I had several ideas about how to approach an introduction for this podcast, but since I have compiled an unusually deep and rich trove of references this time, I will keep it shorter than my usual.
My subject today is huge and important – what happened to our hearts and souls during the twentieth century, and why does that damage still hurt us all so much now, despite all the changes since?
I have at least a dozen books on my shelf with pieces of this argument, but I haven’t seen anyone take this particular run through before, and I hope you find it both stimulating and ultimately inspiring.
But as usual, I’m not interested in denial or ignorance. I think we find hope with our eyes open, or we are really only magnifying fantasies, and thus failing in our duty to enjoy and enhance the actual world.
Fury is incredibly popular stuff right now, so are hopelessness and alienation. I am convinced that we can do much better, and I don’t ignore thermodynamics, capitalism, or cultural strife to get there.
I fear I will test my political friends in some places, and my religious friends in others, but I hope that you will be patient with me, and understand that I am trying to show you new foundations, allies and possibilities, and not ever just casually offend your sensibilities.
I love the world, and I love a lot of people in the world, who can’t stop hating each other.
Believe me, I know I’m an idiot. But even for an idiot like me, that still feels like duty.
Love and learning to all (and ENJOY the special treasure trove of links below the podcast)
Alan Watts may be one of the sweetest most helpful and completely misunderstood people ever.
I think this particular talk puts his work in context in a way which many western ‘fans’ resist seeing, because they prefer their fandom to a more useful understanding. But I must also say his book “The Book” (on the taboo against knowing who you are) remains delightful and inspiring to people of mixed and/or no faith, and the body of his pacifica talks represents a great loving gift of learning about traditions of wisdom, if we will only stop misreading it as sacred, and ourselves as worthy aspirants.
Robert Bly is above all else a truly superb and genuine poet. The fact that his poetic quest lead him to ask what happened to our rituals of becoming, in a very deep way, revealed a strange schism in the progressive left which yawns wider today than ever, and does great damage to many worthy causes. Can you make progress just by labelling one group bad and another victims? No you can not. I do understand many are again convinced that this approach is helpful, but they should have been taught a bit of history, so they could put their energies into something less utterly doomed.
In Bly’s case, he formed a men’s group to explore the question of passing into man-hood, leaving behind childish Peter Pan fantasy and taking on duty of care and strength for others, happily and well.
Every culture in the world which has lasted for more than a few generations has some kind of ritual for this, and it is extremely helpful, psychologically. In our culture we no longer give men respect when they behave responsibly, or even encourage them to grow into strength and caring for others.
The crazy thing is that when he began this work, he found himself in the middle of a firestorm of opposition from feminists, who objected to the idea that men needed any help at all (that is, not feminists who see all people as people – but that weird subset who see men as morally less-than, in other words, proud and unapologetic progressive bigots).
Bly was not a sexist, and he wanted men to be better to women, not worse, so the objections in every way missed the intention and effects of his work, which is still carried on today, and still helps many.
On the other hand, he was not impressed with the state of our caring and our thinking.
I think this reading of the first draught of a first chapter of his book “The Sibling Society” has extraordinary resonance and relevance today, far beyond anything clearly visible when he first thought it up. (reminds me so much of Marshall McLuhan, who described our modern technological world with dazzling clarity, by poetic projections made entirely from a typewriter and library mentality).
Something smart and juicy, that you really haven’t ever heard about the Inklings!
I shared this truly important essay with my facebook friends not so long ago, but I want to offer it again here, because it belongs in this context especially. The ideas which CS Lewis explored in his unknown novel (discussed herein) again give us an especially bracing anchor in time, for a whole complex of horrors which sometimes feel as if they just snuck up on us yesterday.
Is another incredibly early clear view of the mess we are in – and describes a lot of our cultural and governmental problems brilliantly, without any of the distracting specifics of our technology needed.
What I said about Alan Watts in the talk, this guy says in a whole book. It’s not him, it’s us!
Take this one in small sips or at a gallop – just drink some, then come back and drink some more (you won’t ever stop thinking about his insightful and shockingly early arguments about our folly).
And here’s another ‘tone of the times’ gem – from a couple of names many will recognize.
I love the multi-level combination of affection and sparring (intellectual and writerly) contained in this thank you note from Aldous Huxley, to George Orwell. I love you – I hate you. If I ever saw it!
Now a few things worth hunting for in libraries.
Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries – give a remarkably rich and nuanced look at the strange colony of refugee European artists who all found themselves drawn to Hollywood, during the second world war, and then used their wonderings and means to draw others there, for answers.
W Somerset Maugham is one of the great writers of the twentieth century, sometimes overlooked (out of fashion) but perceptive in a way far in advance of his time. Master craftsman too – prose clinic.
The Razor’s Edge may have aged less well that some of his other work, because our age knows far more of other faiths, than his. But part of that is due to his influence, curiosity and compelling heart.
Kipling is a library unto himself. Impossible to say all the must reads (especially because every time I lend a gem away, it becomes too beloved to the borrower, for them ever to return it). ;o)
“Kim” for sure. Proof that you can write a book about adult themes, in a way that engages kids fully.
Langston Hughes Autobiography contains inspiring witness of the cultural jewel of the roaring twenties – the Harlem renaissance, along with much else of value which we too easily forget, when thinking about times we have struggled, risen, and then been done down again.
Finally, I can’t help mentioning Norman Spinrad.
His eighties novel “Little Heroes” had more insight into the social consequences of social media than I have yet seen reflected in – drumroll please – the sum of all the critiques on social media itself!
But then, science fiction always was for saying the thing that was so true it was rude (and hilarious).