The Right Becomes Left So that Left May Become Right
I have no time for a new post, but I have almost enough time to rework this one from four years back, in the hope that it contributes to our recent discussion of the different worldviews of the left and right cerebral hemispheres. (It turns out that at least half of it is new.)
It begins with a little invOcation by Meister Eckhart:
One must here come to a transformed knowing, and this unknowing must not come from ignorance; rather, from knowing one must come into an unknowing. Then, we will become knowing with divine knowing and then our unknowing will be ennobled and clothed with supernatural knowing. And here, in that we are in a state of receiving, we are more perfect than if we were active.
I think Eckhart is describing here the proper "cycle of knowledge," which proceeds from the implicit knowledge of the right brain, to the explicit knowledge of the left, and back to the implicit world of the right, now "enriched," so to speak, by the fruits of the left. It may sound unusual, but I think it's really the pattern in any form of mastery, for example, jazz.
As we've discussed in the past, jazz obviously requires an intense amount of left-brain mastery, e.g., of scales, chords, and harmony. However, in order to improvise -- which is to say, engage in spontaneous improvisation -- one must "unKnow" what is rote and familiar, and surrender to the right.
Here there is a combination of activity and passivity, since one must actively "forget" in order to adopt a position of "passivity" with regard to the implicit compositional skills of the right. It's like "trying" to dream, which cannot be done; rather, one can only surrender to the Dreamer.
It also reminds me of what Bion said about being a psychoanalyst: one must suspend memory, desire, and understanding, in order to "hear" the spontaneous productions of the unconscious mind, which is to say, the right hemisphere.
In fact, I remember my first day on the couch some 25 years ago. My analyst asked something like, "Do you know why you're doing that?" "Er, I don't know... to find a way to blame everything on my mother?" "No, it's in order to silence the left brain, so as to allow the right brain to get a word in edgewise."
Or as Bion said, so as to shed a beam of darkness on the workings of the unconscious mind (which is almost by definition in the right hemisphere).
And this is quite similar to what Joyce was up to in Finnegans Wake, i.e., destroying language in order to save it. I think he was essentially trying to imagine what a right brain language would be like, which is to say, holographic, fractal, endlessly metaphorical, timeless (or multi-temporal), tactile, and synesthetic, all at the same time(less). And despite the difficulty -- if not impossibility -- of ever fully comprehending it, I think he would insist that this type of language presents a more accurate -- or at least realistic -- map of the world, of man, and of history.
This goes to the problem of "saturation," which is when language becomes "dead" because unambiguous. When this happens, the world too becomes drained of poetry, and it so happens that there is a neurological explanation, or at least alibi.
As McGilchrist writes, "new experience of any kind -- whether it be of music, or words, or real-life objects, or imaginary constructs -- engages the right hemisphere. As soon as it starts to become familiar or routine, the right hemisphere is less engaged and eventually the 'information' becomes the concern of the left hemisphere only."
Thus, when language becomes saturated in this manner, we are rendered "half-alive," but then, not really alive at all, since our sense of "aliveness" is in the right brain.
Not to get too far afield, but at least for me, this is one of the purposes of the beer o'clock slackrament. Maybe I'm just lucky, but for me, I'm always just a beer or two away from right brain dominance. My left brain goes down easy.
In his Self and Spirit, Bolton reminds us of the orthoparadoxical idea that twoness, or dualism, is higher than oneness, or monism; or perhaps that One is intrinsically two and therefore three, the latter of which is "higher" than both, since, to put it mythsemantically, the infinite + the finite must (in a manner of speaking, of course) = more than the pure infinite alone.
Here again, this reminds me of the divisional or analytical (or prodigal!) thinking of the left, returning to the infinite mode of the right (back to the father... or mother, depending upon how one looks at it).
We could also say that love is higher than union; or, that true union is a unity in which differences are preserved and bound together by love -- which becomes, or reveals, their inner unity.
There is no question that on some level "all is one." But the question is, what kind of One? For when you say "all is one," you might just as well say "all is none." Not only is it a meaningless statement, it is unmeaningable -- no different than saying "all is all" or "one is one."
Furthermore, what is the ontological status of this entity who realizes "all is one?" As Bolton says, "Any such answer must include some proof that the self is a reality in its own right, and not just a collective name for a succession of more or less related phenomena with no integrating principle." For if the self is not in some sense real, then there is nothing it can objectively say about anything, let alone, God.
This is a critical question, because on it hinges not just the reality and the dignity of the personal self, but on the entire possibility of any intrinsic meaning at all, since meaning can only exist in reference to something else. If all is simply one, it is another way of saying that life is completely meaningless -- which some Vedantins and Buddhists come close to saying, i.e., that the world is maya (illusion) and nothing else.
Bolton writes that "misunderstandings of the self lead to misunderstandings of everything else." And it is the left-brain conception of the world that leaves us with an irreconcilable dualism, in that one side or the other of the dualism must go.
The result is "an almost exact parallel of the Cartesian conception of soul and body where neither has anything in common with the other" (Bolton). The Cartesian says, "I think, therefore I am." The Vedantin says "I am, therefore I think." But the Raccoon says, "God is, therefore I am. And that's why I can fruitfully and objectively think, to boot."
In other words, to say "I am one with God," is a kind of truism, but with important implications, for as Bolton says, "union in this context must mean what it says, and not simply the elimination of one side of the relation." Otherwise, we are simply avoiding a serious inquiry into the exceedingly strange situation of the Incarnation, both His and ours. You could almost say that the nonlocal Cosmic Right Hemisphere incarnated in a local time and place, or in an earthly, Left Hemispheric way.