A Review of Peter Kingsley’s ‘Catafalque’
By Keith Hackwood
Catafalque! As Keats says in his Ode to a Nightingale, “the very word is like a bell / To toll me back from thee to my sole self!” A word to conjure with. Velvety on the tongue, but dark, inclined downward somehow. Formed in precision, yet obscure in modern usage – it sounds important, of significance, but what exactly does it mean, we wonder? As a book title it is immediately arresting, commanding a deeper attention. Something is most definitely astir.
The great Ur-novelist, Miguel de Cervantes, once wrote a poem* about a catafalque in the Autumn of 1598, following the death of the self-styled ‘Enlightened Despot’ King Phillip II of Spain (he of the Armada, the Counter-Reformation and the untold plunder of the first global empire, the ‘Imperium Hispanicum’, to many simply the New World). In it the poet considers the gigantic baroque structure swiftly erected by the city of Seville to honour the freshly deceased monarch. As the poem’s narrating figure stands bewildered before the scale and consequence of the edifice, so we, as readers, come by this Catafalque, recognising in it our own memorial. As Cervantes sees through the death of all consuming royal power, so we are brought to see through the dying time of Western civilisation itself. Now we are come to see this thing down, and with it ourselves. To do this is an astonishing achievement, and it seems to me there can be barely any writers capable of it, but Peter Kingsley is assuredly one such. And he succeeds, God knows at what cost, blessing us by his accomplishment.
Let me start by reporting upon the deeply embodied experience of reading this book. In the reading I have felt, physically, by turns lightened, energised, crushed, squeezed, profoundly fatigued, shivered with gasps of laughter, crushed again, and finally, achingly, brought in on a night-time high tide. I mean this as the highest compliment, rare is it that a book hurts that deeply, and is at once the salve to the hurting. There were points where I read (and scribbled notes) for two days without stopping, except to sleep a bit, the work of attention is relentless. And rightly so.
This book in its two volumes is very much like two rivers in parallel flow. One tumbles through an overworld landscape creating a course that describes and sings out the life and context and significance of Carl Jung. The other is an underground river, cascading through cavernous depths, forming a forest of stalactites, bursting out into daylight on occasions through a series of cataracts. A story and its understory, rich and dense beyond imagining. One can choose to take both river routes, paddling above and spelunking below, and I encourage you to both, there are inestimable treasures above and below.
It is fitting, I think, in light of Mr Kingsley’s vast work, to consider the catafalque at all levels; as architectural fact, as theatrically scaled public memorial scaffold, as etymological crucible and event horizon, and as a threshold the crossing of which necessarily changes one utterly. From the outset the urge to reach for poetry as the only possible means of responding, is strong, and certainly that line of Yeats’s comes to mind, as if wrought for this occasion more even than for Easter 1916,
‘Enough to know they dreamed and are dead
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them until they died?’
For, as those who read the book will come to know, all is indeed ‘changed, changed utterly’ and it is certain that ‘a terrible beauty is born’.
Worthy dictionary definitions have it that a catafalque is ‘a stage erected in a church to support a coffin during a funeral’ and that the usage comes via French from around the 1640s, or directly from the Italian catafalco "scaffold," perhaps itself from Vulgar Latin catafalicum, in turn from Greek kata "down" used in Medieval Latin with a sense of "beside, alongside" + fala "scaffolding, wooden siege tower," a word said to be of Etruscan origin. So far, so dry.
In Mr Kingsley’s usage, however, as he tells us in the final chapter of the book, the word is dream-born, something in the order of an instruction or imperative, and as a title it reveals absolutely everything in one condensed, luminous effulgence of meaning – this book is made to serve as the catafalque of what we commonly call ‘the West’. Nothing less.
This dream-born aspect, it quickly becomes apparent, is a golden thread running throughout the text, revealing and veiling the arc of becoming by turns. We hear several life-changing dreams directly given to the author, many more that shaped the life and work of the book’s main human subject Carl Gustav Jung. And behind these we may hear, if we know how to listen, the deepest dream visions out of which the West itself emerged, as well as the deliberate misinterpretations, convenient alibis, blatant misunderstandings and cover stories to which that primal dream has been subjected for millennia. In fact the deceased, for whom the enormous craft and effort of labour to create this catafalque has been expended, turns out to have been murdered, and the whole territory of the book to be, therefore, a vast crime scene of barely comprehensible proportions.
But this is no cheap whodunit, the patricidal ruination at the core of all this surely has our own fingerprints all over it, albeit that they are merely the latest layer of a forensically astounding palimpsest, at the most ancient strata of which are the distinctive grubby whorls and furrows of Plato, Aristotle, Porphyry and many other culturally lauded ancients. Those familiar with Peter Kingsley’s earlier work will recognise the modus operandi of these felons, as indeed they will be familiar with the very persons assassinated, namely the pre-Socratic luminaries, iatromantes and conscious progenitors of western culture and civilisation, Parmenides of Velia and Empedocles of Akragas. Plato and Aristotle, by comparison, are exposed as always clever, occasionally earnest, thoroughly narcissistic and fundamentally ‘on the take’. By their thefts and postures, their additions and omissions, and certainly through their hubris in assuming to penetrate with ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ that which was given by the divine, through the broken-open human soul, they set into motion the consequences for the West that we moderns live out today.
