From Dust

The splendour of the world in rags

Resplendent darkness hides.  And light

I see the mystery of heaven

That human flesh decays in humble

Waste. A sacred sacrilege

To muck and filth, it burns

With thunder, resounds with fire,

And rages all the more with silent

Wind. Did he lay the foundation

Of earth, a giving grave of life?

How to Impress Girls

Dear Ernest,

Everyone loves a good anecdote, so I thought I’d tell you one: several years ago, while at a composition workshop, I had the privilege of meeting and befriending a fellow by the name of Ben Nakamura.  Ben’s English skills were intermediate at best, but as you and I both know, this put him on par with the upper percentile of all native speakers—a brief perusal of any blog like this one can reveal as much.  Employing such and aptitude for English, he once asked me why I began writing music.  I offered him in reply a lengthy exposition on the purpose of art, the human propensity for creativity, and other such kinds of pretentious philosophical ramblings.  When I had sufficiently despoiled from his mind any presumption of eloquence or compendiousness that he might have held for me in light of my life-long familiarity with our mother tongue, I stopped blabbering and returned to him with the same question.  His response was much simpler: “I started writing music,” he said, “to impress a girl.”  Then he laughed at himself before adding, “it’s okay though.  It turns out I like doing it anyway.”

In your last letter: “I fear you despise your own tongue at times”

In answer to your accusation, I must submit entirely.  I can hardly stand my accursed tongue!  It’s always sloshing around like an unwelcome guest, the umbrage of my mouth, all wet and gross, and always arguing with me.  I don’t care how amusing a scene it makes for passersby—my debates with my tongue are utterly infuriating!  Just the other day we were arguing about Dante.  My loquacious antagonist was of the opinion that the Divine Comedy can be read and appreciated much more deeply under the assumption that Beatrice was not a real person.  I opposed him directly.  If Beatrice were not an actual woman, it would mean that Dante has neglected to provided us with any real-world advice on how to impress girls.  Naturally, I would find this all rather disappointing, since arguing about Dante with my tongue already puts me at a disadvantage in that category.  In defence of my viewpoint, allow me to extrapolate evidence from one of his sonnets, quoting in a language that’s much more dear me by heart than native to me by birth:

“or voi di sua virtù farvi savere.  / Dico, qual vuol gentil donna parere / vada con lei, che quando va per via, / gitta nei cor villani Amore un gelo, / per che onne lor pensero agghiaccia e pere; / e qual soffrisse di starla a vedere / diverria nobil cosa o si morria.”

trans: Now let me make her [Beatrice’s] virtue known. I say that it behoves whoever longs to seem a gentle lady to walk with her, for when she passes by, Love casts a chill into the hearts of the villainous, so that their every thought freezes and perishes.  Whoever might endure standing beside and beholding her—he would either become something noble or die.

(Vita Nuova XIX)

As this sonnet implies, the main point that Dante will try to make in the Divine Comedy is simply this: the best way to impress a girl is not to compose music for her but to write immortal Italian love poetry.  All throughout the epic, the same question recurs.  Dante asks his readers and himself, ‘how does one become worthy?’  Worthy, that is, of so virtuous a lady as Beatrice, of so lofty a poetic theme as the salvation of the human soul, and of so glorious a kingdom as that unending realm of Him who is from Everlasting to Everlasting.  The solution is always immortal Italian love poetry.  Live a life, Dante tells us, that is a love poem addressed to no less a muse than the very God whose name is Love.  Come as you are, base and villainous, and He will cast a chill into your heart so that your every vile thought vanishes into oblivion.  Perhaps this will begin somewhere quite superficial—perhaps you’ll begin ‘pursuing God’ only to impress others with your conspicuous virtues or specious magnanimity, both of which are among the many practical benefits of being a nominal Christian.  But by the time you find yourself ‘midway through the journey of our life’, you just might realise that God has been using all those trivialities to cultivate his own radical vision for you.  He has been pursuing you through all the stupid fancies, all the vanities and futilities that first inspired you to turn toward Him, and now, as the impetus and completion of everything that you are becoming, He has overwhelmed you with His grace and bereaved you of every source of pride, even the pride you might take in your own morality and righteousness.  When He has done all this, you may very well arrive at a solidarity with my friend Ben Nakamura: “it’s okay,” you’ll conclude, “it turns out I like doing this anyway.”

