Miscellanea: Color Me Absurd-ed

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14 Responses

  1. Mihai says:

    Interesting topic, no doubt, but I have some reservations about your overall analysis of this phenomenon.
    Not that what you say is untrue- on condition we mean by intellect what the greeks meant by nous and the hebrews, egyptians and all near East and Mesopotamian civilizations by heart.

    However, this phenomenon you describe as a re-action to the modern west deserves a closer consideration as to the initial action that brought it about. Namely, these authors that you quote (and I will give my objections regarding Dostoievski at the end) would not have made these remarks had it not been that the intellect in the West came to be understood in a completely distorted manner by those who were- apparently- its main supporters.

    What all those anti-modern authors have in common is practically a re-action to the reducing of intellect to discursive thinking which, when systematized, becomes the illusion of rationalism.
    So if it is this rationalism which Pascal says cannot grasp the deeper recesses of the heart, he is entirely correct. The same goes for Nietzsche in his demolation work against the banal couch-intellectual of his day.

    Of course, if after correctly diagnosing the disease one proposed as a cure a sort of equally banal sentimentalism and the other a self-anihilating vitalism, that is another problem altogether.

    The thing is that some time in the late Middle Ages, in the West, ” to know” was separated from “to see”. Knowledge became more and more to be understood as something entirely abstract and then all those kinds of artificial separations between faith and reason, knowledge and vision and so on.

    Following this a separation was further introduced between mystical experience and “rational faith”. This caused the former to be little more than blind sentimentalism in many cases and the latter to be cold abstraction.
    I always say that the concept of University is a telling symptom of this disease. Theology and philosophy became divorced from ascesis and prayer.
    It is no surprise to hear in “theological” circles today that “X is an ascetic, a mystic etc., but he’s not a theologian”- meaning he is not specialized in academical theology. Such a statement would have been unthinkable before the dawn of the modern age.

    So the reactions you point to are desperate attempts that try (many times in a wrong manner) to recover something that was lost- which is direct knowledge, direct experience of higher realities, which the rationalism of early modernity jettisoned.

    Now, regarding Dostoievski, he experienced different stages in his journey and the Notes from the Underground cannot be in any way regarded as his final word on things, but quite the contrary. However, it is probably correct to say that the 2+2 statement seems to have accompanied him to the end of his days in one form or another.
    Dostoievski certainly has been criticized for something that you point out here- namely that the starets Zosima from Br. Karamazov seems more like a deluded individual than a truly accomplished mystic (this criticism coming from an actual staretz from Optima, by the way). Yet, this itself depends on how one takes this. I would wholeheartedly agree that from one point onwards all “positive” laws must cease before the silent paradox. Think about the mystery of the Trinity- One and Three are certainly no ordinary arithmetic notions here. Or having two natures in one hypostasis- neither separated nor confused and so on. I remember a debate between a Christian and a perennialist from Schuon’s camp. The latter was insisting that one always is before three, therefore the Trinity is itself just an inferior aspect of the impersonal godhead.
    So if I were to rephrase the 2+2=5 in this context, I would say that beyond the confines of the cosmos, one no longer comes before 3, nor is 3>1, but 1=3.

    I will end with counter-challenge: I’ve recently read or heard about three monks in the 20th century, on mount Athos, who reached the highest peaks of spiritual experience. All three had minimal education before reaching the Holy Mountain – none was erudite, well-read or any use in an academic debate. Yet PHDs and all sorts of high ranking intellectuals from the world came to seek their advice.
    The question is this: how come in the past you had people like St Paul, Basil of Cesareea, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustin of Hippo and so many other like them who displayed both erudition, high and refined culture and an experiential living out of the faith- men in which there was no split between discursive learning and mystical knowledge, while today these two categories never seem to meet?

