sábado, 7 de novembro de 2009

Myth and a Vancian perspective of the New Culture

Paul Rhoads

At the dawn of 21st century Tolkien is being taken
seriously at last. His books have always been at the top
of the long-term best seller list—surpassed only by the
Bible—to the ongoing exasperation of the literary establishment.
Critical appraisals, until now, have been notable
for their sneers. Edmund Wilson himself stooped to label
Tolkien’s work ‘trash’. While this judgment is certainly too
harsh, it is undeniable that The Lord of the Rings has been an
influence in the spread of ‘neo-gothic’ phenomena, including
the plethora of genre literature, games, and a general
surge of neo-pagan excitement of a northern flavor. That
said, Tolkien is hardly the first or even the most famous
influence in a Norse, neo-pagan revival, Richard Wagner
being his most illustrious predecessor.
I have seen only the first Jackson movie—on TV,
dubbed into French—and while Jackson’s heart is clearly
in the right place, I was under-whelmed. Jackson’s Aragorn,
rather than the gaunt, middle aged, saturnine man
of my imagination, is a teen-age heart-throb who failed
to be more than grimly earnest. The mystery, frustration
and suppressed exultation which, to my mind, characterize
‘Strider’, were absent. Also unsatisfactory was Jackson’s
treatment of the elves, and the decor in general. This is
because his art directors failed to liberate themselves from
the degraded iconography generated by Tolkien’s bastard
child: ‘sword and sorcery’. Too bad they did not take some
visual inspiration from Tolkien’s own drawings, or related
sources such as the art-nouveau illustrations of Sime (the
Dunsany illustrator) or the Norwegian painter Edvard
Munch (1863-1944) or the English poet-painter William
Blake. To have done so might have given the film an aura
of faery, which is to say a sense of integration of myth
with reality—or of elemental, or natural, forces with our
poetic sense of the world—which is the root of Tolkien’s
inspiration. Instead we get something—spectacular and
beautifully done on its own terms—that is familiar and
even pedestrian; what might be called the ‘Frank Frazetta
aesthetic’. This neo-medieval look—bulky helms cut out
against blasted skies, horse-manes wriggling in the wind,
paraphernalia of thick leather and crude iron—contrasts
with Tolkien’s delicate and homely aesthetic. Like Sime,
Munch or Blake, Tolkien the painter used an aesthetic of
‘rainbow undulations’ suggestive of magical or spiritual
*This essay is conceptually prior to ‘Sinister Old Men in Institute Black’ of
Cosmopolis 38.
forces underlying the world of appearances.
The worst aspect of the film is the nervous cinematography.
Jackson’s camera is in perpetual and pointless
motion, and he has snipped his footage into such tiny
segments that the film is visually exhausting.
I make these remarks not to pan the film but to explain
my surprise at its extremely favorable reception. The
subsequent films are said to be even better. Doubting they
truly deserve such indulgence, I am tempted to attribute
the overwhelming quality of the success to Tolkien’s work
The new interest in Tolkien has provoked interest in
his Catholicism. Tolkien, we learn, went to mass every day
and made confession weekly. He was, of course, a close
friend of C.S. Lewis, a famous Christian proselytizer.
Tolkien wrote:
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious
and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously
in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut
out, practically all references to anything like “religion”, to
cults and practices […] the religious element is absorbed
into the story and the symbolism.
An excellent essay has just been published, The Secret
Fire* by Stratford Caldicott, which treats this matter.
Tolkien was a philologist specializing in Anglo-Saxon and
other ancient northern languages, and the medieval and
pre-Christian mythological literature which incarnates
them. Like Lord Dunsany, he fought in the trenches of
WWI. Alarmed at the effect of steel and coal, both men
abhorred the crassness of industrialism and commercialism,
the rape of the English countryside, the sweeping
away of traditional, homely rural ways of life.
Caldicott sees Tolkien’s ‘environmentalism’ not as nature
worship of a neo-druidic type, but as an artistic translation
of alarm at the rape of beauty—or, as Dunsany might
have put it, the modern world’s ban on fairy magic. The
theme of novels like Pan and The Curse of the Wise Woman,
where pagan gods or magic erupt into the present from
a violated past.
Dunsany, who spent most of his life bird hunting on the
Irish moors, was particularly incensed by commercialism.
One of his little-known plays, Cheezo, is about mercantilists
making a fortune on a product that does not exist. When
he visited America in the 1960s his hostess was alarmed
by his apoplectic outrage at roadside billboards.
Indignation at advertising, still common in the 1960s,
has now disappeared. And commercialism has evolved.
It is no longer crass. The emergence of its stylish new
aesthetic can be traced in such films as Blade Runner, where
floating video billboards of gigantic faces heighten the
*Dalton, Longman and Todd Ltd.
cosmopolis 49 • 8
eerie seductiveness of a suavely apocalyptic megalopolis.
Exploring this logic, Matthew Paris’ novel The Holy City
(1970?) has shopping center-temples where love and
death are merchandised as consumable robot duplicates
of all human beings, a triumph of consumerism over the
sacred not as a rape of the earth but as an apotheosis
of orgy and murder. A pre-industrial aesthetic of trees,
butterflies and fresh mown hay is now mostly submerged
in the rising tide of voluptuous global consumerism. The
greens of today are not back-to-the-land Luddites but
clean-technology technocrats, and their global warming
scare is the most extreme environmentalism ever; we are
about to destroy ourselves by our own fault. The world
continues to be menaced from the primal source: human
Caldicott describes Tolkien’s artistic approach as
a process of imaginative reconstitution of the primal
human reaction to the world. He shows how Tolkien
did not seek to ‘create a mythology’ but to recreate a
mytheopoetic understanding of the world. In the crucible
of his imagination he recovered this primeval point
of view through meditation upon the words of ancient
languages. Tolkien’s mythology is therefore no mere fabrication,
no mere arabesque, or fantasia, or hodge-podge
of historic elements. Its most important source is reality
itself—reality as interpreted by the human spirit from
a primal place. Tolkien’s mythological fresco is no twodimensional
affair perched on a cardboard pedestal of
capricious metaphysics such as the post-Tolkien fantasy
writers routinely fabricate.
The same may be said of Dunsany’s playful pantheon,
The Gods of Pagana. Dunsany’s gods create and rule the
world, but looming behind them is Moona Yood Sushai,
dreaming a dream in which, so it is suspected, the Gods
themselves are but figments. Meanwhile, beside Mona Yood
Sushai is the drummer Skarl and if Skarl were to cease his
drumming, and Mona Yood Sushai consequently to wake,
what next? But the dunsanian cosmos is simultaneously
structured by another dynamic: the game between Fate
and Chance. It is not clear how the game relates to the
dream of Mona Yood Sushai. Does it occur within the
dream, or is the dream a consequence of the game?
This amusing fantasy translates a set of thoughts and
feelings: where do we come from? What maintains the
existence of the universe? Is there intelligent causality?
Is our will a metaphysical counterforce (like the will of
the gods), or an illusion (the dream of Moona Yood Sushai),
or are we like specks of foam gilding the waves of dark
matter swirling to the dictates of a mindless force? To
put this another way: behind the dream of Moona Yood
Sushai, and the game between Fate and Chance, looms a
confrontation between what might be called the Buddhist
and the scientific view. On the one hand life is illusion,
a dream within a dream. On the other hand universal
forces are at work, the processes of a cosmic mechanism
embroiled in a fabulous complexity apparently regulated
by purely mechanical forces. These two visions have
nothing in common—save the drummer Skarl.
Is this pulse the fundamental wave pattern of cosmic
nature? Is ‘cosmic nature’ foreordained ‘Fate’, or unprogrammed
‘Chance’? What happens when it stops? Will
this occur at Skarl’s whim, or is his eventual silence also
pre-ordained and, if so, by whom? Moona Yood Suchai?
