For years I’ve been defending the thesis that Everything is Connected, and its corollaries, everything is alive, the universe is an organism not a machine. Evidence that everything is connected can be found in quantum physics, psychic phenomena, etc. Huston Smith said that all religions teach, “Things are more integrated than they seem, they are better than they seem, and they are more mysterious than they seem.” The thesis that Everything is Connected can be supported by Jungian psychology, Chinese philosophy, Shakespeare’s plays, etc.
I now realize that the mystical experience sees that everything is connected, and feels that this vision is reality. I haven’t had a mystical experience myself, and I haven’t read much about mystical experiences, so it came as a surprise to me that my favorite idea was also a key element in the mystical experience. The mystic often says that his vision of an inter-connected world is how the world really is, his vision brings with it a conviction of truth. My theory that Everything is Connected supports the mystic’s view that his vision is reality, his vision is a deep truth. So while his vision buttresses my theory, my theory buttresses his vision.
Alas, we can’t attain a mystic vision through study. Study may persuade us that Everything is Connected, but that knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into a mystical experience. We can, however, put ourselves on the path of a mystical experience by some sort of retreat or meditation — what early peoples called a “vision quest.” Ordinary meditation (as opposed to a mystical experience) may contain some elements of the mystic vision; likewise, contact with nature may contain some elements of the mystic vision.
The theory that Everything is Connected has much to offer mankind; it’s consistent with religion and mysticism, it’s consistent with the sciences and the humanities. The theory that Everything is Connected has much to offer even to people who don’t have a mystical experience. The theory that Everything is Connected is mankind’s best hope. The mystical experience is an experience of ecstasy. The theory that Everything is Connected is optimistic; a connected world is more attractive than a world made up of separate objects.
My interest in the mystical experience was sparked by Arthur Koestler’s description of his own mystical experience. During the Spanish Civil War, Koestler was sent by communists to infiltrate the Fascist camp and gather information. In other words, Koestler was a communist spy, attempting to collect facts about Franco’s forces, and use those facts to turn world opinion against the Fascists.
Communism was in a struggle with Fascism, and Fascism seemed to be winning (Fascism did win the Spanish Civil War). Germany and Italy were in the Fascist camp, and were helping Franco. Hungary, Austria, Greece, etc. were Fascist, or sympathetic to Fascism.1 Hitler and Mussolini were helping Franco, but denying that they were helping. Koestler hoped to enter the Fascist camp in the guise of a journalist, and gather evidence that Germany and Italy were indeed assisting Franco.
But Koestler had been a prominent journalist, and many people knew that he was a Communist, so he ran the risk of being recognized, and arrested as a spy. One could argue that he was taking a foolish risk, that he was asking for trouble. He was in fact promptly recognized, and came close to being arrested, but he managed to stay one step ahead of the Fascists. Not until his third trip to Spain was he arrested. By this time, the Fascists were angry with him, and were determined to put an end to him.
He was put into solitary confinement in Seville, and stayed there for three months. He could hear other prisoners being led out of their cells and shot; “muffled cries of ‘madre’ [mother] and ‘socorro’ [help] were frequent.”2 Koestler knew that he might be executed any day.
While imprisoned, Koestler was at peace, free from his usual anxieties and guilt-feelings. Indeed, he had never experienced peace and freedom until he was in prison. Koestler writes,
|During the whole period of solitary confinement in Seville... the anxiety-neurosis and the accompanying feeling of guilt were suspended. I was, of course, often apprehensive and fearful, but it was a rational and, as it were, healthy fear, not the obsessional and morbid variety. I slept well, except on the nights when I listened to my comrades being led to execution, and even on these nights I found sleep later on. I had consistently pleasant dreams, often of Grecian landscapes and beautiful but sexless women, although under normal conditions my dreams range from the unpleasant to the nightmarish. I had hours of acute despair, but these were hours, and in between were entire days of a newly discovered peace and happiness.3|
Koestler’s mystical experience is all the more interesting because he didn’t have a mystical bent, he had a rational bent, a scientific bent. His mystical experience was triggered by a mathematical theory:
I was standing at the recessed window of cell No. 40 and, with a piece of iron-spring that I had extracted from the wire mattress, was scratching mathematical formulae on the wall. Mathematics, in particular analytical geometry, had been the favorite hobby of my youth, neglected later on for many years. I was trying to remember how to derive the formula of the hyperbola, and was stumped; then I tried the ellipse and the parabola, and to my delight succeeded. Next I went on to recall Euclid’s proof that the number of primes is infinite....
Euclid’s proof demonstrates in a simple and elegant way that... to whatever astronomical regions we ascend in the scale [of numbers], we shall always find numbers which are not the product of smaller ones, but are generated by immaculate conception, as it were. Since I had become acquainted with Euclid’s proof at school, it had always filled me with a deep satisfaction that was aesthetic rather than intellectual. Now, as I recalled the method and scratched the symbols on the wall, I felt the same enchantment.
And then, for the first time, I suddenly understood the reason for this enchantment: the scribbled symbols on the wall represented one of the rare cases where a meaningful and comprehensive statement about the infinite is arrived at by precise and finite means.... The significance of this swept over me like a wave. The wave had originated in an articulate verbal insight; but this evaporated at once, leaving in its wake only a wordless essence, a fragrance of eternity, a quiver of the arrow in the blue.
