Saturday, July 01, 2023

Too Far, or Not Far Enough?

The world is a Rorschach test, but that doesn't mean it's just anything we want to be, because the extra-mental inkblot is objectively real, but so too are subjects objectively real -- even the most real, in the sense that no one has, or ever will, arrive at a nonfatuous theory of how a world of objects can give rise to subjects, any more than one could posit an exterior without an interior or an up without a down. 

At the very least the two give rise to and co-define one another, but guess what: dualism is off the menu, so while the human subject is temporally and existentially posterior to so-called objects (which actually have an interiority of their own on pain of being unknowable), subjectivity itself -- and even personhood -- must be ontologically prior. 

Which isn't a problem if we call to mind the old gag that what is first in intention is last in execution (i.e., the idea of the house is prior to its construction). 

Thus, perhaps the cosmos is just a side effect of someone wanting to create human persons. If there's another way to get the job done, I'm happy to hear it. But I have no interest in a theory that is self-refuting, nor ones that render human existence impossible. In other words, materialists and other cosmic flatlanders need not apply.

Back to where we left off yesterday. Or started, rather, with the venerable idea that the soul is the form of the body. I guess we have to draw a sharp distinction between soul and person or self, since these latter are very much involved with other persons -- i.e., are intersubjective -- whereas the soul is simply the animating principle of the individual. 

Recall that any living body is animated by a soul, while only human beings are said to have rational souls. 

Looks like we're gonna need to rethink this whole scheme from the ground up, at least insofar as soul and person coincide, because traditional definitions of the soul don't involve anything like intersubjectivity, or of humans being members of one another. If anything, it's the opposite, since the soul-as-form goes to the individual as opposed to any kind of intersubjective sharing of substance.

Let's consult a standard glossary for guidance, since I'm no scholar. Soul: "the substantial form of a living body by which matter is organized so as to be an individual of a given type, with characteristic powers to perform a range of vital functions." 

So, a human soul does everything an animal soul does. It has vegetative and sensitive powers, as seen in, say, Joe Biden, but with the additional power of reason -- not meaning logic per se, but rather, a capacity for objective and disinterested conformity to truth and reality. 

More from the glossary:  

Sometimes, especially in human beings, "soul" is popularly used to designate an individual's psychic dimensions, by contrast with "body" in the sense of an individual's physical dimensions. 

Wrong. Such thinking only fuels the kind of dualism under which western civilization has been laboring for a few hundred years. 

I don't blame Descartes for this, since who reads Descartes, anyway? The idea that philosophers are somehow the unacknowledged legislators of the world is just self-flattery for people who pretty much have no influence over the world. In my opinion.

This is not to say that no philosopher has such influence. Marx, for example, must be the most influential philosopher ever, but even he has influence only because his ideology piggybacks on certain enduring and ineradicable human traits such as envy, spite, scapegoating, pride, pseudo-omniscience, gnosticism, and plain old hatred

A note to myself somewhere... here it is... and don't get me wrong --  I'm not saying this is some great idea that no one ever thought of before -- nevertheless, here it is: factions are prior to their reasons for being

This is just another way of saying that man is tribal, and that politics for the sub-Raccoon revolves around the organization of atavistic hatreds. Thus, the progressive hates you because he hates -- beginning with reality, so don't take it personally.

Vis-a-vis Cartesian dualism, no one ever became a dualist because he was talked into it by some infertile egghead or tenured mediocretinRather, because it seems like common sense. 

It's the same with good things, say, liberty. As we've pointed out before, Americans first lived and embodied liberty for a few hundred years before positing it as an abstraction. It's why the left wants to import all these illegals into the country, since they don't know what liberty is and will therefore reliably vote for illiberal Democrats.  

So, dualism is a philosophical nonstarter. But so too is monism. The latter can seem obvious to people from certain other cultures and religions, but the western way -- or the way of Christendom -- is... trialism, or something.  

Let's bring back our Venn diagram, only turn it upside down -- or bright-side up, rather:


Now, lets meditate on this image and see what we can come up with... First, let's pretend this is an image of the Trinity: there are three circles, but the white area symbolizes the substance they all share.  

