Friday, June 22, 2007

Pagan Regeneration


REVIEW: ON BEING A PAGAN. Alain de Benoist (Ultra, Atlanta, 2004)

My initial impression of reading Alain de Benoist is of being pleasantly accosted by the archetypal French philosopher and being taken to a Paris café where the author engages in vibrant, passionate argument across a table stacked with bottles of red wine while gesticulating with a Gitane. By the end of the first few chapters this impression of frivolity has dissipated as the force of de Benoist's argument takes over. His style is vivid, knowledgeable and playful – but the ideas he plays with are profound and soon the idea and the power of his position take dominance. The chatty French voice is overwhelmed by the strength and depth of his arguments and insights.

In the bulk of the book, de Benoist compares and contrasts Europe's original Aryan spirituality with the later infestation of Semitic monotheism from the Middle East. Here is a polemic for anyone who desires to understand how truly corrosive Semitic monotheism has been in Europe, not just on homosexuality and sexuality generally, but more profoundly and shockingly on the deepest strata of Aryan (here called Indo-European, presumably out of politeness) psyche and culture. Jews/ Christians/ Muslims are shown as introducing an alien antithesis to the core beliefs of our culture. Whatever the prevailing Aryan cultural values of any particular time, you can be sure that the Semitic monotheists believed the opposite.

Towards the end of the book, de Benoist embarks on a description and history of non-dualist mystical philosophy in Europe. Non-dualism is a tricky subject: it is the one mode of thought that forever slips from the grasp of expression (like trying to explain the 4-dimensional space-time continuum, or quantum mechanics). When I worked at Watkins esoteric bookshop off Charing Cross Road, we had a whole floor dedicated to non-dualist/ advaita literature. So much to say so little! Alain de Benoist’s last few chapters are no different, yet he makes a better bash of it than most, and importantly puts the subject into a European cultural context.

Once again in a recent book review, I feel compelled to say a word about what I consider to be a mis-matched front cover, that reminds me more than anything of the rather lurid covers favoured by American publishers Llewellyn to adorn their pagan book titles ten years ago. Some people may enjoy the artwork of Madeline von Foerster, with its graphic depiction of Odin flanked by his totem animal symbols of wolf and raven, lifting in his one hand a drinking horn and in the other gesturing the reader to accept the offering of an eye of wisdom. I would prefer a cover inspired by 1930s political poster art, or a science-fiction-style spacescape depicting Imperial battleships patrolling a hazardous solar system at the further reaches of our galaxy, bringing order to chaos. Both alternatives would be just as fitting.

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2 Comments:

Blogger R said...

The reviewer describes the book cover incorrectly. Alisdair writes, "lifting in his one hand a drinking horn and in the other gesturing the reader to accept the offering of an eye of wisdom." Odhinn is not lifting the drinking horn - he is not even holding it. In this picture he is offering his eye in exchange for the drinking horn. The image is a depiction of the story of Odhinn's sacrifice of his eye for the privilege of drinking from Mimir's Well. Self-sacrifice and even risking one's personal safety to acquire knowlwedge & wisdom is a common theme in the stories relating to Odhinn, and this process of exchange is even reflected in the larger mythology where "a gift ever seeks a gift."

1:52 PM  
Blogger Alisdair Clarke said...

You're right - I stand corrected. I was so put-off by the cover that I didn't look at it closely! If I'd learnt the lesson of Odhinn properly I wouldn't have made the mistake.

1:08 AM  

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