[Note: I have made the following spelling changes: Prologue: "methed" to "method"; Chapter 2: "renders imposssible" to "renders impossible"; "which man possessses" to "which man possesses"; "absolute unqestionable" to "absolute unquestionable"; "loathesomeness" to "loathsomeness"; Chapter 3: "alllowed to distort" to "allowed to distort"; Chapter 4: "itelf in its precise" to "itself in its precise"; Chapter 5: "do very considerably" to "do vary considerably"; Chapter 6: "oversoul" to "over-soul"; "its own permonition" to "its own premonition"; "arbitrement" to "arbitrament"; "subtratum" to "substratum"; "gooodeness" to "goodness"; Chapter 7: "flicherings" to "filcherings"; "Perapity" to "Peripety"; Chapter 8: "penerated" to "penetrated"; Chapter 9: "the anthropomorphic expresssion" to "the anthropomorphic expression"; "convuluted" to "convoluted"; Chapter 10: "a vast hierachy" to "a vast hierarchy"; Chapter 11: "to be too anthromorphic" to "to be too anthropomorphic"; "strictly strictly speaking" to "strictly speaking"; Chapter 13: "working in isolaton" to "working in isolation"; "If to this the astronomer answer" to "If to this the astronomer answers"; "difficult to decribe" to "difficult to describe"; "the asethetic sense" to "the aesthetic sense"; "no attentuation" to "no attenuation"; "the Complex Vision represents" to "the complex vision represents"; Conclusion: "is eternaly divided" to "is eternally divided"; "rest of the imortals" to "rest of the immortals"; "elimination of the objectice mystery" to "elimination of the objective mystery". The word "over-soul" is mostly spelled with a hyphen, so I added a hyphen to all instances of this word. The word "outflowing" is mostly spelled without a hyphen, so I deleted the hyphens from all instances of this word. All other spelling remains the same.]
THE COMPLEX VISION
JOHN COWPER POWYS
NEW YORK DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 1920
DEDICATED TO LITTLETON ALFRED
What I am anxious to attempt in this anticipatory summary of the contents of this book is a simple estimate of its final conclusions, in such a form as shall eliminate all technical terms and reduce the matter to a plain statement, intelligible as far as such a thing can be made intelligible, to the apprehension of such persons as have not had the luck, or the ill-luck, of a plunge into the ocean of metaphysic.
A large portion of the book deals with what might be called our instrument of research; in other words, with the problem of what particular powers of insight the human mind must use, if its vision of reality is to be of any deeper or more permanent value than the "passing on the wing," so to speak, of individual fancies and speculations.
This instrument of research I find to be the use, by the human person, of all the various energies of personality concentrated into one point; and the resultant spectacle of things or reality of things, which this concentrated vision makes clear, I call the original revelation of the complex vision of man.
Having analyzed in the earlier portions of the book the peculiar nature of our organ of research and the peculiar difficulties— amounting to a very elaborate work of art—which have to be overcome before this concentration takes place, I proceed in the later portions of the book to make as clear as I can what kind of reality it is that we actually do succeed in grasping, when this concentrating process has been achieved. I indicate incidentally that this desirable concentration of the energies of personality is so difficult a thing that we are compelled to resort to our memory of what we experienced in rare and fortunate moments in order to establish its results. I suggest that it is not to our average moments of insight that we have to appeal, but to our exceptional moments of insight; since it is only at rare moments in our lives that we are able to enter into what I call the eternal vision.
To what, then, does this conclusion amount, and what is this resultant reality, in as far as we are able to gather it up and articulate its nature from the vague records of our memory?
I have endeavoured to show that it amounts to the following series of results. What we are, in the first place, assured of is the existence within our own individual body of a real actual living thing composed of a mysterious substance wherein what we call mind and what we call matter are fused and intermingled. This is our real and self-conscious soul, the thing in us which says, "I am I," of which the physical body is only one expression, and of which all the bodily senses are only one gateway of receptivity.
The soul within us becomes aware of its own body simultaneously with its becoming aware of all the other bodies which fill the visible universe. It is then by an act of faith or imagination that the soul within us takes for granted and assumes that there must be a soul resembling our own soul within each one of those alien bodies, of which, simultaneously with its own, it becomes aware.
And since the living basis of our personality is this real soul within us, it follows that all those energies of personality, whose concentration is the supreme work of art, are the energies of this real soul. If, therefore, we assume that all the diverse physical bodies which fill the universe possess, each of them, an inner soul resembling our own soul, we are led to the conclusion that just as our own soul half-creates and half-discovers the general spectacle of things which it names "the universe," so all the alien souls in the world half-create and half-discover what they feel as their universe.
If our revelation stopped at this point we should have to admit that there was not one universe, but as many universes are there are living souls. It is at this point, however, that we become aware that all these souls are able, in some degree or other, to enter into communication. They are able to do this both by the bodily sounds and signs which constitute language and by certain immaterial vibrations which seem to make no use of the body at all. In this communication between different souls, as far as humanity is concerned, a very curious experience has to be recorded.
When two human beings dispute together upon any important problem of life, there is always an implicit appeal made by both of them to an invisible arbiter, or invisible standard of arbitration, in the heart of which both seem aware that the reality, upon which their opinions differ, is to be found in its eternal truth. What then is this invisible standard of arbitration? Whatever it is, we are compelled to assume that it satisfies and transcends the deepest and furthest reach of personal vision in all the souls that approach it. And what is the deepest and furthest reach of our individual soul? This seems to be a projection upon the material plane of the very stuff and substance of the soul's inmost nature.
This very "stuff" of the soul, this outflowing of the substance of the soul, I name "emotion"; and I find it to consist of two eternally conflicting elements; what I call the element of "love," and what I call the element of "malice." This emotion of love, which is the furthest reach of the soul, I find to be differentiated when it comes into contact with the material universe into three ultimate ways of taking life; namely, the way which we name the pursuit of beauty, the way which we name the pursuit of goodness, and the way which we name the pursuit of truth. But these three ways of taking life find always their unity and identity in that emotion of love which is the psychic substance of them all.
The invisible standard of arbitration, then, to which an appeal is always made, consciously or unconsciously, when two human beings dispute upon the mystery of life, is a standard of arbitration which concerns the real nature of love, and the real nature of what we call "the good" and "the true" and "the beautiful."
And since we have found in personality the one thing in existence of which we are absolutely assured, because we are aware of it, on the inside, so to speak, in the depths of our own souls, it becomes necessary that in place of thinking of this invisible standard as any spiritual or chemical "law" in any stream of "life-force" we should think of it as being as personal as we ourselves are personal. For since what we call the universe has been already described as something which is half-created and half-discovered by the vision of some one soul in it or of all the souls in it, it is clear that we have no longer any right to think of these ultimate ideas as "suspended" in the universe, or as general "laws" of the universe. They are suspended in the individual soul, which half-creates and half-discovers the universe according to their influence.
Personality is the only permanent thing in life; and if truth, beauty, goodness, and love, are to have permanence they must depend for their permanence not upon some imaginary law in a universe half-created by personality but upon the indestructible nature of personality itself.
The human soul is aware of an invisible standard of beauty. To this invisible standard it is compelled to make an unconscious appeal in all matters of argument and discussion. This standard must therefore be rooted in a personal super-human vision and we are driven to the conclusion that some being or beings exist, superior to man, and yet in communication with man. And since what we see around us is a world of many human and sub-human personalities, it is, by analogy, a more natural supposition to suppose that these supernatural beings are many than that they are one.
What the human soul, therefore, together with all other souls, attains in its concentrated moments is "an eternal vision" wherein what is mortal in us merges itself in what is immortal.
But if what we call the universe is a thing made up of all the various universes of all the various souls in space and time, we are forbidden to find in this visible material universe, whose "reality" does not become "really real" until it has received the "hall-mark," so to speak, of the eternal vision, any sort of medium or link which makes it possible for these various souls to communicate with one another.
This material universe, thus produced by the concentrated visions of all the souls entering into the eternal vision, is made up of all the physical bodies of all such souls, linked together by the medium of universal ether. But although the bodies which thus occupy different points of space are linked together by the universal ether, we are not permitted to find in this elemental ether, the medium which links the innumerable souls together. And we are not permitted this because in our original assumption such souls are themselves the half-creators, as well as the half-discoverers, of that universe whose empty spaces are thus filled. The material ether which links all bodies together cannot, since it is a portion of such an universe, be itself the medium from the midst of which these souls create that universe.
