Lincoln, Nebr.: iUniverse, 2006
Men–Art–War is a self-published collection of ten philosophical short stories-stories, that is, which appear intended to illustrate the author’s Weltanschauung. Self-publishing seems destined to assume greater importance in American life, as the cultural gatekeepers become ever more ruthless to our people and traditions. We may hope the “vanity press” stigma fades accordingly. iUniverse, the company providing on-demand printing of the book under review, happens also to be responsible for keeping Kevin MacDonald’s A People That Shall Dwell Alone available since Praeger succumbed to pressure to drop his works.
“Mikulas Kolya” combines two forms of the name Nicholas: Mikulas could be either Hungarian or Czech, Kolya is the Russian diminutive. A pen name, then. The author has previously published a novel called Going Nowhere, also with iUniverse, and is said to write from Los Angeles. He is evidently a young man, and Men–Art–War is not just a book by a young man, but for young men as well-young men who are beginning to sense the seriousness of life despite the culture’s lures of perpetual adolescence.
The viewpoint of the stories in Men–Art–War is consistently anti-liberal, anti-Christian, and anti-modern, with apparent sympathies for paganism, Nietzsche, sociobiology, and possibly the European nouvelle droite. The stories are supposedly inspired by The Lay of Hadding, an anonymous late nineteenth-century poem said to be much beloved of Wyndham Lewis and W. B. Yeats. But a quick web search for this mysterious poem yields only references to the book under review. Here are the final lines of the poem as quoted by the author:
Through clouded eyes we glimpse the cliffs that loom over yon distant shores. /The waves they break with giant’s strength and boom like oaken castle doors. /Lightening threatens from above while frenzied sharks await below. /Danger is all about. In every element lurks a foe. /Creation. Destruction. Birth and Death. The same. The same. The same. /Fire melts the eternal ice, which transformed, douses the flame. /Onward we sail, toward those cliffs, determined to reach the beckoning shore. /And on landing make what our fathers made-glorious art and glorious war.
The author sees creation and destruction-art and war-as linked. Both arise from human nature, from life’s restless need to experience itself by overcoming obstacles and to understand itself by putting its stamp on matter. The drives are related, since it is war that creates the difference between master and slave, leaving the master the leisure to create culture. Both drives fall victim to excess. Warlike peoples are consistently undone by creating empires in which they then merge with conquered peoples. Culture gives rise to decadence, in which refinement and reflection hypertrophy and destroy their vital roots. Fortunately, these excesses are self-correcting. Decadent empires and cultures inevitably collapse, ceding their place to new, healthy, creative-destructive barbarians who will usher in a new Gold Age of gods, heroes, and vital art. History, therefore, moves in circles, and we who live in decadent times can sustain ourselves with the hope of eventual rebirth.
The tales in Men–Art–War fall into three rough genres: stories or war, art, and the pangs of rebirth.
The stories in the last category deal most directly with contemporary politics and will have the most immediate appeal to TOQ readers. The penultimate story, entitled “The Stage Show,” is perhaps a good introduction to some of the author’s central concerns.
A convergence of catastrophes has ushered in a populist revolution. The productive part of the American nation has shaken off the parasites which had both fed upon and despised it. The credo of the new order is: “Warrior, Worker, Farmer, No Other.” As famine and intestine war gradually recede, rough justice gets dealt out to supporters of the old regime. Former wielders of political and financial power are proscribed by means of posters bearing their likenesses. Many are lynched before they can be brought to trial. The rest hang from trees, as children play at throwing stones into their open mouths. Soon the former rulers are followed by members of the so-called denial caste: “professionals who were known to have spewed anti-biological propaganda.”
The central character in the tale is an innocuous and unreflective man named Daniel Hoover. He takes little interest in the “Wanted” posters now springing up, even when a man in his own work gang is arrested and taken away. It turns out the man had formerly been a priest, a member of the denial caste. A few days later, Daniel accidentally comes upon the man’s corpse hanging from a tree. But this is not relevant to him, since he had nothing to do with the former rulers and had not done anything wrong.
After the power holders and the denial caste have been dealt with, a category of persons known as “mouthpieces” finds itself the subject of the third round of purges. This class consists of all who had formerly been involved in communications media in any non-technical capacity. Actors form the largest contingent.
And Daniel Hoover had once been an actor. As a young man, he had gone out to Hollywood, seeking his fortune. The apogee of his career had been appearing in a nationally broadcast commercial for Gadget Town, a popular retailer of consumer electronics. Enjoying no further success, he gave up after a couple years and returned to his Midwestern home. Later, during the years of war and famine, he had once survived by stealing food from a child. But it was the commercial for which he might now have to answer with his life.
