Culture, Crisis & Creativity

by Dane Rudhyar

9. Rhythms of Culture:
From the Sacred to the Vulgar

Because our Western culture since Francis Bacon worships at the shrine of empiricism and is haunted by what it calls "facts," the historian considers his task to be the accumulation of data. In themselves facts are meaningless; they acquire meaning only when they cease to be unrelated atoms in a flood of events and human activities and are seen holistically within the framework of purposeful human destiny. Particular cultures can be considered symbolically like waves moved by the great wind of civilization dynamizing and transforming the inchoate masses of mankind. The wind acts upon the water, creating a trough; then to the wind's action there is a reaction. The wave rises to a crest but soon collapses, not only of its own weight, but as once more the power of the wind relentlessly presses upon the water as if to fecundate it with transcendent spirit.

Most historians can only watch the up and down motions of particles of water. Spengler realized the existence of waves but ignored the action of the wind. Toynbee became aware of this action but did not integrate it fully into the total picture of the development of his "great Societies," for he was reluctant to think in terms of cyclic processes and of the complex interaction of spirit, mind, and life. The life-span of a culture-whole, seen as a complete process, divides itself essentially into two hemicycles. The first represents the involution of spirit into matter; the second, the evolutionary response of a people gathered within a geographical field of forces (a specific environment) to the vision and energy released by the spirit operating as the creative Word.

These two movements—the descent of the new creative impulse and the ascent of the collective consciousness of a people within cultural forms answering to the spiritual message conveyed by the creative Word "in the beginning"—must be clearly defined and understood. There can be no understanding of the entire process unless one realizes that the involutionary hemicycle of a culture-whole is synchronous with the last phases in the development of a parent culture. In the yearly cycle of vegetation the plant slowly loses its vitality when the seed begins to form within the flower. In the cycle of a culture-whole when the great Civilizers appears, usually in a marginal region of its field of activity, the culture within which they have been born and to which their message of transformation is directed begins to crystallize and disintegrate.

To a historian-philosopher with a holistic vision, the process should be quite perceptible, but the events marking the workings of the process may be obscured by the interaction of forces operating through representative personages; and available records, documents, and between the art-forms can easily be interpreted in several ways. The conflict between the forces of past and future, operates within even the most outstanding personalities around whom the wheel often apparently fortuitous events revolves. The historian-philosopher has to be truly a "hierophant"; that is, a revealer of the sacred (hieros) nature of the process irresistibly pervading both the key-actors' personalities and their actions. True history is the transpersonal psychology of culture-wholes through which the transformative process of civilization operates.

The Involution of Spirit

The only culture-whole of which we have a really detailed knowledge is our own Western culture; but even that knowledge does not include many of the important developments related to the counter-cultural Gnostic, alchemical, and Rosicrucian movements underlying the more public and officialized culture of Europe. Nor do we really know much concerning the men and women through whom the original creative impulse of the cycle was focused. Nevertheless we can say that at the source of our Western culture two great Image-Symbols appeared, Caesar and Christ. The dualism which they generated has been constantly operative under various forms and impersonations.

These two symbolic personages and the contrast they created had already been prefigured before the first century B.C.; and we can relate them respectively to Cyrus and Darius, the great kings of Persia, and to Gautama the Buddha, whose disciples, during the reign of the Indian Buddhist King Asoka, journeyed to the Near East and settled on the shores of the Dead Sea. But for our present Western culture, Caesar and Christ stand as the two pillars upon which our institutions rest. They are the symbolic sources from which have flowed two rivers which, as their waters merged, vitalized the eventual building of the European culture emerging after the mid-point of the cycle around the year 1000, when the end of the world was expected. Caesar refers to the Administrative Order according to which the centralizing forces of social-political organization have operated at a collective level. Christ, on the other hand, is the original source of the Creative Order whose essential field of operation is the individual person. Both orders are implied in the process of universalization of mankind which, though heralded by the Buddha and several Greek thinkers, had its first consistent and realistic start with the Roman Empire and Christianity.

The imperial dream of a centralized society encompassing the whole of mankind undoubtedly arose after the flowering of the East Mediterranean Greek culture in Athens and its dissemination by Alexander through two decadent empires, the Egyptian and the Persian, that tried in vain to provide what was needed for the realization of the dream. It took form as the seed takes form in the flower after the crucial Punic Wars which destroyed Carthage and exhausted Rome. Yet Rome survived to implement the Caesarian principle of political centralization. Roman administrators and engineers made the ideal of Pax Romana a workable reality; but the reality, though it operated rather efficiently, was based on the quicksand of human slavery. Rome could manage the Mediterranean world; it could not create a new world. It could for a while contain the Barbarians to the north and the northeast; but these soon enough reached the Roman throne, and the slaves became fascinated by the Christ story whose fantastic character stirred their hopes and their vision. Though martyred for the amusement of the Roman populace and its decadent leaders, they infiltrated the aristocracy, until Constantine legalized Christianity while dividing the empire into Western and Eastern branches.

