Friday, August 10, 2012

Obama: Postmodern, Post-Literate, Post-Reality

This is timely: a WSJ editorial on our first Postmodern President. Yes, ideas have consequences, but so too do anti-ideas such as postmodernism.

Similarly, communism and fascism were and are anti-ideas bearing no (truth) relationship to reality. But this hardly renders them any less destructive. Rather, most of our really serious problems are a consequence of the rigorous application of anti-ideas by anti-intellectuals.

The anti-idea is not the same as a mere bad idea, just as the anti-intellectual can be quite intelligent, brilliant even. Everyone has bad ideas, and life consists in either honing one's ideas or establishing more effective ones.

The anti-idea, however, is purely reactionary, in that it is always rooted in a hostile rejection of, and attack upon, reality. In short, instead of being a tool to understand reality, the purpose of the anti-idea is to omnisciently vanquish reality and replace it with an ideology.

The anti-idea is usually held unconsciously and for unconscious reasons, which makes it all the more difficult to detect and eradicate. Right now tenurmites could very well be eating away at the foundation of your intellectual edifice, but you won't know unless you check.

Bad ideas are subject to testing and rejection, whereas anti-ideas are like conspiracy theories, in that no amount of evidence can refudiate them.

Rather, the mind of the conspiracy theorist operates exactly like that of the paranoid, in that contradictory evidence is converted to evidence of the conspiracy. If you disagree with a paranoid, he finds a way to either include you in the conspiracy, or else will roll his eyes and dismiss you as hopelessly naive, as in Don't you know that anyone who disagrees with AGW is bought and paid for by the oil companies?

On to the editorial, after which we'll try to weave it all into Foucault, Sartre, Derrida, Nietzsche, and ultimately back to Voegelin. This will be like making grand rounds in a vast mental hospital, so I don't know how far we'll get today.

"President Obama spent his formative years in academia, so he's no doubt familiar with postmodernism, the literary theory that rejects objective reality and insists instead that everything is a matter of interpretation and relative 'truth.' At any rate he's running the first postmodern Presidential campaign, now organized almost exclusively around allegations about his opponent that bear no relation to the observable universe."

Thus, in the anti-world of the Obama campaign, "Mr. Romney is to blame because of decisions he didn't make at a business he didn't run that may or may not have set in train a series of random unconnected events many years apart that included Ilyona Soptic's illness. Even more culpable is the butterfly in Peking that flapped its wings and forever altered the course of history."

Likewise, for Nancy Pelosi it is a fact that Romney didn't pay taxes for ten years. Why? Because the well-known pedophile Harry Reid "made a statement that is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact." Pelosi gives tautology a bad name.

In other words, Reid asserted "with zero proof that Mr. Romney got away with paying no taxes for a decade, which is 'true' because he says an anonymous investor called to say so. If the food inspectors ever went by Reid-Pelosi evidentiary standards, we'd all be dead." (That last line is a gag, but note again that the rigorous application of such an anti-idea does lead to death and destruction.)

The bottom lyin' is that instead of tryin' to persuade anyone to vote for him based upon his own record, Obama is simply inventing an alternate reality. But this is what postmodernism "does." If you are, say, a greedy feminist who wants more money and power to which you are not entitled, you invent the myth that women are paid sixty cents to the dollar in comparison to men. It never seems to occur to them that if this were true, it would be insane for a greedy corporation to ever hire a man.

We need to waste a little more time discussing the theories of postmodernism, lest you be tempted to think I'm merely exaggerating or being uncharitable. For one thing, I know I'm not being uncharitable because I once believed these sorts of things.

"Believed," however, is probably too strong a word. Rather, I simply assumilated them in the course of four -- okay, eight -- years of college and seven years of graduate school. In Kimball's phrase, they were simply part of the "ambient pollution" of academia.

As a result, I never really reflected upon them, since they were the context of everything else. Instead of reflecting on them, I simply burrowed more deeply into them -- somewhat analogous to how a fly lays its eggs in a big pile of dogshit.

Once you accept this context, then the most outlandish pile of steaming academic braindroppings becomes plausible.

In his discussion of Derrida, Kimball reminds us that his ur-idea is that "there is nothing outside the text." This is a fine example of a LIE, which, if assimilated, ends in the destruction of reality: psychic, spiritual, and physical. For the phrase is "shorthand for denying that words can refer to a reality beyond words, for denying that truth has its measure in something beyond the web of our language games." In this defective way of looking at the world, there is no objective reality, just the endless play of signifiers.

