Rain Upon Godshill
Nothing is truly real in this world but living creatures… (JBPriestley 1939)
All the talk about ‘not going back’ to the toxic normality that existed before [the Plague] will be tested by the ruling class’s insistence on reasserting a world where their profits and their power prevails. (Socialist Workers’ Party 5th July 2020)
We are not a Democracy
Bearing in mind that Rain Upon Godshill was published in 1939, the year World War 2 began, and on the basis that, as he says, it is wrong to think ‘…that politics can be entirely separated from any notions of a general culture…’ it’s perhaps worthwhile to note JBPriestley’s general political position, specially considering the current trend towards right wing dictatorship as represented by the eugenicist D Cummings, the unofficial & unelected UK government Fuhrer, coupled with the systematic destruction, outside and within the Labour Party, of allotment-digging Jeremy Corbyn, true man of the people, in favour of Knight of the Realm, Zionist-supporting, Forensically Stymied Starmer. After all of 81 years since 1939, it’s still clear that the Right People don’t dig allotments.
…In England there are only three national spheres of interest, namely, the political, the financial, and the sporting, and if you can cut a dash in all three, if, for example, you are a rich political peer whose horse has won the Derby, then you are indeed a representative national figure… let us stop complimenting ourselves out of our history books, and see what we really are at this moment.
We are not a democracy, but a plutocracy roughly disguised as an aristocracy. All our real government is done by the Right People. Not only in Parliament… but in all the various positions of authority, in the Civil Services, Finance, the Church, the fighting services, and so on. There is always a steady pressure exerted to maintain in all these posts the Right People… the necessity of ‘finding men [sic] with the right background,’ ‘maintaining the best traditions,’ ‘good public school and university types’, and so on. The result is that twenty-nine times out of thirty the Right People get the jobs… Except, you might say, in Parliament, whose members we elect. But this only means in practice that every few years we are free to choose one of several candidates. And the game is so rigged that unless we are very careful indeed to keep him [somebody like Jeremy Corbyn…] out, the winning candidate will be one of the Right People [a Knight of the Realm, for example].
Our election methods are out of date, and so are all in favour of politicians who are also out of date. To begin with, the Parliamentary seats are not equitably divided among the population; the present division favours the smaller and older towns and country districts as against the large industrial boroughs; so that a vote in Cheltenham is worth much more than a vote in Coketown. Then again, because we have not got proportional representation, millions of progressive electors never put a member into the House.
[In any case] Parliament has a quite disproportionate number of members who have substantial private incomes and cannot help having a private income point of view.
The private income point of view clearly makes it impossible for the likes of Mogg & Co to step into the shoes of ordinary folk. Priestley is quite right:-
Very few political persons keep steadily in the foreground of their minds the one real test for any national policy, which is – Will it benefit the people and improve their life?
From my own point of view the fundamental disaster is that nobody in standard Government circles ever asks the question WHAT IS LIFE FOR? They most certainly don’t ask the more profound Gurdjieffian question WHAT AM I DOING HERE? – unless, of course, they can answer glibly ‘to make money and preserve the status quo…’ An answer never likely to be forthcoming would be ‘for the purpose of engaging the intellect to do some disinterested objective observation of things as they really are…’ The unspoken answer is always that life is for work without adding ‘for the benefit of the boss-class’. Maybe there would emerge an answer molto sotto voce that had something about continuing to treat us like idiots in an institution or invalids in a nursing home, surplus population, fit only for being culled by the Plague.
The typical Tory mind is suspicious of and not hopeful about humanity in general. It belongs to a person who feels fairly comfortable and is convinced that any change must be for the worse… What, remove child labour from the factories! What, begin educating everybody! So it goes on, from generation to generation, protesting that any generous measure, based on a hopeful view of human nature, means ruin.
In dismissing the honours system, Priestley asserts that
This is a real country, where men and women have to live their lives, and not a vast fancy-dress ball. We are humbugged day in and day out by the medieval masquerade.
Not a Lot of Change in 81 Years…
Things are not set up to improve the quality of ordinary people’s lives. There’s a great waste of human energy & intelligence. Right wing extremists are regularly fond of suggesting that ‘layabouts’ & ‘misfits’ should be done away with in order to save money. Anything done to alleviate the plight of the starving & destitute is regarded as a wasted handout; there’s even been a serious suggestion that old age pensioners should do voluntary labour or lose their pension.
The truth is that our dole system has been useless except for the men who fall out of work temporarily. It has not cured the real evil. To give a man just enough to exist on, miserably and unhealthily, with no apparent prospects of work and real wages, is simply to try and take the manhood out of him. It is not good economy, to say the least of it, for a nation to save money but to waste manhood. To turn fine, upstanding, happy artisans into grey-faced, shambling, under-nourished, prematurely old men is in the long run as expensive a business as it is a disgusting one. Even to this day there exists, especially among the other unemployed, the ones with incomes, a silly notion that somehow it is a man’s own fault if he is unemployed. There seems to be no arguing with this idiocy. People who live far from the distressed industrial areas happen to know one or two shiftless fellows in their own neighbourhood who can never keep a job, and imagine that these fellows are typical of the unemployed…
Not a lot of change in 81 years… In spite of all the technical ‘advances’ that have been made under the banner of PROGRESS, the life of ordinary people has not much changed in all the generations. It’s still a case of panem et circenses – sit them in front of the telly, computer or smart [?] phone, allow them a bit of cake, re-open the pubs when the Plague is still raging to spread the contagion amongst them, keep their noses to the grindstone by raising the retirement age more and more so they have neither time nor energy to understand the way they are being systematically humbugged & swindled. It suits the Power Possessors to keep things exactly as they are.