Here's another image:

Here, let's imagine the three areas at the top as the Trinity (A, B, and AB), and C as the creation. Here again there is a shared substance, AKA the substance of Being. 

This shared substance is obvious if we consider the areas of AC, ABC, and BC. But if we limit ourselves to only C, then this can lead to various ontological deformities from pantheism to materialist monism to Kantianism (which denies any real knowledge of the other circles of reality, since it is enclosed in C).

In these deformations, it seems that the main problem is a rupture between C and the Trinity above. What to do....

I know -- what if ABC symbolizes the Incarnation, for it is at once the substance of the Trinity, but is present down below in area C. Let's consider the alternatives: what is AC from the standpoint of the man enclosed in C? Let's say it's the kind of dualism we see in Islam or certain strands of Protestantism, which is to say, God + world. 

What then is BC?  Let's say it is any kind of atheistic dualism. And like any other inadequate philosophy, both of these (AC and BC) are true in what they affirm but false in what they deny, which is to say ABC. 

Eh, I don't know, Bob. You may have stretched your illustration beyond the breaking point.

Possibly, but if you drive the cosmic bus, there will be occasional buswrecks.

Friday, June 30, 2023

Playing Yourselves By Way of Celestial Mind Jazz

If the soul is the form of the body... Let's just say it can't be that cutandry if vital aspects of ourselves are not only located outside ourselves, but we ourselves are never an isolated, atomistic, and closed system (neither horizontally nor vertically).

I 'm not meself at all.

That phrase from Finnegans Wake just popped into my head. I googled it to find the exact wording and location in the book, and this Putz comes up (

Joyce works various identities into each of his characters and lets them interchange, blend, and develop in a confusing choreography of permutations. A look at Adaline Glasheen's classic "Who is who when everybody is somebody else?"..., will show that a stable identity is hardly one of the indispensable features of Wakean characters.  

Yawn, one of the many guises of Shaun, puts it quite clearly in the inquest chapter, which is permeated with questions of changing forms, when he says, "I swear my gots how that I 'm not meself at all.

[Extra credit: the sentence from FW continues after the ellipses as follows: "no jolly fear, when I realise bimiselves how becomingly I to be going to become." 

The author cites another passage that makes the same point about the dance of multiple subselves that merge into the ego, but which appear to decommission any stable mission or course we can claim for this random amalgamation:

Now let the centuple celves of my egourge... of all whose I in my hereinafter of course by recourse demission me -- by the coincidance of their contraries reamalgamerge in that identity of undiscernibles...]  

Coincidancelly, the next chapter in The Apocalypse of the Sovereign Self touches on this question of mission. As mentioned yesterday, the book is too dense for me to jump down every rabbit hole it opens up. 

Let's just say -- as we've said before -- that human beings are members of an oxymoronic species of unique individuals. Get it? I'm sure you do, but what is unique and unthreepeatable would seemingly constitute a species of one

Bailie quotes Balthasar to the effect that "Only when we identify ourselves with our mission do we become persons in the deepest, theological sense of the word."

Agreed. I think. A little hint, perhaps?

Christianity exists to help fallen creatures like ourselves discover the mission in the performance of which we fulfill the promise of personhood that is our birthright by becoming persons in the deepest theological sense of the word (Bailie).

Not sure if that was a hint or a rewording. Then again, I paused here, gazed off into the distance, and wondered how this might apply to me....


For clearly, I am on a mission, FWIW. The proof is here in this post and in the previous 4,000 (or however many) posts of the past 18 years. Why am I doing this? What is the source of this compulsion, and what is the point, the prayoff?

Hmm. You're putting me on the spot. Fame? Right. Money? Eh, my needs are few, and the last thing I need is a few more. Status? What status? Women? Got one, and she's too much for one man but not enough for two. Shits & giggles? Yes, in a way. It's a peculiar form of entertainment, but I do find it amusing. 

No, it's a mission, and it is my mission. If I choose to accept it.

Okay, but what is the mission? 

I'll have to think about that. Perhaps if we keep reading, Bailie will give us another hint. 

The word mission can conjure up rather lofty images and not without reason. 

Quite true. Just tell someone you're on a mission from God, and gauge the laughty reaction. 

Christians qua Christians do not have careers; they have missions.

