Friday, January 28, 2011

Slipping into Darkness

In Canto IV, Dante and Virgil cross the river Acheron to hell proper, the "abyss of woe." Of the nine precincts of hades, the first five are reserved for the more self-indulgent -- one might also say impulsive -- sins, while the next two are for those who willfully hurt and inflict violence upon innocent others.

The last two are for the truly malicious who not only hurt others, but sin against God and goad others into doing so. How many demons has Karl Marx converted? The figure is incalculable, but he might be Satan's greatest recruiter.

Note that many of our elite universities forbid recruitment by the United States military, one of the greatest forces of good in human history. But it is unthinkable that these leftist seminaries would ever forbid their Marxists, neo-Marxists, pseudo-Marxists, and crypto-Marxists from recruiting fresh demons into their ranks, since this is their central mission. This tells you all you need to know about the moral perversion -- and inversion -- of academia.

I don't know how many literature departments still discuss Dante, but if they do, it can only be in a faux-sophisticated spirit of withering irony, narcissistic temporo-centrism, and narrowly childish superiority -- or the usual combination we see on the left of cynical contempt and credulous gullibility. It's what makes their intellectual world go 'round and then flat.

The three levels of hell reminds me of three levels of psychological illness: the neurotic, the personality disorder, and the sociopath. As we have mentioned before, the neurotic mostly suffers from internal conflicts, and in many ways is just a "normal" human being. We all have conflicts, but only when they seriously interfere with happiness do we generally seek treatment for them.

The personality disorders are much more serious and much more difficult to treat, the reason being that they generally involve damage to the container as opposed to conflictual "content." It's like the difference between a house in need of routine repairs vs. one with a seriously compromised foundation. In order to repair the foundation, you might have to tear down much of the structure and rebuild from the bottom up.

If you don't appreciate the pervasiveness of personality disorders, then you cannot understand Man. You might think that these are relatively rare, but they are quite common. These people are generally quite resistant to change, because they have no insight into their condition. This is because insight requires critical distance in order to see how one part of the self is in conflict with another.

But in the case of the personality disorder, you might say that the pathological part has taken over, so they are often aware of no internal conflict at all. Instead of understanding their conflicts, they act them out with others (or with society, as in the case of certain political activists). People with personality disorders not only live in hell, but inevitably make the lives of people around them a living hell (at least the "extroverted" types).

Over the last couple of decades, the Narcissistic Personality Disorder has gotten a lot of attention, but there are actually about ten varieties of personality disorder. Furthermore, these may be subdivided into levels of intensity. In my view, what is called the Borderline Personality Disorder is not so much a distinct entity as a more primitive level of development, so that, say, a narcissistic personalty can be closer to neurotic or to borderline, along a continuum, depending upon the health of the underlying structure. (Keith Olbermann, for example, would be a prime example of a borderline narcissist, in that no matter where he goes, he cannot help inducting others into his psychodrama and making those around him miserable.)

One of the classics of psychoanalytic literature is Neurotic Styles, by David Shapiro. For example, the impulsive style has a distinct mode of cognition and behavior which may superficially appear to be "active," but is in fact quite passive. Specifically, they are passive in the face of their own impulses, like a child. An immature child is not necessarily "willful," just unable to suppress impulses and resist temptations.

Subjectively, the passive/impulsive person has the experience "of having executed a significant action, not a trivial one, without a clear and complete sense of motivation, decision, and sustained wish." Thus there is action, but not "completely deliberate or fully intended." "These varieties of experience -- whim, urge or impulse, and giving in -- are essentially similar from the standpoint of their formal qualities."

It is critical to note that these people may appear to be self-confident and uninhibited, especially to the inhibited and unconfident. They can radiate a kind of infectious charisma, often on a very primitive level. They can be charming and playful, until one realizes that they cannot be sober or deliberative.

I think this is the secret of certain gifted actors who are completely crazy in their personal lives, e.g., Marlon Brando. Now, there was a man with no boundaries. You might say that he was a saint of the lower vertical. Lower than that would be an Adolf Hitler, whose primitive aggression was completely uninhibited. I suppose this is why men on death row are never without love letters from adoring females, or why Yasser Arafat was such a heartslob on the left.

