Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hysterics



Let us continue in our exposition of one Greek word, usteresantos, which has been elucidated in connection with the womb and with ‘lacking in something,’ which I believed to be connected to true metaphysics. Before I begin with this post, I want to take note of Andrew’s comment to me in an e-mail of May 20 regarding the previous post:

"I really enjoyed your latest post. Your remarks about the Modern age's idolization of self-sufficiency are right on target. I think this idea could also go a long way towards explaining the dismal state of education in our country. Education that has as its goal mere self-sufficiency has by that fact become something less than education. Instead of fostering a feeling of lacking in students which may arouse their metaphysical curiosity, it promises to furnish them with all they need to know to get on in the world. And so, if something can be known but won't help you get on in the world, it's not really worth knowing.
But my reason for writing is rather to ask you whether this prolonged period of stagnation may not be coming to an end. Do you think, perhaps, that the next generation, looking back at the last century and a half of prolonged paralysis, will begin to discover the insufficiency of self-sufficiency? The end of your post suggests you have some hope for the future - if we survive the present - but I wonder if there aren't any signs now of better things to come. It seems to me that the rantings of the chief proponents of self-sufficiency have become more desperate recently, and that just maybe the sober wisdom of those attuned to the Mysteries will gain a wider appreciation by the contrast. "

I believe that we will begin to discover the "insufficiency of self-sufficiency" as we become aware of the "initiatic tradition." What is this? What is "the Tradition"? What is initiation? How can we even begin to think about "the meaning of the initiatic tradition" when we have no language or experience in which to formulate our thoughts, and even to deal with such an "objective concept" already represents a "problem," so to speak, in terms of modernity? Where, indeed, even to begin – to initiate the discussion, which means, "to begin" it?

Just as a prelude, let me suggest that "initiation" is a concept which is opposed to evolutionism, which is the idea that, in a sense, nothing has a "beginning," but that everything develops or evolves according to the unfolding possibilities in Nature. Of course, it is not strictly true that "initiation" is opposed to "evolution," no more than the poetic inspiration of a sonnet is "opposed" to the form of the sonnet, or that the "meaning" of a sentence takes place in opposition to the grammatical rules of the language in which it is written or uttered.

Nevertheless, in terms of modern thinking, it is roughly true that the initiatic idea, which in the Latin Bible is expressed by the term in principio –"In the beginning" - that this principle of the Beginning is swallowed up by the idea of continuity of natural development.

But more precisely, the concept of initiation cannot be seen as being opposed to what unfolds in time, in the sense that this "unfolding in time" is what is meant by "The Tradition." It is thus "the Tradition" which guards the beginning, that is, the principle of initiation. And this beginning-point is always and only the confirmation of the correspondence of the human and divine world, the natural and the cosmic order. "Initiation" is the experience by which human beings receive this knowledge and certitude.

With this as necessary background, I want to proceed into the matter of this post – which may be something of a long one, as I have much material to cover. I want to discuss the concept of initiation, and I also want to lead back to our original starting point with the idea of the usteron, the womb, the feeling of being in lack of something. But I want to conclude by showing how, when this feeling of ‘lacking something’ is denied, or sidetracked into a materialist rather than a spiritualized understanding, we can arrive at the situation of hysterics – which is yet another word derived from our original usteron, the womb.

I realize I am making many demands on my readers, and I hope they will have the patience and fortitude to follow along as best they can – given my defects as a writer.

Lately I have been reading in the works of René Guénon [1886-1951] the French philosopher and expositor of the ‘Tradition’ – most notably his book, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. Guénon was a Catholic who, later in his life, moved to Cairo, Egypt, and converted to the Sufi faith. In the West, only Catholic Christianity still continues to bear the initiatic tradition, which was once universal to all peoples and all cultures. In the West, however, the tradition has become ‘deviated’ - that is to say, the impersonal pure intellectual intuition needed to apprehend it has sunk to the level of the ordinary personal intellectualized Reason with its accompanying material evidences, or empiricism. More and more the emphasis in Western thinking has been quantity rather than quality, how things can be measured and utilized rather than how they can be deepened, beautified, or elaborated.

