Sunday, March 2, 2014

upon his brain, the thought kept coming back to him

That bit of a sentence in my last post, The integrity of [thought] must be important to the author, was disingenuous, because I already knew that it was important to him -- how did I know -- because he says so elsewhere, says it blatantly, defending (year after year, it's in his non-fiction as well as his fiction) the right or necessity of people to be eccentric, and to think in wayward ways, and to have those wayward ways respected and not attacked, especially by psychoanalysis, a science that he has placed in a mental cupboard next to the one where he keeps the vivisection of dogs.

The doctor who runs the lunatic asylum in The Inmates (1952) is a dog vivisectionist and in fact keeps a pit of dead dogs in a grove of fir trees on the asylum grounds. The same combination of asylum and vivisection occurs in Weymouth Sands (1934). "And all this while, like an evil blood-clot upon his brain, the thought kept coming back to him of the vivisection he felt sure went on in one of those buildings of iron and glass and pale brick, where Dr. Brush studied pathology among the inmates of Hell's Museum."

His characters in other books are often mad or they behave madly, or they have "fetishes," or moments of fetish or moments of vision, like the one that Morfydd in Porius goes through when she sees the spirit of the world staring at her through a river-bubble. There is a financier in Weymouth Sands who becomes praiseworthy when the author discovers that he is a miser. "[F]or all his daring financial schemes, [he] had something of that romantic intensity of a miser's psychology which like all great passions possesses its own especial dignity."

In 1953 when Powys writes In Spite Of: a Philosophy for Everyman he refers to the "new-fashioned psychiatrists and psychoanalysts," who are "our modern medicine-men."

Anything less philosophical than their invention of the whole idea of what they have come to call " the unconscious ", that tank of monsters shaped like the excrement of antidiluvian sea-serpents, could hardly be imagined, or anything more grotesquely mediaeval and luridly fantastic than the human faces of these excremental abortions as they bob up and down out of their bloodstained excrescences, just as certain gargoyles, that most frequenters of cathedrals can remember, emerge from the choir-stalls, at particular moments of riddling and ransacking emotion, and then retreat again into the recesses of their green-black woodwork.

But if our experts emphasize the monstrous water-demons that coil round each other in that tank we all are accused of concealing in the depths of our being, it begins to grow clearer and clearer why of all illusions of the human mind the one about which our soul-physicians are most deeply concerned and most anxious to "cure" is the "Messiah-Complex".

"Us mad ones," he says: "The more Messiahs there are in our mad world the more of us mad ones will be cured."

[S]ince our two world-wars have slid into what exists to-day, the medical science of our time has returned full circle to all the cruel, horrid, disgusting, black-magical dabblings in methodical witchcraft, in hypnotism, in vivisection, in experimental medicine-making from excrescences ejected from every conceivable organ of beast-organism that can be squeezed or wrung out, against which the prophetic Paraceleus warned us in vain.

To squeeze, to wring, to extract, to lay bare, is wrong in Powys; to repress, to forget, to leave a flower alone, to mythologise a hint, all of those are good talents. "Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, was the mother of the Muses, but she is also the mother of what is best forgotten. I pray, O convertite, that you may acquire not only a good memory but a good "forgettory"."

Porius, distracted by dung and moths during the death of his male relative, is not entering a period of repression or avoidance that needs to be cured, he is instead extending himself into a new area of conception where his ideas densen into a mass of connections that gives him insights and comprehensions; it is the opposite of a psychoanalyst's mythology.


  1. This is a very attractive idea, this leaving things alone, this idea that some ways of being are best left alone, that not everything is a neurosis or pathology that must be dissected and/or repaired. You've heard the one about how Freud never went on vacations because he was afraid that his patients would get well in his absence?

    1. I've never heard that one. They can probably treat that kind of anxiety, you know. Give him pills or gin or something. It worked for Geoffrey Hill. Poems came at the rate of glaciers till they got him on the antidepressants. Then boom. Ten minutes later the smoke clears and he's written three quarters of his current Collected. "Nothing is unforgettable but guilt." I wonder if the medical company uses that in the marketing.

  2. Tom sent me over because I love what Powys I've read (just three books, and not in a long while) and have been thinking about him lately. And for what it is worth (two cents, evidently), I like his love for eccentricity and defense of not squeezing the meaning out of things and people and experiences (and books, which are also experiences.)

    1. Which ones did you read? I started with The Brazen Head about five years ago and came back to him recently when I found Maiden Castle at the library.