jeudi 22 décembre 2011

Transcend Time.

Nasa Johnson Space Center, Skylab 4, s.d.

Penthouse: Science fiction is supposed to reflect the future. How well do you think it has done that over the years?

Ballard: I think it's been amazingly accurate, not necessarily in terms of the technology itself, but in predicting society's response to technology. Jules Verne, over 100 years ago, was the first writer of any kind to respond to the impending transformation of society by technology, and from his time onwards science fiction has picked out the main preoccupations and anxieties of the Industrial Age, identifying them way ahead of their appearance. Incidentally it has also anticipated the present unease about science which has recently become a public issue, but which was featured in SF as far back as the 1930s. I suspect it will also turn out to have been extremely accurate in the way in which it is now predicting or anticipating the peculiar affectless quality of life in the 1980s and 90s.

Penthouse: What kind of things?

Ballard: Well, for example the way in which the traditional togetherness of the village is giving way to the inbuilt loneliness of the new high rises, or the peculiar fact that people nowadays like to be together not in the old-fashioned way of, say, mingling on the piazza of an Italian Renaissance city, but, instead, huddled together in traffic jams, bus queues, on escalators and so on. It's a new kind of togetherness which may seem totally alien, but it's the togetherness of modern technology, and the science fiction writers of the 40s, 50s and 60s picked it out unerringly as being a dominant feature of the future - often without realising what they were doing.

Penthouse: Can you give an example?

Ballard: You've only got to look at copies of "Galaxy Magazine" and "Astounding Science Fiction" of the early 50s to see the anxieties and wish-fulfilment fantasies of modern surburbia and city life - the escapist dreams of jet liners and airport lounges - all absolutely contained in the science fiction of the period. Take Pohl and Kornbluth's classic novel, "The Space Merchants". Here the future is portrayed in terms of a world totally dominated by the advertising agencies. It's a world run not by the Pentagon and the Kremlin but by Madison Avenue, with giant rival advertising consortia fighting to control everything and everyone through the mechanism of the mass media. And indeed, we can look back now and realise that the logical evolution of Western society of the 1950s would have been a world in which the copywriter was king. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it took science fiction writers to spot it and write about it a quarter of a century ago.

Penthouse: You evidently don't rate too highly science fiction's highly successful predictions about space travel?

Ballard: Well you can't underestimate that achievement, but in many ways space travel was the least adventurous of all SF concepts. It so happens that my first stories were being published at almost exactly the time that Sputnik One - in case you've forgotten, that's the first artificial satellite - was launched in 1957. At the time I remember a great mood of optimism in science fiction circles. It seemed that the Sputniks had ushered in the space age, and that everything that the science fiction writers had been predicting for 100 years was coming true. And with the space age, science fiction was set fair for a golden era. Now I remember, paradoxically responding to this general euphoria, by being intensely pessimistic rather than optimistic. Although I had no real evidence to support my hunch - quite the opposite in fact - I felt very strongly that the age of space, as far as science-fiction was concerned was ending rather than beginning. And indeed the space age did end and far from lasting hundreds or even thousands of years, its total life span was hardly more than a decade. One can date its end quite precisely. The space age clearly ended in 1974 when the last Skylab mission came to earth. This was the first splashdown not to be shown on TV - a highly significant decision on the part of the networks which signalled the fact that space simply wasn't interesting any more. As I said I had a strong hunch that this was the case, but didn't have any unequivocal evidence to back it up. But in the summer of '74 I remember standing out in my garden on a bright, clear night and watching a moving dot of light in the sky which I realised was Skylab. I remember thinking how fantastic it was that there were men up there, and I felt really quite moved as I watched it. Through my mind there even flashed a line from every Hollywood aviation movie of the 40s, "it takes guts to fly those machines." But I meant it. Then my neighbour came out into his garden to get something and I said, "Look, there's Skylab," and he looked up and said, "Sky-what?" And I realised that he didn't know about it, and he wasn't interested. No, from that moment there was no doubt in my mind that the space age was over.

Penthouse: What is the explanation for this. Why are people so indifferent?

Ballard: I think it's because we're at the climactic end of one huge age of technology which began with the Industrial Revolution and which lasted for about 200 years. We're also at the beginning of a second, possibly even greater revolution, brought about by advances in computers and by the development of information-processing devices of incredible sophistication. It will be the era of artificial brains as opposed to artificial muscles, and right now we stand at the midpoint between these two huge epochs. Now it's my belief that people, unconsciously perhaps, recognise this and also recognise that the space programme and the conflict between NASA and the Soviet space effort belonged to the first of these systems of technological exploration, and was therefore tied to the past instead of the future. Don't misunderstand me - it was a magnificent achievement to put a man on the moon, but it was essentially nuts and bolts technology and therefore not qualitatively different from the kind of engineering that built the Queen Mary or wrapped railroads round the world in the 19th century. It was a technology that changed peoples lives in all kinds of ways, and to a most dramatic extent, but the space programme represented its fast guttering flicker.

