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ON DIAGRAMS, AND SOME ASPECTS OF SYMBOLISM

A practice that is of great advantage in creative thought is working up the imagination as nearly as possible to the state of vision. To those who are already visualizers this will present no difficulties. Rosamund E. M. Harding, An Anatomy of Inspiration, p. 27.

The oldest mandala known to me is a palaeolithic so-called “sun-wheel”, recently discovered in Rhodesia.... Things reaching so far back in human history naturally touch upon the deepest layers of the unconscious and make it possible to grasp the latter where conscious speech shows itself to be quite impotent. The unconscious can only be reached and expressed by the symbol, which is the reason why the process of individuation can never do without the symbol. The symbol is, on the one hand, the primitive expression of the unconscious, while, on the other hand, it is an idea corresponding to the highest intuition produced by consciousness. Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower, p. 105.

Those who have a relatively direct vision of facts are often incapable of translating their visions into words, while those who possess the words have usually lost the vision. It is partly for this reason that the highest philosophical capacity is so rare: it requires a combination of vision with abstract words which is hard to achieve, and too quickly lost in the few who have for a moment achieved it Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind, p. 212.

If we examine the autobiographies of successful scientists, we find that productive thinking must have a close relation to artistic production. Jaensch, Eidetic Imagery, p. 41.

I fail to arrive at the full conviction that a problem is fairly taken in by me, unless I have contrived somehow to disembarrass it of words. Galton, ‘Thoughts without Words’, Nature, May 1887.

A whole essay might be written on the danger of thinking without images. Coleridge.

1. ON THE USE OF SYMBOLS

There are four ways of representing an object graphically: (i) by reproducing it to scale (e.g., a map of England); (ii) by using a conventional symbol (e.g., a lion); (iii) by devising a diagram which displays a set of relations similar to, a set of relations within the object (e.g.; a diagram to show how the population of the country is distributed in respect of age and sex); (iv) by combining (i) and (iii), so that some of the spatial relations within the object appear also in the diagram, but with various modifications (e.g., a diagram of the ‘regions’ in which an Englishman finds himself). This book contains instances of all four kinds, but the’ third and fourth are what chiefly concern me here.

Now such diagrams have two uses: (a) to focus the attention, and to aid the imagination by bringing out in a striking way some peculiarity of the object; and (b) to arrive at, or at least to suggest, some new truth about the object. That is to say, they may be expressions of the known, or gropings after the as yet unknown, or both at once. Consider this example: I observe the behaviour of the train in which I am travelling, then set down a number of marks on a piece of paper, and (forgetting all about the train) proceed to elaborate them according to certain rules; at length, reverting to the subject of the train, I confidently announce that it will get to the Scottish border at about four o’clock. When I find that this prediction proves correct, I conclude that the little world on the page of my notebook, though in no way suggestive of wheels and rails and steam; is nevertheless very intimately related to them. Again, when I design a roof-truss, I distribute the material in the actual members according to the relative lengths of certain lines in a force-diagram; and my faith in the analogy between the forces (measured in pounds, say; or in tons) in the truss, and the lines (measured in inches) in the diagram, is so sure that I am ready to stake upon it not only my own life, but the lives of all who venture to go under the roof. Similarly, the ordering of our lives with their countless needs is conducted in the belief that there is a very detailed and trustworthy parallelism between a sequence of noises in certain large buildings and the complex of events outside, though it would puzzle the makers of the noises to explain the nature of the link between the laws of syntax and those of, say, economics and social psychology. Even the sentence which questions the soundness of analogy as a method is itself recklessly analogical: it assumes a proportionality between itself and an aspect of reality.

In fact, some of our most telling and useful analogies are double or even treble. Thus the terminology of much philosophy and psychology involves a series of sounds or of marks on paper, which stand for pat- terns in space, which in turn stand for what is non-spatial. Such spatial terms as ‘transference’, ‘introjection’, and ‘repression’, indicate that much of the procedure of modern psychology involves three steps at least --- a verbal, an eidetic, and a relatively abstract. Their order and prominence depend partly upon whether I am giving vent to my own notions or learning another’s, and partly upon whether I am what is called a visual or a verbal type.

The point is that these round-about approaches do get us there, and are indeed the only way. “The creation of signs”, writes M. Maritain, “is a mark of the pre-eminence of the mind, and the instinct of the intelligence quickly informed man that symbols make him enter into the heart of things --- in order to know them.” What is so indispensable and so workable is no second best, no pis aller, no curse laid upon our thinking, but belongs to the very essence of thought. In the phraseology of this book, thought itself, in all its manifold modes of operation and expression and communication, is subject to the law of elsewhereness: the direct method is banned. You can only think about (a) by means of (b) and (c); indeed it may be said that your thought about (a) will never be complete till it includes everything but (a). Consider the poet’s pro- cedure. In a sense, Jeremy Bentham was right to call all poetry misrepresentation; for, as Aristotle noticed, it is essentially a mode of diction which delights in metaphor. But the oblique and fanciful methods of the poet, his surprising worlds in which anything may happen so long as it does not remain itself, only misrepresent reality in order to present it all the more pungently and faithfully: so that Wordsworth was entirely justified in calling poetry “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge”. And one of the chief reasons for this unique effectiveness and penetration is that poetry exploits to the full, besides the law of elsewhereness, the law of recapitulation or (in the old phrase) of ‘signatures’: each hierarchical level epitomizes the others, (and more particularly the other member of its own ‘Pair’) so that the poet, finding Earth in Heaven and Heaven in Earth, is the Columbus of them both --- the Columbus who found the West Indies by looking for the East Indies. And what is true of poetry is true, in some measure, of all our verbalized experience: except that, whereas in poetry our metaphors are patent and deliberate, in other fields -- notably in science and philosophy -- they are for the most part concealed.

I do not say that there is no such thing as direct apprehension: the artist, the lover, and the mystic undoubtedly do come very close to the ideal of immediacy. But the way up to the peaks of their ineffable experience, and the way down from it to the lower planes of discursive thought and of communication, are paved with symbols, analogies, metaphors. To pretend otherwise, to imagine that we think more directly than we do, is to stultify thought. What we have to do is to discover the kind of ‘diagram’ best suited to the business in hand, and to supplement this kind with as many others as possible, for the sake of clarity and mutual correction. For it is plain that each mode -- whether verbal, mathematical, graphic, or any other -- has its own way of misleading us, and can do with all the help and correction the others can give. Bertrand Russell points out, for example, “how necessary it is to avoid assuming too close a parallelism between facts, and the sentences which assert them. Against such errors, the only safeguard is to be able, once in a way, to dis- card words for a moment and contemplate facts more directly through images. Most serious advances in philosophic thought result from some such comparatively direct contemplation of facts.” Symbol-systems are our instruments, and they are only faulty when we misuse them, trying to saw with hammers and hammer with saws. We cannot build the ark of truth with a screwdriver: every tool in the kit is needed. 

2. ON VISUALIZING AND VERBALIZING

There is a well-worn controversy concerning the part that imagery (olfactory and gustatory, motor and kinaesthetic and thermal, as well as visual and auditory) plays in thinking; some, indeed, go so far as to say that thought is possible without any images at all. I think it is, however, fairly clear that there are wide differences between the types of imagery which are naturally employed by different persons under similar external circumstances --- every kind of sensation has its corresponding imagery, and in each there are specialists.

In late childhood many of us have an astonishing power of ‘seeing’ absent objects as vividly as if they were present, but this eidetic imagery as a rule fades out during adolescence.  Authorities tend to look on the predominantly visual kind of imagery and thought as a primitive mode proper to savages and children and dreaming adults --- a mode that in the normal waking civilized person has been superseded by verbal procedure, at least to a great degree. This is doubtless true in the main, but allowance has to be made for the fact that many (if not most) philosophical and psychological writers are abnormally ‘verbal’: they are word-users by inclination and professional habit, and it is not unlikely that their practice of abstract thinking has impaired such visualizing fac- ulty as they once had. In that case it would be idle to expect from them a fair appreciation of the creative role which visual thinking plays, or could play, in every field --- including their own. “I hazard the conjecture that Eddington is an inveterate visualizer”, wrote Susan Stebbing, much as if she were accusing that great man of drug-addiction, or some worse sin. At least she might have considered the possibility of some connection between Eddington’s confessed habits of thought ° and his undoubted genius. For there are, after all, many similar cases, of which the best known is that of Lord Kelvin, who admitted that he could understand nothing of which he could not make a model. It may well be that, as Miss Emmet has suggested, the scientific innovators are for the most part given to concrete rather than abstract thinking. Amongst artistic creators of the first rank the eidetic tendency is no less marked. Dr Rosamund Harding has shown that Shelley, Coleridge, Charlotte Brontë, Dickens, Thackeray, and Elgar were all much given to visual imagery --- and imagery so vivid that it sometimes amounted, in Shelley’s case, to hallucination; as for Blake, Gilchrist records that he could summon Moses or David or Julius Caesar to sit for him, and would draw them just as if they had been actually present. Possibly Jaensch exaggerates when he says that those who retain the primitive eidetic disposition in adult life will tend to belong to the ‘integrate’ class (who do not distinguish sharply between percepts and concepts) --- a class of persons which includes all the mentally creative types, artistic and scientific; but at the very least it is safe to say that eidetic imagery, and visualizing methods of thought, though doubtless primitive and of limited application, are indispensable tools in all the main fields of human endeavour. 

