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Silmarils, Synthwave, and Sham Futurism

The final great creative offerings of Faustian man before the snows of civilizational winter begin to descend upon his soul reveal much about what Paul Tillich (indulge your author) referred to as his "ultimate concern." A man in decline, vaguely aware of himself and his coming end, inevitably turns his mind in one of two directions, whose paths he can never hope to tread. Either he embraces his fate, but pines for the magical youth of fantastic ideals and dreams-made-real or he rejects it and in his denial day-dreams the immortality of the body—a vision full of hope and optimism but always haunted with the decrepitude of a life too long alive. If he does not choose either, he vegetates bitterly in the present. What else can the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres be but a manifestation of precisely this musing on the part of the West as it awaits its inevitable death? Longing, on the one hand, for the swords and sorcery of the ancient legends (appropriately sanitized for modern sensibilities), with its child-like conception of good and evil in the forms of monsters and villains while, on the other hand, the illusion of progress goes on forever, ploughing forward even as the rot of the present takes firmer and firmer hold. It is the fate of Western man to consume himself—a great Ouroboros simultaneously reaching to grasp the universe itself, faltering as its darkness fails to comprehend light, and grasping inward at his heart, surrounded by the ghosts of an Odinnic past of which he has no natural memory. These feelings define the founders of these genres to a greater or lesser degree—a constant sense of uncertainty in the future that they seek either to prepare for or actively manifest. They are at their heart Futurists.

Thermidor’s favourite loud Italian recently opined on the state of the Arts in the dissident right (again). He will hopefully permit your author to offer some critique of his claim that “the æsthetics of the new Right is sadly inadequate to reflect today’s Zeitgeist.” The reality is, in fact, that the exact opposite is true: the æsthetics of the dissident Right today are inadequate because they reflect today’s Zeitgeist. The dissident Right delights in the “Futurist” label: millennial right-wingers seemingly desire nothing more fervently than to prove to their parents that they are the real rebels, the real dissidents, the real revolutionists (their elder Gen-X cousins and siblings share this fault). They claim to be the futurists—truly forward-looking heroes tearing down the system their parents erected for themselves, without an eye to their posterity. Their futurism, though, is a sham futurism; it is neither forward-looking or backward-looking; instead it looks down at its own two feet and refuses to move at all. It is a stark contrast to the two greatest Futurists of the 20th century. Part of this is the nature of their desperation and the scarcity of their age and part of it is their fate as late-period Faustians, trapped in a technological universe for which material concerns become more and more essential. As Spengler observes, the age of money is supplanted inevitably by an age of blood; while the age of blood sets the stage for the tribal beginnings of a new civilization, both in their own time remain essentially material in the nature of their concerns—and material concerns, of course, are always immediate in their nature.

What one should expect to find at the heart of dissident rightists obsessed with the futuristic visions borrowed from the original Futurists directly (or gotten second-hand from contemporaries like Guillaume Faye) is a certain listlessness, a disunity, and tendency towards pugna gratia pugnis-style activism. It is a decidedly European and nihilistic sort of æsthetic (Faye remarked in his Archaeofuturism that he once appeared in a pornographic film because, “why not?”), but such men are truly the artists our age deserves. They do not constitute a meaningful force for restoring, or even establishing, a culture of tradition, however, and any claim that they do betrays a keen ignorance of the meaning of both “culture” and “tradition”. This is at the core of disunity among the broader dissident right, and especially the cleavage between the (pseudo?)intellectuals (more common in NRx) and the rock-wielders (more common with Alt-Right™).

