Don't Burn Your Bridge of Flames
I don't even remember where we left off. I'll just start typing, and see if it eventually turns into writing while we wait.
Let's talk about the mystery of unity. On the one hand, as HvB says, we are all members of the species of humanity, even though the species doesn't exist outside the individuals who express it. Each of us contains the whole of human nature, even though the whole transcends us. This is indeed a paradox, for it means that we somehow contain what contains us.
At the same time, "to be a particular man never means to be only a specimen of humanity." Indeed, this would be a kind of insult, as if one were completely interchangeable with anyone else. This is true of insects, or sheep, or MSM journalists, but it is manifestly untrue of persons, each of whom is utterly unique. But how can the unique be a member of any class?
I know that I am unique, which is one of the reasons why it is sometimes difficult to find other people to play with. If this fellow likes philosophy, then he doesn't like baseball. This one likes baseball but doesn't like jazz. This one likes theology, but doesn't want to talk about the first lady's butt. You can see the problem.
This irreducible uniqueness can only be a spark of the divine, since God is uniqueness as such. Man cannot be quantified: "persons, insofar as they really have a uniqueness that images and reflects a glimmer of God's uniqueness, cannot be numbered. Each of them is a world unto himself" (HvB).
This is again a paradox and a mystery, so long as we remember that paradox is the threshold of truth and mystery one of its modes of articulation. For it means that man is forever polarized within the space of two centers; we are "bi-centric," which is what it means to be a human being. Emphasize one center over the other, and our humanness is diminished and we are no longer be-ing but been. Stick a fork in our road, or we're done.
Indeed, this is always a movement, not a static condition. It is more like a perpetual self-giving of God to man (↓) and man to God (↑), a point we will expand upon later, if we ever do.
Consider the strangeness of it all: from the standpoint of the species, our essence -- that which defines us as unique and particular -- can only be a kind of "accident." But from the standpoint of the essence, our common characteristics seem more like accidents.
In other words, the things we share with everyone else are more or less generic by definition, or just "average." Man has "intelligence." He has "language." He has "art." So what? These things don't mean much until you have your own particular versions of them.
Therefore, it is clear that "the concept of unity, which everyone takes for granted as something well known and transparently obvious, is at bottom as full of mystery as all the other fundamental concepts pertaining to being" (HvB). In reality, we do not know what unity is, since our own unity only exists in this bi-centric complementarity of universal and particular. "We can never lay hold of what unity is beyond this duality." "Beyond" this complementarity is not One, but zero.
It very much reminds me of music. I have always been drawn to musicians who are not just musicians, but who have created their own musical world, so to speak. Thelonious Monk is an example. Sun Ra. Duke Ellington. Brian Wilson. Sinatra. Johnny Cash. Ray Davies. It is as if these artists are at a "right angle" to music as such. They have discovered and colonized their own musical worldspace, and to the extent that they have followers, they will just sound like imitators, with the "essence" missing -- like an Elvis impersonator.
But how can one be a musical world of one's own, and still achieve perfection? In other words, what can be the standard of measurement for the unique, since the unique by definition cannot be compared to anything else? This is what some clever fellow meant when he said that "great art cannot surpass itself," since it is already a kind of absolute. Who's better, Aretha or Sinatra? Who knows? They each achieved aesthetic perfection in their own unique way.
Now, you might think that this has nothing to do with theology, but you would be wrong, for it is one of my ongoing struggles. That is, how do I reconcile the uniqueness of me with the universality of, say, the Catholic church? I only really feel as if I am spiritually flying when I'm "doing my own thing." As soon as I try to subordinate myself to another authority, I'm grounded. I know exactly how Blake felt when he said something to the effect that he needed to develop his own system or be the slave of another man's.
But at the same time, I am well aware of the dangers of this approach, and would never make a general recommendation that everyone else should be an off-road spiritual aspirant or extreme seeker. That would be a disaster. Perhaps some people are truly called to this lonely vocation. I don't know.
I do know this. The other day I mentioned the idea that I am not a Christian per se, but on a Christian adventure. I look at it this way. There can be no question that we need the pillars of dogma and tradition, without which Truth cannot survive and be handed down. Now, when someone argues from the standpoint of their particular faith, they are arguing from the "inside out," from first principles to their consequences. Again, I don't want to ever minimize the importance of that.
But I feel as if my particular adventure embodies the opposite movement. That is, I am not arguing from Christianity but toward it, from the outside in. This is exactly what it feels like to me. It's as if I am in this vast phase space with a throbbing mystery at the center drawing me further and further in. I find it so fascinating, that I don't want to end the journey just yet. You know, like Frank:
Hey baby, what's your hurry / Relax and don't you worry / We're gonna fall in love / We're on the road to romance / that's safe to say / But let's make all the stops / along the way.
Again, this is a real ontological movement. As HvB describes it, it is a movement "in which we go out from the empty universal to the particular and return to the universal laden with its fullness." This is virtually identical to how Bion describes mental growth, in which conception involves the "mating" of a preconception and a realization to produce a thought.
Now, another mystery is how we can gauge "progress" for something that is unique. How can the unique surpass itself? And if it was unique before and is unique now, aren't they two different uniquenesses, unique being by definition a singular instance?
That's a difficult question. I'm stumped. Can't we just talk about the hump, the slump, the bump, and the plump rump on that grumpy frump?
This strange journey from unique to unique, what is it? How is it possible, and where does it take place? Yes, it is a kind of progress, and yet, it cannot be reduced to an abstract and impersonal dialectic of progress, à la Hegel. It seems that it simply must be "tolerated" and borne again and again: "Just as the gap between essence and existence can never be closed by thought, there is no way ever to bridge in any real sense the gaps between essence and appearance, universality and particularity."
Are we moving toward the fire yet? Or will the fire come to us?