Say what you want about the blog, it is certainly the opposite of the word career. It's not a vocation but literally an abiding a-vocation, which is to say not-working, and for nothing. Playing then? Yes, in the sense of Letter I of Meditations on the Tarot. You can look it up:

Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play; make every yoke that you have accepted easy and every burden that you carry light!
Meanwhile, back to Bailie:
the central question for a Christian is: "By Whom am I called, and to whom am I sent?" The concept of the person cannot be located in the self or in the psychic inventory.

Quite true -- I looked down there and the shelves were pretty much bare by November 2005. That's when I gave up and just started making it up, but seemingly with vertical help. Or something. Whatever else this so-called mission is, it is

accompanied by corresponding responsibilities, among them the necessity of availing oneself of the grace without which those responsibilities cannot be met.


its personal range may extend to the whole universe, depending on how far it is prepared to cooperate... 

The whole cosmos? You don't say. This sounds like a mission impossible. I suppose it is, in the sense that Without Me you can do nothing. You could say it's a light burden and an easy yoke, but someone has to do it, or at least I do, anyway. Apparently. 

All the world's a stage, but the play that takes place on that stage is both choreographed and improvisational (Bailie). 

Celestial mind jazz? Or am I just becoming meself after all?

Thursday, June 29, 2023

I Am Not Myself but I Know a Shortcut There

We're still thinking about the second Venn diagram from yesterday's post. I shouldn't say "still" thinking, because I didn't think of it at all from the end of yesterday's post to the beginning of this one. 

Rather -- insofar as the thinking cap is concerned -- I focussed on other things, mainly The Apocalypse of the Sovereign Self, which isn't the sort of book one can skim. Rather, it's very triggering: one damn insight after another, more than I can wrangle and domesticate into a post or even series of posts. I suppose I could try, but why bother when I got Bailie doing it for me?

It reminds me of bands that cover a perfectly realized song instead of a song that failed to achieve its potential, so they might improve on the original. 

Another factor is that Bailie and I are not into the same bag, man. For him, Girard's theories of mimesis and scapegoating are the main course, wheres for me they're a side dish. Was the purpose of the Incarnation really just to teach us a lesson about the naughtiness of human sacrifice? 

That's a stupid and impertinent way to put it, Bob. 

Sorry. Probably my Francophobia coming out. René Girard just doesn't do for me what he obviously does for Bailie, and he is as central to Bailie's thought as... no one in particular is for me, I suppose. I pick my influences retrospectively, i.e., people who think as I do -- what Churchill called anticipatory plagiarists. 

For example, I'm always citing Dávila, not so much because he's an influence but because he articulates my own thoughts better than I could. 

Granted, sometimes these are thoughts I technically haven't yet thought of, but they're nevertheless down there somewhere in inchoate form. Give me another hundred years and another 30,000 posts, and I would have gotten around to them. He's a shortcut, in more ways than one.

Hmm, a shortcut to myself. What an excellent idea for a post, especially since The Apocalypse of the Self is all about the... apocalypse -- which is to say, unveiling -- of this selfsame self. Yes, Dávila helps reveal myself to me, just as Girard quite clearly does for Bailie.

This itself goes to a Very Important dynamic vis a vis self-development -- or better, self-discovery -- in that this is precisely how it happens, through the discovery of other persons who reveal to us who we are. Very strange, but that's how it's done.

I suppose my favorite author on the subject is Christopher Bollas, although that was way back in grad school. Let me see if I can find a quick summary. Perhaps Professor Wiki knows something about him that's not too completely inaccurate. 

Bollas "is one of the most widely read authors in the field of psychoanalysis," in particular, his theory of the "unthought known" -- an example of which is what I just said about how our friend Nicolás makes my own unthought knowns known to me.

The aphorisms literally hit me where I live, because each one is explicitly unthought but implicitly known by yours threely. Perhaps Bailie felt the same way upon discovering Girard's thought: how stupid of me not to have thought of that! 

And how stupid of me not to have thought of what Bollas calls the "destiny drive," through which we search for the relationships -- persons and objects -- needed to express our unique idiom. For example, think of how much less annoying I'd be if I had never discovered Joyce. 

