Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Paperback of A Reader's Guide to Yeats's "A Vision"

The paperback of A Reader's Guide to Yeats's "A Vision" is now available

The paperback version of A Reader's Guide to Yeats's "A Vision" is out from Clemson University Press in association with Liverpool Universtiy Press, with a price tag of $49.95 in the US and £30 in the UK — still not exactly cheap, but a little more affordable, and with a few corrections!

Review of A Reader's Guide to Yeats's "A Vision" by Claire Nally in International Yeats Studies

Friday, February 11, 2022

Patterns of People in the Phases II

(This follows on from the first post, which is here)

Assigning the phases

At least at the initial stages, the assignment of people to their phases was done by George Yeats or the voices speaking through her hand. Yeats appears to have accepted what his wife wrote to a large extent—there are tweaks, questionings, and changes, but in general he sought to understand what she gave him in its own terms.

Leaves from WBY's question notebook (L) and the automatic replies in a separate notebook (R), from 21 December 1917 (see YVP1 168–69). The numbering is slightly out here.
Question 44 (in the lower half of the page) asks "How late can one find a measure of artistic beauty" and the answer (at the top of the answer page) is numbered 45: "till 24".
Q45: "How does literary style differ before and after beauty", referring to Phase 15, and the answer is 46: "Before beauty style is created after beauty it is inherent not sought after tennyson is at twelve Goethe at 18 Dante at 17 Wordsworth at 14".


As with the rest of the script, the names were assigned in the to and fro of the dialogue between the couple, and most of them appeared during relatively few sessions early in the automatic writing sessions in December 1917 and January 1918. So on the pages shown above, from 21 December 1917, just two months after the script had started, we have the guide called Leaf assigning—any prompting—Tennyson to Phase 12, Goethe to 18, Dante to 17, and Wordsworth to 14 in order to illustrate a question about literary style. Then Rossetti is assigned to 14 and Browning to 19 in response to WBY’s questions.

List of phase attributions, filed with the AS of 2 June 1918 (see Yeats's "Vision" Papers, vol. 1, 549n5, The Making of Yeats's 'A Vision', vol. 2, 418, and A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision' 303–8). The zodiac signs or numbers in parentheses refer to the people's "cycle"—how often they had already passed around the circle of phases.


More than a few of these attributions were later changed so that, despite the communicators' input, the Yeatses eventually put Keats at Phase 14 rather than Phase 12, closer to the Full Moon or Beauty but no longer the phase of the hero. Tennyson was also moved from 12 to 14. These were brought together in a list in 1918, only some of which were included in A Vision. (Not all of the names in A Vision are on this early list, but most of them are.) Excluding some fictional characters and categories there are about a hundred names in total.


In the amplified Wheel that follows, the inner names here are those that were not included in A Vision. The earlier phases are far fuller, while the antithetical phases are really just "more of the same", just adding more names and data points to the sample.

The Great Wheel including most of the names from the 1918 lists and A Vision.

Though the panoply is a little overwhelming at first, it also has some of the fascination of Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party (1974–79) or of Simon Patterson's The Great Bear (1992)—who is chosen? what are the connections? how do they relate?

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party

Simon Patterson, The Great Bear

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Homer was wrong...

"Homer was wrong," wrote Heracleitus of Ephesus. "Homer was wrong in saying: 'Would that strife might perish from among gods and men!' He did not see that he was praying for the destruction of the universe; for if his prayer were heard, all things would pass away." These are the words on which the superhumanists should meditate. Aspiring toward a consistent perfection, they are aspiring toward annihilation. The Hindus had the wit to see and the courage to proclaim the fact; Nirvana, the goal of their striving, is nothingness. Wherever life exists, there also is inconsistency, division, strife.
Aldous Huxley, "Spinoza's Worm," Do What You Will (1928)

'Herakleitos', in John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (1892),
see Fragment 43.

Much that I say here is in Herakleitos though the form is different. "Homer was wrong in saying 'would that strife might perish from among gods and men!' He did not see that he was praying for the destruction of the universe; for if his prayer were heard, all things would pass away." & again "War is the father of all ; & some he has made gods & some men, some bond & some free."
W. B. Yeats, drafts of A Vision B, late 1920s, in Rapallo Notebook E (NLI 13,582)
conflict... creates all life
(AVB 72n, CW14 53n)

My instructors identify consciousness with conflict.... 
(AVB 214, CW14 158)



Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Patterns of People in the Phases I

[This is the first of a series of posts about the phases assigned to people in A Vision and the automatic script, some of them drawing on a presentation I gave to the International Yeats Society at the York conference in December 2021.]