Penthouse: You were one of the leaders of the "New Wave" in science fiction. Could you say something about that? Was the New Wave a response to the shift from one technological epoch to another?

Ballard: Yes, in a sense. You see technology advances on a number of fronts and opens up a number of different doors. The transformation of London by its tube system in the 19th century, the spread of the telephone in the 1920s and 30s, the coming of radio and the dominance of TV in the 50s and 60s were all tied up with technology, but with communications and information transfer rather than with giant feats of Meccano engineering. I was born in 1930, and I am old enough to remember the popular encyclopedias of the day, the mass magazines like "Life" in which space exploration was seen as a natural extension of the development of aviation. It took 50 years from the Wright Brothers to the first faster than sound rocket planes in the '50s. It then seemed only natural that the next step was Outer Space and these were the sort of projections that "Old Wave" science fiction made about the future. And while the logic of our past history seemed to be a continued expansion outwards, a persistent invasion of extra-terrestrial territory, the growth of communications technology in the 50s and 60s was already suggesting that these huge spatial excursions were becoming not only less and less necessary, but also less and less interesting. The world of "Outer Space" which had hitherto been assumed to be limitless was being revealed as essentially limited, a vast concourse of essentially similar stars and planets whose exploration was likely to be not only extremely difficult, but also perhaps intrinsically disappointing. On the other hand, inside our heads so to speak, lay a vast and genuinely infinite territory which, for the sake of contrast I termed "Inner Space." The New Wave in science fiction - it's not a phrase I care for actually - reflected this shift in priorities, from Outer Space to Inner Space, and in my own writing I set out quite deliberately to explore this terrain.

Penthouse: Was your novel "Crash" an investigation of Inner Space?

Ballard: Yes and no. "Crash" was really about the psychology of the motor car, or about people's attitudes to the motor car, and it tried to highlight the vast range of emotional ties that man has with this highly specialised piece of technology. It was a kind of science fiction of the present if you like. I'm not interested in motor cars myself by the way, but I am interested in what motor cars say about modern man, and about how they reflect man's needs and aspirations. Many people make the mistake of assuming that people buy motor cars because of great advertising and external social pressures. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since the 1930s when styling first began to be a big feature of design in the States, the automobile industry has emerged as a perfect example of a huge technological system meeting profound psychological needs. The motor car represents, and has done for 40 years, a very complex mesh of personal fulfilment of every conceivable kind. On a superficial level it fulfills the need for a glamorous package that is quite beautifully sculptured in steel and has all sorts of built-in conceptual motifs. At a deeper level it represents the dramatic role one can experience when in charge of a powerful machine driving across the landscape of the world we live in, a role one can share with the driver of an express train or the pilot of a 707. The automobile also represents an extension of one's own personality in numerous ways, offering an outlet for repressed sexuality and aggression. Similarly it represents all kinds of positive freedoms - I don't just mean freedom to move around from place to place, but freedoms which we don't normally realise, or even accept we are interested in. The freedom to kill oneself for example. When one is driving a car there exists, on a second-by-second basis, the absolute freedom to involve oneself in the most dramatic event of one's life, barring birth, which is one's death. One could go on indefinitely pointing out how the motor car is the one focus of so many currents of the era, and so many conscious and unconscious pressures. Indeed if I had to pick a single image which best represented the middle and late 20th century, it would be that of a man sitting in a car, driving down a superhighway. "Crash" was an attempt to explore this vast facet of human existence, and to that extent, I suppose, was part of the exploration of Inner, as opposed to Outer, space.

Penthouse: What was the general response to this shift of direction in science fiction?

Ballard: Although initially it seemed as though the various "New Wave" writers of the 60s were significantly off-beam because of the apparent success of the space programme, I believe now that we were very much more in tune with the public mood than perhaps we realised. Don't forget that the 60s were the years of the resurgence in pop culture, and a turning away from the external material culture of the early 20th century. People no longer saw their lives in terms of establishing basic material securities - I must have a job, I must have an apartment, cars, washing machines. They all had jobs, apartments, cars and washing machines.

What people wanted to gratify were psychological rather than material needs. They wanted to get their sex lives right, their depressions sorted out, they wanted to come to terms with psychological weaknesses they had. And these were things that a materialistic society was unable to supply - it couldn't wrap them up and sell them for a pound down and ten pence a week. Now this rejection of external in favour of internal values was mirrored in the great popular movements of the time. Take the career of the Beatles who began in the traditional materialistic mould of young Rock 'n Roll stars - flashy cars, expensive clothes, big stadium concerts and all that but turned in the end towards meditation, mysticism, the pseudo-philosophical drug culture of the psychedelics, and so on. In other words there was a great current moving through Western Europe and the USA in the 60s in a direction completely opposite to that emanating from the Kennedy Space Centre. The stars and the planets were out, the bloodstream and the central nervous system were in. It's no wonder that by the time Armstrong had put his foot on the moon, no one was really interested.