And what of Moona Yood Sushai’s awakening; is this
‘beginning’ really The End?
Such questions are notoriously impenetrable for which
reason Dunsany, being Dunsany, presents his fable in
a light-hearted guise. It is none-the-less compelling
because built on a serious psychological and metaphysical
feeling. By contrast ‘Frazetta mythology’, with cloddish
deus ex machina bogies interfering in human affairs—
aping Zeus and Hera in scenarios without any shred of
archetypal underpinning—have but a single virtue: the
questionable charm of the grotesque.
I will attempt no proper précis of Tolkien’s Silmarillion.
Suffice it to mention that an original being, Ilúvatar,
through a great song, creates lesser beings, the Ainur,
who, by participating in the song, create the world, elves,
and men. But

…it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of
his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme
of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and
glory of the part assigned to himself’.
Melkor introduces the principle of destruction into the
substance of the world, into matter itself. But, occurring
at the atomic level, this infection does not yet manifest
itself as moral evil. Sauron, a being intermediate between
men and Ainur, sluices destruction and evil into the world
on a human scale.
Man is a created creature, part material, part spiritual.
Though he has free will—the essence of his spiritual
part—this freedom is basically limited to speech; man
may say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’. He may accept or reject ‘God’s
gifts’—or ‘reality’ if you prefer. His freedom does not
extend to actions—at least not beyond his paltry powers—
and certainly not to self-creation or control over the
nature of the universe. To put this another way, man does
not define his own happiness. He cannot, for example,
specify the parameters of his happiness with regard, say,
to its physical aspects such as comfort respecting temperature.
He cannot ordain that the temperature range within
which he will feel at ease will be -150 to +150 degrees
Fahrenheit. For better or worse it is ordained—by God or
by Nature—that the range 50 to 90 degrees is the human
cosmopolis 49 • 9
comfort zone. The temperature-related happiness of
other creatures—polar bears or rattle snakes—has been
ordained otherwise, ‘each according to its kind’. ‘Turning
away from God’ is symbolic language which describes how
the spiritual part of man (the soul, the mind), by cutting
itself off from its source of happiness (‘God’ or ‘what is’),
condemns itself to suffer the fate of its created status, or
the collapse of the spiritual horizon into the ineluctable
subjection which is our material fate: excitement, gratification,
fatigue, pain, decay, death.
When Melkor tries to increase his glory by weaving his
own themes into the music of Ilúvatar, the latter rebukes
‘…no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost
source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For
he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the
devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath
not imagined’.
This is Tolkien’s equivalent of the mystical prayer: ‘oh
happy fault…’, which expresses wonder that, thanks
to original sin, Jesus came as our savior—a situation so
marvelous that its regrettable cause cannot be regretted
in the ordinary sense.
As for Tolkien’s story itself, evil embodied in the ring
is finally destroyed by the force of spirit when the humble
hobbits, though tracked by the vicious Gollum, cast it into
the fires of Mordor. To accomplish this heroic act many
sacrifices must be made and many temptations resisted.
One temptation is to use the ring for personal power.
The noble Boromir succumbs to this—but then redeems
himself at the cost of his life by saving the hobbits from
the orcs. Aragorn, unlike Boromir, is the true heir to
the throne; his grasp for power would be legitimate. But,
strong in modesty, Aragorn wisely chooses not to expose
himself to the ring. Caldicott explains how forgiveness
is also an aspect of the hobbits’ success; if Sam Gamgee’s
heart had not softened toward the repulsive Gollum so
that he spared his life their mission would have failed,
since Gollum, culminating his own destruction in his lust
for the ring, is the final agent of triumph over Sauron.
Tolkien’s story and mythology have many parallels
with Christian mythology. There is a creator God and
a hierarchy of created creatures, each with powers corresponding
to their nature. Evil is introduced by the
rebellion of a higher creature, condemning the world to
decay—a mystical fate which will culminate in ultimate
salvation. But there are also important differences; in
Christianity matter is created by God. Morally neutral, it
can be abused by man but, in itself, is merely a theater.
In Tolkien the musical interpolation of Melkor, a creative
force, has the perverse effect of degrading matter into
the vector of evil. Evil, in consequence, arises from the
heart of matter, from its ‘nature’, or ‘from Nature’. By the
same token this gives matter a spiritual aspect it lacks in
Christianity. Fairies or elves are un-Christian elements
from northern mythology. They are linked to the earth.
They are tree, flower or fountain spirits, and so on. In
Tolkien, because matter is exalted by a spiritual aspect,
the elves are also exalted. Tolkien’s elves are incarnations
of the beauty and poetry of the natural world. They live
with the beauty of the world, or the poetry of nature,
and die with its death. Their nostalgia for the past, their
progressive abandonment of Middle Earth for ‘The West’,
are ways in which Tolkien inscribes his environmental
concerns at the deepest level of his story.
These sketchy remarks on aspects of The Silmarillion—
the ‘infinite backdrop’ against which Tolkien’s story plays
out—do not touch on dwarfs, orcs, magicians, nazgul, ents,
or the tortured history of the dynasties and fairy-tainted
genealogies of man, equally important threads in the
mythical tapestry.
The point which can only be suggested is that Tolkien’s
mythology—as stated above—is not simply cobbled
together from disparate elements, as a crutch, or an
appendage of his tale but, like his tale itself, is the sum
of his knowledge, molten in the crucible of his mind
by the fire of his artistic passion, and re-cast in forms
discovered during an imaginative voyage to the dawn of
time where man stood, pure and new, face to face with
the cosmos.
Vance’s artistic attitude, compared to Tolkien, can be
described as ‘philosophical’ rather than ‘mythological’.
The philosophical attitude is not, fundamentally, anti-religious.
As Vance would say: ‘what is, is’. Whatever is true,
is true. If God exists, then atheists and libertines will
blaspheme and sacrilege to no ultimate avail. Likewise
if the universe is a mere bloated wrist-watch, prophets
and theologies can hallucinate and moralize; it is vapor.
When the first man became aware of himself, prophets
and theologians, and their counterparts—atheists and
libertines—had not yet been spawned. But reality was
already itself. Whatever the first man saw is what we
see today.
Tolkien’s mythology is original and unnostalgic. He
recovered a primal view by following the trace of human
thought—through contemplation of the fundamental
symbols, words—back to the primal view. Vance, by
contrast, is down to earth. His view of mythology, to say
nothing of religion, rarely quits a narrow zone between
indulgent cynicism and amused curiosity. In the manner
of a philosopher he seeks to understand through his own
cosmopolis 49 • 10
Art is a view, or an understanding, of reality. It is not
an understanding in the sense of being information; it is
about how things look and feel. The real can be known
but, for us humans, it is above all an experience. True
art does not resolve intellectual questions but helps us
integrate our minds with the feeling of reality. Degraded
art is a flattering or falsely exhilarating view of reality.
The pleasure it gives is the pleasure a drug addict seeks:
dreams and gratifications which are anti-life because in
contradiction with reality. High art gives true reality—or
thrills and pleasures which are true. Because they are
true, they are good. They cannot corrupt because ‘what
is, is’.
Compared to Tolkien Vance begins his search for reality
from a place closer to man’s primal situation. Born on
the American frontier he was a sailor and carpenter by
trade. His parents were business people. Though an avid
reader and dreamer, the culture in which he was raised
emphasized hands-on work—knowing the world though
direct experience. Vance did not labor in penumbral reading
rooms in venerable cloisters, but in the sunlight of
California—newly conquered frontier territory—and on
the untamable seas. Though raised in a Christian culture
he quickly converted to modern views—so fashionable
between the wars.
