the Violet
A Voyage to Arcturus and Beyond: David Lindsay’s Visionary Imagination (December 9, 2020)

An international symposium to mark the centenary of the publication of A Voyage to Arcturus and the 75th anniversary of the death of David Lindsay was held online on Wednesday 9th December 2020. It was hosted by the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, and supported by the Scottish Network for Religion and Literature (University of Edinburgh), and Edinburgh Napier University. There are plans for the papers given at the event to be collected and published in a single volume, so here I just want to give a brief note about each talk, to show the breadth of topics covered.

Session One, “A Voyage to Arcturus One Hundred Years Later”, chaired by Seán Martin, opened with Dr J Derrick McClure’s talk, “Arcturus and After”, which looked at early criticism of Lindsay’s work and the establishment of Arcturus as a classic Scottish novel. In “Early Twentieth Century Dream Cultures as context for Arcturus”, Dr Louise Milne gave a background to the idea of how the inner world of dreams came to be projected onto landscapes and narratives in art and fiction, and Arcturus’s place in this development. My talk, “The Cultural Influence of A Voyage to Arcturus”, examined how adaptations (and creative works strongly influenced by Lindsay’s novel) can fall into four categories: a deeply personal & individualistic response, an experimental or avant-garde response, a response to Arcturus as a psychedelic narrative, or, increasingly nowadays, a response to Arcturus as a classic text that’s part of the cultural mainstream.

Session Two, “After Arcturus: From The Haunted Woman to The Witch”, chaired by Dr Louise Milne, looked at Lindsay’s subsequent novels. In “The Struggle to Remember in The Haunted Woman and The Violet Apple”, Dr Steven Sutcliffe examined what he nicely terms the “drawing room trilogy” of Lindsay’s post-Arcturus novels, and their theme of the difficulty of holding onto transcendent experiences. (One of his slides was a notebook found among some of Lindsay’s papers breaking down The Haunted Woman into scenes or shots, presumably exploring the idea of adapting it as a film.) Dr Andrew Radford’s “Devil's Tor: Going After Strange Gods” looked at Lindsay’s 1932 novel as part of the Neo-Romantic movement in painting and fiction (other writers being Mary Butts and John Cowper Powys), and how Lindsay employs a sort of “imaginative archaeology” in the novel. Dr John Herdman looked at “The Witch: David Lindsay's Quest of the Absolute”, which he describes as, not so much a novel, as “an enormous, reiterative, metaphysical prose-poem”.

Session Three, “Genre and Media”, chaired by Dr Steven Sutcliffe, began with “John Barclay Pick: Keeper of the Flame”, from Jan Pick, daughter-in-law of Lindsay scholar and writer J B Pick, looking at Pick’s life and his work in promoting and publishing Lindsay. Douglas A. Anderson, in “David Lindsay and the Fantasy Genre”, looked at how Arcturus was best seen as not belonging to any genre, and how Lindsay, in his key novels, brought together in one place ideas that at the time didn’t have a single source (such as Gnosticism in Arcturus, and the Great Mother in Devil’s Tor). This talk was particularly rich in a lot of interesting smaller points, too, including whether Charles Williams had read Arcturus, and the mention of a 1921 novel whose characters discuss having read Lindsay’s Arcturus. In “David Lindsay and Music”, composer David Power looked at the role of music in Lindsay’s work, and discussed his own compositions which had drawn inspiration from Lindsay, including an electronic piece, “Matterplay”, and “Mosaic”, which was made up of some music composed for a projected stage adaptation of The Haunted Woman. In “Representing the Unrepresentable: Reflections on Filming David Lindsay’s Sublime”, filmmaker Seán Martin discussed his ongoing work on a film about Lindsay’s work and ideas, and the challenge of evoking “the Sublime” in film.

Finally, Professor Christine Ferguson, in “David Lindsay and 20th Century Visionary Fiction”, provided a response to the talks given.

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