Sunday, December 26, 2010


I decided to start this Newsletter which will gather information and new research about Canada’s first novelist and which will include comments, criticisms and suppositions by readers of his works because there is a small but growing circle interested in him and there should be a place where it can all be found. I know of a collector or two of his works as I have been approached to part with my three volume first edition of Wacousta, the only copy extant which Richardson signed. I am pleased that his works have become available [some from my web site]. I await the discovery of others such as Jack Brag in Spain, which someone somewhere must have saved. My discovery of his Montreal newspaper, The Weekly Expositor; or, Reformer of Public Abuses and Railway and Mining Intelligencer, the only copy of which was in the Bibliothêque et Archives Nationales du Quebec, I discussed in my 2004 revision of Richardson’s biography, The Canadian Don Quixote. Also, my discovery of Richardson’s play, The Miser Outwitted, which was reprinted in The Theatre History in Canada, Spring 1986, with my comments, led to more conjecture in the revised biography. Years ago a lady who ran a theatre in Connecticut wanted to find a copy of Richardson’s court martial in Spain to use as a drama but a search of courts martial in the National Archives at Kew Gardens and for the papers of the British Legion in Spanish archives has had zero returns. More information on Richardson’s first wife Jane Marsh and what really happened to her would be welcome news. Their marriage certificate stated that she was from Leamington Spa, England, which was a fast growing centre in the early 1800s. When I was researching for the biography in the 1960s, a librarian from there sent me a photograph of a Mrs. Marsh of Leamington but with no definite relationship to Jane. I speculated a little more about her in my 2004 revision.
Since much of Richardson’s fiction is based on real events, readers may wish to add details about his characters. For instance, concerning his Westbrook, the Outlaw, it was Richardson’s uncle, Alexander Askin, who arrested Andrew Westbrook and took him to gaol in Niagara. In researching for my From Bloody Beginnings, I discovered that Billy Fairchild went back to Delaware and persuaded the Westbrook brothers to come to Canada whereas years earlier I had found sources that claimed the family came from Massachusetts, which I wrote in Andrew Westbrook’s biography for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. I am interested in knowing more about Betsy Hickman, whom Richardson wrote about in his A Canadian Campaign and his The Canadian Brothers, that is after she married a Kentucky judge in 1823 and bore him a son in 1824. 
Comments about articles and books on Richardson are welcome, for instance on Michael Hurley’s brilliant The Borders of Nightmare; The Fiction of John Richardson—and on James Reaney’s stage adaptations of Wacousta and The Canadian Brothers, and on the acting careers they started. If someone will be giving presentations on Richardson or writing articles, they could announce them in the Newsletter and add critiques of what they are thinking.
I shall add bits of information from time to time but I trust that others will oblige to make it an interesting Newsletter. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My metaphysical novel

