Monday, February 09, 2009

Flood Lights and Laser Beams

Well, I'm getting a little burned out on the Balthasar. To review where we stand, I made the deadly solemn vow to wondertake an exhumination of his main body of work, the fifteen volume systematics (plus an appendectomous epilogue, so sixteen), and I'm now turning the coroner on volume four.

But I have to admit, at this point, I'm seeing a lot of pointless pedantry that's not really moving the argument along. It feels like we're in dryasdust flyover country now, with a long way to go before we flow into our deustinocean.

You might call it argument by volume rather than weight, just piling one endless paragraph upon another. I'm not getting any feeling of forward momentum at all. He's one of those writers who has no sense of rhythm or drive. Probably a German thing. A key point might be buried in the middle of a two page paragraph. There's no building up to the "ah ha!" experience, much less the sacred guffah-ha! I mean, 1500 pages so far. That's a long tome to go with out a single gag.

This reminds me that, when purusha comes to shiva, I would have to admit that I'm not a scholar, but more of a mystickle innertainer. But darn it, there's no reason at all why one can't combine both. It's just convention, really. That and a lack of talent. Most academics are dreadful writers, but turn it into a virtue. And then they marginalize the ones who do know how to communicate, with the epithet "popularizer." But I'm obviously not that. If anything, I'm an unpopularizer. Nevertheless, to quote Petey's scryptural exejesus, our yokes are easy, our words enlight.

It seems to me that Balthasar's essential argument is laid out in volume one, with the subsequent volumes just filling it out. So I may just finish posting on that, and then move on.

Brevity. That's what it is. Don't give me the dissertation. It just makes it look like you've got something to hide. Out with it. Get to the freaking point.

I don't mean to fawn, but this is why I am so drawn to Schuon, who never makes me yawn. It's as if he's done you the courtesy of assimilating everything beforehand, so he can rewordgitate it back to you in the form of a highly polished gem of wisdom that you can turn around in your mind and examine from various angles. Unsaturated, don't you know.

Jules: Example

Vincent: Okay, here's the first sentence from perhaps Schuon's most accessible book, Spiritual Perspectives & Human Facts. Truly a model of brevity and unsaturated clarity, like a righteous pimp slap from above:

Metaphysical knowledge is one thing and its actualization in the mind is quite another. All the knowledge the brain can hold is as nothing in light of Truth even if it is immeasurably rich from a human point of view.

Ah, refreshing! Balthasar gives us all [if not more than] the knowledge the brain can hold, whereas Schuon facilitates the direct actualization of metaphysical knowedge, i.e., O-->(n).

Second and third sentences: Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France? Royale with cheese. Do you know why they call it a Royale with cheese?

Oops. Wrong text. Try it again: Metaphysical knowledge is like a divine seed in the heart; thoughts represent only faint glimmers of it. The imprint of the divine Light in human darkness, the passage from the Infinite to the finite, the contact between the Absolute and the contingent -- this is the whole mystery of intellection...

Bingo! The rest is up to you.

This is good for me. Like a refreshing rinse after a lot of transcen dental work:

A proof is not convincing because it is absolute -- for this it could never be -- but because it actualizes something self-evident in the mind.

Ahhhhhhh. Frankly, you could summarize the entire argument of Balthasar's theological aesthetics with that one sentence, for he is essentially making the point that the divine beauty -- the Glory of God's revelation in time -- provides its own proof, a type of proof that clearly transcends mere reason, for it is seen and apprehended whole, not argued in any linear sense (although it does disclose itself in the form of the theodramatic "arc of salvation").

Correlative to every proof is an element eluding the determinism of mere logic and consisting of either an intuition or a grace; now this element [what I would call (↓)] is everything. In the intellectual order logical proof is no more than a thoroughly provisional crystallization of intuition.... One can most certainly prove every truth; but not every proof is accessible to every mind.

Indeed, the need for logical satisfaction "increases in proportion to ignorance, not in proportion to knowledge."

Balthasar definitely says the same thing but in a different way. For example, God's being "can encounter us centrally only from within the a priori of spiritual being itself -- as the deepening of the spiritual being worked by grace." In receiving this Mystery, man "conforms the proportions of his own thought and work to the proportions of the object of faith which are determined by God." Through this process we are led to "an ever deeper awareness of the experience both of the presence within... of God's being and the depth of the divine truth, goodness, and beauty in the mystery of God," i.e., (↑↓).