Change? By smearing him with lies & distortions, snapped up by a gullible & dim-witted public, they eliminated the only person – the allotment-digger – who might have begun to seek to change things…
…[such] cynical old political tactics… will not do. You cannot really improve the world by manipulating it in the same bad old way. You can only improve it by bringing into it, from some other and greater world of feeling, imagination and will, more courage and honesty and kindness. Fundamentally there is no other way. The spokesmen of the oppressed people, the representatives of a new social justice, have to be better men than the other politicians. This may make the journey longer and harder, but any desperate short cuts will prevent us from ever reaching the journey’s end.
But, of course it’s the cynical old, & not so old, politicians with their cynical old political tactics who are the ones sticking it on us and we choose to go along with whatever they arrange for us – we could always choose otherwise. Nothing short of a thought-revolution will change anything. But mob-thought is run by the media. Priestley’s homely novel Wonder Hero shows us nicely how it’s done.
Gurdjieff points out that 500 people getting together applying Work principles could change the world for the better. But there already exist more powerful forces like the Bilderberg Group, a floating collective of elite North American and European royals, politicians, business leaders, financiers and academics. Its make-up, which is well-advertised, lead some characters (conveniently dismissed as conspiracy theorists) to assert that its members are plotting a New World Order and are hell-bent on global domination via capitalism. Seems more than possible to me – a true conspiracy.
Priestley hypotheses that ‘…in five years [the educated middle classes] could re-make Britain…’ They haven’t done it yet because ‘…no lasting vision of a nobler England haunts them, in fact ‘such is their present style of life that no vision of any kind haunts them…’ Bread & Circuses again.
Most of them are living too near the surface of things. They are leading too trivial and material an existence. They give themselves up to what I will call a car-and-wireless life. There is nothing wrong with cars and wireless sets, and I am glad not to be without either of them myself. But a life that hardly moves away from a schoolboy fussing with such things obviously lacks fullness and depth. Three-quarters of the rich channels of communication in the mind are closed up. The whole universe has shrivelled. A large proportion of the young people of these classes marry and settle into a little bungalow, join the local tennis club, acquire a wireless set and a car, and then might be simply a pair of cave dwellers for all the relation they have to the largest life of the community, or to the noble and enduring life of art, philosophy and religion. They may be quite pleasant young people, but at times they remind us uncomfortably of robots.
Car & wireless, telly & computers & smart e-things, football & lawn-mowing, mechanical application to mass absurdities, religion & ZOOM and the pursuit of fame & fortune – specially fortune.
Surviving the Plague ought to Teach Us What We Can Do Without
Some optimists can be heard repeating the idea that when the life-limitations imposed as a response to the Plague, regarded by many as ‘loss of freedom’, come to an end things will never be the same again, that everything will be different, that we will have found out that there are lots of things we can easily do without, that we will have ‘learned lessons’.
At least people might have been encouraged to ask themselves: When things get back to ‘normal’ what have I learned that I can easily do without? How much money do I really need? Bearing in mind how I’ve adapted to a different way of being, how can I change the way I think about the world? What useful new habits can I carry forward into a New Life? Priestley said
…I think it is dangerous to be too dependent on money. Many of the most satisfying things in life cost little or nothing… [Once upon a time, people] did things themselves instead of allowing others to do everything for them. There is nothing essentially wrong with our new popular amusements, such as films and the radio, both of which have done much to brighten people’s lives. But they should be enjoyed actively and not passively, attended to eagerly and critically and not used as a kind of mild dope. Chesterton once observed shrewdly that there was a great difference between an eager man who wanted to read a book and a tired man who wanted a book to read. It is the difference between active and passive amusements. Now we have too many tired persons who merely want a book to read, a film to stare at, a wireless programme to listen to…
…telly to watch, computer games to play, Internet to surf… Serfs to the system.
All electronic contrivances have been seized upon by the Power Possessors, not as a way of releasing people from drudgery but to further the deadening of the human spirit. Any intelligent person ought to be able to go along with Priestley when he says:-
I am a bitter opponent of the view that politics can be entirely separated from any notions of a general culture, that we can act politically and economically without reference to any philosophy of life. I mistrust the artist who has not a glimmer of a political idea. But even more do I mistrust the politician who is indifferent to the full life of the mind and the spirit, who shrugs his shoulders at any mention of literature, painting, music, the drama, and philosophy. He is the man that has no music in himself and ‘is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils; the motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus…’ [Merchant of Venice]
We could do without many things – TV, cars, aeroplanes – it would simply mean assessing the opportunities presented by other ways of doing things.
What is Really Important?
It is all very well describing to me man’s conquest of the air, the exquisite regions above the clouds, the dawns and sunsets of the pearl-pure upper spaces, the dramatic annihilation of distance; but in this matter I am one of the grumbling old school, a stick-in-the-mud, a downright reactionary, and I say that I wish – and have wished these many years – that the things had never been invented. They should have been kept back until we were ready for them. It is not important that young men should be able to hurl themselves from one place to another at two hundred and fifty miles an hour. What is important is that some people should be able to think in peace and quiet.
I was reading this ‘on a summer lawn’ on 22nd June 2020, an afternoon of intense aerial activity over The Wash, while trying to think in peace & quiet…
Trying to think… The idea took me back to a misty afternoon in 1959, November probably, when I was sorely taxed with the notion of getting out of wage slavery and into ‘being a writer’. I looked out into a foggy garden and despaired. At the time I did not know that all you had to do was to get a bit of paper (or preferably a Woolworth’s hardback notebook as were sold there then – I have one left!) and just move the nib of a basic Parker fountain pen on its surface to watch the black ink descending into squiggles so that some kind of thinking would occur by feedback when you read what you’d already written. It was another five years before the words would start flowing.
