The Candle of Vision

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The Candle of Vision

By by AE (George William Russell)

Have Imaginations Body?

IN the literature of science I read of marvellously delicate instruments devised to make dear to the intellect the mode of operation of forces invisible to the eye, how Alpha rays, Gamma rays, or the vibrations in metal or plant are measured, and I sigh for some device to aid the intellect in solving difficult problems of psychology. I ask myself how may I ascertain with a precision of knowledge which would convince others whether the figures of vision, imagination or dream are two or three dimensional. The figures cast on the screen in a theatre are on the flat, but have all the illusion of motion, distance, shadow, light and form. The figures of human memory I am content to accept as being in two dimensions. They are imprinted by waves of light on the retina, and cast upon some screen in the brain. But I am forced by my own experience and that of others to believe that nature has a memory, and that it is accessible to us. But this memory cannot be recorded as ours through bodily organs of sight or hearing, nor can imagination make clear to me how any medium could exist in nature which would reflect upon itself as a mirror reflects, or as human vision reflects, an impression intelligible to us of what is passing. If there were such a medium, acting as a mirror to nature or life, and retaining the impression, it must be universal as the supposed æther of the scientist; and how could impressions on this medium intelligible to us be focussed as the vibrations of light are through the needlepoint of the eye to record a single view-point? In our visions of the memory of nature we see undistorted figures. If we could imagine the whole body to be sensitive to light, as is that single point in the brain on which the optic nerves converge, what kind of vision would we have? The earth under foot, objects right, left, above and below, would all clamour in various monstrous shapes for attention. The feet would see from one angle, the hands from another, back and front would confuse us; so I cannot imagine the recording power in nature as reflecting like a mirror, and retaining and recording the impressions. But we have another mode of memory in ourselves which might suggest the mode of memory in nature, that by which our subjective life is recorded. Mood, thought, passion, ecstasy, all are preserved for us, can be summoned up and re-created. How is this memory maintained? Are we continuously casting off by way of emanation an image of ourselves instant by instant, infinitesimally delicate but yet complete? Is every motion of mind and body preserved so that a complete facsimile, an effigy in three dimensions, exists of every moment in our being. Is the memory of nature like that? Is it by a continuous emanation of itself it preserves for itself its own history? Does this hypothesis lay too heavy a burden on the substance of the universe as we know it? I do not like to use arguments the validity of which I am not myself able to establish. But I might recall that an eminent thinker in science, Balfour Stewart, supposed of the æther that there was a continual transference of energy to it from the visible universe, and that this stored-up energy might form the basis of an immortal memory for man and nature.

