Recently I was interviewed by Jeffrey Mishlove for his Thinking Allowed series of podcasts. This is the first of what will most likely turn out to be several such conversations. We talked about Rudolf Steiner in this one, and yesterday Jeffrey interviewed me about my book Dark Star Rising. The next installment we have planned is a chat about Madame Blavatsky. I enjoy Jeffrey’s interviews; he clearly knows the subjects and he guarantees a good discussion by asking intelligent questions. Here’s one place in which thinking is definitely allowed.
I’m giving a talk next week at Rudolf Steiner House here in London on the work of Owen Barfield. Readers of A Secret History of Consciousness, Revolutionaries of the Soul, and Lost Knowledge of the Imagination will be familiar with Barfield and how his ideas have been a central influence on my own work. I’ve talked about Barfield’s work in the context of other topics, but this will be my first talk on his life and ideas directly. I am looking forward to it and to returning to Rudolf Steiner House, where I gave a talk on Lost Knowledge not too long ago.
I’m also giving a talk later in the month on one of my favorite writers on consciousness and esotericism, and one of the first that I read, many years ago, P.D. Ouspensky. My first biographical book was about Ouspenky, and over the years I have found myself going back to his work on a number of occasions. Last year I made a kind of pilgrimage to Virginia Water, about twenty miles outside of London, where for a time in the 1930s and ’40s, Ouspensky had his own version of Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. This will be the first talk on Ouspensky that I’ve given in quite some time. The only other one I gave was when In Search of P.D. Ouspensky was first published, in 2003. As you might expect, I am looking forward to this too. Both talks will be videoed and, gods willing, posted on You Tube.
In other news, Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, has finally risen. It was released in the US today – 29 May – and briefly occupied the No. 1 position at Amazon in, I’m not quite sure, magic, metaphysics, whatever genre it falls into in our increasingly classified times. (Remember when there used to be just an occult section in bookshops? Those were the days.) It’s holding on to that slot in Kindle and I don’t know how the audio book – which I’ve yet to hear – is doing. So far it’s garnered a few reviews; here are some links: Liberty Law Site, Forbes, the Faith Matters blog, and my favorite so far, Prof. Bruce Charlton’s splenetic response to the book. I have, in his words, “crossed the line”, “abandoned all” my “earlier standards of scholarship and fairness” and “joined the forces of darkness.” I have also been “corrupted” – very rapidly it seems – by “Global Elites” and have embraced their “moral inversion.” Or actually my hitherto hidden embrace of their “secular progressivism” is now clear as day. News to me but then I never get the memos.
I can only thank Prof. Charlton for being moved enough by my book and the outrage it sparked to put his ideas into print – or pixels. I can also only say that if he thinks I am an agent of secular progressivism he has not read my previous books as attentively as he suggests. But of course in our highly polarized time, if you are not on one side you must be on the other and of course there are only two. For an idea of my take on progressive ideas, readers – and I include Prof. Charlton – may want to take a look at my article “What is Jordan B Peterson Really Saying?” in New Dawn magazine. Unfortunately the article isn’t online and I can’t disseminate hard copies. I don’t profit by it, but if you plump for a copy it may give you pause for thought next time you think of bemoaning the fact that I have been corrupted by the forces of godless globalization. If only.
Dark Star will continue to rise this week, and, I hope, for many weeks to come. I am on BBC Radio 3’s Freethinking broadcast this Thursday evening, 31 May – GMT – discussing the book with Matthew Sweet. And on Friday evening I am being interviewed for RT for their program Watching the Hawks. I’m not sure when this will air, but when I know, I’ll spread the word. And on 26 June I’ll be talking about the book to the Fortean Society at Conway Hall, a venue which, in its day, welcoming figures like Bertrand Russell, was most likely a veritable hotbed of secular progressivism. Drat, tarred with that brush again!
I should also mention that my online course for the CIIS on Lost Knowledge of the Imagination begins today. Something else I am looking forward to.
In the meantime, if you’d like to join me here, in my work for the forces of darkness, by all means do. Buy the book, read it, post a review, and then together we will look for a flashlight.
Here’s the link to the second part of my talk on Aleister Crowley, given at the Kensington Central Library on March 15th. My sense of time tends to dilate when I give a talk, and before I know it I’ve covered a mere fraction of what I had intended to when I’m being signaled to cut to the chase. Never fear. As I shamefacedly say in the talk, you can get the full story here, if you haven’t already.
I should mention that my next talk on Crowley, for the Century Club in London’s Soho, is sold out, as is a talk I am giving in May on Madame Blavatsky. That’s an encouraging sign. There are places left though for two other talks I’m giving in London in June. One is on P.D. Ouspensky, on his life and work in London during the years entre deux guerres, again at Kensington Central Library. The other is on Owen Barfield, at Rudolf Steiner House ,on June 5. It isn’t listed yet on the Rudolf Steiner House web site but will be soon I imagine.
