[WilliamJames] Rest of Lectures 6-7

Jesse Raber jesse.raber at gmail.com
Tue Mar 11 13:36:31 CDT 2014

Anyone else? I'm ready to start up with the thinksheets again, but I'd like
to confirm that we have a critical mass.

On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 10:08 AM, Mary Haake <maryhaakephd at gmail.com> wrote:

> I'm still reading, but not caught up!
> Mary Haake
> On Mar 10, 2014, at 11:07 PM, Eric Purdy <epurdy at uchicago.edu> wrote:
> With this, we're caught up! How many people are still reading?
> To a mind attentive to this state of things and rightly subject to the
> joy-destroying chill which such a contemplation engenders, the only relief
> that healthy-mindedness can give is by saying: 'Stuff and nonsense, get out
> into the open air!' or 'Cheer up, old fellow, you'll be all right
> erelong, if you will only drop your morbidness!' But in all seriousness,
> can such bald animal talk as that be treated as a rational answer? To
> ascribe religious value to mere happy-go-lucky contentment with one's brief
> chance at natural good is but the very consecration of forgetfulness and
> superficiality. Our troubles lie indeed too deep for *that* cure. The
> fact that we *can* die, that we *can* be ill at all, is what perplexes
> us; the fact that we now for a moment live and are well is irrelevant to
> that perplexity. We need a life not correlated with death, a health not
> liable to illness, a kind of good that will not perish, a good in fact that
> flies beyond the Goods of nature.
> It all depends on how sensitive the soul may become to discords. "The
> trouble with me is that I believe too much in common happiness and
> goodness," said a friend of mine whose consciousness was of this sort, "and
> nothing can console me for their transiency. I am appalled and disconcerted
> at its being possible." And so with most of us: a little cooling down of
> animal excitability and instinct, a little loss of animal toughness, a
> little irritable weakness and descent of the pain-threshold, will bring the
> worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight into full view, and
> turn us into melancholy metaphysicians. The pride of life and glory of the
> world will shrivel. It is after all but the standing quarrel of hot youth
> and hoary eld. Old age has the last word: the purely naturalistic look at
> life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness.
> This sadness lies at the heart of every merely positivistic, agnostic, or
> naturalistic scheme of philosophy. Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its
> best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and
> forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of,
> and the skull will grin in at the banquet. In the practical life of the
> individual, we know how his whole gloom or glee about any present fact
> depends on the remoter schemes and hopes with which it stands related. Its
> significance and framing give it the chief part of its value. Let it be
> known to lead nowhere, and however agreeable it may be in its immediacy,
> its glow and gilding vanish. The old man, sick with an insidious internal
> disease, may laugh and quaff his wine at first as well as ever, but he
> knows his fate now, for the doctors have revealed it; and the knowledge
> knocks the satisfaction out of all these functions. They are partners of
> death and the worm is their brother, and they turn to a mere flatness.
> The lustre of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of
> possibilities it goes with. Let our common experiences be enveloped in an
> eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let
> Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and
> hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in;--and his days pass by with
> zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values. Place
> around them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all
> permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular science
> evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill
> stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.
> For naturalism, fed on recent cosmological speculations, mankind is in a
> position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake,
> surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little
> by little the ice is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the
> last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously will be the
> human creature's portion. The merrier the skating, the warmer and more
> sparkling the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night, the more
> poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total
> situation.
> The early Greeks are continually held up to us in literary works as models
> of the healthy-minded joyousness which the religion of nature may engender.
> There was indeed much joyousness among the Greeks--Homer's flow of
> enthusiasm for most things that the sun shines upon is steady. But even in
> Homer the reflective passages are cheerless,[8]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-8>and the moment the Greeks grew systematically pensive and thought of
> ultimates, they became unmitigated pessimists.[9]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-9>The jealousy of the gods, the nemesis that follows too much happiness, the
> all-encompassing death, fate's dark opacity, the ultimate and
> unintelligible cruelty, were the fixed background of their imagination.
> The beautiful joyousness of their polytheism is only a poetic modern
> fiction. They knew no joys comparable in quality of preciousness to those
> which we shall erelong see that Brahmans, Buddhists, Christians,
> Mohammedans, twice-born people whose religion is non-naturalistic, get from
> their several creeds of mysticism and renunciation.