One of the seductive things about this mental pathology is that it is half-true even though all false. As we have been discussing vis-a-vis Voegelin, man indeed lives in the "in between" space where meaning is constantly being discovered and sometimes tossed aside. Within this space we are oriented to truth, which provides both its ground and telos. The deconstructionist simply tosses aside the ground but preserves the search.

But what is a passionate search with no possible object or destination? Yes, you could call it insanity.

Like any other insanity, deconstruction "is an evasion of reality." For the same reason, it is "a reactionary force," because "it hides from rather than engages with reality" (Kimball). But again, the evasion is never benign, because there is always an implicit attack "on the cogency of language and the moral and intellectual claims that language has codified in tradition" (ibid).

Once one is freed from language, one is also emancipated from the rigors and demands of truth, reality, and virtue. It's more than a little like being Adam in the Garden, but imagining that the outcome will be different, because this time Adam is prepared to smite God with the Molotov crocktale of deconstruction.

Let's wrap up our little discussion of Foucault. What is personally interesting about Kimball's review of The Passion of Michel Foucault is that I actually read the book when it came out in 1993.

At the time, I was still in the clutches of the tenured, still breathing the polluted air of academia. Being that Foucault was so famous and so acclaimed, I just assumed that he was important and that I needed to understand this brilliant man. Indeed, Miller describes him as "perhaps the single most famous intellectual in the world." As such, it would be an anti-intellectual faux pas to ignore him.

I don't know if I still have the book. I may have inflicted it upon the library. Let me nose around the Closet of Forbidden Works, where the ghosts of oldbob are hiding.

Nah, can't find it. Which is too bad, because I wanted to see what sorts of things he highlighted, which would have been a kind of snarchaeological dig into the ruins of my former belief system. It would have also answered the riddle, when is a highlight a lowlight?

Remember what we were saying the other day about the need to find one's "idiom" in order to articulate and elaborate the self? Well, Foucault believed just the opposite: he kept the idiom but threw out the self (again, there is only the free-floating text that refers to nothing outside itself): "I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same..." (Foucault, in Kimball).

Okay. But why should I read you if you are nobody writing about nothing?

You know the left-wing cliche that everything is about power? Foucault seems to be the one who put it into heavy circulation, for "He came bearing the bad news in bad prose that every institution, no matter how benign it seems, is 'really' a scene of unspeakable domination and subjugation..." (Kimball).

This is how feminists came up with the idea that being married or being a housewife is "oppressive," or how the Jesse Jacksons of the world came up with their conspiracy theory of "institutional racism," or how California should really be a part of Mexico, or how AGW skeptics are tools of the oil companies, etc.

For someone who saw malevolent powers under every bed, Foucault sure seems to have been a sucker for malevolent power, so long as it was on the left: "He championed various extreme forms of Marxism, including Maoism; he supported the Ayatollah Khomeini," and wondered "What could politics mean when it is a question of choosing between Stalin's USSR and Truman's America?" (ibid).

What indeed. Just flip a coin, I guess, since oppression is oppression.

A key principle here is the difference between (n) and what we will call (-n). (n) is an empty symbol I use as a placemarker for experiential spiritual knowledge. But there is also invalid spiritual experience, or pseudo-spiritual experience that is sought by people who have rejected the reality of the spiritual.

As it so happens, Foucault was all about this specific form of experiential knowledge. Kimball suspects that this was a big part of his appeal as an "academic guru," and I believe this is quite correct. Certainly this is the sort of thing that appealed to me back in the daze of oldbob. I went in for all that counter-cultural stuff: Leary, Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), Watts, McKenna, anyone who seemed way out there but also seemed clever and witty about it.

For Foucault, man's future was being revealed to us via "the recent experiences with drugs, sex, communes, other forms of consciousness and other forms of individuality. If scientific socialism emerged from the utopias of the nineteenth century, it is possible that real socialization will emerge in the 20th century from experiences" (in Kimball).

Which only proves that no amount of (-n) leads to O, and the attempt merely leaves one jaded, burned out, cynical, and bereft of any saving innocence; for such a person has simultaneously seen nothing and too much.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Roger Kimball and the Art of Fine Insultainment

Yesterday we spoke of the seemingly uncontroversial notion that you and I are somebody and not just anybody, let alone nobody.

In other words, we are created with a unique but implicit pattern of selfhood which guides our choices, passions, and preferences in order to bring itself into being -- from implicate to explicate, or nonlocal to local, or potential to actualization.

As it so happens, this idea is not controversial. This is because it has been rejected by the ideological fascinistas of the day. In fact, for the left, it hasn't so much been rejected as banished from consideration.

As is true of so much totolerantarian leftist thought, what was once common sense is now indefensible and even offensive, and probably racist and sexist too. So don't even go there if you want to pass this class.

But make no mistake about it: for the left, the idea of human essences has got to go, because essences place limits on what the state can do to you. The left cannot remake man if man actually is something, and not just a shapeless blob for them to mould via social fantaseering.

For example, if men are men and women are women, Title IX isn't just crazy -- which of course it is -- but also unjust, cruel, and even monstrous (because only an androgynous leftist castrato would prefer hybrid sexless monsters to real men and women, with all their wonderful differences).

These academically incorrect thoughts were provoked by Roger Kimball's Experiments Against Reality, which addresses just this issue. In particular, he has several chapters devoted to philosophers who were and are extremely influential on the left, including Foucault, Sartre, Nietzsche, and Mill (and he also touches on other familiar illuminutti such as Derrida and Rorty).

Kimball is such wonderful and entertaining writer, that I would just urge you to get the book. I can only hit the highlights. Indeed, this is the finest of fine insultainment. I'm afraid he makes me look as vulgar and crude as an Obama ad.

First of all, Experiments Against Reality. Does that not say it all? For what is leftism but an experiment against reality?

Not on reality, mind you. That would be a different thing altogether. If that were the case, then, for example, the left of us would conclude with the rest of us that the experiment LBJ called the "War On Poverty" has failed, and that it is time to try a new one. The War On Poverty turns out to have been a War On Affluence (not to mention cultural integrity), but hey, whatever. The tenured sneeze and the poor catch cold. Or AIDS. Or get murdered, either by each other or by the state.

Or, President Obama might conclude that Keynesian economics isn't all it's crocked up to be, and that perhaps we should call that Austrian kid Hayek from the bench. After all, the left is all about fairness and diversity, isn't it? Eighty years is enough. How about giving another economist a chance to play!

As I've mentioned before, Kimball's books provide so many provocative quotes that they are worthy on that basis alone. For example, Richard Rorty: "I do not have much use for notions like 'objective value' and 'objective truth.'"

Oh, really?

In that case, You. Are. TENURED!

Which proves once again that tenure travels halfway 'round the bend before truth can get its boots on.

Recall what was said above about being Somebody and not just Anybody or Nobody (which amount to the same thing). If we are the latter, then it follows that truth consists of Anything and Nothing.

Of course, the tenured nobody will still assert the truth of this or that, even while having undercut its very possibility. This is in order to reassure parents who naturally don't want to think they are shelling out fifty grand a year to maim their child's soul.

Thinking back on it, this is how my poor father must have felt. Being that he was the recipient of only an eighth grade education in rural England (or the equivalent today of a BA), he must have thought to himself: "Well, the boy is in graduate school. Sure sounds like unvarnished bullshit to me, but there must be something to it."

Jumping ahead a bit, the chapter on Foucault is priceless. In it Kimball reviews an acclaimed biography of the man, The Passion of Michel Foucault.


You don't mean...

Oh yes he does. If nothing is sacred, then everything is, up to and including the subject of a book that Kimball tells us Miller relied upon for his sublime analysis of Foucault's sadomasochism, called The Catacombs: A Temple of the Butthole.

You'd think it would be easy to insert a gag here, but some things truly are beyond parody. Besides, I am gagging a little.

Speaking of inserting gags, Foucault was deeply attracted to one of the idyllic infraworlds of San Francisco, which featured such elevated practices as "gagging, piercing, cutting, electric-shocking, stretching on racks, imprisoning, branding..."

Er, why? Was he just, you know... a pervert?


Kimball: "Miller presents Foucault's indulgence in sexual torture as if it were a noble existential battle for greater wisdom and political liberation."

This makes a lot of sense, because it would explain more generally why so much political wisdom emanates from San Francisco, that bathhouse -- or perhaps petri dish -- of leftist experimentation.