But if, following our method of regarding every material substance in the world as the body of some sort of soul, we regard this universal ether as itself the body of an universal or elemental soul, then we are justified in finding in this elemental omnipresent soul diffused through space, the very medium we need; out of the midst of which all the souls which exist project their various universes.
We are thus faced by a universe which is the half-creation and half-discovery of all living souls, a universe the truth and beauty of which depend upon the eternal vision, a universe whose material substance is entirely composed of the actual physical bodies of those very souls whose vision half-creates and half-discovers it.
We thus reach our conclusion that there is nothing in the world except personality. The material universe is entirely made up of personal bodies united by the personal body of the elemental ether. What we name the universe, therefore, is an enormous group of bodies joined together by the body of the ether; such bodies being the physical expression of a corresponding group of innumerable souls joined together by the soul of the ether.
In the portions of this book which deal with the creative energy of the soul I have constantly used the expression "objective mystery"; but in my concluding chapter I have rejected and eliminated this word as a mere step or stage in human thought which does not correspond to any final reality. When I use the term "objective mystery" I am referring to the original movement of the individual mind when it first stretches out to what is outside itself. What is outside itself consists in reality of nothing but an unfathomable group of bodies and souls joined together by the body and soul of the ether which fills space.
But since, in its first stretching out towards these things, all it is aware of is the presence of a plastic something which lends itself, under the universal curve of space, to the moulding and shaping and colouring of its creative vision, it is natural enough to look about for a name by which we can indicate this original "clay" or "matter" or "world-stuff" out of which the individual soul creates its vision of an universe. And the name "objective mystery" is the name by which, in the bulk of this book, I have indicated this mysterious world-stuff, by which the soul finds itself surrounded, both in regard to the matter of its own body and in regard to the still more alien matter of which all other bodies are composed.
But when by the use of the term objective mystery I have indicated that general and universal something, not itself, by which the soul is confronted, that something which, like a white screen, or a thick mass of darkness, waits the moving lamp of the soul to give it light and colour, it becomes clear that the name itself does not cover any actual reality other than the actual reality of all the bodies in the world joined together by the universal ether.
Is the term "objective mystery," therefore, no more than the name given to that first solid mass of external impression which the insight of the soul subsequently reduces to the shapes, colours, scents, sounds, and all the more subtle intimations springing from the innumerable bodies and souls which fill universal space? No. It is not quite this. It is a little deeper than this. It is, in fact, the mind's recognition that behind this first solid mass of external impression which the soul's own creative activity creates into its "universe" there must exist "something," some real substance, or matter, or world-stuff, in contact with which the soul half-creates and half-discovers the universe which it makes its own.
When, however, the soul has arrived at the knowledge that its own physical body is the outward expression of its inner self, and when by an act of faith or imagination it has extended this knowledge to every other bodily form in its universe, it ceases to be necessary to use the term "objective mystery"; since that something which the soul felt conscious of as existing behind the original solid mass of impressions is now known by the soul to be nothing else than an incredible number of living personalities, each with its own body.
And just as I make use in this book of the term "objective mystery," and then discard it in my final conclusion, so I make an emphatic and elaborate use of the term "creative" and then discard it, or considerably modify it, in my final conclusion.
My sequence of thought, in this matter of the soul's "creative" power, may thus be indicated. In the process of preparing the ground for those rare moments of illumination wherein we attain the eternal vision the soul is occupied, and the person attempting to think is occupied, with what I call "the difficult work of art" of concentrating its various energies and fusing them into one balanced point of rhythmic harmony. This effort of contemplative tension is a "creative effort" similar to that which all artists are compelled to make. In addition to this aspect of what I call "creation," there also remains the fact that the individual soul modifies and changes that first half-real something which I name the objective mystery, until it becomes all the colours, shapes, sounds and so forth, produced by the impression upon the soul of all the other personalities brought into contract with it by the omnipresent personality of the universal ether.
The words "creation" and "creative" axe thus made descriptive in this book of the simple and undeniable fact that everything which the mind touches is modified and changed by the mind; and that ultimately the universe which any mind beholds is an universe half-created by the mood of the mind which beholds it. And since the mood of any mind which contemplates the universe is dependent upon the relative "overcoming" in that particular soul of the emotion of malice by love, or of the emotion of love by malice, it becomes true to say that any universe which comes into existence is necessarily "created" by the original struggle, in the depths of some soul or other, of the conflicting emotions of love and malice.
And since the ideal of the emotion of love is life, and the ideal of the emotion of hate is death, it becomes true to say that the emotion of love is identical with the creative energy in all souls, while the emotion of malice is identical with the force which resists creation in all souls.
Why then do I drop completely, or at least considerably modify, this stress upon the soul's "creative" power in my final chapter? I am led to do so by the fact that such creative power in the soul is, after all, only a preparation for the eternal vision. Creative energy implies effort, tension, revolution, agitation, and the pain of birth. All these things have to do with preparing the ground for the eternal vision, and with the final gesture of the soul, by which it enters into that ultimate rhythm. But once having entered into that vision— and in these things time is nothing—the rhythm which results is a rhythm upon which the soul rests, even as music rests upon music, or life rests upon life.
And the eternal vision, thus momentarily attained, and hereafter gathered together from the deep cisterns of memory, liberates us, when we are under its influence, from that contemplative or creative tension whereby we reached it. It is then that the stoical pride of the soul, in the strength of which it has endured so much, undergoes the process of an immense relaxation and relief. An indescribable humility floods our being; and the mood with which we contemplate the spectacle of life and death ceases to be an individual mood and becomes an universal mood. The isolation, which was a necessary element in our advance to this point, melts away when we have reached it. It is not that we lose our personality, it is that we merge ourselves by the outflowing of love, in all the personalities to which the procession of time gives birth.
And the way we arrive at this identification of ourselves with all souls, living or dead or unborn, is by our love for that ideal symbolized in the figure of Christ in whom this identification has already been achieved. This, and nothing less than this, is the eternal vision. For the only "god" among all the arbiters of our destiny, with whom we are concerned, is Christ. To enter into his secret is to enter into their secret. To be aware of him is to be aware of everything in the world, mortality and immortality, the transitory and the eternal.
Life then, as I have struggled to interpret it in this book, seems to present itself as an unfathomable universe entirely made up of personalities. What we call inanimate substances are all of them the bodies, or portions of the bodies, of living personalities. The immense gulf, popularly made between the animate and the inanimate, thus turns out to be an unfounded illusion; and the whole universe reveals itself as an unfathomable series, or congeries, of living personalities, united by the presence of the omnipresent ether which fills universal space.
It is of little moment, the particular steps or stages of thought, by which one mind, among so many, arrives at this final conclusion. Other minds, following other tracks across the desert, might easily reach it. The important thing to note is that, once reached, such a conclusion seems to demand from us a very definite attitude toward life. For if life, if the universe, is entirely made up of personality, then our instinctive or acquired attitude toward personality becomes the path by which we approach truth.
To persons who have not been plunged, luckily or unluckily, in the troublesome sea of metaphysical phrases, the portions of this book which will be most tiresome are the portions which deal with those "half-realities" or logical abstractions of the human reason, when such reason "works" in isolation from the other attributes of the soul. Such reason, working in isolation, inevitably produces certain views of life; and these views of life, although unreal when compared with the reality produced by the full play of all our energies, cannot be completely disregarded if our research is to cover the whole field of humanity's reactions. Since there is always an irresistible return to these metaphysical views of life directly the soul loses the rhythm of its total being, it seems as if it were unwise to advance upon our road until we have discounted such views and placed them in their true perspective, as unreal but inevitable abstractions.
The particular views of life which this recurrent movement of the logical reason results in, are, first, the reduction of everything to an infinite stream of pure thought, outside both time and space, unconscious of itself as in any way personal; and, in the second place, the reduction of everything to one universal self-conscious spirit, in whose absolute and infinite being independent of space and time all separate existences lose themselves and are found to be illusions.
What I try to make clear in the metaphysical portion of this book is that these two views of life, while always liable to return upon us with every renewed movement of the isolated reason, are in truth unreal projections of man's imperious mind. When we subject them to an analysis based upon our complete organ of research they show themselves to be nothing but tyrannous phantoms, abstracted from the genuine reality of the soul as it exists within space and time.
