Seeing or Seeing Into?


 I have admired the British journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, for a great many years. In the 1970’s when I was in university, he was the most well known journalist in the world.

 I have two shelves (often consulted) full of his books. One of these, A Third Testament, introduced me to his mentor, William Blake’s, insight that our ability to perceive depends upon whether we 'see through the eye', rather than 'with the eye’.

 There is a huge difference between seeing through, and seeing with.

 To 'see with' the eye is to see as a camera does. Which is to see mechanically.

 We can be camera-like, machine-like. In an autonomatonlike way, we can look and see without understanding.

 This is a passive mode of looking around, robotic-like, as if on automatic pilot, that has to be blasted out of existence in order for something else to emerge.

 That something else is the awakening and the baptism of the imagination. 

 To the degree that the imagination is awakened and baptized will be the degree to which we see with understanding and with wisdom.

 When the imagination is ignited and set ablaze, seers and sages are created.

 Seers and sages are human beings who see what others do not. They are seeing through the eye, not with it. 

 They are doing more than merely seeing things. They are seeing the meaning and the significance of things. They don’t just see, they see into.

 Ablaze, a seer or sage doesn't need to see much to know what’s going on. Like a skilled investigator - one tiny clue solves the case.

 The contrast is the case of someone whose imagination is blocked or damaged. 

 When the faculty of the imagination is impaired, it doesn't matter how much one sees. Everything can be seen but nothing is understood.

 No explanation or proof will make any difference. Blinded by the lack of an inspired inner life, one is predisposed not to see.

 The truth will be right in front of one’s physical eyes, but because the mind’s eye is obstructed, no seeing takes place.

 Muggeridge tells the story of a "very humane but simple-minded old lady who sees the play King Lear performed and is outraged that the poor old man should be humiliated and made to suffer.

 Disturbed by the King’s suffering, she gloms on to that and sees nothing more. 

 But, as it turns out, she is given the chance to question Shakespeare in the after-life: “What a monstrous thing to make that poor old man go through all of that."

 “Why, yes," says Willy in response: "I quite agree. It was very painful and I could have arranged for him to take a sedative at the end of Act 1, but then, ma’m, there would have been no play.”

 Now, it was either the woman's psychology, political philosophy, ideology, or perhaps all of these together that had prevented her from actually seeing and understanding the meaning of the play.

 She had vitiated her vision by excluding suffering, affliction, disappointment, and failure from it.

 It is likely also that she put a clamp on her awareness of sin, evil, and of life’s tragic dimension.

 She was not someone, I think, who would be able to accept Blake’s words that “we were made for joy and woe.” Such a line would, I think, bother her. 

 Now, I hesitate to describe the woman’s political affiliation. But what do you think? Is not this type just about everywhere today?  

 Now, according to Ian Hunter, Muggeridge’s biographer, his special ability, his “particular gift”, was to see through the eye.

 He therefore saw past surfaces into the heart and depth of things. As he  wrote in Twentieth Century Testimony: “I feel as though all my life I’ve been looking for an alternative scene, for the face behind the cotton wool, the flesh beneath the wax, the light beyond the arc lights, time beyond the ticking of the clocks, a vista beyond the furthermost reach of mortal eyes, for a destiny beyond history. I’ve always had the feeling from my earliest memories, that somehow, somewhere there was another dimension of reality where the fancy dress was put aside, the great paint was washed off, the arc lights were lowered.”

 But as a child Malcolm had been indoctrinated into that truncated way of seeing with the eye. For example, he remembered "the little suburban house in south London was where on Saturday evenings my father and his cronies would assemble, and they would plan together the downfall of the capitalist system and the replacement of it by one which was just and human and egalitarian and peaceable etc.” 

 He had then "accepted completely the views of these good men, that once they were able to shape the world as they wanted it to be, they would create a perfect state of affairs in which peace would reign, prosperity would expand, men would be brotherly, and considerate, and there would be no exploitation of man by man, not any ruthless oppression of individuals.”      

 Malcolm even married the niece of two of the most famous socialists of that time, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, which he describes as “like marrying into a sort of aristocracy of the Left.”

 It was entirely fitting therefore that he got his start as a journalist with the Manchester Guardian, which he describes as the “high citadel of liberalism” where the truth was being expounded, where enlightenment reigned. These were the golden days of liberalism when the Guardian was widely read, and even believed.”

 As a member of the Guardian staff, Muggeridge understood that he was to paint a rosy picture in his reports: “We were required to end anything we wrote on a hopeful note, because liberalism is a hopeful creed. And so, however appalling and black the situation that we described, we would always conclude with some sentence like: “It is greatly to be hoped that moderate men of all shades of opinion will draw together, and that wiser councils may yet prevail.” 

 An assignment to Moscow ended the relationship with socialism as he experienced the shock of observing the “extraordinary performance of the liberal intelligentsia, who, in those days, flocked to Moscow like pilgrims to Mecca.

 He was dismayed to observe that "one and all were utterly delighted and excited by what they saw there.

 Exercising no discernment, “clergymen walked serenely and happily through the anti-god museums, politicians claimed that no system of society could possibly be more equitable and just, lawyers admired Soviet justice, and economists praised the Soviet economy.” 

 Alarmed by their trustfulness, Muggeridge asked: “How could this be?” How could this extraordinary credulity exist in the minds of people who were adulated by one and all as maestros of discernment and judgment?”  

 Disillusioned by their refusal to see the evil of Stalinism, Muggeridge searched for truth elsewhere.

 He asked: Where might we find the “most perfect and beautiful expressions of man’s spiritual aspirations?” 

 He answered that the truth was never to be found in the “liberal dream in any of its manifestations.” 

 Instead, the truth was coming “from the forced labor camps of the USSR.” 

 The prisoners of the Gulag who had lost everything under Stalin were the bearers of a spiritual message. Like Alexander Solzhenitsyn who said: "Bless you prison…for there I came to realize that the object of life is the maturity of the human soul.” 

 And thus affirming that it is not enough merely to see with the physical eyes only, but to see through the eyes to the reality of the spiritual realm.

 Not merely to see but to see into.


 Equilibrio, The Music of Existence - Margot Reisinger