Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cliff Notes: The Divided Self

In the last two lectures (and one summary), James explored the case of the sick soul, the one convicted of the insurmountable power of evil and sin; yet these "twice-born" are the very individuals who experience the most profound and complex elation in joy. In this lecture, James analyzes the nature of this process.

The essential dilemma of the sick soul is that of disunity, division, and discord. This can occur in varying degrees, from a shyness or embarrassment of character in awkward situations; it can also occur in the extreme, as in Augustine, or, one might add, Saint Paul. The most serious form of psychic schism of course results in torment, as with Henry Allein:

"I was now very moral in my life, but found no rest of conscience. I began to be esteemed in young company, and soon began to be fond of carnal mirth...I would make promises that I would attend no more on these frolics; but...I would find my mind elevated and soon proceed to any sort of merriment. I was one of the most unhappy creatures on earth."

The natural progress of character, we are relieved to learn, is away from such disparities and toward concord, "the straightening out and unifying of the inner self." The unhappiness of the twice-born can be viewed as the beginning of the process whereby the useful and erring impulses are sorted into a proper and pragmatic hierarchy.

The morbidity of much of Protestantism, then, is simply the translation of this movement into religious terms in the religious individual, into the terms of moral conscience and conviction of sin. "The man's interior is a battle-ground for what he feels to be two deadly hostile selves, one actual, the other ideal."

James concludes the lecture by relating vivid examples from history, including the aforementioned Augustine, several more obscure writers, and the great example of Tolstoy, who eventually determined that the cause of his unhappiness was not the world itself, but only his association with a vapid and amoral aristocracy.

No comments: