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  • Objectified Experience and the Sense of Freedom
  • George Santayana (bio)

The Liberation of Self. Hitherto we have been considering those elements of a pathetic presentation which may mitigate our sympathetic emotion, and make it on the whole agreeable. These consist in the intrinsic beauties of the medium of presentation, and in the concomitant manifestation of carious goods, notable truth. The mixture of these values is perhaps all we have in mildly pathetic works, in the presence of which we are tolerably aware of a sort of balance and compensation of emotions. The sorrow and the beauty, the hopelessness and the consolation, mingle and merge into a kind of joy which has its poignancy, indeed, but which is far too passive and penitential to contain the louder and sublimer of our tragic moods. In these there is a wholeness, a strength, and a rapture, which still demands an explanation.

Where this explanation is to be found may be guessed from the following circumstance. The pathetic is a quality of the object, at once lovable and sad, which we accept and allow to flow upon the soul; but the heroic is an attitude of the will, by which voices of the outer world are silenced, and a moral energy, flowing from within, is made to triumph over them. If we fail, therefore, to discover, by analysis of the object, anything which could make it sublime, we must not be surprised at our failure. We must remember that the object is always but a portion of our consciousness: that portion which has enough coherence and articulation to be recognized as permanent and projected into the outer world. But consciousness remains one, in spite of this diversification of its content, and the object is not really independent, but is in constant relation to the rest of the mind, in the midst of which it swims like a bubble on a dark surface of water.

The aesthetic effect of objects is always due to the total emotional value of the consciousness in which they exist. We merely attribute this value to the object by a projection which is the ground of the apparent objectivity of beauty. Sometimes this value may be inherent in the process by which the object itself is perceived; then we have sensuous and formal beauty; sometimes the value may be due to incipient formation of other ideas, which the perception of this object evokes; then we have beauty of expression. But among the ideas with which every object has relation there is one vaguest, most comprehensive, and most powerful one, namely, the idea of self. The impulses, memories, principles, and energies which we designate by that word baffle enumeration; indeed, they constantly fade and change into one another; and whether the self is anything, everything, or nothing depends on the aspect of it which we momentarily fix, [End Page 181] and especially on the definite object with which we contrast it.

Now, it is the essential privilege of beauty to so synthesize and bring to a focus the various impulses of the self, so to suspend them to a single image, that a great peace falls upon that perturbed kingdom. In the experience of these momentary harmonies we have the basis of the enjoyment of beauty, and of all its mystical meanings. But there are always two methods of securing harmony: one is to unify all the given elements and another is to reject and expunge all the elements that refuse to be unified. Unity by inclusion gives us the beautiful; unity by exclusion, opposition, and isolation gives us the sublime. Both are pleasures: but the pleasure of the one is warm, passive, and pervasive; that of the other cold, imperious, and keen. The one identifies us with the world, the other raises us above it.

There can be no difficulty in understanding how the expression of evil in the object may be the occasion of this heroic reaction of the soul. In the first place, the evil may be felt; but at the same time the sense that, great as it may be in itself, it cannot touch us, may stimulate extraordinarily the consciousness of our...


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pp. 181-183
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