THE DANCE OF SIVA: 1985

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Siva, New York, 1985.

AK Coomaraswamy (1877-1947)

…..”The question follows: What is the essential element in poetry? According to some authors this consists in style and figures, or in suggestion (vyanjana, to which we shall recur in discussing the varieties of poetry). But the greater writers refute these views and are agreed that the one essential element in poetry is what they term Rasa, or Flavour. With this term, which is the equivalent of Beauty or Aesthetic Emotion in the strict sense of the philosopher, must be considered the derivative adjective rasavant, ‘having rasa’, applied to a work of art, and the derivative substantive rasika, one who enjoys rasa, a connoisseur or lover, and finally rasasvadana, the tasting of rasa, i.e., aesthetic contemplation.

What, then is Beauty, what is rasa, what is it that entitles us to speak of divers works as beautiful or rasavant? What is this sole quality which the most dissimilar works of art possess in common? Let us recall the history of a work of art. There is (1) an asethetic institution on the part of the original artist, –the poet or creator; then (2) the internal expression of this intuition, –the true creation or vision of beauty (3) the indication of this by external signs (language) for the purpose of communication, –the technical activity; and finally (4) the resulting stimulation of the critic or rasika to reproduction of the original intuition, or of some approximation of it.

…The true critic (rasika) perceives the beauty of which the artist has exhibited the signs. It is not necessary that the critic should appreciate the artist’s meaning–every work or art is a kamadhenu, yielding many meanings–for he knows without reasoning whether or not the work is beautiful, before the mind begins to question what it is ‘about’. Hindu writers say that the capacity to feel beauty (to taste rasa) cannot be acquired by study, but is the reward of merit gained in a past life; for many good men and would-be historians of art have never perceived it. The poet is born, not made; but so also is the rasika, whose genius differs in degree, not in kind, from that of the original artist. In western phraseology we should express this by saying that experience can only be bought by experience; opinions must be earned. We gain and feel nothing merely when we take it on authority that any works are beautiful. It is far better to be honest, and to admit that perhaps we cannot see their beauty. A day may come when we shall be better prepared.”

OBSERVATION: Rasa, or flavor represents the essential fluid, energy, dynamic, and mystery that defines art. Necessary aspects of art are found in the artist as generator of the art, and the rasika, the connoisseur or lover of rasa; aesthetic contemplation. It is this mutually symbiotic relationship between artist and participant that maintains the liveliness of the idea; rasa; flavor. Participation is necessary for a successful marriage between intuition, artist, participant, and ultimately the active component: rasasvadana .

LAWS OF ENERGETICS: CONDITIONS OF REALITY: 1953

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy, Editions du Seuil, 1963.

page 361…”In a way that is somehow paralleled by the dominance in the fields of pure thought of the ens of the metaphysicians, the energy of the phycisist operates as something against which there is no appeal in the domain of experience: energy, the prime, multiform stuff of all phenomena; and energy, again, the standard by which is measured what is, or is not, achievable in practice.

‘A priori, says the philosopher, ‘only that can exist which is thinkable’.
‘A priori’, says the scientist, ‘only that can appear which is in conformity with energy’….
But the scientist, too, in his own way and on his own level, recognizes that he is capable of deciding, even in advance, under what conditions an event is possible–and in what general direction, once it has been initiated, the course of things must inevitably develop. And this, moreover, applies in all departments of the real; because, running through the rigorous laws of physiology and production, for example the decrees of thermodynamics extend even into zones as apparently ‘spiritual’ as the psychology of the individual and of society.”

OBSERVATION: Arguments persist about the fundamental truth of science relative to art. Chardin points to the question as to whether science and art are relative, and whether they mutually exchange characteristics, behaviors, or actions. At one level mathematics appears to represent pure logic, rationality, and yet in an abstract sense mathematics can represent a fluid representation of nature and phenomena. Far from being a definition of straightforward logic, mathematics approaches, or is identical to any definition of the creative and intuitive found in art.

ON COGNITIVE CAPACITY: 1976

Noam Chomsky, Reflections on Language, Fontana, 1976.

…”Why study language? There are many possible answers, and by focusing on some I do not, of course, mean to disparage others or question their legitimacy. One may, for example, simply be fascinated by the elements of language in themselves, and want to discover their order and arrangement, their origin in history or in the individual, or the ways in which they are used in thought, in science or in art, or in normal social interchange. One reason for studying language–and for me personally the most compelling reason–is that it is tempting to regard language, in the traditional phrase, as ‘a mirror of mind’.”

OBSERVATION: Chomsky identifies the beauty and potential found in language. Instead of relying on criticism of language, his statement clearly leads us to the potential, the spectacular, the possibility existing at the center of the language universe. Language is the vehicle we use, and for the most part have used for millenia to bridge the barrier between individuals, societies, and larger regions on the planet. With the advent of the internet, it is now possible to broaden the reach of communication using language translators that were simply not available a few years ago. Perhaps more than anything, upon reading the sage wisdom of Noam Chomsky, we should recognize the brilliance contained within his mind, and how he has used language to mirror his spectacular thought process.

