Are you alone?

If words didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have to read this sentence.

Dear and Deliberative Humphrey,

In your last dispatch, through whatever form disparagement and flower diversion as is your wont, you seemed to make but one thing remotely clear, or at least very nearly verging on or flirting with the possibility of being intelligible to me.  I mean simply this: you are locked inside your own mind.  Aside from that I can’t say I made anything of the entire letter; the good Lord knows I can’t understand a word of your philosophical rambling and intellectual bereavements.  Furthermore, I can’t seem to truly understand even the small portion that I was able to interpret.  If you’re isolated in your own mind, then why on earth are you telling me about it?  It’s your mind, what am I supposed to do? Nonetheless, allow me to offer, in reply, a bit of ancient wisdom and a few spontaneous outburstings of interpretative fancy.  I ask that you begin by considering with me these words:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος.  I will not tell you what these words mean, because I am not sure of this; instead, I will write of them obliquely, and perhaps somehow you, by your honourable wisdom and scrupulous understanding, will discern my words and even these.

The LSJ, a Greek-English lexicon, defines λόγος as “I. the word by which the inward thought is expressed: also II. the inward thought or reason itself”.  This hardly explains anything.  It simply means that λόγος refers, whether indirectly or directly, literally or metaphorically, by definition or by metonymy, to some normative or empirical element, feature, or aspect of the real, imagined, or supposed universe, or to some such item—idealist or realist, specific or universal—that exists beyond the scope of the natural and supernatural universe as we define it.  So a λόγος is something that either communicates something else, or is a thing to be communicated by something else, or else it is the very action of communication, or the universal or circumstantial standard to which things that are communicated ought to be held.

Anyway.  It stands a worthy question for both of us whether thoughts precede words or words precede thoughts.  People often use the word circumlocution.  They talk of forgetting common phrases and being lost for words; as if words were independent objects sitting around somewhere in normative space like scattered buoys, long since set loose across the sea, and now waiting to be found anew or even discovered for the first time.  Neither is the thought often pilloried to fancy a man, at least intellectually, as a lost, normative pilgrim, wandering alone through that very same space, and looking, as it were, for external trappings, to satisfy his inner ardor for expressivity.  The mind is often conceived of as naked and independent agent, shameful and unfit for public exposure; it must be properly clad—by some nameless standard—in lexical decency before departing from the Platonian cave of knowledge.  But was Plato’s a cave of words or of thoughts?  If ever a philosopher thought of a word, did he not do so without using words?  What words could constitute the wording of thoughts?

Any philologist you ask will tell you that ἦν is a form of εἰμί, the ancient Greek ‘verb of being’.  Every language has to have one; you can’t talk about things without them existing or existing in a certain way.  And it’s no secrete, to anyone curious enough, that verbs of being are always among the most morphologically abhorred of lexical units.  They are used so much more frequently than any other word or idea that it’s simply disgusting.  And all those responsible for the existence of ancient Greek seem to have gone out of their way to make existence especially existentially challenging in that language, always to be confused with going or hastening, or beginning a conditional, or a relative clause (sometimes those particles hardly mean anything at all; still, that won’t stop us from writing massive books about them).  But as imperfect as ἦν is, or was, or was being, at least it denotes that much.  The Greeks never made an aorist form of existence; things existed in the past, but always progressively.  Perhaps the concept of instantaneous existence, some romantic, ephemeral beauty, is after all incompatible with the teleological nature of reason and human thought.  That which truly dies never truly was; such things are only beautiful in potential.  Hence, ἦν ὁ λόγος.

Nor, for the teleological Greeks, was seniority any different from sovereignty.  Few people question whether that which comes before is of greater consequence than what follows.  It’s vital for a man thundering away in the desert to make clear that the subject of his shouts precedes the actual words he uses, otherwise his words are worthless in themselves.  But perhaps even in the desert, where there is no one around to hear, the very sense of one’s words, the thoughts that they express, can hold value if the λόγος of them was existing ἐν ἀρχῇ.  Perhaps it’s hermeneutically irresponsible and academically barbaric or uncouth, but I consider it neither poetically offensive nor rhetorically dishonorable to offer a large number of equally authoritative translations: “Reason held sovereignty,” “Logic was in power,” “His word existed first as something separate but προς (beside) Him, but also existed first as the perfect μίμησις (representation, Aristotelian) of Himself, and therefore, θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (God existed as the Word)”.

It is also curious that for the logically positive medievals, something already as physical as a verbum would have to become flesh.  It seems a λόγος must be something both transcendental and substantial.  It is not an omom isn’t a word.  That’s because om doesn’t mean anything.  I believe a λόγος, while perhaps not merely a word, is surely something that means something, or else is the thing it means.  If we suppose that all words are defined using other words, then there is an infinite web of lexical connections that never explains itself.  But perhaps the inclusion of the definite article to describe ὁ λόγος makes it something real, and as such, something of infinite meaning—it is a worthy consideration whether ὁ λόγος might be the ultimate explanation of the endless, tiresome lexical-web.  Perhaps this is the difference between ὁ Σωκράτης and Σωκράτης.  A λόγος may very well be just another thing—something that exists in a single context at a single point in history.  But then we could hardly doubt that ὁ λόγος must be more than this.  ὁ λόγος must be The Idea, The Universal Truth, Reason, or The Sacred Word, that, while real and physical as the very sounds of one’s voice, or as Socrates himself, yet exists in absolute sovereignty and seniority, standing to the end as it was in the beginning, as something a priory, significant, and personal to all that follows across all nations, tongues, and ages.

