Tuesday, 27 November 2007

A Migratory Spirit

Across to the Bristol Channel Through the Trees

To suggest as even possible that one can take a view of life that extends outside the normal human consciousness – that reverts, in fact, to the remote vegetable-world in the one direction, and anticipates some super-human godlike sense-life in the other direction – seems to these ugly watch-dogs of human prisons and privies the last word of the ludicrous.

There is evolution in other respects. Everybody believes that the trunk of the elephant evolved and that the neck of the giraffe evolved and that the prickles of the ea-urchin evolved and tat the uprightness of Homo Sapiens evolved. Why should not this “ichthyosaurus-philosophy” prove to be something that emanates from the beginning of a new evolutionary phase? Whey should not the particular kind of ecstasy, the wretched and crude rudiments of which it has been given me to describe, turn out to be a new evolutionary phenomenon like the elephant’s trunk, the urchin’s prickles, the sea-horse’s scales, the neck of the giraffe, the spots of the leopard?

Happiness, ecstasy, are not entirely material like these; but they undoubtedly have a material basis. Why should not this ichthyosaurus-book be a straw upon the wind, indicating that certain individual human beings are going to develop new powers on psychic-sensual happiness? Man has develop brain power and love-power and torture-power; why should he not develop happiness-power? In fact, it were not offence to the noble and true Rousseau-doctrine of “the equality of all souls” if we maintained that in the world around us now are certain human beings, in every class of society – solitary, fantastic, grotesque, human beings, the laughing stock of the vulgar herd – who have developed a power of secret, overbrimming, exquisite happiness – like the happiness of certain mystics and saints in the past – which is just as different from the rival pleasures and silly boredoms of the others, as the neck of the giraffe is different from the neck of the mongoose.

The great thing is to make perpetual mental war upon the whole tone, temper, and morale of modern existence in a commercial community. The great thing is to convert as many individuals as possible to the idea of living a static life in place of a dynamic life, a contemplative on e in place of an active one. Let all honest men and women earn their living in an honest way, let them recognise that they owe nothing more to humanity. Each must do his job to keep the thing going. But the wiser you are, the more you will reduce the burden of your job to the narrowest limits; and then - send Society to the devil!…

…The thing to do is to think of yourself not as a human being at all, but as a migratory spirit, at present inhabiting a human body. One ought constantly to make a definitive introspective effort to detach one’s “ego” from its human envelope and contemplate that envelope with humorous detachment. There is much more in this particular gesture than has yet been realised. But one of the most natural ways of using it is to separate your inmost soul from its human associations. Thus you can think of your “ego” as your real self, and regard it as a humorous accident… that you were ever lodged in a human covering… It is only then that you find yourself instinctively feeling your natural link with a beetle “rolling a ball of dung,” or a yellow gnat drinking pig’s urine, or a little, soft, green maggot inside a splash of cuckoo-spit.

In Defense of Sensuality
John Cowper Powys
Victor Gollancz Ltd 1930

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