Leading Themes and Motifs of Spiritus Mundi, a Novel by Robert Sheppard
- Leading Themes and Motifs
A. The Theme of the Quest and the Personal Calling
The overall action of Spiritus Mundi is moved, motivated and structured by the questing spirit. From the very first two chapters, “Departure” and “A Failing Quest” we are constantly reminded that we and the characters of the book are on a constant quest—first a quest to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly and ground a World Literature, and at the end of the book on a cosmic quest for the Seed Crystal needed to save the world, while in between we witness a series of personal quests of the highlighted characters including Sartorius’ quest for spiritual renewal arising out of despair and attempted suicide.
In each case the principal characters are seen responding to their Personal Calling, including Sartorius’ dual calling to found the United Nations World Parliament and ground the institution of World Literature. What is a Personal Calling? It is an expression of a discovered faith in life that confers meaning on one’s existence through the active and affirmative embrace and realization of one’s dreams and aspirations. For those traditionally religiously minded, it is the blessing conferred by following the path that God chose for you on Earth. For others it is the rising to the highest dream and the blessing of enhanced life by positive choice and commitment to one’s noblest aspirations. In the book, this commitment freely chosen is referred to as “entering one’s Questway or Questpath. In other terms it is rising to one’s destiny or mission in life of whatever source or definition.
In entering onto one’s Personal Questway or Calling each character is called on to overcome manifold obstacles, but also is privileged to call on manifold allied powers in aid of one’s quest and destiny. Sartorius must overcome the devastating pull of the spirit of doubt and negation, the Eternal Nay, which drags him down to despair and attempted suicide. He does so aided by the love of Eva and the renewed purpose, faith and place of belonging, the Eternal Yea, which that love gives to his life and to his particular quests with regard to the UN and World Literature. Thereby, Sartorius overcomes the negating temptation of feeling himself unworthy of his dream and unworthy even of his dream’s possible success, and the resulting temptation of self-destruction. Sartorius, like all persons responding to a Personal Calling or Quest must overcome the obstacles of loss of faith in life and the possibility of the success of the quest, Next, Sartorius must overcome a subtle obstacle to to his quest: love. After his attempted suicide Sartorius is tempted to abandon his calling and return to the security of his homeland and seeking out a greater love and closeness to his son, estranged from his divorce. Sartorius discusses his sense of Personal Calling and overcoming these obstacles with his friend Teddy Zhou on their trip to the Maldives in the chapter, “Neptune’s Fury and the Perils of the Sea.” He discusses his dilemma in Love is seen as a two-edged sword, sometimes leading us to our highest calling inspired by the other, yet at times calling us to the mundane life of caring for family and domestic concerns. Sartorius overcomes this temptation in the hope that his own responding to his Calling and Quest will be understood by his son Jack, and lead not to resentment but to inspiration of his son to follow his own calling and quest whereby their two destinies would converge and join in aid of one another in a mature love. His love for Eva similarly becomes a stimulus to his greater quests as she finds meaning in her life in aiding his quest rather than holding him back out of concerns of conventional security or possession of him. Sartorius goes on further to overcome the additional twin obstacles to his quest of fear of defeat and fear of success. Through patience and perseverance through recurrent defeats Sartorius attains first faith and then success. By so doing he finds that by staking his whole heart on his dream and living that dream affirmatively, by undertaking the good fight even in the knowledge of its uncertainty, the forces of the universe are mobilized in aid of his ultimate success. Andreas similarly finds his way from the disillusionment with the senselessness of war and brutality in the South African and Mozambiquan conflicts to an affirmative quest alongside Sartorius to extablish the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, along which path he ultimately receives the Nobel Prize and becomes the Assembly’s first Chairman.
In the course of pursuing their Personal Callings Sartorius and his fellows learn to respond to faith and intuition, which is seen as the sudden immersion of the soul of the indivudiual into the universal current of life. By so doing on our questway we affirmatively embrace our own transformation and onward evolution, and everything the questor needs to know is learned through the onward journey. The questor learns similarly to overcome difficulty and defeat by listening to his own heart because it comes from the Soul of the World, Spiritus Mundi, and is destined to return there. The Questor also learns to read the “omens” and “signposts” which keep him on his path towards his highest destiny. Thus Sartorius responds to intuition and to the omen of his vision of his sons and family in chosing the right crystal in the “Trial by Ordeal” before the Council of the Immortals, and Mohammad relies on his intuition and reading of the omens and graffiti in the final transit over the chasm to the amphitheater of Council of the Immortals made possibly by his meditative techniques.
The parallel case of Mohammad is also that of a young man struggling to find his spiritual calling and questway through the cultivation of Sufi inspired spirituality. He turns from brief flings at atheism, sensual material pleasure and rebellion against his father and culture to joining the Sufi Order as a novice. Later, along with Sartorius and Andreas he undertakes the cosmic quest to save humanity by transiting the center of the earth at Omphalos and voyaging to the cosmic seat of the Council of the Immortals to obtain the Seed Crystal, which quest succeeds by virture of his cultivated meditative and spiritual skills and powers.
The overall message invoked by Spiritus Mundi is that we all need to be aware of our Personal Calling and respond to and live out our highest and most aspirational dreams. To realize one’s destiny is seen as the most real of obligations. By each person realizing his personal destiny, calling and quest he renews and impels forward the further evolution of the “Soul of the World—Spiritus Mundi” and through it the further evolution of the human race. And the invocation to follow one’s highest dreams and one’s personal calling is not limited to heroes or a chosen few but is a universal message to each and all of us. No matter what he does every person on earth is seen to play a central role in the history of the world, though normally he does not know or realize it. But this common life of living out our highest dreams leads to the higher evolution of humanity as a whole.
B. The Odyssey Theme and Motif
Like James Joyce’s immortal novel Ulysses, emerging major author Robert Sheppard’s Spiritus Mundi recapitulates the archetype of the lost voyager: his venturing outward from home, blown astray by adverse winds of destiny, his questing transit of an enhanced otherworld, and his heroic struggle to return homewards, with the boon of his voyaging. Like Joyce’s work, many of the episodes and characters parallel the story of Homer’s epic hero. The story begins in medias res with Sartorius’ trans-oceanic flight from Beijing to New York with the dual purpose of engaging in the Iliadic battle to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly and to be reunited with his son. Adverse winds of destiny divert him from both objectives. Like Telemachus and Odysseus, father and son Robert and Jack Sartorius will be destined to search for one another across the wide seas of an adverse globe until reunited in action and spirit towards the end of the novel. Several chapter titles make explicit reference to characters and episodes of Homer’s Odyssey echoed in the work: “Ulysses: Blogo Ergo Sum” focuses on the expatriate Sartorius stranded far from home in Beijing, China; “Telemachus” describes the seaward journeying of Sartorius’ son Jack to Britain and the Near East, in part in search for his father; “Cyclops” describes Sartorius’ battle with the monocular vision of the neo-isolationist-populist Presidential Candidate Ron Pall with his quest to withdraw from both the United Nations and from the reality of the modern globalized world at the Congressional Committee hearings on Sartorius’ own proposal to create a United Nations World Parliament; “Penelope” describes the return of Sartorius from global wandering, battle and struggle to England, the site of his ancestral family home, and his reconstitution of home, love and family through his marriage to Eva Strong, reunion with his son Jack and the pregnancy of Eva with their new son Euphy following his return from his surreal adventures in the Underworld of Mexico City and the Theatro Magico.
Book One, like Joyce’s work is interlaced with innumerable parallels to the Homeric epic. Symbolically Sartorius is in Beijing as a result of the “shipwreck” of his divorce as well as the quest for a United Nations World Parliament. The restaurant-bar frequented by Sartorius in Beijing is named “Calypso’s Island” where he is extricating himself from an unsuccessful sexual affair with its owner. Sartorius there struggles with drugs and alcohol just as Odysseus and his crew struggled with forgetfulness of themselves in the land of the Lotus Eaters, and the doctor who helps him recover from his attempted suicide by drug overdose is Dr. Tristan Magus-Hermes. Sartorius’ symbolical shipwreck is then conflated with the actual shipwreck of his ancestor Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius and the adventures attendant upon his loss of his ship the Hayston on the coral shoals of the Maldive Islands of the south seas in the 1800’s and to which shipwreck Sartorius and his friend Teddy Zhou mount a Scuba diving expedition en route from Beijing to London (an episode based on actual historical fact). With the chapter and embedded quasi-novella: “Neptune’s Fury & The Perils of the Sea (The Maldive Islands)–Naval Diaries and Ships Logs of Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius (1780-1875)” the narrative makes a grand detour into both Modernity’s past and the realm of the mythic with the accounts of then Captain Sartorius’ rescue from shipwreck by Princess Nayoosaya, their captivity and escape on the island of “Sir She” or Lillith who wishes to make a captive lover-immortal of Captain Sartorius, and their adventures as the guests of the Sultan of the Sea of Stories, or Sultan of Maleh, crossing paths with the great Muslim voyager Ibn Battuta and the great Chinese voyager Zheng He.
Further echoes of the Odyssey theme arise from the figure of Jack Sartorius’ conflation with the role of Telemachus, the searching son. In his preparation for embarking on his CIA career Jack is tutored by mentor figures Joel Mentes and
Joel Barlow. Before departing Washington, D.C. Jack encounters the homeless veteran Peter Eumaus of Ithaca, NY who has lost his home in the recent World Financial Crisis to the “Blue Suiters” or investment bankers. Driving out these “suitors” or despoiling representatives of abusive and predatory capital who have provoked the World Financial Crisis is also a goal of Sartorius’ quest to establish a United Nations World Parliament, and his nemesis at the UN, Buck Bolger, is seen as in the pocket and service of such moneyed capitalist interests. Like Telemachus, Jack after mutual search and reunion and setting aside a false disguise, joins forces with his father to accomplish his ends. Sartorius like Odyssyus, after years of homelessness and wandering adventure reconstitute and reconfigure their home and place in the world, reuniting with their wife and son to enable the fruitful continuation of life in its generational cycle of renewal.
The “Nykia,” or Odysseus’ descent into the Underworld of Hades in the Odyssey is also richly paralleled in Spiritus Mundi, most notably in the chapter “The Volcano’s Underworld” set in Mexico City, including the amazing “Theatro Magico.” This is explicitly underlined by the presence of the figure “Tiresias.” In Spiritus Mundi emerging as a bi-sexual cabaret singer who switches back and forth in his performance between the straight and drag personas Theresa and Tiresias. Teresias also performs the role of the blind seer and guide to the Underworld in introducing Sartorius to the “Theatro Magico” in which he undergoes a variety of surreal adventures including a contest with and the defeat of Thanatos or Xibalba, “Lord Death” in the reliving of the ball game of Xbalanque and Huanapu out of the Mayan epic “Popul Vuh.” In doing so he further evades the “Voices of the Sirens” tempting him towards suicide and negation, and emerges strengthened to return to his awaiting Penelope, Eva.
Many other Homeric details and echoes appear prominently in the novel including such elements as the tale of the Maori genocide of the Moriori contained in Admiral Sartorius’ logs and the Aztec human sacrafices in the Theatro Magico, which parallel the cannibalistic Laestrygonians. The many demons and furies of Sartorius’ mescal-induced hallucinations in Mexico City along with the Siren voices calling him to suicide represent a Scylla and Charybdis of the twin dangers of mental dissolution and insanity on the one hand and suicide on the other. Sartorius’ bull riding in the arena in Mexico city parallels the Sacred Cattle of the Sun God Helios. The storytellers of the Sultan of the Sea of Stories parallels the role of Demodocus who sings the heroic song of Odysseus on the Isle of Scherie even within the living flow of events of the Odyssey itself, just as life and narrative interchange themselves in the “moibius strip” ending of Book One of Spiritus Mundi.