Lexically and Intellectually Yours, to Whatever Extent Such a Thing Were Metaphysically Possible,

R. P.

The Sage

“FORLORN!” he often drunken said, “Forlorn are they that roam the chasms of the mind!  Forlorn are they that stand in pause without!” and then a tipsy grin would trip across his face, “and between them,” he’d interrupt his wandering speech and laugh a luxurious and drunken laugh—a laugh of indifferent wisdom, the breed of scoff as often fills a vasty space of silence with the intoxic foam of apathy, “between them stands a chasm,” he’d try once more: “indeed, there is a chasmic chasm between the roamer and the stander standing—a chasm as great and as profound as the stander’s pause and the roamer’s roaming mind.  So that he that roams is lost and he that stands knows not where he’s standing.  Forlorn,” he’d raise his bottle again, “forlorn are they.”  And then he’d drink.

They called him the philosopher, or the sage.  And often he was hated and often too drunk to know he was hated so.  I’ve heard him called ‘malignant’ and ‘a corruption to the youth’, and many would spin a sumptuous length of impressive, lengthy adjectives to hang derisively before his title, but regardless, regardless of if they called him a “profane, disgraceful, distasteful, despicable, detestable, deplorable, malevolent, misanthropic, abominable, insufferable, insubordinate…” and many seemed reluctant to finish their impressive thread, perhaps being unsure of what noun to attach to the end of it, and so regardless of with what profoundly expressive words that lengthy list was comprised, at the end was always attached—whether out of a want for creativity or an abhorred veneration for the man held darkly in the deep chasm of the heart—attached to the end was always the four-letter word ‘sage’.

And venerate him they did.  Though they were disgusted by him beyond the measure of words, they listened.  And when they listened, he spoke.

I went to hear the man speak once.  Far off in his study I found him, laying atop a crooked mountain of books.  Indeed the whole room was filled with books and other strange objects.  The books were all laying out carelessly, opened or closed, with multiple volumes scattered throughout the small, dark room and pages missing, which could be found here and there intermixed with the rest, and sometimes even covers were torn from their places, again laying among the rest, which would have led one to question whether the poor condition of these books was the consequence of mere carelessness or deliberate destruction and disdain.  Other strange members of the gallimaufry included a golden pocket watch; a very nice, victorian-styled smoking-pipe; a beautiful, ceramic, full-body sculpture of Athena—missing only its nose and laying sideways; a gel model of a human hand; fine china and silverware—all of which was broken if it could be; a fine romantic portrait of a noble lady—the frame of which lay in pieces mingled about the portrait, and one of which pieces was stabbed directly through one of the pearls that made up her necklace; and among all of this mess were of course a number of corks and many shards of smashed liquor bottles scattered between everything else and ready to pierce the foot of the first man foolish enough to walk around in that room without exceptionally precautious footwear.  All in all it was a shamelessly gaudy mess that displayed an equally careless monetary extravagance as treatment of valuables.

As we have already mentioned, the room was dark.  Indeed, it was quite dark, and musty.  This was because on that night that I went to visit the man, as on all other nights, the exclusive sources of light in the room were a crooked chandelier of candles, made of gold, with garishly ornamented arms, and hanging almost just above the sage’s head, and a plethora of other small candles on silver or golden candlesticks, all of which were sitting among the rest of the mess, with no particular care being taken to avoid setting fire to the many highly flammable paper items—and indeed, it smelled as if such an occurrence was not uncommon.  These luminaries but scarcely lit the creaky wooden floors and pealing yellowing wall paper, making it hard to see and dangerous to step.

That night, as on all other nights, the philosopher lay on his back on the top of a mountain of books in the centre of the room, drinking his liquor and babbling to himself.  We must be careful when we use the word ‘drinking’, as this does not seem to fully describe what it was the drunken man did—he was indeed drinking, but only a small quantity of the liquor that he poured directly out of his bottle; the rest dribbled back out of his mouth, as he murmured on with a soft droning voice, and trickled over his ugly face and ugly grey beard.  That liquor which escaped seeped its way deep into the philosophical pages of the books upon which he lay and accounted for the overwhelming aroma of alcohol that filled the room and seemed to inebriate everything in it, so that from the noble woman in the painting, to the sculpture of Athena, to the very walls and candlesticks, everyone, and everything, seemed drunk.

When I came upon this scene, for a long time I merely stood in silent awe, observing it all.  Then, approaching the man in the centre, I began to slowly make my way into the large mess, which reached so far out from the mountain of books in the middle that it filled the entire room and made it impossible to speak to the man from a comfortable range of distance without being dragged into the heart of it.

As I advanced, I began to hear the man’s musty murmuring only slightly better, and focusing too much on trying to make out what he was saying and too little on where I was stepping, I inadvertently kicked something over—I’m not sure what it was—and it made a hearty crashing sound.  At that, some intelligible words began to just scarcely emerge out of the drunk’s babbling, much like the pile of books in the centre that gradually erected out of the confused mess that surrounded them:

“Is that you, Samuel?” he groaned, “You’re such a rat, you.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I remained silent.

“Well, you rat?  What do you want?”

Still silence.  He lifted his head and looked at me.

“Oh.  It’s you.  You’re not Samuel.  You’re … who are you?” I stared at him blankly, “Pah!” he waved me away with his hand, “I don’t care who in the god-forsaken physical universe you are.  Go away.”

I still didn’t know what to say.  He started babbling again, and went on for a good moment or so before he turned and looked at me once more.

“You’re still here?  Well, what in the name of existential idiocy do you want!”

“I—” I didn’t know what I wanted.

