Thursday, April 07, 2011

Lucy in the Sky with Dante

In Canto VIII Dante breaks out of the poem in order to provide a little clue for us all: Here, reader, sharpen your eyes to truth.

Why? Because in what he is about to describe, the veil is surely so transparent / That passing through it is an easy thing.

Reality is always here -- where else? -- just a few psychrons away in the space of your own pneurology. The distance between one world and another cannot be measured with the crude instruments of science. To attempt to do so is like looking for the boundary between the Dreamer and the dream. The two are distinct but inseparable.

Dante sees a "company of noble spirits," facing east with palms lifted upwards, and with "eyes intent upon the heavenly spheres." Clearly they are actively oriented to the vertical; the open hands signify an attitude of (o). Then,

Emerging and descending from above / I saw two angels bearing flaming swords. One of them descends all the way down, settling on the embankment across the way. Woo hoo! Vertical I-AMissaries!

Dante looks at the girl with the sun in her eyes, and is "dazzled by [the] excessive light" -- which immediately calls to mind the Transfiguration, in which Jesus' face "shone like the sun."

Sordello says that they are sent by Mother Mary, speaking words of wisdom and protecting against the serpents that surely come out at nightfall. Just like here, coldblooded reptiles emerge from the brush to warm themselves with the remains of the day.

Dante sees another familiar face and explains the situation to him: he has arrived here "by way of the sad regions"; he is not actually dead, but "still within the first life." However, "by this journeying, I earn the other."

Here again, Dante is giving us a BIG HINT of what this poem is all about. But his interlocutors are astonished to hear this.

Just then Dante is distracted by three flaming torches located in the southern sky. But just this morning, in that very same spot, were four brilliant stars that are now below the horizon. What gives?

Before we can find out, everyone does a spit take (remember, it's a comedy), because right over THERE is the serpent! And not just any serpent, but one that looks suspiciously similar to the one who "offered Eve the bitter food."

Now we're really in the thick of it. The cosmic veil has been lifted, behind which we see a celestial spark in the park in the dark, and now that rake of a snake who spake is awake!

But then a couple of celestial hawks -- i.e., the angels -- move across the sky, causing the serpent to flee. Of note, the snake only hears the rustling of wings, and this is sufficient to send him back under cover of darkness.

Surely the angel/birds represent the higher consciousness through which we are vigilant, and with which we "watch and pray." For there are beasts hiding within our garden, and which require a kind of night vision in order to see them. But once seen, they scatter. They are unable to endure the glance -- the glancing blow -- from on high.

After this episode, Dante is able to safely fall off to sleep and even to dream, where free to wander farther from the flesh / and less held fast by cares, our intellect's / envisionings become almost divine.

The dream is an obvious transformation of the events of the evening, involving an eagle patrolling the sky, ready to swoop down on its prey. Note that this eagle can only descend not ascend, for its claws refuse to carry upward any prey.

But it then snatches up Dante himself -- who is not prey -- lifting him toward the sun. Both he and the eagle are scorched by the flames, to such an extent that he is awakened from his slumber, terrified and "cold as ice."

Clearly, as much as Vanderleun protests, Dante cannot just skip purgatory and go straight to paradise. Many things remain to be burned and purified, but this is a controlled burn, not an uncontrolled forest fire -- not a raging inferno, as it were.

It is like the difference between undergoing psychotherapy in order to patiently process unconscious material, vs. dropping acid and being swallowed up into the unconscious, winner take all.

But in an interesting plot twist, it turns out that Dante was visited in his sleep by an angel, "Lucia," who took him up toward the entrance of purgatory proper. Luc-ia is Light, of course, but now I am out of time, so you figure it out. Hint: the Walrus was Paul.

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds, and you're gone.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

There's No Crying in Purgatory!

We haven't yet heard much about Virgil's thanatography, but in canto VII he tells us how he ended up cooling with the heels in purgatory:

"I am Virgil, and I am deprived of Heaven / for no fault other than my lack of faith." But he is nevertheless worthy of ascent to God, and was therefore directed to this mountain.

