Friday, November 17, 2017

Precision Poetry and the Bill of Responsibilities

In the previous post we touched on the mystery of how subjectivity enters the cosmos and existence becomes experience -- or, existence starts to experience itself. It seems to me that as soon as one begins using words to describe this development, one is vulnerable to misleading and/or being misled.

For example, in the first sentence above, I alluded to subjectivity "entering" the cosmos. I then referenced existence "becoming" experience. Neither of these can be accurate; they are loaded with preconceptions that will lead us astray if simply followed blindly.

They are similar to the mind-matter dualism, which is just a conclusion masquerading as a premise. The one is defined in terms of the other, but neither is defined in terms of itself. In other words, to say "mind-matter" is a way to conceal the fact that one has no earthly idea what mind (or matter) is. The terms are just placeholders for certain properties.

Only metaphysics can rescue us from this linguistic rabbit hole of mirrors.

Yesterday afternoon the term popped into my head unbidden: precision poetry. That's all. Just "precision poetry." It then flew away, only to return just this moment. What could it mean?

Well, in my experience, it brings to mind exactly two people: Schuon the Metaphysician and Dávila the Aphorist. There are better poets and there are more precise thinkers, but no one else in my world combines the two in such a powerful way.

I'll give you a counter-example. I'm reading a book about a subject near my heart, called Into the Mystic: The Visionary and Ecstatic Roots of 1960s Rock and Roll. Between the ages of, say, nine and twenty five, music was pretty much my religion, my savior, my point of reference. It was the only thing that made Total Sense to me -- and made sense of the world.

I'm sure we've discussed this in the past, but for me it was much more than merely "liking music." Rather, it was my gateway to ecstatic and mystical experience. In other words, daily lessons in transcendence. Given the routine experience of transcendence, the world couldn't possibly be reduced to its appearance. Flickering embers from the Other Side were scattered everywhere.

It also seems to me that I was more vulnerable than most to ecstasy -- which I mean literally, in the sense of ekstasis or "standing outside oneself." In turn, this contributed to my singular lack of ambition. I was never, ever lured by the rewards of a conventional life, because those rewards could never replace the intrinsic rewards of bare existence. For me, such a life would equate to death. (I should also emphasize that this can easily be confused with mere hedonism, another thing entirely.)

So, you can see why I was attracted to the title of this book. And while the author makes some good points, his language is so full of imprecise bloviating that it dulls the message. Frankly, this is the peril of any religious writing, especially before there is any canon or tradition within which to work.

Come to think of it, really productive religious writing must always navigate between two shores, dogma or doctrine on one side, and a kind of indistinct cloud on the other. Geometry and music. Default to the former, and language becomes dead and saturated; veer toward the other, and one is reduced to deepaking the chopra.

What is needed is... precision poetry. Here is an example of imprecise pseudo-poetry, or of Liking the Sound of One's Own Pen:

American children heard so much about this imaginary Britain that it was sometimes hard for them to tell as they grew up what were their real childhood memories and what came out of those stories. Without knowing it, their parents had initiated them into the British secret history.

Thus, when the Beatles arrived,

the American adolescents who responded to them already had a kind of interpretive framework with which to understand them. They instinctively understood that these young men, with their fascinating accents, their schoolboy hair, their air of cheeky panache, their dashing clothes, were not of the colorless present, but creatures of a story. They were envoys from the secret history....

They were a version of the protagonists of English children's stories, the ones who discovered phoenix eggs and secret gardens. The implicit idea was that childhood -- or certain things about childhood -- could become a way of life.

There may be a precise point or two buried somewhere within, but as the Aphorist might say: Prolixity is not an excess of words but a dearth of ideas. So, Write concisely, so as to finish before making the reader sick.

Speaking of which, there is a particularly nauseating passage about the JFK assassination. If you want to be precise about it, he was killed by an unhinged leftist (but I repeat myself). End of story.

No no no. Here's the real story:

Something in the thousand days of Jack Kennedy put into the air a notion that a Kennedy America might be a place where the desires of the underground could be harmonized somehow with the desires of the country. Kennedy was, Norman Mailer said, a sheriff that the outlaws could respect. The idea of such an alliance of outlaws and sheriff was shattered by the assassination, never to recur.

Oof! I think I'm gonna hurl. It gets worse:

JFK had sometimes seemed like a presence that might graciously escort the country through the transformations that history was poised to rain down on it, to somehow manage it all -- a person who had one side of his head in the grace of the past and one side in the wild energy of the oncoming future. Now the people felt exposed to the fury of the storm.

