Waugh, Ecstasy, and Initiation

Waugh, Ecstasy, and Initiation

Academic reviews and recommendations sometimes fall into the category of the merely bourgeois clericism of the modern world. Therefore, I have transcribed my authentic feelings in language which, I feel, better affirms Waugh’s “higher,” “sacerdotal,” station.i

I have finished my reading of Brideshead Revisited. There was a moment near the end in particular just a few hours ago during the scene where Lord Marchmain gave his “sign” after the whole buildup of the drama that struck me like a lance through my heart. I was sitting there in awe at what I had just read. The careful construction of it was like having my eyes pass along the curves of an exquisite statue, but it was more than just the appreciation for the artistry of it. It was a coup de grace like the culmination of things; like a spiritual kind of consummation.

I was in ecstasy enough that I was holding onto my chair gasping silently, holding my breath, and holding back tears that were swelling behind my eyelids. There was a perfection to be observed in those words I had just read. It wasn’t some trick; it wasn’t some kind of tactical writing that was a flowery exhibition of craft. I felt like I had listened to a heavenly choir crescendo. My heart was moved several inches higher into my throat choking me, stopping me from speaking—for silence was the only viable way to affirm it. Silence was the only voice I could return since it was through the silence of the voice that I was reading that had lifted me and held my breath captive. Waugh imprisoned me and impaled me with such precision that my spirit was bleeding to death and being raised again three gestures later.

I had to take a break from reading at that point. The act of levitation strains my physical body to such an extent that I needed to pause my reading. Breathing the Aether burned my lungs so I needed to descend back to the world for a while. Waugh captured the impact so perfectly that, for a moment, I felt like I was born back into the superworld above of pure ideals. For a moment, I glimpsed the eternity beyond. I was able to suck in the fiery air of that new life before retreating back into the amniotic fluid of my waking self. I had to tell someone of this in the night of my reading like a prophet who returned from the grave. It is difficult to describe for someone who has not undergone the initiation of reading through the chapters of the novel and trained himself in the spirituality of literature. I feel like if only one could look into my eyes and see how temporarily blinded I am by the radiance of what I had just read that they could discern the importance of this vocation.

It was not even that the novel spoke to me on a personal level. I perceived no connection to my own “personal” life. Rather, it was something beyond me like I had touched the very fabric and soul of our species—our race as human beings. I was in touch with “superindividuality.” I felt in that moment of reading that I was suddenly more human than before. I had been blessed through the mediation of Waugh’s literary priesthood to receive this sacrament. After all, the good writer, like a priest, takes the base material of the world (his letters) and, through the proper rites and words, transubstantiates the base matter into something completely divine. This is why, to the uninitiated, just like the Sacrament may seem like it remains as simple bread, a novel like Brideshead Revisited may seem like “nice prose” or some eulogy for aristocracy. No, the initiated will see greater things. There was a sudden infusion of grace as if the dimensions of my heart were widened by degrees; like I had been washed away of my sins in this moment of catharsis. I participated in that sacrament. The tears which were forced from my eyes were the physical element of my literary baptism.

I had climbed a mountain when I started reading the novel and I had reached the summit. I had reached the place where everything that rose converged. The entire mountain existed to serve that point; all the rocks and cliffs and paths were all in humble vassalage to this culminating capstone of silver and gold—of electrum shining in the sun. And the sun was indeed there, unobscured, finally, at that height, from all of the clouds. Waugh had compressed the entirety of the cosmos into a space the size of a mustard seed. He is an artist, a real genius, and a gem of the English language.


iI may choose, at a later date, to expand on my thoughts on this matter. Namely, that the academic preoccupation of many so called “traditionalists” is merely the repetition of the same modality of their “progressive” counterparts. Much like the sad co-existence of “right” and “left” as artificial distinctions being that both occupy the horizontal dimension on a political level, so, too, have many so called “traditionalists” who subscribe to various philosophical ideals make no attempt to “rise” to the level appropriate to those ideals but merely remain at the mundane dialectical level of their agnostic colleagues. I do not present myself as counterexample to such a tendency as uninitiated as I am, but I at least hope that my attempts at crystallization is a step towards that harmony of art and action that resides in the higher castes. May God make me worthy of it, Deus Vult.

2 thoughts on “Waugh, Ecstasy, and Initiation

  1. Interestingly, Waugh said he was “appalled” after re-reading Brideshead Revisited a number of years after he wrote it.

    “[T]he book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language which now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful.”

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    1. You can certainly see in the text where this is true: plenty of times the metaphors dedicated to drinking, listlessness, sex, university life, and night clubs would run on for paragraphs and take on a life of their own. His reaction is natural as a writer looking back at his more youthful works especially since he seemed to become more prudish as he got older.

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