    My proposition is: in our times mind and heart have become so separated that we instinctively feel we must choose either the one and the other…

    • Malić says:

      I’ll elaborate on this in upcoming article. For now, I’ll just point out that what is commonly considered as the some kind of desperate reaction seems to me suspiciously more like alternative development and wholehearted one for that matter. Taking Dostojevski for example, his political views, that were not merely spur of the moment thing but firm and public conviction, are in themselves not that modern and reactionary towards modernity. I’d say, Filotej’s declaration to Vasilije the Blind about the Third Rome was more influential there, coupled with Dostojevski’s quite modern propensity to doubt.

      As for question, yes that’s what we have on the level of what is dominant in public. But who is so wise to answer, why?

  2. coco says:

    Of course rejecting dry, cold, boring, heartless…etc. intellect in favor of “authenticity” of “heart” meaning mostly shallow sentimentalism is new-ageish rubbish, although having with very deep roots across societal spectrum.
    But in order to rightly judge the intellect and its proper place we need to adopt idea that it is relatively recent invention among human capacities. To imagine that similar capacity pre-existed Greco-Roman culture is completely unfounded, same as asuming that we can understand/translate thought of Greco Roman period in our today’s intellectual terms. Even everything produced befroe 15th century is not easily translated, even less understood.
    So we need to assume a certain arc across ages on which we encounter certain stages and metamorphosis of human existence.
    If we call it evolution or involution is not important as both terms can be understood equally artificially and linear.
    The point is we cannot project our condition in the past and in the future in abstract terms as most of parameters of our internal and external condition passes through quite dynamic transformations. We have indications in historical records but they need to be seen in correct light as artifacts that not necessarily reflect anything familiar to our present understandings.
    Probably we cannot understand today what Plato or even Aristotle meant. We need special guidance and “translators” of such contents.
    Hence, we need contemporary content and translation- if we seek or ask for one, we shall find it, if we knock, someone will open the door and handed over a latest update to us. However, choice to ignore it is solely on us.

  3. Han Fei says:

    It would not be surprising that the chief audience of this site, paucious as it may be, likely share a very common ground in terms of world views and general outlook on life. We all agree at some level, that human history was not one of progress, but in general one of decline (interspersed by occasional streams of light), and that the technological abundance of today is an illusion that veils the spiritual desolace of a penultimate era.

    However, no comment section should be one of unequivocal concord, otherwise this would be something akin to inappropriate rubbing of skins. You have people with different levels of education and intelligence, and also different fields or areas of life, experience from which they could also draw different opinions.

    I do find distasteful, as I made clear before, of arguing simply for the sake of argument, or trying to refute a position in favor of sheer obliviousness characteristic of prevailing thought. Yet there are times when I must break habit and give voice to my dissonant silence, not for the sake of argument, but to gain something valuable from it.

    It is not the first time that I hear the notion of intellect placed at the center of ontological being, of humans foremost, and perhaps of that which lies at the grounds of nature itself. Ironically I have heard the same line of thought zealously dispensed to me by a Therevada Buddhist, for whom the mind apparently forms the essence of all that is. But is that really the case, and furthermore can this view truly be reconciled with the basis of religion and tradition?

    For starters, what do we mean by intellect? One of its functions, its main distinguishing feature as far as human beings are concerned, is to cogitate that what is cogitable. Intellect shapes raw images produced by the mind into a designated form of thought; the two, like many things in nature, seem to have an ouroboric relationship, in the sense that one derives from, and in turn, gives rise to the other, just as conversely, it could be thought of slithering away from, and consuming it.

    It is the same intellect which coalesced the increasing theosophic current of philosophy of late Antiquity into a philosophically grounded theology based on mystical revelation, and it is intellect which, 1500 years later, began to question the very foundations of its rational validity. It is intellect which liberates man from the darkness of superstition, just as it is intellect which erodes away any belief in a higher nature or ideal distinct from the brutal determinism of observed events.

