Monday, January 09, 2012

Where there's Holy Smoke there's Celestial Fire

We've completed all but one chapter in our three-month meditation on Meditations on the Tarot. With all that behind us, we have a pretty good sense of what we are. Now it's time to shift gears and find out what the world is.

Naturally, we tend to conflate the world with our characteristic way of knowing it, but it is always "more" than this or that point of view, something the materialist seems constitutionally incapable of appreciating.

I mean, who can disagree that the world is composed of matter? But only matter? C'mon. Who says so, a tenured rock? And if that is the case, why are there university departments other than geology?

All historical periods have their share of stupidities, man being what he is. The danger in ours -- because it is spiritually fatal -- is to regard the world as nothing more than a reflection of our lowest way of knowing it.

Just because the world may be known scientifically, it hardly means that it is nothing more than the material object disclosed by science. If this were the case, the world would be too simple to account for the existence of even the most simpleminded materialist.

Think about it for a moment: we all know that it is wrong to treat a human being as a material object. This is an example of our intrinsic morality, something we cannot not know unless we have attended graduate school. The rest of us know that a person is infinitely more than a sackful of meat, blood, and bones.

Nor is man a statistic, a socioeconomic class, a sexual orientation, a tax bracket, or a race -- for these are all just neo-Marxist elaborations of the same sick idea -- but a person, a unique and unrepeatable individual with his own inviolable interior.

A person necessarily includes materiality while always transcending it. Our true identity could never be a function of any materialist doctrine, if for no other reason than it unfolds through time, and cannot be unambiguously given in space, as can a material object. (And even that is no longer accurate, since the quantum world consists of vibrating patterns of energy flow, and vibrations necessarily require time.)

Back to our last arcanum, The World. It is indeed no coincidence that this is the last word and final card, for the sum total of our previous meditations should begin to facilitate an ability to regard the world as a work of art, with all this implies.

Now, intellect is to truth as will is to virtue and love is to beauty. It's quite simple, really: Truth is what we must know and be; good is what we must nurture and do; and beauty is what we must love and create. Now, grow away and sin no more.

Being that beauty is the splendor of the true, there is a deep and abiding connection between truth and beauty, or knowledge and art, for surely art is a way of deeply knowing beautiful truths about the world that are inaccessible to science per se (although, as we all know, aesthetics enters science through the side door, for example, in the beauty of mathematics).

More than any other theologian of whom I am aware (with the possible exception of Balthasar), Schuon has the deepest understanding of the role of beauty in the cosmic economy. He said many brilliant things about the subject, but here are a few, conveniently taken from a book that is soon to be republished, Echoes of Perennial Wisdom:

"The cosmic, and more particularly the earthly, function of beauty is to actualize in the intelligent and sensitive creature the recollection of essences, and thus to open the way to the luminous night of the one and infinite Essence."

In other words, essence is opposed to existence as substance is to form. Just as the function of man's intelligence is to discern between appearance and reality, the function of the aesthetic sense is to discern between form and essence, the latter of which is always more inward, whether it is hidden in a poem, painting, musical performance -- or in the world itself.

In ether worlds, the latter has an inner ethereal essence that reveals itself in the mode of formal beauty -- which is why this ineffable divine beauty is only everywhere.

I noticed a trivial example of this the other day while out mountain biking. The bike trail winds through "virgin nature," which, for reasons that are indeed mysterious, is essentially always beautiful -- even the random patterns of rocks strewn about always seem "just so," as if carefully arranged by a Japanese painter or landscape artist.

But along the trail I saw a piece of broken concrete. I have no idea how it got there, but it didn't belong. Frankly, it was ugly, and was obviously out of place. It was an aesthetic error, which, when you think about it, is an interesting way of putting it, for it again emphasizes that there is surely truth in beauty, and therefore the possibility of error.

Schuon: "Beauty is a reflection of Divine Bliss; and since God is Truth, the reflection of His Bliss will be that mixture of happiness and truth which is to be found in all beauty.... The beauty of the sacred is a symbol or a foretaste of, and sometimes a means to, the joy that God alone possesses.... Sacred art helps man to find his own center, that kernel whose nature is to love God.... The sacred is an apparition of the Center, it immobilizes the soul and turns it towards the inward."

Yes. Just as truth is a reflection of the "divine light," beauty bubbles over with the divine joy.

Our beautiful unKnown friend writes that "the world is fundamentally neither a mechanism, nor an organism, nor even a social community -- neither a school on a grand scale nor a pedagogical institution for living beings -- but rather a work of divine art: at one and the same time a choreographic, musical, poetic, dramatic work of painting, sculpture and architecture."

Now, what if man actually subsisted in the bloodless and desiccated world of scientistic fantasy, devoid of intrinsic beauty? In addition to being an "impossible world" -- existence as such being an exteriorization of the divine beauty -- our very lives would be a cold and joyless task, like removing the Guy Ritchie tattoos from Madonna's wizened hide, or being married to Harry Reid.

Well, that is all I have time for this morning. Must get ready for work. To be continued.

18 Comments:

Blogger JP said...

"I noticed a trivial example of this the other day while out mountain biking. The bike trail winds through "virgin nature," which, for reasons that are indeed mysterious, is essentially always beautiful -- even the random patterns of rocks strewn about always seem "just so," as if carefully arranged by a Japanese painter or landscape artist. "

That's my favorite feature of nature.

Now, the thing I don't like about nature is that it's often trying to eat me, being that I'm made of meat. And some places want to eat me more than others.

So, nature is beautiful, but it's always hungry.

1/09/2012 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Now, intellect is to truth as will is to virtue and love is to beauty. It's quite simple, really: Truth is what we must know and be; good is what we must nurture and do; and beauty is what we must love and create. Now, grow away and sin no more.

Being that beauty is the splendor of the true, there is a deep and abiding connection between truth and beauty, or knowledge and art, for surely art is a way of deeply knowing beautiful truths about the world that are inaccessible to science per se (although, as we all know, aesthetics enters science through the side door, for example, in the beauty of mathematics)."

Nothing to add, just wanted to see again.

1/09/2012 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I am glad to see I am on the right wavelength today. Beautiful, indeed.

1/09/2012 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"I noticed a trivial example of this the other day while out mountain biking. The bike trail winds through "virgin nature," which, for reasons that are indeed mysterious, is essentially always beautiful -- even the random patterns of rocks strewn about always seem "just so," as if carefully arranged by a Japanese painter or landscape artist. "

Wasn't it Vanderleun who had a series of pictures awhile back, just randomly tossing a frame into the outdoors, snapping of picture of it, and showing the composition was "just so"?

And,
"But along the trail I saw a piece of broken concrete. I have no idea how it got there, but it didn't belong. Frankly, it was ugly, and was obviously out of place. It was an aesthetic error, which, when you think about it, is an interesting way of putting it, for it again emphasizes that there is surely truth in beauty, and therefore the possibility of error."

Yep.

1/09/2012 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

about the broken concrete occlusion in the landscape

is this the logic?

it has unclear origins
so it doesn't belong
therefore it's an aesthetic error
and thus ugly

hm, we know there's more to beauty than orderliness

it's wonderful to think that beauty is divine bliss in prismatic splendor

this means beauty is a superabundant spilling of divine love as material

so it's not just a refraction of divine intellectual order (math, physics, harmony, code), but the wholey spirit

it occurs to me that the Japanese have a word, "sabi," to describe beautifully wizened things

there is a long history to the sentiment that pretty objects (like faces) are made more beautiful by charming flaws

people also tend to like warm, chalky voices and timbres in addition to the cold, crystalline ones

perhaps the Golden Ratio itself argues against any equivalence of beauty with pure symmetry, though symmetry is definitely something humans agree is important to beauty

maybe these non-Euclidean preferences are projections of our fallen nature, a salve to our guilty consciences, absolving us from greater aesthetic effort (witness our slob culture), but I dunno

what I'm getting at is something related to the feeling of warmth in beauty, which I think has to do not only with the spectacle of splendor, but its emotional pull

"the attraction of beauty follows a paradoxical trajectory: the more something is beautiful, the more it refers one on to something else. the greater the art (let us think of music), the more it flings wide open, does not confine desire" (Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense)

there is another word we could use: *lovely*

we respond to lovely things

the broken concrete was there because it was tossed there without the slightest concern for the beauty around it -- carelessness, a lack of caritas, could make it unlovely --

because it did not come from love, as did the rest -- it was not a gift, but something thrown away

as a word, "beauty" is a little threadbare -- "lovely" is an intriguing alternative -- pity it can sound affected

1/09/2012 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

The perception of beauty and its attractiveness do indeed elicit the religious sense. There is something powerfully present in these situations which is not projected from us, but distinct from us, given. This sense of presence can be awe-inspiring. Luigi Giussani: "It is this awe which awakens the ultimate question within us: not as a cold observation, but as a wonder pregnant with an attraction, almost a passivity in which simultaneously is conceived an attraction." I feel Giussani on this. I was once driving in a car on a road above a landscape of hills and vineyards. Above the fields the clouds were being pulled apart by the wind, and the air was made tonic by the scent of seeds and wild grasses. I stopped the car and got out into the quiet, wanting to inhale the whole thing. But then, not wanting to inhale it, or to bring it inside me, which seemed wrong somehow, but to let it exist out there, on its own. In this state, I just sort of stood there, separated but vibrating on the same frequency. This situation felt absolutely electric. I wanted to stand there for hours, but (thank God0 my mind wandered back to what I needed to do. After a minute, I got back in the car and, for the rest of the drive, rolled down all the windows, happy as I've ever been. It was a moment of blessing, freely given, just for the heaven of it. I found myself giving thanks.

1/09/2012 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Help me out materialists and Darwinists, how does appreciation of beauty enhance the survival of the species? Beautiul mates are probably healthy ones, and likewise, a beautiful game animal would be healthier as well (but harder to kill). Other than that, I can't see how natural selection could produce in man such an overwhelming, innate desire for experiencing beauty.

I hope I'm not presenting just a strawman argument here, but if a materialist can't explain beauty that should be a wrecking ball on their flawed world view.

Similarly, animals don't care if they are living in a pristine wilderness or a dump as long as the habitat provides for their needs, although it bothers me to see the latter.

Verdailes, nice comments.

1/09/2012 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I suppose you could argue that an "untouched" area would generally be healthier. Humans drawn to a space that had been a human latrine/dumping ground would be more likely to die of some plague or something.

Art -- probably people who can create art are better communicators, better leaders, etc. Art as such might not be the thing selected for but rather a characteristic or group of characteristics that go with some other function that does enhance survival. It's all random, chance, no direction, etc.

Everything proves materialism, just like needing an icebreaker to get a tanker to Nome proves global warming is getting worse. The polar bears will probably freeze to death this winter, and it will be your fault, John, for using that woodstove.

1/09/2012 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

John said "...if a materialist can't explain beauty that should be a wrecking ball on their flawed world view"

They get around that by making it irrelevant.

Remember, 'true' materialists, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, say that conciousness itself doesnt' even really exist - it's just unfortunate gene-machine noise. Beauty is just another level of static in their worldview.

1/09/2012 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

John

This is outside my expertise, but does it depend on the kind of animal? Some animals mate with the best (= adaptive) displays. Some mate with anything. Dogs routinely make mutts.

When it comes to humans, evo-psych types say a lot about symmetry and physical fitness. I see the consistency in fitness, but I don't know why they'd bang on about symmetry. What adaptive problem does symmetry solve? Is it perceived as being correlated with something else, like health? Or is it just the alpha's pleasure in reinforcing his arbitrary standard?

In my view, a preference for symmetry over asymmetry suggests a preference for design. In evo-psych terms, maybe this preference would be a form of prideful self-awareness. When it becomes aware that it is being selective about mating, the tribe will start to invest in the idea of "mating strategy" itself, and thereby commit to some arbitrary criterion. The human tribe does this simply to feel that it controls its reproductive destiny, which is adaptive because it then feels another compulsion to propagative itself.

Pure speculation. I have no idea what they're thinking. A lot of it sounds like strenuous mental exertion used to justify putting things wherever they want.

1/09/2012 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Hmmmm, must suck to be them. But I'm guessing that they don't really believe what they believe. I mean, if you determined consciousness is gene-noise and life is a random accident, why bother to tell anyone? Unless, you want to attract those nubile, impressionable college gals for gene perpetuation.... Ok, now it's making sense.

(Time to throw more oak in the stove. Your grandkids will thank me for delaying the ice age.)

1/09/2012 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

Van

"conciousness itself doesnt' even really exist - it's just unfortunate gene-machine noise"

Sigh. Then it *is* something, i.e. noise, and "noise" becomes just some poo they fling at the idea that consciousness is more than material.

Even the pejorative fails to sting. In their view, is logical, mathematical, or scientific reasoning "noise"? And if so, what would they consider "harmony"?

Besides the sound of coins dropping into their research accounts.

1/09/2012 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

mushroom

The big new idea is that volatility in the weather proves that AGW is real. The very fact that we have something called "weather" is al the evidence we all need to be taxed more. Punitively!

And John is probably burning some sort of imported rainforest timber, so they're going to get him for that, too.

Ultimately, it's not the climate they're after. Sartre is said to have said, "Hell is other people."

He may have been hitting the Pernod a little too hard, but to a lot of these "environmentalists," people are the problem.

1/09/2012 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

You'll drive yourself nuts trying to find a line of consistency which depends upon, is derived from, not only inconsistency, but the denial of reality and the very concept of Truth.

They'll use the word as it suits them, but they mean fact.

How can they mean fact while denying Truth?

Again, look for their consistency and you'll drive yourself mad.

1/09/2012 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Verdiales, re. symmetry, that's also supposed to be an indicator of good health. This is because lots of things that negatively affect health (such as certain types of parasitic infections) cause varying levels of asymmetrical disfigurement.

But really, Van is correct: try to find the consistency and you'll drive yourself nuts. The great thing about materialism in all its modern flavors is that it allows people to pick and choose what they want to believe while conveniently ignoring anything contradictory.

Another example I find amusing is the Paleo types - the ones trying to live "like cavemen" for health reasons (though few seem willing to actually give up modernity, they really just like to pretend). Some of their ideas are sound, certainly, but for instance the push to go barefoot (yes, there really is a push to go barefoot) conveniently ignores the fact that people developed shoes for very good reasons, not least of which being that there is an astounding variety of ghastly infections and parasites one can pick up through one's feet. Even so, here in the West it's relatively safe to go barefoot, simply because the parasites that prey on barefoot humans have largely been thwarted by sanitation and shoes. Try it in any Third World country, though, and you're just begging to lose a toe (if you're lucky).

1/09/2012 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Peyton said...

I wish I knew where this came from -- perhaps it came from One Cosmos?! Anyhow, it has graced my desk cover since the consecration of Gene Robinson by the Episcopal Church:

"A greeat deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep."

1/09/2012 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Saul Bellow. But I thought of it first.

1/09/2012 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

I seem to recall that primitivism is a feature of the current West.

Kind of like zombies.

1/10/2012 06:05:00 AM  

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