Friday, June 12, 2020

Plotinus and "A Vision", Part III

An Image of Eternity

Plotinus gives a geometrical image of the Three Hypostases based on the circle, which is central to Yeats's exploration of the Principles in terms of Neoplatonism:
The total scheme may be summarized in the illustration of The Good as a centre, the Intellectual-Principle as an unmoving circle, the Soul as a circle in motion, its moving being its aspiration. (IV. 4. 16)
In A Vision B:
When I try to imagine the Four Principles in the sphere, with some hesitation I identify the Celestial Body with the First Authentic Existant of Plotinus, Spirit with his Second Authentic Existant, which holds the First in its moveless circle; the discarnate Daimons, or Ghostly Selves, with his Third Authentic Existant or soul of the world (the Holy Ghost of Christianity), which holds the Second in its moving circle. (AVB 193–94, CW14 142)
This concentric vision is picked up again when Yeats maintains that "a system symbolising the phenomenal world as irrational because a series of unresolved antinomies" such as the one presented of A Vision] "must find its representation in a perpetual return to the starting-point. The resolved antinomy appears not in a lofty source but in the whirlpool's motionless centre, or beyond its edge" (AVB 194–95, CW14 143).

A spiral galaxy, NGC 1232
The "resolved antinomy" is an ideal of equilibrium or annihilation of the antinomies, which is unattainable because the opposites' conflict is needed for consciousness and life—"Could those two impulses, one as much a part of truth as the other, be reconciled, or if one or the other could prevail, all life would cease" (1930 Diary, Ex 305).

Trinity and Hierarchy

To complement the circles with the motionless centre, Yeats also envisages a more hierarchical view of "the Four Principles in the sphere," also based on Plotinus. There are two presentations of the material, first in words and then in a diagram, which differ enough to cause problems. First he describes a trinity corresponding to the First, Second, and Third Authentic Existants or Hypostases (Yeats conflates the Hypostasis and Authentic Existant, see Plotinus and A Vision, Part II), as quoted above. After the Celestial Body and Spirit, the Third Authentic Existant is related not to a Principle as such but "the discarnate Daimons, or Ghostly Selves", though it is then associated with the lunar Principles "sensation and its object (our Husk and Passionate Body)," with the "Husk as part of the sphere [merging] in The Ghostly Self" (AVB 194, CW14 142). The diagram that illustrates this description, however, omits the Daimons and Ghostly Selves, and it seems to place the pair of Passionate Body—Husk as higher and lower aspects of the World Soul, in turn generating the Wheel of the tinctures. These then draw their character from the Second and Third Authentic Existants respectively.
AVB 194, CW14 143
In the diagram it is slightly unclear whether the Third Authentic Existant is considered to correspond with the Passionate Body or Passionate Body and Husk together, but the corresponding text would indicate that it is both. Even so, how Daimon/Ghostly Self can become Husk (and Passionate Body) is never explained in A Vision and resists any easy explanation.

An Earlier Formulation

Some elucidation can be found in the development of these ideas, elaborated in drafts that came after the publication of A Vision A. They can, however, be  a little convoluted and the following exploration is really only "intended for students of Plotinus, the Hermetic fragments & unpopular literature of that kind. The chances are a hundred to one against your liking it", as Yeats told Ignatius McHugh (26 May [1926]).

The first draft of the formulation that became "the Four Principles in the sphere," speaks rather of the "resolved antinomy" or at least an approach to this final ideal state. Yeats’s initial idea was to see The One as the Sphere, and to see the two other Hypostases as the ideal states based on the two forms of union of Spirit and Celestial Body: the monistic Celestial Body in Spirit (the Intellectual-Principle) and of diverse Spirit in Celestial Body (the World Soul). The distinction between Celestial Body in Spirit and Spirit in Celestial Body is not used in either version of A Vision, though it is appears in drafts and manuscripts of the late 1920s, and they can be taken simply as another version of the antinomy, with Celestial Body in Spirit being a manifestation of the One/unifying/solar/primary pole and the Spirit in Celestial Body being a manifestation of  the Many/individuation/lunar/antithetical pole (they are explored in my essay on 'The Thirteenth Cone,' YVEC 159ff.; the manifestations of the antinomy are tabulated in A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision', Table 4.1 pp. 66–68). 

