Immanent Textuality

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Immanent Textuality
– Dec. 1, 2014
– forgotten footnotes added Jan. 19, 2015

This text was part of my unfinished dissertation, intended as one of the opening chapters. As such and firstly, it was to function as a general grounding to all that followed. And, it still does stands as a good presentation of groundwork to my philosophy of the aesthetic. Secondly, functioned as a long introduction to what was to be the central (if not overly used) word of the dissertation: literature and art understood as an "erotic" engagement.

The text works primarily out of Otto Rank's Art and Artist, a book I constantly recommend to persons interested in exploring the aesthetic from a theoretic/philosophical side. It then moves into Lyotard's short and excellent "The Unconscious as Mise-en-scène," and then briefly into Derrida's "Freud and the Scene of Writing," what I consider one of his key texts. It is, for the most part, a fairly accessible text; granted, though, of theoretic nature.


The opening lines of the Paradiso:

The glory of the One who moves all things
permeates the universe and glows
in one part more and in another less.[FN1]

An opening, but also a continuation, and an extension of the thematics of the Divine Comedy – as well as the milieu of medieval Christian cosmology in which it is cast, wherein the geography of the lands of the dead are understood in their topographical relationship to the godhead. The earth sits at the center of space; the heaven above; the hell deep in the center of the earth. Each is positioned according to the order of the elements of nature: the baser earth settling within water, the more spiritual air and fire rising above. Hell is set at the farthest possible point from a divinity that remains outside. The glory of that divinity may be brighter – more present – the higher one ascends, but it is, throughout the cosmos never not present: the cosmos is the creation of god, and thus and extension of god. But in that the cosmos of Dante is a scholastic cosmos, god itself does not continue (after creation) to exist within the cosmos: the divine itself is beyond its boundary, unreachable, present only in echo, in image, as an aftereffect of the act of creation lingering within nature, informing its forms and its beauty, which also can only be an echo, an image of that divinity which is necessarily the unsurpassable epitome of beauty. Beauty in the cosmos exists in that the forms of the cosmos are of the divine, and existed before the creation of the cosmos out of the divine. Thus, to create an aesthetic object, to make a beautiful thing (a more appropriate phrasing in that in the scholastic theology creation was ended after the initial genesis, and thus can only be followed with making) is to intuit the forms of beauty as they exist within the cosmos, as they have always existed within the cosmos; intuit in hyperbolic approach to those forms in that a human, themselves created and part of creation, can never reach the divinely inspired ideals.[FN2]

[FN1] As translated by Allen Mandelbaum.

[FN2] See, in general, Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism.

However, the relationship between the cosmos and beauty is not one that originates in the Christian concept of the divinely created universe. The word κόσμοςκόσμος originally was used by the Greeks to signify 'order':[FN3] Homer uses it to describe both oarsmen at their place and a well-ordered military camp. Yet in the earliest use, the notion of order is already associated with that of beauty: the word is also used to speak of ornamentation, of decoration, and of elaborate dress. "A song or story with the parts well arranged was also a κόσμος, and to show the courtesy of good manners, adapting to the needs of others was to be cosmic." The first to use the term in relationship to the whole of nature was by Pythagorus, who "was the first to call the sum of the whole by the name of [κόσμος], because of the order which was displayed."[FN4] Keep in mind beauty here is set in congruence with the idea of harmonious arrangement, and that there is an inherent blurring in the idea between referring to the arrangement of the parts and the whole made up thereof. The cosmos of oarsmen is not merely that they are in some way ordered, it is that they are ordered to the greater end of the whole of the propulsion of the boat. Beauty describes the coordination parts, but beauty does not exist but through the understanding of the whole.

[FN3] This brief discussion of the etymology of κόσμος is taken from M. R. Wright’s Cosmology in Antiquity (NY: Routledge, 1995. 3-4).

[FN4] Quoting Aetius, 2.1.1.

In scholastic notions of the beautiful (and Christian notions in general insofar as they remain therefrom derived), the beauty of form exists because that form is an echo of the divine within the created cosmos. This same idea underlies Descartes's systematizing of knowing in his Meditations: all knowing, all ability to know, all things corporeal and incorporeal that can be known, are knowable because the cosmos was created by an eminent deity. The modifier is essential. The cosmos was created out of, as an extension of the deity though in the act of creation separate therefrom, leaving it fixed in its form: potentiality ended at the act of genesis. For Descartes, et al (and I am here reading Descartes recognizing the circular fallacy of his argument, not as he presents it), all is knowable, because all is defined. All is knowable, because the cosmos was created by the divine, the source of all potentiality. But being created not as a continuation of the divine but an extension outward from the divine, it is not divinity that permeates the universe, it is the glory of the divine. That glory is not present in the cosmos, but shines upon it.

Thus the brightness of Dante's heaven, and the shadows of his Hell. Though, there is no place in the material comsos – nor in the realms of the afterlife – that there is not some degree of that light: even in very bottommost point of Hell. Lucifer's hirsute torso is the most distant point from the divine, is the greatest possible separation therefrom; but it is nonetheless within the created cosmos: and as created the light of divine glory shines upon – and in the sense of an ideal, out of – its forms. There is no place where the divine – where the formal principle of the divine – is not.