But this is getting a little academic. Back to the Inferno. Upton notes that the first souls Dante meets in Limbo are similar to the neurotics described above, in that they are capable of insight and self-understanding: "They are better than all others in Hell because they alone understand what spiritual loss really is." While it is a sightless realm, "In this particular circle of the 'blind world,' however, the inmates are conscious of their blindness." And because they are aware of their blindness, they can ultimately be helped.

As I have mentioned before, there are three types of atheists (similar to the above schematic): the lazy/indifferent, the willful, and the obligatory. The obligatory atheist has thoroughly cut himself off from spiritual reality, in such a way that there is no helping him outside a serious implosion of grace (and even then, he will probably reject it). Their spiritual foundation is so compromised that nothing can be built upon it. Such a person is "spiritually insane" or autistic.

Note also that these are the activists who feel compelled to recruit and enlist others into their condition, à la PZ Myers and all the rest. They are anything but passive and indifferent, like those in the first circle of atheism. They cannot leave God alone.

Which, ironically, can, in a few cases, result in an eventual breakthrough, as in the case of Anthony Flew. One must be careful about spending one's life pondering God's absence, because one might accidentally run into him. This is somewhat how it happened with me. ʘO¶s!

The souls in limbo can progress spiritually, but it is a rather slow struggle, since they cannot actively participate in the process. This is not much different from psychotherapy, which is difficult enough to conduct with someone who seeks it, but impossible to impose upon someone who doesn't want to be there. It is not like performing an operation on an unconscious individual. Rather, you need full conscious participation, because ultimately the person is learning how to operate upon himself. You can't do it for him.

Note that there is a portion of salvation even for those atheists who nevertheless have lived their lives in service to truth, to those who honor every art and science. These are upright and dignified souls who speak rarely, and in quiet tones. One might say that they have ascended as close to God as it is possible to do in the absence of a conscious participation in Christ (and Dante understands Christ in a deeply meta-cosmic and even meta-Christian way).

The One Cosmos waiting room:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Lazy Man's Way to Hell, or Don't be Astoneaged at All the Meandertale Men

Now joined by his faithful sidekick Virgil, Dante ventures in Canto III into the antechamber of the underworld, which will reveal nine concentric circles, each housing a different type of offender. There is an upper and lower hell, the former being more of a minimum security prison, the latter housing the real sociopaths.

This reminds me. Shortly after I completed graduate school and was trying to start a private practice, I thought about hanging a notice above the door, the same inscription Dante places above the Gate of Hell: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. But how many people would get the comedic reference, or appreciate it if they did? (Speaking of comedy, I did not know this, but the working title for the Divine Comedy was I Love Lucifer. Not surprisingly, the suits at DanteLu nixed the idea.)

Not to make too much of the comparison -- which is a little too romantic for my taste -- but there is an obvious resonance between the psychoanalytic journey and the cartography of hell. This will become more clear as we proceed, but it is easy to see how Freud largely medicalized and secularized ideas that had been circulating in the collective psyche for centuries.

Heh. I was just trying to find a reference to this in a book by the psychoanalyst James Grotstein, and found this in the foreword: "In... attempting to speak about [this book], I feel a bit like humble Dante being guided through the underworld by Virgil. The wonder, the marvel, the splendor, and the terror of the unconscious as portrayed by Grotstein is reminiscent of Dante's portrayal of the underworld in The Inferno. Grotstein brings to life for the reader the excitement that Freud must have experienced as the immanence of another order of experience first began to reveal itself to him through his exciting/frightening encounters with the female hysterics who had overwhelmed Breuer [an early influence on Freud].

"The mystery and the awe became all the greater as Freud followed the trail of his thoughts and feelings in his journey into the underworld of his own mind and body and spirit, an underworld occupied with subjects and objects and invisible presences with their own utterly alien and utterly familiar subjects and objects and history and sense of time and space."