I am not saying that Vance—or Americans—are primitives,
but that Vance’s artistic search for the “real”, by
contrast with Tolkien’s, occurs in an atmosphere closer
to original innocence. The fashionable opinions of his
youth are sophisticated in their own way; a put-together
of Darwinism, Positivism, vulgarized German philosophy,
they may be designated by the term ‘modernism’. Modernism,
however, at its most basic level, is an avatar of the
primal view, or the basic philosophical attitude, the urge
to understand.
There are flickers of a vancian mythology; pallid reflections
of inter-war fads and enthusiasms. Young men of all
eras gravitate to such ideas in all eras. Vance in marked
by this passage, but not formed. Fundamentally he is a
spokeman for the basic, American, values he was raised
to: direct contact with nature, rugged independence,
skepticism. If it is not too much to say that he finds them
salvific, he is also not uncritical of them. Elsewhere I
have detailed his interest in sources of information beyond
man’s powers—spiritual, ‘psionic’ or intuitive. Vance’s
obvious interest in society—its establishment, organization
and health—is not compatible with a one dimentional
ethic of rugged independence. As for sophistication, no
less a character than Navarth makes this declaration:
“Within this bottle is the wisdom of the ages, tincture of
Earth-gold. Nowhere is tipple to equal this; it is unique to
old Earth. Mad old Earth, like mad old Navarth, yields its
best in its serene maturity.”
This is not glorification of sophistication and accumulated
knowledge for its own sake, but we are closer to
Tolkien’s attitude.
Can we find mythology in Vance’s fantasies? The powers
of Tolkien’s magicians are linked to the powers of the
Ainur, as Christian prophets are conduits of the power
of God. Vance’s magicians are like folks with transistor
radios; masters of strange powers of which their
understanding is pragmatic only. Vancian magic parallels
the situation of modern technology—control of forces
which are fundamentally not understood. Tolkien’s elves
are incarnations of the sacred and fragile beauty of the
natural world. Vance’s fairies are incarnations of human
caprice. They are fickle, selfish but not deliberately so,
innocently vicious, flippantly tender. Vance has no tolkienian
program for his sandistins, erbs and pelgranes.
They are ghosts and animals with speech to express their
reality, which is to say, the essential banality of their
natures. Rodion may be King of the Fairies, but when it
comes to Glyneth his eagerness to explore beneath her
‘brave doublet’ plunges us into the universal constant of
masculine fatuity.
Martin Heidegger is often called the most important
thinker of the 20th century. Heidegger made a bold,
or frank, proclamation that ‘Christian mythology’ and
‘Christian culture’ are no longer operative. Following the
horror of the first world war this is comprehensible; what
sort of ‘Christian culture’ engages in wholesale slaughter?
Philosophy, from Machiavelli and Spinoza to Kant and
Marx, has been flirting with atheism for centuries, but
Heidegger’s announcement is not atheistic in orientation
because he is not preoccupied with the existence or nonexistence
of God, as such. Kant, by contrast, was keen to
reconstruct morality on a non-religious basis—replacing
divine fiat with non-divine fiat, the famous ‘categorical
imperative’. Heidegger was not a moralist. He was not
interested in such fundamentally religious questions as
the nature of good and evil, but in the apparently deeper
question of the nature of reality, or existence. This is why
his philosophy is called ‘existential’. In announcing the
end of ‘Christian mythology’ he was not evoking a matter
related to the existence of God as this question is normally
understood. Thunderous as such a proclamation may seem,
for Heidegger it was merely an aspect of a background
truth which, until then, had gone undiscovered.
To describe Heidegger’s insight we first need to understand
what he means by ‘Christian mythology and culture’.
cosmopolis 49 • 11
Christianity, as it understands itself, is divided by Heidegger
into two parts: the underlying beliefs—which he
calls ‘mythology’—and the resultant practices and modes
of life—or ‘culture’. For Heidegger a culture is based on
a mythology, and a mythology generates a culture.
It is easy to understand how God can be rejected in our
scientific age. We think we know how the universe works,
or at least what sort of things can and cannot occur; consequently
we are incredulous of miracles. We therefore
feel sure that Christian mythology is false: the dead do
not rise, children are not born without a human father,
water cannot be walked upon, turned into wine, or spurt
out of human veins, three loaves cannot be transformed
into thousands of loaves, folks do not float up into the sky.
Christian myths, like Egyptian, Greek and Nordic myths,
are, therefore, basically false.
Since, according to Heidegger, a culture is based on a
mythology, each culture is unique because each mythology
has distinctive aspects. For example, pagan culture is
characterized by the ‘tragic outlook’ (the gods are fickle
and at death people go to the dreary realm of Pluto). But
pagan mythology became inoperative and was replaced
by Christian mythology. Christian culture is characterized
by a hopeful outlook (God loves people and offers
them salvation and eternal joy). But, according to Heidegger,
both pagan and Christian mythology are dead, or
inoperative. Do we therefore live in a situation which is
‘beyond myth’ and thus ‘beyond culture’? No. According
to Heidegger man is man because of culture.
What is culture? We think of primitive cultures as
being characterized by taboos. Transgression triggers
social opprobrium and punishment, or cures and ritual
reparations, all as convoluted and absurd as the taboos
themselves. The more primitive the culture the more its
members—like the citizens of Smolod whose special eyecusps
allow them to see the Over-World—live in a world
invisible to non-members, a labyrinth of tribal laws and
traditions. According to this view ‘culture’ serves only to
cloud our vision of reality. We modern Westerners live,
or think we live, in a state of unprecedented freedom
from invisible worlds—or taboos. For example, in primitive
cultures sexual deviation of even the mildest sort is
often regarded as a diabolical transgression while, in the
West, what used to be called ‘perversions’ are now called
‘choices’, and those who make them are even regarded
as heroes. For example, ‘coming out of the closet’ is a
heroic act because, through defiance of an irrational and
cruel taboo, the Outer exerts a humanizing influence on
So is culture just a collection of taboos? And as a corol-
* The West is currently busy transcending the most traditionally resistant
taboos. Even incest, until recently an absolute of moral horror, has started to
become fashionable. The murder taboo is also rusty around the edges. At first
it might seem absurd to pretend that the prejudice against murder is a taboo
but, like any other cultural limit, it can be talked around. A murderer’s conscience
only bothers him because he has been taught that it ought to; a soldier
fighting for a ‘just cause’ does not feel bad about killing enemy soldiers; hitmen
don’t feel bad about killing anybody; for terrorists murder is a virtue—
and with the current hedging with regard to the Palestinian ‘cause’ and the
war in Iraq, we are dosing ourselves with daily pro-murder advocacy.
lary, do we modern Westerners live in a post-cultural, or
tabooless, society where each individual chooses a tragic
or a hopeful outlook, or no outlook at all, as he likes?
But if old taboos are being phased out, new taboos are
being created just as fast. For example, in Christian culture
there is a taboo against pre-marital sex; in the new
culture there is a taboo against intolerance. Taboos cannot
be eliminated, they can only be shuffled around. Take premarital
sex; there seem to be three possible positions:
‘for’, ‘against’ (or intolerance) and ‘tolerance’. The latter
would seem to mean that, even if one was not ‘for’ premarital
sex, one would tolerate that other people might be.
But what about the mother of a 14-year old girl? Is there
a taboo against this mother being ‘against’ her daughter’s
teenage male friends being ‘for’? Once the fog of indifference
and fuzzy thinking is blown off, everyone is either
for or against pre-marital sex; ‘tolerance’ equals ‘for’ in a
mood of morally flaccid stupidity or indifference.
In any case, for Heidegger, culture is not defined by
taboos but by mythology. In Christianity Jesus is sacrificed
on the cross for our sins; this is a ‘Christian myth’.
It generates cultural elements though the mechanism of
people believing that it is true. Such generated elements
might be an injunction to practice forgiveness. But even
if we belong to a Christian culture—by believing in the
Christian myths—this is not the only influence on our
behavior. For example, though we may ‘know’ (in fact we
would merely believe) that anger and vengeance are sinful,
we still might feel angry or vengeful. Culture does
not make us into automatons. Cultural imperatives do not
change our fundamental nature. But if the cultural injunction
did not exist, how could we even be aware of what we
were feeling or that a choice existed? Heidegger, perhaps
writing at the same time Vance wrote The Languages of Pao,
said: “Man acts as though he were the shaper and master
of language, while in fact language remains the master
of man.” Without the word ‘anger’, and in particular the
culture which explicates the word, how do we know that
we are angry? We might realize in a dim and vague way
that we are experiencing something, but such awareness
would be akin to animal awareness. We would be incapable
of anticipating our anger, of reflecting upon it or, above
all, of regretting it.
Gerald Bruns, speaking of Heidegger’s The Origin of the
cosmopolis 49 • 12
Work of Art (1933-34), explains that for Heidegger’ the
function of a:
“…work of art, its truth, is to open up a world, a human
dwelling place. The work is no longer reducible to a product
of subjective expression or the object of aesthetic contemplation.
It is…an event that sets us free from what is merely
timeless and fixed [read ‘reality’]. It inserts us into history,
situates us together in an ongoing world…[it establishes]
a world, but the work [of art] does not belong to the world it
establishes, [it] belongs to the earth [the ‘ground of our being’
or ‘reality’], which constitutes something like the absolute
horizon of the world, the limit that determines the world’s
historicality and finitude. The [art] work opens a clearing in
the density of the forest [reality]; it lightens a place within
the darkness…”
In other words art generates culture. This somewhat
recherché idea has passed into the popular, not to say
‘vulgar’, consciousness where it is nicely illustrated in
the statements of a certain internet commentator in his
discussions of Jack Vance:
Jack Vance’s books… propose a mode of existence that
resolves the most urgent problem of modern man, that of
morality without religion. It is a way of the future; many
of us today find it too difficult to follow, emotionally as well
as intellectually. Jack Vance doesn’t give us answers to all
our questions, he tells us that we must find them ourselves,
depending on our local circumstances and individual goals.
This is fine with me but totally unacceptable to a weakling
seeking all-encompassing external salvation.
So, the new Heideggerian culture (the new ‘mode of
existence’) would be characterized by the ‘resolution of
the problem’ of ‘morality without religion’, and it is a
writer—an ‘artist’, a ‘creator’ (Jack Vance)—who shows
the way. Vance, therefore, must have generated a mythology
out of which a new culture is arising. John Paul
II and George Bush, devoutly religious men, are among
those whom the commentator would stigmatize as finding
this ‘way of the future’, this ‘new mode’ ‘too difficult to
Prior to Heidegger, Nietzsche proposed the idea of
the superman, the man ‘beyond good and evil’. In traditional
terms anyone ‘beyond good’ is a criminal. With
the triumph of Modern philosophy the criminal becomes
a hero. The criminal is heroic because he embodies the
highest human value in the modernist dispensation: selfactualization.
Internally liberated from cultural taboos,
he destabilizes society and destroys mythology. He has
joined himself to Ultimate Truth, the cosmic emptiness
that is the background of mythology and, like a soulless
animal, tears life out of other creatures and devours them
without qualm. Another type of superman is the artist,
who does not destroy but creates. The true artist, such
as Homer, actually create mythology, and are therefore
responsible for culture. But new mythologies cannot be
created before the old ones are destroyed. Thus the
Modernist emphasis on both transgression and art, and
the emergence of the criminal-artist-prophet. Following
the internet commentator, Vance, in this sense, is a god.
Vance’s stories are to us what the Iliad and the Odyssey
were to the Greeks. Vance is the Homer of the post-
Christian culture.
This idea, in its fully Heideggerian form, is expressed
in a speech by Viole Falushe:
“I am perhaps the supreme artist of history. My subject is
Life; my medium is Experience; tools are Pleasure, Passion,
Pungence, Pain. I arrange the total environment, in order to
suffuse the total entity.”
People (entities) are ‘suffused’ by culture (an arrangement
of the total environment) because culture is the
mode of human existence. In other words there is no
‘existence’ without culture—if the word ‘human’ is to have
any meaning beyond a philological category. Heidegger
was a philosopher—which is to say, a lover of the quest
for wisdom. He was neither promoter nor cheerleader. He
neither approved nor disapproved ‘the end of Christianity’.
He was announcing our situation. Our situation is this:
what we call ‘reality’ is generated by myth, for myth is
the stuff of which cultures are born and die. It is vulgarly
supposed that modern man is free of mythology, or that
science has liberated us into the light of ‘reality’. But
Heidegger’s idea is far more radical.
Vance flirts with Heideggerianism in The Languages
of Pao. Palafox, in his College of Comparative Culture,
studies ‘the races of the universe, their similarities and
differences, their languages and basic urges, the specific
symbols by which you can influence them’ and, as Fanchiel
explains to Beran:
*The commentator in question, referring to ‘the murk of primitive Christian
egalitarianism’, claims that ‘partial emancipation’ [from Christian mythology]
‘produced such an explosion of scientific and technological progress that there is
simply no way back: the very few bright minds won the battle with millions of bipedal
vegetables.’ This has given rise to a situation where ‘the vegetables have no other
choice but to evolve, to grow, to reach higher and wider—or to die. Some of them,
unfortunately, are incapable of evolving. Muslim terrorists and…Christians…
are such throwback vegetables, mental dinosaurs … A few more centuries, and
our descendants won’t be able to understand what it all was about—Christianity,
Judaism, Islam…Egyptian sacred texts, Greek and Roman mysteries …’. The
Social Darwinism and proto-genocidal tendencies of this thinking reflect
a Nazi aspect; other aspects include a marxian faith in progress leavened
by a degree of dimly understood heideggerian cultural ontology. Although
extremist, even alarming, these lines express beliefs more widely held than
generally supposed.
cosmopolis 49 • 13
‘Each language is a special tool, with a particular capability.
It is more than a means of communication, it is a system
of thought…Think of a language as the contour of a
watershed, stopping flow in certain directions, channeling it
into others. Language controls the mechanism of your mind.
When people speak different languages, their minds work
differently and they act differently.’
But Vance is only flirting, because, even if Palafox uses
a higher perspective from which he comprehends the
contours of the watershed, his perspective does not transcend
the horizon of culture itself, it does not go beyond
language. Palafox understands a given watershed in terms
of other watersheds. He is the member of a ‘super culture’;
his mastery of language encompasses all languages.
How could he manipulate people through language if he
were ‘beyond’ it? Science has revealed that the ultimate
background is a silent cosmos, empty of gods. Heidegger
sees that the silent cosmos cannot be the source of our
humanity, or our awareness of ourselves. How could it?
The silent cosmos is the page upon which ‘the gods’
inscribe the story of what ‘we are’—a story without which
‘we are not’. Whoever the gods may be, and whatever the
medium of their creative genius, it is not the silent cosmos
which generates love and hate, desire and revulsion.
The cosmos, or ‘ultimate reality’, is not merely silent, it is
silence. Our desires, emotions and attitudes are gifts of
the gods. Without them the cosmic silence would invade
our consciousness. We would fall into silence, and would
drift into non-being.
Let us look again at the vulgar view. The internet commentator
could easily have said: ‘Jack Vance’s books reveal
the truth.’ Instead he says something very different: Jack
Vance’s books… propose a mode of existence. So, according
to the commentator, Vance does not ‘describe reality’, he
‘proposes’ a ‘mode’. What is this ‘mode’? What are the new
thoughts we think and the new feelings we feel in the
new culture allegedly proposed by Vance? Our Internet
commentator offers a suggestion:
Jack Vance doesn’t offer a system applicable to everybody
under any circumstances, he doesn’t offer a set of absolute
rules absolving you of your sins—most importantly, he
doesn’t forgive.