Yet Dante's Hell (and the whole topography of the Comedia) – I speak here of the Inferno as depiction, as conception – is structured in the image of the cosmos of the living. There is a reversed geomancy operating within the geography and its symbolism. When Dante writes the tiers of the afterlife, he is writing also – and overarchingly – of life on earth. As such his Hell is not itself not fundamentally different from the realms of living, nor as Otto Rank describes in Art and Artist, solely the "represent[ation] of terror and the negation of all hope on earth.

[E]ven in the everlasting flames which condemn to incessant torment the sinner who clings to carnal rebirth we can recognize the yearning for immortality.(157)

The Christian conception of Hell attempts to divorce it from, to set it in opposition to the divine; but, in depiction the divorce is never complete. There is always found depictions of Hell something of the world, a remnant of the notions of the chthonic realms of the earth: the dark unknown of nature, but of nature nonetheless. Dante's opus is, after all, a comedy, not a tragedy. The traveler descends into Hell to pass through and – not insignificantly at its deepest point – out of it.

This journey is one that is frequently encountered in myth, known as the Night Sea Journey[FN5] (or Night Sea Crossing). It is that descent into hell made by the mythic hero: one often portrayed as being swallowed by a beast (and it is in the belly of the dragon, or whale, that the origins of the Christian hell are found).[FN6] The journey is usually one of discovery, of rebirth or re-creation. The hero will descend into the dark underworld – will pass through the depths of creative waters in the purging fires of the belly of the whale – and emerge at great risk at a higher level of understanding, being, or metaphysical stature. The event is ubiquitous in alchemical symbolism, and it is out of alchemy that Jung explores its psychological significance as being symbolic of a descent into the unconscious, into the "dissociated state"; a journey made by the hero with the "end and aim [of] the restoration of life, resurrection, and the triumph over death" (PaA 329).

[It is] a state of introversion in which the unconscious context is brooded over and digested. During this operation all relations with the outside world are broken off; the feelers of perception and intuition, discrimination and valuation are withdrawn. The four wheels are 'placed upon the chariot': outside everything is quiet and still, but deep inside the psyche the wheels go on turning, performing those cyclic evolutions which bring the mandala to the total personality, the ground plan of the self, closer to consciousness. But so long as consciousness has not completed the process of integration it is covered by the 'blackest dead sea,' darkened by unconsciousness and oppressed by heat as was the hero in the belly of the whale during the night sea journey. (MC 203-4)
[FN5] After Frobenius, in Das Zeitalter des Sonnengottes (1904).

[FN6] On this, see in general Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The parallel: a descent into the unconscious to bring understanding, rebirth to the surface; a descent into hell whose exit is at its very pit. A third version: the journey into the labyrinth, whose classical, Creten-Mycenean incarnation represents "the decisive point in the artistic development from the chthonian-animalistic principle to the spiritual-creative" (Rank 147). It is here that Greek myth meets Egyptian animalism, especially, for this moment, in the transformation of the animal-headed creature from Egyptian god to Cretan monster (148). But also in the labyrinth itself, which is the culmination of the "progressive overcoming of the animal-chthonian element by an artistic principle of form" (152). Thus, like the Inferno, also classical in its modality, the working of the labyrinth is a descent from the ordered architecture of the external world down into the chaotic, where there awaits the opposite of rational order, the chthonic Beast. Within the depths of classicism there yet lies the primitive myth of nature's belly. In its origins (e.g., in Babylon), the labyrinth was a visual representation of the entrails of an animal, of the organs within its belly. By macrocosmic extension, these entrails were seen as par pro toto of the cosmos: a part of the whole, within which can be found the entirety of the whole. The primitive conception of earth was understood in terms of a mythic animalism: the cosmos as nature itself, and nature as direct representation of the mythic acts of the gods. In the Grecian telling of the Cretan labyrinth – the classical appropriation of the primitive symbol – the animalism is thrown off, and the labyrinth becomes instead the architectural construction of a human mind – a construction understood and appreciated on social terms.[FN7]

[FN7] We can note how the Minotaur is half-man/half-bull, but is represented as the upper half, the head-half, being the animalistic half. This is itself representative of the chthonic origins of the notion of hell, in that the center of the labyrinth is inhabited by (the labyrinth is created to contain) a beast whose higher half is of the lower animals. Contrast this to centaurs, whose upper half is human, representative of the shift from animal-cult to classical thought, where the head – physically and symbolically, on the human body as well as the architecture which echoes its form – is the representative seat of the more divine elements of man, and the abdomen the more base nature (See Rank 146-7).

This shift from primitive animalism to classical rationality is one stage of what Rank calls "the history of man's rise from creature to creator – which means, from religion to art" (144). By the time the labyrinth exists as something from which Theseus and Ariadne may emerge, it is no longer the entrails of the sacrificed animal. It is now a construct, a construction, a structure, whose definition is not a reiteration of mythically understood nature but of socially organized ideals. The idea has extended out from the communal to the social individual.[FN8] Thus the distinction (as offered by Rank) between primitive and classical art:

primitive art , the expression of a collective ideology, perpetuated by abstraction which has found its religious expression in the idea of the soul; Classical art, based on a social art-concept, perpetuated by idealization, which has found its purest expression in the conception of beauty. (45)[FN9] and, lastly, modern art, based on the concept of individual genius and perpetuated by concretization, which has found its clearest expression in the personality-cult of the artistic individuality itself."