He summarizes as follows: "As soon as it has lost all effective communication with the supra-individual intellect, reason cannot but tend more and more toward the lowest level, toward the inferior pole of existence, plunging ever more deeply into ‘materiality’: as this tendency grows, it gradually loses hold of the very idea of truth, and arrives at the point of seeking no goal other than that of making things as easy as possible for its own limited comprehension, and in this it finds an immediate satisfaction in the very fact that its own downward tendency leads it in the direction of the simplification and uniformization of all things; it submits all the more readily and speedily to this tendency because the results of this submission conform to its desires, and its ever more rapid descent cannot fail to lead at least to what has been called the ‘reign of quantity.’" (94-5)

There are certain characteristics of the state of mind to which we may affix the character of "the reign of quantity:"
  • Insolence and presumption of knowledge concerning religious or spiritual matters, and by extension in all matters of courtesy, intellectual and social. Take, for example, the recent book by Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, and other books of that ilk, now appearing in profusion; a new kind of militant atheism which argues that people would be nicer to each other if they had no religion. The fallacy of this belief is the idea that man created religion. But the truth is more likely that religion created mankind. We do not in fact know how prehistoric human beings stepped forth from the nexus of mere animal sociality into human language, action, reason and culture. This is precisely why the concept of initiation is needed. For initiation concerns the "striving for humanity" at whatever level it occurs, and it would be contradictory, if not nonsensical, to suppose that this "striving" could take place without the participation of man. Thus the naturalist fallacy begins and ends with the notion that no effort is needed, or that we need not bring distinctions, or distinguish qualities, of efforts. Thus the "reign of quantity" ends with the destruction of culture – i.e., utter complacency, which is the "moral" side of the doctrine of self-sufficiency.
  • A "horror of mystery" which arises from the notion that "reality" is only what can been seen, measured, quantified, and rationalized.
  • Lack of manners, reticence, reserve, humility, receptivity, patience and an aggressive utilitarianism. If there are no "qualities," why bother?
  • An inability to understand or appreciate symbolic or imaginative discourse -- a "one size fits all" approach which derives from "uniformization" and of seeing all things on the same level.
  • Emotional autism, of being encased or solidified in one’s own ‘individuality,’ with a corresponding lack of empathy or interest in others .
  • Manic activity and restlessness, especially in the economic but in other realms as well, which "… is why the period can be said to be using up everything that had been set aside in earlier periods;" (p. 177; italics mine). This is called entropy; it means dispersal or the exploitation of natural and cultural resources without limit, leaving nothing for future generations.
  • And finally, the inability to give sustained attention and even to think. For thinking presupposes at least two things: the correspondence of words and things, and the ability to order concepts hierarchically. The first of these is the last echo of the correspondence of the human and cosmic order, and the second of these is the last echo of the sense of quality. Both of these presuppositions, in the "Reign of Quantity," have virtually collapsed.


The ‘deviated’ course of Western history which René Guénon traces from Renaissance Humanism, through Protestantism, to mechanism, rationalism, materialism, positivism, pragmatism, etc. to the purely ‘quantitative’ outlook of today, is not enough, in and of itself, to bring about the final ‘dissolution,’ which he regards as the consummation of this phase of manifestation. Dissolution demands an actual work of ‘subversion’ – through the erection of a counterfeit spirituality, a counterfeit hierarchy, a counter-initiation. Thus:


"This is the moment at which the second kind of work, which had at first only been carried out in a more or less hidden manner by way of preparation, and in any case on a restricted scale, had to come into the open and in its turn to cover an increasingly wide field…" (p. 195)


He continues:


"’Anti-tradition’ found its most complete expression in the kind of materialism that could be called ‘integral,’ such as that which prevailed toward the end of the last century: as for the ‘counter-tradition,’ we can still only see the preliminary signs of it, in the form of all the things that are striving to become counterfeits in one way or another of the traditional idea itself…" (p. 260)


It is important to distinguish what is still a kind of ‘innocent’ or ‘naïve’ materialism from the work of subversion, which can only proceed from a Spiritual Being:


"… after having worked always in the shadows to inspire and direct invisibly all modern movements, it will in the end contrive to ‘exteriorize,’ if that is the right word, something that will be as it were the counterpart of a true tradition… Just as initiation is… the thing that effectively represents the spirit of a tradition, so will the ‘counter-initiation’ play a comparable part with respect to the ‘counter-tradition’: but obviously it would be quite wrong and improper to speak of the spirit in the second case, since it concerns that from which the spirit is most completely absent… nevertheless opposition is undoubtedly attempted, and is accompanied by imitation in the manner of the inverted shadow… However that may be, the thing that makes it possible for affairs to reach such a point is that the ‘counter-initiation’… cannot be regarded as a purely human invention… the ‘counter-initiation’ proceeds from that source (i.e. the spirit, from when comes all manifestation) by a degeneration carried to its extreme limit, and that limit is represented by the ‘inversion’ that constitutes ‘satanism’ properly so called…(pps.261-2)

* * * * * * * * *
It may seem paradoxical that human life under the "Reign of Quantity" should more and more take on the character of the ‘hysterical.’ And so we return to this word once again, the root of which, usteron, is the womb. The ‘hysterical’ aspect is a counter-image of the metaphysical depths we explored in our previous post. "Hysterics" is womb-without-mind – without the ordering principles of the higher Logos, without intellectual intuition, without receptivity to truth. In the physical body, this receptivity characterizes the womb; in the spiritual organism it is, or should be, characterized by the mind. A "concept" is a mental birth, as the conceptus is of the physical.


Lately there has been an even more radical step into the purely quantitative realm – or even beyond the mere quantitative into the dissolutional. Consider the Large Hadron Collider, an underground science lab in Switzerland that will shoot particles through a 27-kilometer tunnel and analyze the resulting collisions (in a four-million-megabyte –per-hour stream of data," as Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker put it). She quotes one scientist, "What we want is to reduce the world to objects that have no structure, that are points, that are as simple as we can imagine. And then build it up from there again." Here is the best possible summary of Guénon’s thesis: how the quantitative becomes the dissolutive and finally achieves a total reversal, that is, a counter-image of the hierarchy of Nature.


Yet I would like to suggest an additional feature as well. In the supposedly emotionless calculative agenda of this science it is easy to miss the fantastic element in this scientist’s remark. The idea that scientists can "build it up from there again" is pure fantasy, a complete delusion. But is it not also a kind of ‘hysteria’ ? Here is evidence of how the human imagination has become unmoored from Nature, and in so doing, has become self-inflated – with the idea that a scientist can "rebuild the world" again from a mass of shattered particles.


At the very least, this scientist sees no contradiction in the fact that a science intent upon the dissolution of matter can hardly possess the requisite skills for rebuilding. One might say that the skills in the resume are vastly different – poles apart, indeed. But this is merely "Reign of Quantity" thinking all over again – that somehow there is no difference between the work of destruction and the work of construction. Kolbert reports that a few people have ventured to suggest that the Large Hadron Collider will "destroy the world." Perhaps they express more of the truth than they know. Only, it is not a physical destruction that is the portent here. With a science poised between calculated dissolution on the one hand, and hysterical delusions on the other, there is a sense in which any mere physical destruction would be an anticlimax – a mere postscript that never could be written in words - this being the ultimate 'counter-image' to the inexpressibility of spiritual truth itself.


We have come a long way from usteron of the path of the Logos to usteron as a type of receptable or even breeding-ground of demonic beings of pride. For remember, usteron is that in us which must have metaphysics – and that is why we are historical beings. For History is the daughter of Metaphysics.

The Metaphysics of Creation are the truths of initiation, the story of First Principles. It is not wrong to have fables – even the fable of evolution – but it is deadly to have fables without counteracting First Principles. The hour is late. The time is now. For the abyss has no bottom – no, not even for us, favored and forgiven by God numberless times throughout the course of our laborious centuries of striving to become human.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Metaphysics and 'Lacking in Something'


And taking up the matter where we left off: “usteresantos,” meaning “they were wanting, they were lacking in,” (as in 'they were wanting wine') is related to the word usteron, meaning the womb – from whence we get the words ‘hysterectomy,’ ‘hysterical,’ etc.

It is apparent that the idea of the womb is related to a lack or of a wanting of something. There are several trains of thought that we can derive from this observation.

