Science or Sorcery?

Note: I was surprised when I re-read this article on CAS from 2004, because I didn’t find its prose particularly painful or embarrassing. I’ve made only one big change, restoring the comparison that I originally began the essay with but which I suppressed for publication at the Eldritch Dark for fear of seeming gratuitously offensive. Everything in the essay, including the comparison, is of course intended to be taken with complete seriousness. Tolkien is one of the authors I have most often re-read, but, as I’ve said before, I wish that someone would translate Lord of the Rings into English.


Science or Sorcery? Interrogating the Supratextual Interface of Klarkash-Ton and the Hobbitual Offender, Simon Whitechapel

The scientific spirit, which cannot leave anything alone and aspires to draw the whole universe of objects, people, ideas and even feelings into its own dull, inhuman empire, was certain, sooner or later, to cast its screwed-up, calculating eyes on the splendour in the grass and the glory in the flower. — Peter Simple, The Stretchford Chronicles (1980).1

Où sont les neiges d’antan? (Where are the snows of yesteryear?) — François Villon, Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis (1461).

If the Earth were a human body, the United States of America might well be identified as a cancer. There are three strong parallels: growth, greed, and influence. Cancers grow explosively, gobble energy, and spread in their worst forms to every part of the body. Mutatis mutandis, the United States has done the same, growing in a couple of centuries from a tiny colony to a continental superpower that now consumes perhaps a fifth of the world’s resources with only a twentieth of the world’s population,2 and that exports its culture and language to every corner of the world. More and more people outside its borders are growing up to think, act, and talk like Americans, discarding their own histories and cultures as they do so. This American triumph has coincided with, and in part been built on, the triumph of modern science, and like science the United States is based on a rejection of tradition and a belief in the possibility, and even the necessity, of progress.

But as Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), one of the founders of modern science, pointed out, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. He was talking about physics, but actions have reactions in the mistier world of culture too and simultaneous with the rise of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came the rise of the literary genre of fantasy. Like its coeval science fiction, fantasy represents a flight from the present, but where science fiction flies more or less optimistically into the future, fantasy flees more or less pessimistically into the past: it could be defined as an attempt to write as though America did not exist. America offers democracy, science, and rationalism; fantasy rejects them in favor of monarchy, magic, and mystery.

And understandably so: like America itself, democracy, science, and rationalism are profoundly unnatural things, appearing very late in human existence and truly accepted and appreciated by very few of us, for they do not appeal to the irrational and numinous aspects of our nature. America is unnatural because it is deracinated, a conscious, rational experiment in nation-building whose immigrant citizens are cut off from their roots in ancestral history and homeland. The popularity of fantasy in America and the societies its rootless culture has most heavily influenced proves that millions of us feel the loss. Fantasy’s rejection of science and flight from the scientific American present can be summed up by these lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1954-5) in which the wizard Gandalf describes his confrontation with the wizard Saruman, who has recently exchanged his white robes for robes of many colors:


“I liked white better,” I said.
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it no longer white,” said I. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”3


Isaac Newton broke white light in precisely that way with a prism, gaining knowledge as he discarded wisdom. But there was more to Tolkien’s rejection of Newtonian reductionism than simply science: Newton was also a Protestant, and America is a Protestant nation. Like science, Protestantism is based on a rejection of tradition, and because, like America, it is deracinated, it withers very readily: where its offspring rationalist secularism leads, Protestantism sooner or later follows.4 Tolkien (1892-1973) was Catholic, belonging to a church with deep roots, and though his books are early symptoms of her present decadence, they contain all the anti-rational, loss-assuaging ingredients listed above: monarchy, magic, and mystery. One of those books is, after all, called The Return of the King, and the pessimistic, future-fleeing aspects of fantasy are clearly symbolized by the way Tolkien sets his evil empire of Mordor in the east, where the sun rises, and his haven of peace in the west, where the sun sets.

