London: The Spinning Top Club, 2009
This volume consists of four stories of approximately equal length. Their titles are “Goodbye, Homunculus!,” “Iron Breath,” “Armageddon’s Village,” and “Noughts are Crosses.” Each one of them deals with extreme takes on the imagination, and the entire book teeters on the edge of various genres. These are Horror, the Gothic, science fiction or romanticism, fantasy, chillers, crime (yes and no), the ghost story, and noir. Yet, in all honesty, a serious undertone or classic element lurks throughout, and this has to do with Greek tragedy.
Why has the author composed them? Well, on clear inspection, several discrete pathways or strands become discernible.
The first is a change in moral temperature throughout these tales. At first, this can be rather disconcerting to a half-attentive reader. For it is relatively difficult to tease apart the good from the bad characters. Usually, in tales of this sort, there is a clear distinction. Let’s take, for example, the Gothic or noir stories of William F. Harvey. Despite his “harm none” or Quakerish views, his astounding or graveyard riffs were “nasty,” fierce, clammy, vaguely unwholesome, and ghoulish. The two viewpoints probably went with each other—on reflection. Even Harvey admitted that good attracts evil, so the inner paradox of his compendia becomes clear. He is a classic dualist—irrespective of his literary quality and sepulchral imagination. Essentially Harvey is a Manichean, an either/or man, who posits the notion that God and Satan are coeval.
Bowden, on the other hand, manifests a different approach, since all his varied personae seem to be quite clearly a mixture of light and dark, positive and negative, benign or malignant. They wax lyrical as “raptors who feed on blood only to be disappointed,” as well as exhibiting the odd tender moment. Most certainly, they are objects or puppets up to a point, and this lends an element of satire to these proceedings. But we have to be careful here: they don’t lack reality and even retain a capacity for suffering. For instance, of the two brothers Gregory Fawcett Greensleeve in “Goodbye, Homunculus!” one is quite clearly more Luciferian than the other . . . but the more well-rounded character proves to be multifaceted. Again, in “Iron Breath” both the robot who would replace Mankind—personified by the lonely Lighthouse man—and his “victim” wax Beyond Good and Evil. There has to be a medley or interplay of forces. Perhaps, as in Walter Allen’s early review of Tarr by Wyndham Lewis, humans want to have their cake and eat it.
What does this lead to? Are we in a situation where these stories prove to be transgressive or amoral? That is, do they manifest the architecture of anti-heroes or heroines, as perceived? Such a trajectory would bring them quite close to Aleister Crowley’s novels The Moonchild and The Diary of a Drug Fiend. We might also be treading on Ayn Rand’s territory here—if we examine works like We the Living (an anti-Soviet piece) or The Fountainhead. (Rand is qualitatively different, since her fictional creations live out some libertarian-individualist axioms. But the point still holds.)
Nonetheless, Jonathan Bowden seems to be attempting something quite distinct. To my mind, he is positing a hierarchical or aristocratic morality of high and low. It involves the substitution of one system of ethics (Judaeo-Christian) with another (Byronic, Classical, Pagan, or power-moral). Yet it is not a replacement of the better by the worse. Nor can we exempt from our schema the fact that liberal humanism can be considered as secularized Christianity.
Does this mean that he is advocating anti-ethics as traditionally perceived? No, not really . . . for such varied systems preach dog-eat-dog, to the victor the spoils, morality amounts to little more than the laughter of the strongest man, etc. Such nostrums can be associated with Hobbes’ social theories, the black opal-like philosophies of the Marquis de Sade, or Antinomianism.
(The last comes across as either heresy or a dissenting note within Calvinism. It derived from alternative ideas about Predestination and election inside puritanism as a whole. Many of these views subtly influenced various subcultures in the early United States. By far the clearest explication of them is in James Hogg’s classic of Scotch literature, The Confessions of a Justified Sinner. A text that André Gide, a self-confessed existential or immoralist, revived in the early twentieth century.)
To recap: I don’t believe that Bowden is advocating moral inversion, “Satanism,” or pseudo-Satanism at all. No, he happens to be promoting aristocratic radicalism and its attendant mores. Put more earnestly, it amounts to the ethical attitudes of the Vikings or Odinists. This means that infighting (even within an individual) is moral, honor proves to be the linchpin of behavior, and that everything ramifies with Nature. Each and every person has his natural place within a hierarchy, biology over-masters life, striving is moral, strength welcomes morality, and the weak should be punished—but they can become stronger. This is by virtue of the fact that all valuable forms of life open out and grow towards the sun. By dint of this lexicon, immorality—theft, lying, drug-addiction, false manipulation of others, perversion—stands out as weak and vice versa. Such a prognosis occurs most nakedly in “Noughts Are Crosses”—a critique of materialism at one level, and the third story “Armageddon’s Village.”
In “Armageddon’s Village” the paraplegic husband and recluse, Spider Absinthe Marmaduke, may be helpless in relation to the brewing conspiracy against his life. Yet he is determined to enact the prospect of vengeance—even beforehand. So it proves to be the intensity of his gaze (his desire to live) which puts off his assailant long enough to lead to a cataclysmic deux ex machina.
These are pagan tales tout court: in them justice is revenge. Needless to say, even the disabled or afflicted can be eugenic if they crawl towards the sun with a knife between their teeth.
And at the end . . . everything goes back into Nature so as to start over.
Goodbye, Homunculus! is also available in Jonathan Bowden, Omnibus 2 (London: The Spinning Top Club, 2010), along with two other books, Apocalypse TV and Lilith Before Eve.