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Accueil > Oriente > Raniero Gnoli : The Aesthetic Experience

The Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta

Raniero Gnoli : The Aesthetic Experience


dimanche 22 avril 2018

In India, the study of aesthetics—which was at first restricted to the drama—draws its origin? from no abstract? or disinterested desire for knowledge? but from motives of a purely empirical order. The most ancient text that has come down to us is die Nātyaśāstra (4th or 5th Century A. D. ?), ascribed to the mythical Bharata. This is a voluminous collection of observations and rules concerned in the main with the production of drama and the training of actors and poets. The author, or the authors, with a certain sententiousness and pedantry typical of Indian thought, classify the various mental? states or emotions of the human? soul and treat of their transition from the practical to the aesthetic plane. The Nātyaśāstra is a work of deep psychological insight. Drama appeals to sight and hearing at the same time (the only senses that are capable, according to some Indian thinkers, of rising above the boundaries of the limited “ I ”) and is then considered the highest form of art. In it both sight and hearing collaborate in arousing in the spectator, more easily and forcibly than by any other form of art, a state of consciousness sui generis, conceived intuitively and concretely as a juice or flavour, called Rasa. This typically Indian conception of aesthetic experience as a juice or a taste savoured by the reader or spectator should not surprise us. In India, and elsewhere, sensations proper to the senses of taste and touch, almost devoid of any noetic representation, arc easily taken to designate states of consciousness more intimate and removed from abstract representations [XIV] than the ordinary one—that is the aesthetic experience and various forms of religious ones.

This Rasa, when tasted by the spectator, pervades and enchants him. Aesthetic experience is, therefore, the act of tasting this Rasa, of immersing oneself in it to the exclusion of all else. Bharata, in a famous aphorism which, interpreted and elaborated in various ways, forms the point of departure of all later Indian aesthetic thoughts, says, in essence, that Rasa is born from the union of the play with the performance of the actors. “ Out of the union of the Determinants—he says ? literally—, the Consequents and the Transitory Mental States, the birth of Rasa takes place”. What is then the nature? of Rasa ? What are its relations with the other emotions and states of consciousness ? And how are we to understand this word “ birth ” ? The whole of Indian aesthetics hinges on such questions, which have been an inexhaustible source of polemic material to generations of rhetors and thinkers, down to our own days. But, before undertaking an examination of their various interpretations, let us briefly expound here the essentials of the empirical psychology of Bharata.

According to the Nātyaśāstra, eight fundamental feelings?, instincts, emotions or mental states called bhāva or sthāyibhāva [1], can be distinguished in the human soul : Delight (rati), Laughter (hāsa), Sorrow (śoka), Anger (krodha), Heroism (utsāha), Fear (bhaya), Disgust (jugupsā), and Wonder (vismaya). These eight states are inborn in man’s heart. They permanently exist in the mind of every man, in the form of latent impressions (vāsanā) derived from actual experiences in the present life or from inherited instincts, and, as such, they are ready to emerge into his consciousness on any occasion. In ordinary life each feeling is manifested and accompanied by three elements, causes (kārana), effects (kārya) and concomitant elements (Sahakārin). The causes are the various situations and encounters of life, by which it is excited ; the effects, the visible reactions caused by it and expressed by our face, our gestures and so on ; and the concomitant elements, the accessory and temporary mental states accompanying it. These eight bhāvas, indeed, do not appear in a pure form. The various modulations of our mental states are extremely complex, and each of the fundamental or permanent states appears in association with other concomitant mental states, as Discouragement, Weakness, Apprehension and so on. These occasional, transitory, impermanent states are, according to Bharata, thirty six. These same causes, etc., being acted on the stage or described in poetry, not lived in real life, give spectators the particular pleasure to which Bharata gives the name of Rasa. The fundamental mental states being eight in number, there are also eight Rasas, i.e., the Erotic (śŗngāra), the Comic (hāsya), the Pathetic (karuna), the Furious (raudra), the Heroic (vīra), the Terrible (bhayānaka), the Odious (bībhatsa) and the Marvellous (adbhuta). Later speculation generally admits a ninth permanent feeling, Serenity (śama) ; the corresponding Rasa is the Quietistic (śānta). When they are not part of real life but are elements of poetical expression, even the causes, effects and concomitant elements, just as the permanent mental states, take another name and are called respectively Determinants (vibhāva), Consequents (anubhāva) and Transitory Mental States (vyabhicāribhāva) [2]. Of course, from the spectator’s point of view, the consequents do not follow the feeling, as they do in the ordinary life, but they act as a sort of causes which intensify and prolong the feeling, brought about by the determinants.


[1The word bhāva is made to derive by Bharata, VII, 342-346, from the causative of bhū, to be, which may be intended in two different meanings, that is “ to cause to be ” (viz. bring about, create, etc.) and “ to pervade ”, According to the first meaning, that which is brought about are the purposes of poetry, kāvyārtha, that is, the Rasas (cf. below, p. 50, n. 2d). According to the second meaning these are so called because they pervade, as a smell, the minds of the spectators. The meaning of sthāyin is permanent, basic, etc.

[2There is no need to insist upon the fact that all these English renderings are far from being satisfying. According to Bharata, VII, 346, the term vibhāva has the meaning of cognition, vijnāna. They are so called, because words, gestures and the representation of the temperament are determined, vibhāvyate (that is, known, according to AG) by them. The anubhāva, on their turn, are so called because the representation, in its three aspects, that is, voice, vac, gestures, anga, and physical reactions, sattva, causes (the spectators) to experience (the correspondent feeling). I have followed here the reading accepted by AG. The commentary of AG on this part of the Nātyaśāstra is, however, not available, and there are, of this passage, many different readings.