A Revolutionary Interview

Here’s a link to an interview I did recently with Gregg Moffitt for his Legalize Freedom website about my book Revolutionaries of the SoulThis is a collection of biographical articles I’ve written over the years about a variety of philosophers, occultists and mystics, published in Fortean Times and other periodicals. Gregg is a good interviewer, who not only reads the book in question, but actually thinks about it, a rarity these days.

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6 thoughts on “A Revolutionary Interview

  1. Hi Gary Lachman,

    I first discovered Colin Wilson back in the 1960s with The Outsider, Religion and the Rebel and a whole bunch of others including The Occult and The History of Murder. I’m briefly mentioned in the Acknowledgements of his Alien Dawn, xiv, I sent Colin a copy of Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind to him, a book I discovered while working at the Strand Bookstore. At one time I was interested in the Spider Worlds the I have two of them: The Delta, The Tower; there must be a third?

    Odd coincidence, back in the 1990s I went to the Omega Institute in Rinebeck, New York for a workshop on Tantra. I got into the train at Penn Station and sat down. The train was about to take off when an English couple came dashing in with luggage. They sat right across from me. At first I thought they were just English tourists, but quickly realised they were Colin Wilson and his wife Joy. We talked the whole way to the Omega Institute and several times at breakfast. Somehow I missed the advertisement for his workshop and took the one on tantra instead.

    Let’s see… I’m 73 years old and never finished a university degree. My wife and I live in almost rural Vermont.

    Way back in the late 1960s I was a paratrooper, legal clerk and somewhat of a courier in Vietnam. After taking several semesters at a community college I left and went to a language school in Besancon, France. At that time one of the teachers introduced me to Boris Vian, a polymath who was an amateur jazz musician, old car collector, writer of novels, short stories, essays, plays and song writer. Vian had a heart problem since childhood and died early. He was 39 years old and died in 1959. He is best known for his novel, L’Ecume des jours (Foam of the Daze) and recently made into the movie, Mood Indigo, and also his anti-war song Le Deserteur. I have some seven biographies on Vian in French. As far as I know there are no biographies in English.

    Forget the above. Now we dive into some real stuff and what this email is all about. I’ve been working on Alfred Jarry’s influence on James Joyce, off and on, for over 30 years. As of now, nothing has been published.

    In 1976 I became a member of the College of Pataphysics. The College would meet about every two months at the Polydor Restaurant on rue Monsieur Le Prince, not far from what was Shakespeare & Co. own by Silvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier’s bookstore, La Maison des Amis des Livres; both bookshops located on Rue de L’Odeon. Silvia Beach helped publish Ulysses in 1922.

    First of all, it’s my opinion, that Jarry is greatly misunderstood. He is mostly known for his play Ubu Roi and for being a father of Surrealism and Dada. That is only partially true. He has been forgotten for his seven unreadable novels. Rachilde (Marguerite Eymery, wife of Alfred Vallette chief editor of the Mercure de France) challenged Jarry to write like everybody else. The professor Michael Arrivé, author of Lire Jarry (Read Jarry) comments that sadly Jarry is most known for his personality than for what he wrote.

    Jarry road a bicycle in the rain at night through the streets of Paris, carried a snub-nosed revolver in public (Picasso was supposed to have inherited the talisman), enjoyed fishing and boating. I have two volumes of Jarry’s collected works; there are three, I would guess it comes to over 3,000 onion skin pages. Sadly Jarry is mostly known for his antics, practical jokes and one pay, Ubu Roi. Jarry died at the age of 34.

    Jarry had a solid knowledge of Latin and Greek as well as English and German. Jarry translated Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and a novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, Olallia and a play by the German dramatist, Christian Dietrich Grabbe, “Joke, Satire, Irony and Deeper Meaning” which influenced Dada and German Expressionism.

    “[Jarry] had studied hard enough to absorb the prodigious knowledge of Greek and Latin required for entry to the Khagne at the Lycée Henri IV, the two year preparatory class for the École Normale Supérieur examination. He had a reasonable command of English and German and his mastery of mathematics and sciences was strong enough for him to consider a career in science” (Jill Fell, 26).

    Here is what Jill Fell, author of Alfred Jarry: An Imagination in Revolt says about Jarry’s writing:

    “Despite its nonchalant tone, “Linteau” [“Lintel” is the introduction to Jarry’s “Black Minutes of Memorial Sand”] is of capital importance for interpreting all Jarry’s future work. It sets out the contract between writer and reader. Any potential reader of Jarry’s texts must remind himself of the terms of the contract before embarking. Jarry stands like Cerberus in front of his texts. He deliberately and openly blocks the way in. To commune with or confide in his fellow beings is not his aim.” Patrick Besnier, editor of Jarry’s complete works, published by Galliard, comments that “Lintel” resembles less an introduction than a declaration of war on the reader.

    The translator of “Black Minutes of Memorial Sand” comments that the title has eighteen possible meanings. One example, word sable in French means sand (implying an hourglass) as well as the animal known for its fur and the color black in heraldry.

    Jarry’s writing is polysemic. Polysemy is the multiplicity of meaning which often leads to deliberate ambiguity. Keith Beaumont writes, “The importance of this principle of polysemy for an understanding of Jarry cannot be overestimated.” Interestingly John Bishop in his introduction to Finnegans Wake mentions that for all its polysemy, Finnegans Wake has a particular linear plot line. One can say the same for Jarry.

    It’s odd that Jarry’s very basic influences are Shakespeare, Ibsen and Homer, the same as Joyce’s. Strange also, is the fact that nowhere does joyce ever mention Jarry in his correspondence, notebooks nor, as far as I know, are Jarry’s works listed in Joyce’s library.

    “In the history of Ubu Roi criticism, Jarry’s play is rarely discussed without mentioning at least briefly, that the basic skeleton of the plot his its roots in the works of Shakespeare” (Mittenberg, C., Alfred Jarry’s Shakespearean Spirit in Ubu Roi). Claude Schumacher notes Ubu Roi is a conscious reworking of Macbeth with references to Richard III, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, The Tempest. “Jarry refused to believe in the intrinsic grandeur of man; he shows murder for what it is: a messy and undignified affair.” In my opinion this is the difference between Jarry and Joyce. Joyce attaches himself to the glory of Macbeth and Hemlet.

    Adaline Glasheen, Third Census of Finnegans Wake, 260, “To my mind, Shakespeare (man, works) is the matrix of FW: a matrix is the womb or mold in which something is cast; a matrix is the rock mass in which metal, fossils, gems are enclosed or embedded.”

    “Ah, there’s only one man he’s got to getter better of now, and that’s Shakespeare!” Nora Joyce.

    It’s my opinion, Joyce must have read and understood Jarry and then since nobody was really reading Jarry, used Jarry’s work and kept it a secret.

    In 1983 during the weekend of Bloomsday (16 June 1904, the day Joyce first went walking with Nora Banacle and the doy of the action of Ulysses), I took a trip to Sandycove, a suburb of Dublin, to interview Robert Anton Wilson, author of the Illuminatus Trilogy, Cosmic Trigger, Coincidance: Synchronicity and Isomorphism in FW, and other books. The interview was translated, edited and published in French. During my stay in Dublin, both Arlen and RAW took me around to say Joyce’s Dublin. One could see Martello Tower, the scene of the first episode of Ulysses, from Robert Anton Wilson’s kitchen window. We had lunch at the Ormond Hotel, scene of the Siren’s episode.

    When I got back to the Paris apartment and my girlfriend, I began reading Finnegans Wake and Ulysses in earnest. On page 463 I came across, “jarry queer fish” and wrote to several Joyce scholars wondering if Jarry had any connection to Joyce. Rolland McHugh, editor of Annotations to Finnegans Wake replied saying he had read Ubu Roi years ago and saw no connection to FW. That basically started my research.

    I kept in contact with Robert Anton Wilson and went to several of his lectures in California and New York during the 1990s.

    In the 1990s I worked at the Strand Bookstore in NYC. In NY I met William Anastasi who has written on Jarry’s influence on Joyce, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. Anastasi says, and I concur, “few characters in Finnegans Wake are based on only one individual. I [Anastasi] believe that Shem, a.k.a., Jerry, is based on Alfred Jarry, and to a lesser degree on Joyce himself. Joyce often seems to treat Jarry as his own twin, double, alter ego, or even spiritual father.”

    I would go a little farther, the man servant Earwicker’s pub in Finnegans Wake is known as Sackville, Sacksoun, Sockerson, Soakersoon, etc… The hero of Jarry’s last but not finish novel, La Dragonne (The She Dragon) is Erbrand Sacqueville. Jarry’s mother supposedly was related to Herbrand Sackville, Duce of Dorset.

    At that point I almost gave up my investigation of Jarry and Joyce, but decided to continue as a sort of hobby.

    Some things I find really odd. Joyce had an eye disease, claucoma. One of Jarry’s favorite words was glaucus, a blueish gray color sea color. The word glaucous relates to Pallas Athena, the spear-shaker and to owls. Jarry kept a live owl and had several stuffed owls. Leopold Bloom contemplates a stuffed owl in the Ithaca episode in Ulysses.

    Another odd word that connects Jarry and Joyce is the word troll.

    Joyce had been more of a vagabond than ever having been kicked out of his uncles house. In September of 1904 Joyce found lodging at Martello Tower on the Atlantic beach in Sansycove. There were two other people living there, Oliver Saint-John Gogarty and Samuel Trench, both had been to Oxford. Samuel Trench becomes Haines in Ulysses (perhaps La Haine – hate in French) and Gogarty becomes Buck Mulligan. Joyce, who attended Jesuit schools and knew Latin, but never had a working knowledge of classical Greek. I rivalry developed between Gogarty, who flaunted his knowledge of Greek and the classics, and Joyce. In the first episode of Ulysses, Buck Mulligan says to Stephen Dedalus, “God Kinch (Gogarty’s word for knife blade and nickname for Stephen Dedalus, model for Joyce in Ulysses), if you and I could only work together, we might do something for this island. Hellenise it.”

    Something like this may have actually happened. Joyce eventually locates in Paris in the 1920s. By this time Jarry has been put on the shelf.

    In 1896 Jarry’s two pet projects were Ubu Roi and the assistance director of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Jarry spent a lot of energy directing Ibsen’s play. With a few reservations Ibsen’s Peer Gynt got a favorable review by George Berngard Shaw. Edvard Munch did the designed the poster and program. Jarry played the king troll.

    There are several points connecting act IV of Peer Gynt to Jarry’s play Ubu Cuckolded and as well to Leopold Bloom, cuckolded husband of Molly Bloom. Several things in the Penelope section of Ulysses also have strong links to Jarry.

    I am probably wrong and Joyce scholars may agree, but it is my contention that Joyce discovered Alfred Jarry, especially Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Fraustroll (Faustroll combines Faust and Troll), but also Jarry’s Caesar Antichrist and Absolute Love (Amour Absolu) and kept them to himself, to ensure his immorality, as Joyce would say.

    Just after “jarry queer fish” in Finnegans Wake, we find “I hate him … yet am I amorist.” This, in my opinion, refers to Jarry’s L’Amour absolu which starts with a man who is either a half asleep at his writing desk or the same man waiting to be guillotined for murder. The rest of the novel concerns this character. This person, Emmanual Dieu, has a family which is both Joseph, Mary and Jesus as well as Laius, Jocasta and Oedipus.

    Basically, Jarry’s Faustroll is based on Homer’s Odyssey. According to Ben Fisher’s The Pataphysian’s Library, “Jarry had a real ability in classical languages” and “The Odyssey is a fertile source for the composition of Faustroll, not least as the origin of the voyage structure. Boox XI, The Book of the Dead, is of particular importance.” Interestingly Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey is also the Joyce’s model for the Hades episode of Ulysses.

    In 1906 Joyce begins to work on Ulysses. In 1907 Joyce writes to his brother Stanislaus that he is working on a short book which would be “A Dublin Peer Gynt” (Parrinder, P., James Joyce, 115).

    Jarry referred to his novel Faustroll as periplous, a Greek word meaning a sailing around. Periploi were sailing logs used by the Greek, Phoenicians and Romans noting harbors, island and coastal markings. Joyce refers to Ulysses as a periploi, a Dublin Jew, Leopold Bloom wandering through the streets of Dublin.

    Dr. Faustroll visits a series of islands, about 1/3 of the book. Each island is evokes the imaginary universe of the work of a poet, novelist, artist, composer to whom the chapter is dedicated. This is accepted by Jarry scholars.

    It took me years to see more than “fish” in “jarry queer fish.” The word fish links to the Hebrew word “nun” and to the 24th path on the Tree of Life, the basic symbol of the Hebrew Kabbalah. Each path is linked to a word and traditionally to a tarot card. The 24th path, between Tiphareth (Beauty) and Netzach (Victory) is connected to the death card, Arcana XIII, not named in the Marseilles Pack. On a hunch I went to chapter 24 of Faustroll and discovered the title of the chapter, “Concerning the Hermetic Shades and the King who Awaited Death.” I quickly realised that all the island chapters are also related to tarot cards. Joyce must have saw this.

    James S. Atherton is The Books at the Wake, writes “Joyce was not in his own opinion simply writing a book, he was also, performing a work of magic.” It is obvious to me that Jarry also while writing was performing magic. Jarry was known to have attended the Wednesday meetings of the Salon de la Rose+Croix and to have esoteric connections.

    Not mentioned above is the fact that Jarry studied under the philosopher Henri Bergson. Jarry said, “Bergson’s lectures were “precious above all others” and bergson ties into pataphysics and Finnegans Wake, especially the last sentence of FW which circles around to the first sentence, “river run, past Eve and Adam’s from swerve of shore to bend of bay …” There is more to explain that, but that’s about it for now.

