What does Walter Pater mean by the ‘perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves’?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the last paragraph of Walter Pater's Studies of the History of the Renaissance, Pater makes an existential analysis of how the way in which we view things matter to people individually, based on each of our personal experiences in life. Although this sounds obvious in the surface, Pater goes more in-depth: he argues that there is a difference between what we perceive things to be, and what things really are. That everything, from objects, to sounds, to emotions, are uniquely particular to the value that we choose to bestow upon them.

If we are not careful, we risk the chance of allotting value and importance to things that do not deserve it. As a result, we may end up being trapped in personal and psychological limitations that we impose upon ourselves merely because of the value that we choose to give things. This message is obvious when he concludes: 

To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our life fines itself down. It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution of impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off—that continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves.

In not so many words, aging, maturing and experiencing things are the elements that help us change our perspectives in life. This is why it is imperative that we shift our attitudes and become able to perpetually learn and try new sensations, images, and opinions. As an aesthete, Pater is a huge advocate of collecting images that are new and refresh our psyche. Therefore, that strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves refers to the processes of mental, psychological, social, and emotional development that help us transform into what we become. 

If we resist changes and shifts in paradigm, things will always be what they have always been to us. As a result, we enslave ourselves in our self-made worlds of significances, ideas, fears, and consequences which to the rest of the world, may not be as important. 

Pater also contends that

...those impressions of the individual mind to which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in perpetual flight; that each of them is limited by time, and that as time is infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible also...

In conclusion: nothing is what it seems, but what we choose that it is. Nothing is meant to cause pain, joy, nor emotion unless we give something the power to cause such effects on us. We, and our choice to change, are ultimately the only ones responsible for what causes our emotional and psychological stability. Pater simply puts these thoughts forward under the perspective of art and society. 


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