Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Yellow Claw: Intimations of the Kindgom in Sax Rohmer

Fig 1:"Sax Rohmer"

"What do you know of animal magnetism?" snapped Smith.
The question seemed so wildly irrelevant that I stared at him in silence for some moments. Then—
"Certain powers sometimes grouped under that head are recognized in every hospital to-day," I answered shortly.
Sax Rohmer, The Hand of Fu-Manchu,
Chapter 28: The Mandarin Ki-Ming

In a (more or less) recent post, Twinglebrook-Hastings deepened our understanding of the genealogy of the kind of narrative we have been calling "symbology" by deftly drawing attention to the proto-symbological character of H.P. Lovecraft's work.  I want to add a little, in what I hope to make a rather concise post, to this evolving cladogram by introducing to this forum the work of Lovecraft's near-exact if slightly longer-lived contemporary, Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, (1883-1959) better known by the nom de guerre "Sax Rohmer."

Fig 2: The Book of Fu-Manchu
This absurdly prolific author flourished in the early years of the last century, and enjoys the twin distinctions of having created Doctor Fu Manchu (who, despite the fact that his name is now virtually solely used in association with a type of moustache, is completely hairless in the locus classicus) and of having bequeathed to the English-speaking world the phrase "Yellow Peril."  Felicitously, many of his works recounting the nefarious exploits of the insidious doctor in his implacable attempt to overthrow "the entire White race" and open the Western world to the "Yellow Tide" are available from Librivox.

Fig 3: Dr. Fu-Manchu
Rohmer, like Lovecraft, was an inveterate racist who understood all humans not originating in the Home Counties to exist somewhere on a continuum of degenerate savagery terminating in the near-animal Hottentots and Tierra del Fuegans.  While Lovecraft was obssessed with the slippage of civilized humanity down the scale through individual degeneracy and miscegenating intercourse with extra-dimensional monsters, Rohmer entertained, at enormous length, the fear that European Civilization would be violently overthrown and subjugated by a disciplined Chinese conspiracy whose tendrils ramified through all the organs of civil society, and whose infamous agent he describes in this justly famous passage:
Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government--which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the Yellow Peril incarnate in one man.
Rohmer is definitely pre-symbological, although there is no question he participates in what I have labelled in the diagram below "ürsymbologie," viz. 19th century discourses of pyramidology and the occult.  His first published work was entitled The Mysterious Mummy, and the protagonist and chronicler of the Fu-Manchu novels is named after Sir William Flinders Petrie.  His clearest modern symbological (or quasi-symbological) descendant is definitely Matthew Reilly, since (when not engaged in really stunning Orientalist pyrotechnics,) the narrative mainly evolves through the cacognostic agon like that I have previously described in that Australian charlatan's "work."

Fig 4. Insignia of the Great White Brotherhood
However, Rohmer's work is interesting beyond its position as a branching point in the genealogy of symbology, since it the discovery of his work further illuminates the most enigmatic member of hte symbological canon, Kingdom.  Dr. Twinglebrook-Hastings (Ibid.), has already delineated the significance of H.P. Lovecraft's work as a precursor to Tom Martin's latest (and final?) offering; now it seems clear that (among other things,) Martin was undertaking a re-unification of the symbological tradition through rehabilitating Rohmer as a source.  While it is animated by a Lovecraftian epistemology, the political mechanics of the pan-Asiatic occultist conspiracy described in Kingdom are plainly derived from Rohmer's "Si-Fan," (the organization of which Fu-Manchu is merely one tentacle.)  In fact, we may have the Book of Dzyann to thank for Rohmer himself: according to an internet biographer, "There's a story, that he consulted with his wife a ouija board as to how he could best make a living. The answer was 'C-H-I-N-A-M-A-N'."

Fig 5. Badger-Baiting
Interestingly, I am not the first person to intuit Rohmer's connection to this genealogy, nor even specifically to Lovecraft.  The bizarrely prescient and enigmatic John Darnielle included songs inspired by (and named after) both Rohmer and Lovecraft on a recent album, Heretic Pride, which presumably indicates some awareness of their mutual status as proto-symbologists.  On a more tangential level, during my research into Rohmer I discovered a spoken word piece by William S. Burroughs from the album Dead City Radio which relates Rohmer directly to the Western (and particularly English) horror of mustelidae in general and Meles meles in particular, a theme which has been regrettably absent from this forum for a while but on which I hope this piece will revive some enthusiasm for comment.

I set out to keep this brief, and as usual it hasn't worked - so I will finish rather abruptly with a provisional cladogram illustrating the genealogy of symbology as I am coming to understand it (which I hope will be subject to extensive revision), and in anticipation that further elucidation of this important and offensive proto-symbological author will be forthcoming.
Figure 6: Provisional Genealogy of the Symbological Novel

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


In collaboration with our resident chair of Latinologiatry, Professor Arthur Sticklebackton-Niddley, I humbly propose the device figured below as emblematic of our shared pursuits.