Bryn Athyn, Pa.

January 17th 1936 Mr,Morten Smith,

Dear Morten: Mr Aid en was feind enough to let m© read the first of your Dialogues en Aesthetics. It was very pleasant reading, desrlte the feet tb^t I am unacquainted with the literature of that field. But the reading ~-f the paper leaves me with certain questions as to your exact intent. I am not a logician, and »jc the problems that rose in my mind are no^ technical or literary, but pratical. I hope tha you do not mind my writing to you about them. course I heartily Subscribe to the idea *hst a symbol of unknown or undetermined relationships cannot have any waning! It is merely an isolated " x" - it mi^ht mean anything. No* have I any objection to your attack on a system -which is based (if you are correct) on the identity of the symbol and the things -^bolisted.(The reason that I wonder whether you are corr -ct is "ha" symbolistic writers are apt to speak only suggestively, even when defining their own positions I ) . But please do not feel offended at my first impression from the brief perusal: that you have tried to rationalize an instinctive antipathy to sentimentalism and to symbolism in Literattr e, by extending yourself on the wider - and more indefensible - front which conflicts ^ith all "kinds o^ symbolism. Possibly I ha^Te misread your concept. I hope»by this letter,to entice you to assure me on that point. Surelv, symbolism a^ such is both real and usual, not to say useful, indispensible. Symbols must have existed before words, anr1 words became symbols of all the experiences - cental and physical - a^d the emotions that, attach themselves to these words. Language, then, be in;? symbolic, t ies to su^ est the associations; an^ in worr?R anrl phrases a?^ in «Bt«T»«9?ft4 references to objects and situations th^t recall these moods, It rebuilds the of the exr>«rience into a "meaning1*.

The fact that symbols have a m an ing only for those who f!spea!c the same language11, i.e.,for those who ar' held in the same bonds of Sympathy or of common experience, does not make that "meaning8 any the less real - for them; even though/ it may differ with each one. So much for symbolism: it certainly expresses ideas in language* Pis*, ^he fact th** a wron? idea can be expressed in language, only Calces i the mare difficult •"or one to see that, any Idea reust be wrong if it cannot be expressed in language. If you had said that such an inexpressible idea was vague,partial,incompletely perceived, - th~n I would a^ree at once. B6t ^wronr-" is a severe word, especially as you ser^ to hint that everything beyond our little sphere of consciousness is "nonexis^ent" J (Or don't- ym*when you spealc of 'sub-conscious desires* as non-exl^^ent ?) n the whole i* sounds in places as if you entirely too *»iich. If you only meant thqt no idea worthy of the name if it could not "be plainly stated, I would acraln agree, from common sense, and even cite doctrine for it I But if you only re«ant that - why so learned an attach on symbolistic You can hardly d-ubt that there are cur-e^te of life - call them instincts or recapitulations or physical processes or what-not -* that arg subconscious, yet later realized? just 33 hidden ocean currents *nay dra^ a ship off course. I suppose ••h^.t you, in less severely logical ^o^er;ts,at least, reeo-rni^e that there are hidden "desires" -^r predispositions in tVe ^nind which are remnants of so*^e racial inheritance or the forgotten scars of experiences covered over "by later thinking: which yet exert an infuence on the "meaning" of a symbol, or upon the choice of memries that it I am lost wh«n -ou say tbatffa relationship which could not be expressed,could not exist11. Such a statement seems to wie contradictory even to the elementar^y logic of science, which - I understand - fror? principle never assumes a broad ne™^tive. Experimental proof that a thing does not exist, 1 s illogical unless confined to an area of experience. But is not the fact that BO relationship can be fully expressed, especially in words; and th^t is (incidentally) the ^ery reason for "symbolism11, is it not T

Your argument moves cautioaly and calmly on. But I would sny that our lives are too short to convey everything to our attention by lo^ic. '"e f^ed our ^Ind also by ey^Vols; and wh*»t I wonder when I read your pap^r is whether Phllonous still reserves a place for the wider phenomena of life: for the fact ths t iMRffltBij! wisdom as well as is covered by mpmlamAiBgi symbolism?

*MF J«"»

I was glad to notice that you exclude from your argument - aa irrelevant - the eorrespondAagent relations of cause and effect; and confine yotir criticise to the system of "acquired*1 correspondences, i.e.,the representations of ideas. Was I right? "one'beless I do not see why such ^natural" correspondences should not "be ma?** formally exempted from your criticism. For here we have a fertile field of symbols (effects) -which necessarily can, surest their causes. A. sunset does suggest the cause, the earth's rotation, etc,, to every intelligent man. "Even if the cause "be n&tnown and therefore aa yet inexpressible in factual language, the effect is the potential symbol of the eause. There is a"mystic link" between the shame and the blush, the vord and the thought. May I suffrreet ( even thoughfew&ismfitiewfflmmy opinion was never asked) that your thesis would be stronger if Its wording *<rere more carefully defined, ^hat is meant In your thesis by lf expressible", H idea1*, "wrong", s'lan* gtiage" ? It is tooelastlc.

I leave out any mention of Swedenborg*s doctrine of representation and correspondences, since I presume that you are working this subject out from an experimental angle. Allow me only to say that your former teachers here are irery interested in your progress, anc5 from affection T"ish you well. Personally, let me congratulate you on your facility in handling an intricate and difficult theme. Tours sincerely,

Dunster House G 62, Cambridge, Mass. Feb. 5, 1936.

Rev. H. L. Odhner.

Dear Mr, Odhneri Your letter was doubly kind in that it was both frank and gentle, but I hope that I am grateful most for the frankness, I know very little of philosophy, so, from the time that Mr. Alden wrote saying he had given you the paper, I was especially anxious for your criticisms. They arrived just as raid-term examinations were beginning, which is the reason that you have not had an earlier answer, for examinations are so designed that I have no leisure to think while tak~ ing them, and no strength to think afterwards. Nor is even this an answer in the formal sense. 1 agree with most of your objections and only hope to explain and modify my opinions in their light. It is too true that the diction of the essay is inexact, partly this resulted from carelessness, partly, from haste, partly, from my unwillingness to be drawn into a discussion of what I was talking about. This unwillingness, in turn, resulted from the other fact, which you quite accurately remarked, that I was engaged in rationalizing "an instinctive antipathy to sentimentnlisia and to symbolism in literature," But I consider the rationalization justified if the result be rational. I did not, however, mean to attack all symbolism* The word "symbol" is variously understood, and my immediate object, though perhaps I lost sight of it in the scuffle, was to prove that only one interpretation

II.
(briefly and inaccurately: a sign which occasions the idea of something other than itself) was comprehensible. That other interpretations

have been held, and this especially by the apologists of romantic poetry, I am quite sure. J. Shawcross, for instance, in his exposition of Coleridge's theory of the imagination (the introduction to his edition of the Biographla Literaria, Oxfords 1907, p. xl*) writes: "the symbol, while remaining distinct from the thing symbolized, is yet in some mysterious way interpenetrated by its being and partakes of its reality." This position seems to me implicit in all of Coleridge's thought and the root of his doctrine separating the fancy from the imagination. Foe's critical theories were derived from Coleridge's, andfrom Foe's, to a great extent, those of the Symbolists, whom I particularly attacked. That the arguments used in the attack apply equally to all romantic theory, or to transcendental philosophy, need not be pointed out until the test case is over; it might prejudice the judges. The arguments do not apply

to any symbolism which does not confuse the symbol and the object. This I tried to make clear at the end of the essay (pp. 28 - 32), but I ara afraid I did not sufficiently emphasize it. The ambiguity of the word "symbol" made it difficult for me to drive home my point without seeming to prove too much, especially since this ambiguity is reinforced by so many others necessary in an idiomatic and derivative speech. 'For instance, you say of language,"in words and phrases and in references to objects and situations that recall these moods, it rebuilds the feeling of the experience into a 'meaning'." Now recall may mean 1. call back the actual moods. 2. occasion similar

ones. 3, arouse memories of the moods, memories which are themselves not

III.

moods, but thoughts. Each of these Interpretations is held by many contemporary writers andjlach implies a different aesthetic. Both the first
s

and the second, however, require of literature that it give such an illusion of sensuous or emotional or intellectual experience that we shall seem not to be reading the book, but to be undergoing the experience which is the subject of the book; the third does not require that we be made to"undergo"the experience, but that our thoughts about the experience be placed in their proper relations to our other thoughts. The first and second result at last in the subjection of denotation to connotation for the purpose of hypnotisms All those poems of which the object is primarily word-nainting, all those of which the object is "to create a particular mood", and all those which purport to give the reader "the joy of discovering the thought as if it were his own" are the results of one or the other of these theories, degrade poetrv to use it as an opiate, and, I believe, «re wrong. The third results 1« m literature the object of which is not illusion, but truth. Such a literature has scarcely been known in English, though Pope has shown the Dossible delight in the sudden revelation of a truth by the unexpected apposition of two falsehoods,and Drvden* in his heroic stanzas on the death of Cromwell, has shown what sublimity is possible to truth barely and powerfully stated (but his poem has a few lamentable lapses into "poetry"). The object of my essay was to provide (with those that followed it) a. satisfactory foundation for the theory of such a literature of thought, For this purpose, a formalistic criticism was necessary, that is, it was necessary to prove that the literature of illusion was of illusion, that

IV.

no author could give, in words, the experiences we have outside of books,

that the symbol, in brief, was separate and distinct from the thing symbolized. (If you would see what I am opposing, read Yeats1 essays on symbolism in "Ideas of Good and Evil".) I took the statement, "any idea that cannot be

expressed in words is wrong", and the syllogism leading to it, as a convenient thema&o unify the attack. Substitute for "wrong", if you like, "contains a logical contradiction"; that was what I meant to say, almost, but I do believe that the illogical,(not the unlogical), is immoral. The chief direction of the attack was thus against the metaphysical, and this direction was the more nearly inevitable because I was endeavoring a theory of aesthetics, of sensations, which all works of art, in the last analysis, are. It was necessary to cle^r away all extranaeous theories and to see the simple facts. For the facts, I believe, are simple, A sensation cannot be analyzed,(though its component qualities may be known , . .•-

in other sensations also, and by comparison and verbal abstraction be discussed separately, its color can never be removed from it and leave it the same sensation, nor is it perceived as color plus extension plus motion, but as all these things existing simultanaeously and indistinguishably). Any aesthetic which admits Bereson's "profondeurs de la conscience" or

