Front Page Titles (by Subject) FIFTEEN: THE NEW MYSTICISM: PARADISE NOW - The Perfectibility of Man
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FIFTEEN: THE NEW MYSTICISM: PARADISE NOW - John Passmore, The Perfectibility of Man 
The Perfectibility of Man (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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THE NEW MYSTICISM: PARADISE NOW
Mystics of the traditional sort, Christian or Hindu or Buddhist, would for the most part deny, with some acerbity, that there is any “real” resemblance between direct enjoyment and mystical union. The sexual language in which mystics delight, they would assure us, is only “symbolic”—although why the mystic should turn so naturally to the symbol of the passive bride remains to be explained. Contemporary mysticism—as exemplified in the “body-mysticism” of Norman Brown’s Life Against Death—is bolder; it deliberately identifies mystical experience and sensual enjoyment. It is not unique in so doing; in some forms of Eastern mysticism, in Tantric Buddhism, for example, the two are also identified.1 The “new mystics,” however, think of themselves as inheriting the tradition of Christian, as well as Buddhist and Hindu, mysticism, even if they are particularly attracted by the religious attitudes of India, Japan and Tibet.*
In most respects, certainly, they enunciate familiar themes, but from a new, bodily, point of view. Take the case of timelessness. Freud once remarked, although without much relying on the doctrine, that “there is nothing in the id which corresponds to the idea of time.”2 And in a sentence he jotted down at the very end of his life he also wrote: “Mysticism is the obscure self-perception of the realm outside the ego, of the id.”3 We might put the same point, in the terminology we have so far been deploying, thus: in direct enjoyment there is no reference to the past or the future; mysticism is an attempt to go back beyond repression to a state of uncaring enjoyment or “play.”
Brown argues, quite specifically, that the very idea of time is a product of repression. “Time,” he says, “. . . is . . . neurotic.”4 So too, he maintains, are such human achievements—or what we should ordinarily take to be achievements—as formal logic, quantified science, industrial production. As against all such “achievements,” Brown sets up as his ideal the “insights” of mysticism, Romantic poetry, the childlike, playful attitude to life, direct sensuous enjoyment, unconfined, unrepressed. The traditional mystics, he says, in a passage to which we have already referred, “take seriously, and traditional psycho-analysis does not, the possibility of human perfectibility and the hope of finding a way out of the human neurosis into that simple health that animals enjoy, but not man.”5 Freud presented a dilemma: either civilization, which rests on repression, or unrepressed enjoyment. When it came to the point he preferred civilization, if with some misgivings. Brown, in the typical mystical fashion, chooses the other horn of the dilemma.
Freud’s own teachings, Brown argues, are badly affected by repression. This is why—most clearly, perhaps, in his “Analysis Terminable and Interminable”—Freud was led to reject the view that it is ever possible fully to free a person from internal conflicts, to “perfect” him. “Our aim,” Freud wrote, “will not be to rub off every peculiarity of human character for the sake of a schematic ‘normality,’ nor yet to demand that the person who has been ‘thoroughly analysed’ shall feel no passions and develop no internal conflicts.”6 The object of psycho-analysis, he rather says, is to secure the effective operation of the ego, the “I” of everyday life. Brown, like the classical mystics, is completely dissatisfied with this everyday “I,” and, more generally, with Freud’s anti-perfectibilist conclusions.
For Freud, although the child is “polymorphously perverse,” civilization rests on genital heterosexuality. So far as this is so, Brown concludes, civilization is grossly imperfect. The perfected human being will delight “in that full life of all the body which [he] now fears”; his sexual enjoyment will no longer be flawed by an anxiety lest it overstep the permissible limits of sensuality.* The concentration on genital sexuality is, Brown says, “unnatural” and constitutes “the bodily base of the neurotic character disorders in the human ego.”7 We need not pause to ask whether this is so: Brown’s ideal is what interests us, the ideal of an enjoyment which is immediate and absolute, which refuses nothing in the way of immediate experience.
As for science, that has value, Brown argues, only if it can be transformed into a “non-morbid” form in which it would be “erotic” rather than “sadistic,” seeking, that is, “not mastery over but union with nature.”8 It would then be a type of “erotic exuberance,” no longer an attempt to replace the world we enjoy by a set of laconic formulae. Goethe’s theory of colours, in which, in opposition to Newton’s mathematico-physical analysis, colours are objects of immediate enjoyment, is for Brown, as for so many German or German-inspired thinkers, the paradigm of “true,” non-morbid, science.
Doctrines very like Brown’s are to be found in much of the literature of the 1960s, especially in novels originating in the United States. In an underground novel first published in 1966, Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, drug-taking, with its object the destruction of time and care, sexual promiscuity, which does not involve any care for what is enjoyed, and mysticism, which cares nothing for any merely human achievements, run together in harness with nostalgia for the television serials of the children’s session and, of all things, the writings of A. A. Milne. Scenes of sexual enjoyment are interlarded with extracts from Winnie the Pooh; one of the characters is named “Heffalump”—another, equally characteristically, is called “Gnossos,” to suggest gnosticism.
That “Bible of the hippies,” Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, no less freely deploys all the old mystical themes. “There is only one great adventure,” writes Miller, “and that is inward towards the self, and for that, time nor space nor even deeds matter.” To embark on that “adventure,” men must not go forward but backwards, according to Miller, into a super-infantile realm of being—to that life of early childhood which “seems like a limitless universe.”9 The “hipster,” Norman Mailer writes in a similar spirit, lives “in that enormous present which is without past or future, memory or planned intention.”10 The ideal of John Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy, characteristically, is “only to Be, always to Be, until nothing was . . . but one placeless, timeless, nameless throb of Being”—and “Be” is used as a synonym for sexual enjoyment.11
Indeed, the demand for carefree, child-like enjoyment is what, at least in its “Romantic” form, “the revolt of the young” is about.* The society of their elders—to a degree exaggerated by the Depression and the war which followed—placed its emphasis either on success or on security, and, in either case, looked to the future. “Everything,” writes Henry Miller, describing the household of his childhood, “was for tomorrow, but tomorrow never came.”12 In general, modern life is extraordinarily dependent on time. No doubt, there are still areas of freedom. We have not yet reached the point described in J. G. Ballard’s story “Chronopolis,”13 in which, to avoid traffic problems, every detail of everyone’s daily life is governed by a rigid time-table. The narrator of Zamiatin’s wholly time-dominated We can look back with astonishment to our own era as one when men were still free to walk in the streets, or to have sexual intercourse, at times of their own choosing. But the fact remains that whereas not until the late Middle Ages were there town-clocks, modern life would be unimaginable without what the English language significantly calls “a wrist-watch.” It is by no means surprising, then, that the ideal of timelessness—of inhabiting a world in which nobody ever says “you’ll be late”—should have its appeal.
Nor is it at all surprising that the ideal of pure enjoyment should be resuscitated. For a great many people, life in our society—as, admittedly, in any other society—has been sheer toil, not at all a “game,” let alone an exercise of “loves.” This is perhaps particularly true of the executive classes, from the ranks of whose children the new mystics are so largely recruited. As for play, simple carefree enjoyment, that has threatened to vanish. Forced to postpone enjoyment, the middle-aged generation, as the young can see for themselves, find it unattainable when at last they “have time” for it. They seek for enjoyment, no doubt, but what they find, often enough, is only a new form of toil. Even games in the narrower sense of the word have come to be reserved for those who play them well; and merely to play, as distinct from playing games, is thought of as undignified, unworthy of the “serious man.” (There is an extraordinary contrast, at this point, between the attitude of the Japanese—in so far as they are still not wholly converted to Western ways—and the attitude of the West; the idea of relaxation as “play” still survives in Japan. But it is conjoined, it would seem, with an attitude of mind for which work is mere toil, not enjoyment with care.)14
If the old Puritanical attitudes to sexual play have broken down—this has happened only in part—they have often been replaced by new forms of anxiety, deriving from “sex manuals”—anxieties about “sexual adequacy,” anxieties about inhibitions. Whole books are now written on “the sexual responsibility” of the man or of the woman. Sex has become almost as serious a matter, as little spontaneous, as business. “Sexual play” is now, at its best, a “game,” but at its worst, dutiful toil, no longer the spontaneous flowering of tender sensuality, but an applied technique. The intentions behind such manuals are often humane; they are attempts to turn sexual activity into a form of love which involves the cherishing of each sexual partner by the other. Many of them take as their starting-point a growing concern for women, the refusal to regard them as mere objects of enjoyment. But every “love,” like every “game,” can easily be converted into a form of anxiety-ridden toil. “We turn lovemaking into a compulsory sport,” writes the novelist Stephen Vizinczey in his In Praise of Older Women, “an etiquette of technique or a therapeutic prescription.” And then in reaction from this, as he goes on to point out, we “haste to succumb to joy”; we take the libertine as our hero.15 (The libertine lives in an “Everlasting Now” by deliberately refusing to pay any attention to the future of the woman he seduces.) That kind of love which is neither a game nor a form of toil, which rests on enjoyment with care but cherishes its object is what seems to lie beyond our capacities.
