A small part of the Great Conversation . . . Edition : Wednesday, January 3, 2018. Your comments are welcome on all posts -- at the new site! . . . Where we will still keep it civil, friendly, and intelligent!
I only remembered his name vaguely; perhaps I had read something in an anthology once, a long time ago. (He was born in the 1880s and died in the early 1960s, before I came of age.)
In meandering around the blogosphere, I had just run across a commenter who posted a copy of Jeffers' poem, "Purse Seine," which I hope you will link to and enjoy. A poet this good, I thought, ought not to have been forgotten, so I decided to look him up: Wikipedia -- that flawed-but-helpful reference for the most of us (who are the great "uncredentialed") -- came through. What did it say?
Born in 1887 in a respected Presbyterian family; check. Child prodigy; check. University of Southern California; check. Brother became an eminent astronomer; check. Scandalous affair with wife of a lawyer; check. Lived in Carmel, California; check. Outdoorsman and poet; check. Favorable connections with D. H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, and Jiddu Krishnamurti; check. Made cover of Time magazine; check.
Staunch opposition to U. S. entry into World War II; uncheck. Ah.
"In fact, his book The Double Axe and Other Poems (1948), a volume of poems that was largely critical of U.S. policy, came with an extremely unconventional note from Random House that the views expressed by Jeffers were not those of the publishing company. Soon after, his work was received negatively by several influential literary critics. Several particularly scathing pieces were penned by Yvor Winters, as well as by Kenneth Roxroth, who had been very positive in his earlier commentary on Jeffers' work. Jeffers would publish poetry intermittently during the 1950s but his poetry never again attained the same degree of popularity that it had in the 1920s and the 1930s."
An "extremely unconventional note from Random House that the views expressed by Jeffers were not those of the publishing company." Hmm, what was Random House so afraid of? Maybe there really is, and has been, a media establishment that pretty well controls what shall be permitted to be popular, and what shall not. (Remember these three things -- the Narrative, the Narrative, and the Narrative.)
But thank you, Robinson Jeffers, for keeping your own voice. You did have something important to say -- there are sardines, and there are also other sardines. Point well taken; very well taken, all things considered. (If they read the poem.)
Colin Wilson, a British philosopher, died recently (at the advanced age of 82), and I knew absolutely nothing about him until a friend told me of his own recent discovery of Wilson, and Wilson's own recent passing. My friend, it happened, had already ordered one of Wilson's books on line; and when it arrived, he promptly lent it to me. (I am very fortunate in my friends.)
To bring anyone else up to speed who is as ignorant of Wilson as I was, I will note that there is a decent quick summary of his life on Wikipedia, and an excellent, slow-spoken video on Youtube by Howard Dosser. (There is also a Colin Wilson website.) Briefly this: while he was in his early twenties (in the 1950s) he wrote The Outsiders, a best-selling treatise on modern philosophers, emphasizing some contemporary existentialist themes. But as he wrote other books, he found himself increasingly marginalized by the British and American intellectual establishment -- only certain types of approved Outsiders are welcome, after all -- although this did not keep him from continuing to write dozens and dozens of books on a wide variety of subjects throughout a long and creative life.
It is easy to see why he was considered somewhat irrelevant to the mainstream. To religious people (such as myself) to whom intellectual integrity is important, he was summarily dismissive of some important orthodoxies of Christian faith, so what did he have to say? And as for the scientific materialists and logical positivists and marxist existentialists who prevailed in mid-century, he rejected their premises outright, too, so what did he have to say to them either? Nothing much that anybody wanted to hear, especially from a relative youngster.
But in fact I think that he had much to say that is valuable and important, at least to persons who are interested in the history of philosophy; that is to say, the history of ideas; that is to say, human history.
Perhaps he has just caught me at a good time to listen to what he has to say: sometime a year or so ago I found my way to Bertrand Russell's 1959 opus, The Wisdom of the West, which lives up to its title and summarizes the main themes (and characters) in the Western philosophical tradition. Russell is a good thinker and a fine writer; but at the end of his book, I thought I could detect that his thinking had in some important way "stopped too soon."
It appears that Colin Wilson thought so too, at least in the sense that Western philosophers, including Russell, have placed unnecessary and unnatural restrictions on themselves, and urgently need to get past their self-imposed blind spots and blocks.
So far I have read only one of Wilson's books, his second, Religion and the Rebel. I think it is the one that got him into trouble with his, umm, elders. In this book, written in 1957 while he was still in his mid-twenties, he allows his ideas, interpretations, and insights to range all over the place -- from ancient cultures, through mystics such as Jacob Boehme and Nicholas Farrar, to the rationalists and romantics, and right up to the 20th century's Ludwig Wittgenstein and Alfred North Whitehead in his own day.