Mr Bertrand Russell tells us that when he wants to remember a face, he has to describe it to himself while he is looking at it, so that later, by recalling the words of his inventory, he may recall the face. It would seem that visual imagery abstracts from vision, and verbal imagery from visual imagery, while some would have us go on to a still more attenuated third stage, where thought is purified of all images whatever. There can be no doubt, of course, that for many purposes language and number have as great advantages over the more primitive and concrete modes of picture-thinking as a hammer has over a bare fist; but neither is there any doubt that, as the hammer needs the hand and by no means supersedes it, so verbal ways of thinking rely upon and do not replace the visual. The ideal is a primitive unspecialized hand, grasping a modern and exquisitely adapted tool in such a way that they act together as a single organ. In much the same way the most adequate kind of thinking is, like its practitioner, as out-of-date as it is up-to-date, as behind the times as it is ahead of them.

3. THE GRAPHIC METHOD APPLIED TO PHILOSOPHY

From one point of view, this book may be described as an experiment in the application of graphic methods to a limited series of problems in epistemology and cosmology. Those of my readers who are predominantly verbal will hardly be interested in the diagrams, but the rest will, I hope, find them useful if not illuminating. In any case, whatever merits this book may have are very largely due to the tools with which it was constructed: it has been my experience that the diagram is an instrument rewarding sensitive use, and well worth respect and study. Frequently I have been astonished to find that what at first seemed to be a flaw in the tool was really ineptitude in its user. On the one hand, I found that an aspect of the facts which I could not incorporate in the diagram was likely to prove invalid anyhow; on the other hand, I found that an awkward or irrelevant feature of the diagram was likely to prove a broad hint at some aspect of the facts, which I had hitherto neglected. (For instance, the pyramidal figure, at first no more than an obvious and indeed commonplace means of indicating the relationships of whole and part, of subordinate and superior organizational levels, revealed on further study all manner of unexpected subtleties. It lent itself to, and even hinted at, (a) the double route of hierarchical intercommunication, though a common superior, and the lowest rank of inferiors; (b) the principle of numerical limitation; (c) the regional disposition of mutual observers according to hierarchical status; (d) their temporal relationships; and so on. Such experience suggests that some of this book’s defects may be due to timidity in the use of its own methods, rather than any undue boldness.)

It is not for nothing, then, that the sculptor Henry Moore calls one of his pictures Drawing as a Means of Generating Ideas. I see no reason why the graphic method should not (subject to all proper checks and safeguards) develop a more definite logic of it own, and become a new, if only a supplementary, organon. Certainly there is no a priori way of settling the question: only by making a serious and prolonged attempt to develop the instrument can we hope to discover what its possibilities really are. After all, numbers were in use millenniums before anyone suspected that they had any relevance to, say, the difference between red and yellow, or to the general economy of nature. And who could have foreseen that the hissing and grunting and squeaking and bellowing of proto-man was destined to develop into the divine language of Plato and Shakespeare, or provide a pass-word to the sublimest regions of the universe? Perhaps, in thousands of planets of other stars, the language of shapes has already advanced as far as our language of noises.