“You what?” he looked at me impatiently, “You are who?”

“I’m—” I furrowed my brow.  What right had he to ask me who I was?  “Who are you?”

“Ah,” he laughed a brassy laugh, “so that’s what you want, whoever you are.”  he turned away and lay on his back again.  Taking another drink in the same manner already described, he began to speak, making a grand, narcissistic show of the first few words: “I am one who knows.  Not one who thinks, but merely one who knows.” he laughed, “I am a man who, as Isaac Newton once said, ‘sits on the shoulders of giant idiots’.  Every kind of work and every kind of thought of every kind of man of every kind of mankind sits below me, all worthless and gargled about,” he spit out some liquor and waved his bottle, spilling much of its contents about, “and I,” he went on, “I lie on top.  Before me were men of honour,” he said this with a sarcastic emphasis on its triteness, “hard-working men, with all sorts of ridiculous virtues and passions.  By all the laboursome labouring and such mores as are congenial to progress, they’ve heaped together a massive pile of—of what?  Wisdom?” he laughed again, as if this notion itself were exceedingly humorous and even entertaining, “What man has constructed is a pile of words.  It isn’t worth much, and it doesn’t mean anything, but it makes for a comfortable throne on which to stretch out and lie.  And that is exactly my purpose here; I have every intention of stretching out and lying so much that credulous men will think my lies are true.  But what is this to you?  What’s your business in coming here?” as he spoke these last questions, he rolled over onto his belly and turn to look at me, supporting his head with a tripod formed by his two arms, each holding up either cheek, and swinging his feet back and forth behind him, so that he very nearly resembled a school-girl at a sleep over, eager to hear the latest gossip.

“I have no business.  I just wanted to hear you speak—to know if what they say about you is true.”

“And what do they say about me?” he asked this as if he had never been told before and was excessively eager to hear me say it.  We can only assume that this eagerness was the result of a strange pride that he took in his deplorable reputation, causing him to delight in hearing about it, for there is no doubt that others had told him of it countless times before.

“That you’re a cynic,” I replied stiffly, “and an ignoramus.”

At this, he laughed hideously, “Ah, yes, well I must admit I am.  Some people have their heads in the sand, others in the clouds, and still others haven’t heads at all.  I confess to you with barbaric shamelessness that I belong to this third category.  So let them call me an ignoramus, for I am one who knows, not one who cares.”  He rolled onto his back again and began preaching, raising his bottle to the ceiling as if he were addressing the chandelier, “A wise man,” he said, “is a man who cares.  Indeed, the substance of wisdom is passion, not knowledge.  I am not a wise man; I am an ignoramus—an omniscient ignoramus.  That outside these decaying walls there are men, women, and children, suffering, anguishing, starving to death, is of no significance to me.  This is simply because I don’t care.  I know it very well—I know everything very well—but I am not wise in it because it signifies nothing.  Knowledge without perspective is not wisdom but a mere mess of words.  And this I know very well.”

“But why?  Why doesn’t it mean anything to you?”

“Why?  Why should it mean anything to me?  Indeed, why should it mean anything to anyone?  A man is a peculiar arrangement of dust.  From all other things he is only peculiar—not extraordinary, mind you—but peculiar.  He will exist in his particular form for a time, and perhaps even cause another arrangement of dust so strange as he to arise, but very soon he will begin to grow old, and as he grows old, his form will start to change, and as it changes, it will gradually become evident that it was nothing so extraordinary after all.  For soon, it will lie in the earth once more, where its form will continue to change, and change, until, one day not far off from the man’s birth, his form resembles nothing less peculiar to himself than to anything else.  Then, all that’s left of him may be a couple of peculiar words, which we might set down in a book—if they should be so peculiar as to merit such an exercise—and then, we may throw that book somewhere among the rest of the meaningless heap, where it will slowly, at its own rate, decay into the forgetfulness of other men.”

“But what of his soul?”

“His soul?  Now come, my charming idiot, even to you it should be obvious that the soul is something wise men made up to entertain themselves.  There is no soul.  This I know well.  If a man had a soul, why would he have a body?  Everyone acknowledges this simple fact in ordinary life, but when they turn to philosophy, they suddenly invent this ridiculous conception of a ‘soul’ in order to give themselves something to talk about.  If I bump into you, and you say, ‘excuse me’, and I scoff at you in reply (as I am most apt to do), this is because my body has exerted force on your body.  Not even the most unknowing of wise men would think that ‘bumping into a person’ refers to some abstract collision of normative concepts.  A man is his body, or else he is nothing.”

“So is there then no god?”

“Ha!  My boy, now have you ever asked the question!” he became quite excited at this, and in his frenzy, he flung liquor everywhere, so that an unsettling quantity fell even on me and began to seep into the fabric of my attire.  “You’ll want to sit yourself down for this one!  Grab yourself that monkey’s butt and use it as a stand for yours!”  I looked around and realised he must have been referring to a large, taxidermal figure of an ape, bending over to reach out as if for a banana on a lower branch, making its bottom an excellent place for sitting.  This I used as a stool, according to the sage’s advice, and listened as he began to degrade the fundamental principle of all mankind to utter dust.

“Gods,” he began, “are the inventions of dissatisfied minds.  A mind that wanders and a mind that sits idle is a mind without a reason to exist.  There is nothing of substance that the human mind may observe, so it resorts to making things up.  If there were a soul, then why would there be a body?  And if there were a perfect god, then why would there be an imperfect man?”

“So man is imperfect?”  Sitting in the hunched position which seemed most conducive of the ape-seat, I began to stroke my chin with one hand, looking, I suppose, rather like an ape myself.