    I hope to finish this by September or October. I do not have a publisher at the moment. I’m not too interested publishing it in a scholarly publication. I’ve thought of contacting Destiny Books in Rochester, VT.

    I have A Dark Muse and am going to get your most recent, Revolutionaries of the Soul.

    Would enjoy hearing your comments.

    Best regards,

    John

    John van der Does
    PO Box 726
    Chester, VT 05143

    1. Dear John, Many thanks for your message. I know the Strand well; I used to haunt its 25c stalls in the early 70s and visit every time I’m in NYC. I know of Boris Vian but haven’t got around to reading him. Funny about your encounter with the Wilsons. Colin and Robert Anton. I knew Colin Wilson very well and missed a chance to meet RAW in the late 1980s when he and CW were to meet for lunch. CW was staying with me in a “zen castle” I was house-sitting in the Hollywood Hills; the owner was one of the owners of the Bodhi Tree Boookshop, where I worked at the time. We had made a night of it the evening before and I was too hung over to make lunch. Alas.

      I must admit that I haven’t read much Jarry, except for the Ubu plays, but what you write sounds fascinating. I think though that you might have more of a chance of publishing with an academic or cultural publisher than Destiny. I think they are pretty much focused on esoteric and hermetic material; but I could be wrong. I can’t suggest anyone at the moment, but if someone comes to mind, I’ll pass it on. It certainly sounds like you’ve uncovered a interesting literary mystery. All the best and many thanks for sharing it.

    2. Hi Gary Lachman:

      Just a note, I came across the below having forgotten I had sent it. Way back in the 1970s and 80s I lived in Paris and at them a time was a member of the College of Pataphysics. In the 1990s I was initiated in the Crowley’s OTO and stayed with them until the late 90s. Somehow became a Freemason but I go to lodge meetings about three times a years. Recently my wife and I joined a Gurdjieff group.

      We live in almost rural Vermont in a passive solar house my wife and I built, of course, with the help of construction workers. We have two cats and in the summer an organic garden.

      I have your Dark Muse and The Secret Teachers of the Western World is on my list of books to get and read.

      During the 80s and 90s I had a correspondence with Robert Anton Wilson, about 30 letters.

      In one letter RAW writes: “Dear John, Thankibus Muchibus for the Pataphysical Calendar, which is now added to all my multi-cultural letterheads.
      Sept 8 (e.v.) not only starts the pataphysical new year; it’s also the birthday of both the Virgin Mary and Molly Bloom. Now, a “coincidence” like that absolutely must mean something. …
      Live Long and Prosper, /Bob W./

      My work on Alfred Jarry’s influence on James Joyce in progressing and when it is finished, I’d like to send you a copy, probably May 2016. Jarry and Molly Bloom have the same day of birth, September 8. Molly is perpetually 34 years old. Jarry died in Paris at the Hopital de al Charite, on November 1, 1907; he was 34 years old.

      Keep in touch,

      John van der Does

  2. Hi Gary,

    I’m Leo Jin from China. I just finished your book “Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work” and really enjoyed reading it. I was a lawyer and started to take interest in Buddhism, Daoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine and meditation after I was diagnosed to have lymphoma in 2012. Somehow the tumor remitted simply through long-distance cycling and regular meditation. In the course I took interest in anthroposophy and sent my 5-year old daughter into a Waldorf kindergarten. Now I run a meditation center in the village in north Beijing where the Waldorf kindergarten is located and a company focusing on publication and organizing cultural events. I’m also much concerned about the development of Waldorf education in China and am doing research in anthroposophy. Actually I have the same puzzle as you have about Rudolf Steiner. Some of his works are very understandable, especially his research on freedom. Some others are simply too mysterious for me. However, your work helps me a lot in achieving a reasonable understanding of Steiner. As it seems to me that most of the parents in China who send their kids to Waldorf school actually don’t know much about Rudolf Steiner, I think this book will be very helpful for them to be more clear on what they can expect from Waldorf education. So, I wish we could have your license to translate this book into Chinese and have it published in China. Would you pls give me your email address so that we can talk further on this issue?

    Best regards,

    Leo Jin
    Beijing Sanhe Cultural Development Co. Ltd.
    jinzhenbao@hotmail.com

    1. Many thanks for your message. I would love my book on Steiner to be available in China. It sounds like you are doing good work there. I’ve forwarded your message to my editor at Tarcher/Penguin, who control the rights to the book, and suggested that they get in touch with you. I look forward to hearing from you. Best, Gary

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