In Being a Character, Bollas argues that everybody has their own idiom for life.... As adults, we spend our time looking for objects of interest -- human or material -- which can serve to enhance our particular idioms or styles of life -- perpetually "meeting idiom needs by securing evocatively nourishing objects."  
Being willing to risk exposure to such transformational objects is for Bollas an essential part of a healthy life: the readiness to be metamorphosed by one's interaction with the object world.
The contrast is a refusal of development and self-invention, of open-endedness: the state of psychic stagnation. Bollas sees in what he calls the anti-narcissist a willed refusal to use objects for the development of his/her own idiom, and a consequent foreclosure of the true self. The result can lead to the core catastrophe of being trapped in someone else's (usually the parents') dream or view of the world.

Thank you Professor Wiki, that wasn't bad. Now that I think about it, there is a great deal of overlap between Bollas and Bailie. Except I haven't yet thought of it. In other words, I'm quite sure it's down there among the unthought known. 

Let's get back to my Venn diagram, because I think it will help us think about and know this steaming pile of unthought known. I'll begin with a real Rat-zinger highlighted by Bailie:

We receive our lives each day from without, from others who are not ourselves yet relate to us in some way. Man's self is not contained only within himself but exists almost even more so outside himself.

Boom! That pretty much says what Bollas says with different words, as does this:

Man is relational, and his life, his very self, only exists by way of relationship. I, by myself, am not "I" at all, but am so only in relation to a "Thou," and it is the "Thou" that makes me myself (Ratzinger).

Now let's look at our Venn diagram:


Let's say B and C are I and Thou. Turns out that there is no such thing as a radically separate OO; or, to express it symbolically, the very conception of a radically separate O is the last word in Ø. 

There's much more to say, but we'll dredge it up in the next post.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Knowledge of Unreality

Well, this post veered off in an unexpected direction. I'll be thinking about it today, to figure out if I'm on to something, or if it's just a one-off bit of ephemeral bloggerilia...

If both world and self are bottomless mysteries, it is very much as if the structure of being is a pair of mirrors facing each other, like so: OO. 

For this reason, history reveals a continuous confusion of the two, albeit more or less intense. In other words, the inside is constantly being projected outside, and then taken to be the actual content of the world. 

The further back we go in history, and the more primitive the culture, the more people inhabit a demon-haunted mindscape resembling that of our fearful and hallucinatory progressives. 

In recent centuries we see more the opposite movement, as the objectivity of the external world is introjected and taken to eliminate the mystery of subjectivity. Which is in fact quite impossible, for any explanation without the explainer lands one in Oozlumville, straight up one's backside:

igmund Freud, for example, applied a hydraulic model to the mind -- as if there is an id-like fluid pressing up from below. His earlier model borrowed more from archeology, as if the unconscious were stratified with geological layers. 

The last word in this kind of sterile introjection is behaviorism, which literally regards the mind as a machine, so it's no longer a mind at all. This is like solving your problems by cutting off your head. 

Having said that, it is not as if OO are radically separate entities, which leads to its own problems, from Descartes to Kant on down to your local village atheist. Like this guy:

Ultimately they must descend from the same principle, which is precisely why the world is not only intelligible, but never stops yammering about itself. Intelligibility is literally everywhere, since it is a condition of existence. It's another way of saying that being and knowing reflect one another more in manner of a Venn Diagram, like so:

Now, if this diagram doesn't deceive me -- i.e., if it's not just another case of projection or introjection -- then the area in the middle would consist of genuine knowledge; and by knowledge we mean something universal, such that it's true for everyone, for example, laws of aerodynamics. 

In any important area of knowledge, you're not (yet) permitted to say, for example, "my truth" of human flight, or of brain surgery, or of bridge construction. You'd think this would apply to genital surgery, but see paragraph 4 above.

If there is something called progress, it would have to correlate with the growth of that middle area. Certainly this used to the the purpose of higher education, to grow our knowledge from the bottom up and middle out. What happened, and venn?

Hmm. I would say that our diagram must look more like this:

Let's call the third circle (A) descending from above metaphysics, or perhaps natural theology. It exerts a controlling influence over the lower circles (B and C), for example, via immutable principles of logic. 

More generally, the upper circle would harbor the truths and principles of necessary being -- AKA those principles that cannot not be true on pain of total cosmic absurdity, such as the principles of non-contradiction or of sufficient reason. Violate these, and you know you're wrong without even having to check.

For example, let's say you have a theory of reality that is between the two circles, right where it is and must be. But it falls into the lower area (BC), below the area intersected by the upper circle (ABC). A timely example would be this bit of pernicious nonsense:

This is essentially pretending (BC) is actually true (ABC), when it cannot possible be true. 

And once the impossible is possible, then you're a kind of inverse image of God: in fact, you're literally greater than God, since even (or especially) God can't make the impossible possible -- he cannot, for example, create a square circle, nor a Dylan Mulvaney.

There are no doubt additional applications and implications, but I haven't yet thought of them.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Circumnavelgazing the Mystery of the Self

Yesterday we spoke of conversion, which is obviously a kind of transformation, but again, of and to what? 

Clearly something changes but something remains, since you're the same person as before. However, some may emphasize that a "new person" results -- i.e., like a change of form -- while others may feel that this is the person one was intended to be -- more a teleological way of looking at it. 

Such an experience generally doesn't occur randomly, but is provoked or awakened by something exterior -- a person, a book, an experience of some kind. But there's no way of knowing whether the conversion would have eventually occurred anyway, or by other means, since we can't replay our lives.  

I think we can agree that it can't merely be an organic development, i.e., a result of inevitable growth, as from infancy to childhood to adulthood. I don't buy any of those "stage theories," which are only models, not the thing modeled. Besides, "salvation" or "redemption" can't be stages, if only because they are a consequence of grace, not nature; no amount of () results in (). You just can't get there from here absent a vertical / celestial intervention.

I suppose conversion can occur when () or () meet (). The  () + () combo is interesting, because this would correspond to a horizontaloid person who is neither looking for nor desirous of the transformation (or transformer), rather, it just happens. 

I'm thinking, for example, of Dave Brubeck, who essentially woke up Catholic one morning after a musical dream. Although a self-described religious nøthing, he was commissioned to write a mass, which he thought was finished, so he went on vacation and was just taking five in bed, when

"I dreamt the Our Father,” Brubeck says, recalling that he hopped out of bed to write down as much as he could remember from his dream state. At that moment he decided to add that piece to the Mass and to become a Catholic.


He has adamantly asserted for years that he is not a convert, saying to be a convert you needed to be something first. He continues to define himself as being “nothing” before being welcomed into the Church (
Dion DiMucci also comes to mind. He was a heroin addict, 
using drugs for about 15 years, from 14 to about 28. In 1968 my friend Frankie Lymon died of an overdose and I got on my knees, said a prayer, and I haven’t been the same since. I haven’t had a drug or a drink for 52 years.


Of the time prior to this, he writes of being 

a millionaire before I was twenty years old, self-made up from poverty, and I was pretty impressed with myself. It was the typical rock-star attitude. The truth, however, is that I was living in darkness, falling deeper into the black pit of myself and my hungers. I’m one of the lucky rockers who lived long enough to learn I was wrong, and that’s a grace in itself (

After 1968 "He wasn’t much of a regular churchgoer," but "did begin praying on a regular basis." Then, a decade or so later, "he had a vision that changed his life":

“I was in a 12-step spiritual recovery program for about 11 years, and I believed in God. But I said a prayer: ‘God, it would be nice to be closer to you.’ Suddenly, my world opened up. I had a vision of Christ and who he was and what he can do and why he stepped into history.

“It changed my life; I’ve never been the same. Ever since that experience, I’ve never had to doubt my self-worth ever again.”


Which brings us back to Bailie and The Apocalypse of the Sovereign Self. This whole question of "self" is probably tied for second on the list of Biggest Mysteries, the first being God, the next two being Man and Cosmos, the rest being #4 or lower. 

In fact, I think we should knock Cosmos down to third place, since I have Transcendental Thomist tendencies, startled as I am by the Mystery of Subjectivity (whereas a traditional Thomist would begin at the other end, with the senses). In any event, remove the self from the cosmos and there are no mysteries at all, what with no one here to enjoy them.

Mystery. One of my favorite words:

The soul is fed from what is mysterious in things. 

Even in the immensity of space we feel caged. Mystery is the only infinity that does not seem like a prison.

We are saved from daily tedium only by the impalpable, the invisible, and the ineffable.

When the authentic mystery is eclipsed, humanity becomes drunk on imbecilic mysteries.

The honest philosophy does not pretend to explain but to circumscribe the mystery. 

Mystery is less disturbing than the fatuous attempt to exclude it by stupid explanations.

Happily, the world is inexplicable. (What kind of world would it be if it could be explained by man?)

That which is incomprehensible increases with the growth of knowledge.

The world is a system of equations that stirs winds of poetry. 

 Our most urgent task is that of reconstructing the mystery of the world. 
UrgentWe'll get back to that subject later.

Back to the mystery of the self. Pulling my old psychology hat from the closet, it is well understood that the self has a kind of bipolar (at least) structure, in that it inevitably seeks out models to emulate and assimilate (or assimilate via emulation). How is this not becoming someone other than who we are?

Well, proceed cautiously! Look at all the people imitating other mentally ill people who think they're not the sex they self-evidently are. I admire Margaret Thatcher, but only up to a point.

If we are mimetic creatures who are inevitably going to imitate someone, be careful who it is. Certainly be careful about the parents you choose, since they'll be the first models.

Now I'm thinking of Heinz Kohut's theory of psychological development, in which we come into the world with a proto-self that is oriented to grandiose-exhibitionistic needs and to the longing for an omnipotent or idealized figure, often fulfilled by mother and father, respectively. 

But it doesn't end there, because this process never really stops, only the objects change. Come to think of it, you could construct your autobiography around the succession of such "selfobjects." Tell me who you admire -- and wish to be admired by -- and I'll tell you who you are. 

Well, we didn't get far into the book, but what's the rush? We'll get there.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Diversion, Conversion, & Self-Discovery

Bailie comes at things from a very different perspective than ours, that is, more literary than metaphysical. I went through my novel phase quite some time ago, trying to familiarize myself with all the usual suspects of the western canon. This was mostly for reasons of vanity -- I wanted to appear well read -- but also because the Smart People were always saying that you could learn much more about philosophy, psychology, and human nature by reading the Great Authors. 

But one has only so much time, so I prefer my philosophy straight up -- just give me the substance, not the convoluted form. Besides,

One must not read novels, profane, unhealthy, trivial literature.

That direct order is from an unpublished memo from Schuon to formal students, of whom I am not one. But there is some good advice in here that I generally heed, such as

One must not waste one's time with worldly, unnecessary and often trivial distractions.


One must not regularly read a newspaper from one end to the other, above all in the morning.

Check. I do glance at a few websites, but mostly in a spirit of ironic detachment to examine the latest effluvia of the dream machine. Also, I sometimes need to inform Dupree which way to direct his fire, since he doesn't read at all. And in any event,

It is obviously permissible to inform oneself, with measure, in newspapers and magazines.

Having said that,

One must control one's curiosity.

But I'm not a total cretin. It's certainly okay 

to read books worthy of interest on historical, cultural, artistic, etc. subjects; but with measure and without losing oneself therein. 

I always read these latter types of books at night, when it would be more difficult to assimilate the rough stuff such as, say, Garrigou-Lagrange or Schuon, who require my full attention and all my candlepower. 

Let's get back to our review of The Apocalypse of the Sovereign Self, which, as I said, takes a literary approach to the subject, thus far a lot of Virginia Woolf,  Flannery O'Connor, Arthur Miller, and now Rousseau. 

Now, I personally am not going to go back and read Rousseau, no matter how wrong he is, so I guess I'm glad I have Bailie doing it for me.

More my style is chapter 2, which deals with Bob Dylan. He cites Dylan's 2016 speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. I'll embolden some of the passages that struck me:

I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was. I’m going to try to articulate that to you....

If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved -- the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre.... He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone....
He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only six feet away. He was mesmerizing. I watched his face, his hands, the way he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses, the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything about him. He looked older than twenty-two. Something about him seemed permanent, and he filled me with conviction. Then, out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something. Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.