But beside being Catholic and anti-rationalist, Tolkien was, more importantly, a bad writer. His most famous book, The Lord of the Rings, epitomizes what Europeans would see as the worst failings of American popular culture: it is sentimental, shallow, and clumsy.5 His attempt to flee the American present in some ways carries America with it. And that is one of the great ironies of fantasy literature: its most popular, and least subtle, exponent is European, while one of its greatest and most subtle is not merely American but Californian, living and dying in the most “future-crazed”6 state of all: Clark Ashton Smith was born in 1893 in Long Valley, near Sacramento, and died in 1961 a few miles north in Auburn.

But CAS had an English father and did not grow up in any of California’s cities, which may be much more important than it appears. California is one of the youngest states of one of the world’s youngest nations, but its landscape is ancient and its landscape is what CAS was most familiar with: he grew up on his father’s “forty acres” of homestead.7 Straight lines and right angles are rare in nature, ubiquitous in modern cities, and they may have much stronger effects on our psychology than we realize.8 In the old worlds of Europe and Asia, where cities are thousands of years old, streets wind and twist, because the cities of Europe and Asia have grown rather like plants; in the new world of America, streets run in straight lines intersecting at right angles. American cities are planned, rational attempts to conquer and control unplanned, irrational geography, and perhaps the reputation of New Englanders for subtlety and guile rises from their surroundings. Cities like Boston are old enough to have grown in the winding, twisting old world fashion, and perhaps they train their modern inhabitants in the oblique and indirect. CAS’s friend and mentor H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an urban New Englander: could he have developed his subtle, allusive fiction had he grown up in a city like Chicago or New York, where the streets may train the mind in linearity and directness?9 Could the rural CAS have developed his subtle, allusive fiction had he grown up in a city like San Francisco or Los Angeles?

I would suggest not, but that there is more to an artist’s growth than his physical surroundings is clearly proved by Tolkien, who lived in ancient, alinear England and wrote his crude fantasy amid the winding, twisting streets of Oxford. However, human beings inhabit societies too, and though Lovecraft and CAS may have escaped the stultifying effects of American town-planning, perhaps they benefited from the liberating effects of American politics. The races of Tolkien’s world are clearly based on the English class system: the hobbits, for example, are the rural proletariat and minor bourgeoisie, the orcs are the industrial proletariat, and the elves are the aristocracy whose well-nourished scions Tolkien encountered at Oxford. Compare these passages, the first from Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), the second from Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937):


About six of them came into my room, the rest stood mouthing outside. My dear, they looked too extraordinary. They had been having one of their ridiculous club dinners, and they were all wearing coloured tail-coats – a sort of livery. ‘My dears,’ I said to them, ‘you look like a lot of most disorderly footmen.’ Then one of them, rather a juicy little piece, accused me of unnatural vices. ‘My dear,’ I said, ‘I may be inverted but I am not insatiable. Come back when you are alone.’10


‘Well, well!’ said a[n Elvish] voice. ‘Just look! Bilbo the hobbit on a pony, my dear! Isn’t it delicious!’ ‘Most astonishing wonderful!’ Then off they went into another song as ridiculous as the one I have written down in full. At last one, a tall young fellow, came out from the trees and bowed to Gandalf and to Thorin.11

Tolkien and Waugh were both snobs and both, as it happens, of below average height. Tall Lovecraft’s and tall CAS’s fiction does not suffer from this snobbery, and although the stories of their friend Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) – who grew up in rural Texas – continually pluck the chords of monarchy, magic, and mystery, his hero Conan becomes a king by brawn and brain, not by birth. But Howard, although a far better writer than Tolkien, is the least interesting of the Weird Tales triumvirate, and CAS’s fiction is aristocratic in more than its mention of kings and emperors. He did not write for the canaille, which is why he used words like canaille:


Yes, indeed, one could write numerous reams on the subject of style. The style – or lack of it – required by nearly all magazine editors, [sic] would require a separate treatise. The idea seems to be that everything should be phrased in a manner that will obviate mental effort on the part of the lowest grade moron. I was told the other day that my “Door to Saturn” could only be read with a dictionary.12

One of the reasons popular American culture has been so successfully exported is that it has evolved to appeal to the lowest common denominator: it is “phrased” so to “obviate mental effort”, and ideally to bypass the intellect altogether. The simplicity and directness of an American export like rock’n’roll, whose appeal is based on strong rhythms and high volume, are mirrored in the simplicity and directness of American exports like hamburgers and Coca-Cola, whose appeal is based on fat, salt, and sugar. In short, American culture is democratic and inclusive, not aristocratic and exclusive like European culture. And so a second great irony of fantasy literature is that the European Tolkien is far more democratic and far more successfully exported than the Californian Clark Ashton Smith: Tolkien’s writing is crude and strongly flavored, the literary equivalent of hamburger and coke, while the haute cuisine of CAS remains unknown to many of the millions who read and re-read Lord of the Rings – or watch and re-watch its recent translation into film.

And perhaps that is another part of the key to CAS: fiction that can be translated readily and successfully into film, as Tolkien’s has been, tends to be superficial and direct. CAS’s greatest stories could not be successfully translated into film without being transformed in fundamental ways; that is, without being mutilated. This is another way in which CAS is profoundly un-American. America’s most successful and most characteristic export, advertising its culture to the world, has been film, and film, because it is the most powerful of media, is also the most destructive, killing imagination and feeding passivity and voyeurism.13 Cinema’s inbred cousin, television, exaggerates cinema’s failings and commits the additional crimes of trivialization and superficiality: watching a film at the cinema at least has a sense of ritual and occasion, and lasts about as long as a religious service; watching the same film using a television has no sense of ritual or occasion and can be interrupted and postponed at will.

CAS, born blessedly long before television and no movie-goer, was defiantly logophilic and logocentric, and in that sense is far more modern than artists who work in or are influenced by film: vision has existed for many millions of years among animals and the art based on it, appealing to universal simplicities, crosses boundaries of culture and even species with relative ease: recall the Greek tale of Zeuxis’s trompe l’oeil grapes pecked by birds. True language, on the other hand, appeared only with human beings and the art based on it, being far richer and far more subtle, does not cross barriers of culture with ease and without transformation and distortion. And here is a third great irony of CAS’s relation to JRRT. Tolkien, the professional scholar of language in the homeland of English, wrote with far less sensitivity and richness, beating drums and blasting trumpets where CAS played flutes and citheræ. But if fantasy is an attempt to write as though America did not exist, perhaps it took an American to know precisely how best to perform the nullification.


Notes

1. The Stretchford Chronicles: 25 Years of Peter Simple, The Daily Telegraph, Purnell & Sons, Bristol, 1980, “A graded land”, pg. 165.


2. A factoid often dragged out (with varying figures – sometimes consumption goes as high as two-thirds) by whining liberals and eco-puritans. The precise ratio is impossible to know, but America certainly out-consumes Europe, just as Europe out-consumes the Third World.

3. The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, ch. II, “The Council of Elrond”.

4. “Mark 4:5 And some [seed] fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.” Because they have deep roots, Catholic and Orthodox Christianity resist the scorching sun of secularism much more effectively.

5. The Hobbit, with much less ambition, achieves much more.

6. Peter Simple, The Stretchford Chronicles: 25 Years of Peter Simple, The Daily Telegraph, Purnell & Sons, Bristol, 1980, “Let them be left”, pg. 173: “Environmentalists, conservationists, anti-pollutionists: the dull, pseudo-scientific words, endlessly repeated – imports, like so much else, from future-crazed America – can arouse in certain moods a perverse rage to build oil-refineries all over Dartmoor.”

