The Confessions of Aleister Crowley
edited by John Symonds, edited by Kenneth Grant
Hill & Wang, 960 pp., $14.95
“I find no fault in this man,” said Pontius Pilate on a certain occasion, and I must follow him on the present occasion. I find no fault at all in the book under review; if it was not sent into this world to redeem man it was sent certainly to fill man with hilarity. Moreover, the author agrees with the reviewer as to the faultlessness of his work—and when I say “agrees,” which is the present tense, I say it deliberately. In a previous incarnation, in the period of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, Aleister Crowley was a priest named Ankh-f-n-Khonsu and a stele depicting him as such may be seen any day in the Boulak Museum in Cairo (ask the man for “Exhibit No. 666”). So I cannot believe that after his reincarnation in Warwickshire (A.D. 1875) and death in Hastings (A.D. 1947), this excellent time-traveler has merely gone the way of all flesh: it would not be in character. Either he is with us now, or he is enjoying a rest before his next reincarnation: in view of his energetic nature, the first alternative is the more probable.
There is one very small fault to be found, but only in the title of the masterpiece. I worry about the use of the word “Confessions.” We know from our close reading of St. Augustine and Rousseau that authors who write “Confessions” are not noted for their self-confidence. They imagine—for reasons that they set out at great length—that they are lower even than worms; indeed, their whole stature is so dependent on their denying that they have one that it is not safe to trust them very far.
Recently, anthropologists have invented a brilliant descriptive phrase for certain simians, “knuckle-walkers,” and I was told at dinner last night that there is a dispute (of a friendly sort, of course) going on as to whether we descend from knuckle-walkers or dropped directly from the trees in an upright posture. All I know about this is that those who write “Confessions” are always knuckle-walkers, and the innately upright types like Crowley, Casanova, Frank Harris, who have nothing but good to say of themselves, should stick to “Life,” “Memoirs,” or “Recollections.” Perhaps this is a good moment to add that the worst mistake Freud ever made was to suppose that we repress painful memories and recall pleasant ones: the very system of knuckle-walking depends on doing the opposite.
The whole tone of this tome is expressed in one remark of Crowley’s: “Like all great men, I have never lost my humility.” Readers who are too insensitive to appreciate this remark had better hand on the book to someone else.
This is easier said than done. It is extremely heavy. About half a million words are compressed in very small print into nearly 1,000 pages, and the whole work was clearly one of those struggles between greatness and humility in which the latter was obliged at last to make …