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Amber Paulen

John Cowper Powys

Porius, again

18 June 2008


My big idea for this week’s post was to write what would have been called, “John Cowper Powys and the Life Illusion.” Though, as I easily convinced myself, this is a thesis best left to a time when I have a better bulk of his books under my belt and not to mention a full two days of devotion, at least. To write something of that stature I want to be sure it would be the most truthful representation of all he has written and like it or not, I haven’t even skimmed the surface.

Maybe that’s the worst part about coming upon new ‘obsessions,’ the childlike eagerness and an unwavering devotion without development. John Cowper Powys is not someone I should be taking so lightly. It is not only his novels that I want to tackle but those books dedicated solely to his philosophy, The Art of Happiness, In Defense of Sensuality and A Philosophy of Solitude most notably. Though I do believe the tome of Porius does a very complete job of “summing-up” much of what John Cowper Powy’s own life-illusion was about.

I do want to make some note as to some of my own developments on the theme of JCP’s life-illusion, wherein I compared the ‘mythology’ of Wolf Solent to the ‘cavoseniargizing’ of Porius. I now think this is a mistake; it is the explanation of this mistake I must save for later. Instead, I’ll fall to quoting a most enlightening scene found on the pages 550 to 551 of Porius, where Porius stands staring at a patch of white moss used for “the staunching of blood and the binding up of wounds,” as his father, the Prince, lies dying.

Thus the self-created tendency to be pursued by the very association of ideas from which he shrank away was always forcing him to employ all manner of curious devices; and he had, indeed, become a successful adept in a thousand self-healing tricks to help him escape his self-created devils.

But another [trick] was to pile up a monstrous mountain of appallingness, so that it became possible to deal with it, so to say, on its own terms; in other words to imagine himself to be a compounded identity of monstrosities so shocking that he became a veritable leviathan whose maw was terrific enough to dispose of any conceivable bemoth.

In most cases, however, the tricks he employed in this self-healing magical ritual partook of both wisdoms; firstly the wisdom of running away himself, and secondly the wisdom of transforming himself into a monster of such appalling desperation that any spectre he could possibly encounter would be the one to flee.

Moreover, since accident and chance only provided the occasions out of which his self-tormenting soul invented its own obstinately returning secret horror, so fate and destiny, endowing him with parents, with his wife, with his teacher, with his foster-brother, and even with the ancestral Creiddylad, had fixed the boundaries and set up the barriers that of necessity limited the stage of his interior comic tragedy.

And now as he surveyed that trickle of water and that patch of greenish white moss he gave vent in his heart to a soundless howl of exultation over the fact that in a world where the foundations had been laid so long ago, and where necessity and chance vied with each other to reduce the amount of plastic life clay at the disposal of a person’s individual will, there were yet such unbelievable opportunities for asserting oneself craftily, powerfully, and effectively.

two paragraphs later:

And never to the end of his days did he forget exactly how he saw the mystery of life at that second. He invented many obscure emblems and any grotesque parables after that; but the particular vision of things as he apprehended it at that moment remained with him as the authentic response of the secret self of Porius ab Einion to the mirage known as human existence.

. . . For in this glimpse of reality seen through the white moss he saw existence not as one creation, or as one world, but as many worlds, and he saw all the innumerable consciousnesses of these worlds as possessed of creative power.

He saw all creatures… as composed of a natural human clay and of a natural human spirit activating that clay, activating it and motivating it with desires, purposes, instincts, impulses that on the whole were not only natural but absolutely necessary if the individuals composing the human race were to enjoy as well as endure their short and troubled lives.



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