This brings us to the æsthetic of the dissident Right as a whole, which itself declares who our artists are even if we are reluctant to formally grant them the title. We at Thermidor have employed the æsthetic ourselves in our cover art, and The Hestia Society’s avant-garde flavours and neo-futurist visions can be seen on Post-Anathema. The activist Alt-Right favours political posters and music, as we see with Cybernazi and Xurious, as well as among the Liftwaffe, and, of course, setting this tone was the bombast we all love to hate, the killer clown lurking in the storm-drain of the internet, Andrew Anglin. The æsthetic runs the entire gamut of dissident Right personalities, tendencies, ideologies, and messages. It is something of a singularly unifying factor among us, in fact—the nostalgia for the beginning of the end has shifted from the 1950s, a time for which the Boomer paleoconservatives all pined, to the 1980s, a time most of the Millennial and Gen-Z rightists don’t even remember. This nostalgia, however, is only nominally different—the aging Boomer pines for a return to a mythical age of “When I was a Kid”; the coming-of-age Millennial and Zyklonian harbour a purely æsthetic nostalgia, desiring not a future that is like the past, but a future that is like the past’s version of the future.

Days of Futurism Passed

While the prose is inarguably superior to the yawning void of artlessness crammed between the covers of contemporary sci-fi books, there is something of the genre to be found in the opening paragraph of The Founding of Futurism:

We had stayed up all night, my friends and I, under hanging mosque lamps with domes of filigreed brass, domes starred like our spirits, shining like them with the prisoned radiance of electric hearts. For hours we had trampled our atavistic ennui into rich oriental rugs, arguing up to the last confines of logic and blackening many reams of paper with our frenzied scribbling.

How appropriate that this quest for a complete break with the Western past should have taken place beneath mosque lamps, trampled out upon oriental rugs. Indeed, from the heights of greater science fiction to the depths of Hollywood blockbusters, there is always something decidedly Eastern about the future imagined for the world that was built by and for the West—Frank Herbert invented Chrislam thirty years before The Hammer of God hit bookshelves, for example, and in the low-brow neo-sentimentalist movie Looper, China is regarded as the future superpower. The extremity of stability one feels—cultural, social, and even mental—is also a hallmark of the genre. Not even Gene Roddenberry’s most saccharine odes to Whig Futurism are lacking a certain decrepitude, and his best scripts often highlight just how fantastical and infantile belief in a Federation future can be. From Jules Verne’s travels to the depths of the Earth and sea to Philip K. Dick’s musings on the dreaming habits of robots, traversing excruciating hellscapes carved from the diverse experience of modernity by Orwell, Bradbury, and Huxley, both the melodrama and desperation of Marinetti’s work will be familiar to the Science Fiction reader.

Indeed, excess defines a desperate age—the wealthy are always wealthiest in times of great crisis and collapse; in part, they contribute to it, but likewise they are the result of it. Exorbitance serves, ironically, to distract one from a rapidly diminishing surplus, be it of emotional strength, cultural creativity, or material wealth: it is the proverbial shallow river making so much noise. Marinetti lived in a time of decreasing creativity and ability—after a century that began with Mozart, Beethoven, Goethe, and Rossini and ended with Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, and Mallarme. He certainly knew, as Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and George knew, how to read the signs of the times—and his striving to bring the avant-garde to the edge of absurdity (consider, for instance, Futurist cuisine) in the hopes that it would represent something genuinely new. He envisioned himself at the edge of a wholly new age—a new civilization:

‘Let’s go!’ I said. ‘Friends, away! Let’s go! Mythology and the Mystic Ideal are defeated at last. We’re about to see the Centaur’s birth and, soon after, the first flight of Angels!… We must shake at the gates of life, test the bolts and hinges. Let’s go! Look there, on the earth, the very first dawn! There’s nothing to match the splendour of the sun’s red sword, slashing for the first time through our millennial gloom!’

And in this newness was also a primitivity, a desire for destruction—even self-destruction—as a means to escape a dying and decrepit culture:

The raging broom of madness swept us out of ourselves and drove us through streets as rough and deep as the beds of torrents. Here and there, sick lamplight through window glass taught us to distrust the deceitful mathematics of our perishing eyes.

I cried, ‘The scent, the scent alone is enough for our beasts.’

And like young lions we ran after Death, its dark pelt blotched with pale crosses as it escaped down the vast violet living and throbbing sky.

The difference between Marinetti and the political anarchist is therefore largely a matter of genre and media—both are desperate for something they cannot name, and therefore espouse chaos and action for its own sake as their goal.