True, he failed to make the varsity squad, but was considered promising enough to make the JV, where he will be able to work on his fundamentals, hone his skills, and develop a two-way game.

Look, only a handful of players make it to the bigs, so you shouldn't feel bad. Almost anyone can play baseball, but only 750 or so make it all the way to the Show. If you're even considered big league material, that's pretty good.

So hang in there, kid. You'll get your shot. Just be ready when the call comes. It's all about preparation.

As it so happens, I'm coaching my son's little league team. The players are very little -- four to six years old -- so technically this is hell, not purgatory. We just played our last game until April 27, as the league has a spring break, dividing the season in half.

This is good for us, as it will provide our players an extra three weeks to work on the weakest part of their game, which is their age. That and their size. Thus, if we continue practicing during the spring break, and if we try real hard, there's a good chance that when the second half begins, our players will be three weeks older.

Anyway, it looks like Virgil played an error-free game, but lost anyway. His life was analogous to basketball in the days before the 24 second clock, whereby a team could theoretically take a 2-0 lead and then try to run out the clock:

Not for having -- but not having -- done, / I lost the sight that you desire, the Sun -- / that high Sun I was late in recognizing.

In other words, instead of playing to win, Virgil played to not lose.

Nice guys don't necessarily finish last, but they often finish in the middle of the pack, because they don't want to offend anyone. Some of the saints are pretty tough customers, all knees and elbows. Come into their lane, and you're likely to discover that sanctification is a contact sport. Crowd the plate, and you'll find yourself upended, in the dirt.

What do they call Pope Benedict? God's pitbull? In reality he is nothing of the sort, just a hard-nosed coach who expects the best of his players.

There is no crying and wailing in baseball or purgatory, only heavy sighs. But sighs matter, for these are sighs of longing for the sovereign Good -- for the bright Son to occasionally peek out from behind his clouds of glory.

Interestingly, Virgil reveals that purgatory is very much like the United States, where hard work pays off and one is free to rise to the level of one's abilities (or usefulness). But some people hate this arrangement, because liberty only reminds them of their failures. For them, liberty is a source of pain and humiliation, not a school of hope and self-improvement.

In societies where everybody believes they are equal, the inevitable superiority of a few makes the rest feel like failures.... Only a hierarchical structure is compassionate towards the mediocre and the meek (Don Colacho's Aphorisms).

Such souls would prefer to abolish Heaven and Hell than take the risk afforded by Life. Liberalism doesn't help the envious, but it does at least attack the target of envy, thus temporarily easing the pain. But in transforming opportunity to victimhood, life passes them by; or, they become passive subjects of Life, just floating down the path of least resistance.

But life hasn't treated them unjustly. Rather, it has worked just as it is supposed to, revealing them for who they are. "Social justice" is simply their new term for envy. Gravity takes care of the rest.

Sardello -- whom we met in yesterday's post -- tells us that in the United States of America -- I mean the diverse states Purgatory -- No fixed place has been assigned to us; / I'm free to range about and climb as far as I may go. Woo hoo!

Speaking of which, there is a Simpson's episode in which Mr. Burns is on his deathbed. He whispers to Smithers, "I only wish I'd spent more time at the office."

This is another sort of person, the one who displaces the spiritual adventure to a purely horizontal game of commerce and acquisition. They are all about the administration of business instead of the minstration of Isness.

A subtle point about Purgatory: in Hell there is no Light, whereas in Heaven there is only Light. But here there is a cyclicity and rhythm, i.e., nightanday. Or, one might say timelessness in Heaven; endless time in Hell; and productive time -- i.e., progress -- in Purgatory.

At night it is impossible to climb, not so much as an inch: It is the night itself that implicates your will. / Once darkness falls, one can indeed retreat / below and wander aimlessly about / the slopes, while the horizon has enclosed the day.

