Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mystical Languages of Unsaying: A Vocation by the Infinite Sea

"Mystical Languages of Unsaying" -- that's the title of a book that goes into the paradox of attempting to employ language to describe and disclose what transcends it. As I recall, the book seemed promising, but it adopted an entirely academic stance and eventually flamed out into a lot of postmodern jargon, so that it ultimately failed to unsay what can only be unsaid. In other words, it tried to analyze the phenomenon "from below" instead of above, thus defeating the very purpose of this specialized mode of deuscourse.

Suffice it to say that this language cannot be understood in the absence of certain other modes such as faith, sincerity and sanctity. Mystical languages will not yield their secrets to the cynical, the power hungry, the profane, the tenured, or some engineers. To quote Meister Eckhart, "For I say to you in everlasting Truth that if you are unlike this Truth of which we want to speak, you cannot understand me."

Do you see the challenge? In order to know this Truth, you must first become like it; in short, ontology precedes epistemology, or essence precedes existence. O is anterior to (k), or being to knowing. This is why such virtues as purity, serenity, humility, sincerity, and childlikeness (not childishness) must be cultivated lest your knowledge be too contaminated by worldly dross.

Elsewhere Eckhart distinguishes between truths that are worthy of belief (i.e., philosophy and theology), those that are probable (i.e., science), and Truth itself (e.g., Christ). These are all aspects of the one Truth, for all truths converge on the central Truth to which our minds are naturally -- or supernaturally -- attracted.

Science is none other than the reduction of multiplicity to unity, so it eventually shades off into mysticism as it approaches the penumbra of the One. Science grasps truth from the outside in, while mysticism does so from the inside out; the former gropes from the manifestation toward the Principle, while the latter flows from the Principle to the manifestation. The mystic reverses the vector flow that takes the river of existence to the terminal moraine of the senses, and abides at the oceanic center where he eternally waves and laps at all his friends on the shore.

Well I went to the water one day to pray
Don't you know that
God's gonna trouble the water
And my soul got happy and I stayed all day
Don't you know that
God's gonna trouble the water

Eckhart also contrasts the "pagan masters who knew only in a natural light" with "the words of the sacred masters who knew in a much higher light," adding that "those who considered the soul's nobility on the basis of their 'natural intelligence' were never able to enter into or know the ground of the soul which is attainable only by unknowing" (McGinn).

Insuffice it to unsay that no machine will ever achieve artificial intelligence, much less artificial unknowing, which is the quintessence of human thought: "Concerning the ground of the soul... the natural light of reason needs the assistance of a higher illumination, which is really a form of not-knowing, or learned ignorance" (McGinn) -- or what Petey calls being lost in the higher bewilderness, for it goes without saying that you cannot be found unless you are first lost. But in the absence of divine assistance this would be a hopeless inquest, for we would truly be up chit creek without a kenosis.

This all goes to the issue of the various layers of scripture, which (obviously) mirror the layers of the soul. This is why it is necessary to know thyself in order to know scripture, and vice versa, for the two are mirrors held against one another, each revealing the bottomless depth of the other. To understand God at all is to fundamentally make oneself deep in any dimension and then ask how this is even possible.

Eckhart did not deny the literal sense of the biblical text, but felt that it was "only the starting point for grasping the inner meaning of what God wants to say to humans" (McGinn) -- which is so much more than words can say! As Eckhart wrote, "I am amazed that scripture is so rich that no one has ever penetrated to the ground of the least word of it," for it contains "an inexhaustible fecundity of truths" (McGinn). In one homily, Eckhart compares it to "a deep sea in which lambs (i.e., humble people) touch bottom, cows (the coarse-grained) swim, and elephants (clever people) plunge in over their heads."

A book is necessarily linear, but surely the Divine effulgence is not ultimately located in time, but "beneath" or "above" it. As such, Eckhart tried to comprehend all things -- including scripture -- "from the divine perspective, the 'now' of eternity in which all words and expressions are one in the eternal Divine Word" (McGinn). This is not a con-fusion, but rather, the reverse; it is the prior fusion from which truth breaks out like sparks from a central fire.

The most basic opposition in scripture -- again, a necessary one -- is that between the inner and outer meaning, or spirit and letter. The former is like an "explosion," while the latter is more like a bullet shot from a gun. But as Eckhart points out, the explosion also explodes upon itself; Eckhart felt that only by "breaking through" to the inner core of scripture could one experience its explosive power spilling out into the creation. One must plunge heartlong into the infinite in order to be shot out a new man, you son of a gun.

