Iain Cameron's Diary
"Click here to access the Fruitful Album" - Click here to visit Music for the Highveld Project
2005-08-22 - 10:28 a.m.
THE SUBLIME OF THE SMALL PART 2
After Kant comes Hegel - that’s easy enough - but Hegel is tricky. If there is one person who we recognize as important today who might represent the Hegel heritage then its Jung (setting aside the altogether too large question of Marx and Hegel.) The collective unconscious looks a bit like absolute idea unfolding - the bit of Hegel that we vaguely remember and will carefully avoid.
In terms of Part 1 its safe to say that Russell really didn’t like Hegel and believed his own philosophy was much more straight-ahead than the Victorian Hegelians who preceded him. The next 50 or 60 years of Anglosaxon philosophy agreed with him.
I am going to work from Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit - which is organized in levels:
1. Dialectic of the Object
2. Dialectic of the Subject
3. Dialectic of Reason
4. Dialectic of Spirit
5. Dialectic of Religion
If Hegel were to respond by placing Russell in his system, following Hux he might chose the end of the Dialectic of the Subject. This dialectic has the following phases:
2.The life and death struggle
3. Master and Slave
4. Stoicism, skepticism and the unhappy consciousness.
(Just to make it absolutely clear the surfacing of master and slave and the suggestion that this may have some relevance to Jeremy and Three Hours is absolutely intended. SoS is indeed a haunted exploration.)
In Master and Slave, the slave gets the jumps on the master in existential terms - the desire of the master may prevail in the life and death struggle - but the slave gets the existential advantage. Great rafts of French 20th century existentialism are very near the surface in the Dialectic of the Subject.
Hegel defines the Stoic as he who thinks - he who only recognizes as true that which he thinks to be true. This is pretty much how Hux portrays the Russellian characters in his 1920s novels.
Here’s some full on Hegel:
“We are in the process of self-consciousness in a new shape, a consciousness which is an infinitude of consciousness or as its own pure movement, is aware of itself as essential being - a being which thinks or is a free self-consciousness.
“For to think does not mean to be an abstract ‘I’, but an ‘I’ which has at the same time significance as intrinsic - of having itself for object - of relating itself to objective being in such a way that its significance is being-for-self of the consciousness for which it is an object.
“In thinking “I am free because I am not in an other - but remain simply and solely in communion with myself”, the object, which is for me the essential being, is my undivided unity - my being for myself - and my movement in conceptual thinking is a movement within myself.”
Think of the Russellian project of deriving arithmetic from logic - a marathon of pure intellection - and then finding the contradiction within the project - a dialectical moment.
Hegel judges that Stoicism involves the premise that thought stands over against the world of concrete experience . Thought offers a way for individuals to find themselves. (Worth remembering that in the Logic of Sense Deleuze weaves the Stoics with Lewis Carroll - very much a connection to things today.)
The unhappy consciousness arises when in the thinking project as described discovers that it is an essentially dual natured entity - stardust, caught in the devil’s bargain, billion year old carbon etc. In Hegel’s words:
“Consciousness is aware of itself as this individual in the animal functions. These are no longer performed naturally and without embarrassment……..instead since it is in them that the enemy reveals itself in his characteristic shape, they are rather the object of serious endeavour and become precisely matters of the utmost importance. The enemy renews himself in defeat and consciousness in fixing attention on him far from freeing itself remains forever in contact and see itself defiled.”
We need to remember that (astonishingly) Hegel published this stuff in 1807 - about 90 years before H G Wells wrote the Island of Dr Moreau (never mind Hesse’s breakthrough exhibition in 1966) - indeed it was Hegel’s philosophy that helped fuel in Germany a generation of embryologists that made core discoveries that helped lay the foundations of the road which lead to the biochemical vision that underpins BNW.
Individual consciousness having briefly revelled in the project of defining itself autonomously through thought and intellectual exploration goes on to experience the dialectical swing as it confronts its animal heritage - realizing that this heritage is of unavoidable significance for the project. The realisation is the key point. Earlier cultures may even have celebrated the animal connection but for the autonomous thought project it looms large as an obstacle.
