Part 2 of 2
The following continues the transcript by V.S. of Jonathan Bowden’s lecture to the 34th New Right Meeting in London on Saturday, August 6, 2011. In editing this transcription, I introduced punctuation and paragraph breaks. You can view the lecture at YouTube here. A few words are marked unintelligible. If you can understand them, please post a comment below. We will publish separately a transcript of the question and answer session.
Without the belief that men like T. S. Eliot can exist, there will be no future for our people, defined as Caucasian people all over the world, particularly of Anglo-Saxon ancestry. Because we are all over the world. We’re increasingly not here, even though we are here, but we are all over the world. One of the primary things that we have to do is adopt a worshipful attitude towards our higher creators.
I am not arguing for a surrogate religiosity of culture, but I think that something which mildly approaches it is necessary. If people give up on the highest things that their people as individuals have created they are opening the space for themselves to be destroyed in the future by people who will not give up on their greatest gifts.
Pound, in an extreme moment of disillusionment at the end of the Great War, talked about a botched civilization and an old bitch of a civilization gone in the tooth and the generation on all sides, including our own nationality of course, that had been slaughtered for a few thousand books, for a few old Greek statues. The First World War was reckoned to be the end. It was reckoned to be the nadir of nadirs. It was reckoned to be the moment when the West came home to itself in the most violent and dispirited of ways. No one claimed that they had a great victory after the Great War who had experienced the industrialization of death that that conflict represented. And yet within a couple of decades, of course, a second war—one of the most violent of conflicts that has ever convulsed the planet—was itself to break out, followed by atomic weaponry that froze power between the blocs.
Now, our role in this group and in those like it across Europe and North America, is to keep alive the idea of high culture that is aware of itself and aware of where it comes from. GRECE in France and other groups always try to pitch the level as high as possible, and they have created a space for organizations like Front National, which in many ways disagrees with it on all sorts of cardinal points. But the point is to create the space for the prospect of metaphysics, for the prospect of higher philosophy, for the belief that belief is possible. Our people face the dilemma, of course, that many instinctively don’t necessarily want to go back to Christianity. But nothing else appears to be tolerable for them, so we live in this post-Christian void.
Eliot had the courage, possibly of the Puritanism of his New England forebears, and he actually chose belief. How deeply did he believe in the Anglo-Catholic re-immersion that he engaged in from middle life onwards? One doesn’t know. Certainly, the conversion, or the re-conversion as I call it, seems to be pretty absolute. There’s nothing fundamentalist about his religiosity, because it’s too fey, too complicated, too non-linear, too mosaic, too modern, too partial to his own sense of self to be something ridiculously constricting.
But I feel that the absence of a prior religiosity or a prior philosophy of life which is congruent with it is a key affliction for our people. A key affliction. It’s something that weakens us particularly in relation to those that may in one moment in the future, as Enoch Powell had said, come to conflict with us generally throughout the future of this island. I personally believe that emotion in high culture, even partially, is vitally necessary to keep yourself morally and intellectually clean for the future.
Eliot’s plays received quite a lot of comment and were widely performed in the commercial West End up until his death in the mid-1960s. The key play is the murder of Thomas Beckett in the cathedral, Murder in the Cathedral. These plays are an attempt to widen the poet’s vision. Eliot always believed that just to talk to a small number of cultural collaborators via small political journals and magazines was never enough, that you needed to transcend that, that the poet needed to have a social role. And playwrights, because of course there are verse dramas, is the social role a poet. Notice that the sort of plays that Eliot wrote—very different from the social commentary of someone like Rattigan, a contemporary—are decisively different from what followed.
British theater changed out of all recognition in the 1960s when a whole generation of essentially culturally Marxist playwrights came up. Eliot, although Murder in the Cathedral is still performed, has become very unfashionable in the generation of Edward Bond and Trevor Griffiths and Arnold Wesker and Hare and Howard Brenton. These are the people who took over the theater in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, particularly the state-subsidized theater which came out of the arts council and the big national corporate bodies that Labour created post-war, post-Festival Britain and which the Tories have never understood how we should deal with.
It always amazes me—this is an aside which has little to do with the topic of this talk—how when Margaret Thatcher was leading this country in what Leftists would regard as an extreme Right Tory direction, however you choose to define that, a play was put on at the National Theatre which consisted of her execution. This was called The Unkindest Cut of All by Howard Brenton with an all-female cast in which a Tory harridan Thatcher look-a-like was guillotined on the stage of the National Theatre.
