Sunday, May 23, 2021
3:10 a.m. On to Alcott’s 48th saying, remembering to connect it to what has preceded it, mainly his distinction between Actual and Ideal – or, as we might put it, between 3D and non-3D.
All departures from perfect beauty are degradations of the divine image. God is the one type, which the soul strives to incarnate in all organizations. Varieties are historical: the one form embosoms all forms; all having a common likeness at the base of difference. Human heads are images, more or less perfect, of the soul’s or God’s head. But the divine features do not fix in flesh; in the coarse and brittle clay. Beauty is fluent; art of highest order represents her always in flux, giving fluency and motion to bodies solid and immovable to sense. The line of beauty symbolizes motion.
Granted, Alcott was mostly preaching to the choir, and Transcendentalists could presumably be trusted to know the difference between the Actual and the Ideal. But all I can say is, if they didn’t read this in the context of that polarity, God knows what they could have made of this.
But, as you say, they did. It was those who had not absorbed the distinction between human manifestation in 3D, on the one hand, and archetypal image in the non-3D, on the other, who would have been puzzled. The point is a simple one, within the context of that distinction.
It occurs to me, Galileo would have hated all this. He would have seen it as nothing but cloud-cuckoo-land.
As would Aristotle, yes, but that is the difference in temperaments between Idealists and Realists.
It is so clear to me now that I am almost surprised, looking back, that it was so unclear to me for so long. I should have seen that Jung in Psychological Types was showing, out of a physician’s experience and a scholar’s reading, how and why it is that some people see the world as specific examples while others see it as manifestations of certain types.
If you will read what you just wrote, you will see that one can write what is plain to oneself and not write it in a way that makes it plain to those who have not yet grasped the distinction.
I think you just lumped me with Alcott.
Smiling. We did, and we have to lump ourselves there too sometimes. But you see the problem.
More sometimes than I do other times. I think Carl Jung must have had this problem particularly, even though his work is clear once you have already grasped the distinctions he is drawing. People tend to think you are saying what they already believe, and are saying it badly, or are playing with words, or are muddled.
Indeed they do. You do too, sometimes. Nearly anybody does, it’s just natural. Take the difference between Self and ego that Jung draws.
Yes. If you assume that they both are contained within ordinary 3D reality, you may make all sorts of logical errors. Only when you see that he is using “ego” to mean our 3D awareness and “Self” to mean the larger 3D-plus-non-3D being of which ego is a subset, do his distinctions bring clarity. But when you do see it, you see that he has been saying that all along, only your assumptions have prevented you from understanding it.
In a similar fashion a mind that is tuned to recognize specifics and differences may recognize that specifics can be logically grouped into abstract groupings, but will not believe that these groupings have any greater reality.
Thus we are into Nominalists v. Realists.
Exactly. These philosophical schools may sometimes think they are the only ones describing things clearly and plainly, not realizing that their opponents are describing clearly and plainly the aspects of reality that they perceive (and, by way of painting the negative space, are describing for the observer what they cannot see).
Now to return directly to Alcott. Note the line of thought that culminates in “The line of beauty symbolizes motion.” What does that mean, read in context?
I think he is saying – in the context of that paragraph, anyway – that since we cannot in 3D capture the essence of All-D, whatever comes closest to doing so will appeal to us the most.
Now that is not bad. That is a good example of catching the spark rather than the literal. Alcott didn’t quite say that, yet it is implicit in what he did say. Well done. Onward.
Never have we beheld a purely human face; as yet, the beast, demon, rather than the man or God, predominate in its expression. The face of the soul is not extant in flesh. Yet she has a face, and virtue and genius shall one day reveal her celestial lineaments: a beauty, a majesty, shall then radiate from her that shall transcend the rapt ideal of love and hope. So have I seen glimpses of this spiritual glory, when, inspired by some thought or sentiment, she was transfigured from the image of the earthly to that of the heavenly, the ignoble melting out of her features, lost in the supersensual life.
Clearly you can see, this paragraph cannot be understood (though it may perhaps be intuitively grasped) without being seen in context of the previous saying. If you have not in mind the idea that the human sense of beauty depends upon the 3D image approaching the essence of the All-D reality, how can you make sense of this? Yet if you do have in mind what he means, the saying is clearly a logical development of the former one. He says, “So far, I haven’t ever seen us as we truly are, but I live in hope and expectation, and I am sustained by the momentary glimpses I have had from time to time.”
Yes, as you say that, I see that it is true.
And let us proceed to the 50th saying, which completes the set that was published together initially. When we move on to the 51st, it will be well to remember that this second set formed a different subset of the whole. It is Alcott’s Act II for the two-act play.
Know, O man, that your soul is the Prometheus, who, receiving the divine fires, builds up this majestic statue of clay, and moulds it in the deific image, the pride of gods, the model and analogon of all forms. He chiselled that godlike brow, arched those mystic temples from whose fanes she herself looks forth, formed that miraculous globe above, and planted that sylvan grove below; graved those massive blades yoked in armed powers; carved that heaven-containing bosom, wreathed those puissant thighs, and hewed those stable columns, diffusing over all the grandeur, the grace of his own divine lineaments, and delighting in this cunning work of his hand. Mar not its beauty, spoil not its symmetry, by the deforming lines of lust and sin: dethroning the divinity incarnated therein, and transforming yourself into the satyr and the beast.
Whew. Alcott at his pseudo-grand worst, deploying words like “analagon” and “fanes” and “puissant.” But – keeping in mind what we have just seen in the previous sayings, his meaning is clear, almost despite the language he used.
Again we remind you, some of the obscurity and orotundity of the words may be charged to his nearness to the unconscious (or let’s say the non-3D greater consciousness) he was experiencing and attempting to express. All of Jung’s cautions about how the unconscious comes forth in inflated language apply, and in those pre-psychological days, who was there to warn him of this tendency? It is a miracle that it was not shared by all the Transcendentalists in New England, as it was common enough among the Transcendental Idealists of the German-speaking counties.
In any case, he here summarizes his argument with an exhortation. “Bearing in mind everything I have just said,” he says in effect, “see that our duty as 3D creatures who are nonetheless also non-3D in nature is to do our best to express the non-3D and not settle for truncating ourselves into 3D-only.” He would writhe to hear himself so translated, but this is the sense of it. Is it not?
It is to me, anyway. And if he writhes at someone else’s language, that’s certainly poetic justice.
We smile too. Very well, there is your hour, but we would stop here in any case. You may choose to skip a day before proceeding to the second set of sayings.
Perhaps. we’ll see how I feel. Thanks for all this, you really did make clear what seemed to be just a jumble of high-sounding but maybe unmeaningful phrases. Till next time.
Frank DeMarco, author
Papa’s Trial: Hemingway in the Afterlife, a novel