THAT OTHER GOD exegesis. By David Beasley
A few months ago, friends who were reading my metaphysical novel THAT OTHER GOD, written many years ago when I was in my twenties, welcomed my thoughts on it now that I am approaching old age. Possibly what I wrote may interest a general reading public which wonders how authors tend to think conceptually. I do not mean planning or constructing a plot, which is contrived writing and avoided like the plague by writers of the more inspirational mind, who allow their ideas and instincts to guide them as they write into the blackness, as it were.
I wrote the first draft of this novel in the winter of 1958-59 when living in New York City and immediately after writing THROUGH PAPHLAGONIA WITH A DONKEY; AN ADVENTURE IN THE TURKISH ISFENDYARS. I had been curious about the powers of mysticism from when I visited Vienna, Austria in 1954. The city was under the occupation forces. I sensed a mystic quality brought from the east by the Russian forces. I returned in 1956, after the occupation forces had left, to spend two years in the city. I picked up secondhand volumes in English entitled HOURS WITH THE MYSTICS, which led me to other readings on mysticism. Later in New York City I read a book in French on the Atheistic Humanism of Ludwig Feuerbach which influenced my writing of the novel. Atheism, a-theism, away from theism or organized religion—is a minor theme. Also, in a general way, my superficial knowledge of Spinoza’s philosophy may have influenced the writing subconsciously. 
Another question I hoped to probe through the writing of the novel was the mystery of 
massenpsychologie such as Adolf Hitler represented in his relationship with his Germanic peoples. There are individuals who can resist this mass mesmerization and stay removed from the emotion of the crowd about them. 
Looking over some brief notes I made on the novel some years after the first and second or third drafts, I can see some of what I was thinking. “Characters—melding of people and place.” Vienna provides the spiritual impetus, trying to recover from a disastrous war of destruction, betrayal, disillusionment. Austria has become a ‘neutral nation’, caught between the cold war powers. The American mystic poet, Cain Brooks, utopian, spiritual [of New England heritage] needs help in transforming the world from the political and material to bring his message to the public—the political in the figure of Herr Ministerialrat Feind, an Austrian bureaucrat; the material represented by Abel Kingston, an English bohemian artist, an impersonator. The other characters—Henry, an observer, smug in his own righteousness; Grunewald, democratic socialist, opportunist; Ilya Gregor, spy, communist ideologue; Tanya, male-dominated, repressed but defiant; Lisa Bauman, unreachable, repressed and culture-dominated; Ory Baskan, sufi spiritualist, an alternative to Cain’s western mysticism; Alois Wittenborn, industrialist, manipulator; Sophia, pragmatic, symbol of wisdom. The relationship between Sophia and Cain represents that between Sophie and Friedrich von Hardenburg, fashioned after Novalis, the mystic poet and his young love. Frau Bauman, Lisa's mother, represents the victim, as were the bulk of the people.
I wrote: “Struggle between the god of humanity and material power [Cain versus Feind/Wittenborn]. In Austria the battle between the cold war powers——communist vs. capitalist, freedom from want vs freedom of the spirit——takes place... all made superficial by the underlying battle which is for the freeing of the individual soul..... Recognition of the god of humanity frees the individual from domination [religious, cultural, economic, political] and instills in the individual confidence that comes from the knowledge of self-worth. Knowledge is gained through human union.” 
The cosmic significance is symbolized by the Cain-Abel myth, reinterpreted. Mythically the struggle is between Cain and Abel wherein the modern-day Cain sees that the Biblical Cain, who was a mystic, discovered that the god of the altar was the god of the state, of religion, not the god to whom he conversed in the fields. The god of the altar prefers Abel's blood sacrifice rather than Cain's vegetables and fruits of the fields. The modern-day Cain interprets the Biblical Cain's murder of Abel as necessary to stop further bloodshed. Although the modern-day Cain thinks that by persuading Abel, the artist, to help him form a spiritualist movement to save the peoples of the earth and change the course of history to one of peace, the thought of the Biblical curse lurks in the background.
The writer’s task of “suspending disbelief” became difficult, for, at any moment, the 
story could become fantasy owing to its premise. First, was it credible that crowds would congregate on hillsides in mental communion? I was surprised to read in the news in the 1960s that such events were happening about the world. In the 1980s I received a Christmas card from relatives that announced the clustering of thousands in meditation. Therefore, not incredible. Could there be any basis for Cain’s claim that recognition of the god of humanity led to love, peace and understanding as opposed to the repressive, destructive nature that organized religion has promoted? Only in the 1980s, long after I put the manuscript away, were the gnostic gospels, discovered at Nag Hammadi, made available to the public. Gnosis is the intuitive process of knowing oneself, which, at the deepest level, is to know God.
Gnostics see the God of the established Church as the demiurgos or creator, who acts 
as a military commander—setting the law and judging, i.e. the God of Israel—falsely claiming to be the only God. Thus organized religion established the hierarchy based on those who knew this God from whom authority flowed down through the various levels.
According to gnostics, however, the creator was really subservient to Anthropos [humanity]. Humanity created Anthropos and from its own inner potential discovered for itself the revelation of truth. Jesus called himself the Son of Man, that is the son of Anthropos. The Gospel of Philip states “... God created humanity; but now human beings create God. That is the way it is in the world—human beings make gods, and worship their creation.” The gnostics, of course, were overcome by the organized Church which had the army and state behind it, but thanks to a monk who buried some gnostic texts in the sand to be found 2000 years later we know that Christians opposed the sin and redemption message in favor of mutual love and spontaneous helping of one another. 
The Apocalypse of Peter calls those who call themselves bishops and deacons “as if they had received their authority from God...waterless canals.” Gnostics defended the spiritual against the material message of the Church. I quote from Elaine Pagels, THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS, and then leave this subject which I refer to only in relation to the credibility of the views expressed in the novel. “Many gnostics, then would agree in principle with Ludwig Feuerbach, the nineteenth-century psychologist, that ‘theology is really anthropology’ (the term derives, of course, from anthropos, and means ‘study of humanity’). For gnostics, exploring the psyche became explicitly what it is for many people today implicitly—a religious quest. Some who seek their own interior direction, like the radical gnostics, reject religious institutions as a hindrance to their progress. Others, like the Valentinians, willingly participate in them, although they regard the church more as an instrument of their own self-discovery than as the necessary ‘arc of salvation.’” 