What I seek to show throughout this book is that the world resolves itself into an immeasurable number of personalities held together by the personality of the universal ether and by the unity of one space and one time. Even of space and time themselves, since the only thing that really "fills them," so to speak, to the brim, is the universal ether, it might be said that they are the expression of this universal ether in its relation to all the objects which it contains.
Thus the conclusion to which I am driven is that the dome of space, out of which the sun shines by day and the stars by night, contains no vast gulfs of absolute nothingness into which the soul that hates life may flee away and be at rest. At the same time the soul that hates life need not despair. The chances, as we come to estimate them, for and against the soul's survival after death, seem so curiously even, that it may easily happen that the extreme longing of the soul for annihilation may prove in such a balancing of forces the final deciding stroke. And quite apart from death, I have tried to show in this book, how in the mere fact of the unfathomable depths into which all physical bodies as well as all immaterial souls recede there is an infinite opportunity for any soul to find a way of escape from life, either by sinking into the depths of its own physical being, or by sinking into the depths of its own spiritual substance.
The main purpose of the book reveals, however, the only escape from all the pain and misery of life which is worthy of the soul of man. And this is not so much an escape from life as a transfiguring of the nature of life by means of a newly born attitude toward it. This attitude toward life, of which I have tried to catch at least the general outlines, is the attitude which the soul struggles to maintain by gathering together all its diffused memories of those rare moments when it entered into the eternal vision.
And I have indicated as clearly as I could how it comes about that in the sphere of practical life the only natural and consistent realization of this attitude would be the carrying into actual effect of what I call "the idea of communism."
This "idea of communism," in which the human implications of the eternal vision become realized, is simply the conception of a system of human society founded upon the creative instinct, instead of upon the possessive instinct in humanity.
I endeavour to make clear that such a reorganization of society, upon such a basis does not imply any radical change in human nature. It only implies a liberation of a force that already exists, of the force in the human soul that is centrifugal, or outflowing, as opposed to the force that is centripetal, or indrawing. Such a force has always been active in the lives of individuals. It only remains to liberate that force until it reaches the general consciousness of the race, to make such a reconstruction of human society not only ideal, but actual and effective.
Chapter I. The Complex Vision 1 Chapter II. The Aspects of the Complex Vision 20 Chapter III. The Soul's Apex-Thought 56 Chapter IV. The Revelation of the Complex Vision 71 Chapter V. The Ultimate Duality 100 Chapter VI. The Ultimate Ideas 120 Chapter VII. The Nature of Art 160 Chapter VIII. The Nature of Love 194 Chapter IX. The Nature of the Gods 214 Chapter X. The Figure of Christ 225 Chapter XI. The Illusion of Dead Matter 248 Chapter XII. Pain and Pleasure 270 Chapter XIII. The Reality of the Soul in Relation to Modern Thought 293 Chapter XIV. The Idea of Communism 323 Conclusion 339
The speculative system which I have entitled "The Philosophy of the Complex Vision" is an attempt to bring into prominence, in the sphere of definite and articulate thought, those scattered and chaotic intimations which hitherto have found expression rather in Art than in Philosophy.
It has come to be fatally clear to me that between the great metaphysical systems of rationalized purpose and the actual shocks, experiences, superstitions, illusions, disillusions, reactions, hope and despairs, of ordinary men and women there is a great gulf fixed. It has become clear to me that the real poignant personal drama in all our lives, together with those vague "marginal" feelings which overshadow all of us with a sense of something half-revealed and half withheld, has hardly any point of contact with these formidable edifices of pure logic.
On the other hand the tentative, hesitating, ambiguous hypotheses of Physical Science, transforming themselves afresh with every new discovery, seem, when the portentous mystery of Life's real secret confronts us, to be equally remote and elusive.
When in such a dilemma one turns to the vitalistic and pragmatic speculations of a Bergson or a William James there is an almost more hopeless revulsion. For in these pseudo-scientific, pseudo-psychological methods of thought something most profoundly human seems to us to be completely neglected. I refer to the high and passionate imperatives of the heroic, desperate, treasonable heart of man.
What we have come to demand is some intelligible system of imaginative reason which shall answer the exigencies not only of our more normal moods but of those moods into which we are thrown by the pressure upon us—apparently from outside the mechanical sequence of cause and effect—of certain mysterious Powers in the background of our experience, such as hitherto have only found symbolic and representative expression in the ritual of Art and Religion.
What we have come to demand is some flexible, malleable, rhythmic system which shall give an imaginative and yet a rational form to the sum total of those manifold and intricate impressions which make up the life of a real person upon a real earth.
What we have come to demand is that the centre of gravity in our interpretation of life should be restored to its natural point of vantage, namely, to the actual living consciousness of an actual living human being.
And it is precisely these demands that the philosophy of the complex vision attempts to satisfy. It seeks to satisfy them by using as its organ of research the balanced "ensemble" of man's whole nature. It seeks to satisfy them by using as its "material" the whole variegated and contradictory mass of feelings and reactions to feelings, which the natural human being with his superstitions, his sympathies, his antipathies, his loves and his hates, his surmises, his irrational intuitions, his hopes and fears, is of necessity bound to experience as he moves through the world.
It seeks, in fact, to envisage from within and without the confused hurly-burly of life's drama; and to give to this contradictory and complicated spectacle the aesthetic rationality or imaginative inevitableness of a rhythmic work of art.
In this attempt the philosophy of the complex vision is bound to recognize, and include in its rational form, much that remains mysterious, arbitrary, indetermined, organic, obstinately illogical. For the illogical is not necessarily the unintelligible, so long as the reason which we use is that same imaginative and clairvoyant reason, which, in its higher measure, sustains the vision of the poets and the artists.
By the use of this fuller, richer, more living, more concrete instrument of research, the conclusions we arrive at will have in them more of the magic of Nature, and will be closer to the actual palpable organic mystery of Life, than either the abstract conclusions of metaphysic or the cautious, impersonal hypotheses of experimental physical science.
THE COMPLEX VISION
A philosophy is known by its genuine starting-point. This is also its final conclusion, often very cunningly concealed. Such a conclusion may be presented to us as the logical result of a long train of reasoning, when really it was there all the while as one single vivid revelation of the complex vision.
Like travellers who have already found, by happy accident, the city of their desire, many crafty thinkers hasten hurriedly back to the particular point from which they intend to be regarded as having started; nor in making this secret journey are they forgetful to erase their footsteps from the sand, so that when they publicly set forth it shall appear to those who follow them that they are guided not by previous knowledge of the way but by the inevitable necessity of pure reason.
I also, like the rest, must begin with what will turn out to be the end; but unlike many I shall openly indicate this fact and not attempt to conceal it.
My starting-point is nothing less than what I call the original revelation of man's complex vision; and I regard this original revelation as something which is arrived at by the use of a certain synthetic activity of all the attributes of this vision. And this synthetic activity of the complex vision I call its apex-thought.
This revelation is of a peculiar nature, which must be grasped, at least in its general outlines, before we can advance a step further upon that journey which is also a return.
It might be maintained that before attempting to philosophize upon life, the question should be asked . . . "why philosophize at all?" And again . . . "what are the motive-forces which drive us into this process which we call philosophizing?"
To philosophize is to articulate and express our personal reaction to the mystery which we call life, both with regard to the nature of that mystery and with regard to its meaning and purpose.
My answer to the question "Why do we philosophize?" is as follows. We philosophize for the same reason that we move and speak and laugh and eat and love. In other words, we philosophize because man is a philosophical animal. We breathe because we cannot help breathing and we philosophize because we cannot help philosophizing. We may be as sceptical as we please. Our very scepticism is the confession of an implicit philosophy. To suppress the activity of philosophizing is as impossible as to suppress the activity of breathing.
Assuming then that we have to philosophize, the question naturally arises . . . how have we to philosophize if our philosophy is to be an adequate expression of our complete reaction to life?
By the phrase "man's complex vision" I am trying to indicate the elaborate and intricate character of the organ of research which we have to use. All subsequent discoveries are rendered misleading if the total activity, at least in its general movement, of our instrument of research is not brought into focus. This instrument of research which I have named "man's complex vision" implies his possession, at the moment when he begins to philosophize, of certain basic attributes or energies.