> Stoic insensibility and Epicurean resignation were the farthest advance
> which the Greek mind made in that direction. The Epicurean said: "Seek not
> to be happy, but rather to escape unhappiness; strong happiness is always
> linked with pain; therefore hug the safe shore, and do not tempt the deeper
> raptures. Avoid disappointment by expecting little, and by aiming low; and
> above all do not fret." The Stoic said: "The only genuine good that life
> can yield a man is the free possession of his own soul; all other goods are
> lies." Each of these philosophies is in its degree a philosophy of despair
> in nature's boons. Trustful self-abandonment to the joys that freely offer
> has entirely departed from both Epicurean and Stoic; and what each proposes
> is a way of rescue from the resultant dust-and-ashes state of mind. The
> Epicurean still awaits results from economy of indulgence and damping of
> desire. The Stoic hopes for no results, and gives up natural good
> altogether. There is dignity in both these forms of resignation. They
> represent distinct stages in the sobering process which man's primitive
> intoxication with sense-happiness is sure to undergo. In the one the hot
> blood has grown cool, in the other it has become quite cold; and although I
> have spoken of them in the past tense, as if they were merely historic, yet
> Stoicism and Epicureanism will probably be to all time typical attitudes,
> marking a certain definite stage accomplished in the evolution of the world-sick
> soul.[10]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-10>They mark the conclusion of what we call the once-born period, and
> represent the highest flights of what twice-born religion would call the
> purely natural man--Epicureanism, which can only by great courtesy be called
> a religion, showing his refinement, and Stoicism exhibiting his moral will.
> They leave the world in the shape of an unreconciled contradiction, and
> seek no higher unity. Compared with the complex ecstasies which the
> supernaturally regenerated Christian may enjoy, or the oriental pantheist
> indulge in, their receipts for equanimity are expedients which seem almost
> crude in their simplicity.
> Please observe, however, that I am not yet pretending finally to *judge*any of these attitudes. I am only describing their variety.
> The securest way to the rapturous sorts of happiness of which the
> twice-born make report has as an historic matter of fact been through a
> more radical pessimism than anything that we have yet considered. We have
> seen how the lustre and enchantment may be rubbed off from the goods of
> nature. But there is a pitch of unhappiness so great that the goods of
> nature may be entirely forgotten, and all sentiment of their existence
> vanish from the mental field. For this extremity of pessimism to be
> reached, something more is needed than observation of life and reflection
> upon death. The individual must in his own person become the prey of a
> pathological melancholy. As the healthy-minded enthusiast succeeds in
> ignoring evil's very existence, so the subject of melancholy is forced in
> spite of himself to ignore that of all good whatever: for him it may no
> longer have the least reality. Such sensitiveness and susceptibility to
> mental pain is a rare occurrence where the nervous constitution is entirely
> normal; one seldom finds it in a healthy subject even where he is the
> victim of the most atrocious cruelties of outward fortune. So we note here
> the neurotic constitution, of which I said so much in my first lecture,
> making its active entrance on our scene, and destined to play a part in
> much that follows. Since these experiences of melancholy are in the first
> instance absolutely private and individual, I can now help myself out with
> personal documents. Painful indeed they will be to listen to, and there is
> almost an indecency in handling them in public. Yet they lie right in the
> middle of our path; and if we are to touch the psychology of religion at
> all seriously, we must be willing to forget conventionalities, and dive
> below the smooth and lying official conversational surface.
> One can distinguish many kinds of pathological depression. Sometimes it is
> mere passive joylessness and dreariness, discouragement, dejection, lack of
> taste and zest and spring. Professor Ribot has proposed the name
> *anhedonia* to designate this condition.
> "The state of *anhedonia*, if I may coin a new word to pair off with
> *analgesia*," he writes, "has been very little studied, but it exists. A
> young girl was smitten with a liver disease which for some time altered her
> constitution. She felt no longer any affection for her father and mother.
> She would have played with her doll, but it was impossible to find the
> least pleasure in the act. The same things which formerly convulsed her
> with laughter entirely failed to interest her now. Esquirol observed the
> case of a very intelligent magistrate who was also a prey to hepatic
> disease. Every emotion appeared dead within him. He manifested neither
> perversion nor violence, but complete absence of emotional reaction. If he
> went to the theatre, which he did out of habit, he could find no pleasure
> there. The thought of his house, of his home, of his wife, and of his
> absent children moved him as little, he said, as a theorem of Euclid."[11]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-11>
> Prolonged seasickness will in most persons produce a temporary condition
> of anhedonia. Every good, terrestial or celestial, is imagined only to be
> turned from with disgust. A temporary condition of this sort, connected
> with the religious evolution of a singularly lofty character, both
> intellectual and moral, is well described by the Catholic philosopher,
> Father Gratry, in his autobiographical recollections. In consequence of
> mental isolation and excessive study at the Polytechnic school, young
> Gratry fell into a state of nervous exhaustion with symptoms which he thus
> describes:--
> "I had such a universal terror that I woke at night with a start, thinking
> that the Pantheon was tumbling on the Polytechnic school, or that the
> school was in flames, or that the Seine was pouring into the Catacombs, and
> that Paris was being swallowed up. And when these impressions were past,
> all day long without respite I suffered an incurable and intolerable
> desolation, verging on despair. I thought myself, in fact, rejected by God,
> lost, damned! I felt something like the suffering of hell. Before that I
> had never even thought of hell. My mind had never turned in that direction.
