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Emerson: The Oversoul
Emerson: The Poet
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am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful---
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
Sylvia Plath's "Mirror" and "In Plaster"
I In Mirror, Plath's ego consciousness again investigates the forces of her psyche. The mirror may be understood as the sum total of conscious and unconscious memory because it faithfully records the experiences of her life. The conscious ego may not be able to access all the data recorded in the mirror, but the mirror continually rays out the ego's sense of self. That sense of self is constructed from the information that is so meticulously recorded. The mirror covers, membrane-like, the psychic-spiritual reality of the total self. It is the gateway to the higher, archetypal self. This higher self is an evolutionary goal and equivalent to the archetypal Christ.The membrane, gateway quality is reflected in Plath's use of the word "eye" and the Christ-like quality is suggested by "four-cornered God". According to C.G. Jung , "Christ exemplifies the archetype of the self. He represents a totality of a divine or heavenly kind, a glorified man, a son of God sine macula peccati, unspotted by sin."8 Christ is the Lord of the Tetramorph-he sits in the center of the four symbols of the Evangelists. His throne rests on four columns.9
The mirror also maintains its own murmuring "Double" consciousness. It seems most fulfilled when the lower ego turns inward and seeks self knowledge. When the lower ego turns outward and away from self awareness, enticed by " those liars, the candles or the moon" , the mirror meditates on space and time and the rhythmic routines of the lower self and absorbs these activities into the Sun of its own heart. The mirror seems pained by the separation between the archetypal self and the day to day personality.
"Now I am a lake"-- now the mirror reveals its fluidic nature where memory and thought are embedded in the swirling life force. Life is the carrier of memory and the poet attempts to search the depths for her own reflection and to even penetrate beyond the reflection and go through the mirror to merge with her essential self. Again and again the poet looks away. She is not able to maintain the concentration necessary in this present Picean epoch (the fish).She is constantly distracted by the lesser lights.
"I see her back, and reflect it faithfully"--the mirror has perfect knowledge and awareness of the poet's shadow side. When the poet attempts to merge with her higher self the mirror shows her her own shadow causing "..tears and an agitation of hands". The poet-initiate must reconcile Christ and Antichrist.
Jung, in discussing the psychological necessity of the Christ-Antichrist dichotomy, refers to the picture of Christ crucified between the two thieves, "This great symbol tells us that the progressive development and differentiation of consciousness leads to an ever more menacing awareness of the conflict and involves nothing less than a crucifixion of the ego, its agonizing suspension betwen irreconcilable opposites."10 (my emphasis)
The Mirror is the door between macrocosm and microcosm. It lives within the poet absorbing all that enters her being and it provides the poet with the link to her archetypal Christ-self. It protects the poet from any illusions about herself , but this truthful mirroring can devastate the poet when she honestly confronts her double. Confrontation with this double being is a source of incredible psychic pain but of course it is absolutely necessary for the development of self knowledge and the furthering of human evolution.
Plath's achievement here cannot be overstated; many writers have confronted the double or shadow self, but Plath actually manages to take the point of view of the ideal realm of archetypal forces that creates the double. She uses the device of the mirror to be able to speak from inside the shadow.
"a terrible fish"
To the lower personality, the Christ-self appears as a terrible fish. Through the Mirror, the higher self absorbs all the experience of the incarnated human. Past and future manifestations of the self must die to the eternal Christ archetype.The young girl is drowned in the caldron of self transformation. When the poet merges with her higher self, death, like Leviathan, swims up to the surface to meet her. Her death takes the form of the symbol of the our eon, the fish, which portrays the activation of the ego in the Picean age.11
Plath's work with the mirror double leads to her great confrontation with the devouring fish. Jung has commented on how the fish relates to the self:
"We have already seen that the alchemical fish symbol points ultimately to an archetype of the order of magnitude of the self. So it should not surprise us to see that the principle of "outward uncomeliness", which applies to the lead and the lapis, is also applied to Christ. The same that is said of the lapis is said of Christ by Ephrem the Syrian: (He is clothed in figures, he is the bearer of types...His treasure is hidden and of small account, but when it is laid open, it is wonderful to look upon.")12
By "order of magnitude" of the self Jung refers to how much the conscious mind has become aware of the contents of the self and how much the enormity of the self remains below the surface in the sea of the unconscious. Jung also contrasts the everday, matter of fact view of the self with the higher reality of the self as a powerful and magical "ring of power". Ephrem's quote points to the source of the self's(or Steiner's "ego") power. Uncovering the self in its totality leads to the discovery that humans are indivdual manifestations of one total higher unity. This transcendental human ego bears all of the individual types or manifestations. This quote also relates the fish to the double. Even Christ has a "shadow" in this description of "outward uncomeliness". Human inability to make all of the "sea" part of our conscious awareness leaves powerful remants below the surface which can coalesce into endless configurations of nonassimilated doubles.
But is the Great Fish a rising up of a previous unknown essential self or a double in opposition to that very self? In the process of acquiring self-knowledge we assimilate or "eat" the doubles. This points to the archetype of the Eucharistic fish. The higher self is realized when both light and dark aspects are combined into a great whole that rises up to meet consciousness and obliterate the lower self. All of the poet's ideas, sense impressions, talents, and experiences are offered up as a sacrifice to the Sea of the Unconscious or the spirtual world. Hence the "young girl" is drowned. Acceptance of the higher self means acceptance of physical aging and Death, hence the superimposition of the old woman over the fish symbol. Because of the rise of the "total self", Plath's now views her life potential in its entirety. She no longer relates to the mere "present" but sees herself as a entire entity.
Jung then quotes an anonymous 17th century French alchemical treatise:
"For that which we take, in order to prepare from it the Philospher's Work, is naught else but that little fish the Echeneis, which has no blood or spiney bones, and is shut up in that deep mid region of the great universal sea. This little fish is extremely small, alone, and unique in its shape, but the sea is great and vast, and hence it is impossible for those to catch it who do not know in what part of the world it dwells. Believe me verily, that he who, as Theophrastus says, does not well understand the art by which he can draw down the moon from the sky and bring it from heaven to earth, and change it into water and then into earth, will never find the material of the stone of the wise, for it is not more difficult to perform the one than to find the other. Yet none the less, when we speak somewhat in confidence in the ear of a trusted friend, we teach him that hidden secret of the wise, how he can naturally, speedily, and easily catch the little fish called Remora, which is able to hold back the proud vessels of the great Ocean sea (that is the spirit of the world). Those who are not sons of the art are altogether ignorant and know not those precious treasures which are concealed by nature in the precious and heavenly Aqua Vitae of our sea. But, that I may declare to you the clear light of our unique material, or our virgin soil, and teach you in what wise you may acquire the supreme art of the sons of wisdom, it is needful that I instruct you concerning the magnet of the wise, which has the power of attracting the little fish called Echeneis or Remora from out the centre and depth of the sea. If it is caught in accordance with nature, it changes in a natural way first into water and then into earth. And this, when properly prepared by the cunning secret of the wise, has the power of dissolving all solid bodies and making them volatile, and of purifying all bodies that are poisoned."13
Rudolf Steiner on the "Great Sacrifice":
"One may picture this great sacrifice, the highest expression of will in divine nature, by imagining oneself before a mirror in which one's image is reflected. This image is, of course, an illusion, a semblance. Now carry over this image to the point of imagining yourself dying, sacrificing your existence, your feeling and thought, your very being, to inject life into that image. Spiritual science in all ages has called this phenomenon the outpouring, the emanation. If you could really make this sacrifice, it would be clear that you would no longer be here because you would have given up your whole being to this reflected image to imbue it with life and consciousness.
When the will has become capable of making the great sacrifice, it actually creates a universe, great or small, whose mission is bestowed upon it by its creator. Such is the creative will in the Divine Being. "
In this poem Plath sees the remarkable vision of the outpouring of her self into her life's work. She experiences her ultimate sacrifice as she watches her life forces pour into "idea beings" that will out live her and bring benefits to evolving humanity. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay "The Poet", saw this "outpouring" as a creation of an immortal "new self":
"She(Nature) makes a man; and having brought him to ripe age, she will no longer run therisk of losing this wonder at a blow, but she detaches from him a new self, that the kind may be safe from accidents to which the individual is exposed. So when the soul of the poet has come to ripeness of thought, she detaches and sends away from it its poems or songs, -- a fearless, sleepless, deathless progeny, which is not exposed to the accidents of the weary kingdom of time: a fearless, vivacious offspring, clad with wings (such was the virtue of the soul out of which they came), which carry them fast and far, and infix them irrecoverably into the hearts of men."
Once again Plath explores a part of being that humans are not normally able to access. She undertakes an experiment in consciousness by splitting her being into its component parts and then speaks as the inner voice of one of those parts. She then confronts and tries to understand the part of her psyche that retains all information and is not prejudiced by feelings or higher intellect. This part of ourselves serves us well in memory and self reflection, but can take on a life and will of its own if not confronted in some way.
Mirror imagery exposes a basic issue of identity: any attempt to know ourselves requires a splitting of our consciousness into a subject and an object, at least to the extent that we think with a Western "observer consciousness". As we think about ourselves, our thought penetrates into a series of attributes about ourselves. We "see" our physicality, history, personality, psyche, habits, dress, and intellect. But our "I", ego, or selfhood is none of those things. Our "I" thinks the attributes, but remains separate. Any list of attributes is forever changing and incomplete, but even the most complete list is not identical to our "I".
So consciousness of self involves a splitting of self into at least the following components: 1) an immediate "I" awareness, 2) a picture of ourselves(attributes) as thought by our conscious "I".and 3.)a total and complete self that we cannot think about in totality. (This self exists even in a material world view because our knowledge of physicality is never complete, solving one mystery always leads to another).
What I call "double" corresponds to parts of the self that are unknown to "daylight consciousness". These parts form a psychic organism that feeds off the totality of the self. The double has a limited consciousness. It may become known to the daylight consciousness and a healthy assimilation may result. This double inhabits our bodies and may have the upper hand in affecting physiological processes because it is in the same unconsciousness realm as most of the body. Very little of our actual functioning bodily processes are in our daylight consciousness. We know little of that infinitely complex realm. Even physicians only specialize in one little part of it. Unassimilated parts of our psyche may incarnate in any of these unconscious parts, the blood circulation for example.(see "Cut").
"I am silver and exact."-It is interesting that the backing of the Mirror, the metal silver, is an element most often associated with the Moon. Like a mirror, the Moon reflects the Sun's light and is a favorite Plath image for a force that both drags her down but also feeds her creativity. Interestingly, the Moon dispels illusion in the silvery makeup of the mirror, but at the same time dims the consciousness of the poet by being a "liar" like the candles. The Moon enables the perfect memory of Plath's total consciousness but prevents her waking consciousness from accessing that memory. The initial steps to self knowledge require a breaking from atavistic memory which enables the poet to exercise her will in the outer world. But eventually she must come back and consciously reacquire the totality of that memory.
The Mirror is described as "truthful", but the poet cannot always bear this truth and is forced to turn to the "candles or the moon" which are "liars". These "liars" perhaps tell the lower ego what it wants to hear, not the information it needs to know by confronting the double. So the Mirror, set up against the antagonism of the moon and candles, indicates a splitting of the Moon forces within the poet. The reflection forces are set up against the allure of the sentient soul forces(the desires of the senses). These sentient forces allow the poet to "lose herself" which is only a momentary relaxation which is sundered by the next confrontation with the Mirror.
Each day the poet confronts the Mirror. The Mirror not only takes note of every physical change in the viewer but also records every experience, thought, and deed. Our conscious selves are able to ignore our failures and shortcomings; however they are faithfully inscribed to perfection in the record of the Mirror. Plath seems to be aware of the reality of her double and the gateway to the realm of pure supersensible thought which is the Mirror. She "..comes and goes.." staring into the Mirror's reality when she is able. Other times she turns her back to it. Then "..faces and darkness.." intervene.
It seems the reflection-double is a pool of consciousness left behind in the spiritual-ideal realm that continues to unite us to that realm although ignored by our wakening consciousness. This double gives us a connection to the vast realms of the Mirror and is most awake when the poet recognizes its existence. At other times, the double is like a denizen of Plato's cave, staring at the opposite wall where the poets life is projected into shadow images that are but mere outlines of her full blooded experience. Although the Mirror exactly reflects the outward aspects of Plath's features and personality there is some question as to whether the Mirror-double is able to synthesize the information with higher concepts. The double is not only unfeeling but lacks the ability to create and synthesize thought . When the poet is absent, the double can only "...meditate on the opposite wall".
The mirror is a doorway to the realm of pure idea or spirit. It is the crossing point of the leminscate where our waking consciousness may glimpse our origins in the spiritual realm. It is interesting that we use the word "reflection" when speaking about our ability to reproduce the world inwardly and to then think about it. The Latin "reflexio" means the act of bending back. Our consciousness beams out to the objects of the outer world or inward to the thoughts and memories of the spiritual world and then shines back to us. The free, curious human being rays outward and inwards and slowly absorbs larger and larger parts of the cosmos. We don't passively absorb God or the universe, but we constantly recreate what we take in.
