Ken Dibenedette, "Abstract Thinking and Dehumanization",Ego,Blood, and Spirit.March 9, 2003.
EGO, BLOOD, AND SPIRIT
The Thin People by Sylvia Plath1 (1957)
more human beings are led by materialism to disdain the Spiritual, the more
will the ether-body contract and wither. But because the organization and functions
of the physical body depend upon the ether-body inasmuch as the ether-body
must permeate the physical in the right way the physical body too will
always tend to dry up, to wither, if the contraction of the ether-body is excessive;
and if the physical body became too dry, men would have feet of horn instead
of the feet of a normal human being."-Rudolf
Steiner-The Balance in the World and Man, Lucifer and Ahriman
"They are always with us, the thin people
Meager of dimension as the gray people "
They're always with us? They are us. The human being conceived as an abstract object. The purely abstract, rational, scientific world view squeezes the rich dimensionally from the human. We've become a 2-dimensional abstraction, a flat appearance on a white movie screen. Significantly gray. Have lost all color-a mass of particles bombarded by more particles. Our feeling, thinking and willing are but electrical processes where random patterns create the illusion of forms. Such a human loses all value. A mere piece of dust, a stone--grist for the mill. An entire culture governed by a mere survival mechanism. Art and religion created to ease the unendurable pain of our existence.
"On a movie-screen. They
Are unreal, we say: "
Our own image mirrored back to us. We can attempt to separate ourselves from the horrors of our own inhumanity. Blame evil men and try to forget. But they are us. The horror of the camps is a prescient glimpse of the direction we're heading. Humans as objects, experienced separately, become valueless as well as misconceived. The subject-object dichotomy must be transcended in human relations. We must feel and know that we are the other.
"It was only in a movie, it was only
In a war making evil headlines when we
Were small that they famished and
Grew so lean and would not round
Out their stalky limbs again though peace
Plumped the bellies of the mice
Under the meanest table.
It was during the long hunger-battle
They found their talent to persevere
In thinness, to come, later,
Into our bad dreams, their menace
Not guns, not abuses,
But a thin silence."
Silence is the lack of communication. We prefer to turn our backs to these images and look to those "liars, the candles and the Moon". We fool ourselves if we consider this event as complete and behind us. We can perhaps avoid the physical cruelty experience by the victims, but our spirit is getting thinner and thinner and we have learned to continue and persevere in this spiritual thinness. Our own silence is the weapon that reinforces our separateness. We refuse to speak the word which can echo and create and once again add flesh to the bone of the human spirit. We become dried up corpses and the more our spirit is thinned the more we maintain our silence. We maintain ourselves on gall. The thinner our spirit the less able we are to create the art and culture necessary to maintain us as humans. We seem to be caught in a downward spiral of dehumanization.
"Wrapped in flea-ridded donkey skins,
Empty of complaint, forever
Drinking vinegar from tin cups: they wore
The insufferable nimbus of the lot-drawn
Scapegoat. But so thin,
So weedy a race could not remain in dreams,
Could not remain outlandish victims
In the contracted country of the head
Any more than the old woman in her mud hut could
Keep from cutting fat meat
Out of the side of the generous moon when it
Set foot nightly in her yard
Until her knife had pared
The moon to a rind of little light.
The "weedy race" at first seems as an outward fact with which we may confront and perhaps forget, but they're so thin and can enter our spirit and psyche because they are thoughts and dreams. Their "airy" nature enters our physicality and our souls. Their "meat" and substance may remain hidden behind their weedy appearance, but despite their lack of substance, they maintain great power.
Now the thin people do not obliterate
Themselves as the dawn
Grayness blues, reddens, and the outline
Of the world comes clear and fills with color.
Daylight consciousness does not obliterate the horror of the abstracted human being. They don't dissipate like a bad dream. They inhabit the light of the Sun-all nature pales. Nature too becomes an abstract concept and detached. The cardboard cut outs become Kings of this world .The powerless victims becomes our evolutionary future.
They persist in the sunlit room: the wallpaper
Frieze of cabbage-roses and cornflowers pales
Under their thin-lipped smiles,
Their withering kingship.
How they prop each other up!
We enable each other's spiritual desiccation. Nature withers and dies as the abstractions come wandering through. The entire cosmos becomes 2-dimensional. This crisis goes beyond the human being--it is an entire universe that is withering and dying.
We own no wilderness rich and deep enough
For stronghold against their stiff
Battalions. See, how the tree boles flatten
And lose their good browns
If the thin people simply stand in the forest,
Making the world go thin as a wasp's nest
And grayer; not even moving their bones."2
The Thin People warns us that our present consciousness is moving more and more toward greater abstraction where the whole of the universe is thought to be "outside" the human. Indeed we perceive ourselves as mere "points" of consciousness and we exist in an infinitesimally small piece of the great whole. The things that we perceive through our senses grow greater and greater and we grow smaller and smaller, increasing alienated from all that we perceive.
It is interesting that this poem stresses our dimensionally, or the way we perceive ourselves in space and in relation to objects. Owen Barfield, in Saving the Appearances, notes our changing consciousness concerning space:
"We have seen that the rise and growth of alpha-thinking(when we recognize phenomena as outside ourselves and begin to think about them--ed.) was associated with a change in man's experience of space. It was with difficulty that movement, and particularly movement in a circle, was first wholly distinguished from mental activity; and this applied especially to the celestial revolutions, which were approached in a way that suggests that what we call space was conceived rather as a kind of undifferentiated, all-enclosing continuum, or mental mobile, for which perhaps wisdom is the best modern word we can find. Space, as a mindless, wisdomless, lifeless void, was not a common notion at any time before the scientific revolution..."3
Barfield argues that as late as medieval times, when humans still had some remnant of the conscious that united them with forces that we now perceive as objects, we felt ourselves as an organic center of the macrocosm.4 Although the voiding of space may diminish our wisdom and lead to a dying humanity, it also gives us ourselves. As long as we remained unified with the cosmos, we could not develop individuality and free agency. Barfield, after discussing how memory allows individual's to reunite with phenomena through through their own inner activity, shows how the Jews served as the memory of humanity with their new consciousness that banned outward union with idols and with their language that contained vestiges of the cosmos's original creation and a new conception of evolutionary movement in time:
"Thus, the human word, for Aquinas, proceeds from memory, as the Divine Word proceeds from God the Father. We shall understand the place of the Jews in the history of the earth, that is, of man as a whole, when we see the Children of Israel occupying the position in that history which memory occupies in the composition of an individual man. The Jews, with their language trailing vestiges of the world's Creator and their special awareness of history, were the dawning memory of the human race. They too tore the phenomena from their setting of original participation and made them inward, with intent to reutter them from within as word. They cultivated the inwardness of the represented. They pinpointed participation to the Divine Name, the I AM spoken only from within, and it was the logic of their whole development that the cosmos of wisdom should henceforth have its perennial source, not without, and behind the appearances, but within the consciousness of man; not in front of his senses and his figuration, but behind them."5
Plath's poem is memory and silence. The course of our evolution brings the cosmos within ourselves and expands our memory, but the point of that evolution is to then speak the Divine Word from within. The image of our desiccation into two dimensionality is accompanied by our silence, our refusal to respeak the Divine Word. Abstract consciousness was necessary to create individuality but we cannot remain forever silent in this state. By our own wills we must recreate our experience of the world to once again bring life to our being.
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--?????
Sitemeter Copyright (c)2000 by Sitemeter.com
Links to other Sites
1The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Ed by Ted Hughes. HarperPererrial.c1981.Page 50.
3Barfield, Owen. Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry.Wesleyan University Press. 1957. Pages 148-149.