THE DEPTH


—As the Antidote to Misplaced Concreteness


. . . . Such phrases as "a shift of the search from the symbols to the experiences," or "the lack of originality as the test of validity," are clear enough to avoid the fallacy of permanent values, and suggestive enough to point the inquiry in the right direction, but analytically they are unsatisfactory. In part, this vagueness served the purpose to avoid a conventional terminology that is badly permeated by ideological jargon; in part, however, it was meant to protect the analysis from the danger of the fallacies of misplaced concreteness which in such matters lurk behind every unanalyzed concept. There would be no sense in replacing the fallacy of permanent values by the subtler fallacies of existential tension and experiences of participation.

The first fallacy to be avoided is the hypostasis of experience as an absolute. If we understand symbols in spite of their differences as equivalent because, as we have said, they are intelligibly engendered by the same type of experience, the experience is in danger of becoming the resting point in our search for constants in history. This resolution of the problem would be tempting, but it is untenable. For the constant experience, in order to be identified, would have to become articulate, and once it has been articulated the result would be a symbolism claiming to be exempt from the fate of being one more historically equivalent truth. We would be back to the system to end all systems—Hegel's solution.

If we want to avoid this unhappy end, we must extend the differences of the symbols into the engendering experiences and, consequently, speak of the equivalence not only of symbols, but of experiences as well. If, however, we accept this result as analytically necessary, we shall look in vain for the constant in an experience articulating the constant as its contents. The constant that will justify the language of equivalent experiences and symbols must be sought on a level deeper than the level of equivalent experiences which engender equivalent symbols.

This deeper level has indeed been discerned by thinkers who carefully observed the process by which they arrived at more differentiated experiences engendering more differentiated symbols than the symbolisms prevalent at their time. Still compactly the depth is present in the pre-Socratic imitations of the sameness of being and thinking, and of the logos of discourse with the logos of being.

On a more differentiated level, the observation of the process has induced Heraclitus, Aeschylus, and Plato to develop the symbol of a "depth" of the soul from which a new truth of reality can be hauled up to conscious experience; and their symbol of the "depth" has been preserved as an insight, through a long chain of equivalents, to the contemporary depth psychologies and psychologies of the unconscious.

This depth of the soul, however, is experienced by the Hellenic thinkers as a depth beyond articulate experience. It can be expressed by the symbol "depth," but it does not furnish a substantive content in addition to our experiences of God, man, the world, and society, of existential tension, and of participation. Hence, we must avoid the fallacy of imagining the depth as an area whose topography can be explored by a science not bound by the limits of our experienced truth of reality. Neither must we populate it with the archetypes of a collective unconscious, nor endow it with libidinous dynamics, in order to gain by fornicatio fantastica an absolute which a critical analysis of experience will not deliver.

Though the experience of depth does not add to the substantive content of the experiences and symbols whose equivalence is our concern, it has a content peculiar to itself: it conveys insight into the process of reality from which the equivalents emerge. Moreover, the men who have gone through the process have developed a richly differentiated language in their endeavor to articulate it with exactness.

There is first of all, the symbol psyche . The Hellenic thinkers have transformed the older term into the symbol for a site or matrix of experience that surrounds and comprehends the area of conscious experience. In its new symbolic meaning, the psyche has depth and its depth is unbounded; one can descend into the depth and explore it; like a diver man can drag up from the depth a truth about reality that hitherto had not been articulate insight; the exploration will result in an augmentation of meaning in conscious experience; but the awareness of continuity between consciousness and depth will also permit the language of an augmentation of meaning in the psyche.

A descent into the depth will be indicated when the light of truth has dimmed and its symbols are losing their credibility; when the night is sinking on the symbols that have had their day, one must return to the night of the depth that is luminous with truth to the man who is willing to seek for it. The depth is fascinating as a threat and a charm—as the abyss into which man falls when the truth of the depth has drained from the symbols by which he orients his life, and as the source from which a new life of the truth and a new orientation can be drawn.

CW VOL 12
Experience and Symbolization in History
§ III, pp 123-125.




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