“Suppose machinery does extend its sway, suppose science in the hand of minority-dictators does more and more dominate us, suppose the great battle of the future, with its own particular ‘good and evil’, comes to be the struggle of the individual to be himself against the struggle of society to prevent him being himself, what we shall have to do will only be what the saints, lovers, artists, mystics have always done, namely sink into ourselves and into Nature and find our pleasure in the most simple, stripped, austere and meagre sensations”.
So wrote John Cowper Powys in his 1934 Autobiography, but his words cannot fail to remind us of our contemporary plight.
Powys often expressed his disdain for what he termed “the various mechanical inventions of our western world”.
He wrote: “There is no escape from machinery and modern inventions; no escape from city-vulgarity and money-power, no escape from the dictatorship of the uncultured.
“Money and machines between them dominate the civilized world. Between them, the power of money and the power of the machine have distracted the minds of our western nations from those eternal aspects of life and nature the contemplation of which engenders all noble and subtle thoughts”.
The healthy response to this world of falsity was to retreat into nature because only in nature can we find authenticity.
In that vast living organism we also find ourselves, because we are, in reality, nothing but part of nature. Our lives and our thoughts, when sourced from authenticity rather than artifice, are nothing other than the self-expression of nature.
“I pray to idols and fetishes and images, to sticks and stones, to the Sun and the Moon and the Earth”, Powys confessed, asking himself whether it was possible “that at certain particularly sacramental moments in your life you are permitted to enter into some mysterious conscious relation with the spirit of the earth itself?”
He explained that, for him, what we call dead or inanimate matter “is in reality the organic body of some sort of living being“, an insight which had provided his “grand clue to the essential truth of all the ancient mythologies”.
“Human sensations are Nature’s self-expression. They are the earth’s awareness of herself. They are like the blossoming of flowers – the only way in which the rooted life of the organism can realize itself and be itself”.
Our newly-expanded profile of John Cowper Powys can be found here.