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The Principle Of Unity

The psychological nature of the imagination would be very imperfectly
known were we limited to the foregoing analytical study. Indeed, all
creation whatever, great or small, shows an organic character; it
implies a unifying, synthetic principle. Every one of the three
factors--intellectual, emotional, unconscious--works not as an isolated
fact on its own account; they have no worth save through their union,
and no signification save through their common bearing. This principle
of unity, which all invention demands and requires, is at one time
intellectual in nature, i.e., as a fixed idea; at another time
emotional, i.e., as a fixed emotion or passion. These terms--fixed
idea, fixed emotion--are somewhat absolute and require restrictions and
reservations, which will be made in what follows.

The distinction between the two is not at all absolute. Every fixed idea
is supported and maintained by a need, a tendency, a desire; i.e., by
an affective element. For it is idle fancy to believe in the
persistence of an idea which, by hypothesis, would be a purely
intellectual state, cold and dry. The principle of unity in this form
naturally predominates in certain kinds of creation: in the practical
imagination wherein the end is clear, where images are direct
substitutes for things, where invention is subjected to strict
conditions under penalty of visible and palpable check; in the
scientific and metaphysical imagination, which works with concepts and
is subject to the laws of rational logic.

Every fixed emotion should realize itself in an idea or image that gives
it body and systematizes it, without which it remains diffuse; and all
affective states can take on this permanent form which makes a unified
principle of them. The simple emotions (fear, love, joy, sorrow, etc.),
the complex or derived emotions (religious, esthetic, intellectual
ideas) may equally monopolize consciousness in their own interests.

We thus see that these two terms--fixed idea, fixed emotion--are almost
equivalent, for they both imply inseparable elements, and serve only to
indicate the preponderance of one or the other element.

This principle of unity, center of attraction and support of all the
working of the creative imagination--that is, a subjective principle
tending to become objectified--is the ideal. In the complete sense of
the word--not restrained merely to esthetic creation or made synonymous
with perfection as in ethics--the ideal is a construction in images that
should become a reality. If we liken imaginative creation to
physiological generation, the ideal is the ovum awaiting fertilization
in order to begin its development.

We could, to be more exact, make a distinction between the synthetic
principle and the ideal conception which is a higher form of it. The
fixation of an end and the discovery of appropriate means are the
necessary and sufficient conditions for all invention. A creation,
whatever it be, that looks only to present success, can satisfy itself
with a unifying principle that renders it viable and organized, but we
can look higher than the merely necessary and sufficient.

The ideal is the principle of unity in motion in its historic evolution;
like all development, it advances or recedes according to the times.
Nothing is less justified than the conception of a fixed archetype (an
undisguised survival of the Platonic Ideas), illuminating the inventor,
who reproduces it as best he can. The ideal is a nonentity; it arises in
the inventor and through him; its life is a becoming.

Psychologically, it is a construction in images belonging to the merely
sketched or outlined type. It results from a double activity,
negative and positive, or dissociation and association, the first cause
and origin of which is found in a will that it shall be so; it is the
motor tendency of images in the nascent state engendering the ideal.
The inventor cuts out, suppresses, sifts, according to his temperament,
character, taste, prejudices, sympathies and antipathies--in short, his
interest. In this separation, already studied, let us note one
important particular. "We know nothing of the complex psychic production
that may simply be the sum of component elements and in which they would
remain with their own characters, with no modification. The nature of
the components disappears in order to give birth to a novel phenomenon
that has its own and particular features. The construction of the ideal
is not a mere grouping of past experiences; in its totality it has its
own individual characteristics, among which we no more see the composing
lines than we see the components, oxygen and hydrogen, in water. In no
scientific or artistic production, says Wundt, does the whole appear as
made up of its parts, like a mosaic." In other words, it is a case
of mental chemistry. The exactness of this expression, which is due, I
believe, to J. Stuart Mill, has been questioned. Still it answers to
positive facts; for example, in perception, to the phenomena of contrast
and their analogues; juxtaposition or rapid succession of two different
colors, two different sounds, of tactile, olfactory, gustatory
impressions different in quality, produces a particular state of
consciousness, similar to a combination. Harmony or discord does not,
indeed, exist in each separate sound, but only in the relations and
sequence of sounds--it is a tertium quid. We have heretofore, in the
discussion of association of ideas, very frequently represented the
states of consciousness as fixed elements that approach one another,
cohere, separate, come together anew, but always unalterable, like
atoms. It is not so at all. Consciousness, says Titchener, resembles a
fresco in which the transition between colors is made through all kinds
of intermediate stages of light and shade.... The idea of a pen or of an
inkwell is not a stable thing clearly pictured like the pen or inkwell
itself. More than any one else, William James has insisted on this point
in his theory of "fringes" of states of consciousness. Outside of the
given instances we could find many others among the various
manifestations of the mental life. It is not, then, at all chimerical to
assume in psychology an equivalent of chemical combination. In a complex
state there is, in addition to the component elements, the result of
their reciprocal influences, of their varying relations. Too often we
forget this resultant.