I must have stood there for some minutes, entranced, with a wordless awareness that “this is perfect — perfect” ....Then I was floating on my back in a river of peace, under bridges of silence. It came from nowhere and flowed nowhere. Then there was no river and no I. The I had ceased to exist....
“Mystical” experiences, as we dubiously call them, are not nebulous, vague or maudlin — they only become so when we debase them by verbalization. However, to communicate what is incommunicable by its nature, one must somehow put it into words, and so one moves in a vicious circle. When I say “the I had ceased to exist,” I refer to a concrete experience that is verbally as incommunicable as the feeling aroused by a piano concerto, yet just as real — only much more real. In fact, its primary mark is the sensation that this state is more real than any other one has experienced before — that for the first time the veil has fallen and one is in touch with “real reality,” the hidden order of things, the X-ray texture of the world, normally obscured by layers of irrelevancy....
Verbal transcriptions that come nearest to it are: the unity and interlocking of everything that exists, an inter-dependence like that of gravitational fields or communicating vessels. The “I” ceases to exist because it has, by a kind of mental osmosis, established communication with, and been dissolved in, the universal pool. It is this process of dissolution and limitless expansion which is sensed as the “oceanic feeling,” as the draining of all tension, the absolute catharsis, the peace that passeth all understanding....
Whether the experience had lasted for a few minutes or an hour, I never knew. In the beginning it occurred two or even three times a week, then the intervals became longer. It could never be voluntarily induced. After my liberation it recurred at even longer intervals, perhaps once or twice in a year. But by that time the groundwork for a change of personality was completed.4
Koestler’s mystical experience did not lead to religious conversion, did not lead him to embrace traditional religion. But his vision of a different order of being was the kind of vision that inspires religions; he had an experience of religious ecstasy, though it didn’t fall within the boundaries of a specific religion, or prompt him to embrace a specific religion. His vision went beyond the rational-scientific worldview that he had subscribed to, and it made him receptive to the occult dimension. The mystical and the occult are related. Koestler says that his vision,
had filled me with a direct certainty that a higher order of reality existed, and that it alone invested existence with meaning. I came to call it later on “the reality of the third order.” The narrow world of sensory perception constituted the first order; this perceptual world was enveloped by the conceptual world which contained phenomena not directly perceivable, such as gravitation, electromagnetic fields, and curved space. The second order of reality filled in the gaps and gave meaning to the absurd patchiness of the sensory world.
In the same manner, the third order of reality enveloped, interpenetrated, and gave meaning to the second. It contained “occult” phenomena which could not be apprehended or explained either on the sensory or on the conceptual level.... Just as the conceptual order showed up the illusions and distortions of the senses, so the “third order” disclosed that time, space and causality, that the isolation, separateness and spatio-temporal limitations of the self were merely optical illusions on the next higher level....
One could not hope to grasp in cognate terms the nature of ultimate reality. It was a text written in invisible ink; and though one could not read it, the knowledge that it existed was sufficient to alter the texture of one’s existence, and make one’s actions conform to the text.
Koestler calls his book Invisible Writing because it deals with his discovery of the mystical dimension, the occult dimension, the dimension that baffles reason and eludes language. This is the dimension from which religions emerge: “the founders of religions, prophets, saints and seers had at moments been able to read a fragment of the invisible text.” But when religious feeling is put into a book, when religious feeling becomes an institution, then the original vision is buried under rules and superstitions.
A couple years before his mystical experience, Koestler was invited to stay for a month at a house on a Swiss lake. Koestler was then a communist, writing a book about Spartacus. The owner of the lake house was an older woman, Maria, who helped communists like Koestler, providing them with peace and quiet.
Soon after Koestler’s arrival, Maria asked him if he believed in ghosts. He dismissed the question with a laugh; he was, after all, a person with a rational-scientific background. Maria did believe in ghosts. In fact, she was haunted by the ghost of her uncle, who had raped her when she was very young. The appearance of “the uncle” often caused Maria to fall into a fit.
When Maria was 20 or 30, she had undergone therapy. Her therapist said her problems were caused by the sexual abuse that she had experienced. Maria found this so troubling that she quit therapy, despite the therapist’s warning that she should work through the traumatic experience, not run from it.
One day, Maria and Koestler went for a walk. Maria’s dog, Ricky, was walking ahead of them. Suddenly Ricky stopped and growled. Maria grabbed Koestler’s arm, then turned and hastened back to the house, accompanied by Ricky, who tried to comfort her. Maria said to Koestler, “Don’t leave me alone.”
When they were settled at the house, Koestler asked Maria what had happened. She said, “Ricky saw the uncle approaching us. He sometimes sees him first, and warns me.”
When someone says, “I saw a ghost,” skeptics would say they had a hallucination, especially in the case of a person (like Maria) who had psychological problems. But if “the uncle” was Maria’s hallucination, how did Ricky see it?
Maria told Koestler that after “the uncle” appears, there’s always an incident, a sign.
|The next day, [Koestler writes] or the day after that, [while] we were sitting at lunch, there was a sudden loud crash. A large, heavily-framed picture which, an instant before, had been peacefully hanging on the wall that I was facing, had crashed down onto the sideboard that stood beneath it. It made me jump, whereas Maria, who sat with her back to the picture, did not move a muscle....
