Wandering through some of Coleridge’s early letters, discussing aspects of his poetry – especially the poems dealing with the daemonic, he uses a term other than the usual apellation we’ve come to expect (“supernatural”); instead, he discusses with Wordsworth, his friend of many years, the term “transnatural”. Gregory Leadbetter in a work devoted to the daemonic in Coleridge’s poetry will tell us:
“The transnatural and the daemonic involve each other here; the transnatural carries the promise and the risk of hidden orders of insight, being, and knowledge—proscribed by contingent social and religious mores—and the daemon is the image of a mind fascinated with the transnatural.” (275).
His notebook entry on the transnatural was a secret within a secret, because it refers to experiences withheld even from those closest to him. Below I quote it here in full:
<A compact with of the Noumena to place themselves in a [?monas/moral] state—each to forbid himself to be conscious of another’s acts except thro’ the senses.>
One of the strangest and most painful Peculiarities of my Nature
(unless others have the same, & like me, hide it from the same inexplicable feeling of causeless shame & sense of a sort of guilt, joined with the apprehension of being feared and shrunk from as a something transnatural) I will here record—and my Motive or rather Impulse to do this, seems to myself an effort to † eloign and abalienate it from the dark Adyt of my own Being by a visual Outness—& not the wish for others to see it—
It consists in a sudden second sight of some hidden Vice, past, present, or to come, of the person or persons with whom I am about to form a close intimacy—which never deters me but rather (as all these transnaturals) urge me on, just like the feeling of an Eddy-Torrent to a swimmer/. I see it as a Vision, feel it as a Prophecy—not as one givenme by any other Being, but as an act of my own Spirit, of the absolute Noumenon/ which in so doing seems to have offended against some Law of its Being, & to have acted the Traitor by a commune with full Consciousness independent of the tenure or inflicted state of Association, Cause & Effect &c &c—Thus, it was thiw Gift tuum/ & so thiw Yram + ettolrach—/These occasional acts of the Εγο νουμενος = repetitions or semblances of the original Fall of Man—hence shame & power—to leave the appointed Station and become ∆αιμων‡ † to eloign a eloigner, elongare, abire, fugere in longum,—in the imperative eloign thee! = make thyself distant/off with thee to moldar y! Go to Hell & to the farthest end of it! &c &c—In French e sounds as an English a, and the interchange between l and r is of notorious frequency in etymology—Hence, Aroynt thee, witch! . . I suppose to be—Eloign thee, witch.
<‡ and perhaps invading the free will & rightful secrecy of a fellowspirit—> (CN III 4166)
As Leadbetter will explicate the vision urges him on, “as all these transnaturals” do (my emphasis). Coleridge feels such impulses to be somehow transgressive: they prompt feelings of “causeless shame” and “a sort of guilt,” and he suspects that if disclosed, his own fascination with “transnaturals” would make him “feared and shrunk from as a something transnatural.” Coleridge therefore makes himself the focus of a double vision: the transnatural, so compellingly attractive to him, is an object of fear and moral disgust for others. (283). I almost think of Bataille and Baudrillard and their use of the notion of seduction at this point. To be fascinated is to be bewitched or under a spell of seduction. Etymologically we discover
1590s, “bewitch, enchant,” from Middle French fasciner (14c.), from Latin fascinatus, past participle of fascinare “bewitch, enchant, fascinate,” from fascinus “a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft,” which is of uncertain origin. Earliest used of witches and of serpents, who were said to be able to cast a spell by a look that rendered one unable to move or resist. Sense of “delight, attract and hold the attention of” is first recorded 1815.
To fascinate is to bring under a spell, as by the power of the eye; to enchant and to charm are to bring under a spell by some more subtle and mysterious power. [Century Dictionary]
Possibly from Greek baskanos “slander, envy, malice,” later “witchcraft, sorcerery,” with form influenced by Latin fari “speak” (see fame (n.)), but others say the resemblance of the Latin and Greek words is accidental. The Greek word might be from a Thracian equivalent of Greek phaskein “to say;” compare enchant, and German besprechen “to charm,” from sprechen “to speak.” Watkins suggests the Latin word is perhaps from PIE *bhasko- “band, bundle” via a connecting sense of “amulet in the form of a phallus” (compare Latin fascinum “human penis; artificial phallus; dildo”). Related: Fascinated; fascinating.
If [baskanos] and fascinum are indeed related, they would point to a meaning ‘curse, spell’ in a loanword from an unknown third language. [de Vaan]2
Whereas seduction has both a sense of sexual license and of a sense of treachery and betrayal:
1520s, from Middle French séduction, from Latin seductionem (nominative seductio), noun of action from past participle stem of seducere (see seduce). Originally with reference to actions or beliefs; sexual sense is from 1769, originally always with women as the objects. Earlier appearance of the word in Middle English with a sense “treason, treachery” probably is a confusion with sedition, which confusion also is found in Old French seducion “treason, betrayal.”3
One will remember the vampire in Christabel that cannot cross the threshold but must first seduce the young girl, tempt her through allurements and seductions of friendship and sexual innuendo, etc., and through the power of fascination succeeds and then once past the threshold her treachery and betrayal are manifest as she feeds on the blood of the young woman, etc. By the end of the poem, Christabel’s unspoken fascination with the transnatural has led her to become “a something transnatural” (CN III 4166), a daemonic being rejected by a father driven mad by her offence against a blind honor-system, which expected only her meekness and obedience (PW I.1 502-3). Again, Coleridge anticipates and figures the social consequences of what he has described. This time, however, the poem’s irresolution sets one of its daemonic agents free. Ultimately the vampire, Geraldine has successfully “escaped” and is at large in the world, surviving through her capacity to manipulate those around her, and making a fool of religious certainty and patriarchal authority as she does so. (494).
Speculative Philosophy – Confronting the Unknown – Fascination and Seduction
It seems so many of current speculative philosophy is based on this need to make visible what is invisible, to either – as in SR to see indirectly what cannot be seen, or as in those like Zizek to see in the gaps and cracks and blanks of those blind spots of missing information the Real, etc., either or both investigating something in excess of the natural, yet not supernatural – or religious or Platonic (i.e., not some world behind the veil of things, some other realm of pure Ideas, Objects, etc.). So this notion of “transnatural” seems an interesting term for use among those like myself who see in the neurosciences this sense that most of what we take to be reality is based on our brain’s predictive and anticipatory nature, its subtle display of images and representations that probably have little to do with the actual world in-itself and much more to do with what we need to survive and navigate our local spaces. Reason being the ordering of this delusional information the brain arranges for us, while the truth remain in excess of our conscious mind, elided and transnatural to our modes of apprehension.
I’ve often thought that our secular fear of the return of religious forms of thinking have actually been detrimental to the truth surrounding us, and that what secularists need is a form of thought that need not be religious but does need to question its the role of Reason and the missing information that exists in excess of our representations. So many of the philosophers under various terms have been beating around this bush lately without actually saying it outright. What is this unnamed region of being, this invisible realm that we so indirectly accept as there but seem incapable of speaking honestly about?
In past posts I’ve seen in several forms this notion of the “vanishing mediator” – this sense that we need a bridge or mediation between our conscious awareness and our indirect acknowledgement of this invisible we seek to make visible. And what we mean by making visible is simple to find ways to bring it into discourse. Some do it by way of mathemes, others by way of trope and linguistic usage; or, both. There seems to be a common object of these investigations, call it the Real, if you will. The Real is neither reality nor its opposite, fantasy; but, rather that thing that cannot be named but only suffered.
Baudrillard in his book Seduction will speak of the possessive spell cast by a collection of dead objects – the dead sex object being as beautiful as a butterfly with florescent wings – to the seduction of a living being who would demand his love in return . She prefers the monotonous fascination of the collection, the fascination with dead differences, this obsession with the same, over the seduction of the other. This is why one senses from the beginning that she will die, not because the other is a dangerous and mad, but because she is logical, motivated by an irreversible logic. To seduce without being seduced – without reversibility.(128).4
In this case, one of the two terms must die, and it is always the same since the other is already dead . The other is immortal and indestructible, as in every perversion. This is illustrated by the fact that the poem ends where it began (and not without humour – possessive people, like perverse people, have a good sense of humour outside the sphere of their obsession, including in the minutiae of their proceedings) . In any case, the vampiress has enclosed herself within an insoluble logic: all the signs of love she can give the young woman will be interpreted in a contrary manner. And the most tender will be the most suspect. She might perhaps be satisfied with the appropriate signs, but she cannot bear the genuine enticements of love. Within this logic, she has signed her own death warrant.(P128).
