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Friday, Oct. 20, 2000
On living in the best of all possible worlds
By TOSHIMI HORIUCHI
In "Modern Man in Search of a Soul" (1933) Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) remarks: "The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him . . . To perform this difficult office it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being." (tr. W.S. Del and C.F. Baynes)
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) defines "sacrifice" in poetic or artistic activities "as the boundless resolve, no longer limitable in any direction, to achieve one's purest inner possibility." (Letter to Magda von Hattingberg, Feb. 17, 1914)
Here I will offer some insight into "one's purest inner possibility" and externalize its phrases as definitely as I can. To begin with, let us consider how possibility exists.
The following is an anecdote from the book "Mushi no Iroiro (Various Aspects of Insects)" by Japanese writer Kazuo Ozaki (1899-1983): "A certain kind of bee cannot fly in dynamic theory. Yet, indeed, the bee can fly very well, far beyond dynamic theory, because this kind of bee does not know at all that it cannot fly." (tr. T. Horiuchi)
We might say, "Possibility may exist in unawareness of impossibility; impossibility in unawareness of possibility." As a matter of fact, the creative soul is unconscious of impossibility, because things are always much greater than the human mind comprehends, and because everything works toward good.
Regarding "possibility" and "impossibility," the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), observes in "Poetics": "A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility." (tr. Ingram Bywater, Chapter 24) It may be that a likely or probable impossibility gives readers or an audience phases of a more interesting reality. In this sense "a likely impossibility" at a point in time can be "a poetic or artistic possibility" which widens, deepens and heightens the realms of possibility in all directions.
Hence, the creative mind maintains the idea that the world is a world of infinite possibilities. This idea is realized by clearing the paths of indefatigable and laudable pursuit of poetic or artistic perfection to meet the spiritual needs of the world we live in. In this way creative activities bring new possibilities and new abilities to light.
American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) appears to have been sharply aware of these facts as she declares in poem No. 657:
I dwell in PossibilityA fairer House than ProseMore numerous of Windows Superior for Doors
Indeed her inner house was situated on a most creative land of unlimited possibilities.
How does one achieve pure inner possibility? The primary element of such a pursuit seems to lie in an undaunted and enthusiastic spirit. Ultimately, nothing may be impossible to a willing heart and mind. The secondary but vital element seems to lie in a passionate sense of potential, or in an eye which, ever fresh and fervent, sees the possible shining from within.
The willing mind allows all creative elements to infiltrate an object's center for deeper understanding or answers just as a bee penetrates a flower to collect nectar. Then the willing mind combines these elements and internalizes what has been collected in an ardent, pure act of insight.
Purity is the ability to contemplate defilement, baptize the poetic or artistic personally, and finally humanize poetry or art to perfect form. Clearly, purity resembles a small rough stone polished into a radiant gem.
In the world of creative acts poetry continues to drive the authentic poet's soul until he or she reaches the end of the journey. This phase of creative reality is imaged as a wind that incessantly fills a boat's sail until its destination is reached.
Thus the authentic poet or artist devotes his or her self and time to "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus, 3:8) here on earth where
like a flower man blossoms and withers fleeting as a shadow. (Job. 14:2)
The pursuit of poetic or artistic perfection, then, is the pursuit of fresh beauty and inventive light, as in the sunlight to which each thing on the spring earth unfolds its own entity fully and purely.
With Rilke I conclude that ". . .the boundless resolve, no longer limitable in any direction, to achieve one's purest inner possibility" definitely makes it more possible and/or probable for humans to live in the best of all possible worlds.
Toshimi Horiuchi is the author of many books including "Minnesota Songs," "Journey to the Fire Flower" and "Synesthesia in Haiku and Other Essays." His essays that appeared on this page have recently been translated into Japanese and compiled into a book, titled "Atarashii Fuga no Sekai (A New Poetic World to Create a Cozy Home for the Soul)," from Liber Press, Tokyo.