“Of course.  Why, do you suppose he is perfect?”

“Well, no.  I just wonder—if you have some definition of imperfection, then you must have a concept of perfection, in which case, you have perspective, and in which case, you are wiser than you give yourself credit, for everything around you must have significance, and—”

“—Woah woah woah woah woah!  I see what you’re doing.  Don’t try that stuff with me.  I’m the Odysseus of philosophers—I’m well traveled, and I can cheat my way out of anything.  Perfection and imperfection are merely physical properties.  Like colours.  Colours exist relative to other colours.  We know that red is red because it is not blue, but this doesn’t signify anything, it’s just a part of the meaningless nature of the universe.  It’s the wise men, like you,”—at this point, it was clear that ‘wise’ was to be considered a derogatory term—”who assign these properties meaning, with your gods and such.  But simply because I acknowledge that the properties exist, I am not therefore obligated to care about them.”

“I must say, you are quite a postmodern philosopher.”

“Most philosophers are so postmodern that they deny the existence of postmodernism as a philosophy; others are so pre-modern that they don’t even believe in it.  I am neither.  Postmodernism is simply a quality of philosophy, you may assign it to me or not as you please, but it signifies nothing.”

There was a pause, and I used the time to think.  It was growing late, and the candles were growing short—something that I suppose only candles can do.  A few had even burnt out.  But the aroma of alcohol didn’t cease to fill the air, and all the splendour of mankind still sat below the disbelieving sage.

“Then let me ask you this, my cynical sir,” I restarted our dialogue, “How do you know these things?”

“What do you mean?  Through observation of course!”

“So you observe other men and have found them to be meaningless?  Then, I take it meaninglessness is a quality assigned just like imperfection?”

“Indeed.  Maybe you’re not so stupid after all.”

“Then what is so meaningless about meaninglessness?  You are a self-aware being in a world full of other self-aware beings, all of whom are making observations about the world around them and holding those observations against certain normative conceptions in order to assign them qualities.  Isn’t that the very definition of meaningfulness?  Perfection, imperfection, meaninglessness, meaningfulness, these are all perspectives held on the normative and empirical world, giving it significance.”

“I take back what I said about your intelligence.  That ape was smarter than you; at least he has become a subject of taxidermy, extending the existence of his peculiar form for a number of years after his death.  Your words, on the other hand, are so ordinary and unpeculiar, that they shan’t even find their way to the memory of mankind.  The normative qualities of things are just another realm of things—normative things, mind you, but things nonetheless.  If I have decided that physical things are meaningless, what makes you think I should find normative things meaningful?”

I took no head of his argumentum ad hominem, “Precisely because they are universal.  All men find things to have the same qualities.  The concepts of perfection and imperfection are transcendent of the things they describe and necessarily exist in the minds of all rational creatures.  But such concepts are transcendent even of the minds in which they exist.”

“There you go—you wise man—making up dogma about gods and significance!—”

“—And what of love?  The ability for a rational creature to substitute his own existence and well-being with that of another?”

“What of that?  It’s rubbish!  It happens, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything.  The ‘well-being’ of a man is really of no significance, so how can sacrificing it or saving it mean anything?”

“It has to mean something.  We call it well-being because, according to the transcendental principles of the normative world, it is good for things to exist.”

At this the man hesitated.  He had in fact submitted that there is such a thing as well-being.  So the Odysseus of philosophers, the man of ‘poluntroppos‘, took the discussion for a turn,  “Well I must say, you have me there.  I do in fact find love quite entertaining.”  He took a drink casually, and another few candles in the room quietly flickered out.  “Love,” he began again, “love is perhaps the most interesting part of this meaningless universe.  At least the universe is interesting.”  He wavered around from one idea to another like a drunk man wandering the streets.  “Of course, the only true love is unrequited.”  Now he spoke with more purpose, “Any old lethargic narcissist can love when it feels good, but only the man stupid enough to choose to love even when it causes him agony, only he can be called a true romantic.  Romeo and Juliet was only a good love story for the first two scenes—the rest is ridiculous rubbish.”  He took another drink and looked off into the distance, suddenly quite placidly, peering through a skylight in the ceiling, as if into his memory, and he tried to recall an ancient adage, “A wise man once said,” Suddenly his look of ponderance left, and he frowned, as if he had forgotten himself, “What am I saying?  Quoting a wise man?  What I meant to say is this bit of foolish knowledge: If you love something, let it go; it won’t come back, but do it anyway—it’s mildly entertaining.”  At this he chuckled, but only softly, and mildly.  “I did that once,” he began again, “I—I wrote a poem about it.  Would you like to hear?”  He turned and looked at me.

I was quite simply enraptured as I marvelled at this man and the profound range of forms he could take on.  Once he was as a drunk, then as a mad man, and he was now as an innocent dreamer.  I nodded gently, as if in a trance, to encourage him to continue.  At which he began to recite his poem, droning in his drunken way, but gently:

How she was sweet as zephyrs in the autumn

In cool caress the arboretum’s dead

And raise, those careless currants, dancing dead

Among the hesitating arboretum boughs.

“How she was pretty as hesitating branches

Will bend and blush embarrassed, ashamed to smile

At dancing dead who rise to raise that blush

As handsome roses in the sun at evening’s end.

“How she was beautiful as autumn’s romantic, flaming gloaming

Habitually robes the desolate scape in celestial rays,

And hesitating rays of sweetest, golden evanescence,

In passion, they die among the leafs to rise no more—

And all is lost.