An early manuscript draft can be a little confusing on first reading and adding punctuation can become very intrusive, so I use the layout here to make the reading slightly more fluent and only include cancelled text that is significant:
I identify
the moment where the antinomy is resolved with Plotinus['s] first Authentic Existant or the One,
the Celestial Body in Spirit with the Second Authentic Existant &
the Spirit in Celestial Body with the third Authentic Existant or Soul of the World.
A Spirit in Celestial Body is sometimes called the ghostly self because its condition can like the third Authentic Existant be identified with the Third Person in the ^Christian^ Trinity [i.e., the Holy Ghost].
Plotinus has a fourth condition Boehme’s mirror which is the Third Authentic Existant reflected into sensation & discursive reason,
& this condition I compare to the ghostly self reflected as the daimon into Husk & Passionate body or the daimon.
& ghostly self are however one & only seem to us different.
If I would arrange Principles & Faculties into such a diagram as comes naturally to the students of Plotinus I arrange them thus
Draft and diagram mapping Principles and Plotinian Hypostases (NLI MS 36,272/15)

The upper triangle

Before moving on to the question of the Daimon, Ghostly Self, Passionate Body, and Husk, it is worth noting that here they are all excluded from the upper trinity. Rather than collapsing the Four Principles into the Three Hypostases, this arrangement makes the two permanent Principles, Celestial Body and Spirit, into three manifestations, though the highest one may even be above the Principles. Perhaps because of the association of unity with the solar primary, Yeats seems to search for a term for this Ultimate Reality that avoids associations of singularity, rejecting terms such as 'Monad', 'One', or 'Unity', before settling on 'The Resolved Antinomy' as the equivalent of the First Authentic Existant.

If the reader bears in mind that Celestial Body in Spirit indicates the solar, unifying force—and hence, in the diagram, reflecting inot the primary tincture—and Spirit in Celestial Body represents the lunar, individuating force—and hence reflected as the antithetical tincture—the typescript based on this draft takes the ideas further:
When Spirit and Celestial Body are in union, union may be either Celestial Body in Spirit or Spirit in Celestial Body. Spirit in Celestial Body is that reality which supports and precedes phenomena; a community of timeless and spaceless autonomous beings, each being unique [?or a species in its self], a complete multiplicity. Celestial Body in Spirit is that reality we discover in thought: a single spaceless and timeless being all others its creation and endowed with reflected limited life. These two conceptions imposed upon us by the whirling gyres are the antinomy that underlies all life and the supreme religious experience cannot be other than its solution in a condition beyond intellect. If as my instructors insist consciousness is conflict the supreme act must rend the intellect in two. By such an act the whirling ends and the soul passes into the sphere, or into the divine life, but in human life these conceptions alternate; from the first descends the antithetical tincture, from the second the primary, from the first incarnation, from the second discarnate existance. Every moment, emotion or act of the imagination separating itself from all else, seeks its own turns towards some unique being, its goal [i.e., the individuality of the soul], every logical process, every moral act proclaims a single being [i.e., oneness in the whole]; from this conflict all suffering arises.                           (NLI MS 36,272/17, annotated typescript).
This passage intimates a kind of realization to the resolved antinomy, through “the supreme act” that rends “the intellect in two” or, by rending it , negates the antinomies and becomes non-dual, yet asserts that “all life” partakes of one or other element of the duality. This recalls the meditation attributed to the fictional Judwalis and explained in the note to "The Second Coming" (1922):
A supreme religious act of their faith is to fix attention on the mathematical form of this movement until the whole past and future of humanity, or of an individual man, shall be present to the intellect as if it were accomplished in a single moment. The intensity of the Beatific Vision when it comes depends upon the intensity of this realisation. (VP 824)
The final duality expressed in the draft is also put into the mouth of Michael Robartes in the fictions that preface A Vision B:
Every action of man declares the soul's ultimate, particular freedom, and the soul's disappearance in God; declares that reality is a congeries of beings and a single being; nor is this antinomy an appearance imposed upon us by the form of thought but life itself which turns, now here, now there, a whirling and a bitterness. (AVB 52, CW14 37)

