The New Freewoman: No. 11, Vol. 1, November 15th 1913.
by Dora Marsden
A CRITICISM of an editorial article under the heading of "Beauty and the Human Form," which appeared in the October 15th issue of THE NEW FREEWOMAN, challenges decisions on a number of aesthetic problems which we ourselves were sufficiently cautious (save in one particular) not to raise.
Our relatively modest concern was to establish the point that the inquiry into the beautiful had to do with an inquiry into a definite class of sensations, and not into abstract notions and associated ideas; and that that part of the "beautiful" which was not a sensation was an affectation, or misnomer. A few additional observations may have been dragged in out of unbridled interest in the subject, but we do not gather upon what part of our remarks the writer would place responsibility for the opinion that "repose" or "calm" was a necessary ingredient and provoking cause of the sensation. We will not, however, take up space in debating the point; we are sufficiently interested to use the criticism as a peg for further inquiry from which our correspondent will gather our meaning and learn whether, with greater explicitness, it can make terms with his objections; for in any judgment passed on the nature of sensation, direct appeal must be made to experience, and though even a widely different experience of another would not cancel our own, it might quite possibly cancel the claims of an attempted explanation. lt would be a scheme much to our liking, some time in the future, to issue a supplement containing the observations of observers whose experience is sufficiently defined to bear recounting. In any case the experiment should prove valuable. Should the versions prove too disparate to allow of any sort of coordination, any general basis of agreement, it would at least show that the hypotheses were worthless; show the necessity of overhauling the terms supposedly covering elementary data; of observing the phenomena afresh from the beginning, having banished all preconceived notions; whereas on the other hand should there issue a promise of agreement, of arriving at the general character and function of the experience, a work of incalculable value would have been set on foot.
That however remains a proposal for the future. What we propose here is to advance an hypothesis: not an idea, nothing to do with the "essence" of the experience; merely a suggested explanation of the way in which its elementary characteristics are achieved; quite likely perhaps to prove wrong as right, but containing a few "pegs" of fact which, if not accommodated by this explanation will require to be accommodated in some other which later may be found. To formulate hypotheses, based on careful observation, and advance them for criticism without prejudices in favour of their ultimate accuracy, appears the chief means of bringing a little light into the consideration of vital phenomena. Indeed, unless philosophers (pretentious title) are prepared to be proved in the wrong as well as in the right, to test their "guesses" in the open, vital truth will never progress beyond the closed systems of the individual cult makers. As long as philosophers continue to be so destitute of emotional integrity as to be willing to set up a "system" on the limping leg of any unverified hypothesis; to make a cult of some windy idea, with creed ritual disciples and perpetuators all exclusive and complete, so long will culture, i.e., life-knowledge, remain the tenebrous thing it is.
Before we can continue the inquiry with any profit it will be necessary to define three terms, the undefined use of which seems calculated to render the entire discission nugatory; the terms body, soul, and sense. The critic to whom we have already referred complains that we "banish" the body, and asks if Blake were not wiser in maintaining that "a man has no body distinct from his soul; for that called body is a portion of the Soul." Whether we allow that Blake was wiser or no; whether we allow that his statement is or is not even roughly accurate, we do not alter the fact that if the body be a "portion" of the soul it is one of which the soul becomes extraordinarily negligent. Every man has a time in his life when he very drastically cuts his connection with this "portion" which he leaves lying like derelict property, abandoned luggage, for any to dispose of. This neglect involves a misprisal of the body which common sense is not slow to take note of. It recognises that one day the "Man" will repair to haunts upon an invitation which does not include the "body," and that this will, without ceremony, be left like a cast-off garment. We would rather say that the "body" was a screen of dead matter specially acted upon by a unit of living energy to serve as a buffer and a neutral zone between the latter and the world (i.e., all things not itself) outside. Dead matter does not become living matter when it is "used" by organised emotion. It is merely transmuted to make it more apt to the using. "Living matter" is "dead matter" interpenetrated with organised emotion. A dead body is no more "dead" than a living body. The difference between the two is that the one is being used and preserved in a certain semblance suggesting organisation while the other is not. Dead, the organised life which encouraged the illusion that the body too was organised is gone and has left no address. The remnant left behind at death is all that there existed of "body" in life. Aggressively common- place remarks which curates and other simple souls repeat every day, and neither Blake nor any other could say a word in contradiction. So much for the "body"- dead matter even in life, from our point of view.