And herein another repeating thread is drawn forth, the question of prophecy itself and of divinely bestowed vision as the periodically emergent restorer of the capacity for life within the living organism of a culture. The thesis extends and the case is fully made for Jung himself being just such a seer, a conduit of prophecy, one who had descended through the abyss and returned garlanded with freshly formed wisdom and the knowledge of the craft of ancestors and ancients, only for the old pattern to repeat itself again; of prophecy lost, ignored, despised, sanitised, inverted and of a Pharisee class self-appointed to keep the wildness of wisdom shut out from a newly minted system of desiccated reason. The old trick of the competence-addicted, as Stephen might put it, incapable and unwilling to contemplate mystery and to learn the poverty of its own manner. ‘Thank God I am Jung and not a Jungian’ we hear Jung himself bellow across Lake Zurich.
That, in the most inadequate of nutshells, is Catafalque the book.
Except that there is more, so very much more, more than a review could ever hope to do justice to, more I wholly suspect, than a single read of the 840 pages could reveal. Be it ever so clearly said, this is a book for now, and now it is of enormous consequence and direst implication. It has come to begin the funeral proceedings for a culture that has not yet realised it is dead. As such it will be heftily resisted, dismissed, rejected and ignored, and in true Orphan Wisdom fashion those hateful reactions shall be the signs of this book speaking truly. As Mr Kingsley is only too aware, it was ever thus in the matter of the West.
For instance there is the repeated and aching theme of ancestors, ancestry and the ancestral, (‘I work for the ancestors’ Mr Kingsley states plainly and more than once) along with the enormous grief that this entails and obliges us to. The witness statements testifying to the primal murder of the very laws bestowed from the Underworld Gods are drawn at great cost through the author’s own psyche, itself stretched out as a bridge in time, so that a ‘truing’ can be completed, ‘I am speaking,’ he says, ‘for the world they almost destroyed’. I have no doubt that contact with such powers has been at enormous personal cost to the author, and yet, his gift has been delivered to us in full form. This is the highest blessing of the work, that it is the very thing it advocates for and howls in lament unto. May it find readers worthy of its gift, broken enough to be wise among those consciously at the deathbed of the West.
There is also the exploration of Jung’s great body of work and of the inadequacy with which it has been translated, engaged with and understood. Instead of Jung we have a domesticated and apotropaic ‘Jungianism’, cultivated as a defence against the startling implications in Jung himself and in his war-forged words.
Among areas of special note and interest for Orphan Wisdom Scholars are the treatment of Jung’s #1 and #2 personalities and the parallel forces, never to be resolved, in his encounters with ‘the Spirit of the Time’ and ‘The Spirit of the Depths’.
Then there’s his precisely crafted sense of ‘historical continuity’ so essential to his opus, to ‘rediscover the essential mystery of the West’. There’s also the interwoven thread of Christianity, another definitive expression of Western praxis, but one in which the collapsed star of direct encounter with Christ somehow inverts to a ruinous state in which ‘the human heart is the only sanctified place on Earth’. Mr Kingsley deftly applies something very much like the Orphan Wisdom Forensic Method, too, for example pointing out that when considering Jung one must first ask which Jung was speaking or writing, when, to whom and for what purpose? Hence the sifting of sense from contradiction, fool’s gold from motherlode, prophetic veil from revelation.
Those who know the author’s work will already have a healthy respect for the breadth and depth of his scholarship and craft, part of which is visible here in a four-hundred page volume of endnotes, and which also shows up in the devastating deployment of source material - for instance from Jung’s English translator RFC Hull who noted that Jung was ‘a walking asylum in himself as well as its head physician’.
There is a wonderful exploration of the work of Henry Corbin, the Islamic scholar and friend of Jung’s (Mr Kingsley movingly describes them as being ‘like horses recognising one another by scent’), who coined the term ‘imaginal’ (unskilfully pickpocketed by James Hillman, as we learn, to Corbin’s devastating chagrin). All the while we are reminded and confronted, through Jung’s life, through Mr Kingsley’s own peregrinations, through the evidence before our own eyes, of the ways in which we are ourselves Faustian entities, or ‘tiny Lucifers silently murdering our elders’.
There are particular flavours teased out that reflect upon Jung’s relationship to America and to the particular way that the North American continent today harbours a perfect disease vector of technological materialism and brutal rationality, a subject familiar to those in the orbit of Stephen’s work. We learn that when asked about his greatest fears at the end of his life, Jung replied unconsciousness, modern science and America, and ‘above all of America’.
The great prophetic arc of the book weaves through the Greeks, Pythagoras, Cassandra, Empedocles and Parmenides; through the Hebrew Job, Jonah, Isaiah, Elijah and Habbakuk; the Christian Joachim di Fiore, Meister Eckhart and the Gnostic Mani, and Jung’s own Master Philemon via Corbin’s inner sheikh Shihâb al-Din Yahyâ Suhrarwardî. Even Christ, Buddha, Muhammad and Zoroaster are presented. All share in a sense of predicting the past, weaving it ancestrally into the emergent present, most often through enormous suffering, not for gain or success (nor failure, for that matter) but ‘because they have to’. Into this exalted lineage of conscious suffering Jung too is placed, the Jung who said ‘I wanted God to be alive and free from the suffering man has put upon him by loving his own reason more than God’s secret intentions’.