C. The Globalization Theme
The novel’s title itself, Spiritus Mundi—–“Spirit or Soul of the World” announces the very theme of globalization which drives both the form and content of this engaging work. The concern of Sheppard’s epic global novel of modernity is to portray life in the modern globalized world in widest and deepest possible portrait in all its dimensions: the ‘Global Village’ of the Internet, global mass media and electronic tele-communications; the internationalization of the economy, the institutions of governance, travel and the lives of individuals; the rise of Global English as the international language of the world and the evolution of World Literature out of the clash and clasp of pre-existing cultures and civilizations struggling with their inescapable globality; and the evolution of newer balances of geopolitical power and of spiritual power.
The plot and action of the novel is intrinsically international in character, driven by the overarching story of the mass movement and popular quest to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) to bring together the voices, concerns and consciousness of the peoples of the world for the first time to address and shape their common destiny. Within this macrocosmic larger story is embedded the stories of the lives of those individuals in microcosm caught up in this historical quantum leap into the globalized future: Professor Robert Sartorius whose life literally cumcumnavigates the globe as he moves from divorce in America to university teaching in Beijing, China, to scuba diving on the site of his ancestor’s shipwreck in the Maldives of the Indian Ocean, to his residence and remarriage in England, the site of his family origin at the onset of Modernity, and his professional travels to Mexico City and Southern Africa; Andreas Sarkozy, whose life is metamorphosized from a despairing South African soldier to a German postgraduate in International Law and to a “Playboy of the Western World” and the Executive Director of the Global Campaign for the UNPA; Etienne Dearlove who as a Reuters and BBC correspondent and MI6 agent covers the world from London to Tokyo to Beijing and Jerusalem; Jack Sartorius, who as a CIA operative and international public relations executive wanders from Washington, D.C. to London and then across Europe to Jerusalem and Iran; international media figures like rock superstars Isis and Osiris, Russian mega-billionaire Alexander Abromovich Medvedev, Spinmaster Julian Jung and Novel Laureate Gunther Gross; expatriate Muslim Cambridge graduates turned Sufi spiritualist and jihadist in London Mohammad ala Rushdie and Mustafa bin Salaman al Khalifa; Yoriko Oe who falls into and through love affairs with both men and women in Tokyo, Beijing and London, and even Eva Strong, who though like Homer’s Penelope is rooted in the land of her home, also joins her new husband on his questings to Africa, the Middle-East and to the edges of the cosmos.
The very raison d’être of the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly comes out of the realization that all of the problems of the modern world have become inescapably internationalized: Global Warming and Climate Change, the world economy and the Global Economic Crisis, Terrorism, drugs, AIDS and pandemics as well as the questions of war and peace and nuclear Armageddon, and therefore, a fortiori, all of the solutions must become internationalized along with our systems of governance. And, globalization drives the very plot of the novel in that the Global Appeal campaign for the UNPA necessarily takes Sartorius to every corner of the world, from Beijing, to New York, Geneva, Berlin, Beijing, Mexico City, South Africa and points beyond.
As a major work of literature itself, one of Spiritus Mundi’s themes is the re-enactment, portrayal and re-performance of the rise of World Literature as a necessary and desirable response to the unavoidable influence of globalization on all previous national literatures. In this major novel Sartorius and Gunther Gross criss-cross the world researching their joint-book of the emergence of World Literature in the Twenty-First Century fulfilling the prophecy of Goethe in the Ninteenth regarding his grounding concept of “Weltliteratur.” They make clear that no national literature can escape the tsunami of globalization and that all citizens of the Republic of Letters must be prepared to interpret their shared world in the light of the literary, artistic and spiritual common heritage of mankind, building on the strengths of the canon of Western literature and culture which has driven and enabled that globalization, for better or worse, but also, in the ideal of Matthew Arnold, to incorporate “the best that has been thought and felt in the world” by integrating the best of Asian, African, Islamic and Latin-American literature and heritages into this foundation in the development of a universal literature as part of a shared universal civilization.
Global circumnavigation is an included sub-theme within the novel. Sartorius’ life re-performs and echoes the voyage of Homer’s Odysseus in the tradition of Joyce’s Ulysses. Sartorius as a member of his extended family complete a Magellanic circumnavigation of the globe in time and space, beginning at the origins of Modernity with the voyage of the Sartorius clan’s Puritan ancestors from Little Gidding in the 1600’s to the Massachusetts and Virginia colonies, thence across the American frontier to California and onward to Beijing, China, and the Indian Ocean adventures of both Sartorius and his ancestor in the British Royal Navy, Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius, crossing paths in time and space with the illustrious global travelers of other civilizations: Ibn Battuta, the “Muslim Marco Polo,” and Chinese Treasure Fleet commander Admiral Zheng He. The global nature of this voyaging in time and space is underlined by the return of Sartorius to his village of family origin, Little Gidding, where, re-enacting the movement of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, Sartorius in life and death arrives at the place of his beginnings and knows it for the first time. Circumnavigating the wide world, like Ulysses he returns to recover and recreate his home and place of belonging within that wide world, marrying Eva, engendering new life in a new son and reuniting as a reconstituted family with his estranged son Jack.