Remarkably, Eckhart attempted in his sermons to demonstrate in real timelessness the reality of that which he was speaking; he was not attempting to use language to designate but in a performative sense to actualize the living mystery in his listeners. Again, he is reversing the vector flow of language, and using it not to "point out" but to draw "up and in," so to speak, into the very realm from which his words boil over.

In turn, this parallels the eternal utterance of the Word by the Father in the divine ground beyond being. As such, this mirrors the fiat lux of the first day of creation. "The very act of his preaching" was like "the creation of the word to be heard by others," in such a way that "they too may find the source from whence the word is formed mirrors the 'event character' of... the God-world relation" (Schurman, in McGinn).

In order to accomplish this, Eckhart employed all manner of subtle and sophisticated verbal techniques to bypass the lumitations of language. Remember our analogy from the other day, of trying to capture the three dimensional sphere within the two-dimensional plane -- or the sheer imagineer in a mere engineer. How queer!

Eckhart was always mindful of the same obstacle in using language to disclose the hyperdimensional Subject. If you do not appreciate the boundaries of language, you can't possibly use speech to overcome speech. Thus he used paradox, oxymoron, puns, and a general playfulness that should never be confused with frivolousness for, like Petey, he always speaks with the utmost levitas. For example,

Were it the case that a fly had reason and could rationally seek out the eternal abyss of divine being, from which it came forth, we say that God, insofar as he is God, could not satisfy the fly. Therefore pray God that we may be free of God.

Either that, or pray to be Superfly.

The man of the hour
Has an air of great power
The dudes have envied him for so long
Oooh, Superfly!

I realize that my posts are rather longish and possibly require an unreasonable level of commitment, so I think I'll work at making them a bit more brief. Therefore, I will stop now. To be continued...


Blogger julie said...

Make them shorter if you must, Bob; but even if you twitter it, there will be cows and elephants...

5/21/2008 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I think some our comments yesterday were longer than your post. We should be the ones apologizing.

In one of his books, George MacDonald refers to a man who quoted the Bible as the writers of the New Testament quoted the Law and the Prophets, i.e., not always giving too much thought to the literal meaning in context.

When I was a child, my parents bought me a Bible. I went to church and Sunday School and I had read all of it. One day, shortly before my 30th birthday, I was sitting out on the deck and for some reason I began to pray. I told God that I would do His will. I then asked my wife to buy a new Bible for me for my birthday -- I wanted a small one that would fit easily in my briefcase with all my other stuff. She bought a KJV, same version as my old one, which I still had sitting in the bookcase. One evening I sat down to read my new Bible. I quickly became incensed. Some SOB had re-written the beautiful classic English -- they had put different stuff in the Bible! I was so convinced of this, that I got up and got my old Bible, put it down beside the new one, and looked at the passages side by side. Imagine my shock when I saw that they were exactly the same.

5/21/2008 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous dloye said...

Shorter? Consider the English teacher response. For my preference, let them go where they will go and wrap it up when you will. Imposing order here has not worked too well heretofor. My least favorite part of a post is "I'll take this up later." I never see where later continues in quite the same key signature.

5/21/2008 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Okay, maybe we'll take a vote. It's just that I recognize the time it takes to read what I write line by line, as opposed to most blogs, which one can quickly skim to get to the bottom line. Maybe this isn't actually a blog at all....

5/21/2008 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Bob: Communion is recommended daily.

5/21/2008 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

I vote that you just write without worrying about it. Each can figure out his/her own commitment to reading it.

5/21/2008 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

If we're voting, then please don't make them shorter; I'm usually just getting into the rhythm when they come to an end (especially if the end is "to be continued...")

That said, this is your blog; what's most important is that your posts meet your own expectations, not anyone else's. You've already proved beyond a doubt that you have high personal standards - you'll always have readers, I think, so long as you have something to say.

Let's face it, you're not an easy read, which is just going to weed out a lot of folks regardless of length; you don't generally dumb down your thoughts (which means the readers must rise to the occasion, thank O!). I don't think I've ever seen a post of yours that has been either boring or a waste of my time, though I've often had to google some terms. That's not a bad thing.

So do whatever you need to do, Bob. Long or short, frequent or infrequent, you'll still have a strong core of readers who deeply appreciate this particular source of daily Bread.

5/21/2008 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Better yet, what Hoarhey said :)

5/21/2008 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Do you really have time to write shorter?

5/21/2008 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob, you could try a quick lead in visible post with more under a "more under here" button.

5/21/2008 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Since I mostly wear my brain on my sleeve (and sometimes it accidently goes in the wash), whatever is left in my head seems to constantly be "testing" the world against scripture. A little like the Bereans (except for the "noble character" part). The scriptures aren't an end in themselves, as some believe, but the signpost pointing out the Way to Life. You either follow it or you take another road.

