If this blog is about anything, it is about interesting people. I don’t always agree with what they say and what I quote. Being interesting is the key factor.
A couple of nights ago, I went to a London Fortean Society meeting on (I can do not better than quote the title) The Inventor of the Zombie: The Life and Times of William B. Seabrook – Pervert, Drunk, Cannibal, Occultist and ‘Negrophile’.
The talk was given by Professor Roger Luckhurst of Birkbeck College, London University.
I had never heard of William B.Seabrook. I suspect few people have. But he used to have a certain notoriety and the line between fame and infamy is often blurred. I can do no better than quote Professor Luckhurst’s introduction at the London Fortean Society:
William Seabrook is such a nutter and is so dodgy on absolutely every possible subject… In a way, he’s immensely offensive yet nonetheless really, really intriguing. He was born in 1884 and committed suicide on 20th September 1945.
He was a feature writer, a journalist, an editor, an exotic traveller, one of the first volunteer ambulance workers from America in the Great War. He was gassed and invalided out of the army in 1916.
He was a life-long occultist. He was a psychical researcher. He was an epic, epic drinker. He was a pervert. He was a negrophile. He was a Freudian self-analyst. He committed himself as a lunatic to an asylum. He was a fringe modernist in New York, London, Paris and the French Riviera.
He was an investigator of witch cults. He was a celebrated sadist and he was an anthropologist amongst the Bedouin and Yazidi in Arabia, the cannibal cults of West Africa and the voodooists of Haiti.
He danced himself into a frenzy with Dervishes in Arabia in 1924. He claimed to have been possessed by voodoo gods after ritual sacrifices in 1929. He conducted experiments in witchcraft with the black magician and self-declared anti-Christ Aleister Crowley in 1921. And then, 20 years later, he placed a black magic hex on Hitler that was lovingly detailed in Life magazine.
That sums him up, really: utterly marginally weird and yet in Life magazine.
Despite these stories, which were very celebrated at the time, you probably won’t have heard of William Seabrook. And still he has walk-on roles in the biographies of very many famous modernist writers and artists of the Twenties and Thirties – Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, Henry Miller, Carl Van Vechten, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford. Nancy Cunard, Jean Cocteau, Thomas Mann, Cyril Connolly, Aldous Huxley.
Cannibalism is probably not to be encouraged and William Seabrook seems to have not been a very likeable person – in particular, his sadism seems to have been turned against women.
And surprisingly forgotten.
He died 70 years ago this month.
And his eccentricities and excesses are now pretty much forgotten.
So it goes.