Thursday 20 October 2016

A modern Platonist at home - John Michell videoed

With yesterday's discussion of modern Platonism in mind - here is an example of the species in the late John Michell (aged 70), recorded for ten minutes excerpted from an unbuttoned and relaxed - somewhat intoxicated - conversation with dinner guests about his basic and motivating spiritual beliefs.


David Balfour said...

Very good. I have to say the at times apparently incredulant , dismissive and derisory laughter of his female companion in particular is very galling and the kind of sound I have heard around many dinner tables before through personal experience. Perhaps paranoia?! When you get down to it, the mysteries of harmony and beauty and the existence of conscious self-awareness in the Universe are really a *magical* set of facts that requires serious consideration by anyone who wishes to earnestly understand their reality. Of course, many of us wish to enjoy an unmolested and inconsequential party with no more than trendy existential lip-service to sound sound smart in front of peers and colleagues over the brandies. We urgently need more seriousness on these subjects and I am personally v tired of the constant trivialisation of life and avoidance of an acknowledgemwnt of the most important things in life: love as a divine guiding principle, beauty, harmony and aspiration to higher things. I have always felt powerfully drawn to the deep after dinner "what does it all mean?!" conversations, but most people cannot drop their materialist metaphysics and insist on reducing the analysis to their preferred cause or they make short, derisory and arrogant retorts as if they were witnessing a child or a demented geriatric embarrass themselve with *crazy talk!* One was left with the feeling that the demeanor of the female guest was that of a younger woman humoring an eccentric academic in his senile and esoteric ramblings. Of course, most of what he said was perfectly true or at least on the right path. I wish more people were not so blind to that. Perhaps I am being unfair to this woman but my feeling is that if you speak the truth in any real sense you will be deliberately closed down by whoever is closest to do the job. And after th brandy, drinks and cigarettes have worn off? Well, life will go back to *normal* I only pray that such conversations at least sow the seeds of change within the audience instead of getting destroyed by defence mechanisms and false selves cocooning the real person from their casual and false sense of reality.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I certainly got the feeling that Michell's guests - while they liked and admired him - didn't really take him seriously; would not let their lives be transformed by his views.

And, to be fair, Michell did encourage people NOT to take him too seriously - and this is common among modern Platonists who like to present themselves in a 'non threatening' perspective; which also goes with the fact that they also often embrace the planks of modernism/ secular Leftism (e.g. the assumptions and goals of the sexual revolution).

This is indeed my worry about non-religious spirituality in general - it doesn't seem to have the power to transform and en-courage people to resist the 'shock troops' driving through the corruptions and inversions of modernity, especially the sexual revolution

David Balfour said...

An interesting snippett from this mans wikipedia page; the notion of Albion Awakening appears to be echoed here:

"Michell sometimes referred to his approach as "mystic nationalism" and interpreted the island of Britain as being sacred, connecting this attitude to those ofWilliam Blake and Lewis Spence.[17] Adopting a millennialist attitude, he believed that in future Britain would be reborn as the New Jerusalem with the coming of a new Golden Age.[102]"

I had not heard of this man until this mornings post and some of his ideas and attitudes are undoubtedly valuable and to be encouraged; others not so e.g. the hippy Psychodelic/Marijuana use of the new age 60's era. This was a significant error of the otherwise intellectually formidable Perennialist Aldous Huxley. Sex, drugs and rock and roll normally destroys any effective spiritual growth in the long-run, tempting though they may be to those susceptible to the allure. I suspect this may be largely because it promotes a fundamentally hedonic and unserious attitude to life that is at odds with the divine harmony JM advocates intellectually. It also encourages eternal sophomores/coffe shop existentialism and arrests any further significant spiritual growth and development.

Bruce Charlton said...


Michell has been mentioned before on this blog, and on Albion Awakening, if you do a word search.

William Wildblood said...

I think David is right and that John Michell's fascinating research into the spiritual qualities of number and proportion are unfortunately counterbalanced by the hedonistic drug use. He read too much spiritual significance into UFOs and crop circles as well but that was common at the time. As you say, Bruce, it just goes to show that spiritual interests must be accompanied by proper religious sensibility if they are to lead to anything serious and transforming.

David Balfour said...

I will do that, thanks.

Nicholas Fulford said...

He seems to have a view that is geometric, and is concerned about such things as the universal constants and the requirement that they be the values that they are to enable this particular universe to unfold with us in it. If memory serves that is formally called the anthropic principle of which there is a strong and weak variant.

He proceeds to then speak of the One and relating it to God, but then says that is a reduction of God - presumably because to try and encapsulate God within any bounded symbolic system is a fallacious reduction. It reminds me of the Cabalistic notion of Ein which is not categorizable but is the most. I am writing as I am listening to this, so he is heading towards Cabalistic mysticism after all. From there to beauty and an excess of beauty in the universe, but why does he consider it an excess. To me there is neither too much nor too little, but there is a response to what we call beautiful which is to entranced by it. People get into trouble when they think they can freeze beauty or cage it. It doesn't work like that, anymore than happiness does. Talk of initiation is accompanied by a humorous gentle pity - sans contempt - and is related to near death experience. Given that initiations in many traditions and myths are looked at as death and rebirth that is not a bad analogy and fits the general mythic pattern. From here the discussion veers towards cosmology and a comic image that takes a good humoured poke at the idea of what precedes the moment of expansion of the universe. And in what I will take as a nod towards a position that Bruce holds dear, he interprets Blake's reference to the dark satanic mills to Oxford and Cambridge milling out students mechanically.

So what am I to make of John Michell from this? I think he a playful thinker who is engaging his guests in weaving philosophical ideas in something akin to wool gathering, with a whimsy and seriousness pirouetting round one another. He sounds as though he would have been a charming dinner guest - captivating, funny and thoughtful with a bit of the trickster evident from his ever so slightly mischievous smile.

I am not sure that whimsy is out of place, as surely it makes life more interesting than if the entire thing was always treated as intensely serious.

These are just my impression based on the video.

Bruce Charlton said...


Michell was more than a dilettante, although that is how he presented himself - if you look at the sweep of his life he was engaged in scholarship and creative thinking for decades; pretty much working alone (he had many friends, admirers, helpers; but I don't know whether there was anybody really on his wavelength).

In sum; from his way of thinking and working - his intelligence, personality and motivation; as well as impact - I think Michell should be regarded as a genius.

So, with that in mind, perhaps you need to rewatch! - I think you might then get what he meant about he superfluity of beauty.

I'm currently reading his first book from 1967, The Flying Saucer Vision - and it is very different from his second (View over Atlantis, 1969) and subsequent books - so it seems he had at that time of c 1968 (in his mid-late 30s) he must have had some kind of conversion-experience.