The senses, in our way of using the term, are the thin streams of soul which filter through the screen of matter outward towards the external surface. They are the fringe of soul where feeling, i.e., life, runs thinnest, slender feelers, some too fine to feel more than the dimmest awareness of the shiver of contact; and some broader and stronger. The effect, if not the purpose, of this difference in density and intensity which is indicated in the use of the two terms "soul" and "sense" is to enable a life-unit to ingratiate itself into the phenomenal world with a minimum implication of emotion in experience. The orgianisation of the senses represents caution embodied in the structure of life.
The senses have a two-fold action: explorative outward into phenomena; inhibitory inward, checking off the main reservoirs of the emotional depths, all save the thin streams of feeling which connect them. Scouts outwardly they are sentinels inward.
The soul is the general name we would employ to indicate the deeper reaches of the emotional organism. It is the denser organised complex of all the feelings which the ego-soul and sense combined-has experienced. It is the full tide of emotion which beats upon the barrier of sense, and surges towards a fuller outlet and stronger experience.
These definitions made, we may proceed to the inquiry into the sensation of the "beautiful": of which inquiry we may distinguish three main aspects; the quality of the sensation itself; the existence of the capacity to experience the sensation; and the special nature (if any) of the external agents capable of producing it. The grievance which most of us have against our sensations is that they are too short to allow emotion to turn round in them. Feeling is but rarely able to sense the quality of itself in the moment of experience. Consequently we are thrown back upon the secondhand knowledge of memory for confirmation; and memory is faulty because sensation, in addition to being brief, is feeble. This briefness of realisation is the most baffling thing in life: it is that which lies at the root of all excesses and all attempted voluptuousness; the excess is the outcome of a series of efforts to appease to a fuller satisfaction sensation tantalizingly incomplete. Repetition attempts to do what only duration could achieve; its effect is to make even repetition impossible. The sensation of the beautiful is the one case where realisation is longdrawn out. It is voluptuousness in excelsis, unfretted by repetitions because satisfying in a single time-length. It is pleasure caught on the wing: brought to a pause to be enjoyed. It is a moment in which realisation is fixed; then grows; sublimates; then fades, and the flux of normal being moves on. But the momentary stay in the flux has been enough to enable one to feel life living, and to hear its unborn sound.
The explanation of what has happened appears to us to lie in the dual function of the sense-filaments and in the waiting energies of a soul developed to a fulness when increased play of its powers becomes a fierce necessity. The sensation of the beautiful is the successful overleaping of barriers of limitation laid on the soul by the inhibitory function of the sense. What appears to happen at any rate in regard to visual beauty, is the confusion of the sense under a species of hypnotic influence which the illusion of beauty exercises. The sense-filament, perhaps by an instinctive feeling of wellbeing- often mistaken as the syren fables go to show- is put off its sentinel guard; filched of its excluding characteristic, its inhibitory side rendered inoperative. As the common speech puts it, the senses are "spell bound" and the avenues of feeling are open for a fuller stream of emotion to pour through and eat into the experience. So we get the two elements of absolute beauty: the fascination and overpowering of the sense and the joy of exercising imprisoned emotion. By the mesmeric action of certain phenomena, the thin sense-filament, head, as it were, of the emotional procession, is placed under arrest while the rest of the "trail" grows into the moment. Hence a seeming halting-place in life which never halts, a realisation of the soul-life without sensing the jag of the sense-bridle.