Christianity also split; but not merely because the Church found itself in different states of relationship with the political power in Rome and in Constantinople. A deeper process of division occurred as the very extensive Gnostic movement with its many groups and doctrine was cut away from the more homogenous and perhaps more ruthless religious body which the Syrian and Alexandrian "Fathers of the Church" were building. The creative impulse of Christ was still operative, though often tainted with Hellenistic intellectualism and sophistry within the Gnostic movement. It is in that movement that one must look for hierophants, "revealers of the sacred," men and women whose minds had been touched by the fire of Christ, the mind of transformation. And the most important of these was the personage who wrote John's Gospel and the Revelation. Whether or not he actually was Jesus' "beloved disciple" refers only to the factual aspect of the matter. What matters is that, in these writings, the Creative Order that permeated Jesus and, through him, gave a new and vibrant meaning to the Christ mythos and potentially to the lives of every human being, made a deep, ineradicable impress upon our Western culture. If the writer was the Apostle, then in him we see the source through which the spiritual current of counterculture has flowed through the two millennia of the Euro-American cycle. John stands thus as the Hierophant. He was the great Poet of the involutionary half of our cycle. He not only repeated the creative utterances of the Avatar, the Christed Jesus, but he established their most profound meaning within the most adequate frame of reference the dying Greek culture was able to provide. He most likely was not the only one to act as Poet-hierophant, revealer of the sacred; but his theurgic words have remained, the very soul of Christianity.

In the beginning of the culture-whole the Avatar utters the words of power and enacts the life-ritual from which the great symbols of the culture will be drawn and made into concrete forms—forms that will be the foundations of religious institutions and of the art that inspirits, rather than merely reflects and mirrors, the developing culture. The Revelation occurs as the old parental culture has reached its final state of maturity and begins to crystallize and/or decay. Gradually minds which have become open to this Revelation reformulate and interpret its premises and the new vision of the divine-human relationship it evokes. They bring the creative Word down to the level of the collective psyche of the people who will become the substance of the new Society. They do this in at least two phases. During the first the new formulations must be such as to fascinate the discontented, the mentally bored and the socially oppressed, and to raise if need be a crop of martyrs, and in any case of apostolic men and women; this, within the pale of the dying world. Later on, after this world has collapsed, a reformulation process becomes imperative so as to provide a stabilizing but still chaotic sociopolitical situation with future-oriented goals which nevertheless do not basically surpass the mental level of the gradually converted people.

This is an involutionary process, because it is truly the involvement of the original impulse and power in the new and raw material now available. It is a descent of spirit into matter, and also of the sacred into the religious, the creative into the institutionalized. From the point of view of art this process is not to be forgotten, for it plays a fundamental role in the preparation of the materials which the builders of the great cultural forms will use after the mid-point of the cycle—thus in Europe after the year 1000. Then the evolution of the "art-whole," which is the exteriorization of the soul of the culture-whole, begins. Such an evolution proceeds at first by using as an inspiration the life deeds of some great personage and of those surrounding him; in the case of the European culture, mainly the deeds of Charlemagne, who not only definitely stopped the northward tide of the Moors from Spain, but who defined, then divided between his sons, the field of space within which Europe was to grow through endless internecine conflicts.

The Evolution of Cultural Forms

What was then well defined before the cycle's midpoint became an intensely alive field from which a new cultural vegetation began to rise. It blossomed in the Gothic cathedral in which all arts found themselves interrelated into a meaningful Christward union, and also for a brief moment in the partially and briefly realized concept of a Rome-centered Republic, a Christiana (the Holy See, as envisioned in the eleventh century by Hildebrand who became Pope Gregory VII).

When this evolutionary phase begins, the basic issue always is the character and quality of the centralizing forces operating at the time. At the sociopolitical and religious levels, when the Papacy began to use military force to overcome its enemies, much of the fate of the European culture was decided. In its germ, the worm of militarism and political power began to sap and eventually destroyed the forces of spiritual growth. As a far-sighted Jesuit priest told me some ten years ago in Paris, the Church "began to worship a false God." As the European universities developed in the following centuries, they worshipped Aristotle rather than Plato. At the level of music a similar development occurred at about the same time when Church plainchant which had already been centralized and Romanized—at the expense of the Syrian, Mozarabic, and Ambrosias schools of plainchant—became further frozen into set melodic patterns and a rigid style of intoning by the adoption of the musical staff and musical notes, after Guido D'Arezzo. When in the fourteenth century, Flemish composers built up their polyphonic structures of musical notes and a new concept of music grew to an imposing stature, this concept stressed formalism and an intellectualistic esthetical approach completely repudiating the magical, and as well the sacred element. What came to be known as "sacred music" is not in the least sacred; it exteriorizes in powerful, yet magically inoperative, organization of notes—but not of real vibrant tones—the soul of a religion that had become also rigidly formalistic and intellectually dogmatic.

