The Beauty Of Soul

The Beauty Of Soul

Geburt der Venus, by Lovis Corinth

Some may wonder why I spend so much time writing about Soul. I decided many years ago that Soul was the most beautiful, the most fascinating, and the most perplexing of pursuits among all human endeavors. As little free time as most people have, including myself, I want to spend it, for these reasons, thinking and writing of Soul. What better path to travel than the vortical highway that is the Soul, for along the way there are many wondrous things to see and learn. As James Hillman wrote,

psyche is the life of our aesthetic responses, that sense of taste in relation with things, that thrill or pain, disgust or expansion of breast: these primordial aesthetic reactions of the heart are soul itself speaking (The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World, p. 39).

In a nutshell, Soul is Beauty. The man who most likely was responsible for initiating the European Renaissance, Francesco Petrarca (20 July 1304 – 19 July 1374), better known as Petrarch, fell in love with Soul on April 6, 1327, when his eyes fell upon a beautiful young girl named Laura:

It was on that day when the sun’s ray
was darkened in pity for its Maker,
that I was captured, and did not defend myself,
because your lovely eyes had bound me, Lady (The Canzoniere)

Petrarch never had a relationship with this young woman, but he carried her in his heart the remainder of his days. In her, he realized the beauty and truth of Soul. This is, of course, what Jung called the anima archetype, that unconscious feminine Person that men possess within them.

There are many examples of this in literature. Some of the most famous are Dante and Beatrice, Arthur and Guinevere, and Tristan and Isolde. These stories relate the relationship of man with the Soul. The Soul is, indeed, beautiful beyond comprehension, but it is also dangerous and powerful, not something to be taken lightly. One feels sometimes as if one were standing at the precipice of a bottomless abyss. There are the deepest dangers there. But, if we remain in harmony with Soul, She will always comfort us, even if we do happen to plunge downward occasionally.

Soul is essentially aesthetic in nature. All of the beauty we experience in life derives from Soul. If one does not recognize this source of Beauty, one cannot realize the fulness of Soul. Remember Aphrodite. Remember that “Beauty is the manifest anima mundi” (James Hillman).

Beauty is not an abstraction, as is much of Aesthetics in academic Philosophy. Beauty is actually sensate, perceptible, and is revelatory. Beauty is a revealing, a theophany of the Gods in all their splendor.  Beauty is in the Greek sense, aisthesis. The image is not transcendent or immanent within the object at hand, but lucidly perceptible. This is one very essential characteristic of Soul.

This discussion reminds me of my Heidegger studies, particularly his revival of truth as unconcealment (aletheia) and his idea of ready-to-hand. This also corresponds nicely with something zoologist and anthropologist, Adolf Portmann (1897-1982), said,

Visible appearance itself must be understood above all in the widest
sense as ’self-presentation’ of the protoplasmic individual. Not only
are optical, acoustic, and olfactory features of the individual in a
state of rest part of this self-presentation, but so are its movements,
its forms of expression, all of its manifestations in space and time…
The taking into account of self-presentation as a primary property of
life justifies by itself a complete and autonomous theory of forms.… Beings in relationship with the world are not just living machines which
live in function of their activities and metabolism. They are above all
beings which display themselves in their singularity without this
self-presentation being primarily related to sense organs. (Adolf Portmann on the New Biology, by Gianna Maria Gatti (translated by Alan N. Shapiro).

The idea of self-presentation seems related to the Greek idea of aletheia in its sense of self-presenting reality as theophany. Such is the nature of Soul.

By the way, Portmann was one of the founding lecturers, along with C.G. Jung, at the Eranos conferences in Switzerland.

This is a fruitful line of discussion which I will undoubtedly continue to pursue.

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