The mythic entrails are become structure, out of which the hero may emerge. In the translation it becomes tied to the social. And from there it is only a step to the Christian notion of Hell.

It was the Greeks who first succeeded in freeing the human being from the animalistic [. . .]; either they caused the animal monsters to be slain by divine heroes (for example, Oedipus' killing of the Sphinx) or – which comes to the same thing – they banished them to the underworld. This underworld then became the model for the Christian hell, with all its monsters and the beast-like ruler at their head – only, the Christian conception of hell became moralized beyond the Greek idea of the underworld, just as the Christian conception of the soul spiritualized the purely human soul of the Greeks and thus in a sense macrocosmized it afresh. (145)

The shift is a change in cosmology. In the animal-chthonic cults, the earth was a macrocosmic womb, itself an origin of life: thus the relationship between life and death in burial rituals, as well as in building-sacrifices, an extension of the custom (predating the use of tombs) of burying the dead within or under the house so that the spirits of the dead may act as protectors of the house and the family still living within (another iteration of life out of death, where the rebirth of the dead occurs not for the benefit of the individual but for the benefit of the community). There is in the primitive a polyvalent overlaying of metaphor: the earth is a macrocosmic womb, the labyrinthian building likewise. The ideas of death and life, burial and birth (grave and womb), are simultaneous with those of both earth, house, and the labyrinth-building. (201-2) Cosmology is for the primitive community understood in this immediacy of meaning: the interior of the earth is the mythic womb, is the entrails of the animals from which are derived the images of the gods themselves.

[FN8] In a process Rank identifies as aestheticizing extroversion (155).

[FN9] Note that when speaking of beauty in relation to classical art, the key word is conception: it is not that classical art alone has beauty; but that classical art is derived from an explored and established concept of beauty.

With the Greeks, the high point of classical art, the soul-concept moves from the collective to the social, from the community to the individual. The labyrinth moves from entrail-labyrinth to architectural structure, though still carrying the symbolism of birth and death. The earth for the Greeks was still the source of life, conceived now not as macrocosmization of the womb of an animal but as that of the human individual (the human abdomen), not as a mythic equivalent but as a cultural metaphor.

When Christians recast the notion of the individual soul into that defined by their moralistic world view, the interior of the earth was re-macrocosmized as a dogmatically conceived hell: the center of the cosmic spheres, and thus the most distant point from the divinity outside. It shifted from being a vitalistic center of the cosmos (where earth has settled with creative waters) to being the point most distant from the creator-god (145).

As said earlier, we are tracking through Rank the development of man from "creature to creator" along a series of non-exclusive lines. There is that of the soul-concept, which is for the primitive a collective idea, and for the classical person a individual if socially conceived concept. The cosmos is for the primitive understood chthonically, out of the animalistic focus of their spirituality. The classical peoples break it away from the animalism to understand it as structure, as order, yet one socially defined (through the Greek ideal or Christian theology). Between these lines there is working that of the labyrinth, which for the primitive is icon of the animal-entrail, but for the classical becomes a structure in itself, a symbol (signifier) removed from direct material presence, a construct of the mind within which still lies imprisoned the ancient chthonic monsters: monsters that, with the rise of Classicism, were all forced by death or banishment into the belly of the cosmic whale. That is, they were cast out of the conscious world, banished to the realms of the unconscious. In psycho-philosophical terms, there is the rise of logos, the rational, the conscious, and the banishment of the animalistic, the irrational, the unconscious. The world for the primitive operates within and as an extension of the collective soul-ideology. The world for the classical culture exists as cosmos, within which exists the individual (if socially conceived) soul-ideology. Be it Greek or Christian, this classical cosmos is an eminently created cosmos: one defined externally, by laws that pre-exist in their divine state the cosmos itself. The Greeks generated the greatest, cultural incarnation of this Classicist ideology; but the Christians became, I would say, its greatest apologists and systematizers, as culminating in the theology of the Scholastics.[FN11]


[FN11] I offer this without presenting Rank’s own argument behind it, for such a presentation would take us too far away from the subject at hand. The soul-concept and the notion of art will meet up on their own accord within the process of this essay, and there is no reason to backtrack to visit territory that we will arrive at on our own, if from another direction. As a brief comment to his reasoning, I offer this early statement in Art and Artist:

Even if by art we understand, not the part played by the creator in the psychological sense, but the product, the work, or even the content of all art – at least for the particular period – we can for the time being sum up the relation of the artist to his art as follows: the artist, as a definite creative individual, uses the art-form that he find ready to his hand in order to express a something personal; this personal must therefore be connected with the prevailing artistic or cultural ideology, since otherwise he could not make use of them, but it must also differ, since otherwise he would not need to use them in order to produce something of his own. (6-7)

Rank bring forward the idea of the will-to-immortality in part out of Worringer’s aesthetic, of which he says: Its merit seems to me to be that it has shown this individual urge to eternalization of the personality, which motivates artistic production, to be a principle inherent in the art-form itself, in fact its essence. (11, his emphasis)


What remains constant are two fundamental ideas: that of the beauty of κόσμος, of harmonious structure; and that of its relation to the soul-concept:

The concept of the beautiful, which inspires the works of art of a period, is derived, not from the abstract significance of the soul-concept [. . .], but from its concretization. (12-13)

That concretization is driven by the individual's relationship to immortality: that is, "the will to objectify [the soul-concept] and thus to impart to it existence and, what is more, eternity" (15, Rank's emphasis).11

What differs is the nature of understanding of κόσμος and the soul-concept (themselves interrelated), and the resulting nature of the concretizing of the soul-concept in art.


