Thursday, July 1, 2021

Ishtar Rising Week Three: The Best Things in the World


The Abduction of Helen

Wilson’s 1973 Introduction

Let us step back sixteen years from our last vantage point and meet the Bob Wilson who was “a product of his times” that we’ve been warned about.

Once we’ve done that, fast forward a few years short of a half-century and there’s this show called Euphoria based on an Israeli show that comes on after Curb Your Enthusiasm. I decide to watch the first episode and subsequently decide that the show is mostly misery-porn and isn’t my cup of tea. However, there is one illuminating scene from that first episode dealing with porn-porn that has stayed with me. A young couple are having theatrical and somewhat violent sex when Zendaya, playing the Little-Nell-gone-bad narrator of the show, asks if the viewers know why the couple are choosing to have performative and pleasureless sex before cutting to a barrage of pornography from across the Internet. The answer is simple- this is learned behavior. 

Back to 1973- this snippet of the future occurred to me while I was reading Wilson rhapsodizing about how humans, particularly males, are struck passive, playful and gentle in the presence of breasts. In a healthy society, I would agree with Wilson’s statement, but I’m curious how he could make such a statement while sex has generally had a violent, sexist undercurrent in our decidedly unhealthy society. I hazard a guess that Wilson would have blamed those less-than-pleasant (perversions?) of sexuality on the oppressive, sex-negative society in which many humans (most?) find themselves living. Yet, I think anyone familiar with the sexual anarchism of the modern Internet, always just an incognito page away, would be able to understand that even without Christianity, we’ve managed to keep sex something shallow, exploitative and oftentimes grotesque. I’m not trying to come off as a descendant of Falwell or Dworkin, but I think it is fair to say that the sexuality exuded today is oftentimes deeply unsexy (a position I took while discussing Morrison’s Introduction.) To wit...

For the previously mentioned “Sex” chapter in Stranger Than We Can Imagine, John Higgs begins with the first stanza of Philip Larkin’s Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(which was rather late for me) -

Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban

And the Beatles' first LP.

Higgs uses the two cultural references in this excerpt to demonstrate the evolution of sexuality over the mid-twentieth century up until the early-twenty first. Firstly he discussed Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover which was famously blocked from publication, bowdlerized and the cause of multiple courtroom scenes. While Chatterley would be unimpressive to the modern reader, it became shorthand for racy or scandalously plain descriptions of sex and desire. Higgs’ further goes on to discuss how Chatterley was an example of smut-with-a-soul; Lawrence and his lovers sought a spiritual intimacy along with their physical coupling. The lovers sought communion

Ten years before our starting point with Bob in 1973, a forty one year old Larkin pens Annus Mirabilis looking backwards towards the decades long battle to present an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover and forward to the Time of Love, heralded by the hysteria-inducing moptops from Liverpool. Yet, for all the beauty and necessary freedom produced by the Sexual Revolution, Higgs notes that things were not all quite “peace and love,” as Ringo would say. Reading Melinda Gebbie’s Barbary Coasters gives a first hand glimpse of the abuse of the new age of sexual freedom where partners were often coerced into couplings and those who refused were treated as “squares” or repressed. Gebbie’s account is but one of many of the darker sides of the Summer(s) of Love. By 1973, it is odd that Wilson, who notes the sexism of Playboy Publications in other places, could feel quite so confident about the gentleness of humanity in the face of bare breasts. 

When we look at how sexual over-exposure and frustration has helped revamp far-Right sentiments in young men in the United States and contributed to the exhausting discourse over what is and isn’t acceptable, it is easy to agree with Higgs that the Sexual Revolution missed Lawrence’s point about “sexual communion” and instead skated right past it into the territory of the id. Unlike Wilson, who seems to blame the structures that “guard” against the id, I would point out that the id is primarily selfish and unconcerned about consequences...two qualities that don’t belong in the bedroom.  Should you feel prurient in admiring the illustrations in Ishtar Rising? Certainly not! Melida Gebbie lavishly illustrated her and Alan Moore’s nineteen-years-in-the making rauchfest based on children’s stories that celebrates pornography down the ages. Yet, when we exist in a world where I would bet good money you could easily locate a video of a woman being brutalized and being made to eat shit, it is good to be conscious of what you are consuming. De Sade works a lot better on the page. (Save for Pasolini’s astoundingly good Salo.) 