I looked at the back of the picture: the wire was not broken, and the two picture-hooks were still in the wall, solid and undamaged. In fact, I was able to hang the picture back in its former place, where it came again to rest as firmly and innocently as if it had always stayed there. Maria rang the bell, and Mary the maid came shuffling in to clear up the mess. “What happened?” she asked. Maria said quietly: “Es spuckt [it spat].” “Schon wieder? [Again?]”5
Maria sensed that Koestler was headed for some sort of calamity. She said to him, “You’ve been kicked about so much that your whole inner surface is raw and sore, and when something touches you, you wince. But the real kick is still in store for you. It is coming soon though, I can feel it.” This was shortly before Koestler was arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to death.
Koestler invited a Hungarian friend, a writer named Andor Nemeth, to join them at the lake. Koestler felt that Nemeth and Maria would get along well. When Koestler and Maria went to the train station to collect Nemeth, Maria said to Koestler, “He is not on the train. There is trouble in his family.” Koestler continues: “It had now become an established convention that I would be mockingly skeptical regarding Maria’s second sight; but I knew that Nemeth would not be on the train. He was not.”
So Maria and Koestler went to a restaurant. After an hour or two, Nemeth appeared; he had taken a different train. “‘What is the trouble in the family?’ I asked, after introductions. ‘Oh, you know that? ....My sister had a miscarriage.’”
Koestler’s presence at the lake house enabled Maria to keep her demons at bay, to maintain her sanity. Perhaps Koestler’s skepticism and materialism helped Maria. Nemeth and Maria were kindred spirits, but Nemeth couldn’t help her as Koestler could. At the end of Koestler’s stay, Maria took him to the train station, and broke down in tears, as if she knew she couldn’t get along without him.
After Koestler left, Maria went downhill, had a bad fit, was placed in an institution, and died soon after. Koestler felt that he could have saved her, he felt that his “blindness of the heart” had killed her.
Koestler’s world was the rational-scientific (until he was imprisoned in Spain), Maria’s world was the mystical-occult. Koestler describes Maria’s world as, “that different kind of reality, or different frame of experience, from which I felt excluded, and toward which I yet felt, reluctantly yet irresistibly, attracted. It was the attraction of a secret whose very existence I denied.”
One of Koestler’s friends was the philosopher Hans Reichenbach, who had a rational-scientific worldview. After Koestler’s stay at Maria’s house, and after his imprisonment in Spain, Koestler became receptive to the occult, including the ESP experiments conducted by J. B. Rhine. When he told Reichenbach about these experiments, Reichenbach said, “If that is true, it is terrible, terrible. It would mean that I would have to scrap everything and start from the beginning.” Koestler continues: “In other words, if extra-sensory perception exists, the whole edifice of materialist philosophy crumbles.” And for Reichenbach, that meant “the crumbling of his life’s work.”6
A person with a rational-scientific worldview is reluctant to admit the reality of the occult, since this would mean scrapping his life’s work and starting from the beginning. Koestler was able to make the transition from the rational-scientific to the mystical-occult, a difficult transition indeed. And he was able to make this transition without falling back on traditional religion. Koestler was less committed to the rational-scientific worldview than Reichenbach, “yet to accept the existence of another plane of reality, inaccessible to the rational mind, nevertheless meant a minor spiritual death-and-rebirth.”
When Koestler was in prison in Seville, he didn’t have books to read, so he thought about books that he had read in the past. He loved to recall Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, in which a man who is on the verge of death finds comfort in a book by Schopenhauer, a book called On Death, and its Relation to the Indestructibility of our Essential Selves. Schopenhauer’s book argues that “death is nothing final, merely a transition to another, impersonal form of existence in the All-One.” Mann’s character, a dying man, found consolation in this argument, and Koestler, in danger of dying, found a similar consolation.
When Koestler was released from prison, he wrote to Mann, and told him how Buddenbrooks had comforted him. Mann responded,
|Your letter arrived on May 20. On the afternoon of that day I was sitting in my garden.... I had read Schopenhauer’s essay in 1897 or 98, while I was writing Buddenbrooks, and had never read it again as I did not want to weaken its original strong impact on me. On that afternoon, however, I felt a sudden impulse to re-read the essay after nearly forty years. I went indoors to my library to fetch the volume. At that moment the postman rang and brought me your letter.7|
As Koestler says, this is “a striking example of telepathy.” As Koestler was writing his letter to Mann, he was obviously thinking about Mann, Buddenbrooks, and the Schopenhauer book. His thoughts were communicated to Mann by telepathy. Telepathy fascinated Koestler, Mann, and Schopenhauer; great writers are fascinated by the occult, while professional scholars are horrified by it.
I experienced the same sort of “postal telepathy.” Fifteen years ago, I wrote,
|As every reader of Phlit knows, I’m a fan of G. Wilson Knight, an English writer who is best known for his commentary on Shakespeare. About a month ago, I was thinking that it might be possible to contact people in England who had known Knight, who had been students of Knight in 1950 or 1960. Then I received an e-mail from a student of Knight, Robin Hallett, who had chanced to visit my website. Here we have a strange coincidence that’s probably not a coincidence.|
In the Koestler-Mann case, the original impetus came from Koestler, and was received by Mann. In my case, the original impetus must have come from Robin; otherwise, it would be hard to imagine why I would think of contacting a student of Knight’s. Robin saw my essay on Knight, so it’s not difficult to see why he would e-mail me; Robin had many memories of Knight, and few people to share them with. As he was writing me, or thinking about writing me, I “received” his thought, and began thinking about Knight’s students, as Mann “received” Koestler’s thought, and began thinking about Schopenhauer’s book. The “ordinary action” came first, and requires no explanation, the “strange action” came second, and can best be explained as prompted by telepathy.
Telepathy is the most common kind of occult phenomenon, and the most difficult to deny; when Freud was researching the occult, telepathy was the first type of occult phenomenon that he accepted. Upton Sinclair wrote a book about telepathy, and called it Mental Radio.
After Koestler and Mann exchanged letters, they met at Mann’s lodgings in Switzerland. It was 1937, and Mann was an exile from Nazi Germany. Mann was 62, and had been a well-known writer since publishing Buddenbrooks at age 26. Mann had won the Nobel Prize in 1929.
In Koestler’s view, Mann saw himself as the Goethe of his time, Mann “considered himself a kind of spiritual reincarnation of Goethe.” Two years after his meeting with Koestler, Mann published a novel about Goethe, Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns. Koestler felt that Mann viewed himself as Goethe, and viewed Koestler as Eckermann (Eckermann was the author of a famous book of Goethe’s conversations; Nietzsche called it “the best German book”). Koestler describes his meeting with Mann thus:
|There was never a moment of personal contact. This was no doubt partly due to my paralyzing timidity and gaucherie in the master’s presence; on the other hand, Mann did nothing to put me at ease. He asked no questions regarding my prison experiences, nor any other question betraying any interest in my person; I was treated half as a visiting journalist, half as a casual Eckermann who would, it was to be hoped, note down every word of the conversation in his diary and preserve it for posterity. The air was full of echoes of Weimar; I had an uncanny premonition that as I was now made to play Eckermann, that name would be explicitly mentioned within the next hour.|
Mann’s tendency to play a role (the role of Goethe) reminds me of a remark by H. G. Wells. Wells said that his artist friends — such as Stephen Crane, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Bernard Shaw — “lapsed into arbitrary inconsistent and dramatized ways of thinking and living.”8 Does the novelist view reality through the lens of drama? Is the novelist prone to play a role?
In my view, Koestler was a better writer than Mann, though not a better novelist. With his autobiography and his science writings, Koestler seems closer to Goethe than Mann was. I think Goethe would read Koestler’s books more avidly than Mann’s.
Koestler admired many of Mann’s works, but he took a dim view of Mann’s late works. Koestler praises “the major part of [Mann’s] work up to and including the first volume of Joseph.” (Mann wrote four novels on the Biblical figure Joseph.) But “most of [Mann’s] later work I find mannered to the point where it becomes unreadable.” I’m reminded of Henry James, whose late work is written in an obscure style that many people find unreadable. Perhaps younger novelists are preoccupied with life, and see style as a vehicle of thought, while older novelists see style as an end in itself.
Koestler says that Mann’s work has an “absence of human kindness. There has perhaps never been a great novelist so completely lacking the Dostoievskian touch of sympathy for the poor and humble. In Mann’s universe, charity is replaced by irony.... His attitude to his characters, even at its most sympathetic, has a mark of Olympian condescension.” Mann emphasized “humanism,” but his humanism, according to Koestler, is “a humanism without the cement of affection for the individual human brick, a grandiose, but unsound edifice.” Koestler criticizes Mann’s political positions — his “support of Prussian imperialism in the first World War; his hesitant and belated break with the Nazis; his silent endorsement of the new despotism in Eastern Germany.”
A couple years after meeting Mann, Koestler wrote the novel that made him famous, Darkness At Noon. It deals with communism — more particularly, with the “show trials” that took place in Moscow between 1936 and 1938. Koestler says that communists are brutal, inhuman, because they believe that any Means are justified if they further the lofty Goal. Koestler criticizes communists for overlooking the individual, and focusing on the group, the society. According to Koestler, communists regard “I” as merely a “grammatical fiction.” “The Communist Party, Koestler writes, has ‘a tendency to shy away from using the first-person singular,’ since it reckons in masses, not individuals.”9
The main character in Darkness At Noon is an old Bolshevik, Rubashov, whom Stalin has arrested, along with countless other Party members. Stalin put these people on trial, and insisted that they confess to various crimes, usually imaginary crimes. “Rubashov’s experience in prison convinces him that the ‘I,’ for all its fragility, is of infinite value, because it is the ultimate source and basis of morality.”10
Subjective feeling, not rational argument, is the basis of morality, because reason can justify anything. Rubashov discovers that “reason alone was a defective compass which led one such a winding, twisted course that the goal finally disappeared in the mist.” Rubashov realizes that he was guilty of “having placed the idea of mankind above the idea of man.”11 Rubashov says, “Perhaps thinking everything through to the end was not a healthy thing to do.”
Koestler’s position is close to Kierkegaard’s; both Koestler and Kierkegaard are wary of reason, and they both respect subjective feeling. Kierkegaard said, “It is acting ‘on principle’ which does away with the vital distinction which constitutes decency. For decency is immediate.... It has its seat in feeling and in the impulse and consistency of an inner enthusiasm. ‘On principle’ one can do anything.”
Koestler and Kierkegaard reached the same conclusion independently; I see no reason to think that Koestler was influenced by Kierkegaard. Koestler and Kierkegaard understood that rational argument can justify torture and execution — justify them as necessary Means to a lofty End — whereas subjective feeling is repelled by torture and execution.
