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Territoires de l'étrange dans la littérature irlandaise au XXe siècle

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Gaïd Girard

Troisième partie. Les seuils d’inquiétude de la langue

Pandaemonia and Language in the Works of « AE »

Fionn Bennett

Texte intégral

  • 1 For a convenient review of assessments of AE’s work by the literati of his time, see the Davis R., (...)

1George William Russell or “AE” will not be forgotten, but he will not be remembered the way he may have wished. For if he was an artist before anything else, he was a pretty average one. And not just by today’s standards. As a near contemporary of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, his late romantic style of poetry was already out of fashion in his own day. Certainly Joyce and O’Casey disliked it and even Yeats evinced signs that he too found its unremitting saintliness a little cloying1. The case can nevertheless be made that, potentially, he had something of immense value to offer his contemporaries and more particularly his peers in the cultural and literary revival of the early 20th century. And what he had to offer isn’t just pertinent to “mapping the uncanny”. It is also of interest to fields as diverse as paleolinguistic, glossogenesis, semiology, comparative literature as well as to specialists in post colonial studies doing research on the “geography of the sacred”. For AE proposed nothing less than the elaboration of a system of representation enabling any creator using it to “map the uncanny” literally. And by mapping the uncanny’literally’, I mean he tried to develop an alphabet and a phonetics that expresses the subject of literary treatment to the power of the chthonian and uranian forces whose hierogamy engendered it. Alternately, he advocated creating a language whose graphic and phonetic substance linked anything spoken or written about in it to the occult powers which brought it into being.

2That this was a lifelong preoccupation for AE will come as no surprise to anyone who has read even a single page written by the Armagh native. For they will know that this was an individual who could not take a walk in the countryside without encountering, from where so ever he looked, “shining creatures of water and woods… who break out in opalescent colour from rocks or hold court in the ponderous hills”. He couldn’t even find refuge from the uncanny by doing a bit of accounting in the offices of his employers for even there throngs of paranormal beings would traipse telepathically across the spread sheet he was working on.

3But if his gift of “second sight” made it natural for AE to want to develop a special language to map the uncanny, is there any reason why that should be of interest to his peers in Irish literary revival of the early 20th century ? There is, and we see what it is when we consider the main aspiration of this movement.

AE’s place in the Irish Literary Revival of the early 20th Century

  • 2 A point explored thematically and across a plurality of post-colonial contexts in Scott J. & Simps (...)

4Like post-colonial artists everywhere else, Irish artists of the word wanted to celebrate the particularity, the uniqueness and the specificity of their history, identity and culture. It was especially important for them to illuminate the links between culture and memory on one hand and on the other the place or landscape which staged and shaped that memory and culture2. This aspiration imposed a double necessity : the need, first, to be attentive to the uncanny which was conceived by the artistic imagination to be at work immediately within nature and, secondly, the necessity of supplying the uncanny with a voice. More precisely, it was important to develop a literary praxis which makes language “hierophanic” or “theophoric” by being a speech in which the uncanny is specifically, immediately and fully present, active and audible. Only thus would it be possible for Yeatsian “tellers of tales” to empty heaven and earth of the mystery concealed in their epiphany and make that mystery the soul of their literary output.

5Now if anything earns AE a place of distinction in the Irish literary revival it was his efforts to meet this twin challenge. In any event, three things can be said with certainty about AE. First, he recognised that art fails to be as “autochthonous” as cultural nationalists said it should be if the code used to produce it fails to co-signify the sacred and the profane, the mundane and the uncanny. Second, he recognised that the codes Irish artists then had at their disposal for literary production were intrinsically inappropriate for giving voice to the sacral dimension of their natural surroundings. Finally, he recognised that making literature an emissary of the uncanny required a speech radically different from the alphabetical, lexical and grammatical organisation of language we’ve inherited from classical Greece.

6So what I’ll be commenting on in this paper are AE’s ideas on how to overcome this difficulty with what he calls “the language of the gods”. The main purpose will be to ascertain how the use of this language is supposed to result in a literature as hierophanic as anything we find in the “ancient lores” composed in those “remote spiritual dawns when Earth first extended its consciousness into humanity”. I’ll also consider the belief AE shared with pre-modern cultures in the consubstantiality of language and what is represented in it. This will provide an occasion to point out that the belief in the “co-naturalité” of word and thing was important for literary production in earlier times by enabling poets to practice theurgic magic. I’ll also consider why it shouldn’t have posed a problem to Irish cultural nationalists that AE’s intuitions on “the language of the Gods” were almost certainly all of extra territorial origin. To do all this I will concentrate on AE’s best know work, The Candle of Vision.

“The Language of the Gods” in The Candle of Vision : A Vedic Linguistics ?

  • 3 All three works can be found in Iyer R. & Iyer N. (dir.), The Descent of the Gods : Comprising the (...)

7This is not the only work in which AE deals with the language of the gods. He had already done so in two articles published thirty and twenty five years earlier in The Irish Theosophist and would return to the question again some years later in his Song and its Fountains3. It should also be pointed out that The Candle of Vision deals with other themes besides speculation on the way language can literally map the uncanny. Indeed, more than anything else, the work advertises itself as a guide for would-be mystics. It also prolongs a polemic AE had begun earlier against Freudian psychology and culminates with a highly original, not to say eccentric interpretation of Irish mythology. Still, the most interesting and original aspect of the work is the account it offers of “divine utterance” and how the use of this speech is necessary for charting the uncanny. But when I say “original”, that should not be taken to mean unprecedented. As was made abundantly clear in his 1897 article “The Element Language”, AE’s philosophy of language was based very narrowly on Vedic myths of cosmogenesis and indeed is incomprehensible except in reference to these myths. Which is why it is best to begin with a reminder of what they are.

  • 4 For the paramount cosmological importance of which, see Jaiminiya Upanishad, 1. 10. 3, Chandogya U (...)

8At their heart is something AE called “the Brahamic theory of emanations”. This theory holds that the cosmos originates in a form of energy similar to the vibrations of the human voice, the mantra “Aum” being the most important4. The observable universe results when this energy is condensed successively into fire, air, water and earth and then rarifies out of being earth into plant, animal and human life. The diagram in Fig. 1 is the usual way of representing this theory of cosmogenesis.

Fig. 1. The “Brahamic Emanations” of the “Parabrahm Akashf Cosmic Cycle

9Now because the discernible universe is just a continuum of sound, the myth holds that there is an affinity between the sounds men can produce with their voices and the elements which emanate from the original, pre-cosmic noise. And this affinity isn’t confined only to a one-to-one correspondence between the sounds of the human voice and one or another of the elements. It extends to an affinity between voice and the properties of different elements and different combinations of elements. In other words, there is a correspondence between the sounds the human voice can produce and the colours, shapes, magnitudes and movements of the things that are engendered by the cosmic emanations.

  • 5 Candle of Vision, p. 133 (“I have no doubt that in a remoter antiquity the roots of language were (...)

10From the results of research in the fields of ethnomusicology and glossogenesis, we know that this belief was essential for practising incantatory magic in earlier times, a point I’ll return to presently. Here all we need to note is that AE was aware of this5. But he wasn’t interested in its magical applications. Or rather if he was, he wanted literature and poetry to be the vehicle of its magical effects. And that explains the importance he saw in developing an alphabet and a phonetics which are concomitant with the Brahamic theory of emanations. I’ve rendered this phonetics and alphabet in following diagram.

Fig. 2. Alphabet for the Language of the Gods in The Candle of Vision

  • 6 Candle of Vision, p. 125 : “I despair of any attempt to differentiate from each other the seven st (...)
  • 7 This is assumed and convincingly demonstrated throughout in Iyer & Iyer, op. cit.

11The most immediately commentworthy aspect of this diagram is its incompleteness. Not just because certain correspondences (e. g., colours) have been left out but also because some symbols remained beyond AE’s powers to intuit. This was especially true of the vowels6. A second and more important point to be made is that The Candle of Vision in fact contains no such diagram. It is not withal out of place. First because it is entirely consistent with what we read in the relevant passages and, second, because it has the advantage of illustrating the parallels between AE’s account of the language of the gods in The Candle of Vision and the “cosmic cycle” depicted in Fig. 1. There is nothing fortuitous about this concomitance. The care taken in the text to indicate correspondences between elements and linguistic symbols, in the precise order shown, is proof enough of that. Something which, again, would suggest that, both in its fundamental orientations and even in its details, AE’s language of the gods is really just a Vedic phonetics and alphabet7. And if one wanted to argue that it isn’t because mixed in with it is a liberal sprinkling of Gnostic, Kabbalistic, Neo-Pythagorean and above all Theosophical references and resonances, that would only add to one’s concerns about the pertinence of AE’s council to Irish “tellers of tales” on how they can and should chart the uncanny. In any event, it raises a fundamental question : can one be as infatuated as AE was by sources as exotic as these and still be considered an Irish artist ? Alternately, could Irish cultural nationalists be in their rights to doubt AE’s Celtic credentials ?

  • 8 Much of this relationship depends on a Dumézilian reading of the functions of the Celtic Druids an (...)