Here is how Miller characterizes Foucault's passion (in Kimball): "Accepting the new level of risk," he joined "in the orgies of torture, trembling with 'the most exquisite agonies,' voluntarily effacing himself, exploding the limits of consciousness, letting real, corporeal pain insensibly melt into pleasure through the alchemy of eroticism...."

Such "punishing ascetic practices" allowed Foucault "to breach, however briefly, the boundaries separating the conscious and unconscious, reason and unreason, pleasure and pain... thus starkly revealing how the distinctions central to the play of true and false are pliable, uncertain, contingent."

Yes, I can see that. One wonders how it eluded the Founding Fathers.

One thing I would like to ask Professor Miller is: how do you know? Tell us about your own risky and exquisite self-transcendence at the limits of consciousness where true and false are effaced by that pounding sensation in the Temple of the Butthole. If this is your god, what are hemorrhoids, stigmata?

Barely started here, but it very much touches on our ongoing discussion of Voegelin. To be continued, although we'll be on hiatus most of next week.

Excellent interview of Kimball on his latest book, The Fortunes of Permanence. It's as pearlescent as all his others, meaning that it would be pointless to throw it to the PORGIs of academia (Post-Religious Global Internationalists).

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Stuck Outside o' Destiny with the Fated Blues Again

Philo-sophy: love of wisdom. For Voegelin, this word pretty much says it all.

On a number of occasions -- ten occasions, to be exact -- we have discussed Christopher Bollas' conception of the "erotics of being," which covers some of the same territory.

For Bollas, one of the central purposes of life is to discover one's unique idiom, which you might say is the "signature" of the true self, each manifestivus different from the restivus, at least in potential. Whether this difference will make a difference -- i.e., become manifest -- depends upon the course of one's life (recall what we said the other day about the time and space aspects of the self):

"human idiom is that peculiarity of person(ality) that finds its own being through the particular selection and use of the object. In this sense, to be and to appropriate are one."

As I wrote back in 2008, idiom "is not limited to language, music, painting, etc., but can be anything through which we express our true self. For some people, their life itself is the idiom of expression, even if they leave no recorded traces of it. Parenting might be an example of this. My son has become an idiom for my self-expression in ways I had scarcely -- or only -- imagined. No him, no me!"

And it obviously works both ways: "Bollas speaks of his own child, and I am sure most of you parents out there will fully relate: 'What struck me was how he was who he is from scratch. He seemed to be in possession of his own personality, his very own unique configuration in being (what I term an idiom) that has never really changed in itself.'"

Boy, is that ever true. My son's personality is so strong, it is depressing to think of what might have happened if he had been in an environment in which he could not find -- i.e., his parents could not provide -- the objects (i.e., interpersonal relationships) he needs to express and contain it. Just the other day I saw a patient who was in the process of terribly deforming her five year old son, to the extent that he was already on psychotropic medication, when the real issue was obviously his environment (e.g., ten or twelve hours of daycare, disinterested father, poor early attachment, etc.).

More generally, I often wonder at the extent to which my own self would have found a way to discover its idiom irrespective of outward circumstances, vs. how much of it was pure happynstance. What I mean is that we can all look at the people and things that have become central to our identity, but which seem to have come into our life by sheer accident. Here is where an element of faith intrudes, and there is no way to resolve the question empirically.

However, I suspect that the process works in ways we do not understand, and that some things do indeed "happen for a reason," so to speak (I only place that phrase in scare quotes because of the way it tends to be vulgarized by the masses).

It very much reminds me of what Magnus said the other day in a comment, about praying and then patiently awaiting the answer in whatever form it comes. For example, if I look at my life from a certain angle, I can see that in a startling way, it contains everything I have ever prayed for in the deepest sense. And I suppose this could be reduced to love, truth, and beauty.

To continue: "you might say that the true self is a preconceptual logos, or nonlocal clueprint, that must discover those objects it requires in order to elaborate itself and 'live.' In this regard, Bollas says that the self's idiom is 'akin to a kind of personality speech, in which the lexical elements are not word signifiers but factors of personality.'

"There is no real being in the absence of this articulation of one's idiom, only a kind of paradoxical 'negative being,' i.e., (ø), which is very close to the patent nonsense of e-I-e-I-ø.

