THE SYNTHETIC DRAMA AS A SEED OF CIVILIZATION
1. The Art-whole and its Cycle of Transformation
Probably the main cause of the difficulty which most people have in understanding the new artistic manifestations, today as well as of old, is a lack of historical sense. Because men do not understand, do not feel the past of humanity or of their particular race as a whole, they are baffled ever and ever again by the new manifestations of the development of this humanity or race. The moment the past of any entity is seen as an organic whole in the process of unfolding or disintegrating, the future of this entity opens. Resistance to new forms vanishes, and the will and wish of the individual become one with the acts and forms of destiny which are the seed of this race future.
For a man in whom the true historical sense is fully functioning, a race is indeed an entity, evolving from form to form just as other biological entities do. Past events cease to be facts which need to be painfully memorized; they become revelations of the life-rhythm of that particular race, utterances of its cyclically unrolling destiny. They become alive, meaningful.
Likewise when a man is able to see the totality of the art manifestations of a people as an organic entity, to perceive the rhythm of unfolding of that entity and the significance of its main characteristics in function of the idiosyncrasies of the race expressing itself therein, then the many crises through which the arts, singly and as a whole, periodically pass cease to be baffling upheavals and sinister revolutions; they are seen as crises of growth; they indicate a change of race-morphology just as crises in the human development, for instance puberty, indicate that a process of vitalization has reached a completion and a new set of life-forms has crystallized, endowing the human being with a new meaning.
Art must be considered as a whole. As such it is an emanation of the collective consciousness of the Race, an Image: of its Soul, a precipitation of the innermost rhythm of its being. Real artists are specialized organs through which the Race-Soul images itself out. Culture is the very process of imaging. Objectively it is the sum-total of these Race-Images; subjectively speaking, a man of culture is one whose inner rhythm and morphology has been keyed up to the great Race-Image.
This becomes clear and the evolution of Art opens as an easily readable book when one consider. the very general process of unfolding of Life, the process of cyclic growth and disintegration; a process absolutely universal, the rhythm of which can be detected in every manifestation of life, physical or super-physical (i.e. mental, cultural, spiritual).
Spencer sums up this life-process, following in this respect the immemorial tradition of archaic wisdom, by saying that life is It movement which from Unity leads to Multiplicity and back again to Unity. A great Indian philosopher and leader, B. P. Wadia; formulates the process still more explicitly when he writes "Slow is the growth but certain is the aim that Nature pursues: from one Unit Ray to countless reflected images and on to the Image which reproduces in perfection the Primal Unity."
When this universal formula of cyclic evolution (or rather involution and evolution) is thoroughly understood it becomes easy to grasp the many stages through which Art-as-a-whole passes in the course of a racial cycle. These stages are always essentially identical whether we consider Chinese, Indian or European Art; just as all processes of germination are basically the same, even though germinal forms may differ and the length of the process may vary considerably.
The various arts, (music, painting, sculpture, etc.) are fragments of the Art-whole through which the Race expresses its essential selfhood. They are products of the many transformations through which the Art-whole passes. This Art-whole unfolds 'through forms' (trans-formation); these forms are the Art-manifestations which we see, hear, and in general apprehend with our senses. We apprehend these forms sensorially because they have taken shape in some sort of material, by means of some sort of material instrumentality. Materials change; they are conditioned by geographical surroundings, by economical factors, just as body growth is conditioned by food. Thus forms keep constantly changing; thus no single art, as a separate formal entity, remains unchanging. Painting and music are not fixed entities; neither can they be truly understood as separate units. All arts must be understood as various differentiated aspects, as functional aspects, as organs of the Art-whole. And the transformations of this Art-whole are reflections of the transformations of the Race; if not always positive reflections, then negative ones, shadows of a light sub-limed beyond materials.
The only complete, or nearly complete racial cycle with which we are at all familiar is the Christian European cycle. In a previous essay ("Cycle of Culture and Sacrifice") we stated what we understood by such a cycle historically speaking; we divided it into four great seasons: from 100 B. C. to 400 A. D. - from 400 to 900-from 900 to 1400 - from 1400 to 1900 - such dates being of course only approximate landmarks meant to make our vision more precise. We spoke of the involutionary period of this cycle ending around or before 900 A. D., after Charlemagne who, in a sense, symbolizes the beginning of the evolutionary period. This evolutionary period extends, we might say, between Charlemagne's coronation as Holy Emperor of Christianity and Napoleon's coronation as a symbol of the death of the Christian European Whole.
Charlemagne, by bringing to Paris Irish and Mediterranean Wise Men, gave the impulse to that movement which eventually culminated in the formation of the Universities and the Gothic culture - the only true Christian European culture. Monks followed his armies and laid the foundations for monasteries whence radiated knowledge and spiritual energies. With the year 1000 the involutionary period is completely at an end. The expansive movement of the Crusades is under way; the stem of the European plant has germinated and is violently expanding sunward, eastward, spiritward.
