Saturday, May 19, 2007
Irony and Aletheia
every word from your lips is sheer grace,
and God has blessed you, blessed you so much.
Strap your sword to your side, warrior!
Accept praise! Accept due honor!
Ride majestically! Ride triumphantly!
Ride on the side of truth!
Ride for the righteous meek!"
- Psalm 45: 2-4
"What is truth?" These are the words of Pontious Pilate. Alethia refers to a notion of truth as asserted by a famous philosopher named Martin Heiddeger. Some of you may have heard of him. In a Heideggerian context, such "truth" refers to the kind of truth that is "uncoverd" from actually living in the world. Heidegger calls this "Da-sien," or "There-being." For our purposes, we can call it "riding." Riding majestically, triumphantly...riding with courage and grace. "On the side of truth...for the righteous meek." Or simply living in the world.
Some would question what I mean here. They would probably question my intention, as well. Their idea of truth doesn't make the image of a warrior in the world on a horse or chariot (or any image at all, for that matter). One might especially ask what does handsomeness have to do with truth!? "God doesn't judge by appearances," they shout with ferocity! One is left to ask of the orphaned truth of handsomeness. Pavel Florensky founds a whole theology on a relationship between God and Man reciprocated by the Other's Beauty. "Be here - the king is wild for you." (Psalm 44: 11).
In Fishing from the Pavement, Daniel Libeskind says: "Why accuse the orphan striking the blind patriot for fun of assisting the devil? NATO coward, tilt back your sword." (p. 10). But wait...NATO is a multinational organization? What's going on? What is the meaning of all this "blind patriot" stuff?
What's going on is that the raising of a sword requires actually living in the world. Their notion of truth requires no being in the world. You build up a set of logical mind-projectiles (eerr...propositions) until you've come to the completion of your story; and your story matches up with the one told by the world you actually live in...hopefully. Its similar to firing projectiles from a tank. Your safe from actually facing the enemy. No, your safe from facing death; that's it. Until your tank suddenly blows up. Then your popping the top off the tank and suddenly running around back out in the world again. Besides being on fire, the only other problem is that you have no sword to raise; you're used to just pushing buttons.
Back, then to the meaning of this "blind patriotism." "Aletheia" is an ancient Greek word. Americans have no real sensible relationship to their "America" in the way that Athenians had a sensible relationship to Athens - other than through the images available to them by their technologies, of course. Technologies which are, however, not a direct sensory experience of America, but extensions of the self. Much less is NATO a being-in-the-world. The fortefied tank, which essentially exists like a plane outside the world, is an extension of that part of the self that is either unwilling or afraid to face death, and therefore also cannot face the world.
Speaking of beauty in the world: "The atmospheric ugliness that surrounds our scientific war is an emanation from that evil panic which is at the heart of it. The charge of the Crusades was a charge; it was charging towards God, the wild consolation of the braver. The charge of 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." - from What's Wrong With the World, by G.K. Chesterton, p. 29.
The "truth" of those words from Chesterton ring in the bell tower when I hear the following, from our fearless leader: "They will not take away our freedom and a way of life." "It is a rout, a retreat, a flight from the devil, who will catch the hindmost." If we don't retreat toward them they will attack; and then we would have to retreat away from them!
"You're my King, O God—
command victories for Jacob!
With your help we'll wipe out our enemies,
in your name we'll stomp them to dust.
I don't trust in weapons;
my sword won't save me— "
- Psalm 44: 4-6.
Tanks and systematic theologies of "truth" have no trust, hope or faith in a God's uncovering Himself as a God of Grace and Life in the world and in you and in me. They'd rather cover the world themselves with their own truth. They'd rather be their own king. Jesus was a nice and unengaging kind of fella; why arm yourself with the Word?
Verses 6 and 7 of Psalm 45 again, addressed to the king, say:
"Your throne is God's throne,
ever and always;
The scepter of your royal rule
measures right living.
You love the right
and hate the wrong.
And that is why God, your very own God,
poured fragrant oil on your head,
Marking you out as king
from among your dear companions."
The irony here is that this Psalm, written by the Sons of Korah, was probably written at the time of a bad king in the world of Isreal (mainly meaning a lack of care for the "righteous meek"). By its very conflict with the truth it uncovers the real truth and ironically proclaims both God's love and judgement in the world.
