This is part 1 (of four) of the promised translation of Julius Evola‘s essay on Emile Coué. It originally appeared in Bilychnis, in the Jan-Feb issue of 1925 under the title Emile Coué and “Acting without Acting”. Here Evola goes well beyond Coué himself and provides metaphysical, philosophical, and psychological explanations for the phenomena described by Coué.
Along with New Thought, which itself has been heavily influenced by Coué, couism, or something like it, has been a part of Hermetic teachings when properly understood. In reading this essay, perhaps some of you will be intrigued by this seeming paradox:
- Coué demonstrated almost “miraculous” results
- Similar results have been very difficult to reproduce
If point 2 were not true, then everyone would be demonstrating miraculous powers today. That I have not witnessed, not even in the New Thought circles that I was formerly part of. Yet point 1 has some truth, and Evola himself was convinced of it. Following the translation, we will offer an explanation of why points 1 and 2 are both true … unless someone else can explain it better.
The name of the Frenchman Emile Coué has made quite a splash in recent times. There was a period in which, especially in France and in England—Couism had become the word of the day: a real interest and very lively discussion gathered little by little around the figure of this modern thaumaturge, his famous psychotherapeutic method of “conscious autosuggestion”, and the wake of almost miraculous healings left by his travels in the countries of central Europe and the New World. In these days, Coue has also come to Italy to hold a series of conferences that, if not of true enthusiasm—perhaps because of the rather skeptical nature of the greater Italian public—certainly has attracted much attention of the type which, among the observations of modern psychology of the supernormal, is always more inclined to believe that the power of man can in reality reach far beyond that which the small, humble, everyday life shows us as possible in general. To tell the truth, the need that stands at the foundation of Coue’s doctrine is rather important; it will therefore not be useless to attempt a reconstruction of it and, at the same time, to investigate up to what point the methods of Coué can be sufficient to it.
The starting point, undoubtedly, is this. Hypnotic phenomena are real. Recent studies in this regard—it is enough to cite Liebeault, Bernheim, De Rochas, Richet—have truly been conducted according to the principles of the strictest positivism, and put the matter beyond dispute. Now it is factual that the hypnotized person realizes a number of things of which, in the normal or awake state, he is not absolutely capable: concerning perceptions, the emotional element, or various organic functions, he has a power that touches the miraculous. How is that possible? Here we have the first position of couism, expressed in the principle—moreover already announced by Liebeault and Myers—that every heterosuggestion (i.e, a suggestion made by another) is realized only through an autosuggestion. That is, the theory that the power of the hypnotizer works directly on the hypnotized person is excluded. The hypnotizer only transmits a command, he only suggests the idea of the thing to be accomplished: but in order for the suggestion to be effective, it is necessary that the subject assume it, transform it into an autosuggestion and thereby realize it with his own strength. Receptivity is in fact an essential condition for the success of the suggestion. It would follow from that that the operative power in the phenomenology of hypnosis must be pushed back not to another, but to the I itself: that, at least, in its material aspect of a force “that does”, aside from the principle of the impulse that causes it.
It must be placed back on the I, so far, so good. But which I? Clearly not the I of the conscious personality: the hypnotic sleep effectively entirely abolishes such an I. It therefore necessarily pertains to another, deep power of subjectivity beyond that which consciously thinks and wills, a much vaster and stronger power that Coué designated sometimes as the imagination, and at other times—following Jung—as the subconscious. Now in the phenomenon of heterosuggestion these two I’s fall into two distinct beings: in the hypnotized person, the unconscious principle and realizer; in the hypnotizer, the conscious and directing principle. The problem that couism poses is this: to substitute the I of wakefulness for the hypnotizer and to reunite the two principles in the same subject. Hence, the concept of a suggestion to be made by oneself to oneself, according to directives that the I of awakening should formulate and the subconscious carry out: hence, the theme of conscious autosuggestion.
Before going further, let us lay down a more precise understanding of what the subconscious is. Here Coué—keeping in mind what the subconscious shows us it is capable of in hypnotic phenomena—refers to an entity that presides over all organic functions, from the most humble of the vegetative life to those that govern the mental processes themselves, and, therefore, it corresponds to entelechy as described by Aristotle and Driesch, the “logos” of Sthal, the “physical personality” of Ribot. But this determination is still exterior: it does not tell us what such a principle is in and for the I. And that is must be something for the I, which it in one way or another must emerge, must be put at the head of the luminous zone of consciousness, which is clearly presupposed by the problem of conscious autosuggestion: since if the two I’s were such that they mutually excluded each other, or that when the subconscious emerges the consciousness is submerged and vice versa, it is clear that the action ab intra that couism proposes would not be possible.
Duality must therefore be in a certain way present in the very sphere of the life of awakening. To that we refer to Coué’s other term, the imagination. He notes that in the same conscious life, two entirely distinct powers are in play: one relates to the plane of intellection, the clear consciousness and reflective will; the other to the murky reign of the instinct, emotion, passion, and deep and irrational convictions whose dominant principle is that of faith and imagination. The one is, to use Platonic terminology, the logos, the other, eros. Coué distinguishes rather cleanly between these two powers: they have individuality and absolutely heterogeneous modes of acting. Now while the logos falls outside that deep principle that rules the whole of organic functions, the eros communicates with it so that, in a certain way, it is identified with it. The corollary follows immediately from that—the key point for couism—that the problem of the control of one’s own personality—and that not only with regard to the element of character, but also with regard to the physical being and, therefore in particular, the problem of eliminating psychic disturbances and maladies (psychotherapy)—it is mutual with that of the determination of the eros from part of the logos, for the “imagination” from part of the conscious I. This is the task of conscious autosuggestion: to succeed in making directives originating from the I from the imagination accepted, so that they moreover become directives for the organic subconscious which, blind and inert, cannot fail to obey them as it happens in hypnotic phenomena.