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From Eyewear: "A Place for Aleister: The Great "Pulpist" of the High Mods?"

From Eyewear: "A Place for Aleister: The Great "Pulpist" of the High Mods?"

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Published by Adam Fieled
This Adam Fieled piece, on the novels of Aleister Crowley, first appeared in Todd Swift's UK-based blog Eyewear in 2013. Eyewear is being archived by the British Library.
This Adam Fieled piece, on the novels of Aleister Crowley, first appeared in Todd Swift's UK-based blog Eyewear in 2013. Eyewear is being archived by the British Library.

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Published by: Adam Fieled on Sep 24, 2013
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10/17/2013

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Monday, 2 September 2013 
 A Place for Aleister: The Great “Pulpist” of the High Mods?
A. FIELED ON A. CROWLEY
 
When one considers what the name
Aleister Crowle
yamounts to in the United States, the imagery arises of a
kind of spiritual McDonald’s— 
 
“Do what thou wilt”reduced to “Do what you want” (sans a spine of authentic
spiritual discipline and labour), Crowley himself a kind of 
Ozzy Osbourne
-
like sham avatar. “Crowley
-
ites” in
America are a rough bunch, coercive and not particularlythoughtful. Crow
ley’s image here is associated with a“Satanic” form of spiritualism, rather than with literary
artistry. English writers know he wrote novels, which havehad some influence (see
Colin Wilson
’s “Sex Diary of aMetaphysician”), but a serious critical struct
ure or ethos
around Crowley’s novels has yet to emerge. I’d like toaddress two of Crowley’s novels— 
 
“Moonchild” and“Diary of a Drug Fiend.” I will write with the
 presupposition that these are works of considerable value, but animated by contradictions
 — 
accounts of gruellingoccult and spiritual warfare, honestly and painstakinglyrepresented; which are nonetheless stylized in enough
respects to be considered “pulp” or “pulpish,” through this
aesthetic condition of stylization.There are, in fact, stylized elements which cohere between
“Moonchild” and “Diary”— 
each features a Byronic herowho also happens to be a spiritualist (Cyril Grey and KingLamus, respectively), granted with intense magnetic force,
 
keen psychological insight, absolute competence in therigours of white magic(k) (interesting that Crowley doesnot espouse Satanism up close), every possible attribute of masculine dignity within the requisite stylized Byronicisolation, and a misogynistic streak.Both books contain long passages of (not particularlystrong) original poetry, with ample quotations from theRomantics and Victorians. They maintain an aesthetic bent,and central characters are wont to affirm the value of thehigher arts. Occult language, often from white magicaltexts, is a trope in the books
 — 
and those turned off by the
occult had better leave off reading. Crowley’s Byronicfigures frequently quote his “Book of the Law,” with itsfamous (and famously abused) refrain: “Do what thou wiltshall be the whole of the Law.” If one
were to arrange acritical ethos around Crowley and his books, how would he
 be placed? Despite Crowley’s archetypal Romanticoccultism (see Byron’s “Manfred” and Goethe’s “Faust”),
there are dark shadings in the two books which have to do,not only with the subaltern to genteel society, but with the(in occult terms, plutonian) underworld of British society ingeneral. The two Byronic heroes run in circles whichsuggest that they traffic in narcotics; they do not hold downsolid jobs, and easily drift from place to place. What thedarkling hints of the underworld do is to give the two booksa hinge to Modernism and the Modernist ethos
 — 
 
surface/depth tensions, “fractures,” a lack of cohesiveness
and continuity haunting the two narratives as they unfold.To pu
t Crowley’s volumes next to Joyce, Proust, and
Woolf is instructive
 — 
 
if Crowley’s Romantic, occult
 
“pulpishness” is right on the surface, it is also clear that his
abstruse occult tangents lead to a thoroughgoingengagement with metaphysics which Joyce and Woolf, in
their materialism, neglect, and which Proust’s winding
arabesques only half-
assay. Crowley’s metaphysical riffs
are a well-
rounded adjunct to Blake’s.I published a piece in America in 2010 called “The Decayof Spirituality in Poetry,” and the
same holds true in fiction,since
Proust
 — 
discovery of Crowley in the twenty-firstcentury may be a hinge to a reawakened metaphysicalcuriosity, against the confines of the conventionallyModern and post-
modern. If Crowley is the great “pulpist”
of the High Mods, it is because he is able, and unusually so,to weave so many compelling strains of Romanticism intohis underworlds. It also makes sense, given the strains of Romanticism evident, that the books assimilate the perspectives and predilections of the aesthete
 — 
art, for thecharacters in the books, is an end in itself, and failure is
(quite literally, in “Diary”) to form habits. The Paterian
 perspective
 — 
that moments should be appreciated for their own potential sublimity and individuality
 — 
is espoused by both Grey and King Lamus. The contrast to
Joyce
’s prickly
Stephen Dedalus is acute
 — 
Lamus and Grey attain anobjective, avatar-worthy clarity from practicing self-effacement and self-discipline. This also distinguishes them
from Byron’s Childe Harold
and Manfred
 — 
their self-
consciousness is not acute. It isn’t exactly Negative
Capability they exercise
 — 
they stand apart, withoutdissolving into their mirrors and minions
 — 
but their  perspective on the limitations of individual and

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