Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lay Down All Thought, Surrender to That!

The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. --John 3:8

Many postmodern sophisticates think that religion is not empirical, but this fellow “John” was obviously a careful observer of spiritual reality. Nor is his language vague or inexact. It’s just that human language--at least at this point in our evolution--is somewhat poorly adapted to supersensible facts that lie above the material domain. As such, it has always been understood by the spiritually adequate that the Law of Analogy holds when discussing higher realities: “as above, so below.” Analogy is the link between created and uncreated things, which is why, in relying upon parable and other seemingly rustic literary forms, Jesus could not have been more vague or more precise. He always speaks perfect nonsense.

I don’t know where the Spirit comes from. And yet, it comes. And goes. I’ve already gone through several phases in my attitude toward blogging, but my current attitude is that it is basically a windsock to try to catch the Spirit as it blows by in the morning. It’s like damming a river so as to create electrical power. If I don’t take the trouble to sit here and catch it as it blows by, it’s as if it never existed. You might say that I am attempting to dam the Spirit, something my critics aleady know.

As I touched upon in One Cosmos, in order to talk about Spirit, we must change our relationship to language, for we cannot really speak it. Rather, we must allow ourselves to be spoken by the Spirit. Perhaps you may have noticed that most people, even as it is, do not really speak language. Rather, to a troubling degree, they are merely passively spoken by it. This is why most people really have nothing to say--why they are so boring. Perhaps the only sensible thing that William Burroughs ever said is that language is a virus. Certainly for most people it is--just something that has gotten into the brain and reproduces itself.

In short, many people are shockingly bereft, in other words, of the Other's word. Traditional cosmology holds that we live in a linguistic cosmos, that everyone and everything is infused with the Word. Therefore, language is not something that sprung up de novo in sophisticated primates. Rather, it is an anterior reality that we merely “tap into” or “piggyback” upon. And yet, language can become as frozen and dead as a stone, like Keith Richards or Brian Jones. For most people--and I’m not just talking about the grazing multitudes, but about so-called sophisticated elites--their minds consist of a few ruling memes that determine everything else.

I can think of so many examples that it’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll just use the first one that pops into my head. The other night, I sat down at beer o’clock PST and turned on the TV. It was the Larry King show, and the guest was Dan Rather. Now, I suppose one could concede that these two people possess “adequate” human intelligence. In other words, they are not neurologically damaged or diminished in some way. But two stupider people you could not find--two people who are simply spoken by language and have probably never had a creative thought in their lives.

I am sure there are people out there who think I’m being harsh or insulting here. But I am also quite sure there are others who know precisely what I’m talking about. Boredom is real. I personally do not suffer from it unless I am being bored by someone. As it so happens, the brilliant and subtle psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott wrote that the experience of boredom provided valuable information about a patient. As a psychoanalytically trained therapist, you do not merely “listen” to a patient. Rather, you also listen to yourself listening. In other words, you listen for your own emotional reaction, or watch for your own images or fantasies that are being provoked by the patient. This is called the analyst’s “counter-transference.” It is a source of subjectively objective information about others.

Winnicott maintained that the counter-transferential reaction of boredom was prima facie evidence of psychopathology in a patient. Normally we think of pathology in terms of “positive” symptoms--anxiety, depression, self-recrimination, etc. But boredom is a “negative” symptom. Something is missing. The mind, for whatever reason, has circled the drain and gone dead. The problem is not so much boredom as deadness. (There are many developmental reasons why this deadness can overtake the psyche, but I don’t have time to get into them all.)

When you watch as a child first acquires language, it is a delightful thing to behold. I’m experiencing it right now, in my son. It is very obvious that, as limited as he is, he is nothing at all like those dead people who are spoken by language. He is very much alive, and he is speaking language. He really only knows one word--that!--and yet, he is much funnier, more interesting, and more creative than Larry King or Dan Rather. Frankly, it’s not even close.

But as we are “educated,” something often happens in our relationship to language. Again, it can become as dead and frozen as any material object. Ironically, this is especially common for many people who call themselves “writers.” One reason I enjoy, say, Lileks or Van der Leun so much, is that they do not have this problem. Whatever they happen to be writing about, the language is very much alive, but not for its own sake. There are many well known writers whose writing is simply in service of writing, as opposed to the reality or idea that writing is meant to convey. This kind of stylized writing has its place, but it is often a narcissistic vehicle to conceal the inner vacuity of the person employing it. It is the literary equivalent of someone who is exceptionally good looking but as empty as your typical Hollywood liberal.

I have found that a key to spiritual development is to loosen the grip that the material world exerts on words--on the Word--and to allow language to become more fluid, mercurial, and receptive to higher things.

Obviously, this is something that the great poets have always known. And yet, great poets are not necessarily dealing with higher things, especially nowadays. While they may be alive, and may well have a more vibrant relationship to language, many of them simply use language to give voice to the infrahuman, not the suprahuman. So much contemporary art has descended in this direction, into a subjective swamp of “personal expression.” It creates another kind of boredom--the tedium of Madonna, or of rap, or of other forms of infrahuman barbarism. Frankly, the list is endless.