At that time the Primal Unit Ray which was the source of the Christian European Art-whole had become differentiated into many separate images, separate yet all contained as organs within the Body of the Christian spiritual manifestation, i.e. the year-long ritual of Christian life centered in the cathedral. Sacred Art proper, as we defined the term, has become religious Art. Religious Art will become fully differentiated, in full blossom, in the XVth and XVIth centuries, especially when polyphonic music reaches its apex with Palestrina and Vittoria. The summer quarter of the 2000-year cycle has come around 1400 A. D.; the spiritual fecundation which will lead to the formation of the seed within the fruit. After fecundation the plant presents its most glorious aspect; Form is fulfilled; it bears life within. From that moment on crystallization takes place: classicism. The plant begins in fact to die, killed slowly from within by the very seed it nurtures.
The Christian European Art-whole scatters itself more and more as form; that is to say, the various arts emphasizing more and more the value of technique become thereby more and more separate, unrelated. This process may not necessarily take place in all cultures; but it is especially obvious in Europe, as the result of what we already called the failure of the spiritual Renascence of the XVth century. This failure was followed by the worship of Greco-Latin forms, a deadly process from a spiritual point of view, which killed the true European Nordic spirit that had just produced a Shakespeare and in Central Europe a host of great Seekers after Truth.
It is only with the Romantic rebellion against this deadly classicism that the thread of the true European spirit is rediscovered and that a great effort of artistic regeneration is pursued which ends in the Synthetic Drama attempted by Wagner and visualized at a further stage of completeness - probably unrealizable in this era - by Skriabin. The seed-forces are working throughout the XIXth century and today America is confronted with the great fateful possibility and need of a moment of seed-incarnation: the descent of the seed into the ground, the crucifixion of the New Spirit-Impulse into the regenerated matter of a new continent and a new humanity. This seed will be the new "Primal Unit Ray," the initial point of the Art-whole of the future, which we may call American.
The foregoing statements are however quite meaningless unless we understand better what this Art-whole represents in any and all Race cycles, what its source really is and the process whereby it scatters itself into many separate art-forms and art techniques. The nature of the source wherefrom this Artwhole arises, or rather descends, is especially worthy of our consideration, as we are today facing a new originative process, a new Incarnation of the Word - to use an apparently mystical, yet in fact eminently scientific and practical, terminology. As end and beginning meet, the understanding of the nature of the source will enlighten us as to the nature of the culmination. In fact the greatest problem today in Art, and in human thinking and behaviour in general, is to grasp adequately the as yet very mysterious process whereby the culmination of a cycle somehow transforms itself into the beginning of a new one. Whether the Old actually becomes the New, or whether the Old has to give way entirely to an absolutely new Impulse, what this Impulse might be, how it can ever relate itself to the human and esthetic materials at hand during the transition - these are momentous questions which we hope to elucidate somewhat in the following pages.
II. From Unity to Multiplicity
Everyone knows the initial sentences of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among men." It sounds very remote and symbolical because the usual interpretation given to the term 'Word' or Logos is very mystical. However if we should use this term with its ordinary meaning and apply John's statement to what we called the Art-whole of a racial cycle, we would find that a great light has been thrown on our particular problem.
But in order to perceive this special application of the Evangelist's universal statement we must first of all define very carefully the term 'Word'; we must find out all the elements implied in a spoken word-a task simple enough, yet which amazingly few people have ever undertaken.
A word is first and foremost a vocal utterance. It is true that nowadays we have written words which we nearly detach from vocal association, which stand almost solely as intellectual symbols. However it is quite obvious that the written word follows far after the spoken word, and our first task is to find out what are the primordial elements involved in the entity 'word' as soon as it begins to be used by Man.
All vocal utterances however need not be words. The perception of this fact leads us to realize that back of the entity 'word' stands another entity which we ought to call 'animal cry.' A dog or a lion does not utter words; at least their vocal utterances do not present themselves to us with the characteristic attributes of human words. What is an animal cry? It is the immediate sonorous expression of an individualized life - a living being - reacting to inner or outer changes or influences. The animal cries when he is hungry or in heat, or in general when some inner organic disturbance causes a kind of reaction of his life-center. The reaction of the life-center to such an organic disturbance is an emotion. There are organic emotions, and many other kinds of emotions besides. But all emotions are reactions of the life-center, or self, to inner organic disturbances or to outside impacts affecting the senses.
At least some of the emotions (we might possibly say all emotions if we had time to defend such a statement) produce in turn a muscular action, which we call an utterance. The life-center, or self, feels the urge to spread out as it were its agitation. This agitation moves along the path of the efferent nerves, stirring certain muscles into activity, and if these muscles are those connected with the complex vocal apparatus, a cry is produced. This cry manifests outward the emotion felt by the self of the being in reaction to the organic change or sensorial impression. Every self (whether it be an individual self, as in man, or the Species' self, as in the animal kingdom) reacts in its own particular way to organic changes or stimuli, and has therefore certain kinds of emotions of its own. These emotions, their quality and intensity, characterize truly that self, characterize it just as much as the outer form of the body. Thus we may say that the cry of an animal defines the self of that animal species just as well as the particular morphology of its body. The cry defines the emotional self (i.e., the self as a life-energy) ; the bodily form defines the archetypal self (i.e., the self as a life-form).