Your servant,

TWM

P.S.  Everything I told you about Ben is true…except his name.  He didn’t really go around using a pseudonym as far as I know.

Is Love Irrational?

More specifically, could love be radical without being irrational?

Ever since the mystical romanticism of nineteenth century western culture, it has become fashionable to regard love as an irrational human sentiment.  People seem to like this notion because it gives love a special place in philosophy: love is not the sort of thing you can write a long philosophical treatise on (or can you?), but instead it is a subject for great poems and works of art.  Of course, this understanding completely disregards any art that may be inherent in the genera of boring treatise writing, which is entirely surpassed, it is supposed, by the capacity of an ardent poet.  Indeed, this superior position seems to be where such a notion of love is placed; it is not merely irrational but super-rational, transcending and exceeding the limits of the human intellect into some supposedly higher, metaphysical realm of unintelligible emotion.

Some readers might think this notion is less novel than I have made it out to be, and perhaps a brief look at gothic love poetry—by which the romantics were allegedly inspired—would reveal so much.  But let me respond to all such objectors with the position that the culmination of that poetic school is actually the dolce stil nuovo—a highly rational understanding of love.  Indeed, there is very little mystical about medieval mysticism.  But enough arguing with my imaginary antagonists; let’s look at an early renaissance passage.  This comes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, wherein Eve has just eaten the forbidden fruit and Adam is now throwing a mild hissy-fit over the matter:

“Should God create another Eve, and I

Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee

Would never from my heart; no, no, I feel

The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh,

Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy State

Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.”

(Milton, Paradise Lost IX.911-6)

The last two lines might seem irrational.  Why would Adam ever pursue a state of woe?  That doesn’t make any rational sense; hence, Adam’s love must be irrational.  But such a reading completely overlooks Adam’s own rationale, which he provides quite clearly: ‘I feel the Link of Nature draw me’.  Milton is referring to the classical metaphor for marriage as a chain (people have been complaining about ‘the old ball and chain’ since antiquity).  So entering into a state of woe is something that Adam would do by compulsion, and thus, he violates no rational principles.  But Adam’s first premise is the most puzzling part of his logical argument: ‘Should God create another Eve … loss of thee / Would never from my heart’.  What does that mean?  If God could make another version of the same thing that Adam holds dear, why on earth would Adam pursue the broken one rather than being satisfied with a replacement?

We could easily imagine this question posed in much a more personal way.  Suppose after thirty-five years of marriage, when the children are fully grown and left the cave, Eve turns to Adam in a moment of personal dissatisfaction and asks him that enduring question which has baffled the mind of every lover since the dawn of mankind: ‘why did you choose me?’  Adam would hardly have found himself in a tighter spot if she had instead asked, ‘does this sheep skin make me look fat?’  But he has an easy way out, a simple, rational answer that has been available to no man since: ‘I frankly had no other options.’   However, much to our amazement and stupefaction, Adam utterly refuses this obvious answer and favours a romantic and seemingly mystical one.  He goes out of his way to create a hypothetical situation in which there are other Eves and then still decides to stick with his particular wife.  Why?

Possession

Dear Ernest,

It has been famously written that ‘man is born free and is everywhere in chains’.  The moment someone first invented the concept of possession, humanity immediately became possessed.  Indeed, the pursuit of wealth is perhaps among the most peculiar habits of mankind.  The whole concept of becoming rich is usually understood in a the most disillusioned light possible.  Claim a piece of land, and it will claim a place in your concerns.  Buy yourself a nice car, and you will also sell a part of yourself to the cares and liabilities that come with.  All and all, the more you have, the more you are had, and it is for this reason that we must be extremely mindful of what we choose to possess and what to let go.