This global circumnavigation is merged also into the dimension of the mythic in Book Two, in which Sartorius re-performs and re-echoes the questing voyage of the hero into an Otherworld comprising both an Underworld and Overworld, and his boon-bearing return. As Joseph Campbell iterated in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the Archetypal Hero, embracing such figures as Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Christ, Buddha, Aneas, Dante, Don Quixote and a thousand others, will complete a circular pattern of such voyage into the Netherworld and return in completion of the spiritual Odyssey. His voyage is frought with danger and requires transformation, re-birth and the infusion of enhanced powers to allow survival and return. As such Sartorius’ quest and journey completes both a transit of geographical and historical globalization and also a transit of spiritual globalization, embracing and uniting multiple underworlds, overworlds, netherworlds and otherworlds as well as circumnavigating our own in quest of a newer cosmic unity.
D. The Theme of Homelessness and the Search for Home in the Modern World
One of the principal themes of Spiritus Mundi is the search of modern man for a home, both in the literal sense of a sustaining family abode, but also in the extended sense of a place and community in which one is rooted and belongs in life. The novel begins in the conundrum of homelessness the homelessness of its major characters: Sartorius is in voluntary exile from his own country largely as a result of his divorce, and his loss of his custody battle has even left him estranged from his own son. In this he echoes the homelessness of Odysseus and his search to return to his home after the dislocation of war. Eva is similary homeless as a divorced single mother and her plight and condition explicitly resonates with Milton’s of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Most of the characters are similarly dislocated from any effective sense of home or belonging and one of their underlying quests is to regain a home to belong to and an organic, sustainable and sustaining relationship with a home or community of belonging. Anreas has left his country of origin, South Africa and emigrated to Germany, the country of his mother’s birth after disillusionment with the wars and atrocities of the apartheid era. Mohammad feels alienated from his own home and his Islamic heritage, first studying at Cambridge and then trying to revitalize his relationship with his heritage through breaking with his father’s fundamentalist past and pursuing Sufi spirituality, finding a home in the Sufi Order. In an extended sense the quest to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly is a common attempt to transform the global world from a battlefield to a common home and a community of belonging. The environmental dimensions of the novel, such as the conversations concerning Global Warming with Dr. Waheen in the Maldives constitute a parallel search to make a sustainable home for the human race within nature and earth.
In the case of the extended Sartorius family, the condition of homelessness is reflected in the great British diaspora symbolized by that family’s emigration from their home of origin, Little Gidding in Cambridgshire, England and their sojourning in America beginning with the Puritan Massassachutsetts and the Virginia Colony. Their underlying family homelessness is further reflected in the two branhes of the family, the northern and southern, being on different sides in the American Civil war, and the family’s further transit West to California and then Robert’s Sartorius’ expatriate residence in China. In a sense Jack Sartorius’ attraction to the US military and CIA can be seen as an initial search for a missing “home” in the surrogate of the nation. Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius, the ancestor of the family is similarly dislocated from his English home to the shores of the Middle-East and Asia, and thence to the further mythical-mystical dimension of his shipwreck in the Maldives and encounter with Lillith the sorceress and with the Sultan of the Sea of Stories, though in the end he does regain his home of origin.
In the case of Sartorius and Eva the condition of homelessness is successfully resolved and atoned for in the growth of their love and in their marriage and fruitful engendering of a new son and newer generation in the person of Little Euphy, with whom the book closes in its onward trajectory into the future. Thus through Sartorius and Eva the Sartorius family completes its circumnavigation of the world, atones for its homelessness, returns to its home of origin and reconstitutes itself as an organic family rooted in its origins, and begins a fruitful new cycle of sustainable regeneration and rebirth in a regained home of belonging.
E. The Epic of Modernity and Birth of ‘the Peoples of the World’ Theme
Significantly, the action, struggle and setting of Spiritus Mundi as a “Global Novel” or “Global Epic” takes in the virtually the entire globalized modern world, as is reflected in the Table of Contents as the chapter headings move from Beijing to New York to Geneva, Berlin, London, Washington, D.C., Tokyo, the Maldives of the Indian Ocean, Southern Africa, Mexico City, Jerusalem, Iran and Tibet. This reflects the movement of the action of this Epic Novel of Modernity, centered around the quest to raise global consciousness and will for the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an undertaking in modern dimensions equivalent to the siege of Troy in the Iliad or the quest to found the eternal city of Rome in the Aeneid. An “Epic” may be defined as a narrative poem embracing the history and constituitive culture of a people, thereby defining its place in the universe in which it exists. Thus the Iliad is the story of the moulding of the Greek nation into one from a collection of conflicting principalities, and the Aeneid is likewise the story of the founding of Rome and of the Roman people. In essence Spiritus Mundi is also the story of the founding of “a people,” in this case the struggle towards birth, consciousness and embodiment of the “People of the World” in their initial and constituitive struggle for unity and wholeness in a globalized world, as reflected in the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations: “We the Peoples….”
F. Nekyia and the Grand Katabasis—The Theme of Descent into the Underworld
One of the great conventions of the classical Epic is the Nykia or Katabasis, the hero’s ordeal and adventure of descent into the Underworld. Thus in the Nekyia, the 11th book ov Homer’s Odyssey Odysseus makes a voyage to Hades to enlist the aid of the seer Tiresias, as is also reiterated in Vergil’s Aeneid. Similarly, in Dante’s Divina Commedia the action begins with Dante’s descent through the circles of hell in the Inferno, transiting Purgatory and ascending to Heaven prior to completing his cosmic odyssey and Grand Transit. This transit of the underworld constitutes a comprehensive archetype and mytheme of comparative mythology, embracing such figures as the descent of Orpheus into the underworld to bring his beloved Euridice back to the world of the living, and such figures of early religion as Innana and Persephone, who yearly alternates between the worlds of the living and the dead. Spiritus Mundi vigorously embraces this tradition in several dimensions, from the childhood fantasies of Gunther Gross in Chapter 5, to the encounter of Captain George Rose Sartorius with the demoness Lillith, “Sir She” in Chapter 26, to Sartorius’ descent into the hallucinogenic underworld of Mexico City’s “Theatro Magico” of Chapter 28, and culminating finally in the Grand Katabasis of Sartorius and the questors into the Central Sea at the center of the earth and their encounters with the Crystal Bead Game, the Mothers of the Island of Omphalos and their transit to the celestial Council of the Immortals in Book Two, Spiritus Mundi: The Romance.
