Monday, September 19, 2016

Imagining Reality

One thing leads to anauthor, in this case, Henry Corbin to Ibn al-'Arabi via William Chittick's The Sufi Path of Knowledge. I'm as dubious of Islam as the next guy, but there are always exceptions, most notably Schuon, whom I probably quote more than any other author.

Indeed, it is fair to say I that am far closer to a Schuon-style Sufism than to certain strands of moonstream Christianity -- just as if Lena Dunham were the only alternative, I don't know that I could call myself heterosexual.

Nor was Schuon himself without the same ambivalence: "Formerly, the prince of darkness fought against religions above all from without and apart from the sinful nature of man; in our age he adds a new stratagem to this struggle, with regard to emphasis at least, which consists of seizing religions from within, and he has largely succeeded, in the world of Islam as well as the worlds of Judaism and Christianity."

After all, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama call themselves Christian (as Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry are "Catholic"), and some 75% of Jews are reliable Democratic voters. All of these trends should be "impossible," but, as Schuon would say, evil is the possibility of impossibility (or presence of nothingness), so to speak. Some things cannot -- or at least should not -- be, and yet, there they Are.

In any event, this satanic ruse "is not even very difficult for him... given the prodigious lack of discernment that characterizes the humanity of our epoch..." This absence of discernment is precisely what renders the impossible possible and gives it the appearance of reality.

Speaking of possible impossibilities, I am currently reading volume 2 of Manchester's magnificent Churchill bio. It is rather more slow moving than the first and third volumes (which I have already read), and provides an almost hour-by-hour (and sometimes minute-by-minute) account of the three year lead up to World War II, from Hitler's 1936 yoinking of the Rhineland to his 1939 invasion of Poland.

While historians tell us World War II broke out in August of 1939, in actuality it started no later than 1936. It's just that the allies finally acknowledged it in 1939. Why did they (excepting Churchill) fail to notice they were at war before then? Well, why does the left not acknowledge that we are at war with Islamic terror? Rather, we are in a Narrative Fight with folks who call themselves Muslim. My narrative can beat up your narrative!

But you can't actually even say that, because the whole idea of narrative comes out of a subreal literary theory that says one narrative is no better than another, and that they are all rooted in power, not truth. Thus, just as the P. of D. seizes religions from within, so too does he seize English, history, philosophy, and psychology departments, not to mention political parties, TV stations, and newspapers.

I see we've already opened a multitude of possible avenues to explore in this post. I hadn't intended to veer off into Churchill, but my main point is the singular lack of discernment -- blindness, really -- in his opponents in the 1930s.

Conversely, Hitler wasn't at all blind, at least insofar as he saw exactly what he wanted to do and how to go about doing it. But just as liberals today blind themselves to troubling aspects of Islam, intellectuals of the 1930s skimmed right past the, er, troubling parts of the Mein Kampf narrative.

In comparing attitudes of the 1930s to contemporary times, the parallels are even more striking than I had realized. For example, liberals don't want to refer to terrorists as "Islamic" for fear of offending them. Just so, the whole policy of the Chamberlain government revolved around not angering Hitler.

Bear in mind that this was before "appeasement" had been discredited -- before it became a pejorative term. Rather, Chamberlain openly and enthusiastically embraced the policy of appeasement -- which is why the last thing he wanted to do was bring Churchill into the government, as this would have undoubtedly made the Fuhrer "cross." The logic is the same: just as angering terrorists creates more of them, Churchill was the Nazi's best recruiting tool.

But let's get back to matters at hand, al-'Arabi. I can't say I would recommend the book. Rather, I'm only here to extract the useful and throw away the rest. And the main thing I find useful is cross-referencing some of his insights and experiences with people like Meister Eckhart, who popped into history a little bit later (he was born about 20 years after al-'Arabi died in the 13th century).

Is it possible that those two had a common Source? Yes, I believe so, but nothing "exterior." Rather, it seems to me that they were orbiting around the same Attractor, and therefore seeing and experiencing some of the same things. You could say they were battling for the same Narrative.