In Catafalque there is space given over to the problems of Westerners seeking ‘answers’ in the exotic, the oriental, the traditions of the East, pursuing a form of piracy, as Jung had it, and neglecting the vegetable gods of place itself. Indeed place exerts an enormous pull throughout the text, in the lives of the Ancients (Empedocles at Etna, Parmenides at Velia, both at pains to avoid imperially inflated Athens) in the prophetic traditions (there is a beautiful section wherein we hear neo-Platonist laments for the passing of Oracles from the world, even as we know of their complicity in its extermination), in Jung’s own life (Eranos, Küsnacht, his Bollingen tower and sacred retreat, his Indian journey to Kolkata with the significant dream had there, his journeys to the United States) and in Mr Kingsley’s life as well (Canada, Tunisia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Greece, England). It is plainly the case that certain creations, certain acts of expression, certain bestowals of gift, can occur only in specific places and that place itself, and the loss of its uniqueness of speech, represents the ground-zero and master-symptom of our contemporary devastation.
Catafalque also attends to the long forgotten craft of Therapeia Theon that sees ‘the approach to the numinous’ as the ‘real therapy’, the care for the Gods without which what today passes as ‘therapy’ is but a
‘a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress’
(W.B. Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium, 1928)
Another significant intersection with the Orphan Wisdom understanding and with Stephen’s take on Jung, especially as rendered in Come of Age, concerns the idea of ‘spiritual projects’ and the consequence of inheriting those left incomplete, adrift and log-jammed through generations of dereliction and loss. Mr Kingsley speaks of Jung’s final dying vision, the custodian of which (Marie-Louise von Franz) saw fit to lock it away in a drawer. It reveals Jung’s certainty of the going down of the West, a culture and a civilisation that had even then (1961) profoundly run out of gyring generative energy, was already still, poised at the point of stasis before the inevitable unwinding commenced. In respect of that a vision unfolds of western culture seen from the perspective of the dead, of the joining from past to future that an unbroken chain of linkages ensures; and then the horrifying knowledge emerges that we have lost our linkage to the primordial past, leaving us an age adrift, nowhere, bereft. The only response possible to such seeing is lament, to turn to face our ancestors, to bury optimism as a form of dereliction of duty, and instead learn to dance for the dead.
I cannot stress starkly enough the sheer physicality of reading this book, the pain it draws forth, and not only from enduring for eight hundred pages what is unbearable to consider. There is a deeper mystery afoot, and it would appear that in the presence of truly uttered and written words, ‘one virtually has to die’ to keep up one’s end of the arrangement. I am not exaggerating, this book asks everything, that it might strip everything away
‘what manifests as private neuroses is for the most part simply a lack of history – the collective neurosis of a culture that abandoned its ancestors and, in the process, forgot itself’
And as a final word, perhaps just know this redeemingly beautiful fact
‘the dead are far more cunning than us’.
So I urge you to order a copy of this book, to be willingly burdened by the anti-matter that it is, and to give it the space it most richly deserves to be read, to be struggled with, to be defeated by. For the heart-wreckage ensuing from that many-petalled defeat is the only seedhead there is.
Carl Jung & The End Of Humanity
By Peter Kingsley
2018, Catafalque Press, London
*Al túmulo del Rey Felipe II en Sevilla
Voto a Dios que me espanta esta grandeza
y que diera un doblón por describilla;
porque ¿a quién no sorprende y maravilla
esta máquina insigne, esta riqueza?
Por Jesucristo vivo, cada pieza
vale más de un millón, y que es mancilla
que esto no dure un siglo, ¡oh gran Sevilla!,
Roma triunfante en ánimo y nobleza.
Apostaré que el ánima del muerto
por gozar este sitio hoy ha dejado
la gloria donde vive eternamente.
Esto oyó un valentón, y dijo: "Es cierto
cuanto dice voacé, señor soldado.
Y el que dijere lo contrario, miente."
Y luego, incontinente,
caló el chapeo, requirió la espada,
miró al soslayo, fuese, y no hubo nada.
At the catafalque of King Philip II in Seville
I swear to God such grandeur frightens me.
I'd pay good money to describe it well;
for whom would this great structure, all this wealth,
not hold in wonder with its awesome spell?
By Christ alive, each part of it is worth
more than a million; isn't it a shame
that it won't last a century -- Great Seville! --
triumphant Rome in zeal and noble fame.
I'll bet the very soul of this here corpse,
just to enjoy this spot today, has quit
that heaven where he endlessly resides.
A braggart overheard these words and said:
"Oh, Mr. soldier, what you say is true.
And anyone who says it's not, he lies."
And then, quite suddenly,
he checked his sword with care, pulled down his hat,
he looked away, moved on, and that was that.
Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra, 1598
Translation by Alix Ingber