To follow Colin Wilson, we must understand his terminology. For Wilson, the term "Outsider" does not refer only to "alienated" or "despairing" men who are the common subjects of many of his fellow existentialists; to him, the best Outsiders are the ones who, by some combination of insight and discipline, become true visionaries, experiencing an unusual degree of personal transformation and even, we hope, real self-transcendence. The key here is the need for real discipline and insight to produce the visionary man of action. This distinction, or distinctive advantage, he believes, is crucial -- because the whole body of the status-quo "Insider" civilization always needs transformation, too, and in fact depends upon the visionary and active Outsider to provide it.
And now I skip over everything and jump directly to his book's final chapter, which deals with Wittgenstein and Whitehead. At this point, Wilson is discussing the limitations and possibilities in logic and language. Here are a few observations he makes in his discussion of Wittgenstein: * "True existentialism canot be communicated in ordinary logical language; it can only be expressed in the drama, in poetry (and it is no coincidence that Eliot has stated that all great poetry is dramatic in essence), in the novel. True existentialism is the dramatic investigation of human nature through the medium of art." * "A philosophy which is not existentialist is only half a philosophy; it is philosophy without arms or legs. All European philosophy since the seventeenth century has been a half-measure. An abstract philosopher is a half-man." * "The twentieth century has produced this 'clever schoolboy' type of writer in abundance. . . . And the 'clever schoolboy' is a fitting image for Western civilisation, brilliant in mind, but immature in all other things. We are too 'clever' in the worst sense of the word." * "Abstract philosophy is a symbol of Western civilisation. The Outsider is the man who revolts instinctively against abstraction, against our infant-prodigy civilisation. The Outsider is the man who yearns for a return to ancient standards -- the standards which recognise that 'cleverness' is of the intellect alone, that wisdom is a complex of intellect, emotions and body."
It is unfair of me to lift these quotes from the final chapter, ignoring the nearly three hundred pages of good analysis, good thinking, and good commentary that has preceded them. Furthermore, I selected only the shortest items; and they come across, in this post, hardly half as alive and significant as they are in context. And it is even more unfair to Mr. Wilson for me to leave out what I consider the best parts of all, his insights into the remarkable thinking of Alfred North Whitehead, who shares this final chapter with Wittgenstein.
But I do leave them all out. This post has gone on quite long enough; I only meant it as an invitation to dip into the ideas of Colin Wilson; not to abridge them, let alone digest them. Suffice it to say that, more than fifty years after they were written, his words, and his ideas, are relevant to some of the real questions and problems of the twenty-first century, and he points with optimism -- muted, yes, but real -- in the direction where fresh insights and possibilities may be sought and found.
Okay, time for a bright, new, profound, fun idea that we've all been waiting for.
Well, not exactly new. It was something that I came up with a few years ago, but only shared it with a couple of friends. Ha ha, they said, and promptly forgot it. But now, with a much wider, deeper, profounder, more worldly-wise audience -- you -- I know that this bright, profound, fun idea will be properly appreciated. Here goes.
To understand this, we have to go a little deep, but stay with me. Let us begin with a bit of the philosophy of philology. In terms of semantics, words have connotations and denotations. Words are names for the things they refer to, which are called referents. To say it another way, "names yield meanings," or at least they should.
But meanings can be complicated; and so, the word-sequences or names that we use to represent these complex meanings are often (necessarily) complex themselves, and too lengthy -- like this sentence. What we need is a good, shorthand way of representing these "names yielding meanings."
Could we represent them with neo-logisms, codewords, special symbols? Perhaps.
But then it occurred to me. Since simpler solutions tend to be the best, let us use the standard alphabet for our symbols. And for the sake of clarity and emphasis, let us capitalize the letters that we use for this special purpose. If we thought about it hard enough, perhaps we could come up with a system.
System of what, exactly? you ask. Well, to be brief, I am looking for an alphabetic, capitalized representation of names, yielding meaning. In information theory, we want the meaning to be preserved when we communicate.
And so to convey the core idea, this system would have to be named, unsurprisingly, something like the "Alphabetized, Capitalized Representation Of Names Yielding Meaning."
We could shorten this (admittedly unwieldy, if complete) system to: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.
What a snappy idea! ACRONYM! Now there is a neologism if I ever saw one. The system, its name and its process, all locked into one beautiful word!! AFAIK, this idea has never been thought of before.
Use it! It's free! Tell all your friends! Pass it on. JDGCWI -- just don't go crazy with it.