Within the mythic presentation/reading of the Night Sea Journey the labyrinth transmutes from its surface, social forms to its depth, psychological structures. For the Greeks the Cretan labyrinth was the symbolic conquering of primitive animalism through rational design, through social aestheticization. Within the context of the psychological Night Sea Journey, however, the labyrinth becomes the symbol of the individual psyche, not as socially constructed but in its totality of the conscious and unconscious. To enter into the underworld is to enter into engagement with the unconscious, all it hides, and all that hides within it. The path from religion to art makes the final step, from "primitive art, the expression of a collective ideology," to "Classical art, based on a social art-concept, perpetuated," and to modern art, based on the concept of "individual genius" (45). This is what Rank calls the romantic individual, who appears first in the Renaissance (though it was there immediately repressed by the rise of a conservative Reformation and equally conservative Catholic reactionFN[12]). With the romantic artist the shift from religion to art is completed. As the Greeks broke from the animalism of the primitive cultures, so now the romantic artist breaks from Greek Classicism. The individual breaks away from the social conception of the soul, and develops a personal idea of the soul. The ideas of the labyrinth, of the cosmos, of art and beauty follow the shift:

Psychologically the notion of genius [. . .] is the apotheosis of man as a creative personality: the religious ideology (looking to the glory of God) being thus transferred to man himself. Sociologically it meant the creation and recognition of 'genius' as a type, as a culture-factor of highest value to the community, since it takes over on earth the role of the divine hero. Artistically, it implies the individual style, which indeed still holds on to the exemplars that [after the Renaissance] appear in aesthetic as formulated law, but which is [then] already free and autonomous in its divine creative power and is creating new forms from out of itself. (24)

The relationship between religion and art becomes an axis of artistic making. To the one side, the religion of the primitive peoples, whose art is communal, individual only in that the artist carries to the work their own individual presence. But the art itself is conceived of and understood through communality. On the other side is the romantic genius, whose art is divorced from the religious-communal and is birthed out of their own psychological being.[FN13] "Religion springs from the collective belief in immortality; art from the personal consciousness of the individual." It is false, however, to conceive of the two ends as exclusive principles: the "conflict between individuality and collectivity, the dualistic struggle within the creative artist of the two impulses of his own self" is inescapable, and they work both in opposition and in cooperation with each other (17-18, his emphasis). As appropriate to all such oppositions, moving to one extreme will reveal its meeting with and the passage to the other.


[FN12] On the effect of the Reformation upon Renaissance ideology, see Chapter 9, “Censoring Phantasy,” of Ioan P. Couliano’s Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987).

[FN13] Not independently of the cultural ideology, however. The artist is still and always a product of their historical moment, and can not escape that. The romantic artist, however, breaks the idea of art from the social moment. Rank describes the relationship as such:

the actual individual art-will is manifested primarily and essentially in the choice and treatment of the material, while the content of what is presented has more relation to the collective ideologies – although these of course are in a high degree individualized in the work of art produced” (75).

Notice that the collective ideology is present in content, not in form (or, where Rank also recognizes in the romantic artist the unity of content in form, in the nature of the art work as unified whole).


The conflict between religion and personal consciousness is essential also to the concept of cosmos (and κόσμος). Where the classical Greeks supplanted the primitive nature-as-god with cosmos as image of an deific ideal (and the Christians with the cosmos as created extension of the deity), the romantic artist engages the cosmos on a personal level, breaking away from social law. The purpose of art as glorification of the creator is no longer that of the creator-god but that of the creative psyche (16-7). The understanding of the cosmos follows. Where for the Scholastics the cosmos was created and in the instant of creation fixed in form, where creative potentiality ended with the closing of the divine act, where art is understood as the intuiting of the beauty of god as it exists in extension in the hidden forms of nature, man as artist can only be seen as a maker, with art being but the attempt to realize and reveal static, divinely cast form. Where the Scholastic perception of being is thus anchored in conscious rationality, the romantic artist understands the psyche in its totality of conscious+unconscious, of rationality as a construct within the greater irrationality, and as such replaces external, cosmos defining creator-god with the internal, experiencing psyche. The cosmos is no longer perceived as fixed by eminent creation, but is conceived as ineimmanent creation, of which the individual is a functioning part, and within which the individual can still tap the present potentiality of the cosmos in its own being. The individual is understood as microcosmic: a part of the whole which carries within itself the whole in potential. The concretization of the soul-concept that underlies art is not that of a soul understood through the eternal divine, but a concretization that is the attempt to immortalize the individual soul.

