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Australian Artists of the Right
Norman Lindsay, Part I

Norman Lindsay

6,784 words

Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 here)

Norman Alfred Williams Lindsay (1879-1969) was the brother of Lionel Lindsay, recently profiled at Counter-Currents. Like his brother, Norman excelled in a variety of artistic media. While Lionel’s primary contribution to art theory and history was a slender but informative volume, Addled Art (1942, 1946), Norman was also a notable author of an impressive number of novels, as well as books on history and aesthetics. Moreover, while there are allusions to Nietzschean philosophy in Lionel’s Addled Art, Norman was an avid apostle of Nietzscheanism applied to the arts, articulating what Norman and Lionel’s mutual collaborator, Percy “Inky” Stephensen, hub of the Australian Rightist intelligentsia between the World Wars, called the “Lindsay Aesthetic.”[1] Like his brother, he had visited Paris, and also like him detested Post-Impressionism, regarding the genre as a result of the catastrophe of the World War, and as formless and retrograde.[2]

Norman started his career as a newspaper reporter and illustrator. Frequenting the National Gallery in Melbourne, he was particularly impressed by the engravings of Dürer. Favorite reading for both Lionel and Norman included Dickens and Rabelais, but circa 1896-1898 a seminal event occurred when they read the Thomas Common translations of Nietzsche’s The Antichrist, Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Norman was notable for his pen-and-ink illustrations, including one hundred conte crayon and ink wash illustrations for the Memoirs of Casanova in 1906. In 1907, Norman had his first exhibition with the Society of Artists in Sydney. His versatility is also indicated by his having made a model of Captain James Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1912, and his construction of other model ships. As an author of fiction and a poet, his children’s book The Magic Pudding: Being the Adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and His Friends Bill Barnacle and Sam Sawnoff was published in 1918.

The Racist Pudding

The Magic Pudding has been condemned as “racist” by the value judgement that interprets history and culture through the lenses of Western bourgeois liberal ideology. Objective scholars have called this approach presentism; interpreting the thinking of prior epochs according to what is regarded as acceptable by present-day standards. Hence, writing in 2002 of the “racism” that can be discerned – albeit with much searching – in The Magic Pudding, translated into twenty languages, Greg Watson University of Joensuu, Finland, agonizes that Norman Lindsay is an excellent writer, but the “racism” is a disturbing aspect that cannot be ignored. Watson explained:

Lindsay wrote The Magic Pudding as a result of an argument with a critic who claimed that children liked to read about fairies; Lindsay said they liked to read about food. The lighthearted plot revolves around Albert, the magic pudding, The Noble Society of Pudding Owners and two Professional Pudding Thieves. In this Australian children’s classic which highlights the divide between those who have and those who have not, Lindsay regales the reader with song, fast moving vignettes and charming bush characters. However, there are also sinister undertones unbefitting children’s literature; murder, extreme, repetitious violence, racist remarks and anti-judiciary sentiments. This is a side of The Magic Pudding that has, to this point, been ignored by critics. . . .[3]

In studying The Magic Pudding, Watson found a shocking five “racist remarks,” representing 0.8 percent of the total paragraphs.[4] For example, Norman refers to a “low-down, hook-nosed tobacco-grabber,” which might refer to the parrot that is being addressed, or to a Jew;[5] to “being worse than being chased by natives on the Limpopo River,” and “worse than fighting Arabs single handed.” Here Norman could be referring to an “Asian and/or a Jew,” writes Watson:

Within he saw a fearful man, With eyes like coals a-glowing, Whose frightful whiskers over-ran His face, like weeds a-blowing; And there this fearful, frightful man, A sight to set you quaking, With pot and pan and curse and ban, Began a puddin’ making.[6]

However, there is no mistaking this: “So I’ll tell you what I’ll do / You unmitigated Jew.”[7] To speak of “an unmitigated Jew at all, let alone in a children’s novel is quite amazing,” according to Watson’s presentism.[8]

Here is the crux of Watson’s case, also reflecting all other snowflake critics that would purge great art according to Western liberal sensibilities:

Some might argue that these racist remarks should be overlooked because there are so few of them, that is, they are statistically insignificant. Even though I personally advocate a quantitative approach towards the study of style, I do not do so at the expense of close reading and qualitative interpretations. One cannot, and should not, overlook these negative reflections on different racial and cultural groups. Because they are statistically insignificant in respect to the overall text does not diminish their damaging character. Even if a child (or adult for that matter) reads only one negative comment or makes only one negative visual association through the illustrations provided and this association remains in the child’s mind, enormous damage has then been incurred.[9]

