By revisiting conventional analysis of great works of literature we can deepen our understanding of the human condition by changing the context of the work. From the perspective of P-A, we can gain new insights into the process of Self-realization. In some of the following essays we will use standard elements of literary structure and content to analyze, synthesize and evaluate the prose that we are responding to. The following definitions will aid us in that process and assist us in understanding how it relates to Simple Reality.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Sentimental comedy was a part of Sensibility, a movement which characterized much literature after 1740. Sensibility invited readers and audiences to prove their humanity by sympathizing with the plight of fictional or dramatic heroes and heroines; it promised that their sympathy would be rewarded because all would work out in the end, leaving viewers with emotions stirred, teased, and satisfied. Sympathy and sentimentality are, of course, not the same as compassion.
Realism and Reality
One writer by nature is conventional and holds that art may best find expression when governed by rules; him we designate the classicist. Another is equally convinced that it is the purpose of literature or painting to portray a better-than-known world—he wants to idealize; him we call the romantic. And a third, who alike scorns the formality of the classicist and the idealization of the romantic; him we call the realist. And when a whole period, such as the first part of the eighteenth century in England, is under the influence of literary conventions, we have a “classical” period; when Coleridge, Shelley, Hugo idealize life we speak of a “romantic” movement; when Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Theodore Dreiser search deep into the souls of Emma Bovary, or Raskolnikoff, or Clyde Griffiths, we find ourselves in a “realistic” epoch.”
It is the realistic artist, the one that seeks the experience of reality, which can only be found in the present moment, who comes closest to realizing the deepest fulfillment of human aspirations. The realistic temper is older than Defoe and Fielding, even older than Homer. It is as old as the human race itself. It exists whenever man deliberately chooses to face facts, to let truth prevail, and confronts dreams with actuality. It is this group of writers who deliver us into “feeling” the experience of Simple Reality.
We will see that other characteristics of the realistic temperament harmonize with P-A. First, realism above all seeks to reveal the truth. This means that the illusions prevalent in P-B are often exposed. Take the distinction between feeling and emotion. There is no room for sentimentalism here. The emotional reaction of an immature ego seeking affection or esteem would not be regarded as healthy behavior by a realist. The immature character would be exposed as exhibiting self-destructive behavior. “The only reason for the existence of a novel,” said Henry James “is that it does attempt to represent life.” Secondly, the realists understand that to some degree in their writing they must have an understanding of psychology,especially the psychological dynamics of the three energy centers of the false self and how they determine human behavior. “There are,” said Henry James, “few things more exciting to me, in short, than a psychological reason.” The characters in a realistic novel will often unconsciously and out of habit be seeking power, security and/or sensation, as these human motives dominate the action and we learn that it is only dulled senses which prevent our seeing beauty and truth; that habit is a husk which, torn aside, reveals strong, healthy grain. That “strong, healthy grain” is our true self living in the present moment.
The ability to be an objective observer also distinguishes the realist from the romantic. In the pursuit of truth he understands, at least to some degree, the importance of knowing the difference between reaction and response. In other words, the realist will be less likely to identify with his own body, mind and emotions and interject them into his creation. He must not manifest a great emotional sympathy with his hero; he must not confuse his own lot with that of his characters.
A realist, because the truth is so important, is understandably skeptical about relying on the senses and trusts intuition. Realism is not limited to what may be seen by the eye; at its best it makes manifest to us truths of which we are aware only from within.
Not surprisingly, the First Noble Truth looms large in the subject matter of the realistic writer. The painful consequence of failing to transcend survival strategy behaviors is a critical part of the truth that the realists are seeking. Realism knows well that happiness secures its greatest endorsement from the presence of pain. There is no escapism or denial for the characters in the realist’s narrative. The courage to experience reality as it really is reveals the path to truth.
And finally, and importantly, the realist writes about the Now. The realistic writers leave to romance the picturing of the past and prophecy as to the future…it deals with the world in which we live. The greatest human attainment is to experience reality as it really is in the present moment and that is the truth and the experience that we all seek, consciously or unconsciously.
The Heart’s Expression
In reading the prose of the expressionistic writer, we experience the attempt to move from the head to the heart, from the intellect to intuition. The expressionistic writer is not contented with the facts of the present moment as is the realist but with the emotional experience or “how does it feel.” Expressionism is, first and foremost, subjective. The expressionist’s personal consciousness takes on a greater importance than any objective setting or character or action which may come under his observation. Instead of trying to communicate ideas, to give a direct significance to the life about him, he admits only the importance of the responses his inner awareness makes to the stimulus from without. He is, in fact an expressionist simply because he gives expression to his inner vision, his feeling, his emotion, his inner spirit, his intuition; he is an expressionist by virtue of the fact that he expresses instead of imitating.
The key words in the above paragraph which I have highlighted indicate that the expressionist comes closer in the pursuit of profound truth than other artists who have a different focus. Although the authors that I am quoting, Hibbard and Frenz, would not give these words the P-A meaning that I would give them, it is clear that an expressionist writer has some sense that anyone wanting to have an actual experience of life is going to have to find a way to enter the present moment. Surface reality is, the modernist [expressionist] holds, a shallow thing. …He is not so much concerned with presenting appearances as with expressing essential and hidden qualities.
One of the key principles that facilitate grasping the reality of P-A is that of impermanence. In their effort to portray the world of reality, the world of appearances, the expressionists are…calling attention to…a world of etherealities and impermanence which is, after all, the only permanence.
Expressionists cannot escape the unsustainable nature of human behavior and human institutions. P-B hangs over their work like a dark cloud. In general, expressionistic writers seem to despair of life; society, government, industry, religion, man himself [the false self], are presented as in a chaotic state. As a group, expressionist writers are the most profound in portraying the human condition as it is.
What about shifting from P-B to P-A? What do these novelists have to say about the future of humanity? It is because of this disillusionment with the world about them, that the expressionists would create for us a new world…. “The chief task of art,” wrote Kasimir Edschmid, a leading spokesman for German expressionism, “is to penetrate the world before our eyes, to seek out its intrinsic essence, and create it anew.” A worthy goal to be sure and they would need Simple Reality for that. Now let’s proceed to the great works of western literature itself and the story of humanity’s struggle to awaken.
References and notes are available for this article.
For a much more in-depth discussion on Simple Reality, read Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival, by Roy Charles Henry, published in 2011.