First off I must thank The Story Reading Ape for spreading a canopy in his Great Rift Valley in which to rest from the marketplace. Explaining this mad book and its genesis is a tall order. So this is a most appropriate venue, within sight of Kilimanjaro, since the book prompting this invitation, originally called ‘Full Circle’, begins and ends here. It is the story of the human Odyssey.
(In obedience to received opinion that non-fiction should ‘say what it is on the tin’, the book was rechristened ‘Involution’, with slightly gritted teeth.) I am here not so much about the book itself but to prepare my defence for thinking it might have legs, or writing it at all. Up to now, on my blog, ‘Careless Talk’ I have skirted round doing this for fear of being mistaken for a peddler- who needs philosophy? Instead I told stories by a fountain in Marrakech and made futile attempts to master the sleight of hand- the soft sell that slips down without swallowing. The ‘Book that wrote the Life’ is my umbrella, but as a guest of the Story Reading Ape I will now come clean and expose the entrails; it is not a literary conceit, but quite literally true.
(click cover above to see details of the book)
‘Are you mad?’ is not how it is put (because the English are much too polite) but ‘Is she mad’ is tacit and continual. To write a poetic Divine Comedy of the history of scientific thought (well painting and music come into it too) does, and I agree, look seriously unhinged. ‘Know your market?’ Mine as narrow as a crack in a pavement? Know your subject? Everything. Know your genre? A poetic alternative to the ‘Origin’? Yeah, right.
(There is a deception here. The scaffolding of science is simply used to offer a climb through time so better to see another building altogether, the Cathedral of Consciousness, which is why the poetry keeps the science sketchy. It is not the subject of the book and cannot afford to obstruct by looking solid…but more on that later.
This accusation of madness is because everyone knows that in this day of everything on the cyberspace run, all should be short, easy, and graspable in the allotted thirty seconds. Books are getting slimmer, paragraphs narrower, few words above two syllables, and page count ideally hovering around 250. Involution is double that, so expensive (and things are getting cheaper too) and heavy to post. Yes, OK, I plead guilty, Stark Raving Mad.
(Small mitigation: It is really two books, one for each half of the brain, poetry to the right, factual science to the left. What connects them, the thread of genius, is the shining centre and entirely silent. So m’lud might I get a suspended sentence and community service instead?)
I can now explain the genesis and embryology of stubborn madness. I know where to find answers. From my own bag I seek not merely story components but emotional disposition to choose to write this rather than another book. I grew up in a mad country. South Africa: the basket case: Not just full of prejudice, race fear and exploitation but arrogant and openly unashamed. Apartheid flaunted what other countries practised but pretended to despise, it invited shaking heads, sanctions and sanctimony. The universal whipping boy was where I cut my childish and stubborn teeth. That was the outer view.
The inside view was rather different. In my family my grandfather spoke both Swahili and Zulu fluently, his life was all about African education, (and he wrote an early Zulu grammar). His great love was not only the country but the liberty and easy laughter of black people, and his colleagues, black teachers and later university professors came to dine and spoke languages I did not understand. He played a part in educating Albert Luthuli, the Nobel Prize winning Founder of the ANC. My uncle, a physician, by choice worked at the sprawling African hospital, Baragwaneth on the reef, among the lung damaged mine workers and the slag heaps. A family friend gave Mandela his first legal job and languished in detention thereafter…but made friends with his hapless Afrikaner guard to provide salami and sauerkraut. Hugh Masakela played at my 18th birthday. So mine was the experience of fine lines, shades of grey and never black and white. The outside view is always superficial and likely to be wrong, and that forms a large part of the book. There is more to the universe than matter, the outside view: the inner, invisible matters more.
Going against the flow was, I have to admit, absorbed with mother’s milk. There were family myths that wove this into nobility. The two family heroines were Elizabeth Barrett Browning a distant cousin, who not only eloped but took up causes that were none of her business in Italy, (and wrote poetic politics- science, by contrast, very small beer!) but also George Eliot whose step son Herbert died in a distantly ‘removed’ aunt’s arms. The heroic was, in our case, always unpopular, it was, indeed, so defined. Women were never second class citizens either. Nor are they in the book which is modelled on the idealism inspired by the muses, or the flesh and blood Beatrice, Laura, and Heloise. Genius tends to focus on perfection and women seem to the creative sensibility often the closest men come to perfection, even for the creative gays like Michelangelo, and Shakespeare who wrote sonnets to anima internal.