The sense of unity which is part and parcel with the sensation of the beautiful is very easy to place. It is due to the calling into evidence of a part of the emotional life which is organised into an entity. Not in the sensation of beauty only but in that of love and any profoundly moving emotion, the same depths are stirred: but with these latter there is a violence of agitation which tends to blur the effects which is absent in beauty. It is a matter to which we shall refer later in discussing the suitability of applying to living forms the appellation of "beautiful." It is enough here to point out that the "beautiful" in "nature" steals on us unawares: we are caught up in the fascination before we have had the opportunity of expecting it. We are under the spell before we are aware, living into the moment with a desire which is of ourselves and for ourselves as much as is that which makes us eat food.
Before passing to the difficult question as to what agencies produce the beautiful (difficult because of the limitations of individual experience) it would be well to remove from the discussion yet one other source of confusion, to wit, the confusion between beauty and art. Beauty is a sense: the latest arrival among the senses: rather the latest development of power in senses already existent, and for the artist, like every other sense, it has evidence to give, for which the artist creates the forms of expression. To alter the phrase, it creates and holds up a lit torch while the seeker casts about. So in their degree do all the senses: but beauty in a higher degree because its light is brighter and less fitful. Beyond this, art has no concern with beauty. The business of art is to tell as much of the truth as it knows about life. Its marks are skill, power, insight, accuracy. It has nothing to do with prettiness, effectiveness, the "moonlight and pointlace" pieces. Art is that rarest thing in the world: the steady dogged speaking of the truth concerning oneself.
(To be Continued . )
The New Freewoman: No. 11, Vol. 1, November 15th 1913.
by Dora Marsden
IT was Oscar Wilde who illuminated the arid regions of causes and propaganda with the observation that great movements came to an end with the birth of their founder. The remark came involuntarily to mind as we endeavoured to find the real basis of criticisms passed on THE NEW FREEWOMAN by a number of American friends who were strong enthusiasts of its predecessor. Elsewhere, in this issue, there appears a complaint from Mr. Benjamin R. Tucker, who is also an American, against the alternate pelting and scolding of "Americans" of which he thinks we have been guilty. In reply we make these notes on "Americans and Movements." First, let us tell of our contrition for speaking of "Americans" at all, implying that we mean a "people in the bulk," or a "national type," or some other equivalent spook, when all that our experience enables us to speak of is a limited number of persons whose letters bear an American postmark. We might shrink the category of our reference still further, and say that we referred to a number of individuals living in America, some of whom liked the old FREEEWOMAN and some who were cottoning on to the New. We specially referred to the first, and it is in connection with these that we would expLain to Mr. Tucker the reason for the mixed affection and rue in the references of which he complains. Let us explain. The "emotional push" which landed THE NEW FREEWOMAN on its feet came from a tiny group of American women. (Not the financial backing, we must say. The interest for that marvellous thought may seem, was forthcoming from English women, and within a week of the cessation of the earlier effort.) A mightily strong doubt as to whether there existed in what was called the "Woman Movement" anything of value sufficient to make an effort to give it expression worthwhile, hung on the energies of those responsible for it, and it was in this doubting frame of mind that the "American" enthusiasm had its effect: with the result that this new journal came into being earlier than it otherwise would, and with the same differentiation as to gender in its title as the earlier paper. Let us be quite clear. We recognise that there are forces of understanding at work among men and women indiscriminately, of which the effects are to make more evident the relative standards of importance among things, and activities, and that for men as for women this increasingly clear consciousness is lending to the realisation that the personal value, the egoistic unit, is that which must be supreme. The individual soul's development is the supreme concern of its possessor. What helps to make this fact clearer is sympathetic to the trend towards consciousness: it is of it; what blurs it, even though the blurring is done in the "cause" of "assisting" it, is blind to it. The "Woman Movement" is engaged precisely in the blurring purpose. Before