The Sources of Religious Insight

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sources of Religious Insight [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Josiah Royce.

Royce The Sources of Religious Insight

I found this 1912 book to be surprisingly worthwhile. It’s a set of lectures by Harvard academic Josiah Royce, with a scope situated somewhere between philosophy of religion and religious psychology. It is not theological or sectarian. When Royce observed that “It is useless to make some new sect whose creed shall be that there are to be no sects” (294), I could not help thinking with amusement that he was indicting the Plymouth Brethren, just such a sect, as well as their “non-denominational” successors among “Bible-believing” Christians.

Speaking during the later part of the Progressive Era, Royce refers to William James as “my dear friend” (27), and particularly in the book’s fourth section “The World and the Will” he is at some pains to explain how his views both accord with and differ with those attributed to philosophical Pragmatism. In an earlier section on “Individual Experience and Social Experience” he also details his particular understanding of James’ theory of religion, as well as providing a surprisingly generous and sympathetic gloss on Nietzsche’s “Titanism” (60 ff.).

Although Royce’s willingness to class Christianity and Buddhism as the “higher religions of mankind” (8) and his use of the search for human “salvation” as the touchstone of religion as such seem like stigma of a thinker with whom I would find few if any points of agreement, he develops his argument with a good deal of care and patience. In the culmination of his fifth lecture “The Religion of Loyalty,” he arrives at what I consider to be cardinal truth: “For our attention is now fixed, not on a condition to be called salvation, but on a rule for doing something in accordance with our own true will” (188). Before the lecture concludes, he progresses from this pivot to insisting that “your true cause is the spiritual unity of all the world of reasonable beings” (205, italics in original).

The final lecture is concerned with what Royce calls “The Invisible Church” which transcends all limited doctrines and specific cultures, although he gives no signal of having drawn on esoteric thinkers such as Eckartshausen and Lopukhin for his use of this phrase. Royce is sufficiently scrupulous in his avoidance of theological identification that it is impossible to tell if he originally took “Invisible Church” from the contexts in which it has been used as a gloss on Augustinian anti-Donatist notions supposed to be common to all Western Christianity, or if he was specially receptive to the Protestant usage which allowed for institutional legitimation via a supra-historical avoidance of Roman Catholicism. In any event, Royce uses it in neither sense, and he is explicit that he extends “membership” in the Invisible Church to those “loyal” to non-Christian religions, as well as to the “cynics and rebels” who attack “the narrowness of our nature, the chaos of our unspiritual passions, the barren formalism of our conventions” (285).

So, while there are any number of points where I feel my views to be in friction with those of Royce, I found his treatment on the whole to be both coherent and productive of useful reflection. I would recommend it to clergy, scholars of religion, and others willing to give serious thought to its questions.

Graham switched on the lights and bloodstains shouted at him from the walls, from the mattress and the floor. The very air had screams smeared on it. He flinched from the noise in this silent room full of dark stains drying.

Thomas Harris, Red Dragon [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Harris Red Dragon lights bloodstains shouted air screams smeared noise silent dark stains

A shock wave of horror shuddered through Memorial Hall as people realized how many of their neighbors and friends, in the safety of anonymity, had been seduced by sensationalism and gut feelings. There was cheering and there was anger, there were those who cried and those who screamed for a rebellion, but most were satisfied that justice had been done.

Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Hex [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Heuvelt Hex shock wave horror people safety anonymity seduced by sensationalism gut feelings

Giraffes on Horseback Salad

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dalí, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Josh Frank, with Tim Heidecker, illo. Manuela Pertega.

Frank Heidecker Pertega Giraffes on Horseback Salad

As an admirer of both the Marx Brothers and Salvador Dalí (and who isn’t?) I was surprised that I had never heard of their abortive Hollywood film project Giraffes on Horseback Salad until finding this book, which resurrects and fulfills it in the form of a graphic novel. In the “unmade movies” department of my cultural awareness, it now has a roost next to the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which also involves Dalí, strangely enough.

Josh Frank is responsible for the research and reconstruction of the film from the preliminary script, studio pitch, and notes by Dalí, and he also supplies most of the front matter and end matter with notes on his process, history of the project, Dalí’s relevant biography, and related speculation. There is also a note from comedian Tim Heidecker, who helped to flesh out the reconstructed feature, and a short essay on “Dalí and Harpo” by Bill Marx, Harpo’s son.

The artist for the central graphic novel is Manuela Pertega. Her drawings are expressive and effective, and I was especially pleased by the large full-page panels and two-page spreads depicting irruptions of the surreal. Her ability to represent the Marx Brothers as comics characters unfortunately falls well short of the lofty standard set by Dave Sim in Cerebus, but is nevertheless a reasonable success. Happily, she is in no way constrained by cinematic feasibility of the 1930s. It would be a treat to see a short based on her visual imagination in one of the more extreme scenes, now that digital effects make nearly any concept realizable on the screen.

Dalí’s “film” tells the story of Jimmy, an expatriate Spanish aristocrat in the US, who is torn between the forces of mundane power and transformative dream, represented in the persons of his fiancée Linda and the mysterious Woman Surreal, respectively. It includes several musical numbers, designed after the American stage and cinematic tradition to be easily abstracted from their narrative context. Although there is no musical scoring in the book, the verses are hypothetically realized with never-written tunes by Cole Porter.

I enjoyed this book for its historical perspectives and creative efforts.

Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Lin Carter.

Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria by Lin Carter

I read The Wizard of Lemuria in its “revised and expanded” second edition, in which author Lin Carter added back passages originally cut from his first published novel. He mentions in his foreword that although it was his first book published, it was his seventh novel written, and I dread to contemplate the six rejected ones! Although “expanded,” it is still a short book I was able to read in three or four sittings. The copy I have is falling apart at the spine, and I thought I should read it while the pages were still in their proper sequence.

This sword-and-sorcery yarn is an undemanding read with no original ideas detectable in it whatsoever. Protagonist Thongor is a Conan clone: a black-maned Northlander who “in the years of his wanderings and wars as a vagabond, hired assassin, thief, and now mercenary, … had learned every trick of swordplay with every type of weapon” (13). He is evidently destined for a throne as well. He mistrusts wizards, but finds himself allied to one for the central quest of the story, which involves a threat to the entire universe typical of superhero comic book conflict escalation. The setting is the ancient continent of Lemuria, with a prefaced map in Carter’s own hand that is nevertheless entirely unhelpful in illustrating the geography relevant to the adventures in the text.

Every chapter has an epigram from an imagined Lemurian text, and most of these are in verse. There is also some poetry integrated into the text, as Thongor is fond of “roar[ing] out the harsh staves of his Valkarthan war song” (75) as he does battle. These ditties are surprisingly tolerable.

The pacing and structure of the book owe more to Edgar Rice Burroughs than to Robert E. Howard. It is episodic with cliffhangers often featuring capture and/or unconsciousness as transitional devices. Thongor acquires a companion named Karm Karvus (cf. Tars Tarkas of Barsoom). Malevolent priesthoods supply multiple villains, although Carter terms these “druids.” At the end of the book, Thongor pledges himself to the political cause of the princess Sumia, who is herself smitten with him and not ambitious for worldly power.

The Jeff Jones cover art for this 1969 edition is better than the book’s contents, and does not actually depict a scene from the novel. There are evidently another five Thongor books, but on the evidence of this one I will not be seeking them out.