Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Life Begins at Two

I don't like to get all self-referential this early in the morning, but in my book I present the idea that humanness could never have emerged merely as a result of a big brain. Rather, it could -- and can -- only occur as a result of individuals being linked up in the transitional space between them. Thus, you could say that the large brain was a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. The sufficient condition was the invention of the neurologically incomplete and helpless infant (and this is leaving aside the essential factor of the final cause, the nonlocal archetype of man as such). (This, by the way, is one of the reasons why I don't believe intelligent life exists elsewhere -- the evolutionary neck is just too freakishly narrow.)

Interestingly, it is the same with music. "A tone," according to Zuckerkandl, is not yet music." Rather, "music actually begins when a second tone has followed the first." Therefore, strictly speaking, "the smallest particle of music, then, the musical atom, is not properly the tone but the connection of the tone with the tone, the interval." So really, it's a kind of threeness: tone 1, tone 2, and the link between them. Presumably, any living thing with ears can hear a tone. But only humans can link tone to tone in a meaningful way.

Like life itself, music is "ordered motion," a "complex kinetic organism." Not only can we perceive its motion, but its direction. Even children can discern "the rise and fall of the tones in musical space." In other words, they can distinguish "high" notes from "low" ones. Which is interesting, because no one looks at violet and sees that it is "higher" than red; nor could you create visual music by presenting successive beams of light vibrating at different frequencies. For that matter, no one would say "that the fourth floor of a house was sharper than the third, the first flatter then the second" (Zuckerkandl).

In music, high notes, such as those played by the flute, are often associated with gaity, with spring, with frivolity, with angels and fairies and similarly fruity things. Is this just culturally conditioned? Would it be possible to use the flute to express deep gravity, like the voice of God? I doubt it; not for nothing is Barney's last name Fife. However, it can obviously communicate an aspect of God, which is no doubt why Krishna is never far from his flute. A quick google search reveals the following:

"Flute is the oldest musical instrument known to mankind.... the flute is very close to Nature and sounds very melodious when played in an atmosphere surrounded by Nature.... For example, if you take a short flute to mountains or a thick forest and then play, the echo of the sound bouncing back either from the leaves of the trees or from the mountains is simply very delightful. Every flute player in such circumstances receives a celestial experience. Nature actually talks back to you."

Back to the twoness -- or threeness -- of music. Like time, music "moves forward," even while retaining and remembering the past. The reason why music is possible is that one tone recalls the previous one and "anticipates" the next; there is a curious lack of fulfillment present to each tone, as it "completes itself" by handing over the melody to its neighbor. Again, very strange when you stop to think about it: "No musical tone is sufficient unto itself; and as each musical tone points beyond itself, reaches, as it were, a hand to the next, so we too, as these hands reach out, listen tensely and expectantly for each next tone."

Therefore, to be "in" music is a phenomenologically complex state, for one cannot merely be in the moment and hear what it is all about; rather, "to be auditively in the time now sounding means, then, to always be ahead of it too, on the way to the next tone." I suppose it's no different than understanding speech. In so doing, we don't recognize the fact that listening only to the individual words will not reveal the meaning of what the speaker is saying. Rather, we must simultaneously listen to and beyond them.

Seriously, it's amazing that unambiguous meaning can be transmitted from mind to mind, except in the case of purely objective information. In order to accomplish this feat, I must have a meaning in mind, reverse engineer it by selecting the individual words to convey it without distortion and with all subtlety in tact, and then hope that the hearer will take those words and reassemble them to arrive at the same complex meaning.

To cite one obvious example of how communication can go awry, I can't think of a single troll who understands my actual meaning before attacking it. Instead, they use my words to construct a monstrous chimera of their own making, and then attack the trollucination.

Along these lines, at American Digest a commenter remarked that "Science is much harder then religion, because religion doesn't have a lot of really hard math." Actually, it's the opposite. Science, especially the closer it gets to math, is an example of information that can be conveyed from head to head in a very unproblematic, undistorted manner -- which is the very reason why it results in such a philosophically simplistic world, a world far too simple for the human mind to exist in it.

In contrast, the truths, say, of Shakespeare, are far more complex and subtle. Who would be foolish enough to compare the intellect of Shakespeare to the typical worker bee scientist? Among other things, Shakespeare, although writing 400 years ago without benefit of modern science, tapped into deep human truths that will always be true. Unlike science, they are not subject to fashion or to revocation by a tenure-seeking mediocrity.

In Our Culture, What's Left of It, there is a chapter entitled Why Shakespeare Is for All Time. Scientists tell us that there is no such thing as "essences," including such fanciful notions as "self" or "human nature." Fortunately, Shakespeare knows nothing of that postmodern nonsense, but "is interested in the essentials of human nature, not the accidentals of human history."

And there is surely a reason why one can pass through our elite universities without ever encountering Shakespeare, but learning all kinds of multicultural nonsense about lesbian poets and post-colonial authors of color.

For, among other things, Shakespeare undercuts the first principle of the left by destroying "the utopian illusion that social arrangements can be made so perfect that men will no longer have to be good." He knows that human nature is inclined toward the temptation to evil, which "will always make a mockery of attempts at perfection based upon manipulation of the environment." Instead, "prevention of evil" will always "require personal self-control and the conscious limitation of appetites" (Dalrymple).

In contrast, one could master everything there is to know about natural selection, but it would reveal no wisdom whatsoever: "Statistics will not lead us to enlightenment about ourselves, any more than elucidation of the human genome will render Shakespeare redundant. Those who think that an understanding of the double helix is the same as an understanding of ourselves are not only prey to an illusion but are stunting themselves as human beings, condemning themselves not to an advance of self-understanding, but to a positive retrogression" (Dalrymple).

This is an example of how the melody of man can be played backward to reveal a hidden satanic message.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Listening to History: The Testimony of Music

If music is meaningful -- if it wordlessly says something about reality -- what does it say, and can we translate it to mere speech?

Here we are not so much concerned with what this or that performance conveys, but with what music as such tells us. And according to Zuckerkandl, music transmits fundamental truths about time, space, and motion, which are only the fabric of reality. As I said somewhere in my book -- here it is, p. 44, quoting the Z man:

"The knowledge of space that hand and eye possess is exactly matched by their ignorance of time.... A true image of time must be an image for the ear, an audible image, an image made of tones.... Thanks to music, we are able to behold time."

That right there is an earful: behold time. Everyone knows how difficult it is to say what time "is," because as soon as we begin to look at it, it slips through our grubby fingers. Indeed, it is one of those fundamentals, like consciousness, that defy verbal description. We cannot describe time or consciousness because we are "in" them, and could never be outside of them. It would be like a fish trying to describe the ocean, or a member of the MSM trying to look at liberalism.

But if Zuckerkandl is correct, music is a way to stand "above" time while still being in it. That is, music is a meaningful organization of time, an "ordered motion" which serially reveals its meaning as we listen, like a kind of rotating object.

Hold it right there -- "ordered motion?" Surely music doesn't "move" in the conventional sense of the term. We don't have to follow it around the room in order to keep up with it. In this regard, it "moves" and "flows" in the same way the mind does, like a con-versation (literally, "flowing together") that wends its way to its nonlocal "point." What are we talking about right now? Frankly, we don't yet know. All we know is that we're in the process of arriving there. Don't you feel the cool breeze blowing along your neocortex?

This very much reminds me of the "fundamental rule" in psychoanalysis, which is free association. The purpose of free association is to liberate the right brain from the tyranny of the left, so that we can stop making sense for a while -- superficial sense, that is. The left brain always has a ready store of excuses, cover stories, alibis, personal myths, and other "time binding" structures. It is the spinmeister extraordinaire.

And that's what any narrative is, a time binder, a way to contain and organize time. Consider that idea for a moment: just as we require structures to bind space -- for example, our home -- we also need structures to enclose us in time. Think of all the shoddy and substandard temporal shacks people live in to keep the hostile elements out of their little myths!

The Islamist myth is quintessential in this regard. By the way, I read The Looming Tower last week, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is the best book of which I am aware of the whole history of Islamism, which is even more bizarre and bloodthirsty than you may think. It is interesting that the Islamists especially detest any form of western music. But the Islamist myth is like a kind of insane opera that binds all of history into one dramatic arc.

This kind of insane monomythology also afflicts the left. In his Our Culture, What's Left of It, Dalrymple writes of the "various branches (feminist, gay, and so on) of academic resentment studies, in which history is nothing but the backward projection of current grievances, real or imagined, used to justify and inflame resentment."

Such individuals are not living in time; rather, they are living in an "eternal now" of resentment which is then widened out to encompass the past and future. This is the basis of Obama's never-ending World Apology Tour, as if his personal shame is a reliable source of information about America.

Note that "the object of such historiography is to disconnect everyone from a real sense of a living past and a living culture." The point of these leftist monomyths is to oust us from the deep vertical narrative that unites us, so that "people find themselves cut off from the past as a matter of deliberate policy." As the cultural left has made its long march through the institutions, it has waged a brazen campaign against our past, enforced by the dehumanizing newspeak of political correctness. In the end, "nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."

To bring this back around to the original point, any enforced political dystopia must be rooted in a kind of existential amusia, in which one has lost (or is prevented from exercising) the ability to detect the rhythm, melody, and harmony of history.

In his outstanding Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy, Jourdain talks about how the greatest works of music parallel the greatest scientific achievements: "In all branches of cognitive endeavor, our highest praise is reserved for works that build the deepest hierarchies. When these works are scientific theories, they explain the world more comprehensively than lesser ones." They aren't like, say, metaphysical Darwinism, which simplistically and fanatically eliminates so many other vital truths of man -- without which man is no longer even man, so that the theory cannot be said to actually explain him as he truly is. Man must be eliminated in order to save the theory.

The kind of cognitive synthesis we are describing is very much analogous to the uniquely horizontal basis of western music, through which many different instruments and musical lines are harmonized and brought together in a moment of listening. It takes a capacious musical mind to compose a work capable of unifying so many diverse strands, both in time and space. Such works "show us relations far deeper than we are normally able to perceive," and reach far "across time to encompass the deepest relations." And interestingly, "harmony became elaborate in Western music at about the same time that perspective was introduced into painting during the Renaissance."

And wouldn't you know it, "it turns out that the left ear, which channels primarily to the right brain, displays clear superiority" in "making sense of melodies." Which is why the harmelody of the cosmos can only be heard through a great imaginative synthesis of its many voices, passages, and movements.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On the Musicalization of Thought: Do You Hear What I Hear?

I want to focus on the question of what music signifies. As Zuckerkandl reminds us, musical meaning is unlike any other kind of meaning, since it doesn't refer to anything else but the music to which it refers. Think about that one for a moment. The meaning of meaning is that one thing can refer to another. If it only refers to itself, that usually means that it is meaningless -- a tautology.

But the existence of music suggests that some types of meaning are intrinsic. They do not have to point to anything beyond themselves in order to be meaningful. Still, this is very weird, and needs to be reflected upon in order to be fully appreciated.

Zuckerkandl writes that "the word and its meaning are independent things. Here is the word -- a complex of sounds or signs; there is what it means. The two are separable; each exists by itself, the word without the thing, the thing without the word." This no doubt contributes to our common sense, default dualistic view of the world -- of thoughts and of things. What could be more obvious than the existence of these two very different worlds?

But again, the existence of music is a direct challenge, both to dualism and to any attempt to collapse one side of the dualism into the other -- to either reduce information to matter, on the one hand, or matter to idea, on the other. In other words, music doesn't fit into either a materialistic or an idealistic metaphysic, for "when meaning sounds in a musical tone, a nonphysical force intangibly radiates from its physical conveyor."

Clearly, "the musical significance in the tone is of a nonmaterial nature." However, unlike the word -- which points to something else -- the significance of the tone cannot be separated from itself: "The acoustical event and its musical meaning are in no sense two independent phenomena, existing by themselves. They cannot be imagined separate." Oddly, "tones must themselves create what they mean" by "pointing into themselves." It seems to me that this "inward pointing" is the key.

Zuckerkandl only touches on the potential religious significance of this mystery. For example, he writes that "we find a similar kind of 'being in' in the religious symbol. The symbol is the representation of a supernatural -- that is, physically indemonstrable -- force in a material form."

One immediately thinks of icons, which are a kind of transparent membrane through which divine energies flow back and forth -- or in and out, down and up. We can look "in" toward the divine, while the divine radiates out toward us. Transfered to the plane of music, you could say that the icon is simultaneously speaker and microphone, a two-way vibrating membrane, depending upon which way you look at it.

You could even say that the icon -- or host, for that matter -- is not a symbol, but an unsymbol, that is, an existential reality that nevertheless isn't merely what it is. It points, but like music, it points further into itself. Zuckerkandl seems to understand this connection: "The religious symbol is not a sign that merely indicates the divine being to the believer" -- again, in the manner that a word refers to a thing.

Rather, "the deity is directly present in the symbol, is one with it, and is also directly beheld in the symbol by the believer." The symbol doesn't cause one to have a "thought" of God; rather, it provokes a kind of merger with him, in the same way one merges with music. When we listen to music, we become one with it. If we can't "get into" the music, then we haven't really heard it at all. Rather, we have only bounced off its exterior -- or vice versa.

Thus, just as music reveals immaterial forces, so too does the religious symbol manifest transcendent forces in a material medium. And just as the tune deaf individual hears the notes but not the melody, the spiritually autistic soul sees the religious symbol, but not the forces it embodies and radiates. Zuckerkandl: "Do normal eyes suffice to see the god in the symbol? The believer sees him; the unbeliever sees nothing -- who is right? The believer himself says that the unbeliever can see nothing there. What does disbelief prove against belief?"

Note that in order to get deeply into a musical performance, it is not a matter of "belief." It is, however, a matter of faith, especially for challenging music that doesn't condescend to meet us where we are. For example, it took me many years of "practice" to (literally) "get into" modern jazz, and to hear what it was all about. In this regard, faith was an absolute prerequisite, in that I had to have faith that people with better ears than mine weren't lying, and that there really was a there there, even if it sounded like chaos to the uninitiated.

But through patient faith, I eventually found my way "in" to the music. Thus, I do not say that I "believe" in modern jazz. Rather, I would say that I now have access to the immaterial existential reality it conveys. If some musical philistine tells me that there really isn't anything there, what can I say to him? It's not as if you could use any kind of scientific instrument to prove to him that the musical reality actually exists.

That this reality is "not physically in the tones, that no instrument would register [its] presence, is no argument against [its] existence." Rather, "to him who opens himself without reservations to symbols, their meaning will gradually become clear of itself."

Bottom line -- or cadenza: "Because music exists, the tangible and visible cannot be the whole of the given world. The intangible and invisible is itself part of the world, something we encounter, something to which we respond."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Getting Into the Melody of Existence

Zuckerkandl discusses some of the interesting philosophical -- and I would say theological -- problems raised by the existence of melodies. After all, what is a melody? A melody is a succession of tones. However, a cat scampering over a piano keyboard will produce a series of tones, but that's not a melody. Unless it's one very hep cat.

So why are some series of tones meaningful, while others are not? It's a tricky question, because meaning usually involves one thing that stands for and symbolizes another; there is the signifier (the symbol or word) and that which it signifies (the object, concept, activity, etc.).

But melodies don't refer to anything but themselves. Yes, there is programmatic music intended to evoke preconceived ideas and emotions, but that is the exception. The greatest music is completely abstract, and has no external referent.

Zuckerkandl writes that "when we hear a melody, we hear things that have no counterpart in physical nature." This is again why music occupies that third area, the mysterious transitional space alluded to in the previous post. A single tone -- or the cat running across the keyboard -- is not a musical phenomenon, but merely an acoustical one. Does this imply that music is therefore "unreal," like an auditory hallucination? Perhaps, so long as we agree with Terence McKenna that there exist true hallucinations.

What is it that converts the tone into a note, and the note into a melody? I would suggest that it is the same cosmic force that converts an atom into a molecule, molecule into a cell, and a cell into a body. As discussed somewhere in the Coonifesto, one of the problems with philosophical Darwinism is that it presupposes a very particular kind of cosmos, one in which wholeness is built into its very fabric. Neither music nor natural selection would be possible in any other kind of world.

But ironically, Darwinists nevertheless promulgate a very different kind of cosmos, one in which cats running around on keyboards will eventually produce the works of Bach. As a result, there is an infinite and unbridgeable gap -- literally -- between matter and life, to say nothing of life and mind. There is simply no plausible explanation for how a universe of logical atomism -- of distinct notes wholly external to one another -- could every have snapped to attention and begun reflecting upon itself and singing the Sounds of Science.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand tenured maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

Again, as explained in my book, wholeness implies both interiority and meaning. It implies the latter by virtue of the fact that the parts may participate in a higher entity which is their meaning. And it implies the former for the simple reason that meaning of any kind can only take place in an interior. But again, this meaning is not merely an eccentric and wholly private hallucination (although it certainly can be). Rather, it takes place in the transitional space between world and neurology, where truth, beauty, and virtue enter the world.

The point is that a melody is a whole through which the individual note derives its meaning. The note is only meaningful in the context of the melody. Nor does a random succession of tones make a melody, as with the cat. When we perceive a melody, we are perceiving none other than "wholeness in action." Just as we can perceive static wholeness in space -- say, an animal or building -- we are also able to perceive wholeness in time. Thus, we see how intimately related to music are history, biography, and narratives of any kind.

Zuckerkandl writes that "such a thing as 'mere matter' does not exist in music; its very material is permeated with relation to wholeness." In music, "we hear the promise of a whole that it bears within itself."
The promise of a whole. What does that remind me of? (No, not the promise of a-holes; that's a different subject.)

Oh yes. Religion -- and the faith required to "hear" what it discloses if only you sharpen your ears. For "in the outer world there are forces active whose activity transcends the physical, and at least one of our senses is an organ capable of directly perceiving nonphysical occurrences."

Again, the existence of music cannot be understood in dualistic terms, i.e., physical and psychic. Rather, Zuckerkandl speaks of the "external psychic," but one could just as well say "interior material," for both are ineluctable properties of cosmic wholeness. But "so greatly is our thinking under the spell of the two-worlds schema!" As a result, philosophical explanations swing from the one to the other, even while the explanations -- and music -- can only occur in the transitional third. This is why solid matter is "transparent" to mind, which can "see" and "hear" what is going on "inside" of it.