He tries to get information about the new purge discretely from the boss of his work gang. But the man easily guesses that Daniel had acted, and hints that he should flee to the north where working men are needed. The ratio of parasites to producers had been particularly high up there, it seems. He sets out on foot for “what had formerly been Canada.”
One day he is standing in line at a farmers’ market, hoping to barter for some fresh apples: food producers enjoy high status under the new order. A woman recognizes him from the television advertisement of many years before. She begins shrieking “mouthpiece, mouthpiece!” Daniel is quickly overpowered by nearby soldiers, a bag is placed over his head, and he is dragged off to prison.
He sits in an overcrowded cell, watching as guards remove his fellow prisoners one-by-one. At last, his own name is called; a guard handcuffs him and ushers him into a room where an older man sits behind a desk. The man asks Daniel about the television commercial.
It had depicted Daniel staring entranced before a plasma TV set at a Gadget Town outlet. A football player on the screen caught a touchdown pass and danced in the end zone. Daniel was shown mimicking the football player, but was directed to make his dancing “goofy, awkward and stilted.” The multiethnic customers in the store are shown disdainfully shaking their heads at the white man’s lack of both dignity and dancing skills.
“What do you think the purpose of that commercial was?” the man asks him. Daniel is confused and finally manages to return the response “to sell television sets.”
“Maybe. Nominally. Some would say social engineering-that was certainly the result. You do understand, don’t you, that you have defamed a people? That your shameless display denigrated all the people on earth, but most grievously your own? You put into the minds of millions that your people were all weak-willed clowns fit only to be mocked and scorned.”
Daniel responds that it had been necessary for him to earn a living.
“By defaming others? […] Under the old régime I was imprisoned, locked away from my family for nine years for saying what I believed in. An actor, however, believes in nothing. He repeats the words others have written for him. Tell me, Daniel Hoover, what do you believe in?”
Daniel is unable to think of an answer.
When it became clear that nothing was forthcoming, the man behind the desk declares: “This court finds the accused guilty as charged. It has been proven that he was indeed a mouthpiece under the former régime, and as such is an enemy of the people who suffered under its whip. The sentence is death by hanging.” Only at this moment does Daniel realize that this had been his trial.
This story is mirrored by another one concerning a movie star. Matt Weber, who does not take much stock in either fathers or battles, has been filming Our Fathers’ Battles in rural North Carolina. He employs a personal vegan chef whenever he is on location, because eating flesh is “disrespectful of the body;” at the same time, he has nothing against cocaine or sexual promiscuity. Driving away for the weekend in his new Ferrari, he crashes in a rural area and seeks help from the locals at a tiny bar. It does not take him long to insult them, and the author gives us his word that the final results are the best entertaining the actor has ever done.
The war stories in Men–Art–War deal with conquest and the warrior ethos, depicting figures such as Alexander, Caesar and Genghis Khan. In one, a Chinese historian writes to his grandson that “it is violence — only ever violence — that lies behind the success of mighty men,” and describes how he was forced to falsify the imperial annals in order to disguise this from the Emperor’s subjects. Another refers to adrenaline as “that vestigial hormone that’s about as beneficial in modern, urban society as a tail.” What does it say about a society that it tries to eradicate the warrior virtues while endorsing war as “humanitarian intervention?”
The art stories deal with the fate of art and artists in the modern world. Three of these are concerned in some way with a fictitious nineteenth century Alsatian painter named Edvard Adolphus. The first, called simply “The Painter,” purports to be a biographical sketch of the artist from The Catholic Journal of Cultural Studies, a publication difficult to lay one’s hand on. Adolphus began his career with a celebrated crucifixion scene which became the subject of odd rumors: tiny details were alleged to be keys to blasphemous secret messages. Supposedly, he had called Christ “an anomaly in the natural world, a living creature that won’t try to defend itself,” and mocked Christianity as “a cult of weakness and lunacy.” The artist did nothing to discourage such speculation. The painting was quietly got rid of, “donated” to a German church in Valdivia, Chile.
Adolphus continued to épater le bourgeois throughout his career, lampooning wealthy capitalists and becoming a disciple of Max Stirner. Having reached age sixty, he travels to Africa and disappears. All but three of his works are said to have been destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden.
The second story in this series, “The Confession,” is the longest in the book and occupies a central place. Brian Scheibe is a widely traveled businessman who has begun structuring his travel around a desire to see things which are disappearing from the earth: going to Uganda, e.g., to look at the silverback gorillas.
One day, he hears a story on the news about “a man in Holland who’d publicly burned an antique oil painting in a park, dividing the Netherlands’ art community. Various protesters had decried the act as morally wrong, while those of a more liberal persuasion had applauded it as groundbreaking and a work of art in itself.”