Of course, possession isn’t all bad, and a certain amount of it may even be necessary.  If I call you my friend, then I am implying that there exists a unique level of mutual belonging between us.  After all, I wouldn’t go around granting that title to just anyone.  It would be strange to regard some one-time passerby as a dear friend.  Friendship requires some amount of time, investment, and familiarity.  In other words, it requires that one allow a part of his concerns to be possessed by someone else, and this in exchange for the same degree of solicitude.  But I mustn’t describe this paradigm in only negative terms.  Obviously, by nature of being invested in each other, friends share also in their well-being.

In your last letter: “Was it not stealing to take from me by coming up with your ideas?”

When speaking of ‘possessing wisdom’, I think it is best not to regard beauty as existing in the eye of the beholder.  As most philosophers since antiquity have held, the truth is something valuable in itself.  We needn’t be able to market an idea for it to acquire worth.  This is because, unlike in the world of finance, in the world of philosophy, popularity has no bearing on the value of wisdom.  Instead, philosophising is like digging for dinosaur bones.  There are a predetermined number of bones in existence, so the value we assign to each one is really artificial, and indeed, even the notion that we possess one is a provision made only for the sake of practicality.  A paleontologist needs to eat, and to that end, he may need to claim some kind of possession over his discoveries, but when it comes down to it, God created bones, not men.  Indeed, the only justification for the paleonologist is a rather infantile maxim: finders keepers, losers weepers.

It is the same with philosophers.  The truth is simply the truth.  The fact that I have uncovered some small sector of it doesn’t seem sufficient cause to make me an owner.  However, I might feel a sense of attachment to my discovery much like the attachment felt between friends.  If tomorrow, you should make friends with some other fellow by the name of Thaddeus, then I assure you I would by no means regard myself as someone poorer in your friendship.  If anything, I’d be richer.  As your friend, I would share in your well-being.  Likewise, if someone else should come up with a really clever idea tomorrow, I wouldn’t feel as though my own ideas had depreciated; instead, the whole puzzle of human understanding would grow more interesting and more beautiful, making ideas themselves all together more valuable.  Each of us has our own membership in the body of Christ, and that means we will each understand a different part of who God is.  But if we should ever wonder whether the addition of a new member will cause our own function to become less valuable, then we must remember another bit of infantile wisdom: make new friends, and keep the old.

Your servant,

TWM

My thoughts on Volition

Dear Ernest,

In answer to your compendious letter, “Seeking your thoughts on Volition“, I reply that, to the best of my knowledge, every single thought that I have ever produced has been formed entirely on volition, and that I still lack the dubious and scarcely sighted experience–to which your title seems to allude–of producing thoughts in some other singular manner that is, I presume, involuntary.  Furthermore, I would like to make it clear that, if by chance, the interpretation of your letter be erroneous that is presupposed by my replay, and if in fact, you had intended more literally to seek my thoughts by virtue of your own volition, rather than by my compliance–if this be so, then I not only apologise for the mistake, but do myself whole-heartedly urge you to disengage in your vain attempts at telepathy immediately, returning as soon as possible to a more conventional and pragmatic method of dialogical discourse.

That being settled, I voluntarily offer you someone else’s thoughts which I found quite interesting.  They are both on and about volition:

[H]omo est dominus suorum actuum, et volendi et non volendi, propter deliberationem rationis, quæ potest flecti ad unam partem vel ad aliam.  Sed quod deliberet vel non deliberet, si hujus etiam sit dominus, oportet quod hoc sit per deliberationem præcedentem.  Et cum hoc non procedat in infinitum, oportet quod finaliter deveniatur ad hoc quod liberum arbitrium hominis moveatur ab aliquo exteriori principio quod est supra mentem humana, scilicet a Deo. 

“Man is sovereign over his acts, both willing and not willing, according to the deliberation of his reason, which can be turned to one part or another.  But that which he deliberates or doesn’t deliberate, if he were also sovereign over this, this would need to be according to a preceding deliberation.  And since this may not continue ad infinitum, it must finally come to an exterior principle by which man’s free decision is moved and which is itself above the human mind—that is, God” (Thomas Aquinas, S. T. 1a2æ. 109, 2).