Human beings being initially animals, it follows that what is true of the animal cry in general is true specifically of human cries: especially of those cries which precede any other vocal utterances which we will have to call words. The cry of a new-born baby is the most characteristic of these animal-human cries. It is the reaction of the life-center of the new born entity to the inrush of air into the lungs; its reaction to the outer world, i.e., its first emotional expression, its first manifestation of self, or in other words the first manifestation of the organism as a wholeness.
Some animals have but simple and non-modulating cries; others under great stress modulate the sound produced to such an extent that real melodisms occur, as for instance with cats during mating time.
The modulating power of the human being, the power to change considerably the timbre and quality of the vocal sounds, is far superior to that of any animal species. It is a manifestation of Man's power of reacting to a vast gamut of impressions and inner changes, of Man's multifarious and infinitely complex emotional life. According to archaic traditions which cannot be discussed here the many vowel-sounds represent or symbolize the various aspects of this emotional life and also the various types of cosmic energy, emotions being to the human being what energies are to Nature, that is to say, power flowing outward, moving on.
The primitive languages are constituted by what we must call animal cries, by all sorts of vocal sounds which the savage correlates on the one hand with the subjects of his impressions, i.e. with natural objects or beings, on the other with certain simple organic disturbances, like hunger, love, anger, etc. In other words, every utterance is a name, because it designates certain familiar images or sensations. Every word of such languages is a name; and usually at first such names are onomatopoeia, imitations and conventionalization of external sounds.
It is very important that one should grasp well all that is implied in this power which men have of naming the objects of their sensations, the many beings and things (at first everything is primarily a being because the savage feels that it acts upon him) which surround him. Let us suppose that man hears the roar of a lion; he hears and sees an entity moving; by experience he knows that fearful characteristics are to be attributed to this entity. It kills. Man living in collectivity extends his sense of self-preservation to preservation of his associates, of his kin. He has seen a lion. He wants to warn his fellow men. He tries to utter the awe-inspiring tone that has become associated in all minds with the lion. The tone arouses a two-fold image in the men assembled; they see, by a process of association of remembrances, the animal; they feel terror. A name has been uttered; this name evokes a sensorial image, the lion; also it arouses an emotion. If the tribesman by united effort manage to kill the lion, a sense of pride and power rises in them. They have power over the lion because they have named it. The naming process enables men to unite the entire strength of the human group - and this, later, includes the whole past and present of humanity - against the foe, against nature. Later on, a further and more abstract extension of the process will enable him to overcome his own inner nature.
We cannot develop this analysis as extensively as would be necessary for a complete grasp of the meaning of the process. It may be sufficient for us to remember that language originally is a series of names; that all words are names, and as such are immediately related to living entities which they designate; that furthermore all word-names are manifestations and symbols of power, the power to overcome nature. That power may just as well be called Mind; it is the power to create significant symbols which give meaning to the world. Giving meaning means, as we saw above, to correlate an external or even internal, image with a certain emotion normally associated with this image; as for instance the correlation of lion-roar with terror. Such an association enables man to overcome that very emotion of terror. Naming the foe is half of the overcoming of it. Even at a later stage of the naming process, when it deals with abstract images pertaining to our innermost nature, to name correctly a fact of consciousness is to come near overcoming it. This is the basis of psychoanalysis. It is the basis in fact of all knowledge. Philosophy, and to a large extent science, has for sole function the naming of experiences, thereby enabling men to face such experiences with the united strength of the whole of humanity. Scientific laws are essentially the names of certain well defined sets of experiences.
When Mind develops in man, with it grows his power of activity. He dares more. He dares to relate himself with an ever increasing range of natural conditions and stresses. This forces him not only to name separate experiences with single vocal utterances, but to find a way of defining the relationship between series of experiences. The idea of Law grows out of such relating; as a result syntax develops, and intellectualized languages. In the process of relating, the single separate experience loses some of its importance; what counts more and more is the sequence and relation between experiences.
Thus every name becomes less and less onomatopoeic; the sense of pure vowels develops; vowels being conventionalized cries, in a sense. Names become conventionalized into words; these words become linked to each other by means of words which have no name-value but are mere symbols of relationship, of movement, of direction (in space or time). As syntax increases in importance the power-import of words - as single names - decreases. Eventually that magical element disappears altogether. Words become pure intellectual symbols.
When language was composed exclusively of names, because these names were immediate expressions of emotions they had power, they had life. Series of names were thus Poems. All early languages are in fact continual poems. Speech was nothing but poetic uttering, because it aroused immediate life- emotions. It was evocative of life-states, of states of consciousness. When language became intellectualized and thus divorced from the immediacy of life-responses all sentences became prose. Then a special effort had to be made whenever this immediacy of life-response had to be rearoused; words had to be selected, or sequences of words which would somehow reawaken this immediate emotional state, this life-response in the hearer. Such selected words were called poetic. Poem means etymologically creation; words were 'poetic' because they had, by proper selection, regained that 'creative' power of living-experience which once they had-when they were names. Poetry is the art of reinstating words in their original function as names.
