well as some questionable theories here and there in some of his fictional works, perhaps through the influence of one of his close friends, Owen Barfield, himself influenced by Steiner’s Anthroposophy. But all this concerns very secondary points that in no way alter the positive aspects presented above.
His logical or discursive apologetic works are certainly interesting, but his fictional books are where everything truly comes to life. Among such works is his so-called “space trilogy”, though a more accurate title would be “Ransom trilogy”, since they all feature Dr. Elwin Ransom as a main character: Out of the Silent Plant, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. The genre to which this trilogy belongs can loosely be called half sci-fi, half-fantasy, although it far transcends what people usually think of when hearing these labels applied; it is also immaterial to strictly delineate and define the genre. They are works that have a lot to say about philosophy, religion, metaphysics, modernity and politics.
We will focus our analysis on That Hideous Strength.
The title of the book comes from a 16th century poem, called Ane Dialogue, by Sir David Lindsay- it is a line in the poem referring to the tower of Babel: ”The shadow of that hideous strength, sax myle and more it is of length”. In this novel, the small British town called Edgestow, seat of an University – Bracton College – becomes the battle ground between the forces of darkness and those of light. On the dark side we have the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments (or N.I.C.E. with pun certainly intended) who are, ultimately, tools of the dark archons of the air (Ephesians 6), and the legendary Order of Logres, whose head – the Pendragon- has become Dr. Ransom who, after previously battling and defeating the fallen angel himself in Perelandra, has reconquered the Edenic state and hence made worthy to occupy the central seat of Logres whose existence – in the novel- is revealed to have been an uninterrupted line of succession ever since the days of the legendary King Arthur.
Logres these days, however, is not what you would expect it to be- perhaps modern versions of medieval knights ready to engage the powers of evil in glorious battle- but it mainly consists of Ransom as the director, a 60 year old widow, a young and newly married couple, an older married couple, another young lady whose husband is serving time in prison due to petty theft and an old-fashioned type of 19th century skeptical empiricist (McPhee) who, even though has views completely contrary to what the rest profess, is nonetheless accepted in their midst because of his warm-hearted style and his unrelenting stance in support of the cause of justice.
On the other side we have an organization with paramilitary forces at its disposal, secret police, deep roots in the British parliament and also international ties. Were history to be nothing but a flat surface, there would be no question of the outcome. However, as it is, the scale is tilted, in reality, without any question in the favor of Logres.
The central focus of this battle is the magician Merlin who, in this novel, is said not to be dead but in a sort of cataleptic sleep, with bodily functions magically suspended and designed to awake at a specific time in history. He lies underneath Bracton College.
The macro-plot runs parallel to a micro-plot which follows the engagement and involvement in the above described action of the modernized type of disgruntled married couple Mark and Jane Studdock.
The abolition of man
It is certainly worth saying that this particular work among the three in the trilogy is mostly a dramatized illustration of Lewis’ ideas expressed in “The abolition of man”. This small book actually consists of three conferences which Lewis delivered in 1943.
The second and third conferences (titled the “The Tao” and “The abolition of man”) speak about the inevitable degeneration of the modern world in its various stages- starting with the complete jettisoning of Transcendence at the time of the Enlightenment and ending in the complete relativism with all its inevitably sinister consequences.
First, he says, the modern world has ignored and denied metaphysics and all transcendent principles upon which true morality is based. At first it was merely a lukewarm attempt. Those who cut down the trunk still attempted to retain a few of its branches simply pretending that these can actually remain green and bare fruit even though separated, as they have become, from the life of the Trunk.
Thus, in the empiricist and scientistic Weltanschauung that was gaining momentum, all morality was sought to be explained through purely naturalistic means, mainly in terms of instinct and social utility.
While many moral principles were thus rendered relative and mere “historical relics” which should be abolished since through modern science man has attained the possibility to shield himself from any possible negative social and personal consequences, hardcore principles- like not to murder, not to steal, to sacrifice yourself for the good of the community etc. were considered useful socially and thus attempts were made to retain them. This was, however, a pure impossibility.
Soon enough the stupidity of it all was detected. If there is no transcendent – and thus stable – ground on which to base such moral codes and if everything was to be reduced to the naturalistic and social – and thus everything, including principles themselves, trapped in the realm of flux – then there is no reason to treat social utility and the like any differently. If everything is relative, then why should one care for social utility or even personal safety for that matter?
