Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Analeptic trance

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I came across the idea of 'analeptic' thinking in the prose writings of Robert Graves - it was the term he used to describe his faculty of imaginatively living in the past; such that he would enter a trance state in which (for example) he would walk around the streets of Rome at the time of the Caesars, and observe what was going on.

It was this analeptic faculty that, Graves claimed, that enabled him to achieve the extreme life-like quality of his best historical novels such as I Claudius.

Graves claimed that analeptic trance was an historical method - an objectively valid mechanism for recovering knowledge of the past; that, for those who had it, it was a valid method of 'filling in the gaps' left by the normal historical sources.

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Of course, Graves was full to overflowing with crazy, self-aggrandizing and just plain false ideas on all kinds of subjects! But I see no reason to doubt that with analeptic thought he was describing the method of his own historical reasoning, and that this was indeed crucial to the fascination of his novels and polemical writings such as The White Goddess.

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I am myself not just able to practice analeptic thinking, but am sometimes involuntarily thrown into the state - by trigger stimuli.

The process is not under my control, and indeed I cannot choose what to be analeptic about; some times and places evoke this trance-like state without effort, while other times and places stubbornly refuse to provoke analepsis.

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One example which powerfully triggers analeptic thinking is Constantinople at the time of the early Eastern Roman Empire - and this I seemingly got from reading Robert Grave's novel Count Belisarius read when I was about fourteen. Nowadays a wide range of 'Byzantine' artifacts, but especially Greek Orthodox chant, can instantly project my mind back into this state.

The specific state I get from Constantinople is one that is alien, exotic, Platonic - it is a kind of static contemplation and yearning for Heaven and that I am in Heaven as I feel it - but an imperfect, marginal Heaven. It is a situation of looking-upwards, perhaps to the dome of the Hagia Sophia (cathedral) listening to chant in the midst of divine liturgy; or being on the city streets and caught-up in a religious procession and transfixed by it.

I find this state of mine both immensely appealing, yet also - as I said - alien, strange - I am an observer not a participant - like a crude and simple Briton or Anglo-Saxon visiting the capital of Empire on some mission.

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The interesting aspect is that Graves was strongly anti-Christian, and the novel Count Belisarius has almost nothing good to say about the Eastern Empire - except admiration for some of the military aspects. Graves's novel is, indeed, elaborated from the Secret History of Procopius which is a vile work of scandal, dishonesty, and character assassination - very much of the type familiar from the modern mass media.

Furthermore, when I read Count Belisarius I was myself strongly anti-Christian, and I did not enjoy the book (except for the military aspects), and found the society depicted to be horribly suffocating and disgustingly corrupt.

And nowadays, I cannot read the novel for this reason - it is so full of snide, insidious writing; and sis o obviously and pervasively and unfairly anti-Christian - seems mainly designed to discredit Christianity; that it is just a torment to read - a horrible world to spend time in, a sordid soap opera dishonestly projected onto ancient times in order to grind an axe...

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YET - somehow, something - some essence - about this depiction of the Eastern Empire, presumably generated by the vividness of Graves's analeptic identification of Constantinople, stayed in my mind for some 35 years until I became a Christian.

Then, my becoming a Christian filled-in the missing piece of the jigsaw of Byzantium; and made sense of the Eastern Empire; because the Eastern Empire minus Christianity is indeed little but a sordid soap opera enlivened by fighting.

Not surprisingly, because Constantinople was probably the most pervasively Christian society that ever existed for any sustained length of time (hundreds of years) - so if you take-away its Christianity, or portray its Christianity as merely hypocritical and exploitative and deluded and silly (as Graves does), you take away almost everything that was Good about it; and indeed there is not-much left over.

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But what is there to admire about any society that has ever existed if we take away the heart of that society?

If we take away the religion, or disbelieve it, or regard it as wicked - then when has there ever been a good time or a good place on earth? - by definition there can be nothing much to interest anybody except temporary distractions and delusions - sex, luxury and feasting, and fighting for the rich - and starvation, deprivation and work (plus fighting) for the poor - which is pretty much how modern irreligious people see the whole of human history, and especially the ages of greatest Christian faith...

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Anyway, my point is that my analeptic intuitive empathy with Byzantium was and is very real, and feels valid - it feels like the essence of the time and place; and it makes the Eastern Empire far more real for me than the earlier Roman times; despite that I know far more information about the Western Empire, and indeed live among its remnants - such as Hadrian's Wall; and have never visited Constantinople nor do I have plans to do so - and that in fact Byzantium all seems terribly alien and strange to me - and I know I never could fit-into it, nor would I have fitted-in had I been alive at the time.

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My conclusion is that although it is objectively indefensible, and simply appears to other people as a semi-psychotic delusion or self-gratifying illusion, the analeptic trance state has such compelling subjective, psychological validity as to overcome all objections and any supposed counter-evidence!

So I regard the 'findings' of analeptic thought as True although not factual, real but not historical - and this fits with the existential status of my other and primary 'time and place' of analeptic trance-identification: namely Middle Earth. 

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