Why the separation of night and day? Let us count the whys! For one thing, man here is still of a "mixed substance." We are in Purgatory specifically to purge ourselves of our own darkness. As we do, our days grow longer and our nights shorter until we reach our summa vocation.

"It's called a 'business retreat' -- you know, like church for people who worship the almighty dollar."

I appreciate the gesture, but that's really not going to get you out of Hell any sooner, Andrew.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Placing a Call to the Nonlocal ʘperators Above Our Praygrade

In the next scene, Dante finds that he is suddenly the most popular fellow in purgatory. He compares himself to a dice player who has just walked off with his winnings. The crowed presses upon him like pigeons around a geezer tossing bread crumbs from a park bench:

He does not halt but listens to them all; / and when he gives them something, they desist; / and so he can fend off the pressing throng.

What is it they're after? I turned my face to them / and, making promises, escaped their clutch.

In a full-employment vertical cosmos, there is not just a binary division of Creator and created. Rather, the whole point is that it is a complete hierarchy, with degrees of being from top to bottom -- for example, saints and angels above, television executives and community organizers below.

It seems to me that modern Christianity abolishes this hierarchy, which unwittingly abandons the field to scientism, or a materialist metaphysic. In other words, if there is only God above and the world below, pretty soon the former becomes superfluous.

Let us not accuse modern man of having killed God. That crime is not within his reach. But of having killed the gods. God survives untouched, but the universe withers and decays because the subordinate gods have passed away (Don Colacho's Aphorisms).

And When their religious depth disappears, things are reduced to a surface without density where nothingness shows through (DC).

This is why in any form of old-school (small o) orthodox Christianity, it is both possible and efficacious to call upon various nonlocal operators to throw us a vertical bone, anyone from the Theotokos to the previous Pope. This is not polytheism, any more than it is "polybiology" to rank species between mammals, reptiles, insects, and Al Sharpton. To the contrary, the hierarchy is a necessary consequence of there being a Creator. Life is one, but vive la différence!

To put it another way, science would have no difficulty whatsoever describing a non-hierarchical cosmos. As it stands, it must maintain the absurdity that the hierarchy is an illusion or accident, not essential -- even while relying on the existence of the hierarchy in order to both recognize and appeal to Truth.

It reminds me of what Joyce said when asked if he was influenced by the ideas of Giambattista Vico: "I wouldn't pay over much attention to these theories, beyond using them for all they're worth."

The people in purgatory pray for others' prayers for them, in the hope that prayer can bend the rule of Heaven. Can it? Will, then, their hopes be utterly in vain? / Or were your words misunderstood by me?

Yes and no. There was a time when these hopes were in vain -- when prayers could not mend their fault in the absence of a passageway to God. But there is a light between your mind and truth, and we must wait for it to speak to us.

For Dante, Beatrice is this light. She is at the summit of the very mountain we are climbing, "smiling joyously." Upon hearing this, he is immediately reinvigorated, and tells Virgil, let us move ahead more quickly, for now I am less weary than before.

In a sense, the whole of Christianity is based upon this idea, in that Christ is given to us as a way to approach and think about the otherwise unthinkable God. However, it is careful not to imply that Christ is part of any hierarchy, hence, the Trinity. The Trinity is explicitly not a vertical emanation, a la Plotinus.

However, is it possible to say that there is a "Vertical Trinity" -- which is primary -- and a "Horizontal" trinity representing its shadow in the herebelow? This makes sense to me; perhaps we might call them the transcendent and immanent Trinities. This is how Schuon envisions it:

"The 'Father' is God as such, that is as metacosm; the 'Son' is God insofar as He manifests Himself in the world, hence in the macrocosm; and the 'Holy Spirit' is God insofar as He manifests Himself in the soul, hence in the microcosm."

This is useful, because it does not posit "three gods," but three modes of the one God. There is the inconceivable God-beyond being, the ain sof of Kabbala. There is the "conception" of God, the Word -- a word which can be recognized, read, and comprehended. And then there is the "Holy Spirit," which is the comprehension itself. Only Truth can recognize Truth.

