Archive for the Philosophy Category

Le veau d’or

Posted in Philosophy with tags on July 6, 2017 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

veaudor

America is on the road to revolutionize this ideal by the introduction of the democratic principle of the equality of individuals in a general equality of functions. Only, when there is nothing left but a multitude of equal individualities, neither young nor old, neither men nor women, neither benefited nor benefactors—all social difference will turn upon money. The whole hierarchy will rest upon the dollar, and the most brutal, the most hideous, the most inhuman of inequalities will be the fruit of the passion for equality. What a result! Plutolatry—the worship of wealth, the madness of gold—to it will be confided the task of chastising a false principle and its followers. And plutocracy will be in its turn executed by equality. It would be a strange end for it, if Anglo-Saxon individualism were ultimately swallowed up in Latin socialism.

It is my prayer that the discovery of an equilibrium between the two principles may be made in time, before the social war, with all its terror and ruin, overtakes us. But it is scarcely likely.

Text: Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Journal Intime, translated by Mrs. Humphrey Ward. London: Macmillan and Co, 1898
Image: Henri Meyer, Le veau d’or, Le Petit Journal, n° 110, samedi 31 décembre 1892

Lectori Benevolo

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , on June 29, 2017 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Rembrandt, Ascension, 1636

On account of its somewhat unusual content, my little book requires a short preface. I beg of you, dear reader, not to overlook it. For, in what follows, I shall speak of the venerable objects of religious belief. Whoever talks of such matters inevitably runs the risk of being torn to pieces by the two parties who are in mortal conflict about those very things. This conflict is due to the strange supposition that a thing is true only if it presents itself as a physical fact. Thus some people believe it to be physically true that Christ was born as the son of a virgin, while others deny this as a physical impossibility. Everyone can see that there is no logical solution to this conflict and that one would do better not to get involved in such sterile disputes. Both are right and both are wrong. Yet they could easily reach agreement if only they dropped the word “physical.” “Physical” is not the only criterion of truth: there are also psychic truths which can neither be explained nor proved nor contested in any physical way. If, for instance, a general belief existed that the river Rhine had at one time flowed backwards from its mouth to its source, then this belief would in itself be a fact even though such an assertion, physically understood, would be deemed utterly incredible. Beliefs of this kind are psychic facts which cannot be contested and need no proof.

Religious statements are of this type. They refer without exception to things that cannot be established as physical facts. If they did not do this, they would inevitably fall into the category of the natural sciences. Taken as referring to anything physical, they make no sense whatever, and science would dismiss them as non-experienceable. They would be mere miracles, which are sufficiently exposed to doubt as it is, and yet they could not demonstrate the reality of the spirit or meaning that underlies them, because meaning is something that always demonstrates itself and is experienced on its own merits. The spirit and meaning of Christ are present and perceptible to us even without the aid of miracles. Miracles appeal only to the understanding of those who cannot perceive the meaning. They are mere substitutes for the not understood reality of the spirit. This is not to say that the living presence of the spirit is not occasionally accompanied by marvellous physical happenings. I only wish to emphasize that these happenings can neither replace nor bring about an understanding of the spirit, which is the one essential thing.

The fact that religious statements frequently conflict with the observed physical phenomena proves that in contrast to physical perception the spirit is autonomous, and that psychic experience is to a certain extent independent of physical data. The psyche is an autonomous factor, and religious statements are psychic confessions which in the last resort are based on unconscious, i.e., on transcendental, processes. These processes are not accessible to physical perception but demonstrate their existence through the confessions of the psyche. The resultant statements are filtered through the medium of human consciousness: that is to say, they are given visible forms which in their turn are subject to manifold influences from within and without. That is why whenever we speak of religious contents we move in a world of images that point to something ineffable. We do not know how clear or unclear these images, metaphors, and concepts are in respect of their transcendental object. If, for instance, we say “God,” we give expression to an image or verbal concept which has undergone many changes in the course of time. We are, however, unable to say with any degree of certainty—unless it be by faith—whether these changes affect only the images and concepts, or the Unspeakable itself. After all, we can imagine God as an eternally flowing current of vital energy that endlessly changes shape just as easily as we can imagine him as an eternally unmoved, unchangeable essence. Our reason is sure only of one thing: that it manipulates images and ideas which are dependent on human imagination and its temporal and local conditions, and which have therefore changed innumerable times in the course of their long history. There is no doubt that there is something behind these images that transcends consciousness and operates in such a way that the statements do not vary limitlessly and chaotically, but clearly all relate to a few basic principles or archetypes. These, like the psyche itself, or like matter, are unknowable as such. All we can do is to construct models of them which we know to be inadequate, a fact which is confirmed again and again by religious statements.