So the culture of ‘morality without religion’ is not
totally different from Christian culture. There are points
of similarity, such as sin. Morality also seems to persist
though in variable form (i.e. not ‘applicable to everybody
under any circumstances’ or ‘depending on local circumstances
and individual goals’). Forgiveness, however, is
abolished. But how can we avoid sin if morality shifts?
And once we have sinned what happens if there is no
forgiveness? It is not surprising that such a culture would
be unacceptable to ‘weaklings’. It would also be unacceptable
to anyone intolerant of self-contradiction. It can only
be welcomed by strong folk, uninterested in clear thought,
who hate failure, weakness or error. Since anyone, even
‘the strong’, might fail, or prove weak, or commit error, the
measure of virtue in the new culture is success. This, in
essence, is fascism; the culture of the strong.
So much for vulgarity. What of Heidegger himself?
Heidegger’s most famous act was joining the Nazi party
in 1933—while it was still seeking power—and leaving it
in 1945—after it had failed. This would seem to carry us
straight back to the vulgar attitude, to a culture of success
and strength. But the analysis must go further.
Christianity was dead; nobody really believed that
Jesus was the son of God. But the Nazis were dynamic.
No matter how ‘mythical’ the Nazi notions, many people
believed that superior races should rule the sub-races.*
The proof that people believed Nazi mythology is that
they actually organized their existence around it. What
if the Aryans, rather than losing the war, had managed
to succeed in dominating on the ‘sub-races’? How, then,
could Nazi mythology be proved wrong? If it were not
defeated its ‘truth’—that success equals virtue—would be
unrefutable, and thus ‘real’. It may be that Heidegger was
repulsed by Nazi nastiness, even at the beginning, and he
may not have admired Hitler’s success as such—which he
seems to have predicted. But the nature of his philosophy
made him incapable of resisting, if not Nazi success,
Nazi vitality.
The famous void, which religious weaklings can’t face
up to, is like a big drafty house. It’s a bit spooky at first
but it can be fixed up; lace curtains, a refrigerator, one
way and another life can be arranged pretty comfortably.
The cosmos may be silent but it leaves us alone; we may
make of life what we will. To a Heideggerian this sort
of thinking is beneath contempt. The vulgarian, preoccupied
with petty self-congratulation, is blind to the truly
terrifying heideggerian insight.
Culture is a music, a surge of living myth coursing
though the fabric of our being. It makes us what we are.
The surge itself, apart from its content, is the primal stuff
of our humanity. We do not generate this music and we
cannot change it. It is not like pretty sounds coming from
a radio whose stations we can change at whim. It is like
the blood which flows in our veins. It is god-ordained;
*There are, of course, many other elements in Nazi ideology. I mention this
one merely as a convenient example.
cosmopolis 49 • 14
to stop it is to drain our spiritual body of its vitality, to
nullify our humanity. There is only one exit from our
culture: collapse into a non-human state. By raising his
consciousness beyond the cultural horizon man becomes
inhuman. This does not mean he becomes a crass or ‘evil’
barbarian; it is not metaphorical language but means,
exactly, that man would shrivel into sub-humanity,* into
a the state of unconscious worm or phantomatic zombie, a
dumb beast in the form of a man, monstrous to the extent
he is like man but not man.
Mythology is ineluctable. Were it not for the mythmakers
we would be vague outlines on the backdrop of the
cosmic void, mute silhouettes without thought or feeling.
Our lives would pass mindlessly, a semi-conscious and
lackadaisical pursuit of physical survival. Like animals
we would be born without hope, live without enthusiasm,
die without regret. This is the key to the mystery of
Heidegger’s Nazism; fear of that nothingness which a
true man must fear; a heart that is cold and a brain that
is still: living death.
Humanity’s essential representative—the law-giver, the
myth maker, the criminal-artist-prophet—like Orpheus
bringing life to the dead with love and song—driven by
the deepest urge within the human race—the urge to
become itself—colors the canvas of inhuman nothingness,
works the cosmic silence into the song of Orpheus. This
is why art, for Modernity, is the ultimate human phenomenon.
It generates the situation animates the theater
of life, without which the drama of humanness fails to
This insight had the effect of depriving Heidegger of
the capacity for revolt. Whatever his instincts or personal
feelings, with the Christian context gone, Nazi mythology
was generating the new reality. Culture is either alive in
us, as music singing in our soul, or it is a foolish wish, a
dry unreality. To use the jargon in which such terrible
thoughts ought to be cloaked, ‘the problem of culture is
existential’. In the 1930s, with Christianity in decline,
Nazi culture—bubbling out of a soup of Darwinism, Scientism
and Nordic Nostalgia, seemed to Heidegger to be
the music singing in the souls of the European peoples.
Pullulating in the wreckage of the first world war, to the
obbligato of eternal youthful lust for power and impatience
with old ways, it was a new and vital music.
Was Heidegger wrong? The new mythology was real
in hearts and minds, and the culture it was spawning was
* Julian Young writes that Heidegger: “…thinks of every human being as
born in to a very fundamental, ‘transcendental’ horizon of disclosure—[…]
the horizon of all one’s horizons—[which] he calls ‘world’…These historical
worlds are defined and distinguished by different horizons of disclosure.
They are embodied in what Heidegger calls ‘language’. Hence his frequently
repeated remark that ‘language is the house of being…’. ‘world’ is the background’…
understanding which determines for the members of an historical
culture what, for them, fundamentally, there is.”
carrying away the world. Nazi culture was the ‘new mode’,
the ‘way of the future’.
For Heidegger, humanity—that is, humanness itself—
was the highest value. So, strange as it may be, it was in
defence of humanness that he became a Nazi. But in the
end could not stomach it. He fell back. Did he fall back
into something still singing in his soul, or did he prefer
spiritual non-being to owning a humanity orchestrated by
Nazi myth? I think he revolted against all the murder,
and thus to have taken a stand for life. However, as he
refused to make a clear statement, this remains a matter
for logic and speculation.
Beyond the Pao flirtation, what does Vance tell us about
the ‘Heideggerian problem’, or Existentialism, or the relation
of existence (reality) to myth and culture, or the
relation of God—or the gods—to Art and the artists or,
to put it yet another way, the relation of individual will
to morality? Five characters, dating from 1955 to 1980,
trace the evolution of vancian reflection on this matter:
Paul Gunther, in The House on Lily Street, Ronald Wilby, in
Bad Ronald, Kokor Hekkus, in The Killing Machine, Viole
Falushe, in The Palace of Love, and Howard Alan Treesong,
in The Book of Dreams.
These characters all create moralities or mythologies
which augment their personal power. In each case there
is an important sexual aspect in their creative impulse
which goes to the heart of their criminal psychology. In
the following commentaries I minimize this to concentrate
on the philosophical side.
Paul Gunther
In his Creed or Testament of Faith, Paul Gunther postulates
a mythology from which he draws a morality. He
begins by a metaphysical equation of equality between
himself and the universe:
“I am alone in the universe…this is primitive reality. I
am Individuality, an intensity which requires an entire universe
for containment. The universe which surrounds me is mine, but
outside my control. I control I. Destiny controls the universe.”
Life is not a gift from God for which we should be
grateful and which has been extended in equal measure
to others. Paul Gunther does not reflect in the direction
of treating others as he would be treated himself, which
is to say: seeking to be pleasing to God, or to anyone else.
Life is a struggle between his ‘I’ and ‘Destiny’.
How can victory be gained over Destiny? Gunther asks
“Am I the same threat to Destiny that Destiny is to me?” He then
demotes Destiny, or ‘the universe’ to ‘shadow-shapes not truly
real’ and proclaims: “I can do as I will with this world.” It is
an equal struggle: “If I act boldly, I overcome Destiny. If I
retreat, I succumb”. Given this stark situation Gunther will
be ‘courageous, swift, relentless’.

Despite this line of reasoning Gunther does not totally
lose his lucidity. He wonders if “...this sequence of thought
is a trick of Destiny to plunge me into ludicrous tragedy?” The
‘ludicrous tragedy’, obviously, would be that ‘Destiny’ is
setting Gunther up for a fall. But he rejects this doubt
as a manifestation of personal weakness: “I shall not shrink
back from direct deeds. I shall fear nothing; nothing can affect
me, nothing can influence me. I can only die once”.
Gunther now draws out the consequences of the oneon-
one struggle against Destiny. First, all other persons,
which he calls “numberless faces and personalities”, have no
real existence except as they are elements in the universe.
To state this another way, other people are merely
part of the back-drop that is the universe, a theater in
which the only real actor is himself. The ideas, feelings,
desires or:
“…protests of these presences are unreal, of no more
weight to me than an oil-film to the ocean”.
Again, Gunther does not lose all lucidity; he applies to
himself some of the same analysis he applies to others:
“My own person, as distinct from my brain, is no less real or
unreal than the shadow-shapes”.
But this only leads to greater megalomania, namely the
conclusion that “Physical pain is an illusion”. Gunther,
despising everything except the essence of his own being
(his thoughts, his personal consciousness), is now ready
to explicitly destroy morality:
“Virtues are rules in the game of life, designed to impede me.
I must be careful contravening them and do so only when I
am in a position of vantage over Destiny”.
Compassion and charity are explicitly excluded:
“To inconvenience myself for someone else’s benefit is to
deplete my potentiality. Destiny will tempt me to sympathy
and irrational generosity”.
He has reduced life to something that can be controlled
by thought and will:
“Destiny will confront me with various emergencies. This is
the Great Game. If I act I win, if I react, I lose”.
By ‘acting’ Gunther means taking the initiative, however
criminal, to get what he wants.
Ronald Wilby
Paul Gunther uses a philosophical approach. He may
be ‘beyond good and evil’ but it is Ronald Wilby who is
Vance’s first criminal-artist-prophet.
Ronald, unlike Gunther, is still a boy. In him Vance
traces the awakening of erotic desire, a classic source of
temptation to revolt. Ronald’s mother feels that:
“Sports were vulgar, pointless and dangerous; how could
people waste money at a football game when there was so much
misery and devastation in the world crying out for attention?
Ronald had come to share this point of view. Still, he could see
that athletes enjoyed some very real advantages. There was a
certain Laurel Hansen, for instance, who doted both on football
and football players, but who evaded all Ronald’s advances”.
Rather than respecting the football players as fellow
human beings with an existential status equal to his own,
Ronald chooses to regard them as “intellectually limited
prognathous louts”. His mother, by demeaning athletes,
has set a poor example. That Laurel Hansen is on good
terms with them “gnawed at Ronald’s self-esteem”.
Ronald sees himself as “a natural aristocrat, a gallant figure
after the Byronic tradition, driven by a wild and tempestuous
imagination. He had written several poems, among them ‘ Ode to
Dawn’, ‘ The Gardens of My Mind’ and ‘ The World’s an Illusion’”.
Studying himself in the mirror, rather than search
for the truth of what he is, he eagerly imagines a “dashing
cavalier with a long noble nose and a dreamer’s forehead, whom
no girl could conceivably resist”.
Ronald “had contrived a wonderful land which lay behind
the Mountain of the Seven Ghouls and across the Acriline Sea:
Atranta”. He thinks that if only he could get Laurel alone
he could “enchant her with the splendor of his visions”. Ronald
is creating a mythology out of which he draws personal
A devotee of fantasy fiction, Ronald is an artist. ‘The
Magic Land of Atranta’ is not just a dream but an actual
illustrated history. Consider the essence of Ronald’s
‘…six domains: Kastifax, Hangkill, Fognor, Dismark,
Plume, and Chult are dominated by wizard dukes, each living
in a grand castle, with turrets, towers, and barbicans above and
evil dungeons below. At the center of Atranta is Zulamber, the
City of Blue-green Pearls, ruled by Fansetta, a beautiful pearl
and gold princess. The wizard dukes war against each other,
and when not so occupied plotted against Princess Fansetta.
Meanwhile a legend prophesies that the man to win Fansetta’s
love would rule all Atranta; for this reason Fansetta’s chastity,
life and very soul were in constant danger. Into Atranta comes
cosmopolis 49 • 15
the prince Norbert, a fugitive from the tyrant of Vordling. Norbert,
by dint of craft and daring defeats Urken, Wizard Duke of
Kastifax, and takes over his magic castle and all his wizardly
spells. Fansetta sees Norbert in her magic lens and falls in love
with him, but suspects he is Urken.’
In Ronald’s mythological world Paul Gunther’s ‘I’, or
‘Individuality’, is replaced by Norbert. Norbert has suffered
injustice but, through craft and daring, will defeat
destiny (the seven Wizard Dukes) and, winning the love
of Fansetta, will achieve glory and happiness. One link
between this private mythology and the real world is
revealed in the scene where Ronald inspects one of his
victim’s rooms:
“On the walls hung Art Nouveau posters, and the shelves
supported books [including] several volumes of fantasy and
others of science fiction. Of the three girls, only A lthea’s
p erceptivity even remotely matched his own. She’d be
enthralled to know that here, in this very same house, the
Atranta sagas had been formulated ”.
Ronald’s imaginary world is more than picturesque. It is
a translation of the dynamic of self-awareness and temptation
that accompanies each human life, and shows how
such a mythology can empower its creator, or adherent.
Having explicated this ‘archetypal situation’, Vance both
debunks it, by confronting it with reality, and shows how
it impinges physically on reality. Ronald, morally autoempowered,
captures Barbara, who struggles to avoid his
lust. But Atranta is now the defining reality, even for her.
It is the ‘cultural space’, and if Barbara cannot fit into it,
too bad:
“How long are we going to stay in here?”
Ronald chuckled. “Don’t you like it?”
“It’s a little cramped.”
“It doesn’t seem cramped to me. Look at those pictures and
the map: right away you’re in Atranta. I’m Norbert and you’re
Fansetta. In the Great History she sent out a troop of black-andyellow
trolls, and they trapped him with a song that doesn’t
have any end. When you start singing it you can’t find the place
to stop. They carried him along this path here,” Ronald reached
over to touch the map, “around the Three Crags to Glimmis. That’s
a castle here on Misty Moor. When he wouldn’t marry her she
chained him to an old statue of black copper and lashed him with
a whip woven of scorpion tails.”
“I don’t want to be Fansetta then, because I wouldn’t do a
thing like that. Isn’t there someone nicer I could be?”
Ronald deliberated. “Mersilde is a cloud-witch. She’s cruel
but very beautiful. Then there’s Darrue, a girl half-fairy and
“What’s a ‘ghowan’?”
“It’s a kind of a cave-elf, very pale and mysteriously beautiful.
A ghowan has hair like white silk, his eyes are like glass balls
with little glinting stars in them. Darrue loves Norbert, but she
doesn’t dare show herself to him, because when a ghowan kisses
a mortal, it takes a fever and dies, and Darrue doesn’t know
whether she’s mostly fairy or mostly ghowan.”
“I’d just as soon be someone beautiful who doesn’t need to
worry so much.”