If the present attempt to put the graphic method to new uses were an isolated one, it might well be dismissed as an idiosyncrasy. In fact, how- ever, it is part of a widespread movement. Recently there has been a great awakening of interest in visual aids, particularly in education and publicity. The beautifully designed and ingeniously applied Isotype symbols are deservedly famous: they can show at a glance what in verbal description would fill pages of print, and by their means otherwise dreary facts and figures become striking and memorable, as well as a delight to the eye. A very different example of successful spatializing is the use of filing cards, punched in various patterns, for recording statistics of many kinds, in such a way that the cards can be machine-sorted: again, much time is saved. The value of the diagram in the teaching of grammar, formal logic, and other non-visual subjects, is being recognized, and in the last decade or two there have been many experiments in the diagrammatical illustration of popular books on all manner of subjects. Nor are there wanting examples of the kind of diagram which particularly concerns me here. Bergson’s lively prose, itself so rich with spatial meta- phor and simile, is further reinforced with some illuminating figures to show the relationship of sensation, memory, the body, and so on. Dr Stanley Cook, in his Rebirth of Christianity, illustrates a number of the processes of history and of individual development by a series of simple patterns, which do no more than make explicit the imagery we naturally use: thus, in addition to the cycles of history, there are its spirals, where the old reappears in a new and higher form, its periodical waves, its swings of the pendulum again; concentric systems, and the branching tree-pattern, give natural expression to processes of genetic and logical development. J. W. Dunne also, in a rather different way, reduced temporal order to spatial order in a series of diagrams. The structure of the Jungian psyche has been translated into a series of somewhat elaborate diagrams, which have the blessing of Jung himself. And even God is not immune: Miss Sayers has with remarkable success confirmed and extended the usefulness of the ancient triangular symbol of the Trinity. There are plenty of other instances. As W. Macneile Dixon says, the intellect wants to see things: its language about itself is that of vision. “The visible and the intelligible are, indeed, virtually interchangeable and synonymous terms.” The light of reason or the intellect illuminates, making lucid and clear that which was obscure or in darkness. “Since geometry deals in figured spaces, in sharp outlines, in pictures, diagrams and pat- terns, the clearest mental life is that of the geometer, to which all science and philosophy aspire...” “The human mind is not, as philosophers would have you think, a debating hall, but a picture gallery. Around it hang our similes.... The prophets, the poets, the leaders of men are all of them masters of imagery, and by imagery they capture the human soul. Nor does science escape from this entanglement.” 

The history of cosmological picture-making goes back to Palaeolithic times, and includes the concentric or spiral patterns which Australian aborigines inscribe on their churingas --- objects which contain the primeval ancestor and the souls of the unborn; the similar spiral sand-drawings of the Pima Indians of Arizona, said to represent the emergence of their ancestors into the physical world; the mazes and labyrinths of a number of ancient peoples; the elaborate cosmic symbolism of the Vedic Fire Altar; the sacred diagrams of the Chinese Book of Changes; the ritual planning, not only of Chinese cities and temples and palaces, but of every detail of the Emperor’s routine, on cosmical principles; the graphic lore of witchcraft, magic, and astrology.....

(But stranger and no doubt more ancient than any human diagrams are those of bees. Professor von Frisch has described how a worker bee, having found a source of nectar, informs the other workers as to its whereabouts. The bee performs, on the vertical wall of one of the combs, a dance in the shape of a figure-of-eight. The inclination of the figure relative to gravity indicates the direction of the nectar-source relative to the sun; while the speed of the dance, the number and size of its loops, and the distance that parts them, are signs of the distance of the nectar-source from the hive. The honey bee, it seems, used an elaborate and very practical diagram-language long before the first word was spoken on earth.)

