Monday, February 27, 2012

I Was So Much Older Then...

There are only three areas in which the ancients still speak to us -- intimately, profoundly, universally. These would be in the domains of truth, of virtue, and of beauty; or, how to know, what to do, and why to create. Otherwise, there's pretty much no point in wasting one's time familiarizing oneself with these dead white sages, prophets, and saints.

I am once again reminded of this by Maritain, who suggests that we consult these great souls "because we want to hark back to a freshness of vision that is lost today."

Jesus makes a point of counseling us to be as children, but surely he doesn't mean this in any pejorative sense, e.g., credulous, naive, easily led, Democrat.

For what is a child? Well, for starters, it is what man uniquely is, in the sense that -- alone among the animals -- he specializes in immaturity because his neoteny never ceases.

Except when it does, which is when man dies, precisely. In other words, man is quintessentially an open system, not just biologically (which is obvious), but psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. To the extent that one becomes closed, or at equilibrium, in any of these areas, then one is dead on that particular level.

To say neoteny is to say neo-nate, which simply means "new birth." Thus, to say that man must be "born again" implies that one must not conflate, say, biological and spiritual birth.

Now, one of the soul's most important powers is, of course, abstraction. For example, we may consider physical and spiritual birth, and ask ourselves, what is common of the two? Birth as such represents the crossing of an ontological caesura; it is a kind of new being in a new environment -- except that something of the old being must persist, otherwise there would be nothing to undergo the change, which would be absurd.

"I was blind, but now I see." Among other things, this is a statement about birth. A new being has been born, but it is nevertheless the same "I" who was once blind but now sighted. So don't you ever forget it!

Anyway, Maritain writes of the ancients that "No treasuring up of experience, none of the advantages, none of the graces of thought's advancing age can possibly replace the youth, the virginity of observation, the intuitive upsurge of intellect, as yet unwearied, toward the delicious novelty of the real."

Allow that to sink in for a moment. While you're at it, allow something else to slink out.

I remember reading a record review of a new anthology of a musician who had peaked some half century ago. It doesn't matter who the artist was, but the critic said words to the effect that he envied the person who would be hearing this music for the first time, with fresh ears: "And when they say, 'Uncle, this has changed my life,' you can reminisce about how it changed yours as well."

However, as we know, one of the magical properties of grace is to "make all things new." It especially makes love new, but also knowledge and beauty. In the absence of this vertical renewal, life would pretty much be the worst day ever, gosh!

Speaking of which -- no, not Napoleon, but Jacques -- the latter recognized this unpleasant truth by the age of 20 or so. He must have been a rather intense lad, for

"In 1901, Maritain met Raïssa Oumansoff, a fellow student at the Sorbonne.... Both were struck by the spiritual aridity of French intellectual life and made a vow to commit suicide within a year should they not find some answer to the apparent meaninglessness of life. Bergson's challenges to the then-dominant positivism sufficed to lead them to give up their thoughts of suicide, and Jacques and Raïssa married in 1904. Soon thereafter... both Maritains sought baptism in the Roman Catholic Church (1906)."

Once again we see confirmation of my point about the only cure for cynicism being more of it. I too arrived at this completely skeptical and cynical point of view by my twenties, at least in terms of mind and spirit, or what we may know and who we are. Perhaps I was saved by my emotional immaturity, which caused me to remain rather innocent and viscerally (and even painfully) idealistic in that area. Compared to emotional reality, one's mental superstructure (if not grounded in the transcendent real) is just a shack in a hurricane, so I couldn't find that old crackerbox now if I tried.

Camus made the point that the only important philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide. He's right. It doesn't mean you have to kill yourself all at once. Rather, you can spend your whole life doing it, like the finest rock stars and jazz greats. Or, more to the point, once one has committed spiritual suicide, then one is a dead man walking this way anyway, a grotesquely living corpse, like Steven Tyler.

Now a child, just because he is constantly learning and therefore "permanently immature," is not thereby a nothing. Rather, he represents our very own eros shot into the heart of the divine center, and my, getting bigger each day! -- which is to say, more height, more length, more breadth, and more depth (which are the measures of the soul's dimensions).

Schuon expresses it beautifully in observing that the child "of whatever age remains close to the paradise not yet fully lost": “And it is for that reason that childhood constitutes a necessary aspect of the integral man: the man who is fully mature always keeps, in equilibrium with wisdom, the qualities of simplicity and freshness, of gratitude and trust, that he possessed in the springtime of his life.”

Or, in the words of our young unKnown Friend,

"There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things--even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God."

12 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Hm. Once again, it's difficult to add much of anything without sounding like a parrot.

Though in regards to the experience of parental love, while visiting my family the last few days, my sister and her husband hosted a movie night at their church. They were showing "Courageous," (which I wouldn't necessarily recommend for raccoons; the message is good and it has its moments, but the delivery is periodically ham-handed and may cause Jesus-willies), after which my BIL got up to talk about his own experience of both fatherlessness, and of being a bad father to his older two kids. (And of course, it should go without saying that good mothering is just as important.)

Anyway, going home always makes the importance of strong parenting, and the consequences of bad parenting, stand out in stark detail. On the positive side, it also brings forth the truism that it is rarely too late to start being a good - or at least better - parent, and the difference it makes in a child's life is truly profound.

Capital for a lifetome, indeed.

2/27/2012 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Interesting too that the capital is quite literally fungible, as per Murray's Coming Apart. Our society is increasingly being divided along the lines of the had and had-nots, which is to say, decent and normal parenting. So many have-nots had not a father.... And if they had, they certainly wouldn't be shaming themselves by whining in public with the other losers.

2/27/2012 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Not sure if fungible is quite the right word, but I know what I meant, so that's the important point.

2/27/2012 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

In Lamentations -- of all places -- Jeremiah says that the mercies of God are never-ending, and they are new every morning. (Maybe it should say they are never-ending because they are constantly renewed.)

I know if I am not allowed to "play" I get deeply depressed and nasty. I have to recreate the child-likeness, or I might as well be dead. And probably the folks around me will wish I were. There is no point to going through another day of the same damn thing unless I see it, as Rick would remind us, with eyes made new.

2/27/2012 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Absolutely. I play every day, on various planes. Indeed, this blog is nothing other than a form of play.

2/27/2012 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Camus made the point that the only important philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide. He's right. It doesn't mean you have to kill yourself all at once. Rather, you can spend your whole life doing it, like the finest rock stars and jazz greats. Or, more to the point, once one has committed spiritual suicide, then one is a dead man walking this way anyway, a grotesquely living corpse, like Steven Tyler."

I think ol' Will Anonymous made the same point, but with cooler language, clothing and accessories. Same color schemes though. But "To be, or not to be" is not the first question to deal with, either in the play or in life, the first question in both is "Who's there?"

If you don't play around with that question first... can you Imagine what answer you'd have that'd be worth giving to the second question?

I'll bet Tyler couldn't either.

2/27/2012 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Hmmm... interesting new blogger comment page... or is that just me?

2/27/2012 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

"Camus made the point that the only important philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide. He's right. It doesn't mean you have to kill yourself all at once. Rather, you can spend your whole life doing it, like the finest rock stars and jazz greats. "

Yea... "Get busy living, or get busy dying"...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8YKEwt3wO0

Hi Bob! Good to see the lodge is still playing some great hits.

I'll be back when the flume ride I am on (aka 'reality') slows down a bit.

2/27/2012 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Kv0nT said...

When you consider how those lacking all paternal love (for instance supreme leader BO) you come to realize how correct unknown friend was.

It does make me curious, though. Can the human spirit, or intellect, overcome such a formative negative absence? Can all those children lacking the presence of their parents (physical, emotional, intellectual) ever truly recover?

2/27/2012 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Oh, absolutely. Nothing is fated. We're not Muslims!

2/27/2012 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

"...psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. To the extent that one becomes closed, or at equilibrium, in any of these areas, then one is dead on that particular level."

To play "Connect the Dots" with a comment I made to the previous post, this might give a clue to why some can be open to one kind of truth (special revelation) but closed to another (general revelation).


"...except that something of the old being must persist, otherwise there would be nothing to undergo the change, which would be absurd.

"I was blind, but now I see." Among other things, this is a statement about birth. A new being has been born, but it is nevertheless the same "I" who was once blind but now sighted. So don't you ever forget it!"

It strikes me that Calvinists skip a beat with their "T"enet of total depravity. They don't understand the nature of transformation. To me, that is disturbing.

Well, my computer lost power (and I lost my comment), so I rewrote this comment from memory... it seems to be 98% intact, so that's good.

2/28/2012 02:09:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

I think this new comment font is Helvetica. And is it just me, or does it lack wv and the 'email comments' option? How will we survive without wv?!! You can't make that stuff up.

2/28/2012 02:24:00 AM  

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