> Neither discourses nor reflections had impressed me in that way. I took no
> account of hell. Now, and all at once, I suffered in a measure what is
> suffered there.
> "But what was perhaps still more dreadful is that every idea of heaven was
> taken away from me: I could no longer conceive of anything of the sort.
> Heaven did not seem to me worth going to. It was like a vacuum; a
> mythological elysium, an abode of shadows less real than the earth. I could
> conceive no joy, no pleasure in inhabiting it. Happiness, joy, light,
> affection, love--all these words were now devoid of sense. Without doubt I
> could still have talked of all these things, but I had become incapable of
> feeling anything in them, of understanding anything about them, of hoping
> anything from them, or of believing them to exist. There was my great and
> inconsolable grief! I neither perceived nor conceived any longer the
> existence of happiness or perfection. An abstract heaven over a naked rock.
> Such was my present abode for eternity."[12]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-12>
> So much for melancholy in the sense of incapacity for joyous feeling. A
> much worse form of it is positive and active anguish, a sort of psychical
> neuralgia wholly unknown to healthy life. Such anguish may partake of
> various characters, having sometimes more the quality of loathing;
> sometimes that of irritation and exasperation; or again of self-mistrust
> and self-despair; or of suspicion, anxiety, trepidation, fear. The patient
> may rebel or submit; may accuse himself, or accuse outside powers; and he
> may or he may not be tormented by the theoretical mystery of why he should
> so have to suffer. Most cases are mixed cases, and we should not treat our
> classifications with too much respect. Moreover, it is only a relatively
> small proportion of cases that connect themselves with the religious sphere
> of experience at all. Exasperated cases, for instance, as a rule do not. I
> quote now literally from the first case of melancholy on which I lay my
> hand. It is a letter from a patient in a French asylum.
> "I suffer too much in this hospital, both physically and morally. Besides
> the burnings and the sleeplessness (for I no longer sleep since I am shut
> up here, and the little rest I get is broken by bad dreams, and I am waked
> with a jump by nightmares, dreadful visions, lightning, thunder, and the
> rest), fear, atrocious fear, presses me down, holds me without respite,
> never lets me go. Where is the justice in it all! What have I done to
> deserve this excess of severity? Under what form will this fear crush me?
> What would I not owe to any one who would rid me of my life! Eat, drink,
> lie awake all night, suffer without interruption--such is the fine legacy I
> have received from my mother! What I fail to understand is this abuse of
> power. There are limits to everything, there is a middle way. But God knows
> neither middle way nor limits. I say God, but why? All I have known so far
> has been the devil. After all, I am afraid of God as much as of the devil,
> so I drift along, thinking of nothing but suicide, but with neither courage
> nor means here to execute the act. As you read this, it will easily prove
> to you my insanity. The style and the ideas are incoherent enough--I can see
> that myself. But I cannot keep myself from being either crazy or an idiot;
> and, as things are, from whom should I ask pity? I am defenseless against
> the invisible enemy who is tightening his coils around me. I should be no
> better armed against him even if I saw him, or had seen him. Oh, if he
> would but kill me, devil take him! Death, death, once for all! But I
> stop. I have raved to you long enough. I say raved, for I can write no
> otherwise, having neither brain nor thoughts left. O God! what a misfortune
> to be born! Born like a mushroom, doubtless between an evening and a
> morning; and how true and right I was when in our philosophy-year in
> college I chewed the cud of bitterness with the pessimists. Yes, indeed,
> there is more pain in life than gladness--it is one long agony until the
> grave. Think how gay it makes me to remember that this horrible misery of
> mine, coupled with this unspeakable fear, may last fifty, one hundred, who
> knows how many more years!"[13]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-13>
> This letter shows two things. First, you see how the entire consciousness
> of the poor man is so choked with the feeling of evil that the sense of
> there being any good in the world is lost for him altogether. His attention
> excludes it, cannot admit it: the sun has left his heaven. And secondly you
> see how the querulous temper of his misery keeps his mind from taking a
> religious direction. Querulousness of mind tends in fact rather towards
> irreligion; and it has played, so far as I know, no part whatever in the
> construction of religious systems.
> Religious melancholy must be cast in a more melting mood. Tolstoy<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Lev_Nikolayevich_Tolstoy>has left us, in his book called My Confession, a wonderful account of the
> attack of melancholy which led him to his own religious conclusions. The
> latter in some respects are peculiar; but the melancholy presents two
> characters which make it a typical document for our present purpose. First
> it is a well-marked case of anhedonia, of passive loss of appetite for all
> life's values; and second, it shows how the altered and estranged aspect
> which the world assumed in consequence of this stimulated Tolstoy's
> intellect to a gnawing, carking questioning and effort for philosophic
> relief. I mean to quote Tolstoy at some length; but before doing so, I
> will make a general remark on each of these two points.
> First on our spiritual judgments and the sense of value in general.
> It is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional
> comments, since the same fact will inspire entirely different feelings in
> different persons, and at different times in the same person; and there is
> no rationally deducible connection between any outer fact and the
> sentiments it may happen to provoke. These have their source in another
> sphere of existence altogether, in the animal and spiritual region of the
> subject's being. Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped of all
> the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it *as
> it exists*, purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable,
> hopeful or apprehensive comment. It will be almost impossible for you to
> realize such a condition of negativity and deadness. No one portion of the
> universe would then have importance beyond another; and the whole
> collection of its things and series of its events would be without
> significance, character, expression, or perspective. Whatever of value,
> interest, or meaning our respective worlds may appear endued with are thus
> pure gifts of the spectator's mind. The passion of love is the most
> familiar and extreme example of this fact. If it comes, it comes; if it
> does not come, no process of reasoning can force it. Yet it transforms the
> value of the creature loved as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mont Blanc
> from a corpse-like gray to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the whole world
> to a new tune for the lover and gives a new issue to his life. So with
> fear, with indignation, jealousy, ambition, worship. If they are there,
> life changes. And whether they shall be there or not depends almost always
> upon non-logical, often on organic conditions. And as the excited
> interest which these passions put into the world is our gift to the world,
> just so are the passions themselves *gifts*,--gifts to us, from sources
> sometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always non-logical and beyond
> our control. How can the moribund old man reason back to himself the
> romance, the mystery, the imminence of great things with which our old
> earth tingled for him in the days when he was young and well? Gifts, either
> of the flesh or of the spirit; and the spirit bloweth where it listeth; and
> the world's materials lend their surface passively to all the gifts alike,
> as the stage-setting receives indifferently whatever alternating colored
> lights may be shed upon it from the optical apparatus in the gallery.
> Meanwhile the practically real world for each one of us, the effective
> world of the individual, is the compound world, the physical facts and
> emotional values in indistinguishable combination. Withdraw or pervert
> either factor of this complex resultant, and the kind of experience we call
> pathological ensues.
> In Tolstoy's case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a
> time wholly withdrawn. The result was a transformation in the whole
> expression of reality. When we come to study the phenomenon of conversion
> or religious regeneration, we shall see that a not infrequent consequence
> of the change operated in the subject is a transfiguration of the face of
> nature in his eyes. A new heaven seems to shine upon a new earth. In
> melancholiacs there is usually a similar change, only it is in the reverse
> direction. The world now looks remote, strange, sinister, uncanny. Its
> color is gone, its breath is cold, there is no speculation in the eyes it
> glares with. "It is as if I lived in another century," says one asylum patient.--"I
> see everything through a cloud," says another, "things are not as they
> were, and I am changed."--"I see," says a third, "I touch, but the things do
> not come near me, a thick veil alters the hue and look of
> everything."--"Persons move like shadows, and sounds seem to come from a
> distant world."--"There is no longer any past for me; people appear so
> strange; it is as if I could not see any reality, as if I were in a
> theatre; as if people were actors, and everything were scenery; I can no
> longer find myself; I walk, but why? Everything floats before my eyes, but
> leaves no impression."--"I weep false tears, I have unreal hands: the things
> I see are not real things."--Such are expressions that naturally rise to the
> lips of melancholy subjects describing their changed state.[14]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-14>
> Now there are some subjects whom all this leaves a prey to the profoundest
> astonishment. The strangeness is wrong. The unreality cannot be. A mystery
> is concealed, and a metaphysical solution must exist. If the natural world
> is so double-faced and unhomelike, what world, what thing is real? An
> urgent wondering and questioning is set up, a poring theoretic activity,
> and in the desperate effort to get into right relations with the matter,
> the sufferer is often led to what becomes for him a satisfying religious
> solution.
> At about the age of fifty, Tolstoy relates that he began to have moments
> of perplexity, of what he calls arrest, as if he knew not 'how to live,' or
> what to do. It is obvious that these were moments in which the excitement
> and interest which our functions naturally bring had ceased. Life had been
> enchanting, it was now flat sober, more than sober, dead. Things were
> meaningless whose meaning had always been self-evident. The questions
> 'Why?' and 'What next?' began to beset him more and more frequently. At
> first it seemed as if such questions must be answerable, and as if he could
> easily find the answers if he would take the time; but as they ever became
> more urgent, he perceived that it was like those first discomforts of a
> sick man, to which he pays but little attention till they run into one
> continuous suffering, and then he realizes that what he took for a passing
> disorder means the most momentous thing in the world for him, means his
> death.