Your servant,

TWM

Commitment and Passio

Dear Ernest,

THE WORD PASSION comes from the late Latin theological term passio, which itself comes from the Classical Latin verb, pati, meaning ‘to suffer, undergo, or be acted upon’.  In theology, the term refers to something that English speakers might call ‘an emotion’ or ‘an affect’, that is, something that passively influences, but does not constitute, the wilful action of the soul.  So, for the thinkers of old, passion, far from being a quality of the soul, is rather something that occurs to it, some only partially voluntary process of gain and loss that may alter who a person is.

In your last letter: “At what point can we be certain – and with what consistency need this certainty last before being comfortable to make a calculated decision to continue to act in a prescribed manner?”

It would seem that commitment, generally speaking, is something that ought to be undertaken only by an agent per se, ‘of himself’, and not per accidens, ‘of a befalling, or by contingency’.  In other words, vows ought to be performed out of necessity, not pleasure.  While undergoing a passio may involve many acts by which an agent becomes more of one thing and less of something else, commitment is the ultimate product of those changes and is not itself a part of them.  Hence, Thaddeus ought only betroth himself to his “Choco-Peanut Butter Spheres” if, after however much alteration, he does in fact identify as a cereal lover, but he mustn’t do it simply because he loves cereal.

Your servant,

TWM

The Serial Lover

Dear Ernest,

As I read your letter, I fell, almost involuntarily, into a state of thorough introspection, a consideration of my own habits wherein I examined the ramifications of my efficiency, as you described it, and of each particular mannerism that I possess.  I shortly realised that these subconscious habits you mentioned, these mindless expressions of virtues and of vices, could take place in even least conspicuous expressions of morality—in mere thought—and insofar as they were notions arising at random, could provide, escaping all notice and control, some of the most troublesome and unknowable sources of intellectual sin.  Upon realising this, I began examining my thoughts, searching them for whatever may be of ill report, and finding, much to my dismay, that as I so examined, my thoughts contained nothing more than a contemplation of my thoughts themselves, which left me confused and frustrated by the vain attempt.  Needless to say, I soon directed my attention to a cogitation of recursive systems and fractals.

And indeed, this seems to me to be the fundamental shortcoming of the Freudian age.  Psychology is prefaced, unlike all other sciences, by a philosophy of introspection, not of nature.  Here man does not observe the natural universe outside of himself, using the scientific method from the age of reason, but rather, he observes himself and the inner-selfs of those around him, taking his means instead from the romantic and mystical age that followed.  But the romantics, in all their zeal for formless intuition, and in all their commendable appreciation of the complexity of natural phenomena, appear nonetheless to have overlooked an essential issue that, in a simpler fashion, any adherent of formal reasoning and academic proceedings could have never failed to notice: namely, that the scientist always perceives in the third person only, and that a mirror is not the self, but a false image or resemblance.  Consciousness is, like the speed of light, a cosmic limit, always trailing off in front of an observer at the same rate.  Indeed, the moment man considers his own thoughts, he is no longer thinking them.

In your last letter: “[Love] is not a set of scripts we can write to program ourselves to imitate Christ – it is a continuous choice, an expression of our thoughtful, creative self in ways that show love to others and to God.”

In any case, it remains a question for the ages whether Hamlet loves Ophelia when he says ‘get thee to a nunnery’.  Perhaps the to be or not to be speech is really a demonstration not of suicidal gothicism nor of manic depression, but of prudent foresight and planning for a certain fate; for who could ever imagine such treachery as Hamlet’s dread command going unpunished, even with death itself?  How could he ever hope for a better future than ‘that sleep of death’, his only ‘consummation’—perhaps with some dark but revealing allusion to la petite mort?  If this is so, then there is no more passionate expression of love devised in all of English poetry than the scene that follows.  But it is a very strange kind of love.  One not of intimacy and affection, nor of any warm sentiment that would betray the serial-killer illusion under which our Hamlet is so often typified, but it is a love that exists in thoughts, a love that operates, much like the programming of a computer, by systematic planning and calculated proceeding.  This is the kind of love that submits, in the most dire of circumstances, even to surrendering its very object for the sake of her own good.