That right there is some bad and imprecise poetry. And no, he wasn't just murdered by a leftist loon:

The consensus narrative was not able to comprehend the assassination.... The Commission's version of the story was finally not far enough from the id of America, the secret dark enflamed places where espionage, crime and reactionary violence [?!] crossed each other....

An impulse emerged, almost from the moment of the event, to see the assassination as part of a pattern, maybe an extension of the horrors coming regularly out of the South. It was American viciousness -- the spirit of the lynch mob -- seemingly carried to a sublimity of horror, the mask slipping from the awful face. A glimpse of the scale of the power that was keeping the country both placid and brutal.

Gosh. Why not just blame Trump and be done with it?

My point isn't to make you sick. I just wanted to again highlight the nauseating combination of obscure thought and bad poetry. To quote the Aphorist, Many a modern poem is obscure, not like a subtle text, but like a personal letter. As in, "What the hell is he talking about?"

Precision poetry is not only possible, it is necessary. This is because truth and beauty converge and are ultimately two sides of the same reality.

The other day it occurred to me that we really need a Bill of Responsibilities to complement our Bill of Rights. Indeed, the former must precede the latter, because only a responsible person can be given rights. Rights and responsibilities are grounded in free will, such that the free person has certain intrinsic rights only because he is presumed to be a morally responsible agent.

So, we have the "right to free speech." But this is only conceivable, let alone possible, because we have a prior responsibility to the Logos. In other words, we are obligated to speak truth. To bear false witness is not only wrong, it is cosmically irresponsible. It is to destroy the very reason why man was given speech at all. When you speak -- and write -- you have an obligation not only to be honest, but to at least try not to be ugly.

The writer arranges for syntax to return to thought the simplicity which words take away. And The fewer adjectives we waste, the more difficult it is to lie. --Dávila

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The First and Last Now

When you think about it, the center is as mysterious as the now. Einstein famously remarked that nothing in physics could account for the now. The google machine suggests that it even kept him up at night:

Einstein said the problem of the Now worried him seriously. He explained that the experience of the Now means something special for man,something essentially different from the past and the future, but that this important difference does not and cannot occur within physics. That this experience cannot be grasped by science seemed to him a matter of painful but inevitable resignation. So he concluded 'that there is something essential about the Now which is just outside the realm of science.'

Nevertheless, the article goes on to take a stab at a lame scientistic explanation. Despite its lameness, the author breathlessly enthuses that "Now is an exciting time. We are on the threshold of possibly understanding both now and the flow of time."

Einstein is correct: there is indeed something essential about the Now which is outside the realm of science (and that realm is not a small area, to put it mildly).

There is, and will never be, a scientific understanding of the now, or of time more generally. For that one needs recourse to metaphysics. Science is far too narrow to contain time, let alone eternity. And these two are complementary and mutually defining, at least from the human perspective. Time is a function, or mode, of eternity.

Let's think about the now. Each now is a kind of center, only located in time rather than space. However, it is also a spatial center; it has to be somewhere, and that somewhere is in each conscious subject. (To be conscious is very much to be conscious of the now, isn't it?)

We're really talking about three irreducible mysteries: Center, Now, and Subject. And these three are clearly related. As we've discussed many times, remove the subject from the cosmos, and there is no space or time, just everything everywhere at once. The first living subject was also the first center and the first now.

Let's enter the waaaaaayback machine and try to imagine the first now. As a matter of fact, this is something I attempted to do way back when writing the book of the same name: one "moment" the cosmos is (apparently) non-living; the next moment it is alive. What happened? What does this signify?

We all know there is a bright line between life and death. There must be an equally bright line between life and pre-life. Unless you believe the cosmos is a living organism, which makes a lot more sense than the belief that life is 100% reducible to the inanimate.

The first living thing is also the first subject: it is literally the mysterious emergence of an inside in what had theretofore been outsides only. Is an outside without an inside even conceivable? Not really. It's like an up without a down or left with no right.

In metaphysical hindsight (or better, downsight) we can see that the inside had to have been there all along. But using scientific categories only, we have to pretend the cosmos was all-outside until the emergence of that first itsy-bitsy subject some 4.5 billion years ago. That's when

a luminous fissure breaks open in this heretofore dark, impenetrable circle, the dawning of an internal horizon in a universe now divided against itself, the unimaginable opening of a window on the world, a wondrous strange mutation as unique, mysterious, and altogether surprising as our first bang into material space-time...