"To go back into oneself means for us to withdraw from the external world. Analogously, for the spirits earthly life means inward contemplation-going into oneself-immanent action. Thus earthly life springs from an original reflection-a primitive going inward, inner composure-which is as free as our reflection. Conversely spiritual life in this world springs from a breaking through of that primitive reflection. The spirit unfolds itself once more-the spirit goes out to itself again-it cancels that reflection in part--and at this moment it says for the first time--the word "I". One can see here how relative is the going in and out. What we call going in is actually going out--taking on the original form once again."(Novalis: Philosophical Writings. Translated and edited by Margaret Mahoney Stoljar.1977. State University Press of New York. Page 30.)
"Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon. " --presently, the vast majority of humanity cannot continually peer into what we really are. In order to function in society we must dim our consciousness and turn to the candles and moon. We cannot stare into the Sun of higher selves, although Plath and other artists made incredible attempts to do just that. (For example see Ariel and the Bee Poems)
In "In Plaster" Plath speaks from the other side of the Mirror. She now identifies with the feeling, vibrant, and restless self that was the object of observation in "Mirror". The reflection-double of "Mirror" has become bodily and tangible and seems to have crawled out of the Mirror. After expressing exasperation at her inability to fuse her split psyche, she states:
are two of me now:
This new absolutely white person and the old yellow one,
And the white person is certainly the superior one.
She doesn't need food, she is one of the real saints.
At the beginning I hated her, she had no personality -- "2
Like the double in the mirror the "white person"doesn't need its own "food" and having neither "...love or dislike.." and no preconceptions, it lacks personality. The conscious ego admires the ascetic nature of this new found double but is frightened to discover this being inhabiting her own body.
The ego's first reaction is to attack the double, but the double's calm nature thwarts any attempt at violent dislodging. Then the ego :
realized what she wanted was for me to love her:
She began to warm up, and I saw her advantages. "3
In "Mirror" the double seems to have a great love for the "yellow" person. She reflects that person's back "faithfully" even when the ego is absorbed in the false realities of the Candles and Moon. The ego's face is the double's "Sun", replenishing the light and dispelling the darkness.
The parasitic nature of the double is evident in the next lines:
me, she wouldn't exist, so of course she was grateful.
I gave her a soul, I bloomed out of her as a rose
Blooms out of a vase of not very valuable porcelain,
And it was I who attracted everybody's attention,
Not her whiteness and beauty, as I had at first supposed"4
These lines are visionary. Plath is able to see how the double was created from her own living formative forces to act as a kind of vessel that would allow her to express her true sensual, emotional, and intellectual nature. Her emotions, thoughts, and senses are the bloom of the rose that grows out of the white, unemotional, and steady life currents of the "etheric" double or "white woman". It is interesting to remember here the role her father played in the creation of this double. The "Colossus" of the Germanic folk soul was the perfect instrument in the molding of this perfect "white" double.
Mirror's lunar references are paralleled in "In Plaster":
the morning she woke me early, reflecting the sun
From her amazingly white torso, ....."5
Soon the faithfulness of the double's mirroring begins to disturb the conscious ego which cannot continue to look directly into this reflected sunlight and observe its own faults and defects. The poet makes the frightening discovery that:
I saw what the trouble was: she thought she was immortal.
She wanted to leave me, she thought she was superior,
And I'd been keeping her in the dark, and she was resentful --
Wasting her days waiting on a half-corpse!
And secretly she began to hope I'd die. "6
Now the double has reached the stage where it can purposely prevent us from recognizing it in order to survive without assimilation. By "..wanting me to leave.." the double tries to redirect the poet's consciousness and live in the subconscious where the ego no longer has power over it. The double desires the poet's death as a means to break free not knowing that it may be connected to the poet's ego throughout eternity.
Perhaps the Mirror-Double is immortal and Plath's fears the extinguishing of her conscious personality. In "Mirror" the daylight consciousness feared the rising of the Great Fish of death while the Mirror calmly portrayed that future event. Will the poet assimilate the double and gain its immortality or will she kill it entirely and perhaps lose the portal to world of pure idea or spirit?
Plath's ego becomes more and more dependent on the double, but she doesn't lose her determination to destroy it as a way to break free. Plath's will becomes activated and begins the motion that results in the freedom of Ariel:
I see it must be one or the other of us.
She may be a saint, and I may be ugly and hairy,
But she'll soon find out that that doesn't matter a bit.
I'm collecting my strength; one day I shall manage without her..."7
But can she manage without her? Is something essential lost in the total destruction of the Double? Is there a way to unite her being with the double in a conscious way without annihilation?
Rudolf Steiner's Observation's About the Double
Echo and Narcissus
Plath's experience with the Mirror is a modern "echo" of the Echo and Narcissus myth found in Ovid's Metamorphoses. (See story here or, for example, Ovid. The Metamophoses. trans. and intro by Horace Gregory.1958.Viking Press.95-100).
Self-knowledge is the crux of the story as Tiresias predicts that Narcissus will live a long life only if he never comes to know himself. Narcissus is 16, the stage of evolution of the budding sentient soul where we become attached to our ever more finely attuned senses, absorbed in the "liars" the candle and the Moon.
Echo appears as the reflective aspect of the mirror-double. Juno cursed her. Echo could only repeat or reflect the last few words she heard. Her loss of speech coincides with a certain restlessness in Narcissus that makes him ask if "Anyone is here?" Echo repeats "Here" and Narcissus removes himself from his group and begins to pursue Echo.
Echo-double tries to embrace Narcissus; however this makes him aware of Death and he shuns Echo out of fear. Death confronts him as the Great Fish confronted Plath. Narcissus cannot now return to the spiritual world and lose his budding self consciousness.
Significantly, Echo hides in the trees and unites with Nature and branching life. This recalls the double's permeation of the "tree" of the central nervous system and the circulatory system. (See Elm). Echo continues to work as an instrument of self-reflection although now hidden from Narcissus's conscious mind.
Narcissus becomes more and more self-obsessed and alienated under the pressure of the budding ego. Humans of the group soul curse him accelerating his alienation. Nemesis confronts Narcissus with the magic mirror and Narcissus becomes transfixed by the human image of beauty and complexity. The reflection of his face unites with cosmic images. The mirror image is the gateway to the realm of the supersensible. His star-eyes stare back from the Moon-Mirror-Silver of the water.
Narcissus simultaneously experiences the rapture of true self-knowledge and the hell of his separation from his true ego. His new consciousness is agonizing. He must heal the psychic split or face complete annihilation. Humans must reconcile their identification with the macrocosm with their microcosmic alienation.
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The Antonin Artaud Ego, Blood, and Spirit Sitemap
January 13, 2003
"Words" and the Ephesian Mysteries
January 2, 2003
Metaphor, "Metaphors", and the Number 9
December 29, 2001
NEW: The Possibility of Pure Thinking as a Method of Historical Research-Jan 2003
NEW: "Black Rook In Rainy Weather" and "November Graveyard"-- October 2002
NEW: The Double in "Mirror" and "In Plaster" --September 2002
Introduction: Plath as a Guide to Free Egohood
"Mary's Song" and the WTC Disaster
The Independent Ego and the Necessity of Self Knowledge--December 2, 2001
Text Only Version(More Text and No Images)
Sylvia Plath, Bees, and Egyptian Initiation
Ego Birth in "The Eye Mote"
The Violent Atavism of "Cut"
Tree Imagery and the Double
Plath's Use of Smoke and Garment Imagery in "Getting There" and "Ariel"
Dark and Terrible "Apprehensions"
The Double and the Guardian of the Threshold
Lady Lazarus: The Existential Initiation
Durkheim and Anomy-The Unsupported Ego
The Cosmic Significance of the Ego and the Bhagavad Gita
"I Am Vertical": The "I Am" in the Three Kingdoms
Bill Clinton's Speech on the Shadow Side of Globalization--?????
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1From The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. HarperPerennial Edition. Page 173.
2From The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. HarperPerennial Edition. Page 158.
8Jung, C.G., Aion. Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Trans. by RFC Hull. Princeton University Press.1959.pg37.
9 Ibid. pg 36.
10 Ibid. pg4411 For a truly exhaustive analysis of the fish symbol, see Jung's Aion-chapters 8,9,10,and 11!
12 Jung, C.G., Aion. Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Trans. by RFC Hull. Princeton University Press.1959.pg 140-141.13 Ibid.