If, therefore, in what follows I concern myself with these “metaphysical” objects, I am quite conscious that I am moving in a world of images and that none of my reflections touches the essence of the Unknowable. I am also too well aware of how limited are our powers of conception—to say nothing of the feebleness and poverty of language—to imagine that my remarks mean anything more in principle than what a primitive man means when he conceives of his god as a hare or a snake. But, although our whole world of religious ideas consists of anthropomorphic images that could never stand up to rational criticism, we should never forget that they are based on numinous archetypes, i.e., on an emotional foundation which is unassailable by reason. We are dealing with psychic facts which logic.can overlook but not eliminate. In this connection Tertullian has already appealed, quite rightly, to the testimony of the soul. In his De testimonio animae, he says:

These testimonies of the soul are as simple as they are true, as obvious as they are simple, as common as they are obvious, as natural as they are common, as divine as they are natural. I think that they cannot appear to any one to be trifling and ridiculous if he considers the majesty of Nature, whence the authority of the soul is derived. What you allow to the mistress you will assign to the disciple. Nature is the mistress, the soul is the disciple; what the one has taught, or the other has learned, has been delivered to them by God, who is, in truth, the Master even of the mistress herself. What notion the soul is able to conceive of her first teacher is in your power to judge, from that soul which is in you. Feel that which causes you to feel; think upon that which is in forebodings your prophet; in omens, your augur; in the events which befall you, your foreseer. Strange if, being given by God, she knows how to act the diviner for men! Equally strange if she knows Him by whom she has been given!

I would go a step further and say that the statements made in the Holy Scriptures are also utterances of the soul—even at the risk of being suspected of psychologism. The statements of the conscious mind may easily be snares and delusions, lies, or arbitrary opinions, but this is certainly not true of the statements of the soul: to begin with they always go over our heads because they point to realities that transcend consciousness. These entia are the archetypes of the collective unconscious, and they precipitate complexes of ideas in the form of mythological motifs. Ideas of this kind are never invented, but enter the field of inner perception as finished products, for instance in dreams. They are spontaneous phenomena which are not subject to our will, and we are therefore justified in ascribing to them a certain autonomy. They are to be regarded not only as objects but as subjects with laws of their own. From the point of view of consciousness, we can, of course, describe them as objects, and even explain them up to a point, in the same measure as we can describe and explain a living human being. But then we have to disregard their autonomy. If that is considered, we are compelled to treat them as subjects; in other words, we have to admit that they possess spontaneity and purposiveness, or a kind of consciousness and free will. We observe their behaviour and consider their statements. This dual standpoint, which we are forced to adopt towards every relatively independent organism, naturally has a dual result. On the one hand it tells me what I do to the object, and on the other hand what it does (possibly to me). It is obvious that this unavoidable dualism will create a certain amount of confusion in the minds of my readers, particularly as in what follows we shall have to do with the archetype of Deity.

Should any of my readers feel tempted to add an apologetic “only” to the God-images as we perceive them, he would immediately fall foul of experience, which demonstrates beyond any shadow of doubt the extraordinary numinosity of these images. The tremendous effectiveness (mana) of these images is such that they not only give one the feeling of pointing to the Ens realissimum, but make one convinced that they actually express it and establish it as a fact. This makes discussion uncommonly difficult, if not impossible. It is, in fact, impossible to demonstrate God’s reality to oneself except by using images which have arisen spontaneously or are sanctified by tradition, and whose psychic nature and effects the naive-minded person has never separated from their unknowable metaphysical back-ground. He instantly equates the effective image with the transcendental x to which it points. The seeming justification for this procedure appears self-evident and is not considered a problem so long as the statements of religion are not seriously questioned. But if there is occasion for criticism, then it must be remembered that the image and the statement are psychic processes which are different from their transcendental object; they do not posit it, they merely point to it. In the realm of psychic processes criticism and discussion are not only permissible but are unavoidable.

In what follows I shall attempt just such a discussion, such a “coming to terms” with certain religious traditions and ideas. Since I shall be dealing with numinous factors, my feeling is challenged quite as much as my intellect. I cannot, therefore, write in a coolly objective manner, but must allow my emotional subjectivity to speak if I want to describe what I feel when I read certain books of the Bible, or when I remember the impressions I have received from the doctrines of our faith. I do not write as a biblical scholar (which I am not), but as a layman and physician who has been privileged to see deeply into the psychic life of many people. What I am expressing is first of all my own personal view, but I know that I also speak in the name of many who have had similar experiences.

Text: Carl Jung, Answer to Job. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954
Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Ascension of Christ, 1636, Alte Pinakothek Munich

Mirror

Posted in Art, Cinema, Philosophy with tags on June 28, 2017 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Andrei Tarkovsky with Margarita Terekhova - Mirror

We have almost totally lost sight of the beautiful as a criterion of art: in other words, of the aspiration to express the ideal. Every age is marked by the search for truth. And however grim that truth, it still contributes to the moral health of humanity. Its recognition is a sign of a healthy time and can never be in contradiction with the moral idea. Attempts to hide the truth, cover it, keep it secret, artificially setting it against a distorted moral ideal on the assumption that the latter will be repudiated in the eyes of the majority by the impartial truth—can only mean that ideological interests have been substituted for aesthetic criteria. Only a faithful statement about the artist’s time can express a true, as opposed to a propagandist, moral ideal.

This was the theme of Andrey Rublyov. It looks at first sight as if the cruel truth of life as he observes it is in crying contradiction with the harmonious ideal of his work. The crux of the question, however, is that the artist cannot express the moral ideal of his time unless he touches all its running sores, unless he suffers and lives these sores himself. That is how art triumphs over grim, ‘base’ truth, clearly recognising it for what it is, in the name of its own sublime purpose: such is its destined role. For art could almost be said to be religious in that it is inspired by commitment to a higher goal.

Devoid of spirituality, art carries its own tragedy within it. For even to recognise the spiritual vacuum of the times in which he lives, the artist must have specific qualities of wisdom and understanding. The true artist always serves immortality, striving to immortalise the world and man within the world. An artist who doesn’t try to seek out absolute truth, who ignores universal goals for the sake of accidentals, can only be a time-server.

Text: Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986
Image: Andrei Tarkovsky with Margarita Terekhova on the set of Mirror, 1975

Uniformity

Posted in Philosophy with tags on June 28, 2017 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Munition workers painting shells at the National Shell Filling Factory No.6, Chilwell
…mediocrity freezes all desire. Equality engenders uniformity, and it is by sacrificing what is excellent, remarkable, and extraordinary that we get rid of what is bad. The whole becomes less barbarous, and at the same time more vulgar.

The age of great men is going; the epoch of the ant-hill, of life in multiplicity, is beginning. The century of individualism, if abstract equality triumphs, runs a great risk of seeing no more true individuals. By continual leveling and division of labor, society will become everything and man nothing.

As the floor of valleys is raised by the denudation and washing down of the mountains, what is average will rise at the expense of what is great. The exceptional will disappear. A plateau with fewer and fewer undulations, without contrasts and without oppositions, such will be the aspect of human society. The statistician will register a growing progress, and the moralist a gradual decline: on the one hand, a progress of things; on the other, a decline of souls. The useful will take the place of the beautiful, industry of art, political economy of religion, and arithmetic of poetry. The spleen will become the malady of a leveling age.

Is this indeed the fate reserved for the democratic era? May not the general well-being be purchased too dearly at such a price? The creative force which in the beginning we see forever tending to produce and multiply differences, will it afterward retrace its steps and obliterate them one by one? And equality, which in the dawn of existence is mere inertia, torpor, and death, is it to become at last the natural form of life? Or rather, above the economic and political equality to which the socialist and non-socialist democracy aspires, taking it too often for the term of its efforts, will there not arise a new kingdom of mind, a church of refuge, a republic of souls, in which, far beyond the region of mere right and sordid utility, beauty, devotion, holiness, heroism, enthusiasm, the extraordinary, the infinite, shall have a worship and an abiding city? Utilitarian materialism, barren well-being, the idolatry of the flesh and of the “I,” of the temporal and of mammon, are they to be the goal of our efforts, the final recompense promised to the labors of our race? I do not believe it. The ideal of humanity is something different and higher.