Penthouse: Does that mean that the space programme has ended once and for all. Are you saying that we'll never go any further?

Ballard: Oh, no, there'll be a space age some day, perhaps 30, 40 or even 50 years from now, and when it comes it will be a real space age! But it will depend upon the development of some new form of propulsion. The main trouble with the present system - all these gigantic rockets sailing up off the launch pads consuming tons of fuel for every foot of altitude - is that it just hasn't got anything to do with space travel. The number of astronauts who have gone into orbit after the expenditure of this great ocean of rocket fuel is small to the point of being ludicrous. And that sums it all up. You can't have a real space age from which 99.999 per cent of the human race is excluded. Far more real - and we don't have to wait 50 years for it - is the invisible space age which exists already; the communications satellites, literally thousands of them, television relay systems, spy satellites, weather satellites. These are all changing our lives in a way that the average person doesn't yet comprehend. The ability to pass information around from one point in the globe to another in vast quantities and at stupendous speeds, the ability to process information by fantastically powerful computers, the intrusion of electronic data processing in whatever form into all our lives is far, far more significant than all the rocket launches, all the planetary probes, every footprint or tyre mark on the lunar surface.

Penthouse: How do you see the future developing?

Ballard: I see the future developing in just one way - towards the home. In fact I would say that if one had to categorise the future in one word, it would be that word "home." Just as the 20th century has been the age of mobility, largely through the motor car, so the next era will be one in which instead of having to seek out one's adventures through travel, one creates them, in whatever form one chooses, in one's home. The average individual won't just have a tape recorder, a stereo HiFi, or a TV set. He'll have all the resources of a modern TV studio at his fingertips, coupled with data processing devices of incredible sophistication and power. No longer will he have to accept the relatively small number of permutations of fantasy that the movie and TV companies serve up to him, but he will be able to generate whatever he pleases to suit his whim. In this way people will soon realise that they can maximise the future of their lives with new realms of social, sexual and personal relationships, all waiting to be experienced in terms of these electronic systems, and all this exploration will take place in their living rooms.

But there's more to it than that. For the first time it will become truly possible to explore extensively and in depth the psychopathology of one's own life without any fear of moral condemnation. Although we've seen a collapse of many taboos within the last decade or so, there are still aspects of existence which are not counted as being legitimate to explore or experience mainly because of their deleterious or irritating effects on other people. Now I'm not talking about criminally psychopathic acts, but what I would consider as the more traditional psychopathic deviancies. Many, perhaps most of these, need to be expressed in concrete forms, and their expression at present gets people into trouble. One can think of a million examples, but if your deviant impulses push you in the direction of molesting old ladies, or cutting girl's pig tails off in bus queues, then, quite rightly, you find yourself in the local magistrates court if you succumb to them. And the reason for this is that you're intruding on other people's life space. But with the new multi-media potential of your own computerized TV studio, where limitless simulations can be played out in totally convincing style, one will be able to explore, in a wholly benign and harmless way, every type of impulse - impulses so deviant that they might have seemed, say to our parents, to be completely corrupt and degenerate.

Penthouse: Can you be sure that their exploration, even if they don't involve other people in the "real sense," will be purely benign?

Ballard: Well it seems to me that these kinds of explorations have been going on, if only in a limited sense, since time immemorial. Take the whole business of organised sports and games which have been a major preoccupation of man for tens of thousands of years. Now there's no point in pretending that these games are played and watched solely because of the fact that they determine some trial of skill or bravery between opposing teams. The exhilaration of sport, from the pumping of one's lungs, the twisting of ankles, the bruising of the rugger field, the physical damage of the boxing match, and right at the other end of the scale the multiple deaths of a Formula Two pile-up are all major components, and all might seem like totally deviant pleasures if they were not long-established components of participant and spectator sports. Even today the idea that people watching a car race get some measure of excitement from being an observer of an accident which produces pain, mutilation and death, is somehow slightly shocking and yet it's clearly one of the reasons why people go to motor races. But I think we'll shortly be moving into a realm where we will be prepared to take for granted the existence of these seemingly deviant interests and through the limitless powers of our home computers and TV we will be granted universes of experience which today seem to belong to the dark side of so-called civilised behaviour. Of course this doesn't apply solely to sport or to activities like the space programme; with the kind of simulations I'm envisaging it may never be necessary to go into space. One's own drawing room will be a thousand times more exciting and, in a peculiar way, more "real." No, there will be a huge range of activities, our sex lives included, in which we can explore endlessly the permutations of possible relationships with our friends, wives, lovers, husbands, in a completely uninhibited way, but also in a way which is neither physically hurtful nor psychologically or morally corrupting.

Penthouse: Will people really respond to these creative possibilities themselves? Won't the creation of these scenarios always be handed over to the expert or professional?

Ballard: I doubt it. The experts or professionals only handle these tools when they are too expensive or too complex for the average person to manage them. As soon as the technology becomes cheap and simple, ordinary people get to work with it. One's only got to think of people's human responses to a new device like the camera. If you go back 30 or 40 years the Baby Brownie gave our parents a completely new window on the world. They could actually go into the garden and take a photograph of you tottering around on the lawn, take it down to the chemists, and then actually see their small child falling into the garden pool whenever and as often as they wanted to. I well remember my own parents' excitement and satisfaction when looking at these blurry pictures, which represented only the simplest replay of the most totally commonplace. And indeed there's an interesting point here. Far from being applied to mammoth productions in the form of personal space adventures, or one's own participation in a death-defying race at Brands Hatch it's my view that the incredibly sophisticated hook-ups of TV cameras and computers which we will all have at our fingertips tomorrow will most frequently be applied to the supremely ordinary, the absolutely commonplace. I can visualise for example a world ten years from now where every activity of one's life will be constantly recorded by multiple computer-controlled TV cameras throughout the day so that when the evening comes instead of having to watch the news as transmitted by BBC or ITV - that irrelevant mixture of information about a largely fictional external world - one will be able to sit down, relax and watch the real news. And the real news of course will be a computer-selected and computer-edited version of the days rushes. "My God, there's Jenny having her first ice cream!" or "There's Candy coming home from school with her new friend." Now all that may seem madly mundane, but, as I said, it will be the real news of the day, as and how it affects every individual. Anyone in doubt about the compulsion of this kind of thing just has to think for a moment of how much is conveyed in a simple family snapshot, and of how rivetingly interesting - to oneself and family only of course - are even the simplest of holiday home movies today. Now extend your mind to the fantastic visual experience which tomorrow's camera and editing facilities will allow. And I am not just thinking about sex, although once the colour 3-D cameras move into the bedroom the possibilities are limitless and open to anyone's imagination. But let's take another level, as yet more or less totally unexplored by cameras, still or movie, such as a parent's love for one's very young children. That wonderful intimacy that comes on every conceivable level - the warmth and rapport you have with a two-year-old infant, the close physical contact, his pleasure in fiddling with your tie, your curious satisfaction when he dribbles all over you, all these things which make up the indefinable joys of parenthood. Now imagine these being viewed and recorded by a very discriminating TV camera, programmed at the end of the day, or at the end of the year, or at the end of the decade, to make the optimum selection of images designed to give you a sense of the absolute and enduring reality of your own experience. With such technology interfaced with immensely intelligent computers I think we may genuinely be able to transcend time. One will be able to indulge oneself in a kind of continuing imagery which, for the first time will allow us to dominate the awful finiteness of life. Great portions of our waking state will be spent in a constant mood of self-awareness and excitement, endlessly replaying the simplest basic life experiences.

Penthouse: But isn't this tremendously passive?

Ballard: Just the opposite. I would say we were moving towards an era where the brain with its tremendous sensory, aesthetic and emotional possibilities will be switched on, totally instead of partially, for the very first time. The enormously detailed, meticulously chosen re-runs I have been talking about will give one a new awareness of the wonder and mystery of life, an awareness that most of us, for biologically important reasons have been trained to exclude. Don't forget that man is, and has been for at least a million years, a hunting species surviving with difficulty in a terribly dangerous world. In order to survive, his brain has been trained to screen out anything but the most essential and the most critical. Watch that hillcrest! Beware of that cave mouth! Kill that bird! Dodge that spear! And in doing so he has to screen out all the penumbral wonder of existence. But now the world is essentially far less dangerous, and the time has come where the brain can be allowed to experience the true excitement of the universe, and the infinite possibilities of consciousness that the basic needs of survival have previously screened away. After a million or so years, those screens are about to be removed and once they have gone, then, for the first time, man will really know what it is to be alive.

Dr. Chris Evans, Profile J.G. Ballard, The Space Age is Over in Penthouse, vol.14, n°1 (UK edition), 1979.

jeudi 15 décembre 2011

Rythme Vital.

Andrea Branzi, No-Stop City, 1970.

