Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Aleister Crowley as writer

Crowley satirised by Roger Mann of Lee & Herring as the ineffectual Roger Crowley.

Angela Williams at Literary Places just sent me a link to a recent news item: Aleister Crowley: Torquay's Warlock and James Bond's arch-enemy (Dr Kevin Dixon, This is SouthDevon, June 26th 2012).

It's an interesting short biography that covers lesser-known aspects of Crowley's strange life (that is, beyond his media-created reputation as the occult 'Great Beast') including his work as a writer. It quotes a truncated piece of this wonderfully lush passage about an encounter in Torquay:

'Twas at Torquay in Devon, land of stream and cream, 'o scaur and tor, o' moor gorse-golden, merry maids and proper men, tall fellows and bold, o' dells and coombes, and of cider stronger and sweeter than your Norman can make for all his cunning; and this girl was a play-actress, rosy as the apples, and white as the cream, and soft as the air, and high-spirited as the folk, of that enchanted dukedom. I know her name was langourous and lovely; but only the devil her master knows what it was; I shall probably remember it if I live to be eighty; but whether it's worth while to go through another forty years or so of European war in order to recall this detail is a matter rather for my readers than myself. The deuce take politics!

Whatever her name was, she was out walking. She was as pretty as a picture of Spring, for 'twas that which had got into her blood -- the good Sun grant it gets into mine this night, and stays there! So she was restless, so she walked up and down by the Sea, feeling the Sea's mood hers. I think she walked till moonset, but I'm not writing by the calendar, thank the Lord! We call it moonset; we declare moonset trumps. Good. Then she wandered on the face of the cliff for a while, and sought to tire her limbs. At last she came to a meadow; and there she called upon the Earth, lying upon the cool grass, and plucking out great handfuls. The daisies stared at her with great golden eyes, like Balzac's `Fille'. And so she dreamed that she was Earth itself, and a daughter of Earth, Titan, a giantess in the prime o' the planet. She lay like a great range of mountains athwart the plains, snow domes upon green alps. May the Lady of Dreams be ever near us, awake or asleep, with her hands full of loveliness. Carry your apron full, Our Lady, with cherry dreams, peach dreams, plum dreams, pear dreams, strawberry dreams, apple dreams, dreams that are clusters of the heaviest grapes! And fly also South and East upon occasion for we need tropical dreams, like mangoes, dates, pomegranates, lychees and mangostems!
- Not the Life of Sir Roger Bloxam

See Not the Life of Sir Roger Bloxam for the rest of this unfinished novel. It's worth a look; while rather overblown in style, it's nevertheless an intelligent piece of work, with strong allusions to Tristram Shandy, a lot of very lyrical writing (as above), flashes of Joycean punning, and an overall self-parody suggesting he wasn't taking himself that seriously:
Now you’ve mixed me all up, and we must broach a fresh hogshead of absinthe.
Crowley, for all his reputation, didn't just write anti-establishment stuff. As I mentioned earlier (see The Titanic verses) in 1913 he wrote this commemoration of the sinking of the Titanic.
FORTH flashed the serpent streak of steel,
Consummate crown of man's device;
Down crashed upon an immobile
And brainless barrier of ice.
The grey gods shoot a laughing lip: ---
Let not faith founder with the ship!

We reel before the blows of fate;
Our stout souls stagger at the shock.
Oh! there is Something ultimate
Fixed faster than the living rock.
Catastrophe beyond belief
Harden our hearts to fear and grief!

The gods upon the Titans shower
Their high intolerable scorn;
But no god knoweth in what hour
A new Prometheus may be born.
Man to his doom goes driving down;
A crown of thorns is still a crown!

No power of nature shall withstand
At last the spirit of mankind:
It is not built upon the sand;
It is not wastrel to the wind.
Disaster and destruction tend
To taller triumph in the end.

- Aleister Crowley, The Equinox, the official organ of the A∴A∴ The review of scientific illuminism, v. 1, no. 9 - 1913.

Aside from literary and esoteric work, he also wrote for Vanity Fair, pieces such as the pseudonymous humorous article A Hindu at the Polo Grounds, purportedly written by a visiting swami who thinks a baseball match is a religious ritual; The Hokku - a new verse form, in which he played a part in the Western popularization of the haiku; and The Three Great Hoaxes of the War, a sceptical article about the role of myth and mysticism in the popular consciousness during World War 1.

Hermetic.com's The Libri of Aleister Crowley is an excellent collection of Crowley's writings,and it's worth checking out. It's kind of a pity he devoted so much energy to the occult flakiness; he was a clever, literate and witty writer who should have a better reputation.

Thelemapedia - Aleister Crowley - also has a list of his writings, mentioning other little-known ones such as his occult novel Moonchild (online at Hermetic.com) and his many stories collectively called The Investigations of Simon Iff, mystery stories featuring the occult/psychological detective Simon Iff.

- Ray

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