Some years ago I had a relative who, almost overnight, went from a healthy, vigorous woman to a bedridden, sickly one. She remained that way for two years with no hope of recovery. But at the two-year mark of her illness, her doctor discovered that he had misdiagnosed her illness and subsequently changed his treatment to something more fitting for the disease which he now believed she had. And, miracle of miracles, my relative made a complete recovery.
It is apparent to me that the seemingly sick-beyond-recovery West has also been misdiagnosed. The patient is supposed to be sick from a lack of rationality, when in reality, he is sick from an excess of rationality. And it is to the neglected poetic voice of the West that we must turn, not to that of the philosophers, scientists, and theologians, if we ever want to see a healthy, vigorous West again.
The disembodied-brain heresy of the Greeks can best be described as the Olympian heresy. The Greek philosophers placed reason on Mt. Olympus in place of the old gods and studied, probed and dissected man from their Olympian height. Plato saw man as a walking universal, as part of the spiritual force of life from whence we all come. But Plato’s universal is not a personal force; it is not a God to whom we can speak to, as the Hebrews spoke to the living God:Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
Aristotle, unlike Plato, looked at the particular man, but not in a Christian, personal way. He looked at man as a specimen to be dissected and studied, not as a whole, unique personality.
The greatest poet of antiquity, Sophocles, stated that it was better never to have been born than to exist in the closed, meaningless world of the philosophers. And the folk of the Roman Empire rejected the Olympian religion of the philosophers for the more personal mystery religions. Yet it was to the Olympian religion that the Church fathers and the medievals turned when they chose to present the one true God to the folk. Yet the folk have always resisted the Greco-Roman paradigms. In every Christian age, save the latter 20th century, the folk have steadfastly resisted the Churchmen’s attempts to make Christ’s Church into Mt. Olympus.
The struggle has been a dramatic one. And the drama must continue. It is not time to bring down the curtain on Europe. The poets, speaking for the folk, have spoken with one voice about the sickness of the West. Their diagnosis is quite different from that of the philosophers, the scientists and the theologians. Let us hear their voices.Shakespeare.
Most of the poetic depictions of the disembodied mind come from the 19th century and early 20th century poets because they were the first to face it directly and unabated. But Shakespeare, with a remarkable prescience, was the first poet to square off against the heresy of the disembodied brain when he pitted Hamlet against Claudius. Both men are geniuses, but one, Claudius, put his intellect at the service of his satanic desire for power while keeping those virtues of the heart, such as faith, hope, and charity, isolated from and subordinate to his intellect.
At the beginning of the play, Hamlet is in an abstracted state of mind that could lead him to become, like Claudius, a disembodied brain at the service of Satan. But Hamlet has that within which passeth show; he resists the temptation to become a purely intellectual being. Instead he begins a quest toward integrality. All around him are abstracted caricatures of human beings, trying to make him view life as they view it, a game in which one must manipulate human beings as one would chess pieces. Hamlet perseveres. And it is at Ophelia’s grave when he realizes he loves, that the real Hamlet, the integral, heroic Hamlet, comes to the forefront: “It is I, Hamlet, the Dane.” He never looks back nor fails in his duty after that.
The most overlooked scene (overlooked by Christians) in all of literature is Hamlet’s defiance of augury. It doesn’t matter if we, by use of our intellectual powers divorced from their proper subservience to the virtues of the heart, can alter our material future for the better or avert death. It is to those wellsprings of humanity in our hearts, connected to His sacred heart, that our loyalty must be directed in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword. “We defy augury.” With those words, Hamlet speaks for European man and gives us the cure for all the West’s ills.Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Hawthorne, among others, is one writer who has placed opposition to the modernist-Gnostic heresy at the heart of his work. His single-mindedness on that topic – it is the central theme of most of his short stories and his major novels – has earned him many sneers from literary critics who suffer from the disease he criticizes. Hawthorne’s insights are so profound that one suspects he had many a personal struggle against the disembodied-brain temptation himself.
In much of the 19th century criticism of the disembodied brain, we start out in a scientist’s laboratory. Not satisfied with the ordinary Wind in the Willows
type of life, the simple life of the plowed field and the evening lingerings, the scientific man of the laboratory must create a whole new world of which he, the man of science, is in control. The new world is always supposed to be for the good of the simple moles who are imprisoned in their ordinary, plowed fields, but the simple moles invariably end up annihilated.
Hawthorne’s story, “The Birthmark,” begins with an introduction to a man of science:In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not long before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one. He had left his laboratory to the care of an assistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnace smoke, washed the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded a beautiful woman to become his wife. In those days when the comparatively recent discovery of electricity and other kindred mysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region of miracle, it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy. The higher intellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart might all find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some of their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step of powerful intelligence to another, until the philosopher should lay his hand on the secret of creative force and perhaps make new worlds for himself. We know not whether Aylmer possessed this degree of faith in man's ultimate control over Nature. He had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strength of the latter to his own.