This is not an extravagant conceit of the author’s, by the way. The Wall Street Journal of 24 March 1993 reported on the work of community college Professor Tim O’Day whose “art consists of performance pieces in which he buries, burns, or blows up other artists’ work.”
The painting was by Edvard Adolphus, whom Brian had never heard of. He soon learns that the only other Adolphus painting on public view is a crucifixion scene at a Cathedral in Chile. Within hours, he is off to Chile.
As he admires the painting, he is joined by an old man. At first annoyed by the interruption, he is eventually won over by the old man and tells him about the burning of the Adolphus canvas in Holland. The man replies: “they won’t stop until everything beautiful is eradicated from the face of the earth. Then, finally, they’ll turn on themselves.”
The man, named Alfred, becomes Brian’s guide during his stay in Chile. At a restaurant, Alfred tells Brian the history of the area; then he accompanies him to a local museum. He is pleased when Brian expresses no particular interest in the museum of modern art. He then remarks that the Adolphus crucifixion is the most interesting thing in the city, and recommends they return to the Cathedral to admire it, since “it looks best in the light of dusk.”
When they return to the Cathedral, Brian sees that Alfred is right. “Notice how the figures closest to the Christ are painted in muted tones,” says Alfred, “whereas those further away, on those hilltops for instance, are so colorful. It reminds me of the Swinburne line: Thou hast conquered, o pale Galilean. The world has grown gray from thy breath. The incomparable art of Europe happened in spite of the church, not because of it.”
Perhaps afraid of having offended Brian, Alfred asks him if he is Catholic; he is not. Brian asks Alfred his religion and, after a pause, Alfred replies “proudly and defiantly: I am an artist. That is my religion. As with Michelangelo, as with Dalí, as with the men of the future.”
When Brian protests that Michelangelo and Dalí were Catholics, Alfred suggests that they meet again that evening for dinner. “Thus the stage was set,” interjects the narrator, “for Brian Scheibe to begin thinking differently about the world around him.”
The contemporary educated Christian will have much to say in response to the views here expressed, views reminiscent of John Addington Symonds and Nietzsche. But knowledge of Christian history is also not the forte of even the contemporary educated Christian. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, in his masterpiece The Autumn of the Middle Ages, put the matter this way:
[Life’s enjoyments consist of] reading, music, fine arts, travel, the enjoyment of nature, sports, fashion, social vanity (knightly orders, honorary offices, gatherings) and the intoxication of the senses. For the majority, the border between higher and lower levels seems now to be located between the enjoyment of nature and sports. But this border is not firm. [E.g., the ancient Greeks treated sporting events as sacred occasions.-FRD] For medieval man the border lay, in the best of cases, right after reading; the enjoyment of reading could be sanctified through striving for virtue and wisdom. For music and the fine arts, it was their service to faith alone that was recognized as being good. Enjoyment per se was sinful.
Alfred’s devotion to “the fervor of life” implies an emphasis on procreation, and the new friendship is strained when Alfred reprimands Brian strongly for not having fathered children by the age of thirty-three. Brian eventually challenges Alfred on the same point, and the old man admits to being childless. It is this, he says, which makes him so emphatic about the importance of family when speaking with a younger man. The parent is an artist who works upon the spirit of his child.
“It is the mightiest endeavor, being handed a piece of clay or a blank piece of paper and bringing forth something from where previously there’d been nothing. From this seed, this rare quality of creativity possessed only by artists, springs all higher civilizations. It is that which whispers the infinite possibilities of what man might someday become. If those who possess this ability fail to have children…” His voice trailed off.
We may note that for all his jabs at modernity, the author assumes here an entirely modern understanding of art: it is creation ex nihilo rather than the imitation of natural forms. Modern “promethean” anti-Christians (Nietzsche) who claim to find this ideal realized in pre-Christian art are projecting: Christianity inherited the concept of art-as-mimesis from the pagan world without essential change.
The author’s writing is certainly open to criticism. For example, following the condemnation of Daniel Hoover in “The Stage Show,” the judge is depicted musing silently about why no actor brought before him ever mentions Shakespeare. For this, the judge feels lucky; he would not feel as confident sending them to their deaths if they did. Obviously, the author is trying to assure his readers that Hollywood is his target rather than the dramatic arts per se. But the passage is awkwardly inserted, and evinces a lack of artistic self-confidence.
That said, Men–Art–War remains itself an illustration of a lesson implied in a number of its stories: that decadence is not a fatality, and the virtues of the race can find expression in any age.
TOQ Online, June 18, 2009