Reread those same verses as if they were talking about Patriotic tanks or systematic theologies. They in turn proclaim the same ironies. The fragrant oil becomes especially interesting. Tanks and scientific propositions become blind truths, ultimately unable to properly relate to or live in the world. "The atmospheric ugliness that surrounds our scientific war is an emanation from that evil panic which is at the heart of it." Do we live in a time of a "bad king" (or a number of them), or is it simply the same old Prince here to provide the same entertaining temptations he once so graciously lavished upon another of those Psalmists, namely King David?
"But it's you, you who saved us from the enemy;
you made those who hate us lose face.
All day we parade God's praise—
we thank you by name over and over."
- Psalm 44: 7-8.
You seem to be in an aggressive frame of mind. Swords, tanks, firing projectiles. Is it your sense that being in the world means engaging in hand-to-hand combat, exposing yourself to danger and blood, savoring the thrill of the kill? That science and treaty organizations and propositions are ways of buffering yourself from the harshness and glory of this combat?
Maybe you're right. I, however, find no possibility of glory in this fight, and it enrages me that the enemy hides behind organizations and policies and money. This isn't the era when the lone man on a horse can achieve anything. The lone man in a bomb shelter preserving the remnants of a once-great culture while above ground the philistines jostle for position -- maybe in some future generation his work will be discovered, his anonymity celebrated, his weakness forgiven.
And just who is the orphan and who the blind patriot? Are these metaphors for Eastern European countries taunting Russia? That NATO ought to side with these former Soviet bloc countries? I don't get the reference. But do I want NATO wielding a sword right about now? Do I want any more Crusades? I sure don't.
I personally would rather trust in propositions than in the sword. I would think it a worthy activity to create propositions that map onto the world. Do they protect me from death? Maybe. I'd rather be protected by propositions than by the sword.
I'm maybe more afraid of embracing the world than of thrusting my sword at it.
I honestly don't want to disagree with you on this post. These things mean something to you that they don't mean to me. Maybe a longer conversation, or one less suffused with images, one with more personal narrative. What is this meaning to you, and why are you saying it? Is it some sense of wanting to take the fight to the world in a way you've not been willing to do before? Are you sensing resistance that's veiled behind rational BS? What's the story?
I see that I should pay more attention to the images I use to impress something upon the minds of my audience!
Concerning my aggression: "hand to hand combat...That science and treaty organizations and propositions are ways of buffering yourself from the harshness and glory of this combat?" I'd say that this consciously was most certainly not my point. Unconsciously...I really don't know. I know as of recently that I have control and anger issues, with history going back to my various early relationships, but...??
Maybe it would help if you knew I was 5'6 and don't think of myself as a valian Davidic warrior! Or...maybe it would help if you saw a picture of Libeskind, lol. This will be him on your right (the picture's left); physically intimidating isn't exactly his schtick.
It would probably also help you to know that "Fishing From The Pavement" is literary, and thus autobiographical for Libeskind. He grew up as Polish Jew, was forced to flee to Isreal as a young child due to war, and then ended up currently as an American Citizen, before building a Jewish Holocaust museum in the middle of Berlin soon after the fall of the wall (which thrust him into immense fame).
All that to say...sheesh, I really don't know precisely who the orphans and blind patriots are in the image. It sounds like you might have been partially right-on about the former Soviet bloc countries (orphans, perhaps), although I have no idea how you figured that out from the limited and isolated context of the quote. I was too young to have the foggiest idea what was going on in Yugoslavia and what-not at that time. Anywhoo...
My guess is that the meanings of "orphan" and "blind patriot" are not static. Libeskind is a bit of a pomo, but he's also, I think, a "metaphysician of presence." Hence my attraction to his work. That would have a lot to do with what the quote means to me personally. I also sort of just transferred the "orphan" part to our conversation on your "Father of Logos" post, as I hinted there. Knowing him, he'd be delighted in that regard.
All in all, then, I'd say a conversation with the use of more personal images is probably a good idea. I certainly wasn't imagining myself weilding a sword at my side in the glorious end-time chaos scenario to come not-fast-enough-for-my-eager-self.
I was just saying that systematic theology seems to be a pretty hapless tool for coming face to face with the difficulty of the world and the inevitability of death, both represented by the Cross. And I was also saying that contemporary technologies, military technology included, seem to coincide nicely with contemporary trends of our being's being extended so far out as to no longer be easily habituated to being-in-the-world.
