Of Syntheses and Surprises: Toward a Critical Integral Theory
Daniel Gustav Anderson INTEGRAL REVIEW 3, 2006
Aurobindo’s literary criticism is historical in nature; as Peter Heehs (2003) observes, Aurobindo’s The Future Poetry is effectively an elaboration of Matthew Arnold’s 1880 Study of Poetry (p. 122). From Arnold and the generation of critics that followed him, the notion of synthesis as an evolutionary process comes into Aurobindo’s thinking, and with it the Victorian ideology of race, of "bloods." The details of this ideology yield much insight into the history of the how and why of integral theory—the means and ends of Meaningful Wholes. Specifically, integration-as-synthesis can be regarded as a product of fin de siecle culture,20 including a specific debt to its race theory and other ideological impulses, and also as a response to said culture.
The Future Poetry is at once a primer on the history of English literature for an Anglophone Indian readership, and a prescription for a spiritualized aesthesis, positing the possibility of a future spiritual and aesthetic renaissance legitimized by an idealistic and ideological reading of this history. The speculations on English poetry included in this volume arose from a matrix of influences Aurobindo could not have avoided in his private tutorship in England or at King’s College, Cambridge. Among the most significant of these must have been the literary criticism of Matthew Arnold, England’s poet laureate and dominant man-of-letters during much of Aurobindo’s formative stay. In Arnold, the reader sees writ large the "return to roots" Zizek identifies as a symptom of ideology at work.