In the gigantic system of systems known as the Enneagram which depicts nine basic personality types and countless sub-types which I prefer to call ‘fixations’ since what is fixated can always be unfixed—which is the object of the system’s dynamic—I settle for the time being on defining myself as a ‘hoarder’; of musical themes, of ideas and of books, proper books with real pages and card covers in the old-fashioned way, not words on an e-trip up a screen and off into nowhere-land.
Our Fixations are determined by our past: we have been programmed into thinking the way we do because of our up-bringing, the teachers we’ve met, the books we’ve read. How have you become the way you are? Notice that it’s all a matter of chance: who you meet, when you meet them, what books happen to come your way, who says what in your presence when others might have said something quite different.
Not Following Fashion
For as long as I can remember I have been fond of authors who are ‘out of fashion’ or perhaps have never been ‘in fashion’. Henry Williamson (for other than Tarka), Richard Jefferies, WMBarbellion, James Hanley, WHHudson, Hilaire Belloc… the list is quite long and my library contains large sections devoted to their books.
I first came across Hilaire Belloc in a book of essays which was given us to read in the third year of Grammar School (1951). Though I waited for the moment-when the English teacher might refer to the book, it never happened. Before long I wrapped myself in Elia & Robert Lynd, WHDavies & George Bourne, and so on and I have never unwrapped myself. I still dip into these old books of essays I have collected down the years; much wisdom in old things… The world imagines that it has no need to go back to it… The world imagines that all it has to do is to convert everything into an e-something and all will be hunky-dory. The world is in the process of disintegration.
In Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man (1954), which I re-read recently, Frederick Wilhelmsen writes about the future of Hilaire Belloc in English letters. He says that Belloc was the ‘finest prose stylist of his generation…’ In these days of instant sound bites, the notion of being a ‘prose stylist’ does not seem to be important… His friend Maurice Baring said that his ‘grave prose was like the mellow tones of a beautifully played cello… solemn, melancholy and majestic…’ It was ‘dry in its cold lucidity…’
But the world passed him by and his ‘heartiness was lost under the weight of the avant-garde…’ Even his brother Catholics seem to disown him.
Wilhelmsen describes Belloc as ‘a youth who has aged young in an old world now dead…’ ‘His art was a habit possessed at the centre of his being by a man conscious of his own power…’ He was a wise man, an adventurer and a poet, rooted in the strength of his world-view, perceptive, consistent, powerful, ironic. He would, no doubt, have been at home in the Occupy movement.
In the ‘disintegration of the western world, most of us are not rooted… we don’t live in a traditional culture…’ There’s ‘no Grizzlebeard, no Sailor, no Poet’ in productive combination within us; in the general collapse of Capitalism and civilisation, we would not even know what it might feel like to be able to create such a synthesis. So there is no longer a strong, centred, ‘Myself’—we are ‘no longer at home’…
Grizzlebeard, Sailor, Poet and Myself are the main ‘characters’ in Hilaire Belloc’s The Four Men: they represent aspects of Belloc himself, his different Multiple-I’s; notional wise man (about which he is ironical), an adventurer (fond of sailing and trudging about) and a poet (his many essays are often more like prose poems). We shall not see his like again.
Not Just a Hoarder
If I were merely a hoarder of old-fashioned authors’ books I would be somewhere down at the bottom of my Enneagram Fixation, lost in its dark dungeon; but another aspect of my system of Fixations is to make something of what I read: while reading Wilhelmsen I jotted down some notes which eventually became a found poem:-
the last guardian of the West
coupling wisdom & eternal youth
calling to those who have exhausted themselves
attempting to escape an unsung destiny
tried all doors leading nowhere
sickened of paper humanisms
echoing the suppressed conscience
of millions of the silent
bending over nets & resting on ploughs
saying nothing but bearing witness
to dreams & passions the feeling for soil
the hunger for certitude the underground
of the soil capturing the wounded spirit
of the age on the hard pavements
of the modern world
In an essay called Reality (in the collection called First and Last), Belloc laments the way humankind resorts to the secondhand reality purveyed by the commentators—how he would have derided the current fad of ‘Having Your Say’! We are brain-washed into believing in abstractions (‘the deficit’, ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘Arab Spring’—all secondhand constructions designed to bamboozle and divert us from the enemy within) instead of taking a personal stand on what feels right—trusting in what comes to us via our senses…
He writes: ‘…secondary impressions, impressions gathered from books and from maps, are valuable as adjuncts to primary impressions (that is, impressions gathered through the channels of our senses) or, what is almost as good, the interpreting voice of the living human-being… But when secondary impressions have a life of their own, they deceive; they become absolute and clothed with authority… pretending to convince us against our own experience…’
Gurdjieff talks of the ‘food of pure impressions’, savoured before the imagining brain gets hold of it, as the Highest Form of Food.
of mere names and lists
excludes reality; maps & newspapers
turn an honest fool into a jingo
maps are coloured
to express the claims of government
but what of social truths?
you cannot grasp distance
unless you have traversed it—
its great landscapes
you cannot grasp time
unless you have measured it out
in coffee-spoons or bonfires
like the fond illusion of Progress
generate contempt for the past
vulgarising the human mind
and wasting its entire effort
having it imagine itself diseased
when it is healthy healthy
when diseased; the amazing
power of the little second-rate
public in those modern machines
that imagine themselves democracies…
two forces are at work
to bring us back to the Real:
the first is the poet; the second Time—
choice & rhythm of words
(reflection on and words from Hilaire Belloc’s essay Reality)