First: it shows the valuation for womanhood, marriage, matrimony, and childbearing in ancient societies – unlike the popular modern condemnation of all historical societies for their ‘patriarchalism.’ That they were patriarchalist may have been true; but it does not equally follow that they may not have also been matriarchalist as well. That the womb was experienced as a ‘lack’ gives meaning and savor to the idea of fruitfulness, fulfillment, and progeny. True fertility is a response to emptiness, hunger, and need, and the having of children is a ‘fulfillment’ not solely on the human plane. It is also a partnership with the divine cosmic order.

This idea of fruitfulness as fulfilling a need takes account of the fact that ‘Being’ itself is a need. Human existence itself is lacking in something. This is why we have history, this is the root of our metaphysical drives, our quest to experience the presence of God. Beings who have no ‘metaphysical’ inquietude cannot have history. The animals are 'fulfilled' in a way that we are not; it is our very ‘lacking’ that gives us the historical impulse. In this sense history is ‘womb-driven;’ it is the feminine of mankind (i.e., of all men and women) expressed, drawn out, lived out, upon the plane of temporalization.

In the Modern Age, by contrast, the metaphysical quest has been disregarded and disrespected. Like a structure, it has been pulled down from its role of providing a bridge to the realm of the sacred. Its parts have been ‘scattered’ into a multitude of fields: intellectual accomplishment, science and technology, social engineering, and politics. metaphysics hardly even merits the name any longer. Modernity frowns upon metaphysics although it loves its substitutes: such is one of the keys to our age.
Modernity begins with the discovery of self-sufficiency – or perhaps more precisely with idolizing ‘Self-Sufficient Being’ - or Reason, or Will, or Substance. The terms are not important. For the idea of self-sufficiency is profoundly false to life in whatever sphere it is elaborated. It does have the advantage, however, of allowing itself to be artificially self-contained and therefore exposed to detailed examination. Modern science owes probably more to the idea of self-sufficiency than it does to the idea of truth or the correspondence of reason and the world. At least, the idea of self-sufficiency explains in my mind why modern science has gone so far off track - but that could be a subject for another post.

But anyway, the idea of self-sufficiency is the opposite of the idea of metaphysics, which implies a quest for fulfillment, a wanting to get to the bottom of something (or to the heights of something), a desire for reality – which must mean the wholeness of it. It could not by that definition mean a portion of the world cut off and self-enclosed; it must mean the whole world, the cosmic and the human, the historical and the symbolical, the flesh and the spirit. Self-sufficiency says “there’s nothing outside the system” (i.e., it’s only nature, society, genes, class, gender, race, etc.); while the metaphysician of the womb which is history says it is the world and God, the laws of the spiritual as well as the natural order, the cosmic cycles, the Great Year, the Above and the Below, heights and depths, all in all.

We have come a long way from ‘usteresantos,’ – but is not this the truth of a biblical image – that to throw it into the water leaves multiple reverberations afterwards? Thus Mary becomes the true ‘Woman-Mother’ of history. And perhaps ‘Marianism’ is the very condition of the continuing existence of history.

For never has it happened that so many people have been so ‘lacking’…. in the feeling of ‘lacking.’ That is to say, history now unfolds on the plane of self-sufficiency, amidst the hordes of the self-sufficient, those who are barren in the womb.
And never before has there been such a period of prolonged stagnation as the Modern Age. Things haven't changed in essentials in decades, half a century, a century, a century and a half... Western mankind, stunting its growth with materialism, is paralyzing its capacity for creative development...
Never before has humanity possessed weapons of mass destruction such as the United States – primarily – possesses – and such a collection of insouciant and shallow politicians who might be tempted to unleash them upon the world – quite possibly to strike a fatal blow against the life-bearing capacities of this planet.

Some day – if humanity survives this period – we will better understand these things in the light of the Mysteries – which is the only way we will be able to understand them...
For nowadays we can only understand the Mysteries through living them... The ancients, when when initiated, could understand them intuitively...
But our initiation... is history... which is why we seek to understand the Mysteries intellectually and imaginatively through experience...


