Jonathan Bowden was born 52 years ago today. He was an author, artist, intellectual, and political figure in the United Kingdom, considered by some to have been the best orator in the English-speaking world of the last one hundred years. He died on 29 March 2012, aged 49 (see my obituary here).
A Nietzschean, he was a proponent of elitism, power morality, and aesthetic modernism. At the same time, he possessed a Gothic sensibility and was an insightful cultural analyst of popular forms such as comics, graphic novels, cinema, and heroic and horror fiction.
He was highly unusual as a British intellectual: while most thinkers from these isles are pragmatists and suspicious of theory, Jonathan drew from Continental philosophy. He perceived his rôle as that of a revisionist, his mission being to recuperate, reinterpret, and recast Western cultural forms emphatically from an elitist perspective, in order so that, amidst the ruins of this age of egalitarianism and liberal decline, a powerful counter-cultural proposition may arise, rooted in notions of strength, pride, heroic vitalism, Faustian adventurism, and tradition. Crucially, he saw tradition never as conservative but as a endless renewal and reaffirmation.
What Jonathan will be best remembered for, however, is his oratory. Like no other, he could extemporate orations on a wide range of cultural subjects, combining intellectual content and with a face-shredding delivery. To be present at one of them was to be hypnotised for the duration. He had the ability to reach people from all walks of life, so that both the man of the brain and the man of the heart came out of his presentations in some way enlightened and emotionally gratified, knowing what it was all about, how they needed to feel about it, and ready, in fact, to pick up the battle-axe and charge, roaring like a berserker in a dance of severed limbs and rolling heads. Beyond his searing, cruel, pitiless, and humorous critiques of liberal modernity (for no one could make egalitarians sound as ridiculous as he could), there was always vitality and optimism—a glimpse of what could be, if one dared.
While Jonathan was alive, I reviewed volumes 1, 2, and 3 of The Art of Jonathan Bowden—coffee-table books collecting forty years of his art, from 1967 until 2007. You can read them here, here, and here.
Last year saw the creation of the Jonathan Bowden Oratory Prize, sponsored by Western Spring, and intended to encourage others to become accomplished orators in service of Western civilisation. You can read about it here.
Since last year, we have number of excerpts from Jonathan Bowden’s early works, about which almost nothing was known until after his death. We have also published what is to be the first of a 27-volume numbered set, collecting those early works—one per volume—and making them widely available for the first time, with annotations, index, and our usual production values. These early texts are unconventional in every sense, combining cultural criticism, memoir, high journalism, correspondence, and questions and answers. The texts are allowed to roam where they may, collecting shrewd insights along the way. Many of the insights and lapidary phrases in Jonathan’s speeches occur here for the first time, sometimes word for word, making this a useful tool to study the evolution of his thought. You can get your copies of the first volume here. More volumes to follow this year.