Worth looking at Foucault’s History of Sexuality against this background.
Lets skip the Dialectic of Reason - which is what this moment - the thinking animal moment - initiates - and leap ahead to the end of the Dialectic of Spirit. But don’t lose focus on the moment of realization - when the consciousness realises that its thought-driven project is flawed. Hold onto the dynamics of that moment - as the starting point for Hegel’s later examination of those dynamics within the Phenomenology.
In the last part of the Dialectics of Spirit, Hegel engages with the centrality of autonomous moral decision-making within Kant’s philosophical system - the idea that the freedom of the individual is to resolve the right course of action - to identify duty and act on it. For Kant this is the prime node of both culture and the individual existence - what its all for - including artistic expression. But within the Dialectics of Spirit, there is a superceding phase - the Kantian moral philosophy is not the end of the line. The next phase according to Hegel is governed by conscience. As Hegel puts it:
“Pure duty consists of empty abstraction of pure thought with its content and its reality is only in a specific reality - in a reality which is the reality of consciousness itself and consciousness not as a mere thought-thing but as an individual.”
Throughout the Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel foregrounds the tension between the general and the particular (individual and society) and this is especially true of the moment where conscience begins to unpick Kantian morality. Conscience is convinced of the moral quality of its own intention. Even if it acts contrary to the general view of duty it expects acceptance - recognition of the moral integrity with which it embraces in its intention.
Hegel has seized on a significant feature of conscience in the modern (our) world - where conscience clauses are introduced into the contract of employment which sanction the individual deviating from the obligations of his or her office, But unless the whistle-blower follows a specified route and procedure he or she will suffer dire consequences - duty tries hard to circumscribe and disempower conscience. The moments of conscience’s conflict with duty are highly charged even in the 21st century with dramatic potential.
Hegel also insightfully notes the link between conscience and consequences. The whole point about Kantian morality is that it is about duty rather than consequences. After Hegel in England moral consequentialism becomes big news - with the emergence of utilitarianism - a philosophy that sees good wholly in terms of good consequences in society. Utilitarianism was dominant in English cultural life relative to Kantian and Hegelian ethics for most of the 19th century. A kind of turning point is reached when Russell’s mate Moore articulates the Naturalistic Fallacy in the first decade of the 20th century. Nowadays we tend to be Humean - we believe there is a gap between is and ought, which supports our instinctive relativism, but for practical purposes we use the rule of utility which Hume also proposed. Hume provoked Kant in the first place. But to repeat we also experience that Hegelian-Kantian drama of whistle blowing. You can say to the whistlenblower - suppose everyone always blew the whistle - the machinery of Government would grind to a halt and the whistleblower’s answer is that conscience tells him that this time its different - more is at stake.
Indeed Hegel presciently detects that conscience is very arrogant in its suppositions about consequences - in the moment of conscience we assume that the course of action favored is one which has the better consequences - something which is intrinsically unknowable - but conscience as it takes over the acting self convinces it that not only is the proposed course morally correct but that the consequences will be best too.
Within the thought-world establish in SOS1 conscience surfaces as artistic integrity - the authentic driven perception of truth which innovative artists feel driven to code into their work. It also surfaces as a destructive force - most obviously in the death of the Savage but perhaps not exclusively there.
It also surfaces as a pole in the Holroyd’s critique of Plath’s existential orientation expressed in her poetry and her life - whether she neglects her human duty in following her chosen and authentic path on the basis of an all-consuming allegory? In both these cases we see a general sense of duty - take the tablets and get on with it like everyone else - lined up against the artistic conscience.
As I say - within SOS1 conscience is clearly evident in an artistic form - but in an artistic for embedded in a social conext. Where does Hegel place art and society in the Phenomenology? Towards the end - as an aspect of The Dialectic of Religion. The conscience moment is the point at which the Dilaectic of Spirit develops into the Dialectic of Religion.