There was a long silence during which the lovely guiltlessness of this man’s melancholy dissipated through that dark, inebriated room.  Suddenly the misanthropic smirk had turned to a romantic frown.  But darkness yet lurked in the far corners of the room, and many more candles had gone out while I was entranced with this man’s charm.  They were now extinguishing with greater and greater frequency.

“Then isn’t the sheer beauty of that experience worth living for?” I asked softly, “It has begotten such exquisite art.”

“Worth living for?  Living?  The only difference between art and ‘real life’ is that we live life for the mere fun of it.  Sure, love is entertaining, but it isn’t even real.  It dies.”

“But isn’t that part of its beauty?  As you said in the poem… what did you say?  ‘How she was beautiful as … hesitating rays … they die’ … didn’t you say that she was beautiful because of her evanescence?”

“I don’t know.”  Said the man who knows everything, “I can never know what she was; there was no way for me to peer into her mind.  What is love if it can’t even know of its object?  What is love if one can never truly know what the other feels, suffers, and thinks?

“My dear idiot, I am not a wise man, but I know this:” he took a drink before continuing.  Then, drunken, he abruptly shattered the tranquil atmosphere that had so become the room, “Forlorn!” he cried, and more candles went out, “Forlorn are they that roam the chasms of the mind!  Forlorn are they that stand in pause without!” the candles died, all but one, “and between them,” this last candle flickered.  He laughed, as one who knows, “between them stands a chasm–indeed, a chasm as great and as profound as the stander’s pause and the roamer’s roaming mind.  So that he that roams is lost and he that stands knows not where he’s standing.  Forlorn,” the last candle died, “forlorn are they.”

The room was very dark, lit only by the ominous glow of the moon, which gazed down through a skylight from high above, in the heavens, casting a long shadow of the sage across the floor as he preached and spat, laying atop his glorious mountain of knowledge.  The portrait of the noble lady and the statue of Athena looked sinister and menacing, lit there in the silver darkness of knowledge.  The man went on preaching and seemed to forget me as he spoke.  I too seemed to forget him.  Little by little he seemed darker and darker to me, till he was only a silhouette, and then a mere shadow.  His speech likewise faded from intelligible words to murmuring, so that he seemed as a wretched demon, imprecating a horrible curse on all mankind from atop his throne.

I started for the door, and hearing me leave, he shouted out after me, “Is that you Samuel?  You rat!”

As I rushed out of that place, dawn approached from the East.  The horizon slowly faded from black to purple to grey to red, according to each contrasting quality of its ascension.  The cold, wandering zephyrs crispened the morning dew and carried with them the sweetest sounds of church bells ringing far off in the distance.  And the perfect, broken harmony of all of nature cried in steady solemn tones, “Behold, there is a God in Heaven, forlorn among the fallen men of earth!”

Philosophical Liquor

 

Facetious men with fallacious philosophy,

Fashioned fictitiously with fleeting flecks of fallacy,

(Having finished from their fill of bottled ferment)

Went, fully bent on the firmament,

To flippantly fill their mental facets

With frivolous fineries from far.  And at the tacet,

They plied their music farther, and forte phrased it:

“What was it that that fickle father has writ?

That man whose wit were twice as great as those of they

Who claim the greatest part of man today?

Said he ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’?

Or does my drunken mind cause me to err?

Indeed I think ’twere truly written just so,

And so it was ev’n if ’twere not, I know,

For my reality is relative,

To me, my thought and truth correlative.

If I am drunk on wine and think me sober,

A prudent man may perpetually pester me as a prober

Into the amber contents of my intoxicating drink,

‘What’s this?’ he asks ‘that masks your mind in manic—

This malice makes my tempered reason panic—

What causes you to inebriated think

That night is day and day is night, and light

Is dark, dark light?  ‘Tis not right.

To what end do you let your wisdom end?’

But he is wrong to think me wrong, ‘My friend,’

I say, ‘the drunkenness that you perceive inside me

Is but a coloured tint of your sobriety;

You’ve drunk too much the air, who fills the mind

With sense and reason to the times behind.

Most truly are you drunk and I am dry,

Although but my drink may be less dry than thine,

For not a man is there who roams the earth

And drinks not of something, whether plainly or in mirth.

In earthly mirth do I make my mind to medal

And shall not care to take offence and meddle

In your affairs, your truths and doctrines prodigious;

You may have your hypocrisies religious.

Prodigious doctrines, religious hypocrites,

Their enough to give the fondest follower antic fits!

Away with you!  Go your ways!  But I

Will find a fouler function for my inner eye.’

And so would I repel him, with drunken errored verse,

Neither drunk nor errored, for his ways are worse,

Though there’s not such a thing, than mine.  But i’ th’ sanity of madness

Let me go, and retire to relative bliss.”

And so he faltered off to fill his mind

With foolish fortunes—that man of mankind.

I too, a poetic stander by, cannot

Help but sympathise with the dry man’s lot,

The one who felt the man who spoke to himself

Was not true. Though foolish folly is wealth

On this repugnant earth, I think the worldly

Is wrong about reality. Surely,

If man calls fair the evil thing that’s foul,

Then in his tongue I must say ‘fair’ is foul.

And if he calls by ‘Foul’ the Beauty fair,

I also lie and use his language there.

A just life is a dance ‘top burning coals,

A careful weaving through the mortal holes;

We learn to play the game ‘gainst fools, and sing

The song that best might quickly freedom bring.