Poor Barbara, ‘a face with no real existence’ except
as a potential element in Ronald’s culture. Her failure
to participate is her death warrant. These events are
heideggerian because mythology becomes an ‘existential’
matter for Barbara. Ronald may be living a dream but this
dream—his personal culture—motivates and empowers
him to concrete acts which impinge on the reality of
Kokor Hekkus
In The Killing Machine Kokor Hekkus not only invents a
culture, but makes it real on a planetary scale. Thamber
is, specifically, a world of myth. Alusz Iphigenia recounts
its history:
“Draszane in Gentilly, was a principality on the western
shore. To the east was Vadrus, ruled by Sion Trumble, and
beyond, the Land of Misk…Between Misk and Vadrus there
was intermittent strife, with Gentilly usually allied with Vadrus.
Sion Trumble was a man of heroic valor, but he never had been
able to overcome the Brown Bersaglers. In a tremendous battle,
he had repelled the barbarians of the Skar Sakau, who had
thereupon turned their full fury to the south, upon the Land of
Misk, where they had been raiding villages, destroying outposts,
and spreading devastation…Two hundred years ago the great
heroes lived. Tyler Trumble conquered Vadrus and built the city
Carrai where Sion Trumble now rules. Jadask Dousko found
Misk a land of herdsmen and Aglabat a fishing village. In ten
years he had created the first Brown Corps, and there has been
war ever since.” She sighed. “In Draszane life is relatively calm;
we have four ancient colleges, hundreds of bibliotheques. Gentilly
is a peaceful old country, but Misk and Vadrus somehow
are different. Sion Trumble wants me for his queen—but would
there ever be peace and happiness? Or would he always be
fighting Skodolaks or the Tadousko-Oi or the Sea-Helms? And
always Kokor Hekkus, who now will be implacable.”
Kokor Hekkus does more than relish his mythological
milieu; as ‘Kokkor Hekkus’ he controls Aglabat, and as
‘Sion Tumble’ he controls Vadrus. He is not only the architect
of the romance he lives, he plays all the principal
roles himself. He is a novelist who lives the lives of the
characters he imagines in the setting he has invented. But
Kokor Hekkus’ assault on destiny goes farther still; he
has defeated time. As a hormagaunt it is Kokor Hekkus
himself who has set the history of Thamber into motion,
cosmopolis 49 • 16
of Love”. Or Torrace da Nossa, who visits the Palace of
Love “preparatory to composing an opera entitled ‘ The Palace
of Love’”. Each private mythology is ground up in the
private mytheopaeic impulse of every other individual.
A more direct critique is pronounced by Navarth:
“There is no poetry here. It is as I have always set forth: joy
comes of its own free will; it cannot be belabored. Look—a
great palace, a magnificent garden with live nymphs and
heroes. But where is the dreaming, the myth? Only simpleminded
folk find joy here”. Does this only mean that Viole
Falushe’s myth is not Navarth’s myth? Navarth’s words
must be understood poetically. Navarth respects the reality
of reality; joy comes of its own free will. You cannot force
reality, you listen to its song and feel its beauty.
Viole Falushe defines his credo as “the augmentation of
awareness”. Navarth comments: “[he] distorted my doctrines
beyond recognition. I preach augmented existence; [he] wanted
me to approve his solipsistic ruthlessness”. Navarth’s ‘augmentation’
is sharpened capacity to listen and feel, not the
power to control and shape being itself. Even if this were
possible it would be ‘belabored’, for joy must come of its
own. In Christian culture this is the ‘gift of God’.
Howard Alan Treesong
Like Ronald Wilby, as a boy Howard Alan Treesong
creates a mythological world, which, like Atranta, remains
unfinished juvenilia. Gersen reads ‘The Book of Dreams’:
“…a sympathetic ear might find much that was vivid and compelling,
whereas a cynical spirit would hear only callow bombast
but…final judgment could only rest upon how closely achievement
matched youthful fantasy. In this light the term “callow
bombast” must be discarded. “Feeble understatement,” thought
Gersen, “was a more appropriate phrase.”
Like Gunther, Treesong accords himself a primary
place in the universe and legitimates a criminal attitude:
“I am a thing sublime. I believe, I surge, and it is done…With my
ardent urge I outstrip time and think the unthinkable. What is
power? It is the means to realize wants and wishes. To me, power
has become a necessity; in itself it is a virtue”. His program to
accumulate power is identical to Gunther’s: “Emancipation…
is first: from Teaching, from duty, from softer emotions,
which loosen the power of decision”. But Treesong, integrating
gutherian methodology with his personal mythology,
does something new. His mythology is fundamentally
different from Ronald Wilby’s and Kokor Hekkus’s, and
surpasses Viole Falushe’s ‘artistic vision’. He does not create
a story to live in, like Ronald and Kokor Hekkus, nor
does he strive to establish a local mood or condition to
satisfy solipsistic personal urges, like Viole Falushe. His
mythology, the band of paladins each with special qualities,
is a tool of multi-dimensional personal empoweras
both Tyler Trumble and Jadask Dousko.
Atranta exists as an unfinished drawing on a wall and
the tangled thoughts in the mind of a perverted boy.
Thamber is the real-life history of hundreds of thousands
of human beings over centuries. Despite these differences
Barbara is as trapped in the web of Atranta as Alusz Iphigenia
is trapped in the web of Thamber. Is myth reality?
Alusz Iphigenia does not think so. “Your life” she says to
Gersen, “is real. My life—all of Thamber—none of it is real.
It is animated myth, archaic scenes from a diorama. It stifles me.”
Does the imposition of a mythology upon a world make
Kokor Hekkus’ guntherian morality true? Gersen does
not think so. Before he executes Kokor Hekkus for his
“crimes” he tells him: “You have lived the most evil of lives.”
Viole Falushe
Viole Falushe is another artist. Neither a child awakening
to self-consciousness and temptation like Ronald, nor
a frantically megalomaniac thrill-seeker like Paul Gunther
or Kokor Hekkus. Mature and self-aware, he discusses his
art in these terms:
The pursuit of beauty is…a major psychological drive.
In its various guises—the urge to perfection, the yearning to
merge with the eternal, the explorer’s restlessness, the realization
of an Absolute created by ourselves, yet larger than our
totality—it is perhaps the most single important human
thrust.*I am tormented by this thrust; I strive, I build; yet,
paradoxically, I suffer from the conviction that should I ever
achieve my peculiar goals, I might find the results dissatisfying.
In this case, the contest is worth more than the victory.
For Viole Falushe the experience of his own life is the
ultimate prize. Whatever crimes he may commit do not
weigh in the balance against the exploration of his urges,
the satisfaction of his impulses, the restless exercise of
his creative genius.
Evil is a vector quality, operative only in the direction of the
vector, and often the acts which incur the most censure do singularly
small harm, and often benefit, to the people concerned.
This is a subtle criticism. Human life is beset with incoherencies
of which anti-moralists always take advantage.
As Paul Gunther seeks to justify his selfishness Viole
Falushe seeks to justify his solipsism.
But again, after giving us a taste of the Viole Falushe’s
exultation, Vance debunks it. The visitors to the Palace
of Love are described in such terms as: “a middle-aged
woman from Earth who had won first prize in a television contest:
her ‘ heart’s desire’…had chosen a visit to Viole Falushe’s Palace
* This is a clear example of Vance exploring the modern concept of artist as
essential human type, the human par excellence, or the most fully realized
human state, or the struggle for self-realization.
cosmopolis 49 • 17
ment. The story is Treesong’s real life; the goal is actual,
direct and total control of the universe.
After reading the Book of Dreams Alice Wroke comments:
“Almost always he is Immir. But I’ve met Jeha Rais
and Mewness and Spangleway, and I’ve had a glimpse or two
of Rhune Fader, who paid me no heed. I’m happy that Loris
Hohenger was otherwise occupied.”