Watson himself cannot help but value Norman, and wrote that he would read The Magic Pudding to his child, “but perhaps I will be reading a more edited version.”[10] In Norman’s day it was not vague allusions to “race” that brought him into conflict with the authorities, but the eroticism of both his writing and his art, Watson referring for example to Norman’s novel, Readheap, written in 1918 and published in 1930, which was banned in Australia until 1959. While Watson regards this as “inexplicable,” The Magic Pudding is another matter. Likewise, one must purge Enid Blyton’s Noddy of “gollywogs,” provide customer warnings to Hergé’s Tintin in the Congo, ban Dante’s Divine Comedy,[11] agonize over the implicit “fascism” in Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma,”[12] and make “Baa baa black sheep” race-neutral.[13]

Norman’s creative output in etchings, oils, watercolor, and pen and ink were prodigious, and volumes of his illustrations were published, while his illustrations also adorned others’ books. He worked as a cartoonist for the iconic Australian periodical The Bulletin for twenty-seven years. Since The Bulletin was a leading advocate of “White Australia” immigration, it is hardly surprising that Lindsay was involved in drawing anti-Asiatic cartoons typical of the time. During both World Wars, he had a significant role in creating cartoons of the stereotypically brutish “Hun.” He was also a sculptor, first producing outdoor classical themes of nymph, satyr, and so on in 1920. During 1927-1928, sculpture became a particular focus for him. Norman was in London in 1923 representing the Society of Artists. He was president of the Australian Painter-Etchers Society. Here he met with Percy Stephensen, and they collaborated in the Fanfrolico Press, founded by Stephensen, Norman’s son Jack,[14] and John Kirtley, a notable publisher of limited editions.[15]

Stephensen and Lindsay

Fanfrolico Press was moved from Sydney to London, when John Kirtley arrived there in 1926.[16] Among the collaborations was a translation of Nietzsche’s The Antichrist by Stephensen, illustrated by Norman, and published by Fanfrolico in 1928. Norman also helped Stephensen establish Endeavour Press in Britain, to publish Australian authors. He maintained the enterprises financially and undertook much work as an illustrator for their editions.[17]

Norman parted company with Stephensen prior to the founding of the pro-Axis Publicist and Australia First movement in the mid-1930s. However, Norman’s attempt at eschewing any creed was due to his thoroughgoing Nietzscheanism rather than because of any move Leftward, unlike his son Jack, whose youthful enthusiasm for Nietzsche[18] was replaced by a commitment to Marxism. Jack was to write of this Nietzschean period that “[w]ithin the focus of the Nietzschean critique we sought to refound the grand tradition of concrete realistic and beautiful imagery on Australian soil . . .” His father Jack, having moved to the quietude of Springwood in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, reminisced that “Zarathustra announced himself in Springwood. We saw that but failed to note his Australian accent.”[19] While Stephensen incorporated Nietzsche into political Australianism, Norman was a purist. He was not going to pander to any ideologies; not even those that professed to uphold elitism or reaction against democracy. It might be recalled that other aesthetes such as Wyndham Lewis and W. B Yeats, and one might add Julius Evola, also rejected fascism for its appeal to the masses. They rejected fascism because it was ironically regarded as too “democratic.” In the world-struggle between ideologies of the 1930s and ’40s, the outlook seemed remote from reality to assume that aesthetes could stay above the tumult, but at least Norman was able to continue his creativity after 1945 without suffering the fate of Percy Stephensen and John Kirtley at home, or further afield, Ezra Pound and Knut Hamsun.

Nonetheless, Norman and Stephensen had shared a Nietzschean dream while working with Fanfrolico Press. Norman had written his aesthetic magnum opus, Creative Effort, in 1920, establishing the “Lindsay aesthetic.” Norman wrote of Nietzsche’s despair in seeing the hopelessness of the human condition, not only of man’s failure to transcend himself but in the tendency to regress. Nietzsche looked to the Greeks for inspiration; their will-to-perfection, their creativity impelled by a dialectic of Apollonian order and Dionysian ecstasy. Nietzsche had asked: If the Greeks willed higher effort once, could not others do so again in the future?[20] “But in whose hands to place the mission of regeneration?” It could not be the “thinker,” who creates the idea but cannot enact it, but must be the “man of action.” The “necessity of action” finds the man when needed on Earth.[21] However, Norman had trouble defining the “man of action.” He rejected Percy Stephensen as such a man for Australia, and regarded Hitler and Mussolini as no more than gangsters. He could not understand Nietzsche’s  praise for Napoleon. Yet, most oddly, in his twilight years, under the pall of the Cold War, he discerned a return of the Classical Roman type in the faces of American’s political leaders.

If the stupid, blind, resentful mob could not find a direction, it must be given one. And the end of that direction must be to create a great direction of earthly life, to offer the highest achievement of effort, to build the great and enduring Human State.

At intervals the Earth has seen men rise by an indomitable power of will and personality, who have been able to impose themselves on their kind as leaders and masters. These alone among all the types of human effort have been able briefly to shape the conditions of the state which they command. Then it must be to one of these, some future conqueror with a great human ideal, that one offered the mission of forcing mankind to become upright, courageous, strong and beautiful.[22]

When Australian historian David S. Bird, in his book on Australian admirers of Hitler, quotes part of the above from Creative Effort, he seems to assume that Lindsay is himself recommending such a state.[23] This is incorrect. Immediately after these passages by Norman describing Nietzsche’s hopes for such a man of action to push humanity upward, Norman gives his own view that this “high dream” was a “vain dream.” “It presupposes that power over others is given to those worthy of power.”[24]

Norman was not tempted by politics. Stephensen remained committed to the “Lindsay aesthetic,” in which he saw “a practical application of Nietzschean ideas in the Twentieth Century.”[25] However, Lindsay’s Nietzsche was only concerned with art as the means by which to expand consciousness and refine the senses, as he wrote of it in 1960, just as he had decades earlier.[26] However, although the aim was the higher individual’s development, the wider importance was that mass-man would follow towards his own self-realization as best as he was able. It was just that Norman did not see any benefit from higher man pausing at any stage for mass-man to come closer to the heights. The Culture-bearing stratum does not owe anything to anyone but itself, lest it be dragged down and the purpose of human Life were to become extinguished.

Creative Effort

That Creative Effort was published by Norman in 1920 in a print run of only one hundred twenty copies, of which twenty were intended to be given away, indicates the elitist character of the doctrine. Lindsay’s experience with Post-Impressionism in Paris had a seminal influence on him, and not in a positive manner. Like his brother Lionel, he saw the exaltation of Post-Impressionists by “the half-witted loons,” “for which the latest must be the best.” “To me it was a horrifying revelation. It smelt of the jungle. It debased every value in art with its crude brutalities.” Creative Effort was written to reassert the values of great art.[27]

This Culture-bearing stratum is what gives meaning to humanity, and Lindsay sought to reach this element. The stratum is not something that is created; it is already present. It is something whose existing qualities need to be summoned forth.

To whom does one offer the gift of a thought? To him who already thinks it. The mission of the thinker is not to enlighten, but to confirm. The material for enlightenment is already there, like a piled-up beacon; the new thought is but a spark that sets it alight. Anger at the stupidity of common minds is foolish, save in youth, given it is a stimulus. Yet all high minds wish to offer the gift of thought to mankind, and because it is rejected they become bitter.

But gold is no use to a savage. He prefers iron, which is useful to him. And here the savage is wise. One cannot blame the common mind, because it seeks common thoughts – vulgar utilities – for these things help it.

If the common man is also able to catch a little at higher thoughts, so much the better; but he has caught something in passing not addressed to him.

The message of the Creative Effort is to those whose mission is to carry on the Creative Effort.[28]

“Life” and “Existence”

Lindsay expounded a dichotomy of “Life” and “Existence.” Confusing the two has caused all moral confusion. Existence refers to the body and that which is needed to sustain its physical well-being. Life is that which goes beyond Existence, and includes what are “vaguely called” “the mind, the soul, the intellectual process.”[29] The body is only the servant of the mind. Between these “high and low functions,” one can find the “High Morality”; “the direction of Life.” State, social order, and politics serve Existence, to keep the physical sustained. This is the most primitive level, directed towards “making life less difficult.” Conversely, all that serves Life can be found amongst everything that is rejected by common minds in the maintenance of Existence. It is in “Creative art” that one finds the separation of something higher from Existence, and hence “in Creative art one must find the direction of Life.”[30]

One might see in this definition of “Existence” what humanistic psychology four decades later began to describe as the “primary drives”: sex, food, and shelter (the “hierarchy of needs”), beyond which lay “self-actualization.” It became a fad. To the humanistic psychologists, the message is far from what Lindsay propounded; “self-actualization” is regarded by the humanists as epitomizing democracy, and they make no value judgment in determining the value of what is “Creative effort.” All is of equal value. A self-declared artist who excretes over a canvass is indulging in Creative effort or “self-actualization” no better nor worse than any one of the Old Masters. That is the difference between art-bolshevism (or democracy; same thing) and the aristocratic principle.