Against this cold and politically oriented religious, but not spiritual, consciousness a new psychic wind blew, giving rise to the art of the people. The Christ-spirit was reflected in the soul of St. Francis of Assisi who stands as the symbol, not only of all that tried to regenerate from within a gradually corrupted and money-conscious Church, but of the incarnation of the purest Christ-love in the medieval European personality. The spiritual beginning of the cycle always in some manner seeks to reflect itself in the mid-phase of the cycle; for each cycle has three great moments which can be symbolized by the Greek letters, alpha, mu, and omega. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the embodied Supreme Spirit, states that he is the beginning, the middle, and the end of all cycles—while, unfortunately perhaps, the Gnostic Christ in John's writings says only that he is the alpha and the omega, thus evoking Christianity's actual emphasis on transcendence rather than on immanence. Yet such an immanence of the Divine in the human was the essence of Jesus' message to a future culture-whole in which an ever greater number of individualizing persons would be torn by the conflict between, on the one hand, a religiosified and intellectual cult of the ego and of the mind of reason and, on the other hand, an essentially sacred realization of the Christ within—a realization that, as it implies rebirth (a new beginning) and an eventually total transformation of all the implications of existence, is therefore "sacred."

The new mind that pervaded the religious structures of the early Middle Ages came, in the one hand, from the old Celtic culture and its love of nature and natural forms, and on the other, from the Sufi and related movements whose ideals were carried back to France by the crusaders and the troubadours. This love of nature can be seen as the inspiration of many of the sculptured decorations of Gothic cathedrals and also in the beautiful illumined manuscripts devotedly written and painted in monasteries many of which had been founded since Charlemagne's reign by Irish men with latinized names. This love most likely did not spring from the Germanic temperament; nor was it the heritage of a Romanized Mediterranean world. It blended with the mystical influences of Near-Eastern Sufis and Gnostics, influences that Dante felt in his spiritualized glorification of love and the "eternal feminine"; it radiated from Abelard's tragic experiences and his challenge to the lifeless rationalism of Scholasticism; and it found their beautiful, yet so little-known, expression in the culture of Southern France. That culture —encompassing South-western France around Toulouse and Albi, the Provence and the French Alps, and Spain's Catalonia once conquered by the Visigoths—was ruthlessly destroyed by the power-greedy king of France, Philipp Augustus (1180-1223) with the assistance of Popes who proclaimed the tragic Crusade against the Albigenses and began the Inquisition (1203-1229). But it was in Southern France that the ideal of "courtly love" grew and an entirely new approach to womanhood developed which inspired some of the greatest cultural productions of Europe—later to be reformulated by the spirit of nineteenth century Romanticism.

In music, the combined influences of Celtic and Arabic-Syrian songs forced upon the followers of an emasculated and intellectualized Pythagorean tradition the adoption of the musical interval of "natural third," which was considered dissonant and unusable by the Pythagoreans. Popular songs invaded the Church services; as polyphony grew, the profane melodies mingled with the old traditional plainchant, and a Pope condemned in typical terms the Ars Nova of the early fifteenth century. As Gothic art lost its simplicity and baroque style churches were built, especially in the Latin countries and later in the newly discovered American continent, Humanism and the early Renaissance produced a strong reaction against the medieval religious consciousness. Individualism triumphed, together with scientific empiricism: Luther and Francis Bacon. A new picture of the universe was outlined by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler—its heliocentricism matching the development of centralized nations ruled by powerful Kings-by-divine-right—Sun-kings.

It was at this turning point that Shakespeare's dramas appeared, giving to the drama a new form and establishing it as the most significant cultural manifestation of the Renaissance and Classical spirit, thus of the evolutionary hemicycle of the development of the culture-whole. Drama played a powerful role during the involutionary half of the cycle; but it was the sacred drama of redemption, God's drama as He projected His personified spirit-power into the human material of the disintegrating Greco-Latin culture-whole. This drama in its most essential form was the Catholic Mass, forever reenacting in "sacred time" and within the consecrated place of meeting of the Ekklesia—the group of Christ's apostolic servants and devotees—the divine Act of sacrifice at Golgotha, the Mount of the Skull, the human mind.

All Church-dramas are ritualistic reenactments of the sacrifice of the Divine into the human, and at times—because Medieval man is still very close to the biopsychic rhythms of nature and vegetation—the sacrifice of the germinating seed into the new plant. These dramas have thus originally a sacred character; yet, as the Church became a social and political factor with mundane ambitions for power, rulership, and wealth, the sacred faded out into the religious. The sacred creates; the religious binds. The dramas of the Church bind together the faithful; but, as the evolutionary power of the people develops—and it inevitably develops in the midst of, and through interpersonal and intergroup conflicts—the profane or secular drama appears in a new role. It brings to a focus and seeks to give meaning to human crises and human decisions or indecision. The mu type of psychological drama supersedes the alpha type.

In the future an omega type may appear if our culture-whole does not commit nuclear suicide or irrevocably poison the biosphere before the omega consciousness of this Euro-American cycle can manifest in more than a few dreamers. Scriabin's Mystère, which could not possibly have been produced in the period of two World Wars actually representing the Civil War of a global humanity, was a dream vision of the theurgic drama of the cycle's end. As to Wagner's Parsifal, one might call it a prefiguration of the omega dream, but it closed the cycle of the European religious tradition rather than being the first manifestation of the sacred, in which end meets rebeginning: the consecrated seed of the culture-whole in process of germination.

