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The Drama of Love and Death Edward Carpenter

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The Drama of Love and Death

by Edward Carpenter

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The Underlying Self

Allowing, then, the great probability of the existence of an after-death state, and of a survival of some kind, the question further arises: Is that survival in any sense personal or individual? or does it belong to some, so to speak, formless region, either below or above personality? It is conceivable of course that there may be survival of the outer and beggarly elements of the mind, below personality; or it is conceivable that the deepest and most central core of the man may survive, far beyond and above personality; but in either case the individual existence may not continue. The eternity of the All-soul or Self of the universe is, I take it, a basic fact; it is from a certain point of view obvious; we have already discussed it, and, as far as this book is concerned, it is treated so much as an axiom that to argue further without it would be useless. That being granted, it follows that if the soul of each human being roots down ultimately into that All-self, the core of each soul must partake of the eternal nature. But as far as it does so it may be beyond all reach or remembrance or recognition of personality.

132 Such a conclusion—whatever force of conviction may accompany it—is certainly not altogether satisfactory. I remember that once—in the course of conversation with a lady on this very subject—she remarked that though she thought there would be a future life she did not believe in the continuance of individuality. “What do you believe in, then?” said I. “Oh,” she replied, “I think we shall be a sort of Happy Mass!” And I have always since remembered that expression.

But though the idea of a happy mass has its charms, it does not, as I say, quite satisfy either our feelings or our intelligence. There is a desire for something more, and there is a perception that Differentiation and Individuation represent a great law—a law so great as probably to extend even to the ultimate modes of Being. And though a vague generality of this kind cannot stand in the place of strict reasoning or observation, it may make us feel that personal survival is at any rate possible, and that a certain amount of speculation on the subject is legitimate.

At the same time we have to bear in mind that the subject altogether is a very complex one, and that we have to move only slowly, if we want to move forward at all, and to avoid having to retrace our steps. We must not too serenely assume, for instance, that we at all know what we are! We have already (ch. v.) analyzed to some degree the constitution of the human being, and 133 found it complicated enough in its successive planes of development. We have now to remember that—at least on the two middle planes, those of the human soul and the animal soul—there is another subdivision to be made, namely between that part which is conscious and that which is only subconscious; so that further complications inevitably arise. We may not only have to consider, as in the chapter referred to, which of these planes may possibly carry survival with it, but again whether such survival may be in the conscious region, or only in the subliminal or subconscious. This chapter will be largely occupied with a consideration of the subliminal or underlying portion of the self, and it will be seen that that is probably of immense extent and variety of content compared with the surface or conscious portion; but it will also be seen that there is no strict line of demarcation between the two, and that a continual interchange betwixt them is taking place, so that for the present at any rate it is safest to give the word ‘self’ its widest scope and make it include both portions and every mental faculty, rather than limit its application.

In attacking the subject, then, of the Survival of the Self, I suppose our first question ought to be: What is the test of survival, what do we mean by it? And to this, I imagine, the answer is, Continuity of Consciousness. This would seem to be the only satisfying definition. 134 Consciousness is necessary in some form or other, as the base and evidence of our existence; and continuity in some degree is also necessary, in order to link our experiences together, as it were into one chain. Continuity, however, need not be absolute. The chain of consciousness may apparently be broken by sleep, or it may be broken by a dose of chloroform, or by a blow on the head; but it may be re-knit and resumed. It may pass from the supraliminal state to the subliminal, and again emerge on the surface. It may even be discontinuous; but as long as Memory bridges the intervals we get the sense of continuity of life or personality.[59] Supposing a body of memories—of life say in some village of ancient Egypt—suddenly opened up in one’s mind, as vivid and consistent and enduring as one’s ordinary memory of childhood days, it would be natural to conclude that one really had pre-existed in that village; it would be difficult not to make that inference. And similarly if at some future time, and in far other than our present surroundings, the memory of this one’s earth-life should emerge again, vivid and personal as now, the being thus having that memory would, 135 we suppose, conclude that he had once lived this life here on earth.

Thus Memory would be the arbiter of survival and of the continuity (on the whole) of consciousness. Frederick Myers, indeed, goes so far as to define consciousness as that which is “potentially memorable”[60]—thus suggesting that memory is a necessary accompaniment of any psychic state to which we can venture to give the name of consciousness.