Or as we call them, mind parasites. One purpose of therapy is to "turn ghosts into ancestors," or parasites into fossils and artifacts. Drained of their numinous power -- which can only be appropriated from the central self -- they can no longer fascin-ate, which is etymologically linked to fascinum, or witchcraft. They are also linked to fascism, but that's another storey. We're only on the first.

Regarding the journey into the unconscious/underworld, Grotstein writes of wanting "to bring psychic entities, the unconscious and its denizens (its internal subject and internal objects), as well as the ego and id, out of the shadows and mists that have enveloped and obscured them in the misleading garb of deterministic science, which was Freud's oeuvre, and restore them to their true aliveness."

For Freud, the unconscious was structured around unrecognized and mis-recognized desire. Similarly, in hell "The soul travels quickly to the place of its desire" (Upton).

In the words of Joyce, the nightworld of the unconscious is a primitive meandertale where "the ignorance that implies impression that knits knowledge that finds the nameform that whets the wits that convey contacts that sweeten sensation that drives desire that adheres to attachment that dogs death that bitches birth that entails the ensuance of existentiality."

But who hasn't thought that?

Upton notes that we assume every soul "would automatically choose Paradise," but this turns out to be as wrong as the notion that human beings will choose the Good in this life.

When a person comes in for therapy, it is generally because of some form of self-defeating thought and/or behavior that precludes happiness. This is a result not just of faulty ideas that can be eliminated through reason, but of internalized mind parasites with agendas all their own. And again, this is hardly a new idea, just a modern way to talk about a truth that was clearly recognized by Dante, only expressed in a different framework.

Upton observes that "in order to desire Paradise, one must possess a soul which resembles it." In short, one must purify and purge (as in purgatory) those elements that are incompatible with, and turn away from, the Life Divine.

But the first circle of hell is reserved for souls who didn't so much actively turn from God as passively drift -- one might say "Fall" -- away from him: "The souls in this circle, the circle of the whirlwind, are damned because they simply went along with circumstances..." (Upton). Heaven expelled them... / And yet deep hell refuses to receive them.

One thinks of the impressionable and emptyheaded "independent voters" who decide our elections and usher in a nightmarish future that none of them intended. But because of their spiritual and intellectual passivity, they open the way for political actors with very bad intentions indeed. For Dante, these are souls Who mourn the lack of intellect's true light.

Thus, this is also "the circle of the Cowards who, ironically, are also in another way fearless" (ibid). As Upton explains, since they "have no fear of God" they "are complacent," most especially about the evils in our midst. Not for nothing does wisdom begin in the fear of God, for this fear is a natural consequence of understanding what is at stake. Importantly, the fear emanates from love, not vice versa.

Upton makes another critical point, that to drift along with the tide of the world is to reject one's most precious gift, which is the unique self. When this occurs, it leaves an empty core of gnawing, existential envy. As Dante says, these are people who had never lived, so they are naturally envious of the living. (It is striking how much envy Sarah Palin provokes in the dead. Indifference I can understand, but why the delusional frenzy of hatred?)

As I discussed in the book (p. 243-44), envy might be thought of as a kind of psychic "referral pain," which transforms inner emptiness into a painful longing for what others seem to have.

Thus, the diminution of envy is both a commandment and a gift. It is a gift, because it is a natural result of recognition of one's true self -- i.e., the O <---> (¶) axis -- which is the only way to spiritual contentment. As the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein recognized, Envy <---> Gratitude are located along a continuum. Thus, as Upton explains, souls in paradise "envy no one," even when "they occupy the lowest level among the saved," while the envious are perpetually driven forward in an endless quest to find and fill themselves.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When You Go to Hell, Be Sure and Bring a Loved One

I guess we're going to be fighting through the Inferno canto-a-canto. Upton sets the scene in Canto II, noting that "In the face of Hell, Dante's courage begins to fail."

Technically we haven't yet crossed the threshold of the nether world, so there's still time to back out and leave it alone. You know what they say -- the devil you know is preferable to the one you don't. (Although for New Jersey Devils fans, it's getting close.)

