This morning, I was devastated to learn of the death of Jonathan Bowden, the orator, artist, novelist, and writer. Life on this earth is fleeting, and I am grateful for the fact that over the past three months, I collaborated with Jonathan on a series of podcasts that covered many of his intellectual passions, from Nietzsche to the New Right to Spengler to Marx.
Around three weeks ago, we were planning an additional one on Ernst Jünger, when I suddenly lost touch with Jonathan. Knowing he had suffered a breakdown in the past, I felt a definite angst as I would ring his number and receive no answer... In the end, my worst fears were realized. According to a person close to him, who relayed the news to me, Jonathan succumbed to a cardiac arrest while at his home in Berkshire.
I first encountered Jonathan in 2009 at a conference at which he was the keynote speaker. We met over lunch on the day before he was to talk, and my impression at the time was of a man who was soft-spoken, professorial, reserved, and maybe a bit queer. He wore a necklace with a Life Rune etched into a wooden medallion, which gave hints of what was to come...
When Jonathan’s turn at the podium came the next evening, he strode confidently to the stage and announced, in a resonate and booming Heldentenor, that he would not be needing a microphone. Immediately, everyone in the room was on the edge of his seat. What followed was not a talk on a particular topic or issue, but instead an expression of a worldview—or perhaps a channelling of the life-force or the evoking of a demonic spirit. As Louis Andrews noted afterwards, Jonathan Bowden’s doesn’t give talks or speeches; he gives orations. Perhaps a better descriptor would be performances.
In our age of CGI, virtual reality, and YouTube, it’s easy to forget the power of presence—of experiencing a great performer in person. Experiencing Bowden in 2009 has, for everyone who was there, been much like experiencing Maria Callas singing a Verdi heroine or Benito Mussolini giving an address from a Roman balcony.
And while the first oration I heard was on nothing less than everything—the spiritual, geopolitical, and social condition of Western man in the 21st century—Jonathan could also speak on philosophic and historical topics with a scholar’s discernment and breadth of knowledge, as evidenced by our podcasts. Indeed, I know of no other person who could combine Bowden’s gifts as a performer with a familiarity with the Western canon one would expect only in a monk.
When I eventually read Jonathan’s novels, I found them to be on the level of Finnegan’s Wake in terms of esoteric, cryptic complexity. On the other hand, in his public engagements, Jonathan could boil down to an essence the thought of difficult thinkers, such as Heidegger and Evola, and present their ideas in ways that were useful to nationalists.
Though the two of us would have personal conversations, I never felt that I actually knew Jonathan, owing, no doubt, to his distant nature and the fact that I was always intimidated by the fire-breather I had encountered some two years earlier. Nevertheless, Jonathan deeply affected my thinking and I treasure our friendship, as short-lived and limited as it was.
I hope it is not an insult to Jonathan Bowden’s memory to say that he always lived on the edge of madness. This was the source of his power, and it seems to have predestinated that he would have all-too short a life.
Jonathan cannot be replaced, and his words will continue to inspire us. But as we weep, Valhalla rejoices.