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- The Psychology of Beauty - 10/36 -


derive it rather from the act of shutting the eyes, that one may see the more, inwardly." Of such is the counsel of St. Luis de Granada, "Imitate the sportsman who hoods the falcon that it be made subservient to his rule;" and of another Spanish mystic, Pedro de Alcantara: "In meditation, let the person rouse himself from things temporal, and let him collect himself within himself ....Here let him hearken to the voice of God...as though there were no other in the world save God and himself." St. Teresa found happiness only in "shutting herself up within herself." Vocal prayer could not satisfy her, and she adopted mental prayer. The four stages of her experience--which she named "recollectedness," "quietude" (listening rather than speaking), "union" (blissful sleep with the faculties of the mind still), "ecstasy or rapture"--are but progressive steps in the sealing of the senses. The yoga of the Brahmins, which is the same as the "union" of the Cabalists, is made to depend upon the same conditions,--passivity, perseverance, solitude. The novice must arrest his breathing, and may meditate on mystic symbols alone, by way of reaching the formless, ineffable Buddha. But it is useless to heap up evidence; the inference is sufficiently clear.

The body is first brought into a state either of nervous instability or irritability by ascetic practices, or of nervous insensibility by the persistent withdrawal of all outer disturbance; and the mind is fixed upon a single object,--the one God, the God eternal, absolute, indivisible. Recalling our former scheme for the conditions of the sense of personality, we shall see that we have here the two poles of consciousness. Then, as the tension is sharpened, what happens? Under the artificial conditions of weakened nerves, of blank surroundings, the self-background drops. The feeling of transition disappears with the absence of related terms; and the remaining, the positive pole of consciousness, is an undifferentiated Unity, with which the person must feel himself one. The feeling of personality is gone with that on which it rests, and its loss is joined with an overwhelming sense of union with the One, the Absolute, God!

The object of mystic contemplation is the One indivisible. But we can also think the One as the unity of all differences, the Circle of the Universe. Those natures also which, like Amiel's, are "bedazzled with the Infinite" and thirst for "totality" attain in their reveries to the same impersonal ecstasy. Amiel writes of a "night on the sandy shore of the North Sea, stretched at full length upon the beach, my eyes wandering over the Milky Way. Will they ever return to me, those grandiose, immortal, cosmogonic dreams, in which one seems to carry the world in one's breast, to touch the stars, to possess the Infinite!" The reverie of Senancour, on the bank of the Lake of Bienne, quoted by Matthew Arnold, reveals the same emotion: "Vast consciousness of a nature everywhere greater than we are, and everywhere impenetrable; all-embracing passion, ripened wisdom, delicious self-abandonment." In the coincidence of outer circumstance-- the lake, the North Sea, night, the attitude of repose--may we not trace a dissolution of the self-background, similar to that of the mystic worshiper? And in the Infinite, no less than in the One, must the soul sink and melt into union with it, because within it there is no determination, no pause, and no change.

The contemplation of the One, however, is not the only type of mystic ecstasy. That intoxication of emotion which seizes upon the negro camp meeting of to-day, as it did upon the Delphic priestesses two thousand years ago, seems at first glance to have nothing in common psychologically with the blessed nothingness of Gautama and Meister Eckhart. But the loss of the feeling of personality and the sense of possession by a divine spirit are the same. How, then, is this state reached? By means, I believe, which recall the general formula for the Disappearance of self-feeling. To repeat the monosyllable OM (Brahm) ten thousand times; to circle interminably, chanting the while, about a sacred ire; to listen to the monotonous magic drum; to whirl the body about; to rock to and fro on the knees, vociferating prayers, are methods which enable the members of the respective sects in which they are practiced either to enter, as they say, into the Eternal Being, or to become informed with it through the negation of the self. The sense of personality, at any rate, is more or less completely lost, and the ecstasy takes a form more or less passionate, according as the worshiper depends on the rapidity rather than on the monotony of his excitations. Here, again, the self- background drops, inasmuch as every rhythmical movement tends to become automatic, and then unconscious. Thus what we are wont to call the inspired madness of the Delphic priestesses was less the expression of ecstasy than the means of its excitation. Perpetual motion, as well as eternal rest, may bring about the engulfment of the self in the object. The most diverse types of religious emotions, IN SO FAR AS THEY PRESENT VARIATIONS IN THE DEGREE OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, are thus seen to be reducible to the same psychological basis. The circle, no less than the point, is the symbol of the One, and the "devouring unity" that lays hold on consciousness from the loss of the feeling of transition comes in the unrest of enthusiasm no less than in the blissful nothing of Nirvana.