4. DIAGRAMS AND PSYCHOLOGY

It is a common experience that, in the seemingly trivial or absurd picture-symbol, are undisclosed but inexhaustible meanings, great psychic potencies, undefined truths which are somehow captured and securely held as if in a magical and miniature prison. Who has not felt the fascination of ‘magic squares’ and their peculiar mathematical proper- ties, of the pentacles of esoteric tradition, of the mystical rites of Euclid --- that indescribable thrill of apprehending a world of truth condensed into a formula, like a vest-pocket edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica? It is a curious fact, yet a very understandable one, that tradition should make the Pythagorean tetraktys of the decad one of the most precious gifts of the ancients to mankind.  The explanations which the devotees of mystical diagrams have to offer are peculiarly lame; indeed psychological efficacy and overt intellectual content are here often inversely proportional. Who, not excepting their author, can make much sense out of Yeats’ account of ‘The Great Wheel’ and the other figures of A Vision; and who would deny that they are of a piece with the poet’s genius?  Most instructive is Joanna Field’s account of certain spontaneous drawings which seemed to shed light on the dark places of existence. She writes: “Images would emerge that had a peculiar feeling of depth and stability, and which banished all longing for the past because they made me feel I still possessed it.” These images bridged the gulf between concrete experience and abstract knowledge; they held “the glow and reality of lived experience” without its isolation; they linked past and present. “I never had to stop and say, this is all very true and interesting but what has it got to do with me? --- for in some curious way they were me.” We are under a psychological necessity to find our own vital images. Miss Field’s experience was that, while deliberate efforts to think out life’s problems failed, “it was the despised images that made a sensible and ordered life possible, not reasoning at all”.

We stumble on such life-rectifying patterns, discovering their power ‘by accident’; and there is a certain virtue in this freedom to produce from the depths of the psyche those variations upon the universal symbols which suit our condition as individuals. The East, and Buddhism particularly, leaves less to chance, is more systematic. Magic -- both white and black -- involves the use of many kinds of diagram; and extremely elaborate concentric patterns, known as kyilkhors or mandalas, are important accessories of religious contemplation. In the Tibet of our own generation the novice spends years learning the art of making and using mandalas. And indeed, once we look for it, there is a slender but perennial branch of the same tradition in the West. The circle as the image of the divine appears in Plato, Aristotle, St Augustine, and many others; and famous Western ‘mandalas’ include St John’s vision of the Holy City and Dante’s Mystic Rose. The vast concentric emanation-systems of the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics, and the mystical schemas of such writers as Dionysius the Areopagite, have the same general con- figuration; while amongst later European mystics Boehme, Benet of Canfield, and Blake provide examples. More significant still is Jung’s discovery that modern Europeans, who know little or nothing of these traditions, tend not only to dream repeatedly of the mandala pattern, but also to attach to it the greatest significance: often it evokes feelings of “the most sublime harmony”. Jung has studied many hundreds of these spontaneous mandalas -- they are his “almost daily concern” -- and he believes that they assist and express an important stage in the integration of the psyche. The patient’s own account of the diagram is usually vague: it seems to stand, in some undefined way, for the wholeness of man, and for the union of the microcosm with the macrocosm. It is felt to be cosmological. Persons who can no longer accept uncritically the traditional religious picture of the universe, but who are nevertheless lost and miserable without something of the kind, are enabled by means of these numinous diagrams to find themselves and make their peace with the universe. Though there may be no thought of linking the outermost circle with the transcendent God, or the Centre with the immanent God, though no explanation at all is offered, yet the psychological concomitants are not altogether lacking. Thus Mr Herbert Read found that, of a number of mandala patterns produced spontaneously by school- children, the more organized patterns proved to be the work of the more integrated children. 

I have no doubt that there is here a tendency for us to read more of our cherished theories into the facts than is justified; but when all deductions have been made on this score, the cumulative evidence for the potency of these diagrams remains impressive. In my view they are psychologically valid because they are cosmologically valid: they are subjectively powerful for no other reason than that they are objectively true. For their function is precisely to express the most intimate union of the microcosmic self with the macrocosmic not-self. (Edward Maitland’s vision provides an unusually explicit instance: “I found myself traversing a succession of spheres or belts.... the impression produced being that of mounting a vast ladder stretching from the circumference towards the centre of a system, which was at once my own system, the solar system, and the universal system, the three systems being at once diverse and identical.”)  Indeed this book may be described as an attempt to show that the mandala has a sound factual basis (which modern science has done much to strengthen) and that it is capable of ministering to the needs of the head no less than to those of the heart. Or, to speak more personally, this enterprise of mine is a fairly thorough ‘rationalization’ of certain images arising from my ‘unconscious’: only it must be added that neither the images nor their source are private property. Their universal importance is due to the fact that they belong to those hierarchical levels where we are all one.