Lindsay foresaw that, for his doctrine, “a statement so intrinsically aristocratic must be repudiated by all common minds. That is understood.” The Lindsay aesthetic, Creative effort, is Nietzschean self-transcendence applied to culture; transcendence beyond the primal and base and towards the sublime.

Norman criticized “morality” as being “democratic,” based on “equality before god,” which he saw even in systems called “aristocratic.” However, this was “politics,” not “morality.” But the “creative impulse” towards Life does not seek to impose a creed or a will upon “mankind.” This is not to say that the creative impulse works against Existence, and hence the level beyond which most of humanity does not move, because Existence is the means by which the physiological health of the organism is maintained. It is not to “attack the functions of the body.”[31] Nietzsche exalted physiological health, as did the Greeks; the ideal creators of both Nietzsche and Lindsay. The base drives of “Existence” are “important,” for they are the “cart-horse” that drives Life. That is the problem of the politician, not the artist; it is the problem of the “gastric processes”[32] to which ideologies and programs are addressed.

The great mind becomes filled with despair for humanity when searching for a meaning, as humanity is only concerned with “filling its belly, clothing its body, exercising its senses,” whether it be political, social, or commercial. The “vulgar expression of art” is part of this.[33] Nonetheless, the chaos of “Existence,” in its striving for some sense of order, is the material from which “Life” is made.[34] Lindsay is not offering value judgements against the mass; he is making observations from the viewpoint of an aesthete. “For somewhere amongst all this deafening and mechanical uproar there stretches the tiny umbilical cord of effort – that effort that seeks always something higher, clearer, more beautiful than the bare service of existence.” The “vulgar cries of Existence” drown out the “subtle calling of Life.”[35]

Eternal Recurrence

The efforts to bring sublimity to mass man – the works of the humanitarian, the theories of sociology – ended with a World War and the stench of putrefying corpses. Immediately afterward, the cry of the humanitarian went up again that there would be a new world. Each generation since the beginning of human time has put forth its own humanitarianism and its own ideal of the world. There is no actual “progress,” but only what Nietzsche called “eternal recurrence.”[36] “Life” does not “progress,” but it does “continue.” Each generation repeats – forgetfully – what has gone before. It continues as a “struggle,” as “effort,” and from effort, Life emerges from Existence. The “Life impulse” is eternal and a mystery that must be discerned with detachment, stepping aside from Existence. The Materialist objects, and sees earthly life in its mundane forms as the aim. Creative effort sees failure, imperfection, and uncertainty as part of the striving towards perfection.[37] The aim of Life is in the striving, and not to end as “a piece of rotten manure.”[38]

Christianity an Eastern Slave Creed

Norman saw Christianity as typically an Eastern creed from which nothing worthy came. One of his most controversial drawings for The Bulletin depicted a mass of naked Bacchusian figures giving their thumbs-down to the crucified Christ. Called “Pollice Verso” (thumbs down), it was displayed in the twenty-fifth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.[39] For Lindsay, the mentality of Christianity was always present among the masses, well before the emergence of “an obscure Jew.” Lindsay draws on the ressentiment theory of Nietzsche in seeing all creeds of “equality” as revolts against “Life,” dragging the noble into the quagmire of Existence.[40]

The harm brought by the barbarism of the Germanic race, developed in the northern climes, was meager compared to the spiritual harm inflicted by the Jews with Christianity and its slave morality.[41]

Collective action was to Norman a contradiction. Whatever greatness is achieved by any group, race, or nation is the result of the individual effort of the few. However, Norman does say that whatever can be achieved in uplifting common minds is achieved by these few creators and strivers, and that it is the “mission” of these to raise “the standard of earthly effort.”[42] Surely this can only be achieved when a collectivity, whether as a tribe, an association, or a state, exists to protect and sustain its Culture-bearing stratum; to sustain its “Existence” so that it might proceed with its creative effort, without being lost in the mundane? Norman did recognize that the creative elite are reliant on more than themselves alone. The art critics, theorists, collectors, connoisseurs, and dealers were undertaking a great service. Norman, like his brother Lionel in Addled Art, stated that while this also inevitably involves the collection of a vast amount of rubbish, there is nonetheless a “gift to Life” when multitudes of people are brought to beauty by the creative effort of the few who are “expressing their own vital sense of life,” “going beyond Life on earth,”[43] by which is meant something more than utilitarian creations in the service of “Existence.” Norman, questioning the materialist mentality, places Shakespeare far beyond the value of the inventor of the steam engine; that is to say, the aesthetic gives Life value beyond the mechanical and utilitarian.