At this point, I am sure, the reader will interpose a protest. Is, then, the mystery of self-abandonment to the highest to be shared with the meanest of fanatics? Are the rapture of Dante and the trance of the Omphalopsychi sprung from the same root? There is no occasion, however, for the revolt of sentiment because we fail to emphasize here the important differences in the emotional character and value of the states in question. What interests us is only one aspect which they have in common, the surrender of the sense of personality. That is based on formal relations of the elements of consciousness, and the explanation of its disappearance applies as well to the whirling dervish as to the converts of a revivalist preacher.

The mystic, then, need only shut his senses to the world, and contemplate the One. Subject fuses with object, and he feels himself melt into the Infinite. But each experience is not the exclusive property of the religious enthusiast. The worshiper of beauty has given evidence of the same feelings. And yet, in his aesthetic rapture, the latter dwells with deliberation on his delights, and while luxuriating in the infinite labyrinths of beauty can scarcely be described as musing on an undifferentiated Unity. So far, at least, it does not appear that our formula applies to aesthetic feeling.

Aesthetic feeling arises in the contemplation of a beautiful object. But what makes an object beautiful? To go still further back, just what, psychologically, does contemplation mean? To contemplate an object is to dwell on the idea or image of it, and to dwell upon an idea means to carry it out incipiently. We may go even further, and say it is the carrying out by virtue of which we grasp the idea. How do we think of a tall pine-tree? By sweeping our eyes up and down its length, and out to the ends of its branches; and if we are forbidden to use our eye muscles even infinitesimally, then we cannot think of the visual image. In short, we perceive an object in space by carrying out its motor suggestions; more technically expressed, by virtue of a complex of motor impulses aroused by it; more briefly, by incipiently imitating it. Contemplation is inner imitation.

Now a beautiful object is first of all a unified object; why this must be so has been considered in the preceding chapter. In it all impulses of soul and sense are bound to react upon one another, and to lead back to one another. And all the elements, which in contemplation we reproduce in the form of motor impulses, are bound to make a closed circle of these suggested energies. The symmetrical picture calls out a set of motor impulses which "balance,"--a system of energies reacting on one centre; the sonnet takes us out on one wave of rhythm and of thought, to bring us back on another to the same point; the sonata does the same in melody. In the "whirling circle" of the drama, not a word or an act that is not indissolubly linked with before and after. Thus the unity of a work of art makes of the system of suggested energies which form the foreground of attention an impregnable, an invulnerable circle.

Not only, however, are we held in equilibrium in the object of attention; we cannot connect with it our self-background, for the will cannot act on the object of aesthetic feeling. We cannot eat the grapes of Apelles or embrace the Galatea of Pygmalion; we cannot rescue Ophelia or enlighten Juliet; and of impulse to interfere, to connect the scene with ourselves, we have none. But this is a less important factor in the situation. That the house is dark, the audience silent, and all motor impulses outside of the aesthetic circle stifled, is, too, only a superficial, and, so to speak, a negative condition. The real ground of the possibility of a momentary self- annihilation lies in the fact that all incitements to motor impulse--except those which belong to the indissoluble ring of the object itself--have been shut out by the perfection of unity to which the aesthetic object (here the drama) has been brought. The background fades; the foreground satisfies, incites no movement; and with the disappearance of the possibility of action which would connect the two, fades also that which dwells in this feeling of transition,--the sense of personality. The depth of aesthetic feeling lies not in the worthy countryman who interrupts the play with cries for justice on the villain, but in him who creates the drama again with the poet, who lives over again in himself each of the thrills of emotion passing before him, and loses himself in their web. The object is a unity or our whirling circle of impulses, as you like to phrase it. At any rate, out of that unity the soul does not return upon itself; it remains one with it in the truest sense.

The loss of the sense of personality is an integral part of the aesthetic experience; and we have seen how it is a necessary psychological effect of the unity of the object. From another point of view it may be said that the unity of the object is constituted just by the inhibition of all tendency to movement through the balance or centrality of impulses suggested by it. In other words, the balance of impulses makes us feel the object a unity. And this balance of impulses, this inhibition of movement, corresponding to unity, is what we know as aesthetic repose. Thus the conditions of aesthetic repose and of the loss of self-feeling are the same. In fact, it might be said that, within this realm, the two conceptions are identical. The true aesthetic repose is just that perfect rest in the beautiful object which is the essence of the loss of the sense of personality.

Subtler and rarer, again, than the raptures of mysticism and


The Psychology of Beauty - 10/36

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