Monday 5 October 2015

The nature of the creative (poetic) trance

My recent exploration of Owen Barfield's work in relation to the evolution of consciousness, and the idea that Man went through three stages of consciousness (ancient immersive absorption into a living reality, an intermediate alienated phase of the ego/ self cut-off from the world*, then a return to a relationship with the living world but retaining the ego), continues to yield insight and make unexpected links across subjects.

For example, I used to be a deep reader of Robert Graves - and was fascinated by his account of the poetic trance state. Graves was vehement that when he wrote poems or his best novels and essays. For instance, in the state Graves felt himself to be actually present in other times and places - and it was this realism which made his historical novels so vivid and convincing.

When Graves was 'inspired', this was not an unconscious state - it was not a matter of 'channelling' the poetry, not a bubbling up of the subconscious, not a matter of 'automatic writing'... All of these he damned and rejected as contrived pseudo-poetry when he seemed to detect them in the work of other modern poets such as WB Yeats, or Dylan Thomas, or surrealists.

By contrast, Graves claimed to remain alert, critical, purposive while in the trance state. In Barfieldian terms Graves achieved Final Participation - in which he accessed 'the gods' and spontaneous sources of intuitive knowledge but while retaining the more 'modern' ego/ self.

And in this respect Graves seems to have been mirroring (from a very different direction of approach) the same demand as expressed by Rudolf Steiner whose 'clairvoyance' was done in clear consciousness and a state of concentration, or CG Jung whose Active Imagination attempted to combine dream imagery and imagination with conscious awareness and purpose.

Despite that all these men were born in the 19th century, this goal has not yet become understood or pursued. Instead we have a mainstream secular culture oscillating between scientific-bureaucratic objectivization of reality (in which the world is regarded as un-alive and lacking in awareness and purpose, and Man is increasingly regarded as ultimately the same) and a Beat/ Hippy/ New Age type of 'regression' to the childlike/ primitive/ spontaneous spiritual state of un-conscious surrender to a reality that is felt to be alive, self-aware and full of gods - this being achieved either via the alternative reality of media and arts, or by killing-off consciousness with alcohol and drugs.

The message of Barfield - and Steiner and perhaps (more confusedly) of Jung - and implicitly of Graves - is that we should not stay where we are - alienated and alone in a dead world; nor should we try, and fail, to go back to an ancient world of immersive animism - but should move forwards to a conscious state which combines the best of both worlds - living as conscious selves in relationships with a world of conscious selves.

The failure of this perspective has, I believe, been related to its becoming detached from Christianity; and from Christianity's rejection of any need for it - or from a Christian rejection of its validity as a spiritual path. Many Christians have denied the need for regarding the world as alive - so that human existence becomes a matter of nothing more than the isolated ego in a relationship with God - and everything else in the universe (except other egos, barely glimpsed) perceived as dead and either unimportant or actively evil

What I would like to see - and am working to attain in my own life - is to take the spiritual insights, perspective and aims of Barfield et al - but pursued within the Christian framework.

*Note - This is the phase that Barfield called the consciousness soul
The chronology of when this occurred seems to be complex, and to differ somewhat between authors - or else I may have misunderstood. My impression is that the Consciousness Soul was made possible by the Ancient Hebrews and Greeks, and the divine intention was that this phase shuld come to an end after the birth, death and resurrection of Christ - but that this did not happen (at least, not in the West) but instead the CS intensified right up until the Romantic movement when it began to be challenged. However, this challenge was usually in the nature of a return to Original Participation rather than an advance to Final Participation. In other words, and with some usually temporary exceptions here and there, humanity has so far chosen to refuse - or was unable to take - the step to Final Participation.  

Note added: As a further illustration of what these three stages entail, consider that in pre-Christian, pagan religions it was usual for the adept (or at least the shaman or priest figure) to seek unification with the god - to seek to become possessed by the god, taken-over by the god, a channel for the god. The self was never very distinct in such cultures - and the line between the self and the god was blurred, and easily crossed.

But when the ancient Hebrews (also, in parallel, and very differently conceptualized, the Ancient Greeks) developed a new concept of God. He was utterly different from Man - there was a gulf between and no possibility of unification nor even possession. This 'alienated' attitude later (but mistakenly) was then carried over and became almost mainstream in many types of Christianity; such that the desire to become divine was often regarded as sinful - or at least extremely hazardous. The danger was of possession - but since possession could not be by God, nor even the gods/ angels; therefore possession was intrinsically demonic.

However, some of the greatest individual Christians (and also some of the Old Testament Prophets) achieved the goal of Final Participation in terms of themselves becoming purified and holy persons, and accepting the offer of a close, loving, wholly harmonious personal relationship with God - and especially with Jesus Christ; whose work could be interpreted as having made this possible.

So now, since Christ, Christians have the possibility of again moving beyond alienation and into participating with the living world in the closest and most fundamental way - but not by absorption, fusing or possession by a god - instead, in terms of becoming more like God, more divinized in our nature; and developing with God the Father, Jesus Christ and/ or the Holy Ghost a direct and loving relationship with the divine person.


Nicholas Fulford said...

In my limited experience, inspiration is a potent state brought about by a combination of the appropriate external stimulus and being in a receptive state. That receptive state - in my experience - is one of approaching "that which I cannot label" with an expectancy of perceiving and experiencing something which I must be willing to approach without projection. There is without question a rational element to it, but it is not an explicit rationality. It is more of the mind in its fullness being sung or played by and through what is unfolding. There is a wavelike movement that percolates from the unconscious to the conscious and back again, and the richer one's intellectual life has been the more memory there is to create connections and complex thematic associations, (or mental fugues to keep working with my musical analogy.)

Ecstatic states without the intellectual history to draw upon are joyful, potent and occasionally terrifying experiences. With an intellectual history to draw upon they have a rich palette of possible expressive modes in visual art, music, sculpture, literature, poetry and philosophy. They create new apprehensions, awareness and connection that is far greater than when they occur without that intellectual knowledge.

Anonymous said...

It'd be interesting to see you grapple with Jung, particularly given how he is rather suddenly unpopular in nearly all circles.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon (please use a pseudonym) I have written a bit about Jung -