(There is one class of diagram which everybody uses, namely writing. According to graphologists, handwriting, besides providing a key to a man’s overt tendencies, is relevant also to the many-levelled range of his total personality: it is hierarchical, and indeed cosmological. Three zones or layers are distinguished --- (1) the upper, containing for example the loops of b and h and l; (2) the middle, containing the rest of these letters, and the vowels; (3) the lower, containing the loops of g and j and y. The middle zone is said to correspond to the sphere of everyday reality and social relationships. “In writing upper lengths we reach up above the everyday sphere, in writing lower lengths, we reach down below its do- main... The meaning of these three zones in handwriting corresponds to the division of the human personality into mind, soul, and body; and of the universe into heaven, earth, and nether regions.” According to this formula, when the upper zone is emphasized the writer’s tendency is towards the intellectual or spiritual; and when the lower zone is emphasized his tendency is towards the sensual or material or instinctive part of his nature. The ideal is symmetry --- the suprahuman upper zone well balanced against the infrahuman lower zone, and each of the three receiving its due. A further complication is that a forward slope, or any feature tending markedly to the right, is taken to indicate that the writer concentrates upon the future and the outer world; conversely, a backward slope, or any feature tending to the left side of the page, indicates a tendency to withdraw from outer reality to the self and the past. In short, it seems that the primary illustration of this book was the script itself, in whose configuration my diagrams were already implicit.)

Perhaps most interesting of all is that characteristic 17th century conceit, George Herbert’s ‘Easter Wings’, prototype of the many pyramidal diagrams of this book ---

Or, in my language, man must needs be reduced to nothing at the Centre, so that he may be filled out again with the Whole that is not himself.

5. THE HIERARCHY AND COLOUR SYMBOLISM

In respect of their colours, things are strikingly subject to the law of elsewhereness: they lose all that they claim, and have all that they give. No wonder the Devil’s colour is black, for a black surface absorbs light of every tint and gives out none; and no wonder God’s colour is white, for a white surface is all colours because it keeps none of them for itself. Black is the colour of the sin that has nothing because it clutches at everything; white is the colour of the goodness that has all things because it presents them to others. And, of course, the same rule of elsewhereness holds for every colour: this ink is blue because blue light is the one sort which it does not hug to itself at the Centre, and this pen is green because it is content to be green in me instead of in itself. The only way to be coloured is to paint the universe.

The white light of the Whole breaks up into the spectrum of par- ticular colours, hierarchically graduated. In the psychology of most Europeans, according to Jung, blue (the colour of the heavens) stands for intellect, yellow (the sun’s colour) for intuition, green (Earth’s colour) for sensation, and red (the colour of the blood) for the primitive emotions. The more conscious symbolism of art, as well as popular tradition, bears out this scheme more or less. Blue is the dominant colour of Gothic stained glass, the colour of the Cherubim and the Virgin; it is also the colour of aristocratic blood and of the politics that favour aristocratic traditions. It represents all that is exalted, remote, deiform. The Buddha is often given blue eyes, and the whole body of the lord Krishna is blue. Bushell writes of the Temple of Heaven at Pekin: “During the ceremonies inside everything is blue; the sacrificial utensils are of blue porcelain, the worshippers are robed in blue, even the atmosphere is blue, venetians made of thin rods of blue glass, strung together by cords, being hung down over the tracery of the doors and windows.” To use the terminology of this book, blue stands for the suprahuman, the upper levels of the hierarchy, in abstraction from the other levels, and the first or theological-aristocratic state of our European civilization. At the other end of the spectrum, red stands for the infrahuman, the lower levels taken by themselves, the blind urges of the flesh. It is the colour of war, of danger, of passion and rage (as when we ‘see red’), of bloody revolution; it is, in Lawrence’s stirring words, “the colour of glory...of the wild bright blood.... the red, racing right blood, that was the supreme mystery”; it colours the base of our pyramid, and this the final stage of our civilization. Between these extremes lies green, the colour of spring and the life of the earth, restful and refreshing, modest, content to be spared the polar cold of blue Heaven and the equatorial heat of red Hell. It is the colour of the hierarchy’s temperate zone, of the go-signal, of hopeful moderation: what could be more sweetly unstrenuous than “a green Thought in a green Shade” 

Confirmation comes from unexpected quarters. Tibetan Buddhism has a spectroscopy of its own, whose prism is not the less effective for consisting of the hierarchy itself, instead of a lump of glass: each of the six syllables of the famous mantra Aum mani padme hum (Brahma, the jewel in the lotus) represents both a colour and a grade of sentient being ---

