online: 12 september 2004

11 september 2004 what is life?

Last night, directed by random numbers, I returned to reading Kathleen Raine's last essays on William Blake* (in which I found notes that I'd pencilled in 1998). Dipping into the chapters on Swedenborg and on 'the city' I wrote further notes as follows:
I am astounded, shaken (even converted, to belief?) by what I read around page 82 and especially page 100, re the mystical nature of humanity and life of which 'the city of stone and brick' ... 'is only the image and expression'... As I take in this idea I feel that my materialism is at last transcended by a greater vision of existence (to which I've always adhered but perhaps never admitted)... reality is mind including matter, not mind denied existence by the presence of matter!
I felt, as I wrote that, the presence of mind as extending everywhere, both within and beyond the visible world, which is thus no longer totality.
'...human consciousness contains its universe'
as Kathleen Raine puts it on page 84.

And I also felt, remembering Cedric Wisbey's idealist philosophy, that the reasons for refusing supernatural belief are thereby dispelled and we are no longer safe from the divinity or horror of religion and magic.

Returning this evening from a walk along the South Bank of the Thames I recall the uncanny presence of two immobile sculptures that are actually people. They had painted their faces and hands and the whole surface of their clothes and shoes in silvery metallic colours so that, when they assumed a still posture, they seemed dead, not alive, yet in an animated stance. I suspect that this illusion teases or shocks because it in some way confuses, or crosses, the twin nature of mind and matter but for the moment I can't quite understand what is happening... Is it that, sculpture being the virtual presence** of something physical, this illusion is perhaps doubly uncanny as it is actually alive but pretending not to be... I feel we are touching here the basis of life... the vast difference between a live body and a corpse, and the illusion of a corpse coming alive, a difference that cannot, I think, be wholly explained scientifically.

* Kathleen Raine, Golgonooza, city of imagination, last studies in William Blake, Golgonooza Press, Ipswich 1991.

**The idea of each art form being a virtual version of some aspect of life comes from Susanne K. Langer in her book Feeling and Form, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953. If I remember rightly, she suggests that painting is virtual space, music is virtual time, film is virtual dream and sculpture is virtual presence. Susanne Langer is one of the people who led me to believe that the most profound thinking in the twentieth century came from American women - Gertrude Stein, Susanne Langer, Hannah Arendt, Margaret Mead and Marija Gimbutas come to mind at the moment. I could add Kathleen Raine to this list were she American!

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