Chapter 5 introduces this theme in an early foreshadowing of things to come through the account of Gunther Gross’ childhood and adolescent fantasies arising out of his conflicts with his father. He dreams and imagines himself in an island fortress fast in a lake within an extinct volcano in which he presides as a great Magus, and from which he descends to the center of the earth and transits to the heavens, acidly imagining God perched upon a ‘throne’ consisting of a celestial toilet bowl from which from time to time emanate the divine turds which fall upon the church house below, of which his father is the pastor.
Midway through the novel the theme and motif is again picked up in Sartorius’ reading of the naval logs of his illustrious seafaring ancestor, Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius, whose adventures criss-cross his own when he Scuba dives the wreck of a ship the Admiral lost in the Maldive Islands. The then young Captain’s Ship’s Logs and Diaries reveal an adventure of Odyssean proportions through rescue by a Princess on a remote island followed by capture by a sorceress, Lillith or “Sir She,” who wishes to marry him and make him immortal by infusing him with magical energies in the underworld of an extinct island volcano, and finally his sojourn as a guest of the “Sultan of the Sea of Stories“ prior to his ultimate rescue and repatriation.
Sartorius’ explorations of “the Underworld” in multiple dimensions continues in Chapter 28 through his alcoholic and hallucinogenic wanderings through Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, desperately trying to keep himself from suicide, and finally in his surreal adventures in the Otherwold and Underworld of the “Theatro Magico” of that city. There Sartorius re-enacts a descent into the Mayan Underworld of of the Popul Vuh in his encounter and defeat of Xibalba, the Lord of Death, together with Tiresias, his androgynous guide and companion from the nightclubs of Ciudad de Mexico. He also encounters the seductive yet horrorfying Otherworlds of Aztec human sacrifice and of sexual paradise.
The theme and motif of descent into the underworld climaxes in the Grand Katabasis of Sartorius and the questors into the Central Sea at the center of the earth and their encounters with the Crystal Bead Game, the Magister Ludi, “the Mothers” of the Island of Omphalos and their transit to the celestial Council of the Immortals in Book Two, Spiritus Mundi: The Romance. The Grand Katabasis commences at the birthplace of katabasis, the rugged mountains of Persia surrounding the religious center of Qom, where Goethe and Sun Wu Kong the Monkey King become the questors’ guides and then descends by steps to the coast of the Great Central Sea at the center of the earth where they encounter the Magister Ludi and the Crystal Bead Game, and continues on to the central Island of Omphalos where they must pass “The Mothers,” the Grand Sphinxes and the Fallen Angel Grigori—all guardians of the Umbilical Wormhole passage to the celestial realm of the Council of the Immortals. Having negotiated the Grand Katabasis of descent to the Portal on Omphalos the questors then Dantelike, to the Divine Anabasis, transiting the cosmic domain of the Council of the Immortals before returning to the sublunary and purgatorial struggles of Middle Earth,
G. The Theme of Spiritual Searching
H. The Theme of the Spirituality of Sexuality
I. The Theme of World Literature
As a major work of world literature itself, one of Spiritus Mundi’s themes is the re-enactment, portrayal and re-performance of the rise of World Literature as a necessary and desirable response to the unavoidable influence of globalization on all previous national literatures, binding them into a newly emerging corpus, canon and reality in the consciousness of modern humanity. In this major novel Sartorius and Gunther Gross criss-cross the world researching their joint-book of the emergence of World Literature in the Twenty-First Century fulfilling the prophecy of Goethe in the Nineteenth regarding his grounding concept of “Weltliteratur.” They make clear that no national literature can escape the tsunami of globalization and that all citizens of the Republic of Letters must be prepared to interpret their shared world in the light of the multi-national literary, artistic and spiritual common heritage of mankind. In so doing they build on the strengths of the canon of Western literature and culture which has driven and enabled that globalization, for better or worse, but also, in pursuit of the ideal of Matthew Arnold, to incorporate “the best that has been thought and felt in the world” by integrating the best of Asian, African, Islamic and Latin-American and other non-Western literatures and heritages into this foundation in the development of a universal literature as part of a shared universal civilization.
Within the novel itself one thread of the plot follows the outlines of this new body of World Literature through the research, interviews, dialogues and preparations of Sartorius and Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature Gunther Gross for their upcoming joint book on the subject, interviewing colleagues from Berlin to Mexico City to Beijing to South Africa to gather together the widest range of views and backgrounds. The duo set this quest in motion first in Chapter 5 entitled “Republic of Letters,” taking off from a discussion of the development of Chinese Literature and its potential contribution to a greater World Literature with their good friend Dr. Wolfgang Spitzer, a Sinologist and authority on the subject, which leads on to an all-horizons discussion of the concept of World Literature itself, tracing its beginning from its initial formulation by Goethe as “Weltliteratur” in the Gespraeche recorded by Eckermann, and the concept’s reinterpretation by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto, and on through various incarnations such as Matthew Arnold’s search for “the best that has been thought and felt in the world” to T.S. Eliot’s poly-composite “tradition” of his “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” This thread of discussion is then repeatedly taken up in the action of the novel in various regions of the world, including the discussion in Chapter 9 “In the Middle Kingdom” of Sartorius and Pari Kasiwal, Yoriko Oe, Teddy Zhou, Mustafa, Mohammad and Andreas in Beijing, focusing on the contributions of East Asian and South Asian and Islamic literatures, including Chinese and Japanese classics such as the Journey to the West, featuring the Monkey King, the Tale of Genji, of Madame Murakami, Indian classics such as the Ramayana of Valmiki and the Sakuntala of Kalidasa, and such Islamic greats as the Alf Layla wa Layla, or 1001 Nights and Attar’s Parliament of the Birds. The novel’s plot then picks up and follows this thread again in Chapter 28, “The Volcano’s Underworld” with Sartorius and Gross’s far-reaching discussions with Professor Carlos Rivera of the National University of Mexico (UNAM) which delve into the contributions of Latin American literature, from Borges to “El Boom” and the “Magical Realism” of Marquez and on to such Pre-Columbian classics as the Mayan “Popul Vuh,” which also provides part of the foundation for Sartorius’s later surreal adventures in the “Theatro Magico.” The contributions of African Literature to the greater body of World Literature are subsequently explored in the discussions of Chapter 31 “To the South of Eden” involving Wole Obatala, the noted Nigerian author and Professor Pieter Verhoven of the local University of Witwatersrand, touching upon such figures as Ogun, the Yoruba god-hero popularized by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, who later plays a part in the cosmic adventure of Sartorius in Book 2, and including evaluations of such African writers as Achebe, Mafouz Naguib, Thiongo, Coetzee and others.
