INTERVIEW with Richard KACZYNSKI & Philippe PISSIER
Hello Richard and Philippe. You were both born in 1963 and have been evolving for more than 30 years in the world of Aleister Crowley. First of all, I would like to congratulate you for the monumental work presented on these pages - Perdurabo and The Vision and The Voice. I enjoyed reading both books immensely, and I will no doubt re-read certain chapters several times in the future. In "La Voix de Satan" we often refer to Aleister Crowley as someone who inspired the freedom of thought and fantasies of many spiritual currents including modern Satanism. The biographical work and historical approach shed a revealing light on a subject that is often misunderstood because it is obscured by a lack of information. We are happy to be able to offer our readers a view of the most competent experts on the subject.
La Voix de Satan (LVDS) : At first glance, the portrait of Crowley is parasitized by the sulphurous bad reputation that journalists have forged for him during his lifetime. I imagine that your academic approach to his work has given you a more realistic view of the character. So is Crowley for you an old buddy with his ups and downs, a great occultist or just an extravagant poet?
Philippe Pissier: To tell the truth, I don't have an academic approach to Crowley, even though I deliver rigorous translations. I'm not an academic. I think I'm a translator for whom translation is a spiritual exercise. What is Crowley to me? Oh, at least the three definitions you give of him suit me, because he seems unclassifiable to me.
Richard Kaczynski: Aleister Crowley's sulphurous reputation, as you call it, is precisely what prompted me to write Perdurabo. I was tired of hearing disproven myths repeated, and writers telling me how I should think or feel about him. I wanted to give readers a factual account and let them decide for themselves what they think. Aside from setting the record straight, two things about Crowley's life appealed to me: First is that he has so many sides: poet, occultist, mountaineer, chess player, secret agent, world traveler…the list goes on and on. Love him or hate him, he led a fascinating life. The other thing is that he was human. He was divorced. He had a drug habit. And so on. Then again, if you looked at anybody's entire life, you would find both good and bad moments. My life certainly hasn't been perfect. And neither was Crowley. That is actually reassuring to some people looking for a spiritual path. They can identify with being a flawed human being, and say, "Hey, if he could do it, so can I!" So not to diminish Crowley as either a poet or occultist… but I've been living with his diaries and letters for so long that he feels like an old buddy with his ups and downs.
LVDS : While reading Perdurabo and The Vision and The Voice, in that order, I had the strong impression that I saw the world through the eyes of the protagonist. Being immersed in Crowley's works, do you feel that you've gotten under his skin, that you've become him a little, that you identify with the character and feel his emotions, that you regret his mistakes?
Philippe Pissier: To translate someone, you obviously have to understand him. Translation, like acting, or shamanism, is a form of duplication or schizophrenia, which is best when it's controlled. I've been translating him for 30 years, and at the beginning, yes, there was this emotional feeling of being him, but it must not last, otherwise one gets lost in him, dead, and one forgets oneself, alive. Mastery comes with the years, and obviously a certain humility becomes essential. For example, I have never claimed to be a Crowley "specialist." Crowley is an immense continent and I know very well that I have only covered a small part of it, and offered French readers only a small part - compared to the overall work.
Richard Kaczynski: I believe my experience as a practitioner helps me to understand Crowley at a deeper level than some of his other biographers. In a way, I have walked his path. Not his exact path, of course, but I have the lived experience of a magical life. An academic peer reviewer once critiqued the opening of Perdurabo—where I describe Crowley's Golden Dawn initiation—by saying, "How does the author know that Crowley's throat was dry?" I just smiled and thought, "You've never taken an initiation, have you?" Being able to approach Crowley as both an academic and a practitioner gives me the best of both worlds. As a magician I can appreciate the awe he felt in his Enochian visions, and as a biographer going through his journals and letters, I can feel his pain when Raoul Loveday died, his worry when he hadn't heard from his son for a while during the Blitz, and his joy at learning that his old friend Karl Germer, having been taken to a concentration camp, was not only alive but had escaped.
LVDS : Within the editorial staff of The Voice of Satan we take a skeptical look at the supernatural side of occultism. We believe that this is what Crowley was able to explain between the lines, linking the deities to manifestations of our subconscious, but all this remains obviously cryptic, in the great tradition of magicians. Did the fact that you have an academic approach to Crowley's work play an antagonistic role in the spiritual relationship that we must maintain in order to enter into a magical system? What practice do you ultimately draw from his esoteric teaching? Have you ever practiced "magical workings" such as the invocation of the 30 Aethyrs, Bartzabel's Working, Ab-ul-Diz, or the Paris Working?
Philippe Pissier: In my case, it was Crowley's methodology and scepticism that helped me to structure myself. And structuring yourself is essential if you want to practice magic. Look at the number of people who become crazy after a few nutty rituals or not. I didn't really get any practice from his teaching, but the magic that suits me, and only me, it came to me because of my prime thehemitic commitment, and my perseverance, my faithfulness in transmitting a message, his message. One thing leads to another, and then, obviously, if one seeks magic with full existential commitment, it comes. And generally at the moment when you no longer expect it. No, I didn't practice Crowley's "magic works" in copy/paste mode, mine were wild, violent, less ceremonial, more spontaneous and less framed by a system of referents, or a paradigm as the practitioners of chaos magic say, the discovery of this word seems to have been violent for them! My initiatory journey (I hate this expression!) is more akin to the archaic techniques of ecstasy, to use Mircea Eliade*'s expression. But I have practiced, in my own experience, things that resemble "The Vision and The Voice" a bit, but in my own way. I can only express this through poetic language. Which is something I have in common with Aleister, I think.