Again, showing uncanny precision, Hegel highlights the role of sculpture within classic Greek religion - as an embodiment of the divine - the great statues that almost seem too life-like. It is in classic Greek society that Hegel finds the source of the lost integrity between individual and society which runs through his work and which we all regret the loss of. It is from this ‘original ‘ civilization and its integrity of culture and religion that the unfolding dialectic gradually disrupts.
Sculpture may seem to be the embodiment of art in support of religion in classical Greece. But in the dialectic , sculpture is superceded by song. Song is how divinity speaks (and idea which also emerges in Sufism). The songwriter simply transcribes the divine lyric from a source outside. Hegel writes:
“The work of art (sculpture) therefore demands another element of its existence - the god another mode of coming forth - this higher element is language - an outer reality that is immediately conscious existence - the god therefore who has language for the element of his shape is the work of art that is in its own self inspired - that possesses in its own outer existence in pure activity.”
Such for Hegel is the divine role of the song-writer - an advance over the oracle as the verbal manifestation of the deity. Indeed Hegel goes on to build an elaborate account of how the emergence of song facilitates the advancement of religion as the integration of the individual and the social within unfolding culture.
(For dialectic perhaps we should read counterpoint?) With that in mind I want to switch back to Hux.
One of the great things about Hux (besides the mescaline and the gay bars and having given the Doors their name and having a soft spot for Godalming and being the subject of a piece by Stravinsky) is the sweep of his intellectual engagement - an intellectual engagement underpinned by moral and artistic concern. We can see even from the few examples quoted so far that Hegel and Hux have this in common.
Nowhere is the sweep more evident than in the novel preceding BNW - Point Counterpoint. In typical Hegelian fashion it reveals its own inner logic as it unfolds. Thus the novel contains a novelist who explains some novelistic theory - in his notebook the novelist writes that it would be a good idea to put a novelist in a novel. He also notes that he wants to musicalize fiction not in the way that poetry can be like music but in the way that composers weave diverse themes together and develop them. Amongst the themes are the different points of view that different categories of people have vis a vis the external world - biologist, physicist, historian, accountant, poet etc. The complex possibilities of harmony and modulation.
The epigraph to PCP is from Fulke Greville (1554 - 1628) - a play called Mustapha. (In BNW the Fat Controller is called Mustapha Mond.) The epigraph is:
Oh, wearisome condition of humanity,
PCP was the biggest hit so far of Hux’s literary career and the royalties made a big difference to Aldous and Maria’s lifestyle. It was for a while the book you had to read and be able to talk about. It was the next big thing after Lady Chatterley’s Lover (which Maria had typed up for Lawrence.)
In his 2002 biography of Hux, Nicholas Murray details some of the immediate reaction to PCP.
“If not his best book then certainly his most important’ Cyril Connolly
“It does not meld story and ideas into one: it cares little about climax, progression and proportion” TLS
H G Wells sent Hux a nice note about the book.
D H Lawrence wrote that he read the book ‘with a heart sinking through my boots and a rising admiration - I think you have shown the truth about you and your generation with a really fine courage”. DHL thought it was ten times more courageous than Lady C.
A friend of Virginia Woolf’s told her that it was a painful and horrid book and Hux seemed to agree writing to a US correspondent that he had written a rather good but rather frightful novel. So we in Hegelian terms we seem to have a cracking example of the unhappy consciousness - PCP was clever - an intellecual voyage with unifying form - but it left everyone unhappy and depressed..
Hux’s next important project (besides BNW) was the first collecion of DHL’s letters (following the death of his friend) which also came out in 1932. We may find it hard to appreciate how important this second project was. Hux was quite simply the first literary figure of any standing to ‘get’ DHL and make a serious attempt to explain to others what the point was - in the introduction to his letters.
The general view at that point was that DHL was a dirty pacifist weirdo.