Kant's dissection of experience is predestined to symbolism, for both of those declare that there are parts of experience which we do not experience*(;) and both, though it is not a necessary conclusion, suppose that experience as we know it, is a mere symbol of truth as we do not know it. But truth is not hidden in the "depths" of experience, like a pearl in the depths of an oyster; truth is the whole experience, and if the experience is not true, what is? Nor is any one truth truer that nay other; truth is an absolute, and truths differ in endurance, importance, complexity, but not in degree of truthfullness, I would attempt to prove these dogmas if I

V.

could imagine it would be possible to attack them. Similar, and, indeed, mutually dependent is the statement that it is impossible for a thing to be both known and unknown (for the statement that one thing is truer than another is equal to the statement tha^in one thing the truth is known, and in another thing it is known, too, but not known so much). Unknown things are inferred to exist, and their nature is hypothecated, by analogy from known things; intact, when the existence of the unknown is contended for, the real object of the contention is something unknown except for the fact that it is like -the things we know in existing and so in being able to affect them as they affect each other. "Existence" is, for us, (and we cannot imagine what it is for someone else) a quality of known things, Ihe word must be defined in terms of experience, and whatever the differences between mythology and science, they both speak, and must speak, of the unknown in parables. (You question particularly the statements that sub-conscious desires do not exist and that the cause is not known in the effect; So long as there is a dualism of "mind" and "matter" I do not believe in the existence of subconscious desires. Material causes may, as you suggest) predispose the mind to certain actions* but a material predisposition is by no means the same as a desire, and it seems good to me not to confuse them. If there be a monism of "mind" subconscious desires are, of course, quite possible. A monism of "matter" is, to me, inconceivable. For the final possibility, that both"mind"and "matter" are aspects of a third somewhat, I do not know enough to discuss it, (I do not believe that the cause is known in the effect. Some cause may be, according to our previous knowledge, inferred from the effect, but this is by no means thesame as being known in it. "A sunset", you say,

"does suggest the cause, the earth's rotation, etc.,to every intelligent

VI.

man." In that event ment have been Intelligent only for the past 400 years Copernicus died, I think, about 1540. By saying that the effect is "the

potential symbol" of the cause, don't you mean that it is not the symbol yetS But it might be nrgued:"Though the cause is not known in the effect* a cause may be, and Kant has declared it impossible to have an experience without a knowledge of cause and effect, which alone enables us to assemble the experience." But the statement that a cause, but no particular one, is knownj is merely an hypothecation that event y is to the unknown as event x is to x's-known c^use; it can be reduced, then, to that statement that something preceded y so as to necessitate y's following, and the something is

unknown, 'that is: nothing which is known;is the cause, the c^use, so far as anyone knows» is nothing. As for Imraanuel Kant, it is true that the mind, after it reaches childhood at least, arranges experiences in chains of cause and effect, but to say that it arranges the elements of experience in this wav is to suppose that there are elements of expereince, that they exist somewhere independently and can«ble of being arranged, and, even granting this, whether R necessarily sub-conscious process is the same as an idea of cause sndj&ffect, or whether an idea of a cause is a knowledge of the cause are still pertinent questions, Ksnt was mistaken. His mistake results *Vom *H attempted analysis of wh«t is what it is only so long as it is not analyzedj of what is essentially simplej experience. This is impertinent to Kant, but it would be more impertinent to you if I added my twenty pages of proof,) I do not believe that nothing exists outside of our narrow circle of .knowledge. I am quite sure that the stars and my garters remain much the same potential experiences whether I see them or not. Only, I am very anxious to limit the discussion of aesthetics to the terms of experience,

VII.

and the relationships of reason. You know of old my dislike of mystery and my coexisting interest in all occult and out of the way knowledge. The combination, I am afraid, will make a strange one in literary criticism,

but I am glad, at least, that you enjoyed my essay enough to examine it so closelv. The most important (in my opinion) of your objections! that language does not express, but suggests, will be one of the subjects of the second dialogue - if there ever is a second dialogue. I think I know an answer, or rather a non obstat, but it would take much too long to explain, and this letter is much too long already. I should, perhaps, apologize for sending you such a small essay on the first provocation, but the difficulties you suggested set me to thinking, and, once having undertaken an apoloey, I could not do less than finish it, though it should require apologies in its turn, I hope, however, that I have not worn out your patience, or the welcome of my letters (I assure you they are not all like this and I hope that you will try another and see for yourself). But now my letter is ended and the night is almost ended, too. Away in the distance the sky is growing purple, and here beside me the radiator is growing warm. The day is about to begin and it is time for me to go to bed. Tomorrow I must put away my essay and set to work on an honors thesis, Then there will be divisional:examinations, then final examinations, and then, perhaos, I may return to the essay, more nearly impartially. In the mean time, good-night and, once more, thank yon.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful