November 5, 2007

I’ve been watching a documentary called Planet Earth. It’s the ultimate nature documentary, I recommend it without qualification. It’s well-publicized, widely popular, and easy to obtain. It’s presented by David Attenborough, who made other first-rate documentaries, such as The Life of Mammals and The Life of Birds.

I’ve been working lately on the revision of my book of aphorisms (a project that I had hoped to complete several months ago). I plan to publish a new, revised, enlarged edition of this book in 3-6 months. Some pieces in this issue of Phlit may sound familiar, since I’ve been re-working old material.

1. Early Childhood

A. If one grows up in a warm home, surrounded by parental love, the outside world seems shockingly different. In the outside world, you find yourself dealing with people who don’t like you, and whom you don’t like, yet somehow you must deal with them, and carry on the battle of life. One might even say that it’s an advantage to grow up in a cold home, or a broken home, because then the outside world doesn’t seem shockingly different.

B. Three American politicians — Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama — came from broken homes, and were raised by single mothers, and later, step-fathers. Throughout history, eminent men have often come from father-less households; such a household seems to breed sturdy independence, precocious maturity, and a gregarious nature.

C. A criminal’s childhood often includes abuse. Stalin and Hitler were both beaten as children. Abuse is sometimes unintentional: the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski) was a normal, happy child until he was taken from his parents and kept in isolation for an extended period because of a health problem. According to his mother, he was never the same after being isolated.

2. The World Behind

Is the essence of the universe matter or spirit? It is both/and, not either/or, it is a mysterious mix of matter and spirit. It is here, in this mysterious essence, that time and space seem to disappear, it is here that occult phenomena occur. It is this mysterious essence that Kant called the “thing-in-itself,” that Kant described as beyond time, space, and causality, and beyond man’s power of comprehension. One might call this mysterious essence The World Behind the World.

When physics encounters The World Behind, it’s surprised to find matter appearing to act with intention, with consciousness, it’s surprised to find mysterious links between distant particles.

When biology encounters The World Behind, it speaks of things that are both material and spiritual — a will to life (Schopenhauer), élan vital (Bergson), life- and death-instincts (Freud), etc. Some biologists have argued that evolution couldn’t occur without some force or instinct to propel it. These forces and instincts are elusive, mysterious, both material and immaterial.

Chinese thinkers referred to The World Behind as the Tao. The Tao is the mysterious essence of the universe, the thing-in-itself. Lao Zi said,

There was something vague before heaven and earth arose. How calm! How void! It stands alone, unchanging; it acts everywhere, untiring. It may be considered the mother of everything under heaven. I do not know its name, but call it by the word Tao.

While people in the West often imagine God making the world, the Tao doesn’t make the world, it produces the world through spontaneous growth: “The Tao’s principle is spontaneity.” The Tao isn’t the master of the universe, as God is, and the Tao isn’t a conscious being, as God is:

The great Tao flows everywhere,
To the left and to the right.
All things depend upon it to exist,
and it does not abandon them.
To its accomplishments it lays no claim.
It loves and nourishes all things,
but does not lord it over them.

3. Stages of Youth: Killing the Snake

In my aphorism “Stages of Youth,” I argued that youth has a tendency toward repression: At about age fifteen, the conscious mind, afraid of the libidinal energy that is pouring in from the unconscious, begins to repress and to sublimate this libidinal energy. Repression results in a stoic lifestyle. The young Flaubert exemplifies this stoic lifestyle; Flaubert said that as an adolescent, he considered castrating himself, and “spent two whole years at that time without so much as looking at a woman.”

If youth represses the unconscious, this repression will be evident in dreams — repression dreams, dreams of killing the animal that symbolizes the unconscious, dreams of killing the snake, the fish, or the dragon. Philosophers often achieve a high level of consciousness by repressing the unconscious, and this repression is evident in their dreams. Ruskin dreamed that a snake “fastened on my neck like a leech, and nothing would pull it off.”1 Ruskin later went insane. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche describes a snake entering a shepherd’s mouth: “the snake had crawled into his throat — and there it had bitten itself fast.”2 Following Zarathustra’s advice, the shepherd bites off the snake’s head, and spits it out. Then he laughs triumphantly. Nietzsche later went insane.