Consequent spirits like Nietzsche soon emerged to point out the ridiculous contradiction into which their epoch was dwelling, the absurdity of petty bourgeois morality in the context of a cold, dark world which has separated itself of its own accord from the life giving rays of the Sun. It is perhaps hilarious to see today on the internet some of the Dawkinite-fan / new-atheist type who cites loose and de-contextualised words of Nietzsche about the “death of God”, thinking that they are mainly directed against Christians and religious people in general. They are certainly not. On the contrary, Nietzsche concentrated his efforts precisely on the lukewarm “Dawkinite/ new-atheist mentality” of his day, which was incapable of understanding the radical and earth-shattering paradigm shift which resulted from the “death of God”.
Mainstream society then, like even at this day, still lived everyday life as if there is objective value, all the while affirming (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) that there can be no such thing. To speak of “objectivity” in a materialist framework means to have a very strange form of miopia, not being able to see any consequences which are further than the tip of one’s nose. If the One is not – says Plato in his Parmenid – there cannot subsist even the illusion of unity, because an illusion mimics an actual reality. With no actual reality to mimic, there can be no mimicking either.
In this state of affairs, Lewis argues in the Abolition, once every single principle and value has been “debunked” all that is left is the one single anti-value that is immune to debunking: the subjective, individual will, which never made any pretense of actual objectivity in the first place but who seeks to raise itself, through sheer force, to the status of objective value in-itself.
It is the self-deification of the individual will.
One popular slogan in the past (which still subsists today, regardless of the change in terminology) was “the conquest of nature by man”. What was meant by this is the abolition of existence as a given and its replacement with existence as choice. All the limitations imposed on man, either by religious tradition or simply by nature as external environment, succumbed to the brutal alliance of relativist ideology and modern science and technology. Reality, so it seems, is prevented by the progress in technology to give its inevitable backlash against the individual will who seeks to ignore it or even bend it to its own egoistic and insane purposes. But this is just an illusion, because, as Lewis so aptly argues, the exact moment of the complete “triumph of the will” coincides with the complete and irreversible enslavement of the will. When every stable stone has been removed and all that remains are the shifting sands of the subjective will man has become the ultimate slave of nature. With no stable principle on which to base his actions or to account for his purposes, man becomes the slave of the most elementary impulses both of his psyche and of the outer environment. With no transcendent Law to direct one’s actions and to prevent the outbreak of the passions, one’s decisions – even decisive ones – can very easily be dictated by a momentarily indigestion or by an abrupt change in the weather.
But this is not at all the whole story. Were it to be all, then man and human society would simply dissolve in a state of complete zoology. But history is not a flat plane; when the transcendent dimension of life has been abandoned all that remains is not an immanent plane, free to dissolve on its own without any further interference from the outside. What happens next is the opening up of the gateway to the lower abode, leading to the path of night.
The reader who is familiar with Guenon will surely have identified by now that what we are describing here refers to what the French metaphysician calls “the fissure of the great wall”. In a way, we could say next that Lewis’ novel is an actual dramatized version, an illustration of what Guenon calls the counter-tradition and the counter-initiation as well as the profile and actual spiritual state attained by those who have chosen to tread the path of night, the way which leads nowhere, to the tohu-bohu before the Fiat. What is important to understand, however, is that the so-called “de-conditioning” or the discarding of “superimposed” identities – such ideas championed by followers of the so-called “left-hand path” (an in a social variation by all sorts of “liberation” and anarchist groups) do not lead to a triumph that raises one above the profane and mundane, but beneath them all in a complete slavery to powers that are far beyond human control.
The workings of the N.I.C.E.
1. Social and political subversion
The sinister N.I.C.E. is, as seen in the novel, structured in a strict hierarchical manner, having outer and inner working, concentric circles where those positioned on the circumference are usually dupes and puppets, with only a handful of members actually conscious of the real plans and purposes of the organization and even less – only two at the beginning of the novel – who are initiated into the ultimate “mysteries”.