It may indeed seem precarious to rest our test of survival on so notoriously fallible, and even at times fallacious, a thing as Memory; but one does not see that there is anything better, or that there is any alternative! The memory may not be continuously enduring and operative; but if at any future time one should be persuaded of having survived from this present life, it must, one would say, be by memory in some form or other, of this present life. And it must be remarked that though memory is fitful and fallible, these epithets apply mainly to the supraliminal memory, to that superficial memory which we make use of by conscious effort, and which often fails us in the moment of need. Deep below this we dimly perceive, and daily are becoming more persuaded of, the existence of vast and permanent but latent stores, which from time to time emerge into manifestation; and more and more our psychologists are inclining to think that the supraliminal self gains its 136 memories by tapping these stores, and that its lapses and oblivions are more due to failure in the tapping process than to any failure of the memory stores themselves. Indeed not a few psychologists are now asking whether it is not likely that every psychic experience carries memory with it, and so is preserved in the great storehouse.

I have already, in the last chapter, spoken of the so-called subliminal self as, among other things, a wonderful storehouse of memory; and I propose now to occupy a few pages with the more detailed consideration of the nature of that self; because, as we are discussing the question of survival, our discussion, as I have just said, ought obviously to include the under as well as the upper strata of consciousness. We cannot very well confine our meaning and our inquiry to the little brain-self only, and leave out of consideration the great self of the emotions and impulses—of genius, love, enthusiasm, and so forth.[61] No, we must include both—the more intimate, though more hidden, self, as well as the self of the façade and the front window.

This hidden self is indeed an astounding thing, whose extent and complexity grows upon us as investigation proceeds. For when the term ‘subliminal’ was first used it had apparently a fairly simple connotation—as of some one obscure and unexplored chamber of the mind; but now instead of a single chamber it would seem rather some vast house or palace at whose door we 137 stand, with many chambers and corridors—some dark and underground, some spacious and well lighted and furnished, some lofty with extensive outlook and open to the sky; and the modern psychologists are puzzling themselves to find suitable names for all these new domains—which indeed they cannot satisfactorily do, seeing they know so little of their geography!

I can only attempt here—very roughly I am afraid, and unsystematically—to point out some of the properties and qualities of the underlying or hidden or subconscious self—whichever term we may like to use. In the first place, its memory appears to be little short of perfect, and at any rate to our ordinary intelligence and estimate, nothing short of marvellous. When a servant girl, who can neither read nor write, reproduces, in her wandering speech during a nervous fever, whole sentences of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, which she could not possibly understand, and which had only fallen quite casually on her ears years before from the lips of an old scholar (who used to recite passages to himself as he walked up and down a room adjoining the kitchen in which the girl at that time worked[62]); we perceive that the under or latent memory may catch and retain for a lengthy period, and with strange accuracy, the most fleeting and apparently 138 superficial impressions. When Dr. Milne Bramwell instructs a hypnotized subject to make a cross on a bit of paper exactly 20,180 minutes after the giving of the order; and the patient, having of course emerged from the hypnotic sleep, and gone about her daily work, and having no conscious remembrance of the command, does nevertheless at the expiration of the stated number of days and minutes take a piece of paper and make the said cross upon it,[63] we can only marvel both at the persistence and accuracy of memory which the subliminal being displays, and at the strict command which this being may exercise in its silent way over the actions of the supraliminal self. When we are repeatedly told that in the moment of drowning, people remember every action and event of their past life, though we may doubt the exact force of the word ‘every,’ we cannot but be convinced that an enormous and astounding resurgence of memory does take place,[64] and we cannot but suspect that the memorization is somehow on a different plane of consciousness from the usual one, being simultaneous and in mass instead of linear and successive. Or when, again, a ‘calculating boy’ or prodigy of quite tender years on being asked to find the cube-root of 31,855,013 instantly says 317, or being given the number 17,861 139 immediately remarks that it consists of the factors 337 × 53,[65] we are reduced to the alternative suppositions, either that the boy’s subconscious self works out these sums with a perfectly amazing rapidity, or that it has access to stores of memory and knowledge quite beyond the experience of the life-time concerned. In all these cases, and hundreds and thousands of others which have been observed, the memory of the subliminal self—whether manifested through hypnotism, or in sleep or dreams, or in other ways—seems to exceed in range and richness, as well as in rapidity, the memory of the supraliminal self; and indeed Myers goes so far as to say that the deeper down one penetrates below the supraliminal, the more perfect is the remembrance: that, in cases where one can reach various planes of memory in the same subject, “it is the memory furthest from waking life whose span is the widest, whose grasp of the organism’s upstored impressions is the most profound.”[66] This is, I think, a very important conclusion, and one to which we may recur later.