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Holy Mother


Today at Mass Father Sherlock gave a little homily for Mother's Day based on reflections from the letters of the word M-O-T-H-E-R. After the Mass there was a touching ceremony in honor of the Blessed Virgin and a recital of the Litany. As usual during the singing of the "Ave Maria" my eyes began to fill with tears, and once again, upon leaving the Church, I felt a sense of gratitude. These simple and oft-repeated acts of worship had given me, however briefly, an experience of being in communion with the Divine.
There were a few things I thought of during the homily - not that Father Sherlock should have said them, for his discourse was simple and unintellectual, though full of feeling and sincerity. The question of Jesus with his Mother is indeed a Mystery. Father Sherlock mentioned the incident of the Wedding in Cana (John, Chapter 2) and said that by honoring the feast with the "best wine" Jesus so honored his mother. But there are many levels of Mystery in connection with the "miracle" at Cana - changing the water into wine - and from this point of view the homily left many things unsaid.
In the King James translation of the Holy Bible, it is said that "And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine." Jesus then replied, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come," which is certainly an awkward translation and maybe even an odious one. It certainly does not convey the feeling of affection from son to mother. Nor is the Catholic Bible significantly better: "When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine.' [And] Jesus said to her, 'Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour is not yet come.' "
The relevant Greek passage reads: "...kai usteresantos oinou legei he meter tou Iesou pros auton-oinon oux exousin. kai legei aute o Iesous- ti emoi kai soi, gynai; oupo ekei he ora mou." (Unfortunately this program does not write Greek letters.) The important words are "ti emoi kai soi," literally something like: "What to me and thee?"
In The Three Years, Emil Bock comments: "Rudolf Steiner has indicated that the changing of water into wine... grows out of a mystery that operated between the soul of Jesus and His mother. The way Jesus answers His mother points to this mystery. It is not only a misunderstanding, but a complete misrepresentation to translate the words as, 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' The Greek words (ti emoi kai soi) are not a rude rebuff. As a formula from the Mysteries they point emphatically to a positive connection, and can be translated, 'What is it that works and weaves here between me and thee?' The same formula occurs again in the Gospels. Luke relates how Jesus at the beginning of His ministry... was addressed in these words by the demon who troubled the souls of those who were possessed ...(ti hemin kai soi), 'What is it that works here between [us] and Thee?' The demons speak like this because they are already aware of the superior spiritual power that is making itself felt in their sphere."
The "formula from the Mysteries" points to the realm of connection between human beings that is for the most part not fully conscious. It is significant that the wedding occurred in Galilee, which was a part of Palestine in which intermarriage (that is, marriages between people of different tribes) could occur. In Judea intermarriage was forbidden; one could say that the life-forces gained through marriage were severely back-channelled into the tribe. Such a curtailment of life force fuelled the tribal impulse, one has to admit to the point of fostering an unrelenting tribal nationalism. By contrast, the Galilean story is about the liberation of these life-forces, made into an analogy of the Sun that ripens the grapes and the changing of the water into wine.
If it is anything, Christianity is about the freeing of life forces and how human beings, living in the spirit and love of Christ, can work with the powers of growth and procreation that, analogously with the plant world, seek the warmth and light of the sun. For the most part in human history these "procreative forces," having to do not just with marriage but more especially with how souls exert influence upon one another, have been hidden and kept back from the realm of consciousness. But the rationalist dispensation has brought forward an enormous challenge in this sphere - one with which we have yet to fully understand.
Rationalism denies the sphere of supersensible influence and has the tendency to compress the soul into an individualist and self-sufficient mode. Contrary to this tendency, there has been the spectacular development of what Vance Packard called the "hidden persuaders." Every person on earth today is subject to the influence of these "hidden persuaders," the media with its incessant mastication of the day's events. Contrary to the spiritual operation of Christ, these "persuaders" are anti-spiritual and subliminal and often aim at activating the realm of drives, impulses and appetites. The production of influence (which is what the "information age" really is) is an important aspect of the "procreative forces," which, through this strange metamorphosis through rationalism, has become, essentially, modern politics.
This strange development through a rationalism that denies influence to a persuasion that denies intelligence is an anti-Cana and anti-Christian image. Instead, it is the other example of the 'formula from the Mysteries' that concerns us here: that is, to the Satan-possessed indiscipline of the "herd" and the precipice to which the swine of Gadarene are hurtling. It is urgent that we begin to understand, through a christianized higher intelligence, what these 'formulae from the Mysteries' really mean in terms of the history that we are living out - otherwise, we will swing from the precipice into an illimitable abyss.