Next up in our threewheeling trialogue with Voegelin
is an essay called Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History
Wait! Don't go. It's really interesting.
The problem with Voegelin -- if I may be so impudent -- is that he seems to have been a bit isolated from normal chitchat with others. For example, although he spent his life in academia, I read somewhere that he accepted no graduate students, and instead focussed all of his time on research, writing, and the occasional lecture. I've known academics like this, and they can become so isolated that they start losing the ability to... to just GET TO THE POINT, WILL YOU!
This is distinct from the typical pseudo-intellectual masturbatory jargon that emanates from the jerk circles of the tenured. Rather, I compare it more to a musical genius such as Thelonious Monk, who penetrated so deeply into the foundations and architecture of music that he came up with a kind of private musical universe.
However, once one acclimates oneself to this new musical world, one finds that it is actually quite universal, traditional even. He may have discovered a new form of beauty, but in the end, beauty is beauty. Superficially it sounds "radical," but it's really a continuation; it is only radical in the literal sense of the term, which connotes a return to the "root" of things.
Another way of expressing it is furnished by Roger Kimball, who adduces the following quote from a Jean-François Revel: "The history of philosophy can be divided into two different periods. During the first, philosophers sought the truth; during the second, they fought against it."
FYI, we're living through the second phase.
Voegelin obviously falls into the first camp, which is why he isn't much discussed by those in the second. But since the vast majority of philosophers (and contemporary thinkers more generally) fall into the latter campf, it seems to me that he composed a lot of private music that few people have heard or take the necessary time to understand. Sure, it all makes sense to me. But the same people who dismiss Voegelin wouldn't even dismiss me, to put it moldily.
Kimball provides another helpful quote, this one from Henry Kissinger (BTW, even beyond the exceptional lucidity of thought, Kimball's essays have a wealth of brainiacal quotes and dozens of unfamiliar and sometimes even useful words such as "fustian," "minatory," and "purlieus"):
"We have entered a time of total change in human consciousness of how people look at the world. Reading books requires you to form concepts, to train your mind to relationships. You have to come to grips with who you are.... But now we learn from fragments of facts. A book is a large intellectual construction; you can't hold it all in mind easily or at once. You have to struggle mentally to internalize it. Now there is no need to internalize because each fact can be brought up on the computer." But "information is not knowledge."
So to actually assimilate someone as deep as Voegelin -- or a world as deep as this -- one must form a real and vibrant relationship with him/it, meaning that there is a kind of two-way vector extending into his psyche and ours; or between (¶) and (¶).
And it seems to me that each side limits or expands the other. In other words, we can only "come to grips" with him to the same extent that we come to grips with ourselves. This is the nature of any vertical knowledge.
Horizontal knowledge, because it is merely objective, requires no such introspection, assimilation, or transformation, because it's analogous to placing an object -- a fact or bit of knowledge -- into the space of the mind and filing it away somewhere. The type of thinking that results is similar to a computer, in that it is mainly limited by the amount and speed of memory.
Voegelin is not the first author we have treated in this manner. Others we have spent weeks or months exploring have included Tomberg, Balthasar, Pieper, Eckhart, Ratzinger, Wojtyla, and, of course, Schuon. Again, these are not mere "books" but encounters. Absent the encounter, there is no way to access what is contained in the book, because it is contained in being, not knowledge (or, it is a different type of knowledge that reaches up and down into being, i.e., [n] vs. [k]).
One more quote, this one from Chesterton: "The well-meaning person who, by merely studying the logical side of things, has decided that 'faith is nonsense,' does not know how truly he speaks; later it may come back to him in the form that nonsense is faith."
Back to the essay alluded to above. One reason it interests me is that it confronts one of the problems addressed in the bOʘk, which is to say, the equivalence of experiences that use diverse symbols to describe them. Because the symbols differ, people may be misled into believing they are describing different realities. Or, the experiences may be reflections of a larger category: one person eats an orange, another an apple, but both have experienced fruit. (Oddly enough, yesterday reader Gandalin asked a question that touches on this very issue, even though this post was mostly written on Saturday.)
Voegelin writes that "What is permanent in the history of mankind is not the symbols but man himself in search of his humanity and its order" (emphasis mine). Too often, I believe, we either conflate symbols that are distinct, or else distinguish symbols that are roughly equivalent.
