FIND in
<--prev V29 next-->

From: "Marty Light" <Marty_Light@siecor.com>
Subject: (urth) Crowley Thoughts from the Web
Date: Sat, 27 May 2000 10:50:02 

Turned this up on the web and thought the interview piece with Crowley
would be interesting to the discussion group:

Rubrics and Tendrils of Richard Gehr
by Richard Gehr
11 July 1994
Three Novels (Bantam paper, $12.95)
Little, Big (Bantam paper, $12.95)
Ægypt (Bantam paper, $12.95)
Novelty (Doubleday, out of print?).
Antiquities: Seven Stories (Incunabula, $25).
Love and Sleep (Bantam, $22.95).
Until last year, John Crowley and Cormac McCarthy seemed virtual equals in
of great dazzling craft, critical respect, and popular obscurity--yet only
McCarthy has broken onto the best-seller list. Hi-fat Celestine prophesies
aside, I suspect McCarthy's ferocious violence and miseries will always be
familiar to us participants in American mythology than Crowley's Gnostic
play in
the ghettoized fields of the fantastic. Moreover, where McCarthy eventually

broke out of the literary shadows by litening (cq) up stylistically,
remains immersed in a complex and ambitious tetralogy, Ægypt , whose first
volume appeared under that title in 1987 while the second, Love & Sleep ,
descended onto shelves last month.
Crowley's earliest books--The Deep, Beasts, and Engine Summer (collected as

Three Novels )--visit imaginary planets and the far future. In them he
across as an ambitious author who'd merely overheard rumors about science
fiction, then decided to put theory into practice. "That's exactly what it
affirmed Crowley when I tried this theory out on him recently over Thai
food in
New Haven. "I'm not deeply inside the genre." His short stories and novella

"Great Work of Time" (collected in Novelty and Antiquities ) suggest an
delicate intellect. These stories, clever and precious, read like gauzy
sketches for his immensely more densely painted large canvases.
Crowley's early novels sold modestly, but the 1981 release of his
Sufi/fairy-tale masterpiece Little, Big earned him fans as diverse as
Bloom, Peter Straub, and Terence McKenna, more general acclaim, and steady
sales. Like his later books, Crowley's first major work describes a
dissatisfaction for the world as it is and a quest not necessarily for
better, but for something utterly different . A complex, sprawling family
history influenced stylistically by Dickens and philosophically by Attar's
fable, "Parliament of the Birds," Little, Big uses fairies as humorous and
complicated switchmen guiding the narrative among intersecting universes
and a
house of infinite rooms. Here, Crowley says, the problem he set himself
"Can I make Arthur Rackham fairies convincingly wonderful, strange, and
featured enough so they don't seem trivial?" The novel manifests a weblike
connection to its literary legacy as well as to Rackham's grotesque
illustrations, reworking a rich vein of Western esoterica and fairy lore to

speculate metaphysically on connections with our spiritual legacy that have
lost to the past. (It is also, not coincidentally, one of the more oozingly

psychedelic novels you could ever experience. )
"One of the things I tend to write about is the solving of mysteries, or of

mysterious things coming to be and people trying to understand them." The
characters in Little, Big participate in a private sort of Gnostic religion

passed on from generation to generation. Crowley, however, claims the
fantasy foil was more an artistic choice than a reflection of his own
"The idea of an Arthur Rackham fairy world as the novel's reality," he
confesses, "was almost a completely objective choice."
Although Little, Big has remained in print since publication, Crowley has
paid the rent simply on his fiction. After a morning's literary endeavor,
Crowley hunkers down to a more lucrative chore, his "bizarre niche" writing

narration mainly for TV sports documentaries. And while we agreed to meet
in New
Haven as a compromise rendezvous between his home in the Barringtons and
mine in
Manhattan, Crowley has also recently taught courses on utopian literature
fiction writing at Yale.
Midpoints, intersections, and doublings arise often in Crowley's books and
conversation. The author, in person by turns owlish and garrulous, is
into Ægypt , a novel about parallel eras in history. He is the father of
girls born on Valentine's Day, the same day he received copies of his
first volume. As a child he says his life was organized in an important
around a secret world hidden behind a polite surface. "My father," Crowley
recalls, "kept up this Irish jive to mask any kind of engagement with me or
feelings in general--which I can still do also. From my mother, a WASP of
deepest die, I got this sense of a double life, that I am one thing on the
outside and another on the inside, and I can communicate that fact to
In Ægypt Crowley tells two stories at once. The older, which may or may not
recounted by a popular historian named Fellowes Kraft, concerns the magical

doings of Italian heretic Giordano Bruno and English mystic John Dee
between the
Wars of Religion, which ended in the 1590s, and the beginning of the Thirty

Years War in 1620. Meanwhile, in the 1970s, academic dropout and '60s
Pierce Moffett has moved to a small town in the fictitious town of
Jambs in the Faraway Hills of upstate New York, where he researches a book
like the one we are reading and becomes involved with a pair of women named