The lower triangle

To return to the question of the Daimon, Ghostly Self, Passionate Body, and Husk, the draft arrangement  indicates that, though it may do some violence to Plotinus's actual thought, Yeats's reading of the Enneads is influenced by the Boehmist thinking that he had used in the Works of William Blake.
The Works of William Blake, vol. 1, p. 246
There he had written that "Like Boehmen and the occultists generally, [Blake] postulates besides the Trinity a fourth principle..." (WWB 1:246), a mirror that reflects the ideal world into multiplicity and manifestation (see 1:247, 1:265). Reflection in the mirror is both a metaphysical reality and a metaphor for incarnation (see the Seven Propositions).

Whether because Yeats again needed somehow to create four out of three or because his thought fell into inveterate patterns, he applies the same construction here (which I repeat for clarity):
Plotinus has a fourth condition Boehme’s mirror which is the Third Authentic Existant reflected into sensation & discursive reason, & this condition I compare to the ghostly self reflected as the daimon into Husk & Passionate body or the daimon. Daimon & ghostly self are however one & only seem to us different.
In this formulation, the multitudinous union of Celestial Body in Spirit appears to be equated with the Ghostly Self, which reflects as sensation (Husk) and discursive reason (Passionate Body), which singly or together are equivalent to the Daimon, and all are really aspects of each other, viewed from different perspectives.

A Vision B

Seeing how the idea was originally conceived gives some clues as to how Yeats reconceived the ideas by the time he came to the published version in A Vision B. He has gone a step further, in ascribing individual Principles in the Sphere to the Three Hypostases, identifying in the diagram Celestial Body at the apex point (1), with Spirit (2), and Passionate Body (3), though without the Hypostases' names (I repeat the diagram):
AVB 194, CW14 143
The text repeats the identification of “the Celestial Body with the First Authentic Existant of Plotinus, Spirit with his Second Authentic Existant, which holds the First in its moveless circle,” indicating clearly that these two are the One and the Intellectual-Principle, unmoving eternity. However, the diagram’s Passionate Body is replaced in the text with “the discarnate Daimons, or Ghostly Selves,” identified with Plotinus’s “Third Authentic Existant or soul of the world (the Holy Ghost of Christianity)” (AVB 194, CW14 142). Thus, as in the drafts, the Ghostly Self is seen as a discarnate form of the Daimon, but the term Daimon is usually applied to the incarnate Daimon.

As the drafts show, Yeats had no problems moving between Principles and Daimon/Ghostly Self (which "are however one & only seem to us different"), and it seems that he sees Daimon and Passionate Body–Husk as different manifestations of the same aspect of being. Indeed, a few pages earlier he notes that "the Husk (or sense)” expresses “the Daimon’s hunger to make itself apparent to certain Daimons,” so is part of our own Daimon, whereas the object of sense, the “Passionate Body is the sum of those Daimons” (AVB 189, CW14 139), the community of spirits.


Though this all makes sense and fits together, it does not quite square with the treatment of the Daimon elsewhere. Thus, it is not clear how Spirit (as "the Daimon's knowledge") and Celestial Body ("all other Daimons as the Divine Ideas their unity") remain separated from the discarnate Daimon or Ghostly Self. And Yeats seems to have shifted position on the Daimon's relationship to the Principles, making several different identifications, such as that "The Daimon is Spirit fully expressed in matter (PB)" (NLI 13,580, Rapallo C) or that "there is one gyre in the 'daimon', the 'daimon' being itself the 'celestial body'" (NLI 36,272/24), or including them all: “Man is expressed in the Four Faculties the daimon in the Four Principles” (NLI 13,582, Rapallo E).  Amidst all this confusion of attributions, he also seems to have forgotten or ignored the scolding from one of the instructors in 1928, who is reported to have "insisted. I must not say the Principles & Faculties expressed the daimon all man did was approach the daimon. He insisted that the outward movement of the daimon & the inward movement were the same thing in the perfection of the daimon" (NLI 30,359).

