Friday, June 30, 2017

God has a Bridge to Sell Give Away

"To say man," writes Schuon," is to say form; man is the bridge between form and essence, or between 'flesh' and 'spirit.'"

I was explaining this concept to the young master yesterday -- that human beings, without anyone ever teaching them how, can spontaneously discern the treeness of trees, the dogginess of dogs, and the humanness of humans. Conversely, animals are nominalists: there is only this tree or that tree, but no concept or essence of treeness.

Along these same lines, we've had a number of recent discussions on What the Dog is Thinking. In truth, we can have no idea what it is like to be a dog, since we would have to remove language and conceptualization from the equation. A human can no more "think like a dog" than he can live like a tree. If we did so, we would no longer be men.

Without question, language is what sets us apart from the rest of creation. As with our spontaneous ability to discern essences, no one has to teach us how to speak. Rather, it happens as naturally as instinct does in lower animals.

In the case of animals, instinct is always a limiting principle, e.g., eat this and not that. But language for man is a liberating principle; or rather, it deploys limits in order to open out to the limitless.

There are three possibilities with language: first, it could be a purely horizontal phenomenon, simply assigning arbitrary symbols to concrete realities. Or, it could be reducible to something lower, as in how the ultimate purpose of birdsong is usually related to mating. Or again, it could open out to something higher, as in how, say, poetry uses words to express the wordless.

In reality it accomplishes each of these, for reasons outlined by Schuon above: man is the vertical bridge between form/flesh and essence/spirit. Language is a reflection of the universal Logos, and it seems to me that the Logos is this bridge, precisely. Thus, to the extent that man participates in the Logos, he makes himself the bridge between worlds.

Recall our recent posts on radial vs. circumferential knowledge. If you don't recall them, just imagine a circle with radii extending outward from the central point. Each radii is a celestial memo that carries the Logos with it, from the center to the periphery.

Now, everything is just such a radii, on pain of non-existence. A thing that exists completely apart from the center would be utterly unintelligible and absurd. For our purposes it might as well not exist.

And yet, this is the counter-philosophy of nominalism: that everything is a unique instance with no essential principle. Another name for this misosophy is "logical atomism," which denies wholeness and centrality. It retains a kind of totality, but this totality is just an agglomeration rather than synthesis.

Let's consider the words of our esteemed St. John the Apostle. Not through the eyes of faith, but, just for kicks, through the third eye of pure metaphysics. Wasting no time, he puts forth several essential principles at the outset:

1. In the beginning is the Word (a translation of the Greek Logos).

2. The Logos is with God.

3. The Logos is God.

4. All things are created through the Logos.

5. The Logos is a Him, therefore a person.

6. In the Logos is life, and this life is a kind of light for men.

7. But men have a tendency not to comprehend any of this.

How to make sense of this perfect nonsense? To jump ahead a bit, what if the Logos-Center, instead of merely radiating toward the periphery via centrifugal Logoi, actually incarnates at the periphery? In other words, what if, instead of mere prolongations of the Logos, we can have the real thing, right here, dwelling among us?

Analogously, this would be like the sun itself traveling to our planet instead of just showering us with its rays -- or maybe like Sun Ra somehow visiting planet earth.

It goes without saying that no mere animal can comprehend any of this. Rather, only a logocentric being can -- one who not only possesses language but understands where language comes from.

In effect, Genesis 1 speaks of the prolongation of the Logos to the periphery, AKA the Creation (without which -- or whom -- nothing is created). But John simultaneously parallels this passage while making the more startling claim that the creative principle decides to visit his creation.

I'll just conclude with a passage by Schuon, and hope it Wraps Things Up:

[H]uman subjectivity is such an amazing miracle that it is enough to prove both God and the immortality of the soul; God, because this extraordinarily profound and comprehensive subjectivity can be explained only by an absolute which substantially prefigures it and which projects it into accidence; and immortality, because the incomparable quality of this subjectivity has no sufficient reason, no reason proportionate to its excellence, within the narrow and ephemeral framework of this earthly life.

If it is merely to live like ants [or leftists -- G.B.], men have no need of their intellectual and moral possibilities, which amounts to saying that they have no need to be men; the very existence of man would then be a luxury as inexplicable as it is useless. Not to understand this is the most monstrous as well as most mysterious of blindnesses.