The retro-futurist, however, craves not chaos but order—just as he craves, ultimately, not the future but the present. Indeed, even Faye himself proposes his archæofuturisme scheme as a means to bring the traditionalists and the futurists of the Right together by giving them a fantasy world in which both get what they want—an effort as impractical as it is improbable precisely because it is not forward thinking, but rooted in the troubles of the present. More to the point, “the apparel oft proclaims the man”—and it is telling that the Alt-right æsthetically and therefore philosophically refuses to reach further back than the lifetime of contemporary politics. Part of this is a result of an immature American influence on their politics—the aforementioned Toys-R-Us politics of “When I was a Kid”. The retro-futurist æsthetic that reaches not into the future-past, but into a past-future, only proves that if the Alt-right has thrown off the Cult of Reaganism, it has, like latter-day atheists, rejected the form but kept the spirit. They are men who believe in No-god, and worship to him daily. This makes the retro-futurist much closer to Roddenberry than Marinetti, sharing with the former a fixation on the permanent present—while Roddenberry is burdened with all the Whiggish assumptions and liberal myopia of his own age, the retro-futurists are æsthetically unable to escape the future Roddenberry and his kind created.

The retro-futurist, though, has one thing Roddenberry lacked and Marinetti possessed, namely a real æsthetic sensibility. In fact, what the retro-futurists have in common with their Italian namesake is precisely their deep-rootedness in pure æsthetics, divorced from any coherency of ideology. Marinetti may have been doing something decidedly different from the modern dissidents stealing his memes, but he was doing it in precisely the same way—at once an avant-garde anarchist and a progenitor of the Fascist idea, he was trying very much to escape the instability and ennui of his time and place; he was pre-eminently concerned with the failure of the nation-states of the 1870s to provide the cultural and racial soul they had promised, but sought the solutions in art rather than politics. He sought the solution, as the Decadents had before him, in a sort of transvaluation of æsthetic values. The retro-futurist is attempting something similar, a spiritual rebirth that is not merely the Mandarin style-by-rote of the Art Renewal approach—the very approach that failed to reinvigorate art in both the Soviet Union and even Hitler’s world-scale art project he called the Third Reich. In its own way, much of the Fashwave æsthetic is deliberately avant-garde; but rooting itself too much in the edge that cuts the dead flesh of liberal sensibilities, it cannot hope to provide the æsthetic foundation for the future that Marinetti and his compatriots sought as they careened recklessly through the streets of Milan. This is what holds it back, and what keeps it stuck in the perpetual present.

The Dreamer of Dreams

Deeply ensconced in his present and deeply discontent, just as the retro-futurists are, one of the greatest mythmakers of the last two centuries did not let his concern for the present prevent him from looking forward. Tolkien was no aesthete in the flamboyant sense, but his mythology was deliberate and forward-looking; not the mere antiquarianism of the retro-futurist (“Museums—cemeteries!” Marinetti wrote). Tolkien is the artist of future past, rather than one of past future. Like Marinetti, he is trying to create for a foreign age, but unlike Marinetti, he was intimately acquainted with another age of civilizational collapse and sought to bring the solutions of that age forward—his æsthetic was filled with a distinct cultural optimism; the kind of cultural Joy for which Jacobite has sounded a clarion of late. The pessimism and escapism of the contemporary Alt-Right retro-futurism is all veneer by comparison, attractive at first glance, but shallow and fragile.

