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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.

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