One can only too easily understand why, when “loves” are understood as “toil,” the new mystics reject every form of “love,” along with every form of toil, in favour of an immediate anxiety-free enjoyment, Paradise now, to be obtained by drugs, if in no other way. Their spokesmen, for the most part, fail to make the crucial distinctions on which we have been insisting. They distinguish, merely, between “games” and “non-games”—defining games as “behavioural sequences defined by roles, rules, rituals, goals, strategies, values” and counting as non-games only “physiological reflexes, spontaneous play, and transcendental awareness.”16 But roles, rules, goals, strategies, values are as characteristic of toil as of games: such a definition entirely overlooks the element of enjoyment in games—perhaps because it is being assumed, as it is so often assumed, that “care” and “enjoyment” are incompatible. As a consequence, it is made to appear that man has to choose between toil and play.*
Closely associated with the rejection of loves as too onerous is the rejection of freedom and responsibility in favour of the mystical ideal of “unity.” The young generation respond, so we are told, “to the sense and sound of friendship and community, to the exultation they feel when thousands of people link hands and sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’” They are prepared to sacrifice everything to “that feeling of community, of life,” they are not to be deterred by “nineteenth-century rhetoric about democracy and freedom.”17 This, of course, was the Nazi attitude; if the young have come to mistrust “nineteenth-century rhetoric about freedom and democracy”—not surprisingly when one recalls how often this “rhetoric” is used by those for whom “freedom” means the despoliation of natural resources and “democracy” the use of the State to suppress minorities—they have still not learnt sufficiently to mistrust twentieth-century rhetoric about “community and life.”*
Their attitude, however, is understandable. Modern democracy, which pretends to be pluralistic, daily becomes more atomistic. Universities, for example, threaten to become stock-piles of experts, who in no way cherish either the traditions of the University to which they belong or, except in an accidental way, their colleagues and pupils. The Stoical ideal of self-sufficiency has in part been realized: the effect is that men feel isolated, powerless against the State, lonely. Often enough, especially in America, loneliness is described as if it were the human condition. But the themes of human loneliness, separation, isolation, are typical of the industrial age, not of literature as a whole, where loneliness is represented, rather, either as something to be sought—“I wandered lonely as a cloud”—or as a condition to which a few, but only a few, human beings are subjected by chance. Adam Ferguson saw this clearly, even in the eighteenth century. It is, he suggests, only in the “commercial state”—although he adds “if ever”—“that man is sometimes found a detached and a solitary being: he has found an object which sets him in competition with his fellow-creatures, and he deals with them as he does with his cattle and his soil, for the sake of the profits they bring.”18
The young are rebelling, in part, against the atomistic tendencies of modern society. But they have reacted, in the manner only too typical of human beings, by reverting to the old perfectibilist, and in the end tyrannical, ideal of a total unity rather than the admittedly more complex ideal of a plurality of intersecting communities. It is very natural to argue thus: the experience of belonging to a community is essential to “humanity,” therefore the best of all possible worlds would be a total community to which everyone would belong. But this conclusion by no means follows. If communities can be stimulating, encouraging, the source of “graces,” they can also be stifling, discouraging, destructive of love. A man can be born into a community which does not suit him, from which he has to break loose if he is ever to enjoy his particular loves. One great virtue of democracy, so long as it continues to be a network of communities, is that it is always possible to leave one community and join another, with different rules, different habits, devoted to different pursuits.
This implies, however, that not everybody does so; otherwise, there will be no community to join; the value of a community depends on its possessing a degree of stability, of continuity. (Admitting, of course, that the birth of new communities and the death of old communities is also a part of the democratic process.) Too considerable a degree of mobility destroys community, it generates what Durkheim called “anomie.” A university teacher, for example, is unlikely to cherish his university, his colleagues, his students, if he is perpetually poised, ready to move anywhere which offers him more money or a higher status. He may try to substitute his professional associations for his university, but the professional association provides relatively few personal contacts: it cannot serve as a substitute for a face-to-face group. And it leaves his students, not yet “professionals,” with no sense of belonging, in their university, to a genuine community.19 These are just the circumstances in which one would expect to encounter a sense of loss, issuing in a demand for a total community, in which one would be “at home” wherever one moved. To react thus, however, is to miss the point that a community needs to be small and adapted to the special interests of its members—“available,” up to certain limits of size, to those who share these interests, but certainly not providing a suitable “home” for everybody. A “total” community would be so diluted as to be no longer a community: concretely, indeed, it would coincide with that completely atomistic society which, abstractly, is its opposite extreme. It is easy enough to see this in the history of universities. The attempt to include all forms of activity within the university destroys the university; it becomes pointless, from the standpoint of “community,” to be a member of it. Everyone begins to pursue his work in isolation from his fellows. So the “total” community—the “multiversity”—ceases to be a community at all, and the advantages which previously excluded persons and activities were supposed to gain from membership of it no longer exist—just as when an attempt is made to “let everybody enjoy” the peace and quiet of a mountain valley by opening a four-lane highway to it. The student, often enough, feels that he belongs to a “real community” only when he joins in revolutionary activity; the “sit-in” is a community, as the university itself is not.*
In Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage—McLuhan, it is worth observing, is a warm admirer of Teilhard de Chardin—the ideas of timelessness and of “community” are explicitly run together. “Ours,” he says, “is a brand-new world of allatonceness. Time has ceased, space has vanished. We now live in a global village . . . a simultaneous happening. . . . We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorced us.”20 Considered as an account of what is actually the case, this is utter nonsense; men live as much in time and space as they ever did, and in a manner by no means global. Television, on which McLuhan lays so much stress, does not carry the world to the sitting-room; on the contrary, much more than a book, it carries the sitting-room to the world. Men still judge what they see in the light of where and what they are. They are not brought into human relationship with one another merely by looking at the same television programme. If, however, McLuhan is misreporting what is actually the case, he is not misreporting what a great many of the younger generation like to think is the case: that only the present counts, and that the present is the same everywhere—a belief which is no doubt encouraged by the illusion of “prescience” and “contemporaneity” which television offers its devotees. The “Everlasting Now” is ready at hand for all men. To see, as Angela of Foligno did, “the whole world, both here and beyond the sea” they stand in no need of ascetic disciplines; they need only buy, or rent, a television set.
“Timelessness” and “community” are by no means the only perfectibilist ideals to which the “Romantic” rebels revert. The word “beat” in the phrase “the beat generation” is not, as might easily be supposed, a way of referring to those who have been beaten by life; it is an abbreviation for the “beatific,” those who have experienced the beatific vision. The old perfectibilist demand for absolute purity of motive has once more raised its head. So the Californian “Diggers”—a “Hippie” group—will accept gifts “only if they are given with love,” as distinct from charity.21 (“Charity” no longer means the love of God but, rather, a patronizing “hand-out”; thus, by an interesting twist of language, acting “out of charity” has come to be identified with acting out of impure motives, whereas to Christians charity was the only pure motive.)