But quietly and carefully, my reader,

Avoid the drink but use the words in meter

With the twisted world.  You too will indeed seem drunk;

Your sober secrets private as a monk,

But come, brave soul, and in this find consolation:

The drunken man’s wanting consummation

Will never bring a fruitful final day—

Unless you might use a different backward phrase—

But words won’t last, and so that language is lost

Is not a matter to we who know the cost

Of ill and worth of True Benevolence,

So yet we look on Right with reverence.

But woe to you who head this quiet verse,

For on this earth your mortal life is worse

(There being such a thing, the drunkard … right)

Than that of him who carless mocks the song.

The Mockery

Perhaps some of you who have keen memories, or who enjoy filling your average sized memories with superfluous information, will recall that I have written in an earlier post that I was intent on addressing this subject at some future point.  I’m sure you will be overwhelmed with excitement and thrill to find that said future point has arrived.

This post is merely an attempt to share with you a concept, that of The Mockery, which I think is quite important.  Therefore, it will be a little less polished than one might hope, as I don’t really have the time or energy to compile all the sources I will draw from in an organized matter, yet I think I should try to share this with you all anyway.  Thank you for your understanding, or failure to share a misunderstanding, regarding this incompetency.

I cannot take full credit for the title of this concept; it comes from a belief held by a friend of mine that he once shared with me saying, “I believe that all beliefs ought to be mocked as well as celebrated,” (or at least, he said something to that effect; unfortunately, I personally fall into the latter of the two categories I mentioned at the beginning of this post).  The two of us then continued our conversation to point out how silly that was (for if all beliefs should be mocked, than even the belief that they should be mocked should be mocked, thus you have your infinite recursion that we all love).  But in the end, one must come to the conclusion, concerning this issue, that the concept does hold some merit.

Indeed, by every model I’ve presented on this blog site, the idea must hold merit, for I’ve always acknowledged that all the theorizing we do is ultimately an insufficient model of the truth†, as “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in philosophy.”  Thus, I am “mocking” the very beliefs that I have concluded on.  And of course, if I want to be all postmodern about it–which I have no particular inclination of being–I should really also mock my self mocking those beliefs, and mock myself doing that, and so on to infinity.  But that’s obnoxious.  I personally feel that recognition of the first level of the recursion is perfectly sufficient, as it ‘implies’ every subsequent layer (and the layers of layers, as discussed in “Orders of Infinity”).  Therefore, there is no need to say, at the end of an argument, “and all this might be wrong, but it is the best I could come up with, and that maxim might be wrong also, as well as that one, and that one …”  If you did do this, you would just drive readers as crazy as I am probably driving you right now.

As a part of the correspondence with my friend on the subject of this concept, I wrote him a letter.  Among the things I tried to accomplish in that letter was a differentiation between Mockery and Comedy.  Here is an excerpt (which I reserve the right to have modified from its original form) from that letter in which I took a stab at that task:

It is painstakingly obvious from the way we are made, that we ought to laugh at the silly, eclectic combination of mortal bodies and immortal souls, “everlasting splendors,” (or, for now, whatever your philosophical equivalent is).  A few pieces of music come to mind: Beethoven’s ninth symphony and Brahms’ first symphony (both of which, if you haven’t heard, you ought to drop everything and listen to right now).  I was literally thinking these exact words when listening to Beethoven’s ninth most recently: “The second movement is both magnificently powerful, and boldly comical.  This is part of what makes the piece so brilliant.  If he [Beethoven] weren’t so comical with his style while also being serious, we would almost feel tempted to worship the sounds like pagans, and this would detract from the beauty because it is unnatural and wrong˚, but by also taking his music lightly as he does, Beethoven allows us to get swept away in aesthetic rapture, and then laugh at ourselves for being so moved by something so finite and mortal.”  This is one of the things that really excite me about postmodernism.  My music and thinking is sometimes almost hard to distinguish from the postmodernist.  It is, truly, in complete opposition; however, my hope and prayer is that it is what ultimately becomes of postmodernism.  More on this later.

I’d like to take this idea of comedy a bit farther.  I also mentioned Brahms’ first Symphony.  His comedy is a little more deeply rooted into reality.  There is nothing particularly funny about his music, but oh how beautiful the last movement is.  If you’ve heard it, perhaps you’ll understand what I cannot really say about it in words (this is one of the things about music; if I could explain everything music has to offer in words, it would hardly be worth writing in music).   Here is my best attempt: the music concludes with a brilliant, warm, rich finale theme.  The symphony began in a dark, minor key and builds the whole way to this conclusive ending.  It’s like death and resurrection.  This is a portrait of the comedy of life.  All the horrid things of now mean nothing in the end beyond the extent to which they pointed us to the brilliant One who does mean something, and life eternal is free and beautiful; we will one day find that we truly had nothing to fear the whole time.  This is another sense of comedy (if you can understand it from my vague and abstract description, or perhaps you’ve heard the piece and can see the connection) that I believe in.  It is the same kind that exists’ in Dante’s Divine Comedy.  The other type of comedy (the one described in the previous paragraph, I’ll call it mockery) is also present in this one.  The mockery of Brahms’ first symphony is that it ends, and we are still here with all our fears and pains, and even during the symphony, we never fully left, the symphony never entirely met our longing for Heaven (because it is not heaven, it is mortal).  Parallel mockeries exist in Dante as well.

That distinction being made, I went on to discuss its ramifications:

I think we should laugh at both comedy and mockery.  We laugh with joy at comedy and with something more like scorn at mockery.

Thus we have our two types of philosophical humor, if you will.  Now, to begin unraveling the mess of philosophy to which end, as I mentioned earlier, I hope postmodernism is bound.  Yes, it is the opposite.  Where postmodernism looks to deny an absolute reality in place of our self-mocking individual ones, it denies, or “mocks,” our individual views in place of the One absolute.