"In." That might be the most mysterious little word in our entire vocabulary, even more mysterious than being, or AM. For science posits a world of pure exteriority, an IT IS, as it were. The problem is how the IT IS ever results in the I AM, which requires something being "inside" the IT IS. But how do we get in?

Many of us don't. Perhaps you've noticed that one of the most painful aspects of depression is that it prevents one from "getting into" things. It is as if the world is reduced to its IT aspect, with no meaning or depth, i.e., interiority.

Stupidity (e.g., materialism, neo-Marxism, Obamism) results in the same thing, which is why it is so depressing to be around spiritually opaque and dense people who are exiled from the deep interiority of the cosmos, or just living in a collective hallucination. Religion is all about disclosing and reconnecting with this interiority, of "being in." This being in is the tonal center of both man and cosmos, from where all the best melodies arise and return.

Here's a swingin' little loony coon for you:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Eternal Harmelody of Adams

It is an existentialist cliché that modern man is "exiled in time," since he has lost his mooring in the eternal. But this cannot be quite correct, unless we forget what time is.

For time is not a successive appearance of independent "nows," or "points of time." Rather, it is a serial unfolding of past--> present--> future, in which the past anticipates the future and the future recalls and retains the past. Again, one cannot understand time -- or history -- by isolating a single point of it, any more than one can understand a melody by hearing one of its notes.

But since postmodern secular man is not in real time, where is he? Good question. I would suggest that he is in the same place existentially as is the contemporary pop music listener aesthetically, which is to say, "nowhere." I have no idea what's in the Top Thirty these days, but I'm pretty sure you won't find much beauty.

Now, if time is indeed a melody -- or, to be precise, if music is the image of time -- then we should expect time to have all of the same fundamental qualities as music, which include melody (the horizontal component), harmony (the vertical component), and rhythm (the repetitive, containing, or "boundary giving" component).

Modern man doesn't lack for rhythm, except that the beat is either jagged and inhuman on the one hand -- dragging him along by the ear with it -- or as boring as a nine-to-five-to sixty five to the grave necronome on the other.

Nor does he lack for melody, except that the melodies are either trite and sacharrine, or overly "free," verging on not being melodies at all, just a succession of notes with no internal consistency.

What man really lacks of the time element is harmony, and it is harmony that lends music its richness and its depth. Now, transferred to the human plane, to what could harmony be the analogue?

The first thing that comes to mind is tradition, especially the deep tradition of the orthodox revelations, through which man resonates at the same frequency as millions of other living souls, past, present and future. Ultimately one resonates with the first man and the last, or Adam and Christ. Compare this to metaphysical Darwinism, in which one resonates only with an animal and ultimately material past.

In other words, in the case of the Judeo-Christian stream, the harmonic tradition extends back to the dawn of man as we know him -- but really, to the (vertical) origin of the cosmos. To say in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, is analogous to the da-da-da-DUMMM that enunciates Beethoven's fifth and keeps coming 'round until it is resolved.

Thus, when we harmonize with this tradition, we are still our own note or chord, so to speak, except that it is given a kind of infinite meaning by being situated in the vast cosmic Symphony of Man. Here again, ritual, prayer, meditation -- these are all specific ways of adding a voice to the celestial choir of temporal resonance.

Now, the beat -- the rhythm -- is exceptionally important in these meters. As alluded to above, meter involves repetition, containment, and boundaries. Without it, we could not "think" musically, since it would involve one endless display of novelty, with no breaks (i.e., boundaries) or patterns. A beat is like a unit of time that allows us to think about it.

Transfered to the human plane, this means that we live in various natural rhythms, i.e., the day, season, year, developmental stage, etc. This is how we can say that all Sundays -- or Christmases, or Springs, or Weddings, or Adolescences -- are the same, and yet different. Thanks to rhythm, we have retention with variation. And of course, we can all add in our own groovy little syncopations in order to make life swing. Now that I haven't been blogging every day, I've noticed how the whole thing depended on being locked into a certain rhythm. I'm guessing that most creative people find this to be true, at least if the creativity is to last.

Time is motion, or movement. This is why the ears in general and music in particular are so ideally suited to disclose it. Interestingly, Zuckerkandl observes that "A God enthroned beyond time in timeless eternity would have to renounce music," because "temporal omnipresence would make the revelation of audible beauty impossible."

Imagine what temporal omnipresence would be like: you would hear all the notes of, say, a Mozart symphony, except all played simultaneously instead of in succession. Just one eternally cacophonous OMMMMMMMMMMMM going out and returning to itself. In fact, there wouldn't even be enough time for OM, just OOOOOOOOOOOOOO..... Or O. And O would literally have no content.

But -- and we will have more to say about this later -- if God is not one but three (or three-in-one), then this has definite implications for the Cosmic Symphony, for it means that there is an intrinsic time element in the Godhead. After all, no matter how you play it, it takes some kind of time for the Father to give birth to the Son, even if it's a timeless time. I don't intend to start an argument, but it can't be literal timelessness, or it could never "happen." And this is the position of non-dualism, that "nothing happens" in God. Rather, there is no time, no individual self, no nothing, just a static eternity, compared to which everything else -- including notions of Trinity or personal God -- are illusion.

The Christian God is clearly not monistic, i.e., a "simple one." But nor is reality dualistic, i.e., God and creation. Rather, a key point, both for man and music, is that God is trimporphic. That being the case, perhaps the trimorphism of music can tell us something about the interior of God.

And when we say "interior," we mean this literally. Again, as Zuckerkandl notes, the eyes reveal the exterior of things, while the ears reveal the interior. Remember, a mere tone can be situated in the external world, but a melody cannot be. But nor is the melody simply on the side of neurology, since the tune-deaf person hears the identical notes, but not the melody.

Therefore, melody -- which is the meaning of the notes -- is the quintessential example of something that occurs only in the mysterious transitional space, the psychic third where everything -- everything -- meaningful actually takes place.

Indeed, one cannot even say that the the most stubborn external fact exists in the absence of this transitional space, for without it, we wouldn't even know what was important. Rather, everything would be of equal importance, which is another way of saying that there would be no facts. To say "fact" is to say "value" is to connect the dots is to sing a melody, however insipid or profound. And suffice it to say that the left specializes in destroying harmony and insisting that all melodies are arbitrary.

To be continued....

Monday, November 09, 2009

If a Cosmos Bangs in the Void and Nobody Hears it, Does it Make a Sound?

How is music even possible?


I said, HOW IS MUSIC EVEN POSSIBLE?! What, are you deaf?

"What must the world be like, what must I be like, if between me and the world the phenomenon of music can occur? How must I consider the world, how must I consider myself, if I am to understand the reality of music?"

Good questions. They were asked by Victor Zuckerkandl in his cult classic, Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World. Unfortunately, the cult consists only of me, so it seems that no one took Zuckerkandl's ideas and riffed with them. I briefly touched on them in my book of the sane gnome (see page 44-45), but this is another one of those motifs that could have been a symphony in itself. I needed to change keys and move on.

But with my new found slack, I've been revisiting the book. Referring back to the previous post, what if the ears provide a better account of the nature of reality than do the eyes? This would certainly be consistent with Judeo-Christian metaphysics: in the beginning was the Word, not the brightly colored object.

But the Word is only heard by those with ears to hear. Seeing is different. In order to see, all you have to do is open your eyes, and the image forces itself upon you. Remember what happened in the Garden: eating from the tree of good and evil results in the eyes being opened. What were they before?

I would say that before that, the ears were dominant over the eyes. This is how it was possible to have such an intimate relationship with the Creator. Again, the ears do not divide the world in a dualistic sense, as that which we hear is not exactly outside, nor is it inside; rather, as we shall explain in more detail in a subsequent post -- hearing -- or, more specifically, music -- uniquely occurs in the mysterious transitional space between matter and neurology. It can by no means be located in just one or the other (for example, a tune-deaf person hears the identical notes, but not the melody).

Zuckerkandl discusses the interesting differences between the blind and the deaf. Upon superficial consideration, one would think that the blind person would feel more cut off from the world, and have more reason to be irritable, paranoid, and distrustful. "Yet it is not the blind man who shows the typical reaction of the prisoner, the man spied upon, who must always be on his guard; it is the deaf man, whose most important organ of connection with the world has remained unimpaired" (Zuckerkandl).

During my internship at Camarillo State Mental Hospital, my supervisor was a blind man. He was the sweetest and most gentle, not to mention, perceptive, soul you could imagine. But you may have noticed that when people start to lose their hearing, they often become sullen or cranky. Often they deny that it's happening, and blame the world. How come movies these days are so damn quiet! Why does everyone mumble!

For the blind man, "other modes of connection with the world are revealed to him, modes that are otherwise overshadowed by the dominance of the eye -- as if, in the realms with which he thus comes into contact, man were less alone, better provided for, more at home, than in the world of visible things to which the deaf man is directed and to which an element of foreignness always clings."