12Obviously they could if there was nothing in the history of Irish letters corresponding to AE’s language of the gods. Scepticism would also be justified if his conjectures about it rested on parallels between Indic and Celtic literary histories that either don’t exist or are too negligible to support the case he makes on their basis. But neither assumption is valid. AE is in very respectable scholarly company in assuming real and significant correlations between ancient Irish and ancient Indian cultures, literary or otherwise8. And from ongoing research in “Celtic Studies” it is now clear that the “language of the gods” was indeed used in ancient Ireland. And what is referred to by the researchers who tell us so is ultimately the same thing that AE refers to with the same expression. Seeing why, however, is a little difficult. For modern philologists do not refer to a mystical link between numinous forces and the phonetic and graphic aspects of the language used to represent the earthly progeny of otherworldly powers. They refer to the techniques used in poetic composition and recital to inscribe “words within words” and thereby invest verse with a plurality of distinct, hierarchically ordered languages.

13The most significant work to date on the language of the gods in early Irish poetry concerns the decipherment of the manuscripts which record the methods used to encode it. One thinks in particular of Calvert Watkin’s 1970 essay “Language of Gods and Language of Men” and his analysis of a passage in the notorious Auraicept na n-éces devoted to “bérla tobaide” or “selected language”.

Evidence of the use of Theophoric “Anagrams” in Early Irish Versecraft

14Accompanied by its translation into English, the passage reads as follows :

“It e coicgne berla tobaidi. i. berla Fene 7fasaige na filid 7 berla etarsgartha 7 berla fortchide na filed triasa n-agallit cach dib a chele 7 iarmberla.”

  • 9 Watkins C., “Language of Gods and Language of Men”, Puhvel J. (dir.), Myth and Law among the Indo- (...)

[There are five species of the Selected Language, viz. : the [vernacular] language of the Irish, Maxims of the Poets, Separated Language, Obscure Language of the Poets through which each of them addresses his fellow, and Unaccented Language9.]

15Especially noteworthy in Watkins’commentary on this passage is his account of what was undoubtedly the most important technique used by Irish poets of yore to infiltrate their verse with mystical content. I refer to the species of “selected language” called “bérla etarsgartha” or “separated language”, a peculiarity of early Irish versification which Watkins describes thus :

“[…] bérla etarsgartha, refers to the common Irish glossatorial practice of making fanciful etymologies by segmenting and’stretching’words to form phrases, for example (Auraicept 1319) ros,’wood’. i. roi oiss,’plain of deer’. It is probable that the “separation” of words in this manner reflected not merely glossatorial practice for purposes of etymology, but also a genuine practice of artificial deformation of words for poetic purposes […] going back to early times.” (Watkins, op. cit., p. 13.)

16To see how this description of bérla etarsgartha supports Watkins’overall point about Irish verse being among the traditions which used the language of the gods, one has only to compare what is said here with the findings of research currently underway on the use of “ hypograms” or “anagrams” in archaic Indo-European poetry.

  • 10 See Starobinski J., Les mots sous les mots, Paris, Gallimard, 1971, p. 31 : “Ni anagramme ni parag (...)
  • 11 See Toporov V., “Die Ursprünge der indogermanische Poetik”, Poetica, n° 13, 1981, p. 200-209 ; Bad (...)

17Whether “anagrams” is the best or even an adequate way to characterise the essentially metaplasmatic manipulation of language in early verse is doubtful in as much as we have to do with purely oral literary traditions, something recognised by Ferdinand de Saussure, the scholar who coined the term10. Moreover, because this technique for encoding “words within words” is a relatively recent discovery, we are still somewhat in the dark about how it was applied in actual poetic composition. Still we have a pretty clear idea of at least the principles governing the use of theonymic anagrams in early verse and how this was supposed to make poetry a space in which the daemonic and the human congress and commingle. The technique consisted basically of segmenting the phonetic properties of a theonym or divine epithet and then inserting within the spaces separating the segmented phonemes a narrative, sometimes of considerable length, composed in the language of men11.

18Now this might seem like a relatively easy thing to do and in the verse of a novice it probably wasn’t terribly complicated. In the compositions of more experienced bards, however, it could be incommensurably complex, for a number of reasons.

  • 12 See Watkins, ibid., p. 19, 29 & 123-5 on the need for poets to create “indexical” phonetic and gra (...)

19First because there was nothing random in the ordering of the segmented phonemes. This is so because they had to be identifiable and that was possible only if one could discern the sequence governing the recurrence of the “marked” parts of the divine name. Hence if there was the slightest miscalculation in the application of the “isosyllabic” meter required to mark the theonym, it basically wasn’t there12.

  • 13 See Toporov, op. cit., p. 244-45 on the “komplementäre Anordnung” of the names for the gods Bŕhasp (...)

20A second complicating factor was the number of divine names in a poem. As a general rule, poetry containing divine names was always reducible to the “diglossic” opposition language of men – language of gods. But it could also encode, and in the case of the more gifted practitioners was supposed to encode a “polyglossic” plurality of divine or daemonic names. More precisely, a hierarchy of divine names. In other words, the anagram of one divine name could contain the anagram of another divine name with both anagrams being “marked” in the poem with the help of separate (but complementary) metrical sequences13.