Comme nous n'aimions pas beaucoup les promenades, dès que nous nous rencontrions, nous nous dirigions immédiatement vers le Sacher, ou l'un des autres cafés qui nous semblaient adaptés à nos fins. Dès que nous étions assis dans notre coin au Sacher, nous avions tout de suite une victime pour nos spéculations. On partait par exemple d'un Autrichien ou d'un étranger en train de manger, complètement crispé, son gâteau au chocolat ou son jambon de Prague fourré de raifort à la crème, ou bien plutôt épuisé par les épreuves d'une visite de la ville, et donc mangeant son gâteau avec beaucoup trop de précipitation, et avalant son café trop goulûment, comme toujours, pour blâmer sévèrement la stupide goinfrerie qui progresse partout depuis quelques lustres. D'une Allemande engoncée dans un manteau de fourrure de mauvais goût et qui enfournait de la crème fouettée comme par pénitence, nous pouvions par exemple déduire sans détour notre aversion envers tous les Allemands de Vienne, d'un Hollandais assis devant la fenêtre en pull-over jaune canari, qui, ne se sachant pas observé, ne cessait de s'extraire à l'aide de l'index droit de grosses crottes du nez, il n'y avait pour nous pas loin jusqu'à une exécration exhaustive de toute néerlandéité, que, tout à coup, nous avions l'impression de détester depuis toujours. Ceux que nous ne connaissions pas étaient mis à contribution tant qu'aucune personne de connaissance ne nous tombait sous les yeux, mais dès qu'une de nos connaissances apparaissait, c'est sur elle que nous fixions celles de nos pensées qui s'adaptaient précisément à ce nouvel objet de notre observation, et qui pouvaient nous divertir, littéralement, des heures, étant donné que nous en tirions abusivement un thème de discussion un peu plus élevé, nous semblait-il, propre à chasser notre ennui, et point de départ d'un tout autre thème dont nous n'hésitions pas à penser qu'il était, tout simplement, philosophique. Ainsi, il n'était pas rare que ce fût un être des plus ordinaires en train de boire un son café qui nous amenait à Schopenhauer, ou bien une dame dévorant d'énormes morceaux "d'apfelstrudel" sous le portrait de l'Archiduc, en compagnie de son petit-fils mal élevé, qui, par exemple, faisait que les fous de cour de Vélasquez au Prado pouvaient devenir pour plusieurs heures le thème central de notre conversation. Un parapluie tombé par terre pouvait nous amener non seulement, comme on pense bien, à Chamberlain, mais aussi au Président Roosevelt, un passant pressé, accompagné d'un pékinois, au style de vie extraordinairement dispendieux des maharadjahs indiens, et ainsi de suite. Quand je suis à la campagne, et que je n'ai aucune sorte de stimulation, ma pensée s'étiole, parce que toute ma tête s'étiole, à la ville on ne fait pas cette expérience catastrophique. Les gens qui quittent une grande ville et qui veulent maintenir leur niveau intellectuel à la campagne, comme disait Paul, doivent être dotés d'un énorme potentiel, et donc d'une incroyable réserve de substance cérébrale, mais eux aussi, à plus ou moins long délai, finissent par stagner et s'étioler, et la plupart du temps, quand ils prennent conscience de ce processus d'étiolement, il est déjà trop tard pour ce qu'ils veulent entreprendre, ils se ratatinent inéluctablement, et, quoi qu'ils fassent alors, cela ne leur sert plus à rien. C'est pourquoi pendant toutes ces années qu'à duré mon amitié avec Paul, j'ai pris l'habitude de mon rythme vital d'alternance entre la ville et la campagne, et j'ai bien l'intention de garder ce rythme jusqu'à la fin de mes jours, tous les quinze jours au moins à Vienne, tous les quinze jours au moins à la campagne. Car aussi vite que la tête se remplisse à ras bord à Vienne, aussi vite elle se vide à la campagne, et, en vérité, elle se retrouve aussi rapidement vidée à la campagne que remplie à ras bord à la ville, car la campagne est dans tous les cas beaucoup plus impitoyable pour la tête et ses intérêts que la ville, et j'entends la grande ville, ne pourra jamais l'être. A un être doué d'esprit la campagne prend tout et ne donne (presque) rien, alors que la grande ville ne cesse de donner, encore faut-il le voir, et, forcément, le sentir, mais rares sont ceux qui le voient, et ils ne le sentent pas davantage: ils sont attirés d'une manière odieusement sentimentale par la campagne, où, dans tous les cas, ils sont intellectuellement vidés en un rien de temps, et même pompés à mort, et, pour finir, définitivement ruinés. A la campagne l'esprit ne peut jamais s'épanouir, seulement à la ville, mais aujourd'hui les gens fuient la ville pour la campagne, parce qu'au fond ils tiennent trop à leurs aises pour faire usage de leur tête, qui est, naturellement, radicalement mise à l'épreuve à la ville, c'est la vérité, et ils aiment mieux se perdre dans la nature que, dans leur aveuglement borné, ils admirent sentimentalement sans la connaître, que profiter des immenses avantages qu'offre la grande ville, et surtout la grande ville d'aujourd'hui, avantages qui ne font que croître et se multiplier merveilleusement avec le temps et l'histoire - mais ils ne seraient sans doute pas capables d'en profiter. Je connais la mortelle campagne et je la fuis tant que je peux, au prix d'avoir à vivre dans une grande ville, dont, finalement, le nom importe peu, et qui peut être aussi laide que l'on veut, elle vaudra toujours pour moi cent fois mieux que la campagne.