Here again, this reminds me of why I don't recommend this blog to anyone. Rather, I only offer it. It's certainly here if people want to come in, but you're not going to get anything out of it if you think you can avoid the heat of the lower vertical. People who try to develop spiritually while ignoring the dark side are generally two things: 1) annoying and 2) shallow. And often dangerous, because they only project into others what they deny in themselves.

Anyway, just when Dante is wondering whether this is such a great idea, in pops Virgil, who lets him know that "he has been sent to help him by Beatrice, acting as an emissary of Divine Grace" (Upton), thus bolstering his flagging courage.

"Eh paisano, don't sneak up on'a me like'a that!"

By now we all know about the various nonlocal operators who are standing by, ready to assist you. Virgil is just such an operator. Did Dante attract Virgil, or vice versa?

I mention this because this phenomenon clearly operates within a field of attraction, fundamentally no different than the way attraction operates, say, in the field of terrestrial love. When it all works out, the loving couple exist within in a pregnant space of attractor-to-attractor. It is a very specific feeling to be in this vibrant space, where the two attractors become one.

As I mentioned on page the 224th, it is only because we have this "divine attractor" within that we are drawn to God, and vice versa: "Being that we are made in the image of O, perhaps it is no surprise that we have our own 'magnetic center,' that is, an internal faculty that draws us like a magnet toward inner truth." While this can "take the form of uncanny synchronicities and meetings with mysterious helpers at just the right time," it can also "produce major tensions and upheavals in the soul" (Smoley) -- we refer to these as birthquakes -- most especially when its higher needs are not acknowledged.

I don't know how to reproduce the symbol, but an operator such as Virgil is an example of what I mean on p. 228, with the ↑ inside O. According to me, such individuals "have ascended the ladder of consciousness from our side of manifestation, and can therefore show the hidden passageway that leads out." Such fleshlights are qualified to teach, because they are "instructed by O," so to speak. They are Men of Achievement, quite the opposite of a tenured ass bearing a load of books.

I like how Franklin Merrill-Wolff describes it: the presence of such an individual tends to "produce a condition such that the latent and indigenous Inner Light of the individual is aroused sympathetically into pulsation and thus, ultimately, 'catches on,' as it were, for Itself."

The whole point of this verticalisthenic is to experience a shift in one's consciousness, so that one inhabits a new "center of gravity," so to speak. Please bear in mind that this is not remotely abstract, but rather, a straightforward and literal description of something that should be very experience-near. This shift is critical. It is what the words "repent" and "metanoia" are referring to. The Raccoon calls it the center of levity, which is the true source of divine comedy.

In the final analysis, Virgil actually represents a projection of Dante's own deeper self. He is attracted to the projection because it is his own unborn self, which can only be accessed via encounter with an external model.

Please note that this is no different than in any other human endeavor. I know that for me, my life can be seen as the gradual actualization of traits and capacities that I first encountered in others.

Assuming that this attraction is rooted in love and truth -- as opposed to the many dark currents that can crapsize our boat, such as narcissism or a lust for power -- then the field will be "fruitful" and result in the assimilation of the exterior ideal. We will become what we love. So be careful!

Note that this is precisely what animates Dante's relationship to Virgil: May my long faithful study of your book / And my great love for it, avail me now! / You are my master, and my very author: / It is from you alone that I have taken / The lofty style for which men honor me.

Note also the words of Lucia to Beatrice: O Beatrice, true praise of God, / Why not assist this man whose love for you / Is such that he has left the vulgar throng?

As we have discussed many times, man inhabits the "middle world" between the upper and lower vertical. Indeed, he is like an arrow that passes through, and partakes of, every level, from the highest to the lowest.

This is what it means to be a micro-cosmos, or a local branch of the central treasury. If this were not the case, then knowledge of the cosmos would be impossible. But because of our verticality, we can obtain genuine knowledge of every layer of the existentialada, from physics to biology to psychology and on to metaphysics and theology.

Obviously, the Inferno is a representation of the lower vertical, which has a number of distinct sub-levels, as we shall see. In a more general sense, as Upton says, "entry into the Inferno reverberates with the quality of the Fall of Man, which was [I would say is] a descent from a higher form of corporeality into a more animal-like condition."