The N.I.C.E. has Horace Jules as public face of the organization and, as far as the outside world is concerned, he is the head of the Institute. In reality, however, he is only a dupe and a mascot who is only employed for publicity purposes, being a good rhetorician as well as a writer of popular science books. Later in the book he is revealed as having completely outdated views of science, being stuck somewhere in the nineteenth century as well as being completely oblivious as to the actual experiments conducted by the N.I.C.E. and the ideas animating it.
The parallel to modern figures such as Richard Dawkins and Neal deGrasse Tyson is more very striking. These are simply showmen designed to amuse the audience with simplistic narratives and colorful exposition of what is only pop-magazine exposition of actual science.
The N.I.C.E. also has its main team of sociologists and propagandists who are themselves very little initiated into the organization and, in fact, are a disposable tool, soon to become useless and obsolete, for gaining political control of Britain.
The team of sociologists is merely responsible for propaganda articles in N.I.C.E. controlled newspapers. We see one such example when a rural community is going to be destroyed by the N.I.C.E. and their propaganda praising the “economic and social progress” resulting from this, while attaching, of course, the label of “backward reactionary” or “anachronisms” to any voice who has any qualms about an organic human community becoming destroyed in the name of abstract ideas. In the globalistic world of today the “necessary evil” brought to local communities is the only thing which is truly real – while the purported “good” is merely an abstraction that exists only in arbitrary statistics.
Lord Feverstone, the main N.I.C.E. politician with deep roots into the British Parliament, reveals some other plans of social subversion: sterilization, selective breeding and, of course, psychological conditioning through the subversion of education – including pre-natal education. But even all this psychological manipulation is only a somewhat vexatious first-step:
“We want to write it down, to camouflage it. Only for the present, of course. Once the thing gets going, we shouldn’t have to worry about the heart of the British public. But in the meantime it does make a difference how things are put. For instance, if it were even whispered that the N.I.C.E. wanted powers to experiment on criminals, you’d have old women of both sexes up in arms and yapping about humanity: call it re-education of the maladjusted and you have them slobbering with delight. Odd thing is- the word <experiment> is unpopular but not the word <experimental>. You mustn’t experiment on children: but offer the dear little kiddies free education in an <experimental school> attached to the N.I.C.E. and it’s all correct. “
The abolition of man begins with the abolition of language, or with the re-defining of words. Within the Institute, for example, the Deputy Director – Whither- is very careful about the words he employs even with his closest associates – torture is “scientific investigation”, spiking someone’s drink with aphrodisiac is “chemical intervention”, blind obedience is “elasticity”, destruction of whole communities the “liquidation of anachronisms”.
We also see Feverstone securing Bracton College for the Institute. The doorway is provided by the so-called “progressive” element of the college. Here we have an example to better understand some of the realities of today. The “progressive element” is the type of post-modern academia, intellectually and verbally supporting the rise of relativism in all aspects of life, while at the same time having not the courage, nor even the far-sightedness of actually seeing the ultimate consequences to which their ideas lead. They are arm-chair revolutionaries. But they become the useful idiots of those like Lord Feverstone who are prepared to actually walk the walk…While the arm-chair academia praises the Institute for their alleged programs of efficiency, “pragmatometry” and the support for the progress of science, Feverstone bursts into laughter the minute they turn their backs, because he knows that such propaganda slogans are only trash sold to the public.
Another tool of subversion and of gaining political and social control is, of course, the mass-media. It is revealed that with only a few exceptions, all the major papers are bought or else are under the strict influence of the N.I.C.E. The most important propaganda pieces are not even written at the headquarters of the newspaper, but at the Institute directly.
Having established control over Bracton College through the “progressive element”, the Institute now moves to control the whole town of Edgestow. Under the pretext of some construction needed to be done around the college, a whole mob of what are said to be “workers” of low quality is brought into the town, disrupting the everyday life therein through petty theft, street fights and even murders. Soon the whole town becomes flooded with so-called “workers”, the local police is overwhelmed and a major riot is engineered from behind the curtains in order for the N.I.C.E. to come in with its own task force of paramilitary police and thus to establish complete control of the town. (Middle East, anyone? Color Revolutions?)
It is in this context that Mark Studdock is asked by the chief of the Institute’s police (the sadistic and bitchy Miss Hardcastle) to write a series of articles before the occurrence of the riot which will be published in the papers immediately after the occurrence (Charlie Hebdo? T-shirts with slogans appearing just minutes after the event?) white-washing the Institute and making it appear the hero of the day for saving a potentially fatal situation.
Dialectics is the chosen tool of control. To Mark’s question whether the articles should appear in right or left wing papers, Miss Hardcastle replies:
Both, honey, both. […] Isn’t it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and a fierce Right both on their toes and each terrified of the other? That’s how we get things done. Any opposition to the N.I.C.E. is presented as a Left racket in the Right papers and as a Right racket in the Left papers. If it’s properly done, you get each side outbidding the other in support for us- to refute the enemy slanders. Of course we’re not political. Real power always is.
There is a very important lesson to be learned here. Namely, it is extremely naive to suppose that belonging to one of the two halves of the political spectrum one is in possession of the whole truth, while the other side has nothing of it. It is completely illogical to think that the whole can reside into something which by very definition is just a part – because both left and right are, by their very names, merely partial points of view; the part – any part in any domain whatsoever – will have its inevitable blind spots. Truth is above and beyond all such dialectics, while the lie is beneath them.
While the servants of Truth seek to transcend particular viewpoints and parties in order to see the whole from a point above, the artisans of illusion also seek to transcend dialectics but in an inverted manner, in which they are prepared to use any movement, party, ideology as long as it suits their nefarious purpose in the end. Thus, to place unconditional hope in a political movement, especially in our contemporary context, is something not only naive but very dangerous and can lead to unforeseen and disastrous consequences, because the Truth cannot be contained by systems of any kind.
Hardcastle’s talk about Left and Right rackets is something which can be called “Room 101 journalism”. That is: a certain problem (sometimes real, sometimes invented) is presented in such a vague and ambiguous way so that it becomes everything for everyone, ending up like the thing in Room 101 in the 1984 novel- everyone’s worse fear. I think that a small example from Branko’s article regarding this very phenomenon will suffice:
Both the political Leftist misrepresentation of simulacrum of Islam, epitomized by women protesters bearing images depicting a woman wearing American flag hijab and Rightist appropriating the Wahabi sect as the face of Islam as essentially being an ideology, not only distort but completely annihilate any understanding of the real thing[…]
Beyond their social and political goals and further up on the hierarchical structure (or rather down, since it is a counter-hierarchy) we see that the N.I.C.E. having its own Ray Kurzweil in the person of Dr. Filostrato!
In a conversation with Mark Studdock, Filostrato presents in unambiguous terms what has today become popularized as the transhumanist ideology. Filostrato’s utopia is the complete eradication of all things organic, not only in relation to the human body, but to the natural environment as well. Filostrato looks dreamily at the surface of the Moon and projects a future when the Earth will become a similar wasteland with no more organic life, no more germs and death-causing bacteria and, in general, nothing that is subject to decay. The human will become completely synthetic by merging with the machine.
This synthetic paradise deserves to be ruled by a synthetic god- none other than the post-man or the post-human: the transhuman. Will all living human beings become such a technological upgraded version? Of course not! In the words of Filostrato:
There is no such thing as man, it is a word. It is not <man> who will be omnipotent , it is some one man, some immortal man. Alcasan, our Head, is the first sketch of it. The completed product may be someone else- it may be you, it may be me.
In other words, the separateness of individuality itself will be abolished and merged into one. A parody of the heavenly state, where everything is unity in distinction and distinction in unity. Here, in the transhumanist version, we have melting in confusion.
We see that Filostrato is backed up by Straik who, though not himself a scientist, sees in the transhumanist project a fulfillment of the Christian doctrine of Resurrection. Straik himself is an apostate reverend (and Lewis had loads of examples in his Anglican church to choose from). He explains to Mark that “God” is not an already existing being, but a work in progress. All prophecies and spiritual doctrines are merely confused intuitions of something which is to come in the near future – man will become omnipotent and omniscient; the birth of the transhuman is equivalent to the birth of “god”.
Indeed, in the novel we see that Filostrato has managed, apparently to bring back the convicted murderer’s Alcasan consciousness back to life – his head, which now harbors a large brain, has been connected to a machine which apparently switches on and off his consciousness.
Before going further, there is one question that we would like to see transhumanists answer: if, let’s just suppose for the sake of the argument, we reach the transhumanist utopia and become omnipotent and omniscient, the problem is that these states of being (let’s call them this) are already pre-existing. The transhuman would just actualize a state which is already there. Plus, to become omniscient is to be able to know everything, including all those things which in our state of non-omniscience we do not know. So it is more like discovering things that are already there. So who put them there to begin with, if there is no God but post-man?
3. Occultism and counter-initiation
But even Filostrato’s materialist scientism (because when all is said and done his transhumanism is an extreme form of immanentism) is revealed to be only another disposable stepping stone on the path to the apex of the pyramid and Filostrato himself revealed to be a simple dupe.
At the very top we find the rulers of the N.I.C.E. – Dr. Whither and Professor Frost. For both of them, all the previously presented steps – sociology, propaganda, politics, police and secret power and, finally science, are all subordinated to what they view as the ultimate science: occultism. Their goal is to bring the awakened Merlin on their side to realize the perfect synthesis of power which is to be found at the exact intersection of magical and technological power.
Professor Frost reveals to Mark the secret doctrine which animates all the plots of the Institute. It is the contact and commerce with a realm beyond the empirical, with beings which Frost calls “macrobes” – invisible like microbes but at the other end of the chain of Being (in reality, of course, demons).
Their [macrobes] effect on human history has been greater than that of the microbes, though equally unrecognized. The real causes of all the principle events are quite unknown to the historians.
In this, at least, we can agree with him, though for opposite reasons.
These “macrobes” have been directing the evolution of man ever since the dawn of history and now they are seeking to bring man to the next step in the said evolution. He likens humanity to an organism (again a correct doctrine of the micro-macrocosm interpreted however in an inverted manner) and the bulk of humanity to the human body, the technocracy being the head:
A few centuries ago a large agricultural population was essential […] every advance In industry and agriculture reduces the number of work-people required. A large, unintelligent population is now a dead-weight. […] The masses are therefore to disappear. The body is to become all head. The human race is to become all Technocracy.
Frost completely derides all Mark’s attempts to save some appearance of traditional morality through arguments of social utility:
I do not think that this pseudo-scientific language really modifies the essentially subjective and instinctive basis of the ethics you are describing.
Eventually, Mark himself recognizes that Frost’s views are nothing but the logical consequences of his own relativistic view of life, the difference being that those like Frost follow the thread to the very end instead of dwelling in arm-chair theories.
Here is something which provides the key to the, quite understandable, difficulties which most common people feel when confronted with domains like deep politics, occultism and all that comes along with them which look to them like impossible conspiracy theories. The natural and immediate reaction is “who could be so heartless and evil as to do such a thing? Who could be so devoid of conscience? All this sounds like crazy comic-book villains”
There are two things which should be said about this attitude. The first is that, educated within the confines of illuminist anthropology and the ideology of progress (which is still holding sway today in public education), modern man has an extremely limited knowledge of human nature. The knowledge of history is in no way any richer. Finally, the average modern westerner, especially those born a few decades after WWII and all the more in countries beyond the “Iron curtain” live a lifestyle that is a sort of bubble, with no interaction with some of the more darker aspects of life and of the world. The things outlined above are so far-removed from his everyday experience in the mass-media spectacle society that the common man regards them with complete incredulity. This is one reason.
The second, however, is far more important and in his “Abolition…” Lewis explains it very well:
Other, more simple minded, critics may ask: <Why do you suppose them [that is the “conditioners”] to be bad men?> But I am not supposing them to be bad men. They are, rather, not men at all. They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what man shall henceforth mean. <Good and bad> applied to them are words without content. […] The very words <corrupt> and <degenerate>imply a doctrine of values and are therefore meaningless in this context.
And a little further down:
[…] Man’s conquest of himself simply means the rule of the Conditioners over the conditioned human material, the world of post-humanity, which some knowingly and some unknowingly, nearly all men in all nations are at present laboring to produce.
Nearly all men in all nations are laboring to produce post-humanity? But how can that be, since we’re sure that the majority has not even heard about such a term?
The term post-human should not be reduced to the transhumanist madness. It would actually be a great mistake to think that only Kurzweil and his ilk would fit into this category. It is, in reality, a severing of the participation in what, in essence, means to be human – down to the most elementary and common human experiences and emotions. It is not vice or sin in the traditional sense, because these two words denote a deformation of what it is to be human, but the deformed image still has some ties to the original image. Post-humanism is not a deformation, but a dissolution, a stepping into the void where everything is swallowed by meaninglessness – not an abuse of natural faculties, but a complete renunciation of them, a state where the impossible possibility of becoming a negation in itself (as opposed to a negation of an existing and acknowledged affirmation) becomes, in a relative sense, actualized.
