Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Face of Literacy

I remember when I was in architecture school, my professor once made one of those for-him-typically memorable remarks that often you could "literally see the faces on medieval buildings."

Additionally, I remember a small bit of controversy surrounding an older student who taught me a lot when he was a thirty year old fifth year student and I a much younger third year student. He never, or rarely, labelled his drawings. People would ask him why. Why wouldn't he help make the drawings more readable? He would respond by saying that he wasn't trying to make the drawings readable, so he didn't put things on them to be read.

Well, I came across some reading today - in Erwin Panofsky's Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism - that was so darned interesting in regards to these memories of mine, that I just had to share it with you guys. Following will be a kind of long quote with paragraph breaks, so I will just put it in italics instead of in quotation marks:

When asked in what manner the mental habit induced by Early and High Scholasticism may have affected the formation of Early and High Gothic architecture, we shall do well to disregard the notional content of the doctrine and to concentrate, to borrow a term from the schoolmen themselves, upon its modus operandi...this method of procedure follows, as every modus operandi does, from a modus essendi [mode of existing, my note]; it follows from the very raison d'etre of Early and High Scholasticism, which is to establish the unity of truth...'Sacred doctrine,' says Thomas Aquinas, 'makes use of human reason, not to prove faith but to make clear (manifestare) wahtever else is set forth in this doctrine.'...

Manifestatio, then, elucidation or clarification, is what I would call the first controlling principle of Early and High Scholasticism. But in order to put this principle into operation on the highest possible plane - elucidation of faith by reason - it had to be applied to reason itself: if faith had to be 'manifested' through a system of thought complete and self-sufficient within its own limits yet setting itself apart from the realm of revelation, it became necessary to 'manifest' the completeness, self sufficiency and limitedness of the system of thought. And this could be done only by a scheme of literary presentation that would elucidate the very processes of reasoning to the reader's imagination just as reasoning was supposed to elucidate the very nature of faith to his intellect. Hence the much derided schematism or formalism of Scholastic writing which reached its climax in the classic Summa...

We take it for granted that major works of scholarship, especially systems of philosophy and doctoral theses, are organized according to a scheme of division and subdivision, condensable into a table of contents or synopsis...However, this kind of systematic articulation was quite unknown until the advent of Scholasticism. Classical writings...were merely divided into 'books.'..

It was, it seems, not until the earlier part of the Middle Ages that 'books' were divided into numbered 'chapters'...and it was not until the thirteenth century that the great treatises were organized according to an overall plan secundum ordinem disciplinae so that the reader is lead, step by step, from one proposition to another and is always kept informed as to the progress of this process...

All of this does not mean, of course, that the Scholastics thought in a more orderly and logical fashion than Plato and Aristotle; but it does mean that they, in contrast to Plato and Aristotle, felt compelled to make the orderliness and logic of their thought palpaply explicit - that the principle of manifestio which determined the direction and scope of their thinking also controlled its exposition and subjected this exposition to what may be termed the POSTULATE OF CLARIFIATION FOR CLARIFICATION'S SAKE.

Within Scholasticism itself this principle resulted not only in the explicit unfolding of what, though necessary, might hae been allowed to remain implicit, but also, occasionally, in the introduction of what was not necessary at all, or in the neglect of the natural order of presentation in favor of an artificial symetry. In the very Prologue of the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas complains, with an eye on his forerunners, of 'the multipliation of useless questions, articles, and arguments' and of a tendency to present the subject 'not according to the order of the discipline itself but rather according to the requirements of literary exposition.' However, the passion for 'clarification' imparted itself - quite naturally in view of the educational monopoly of Scholasticism - to virtually every mind engaged in cultural persuits; it grew into a 'mental habit.'

- from "page[s] twenty-seven" to "thirty-six" of his book, as Panovsky put it, in less numerically "expository" terms.

I find this completely fascinating. There are many times when I have been asked to put my thoughts into "logical order," meaning a linear sequence of logical propositions that follow after one another leading to a pre-determined and pre-understood conclusion like in a table of contents, which was discussed above. Becuase it is usually accompanied by the accusation of either disorderly thinking or a lack of any thought at all, the very request for such an "order" of presentation to my thought usually arises a kind of primal annoyance in my soul. Sometimes, however I oblige (out of sheer love, of course), leaving my thoughts appearing in, to me, a bit of a silly format that betrays their hidden natural and sacred origins. Of course, such questions and expectations from my interlocutours reveals a certain relationship to the audience's questions to the thirty year old fifth year student as to why he wasn't "labeling" his drawings.