Now, as we have been discussing in recent posts, spiritual progress is characterized by space, freedom, time dilation, and slack retrieval in general. Not surprisingly, the descent into hell is the opposite, a kind of "contraction" (Upton). Instead of time dilation, we are squeezed by and for time. There is nothing to do, and never enough time to do it. Have you ever suffered depression? Then you know what it means when it takes all day to get nothing done.

More hideously, there are humanoids who require a whole life to accomplish nothing. In fact, this will inevitably happen if one doesn't turn around. Or, to put it another way, if you don't change directions, you're liable to end up where you're headed.

So, "If we give ourselves completely to manifestation, we are giving our souls up to the river that leads to Hell" (Upton). Like all worldly rivers, this one flows downhill.

But there is a celestial river on which we may float upstream. In order to find the river, we must first notice the little nonlocal springs that dot the landscape. This can occur, for example, when celestial beauty radiates through phenomena, in what Schuon called the "metaphysical transparency" of the world.

For Upton, these "noble signs... are there to lead counter to the direction of the manifestation itself, and ultimately carry us back to our Source in the Unmanifest."

Note the watery language: "Are you then Virgil -- that great fountainhead / Whence such a flood of eloquence has flowed?"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Middle Age Crazy

As we know, the Divine Comedy begins with a hint of what it's all about, which is to say, the Mother of all mid-life crises: Midway upon the journey of our life....


We think of the "mid-life crisis" occurring in middle age. When I was a lad, the tripping point was around 40, but nowadays it seems to be more like 50, or perhaps even later. This is not necessarily a positive development, for it only means that we can put off the crisis a little longer by nurturing the illusions that maintain us and confer a bogus meaning upon our lives.

But make no mistake: any meaning short of God is no meaning at all. It's either God or nothing, Yahweh or the low-way, O or Ø. PZ Myers may be sociopathic (Taranto also comments on his moral depravity here), but at least he's intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that for the atheist, a baby can be no more intrinsically valuable than a burger. (My site meter indicates the presence of PZ readers, based upon the allegation that I wish to attract his attention. Do not flatter yourselves, children. Nothing does not attract us, although many nothings are strangely attracted to this blog for reasons only they don't understand.)

The good news is that if there is true meaning -- AKA Truth -- then there is God.

Now, life is not a mathematical equation. Rather, it is a mythsemantical journey, so one cannot actually assign a number to "mid-life."

Rather, as I believe I once heard Donald Fagen say, life itself is a continual crisis. Every stage of life is a mid-life crisis. For example, my son is having a mid-life crisis between the oedipal and latency stages of development. And it's no less intense than it is for some pathetic One Cosmos troll and obsessive stalker who wakes up and realizes he's a crock roach.

How do we know Dante is in crisis? Because he tells us so in the second line: I found myself within a forest dark. For us, the forest is a place of primal beauty, of slackful relaxation, of peaceful nature unsullied by civilization.

But for premodern man, the forest was a place of great danger. It marked the edge of safety, beyond which you were taking your life into your own hands. To venture in alone would be almost suicidal.

Hey Don, don't forget the hot dogs and beer!

Even outside the forest, the darkness of the premodern world was unimaginable for us. But inside the forest it was even darker. At night, you wouldn't have been able to see your hand in front of your face. There is an evolutionary reason why children are afraid of the dark, because darkness is where the monsters literally dwelt. You wouldn't even know what ate you. Thus the old adage, he who hesitates is lunch.

The little clearing of civilization is where things are illuminated. But this area of light is a hard-won prize, surrounded by darkness. No wonder people cling to their stupid cultures, since they are preferable to living in the dark.

In other words, whatever else a culture is, it is a collective defense against the dark. Never ask why people believe such idiotic things. Just remember the danger of the surrounding forest.

In this regard, it is analogous to the ego, which serves the same purpose on an individual basis. In treating patients, one of the first things Freud noticed is that you cannot simply confront them about their irrational beliefs. Reason is impotent, because the irrational belief is a defense against the dark. Just like culture, the ego, whatever else it is, is a little area of light surrounded by darkness. Freud called the darkness the "unconscious," but this is very misleading.