You could say that was the first rebellion and up-rising: we're not going to take it anymore! No more kowtowing to King Physics! We demand a biology department!

Interesting too that that was the last time radical equality existed in the cosmos. Pre-life, everything was truly equal. Nothing was above or below anything else. Without form, and as void as Nancy Pelosi's frontal cortex.

To continue plagiarizing with myself,

[P]ortions of the universe somehow declared their independence from the strict, physiochemical laws that had held matter in their death grip up to that time, and began exchanging energy and information with the "outside," so as to maintain and reproduce themselves through time. In setting up this dynamic exchange with the outside, the universe now had undeniable evidence of an "inside," with new, unprecedented categories of being, such as intention, perception, sensation, emotion, and eventually freedom, thought and moral and aesthetic judgment.

Put it this way: with Life, mere concrete EXISTENCE somehow becomes EXPERIENCE:

[A] new world literally came into being, outwardly dependent upon the previous one, but at the same time inwardly transcending it: a universe beyond itself, a restless declaration of subjectivity from the mute algorithms of opaque material repetition.

Etc. I had no intention of quoting myself ad such nauseam, but it still holds up. And always will. Not because of anything I personally figured out. God forbid! It's just the way it is, and you can't surpass what Is.

Let's climb down and refocus: Center, Subject, and Now. These are clearly related, or at least it is clear to me. But how? I mean, ultimately?

I would say that, just as subjects are inconceivable in the absence of the Divine Subject, nor are the Center and the Now conceivable without recourse to that same Subject.

"There is only one Center," writes Schuon, "but the phenomenon 'center' nonetheless exists in the spatial universe..." Sure does. I'm in one now. This is because our center is a projection, as it were, of the Center, or let us say the Principle of Centration. Every living thing embodies this principle:

"[T]he divine Center is necessarily reflected diversely in creation which by definition is the mirror of the Creator." Traces of this Center are every where and every when. Indeed, it is precisely why there are wheres and whens, which is to say, centers and nows.

"Wherever God is reflected, there is a center." This center is a presence -- or rather, presence as such -- and you would be far from wrong if you think of this in terms of Father <--> Son, or Being <--> Logos. I would turn it around and say that these points of reference are given us in order to think about this transtemporal Center-to-center and Now-to-now structure of things.

One cannot conceive of space without a center. What would space be without a center? Because we are the center, we can conceive of the space surrounding it. Likewise the now. Because it is now, we can conceive of the time surrounding us, of past and future. If there were no now, then the question would never arise.

So, the now is indeed a mystery. It is the only mystery, or one reflection of the Absolute Mystery that connects Subject, Center, and Now.

But it doesn't end there, because this Subject is a Person, not just an empty space, so to speak. And personhood brings with it such irreducible categories as freedom, creativity, truth, beauty, virtue, and relationship (the nonlocal touch of intersubjectivity). None of these are reducible to lifeless matter. Rather, they emanate from the top, and are reflected in the herebelow.

But you are always free to be cosmically stupid, in which case it is an exciting time, for you are always on the threshold of possibly understanding everything even while knowing nothing.

It all reminds me of something Petey once said, that yesterday is our birthday, today is our life, and tomorrow we are gone. So we have just one day to learn all we need to know, and that day is today. And that's enough.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Does Everything Evolve?

I used to believe it did, until I realized that change must be in reference to something changeless. If man is pure contingency, then he can know only the contingent (without even knowing it is contingent).

But every instance of real knowledge is "sponsored," so to speak, by a kind of implicit grasp of the Absolute. Without the Absolute, we would be submerged in a world of absolute relativism -- the impenetrable darkness of unrelenting tenure.

There are obvious instances of human knowledge that will never be surpassed, for example, pure math. But there is also a realm of "pure" morality that can never be surpassed. For example, it will never be moral to murder, or steal, or bear false witness (within the bounds of prudence, or practical wisdom).

There is also a political philosophy that can never be exceeded or bettered. That would be the philosophy enshrined in America's founding, whereby the purpose of the state is to protect our God-given natural rights.

Which is another reason why self-styled progressives are so ironically named: the right to free speech is infinitely -- literally -- more important than a so-callled right to not be triggered or offended by it.

Obvious, no? It's what the Fathers would call a "self-evident truth," being that it is more the product of vision than argument. Can you really argue with someone who wants to use free speech to eliminate it? Similarly, can you really argue about the second amendment with someone -- the state -- holding a gun at you?

