They are not frequent visitors, the uncommon threshold moments when you read something that reverberates deeply, leading you to a cognisance of something you’ve always known but never found a way to express. Often, I’ve looked at the bookshelves that house my pantheon of tutelary thinkers and wondered what draws them together as an external reflection of what I can only call my soul. They are powerful voices who are destined to unite life with mystery.
The passage below is from Andre Bely’s Olenina-d’ Alheim, an essay in the collection Between Crisis and Catastrophe. I didn’t start to read these essays expecting understanding. I’ve not yet read Bely’s famous novel. I picked up the book of essays to read something new, an attempt to smash a reading block.
To unite life with mystery: I will not put it into quotation marks or italics here as it is now mine, a response to converging lines of writing, music, painting and dance. But I will quote a passage, written ostensibly about a famous concert singer at the beginning of the 20th century:
‘The epoch of geniuses and great thinkers has passed. Here and there they are being replaced by personalities in whom we see a prophetic pathos and who are destined to unite life with mystery.
Olenina-d’ Alheim unfurls before us the depths of the spirit. On how she unfurls these depths and what she reveals before us lies the shadow of prophecy. That is why we feel strongly that she herself is a link uniting us with mystery.
Our consciousness is a fine boundary between the subconscious and the superconscious. Different relations between given psychic spheres cause variations in this boundary. By introducing new combinations of emotions into our soul through symbols that are being unfolded, we provide new material for our nerves. And since the variable atmosphere of nerve effects can lead to new regroupings of the material of our conscious activity, this atmosphere is capable of affecting variations of the boundary between the superconscious and the subconscious . . . By changing our psychic structure we will be able to change not only the particular elements of consciousness but also the general forms of the latter.
Defined externally, religion is a system of successively unfolded symbols. This inner connectedness of symbols differentiates religious revelation from artistic creation. From the external side there is no boundary between art and religion. There is only a difference in the quality and quantity of internally connected images. The purpose of art is to express ideas; the deepening and purification of every idea invariably extend this idea to a universal significance. Thus, all ideaness in art has a religious nuance.
The symbol that is deepened and expended analogously to an idea is therefore connected with the universal symbol. This is the final and invariable background of all symbols. The relation of the Logos to the world Soul as the mystical principle of humanity is such a symbol. That is why the foundations of symbolism are always religious.’
My “pantheon of tutelary thinkers” is a good one. Mick Jagger in his latest musical outburst calls them his “poncy books.” Celine: “When I enter a library . . . oh boy . . .am I for it . . . I’m back in court . . . in the dock . . . facing my judge and jury.” John Berger: “It’s impossible to commune with the whole of civilization in one sitting but picking up a book is a good place to start.” I like the last quote best.
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Thank you, what wonderful thoughts,
So glad to have you back in the saddle, Anthony. You are needed.
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Anatole France had a visitor who was astonished to see the huge numeber of books sitting
all down the walls…
My! ” have you read ALL OF THEM?
to what Anatole France retorted:
“Oh, but, you know…this wall contradicts the wall in front”
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