In Margin Released JBP talks about the writing process:-
…the material… the basic stuff that has to be shaped, is delivered from some central store, the mind having crammed it full after years of observing and speculating both outside and inside…
If I had read these words before that afternoon it might have helped me see that there were already a few things I might have rescued from oblivion. However, there was a later afternoon that did the trick; it was a similar afternoon in late autumn 1964 when the English tutor David McAndrew (google colinblundell – ALL AND EVERYTHING scroll to MAY 18.2019) introduced us to five things worth looking for when writing about a poem: the words on the page, their nature & the way they work together, tone & gesture, the image system, structure, rhetoric & message. At last I had a strategy; I began to write long essays that had some dynamic form to them; I had what I’d now call a meta-position from which one could develop some kind of inkling of drive & direction with words. Without a meta-position one would continue to just flop about with words and unstable ideas. Determined to find David, whom I greatly admired, by Internet to thank him last year, I discovered that I’d missed him by a few months – he was getting on towards 90 years of age.
Much later on I thought that a useful meta-strategy was to make myself look like a thinker by smoking a pipe – the ideas would come with the smoke; I’d just have to be quick enough to scribble them down.
Tobacco is dope, but it is the most innocent of the dopes and probably the enemy of the others. Especially in a pipe. Consider what happens. When we are young, at the university freshman stage, we buy pipes and puff away at them because we feel there is some connection between pipe smoking and deep thinking… and though for years we cannot think deeply, can hardly think at all, we puff and puff away, always looking vaguely like deep thinkers, until at last a little thought comes creeping through, nothing very original, nothing very penetrating, but still – thought.
Listening to a friend describe how he’d stopped smoking cigarettes by using the NLP Swish technique (make a picture in the mind of yourself smoking (get the taste & feeling of it) then separately, maybe higher up, make a picture of yourself without the taste & smell & striding over the hills, for example, breathing pure fresh air, then keep swishing the latter image over the original one till it begins to fade away) following his process so intently, I haven’t smoked a pipe for thirty years, though I often felt I wanted to during all that time.
However, these damn bomber aeroplanes, practising international annihilation, kept up in the air for tens of thousands £££ a minute, remind me that I’m with JBP all the way.
I will wager that ninety-nine air journeys out of every hundred are really concerned with some bit of nonsense – like signing up a film star or arranging a boxing match – that could have waited for the train or the boat. Most of the people we know who are just going or have just arrived by air would do no great harm to civilisation if they never travelled at all… [The worst thing is] the sense of detachment that visits the aviator, who does not feel that the relief map and its ant-hills far below have anything to do with him. And very dangerous, in my opinion, this sense of detachment can be too. Whatever the flying man may feel, the fact remains that that relief map is so much honest earth and those ant-hills are the abiding places of our brothers and sisters.
But it makes so much easier to bomb anthills rather than wedding parties; you don’t have to think much about crushing ants under your feet.
I do not want our rulers and statesmen to do their travelling ten thousand feet above our heads. That is no way to learn about our common humanity. They begin to take the relief-map-and-ant-hill view of us. Only very wise men are fit to be rushed through the sky in this fashion and, unfortunately, we are only producing more and more aeroplanes, not wisdom.
The Search for Wisdom
JBP says that although he has other obligations that keep him very busy he has ‘a hobby like any other man, and it happens to be the search for wisdom. I look for it as other men look for rare birds… Again, though the world stands more in need of wisdom than of clowning, which is really what the newspapers are saying every day in their heaviest black type, even now it is better to be a good clown than a bad sage. Nevertheless, you cannot prevent the clown, even when he may be shouting or beating the drum in front of the booth, from playing the sage to himself…’
What would it be like if the whole education system were dedicated to the search for wisdom? – EDUCATION FOR SAGACITY. It would, of course, require a thought-revolution, the doing away with all Power Possessors by & for whom the present pedagogy is designed. The reason why the Tories & Power Possessors want kids back at school in the middle of a pandemic is so they don’t lose profits by their missing out on being able to add up, write a letter and work a computer, essentials for the mass production of factory & office fodder, business & bomb fodder.
Priestley, dismissed by high brows as too low brow and low brows as being too high brow, has obviously got it about right. He has developed a way of understanding the need for the search for wisdom. What is it that underpins such an intelligent state of mind?
One thing might be that he is profoundly anchored in real life. His life-anchors sustain him in some higher realm of being. Is this a knack we could all acquire? How does the process work? What is a life-anchor?
Writing long before NLP became a force to be reckoned with, though he defines them otherwise, Priestley is actually writing about ‘anchors’ in a technical sense. In NLP terms, they may be defined quite simply thus: ‘…residual patterns in the mind, deriving from events in the past, both visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory and gustatory, that act as triggers in the present for feelings, both positive and negative. They anchor you, take you back, fire you up, make you feel miserable, cause great excitement, depending on the nature of the original experience…’ (I recently devoted a whole Glob to the subject: see https://colinblundell.com/2020/05/25/plaguetime-5/) Notice how certain words & phrases Priestley refers to in the following act as triggers for feelings in the present moment. An NLP qualified person would now class them as ‘anchors’, but I quite like JBP’s phrase for the effect they have:-
There is a delightful sensation that visits me now and again, and has done ever since I can remember, and I have always called it ‘the aesthetic feeling’. Somebody will say ‘France’ or ‘wild horses’ or ‘Rome’ or ‘Eighteenth Century’, a country, a creature, a place, a period, a type of landscape, a kind of art, almost anything that has a richness of life in it, and immediately I am lost in a little vision of France or wild horses or Rome or whatever it might be, and feel happier than if somebody had just given me ten thousand pounds. There is no obvious reminiscence in these sensations, though they must be based on experience of some kind; and I am not thinking how it looked and felt to me, but rather – or so it seems at the actual moment – how it looks and feels to itself, how it really is.