In the course of these many discussions Sartorius propounds the outlines of their concept of the canon of World Literature as including three basic categories: as an established body of world classics, as an evolving canon of masterpieces, and a shifting selection of multiple windows on the world. The classics are foundational literary works so deeply embedded in great civilizational cultures that familiarity becomes necessary to understanding not only their literatures but also their peoples, cultures and cultural perspective as a whole, including such greats as the Ramayana of India,the Hong Lou Meng, or Dream of the Red Chamber of China or Shakespeare and Don Quixote of the West. All educated persons, as “citizens of the world” should have a superficial acquaintance with them and specialists and professionals can take and develop such knowledge broader and deeper as needed. The ‘masterpiece,’ on the other hand, can be an ancient or a modern work and need not have had any foundational cultural force but is celebrated for its artistic excellence and the delight and meaningful experience it gives, such as Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Joyce’s Ulysses or Marquez’s Hundred Years of Solitude. Finally, Goethe’s disquisitions on Chinese novels and Islamic literature such as Firdausi, Rumi and Hafiz, interest in works that would serve as windows into foreign worlds and a quantum broadening of the horizons and perspectives of the community or readers, whether or not these works could be construed as masterpieces and regardless of whether these differing worlds had any visible links to each other at all leads to the third major branch of our world literature—works of art as ‘windows on the world.’
All in all, Spiritus Mundi propounds a deep and powerful vision of the emerging body and institution of World Literature, and by so doing takes up a significant place within it as well.
J. The Theme of Myth—The Underworld of the Collective Unconscious
K. The Theme and Mission of Creating a United Nations World Parliament: Spiritus Mundi’s Real World Action Plan—an Urgent Call for Global Social and Political Action and Reform
A crucial aspect of the force of this powerful book, Spiritus Mundi, lies in its especial mission to awaken and lead in the real world, a real-life effort to create a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly through its work in mobilizing of public consciousness, support and pressure to that end. While a work of art is not reducible to any political program it may embrace or espouse, it is fundamental to the life of art that it lives indirectly, or on rarer occasion directly carries with it a capacity to reshape and direct human life and human history, in individual microcosm and in social macrocosm.
Thus every reader of the book is made aware that it tells the story of a true and living crusade and mission on which billions of people are presently embarked: the struggle to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly as a first step towards the further evolution of the system of global governance necessary to respond to the grave challenges of Globalization in the modern world. This is made most explicit in Appendix 2 of the book: A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly: Frequently Asked Questions, in which the complete program for the creation of such an assembly in the real world is mapped out and the reader is given suggestions on how they may actually contribute to the fulfillment of this goal.
Thus, like Brecht’s concept of Epic Theatre, the goal of the Global Epic Novel, Spiritus Mundi, is not simply to provide passive entertainment and catharsis as a work of art, but is rather also to challenge its readers to mobilize in active engagement, the consciousness and consensus necessary to shape and change history for the better. Its parallel quest to ground the institution of World Literature in aid and foundational support of the Parliamentry Assembly initiative, dovetails with its more explicit call to action.
The author, Professor Robert Sheppard in real life is a Professor of International Law and a leader in the struggle to create such a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. He is a member of the Advisory Council for a Democratic United Nations, accessible at http://www.kdun.org and of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, accessible at http://en.unpacampaign.org/index.php. He is the author of numerous works on International Law and reform of the United Nations. In short the message of the book urging establishment of such a UN Parliamentary Assembly is a call to action in the real world addressed to each reader of the book Spiritus Mundi.
In real life and historical fact the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly has made rapid and impressive progress. Former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has led several international conferences urgently supporting this initiative has been endorsed by the European Parliament, the Pan-African Parliament and thousands of leaders and legislators worldwide. All of the “NewsFEED” entries reflect real world events and endorsements of this concept, including such persons as Nobel Prize winner Gunther Grass, Kofi Anan, Einstein, Ken Livingstone, Vaclav Havel and innumerable others. The book has a real world goal of accelerating this progress towards fruition and bringing about in the real world the outcome of the final chapter of Spiritus Mundi, which celebrates the opening of the first session of the newly established United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.
The novel is thus designed to push forward the actual work of creating a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly as reflected in the fictitious adventures of Robert Sartorius, Andreas Sarkozy and the members of the Committee of the book. It is a book, like the occasional political novels such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or such programmatic works as Tom Paine’s Common Sense and The Rights of Man or Gorky’s Mother, which reaches out with its literary hand to give history a shove forward in the right direction, even more rarely and occasionally succeeding. The book and its appendix gives each reader suggestions as to how they may get involved and make a personal contribution to the work of creating the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, and it is hoped that in reaction to reading the work they will actively do so. Should Spiritus Mundi’s real world influence in consciousness raising, consensus building and mobilizing support contribute to bringing about the true establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly it will have joined the thin ranks of those few books which in fact have changed the world. History and the future will judge its success or failure in this respect.