I doubt that Yeats ever reached a conclusion in this respect—the Daimon never quite fits into the scheme as neatly as the more schematic elements of Faculties and Principles. There may however be some form of resolution in Plotinus's distinctions, in particular the suggestion that humanity operates on the level of Soul and discursive reason, as opposed to the ideal realm of Intellect. Yeats comments that the Daimon is out of time and "does not perceive, as does the linear mind of man, object following object in a narrow stream, but all at once" (NLI 30,359), recalling the difference between Soul and Intellect in Plotinus's formulations:
Soul deals with thing after thing—now Socrates; now a horse: always some one entity form among beings—but the Intellectual-Principle is all and therefore its entire content is simultaneously present in that identity: this is pure being in eternal actuality; nowhere is there any future, for every then is a now; nor is there any past, for nothing there has ever ceased to be; everything has taken its stand for ever, an identity well pleased, we might say, to be as it is; and everything, in that entire content, is Intellectual-Principle and Authentic Existence; and the total of all is Intellectual-Principle entire and Being entire.
(Ennead V.1.4, MacKenna vol. 4, p. 5; a different translation is given vol. 1, 136, as part of the conspectus summarizing the Plotinian system)

In A Vision A the Daimon is the dark of the mind, controlling the Faculties that are out of our control—her Will is our Mask and her Creative Mind is our Body of Fate (see AVA 27, CW13 25)—but later the distinction is that the human mind "deals with thing after thing" in contrast to the Daimon's viewing all as "simultaneously present". Part of the shift in Yeats's thinking from viewing the Daimon as the opposite of the human being to seeing it as a greater archetype is probably informed by this description of a state of "pure being in eternal actuality", which Yeats takes as the Daimon's state, and specifically when in the Sphere or Thirteenth Cone.


The relationship between the Daimon and the Principles remained uncertain, but Plotinus's thought clearly helped Yeats to formulate his understanding of the Principles in the years following the publication of A Vision A, especially through his ideas about the Hypostases and their levels of reality. The more that I study the system, the more I see that the Principles are one of the pillars on which the construct is founded, and that the Faculties are relatively secondary to them. This fundamental point is why Yeats felt embarrassed by AVA, where he had failed to appreciate the Principles' role or to give them the prominence that their place in the automatic script would have warranted. Yeats's reading in philosophy was important in giving them the weight they deserved. In particular, the distinctions and hierarchies of Plotinus's Enneads helped Yeats to understand the relations between them and to clarify his metaphysical construct, offering him another vision of what he saw as the reality behind the phenomenal world and expressed in a way that Yeats found particularly engaging.

Whether or not he manages to convey that understanding and show the importance of the Principles to his readers is doubtful. As I have commented earlier, readers as perceptive as Helen Vendler, Graham Hough, and Donald Torchiana found the Principles a redundant doubling, and the ordinary reader cannot to go rummaging through drafts to appreciate their significance for Yeats and his system. Certainly in this respect, Yeats failed.

In conveying his understanding of Plotinus, A Vision probably gives too little evidence to go on. Despite the efforts of Rosemary Puglia Ritvo, and those who have followed her, to save Yeats from the charge of having misinterpreted the concept of Authentic Existence and the Hypostases, Yeats does seem to have misread Plotinus in this respect. The spelling of "Authentic Existant" probably shows that Yeats is working from memory and not really checking his source, and it is seems likely that Yeats just thought that the term was more attractive and more immediately comprehensible than "Hypostasis", forgetting that it was a different concept or blurring the distinction. Yet as Harold Bloom has shown, art may rely on levels of misreading and Yeats's is a respectful but strong misreading. The fact that he was using Plotinus to illuminate his own ideas probably makes Yeats a bad reader of the Enneads, but as he wrote in a different context, he was "a symbolist & no philosopher” (NLI 13,579, Rapallo B).