Thus, any ideology, any presupposition that denies all transcendent truths – either by closing everything in the realm of flux or else affirming and amorphous chaos at the origin of all things- is a doorway to post-humanism. It goes without saying that the same applies to any ideology that affirms individual will as the source of meaning and reality.
In other words and to answer the common objection stated above: the voice of conscience is valid only in so far as we accept that a conscience (that is an ontological, transcendent law seeded in the very fabric of our being) exists. If the voice of conscience is taken to be just a psychological or even chemical phenomenon, a relic of primitive evolutionary stages, then absolutely everything becomes possible.
Taking a look at Lewis’ characters, we see how such an existence on a post-humanist basis looks like. We see that towards the end of the novel, Frost presents Mark with the possibility of being initiated (or rather counter-initiated) in the full “mysteries” that are behind all social, scientific and political masks adopted by the Institute. In a sort of masonic manner, the psychic training that Mark undergoes is done in a so-called “objectivity room”. By objectivity, one should understand here the discarding of all that is positively a human experience. It is a room with a ceiling full of dots who appear to have a certain kind of pattern but, on closer inspection, they are revealed to have none. The architecture of the room contains, as well, a sort of subtle deformity, while there are pictures lying all around the room with religious icons that contain hidden blasphemies, easy to miss at the first, cursory glance. The idea here being that the deformity, the anti-harmony, the ugly, the blasphemous, all these must not be at all obvious to a superficial look. They must not be brutal but rather they must act like a subtle poison less upon the conscious and more upon the subconscious, to produce a subtle suggestion that all the harmony, symmetry and patterns that we observe in the universe are nothing but an illusion caused by our current mental constitution. Frost himself says explicitly that all ethics, aesthetics, virtues, duties, even intentions are mere chemical phenomena, relics that formed once evolutionary necessities, but which must be discarded if we are to accede to the next level in our evolution.
Frost and Whither are what Guenon (citing the islamic tradition) calls “Awliya al-Shaytan”, friends or “saints” of Satan. Frost realizes his goal of living without purpose and intention to the extent that his acts are increasingly random, impossible to explain and seem to accomplish absolutely nothing. In the end he simply pours gasoline on himself and sets himself on fire because he felt an undefined impulse to do so.
Whither, on the other hand, lives in a state of a perpetual semi-trance or some kind of astral projection in the psychic realm. In order to cope with his everyday activities he has created a “second self” on the outer rim of his consciousness. He is nearly always half-absent in his conversations with others and in some extreme cases he seems almost to be a complete automaton, a walking corpse. He also imitates some wondrous acts associated with saints – such as the possibility to be in more than one place at the same time, projecting a ghost-like appearance that haunts the halls of the Institute. Whither also seems to be the only one completely (or almost) conscious of the powers with which he is dealing and who the “macrobs” really are. In the final scene, when Merlin comes at Belbury to destroy it, he realizes that powers have descended from beyond the sphere of the Moon to destroy the N.I.C.E., proving that his dark masters were wrong in their promises that the Earth is completely blockaded and cut-off from any heavenly intervention.
To conclude with a short parallel to our modern days, it is not hard to see that such ideas are common place in our post-modern “culture”. One movie that comes to mind is Lucy, as a perfect illustration of the type of the anti-thinking outlined above.
Experiencing symptoms of unintelligibility as of late, Nimrod?
It is only fitting to say a few things about the group at St-Anne’s – “Logres”. Throughout the novel, their only action has been, apparently, to sit around and wait for orders from the Director – Dr. Ransom. To the exasperated remarks of McPhee that they are sitting around doing nothing besides growing vegetables in the garden, Ransom replies: “You have done what was required of you. You have obeyed and waited.”
No activism was allowed by Ransom who stubbornly refused McPhee’s suggestions to enter into politics and start recruiting adepts from all over England. Instead, he insisted that everyone do what was within their reach – and from the outer perspective, not much external action was to be expected from their group, besides the determination to go where the Truth would lead them and put their own lives at risk should it prove necessary. All this, corroborated with the knowledge that history is not a closed system and that the evil powers cannot keep out the heavenly powers for too long.
In the end, the N.I.C.E. was destroyed not by individual effort, but by Divine intervention, even though at the same time Logres was the gateway through which this intervention manifested, through which the synergy of Earth and Heaven was realized.
Merlin himself was revealed to actually be on the good side, even though everybody feared the opposite considering his druidic and magical past. Lewis provides and interesting theory about natural magic. By natural magic I mean the working with the psychic energy found within the natural environment; we could consider these energies as neutral or “prime matter” that can be used either for good or bad just like, for example herbs, can be used either for healing or for poisoning. Merlin, it is said in the novel, lived in a time when working such magic had a far less evil or even problematic potential because there was still a “gray area” at that time, an area of forces that were simply as stated above – neutral, their direction depending on the intention of the magician or theurgos using them. Since then the natural environment has been subjected to an increasing entropy, with the once clean wells of natural power becoming infested by the powers of darkness. One can compare this with a field full of different herbs and trees in which (in the field that is) toxic waste is dumped. It is obvious that anything that grows on the field from then on is poisonous and potentially deadly and no amount of good intentions can alter the fact.
It is a well known traditional doctrine that the state of man and the state of the world are inseparably tied together and the two influence each other and, quite often after the Fall, they drag each other further down towards the abyss.
According to Guenon’s “Reign of quantity…” to which there was already an allusion made, the era of materialism, of industrialism, of modern technology etc. could only have been possible in a natural environment that allowed for such developments, that could be molded in such a way as to accommodate this way of living. It is only natural to suppose that the same environment, especially psychic environment, has today developed in such a way and reached such a state as to accommodate a flourishing of occult and satanic currents and practices.
The moral of all this is that in this day and age, when even traditionally-minded people are attracted to all sorts of eclectic practices and toying with different “intermediary arts”, it is very important to keep in mind that even seemingly “neutral” or perfectly “innocent”-looking techniques (for example for the purpose of healing) can hide very unhealthy things. Leaving aside the question of Theosophist ideas which easily become mingled into such practices, one should not lose sight the material itself since the natural energies may no longer be a suitable medium to work with. In this penultimate (?) times nothing less than the strict adherence to the One who has overcome the world will do.
Alas, Merlin’s purpose in the novel was no longer to work with the magic of his days but to accept within himself the celestial powers, the guardian angels of the five celestial spheres beyond the Moon and bring Divine Justice to Belbury. The end of the satanic N.I.C.E. was very well chosen: the angelic powers through the hand of Merlin pronounce the curse of Babel upon the assembly of the Institute’s leaders who, just like in the days when Nimrod and his band began implementing their latest ideas in architecture in the land of Shinar, began talking gibberish before entering into a complete panic and frenzy, killing each other or being killed by the animals whom Merlin freed and summoned at the banquet hall. The final scene at Belbury describes in very dramatic terms the undramatic last moments before damnation experienced by Whither and Frost. Whither, upon realizing the hopelessness of his position, could not produce even a single thought of repentance and instead chose to blindly worship the “Head” (now revealed to actually be possessed by a demon, Filostrato’s technology playing no role in its apparent re-animation).
Frost, after setting himself on fire, makes the utmost effort to reject the ray of light extended to him in his final moments. Though in the corner of his mind he realizes he has been wrong all along and that there is personal responsibility and purpose, he uses the remainder of his energy to swing himself back into the illusion and reject his final chance at salvation.
We have seen and analyzed some of the most interesting aspects of the novel, those that have the closest parallel to our contemporary society and that are today even more timely than in Lewis’ own time. One of the most important things that this book teaches us is that we must first understand the roots and underlying assumptions of the most sinister ideas and ideologies of our time, not be stuck in regarding only their external appearance and thinking that we are safe simply because we do not adhere to such an appearance.
We have seen that the root of something like post-humanism is almost a kind of natural given in the minds and souls of those born in post-modernity and this very root can take many diverse and subtle disguises.
It is important also to keep in mind that truth and falsehood are only imperfectly represented in the ideologies of the political spectrum and that no definite and absolute hope should be placed in that direction and that the various revolutionary ideologies (even or perhaps especially those who like to give themselves a “traditionalist” aura) who only place value on an outer and political askesis are only further cases of blind leading the blind.
