Unreal Nature

January 30, 2013

The Same Latent Powers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:02 am

… material imagination … needs a substance in order to understand an action.

…  liturgic rites of benediction exorcise and neutralize whatever malevolent element may be hiding in its depths, curb its demoniacal powers, and, awakening in it powers which are more suitable …

This is from Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter by Gaston Bachelard (1983):

… Though forms and concepts harden rapidly, material imagination still remains an active power. It alone can revitalize traditional images endlessly; it is the one that constantly breathes new life into certain old mythological forms. It gives life back to forms by transforming them, for a form cannot transform itself. It is contrary to its nature for a form to transform itself. If we encounter a transformation, we may be sure that material imagination is at work behind the metamorphosis. Culture transmits forms to us too often in mere words. If we knew how to rediscover, in spite of culture, a little natural reverie, a little reverie about nature, we would understand that symbolism is a material power. Our personal reverie would very naturally reform atavistic symbols because they are natural symbols. Once more I must emphasize that a dream is a natural force. As we will have occasion to note again, no one can know purity without dreaming. No one can dream it forcefully, without seeing the mark, the proof, the substance of it in nature.

… For the modern mind the difference between pure and impure water is entirely a rational matter. Chemists and hygienists are responsible for that; when a sign over the water faucet designates drinkable water, the final word has been spoken, and every scruple vanishes. A rationalistic thinker meditating on an ancient text — with limited psychological knowledge, such as our classical education so often produces — brings his precise knowledge like a recurrent light to the data in the text. … He forgets that knowledge thought to be “direct” is a part of a system that can be very artificial; he also forgets that the “knowledge of natural phenomena” is closely connected with “natural” reveries. It is these reveries that a psychologist studying the imagination must unearth.

… Who, for instance, does not feel a special irrational, unconscious, direct repugnance for a dirty river? For a river dirtied by sewers and factories? We deeply resent this great natural beauty’s being ruined by men. Huysmans plays on this repugnance, this rancor, to heighten the tone of certain imprecatory phrases, to make certain of his scenes truly demoniacal. For example, he expatiates upon the despairing attitude of Bièvre today, dirtied by the City: “That river in rags,”:

that strange river, that dumping-ground for filth, that bilge which is the color of slate and melted lead, frothing, here and there, with greenish eddies, starred with muddy spittle, which gurgles on the sluice gate and is lost, sobbing in the holes of a wall. In places, the water seems crippled and eaten away with leprosy; it stagnates, then stirs its flowing soot and takes up its journey again, slowed down by mire … The Bièvre is nothing but a moving dung-heap.

… foul water can be loaded with an infinite number of evil spells. It can be cursed; that is, through it, evil can be put in active form. In doing this, we satisfy the requirements of material imagination, which needs a substance in order to understand an action. In water thus cursed, a sign is all that is necessary: what is evil in one aspect, in one of its characteristics, becomes evil as a whole. Evil is no longer a quality but a substance.

… In the dialectical theme of the purity and impurity of water, this fundamental law of material imagination acts in both directions, guaranteeing the eminently active nature of the substance: one drop of pure water suffices to purify an ocean; one drop of impure water suffices to defile a universe. Everything depends on the moral direction of the action chosen by material imagination. If it is dreaming of evil, it can propagate impurity, can cause the diabolical seed to bloom; if it dreams of good, it will have confidence in one drop of pure substance and be able to cause its beneficial purity to shine forth.

… these remarks fail to get to the heart of the problem of a relationship between purification and natural purity. … Let it suffice for us to evoke an intuition that casts some doubt on this natural purity. Thus, while studying the Spirit of Liturgy by Romano Guardini, Earnest Seillière writes:

Consider water, for example, so perfidious, so dangerous too, in its movements and gyrations which resemble incantations or spells, in its eternal unrest. Well, then, liturgic rites of benediction exorcise and neutralize whatever malevolent element may be hiding in its depths, curb its demoniacal powers, and, awakening in it powers which are more suitable to its (good) nature, discipline its intangible and mysterious powers which they put in the service of the soul, all the while stifling what is magical, engaging and bad in it. Anyone who  has not experienced that, insists our poet of Christian ceremonies, does not understand Nature: but liturgy penetrates its secrets and shows us that in it are sleeping the same latent powers as are in the souls of men.

… Material imagination dramatizes the world in its depths. It finds in the depth of substances all the symbols of inner human life.

My most recent previous post from Bachelard’s book is here.

-Julie

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