The advance from infancy to maturity naturally means, when the difference between person and person is considered an unequal and diverse development of these basic energies. Nor even when the person is full grown will it be found that these energies exist in him in the same proportion as they exist in other persons. But if they existed in every person in precisely equal proportions we should not all, even then, have the same philosophy.
We should not have this, because though the basic activities were there in equal proportion, each living concrete person whose activities these were would necessarily colour the resultant vision with the stain or dye of his original difference from all the rest. For no two living entities in this extraordinary world are exactly the same.
What is left for us, then, it might be asked, but to "whisper our conclusions" and accept the fact that all "philosophies" must be different, as they are all the projection of different personalities? Nothing, as far as pure logic is concerned, is left for us but this. Yet it remains as an essential aspect of the process of philosophizing that we should endeavour to bring over to our vision as many other visions as we can succeed in influencing. For since we have the power of communicating our thought to one another and since it is of the very nature of the complex vision to be exquisitely sensitive to influences from outside, it is a matter of primordial necessity to us all that we should exercise this will to influence and this will to be influenced.
And just as in the case of persons sympathetic to ourselves the activity of philosophizing is attended by the emotion of love and the instinct of creation, so in the case of persons antagonistic to ourselves the activity of philosophizing is attended by the emotion of hate and the instinct of destruction. For philosophy being the final articulation of a personal reaction to life, is penetrated through and through with the basic energies of life.
On the one hand there is a "Come unto me, all ye . . ." and on the other there is a "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Just because the process of philosophizing is necessarily personal, it is evident that the primordial aspect of it which implies "the will to influence" must tally with some equally primordial reciprocity, implying "the will to be influenced."
That it does so tally with this is proved by the existence of language.
This medium of expression between living things does not seem to be confined to the human race. Some reciprocal harmony of energy, corresponding to our complex vision, seems to have created many mysterious modes of communication by which myriads of sub-human beings, and probably also myriads of super-human beings, act and react on one another.
But the existence of language, though it excludes the possibility of absolute difference, does not, except by an act of faith, necessitate that any sensation we name by the same name is really identical with the sensation which another person feels. And this difficulty is much further complicated by the fact that words themselves tend in the process to harden and petrify, and in their hardening to form, as it were, solid blocks of accretion which resist and materially distort the subtle and evasive play of the human psychology behind them.
So that not only are we aware that the word which we use does not necessarily represent to another what it represents to ourself, but we are also aware that it does not, except in a hard and inflexible manner, represent what we ourselves feel. Words tend all too quickly to become symbolic; and it is often the chief importance of what we call "genius" that it takes these inflexible symbols into its hands and breaks them up into pieces and dips them in the wavering waters of experience and sensation.
Every philosopher should be at pains to avoid as far as possible the use of technical terms, whether ancient or modern, and should endeavour to evade and slip behind these terms. He should endeavour to indicate his vision of the world by means of words which have acquired no thick accretion of traditional crust but are fresh and supple and organic. He should use such words, in fact, as might be said to have the flexibility of life, and like living plants to possess leaves and sap. He should avoid as far as he can such metaphors and images as already carry with them the accumulated associations of traditional usage, and he should select his expressions so that they shall give the reader the definite impact and vivid shock of thoughts that leap up from immediate contact with sensation, like fish from the surface of a river.
Just because words, in their passage from generation to generation, tend to become so hard and opaque, it is advisable for any one attempting to philosophize to use indirect as well as direct means of expressing his thoughts. The object of philosophizing being to "carry over" into another person's consciousness one's personal reaction to things, it may well happen that a hint, a gesture, a signal, a sign, made indirectly and rather by the grouping of words and the tone of words than by their formal content, will reach the desired result more effectually than any direct argument.
It must be admitted, however, that this purely subjective view of philosophy, with its implied demand for a precise subjective colouring of the words, leaves some part of our philosophical motive-force unsatisfied and troubled by an obscure distress. No two minds can interchange ideas without some kind of appeal, often so faint and unconscious as to be quite unrecognized, to an invisible audience of hidden attendants upon the argument, who are tacitly assumed in some mysterious way to be the arbiters. These invisible companions seem to gather to themselves, as we are vaguely aware of them, the attributes of a company of overshadowing listeners. They present themselves to the half-conscious background of our mind as some pre-existent vision of "truth" towards which my subjective vision is one contribution and my interlocutor's subjective vision another contribution.
This vague consciousness which we both have, as we exchange our ideas, of some comprehensive vision of pre-existent reality, to which we are both appealing, does not destroy my passionate conviction that I am "nearer the truth" than my friend; nor does it destroy my latent feeling that in my friend's vision there is "something of the truth" which I am unable to grasp. I think the more constantly we encounter other minds in these philosophical disputes the more does there grow and take shape in our own mind the idea of some mysterious and invisible watchers whose purer vision, exquisitely harmonious and clairvoyant, remains a sort of test both of our own and of others' subjectivity; becomes, in fact, an objective standard or measure or pattern of those ideas which we discover within us all, and name truth, beauty, nobility.
This objective standard of the things which are most important and precious to us, this ideal pattern of all human values, attests and manifests its existence by the primordial necessity of the interchange of thoughts among us. I call this pattern or standard of ideas "the vision of the immortal companions." By the term "the immortal companions" I do not mean to indicate any "immanent" power or transcendental "over-soul." Nor do I mean to indicate that they are created by our desire that they should exist. Although I call them "companions" I wish to suggest that they exist quite independently of man and are not the origin of these ideas in man's soul but only the model, the pattern, the supreme realization of these ideas.
It is, however, to these tacit listeners, whose vision of the world is there in the background as the arbiter of our subjective encounters, that in our immense loneliness we find ourselves constantly turning. All our philosophy, all our struggle with life, falls into two aspects as we grow more and more aware of what we are doing. The whole strange drama takes the form, as we feel our way, of a creation which at present is non-existent and of a realization of something which at present is hidden.
Thus philosophy, as I have said, is at once a setting-forth and a return; a setting-forth to something that has never been reached, because to reach it we have to create it, and a return to something that has been with us from the beginning and is the very form and shape and image of the thing which we have set forth to create.
These hidden listeners, these tacit arbiters, these assumed and implied witnesses of our life, give value to every attempt we make at arriving at some unity amid our differences; and their vision seems, as the eternal duality presses upon us, to be at once the thing from which we start and the thing towards which, moulding the future as we go, we find ourselves moving. In the unfathomable depths of the past we are aware of a form, a shape, a principle, a premonition; and into the unfathomable depths of the future we project the fulfilled reality of this. We are as gods creating something out of nothing. But when we have created it . . . behold! it was there from the beginning; and the nothing out of which we have created it has receded into a second future from which it mocks and menaces us again.
The full significance of this ultimate duality would be rendered abortive if the future were determined in any more definite way than by the premonition, the hope, the dream, the passion, the prophecy, the vision, of those invisible companions whose existence is implied whenever two separate souls communicate their thoughts to one another.
It is by our will that the future is created; but around the will hover intermittently many unfathomable motives. And the pre-existent motive, which finally gives the shape to the future, holds the future already in its hand. And this surviving motive, ultimately selected by our will, is of necessity purged and tested by a continual comparison with that form, that idea, that dream, that vision, which is implied from the beginning and which I name "the vision of the invisible companions."
The philosophical enquiry upon which we are engaged finds its starting point, then, in nothing less than that revelation of the complex vision which is also the goal of its journey. The complex vision, in the rhythmic play of its united attributes, makes use of a synthetic power which I call its apex-thought.
The supreme activity of this apex-thought is centred about those primordial ideas of truth, beauty and nobility which are the very stuff and texture of its being. In the ecstasy of its creative and receptive "rapport" with these it becomes aware of the presence of certain immortal companions whose vision is at once the objective standard of such ideas and the premonition of their fuller realization.
In thus attempting to articulate and clarify the main outlines of our starting point, a curious situation emerges. The actual spectacle, or mass of impressions to be dealt with, presents itself, we are forced to suppose, as more or less identical, in its general appearance, in every human consciousness. And this "general situation" is strange enough.
We find ourselves, motionless or moving, surrounded by earth and air and space. Impressions flow past us and flow through us. We ourselves seem at the same time able to move from point to point in this apparently real universe and able to remain, as invisible observers, outside all the phenomena of time and space. As the ultimate invisible spectator of the whole panorama, or, in the logical phrase, as the "a priori unity of apperception" our consciousness cannot be visualized in any concrete image.
