Saturday, August 15, 2015

Something different for a change: Heraclitus, Kandinsky ... and what does the modern artist know of the soul?



Heraclitus already addressed and exposed this nature of such ("Satanic") “initiation” in his last fragments; despite the aura of secrecy, the “initiation” into evil is in the world of men very universal and rather commonplace and part of many socialization processes; the real “initiation” or birth of personality is an unscripted epiphany:

For were it not Dionysus to whom they institute a procession and sing songs in honor of the genitals, it would be the most shameful action. But Hades [Death] and Dionysus are the same, to whom they rave in Bacchic frenzy, not for the intoxication of the body as for the shameful ceremonial of lasciviousness. (Fragment 127)
I distinguish two kinds of sacrifices. First, those of men wholly purified, such as would rarely happen in the case of a single individual, as Heraclitus says, or of a certain very few men. Second, material and corporeal sacrifices and those arising from change, such as are fit for those still fettered by the body. (Fragment 128, from Iamblichus, de Mysteriis)
Therefore Heraclitus rightly called [true piety] “atonements,” since they are to make amends for evils and render the souls free from [corruption—] the dangers in generation. (Fragment 129,  Iamblichus, de Mysteriis)

When defiled, [the many] purify themselves with blood, just as if any one who had fallen into the mud should wash himself with mud! For to suppose that with the bodies and blood of unreasoning which they offer to their gods they can cleanse their [corruption] and vile contaminations, is like trying to wash off mud from bodies by means of mud. (Fragment 130)

Some 2,500 years after Heraclitus, Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, writing in his book On the spiritual in art" (O dukhovnom v iskusstve), offered this penetrating insight into the source (and principle) of man’s corruption and self-destruction; Kandinsky’s description strongly resembles the transitory experience of the inmate in Plato’s Cave: 

The soul, if only recently awakened from a long period of materialism, still contains and conceals the germ of despair, a consequence of disbelief, meaninglessness and purposelessness. The nightmare of materialistic views, which makes the life of the universe an evil pointless game, has not yet completely passed. The awakening soul is still living under the strong enthrallment of that nightmare. Only a faint light flickers as a single tiny dot on a huge black circle. This faint glow is the only aspiration for the soul, and the soul still lacks boldness to truly see it and understand it; she doubts whether this light is not but a dream and the black circle the reality. This mis-giving, as well as oppressive agony, a consequence of our materialism, strongly distinguishes our soul by soul from “primordial” artists. In our minds there is a crack [the germ of corruption and mis-giving], and the soul, if you can touch her, sounds like a cracked precious vase found in the depths of the earth.

The concluding formulation “the soul, if you can touch her, sounds like a cracked precious vase found in the depths of the earth,” not only evokes Gyges’s motif, it also reveals and diagnoses Gyges’s predicament and his mis-handling (mis-giving) of the situation. It also evokes and points to a famous poem by Sully Prudhomme, “The Broken Vase” (in Peter Crowther’s free verse, laconic translation):

A fan’s light tap
Was enough to chip
This flower vase
In which the roses
Now are dying.
No sound it made

But a hairline crack
Day after day
Almost unseen
Crept slowly round the glass
And drop by drop
The water trickled out

While the vital sap
In the roses’ stems
Grew dry.
Now no-one doubts:
“Don’t touch”, they say,
“It’s broken”.

Often, too, the hand one loves
May lightly brush against the heart
And bruise it.
Slowly then across that heart
A hidden crack will spread
And love’s fair flower perish.

As Kandinsky indicates the “touch” here (cf. the previous  discussion on Aristote’s “touch”) is mis-giving, the soul’s rejection of herself, the soul’s own mis-taking of what is and what her yearning means (“she doubts whether this light is not but a dream and the black circle the reality. This mis-giving, as well as oppressive agony, a consequence of our materialism …”). The soul, objectively at a transition, at the border so to speak, chooses the black circle for reality (as Gyges chooses or steals the ring) and regresses again—falls to the infernal power of corruption and self-destruction. The soul as if “cracks,” the crack, the soul’s lack, the nothingness, is assumed to be her and the meaning and essence of the world.

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