140 But the hidden being within us does not show this extraordinary command of mental processes merely in technical matters. Its powers extend far deeper, into such regions as those of Genius and Prophecy. The wonderful flashes of intuition, the complex combinations of ideas, which at times leap fully formed and with a kind of authority into the field of man’s waking consciousness, obviously proceed from a deep intelligence of some kind, lying below, and are the product of an immensely extended and rapid survey of things, brought to a sudden focus. They yield us the finest flowers of Art; and some at any rate of the most remarkable instances of Prediction. For though there may be—and probably is—a purely clairvoyant prophetic gift, freed as it were from the obscuration of Time, yet it cannot be doubted that much or most of prophecy is simply very swift and conclusive inference derived from very extensive observation.

These flashes and inspirations are clearly not the product of the conscious brain; they are felt by the latter to come from beyond it. They are, in the language of Myers, “uprushes from the subliminal self.” And even beyond them there are things which come from the same source—there are splendid enthusiasms, and overwhelming impulses of self-sacrifice, as well as mad and dæmonic passions.

Yet again, it is not merely command of mental processes that the subconscious being displays, but of the bodily powers and processes too. 141 Intelligent itself to the marvellous degrees already indicated, it is evident also that its intelligence penetrates and ordains the whole body. Every one has heard of the stigmata of the Crucifixion appearing on the hands and feet of some religious devotee, as in the celebrated case of Louise Lateau. Dr. Briggs of Lima once told a hypnotized patient that “a red cross would appear on her chest every Friday during a period of four months”—and obediently the mark appeared.[67] A whisper in such cases is often sufficient; and the latent power swiftly but effectually modifies all the complex activities and functions of the organism to produce the desired result. What an extraordinary combination of elaborate intelligence and detailed organizing power must here be at work! And the same in the quite common yet very remarkable cases of mental healing, with which we are all now familiar!

Sometimes again—quite apart from any oral suggestion or apparent outside influence—we find the subjective being taking most decisive command of a person’s faculties and actions. This happens, for instance, in somnambulism, when the sleepwalker perhaps passes along the narrow and perilous ridge of a roof or wall with perfect balance and sureness of foot—adjusting a hundred muscles in the most delicate way, and yet with total unconsciousness as far as the supraliminal self is concerned. Or it happens sometimes—even 142 more remarkably—to people in full possession of their waking faculties, at some moment when extreme danger threatens to overwhelm them. John Muir in his The Mountains of California,[68] describes how when scaling the very precipitous face of a cliff he found himself completely baffled, at a great height from the ground, and unable to proceed either up or down. He was seized with panic and a trembling in every limb, and was on the point of falling, when suddenly a perfect calm and assurance took possession of him, and somehow—he never quite knew how—with an astonishing agility and sure-footedness he completed the ascent, and was saved. “I seemed suddenly to become possessed of a new sense. The other Self—bygone experiences, Instinct or Guardian Angel, call it what you will—came forward and assumed control. My trembling muscles became firm again, every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as through a microscope, and my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do. Had I been borne aloft upon wings, my deliverance could not have been more complete.”

Mæterlinck, in his chapter on “The Psychology of Accident” (in Life and Flowers), describes how in the nerve-commotion of danger, Instinct, “a rugged, brutal, naked, muscular figure,” rushes to the rescue. “With a glance that is surer and swifter than the onrush of the peril, it takes in the situation, then and there unravels all its 143 details, issues and possibilities, and in a trice affords a magnificent, an unforgettable spectacle of strength, courage, precision, and will, in which unconquered life flies at the throat of death.” And similar instances—of instinctive presence of mind, and an almost miraculous development of faculty in extreme danger—are within the knowledge of most people. The subliminal being steps in quite decisively, and the ordinary conscious mind feels that another power is taking over the reins.