FREEDOM OF THE WILL: 1839

Schopenhauer, Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will, Cambridge, 1999.

April 1837: “Can the freedom of the will be proven from self-consciousness?”

page 29: “On the other hand, I cannot omit the difference brought about in motivation by that which distinguishes human consciousness from all animal consciousness. This trait, which is properly expressed by the word reason, consists in a human being not merely capable, like an animal, of an intuitive apprehension of the external world, but also of abstracting universal concepts (notiones universales) from it. To be able to fix and retain these in his sensuous consciousness, he denotes them by words, and then makes innumerable combinations with them. These, like the concepts of which they consist, are of course related always to the world that is known through intuition, yet they properly constitute what we call thinking.”

OBSERVATION: Humans possess a complex ability with language that has developed through years of effort. It is possible for communication to take place using specific language elements (0, 1), and other manifestations such as (a, b, c, etc.). Many other forms exist including languages associated with social and cultural developments. Pictograms, or pictographs represent a further development in the abstract and conceptual universe of language. In these forms ideas are contained using visual elements (art) to illustrate the ideas, and surface for communicating these ideas. Noam Chomsky wrote about phonemes and morphemes which demonstrate important avenues for understanding language.

Recently, linguists, and biologists have shown how animals have highly developed language forms, such as bird or whale song. Additionally, dolphins have clearly demonstrated self-awareness. In this context of contemporary scientific exploration (2010), we must understand that a potential for complex conscious activity is not the exclusive domain of human existence.

TRACTATUS LOGICO-PHILOSOPHICUS

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, 1921-22, Kegan Paul.

page 22–
3.5 “A propositional sign, applied and thought out, is a thought.
4 A thought is a proposition with a sense.
4.001 The totality of propositons is language.
4.002 Man possesses the ability to construct languages capable of expressing every sense, without having any idea how each word has meaning or what its meaning is–just as people speak without knowing how the individual sounds are produced.
Everyday language is a part of the human organism and is no less complicated than that.
It is not humanly possible to gather immediately from it what the logic of language is.
Language disguises thought. So much so, that from the outward form of the clothing it is impossible to infer the form of the thought beneath it, because the outward form of the clothing is not designed to reveal the form of the body, but for entirely different purposes.
The tacit conventions on which the understanding of everyday language depends are enormously complicated.”

OBSERVATION: It is important to understand the complexity of language in order to derive genuine meaning from the language itself. Several levels can be found within the architecture of language, and though certain words, phrases, sentences, etc., may seem to offer universal content, it is clear that multiple interepretations can be derived from singular expressions.

DE-DEFINITION OF ART: 1972

Harold Rosenberg, The De-Definition of Art, MacMillan, 1972.

page 223. “The artist today is offered a catalogue of styles and invited to choose. He knows, however, that the latest edition of the style book is already out of date. Everything that has been done in art opens another door, but the door faces a blank wall. To the
artist, once someone else has made a move there is no use repeating it. In effect, therefore, each invention plugs up another avenue in advance. Thus, having cancelled or submerged traditional modes of art, the new has reached the point of cancelling itself. All advanced styles are simultaneously legitimized on the ground that they reflect present realities, and discredited on the ground that they belong to the past.”

OBSERVATION: Since the beginning of the twentieth century many schools and styles of art have appeared in the world. Manifestos have proliferated describing new intentions and directions, with artists hoping to make a mark inviting viewers to ponder ideas in a new light. As remarked by Rosenberg, new insights can be either legitimized or discredited relative to the observer’s position.

The historical sources of art found in new art can provide artists with rich soil for the imagination. While there are times in the history of art when artists have specifically tried to undo previous styles and philosophical directions, there are also times when earlier art has provided fertile ground for the proliferaiton of new ideas, dependent on previous insight. If it were not for Roman sculptors who copied earlier Greek sculpture, we, in the present, would not know, and have access to the iconography of much Greek sculpture. It is only through observing Roman copies of Greek sculpture that we have a historical document (albeit copied) of this earlier Greek period.

The history of art is rich with instances where artists attempt to be the advance guard, sometimes reacting to previous art, and at other times trying to work freely in an effort to open the doors of possibility. Certainly, we can look to mathematics as a correlary, where mathematicians in the contemporary world have benefited from the explorations of earlier minds. Science demonstrates a continuing evolution of knowledge. There was a time when people believed the earth was flat.

Perhaps more than anything it is importnat to recognize the contributions made by artists throughout time, for it is in the world of art where we see many spectacular achievements of the human imagination. Personalities reflect themselves in the art, and it is this demonstration, or concretion of ideas where we as partipants in the esthetic experience benefit from the thoughts, actions, and marks left by artists.