Repression is natural and healthy as a temporary state, during adolescence, but unhealthy as a permanent state. As Jung said of Nietzsche, “Cases of this kind occur when the unconscious has been resisted for too long on principle, and a wedge violently driven between instinct and the conscious mind.”3

4. Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits: Sonnet 60

Sonnet 60 deals with two familiar themes: the changes brought about by Time (lines on “beauty’s brow,” etc.), and the immortality of literature, which Time can’t affect.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end,
Each changing place with that which goes before;
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
Crooked eclipses ’gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.
   And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand,
   Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

The first four lines of this sonnet recall Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book 15, lines 198-205). The Folger Library edition of the Sonnets quotes the “Golding” translation of the Metamorphoses; Oxfordians believe that this translation was actually made by the young Shakespeare, and published under the name of his tutor-uncle, Arthur Golding.

The Folger editor says that the word “nativity” (line 5) is an astrological term, as is the word “eclipses” (line 7). The editor translates “times in hope” (line 15) as “ages that exist only in expectation.”

5. Banfield and Kedourie

Liberals view human nature as a tabula rasa, and believe that government policy can mold society, while conservatives believe that human nature is shaped by cultural factors, and government policy can do little in the face of these cultural factors.

At the start of his career, the American conservative Edward Banfield studied a poor village in southern Italy. He argued that its poverty was due, not to a shortage of government assistance, but to cultural factors — a devotion to relatives, and an uncooperative attitude toward non-relatives. Banfield also studied Mormon communities that had become wealthy, that had “made the desert bloom,” not as a result of government assistance, but as a result of a culture of trust and cooperation.

A critic of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, Banfield thought that many social programs harmed those whom they were intended to help. “Do no good,” Banfield advised, “and no harm will come of it.” Social programs, Banfield argued, are designed to satisfy the conscience of the upper classes, to satisfy their longing for service and progress, their longing to do something and to do good.

According to Banfield, urban poverty can’t be relieved by government spending because poverty is caused by cultural factors, especially the inability to sacrifice present pleasure for future good. “The lower-class individual,” Banfield wrote, “lives from moment to moment.... He belongs to no voluntary organizations, has no political interests, and does not vote unless paid to do so.”4 He noted that immigrants from Catholic countries were more present-oriented than immigrants from Protestant countries. He argued that the peasant cultures of Ireland, southern Italy and eastern Europe sent immigrants to America who lived for today, not for the future:

The idea of self-improvement — and even more that of community improvement — was unfamiliar and perhaps even unintelligible to them. They were mainly concerned about survival, not progress; how to get food, drink, and shelter for the day was what preoccupied them. Their motive in coming to this country was apparently less to improve their general condition than to escape the threat of immediate starvation.5

Banfield chided liberals for refusing to admit that “some children simply cannot be taught much in school,”6 for believing that any child can be educated if only enough government money is spent.

As Banfield was a leading conservative on domestic issues, Elie Kedourie was a leading conservative on international issues. Third World poverty, in Kedourie’s view, wasn’t caused by external factors such as colonialism, but rather by cultural factors — a tradition of despotic government, etc. Kedourie argues that colonialism was beneficial rather than harmful:

Colonial rulers... as much in response to their own political traditions as because they were accountable to home governments, established in these territories a Rechtstaat, in which judges and courts did not obey the whim of the ruler, and administration operated according to publicly-known rules which were designed to eliminate favoritism and corruption, and to a large extent succeeded in doing so.7

When colonial rulers departed, disaster ensued. Kedourie blames Western nations not for colonialism and imperialism, but rather for de-colonizing too rapidly; he blames the French for leaving Algeria too rapidly, the British for leaving India too rapidly, the Americans for leaving Iraq too rapidly (after the 1991 war), etc.8

Kedourie doubted that democracy could work in Third World countries. He felt that democracy required an electorate that wasn’t accustomed to passive obedience, an electorate that would sometimes put the public interest over private interest. Without such an electorate, Kedourie argued, public power would remain what it always had been in these countries: the private property of those who held office.

Kedourie grew up in the Jewish Quarter of Baghdad in the 1930s. He felt that the Ottoman Empire’s government of Iraq was preferable to Iraqi self-rule, and that the British Empire’s government of Iraq was preferable to Iraqi self-rule. When the Ottomans and British left Iraq, there was little respect for private property; Kedourie speaks of, “the utter defencelessness of property in the face of official greed and willfulness.... ‘Large estates were distributed among government officials and their friends.’” In Kedourie’s view, Iraqi self-rule meant rule by Baathist thugs. Kedourie felt that the dismantling of the Ottoman and British empires, coupled with the rise of nationalism, had made the Middle East “a wilderness of tigers.”

As a student at Oxford, Kedourie was asked to modify his Ph.D. thesis. Believing that it didn’t need modification, Kedourie left the university rather than modify it; his admirers called this his “defiance” of his thesis.

Kedourie’s books lack the ironic, sophisticated tone that is popular among the intelligentsia. One reviewer complained that Kedourie’s work gave him “a sense of having been held by the lapels and screamed at.”9 Kedourie was a man of strong character, strong convictions, and vast erudition.

6. Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being

In an earlier issue, I mentioned Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, by the poet Ted Hughes. I’d like to continue that discussion, though I have mixed feelings about the book.

In that earlier issue, I said, “Hughes believes that two myths underlie Shakespeare’s works: The Great Goddess (sometimes called Venus), and the Goddess-destroying God.” The myth of the Great Goddess underlies Shakespeare’s poem, Venus and Adonis, while the myth of the Goddess-destroying God underlies The Rape of Lucrece. These myths bring Shakespeare into the center of religious controversy, because the Great Goddess (according to Hughes) is the myth underlying Catholicism, while the Goddess-destroying God is the myth underlying Puritanism. These myths raise Shakespeare’s work above that of his contemporaries: “This presence of the living myth and the mythic dimension is what distinguishes Shakespeare’s work from that of all his contemporaries. It puts into his power the forces, the great music, of a new kind of tragedy.”10 Hughes was influenced by Jung, and also by Robert Graves’ The White Goddess.

Hughes regards Adonis as an example of the Divine Child (like Tammuz and Attis). According to Jung, the Divine Child is a symbol of the self; the Divine Child is often born on December 25. Adonis lived inside a tree; Hughes points out that Shakespeare’s character, Ariel, also lived inside a tree, until he was liberated by Prospero.

Adonis lives half the year in the upper world, then is killed and spends half the year in the underworld, and then the cycle starts anew. In some versions of the myth, the queen of the underworld assumes the shape of a boar, kills the god, and brings him with her to the underworld. “While Adonis was simply killed by a boar, Attis was killed by a boar under a pine tree, and the fatal wound was also castration. In other words, the Goddess in the form of the Boar removed her consort from sexual life in the world and claimed all his ‘love’ for herself, by castration.”11 Some worshippers of the Great Goddess “in an ecstatic frenzy, castrated themselves and hurled the amputated parts at the image of the Goddess.”12 This reminds Hughes of the chastity of Shakespeare’s Adonis, and of the “terror of female sexuality that reaches its climax in King Lear.”

Hughes points out that Attis (an effigy of Attis) was carried through Rome tied to a tree, as Christ was tied to the cross. And Hughes points out that the Divine Child is sometimes pictured in its mother’s arms — Horus, for example, in the arms of Isis. Christianity adopted these images and customs, and the old religions lived on in disguised form.

In the Eleusinian Mysteries, we find the same pattern of ritual death, sacred marriage, and rebirth. Here the Great Goddess was called Demeter, her Divine Child was Iacchos (Dionysus).

Summarizing the myth of the Great Goddess, Hughes said, “The Great Goddess is divided into two antithetical figures — the Goddess of Benign Love and the Goddess of the Underworld, though the benign aspect can divide further into Mother and Sacred Bride.”13

All’s Well that Ends Well contains an example of the Goddess-destroying God: “Bertram’s forceful seduction of Diana.... Tarquin is indeed here, though in low profile.” In later works, such as Hamlet and Othello, one finds a similar rage against women and sexuality; Shakespeare’s hero is “an uncontrollably enraged Jehovan god, who annihilates, or attempts somehow to annihilate, the Goddess; and his motive, in every case, far from being lust to rape the female, is exactly the opposite: it is abhorrence of what he imagines to be the Goddess’s whorishness, or at least her treachery in love.”14

Hughes says that “Occult Neoplatonism” had a “pervasive influence on the intellectual life of England at the end of the sixteenth century.”15 Hughes says that Chapman’s works “are saturated with the occultist’s magical outlook,” while other Elizabethans, like Raleigh, were hard-headed skeptics.

Hughes has this to say about the decline of Occult Neoplatonism:

Since the movement aspired so openly to dissolve both Catholicism and Protestantism in its own greater synthesis, they combined effectively to liquidate it.... For materialist, rational philosophy it was a superstition. For science, an absurdity. It disappeared from the intellectually respectable range of ideas and was pushed so deep into Hell (with the witches) that sensible men soon feared to be associated with it. In the works of Shakespeare, or anywhere else, it ceased to be visible (and much of Shakespeare, accordingly, ceased to be visible). In later centuries it stirred occasionally, where revolution cracked the crust of suppression, and reached up an arm to embrace Goethe — who was wondered at. And Blake — who was deplored. And Yeats — who was ridiculed. While Shakespeare was still alive, it had retreated into various more or less secret societies and brotherhoods, modeled on Islamic Dervish orders, and strongly colored by Sufi influences, as with the Masons and Rosicrucians.16

While the Islamic world influenced the Rosicrucians, so too (according to Hughes) Shakespeare may have influenced the Rosicrucians:

It is a curious fact that the main sacred book of European Rosicrucianism, The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz was composed (published 1616) by a German author, Andreae, who had devised plays “in imitation of the English dramatists” (his own words) and who in The Chemical Wedding seems to be sleepwalking through a phantasmagoric reminiscence of Shakespeare’s last dramas.17

Hughes says that Love’s Labour’s Lost alludes to Bruno, and contains Rosicrucian beliefs — “the Rosicrucian dulia of helping the sick with active love, selflessly, in the crowded busyness of life, while at the same time cultivating the ambitious soul in solitude.”18

Hughes divides imaginative writers into two groups: the realistic, and the mythic. He says that Shakespeare belongs in both groups, he’s a master of both types of writing. “He is not only a great realist poet — who can challenge Chaucer, Dryden, Pope, Frost at their own specialty — he is obviously something else as well. He can more than challenge Milton, Coleridge, Keats, Yeats at theirs.”19

Hughes argues that the mythic Shakespeare was obsessed by the myth of Venus and Adonis, which was imprinted on his mind early in his career. “In one sense, the imprinting is irreversible and final: it cannot be superseded or truly abandoned — it can only evolve. In Emily Dickinson’s words: ‘The soul selects her own society/Then shuts the door.’”20

Discussing the Sonnets, Hughes argues that there’s a connection between Venus and the Dark Lady: “There is a... real subjective link between Shakespeare’s attitude to the woman in Sonnets 127 to 154 [i.e., to the Dark Lady] and the attitude of Adonis to Venus [in Venus and Adonis].”21

Hughes perceives that the Sonnets are driven by subjective forces: “He is not wanting to make a poetic artifact. The poetry is in the urgency of that need to make himself understood.”23

Hughes is puzzled by the love that the poet expresses for Southampton:

A modern reader of the Sonnets will naturally ask how far this extravagant declaration of love is a literary convention. If the poet’s love is serious, how can he be so unselfconscious about it, unless the poems were written as absolutely private love letters? Again, since we know that at least some of them were passed around among his ‘private friends’, and since he was aware that ‘mocking’ comments might be made, damaging to his noble recipient, how could he go on being so unguarded?25

Hughes says that the poet’s love is “absolute, indestructible.... unconditional.... Auden was embarrassed by the abject self-prostration of Shakespeare’s sonnets.”26

According to the Prince Tudor Theory, the poet’s love was a paternal love — embarrassing neither to him nor to the beloved, unconditional like a parent’s love.