Even the most bizarre “Romantic rebel” behaviour can turn out, indeed, to have its roots in a long-standing mystical perfectibilist tradition. Take, for example, unisexuality. According to Genesis, God first of all created Adam; he did not create Eve directly, as a pure expression of his creative power; he made her out of Adam’s rib. Man and woman, according to Genesis, are “one flesh.” The implication was not lost on mystical perfectibilists: in the state of perfection, they tell us, there will indeed be only one flesh. In the apocryphal Gospel according to the Egyptians Jesus tells Salome that the final secrets will not be unveiled until “ye have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one, and the male with the female is neither male nor female.” In the so-called “Second epistle of Clement” this becomes: “When the two shall be one and the outside (that which is without) as the inside (that which is within), and the male with the female neither male nor female.”22
The sixteenth-century mystic, Jacob Boehme, was convinced that imperfection entered the world with Eve’s creation. No longer were all created things direct emanations of God—Eve was the prime exception. The German mystically-inclined poet, Gottfried Benn—at one time an enthusiastic follower of Hitler—took as his ideal that “pre-logical” stage of human consciousness, when religion reflected “the original monosexuality of the primitive organism, which performed seed-formation, copulation and impregnation within itself.”23 In many Indian sects, male and female are but different aspects of the one deity. “Margot”—one of the “hippies” in Lawrence Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians—has been told by her male associates that “the gods were conceived of in their pure primitive form as androgynous . . . hermaphroditic.”24 To be godlike, it follows, one must first ignore the differences between the sexes. In search of “Paradise Now,” men and women must dress alike, act alike, and in their sexual relationships be indifferent to the sex of their partner.
That is one of the striking features of the “tribal-love rock musical” Hair. (Note the typical “community” reference to “tribal-love”; the young American rebels are “playing Indians,” rejecting the traditional view that the true hero was the individualistic, aggressive, tribe-destroyer, pioneering cowboy.) In the sharpest possible contrast to the traditional “musical,” which has always emphasized sexual differentiation, Hair makes it hard to distinguish which of the characters are men and which women. And the sexual actions which are casually simulated appear to be determined only by proximity, indifferently directed towards male or female.*
Unisexuality is a reversion to early childhood, to a point before sex-roles were made apparent by differentiation in clothing and behaviour. At the same time, it is a special application of the mystical search for total unity, for a total community in which, as in Fichte’s and Winwood Reade’s dream, all mankind thinks and feels as one. So long as the role of the sexes is sharply distinguished that total community remains inaccessible. It is no accident that in Mao’s China, too, differentiation between the sexes is reduced to a minimum.
Hair is notorious for its naked scene rather than for its unisexuality. But the nakedness, also, is presented as a mystical revelation, a revelation which makes unimportant, in the act of revealing, the difference between the sexes. More significantly, it suggests a ritual sloughing-off, a purification, through the casting away of “inessentials,” mystical and perfectibilist in its inspiration. Adam and Eve, in the familiar Genesis story, “were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” God knew that Adam had sinned, when he saw he had covered his nakedness. Unselfconscious nakedness, an unawareness of sexual difference, belongs, in other words, to Paradise; self-consciousness about nakedness only to man after the Fall. Orthodox Christianity took as its point of departure man in his fallen state; in medieval sculpture, therefore, the naked figure is a “huddled body cowering in consciousness of sin.”25 Metaphorically, however, nakedness continued, as we have seen, to play its ancient role. The mystic must “strip himself naked” before he can unite himself with God. In the Syrian monasteries, as amongst Eastern mystics, physical nakedness was by no means uncommon as a sign of sanctity.*
With the Renaissance painters nakedness is once more linked with Paradise; later writers and painters have developed the association between nakedness and perfection still further. In the eighteenth century the conception of the Pacific as an idyllic Paradise inhabited by noble savages was strengthened by the nakedness of those “savages.” E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” presents the hero, Kuno, as rebelling against the atomistic life of his machine-governed Utopia. Trying to make his way to the outer world, he reflects thus: “I felt that humanity existed, and that it existed without clothes. . . . Had I been strong, I would have torn off every garment I had, and gone out into the outer air unswaddled.”26 The inhabitants of the most attractive of Wells’ Utopias, Men like Gods, go unselfconsciously naked; that the visitors from our planet are horrified, or tantalized, by their nakedness is, as Wells represents the situation, the clearest possible sign of their imperfection. So when the cast of the “Living Theatre” strip themselves naked for their performance of Paradise Now they are reverting to an ancient theme. (Of course, the desire to shock is also an ancient one; but it would be a mistake to suppose that this is all that is involved in apocalyptic nakedness.)
The road to Paradise, one might conclude, is simple: it does not involve a prolonged agony through a dark night of the soul; all one need do is to take off one’s pants. That would not be quite fair. The dropping of pants is a symbol for the dropping of inhibitions. The “new mystic,” as we have already seen, rejects Freud’s own view that inhibitions are essential to civilization. Man, he believes, is naturally good; and any society which rests on inhibitions is but an artificial civilization—a “plastic” substitute for a genuine inhibition-less community, in which man’s natural goodness will express itself in love and tenderness.
Drug-taking is another instance in which ancient mystical ideals reappear in a more explicitly physical guise. Again and again, in describing the effects of drugs, addicts use language which compellingly reminds us of mysticism and of Stoicism.* Hashish, a nineteenth-century addict wrote, offers to men “a sense of detachment from oneself, of loss of all impulse towards action, and of widespread indifference to other persons as to all worldly ties.”27 Describing his feelings under the influence of mescalin, a contemporary poet uses such expressions as “I know everything”; “there is no Time”; “I am without care, part of all.”28 The resemblances between drug-inspired and mystical experience have been most throughly explored by Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts—who first established his reputation as an exponent of Zen Buddhism. Under the influence of mescalin, Huxley reports, “visual impressions are greatly intensified. . . . Interest in space is diminished and interest in time falls almost to zero. . . . The mescalin taker sees no reason for doing anything in particular and finds most of the causes for which, at ordinary times, he was prepared to act and suffer, profoundly uninteresting.”29 In other words, he no longer cares and no longer cherishes.
Watts adds that drugs revive a sense of community. By breaking down that defensiveness which inhibits physical tenderness, they help men and women to enter into “associations with others based on physical gestures of affection,” associations which take the form of “rites, dances, or forms of play which clearly symbolize mutual love between the members of the group.”30 In the normal life of modern industrial societies, men and women are inhibited from these relationships; they are unable to permit themselves any erotic contacts—touching, for example—which fall between the extremes of purely verbalized contacts and full genital sexuality. But, by destroying inhibitions, drugs make such contacts possible, and in so doing, it is argued, promote community.
To the traditional Christian it is, of course, an intolerable suggestion that there is any resemblance whatsoever between “spiritual” and drug-taking mysticism. But, as Huxley points out, the classical mystics did in fact produce bodily changes in themselves—by starvation, by flagellation, by the perpetual muttering of prayers. All of these give rise to physical changes in the body, precisely the sort of changes which from our knowledge of bio-chemistry we should expect to produce “mystical experience.”31
These observations do not, of course, suffice to demonstrate that the mystics were mistaken in what they reported, that they were wrong in supposing that they had been granted a vision of God. Huxley himself believes that the taking of drugs can now accomplish what it once took starvation and flagellation to bring about. It so affects the chemistry of the brain that the brain no longer acts in its normal fashion as an inhibitor, allowing us to experience only what is practically important, and so permits what Huxley calls “Mind at large” to flow through its filters.*
The question what we are to make of reports of mystical experience is, of course, a large one, not lightly to be settled. One thing is obvious: whenever the mystics—“spiritual” or “bodily”—make claims which can be empirically tested, they are false. Angela of Foligno tells us that she was lifted up so that she could see all the countries of the world; it follows that in her mystical vision the world was flat. Had we asked her to describe then-undiscovered Australia it is not a mere guess that she could not have done so accurately. If, similarly, a drug-taker tells us that, now he has taken LSD, he “feels like Einstein” it will certainly be pointless to expect from him some new contribution to the unified field theory. He is in exactly the same position as the alcoholic driver who is convinced that he is now in a fit state to win the Grand Prix. William James has told us how under the influence of ether he was convinced that he was thinking great thoughts; writing them down he discovered them, in his waking moments, to be absolute nonsense, of a pseudo-metaphysical kind. Not every drug-mystic, unfortunately, is a William James, capable of recognizing nonsense when he sees it.
As for the view, again an empirical claim, that drug-taking encourages a “sense of community,” no one can read the pitiful story of American “hippie” communities and still believe that drugs encourage “community,” as distinct from vague feelings of “togetherness.” A genuine community has common interests and is able to work together in a common life: out of its common interests affection develops. Touching is not a substitute for love—which is not, by any means, to deny that physical contacts of this sort can have their value. (In “The Machine Stops” E. M. Forster treats it as characteristic of the dystopia he there describes that its citizens cannot bear any kind of physical contact one with another: our own society has perhaps been approaching that point.)