Elsewhere Schuon writes that "The Trinity can be envisaged according to a 'vertical' perspective or according to either of two 'horizontal' perspectives, one of them being supreme and the other not. The vertical perspective -- Beyond-Being, Being, Existence -- envisages the hypostases as 'descending' from Unity or from the Absolute -- or from the Essence it could be said -- which means that it envisages the degrees of Reality."

Again, the very idea of God implies hierarchy; but also, the very recognition of hierarchy leads inevitably to God. Unless one just arbitrarily stops halfway up the mountain, as do the tenebrous, the tendentious, and the tenured -- or the dark, the twisted, and the opaque.

Back in purgatory, Virgil notes that the sun is setting -- as it must, even though its light is only "hidden," not absent -- but that a distant soul will show us where to climb most speedily.

We then see a very dignified, noble, and silent soul -- perhaps Schuon himself -- who watches us pass as a lion watches when it is at rest.

No, it's not Schuon, but someone named Sordello. Sordello, who has great affection for Italy, goes into an extended rant about its present condition. He even questions God, asking

You who on earth were crucified / for us -- have You turned elsewhere Your just eyes? / Or are You, in Your Judgment's depth, devising / a good that we cannot foresee, / completely dissevered from our way of understanding?

I don't think so. This would imply a complete misunderstanding of the cosmic situation, and a misuse of the idea of hierarchy -- as if God is to blame for this not being paradise. You can't blame God for something he never promised, and which is impossible anyway.

Running out of time here, but Pope Benedict writes that "The present 'world' has to disappear; it must be changed into God's world. That is precisely what Jesus' mission is, into which the disciples are taken up: leading 'the world' away from the condition of man's alienation from God and from himself, so that it can become God's world once more and so that man can become fully himself again by becoming one with God."

Bottom line: this is an analogue, continuous cosmos, not a digital and discontinuous one.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Incorruptible Adolescent Rebellion: O, Why Must I be a Teenager in Love?

I guess we're still technically in the foothills, making our way toward the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory.

We'll be spending a few more cantos here in ante-purgatory, which houses two main types whose metanoia was either too little or too late. These folks did eventually see the Light and vowed to change their ways, but with no time to put the plan into action; therefore, the purification must take place postmortem.

[W]e all sinned until until our final hour; / then light from Heaven granted understanding, / so that, repenting and forgiving, we / came forth from life at peace with God, and he / instilled in us the longing to see him.

But it's a painful longing. In fact, a couple of spooks are surprised to see us here, because 1) we can move -- specifically, up -- and 2) we cast a shadow from the Light that strikes us. But Virgil cautions us to pay no attention to these local gossips and to move on.

Just like life. Don't look back after placing your hand to the plow, and let the dead bury the tenured.

If someone is impressed with your vertical slackrobatics, don't let it go to your head, because there is no reason to be puffed up by the recognition of an inferior. Are you proud that your dog loves you? We treat an inferior with healthy respect and genuine affection. We do not look up to them. Rather, we are humbled by them.

What meaning have these whisperings for you? / Come, follow me, and let these people talk. / Stand firmly as a tower whose pinnacle / Sways not for all the blowing of the wind.

This is indeed a key point, discussed on pp. 220 and 236 of the bʘʘk. It falls under the heading of "faith," i.e., silence (---) and openness (o), which are achieved for the purpose of ascending; we must liberate ourselves from the "alien influences" of the world, and "break free of the chains, the limitations, and the restrictions imposed by environment and education" (Steinsaltz). We must always remember that what we get into gets into us. What do we get out of religion? A better question is what religion gets out of us.

Another way of putting it is that An intelligent man is one who maintains his intelligence at a temperature independent of his environment’s temperature (Don Colacho's Aphorisms). Since so much of what passes for intelligent discussion is just the steam that emanates from a fresh pile of manure, we should unplug from the crazocracy and seek our heat and light elsewhere.