In this regard, there is a "deepening of a merely notional apprehension into an experiential apperception by the whole person" (Balthasar). At the same time, it is the movement from an exterior relationship to an interior relationship with God, in particular, as the "interior light" begins to shine in the dark.

And just as physical light is never seen -- rather, it is merely photons banging against our neurological apparatus -- the Divine Light is not so much seen as that by which we see -- especially that by which we see God, or the very source of the Light which shines forth its own radiant proof.

And only in man can the fullness of this light become apparent. Or ignored.

28 Comments:

Blogger Warren said...

For your second book, perhaps you could write "Balthasar for Dummies."

My only encounter with German theologians was Hans Kung, many years ago. That was enough for me. Endless, endless banging on the same point. Taking literally 100 pages to say what could be expressed in, at most, a paragraph.(And Kung was metaphysically clueless into the bargain. At least Balthasar has something worth saying.)

2/09/2009 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

But I have to admit, at this point, I'm seeing a lot of pointless pedantry that's not really moving the argument along. It feels like we're in flyover country now, with a long way to go before we reach our deustination.

Ah, the Mojo Jojo effect again.

I always hated doing proofs and explaining how I got from A to B; while I understood that in school it was necessary to demonstrate that I actually grasped the material, writing down all the steps in the process always seemed to rob it of its functionality somehow, rather like mental dissection. Sure, it explained a lot but it also killed the living process, so that I was often more confused after doing a proof than I had been in simply plonking the problem into the old black box noggin and letting it all come together behind the scenes. Reading proofs sounds about as appealing to me as writing them. So I'm very glad you're doing this and distilling out the good parts for us, Bob.

Here - a breath of fresh air. Sounds like you could use it after 3.5 volumes of Balthasar ;)

2/09/2009 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

That’s funny. I was just chewing the Kasha with Lazarus yesterday and he blurted out:

“What’s the difference between a tomb and a cavern? Any body?”

“A tomb is on the outside!”

You had to be there…

2/09/2009 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Today's essay: If The B'ob Is Not A Populizer, How Would You Define Him?

I'd say:

1- Scout - because you fly higher and farther than I do, and report back.
2- Translator - because you explain what writers like Balthasar and Bolton are trying to say.
3- Alchemist - because you boil diverse ingredients down into digestible pills.
4- Swordsman - you figure it out.

These are just preliminary notes. I'm sure I left important things out.

2/09/2009 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Bob, I’m having a similar experience with Arnot and “The Parables of Our Lord”. The first third was chock full, now a bit plodding at the half way mark. He seems to be treating each parable with the same quantity of words or time, and I’m not sure that was His point. But you can’t know until you go there and see what develops. That lecture James had suggested by De Koninck (The Lifeless Biology..) was not like that however. I wonder if his book will have the same gem-to-word ratio.

2/09/2009 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

Hey, if Rabbi Mo can describe the creation of the universe in just one or two pages....

2/09/2009 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

>>And just as physical light is never seen -- rather, it is merely photons banging against our neurological apparatus -- the Divine Light is not so much seen as that which we see by -- especially that by which we see God, or the very source of the Light which shines forth its own proof.

And only in man can the fullness of this light become apparent. Or ignored.>> AhMEN!

After reading your whole post I realized I'd encountered and been carried away on a slipstream of concentrated Lightbeams.

And "amazing (arrow pointing down)"; this shines light all over Vanderleun's post today around Proverbs 29:18, in which he quotes various sources.

He did not; however, cite The Message version, which clarifies, for me, with brevity & a bit of slapstick:



If people can't see what God is doing,

they stumble all over themselves;

But when they attend to what he reveals, 
they are most blessed.


(I like your notes Walt).

2/09/2009 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Bob,
My sources (who shall remain nameless) tell me your next book title will be:

Tome of the Unknown Comic

Oh no wait, that's my book.

2/09/2009 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Brevity. That's what it is. Don't give me the dissertation. It just makes it look like you've got something to hide. Out with it. Get to the freaking point. "

I find myself saying that to myself all the time. Wish I'd pay more attention to me.

;-)

2/09/2009 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"A proof is not convincing because it is absolute -- for this it could never be -- but because it actualizes something self-evident in the mind."

Yes, the effective proof doesn't (or shouldn't) try to generate the spark, but identifies the opened wires, and draws them together so you can witness the spark, and know how to recreate it.

2/09/2009 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

A statement by a friend comes to mind: "Words of wisdom are, um, hard."

Right up there with "Brevity is the soul of wit", "In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister" and "Aphorism is better than no phorism at all".

2/09/2009 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"Beschränkung"
I like that word - in my mind it translates as "beshrunken," which goes quite nicely with the Bobservation the other day about the necessity for becoming smaller to fit into the biginner spaces of the higher vertical...

2/09/2009 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Brevity. That's what it is.

if you can't say it
in 17 syllables
drink 200 proof

2/09/2009 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

Well! Speak of the Devil and he shall appear, indeed. My old buddy Hans Kung:

http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=1926

What an @$$hole.

2/09/2009 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger QP said...

Warren - The link doesn't work - must be a subscriber - I let mine lapse, but I still get the daily news headlines from CC.org and I found this snippet. Guy sounds like an authentic nutjob.
Nuff said.

"Hans Küng says Obama would make a better Pope"

"The dissident theologian Hans Küng has suggested that Barack Obama would be a better pope than Benedict XVI. “The mood in the church is oppressive," Küng told a German outlet. “Benedict is unteachable in matters of birth control and abortion, arrogant and without transparency and restrictive of freedom and human rights." The theologian who once argued for greater democracy in the Church suggested that the Pope should follow Obama's example and issue executive orders to bring about radical changes in Church doctrine and discipline, "using the power of his executive office to issue decrees.""

2/09/2009 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous maineman said...

Hey, Van. That economic discussion on Saturday night. It seemed interesting, and I thought I'd go back to it and try to understand it better.

I just thought I'd check with you, though, to make sure that I wouldn't be reading Amstel Light or whatever.

Care to weigh in on that?

2/09/2009 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Hans Kung must have gotten paid by the word. Pick up his books and you think, "King Kung". Read his books and you think, "King Dung".

wv: unsch -- Uncle Mensch, is that you?

2/09/2009 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Maineman, mine's probably the only comment you need to ignore in that thread. It wasn't Amstel Light, but Little Penguin is pretty potent ;)

QP, that snippet reminds me of the Soloviev short story someone linked last week, the one about the AntiChrist.

Yikes.

2/09/2009 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous maineman said...

Julie,

I never ignore your comments, am never disappointed, and pretty much always understand them. In fact, I sort of remember thinking, "this I get" when I read what you had to say.

But I found that discussion pretty difficult, maybe because of my own homemade version of Little Penguin, and I just wasn't sure whether part of my problem was maybe Van mostly just having fun.

2/09/2009 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Maineman said "I just thought I'd check with you, though, to make sure that I wouldn't be reading Amstel Light or whatever."

I'm odd enough that I really enjoy those discussions. Personaly, I think something between a Sam Adams and a Guiness to be helpful in them... to a point... but too far and you might have trouble finding the point... or even begin writing stimulous bills - egads.

I haven't made it much further with his use of 'usury' yet though, still making my way through JWM's Leon Kass link (and enjoying it).

2/09/2009 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Maineman said "I just wasn't sure whether part of my problem was maybe Van mostly just having fun."

Doh... I was having fun, but I was also completly serious. But of course I was also enjoying some patriotic brew... but still true.

2/09/2009 09:46:00 PM  
Anonymous maineman said...

Okay. I'll take that as permission to take the exchange seriously.

[Sorry to accuse you of drinking Amstel Light; it's just what came to mind. I can't abide by anything light myself.]

For those who liked that Kass article, he's written a (600 page) book that focuses specifically on Genesis, "The Beginning of Wisdom". Supposed to be very good. I gave it to my son-in-law last year and am hoping to get it loaned to me at some point.

2/09/2009 10:19:00 PM  
OpenID kaffepaus said...

Maineman:
Kass book "Reading Genesis" is a good one, got it myself maybe two years ago after a raccoommondation from the blog owner right here, if I remember it correct :)

/Johan

2/10/2009 03:38:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

eminent rereadability
trumps prolix
siempre

2/10/2009 05:07:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

By the way, two good essay's on Money, the last worthwhile Frenchmen, Fredrich Bastiat's dialog What Is Money?and one that is particularly relevant and important for today, "Francisco's Money Speech" by Ayn Rand.

2/10/2009 06:11:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Maineman, I've got Kass's book, and it is very good... I'm still reading it, a chunk at a time here and there, always flavorful.

2/10/2009 06:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

I wonder if he calls his mother "Mama Kass."

2/10/2009 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Doh!
(As long as he doesn't serve ham sandwich's when she comes over... just sayin')

2/10/2009 06:30:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home