the "birth" of the "leaders," before the trumpets, banners and catchwords, a phenomenal advance was quietly being made: it was "actual" in individual women. Then arose "leaders" who reduced it to a "cause," a fixed idea, stationaryness and consequent stagnation. The streams of living energy and understanding spreading in every direction, each the expression of the individual's instinctive development, they called "running to waste." They proposed at once to dam it up: make a cause of it: the individual must give her energy to the cause. Propaganda started to teach women what they owed to the "Cause": the "duty" of draining their stream of energy into the dam: to "concentrate" on the idea: to sink individual differences; to do just those things indeed which makes the intelligent stupid. The blight of the "leader" has brought the "movement" to a standstill. The "Women's Movement" is the "Women's Halt", with the failure to move forward, the energy that was in the impulse forward, makes them spin like spinning-tops about the pivot of the idea. That is why they are so crazed. It is the craziness of all cranks: the stationary idea'd. It is curious how the leaders have adopted terms of description in complete contradiction to their acts: "The Movement goes forward," "The Cause marches forward." It is an illusion they are required to foster to retain their followers, who must be made to feel that something is moving, even though they are stationary. It is as though the "leaders" should stand in the middle of a wide road and fix a ladder perpendicularly, and then inform passers-by that the only "right" way is up one side the ladder and down the other; and that this continued endlessly is "progress."
We must return to our disappointed American friends. The cause of their disappointment lies in their former mistaken belief that they had found another "leader," with an even more interestingly shaped "ladder" than many others. That would not be their way of putting it: they have more self respect and a stronger sense of humour than the female cross atlantic genuflectors; but it comes to the same thing. They imagined that THE NEW FREEWOMAN was to stand for something. Whereas it stands for nothing: it is the flexible frame waiting to be filled with the expression of the constantly shifting tale of the contributors' emotions. It has no "Cause." All that we require of it is that it remain flexible and appear with a different air each issue. Should an influence come in to make it rigid, as happens in all other papers, it would drop from our hands immediately.
* * * *
With an expression so mobile that what was said yesterday flows
under the check of what we feel today, it behooves us to pick
phrases even gingerly. There is no urge so compelling towards
consistency of expression as the refusal to recognise any claims to
hold consistently to any past expression. It is the "protected"
consistency which plays havoc with consistency. Hence the
"quibbling with terms" and the absence of those old "clear notes,
ringing like blows from Thor's hammer," which one of our
"Americans," greatly faithful to THE NEW FREEWOMAN, in spite of its
defects, so sadly misses. "Thor's Hammer" is a very satisfying
weapon to use when one is whacking about among words, and ideas,
and other bodiless things which don't matter; but it is better to
regard it as a curio when dealing with living things: especially
bare human emotions. The point of a fine pen is often too blunt for
the purpose, we find. Nevertheless, we imagined that occasionally
we succeeded in tolerable measure. For we love the clear light: and
love not the mysterious; upon occasion we have given evidence of
candour frank to the degree of primitive. Thus another American
friend who sends the following comment will believe that we are not
"post anything" by intention. The obscurity which she expresses
shows how achievement falls short of that lucidity for which we
have a passion. She writes:
* * * *
"A paper so post-everything as THE NEW FREEWOMAN" comes near enough to Mr. Tucker's phrase about our "wild onslaught on all ideas", "pure nonsense, unanswerable because intangible," to enable us to treat the two together. But first let us make a direct statement which we hope will remove some misapprehension on Mr. Tucker's part. Mr. Tucker is quite wrong in stating that in one issue we underrate Americans and in the next overrate them. We made an identical assessment on both occasions. In the first issue the argument turned upon the varying attitudes towards ideas of different national types-a none to happy setting for a quite excellent argument, since types are spookish, and comparisons of "nations" of men are more or less worthless. Still we made it, and this is the manner in which it ran: For the English, their ruling idea is coextensive with their person; built into their structure, and consequently undetachable and always dominant. A very sad case.