So, where Bob's post today led me is to the 2nd chapter of Paul's
1st letter to the Corinthians. Check it out for yourself and see if it doesn't correlate. God's wisdom is only revealed by His Spirit.

Talk about unsaying.

5/21/2008 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

And as far as the vote goes, please don't change (I fear change).

5/21/2008 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Wizard said...

I vote to suspend the rules.

5/21/2008 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

I vote to dissolve the people and elect a new one.

5/21/2008 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

It does, Nomo. Similarly, we have Jesus telling His disciples that He spoke in parables to "hide" the meaning from the wrong people.

5/21/2008 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Seems to me that part of the "charm" of this blog is that you follow the depth of subjects, and look at them from multiple angles, like the fractals and holograms you talk about. A shorter format will surely mess with that . . .

But, of course, it's your blog, as always. Hoarhey spoke well for me.

5/21/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Selected, not elected, by the Supreme B'ob.

5/21/2008 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Bob, here are two tidbits for you.

Scene 1: Mozart shows his latest play to a nobleman. His comment: "Do there have to be so many notes?"

Scene 2: St. John Chrysostom (of the 4th century) would give homilies that were 4 hours long. He also gave this homily.

I have been told that Christian worship developed in this way: As time passed like bread it rose, and like a baker we kneaded it down.

The question is, what kneads to be pressed down in this daily bread? You've got the rolling pen, just don't dough it wrong!

5/21/2008 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Mushroom - Swine are related to elephants, aren't they?

5/21/2008 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Ditto hoarhey.

Does Petey have a Muse? Petra? Sophia?

5/21/2008 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Sibylline Zipper said...

I don't mind the length of the posts at all. Or the way you often start on one subject and end up somewhere else. That's creativity. That's how discoveries are made. It's also kinda the way my mind works too.

5/21/2008 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

They must be. I never saw an elephant with pearl earrings, let alone a necklace.

Sophia is always asking how to keep Petey a-mused.

5/21/2008 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous bob f. said...

Glad you're here...with Dr Sanity on hiatus some of us may want more, not less....panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie...

also, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. "
Think that's Paul (from the link in Nomo's post).
For quite a while have been taken by the Shroud of Turin; once we accept that it is what it appears to be, we may be in a position to ask what it means; we have to go through Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday...

5/21/2008 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

the longer the post
the quieter i become
rave on bob rave on

5/21/2008 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Bob F - Exactly and exactly.

5/21/2008 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not understand Bob's position on Artificial Intelligence (intelligence in a non-biological entity).

Cannot the Divine effulgence inhabit whatever it will?

There is no bar to AI that I can see.

If a silicon/mineral set-up of sufficient complexity is established, there is no reason it cannot house an intellect and a soul.

The All-Beautiful is everywhere; to arbitrarily restrict his manifestation to bio-forms is unreasonable.

5/21/2008 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

Sorry, you're out of luck. You'll just have to try to cultivate the natural kind.

5/21/2008 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous terrence said...

About the length of the posts: Do your thing, man.

I agree with Hoarhey and other said.

5/21/2008 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

"If a silicon/mineral set-up of sufficient complexity is established, there is no reason it cannot house an intellect and a soul."

Care to elaborate? Share from that depth of knowledge you posses concerning silicon/mineral set-ups?

5/21/2008 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

And, is The All-Beautiful actually a he?

5/21/2008 05:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Before moving on to intelligence, I think they should work on producing silicon boobs that don't look artificial.

5/21/2008 05:33:00 PM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

They're still working out the silicon/mineral set up on those. Don't restrict the manifestation.

5/21/2008 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger LukeBlogWalker said...

Petey said...

"I vote to dissolve the people and elect a new one."

Why? Does someone have electile dysfunction? ;)

5/21/2008 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger LukeBlogWalker said...

..speaking of silicone, a local radio station was discussing this site today, with much sarcasm..



5/21/2008 07:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prophets, poets, and processors, three types of responses to the WORD and also approaches to LIFE. Thank God for the prophets and poets, pray for the processors.

"Overall Observer"

5/21/2008 08:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And don't forget the "Holier than Thouists".

5/21/2008 10:54:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"The most basic opposition in scripture -- again, a necessary one -- is that between the inner and outer meaning, or spirit and letter. The former is like an "explosion," while the latter is more like a bullet shot from a gun."

Hi Bob! Outstanding pOst! Sooo...unless I'm mythtaken, the letter dots your aye and the Spirit blows you ayed Open?