  • 14 Evidently, some measures were taken to make sure that not every poetic performance was entirely im (...)
  • 15 The main reference on this point remains Milman Parry and his watershed study L’Épithète tradition (...)

21Finally there is the fact that poetry in antiquity was performed ex tempore. Which means that each poetic recital was composed on the spot for a unique kind of circumstance14. Something that was feasible only because poets took the trouble of memorising a phenomenally large number of formulae or epithets (kenningar, merisms, etc.) for different kinds of objects or people, each epithet being distinct in accent, assonance, consonance and meter and all of them ready at a moment’s notice to be strung together in a unique combination to suit any occasion that could arise15.

  • 16 See Toporov, op. cit., p. 216 : “Vor allem aber bestätigt das irische Konzept der [bérla etarsgart (...)

22Obviously this review of the current state of knowledge about the use of anagrams to articulate the language of the gods does not exhaust what could be said on the topic. But a completer analysis of the question isn’t necessary to provide credible independent confirmation of AE’s intuition about the language of the gods being an integral part of early Irish versecraft. At any rate, this is true if Watkins’“bérla etarsgartha” is – as some experts insist16 – comparable with the anagrams used in other Indo-European poetical traditions to conjure the gods from their abodes in superhuman spheres.

23But why was it so important for poets to pronounce the parts of their verse composed in the language of men in the interstices created by segmenting a divine name into its constituent syllables ? What was the presence of a divine name supposed to add to a poem containing it ?

What were Theonymic “Anagrams” used for ?

  • 17 Bader, op. cit., p. 21f., 230f.

24Philologists specialised in Indo-European poetics tell us that it was to make sure that poetry containing divine names resonated with “mythical significance”17. Which is undoubtedly true, albeit a little ambiguous. For it isn’t clear how mythical significance differs from what is significant in the language of men while it is abundantly clear that the language of the gods was something totally distinct from the language of men. It would seem therefore that the mythological significance hypothesis doesn’t go deeply enough into the heart of the matter. In other words, any analysis which attempts to ascertain what the language of the gods existed to express needs to, as it were, delve within the archaeology of the humanly significant until it arrives at the humanly proto-significant. And it needs to do this delving within the significant towards the proto-significant as their relationship was understood in pre-modern times.

  • 18 For a discussion of which see, inter alia, Hopkins T. J., The Hindu Religious Tradition, Belmont, (...)
  • 19 See, for ex., Combarieu J., La musique et la magie : étude sur les origines populaires de l’art mu (...)
  • 20 Cf. Malinowski, ibid. : “If the criteria of grammar, logic and consistency were applied, the trans (...)
  • 21 Besides Malinowski, ibid., p. 216 & Hopkins, op. cit., p. 19, see Nock A. D., Essays on Religion a (...)
  • 22 Malinowski, ibid., p. 215-6 ; Detienne, ibid., p. 108 & Gonda, op. cit., p. 24.

25To explain what I’m getting at with these cryptic remarks, let us consider the linguistic status of the segments of divine names distributed within the language of men in early verse. Research on mantra shastras in Vedic verse18, on the “sibylline utterances” of the oracles at Delphi and on voces mysticae in incantatory poetry all over the world19 makes it clear that theonyms had no “semantic” value whatsoever. Indeed there was nothing linguistic about them if by linguistic we mean anything like the alphabetic, lexical and grammatical organisation of language we have inherited from classical Greece20. All that really mattered about the phonetic properties of divine names was the energy of the quasi-musical sounds they were composed of. And this mattered because this sound was nothing less than the musical expression of the actual physical presence of the divine itself21. In other words, there was a relationship of identity between the vibration of the voice of a trained, accredited poet declaiming a divine name and the cosmological forces which were believed to be responsible for the creation and orderly operations of the natural world22.

26Why was that important ? Why was it important to introduce the physical presence of the divine into the poetic event ? To practice magic. To theurgically utilise the power of the uncanny to control things, people and processes in the natural world. Why was this considered feasible ? Why did poets and their audiences believe it was possible to coerce things and people by blending the sounds of their names with quasi-musical sounds standing for divine, semi-divine or daemoniacal powers ?

27No answer to these questions could hope to make any sense without a reminder of pre-modern ideas on the nature of language and its relationship to the natural world.

The Ultra-Cratylean Metalinguistics of Pre-modern Literary Production

  • 23 Though this is “a matter of common knowledge” (Gonda, op. cit., p. 7), a reminder of some of the s (...)
  • 24 Hirzel, ibid., p. 12, 22 ; Gonda, op. cit., p. 23, 60 & Ogden C. K. & Richards I. A., The Meaning (...)

28Basically these ideas rested on three fundamentally “Cratylean” beliefs. First it was believed that, for all intents and purposes, names are alive and that the life of a name is identical to the life in the object or person bearing the name23. Consequently whatever one does to the physical – oral or written – form of a name has perforce to happen to its co-relative object24.

  • 25 Though faults have been found with aspects of his overall thesis, Usener’s description of “Sonderg (...)

29Pre-modern humanity also believed that the lives of the things peopling the natural world – and therefore, again, the lives of the words standing for them – were subject to a hierarchy were relatively uniform. Situated at the top of the scale was the ineffable, attributeless ground of all existence. The bottom was constituted of the heroes of legend. In between were arranged an assortment of “Augenblicksgötter” and “Sondergötter”, i.e., anthropomorphic representations of various life-sustaining natural phenomena of which the sun and the earth were the most important25.

  • 26 Izutsu, op. cit., p. 33 & Gonda, op. cit., p. 65-66.

30Finally it was believed that the more and the better one understood the modus operandi of this cosmopoietic dramatis personae the better one was able to use that knowledge to constrain the things subject to it to do one’s bidding. And one of the ways one was able to do that was by using one’s voice to convert these daemonic powers into sounds which one metaplasmatically blended with the mortal names of the things one wanted to enchant into doing one’s bidding26.

31Obviously, I’ll abstain from commenting on the likelihood that this manner of theurgy actually worked. All that is important to remember is that it was believed to be effective and believed to be so on the basis of the three Cratylean principles of language just mentioned–the co-naturality of things and names, the subordination of mortal things and their names to a hierarchy of transcendent, daemonic powers and the feasibility of magic by mixing sounds standing for supernatural powers with sounds standing for natural phenomena. It is also important to note that if all this has been demonstrated in research on non-Irish traditions and material, that does not mean that it isn’t applicable to early Irish literature as well. And there is no easier or more dramatic way to make the point than by drawing attention to the “incantatory invective” or “glám dícenn” for which Irish poets of yore were famed and feared.

Satirical “glám dícenn” or “Poetry to raise blisters by"

32Undoubtedly the best known example of glám dícenn is “Caieur cursed”, one version of which is found in the Uraicecht na Ríar §23

Maile, baire, gaire Caíar
cot-mbéotar celtrai catha Caíar,
Caíar di-bá, Caíar di-rá – Caíar !
fo ró, fo mara, fo chara Caíar

Evil, death, short life to Caiar,
May spears of battle kill Caiar,
May Caiar die, may Caiar depart – Caiar !
Under earth, under mounds, under rocks be Caiar.

  • 27 See Breatnach L., Uraicecht na Ríar : The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law, Dublin, Dublin Institu (...)
  • 28 Combarieu, op. cit., p. 9-10 & Campanile E., “Indogermanische Dichtersprache”, Meid W. (ed.), Stud (...)
  • 29 Izutsu, op. cit., p. 21 ; Gonda, op. cit., p. 63 & Elliott R. C., The Power of Satire : Magic, Rit (...)
  • 30 Starobinski, op. cit., p. 35.

33Apart from the virulence of its diction and the malevolence of the intentions expressed therein, what is remarkable about this poem for the modern reader is the alliterative and melodic flair of the original27. And undoubtedly audiences of old were impressed by it too, and all the more impressed by virtue of an education in the subtleties of stress, cadence, rhythm and meter we will never know. But they were less impressed by the ornamental or aesthetic qualities of this use of sound28 than by the conviction that the poetical devices used to express it gave any “fili” who mastered them a very real power to inflict harm and even death on the object of this manner of curse29. And they were convinced of this not just because of the “hypnotic effect” of this use of sound. They knew that the poet “avait pour ordinaire métier de se livrer à l’analyse phonique des mots”30. This, they believed, made him knowledgeable about the links between language standing for things in this world and sounds standing for powers which bring nature itself into being. The poet must therefore have known how to mix the two kinds of sound in order to practice incantatory theurgical magic. Alliteration, assonance and accentuation were nothing but the metaplasmatic techniques required to blend existentially tutelary powers with the sounds in the language of men to make sure that incantation was effective–murderously so if need be. This at least is what we have to suppose unless we want to make the case that early Irish poetry was an exception to an Indo-European wide rule.

  • 31 See, for ex., Campanile, op. cit., on the “gnomic” content of early poetry.

34Obviously there is a lot more to be said about early Irish poetry and literature that cannot be divined from this incomplete reminder of “metrical malediction”. For example, it would have to be pointed out that poetry was useful for purposes that had nothing to do with magic31. Something too would need to be said about the extraordinary obscurity surrounding the matter – and not just about the hermetism of the bardic tradition, the incompetence of the monastic scribes and the censorship of Romanists prelates but also about the troubling likelihood of a degree of complicity on the part of some scholars in Ireland in allowing matters to remain obscure.