An article in the NewYorker said, “Koestler saw that, in the modern world, it took the ruthlessness of an idea to marshal ordinary human cruelty into an irresistible force.” The article speaks of Koestler’s “distrust of the tyrannical power of reason.”12
Communism says that the individual doesn’t matter, it’s the goal that matters, the historical trend, society as a whole. But what if the goal is never reached, what if the Marxist utopia is never attained? Then all the individuals who were sacrificed for that goal have died in vain; all those deaths were crimes, not means to an end.
Koestler quotes André Malraux approvingly: Une vie ne vaut rien, mais rien ne vaut une vie [A life has no value, but nothing has the value of a life]. As Koestler puts it, “In the social equation, the value of a single life is nil; in the cosmic equation it is infinite.” The French translation of Darkness At Noon was called Le Zéro et l’infini, alluding to the idea that the individual had zero value, yet infinite value.13
In 1940, Koestler was imprisoned in England, because he entered England without a visa. He found that, in the English prison (Pentonville), human life was respected. On the other hand, in Fascist and Communist prisons, the individual had little worth, the individual was expendable. Koestler says,
|In Pentonville we only had one hanging during my stay — a German spy — but on that morning the guards walked on tiptoe and there was a hush in the whole, large building. It was nice to know that you were at a place where putting a man to death was still regarded as a solemn and exceptional event. It made all the difference; it was, as a matter of fact, what this war was about.|
Koestler’s view of World War II is somewhat simplistic. Koestler suggests that Britain was fighting for the value of the individual, and the Germans were fighting against it. But Britain was allied with the Soviets, whose attitude toward the individual was similar to that of the Germans. And Germany’s defeat meant the extension of Soviet power over Eastern Europe. So we probably shouldn’t view World War II in simple, moral terms.
Several years after writing Darkness At Noon, Koestler read a book that dealt with the show trials. The author of the book, Walter Krivitsky, tried to explain why the defendants in the show trials confessed to crimes they didn’t commit. Krivitsky described how an interrogator, Sloutski, persuaded an accused man, Mrachkovsky, to confess. When Koestler read Krivitsky’s book, years after writing Darkness At Noon, he was astonished to find that the real interrogator, and the real accused man, closely resembled his fictional characters. Koestler writes,
|The resemblance in atmosphere and content to the first interrogation of Rubashov by Ivanov in the novel was indeed striking. The similarity between Ivanov’s and Sloutski’s line of argument was easy to explain: both the novel and the real event were determined by the same framework of ideas and circumstances. But there were similarities of detail and nuance which went beyond that. In both cases the interrogation opens with accuser and accused indulging in sentimental reminiscences of the civil war; in both cases the accuser has served under the accused’s command; as a result of the civil war, one in each pair of antagonists has a game leg; in both cases the interrogator is in turn liquidated himself.14|
The parallel between Koestler’s fiction and reality shows that Koestler captured the essence of Stalinism, exposed the dark side of Stalinism. Darkness At Noon sold millions of copies in France, and contributed to a Communist defeat at a French election. Koestler says that his novel was “the first moral indictment of Stalinism published in post-war France; and as it talked the authentic language of the Party, and had a Bolshevik of the Old Guard for its hero, it could not be easily dismissed as ‘reactionary’ and ‘bourgeois’.”15
In the early 1950s, the purges and show trials spread to Soviet satellites like Czechoslovakia and East Germany. An old friend of Koestler’s, Otto Katz, was put on trial and hung.16 When Koestler read Katz’s public confession, he was shocked to find that Katz was repeating what Koestler had put into the mouth of Rubashov. “The phrasing by Otto of his last statement was clearly intended as a camouflaged message, to indicate that he, too, had been brought to confess to crimes as imaginary [as] Rubashov’s.... His last message was like a scribbled S.O.S. in a bottle washed ashore by the sea.” Koestler thinks that Katz was hoping he would be saved by Koestler or another friend, but it was not to be.
American prisoners in North Vietnam also used Koestler’s novel to send a “camouflaged message.” By the late 1960s, the phrase “darkness at noon” had become a byword for torture. When an American prisoner wanted to tell his wife that torture was occurring in the prison, he wrote her, “Vietnam is a hot country, but there’s darkness at noon.” His captors, not catching the allusion, let the letter pass, but his wife understood. She organized prisoner-wives to protest against torture, and eventually their protests bore fruit, and torture ceased.
So if you were studying how art imitates life, and life imitates art, you might find evidence in Koestler’s Darkness At Noon. Koestler wrote another novel that was imitated by life, a novel about a children’s home, a novel that was never published. The home was for the children of Party members, members who were traveling on Party business, and couldn’t care for their children. The home was managed by a “Children’s Collective.” Koestler worked at the home, and wrote a humorous novel about it. The novel was criticized by Party operatives, members of a “Writers Caucus,” and this criticism led Koestler to attempt suicide.
|There was one psychologically very curious aspect to this crisis [Koestler writes]: it followed almost exactly the story of the novel which was its cause. My conflict with the Writers Caucus was a repetition of the conflict between “Ullrich the Opposition,” the lonely adolescent intellectual, and the Children’s Collective — even to the point of Ullrich’s abortive attempt at suicide. It is usual for writers to transform lived experience into fiction; but it struck me as unusual and in fact uncanny, that I should have to re-live as personal experience a fictitious situation that I had invented. The explanation of the mystery is, of course, that Ullrich was a character closely modelled on my own past; I had projected myself back into adolescence. [The novel] was written a few months before the events that I have just described, and which it foreshadows in the prophetic ways of the unconscious.|
In earlier issues, I’ve discussed how art sometimes foreshadows real events; in other words, I’ve discussed how life imitates art. I’ve described this in connection with fictional works by Proust, Graham Greene, Poe, and Morgan Robertson. (Robertson published a novella called Futility in 1898. He describes a ship called Titan, which sinks after colliding with an iceberg. There are striking similarities between the Titan and the Titanic disasters: both ships sank in the North Atlantic during April, both did not have enough lifeboats, both were travelling at an excessive speed, and both were considered the largest ships of their time.) If we see art imitating life, we aren’t surprised; after all, Shakespeare said the goal of drama is to hold a mirror up to nature. But when life imitates art, it is (in Koestler’s words) unusual, uncanny, prophetic.
