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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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CHAPTER IX

Survival of the Self

In the last chapter we pointed out that for any adequate understanding of the subject before us the self must be taken to include the more obscure and subconscious portion of the mind, as well as the specially conscious portion with which we are most familiar. There is a constant interaction and flow taking place between the two parts, and to draw a strict line dividing them would be impossible. Indeed it would rather appear that growth comes largely by their blending and throwing light on each other. We also brought forward some considerations to show the nature of the underlying or subconscious self—its immense extent, the swiftness of its perceptions, and so forth. If then, to continue our argument, there should come a time (in death) when the outer and more obvious ego merges, or at least comes into closer relation, with the under-self, it would seem likely that the surviving consciousness would be greatly changed from its present form, and would take on something of the instantaneous wide-reaching character of what has been called the Cosmic Consciousness. And this is a conclusion much 163 to be expected, and surely also much to be desired. However one may envisage the matter, it hardly seems possible to imagine an after-death consciousness quite on the same plane as our present consciousness. (This, too—one may say in passing—probably explains the difficulty we experience in holding direct communication with the dead—the same sort of difficulty, in fact, that the outer mind during life has in directly reaching the inner mind.) Myers[85] speaks of our supraliminal life as merely a special phase of our whole personality, and suggests that there are good reasons for thinking that there is a relation—“obscure but indisputable—between the subliminal and the surviving self.” Under these circumstances it would seem natural to inquire what definite reasons there may be for thinking that the subliminal self survives; and I shall occupy this chapter largely with that question.

(1) In the first place, from the observed process of the generation and growth of the body from a microscopic origin, we have already argued (chapter vii.) the probability of the pre-existence in a sub-atomic or fourth-dimensional state of the being which is manifested in the body, and therefore the probability of the continuance of that being after the dissolution of the body. And this argument must include the Under-self, which is responsible for so much of the organization and growth and sustentation of the 164 body, as well as the Upper; and may well lead us to infer that both upper and under selves continue after death—only conjoined in some way, and with some added experience gained during life.

(2) In the second place, we are struck by the fact that continuous Memory—which we decided to be the very necessary condition of survival—is just the thing which is so strong in the subjective being and so characteristic of it. The huge stores of memory—and of quite personal and individual memory—which this being has at command, their long dormancy and their extraordinary resurgence at times when conditions call them forth, are a marvel to the investigator, and make us feel that it is hardly probable that they are all swept away at death. Even if dormant at the time of death, it seems not unlikely that here again later conditions may awake them once more to life.

But (3), we have a great deal of evidence to show that, as a matter of fact, the underlying self is especially active at the moment of death. The whole phenomenon of ‘wraiths’—now in the mass so amply proved[86]—the projection of phantasms sometimes to an immense distance,[87] by persons in articulo mortis—goes to show its intense 165 energy and vitality (if one may use the word) at that moment. And the vivid resurgences of memory at the same moment (or in any hour of danger) point in the same direction. T. J. Hudson, and others, insist that the subjective mind never sleeps—that whatever drowsiness, or faintness, or languor may overpower the upper or self-conscious mind, the under mind is still acutely awake and operant, and if this is (as it appears) true with regard to sleep, it may well also be so even with regard to death.

Again (4), the Telæsthetic faculty of the under-self (I mean during life)—its power of clairvoyantly perceiving things and events at a distance, even in minutest details—is a very wonderful fact—a fact that is amply established, and one that must give us pause. Here are vision and perception at work without eyes or ears, or any of the usual bodily end-organs[88]—and acting in such a way as to suggest or practically to prove that the soul has other channels or instruments of perception than those connected with the well-known outer body. Every one has heard of cases of this kind. They are common on the borderland of sleep, or in dreams, and—what especially appeals to us here—they are very common in the hour of death. If the soul (as is evidently the case) can perceive without the intermediation of mortal eye or ear; then—though we may conclude that these special organs have been fashioned or developed for special 166 terrene use—we may also conclude that, without them, it would still continue to exercise perception, developing sight and hearing and other faculties along lines with which at present we are but slightly acquainted. These faculties spring inevitably deep down out of ourselves, and will recur again doubtless wherever we are.... “Were your eyes destroyed, still the faculty of sight were not destroyed; out of the same roots again as before would another optic apparatus spring.”[89]

