Now that I have a rough map of the terrain, I want to fill in some of the details. I’ll recap just a little and go from there. The summary repeats, yes, but hopefully also adds by concatenation.
From the perspective of the Yeatsian system, the daimonic world conspires to educate us to distinguish desire and understanding. This is a two-pronged education that allows us to appreciate that there is a fundamental gap between what exists and the desires we have. Once we become aware of this gap, we can set about working with what exists and what we desire together. This learning leads us to both modulate our own desires and character in dialogue with our situation in the world and understanding of it.
There are other forces in the world that can interfere with this process, manipulating the daimonic reality for their own ends. This includes the frustrated dead and a range of arcons born out of the frustrated dead’s interaction with the living.
Given how essential the daimonic terrain is, it is necessary to examine it more closely. The daimonic terrain that the arcons share appears in the intersection of the world and our desires. It is aesthetic and mimetic, tapping into our peculiarly human form of sociality. The Yeatsian system calls this the body of fate and the mask. Like the rest of the system, this dyad sits atop the basic division between solar and lunar, primary and antithetical.
When we look at the mask, the spirits describe it as ‘looking at a painting’ contrary to looking into the ‘picture-photograph’ that is the body of fate (as an aside, isn’t that fascinating how a recent technology like photography provides the illustrative contrast?). An astute reader will notice that the ‘painting’ is derivative of the ‘picture,’ that it extracts and manipulates elements found in the body of fate to express something about the will-desire of the individual. This is precisely the nature of the primary-antithetical pairing, for like the moon which modulates the light of the sun, so too does the mask modulate the light of the body of fate.
To engage the intellect and will, then, the daimons-arcons must arrange for a potent scene, in which some aspect of the body of fate is presented clearly to the person such that they can attach their will to it and see it as an expression of that will. The primal scene of Freudian psychology strikes me as on exemplary case of this, but the Yeatsian material focuses on romantic relationship, on the process by which we see in the beloved an image of our own desires.
This is first and foremost an aesthetic and affective response. It must be strong and leave a mark, though it does not necessarily have to leave a memory (here, again, we can make fruitful comparisons with Freud). The mask provides us with a fixed image of our desire. While Yeats emphasizes the beautiful, he is very clear that this affect need not be a response to beauty, that a jarring ugliness can be just as effective in producing the requisite response. All that matters is that the person see their desires firmly implicated in the experience, that they discover an idea of themselves in the visible world (even if what they discover repulses them and drives them to realize a counter-image).
There is something of a trick here. The daimons manipulate the body of fate to suggest that the world is more ordered than it, in fact, is. The order they show is symbolic, a message delivered to the person to make them realize that messages can be delivered. What is impossible for us to understand except through hard knocks is that this message is a product and not a feature of the world as it is. That trick is hardly unkind, though, because it is only through falling for the trick that we can finally come to appreciate the potentials and opportunities for meaning in life.
The kiss of death operates in an invasive fashion. The dead soul mingles their will and understanding with that of the victim along with the fragment of a mask from their life, using that to produce an affective response within the individual that is alien to their own make-up. The kernel of the mask that animates this process also derives from the dead, injecting the dead person’s past experience into the living person’s life. Aptly enough, the Yeatses’ spirits describe this as ‘victimage for the dead’ by the living.
The most common way to excise this influence is to transform that affect into something coherent, a visible work of art, that allows the victim to distinguish the alien affect and experience from their own. The work of producing this artwork also provides the dead soul with the experience they require to achieve resolution. The way in which a work must compromise ideal image with the medium of realization mimes the work of distinguishing desire and understanding for the spirit, allowing them to make sense in death what they could not in life.
The problem for the living is that this can mutilate their own self-understanding. Unless they have a keen sense of the alienness of what motivates the process, the alien mask is implanted into their own, then torn out, leaving them with only a partial vision of their own character. It is not impossible to work past that, but it is difficult. The kiss suppresses the daimon’s influence and by introducing an alien mask limits the daimon’s capacity to provide an education to their person.
What an arcon can do on its own is different in kind than the kiss of death. They do not have the human will and intellect to mingle, so they operate more like the daimon in that they manipulate the person to appeal to their intellect and will. Unlike a daimon, though, their means of doing so are more abstract. They appeal to and develop a dimension of human being that is more often latent, providing more ‘cultural’ and genuinely artistic lures.
An arcon’s interference can run counter to the daimon’s work, but it doesn’t have to run counter to it. Because arcons draw people together, they provide opportunities for daimons to cooperate with each other to produce the kinds of affective ties, often romantic, that drive the daimonic education. Oftentimes, what may start as an arconic operation may collapse into daimonic shenanigans since many arcons are abstract and lack the tools to genuinely hold human attention.
(As an aside, I suspect it is at this point that we can start talking meaningfully about the role of initiations in the more traditional sense. One thing that at least some initiations provide is the opportunity for arconic forces to integrate themselves more fully with the individual receiving the initiation; in essence, acquiring a more daimonic connection to the individual.)
When it comes to the arcons of wisdom, though, they don’t operate on their own. Arcons of wisdom can embed themselves in the realm of frustrated dead souls and orchestrate them, using those to strengthen their sense of humanity and to directly manipulate humans through modulations of the kiss of death.
Arcons of form? Those are more subtle and have a difficult time exerting themselves in the world because they have comparably few resources for engaging human beings. That said, the hypermodern abstraction proper to things like the internet seem very formal, suggesting that subtle need not be an obstacle to influential. Even excluding that, these arcons excel at form, the structures that define order and beauty, and the power of beautiful art is well-known and ancient.
The difference between form and wisdom highlights, too, the point at which their respective agency is most potent. Form finds its strength in stimulating the intellect, while wisdom finds its strength in stimulating the will. William underlines that he means ‘intellect’ in its broadest sense, the faculty that finds its highest form in a genius that simultaneously understands what is and grasps the mechanisms through which it can be transformed. Wisdom has a similarly wide dispensation, rooted in a modulation of will that is capable of transforming the way in which one experiences and engages with the world (e.g., the sort of conception of will characteristic of Duns Scotus’s work).
Where form and wisdom are well conjoined? There you have the flowering of human society in whatever form it takes. However, there is a tension between them that rarely permits them to harmonize for long; one or the other tends to predominate. It seems like when formal relations tend to usurp sophic ones, the society that emerges tend to have less direct arconic connections. This results from the subtlety of the arcons of form. They reveal but have less opportunity to modulate what they reveal directly because it takes a more rigorous effort to achieve and maintain conversation with them.
Okay, I’m going to take another break. Next post, I’m going to look more closely at the birth of the arcons and use that as the jumping off point for some speculative ontology, some of which should throw more light on the nature of the arcons of form and the difficulty we face in interacting with them.