Monday, March 28, 2011

Doing Time in the Purgatoreum

Well. I guess there's no place to go but up, is there? Might as well spend a little while in purgatory, this time without guidance. Unless you consider me to be the guide, which I would not advise. We are approaching this endeavor in a state of more or less total ignorance, or (o), from which only a warm blast of (↓) can rescue us.

This will be a cross-generational dialogue -- like two dozen generations, give or take. And as is my usual custom in conversation, I will politely use my interlocutor as a springboard to pretty much say what I wanted to anyway.

But in my defense, A genuine vocation leads the writer to write only for himself: first out of pride, then out of humility (Don Colacho).

Nor are we approaching this in anything resembling an "academic" manner. To the contrary: A book does not educate someone who reads it to become educated (ibid.). Which explains a lot about the tenured.

And one of my favorite aphorisms of Don Colacho is that A work of art has, properly speaking, not meaning but power. That being the case, there is no need to fall back upon accepted interpretations, but to simply respond to the power that is being conveyed and felt.

SO, I have no idea how or where this will go. It will be a verticalisthenic exercise in unadulterated free association, which means that we must allow Bob's Unconscious to show us the way.

Now, the first thing that occurs to us is that Dante is a psychotherapist of sorts; or a pneumatherapist, to be more precise. To suggest that Freud "discovered" the unconscious with his 1899 publication of The Interpretation of Dreams is pure hubris.

Rather, what he did was give it a 19th century scientistic spin; basically, he snuck into the literature department, stole the concept, and proceeded to medicalize it. And then charge good money to get it back.

And before literature, it was the province of theology. Thus, we can even see a sort of fight over ownership of Dante's corpus. But for an undivided person who doesn't see any radical distinctions between art, science, and religion, we don't really care about these inter-departmental squabbles. Thankfully, nor does God.

It also occurs to us is that James Joyce no doubt saw himself as a modern day Dante. Finnegans Wake (FW) too is a descent into the underworld, only instead of writing about it as an observer, he forces you to be a participant. One of the fundamental polarities that structures FW is the eternal sibling rivalry between the man of thought and the man of action; the former is an extension of Mother, the latter of Father.

The Muse "is invoked by the poet: the poet does not invent his verses but discovers their materials in those deep layers of the psyche where lurk the infantile, buried reminiscences of the mother." Thus, the poet is Mom's favorite (Campbell & Robinson).

However, the genuine mama's boy, so long as he is true to his Muse, will never get to the bottom of himself. This is because the language of "her dreamlike enigmatic inspiration is not wholly clear to the waking eye, though deeply familiar to the soul" (ibid.). Here again: power, not meaning. Except that the power is the echo, aftershock, or recoil of a deeper Meaning that no one could have invented.

There can be no radical discontinuity between Inferno and Purgatory. As Will reminds us, the former must simply be a more extreme version of the latter.

It looks to me like Inferno is reserved for souls who either oppose God or who are completely passive as to their spiritual destiny, whereas Purgatory is for anyone who is actually using this life to better themselves. In fact, Pope Benedict reminds us that "anyone who honestly and passionately searches for truth is on the way to Christ."

In a very loose analogy, it's somewhat akin to the difference between a neurosis and a personality disorder (and I notice that ShrinkWrapped is doing a series of illuminating posts on the subject).

Basically, the neurotic is aware of his problems, and is conflicted and in pain about them. In contrast, the person with a personality disorder inevitably acts them out and inducts others into their psychodrama. In the latter case, they substitute action for thought. You might say that they are "embodied pathology," an ironic twist on the idea of Incarnation. They are the naughty word made flesh.

In Canto 1 of the Purgatory, Dante says that we have left behind / The cruel waters of the ocean deep. Whereas Inferno is structured in a series of concentric circles, you may imagine purgatory as a mountain -- or triangle -- sitting atop of the circle. At the apex of the triangle is Paradise.

This mountain is the second kingdom, / Wherein the human soul is cleansed of sin / And rendered worthy to ascend to heaven. In other words, it is here. It is not only this life, but the very purpose of this life.

And straightaway, Dante calls out to mama mia -- the muses -- for assistance: O sacred muses, since I am wholly yours / May this poem rise again from Hell's dead realm. (BTW, I'm going to liberally mix translations as kneaded in order to amplify my meaning.)

Dante contrasts the murky world of the unconscious with the bright world of the conscious mind: The aspect of the sky shone forth serene / From zenith to the rim of the horizon, / So that my eyes were filled again with joy / As soon as I had left that deadly air.

