Thursday, March 19, 2009

Simon Iff

Over the past couple of weeks I've been cleaning up the stairwell in my house. For those unfamiliar with my house (most of you), my upstairs is a large loft, with an open staircase with ledges big enough for bookcases. Naturally, the stairwell has become filled with books. Some of these have been piled up in corners for the last 6 years, and now that I plan to hang a piece of artwork in the stairwell that's worthy of cleaning all that up, I have done so.

In the cleanup process, I found my copy of "The Scrutinies of Simon Iff" by one Aleister Crowley. (I blogged about Crowley and the philosophy of Thelema a couple of years ago). These are a collection of short detective stories written by Crowley. I love this particular book, because you can get an excellent snapshot of Crowley's wit and his mind without slogging through all of his magical books and diaries, which can be difficult even for those well-versed in those subjects. What I like about Crowley is his bluntness, his extensive knowledge of literature, and his excellent grasp of what was a new field during his lifetime, psychology and psychoanalysis. It's no wonder the Victorians--the non-Swinburnesque ones--were terrified of him. Here are a few quotes that I love from that collection:

From "The Biter Bit" :

"'Evidence of Identity', by Dolores Cass, was the Book of the season. It was as dry as a treatise on trigonometry, but people read and discussed it as if it were a novel The Washington Square group all tried to look like each other so as to deceive the very elect, and succeeded perfectly, as there was not one ounce of individuality in the whole gang."

"You don't worry about matters unless you are potentially or actually capable of them. Tell me that my house in Pittsburg is burnt down, and I do not fret, because I have not a house in Pittsburg, and please God, I never will have!"

From "Nebuchadnezzar":

"Mrs. Mills entered the room. She was the kind of individual who doesn't matter to anybody. She had everything in a mild form. Simon Iff was reminded of Mrs. Nickelby, but one without enough imagination to be flustered over The Gentleman Next Door. He had to use all his tact and acumen to disinter her from the graveyard of General Reminiscences."

"But even as he spoke, the telephone rang. It was a voice unknown to the magician. It had appeared that Mrs. A had been telling Mrs. B at Mrs. C's dinner-party that Mrs. D had heard from Mrs. E that Mrs. F had a letter from Mrs. G saying that Mrs. H had met Mrs. I and Mrs. J's, the subject of discussion being Mrs. K's divorce. Mrs. L had then... it went on to the climax, where Mrs. Y had advised Mrs. Z to consult Mr. Iff; and might she call to see him? Mr. Iff regretted that he was sailing, that afternoon, to take up residence in a monastery on Mount Athos, and replaced the receiver."

From "Who Gets The Diamonds?":

"Simon Iff was considered a crank by many people; they based their opinion on those of his acts which were in reality severely rational."

"The tendency to standardisation is an eternal menace to evolution."

"His genial nod was intercepted by the waiter, who informed Iff, trembling, that pipes were not allowed. Simple Simon knocked out the tobacco, and rolled it in a piece of cigarette paper before replacing it in his pipe. 'This, my friend, is a cigarette holder.'"

From "In the Swamp":

"His stupidity and conventionality quite discounted his cowardice, for though he saw men dying all around him, he believed himself to be under the special protection of a deity called Jesus Christ by the Methodists, to whom he belonged, but to be carefully distinguished from a false god of the same name worshipped by Baptists, Wesylans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Plymouth Brethren, Agapemonites, Lady Huntington's Connection, or other savage sects. Intelligent men, such as the French or Germans, cannot colonise. The art needs a race too stupid to understand that it is being martyred. Empire is a dream, with nightmare passages. And men must be asleep to dream."

"'It is the doctrine of the Vicarious Atonement that does the harm,' said Iff; 'despite all Paul's special pleading, it is bound to destroy moral responsibility.'"

From "Psychic Compensation":

"Morals are the cause of madness. Unmoral people never go mad, except in the case where insanity is a symptom of some disease like tuberculosis. Madness is caused by a conflict in the will. Immoral, as opposed to unmoral, people often go mad; for their 'conscience' reproaches them--Satan divided against Satan. And moral people often go mad too, for their suppressed desires reproach them; and this is worse than conscience, because conscience is a factitious thing, an Intruder on Nature. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. The penalty of disobedience is insanity."

From "The Conduct of John Briggs":

"All men are capable of every kind of evil intention. But some are incapable of carrying such intentions into effect, just as a paralytic cannot walk, although he may desire infinitely to do so."

And, one of my favorite quips from "Ineligible":

"She had no more sex than one of the oatmeal scones."

1 comment:

Mark said...

Oh my Lord. I miss learned discourse. My brain has atrophied with all the lols, and youtube, and the sales job...

Brigid, you're fantastic. Simon Iff, and not just that, but tidbits of Iff. The Meaning of Iff (oof).

I love it. I love your blog. I love your writing. Yay, you!