Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Word Made Fresh and The Weird Made Flesh (2.28.11)

Let's begin with two stipulations, one very old, the other of more recent vintage, treating them not as religious statements per se but metaphysical ones:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,


In the beginning was the the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

What the heck, in the spirit of multiculturalism, and in the effort to increase our depth of vision with an extra I, let's toss another bon mot into the mix, this from the opening of the Isha Upanishad: In the heart of all things, of whatever there is in the universe, dwells the Lord.

What does it mean, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"? As I have mentioned before, I believe that it has to do with the creation of the most fundamental duality of the cosmos. This duality can be viewed from many angles, but it can be summarized by saying that "in the beginning God created the vertical and the horizontal," for this duality subsumes the irreducible (irreducible in terms that can be thought about) categories of quality and quantity, interior and exterior, eternity and time, whole and part, implicate and explicate, subject and object. In each instance we are dealing with a "limit case" beyond which thought cannot traverse. In fact, the one side of the dualism necessitates the other and represents the conditions of thought. Nothing "mental" can be made without the vertical/horizontal duality as a precondition.

With the second statement we introduce an unexpected twist: In the beginning was the Word, or Logos. Moreover, this Word was with God, implying that it was there "before the beginning," before the great dualistic creative activity of the first statement. Indeed, if the Word is God, this can be the only logical conclusion.

This then apparently raises language to a most exalted status. But clearly not if we merely look at it in the usual way. It's so easy to take language for granted, when in reality we are dealing with something that is frankly magic. In fact, the very same Biblical passage cautions us about this, pointing out that the light of the Word "shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it." Or, to put it in the slightly saltier terms expressed in the Book of Petey, "the weird light shines in the dark, but the dorks don't get it. For truly, the weirdness was spread all through the world, and yet, the world basically kept behaving as if this were just your ordinary, standard-issue cosmos."

One additional point would appear relevant. From Genesis 1:26 and 27 we read "Then God said 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness'.... So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them." We are particularly interested in how our capacity for creativity might mirror the primordial creative activity of the Divine Mind.

So, what is language, anyway? What is a word? As a matter of fact, a word is a very special thing, because only it has the capacity of bridging the dualistic worlds introduced by primordial creation. Apparently words can do this because they are somehow prior to the great duality and therefore partake of both heaven and earth, above and below, vertical and horizontal.

The literal meaning of the word "symbol" is to "throw together" or across, as if words are exterior agents that join together two disparate things. But the Biblical view would suggest that langauge actually has this "throwing together" capacity because it somehow subtends the world on an interior level: language is what the world is made of, so it shouldn't surprise us that with it we can see all kinds of deep unities in the cosmos. The unities are there just waiting to be discovered, and language is our tool for doing that.

"In the beginning" of human consciousness there is also a fundamental duality--or dialectic--between the conscious (horizontal) and unconscious (vertical) minds. It is incorrect to visualize the mind in spatial terms as a sort of unconscious space below, with a line separating it from the conscious mind above. In reality, each moment of consciousness involves a generative, ceaselessly flowing "translation," or unfolding, of multi-dimensional, nonlocal mental space that cannot be thought about into a local, linear, and particularized expression that can be thought about.

Again, in a healthy person there is a fluid and generative dialectic between these two realms. But many things can go wrong with that process--in fact, most forms of psychopathology have to do with the person being caught up and entangled on one end or the other. I don't have time to get into that now, but suffice it to say that there are some people--let's call them the obsessive-compulsives--who live their lives wading in the shallow, rocky shoreline of the conscious side, while others--let's call them hysterics and borderlines--get lost in the storm-tossed sea of the unconscious side. Again, the key is a dialectical rapport between the two dimensions. That's where you are really "alive." And much of that aliveness has to do with language, that secret key to the universe.

For what is a word? What is so special about language? Again, a word easily serves as an emissary between the two worlds. On the one hand, a word refers to something particular in space and time--a cup, a tree, a dog. On the other hand, a word is by definition an abstraction with no localized or localizable being: we only recognize cup or tree or dog because they are a function of cupness, treeness or doginess. Therefore, words are the local tools of the translating function of vertical into horizontal being, of infinite into finite, of eternity into time--if we know how to use them. If we do not live in the dark.

Speaking of which, I've been typing this post--like all my recent posts--in the darkness of the dawn. They say that dawn is the friend of the muses. I suppose that is because at dawn we still have one foot in the waters of our night-sea journey into the multidmensional dream world. Perhaps my posts only make sense at dawn and cannot withstand the harsh light of daytime logic. In any event, that blanding light is now shining through my window, signalling to me that I am once again late for my daily horizontal exhile. But I'll be back. Back to the beginning tomorrow morning, where we will plot another raid on the formless infinite, and attempt to translate it into terms we can think about.


dilys said...

"...words can do this because they are somehow prior to the great duality..."

That's wonderful. And yet they sustain the duality for as long as it serves.

I once hung about with a highly-imperfect guru from whom I learned a lot. He gave long required-attendance lectures and encouraged his followers to look up the etymology of every word. Every word had a picture, a narrative at the root. An astonishing number of them lead back to the garden.


Untwist the rust-streaked human nature,
Harvest the symmetry of life.
Use every tool in the garden
To dig up the root of strife.

Polish the mind's mechanism,
Dress a sad heart in silk stuff.
Put the key in the lock:

Now we're home.

Yes, there is love enough.

Michael Andreyakovich said...

What drew me to this post was the concept you touched on - of our minds being made in the image of God's Mind.

Our capacity for creativity will never equal his - what mere mortal being could have come up with Earth, let alone the universe? - but it is meant to be a reflection of his ability within ourselves.

John Ronald Tolkien was one of the chief proponents of this philosophy in his day. (Yes, THAT Tolkien.) He was a devout Catholic and conceived of his art - of all human artistic endeavors, in fact -as a microcosm of God's art. when it looked into new worlds, or deeply into life itself, art was not just "art" but an act of what he termed "Subcreation."

And as an evolutionist myself, I can comprehend how it might have fit into the Plan that the human race developed the capability of language before we developed a use for it.

Dan Spomer said...

Bob, I just received your book today.

Upon discovery, it immediately went to the top of my wife's "burn list." Of course, that makes me certain I'm on the right track.

I've read through the first few pages already and am more scared now than when I took on "Gravity's Rainbow." Which also means I'm on the right track. The adventure begins. Or rather, doesn't begin. To the center, then....

Muchas gracias.

Gagdad Bob said...

Don't worry if you don't understand the first few pages right away. Since space is curved, no matter where you start my book, you will return to the beginning, at which time it should make more sense to you--you can rearrive at the beginning and know it or the first time, as one wag put it.

Also, I might recommend reading pp.267-274 first, for some of the back story.

dilys said...

I began with the notes, and was immediately enchanted.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Now Bob, when you and Petey get all famous and get so big that book signing tours become overwhelming, you gotta get one of THESE