We can only write about what we know, and here again I see a kind of analogy with psychotherapy. After spending an hour disgorging the content of their unconscious, patients routinely feel "lighter" and less burdened after a session. It really is the movement from one world to another and then back again.

Dante next encounters a bearded fellow who alludes to what we stated above about the passivity or opposition of the souls below this plane: Who are you, that counter to the stream / Have fled from the eternal prison house?

This is an important point, for as we have discussed many times, man is situated between two attractors, one above and one below. In either direction, the further one proceeds on the basis of will, the more the will comes to be under the influence of the attractor at either pole.

So this bearded fellow wants to know how these two wanderers beat the cosmic system, and wonders if a "newer law" prevails, one he doesn't know about. For until now, it was more or less a one-way street, or nul de slack, in that direction; one could go in, but not out.

This is an obvious anticipation of Christ, who descended into Hell in order to liberate the souls there. Indeed, Pope Benedict writes that Jesus' baptism "envelops him from every side," and is "thus an anticipation of his act of descending into the underworld."

And "he does not descend merely in the role of spectator, as in Dante's Inferno," but "goes down in the role of one whose suffering-with-others is a transforming suffering that turns the underworld around, knocking down and flinging open the gates of the abyss" (ibid).

Dante is too fermisht to speak, so Virgil explains that I came not of myself; / From heaven came down a lady, by whose prayers / I helped this man and keep him company.

Virgil points out that Dante is not dead, and that he has yet to see his final hour. He came close, but turned his life around just in time. He has seen the wicked people, and Virgil now wants to show him the souls Who purge themselves of sin in your care.

Purgatory is a place of tests and trials. Note that Jesus' first activity upon his baptism is to confront a kind of purgatory, where he is tempted with all of the usual human rewards and compensations for losing God: "It is a descent into the perils besetting mankind, for there is no other way to lift up fallen humanity. Jesus has to enter the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission; he has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths..." (ibid.)

So now, "God's will can conquer the downward pull of our selfishness and make us capable of the lofty height to which we are called," i.e., (↑).

Excuse me? You came from Hell?

16 Comments:

Blogger Jeannette said...

I'll just pop in here and say thanks before your dedicated discussion group wakes up. I read you when I can and found today's offering good food for thought.

Literature is often a better window on the unconscious than medical interpretations, but without theology both are more than incomplete.

3/28/2011 09:12:00 AM  
Anonymous dloye said...

Thanks GB. Somehow, I read through a few of the cantos of Inferno, and then into my outstreched hand fell a copy of Purgatorio. Hmmmm.... never felt attraction to that concept, but here's the book, I'll read a bit. GB will probably abandon Dante after the first, but worth a look.

Ok, so now I've managed a whole three cantos in purgatory. Suffice it to say, I too have resonating charges, but nothing looks similar to your walk on the shore. No surprise there.

3/28/2011 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Hooray!

*ahem*

Guess I better get to reading before I actually say anything. But first, veering completely off topic, in South Korea everyone studies the Talmud. Really. A whole nation finally took the logical next step after asking why Jews are so smart. If our education system were to go that route, I'd have no qualms whatsoever about putting the boy in a public school some day. Sadly, I can't see it ever happening here.

On to the reading...

3/28/2011 09:28:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>> A work of art has, properly speaking, not meaning but power. <<

Yes and Yes, good golly, Molly Bloom! A genuine work of art has the power to open the higher senses, the power to reveal the inner/higher workings of nature. Art interpretations are fine, but they dwindle to dust before the liberating power of a genuine work of art.

3/28/2011 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Sigmund Fraud said...

I have to hand it you. Your interpretation of Dante through the twin lenses of psychology and raccoonism (defined as a personal relationship with God)is stellar.

Far better than any 100 tracts I have read in graduate school.

Will writes "Art interpretations are fine, but they dwindle to dust before the liberating power of a genuine work of art."

The question put to you, and to all of the "brotherhood," is what genuine works of art do you bring forth? If none, why none?

Must art be limited to medicine, architecture, painting, music, poetry, and fiction, or can they encompass the writing of non-fiction?

Let us poll the caucus and see where opinion lies.

3/28/2011 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

Sigs -

The term "art" has a certain definition - music, poetry, etc. - but the "power" that DC speaks of is not limited to such. Stand in the presence of a Master and ye shall be changed. Thus, I suppose, simply being human in the highest sense is the ultimate work of art.