Koestler attempted suicide numerous times. How did he manage to survive so many suicide attempts? Perhaps he was conflicted, perhaps part of him wanted to die, and another part wanted to live. Or perhaps some sort of destiny was steering his life, steering him to fulfill a mission. Koestler admired André Malraux, who spoke of “the language of destiny”; Koestler’s failed suicide attempts were comments spoken in the language of destiny.
Koestler would be pleased if he could know that people are paying attention to his work today. He said,
|The Chronicler’s urge is always directed toward the unborn, future reader. This may sound presumptuous, but it is merely the expression of a natural bent. I have no idea whether fifty years from now anybody will want to read a book of mine, but I have a fairly precise idea of what makes me, as a writer, tick. It is the wish to trade a hundred contemporary readers against ten readers in ten years’ time and one reader in a hundred years’ time. This has always seemed to me what a writer’s ambition should be.|
Literature is a conversation between the living, the dead, and the not-yet-born. Every writer worthy of the name cares what posterity says about him. Koestler cared, and this inspired him to write immortal books. Has anyone ever written a better autobiography?
I read a story by Thomas Mann called “A Man and His Dog” (sometimes called “Bashan and I”; the original German title is Herr und Hund).17 Koestler calls this story “a masterpiece.” It is indeed a first-rate story. Written during World War I, it depicts simple, domestic pleasures, and the beauty of the local park. Mann has an exceptional gift of style, tone, narrative voice.
It’s an upbeat story, it takes a positive attitude toward the world, but Mann doesn’t ignore the sordid aspects of dog-ownership. Mann’s family purchased a young dog, and walked home with it.
|The homeward way [was] scarcely a triumphal procession.... [Bashan] proved to be suffering from an apparently chronic diarrhea, which obliged us to make frequent pauses under the villagers’ eyes. At such times we formed a circle round him to shield his weakness from unfriendly eyes.|
Mann is working within the great tradition of the European novel, he depicts life in all its aspects, while creating a work that’s generally upbeat. He depicts the dark and sordid, but doesn’t wallow in it, or underline it.
Mann was born in 1875, so he matured before Western civilization was traumatized by World War I. His tastes seem classical rather than avant-garde. He sees nature through the eyes of Claude Lorrain: “Nothing more agreeable to the eye,” Mann writes, “than looking from the wild garden beneath one’s feet to the humid massing of fine-leafed foliage that shuts in the view — foliage such as Claude Lorrain used to paint, three centuries ago.”
Mann and Bashan encounter a hunter. Mann describes the hunter as “only a man in velveteens... not a gentleman.... rather rough-looking.” Another translation describes the hunter as “only a plain man in corduroys and no particular class, but in your eyes [i.e., Bashan’s eyes] he is the finest gentleman in the world.” I couldn’t find the German original, but I think it’s clear that Mann is distinguishing between a man and a gentleman. In Mann’s day, Western society still had class distinctions; not every man was a gentleman, and not every woman was a lady. But by the time Mann died in 1955, class distinctions had crumbled; any member of the male gender could be called “man” or “gentleman.”
Mann realizes that much of the beauty of nature is water.
|I am very fond of brooks [he writes] as indeed of all water, from the ocean to the smallest reedy pool. If in the mountains in the summertime my ear but catch the sound of plashing and prattling from afar, I always go to seek out the source of the liquid sounds, a long way if I must.... I can lean on the rail of a little bridge over a brook and contemplate its currents, its whirlpools, and its steady flow for as long as you like.|
I said above that “contact with nature may contain some elements of the mystic vision.” Mann’s response to nature has these mystical elements. Koestler said that, in the mystical experience, “The ‘I’ ceases to exist because it has... established communication with, and been dissolved in, the universal pool.” In the following passage, note the parallel between Mann’s experience and the mystical experience: “The sight of water in whatever form or shape,” Mann writes, “is my most lively and immediate kind of natural enjoyment; yes, I would even say that only in contemplation of it do I achieve true self-forgetfulness and feel my own limited individuality merge into the universal.”
In an earlier issue, I discussed Lamarck’s theory of evolution. This theory is often summarized as “the inheritance of acquired characteristics.” I posed the question, Do animals inherit acquired knowledge? For example, is a dog born with a fear of bees, because its ancestors learned that a bee-sting is painful? Mann ponders these same questions; he speaks of “inborn experiences, unconscious memories.”18
Mann gives us objective description as well as subjective response. He lists the various tree-species in the park; he approaches nature scientifically as well as aesthetically. As one critic put it, “the distinction of this narrative does not lie in its scientific accuracy but rather in the unique and fascinating fusion of Wahrheit und Dichtung [truth and poetry].”
