Mindsets (notes by Aby Warburg)
Notes from Aby Warburg
For mythopoeic thought the will that appears to underlie events must be explained by means of biomorphic delimitation, that is by the identification of the cause with a well-defined organism. This cause will be substituted for the real agent such as it is defined by science. The indefinite and elusive is replaced by biomorphic creatures which the animist experiences as familiar and identifiable. Whenever I attempt to organize thought I establish links between images outside myself. Biomorphism "is a phobic reflex. The other is a cosmic act". The phobic reflex of the biomorphic imagination lacks the capacity to precipitate a cosmic image based on mathematical order. This objective precipitation of an image can be found in the search for harmonic systems among the American Indians and in Hellenistic civilisations. What constitutes the gigantic process here over primitive biomorphism is precisely that primitive biomorphism reacts to the memory function with a defensive measure while in these experiments of structural thought the hand no longer wields a weapon but a tracing tool, and the lip shapes the sound. (Gombrich, 1986, p.219)
The primeval category of causal thought is maternity. The relation between mother and child displays the enigma of a tangible material connection bound up with the profoundly bewildering trauma of the separation of one living being from another. The detachment of the subject from the object which establishes the zone for abstract thought originates in the experience of the cutting of the umbilical cord. The `savage´ perplexed in the face of nature is orphaned, without paternal protection; his courage to think in terms of causes is first manifest in his choice of an animal father of elective affinity, who imparts to him those qualities which he needs in the struggle against nature, qualities which, in comparison with the animal concerned, he only discovers in himself in weak, isolated doses. That is the origin of totemism (Durkheim). (Gombrich, 1986, p.219)
quotation from a lecture in compliment to Franz Boll:
The very term the `vault of heaven´ encompasses the whole Promethean tragedy of man, for there is no solid vault up there. And yet we must use this exalted image to gain an auxiliary construct, however arbitrary it may be, so that our eyes no longer confront the infinite unaided.
- ↑ in: Gombrich: Aby Warburg. An intellectual biography. 1986. Phaidon Press, Oxford.