Such a union accordingly took place, and was attended with truly remarkable consequences and a deeply impressive moral. One day, very soon after their marriage, Aylmer sat gazing at his wife with a trouble in his countenance that grew stronger until he spoke.
The trouble was that the man of science’s beautiful wife had a birthmark which Aylmer believed tainted her whole face with the mark of “earthly imperfection.” In order to cure this imperfection, Aylmer… I think you can guess the rest. Of course, his wife dies, a victim of the Utopian aspirations of Aylmer’s disembodied brain:Yet, had Alymer reached a profounder wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happiness which would have woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with the celestial. The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of time, and, living once for all in eternity, to find the perfect future in the present.
In Hawthorne's works, a disembodied mind is always the focus of evil, such as Rappacini in “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Chillingsworth in The Scarlet Letter
, or Ethan Brand in the story of the same name. And Hawthorne is right. What was a small but growing minority in his time has become 'The People' in our own time. The folk have become intellectualized; they are all disembodied brains. No matter where one turns, he meets an Aylmer or a Rappaccini.P. C. Wren.
I think P. C. Wren is one of the great authors of the West, and yet I’m sure he would not appear on any of the literary critics “top ten” lists. That is because literary critics tend to be Gnostics, and P. C. Wren’s works are decidedly anti-Gnostic.
In The Disappearance of General Jason
, P. C. Wren is at his anti-Gnostic best. The hero, Colonel Carthew, goes in search of his old friend, General Jason, who has been missing for a long while. The search ends on a small island country inhabited by a people of Portuguese descent but who are independent from Portugal. They guard their isolation jealously, and it was the misfortune of General Jason that he inadvertently violated their privacy.
The island-nation has a queen, but the real ruler is a scientist named Dom Perez de Norhona. De Norhona has developed the ability to isolate a man’s brain from his body; by controlling a certain section of the brain, through hypnosis and surgery, he can make the body of the man do what he, de Norhona, commands. And he has turned General Jason into a dog. Carthew, quite justifiably, accuses de Norhona of murdering General Jason.“You don’t regard it as a form of murder? The most terrible form of all – soul-murder.”
“No, why should I? Where’s the murder? The whole point is that I did not kill the patient in attempting to perform the experiment. You cannot have a murder without a corpse, can you? And as to murdering souls, I am not scientifically interested in souls. I’m only concerned with minds and bodies.”
Do we not see in de Norhona’s cerebral operation the end result of the Aristotleian-Thomistic separation of reason from grace? I do. For me, de Norhona is St. Thomas. Just as St. Thomas dissects man for the greater good (or so he thought), so does de Norhona.It seemed to Carthew that de Norhona was a living intelligence, an intelligence almost freed from the hampering restriction and misguidance of emotion; a man whose mind was neither cruel nor kind, but almost purely scientific.
And yet he was human enough in his fanatical patriotism.
Carthew entertained for him curious and contradictory feelings of murderous hatred, fear, considerable respect and almost unwilling liking. So inevitably fair and just himself, Carthew had to admit that de Norhona had done nothing to Jason as Jason, an honest and honourable gentleman who had come to make certain right and proper proposals and suggestions of a commercial nature. Quite obviously de Norhona had used for his great experiment a man whom he believed to be a deadly enemy of his country, inasmuch as he was the first of an invading army, insupportable, detestable and loathsome in the eyes of people to whom independence was the very breath of life and the very religion of their soul.
One feels like screaming with Carthew, “What about the soul?” The Greek-Catholic-disembodied-brain heresy leaves a man without the essence of his humanity, his soul, for the soul is part of the body, not separate from it. A disembodied brain has no soul.John Buchan.
Written in 1916, the novel The Power-House
pits a perennial Buchan everyman hero, Leithen, against Mr. Andrew Lumley, a capitalist powerhouse, a brain detached from everything human. At first meeting, Leithen dislikes Lumley. When he tries to find a reason for his dislike, he decides that Lumley is just too “Olympian.” And as he comes to know him better, he realizes that Lumley also is satanic: “Do you know what it is to deal with pure intelligence, a brain stripped of every shred of humanity? It is like being in the company of a snake.”
Lumley’s credo, which he delivers near the end of the novel, is the modern credo, spawned by Satan and nurtured by the Greek philosophers and their Catholic lackeys:“I am a sceptic about most things,” he said, “but, believe me, I have my own worship. I venerate the intellect of man. I believe in its undreamed-of possibilities, when it grows free like an oak in the forest and is not dwarfed in a flower-pot. From that allegiance I have never wavered. That is the God I have never forsworn.”
It is time for Western man to forswear that false God. The drama is not over. The disembodied brains must wait till the last scene of the last act is played out. For it is always, as St. Paul assures us, in the last scene or at the last trump, if you will, that the Hero turns the tables on the villain.
Labels: Greek heresy, Greek philosophical tradition, Hawthorne, John Buchan, misdiagnosis of the West, P. C. Wren, poetic vision, Shakespeare