I'm not going to pretend to be any kind of expert, nor to give any kind of tidy summary (which is impossible anyway, since he wrote some "700 books, treatises, and collections of poetry." You could say that he stood knee-deep in O with the firehose on full blast -- a ceaseless torrent of mystical insights. And as is always true in such cases, it is left to us to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Shifting gears rather violently for the moment, Churchill was the same way, at least in regard to his writing. The spigot was always on. Lately I've been trying to figure out the peculiar power of his words. What's his trick? Whence the magic?

Of note, one of the reasons he was ignored in the 1930s is that everyone acknowledged his "genius." It was his judgment they questioned. In short, it was widely believed that his prudence was not equal to his intelligence, such that there was an awful lot of indiscriminate balderdash tossed into the undeniably brilliant mix.

Which is sometimes true. You might say, the bigger the genius, the greater the error. One of his defenders said "Winston was often right. But when he was wrong -- well, my God.”

I think the "problem," if it can be defined as such, was his prodigious imagination. Now, as we've been discussing lately, reality takes place in the imaginal space between world and soul. Imaginal is not the same as imagination, but they certainly share similarities. Which we will no doubt get to as we proceed, because this is one of al-'Arabi's (and Henry Corbin's) central ideas.

This unruly post just refuses to settle down!

Let me begin with some highlighted passages from Chittick's introduction:

"Many important thinkers have concluded that the West never should have abandoned certain teachings about reality which it shared with the East.... In putting complete faith in reason, the West forgot that imagination opens up the soul to certain possibilities of perceiving and understanding not available to the rational mind."

Analysis: true. I entered western Christianity via the eastern door, and found there everything I had been looking for in yoga, only in a different garb, AKA veil.

At any rate, "Once we lose sight of the imaginal nature of certain realities, the true import of a great body of mythic and religious teachings slips from our grasp."

Speaking of which, in my ongoing effort to understand the Churchill magic, I'm reading his sprawling History of the English Speaking Peoples. In it he discusses the legendary Arthur, who may be imaginary but is none the less real for being so: he "takes us out of the mist of dimly remembered history into the daylight of romance." There he "looms, large, uncertain, dim but glittering," such that "around his name and deeds shine all that romance and poetry can bestow."

Not to push the envelope too far, but what was Churchill but a modern-day incarnation of this same mythic and quintessentially British archetype? Certainly he was the only man in 1940 capable of pulling the imaginal sword from the stone of modern sophistication, and wielding it to rouse dreams and visions of light conquering darkness and good vanquishing evil.

Well, we're out of time. To be continued...

26 Comments:

Blogger ted said...

Not to push the envelope too far, but what was Churchill but a modern-day incarnation of this same mythic and quintessentially British archetype?

Bob, have you considered how the right leaders have appeared in history at the most important moments? Can we imagine the Revolutionary War without Washington, the Civil War without Lincoln, the Cold War without Reagan?

9/19/2016 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes I have, and no we cannot!

9/19/2016 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It is as if the crisis evokes the man.

9/19/2016 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

I like that a lot: Crisis evokes the man!

While I've had my challenges with Trump, I do think he will win. It seems like something is nudging him to the finish line when so many thought he was a goner! And I also sense we are entering a crisis of some nature. And he actually may surprise us. Has he been evoked?

9/19/2016 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Crazy times call for a crazy man.

Or at least someone who is not part of the certifiably sane Intellectual Yet Idiot status quo.

9/19/2016 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger Allena said...

"While historians tell us World War II broke out in August of 1939, in actuality it started no later than 1936. It's just that the allies finally acknowledged it in 1939. Why did they (excepting Churchill) fail to notice they were at war before then? Well, why does the left not acknowledge that we are at war with Islamic terror? Rather, we are in a Narrative Fight with folks who call themselves Muslim. My narrative can beat up your narrative!"

Narratives...is there anything they can't do?

9/19/2016 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Allena said...

Obama's objective is to win a narrative war while the objective of jihadists is to win an actual war.
It really shouldn't be a surprise that Narrative Wars are more expensive in blood and treasure than actual wars.
PC is not a winning strategy, particularly when dealing with bloodthirsty barbarians.

9/19/2016 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...just as if Lena Dunham were the only alternative, I don't know that I could call myself heterosexual.

I had to stop and laugh.