"When you cannot articulate your idiom, your life will feel somewhat like a prison, whatever the outward circumstances. For example, many feminists choose to live in this deformed manner, because it is less painful for them to imagine that the bars of their prison are outside their minds."

"Liberty and property are keys to the articulation of the self: "without private property, how can the self secure what it needs to speak its idiom? If those things are determined by the state, or by political correctness, or by the heavy hand of custom, or by scientistic fairy tales, the self is sharply constrained in its ability to find its real idiom.

"You could also say that when you fail to find your idiom, you will feel as if you are haunted by a kind of fate that blankets your life, and from which you cannot escape."

You know, this is kind of interesting. Plus I have very little time this morning. I think I'll just pluck some additional passages from the ten posts linked above, and try to connect them to what Voegelin is saying about how our lives are spent in the In Between space, and that within this space we must orient ourselves to the ground of being.

I'm still thinking of that poor kid mentioned above. It looks to me that some day he's going to end up a mental patient (after all, he already is) or a criminal (which he also already is, in a sense, in that he is inappropriately aggressive). If this happens, this would be an example of fate overtaking destiny. How many of these people become angry liberals in search of the Lost Entitlement? Others will get into therapy and gain some insight:

"A patient comes into therapy because they are bogged down by their fate. Something happened early in life that foreclosed their destiny, and now they don't know how to find it, because it is buried beneath so much life history, forced choices, defensive adaptations, etc. But the true self is still there, seeking a way to express itself and to be. This innate urge to articulate the true self is what Bollas calls the destiny drive. The therapist's job is to serve as a mediator, or midwife, in the birth of this latent self.

Now, what is this true self, phenomenologically speaking? I would suggest that it is "aliveness" itself, only transposed to the key of mind, or of subjectivity. Although difficult to define, one can see it as a kind of red thread that runs through one's life. You definitely know when it has been touched, and it is obviously critical to pay attention to these sometimes subtle moments of contact, in order to "find your way" in the world

The odd thing is that the true self is obviously a form of "knowledge" -- "patterned information," so to speak -- but it is more in terms of inclinations to "perceive, organize, remember, and use" the world in a certain way. When there is a good fit between idiom and world, it brings with it a very specific form of "joy," which Bollas has elsewhere called "the erotics of being."

For example, the joy some people apparently find in this blog is simply a case of discovering your idiom mirrored to you in a satisfying way, so that you become aware of your own true self. One can only wonder why our trolls are addicted to a foreign idiom that can bring them no joy or peace. I suppose the inane comments bring some sort of perverse satisfaction, or (-J).

We not only require people to help articulate our idiom, but material objects, books, films, music, hobbies. As Bollas says, we could conduct a kind of "person anthropology" by paying attention to the objects chosen by this or that person. I know that this blog is as unique as my fingerprint, in that it represents the fruit of my own peculiar selection of objects and subjects for the articulation of my being.

According to Bollas, only in modern times do we begin to see an increasing distinction between the terms destiny and fate, so that destiny begins to take on more positive connotations -- the idea that "one can fulfill one's destiny if one is fortunate, if one is determined, if one is aggressive enough."

The whole idea of destiny could only take root once people gained a degree of economic and cultural freedom, and were "able to take some control of their lives and chart their future." One can well understand why America is the land of the "true self," at least for conservatives, whereas liberal victimology represents the perverse erotics of fate.

Don't think for one moment that people don't take perverse and sadistic pleasure in their victim status, for it is oddly empowering to participate in the subjugation of oneself. In psychoanalysis it's called "identification with the aggressor." The latter is the stock-in-tirade of fatemongers such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the left in general.

A sense of fatedness results from being "pushed around" by the past instead of "lured" by the future. The more one is fated -- in particular, by mind parasites -- the less one can manifest one's destiny. (I am sure it would be fruitful to meditate on the implications of this as they pertain to the idea of predestination, which can either be enslaving or liberating, depending upon how it is understood.)

Now, when a patient comes in for treatment, it is again often because they are a victim of Fate, or the Curse of the Mind Parasites: "The person who is ill and comes to analysis either because of neurotic symptoms, or characterological fissures, or psychotic ideas and pains, can be described as a fated person. That is, he is suffering from something which he can specify and which has a certain power in his life to seriously interfere with his capacity to work, find pleasure, or form intimate relationships."