Thomas Bernhard, traduit de l'allemand par Jean-Claude Hémery, Le Neveu de Wittgenstein, Éditions Gallimard, collection Folio, 1982 (1992), p.100-103.

jeudi 8 décembre 2011

Histoire & Légende.

Photographie non attribuée, Roman Ungern Von Sternberg, s.d.

-Parlez moi de vous et de votre voyage, me dit-il.

Je lui racontai tout ce qui me parut susceptible de l'intéresser et il suivit mon récit avec une attention extrême.

-Maintenant c'est à moi de vous parler de ma vie, et vous saurez qui je suis. Mon nom est entouré de tant de haine et de terreur que nul ne peut distinguer le vrai du faux, l'histoire de la légende. Un jour vous écrirez un livre, vous vous rappellerez votre passage en Mongolie et votre séjour dans la yourte du "général sanguinaire".

Il ferma les yeux et commença son récit, sans cesser de fumer, précipitant ses phrases nerveusement, sans les achever, comme si on lui en laissait pas le temps.

-La famille des Ungern von Sternberg est ancienne: elle est issue d'un mélange d'Allemands et de Hongrois, des Huns du temps d'Attila. Mes ancêtres guerriers prirent part à toutes les guerres européennes. On les vit aux croisades: un Ungern fut tué sous les murs de Jérusalem, où il combattait dans les troupes de Richard Coeur de Lion. La tragique croisade des enfants, elle-même, fut marquée par la mort de Raoul Ungern, à l'âge de onze ans. Quand au douzième siècle les plus hardis guerriers du pays furent envoyés sur les frontières orientales de l'empire germanique pour combattre les Slaves, mon ancêtre Arthur était avec eux: c'était le baron Halsa Ungern von Sternberg. Ces chevaliers des marches frontières formèrent l'ordre teutonique des Chevaliers moines qui, par le fer et par le feu, imposèrent le christianisme parmi les populations païennes: Lithuaniens, Esthoniens, Livonies et Slaves. Depuis lors, l'ordre des Chevaliers teutoniques a toujours compté parmi ses membres des représentants de notre famille. Quand l'ordre teutonique disparut à Grunwald, sous les coups des troupes polonaises et lithuaniennes, deux barons Ungern von Sternberg furent tués dans la bataille. Notre famille alliait à l'esprit guerrier une tendance au mysticisme et à l'ascétisme.

Au cours du seizième et du dix-septième siècles, plusieurs barons Ungern von Sternberg eurent leurs châteaux en Livonie et en Esthonie. Maintes légendes rapportent leurs exploits: Heinrich Ungern von Sternberg, qu'on appelait "la Hache" était un chevalier-errant. Les tournois de France, d'Angleterre, d'Espagne et d'Italie connaissent sa renommée et sa lance, qui remplissaient de terreur le coeur des adversaires. Il tomba à Cadix sous l'épée d'un chevalier qui lui fendit le crâne. Le baron Raoul Ungern von Sternberg était un chevalier-brigand qui opérait entre Riga et Reval. Le baron Pierre Ungern von Sternberg avait son château dans l'île de Dago, en plein mer Baltique où il tenait à sa merci les marchands de son époque, grâce à ses exploits de corsaire.

Au commencement du dix-huitième siècle, un fameux baron Wilhelm Ungern von Sternberg, fut connu sous le nom de "frère Satan" à cause de ses talents d'alchimiste. Mon propre grand-père devint corsaire dans l'océan Indien, imposant son tribut aux vaisseaux anglais marchands et échappant toujours à leurs navires de guerre. Finalement capturé, il fut livré au consul russe qui le fit condamner à la déportation en Transbaïkalie. Je suis, moi aussi, officier de marine, mais la guerre russo-japonaise m'a forcée à abandonner ma profession pour rejoindre les cosaques du Zabaïkal. Toute ma vie, je l'ai consacrée à la guerre, ou à l'étude du bouddhisme. Mon grand-père nous avait rapporté le bouddhisme des Indes: mon père et moi en sommes devenus des adeptes. En Transbaïkalie, j'ai essayé de former un ordre militaire bouddhiste pour organiser la lutte implacable contre la dépravation révolutionnaire.

Il se tut et but d'affilée plusieurs tasses de thé, un thé très fort, aussi noir que du café.

-La dépravation révolutionnaire! Qui donc y songe, en dehors du philosophe français Bergson et du très savant Tashi Lama au Thibet?