Another bit that hasn’t aged as well in the forty three years since Wilson’s Introduction comes right before his statement that “[m]ost men...are on their best behavior when under the spell of that double catenary curve” whilst discussing Ezra Pound. What to do with the Propagandist of Pisa has been a discussion since the end of the second World War and while we can recognize the poetic greatness of The Cantos, I’m not sure Pound is the best example if you’re trying to convince the world it needs more poets than political-pundits. (Also, have you read other people’s poetry? There’s a reason most of mine gets trashed.) Undoubtedly, the world needs less political-pundits and more poetry, but I feel that this may be an example of how Wilson “missed the mark” in that moment. Pound was a genius who expressed contrition for the disgusting views he held, nevertheless I would say that his life still demonstrates how politics, hatred and fear can easily corrupt even the most competent artist. 

As far as the rest of the Introduction goes, I agree with Wilson. The Greek epitaph he provides the reader has been echoing through my head since I read again last week and there is great comfort and wisdom to be found in the quotes that he provides throughout. 

However, the most striking line of the introduction comes near the end while Wilson is discussing “the force,” sometimes dubbed wakan, elan, prana, qui, kundalini, tao etc. “It is the only rebuttal anywhere to the logic of despair.” Not to beat a dead horse, but Higgs also makes a similar argument that the best antidote to despair is access to what he deems the psychological “flow” state or Colin Wilson’s “peak experience” and which our Wilson presents under a multitude of names. I wish it for you, dear reader, and I hope you wish the experience repeated and perpetual for me as well. We live in an infinitely complex world made up of billions of tiny universes. Be gentle, careful and appreciative when another has been exposed to you. Whether it is the case for most of humanity, or not, you should be playful and grateful in the presence of breasts in life and as we pass through Ishtar Rising

Here’s Wonderwall the complete Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(which was rather late for me) -

Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban

And the Beatles' first LP.

Up to then there'd only been

A sort of bargaining,

A wrangle for the ring,

A shame that started at sixteen

And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:

Everyone felt the same,

And every life became

A brilliant breaking of the bank,

A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than

In nineteen sixty-three

(Though just too late for me) -

Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban

And the Beatles' first LP.


  1. The "Nothing to clutch in life/Nothing to fear in death" epitaph Wilson cites was my favorite bit in the intro, and I was sorry that when I Googled for it I could not find what he was citing. It sounds Buddhist and it also sounds Epicurean.

  2. I grew up listening to That Was The Year That Was, one of my favorites in dad's collection. I knew the words to all the songs by heart.

    I love the line about a complex world made up of billions of universes. I've been re-examining the Many Worlds/Multiverse theory of quantum physics and wrote about it in my article for the upcoming Maybe Day zine.

    RAW's introduction has a playful, whimsical feel for a lot of it, like a kind of non-physical foreplay.

  3. Thank-you Apuleius for putting attention on the Pound invocation, I meditated on it and have a different view.

    Thank-you Apuleius for putting attention on the Ezra Pound invocation. I meditated upon and attempted to grok the situation and saw a different view of it.

    The poem fragment from Pound seems genius, the Pound section seems like RAW practicing literary magick - the separation and rehabilitation of Pounds poetic genius from his politics. As I see it, the statement "we would all be safer if there were more poets and fewer political pundits" could refer to the inner life of Pound himself, or the inner life of any of us dear readers i.e. an injunction to lean toward one's poetic side over one's political nature; strive for C6 beyond C2, though RAW didn't have this terminology at this time. The poem quote seems brilliant to me for revealing the power of the Holy Grail in very few lines. The dichotomy and reversal of poetry & politics gets hermetically reinforced by the Notarikon of "How to govern may be important," = 69 recalling the yin/yang symbol, which comes immediately before "Pound is telling us ..."

    RAW uses Pound's own words in the spirit of: "Physician heal thyself!" Repairing the past = a magick exercize. I realize that could sound ridiculous to those who believe in an unchanging objective universe. A great book for illustrating the practical applications of the billions of universes in the Multiverse, including the feasibility of time travel, is The Fabric of Reality by the quantum physicist David Deutsch.

    To a practitioner of magick like RAW who metaprogrammed himself with Beliefs Unlimited, it seems natural to experiment with repairing/healing the past of someone that made a strong impression on you and that you love even if they made some forgiveable mistakes. RAW clearly loved Pound. I have a similar thing going on with my biological father who passed many years ago.

  4. Sorry for the repeated opening paragraph in the previous comment. The first one disappeared until I rewrote and published.

  5. @Eric, Tom and Oz-

    Oz, I really like what you've come up with. I believe we've discussed the concept of "tikkun" in the Qabalistic sense. My favorite part of Christ's story in the Harrowing of Hell and out of all theological ideas I strongly prefer Origen's apocatastasis. It's similar to RAW's beloved Shinran Buddhism. I don't think I could stand to live in a universe where conscious life isn't justified in some sense. I'd rather go to the Christian Hell than contend with and concede to that bullshit.

    I truly want to believe that you hit the nail on the head about Wilson and Pound, and intuitively I do. I know that I prefer to shape history (both family and universal) to make a better story. Sometimes I think that is the true role of the historian. But, that depends on who you trust with the loaded gun of a word "better." I trust Wilson and you Oz. Make it new.

    I was hoping Eric, as a Pound/Wilson scholar, would have something to say about his appearance. I would have a hard time believing anyone else has read the Cantos as much as you!

    Tom, you and I have a similar bent and as I wrote about in the post, that epitaph has stayed with me. Even in my dreams one of the past couple nights. I also strongly identify with the closing line of Ecclesiastes. Funnily enough Crowley states that Ecclesiastes is the closest Christianity comes to Buddhism, but it still implies there's a ton more "meaning" to existence than the Eastern philosophy in the equation. Similarly, I still believe- or am still brainwashed by, since I read "Magick Without Tears" before making a serious study of Buddhism- that Buddhism is ultimately nihilistic in its theology and thus greatly prefer the Gnostic/Late Antiquarian nonsense about there being an ultimate Purpose or Story.

    I didn't get anything in to Bobby this year but I'm looking forward to reading what everyone was able to conjure up! I'm sure, that along with the interesting content, the zine will be beautiful.

  6. Rarebit, I've never heard of tikkun olam before and don't know its Qabalistic sense. Maybe we discussed it in a different universe? Or probably I just completely forgot. I looked it up: "A jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world" - sounds what I suspect Wilson attempted.

    Speaking of Ezra Pound and Ishtar, Eric indirectly does have something to say about his appearance. About four days ago I received the poetry anthology, Confucius to Cummings edited by Ezra Pound and Marcella Spann. Eric had recommended it to me and I found an inexpensive used copy. I had just arrived home from the studio, got the mail and ripped open the package in the driveway. Before going inside, I said to the book, "what do you have to tell me" then randomly opened it to p.192 and got this:

    "These are the Sons of Farmers, and they come
    With partial fondness for the Joys of Home;
    Their Minds are coursing in their Father's Fields,
    And e'en the dream a lively pleasure yields;
    They, much enduring, sit th' alotted hours,
    And o'er a Grammar waste their sprightly powers:
    They dance; but them can measur'd steps delight,
    Whom Horse and Hound to daring deeds excite?
    Nor could they bear to wait meal to meal,
    Did they not slily to the chamber steal,
    And there the produce of the basket seize,
    The Mothers Gift! still studious of their ease."

    I proceeded into my house to find my local Ishtar representative had surprised me with an unexpected hot meal.

  7. The poem is from The Borough by George Crabbe. Crabbe suggests the sign of Cancer which corresponds with the The Chariot in the Tarot. The Chariot transports and protects the Holy Grail. Crowley said the Chariot = the formula of the new aeon. George, apart from being my middle name, suggests St. George the dragon slayer and connects with an important concept in The Book of Lies related to the N.O.X. formula. That archetype also points to a solution for weird sex trips though I admit it seems very unlikely to catch on in mass culture.

  8. @Oz, it seems to me that cooking a good meal for someone is a really fine act of love.

  9. I find myself exhausted at present. I will try to write something about Pound this month.


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