For example, the Allah of whom Islamists speak is obviously not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Conversely, Schuon maintained that Buddha had the experience of God even if he rejected the name. In a sense this is not controversial, in that every experience in O is going to be "unique" even though "universal."
How do we use symbols in such a way that they convey the universality without denying the uniqueness? Again, that's why I created my little family of pneumaticons: O, Ø, ʘ,(¶),(•),(•••),(↑),(↓), (o), (---), and all the rest. Based upon yesterday's thread, I need to come up with a symbol for vertical emissaries, i.e., angels. How about (¡). I like this, because our reaction to (¡) is often (!). I wonder if they also get a little freaked out? If so, (¿!).
You might say that there is a space element and a time element. The space element is more universal, the time element more particular. For example, one might say that the archetypal man -- Adam Kadmon -- is in "vertical space," while we each embody and elaborate the archetype in our temporal lives. Absent the latter, we have no access to the former. At the same time, Aquinas (and Augustine before him) would say that the archetype -- or idea -- is nowhere else other than in man, just as the blueprint is "in" the house and the DNA is in the cell it orders.
Voegelin criticizes the so-called philosopher who deforms himself "by adopting the belief that the truth of existence is a set of propositions" which are "demonstrably true and therefore acceptable to everybody." "In vain he will look for the one set of true propositions," for which reason we can "hardly blame him if in the end he decides that skepticism is the better part of wisdom and becomes an honest relativist and historicist."
Again, this is because, for example, if one merely examines outwardly the diverse symbols of religion -- instead of experiencing or "undergoing" them -- it is the work of a moment to dismiss them as incapable of universal assent. In reference to yesterday's thread, we might say that since people have different ideas about angels, they must not exist.
But ironically, it is the non-believer who exiles himself from any possibility of transcendent unity. For at least the believer holds passionately to the idea (or experience) of unity, even if he believes his symbol of unity is better than the other guy's symbol. Which it may well be. As in art, some works are better than others. It would be foolish on this basis to conclude that beauty doesn't exist.
That was Saturday. It is now Monday morning, and in the brief time I have left, I'd like to skip forward and add something that directly addresses yesterdays lofty thread, and illuminates my approach more generally. I'm not saying it is the right way, only that it works for me because I seem to be Built This Way. It's kind of a thread that has followed -- or organized -- me ever since my (¶) started to come on line in my mid-20s.
I don't know if I'll be able to find the exact passage I'm looking for, but in truth, it informs Voegelin's whole search for the Ground. For example, he writes that "The Logos has been operative in the world from its creation; all men who have lived according to reason, whether Greeks or barbarians, have in a sense been Christians" (Augustine said the same thing).
It all begins with O and with (?!), or with Reality and the the shocking experience thereof. Voegelin writes that "man the questioner" is prompted "to ask the questions that will lead him toward the cause of being.... in the act of questioning, man's experience of his tension toward the divine ground breaks forth in the word of inquiry as a prayer for the Word of the answer."
So, religion is already the answer to our prayers. The Torah, for example, chronicles centuries of engagement with, and experience in, O. One might say that it is the contrail of this ongoing engagement (although looked at another way, it is the vehicle itself).
"Question and answer are held together, and related to one another, by the event of the search." However, Man "can also deform his humanity by refusing to ask the questions, or by loading them with premises devised to make the search impossible.... The answer will not help the man who has lost the question."
This reminds me of something Schuon said, to the effect that there is more Light in the intelligent question than in the deficient answer. For example, there is far more light in the question, "I wonder if this is all evidence of a higher intelligence?" than in the crude answer that it's all physics and Darwin. In a way, the Answer is always in search of a good question(er), because existence is not a fact, and neither are you.
What are we, then? For Voegelin we are a kind of "non-fact," a "disturbing movement in the in-Between of ignorance and knowledge, of time and timelessness, of imperfection and perfection, of hope and fulfillment, and ultimately of life and death." Thus, "the search... imposes a form even when the substance is lost."
Which is what often saves us in spite of ourselves.
I didn't really have time to find the passage mentioned above. I don't even have time to make sure all my words are properly misspelled. Obviously, to be continued if not beaten to death...