Now interestingly, there was a time, not so very long ago, that man was blind half the time. It was called night. I don't think we appreciate -- in fact, I'm sure we don't -- the psychological effects of having light at night; not just a little candle, mind you, but the complete conquest of darkness. The total blackness of night is almost inconceivable to us today, and with it, a host of mysteries to which we only gain entrance by facing and living with the darkness. No wonder early humans worshiped the sun, and readily "saw" the connection between light and thought (likewise the feminine moon, which is to unconscious as the male sun is to conscious).

What did human beings do back then in the dark of the night? Well, for one thing, they huddled around the campfire and told stories. As I have mentioned before, there are many things that only make sense at 2:00 AM, in total silence and darkness. Just because they don't make sense at 2:00 PM hardly means that they don't make sense. Think of some of the epic stories of the Bible -- floods, giants, talking serpents, etc. If these aren't engaged with the imagination -- which only comes out at night, or by somehow suppressing and "endarkening" the dominant, light-filled left brain -- then they won't reveal their secrets.

Furthermore, there are some stories we tell by day that make no sense whatsoever in the darkness of night -- for example, Darwinian fairy tales, or silly myths about whole universes suddenly banging into being out of nothing and for no reason. Such things are easy to believe for someone who doesn't know that reality extends beyond the securely enclosed firmament of egoic consciousness. It's like imagining that the world is encircled by the sky, just because we see it by day. At night, the comforting sky recedes into the infinite darkness, and we are confronted by the billions of things concealed by daylight and tenure.

Could it be that "man attains the inwardness of life by hearing and its outwardness by seeing?" (Zuckerkandl). Hmm, let me listen to that question for awhile...


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Friday, November 06, 2009

The Cosmic Symphony

This post has been sitting around unfinished on my desk. It's part of a much larger project that investigates the possibility that we love and need music because it discloses important insights (or insounds) into the nature of reality. Dedicated to the memory of Ximese.

To what point must we enlarge our thought so that it shall be in proportion to the phenomenon? --Schelling

The problem with the various -isms ,-ologies, and ismologies of our day is that they are simply not in proportion to the phenomena they seek to explain. Rather, in every case, they make the phenomena go away by subsuming it into a system out of which it could never have arisen to begin with. As a result, man has a total explanation of the cosmos, but at the price of eliminating himself from it. It seems that no one asks what kind of cosmos must this be in order for truth -- and a being capable of knowing it -- to exist in it.

In other words, let us say that Darwinism as commonly understood by tenured vulgarians is "true." This immediately creates a host of problems for the theory, for now one has to explain how it is possible for truth to be known, given the impossibly narrow constraints of natural selection. For to know truth is to adapt oneself to the timeless, so to speak, whereas natural selection is strictly an ephemeral adequation to a changing environment. How can that which only changes know that which never does?

Traditionally, we have a word for "the thing that never changes." We call it God. Unfortunately, this word has become detached from what was once extremely experience-bound, so that it is often an empty abstraction (or alternatively, a saturated concretion) -- especially for those who "do not believe" in God. In the end, it is not a matter of belief or disbelief; rather, it is -- and must be -- a matter of experience, to which we only subsequently give the name "God" (even those who wrote the scriptures had to simultaneously have the experience; I don't think they were just glorified stenographers).

The experience must be of something that is "other"; and yet, there must be a part of us that is capable of conforming itself to this object. In other words, humans can only know what they are capable of knowing, and they either can or cannot know this transcendental object.

If they cannot know it, then this hardly resolves the problem. Rather, then you have to explain what all those people were experiencing when they thought they were experiencing God, including many of the most brilliant and accomplished minds in human history. It will not do to simply say it was "nothing." At the very least, you would have to concede that it was something, just not "God." It's like saying, "I thought I was in love, but it turned out I wasn't." Just because things turned out that way, it doesn't mean that the object of your affections didn't really exist. You just thought that she was something she wasn't.

Let's think about this transcendental Object. For human beings, since vision is our dominant sense, when we consider the word "object" we probably imagine something material, like a pen, or a cup, or a hat. But this can be misleading, for there are also "aural objects," most notably, musical objects consisting of melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Note the first difference between a visual and an aural object; the former exists all at once in space, while the latter unfolds serially in time. Specifically, a melody is a kind of "musical object" that is "nothing" at any instant. That is, to hear just the note in isolation is to kill the melody -- like looking at a letter in isolation from the word, or a word in isolation from the sentence. An individual note is not just "nothing" -- i.e., neutral -- but a kind of lie if it was really meant to be part of a melody or harmony.

Now, human beings exist in time. I think we can all agree on that. But this is not just the physical time of pure duration, as it is for a stone or an aerosmith. Rather, we live in developmental time, in which we constantly change and grow, and yet, retain our "selves." A helpless infant who stayed a helpless infant would not be an occasion for hope and joy, but a tragedy and a nuisance.

As time passes and the infant reaches various developmental milestones, he unfolds like a flower. The adult could hardly be more different than the infant if looked at in isolation, like an object in space. But we are always, from infancy to adulthood, an arrow aimed beyond our present state to a future self we cannot know until we arrive there. To grow is to coherently unfold in time, not merely expand in space.

Along these lines, please note that it may be as artificial an exercise to separate the first living thing from the last man as it would be to separate the fetus from the baby. Who said that things are really as separate as they appear to our eyes? Who said that the future doesn't disclose the meaning of the past? Indeed, how could it not?

The critical point to bear in mind for those with ears to hear, is that man is not an object but a melody -- or rather, a complex musical object with a deep continuity extending back to the womb and before (and above). In the absence of this deep continuity, we could never have become the melody. Every man was once a helpless baby, and if he hadn't been, he could never have become a man. What this means is that man is not just melody -- which exists in time -- but harmony -- which exists in space.

Think, for example, of a chord, which consists of two or more notes played simultaneously. It is a truism that the childhood experience that we do not consciously remember is stored away in the "unconscious." But the unconscious is not "past." Rather, it is very much present, as one of its principle characteristics is timelessness.

Thus, if you want to understand the proper relationship between the conscious and unconscious minds, it is very much like two notes that must be harmonized. To the extent that they become "dissonant," this will result in what we call "symptoms," which are unconscious emotions or behaviors that clash with our conscious will, and cause pain or dysfunction.

Please note that symptoms are not unambiguously negative, as they can and do carry vital messages about ourselves which we need to understand and integrate. Not only that, but they can serve as important reminders that we are not yet "complete," and that we are ignoring something to which we need to pay attention. To cite one example, the atheist's obsession with God is a kind of painful reminder that God is absent in his life -- or present in an inverted manner.

But when the conscious and unconscious minds are harmonized, this leads to a new depth of experience that could never occur with just one or the other. In fact, it is very much analogous to one of those "magic eye" pictures which leap out of the page, or even like our two eyes which create the perception of depth owing to their having slightly different vertices.

Or, it's like a chord that is much more interesting to the ear than the bare note. I've always loved vocal harmony, e.g., the Beach Boys. I guess they remind me of the celestial harmelody of the Song Supreme. No wonder Brian Wilson called one of his greatest works, Smile, a "teenage symphony to God."

Our Prayer, from the original Smile:

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Up to Bismarck

Yesterday I received the sad news that a member of our lodge has suddenly and unexpectedly died. We knew her as Ximese, but her real name was Kathy, age 53. I don't want to speculate, but from the description of her friend, Todd, it sure sounds like swine flu, although I suppose thousands of people die from the regular flu as well every year. Todd says there will be an autopsy.

I'm sure Todd -- or Kathy -- wouldn't mind my passing along the following: "She really loved your book, that you had a website, and fell in love with the regulars. It was always what was going on at OC every day, she would always tell me about what happened, what was said, if Van had done something amusing, if Ben was ok, etc. You were her family in a way, as she found you when God took away her alcoholism -- literally took it. I was there.

"She had heard a sermon by (the sometimes infamous) Dr. Gene Scott about Abraham, 'Lift up now thine eyes, from the place where you are...' He was using this to say that God deals with you where you stand, not where you or anyone thinks you should be. She told me, she was in her bedroom (around 10 pm) and had the DTs, and looked up at her ceiling and asked God to help her.

"He did. She never touched it again, never wanted to, and had no desire. Period. She has been dry ever since. So, she found your book about then, and then the site, and helped out at a local Church's 'Celebrate Recovery' program, to help people realize there was more to 'recovery' than just the old rehab stuff from reworked AA."

Todd passed along this photo:

That would be her owner, Beaky, on the right. Todd says Kathy is radiating her take the f*#%ing picture look. You know, her usual look (she did not suffer trolls gladly).

Here is some more biographical info from Todd: "Her family was in the diplomatic service, and she grew up in Argentina and Paraguay. She spoke fluent Argentine Spanish, and also Japanese. She was an international student at University of the Pacific in Stockton CA, and did a home stay in Japan.

"She was a black belt in Aikido, and had worked her way from being receptionist to VP in charge of operations for a large debt management organization.

"She loved to cook, was a voracious reader, and also an online researcher. Although she read many sites -- Ace of Spades, The People's Cube, Big Fur Hat, etc. -- One Cosmos was her home."