The opposition between the romantic and the classical is, for Rank, in parallel also with the pairing of the Dionysian and the Apollonian.[FN14]

The one creates more from fullness of powers and sublimation, the other more from exhaustion and compensation. The work of the one is entire in every single expression, that of the other is partial even in its totality, for the one lives itself out, positively, in the work, while the other pays with the work – pays, not to society (for both do that), but to life itself, from which the one strives to win freedom by self-willed creation whereas for the other the thing created is the expression of life itself. (44)

The work of the Apollonian is by necessity partial; that of the Dionysian total. The difference is understood through the idea of cosmos/κόσμος and the romantic individual's relation to it. The classical artist operates out of social law and conception: the definitions of the aesthetic exist in the social grouping (in ideal or divine radiance) before the making of the art work. As such, the Apollonian artist is an artist of established forms, the artist who strives in art to create forms but to perfect them. The artwork speaks not out of or to the individual, but out of and to the individual as member of a cultural group (51). The romantic, however, perceives the cosmos not through social structures or forms but out of the individual psyche, which is also the labyrinth, which is the unconscious, which is the dark, formative unknowable. "The artist, liberated from God, himself become god, soon overleaps the collective forms of style and their abstract formulation in aesthetic and constructs new forms of an individual nature, which cannot, therefore, be subsumed under laws" (24). Forms of an individual nature, yes, but nonetheless – in that humans are microcosmi within the greater, singular cosmos – forms of the inherent potentiality/possibility of the cosmos.

[FN14] Note, here, that Rank’s use of the terms Dionysian/Apollonian cannot be directly translated to Nietzsche’s use of the same. For Nietzsche, an Apollonian artist attempts to remove from their art the Dionysian. Its opposing side is not art that attempts to remove the Dionysian, however; it is art that recognizes the presence of both. If Dionysian art were to be understood as the other side of the spectrum from Apollonian art, then Dionysian art would be that of the Maenads wholly lost within the primal chaos of their induced madness. We will return to this idea, though not through Nietzsche, later.

A third iteration of this dualism: that of the logocentric and the desedimentary[FN15] (though, association with the Apollonian/Dionysian should be made with care: they are not synonymous, but, as with the religious/aesthetic, share a common ground). Derrida's brief description of logocentrism in the opening to "Freud and the Scene of Writing" carries parallels to Rank's discussion of classical/romantic dualism:

Logo-phonocentrism is not a philosophical or historical error which the history of philosophy, of the West, that is, of the world, would have rushed into pathologically, but is rather a necessary, and necessarily finite, movement and structure: the history of the possibility of symbolism in general (before the distinction between man and animal, and even before the distinction between living and non-living); the history of différance, history as différance [. . .]. (197)

With the shifting of the metaphysics of the signifier in the move from primitive (the immediate presence of the a priori within the signifier) to the classical (the signifier as fixed by a removed a priori) to the romantic (the break from the eminent a priori), Rank's exploration of the development from religion to art is also a study of the history of symbolism, the classical elements of which are functions of logocentrism.

[FN15] I use desedimentary to name that mode of language understood through post-structuralist exploration of the play made possible by the trace. In part it frees me from the association of the more commonly used word deconstruction with the critical deconstructive projects of Derrida, de Man, Miller, et al. It is known that Derrida himself preferred the word desedimentation to deconstruction (though, in this context they are synonymous), as I do, because the former is more materially descriptive of the nature of its relation to the metaphysical.


As in post-structuralist understanding where the individual is never not within the field of play of language, so also is the artist-as-creator also always part of the cosmos, and thus can only create out of the cosmos. In the classical model, just as hell is defined through the ideal laws of the cosmos, so also is the individual understood. But in the romantic, there is no a priori or de jure creator or externally fixed ideal that in turn fixes the laws of the cosmos. The romantic cosmos is an immanent cosmos: its 'creator' exists within the cosmos itself.[FN16] The individual creator is, as said, both part of the cosmos, and yet carries within itself the full creative potentiality of the cosmos. The limits of creation are not set in the moment of eminent creation, they are limited only by the being of cosmos, in all its possibility and potentiality.[FN17] Rather than ultimate beauty being defined by the ideal or by the deity that exists beyond and divorced from the material cosmos, the most beautiful thing is the cosmos itself. The beauty of the art object, is then, by extension, understood through κόσμος, the idea of harmonious arrangement perceived, contemplated, and understood not solely by the rational conscious (in its abstract characterization and quantification), but by the psyche that is elementarily unconscious: that is, the psyche as microcosmos. Without the classical logos delineating the forms of the cosmos, the distinction between the idea of labyrinth, the idea of unconscious, and the idea of cosmos unifies as aspects of the single cosmos that is the romantic psyche. In the immanent cosmos there is no point that is not equally 'divine,' no point that is not equally participatory in the being of the cosmos. The notion of divinity is no longer that of the god or idea that has created out of itself the cosmos, but is simply of the cosmos itself, in its own being: the act of creation (from any perspective within the cosmos) thus has neither beginning nor end: it exists as it exists, in full potentiality (limited only by the nature of the cosmos as a whole), with the forms inherent to the cosmos existing without de jure definition.

[FN16] Further explanation of this is beyond the bounds of this essay. See, however, the philosophical works of Giordano Bruno and the pre-eminent example Renaissance immanent cosmology.

[FN17] Possibility and potentiality that is limited in that this cosmos is this cosmos.

