American Gnosis

For Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, America lacks soil. It exists only for native Americans, but not for others. The modern American — especially the European-American — is without roots. It is this absence of roots that creates its hyper-modernity, that focuses it on stardom, shopping malls, and so on.

Dugin sees one possible solution to America’s rootlessness as turning toward Europe, and re-imagining itself as an extension of that continent, though the issue of a land connected to memory exists there now as well, although differently. Britain, for example, once feared by the Roman as a strange land of forests and bogs, has been carved up by roads and cities, so that, for most people there, only pockets of the natural environment remain. Even Stonehenge is surrounded by motorways, though smaller and lesser-known “henges” may be in remoter areas.

Detail of Wayne Thiebaud, "Three Machines."

Detail of Wayne Thiebaud, “Three Machines.”

In contrast, for the American, the landscape is still vast and largely untamed, and he is liable to die if he goes unprepared into the desert or wilderness. America’s cities, with their rising tower blocks like giant stalagmites, though, are almost an extension of the natural environment. Even in Canada, one can find a large shopping mall out in what in England would be untamed wilds.

For many Europeans, then, he has exactly the inverse relationship to the land as the American. For the latter, modernization has made things only appear bigger — giants highways to connect cities dispersed across the nation, giant billboards to catch the attention of motorists that may be separated from it by several lanes of traffic, and giant buildings to fill the cities. For Europeans, modernization has made, and is making, his landscape smaller.

The size of these nations, and the difference between them, are major factors. The inhabitants of Begian are about the same in number as that of Manhattan, the state of New York — though one of the smallest in the US — is about the same size as England, and Texas is about three times as large as Great Britain. Hence, as Americanization has made European states feel smaller, so they have joined together — not always willingly — to create the European Union, itself an imitation of the USA that sees itself both as an ally and a critic, drawing from its modernity while seeing itself as a yet more advanced version, being, for example, without Evangelical Christianity. The EU, to put it another way, aims to be more of an America than America.

Detail of Fritz Scholder, "Last Indian With American Flag" (left), and Georgia O'Keeffe, "Ram's Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills" (right).

Detail of Fritz Scholder, “Last Indian With American Flag” (left), and Georgia O’Keeffe, “Ram’s Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills” (right).

From another perspective, rootlessness is not such a problem for the American gnostic, at least, that is, if he views it from a certain perspective. It is its rootlessness that forms the foundation both of America’s hyper-modernity and its transcendental quality.

We must note, in this regard, the migration of prominent members of the 19th century German Wandervogel (Wandering Birds) or Lebensreform (Life Reform) movements to California. Although virtually unknown, they brought with them everything that we associate with the Hippie movement of the 1960s and ’70s, from long hair for men, to vegetarianism, alternative spirituality, and yoga practices — and, of course, this lies at the foundation of the Hippie movement, despite going largely unacknowledged.

In regard to rootlessness as a condition of the astral or gnostic, the “American road trip” is not a million miles from the medieval European pilgrimage to the shrines of saints. Both, in effect, are searching for what is beyond this world. For the old European it was embodied in the statue of the saint or the holy relic. For the American it is embodied in the landscape itself, and its very strangeness — both in its natural and modern forms. Hence the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, deserts that turn into and pass beyond death and sexuality; Wayne Thiebaud’s strange, regimented, brightly-colored paintings of cakes that seem almost as Zen gardens on LSD; or the native Americans and landscape depicted by Fritz Scholder, at once absolutely modern, yet tied forever to ancient roots.

America is a kind of astral world, and the American goes into its landscapes, and even into its cities, precisely because of their otherworldliness. There is a “the transcendentalist urge […] embedded in the landscape of Americans since the days before the civil war,” as Jackson Pollock said. The American goes into it to experience feeling alien. It is a kind of gnosis.

Angel Millar is the author of The Crescent and The Compass (2015), Freemasonry: A History, and Freemasonry: Foundation of the Western Esoteric Tradition. His work has been cited by The Huffington Post, in The Mystical Life of Franz Kafka (Oxford University Press), and published by the Journal of Indo-European Studies, Quest magazine, and New Dawn magazine, among others.

Angel Millar is the author of The Crescent and The Compass (2015), Freemasonry: A History, and Freemasonry: Foundation of the Western Esoteric Tradition. His work has been cited by The Huffington Post, in The Mystical Life of Franz Kafka (Oxford University Press), and published by the Journal of Indo-European Studies, Quest magazine, and New Dawn magazine, among others.