According to Hughes, only Shakespeare’s heroines express such an unconditional love — no one else in all of English literature.

That sort of thing on a stage, in the voice of an heroic girl, is one thing. But seriously meant, in real life, off the stage, by a grown man... No wonder that scholars who find it as embarrassing as Auden did speculate how mortified the author must have been when the whole collection was published in 1609.27

Hughes says that the troubadours and Dante are motivated by unconditional love. “Something of the same burns in the Sonnets, but with a difference, a rawness, an untheologized, surprised, private pain.”28 Hughes notes the difference between Sufi poetry (Rumi’s poetry) and the Sonnets: “Compared to the inexhaustibly inspired incantations of Rumi, which revolved around a succession of three male avatars of the Divine Beloved, Shakespeare’s rhymed love letters seem parochial, personal, tight-waisted.”29

According to the Monument Theory, there’s a group of 100 sonnets within the 154 sonnets; this group deals with Southampton, and functions as a “monument” to Southampton. This group starts with sonnet 27, and ends with 126. Hughes notes that sonnet 126 concludes the sequence addressed to the man, and that sonnet 126 is “positioned as if with some deliberation and care.”30

Many Oxfordians believe that Elizabeth was Shakespeare’s mother as well as Shakespeare’s lover. I’ve never explored this theory, so I won’t express an opinion about it. If it’s true, it might help us understand Shakespeare’s attitude toward “the Great double-natured Goddess.”

My summary of Hughes’ argument is incomplete since I only read the Introduction and part of Chapter One. Hughes understands the Hermetic Shakespeare, perhaps because he read Frances Yates and Wilson Knight. Hughes’s book is well-written and somewhat interesting, but it’s long-winded, it’s not completely convincing, and the Stratfordian perspective is a serious flaw.

© L. James Hammond 2007
visit Phlit home page
make a donation via PayPal

1. The Darkening Glass: A Portrait of Ruskin’s Genius, by John Rosenberg, ch. 9 back
2. Part III, “Of the Vision and the Riddle,” #2 back
3. Symbols of Transformation, Part II, ch. 7, par. 587 back
4. The Unheavenly City, ch. 3 back
5. Ibid back
6. Ibid, ch. 11 back
7. See Kedourie’s essay, “The Prospects of Civility in the Third World,” in a book called Civility and Citizenship in Liberal Democratic Societies back
8. Kedourie didn’t live to see the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. back
9. A review in the New York Review of Books by a Mr. Geertz back
10. Introduction, p. 4 back
11. Introduction, p. 10 back
12. Introduction, p. 9 back
13. Introduction, p. 11 back
14. Introduction, p. 15 back
15. Introduction, p. 18 back
16. Introduction, p. 30 back
17. Introduction, p. 31 back
18. Introduction, p. 29 back
19. Introduction, p. 37. On pages 40-43, Hughes discusses the mythic foundation of the poetry of his late wife, Sylvia Plath. back
20. Introduction, p. 40 back
21. Ch. 1, p. 50 back
22. Ch. 1, p. 51 back
23. Ch. 1, p. 59 back
24. Ch. 1, p. 53 back
25. Ch. 1, p. 58 back
26. Ch. 1, p. 59 back
27. Ch. 1, p. 60 back
28. Ch. 1, p. 60 back
29. Ch. 1, p. 60 back
30. Ch. 1, p. 61 back
31. Ch. 1, p. 62 back