5/22/2008 03:20:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Gagdad Bob said...
Okay, maybe we'll take a vote. It's just that I recognize the time it takes to read what I write line by line, as opposed to most blogs, which one can quickly skim to get to the bottom line. Maybe this isn't actually a blog at all....

A vote? Well, O--k, but if someone leaves a hangin' chad they ain't gettin' no baked clams!
IOW's, if'n someone (or someone's) are too stoopid to vote, I vote they get no vote.
This ain't a demoncracy, it's a Bobpublic!

And you're right, Bob, this ain't a blog, it's really the Coonifesto (the lost chapters).

5/22/2008 03:35:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Mornin' Cap'n!

5/22/2008 03:45:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Anonymous said...
"Prophets, poets, and processors, three types of responses to the WORD and also approaches to LIFE. Thank God for the prophets and poets, pray for the processors."

"Overall Observer"

What in hell does a food processor hafta do with the WORD? And what WORD are you referring to?

(Psst! Bob, don't let this guy vote)

5/22/2008 03:52:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Mornin' Walt!
I was just about to head over to yer place.

Oh wait, I forgot to vote.
Lessee, as I recall, Bob, you said it takes you longer to write short posts, and I want you to have as much slack as possible, therefore I vote that you do whatever gives you the most quality slack.

Slack On brotha, slack On!

5/22/2008 03:58:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Electile dysfunktion? LOL!

5/22/2008 04:00:00 AM  
OpenID zophiel666 said...

Bob. . . shorten the posts if you feel you must, but I love them just as free-wheeling and depth-charging as they are. I don't comment much at all, but that's usually because I've nothing of worth to say aside from "Yeah! Awesome!"

Though, come to think of it, maybe I should say that every now and then just so you know. . . so:

"Yeah! Unknowing! Awesome! Gob, Bob, Go!!"

5/22/2008 05:56:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"I realize that my posts are rather longish and possibly require an unreasonable level of commitment"

uhuh. Ok, No. I am long winded, you are a refreshing and restoring sprint... ok, jog.

By all means, take a vote... democracy is very important and all that... then take a lead from the democrat party, and ignore your voters and listen to your super delegates... assuming they agree with me... and go right on doing that thing you do.

5/22/2008 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Ray Ingles said...

Why can't the processing be poetry? Poetry accepts certain rules, constraints. Meter and rhyme, or alliteration, or syllable patterns. Different forms for different languages - Scandinavian poetry sounds kind of like alliterative jazz. Haikus stand out very clearly in Japanese but can be hard to spot in English, because of the way syllables are used in each tongue. The limerick is hard to do in languages besides English - large vocabulary, (overly?) flexible rules. ("English doesn't borrow from other languages - English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and rifles their pockets for loose grammar.")

But poetry accepts restrictions because it helps force your mind out of usual pathways, and compels you to seek alternate associations you would otherwise miss.

Some rules were made to be broken, of course... and not every poet needs such tools to help them bring overlooked connections to light. (Blank verse is hard - at least, to do well.) But art can come in many forms... even engineering. Sometimes only a few are able to appreciate that art, of course, but it can be there nevertheless. Perhaps 'processors' don't need quite as much pity as some suppose. Just throwing it out there.

(One reason why I value learning so much is that it allows you to get so many more jokes.)

It's certainly possible that some fundamental things can't be put into any common language - that's why disciplines develop jargon, after all. One might even imagine an 'incompleteness theorem' for language - that every language would have things that could not be said in them. Adding more words just makes new things you can't talk about in that language...

5/22/2008 06:36:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

ray ingles: Do you know of Perl? Processing is poetry of a sort; just as Prophecy can be.

I.e. 'Elegant code'.

Or as I like to say,

I'm 'php': Php, hypertext poet...

5/22/2008 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

AA Lib: Ascii Art.

5/22/2008 08:06:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Cousin Dupree said... "Before moving on to intelligence, I think they should work on producing silicon boobs that don't look artificial."

Arghhh!!!lol!!!Arghhh!!! ISS (Involuntary Spastic Spewage for new kit's) strikes like the spanish inquisition! And now I've got two monitors to clean off.


5/22/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

(Oh... and Cuz... I agree)

5/22/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

sorceray said "...Why can't the processing be poetry?..."

Until you figure that one out, the rest is pointless.

5/22/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Johan said...

"But poetry accepts restrictions because it helps force your mind out of usual pathways, and compels you to seek alternate associations you would otherwise miss."

Wow! So close to the Path of Truth, and still so far astray. It's myself about one and half year ago all over again.

...And about lenght of posts - what Van said.

5/22/2008 01:05:00 PM  

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