> These questions 'Why?' 'Wherefore?' 'What for?' found no response.
> "I felt," says Tolstoy, "that something had broken within me on which my
> life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that
> morally my life had stopped. An invincible force impelled me to get rid of
> my existence, in one way or another. It cannot be said exactly that I
> wished to kill myself, for the force which drew me away from life was
> fuller, more powerful, more general than any mere desire. It was a force
> like my old aspiration to live, only it impelled me in the opposite
> direction. It was an aspiration of my whole being to get out of life.
> "Behold me then, a man happy and in good health, hiding the rope in order
> not to hang myself to the rafters of the room where every night I went to
> sleep alone; behold me no longer going shooting, lest I should yield to the
> too easy temptation of putting an end to myself with my gun.
> "I did not know what I wanted. I was afraid of life; I was driven to leave
> it; and in spite of that I still hoped something from it.
> "All this took place at a time when so far as all my outer circumstances
> went, I ought to have been completely happy. I had a good wife who loved me
> and whom I loved; good children and a large property which was increasing
> with no pains taken on my part. I was more respected by my kinsfolk and acquaintance
> than I had ever been; I was loaded with praise by strangers; and without
> exaggeration I could believe my name already famous. Moreover I was neither
> insane nor ill. On the contrary, I possessed a physical and mental strength
> which I have rarely met in persons of my age. I could mow as well as the
> peasants, I could work with my brain eight hours uninterruptedly and feel
> no bad effects.
> "And yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions of my life. And
> I was surprised that I had not understood this from the very beginning. My
> state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid jest was being played upon
> me by some one. One can live only so long as one is intoxicated, drunk with
> life; but when one grows sober one cannot fail to see that it is all a
> stupid cheat. What is truest about it is that there is nothing even funny
> or silly in it; it is cruel and stupid, purely and simply.
> "The oriental fable of the traveler surprised in the desert by a wild
> beast is very old.
> "Seeking to save himself from the fierce animal, the traveler jumps into a
> well with no water in it; but at the bottom of this well he sees a dragon
> waiting with open mouth to devour him. And the unhappy man, not daring to
> go out lest he should be the prey of the beast, not daring to jump to the
> bottom lest he should be devoured by the dragon, clings to the branches of
> a wild bush which grows out of one of the cracks of the well. His hands
> weaken, and he feels that he must soon give way to certain fate; but still
> he clings, and sees two mice, one white, the other black, evenly moving
> round the bush to which he hangs, and gnawing off its roots.
> "The traveler sees this and knows that he must inevitably perish; but
> while thus hanging he looks about him and finds on the leaves of the bush
> some drops of honey. These he reaches with his tongue and licks them off
> with rapture.
> "Thus I hang upon the boughs of life, knowing that the inevitable dragon
> of death is waiting ready to tear me, and I cannot comprehend why I am thus
> made a martyr. I try to suck the honey which formerly consoled me; but the
> honey pleases me no longer, and day and night the white mouse and the
> black mouse gnaw the branch to which I cling. I can see but one thing: the
> inevitable dragon and the mice--I cannot turn my gaze away from them.
> "This is no fable, but the literal incontestable truth which every one may
> understand. What will be the outcome of what I do to-day? Of what I shall
> do to-morrow? What will be the outcome of all my life? Why should I live?
> Why should I do anything? Is there in life any purpose which the inevitable
> death which awaits me does not undo and destroy?
> "These questions are the simplest in the world. From the stupid child to
> the wisest old man, they are in the soul of every human being. Without an
> answer to them, it is impossible, as I experienced, for life to go on.
> "'But perhaps,' I often said to myself, 'there may be something I have
> failed to notice or to comprehend. It is not possible that this condition
> of despair should be natural to mankind.' And I sought for an explanation
> in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men. I questioned painfully
> and protractedly and with no idle curiosity. I sought, not with indolence,
> but laboriously and obstinately for days and nights together. I sought like
> a man who is lost and seeks to save himself,--and I found nothing. I became
> convinced, moreover, that all those who before me had sought for an answer
> in the sciences have also found nothing. And not only this, but that they
> have recognized that the very thing which was leading me to despair--the
> meaningless absurdity of life--is the only incontestable knowledge
> accessible to man."
> To prove this point, Tolstoy quotes the Buddha, Solomon, and Schopenhauer.