I don't remember when Ximese found home, but it was a case of instant re-cognition. She is the archetypal person for whom I'm always writing, and without whom I could not write -- the one who whacks their furhead in d'light and exclaims, finally! Where has this been all my life!

But the feeling is always mutual -- where have you been all my life! -- since the teaching is just what goes on in the space between two people who recognize it and resonate at the same frequency. It's a vibrating triad, not a static monad or dyad, since it's two people in love with a common third that comes into view between them. It's how we can (implicitly) know each other without having to undergo the formality of (explicitly) knowing each other. Just innocent spirits at play in the fields of the word, like children learning to speak, only of higher things.

Kathy's comments are part of the permanent arkive, so that in a hundred years, unborn Coons will speak with reverence and awe of her legendary troll-bashing. Sure, she liked soccer, but nobody's perfect.

Tonight at Be'er O'clock, let us raise a glass and remurmur our bright Ximese twinkle, Kathy, and give her a proper zendoff to Bismarck, secure in the knowledge that she is slackfully kicking it with Toots and the boys.

.... a drop embraced by the sea held within the drop....

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Loose Thread

The Endless Thread, part II. Please sign our geistbook.

And don't forget to nominate One Cosmos for Best Religious Blog starting November 3. We need to extend our streak to three years for not Best Religious Blog. Keep the joke alive!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

... the endless thread...

(∞ ↓ 10.10.05 → 10.23.09 ↑ ∞)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Here and Now: Local Branches of the Infinite & Eternal

Just as eternity seen from within time becomes everlastingness (all of time), placelessness or infinity seen from a perspective within space becomes ubiquity or omnipresence (all of space). Just as the very old suggests the everlasting, so the very large suggests the infinite. Just as the very new is timeless (for it has almost no duration), so the infinitesimal too suggests infinity (for it has almost no extension). This relates to the sense of wonder often felt by one from looking through a microscope at the infinitesimal -- or through a telescope at the near infinite distances of space. --The Symmetry of God

I'm still slowly working my way through the implications of some of Bomford's ideas. Now it's time to contemplate placelessness, which is another one of the modalities of the unconscious mind. It is also said to be one of the characteristics of the Divine, Who Am simultaneously everywhere (immanent) because nowhere (transcendent).

In other words, as Schuon has written, the first principle of metaphysics is that the Supreme Reality is Absolute; that being the case, it is necessarily Infinite as a kind of first consequence: "The Infinite is, so to speak, the intrinsic dimension of plenitude proper to the Absolute; to say Absolute is to say Infinite, the one being inconceivable without the other." Therefore, with regard to space, "the absolute is the point, and the infinite is extension," i.e., little and big mon.

Just last night, while walking the dog, it occurred to me that perhaps we're asking the wrong questions about the wrong problems. That is, if you turn the cosmos back right side up, the difficulty isn't explaining eternity; rather, the problem is how to explain time, and most especially, the now. The existence of the now was something that also puzzled Einstein, who didn't see how any of the laws of physics could account for it. But it makes much more sense if we think of the now as just a dimple on the aseity of eternity. It's like the last vestige of eternity, and yet, the only way "in" to it.

Likewise, how is it possible for there to be a "here" instead of just "everywhere"? In fact, it's the identical problem, only looked at from the standpoint of the Absolute instead of the Eternal. Before the appearance of Life, there was no "here" here, nor any there there. But once the cosmos has a here! in the form of life, it has a pathway back into the Absolute, just as the now is the gateway back to eternity. This is just one more reflection of the idea that man is the image and likeness of the Creator, for we surely partake of his Infinity and Absoluteness. Even the staunchest atheist must acknowledge this on pain of forsaking his very humanness.

Anyway, with our briefs aside, the Absolute is masculine, or "essentiality," while the Infinite is feminine, or "potentiality"; and their baby is the phenomenal world of middling relativities. I don't mean to give away the whole game to those who prefer Petey's dreamy mystagoguery to my wideawackery, but if I am not mistaken, this is what we were trying to convey on p. 16 of the Coonifesto:

A little metyaphysical diddling
between a cabbala opposites, and
baby makes Trinity,
so all the world's an allusion.
Viveka la revelation!

Or, in more mythematical terms:

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.
(Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu)

A Christian whistling the same Laosy tzune would sound something like this:

♬ The One enters into movement because of his fullness. The Two is transcended because the godhead [i.e., Absolute] is beyond all opposition. Perfection is achieved in the Three, who is the first to overcome the compositeness of the Two. Thus the godhead does not remain confined, nor does it spread out indefinitely. ♬ Therefore, in themthree therebe undivided division and differentiated unity (Gregory Nanziazen).

Olivier elaborates, which I'll bet you can't say fast three times at Beer O'Clock: "Thus the Trinity constitutes the inexhaustible fruitfulness of the Unity. From the Trinity comes all unification and all differentiation.... The Father is God beyond all, the origin of all that is. The incarnate Son is God with us.... The Spirit is God in us, the Breath, the Pneuma, who gives life to all...."

Which is what Petey no doubt meant by

And his name & number shall be Immanulent,
which, trancelighted, means "Godwithinus."
(see Matt: 1:23)

One more relevant quote from Olivier: "A solitary God would not be 'Love without limits.' A God who made himself twofold... would make himself the root of an evil multiplicity to which he could only put a stop by re-absorbing it into himself. The Three-in-One denotes the perfection of Unity -- of 'Super-unity,' according to Dionysius the Areopagite.... It suggests the perpetual surmounting of contradiction, and of solitude as well, in the bosom of an infinite Unity."

Now, one of the reasons I rejected religion for much of my life was because it was presented to me as if it made unambigious sense to the conscious mind, i.e., the rationalinear ego. For example, if you simply say that "God is omnipresent," there's really no way for the ego to get its little mind around the word "omnipresent," which is both bigger than big and smaller than small -- you know, ♬ It's far, beyond the stars / it's near, beyond the moon ♬ (Professor Darin). It doesn't compute, because there's nothing in our rational or sensory experience to match it. It's just an empty concept, like "infinity" or "nothingness" or "Cubs win the Series."

Again, the trick is to use language in such a way as to provoke and suggest -- as a sort of probe to reach into the supraconscious mind, where eternity and omnipresence are not at all problematic, but the norm. As I mentioned in the Vandalized title of a previous post, this is The Secret Sign of Artists Who Have Known True Gods of Sound and Time, or where Poetic Champions Compose.

But it is also where noetic champions compose, i.e., prophets, seers, visionaries, extreme seekers, pneumagraphers, encentrics, and various adopted sons & daughters of the Creator. They are able to speak in this way because of the simple fact that our souls are proportioned to the Divine Nature. You two can become a three-time noetic champion by embracing the idea that "the life of spirit is the fountain from which our scriptures have come to us, and to take seriously that we too can become explorers, trace the scriptures upstream, drink from the same waters and understand their meaning firsthand through the very source that inspired" them (Hanson [forward]). Woo hoo!

I'm pretty sure this is what Petey was driving at in a careening vehicle such as

Here, prior to thought,
by the headwaters of the eternal,
the fountain of innocence,
the mind shoreless vast and still,
absolved & absorbed in what is always the case,
face to face in a sacred space.

Into the blisstic mystic,
no you or I, nor reason wise,
a boundless sea of flaming light,
bright blazing fire and ecstatic cinder,
Shiva, me tinders,
count the stars in your eyes!

So, what have we learned today? I guess that God, Eternity, and Spacelessness account for Man, the Now, and the Here, but that the converse could never be true.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dilating Time while Remurmuring Eternity

Continuing with yesterday's post, we were discussing how language may be deployed to convey the eternity that is beyond it, including the technique of "repetition with variation." The following would be one example, as it piles layer upon steaming layer of the identical nonsense:

pure emptiness,
a formless void without mind or life,
a shadow spinning before the beginning
over a silent static sea,
unlit altar of eternity,
fathomless vortex of the Infinite Zero.

Some readers will no doubt call this omschooled doggerel "repetition with tedium," or "artlessness with sincerity." But if I had any time at all this morning, it wouldn't be difficult to provide additional examples of this technique from genuine licensed poets such as Blake, Yeats, Donne, or Suzanne Sommers.

Another interesting way to express the symmetry of eternity, according to Bomford, is through what is called antithetic parallelism. This is a literary device in which a statement is made and then repeated with the terms in reverse order. He cites the spontaneous utterance of a person on trial whose case was close to reaching a verdict: "I was about to lose my liberty.... My freedom was about to go."

Interestingly, Bomford points out that "the richest source of such antithetic parallelism familiar to the English-speaking reader is in the Book of Common Prayer," for example,

O God, thou knowest my folly:
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee.


I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.

The following examples may not be exact antithetic parallelisms, but at least I can now see what Petey was driving at:

Nothing is real.
NOTHING is realized.
That's it in a knotshall.
The nature of reality,
the rapture of nihility....

A drop embraced by the sea
held within the drop.

Know you're nought
you naughty boy.

In fact, I can also see that the Cosmobliteration section of the Coonifesto has a number of examples of the "unchanging cry," i.e., exclamations used to express eternity, such as

Om, now I remurmur!

Finn again, we rejoyce: salvolution, evelation, ululu-woo-hoo-aluation!

