The word on the web is that Jonathan Bowden, the formidable British right-wing orator, modernist painter, and surrealist novelist, is dead of a heart attack at age 49.
I hope instead that Jonathan is just the victim of a terrible online prank. (Lies have been spread about him before.) Or maybe he is playing a prank of his own. If anybody I know could fake his own death, it is Jonathan. I hope he is reading his obituaries right now . . . and roaring with laughter.
I first met Jonathan in Atlanta in October of 2009 while I was the Editor of The Occidental Quarterly. I was organizing a private gathering for TOQ writers and supporters, and I wanted Michael Walker to give the keynote address.
Unfortunately, the final decision fell to somebody who had been completely upstaged by Walker at the 2008 American Renaissance Conference. So, perhaps on the assumption that one Englishman should be as good as another, I was informed that the speaker would be Jonathan Bowden, someone I had never even heard of, much less heard speak. But I was assured that he had an excellent reputation as an orator.
I looked at Bowden’s website and had a good chuckle, imagining how his Nietzscheanism, paganism, and aggressive aesthetic modernism would play in the Bible Belt.
I liked Jonathan’s paintings enough to end up buying two of them and commissioning two more. But I thought his works of fiction were unreadable. The essays he had online, moreover, seemed half-baked. (He was later to write much better ones for Counter-Currents, but it was never his forte.) At the time, I had not seen his YouTube videos, and I foolishly inferred from his writings that he could not be much of a speaker — which, I suspected, was the real reason he had been invited.
The afternoon before the meeting, I received a panicked call from Jonathan. He was at the Atlanta airport. The individual who was supposed to pick him up was more than 40 minutes late. Jonathan’s mobile phone did not work in the US, and the tardy party was not answering his, so he had no idea what to do. I gave Jonathan my address and told him to jump in a cab.
About 40 minutes and $50 later, Jonathan arrived. I feared that he would be a difficult person in a bad mood, but he was cheerful and magnanimous. He was wearing a rumpled black suit and tie. Around his neck was a wooden pendant inscribed with an Odal rune. He asked me how I thought it would go over in Atlanta. I suggested that if anyone asked, he simply declare it to be the sign of the fish.
He wore thick spectacles, but when he wanted to read something, he would study it under a magnifying glass he drew from his pocket.
When he spoke, he gestured dramatically with a long, thin cardboard box labeled “Samurai Sword – Made in Taiwan.” I joked that it must have been a hit at airport security. Then he opened it up, and, with a flourish, unrolled two watercolors that I had purchased from him, “Adolf and Leni” and “Savitri Diva.”
“This is going to be interesting,” I thought.
What impressed me most about Jonathan was not his diverting eccentricity, but his intelligence, vast reading, and devastating wit.
On his own, he could be quiet and pensive. His face would take on an impassive mask-like quality, enlivened only by a penetrating, sometimes unsettling gaze. But when Jonathan had the right kind of audience, he would come alive, his face positively beaming with mirth. He had an endless supply of interesting stories, often told with hilarious impressions. He was one of the funniest, most brilliant, and most intellectually stimulating people I have ever known.
When the night of Jonathan’s speech came, I asked him what he was going to talk about. He said that he had no idea. My stomach tightened. “This is going to be really interesting,” I thought.
Mike Polignano has already told the story of how when Jonathan took the stage, he swept aside the shrieky, malfunctioning microphone and filled a ballroom with his unamplified voice, speaking extemporaneously and fluently for two hours. Jonathan’s speech that night was quite simply the greatest speech I had ever heard. He upstaged all of creation that day.
Naturally, he was not invited back. (He was invited to speak at American Renaissance and the National Policy Institute, although he cancelled both times.)
When Mike Polignano and I started Counter-Currents in June of 2010, Jonathan was very supportive. He wrote 27 original articles and reviews for Counter-Currents. (He also wrote eight more pieces for Counter-Currents under a pseudonym.) He told me that he wrote most of these pieces from memory. He would go to a local public library where he could use a computer for an hour at a time, and he would write an essay as if it were a timed university examination. We discussed publishing a collection of essays on fascistic themes in popular literature to be entitled Pulp Fascism.
There were periods when Jonathan wrote for us weekly, but then he would turn his attention to literary projects. Many of these were available as free E-books on his website, which is no longer online. If anybody has copies of these E-books, we will be glad to make them available from Counter-Currents.
The last thing Jonathan wrote for us, just three days before his reported death on March 29, was a blurb for Kerry Bolton’s Artists of the Right.
The last time I saw Jonathan was in February of this year. We flew him out to San Francisco to speak at a gathering of Counter-Currents writers and friends. Jonathan was in high spirits during his visit to the Bay Area. He was bursting with ideas, plans, and funny stories. His speech, “Western Civilization Bites Back,” is available here in recorded and transcribed form. I also recorded a two hour interview with him about art and culture, which I will make available if it can be recovered from a damaged flash drive.
He brought me a third painting, “Medusa Now Ventrix,” and accepted a commission to do a fourth (to be entitled “Meat in the Walls”). (He charged me mere token amounts — “friend prices.”)
Jonathan Bowden was an enormous asset to our cause, and we at Counter-Currents did everything we could to encourage and aid him in making the most of his talents. The same donor who made possible the trip also allowed us to buy Jonathan a new laptop to make it easier for him to write, and Mike Polignano tutored him on how to use it. We also gave him a podcasting kit, hoping that he would start doing weekly shows.
But his time ran out.
Forty-nine years is not enough. But we can take some solace in the fact that Jonathan spent his time well: he lived, created, and spoke in the light of the truth as he saw it. That is a fuller, richer life than 99 years of lies, compromise, cowardice, and conventionality.
When I heard that Jonathan had died, I remarked to a friend, “If it is true, we all have to work harder.” But another friend pointed out that this presupposed that we could take Jonathan’s place, and we can’t. He is an irreplaceable talent. All we can do is rejoice in the time he spent with us, and make the most of the time we have remaining. Forty-nine isn’t that far off for a lot of us. We have a world to win. Let’s make every moment count.