> And he finds only four ways in which men of his own class and society are
> accustomed to meet the situation. Either mere animal blindness, sucking the
> honey without seeing the dragon or the mice,--"and from such away," he says,
> "I can learn nothing, after what I now know;" or reflective epicureanism,
> snatching what it can while the day lasts,--which is only a more deliberate
> sort of stupefaction like the first; or manly suicide; or seeing the mice
> and dragon and yet weakly and plaintively clinging to the bush of life.
> Suicide was naturally the consistent course dictated by the logical
> intellect.
> "Yet," says Tolstoy, "whilst my intellect was working, something else in
> me was working too, and kept me from the deed--a consciousness of life, as I
> may call it, which was like a force that obliged my mind to fix itself in
> another direction and draw me out of my situation of despair. ... During the
> whole course of this year, when I almost unceasingly kept asking myself how
> to end the business, whether by the rope or by the bullet, during all that
> time, alongside of all those movements of my ideas and observations, my
> heart kept languishing with another pining emotion. I can call this by no
> other name than that of a thirst for God. This craving for God had nothing
> to do with the movement of my ideas,--in fact, it was the direct contrary of
> that movement,--but it came from my heart. It was like a feeling of dread
> that made me seem like an orphan and isolated in the midst of all these
> things that were so foreign. And this feeling of dread was mitigated by the
> hope of finding the assistance of some one."[15]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-15>
> Of the process, intellectual as well as emotional, which, starting from
> this idea of God, led to Tolstoy's recovery, I will say nothing in this
> lecture, reserving it for a later hour. The only thing that need interest
> us now is the phenomenon of his absolute disenchantment with ordinary life,
> and the fact that the whole range of habitual values may, to a man as
> powerful and full of faculty as he was, come to appear so ghastly a mockery.
> When disillusionment has gone as far as this, there is seldom a *restitutio
> ad integrum*. One has tasted of the fruit of the tree, and the happiness
> of Eden never comes again. The happiness that comes, when any does come,--and
> often enough it fails to return in an acute form, though its form is
> sometimes very acute,--is not the simple ignorance of ill, but something
> vastly more complex, including natural evil as one of its elements, but
> finding natural evil no such stumbling-block and terror because it now sees
> it swallowed up in supernatural good. The process is one of redemption, not
> of mere reversion to natural health, and the sufferer, when saved, is saved
> by what seems to him a second birth, a deeper kind of conscious being than
> he could enjoy before.
> We find a somewhat different type of religious melancholy enshrined in
> literature in John Bunyan<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:John_Bunyan>'s
> autobiography. Tolstoy's preoccupations were largely objective, for the
> purpose and meaning of life in general was what so troubled him; but poor
> Bunyan's troubles were over the condition of his own personal self. He was
> a typical case of the psychopathic temperament, sensitive of conscience to
> a diseased degree, beset by doubts, fears, and insistent ideas, and a
> victim of verbal automatisms, both motor and sensory. These were usually
> texts of Scripture which, sometimes damnatory and sometimes favorable,
> would come in a half-hallucinatory form as if they were voices, and fasten
> on his mind and buffet it between them like a shuttlecock. Added to this
> were a fearful melancholy self-contempt and despair.
> "Nay, thought I, now I grow worse and worse; now I am farther from
> conversion than ever I was before. If now I should have burned at the
> stake, I could not believe that Christ had love for me; alas, I could
> neither hear him, nor see him, nor feel him, nor savor any of his things.
> Sometimes I would tell my condition to the people of God, which, when they
> heard, they would pity me, and would tell of the Promises. But they had as
> good have told me that I must reach the Sun with my finger as have bidden
> me receive or rely upon the Promise. [Yet] all this while as to the act
> of sinning, I never was more tender than now; I durst not take a pin or
> stick, though but so big as a straw, for my conscience now was sore, and
> would smart at every touch; I could not tell how to speak my words, for
> fear I should misplace them. Oh, how gingerly did I then go, in all I did
> or said! I found myself as on a miry bog that shook if I did but stir; and
> was as there left both by God and Christ, and the spirit, and all good
> things.
> "But my original and inward pollution, that was my plague and my
> affliction. By reason of that, I was more loathsome in my own eyes than was
> a toad; and I thought I was so in God's eyes too. Sin and corruption, I
> said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water would bubble out
> of a fountain. I could have changed heart with anybody. I thought none but
> the Devil himself could equal me for inward wickedness and pollution of
> mind. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; and thus I continued a long
> while, even for some years together.