Mysterious perhaps, but ineveateapple. For the spirit shines in the flesh, but the fleshbound don't see it. For them, God has a bridge to sell. No, it's worse: He can't even give the bridge away!

8 comments:

julie said...

Speaking of animals, I'm pretty sure Dupree made it into at least a couple of these shots.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

In line with how little we know and how much to discover, I find bridge to god needs some clarification, since the customary knowledge points to a ladder to god not a bridge. This in light of the vertical knowledge and the horizontal knowledge and their demand for ladder to accommodate the vertical knowledge and bridge for the horizontal knowledge. A vertical bridge is hard to imagine.Yes words are for deploying meanings in that context I find in eve ate apple some ambiguity that also needs clarification in order for the message to hits its destination. All god cosmos is a give away including the human who was given consciousness to know his god and to serve his god through serving his creations as it is well expressed by Schuon in the quote you wrapped your post with. This should not let us forget his other warning regarding the centrality of the divine without letting the soul be consumed by the caprices of the periphery.

ted said...

Just picked up a copy of Ross Douthat's Bad Religion. Just skimming it, it looks amazing. One of those books I'm excited to dive into.

Gagdad Bob said...

Are you sure? I don't trust a Timesman.

Meanwhile, I'm really enjoying this bio of Louis Armstrong that I picked up for a buck yesterday at the library sale. Great background info about the unique cultural context of New Orleans and the dreadful plight of blacks. Despite the latter, he wasn't the least bit angry or bitter. An amazing human being, and undoubtedly one of the truly archetypal Americans, being that virtually all American music flows through him.

Gagdad Bob said...

Hmm, I wonder: who are the Top Ten Archetypal Americans?

Off the top of my head, my list would include:

Washington
Lincoln
Twain
Hemingway?

Sinatra
Elvis
Dylan
Armstrong

One might be tempted to overlook the last four, but as Breitbart said, politics is downstream from culture, and who has had more impact -- for good or ill -- on world culture than those guys?

Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of archetypal Americana, I just picked up The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer. I had mentioned in a comment that he was my favorite lyricist of the Great American Songbook, and now I'm putting that claim to the test, what with 1,200 examples to evaluate.

He's not just clever and sophisticated like a Cole Porter, but has a deep and often melancholy poetical thingy about him.

I'm hoping it's not too much of a good thing. I'll report back later.

Gagdad Bob said...

Perceptive review on amazon:

Ira Gershwin has the oft-quoted line: "Any resemblance between popular song lyrics and actual poetry is purely coincidental." He must not have been very familiar with Johnny Mercer's work.

Mercer doesn't display the cosmopolitan wit, mordant ironies, and dazzling word play of Cole Porter. Nor does he exhibit the finely honed literary skills and heart-breaking personal vulnerability (thinly disguised by ironic, verbal defense mechanisms) of Lorenz Hart....

What's the attraction of Johnny Mercer? First, and maybe foremost, he's a Southern American writer. He knows "Southern Gothic," Southern vernacular and black dialect, story-telling and the oral tradition. In favor of going to college, he absorbed the indigenous culture around Savannah, combing record stores for every "race record" (recordings targeted at African-American audiences) he could find. His story is similar to that of a writer like Faulkner, whose formal education is spotty and who learned from the books in his immediate surroundings in Oxford, Mississippi.

The result is a poet who is more direct and plain-spoken than most, a story-teller whose range exceeds that of practically every other lyricist, an authentic and very "American" artist whose lyrics record the sights and sounds with which all Americans can resonate, and finally the most "Romantic" lyricist of them all, dwelling not simply on love and its obsessions, rewards and punishments, but on the "natural world" and the mind's intersection with it. In song after song, he celebrates nature and the life force, or he draws upon nature for his metaphoric language about the the experience--more precisely, the "memory"--of being in love....

ted said...

The Douthat book looks like an amazing survey of cultural Christianity in America over the last couple hundred years. Douthat is an orthodox Catholic, and I first heard of the book by some well respected writers (Jonah Goldberg, Yuval Levin). I'm not militantly opposed to the NYT... Brooks is decent at times. It is what it is, but Douthat seems like the kind of writer working within the edges of culture to make some effort in realigning it with its roots.

I'm curious about the Armstrong book. Looks rich!