But as the empirical personal self, able to move about within the circle of the objective universe, the soul is able to visualize itself pictorially and imaginatively, although not rationally or logically. These two revelations of the situation are simultaneously disclosed; and although the first-named of them—the "a priori unity of apperception"—might seem to claim, on the strength of this "a priori" a precedence over the second, it has no real right to make such a claim. The truth of the situation is indeed the reverse of this; and upon this truth, more than upon anything else, our whole method of enquiry depends. For the fact that we are unable to think of our integral personal self as actually being this "a priori" consciousness, and are not only able but are bound to think of our integral personal self as actually being this individual "soul" within time and space, we are driven to the conclusion that this "a priori" observer outside time and space is nothing more than an inevitable trick or law or aspect or play of our isolated logical reason.
Our logical reason is itself only one attribute of our real concrete self, the self which exists within time and space; and therefore we reach the conclusion that this "a priori unity," which seems outside time and space, is nothing but a necessary inevitable abstraction from the concrete reality of our personal self which is within time and space. There is no need to be startled at the apparent paradox of this, as though the lesser were including the larger or the part the whole, because when space and time are eliminated there can be no longer any large or small or whole or part. All are equal there because all are equally nothing there.
This "a priori" unity of consciousness, outside time and space, is only real in so far as it represents the inevitable manner in which reason has to work when it works in isolation, and therefore compared with the reality of the personal self, within time and space, it is unreal.
And it is obvious that an unreal thing cannot be larger than a real thing; nor can an unreal thing be a whole of which a real thing is a part.
The method therefore of philosophic enquiry, which I name "the philosophy of the complex vision," depends upon the realization of the difference between what is only the inevitable play of reason, working in isolation, and what is the inevitable play of all the attributes of the human soul when they are held together by the synthetic activity of what I name the "apex-thought." But this logical revelation of the "a priori" unity of consciousness outside of time and space is not the only result of the isolated play of some particular attribute of personality. Just as the isolated play of reason evokes this result, so the isolated play of self-consciousness evokes yet another result, which we have to recognize as intervening between this ultimate logical unity and the real personal self.
The abstraction evoked by the isolated play of self-consciousness is obviously nearer reality and less of an abstraction than the merely logical one above-named, because self-consciousness has more of the personal self in it than reason or logic can have. But though nearer reality and less of an abstraction than the other, this revelation of the inevitable play of self-consciousness, working by itself, is also unreal in relation to the revelation of the concrete personal individual soul. This revelation of self-consciousness, working in isolation, has as its result the conception of one universal "I am I" or cosmic self, which is nothing more or less than the whole universe, contemplating itself as its own object. To this conception are we driven, when in isolation from the soul's other attributes our self-consciousness gives itself up to its own activity. The "I am I" which we then seek to articulate is an "I am I" reached by the negation or suppression of that primordial act of faith which is the work of the imagination. This act of faith, thus negated and suppressed in order that this unreal cosmic self may embrace the universe, is the act of faith by which we become aware of the existence of innumerable other "selves," besides our own self, filling the vast spaces of nature.
The difference between the sensation we have of our own body and the sensation we have of the rest of the universe ceases to exist when self-consciousness thus expands; and the conceptions we arrive at can only be described as the idea that the whole universe with all the bodies which it contains—including our own body—is nothing but one vast manifestation of one vast mind which is our own "I am I."
It must not be supposed that this abstraction evoked by the solitary activity of self-consciousness is any more a "whole," of which the real self is a "part," than the logical "a priori unity" is a whole, of which the real self is a part. Both are abstractions. Both are unreal. Both are shadowy projections from the true reality, which is the personal self existing side by side with "the immortal companions." Nor must it be supposed that these primordial aspects of life are of equal importance and that we have an equal right to make of any one of them the starting point of our enquiry. The starting point of our enquiry, and the end of our enquiry also, can be nothing else than the innumerable company of individual "souls," mortal and immortal, confronting the mystery of the universe.
The philosophy of the complex vision is not a mechanical philosophy; it is a creative philosophy. And as such it includes in it from the beginning a certain element of faith and a certain element which I can only describe as "the impossible." It may seem ridiculous to some minds that the conception of the "impossible" should be introduced into any philosophy at the very start. The complex vision is, however, essentially creative. The creation of something really new in the world is regarded by pure reason as impossible. Therefore the element of "the impossible" must exist in this philosophy from the very start. The act of faith must also exist in it; for the imagination is one of the primary aspects of the complex vision and the act of faith is one of the basic activities of the imagination.
The complex vision does not regard history as a progressive predetermined process. It regards history as the projection, by advance and retreat, of the creative and resistant power of individual souls. That the "invisible companions" should be in eternal contact with every living "soul" is a rational impossibility; and yet this impossibility is what the complex vision, using the faith of its creative imagination, reveals as the truth.
The imagination working in isolation is able, like reason and self-consciousness, to fall into curious distortions and aberrations.
One has only to survey the field of dogmatic religion to see how curiously astray it may be led. It is only by holding fast to the high rare moments when the apex-thought attains its consummation that we are able to keep such isolated acts of faith in their place and prevent the element of the "impossible" becoming the element of the absurd. The philosophy of the complex vision, though far more sympathetic to much that is called "materialism" than to much that is called "idealism," certainly cannot itself be regarded as materialistic. And it cannot be so regarded because its central assumption and implication is the concrete basis of personality which we call the "soul." And the "soul," when we think of it as something real, must inevitably be associated with what might be called "the vanishing point of sensation." In other words the soul must be thought of as having some kind of "matter" or "energy" or "form" as its ultimate life, and yet as having no kind of "matter" or "energy" or "form." The soul must be regarded as "something" which is living and real and concrete, and which has a definite existence in time and space, and which is subject to annihilation; but the stuff out of which the soul is made is not capable of analysis, and can only be accepted by such an act of faith as that which believes in "the impossible."
The fact that the philosophy of the complex vision assumes as its only axiom the concrete reality of the "soul" within us which is so difficult to touch or handle or describe and yet which we feel to be so much more real than our physical body, justifies us in making an experiment which to many minds will seem uncalled for and ridiculous. I mean the experiment of trying to visualize, by an arbitrary exercise of fancy, the sort of form or shape which this formless and shapeless thing may be imagined as possessing.
Metaphysical discussion tends so quickly to become thin and abstract and unreal; words themselves tend so quickly to become "dead wood" rather than living branches and leaves; that it seems advisable, from the point of view of getting nearer reality, to make use sometimes of a pictorial image, even though such an image be crudely and clumsily drawn.
Pictorial images are always treacherous and dangerous; but, as I have hinted, it is sometimes necessary, considering the intricate and delicately balanced character of man's complex vision, to make a guarded and cautious use of them, so as to arrive at truth "sideways," so to speak, and indirectly.
One of the curious psychological facts, in connection with the various ways in which various minds function, is the fact that when in these days we seek to visualize, in some pictorial manner, our ultimate view of life, the images which are called up are geometrical or chemical rather than anthropomorphic. It is probable that even the most rational and logical among us as soon as he begins to philosophize at all is compelled by the necessity of things to form in the mind some vague pictorial representation answering to his conception of the universe.
The real inherent nature of such a philosophy would be probably understood and appreciated far better, both by the philosopher himself and by his friends, if this vague pictorial projection could be actually represented, in words or in a picture.
Most minds see the universe of their mental conception as something quite different from the actual stellar universe upon which we all gaze. Even the most purely rational minds who find the universe in "pure thought" are driven against their rational will to visualize this "pure thought" and to give it body and form and shape and movement.
These hidden and subconscious representations, in terms of sensible imagery, of the conclusions of philosophic thought, are themselves of profound philosophical interest. We cannot afford to neglect them. They are at least proof of the inalienable part played, in the functioning of our complex vision, by sensation as an organ of research. But they have a further interest. They are an illuminating revelation of the inherent character and personal bias of the individual soul who is philosophizing. I suppose to a great many minds what we call "the universe" presents itself as a colossal circle, without any circumference, filled with an innumerable number of material objects floating in some thin attenuated ether. I suppose the centre of this circle with no circumference is generally assumed to be the "self" or "soul" of the person projecting this particular image.