A better term would simply be consciousness, which is to the ego as the cosmos is to a planet. It is "relatively infinite," while the ego is the attempt to reduce infinity to some manageable chunk. It is not actually possible to do this, the reason being that the contained can never contain the container. But people never stop trying. Only when it reaches the point of absurdity do we call it "pathological."

For example, the compulsive personality reduces reality down to, say, a struggle with germs. He becomes preoccupied with cleanliness, washing his hands repeatedly, disinfecting everything, taking multiple showers a day. In this case, reality has become a kind of narrow beam of light, beyond which is the dangerous forest full of microscopic monsters.

But all ideologies -- and I mean all of them -- are just the same process writ large. Again: God or nothing. Everything "outside" God is just a nasty case of OCD.

It is the same with paranoia. The paranoid personality attempts to manage the forest by projecting it outside the self, into others.

I don't want to jump too far ahead, but the forest Dante is talking about is obviously the interior/unconscious one. To rip a vivid example from the headlines, liberals routinely manage their rage by projecting it into conservatives, as they did in the case of the Arizona mass murderer. They fear what they hate, because the projected hatred returns to them on the rebound. It's all an intrapsychic process, reinforced and leant legitimacy by the collective nature of the neurosis. Just as in the case of a primitive culture, there is safety in numbers.

I don't want to get sidetracked, but Taranto has been doing a great job exposing the absurdity of it all. Most people mark it down to hypocrisy, but it's much worse than that, since many leftists actually believe what they're saying. When we say that a defense mechanism is unconscious, we mean unconscious. It has to be unconscious, because these people obviously aren't stupid, and it requires no intelligence to see that the charges are not true.

Third line: For the straightforward pathway has been lost. Why is that? Because, as we have discussed many times, the realm of the unconscious (and supraconscious) is not governed by linear, aristotelian logic.

Rather, it is the world of symmetrical logic, as described by Ignacio Matte Blanco, so to plunge into the unconscious is to give oneself over to a world with very different rules. In the unconscious, linear math is of no assistance. For example, in this world it is completely unproblematic that One should equal Three, and vice versa.

Because the unconscious is always in us -- or, to be precise, we are in it -- a deadly crisis is always just around the coroner. As Upton explains, "This is the point where outward manifestation has reached its limit, after which a person must either ascend spiritually or be content to live within the progressive deterioration of the form of his life."

In other words, life is either ascending or descending, for the same reason that there is either God or nothing. Absent the ascent, then gravity and entropy take over.

But we cannot properly ascend with our little ego, which again, is just a defense against the dark. Rather, we must first colonize the darkness. We must redeem our own personal hell, so to speak, in order to be fit for the greater Light. The great balls of purifying fire precede illumination.

Monday, January 24, 2011

An Alighierical Tour of Heaven and Hell

I'm no Dante scholar, but this book by Jennifer Upton is certainly the best I've ever read on the Divine Comedy. In fact, one could probably travel down to the seventh circle of academia and not encounter wisdom of this depth and lucidity. It's going straight into the liberatoreum of permanent Raccoomendations.

Besides, does anyone go to college anymore in order to navigate the soul, expand the subjective horizon, colonize the nonlocal mindscape, and venture across the great divide separating man from the incorruptible sphere of the celestial beings and household gnomes?

I didn't think so.

Dante was one of the great pneumanauts -- spiritual explorers -- of all timelessness. He cannot be confined to western civilization, but is an example of what I was referring to in pp. 182-187, in the deuscontinuous transition between Mind and Spirit. For illiterate readers, a hint is provided on p. 183, which depicts Virgil leading Dante to the toppermost of the poppermost, where you can see the tail end of heaven dangling from above:

The world is, to put it bluntly, a trap. Or, one might say that it is a wall for the tenured, but a door -- or picture window at least -- for the Raccoon. It is not just a room with a view but a womb with a pew, meaning that life is a kind of pre-natal experience, with all this implies: conception, gestation, risks, complications, contractions, labor pains, all of it.