Nor is there any ground for believing that drugs and spiritual exercises “enlarge the consciousness.” Science does enlarge men’s consciousness: it enables human beings to range more freely through space and time; it reveals to them a variety of objects about which they would otherwise be entirely ignorant. Art, too, “enlarges the consciousness”; it creates new objects, objects we can enjoy with care; it helps us to appreciate the shapes and forms, the modes of life, which lie around us. Drugs and mystical exercises, on the contrary, deliberately set out to destroy consciousness, governed as it is by care; they seek to carry men back to the world as they experienced it before they were capable of thinking, a world without structure and order, in which contours and forms float free, the world of “pure experience” as Bradley and James described it, in which even the distinction between men and the world around them does not exist. Becoming a human being consists, precisely, in learning how to reduce to order that primitive chaos of experience—to which we sometimes revert under conditions of fever or extreme fatigue. The mystic wants us to forget everything we have learnt: in short, no longer to be human.*
This, it might be argued, is only in order to deal more effectively with the world; mysticism retreats only in order to advance. Classical mystics, it is sometimes said, recognized that “this is the life that counts, and that the state of self-transcendence is a means, not an end in itself.”32 As a generalization about “spiritual” mystics, this is false. But some mystics, certainly, have sought in transcendent states a form of spiritual refreshment, which would prepare them to live the religious life on earth.† Equally, nineteenth-century opium addicts sometimes believed that opium-taking would offer them “spiritual experiences” which would enable them the more effectively to express themselves in poetry—even if the actual effect, in most cases, was to evoke nothing more productive than “the intention but failure to write a great philosophical work.”33 Contemporary mystics, in contrast, often drop out of the world in intention as well as in effect; they are the modern equivalent of the fourth-century hermits in the Syrian desert—even if their desert is not Syria but California and what they are mourning is not so much the worldliness of Christianity as the worldliness of Civilization.
The fact remains that even when the mystic believes that he has an obligation towards his fellow-men which his temporary retreat from the world will enable him, in the long run, more effectively to perform, he does not find perfection in that human relationship but only in his relationship to the One. And although it be true that, as a result of mystical withdrawal, he finds it possible to act in ways in which he could not otherwise act, this does nothing to demonstrate that the withdrawal is itself anything but a form of play. Other men feel the need for orgies, whether sexual orgies or orgies of destruction, for bouts of drunkenness, or for violent physical exercise, to achieve the same catharsis.
To speak of the mystical ideal as one of unalloyed enjoyment is, it might be objected, an absurd misinterpretation of the situation: how can it possibly be said that the mystic is longing for a life of unalloyed enjoyment when he endures such austerities? But two points arise here. First, we have come to be somewhat suspicious of austerities. As little as half a century ago Baron von Hügel could relate with every expectation of approval the story of a nun who, on learning that a favourite pupil had become the mistress of a wealthy man, told her that until the relationship was terminated, she would scourge herself daily so that she stood in a pool of her own blood. Such spiritual blackmail has nowadays lost much of its moral appeal. But even apart from that, the nun’s motives would now, very commonly, be regarded with suspicion; the sexual complications of such self-scourging are only too familiar. Scourging can be a form of sexual play. The practices of famous medieval ascetics are described in detail in the case-histories of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis.
As well, and more fundamentally, mystical austerities are commonly represented, as we have often had occasion to remark, as a “stripping off” to the point of nakedness. It is a constant theme of perfectibilists that men need to return to an earlier state, to become as little children, to find their way back to unity with Nature, to the undifferentiated whole they experienced before they began to think, to primitive community. Difficulty, struggle, toil, are needed only in order to find the way back. That the mystic is forced to toil, to struggle, does nothing to demonstrate that what he is seeking to achieve at the end of his struggle is something other than a state of absolute unalloyed enjoyment. The old mystic differs from the new mystics only in believing that to achieve that state he must first toil, not in his definition of what he hopes to achieve. (The danger attaching to LSD, the fact that it may, often does, produce suffering—a “dark night” of depression and horror—is part of its attractiveness to some of its devotees; it links them more closely with the mystical tradition.)
At the opposite extreme from the play-ideal lies Puritanism, that Puritanism, so potent in the United States, but widespread also in Europe, against which the new mystics are reacting* and which has to be taken into account if their attitudes are to be comprehensible. “Play of whatever sort,” a German educator once wrote, “should be forbidden in all evangelical schools, and its vanity and folly should be explained to the children with warnings of how it turns the mind away from God and eternal life, and works destruction on their immortal souls.”34 “Play,” in this context, has of course, the widest possible application: any form of enjoyment, whether it be play, game, or love, “turns the mind away from God.” Life should be wholly devoted, according to the Puritan, to toil. Secularists have sometimes adopted a not dissimilar attitude. Anxious not to be condemned as pagan hedonists they—some of the Fabians for example—have so strongly emphasized the importance of duty, of service, of seriousness that, in their practical attitudes to life, they could scarcely be distinguished from the most pious of Puritans. There is certainly nothing playful about George Eliot, or about the Webbs.
Up to a point, in reacting against the Puritan attitude to life, the exponents of “Paradise Now” are saying no more than what is said in those somewhat trite but extremely pertinent lines of the Georgian poet W. H. Davies:
Looking back on his own past life, so serious a philosopher as Herder was led to comment adversely, as many of us might do on looking back at our own life, on its absence of play. “The sense of touch and the world of sensuous pleasures,” he writes, “. . . these I have not enjoyed. I see and feel at a distance.” We have all lost, he goes on to suggest, “the noble sensuality of ancient times, especially in the East”; he himself had suffered in later life, he came to think, because he had failed, in his youth, to live the life “of images, of sensations, of upsurging delight.”36
In so far as contemporary mysticism develops this theme, in so far, that is, as it is a reaction against a life too “full of care,” one does not have to be a mystic to appreciate its attractions. J. M. Keynes was certainly no mystic; but even he complained that men have looked too much to the future; in the language of the nursery, they have placed too much stress on jam tomorrow, too little on jam today.37
There is certainly room in life for play, room for “moral holidays,” more room than our society has permitted. Herbert Marcuse has particularly emphasized that the “scarcity” which is used to justify the postponement of gratification is, in modern industrial societies, largely artificial; ideas like “economic growth” and a “higher standard of living,” used to justify more and more toil, have become absurd fetishes.38 When Freud argued that civilization can only be founded on repression, because human resources are so limited that immediate gratification would destroy civilization, he was reflecting the ideas of a pre-technological age. Much human toil, nowadays, is directed towards the obtaining of possessions and status which are simply not worth having: which, having, one does not enjoy; which are possessed only to be cast aside in favour of objects which are more “up-to-date” and can be purchased only by additional toil.*
But this is not to say that we should take as our ideal a world which is without past and future or entirely devoid of care. Brown is certainly right: if men were not “full of care,” they would have no sense of time—as children at first have not, or that kind of adult who is ordinarily condemned as “irresponsible”—they would have no logic, no history, no quantified science, no technology, no system of production. One can go much further than this; they would have no art, no friendship, no stable human relationships. No doubt, these points are disputable. The attempt to turn art into a “happening” is, one might say, precisely the attempt to create an art without “care,” which is to be enjoyed once and for all as it happens and which is to be in its creation entirely spontaneous, the expression of an immediate enjoyment.* And this is only the Romantic conception of art carried to its extremes; in a fashion characteristic of Romanticism it encourages Pelagian pride, pride in one’s “creativity” or originality, discourages pride in work.
Art, however, is not simply play, it is a form of love—enjoyment with care, cherishing an object. So is science. A “science” which was “erotic exuberance,” which did not try to generalize, to economize, which sought only to enjoy each individual object for itself as distinct from cherishing the growth of knowledge would simply not be science. What we may question, indeed, is whether the ideal of a life wholly devoted to enjoyment is even conceivable. The baby must, eventually, withdraw its lips from its mother’s breast; the sexual embrace cannot last forever. Only if the mystic is right, only if there is an “Everlasting Now” to which one can be eternally attached, is perpetual enjoyment possible. And the idea of such an “Everlasting Now” to which a temporal being can somehow attach himself cannot stand up to philosophical criticism; it “saves” itself only by retreating into unintelligibility, as the doctrines of the pseudo-Dionysius will sufficiently illustrate.