At bottom the ideal is an individual concept. If objection is offered
that an ideal common to a large mass of men is a fact of common
experience (e.g., idealists and realists in the fine arts, and even
more so religious, moral, social and political concepts, etc.), the
answer is easy: There are families of minds. They have a common ideal
because, in certain matters, they have the same way of feeling and
thinking. It is not a transcendental idea that unites them; but this
result occurs because from their common aspirations the collective ideal
becomes disengaged; it is, in scholastic terminology, a universale post

The ideal conception is the first moment of the creative act, which is
not yet battling with the conditions of the actual. It is only the
internal vision of an individual mind that has not yet been projected
externally with a form and body. We know how the passage from the
internal to the external life has given rise among inventors to
deceptions and complaints. Such was the imaginative construction that
could not, unchanged, enter into its mould and become a reality.

Let us now examine the various forms of this coagulating principle
in advancing from the lowest to the highest, from the unity vaguely
anticipated to the absolute and tyrannical masterful unity. Following a
method that seems to me best adapted for these ill-explained questions I
shall single out only the principal forms, which I have reduced to
three--the unstable, the organic or middle, and the extreme or
semi-morbid unity.

(1) The unstable form has its starting point directly and immediately in
the reproductive imagination without creation. It assembles its
elements somewhat by chance and stitches together the bits of our life;
it ends only in beginnings, in attempts. The unity-principle is a
momentary disposition, vacillating and changing without cessation
according to the external impressions or modifications of our vital
conditions and of our humor. By way of example let us recall the state
of the day-dreamer building castles in the air; the delirious
constructions of the insane, the inventions of the child following all
the fluctuations of chance, of its caprice; the half-coherent dreams
that seem to the dreamer to contain a creative germ. In consequence of
the extreme frailty of the synthetic principle the creative imagination
does not succeed in accomplishing its task and remains in a condition
intermediate between simple association of ideas and creation proper.

(2) The organic or middle form may be given as the type of the unifying
power. Ultimately it reduces itself to attention and presupposes nothing
more, because, thanks to the process of "localization," which is the
essential mark of attention, it makes itself a center of attraction,
grouping about the leading idea the images, associations, judgments,
tendencies and voluntary efforts. "Inspiration," the poet Grillparzer
used to say, "is a concentration of all the forces and capacities upon a
single point which, for the time being, should represent the world
rather than enclose it. The reinforcement of the state of the mind comes
from the fact that its several powers, instead of spreading themselves
over the whole world, are contained within the bounds of a single
object, touch one another, reciprocally help and reinforce each
other." What the poet here maintains as regards esthetics only is
applicable to all the organic forms of creation--that is to those
ruled by an immanent logic, and, like them, resembling works of Nature.

In order to leave no doubt as to the identity of attention and
imaginative synthesis, and in order to show that it is normally the true
unifying principle, we offer the following remarks:

Attention is at times spontaneous, natural, without effort, simply
dependent on the interest that a thing excites in us--lasting as long as
it holds us in subjection, then ceasing entirely. Again, it is
voluntary, artificial, an imitation of the other, precarious and
intermittent, maintained with effort--in a word, laborious. The same is
true of the imagination. The moment of inspiration is ruled by a perfect
and spontaneous unity; its impersonality approaches that of the forces
of Nature. Then appears the personal moment, the detailed working and
long, painful, intermittent resumptions, the miserable turns of which so
many inventors have described. The analogy between the two cases seems
to me incontestable.