Which is why one must be born of water and of spirit. In one way or another, one must be born again from above, which is why you might say that this blog specializes in midwifery.

A particularly dangerous situation is the breeched birth, in which one is spiritually upside-down and trying to come out ass-first. This explains countless people one meets in this life.

Back when Mrs. G was pregnant, there would be anxious moments when the baby didn't make its presence known by banging on the cave walls. We had an incredibly nice doctor who would treat these as emergencies, take her in right away, and do a quick doppler in order to reassure her that all was well.

Now that I think about it, post-uterine life involves three trimesters. There is childhood, followed by "outer" adulthood, and then "inner" adulthood. At first we are taken care of by others, until we reach the age of maturity, at which point we become independent, get a gig, raise a family, and care for others.

But in the east -- and really, in any spiritual tradition -- there are two sides to adulthood, each no less important than the other (at least from the Raccoon perspective). And bear in mind that while we can distinguish between the two, we cannot actually separate them, any more than we could make a sharp division between planting -- or even just tilling the soil -- and harvesting.

It is one continuous process, even though the human station allows us to recognize abstract and rather puzzling discontinuities of various kinds and degrees. For example, nature knows no discontinuity between, say, physics and biology, whereas human beings are able to categorize the two. It is the same with "spirit" and "matter."

Anyway, as I was saying about Dante, he was clearly a pneumanaut par excellence. To treat him as a mere "literary figure" is to miss the point entirely, unless it is simply to emphasize that he was able to express perennial truth in an especially beautiful -- which is to say, truthful -- manner (beauty being the radiance of the true). Here's what he says upon reaching the edge of the exterior frontier:

We mounted upward through the rifted rock,
And on each side the border pressed upon us,
And feet and hands the ground beneath required

Where we were come upon the upper rim
Of the high bank, out on the open slope,
"My Master," said I, "what way shall we take?"

Life is that rocky road, but the road has a purpose and a destination. Absent a destination, then it is just a kind of trap, which is why, if one is an atheist, it makes perfect nonsense to simply take the leap into infrarational absurdity, à la Nietzsche. In other words, for the atheist, all roads lead nowhere, so why take one?

Thankfully, we have a gallery of esteemed saints and sages to show us the way up, in, and out: "[A] few of the trapped ones, by following a newly discovered current of being through to its nonlocal source upstream, far away from the terminal moraine of the outward-turned senses, did eventually identify a passage hidden in plain sight, through which lay yet another surprising but felicitous discovery: a Mighty Strange Attractor at the...

Drum roll please....

"... end of history -- Woo hoo!!! -- the One True Being ontologically prior to existence and from Whom existence itself is derived."

Yes, "by merely fooling around with the software of their own minds, these inward explorers -- eccentric psychonauts mostly unfit for conventional existence or simply unwilling to accept the slave wages of normality -- identified a trap door into a vertical dimension, and found there a return-route to the forgotten country from which humans had set out Before the Beginning" (the ainsoferable B'ob).

Please note that the structure of the Divine Comedy proceeds from hell to purgatory and on to paradise. One might say that spirit plunges down to the very depths of existence, in order to recover and redeem as much reality as humanly possible: "Dante's apparent descent into Hell is really a spiritual ascent, not a damnation..." (Upton). Really, it's a kind of circle, more on which later.

Note that Dante's ultimate guide is true love, represented by the figure of Beatrice. Upton makes the critical point that "Many a person has reached the threshold of spiritual Truth by starting from the thinking function, only to have that Truth destroyed in this life through false feeling. True feeling, on the other hand, can be a 'homing' faculty, drawing us toward the Center almost faster than we could travel on our own initiative" (emphasis mine).

Thus, when we refer to O as the Great Attractor, we are not just having a little pun at your expense. We mean this literally: we are attracted to this Oming deivoice, and voice versa. We call this attraction love: the love of truth, of beauty, and of virtue. The good man loves these things with all his heart, mind, and strength, which frankly isn't difficult to do, unless one has attended college.

Just getting warmed up. To be continued....