Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Austin Osman Spare

This guy trundled onto the Antiques Road Show with a picture by Austin Osman Spare that he'd bought in a car boot sale or found in his attic. "I understand" he simpered to the expert. "That he dabbled in black magic."

"Dabbled"? That's like saying Einstein dabbled in physics or Tiger Woods plays a little golf.  Dabbling is what children do in muddy puddles.

But the words have become glued together, joined at the hip. If it's magic you're a dabbler. Even if, like Spare, you're the world's number one.  The ready made phrase, besides displaying a lack of thought in its user, suggests middlebrow distaste, a waving of the proverbial barge-pole, a nervous refusal to take the subject quite seriously. "Eugh, look at the naughty man, he's dabbling. Children, avert your eyes."

And while we're being prissy, "black magic" is another no-brainer. You might as well talk about white science and black science. Or white shop-keeping and black shop-keeping.   Magic is magic.  It's a discipline. A  profession.  No more or less disreputable in itself than any other.  Like most things people do it can be done with bad intent.  Spare practised magic. He was a magician. He was the magician's magician. Even Crowley deferred to him. It was widely acknowledged that if you wanted results- as opposed to lots of pretty theorising- then Spare was your man.

Much of Spare's writing is available on line. I tried to read some of it last night. And got choked off pretty quickly. Humourless, self-pitying, phallocentric are words that come to mind. Spare was- and I'm weighing my words carefully here- a complete wanker.

But he was also- incidentally, as it happens-   a quite brilliant artist. I wish I had a Spare in my attic.
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