What's Your Moon Phase?

Even those with only a cursory knowledge of A Vision, or perhaps even only the poem “The Phases of the Moon”, know that Yeats proposes a Great Wheel patterned on the phases of the moon, and that he assigns all human beings to one of the phases. 

Though there are 28 phases, only 26 types of humanity are possible, as "there's no human life at the full or the dark" ("The Phases of the Moon"). It looks a little like astrology or any form of typing, with a spectrum of temperaments where the ends join, like in a colour wheel. It is recognizable as analogous to 12 Zodiac signs or maybe 16 Myers-Briggs combinations, and it is certainly one of the parts of A Vision that most people remember

The labelling, however, doesn't use memorable symbols. Each phase is assigned not an archetypal emblem but a vaguely suggestive title—such as “Assertion of Individuality,” “The Emotional Man,” or “The Saint”—and, in most cases, Yeats includes an irregular assortment of the people who fall under this phase. 

In the Dedication to the 1925 edition of A Vision, Yeats claims that his predecessors like

Swedenborg and Blake and many before them knew that all things had their gyres; but Swedenborg and Blake preferred to explain them figuratively, and so I am the first to substitute for Biblical or mythological figures, historical movements and actual men and women.

It is not immediately clear what the names given share. Most would be hard-pressed to see the similarities between Napoleon and Shakespeare at Phase 20, though Balzac’s kinship to either might be a little easier to discern. George Russell, Æ, asked himself whether it was

insight or impishness which made [Yeats] link Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and George Moore as typical men of the twenty-first phase, or what old lady did he discover in Mr. Galsworthy to make him unite that novelist with Queen Victoria?

Russell was also

a little uncomfortable with some of [his] fellow-prisoners in phase twenty-five. I welcome George Herbert, but am startled to find myself along with Calvin, Luther and Cardinal Newman, as no doubt the last three would be incredulous of their own affinities to associate pilgrim souls.

Like Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims, the procession of souls embraces a gamut of types, but unlike Chaucer’s riders the range of professions and walks of life is considerably less varied. There is a heavy preponderance of literary figures in the pageant that Yeats unfolds, and the poets dominate.  

The Wheel of the Phases with the names assigned in A Vision
The people assigned to the phases in A Vision (fictional characters excluded)

Patterns of phases

Arranged on the Wheel, the names are a little crowded and not easily readable, but doing so clearly conveys the imbalances in the examples. The primary half of the Wheel (on the left-hand side here, centred on the New Moon at Phase 1) has some very empty spaces, particularly in Phases 2 to 5, while the antithetical half (on the right-hand side here, centred on the Full Moon at Phase 15) is far fuller. Even the antithetical half is more thinly populated in its early phases (9, 10, 11, 12), while the "early" phases of the primary (23, 24, 25) contain more names. Thus, the phases from 13 to 25 effectively account for the majority of the examples.

Some broad patterns emerge fairly quickly. The antithetical half is home to most of the creative artists: only two poets are placed outside the antithetical half, Walt Whitman and George Herbert, though James Macpherson, the "translator" of the Ossian poems, should probably also be added. 

Of the poets, the Romantics are distributed through the more antithetical phases, with Keats and Wordsworth at Phase 14, Blake at Phase 16, Shelley at Phase 17, and Byron at Phase 19. (Strangely Coleridge is not included, though it is likely he would take Phase 18 along with the more philosophically minded Goethe.) 

Political scientists such as Marx and Spencer are both placed at Phase 22, while evolutionary theorists Lamarck and Darwin are placed at 21 and 22, with Darwin in the more objective of the two. 

Church reformers of various stripes are found at 25, with the iconoclast Savonarola directly opposite at 11, along with Spinoza whose philosophy seemed atheist to his contemporaries, while Nietzsche who proclaimed the death of god follows at Phase 12.

Interestingly three of Yeats's closest collaborators are placed in three consecutive primary phases: John Millington Synge at Phase 23, Lady Gregory at Phase 24, and George Russell (AE) at Phase 25. 

I'll look at aspects of these groups in a little more detail in following posts, including some of the names that appear in the drafts but not in published version.