It is a rejection of the temporal rather than of the eternal.  Dante and other thinkers (and artists, and the rest) of the past don’t seem to have seen this.  Dante is so very caught up in mortal things.  He thinks that everything can be measured.  Every sin or noble doing is like a withdrawal or deposit in a check book, and the final balance determines exactly to which “level of Hell, Purgatory, or Heaven” you belong.  This is not the case.  As C. S. Lewis writes in the intro to his wonderful fantasy novel, The Great Divorce, there is no in-between Heaven and Hell, no going to Heaven with “a scrap of Hell in our pocket.”  No, all the universe is ultimately binary (the opposite of the postmodernism) and yet infinite binary (a compromise).  There is right, there is good, there is beauty, and there is wrong, there is evil, there is ugliness.  That’s it.  All these things ultimately boil down further into eternal states of being and non-being.  0 and 1.  But this is getting a bit ahead of myself*.

That’s the problem with the artists (and the rest) of the past.  Not that they believed too much in absolute truth, but that they believed too little, or (for the sake of clarifying) rather that they believed they knew that absolute truth, and that it was there, present to their conciseness in its entirety.  It isn’t.  Dante is like a Pagan.  It is the business of the ancient Greeks and Romans to worship that which is human (or at least much too human-like), and even sometimes that which dies.

We must worship only things eternal.

As for my reference to Dante, this letter does not, by any means, convey my entire rhetorical view of him; I just presented a simpler one for convenience.  To “expand your model” of my view of Dante a little, I share the following:  When I wrote that “Dante is like a pagan,” I really meant, more specifically, “Dante, as I portrayed him in this letter, is like a pagan,” though my broader view of Dante is that he, on whatever level of his consciousness it may have been, understood what I have shared with you in this post, and thus, wrote the way he did in order to establish the “first level” of the recursive sequence.  That is, we cannot worship God if we have absolutely no concept of him, we instead need the largest concept of him that we can fathom.  However, as it turns out, and as Dante seemed to realize, just as “he who wishes to gain his life shall lose it,” and “the first shall become last,” so to does the simpler, more concert concept of God often constitute the larger one.  Indeed, the concept God presents us with in the bible, his very word made flesh, is often the most concrete one of all, and it is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the largest, and most accurate.

[You don’t have to read this part if you don’t want to] And now, to write about what I just wrote in the previous paragraph, as that seems a relevant task in a post about The Mockery and all its recursiveness, notice, I wrote to you that what was in the letter was not a full model of the truth of the matter as I understand it.  Indeed, even what I’ve written in that paragraph is not complete.  Consequentially, many of you reading this may have felt like what I wrote in my letter was a lie, for it almost seems contradictory to my belief as I shared it with you.  This presents a good question: what is the difference between bearing false witness and presenting and incomplete model of the truth as you know it?  Since the question is relevant to the mockery, I thought I’d raise it here, and then those of you with the aforementioned, outstanding memories will recall it when I later write a post in which I answer it as best and honestly as I can with my most genuine attempt.

Finally, to comment on this post as a whole†: this is the strangest and worst-crafted posts of all those I’ve yet written.  It seems to make a mockery of this entire blog.  I apologize for however unpleasant that may be.

______________________________

† Not because its wrong, but because it’s not the full truth.  But, when we consider fractal reality, it can be seen as the full truth, within the bounds of the scope in which it exists; that it, its true to the degree of detail that one possesses the ability of seeing among the fractal of detail that makes up reality (like a computer programer creating ‘objects’).  Now here’s the twist: apply everything I’ve written in this footnote so far to itself.  Ultimately, once one does that infinitely, we see that we must abandon the whole issue of the mockery while we are “working on,” or formulating our models, and only turn to it in the process of “appreciating” those models, for it makes no difference to the process of thinking whether something is an object or an infinite string of binary.

˚ To mock my own writing–isn’t if funny that here I have my own thoughts in exact quotes after the remark I made earlier in the post about my memory?   On a more serious note: this particular thought that the aesthetic would be lessened by an immorality in the act of its enjoyment goes along with “The Art of Thought.”  That is, it is pleasurable, in some specific sense, for the mind to ponder truth, and likewise, for the soul to experience “righteous art.”  Thus art is an act of philosophy, for a major part, if not the only part, of aesthetic is morality.  Hence, in the context of the letter, it is pleasurable to listen to music that is good for the soul in much the same way that it is pleasurable to eat healthy foods, exercise, or tend to a wound, all of which actions are good for the body.

* If your interested in my writing on this matter (which I did not include in this post), see “Fractal Reality,” under “Metaphysics.”

† And the effect the contents of the post, and thus effect the comment about the post, once more effecting its contents …

Absolutely Postmodern

Oh dear, I really have to stop being so self amusing with my titles.

A note to the reader: good luck.

Most recently I got myself into a discussion, as I have a most curious way of doing, about the absoluteness or relativeness of aesthetics.  My friend and I got to discussing the effects of frame of reference on the understanding of a work of art.  We both agreed that it was possible for an artist to create something that is excellent in his own culture and “artistic language” and horrid in another.  Where my friend and I differed, or perhaps, ironically, where we were unable to properly resolve our misunderstanding, was on the conclusion that should arise from such an axiom.  The reality is that while a work of art is not absolute, what a work is about is.  I may have been less than clear about this in my discussion.