But let us now return to names themselves and analyze what takes place when the mere vocal utterance becomes a name. What makes of a vocal utterance a name is the fact that an image is evoked in the hearer's consciousness when the vocal tone is heard. It is this fact which introduces into the vocal sound the element of meaning. A word is a vocal tone into which a meaning has incarnated, or more simply to which a particular image is spontaneously associated.
Thus, if we forget for the present the subsequent, but not always necessary process, by means of which the evoked image produces an emotion in the hearer, we find that a word is a vocal tone plus an image. This image may be anything from a definite material vision to the most remote sort of symbolic representation; but an image there must be, for without image there can be no meaning (no significance), and without meaning there can be no word. A meaningless word cannot exist; the moment a vocal tone is meaningless it ceases to be a word for the hearer of it, even if it is a word for the utterer. It is a mere vocal tone.
This then defines the elements constituting poetry, the art of associating words in such a manner that these words (singly or collectively) may rouse in the hearer an immediate life-response, that the hearer realize them as names; not necessarily names of objective things, but rather names of experience in consciousness, which experience must needs be somehow generative of emotions, subtle as these may be. A poem is a series of vocal tones to which are associated images having the power to arouse direct life-responses.
This power of arousing direct life-response comes as the result of the motivating power that brought about the poem. The name lion, in our previous example, brought terror to the tribesmen because the namer had experienced terror as a result of the special relationship between lion and other men, a relationship he had witnessed. In that name there was latent what we might call a 'poetic action'; just as much as an epic poem is pervaded, impregnated by the emotion-inspiring actions of the hero. In the name lion is included for the primitive man of the desert the dramatic fact, an experienced fact, that lion!! kill men; that is to say the special relationship between lion and man.
Such a relationship constitutes the Action of the poem whether this relation involves man and beast, or planets and stars, or abstract entities. In the name, therefore in the series of names which we call poem, are included three basic elements: TONE, or vibration-IMAGE, or form-ACTION, or a life- experience.
The important point to realize is that these three elements are to be found not only in a name or poem, but in the Artwhole at any stage of its development. It is so because these three elements, vibration, form and relationship are the very basic trinity of Life in any form. The name contains them because in the name, or the mystic Word of the Gospel, the whole of life is contained. The name is the first synthetic manifestation of life; it is the seed which is in the beginning. Likewise poetry, in its initial race-meaning, is the first point of the Art-whole, this Primal Unit-Ray - in the realm of culture - of which we spoke before. Poetry as the magical utterance of names, as the sacred incantation which antedates religion and culture, is the fountainhead of all subsequent art-manifestations which are really human, that is, in which Meaning incarnates, in which Man overcomes nature. In the beginning is the Word, the sacred Name which characterizes the very rhythm, form and capacity for relationship of the Race uttering it through its inspired mouthpiece, the Adept or Bard. This Word becomes the sacred Poem, just as in India it is said that the sacred Word AUM becomes the Gayatri (the most sacred incantation of India, a sort of hymn to the Sun in all its aspects) and the Gayatri becomes the 4 Vedas (the foundation of Hinduism as a mode of living) and the Vedas become all subsequent knowledge and culture.
That this is, from the cultural point of view historically true, cannot be denied. The successive development of art-forms are similar in all races, and we can see easily how from the initial unity (the Poem) arises the multiplicity of the arts. Either it is the Words of the Spiritual Teacher (as they give significance to his deeds) which become the basis of sacred ceremonies symbolizing his life-message and life-drama, or it is the epic poem intoned by the Bard which becomes refracted as it were into several art-manifestations. In both cases it is the significant and symbolical deeds and words of some great Person which constitute the Action element of the poem. The vocal tones of the Intoner energize the images which the words evoke in the hearers; the emotion of greatness, the enthusiasm which urges the hearers to become similar to the Hero whose impersonal Actions are thus chanted, radiate from the Bard. For a few moments by a sort of art-magic, he identifies himself with the Hero, as the Priest identifies himself with the Son of God.
The three elements of Action, Tone and Image are synthetized in the person of the Bard or of the Hierophant Priest who become temporary incarnations of the universal Person. Through the Bard the energy of the life of the great Self seems again to flow, just as the Catholic Priest theoretically becomes in the Mass the channel for the Christ-force. Thus the Primal Impulse of the Cycle of manifestation is revitalized and the collectivity of hearers or communicants re-energized by the outpouring of Power. The Art-whole is there active and radiating through one inspired person, Bard or Priest; it is active in its spiritual aspect, because it functions as a unity. The form through which this Art-whole finds expression is the Body of one great person; it therefore must be an organic form, a form of wholeness. The Power of Wholeness radiates there through, immediately, forcefully.
In all the preceding we have only considered vocal utterances or Words, for in them we find intrinsically the element of meaning which characterizes the human plane. But as these words, in the initial type of poem or sacred chant, have as subject-matter essentially the deeds of one great Person, it follows that these deeds presuppose a basis of body-motions or actions. The images conveyed by the words may usually be at least suggested by body movements; and as the Bard becomes momentarily identified with the Hero, he naturally is led to perform, in some more or less conventionalized manner, gestures which evoke in a still more impressive and striking manner the Hero's deeds.
In other words the Bard becomes a dancer, a mime; he enacts over and over again the Hero's deeds, just as the Catholic priest enacts ever-repeatedly the Passion of Jesus in the symbolic ritual, just as hierophants and participants in archaic Mysteries enacted the story of the Soul incarnation into matter and of its reascent to the spiritual realms.
Soon, when great Bards disappear and the race loses spiritual contact with the Primal Impulse that propelled the cycle into existence, and the great spiritual Person becomes a distant Image and his deeds like fairy-tales, this primordial unity of the Art-whole begins to scatter. The three elements contained in the poem (Action, Image, Tone) are drawn apart by the exigencies of technical perfection, by the earth-pull of their own material we might say. Then we have what is called in India SAMGITA, a combination of more or less intoned poetry, instrumental music and dancing. The One Ray has broken into many images, as was said before.
Poetry developing the element of meaningfulness, of intelligibility ceases to be a sonorous rhythmical sequence of names; it becomes an exposition of facts; the form of words becomes more important as the life-power inherent in names vanishes. Rhymes, assonances and various rhythmical patterns develop. Likewise instrumental technique in music and dancing emphasize the element of form, of esthetical meaning in opposition to the magical meaning which once had been the basis of the unified energic performance of the Bard.
Religious ceremonies grow more complex. They require a special locale to be performed in. The vault of the sky is too vast for esthetical or even religious purposes. The dome of a church feels more comfortable to performers reduced to the purely human stage of earthly personalities. Architecture develops to separate the microcosmic performance of mere humans from the macrocosmic deeds of Life itself chanting its sacred utterances through infinite Space. Energy crystallizes into form. The Presence of the great Person being no longer felt within by the Bard or Priest, or their professional heirs, men long to see the august features of the departed Prophet. Painting and sculpture develop within the church or temple; or eventually on the walls of the King's palace -ultimately of every little prince's or wealthy merchant's house.
When the Art-whole leaves the cathedral or temple, when Mysteries become theatrical dramas, the separation of the arts and of their techniques reaches a maximum. Every art in almost absolute isolation begins then to incorporate within itself the elements of other arts, and a slow process of synthesis - a synthesis of the wrong kind really - takes place. Music, widow of words which makes images immediately significant, must find significance in what it calls 'musical form,' thus drawing considerably from decorative spatial arts. Painting yearns to be dramatic and enriched by Action and evolves a symbolical third dimension. Sculpture twists itself around and becomes not only dramatic but 'colorful'. Poetry eventually reaches toward pure music so-called. Every art tries to become somewhat of an Art-Whole in itself. It grows by the efforts of great but one-sided Persons stamping proudly their own limits on the esthetical material. Personal originality triumphs together with technical mastery. The reign of material and matter-inspired achievements follows the reign of involving Power, of the incarnating Spirit.
For awhile the Art-whole remains somewhat coherent in spite of inner heterogeneity when overshadowed by religion and communal spirit. But an ever-increasing individualism scatters away the many fragments. Yet at the same time homogenizing forces are working from within each separate art. The curve of cultural disintegration in the outer world runs parallel but in opposite direction to the curve of integration in the inner world. Where multiplicity predominates, there, unmanifest as yet, can be found the slow increasing pressure which will force the new Unity to incarnate. While materials scatter themselves away, the creative inspiration tends toward a condition of greater unification. This pull toward unity in the midst of a disintegrating world of esthetic materials manifests in Europe as the Romantic movement, especially in its apex the Wagnerian Music-Drama.
III. The Meaning of the Synthetic Drama
At the beginning of this study we quoted a sentence outlining the universal scheme of cyclic evolution. Its last part was a follows: "From one Unit Ray to countless reflected images and on to the Image which reproduces in perfection the Primal Unity." We have seen how the Art-whole which manifests at the beginning of the cycle as a single unified expression of Power becomes slowly differentiated into the many arts. Each one of these arts, especially after leaving the: unifying envelope of the cathedral or temple, attempts to incorporate in itself as much of the wholeness of the Art-whole as is possible. It tries to become one of the "countless reflected images" of the Unit Ray, a complete manifestation of the! cultural life of the Race.
The result is that at a certain time we witness the existence of. several arts each of which is trying to be a whole, or rather the whole colored by the technical limitations or characteristics of the materials used. Such attempts at separate wholeness are obviously bound to end in impasses. Music can incorporate so much of the technique and sense of decorative arts, so much of the ideal of form-development that it loses altogether the sense of Tone and destroys altogether the connection between Tone and Life. A music of patterns, a music all-contained in a score which may never be played, i.e. realized in actual tones, is no longer music. It has lost the element of tone and exaggerated that of form. Or else, as descriptive music so-called, it has given too much value to the element of significance as imagery. Or else as a combination of leit-motive, which takes the place of words or names, it absorbs into itself the total meaningfulness which normally would pertain to poetry.
The same is true of painting in its attempt to become three-dimensional and dramatic, and ultimately to absorb musical elements; true of all the arts. The substance of these arts becomes perverted (that is, turned around, uncentered, ungeared) by these attempts at incorporating unnatural elements. The true techniques, which are the immediate and limited expressions of the particular material used by the particular Art-expressions, are forced and complicated into virtuosistic performances which defeat their own purpose.