Priestley relates this to a four-dimensional view – ‘the casting out of self’. The experience of an anchor acts in such a way as to suspend for a moment the Being-in-a-state-of-thinking-I:-
…there is a suggestion about these sensations of mine, which do not arrive every five minutes, but can light up half a day when they do come, that in their selfless enjoyment of the object they reproduce this four-dimensional outlook… they arise from that borderland between my tiny headland of a personal mind and the vast continent of impersonal mind or consciousness.
He says there’s a contrast between ‘a blind system, an aimless machine… which means nothing and is going nowhere…’ and mind which ‘…is the best notion we can have of the cosmos. If mind is the source and sustenance of things, our consciousness, instead of being an irrelevant by-product of the body’s action, is an irreducible, ultimate reality… the basis of the universe…’
What Priestley here refers to simply as ‘mind’, from the mighty power & sense he gives to it, I would call ‘Meta-I’, an entity which can step back in time – into events, bring back the VHFST (Visual- Hearing-Feeling-Smelling-Tasting or Very High Frequency with STereo sound) and make an amalgam for the future. He divides mind into Observer One & Observer Two but Meta-I can already step into selfless 4D.
Maybe there’s a ‘Universal impersonal Consciousness’ and at the deeper levels of our own consciousness we are less aware of ourselves as individuals. Yet this is not because at such levels we are less aware of everything, for it is also a fact that there our knowledge widens and our powers increase. Any stupid child, under deep hypnosis, is a wizard. Sometimes the ordinary limitations imposed on our conscious minds by time and space seem almost to disappear… [and] what we call ‘personality’ is a vehicle or one small focal point of this universal consciousness, or at least of what we may call a world-mind, which may itself be but a focal point of a universal consciousness. Under the hypnosis, a bit of it was sent wandering through one channel of life-story after another, like a gramophone-needle dropped into one record after another. Such life-stories remain like four-dimensional novels or dramas, waiting to be re-experienced by consciousness…
Priestley has it that Observer 1 can go back in what it calls ‘time’ to revisit anything in the so-called ‘past’ to re-exerience what it was like VHFST and then bring its intensity, its ecstasy, even though one might seek to avoid it, its horror back into the NOW to revivify it. Ultimately this would have the effect of unifying all past manifestations of ‘self’ – one Being, one Consciousness, Mind creating the entire Universe. Observer 2, as JBP suggests, appreciates all this out of time – or, as I would say, Meta-I stands apart from it all NOW and then enters into life with a renewed sense of control & understanding.
There is a vast struggling world-mind of which all our individual minds are but the cells; now and again, here or there, the world-mind expresses itself in a particular form…
What if Observer 2 or Meta-I somehow tapped into world-mind at special moments? What if it could tap into it for longer & longer periods? Satori, self-remembering, stepping out of the ordinary day-to- day world into the much larger one?
JBP tells how he made what sounds like a collage documentary film consisting of his choice from film studio stock shots ‘of every familiar sight, from the launching of a battleship to a cat cleaning her kittens, and [with] …sound tracks from all the world’s noises, from a tiger’s nocturnal roar to the Brahms clarinet quintet…’ He thought, ‘Why not make a selection from these and build them up into a brand-new film?’ This would reverse the normal practice of starting with a narrative which becomes a film, beginning, middle & end to turn a series of photographs into a narrative…’
In a way this is the technique that JBP has adopted for the construction of Godshill (and perhaps it’s way his novels are made up – many characters depicted in different situations gradually brought into synch, as it were). And isn’t this the way we re-construct the story of our lives anyway – many different remembered images fused into a collage of Multiple-I’s? We don’t start with a narrative unless we are determined to falsify what’s been going on.
The Annihilation of Time
Though clearly it will have taken longer than a day to put these 331 pages together, in the final chapter XVII JBP works a lovely time distortion on the reader, collaging all his memories into a single moment of time:-
And so it is evening… The rain has stopped and somewhere at the other side of the house there may be now the beginnings of a watery sunset. Here it is all a green and vague pulpiness; you feel you could take the hills between your hands and wring green water out of them. The rooks… are restless and raucous. With water here and mist there, the fields have nearly gone. Away beyond the tall elms, Godshill has clean vanished, perhaps for good, having had enough of our time.
…Nothing, I imagine, has been nicely settled for me since this morning. The nations have not decided to disarm and to spend a little of the money they would save on theatres for experimental dramatists. The English have not risen from their sleep, and are not now hurling their coronets and ermine capes into the Thames. A popular author, who considers himself not quite as good as most of his readers think he is, but a damned sight better than the remainder imagine, is not now, by some distant wizardry, in a far easier situation than he thought himself to be in this morning… All is, I have no doubt, exactly as it was when I came up here this morning. I still cannot make up my mind whether I am a fortunate man who feels unlucky, or a lucky man who feels unfortunate; but I still feel one of them, and therefore not very happy and vaguely contemptible. [But] somehow I feel as if to-day I have been a long way and now come back home again, and so I feel better than I did this morning. Not a lot better, thanks; but distinctly a little better…
We can compress all that memory-time into one moment NOW so that the whole book is a NOW which is just what Priestley set out to show – that one can go back in time as Observer 1 and bring it all back to influence the NOW…
The documentary film JBP made was called We Live In Two Worlds. He leads us out of his account of the process by pointing out that ‘…actually we live in many worlds. I entered a new little world when I helped to make this film. I had had some dealings with the ordinary British film industry. But this was quite a different world, this of the documentary film producers, directors and their assistants, whose social headquarters appeared to be a saloon bar just out of Soho Square…’ The idea of living ‘in many worlds’ is not far from saying that we consist of Multiple-I’s, each of which can step from one way of constructing the world to another quite different way, with different demands and atmospheres. In Wonder Hero Charlie Habble is abruptly dragged from his familiar life-pattern into a life of comparative luxury which he finds uncomfortable; he stops being down to earth Charlie Habble and steps into a different ‘I’, forced to inhabit a different world; the sudden return to his roots leads him to ‘question the whole system…’ ; the stark contrast between the two worlds depicted in the novel demonstrates how his Multiple-I’s are constructed.