And yes, of course non-fic can be a work of art in this sense. Bob is a good example.

3/28/2011 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of mountains and works of art...

Re. mixing translations, to my mind it's a necessity, as any one version seems inadequate to the task of wringing and transmitting the meaning contained therein. There's just so much there there.

Interesting that Purgatory is guarded by Cato, a man who lived and died according to Patrick Henry's fervent proclamation; even though he was a suicide, it was in the service of liberty over tyranny and so not, it seems, in vain.

3/28/2011 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Will, you said,

"Art interpretations are fine, but they dwindle to dust before the liberating power of a genuine work of art."

Hemingway had his 'way of saying nearly the same thing. He thought "it was bad luck" to talk about his writing. And something else too about rubbing the "dust from a butterfly's wings. I believe he said "you kill it".

3/28/2011 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

...and what Julie said about "Hooray!"

3/28/2011 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Julie also said,

"I'd have no qualms whatsoever about putting the boy in a public school some day. Sadly, I can't see it ever happening here."

That's great about SK.
My son is finishing his senior year in a public high school. I think it may be one of the few good ones left. Anyway, the first 6 years he went to a Catholic school. I think it is important to at least get the foundation solid. He will be "entering" a psychology program at a state university in the fall. Hopefully it won't be too big a shock to him, because he's spent sometime already among the normals, speaks much of the language. His second language. That sort of thing. Anyway, that's sort of how it's run its course.

Hopefully he will come back to his religious studies. And then he will think he "discovered" them anew.

3/28/2011 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob, ...just remembered that I've been meaning to ask. I think I mentioned how there seems to be a growing interest in psychology as a career/education. I mean, I can't tell you how many seniors at our little high school are going that route. And the universities we've visited say the programs are very popular. Whether that's a good choice or not for so many, I can't help wondering if it has to do with the vacuum left by x decades of movement toward a more secular society.

I'm just wondering if you've heard about the herd from yore end of the castle.

3/28/2011 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Nor are we approaching this in anything resembling an "academic" manner. To the contrary: A book does not educate someone who reads it to become educated (ibid.). Which explains a lot about the tenured."

Ain't that the Truth.

"And one of my favorite aphorisms of Don Colacho is that A work of art has, properly speaking, not meaning but power. That being the case, there is no need to fall back upon accepted interpretations, but to simply respond to the power that is being conveyed and felt."

Ooh... what an excellent distinction. And that power is sapped away by trying to memorize the pigeon holes previously assigned and pick 'which best applies', primarily ensuring that there will be no true interpretation made at all.

Another one bites the dust.

3/28/2011 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Hasdrubal the Handsome said...

I think RG relies heavily on the thoughts of others to jump-start his own.

Seldom do we see him post without tying it to some other work. There are reasons for this.

I believe it is uncommon for a person to communicate something totally original, not because it is difficult to have experiences but because it requires an enormous faith in your sources which few people have.

And, it is indispensable that one have a very cool disregard for the opinion of others who will think you are "wacky."

RG, for instance, could go deep within and bring us reveries or dialogues with his internal muses or oracles, and communicate them untainted by admixtures of Dante or Mott or Schuon, etc.

The pure unvarnished experience. I would read it without criticism and try to fathom its power.

We all have powerful visions; what is Dante but an example of someone who writes his own?

My challenge to RG, and indeed to you all, is to mine the strange veins found in the depths of your souls, and bring these heretofore unseen minerals to light.

They will be oddities, to be sure. Ignore all negative commentature and parade them forth for the enrichment of humanity.

For instance, the large in fact endless room with uncounted volumes of Life, indeed all volumes of Life in Time.

I've seen this and I don't mind telling you everything that happens is recorded in exquisite detail and is never lost.

So watch yourselves; all ignominious behavior is stockpiled for the ages.

3/28/2011 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>> . . . Virgil explains that I came not of myself; / From heaven came down a lady, by whose prayers / I helped this man and keep him company. <<

Yes, I think the genuine, truly honest prayer always comes from a state of helplessness. In truth, we are always helpless absent Divine grace, but so few of us are aware of this fact. It is the awareness of our helplessness that is key.

Thus anything that brings us to that awareness, be it humiliation, illness, a traumatic circumstance, can only be called blessed, a literally saving grace.

3/28/2011 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of mastery as art...

3/28/2011 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Mello Yellow said...

I have come from Hell. I assure you it can be done.

3/28/2011 10:08:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home