Anyone educated in English Lit in the 50s 60s and 70s is likely to have missed the role of Hux because the perspective on DHL was dominated by Leavis - who didn’t care for Hux’s fiction at all. In fact in 1955 Leavis maintained that he felt impelled to write about DHL because his insights was urgently needed to help everyone see the point. In 1932 Hux had explained:
‘It is impossible to write about DHL except as an artist. He was an artist first of all and the fact of his being an artist explains a life which otherwise seems inexplicably strange…An artist is the sort of artist he is because he happens to possess certain gifts. And he leads the sort of life he does in fact lead, because he is an artist with a particular kind of mental endowment…..The gift that made DHL’s achievement possible accounts for a great deal of his biography.”
“Lawrence’s special and characteristic gift was an extraordinary sensitiveness to what Wordsworth called ‘unknown modes of being’ He was always intensely aware of the mystery of the world and the mystery was always for him a numen, divine.’
So we see Kant and Hegel loom into view - DHL was one of the great coders - somehow he could get into his works of art the triggers that might release in us the perception plus.
“Lawrence could never forget, as most of us continuously forget, the dark presence of the otherness that lies beyond the boundaries of man’s conciousness mind.”
Yes - here comes the sublime - you must have been wondering where it had got to - and well I never - its an internal sublime - the darkness is in us. (Here come the warm jets.)
“For Lawrence the significance of the sexual experience was this - that in it the immediate monumental knowledge , divine otherness is brought to a focus - a focus of darkness.’
Hux goes on to give one of his maternal ancestors a rebore.
“Parodying Matthew Arnold’s famous phrase we may say that sex is something not ourselves that makes - not for righteousness - for the essence of religion is not righteousness. As Kierkegaard insists there is a spiritual world beyond the ethical that makes for life - for divineness - for union with the darkness.”
This is strong stuff and it makes you wonder just how far Hux and Sullivan got in their attempt to get through to Einstein in Berlin. (Kierkegaard is the dialectical unfolding from Hegel by the way.)
We can pause there and reflect on the Savage - the character in BNW who represents the counterpoint to the Mustapha Mond system. Sex was certainly part of his undoing - he wanted romance and the girl wanted sex - and in the final chapter we can now see that in Hux’s imagination the Savage had broken through to the noumenal darkness inside - this triggers the fatal moment of conscience.
Thanks to Hux’s visionary account of DHL we can also embrace Nancy Hunter Steiner’s excellent memoir A Closer Look at Ariel.
NHS was SP’s roommate in Smith College in 1954 - the year after the suicide and before Cambridge and she tells an uncannily related tale of dark adventures during a Harvard Summer - also involving a biologist and the conflict between self definition and physicality. The Closer Look was a major detonation in the early 70s - it provoked Mrs Plath senior to publish the Letters Home to ‘set the record straight’about her daughter which in turn provoked Hughes to release the Journals to show that the letters home weren’t the whole story. The 1982 journals were edited though and it was only 20 years later that the full monty emerged.
While we linger here its worth dipping into George Stade’s Afterword to the NHS Closer Look:
“When she (SP) was two and a half, on the day her brother was born, she walked along the beach and saw for the first time ‘the separateness of everything. I am I. That is that stone. My beautiful fusion with things of this world was over.’”
At this point (a dialectical moment) SP says that she became ‘my rival - somebody else.’ Her mother reads her some Matthew Arnold and SP felt shaken by a chill - her gooseflesh rose and she wanted to cry. SP had discovers a new way of being happy in the wake of I am I.. The poem was the Forsaken Merman.