Bollas says that "we can use the idea of fate to describe the sense a person may have, determined by a life history, that his true self has not been met and facilitated into lived experience. A person who feels fated is already someone who has not experienced reality as conducive to the fulfillment of his inner idiom."

Or as Dylan sang, Your debutante just knows what you need / But I know what you want.

Well, this didn't go as planned. Gotta run!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Nameforms that Bitch Birth and Dog Death

Just a little flutterblast, since I'm short on time.

To review: existence is not a fact. Rather, "if anything," it is "the non-fact of a disturbing movement in the in-Between of ignorance and knowledge, of time and timelessness, of imperfection and perfection, of hope and fulfillment, and ultimately of life and death" (Voegelin).

For some reason, a passage from Finnegans Wake just popped into my melon. I'll pass it along without comment, just in case it's relevant:

In the ignorance that implies impression that knits knowledge that finds the nameform that whets the wits that convey contacts that sweeten sensation that drives desire that adheres to attachment that dogs death that bitches birth that entails the ensuance of existentiality.

If the ensuance of existentiality is a movement, then this movement extends in different directions: in, out, up, down, forward, back, etc. I would suggest that our freedom -- human freedom -- is synonymous with the movement that is possible within this pregnant space, i.e., the womb of time.

Socrates says that the true philosopher -- the lover of wisdom and seeker after truth -- endeavors "to make a reasoned choice between the better and worse life, with reference to the nature of the soul" (in Kimball).

Better. Worse. Freedom. What else is there?

Well yes, there is ObamaWorld, which consists of Better and Coercion, or you'd better!, for short. There is "what Obama thinks" and "what you must do about it." In the one minute monument to mendacity he's running during the Olympics, he says it's fair to ask the wealthy to give a little more to the state. I agree. That's fair. Ask away!

Unfortunately, the Chicago Way involves "asking" with a gun to the head.

Note that the left always promises "emancipation" from this or that external circumstance, even while removing or constraining our real movement, e.g., "be tolerant of all points of view, or else!", or "we believe in relativism, absolutely." Every left wing "freedom" is purchased at the cost of chains that bind the recipient elsewhere and elsewhen. Who knows how much my son is going to end up owing Obama?

At any rate, within the fulsome space of subjectivity there are not only directions but dimensions. For example, as we have discussed on many occasions, dreaming takes place in a hyperdimensional space that is governed by non-Aristotelian rules of logic.

Likewise, the upper vertical -- the "spiritual dimension," as it were -- cannot be reduced to a four-dimensional space with external relations and linear causation.

Once one understands this, then much of the otherwise inexplicable phenomena that accompanies the spiritual life has a context in which it not only makes sense, but is somewhat "inevitable," given the total structure of things. (To be clear, the "possibility" of spiritual phenomena is inevitable, not this or that particular phenomenon.)

To put it another way, things happen -- they are necessary and/or possible -- because of principles. Spiritual events are possible because of spiritual principles, just as physical events are possible because of immaterial principles, e.g., the laws of physics, or of chemistry, or of plumbing, whatever.

A specialist in any field should have a grasp of the principles governing it, but this is usually not the case. Most people fail to articulate their principles, with the result that they are bound by implicit assumptions of which they are unaware. This ends up limiting the space of freedom mentioned above in paragraph two.

Actually, there are times that things happen because of an absence of principles. But enough about Harry Reid.

Besides, there is a larger principle at work in Harry the unrepentant pedophile, which is: no human good goes unpunished by the left.

To cite one obvious example of how implicit principles limit one's vertical freedom, every doctrinaire atheist begins with materialist assumptions which result, in machine-like fashion, in materialist conclusions. Thus, all the atheist "proves" is that he is a faithful materialist, but we knew that already. Frankly, such pseudo-reason is irreligulous.

Any kind of linear reasoning is, in a sense, a tautology: tenure in, garbage out. If the universe actually worked this way -- this way only -- then we certainly wouldn't be sitting here in this hyperdimensional womb of timenow, would we then?

Of poetry, Eliot wrote that it communicates "before it is understood" (in Kimball again). This is quintessentially true of the spiritual dimension, but it is also true more generally.

For example, this "pre-understanding" is what guides the scientist's intuition that this this or that that would be a more fruitful avenue of research (this sort of intuition is what distinguishes the grade A scientist from the worker B). It is as if there is tacit foreknowledge of an as-yet-undiscovered reality. Another word for this is "faith," i.e., "evidence of things unSeen."

If only we called things what they are, by their proper names!

And O how well & truly fucked / When first we feign to deconstruct!

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Answer and Its Perennial Search for Good Questioners

Next up in our threewheeling trialogue with Voegelin is an essay called Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History.

Wait! Don't go. It's really interesting.

The problem with Voegelin -- if I may be so impudent -- is that he seems to have been a bit isolated from normal chitchat with others. For example, although he spent his life in academia, I read somewhere that he accepted no graduate students, and instead focussed all of his time on research, writing, and the occasional lecture. I've known academics like this, and they can become so isolated that they start losing the ability to... to just GET TO THE POINT, WILL YOU!

This is distinct from the typical pseudo-intellectual masturbatory jargon that emanates from the jerk circles of the tenured. Rather, I compare it more to a musical genius such as Thelonious Monk, who penetrated so deeply into the foundations and architecture of music that he came up with a kind of private musical universe.

However, once one acclimates oneself to this new musical world, one finds that it is actually quite universal, traditional even. He may have discovered a new form of beauty, but in the end, beauty is beauty. Superficially it sounds "radical," but it's really a continuation; it is only radical in the literal sense of the term, which connotes a return to the "root" of things.

Another way of expressing it is furnished by Roger Kimball, who adduces the following quote from a Jean-François Revel: "The history of philosophy can be divided into two different periods. During the first, philosophers sought the truth; during the second, they fought against it."

FYI, we're living through the second phase.

Voegelin obviously falls into the first camp, which is why he isn't much discussed by those in the second. But since the vast majority of philosophers (and contemporary thinkers more generally) fall into the latter campf, it seems to me that he composed a lot of private music that few people have heard or take the necessary time to understand. Sure, it all makes sense to me. But the same people who dismiss Voegelin wouldn't even dismiss me, to put it moldily.

Kimball provides another helpful quote, this one from Henry Kissinger (BTW, even beyond the exceptional lucidity of thought, Kimball's essays have a wealth of brainiacal quotes and dozens of unfamiliar and sometimes even useful words such as "fustian," "minatory," and "purlieus"):

"We have entered a time of total change in human consciousness of how people look at the world. Reading books requires you to form concepts, to train your mind to relationships. You have to come to grips with who you are.... But now we learn from fragments of facts. A book is a large intellectual construction; you can't hold it all in mind easily or at once. You have to struggle mentally to internalize it. Now there is no need to internalize because each fact can be brought up on the computer." But "information is not knowledge."

So to actually assimilate someone as deep as Voegelin -- or a world as deep as this -- one must form a real and vibrant relationship with him/it, meaning that there is a kind of two-way vector extending into his psyche and ours; or between (¶) and (¶).

And it seems to me that each side limits or expands the other. In other words, we can only "come to grips" with him to the same extent that we come to grips with ourselves. This is the nature of any vertical knowledge.

Horizontal knowledge, because it is merely objective, requires no such introspection, assimilation, or transformation, because it's analogous to placing an object -- a fact or bit of knowledge -- into the space of the mind and filing it away somewhere. The type of thinking that results is similar to a computer, in that it is mainly limited by the amount and speed of memory.

Voegelin is not the first author we have treated in this manner. Others we have spent weeks or months exploring have included Tomberg, Balthasar, Pieper, Eckhart, Ratzinger, Wojtyla, and, of course, Schuon. Again, these are not mere "books" but encounters. Absent the encounter, there is no way to access what is contained in the book, because it is contained in being, not knowledge (or, it is a different type of knowledge that reaches up and down into being, i.e., [n] vs. [k]).

One more quote, this one from Chesterton: "The well-meaning person who, by merely studying the logical side of things, has decided that 'faith is nonsense,' does not know how truly he speaks; later it may come back to him in the form that nonsense is faith."

Back to the essay alluded to above. One reason it interests me is that it confronts one of the problems addressed in the bOʘk, which is to say, the equivalence of experiences that use diverse symbols to describe them. Because the symbols differ, people may be misled into believing they are describing different realities. Or, the experiences may be reflections of a larger category: one person eats an orange, another an apple, but both have experienced fruit. (Oddly enough, yesterday reader Gandalin asked a question that touches on this very issue, even though this post was mostly written on Saturday.)