In my novel, the weakness of human nature destroys the promise of Spiritual Purism.
But would such a state of connection with all humanity be credible? In the 1970s, I came across a paper on excursus religion—excursus being a religious quest leading away from established religion, and, collectively, it is called excursus religion—which points out the path that such a movement could take. 
Using two basic variables, the grid and group, which are forces in every society in varying degrees of strength and weakness, producing different types of social life, religious symbols to articulate it and different views of divinity and transcendence to validate it, we can define a society’s attitude to sin, cause of suffering, purity and pollution, personal identity and so forth. Grid means the systems and symbols bringing order to experience such as caste in India. Group is social pressure establishing boundaries and constraints on the members’ identities that reveals how one’s place in the caste system shapes the way one lives. 
Since fundamentalist Christianity has been notable in recent years, we can use it as an example and see how its grounding in great revivals shows a strong group and weak grid. I quote: “The crucial importance this tradition places on establishing a boundary between the circle of purity and pollution (that is, between the ‘saved’ and the ‘world’) but through group membership and internal state rather than through ritual or formal roles, and its corresponding insistence on distinction between appearance and internal state, bears that out. So does the tradition’s well-known and sometimes almost obsessive mistrust of anything that smacks of ritual, magic, trance, meditation, or ‘the occult’, and the vociferousness with which polluting persons, things, or ideas are often shunned or cast out. Finally, one sees the cosmological consequence of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in its anthropomorphic and dualistic theology, and not least in its sometimes lively sense of demonic intervention in the affairs of humankind. In the revival situation, of course, both the group pressure, which is its dynamic, and the construction of the alternative world of its cosmology and perception of personal identity are intensified to the utmost.” 
Now, to go on an excursus quest, one must be separated from one’s group, enter liminality [state of transition] and be reincorporated into a new group. Liminality is compared to the status of the novice in the initiatory lodge—ritually naked and downcast, negating all restrictions of structure and opening the doors of infinity, “akin to the mystical experience requiring a stripping away of all worldly garb.” In this state, the transcendent and communitas reality seem close and social realities seem unreal. The passage into another group with a different structure makes one aware of two worlds: an ordinary world and an alternative one of wonder and meaning. One experiences a subjective turbulence and acute self-consciousness which seems to make one more complex than others. “It is related to the Hegelian excursion and return of the spirit—for that is a journey which, like the excursus of excursus religion, is essentially intrapsychic.”
“The overcoming of the problem of two identities is projected in two ways: outwardly, in the search for reification in symbol and social group; and inwardly where voices, visions and states of consciousness seem to validate the world of the alternative identity.” 
My novel parts company at this point with all the interesting discussions on the emergent or intrapsychic transformations which relate to, oppose, or live alongside the world they left. Cain Brooks's Spiritual Purism has a different aim; it transforms the world into a “new” world, which is “new” in the sense that it is born out of itself and from characteristics inherent to it. Through spiritual communion the peoples of the world come to the truth, like gnostics. 
[May I add here, despite a fear of distracting you, reference to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. 
Nietzsche celebrated the past in the doctrine of eternal return, but did not subordinate 
the present to the future, yet claimed a higher state for human life in the future. Can we see ourselves as pregnant with the Ubermensch, with the form of life that will cure our apparent sickness by revealing it as the condition out of which can emerge an affirmative will that at once lives in the present and overcomes it?—in other words, being born anew, as Spiritual Purism claims to do?] 
I should add that the paper on excursus religion addresses “divine madness”, referring to R. D. Laing’s thesis that ordinary reality is in itself schizophrenic, creating distortions of human personality which “work” because they are reinforced by society, but only at great cost in inhibition and pain to individuals. To become mad is the only way many sensitive persons can deal with the greater madness around them, and often the private madness produces a world which is not only better suited to them than the outer insanity, but also gives them a self-knowledge and inner strength that finally enables them to live better in an insane world. By contrast, Spiritual Purism, according to Cain, would make the insane sane and drive the evil-intentioned out of existence. 
When my eldest brother-in-law, now departed, read the novel, he wrote me a long letter of disjointed sentences and incomprehensible thoughts about God. The story had set off the manic religious side of the fellow, who otherwise was a pleasant and charming Burman, and unfortunately churned up fears stemming from his horrific escape from Burma during the Japanese invasion which only an intense devotion to God and Church alleviated. Then the wife of a cousin, somewhat mad on the subject of religion, went off the rails when she read the book. She recovered but caused her relatives some anxious moments, including me. 
One reader told me that he wanted the novel to continue in the sense of relishing it as a story. At one point I did write an addendum in which Sophia and her grown-up child were protagonists, but I destroyed it and cannot remember its content. But is not the physical form of the death of the very spiritual Ory Baskan, in the light of his self sacrifice, symbol enough of the end of Spiritual Purism—at least for the foreseeable future? 
The novel is for sale still from Davus Publishing [] but the subject is wide enough to elicit comment from one who has not read it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Modern art, does it reflect our society?