When such a condition prevails various attempts are made to bring about a synthesis of the arts and to reconstitute somehow the unity of the Art-whole, that is to say to correlate the many Art-manifestations within the frame of some realization in which each art finds its own place. Such a realization intended to supplant esthetical particularism must of necessity involve some sort of communal feeling and participation. In other words, individualistic arts have little chance to unite unless individualistic human beings themselves come together for some communal purpose. Such communal purpose made Gothic Art possible. Art on a communal basis appears usually as religious Art: i.e., etymologically Art that "binds back" men into unity. Christianity kept the unity of the European Art-whole unbroken for many centuries. The Renaissance scattered the arts. Romanticism was essentially an attempt to reunite everything which the Renaissance had broken asunder; but to reunite on a different basis. The religion of Man was to take the place of the religion of the Church. The dignity and creativeness of Man had to be reinstated; also the dignity of the artist.
One aspect of the mission of Liszt was to establish the nobility of Artists, to transform the servant of princes into the lover of princesses. But this conquest of the aristocratic woman by the despised musician meant more than superficial scandal lovers may want to admit. It meant that Artists were the equals of kings. To the old motto "Noblesse oblige" Liszt answered by his motto "Genie oblige." This was the practical application of the religion of Man, of the religion of Love and Brotherhood-even if the over-emotionalism of the period often made things look quite bad.
But the reason that things became so extreme and so chaotic was that the substance of human relationship had been perverted for many long centuries; revolutionary violence in France followed eras of oppression; the lack of balance in Wagner's music-dramas which intellectualize music and render words unintelligible is due to the fact that he was heir to esthetic substances which had been perverted by centuries of false individualism. The failure of the Wagnerian drama, if such is to be admitted, is due to the fatality of his century, to the weight of European tradition, of an artistic heritage which could not at once be shaken down, and which rendered any true Art-synthesis impossible; just as it made of Wagner's attempts to create the new Mysteries of the religion of Love and of Man often time near-comical.
In other words, we see the process of integration going on throughout the Romantic period and after; the will-to-integration is strong, but the various Art-substances to be integrated are such that they make integration nearly impossible. Before integration is really possible a rigorous process of regeneration is necessary. All esthetical materials, all techniques, all Art-substances must be regenerated ere a new insubstantiation of the Spirit can take place.
The worship of Greco-Latin mummies and esthetical skeletons or spooks perverted the stream of European culture at the time of the so-called Renaissance. Racine obliterated Shakespeare and classical France sealed the doom of European civilization; even the French revolution could not repair the wrong and Napoleon had to complete the destruction. The Romantics from Goethe and Schiller to Wagner attempted to continue the Gothic and Alchemical-Rosicrucian spirit vivified by a consciousness somewhat freed from the shackles of catholicism. But three centuries of perversion and ossification cannot be undone so easily. Wagner's attempts at a Synthetic Drama, at unifying once more the elements of tone, meaning and form within a dramatic action of universal significance, fell short of the mark; while Skriabin's dream of still greater and more spiritual Mysteries was cut short by his premature death at the time when the war proved the collapse of European culture altogether.
The Synthetic Drama of European civilization remained still to be manifested, and probably will remain unperformed, at least as far as the public is concerned. For this reason it seems improbable that Europe can ever be unified save in death, beyond the possibility of Art-manifestation.
We might be asked: but what is then the use of speaking of Synthetic Drama and in which way does the problem of Art-synthesis affect us? The answer is that the Synthetic Drama is a potential reality, an Archetype, whether or not the humanity of the end of a cycle is true enough to its own basic key-note to manifest it publicly. Nature's aim, to refer once more to our initial quotation, is to bring out an "Image which reproduces in perfection the Primal Unity." But this aim must not necessarily be adequately fulfilled. It is of the nature of every plant to culminate in seed; but some plants may never bloom, or the seed may decay within the fruit under adverse conditions. The trend toward synthesis is inescapable; but the actual synthesis may be as yet a very imperfect Image - just as Parsifal is probably a somewhat imperfect Image of the great Gnostic Mysteries of the early centuries of Christianity.
It is imperfect, from a spiritual point of view let us not forget, essentially because the hearers are not really participants in the mystery-drama. The Wagnerian drama is imperfect, not because of Wagner, but because of the level of consciousness of the race to which he was sent, because of the quality of esthetical materials evolved by this race in the centuries preceding Wagner. An Artist as such can never reach beyond his race and the basic limitations of the material which he is compelled to use. He is the fruition; he is bound by the racial past. He brings significance to that which is. He cannot build that which is not.
Skriabin's vision of the great 'Mystery,' which he was working toward when death overtook him, was a vision of the true Synthetic Drama of the cycle then ending. In it there were to be no passive spectators; but it was to be a re-creation of the old Gnostic Mysteries on a larger communal scale. He understood the futility of attempting to produce such a thing in Europe. It is said he hoped it could eventually be performed in India. But at present India is no more ready for it than Europe.
What Skriabin's Mystery would have required is essentially a group of spiritually polarized human beings working together as a brotherhood and expressing their deep realization of Wholeness through such a co-creative manifestation; human beings mentally free from the intellectual thralldom of scholastic europeanism, emotionally free from the feudal attitude and the sense of ownership, physically regenerated by a proper kind of bodily activity and behavior.
