Monday, September 01, 2014

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Bliss as a Literary (and Evolutionary) Principle
Bliss in Literature: Bliss may seem an odd component of literary theory, but with a Consciousness-BasedSM approach to literature, bliss becomes a fundamental element in the reading experience. Maharishi describes the relationship this way, “The joy that one experiences in going through a piece of literature is the impulse of bliss arrested in the expression of successful writers.”1  What I like about this statement is that it reminds me of the joy that I have always gotten from reading. I feel some little thrill of pleasure when I have a stack of books on my table, waiting to be read. I always want to revisit the bliss of being absorbed into the world of story.
 
Arrested Bliss: Looking at those impulses of arrested bliss, Maharishi goes on to say that "[Literature] is the flow of speech in such a beautiful way that the surface uncovers the depth.”2   The power of this idea, so simply stated, unwraps the nature of reading. Students new to literature may look at the words on the page as hiding or obscuring meaning when, instead, words reveal meaning—such a simple distinction. Maharishi reminds us that the surface uncovers the depth. The surface is our avenue into the depths, so as readers we come to experience the full range between the surface and the depths—owning the wholeness. Therein lies the bliss. 

Contraction and Expansion: Maharishi connects the bliss one feels when one reads with that expansion between comprehending individual words on the page and discovering the wholeness of meaning in the text. This is how Maharishi defines literature as the “flow of consciousness,” as it contracts and expands in “progressive waves.”3  The experience of bliss in literature comes about because of this flow of consciousness, these progressive waves of contraction and expansion. One moves from the surface expression in a piece of literature to the depths that the expression uncovers. The reader swings back and forth on that pendulum—contraction and expansion, contraction and expansion—and who doesn't enjoy the feeling of swinging?

Bliss is Evolutionary: So, how do we recognize the presence of bliss in literature? We feel joy when we read, but also, according to Maharishi, we look for the evolutionary principle at work, that quality that makes the piece of literature last.4  Maharishi says that literature is “naturally helpful to the path of evolution . . . naturally inspiring. They [pieces of literature] structure orderliness; they structure rhythm in life—the rhythms of evolutionary stages, such as day and night.”5  Readers come in tune with this flow, based on the clarity of their consciousness. The more they are tune with the flow of consciousness, the more bliss they experience in reading. Great literature “arrests” this experience for us, stopping the flow of consciousness in such a way that we can read the surface to uncover the depths of the universal, evolutionary flow.

Figurative Language: This arresting of the flow of consciousness occurs in figurative language or with imagery. The symbol and metaphor are good examples to demonstrate how the contraction of the arrested flow expresses the expansion of a larger, more holistic meaning. A symbol, for example, is a concrete object (the contraction) that suggests a larger conceptual meaning (the expansion). Symbols can be almost anything—fire, water, a wagon, a color. Poe's Raven is black, for example, in his melancholy poem of the same name—black symbolizing death and loss.  Another figure often used in literature, the metaphor, is a comparison between two unlike object (“My love is like a red, red rose newly sprung in June”). The poet, Robert Burns, gives the reader a concrete object—a new rose (contraction) to suggest the wholeness—fresh new passionate feelings (the expansion). Metaphors, like symbols, provide an experience of bliss in that swing between concrete and concept. 
 
Your Bliss: So bliss is a component of reading literature—in the swing between contraction and expansion and in the universal and eternal nature of literature that lasts throughout time. Bliss is why book lovers can never read enough books. So, join me. What have you read lately and did it bring you joy? See the Comments link to respond and share.
 
References:

1 Orme-Johnson, Rhoda and Susan Andersen. The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language. Fairfield, IA: MUM Press, 2010, p. 15

2 Ibid.

3 Orme-Johnson, Rhoda and Susan Andersen. The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language. Fairfield, IA: MUM Press, 2010, p. 54

4 Orme-Johnson, Rhoda and Susan Andersen. The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language. Fairfield, IA: MUM Press, 2010, p. 56

5 Orme-Johnson, Rhoda and Susan Andersen. The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language. Fairfield, IA: MUM Press, 2010, p. 67


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