And the same may be said, (5), about the telepathic faculty—that is, the power (not of perceiving, but) of sending impressions or messages to a distance. This power which the under-self has of communicating with the under-selves of other persons, and often at a great distance, is one of the best-established facts in the new psychology; and again, it is very pregnant with inference. It shows us the soul acting vividly along certain lines independent as far as we can see of the known body, certainly along lines independent of the known organs of expression. It compels us to conclude a possible and even probable activity quite apart from that body. With this telepathic power, or as an extension of it, may be classed the image-projecting faculty, which we have already seen to be peculiarly active in death. And it may be appropriate here to notice that in quite a number of the cases of wraiths or phantasms projected (in forty cases 167 out of three hundred and sixteen as given by Edmund Gurney in Proceedings S.P.R. vol. v. p. 408) the apparition was seen after the death had occurred—though within twenty-four hours after. This may directly indicate an after-death activity of the person who projected the image, or it may merely indicate a relay of the telepathic impression on its way, or in the subconscious mind of the recipient, previous to emerging in the latter’s conscious mind.[90]

All these things are strongly indicative. They do not give the impression that at death the underlying self is in the act of perishing. On the contrary, they point to its continuance, and if anything increased activity; while at the same time the strongly personal character of many of the phenomena referred to—the wonderfully distinct personal memories, the very personal images or phantasms projected, the telepathic appeal to nearest and dearest friends—all suggest that the continuing activity does not merely tail off into an abstract life-force or vague stream of tendency, but is of a distinctly personal or individual character.

There is another consideration, (6), on which I may dwell for a moment here. The passion of Love, whether considered in its physical or in its psychical and emotional aspects, is notably a matter of the subjective or subliminal life. The little self-conscious, logical, argumentative 168 personality is completely routed by this passion, which seems to spring from the great depths of being with Titanic force, full-armed in its own convictions, and overturning all established orders and conventions. It surely must give us a deep insight into the nature of that hidden self from which it springs. Yet nothing is more noticeable about the passion than its recklessness of mortal life—nothing more noticeable than its willingness to sacrifice all worldly prospects and the body itself in the pursuit of its ends. Even the most physical love, as we have said already (chapter vi.), has a strange relation to Death, and often slays the very object of its desire:—

“For each man kills the thing he loves,

Though each man does not die.”

While the more emotional form of the passion almost rejoices in its contempt of life and its willingness to face dangers and death for the sake of the beloved. It says as plain as words:—“I can fulfil myself and my purposes all right, even without this mortal part which you hold so dear”; and unless we think that the hidden being who thus speaks is a perfect fool, we must conclude that it is aware of a life surpassing that of the body.

Such a continuing life we no doubt have evidence of, and indeed commonly admit to exist, in the Race-life; and as a first approximation it seems natural and obvious to interpret the underlying or subliminal self as being simply the 169 Race-self. In the case of the lower and less developed forms of creation, perhaps this is the wisest thing to do. In default of more detailed and perfect knowledge, we may easily assume that in a shoal of several million herrings or in a ‘culture’ of several billion microbes the underlying self of each particular herring or microbe is practically identical with the self of the race concerned. But in the case of man and some of the higher animals it is not so easy to do this. We find a strongly individual element in his subconscious mind, which must also be accounted for. I have already alluded to the stores of individual memory which this mind retains, thus differentiating it from others; and I have alluded to the intensely individual phantasms which it projects. And now again we are brought face to face with the greatly individual character of its love-passion. However much the love-passion may be symbolical of the life of the race, and deeply implicated in the same (and both of these it certainly is), still—except in its lower forms—there is nothing vague and general and undifferentiated about that passion; on the contrary, it is most strongly personal and sharply outlined. Why is it that out of the hundred thousand people that a man may meet only one will arouse this tremendous response? Why is it that every great love in its depth seems different from every other? Do not these things suggest a profound difference of outline in the subconscious beings themselves from whom these loves proceed? These 170 beings are manifestations and organic expressions of the Race—yes. But they are also deeply individual and different—each one from the other.

And here we seem to come upon the first emergence of the solution of the problem before us. The self of which we are in search has—especially through its subconscious part—a vast continuing life, affiliated to the life of the race and beyond that to the cosmic life of the All; but it also has a strongly individual outline and character. Nursed in the womb of the Race during countless ages, like a babe within its mother, passing through numberless reincarnations in a kind of collective way, and in more or less unconsciousness of its supreme and separate destiny, it at last in Man attains to the clear sense of individuality, and (through much suffering) is set free to an independent existence; being finally exhaled from earth-mortality into a cosmic life under other conditions of space and time than ours.