For the past years I have given slide and powerpoint talks on the works of Clay Spohn, 1898-1977, one of the innovative and prominent artists of the 20th century. As an abstract expressionist, admired by his contemporaries, he was the first to break through into pure feeling on the canvas, but unlike his friends of the New York School, he died impoverished and his works are neglected. 

My book Understanding Modern Art; the Boundless Spirit of Clay Edgar Spohn with 18 pages of his paintings in color tried to remedy this neglect but it is in vain. At the last venue in Palm Beach, Florida, no one appeared at my lecture—possibly because it was not well promoted by the museum but probably because no one recognized his name and the populace, including the art students and staff, lacked the intelligent curiosity that people used to have, even just a few years before , when I gave several lectures in Florida that were well attended. Has the anti-aesthetic, conceptual art that followed after the high-point of abstract expressionism turned the public against modern art? 

In my book on the art curator Douglas MacAgy I quoted a critic: “Much of the art practised today is, in its shallowness, the direct consequences of the producer-consumer orientation, and it is experienced and assessed from much the same viewpoint. When this viewpoint is still further undermined  by the trivialized perception and mental processing of a public created by mass media, false values are inevitable…. Indiscriminate visual or perceptual infantilism, together with a lack of aural sensitivity, prevails for the overwhelming majority of people who are already illiterate as readers through sparse education, or because the activity of reading has been undermined by the assault of easier and swifter alternatives…. Eventually a mindless vacuum could be attained, undisturbed by the slightest emotional, intellectual or retinal challenge but confirmed from time to time by the reassurance of nostalgic clichés.” 

It appears from the present panic over education in our schools that the critic has been proven right. Spohn, above all, emphasized the importance of emotion in art. It is time that educators became interested in his work and absorbed his ideas. 

I invite comments, particularly on the emotionally sterile conceptual art of today.

Justifying self-publication

Originally posted April 7th, 2010 by Davus

Although I am what is called "established" as a writer, I am unknown to the inner world of publishing and resorted to self-publishing rather than spend months and years sending my manuscripts to publishers, who, when they have accepted submissions, asked me to cut the length because they disliked the expense of printing a longer book. I know other writers who feel they are getting on in age and cannot wait years for publishers who have accepted their manuscript but wait for an opportune time or put it in a long line to wait its turn. Also my writings have been anti-establishment in some cases or championing the unfamiliar in others or elucidating the unrecognizable-by-mainstream-thought by others—in other words non-commercial by instinct and choice. 
 My compulsion to write this about self-publishing, in self-justification, comes from my wife’s enjoyment of Robert Gover’s On the Run with Dick and Jane which I chanced upon. She wants more of his writing. I met him in the early 60s in an apartment of friends on east side Manhattan at a small party in which his agents were present. He had just published The One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding and told me that every publisher in the US had turned it down, that his agents found a French publisher where it became a best seller and thereby put pressure on an American publisher to issue it. It became a cult classic. 
The stories of authors being turned down by publishers scores of times are legion—and the success of their books when published are just as legion. But one never hears of the publishers regretting their bad decisions. I had the utopian idea that a publisher acted for all publishers in assessing a manuscript and that it was the fault of the manuscript if it was rejected, thus I did not persist. I  went for years before I wrote something that found a publisher because of its topicality. Eventually with the advent of word processing and digital publishing and the confidence in my writing gained from the few of my books issued by established publishers. I issued my mss from my own press, which was much more fun than having a mss taken over by a publisher. 

Distribution is a problem for small presses but if you are not commercial to begin with [and rarely is a commercially written book a work of art] distribution is of small significance. Moreover, with ebooks and the decline of bookstores, self-publishing will become even more worthwhile. We may reach our readership some day.

Creative non-fiction and our history

Originally posted April 19th, 2010 by Davus Publishing

From Bloody Beginnings: Richard Beasley’s Upper Canada. 
David Richard Beasley. -
Davus Publishing. 388 pages. Illustrations $15.95 softbound

The central character of this story, Richard Beasley, was indeed a man of some prominence in the years just before and the decades after the creation of this province. A descendant has cast his ancestor’s biography as a personal narrative—a drama with famous players indeed: Richard Cartwright, Major John Butler, Chief Joseph Brant and Isaac Brock as well as Family Compact members John Strachan and John Beverley Robinson along with radicals Robert Gourlay and William Lyon Mackenzie. Readers who enjoy fictionalized scenes with imaginatively created dialogue, all based on extensive research, will welcome this volume and its fresh approach to an important historical period.
OHS BULLETIN, December 2008