35Still we can leave untouched what we haven’t and cannot explore and nevertheless have enough in hand to vindicate AE’s intuitions about the language of the gods. In any event, we now know that comparative Indo-European poetics confirms the existence of such a language and describes it much the way AE did. Namely as a theory of language which makes the phonic and graphic substrate of speech a resource for linking anything represented in it to the daemonic powers which are supposed to have engendered it. We can also see why all this was important for the Irish literary revival. Its leaders assigned to the modern Irish tellers of tales the task of emptying heaven and hell of their mysteries and incorporating that mystery in literary treatment of its earthly progeny. And yet, no theory of language or of its expressive possibilities known since remotest antiquity assumes that such an aspiration is feasible. At least not “literally”. Hence, in a sense, the ambition of making language co-signify the natural and the supernatural depended on appropriating modern Irish letters to its ancient roots and adopting the methods of literary production used in earlier times to map the uncanny literally. Which means that the Irish literary revival needed the kind of language whose theoretical foundations and principles AE was at pains to give it.

36Of course, AE’s intuitions in these matters are not above reproach. It is to be regretted that in making his case he relied so heavily on Hindu sources and Theosophic exegesis and so little on native manuscript material. Regrettable also was his attitude to the kind of scholarship that, to a certain extent at least, helps us decode the mysteries concealed in these manuscripts. After all, philology is an enemy of the kind of insight AE valued only when it ceases being what its name means.

37But is it too late ? And are philologists the only ones who should be following AE along the path for thought he gestured towards ? Shouldn’t artists be involved in the adventure as well ? And what about the public whose taste, sensibility and aspirations it is the vocation of artists to shape ?

38The hopes expressed a silentio in these questions take us away from the Irish literary revival. They address Irish literature of today and tomorrow. They also force us to confront the prophets of “disenchantement” who tell us such hopes are doomed to disappointment. But should they be heeded ? Perhaps they misdiagnose the cultural symptoms upon which they base their assessments. Or maybe those symptoms tell us nothing about the irrational recesses and byways of the collective imagination of the people. The ones which literary artists transform into the proverbial “gardens and glades of the Muses” from whose “honey-dropping founts” they draw “the sweets they bring us wrapped in song”. And even if the prophets of disenchantment are not mistaken, who dares to predict that Irishmen in the future won’t become disenchanted with disenchantment ? Who is to say that “enchantment”, “atavism” and “particularism” won’t become ideals in whose names a future generation of Irish artists will confound the academics who proclaim the disappearance of Ireland as a distinct cultural entity ?

39These are questions. In this paper that is what they will remain. Their asker will venture no further in the direction of the conjecture to which they lead than to surmise this : that if Irish artists and their audiences of the future prove less satisfied with disenchantment and anti-nativism than it pleases some to believe, we shouldn’t be too surprised if AE is a Muse for those who so transgress.

Bibliographie

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Russell G. W, Song and Its Fountains, London, Macmillan, 1932

Bader F., “La langue des dieux : hermétisme et autobiographie”, Les Études classiques, n° 58, 1990, p. 3-26.

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Combarieu J., La musique et la magie : étude sur les origines populaires de l’art musical, Genève, Minkoff, 1972.

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Hopkins T. J., The Hindu Religious Tradition, Belmont, California, 1971.

Iyer R. & Iyer N., The Descent of the Gods : Comprising the Mystical Writings of G. W Russell “AE”, Gerrards Cross, C. Smythe, 1988.

Izutsu T., Language and Magic, Keio University, 1955.

Malinowski B., Coral Gardens and their Magic. II, The Language of Magic and Gardening, London, Routledge, 2002.

Moret A., Le Nil et la civilisation égyptienne, Paris, La Renaissance du livre, 1926.

Nock A. D., Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, Oxford, Clarendon, 1972.

Ogden C. K. & Richards I. A., The Meaning of Meaning : A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism, London, Routledge, 1994.

Otto W. F., Essais sur le mythe, Mauvezin, Trans-Europ-Repress, 1987.

Parry M., L’Épithète traditionnelle dans Homère, essai sur un problème de style homérique, Paris, Les Belles-Lettres, 1928.

Rees A. & Rees B., Celtic Heritage : Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, London, Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Ringgren H., Word and Wisdom, Studies in the Hypostatization of Divine Qualities and Functions in the Ancient Near East, Lund, H. Ohlssons, 1947.

Scott J. & Simpson-housley P. (dir.), Mapping the Sacred In Post-Colonial Literatures, Atlanta, Rodopi VP, 2001.

Sjoestedt M.-L., Dieux et héros des Celtes, Rennes, Terre de Brume, 1998.

Starobinski J., Les mots sous les mots : les anagrammes de Ferdinand de Saussure, Paris, Gallimard, 1971.

Toporov V., “Die Ursprünge der indogermanische Poetik”, Poetica, n° 13, 1981, p. 189-251.

Usener H., Gotternamen : Versuch einer Lehre von der religiosen Begriffsbildung, Bonn, F. Cohen, 1896.

Watkins C., “Language of Gods and Language of Men”, Puhvel J. (dir.), Myth and Law among the Indo-Europeans, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1970, p. 1-18.

Watkins C., How to Kill a Dragon, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Yelle R. A., Explaining Mantras : Ritual, Rhetoric and the Dream of a Natural Language in Hindu Tantra, New York, Routledge, 2003.

Notes

1 For a convenient review of assessments of AE’s work by the literati of his time, see the Davis R., George William Russell (“AE”), London, George Prior, 1977, p. 50f.

2 A point explored thematically and across a plurality of post-colonial contexts in Scott J. & Simpson-Housley P. (dir.), Mapping the Sacred In Post-Colonial Literatures, Atlanta, Rodopi, 2001.

3 All three works can be found in Iyer R. & Iyer N. (dir.), The Descent of the Gods : Comprising the Mystical Writings of G. W. Russell “AE”, Gerrards Cross, C. Smythe, 1988.

4 For the paramount cosmological importance of which, see Jaiminiya Upanishad, 1. 10. 3, Chandogya Upanishad, 2. 23 & Mandukya Upanishad, 1.

5 Candle of Vision, p. 133 (“I have no doubt that in a remoter antiquity the roots of language were regarded as sacred, and when chanted every letter was supposed to stir into motion or evoke some subtle force in the body.”) & Iyer & Iyer, op. cit., p. 428.

6 Candle of Vision, p. 125 : “I despair of any attempt to differentiate from each other the seven states of consciousness represented by the vowels”.

7 This is assumed and convincingly demonstrated throughout in Iyer & Iyer, op. cit.

8 Much of this relationship depends on a Dumézilian reading of the functions of the Celtic Druids and filidh and their Indian homologues, the Brahmans and kavis. Common kingship inauguration rites and other cognate cultural institutions are also frequently mentioned. See, inter alia, Dumézil G., Flamen-Brahman, Paris, P. Geuthner, 1935, p. 51 ; De Vries J., “Die Druiden”, Kairos n° 2, 1960, p. 81-2 ; Sjoestedt M.-L., Dieux et héros des Celtes, Rennes, Terre de Brume, 1998, p. 12-13 ; Rees A. & Rees B., Celtic Heritage, London, Thames and Hudson, 1961, passim ; Campanile E., Ricerche di culturapoetica indoeuropea, Pisa, Giardini, 1977, passim.

9 Watkins C., “Language of Gods and Language of Men”, Puhvel J. (dir.), Myth and Law among the Indo-Europeans, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1970, p. 12.

10 See Starobinski J., Les mots sous les mots, Paris, Gallimard, 1971, p. 31 : “Ni anagramme ni paragramme ne veulent dire que la poésie se dirige pour ces figures d’après les signes écrits.”

11 See Toporov V., “Die Ursprünge der indogermanische Poetik”, Poetica, n° 13, 1981, p. 200-209 ; Bader F., “La langue des dieux : hermétisme et autobiographie”, Les Études classiques, n° 58, 1990, p. 18-20 & Watkins C., How to Kill a Dragon, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 38-9.

12 See Watkins, ibid., p. 19, 29 & 123-5 on the need for poets to create “indexical” phonetic and grammatical figures and an explanation of the way “isosyllabism” constituted such a figure. See Starobinski, op. cit., p. 37 on the difficulty posed by interpolations : “Il suffit qu’un seul vers en 50 vers, soit interpolé, pour que les plus laborieux dépouillements n’aient plus aucune signification.”

13 See Toporov, op. cit., p. 244-45 on the “komplementäre Anordnung” of the names for the gods Bŕhaspáti and Bráhmanas páti in RV. 2. 23. See also Watkins, ibid., p. 114-15 on why “anagramatic indexing” of hieronyms should be considered a “stylistic feature” inherited from Indo-European times and therefore naturally recurrent in all Indo-European poetic traditions. See also Yelle R., Explaining Mantras, New York, Routledge, 2003, p. 11, 42 & passim on the use of mantras to “envelope” the words used by men.

14 Evidently, some measures were taken to make sure that not every poetic performance was entirely impromptu. In any event, Rees & Rees, op. cit., p. 207-8 cites numerous authorities to suggest that early Irish “story teller’s repertoire” was organised in accordance with one of 17 different genres.

15 The main reference on this point remains Milman Parry and his watershed study L’Épithète traditionnelle dans Homère, essai sur un problème de style homérique, Paris, Les Belles-Lettres, 1928.