Man himself is, or rather contains, the entire spectrum. He wears a Joseph’s coat of many colours; or, as the Upanishad puts it, “there are in his body the veins called Hita, which are as small as a hair divided a thousandfold, full of white, blue, yellow, green, and red”. His well-being does not lie in denying the red and cleaving to the blue, but in the discovery and acceptance and harmonizing of the entire range of colours, in the recognition of the fact that every one of them contributes to the “white radiance of Eternity”, and so to his own being. Newton’s wheel is a mandala of profound significance. The ethereal and starry-eyed idealist looking at the world through sky-blue spectacles is no better than the sans-culotte who wants to paint it red --- if not with his own blood, at least with other people’s. As the jet of ignited gas sheaths its cold blue dagger in a hot red scabbard, as the blue Cherubim are lost without the fiery Seraphs, so man must go for both ends of the spectrum at once: for his highest is not merely high, but the union of high and low. Traditionally, it is a condition of our ‘going to heaven’ -- “above the bright blue sky”, as the children’s hymn says -- that we shall first be washed whiter than snow in the red blood of the Lamb: a familiar and hierarchically symmetrical colour-scheme, reflected in so many of our national flags. Most of us, it is true, are partially colour-blind, and look either for a monochromatic universe or for some pale-tinted, washed-out, ladylike water-colour of it. I suggest that an important part of the painter’s function is to help us towards hierarchical completeness, firstly by giving symbolic expression in colour to all the parts of our personality, and secondly by harmonizing them. In the fullest sense he can “wing our green to wed our blue”. Of course this is not to say that he would paint better if he discerned the cosmological significance of his palette, but only, that his art (and all art) is valid and compelling because it has universal affiliations: it is no merely human enterprise, but the work of all the levels to which it refers.

The savage and the young child are largely unconscious of the most exalted hierarchical levels. It is, therefore, not surprising that young children are responsive to red and relatively indifferent to blue, that Palaeolithic and Bushman drawings are in red, yellow, and black, and that in our own times many primitive peoples have no words for blue.  (On the other hand bees are responsive to blue, and indeed can see further into the ultra-violet end of the spectrum than we can. Add to this the perfection of their social organization and of their dance-language, and we are struck with the possibility that here is an evolutionary venture which, though vastly different from our own, is not without access to the higher levels. To be quite sure, because the manner of this access is hid- den from us, that it cannot exist, would be mere parochialism or poverty of imagination.)

6. THE HIERARCHY AND MUSIC

In the ancient Chinese Record of Rites it is written: “Music expresses the harmony of Heaven and Earth, Ritual the hierarchic order in Heaven and Earth. Since there is this harmony, the hundred (species) of things (in Nature) are evolved. Since there is this order, these things as a whole are distinguishable among themselves. (Thus) the creation of music originates in Heaven, whilst Earth gives to Ritual its law of control.... With the myriad things (in Nature) so scattered and diverse, in the heavens above and the earth beneath, Ritual has its field of action. With (all Nature) in increasing flow and (the myriad things) coming together and being changed in themselves, Music has its sphere of development.... Thus it was that sage men created (our) music as a response to the heavens and framed (our) ritual as a partnership with the earth; and this ritual and music in their splendour of perfection are under the governance of Heaven and Earth.” --- A somewhat confused statement, which nevertheless leaves us in no doubt as to the author’s conviction that music has a cosmological basis as well as cosmological significance. Ritual and music do more than signify the existence and the harmony of the great society of Heaven and Earth: they are its own many-pitched language. Music is no more strictly human than science is. In the west, Pythagoras -- and he is said to have got the idea from Egypt -- associated the seven strings of the lyre with the seven planetary spheres, making the innermost sphere (that of the Moon) correspond to the note of highest pitch (Nete or D), and the outermost (that of Saturn) to the note of lowest pitch (Hypate or E). Thus at the very beginning of musical history we find a regional or cosmological distribution of notes ac- cording to their pitch: the musical and the hierarchical scale are in some degree assimilated. The sequence is one of a kind that this inquiry has made familiar --- first, the music of the spheres is not distinguished from our music; then it becomes unearthly, ineffable, a kind of reedy tremolo pitched far too high for mortal ears; then it goes the way of “the young-ey’d cherubims” and the universe is as silent as the grave -- as the mass-grave into which the tiered angelic choirs, or cosmic orchestra, have been unceremoniously thrown. Doubtless in withdrawing the distributed harmonies of the universe end concentrating them here at the centre, we have made them more explicit to ourselves (it Is no accident that the dissolution of the angelic orchestra should proceed pari passu with the organization of the human), and the centripetal movement is necessary to the composition as a whole. But so also is the redistribution, the centrifugal movement which restores not merely life and mind to the universe, but music with them. The time has come for us to say, with Sir Thomas Browne, that music is “an Hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole World.... such a melody to the ear as the whole World, well understood, would afford the understanding”. It gives us insight and entry into every storey of the hierarchical structure. Indeed our finest music is no transposition of cosmic themes, but the real thing; and the only instrument capable of sounding its grandest chords is the hierarchy itself.