Le petit-fils du corsaire, le lettré qui citait pèle-mêle des théories et des ouvrages scientifiques, des noms de savants et d'écrivains, la Bible, les livres bouddhiques, l'homme qui s'exprimait indifféremment en français, en allemand, en russe ou en anglais, continua:

-Dans les livres bouddhiques, comme dans les vieux livres chrétiens, on lit de graves prophéties relatives à l'époque où devra commencer la guerre entre les bons et les mauvais esprits. Alors surviendra la malédiction inconnue qui, s'abattant sur le monde et balayant la civilisation, étouffera toute moralité et détruira les peuples. Son arme est la révolution. Dans toute révolution, l'intelligence créatrice qui se fonde sur l'expérience du passé est remplacée par la force jeune et brutale du destructeur. Celui-ci donnera la prééminence aux passions viles et aux bas instincts. L'homme s'éloignera du divin et du spirituel. La grande guerre a prouvé que l'humanité doit s'élever vers un idéal toujours plus haut, mais elle a marqué l'accomplissement de l'antique malédiction que pressentirent le Christ, l'apôtre saint Jean, Bouddha, les premiers martyrs chrétiens, Dante, Léonard de Vinci, Goethe, Dostoïevsky… La malédiction a fait reculer le progrès, nous a barré la route vers le divin. La révolution est une malédiction contagieuse; l'Europe, en traitant avec Moscou, s'est trompée elle-même comme elle a trompé les autres parties du monde. Le Grand Esprit a mis au seuil de notre vie le Karma, qui ne connaît ni la colère, ni le pardon. Il règle nos comptes. Ce qui nous attend, c'est la famine, la destruction, la mort de la civilisation, de la gloire, de l'honneur, la mort des nations, la mort des peuples. Je vois déjà cette horreur, cette sombre et folle destruction de l'humanité!


-Vous pouvez continuer maintenant.

-Ça ne vous ennuie pas? Eh bien, il ne me reste plus grand chose à vous dire, mais c'est sans doute la partie la plus intéressante. Je vous ai expliqué comment je voulais fonder un ordre militaire de bouddhistes en Russie. Pourquoi? Pour protéger l'évolution de l'humanité et lutter contre la Révolution, car je suis certain que l'évolution conduit à la divinité, tandis que la révolution ne mène qu'à la bestialité. Mais j'ai oeuvré en Russie! En Russie où les paysans sont grossiers, illettrés, impulsifs, constamment en colère, haïssant tout et tous sans comprendre pourquoi. Ils sont sceptiques et matérialistes, ne sont portés par aucun idéal noble. Quand aux intellectuels, ils vivent dans leur idéalisme, une utopie sans rapport avec la réalité. Ils ont tendance à tout critiques sans cesse, mais manquent de puissance créatrice. Ce sont des velléitaires qui ne savent que parler, parler et encore parler. Comme les paysans, ils n'aiment rien ni personne. Leurs sentiments sont chimériques, leurs pensées éphémères; des mots vides qui passent sans laisser de trace.

J'ai dû bientôt me rendre à l'évidence: mes compagnons violaient les règlements de l'ordre. Aussi dus-je établir, selon les enseignements de la religion jaune, l'obligation du célibat, la renonciation absolue à la femme, aux conforts de la vie, au superflu; pour que le Russe puisse dompter ses instincts, je prescrivis en contrepartie l'usage illimité de l'alcool, du haschisch et de l'opium. Aujourd'hui, je fais pendre les officiers et les soldats qui boivent de l'alcool, mais à cette époque-là nous en buvions jusqu'à la "fièvre blanche", jusqu'au delirium tremens. Il me fut impossible d'organiser l'ordre selon mes voeux, mais je groupai autour de moi trois cents hommes que j'avais réussi à rendre d'une audace prodigieuse et d'une férocité sans égale. Ils se conduisirent en héros pendant la guerre contre l'Allemagne d'abord, puis contre les bolcheviks. Hélas! ils ne sont plus très nombreux.


-Pendant la guerre, nous vîmes se corrompre peu à peu l'armée russe; la Révolution ne fit bientôt plus aucun doute pour moi, et je prévis rapidement la trahison de la Russie envers les Alliés. Afin de réagir, nous formâmes le projet d'unir tous les peuples mongols restés fidèles à leur ancienne foi et à leurs coutumes ancestrales, pour en faire un seul État asiatique composé de tribus autonomes, sous la souveraineté morale et législative de la Chine, patrie de la plus ancienne et de la plus haute des civilisations. Cet État devait comprendre les Chinois, les Mongols, les Thibétains, les Afghans, les tribus mongols du Turkestan, les Tartares, les Bouriates, les Kirghiz et les Kalmouks. Il était nécessaire qu'il fût puissant matériellement et moralement, de façon à constituer un solide rempart contre la Révolution; il devait être le garant de l'esprit du bien, incarner une philosophie et une politique fondées sur le respect de l'individu. Face à une humanité folle et corrompue, qui persistait à menacer l'esprit divin dans le coeur de l'homme, à répandre le sang et à empêcher tout progrès moral, l'État asiatique se devait d'arrêter de manière décisive cette décadence et d'établir la paix, un paix durable et sûre. Notre propagande a connu un grand succès pendant la guerre, jusque chez les Turcomans, les Kirghiz, les Bouriates et les Mongols…


