Words and How they Get that Way
However, I’m afraid that the reverse will happen--that if I slow down, then I’ll burn out. For one thing, it would give me too much time to ruminate about what I’m writing, and probably paralyze me. There’s something to be said for just sitting down at the same time each day and banging something out--just making it a part of life, like flossing or exercising.
The disadvantage I have, of course, is that I am not actually a writer, nor would I ever claim to be. Nor are most bloggers writers (not that there's anything wrong with that). In my case, I simply try to convey ideas as clearly as possible. I have too much respect for real writers to call that writing. Lileks is a writer. Van der Leun is a writer. Iowahawk too. They are exceptions. For example, because Lileks is a writer, he can write about the most mundane and trivial details of his life and lift them to a higher plane, making them humorous, touching, provocative, even spiritual--all those magical little things that writers can do with words.
And when I say “magical,” I mean that literally. This was one of the themes of Joyce’s work: that through the magic of language, we can alchemically transmute the lead of our mundane, day-to-day existence into the gold of transpersonal experience. Perhaps more than any other writer, Joyce realized that the world is not made of atoms, or quarks, or molecules. Rather, it is composed of language. Therefore, changing our relationship to language can change everything.
“Epiphany” was Joyce’s word for those everyday moments when we are able to perceive the rays of the transpersonal sun shining through an object or experience. In reality, it is happening all the time--it can’t not happen--but we can miss it depending on the depth of our relationship to language. Without language, experience simply rolls off of us like water off a duck. (See--if I was a real writer, I could come up with a fresh metaphor.)
Language deepens our subjectivity, which paradoxically extends both within and without. For example, when you learn the language of psychoanalysis, you have tool for extending your consciousness into the deeper regions of the great within of consciousness, both in oneself and in others. It allows your own consciousness to literally extend like a probe into the recesses of another person’s mind.
But there is nothing special about psychoanalysis. In reality, any genuine expertise involves esoteric knowledge that allows the person to see and experience things that the uninitiated cannot. For example, when I had my stress treadmill done last week, the doctor obviously saw things in the EKG which mean nothing to me. For him, a whole world of meaning opens up before his eyes, whereas for me, it’s just squiggles on a piece of paper. For me, it is an impenetrable object. For him, his subjectivity extends into the squiggles and illuminates them from within.
I guess I’m writing about this subject because it came up just last night. Up until then, my son--who is now thirteen months old--pretty much treated the world as an object. Toys--any toys, no matter how complicated or elaborate--were merely for banging or “throwing overboard.” He was basically confronted by a world of endlessly diverse noisemakers.
But last night something suddenly “clicked.” I suppose most parents notice the obvious external markers, such as when a child first crawls or walks. But I am always on the lookout for interior markers--those signs that show that his consciousness is extending, both within and without.
Anyway, last night he suddenly got the point of one of his toys, and sat there mesmerized by it for about fifteen minutes, quietly playing by himself. Normally he’s incredibly restless, active and energetic, but suddenly he was calm, focussed, and attentive. This is a microscopic version of what it means for our subjectivity to deepen.
Theoretically, there is no limit to this deepening process. In my opinion, growth--especially spiritual growth--involves an ever-deepening extension of this interior horizon. Again, this horizon extends in both directions, inside and out. The deepening connections in my son’s mind allowed him to see the deeper connections, or “withinness,” of the external world. Subjective growth involves "colonizing" more and more of this withinness.
For again, what is the external world if it isn’t language? It’s just nothing, a brute object that confronts us. Even the most materialistic science is nothing more than a special language that allows a physicist to peer more deeply within the realm of matter. This is never something the scientist sees with his physical eyes. Rather, the equations of quantum physics are a probe, analogous to the stick that the blind person uses to navigate while walking. The blind person deploys the stick forward into darkness, and it sends messages up his arm and into his brain, allowing him to form a picture of the space around him. It is no different with physics. Physics is just a stick in the dark, like reaching around for your shoes in the back of a dark closet.
Which brings us to the very special language of religion. For religion is also a probe that we, in our metaphysical blindness, may use to illuminate the space around us. In fact, if your religion is “working” for you, this is what is happening. Naive secularists always think that the primary purpose of religion is faith or comfort or morality. Yes, it is all of those things, but for me anyway, it is primarily a way of knowing. By immersing oneself in it, it extends in magical ways into regions that are otherwise inaccessible to the psyche--for example, into the realm of the sacred or holy. The realm of the sacred that is illuminated by religion is every bit as real as the weird quantum realm that is illuminated by modern physics. Except that it is more real. Indeed, the conviction of the ontological priority of the sacred is one of the things that accompanies the experience of it.
In certain respects, the invocations in the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John are parallel commentaries on one another. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The former statement has to do with ontology, the latter with epistemology. For the separation of the heavens and the earth forms the deep structure of all being; it is the separation of the horizontal and vertical, thereby making the experience of experience possible. Without this primary duality, there is only God. But with this bifurcation, the world is split down the middle into object-subject, quantity-quality, eternity-time, form-substance, and other primordial complementarities.
But the divide between these complementarities is not unbridgeable. This is because the the Word is anterior to that primordial creative act of God (it was "with God" and "was God"), and is therefore present in each of the complementarities. The world is intelligible because it is thoroughly infused with the same Word that inheres in our consciousness. Thus, the world is structured as a pair of mirrors reflecting back upon themselves through a deepening relationship to language.
This is what is meant when it is said that we are “made in the image of God.” This is the anthropology that inevitably follows from the above ontology and epistemology. This is why the more human we become, the more divine, and the more divine, the more human. And it all happens in the magical space between the two mirrors, where language carries messages back and forth, in an ever deepening and ascending spiral. We don’t evolve. The Word does.
And the Word is God.