Note the progression: Ronald Wilby’s mythology is an
invented story. Kokor Hekkus mythology is likewise an
invented story, but it is invented in action—it is, one might
say, written in blood, geography and time. The same might
be said of Nazi mythology. Viole Falushe’s art is directly
inspired and structured by his personal trauma—rejection
by Jheral Tinsey, and the Palace of Love, like Thamber,
involves the deliberate instumentalization of thousands of
people. But rather than plunging a whole planet into an
adventure story, Viole Falushe instrumentalizes different
groups according to specific personal needs, fabricating
cultures adapted to each. For example, the folk of Atar
worship Arodin (one of Viole Falushe’s guises) and pay
a prostitution tax. The resultant off-spring go to the
account of Arodin with the unsuitable sold to the Mahrab
and the satisfactory serving at the Palace of Love. The
latter are divided into two groups: “The first are servants.
They are pleased to obey every wish of my guests, every whim
or caprice. The second class, the happy people who inhabit the
palace, are as independent in their friendships as I myself ”. The
‘happy people’, according to Gersen’s observations, were:
“innocent and willful as children. Some were cordial, some were
perverse and impudent; all were unpredictable. It seemed as if
their sole ambition was to evoke love, to tantalize, to fill the mind
with longing, and they became depressed only when guests found
the underservants preferable to themselves. They showed no
awareness of the worlds of the universe, and only small curiosity,
though their minds were active and their moods mercurial. They
thought only of love, and the various aspects of fulfillment”.
The Jheral Tinzy clones are also processed in various
cultures. This array approach is aimed at one thing:
furthering Viole Falushe’s exploration of his own personality.
Though originally driven by frustrated desire for
Jheral Tinzy, he is now involved in a open-ended quest
for self-fulfillment.
When Gersen interviews Viole Falushe, the following
exchange occurs:
“Hm. What do you think of the Palace then?”
“It is remarkably pleasant.”
“You have a reservation?”
“Something is lacking. Perhaps the flaw lies in your servants.
They lack depth; they do not seem real.”
“I recognize this,” said Viole Falushe. “They have no traditions.
The only remedy is time.”
“They are also without responsibility. After all, they are
“Not quite, for they do not realize it. They consider themselves
the Fortunate Folk, and such they are.* It is precisely this unreality,
this sense of faerie, that I have been at pains to develop.”*
“And when they age, what then? What becomes of the Fortunate
“Some work the farms surrounding the gardens. Some are sent
“To the real world?*They are sold as slaves?”
“All of us are slaves in some wise.”
“How are you a slave?”
“I am victim to a terrible obsession. I was a sensitive boy, cruelly
thwarted. Rather than submit, I was forced, by my sense of
justice, to seek compensation—which I am still seeking.
This sort of thing—the sense of being unjustly
thwarted and a consequent obsessive quest for ‘compensation’,
is not infrequently encountered in real life.
What is most important about Viole Falushe is not his
exaggerated reaction to his hurts feelings but his radical
inwardness. Kokor Hekkus is an adventurer in the cosmos.
Viole Falushe is an adventurer in his own soul. For both
the world is raw matter, other people exist only as instruments;
but Kokor Hekkus is more like a traditional artist.
For him the zest is as much in the creative act as in the
result. Viole Falushe’s creations have specific personal
psychological intentions. He involves others only to the
extent they contribute to his personal quest. Navarth, for
example, as both punishment (or ‘ease’ of Viole Falushe’s
soul) and as an aspect of the Tinzy project, is commanded
to educate one of the Tinzy clones. The progression from
Kokor Hekkus to Viole Falushe is from exteriority to
Treesong is the apotheosis of these variations. He is
even more globalizing than Kokor Hekkus because he is
even more inward than Viole Falushe. Gunther’s philosophy,
by contrast, is mere rationalization of immorality.
Unlike Ronald Wilby, Treesong does not seek to seduce or
co-opt others into a personal mythology but, by mythologizing
himself, becomes a superman, a god-like being of
total flexibility; the guntherian equal confrontation with
destiny is achieved.
This is the vancian comment on the relation of myth,
or culture, to reality. It is also explored in Ports of Call, via
the aging Dame Hester. Dame Hester, like Treesong, uses
a personal mythology, according to which she is, not a
band of paladins but a splendid creature—alluring, mysterious,
vibrant. Her desire is so strong, her will so firm,
her disinterest in reality such, that her dream empowers
her in a quest to dominate and transform her world. Her
* This is their mythology, their culture, their reality.
* The criminal-artist-prophet at work.
** Gersen, like Viole Falushe, recognizes a reality beyond that generated by
the criminal-artist-prophet, unlike Treesong to whom the entire universe, as
for Paul Gunther, is like an item of personal property.
cosmopolis 49 • 18
motivations and goals may be petty compared to Treesong’s
but that changes nothing. The dynamic is the same. Dame
Hester is ‘tall and gaunt’ but will be ‘slim’. She has energy
and wealth, and uses it to impose her truth. She succeeds
in doing so, if only to the extent of hearing flattering
things from flatterers. But, in this realistic treatment of
the Treesong theme, weath and the hearing of flattery
suffices to maintain the vigor of a private mythology. As
one result Myron is put off the Glodwyn on Tanjee. It
is not hard to predict what awaits Dame Hester. But the
question is this: will she regret her foolishness? Will she
look reality in the face? And, if so, will it augment her
self understanding, her understanding of others, and—in
the pre-heideggerian sense of the word—her humanity?
Upon this question depends the ultimate nature of the
vancian view.
According to Robert O. Paxton, the relation of fascism
to truth was ‘whatever permitted the new fascist
man…to dominate others, and whatever made the chosen
people triumph.’ He explains that fascism rests ‘not
upon the truth of its doctrine but upon the leader’s mythical
union with the historic destiny of his people’, which
is to say; ‘national historic flowering…of individual
artistic or spiritual genius.’ The Nazi relationship to art is
explained by Paxton as follows: ‘The fascist leader wanted
to bring his people into a higher realm of politics that
they would experience sensually,…Fascism’s deliberate
replacement of reasoned debate with immediate sensual
experience transformed politics…into aesthetics.’ [The
Anatomy of Fascism, Knopf, 2004, p16-17]
Regarding the racial or tribal aspect of fascism,
Paxton insists that fascism rejects ‘any universal values,
other than the success of chosen peoples in a Darwinian
struggle for primacy. The community comes before
humankind in fascist values’, so that it proved ‘impossible
to make any fascist “international” work.’ This is
because ‘each individual national fascist movement gives
full expression to its own cultural particularism.’ [ibid.
p20]. Translated to the level of the individual, the same
dynamic is as work with Treesong or, on a more mundane
level, with Dame Hester.
If ‘identity politics’ should not be labeled ‘fascist’, they
do have a clear heideggerian link to fascism. ‘Black pride’,
‘gay pride’ or ‘woman’s liberation’, tend to shade, from what
most would consider legitimate grievances into ‘us against
them’ power struggles rationalized with shifting, even
surreal, arguments. Fascism, Paxton notes; ‘does not rest
explicitly upon an elaborated philosophical system, but
rather upon popular feelings about master races, their
unjust lot, and their rightful predominance over inferior
peoples.’ So, for example, while the feminism of the 1970s
complained that the masculine race exploited women as
household servants and sex-objects, in the 1980s this is
escalated to demands for equality so shrill that girls are
allowed into military combat roles. In the 1990s radical
feminists even postulated a theory of feminine moral
superiority according to which war and evil are a function
of masculine turpitude. As a result—among the avantguard
countries like France—there are now laws guaranteeing
numerical sexual equality among elected officials.
In the same vein we might note the growing number of
countries where homosexual marriage has become legal.
This innovation, to quote Calanctus, breaks: “the Great
Law, which ordains that man shall be man and woman
shall be woman”.

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