Guardian Review of Phil Baker's Biography of AOS
A perceptive review by Alfred Hickling in the Guardian UK newspaper of Phil Baker's biography of Austin Osman Spare:
The Edwardian artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare could be the missing link between Aubrey Beardsley and Jimmy Page. An enigmatic self-portrait – now in the collection of the Led Zeppelin guitarist – depicts the artist sitting at a table covered in necromantic bric-a-brac, which, as Baker observes, "is like peering into the window of some faintly hellish junk shop". Baker has a fine store of anecdotes – one warms to Spare serving Aleister Crowley a cake of baked horse-dung, claiming it to be "an old T'ang dynasty recipe" – though he has a harder time elucidating Spare's baffling self-invented religion.
Owner and Editor
The "review" concludes: "It's fascinating to imagine what they [Freud and Jung] would have made of a man whose views of the subconscious were formed by the magically summoned manifestation of a giant owl."
I pictured the author writing the article with a grin.
Your quote excluded the preceding sentence. In such a short piece, he did manage to include a very fair description of Spare as 'a marginal figure forever ahead of the curve: he's cited as the precursor of surrealism, pop art and even psychoanalysis.'
I note your comment on the newspaper's site and hope it generates some positive discussion there.
And please remember, Michael, that I write as someone who is a great admirer of Spare's work.
Owner and Editor
Well, time will tell, I expect. I just thought that as a review of Phil's excellent biography it was somewhat lacking, and the final sentence (quoted in my post above) utterly baffling, whether the author was grinning or not.
It’s clear that you find the review to be “pathetic,” but – respectfully – I would humbly remind you that this is simply your opinion.
After all, we all perceive the universe in subjective ways, so who are you to tell the reviewer that his subjective perception of the biography is “pathetic”? Indeed, there’s no evidence that there is an objective universe at all, so couldn’t it be the case that the review is accurate as it pertains to the biography that exists in the reviewer’s own personal universe?
While it’s true that reason is indispensable in daily living, reading a book and experiencing it in the imagination simply goes beyond rationality (reason cannot describe the feelings that reading gives one, after all). That being the case, the reviewer’s personal, subjective, suprarational experience (i.e. his reading) is ultimately beyond criticism.
Then again, don’t we all occasionally fall into that trap? Who’s to say anything at all? I have said too much. Sigh, onwards and upwards…
Ok, all kidding aside, I'm guessing the "giant owl" is a reference to the creature supposedly summoned by the talisman Spare made for Gerald Gardner to steal back the "witch" whom Grant had allegedly "stolen" from him? (Oh, those wizard wars...)
Or are there other giant owls commonly associated with Spare that I'm unaware of?
Yes, Los, undoubtedly it's a reference to that episode. However, that was in the 1950s, and Spare's views on the subconscious were developed decades before, in the early years of the 20th Century. It's something which the reviewer would have known had he bothered to read the book he was reviewing, rather than skimming the occasional page.
a fish rots from the head down. i suspect his editor asked him for 200 words or less (it came in at 161 words). such a tiny blurb can hardly be called a 'review'. of course, we can't be sure Mr. Hickling would have done any better if he'd been asked for a piece ten times the length...