Doubtless, in some cases, it is assumed to be such a person's physical body as it feels itself conscious of sensation and is aware of space and time.
As I myself use the expression "complex vision" I suppose I call up in the minds of my various readers an extraordinary variety of pictorial images. Without laying any undue stress upon this pictorial tendency, I should like to indicate the kind of projected image which I myself am conscious of, when I use the expression, "the complex vision."
I seem to visualize this thing as a wavering, moving mass of flames, taking the shape of what might be called a "horizontal pyramid," the apex of which, where the flames are fused and lost in one another, is continually cleaving the darkness like the point of a fiery arrow, while the base of it remains continually invisible by reason of some magical power which confuses the senses whenever they seek to touch or to hold it.
Sometimes I seem to see this "base" or "spear handle" or "arrow shaft," of my moving horizontal pyramid, as a kind of deeper darkness; sometimes as a vibration of air; sometimes as a cloud of impenetrable smoke. I am always conscious of the curious fact that, while I can most vividly see the apex-point of the thing, and while I know that this moving pyramid of fire has a base, there is for ever some drastic natural law or magical power at work that obscures my vision whenever I turn my eyes to the place where I know it exists.
I have not mentioned this particular pictorial image with any wish to lay undue stress upon it. In all rarified and subtle experiments of thought pictorial images are quite as likely to hinder us in our groping towards reality as they are to help us. If my image of a moving, horizontal pyramid with an apex-point of many names fused into one and a base of impenetrable invisibility seems to any reader of this passage a ridiculous and arbitrary fancy I would merely ask such an one to let it go, and to consider my description of the complex vision quite independently of it.
Sometimes to myself it appears ridiculous; and I only, as we put it, "throw it out" in order that, if it has the least illuminative value, such a value should not be quite lost. Any reader who regards my particular picture as absurd is perfectly at liberty to form his own pictorial image of what I am endeavouring to make clear. He may, if he pleases, visualize "the soul" as a sort of darkened planet from which the attributes of the complex vision radiate to the right or to the left, as the thing moves through immensity. All I ask is that these attributes should be thought of as converging to a point and as finding their "base" in some thing which is felt to exist but cannot be described.
Probably to a thorough-going empiricist, and certainly to a thorough-going materialist, it will appear quite unnecessary to translate the obvious spectacle of the world, with oneself as a physical body in the centre of it, into mental symbols and pictorial representations of the above character. Of such an one I would only ask, in what sort of manner he visualizes, when he thinks of it at all, the "soul" which he feels conscious of in his own body; and in the second place how he visualizes the connection between the will, the instinct, the reason and so forth, which animate his body and endow it with living purpose? It will be found much easier for critics to reject the particular image which has commended itself to me as suggestive of the mystery with which we have to deal, than for them to drive out and expel from their own thought the insidious human tendency towards pictorial representation.
I would commend to any sardonic psychologist whose "malice" leads him to derive pleasure from the little weaknesses of philosophers, to turn his attention to the ideal systems of supposedly "pure thought." He will find infinite satisfaction for his spleen in the crafty manner in which "impure" thought—that is to say thought by means of pictorial images—passes itself off as "pure" and conceals its lapses.
Truth, as the complex vision clearly enough reveals to us, refuses to be dealt with by "pure" thought. To deal with truth one has to use "impure" thought, in other words thought that is dyed in the grain by taste, instinct, intuition, imagination. And every philosopher who attempts to round off his system by pure reason alone, and who refuses to recognize that the only adequate organ of research is the complex vision, is a philosopher who sooner or later will be caught red-handed in the unphilosophic act of covering his tracks.
No philosopher is on safe ground, no philosopher can offer us a massive organic concrete representation of reality who is shy of all pictorial images. They are dangerous and treacherous things; but it is better to be led astray by them than to avoid them altogether.
The mythological symbolism of antique thought was full of this pictorial tendency and even now the shrewdest of modern thinkers are compelled to use images drawn from antique mythology. Poetic thought may go astray. But it can never negate itself into quite the thin simulacrum of reality into which pure reason divorced from poetic imagery is capable of fading.
After all, the most obstinate and irreducible of all pictorial representations is the obvious one of the material universe with our physical body as the centre of it. But even this is not complete. In fact it is extremely far from complete, directly we think closely about it. For not only does such a picture omit the real centre, that indescribable "something" we call the "soul," it also loses itself in unthinkable darkness when it considers any one of its own unfathomable horizons.
It cannot be regarded as a very adequate picture when both the centre of it and the circumference of it baffle thought. The materialist or "objectivist" may be satisfied with such a result, but it is a result which does not answer the question of philosophy, but rather denies that any answer is possible. But though this obvious objective spectacle of the universe, with our bodily self as a part of it, cannot satisfy the demands of the complex vision, it is at least certain that no philosophy which does not include this and accept this and continually return to this, can satisfy these demands.
The complex vision requires the reality of this objective spectacle but it also requires recognition of certain basic assumptions, implicit in this spectacle, which the materialist refuses to consider.
And the most comprehensive of these assumptions is nothing less than the complex vision itself, with that "something," which is the soul, as its inscrutable base. Thus I am permitted to retain, in spite of its arbitrary fantasy, my pictorial image of a pyramidal arrow of fire, moving from darkness to darkness. My picture were false to my conception if it did not depict the whole pyramid, with the soul itself as its base, moving, in its complete totality, from mystery to mystery.
It may move upwards, downwards, or, as I myself seem to see it, horizontally. But as long as it keeps its apex-point directed to the mystery in front of it, it matters little how we conceive of it as moving. That it should move, in some way or another, is the gist of my demand upon it; for, if it does not move, nothing moves; and life itself is swallowed up in nothingness.
This swallowing up of life in nothingness, this obliteration of life by nothingness is what the emotion of malice ultimately desires. The eternal conflict between love and malice is the eternal contest between life and death. And this contest is what the complex vision reveals, as it moves from darkness to darkness.
THE ASPECTS OF THE COMPLEX VISION
The aspects of the complex vision may be separated from one another according to many systems of classifications. As long as, in the brief summary which follows, I include the more obvious and more important of these aspects, I shall be doing all that the philosophy of the complex vision demands.
The reader is quite at liberty to make a different classification from mine, if mine appears unconvincing to him. The general trend of my argument will not be in any serious way affected, as long as he admits that I have followed the tradition of ordinary human language, in the classification which I have preferred.
It seems to me, then, that the aspects of the complex vision are eleven in number; and that they may be summarized as consisting of reason, self-consciousness, will, the aesthetic sense, or "taste," imagination, memory, conscience, sensation, instinct, intuition and emotion.
These eleven aspects or attributes are not to be regarded as absolutely separate "functions," but rather as relatively separate "energies" of the one concrete soul-monad. The complex vision is the vision of an irreducible living entity which pours itself as a whole into every one of its various energizings. And though it pours itself as a whole into each one of these, and though each one of these contains the latent potentiality of all the rest, the nature of the complex vision is such that it necessarily takes colour and form from the particular aspect or attribute through which at the moment it is especially energizing.
It is precisely here that the danger of "disproportion" was found. For the complex vision with the whole weight of all its aspects behind it receives the colour and the form of only one of them. We can see the result of this from the tenacity—implying the presence of emotion and will—with which some philosopher of pure reason passionately and imaginatively defends his logical conclusion.
But we are ourselves proof of it in every moment of our lives. Confronted with some definite external situation, of a happy or unhappy character, we fling ourselves upon this new intrusion with the momentum of our whole being; and it becomes largely a matter of accident whether our reaction of the moment is coloured by reason or by will or by imagination or by taste. Immersed in the tide of experience, receiving shock after shock from alien and hostile forces, we struggle with the weight of our whole soul against each particular obstacle, not stopping to regulate the complicated machinery of our vision but just seizing upon the thing, or trying to avoid it, with whatever energy serves our purpose best at the moment.
This is especially true of small and occasional pleasures or small and occasional annoyances. A supreme pleasure or a supreme pain forces us to gather our complex vision together, forces us to make use of its apex-thought, so that we can embrace the ecstasy or fling ourselves upon the misery with a co-ordinated power. It is the little casual annoyances and reliefs of our normal days which are so hard to deal with in the spirit of philosophic art, because these little pleasures and pains while making a superficial appeal to the reason or the emotion or the will or the conscience, are not drastic or formidable enough to drive us into any concentration of the apex-thought which shall harmonize our confused energies.