For all its virtues, then, play is not enough. Theatrical “happenings”—except when they are interspersed, as they so often are, with boring, sentimental and witless dialogue—can be exciting, in their primitive way; they may represent the return of a not-undesirable Dionysian element into our art. To suppose, however, that a society would be more perfect whose theatre despised Shakespeare and concentrated on “happenings” is as clearly absurd as to suppose that a society would be more perfect whose art consisted only of propaganda for approved ideals.*
The fact is, or so I am suggesting, that there is nothing better than “loves.” Some measure of “play” is certainly desirable. “Games” can be enjoyable and can contribute a great deal to the vigour and vitality of a community. Toil is in some measure unavoidable; self-sacrifice, action out of duty, unenjoyable work are bound up with—and can be justified by reference to—our loves. But the quality of a society depends on the quality of the loves it exhibits and fosters.* Quite certainly, if the loves it fosters are the love of power, of money, and of status, it is a low-grade society. Yet even these loves are relatively harmless compared with the “cosmic loves”—the activities which describe themselves as the love of God and the love of Humanity. These are the “loves”—on my view, the pseudo-loves—in the name of which human beings persecute, torture, censor, kill. Sometimes, of course, people describe as “the love of God” or “the love of Humanity” what is in fact love for persons: there are doctors, nurses, clergymen, men and women in every walk of life, whom one might in this sense describe as “loving humanity” and who might think of themselves as loving God. Again, we know what Wittgenstein is driving at when he tells us in the foreword to his Philosophische Bemerkungen that, except that he knows he would be misunderstood, he would like to say of his work that it is written for the “greater glory of God”; he goes on to add that in so far as it has been written not out of this motive but out of vanity, it ought to be condemned. To act out of love for God, or for the glory of God, can mean nothing more than to seek to make a contribution to human life, as distinct from satisfying one’s vanity—love as distinct from self-love is sometimes thus described as “the love of God.”
But often enough, as we have seen, men have sought to demonstrate their love for God by loving nothing at all and their love for humanity by loving nobody whatsoever. These are the men to be feared above all others—the Robespierres who “love humanity,” the Inquisitors who “love God.” The loves which determine the quality of a society are not such pseudo-loves as these but what, relatively speaking, might be called the “little loves”—the love of one’s work, of one’s friends, of works of art, of scientific and technological achievements, of justice, of political freedom, of one’s community, one’s wife, one’s children.*
What of “love for one’s neighbours”? It is quite misleading to use the word “love” in this context. The appropriate attitude to a neighbour—to another human being merely as such—is not love but that quite different relationship which one might call “consideration.” It consists in treating a neighbour as another human being, taking his interests into account, coming to his aid if he is in difficulties, admitting his right to live his own life in his own way. Love, when it is a love for persons, includes consideration but goes much beyond it: it is a special relationship to other persons, which implies taking a peculiar interest in their growth and development.
A principal objection to the view that we ought to love our neighbours, love them as brothers, is that it is presumptuous to do so. They may properly resent any attempt on our part to take a peculiar interest in them, merely in virtue of their being our neighbours. We certainly do not wish to be loved by everybody: why should we imagine that everybody wishes to be loved by us? Affection—personal love—always carries with it some degree of intimacy, loss of privacy. Nowhere is there more talk about “the brotherhood of man” than in the Soviet Union: there it is used to justify the total rejection of the right to privacy, the denunciation of neighbours one by another, constant interference in one another’s lives. That is why Orwell called his supreme ruler “Big Brother.” And precisely the same phenomenon has occurred in rigidly Christian communities like, for example, Puritan New England or sixteenth-century Spain.
If, with these reservations, we think of “love” as the highest form of human activity we have still to grant to the perfectibilist that “loves,” even the best of them, are not perfect in any of the classical senses. “Care” is essentially involved in them, discontent, anxiety, dependence on others, disunity, opposition, unhappiness. Herder sums in his characteristically metaphorical fashion: “No where upon Earth does the rose of happiness blossom without thorns: but what proceeds from these thorns is every where and under all its forms, the lovely though perishable rose of vital joy.”39 Lovely, perishable, joyous—such are the best human loves. But full of thorns.
To write a book, for example, can be a “vital joy,” but a joy which is inevitably united with the thorns of anxious care. It is not a contribution to perfection, as perfection is classically understood. To write anything worth writing is to arouse opposition, controversy—writing does not promote the classical perfectibilist ideals of unity and harmony or contentment; it is to abandon all hope of self-sufficiency, to make oneself dependent on a multitude of other human beings, to surrender one’s peace of mind, to stir up one’s passions, to struggle with time. Love for persons is no less “imperfect” in the classical sense of the word.
On the other side, or so I have suggested, the classical ideals of perfection banish care only by dehumanizing. No doubt they can be so interpreted as not to be destructive of humanity. Art and science have their own orders, the artist and the scientist seek particular forms of harmony: to that extent the love of order need not be dehumanizing. If “simplicity” is interpreted to mean no more than “Do not unnecessarily complicate your life with possessions!”—it is an ideal any humanist would do well to adopt. Science, though itself a passion, must certainly be “dispassionate”; if freedom from passion means nothing more than objectivity, disinterestedness, it is certainly not a dehumanizing ideal. Man needs to think of himself as “at one with the world,” as the perfectibilist urges him to do, if this is to be contrasted with setting himself above, or apart from, the natural world. “Self-sufficiency” is vitally important to humanity, when it means no more than a capacity to do without such solaces as reputation and status.
But classical perfectibilists go a great deal further than this. They set out in search of a total order, a total harmony, and neither science nor art, as Plato saw and the dystopians have seen after him, could be freely operating loves within such a total order; science and art are by their very nature revolutionary, destructive of established orders. Perfectibilists tell us not only to abandon our possessions but to abandon our loves; to be not merely dispassionate but, what is very different, without passion; to seek a kind of unity which is destructive of that diversity which is the glory of the world and the secret of all man’s achievements; to be self-sufficient in a sense which does not permit of love. That is precisely why perfectibilism is dehumanizing. To achieve perfection in any of its classical senses, as so many perfectibilists have admitted, it would first be necessary to cease to be human, to become godlike, to rise above the human condition. But a god knows nothing of love, or science, or art, or craft, of family and friends, of discovery, of pride in work. And can we really count as perfection a condition which excludes all of these, for the sake of eternity, of order, or of unalloyed enjoyment?
In spite of these reflections, which might lead us to reject perfectibilism in any of its forms, it is very hard to shake off the feeling that man is capable of becoming something much superior to what he now is. This feeling, if it is interpreted in the manner of the more commonsensical Enlighteners, is not in itself irrational. There is certainly no guarantee that men will ever be any better than they now are; their future is not, as it were, underwritten by Nature. Nor is there any device, whether skilful government, or education, which is certain to ensure the improvement of man’s condition. To that extent the hopes of the developmentalists or the governmentalists or the educators must certainly be abandoned. There is not the slightest ground for believing, either, with the anarchist, that if only the State could be destroyed and men could start afresh, all would be well. But we know from our own experience, as teachers or parents, that individual human beings can come to be better than they once were, given care, and that wholly to despair of a child or a pupil is to abdicate what is one’s proper responsibility. We know, too, that in the past men have made advances, in science, in art, in affection. Men, almost certainly, are capable of more than they have ever so far achieved. But what they achieve, or so I have suggested, will be a consequence of their remaining anxious, passionate, discontented human beings. To attempt, in the quest for perfection, to raise men above that level is to court disaster; there is no level above it, there is only a level below it. “To be man,” Sartre has written, “means to reach towards being God.”40 That is why he also describes man as “useless passion.” For certainly man is a “useless passion” if his passion is to be God. But his passions are not useless, if they help him to become a little more humane, a little more civilized.
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[1. ]In this case, too, it is sometimes argued that—except in perverted or vulgarized forms—the sexual references are only symbolic. See, for example, Anagarika Govinda: Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism (London, 1960; paperback ed., 1969), Pt. IV, ch. 4, pp. 140–43.