But there is another faculty of the subjacent self which must not be passed over, and which is very important—I mean the image-forming power. This is one of the prime faculties of all intelligent beings, lying at the very root of creation; and it is a faculty possessed to an extreme and impressive degree by the self “behind the scenes.” I have discussed this subject generally at some length in my book The Art of Creation, and need not repeat the matter here, except to allude to a few points. The image-forming faculty is a natural attribute of the conscious mind, in all perhaps but the lowest grades of evolution; at any rate it is difficult to think of a mind at all like ours without this faculty. This faculty is most active when the mind is withdrawn into itself, in quietude. In his study or when burning the midnight oil the writer’s brain teems, or is supposed to teem, with images! But in sleep the image-forming activity is even greater. It then shows itself in the subconscious 144 mind, in the world of dreams, whose bodiless creations are more vivid and energetic than those of our waking hours, and have a strange sense of reality about them. But again, in the deeper sleep of trance still more vivid images are produced. A young student hypnotized imagines himself to be Napoleon, then to be Garibaldi, then to be an old woman of ninety, then to be a mere child. He acts the parts of these characters, imitates their handwriting, their voices, issues proclamations to his soldiers in the name of the first two, assumes the shaky penmanship of childhood and of old age; and all in the course of half-an-hour or so.[69] The images thus formed in the deep trance of the young man are so vivid, so powerful, so dramatic, that they take possession of the organism and compel it to become the means of their manifestation. In mediumistic trance the same thing happens. There may be suggestion from outside, or there may not, but in the depth of the medium’s mind images are formed which speak and act through the entranced person, making use in doing so of the marvellous stores of memory and knowledge which the inner mind has at command, and sorely puzzling the spectators at times, as to whether the performance is merely histrionic or whether by chance it indicates a bona fide communication from the dead.[70]

145 This energetic dramatic quality of the image-forming faculty is tremendously important. It has not been enough insisted upon; and it has been greatly misunderstood and misrepresented. It is, as I say, a root-property of creation. It is seen everywhere in the healthy activity of the human mind, in its delight in romance and imagination, in the play of children, the stage, literature, art, scientific invention—the sheer joy of creation, going on everywhere and always. Lay the conscious and controlling and selective power of the upper mind at rest, in the trance-condition, and you have in the deeps of the subliminal self this primal creative power exposed. Offer to it the lightest suggestion, and there springs forth from that abyss a figure corresponding, or a dozen figures, or a whole procession! The mere delight of creation calls them forth. Could anything be more wonderful? What a strange glimpse it gives us of the possibilities of Creation.

Some people seem to be quite shocked at the idea that this subliminal mind, or whatever it is that possesses these marvellous powers, should act these parts, and lend itself to unsubstantial and quasi-fraudulent representations. But why accuse of deception? It is a game—the great game we are all of us playing—the whole Creation romancing away; with endless inexhaustible fertility throwing out images, ideas, new shapes and forms forever. Those forms which hold their own, which substantiate themselves, which fill a place, fulfil a need—they win their way into the 146 actual world and become the originals of the plants, the animals, human beings, works of art, and so forth, which we know. Those which cannot hold their own pass back again into the unseen. In the far depths of the entranced medium’s mind we see this abysmal process going on—this fountain-like production of images taking place—the very beginnings of creation. It is the sheer joy of manifestation. As one gives a musician a mere hint or clue—a theme of three or four notes—and immediately he improvises a spirited piece of music; so is it with the hypnotized person or with the medium. One gives him a suggestion and he immediately creates the figures according. And so it is for us, to direct this wonderful power, even in ourselves—not to call it fraudulent, but to make use of it for splendid ends.

Doubtless it can be used for unworthy ends. It is easy to understand that the mediumistic person, finding this wonderful dramatic and creative faculty within himself or herself, is sometimes tempted to turn it to personal advantage; and succumbs to the temptation. The dramatic habit catches hold of the waking self, and renders the person tricky and unreliable.[71] But below it all is creation, and the instinct of creation—the power that gives to airy nothing a local habitation, the 147 genius of the dramatist, of the artist, of the inventor, and the very source of the visible and tangible world.

