Sorry, been having trouble uploading the text from my iPad in Ireland. This is a reply to a letter sent me from a friend I met in Galway:
That is a very good question, and I’ll try to answer it from my own experience, including a number of books I’ve read. Why the books always? Because others like you and I have made this journey before and left us, almost specifically us, a record of it.
You mentioned the hermit’s hut and I only half jockingly pointed out that I have referred to my truck as my ‘mobile mountain hermit’s hut.’ There is much truth in that notion of the hermit, the one who goes on his own journey, either inward or outward. In the Tarot the hermit ambles through the forest carrying his own lamp. However, there’s a cost associated with undertaking such an arduous journey, one which very very few people are willing nor able, and I might even put a little extra stress on the ‘able’ part of that last bit, to make. That cost is solitude. That is the curse, the cross, the ‘mark of Cain’, as Hermann Hesse dubbed it in his book ‘Demian.’’ (Think I spelled that one wrong.)
I too attempted to share my enthusiasms and what things I was learning and growing into with others back a great many years ago now. That was my Toronto period when I was thoroughly engrossed in Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. As I said, I have never to this day met another soul who has read it. Put simply, it is a futile and ultimately frustrating exercise, sharing with others things which are beyond their scope.
James Joyce, your home grown Giant of the Human Spirit as I like to label them, recounts his pathway to enlightenment, genuine artistry, latter day Buddhahood, in his works. Reading ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ you get a sense of his isolation, but as I say in my videos and no one is willing to acknowledge, that book is a patchwork compromise stitched together to placate the sensors. There’s such crucial portions omitted us genuine seekers have a hard time discerning the underlying development of his soul. The fragment of his earlier Stephen Hero, more comprehensive, and less ‘artistic’ (which is often enough a sort of euphemism for bowdlerized) published some twenty odd years after his death gives a more thorough picture of him at the critical stage between the ages of say eighteen and twenty. What the lay or ‘critical’ reader understands as Stephen’s arrogance or haughtiness is to us recognizable as a hard shell, a shield, put up against the hard headed literal minded logic of the average man. And that’s where all the misunderstanding comes in regarding what many call the greatest English language novel of the twentieth century, and even perhaps all time, his as I term it monumental and monumentally misunderstood classic Ulysses.
You see, to the average school bred reader Ulysses is little more than a modern day recreation of Homer’s Odyssey, period. Leopold Bloom is their quintessential ‘average’ city man moving around Dublin through the course of a day patterned on the wanderings of Homer’s heroic Odysseus. His wife Molly, the Penelope of Homer, sits at home and entertains a Dublin dandy named Blazes Boylan. He returns from his voyaging, having met a young fella named Stephen Dedalus, slides into bed next to her and falls asleep. Then the final chapter is given over to Molly’s sixty page almost unpunctuated flow recapitulating her day and her world, and then the book ends.
Libraries have been filled with the commentary and analysis of this book. If you can figure out what brand of underwear Bloom wears they’d probably award you with a Ph. D. But no one seems to know or adequately explain Stephen’s presence, and we’re talking the same Stephen Dedalus who first appeared in Stephen Hero and then in the published A Portrait. I’ve heard perfectly serious academics claim that Joyce left the whole Stephen portion of the book undeveloped, incomplete, even though he spent seven years writing it. Anyone in their right minds might want to ask ‘why would a consummate artist such as Joyce leave something he worked seven years on incomplete or unresolved?’
However, me having actually gone on the journey, I recognize Stephen as a fellow journeyer. He is labelled a ‘failed artist,’ brooding, bitter, uncommunicative, by the laity. But he has already discovered through trial and error and frustration the utter futility of speaking his mind to those who are unprepared or unfitted for his message. He has withdrawn, departed the world of Dublin and lives an interior existence. And that can be a terrible life threatening condition, that utter total isolation.
The magic and beauty of Ulysses for me is Joyce recounting how he reconnected with humanity, with life, through an encounter with one other solitary man, one willing to listen and more importantly, sympathize with the nobility of his efforts if you will. And this one man is not exactly an ‘average man’ as most would have him. He is husband and father, as Joyce would become through the entry into his life of the woman who would bear with him, bear his children, and eventually become his wife and life partner. But more than that, Bloom has gone beyond all the ‘isms’ of his day, and even beyond the biggest ‘ism’ trap, religion, having transcended both Christianity and Judaism.
At the end Bloom slides into bed with his wife head to toe and toe to head. It’s one of his eccentricities. And as they both fall asleep in the very early hours of the morning, with the new day’s sun arising, hurtling through the great reaches of space, they are the whirling dancing Yin-Yang which underlies all life.
Ah words words words. This is all to say I long ago learned to avoid excess trivial conversation. I can handle a little with smiling face. But I keep most of my council to myself. I truly believe once you’ve ventured far enough along the path the only way of communicating with the world is through a work of art. Never explain, never get drawn into the sort of discussion where we inevitably come off as foolish. We’re talking two different languages here. God bless the laity, but their’s is not the path for us. You know, in traditional, more primitive you might say, societies, the shaman lives apart, and when he ventures out amongst his more practical brethren he wears amulets and insignias marking him out as different. Once you delve a little farther into Campbell you’ll see that even our churches sport twin lions or guardians at the gates meant to discourage the everyday minded from entering the sacred precincts.
Pick up a copy of Ulysses and read the first reasonably short chapter. That is precisely what is taking place. Stephen/Joyce is barely tolerating the chafing company of a former friend, the hard headed school educated Buck Mulligan of the novel. And again in his even more monumental Finnegans Wake, he plays with the old Aesopian fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, which he calls the Ondt and the Gracehoper. And aren’t people such as ourselves Grace Hopers?
Anyway, that’s it for now, brother. Here’s a short list of works further exploring the notion of the solitary voyager: Hermann Hesse’s Demian, Siddhartha, and Steppenwolf, Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge and The Moon and Sixpence, Thomas Mann’s Tonio Krugor and The Magic Mountain, all the lengthy works of Thomas Wolfe (who died just on the verge of breaking through,) virtually all the works of Henry Miller, Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy (although they too laboured beneath the weight of a pseudomorphosis, meaning they too were attempting to reclaim what was essentially their own middle Eurasian Slavic religiousness stamped out by the imposition of a dying Roman Empire’s Eastern Orthodox Christianity.)
Wow, that’s heavy stuff, but joyously done. Time for a long walk to the harbour here, camera in hand.
One very last thing. Mindful always of everything we are talking about here, had you not had a copy of Campbell lying on the table we would have never fallen into conversation and I certainly wouldn’t have opened up with enthusiasm and waving arms. I did so because you asked the questions, you invited this sort of thing out. The vast majority of people wouldn’t or won’t. Mainly because this sort of thing requires less of a changing of mind than a transformation of character and identity. Most people fear such transformations. They cling to their identities as defined by their roles in society with all their strength. Uh oh, again we’re into an archetype here. The birth of Christianity two thousand years ago involved such a break from Roman Empire derived and supported identities, a death to the old world of Roman citizen values and a birth to something new. The Hero’s journey Campbell writes about is another such death and resurrection, only one undertaken willingly by an individual, who, if he succeeds, might just bring back something of value to his contemporaries.
However, in the meantime I’ve set up the Omphalos Cafe as a sort of haven away from the world for individuals such as ourselves. A place to find peace and tranquillity and perhaps draw strength from the faith and fortitude of others, alive or dead.
That’s it, young friend. Keep at it. It’s a hard, crazy, joyous road.