The essential drive, though, is the same—to return to a time when things were not flawed, where we can begin again to avoid the errors we have made. Tolkien’s protégé and greatest failure, C.S. Lewis, writes of precisely this in Mere Christianity:

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

Contained herein is both evidence of Lewis’ influence from Tolkien and Tolkien’s failure to properly teach Lewis. The “conservatives are the real progressives” approach taken by Lewis is a perverse restructuring of precisely Tolkien’s effort to keep the Vestal flames of his civilization alive, because Lewis is making the mistake of appealing to precisely the sort of people for whom Tolkien had no use—the young, entitled progressives. The difference between Tolkien and Lewis is likewise the difference between the true Futurist and the sham Futurist—a question of wisdom. For their part, Tolkien and Marinetti both recognised that a non-Western form was needed for civilizational future. Marinetti chose accelerationism—the same spirit that is simplified into Jim Morrison’s Beat Anthem “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” (an observation made by Fr. Seraphim Rose in his Nihilism: The Root of Revolution of the Modern Age - that hedonism and accelerationism end in nihilism because they start from nihilism). Accelerationism, however, ultimately fails because it is wasteful: it fails to prepare for the long age after a civilizational collapse. Marinetti’s place in the abstract and chaotic Futurism—the pursuit of the future for its own sake—prevented him from the concrete results of his æsthetic of action.

This is where Tolkien’s Futurism represents a success where Marinetti experiences failure (the same failure his spiritual inheritors like Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis experienced). Tolkien knew that a pre-Western form was needed for the civilizational future—so he created a new mythology. This, by the way, is not a new idea; it has been proposed elsewhere—indeed, books could be filled with commentary on Tolkien’s mythmaking. He himself admits it in his letters: he describes himself in Letter 183 as “historically minded,” and insists that “Middle-earth is not an imaginary world… The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live.” Elsewhere, in Letter 131, he laments that because his “own beloved country… has no stories of its own… I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story.” This cycle, though, was not merely English; the editor, along with Tolkien’s son Christopher, of the Letters, Humphrey Carpenter, remarked that “Tolkien at about the age of eighteen conceived the idea of recreating the ‘Northernness’ that delighted him by writing a cycle of myth and legend … [he] continued to work at his cycle year after year. It remained the centre of his imaginative life.”

Spengler’s Faustian man is a Germanic man—Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, Teutonic, Gothic, it matters not the variety, the beating heart of the West is that of the axe-wielding hordes from the hinterlands beyond the border of the Western Empire. Tolkien, though, does not waste his time, as the Ahnenerbe did, merely reconstructing the myths and legends of a dying West—he recognized, though he did not perhaps express it explicitly, that his own people were not the Saxon bands under Hengest and Horsa, but a people merely descendant of the proud race of Caedmon, a people now in its old age, and lacking the deep-rooted legendarium of a vibrant race—a legendarium like the Scandinavians found in the Norse Eddas or the Continental Europeans found in the great saints and martyrs (not for nothing is it called The Golden Legend). Tolkien is far more than the creator of a fantastical world and people—he has laid the groundwork for a fellaheen mythology of a post-Western people standing in the ruins of their ancestors’ race.

Roots to Branches

The wisdom of Tolkien is in his hobbit sensibility; hobbits are fond of things that are simple and home-grown, he informs us, whose time is mostly spent in the growing and eating of food. The dedicated gardener will readily point to the need for patience and constant attention paid to the process of growing—which is in turn always a nurturing process—from seed to plant to plate to seed again. Art, that is, truly ensouled art, must be organic: it must begin from the seed, branches cannot be broken off of ancient trees and plugged into the soil. Neither is a scorched forest likely to produce predictable results. The only future is found in the nurturing of the seed, and the seed can only be extracted from the fruit with care, and knowledge of how the fruit came to be. This is why Tolkien is so successful in laying out his mythology—his legends are seedlings grown from ancient seeds, and he has been careful to blend the right elements of the best plants to produce the richest fruits.

Art, likewise, must start from seed—indeed, even Marinetti saw this when he sought a primitive brutality as the beginning of the future. Tolkien, though, sowed seed in a fine garden, while Marinetti attempted to till the great fields with artillery barrages. To carry our metaphor yet further, there is a Greek proverb (perhaps it is Greek, perhaps it is merely another invention of the sentimentalist corners of the internet), that a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. Tolkien planted a garden whose fruit he never ate—but the new æsthetic may follow his example, to plan for a real future, a future which grows young in midst of Faustian decay. The root of such an æsthetic is in symbol, from symbol to iconography, from this iconography to a cultural æsthetic.

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