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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dugin, Evola and Heidegger

René Guénon and Julius Evola played important roles in the early intellectual development of Russia's Alexander Dugin, and Dugin still refers approvingly to the Traditionalist critique of modernity. In recent years, however, Martin Heidegger has become increasingly important to him. Dugin gave Heidegger in 2009 as "the most profound-ontological-foundation" for his "Fourth Political Theory," and published an entire book on Heidegger, Мартин Хайдеггер: философия другого начала (Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning) in 2010. This book is now available in English translation (Radix, $28), with a preface by the American Paleoconservative Paul E. Gottfried.

The question of the relationship between Heidegger and Traditionalism has been raised before in this blog, in response to an article on the topic by John J. Reilly. An anonymous comment pointed out that Heidegger was anti-metaphysical, and so fundamentally at odds with Traditionalism. Much this point was accepted by Thomas Vašek in a recent article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in the context of a discussion of the implications of Vašek's discovery that Heidegger had copied into his notebooks a long passage from the 1935 German translation of Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World. Vašek points out that Evola and Heidegger both understood and condemned modernity as the "reign of quantity." He accepts that Heidegger had no interest in what he calls "mythical high culture" (i.e. Tradition), but thinks that for Evola "mythical high culture... served only as a place-holder for the lost relation to transcendence, to true Being (Sein)." I am not convinced: I think mythical high culture was a lot more than a place-holder for Evola. What is not clear to me is how important "mythical high culture" now is for Dugin.

My thanks to J.W. for bringing Dugin's new book to my attention.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

World of Islam Festival anniversary evening

It is now 40 years since the World of Islam Festival opened in London in 1976. This was a major event, inspired and in many cases arranged by Maryamis, and succeeded in introducing the British public to Islam in terms of major achievements in culture and art. Unfortunately, stronger and very different impressions were then created by the Iranian Revolution.

To mark this  anniversary, a small exhibition and some lectures have been arranged jointly by the "Everyday Muslim" Project and the British Library, which was heavily involved in the original festival. It starts at 17:30 on Monday 25th April at the Brunei Theatre, SOAS, in London.

Speakers include Ahmed Paul Keeler, who was the Festival's director, Dr. Mohammed Isa Waley, Professor Salim Al-Hassani, Dr. Karim Lahham and Professor Oliver Watson. There will be Quran recitation by Ali Keeler. Tickets can be booked online, and further information is available from info@khizrafoundation.org.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Australian Tradiitonalism and Poetry


As noted in an earlier post, Traditionalism flourished and then withered in Melbourne, Australia, between 1952 and 1963, and perhaps lay behind Australia’s most famous literary hoax. 

All this is covered in Buddha in a Bookshop (North Fitzroy, Victoria: privately published, 2007) by Peter Kelly, himself a former Australian Traditionalist. The book tells the story of the  group that met in the Norman Robb Bookshop in Melbourne to listen to impromptu translations of articles from Etudes traditionnelles and to discuss the questions that they raised.

The group was led by Harold Stewart, a poet who had taken a job in the bookstore after becoming nationally famous in 1944. He and another poet, James McAuley, had decided to protest the direction taken by Australian modernism by tricking the leading modernist journal of the time, Angry Penguins, into publishing some spoof poems by a fictional "Ern Malley." As Stewart and McAuley were both readers of Guénon and Coomeraswamy, it is possible that Traditionalism lay behind their attack on modernism. It is also possible that anti-modernism led them to Traditionalism, or that the one reinforced the other.

According to Kelly, Stewart’s trick, as does sometimes happen with tricks, had unexpected consequences. Rather than making a point to Australia’s literary world, as seems to have been the intention, it provided the press with good material to make fun of the pretentions of intellectuals in general. In a further unexpected twist, the publisher of Angry Penguins was found guilty of publishing obscene works. Stewart left Sydney for relative obscurity in Melbourne, and never made the poetic career he seems once to have hoped for. And then finally, after some years, the spoof poems became famous again—for their poetic qualities. As Kelly says, they may have been intended as spoofs but they were still composed by two talented young poets who were well versed in the modernism that they were condemning.

The Australian Traditionalists never took to “the London group,” as they called the Maryamiyya. They disliked it as “authoritarian and reactionary” (p. 71), and were anyhow generally more interested in Buddhism than in Sufism. Stewart and some other Australian Traditionalists visited Japan in 1963, but then quarreled, for unknown reasons. The meetings in Melbourne stopped, the group fragmented, and Stewart moved permanently to Kyoto, where he lived modestly off his earnings as an English teacher. He died, a Buddhist, in 1995. The Ern Malley poems have since been frequently republished and have attracted much comment, including two plays and a novel, but Stewart himself is largely forgotten, and his Traditionalism generally unknown. McAuley, in contrast, became a Roman Catholic and a professor of English at the University of Tasmania, as well as a sometimes controversial right-wing commentator.

The first half of Buddha in a Bookshop covers the events summarized above. The other half deals with Stewart’s poetry and later life, and provides some comments on Traditionalism by Kelly.  The book is partly autobiographical, and gives a good flavor of 1950s and 1960s Australia. It is fun to read, though it would have benefited from slightly more thorough editing to remove the occasional repetition, and the second half is a little miscellaneous.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Aguéli anniversary

October 1, 2017 will mark the centenary of the death of Ivan Aguéli, the Swedish painter who introduced René Guénon to Sufism, was himself one of the very earliest Western Sufis, and also an early and influential writer on Sufism in French.

There are plans to mark this anniversary with a multidisciplinary scholarly publication and/or a conference on Aguéli and his influence. Anyone who might be interested in contributing to either of these is invited to email me at mjrs@cas.au.dk with a preliminary proposal before March 15. The email should include a title and brief abstract (100 to 150 words) plus a CV.

Please feel free to forward this invitation to anyone you know who might be interested.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Guénon and gnostic anthropology

They say that after they retire, scholars sometimes write the books they always wanted to write. Joel S. Kahn, a distinguished anthropologist at the University of Melbourne who worked mostly on Southeast Asia, is now a professor emeritus and seems to have done just that.

The result is Asia, Modernity and the Pursuit of the Sacred: Gnostics, Scholars, Mystics and Reformers (Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan, 2015). In this book, Kahn tries to go beyond what he sees as the sterile secular/religious dichotomy by finding resources in Western culture that might allow us to take Asian religion seriously. For this purpose, he looks at what he calls (following Jeffrey Kripal) the "Gnostic current" between the two world wars, the basis of so much that has happened since. And from this current he takes four key writers: René Guénon, Alexandra David-Néel (the feminist, anarchist explorer), Erwin Schrödinger (the Austrian physicist), and Hermann Hesse (the German poet and novelist). The book has eight chapters. Two are introductory, then each writer gets one chapter, and then two conclude.

This looks like an absolutely fascinating book. First, for those interested in Traditionalism, Guénon is put in company that he is not usually found in, but company that immediately makes intuitive sense. Second, for those interested in anthropology, a leading anthropologist is attempting something new, rather radical, and perhaps important. And third, Traditionalist thought is being taken in an unusual but productive way: not as pure truth, and not as purely marginal, but as an important stream of modern thought.