Monday, January 24, 2011

An Alighierical Tour of Heaven and Hell

I'm no Dante scholar, but this book by Jennifer Upton is certainly the best I've ever read on the Divine Comedy. In fact, one could probably travel down to the seventh circle of academia and not encounter wisdom of this depth and lucidity. It's going straight into the liberatoreum of permanent Raccoomendations.

Besides, does anyone go to college anymore in order to navigate the soul, expand the subjective horizon, colonize the nonlocal mindscape, and venture across the great divide separating man from the incorruptible sphere of the celestial beings and household gnomes?

I didn't think so.

Dante was one of the great pneumanauts -- spiritual explorers -- of all timelessness. He cannot be confined to western civilization, but is an example of what I was referring to in pp. 182-187, in the deuscontinuous transition between Mind and Spirit. For illiterate readers, a hint is provided on p. 183, which depicts Virgil leading Dante to the toppermost of the poppermost, where you can see the tail end of heaven dangling from above:

The world is, to put it bluntly, a trap. Or, one might say that it is a wall for the tenured, but a door -- or picture window at least -- for the Raccoon. It is not just a room with a view but a womb with a pew, meaning that life is a kind of pre-natal experience, with all this implies: conception, gestation, risks, complications, contractions, labor pains, all of it.

Which is why one must be born of water and of spirit. In one way or another, one must be born again from above, which is why you might say that this blog specializes in midwifery.

A particularly dangerous situation is the breeched birth, in which one is spiritually upside-down and trying to come out ass-first. This explains countless people one meets in this life.

Back when Mrs. G was pregnant, there would be anxious moments when the baby didn't make its presence known by banging on the cave walls. We had an incredibly nice doctor who would treat these as emergencies, take her in right away, and do a quick doppler in order to reassure her that all was well.

Now that I think about it, post-uterine life involves three trimesters. There is childhood, followed by "outer" adulthood, and then "inner" adulthood. At first we are taken care of by others, until we reach the age of maturity, at which point we become independent, get a gig, raise a family, and care for others.

But in the east -- and really, in any spiritual tradition -- there are two sides to adulthood, each no less important than the other (at least from the Raccoon perspective). And bear in mind that while we can distinguish between the two, we cannot actually separate them, any more than we could make a sharp division between planting -- or even just tilling the soil -- and harvesting.

It is one continuous process, even though the human station allows us to recognize abstract and rather puzzling discontinuities of various kinds and degrees. For example, nature knows no discontinuity between, say, physics and biology, whereas human beings are able to categorize the two. It is the same with "spirit" and "matter."

Anyway, as I was saying about Dante, he was clearly a pneumanaut par excellence. To treat him as a mere "literary figure" is to miss the point entirely, unless it is simply to emphasize that he was able to express perennial truth in an especially beautiful -- which is to say, truthful -- manner (beauty being the radiance of the true). Here's what he says upon reaching the edge of the exterior frontier:

We mounted upward through the rifted rock,
And on each side the border pressed upon us,
And feet and hands the ground beneath required

Where we were come upon the upper rim
Of the high bank, out on the open slope,
"My Master," said I, "what way shall we take?"

Life is that rocky road, but the road has a purpose and a destination. Absent a destination, then it is just a kind of trap, which is why, if one is an atheist, it makes perfect nonsense to simply take the leap into infrarational absurdity, à la Nietzsche. In other words, for the atheist, all roads lead nowhere, so why take one?

Thankfully, we have a gallery of esteemed saints and sages to show us the way up, in, and out: "[A] few of the trapped ones, by following a newly discovered current of being through to its nonlocal source upstream, far away from the terminal moraine of the outward-turned senses, did eventually identify a passage hidden in plain sight, through which lay yet another surprising but felicitous discovery: a Mighty Strange Attractor at the...

Drum roll please....

"... end of history -- Woo hoo!!! -- the One True Being ontologically prior to existence and from Whom existence itself is derived."

Yes, "by merely fooling around with the software of their own minds, these inward explorers -- eccentric psychonauts mostly unfit for conventional existence or simply unwilling to accept the slave wages of normality -- identified a trap door into a vertical dimension, and found there a return-route to the forgotten country from which humans had set out Before the Beginning" (the ainsoferable B'ob).

Please note that the structure of the Divine Comedy proceeds from hell to purgatory and on to paradise. One might say that spirit plunges down to the very depths of existence, in order to recover and redeem as much reality as humanly possible: "Dante's apparent descent into Hell is really a spiritual ascent, not a damnation..." (Upton). Really, it's a kind of circle, more on which later.

Note that Dante's ultimate guide is true love, represented by the figure of Beatrice. Upton makes the critical point that "Many a person has reached the threshold of spiritual Truth by starting from the thinking function, only to have that Truth destroyed in this life through false feeling. True feeling, on the other hand, can be a 'homing' faculty, drawing us toward the Center almost faster than we could travel on our own initiative" (emphasis mine).

