Oi, Such a Beautiful World! (1.09.12)
Now that we know who we are, it's time to find out what the world is. Naturally, we tend to conflate the world with our characteristic way of knowing it, but it is always "more" than this or that point of view, something the materialist seems constitutionally incapable of appreciating.
That is, a particular danger in our day and age is to regard the world as nothing more than a reflection of our mundane scientific way of knowing it. But if this is taken too literally, as in the manner of our scientistic jester, it always does violence to reality. Just because the world may be known scientifically, it hardly means that it is nothing more than a material object.
You can also treat a human being like a material object, but we all know that a person is infinitely more than that. A person includes materiality while always transcending it. Our true identity could never be a function of any materialist doctrine, if for no other reason than it unfolds through time, and cannot be unambiguously given in space, as can a material object. (And even that is no longer true, since the quantum world consists of vibrating energy, and vibrations necessarily require time.)
This reminds me of the old joke about the two behavioral psychologists who meet in the elevator. The one says to the other, "You're fine. How am I?"
It also reminds me of a Star Trek episode I was watching with Future Leader the other day. Dr. McCoy angrily says something to Spock to the effect of, "You are the most cold-hearted creature I've ever met!" Spock calmly responds, "Why thank you, Doctor."
Anyway, the last arcanum of Meditations on the Tarot is The World. It is no coincidence that this is the final card, for the sum total of our previous meditations should begin to facilitate an ability to regard the world as a work of art, with all that implies.
Now, intellect is to truth as will is to virtue and love is to the beautiful. It's quite simple, really: Truth is what we must know; good is what we must do; and beauty is what we must love. Now, go away and sin no more.
Being that beauty is the splendor of the true, there is obviously a deep and abiding connection between truth and beauty, knowledge and art, for surely art is a way of deeply knowing beautiful truths about the world that are inaccessible to science per se (although, as we all know, aesthetics enters science through the side door, for example, in the beauty of mathematics.)
I think more than any other theologian of whom I am aware (with the possible exception of Balthasar; among the more secular philosophers, Schopenhauer is supreme), Schuon had a deep and sensitive understanding of the role of beauty in the cosmic economy. He said so may brilliant things about it, that it's rather difficult to get to the essence in the space of short post, but here are a few, conveniently taken from the pithy little book I just finished, Echoes of Perennial Wisdom:
"The cosmic, and more particularly the earthly, function of beauty is to actualize in the intelligent and sensitive creature the recollection of essences, and thus to open the way to the luminous night of the one and infinite Essence."
In ether worlds, essence is opposed to existence as substance is to form. Just as the function of man's intelligence is to discern between accidents and reality, the function of the aesthetic sense is to discern between form and essence, the latter of which is always more inward, whether it is in a poem, painting, musical performance -- or the world. In other words, the world has an inner essence that reveals itself in the mode of formal beauty, which is only "everywhere."
I noticed a trivial example of this the other day while out mountain biking. The bike trail winds through "virgin nature," which, for reasons that are indeed mysterious, is essentially always beautiful -- even the random patterns of rocks strewn about always seem "just so," as if carefully arranged by a Japanese painter or landscape artist.
But along the trail I saw a piece of broken concrete. I have no idea how it got there, but it didn't belong. Frankly, it was ugly, and was obviously out of place. Furthermore, there was no place you could have placed it and made it fit in. It was an aesthetic error, which, when you think about it, is an interesting way of putting it, for it again emphasizes that there is surely truth in beauty.
Interestingly, a couple of years ago, after a brush fire passed our way, I discovered an old abandoned vehicle that must have been there since the 1950's. (Come to think of it, I think that was the day Hoarhey stumbled in here, but that's another story. I remember, because if I am not mistaken, he was able to identify the make of the vehicle.)
Anyway, as a result of the years of mother nature working on it, it had become beautiful in its own way, whereas a new car dumped there in the middle of the scene would have been jarring and lacking in aesthetic harmony and proportion.
Schuon: "Beauty is a reflection of Divine Bliss; and since God is Truth, the reflection of His Bliss will be that mixture of happiness and truth which is to be found in all beauty.... The beauty of the sacred is a symbol or a foretaste of, and sometimes a means to, the joy that God alone possesses.... Sacred art helps man to find his own center, that kernel whose nature is to love God.... The sacred is an apparition of the Center, it immobilizes the soul and turns it towards the inward."
Yes. Just as truth is a reflection of the "divine light," beauty bubbles over with the divine joy, or ananda. Sometimes my son is so beautiful to me, I literally can't stand it. I suppose it's related to the Jewish concept of plotzing with naches over your kids. Oi! Such a ponim on that boychik!