Text: Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Journal Intime, translated by Mrs. Humphrey Ward. London: Macmillan and Co, 1898
Image: Horace Nicholls, Munitions workers paint shells in the National Shell Filling Factory at Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, during the First World War, 1917. Imperial War Museum

Pietà

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , on April 28, 2017 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Rosso Fiorentino, Pieta

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?

Text: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann
Image: Rosso Fiorentino, Pietà, c. 1540, Musée du Louvre

Conversione di San Paolo

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , , on December 13, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

caravaggio-damascus

For, it is said that while Saul of Tarsus was carrying out his duties as Commissar of Truth, the Messiah he had been denying appeared before him and convinced him of his error. So, after a bit of soul searching, he quit his job and thereafter dedicated himself to the task of preaching the very doctrine he had been denouncing. And because he was now the persecuted rather than the persecutor, he was effective; everywhere he went he found willing listeners, even in Rome itself. More important than their numbers was the conviction of his converts that in the eyes of God the lowliest in society was equal unto Caesar. The psalm of freedom — of the dignity of the individual — reawakened their souls. Neither the lash nor the dungeon vile nor the wild beasts in the arena could rob them of their self-esteem. By their very suffering and death they transmitted their faith to others, the sect grew, and at long last Caesar capitulated.

From the story of Saul, who came to be known as Paul, we draw the lesson: that when people want freedom they will get it. When the desire of the business man for “free enterprise” is so strong that he will risk bankruptcy for it, he cannot be denied. When youth prefers prison to the barracks, when a job in the bureaucracy is considered leprous, when the tax collector is stamped a legalized thief, when handouts from the politician are contemptuously rejected, when work on a government project is considered degrading, when, in short, the state is recognized to be the enemy of society, then only will freedom come, and the citadel of power collapse.

Considering the temper of the times, the emergence of such a public state of mind would indeed be a miracle. But, in some degree it has happened before and therefore we may hope. When the organized religion of power, known as communism (more properly called statism), shall have destroyed all values, and reduced the individual to a nonentity, will its overthrow by moral force be accomplished. In degrading the individual it destroys itself, simply because the degraded individual loses interest in production and ceases to provide the wherewithal for the state. As the state rots away from malnutrition, the individual begins to reassert himself in something called civil disobedience, passive resistance, or some other kind of revolution, and the contest is all in his favor. Freedom comes when Caesar is no longer able to maintain his legions.

Text: Frank Chodorov, Out of Step: The Autobiography of an Individualist. New York: Devin-Adair, 1962 via
Image: Caravaggio, Conversione di San Paolo, 1601, Santa Maria del Popolo, Roma

Religion is valid poetry…

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , on November 18, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

giovanni-battista-tiepolo-allegory-of-the-planets-and-continents-1752-met

“…morality and spirit, in my view, express specific and contrary vital interests, as in politics. To assert that one such political or vital interest, say the Jewish or the Anglo-Saxon, coincides with the total inspiration of the universe, is egotism in excelsis, and a plain illusion of animal vanity and egotism. Banish that illusion: the vital and political interest concerned remains standing, but only as one local and temporary movement of animal life on earth. It is its own excuse for being, but it leaves the speculative spirit free to transcend it and to admit equally, in their places, all the other vital and political interests that may arise. I would relax English prejudices in the Catholic and naturalistic direction by a single and consistent insight, not by casual contrary sympathies. Catholicism is paganism spiritualised: it is fundamentally naturalistic; and the transcendental spirit and the wise statesman may accept Catholicism, where it naturally arises, as a good poetic symbol for the forces and the issues of human life in that phase; not, however, as a scientific revelation of reality or a history of literal facts. Religion is valid poetry infused into common life. It is not a revelation truer than perception or than science. Nature, where it breeds life, is undoubtedly animated by a spirit kindred to man’s and to human morality; hence the dramatic sympathy in us with all real or imagined vitality in the universe. Yet this sympathy should chasten rather than inflate us, because it reveals to us how accidental are the objects of our love.”

Text: George Santayana, My Host the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953
Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Allegoria dei pianeti e continenti, 1752, Metropolitan Museum