Understanding how we live in different worlds, many different ‘I’s, would solve a lot of problems in life; it would enable us to cope with change & uncertainty: for example, in this Plague Time, how one can easily move from Having-fun-I or Relating-to-others-I, Exploring-the-world-I to Enjoying-being-isolated-I, instead of which people over-reliant on external pastimes choose to continue to engage with ‘herd inter-relationship’ & ‘the need for pageantry’ as a diversion from conflict & disturbance. Priestley relates how the Press stokes up enthusiasm for royal occasions, specifically the Coronation (1937); it’s all too easy for what one imagines to be one’s single ‘I’ to go along with the crowd.
The Press had been working hard on this function for months and months, and the public would have had to have been far more unsympathetic towards the whole business than they were to have withstood such a tremendous campaign. The cynical view was, of course, that the people had simply gone down before this terrific onslaught of all the forces of boost and ballyhoo, and that the excitement, which was real enough, was the natural result of all this artful propaganda. The sentimental view, which found its way into nearly all the newspapers, was that this was the opportunity for the people to show their loyalty, devotion, affection towards the Crown. These royal personages, riding about like fairy-tale characters in glass coaches, were not only friendly and dutiful fellow creatures but also symbols of the unity of a great empire.
But there’s a deeper reason:-
In spite of increasing opportunities for pleasure, our modern life, especially in a great industrial community, tends to be largely monotonous and colourless. And people like a show. It is true they are provided with many shows, but they are not the right kind of shows. They do not mean anything. They are merely ingenious and superficially gay, like musical comedies and spectacular films. They may be pageantry but they are not significant pageantry. Man seems to have a deep-seated need of significant pageantry. He demands highly-coloured and elaborate symbolism. The great cities of the past, Thebes, Babylon, Nineveh, Athens, Carthage, Tyre, Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Florence, medieval Paris and London, all glowed and glittered with this kind of pageantry, sometimes civic and secular, sometimes religious. Even the ordinary daily life of the past was coloured with symbolism. If we were suddenly shot back into the Middle Ages, we should feel we were living intensely through our eyes in a way we do not live nowadays. We should find ourselves in a world of significant shapes and colours. Even to-day, when we decide to celebrate on a large scale, we are compelled by the poverty of our own resources to imitate our ancestors. The flags and banners and coloured shields at your coronation tell their own tale. The dictators have been artful in feeding this old human hunger for significant shows.
Then there’s being herded together in place and thought. JBP’s experience of New York taught him this.
It is as if you were trying to live your life in the middle of a vast box of humanity. And my theory is that these new and fantastic conditions change your internal rhythm. We are not blocks of wood, to be lumped together in this fashion without effect. To begin with, we are dynamic creatures. We are electrical gadgets. We are moving radio sets. Then again, each of us has an invisible life. We carry about with us great unseen clouds of emotion. We pulsate with hope and fear. We trail, like fabulous brides, great shimmering lengths of dream. Our atoms dance to the music we hear in mad visions. Herd millions of us on to one small island, and keep on herding us until we are piled up in these monstrous layers – and there will be, must be, the devil to pay…
Then, by contrast…
How good it was, at the week-ends, to escape! In the country, where the leaves were ablaze again, the afternoons were as crisp as a nut… What a huge beautiful mistake New York seemed, when Monday morning rushed round again!
Keeping Young by Thinking Positive ANCHORS!
Priestley met up with Claude Bragdon, architect, stage designer, and author of many essays on higher space and kindred subjects; he published a very good autobiography, says JBP, More Worlds Than One. Amongst other things he wrote that ‘ideas keep men young’ – well, these days, we might well assert that the pursuit of ideas keeps people young. I do feel that to be the case for myself!
Anchors are ideas in the mind. Since I was very young I’ve had a mantra which goes, ‘I shall remember this moment [and this one and this one…] all my life’. Like Whitejacket in Hermann Melville’s eponymous novel, in idle moments I can run over my ‘almanac’ in an other-than-conscious kind of way – it’s become a habit. The simple chaining of anchors, with all the feelings & sensations (all senses alive) aroused in the original moment, causes brain activity when you’re least expecting it. Anchors are anchored in anchors! Priestley says:-
I was astonished to find that Bragdon, who had the look of a healthy man in his fifties, was actually in his seventies. He has had a very full life, of a kind unusual in America. One odd thing about him was that he struck me at once as looking curiously Oriental, like a calm wise Chinese, but I did not mention this until he had told me that he had a passion for Chinese art and that he had always felt, quite profoundly, that in a previous existence he had lived in ancient China. Deep feeling, he observed, is the test or, if you like, the clue; and I thought then, and think still, there is much wisdom in this belief. Whether we hold the view that we are immortal beings who make frequent reappearances on this earth or go to the other extreme and believe we are bits of matter that think, the fact remains that sudden and mysterious depths of feeling are revealed to us – by a certain kind of country, some particular form of art, some period of history, or even by a type of face – and we cannot understand why we should be strangely and deeply moved, for there is nothing in our superficial history to account for it.