The fatal ease with which the whole complex vision gets itself coloured by and obsessed by one of its own attributes may be proved by the history of philosophy itself. Individual philosophers have, over and over again, plunged with furious tenacity into the mystery of life with a complex vision distorted, deformed and over-balanced.
I seem to see the complex vision of such thinkers taking some grotesque shape whereby the apex-point of effective thought is blunted and broken. The loss and misery, or the yet more ignoble comfort, of such suppressions of the apex-thought, is however a personal matter. Those "invisible companions," or immortal children of the universe, who are implicitly present as the background of all human discussion, grow constantly more definite and articulate the apprehension of the general human mind by reason of these personal aberrations.
It is perhaps rather to the great artists of our race than to any philosopher at all that these invisible ones reveal themselves, but in their gradual disclosure to the consciousness of the human race, they are certainly assisted by the most insane and unbalanced plunges into mystery, of this and the other abnormal individual. The paradox may indeed be hazarded that the madder and more abnormal are the individual's attempts to dig himself into the very nerves and fibres of reality, the clearer and more definite as far as consciousness of the race is concerned, does the revelation of these invisible ones grow.
The abnormal individual whose complex vision is distorted almost out of human recognition by the predominance of some one attribute, is yet, in his madness and morbidity, a wonderful engine of research for the clairvoyance of humanity.
The vision of the immortals, as a background to all further discussion, is rendered richer and more rhythmical every day, or rather the hidden rhythm of their being is revealed more clearly every day, by the eccentricities and maladies, nay! by the insanities and desperations, of individual victims of life.
Thus it comes about that, while the supreme artists, whose approximation, to the vision of the invisible ones is closest, remain our unique masters, the lower crowd of moderately sane and moderately well-balanced persons are of less value to humanity than those abnormal and wayward ones whose psychic distortions are the world's perverted instruments of research.
A philosopher of this unbalanced kind is indeed a sort of living sacrifice or victim of self-vivisection, out of whose demonic discoveries—bizarre and fantastic though they may seem to the lower sanity of the mob—the true rhythmic vision of the immortals is made clearer and more articulate.
The kind of balance or sanity which such average persons, as are commonly called "men of the world," possess is in reality further removed from true vision than all the madness of these debauches of specialized research. For the consummation of the complex vision is a meeting place of desperate and violent extremes; extremes, not watered down nor modified nor even "reconciled," certainly not cancelled by one another, but held forcibly and deliberately together by an arbitrary act of the apex-thought of the human soul.
As I glance at these basic activities of the complex vision one by one, I would beg the reader to sink as far as he can into the recesses of his own identity; so that he may discover whether what he finds there agrees in substance—call it by what name he pleases and explain it how he pleases—with each particular energy I name, as I indicate such energies in my own way.
Consider the attitude of self-consciousness. That man is self-conscious is a basic and perhaps a tragic fact that surely requires no proof. The power of thinking "I am I" is an ultimate endowment of personality, outside of which, except by an act of primordial faith, we cannot pass. The phenomenon of human growth from infancy to maturity proves that it is possible for this self-consciousness—this power of saying "I am I"—to become clearer and more articulate from day to day. It seems as impossible to fix upon a definite moment in a child's life where we can draw a line and say "there he was unconscious of himself and here he is conscious of himself" as it is impossible to observe as an actual visible movement the child's growth in stature.
Between consciousness and self-consciousness the dividing line seems to be as difficult to define as it is difficult to define the line between sub-consciousness and consciousness. My existence as a self-conscious entity capable of thinking "I am I" is the basic assumption of all thought. And though it is possible for my thought to turn round upon itself and deny my own existence, such thought in the process of such a denial cuts the very ground away which is the leaping point of any further advance.
Philosophy by such drastic scepticism is reduced to complete silence. You cannot build up anything except illusion from a basis that is itself illusion. If I were not self-conscious there would be no centre or substratum or coherence or unity in any thought I had. If I were not self-conscious I should be unable to think.
Consider, then, the attribute of reason. That we possess reason is also a fact that carries with it its own evidence. It is reason which at this very moment—reason of some sort, at any rate—I am bound to use, in estimating the important place or the unimportant place which reason itself should occupy. You cannot derogate from the value of reason without using reason. You cannot put reason into an inferior category, when compared with will or instinct or emotion, without using reason itself to prove such an inferiority.
We may come to the conclusion that the universe is rather irrational than rational. We may come to the conclusion that the secret of life transcends and over-brims all rationality. But this very conclusion as to the irrational nature of the mystery with which reason is attempting to deal is itself a conclusion of the reason.
There is only one power which is able to put reason aside in its search for truth and that power is reason.
Consider, then, the attribute of will. That we possess a definite and distinct energy whose activity may be contrasted with the rest and may be legitimately named "the will" is certainly less self-evident than either of the two preceding propositions but is none the less implied in both of them. For in the act of articulating to ourself the definite thought "I am I" we are using our will. The motive-force may be anything. We may for instance will an answer to the implied question "what am I," and our self-consciousness may return the answer "I am I," leaving it to the reason to deal with this answer as best it can. The motive may be anything or nothing. Both consciousness and will are independent of motive.
For in all these primordial energizings of the complex vision everything that happens, happens simultaneously. With the consciousness "I am I" there comes simultaneously into existence the consciousness of an external universe which is, at one and the same time, included in the circle of the "I am I" and outside the circle. That is to say when we think the thought "I am I," we feel ourselves to be the whole universe thinking "I am I," and yet by a primordial contradiction, we feel ourselves to be an "I am I" opposed to the universe and contrasted with the universe.
But all this happens simultaneously; and the consciousness that we are ourselves implies, at one and the same time, the consciousness that we are the universe and the consciousness that we are inside the universe.
And precisely as the fact of self-consciousness implies the primordial duality and contradiction of being at once the whole universe and something inside the universe, so the original fact of our thinking at all, implies the activity of the will.
We think because we are "thinking animals" and we will because we are "willing animals." The presence of what we call motive is something that comes and goes intermittently and which may or may not be present from the first awakening of consciousness. We may think "I am I" at the very dawn of consciousness under the pressure of a vague motive of clearing up a confused situation. We may use our reason at the very dawn of consciousness under the pressure of a vague motive of alleviating the distress of disorder with the comfort of order. But, on the other hand, self-consciousness may play its part, reason may play its part and the will may play its part in the complete absence of any definite motive. There is such a thing—and this is the point I am anxious to make—as motiveless will. Certain thinkers have sought to eliminate the will altogether by substituting for it the direct impact or pressure of some motive or motive-force. But if the will can be proved to be a primordial energy of the complex vision and if the conception of a motiveless exertion of the will is a legitimate conception, then, although we must admit the intermittent appearance and disappearance of all manner of motives, we have no right to substitute motive for will. If we do make such a substitution, all we really achieve is simply a change of name; and our new motive is the old will "writ small."
Motives undoubtedly may come and go from the beginning of consciousness and the beginning of will. They may flutter like butterflies round both the consciousness and the will. For instance it is clear that I am not always articulating to myself the notable or troublesome thought "I am I." I may be sometimes so lost and absorbed in sensation that I quite forget this interesting fact. But it may easily happen at such times that I definitely experience the sensation of choice; of choice between an intensification of self-consciousness and a continued blind enjoyment of this external preoccupation. And it is from this sensation of choice that we gather weight for our contention that the will is a basic attribute of the human soul.
It is certainly true that we are often able to detach ourselves from ourselves and to watch the struggle going on between two opposite motive-forces, quite unaware, it might seem, and almost indifferent, as to how the contest will end.
But this struggle between opposite motives does not obliterate our sensation of choice. It sometimes intensifies it to an extreme point of quite painful suspension. The opposite motives may be engaged in a struggle. But the field of the struggle is what we call the will. And it may even sometimes happen that the will intervenes between a weaker and stronger motive and, out of arbitrary pride and the pleasure of exertion for the sake of exertion, throws its weight on the weaker side.
It is a well-known psychological fact that the complex vision can energize, with vigorous spontaneity, through the will alone, just as it can energize through sensation alone. The will can, so to speak, stretch its muscles and gather itself together for attack or defence at a moment when there is no particular necessity for its use.
