Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Pan, Orpheus and the Hypostasis
If anyone is familiar at all with Greek myth, you may know a bit about the myth of Orpheus. I will try to give a small synopsis of the relevant parts to the story, but if you would like you can click here to read a short and relatively decent version of it (although very modern-sounding on some key parts, which change the sound of its meaning drastically). The main character of the story is an extrememely gifted young man who sings so beautifully that even the trees, rocks and animals of nature lean in to hear. He eventually becomes engaged to Eurydice, and of course they look foward with great anticipation to their coming union. On their wedding day, however, just after they are married, Eurydice is bitten on the heel by a snake while walking through a field. She dies and goes to the underworld. You can imagine, like my good friend who is currently engaged, how distraught Orpheus was at this event that so disrupted his world.
So Orpheus takes a trip to the underworld to try and bring Eurydice back to the land of the living, and as well in a desparate attempt to bring his world back together to what it was previously. Of course he has to sway the heart of the underworld's queen in order for her to part ways with Eurydice. In fact she is swayed by the song of Orpheus, as is everyone else, and Persephone lets Eurydice go. But she gives Orpheus one piece of instruction. "As you leave the underworld and re-enter the land of the living with your maiden behind you, do not look back." On his way out, of course, in his great longing to assure that she remains with her, in that critical moment of apprehension with the world might just fall apart or remain together...he looks back. Of course she dissappears right back into the underworld, never to be seen again. Eventually the story ends with Orpheus's being torn apart limb from limb by the messengers of his greif.
The story begs for an answer to the question: what holds the world together? How does the world not fall apart!? Lately I've been studying postmodernity and its heralds such as Jaques Lacan, Guilles Deleuze and a little bit of Jaques Derrida. What draws me to these guys is that they don't look back. Modernity's great urge was to look back, to ensure that man holds his world together for himself. After a couple World Wars and some theoretical dissatisfactions, the postmoderns realize the futility of the endeavor. And I respect them for that. Relevant example of what I mean by this "not looking back" thing, you migth ask? What is it not to vainly and artificially hold things together? Deleuze might answer (uumm...slightly out of context, from this link here at Ktismatics on older and slightly arcane notions of morality and justice):
"Chopping off the hand implies that it’s the hand’s fault, that the hand is in control of itself, that removing the hand removes the violation. This is closer to a world that Deleuze and Guattari envision, a world of body parts loosely assembled [my italics]into a coalition rather than an integrated self that commands its body like a lieutenant commanding a corps of soldiers. The hand offends? Cut it off. The eye offends? Gouge it out." Interestingly Deleuze in some ways is indebted to Freud, known for his "Oedipus Complex"; in the Greek tragedy play Oedipus Rex, Oedipus the king (the king is the one who holds the world together, by the way) in the end gouges his eyes out for their lack of clear vision.
Stil, however, we are left wondering what does hold the world together!? Well, I don't think Deleuze asks that question explicitly, so far as I know. He holds to a distinct version of philosophical monism, however, which entails everything belonging to and being a manifestation of one universal spirit in the first place anyway. So it won't exactly fall apart. Only problem is, for Deleuze, in a sense each individual being doesn't really even seem have its own distinct being as separate from that one universal spirit, or force, or whatever he might call it (probably not a spirit, is my guess), in the first place! There are "one's" desires, the real, true and pure desires that is, which sort of mimic, or flow from this one universal Thing-bob. I suppose if you figure out what you really want, then you can participate in the world's holding together since its not going anywhere anyway since you don't really exist. But I digress. My point is that I'm not satisfied with Deleuze's version of things "holding together", despite my respect for his paying less heed to the illusory modern version of how things hold together.
So, again, how does the world hold together? Sheesh. Poor Orpheus. He might just as well continue to be ripped to shreds. My best friend - he might just as well continue reliving that critical moment of his life in which his fiancee quit breathing. And I might just as well keep wandering through this pice of writing! But wait...there's hope for us all! Throw a chaotic mixture of pancake batter in Pan (link here) and it will "all" hold together :) Shoot, this guy is perect, this Pan god. He's the god of shepherds...if anyone holds things together, it's those guys! Sheep are freakin' idiots! And there's even the sober acknowledgement of things "tending" not to hold together every now and again; Pan is also the god who creeps along the village hillsides scaring the song-filled virgins half to death, sending them scattering in all directions. Its the root of the word "panic", no less.
Only one problem - again. Pan has horns on his head, a goatee like a horny goat, hooves for feet, and stands on two legs. Sheesh...paint him red and he looks just like the Christan Devil himself! Argh! Why, God, must this continue? When will this wandering end!? In a booming voice, God answers (thank Him and bless Him), "With ME!" And that's exactly the problem :) Pan isn't the One who really holds things together precisely because Pan isn't God.
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17). Finally. God did say: "[It ends] with Me." Well, maybe it was more like, "I am the Alpha and the Omege." What can you say? Nonetheless, the point is that my best friend, his fiancee, Orpheus, Deleuze...they can all rest in the peace of God's strengh, power and glory. They can all rest upon the ground of the hypostasis (link here), the very presonhood of God Himself who is full of loving-kindness for you and me.
"...hypostasis is usually understood with a meaning akin to the Greek word prosopon, which is translated into Latin as persona and then into English as person. The Christian view of the Trinity is often described as a view of one God existing in three distinct hypostases/personae/persons." Amen.
As another very good friend of Jason, best friend (or at least one of them), and best friend's fiancee said in an email that flowed along in the crazy aftermath of the two ground-breaking seizures: "Yay for family and tears and food and community and falling apart and picking up the pieces and the love that somehow makes it all hold together.You are my favorite people!Love.A"
Covered in Blood and Warstripes, Signifying Nothing
These days in the church there is - for good reason - lots of talk going around about the topics of just war and of the feminization of the church.
Of course our country is in a war with another for reasons of which no one is quite sure. Still, although I haven't heard any conservative supporters directly claim that the war is just (they seem to state their support more by simply talking about and restating Just War generally, or simply by reminding us that we must win, and so must fight on), I have read where some folks are putting a lot of work (via statistics and such) into proving the patriotic argument on rational grounds of our being the good guys and "them" (radical Muslims) being the bad. I have also heard the other side of the argument that our patriotic rush into explosive violence is mere manipulative vengence for the purpose of pretty much just taking over another country (for an unknown length of time). Here is a link to a site that encompasses the argument; see some of the comments by Thomisticguy for the referenced statistics (I'll save you time by telling you to search for the word "jihad").
As well I just read a newspaper article today with the subheading "There's no divine feminine here" in the L.A. Times that documents a mens' revival called GODMEN. "The conferences now carry titles such as 'Storm the Gates' and 'Uprising.' This year, the theme is 'Unleashed,' as in unleashing the warrior within." At the conference men are encouraged to courageously lead their families as spiritual heads rather than wimpering into the shadows of oblivion, to challenge injustice when they see it rather than being doormats for the world, to corageously face the demons and angels hidden in the recesses of the human heart that longs for strength and acceptance and to be valued and needed. At the same time, however, they are encouraged to be less courteous to their wives (so what if the toilet seat is left up?), to take joy in their communal desire to blow stuff up ('Maybe worship could be hanging out with a bunch of guys, admitting we like blowing crap up."), and sing "worship" songs with lyrics like, "Forget the yin and yang [an idea from a highly fraternalistic society]/ I'll take the boom and bang.../ Don't need in touch with my feminine side!/ All I want is my testosterone high." Questionable lyrics for a "worship" song, at best.
Obviously the image of a mens revival confronts us with the image and question of manhood. Somehow, however, the question of Just War does not, since it is supposed to be a question of right and wrong, in the abstract, having nothing to do with the man making the "rational" argument. "The charge of the Crusades was a charge; it was a charging towards God, the wild consolatin of the braver. The charge of the modern armaments is not a charge at all. It is a rout, a retreat, a flight from the devil, who will catch the hindmost. It is impossible to imagine a medieval knight talking of longer and longer French lances, with precisely the quivering employed about larger and larger German ships." (Chesterton, p. 29).
Chesterton seems to be implicating not so much anyone's acts of injustice, but a whole rotten environment in which decisions of justice might be made, an environment formed by certain ends at which men have taken aim. "It is the peculiar evil of this epoch that even its pugnicity is fundamentally frightened; and the Jingo is contemptible not because he is impudent, but because he is timid. The reason why modern armaments do not inflame the imagination like the arms and emblazonments of the Crusades is a reason quite apart from optical ugliness or beauty. Some battleships are as beautiful as the sea; and many Norman nosepieces were as ugly as Norman noses. The atmospheric ugliness that surrounds our scientific war is an emmanation from that evil panic which is at the heart of it." (Chesterton, p. 28, 29).