I’ve also heard that the audio version of Lost Knowledge of the Imagination will be available soon. When it is you’ll be among the first to know. I am also giving an online course based on the book for the summer semester of the California Institute of Integral Studies. Any knowledge we find I’ll be sure to share with you.
There are of course many books on the imagination. Psychological studies, motivational works, instructions in visualization, research into creativity, guides to using imagination in business, relationships, and self-improvement – these are some of the results that come from a quick internet search on the subject. There are many more. Most definitions of imagination speak of its contrast with reality. My Oxford Dictionary tells me that imagination is the ‘mental faculty of forming images or concepts of objects or situations not existent or not directly experienced.’ Merriam-Webster tells me it is ‘the ability to imagine things that are not real’ – which seems something of a tautology – and ‘something that only exists or happens in your mind.’ The Cambridge Dictionary says that imagination is ‘the ability to form pictures in the mind’ and that it concerns ‘something that you think exists or is true, although in fact is not real or true’. Imagination is of course also creative. Roget’s Thesaurus calls it the ‘power to create in one’s mind,’ and samples of the synonyms it provides range from ‘artistry,’ ‘awareness,’ and ‘inspiration’, to ‘ingenuity,’ ‘insight’ and ‘creativity’.
I believe imagination is one of those things which we all know immediately but which, as I’ve said, we would find difficult to define. Indeed, an exact definition of it would only make it more obscure. Nevertheless, here I will offer my own definition of imagination. It is not necessarily exclusive of others; I give it to emphasize what I take to be imagination’s central work, and also to make clear how it is a different way of understanding the imagination. I take it from the writer Colin Wilson. Imagination, he said, is ‘the ability to grasp realities that are not immediately present’. Not an escape from reality, or a substitute for it, but a deeper engagement with it. We could also say that imagination is simply our ability to grasp reality, or even, in some strange way, to create it, or at least to collaborate in its creation; with whom or what we will look at further on. For the moment let us limit ourselves to the first formulation.
It is because we need imagination to grasp reality – that part of it immediately before us, and its wider horizons that exceed the reach of our physical senses – that we can speak of a ‘knowledge’ of the imagination. Imagination has a noetic character; it is the source and medium of our other way of knowing. It shows us aspects and dimensions of reality that we would miss without it – and which much, if not most of official western culture has missed since the new way of knowing became dominant. While it can be used for fantasy, illusion, make-believe, and escapism, the real work of imagination is to make contact with the strange world in which we live and to serve as both guide and inspiration for our development within it. It is the way we evolve. Imagination presents us with possible, potential realities that it is our job to actualize. It also presents us with a world that would not be complete without our help.
Let us look then for this lost knowledge of the imagination, and see how much of it we can find.
 It is a phenomenon, in Sir William Grove’s words, ‘so obvious to simple apprehension that to define it would make it more obscure’. Quoted in Samuel Butler ‘Thought and Language’ in The Importance of Language ed. Max Black (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969) p. 13.
I’ve posted a short video of the Question and Answer session following my recent talk at Rudolf Steiner House on YouTube . Here’s the link. I’m aiming to post more of the talk sometime soon, and to record future talks and make those available too. It’s a slow process and while I am not a technophobe, I know why I studied the Humanities.
I’ve also recently agreed a deal with Thirteen Ventures Limited, of Toronto, Canada, for them to produce an audio book version of Lost Knowledge of the Imagination. Mark Jeftovic, the man in charge, has had success with his earlier audio ventures, but Lost Knowledge is, I think, a new departure. I look forward to hearing the finished product, and with any luck others will too.
And last week I submitted my 10,000 word essay on ‘Swedenborg’s Correspondences’, to the Swedenborg Society, who commissioned me to write it for a new series of short books they are launching, dealing with different aspects of Swedenborg’s huge body of work. The idea of correspondences is at the heart of Swedenborg’s vision, and it is an idea that has had an enormous influence on western culture over the last two centuries. I take a look at Swedenborg’s influence on Baudelaire and the Symbolist movement, his own correspondences with the western Hermetic tradition, and ask how his ideas may be of help to us today, in the early years of the post-truth world.