Bataille once said of fascination, “It is obviously the combination of abhorrence and
desire,” he wrote, “that gives the sacred world a paradoxical character, holding the one who considers it without cheating in a state of anxious fascination”…5 One imagines Coleridge as he portrayed Christabel as she teasingly confronts Geraldine with both abhorrence and desire, moving between conflicting emotions in a space in-between the natural and transnatural.
Bataille found that the mystical experience is unleashed by the apparition of an object that fascinates and absorbs the viewer. It could be anything—a cascade, trees seen in the fog from a car window, a ﬂash of lightning, the ecstatic object has no necessary or meaningful connection with a complex of other objects or with one’s own nature and goals. Ecstatic experience ﬁxes on objects out of reach, things with which one can do nothing. An ecstatic object is also not some condensed image or symbol of perfection, peace, utopia, or the divine. (ibid., p. 140). The object of desire is both impossible and possible at the same time, an encounter that activates aspects of one’s being that otherwise seem in stasis: – and, now put one in a state of ecstasis (i.e., The state of being beside oneself or rapt out of oneself.). As Alphonso Lingis on Bataille will say,
The ecstatic vision ﬁnds kinship with the ecstatic object. This object is like oneself in that it is disconnected from signiﬁcance and function in the network of pragmatic or signiﬁcant relationships. It exists in and for itself. But it is undergoing a dramatic loss of its identity, multiplied in caricatures of itself, rent, in ﬂames. The ecstatic ﬁxation on such an object conveys an overwhelming desire to join that object, merge with it, lose oneself in it, and senses too in anguish that the object is lethal. (ibid., p. 141).
Who will forget the lethal gaze of Geraldine? The seduction, treachery, and betrayal…
A snake’s small eye blinks dull and shy,
And the lady’s eyes they shrunk in her head,
Each shrunk up to a serpent’s eye,
And with somewhat of malice, and more of dread,
At Christabel she looked askance!-
One moment- and the sight was fled!
But Christabel in dizzy trance
Stumbling on the unsteady ground
Shuddered aloud, with a hissing sound;
And Geraldine again turned round,
And like a thing that sought relief,
Full of wonder and full of grief…
The maid, alas! her thoughts are gone,
She nothing sees- no sight but one!
The maid, devoid of guile and sin,
I know not how, in fearful wise,
So deeply had she drunken in
That look, those shrunken serpent eyes,
That all her features were resigned
To this sole image in her mind:
And passively did imitate
That look of dull and treacherous hate!
Caught between one’s natural impulses and the transnatural power of the daemonic she is too late to break the spell, to turn away, to flee the treacherous hate of the beloved one, but is seduced and absorbs the full extent of her dizzying engulfment in ecstasy even as she swoons and falls at the feet of her lover, dead. As Lingis tells us (ibid., p. 141):
“The ecstatic object is catastrophic. The ecstatic object opens onto a realm not tied together with instrumental interconnections or relations of intelligible interdependency. One ﬁnds oneself exposed to powers outside the realm of work and reason, uncontained by and destructive of work and uncomprehended by reason the outer realm is encountered as the realm of the impracticable, the unutilizable, the unmanipulatable, a realm of darkness and emptiness.”
Note: luckily found a copy of this in my local library a few days back… way too expensive to buy…
- Gregory Leadbetter. Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination. Palgrave Macmillan; 2011 edition (March 15, 2011)
- see: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fascinate
- see: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=seduction
- Jean Baudrillard. Seduction. Palgrave Macmillan; English ed edition (January 15, 1991)
- Jeremy Biles (Editor), Kent Brintnall (Editor). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion. Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)