Whoops, where'd ego?!

So long. So short! Whoosh! there went your life.

Holy creation, shabbatman, time to rejewvenate (oy!).

Wu, full frontal nullity!

I am? That! O me ga!

You know, I feel a little self-conscious analyzing Petey's text, but I realize that no one else is ever going to ever do it, so it might as well be me.

Anyway, Bomford then cites the excellent example of Eliot's Four Quartets, which reflects upon how words may be used in the struggle to express the still silence of eternity:

Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach....
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place...

I actually cited this very passage on page 5, as a preface to the cracked and broken punnish antics of Cosmogenesis. How to reach up into the silence with blustering and unruly words? Hell, I don't know. Ask Petey, who, like Eliot, is not above occasionally lifting a line from elsewhom. Here this literary kleptomaniac holographically playgiarizes with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, Neil Finn, James Joyce, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, and Joe Strummer, all at once:

Get out.
Get in.
Relax and float downstream.
A hole in the river.
Only drowning men can see it.
Slipping away, softly now.
Beneath the waves, ocean of being.
Shhh, peaceful.
So quiet in here.
Don't touch that dial!

In reference to Eliot, Bomford notes that "A reversal of beginning and end is needed to make the expression of eternity more complete: the combination of two penultimate forms together more strongly points to the ultimate."

The combination of two penultimate forms together. Hmm, once again I can see what Petey was up to with many of his puzzling paradoxables, since he was attempting to convey an unbleatable state of mind that is technically unglishable to our wordly whys:

Darkest night.
Dreamless sleep.
Outside in.
No beforeafter,
nobodaddy, no mamafestation,
nothing but neti.


Darkness visible the boundless all....
unborn thus undying,
beginning and end of all impossibility,
empty plenum and inexhaustible void.
Who is? I AM.
A wake. Alone.
Hallow, noumena!

Likewise, there are numinous examples of the conjunction of contrasting penultimates in Cosmobliteration:

Luminous presence,
all-negating Void Supreme

Unfearing, allahpeering
darkness within darkness,
benighting the way brightly.

The body, an ephemeral harmelody of adams
forged from within stars,
our life, a fugitive dream
within the deathless, sleeping

Too old, older than Abraham,
too young, young as a babe's I AM.

We'll meet again.
Up ahead, 'round the bend.
The circle unbroken, by and by.
A Divine Child,
a godsend,
a touch of infanity,
a bloomin' yes.

In this last passage, the ultimate purpose of the cosmos (the ancient God's-end) is conjoined with the boundless joy of the brand new infant (godsend) -- that most precious and fleeting of flowers, which, like all flowers, always says Yes! to the gift of existence. What do they not know that we do, and how can we forget it?

To be continued....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

.... To Be Continued. But Only Forever....

One of the reasons I'm spending so much time on The Symmetry of God is that it's a rather short and compact book with a lot of implications that need to be unpacked. Often Bomford spends a paragraph on subjects that could be the chapter of a book, and a chapter on subjects worthy of an entire book. But that's far preferable to the converse, that is, overly saturating the subject and leaving no space for the imagination to roam and make its own connections.

A case in point is Chapter 4, The Modalities of Language. Here Bomford puts forth some novel ideas about how language may be used to express things that are beyond its reach, and to say what cannot be said about the modalities of the unconscious mind, including eternity, placelessness, non-contradiction, and the fusion (or non-separation) of reality and imagination.

What made this chapter especially interesting for me, is that I realized that I had employed many of these techniques in my own book (in particular, in the Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration sections) without being consciously aware of it. Rather, I was simply focussed on the reality I was attempting to contact and disclose, and the language came to me. You know, adequation, just like in any other science.

You might say that what I was trying to express had to invent the means -- and even the person! -- to express itself. But it turns out that the invention already existed, at least in its deep structure. (Speaking of blogging, which no one was, it also reminds me of how I first had to create an audience for my writing, or will all of you folks into being, which makes it difficult to sell books, since you can only create one Raccoon at a time.)

The one objection I have to Bomford's conception is that he regards the unconscious in a unitary manner, whereas I conceptualize it on a vertical scale, with an unconscious below and a supraconscious above. Both are "un" conscious, but in different ways. And again, it's not as if they lack consciousness -- obviously -- only that they lay (and often lie) outside conscious, egoic awareness.

The point is, Bomford sometimes falls into what Wilber calls the "pre-trans fallacy," that is, conflating the pre-personal and the transpersonal (Jung often did this as well). Nevertheless, he is correct that the same modalities generally apply to both, i.e, timelessness, placelessness, etc.

Let's begin with eternity, or timelessness. With symmetrical logic, if event B comes after event A, then event A also comes after event B. Again, we routinely see this logic play out in dreams, in which events from different times can be co-present. Ultimately, if this logic is taken to its extreme (up toward point 10, 10 in the upper right), it means that in the unconscious, all time is simultaneously present -- which is one of the defining characteristics of eternity.

I immediately think of Jesus' paradoxical statement that before Abraham was, I AM. This makes no sense from the standpoint of asymmetrical logic, but perfect nonsense from the standpoint of symmetrical logic. Likewise, that Jesus is "alpha and omega," or first and last.

As Bomford writes, "The most primitive and perhaps deepest expression of the eternity of the Unconscious that could be imagined is an unchanging cry of joy or scream of pain, something everlastingly the same. Such would express the dominance of a single extreme emotion pouring out in its most raw form from its unconscious root. The well-known painting by Edvard Munch entitled The Scream may serve as an icon of a state of this kind."

Alternatively, we might imagine my infinite despair when the Phillies scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Dodgers last Monday. It's like a never ending D'ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!, echoing into the cold and desolate Philadelphia night.

Now that I'm thinking of it, I have treated many cases of trauma, and this seems to be how post-traumatic stress operates. When a person endures a trauma -- say, a bank robbery, with a gun pointed directly at their head -- they are temporarily lifted out of time, partly as a sort of primitive defense mechanism. Often there is a sense of time standing still accompanied by depersonalization and derealization. In short, the body is there but the person is someplace else, either "dissolved" or dispersed. Their nervous system is still registering the event, but not "to" or "for" someone. The theatre is empty. Lights on, nobody home.

But as their person gradually reconstitutes and the lights come back on, they can expect to experience a number of characteristic symptoms such as nightmares and repeated flashbacks of the trauma. These are unbidden memories over which the person has no conscious control. I have always understood this as a way for the mind to try to "metabolize" an event that was too overwhelming at the time.

In other words, you might think of the flashbacks as a way to convert the eternal terror into mere garden variety fear, bit by bit, one piece at a time. I always tell patients that their symptoms are actually their mind's way of assimilating and coming to terms with what happened to them. When they start treatment, the trauma is remembering them, but with the passage of time, they will eventually be able to remember it. It will simply be a bad memory, instead of something that is grabbing them by the throat, so to speak. They will contain it, rather than vice versa.

This would also explain why the most catastrophic traumas are those that occur during childhood. Since a young child -- say, before the age of 5 -- is largely in eternity and not time, when a trauma occurs, it can be internalized in such a way that it lives on "forever."

(This reminds me of what happened to our cat after the 1994 earthquake. She just "vanished," and we didn't see a trace of her for several days. She was presumably hiding somewhere, but we checked every possible hideout. It was as if she were hibernating in an alternate dimension. She eventually reappeared out of nowhere, as if nothing had happened.)

(Come to think of it, Grotstein has hypothesized that primitive psychological defense mechanisms may be analogues to what animals do when in extreme danger, for example, "playing dead." Many children from abusive homes deal with the trauma by psychologically "playing dead," but if it goes on for too long, the defense gradually displaces the core of the personality, so the person becomes emotionally dead.)

I was about to say that I wouldn't be surprised if the painter of the Icon of Eternal Terror hadn't been traumatized himself as a child. A quick wikipedia search reveals that Munch was not a Dodger fan, he did lose his mother to tuberculosis when he was just four years old, "and his older and favorite sister Sophie to the same disease in 1877.... After their mother's death, the Munch siblings were raised by their father, who instilled in his children a deep-rooted fear by repeatedly telling them that if they sinned in any way, they would be doomed to hell without chance of pardon. One of Munch's younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Munch himself was also often ill.... He would later say, 'Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life.'"

That is about as good a description as you will find of "eternal trauma" living on in the unconscious mind. "Angels of insanity" is a good way of saying "mind parasites."

Getting back to language, Freud discovered that certain speech patterns revealed the characteristics of eternity, including repetition. As Bomford explains, "Repetition expresses eternity by everlastingly returning to the same point." He notes that people in a state of severe depression will often repeat the same words again and again, "words expressive of everlasting defeat or failure."

Conversely, people who have achieved some great goal, such as athletes, might be reduced to repeating phrases such as "We did it... I can't believe we did it..." In fact, you will notice that at the end of the World Series, or Superbowl, or Stanley Cup, the players are often speechless, just as in a trauma. One or more of the players is sure to say something like, "I can't absorb this right now. It's too much. It'll take a few weeks to sink in."

I remember my first encounter with severe depression as a child, although I had no idea what it was at the time. My maternal grandmother came to live with us for a while, and she was obviously profoundly depressed. She would shuffle around the house all day, holding her face and muttering "Oh God.... Dear God.... Oh God...." Very spooky. In fact, as Bomford writes, the simplest way to convey eternity is to simply repeat the same words over and over. Or sometimes just one word:


If you've seen Citizen Kane, you know that that word is like a holographic container representing all of Kane's childhood issues of abandonment and loss, which he spent his life trying to fill with power and possessions. But it is a bottomless pit because it is an eternal nothing. Might as well try to fill a hole on the beach with water.

Interestingly, it was Orson Welles who dubbed Jackie Gleason "the great one." The most exalted Raccoon of them all would often express eternal shock or befuddlement through the repetition of our sacred mantra, homina homina homina!

Other times, a person may "make the same point repeatedly, but in different words. He or she seems to be groping for something unchanging that no one set of words will adequately express: it could be described as revolving round and round a central point." Bomford calls this "repetition with variation."

Here again, I found that this is instinctively what I did in the Coonifesto, especially in the Cosmobliteration section, where language begins to fail and we ascend up the orthobola past 10, 10 and crank language up to 11:

Words fail. But one clings. Still. You don't say. Emptiness! drowning the soul in its everlasting peace, an eternal zero, a spaceless and placeless infinite, supremely real and solely real, our common source without center or circumference, no place, no body, no thing, or not two things, anyway....

To be continued. But only forever.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Navelgazing Your Way Between a Crock and a Hardhead

In trawling through the knowa's arkive for live specimens, I noticed that there are some earlier posts on Bomford's Symmetry of God that may provide some missing background. In what follows, I will attempt to edit and weave these posts together.

Even if this will be a review for some -- including me -- that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because of the way we're built, it is possible -- perhaps even likely -- to "overrun" the truth once we've stumbled upon it. That is, our epistemophilic instinct causes us to so frantically search after truth, that we can just keep right on going once we've found it. But truth -- especially spiritual truth -- must be chewed, swallowed and assimilated into our substance in order to have a transformative effect. If it is merely on the level of profane knowledge (k), it can essentially convert a profound truth into something shallow and superficial. We will contain it rather than vice versa. And that's how you kill a spiritual truth.

Bomford is an Anglican priest who is a student of the psychoanalyst Ignacio Matte Blanco, who himself is not well known but had some brilliant ideas about the logic of the unconscious mind. Bomford has applied Matte Blanco's ideas to the relationship between God and consciousness, and how we may meaningfully communicate about something that vastly exceeds the limits of language. (Here is an intro to Matte Blanco that is cheaper more accessible than his own books, but still, it may not be appropriate for the non-specialist; you can always search a few pages and judge for yourself.)

One of the purposes of the book is to resolve the issue of literalism vs. reductionism, or to navigate between the rockheads fundamentalism and the softheads of liberalism. It is aimed at the reader who "neither clings rigidly to the literal truth of every word of the Bible, nor on the other hand reduces the faith by rejecting most of what the past has believed to be central."

With regard to the potential dangers of mixing psychoanalytic metapsychology and religion, Bomford makes the important point that "from the beginning the church has borrowed philosophies from the world as handmaids to faith, and has expressed its faith through them. This has not only been to communicate with those outside, but also so that faith may understand itself."

This interdisciplinary and playgiarizing spirit allows one to be a believer and still engage with the same world as those outside the faith. In fact, without this engagement, one will inevitably create a sort of intellectual ghetto. But there is no reason whatsoever that one cannot build sturdy and robust bridges between religion and any other discipline, which was obviously the whole point of my own book. There should be no barrier between religion and the most up-to-date science. Indeed, the people who have the most difficulty reconciling religion and science are those who either cling to an outmoded scientism or to an overly literal view of scripture. But if we know how to float our boat, we should be able to steer a course between the crock and the hardheads, respectively.

As mankind has evolved, we have become increasingly aware of the internal world of consciousness itself. Religion has followed this trend, which is why the further back in history you travel, the more religion is dominated by an externalizing tendency, ultimately ending (or beginning) in the inside-out and upside-down orientation of pantheism and nature worship.

Today, if you ask the average person where God is encountered, they will likely respond "within myself." In other words, they do not believe that they are literally going to visit God in the church or temple -- although our consciousness of God is surely "focussed," so to speak, in certain proscribed areas and rituals. But when we attend a service, engage in a ritual, meditate, pray, or purchase an indulgence from Petey, we are obviously attempting to heighten our consciousness of God.

But what do we know about consciousness? What is it? Or, to put it another way, what can consciousness know of itself?

Bomford begins with what amounts to a truism, that our conscious self -- or ego -- is situated in a much larger area of consciousness as such, much of which goes by the name "unconscious." This is a misleading term, since the unconscious is not unconscious, just not available to the conscious ego. The unconscious is obviously quite active and aware, only "below," "behind," or "above" the ego.

Traditionally, psychoanlaysts have imagined a sort of horizontal line, with the ego above and the unconscious below. But I believe a more accurate mental image would be an island surrounded by water on all sides, like a point within a sphere (which is itself multidimensional).

I would also argue that consciousness is not linear but holographically structured, so that the unconscious is not spatially above or below, but within consciousness (somewhat analogous to God, who is both immanent and transcendent, the deepest within and the furthest beyond of any "thing" that partakes of Being).

Furthermore, we must abandon the idea that the unconscious is merely an uncivilized repository of repressed mind parasites and other mischievous devils. That is surely part of the picture, but only part. Grotstein writes of the unconscious as a sort of alter-ego with whom we go through life -- the “stranger within” that shadows our existence in a most intimate, creative, and mysterious way. Far from being “primitive and impersonal” (although it surely includes primitive, lower vertical elements as well), it is “subjective and ultra-personal,” a “mystical, preternatural, numinous second self” characterized by “a loftiness, sophistication, versatility, profundity, virtuosity, and brilliance that utterly dwarf the conscious aspects of the ego.”

The production of a dream, for example, "is a unique and mysterious event, an undertaking that requires an ability to think and to create that is beyond the capacity of conscious human beings.... [D]reams are, at the very least, complex cinematographic productions requiring consummate artistry, technology, and aesthetic decision making.... [D]reams are dramatic plays that are written, cast, plotted, directed, and produced and require the help of scenic designers and location scouts, along with other experts.... I am really proposing the existence of a profound preturnatural presence whose other name is the Ineffable Subject of Being, which itself is a part of a larger holographic entity, the Supraordinate Subject of Being and Agency."

So in what follows, I will be using the term "unconscious" in this larger and more expansive sense. In fact, let's dispense with that saturated word altogether, since it deceives us into believing we know what it is, merely because we have a name for it. Instead, let's stick with O, the ultimate unKnowable reality within which the ego operates.

Again, most postpostmodern people -- you know, regular folks -- believe that God is in some sense found "within." The mystic -- the extreme seeker and off-road spiritual aspirant -- is simply someone who follows the inner path all the way down.... or up... or in... or over... and out.

In fact, as we shall see, this ambiguous use of language -- spirit is somehow simultaneously "down," "up", and "in" -- provides a key insight into its very nature, which is to say, its symmetry. With everyday aristotelian logic, if something is in it can't be out; or if it is up, it can't be down. But if God is up, he must be down, and if he is out, he must be in. And verce visa. For God, it is not a problem to be two "places" at once, since there are no places to begin with.

Is this way of talking merely nonsense? Undoubtedly. But it is perfect nonsense, or what I would call patterned transrationality. It describes something that is surely real, but not in the same limited sense as material reality and its interior cousin, the empirical ego.

The difficulty arises in attempting to express the infinite through the finite, or the transcendent through the immanent, which can only be accomplished with paradox, myth, symbolism, and a number of other literary deivoices we will discuss in more detail below, when we get above. Religious language -- whatever else it is -- is without question a way to memorialize, extend, deepen, and meditate upon that which transcends ordinary language experience.

How do we describe this unusual "relationship" between these two necessary aspects of the Real? You might say that, just as the ego floats "atop" or within an essentially infinite sea of (un)Consciousness, or O, the explicate world disclosed to our senses represents the "condensation," or visible waves, of an implicate reservoir of roiling energy.

We may extend this to say that God too has an outer aspect, which we call being, and an interior aspect that is beyond being. In Orthodox Christianity, the difference is conceptualized in terms of God's energies (which may be known by us) and his essence, which I would argue -- perhaps heretically -- is not even fully com-prehended by him. If this were not true, than God could not truly create, or surprise and delight himself with his productions.

This is why I think jazz discloses something about God, in the way that it parallels the relationship between the implicate and explicate orders of the cosmos. If you think of the rhythm and chords as the explicate structure, the improvisation -- which is to say, spontaneous composition -- of the soloist represents the ceaseless flow of implicate to explicate. A great soloist plays with a seemingly endless inventiveness that parallels the birth of a new world each moment. Also, if you unlisten to the manner in which the individual players spontaneously react to each other in an organismic way, you are hearing nothing less than the implicit structure of Life Itself. For it is the Sound of Surprise.

Anyway, Bomford noticed that the unconscious, as described by Freud, shares many fundamental characteristics attributed to God. The unconscious mind does not operate by the same logical categories as the conscious mind. Rather, it is characterized by 1) eternity (or timelessness), 2) spacelessness, 3) symbolism, 4) non-contradiction, and 5) non-distinction between imagination and reality.