Difficult as this conception of a continued individual existence may be to hold to in view of the terrible and external flux of general Nature, and difficult as it may be to understand in all detail; yet, as I say, it is Love which compels us to the insight of its truth. It is Love which has the clear conception of the uniqueness of the beloved, it is love which positively refuses to believe in her (or his) annihilation, it is love alone which in the hour of loss can 171 face the awful midnight sky, and dare to sing:—

“Sleep sweetly, tender heart, in peace,

  Sleep, holy Spirit, blessed soul!

While the stars burn, the moons increase,

  And the great ages onward roll.

And it is in the meeting of lovers that the heavens open, allowing them to see—if only for a moment—the eternities to which they both belong.

There are no doubt other considerations—I mean those connected with mediumistic and so-called spiritualistic phenomena—which point toward the conclusion of an individual survival of some kind after death; but although this kind of evidence is likely to prove in the end of immense value, it is possible that the time has not yet quite come when it can be completely substantiated, tabulated, and effectively utilized; at any rate I do not feel myself in a position to so deal with it. It has also to be said that a great deal of this evidence (relating to actual communications from the dead) is necessarily of so very personal a character that it can only appeal to the individual persons concerned, and however convincing it may be to them does naturally not carry the same conviction to the world at large. I shall therefore for the present pass these considerations by, and, on the strength of the arguments already brought forward, assume the general truth of man’s survival.

172 The course of the argument has been somewhat as follows. In the first place, we have urged the enormous possibilities (disclosed by modern investigation) of other life than that which we know—thus enlarging the bounds of the likely, and weakening the argument from improbability. In the second place, we have pointed out that continuance of memory seems the best test of survival; that even in our law courts (as in a Tichborne case) it is not so much the facts of feature and form as the facts of memory which are relied on to prove identity. Thirdly, we have argued that not only the supraliminal but also the subliminal self must be considered in this matter, and that probably the surviving self will arise from a harmony or conjunction between these two. Fourthly, we have shown that in respect of memory and many other matters the subliminal self shows a quite remarkable activity even in the hour of bodily death—which does not certainly suggest its decease and cessation from existence. Fifthly, we have seen that all through life the soul has faculties (of clairvoyance, transposition of senses, and so forth) which point to its independence of the material body. Sixthly, that through love it reaches a deep conviction of its own duration beyond the life of the body. And, seventhly, we have suggested that it is largely through the supraliminal and self-conscious life that the sense of identity and individuality is educed and finally established.

173 Proceeding, then, further along these lines, the next and obvious question which arises is, In what sort of body is this continuing life manifested? That it must be manifested in some sort of body is, I think, clear. If we had only arrived at the conclusion that at death the human being merged in the All-soul, or became an indistinguishable portion of the ‘Happy Mass’—that his individual memory flowed out into the great ocean of the world-memory and became lost in it, and that his power of individual action or perception passed away in like manner—why then the question of a continuing body could not well arise, or at farthest stretch such body could only be thought of as something indistinguishable from the entire universe. But if there is any truth in the idea of an individual survival, then it seems clear that there must be some kind of form, to mark the bounds of the individual, and to give outline to his relations to other individuals—whether those relations be active and invasive or passive and receptive; there must be some surface of resistance and separation.

With this question I shall deal in the next chapter. Before, however, going into any definite theory of this ‘soul-body,’ it may be useful to dwell for a moment on general considerations. In the first place, it is clear that if the individual survives, he does not do so in any fixed and unchanging form. The form of 174 the individual is not fixed in this earth-life; nor can we expect or wish it to be so in any other life. As long as there is a continuous stream of experience and memory, going on from this life to another life, and from that perchance to others—that is all we can expect to find. There may, indeed, be a fixed and transcendent Individuality, an aspect of the Universal, at the root of all these experiences, but with that we are hardly concerned at this moment—only with the stream of personal manifestations which proceed from it—everchanging yet linked together from hour to hour. In the second place, though we have dwelt upon and emphasized the idea of separateness and differentiation, in the surviving self, in contra-distinction to the idea of fusion in a formless aggregate, yet it is clear here too that the common life and bonds must hold individuals together, just as much as, if not more than, in the earth-life. The salient facts of telepathy, sympathy, clairvoyance, and so forth convince us that souls, freed to some extent from their grosser present envelopes, will react upon each other in the future, or in that farther world, more swiftly and more intimately than they do now. And as they progress from stage to stage, developing individualities and differences always on a grander and grander scale, so they will also develop through love their organic union with each other. It seems possible, indeed, that growth will largely take place through love-fusion; till 175 at length, rising into the highest ranges of combined Individuality and Universality, the transformed consciousness of each soul will take on its true quality—“that of space itself—which is at rest everywhere.”

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