Powys, John Cowper (1872-1963). The Complex Vision. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920)

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I have written elsewhere about John Cowper Powys, my cosmic ecstasy hero, and I am now delighted to make one of his public domain books available to the world: The Complex Vision (1920), published when Powys was forty-eight. Here for the first time Powys offers up his highly unique speculations on the nature of metaphysical reality. Powys was the sort of man who always looked upon the world as if he were seeing it for the first time, and the relevatory intensity of his perceptions is displayed throughout the book.

The only catch here is that The Complex Vision isn't one of Powys' better books. I am the first to admit that the prose in this book is flat and repetitive, and the reader must persevere to keep with it to the end. Compared to his later--and much livelier--philosophical treatises, especially In Defense of Sensuality (1930) and A Philosophy of Solitude (1933), The Complex Vision is very slow going. At this point in his life Powys was perhaps still formulating his theoretical ideas and could not express himself in the aphoristic style which he uses in his later books. Nevertheless, the discriminating reader will find much in The Complex Vision which is of value. Any man who tells us that his philosophy of life can be summed up as a floating pyramid with an apex of fire has got something interesting to say.

One interesting statement he makes in this book is that we partly-observe and partly-create the world around us, a concept which he mentions repeatedly. This corresponds to a lot of current speculation about human consciousness but was probably regarded as a foolish bit of frippery back in the 1920's. His metaphysical insights into the relationship between humanity and the cosmos must also have sounded completely loopy way back when, but nowadays seem to accord with modern theories of quantum physics, which he makes no mention of (and probably never heard of). Powys was very much ahead of his time.

So if you are also interested in achieving some spiritual epiphanies in your life, some of "those exalted, heightened, exceptional and rare moments, when all the multiform activities of the soul's life achieve a musical consummation..." read John Cowper Powys.

P.S. At the moment there is only one other Powys book available at Project Gutenberg: One Hundred Best Books (1916), an intriguing, if not earth-shaking, collection of literary reviews. You can also find several of his public domain texts at the Internet Archive. I eventually hope to make more of Powys' early works available at this site.

Read The Complex Vision here.