Thus, there is always a two-front battle going on, one below and one above. The southern one has to do with administering the conquered territory, while the northerly has to do with pushing on toward our highest aspiration, colonizing more space along the way.

There is the kingdom of man, and the Kingdom of God. One way or another, we are trying to colonize the former in the name of the latter. We do not -- as do the tenured -- nocuriously attempt to assimilate the roaring torrent of O into a little crock of (k), but rather, sanctify all (k) in the absolute mystery of O.

Know that the Intellect has less to do with demystification than remystification: Everything that makes man feel that mystery envelops him makes him more intelligent (DC).

Absurd? Quite right! For Man calls “absurd” what escapes his secret pretensions to omnipotence (DC). "Absurdity" is the accusation a little godling makes of the bigOne he doesn't understand -- or only understands.

In the previous post we discussed how the ascent is more difficult at the outset, when we are closer to the world's center of gravity. One reason I never recommend the blog to others is that you had better be pretty sure that you're sick of the world before you begin -- otherwise, you might find yourself in a no-man's land of no-world and no-God as well, or a puerpoutual state of cynical nihilism.

Don Colacho has many profound aphorisms along these lines. I think my favorite is I have seen philosophy gradually fade away between my skepticism and my faith.

Quite contrary to what is believed by indentured atheists, Christianity is not an escape into fantasy, but an inscape from it. It is not religion as previously understood, but the cure for religion. It is no beliefs with the exception of what we are taught by the Holy Spirit.

With the help of our deosynchronous satellight we are cured of a thousand stupidities and turned away from countless nul de slacks: There is no stupid idea which modern man is not capable of believing, as long as he avoids believing in Christ (DC).

But until we have cleared a space for the Great Teaching to occur, we live in a space of pronounced -- and healthy -- skepticism which easily dismantles any worldly philosophy. Indeed, The believer knows how to doubt; the unbeliever does not know how to believe (DC).

Adolescent? Absolutely! For A fulfilled life is one which delivers to the grave, after long years, an adolescent whom life did not corrupt (DC). O, why must I be a teenager in love?! That's why. Because I AM said so. The world doesn't need another adolescent rabelaisian.

My six-year old is already able to stop me in my tracks with various ontological questions -- questions that are vastly superior to any worldly answer I can furnish. I could provide scientific answers, but these merely stop the question. They don't actually answer it, except for the pseudomature adolt who arbitrarily stops asking "why?"

So be about your Father's business, which spirals around Aspiration (↑) Rejection (---) Surrender (o) and waiting for (↓) to bear you updown here.

I know what you mean -- I was once much older too. I'm younger than that now.

Friday, April 01, 2011

What Makes a Life Worth Leaving?

As our explorers begin their ascent, the mountain is quite steep, far more steep than the line drawn from middle-quadrant to the center point. I'm not sure what that means, but it doesn't matter anyway, for it's just a metaphor of the vertical journey -- which is much more difficult at the outset than it is later on. Says Virgil,

This mountain is of such sort / that climbing it is hardest at the start; / But as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.

This reminds us of how potentials become inclinations, inclinations become habits, and habits become virtues or vices. In a way, we have more free will at the outset than we do at the end, when the inclination has become almost "hardwired" from repetition. This runs counter to the scientistic belief that we are genetically frontloaded to become who we are. But to the extent that we are, this mostly involves potential, not invariant behavior.

For example, we are born desiring. This does not mean we are hardwired to steal, despite those studies "proving" that liberalism is innate.

Virtue is rooted in free will, for we become virtuous by choosing between good and evil. No act in itself is virtuous, but becomes so with reference to its end. Nor is mere knowledge of good and evil sufficient, for the knowledge must be put into action. Virtue must be embodied, or it won't be of much use to anyone.

In Dante's case, his whole journey is predicated on his pursuit of the highest good, which, one might say, is located at the furthest extreme of the vertical cosmos. As a result, it exercises the least "gravitational attraction" when we are most distant from it. Virgil confirms this, letting Dante know that

When the time comes when it appears / To you that the ascent becomes as easy / As going down the current in a skiff, / Then you will have reached your journey's end, / And there you may expect to rest from toil.