Mann’s house still stands, just north of Bad Tölz, just east of the Isar River, and 30 miles south of Munich; the house probably isn’t open to the public. Mann’s LosAngeles house, and his family’s Lübeck house, are open to the public.
Colonization and Ethnic Cleansing
Consumerism and Nationalism
Dissidents in Poland, Ukraine, etc.
Lecturer: Marci Shore, author of The Ukrainian Night: An Intimate History of Revolution
Topic: Maidan Revolution
|1.||Koestler writes, “Greece, too, lived under a quasi-Fascist dictatorship, the regime of General Metaxas who had seized power by a coup d’état in 1936.” In Hungary, “Admiral Horthy’s counter-revolutionary terror led to a mass emigration of Hungarians, including the whole progressive intelligentsia.” In Austria, “parliamentary rule and the freedom of the Press had already been strangled by Dollfuss, the bigoted dwarf-dictator.” Koestler sums up the situation: “Mussolini, Hitler, Dollfuss, Metaxas, Franco: the Continent was lousy with dictators.”
In an earlier issue, I wrote about the link between religion and connectedness: “In his book The Sacred and the Profane, Eliade says ‘the profane world is formed of a juxtaposition of phenomena, while an intuitive total apprehension of reality characterizes the sacred. The latter calls for the perception of the world as a meaningful whole, each of its parts partaking in and of the whole.... Wholeness characterizes the sacred world.’ Eliade’s argument confirms my view that a philosophy of inter-connectedness is a good foundation for a new religion.” back
|2.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 33 back|
|3.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 33. Koestler felt that, if he was executed, it would be a just punishment. He was, after all, a spy. In his writings, he had probably over-stated Fascist atrocities. But while he viewed his punishment as just, this justice was “independent of any theological assumptions,” this justice came from the nature of things, not from God.
Reflecting on his situation, he felt that “There was in all this a neat, symmetrical design. A design, however, does not necessarily presuppose a designer. The symmetry of crystals is the product of electro-chemical forces. Nature favors symmetry, tends organically towards symmetry. Justice is a concept of ethical symmetry, and therefore an essentially natural concept — like the design of a crystal.”
One might compare Koestler’s view of justice to the Hindu idea of karma. Or one might compare it to the biological idea that organisms display design/engineering, but there’s no Divine Designer, the design comes from nature itself. back
|4.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 33. One might say that imprisonment was good for Koestler because it forced him to be still. Koestler seemed to lack Zen; it was difficult for him to be still. He needed a cause, an obsession, a project to work on. In his youth, it was Communism, later it was writing; he says he’s “chained to my desk all the year round for eight or nine hours a day.... Work became my therapy and drug.” He also needed to be conquering women; his behavior toward women has been criticized in recent years, and his bust was removed from Edinburgh University. Orwell said, “the chink in Koestler’s armor is his hedonism.” back|
|5.||The German “spuckt” (spat) sounds like the English “spooky.” Perhaps the actions of ghosts are thought of in terms of spitting. back|
|6.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 27 back|
|7.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 34. This isn’t a direct quote from Mann, Koestler is paraphrasing a letter that he has lost. I changed Koestler’s words slightly. back|
|8.||Experiment in Autobiography, VIII, 5. Like Koestler, Wells wrote fiction that was popular in its day, but isn’t highly-regarded today. Like Koestler, Wells seemed to write mostly fiction in his early years, mostly non-fiction in his later years. back|
|9.||I’m quoting NewYorker magazine, which is quoting Koestler. Darkness At Noon deals with the question of Means and Ends. This is also a theme of Koestler’s earlier novel, Gladiators, and his next novel, Arrival and Departure. As Koestler says,|
“The Gladiators is the first novel in a trilogy concerned with the ethics of revolution, the problem of Ends and Means. In the second, Darkness at Noon, the problem is restated in a contemporary setting; in the third, Arrival and Departure, it is shifted to the psychological level. Spartacus is a victim of the ‘law of detours,’ which compels the leader on the road to Utopia to be ‘ruthless for the sake of pity.’ He is ‘doomed always to do that which is most repugnant to him, to become a slaughterer in order to abolish slaughtering, to whip people with knouts so that they may learn not to let themselves be whipped, to strip himself of every scruple in the name of a higher scrupulousness, and to challenge the hatred of mankind because of his love for it — an abstract and geometrical love.’ But Spartacus shrinks from taking the last step — the purge by crucifixion of the dissident Celts and the establishment of a ruthless tyranny — and through this refusal he dooms his revolution to defeat.”(Invisible Writing, Ch. 24) back
|11.||I’m quoting Koestler (Invisible Writing, Ch. 24), who’s quoting Darkness At Noon. The next quote is from the NewYorker article. back|
|12.||In 1944, Irving Kristol criticized Koestler for his faith in subjective feeling; Kristol said that Koestler “lays the blame for current horrors at the door of the prevailing spirit of rationality, and looks for rescue to an inner light of the spirit.”
Reason and feeling can both go astray; we can’t put complete faith in either one. Koestler seemed to acknowledge this in 1960, when he criticized contemporary Zen/yoga for “the simple abdication of reason in favor of a spurious mysticism.”(See Koestler’s essays “Yoga Unexpurgated” and “A Stink of Zen,” in his The Lotus and the Robot) back
|13.||Isn’t this a contradiction? Deep truths are often contradictory, as Koestler realized. He said that his mystical experience involved contradiction: “We are moving here through strata that are held together by the cement of contradiction.”(Invisible Writing, Ch. 33) As Niels Bohr said, “There are the superficial truths, the opposite of which are obviously wrong. But there are also the profound truths, whose opposites are equally right.”