Artistic creation is in all stages the "urge to eternalization of the personality" (Rank 11). But artistic creation can not be understood separate from the notion of religion: even though they are opposed elements in the psyche, they are mutually integral. Aesthetic creation is religious in that both are focused on the soul-concept: the distinction is that the latter is a communal conception, the former is a personal conception; the latter is a communal response to a creator-god, the former is the recognition and immortalization of the creative personality (16-7). "Aesthetic is thus the psychological ideology of art, born from the notion of the genius-type and not from the collective – and religious – notion of style" (21). Underlying both is the still the soul-concept and the immortal, is still the notion of the divine. And in the comsological, humankind finds simultaneously an understanding of the nature of the divine and their relationship therewith. But not clinically: the individual has great stake in the cosmos, for the cosmos and the soul are directly related. As Eliade writes in The Sacred and the Profane:

It is easy to understand why the memory of that marvelous time haunted religious man, why he periodically sought to return to it. In illo tempore the gods had displayed their greatest powers. The cosmogony is the supreme divine manifestation, the paradigmatic act of strength, superabundance, and creativity. Religious man thirsts for the real. By every means at his disposal, he seeks to reside at the very source of primordial reality, when the world was in statu nascendi. (80, his emphasis).

The artist acts out of the urge to eternalization, which is to say out of the "desires and attempts to live close to his gods" (91).

The point to be emphasized is that, from the beginning, religious man sets the model he is to attain on the trans-human plane, the place revealed by his myths. One becomes truly a man only by conforming to the teaching of the myths, that is, by imitating the gods. (100, his emphasis)

This is speaking of the religious man in general, speaking of the psychological and mythic currents that underlie the religious (perhaps it is more accurate, here, to say the spiritual) – but also, out of Rank, of the aesthetic. And Eliade's studies take on a greater dimension when they are overlayed with the religion/aesthetics dualism. The romantic individual becomes "truly an individual" only by imitating the gods, and finds their model on the "trans-human place, the place revealed by the myths." For the primitive psyche, the animalistic world was inseparable from the mythic, created of the gods and understood (and imitated) through the macro-microcosmic iterations of the their chthonic communality. For the classical individual, imitating the gods becomes the strive for the ideal, that model that exists outside of and which defines the structures and beauty of the cosmos.

But in the romantic ideology the gods do not exist except – returning to our central myth – as the minotaur in the center of a labyrinth that has no center, that lacks a defining ideal or creator. The gods exist only in the unconscious self, but also in the cosmos in that the self is microcosmic participant in the macrocosmos: or, from the viewpoint of the individual, the cosmos only exists at it is understood by, as it is engaged by, the 'microcosmic' psyche. The 'trans-human' plane does not exist outside the cosmos, but as the cosmos qua cosmos: itself eternal and unfixed, immanently divine, without either moment of creation or de-creation (outside of the metaphysics of historicist teleology). For the romantic individual there is no moment (never was, can never be any) where the cosmos is in statu nascendi: the phrase for the romantic signifies not a point of time, but a mode of perception and understanding. Every moment is the originary moment; the cosmos is not created, cast into existence by a finished moment of creation, an originary act of "logocentric closure" (Derrida F 198). To yearn for the above "primordial reality" is not an act of repetition, for as Freud realized with memory,[FN18] "repetition does not happen to an initial impression; its possibility is already there" (202, emphasis his). The romantic cosmos exists perpetually in its primordial reality. To yearn for it is thus not to yearn for its origin but its own being in the present; the urge to eternalization and its romantic pursuit for beauty thus lies not in seeking the (mythic or metaphysical) origin of the cosmos, but to seek the κόσμος of the cosmos: the beauty that is, in echo of the classical cosmological spheres, the harmony of the cosmos, its harmonious assembly, its harmony in system. The aesthetic object, then, created out of this non-originary cosmos, is best understood – in the image of its creator – as microcosmos, as κόσμος within/of cosmos.

[FN18] “The irreducibility of the ‘effect of deferral’ – such, no doubt, is Freud’s discovery” (203).


We can explore the relationship between the romantic art-object and cosmos through Lyotard's exploration of the psycho-textual mise-en-scène in "The Unconscious as Mise-en-scène." He assumes a stereotypical performance of Der Rosenkavalier as the artistic object whose interpretation will parallel that of the unconscious, resulting in two 'performances': that on the operatic stage, and that on the psychic stage.

There are two primary characteristics to be discerned: first, that the "mise-en-scène consists of a complex group of operations, each of which transcribes a message written in a given sign system[. . .] and turns it into a message capable of being inscribed on human bodies [the actors] and transmitted to those to other bodies [the audience]"; second, "the simple fact of transcription – that is, the fact of a change in the space of inscription" (88). With the example of the opera, there is the transcription of the primary text of the libretto, the musical score, the choreography, etc., onto the bodies of the observed performers, all of which, once transcribed, and including the visual presence of the stage itself, create the performance's mise-en-scène. In examining a dream, there is readily sene a similar transcription of dream content onto the bodies of the people in the dreams: they are not null-signifiers, but carry meaning within the mise-en-scène of the dream.

