Monday, September 13, 2004

Week 04, Horace, Plotinus

Plotinus Notes

Here is Plotinus’ scheme: The One connects to the intellect (thought thinking itself, creative, thinks forms or substances), which connects to the soul (mediates between the sensible and the intelligible).

174-75. “It concerns us, then, to try to see and say… how the Beauty of the divine Intellect and of the Intellectual Cosmos may be revealed to contemplation.” How can we perceive supersensible beauty? We can perceive it in material art -- in sculpture for example, not in the stone but in the mind of the artist first. More specifically, in his participation in his art. The artist, like Plato’s bed maker, has some sense of what he is copying. Plotinus takes this idea of participation much farther than Plato did, and makes the artist a craftsman and art in itself a form. Art is not simply a debased copy of a copy. What we call material beauty is derivative, to be sure, but it is not thereby worthless.

“Still the arts are not to be slighted on the ground that they create by imitation of natural objects….” Artistic creation is not mere imitation but rather involves understanding of reason-principles.

“Whence shone the beauty of Helen…?” The natural beauty of Helen resembles the beauty of art, and vice versa. The Idea communicates something of itself to “Helen.”

176. “Thus there is in the Nature-Principle itself An Ideal archetype of the beauty that is found in material forms….” Plotinus implies that contemplating works of art in light of the idea that there is a platonic form, Art, leads to an appreciation of Beauty. Contemplating art provides discipline in thinking about the structure of reality. The soul precedes the nature-principle, and the beauty-archetype remains always in reserve as a ground. The lower archetype provides a point of entry to the higher. I think Plotinus, with this insistence on such a primal ground, preserves the workings and dignity of the senses, but the emphasis is on the fact that something more important is going on when we behold the beauty of material works of art, human beauty, or beautiful things in nature. We will see that the notion of “emanation” is an attempt to exalt platonic intelligibility but also to diminish the expense of maintaining this higher realm to the senses and materiality. There is in Plotinus a touch of intuition.

177. “To ‘live at ease’ is there; and to these divine beings verity is mother and nurse….” The gods are all in all: pure being, translucence, intersubjectivity. They are similar to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita. But here Absoluteness is more of a fixed ground. Buddhism would say that divine intersubjectivity is available to everyone, at least potentially. But in Plotinus and the Christian tradition, the relative dignity of our lesser realm comes at the expense of setting up a permanent distance from and inferiority to the absolute. Buddhism approaches this problem through its belief in the relativity of all moments and all states. In psychological terms, for Plotinus ecstasy entails pathos, as in romantic dualism -- “our sincerest laughter with some pain is fraught.”

178. “All that comes to be, work of nature or of craft, some wisdom has made….” Beauty may be a better way to apprehend the intelligible realm. Plotinus says that our way of treating knowledge as theorems and aggregations of propositions, as a method, doesn’t give us any intuitive access to Being, to the One.

179. “Consider the universe: we are agreed that its existence and its nature come to it from beyond itself….” The universe was not planned out, instrumentalist-style. So by implication a work of beauty does not send us off contemplating the cleverness of the author or the sculptor. The natural object or artwork is the thing to contemplate.

180-81. “Since there is a source, all the created must spring from it and in accordance with it; and we are rightly told not to go seeking the causes impelling a source to produce….” There is a source beyond which we must not seek -- the world is good because of what made it. At the top of this page Plotinus says we admire a representation because of the original, the form or archetype that itself emanates from the One and the intellect. In the middle of the page, the word sphere means vision of unity, the intelligible world as seen without sensory perception.

182-83. “To those that do not see entire, the immediate impression is alone taken into account….” Plotinus refers to the ecstatic union of the perceiver with the One. In the presence of beauty, we can achieve this ecstasy. Beauty is an entrance-point to transcendence, to an appreciation of intelligibility and trans -- subjective truth. The truth is privileged, but again, the lower multifarious realm can give us some access to it. Beauty reminds us of its source in Substantial Form up to intellect, and of the permanent existence of the One.

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 1st edition. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.

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