L. The Theme of Universal Civilization
One of the main themes of Spiritus Mundi is the affirmation of the universality of all human civilization and the necessity of building and nurturing a Universal Civilization in a globalized world in which all of the earth’s multiple cultures, civilizations and heritages by necessity are forced to come to terms with each other. One of the central aspects of the genre of the Global Novel is its engagement with and reflection of a greater part of the varied civilizations and heritages of mankind. In Spiritus Mundi the plot, action and characters cross the entire civilizational landscape of the modern world, including characters or action in Europe, North America, China, Japan and East Asia, South Asia and India, the Islamic world including Egypt and Iran, Africa, Russia, and Latin America, including the heritage of the Pre-Columbian Indians. While reflecting the great diversity of the heritage of mankind, including the potential for latent or outright conflict between its civilizations and peoples in their periodic Huntingtonian clashes, Spiritus Mundi rather affirms their underlying unity arising from their common rootedness in a common humanity, in a common collective unconscious and universal cultural heritage and in the underlying unity of the human species on Earth. While the potential of civilizations to “clash” drives the plot of Spiritus Mundi in the threat of World War III and nuclear Armageddon, the potential of civilizations to clasp and embrace in a common humanity and Universal Civilization is reflected in the countervailing crusade of all of the peoples of the earth to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, a seat of dialogue, compromise, mutual comprehension, mutual accommodation and of necessary unified action in a globalized world of globalized problems and challenges. Spiritus Mundi lays down the challenge to all peoples, nations and civilizations to be abuilding of the international institutions of theat Universal Civilization, and of the global culture rooted in a World Literature that in turn is rooted in the universal archetypes of our universal collective unconscious and the common heritage of mankind in our various cultures. Affirming the message of V.S. Naipaul in the Wriston Lecture on Universal Civilization, Spiritus Mundi re-enacts and re-affirms the underlying unity of humanity and human life on earth, where even genetically speaking all humans through their DNA are 99.99% the same with only some .01% difference as to nations, civilizations and individuals, and in which humanity is part of the further underlying Unity of all Life, in which we are genetically perhaps 90% or more identical or similar with the greater bulk of the life forms around us. Surely the 99.99% commonality has some good chance to overcome the 0.01% of difference, particularly when in a globalized world the very self-interest in survival of all of us on this smaller and smaller planet so much depends upon it.
M. The Theme and Motif of Liminality
“Liminality” comes from the Latin word limen meaning “a threshold.” Liminality and luminal states characterize the field of transition or “twilight zone” between two realms or orders of human experience and the special characteristics of the borderline or abyss which must be crosses in transiting between those realms and in which the laws of order and meaning of the two realms are blurred, suspended or do not apply, often with bizarre results. Thus, the luminal state is a state of transition or hiatus and is characterized by ambiguity, openness and indeterminacy, and characteristically occurs in fiction between the realms of the real and surreal, of waking consciousness and the realm of dream, the mundane world and the supernatural, or between the realms of the naturalistic and the mythic. In a luminal state one’s identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation lduring the process of transition. Thus liminality deals with the theme of borderlines, abysses, and states of transition and discontinuity from one realm, order or dimension into another, featuring depiction of the special energies, archetypes and rituals of such transitions, paralleling such archetypal transitions as those between the conscious world of waking reality and the unconscious world of dream, fantasy, imagination and myth.
In Spiritus Mundi, the experienced world is seen to comprise several dimensions, beginning with the realistic world of contemporary modern life inhabited by such characters as Sartorius, Andreas, Eva, Julian Jung pursuing careers, love affairs and political engagement. As the novel progresses this realistic realm reveals sub-worlds, couble-worlds and sub-cultures, such as the realm of espionage of MI6 agent Etienne Dearlove and of CIA agent Jack Sartorius/McKinsey, and the realm of bi-sexuality and homosexuality of Yuchun, Yoriko and Etienne and later Tiresias.
While developing along severeral realistic plot-lines, as the work progresses side-doors begin to open upon several “hidden dimensions” or “parallel universes” of human experience, whose discontinuities and transitions reveal the potential of a more robust and full-blooded liminality. The first hint of this multi-dimensionality is introduced in Chapter 5, the “Republic of Letters” in which through Sartorius we are introduced to the childhood dream life and fantasies of his friend the Nobel Prize winning author Gunther Gross. In a foreshadowing of the transit of the chthonic and celestial realms of Book 2, the young Gunther imagines himself as the master of an island fortress within the crater lake of an extinct volcano where he encounters an “Ancient of Days Magus” in the form of his “Number 2 Personality.” He then dreams of a Dantesque passage to the center of the earth and its chthonic bacchic rites and then a Jacob-like ascent along a ladder to the heavens where he encounters God ensconced upon a divine toilet-bowl launching turds which fall upon Gunther’s father’s church below!
Later several brushes with parallel dimensions, orders and universes occur, including the Pari Kasiwar’s account during the Indian Holi Festival of how Lord Vishnu came in the form of a Narasimha— half-man and half-lion and killed Hiranyakashipu at dusk (which was neither day nor night), on the steps of the porch of his house (which was neither inside the house nor outside) by restraining him on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth) and mauling him with his claws (which are neither astra nor shastra).