* * * *
The Americans are attacked by the rash less virulently; they manage to detach themselves from their ideas, so that occasionally they escape the influence of their shadow: catching a glimpse now and again of the world beyond; but their ideas are allowed to grow big-: the principle of their expansion being similar to that of gases, inversely as the pressure, and Americans became very solemn and earnest in their service. This is a common characteristic of youth; it is the children who most fear the bogeys. The French also were able to detach themselves from their ideas which they produce in very maniable dimensions: and treat utterly sans ceremonie. Fourthly, as to our own position, it being the only perfect one, we doubtless considered it more delicate to allow it to be judged by inference: we have more overstated it sufficiently often on other occasions. However, we here restate it: the use of ideas should be strongly discouraged (except perhaps for mental gymnastics). In thinking, they have no true place. Their use corresponds to that of incantations in science. They are made up of misty thought-waste, confusions too entangled to be disentangled; bound together and made to look tidy by attaching an appellation-label, i.e., a sign. It is the tidiness of the sign which misleads. It is like a marmalade label carefully attached to an empty jar. Remove the label, and confusion vanishes: we see the empty jar, the bit of printed paper, and know there is no marmalade. And so with abstract terms and ideas. Consider liberty-we have already considered it. A name, and a confused description of certain activities and nothing more: no objective liberty. We have moreover distinguished between an idea on the one hand and hypotheses and opinion on the other. We make the distinction again. An hypothesis is an attempted explanation of facts: in the very act of proffering itself it requests its own annihilation: by proof to wit; an hypothesis is the half-way house of the thinking-process, the ultimate destination of which is knowledge of the concrete. Opinion is hypothesis with a dash of prejudice thrown in: it is an hypothesis behaving like a tiresome child. But an idea! An idea is a privileged assertion. It is seated high on a pedestal above question and offering no explanation. The only concern is to learn the most fitting form of rendering such idols allegiance-justice, law, right, liberty, equality, and the rest; each matched with a spouse, its negative. It is part of our work to shatter the pedestals: since idols dwindle to nothing, as soon as they touch common earth. If the process gives a sense of intellectual insecurity it merely shows upon what illusions the seeming security was based.
* * * *
We frankly do not understand why Mr. Tucker, an egoist, and Stirner's English publisher, does not see the necessity of clearing current language of padding as a preliminary of egoistic investigation. It is a task which pioneers in a new branch of science are always faced with. Stirner himself worked like a navvy at the job. As for Proudhon, we are entirely beyond the reach of the verdicts of opinion among "those who know," and are not moved by the fact that Proudhon was at the "zenith of his power" when he wrote "L'Idee generale de la revolution au XIXe siecle."
It should please Mr. Tucker, who has published most of Proudhon's works, to know that we have at least read that work from which he extracted the quotation in question, and that its quality appears to us to be exactly on a level with the workings of a private telephone, lucid and clear for respectable intervals, then a buzz which churns into one's head for quite long spells until one is tempted to put up the receiver-or close the book-when it breaks out again astonishingly clear. When he is looking at things as they exist he is a strong searchlight; when he is trying to woo his readers to his solutions, he uses methods of cajolery which are positively repellant, and make style a thing not to be mentioned. Consider for instance the entire preface "A la bourgeosie": Mr. Lloyd George addressing a Baptist Conference would be capable of it: or Mr. Will Crooks working on the emotions of a gathering of the I.L.P. Compare Stirner on the same subject! Yet writing exactly in the middle of the last century when the theory of representative government was midway in its course, how completely he saw through and portrayed the whole sham, more clearly than almost any one in England today with the thing lying a hopeless wreck before our eyes. So, apparently, can even great spirits be seduced by the propaganda- fever under the influence of which they will lay about them with "Thor's hammer," even though they must cease to speak truthfully under the delirium.