Yet there comes the question as to whether dreams carry an original text in the manner of the operatic: is there an originary meaning that gets translated onto the bodies within the dream? Briefly, the answer, which Freud himself came to recognize, is no.19 There is an underlying text, which is understood as the drives, in later Freud as drives "no longer conceived of as a wish, but as a bloc of forces, in the sense of a dynamics" (93). In that these drives "do not fit into the categories of rational thought" (94), it can not be said that they 'speak' in the manner of the operatic texts, say in the manner of words or notes scribed on a page; they can not be said act as referential carriers of significations. So while the actors and musicians can be said to be performing the original text of the opera, no such action can be said of the dream, and as such "we must not say that the unconscious stages the message of desire" (94). Rather,

When the force used to stage something has no goal other than to make manifest its potentiality, when it is the same force that produces and implements the most sophisticated programs and machines, the distinction between desire and the unconscious disappears entirely. (97)

Yet another iteration of the religion/art dualism. The mise-en-scène of the operatic stage is the performance of an underlying text by the bodies of persons. It is a translation of meaning from originary text to the experienced performance. Perfection in the performance is understood as the most complete portrayal of the meanings carried and represented by the original text. However, in the mise-en-scène of the psychic stage, there can not be said to be a translation from original text: in fact, the original text of desire (as Lyotard rhetorically limits it) becomes indistinguishable from the unconscious presenting it. This is the state of romantic individual functioning within the field of the trace, and what Derrida describes when the speaks of existing in language, e. g.:

We thus interrogate the limit that has always constrained us, that always constrains us – we who inhabit a language as a system of thought – to form the sense of being in general as presence or absence, in the categories of being or beingness (ousia). (D 139)
[FN19] As does Derrida in “Freud and the Scene of Writing,” though here much more briefly, Lyotard presents the development of Freud’s understanding of the nature of the unconscious, which I leave out for sake of space.

And so we can make a preliminary return to Rank's stages of aesthetic development, which is always impelled by the will to objectify and eternalize the soul. First,

primitive art, the expression of a collective ideology, perpetuated by abstraction which has found its religious expression in the idea of the soul.

Here, the mise-en-scene of the objectification of the soul is the animalistic cosmos itself: the originary text and the mise-en-scène collapse together not in identity but in direct translation of the soul onto the art object. The labyrinth-entrail is direct representation and reiteration of the cosmos. The communality of their religion thus extends beyond the social to include the cosmos as a whole, where imitation of the gods is reiteration of the mythic acts that underlie the nature of the cosmos. Then,

Classical art, based on a social art-concept, perpetuated by idealization, which has found its purest expression in the conception of beauty.

The mis-en-scène of the art object is here the performance of meaning translated from the original text of the cosmos: the a priori of the gods and ideals that exist outside the cosmos and fix the nature and structure of its being. The labyrinth is the performance of a social ideology, and is thus a text that can be read so as to reveal that underlying and common ideology, which itself, ultimately, can be read (and is so crafted) so as to reveal the a priori within. The eminently created cosmos is itself such a text, which speaks the originary meaning of the creator-gods, and is thus, as everything within it, hermeneutically fixed by the meaning written within/by it. Finally, there is

modern art, based on the concept of individual genius and perpetuated by concretization, which has found its clearest expression in the personality-cult of the artistic individuality itself. (45)

Even though the underlying energies of both art and religion is the concretization of the soul, it is not until the romantic individual that that act becomes the defining element of the art object. With the primitive, the communal soul was performed continually within the world, and the artist needed only duplicate that performance to concretize the soul. For the classical artist, the soul is already defined by the social ideology, and the act of concretization is merely the performing and duplication of that ideology. Elevation in art is obtained in the attempt to most perfect the made object according to the presence of the ideals in the material (corporeal and not) of construction. But the romantic artist has no source of understanding of the soul outside their own psyche, so art is a true concretization of the soul, performed in the mis-en-scène of the immanent cosmos, which, in the manner of the unconscious, is indistinguishable from the bloc of desires that is the psyche's originary text. The art object, the artist, the cosmos itself as perceived by the artist are all microcosmos, a part-and-whole of the greater cosmos yet holding within in the full potentiality of the cosmos (the last because the artist is already part of the cosmos, and thus can only experience the cosmos from within, as microcosmos). Meaning – such as it can still be called 'meaning' – exists within the object-as-microcosmos without any originary text, through the limiting of the cosmos by the material (corporeal and not) of the created object.

Derrida answering Freud's "Project for a Scientific Psychology:

'Conciousness gives us what are called qualities [. . .]. Within this difference there are series, similarities, and so on, but there are in fact no qualities in it. It may be asked how qualities originate and where qualities originate.'

Neither outside nor inside. They cannot be in the external world [. . .]. Nor in the interiority of the psyche. (F 204)

This "mise-en-scène of the unconscious" is also the "Scene of Writing," the mise-en-scène of the immanent cosmos, which is also the mise-en-scène of text: of the text as understood though the play of differences, the weave of pure traces, the field of différance. The phrasing throughout Derrida's essay – as well as much of his writing, which as a group operates as a textual weaving – frequently echoes the vocabulary I have been using: three of the more apparent are the use of myth,

To say that différance is originary is simultaneously to erase the myth of a present origin. Which is why "originary" must be understood as having been crossed out, without which différance would be derived from an original plenitude. It is non-origin which is originary. (203)

and a unity between the ideas of stage and the (unstated) cosmos.

