Monday, 22 November 2010

The Art of Jonathan Bowden, Vol. 3: Early Pop Art, 1967-1974

The Art of Jonathan Bowden, Vol. 3: Early Pop Art, 1967-1974
Jonathan Bowden
The Spinning Top Club

During a recent meeting with Jonathan Bowden, I told him that I do not regard him as human; that, to me, he is part animal, part inanimate object, part gargoyle, or ghoul, or beast; that, in fact, he—it, really—was like a wooden doll or puppet that had been possessed by a demon, and thus come to life by these means. The puppet, or avatar, has will and ferocity, it has self-awareness, and it speaks Nietzschean truths, but, ultimately, there is no one really there.
Here we have a photograph of it, taken in 1971, when it was eight or nine years old. You will notice it is wearing shorts. And that these reveal human legs of flesh and bone. Why are they not mechanical? I thought it only had trouser legs, made out of tweed, concealing wooden limbs, and ending in leather shoes that never came off, even at night, during sleep.
The Bowden beast is also Kratos, the psychopath who appears in a short story by that name. Elsewhere, in a future Antarctica, it is the object of myth and legend, the beast that comes at night to take away children who have shown weakness. It arrives in the dark Antarctic winter, amid a howling blizzard, and takes the weakling, on a sledge piled up high with corpses, to its ice cavern in the glacier, hundreds of miles away, where it keeps the child until it is bored and finally eats him.

And elsewhere still, it is Iron Man.

Has my mind been warped by looking at Bowden’s graphic novels, the earliest of which we find collected in the present volume? My imaginings, when retold to the beast’s seated form at a pre-Industrial public house, caused it to emit a loud, startling laugh, the force of which sent tables and chairs tumbling away from Bowden until they crashed against the walls and plunged the plates and paintings hanging from them into smashed oblivion on the floor.

If you have already perused The Art of Jonathan Bowden, Volume 2, you will be well prepared for the content of Volume 3, where we find Bowden’s favourite character from the Marvel stable, Iron Man, his alter ego, bringing order—not equality or democracy!—to a chaotic world in need of a strong man; to a world of warring titans, of mighty forces, and little people who do not really matter. The battling characters are Molecule Man, Hydra, Mr. Fish, Hate Monger, Torpedo, and Bowden’s creation, the green-skinned Oriental-looking Dr. Fang. Evidently, since we are looking at art that was done when the monster was between five and twelve years of age, Bowden was too young to be philosophising with a hammer. This does not mean, however, that a basic version of his elitist, brutal, pagan outlook in life is not evident: the chaotic-looking comic strips reveal Bowden’s early fascination with power and violence, and his innate admiration for the frank use of force. His stories are about the struggle for power, pure and simple: we see the villains promising violence, revenge, supremacy, and the Iron Man coming to smash them to the ground. The implication is that man is neither purely good nor purely evil, but a mixture of both, and that, after choosing sides, life is about the struggle for hegemony.
Also apparent is Bowden’s instinctive recognition of a link between spiritual form and physical form, a recognition that later drew him towards the criminological and physiognomic theories of Cesare Lombroso. Of course, the link was already present in the Marvel originals, where psychopathic villainy appears with grotesque and twisted features, but I think Bowden found in this not illumination but rather confirmation of a pre-existing intuition. And in all likelihood he also found in this a source of amusement, since he finds that freaks and deformity, because they are extreme in some way or another, add interest to the human race.

As can be expected, the derivative nature of this early work is more obvious still than in the preceding volume. And Bowden’s allusions to current and recent historic events, which include racial tensions within communities and the Nüremberg trials, evince retention but not yet critical examination. (Still, he seems to have been unusually well informed at an age when most children are thinking of playing with their Legos or punching another child in the face.) What we can trace, however, is the precocious development of Bowden’s individual style of representation: while his early comic strips use flat colours and outlines, this minimal technique quickly evolves into his characteristic jumble of dots, lines, and bright colours —a style and technique best described as a blend of Claude Monet with Roy Lichtenstein, with added black. Another sign of Bowden’s incipient non-rationalist outlook is found in his references to magic and the occult; we even see the Green Ray making an appearance—is it he same that hides behind the Black Sun?

It is amusing to note the frequent self-promotion that goes on in Bowden’s graphic novels: their presentation imitates a commercial magazine format, where the readership is acknowledged, urged to read on, sent to get the next issue, and even impersonated as fans in letters to Iron Man signed under various names but penned by Jonathan Bowden. I wonder if he went around his school imposing his graphic novels on his fellow pupils, cornering them in the playground, bullying them into reading them, and chasing them up every day for weeks afterwards, demanding feedback: ‘Did you read it? Did you read it? And now? And now? Did you read it? What did you think? Which part did you like? How much did you like it? Tell me, tell me! In detail!’

What is clear is that Bowden spent a great many hours absorbed in Marvel comics, and that they provided a framework for his explosive creative urge—one that defined it thereafter. As I have noted previously, the graphic novels from childhood and adolescence segregated into two separate strands as Bowden travelled from popular culture to high culture, where he now resides, imbued with a Nietzschean, conservative revolutionary narrative: on the one hand there are the plays and short stories, which are organised in snapshot episodes or vignettes, and on the other there are his paintings, which seize on the visually grotesque. Yet, Iron Man, Bowden’s avatar—the avatar of an avatar—is always there, even now.

This early volume may appear somewhat self-indulgent, but, since the artwork has been preserved, it now documents a process of possession, from human to avatar, from man to beast. Jonathan Bowden, the Beast of Berkshire: iron man.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Guillaume Faye's Archeofuturism

Guillaume Faye
London: Arktos, 2010

One thing that always struck me about William Pierce’s broadcasts is that out of the two hundred or so that he recorded during the late 1990s, only one ever talked about the world he aspired to see after his revolution. One. Worse still, his utopian vision was thoroughly uninspiring, being, for all practical purposes, a return to 1933. This, unfortunately, is not uncommon among those who, in some measure or another, share his ideas—even among those who are far less radical and apocalyptic, and think in terms of a ‘velvet revolution’, or co-opting, or electioneering.
Faye, Guillaume - Archeofuturism 
As I have written in previous occasions, if there is to be transvaluation of values, and a purge of the top echelons of academic, media, and political power in the West, those who desire it will need more than just a return to the past: they will also need a vision that is forward-looking, indeed futuristic, even if ultimately founded on archaic principles. Otherwise, any movement for change in the direction of elitism and tradition will condemn itself to irrelevance, perpetuating the impression many ordinary people have that such a movement would necessarily consist of aging nostalgics, who feel left out in the brave new world of progress and equality, and are reduced to waving an angry fist at modernity because they have no new ideas of their own. ‘Bankrupt’ is the term often used within the mainstream to describe elitist or traditionalist ideas and morality.

To get anywhere, a movement needs to know where it is going; and to get others to come along and make the hard journey to the promised paradise, its supporters have to be able at least to describe what it looks like.

This is why I was interested in Guillaume Faye’s book, Archeofuturism, which Arktos Media published for the first time in English translation during the Summer of 2010. Along with Alain de Benoist, Faye is a leading exponent of the Nouvelle Droite, the European New Right. Faye, however, is more radical than de Benoist, who has accused him of extremism. Some also say he is more creative. For a long time, I only knew Faye by name and affiliation. Was it because of that photograph I have seen of him, grey-haired and scowling with bug-like mirror shades? Whatever the answer, I was pleasantly surprised when the present tome revealed that Faye’s outlook is very similar to my own. Indeed, it turns out that in Archeofuturism he articulates positions that I have articulated in some of own my writing. No wonder the book’s editor, John Morgan, was keen on my reviewing it.

Readers will easily infer at least one of the positions Faye and I share, as I have reproduced it in the second paragraph of this review. The difference is one of emphasis: I think archeofuturism is necessary to move forward; Faye thinks of it as the paradigm that must replace egalitarian modernity, come what may.

There is no question for him that the liberal project is doomed: although its proponents paint it as good and inevitable, liberal modernity is, in fact, a highly artificial condition, an unsustainable one, which will fall victim to the very processes it set in motion. Faye believes that we are currently facing a ‘convergence of catastrophes’. These include: the colonisation of the North by Afro-Asian peoples from the South; an imminent economic and demographic crisis, caused by an aging population in the West, falling birthrates, and unfunded promises made by the democratic welfare state; chaos in the countries of the South, caused by absurd development and development programs sponsored by Western nations; a global economic crisis, much worse than the depression of the 1930s, led by the financial sector; ‘the surge of religious fundamentalist fanaticism, particularly in Islam’; ‘the confrontation of North and South, on theological and ethnic grounds’; unchecked environmental degradation; and the convergence of these catastrophes against a backdrop of nuclear proliferation, international mafias, and the reemergence of viral and microbial diseases, such as AIDS. For Faye, the way out is not through reform, because a system that is contrary to reality is beyond reform, but through collapse and revolution. As a catastrophic collapse is inevitable, revolutionary thought and action must today be post-catastrophic in outlook. He further suggests that inaction on our part will only open European civilisation to conquest by Islam.

How does Faye visualise the post-catastrophic Earth? For him, the deprecation of modernity results in a two-tier world, in which most of humanity reverts to traditional or neo-Medieval societies (essentially pre-industrial reservations), while an elite minority—composed of Europeans and South East Asians—rebuilds advanced technological societies across Eurasia and parts of North America. These societies are to be, of course, archeofuturistic—hierarchical and rooted in ethnotribalism, fiercely protectionistic, yet also ones that fully exploit science and technology, even if ‘esoteric,’ non-humanistic versions of them, ‘decoupled from the rationalistic outlook’. There is to be no global flow of capital, spreading wealth and technology everywhere: the world economy is to be based on quality over quantity. There are also to be no nation states: the European Imperium is to comprise over a hundred regions, with their own languages, customs, and garb. The United States is to split in to ethnic regions, and is to stabilise for the most part according to an eighteenth-century agrarian model. The world, in sum, and in contradiction to liberal aspirations, is to become more ethnic and more differentiated, not less.

In other words, if Faye rejects modernity it is not because he a nostalgic who dreams of returning to a bygone golden age, like so many conservatives today; but because he is an elitist who thinks the world must be rebuilt on entirely different foundations—foundations that are in harmony with nature.

In order so that we may get a better sense of what he means, he concludes the book with a Science Fiction novelette, titled One Day in the Life of Dmitri Leonidovich Oblomov, and set in the year 2073. 
 Interestingly, and to Faye’s credit, the latter does not really describe a utopia, where everyone sings and lives happily ever after; but rather showcases Faye’s imagining of what he considers will be the most likely consequence of an archeofuturist new world order. It has its own unique set of problems, as any reasonable person would expect. Yet for Faye dealing with problems is part of living, and the choice is therefore not between having or not having problems, but which set of problems is preferable to another. In any event, one can well imagine Faye’s archeofuturistic vision will make egalitarian liberals, and perhaps even some conservative revolutionaries, shift uncomfortably in their seats.

Oblomov, however, is just a scenario. As Faye states repeatedly, we must not forget about Islam. Faye stresses that it is here, among us, facing us, right now, and that no amount of appeasement or accommodating will cause it to become less of a threat. This is because, he argues, Islam is an inherently intolerant, aggressive, theocratic movement that will abide no religious pluralism. Faye believes that Islam, and for that matter the Afro-Asian immigrants colonising our continent, must be expelled from Europe, as was done in the past.  ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’, he states. Naturally this presupposes either deposing the indigenous ethnomasochists, the deluded cosmopolitans, the xenophiles, and the immigration fraudsters, or being ready to replace them once they fall by the weight of their own corruption and the catastrophic consequences of their own ideology.

How do we get there? For Faye, the first step is understanding where we came from, where we are, and where we are going. Faye begins the book by evaluating the current with which he was formerly affiliated, the Nouvelle Droite, and outlining the factors and ideological errors that led to its loss of vitality and eventual eclipsing by the Front National. He then presents his vision, which includes corrections of some previously held positions. This is followed by a series of politically incorrect statements—fast sniper attacks against the contemporary West that aggregate into a global analysis of its present condition. An outline of Faye’s future world system follows, in incremental order. Finally, the reader is immersed in the finished result through an exercise in fiction.

That is the first step.

The next step, having read Faye’s text, understood it, reflected, discussed it, and reached individual conclusions, is elucidating how to put the theory into practice—a task that will require a sustained collective effort at all levels.

I find Faye’s one of the most lucid propositions currently out there. It is both creative and logically structured. It is both analytical and refreshingly constructive. And it is both intelligent and unflinchingly radical. What is more, the text flows with urgent velocity, thanks to a skilled English translation, and is copiously supplemented with useful informative notes. What more can you ask?

John Wyndham's The Chrysalids

John Wyndham
The Chrysalids
London: Michael Joseph, 1955

I am a child of the Cold War, so good post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly that involving the world after thermonuclear holocaust, resonates with me. An example I recently enjoyed was The Chrysalids by apocalyptic Science Fiction author John Wyndham, also known for The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, and The Midwich Cuckoos.
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
Originally published in 1955, the novel is set many centuries into the future, mostly in Waknuk, a frontier village in rural Labrador. The region enjoys a warmer climate than at present, and is surrounded by wild country that is rife with mutant plant and animal life. The villagers live in a pre-industrial society, and practice a form of fundamentalist Christianity, burdened with post-apocalyptic prohibitions. The religion’s historiography regards genetic mutations as a curse, brought about by the transgressions of the ‘Old People’, which resulted in ‘Tribulation’. Accordingly, its adherents have enthroned genetic orthodoxy as the highest of virtues; deviance is blasphemy. Mutant plants and animals are destroyed; mutant humans are banished or killed. Those who are banished live in the Fringes—genetically deviant country beyond Waknuk’s agrest periphery; they subsist in squalor, obtaining food and materials through frequent raiding expeditions. All the same, however, the government of Labrador is corrupt and has a less than perfectly rigorous policy—a situation resented by the most pious villagers.

The novel follows David Strorm, son of Joseph, a religious zealot, and much of it is spent describing their farming society. David has recurring dreams of the technologically advanced cities from the time before Tribulation (or so it seems initially), and is one of several telepaths residing in Waknuk. He is allowed to exist because possibility of telepathy has not occurred to the villagers, who have been preoccupied with physical anomalies, causing the mutation to remain hitherto undetected. Eventually, however, it is discovered, and David is forced to flee into The Fringes, along with Rosalind Morton (his closest friend) and Petra (his younger sister), both also telepaths. A search party is organised, but David and his confederates enjoy help from Michael, a crypto-telepath, who is a member of the search party.

As they flee, Petra, who is endowed with vastly superior telepathic ability, is able gradually to enter into communication with a female, located in a geographically remote location. It gradually transpires that the Sealand woman, as she is referred to, lives in a modern, techno-industrial society where telepathy is sought after and trained systematically. David and company encounter hostile Fringes people, who capture them. At this point, however, David obtains help from Sophie, a six-toed former childhood friend, long exiled to the Fringes, and they are given sanctuary in a secret forest cave, not far from the mutant settlement. Meanwhile, the Sealand woman has become very interested in Petra and comes with a rescue party aboard an aircraft. Once there, they swiftly dispatch the troublesome pursuers, mutant and non-, and take David, Rosalind, and Petra away to a new life in Sealand.

Wyndham is strongest during the pre-flight part of the novel, and makes an excellent job at conveying the nebulous understanding that comes from lack of solid and readily available information. David’s first person narrative is riddled with rumor, hearsay, and speculation. Wyndham is also effective at generating in the reader curiosity about the world beyond Waknuk, of which we learn via David’s retelling of fragmented, vague, third-party accounts: aside from the mutations, it is through descriptions, relayed by sailors, of distant wastes of vitrified earth and black ruins that glow faintly in the night, and of the symptoms that afflict those who come near them, that the implication of a long-ago nuclear holocaust is made. A race of humans with telepathic ability is one of the consequences in Wyndham’s post-nuclear future, but this choice undermines what is otherwise an accomplished effort—at least to my mind, telepathy is less convincing than some of mutations he describes.

What is interesting from my perspective is Wyndham’s attitude towards the opposing factions. He shows contempt for the villager’s belief system, which, albeit understandable, comes across as archaic, blinkered, and fearful; in character it resembles Mediaeval Catholicism, particularly in relation to heterodoxy and especially pagans. The first part of the novel, therefore, appears to argue for tolerance. But Wyndham’s sympathetic portrayal of the distant Sealanders, twinned with their ruthlessness, superior airs, and frank Darwinian outlook—the latter articulated at length by the Sealand woman at the end of the book—suggests an elitist, rather than an egalitarian disposition: Wyndham’s is an ecology where diverse organisms compete amorally for resources, and where the strongest and most highly developed wins over the weaker and less developed.

Those who look at things politically might find the Sealander’s fusion of Darwinism and modernity somewhat confusing, even slightly contradictory, given that in the 21st century we have, on the one hand, traditionalism, elitism, Darwinism, organicism, nature mysticism, rural idealisations, and racialism, representing disenfranchised outsiders; and, on the other, modernism, egalitarianism, environmentalism, mechanism, scientism, urbanism, and cosmopolitanism, representing establishment views. The former is widely seen as backward-looking, nostalgic / evolutionary; the latter as forward-looking, iconoclastic / revolutionary. We must, however, remember that for all its progressivist, revolutionary aspirations, modernism—the rejection of tradition implicit in modernity—always had two sides to it. There was the aspect linked to the Left (Bertold Brecht, Walter Benjamin, André Breton, Antonio Gramsci), and the aspect linked to the Right (Louis-Ferdinand Céline, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats). Even if Science Fiction is not modernism, like modernism it is fundamentally a product of modernity, irrespective of any antecedents we may find in Antiquity and later periods. Thus, while those influenced by egalitarianism today may experience unease at frank avowals of social Darwinism, the Sealanders are one logical outcome of both the literary genre in which they appear and the time in which they were conceived. (Across the Atlantic, as it happens, one Ayn Rand wrote novels around this time that implied a similarly modernistic elitism.)
The encumbrance of present-day dominant ideology is one of the main problems with Science Fiction writing: too often its future scenarios are extrapolations of present trends—a reflection of present-day preoccupations, fears, and aspirations —which ignore, rather than embrace, the likelihood of paradigm shifts in human consciousness—of a qualitative alteration in values. Such likelihood makes all extrapolations obsolescent. The impossibility of fully anticipating the knock-on effects of new development make it extremely difficult to see beyond the immediate future—and the difficulty only increases exponentially the farther into the future one ventures, given that distant time-frames imply the compound effect of multiple paradigm shifts, each affecting an infinity of variables in ways, and for reasons, unimaginable today. While The Chrysalids does not escape this problem, betraying a typical Cold War preoccupation with nuclear conflict and genetic mutation, in an oblique way the half century elapsed since its composition possibly affords us a glimpse beyond present intellectual fashion: nature, after all, is cyclical, and the collapse of the present order, should it occur at a level of higher technological development, is likely to bring an inversion of modern liberal values, not their limitless expansion. The Sealanders’ worldview is then probably not just outdated, but both outdated and futuristic.

In our current epoch and situation, we can interpret The Chrysalids in a manner that makes it more poignant for us today than it would have been in 1955: are we to allow ourselves to be disprivileged, dehumanized, and banished to the fringes as blasphemous aberrations by a superstitious self-appointed tyranny—are we to yield to their self-serving orthodoxy, or are we to scorn the tyranny and create a new society that is true to our nature, without fear or apologies to anyone?

In ways not necessarily conceived or intended, The Chrysalids's message remains even more relevant today than it was during the Cold War.