Shakespeare, or whoever was operating through his mind, brought to a focus the dramas of human personages past the middle phase of the cultural cycle. But before the Dramatist, the Poet always appears. Aeschylus and Sophocles follow Homer—and before Homer, Orpheus, the utterer of the magical words. Shakespeare follows the poets of the Chansons de Geste and Dante, these poets narrating, on the one hand, the deeds of the culture-Hero and, on the other, the spiritward ascent of the symbolic person who, after the midpoint of his life, repolarizes his consciousness along the path of religious initiation. Later on, in an America trying to develop a relatively autonomous collective consciousness while focusing on the building of a continental empire, Walt Whitman, the poet, magnificently extolled the great vision which the magical words of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, and the deeds of the Founders of the Republic had made viable; but the reality of the dream in our modern cities finds itself expressed in the plays of Eugene O'Neill, the American Shakespeare, and of a few other playwrights baring the greed, the neuroses, and the soul-emptiness of modern men and women.

The Six Levels of Art-Activity

At this point and in order to clarify the character and meaning of the various levels of development through which the art-whole passes as it exteriorizes the successive phases of the collective consciousness of a Society during its life-span, it seems important to define six basic levels at which art operates, or can operate. At each level we can speak of a positive and a negative type of manifestation.

1. Art as release of power through magical forms.

I have already discussed the main characteristics of the magical approach to art, and I defined magic as "a purposeful release of focalized power through an effective form in answer to a need." At the primitive level of human evolution, this need is primarily biological and historians speak of natural magic, which includes control over forces in man's environment and healing, or the destruction of enemies and competitors in love, war, or business. The life-will, and later on the ego-will, are the power-releasing factors. What we call so often and carelessly "primitive art" is essentially a means for magical action. The statue of a god, masks worn in rituals and all instruments used in magical ceremonies are not meant to be "beautiful"; their form and substance are selected because they will most effectively focus and release magic power. Magical objects have a functional character.

Today in our industrialized city-centered life, political propaganda through repeated slogans and business advertising are magical forms of mass-directed activity dedicated to the acquisition of social-political power and wealth by individual egos or organized groups. In a very real sense, American life is primitive living in the jungles of cities, where competitors can be as dangerous as wild beasts. These jungles have a biosociological character and, though the instrumentalities for the release of the willful cravings of intellectualized and ego-centric minds differ from the tools, charms and statues of tribal cults used by shamans or medicine-men, our modern business and political rituals (from Wall Street to political conventions), both types have similar functions. The business executive of a big firm is not interested in the literary character of advertising slogans, but only in whether or not they work and increase sales. The political leader likewise uses his slogans for the emotional effect they produce at mass-meetings, or in multimedia presentations.

For the same reasons, the machines built by engineers do not originally aim at being beautiful, but only at the best possible utilization of energy in the performance of work. If, later on, concern with shape and decoration intrudes and combines with engineering efficacy it is because competition for social prestige and the attention of prospective buyers enters the picture. The decorative concept of art then comes into play.

The negative aspect of magic is its basic resistance to change. A tradition takes form which develops enormous inertia. Old magical practices remain in use after the human and social situations which gave rise to them have become radically altered. Business, political, and also scientific and laboratory practices resist transformation as long as they possibly can—until a competitor demonstrates the spectacular validity of a new technique and new attention-focusing forms or ego-titillating gadgets.

2. Art as decorative enhancement of value

When the primitive swordmaker begins to carve on the hilts of his products images of gods or elementals which no longer are meant only to enable the sword to kill better, but also which display the wealth and taste of their owner and the outstanding skill of the maker, decorative art appears. Soon the term art takes on a meaning of its own, an esthetic meaning divorced from the concept of utility or even of function. A beautiful object acquires a value simply because it is beautiful. But what then is meant by "beauty?"

What is beautiful for people of a particular culture may not be considered so by those of another culture. Until fairly recently in Europe and America the music of China, Africa, and even India was characterized as barbaric and mere noise. African idols and carvings seemed ugly to Europeans until Picasso and other artists glorified their forms. The appreciation of "primitive art" is of very recent origin. Male animals display what we call beauty in order to attract the females' attention; but these displays of colors, dance gestures and songs, are magical expressions of the life-will. Beauty as such is mainly a sociocultural factor, especially when an esthetic valuation is placed on the beautiful object.

Nature always undergirds culture; yet the conscious human act of embellishment, even if used for biological purposes, surpasses this factor. The biological "survival of the fittest" is a magical process in which the life-will operates; but decorative art (musical as well as plastic) is used, consciously or not, to exalt cultural values and to benefit the groups, cities, or provinces acquiring fame and perhaps wealth for their special ability to produce a new style of wares.

Competition in the development of ever more intricate decorative forms leads from the baroque to the rococco style, to preciosity or intellectual stratagems drying up the flow of inspiration. It also produces virtuosity and the glorification of technical tours de force to charm a cultural elite, or even (at a less artistic level) a crowd easily impressed by the display of a spectacular skill in action which they are too lazy or unimaginative to obtain for themselves. Action still speaks louder than words for human beings whose consciousness is embedded in the biosphere and who value muscular achievements far more than the discovery of meaning.

3. Art as esthetic enjoyment of cultural forms

This level of art-activity is closely linked with the preceding one, but it becomes differentiated when the work of art is at least theoretically able to reveal to particularly aware and sensitive human beings a principle of order and proportion which gives to their consciousness a sense of peace and psychomental security, or an exalted feeling of participation in a transpersonal or even transcultural reality. At this level one can even speak of a "religion of art," because such art-experiences "bind together" (re-ligere) the mind-feelings of a cultural minority.

Many books have been written in an attempt to define the precise nature of the esthetic experience. All that seems necessary to state here is that the pure esthetic experience, detached from all biological and sociocultural elements so often involved in it, is based on the intuitive, mental, and/or emotional awareness of the harmoniously ordered (or meaningfully disordered and dynamic) relationship between all the component parts of a whole confronting us. The experience has a holistic character. It is an experience of archetypal form and order conveyed to our consciousness by an existential combination of lines and spaces, of colors or sound vibrations. We may speak of a transmorphic experience, because the apparent shape or color of an object, the sequential relationship between the tones of a melody or the events of a scene linking several actors—be they human or natural entities—are perceived only as translucent means for the revealing of a principle of order and harmony at work in the universe. If we had no awareness at all of such a principle our own experience and the world's existence would make little or no sense. A beautiful object or scene fascinates us because through it we come to feel or intuitively apprehend the ordered play of natural or supernatural forces in the cosmos, be it microcosm or macrocosm.

In a preceding chapter I spoke of the extraordinary attraction Bach's music had for young people in Paris after World War II, when its tragedies and tortures had ended, even though it was music made by a hated German and indeed filled with the peculiar abstract intellectuality of a Nordic culture. We all need to feel that ours is an ordered universe, a universe of balanced and meaningfully distributed and evolving relationships. If this feeling is taken away from us we slowly disintegrate. Order calls to order. If the organic within does not find an integrating response to a cosmic without catabolic forces begin to operate within the organism deprived of external cosmic support. The belief in an absurd universe makes a neurotic of the believer, just as a suddenly lowered air pressure around a tightly closed room will make the glass windows explode. One can think of order-pressure just as one thinks of atmospheric pressure. A people having lost its sense of order and meaning will blindly follow a leader who, at least for a moment, becomes the embodied symbol of order.(1)

Order has charisma. Art likewise has charisma whenever it fills the need for a convincing restatement of ordered relationship. A tragic crisis can be endured if a new order is promised or expected beyond it. A bitter interpersonal relationship can be accepted if given the transpersonal meaning of rebirth. In classical music the composer can use harsh dissonances if these are resolved into a consonant chord. But recently a new type of art has been born, presenting dissonances (musical or interpersonal) which the hearer or spectator himself is expected to resolve into harmony; he is meant to be a participant in a total creative process reaching beyond the esthetic, which therefore can be called "transesthetic."

The strictly esthetic approach to art has its negative aspect in "estheticism" and the snobbery of art-critics hypnotized by form and insensitive to contents. The concept of "Art for Art's sake" dehumanizes the creative process. The how of art drives away the Why; form-analysis destroys meaning; scholasticism and academism stifle spontaneity.

4. Art as personal expression

Before we speak of the transesthetic experience we must consider a type of art which has dominated the cultural scene in the West since the beginning of the Romantic reaction to the Classical period: art as a form of personal self-expression. The title of a recent composition by the one-time enfant terrible of modern music, Leo Ornstein "Autobiography in the form of a Sonata," brings the issue involved in this type of art to its clearest focalization, but during the last 150 years all fields of art have been involved in one type or another of autobiographical expression. In a society featuring the ideal of individualism and giving most of its attention to personal relationships, problems, or conflicts, and to the development of a complex, integrated and independent personality whose fulfillment is the supreme purpose of living, the artistic aspect of self-expression was bound to gain an extraordinary importance.

Creativity, however, does not need to be equated with personal self-expression. A creative process can operate through a person whose mind and organs of action (and the muscles involved in that action) are servants of a transpersonal downflow of energy and revelatory consciousness. The actions of an Avatar are, I repeat, transpersonal rather than personal; and so are the creations of a great genius through whose mind new archetypes and a wider vision of future potentialities take existential forms conditioned by a collective sociocultural need. The personal aspect of self-expression dominates when the creative release is determined by ego needs and an individualistic or even autistic approach to the challenges of everyday existence. When such an approach prevails almost exclusively, the form taken by the intellectual-emotional release of energy appears meaningless to other individuals.

The psychological pressures, the states of consciousness, and the personal experiences of the artist are uncommunicable to the degree that they do not use, or distort beyond recognition, the basic symbols of the culture-whole. Every culture has its collectively understandable languages for words, forms, gestures, and tone-relationships. As long as the artist accepts the limitations and structures of those various languages he or she can communicate his feelings, his joys or torments, his intellectual vision and concepts to his people. Through his creations the people of his culture may experience, by proxy, states of wider consciousness and more intense feelings than are normally parts of everyday living. The artist is then a catalyst to greater living. He spreads his intensity as a contagion of enhanced supernormal responsiveness to events and inner psychic changes to which most persons can only feebly react. The artist is an intensifier of emotions, working with the chiaroscuro of joy and pain, of ecstasy or the dark night of the soul.

This is the Romantic ideal of art. It is a cultural ideal to the extent that the artist still uses the language, the great symbols, the religious or musical ideals of his culture. When the artist finds these images inadequate for the expression of what he feels or experiences and tries to build his own language of (to him) symbolic forms, he enters an a-cultural realm in which interpersonal communication becomes difficult, if not impossible. Other artists, witnessing or involved in the upheavals of a culture in crisis, begin to distort the syntax of their art-language, to relate what no one else normally relates except in dreams or hallucinations caused by drugs or psychotic states, and to build fantastic, irrational structures. Then we have Expressionism, Surrealism, and the many varieties of "Fantastic Art."

These manifestations can be considered the negative aspect of the art of personal expression, but they also belong to at least the initial stages of a new type of art. Romanticism has its most characteristic shadow-aspect in sentimentality and uncontrolled vapid or formless emotionalism. Self-indulgence may turn into masochism and overextended lyrical or downbeat statements.

5. Art as catharsis and mantram of rebirth.

A culture in a state of radical crisis calls from its collective human depth artists who act as cathartic or catabolic agents. These develop numerous forms of catesthetics: antiart, antinovel, purposefully discordant music or congeries of atomistic notes related to each other only by police-like systems of totalitarian control. The most characteristic exemplar of such a trend was Arnold Schoenberg who began as a post-Wagnerian lyricist and soon developed as a symbol of reaction against the chaotic disintegration of his natal land, the Austro-Hungarian empire. A famous American critic once wittily said that he as a "decomposer" rather than a composer. This is only partially true. It is valid only in the sense that Schoenberg's Twelve-Tone-System is a quasi-desperate attempt to force the decomposing materials of European tonality into a rigid intellectualistic structure holding the now unrelated atonal notes, as people who no longer have faith or respect for the old order may be relentlessly held together by a police force. Schoenberg's pupil Anton Webern pushed an atomistic approach to music to the extreme. The movement has been sweeping Europe and America since World War II; it is an answer to the disintegration of the entire Western culture. Toward the close of the evolutionary half of the cultural cycle, it represents also a symmetrical repetition, at another level, of the formalism and the intellectual games the Flemish composers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries played with the new musical material of Ars Nova.

As I see it, this Schoenbergian Neoscholastic movement and the synchronously developing Neoclassicism of Stravinsky are both expressions of inwardly insecure and culturally frightened personalities. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 shocked Stravinsky, who had become seduced by the intellectualism of the "Cerebrist Movement" in Paris, then art capital of the Western world.(2) He seems also to have been frightened by the power he had let loose in the Sacre du Printemps, whose tumultuous first performance in Paris during La Grande Saison of May 1913 both prefigured and symbolized at the level of culture the shock produced a year later by a World War which neither the general public nor the intellectual elite expected. The return to the Classical seventeenth century formalism—even if the old forms were to be filled with a fermenting new tonal substance—constituted, like the parallel development of Fascism, a hopeless or panicky return to the security of the Western culture at its moment of late flowering, a psychological "return to the Mother." Neoclassicism in the twenties invaded America, where, after Guggenheim Foundation-subsidized trips to Paris overshadowed by the matriarchal mind of Nadia Boulanger, young composers sought to prove to themselves and to the world that they too could write "serious" music equaling in technical virtuosity the best Europe had to offer.

Underneath these returns to the past, and working through the outer garment of an expanded tonal system or through attempts at pantonality or polytonality, we can see developing, mostly unconsciously, a cathartic approach to the arts. We find it hidden under a fascination with exotic art (whether African sculpture, or Hindu and Balinese music) as an unconscious or unclear endeavor to de-Europeanize the arts. We see it manifesting in the Neoprimitivism of the Sacre du Printemps and Prokofiev's Scythian Suite and in the Surrealistic cult of the irrational. It is shown in its crudest form in Erik Satie's spoofing and Dadaism, but also in the repeated attempts of artists to extend the ability to hear, see, and feel in people still clinging to, while fighting against, the tenacious ghosts of Puritanism and Victorian morality and racial-cultural elitism. What underlies all these disparate and confused endeavors is a tense and often tragic will to free men and women of our culture from the ancestral past, indeed to shock them into freedom, including of course, since Freud's day, sexual freedom.

The return to European Classicism was based on fear. The return to the primitive, to nature and natural functions, to all that human beings have in common and can experience in an open togetherness of feelings, has been fundamentally an expression of hope. The early Hippie movement was a naive but beautiful song of hope. At another level, Scriabin's music and his dream of Mystère were also songs of culture-transcending hope, haunted by the possibility of collective transhuman ecstasy. In a cultural world breaking down, cathartic art—whether in music, painting, poetry, writing, theatrical dramas—strives to accelerate the breaking down by forcing more and more people to consciously experience, even if only by the proxy of art, the inevitability of the collapse of the sociocultural structures in which they have grown to consciousness, or at least to habitual behavior.

The inevitability of collective death as a redeemer—this is what the hydrogen bomb thunders forth to our self-complacently deaf ears! But do we believe that this collective death can act "as a redeemer"? This is the essential issue. Henry Miller wrote a small book entitled Murder the Murderer! But in real life can two negatives make a positive? What kind of culture has the Russian Revolution produced besides a mass return to bourgeois ballet and pompous proletarian art? Can a disintegrating culture transubstantiate itself? Could the future-oriented passion of a self-sacrificing band of men and women, whose materialistic gospel was the product of minds steeped in a Hebrew and European past, blossom out as total faith in a New Order that is really new, creative, releasing of as yet unenvisioned possibilities?

People try to escape the confrontation with their latent creativity—their potentiality of rebirth—by dreaming of flying saucers, Space benefactors, the Second Coming of Christ. But alas, most of the time this is only an escape, an ego-subterfuge to avoid translating collective crisis and imminent chaos into personal catharsis powered by faith in the inevitability of rebirth, a self-made, willed, consciously assumed, joyous inevitability.

It is such an inevitability of rebirth that art today could proclaim. Yet what is it doing? The despondent, confused, anemic mind of so many artists escapes into intellectual concepts and vague metaphysical-scientific discussions of intent. But, as an old proverb stated: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. What count are deeds, creative, self-transforming, others-arousing acts moved by an irreducible faith and all-human compassion. It is for individuals and groups of individuals to chant themselves into seedhood, accepting at the same time the inevitable sacred act of germination. It is for individuals to live as mantrams of dawn, as living Gayatris. This alone is creativity.

6. Art as Hierophany

We can envision such an art. We cannot produce it at this time of history, except perhaps as an uncompletable sketch, an evocation of possibilities pregnant with irrevocable futurity. At this level we are dealing with the mythopoetic function of art, the art of revelation. What today is called "conceptual" art is at best the precursory shadow of such an art. But who among the mainly confused intellectuals playing with concepts is able to create new myths, or even really understand their function as transcultural factors emanating from the vast planetary and all-human process of civilization?

Art as revelation is, like the seed, both end and beginning, alpha and omega. The creation of myths occurs before the end of the cycle of a culture-whole through the Avatar and the apostolic beings who extend and give to his life-deeds and words their initial rapturous formulation. These men are the hierophants, the revealers of the sacred. What they reveal is clothed in the words, concepts, and images provided for them by their culture; but they only "re-veal"; they present "new veils" for the ineffable Truth, the Avatar's sacred performance of dharma—the dharma of the culture-whole still only a potentiality in the mind-womb of the parental Society. They release the seed of the future myths of the new culture. This seed will germinate during the alpha phase of the development of this culture-whole. It will evolve into the great stories and dramas of a still distant future.

Mythopoetic seed-art is not art in the current sense of the term. Yet its creations are tremendously powerful, if not in themselves, then in what they will accomplish. The art-hierophants project into the planetary psyche of mankind such images as those of the Solar Hero known by a myriad of names, of his death and resurrection, the images of the meditating Buddha, the crucified Christ flanked by the two thieves, Baha'u'llah (last century's Persian Avatar) thrown into an old cistern transformed into a dungeon and reached by three steps, chained with criminals, and there receiving his illumination in the form of a celestial Maiden. They reveal the lineaments of the myths which future generations will transform into religious ceremonies, sacred Mysteries in which the elect few or the faithful at large will participate. In music, the hierophantic spirit has revealed itself in the mantrams of India, the sacred incantations of Gnostic Brotherhoods, the chants accompanying communal meals partaken in the memory of the Last Supper. These chants and hymns, with a change of words, were stolen wholesale by the Fathers of the official Church, who, after changing the words, made of them the earliest forms of religious plainchant. The ecclesiastic chants in turn were transformed by the peoples of the developing early culture-whole into what appear to be "folksongs."

Bela Bartok's studies of the popular music of the Balkans clearly showed that most of what was long considered the "spontaneous" creations of the people were in fact derived from Church plainchant. Similarly, Negro slaves in the southern United States produced "spirituals" from models provided by Church hymns. "The people" do not create; they only react to bio-emotional urges which are actually procreative, not creative. Life procreates through polarized human organisms; Spirit creates through the great Civilizers and those disciples whose minds catch fire at the flame of their transfigured consciousness and their hieratic, sacramental lives.

In their most often confused and egocentric way the artists of recent years who have dreamt of conceptual art realized that our Euro-American culture has reached a dead end; that no living substance can be drawn out of the old culture. Art can no longer be a collective celebration of values because the sources of all cultural values—the old myths—have dried up, their meanings are perverted, and their revelations have become something to joke about or dismiss as children's tales since the irreverent and cynical mind of a pseudo-science tore down the veils and sullied the figuration of the Divine in man. What then remains for the artist? To think—to translate his or her neurosis and frustration into dream-fantasies, abstract metaphysical-occult escapes, or in the most significant cases to lead individuals (or small groups of individuals) to experience meaning and tone in a precultural, prenatal way.