 

Your servant,

TWM

For the Love of God

Dear Ernest,

As, in my shameless, Victorian manner, I bemoaned and bewailed your long absence from our dialogue, in my lowest state of bereavement, when all hope had very nearly drained out from my lifeless heart, I began to imagine, though the very thought seemed to harrow me with an insurmountable consternation and perturbation, what would inevitably become of our nearly forgotten deliberation if, little by little, in small degrees, our letters became less and less frequent, less thoughtful, and altogether less interesting.  I quickly realised, as I evaluated this nightmarish fantasy of mine, that the whole situation would, without a doubt, be your fault entirely.  This was only a matter of elementary reasoning, for after all, you were the one who, in my imagining, stooped to writing a letter about the proper cultivation techniques for growing eggplants, and to so dully penned an expository, I could hardly be blamed for responding with a comment, however lengthy or tedious, on the economic and culinary benefits of owning a refrigerator.  I need hardly mention your spiritless droning on over the superiority of the colour blue to all others, and my response, a mere ‘sup’, was simply the best answer that I, or even the most masterful and creative intellectual, could ever muster.  In short, the gradual decline of standards, and the incremental deterioration in quality, while perhaps expressing itself in my letters just as much as in yours, was solely and unmistakably the fault of your own failure to provide interesting content, which, while bad enough in itself, also accounted in full for my own demise into an unending literary lifelessness.

In your last letter, when quoting a very clever gentleman: ““How can an earthly purpose point to a heavenly one?””

Anyway, now that so much is cleared up, I’d like to discuss something else: the love of God.  I recently had a conversation with someone about the theological doctrine of Penal Substitution (Jesus dying from the sins of man).  In an attempt to point out how ridiculous the whole idea is, my philosophical friend said something along these lines: “If John Somebody steals a cup of tea from Don Quixote, and for that offence, you sentence Sancho Panza to thirty years in prison, then you’re not upholding justice and mercy at the same time, you’re just being a jerk to Sancho Panza”.  In retrospect, I realise that the best response would have been to point out that everyone is a jerk to Panza, even Don Quixote.  But since this is an intellectual blog, and at that, one of certain standards, I’ll offer a more thoughtful response:

The problem with this quixotic situation is simply the choice of third-person narrative.  Penal Substitution is a doctrine based on the circular reciprocity of requited love.  By this I mean that if, for example, Romeo loves Juliet, then one of his greatest objectives in life is to keep her happy and healthy.  However, if Juliet requites Romeo’s love, then a large part of serving her means, for Romeo, taking care also of himself.  In this way, love is a lot like writing letters back and forth: the better one letter, the better its response, and if Romeo is well off, then Juliet will be also, which is the lover’s greatest concern.  By loving Juliet, Romeo has not taken away resources from himself—though it may seem like this at first—but rather, he has increased the over all purposes that he and Juliet collectively possess for staying alive.  Obviously, Shakespeare is a bad example, seeing that Romeo and Juliet were never actually in love, but it serves our philosophical purposes just fine.

Between God and man, there is a very similar drama, only man is not well off, and therefore, God will suffer.  And He does.  Penal Substitution doesn’t mean choosing a third-party at random to suffer for the crimes of another; rather, it means that, when man has turned from God, such that either he or God must pay, Jesus chooses Himself.  After all, in the third-person, it doesn’t make much sense that one man should need to die in order that another might live, but the situation does in fact arise, and the Christian answer to the conflict is different for each narrative.  In the first-person, the crucifixion illustrates that the proper answer is, ‘I die’, and in the second person, the resurrection tells us to answer, ‘you live’.  But if, as humans, we respond gratefully to both of these divine answers, saying back to Jesus, ‘I am dead in my sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), come, ‘you live’ inside of me, then the third-person narrative will have no mention of death at all: ‘He lives’.