-Puis la Russie a trahi la France, l'Angleterre et l'Amérique; elle a signé le traité de Brest-Litovsk, contribué à l'avènement et au règne du chaos. Alors nous avons décidé de mobiliser l'Asie contre l'Allemagne. Nos envoyés sont entrés en Mongolie, au Thibet, dans le Turkestan et en Chine. Mais à cette époque les bolcheviks avaient déjà commencé à massacrer tous les officiers russes, et nous avons dû renoncer à nos projets pan-asiatiques pour mener contre eux la guerre civile. Cela ne nous empêche pas d'espérer encore, de croire qu'un jour nous pourrons éveiller l'Asie tout entière et, avec son aide, ramener la paix et le royaume de Dieu sur la terre. Je me plais à penser que j'ai contribué pour ma part à cette oeuvre en délivrant la Mongolie.

Il redevient silencieux, resta pensif un moment.

-Quelques-uns des compagnons qui m'assistent dans cette oeuvre ne m'aiment guère, à cause de ma sévérité et de ce qu'ils appellent mes atrocités, ajouta-t-il avec tristesse. Ils ne comprennent pas encore que nous ne combattons pas seulement un parti politique mais une secte d'assassins, qui menacent de détruire toute notre civilisation contemporaine. Pourquoi les Italiens exécutent-ils les anarchistes qui lancent des bombes? N'aurais-je pas, moi, le droit de débarrasser le monde de ceux qui veulent tuer l'âme du peuple? Moi, descendant des chevaliers teutoniques, des croisés et des corsaires! Je ne connais que la mort comme châtiment des assassins!…

Ferdynand Ossendowski, traduit de l'anglais par Robert Renard, Bêtes, Hommes et Dieux, A Travers la Mongolie Interdite, 1920-1921, Editions Phébus Libretto, 1924 (1995), p.205-214.

jeudi 1 décembre 2011

Patterned Things.

Non attributed, Pazyryk carpet, 5th century BC.

Light, coulour and significance do not exist in isolation. They modify, or are manifested by, objects. Are there any special classes of objects common to most visionary experiences? The answer is: Yes, there are. Under mescalin and hypnosis, as well as in spontaneous visions, certain classes of perceptual experiences turn up again and again.

The typical mescalin or lysergic acid experience begins with perceptions of coloured, moving, living geometrical forms. In time, pure geometry becomes concrete, and the visionary perceives, not patterns, but patterned things, such as carpets, carvings, mosaics. These give place to vast and complicated buildings, in the midst of landscapes, which change continuously, passing from richness to more intensely coloured richness, from grandeur to deepening grandeur. Heroic figures, of the kind that Blake called "The Seraphim", may make their appearance, alone or in multitudes. Fabulous animals move across the scene. Everything is novel and amazing. Almost never does the visionary see anything that reminds him of his own past. He is not remembering scenes, persons or objects, and he is not inventing them; he is looking on at a new creation.

The raw material for this creation is provided by the visual experiences of ordinary life; but the moulding of this material into forms is the work of someone who is most certainly not the self; who originally had the experiences, or who later recalled and reflected upon them. They are (to quote the words used by Dr J.R. Smythies in a recent paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry) "the work of a highly differentiated mental compartment, without any apparent connection, emotional or volitional, with the aims, interests, or feelings of the person concerned".

Here, in quotation or condensed paraphrase, is Weir Mitchell's account of the visionary world to which he was transported by peyote, the cactus which is the natural source of mescalin.

At his entry into that world he saw a host of "star points" and what looked like "fragments of stained glass". Then came "delicate floating films of colour". These were displaced by an "abrupt rush of countless points of white light", sweeping across the field of vision. Next there were zigzag lines of very bright colours, which somehow turned into swelling clouds of still more brilliant hues. Buildings now made their appearance, and then landscapes. There was a Gothic tower of elaborate design with worn statues in the doorways or on stone brackets. "As I gazed, every projecting angle, cornice and even the faces of the stones at their joinings were by degrees covered or hung with clusters of what seemed to be huge precious stones, but uncut stones, some being more like masses of transparent fruit. (...) All seemed to possess an interior light". The gothic tower gave place to a mountain, a cliff of inconceivable height, a colossal birdclaw carved in stone and projecting over the abyss, an endless unfurling of coloured draperies, and an efllorescence of more precious stones. Finally there was a view of green and purple waves breaking on a beach "with myriads of lights of the same tint as the waves".

Every mescalin experience, every vision arising under hypnosis, is unique; but all recognizably belong to the same species. The landscapes, the architectures, the clustering gems, the brilliant and intricate patterns - these, in their atmosphere of praeternatural light, praeternatural colour and praeternatural significance, are the stuff of which the mind's antipodes are made. Why this should be so, we have no idea. It is brute fact of experience which, whether we like it or not, we have to accept - just as we have to accept the fact of kangaroos.

Aldous Huxley, Heaven and Hell in The Doors of Perception, Vintage classics, 1954 (2004), p.62-63.