I was also hoping that my reference to the Word, presented in Revelations as a flaming two edged sword, might clue my audience into what I was talking about. "Jesus was a nice and unengaging kind of fella; why arm yourself with the Word?" Due note the Pauline armor reference. You're really good at reading stuff, though, so I see I should have been more clear.
I would say, though too, that I do sometimes sense some resistance that is often veiled behind rational BS. But not with you; you aren't so passive-aggressive. I sense it more with Christians in blogland (not the Erdmanian Tornado, either). And I have had the urge lately to "take the fight out into the world," and even in ways that I haven't really been willing to do before. But not with a literal sword.
So I guess I was speaking more to folks like Thomisticguy...in my own quarters. I really don't know about how he be's-in-the-world. I do know he's a proponent of expository preaching, though. And he probably wouldn't complain about the statement that Heidegger didn't believe in truth.
I see on the Tornado's blog that you're frustrated with bureaucracy in the architectural wars. That makes sense, and I can see why you'd want to clear all that BS out of the way and just make something good and interesting happen. This is how I feel about all bureaucracies I've encountered, most recently the publishing industry. All anyone can see are popularity and what the market wants and churning out more of the same old shit. What about the direct relationship between writer and reader, without agents and publishers and wholesalers and bookstores and PR? What about taking a stand for real writing?
There's something anarchic about what you wrote that I resonate with. I suspect you and I share a frustration with all corporate endeavors. But corporations are made up of people. You're probably right: people hide behind the faceless machinelike container of the collective enterprise. And that includes strings of machinelike propositions like zoning codes, apartment leases, mission statements, ....
It's your blog: the audience can take it or leave it. You get to say what you want. I was stimulated by this post to try and find out more.
All that aside, your tone was much more vigorous and enthusiastic than the way I'm responding to it. If you can find a way to ride mightily into the fray, charge on. There is no reason to listen to me saying, "put the sword down; resistance is futile." I need to find inspiration from your words as a fellow warrior.
"There's something anarchic about what you wrote that I resonate with. I suspect you and I share a frustration with all corporate endeavors. But corporations are made up of people." I too resonate with something anarchic about what I wrote. But in a moment of sanity, I too realize that coorporations are made of people. That's why I point to modernity as a particularly unique problem, which turns everything on its head, and makes that which is present absent, and that which is absent present. That's why I appreciate Heidegger's "being-in-the-world."
Also interesting, then, "You're probably right: people hide behind the faceless machinelike container of the collective enterprise. And that includes strings of machinelike propositions like zoning codes, apartment leases, mission statements, ...." The mission statements thing catches my attention. This is Derrida's "trace" and Eco's "hyperreality," in a clash with Heidegger's aletheia. Modern coorporations got "mission statements" from Christian discipleship ("go and make disciples unto all nations" - the "Great Commission"), changing the practice drastically; then Christianity, in practice, borrowed it from the business coorporations. Its really wierd.
"I was stimulated by this post to try and find out more." Cool.
"There is no reason to listen to me saying, 'put the sword down; resistance is futile.' I need to find inspiration from your words as a fellow warrior." Uuhh...good sir who is loved by the God you don't believe in, I think you know my answer to that one. You don't "need" to find inspiration in my words. You ARE a warrior. And the inspiration is readily available to all who believe, if they so choose. I mean, I read this part of your comment, and thought to myself, "Well, if inspiration/hope is what distinguishes myself from Doylomania, well, shoot...he can have it too!"
"But in a moment of sanity, I too realize that corporations are made of people. That's why I point to modernity as a particularly unique problem, which turns everything on its head..." Modernity is credited/blamed with extracting the individual out of the collective context of tribe, church, nation -- you've pointed to Descartes in this regard. But certainly Christ called individuals, and expected them to respond as individuals. His mission was to Israel corporately, but the call was for each Israelite to live rightly with one another. Maybe that's the difference: individual responsibility toward others, not toward self-satisfaction. But individuals continue to hide behind collectives in order to buffer themselves from responsibility and from personal contact with others.
I can find inspiration from you personally. If you are offering glimpses of Christ through your life and words, then you can regard yourself as being an incarnation of God's inspiration.
"I can find inspiration from you personally. If you are offering glimpses of Christ through your life and words, then you can regard yourself as being an incarnation of God's inspiration." Wow, thanks man! This was like a surprising splash of fresh water from my blind side!
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