These are almost desperate attempts at revirginizing the sense-responses of people seeking to evade the octopus-like arms of industrialized, citified, and police-controlled living, either by making them involved participants in "catesthetic" experiences glorifying modem conflicts to a point of collapse of rational faculties, or by educating them like children through "happenings" aiming at de-education, and hopefully leading them to a naive, quasi-primitive return to natural nondiscriminating experiences of sound, color, form, and interpersonal relationships.

At the fountainhead of the present Western phase of the process of civilization we see the great figure of Pythagoras, the Civilizer of music, bringing to the Mediterranean world the great concepts of Number, Proportion and Form, and raising them to a cosmic level through the profound myth of the Music of the Spheres. Such a myth was an answer to the Orphic Mysteries celebrating the birth-death-rebirth cycle of the Solar Hero, the heliocentric God also worshipped by the visionary Pharaoh, Akhenaton. It was an attempt to de-personify the Divine and to substitute an impersonal vision of cosmic Harmony and essential Order for the worship of deified Beings. At the same time Gautama the Buddha, by propounding the anatma doctrine, was seeking to "disegoize" human beings entranced by their sense of individuality and the ecstatic identification of atman (the individual self) with brahman (the universal Self).

Pythagoras's revelation of the cosmic archetypal Mind assuredly did not want to glorify rationality per se, as a function independent of all biopsychic functions. His teachings were transrational, transformal, transintellectual. He used his visionary metabiological experience of the dynamic Harmony of the cosmos as a means of healing, of making whole, of integrating personalities rising uncertainly from the tribal to the individualistic state of consciousness. The Pythagorean gamut (badly understood as merely a "scale" of notes) was a dynamic mandala of tones, each of which had magic power. The Church music of the late Roman empire, and especially of the Middle Ages, took out of the Pythagorean harmony the magic which at least some Gnostic communities had retained, and soon the Flemish polyphonists began to build patterns of notes from which all livingness, as well as cosmic sense of harmony, had gone, though a few theoreticians still talked about abstractly cosmic principles.

Since Schoenberg, the conceptual and mathematical emphasis that characterized the formalistic Nordic music of five centuries ago—and, with Bach, of two centuries ago—began to be revived in a new mode. Picasso also gave to the incipient movement the shape of Cubism. After various esthetic adventures and hairpin turns, the road of modern art has led to the art of concepts. For the conceptual artist it is not the performance that matters, but the formative concept—not what one does, but what one conceives. Alas, the conception most often seems to be but a blind striving away from the past, not toward a future, partly because any future today seems so dismal, potentially catastrophic, and hopeless. A culture chapter is closing in the long Book of Civilization; and as the writer faces the chaotic and neurotic present, he or she disdainfully procures antinovels whose unbound pages can be read in any order whatsoever. The composer writes scores suggesting only a variety of possibilities to be actualized according to the mood of performers-improvisers. The painter-sculptor builds long trenches in the desert to no particular purpose or tries to balloon a mountain in some enormous plastic bag. And, at least in the conceptual-statistical minds of Rand specialists, the Pentagon plays dice with its Russian counterpart in a futurity game whose pawns are millions of underfed and hopeless human beings. Heirophany has become Thanatophany, the Middle Ages' Dance of Death magnified in a planetary Marche Funebre in which the whole biosphere is involved.

Yet the presence of death is necessary for rebirth. As Castenada makes Don Juan say in Tales of Power (p. 147) "Without an awareness of the presence of our death there is no power, no mystery." In the everyday banality of living, an individual is only what he is; with death as his companion he can become more than he is. Looking back is now useless. The will of the potentially creative spirit in man has to give to the entropic psalmody of the dying culture the antiphonic answer of culture-free creativity. He has to create new myths in counterpoint to the process of vulgarization cacophonically spelling the decay of cultural values. The creation of myths is the only valid answer to vulgarity. Vulga means the crowd. In tribal societies, in medieval villages or towns, there were no crowds. The crowd and all its products constitute the triumph of sociocultural entropy. The crowd is the dark shadow of civilization. The old Babylon or the modern megalopolis is the shadow of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem.

Rebirth requires both the light and the shadow. Power and Mystery emerge from their antiphony; and what is human life without power or mystery? What is man without the myths he creates to give meaning to his world?

1. In Vienna, Victor Frankl, the founder of "logotherapy" and the leader of the Third School of Austrian psychology, stresses the crucial importance of man's search for meaning, and the dire effects of the "existential vacuum" so prevalent now in our Western Society. His books and his lectures have received a warm response in many countries.   Return

2. The main figure in this little known movement which began in Paris around 1912, was the Italian-born Riciotto Canudo, who edited a magazine "Montjoie!" devoted to new esthetic ideas repudiating everything having to do with emotions and traditional ethico-religious ideals. This was to some extent related to the Futurist Movement which was then developing in Italy. Though he denied any connection with Futurism itself, the composer, Edgard Varèse (born in France, but with an Italian ancestry) thought of music in a rather similar way.   Return

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