Yes, there was always blood on our horizon. That was why it was important to disregard public opinion. We would all drown in it, so it was important to stand against the tide.
What has this to do with this mad book? Well, everything. Look at South Africa now…the epicentre of sanity?…the home of truth and reconciliation?….the living saint awaiting the homage of the world, on the point of expiry? How did that happen? Two men with vision made that happen; Mandela and de Klerk sat down to talk and after an election. Tutu offered a conduit for forgiveness; truth and reconciliation. Individuals make history not corporations. They can and do change the world. That really does introduce the book which is all about individuals, mostly mad ones in their time, mavericks and stubborn withal. They may not last, they will be supplanted, but at each moment they are the torchbearers for the progress of the whole. Jan Smuts whose book influenced Einstein, first talked about holism through action: he was a family friend too, but I only attended his funeral and the gun carriage rumbling past conveyed something that at seven I did not understand, only that great people mattered. South Africa is no paragon of justice now, but the boots are on the once bare feet and the bloodbath was averted.
That is the book’s essence. Individuals make the difference. Involution draws fine lines to offer a complement to Darwin’s Origin inasmuch as it describes the inner Odyssey. It accounts for Shakespeare and Beethoven as well as acceleration and improbable finely tuned exactitudes. It puts forward a very simple proposal: that evolution has been the informing of matter by consciousness, at each stage creating new syntheses more complex than the preceding, until it is responsible for acceleration and convergence to Man. Discrimination increases choices. DNA encodes the experience, the memory of the evolution/involution as surely as fins or feathers. Man, soon to be a single species, connected in memory with all creation from stars to slime mould stands up on the Serengeti plains. Through his freed hands and his pondering brain he will proceed to recover his memory, and after Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis will be called Science: the model Mankind makes of his recovered memory. The inspirations of genius encounter memory in the succession of eurekas. By transferring memory to intellect, (the inside to the corroborating outside), science comes to see mind and matter as separate, and now wonders why 95% of matter is missing and how to explain latter-day consciousness emitted in the last three minutes of the clock. This Odyssey tracks the journey of this partial self limiting vision.
Yes, it is a simple hypothesis but it needs all the history of science as evidence.
This neatly brings me back to madness: The penalty of travelling too wide and too deep. Jung spent eight years believing he was going mad. His journeys through the interior were timeless, dark underworlds of black serpents, celestial meetings on stony paths with irrational Gods, and rivers of flowing corpses. Then in Sarajevo an assassin took out Archduke Ferdinand and WW1 let rip. Whew! What a relief! It was not Jung but the world that was mad! Jung could now, sanely, spend a lifetime considering the subconscious (while the corpses flowed past the windows). Involution suggests science now might follow suit, but calls it memory instead.
(I now have to admit that I had a brief encounter with harrowing divinity myself, and this book’s earlier draft put me in an intellectual straight jacket, took hold of my collar and led me back down to apparent sobriety. That is how the book that wrote the life saved the life). But a different mad world survives in the sound bite frenzy, and fifty ‘to reads’ a day on Goodreads, but none read. So who or what is mad?
Involution describes a cathedral of consciousness, and dismantles science to see it. The evidence of this collective journey through genius has to cross 2000 years and all scientific disciplines. Poetic narrative is more transparent, more economical, and most of all, it leaves the reader to complete the odyssey for we all share the subject matter, memory. But the most important reason is liberty. If Involution is using science to expose the inadequacy of scientific method, how could it do so by offering another theory? It ends instead with the soliloquy of the serpent ( of DNA) inviting the reader to enter within love, for genius has been about love, and it was love that saved South Africa in the teeth of deeper insanity. This is not mere theory: but love and the madness of trust against the evidence, and against the rational.
The harvest of a quiet eye
Has just been put to bed.
I rest the case for the defence.
Or find out what a few others think here on Amazon’s rather chaotic but generous entry.
The order page will give links to all retailers for ebooks
If you want to attend the book’s likely funeral pyre, or save a copy for posterity feel free to email the Author at philipparees (AT) Gmail (DOT) com (written this way to minimise spamming machines using the address, TSRA). A few first editions are still available. I will sign flamboyantly and post inclusively.
I tweet when I remember @PhilippaRees1 and you can gather up the odd lines if you follow a philosophy of hope and a memory of all those unselfish genes that gave the best of themselves, and an image of Mankind worth remembering. So I suppose it is evangelical with a small e.
Since the book is entirely about memory the picture can be too…when both I and my garden were easier on the eye and a hippy was hip.
Find out more about Philippa HERE