Like Koestler, Malraux was spiritual, but didn’t adhere to traditional religion. Wikipedia says, “An agnostic, but an intensely spiritual man, Malraux maintained that what was needed was an ‘aesthetic spirituality’ in which love of Art and Civilization would allow one to appreciate le sacré in life... a mystical sense of humanity’s place in a universe that was as astonishingly beautiful as it was mysterious.”
Koestler speaks highly of Hemingway, and compares him to Malraux. Koestler says that Hemingway and Malraux both wrote immortal novels about the Spanish Civil War, and they both “regard physical courage and a life of adventure as supreme values.” Malraux may have modeled himself on T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), who combined literary talent with an adventurous life and political action.
Malraux’s novel about the Spanish Civil War is called Man’s Hope (L’Espoir). Koestler says that Malraux “organized a flying squadron of volunteers in the Republican Air Force [in Spain], then wrote his masterpiece L’Espoir, and finally directed its transformation into one of the greatest films ever made.”
Koestler also admired the Italian novelist Ignazio Silone. Koestler says that he and Silone and Malraux were “constantly bracketed together by the critics... in a kind of triumvirate representing the ex-Communist brand of the Continental novel.” One might say that 20th-century intellectuals lost their faith in socialism, as 19th-century intellectuals had lost their faith in Christianity.
Koestler says that, when he abandoned the Communist Party, friends were annoyed with him, even if they weren’t Communists themselves. Koestler says that people like someone who embraces a faith, whether it’s Christianity or Communism, and they’re troubled by a person who abandons a faith.
Koestler says that, after he left the Party, he felt lonely. “It was not a physical loneliness, for after the break with the Party I found more friends than I have had before. But individual friendships could never replace the knowledge that one belonged to an international brotherhood embracing the whole globe; nor the warming, reassuring feeling of a collective solidarity which gave to that huge, amorphous mass the coherence and intimacy of a small family.”(Invisible Writing, Ch. 36)
Koestler had been a Party member for seven years. “Never before nor after had life been so brimful of meaning as during these seven years. They had the superiority of a beautiful error over a shabby truth.” But you can’t remain forever in error and illusion, however beautiful they may be. Koestler quotes Mann: “In the long run, a harmful truth is better than a useful lie.” back
|14.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 37. Krivitsky’s book is called In Stalin’s Secret Service (published in Britain as I Was Stalin’s Agent). Koestler’s friend Alex Weissberg wrote a memoir about Stalinism called The Accused (also known as Conspiracy of Silence). Weissberg also wrote a book about Joel Brand, a member of the Jewish underground; Brand tried to save Jews from the Nazis. In the last issue, I mentioned a book by Elisabeth Poretsky, wife of the spy Ignace Reiss. I also mentioned the spy Whittaker Chambers, who wrote a memoir called Witness, a memoir called Cold Friday, and other works. back|
|15.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 37 back|
|16.||Wikipedia’s article on Katz’s trial mentions him under his alias, André Simone. back|
|17.||The standard translation of this work, and of Mann’s other works, is by H. T. Lowe-Porter. Project Gutenberg has “Bashan and I” in a translation by Herman George Scheffauer. I think the Lowe-Porter translation is better than the Scheffauer translation. Old, classic translations like those by Lowe-Porter are always being re-done, perhaps to fix mistakes, perhaps to provide income for translators. John E. Woods criticized Lowe-Porter’s translations, and made several Mann translations of his own. I think it’s a bad idea for each generation to make its own translations. back|
|18.||I wrote, “How is it possible that a dog is afraid of a bee, though it’s never been stung? Perhaps it has an ‘inherited memory,’ a ‘race memory,’ a ‘species memory,’ a ‘Lamarckian memory,’ perhaps the acquired knowledge of its ancestors has been passed down.” back|
|19.||This sounds like social Darwinism. Shaw viewed the bloodbath of World War I as applied Darwinism, Shaw blamed the bloodbath on Darwinian thinking; Shaw’s reasoning is even more applicable to World War II.(See Shaw’s Back to Methuselah, Preface, “Political Inadequacy of the Human Animal” and “Cowardice of the Irreligious”) back|
|20.||I’m going beyond Snyder’s lecture, the next note also goes beyond Snyder. back|
|21.||Wikipedia: “The Brezhnev Doctrine was a Soviet foreign policy that proclaimed any threat to socialist rule in any state of the Soviet Bloc in Central and Eastern Europe was a threat to them all, and therefore justified the intervention of fellow socialist states.” back|
|22.||As I mentioned in the last issue, “During the purges, anyone with a strong personality, anyone who attracted attention, was at risk of being killed. The secret of survival, Koestler says, ‘lies in colorlessness and self-effacement.’”
When Koestler is in Baku, he arranges a meeting between his girlfriend, Nadeshda, and a friend from the secret police, Werner. Koestler says that Nadeshda couldn’t survive a purge because “she refused to lie even to the extent of a single smile for Werner [and] she had held her head so unnaturally high and still.”
Vasyl Stus, a Ukrainian poet and dissident who served two terms in the Gulag, said “I had no intention of bowing my head down, whatever happened. Behind me was Ukraine, my oppressed people, whose honor I had to defend or perish.” back