I am quite at ease believing that I am just a ‘bit of matter that thinks’ and that the examples Priestley quotes revealing ‘sudden and mysterious depths of feeling’ in us are simply anchors –
…tests of and clues to our essential nature, to the innermost self. And certainly they do not belong to the small rational world, the little surface of life they map for us in the text-books. Nor do they merely colour the interior of people’s lives. They can shape and change the whole outward mode of living. One young man walks into a museum gallery of Egyptian antiquities and afterwards arranges his whole existence so that he can meditate on ancient Egypt. A woman on a long journey comes to a desert and is so deeply stirred that ever afterwards her heart aches to return to it. A man will toil day and night for years so that at last he can retire to a distant island that he knew for one morning. A girl will marry a man because he is the only one within reach who has a certain kind of speaking voice. This call to and response from the essential nature, the innermost self, we call romance, and it is as common as blackberries, and yet a mystery.
Why do I remember a very small moment on a cycling journey going up a hill somewhere in Hampshire with a field of poppies on the right which calls to mind another moment in a train somewhere in Scotland when I could see out of the window clouds of ox-eye daisies above the herbage in the embankment which calls to mind the clumps of wild valerian blooming on the cliffs in Boscombe not long after the war which puts me into the very act of standing now at the turn of a pathway in my father’s garden at the very moment I comprehended that the war was over – relief & no more doodlebugs, wondering how things might be different! Anchors as common as mysterious blackberries.
JBP keeps returning to the concept of the anchoring process though, of course, the word is not in his vocabulary with the meaning it has acquired through NLP. Making young people conscious of such a process will form an important part of EDUCATION FOR SAGACITY. A key part of the curriculum will be devoted to ‘the discovery of the many selves’, systematically cataloguing an anchor for each.
Constructing the Universe
In Chapter XIV of Rain Upon Godshill, JBP discusses the difference between the scientist who thinks of the world as ‘a series of mechanical operations’ and the ordinary person who perhaps sees it as ‘a mere muddle of accidents’. The third way of looking at it is that ‘our senses respond to a few limited wavelengths and out of them we have to construct the universe… The main line of progress runs through consciousness itself…’ What’s the clue that lies within ourselves?
Thinkers who engage in the confident & arrogant assertion that theirs is the only answer, that there is ‘nothing but’ their way of arguing a case, will never be able to understand the idea that we construct the universe after our own unique fashion. I found this poem in JBP’s prose :-
there are those who tell us
that life is ‘nothing but’ –
I would rather believe
that I am an ex-Babylonian queen
turned into a Yorkshire miner
by a Great White Master in Tibet
that I am being guided
by the spirit of my late great uncle Alfred
through a dead Red Indian
who speaks in the voice
of a stout woman in a Brixton basement
– anything rather than cocksure intellectuality
despising every age but this
because they didn’t know
how to fly the Atlantic
or use X-rays – you have only to read
a newspaper to discover
that we are the silliest people
who ever lived – prostitutes of all time
Saving the Soul from Life
In the EDUCATION FOR SAGACITY curriculum what guidance will there be to help young people to understand the clue that lies within ourselves to the conscious construction of the universe? It will have something to do with being able to maintain an intellectual position for oneself alone. In Rain Upon Godshill it’s a fairly lengthy analysis but it begins at the end of Chapter XIV when Priestley asks: ‘…what is the exact meaning of the [biblical] remark about saving the soul by losing it?’
I used to think that it meant that you must lose yourself in matters outside yourself, attach yourself to what is bigger than you are, not making your own existence the centre of the universe. This is certainly the way to be happy: to be so lost that you do not even ask yourself if you are happy and are not conscious of yourself in the middle of the picture. For there is no nourishment to be drawn out of sucking your thumb. But now I am coming to believe that saving the soul by losing it means much more than that. Something more profound than mere self-forgetfulness is hinted at, more than a busy altruism, more than enthusiasm for some cause, more even than a wide and deep charity. I suspect that you save your soul by losing it as a trickle of water loses itself in a river. On the other hand, you really lose it by hanging on and saving it – from death, we think [imagine], but really from life. This suspicion, which cannot yet be called a belief, came to me after I had a certain dream.
Saving the soul from life… It’s a long time before JBP gets round to continuing this point after entirely relevant diversions. Chapter XV, for example, begins with a long account of dream and dreamer during which after taking various dream experiences seriously, his own and those of others, fitting Jung’s account, he soon felt that dreams
…were an accompaniment, in some other sphere, to my waking life, having much the same relation to it that the exquisite and tragic tunes for the piano have to the vocal parts in the songs of Hugo Wolf. But just as a Wolf song is the voice and the piano, so our real life is our waking hours plus our dreams, which are just as much experience as our daylight adventures. Then I began to suspect that in our dreaming there is a clue, and a clue not only to our inward nature but also to the enduring nature of life itself. At the very moment when we seem to lose the real world we are beginning to find it.
