Academic journal article East-West Connections

Feeling as Form in Indian Aesthetics

Academic journal article East-West Connections

Feeling as Form in Indian Aesthetics

Article excerpt

To speak of feeling as a source of formal coherence is a strange idea from a Western perspective. Feelings are believed to be formless, chaotic, explosive, corrosive, ungovernable, irrational, and delusive. In Western aesthetic and philosophical traditions, form and feeling are most often seen as opposites, if not antagonists. From Plato's perspective, feeling threatens logos, and tragedies are dangerous because they can lure the spectator into surrendering control of the emotions. For Longinus, feelings were the spur for poetic endeavor, and form was the rein. If feeling was the driving force of poetic expression, only form made feeling bearable, elevated it to the status of poetry. The Romantics sought a more organic link between form and feeling, but they too observed an antipathy between structure and feeling. Nietzsche, in his reflections on Apollo and Dionysus, once more reinforced the dialectical nature of form and feeling and linked this dialectic to a tragic vision of art and life.

In the rasa theory central to much of Indian aesthetics, the evocation of feeling is not only the impetus for aesthetic endeavor but also the key to the structural integrity of a work of art. Envisioning eight and sometimes nine primary emotions that are basic to the human condition, rasa theorists beginning with Bharata, possibly as early as the 3rd century BCE, delineated the qualities of feeling that attended each primary emotion, the symptoms of the feeling, substrata of emotions that might grow out of a primary emotion, and the ways in which emotions complemented or opposed each other. In short they evolved a science of emotion that could be applied to the creation of powerfully affecting works of art. They recognized the logic of emotion, and used that logic as a basis to structure and analyze aesthetic experience.

Like much of Indian aesthetic speculation, rasa theory was inevitably linked with spiritual perspectives and examined in relation to the four aims of life recognized in Vedic philosophy--kama, artha, dharma, and moksa. Although kama or pleasure was the apparent aim of art in the view of rasa aestheticians, Abhinavagupta in the 11th Century determined that the ultimate emotional experience in art was the bliss of moksa, spiritual freedom. How could this be, especially since kama or pleasure is largely viewed as one of the great distractions from spiritual freedom? Abhinavagupta said that whereas emotions experienced in real life are limiting to our freedom because we get caught up in them, emotions evoked by an artwork can be experienced with some dispassion. Although a certain amount of "same-heartedness" must exist between artist and audience, a viewer recognizes that art is a world apart from his or her everyday life. In this somewhat disinterested state the emotions can be savored, hence "rasa," which means the taste or juice or essence. The artist evokes the core of feeling, removing veils, peeling away disguises, until we experience its essence. The pleasure one experiences comes from being able to relish the quality of feeling without being subject to it. Furthermore, art provides resolution to the welter of conflicting emotions, demonstrating the interrelated nature of all the opposing feelings to which humans are subject and showing that life is held together by one thread that unites many apparently opposing threads. The movement from the deeply personal dimension of emotion to its more universal quality creates an experience of liberation (Hiriyanna, 8-16, Deustch, 14 ff.).

Aestheticians are emphatic in recognizing that the "taste" of freedom experienced in art is not the same as moksa (liberation) achieved through spiritual pursuit; the aesthetic experience is temporary and vicarious, while spiritual attainment is a more permanent condition that pervades one's entire existence. Nevertheless, a profound work of art suggests and points toward the spiritual state. It is not the case, as in some Western views of art, that the taste of liberation experienced through an artwork is a mere imitation of the actual experience or an illusory experience. …

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