Miscellanea: Color Me Absurd-ed
“No man has seen God at any time (1 John 4:12) He is a thing invisible; not with the eye but with the heart must He be sought. But just as if we wished to see the sun, we should purge the eye of the body; wishing to see God, let us purge the eye by which God can be seen. Where is this eye? Hear the Gospel: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8). But let no man imagine God to himself according to the lust of his eyes. For so he makes unto himself either a huge form, or a certain incalculable magnitude which, like the light which he sees with the bodily eyes, he makes extend through all directions; field after field of space he gives it all the bigness he can; or, he represents to himself like as it were an old man of venerable form. None of these things do you imagine. There is something you may imagine, if you would see God; God is love. What sort of face has love? What form has it? What stature? What feet? What hands has it? No man can say. And yet it has feet, for these carry men to church: it has hands; for these reach forth to the poor: it has eyes; for thereby we consider the needy: Blessed is the man, it is said, who considers the needy and the poor. It has ears, of which the Lord says, He that has ears to hear let him hear (Luke 8:8). These are not members distinct by place, but with the understanding he that has love sees the whole at once.” (St. Augustine, Homily 7 on the First Epistle of John)
There is a certain unspoken covenant among the rebels against “the modern West”, ranging from Pascal to Dostoyevski and Nietzsche; from Camus and cultural revolutionaries of the Sixties to contemporary academic mainstream. Being unspoken and rarely, if ever, addressed one cannot help but suspect a certain blind spot at work there; something that is neglected in silence and left to fester in the darkness; a little, ugly, inconsistency in the “great truth”: the truth of declaring human intellect to be the scourge upon the history.
One who thinks – “intellectualizes” – so the story goes, does not love. “Heart has its own reasons of which reason knows nothing”, as Pascal had famously put it – and the ability, or even desire, to approach the truth in the intellectual sense, except abandoning the intellect altogether, is being condemned as “rationalization”.
You can make two plus two, but if you’re talking about anything outside of arithmetic don’t you dare deny that it most likely equals five, as Dostoyevski’s thinker from under the floor boards had put it.
If you are to be a real human being – a free man – this is not only possible but also necessary.
Without this freedom – the freedom unto absurd – there’s no freedom at all …
All pathos aside, this is simply a world-class bullshit.
And “world-class” is meant quite literary, because this kind of thinking (intellectual?) is more or less prevalent among literary and religious (literary religious or religiously literary?) intellectuals of our day and age.
If you don’t believe your humble narrator – check out the dominant discourse or, better, inquire where we get this term from and, as will inevitably occur, you’ll realize that not only heart, but also rectum can reason quite autonomously from tyrannical intellect.
Well, cardio-rectal intellectuality is of no interest to us here, so let’s be done with it, helped by the passage from the pure hearted Saint and accomplished Dark Ages intellectual we quoted above.
St. Augustine points out two things as one in no uncertain terms: the purity of heart and purity of intellect are one and the same power – the power of love and understanding, undividedly distinct. Both comprise that one act required to see the “whole at once”.
If God is love, he is invisible because love has no visible face yet in practicing the understanding with the pure heart, one is inevitably brought before it – the like perceives the like, as was well known in those times.
The whole seen at once through the act of intellect/heart is one in many or many in one – one reality that cannot be divided, yet is understood in discernment as something one hears and understands, craves as the final aim of his actions and perceives as law bearing the quite similar necessity to arithmetically correct sum of two plus two.
What Augustine sees as an error is precisely the thing that was widely cherished in modernity as the refuge from the scorching light of heartless intellect, i.e. imagination.
He provides us with an example of intellectual imagination of sorts where intellect devoid of reality – i.e. intellect not in touch with what it thinks but acting “according to the lust of (…) eyes” – creates the images of what should be unimaginable precisely because it is the most comprehensible. Therefore, people make mistake imagining God as an infinite magnitude or venerable old man, replacing the thought with the image fashioned from image-building faculty that mediates between the mind and the senses.
This always happens when man is not up to the task posed by his intellect. Letting go of images is not just a lofty prerequisite for mental prayer or mystical state reserved for secluded monks but is in the very nature of intellect itself. Although it is not so powerful to accomplish this in toto and let us see the invisible indivisibly it is quite well disposed to discern it through the visible as one in many and many in one. St. Augustine here demonstrates this with astonishing ease as an everyday occurrence – a simple adherence to the truth of Christian faith which is in turn the truth of love towards fellow men – those, one might say, who are closest and the least mysterious to us.
This is obviously not some kind of system building dialectics, supposedly embedded at the rotten heart of the Western thought, but learned ignorance of intellect whose comprehension is, by “seeing all at once”, the unifying act of love.
This kind of thinking is equally under attack from what we call “scientism”, which denies us approach to anything that cannot be reduced to materially based propositions, and the absurd freedom which denies any relevance of intellect to matters that concern us the most; posthumanism can very well have its mirror image in subhumanism – one seeks to transcend the limits by totally imposing the materiality that is to be alchemically transmuted into “new man” while other craves to accomplish this by erasing them all together; one amounts to technological indifference, the other to the indifference of savagery.
One should be wary of the minds that crave divisions, and divisions always tend to go in plural, multiplying into infinity.
To say that intellect is essentially the power of constraint that ultimately constrains even God Himself into some kind of mathematical formula is to be a liar of a peculiar, very modern and very fashionable, kind, because what the intellect constrains in its action is only man’s finite human self.
The cry of absurd freedom has nothing to do with God but only with crier himself, because constraint of the civilization he feels is a constraint on his own freedom to be what he wills to be; it is the will to unrestrained possibility that wants to erase all limits imposed by what is actual.
Nothing of a sort is at work in St. Augustine’s sermon.
The idea that “my” constraints are what should be addressed, moreover that straying of science and civilization from God is necessarily mediated through what “I” experience as constraint is so far from those Dark Ages luminaries that one has a distinct impression that it never really occurred to them.
Might it be that they were so busy watching their world actually fall apart that they never got around to feel constrained by it?
Was St. Augustine’s experience of the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire so underwhelming that he hasn’t even noticed it while praying on his death bed in the besieged Hippo for his flock and his immortal soul, as opposed to Albert Camus who heroically contemplated absurdity of all history, including St. Augustine himself, while sunbathing on the Algerian beaches during the early years of WWII?
I tend to answer in the negative.
I also answer in the negative that people of this sort came to exist in the civilizational decline because of some error made by anyone older than their grand-grand fathers.
From the Parmenides onwards anyone who wants to know what it means to think can know it.
To project one’s own failings into distant past is to attempt to kill the past by turning it into present.
All movements with ‘neo-‘ prefix should therefore be automatically suspect because this is most likely what they are aiming at. You can be a revolutionary seeking past utopias just as well as seeking future ones, as was the inclination in modernity.
Could postmodernity be a play pen precisely for such kind of nihilism that doesn’t attempt to cut off the past by rejecting it but by appropriating it?
We’ll leave the question open but let us note: in some postmodern “neo-traditionalist”, “neo-existentialist”, “neo-slavophile” or neo-whatever utopia, probably dreamed of by someone somewhere as you read these lines, both those who are able to affirm that two plus two equals five and that love empowers the intellect to comprehend distinctly undivided nature of its true object are poised to be two faces of the one and the same enemy – the truth.
And truth is not the scourge of history but rather of human vanity, whichever form it appropriates.
Kali Tribune runs on reader’s support. If you found the above informative and/or enlightening, consider supporting us.