Then JBP quotes one of those dreams that reverberate in the mind more or less forever:-
Just before I last went to America, during the exhausting weeks when I was busy with my Time plays, I had such a dream, and I think it left a deeper impression upon my mind than any experience I had ever known before, awake or in dreams, and said more to me about this life than any book I have ever read. The setting of the dream was quite simple, and owed something to the fact that not long before my wife had visited the lighthouse here at St. Catherine’s to do some bird-ringing. I dreamt I was standing at the top of a very high tower, alone, looking down upon myriads of birds all flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds. But now in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter, and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek and then, in a flash, bled and shrivelled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, this hurried mating, this flight and surge, all this gigantic meaningless biological effort? As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance, I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, if not one of us all, had been born, if the struggle ceased for ever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy. But now the gear was changed again, and time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate, that the birds could not show any movement, but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; and as soon as I saw it I knew that this white flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket-burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real, but this quivering and hurrying lambency of being. Birds, men, or creatures not yet shaped and coloured, all were of no account except so far as this flame of life travelled through them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought was tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never felt before such deep happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds, and if 1 have not kept that happiness with me, as an inner atmosphere and a sanctuary for the heart, that is because I am a weak and foolish man who allows the mad world to come trampling in, destroying every green shoot of wisdom. Nevertheless, I have not been quite the same man since. A dream had come through the multitude of business.
There is a ‘mad world’ and we can easily choose to let it come ‘trampling in’ so that it destroys ‘every green shoot of wisdom’. Without thinking about the bizarre horrors brought about by the current Plague, it is quite enough to be holding at arms’s length the ordinary horrors of a system that is not geared in the slightest to minister to the needs of ordinary people (as opposed to the Mogg/Gove toffs). It’s not so much that they come trampling in on us – we can hold them at arm’s length – it’s more a matter of proofing ourselves against them by non-identification – by taking steps to disidentify when we find ourselves invaded. Finding ourselves a tower is a good move – for me, it represents Meta-I, able to stand apart from ‘the real world’, in a permanent haven.
When I had my Big Operation very nearly ten years ago I visualised my own bit of the White Flame of Life existing in this place of many rooms, entirely separate from the ordinary life of flesh & bone which was due to suffer eight traumatic hours under the knife.
On a course I ran once with my mate Ed, I had the Delecates, as we used to call them, design a ‘House of the Mind’. One afternoon I drew this at the same time as they were playing with the idea.
Meta-I up in a tower or haven, free from the world, though capable of living comfortably in whatever world it is presented with, right the way down the ladder of being: this is the kind of magic that JBP has been said to enjoy most of all – not the entirely false ‘magic’ of Harry Potter but that which is embedded in ordinary mysterious blackberry daily life. It’s a tower whence Meta-I is able to see ways of stepping from one small ‘I’ to another in aid of resourcefulness.
Misguidedly, ‘I’ is the label we attach to activities in all of our separate worlds as though it were a single unified existent; thinking of it thus prevents us from knowing that we live in those many different worlds; it helps to confuse us when we imagine that it’s the same ‘I’ that feels miserable as, on the following day, can feel ‘on top of the world’.
JBP refers us to a Mr Jones, Everyman (& woman): he seems to himself, just as we do to him, just ‘a body among bodies’, an ‘appearance among appearances’; when he looks more closely he can’t find Jones anywhere only a series of Joneses, each of which dissolves into something else. We dissolve into our past as a conglomerate of events, feelings, attachments – we can’t find the ‘real’ self anywhere; the entity, such as it might be, is made up of a very long string of singularities. We might seek for patterns but they come and go kaleidoscopically.
There are moments of which you can say, as I could of my vision of life in the dream of the birds: ‘I was most wonderfully stirred’ or ‘I was in ecstasy’. But really you produce the personal pronoun to give the feeling a time-and-place reference, for you do not really feel there was any ‘I’ but only a ‘stirring’ or an ‘ecstasy’.
All we can truly say of our being is that there was a happening of some kind where CB (for example) imagined himself to be present; there were tons of invented occasions when it was like this, some more concrete, more apparently lively, than the others. For example:-
In black misery you certainly feel a solid little lump of ego, but the further you move away from misery the more the self seems to thin out, turning from a sort of thick egoistic substance into a large fragile vessel.
But still we have the habit of saying “I am in a black misery” which would be better expressed as Being-in-black-misery-I – one knows very well that before long one could deliberately step into Having-a-jolly-time-I. Or else it’s JBP’s nice alternative way of constructing things to say that there’s no ‘I’ in black misery, only a ‘black misery-ing’ – it does become a solid lump so you have to thin it out somehow – thin out the ‘I’s that contribute to it or mass around it; delete the clusters of things that give rise to it. That works. Thus – ‘…only when we seem to lose our selves from the ‘real world’ can we be said to begin to find what it means for ourselves…’ which is how JBP ended Chapter XIV 30 pages ago…
Emergence from the Rush of Life
Much of Rain Upon Godshill is devoted to reminiscences of Priestley’s hectic life between the beginning of 1937 and the 1st of September 1939. He is writing in his eyrie at the top of his house in the Isle of Wight, the whole period compressed into a NOW, starting where it ends.
He tells us how after a gruelling lecture tour (20 in a month travelling by train all over America) he returns to Arizona to another little workroom. He is a ‘requiring-to-be-in-a-small-enclosure person’ (Enneagram 5!).
The ranch had not changed, though most of the guests were strangers to me. My little shack on the bank of the invisible Hassayampa had been restored to its former modest order for me, and looked as if I had been away from it only a day or two. After the ceaseless noise and confusion of the last three months, the very sight of its little table and attendant chair made my mind and fingers itch to be writing again. And very soon I was, only interrupted by occasional days when we all went on picnics or tried to climb a neighbouring peak.