Thus, when we refer to O as the Great Attractor, we are not just having a little pun at your expense. We mean this literally: we are attracted to this Oming deivoice, and voice versa. We call this attraction love: the love of truth, of beauty, and of virtue. The good man loves these things with all his heart, mind, and strength, which frankly isn't difficult to do, unless one has attended college.

Just getting warmed up. To be continued....


julie said...

To be continued....

Oh, good!
Perhaps it's time to break out my copy of Dante's "Pneumanaut's Guide to the Cosmos"...

One might say that spirit plunges down to the very depths of existence, in order to recover and redeem as much reality as humanly possible

I suspect this is true or at least possible on a cultural level, as well. Which is to say, bearing in mind the news of the past few weeks, if America can face the hells which it fosters in the name of the lie, perhaps it, too, will find a redemption.

If nothing else, Will's quickening does seem to be continuing apace.

Speaking of whom, anybody heard from him in a while? I hope he's alright.

Tor Hershman said...

"Besides, does anyone go to college anymore in order to navigate the soul, expand the subjective horizon, colonize the nonlocal mindscape, and venture across the great divide separating man from the incorruptible sphere of the celestial beings and household gnomes?

GAD! Moi hopes NOT!

Even gettin' enlightenment is gettin' nothing.


Stay on groovin' safari,

julie said...

And speaking of college, Dr. Sanity has more on what the kids today are actually getting out of it.

mushroom said...

Life is that rocky road, but the road has a purpose and a destination.

As the song says, The road is rocky but it won't be rocky long.

I like the trap imagery. Calling it a maze doesn't quite do it justice. Yogi's advice remains sound: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

ge said...

though i dont know my Dante too 1st-handedly, i did recall there existing a study claiming a big Sufi influence in him---i wonder if your book sees any...
here is ref:
In 1919 Professor Miguel Asín Palacios, a Spanish scholar and a Catholic priest, published La Escatología musulmana en la Divina Comedia ("Islamic Eschatology in the Divine Comedy"), an account of parallels between Islamic works and the Divine Comedy. Asín Palacios argued that Dante derived many features of and episodes about the hereafter directly or indirectly from various versions of Islamic works: the Hadith and the Kitab al Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before[3] as Liber Scale Machometi, "The Book of Muhammad's Ladder") concerning Muhammad's ascension to Heaven, and the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi

mushroom said...

One phrase that Dr. Sanity uses is kind of interesting: Rhetoric is more important than reality.

It's almost as if they actually inhabit a different reality.

The problem with Obamacare is not just that it is wrong, but it won't work. But even if it worked, it's an intrusion into individual freedom that should be rejected.

A lot of stuff will work reasonably well in the derived reality of the world system. The police state is a good example. But it's wrong in the Reality of Divine truth. If I believed the lifeless mush that Obama believes, I'd support a police state, too. In a world where there is no god but the state, it makes sense to disarm and control the masses. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? not withstanding.

Tapuwasi said...

The world is no trap.

We are here to dominate and transform the world, not vice versa.

While you're here you can be more (raccoon) or less (other) effective in advancing the mission.

Seeing the world as a trap to be evaded is a defeatist mind-set. you may not throw the fight or run away.

You must dig in and fight in situ.

To be here is a great honor and a chance to do great things; not an excuse to bitch and moan and pine for R & R.

So get busy.

NoMo said...

Hey, all. Don't miss this one on the "sinister enchantment" of the left.

Someone is paying attention, Dr. Bob.

mushroom said...

Tap, I took Bob's point to be that it is a trap if you don't defeat it. That's why trap is a better word than maze. It really is a life-and-death issue rather than simply, an oops-wrong-turn re-do.

julie said...

Back to the Inferno, for anyone reading who could use a bit of help with the basic references in the poem, there's a good resource here. It doesn't get into the coonological meanings, but is very helpful in decoding the basic "who?" and "what?" for the historically challenged.

There are also some readings of the original lines, and some linguistic references that lead to some interesting mental tangents. For instance, in an explanation of the use of anaphora, the following:

"Inferno 3 opens with a striking example of this poetic device (called anaphora): Dante begins the first three verses containing the words written above the gate of hell with the phrase Per me si va . . . ('Through me one goes . . .')."

Interesting in my mind, at least, because it changes ever so slightly the way I think of the word "permissive."

Anyway, back to reading while the rugrat snoozes...

JP said...

Bob says:

"Besides, does anyone go to college anymore in order to navigate the soul, expand the subjective horizon, colonize the nonlocal mindscape, and venture across the great divide separating man from the incorruptible sphere of the celestial beings and household gnomes?"

I eventually figured out that I was in college to seek enlightenment.

It kind of worked and kind of didn't.

I got a preliminary introduction to on-the-ground Christian mysticsm. I also got a degree in chemical engineering, a subject in which I actually have no interest whatsoever. Chemical engineering students weren't there for enlightenment.

The only other guy who was there for enlightment converted to catholocism and joined a monastery.

Rick said...

Yes. Please continue..

Van said...

"Just getting warmed up. To be continued.... "

Nothing particular to add, but a favorite topic, covered in a way not to be found anywhere else... cool.

Van said...

I think tapuwoozy is trying to tap a new nic for grunt maker & bh.