Richard Kaczynski: I had been a practitioner for ten years before I decided to begin writing Perdurabo. In that time, I did everything. Worked the Golden Dawn rituals. Worked through Crowley's instructions and exercises. Explored traditions around both witchcraft and grimoires. I also found my own unique areas of exploration, and created my own rituals and exercises. But it wasn't until I began the research for Perdurabo that I decided to take initiation into Ordo Templi Orientis. My studies coincided with the time where various groups were claiming to be the O.T.O.: Grady McMurtry, Kenneth Grant, Marcelo Motta. I found it all confusing and unseemly, especially the things that Motta was publishing. So I steered clear and remained a solitary practitioner. Digging into the actual history, it didn't take long to figure out who was the real deal. For me, joining was a way of saying, "I've personally gotten so much out of Crowley's system that I want to help make it available to others who are interested." One of the academic critiques of participant-observers is the risk of losing objectivity. Personally, I think I'm good at taking a step back and giving something a detached, logical assessment. As a child, I modeled myself at Mr. Spock, and ultimately those qualities in myself are what led me to a professional career in research, statistics, and academia. One of my goals with Perdurabo was to write as objective and unbiased account as possible. I was—and I remain—interested in the truth above all else. For those reasons, like you, I'm also a skeptic about the supernatural. But so was Crowley. Whether Bartzabel or Ab-ul-Diz objectively exists or are subconscious manifestations, my experiences are real, and those have shaped me as a human being. One big piece of Crowley's system, I believe, is to inculcate discipline, focus, and an ability to manifest your intentions. Magick provides the tools to practice doing those things. It gives you introspective techniques to discover your Will. Once you've done that, you transfer that learned discipline, focus, and manifestation to doing your Will, whether it be to paint, write, mold, etch, or anything else.
LVDS : Would you enjoy teaching Magick in a Thelemite organization? Perhaps it is already the case?
Richard Kaczynski: Absolutely! I started teaching in the late 1980s, and have traveled around the world doing so. Some of that teaching is more academic or historical, based on books like Perdurabo, Forgotten Templars, and Panic in Detroit. But I also teach the practical side, whether for one's solitary practice, or training groups in how to do initiations or the Gnostic Mass. The Weiser Concise Guide to Aleister Crowley is written with the practical part in mind, and I hope to write more in that vein after I wrap up a few more historical/academic books. In my professional life, I spent ten years as a graduate-level and medical school professor, so teaching is something I'm very passionate about, whether it's statistics or Thelema.
Philippe Pissier: No, thank you! Maybe I might be able to talk about Magick in front of an audience in a few years. Who knows? If I feel up to it. But I have no desire to be the center of attention within an organization. I've noticed that in magic groups there are always winners and losers. And a lot of power struggles. This is by no means the kind of "brotherhood" I aspire to in my relationships with others. And then, on top of that, supreme dimension, perhaps it would be interesting to consider the possibility that Crowley's magicke system was only practicable by and for himself... The debate is open!
LVDS : Crowley's biography "Perdurabo" is a cornerstone to the rigorous understanding of the work of The Master Therion and seems essential to us for the French-speaking public. Would a translation into French be possible? Done by Philippe Pissier maybe?
Richard Kaczynski: I would love to see Perdurabo translated into other languages! Philippe has translated so much Crowley into French that I'm sure he could convey all the nuances. That decision would ultimately be between my publisher and whoever is putting out the translation. Perdurabo would be a big project, though, because it's so long. One thing I really came to appreciate with the research for Forgotten Templars is how much of that early O.T.O. history exists in German and French. It's never been translated into English, so I had to brush up on my language skills in order to read the source material. Reading only what is in your native tongue makes for an incomplete understanding of the world. For the same reason, seeing my writing translated into other languages is very meaningful for me. I was excited to see The Weiser Concise Guide to Aleister Crowley translated into Polish by Lashtal Press, and to be able to attend the book launch. My ancestors would be proud! (laughs) I've also been able to contribute a foreword to translations of Crowley's Book of Lies into Polish, Greek and Romanian. And, of course, this interview is also a treat!
Philippe Pissier: It's tempting but I'm overwhelmed with work and the text is long. And besides, I'm tired. But who knows?
LVDS : What offerings can we expect from you in the near future?
Richard Kaczynski: By the end of 2020, we should see the Kamuret Press edition of Aleister Crowley's The Sword of Song, which I edited, introduced, and annotated very heavily, including many interesting edits and deletions from Crowley's various drafts. I'm also working on a book about the birth of the Thelemic movement, looking at how British secularism brought together Aleister Crowley, J. F. C. Fuller and Victor Neuburg, and inspired them as they moved from skepticism to occultism.
Philippe Pissier: I'm not going to say. An offering without the pleasure of surprise, and half of the joy of sharing has already gone away... And I don't give dates because, as women say: to be kept waiting is to be desired. And making books without mutual desire between the author or translator and the readership, what's the point? All I can tell you is that beautiful things are on the horizon.
* Mircea Eliade is a Romanian historian of religions, mythologist, philosopher and novelist, considered one of the founders of the modern history of religions.
Portrait d'Aleister par Martin De Diego