> "And now I was sorry that God had made me a man. The beasts, birds,
> fishes, etc., I blessed their condition, for they had not a sinful nature;
> they were not obnoxious to the wrath of God; they were not to go to
> hell-fire after death. I could therefore have rejoiced, had my condition
> been as any of theirs. Now I blessed the condition of the dog and toad,
> yea, gladly would I have been in the condition of the dog or horse, for I
> knew they had no soul to perish under the everlasting weight of Hell or
> Sin, as mine was like to do. Nay, and though I saw this, felt this, and was
> broken to pieces with it, yet that which added to my sorrow was, that I
> could not find with all my soul that I did desire deliverance. My heart was
> at times exceedingly hard. If I would have given a thousand pounds for a
> tear, I could not shed one; no, nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one.
> "I was both a burthen and a terror to myself; nor did I ever so know, as
> now, what it was to be weary of my life, and yet afraid to die. How gladly
> would I have been anything but myself! Anything but a man! and in any
> condition but my own."[16]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-16>
> Poor patient Bunyan, like Tolstoy, saw the light again, but we must also
> postpone that part of his story to another hour. In a later lecture I will
> also give the end of the experience of Henry Alline, a devoted evangelist
> who worked in Nova Scotia a hundred years ago, and who thus vividly
> describes the high-water mark of the religious melancholy which formed its
> beginning. The type was not unlike Bunyan's.
> "Everything I saw seemed to be a burden to me; the earth seemed accursed
> for my sake: all trees, plants, rocks, hills, and vales seemed to be
> dressed in mourning and groaning, under the weight of the curse, and
> everything around me seemed to be conspiring my ruin. My sins seemed to be
> laid open; so that I thought that every one I saw knew them, and sometimes
> I was almost ready to acknowledge many things, which I thought they knew:
> yea sometimes it seemed to me as if every one was pointing me out as the
> most guilty wretch upon earth. I had now so great a sense of the vanity and
> emptiness of all things here below, that I knew the whole world could not
> possibly make me happy, no, nor the whole system of creation. When I waked
> in the morning, the first thought would be, Oh, my wretched soul, what
> shall I do, where shall I go? And when I laid down, would say, I shall be
> perhaps in hell before morning. I would many times look on the beasts with
> envy, wishing with all my heart I was in their place, that I might have no
> soul to lose; and when I have seen birds flying over my head, have often
> thought within myself, Oh, that I could fly away from my danger and
> distress! Oh, how happy should I be, if I were in their place!"[17]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-17>
> Envy of the placid beasts seems to be a very widespread affection in this
> type of sadness.
> The worst kind of melancholy is that which takes the form of panic fear.
> Here is an excellent example, for permission to print which I have to thank
> the sufferer. The original is in French, and though the subject was
> evidently in a bad nervous condition at the time of which he writes, his
> case has otherwise the merit of extreme simplicity. I translate freely.
> "Whilst in this state of philosophic pessimism and general depression of
> spirits about my prospects, I went one evening into a dressing-room in the
> twilight to procure some article that was there; when suddenly there fell
> upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a
> horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously there arose in my mind
> the image of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum, a
> black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic, who used to sit
> all day on one of the benches, or rather shelves against the wall, with his
> knees drawn up against his chin, and the coarse gray undershirt, which was
> his only garment, drawn over them inclosing his entire figure. He sat there
> like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat or Peruvian mummy, moving nothing
> but his black eyes and looking absolutely non-human. This image and my fear
> entered into a species of combination with each other. *That shape am I*,
> I felt, potentially. Nothing that I possess can defend me against that
> fate, if the hour for it should strike for me as it struck for him. There
> was such a horror of him, and such a perception of my own merely momentary
> discrepancy from him, that it was as if something hitherto solid within my
> breast gave way entirely, and I became a mass of quivering fear. After this
> the universe was changed for me altogether. I awoke morning after morning
> with a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach, and with a sense of the
> insecurity of life that I never knew before, and that I have never felt
> since.[18]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-p160-18>It was like a revelation; and although the immediate
> feelings passed away, the experience has made me sympathetic with the
> morbid feelings of others ever since. It gradually faded, but for months I
> was unable to go out into the dark alone.
> "In general I dreaded to be left alone. I remember wondering how other
> people could live, how I myself had ever lived, so unconscious of that pit
> of insecurity beneath the surface of life. My mother in particular, a very
> cheerful person, seemed to me a perfect paradox in her unconsciousness of
> danger, which you may well believe I was very careful not to disturb by
> revelations of my own state of mind. I have always thought that this
> experience of melancholia of mine had a religious bearing."
> On asking this correspondent to explain more fully what he meant by these
> last words, the answer he wrote was this:--
> "I mean that the fear was so invasive and powerful that if I had not clung
> to scripture-texts like 'The eternal God is my refuge,' etc., 'Come unto
> me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden,' etc., 'I am the resurrection
> and the life,' etc., I think I should have grown really insane."[19]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-19>
> There is no need of more examples. The cases we have looked at are enough.