The only basis on which the Synthetic Drama can ever be built is a brotherhood of Living Men, just as the basis for the manifestation of the Word-in-the- beginning (the primal unity of the Art-whole) is a Living Person, an Incarnation of the Race-Soul, a true Adept or Christ-like being.
In other words Art cannot be separated from Life, when Art is a direct manifestation of the Unity of the Race-Soul. The Art-whole, whether of the race beginning (when emanating from a great creative Person or Avatar) or of the race end (when the synthetic efflorescence of a brotherhood), depends on human perfection. The perfected "Image" is only when Man has reached at least the sense of and the will to perfection, when Man is polarized consciously toward Wholeness which is Spirit.
It is only during the middle period of the race growth, when the Art-whole is scattered into technique-haunted arts, that estheticism prevails; that arts are almost unrelated to Man and Life and are mere personal expressions or formal achievements. But then of course it really reflects a humanity which has no central consciousness, which is a mere agglomeration of fighting egos finding in the arts a relaxation from the empty though strenuous daily routine of work, a pastime, an evasion of life.
Art-of-the-beginning and Art-of-the-end, because they are manifestations of Unity (whether in the involutionary or the evolutionary stages, whether as a Root or as a Seed) are spiritual manifestations. Where the Race, as a whole or in some of its more especially perfected parts, is not able to live on the plane of Unity, there the Synthetic Drama must always be a half-failure. It is a failure wherever it does not release spiritual Power, wherever it has not the power to regenerate men who have become communicants in it. And let us not forget that opium does not regenerate in spite of the wondrous visions and feelings it often produces; that religion, in its organized form, does act like a sort of psychic opiate.
What then are we to do in this day and age? Must we give up all attempts at bringing forth a true Synthetic Drama?
Is the death of Skriabin, of the only one perhaps who had seen the total vision of the Synthetic Drama, a symbolic fatality which must confront those who may come and receive the same vision? Can the many arts of today be brought together under the power of some great communal inspiration? If so what can be the technical as well as the motivating basis for such a coming together?
We can but sketch out in a few paragraphs our answer to such momentous questions.
It is probably true that the Christian European cycle is ending; but it is not improbable that the coming cycle might be a direct prolongation of it, the distinction between both being essentially a change of fundamental meaning. The meaning of official Europe has been separative, feudal, competitive, analytical and materialistic. Such a meaning characterizes europeanism as an attitude to life. The future era might give to somewhat the same life-facts which confront the Western world the meaning of wholeness, of communalism, cooperation, group organization, brotherhood, etc.
The great value of Keyserling's philosophy is that it posits this change of meaning as the fundamental reality, the one duty confronting the Western world. His emphasis on what he calls the 'polyphonic way of thinking,' and probably also behaving, indicates a road which the arts might do well to follow. The Synthetic Drama depends on the development of a technique of esthetic counterpoint. Every art must needs develop as a line, yet all these lines have to be known as a wholeness of life, have to be so presented as to be easily integrated into a whole. And the very first condition to make possible such a counterpoint of arts is that every art must be strictly limited to its own technique and must no longer attempt to incorporate in itself elements which belong to other art-manifestations.
For instance as long as music is primarily preoccupied with the ideal of form, which is not musical but decorative or plastic, as long as it deals with line rather than with tone, as long as it is not almost entirely a tremendous outpouring of energy and power, a magical force rather than a play of patterns, just so long will a true synthesis of arts be an impossibility. As long as the dance does not deal essentially with organic rhythm and the flow of significant activity and remains a series of artificial patterns or a mimicry, just so long will it conflict with other artistic elements. As long as words or poetry have not found their own place as the seed of significance in such a synthesis, this synthesis will not be truly equilibrated.
The first task is the regeneration of the substance of all arts. And this is the task which in fact preoccupies the real progressive Arts in the Western world (and they are few indeed!). The materials of the arts, their techniques, their characteristic forms must be regenerated. All attempts at synthesis prior to such a regeneration are almost worse than useless. And the regeneration today is far from complete. Music has been undergoing the regenerative process, and especially the first act of such a process, which means destruction, for quite a few years. So also architecture and some of the plastic arts, which ought of course essentially to be reincorporated in architecture. The dance is struggling in the midst of the crisis. As with other arts, European pioneers have worked efficiently to destroy the old forms and techniques; what they created however is nearly always permeated with this atrnosphere of disintegration and decay. It lacks vitality and its magnetism is rather unhealthy, un-whole. But a few pioneers have come in America who are, more or less starting from such a destruction, building a new dance-substance. The case of the dance is especially interesting because more significant American-born figures have arisen in this field than perhaps in other fields of Art; Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, Ruth St. Denis have done pioneering work of universal significance; and now personalities like Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and a few others, are doing most crucial and important work in this regeneration of the substance of dancing.
