Richard Leigh – Sabazius Introduction

Introduction to Douglas Lockhart’s novel Sabazius (previously published as Song of the Man Who Came Through in 1978 ), by Richard Leigh, co-author of The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail, The Messianic Legacy, The Dead Sea Scroll Deception and Inquisition.

Any novel necessarily constitutes many things, is written for many reasons, fulfils many diverse functions. Despite the inadequacy of labels and categories, however, books do tend to group themselves, if only by virtue of the intentions governing their creation; and we must learn to differentiate between these intentions if we are to appreciate any work on its own terms and accord it its due. Dostoevsky and D. H. Lawrence, for example, are primarily prophets, for whom the urgency of a particular vision takes precedence over certain formal considerations. Joyce, Thomas Mann and Vladimir Nabokov, in contrast, subordinate their vision when required to the dictates of symmetry, balance and form, aspiring thereby to one or another criteria of artistic perfection. And there are, of course, figures like Faulkner, Hermann Broch, Carlos Fuentes and Patrick White, who seek to establish a precarious equilibrium between form on the one hand and prophesy on the other.

At the same time, there are certain novelists for whom the work of art – however formally perfect and/or prophetic – is ultimately something else entirely, something that takes precedence over both prophesy and form. To Robert Musil in The Man Without Qualities, for example, or to Julio Cortazar in such works as Hopscotch, the work of art is ultimately a species of epistemological probe, a vehicle for open-ended exploration, and instrument for investigation and inquiry into the essential nature of what we call reality. It is as just such a probe, vehicle or instrument that we must regard this book. Indeed, we might well conceive of it as the psychological and philosophical equivalent of a time machine, or a spaceship, or – perhaps most aptly of all – a vessel of the kind depicted by H. G. Wells, boring through successive levels of crust towards the centre of the Earth. We might imagine Douglas Lockhart climbing into the book, as it were, setting the requisite controls and proceeding to steer his craft (in both senses) on a journey of discovery into hitherto uncharted territory.

In this case, the uncharted territory is consciousness; but in order to comprehend what Douglas Lockhart means by that word, we must expand our own definition of it considerably. It is impossible for any of us to rationally establish at what point, within us or without us or both, psychology ends and philosophy – or, more precisely, epistemology – begins. The threshold is extremely nebulous between what is and what is not the psyche, between the mind and what it apprehends, between cognised and cognition. In large part, of course, this is because the distinction between ‘subject’ and ‘object’ and the process or mechanism that unites them is an artificial and arbitrary distinction – a fabrication spawned by the rational intellect in its insatiable, voracious and ultimately fear-inspired demand for order, meaning, coherence, classification and fixed definition. And language, which derives from such distinctions and helps perpetuate them, cannot – at least in its conventional forms – reconcile them. For that task, a new kind of language is required, a new idiom that restores resonance, vitality and uniqueness to the enervated word. A grammar must be created that manifests the paradoxical nature of language itself, a grammar that both embodies and reflects paradox – not the paradox of facile mystification and fashionable non-sequitur, but the paradox which is, paradoxically, logically consistent.

This is the kind of grammar Douglas Lockhart has evolved. It enables him, in the pages that follow, to employ logic in order to neutralise yet redeem logic, to employ philosophy in order to transcend philosophy, to employ psychology in order to go beyond psychology – and to fuse all three as an experimental unity and totality that encompasses its components in a way that eradicates the manufactured frontiers between them. It is this unity and totality that our definition of ‘consciousness’ must be expanded to accommodate. Ultimately, it is a unity and totality that defies all definition; but it probably comes as close as both psyche and language can to apprehension of ‘reality”.

One could, or course, argue that there are many ‘realities’ – which there indeed are. As a matter of fact, we are confronted by so many – so many which, moreover, conflict with one another – that we distrust all of them; and few post-war novelists in the West will dare explore any of them seriously. The modern Western novelist has succumbed to what Musil once described as ‘a relativity of perspective verging on epistemological panic’; and one consequence has been a literature that is chronically trivial, self-deprecating, self-consciously timid, compromised by an abject false modesty and debilitating fear of being deemed ‘pretentious’. Douglas Lockhart, in contrast, dares to entertain questions entertained by the major novelists of the past, questions which his contemporaries – intimidated by the magnitude and seeming ‘pretentiousness’ of the undertaking – discreetly avoid. In doing so, he not only involves us in a quest unencumbered by simplistic solutions, by abstract formulae, by portentous but empty slogans, by nebulous verities that conceal more that they divulge and proffer diluted surrogates for what they purport to be. He also provides us with something more important: a manual, so to speak, on the most urgent problems confronting us – how to live, how to see, how to know. In the process, moreover, he effectively demolishes the modish cliche of an enlightened elite, an inner club of initiates, masters, gurus, oracles and spiritual supermen. What Douglas Lockhart has to offer is intelligible, accessible, relevant and profoundly necessary to each of us.