Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pan, Orpheus and the Hypostasis

Its been a while now since one of my best friends had two fairly major seizures one peaceful and relaxing Saturday afteroon, soon after which I got a call from her frantic fiance asking me to come and be with him in the hospital waiting room. When I arrived he looked like he was about to fall apart. In fact, the only reason I even noticed him sitting there was because he lunged out of his chair with his arm raised in my direction as if asking me to hold him together. Needless to say, at times like that one, as well as during the following week or so...or more...you can start to walk the thin line between wondering about the world and wandering in it. Try to imagine how the very structure of his world is altered as he watches his fiancee - not breathing - shake violently and uncontrollably, with foam splewing slowly from her mouth. Since then he hasn't quite been himself, really.

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"

Maybe there are differences in how people perceive the danger. Are things in danger of flying apart, or are they in danger of collapsing into an undifferentiated mass? I doubt whether the other animals experience either of these concerns. They're hard-wired into themselves, and their wiring is adapted to a world that they cannot bend to their specifications. They just do what they do.

Deleuze & Guattari say that the only modern myth is the myth of the zombie. Dead men walking, up from under the ground, missing an arm here and an eyeball there, plodding yet relentless in their pointless pursuits, bodies without souls.
"The only modern myth is that myth of the zombie." Yeah, that sounds Gnostic to me. Without my having to read a whole lot into it, even.

I guess your point, though, is that Deleuze and Guittari wouldn't be too interested in the mythos of this post? Interestingly - I don't think my friends at Expression Mondays would either. I think they'd identify more with Deleuze and Guittari; that was the whole point of Expression Mondays.

OK...a Deleuze and Guittari light bult just went on in my head that had been waiting for a while now to go on. Interesting. I think my friends at Expression Mondays woul read Deleuze and Guittari into the Gospel. And they would read Christ's "sacrafice" into their own experience of de-zombification. As in, like, "Dude...I'm willing to say 'Screw 'em' (as per the father in 'Legends of the Fall') to 'The Man'! Even unto my own death! For what is death anyway but...[insert interpretation here - reincarnation, enterancne into the Universal Spirit, whatever]."

And as for your first paragraph...if you asked my friend whose fiancee had a seizure...I think he'd tell you that whatever happened at that moment, and then carried on after she had the first seizure in his apartment...I don't think he'd really be able to distinguish between things coming apart at the seams and things collapsing into and undifferentiated mass.

But I myself am slightly crazy, though. From my mystical experience in Chicago, I certainly can't distinguish fully between the two. They are not two entirely separate things for me. I think of the two occuring simultaneously, actually.

As things in history came apart (picture Michelangelo's works, as an example, including the turbulent historical events just prior or during), they also began to more and more become one undifferentiated mass. As the world that Michelangelo once knew was coming apart, the world that McLuhan describes as the global village was being formed.
I get involved in the abstractions and the flows, less so in the people. You were grounding for your friends, which is what they needed, not some kind of scheme for turning their ordeal into art.
But yet there's this blog post!
Dear Everyman,

In regards to this post, the following is quite interesting:

"It's a chilly Saturday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles on the roof of the chic Standard Hotel, but Jessica Alba has taken some time out from wrapping her upcoming production, 'The Eye,' to speak to the press. Alba looks a bit dour, but that may just be a reflection of the difficult role she jumped into.

An American adaptation of the 2002 Hong Kong horror movie 'Jian Gui' (or translated, 'The Eye'), Alba's new movie finds her playing a blind woman whose sight is restored after a cornea transplant. Unfortunately, with her new vision also comes the traumatic power to see the supernatural. Obviously a bit freaked out, she tries to determine the history of her new eye's previous owner."


In addition to the content and plot of the film being relevant to the topic of this post, it would aslo help simply to imagine being born blind, and living that way form some long perioud of your life. How would that effect your conception of who you are and what holds you together?

So here you have a disconnected body part that sees the supernatural. This is a paranoid schizophrenic perception, that some disembodied eye can see through him, and that it's somehow connected with God. But then the source of paranoia gets transplanted into yourself. You become the source of your own paranoia. The eye you see out of is alienated from yourself, as if it was an alien body part that's taken possession of you. And you see some other reality behind the veil of the material world. Your vision is doubled, the world is doubled. Soon you will disappear altogether.
from my McLuhan lunch time reading: "in the case of costume itself it may be the ground of grievances may be simply the world itself which demands an encounter with the spirit. Eventually, such an encounter of world and spirit invites extremes, whether gaudiness or poverty, joy or sorrow, in a kind of costume as a declaration of alienation from the world and its ground-rules. The mystic may have to take up the middle ground between gaudiness and poverty..." - from McLuhan, The Medium and Light, p. 77.

Besides that, of course, the simple fact that I was reading McLuhan brings to mind how this film is an expression of the heights of the clash between literate society, which breaks everything up, and aural society, which - in relation to visual literate society - will tend to unify everything under one invisible "spirit" so to speak, in which things are not visibly distinguishable.

The eye is entirely autonomous, and even itself endowed with spiritual power. What it sees, however, entirely defies the rules established in the delineating horizon lines between objects in a visual field (or "ground").
The mystic may have to take up the middle ground between gaudiness and poverty. Maybe the mystic project of finding a middle ground between heaven and earth results in the middle class.

The autonomous eye: is it a metaphor for the camera. Is this a film about filmmaking, where the camera's lens gives the filmmaker supernatural abilities?
The mystic as the middle class - that was McLuhan's next sentence that I left out. Funny.

As for the relation to film and the supernatural abilities given to the filmmaker by the camera - we were JUST having that conversation, and I didn't think of that! That's cool. I'm gonna go with "yes". Thanks.
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