On the beach SP looked for a totem and the sea threw up a carved wood sacred baboon. In SP’s words “the sea perceiving my need had conferred me a blessing.” Do we have some sort of personal allegory here?>
There’s something bulky up my slieve that I need to put on the table before I draw a line under part 2:
“One spring afternoon in 1969, my room in King's happened to be where it was at. The door was open; people entered and left as they pleased. There were a dozen or so loafers listening to the folk/jazz musicians among us when my friend Paul Wheeler put aside his guitar and introduced a fellow singer-songwriter sitting quietly beside him: "Nick." After a few moments spent checking his tuning (but perhaps to let the intervening hubbub hush), this tall, elegant person - at whom all the women in the room were now intently gazing - began to play, craned over his small-bodied Guild guitar and staring at the carpet as his long fingers moved deftly across the fretboard while he sang low in a breathy beige voice: "Time has told me... you're a rare find... a troubled cure... for a troubled mind..." My eyes met those of another friend, a pianist with a jazz penchant. He silent-whistled: what have we here?"Wow," chorused the gathering at the end of the song, "that was great, really nice", etc. Unspoken protocol was that those playing did a couple of numbers before giving way to someone else. Nick whoever-he-was finished another bout of tuning, cleared his throat, and began to play again. In 5/4. Not many folk guitarists play in 5/4. And he sang: "Betty came by on her way... said she had a word to say... 'bout things today... and fallen leaves..."
Nick Drake means something today. But what?
Postmodern urban cynics will already be busy deconstructing this. A bourgeois fantasy of rural life that never existed; a dream; an evasion. Well, yes; up to a point. I've lived in the countryside for fifteen years and I can see what it "really" is as I speed through it in my car. Certainly, it's as much a social construction as anything else is, or isn't. But after writing the previous paragraph, I went downstairs to make a cup of tea and, when I paused to look out of the window, the human-husbanded utilitarian landscape of interlocking lanes and fields and neatly-pruned woodland which I normally see was suddenly deep, suddenly enveloping. I'm living in the country, I realised, as if briefly coming awake. And it's magical. Minutes later, after the kettle boiled, my ecstasy had lapsed and the view had returned to normal. So was the experience "real"? It arose through contemplation summoned by writing "poetically" about the outer world as inner experience. And the fact is that if we could live in that state all the time, that enveloping, magical view would be reality.
Nowadays "spirit" is being squeezed out of our materialist society. To say that "it's not what you do, it's the way that you do it" is still acceptable, but to put it another way - to propose that what matters is the spirit in which we live - would strike most of us as outmodedly idealistic. The "spirit"? A fantasy, a dream, an evasion. Yet the difference between the view seen normally and the view seen "magically" is the spirit in which the seeing is done.
Penetrating the meaning of Nick Drake's work, beyond the instinctive attraction which so many continue to feel upon encountering it, starts from this apparently innocent proposition about magic and spirit. Beyond that, things soon get starker - and ultimately dark, as dark as it gets - but the corridor to the heart of Drake's vision is always lit by a mysterious light; and the pure luminosity of his work, the source of its attraction, emanates from its final redeeming revelation. If there's an artist of the last thirty years whose work speaks to us both directly and profoundly at this time of millennial transition, it's got to be Nick Drake. So, then: do you want to go deeper? ‘
Thus IMAC’s most celebrated piece.
While the density and penetration of Kant’s insight structured the first foray - how art might mean - and how the sublime links art and moral agency , - Hegel goes shallower but faster and wider over the terrain - and with different emphases.
Hegel offers a place - the unhappy conciousness - which arises from go it alone intellectual endeavour and provides an underpinning for our trio - Hesse, VFT and Sylvia Plath . They are linked in their exploration of this phase from the Dialectic of the Subject. For the unhappy conciousness, the sublime is small - it is those small animal reminders that disrupt the big think.
Hegel being Hegel nothing lasts for long and there is an upward dialectical move through reason to spirit and religion.
The transition from spirit to religion is marked by a head-on Kant-Hegel altercation around the issue of conscience. Our merry crew seem to be Hegelian in that they will take artistic conscience to the limit and beyond.
Hegel’s masterstroke is his placing of song-writing in the dialectic of religion - after sculpture (sorry Eva). In songwriting there is the possibility of articulating the divine lyric within an artistic frame that embodies its authentic power.
Hux and IMAC seem to be homing in on this point - the intensity of vision of DHL etc - which unfortunately switches us over to the dark side - a place that Miss P seems to have discovered in her own sweet way.
The last bit you don’t need me to explain.
To be continued.