Some degree of self-consciousness is bound to accompany this "motiveless stretching" of the will, for the simple reason that it is not "will in the abstract" which makes such a movement but the totality of the complex vision, though in this case all other attributes of the complex vision, including self-consciousness and reason, are held in subordination to the will.
Man is a philosophical animal; and he philosophizes as inevitably as he breathes. He is also an animal possessed of will; and he uses his will as inevitably as, in the process of breathing, he uses his lungs or his throat. Around him, from the beginning, all manner of motives may flutter like birds on the wing. They may be completely different motives in the case of different personalities. But in all personalities there is consciousness, to grasp these motives; and in all personalities there is will, to accept or to reject these motives.
The question of the freedom of the will is a question which necessarily enters into our discussion.
The will feels itself—or rather consciousness feels the will to be—at once free and limited. The soul does not feel it is free to do anything it pleases. That at least is certain. For without some limitation, without something resistant to exert itself upon, the will could not be known. An absolutely free will is unthinkable. The very nature of the will implies a struggle with some sort of resistance.
The will is, therefore, by the terms of its original definition and by the original feeling which the soul experiences in regard to it, limited in its freedom. The problem resolves itself, therefore, if once we grant the existence of the will, into the question of how much freedom the will has or how far it is limited. Is it, for instance, when we know all the conditions of its activity, entirely limited? Is the freedom of the will an illusion?
It is just at this point that the logical reason makes a savage attempt to dominate the situation. The logical reason arrives step by step at the inevitable conclusion that the will has no freedom at all but is absolutely limited.
On the other hand emotion, instinct, imagination, intuition, and conscience, all assume that the limitation of the will is not absolute but that within certain boundaries, which themselves are by no means fixed or permanent, the will is free.
Consciousness itself must be added to this list. For whatever arguments may be used in the realm of thought, when the moment of choice arrives in the realm of action, we are always conscious of the will as free. If the reason is justified in regarding the freedom of the will as an illusion, we are justified in denying the existence of the will altogether. For a will with only an illusion of freedom is not a will at all. In that ease it were better to eliminate the will and regard the soul as a thing which acts and reacts under the stimuli of motives like a helpless automaton endowed with consciousness.
But the wiser course is to experiment with the will and let it prove its freedom to the sceptical reason by helping that same reason to retire into its proper place and associate itself with the apex-thought of the complex vision.
Leaving the will then, as a thing limited and yet free, let us pass to a consideration of what I call "taste." This is the aesthetic sense, an original activity of the human soul, associated with that universal tendency in life and nature which we name the beautiful. I use the word "taste" at this moment in preference to "aesthetic sense," because I feel that this particular original activity of the complex vision has a wider field than is commonly supposed. I regard it, in fact, as including much more than the mere sense of beauty. I regard it as a direct organ of research, comparable to instinct or intuition, but covering a different ground. I regard it as a mysterious clairvoyance of the soul, capable of discriminating between certain everlasting opposites, which together make up an eternal duality in the very depths of existence.
These opposites imply larger and more complicated issues than are implied in the words beautiful and ugly. The real and the unreal, the interesting and the uninteresting, the significant and the insignificant, the suggestive and the meaningless, the arresting and the commonplace, the exciting and the dull, the organic and the affected, the dramatic and the undramatic, are only some of the differences implied.
The fact that art is constantly using what we call the ugly as well as what we call the commonplace, and turning both these into new forms of beauty, is a fact that considerably complicates the situation. And what art, the culminating creative energy of the aesthetic sense, can do, the aesthetic sense itself can do with its critical and receptive power.
So that in the aesthetic sense, or in what I call "taste," we have an energy which is at once receptive and creative; at once capable of responding to this eternal duality, and of creating new forms of beauty and interest out of the ugly and uninteresting. A new name is really required for this thing. A name is required for it that conveys a more creative implication than the word "taste," a word which has an irresponsible, arbitrary, and even flippant sound, and a more passionate, religious, and ecstatic implication than the word "aesthetic," a word which suggests something calculated, cold, learned, and a little tame. I use the word "taste" at this particular moment because this word implies a certain challenge to both reason and conscience, and some such challenge it is necessary to insist upon, if this particular energy of the soul is to defend its basic integrity.
This ultimate attribute of personality, then, which I call "taste" reveals to us an aspect of the system of things quite different from those revealed by the other activities of the human soul. This aspect of the universe, or this "open secret" of the universe, loses itself, as all the others do in unfathomable abysses. It descends to the very roots of life. It springs from the original reservoirs of life. It has depths which no mental logic can sound; and it has horizons in the presence of which the mind stops baffled. When we use the term "the beautiful" to indicate the nature of what it reveals, we are easily misled; because in current superficial speech—and unless the word is used by a great artist—the term "beautiful" has a narrow and limited meaning. Dropping the term "taste" then, as having served its purpose, and reverting to the more academic phrase "aesthetic sense" we must note that the unfathomable duality revealed by this aesthetic sense covers, as I have hinted, much more ground than is covered by the narrow terms "beauty" and "ugliness."
It must be understood, moreover, that what is revealed by the aesthetic sense is a struggle, a conflict, a war, a contradiction, going on in the heart of things. The aesthetic sense does not only reveal loveliness and distinction; it also reveals the grotesque, the bizarre, the outrageous, the indecent and the diabolic. If we prefer to use the term "beauty" in a sense so comprehensive and vast as to include both sides of this eternal duality, then we shall be driven to regard as "beautiful" the entire panorama of life, with its ghastly contrasts, with its appalling evil, with its bitter pain, and with its intolerable dreariness.
The "beautiful" will then become nothing less than the whole dramatic vortex regarded from the aesthetic point of view. Life with all its contradictions, considered as an aesthetic spectacle, will become "beautiful" to us. This is undoubtedly one form which the aesthetic sense assumes; the form of justifying existence, in all its horror and loathsomeness as well as in all its magical attraction.
Another form the aesthetic sense may assume is the form of "taking sides" in this eternal struggle; of using its inspiration to destroy, or to make us forget, the brutality of things, by concentrating our attention upon what in the narrow sense we call the beautiful or the distinguished or the lovely. But there is yet a third form the aesthetic sense may assume. Not only can it visualize the whole chaotic struggle between beauty and hideousness as itself a beautiful drama; not only can it so concentrate upon beauty that we forget the hideousness; it is also able to see the world as a humorous spectacle.
When the aesthetic sense regards the whole universe as "beautiful" it must necessarily regard the whole universe as tragic; for the pain and dreariness and devilishness in the universe is so unspeakable that any "beauty" which includes such things must be a tragic beauty. Not to recognize this and to attempt to "accept" the universe as something which is not tragic, is to outrage and insult the aesthetic sense.
But we may regard the universe as tragic without regarding it as "beautiful" and yet remain under the power of the aesthetic energy. For there exists a primordial aspect of the aesthetic vision which is not concerned with the beautiful at all, or only with the beautiful in so wide a latitude as to transcend all ordinary usage, and this is our sense of humour.
The universe as the human soul perceives it, is horribly and most tragically humorous. Man is the laughing animal; and the "perilous stuff" which tickles his aesthetic sense with a revelation of outrageous comedy has its roots in the profoundest abyss. This humorous aspect of the system of things is just as primordial and intrinsic as what we call the "beautiful." The human soul is able to pour the whole stream of its complex vision through this fantastic casement. It knows how to respond to the "diablerie" of the abysses with a reciprocal gesture. It is able to answer irony with irony; and to the appalling grotesqueness and indecency of the universe it has the power of retorting with an equally shameless leer.
But this sardonic aspect of human humour, though tallying truly enough with one eternal facet of the universe, does not exhaust the humorous potentiality of the aesthetic sense. There is a "good" irony as well as a "wicked" irony. Humour can be found in alliance with the emotion of love as well as with the emotion of hate. Humour can be kind as well as cruel; and there is no doubt that the aesthetic spectacle of the world is as profoundly humorous in a quite normal sense as it is beautiful or noble or horrible.
Turning now to that primeval attribute of the complex vision which we call emotion, we certainly enter the presence of something whose existence cannot be denied or explained away. Directly we grow conscious of ourselves, directly we use reason or instinct or the aesthetic sense, we are aware of an emotional reaction. This emotional reaction may be resolved into a basic duality, the activity of love and the activity of the opposite of love.