The Tories are completely culturally witless except in private life where you have often highly nuanced and educated men of an Alan Clark type, although he was unusual in all sorts of ways and a cultural gadfly at that. But there is a degree to which the Tories have never understood what the enemy is and who the enemy is. They’ve never understood how you engage in cultural struggle. They’ve never understood the importance of culture. Only the Left and the extreme Right understand the importance of cultural struggle. The liberal center has inherited the extreme Left partiality for it.
The reason that I talk about Eliot, talk about Pound, or talk about Yeats in a future talk, for example—and his attitude towards Irish nationalism amongst many other things—is to keep alive these figures of power. These are figures of cultural power who should not be lost sight of. They are not just an area of hedonist decadence and celebration of everything falling to pieces. They can be an area of restoration and renewal both individually and collectively. People need the heroic in their own life, and considerable artistic achievements border on the heroic at times. Other people can feed off that and feed the nature of their identity.
Eliot wrote quite extensively about Greek tragedy, and Greek tragedy, of course, is the basis of Renaissance tragedy and the basis of Shakespeare’s art and the basis of the other great Elizabethans. In the Elizabeth Age, which was highly prized by Eliot, we created the greatest form of drama seen since the Greeks. Yet how many people out here know of it? We created this. England created it. In the hierarchy of poets and playwrights who then existed, this was England’s creation.
This is why the English are a proud group who are actually in some respects socially and psychologically awkward. The diffidence of the English interrelates with their love of theater. Theater is a form of play and a form of externalization where you can be yourself and not be yourself. Every town once had a theater. Theater was our form. Of course, it’s grounded in a sort of middle class, lovey culture to a degree. But there’s a degree to which it was our unique form. Unless you realize that people like Eliot, through his criticism, are keeping, in an attenuated way, these forms alive, you miss the point of the social organicism which he’s preaching.
Extreme conservatism in the arts is very unusual, because extreme conservatism is often associated with extreme stupidity. This cannot be the case with men like Eliot who I would regard as a conservative. There are proto-fascistic elements to Eliot, but Eliot does not cross over a particular line. Eliot remains on the blue of the conservative side, culturally speaking.
Now, in the Four Quartets for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, Eliot draws out from the Christian tradition many associations which we need just briefly to have a look at.
This is “Ash Wednesday.” This is the first poem after the re-conversion.
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
“Having to construct something upon which to rejoice” is the belief that when there is no cultural future you turn back.
There was a film recently, a decade or so ago, by a French director in Hollywood. It was quite an unusual film where people have a dinner party and discuss the state of the West as they sit round at this dinner party. One of them says, “What can you do when you can’t go forwards? What can you do when there’s nothing to progress towards?” Progressivism and doctrines of the liberal Left and the Left generally believe in progress. They believe that everything now is heading forwards towards greater and greater degrees of joy, liberty, equality, and progress: progressivism. What can you do if you can’t progress any further?
One of the other characters plotted at the dinner table and its discussions says, “You can go back.” When you can’t precede any further you go back. But you never return to what existed in the past. You return to ideas that you had about it, which opens up a new prospect for the future. That’s the importance of the radicalism in radical Right ideas. That you turn back towards a prospect of what existed that you half remember and you wish to go on from in a different way.
What’s the point of reading people like Eliot now? The point, in my view, is to incarnate yourself in structures of sensibility which once existed in a more general way. A general decline in Western educational level, a general decline in sculpture of will in order to be what we are, has had a devastating effect on all of our people: top of the social structure, middle of the social structure, bottom of the social structure. The more nakedly you look at the decline which has occurred, the more terrible the prospects for the West appear.
We’re living in what radical Christians of a Pentecostalist cast call the End Times. Now, I don’t believe in the End Times, but we are living in the end of a particular era of Western history. We must determine what future our people have. And the first thing that has to be done is mental. Our people are mentally asleep and partly mentally diseased and complacent to the point that they’re toppling over. They are so polite that they don’t even really wish to survive in their present incarnation.
The point of people like Eliot in a metapolitical context, not in a purely cultural one, is that they stand out against the general rot, and there are things about him still which are unassimilable, which cannot be assimilated. What liberalism does is it just ignores those unpleasant factors. Anthony Julius wrote in T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form that Eliot’s anti-Semitism was equivalent to his failure as a human being. Failure as a human being. Failure to stand up to a priori liberal standards. Failure to adopt a politically correct canon. How can somebody have those views, given what allegedly happened in the mid-20th century, even if it’s a retrospective coinage?
Why did he never re-publish his particular book about the organic society in 1934 to 1935, After Strange Gods? Obviously, he wanted to preserve a notable reputation for conservative assimilation and accessibility to the doctrines of the then establishment. But there is a degree to which what one was at a certain period, and what one remains, cannot be erased.
The point of high culture is to give ideas to our people even if they don’t subscribe to it. The point is always to live outside one’s own cultural comfort zone. The point is always to try to strive for that which is higher and that which is above. I partly preach artistic concerns and considerations of what I believe to be a higher type because I think they are a way to go for people who are totally blocked in relation to expression of their own identity. Lots of people today yearn for a clean and a new way in which to express their own identity. Why do you think that every arts course in every British university deconstructs its main cultural figures as a way of proceeding? They do it so the danger of the prior essentialism, even with a modernist like Elio,t will not be taken up.
The irony is that just before Yockey committed suicide he said that his enemies understood him better than his friends, and that is the view that, in a way, one should take from high culture. Many people on the Right are not interested in high culture, let’s face it. But there’s a degree to which the enemy on the other side knows full well the power that it can have and the way it can transform lives, values, psychologies, purposefulness, and identities. That’s why it takes it away from people.
If it was of no importance, there wouldn’t be a stink around the names of some of the people that I talk about. They would be regarded as bohemian men with [unintelligible] attitudes which have no importance. No one can dismiss the political allegiance of W. B. Yeats, the metapolitical tangentialism of T. S. Eliot, the open espousal of forms of pre-religionistic fascism by Wyndham Lewis, and the open advocacy of fascistic politics, never mind metapolitics, by Ezra Pound. These are not things you can have a laugh about. These are not things that can be deconstructed out of existence. Because the point of those theories is you break it all down, and then you reconstitute it again, because it’s still there. And if it’s still there, it’s still powerful. It’s still residential It can still be used by the other side. It can still be used by our side, if we have the wit to do so.
Now, Eliot had a stone erected to him in Westminster Abbey two years after his death and therefore joins the Western tradition that stretches back to Shakespeare, stretches back to Chaucer.
Poetry is heightened language. Poetry is a language adopting and attempting to be musical, hence the fact it’s often set to music. Poetry is close to religious incantation, closer than prose. Poetry hasn’t died, although as an art form it has been broken down and privatized to a degree that there are few major poets left today. Because although there are thousands of people who write poetry, it’s disseminated in a bitty, fractured, and post-modern way. A few talents boot up in the post-war era like John Ashbery.
But T. S. Eliot is a bit of a grim giant, a bit of a morbid hierarchical, puritanical conservative fused with the high bohemian passion of a great artist, hence the prudery in his work, hence at times the prissiness in his work, hence at times the indirectness of statement in his work. But he’s very much part and parcel of the sensibility, particularly of the English people born here, in Australasia, in America, or in southern Africa. Wherever people of English and British descent are born they will understand the diction of T. S. Eliot.
T. S. Eliot is not important because he wrote a few poems that people consider to be anti-Semitic. T. S. Eliot is important because he metaphysically opens a prior way of assessing reality and proceeding. I’m not arguing that people convert back to the Christianity most of us have lost. But what I am arguing for is that one has the sympathy for that particular trajectory and one understands why figures like Enoch Powell and T.S. Eliot adopted it. I don’t think it’s the answer for our people in the individual circumstances, the odd individual excepting, or the majority, but it is something that can be respected and it is something which should be valued as such.
To close, I would like to read “The Hollow Men.”
“The Hollow Men”
A penny for the Old Guy
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
[The introduction of nursery rhyme, of course.]
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
[That’s a very famous stanza, which is repeated.]
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
“The Hollow Men,” a poem for the Old Guy, from 1925. Notice how many of these phrases have entered the English language. “This is the way the world ends.” How many tens of thousands of people say “not with a bang but a whimper” and don’t know where it comes from? That’s, of course, what poetry does. It frees glottal stops. It freezes inarticulacy in people. A lot of people become amateur poets in war or when they’re faced with illness or when they’re faced with the death of a relative. Because that is the moment when they have to confront many of the things that this society exists never to confront.
So, I ask that people have a look at T. S. Eliot as they had a look at Ezra Pound, as they had a look at Wyndham Lewis, as they have to have a look at W. B. Yeats. Joyce, who was associated with them, is in a different category morally, artistically, and politically, never mind metapolitically. Next time I shall talk about W. B. Yeats.
Thank you very much!