Are these pioneering creators in all arts reaching toward a new Art-synthesis? They are bound to do so, deliberately or not. For once the new Art-substances are evolved it becomes quite obvious that they do not fit into the moulds of European performances. The new music sounds ridiculous and meaningless in a concert hall; the new drama calls for a new theatre; the new dance longs for new surroundings and a free relationship to music and dramatic action. Beside this, the conditions of performance, from a social financial standpoint, are tragically absurd. Commercialism has completed the destruction of the spirit of devotion to Art, the spirit of real participation in the performance. The public comes to it in search of sensation rather than prepared to experience life as and through Art. The greatest need perhaps of the New Art is a new public, the greatest need of the Artists is a consciousness of their true relationship with their public. The Artist has ceased to consider himself a provider of Spiritual Food, an arouser of dynamic Power; he has ceased to consider his position as an 'office,' himself as an officiant. He thinks but of expressing himself, but of releasing forces which he cannot handle within himself. Why such a releasing? He does not care to consider. He does not face deliberately and willingly his spiritual duty to the Race. Thus he does not attempt to mould the Race, to gather around his work the proper public for this work. He sells his wares. He is no longer a Messenger of life, attracting by the very example of his own living, human beings to the Message of which he is the bearer.
When the Artist will feel in himself a new duty, a new responsibility and emerge from the mire of self-complacency and self-indulgence into the trusteeship of Life-bearer; when a few will gather around him and both they and he will commune in some great spiritual realization, then a sort of Art-brotherhood will be constituted. Such a brotherhood or sodality is the absolutely essential condition for the perfect fulfillment of the true Synthetic Drama. Only, if Synthetic Drama it really is, the brotherhood ought to encompass the whole of a community or commune, and eventually the whole of Humanity.
The Synthetic Drama is thus an Ideal of perfected Humanity; it is the culmination of Man. And such is very, very far off indeed. Yet whenever a race cycle ends, the urge toward attempting some such Art-synthesis become powerfully felt, at least by the few. We have to face the duty involved by such an urge. Some deliberate steps must be taken toward even so incomplete a fulfillment as it is in our power to bring forth in this era.
Let us state only more that it is our belief that Europe, that is, Western Europe, has ceased to be the possible soil on which true synthetic attempts can be made. Whether Russia may ever lead parts of Asia toward some such sort of spiritual Art-synthesis seems rather doubtful. Yet it may very well happen, and we must take notice of the great Bahai Movement, originating in Persia, which may possibly become the world religion of the coming era, if certain signs are to be believed in. The Bahais have already begun the erection of a great Temple in Chicago, striking in its architecture, and in which rituals of a definitely synthetic nature are to be performed, in time. It may be that we see there the beginning of a new type of ritual which after many vicissitudes and centuries of development may lead to a new Art-whole embracing more or less the whole of humanity. The spirit of the Bahai movement, proclaimed in 1844 and stated more fully years later, certainly brought out the main truths of the coming era. The history of the Movement presents all the materials required for a world-religion; and the first artistic manifestation of the faith-the Chicago Temple, the model of which was built inspirationally-is certainly a very significant one, constituted as it is by an effective synthesis of the most characteristic religious styles of the past.
We did not mention this however to proselytize in favor of a Bahai Art; far from it. It came to our mind merely in order to point out how some great synthesizing Movement might already be with us today which would eventually provide a suitable religious womb for the generation of future Artwholes. But again there is a world of difference between Religious and Sacred Art, as there is between even the purest type of devotional religion (which Bahaism is so far) and really "human" spirituality.
And we believe that the deepest duty confronting Artists today is to bring forth symbolical utterances emanating this really human spirituality. This can be accomplished only if the Artists themselves are tuned to their own spiritual Centers, only if they themselves become to some extent, actually if not necessarily in full mental consciousness, incarnations of the God within.
This does not mean that they must be "good"; certainly not that they should link themselves with any religion or organized sect. But only that they should act out the source of their highest inspirations in their own lives: that they should accept the gospel of their own responsibilty to the human Race; that they be willing to work unceasingly and honestly toward the mastery of their own materials, including the material of their own lives.
Such Artists would then become Civilizers in truth. And to the understanding of what is meant by the latter term we shall devote our next essay.
But let us end by pointing out once more that even the greatest living Man, the most universal Incarnation of Spirit and Truth is powerless without a group through which Power may radiate and differentiate. The term 'group' is very much in the fore today. People often believe that there is a mysterious virtue in the coming together of a few human beings; that more truth can be reached by ten men than by one man, whatever the ten men or the single man are. We shall discuss that subject next year. We may say however that a group is like an ovum; it needs to be fecundated. The fecundator is always a single Person, a single vivifying Spirit-cell; single not in the sense of being an isolated "I," but in the sense of being a focus of emanation for the world of Truth.
When an Artist becomes such a focalization of Spirit he becomes an Incarnation of the Race-Soul. He thus gains the power to deal with the Art-whole as a whole; to be a synthesizer. If that special public can be found whose potential function it is to be the receptive (yet not passive) pole of the Great Work, then the Synthetic Drama may become a fact. It will be a fact and a fulfillment in proportion as this public can be such a receptive pole. Such Synthetic Drama, if thus realized and made actual, will be a true Seed: the supreme and ultimate manifestation of the perfect Image of MAN.
Art as Release of Power