The real point of art--if art is to have any value except as a sort of pressure valve for the personal unconscious--is to give expression to higher things. And if you do not aim for those higher things, it is a sure bet that you will hit your mark. This is why, in the spiritually debased time in which we live, any subhuman with or without talent can call themselves an artist. For to be an artist merely means to “sing a song of myself,” no matter how ignorant or spiritually degraded that self happens to be.

For art to have real value, it must involve, as Schuon puts it, “the crystallization of archetypal values." Art is “the quest for--and the revelation of--the center, within us as well as around us,” an activity that “depends by definition on a knowledge that transcends it and gives it order; apart from such knowledge, art has no justification: it is knowledge which determines action, manifestation, form, and not the reverse.”

So where does this leave us? I had intended to write about one thing, but the Spirit overtook me and led me in a different direction. If I recall correctly, I had wanted to say something about the relationship between personal effort and spiritual reality. The key, according to Valentin Tomberg, is to first learn “concentration without effort,” and second, to “transform work into play.” I guess that’s what blogging has become for me: I just relax, turn off my mind, and float upstream. And never forget to bring a bucket. Or crock, depending on your point of view.

The essential function of sacred art is to transfer Substance, which is both one and inexhaustible, into the world of accident and to bring the accidental consciousness back to Substance. One could say also that sacred art transposes Being to the world of existence, of action or of becoming, or that it transposes the Infinite to the world of the finite, or Essence to the world of forms.... The Principle becomes manifestation so that manifestation might re-become the Principle, or so that the “I” might return to the Self; or simply, so that the human soul might, through given phenomena, make contact with the heavenly archetypes, and thereby with its own archetype. --Frithjof Schuon


The great Mark Steyn obviously feels the same way as I do about the zombie king and his wacksworks of the living braindead:

"I was on the road the other night and so found myself watching CNN's coverage of Israel, Lebanon, Gaza, etc. It was "Larry King Live," and it was one of those shows where Larry interviews great men about what needs to be done and the great men all agree that what needs to be done is that the president needs to get other great men involved to "broker" a "deal." Sen. Chuck Hagel proposed that Bush appoint Colin Powell or Jim Baker as his Special Envoy; Sen. Barbara Boxer proposed that Bush appoint Madeleine Albright as his Even More Special Envoy. Sen. George Mitchell, who himself served as Extra-Special Super-Duper Envoy a few years back, proposed that Bush involve the European Union. And someone else proposed the G-8. And Larry suggested Putin. Oh, and some smooth-talking apologist in Savile Row pinstripes proposed Chirac, because he and Bush had agreed a U.N. resolution on something or other a year or two back.

"Aside from Larry's closing tribute to Red Buttons, I've never heard more rubbish in a single hour since . . . well, come to think of it, since the last time I saw "Larry King Live." But at least that was a special with Heather Mills (Paul McCartney's missus), with which subject Larry seemed rather more engaged, at least after Lady McCartney plunked her artificial leg up on the desk and invited Larry to feel its lifelike texture, which is more than one can say for Larry these days. But the point is that Larry and his Friars' Club Roast approach to geopolitics is about as irrelevant to what's going on there as could be devised, short of Sen. Hagel proposing Heather Mills as his Special Envoy, which may be just what Hamas and Hezbollah deserve."

A dog named That!

A baby-sitter named That!

All This is That, the Beach Boys:

I am that, thou art that, all this is that
I am that, thou art that, all this is that
This is that
This is that

Daybreak and I take a glide
Into the pool of peace inside
To waves and I both travel by
And that makes all the difference to me

Life supporting waves of bliss
Mother Divine's precious kiss
Brings with love the light of wisdom
And the gift of eternal freedom

To waves and I both travel by
And that makes all the difference to me

I am that, thou art that, all this is that
I am that, thou art that, all this is that
This is that
This is that

Dusk time the shadows fall
Into the timeless time of all

To waves and I both travel by

Golden auras glow around you
Omnipresent love surrounds you
Wisdom warming as the sun
You and I are truly one

To waves and I both travel by
And that makes all the difference to me

I am that, thou art that, all this is that
I am that, thou art that, all this is that
I am that, thou art that, all this is that
I am that, thou art that, all this is that

Jai guru dev
(I am that, thou art that, all this is that)
Jai guru dev
(I am that, thou art that, all this is that)
Jai guru dev

(Funny, I always thought it was "two waves and I," but all the lyric sites say "to waves and I," whatever that means)


Christopher Lasch-type (conservative) "leftist" said...

I agree that the debased times we're in give license to every narcissist to call himself an artist... but did you have to illustrate your opinion by referencing one of the greatest poets who ever lived, Walt Whitman? That's like making fun of neurotic intellectuals by invoking Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech!

Gagdad Bob said...

I was thinking specifically about something Strunk & White said about the matter.... I'll have to dig up the exact quote.

Gagdad Bob said...

Found it:

"The volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it, almost as if the author were in a state of euphoria. "Spontaneous me," sang Whitman, and, in his innocence, let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers who would one day confuse spontaneity with genius."

will said...

Walt Whitman was the living embodiment of the cosmic-eye'd archetypal Fool. Most of his legion of imitators were and are too foolish to be Fools.

And that includes A Ginsberg who thought he was the literal reincarnation of WW. Ginsberg was too anti-authoritarian and just too perverse to ever be a Fool.

Dan Spomer said...

Perhaps if you sent copies of your book to the (self) esteemed members of the G8?

Naw... they still wouldn't get it.

"But what can we do?" one senior European diplomat asked. "It's all part of the same problem [with Iran], but we cannot tackle it all 'cosmologically.' We have to take it on piece by piece."

AuricTech said...

Your discussion of boredom and boring people reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Dangling Conversation" (MIDI file available here). One could almost believe that Paul Simon somehow read this blog entry 40 years ago (especially the accounts of Larry King bore-a-thons) when he penned these words:

Yes, we speak of things that matter
With words that must be said
"Can analysis be worthwhile?"
"Is the theater really dead?"
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow
I cannot feel your hand
You're a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives

RattlerGator said...

You were truly "smooth flowing" in this post, if you know what I mean. "I'll just use the first one that pops into my head," you wrote, and off we went on a damn good ride.

I love the two paragraphs that began with [1] The real point of art, and [2] For art to have real value, however . . . although I do love them and intuitively agree with them -- there is a tension that keeps me from "surrendering" to them. My mind keeps floating back to a core belief, that the true genius of America is what Tocqueville might today call the "dumbing down" of governance. This is what makes our model republic revolutionary, right?

Bad for Art but good for governance? Whatever the case, thanks for the food, man. I'm going to go chew on that one a bit.

Bro. Bartleby said...

May the holes in your windsock be no larger than the Spirit in it.

Gagdad Bob said...


I know what you mean, but I think it's a mistake to confuse culture with art, much less wisdom. Europe has culture, but in my opinion there's almost nothing better than most any authentic American roots music, whether it's be-bop, hard bop, swing, jump, blues, R & B, Gospel, soul, country, blue grass, etc., not to mention Sinatra or the other great pop & jazz singers--Dinah Washington, Nat King Cole, Ella, et al. Only America could have produced a pop singer of the artistic stature of Frank Sinatra--he is without a doubt one of the greatest artists who ever lived. Europe could never, ever, have produced a Ray Charles, or John Coltrane, or Johny Cash. Ha! Imagine a European Johnny Cash. Inconceivable.

Euros know this. I'm thinking of, say, the Beatles or Stones, who, as teenagers, felt they were encased in European deadness until they heard American music on Radio Luxembourg. Real rock or jazz or soul music has the capacity to spiritually liberate, a message that has unfortunately been almost completely lost in today's crass commercialism.

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh yeah. And Bob Dylan. And Bo Diddley. And the Beach Boys. And Stevie Ray Vaughan. And Elvis. And Muddy Waters. And Aretha. And James Brown. A European James Brown? I don't think so.

As Van der Leun says, "we've got the groove." Period.

Gagdad Bob said...

I would also take our Founding Fathers over any European political philosophy, even Marxism and Nazism.

Lisa said...

Amen, one nation under/above/beyond/inside/etc. a groove!

joseph said...

And Hank Williams and Doc Watson.

Gagdad Bob said...

And Buck Owens and Keith Jarrett.

Gagdad Bob said...

I would also take the Baseball Encyclopedia over the complete works of Kant, Descartes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger.

I do like Schopenhauer though. Just not as much as the Baseball Encyclopedia.

Christopher Lasch 2.0 said...

Come on, Gagdad, there would be no Freud without Nietzsche, and hence no Bion, Klein, Winnicott, etc...

josh abrams said...

i agree, i'll take oreilly,hannity and coulter 3 brilliant people over idiots king and rather,

Sal said...

Are you sure it's not "dat"?
Precious crazy boy...

We taught Nini some rudimentary sign language and it sure beat going through the Litany of the Baby Wants a hundred times a day.
I had my doubts about this, thought it might be some competitive yuppie parental illusionary trendiness, until she spontaneously came up with a sign for 'cat'. Actually, she concluded that the motions for 'be gentle with the kitty' meant 'cat'.

So tiny it's inconsequential:
Schoun gave me the final push into deciding that xeriscaping/native plant use is organic (not in the no-pesticides sense, but the other) and not just some self-c0ngratulatory thing people in, say, Austin, do. So, I'm re-designing the garden. It's not Art, but it's some small beauty in the world.

Will - perfect assessment of Whitman.

Jake C. said...

Yeah, America's in a groove. While the rest of the world is in a rut, IMHO.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Perhaps the lyric is "Two ways and I," echoing Frost's "The Road Less Traveled."

Petey said...

Why, you literate bastid'! Maybe you're right.