Shortly thereafter someone gave him a Leadbelly record,  

And that record changed my life right then and there. Transported me into a world I’d never known. It was like an explosion went off. Like I’d been walking in darkness and all of the sudden the darkness was illuminated. It was like somebody laid hands on me. I must have played that record a hundred times. 

Now, who among us hasn't had this experience? It is clearly a "conversion experience," but from what, to what, and via what? It is what we variously call the (?!), or the celestial WTF?!, and everyone will experience it at least once in their lives, for good or for ill.

I've often thought of writing a book on this subject -- on the conversion experiences of eminent rockers, mainly the founding fathers and the first generation of early doctors. I know it happened to me on February 9, 1964, when I was zapped by the Beatles, but sometimes I don't trust my own memory: did it really happen that way, or is that a backward projection of my own personal mythology?

It doesn't really matter, because there were subsequent experiences, and my interest here is the "conversion of conversion," so to speak -- not the thing to which one is converted, but the nature of this kind of transformative experience. After all, it wouldn't mean much if I was still so immature as to idealize rock music and musicians, which I stopped doing by the age of 40 or so.

Y'all think I'm joking, but I move in internet circles filled with pathetic fanboys and Comic Book Guys who haven't moved on from February 9, 1964.

And now I'm wondering: before the modern world, what kinds of conversion experiences were available besides religious ones? Experiences of the transcendent no doubt occurred, but the scope was rather restricted. There was no one to hand you a Leadbelly record, no pop stars on TV, no electric guitars, and before the printing press, not even any books except that Bible chained to the podium.

Anyway, Bailie relates Dylan's experience to the nature of desire and longing, the latter being "a richer form of desire," in which "something distinctively religious occurs, however confused, misdirected, and even evanescent the experience might be." Like the sad protagonist of Steely Dan's Deacon Blues, whose  romantic fantasies of finding himself sound like a foolish and "crazy scheme," but

This one's for real / I already bought the dream / Learn to work the saxophone / I'll play just what I feel / Drink Scotch Whiskey all night long / And die behind the wheel 

To be continued... 

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Why Did Western Civilization Fail?

"Because,"  writes Bailie, "it was at odds with anthropological reality." His latest book proposes to "inspect this failure before turning to the remarkable resources Christianity makes available for facing and rectifying this crisis."

Rectifying? I don't know. I'm only up to p. 39, but I'm with the Aphorist on this one: 

Christianity does not solve "problems": it merely obliges us to live them at a higher level.

The impossibility of finding solutions teaches us that we should devote ourselves to ennobling the problems

Christianity never claimed and will not claim, if it revives, to be the kingdom of God. Only a society of Christian sinners.

Christianity never taught that history would have a purpose. Only an end.

And it ends in every baptism, i.e., in every person who dies and is reborn in Christ, which is in turn a new beginning and end. And beginning. Just not here.

Can't find it, but the Aphorist also says something to the effect that Christianity is the only doctrine that predicts its own failure. Not just vis-a-vis a fall that can never be collectively undone, but in the book of Revelation, which speaks of the death of the present world. This in itself is a rather Large Subject, but let's stipulate that  

Civilizations are the work of those who assign man a transmundane end. Their destruction is the work of those who assign him an earthly destiny.

The latter going to progressives and their endless wrecktifications that are worse than the problems, because they never address the Problem, which is to say, man. Thus, 

We presume to explain history, and we fail before the mystery of the one who we know best.

In my case, that would be Bob. Which reminds me of a song by the Who: Don't pretend that you know me / 'Cause I don't even know myself.

Another hardy-har-har perennial:  

The Church's function is not to adapt Christianity to the world, nor even to adapt the world to Christianity; her function is to maintain a counterworld in the world.

We're already running short on time, but I do agree with what Bailie says in the preface, that "The Cross of Christ has left a crater at the center of history," to which "everything before and after... is ordered and properly understood."

A bold statement no doubt, but it goes to "the meaning of creation itself, from whom the drama of salvation emanates and toward whom it moves." 

I would call it a still-smoking crater, and on a more abstract plane the cosmic attractor in vertical phase space -- to say "God made man" is rather like saying End made middle, a middle that is always here and now.  

Does this mean I am -- and you are -- this same smoking crater from the Creator passing through history?

We'll see. 

That was close! Maybe too close for comfort.

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