9/19/2016 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Of note, one of the reasons he was ignored in the 1930s is that everyone acknowledged his "genius." It was his judgment they questioned. In short, it was widely believed that his prudence was not equal to his intelligence...

Historically there was some reason for that. Churchill took the fall for Gallipoli, justifiably to some extent. That was a yuuuge error in judgment. The real disaster may have been mostly incomprehension by military leaders on the ground, but it was, nevertheless, an easy way for his opponents to dismiss him. He had been "too aggressive" angering the Turks by denying them two ships that had been built for them, thus bringing them into the war on Germany's side.

9/19/2016 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

After all, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama call themselves Christian (as Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry are "Catholic"), and some 75% of Jews are reliable Democratic voters. All of these trends should be "impossible," but, as Schuon would say, evil is the possibility of impossibility (or presence of nothingness), so to speak.

That does explain a lot, as any genuine understanding of Judaism or Christianity would lead one in the precise opposite direction from the average Leftist. Sufism, too, presumably.

9/19/2016 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"... In putting complete faith in reason, the West forgot that imagination opens up the soul to certain possibilities of perceiving and understanding not available to the rational mind."

While I agree, I'll also quibble a bit, in that when you remove the Imaginative from Reason, you no longer have Reason, nor can you have truly Rational thought, any more then in removing one leg of a three legged stool, you would still have a functional stool. When that is done, and our school systems in America explicitly set out to do just that in the years plus and minus 1800, what you are left with is one form or another of rationalism, and logic chopping.

The West didn't put its full faith in Reason, it cast it aside for the cold embrace of its Doppelganger, and carried on with that as if all was well.

It wasn't. Surprise.

9/19/2016 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I was thinking about that today. It occurred to me that reality is way to big to capture with thought. You can only imagine it. Or, reason can provide the scaffolding, but imagination gives it flesh and blood.

9/19/2016 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love how a bunch of goyisher kopfs like you folks think they are qualified to tell 75% of Jews that the are doing it wrong.

9/20/2016 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

According to the Old Testament, most Jews have been doing it wrong pretty much from the start. Why should today be any different?

9/20/2016 12:59:00 AM  
Blogger Kurt said...

Ouch! Julie, that is going to leave a mark...well said!

9/20/2016 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Not only that, but seriously religious Jews -- like anyone else who is seriously religious -- tend not only to be conservative but regard their secular leftist brethren as more than a little meshuggah (e.g., Chomsky, Soros, Zinn, et al).

9/20/2016 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

70% of European Jews won’t go to shul on High Holy Days despite heightened security. I wonder what percentage supported the liberal policies responsible?

9/20/2016 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

For most "religious" people, I believe worldview takes priority. Most people are religious by community/family affiliation and choose to believe what they want. Very few people take it all the way theologically, otherwise their political affiliation would be different.

9/20/2016 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Off topic: He's back.

9/20/2016 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

When "liberal" is used as a prefix, it supplants whatever word it is attached to. Thus, for example, "liberal Christianity" is more liberal than Christian. Likewise liberal Judaism. Or liberal economist. Or liberal media. Or liberal education.

9/20/2016 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Gotta question Ken Wilber's judgment. First Da Free John, then Cohen.

As I've said before, if "enlightenment" doesn't confer elementary judgment, then what good is it?

9/20/2016 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

It does give enlightenment a bad name, but there are the Meister Eckhart's who had both: enlightened consciousness and sound judgment. So the ideal is still possible.

9/20/2016 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Of course! Although we've discussed in the past Schuon's critique of "realizationism," which substitutes subjective experience for objective truth. The New Age movement is pervaded with that error.

9/20/2016 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Everyone's Deepakin the Chopra!

9/20/2016 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Exactly: subjectivism and realizationism gone wild.

9/20/2016 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "It occurred to me that reality is way to big to capture with thought."

Yep. I've thought of true Reasoning is being similar to a three legged stool, simultaneously involving a wondering awareness, methodical reflection, and poetic imagination.

With all three, you have a sound support for your life - you can see what is, comprehend what is and has been, and draw on that substance to create what has not yet been, but should be.

Lose any one of them, and you either fall flat on your ass, or become so unsteady that you look like a total ass.

9/20/2016 08:06:00 PM  

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