"The principle of relativity," writes Schuon, "categorically demands the concurrence of the principle of absoluteness, on pain of giving rise to a chaotic and as it were 'headless' and atheistic cosmology."

Indeed, that is no cosmology at all, but rather, a chaology pure and simple, with no reason, purpose, orientation, direction, origin, center, coherence, unity, or any other attribute this side of an ignorant herd of black cows clashing by night.

The thing is, we can obviously never know the Absolute in any direct or fully comprehensible way. Among other reasons, this is because the Absolute is infinite, while we are not. In short, the finite can never contain the Infinite.

Nevertheless, the finite contains points of reference, so to speak, such that it may more than adequately map the Infinite (for human purposes). In short, man can actually know everything he needs to know about the Infinite, thanks to revelation. The rest is none of our business.

Here I want to insert a Most Excellent Quote that really etches into logos-bearing granite the principle we are discussing. It is universal, timeless, true, and therefore vital for you to assimilate if you are going to make even rudimentary sense of your human journey:

To affirm that there is a cosmos is to say that the latter necessarily includes within itself manifestations of that which it manifests by its existence (Schuon).

This is necessarily true by the force of logic: in knowing there is a cosmos -- which BTW we implicitly know with any coherent utterance of any kind -- we simultaneously (if implicitly) know its nonlocal source.

Or, put it this way: to even say "cosmos" is to have manifested the unity and coherence that transcend it. This is what it means to be in the image of the Creator. We are most assuredly not the Creator, but there are Points of Contact.

Now, these points of contact are obviously everywhere. Indeed, they are nothing less than every thing, if you know how to look. This is why every thing is intelligible, on pain of not being a thing. A thing is always an intelligible thing, or it is no-thing, precisely.

Nevertheless, this is not enough. I want to say that the creation is like a tree reflected in a lake, such that we see the leaves and branches before the trunk and roots. Man is in need of points of reference that reflect these latter, hence the sufficient reason of revelation proper (as opposed to the general revelation of sheer existence-from-being). Revelation is here to provide points of reference to the roots hidden beneath the divine ground.

That's how I see it, anyway. Revelation is not God, but rather, points back to God. It's like any other language: don't get hung up on the finger pointing to the moon. Rather, look at the moon.

And it goes without saying that more than one finger can point at the same moon. Indeed, the Infinite cannot be any single finger, which would be the very definition of idolatry. Idolatry is to invest one finger with infinitude, which is to give the finger to the Infinite.

Having said that, it is the central claim of Christianity that the Infinite does indeed incarnate as one finite man. But there are so many ways this can be misinterpreted that it required centuries for the Church to sort it out. And even then, it didn't so much sort it out as exclude interpretations that are total non-starters -- for example, that Jesus is all God or all man.

The takeaway is that in Jesus there are two natures in one person. Complicating matters is that one of these natures consists of three Persons (of the Trinity). You can only push words so far -- remember, they are only points of reference -- but this means that the one person Jesus is half one and and half three.

Does that make any sense? Er, I think so. At least to me. If these are all points of reference, to what are they referring? I can only say what I see, which is an eternal perichoretic dance between the O, 1, 2, and 3. You might even say it is spelled out below the icon in the sidebar, where it says that

The empty center is Beyond-Being. The circles are dimensions of Being. Your life is a path for the Spirit to pass from periphery to center. Thoughts and choices -- truth and virtue -- are the paving stones.

"Beyond Being" is Eckhart's Godhead, the Ain Sof of Kabbalah, the Nirguna Brahman of Vedanta. However, I do not place this at the "top" of some vertical emanation.

Rather -- and this is just, like, my opinion, man, or better, vision -- it is always in complementarity with the Trinity. As such, not only are the Persons of the Trinity "relative" to one another, the Trinity is also eternally relative to the Ground. But to reiterate, the Ground is not chronologically or even ontologically prior. One is no less eternal than the other(s).

Is there any reason to believe any of this aside from Bob Sees It? Not really, unless you see it too, or because my points of reference happen to work equally well for you.

Back to the O, 1, 2, and 3; these are, respectively, Beyond-Being (and infinitude), Unity (and absoluteness), Relationship (love, knowledge, truth), and Synthesis. Taken together, I see them as perpetual Love-Truth-Creativity, always surpassing itself and yet orthoparadoxically unchanging. The Infinite Delight of Divine Plenitude Flowing from one shore to the other and

Just as God breaks through me, so do I break through God in return.... --Eckhart

So yes and no: everything and nothing evolves.

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