The Entronauts, Piero Scanziani, Eureka (1991)

The philosopher Bertrand Russell speaks for the externalities of humanity’s position in the cosmos, declaring at an early stage in Scanziani’s text that politicians, diplomats, military men – the practical luminaries of any age – were not to be trusted. History condemned them all (two world wars, etc., and now the virus lockdown, with its one set of rules for us, and another for the world’s moneyed elites). The wizened nonagenarian shares his wisdom at a conference in Bruges, rising to speak on the subject of atomic power. This points us indirectly to a definition of the word ‘entronaut’, being a person, any person, who eschews the pragmatist’s reality, seeking instead the pale inner light of individual sovereignty. In the accomplished mystic, the practised voyager of inwardness, it’s a light that glows – joyously.

So begins Scanziani’s odyssey, a journey broad geographically, and one that forms the seven divisions of his book. These, under the pretext of penning reportage for an illustrated magazine, represent India (twice), America, Europe, Persia (as was), the Far East, finally Mount Athos. Joy in selfhood – this was the legacy of one Aurobindo, born in Calcutta, in 1872. Aurobindo was a latter-day Plato, a man who ‘left his body in Pondicherry’ (d. 1950). An index of worldly departure, Pondicherry is important, not for having been a French colony, not even for its locality in the mouth of the Ganges, rather for the succession of Westerners who come here to pursue the entronautic life, as Scanziani tells us.

In Madison Square Garden, we have the pleasure of Sam Gibbon, a jaded boxing correspondent and defender of Christianity. He deplores pugilism. Scanziani – one fears severely lapsed by now – is dissatisfied with his own denomination as Roman Catholic. At this point we come to suspect that this is a book for Christian sceptics everywhere – or at any rate the unorthodox. Scanziani regales us with an English agony aunt, who stresses the importance of self-belief, which makes us ask if solipsism is really the key to spiritual revelation. Then in Paris, certain out-of-body experiences are chronicled. Very much in-the-body, Scanziani gives us Sufism to explain dance and its significance. So on to the denouement, which is no more than a denial of the Resurrection, and finds Scanziani on Mount Athos, seeking out Master Gregorio, a Christian anchorite. ‘Not to die,’ says Scanziani, ‘that is the aim.’ But among the remains of the dead Gregorio Scanziani comes to believe that life can’t be explained other than through death. This is the Buddhist creed, life and death inextricably bound: this is called life and the fall from life. That, to light us – no more or less – is the repetitive procession of being.

Peter Cowlam’s novella Utopia is available at Amazon UK, Amazon USA, and Wordery