The conception did not lay too heavy a burden on matter as he imagined it. But what is matter? Is it not pregnant every atom of it with the infinite? Even in visible nature does not every minutest point of space reflect as a microcosm the macrocosm of earth and heaven? This minute point of space occupied by my eye as I stand on the mountain has poured into it endless vistas of manifolded mountains, vales, woods, cities, glittering seas, clouds and an infinite blueness. Wherever I move, whether by rays or waves of light, from the farthest star to the nearest leaf with its complexity of vein and tint, there comes to that pinpoint of space, the eye, a multitudinous vision. If every pin-point of external space is dense yet not blind with immensity, what more miracle of subtlety, of ethereal delicacy, could be affirmed of matter and be denied because it strains belief? In that acorn which lies at my feet there is a tiny cell which has in it a memory of the oak from the beginning of earth, and a power coiled in it which can beget from itself the full majestic being of the oak. From that tiny fountain by some miracle can spring another cell, and cell after cell will be born, will go on dividing, begetting, building up from each other unnumbered myriads of cells, all controlled by some mysterious power latent in the first, so that in an hundred years they will, obeying the plan of the tiny architect, have built up "the green-robed senators of mighty woods." There is nothing incredible in the assumption that every cell in the body is wrapped about with myriad memories. He who attributes least mystery to matter is furthest from truth, and he nighest who conjectures the Absolute to be present in fullness of being in the atom. If I am reproached for the supposition that the soul of earth preserves memory of itself by casting off instant by instant enduring images of its multitudinous life. I am only saying of nature in its fullness what visible nature is doing in its own fashion without cessation. What problem of mind, vision, imagination or dream do I solve by this hypothesis? I have been perplexed as an artist by the obedience of the figures of imagination to suggestion from myself. Let me illustrate my perplexity. I imagine a group of white-robed Arabs standing on a sandy hillock and they seem of such a noble dignity that I desire to paint them. With a restlessness akin to that which makes a portrait-painter arrange and rearrange his sitter, until he gets the pose which satisfies him, I say to myself, "I wish they would raise their arms above their heads," and at the suggestion all the figures in my vision raise their hands as if in salutation of the dawn. I see other figures in imagination which attract me as compositions. There may be a figure sitting down and I think it would compose better if it was turned in another direction, and that figure will obey my suggestion, not always, but at times it will; and again and again when I who paint almost entirely from what is called imagination, and who never use models, watch a figure in my vision it will change its motions as I will it. Now this is to me amazing. The invention and actual drawing of the intricate pattern of light and shade involved by the lifting of the hands of my imaginary Arabs would be considerable. My brain does not by any swift action foresee in detail the pictorial consequences involved by the lifting of arms, but yet by a single wish, a simple mental suggestion, the intricate changes are made in the figures of imagination as they would be if real Arabs stood before me and raised their hands at my call. If I ask a crowd of people to whom I speak to change their position so that they may the better hear me I am not astonished at the infinite complexity of the change I bring about, because I realise that the will in each one has mastery over the form by some miracle, and the message runs along nerve and muscle, and the simple wish brings about the complex change. But how do I lay hold of the figures in dream or imagination? By what miracle does the simple wish bring about the complex changes? It may now be seen why I asked for some means by which I might ascertain whether the forms in dream or imagination are two or three dimensional. If they are on the flat, if they are human memories merely, vibrations of stored-up sunlight fixed in some way in the brain as a photograph is fixed, the alteration of these by a simple wish involves incredibilities. I find Freud, referring to a dream he had, saying carelessly that it was made up by a combination of memories, but yet the architecture of the dream seemed to be coherent and not a patchwork. It had motion of its own. Wonderful. indeed, that the wonder of what was written about so easily was not seen! How could we imagine even the mightiest conscious artistic intelligence, with seership into all the memories of a life, taking the vibrations which constituted this hand, and adjusting them to the vibrations which made that other arm, or even taking the vibrations which registered a complete figure and amending these so that the figure moved with different gestures from the first gestures recorded as memory? If such a picture was made up even from life-size images it would be a patchwork and the patches would show everywhere. But the dream figure or the figure of imagination will walk about with authentic motions and undistorted anatomies. Does not the effort to imagine such recombinations even by the mightiest conscious intellect involve incredibilities? At least it is so with the artist who watches form with a critical eye. How much greater the incredibility if we suppose there was no conscious artist, but that all this authentic imagery of imagination or dream came together without an intelligence to guide it? But how do we better matters if we assume that the figures in dream or imagination are three dimensional, and that they have actual body and organisation however ethereal, delicate or subtle? If they are shadows or effigies emanated from living organisms, and are complete in their phantasmal nature within and without it is possible to imagine life laying hold of them. It is conceivable that the will may direct their motions even as at a word of command soldiers will turn and march. That is why I suggest that the memory of nature may be by way of emanation or shadow of life and form, and why when we see such images they are not the monstrous complexities they would be if they were reflections on some universal æther spread everywhere taking colour from everything at every possible angle and remaining two dimensional. The hypothesis that everything in nature, every living being, is a continuous fountain of phantasmal effigies of itself would explain the way in which ruins build up their antique life to the eye of the seer, so that he sees the people of a thousand years ago in their cities which are now desolate, and the dark-skinned merchants unrolling their bales in the market, and this is why they appear as some one has said, "thinking the thought and performing the deed." If we have access to such memories, and if they have organism within as well as without, can we not imagine will or desire of ours constraining them? Can we not imagine such forms swept into the vortex of a dreaming soul swayed by the sea of passion in which they exist and acting according to suggestion? And if we suppose that a deeper being of ours has wider vision than the waking consciousness, and can use the memories, not only of this plane of being, but of the forms peculiar to mid-world and heaven-world, this might help to solve some of the perplexities aroused in those who are intent and vigilant observers of their own dreams and imaginations. Continually in my analysis of the figures I see I am forced to follow them beyond the transitory life I know and to speculate upon the being of the Ever Living. I think there is no half-way house between the spiritual and the material where the intellect can dwell; and if we find we have our being in a universal life we must alter our values, change all our ideas until they depend upon and are in harmony with that sole cause of all that is.



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