For from the Under-self—as exposed in the state of trance, or in extreme languor and exhaustion of the body, or in the moment of death, or in dreams, or even in profound reverie—proceed (strange as it may seem) Voices and Visions and Forms, things audible and visible and tangible, things anyhow which are competent to impress the senses of spectators so vividly as to be for the moment indistinguishable from the phenomena, audible, visible and tangible, of our actual world. Amazing as are the materializations connected with mediums—the figures which appear, which speak, which touch and are touched, the faces, the supernumerary feet and hands, the sounds, the lights, the movements of objects—all in some way connected with the medium’s presence—these phenomena are now far too well established and confirmed by careful and scientific observation to admit (in the mass) of any reasonable doubt.[72] And similarly with the wraiths, or phantoms which are 148 projected from dying or lately dead persons, the evidence for them in general is much too abundant and well attested to allow of disbelief.[73] What an extraordinary story, for instance, is that given by Sir Oliver Lodge in his Survival of Man (p. 101)—of a workman who having drunk poison by mistake, appeared in the moment of death, with blue and blotched face to his employer, to whom he was greatly attached, and told him not to be deceived by the rumor that he (the workman) had committed suicide! Yet the story is fully and authoritatively given in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. iii. p. 97, and cannot well be set aside. But if such things happen in the hour of death, so do they also happen in the dream-state.[74] The dreamer has a vivid dream of visiting a certain person, and is accordingly and at that time, seen by that person. And in the state of reverie the same. It is at times 149 sufficient to think profoundly of any one, or to let one’s inner self go out toward that person in order to cause an image of oneself to be seen by him.

It will of course be said, and often is said, that those phenomena are only hallucinations, and have no objective existence. But the sufficient answer to that is that the things also of our actual world are hallucinations in their degree, and certainly have no full objective existence. The daffodil in my garden is an hallucination in that degree that with the smallest transposition of my senses, its color, its scent, and even its form might be quite altered. What we call its objectivity rests on the permanence of its relations—on its continued appearance in one spot, its visibility to different people at one time, or to one person at different times, and so forth. But if that is the definition of objectivity, it is obvious that the forms which have been seen over and over again, and under strict test-conditions, in connection with certain mediums, have had in their degree an objective existence.

In America, in connection with Kate Fox (one of the earliest and most spontaneous and natural of modern mediums), a certain Mr. Livermore—a thoroughly capable business man of New York—came into communication as it seemed with his deceased wife. She appeared to him—not in one house only, but in several houses—over and over again; sometimes only 150 the head, sometimes the whole figure; her appearance was accompanied by inexplicable sounds and lights; she communicated sometimes by raps, sometimes by visibly writing on blank cards brought for the purpose; and these phenomena extended over a period of six years and 388 recorded sittings, and at many of the sittings were corroborated by independent witnesses.[75] It is difficult to imagine hallucinations or deceit maintained under such circumstances.

In England (in connection with the medium Florence Cook) the figure “Katie King” appeared to Sir William Crookes a great number of times during three years (1881–84) and was studied by him and Mr. C. F. Varley, F.R.S., with the greatest scientific care. Her apparition often spoke to those present, was touched by, and touched them, wrote, or played with the children. It often came outside the cabinet, and three times was seen by those present simultaneously with, and by the side of, the entranced medium. The figure was taller than the medium and different in feature; Crookes observed its pulse and found it making 75 beats a minute to the medium’s 90, and so forth.[76]

Professor Richet, the French scientist, examined 151 with great care the phantasm “Beni Boa,” which appeared to him some twenty times in connection with the Algerian medium Aisha; he obtained several photographs of it, and observed its pulse, its respiration, and so forth.[77] Lombroso, the author of many scientific works, and a man who to begin with was a complete sceptic on these matters, assures us that at the sittings of Eusapia Paladino he saw his own mother (long dead) a great number of times, and that she repeatedly kissed him.[78] In connection with Mme. D’Espérance[79] the girlish figure of “Yolanda” appeared and disappeared very frequently during a period of ten years, and was well known to frequenters of her circle; and in 1896 a committee formed by some twenty-five high officials and well-known persons in Norway publicly attested the repeated appearance at her seances of a very beautiful female figure who glided among the sitters, grasped their hands, gave them messages, and so forth, and disappeared before their eyes in a misty cloud.[80] Such evidence of the objectivity of seance figures could be rather indefinitely multiplied. But the same may be said, though perhaps less conclusively, of various ghosts and other manifestations, whose relations to certain persons or places or houses seem quite definite 152 and well established—and not unfrequently steadily recurrent under the same conditions.[81]