I propose that pointing earthly purposes to heavenly one’s is all a matter of Imitation Christis.  If on Earth, we can experience this drama in the first person, not just reading about it in books and obscure theological doctrines, but actually knowing Jesus in the second-person—as a You, not a Him—then having been so deeply loved, we will find it difficult to respond in any other way toward others.  We are the recipients of an incredible letter, to which, if we offer any reply at all, everything we write thereafter will bear a resemblance, and gradually, by small degrees, our Earthly story will be transformed into something very near a Heavenly one; we will understand other characters in the text more thoroughly and love the more fully than ever before—and indeed, this entire literary revolution, the demise of the old and rise of the new, will be entirely and unmistakably His fault.

 

Your Servant,

TWM

Faith, Fear, and Fiction

My honourable Ernest,

By whatever trifles of insight my fastidious, observational nature has profited me over the years, I have come to regard the dealings of nearly all mankind as some composite exercise of no more than three essential virtues or vices, which may server either one’s honour or shame, summarising the human experience as a response to the prospective unknown, an artful compilation of but three elements, namely, of faith, fear, and fiction.  Of these, perhaps only the first strikes us quite evidently as being a virtue, while the latter two seem to be either vices or mere misfortunes, but I find myself convinced that these may follow, just as does faith, directly from the most universally recognised virtue: love, on account of which is it not but a show of prudence to fear on behalf of the beloved, or of grace to envision something better wherever there may be a deficiency?  And yet it seems that love, by which name we are apt, in modern parlance, to call nearly any form of deep affection or attachment, may serve just as well as a virtue or a vice—consider the ‘love’ of Romeo for Juliet, Dido for Aeneas, or perhaps even Adam for Eve.  For many, the handling of such cases is a simple matter of refining one’s definition of the word, ‘love’, whittling it down until it lacks all such splinters and no longer allows for these uncomfortable notions of self-destruction and depravity, but the fact that an ideological carpenter finds himself with so much sanding to be done demonstrates a complicated feature of human nature; there is a fine line, as it turns out, between love, the highest virtue, and hate, its utter opposite, which is the lowest vice.

We are left puzzling over just such a paradox when Milton depicts for us the role of love in losing paradise; I am referring mainly to the drama that unfolds in book nine of the Paradise Lost, the apex of which we might explore at line 896 and following.  Adam has yet to partake of the fruit, when he somehow finds time to unravel an entire speech to consider Eve’s demise and the human condition, doing so—quite miraculously it seems—without Eve hearing so much as a single word.  Our present focus lies in lines 904-8:

… Some cursed fraud

Of enemy hath beguil’d thee, yet unknown,

And mee with thee hath ruin’d, for with thee

Certain my resolution is to Die:

How can I live without thee?

It is difficult to regard Adam’s love for Eve as a virtue, when it seems so distinctly, in this fictitious depiction, to serve as his hamartia.  Adam has invented a fiction, a beautiful, quixotic dream, that perhaps even the fallen Eve is the same woman whom he so loved from the start, perhaps he may yet find all the former beauty and splendour of the divine paradise even among its ruins.  Along with this fiction, which by an uneasy inclination we are tempted to consider a display of grace, he fears, and prudently so, what the future may be apart from Eve.  Ultimately it seems that for better or for worse and by virtue of his connubial duty to Eve, he has no choice but to invest total faith in the judgment of his beloved.  He is like the charismatic man who follows his friends when they all decide to jump off a cliff—for whom we may hold a certain admiration, regarding him, perhaps, as a charming and credulous fool, but more pragmatically, we must also fear for his own safety and well-being.

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of Milton’s drama is the way it ends.  Paradise is in fact Regained, and in some very bizarre sense, it seems the whole drama of all mankind is ultimately to be so reconciled.  On the other side of death, we know there is a resurrection, where by virtue of Adam’s vice, his absurd and inappropriate faith, he lives once more.  By God’s grace all that has been broken is redeemed to something better still than it once was; as if even the fall of man itself were in His plan.  In this way, it seems that something evil in itself may be used for a good end.  The crunching of an apple echoes throughout all eternity as an object of universal derision, but God has harmonised this disgraceful memory with sweeter tones than we could ever imagine, reworking the whole chorus of angels in heaven so that it may be all the more beautiful yet again.

 

Your servant,

TWM

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.