Subsequently in the account of the sea adventures of Sartorius’ ancestor Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius which lead him into an encounter with Lillith, the dark sorceress “Sir She” in which he is tempted, and then his soujourn with the “Sultan of the Sea of Stories” in an island “interzone” between East and West, the real and the mythic, an ageless limboland of narrative which endlessly renews itself so long as the stories are told. There the Sultan and his guests such as Chinese Captain Zhou Chenggong become luminal beings with lifespans of Methusulan centuries.
Sartorius’s next luminal experience occurs in Mexico City where he first occupies a marginal world between sanity and insanity ovderdosed on alcohol and mescal on Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” where the division between the world of the living and of the dead is suspended in a carnival atmosphere. Here Sartorius’ guide is the bi-sexual Mexican night-club performer Tiresias/Theresa, who leads him to the “Theatro Magico.” Tiresias was also the guide of Odysseus in his grand katabasis to the underworld in The Odyssey, and he leads Sartorius into encounters with the surreal realms of the Mayan God of Death Xibalba, where luminal transformation, Lazarus-like, rising to life from death allows Sartorius and Tiresias to defeat the powers of the Mayan underworld from the Popul Vuh.
But it is really in Book 2: “Spiritus Mundi the Romance” that we experience the full powers of transit from the worldly dimension to those of the underworld and the cosmic realm. Captive within the underground caves of Qom, Iran where they have been taken hostage, Sartorius and his companions encounter sublime adventure as they meet guardian and guide figures Sun Wu Kong the Monkey King, luminal as half-human half-animal, half-magician, and Goethe, who Vergil-like serves as psychopomp and mentoring guide to the underworld and later the celestial overworld, paralleling Dante. Sarorius and his friends must encounter the Magister Ludi, the master of the Crystal Bead Game on which human fate on earth hangs, and then they must undertake a sacred quest for the Silmaril Seed Crystal, journeying to the Island of Omphalos in the grand sea at the center of the earth, guarded by “The Mothers” and the fallen-angel corps of the Grigori, who protect the “Unbilical Wormhole” passageway which leads from earth to the “Council of the Immortals” tucked within the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. As in the case of epic archetypal heroes such as Odysseys, Aeneas, Dante and Gilgamesh they must undergo testing, trials, ordeals and proof of their virtues to complete their quest and transit of the two realms. Critically, the pregnant Eva becomes a luminal key to their success as her pregnant form carrying her unborn son allows her to open the critical portal since with the manchild within her she is neither “man nor woman” but a luminal fusion of both, fertile and life-giving. Similarly when Mephisto’s subaltern Mundus attempts to ambush them at the same portal it is only in the liminal space of the interzone between the two sets of “Doors of Daat” that he can be defeated and slain. Mundus could not be killed during the day or night, nor indoors or outdoors, nor riding or walking, nor clothed nor slain with anything wet or dry, hard or soft——-instead the Argonauts kill him at dusk with Ogun and Hanuman’s ithyphallic rod, and with foam while wrapped in a net with one foot on a cauldron and one foot on the back of Schroediger’s Cat.
At the end of the work the heroes return to the world of contemporary modern reality via a miraculous subterranean transit with the aid of chthonic seas and Captain Nemo’s submaring, a luminal vehicle, which carries them to a secret passageway to the Potala Palice in Tibet via the Sea of Agarthi and its borderland port where of old lamas have traded goods of the world above such as foodstuffs for subterranean crystals and mushrooms with the chthonic denizens below. The “Roof of the World” is thus itself a half-way house between heaven and earth and the realms of the Underworld.
(Tiresias/Pregnant Eva as Liminal figures) (Liminoids)
N. The Motif of Global Circumnavigation
Global circumnavigation is an included motif and sub-theme within the novel. The novel begins with Sartorius’ circumnavigation of the world on his Quest to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, from Beijing to New York, to Geneva to Berlin and back to Beijing. Sartorius’ life re-performs and echoes the voyage of Homer’s Odysseus in the tradition of Joyce’s Ulysses. Sartorius as a member of his extended family complete a Magellanic circumnavigation of the globe in time and space, beginning at the origins of Modernity with the voyage of the Sartorius clan’s Puritan ancestors from Little Gidding in the 1600’s to the Massachusetts and Virginia colonies, thence across the American frontier to California and onward to Beijing, China, and the Indian Ocean adventures of both Sartorius and his ancestor in the British Royal Navy, Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius, crossing paths in time and space with the illustrious global travelers of other civilizations: Ibn Battuta, the “Muslim Marco Polo,” and Chinese Treasure Fleet commander Admiral Zheng He. The global nature of this voyaging in time and space is underlined by the return of Sartorius to his village of family origin, Little Gidding, where, re-enacting the movement of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, Sartorius in life and death arrives at the place of his beginnings and knows it for the first time. Circumnavigating the wide world, like Ulysses he returns to recover and recreate his home and place of belonging within that wide world, marrying Eva, engendering new life in a new son and reuniting as a reconstituted family with his estranged son Jack.
This global circumnavigation is merged also into the dimension of the mythic in Book Two, in which Sartorius re-performs and re-echoes the questing voyage of the hero into an Otherworld comprising both an Underworld and Overworld, and his boon-bearing return. As Joseph Campbell iterated in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the Archetypal Hero, embracing such figures as Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Christ, Buddha, Aneas, Dante, Don Quixote and a thousand others, will complete a circular pattern of such voyage into the Netherworld and return in completion of the spiritual Odyssey. His voyage is frought with danger and requires transformation, re-birth and the infusion of enhanced powers to allow survival and return. As such Sartorius’ quest and journey completes both a transit of geographical and historical globalization and also a transit of spiritual globalization, embracing and uniting multiple underworlds, overworlds, netherworlds and otherworlds as well as circumnavigating our own in quest of a newer cosmic unity. The motif of Circumnavigation is further accented in the book through Sartorius’ poetry, most specifically in the poem “Magellantic Vision” which concludes with the words “Yin and Yang have circumnavigated eachother.”