[*]I suggested that what happened in the eighteenth century could be described as the Confucianization of Europe; what is happening now, one might say in the same sense, is the Buddhization of Europe. In one of his Letters to Leontine Zanta Teilhard remarks: “We could perhaps learn from the mystics of the Far East how to make our religion more ‘Buddhist’ instead of being over-absorbed by ethics, that is to say too Confucianist” (trans. B. Wall, London, 1969), p. 58. It never seems to occur to the new mystics to ask themselves whether the societies in which mysticism and drug-taking have flourished are in any sense “more perfect” than Western societies, whether love is more widespread in them, or a sense of community, or compassion, or courage—to say nothing of creative achievements in art and literature. But since a French convert to Buddhism, André Migot, is prepared to argue that Tibet—as it was in the time of the lamas—and Upper Mongolia are the best governed people in the world, I suppose someone might also claim that they have the best philosophers, the best scientists and the best artists. Compare André Migot: Caravane vers Buddha (Paris, 1954; Eng. trans. by Peter Fleming: Tibetan Marches, London, 1955).
[2. ]New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, XXXI, as trans. J. Strachey in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, Vol. XXII (London, 1964), p. 74.
[3. ]Standard Edition, Vol. XXIII (London, 1964), p. 300.
[4. ]Life Against Death, Pt. V, ch. xv; ed. cit., p. 274.
[5. ]Ibid., Pt. VI, ch. xvi; ed. cit., p. 311.
[6. ]Analysis Terminable and Interminable, as trans. J. Rivière in Standard Edition, Vol. XXIII, p. 250.
[* ]Recent investigations into sexual life in the United States have made it clear that in that country what Brown sets up as an ideal is in fact being largely realized: sexual relationships, to a rapidly increasing degree, are taking an anal or oral form. See the investigations reported in Charles Winick: The New People: Desexualization in American Life (New York, 1968; paperback ed., 1969), pp. 319–23. The new mysticism, in this and in other respects, may be responding to a general social change, as distinct from advocating an eccentric ideal.
[7. ]Life Against Death, Pt. VI, ch. xvi; ed. cit., p. 308.
[8. ]Ibid., Pt. V, ch. xv; ed. cit., p. 236.
[9. ]Henry Miller: Tropic of Capricorn (London, 1964; Panther paperback ed., 1966), pp. 11, 117.
[10. ]Norman Mailer: Advertisements for Myself (London, 1961; Panther paperback ed., 1968), Pt. 4, The White Negro, §2, p. 271.
[11. ]Giles Goat-Boy, Vol. I, First Reel, ch. 5; ed. cit., p. 35.
[* ]Many of the young revolutionaries—very obviously in Czecho-Slovakia but in some degree also in the democracies—are still working within the liberal tradition. What they are seeking is an extension of democratic rights, greater access to representative institutions, a higher degree of personal freedom. They may be mistaken in believing that a particular right will give them greater freedom, but this is a mistake about the facts. There is certainly nothing undemocratic, for example, in opposing conscription. The “Romantic” rebels, on the contrary, are not interested in democratic institutions or in democratic processes. In the manner of the anarchists before them, they would like to replace institutions by “community.” Although the two types of revolt are, in practice, interconnected in complicated ways, in their pure forms they stand in complete opposition one to another. This is very clearly brought out in Yves Ciampi’s semi-documentary film A Matter of Days (1969). The young French “Romantic” revolutionary heroine is bored and exasperated by the Czecho-Slovakian student revolt; to her, it is merely an attempt to set up that sort of bourgeois society against which, in France, she has been rebelling. The contrast between the risk-taking revolution of the young Czechs and the theatrical gestures of the “Romantic” revolutionaries is only too manifest. But that is not to say that the “Romantic” revolutionaries have absolutely no ground for their revolt, however ill-defined may be their objectives and however unpalatably childish some of its manifestations may be. (Violence, I said, can be a form of play: and the faecal preoccupations of some of the more depressing American young are typical of childish scatology—although it has to be added that both violence and obscenity can be a reaction of helplessness. It has also to be added that neither violence nor obscenity is peculiar to the young. What their elders see, abstractly, as authority, the young experience concretely as violence.)
[12. ]Tropic of Capricorn, ed. cit., p. 11.
[13. ]Included in J. G. Ballard: The Four-Dimensional Nightmare (London, 1963; paperback ed., Harmondsworth, 1965).
[14. ]David and Evelyn Riesman: Conversations in Japan (New York, 1967), pp. 188, 195.
[15. ]Stephen Vizinczey: In Praise of Older Women (London, 1966; Pan Books ed., 1968), pp. 181, 185.
[16. ]Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner: The Psychedelic Experience (New York, 1964), p. 13, quoted in Lewis Yablonsky: The Hippie Trip (New York, 1968), pp. 311–12.
[* ]It may be argued that the best human society can do for most men is to provide for them intervals of play in a life of toil. In his Laws (653) Plato suggests something of this kind: the Gods, he says, out of pity for men’s toil have set up festivals, to offer them relief. The “carnival”—a period of irresponsible enjoyment—is a familiar feature of traditional societies and has survived, in a reduced and modified form, into the modern world. Puritanism, with its ideal of a wholly toil-dominated life, sought to destroy festivals; the contemporary fascination with “orgies” reflects, perhaps, a self-conscious attempt to reinstate them. It is worth observing that not only the essentially totalitarian Plato but also Dostoievsky’s Grand Inquisitor suggest that a life which alternates between toil and play is the one which makes men easiest to control. When men enjoy their work they also demand the freedom to innovate within it; toil plus play is a recipe for tyranny, enjoyment in work entails freedom.
[17. ]Jacobs and Landau: The New Radicals, ed. cit., p. 15.
[* ]I do not mean to suggest that the “Romantic rebels” are Nazis in jeans; they have an almost pathological mistrust of the “leader principle.” Fundamentally, they are Dionysians, in Nietzsche’s sense of the word. Indeed, Nietzsche’s description of the Dionysians sums up their ideals admirably: “Now the slave is free; now all the stubborn, hostile barriers, which necessity, caprice or shameless fashion have erected between man and man, are broken down. Now, with the gospel of universal harmony, each one feels himself not only united, reconciled, blended with his neighbour, but as one with him; he feels as if the veil of Maya had been torn aside and were now merely fluttering in tatters before the mysterious Primordial Unity. In song and in dance man expresses himself as a member of a higher community . . . from him emanate supernatural sounds. He feels himself a god, he himself now walks about enchanted, in ecstasy, like to the gods whom he saw walking about in his dreams. He is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: in these paroxysms of intoxication, the artistic power of all nature reveals itself to the highest gratification of the Primordial Unity.” There could be no better description of the world of pure play. Nietzsche, too, was no Nazi. But the fact is that the attempt to construct a society wholly based on “play” and “community” leads either to total collapse or to tyranny. If not the God Dionysus, then an earthly, and less amiable, surrogate, has to sustain it. See The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, trans. C. P. Fadiman (1926), and included in The Philosophy of Nietzsche, introd. W. H. Wright, Modern Library (New York, 1937). The reference is to pp. 173–74 of the separately paginated text of Ecce Homo and The Birth of Tragedy.
[18. ]An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Pt. I, Section III; ed. cit., p. 19.
[19. ]There is, of course, an enormous literature on this subject. The major lines of controversy are sketched in Ferdinand Tönnies: Community and Society (1887), trans. and ed. C. P. Loomis (East Lansing, 1957; paperback ed., New York, 1963). On the special case of universities see T. Roszak: “On Academic Delinquency” in T. Roszak, ed.: The Dissenting Academy (New York, 1967; paperback ed., Harmondsworth, 1969).
[* ]Communities differ in character, however. A university is not, and cannot be, anything like a “sit-in.” Terrible confusion has been caused by the confluence of a number of factors: the ridiculous habit of describing the university as “a community of scholars” rather than as, at best, a community of scholars and pupils, the educational dogma that education must be “problem-oriented” rather than “subject-oriented,” the over-emphasis in universities on the contemporary, the breaking up of educational sequences into disordered “units.” (All of these factors have been particularly influential in faculties of arts and social sciences.) Together, they generate the conclusion that the ideal university would be one in which students and teachers, on equal terms, sat around discussing whatever “problems” happened to be currently fashionable. The fact is that students entering a university are ignorant; what they need is to be introduced to consecutive and ordered subjects. As pupils they have rights in the community, and they can reasonably complain when their masters ignore them, teach them badly, or not at all, and refuse to allow them to participate in the university’s government. But a university is not, cannot be, and ought not to be, a community of equals: it could become such only by destroying scholarship, abandoning learning, forgetting that its task is to teach, which implies that there are learners, and to advance knowledge, which implies that knowledge is something one only gradually acquires. Once again, the remedy proposed by the “Romantic rebels” is even worse than the disease. The demand that their teachers be constantly at their beck and call, for example, displays a complete incapacity to understand the conditions necessary for scholarly work. But, on the other hand, a pupil needs to do a great deal more than merely to “audit” a course—that revealing American expression; he needs to participate in courses of studies as distinct from simply “hearing” what is said to him.
[20. ]Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore: The Medium Is the Massage (New York, 1967; paperback ed., Harmondsworth, 1967), p. 63.
[21. ]Yablonsky: The Hippie Trip, pp. 283–84.
[22. ]The Apocryphal New Testament, ed. M. R. James (Oxford, corrected ed. 1955), p. 11.
[23. ]Gottfried Benn: “Provoziertes Leben,” first publ. in Ausdruckswelt: Essays und Aphorismen (Wiesbaden, 1949); trans. as “Provoked Life: An Essay on the Anthropology of the Ego” in The Psychedelic Reader, sel. from The Psychedelic Review, ed. G. M. Weil, R. Metzner and T. Leary (New York, 1965), p. 42.
[24. ]Lawrence Lipton: The Holy Barbarians, ed. cit., Pt. I, ch. 3, p. 81.
[* ]It is women who suffer from this identification, as is very clearly brought out in Hair. Women are mere “hangers-on,” no longer sexually necessary. Girls are dressed as boys rather than—for all their long hair and decorative garb—boys as girls. The sexual relationships suggested and simulated are not, for the most part, of a genital kind: they are anal and oral relationships, for which women are not necessary. What we are perhaps witnessing, in the name of “community,” is a revolt against women—but a revolt in which women themselves participate because it can be represented, as by Simone de Beauvoir, as a revolt against the conception of a “feminine role.” It is Eve, not Adam, who must vanish if the “original state” of perfect humanity is to be regained; she must take her old place, in Adam’s rib, no longer separate flesh. This is not the first time that a class has participated in a revolution of which, in the end, it is the victim. On the unisexual tendencies in the United States see, although with considerable reservations, Charles Winick: The New People. The themes of nakedness and unisexuality played a prominent part in the Adamite sects, to which Augustine refers, and were also conspicuous in the teachings of certain of the Brethren of the Free Spirit. Sects of this kind have of course—like the “hippies” of our time—always been a small minority. But the reappearance of these ideas at such crucial stages in the history of civilization is of more than passing interest. See particularly Wilhelm Fränger: The Millennium of Hieronymus Bosch, trans. Wilkins and Kaiser, ch. 2. In the light of recent developments, Fränger’s interpretation (p. 121) of Bosch’s notorious “anal flower” may have to be reconsidered; the interpretation he rules out, that the Brethren of the Free Spirit thought every erogenous zone permissible, may well be the correct one.
[25. ]Kenneth Clark: The Nude (London, 1956), ch. VIII, p. 303.
[* ]At the same time—a fact of which the Nazis made full use in their concentration camps—compulsory nakedness can be a powerful weapon of humiliation, as also can be that replacement of names by numbers which is a feature of mathematically perfect societies. By making himself naked, as by scourging himself, by starving himself, by prostrating himself, by submitting without question to authority, the ascetic mystic voluntarily makes use of precisely the dehumanizing mechanisms the totalitarian state uses to impose its will on its victims.
[26. ]E. M. Forster: “The Machine Stops,” in Collected Tales, ed. cit., p. 170.
[* ]Many drug-takers, in flight from “humanity” and the care inherent in it, turned first to mysticism. So when they took drugs, the language of mysticism was at their disposal to describe their experiences; they taught that language to new converts. But the fact remains that the old language seemed to them to fit their new experiences like a glove. It is very important to recognize that drug-taking has now—as for centuries past in other cultures—taken on the character of a religion: it has zealous converts, who seek to convert others. Like any other religion, of course, it also serves as a source of profit to “drug-pushers.” But this should not be allowed to conceal the manifest sincerity of a great many drug-takers and drug-recommenders. “LSD,” Marx might now have written, “is the religion of the intellectuals.” On this point see especially Richard Blum and associates: Utopiates: The Use and Users of LSD (London, 1965), p. 134. For a criticism of the attempt to relate drug mysticism to classical mysticism—a criticism directed especially against Huxley, see R. C. Zaehner: Mysticism: Sacred and Profane (Oxford, 1957), which particularly insists on the point made in chapter IV, above, that Christianity stops short of the idea of an absolute unity between the mystic and God.
[27. ]Quoted in “The Search for Ecstasy,” Mind Alive, Vol. I, No. 4, p. 100. The source is not given.
[28. ]Mike McClure: “Peyote Poem,” from Semina 3, quoted in Lipton: The Holy Barbarians, ed. cit., pp. 172–73.
[29. ]Aldous Huxley: The Doors of Perception (London, 1954; publ. together with his Heaven and Hell in 1-vol. paperback ed., Harmondsworth, 1959, repr. 1969), p. 23. For criticism of the view that Christian and drug-taking mysticism have any connection one with the other, see R. C. Zaehner: Mysticism: Sacred and Profane (Oxford, 1957).
[30. ]Alan W. Watts: The Joyous Cosmology (New York, 1962), p. 92.
[31. ]A. Huxley: Heaven and Hell, Appendix II; ed. cit., pp. 117–22.
[* ]The title of Huxley’s principal book on drug-taking is The Doors of Perception. His epigraph is from Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” (The quotation is from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; I have corrected Huxley’s version to make it conform to the text in the Oxford Standard Authors edition of Blake’s Poetical Works, p. 254.) In Blake, very many of the themes we have just been developing are clearly announced: the emphasis on infancy, “nestling for delight In laps of pleasure” (p. 290); the attack on Newtonian-type science and abstract reasoning (p. 381 and passim); the praise of “the naked Human Form Divine” (p. 157); the hostility to “the two Impossibilities, Chastity and Abstinence, Gods of the Heathen” (p. 429). Note as well, what is very typical of the “Romantic Rebels,” Blake’s Christianity without God—“God is Jesus” (p. 430)—and his hostility to societies of “wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic Moving by compulsion each other” as contrasted with Eden whose “wheel within wheel, in freedom; revolve in harmony and peace” (p. 388). In short, Blake forcibly reminds us just how much of what the “Romantic rebels” teach derives from a long tradition.
[* ]Even more obviously is this true of Zen Buddhism. The Zen monk seeks to go back even beyond childhood, to think of himself as if he were a rock or stone. The typical Zen stone-gardens are made of unchanging rocks: the seasonal changes of the Western garden play no part in them. The living is excluded, because the living involves care, change, death. Such gardens undoubtedly have their attractions as a moral holiday, a respite from the attempt to grasp and cope with a changing world—the same sort of respite which can be obtained in a mountain range.
[32. ]Sidney Cohen, as reported in Yablonsky: The Hippie Trip, p. 250.
[† ]The claim that mystical experience, whatever its origins, makes its devotees better persons is hard to test—if only because there is often very little agreement between the mystics and their critics about what constitutes a better person. But so far as there is agreement on this point, the evidence suggests that although drug-takers, at least, feel they are better men after their drug-taking, independent observers often disagree with them. Eighty per cent of the drug users examined in Blum’s Utopiates (p. 104) thought their fellow drug-takers had changed for the better: sixty-nine per cent of observers who did not take drugs thought they had either not changed at all or changed for the worse. The fact seems to be that the breaking down of inhibitions by any means improves some people and makes other people worse; no one who has observed the effect of alcohol will be surprised by this observation. As for the view that the taking of LSD improves the functioning of the intellect, I can only beg the reader—to take one case—to read Timothy Leary’s “The Religious Experience: Its Production and Interpretation” in The Psychedelic Reader, pp. 191–213. Intellectual irresponsibility is there exhibited at its very worst. Zen Buddhism positively prides itself on its moral and political irresponsibility; a leading representative of the contemporary Zen movement found no difficulty in becoming a convinced Nazi. Compare on this point Arthur Koestler: Drinkers of Infinity (London, 1968), pp. 287–91. In his The Myth of the Twentieth Century Alfred Rosenberg traced back the ideas of the Nazis to German mystics, especially Eckhart. This, no doubt, is too hard on the mystics, but it is not entirely without justification. Contemporary hippie-mystics are often convinced that they are the recipients of a special divine grace; they display that fanaticism, “aristocratic” pride and antinomianism which Wesley so feared, setting themselves above all kinds of moral restraint.