16 See Toporov, op. cit., p. 216 : “Vor allem aber bestätigt das irische Konzept der [bérla etarsgartha] ganz undgar die These Saussures.”

17 Bader, op. cit., p. 21f., 230f.

18 For a discussion of which see, inter alia, Hopkins T. J., The Hindu Religious Tradition, Belmont, California, 1971, p. 19-21 & Yelle, op. cit., p. 17ff.

19 See, for ex., Combarieu J., La musique et la magie : étude sur les origines populaires de l’art musical, Genève, Minkoff, 1972, p. 13 ; Izutsu T., Language and Magic, Keio University, 1955, p. 33 ; Watkins, op. cit., p. 183 & esp. Malinowski B., Coral Gardens and their Magic. II, The Language of Magic and Gardening, London, Routledge, 2002, p. 218.

20 Cf. Malinowski, ibid. : “If the criteria of grammar, logic and consistency were applied, the translator would find himself hopelessly bogged by [magical speech]”.

21 Besides Malinowski, ibid., p. 216 & Hopkins, op. cit., p. 19, see Nock A. D., Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, Oxford, Clarendon, 1972, vol. I, p. 36-7 ; Boyancé P., Le culte des muses chez les philosophes grecs, Paris, de Boccard, 1936, p. 38f. & Detienne M., Maîtres de la vérité dans la Grèce archaïque, Paris, La Découverte, 1990, p. 100f. Comp. Otto W. F., Essais sur le mythe, Mauvezin, Trans-Europ-Repress, 1987, p. 49, 55 & passim : “Das Göttliche tönt im Namen… Er es selbst im Wortege genwärtig”.

22 Malinowski, ibid., p. 215-6 ; Detienne, ibid., p. 108 & Gonda, op. cit., p. 24.

23 Though this is “a matter of common knowledge” (Gonda, op. cit., p. 7), a reminder of some of the scholarship it is based upon is perhaps not amiss : Jevons F. B., “Graeco-Italian Magic”, Anthropology & the Classics, Oxford, Clarendon, 1908, p. 106-7 ; Comarbieu, op. cit., p. 125 ; Cornford F. M., From Religion to Philosophy, London, E. Arnold, 1912, p. 141, 192 ; Hirzel R., Der Namen, Leipzig, B. G. Teubner, 1918, p. 15 & passim ; Hoffmann E., Die Sprache und die archaische Logik, Heidelberger Abhandlungen zur Philosophie und ihrer Geschichte, n° 3, 1925, p. 21sq. ; Nock, op. cit., p. 345-6 ; Goldschmidt V., Essai sur le “Cratyle”, Paris, Vrin, 1981, p. 10 ; Moret A., Le Nil et la civilisation égyptienne, Paris, La Renaissance du livre, 1926, p. 140, 427sq. ; Ringgren H., Word and Wisdom, Studies in the Hypostatization of Divine Qualities and Functions in the Ancient Near East, Lund, H. Ohlssons, 1947, passim & Izutsu, op. cit., p. 22.

24 Hirzel, ibid., p. 12, 22 ; Gonda, op. cit., p. 23, 60 & Ogden C. K. & Richards I. A., The Meaning of Meaning, London, Routledge, 1994, p. 323.

25 Though faults have been found with aspects of his overall thesis, Usener’s description of “Sondergotter” in his classic Götternamen (Bonn, F. Cohen, 1896) remains the principle reference for the representation of the supernatural in archaic religion : “ Was alles von der umgebenden natur in den gesichtskreis des volks getreten, ist zu einer gottesvorstellung erhoben undpersonlich gedacht worden” (p. 110).

26 Izutsu, op. cit., p. 33 & Gonda, op. cit., p. 65-66.

27 See Breatnach L., Uraicecht na Ríar : The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law, Dublin, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1987, p. 28 & Watkins, op. cit., p. 120-123 for even more impressive displays of alliterative virtuosity and a discussion of the techniques by which it was accomplished.

28 Combarieu, op. cit., p. 9-10 & Campanile E., “Indogermanische Dichtersprache”, Meid W. (ed.), Studien zum indo-germanischen Wortschatz, Innsbruck, Institut für Sprachwissenschaft, 1987, p. 26.

29 Izutsu, op. cit., p. 21 ; Gonda, op. cit., p. 63 & Elliott R. C., The Power of Satire : Magic, Ritual, Art, Princeton, 1972, p. 14-15, 47.

30 Starobinski, op. cit., p. 35.

31 See, for ex., Campanile, op. cit., on the “gnomic” content of early poetry.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. The “Brahamic Emanations” of the “Parabrahm Akashf Cosmic Cycle
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Légende Fig. 2. Alphabet for the Language of the Gods in The Candle of Vision
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Fichier image/jpeg, 233k

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