OPINIONSrnThe Boringest Man in the Worldrnby Samuel Francisrn”Everything is good when it comes from the hands of the Almighty;rneverything degenerates in the hands of man.”rn—Jean Jacques Rousseau, EmilernDo What Thou Wilt:rnA Life of Aleister Crowleyrnby Lawrence SutinrnNew York: St. Martin’s Press;rn483 pp., $27.95rnNot the least of the ironies of thernmodern age is that the more it pretendsrnto rationahty, the more it wallowsrnin the irrational. In the last generadon,rnone of the trends in modern intellectualrnhistory has been the exposure of the irrationalistrnroots and affiliations of those periodsrnand movements that boast most loudlyrnof the triumph of their rationalism. Thernlate Frances Yates’ work on the importancernof Hermetic and occultist traditionsrnin the Renaissance and James Billington’srnexposure of the occultist linkages of thernradical Enlightenment and European revolutionaryrnmovements are well-known instances.rnThis scholarship shows that whatrnis usually dismissed derisively as the “occult”rnnot only survives in the modernrnmind but actually permeates it.rnThe latter half of the 19th centur}’ alsornwitnessed an “occult revival” that —rnthough it manifested itself in a number ofrnsecret societies modeled more or lessrnalong Masonic lines and claiming to possessrnsecret knowledge of a mystical naturernas well as, in some cases, the ability tornperform magical operations—was actuallyrna resurrection of Gnostic ideologies ofrnSamuel Francis is Chronicles’rnWashington editor.rnantiquit}-. The occultism of the periodrnwas in part a reaction against the industrializationrnand urbanization of Western societ}’,rnbut it was also a continuation of thernRomantic revolt against modernity itselfrn—as well as a bizarre fulfillment ofrnthe promises of modernih.rnWhile most of the characters associatedrnwith the 19th-century occult revivalrnare now mercifully and deservedly forgotten,rnby far the most significant of them —rnthe bizarre and often pathetic figure ofrnAleister Crowlev, who has retained arnlurking and unsavory presence in somerncorners of 20th-centur’ literature and inrnlate 20th-century popular culture —hasrnsomehow escaped oblivion. SomersetrnMaugham wrote a novel about him, arnnumber of writers of popular fiction havernbased sinister characters on him, and variousrnrock music groups of the 1960’s andrn70’s revived him as a kind of idol.rnThrough his own Herculean efforts torncultivate notoriety during his lifetime, hernhas managed to survive as a supposed Satanist:rnthe “Great Beast of Revelation,” asrnhe liked to be called, or “The WickedestrnMan in the World,” as the British tabloidrnpress dubbed him in his heyday. AlthoughrnCrowley has been a staple ofrnmany sensationalist books and occultistrntracts, Lawrence Sutin’s thorough biographyrnis the first major and serious study ofrnthe Great Beast’s life; if it proves anything,rnit shows that Crowley was muchrnless the Great Beast than the Great Bore.rnBorn in 1875 to a wealthy middle-classrnfamily of fundamentalist Christian fiiith,rnCrowley rebelled against the rigorous religiosit}’rnof his upbringing and the Victorianrnprimness of late 19th-centur- Britishrnsociet}’. He showed early promise as bothrna gifted chess player and an alpinist whornsealed some of the most difficult mountainsrnin the world; but while still an undergraduaternat Cambridge, Crowley beganrnto cultivate an interest in magic andrnmysticism as well as in poetry (not tornmention debauchery in every conceivablernform). Unfortunately, Mr. Sutinrnnever offers much of a serious examinationrnof Crowley’s poetic talents andrnachievements; neither one probablyrnamounted to much. Crowley’s versernseems to have consisted mostiy of floridrnand not very memorable imitations of thernPre-Raphaelite st’le that ceased to bernfashionable during his youth; he despisedrnthe modernist poetry that flourished dur-rnMARCH 2001/27rnrnrn