Let's take an example that comes readily to mind. Last night my Dreamer presented me with a dream in which my wife and father were simultaneously present, even though they never actually met. In addition, I was wearing a pair of glasses that I ordered by mail, and won't be receiving until next week. The dream shows how the past (my father), present (my wife), and future (my glasses) are all co-present and interpenetrating, defying any Newtonian idea of linear time.

Now, it is not actually possible for us to experience or know the eternal. Or, to be precise, we can only experience it if we no longer exist, because to identify with it would be to disappear from time, and thought and existence require time ("no one sees my face and lives"). As Boethius wrote, "An unchanging thing displays no before and after, nor does it begin or end" (which is one reason why my book neither begins nor ends). Rather, eternity is "the instantaneously whole and complete possession of endless life."

But there are a number of ways we can conceptualize the eternal and think the otherwise unthinkable in the herebelow. As Bomford explains, "among temporal things, the everlasting most nearly expresses the eternal. It provides the closest image of the timeless within time." This is why our souls are stirred in the presence of the very old and ancient -- the Pyramids, Yosemite Valley, a European cathedral, Barbara Walters, etc.

But interestingly, another penultimate form of eternity -- the symmetrical opposite of the everlasting, so to speak -- is the momentary, for such a thing is also "instantaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change. It is not there -- it is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again" -- like a shooting star, or giving your daughter's hand in marriage, or one of Obama's campaign promises.

In contrast to the everlasting and the momentary, what least expresses eternity is -- unfortunately -- that which comes into existence, lasts for a while, and then passes away. That would be, oh, I don't know, like a Dodger lead in a playoff game, or maybe even YOUR WHOLE FREAKING LIFE!, unless you do something about that unfortunate state of unfairs. Seven games or life stages may be a short series, but you're vying for the ultimate prize.

To be continued....

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shedding a Little Obscurity on the Cold Light of Reason

As we were discussing yesterday, point 0, 0 (lower left) on the Graph of Consciousness represents total common sense rationality with no unconscious influence, while point 10, 10 (upper right) represents complete immersion into the symmetric logic of the unconscious, which, as Bomford writes, "is a point further from 'common sense' even than a dream," similar to "the beatific vision or the goal of the mystic, a state in which there is no awareness of any particular thing or thought and where paradox and eternity meet."

It also very much reminds me of what Joyce was attempting to accomplish in Finnegans Wake, i.e., trying to come as close as humanly possible to capturing and expressing the darkly lit space of 10, 10. About the book, Joyce said that it was "conceived as obscurity, it was executed as obscurity, it is about obscurity" (in Bishop). Furthermore, there is nothing that can render the book not obscure, any more than one could make a dream perfectly concrete and logical. If one could do that, it would no longer be a dream.

The point is, our consciousness is like the hologram that is produced by the interference pattern of two beams of light. Again, think of the analogy of left brain and right brain, and how their interaction produces the "higher third" of human consciousness. But that third can be localized along a wide continuum, from the 0, 0 of wideawake and cutandry (Joyce) logic, to the hʘ¿ʘgraphic dream logic that gently rules the night. And for humans, it's always night; or, it is like the symbol of the Tao, in which the darkest night has a bit O' light and the brightest deity is unilluminated by a beam of darkness.

Of his pissy diurinal critics who bladdered on and on about the book's obscurity, Joyce leaked in a letter that "They compare it, of course, with Ulysses. But the action of Ulysses was chiefly in the daytime, and the action of my new work takes place chiefly at night. It's natural that things should not be so clear at night, isn't it now?" To another person, he wrote that "It is night. It is dark. You can hardly see. You sense rather."

I am not necessarily recommending to readers that they attempt to tackle Finnegans Wake. But I think you can appreciate or at least excuse the inspiration for the opening and closing and reopening passages of my book. I wasn't only trying to be funny, but attempting to nudge language up the continuum toward the nightlight of 10, 10. Nor did I want to be completely obscure, like Joyce. He obviously crossed a certain line -- you might say that he went over the horizon into near-total darkness, whereas I wanted to hover around the twilight of evening and dawn. And the footnotes are like little flashlights or flares.

Anyway, what about the upper left-hand corner, 0, 10? This would represent "absolute unconsciousness combined with total rationality."

As Bomford says, at least for humans, this would appear to be empty territory, with "none of the paradigmatic instances of unconscious influence -- the lover, the madman, or the poet -- nor dreams, jokes or slips of tongue..." I suppose one could think of the realm of Platonic ideas, or the impersonal logos, the uncreated Reason that permeates every corner of existence, but this is not a human category.

Then there is 10, 0, the lower right-hand corner: total symmetric logic and complete consciousness, without any unconscious influence. Since total symmetry means that nothing can be distinguished from anything else, this would appear to be a true absurdity, perhaps analogous to hell. Nothing would make any logical sense, but you would be perpetually conscious of it. The closest we can come to imagining this hellish dimension would be living with Rosie O'Donnell or Keith Olbermann.

As I have written before, the terms "conscious" and "unconscious" are just words we use to try to describe something that is otherwise inexplicable, almost like trying to imagine what's going on inside of a watch without being able to look behind the face. We can see the hands moving, but we can only hypothesize about what's making them do so. The watch is in reality a single entity, but with an "outer" and an "inner" aspect. But in reality, everything has an inner and outer aspect, since the one is a complementary function of the other, like "top" and "bottom."

The same is true of our minds. There is an outer aspect and an inner aspect, but we can actually only separate them conceptually, not in reality. In reality, every conscious act has an unconscious dimension, and vice versa. We might say that every thought is "more or less" conscious, never absolutely so.

Therefore, every human mental state is somewhere close to the diagonal line (the orthobola) that extends from 0, 0 to 10, 10.

Bomford summarizes the situation thus far: "At the origin [0, 0]: unemotional rationality. On moving up the Orthobola: increasing emotion and growing unconscious influence accompanied by increasing use of symmetric logic.... Way up the Orthobola may be placed the dreamer, though dreams may also stray from the line; not far from the dreamer may be found the lover and the poet, for these three, as Shakespeare declared, are 'of imagination all compact.'"

Of particular interest to RaccOOns is "the area where the Unconscious breaks into consciousness, for it is from this area that any direct knowledge of the Unconscious must be obtained." Bomford calls this the "transitional space," an area that might roughly correspond to, say, 5, 5 up to 9, 9. Below that, the area is too bleached out by the bright light of the conscious mind, whereas above 9, 9 would be the can't-nobody-see-in Divine Darkness, like the secretive presidential tints on the windows of Cousin Dupree's Buick Skylark. What's he doing in there? The police want to know.

It is in the transitional space that everything happens for humans, where "we encounter not only dreams, declarations of love, and lyric poetry, but also the great myths of humankind. It is in this region that the Unconscious emerges into Consciousness and it is also from this region that conscious material submerges into the unconscious."

The transitional space is no doubt the realm of interplanetary funkmanship.

To cite one obvious example, obligatory atheists and other grooveless materialists, since they live down in, say, 3, 3, try to comprehend religion as if it were susceptible to the cold and funkless reasoning of the conscious mind, which is absurd. There is no musical chart one may read in order to sound like James Brown. And all of the musical virtuosity in the world will be of no help to you if you can't feel your way into the groove and know that it's a mutha'.

Similarly, if we were to try to locate Bush Derangement Syndrome on the graph, it would be around, say, 6, 9, where there is a kind of fixed asymmetry dominated by unconscious thinking. In psychiatric parlance, it is called a "frozen psychosis," in which the mind is suspended in one fixed, irrational state. Dailykos and Huffington post -- and the left in general -- operate out of this timeless land of frozen psychosis, where the hate never thaws for the tundrapunditry. It's why they are perpetually angry and even hateful.

And because the transitional space is not just where unconscious material emerges into consciousness, but where conscious material reaches down into the unconscious, it would help to explain the efficacy of religious ritual and of doctrine in general -- much of which may not make a lot of sense to the conscious mind. As I mentioned a few days ago, revelation speaks to us on a much deeper level than, say, Time Magazine, because it is specifically capable of reaching down deep into the unconscious in away that the mundane and the profane never can.

Think, for example, of the rite of Communion. What's going on in the unconscious (or supraconscious) mind when you actually ingest God? I would suggest something rather profound but hidden; something analogous to metabolism, except on a deeply spiritual level rather than a physical one. It makes much more sense to the unconscious mind than to the conscious mind. Indeed, the whole point is to bypass the sharp limitations of the conscious mind.

When microscopes were discovered, there where some clergymen who thought that with sufficient magnification, it would be possible to see a little Jesus in the host -- which is hardly less silly than the hyper-rational atheist who rejects religion, in effect, because he can't see God with the tools of empirical science.

But the transitional space is the area where real magic occurs. It is, as Bomford explains, where experiences of profound emotion and of great beauty take place: "The great stories of humankind have a particular place [here].... In so far as they stir up deep imaginative feeling, they are working on unconscious levels of the mind, as well as conscious. To do this their logic has to be, in considerable degree, symmetric logic."

To be continued...