7. “As I Remember Klarkash-Ton”, George F. Haas, from The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith, Arkham House (see online copy).

8. In one famous psychological experiment, Zulus who lived in round huts and ploughed in curves were found to be much less susceptible to certain optical illusions (e.g. the Müller-Lyer arrow illusion). See, for example, the discussion in R.L. Gregory’s Eye and Brain: the Psychology of Seeing.

9. See Lovecraft’s short story “Haunter of the Dark” (1936), set in the New England city of Providence but with a protagonist from the straight-lined, right-angled Wisconsin city of Milwaukee: “As Blake climbed higher, the region seemed stranger and stranger, with bewildering mazes of brooding brown alleys leading eternally off to the south. … Twice he lost his way …”

10. Op. cit., Book One, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 2

11. Op. cit., Chapter 3, “A Short Rest”.

12. Clark Ashton Smith: Letters to H.P. Lovecraft, Necronomicon Press, West Warwick (Rhode Island), 1987, pg. 23, “c. mid-December 1930” (see online copy).

13. In fantasy’s sister genre, horror, England and America again provide the most successful writer and one of the greatest, but this time England wins: the American Stephen King (1947-     ), the most successful writer of horror, is a cinematic writer weaned on film and has nothing of the subtlety and depth of the English M.R. James (1862-1936) (see CAS’s appreciation “The Weird Works of M.R. James”).

© 2004 Simon Whitechapel

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Chicks, Dicks and H.B.D.

Britain has recently been entertained by a cat-fight conducted at Twitter, The Observer and other loci of liberalism. Or perhaps “cat-and-castrated-tom-fight” is a better way of putting it. In the cat corner: a pair of self-righteous feminist egomaniacs called Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore. In the castrato corner: lots of self-righteous transsexual egomaniacs and their supporters. It’s been one of those fights you wish both sides could lose, but it’s also been interesting from a hateful, bestial and demonic point of view. That is, from an HBD POV. HBD stands for human bio-diversity and is about looking at how human biology influences social, cultural and political patterns. Transsexuality is obviously a biological phenomenon, but I think feminism and female writers are too. Read on, if you’re man enough, and I’ll explain how.

The fight started when Suzanne Moore wrote an essay about “female anger” for an anthology published by the booksellers Waterstones. I don’t know or care what the anthology was about, but Moore’s essay included these lines:

The cliché is that female anger is always turned inwards rather than outwards into despair. We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual. (Moore article)

Moore was then politely challenged on Twitter by a transphilic woman who detected a hint of transphobia in her remark. Moore refused to retract it and was even sarcastic about the notion of “intersectionality”, i.e., the multiple oppressions suffered by, say, black homosexuals with bad legs, who will suffer not just from racism, homophobia or disabledism, but from all three. Finally, pushed too far, Moore announced that:

People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them. (Transphobic tweeting)

Moore then left Twitter because of the “bullying” she was experiencing. Her friend Julie Burchill came to her defence in The Observer (i.e. The Guardian-on-Sunday) in an article that began like this:

Hey trannies, cut it out

Where do dicks in terrible wigs get off lecturing us natural-born women about not being quite feministic enough? (Burchill article)

Burchill went on to excoriate “dicks in chick’s clothing” and “bed-wetters in bad wigs” who have had their “nuts taken off”. Further uproar ensued, the “transsexual community” complained long and loudly, and The Observer withdrew the article and apologized for the offence it had caused. All this has been entertaining but also, I think, an example of the poisoning of politics described by Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks:

Sacks: Multiculturalism threatens democracy

Multiculturalism promotes segregation, stifles free speech and threatens liberal democracy, Britain’s top Jewish official warned in extracts from his book The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society… [Jonathan] Sacks said Britain’s politics had been poisoned by the rise of identity politics, as minorities and aggrieved groups jockeyed first for rights, then for special treatment. The process, he said, began with Jews, before being taken up by blacks, women and gays. He said the effect had been “inexorably divisive. A culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation is greater than that of others.” (Multiculturalism threatens democracy, The Jerusalem Post)