The subject of writing is a system of relations between strata: the Mystic Pad, the psyche, society, the world. Within that scene, on that stage, the punctual simplicity of the classical subject is not to be found. (227)

This ["the relationship to itself of the historico-transcendental stage of writing"] may perhaps be recognized [. . .] insofar as Freud too [. . .] performed for us the scene of writing. But we must think of this scene in other terms than those of individual or collective psychology, or even anthropology. It must be thought in the horizon of the scene/stage of the world, as the history of that scene/stage. Freud's language is caught up in it. (229)

The connection between the ideas of immanent cosmos and post-structural thought is not merely one of commonalities: the former describes the phenomenological field of the latter, and the latter describes the system of being of the former. The methodology for approaching the immanent cosmos is the same as that for desedimented language: "To think play radically the ontological and transcendental problematics must first be radically exhausted>" (OG 50, his emphasis). To think the immanent cosmos necessitates a radical exhaustion of the (primitive) communal and the (classical) social. The religious-to-artistic shift to the aesthetic individual, must be accompanied in discourse by the elimination of all remnants of presence and of the eminent deity, including that of the idea of consciousness as – in the manner of logocentric – essential: as Derrida writes in "Differance,"

We thus come to posit presence – and, in particular, consciousness, the being-next-to-itself of consciousness – no longer as the absolutely matrical form of being but as a 'determination' and an 'effect.' Presence is a determination and effect within a system which is no longer that of presence but that of differance; it no more allows the opposition between activity and passivity than that between cause and effect or in-determination and determination, etc. (D 147)

While language is both logocentric and desedimentary, the two are not equal in modality: the former is an effect of the latter. Understanding the immanent cosmos-as-perceived as microcosmos, and both the aesthetic individual and the aesthetic art object as microcosmos, requisites the elimination of the distinction between the unconscious and the drives, between the unconscious and the cosmos-as-perceived (which is nonetheless the cosmos, in that perception is also a function of the cosmos), between the individual psyche and the cosmos.

And it is not unnoticed that the work cosmos does not have a plural: there is only cosmos. We can attempt to distinguish with articles or adjectives – the cosmos of the unconscious, the greater cosmos of space-time; but the artificiality and futility of the modifiers are quickly evident: the individual is cosmos, the art object is cosmos, the cosmos is cosmos: and they are all, individually or as group, κόσμος. In the extreme aestheticism of the romantic individual the boundaries break (are broken) down, and the examination of artist and art object is all questions not of identity but of engagement, the viewer in active participation of the play of differences. When Rank writes that "the Classical type [. . .] creates immortal work from mortal life without necessarily having first transformed it into personal experience as is the case with the romantic" (47), he distinguishes the romantic creation of the aesthetic object as one operating within the borderless play of trace. The classical manipulates matter to bring it to as near perfect imitation of ideals as can be managed; the creative act of the romantic, however, occurs within a continuous and unbroken phenomenal field that includes (though "includes" is inadequate in that these are not members of a set) the object perceived, the mind contemplating, and the cosmos of which both are a part. Making for linethe classical artist is the transcription of meaning – ultimately the eminent meaning, the eminent text that defines (a priori) the whole of the cosmos: art work is the operatic stage that is Lyotard's starting point. For the romantic artist, however, the mise-en-scène of the art work has no eminent, text-defining meaning – or even the stage itself. For the romantic, "there is not present text in general, and there is not even a past present text, a text which is past as having been present. The text is not conceivable in an originary or modified form of presence" (Derrida F 211).

The text is microcosmos, which is distinguishable from microcosmos in the material existence, but not in immaterial potentiality – though as with all other presence, the notion of 'material existence' must also be put under erasure, and understood as another effect of the cosmos of the unconscious. Form and content for the romantic artist are as well indistinguishable: "one of the deepest laws of all artistic productivity: that fact that, in works of art, form and content not only constitute an inseparable unity, but actually express one and the same thing in two different ways"(Rank 69); the text exists only as it is experienced, which is to say, only erotically.[FN20] Having no originary text defining the forms of matter from which the art object is made or the content toward which the art object is perfected, nor the contextual stage upon which the art object may be performed, the romantic artist creates as well in the sense of microcosmos. "Originary writing, if there is one, must produce the space and the materiality of the sheet itself" (Derrida F 210). For both the classical and romantic artist, originary writing occurs in the act of creation; for the romantic, however, creation is continual, ongoing, without past or future, without progress or regression as in the nature and being of the cosmos: the making of the art work is the originary writing of creation – though originary in the non-originary manner of the play of differences.21 It is on this field that the romantic Daedalus constructs his labyrinth: in the field of play of the trace. And it is this field that explains why the romantic labyrinth has no center: topographically in the sense that there is no measurable boundary, and thus no graphically definable center; irrationally in that the spiraling inward that is the descent to the minotaur is not bound by space: the spiral continues without end. Compare:

Therefore, the world machine will have, one might say, its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere, for its circumference and center is God, who is everywhere and nowhere. (De Cusa 161)

For if there is neither machine nor text without psychical origin, there is no domain of the psychic without text. (Derrida F 199)

Existence in the romantic cosmos is existence in the labyrinth, everywhere potentially a path leading inward, to the dark inside of the unconscious, of the text, which as linguistic text must be thought not as written on or written about, but created within.

[FN20] The reference to Sontag’s “Against Interpretation” is intentional, and would be a recognized reoccurrence of a theme were this essay part of the dissertation.

Works Cited


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