While Spengler, also a Nietzschean, saw the engineer and the technocrat as the aristocrats of the Future in the final chapters of The Decline of The West, and claimed that nothing more could be said by the West in terms of aesthetics, Norman saw the “artist, poet, musician, and thinker” as “the aristocrats of the Future.” “Such a statement deserves to rouse the anger of all common minds.” “What is the reward of the multitude, who sustain this elite?” For Lindsay, the question is childish. What “greatness” comes forth from the heroes of the multitude, the politicians and the moralists and priests, is nothing more than to secure their Existence, to secure their food supply. Man has hardly gone beyond “primitivism.”[44]

Higher Consciousness Beyond Time and Space

While Norman repudiated Christianity as a slave creed, he was no atheist, let alone a materialist. As indicated, he declaimed against the materialists, along with the positivists. Time and Space had a dimension beyond the physical. He alluded to “other worlds peopled by human souls,” and to the “eternal,” while condemning the materialist and the positivist for grubbing up the ants’ nest to explain the mind. Through his dreams, the higher man created all that the materialist values in man. Without “Creative effort,” man would still be crawling on his belly. The bestialization of man is the same grievance Nietzsche had with Darwin. Lindsay also condemns the Christian, Muslim, and Jew for grovelling to God.[45] The higher mind receives impressions, which Lindsay defines as consciousness. The artist is sensitive to the impressions that enable him to discriminate between the sublime and the crass, and to shape that sublimity into art.[46] In Addled Art, Lionel showed the outcome of those elevated as “artists” who do not have that sensibility, and surely for that very reason are heralded as the greatest artists in this epoch.

Norman wrote: “And that consciousness reaches highest which is able to posit a perception of Perfection in Passion, Beauty, Form, and Sensation which goes beyond any evidence of these elements on earth.”[47] Perhaps this sentence more than any other defines what “art” is, beyond the objection that “art’ is subjective and cannot be defined, and therefore that anything can legitimately be called “art”?

In “Creative effort,” Norman seeks to discover the purpose of “Life,” beyond animalistic Existence. “Creative effort” is Nietzsche’s self-overcoming to reach the Übermensch as the purpose of life. It is the transcendence of an artist and his purpose, while soldiers, statesmen, and priests have other purposes. Creative effort brings to earth “those mystic things, Light and Spirit.” The artist strives so that he contributes to eternity and to the elevation of man; it is a mission, not “art for art’s sake” or utilitarian decoration, that passes away to be supplanted by other perceptions of art according to the whims and fashions of an epoch, “or for the puerile end of man’s entertainment.” The artist does not work to receive the accolades of “inferior minds.”[48] He works to bequeath something worthy to other creative minds in the future. All that attacks this is “evil”; whatever sustains this is “good.” Unlike other Nietzscheans, Norman did not see war or imperialism as a creative part of man’s striving, nor of course Bolshevism, democracy, or “liberty, equality, fraternity,” which ended in as much blood and chaos as imperialism and war.[49] How many creative geniuses does war destroy?[50] Norman did not see war as invigorating a race or people, or as “the world’s hygiene,” as Marinetti had termed it. Yet there must also be what we might call a polarity of tension: “Pain and exaltation, Beauty and Ugliness, Good and Evil, these are all part of the Test.”[51]

In belief in God, Norman finds man’s ultimate childishness and irresponsibility. He called “Predestination the worst of all evils.”[52] Norman questions whether this homage before God is the reason why he considers the Orient not to have produced any great men? “If there is Race in these things, God rules the East,” and only the West had dared to defy God, to defy destiny and to create “Great Art.” The Greeks found God in man as a symbol.[53] Belief in a creed produces inertia; it is the comfort of the lazy mind. Belief in Life should not be confused with belief in a faith. Faith aims to repudiate effort, submitting to God’s will.[54]

Creative Vitalism

Norman viewed creative vitalism as transcending not only nations, races, and states, but also historical epochs. He saw the decay of races, nations, and peoples as of little importance in the continuity of the creative vitalism that transcend these, as Life goes on above and beyond them. Again, in later years, in Scribblings, his views on race seem more down-to-earth, as he saw race-conflict approaching. Yet even here, in 1920, he also saw the Roman succumbing to “savage blood and dull brains.” This is still not seen as catastrophic, however, as the creative mind arises elsewhere in time and place.[55] The decadence of an epoch, a race, or state, has as little meaning to Life as the decay of a tree, for other growth takes its place.

The origins of creative effort that flourish at a given time, in a given land, have their origins in distant times, according to Norman. The arising of a creative genius occurs when forces from afar coalesce, so that today there might be somewhere the genius of Shakespeare “coursing through obscure channels of intellect,” awaiting the right mental stimulus to be ignited.[56] Decadence arises when a state was most prosperous. The Germans were at their creative height when they were at their economic and political inconsequence, and this is the time of Beethoven and Mozart. Economic prosperity and social and political activity brought the Germans to their lowest spiritual point “in the history of mankind.”[57]

Economic prosperity marks a particular epoch of a civilization, when money rules. Plato addressed political stages in The Republic, including the oligarchic epoch preceding democracy. Spengler saw democracy preceding oligarchy. Brooks Adams[58] had much to say about the etiolation of what Lindsay called “Life,” as an aesthetic libido, which loses energy when focused on commerce, during which aesthetics becomes utilitarian and decorative. The primacy of economics – for all its declarations of “progress” – brings us back to the lowest rungs of “Existence”; back to the lowest levels of the primary physiological drives.

Norman saw no difference in outlook between the proletarian mass struggling for subsistence, and aspiring to beer and autos, and the millionaire.[59] Neither see beyond “Existence.” One might add that Spengler could not see the difference in outlook between the ideologies of the classes; that of “socialism” and “capitalism.” The question for both is satisfying the physiological drives of Existence. Norman approaches the issue by observing that the hatred, or what might be called class-war, between the two reflects an “affinity of mind.” Norman would like to see “the whole absurd structure collapse.”[60] Nonetheless, for Norman, the artist should stand above it all, as of no relevance to him.[61] “Its direction is the belly, not the soul.”[62] However, “high minds,” such as Plato and Nietzsche, sought to sublimate the crassness of the lower physiological drives, so that there becomes a “fine ideal of physical uprightness”; a “mastery of the functions,” not enslavement to them.[63]

Of the United States, Norman was the most scathing for its having produced the height of amusements, wealth, utilities, and political influence, but in “Higher Effort” it had “produced absolutely nothing.” The early effort represented by Poe, Hawthorne, and Emerson was “suddenly nipped in the bud” as if overtaken by a “virus.” Amidst the noise and pretension, when one searches for “genuine evidence of intellectual effort,” “one returns from the search dumbfounded.”[64] Yet decades later, in his twilight years, Norman saw in the US the return of the Roman virtues that would confront the East.

The Creative Mind Gives Meaning

There follows from the chapter “The Birth of Life” a dialogue between the “Elder Mind” and the “Ageless Mind,” on the character of life. Meaning from the muddle of existence is sought. Norman sees social morality and institutions as having replaced the natural order of birth and death; that man has elevated the abnormal into morality in an effort to overcome the hardness of nature. He sees progressives and Christians as an affront against nature. The only issue of Life is the birth of the creative mind, which gives meaning to man. The creative genius reinterprets art as the symbolism of Life so that it might be understood by lesser minds; it “translates all that is important and desirable in life . . .” It is the “inner vision” of the creative genius that creates beauty from life.[65]

To Stephensen, the value of Creative Effort was the resurgence of the “Aesthetic of Dionysos,” an aesthetic that had recurred for three thousand years to invigorate culture, to “save the modern, mechanized, war-torn world.” This is what Stephensen also called the “Lindsay Aesthetic.”[66] However, Creative Effort, despite the second edition being revised to appeal to a wider readership, failed to make an impact, as had the first edition. This deeply disappointed Lindsay, although one might wonder at his surprise. The London publisher Cecil Palmer wrongly thought that Lindsay’s success as an artist might be reflected in success as a philosopher. Even Stephensen had at first regarded the book as hopelessly obscurantist, and Lindsay himself came to see his style for the book as inappropriate.[67]

Norman was pleased to see the death of the pre-First World War era as a century “gone justly to its death.” Its creed had been “the vile creed of the belly; a dark age of little tradesmen’s ideals, of the spirit of Americanism, of human hatreds clothed in humanitarian talk; an age of stagnant minds and furious mechanical activity in affairs. How could high consciousness exist here, epitomised by an outburst of primitive hatred and primitive art?”[68] To Lindsay, consciousness cannot perish, but merely awaits its opportunity to reassert itself. Something might be discerned, approaching above the clamor of a sordid age; a new voice that sings of “the eternally young, and eternally old.” The lost faith in life will return.[69] He asked what was the point of tearing down “Despotism” merely to replace it with “Democracy,” any more than the sense of killing millionaires and replacing them with hodmen (routine laborers) when it all means the same?[70]

The world had emerged from the war on the verge of an abyss.[71] Nietzsche had already spoken of it in the prior century. While Norman said that consciousness cannot die, and it does not matter whether it manifests now or millennia hence, in his own time, that “eternal voice” that he vaguely discerned in 1920 had surely become completely silent in the aftermath of another World War, where the clamor of democracy, Americanism, equality, and ressentiment had achieved total victory. He sought to address the world-situation twenty years after the Second World War.

Political and Social Thoughts

In his eighties, Norman put down his thoughts on social and political matters once again. With The Scribblings of an Idle Mind[72]in 1966, we can more readily appreciate that despite his repudiation of creeds and ideologies as nothing more than the musings of mass-man, Lindsay nonetheless had come to some tangible conclusions for those “existing” well below the heights of Olympus, from out of his residence in New South Wales’s Blue Mountains. Even Zarathustra had come down from the mountaintop to declaim in the marketplace, although Norman relates in the Foreword how initially reluctant he had been to have his cranium hammered by “ultramundane affairs.” He reiterates that he has not succumbed to trying to appease the popular in writing the book. For Lindsay, the purpose of life was still an enigma, and he could only return to the purpose of great art as expanding consciousness through “the Word, the Sound, and the Form.”

Enduring Legacy of Greece and Rome

Earth must therefore exist to allow Life to be realized. He saw this as starting with the Greeks, then being passed to the Romans, and then to the West, and especially the English. The principles devised by the Greeks and Romans have endured, for Lindsay, despite all other catastrophes and chaos. It might be recalled here that forty years previously in Creative Effort, Lindsay had referred to the spirit of the great artists as enduring above and beyond the mundane history of politics and society. Yet they still had their impact on the earthly and mundane: wherever there was great creativity, this is the legacy of the Greeks; wherever there is good government, that is the legacy of Rome.

Why Lindsay still regarded this legacy as better represented by the Anglo-Saxon race, despite having written in Creative Effort of the puerility of British character by the nineteenth century, is perhaps explained by lingering parochial prejudices, rather than a detached reassessment of the results of the war against the Axis “gangsters” in the name of Anglophile democracy. For here, too, the German had remained as ever a “barbarian,” by which Lindsay did not mean anything worthy. He actually saw “sound government,” in the Roman style, being forced upon the Germans by the Anglo-American occupiers.[73] It is difficult to understand why Lindsay would regard anything of Anglo-American democracy to be worthy of a Greco-Roman legacy, given his contempt for mob rule and his allusion in Creative Effort to the fact that none had repudiated Nietzsche so completely in their outlook as the British bourgeois. For Nietzsche, the English were profoundly mediocre, a depressed European intelligence, and were even more “brutal” and “baser” than Germans. England was the real home of the ignoble, levelling doctrines that are often ascribed to France.[74]

What lessons the German “barbarians” could learn from the Anglo-American occupation remain elusive. Germany had Thorak and Breker; the US had Pollock and Willem de Kooning. But Norman saw “modern art” as having come to an end and exhausted itself beyond its era. What would Norman think of today’s art in “the Word, the Sound, and the Form”? Where had there been any effort to resurrect Classical art other than amidst what were now the ruins of Rome and Berlin? Was it to be found in the Rockefeller-endowed Museum of Modern Art? Norman was correct in seeing the US as having taken over the world-mission of the English, but it was that of Puritanism and the Levellers which the US has translated into its own world revolution. Would Nietzsche have seen the US as keeping the flame of Greco-Roman order and aesthetics alight?

Lindsay remained unsure. He did not see any revival of great art after 1945. He wondered in the mid-1960s whether there would emerge an epoch of creativity or further chaos. If creative effort was not reasserted, then Lindsay saw the scientist ascendant – and none would be more destructive to humanity.[75]

Rise of Asia

Lindsay was clearer in his racial and cultural dichotomy. He saw an abyss between East and West that should not be traversed, and continued to condemn Christianity as an assault on the nobility of the Greco-Roman legacy. Besides the problems being imposed from the Levant, however, in Scribblings he sees the Chinese and other Asian peoples as having a collective mentality that divides from the Western peoples as completely as “as a wall of brass.” Interestingly, he does not include the Indians among the Asian peoples, but sees them as related to the Greeks and Romans as Indo-Europeans.[76]

It was then still questionable to what degree Western civilization would impact the Chinese and Japanese. Today, these questions have assumed geopolitical importance. In Lindsay’s day, one was still able to refer to the “Yellow Peril” that had shaped the Australian consciousness. Yet, what remained constant was the idea that civilization can only ever be created by a Culture-bearing stratum that comprises two percent of the Earth’s population, by which one must assume Indo-European mankind.

Notes

[1] David S. Bird, Nazi Dreamtime: Australian Enthusiasts for Hitler’s Germany (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly, 2012), p. 56.

[2] Norman Lindsay, “Paint and Primitivism,” in Paintings in Oil (Sydney, 1945), cited by Kerin Day, “A Study of the Aesthetic Theory and Creative Writings of Norman Lindsay,” Ph.D. thesis, Sydney University, 1975, p. 18.

[3] Greg Watson, “Violent and racist undertones in early Australian children’s literature: ‘the proof’s in the puddin’,” The Poetics and Linguistics Association, Occasional Papers, No. 13 (University of Wolverhampton, 2002).

[4] Greg Watson, Table 3, p. 7.

[5] Greg Watson, pp. 14-15.

[6] Greg Watson, p. 15.

[7] Greg Watson, p. 15, quoting The Magic Pudding.

[8] Greg Watson, p. 16.

[9] Greg Watson, p. 16.

[10] Greg Watson, p. 21.

[11]Dante’s Divine Comedy ‘offensive and should be banned,’” The Telegraph, May 13, 2012.

[12]How to negotiate the tricky territory of ‘fascist music’,” The Conversation.

[13] “Racial connotations over black sheep prompts changes to Baa Baa Black Sheep at Victorian kinders,” Herald Sun, October 16, 2014. Australia was again behind the times, however. Back in 2006, children in England were being taught to sing “Baa baa green sheep,” and in Scotland “Baa baa happy sheep.” “Baa baa rainbow sheep,” Daily Mail, Australia, March 8, 2006.

[14] Jack Lindsay joined the Communist Party in Britain circa 1939, which Percy Stephensen had joined during his Oxford days. Jack became a prolific author, often conveying his Marxist views.

[15] For a chronology of Norman Lindsay’s life, see here.

[16] John Kirtley was interned in Australia in 1942 because of his association with Stephensen and the Australia First movement.

[17] Kerin Day, p. 24.

[18] David S. Bird, Nazi Dreamtime (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly, 2012), p. 142.

[19] Jack Lindsay, Life Rarely Tells, quoted by Bird, p. 143.

[20] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, (Sydney: Art in Australia, 1920), p. 17.

[21] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 17.

[22] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, pp. 17-18.

[23] David S. Bird, p. 112.

[24] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 18.

[25] P. R. Stephensen, Kookaburras and Satyrs: Some Recollections of The Fanfrolico Press (1954) pp. 8-9, quoted by Bird, p. 113.

[26] Norman Lindsay, “Art and Berenson,” Bulletin, June 29, 1960, p. 2, cited by Kerin Day, p. 60.

[27] Letter to Kerin Day, September 1969, cited by Day, p. 64.

[28] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, Preface.

[29] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 3.

[30] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 4.

[31] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 5.

[32] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 6.

[33] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 7.

[34] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 8.

[35] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 9.

[36] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 10.

[37] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 23.

[38] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 24.

[39] See Kirsty Grant, “Thumbs up or thumbs down? The trials and tribulations of Norman Lindsay’s Pollice Verso,” Art Journal 42 (2002).

[40] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 15.

[41] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 283.

[42] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 25.

[43] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 28.

[44] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 33.

[45] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 36.

[46] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 37.

[47] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 37.

[48] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 39.

[49] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 48.

[50] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 66.

[51] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 48.

[52] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 56.

[53] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 57.

[54] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 58.

[55] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 286.

[56] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 66.

[57] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 66.

[58] Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilisation and Decay ([1896] London: Black House Publishing). Adams’ study on the role of commerce in the decline of culture throughout history should stand beside Spengler and Yockey on every Rightist bookshelf. The book was a seminal influence on Ezra Pound. The fine volume published by Black House should not be confused with other editions that are apparently of poor quality.

[59] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 88.

[60] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 88.

[61] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 88.

[62] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 89.

[63] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 148.

[64] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 67.

[65] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 158.

[66] P. R. Stephensen, Kookaburras and Satyrs, pp. 8-9, cited by Kerin Day, p. 65.

[67] See Kerin Day, p. 67-70.

[68] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 244.

[69] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 245.

[70] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 253.

[71] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort, p. 254.

[72] Norman Lindsay, The Scribblings of an Idle Mind (Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1966).

[73] Norman Lindsay, The Scribblings of an Idle Mind, “Again the Germans.”

[74] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. See Thomas Common, Nietzsche as Critic, Philosopher, Poet and Prophet (London: Grant Richards, 1901), pp. 69-71.

[75] Norman Lindsay, The Scribblings of an Idle Mind, “Again the Germans.”

[76] Norman Lindsay, The Scribblings of an Idle Mind, “Notebooks have their uses.”

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