What makes a work of art excellent is not that it is universally understood in all frames of reference, no work is, but rather that what it means is absolutely good.  That is, if art is bound to language, then of course its quality is relative and temporal, but its content need not be.  If I were to write the sentence “God is good” on a sheet of paper and mail it to someone in China, I should not reasonably expect the recipient to have the faintest understanding of it, but that doesn’t mean that God is not Absolutely good, that He is good here in America but not in China, it simply means that most people in China don’t speak English.  This example might seem rather trivial, but it is, I believe, the very heart of the issue.

We live in an age where Indian music is just a click away, African dance can be seen on TV, and Hispanic cultures are flourishing in our own neighborhoods.  What used to be an incalculable expanse of mystery and wonder, the earth, is now a small collection of stimuli that can be accessed right from our living rooms (or at least it seems this way)†.  But the truth of the matter is that we no nothing about Islamic sacred art, though we often might think we do.  Just because people in Japan find things to be beautiful that we do not doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as beauty, but rather, as I’ve been telling you all along, that Virgil is a pagan.

Every tribe and nation has a language and an art, and within that art and language they can say lovely things and horrible things.  But the art itself is not the lovely thing or the horrible thing, it is merely a means of communicating that thing.  Good art tells the story of God in mortal words, bad art doesn’t; it’s that simple˚.  But no art is God.  We may call a butterfly ‘beautiful,’ but only a pagan would worship a butterfly; in reality, the butterfly is not beautiful, but is rather a reminder of that which is beautiful, that of which we all know deep within our hearts but are yet to see face to face.  Butterflies are like Virgil.

In the classical world, it was less practically important that this distinction be made, but today, society stands no hope without this understanding.  As the world continues to progress in its complete accessibility, we draw perceptibly nearer to the end of time, “La cima del purgatorio,” and it becomes necessary for humanity to choose between art and beauty, Virgil and Heaven.  The world has always been full of Pagans, but never has Paganism posed so great a threat to the heart of mankind as it does today.  In classical times, paganism was among the most useful tools for building the church–for causing the “Word to become flesh.”  This is why Dante’s guid is so important to Him.  God built the church by transposing, as Lewis calls it, his fractal truth into something that could be held in the mortal minds of humanity.  He used language and art, pagan faculties, to communicate that which is immortal.  But now we are coming to the point where those faculties have served their purpose and are no longer needed, where “the word of the Lord has reached every nation.”  Mind you, I do not wish to say we are quite there yet, nor do I wish to comment on how close the end of time is (though it has always been very close), I merely wish to point out that this is the direction in which we are moving.

Please do not misunderstand me, La cima del purgatorio is much more than an artistic movement, but like most things in the scope of reality, it plays itself out over and over again in all different ways and on all different levels.  In art, we are reaching La cima del purgatorio where the mountain that sits below us is a symbol of the work we have done to understand language.  We are now coming to the point where we no longer need to believe that a work of art is Absolutely good or bad, but rather that Beauty and Goodness are Absolute and art is but the mortal expression of those immortal, Divine characteristics.  Our model of aesthetics has reached a new level of purity.  This is what the purgatory analogy is all about: we humans work and work to refine our models, our relationships with God, and our very beings, for this is good for us to do, even with our knowledge that all our toil does not even begin to close the gap between us and Heaven (the doctrine of sanctification). But there soon comes a point where we no longer need to work and God reaches down through His son and carries us home.

Reality is fractal, that is why, while our older models are true within their own scopes (thanks to the complex), they can always be “refined.”  We are essentially stretching their scopes.  It’s as if I thought my family was out of orange juice and so I told someone that I was going to go to the store to get some, but when I looked in the fridge I realized that we had orange juice but were instead lacking milk and went to get that instead. If after returning from the store with milk a family member asks me if I had gone to the store yet or if we had orange juice now, I may report that both are true and create for them a function accurate model of the truth; however, that model may further be refined if I told them the whole story.  In this example, the whole story is a finite set of facts; in the case of reality, the whole story is fractal.  Therefore, part our purpose as humans, while were here this short while, is to continue to refine our models–not so they can encompass the “whole story,” they never will, but rather because it is simply Good, in an Absolute sense, for us to do this.  It is an exercise of our finite love for God.  After all, it is out of this finite stuff that He is going to make us infinitely refined beings in Heaven; it is our duty to have faith the size of a mustard seed.

If good is infinite, it should not surprise us that there would be infinite finite ways to worship Him.  If God is Absolute, it should not surprise us that there would be ways to not worship Him.

__________________________________

† This is a good example of why paganism must now die in a sense that it has not hitherto: the earth used to seem so beyond Human comprehension that one could get away with worshiping it or casting their worship of the true God onto the earth out of their ignorance of His name.  Now as the earth ‘shrinks,’ paganism begins to pose a new threat to humanity.

Art is trying to do the opposite, see “A Timeless Shakespeare”

˚ “There are two kinds of music: good music and bad music” -Louis Armstrong

The Bones of Artists

The bones of artists often burn in Hell,

All mortal formed aesthetic does soon fade,

For only Love will live forever well.

 

The modern maker’s locked inside a cell;

His selfishness and emptiness has made,

The bones of artists often burn in Hell.

 

But beauty as it was before it fell

Once held us all as one together bade,

And only Love would live forever well.

 

Now selfishness has killed the loving will

And left us burning in a fiery lake

Like bones of artists: often burning in Hell.

 

Oh how my ear so longs to hear the bell

That rings eternal on the coming day

When only Love will live forever well.

 

That day will come of which no man may tell

When never more shall we hear the sorry tale

Of bones of artists that often burn in Hell

And only then will Love live ‘ever well.