I’m giving a talk on 23 January at Rudolf Steiner House, London, on my latest book Lost Knowledge of the Imagination. Steiner House is a good location for this talk. Steiner himself saw developing imagination as the first step in his program of intensifying consciousness and achieving “supersensible perception,” and in the book, along with other figures such as the poet and Blake scholar Kathleen Raine and the scholar of Persian mysticism Henry Corbin, I devote much space to two thinkers closely connected to Steiner. The German poet, novelist and scientist J.W. von Goethe was Steiner’s central inspiration on his way to esoteric knowledge, and the essayist, historian of ideas, great friend of C.S. Lewis and occasional Inkling Owen Barfield, developed Steiner’s ideas and applied them to his own investigations into the evolution of consciousness. Both warrant chapters exploring how their insights into the cognitive character of imagination – its aspect as a “way of knowing” – can help us grasp imagination’s importance today. My talk will look at the historical roots of imagination being sidelined in favor of a strictly logical and empirical approach to knowledge, and will offer examples of how imagination can help us know reality and even, in some strange way, help it come into being.
Rudolf Steiner House 35 Park Road, London NW1 6XT (Telephone: 0207 723 4400.)
Price: £7/5 with concessions.
Today I start my sixty-second turn around the sun; here’s what’s in store so far for 2018. For one thing the print edition of Lost Knowledge of the Imagination will be available in the US on January 15th. It’s been out in the UK since October, and the Kindle edition has been available stateside since then too, but for those yanks who like to crack the spine of whatever they’re reading, they’ll soon have a chance to do this with my latest effort as well. Later in the year, on May 29th in fact, Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, will be published in the US. It comes out about a month later here in Britain, and I suspect the Kindle version will be available before then too. This time around I’ll also be published audibly; Dark Star will be coming out as an audio book, my first. As I understand it, the rights were sold before I had even finished the book, on the strength of it being about Trump. Forgive my selfishness, but I hope he stays in the news at least until the book is out. I’m curious who will narrate it; I’d be happy to do it myself but I haven’t heard from the publisher.
Also on the horizon is Carl Abrahamsson’s Occulture, for which I’ve written a foreword. I’ve known Carl for some time – we met, I think, at an OTO seminar held here at London’s Canary Wharf – and have participated with him in several conferences and other esoteric get-togethers, both in London and abroad. He has a keen eye for the unusual, as readers of his journal, Fenris Wolf, know. I also recently had the pleasure of writing an introduction to a new edition of Colin Wilson’s second book, Religion and the Rebel, a book as important as The Outsider, but which was practically universally panned on appearance. That Wilson carried on writing after taking such a beating shows that the one thing an aspiring Outsider needs is a tough hide. (I know this is out already but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to slip in a plug for it here. It is an important book and should be much better known.) In other Wilsonian news, I’ll be giving a talk on Wilson’s interest in the work – ahem – of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, something that was with him from the start, at the Second International Colin Wilson Conference, to be held at the University of Nottingham on July 6th. When they say international, they mean international; some of the speakers come from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. Last year’s conference was a landmark event and I suspect next year’s will be as well.
I’ll be giving talks in London too. So far three are lined up. On January 23rd I’ll be speaking about Lost Knowledge of the Imagination at Rudolf Steiner House. If you don’t know it, it is a good example of Steiner’s architectural principles; an extra attraction is that the Sherlock Holmes Museum, at the fictitious 221 B Baker Street, is just around the corner. For some reason I find that not only appropriate, but significant. I’ll also be divulging some lost knowledge at Watkins Bookshop, one of the oldest – if not the oldest – esoteric bookshops in London; past customers included W. B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley, and Mick Jagger. I’m scheduled for a talk on February 15th, but it isn’t up on their site yet.
Speaking of Crowley – well, I will be speaking of him, at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Library on March 15th. I’ll be joining Antony Clayton, who will talk about Crowley’s last days in a boarding house in Hastings, run by eccentrics and where he was visited by a number of interesting characters. Antony put together a fascinating book, Netherwood: The Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, about this last stage in Crowley’s life, to which I contributed a chapter. Antony will talk about the Great Beast’s sunset years, and I will get him to them.
The big project for 2018 is a work I’ve been commissioned to do by Inner Traditions. It’s a follow-up to Dark Star Rising. Where in that book I focus on the strange occult politics surrounding Precedent Trump, in the next – title to be announced – I look into the strong messianic current that runs throughout Russian history. I ask to what extent does Tsar Vladimir tap into this? How do ideas about how Holy Russia will resist the decadent West inform his plans for the future? And what will that mean for the twenty-first century? I go into these questions to some extent in Dark Star Rising, focusing on the ideas of Alexandre Dugin, who occupies an orbit around Putin somewhat similar to Steve Bannon’s around Trump. But to say more now would be inadvisable.
I wish everyone who reads this – and everyone who doesn’t too – a very good Christmas. May 2018 find us ready to meet the challenges it will undoubtedly present. Oh, and thank you all very much for the birthday wishes.