Skip to main content

Collecting Some Preliminary Thoughts on Consciousness from John Cowper Powys' Porius

Consciousness: another theme among too many to numerate that pops off the page at times in Porius.

Consider the following passages in chapter three, shortly after Porius & Rhun have encountered the emperor's wacky (was he playacting?) and wackily attired counselor, Merlinus Ambrosius (a.k.a., Myrddin's Wyllt or Emrys), and Porius reflects on their meeting:

"There was nothing mystical, far less spiritual, in what he experienced as he thus came near to this squid-consciousness. 'I must squeeze the life out of him,' he said to himself, 'while I drain his thoughts.'"

And now, keeping in mind that Merlinus was the origination of that pungent "stinkhorn fungus smell," watch how Porius even employs the sense of smell to absorb Merlinus' consciousness:

"What proved to him {to Porius} that there was no sorcery about it was the fact that all the time he was feeling it he was perfectly aware of a wafture {all boldness in post mine; I love that word and Powys uses it a lot} of ground-ivy fragrance from under his feet and a lingering whiff of delicious pungency from some bed of water-mint on which he must have trodden as they came up from the river. The impressions of multiplicity for which he became a medium at this moment were as far-flung and telescopic as they were concentrated and microscopic."

We're overly familiar with the idea of collective consciousness, I'm sure, but Porius seems to literally collect consciousnesses, and add them to his own: a hybrid mind comprised of many minds. And it's never in a psychotically-Sybil, Dissociative Identity Disorder sort of manner his mind melds with other consciousnesses; but definitely more in a "metempsychosis" manner (if we recall the word from our study of Ulysses & Infinite Jest) that his mind's sight and awareness exponentially enlarges, flourishes:

"He grew aware of vast continents and countries and cities. He grew aware of the unrolling of world-shaking events; of famines and plagues, of battles and migrations, of the births and deaths of whole civilizations."

Porius describes his dawning awareness of his many-minded, epic-scale consciousness in the following awesome paragraph:

"The human frame he held became an organism whose conscious recession into its primordial beginnings extended far beyond the prophet's temporary existence. It was as if what held, and what he could so easily have crushed, became a multiple entity composed of many separate lives, the lives of beasts and birds and reptiles and plants and trees, and even rocks and stones!"

Echoes of Emerson & Whitman there too.

Porius: A novel about consciousness indeed! And yet about so much more ... (and I'm only one-tenth of the way done! Woo hoo!

Reading the book, for me (feel free to insert the Twilight Zone theme music here) feels like participating in some sacred ritual from some forgotten religion I can vaguely recall but can't quite remember.


Popular posts from this blog

A Brief introduction to the Novels of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas

The majority of the material for this post is taken from Contemporary Novelists, 3rd Ed., Edited by James Vinson, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1982

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas (1914-1987)

There's only eight books of K.A. Abbas cataloged in LibraryThing (five or six different works).  He's virtually forgotten in the United States, though still revered in Indian literary circles.

On highbrow literary critics in India, Abbas said they "have sometimes sneeringly labelled my novels and short stories as 'mere journalese'. The fact that most of them are inspired by aspects of the contemporary historical reality, as sometimes chronicled in the press, is sufficient to put them beyond the pale of literary creation.

"I have no quarrel with the critics. Maybe I am an unredeemed journalist and reporter, masquerading as a writer of fiction. But I have always believed that while the inner life of man undoubtedly is, and should be, the primary concern of literature, thi…

Guest Post: Farewell to Manzanar reviewed by Mac McCaskill

"Mountain now loosens rivulets of tears.
Washed stones, forgotten clearing."
 —Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

When my father was a boy, he learned that he’d been adopted by the man whom he’d thought was his father. Digging through a dusty trunk in his attic, he found legal documents that gave him the name he wore and the father he knew, but also uncovering an origin that had been hidden from him.

His mother was, by all accounts, a volatile woman — her siblings called her “the hornet” because her sting was quick and painful. She was a hard woman, and reticent to either acknowledge or divulge anything about his biological father. Over the years, he eventually learned from other relatives that she met Mr. Black — it was his name, but also a metaphor for much more — in a late 1920’s dance hall. He left her pregnant, taking whatever money he could get his hands hand on when he went.

Late in his life, after his mother died, my dad started quizzing other relatives for information about Mr…

Guest Post: Play It As It Lays reviewed by Joseph Brinson

You know, I began a try at this review writing about Iago in Othello and the nature of evil.

And about ennui and apathy.

And that the answer is: nothing.

And how I felt deep empathy for Maria.

And then I deleted it all.

This is my review: This novel depressed the fuck out of me.

That, and giving it four stars, should sum it up.

Joseph Brinson (a.k.a., "Quixada"), a poet and a longtime online pal, made me fucking howl when I first read his deadpanned piece on Play It As It Lays years and years ago.  Yes, it is brief — yet is playfully, skillfully thorough. His homage still slays me today.