Crowley proposes the fictive thesis (reminiscent of Kuntz's paradigmatic
and Foucault's epistemological breaks) that gateways exist in time such
that the
world on one side of the gateway is utterly yet perhaps imperceptibly
than that found on the other side:
He told her Kraft's story, the core of it, how twice in the last two
years a slip or seam, a rumple in the ground of being, had allowed
around the world to perceive that the net of space and time is not quite
but like the shifting plates and molten core of Mother Earth, can move
the feet of diurnality; can move, was moving, had moved before and would
(L&S, 164-5)
Hidden in this transformation is a secret history of the world Moffett
hopes to
uncover for what his agent hopes will be a New Age bestseller. Love & Sleep

begins in Kentucky's Cumberland mountains, where Crowley spent a few early
inventing secret societies of his own. There Moffett acquires an inkling of
magic, a "secret gospel . . . [[a]]bout the end of the world" (500) that
follow him into the Faraways, where, by the end of the book, all hell
threatens to break loose, complete with werewolves, witches, an angelic
and a double alchemical wedding.
"One of the jobs I set myself," Crowley explains, "is to make it convincing
realistic and ordinary people are inhabiting fictional worlds where the
miraculous and the unreal and the bizarre and the awful don't happen--then
project them into a world where such things can happen. The basic idea of
book, beside the idea of time passing through a gateway, is the Gnostic
mythology that we are really the gods, that human beings are final, and
that the
gods who come between us and the unknown, fore-existing God are really
than us and not our masters, although we have let them become our masters.
gods create the world by language, by imposing rules upon us; we discreate
world by language in the same way and create our own in its stead."
Through the angelic communications transcribed by John Dee, and the Brunist
of memory (Francis Yates's works on the Hermetic tradition are seminal
Crowley attempts to tap into a divine "world of innumerable and endless
processes producing an infinite number of things" (L&S 416). The trick is
link the processes of Renaissance magic with the fairly quotidian lives of
Blackbury Jambs gang. These include an astrologer, a hardcore Gnostic, and
devotees of the pseudoscience of Climacterics, which straddles biorhythms
Scientology to explain how personal growth interpenetrates with history and
feeling that the world grows older as we do.
With the late Blackbury Jambs historian Fellowes Kraft mediating between
Elizabethan and more contemporary plot lines, the two Ægypt volumes suggest

numerous alternative readings and points of view as they dip into Moffett's
(his lovers have included a cocaine dealer and his literary agent), a
sorrow when her child unexpectedly begins undergoing epileptic seizures,
mystery surrounding Kraft's relationship to the patriarch of the family
institution employing Moffett, and the numerous theosophical digressions
studies inspire. The books brim with questions (does the world have a plot?
is the relation of Hermes Trismegistus to Thoth, the Egyptian god of
Why are gypsies commonly believed able to foretell the future?) that
further mysteries, mining a rich philosophical plenitude that always evades

Writing and imagination serve the same function for Crowley as the
Philosopher's Stone of Hermetic lore. Science fiction and fantasies are
literature's most powerful tools of transcending everyday physical reality
creating entirely new worlds whose infinite details are supplied by
imaginations through reading's mysteries. But does
Crowley himself buy into the mystic jive?
"Maybe because I'm a Sagittarian, sad with an air of assurance, I am
immune to mystic apprehensions," he admits with a barely noticeable sigh
when I
inquire as to his own spiritual proclivities. With a certain amount of
embarrassment, Crowley privileges the '60s as his personal watershed. But
era will do, really, in the great Hegelian spiral Ægypt suggests. "One of
values of magic, the humanist-magical option, is to say that man is really
to learn, to understand everything, and to gain powers from nature because
has provided nature to give powers to man. In the sixteenth century that
transcended narrow Protestant or Catholic ideology. For people like John
Dee, it
was a way to transcend trivial sectarian differences."
Moffett, historian of the esoteric, shimmies constantly between the
strata of the historical past and a present in which the past's vestiges
persist. One of Ægypt 's overriding questions is whether history exists as
continuum or as a series of paradigm shifts, memory museums, or Brunist
poised for revival, but never with values equal to their original
"What was it Barr said," thinks Moffett, " . . . that in the religious
of the West old gods are always turning into devils, cast from their
into dark undergrounds to be lords over the dead and the wicked?" [[501]]
Moffett comes to realize that history is malleable and flexible. Magic used
exist; now it doesn't, and from contemporary science's point of view, never

could have.
But what if a magical touchstone exists that has survived history's
gateways and
stratifications? Without spoiling one of Love & Sleep 's major surprises,
answer turns out to be the single manifestation of magical influence nearly

everyone experiences at some point in life, "the alchemical power of Eros"
[[501]]. Moffett's erotic past, it turns out, is extracting a toll he finds

difficult to pay, a return and inversion of a repressed childhood memory
takes root in his dreams before extending to a cracked reality.
In this, Moffett mirrors a world struggling to repress its own dæmons and
titans--"But it turns out that the past is harder to get rid of than that,"

Crowley emphasizes with a jab of forked shrimp in my direction, "and that's
of the four-volume novel I'm telling, how obdurate the past really is. It
persists and goes on having effects. Even its old revolutions go on having
effects, being incorporated into the adventure one after another, each one
same as all the others. You know the chestnut about those who don't know
being condemned to repeat it? Well, those who do know history are condemned
recognize it when it comes around again."
As Crowley finishes his scotch and our conversation winds down, I wonder if
familiar with Voyage to Arcturus , David Lindsay's seminal 1920 fantasy.
he is, but it's the secondary lit that moves him more deeply than Lindsay's

seminal spiritual voyage into the unknown. "One of the most wonderful
explanations of heroic fantasy," he says, "is Harold Bloom's essay,
"Clinamen :
Towards a Theory of Fantasy" [[in Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism ]],

which is all about Voyage to Arcturus . Bloom's terrific argument moved me
much as a writer of the stuff. His basic question is: If you've got this
where anything can happen, in which anything is possible, why do the same
always happen and why are the stories all so alike? Bloom of course tends
a Freudian explanation about fear of breaking out and obsessions and such,
is reasonable enough. But it also sets the writer a task: How do I make it
come out the same as it always does, yet make it satisfactory as a story?
"That's my quest. You can come to the same old conclusions. What's
important is
the effort you make and risks you take as a writer, what it costs you to
the same old conclusions."

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

<--prev V29 next-->