The Fiery Angel
Michael Walsh's new book, The Fiery Angel, takes its title from a novel by Valery Brusov (which inspired a later opera by Sergei Prokofiev of the same name). It's an allusion to Madiel, the demon who deceives a maid into loving him in both works, and as some would have it, in "both worlds."
In both opera and book, "does [the audience] accept the supernatural as a real and constant presence, or are the unnatural happenings merely symptomatic of Renata's unbalanced mental state? Is Madiel good or evil?"
The recursive references are intentional, for Walsh's goal is to demonstrate that culture -- religion, the arts, language itself -- are the core libraries of civilization built in a stack one upon the other. His thesis is that culture stores and slowly modifies a civilization's foundational libraries -- its attitudes toward eternity, dominant narratives and ultimate ground for hope -- which eventually underpin our entire world. To illustrate the unbreakable connection between the elements, the book examines two historical sequences showing how culture, politics and war are linked.
Beaumarchais -- Mozart -- The French Revolution -- Beethoven -- Napoleon
Count Gobineau -- Father Jahn -- Wagner -- World War I -- Communism and National Socialism -- Hitler
Walsh convincingly demonstrates that culture anticipated and even precipitated great events. There should be no surprises there. It seems self-evident that culture, especially language, art and religion, provides the "framework" for the more "practical" functions of civilization. Indeed it would be shocking if they did not. Yet it is even more shocking to realize that many believe the exact opposite: that Western culture is irrelevant -- or worse, antagonistic to our modern conveniences. The deliberate Leftist amputation of culture from Western civilization and its replacement by a "Woke" prosthesis is the second great theme of Walsh's book. The cultural Left are on a mission:
... to reduce the stories -- call them exemplars -- to the status of mere myths or fairy tales ... is precisely the aim of those who would separate Western civilization from its origins ... they can be made to seem manifestations of, say, the “patriarchy,” or clear evidence of a conspiracy against women, homosexuals, and people of color. This is the essence of cultural Marxism, the Left’s answer to Lukács’s famous question, “Who will save us from Western culture?”
Answer: the wrecking ball. What Lukács forgot to ask was who would save his hijacked civilization once the core libraries were deleted. No one in the captured institutions was prepared for malfunctions displaying the missing-dependency error message. Yet every system, including the one the Left paradoxically relies upon to keep its programs in clover, depends on a non-obvious chain of libraries going all the way down to the foundation.
Deleting God, patriotism, heroic myths and taboos and all the "useless stuff" from Western culture turns out to be as harmless as navigating to the system folder (like C:\Windows\System32), "selecting all," and pressing delete. Far from being clever, it leads to consequences far greater than anyone anticipated. To his credit, Walsh will not be among the surprised. He advances Madiel, the Fiery Angel, as an instance of a little-understood library, an example of the terrible ambiguity of Western culture where the "creator, destroyer, sentinel, succubus, muse" simultaneously vexes us and makes us great.
Humanity's membership in "two worlds" was for so long the fundamental premise to our culture, it was implicit. It began as Walsh notes "when Eve made her choice ... not to become bad -- rather, it was to 'become as God' and know both good and evil -- a distinction hitherto denied her and Adam." Then did the "original Eve ... [possibly] in outward appearance, a chimp" face two paths no animal had ever contemplated before: one leading up into the stars and the second into the depths of darkness. Humanity had begun its long journey in two planes.
This messy, transcendent view of humanity with its unanswered questions and annoying aspirations was a huge inconvenience to any Marxist program. A simple Life of Julia was obviously preferable to the angst of Eve. Humanity's universe needed flattening to make it manageable. Cultural Marxism is so full of rage because it is trying to toss everything overboard as fast as possible, yet finding more lurking baggage in the hold each time. Walsh writes:
To do so, the cultural Marxists and their fellow-travelers (to put it in loaded terms they can understand) have adopted a bastardized form of Judeo-Christianity as a disguise, oﬀering “universality” as the teleological end of the “arc of history.” Don’t be fooled.
Anti-religious to a man, the [they] could not accept the notion of unanswerability -- that some things were beyond human ken and therefore had to be taken on faith. Their response, therefore, was an anti-philosophy: Critical Theory applied to what these intelligent but profoundly mistaken men thought were the fruits of their own ratiocination -- but were in fact their own daemonic, and despotic, emotions. So it is with their philosophy, not their political principles (which are evanescent and changeable, according to their quotidian tactics), that we must deal. And that philosophy was birthed in rage.
What Walsh does not completely explain in The Fiery Angel, which I shall attempt now, is why the spectacularly successful 19th and 20th Century program of culture destruction is faltering just now before it can dimensionally flatten humanity. The missing-dependency problem has already been mentioned, tormenting the Marxists with demographic collapse, falling educational standards and the increasing inability of Western nations to defend themselves, thus reducing their real power. But even more important has been the devastating philosophical impact of the information revolution upon their ideology.
The banished dimensions are back. A casual search will produce hundreds of recent popular and scientific papers arguing that spacetime is in fact created by quantum entanglement. Information is no longer simply the "epiphenomena of the economic substructure, as Marx would have it" but perhaps the essence of the universe itself, not just "in a manner of speaking" but actually. One article writes "it's no revelation that information is changing society. What's novel is that information is changing science":
What are the basic building blocks of the cosmos? Atoms, particles, mass energy? Quantum mechanics, forces, fields? Space and time -- space-time? Tiny strings with many dimensions? A new candidate is "information," which some scientists claim is the foundation of reality. The late distinguished physicist John Archibald Wheeler characterized the idea as "It from bit" -- "it" referring to all the stuff of the universe and "bit" meaning information.
It perforce is changing cultural Marxism. Dialectical materialism, for so long the future, has aged overnight into the past. In the beginning was the Word and at the last perhaps it will still be the word as well. As the 21st Century continues its unpredictable course, it is clear that the history and culture have not yet run their course.
After finishing The Fiery Angel I had a sense of living in a richer, truer world. "Go, then. There are other worlds than these."
PS: I was sick for nearly a week (nothing serious) and am just getting back to work.
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Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T.J. Stiles. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History, this book paints a portrait of Custer that demolishes historical caricature, revealing a volatile, contradictory, intense person -- capable yet insecure, intelligent yet bigoted, passionate yet self-destructive, a romantic individualist at odds with the institution of the military (he was court-martialed twice in six years). The key to understanding Custer, Stiles writes, is keeping in mind that he lived on a frontier in time. In the Civil War, the West, and many other areas, Custer helped to create modern America, but could never adapt to it. Stiles casts surprising new light on a near-mythic American figure, a man both widely known and little understood.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger. We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding or "tribes," a connection now largely lost. But its pull on us remains and is exemplified by combat veterans who find themselves missing the intimate bonds of platoon life at the end of deployment and the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today. Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, Junger explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. He explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today's divided world.
For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
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No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific