The Message and the Messenger

For whatever reason, after two decades of believing nothing in particular (other than squeezing out an income by cyprian endeavors in the classroom), I found myself returning, quite by chance, to a couple things previously held dear, almost forgotten.

I've never entirely left Aleister Crowley's The Book of the Law in the dust; it's been part and parcel of my makeup since the year jot. But I will confess, my study of it has been a trifle piecemeal these past twenty years. Then I laid my hands on a neatly printed rendition (I now have five versions in my library) and decided to tuck in once more each night for several hours to see what I've missed.

A lot, if truth be told.

If you snatch up a copy, whatever the edition, you'll typically find five introductory sections forming a bit of a preface. In my undergrad days and even up until a year or two ago, I pretty much ignored these as inconsequential twaddle. I wanted to hear from Aiwass, not a sniveling Beast. What a mistake! With pencil in hand, I spent a number of weeks annotating like crazy and arrived at the conclusion: this is some deep, deep stuff after all. And that's without even getting to the meat of the book!

Here's the deal. When Aleister Crowley was in guru mode, virtually everything he wrote was spectacular. Book Four and Magick without Tears come to mind. When he was in critic mode, his scathing wit was every bit the equal of Wilde, Shaw and Mencken. But when he fell into bombast mode, well, it was pretty clear that here was a guy with an inferiority complex, going for cheap laughs, hoping to become the life of the party or the live-wire of his lodge. Don't get me wrong. I've hung around with some entertaining sociopaths in my time, and old AC would have fit in just fine if something needed to be placed on the hallway carpeting. He definitely would have run with The Gang, especially Fake-Nose and Sheel-Teat.

Humor was not Aleister's strong suit, despite his stellar start with the addendum to the Two Evil Kings bit he pulled on his uncle. (Write me if you need details). Much like the pandering of TV to the typical American audience, he always ruined the effect by explaining the punchline. Not much different from Cheech following his uproarious "man with French asthma" joke with "Get it?"

But there's a huge difference between doing and writing, especially if one is attempting to be humorous. If that's become all too difficult to parse, let's leave it at this: when Aleister writes earnestly about the damage Christianity and society at large have inflicted on the liberty of individuals, I die laughing at his biting and accurate wit. But when he tries to be humorous, knocking the customs of his day, well, it just comes across as incredibly sophomoric. Some people will never understand that less is more.

His japes always seem pleonastic. Much like mine, I'm afraid, the ones I make.

I made the mistake of thinking his opening five sections in the preface to The Book of the Law were just some more of his typical fustian jocularity. Big mistake, as my re-read all these years later has made clear. In the next several entries of Corpus Crowley, I propose to look at the preface with fresh eyes and show that the Great Beast:
  • could have penned it during the Bush administration
  • reconciled Platonism with formalism in a reasonable fashion
  • drew upon Sade, yet anticipated Leary
  • made his own obsolescence inevitable
  • but, left behind a most important book
It is a good book, even gooder than the Good Book, since it has the noble goal of setting people free, not entrapping them within a lifetime of lingering. Taken alongside Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, why, King James and his ghostwriters seem almost superfluous.

Come back next time when I dig into the opening five sections of its preface.

Next vignette: Part I--The Book

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