[33. ]Alethea Hayter: Opium and the Romantic Imagination (London, 1968), ch. I, p. 27.
[* ]Obscenities are a rebellion against the euphemisms of the “comfort-station” and the “powder-room”; nakedness against an extreme body-Puritanism, for which even to show the navel was wicked: unisexuality against a rigid distinction between masculine and feminine roles, panic-stricken by homosexuality; dirtiness and, more particularly, carelessness about faeces against the exaggeration of hygiene and toilet-training; pacifism against the cult of violence and gun-carrying; the ideal of “community” against a viciously competitive individualism; the ideal of play against an intense seriousness of purpose, wholly hostile to wit, irony or any kind of secret smile; the “return to Nature” against savage industrial despoliation; mysticism and ritualism against a moralistic version of Christianity.
[34. ]The pietist Töllner, quoted in K. Groos: The Play of Man, ed. cit., pp. 398–99, from K. A. Schmid: Geschichte der Erziehung, 5 vols (Stuttgart, 1884–1902), Vol. IV, p. 282.
[35. ]The poem is entitled “Leisure.”
[36. ]Herder: Travel Diary, as trans. Barnard in J. G. Herder on Social and Political Culture, pp. 69, 83, 78.
[37. ]J. M. Keynes: Essays in Persuasion (London, 1931; pop. ed. 1933), p. 370.
[38. ]Herbert Marcuse: Eros and Civilization (Boston, 1955; paperback ed., London, 1969).
[* ]If violence increases to a point at which every citizen has to buy a double lock for every door and add a room to his house as an armoury, this will contribute to economic growth. A country may have a high national income only because it is busy producing weapons of war; its standard of living may be statistically reported as “high” only because unscrupulous salesmen are successful in selling shoddy goods by fraudulent methods to customers who get no enjoyment out of what they are persuaded into buying. For more on the topic of economic growth see, allowing for his idiosyncrasies, E. J. Mishan: The Costs of Economic Growth (London, 1967) and on national income see, for example, C. S. Shoup: Principles of National Income Analysis (Boston, 1947), pp. 269–70. It is interesting to note that although he is a fundamentally conservative thinker Mishan agrees with the “Romantic rebels” on at least two crucial points: the need for recreating a sense of community and the need for living more fully in the present. The conventional “left” and the conventional “right” are still squabbling about who is to get what, and by what means; the Soviet Union and the United States are equally committed to the fetish of economic growth. That is one major reason why the conventional divisions between political parties now seem to many people quite irrelevant: the basic conflict, only gradually emerging, is between those who are still wholly committed to the ideal of economic growth and those who are uninterested in economic growth, except where there is clear evidence that—as it sometimes has done, and in many countries still could do—it improves the quality of men’s lives, diminishes mutual suspicion, enables men to devote themselves more freely to their loves, offers them opportunities for creative enterprise, or, in short, does what the Enlightenment hoped it would do.
[* ]It can also be an expression of discontent, a wilful—as distinct from a playful—destruction of established forms and practices, directed against their authoritarian character, or what is presumed to be such. In this respect the “happening” in Heinrich Böll’s novel The End of a Mission may be more typical than it at first sight appears to be. Anarchism is an attempt to turn political action into a “happening,” and in anarchism there is a peculiar mixture of rational criticism and mystical aspiration. It is only to be expected that the boundary lines I have been drawing will be ill-defined and often crossed. (Böll’s novel has been translated into English by Leila Vennewitz, London, 1968.)
[* ]In discussing Hair we have already noted some of the ways in which the experimental theatre of the ’sixties is allied to mysticism. And whether or not Hair “lasts” is irrelevant to its interest as a cultural phenomenon, as giving expression in the twentieth century to old, but for long submerged, mystical ideals. Much recent theatre seeks to break down the distinction between audience and performer, to make of them a “single community,” and to arouse in the audience physical sensations rather than to offer them occasion for thought. Like advertising, it seeks to kill thought, not to arouse it, by making a direct onslaught on its audience. It refuses to count a thinking audience as a participating audience; to “participate” is, the presumption runs, to be physically involved, to be touched, showered with confetti, moved amongst, fondled, or sat upon. (Admittedly, a good many traditional theatre audiences neither think nor participate in any other way; but whereas Shaw tried to break down the lack of participation by making his audience think—and could only do so by thinking himself—thinking by no means suits the contemporary style.) Taking up the suggestions of Antoine Artaud, theatrical productions and experimental films have sought to “explore our nervous impressionability with rhythms, sounds, words, resonances and vocalizations.” Theatre has abandoned the traditional stage for open halls reminiscent, in Artaud’s words, “of certain temples of Upper Tibet.” [For Artaud see “Le théâtre et la cruauté” (c. 1935) and “Le théâtre de la cruauté—Premier manifeste” (1932) included in Le théâtre et son double (Paris, 1964; the passages quoted are on pp. 133 and 146).] It is worth noting, once more, just how reactionary the new mysticism is. Such dramatic forms as comedy and tragedy gradually emerged out of ceremony and ritual, they became drama precisely by doing so. But the suggestion now is that the theatre ought to revert to the religious ceremony it once was—just as Heidegger would have human thinking revert to its pre-philosophical and pre-scientific stages. The current revival of interest in astrology, magic, the occult, witchcraft, is no less intellectually reactionary in character; it involves abandoning those habits of thinking scientifically and critically which men have slowly and painfully built up. Its recrudescence demonstrates just how little scientific thinking has penetrated our society, particularly, perhaps, the feminine segment of our society. (The women’s journals are the great propagators of occultism.)
[* ]“Man only plays,” Friedrich Schiller once wrote, “when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.” For “plays,” in this passage, one should rather read “loves.” Schiller is conscious of this in so far as he adds that “with beauty man shall only play, and it is with beauty only that he shall play.” The “play” Schiller has in mind is a play in and through cherished forms. I should rather say, adopting for the nonce Schiller’s style: “Man only loves when he is in the fullest sense a human being, and he is only a full human being when he loves; his loves man shall enjoy; these are not the only things he should enjoy, but they are the enjoyments in which he shows himself at his best.” See Friedrich Schiller: On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Fifteenth Letter, Sections 9, 8: ed. E. M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby (Oxford, 1967), p. 107.
[* ]Another “cosmic love” is the “love of Nature.” Man’s relationship to Nature exemplifies the contrasts I have been emphasizing. It may be a relationship of toil: Nature is then an object to be exploited in the interests of profit. Or Nature may serve, as it does to the yachtsman and the mountaineer, as the opponent in a game. Or, finally, men may be said to “love” Nature. But two quite different attitudes are covered by this phrase. Nature may be loved as a farmer, a conservationist, a forester, loves it—as something to be cherished. Or it may be “loved” in Wordsworth’s manner, as a purely sensual object; in my terminology, that is, man’s relationship with Nature may be simply “play.” In this latter form, significantly enough, it is often associated with mysticism. The “lover of Nature” feels himself “at one” with it, indistinguishable from it, in a kind of swooning enjoyment, not necessarily interpreted in religious terms. Even in this form, the “love of Nature” is perhaps the least harmful form of pseudo-love although one often finds it serving as a substitute for the love of care-creating human beings. Hermits often built their hermitages in settings of great natural beauty, and it would be difficult to excel, in this respect, the surroundings of Hitler’s Berchtesgaden. But it is certainly the active form of love which is now called for, if this is to be a world worth living in.
[39. ]Herder: Ideas, Bk. VIII, ch. V; ed. cit., p. 222. Compare D. H. Lawrence on Melville in Studies in Classic American Literature (London, 1924), ch. X. Lawrence particularly attacks the mystical conception of a love which is “thornless” in virtue of the fact that lover and beloved are identical.
[40. ]Jean-Paul Sartre: Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York, 1956; London, 1957), p. 566.