Of course if I am not asking a question of the ends of our war, not asking a question of the causes of the war and its effects, then I must be asking a question of beginnings. And the question of ends is still an open one. Back at the beginning I am asking a question of manhood. The Crusades were a charge, because men were charging. Iraq is a retreat, because it is fought not by men but by his automated technologies. And with these automated technologies man fights over the question of a technology (biological warfare). If the question of what to do in a war is the question of what button for a man to push on the computer screen of his tank, plane or ship, then questions will naturally arise in man's mind as to what tasks really need a man to be completed and as to what really makes a man. Of course not to mention, this man will be asking if he is a man. Of course then, too, this man who does nothing will be asking and grasping for answers as to how he is any different from a woman! This is not to say that a woman does nothing, but that a man who does nothing will be left asking how he is different from a woman.
So with this new beginning in mind - a question not of success or effeciency - I think we need to start asking some fundamentally differnet questions. The film called "The Big Labowski" is a film about a "hero...well, I won't call him a 'hero', 'cause what's a 'hero'?!", in which nothing happens. Its a film in which the wrong Jeffery Labowski is asked by the porno-grapher Jackie Treehorn to repay a "rather sizable debt" owed by the right Jeffery Labowski's wife. The poor Labowski, the hero, caught up in a story beyond himself, then attempts to exchange a ringer for the real Labowski's kidnapped wife rather than the original ringer provided by the real Labowski (who really "doesn't have any money of his own anyway...his problem is vanity") for his wife who was never really kidnapped in the first place. Of course all of this nothingness isn't known until the hilarious course of events have come to their meaningless end, and we find Mrs. Labowski frollicking drunk and naked in the back yard after having crashed her red Ferrari into the voluptuous fountain out front. In the meaninglessless of this end, however, we are still left with the question posed by the rich Labowski who isn't really rich to the poor Labowski who was mistaken by Jackie Treehorn's idiotic goons as the rich one: "What makes a man, Mr. Labowski?"
The image of a bloody and victorious warrior is an onld one that ignites man's imagination from his core, because of that of which he is made (to be children of God the Father allmighty). Assuming, however, that our American men come out victorious in the Iraq war (a presumptuous assumption), what will his war stripes have earned him? In whose blood will he have then been covered? To what end? Will he be able to confidently utter the words of Jesus, "It is accomplished?" In whose image will he have been formed; what will be the significance of such an image? What will be the meaning of his war stripes?
To what ends are the means of one's modern war employed? Might the technological means, not in theselves but in their modern telos, be the ends as well? Might we be able to answer this question differently after a war successfully fought essentially by a man's whole being rather than a war essentially fought by a technology born from a fragmented piece of this man who by the use of this technology employes so little of the rest of his being? This technology is a machine born from the fragmented and isolated machine of the mind. "Self amputation forbids self recognition" (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media).
Might that war fought essentially by the whole man, from its beginnings, tend to be fought for different reasons and to answer different questions...primarily of manhood? What is it that truly makes a man? I think we can discover exacly whose blood is covering us by finding whether we are charging or retreating. Effeciency as a means to conserve our "freedom and a way of life" (which itself is self-referential to effeciency) is a half-reason involving only half a man, or rather only half of a man. The question of whose blood covers us, asked along with the question of the telos of man's fight to find himself (his whole self), is answered by man's charge toward the Cross...where he looses himself. Such finding in a loss that grants Holyness, however, is diferent from "self amputation" that forbids "self recognition". I am also currently reading Marshall McLuhan's War and Peace in a Global Village, which seems to be an exploration of our whole being similar to what this post is pointing, implying questions not of the effects or "justice" of modern wars, but questions of who we are...eventually questions of our manhood.
Modern man tends to retreat into the featurless image of a vast frontier. "Now this same primary panic that I feel in our rush toward patriotic armaments I also feel in our rush towards future visions of society. The modern mind is forced towards the future by a certain sense of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past...the goad which drives it on thus eagerly is not an affectation for futurity. Futurity does not exist, because it is still future. Rather it is a fear of the past; a fear not merely of the evil in the past, but of the good in the past also. The brain breaks down under the unbearable virtue of mankind. There have been so many flaming faiths that we cannot hold; so many harsh heroisms that we cannot imitate." (Chesterton, p. 29).
Western man is driving his tanks back into the Eastern frontiers of ancient Babylon, out of which rode Abraham and back into which rode Alexander. I think that in reality he is not going to find "success"; he is not going "to keep our freedom and a way of life" (a "future vision of society"); but he is going to face his deepest of fears born on the side of civilization where the sun is always setting. Eventually, however, it returns to where it arose. "the west shall shake the east awake.../ while ye still have the night for morn..." (James Joyce). Modern Western man is left fighting the fears that give rise to his world in order to save it. "It is impossible to imagine a medieval knight talking of longer and longer French lances, with precisely the quivering employed about larger and larger German ships." Whether moving foward or back, can this be anything other than a retreat?
"Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses,but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall,but we rise and stand upright." (Psalm 20: 6-8).
Monday, January 29, 2007
"Standing In The Door"
Then things began to get strange. By direct ratio it seemed, as my senses became more attuned with the actual sights and sounds of my environment, my soul, my being, by proportion seemed to become more detached from those sensible realities. Paradoxically, however, as I felt myself loosing grip on any control I usually have on my own experience of the world, I felt as though I were being swept up into it...as if my being were actually becoming that of my environment. I felt as though I were loosing myself, and yet I had never felt so alive; had never felt so close to finding both what is real and who is I.
"'At this also my heart trembleth and is moved out of its place. Hear attentively the noise of his voice and the sound that goeth out of his mouth. He directeth it and the whole heaven and his lightening unto the ends of the earth." (from Job 37; K.J. version).
By the time I found myself standing, about 3-5 blocks from Lake Michigan and Buckingham Fountain, in a particular plaza-like opening in the city's spacial labyrinth of masses and voids in rhythm with each other, an angelic whisper ahd become the roar of a performing chorus. This opening that placed me at the center of what seemed like an energy field held in place by the city was partially formed by something as simple as the diagonal roof of a building. This rhythm that seemd to keep the energy field at play might be approximated as the following: building, space, building; face, void, face; column, window, column; walking, standing, walking; sidewalk, street, sidewalk; voice, noise, voice; car, space, car; silence, shadow, light; shadow, horn, light; shadow light, man. Just as I lost touch with my senses as I became more attuned wtih them, the degree to which I slowly lost touch with my very soul was the degree to which, in proportion, I found it being fed by a fountain of angelic and heavenly music that was either directed or revealed by the sensibilities of the city. "Rise liquidly in liquid lingerings,/ Like watery words awash; like meanings said/ By repitions of half-meanings. Am I not,/ Myslef, only haf of a figure of a sort".
After walking a few blocks or so in this state of strange hypostatic union (as I later learned some have called it) - and having come across my friends with whom I had made the trip - who hopelessly asked a dumbfounded and speechless Jason what on earth was going on - I found myself standing at the edge of the city, with a view of Lake Michigan, Buckingham Fountain, and, of course, the city of Chicago. It is what happened here where I loose all capability of speech if I try to describe it. I can hope to say it, but this seems to depend upon one's hearing. This "angel of reality" lead me to the highest rung of Jacob's ladder that I've ever visited; this is for sure.
And I came away from that "experience" (if I can call it that) later "able" (if I can call it that) to understand everything from that very story of Jacob's ladder, to Plotinus' doctrine of emmanation, to Dante's angelic visions of heavenly music, to Aristotle's notions of the four elements earth, air, fire and water at play with hot, cold, gravitos and levitos, to Heidegger's da-Sien. I don't expect many to agree with me, but I for one am convinced that Aristotle was at play with angles. "Yet I am the necessary angel of earth,/ Since, in my sight, you see the earth again". I am also convinced that the reason no one understands Heidegger is because he was stuck in their pathway between messanger and receptor (without knowing what was atop the ladder). The voice of the angel again through the mouth of Wallace Stevens: "I am one of you and being one of you/ Is being and knowing what I am and know."
And then, as I stood in the doorway by Buckingham Fountain, the choratic roar slowly and gracefully returned to its former whisper. And then in continuation like the runnings of a river continued into a Silence with which I've been left ever since...hearing every now and again the whisper, or even a few notes of the choratic song. The Necessary Angel fell silent while Buckingham Fountain continued to roar. "Apparels of such lightest look that a turn/ Of my shoulder and quickly, too quickly, I am gone.?"
And this Silence has left me ever since the Song trying to come to terms with them. Since then, they have occupied much of my time. Reading the book of Job nudged the door back open a bit, and the Light Winged Angel on the other side reminded me to share its even-ing spread across the sky (is this evangelism?).
