Roads to Hell & Heaven
In the previous post we touched on the complementarity between inwardness and outwardness, or verticality and horizontality, and how they relate to being and doing. In the subsequent chapter, Schuon highlights a related complementarity between action and intention, the former more exterior, the latter interior (and situated on the same vertical scale that in our view leads back to God).
Regarding action and verticality, it reminds us of the old gag about the yeshiva student who traveled a great distance in order to meet a particular rabbi, not to hear him discourse on the Torah, but to watch him slice bread or tie his shoes. It seems that the most mundane act discharged by an elevated soul becomes elevated along with it.
Have you ever known anyone like that? If I'm not mistaken or just making something up, I believe the word "graceful" derives from this common experience. Obviously graceful means full of grace, and the source or ground of grace is not horizontal, rather, a transparent and experience-near expression of verticality.
Likewise with any art form. An art that forgets its religious source devolves to... what is today called "art."
In a way, it all goes back to the karma yoga referenced in the previous post: the practice of any art should be just an elevated and more conscious form of karma yoga, of "performing every action sacramentally, and being free from all attachments to results."
There is a beautiful little book that collects all of Schuon's writings on the subject of Art from the Sacred to the Profane. Let's dig it out and see if he has anything to say about the so-called direction of today's post.
From the foreword: "We can think, speak, and produce works of art," and these unique qualities enable us to "contemplate and realize the Infinite."
As such, the very structure of art involves the exteriorization of the interior, a crystallization of the eternal or a flash of infinitude; it is the bisection of horizontality by verticality, or, to coin a phrase, word-made-flesh. Such works "take us up through the hierarchies of the earthly states to the angelic sources of inspiration" (Critchlow).
The existence of these flashes and crystallizations "means that we have access to Eternity at any moment" (ibid.). And there is no "seeing" art without a seeing into, or in-sight. Just the fact that we have this peculiar ability to see-into things tells us a great deal about man's vocation. How do we manage this trick -- at either end, i.e., production or consumption of art?
That wasn't a rhetorical question, for I think it takes us back to the trinitarian structure of the cosmos. Just as the Father "sees-into" the Son, and vice versa, human beings herebelow see intersubjectively into one another and into our "prolongations" represented by art. You might say that the ultimate source of art is the Beautiful radiated out and down and then refracted through the artist.
I was thinking about this last night while viewing a documentary on the late jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani, one of my favorites. First of all, if you are ever tempted to feel sorry for yourself, he's your man. I read somewhere that he broke every bone in his body merely as a result of being born. And yet, for me anyway, his music is characterized by joy, exuberance, flight, playfulness, lyricism, and other qualities that "defy gravity" (in both senses of the term).
Interesting too that he didn't allow his disability to interfere with romance. One relationship started with his asking the candidate if she wouldn't mind carrying him up the steps to the club -- no doubt his favorite pick-up line.
From the profane back to the sacred. Here is one of my favorite definitions of art: "It is the interference of the uncreate in the created, of the eternal in time, of the infinite in space, of the supraformal in forms; it is the mysterious introduction into one realm of existence of a presence which in reality contains and transcends that realm and could cause it to burst asunder in a sort of divine explosion" (Schuon).
Orthoparadox, you see: for it is essentially the presence of the container within the contained. Now, what might be the Ultimate Instance of this phenomenon? The answer is obvious, but I'll give you a moment...
What could it be but the presence of Christ in Mary's tummy? This goes to the whole mystery of Christianiy, of the Container (and thereby uncontainable) nevertheless giving itself over to containment, so to speak.
To vary the old patristic crack, "the container becomes content so that the content might become container." Note that man is contained in space and time, or by body and death. But Christ overrides both -- or bursts them asunder -- via the resurrection body.
We're getting a little far afield. Back to where we started, in paragraph two, with the distinction between action and intention. Schuon points out that the identical action "may be good or bad according to the intention," but that the converse does not hold: "an intention is not good or bad according to the action."
But among the Many Lessons Liberals Will Never Learn is that bad or imperfect actions cannot "be excused by supposing that the intention was good or even by arguing that every intention is basically good or merely because it is subjective..."
This must be why virtually every liberal idea is described by its purported intentions, never its results, e.g., the Affordable Healthcare Act. "[I]t is not enough, in such cases, for the intention to be subjectively good, it must be objectively so..." (Schuon).
Well, good luck with that, since liberalism rests on the principle of wayward subjectivity, for with multiculturalism and moral relativism, everyone is always right -- at least if one is a member of the approved victim group. Others, like Trump, are somehow always wrong, despite good intentions and positive results.