Voegelin writes that "What is permanent in the history of mankind is not the symbols but man himself in search of his humanity and its order" (emphasis mine). Too often, I believe, we either conflate symbols that are distinct, or else distinguish symbols that are roughly equivalent.

For example, the Allah of whom Islamists speak is obviously not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Conversely, Schuon maintained that Buddha had the experience of God even if he rejected the name. In a sense this is not controversial, in that every experience in O is going to be "unique" even though "universal."

How do we use symbols in such a way that they convey the universality without denying the uniqueness? Again, that's why I created my little family of pneumaticons: O, Ø, ʘ,(¶),(•),(•••),(↑),(↓), (o), (---), and all the rest. Based upon yesterday's thread, I need to come up with a symbol for vertical emissaries, i.e., angels. How about (¡). I like this, because our reaction to (¡) is often (!). I wonder if they also get a little freaked out? If so, (¿!).

You might say that there is a space element and a time element. The space element is more universal, the time element more particular. For example, one might say that the archetypal man -- Adam Kadmon -- is in "vertical space," while we each embody and elaborate the archetype in our temporal lives. Absent the latter, we have no access to the former. At the same time, Aquinas (and Augustine before him) would say that the archetype -- or idea -- is nowhere else other than in man, just as the blueprint is "in" the house and the DNA is in the cell it orders.

Voegelin criticizes the so-called philosopher who deforms himself "by adopting the belief that the truth of existence is a set of propositions" which are "demonstrably true and therefore acceptable to everybody." "In vain he will look for the one set of true propositions," for which reason we can "hardly blame him if in the end he decides that skepticism is the better part of wisdom and becomes an honest relativist and historicist."

Again, this is because, for example, if one merely examines outwardly the diverse symbols of religion -- instead of experiencing or "undergoing" them -- it is the work of a moment to dismiss them as incapable of universal assent. In reference to yesterday's thread, we might say that since people have different ideas about angels, they must not exist.

But ironically, it is the non-believer who exiles himself from any possibility of transcendent unity. For at least the believer holds passionately to the idea (or experience) of unity, even if he believes his symbol of unity is better than the other guy's symbol. Which it may well be. As in art, some works are better than others. It would be foolish on this basis to conclude that beauty doesn't exist.

That was Saturday. It is now Monday morning, and in the brief time I have left, I'd like to skip forward and add something that directly addresses yesterdays lofty thread, and illuminates my approach more generally. I'm not saying it is the right way, only that it works for me because I seem to be Built This Way. It's kind of a thread that has followed -- or organized -- me ever since my (¶) started to come on line in my mid-20s.

I don't know if I'll be able to find the exact passage I'm looking for, but in truth, it informs Voegelin's whole search for the Ground. For example, he writes that "The Logos has been operative in the world from its creation; all men who have lived according to reason, whether Greeks or barbarians, have in a sense been Christians" (Augustine said the same thing).

It all begins with O and with (?!), or with Reality and the the shocking experience thereof. Voegelin writes that "man the questioner" is prompted "to ask the questions that will lead him toward the cause of being.... in the act of questioning, man's experience of his tension toward the divine ground breaks forth in the word of inquiry as a prayer for the Word of the answer."

So, religion is already the answer to our prayers. The Torah, for example, chronicles centuries of engagement with, and experience in, O. One might say that it is the contrail of this ongoing engagement (although looked at another way, it is the vehicle itself).

"Question and answer are held together, and related to one another, by the event of the search." However, Man "can also deform his humanity by refusing to ask the questions, or by loading them with premises devised to make the search impossible.... The answer will not help the man who has lost the question."

This reminds me of something Schuon said, to the effect that there is more Light in the intelligent question than in the deficient answer. For example, there is far more light in the question, "I wonder if this is all evidence of a higher intelligence?" than in the crude answer that it's all physics and Darwin. In a way, the Answer is always in search of a good question(er), because existence is not a fact, and neither are you.

What are we, then? For Voegelin we are a kind of "non-fact," a "disturbing movement in the in-Between of ignorance and knowledge, of time and timelessness, of imperfection and perfection, of hope and fulfillment, and ultimately of life and death." Thus, "the search... imposes a form even when the substance is lost."

Which is what often saves us in spite of ourselves.

I didn't really have time to find the passage mentioned above. I don't even have time to make sure all my words are properly misspelled. Obviously, to be continued if not beaten to death...

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