> One of them gives us the vanity of mortal things; another the sense of sin;
> and the remaining one describes the fear of the universe;--and in one or
> other of these three ways it always is that man's original optimism and
> self-satisfaction get leveled with the dust.
> In none of these cases was there any intellectual insanity or delusion
> about matters of fact; but were we disposed to open the chapter of really
> insane melancholia, with its hallucinations and delusions, it would be a
> worse story still--desperation absolute and complete, the whole universe
> coagulating about the sufferer into a material of overwhelming horror,
> surrounding him without opening or end. Not the conception or intellectual
> perception of evil, but the grisly blood-freezing heart-palsying sensation
> of it close upon one, and no other conception or sensation able to live for
> a moment in its presence. How irrelevantly remote seem all our usual
> refined optimisms and intellectual and moral consolations in presence of a
> need of help like this! Here is the real core of the religious problem:
> Help! help! No prophet can claim to bring a final message unless he says
> things that will have a sound of reality in the ears of victims such as
> these. But the deliverance must come in as strong a form as the complaint,
> if it is to take effect; and that seems a reason why the coarser religions,
> revivalistic, orgiastic, with blood and miracles and supernatural
> operations, may possibly never be displaced. Some constitutions need them
> too much.
> Arrived at this point, we can see how great an antagonism may naturally
> arise between the healthy-minded way of viewing life and the way that takes
> all this experience of evil as something essential. To this latter way, the
> morbid-minded way, as we might call it, healthy-mindedness pure and simple
> seems unspeakably blind and shallow. To the healthy-minded way, on the
> other hand, the way of the sick soul seems unmanly and diseased. With their
> grubbing in rat-holes instead of living in the light; with their
> manufacture of fears, and preoccupation with every unwholesome kind of
> misery, there is something almost obscene about these children of wrath
> and cravers of a second birth. If religious intolerance and hanging and
> burning could again become the order of the day, there is little doubt
> that, however it may have been in the past, the healthy-minded would at
> present show themselves the less indulgent party of the two.
> In our own attitude, not yet abandoned, of impartial onlookers, what are
> we to say of this quarrel? It seems to me that we are bound to say that
> morbid-mindedness ranges over the wider scale of experience, and that its
> survey is the one that overlaps. The method of averting one's attention
> from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it
> will work. It will work with many persons; it will work far more generally
> than most of us are ready to suppose; and within the sphere of its
> successful operation there is nothing to be said against it as a religious
> solution. But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes; and
> even though one be quite free from melancholy one's self, there is no doubt
> that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because
> the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine
> portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life's
> significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest
> levels of truth.
> The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which
> insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its
> innings and takes its solid turn. The lunatic's visions of horror are all
> drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the
> shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of
> helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive there
> yourself! To believe in the carnivorous reptiles of geologic times is
> hard for our imagination--they seem too much like mere museum specimens. Yet
> there is no tooth in any one of those museum-skulls that did not daily
> through long years of the foretime hold fast to the body struggling in
> despair of some fated living victim. Forms of horror just as dreadful to
> their victims, if on a smaller spatial scale, fill the world about us
> to-day. Here on our very hearths and in our gardens the infernal cat plays
> with the panting mouse, or holds the hot bird fluttering in her jaws.
> Crocodiles and rattlesnakes and pythons are at this moment vessels of life
> as real as we are; their loathsome existence fills every minute of every
> day that drags its length along; and whenever they or other wild beasts
> clutch their living prey, the deadly horror which an agitated melancholiac
> feels is the literally right reaction on the situation.[20]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-20>
> It may indeed be that no religious reconciliation with the absolute
> totality of things is possible. Some evils, indeed, are ministerial to
> higher forms of good; but it may be that there are forms of evil so
> extreme as to enter into no good system whatsoever, and that, in respect of
> such evil, dumb submission or neglect to notice is the only practical
> resource. This question must confront us on a later day. But provisionally,
> and as a mere matter of program and method, since the evil facts are as
> genuine parts of nature as the good ones, the philosophic presumption
> should be that they have some rational significance, and that systematic
> healthy-mindedness, failing as it does to accord to sorrow, pain, and death
> any positive and active attention whatever, is formally less complete than
> systems that try at least to include these elements in their scope.
> The completest religions would therefore seem to be those in which the
> pessimistic elements are best developed. Buddhism, of course, and
> Christianity are the best known to us of these. They are essentially
> religions of deliverance: the man must die to an unreal life before he can
> be born into the real life. In my next lecture, I will try to discuss some
> of the psychological conditions of this second birth. Fortunately from now
> onward we shall have to deal with more cheerful subjects than those which
> we have recently been dwelling on.
> --
> -Eric
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> Mary Haake, Ph.D.
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