By claiming “pain, injury, oppression” and so on, transsexuals want to make themselves immune from criticism. Saints could be trusted to behave well when immune from criticism, but saints wouldn’t demand to be so. Transsexuals are, I think it’s safe to say, no more saintly than Jews, blacks, women or gays. All the same, I also think Moore and Burchill have shown bigotry – in the proper, rather than politically correct, sense – towards transsexuals. This transphobic twosome obviously don’t like their feminist franchise being challenged by transsexuals, i.e., people who were born in men’s bodies, but think they’re really women and have had surgery to prove it. From my own bigoted, biocentric point of view, I am happy to accept that bodies do not always match brains and that someone with a female mind can be born in a male body. Or vice versa. It’s an interesting phenomenon, scientifically speaking, but it must also sometimes be a distressing phenomenon, psycho-socially speaking. Burchill’s sneers about “phantom limbs” and “bed-wetters in bad wigs” don’t show much female solidarity, let alone imaginative sympathy. But then she doesn’t seem to accept that a real woman can be born in a male body:

Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we [sic] lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging PhDs as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment, and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.

That is echt essentialism – indeed, physio-fascism. Burchill seems to believe that you can’t be a real woman unless you’re born in a female body. The bit about “lovely big swinging PhDs” is a sneer too, but a funny one: Burchill is an entertaining writer who combines masculine vigour with feminine illogic. Look at her reasoning here, for example:

…their lot [i.e., transsexuals] describe born women as “cis” – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff…

If “cis” is nasty because it sounds a bit like “cistern”, presumably “sister” would be even worse. Like Burchill, Suzanne Moore has no time for the nasty male invention of logic; unlike Burchill, she isn’t an entertaining or amusing writer. I’d never read anything by her before this cat-fight and I don’t intend to read anything again. The fight itself seems a good example of narcisso-sisters playing tyranny-trumps and poisoning politics, as the Chief Rabbi warned. Burchill and Moore themselves seem good examples of testotero-sisters: they’re masculinized in both psychology and physiognomy. It’s not just their aggression and coarseness: take a look at their faces:

Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill

Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill

I suggest that Moore and Burchill, despite their female bodies, are less psychologically female than some transsexuals who were born in male bodies. Both of them are left-wing and opponents of biological determinism, but they are cruder in their bio-determinism than the supposedly right-wing psychologist Hans Eysenck (1916–97), who was writing about HBD before HBD existed under its present name. In his book Sex, Violence and the Media (1978), Eysenck discussed that idea that “there is a strong biological determinant which predisposes individuals in the direction of greater or lesser ‘maleness’”:

Some of the strongest evidence for this point of view comes from the work of Dr Wilhart Schlegel, a Hamburg physician who made an exhaustive study of the shape of the pelvis in men and women. In men, typically, the pelvis is shaped like a funnel, tapering down to a narrow outlet; in women, the pelvis is shaped more like a tube, with a broad outlet. There is much variety within each sex; thus there are men with tube-shaped pelvis outlet structures, and women with funnel-shaped ones. What made Schlegel interested in the pelvic outlet is that its shape is apparently determined at the foetal stage by precisely the kind of hormonal burst [determining masculinity or femininity] already described; if such androgenic material is supplied, the pelvic shape will be masculine; if not, feminine. This led Schlegel to study in detail the social and sexual behaviour of men and women having typical and atypical pelvic shapes, using over a thousand men and women in his researches. (Op. cit., H.J. Eysenck and D.K.B. Nias, Maurice Temple Smith, London, 1978, pg. 230-1)

Schlegel discovered a strong correlation between pelvic shape and behaviour:

A masculine-type pelvis correlated with leadership, an active sexual role, dominance and a preference for a younger sexual partner, in men and women alike. A feminine-type pelvis correlated with empathy, suggestibility, and compliance. In other words, behaviour in both sexes seemed to be determined by the same hormonal factors which originally produced skeletal features of the pelvis, namely androgen secretion at the foetal stage.

Faces, like pelvises, are shaped by hormonal factors and I suggest that Moore and Burchill have masculinized faces. I also suggest that, as female writers, they are not unique in this. Another example of a masculinized female writer seems to be Hilary Mantel, winner of last year’s Man-Booker Prize for her novel Bring Out the Bodies. Mantel has been placed under scientific analysis by Eysenck’s protegé Chris Brand at his g-Factor blog:

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

Incomprehensible bug-eyed leftist old bag authoress Hilary Mantel was welcomed by the London Review of Books to put in her two pennorth slagging off the gracious, cheerful and pregnant Duchess of Cornwall… Broad-beamed Mantelpiece was a leftie born and bred – a matter which her publishers had contrived to conceal for several years. Of Irish parentage, she was raised a Catholic by parents who separated (she never saw her father after age eleven). She gave up Christianity at twelve and progressed to full-blown socialism, as was readily compatible with her studies at the London School of Economics and the University of Sheffield. Her own lack of husband and family was perhaps traceable to gynaecological problems so serious that she had been treated by doctors for psychosis during her twenties. (IQ & PC – By Chris Brand, Monday, February 25, 2013)

Mantel’s unusually broad features seem to occur elsewhere among female writers:

L-R: Jane Austen, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pearl S. Buck, Iris Murdoch

L-R: Jane Austen, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pearl S. Buck, Iris Murdoch

L-R: Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Arundhati Roy

L-R: Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Arundhati Roy

I suggest that the particular genre in which a writer works would also be reflected in her – or his – biology, but female writers are a small, self-selected group and don’t seem typical of women in general. This also appears to be true of female politicians. I first began to notice their unusual features in the 1990s among women like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright:

Hillary Clinton and Madelaine Albright

Hillary Clinton and Madelaine Albright

Like Moore and Burchill, Clinton and Albright are left-wing and opponents of biological determinism. But the reality may be that a rejection of biological determinism is itself, in part, biologically determined. The subjective self-confidence and aggression of a masculinized woman may lead her to deny any influence of biology on politics, even though there is more and more evidence that such influence exists:

The GOP has a feminine face, UCLA study finds

At least when it comes to female politicians, perhaps you can judge a book by its cover, suggest two UCLA researchers who looked at facial features and political stances in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Female politicians with stereotypically feminine facial features are more likely to be Republican than Democrat, and the correlation increases the more conservative the lawmaker’s voting record,” said lead author Colleen M. Carpinella, a UCLA graduate student in psychology.

The researchers also found the opposite to be true: Female politicians with less stereotypically feminine facial features were more likely to be Democrats, and the more liberal their voting record, the greater the distance the politician’s appearance strayed from stereotypical gender norms. In fact, the relationship is so strong that politically uninformed undergraduates were able to determine the political affiliation of the representatives with an overall accuracy rate that exceeded chance, and the accuracy of those predications increased in direct relation to the lawmaker’s proximity to feminine norms. (“The GOP has a feminine face, UCLA study finds”, Meg Sullivan, September 27, 2012)

Faces and pelvises are indirect guides to brains and it would be very interesting to have more direct data about the brains of female politicians, whether left- or right-wing. It would also be interesting to know how many children they have and the sex-ratio of those children, because that is also influenced by hormonal factors. Like Burchill and Moore, Hilary Mantel and Hillary Clinton would no doubt dismiss HBD as hateful, but all of them are biological entities and none of them can escape HBD. Neither can I or you or any other human being, but the more we know about ourselves the better we may be able to understand politics and culture. And the more we know about human biology, the more we may also understand that some forms of politics are far less caring and compassionate than they claim to be.