George Santayana

  An Unquiet Darkness



(Santayana [1863-1952] was a Spanish born American philosopher and this passage is taken from Voegelin's exploration of Santayana's Dialogues in Limbo.1)


Though in these dialogues thinking relinquishes not the slightest amount of sharpness and at no time does the conceptual formula become imprecise, another world shines through the language. That world is the world of the origin of rational expression, but its order is determined through mythic images of space and color.

There was occasion to note that the realm of the essences, equivalent to chaos, was moved to the top through the solipsistic experience and early training in Platonic images; it continues to occupy this place, but as concretion in discourse begins to dissolve, giving up its rigidity and absorbing the movement of thinking, the presentation of chaos becomes softer and darker, the distinct field of forms spreads out side by side as the unstructured mass in the background. It becomes the abyss, the bottom of the ocean, an undefinable stream that carries away the thoughts of the words, an unquiet darkness before which the sparks of our thinking appear to be truth, a dark lap to which we return when we are dying, a symbol of the threatening disintegration that always reminds us that we lead a life with the blessing of nothingness.

The figures of life appear in doubtful distortion, as masks, before this darkness that, though emitting motion, is itself unmoving.   One of the soliloquies mentions the "mask of the philosopher";  as long as the system continues to live tangibly in the mind of the creator, it seems to be nature itself;  but when the work is completed and the expression firmly fixed, and other people can see it, it becomes a mask. Every slightest trait of the soul is immortalized, the same old passion and the same deaf thought speaks from the distorted lips. The thinker himself finds it strange, as the verses of his youth might appear to an old man, or like the reflection in a mirror that, at first sight, one takes to be the image of a stranger.

More and more the ray of thinking focuses on the experience of "being foreign;"  youthful solipsism was a dream, but the solitude of the soul in the misery of the world changes only its level of reality;  the assimilation of practical experience through education, through isolation in a foreign language, through the special isolation of the mind in American society (Santayana speaks of "the vacuum which is created in America around distinction, and which keeps the national character there so true to type, so much on one lively level"), through the experience of aging and the isolation of the mind in nature—none of these manages to destroy the fundamental attitude of the "stranger",—and even as late as the writing of the Dialogues Santayana introduces himself as the "stranger" in the realm of the mind. Though this outsider contains many possibilities and therefore can feel affinities with many others and can understand them, finally he remains alone with himself. . . .

CW Vol 1, On The Form Of The American Mind,
Chapter 2, On George Santayana,
ยง IV, pp123-124.

1. London, 1925.





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