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New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
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Thursday, January 1


In my Throbbing Mysticism post of yesterday, I slung out some pretty raw references to antimodernism. Heavens, how rude of me! As this is an important idea for Mystic B as a whole, it needs some unpacking. However, if you have not followed Mystic B as a whole, the following core dump may well leave you feeling that I'm now being ruder than ever, as it presumes you give a hang about the larger picture -- or puzzle -- I've been trying to assemble. If that is the case: Oh well.

Wikipedia used to have an antimodernism page, but some genius decided to fold it into a vague catchall labeled development criticism. Not helpful. At all. For a clue as to what was there once upon a time, check here -- but watch out for the Texas longhorns! That page also gives an idea of how rare are useful definitions of this complex of concept.

We could do a lot worse than this description of Lynda Jessup's Antimodernism and Artistic Experience: Policing the Boundaries of Modernity...

Antimodernism is a term used to describe the international reaction to the onslaught of the modern world that swept across industrialized Western Europe, North America, and Japan in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century. Scholars in art history, anthropology, political science, history, and feminist media studies explore antimodernism as an artistic response to a perceived sense of loss -- in particular, the loss of 'authentic' experience.

Embracing the 'authentic' as a redemptive antidote to the threat of unheralded economic and social change, antimodernism sought out experience supposedly embodied in pre-industrialized societies -- in medieval communities or 'oriental cultures,' in the Primitive, the Traditional, or Folk.

Note that "the Traditional" will intersect with our focus on Traditionalism. We'll get to that.

Meanwhile, the best book on the subject, as I mentioned yesterday, is No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920, by T.J. Jackson Lears. Here's a bit from p. 137...

Martial antimodernism was more than another chapter in the history of the love affair of intellectuals with power. The transatlantic revolt against overcivilization had an enduring psychological and religious significance. Preoccupation with violence stemmed from a more general rediscovery of what D.H. Lawrence called the "primal, dark veracity" underlying conventional pieties and civilities. That rediscovery may have led to an exaltation of brute force, but it also included a number of strikingly parallel intellectual formulations, all of which appeared within a few decades: Nietzsche's apotheosis of the will to power, Freud's exploration of id-processes, Bergson's celebration of the elan vital, Jung's concept of the archetypal mindstate Moira -- a gratification-world presided over by a prehistoric earth-goddess...
And speaking of primal dark veracity, we interrupt this core dump to bring you an important word from John Carey, emeritus Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, and author of The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939 (note that those dates are roughly the same as for the Lears book). Actually, this is from an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National...
John Carey: ...what the book looks at is how the intellectuals, the literary intellectuals -- T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf and Ezra Pound and D.H. Lawrence -- how they looked at that phenomenon of what they called the 'semi-educated masses' and it was pretty hair-raising.

Actually, at the most extreme, they simply wanted to exterminate the masses. The great Irish poet W.B. Yeats said towards the end of his life in the 1930s that there must and should be a war -- a real war with tanks and guns -- between the intellectuals and the masses. And he said the intellectuals would win because they were cleverer, they could use the armaments better, they'd wipe the masses out. D.H. Lawrence said that he would like to build -- he's writing a letter -- he says he'd like to build "a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace,'"in which he could exterminate the masses....

Michael Duffy: I think you point out, too, that he was an enthusiast for poison gas, wasn't he, D.H. Lawrence?

John Carey: That's right. He said, "three cheers for poison gas." That's right.

Good old D.H. Lawrence. Always quick with a sound bite! So you see, your basic Zyklon B freaks go way back! What rough beasts, eh what? Stick that in your widening gyre!

But let's not overlook the other four: Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson and -- but of course -- Jung. Keep the latter in mind (not to mention Black Metal "occult fascism") as the Lears quote continues...

The revaluation of primal irrationality was closely entwined with the widespread gropings toward "real life." Desperate quests for authentic experience led often to the discovery of the "pristine savage" -- uncivilized, uninhibited, and aggressive. The link between the fin-de-siecle fascination with primal, aggressive impulse and the emerging search for authenticity discloses one of the most important undercurrents in twentieth-century cultural history: the desire to recombine a fragmented self and re-create a problematic reality through aggressive action. That desire has lain behind fascism as well as the mass-market murder story; it has persisted to our own time.
But where is all this headed exactly? Where is it going? Forty pages later, Lears writes...
In France and Germany, medieval mentalities energized rightist ideologies. French nationalists idealized Joan of Arc, and Catholic reactionaries like the Vicomte de Vogüé held the simple faith of the peasant masses above the anticlericalism of the lycee. German anti-Semites deified the Aryan folk soul of the Middle Ages, and endowed the Wagnerian cult with political meaning. Richard Wagner was not only a theatrical psychotherapist for the affluent; he was also Hitler's favorite composer, the master who immortalized the German Volksgeist.
Oh, there. Have you been noticing that, on Mystic B, it all seems to go there? Can't be helped, though. Computer says no.

Let's turn now to Religion After Religion: Gershem Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos by Steven M. Wasserstrom. Eranos being, of course, Carl Jung's floating-world crap game of the soul held yearly at Ascona, Switzerland, from 1933 to when Jung died and beyond. I am sore tempted to go off on a full-tilt dada fantasy rant about Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, but I will restrain myself. Except for this...


Uh... oh yes, the Wasserstrom book. On p. 46, he writes...
Since the 1950s, Evola and Guenon had been the leading theorists of Traditionalism's revolutionary antimodernism. Along with Eliade they strove to distinguish themselves from "mere" occultism; their effort was (in the Guenonian vocabulary) to establish themselves as the true elite, as opposed to the pseudo-elite of the occultists. Guenon, Evola, and Eliade all toyed with Theosophy and magic until the 1920s, and all three eventually settled on Traditionalism as a more exalted elitism by the 1930s. The result was that the philosophical masterworks of each -- Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World, Guenon's Crisis of the Modern World, and Eliade's Cosmos and History -- all are antihistoricist works that employ world history, especially the theory of world cycles, to condemn the present moment as the Kali Yuga, the lowest conceivable moment in cosmic history. This planetary pessimism amounted to a cosmic catastrophism. Eliade embraced it, with reference to Guenon: "the 'posthistoric era' is unfolding under the sign of pessimism."
Bummer, huh? Oh and btw, the Kali Yuga was that generation's 2012, just for context. (If you want to see a really cool piece of CGI in which the Potala gets wiped out by a monster tidal wave, click here. The movie is going to suck, I'm sure, but the trailer rocks!)

On p. 144, Wasserstrom continues...

There is... no rational means by which one can demonstrate that "modernity" as such is worse than "traditional life." Any such assertion cannot be a rational proposition. The mythic character of this form of world rejection becomes apparent in the totality of its claims. It is a sacred narrative, a totality, a worldview. One thing that distinguishes religion after religion from other totalizing antimodernisms is its "traditionalist" posture. Ironically, then, it espoused a past that never was in opposition to a present that never is.
Past, present, future... so hard to keep track. Short form: It's later than you think. In fact, it turned 2009 while I was writing this -- and me with no party hat! The moral is: don't fuck with antimodernism, kids. It's that simple.