In other worlds, one reaches a point of transition into the orbit of the Great Attractor, for it is written on P. 257:

O Death, you old mahahasamadi, show us your secret mannascrypt, your Divine Cosmodeity. Take us before & beyond this womentary maninfestation, reveal not the horizontal but our inmost upmost vertical bigending. Floating upstream along the ancient celestial trail, out from under the toilsome tablets of time, cast your I on the meager image below. So long. So short! Whoosh! there went your life.

Yes, yes, I know -- why the annoying and self-indulgent mystagoguery, Bob? Do you really expect anyone to know what you're talking about? Or is this just an elaborate way to conceal the fact that you don't?

O Death. Death is the Guru without whom we would never dream of embarking on the vertical journey. For why would we?

The problem for human beings is not having a life worth living. Rather, it is having a life worth leaving. Life values itself, as we see in the world of biology. Biology assures us that life is worth living, but not for any reason outside itself. Self-preservation is the Law of nature.

But human beings have been fugitives from this Law ever since they became human. For to say "human" is to say "vertical." We became human when we entered the vertical; or, when the vertical descended into man. Either way, it is the vertical that not only makes a life worth leaving, but makes it possible to do so. In coonspeak, this is called the big teloscape.

Again, the whole of the Divine Comedy is predicated on this reality. At midlife (back in the first canto), Dante realized that he wasn't actually living his life, but that it was living him. Thus, rather than being guided by Death, he was, for practical purposes, dead (or guided only by biology):

For the right path, whence I had strayed, was lost. He had succumbed to earthly gravity, or "temptation." Thus, So weary was my my mind, so filled with sleep [and sleep is the gentle brother of Death], I reeled, and wandered from the path of truth.

And it all went by so fast. Dante alludes to this at the beginning of canto IV, noting that When any of our faculties retains / a strong impression of delight or pain, / the soul will wholly concentrate on that, / neglecting any other power it has.

This is again an animal capability, one that "secures the soul in stringent grip," to such an extent that time moves and yet we do not notice it.

So short! Whoosh! there went your life.

Here again, the Divine Comedy is predicated on a reversal of this tendency, which has become deeply ingrained by midlife. As Dante writes, unlike animals, the human soul has the power to perceive the course of time; but this is distinct from the power that captures all the mind. The former has "no force," while the latter "binds."

Thus, it will require a conscious decision and an act of will to exert the force necessary to "turn around" and break the chains that bind us to the lower world of the immediate, of the passing stream of pleasure and pain.

Dante does this by keeping the end in mind; one might say that only by faith may we know that the end even exists, for one cannot know what one has not yet experienced. So lofty was the summit, that it soared / Beyond my sight.

Virgil tells him not to despair, but to keep climbing Until we meet some guide who knows the way. In other words, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Nonlocal ʘperators are always standing by, ready to assist you. For they literally have nothing better to do.

And whatever you do, Do not take a backward step, for we have heard from the wise that it is not a good idea to put one's hand to the plow and look back. Inward and upward!

B-but the mountain soars / Much higher then my mortal eyes can reach.

Don't worry about that. So long as you see that the mountain exists, that's the important part. For every mountain has a summit, does it not? You don't need to see the dark side of the moonbat to know that it exists, do you?

Next we come to an important way station -- or station of the way -- where the slothful depart from the slackful. Nondoing is hardly the same as doing nothing! Nevertheless, at least doing nothing is preferable to doing something harmful, a lesson Democrats will never learn. Thus, these souls are in a low level of purgatory rather than hell. In other words, they are independents, not liberals.

Dante converses with one of the idlers, who says that he repented too late -- i.e., that he put off the journey till the last, so he is not enjoying the true rest, the slack sabbath. It's just the false slack of the comfortable and self-satisfied. Nothing to see here. Let's move along.

You pseudoslackers need to move out of Mom's basement and gita life!