On one such excursion
…while I was being bounced about among the duffle-bags at the back of the station wagon, I was working out the chapters of a story, based on an idea I had had for years. It seemed to me that the preposterous action could be set in this astonishing part of the world. I would use the five of us, with some necessary disguises, as the chief characters. I made a few notes as we went along, and then on our return to the ranch I set to work and within nineteen days had written the tale. I called it ‘The Doomsday Men’, for it described how three crazy brothers (who are not unlike certain famous personages) tried to destroy the world. I enjoyed writing it, even at that wearing pace, and though it made no pretensions to be more than a faintly symbolic thriller, it moved at a good pace, sketched in some amusing backgrounds and minor characters, and actually had one or two pretty little bits of writing in it (try Chapter Eight), and so I hoped that other people would enjoy reading it. But I have a feeling that somehow they didn’t. (Everybody said it would make a wonderful film – except the film people.) Perhaps the times are now too stern for this sort of Stevensonian lark. Or again, which is more likely, perhaps it just was not good enough. My own quite genuine zest in the story, which was not attempted simply to boil the pot, may not have come through the writing to heighten the reader’s temperature. Moreover, any plot involving the destruction of the whole world must end in an anti-climax, for clearly you cannot destroy the world and still tell the tale, and yet if you do not destroy it people feel disappointed. In short, I suppose ‘The Doomsday Men’ was a mistake; yet I cannot see that it did anybody but myself any harm, and I cannot see that it did me any harm, for at a time when I felt restless and dissatisfied, not fit for anything more important, and when the sun had gone in and the rain and floods came, and in my shack I could now hear the Hassayampa roaring by, a torrent several hundred feet wide, I sat cosily for nearly three weeks and, in a happy if brittle dream, spun my yarn.
Thus I knew which Priestley text I would read next, looking forward particularly to Chapter Eight!
7 thoughts on “Plaguetime 10”
I’ve never read anything by JBPriestly, in fact in all my years as a graduate and post-graduate student I never hear his name mentioned by any of my professors or fellow students. I would like to correct this missing piece of my reading list and if my wife ever returns to work I will have her secure some of his books so I can get a better feel for his work.
In this country and I suspect in your country also an oligarchy has replaced democracy as our rule of government. This happened after WW2 when our government got in bed with the Military Industrial Complex, since then it’s been a one sided affair where both parties have been nothing more than a disguise.
This Glob covers a broad territory with the pandemic as its central operating principle. Here in America Colin 132 people died yesterday in Florida alone and what does our president do, he attacks his chief medical expert spewing lie after lie in a maddening tirade reminding us how deeply fucked we are. There are riots going on over wearing masks, over opening bars, with no regard for opening schools and the students and teachers health.
There is no such thing as anchors and forget Meta I we are like wounded animals searching for something to kill. To identify with what is going on is to become sick, one must practice more than social distancing, we need to somehow distance our internal posture, enjoy the simple pleasures of taking a walk, reading a book, experimenting with new foods and going back to the standards that were set in New York in late March. What a joy it was to see the streets and roads empty, to hear the birds loud and clear on a bust street.
But just because my wife and I rejoiced in this lifestyle and found it easy to transition to we understand that most found this time to be full of stress, anxiety, fears, loneliness but why? What a wonderful opportunity we’ve been given and if it were not for all the deaths I would go so far as to celebrate this plague.
I realize you are only writing for a few people who follow this glob and I look forward to reading Priestley in a proper fashion but I’m afraid most of the lemmings in England and America just can’t wait for business as usual: use up all the resources, destroy the planet as fast as possible, disregard those with less, get to the next football game, cheer on our silly celebrities, open the pubs, pig out at the nearest fast food restaurant and die without ever having lived!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Sad to say how much I agree with your forecast of America returning to business as usual, Patrick. And at the same time, I feel a glimmer of hope that the country could be on the verge of significant change as a result of both the pandemic and the emerging movement for social, racial, and economic justice. But of course, first we have to get through what promises to be a contentious and drawn-out mail-in election unlike any we’ve yet to experience. Plenty of room there
for authoritarianism to prevail, no doubt. Still, I hope …
Priestley spent a lot of time in America, lecturing, crossing swords, arranging for his plays to be put on, writing autobiographically about his trips and stays. Strange that he’s not in the repertoire…
There was a brief period after 1945 when this country was transformed by what I suppose one could call Socialism. The Right has been trying to demolish the revolution (health service, public ownership & so on), for which Priestley was partly responsible, ever since. Now the Fascists are succeeding under cover of the Plague & Brekshit. We live in a dictatorship of dolts. Sounds like you’re in the same boat.
There are a few optimists around who keep talking about things being different after the Plague – there’s no chance unless people WAKE UP. We should be re-assessing the point of living, trying to answer G’s question ‘What am I doing here?’, But the Power Possessors have it all sewn up.
You’ve seen an aerial photo of where we live I think. It’s pull up the drawbridge time. But I really feel for those who are suffering – either with no job & no money or hopelessly dependent on football, fun, pubs, beach parties & going back to what’s called ‘normal’.
I’m writing all this stuff because I’ve got the time and leisure and I’ve promised my lovely daughter another ROOM book consisting of Essays in a Time of Plague! This keeps me disciplined. I’m not sure I think that anybody else could possibly be really bothered about Priestley! 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Really looking forward to this new ROOM book, Colin! Onward, indeed!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I can’t think of a better reason for writing these globs. Onward!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Since posting this Glob, I’ve now read The Doomsday Men. It is, far from being ‘a mistake’, a truly glorious romp of a book; a splendidly woven ‘plot’ with what I’m realising is Priestley’s standard (& effective) methodology – various apparently completely separate strands gradually knitted together. Chapter 8 is lovely (technical word…) You could classify the book as ‘Science Fiction’ – it would kind of fit there: it works as a metaphor for what Priestley expresses quite often in his autobiographical writings as a great desire to completely destroy things as they are and start all over again with attitudes that ministered to humanity. I sometimes think this might be the solution but then I think of Ouspensky’s Ivan Osokin…
LikeLiked by 1 person