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G. P. JONES Malcolm Lowry: Time and the Artist I Malcolm Lowry's densely philosophical novels and stories have occasioned much learned commentary in recent years. To cope with the 'polysemous meanings" of his fiction Lowry scholarship commonly invokes religious and metaphYSical systems as miscellaneous as Buddhism , Cabbalism, Taoism, Theosophism, Yoga, Hermeticism, Voodoo, Neoplatonism, Pantheism, Orphism, Hindu mysticism, Rosicrucianism, Swedenborgism, Aztec and Mayan legend, as well as major and minor branches of the judaeo-Christian tradition.2 It routinely invokes the names of philosophers, sages, and occultists as various as Plato, Kant, Ouspensky, Paracelsus, Ortega y Gasset, Aleister Crowley, j.W. Dunne, Bergson, Spengler, Spinoza, Agrippa, Berkeley, jung, William james, jacob Boehme, Eliphas Levi, A.E. Waite, S.L. MacGregor-Mathers, Madame Blavatsky, Charles Fort, and Annie Besant. It identifies literary influences so diverse and so pervasive that it would be idle to try to catalogue them here.' Such eclectic exposition is a necessary part of the process ofcoming to a fuller understanding ofMalcolm Lowry's distinctive and at times demanding literary achievement. Clearly, an author who was as voracious a reader and assimilator as Lowry, who ransacked Stansfeld-jones's cabbalistic library, who kept William james's The Varieties of Religious Experience as bedside reading, and who claimed to have read the whole of Remembrance ofThings Past in his outhouse' - such an author is not lightly to be trifled with by the critical or metaphysical tyro. However, such multiplicity of critical focus has meant that some features of Lowry's literary accomplishment, while being recognized as skeins in the pattern, have received less attention than they merit. So, while the particular relevance of somefew of these seminal influences will be touched on below, attention will primarily be directed to the special metaphysical obsession that lies behind much of Lowry's philosophical reading. Close to the centre of his self-awareness as an individual and as an artist, developing in tandem with his maturing craft and expanding into the interstices of his personality, is his preoccupation with the nature and operation of time. As M.e. Bradbrook puts it, at the most elementary level, 'in his books time is all-important:> Important though it be, Lowry's hypersensitivity to time is hardly UNIVlIRSIlY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 51, NUMBER 2 , WINTER 198112 00420024718210100-0192-ozog$o1.5010 C> UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS MALCOLM LOWRY 193 unique among modern writers. Quite apart from sharing common human apprehensions about personal mortality, professional writers are especially liable to be time-sensitive. Not only does their metier require them to organize their material in relation to the temporal continuum; it also demands that they draw relentlessly on past experience for present creativity. The past is continually being re-experienced in the creative present; the present is constantly being appraised for its future potential as fiction. Lowry is more disturbed than most authors by the paraSitical nature of the creative process, by fiction's insatiable appetite for the past experience of its creator and by the temporal paradoxes it introduces into the writer's life as he relives the past in the fictional present of his artefacts. Despite its bravado, there is a hollow ring to his description in Dark as the Grave of the alchemy of creativity - of past suffering turned to present profit: Look, I have succeeded. I have transformed, single-handed, my life-in-death into life, nay what is more I am going to make that life-in-death pay for the future, in hard cash, I have come back to show you that not an hour, not a moment of my drunkenness, my continual death, was not worth it: there is no dross of even the worst of those hours, not a drop of mescal that I have not turned into pure gold, not a drink I have not made sing. (Grave, p 211)' Even writers not hag-ridden, as Lowry is, by the temporal and experiential parasitism of creativity need to organize and evaluate spontaneous experience within the formal framework that is literature. No writer can be indifferent to the temporal dimension of experience, if only because ofits narrative and structuralimplications. Perhaps no living individual can be indifferent to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 192-209
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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