One thing that was left out of this analysis is the plot within the plot – the tribulations of Mark and Jane Studdock in this struggle. It is certainly a very interesting, one could even say the main aspect of the story showing the counter-part of the outer struggle going on within the characters themselves, but attention to it would have stretched this already long review too much and would have been too particular for what was meant to be a bird’s eye view.
Appendix: Three dimensional history or why we’re not connecting any dots
I have said at the beginning that Lewis writes from a point of view that does not fit the simplistic narrative of history provided by the “connecting the dots” truther movements. It is simplistic not because their narratives lack complexity, but because they reduce history to a plane figure with no depth – no above and no below. In this world-view to know the truth is to know the whole picture, the whole picture being a sort of puzzle, a two-dimensional image composed of many pieces.
Mainstream media and history are presenting us only with a few disparate pieces each time, offering no clue as to how they are really connected. What you have to do is accumulate as much information as possible from as many sources as possible so you can find as many puzzle pieces as possible. Once you have all the information and all the disparate pieces you can re-construct the big image by “connecting” them.
The problem is that, proceeding like this, you are not really discovering things as they are but things as you imagine them to be, basing your assumption on external appearances and similarities between certain events or persons involved in these events.
Towards the end of the book, Ransom discusses the secret history of Logres from the time of Arthur to his own days. McPhee, the skeptic, replies:
“This new history of yours is a wee bit lacking in documents”
Answering, another character says:
“It has plenty, but you do not know the language they’re written in. When the history of these last few months come to be written in your language, and printed, and taught in schools, there will be no mention in it of you and me, nor of Merlin and the Pendragon and the Planets. “
The ancient notion of sacred history as found in the Scriptures and in some of what we call mythical history and legends etc. – all these focus not on the facts themselves or rather not on the empirical details associated with the facts, but on the archetypes which are expressed by the facts.
In every historical event there are unseen aspects either not captured by those who right about the event or else, and especially, not capturable by any purely empirical narrative. The modern attempts to get to the real facts behind certain legends or myths do not tell us anything about the legends or of the historical events themselves, but only about the modern epistemological presuppositions – namely that the reality of something resides in what is exhaustible strictly on the empirical plane.
The traditional view, on the other hand, always sees the empirical as relative and as potentially blurring and distracting the mind from the truly Real cause of things, all this without of course denying the reality of secondary causes on their own planes of action.
From a traditional perspective, a hermit living far apart from the struggles of his days may have a more decisive influence on the events to come than any of the major actors playing on the main stage. We can say what in a historical period is important from a particular point of view – say economical, military or political – but from the absolute perspective we cannot know what is actually and ultimately important. Lewis’ novel is an illustration of this way of understanding.
This is a topic worth a separate article for itself. For the time being, we will just say that mainstream historical accounts and description of world events versus the plethora of “truth movements” and connections of the dots is only a confrontation of narratives in the sense that both parties remain on the horizontal plane and seek to arrange and re-arrange the empirically verifiable pieces of the puzzle according to the particular interest of each party.
As long as the seeking of truth remains equivalent to the gathering of information and the “processing” of that information we are far removed from the true causes of things and only remain in extremely relative and limited compartments of the actual reality. It is telling, in this regard, that both mainstream narratives and truther movements find abhorrent any notion of “Divine intervention”, “Providence” or simply transcendent interferences in history.
It is for this reason why the name of Lewis is rarely circulated in these circles, people preferring instead novels like 1984 and Brave New World who present a very deterministic unwinding of events, in which there is no escape from an implacable power elite who rules in a strictly closed world-system, in which no intervention from beyond its limits is possible. George Orwell himself has written a critical review of That hideous strength, that for him the main problem of the book being the presence of the supernatural. “The whole drama of the struggle against evil lies in the fact that one does not have supernatural aid.”
Seeing how the main character in his 1984 ends up loving the Big Brother and how in Huxley’s book the last vestige of the resistance against the dystopia hangs himself, we could rightly wonder if not perhaps these two novels aren’t really concerned with signaling warnings, but with psychological conditioning and predictive programming, as some today say. Regardless of the truth in this matter, we should really be looking for better material, since there is plenty out there.
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