Next let us note that psychologists always adduce the same examples when
they wish to illustrate on the one hand, the processes of the
persistent, tenacious attention, and, on the other hand, the
developmental labor without which creative work does not come to pass:
"Genius is only long patience," the saying of Newton; "always thinking
of it," and like expressions of d'Alembert, Helmholtz and others,
because in the one case as in the other the fundamental condition is the
existence of a fixed, ever-active idea, notwithstanding its relaxations
and its incessant disappearances into the unconscious with return to

(3) The extreme form, which from its nature is semi-morbid, becomes in
its highest degree plainly pathological; the unifying principle changes
to a condition of obsession.

The normal state of our mind is a plurality of states of consciousness
(polyideism). Through association there is a radiation in every
direction. In this totality of coexisting images no one long occupies
first place; it is driven away by others, which are displaced in turn by
still others emerging from the penumbra. On the contrary, in attention
(relative monoideism) a single image retains first place for a long time
and tends to have the same importance again. Finally, in a condition of
obsession (absolute monoideism) the fixed idea defies all rivalry and
rules despotically. Many inventors have suffered painfully this tyranny
and have vainly struggled to break it. The fixed idea, once settled,
does not permit anything to dislodge it save for the moment and with
much pain. Even then it is displaced only apparently, for it persists in
the unconscious life where it has thrust its deep roots.

At this stage the unifying principle, although it can act as a stimulus
for creation, is no longer normal. Consequently, a natural question
arises: Wherein is there a difference between the obsession of the
inventor and the obsession of the insane, who most generally destroys in
place of creating?

The nature of fixed ideas has greatly occupied contemporary alienists.
For other reasons and in their own way they, too, have been led to
divide obsession into two classes, the intellectual and emotional,
according as the idea or the affective state predominates. Then they
have been led to ask: Which of these two elements is the primitive one?
For some it is the idea. For others, and it seems that these are the
more numerous, the affective state is in general the primary fact; the
obsession always rests on a basis of morbid emotion and in a retention
of impressions.

But whatever opinion we may hold on this point, the difficulty of
establishing a dividing line between the two forms of obsession above
mentioned remains the same. Are there characters peculiar to each one?

It has been said: "The physiologically fixed idea is normally longed
for, often sought, in all cases accepted, and it does not break the
unity of the self." It does not impose itself fatally on consciousness;
the individual knows the value thereof, knows where it leads him, and
adapts his conduct to its requirements. For example, Christopher

The pathological fixed idea is "parasitic," automatic, discordant,
irresistible. Obsession is only a special case of psychic
disintegration, a kind of doubling of consciousness. The individual
becomes a person "possessed," whose self has been confiscated for the
sake of the fixed idea, and whose submission to his situation is wrought
with pain.

In spite of this parallel the distinguishing criterion between the two
is very vague, because from the sane to the delirious idea the
transitions are very numerous. We are obliged to recognize "that with
certain workers--who are rather taken up with the elaboration of their
work, and not masters directing it, quitting it, and resuming it at
their pleasure--an artistic, scientific, or mechanical conception
succeeds in haunting the mind, imposing itself upon it even to the
extent of causing suffering." In reality, pure psychology is unable to
discover a positive difference between obsession leading to creative
work and the other forms, because in both cases the mental mechanism is,
at bottom, the same. The criterion must be sought elsewhere. For that we
must go out of the internal world and proceed objectively. We must judge
the fixed idea not in itself but by its effects. What does it produce in
the practical, esthetic, scientific, moral, social, religious field? It
is of value according to its fruits. If objection be made to this change
of front we may, in order to stick to a strictly psychological point of
view, state that it is certain that as soon as it passes beyond a middle
point, which it is difficult to determine, the fixed idea profoundly
troubles the mechanism of the mind. In imaginative persons this is not
rare, which partly explains why the pathological theory of genius (of
which we shall speak later) has been able to rally so many to its
support and to allege so many facts in its favor.

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