Additionally and somewhat marginally, try to convince some of our contemprary proponents of "expository preaching" that it is not "essential" to human speech and Christian preaching but that it is instead merely a "mental habit" with very specific (Scholastic) historic beginnings, and they will most likely simply retort that Paul was an expository preacher and tell you that you don't know your history! If we decide to go one step further and tell that person that "expository preaching" is "artificial" and full of "multipliation of useless questions, articles, and arguments," then, despite the fact that you have just quoted the source of his or her "design format," he or she will probably (un)just(ly) dismiss you as mad.

Also speaking of "mad," the idea of "clarification for clarifiation's sake" reminds me, marginally, of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, much of which I of course have not read, since it is madly long, and the whole of which is, also of course, organized in such a way for the "very process of reasoning" to be made "palpably explicit."

What is essential to humanity, however, rather than being madly or obscenely explicit, is that we have both a kind of physical and intellectual/spiritual face that serve as masks to the self. The face, like the cinematic screen, directs the self; it faces and moves in a direction, and has a certain completeness and self-sufficiency to it within a set of natural limits that are "manifested" in the "overall plan" of one's daily living. I heard someone today describe the shame that he sometimes experiences "at the very core of his being" when he remembers certain events of his life. It can be said that the self emmanates from that center, and at some point along its pathos to its exterior and knowable destination in the outer world takes on a direction (as noted), eventually meeting the end of its path. Hopefully, the end isn't filled with such shame!

Along that line, it is said that the end is the same as the beginning. "I am the Alpha and the Omega." In the end, "we will be known as we are known." God can see us from a place outside of ouself and our world; we will meet Him there. In a Gothic Cathedral, this "Omega" is represented by the Rose Window. Interestingly, then, usually the Rose Window stands above the entrance, as it does at Chartres Cathedral, the cathedral that represents the culmination of High Gothic architecture, images of which I have been showing you along the way.

It is interesting, then, as my professor noted when I was in school, that below that very Rose Window you can "literally see" faces as you enter the Cathedral. Also interesting is how, as with a Scholastic literary work, the overall design of Medieval buidings is often times configured in such a way as to be able to "literally see the face" - mouth, nose, eyes, brow and head.

Considering the above discused notion of manifestation, I think it is also interesting that the hidden and sacred geometry makes itself a bit more easily evident on the "face" of many Gothic Cathedrals as compared to the face of, say, the Parthenon. Here is a link to how said geometry is "manifested" on the face of Chartres.

You wouldn't find the geometry of the Parthenon so easily, as the physical face of the Parthenon doesn't literally "expose" the hidden, inner geometry of the politically actual building. Another of those memorable remarks of my professor's was that we are now, as a society, only literate.

Harold Bloom says: "the School of Resentment is killing off the art of reading. Instead of a reader who reads lovingly, with a kind of disinterest, you get tendentious reading, politicized reading....It may be a waning art, the art of reading closely, lovingly, scrupulously with the excitement of seeing how the text will unfold." And yet in The Cube and the Cathedral, you hear George Weigel speak of "the end of politics" having already come. Is that because the "overall [political] plan" has already "manifested" itself (beause Hegel's "end of history" has come), or because said "overall [political] plan it is meant to be literally exposed in the first place (because it is assumed that we should label our drawings)?

The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.

Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather - not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought.)

It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense.

LW from the preface of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them - as steps - to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright. 6.54

What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence. 7
One more for posterity:

There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical. 6.522

This is, of course, the early Wittgenstein. Interesting that even in the early W one still takes away the fact that the things that cannot be expressed (presumably the non-propositional) still "make themselves manifest." One of the ways that the non-propositional makes itself manifest is through the arts. In regards to the biblical texts there is poetry and there are rich metaphors that speak non-propositional truths in non-propositional terms. These are, it would seem to be, the things that W says we must "pass over in silence." Not because they are unimportant, but for precisely the opposite reason.

Crf. Eccl. 5
"Many dreams and many words are hevel. Therefore, fear God."
More later...but for now...lol...are you telling me to shut up?
I will assume that you (must) have "passed over" my words of utter profundity. Lol. It is Passover week. The resurrection (eerrr..."manifestation") is coming!
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