While other arts may reveal the Ideas, says Schopenhauer, music reveals the universal Will --- the august thing-in-itself. The bass notes sound forth the lowest grades of the Will’s objectification, unorganized nature, crude matter; higher notes proclaim the world of plants and of beasts; the highest belong to the intellectual life that is in man.  The phenomenal world and music are two manifestations of the same vital urge, and the composer’s sound-patterns express the immense richness of nature in all its grades and individual differences, seeking to bring them all into harmony. Accordingly music ministers, as Plato and many after him have observed, to the health of the soul. It reconciles the heights in us with the depths: it is an endless series of exercises in the loss and restoration of hierarchical symmetry. Eschewing the abstract unity that sacrifices multiplicity, it builds a sublimely harmonious whole out of an endless cacophony of parts, without injury to one of them. Beethoven called it “the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life”. Its vertical harmony reunites us with the Whole that is, its horizontal counter- point with the Whole that was and shall be. “When I hear music”, says Thoreau, “I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times and the latest.”

The peculiar and many-sided fitness of music to furnish unlimited ‘hierarchical diagrams’ is no mystery. (1) Though unfolded in time, it gets the better of time: in true hierarchical fashion, it is both temporal and supertemporal. (2) Its manifold and interwoven rhythms make audible the pulses which beat in us; and (3) Its ascending and descending scales, both major and minor, proclaim the vertical processes which unite the whole system. (4) Its form -- notably the symphonic -- consists of Exposition, Development, and Recapitulation, in which the subject is first announced, then complicated and obscured, and finally recovered; and this triadic procedure (under such titles as Paradise, the Fall, and Heaven) is characteristic of our human-hierarchical development. (5) Its detailed procedure is along similar lines: accumulating dissonance, with accompanying psycho-physical tension, is periodically resolved by consonance and the relaxing of tension; and the value of the final resolution cannot be separated from the clash of the elements that precede it. (6) The ‘contrary movement’ typical of the New Organum, and found everywhere in later music, may be called an exercise in hierarchical symmetry; but in music as in life nothing could be duller than Pairs which never come apart --- vertical balance cannot be found without first having been lost. (7) Music is markedly diagnostic. Thus our own polytonal and atonal music are audible symptoms of our hierarchical condition --- the Martian listener might well interpret them as the groans of our agonized planet. With ruthless disregard for all the old rules of vertical organization, Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, and their followers put all the twelve semitones in the scale on an equal proletarian footing; and the result for most ears un-musical anarchy and uproar. Even the hierarchy of the keyboard must be levelled, and the world of sound atomized.

But the main point of this appendix is that hierarchical diagrams, whether musical or otherwise, owe their force to the fact that they are, in the end, true functions of what they stand for Neither angel nor man nor demon is anything else than the active totality of the ‘diagrams’ and symbols, of the evidences and the regional workings, which constitute his presence in his companions, and theirs in him. The commercial traveller is a partner in the firm, all of whose members are out on the road. The thing is not itself without each peripheral manifestation: because it is an indispensable part, the symbol can do duty for the other parts. The large opening theme of the Schumann E flat Symphony momentarily resembles (says a famous contemporary) “a remote glimpse of majestic beings in some other world”, let it be added that without that same glimpse, that particular theophany, something would be lacking from them. The music which can

“Dissolve me into extasies, And bring all Heav’n before mine eyes”

is not other than Heavenly, a true function of the celestial.

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