Without going into the vexed question of whether these and the like manifestations are merely products or inventions of the trance-mind of the medium or other person concerned, or whether some at least of them are the work or evidence of separate ‘spirits’—leaving that question open for the present—we may still say that all these things are actual creations—creations of the hidden self of Man in some form or other; not so assured, certainly, and not so permanent as the well-known shapes of outer Nature; abortive creations, if you like, which come a little way forward into manifestation, and then retreat again; but still creations in the same sense as those more established ones; and wonderfully revealing to us the secret of the generation and birth of all the visible world.

That we should have, all of us, this magic source somewhere buried within—this Aladdin’s lamp, this vase of the Djinns, this Pandora box of evil as well as of good, is indeed astounding; and must cause us, when we have once fully realized the fact, to envisage life quite differently from what we have ever done before. It must 153 cause us to feel that our very ordinary and daily self—which we know so well (and which sometimes we even get a little tired of) is only a fraction, only a flag and a signal, of that great Presence which we really are, that great Mass-man who lies unexplored behind the very visible and actual. Difficult or impossible as this being may be to define, enormously complex as it probably is, and far-reaching, and hard to gauge, yet we see that it is there, undeniably there—a being that apparently includes far extremes of faculty and character, running parallel to the conscious self from low to high levels,[82] having in its range of manifestation the most primitive desires and passions, and the highest feats of intellect and enthusiasm; and while at times capable of accepting the most frivolous suggestions and of behaving in a humorous or merely capricious and irresponsible manner, at other times capable, as we have seen, of taking most serious command and control of the whole physical organism, and as far as the spiritual organism is concerned, of rising to the greatest heights of prophecy and inspiration.[83]

154 I say, then, that we must include in this problem of survival both the ordinary upper and conscious self and the deep-lying subjective and subconscious (or superconscious) being. Just as the organizing power of the Body includes the Cerebro-spinal system of nerves on the one hand, and the Great-Sympathetic system on the other, so the organism of the soul includes the supraliminal and subliminal portions. The two must be taken together, and either alone could only represent a fraction of the real person. The exact relation of these two selves to each other is a matter which can only become clear with long time and study of this difficult subject. It may be that the subliminal self is destined to become conscious in our ordinary sense of the word. It may be, on the other hand, that the conscious self is destined to rise into the much wider consciousness of the subjective being. There is a great deal to suggest that the supraliminal self is only the front as it were of the great wave of life; and that the brain consciousness is only a very special instrument for dealing with the surroundings and conditions of our terrestrial existence—an instrument which will surrender much of its value at 155 death and on mergence with the larger and differently constituted consciousness which underruns and sustains it. That the two selves are in constant communication with each other, and that they are both intelligent in some sense, is obvious from the facts of suggestion, by which often the lightest whisper so to speak from the upper is understood and attended to by the under self; while, on the other hand, the under-self communicates with the upper, sometimes by inner Voices heard and Visions seen, sometimes by automatic actions, as in dream- or trance-writing, sometimes even by Sounds and Apparitions so powerful as to appear at least external.

So we cannot but think that the question of survival may ultimately resolve itself very much into the question of the more complete and effectual understanding between these different portions of the self. When they come into clear relation with each other, when the unit-man and the Mass-man merge into a perfect understanding and harmony, when they both become conscious of their affiliation to the great Self of the universe, then the problem will be solved—or we may perhaps say, the problem will cease to exist.

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click here for the page with links to e-book and audio downloads of The Drama of Love and Death by Edward Carpenter

eBook and audio downloads for The Drama of Love and Death by Edward Carpenter include: pdf, Open eBook, OEB, ePub & audio book MP3