"Look at the land beast, Behemoth. I created him as well as you./ Grazing on grass, docile as a cow -/ Just look at the strength of his back,/ The powerful muscles of his belly.../ But I still lead him around like a lamb!.../ you'd never want him for a pet-/ you'd never be able to housebreak him!" (from Job 40; The Message). "Or can you pull in the sea beast, Leviathan [due note his presence in the bottom right of the Buckingham Fountain photo], with a fly rod/ and stuff him in your creel?.../ Will you play with him as if he were your goldfish.../ If you can't hold your own against his glowering visage,/ how, then, do you expect to stand up to me?/ Who could confront me and get by with it?" (from Job: 41; The Message).
"'I'm speechless, in awe - words fail me./ I should never have opened my mouth!/ I've talked too much, way too much. / I'm ready to shut up and listen.'" (from Job 40; The Message). "Where were you when I created the earth?.../ How was its foundation poured,/ and who set the cornerstone,/ While the morning stars sang in chorus/ and all the angels shouted praise?...Have you ever gotten to the truth bottom of things,/ explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?/ Do you know the first thing about death?/ Do you have a clue regarding death's mysteries?/ And do you have any idea how large the earth is?/ Speak up if you have even the beginnings of an answer./ Do you know where Light comes from/ and where Darkness lives/ So you can take them by the hand/ and lead them when they get lost?" (from Job 38; The Message).
"If he gather unto himself his Spirit and his breath/ All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again to dust." (from Job 34; K.J. version). "As gold shines from the northern mountans,/ so a terrible beauty streams from God." (from Job 37; The Message). I stood in the under-lit doorway, and was left in wonderous Silence. "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." (Revelations 21: 23).
If Only Einstein Were President
“A practical man means a man accustomed to a mere daily practice, to the way things commonly work. When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning; but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.
It is then necessary to drop one’s daily agnosticism and attempt rerum cognescere causas. If your aeroplane has a slight indisposition a handy man may mend it. But, if it is seriously ill, it is all the more likely that some absent-minded old professor with wild white hair will have to be dragged out of a college or laboratory to analyze the evil. The more complicated the smash, the whiter-haired and more absent-minded will be the theorist who is needed to deal with it…
‘Effciency,’ of course, is futile for the same reason that strong men, wil-power and superman are futile. That is it is futile because it only deals with actions after they have been performed. It has no philosophy for incidents before they happen; therefore it has no power of choice. An act can only be successful or unsuccessful when it is over; if it is to begin, it must be in the abstract, right or wrong. There is no such thing as backing a winner; for he cannot be a winner when he is backed. There is no such thing as fighting on the winning side; one fights to find out which is the winning side. If any operation has occured, that operation was efficient…A man who thinks much about efficiency must be the drowsiest of sentimentalists; for he must be always looking back. If he only likes victory he must always come late for the battle. For a man of action there is nothing but idealism.
This definite ideal is a far more urgent and practical matter in our existing English trouble than any immediate plans or proposals. For our present chaos is due to a sort of general oblivion of all that men were originally aiming at. No man demands what he desires; each man demands waht he fancies he can get. Soon people forget what the man really wanted first; and after a successful and vigorous political life, he forgets it himself. The whole is an extravagant riot of second bests, a pandemonioum of pis-aller…our practical politicians keep things in the same confusion through the same doubt about their ideal demands. There is nothing that so much prevents a settlement as a tangle of small surrenders. We are bewildered on every side by politicians who are in favor of secular education, but think it hopeless to work for it; who desire total prohibition, but are certain they should not demand it; who regret compulsory education, but resignedly continue it; or who want peasant propietorship and therefore vote for something else. It is this dazed and floundering opportunism that gets in the way of everything. If our statesmen were visionaries something practical might be done. If we ask for something in the abstract, we might get something in the concrete.”
In light of the above upon our current circumstances, along with the fact that Einstein was known for being pretty smart, due note the double meaning of my title :) Don't, however, get lost in this wonderous play on meanings. In accordance with my original intentions in this post, I'd rather my reader primarily find his or her self in the vision extended in the above quote, and secondarily laughing at our present cirucumstances.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Art in a Coffin, "to go please"
And if you are wondering why Hejduk said that he can hardly imagine being in a museum alone, on the heels of a comment on art and its death, think of God's covenant with Abraham. A major promise in it is that "you will be gathered up with your people." The Jews thought of death as alienation. With death we are confronted with our aloneness...and with the facing of death we are confronted with the value and truth of community. This I also like about the quote. There isn't much conversation in a museum; ;merely hushed whispers among intimate friends. So as to keep the silence, like at a visitation.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
I like this quote:
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