Monday, January 29, 2007

"Standing In The Door"

Wallace Stevens wrote a poem called "The Necessary Angel". Its opening lines say: "I am the angel of reality,/ Seen for a moment standing in the door." One day, while in the second year of my architectural education at Virginia Tech, I found myself in this mysterious doorway while on a week-long trip to Chicago, IL. This "angel of reality" came and spoke to me. Let us, however, from the beginning be clear; the angel's speech is what opens the doorway. I by no means stepped upon the threshold that leads us to the glimpse of what's on the other side of the curtain. All I did was stand and fall silent. While walking the angelic whisper began, at first the sounds of traffic and visible motions of people walking down the sidewalk in every possible direction provided by the orthogonal order of streets and buildings.

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 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).

It's impossible to imagine what you experienced. That the same physical space can participate in multiple realities -- world and kingdom, flesh and spirit, transubstantiation. You insist on maintaining the this-worldliness of the transcendence, that the city remains the city, that the angel is a material angel. Did the physical point away from itself or participate in a transcendence? Perhaps it's not possible to speak of it beyond the evocative eloquence of what you've already written here.
Well, I'd say that yes I'd like to maintain "the this-worldliness of the transcendence". But I certainly wouldn't want to declare the angel a material angel - I'm no Mormon. Honestly, I to a degree question whether Joseph Smith just imagined his fancies by an act of will.

This would have been honest enough, but it would not have been man's being tested by what is on the other side of his imagination rather than man's testing what's on the other side of the veil for himself. I prefer to pretty much leave it at that...and say that ritual rather than cogito-being is more orderly...rather than getting into a bunch of Medieval or Gnostic-esque angelology, if I can avoid it.

As for your question: "Did the physical piont away from itself or participate in a transcendence"? I'd say that the city was "participating" in a transcendence. I would not say that it was pointing "away" from itself. I would not be comfortable with that language. I think of the spiritual and physis as an integral whole, really. I think of this, partially, as the meaning of "Holyness", which means, though, that it (Holyness) doesn't belong to us.

I also think that its that part of us that insists on being modern that wants to break the two apart. This is the analytic marching apart of Something and Nothing. The Bible says that One was FORMED from the other. But a modern building is held together by the TENSION of the elements, meaning that the parts are pulling away from each other, but tied together at the joints. This is exactly how the rebar works in poured-in-place concrete.

When the 2 are in tension, the question of pionting changes, as compared to when one is speaking in terms of a question of formation. I don't know where you stand here, really, I am just trying to paint the general picture as I see it.

Also, I should probably mention, I said I think of the spiritual and material as a kind of integral whole. What this means is simply that God has a presence in the here. I'm not denying that God also has a presence in what appears to humans as an absence, or at least in what appears to humans as a not-here. Thinking is part of how we are made in the image of God. In Chicago I was not thinking; although I'd say I learned a lot about what thinking is.

The proximity of spiritual to aesthetic. It's almost easier to interact with your post as a literary work than as a "real" experience -- possible to talk about the words, impossible to talk about the experience, other than its impact on me. To wit, see my blog post for today.

Somehow when you wrote in your last comment about the "modern marching toward" something, I read it as "modern marching band." I thought a marching band would be a good image for modernity. In addition to the sheet music, we would get complicated marching charts so we could make those intricate dynamic formations visible only from the sky like crop circles.
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