    Elements of the intellect, ideas which do not find adequate expression in human language must necessarily be cloaked and alluded to in abstruse terms construed around allegorical myths and axioms drawn from theological dogmas. Words, as Yukio Mishima observed, have this acidic property where they tend to erode the lineage of the meaning they express. That is why layers and layers of thought are placed before them to eat away so that the process itself can hint at a meaning entirely obscured from contextual flow, but can only be grasped by affinity. But it is precisely this scholastic abstruseness that drew the greatest intellects to easily shatter the essentially mystical and religious approach to reality that was expressed this way. That is why since early Modernity, noetic, or anagogical knowledge has been consigned to the realm of literature, and even then in perverted and inverted forms, as evident perhaps, in writers like de Sade and Bataille who attempt to express the deepest observations of human nature through absolute debasement of thought.

    Now going back in the exact opposite direction, the notion that three make one is not a mathematical notion, it is not a cogitable notion, but it is quite frankly not a conceivable notion at all. It is not a three headed god, or a person with triple personalities, or an actor wearing three masks according to time of day, indeed anything that intellect can possibly tell us could be such and such as to make sense even in an abstract form. The expression of the Trinity (I refuse to call it an “idea”) is precisely to bar reaching an understanding with human reasoning. Because everyone who studies esoterics at any length knows that from the first day, cult was always exclusive. It was a great innovation by Christ to open to all that which was privy to a select few individuals whose conception of unfolding reality was not of the world we have grown to consider “our own”.

    From these observations, it appears to me that intellect takes on a fundamentally temporal existence. I take on a bit of Castaneda here to suggest that intellect is not a property which we can be said to truly possess, but only as adjunct to processes to which we are subjected.

    But it’s not needed to go that far. In fact we can use a single word. Women. Can it be said that they possess an intellect? If intellect forms the nature of a man apart from that of women, then why is that would be Hypatias throughout history were skinned with roof tiles, burned at the stake, smothered, immured, shot, hanged for daring to express inklings of what, AS IF only BELONGED to the domain of man’s ontological character? And yet if we consider a significant property of intellect as the capacity of conceiving the truth, in that case, we are hardly at a loss to name cases where women stood for it precisely at times when men’s minds were clouded by either madness or a special kind of cowardice peculiar to our gender. We can either conclude from this that woman either possesses intellect (which is self evidently absurd) or that her ontological reality exists apart from it. And is it then so distant to infer that the same applies for men as well, and that intellect is an ephemeral property and not the root basis of a genuine, living spirit?

    • A.D. says:

      Women possessing intellect is self evidently absurd?

      If this is not a joke, can you demonstrate your claim, despite the idea that it should be patently obvious to me?

      Then again, I am a woman.

      • Ante says:

        “Then again, I am a woman.”

        There you go, QED 🙂

        • Malić says:

          Prva stvar koju naučiš kad pričaš s ljudima s engleskog govornog područja je da će im hrvatska ironija promaći u prijevodu. Imam osjećaj da ti uskoro slijedi lekcija he, he …

          • A.D. says:

            I do the irony thing quite well, Branko.

            Oh sorry! Hang on…I thought you meant the ironing. 😀

          • Malić says:

            In Slavic language such as Croatian, when someone throws back at you something what you said as self evident irony, he most likely implies that you see this also and he puts it forward like a mock insult to which he expects you to reply in kind, whereas unspoken assumption is that both of you are joking and you both know it. I know of Croats who got themselves detained by police in US for trying to speak to American officials like this. In English you can’t pull it off as naturally as in Croatian because language is too direct, whereas we are accustomed to relate meanings in allusions.

          • Ante says:

            I was thinking do I put a smiley or not, it’s not funny if it’s too obvious. In the end I figured better safe than sorry. I mean the whole situation was so perfectly set up for that line, it would be a horrible shame to let it go to waste even if it means risking a woman’s wrath.

          • Malić says:

            Wraiths gonna wraith, broither …

        • A. D. says:

          Haha 🙂 Good one.

          Well, for all you smart guys, remember intelligence, which is surely the foundation of intellect or the ability to understand/cogitate, is an inherited capacity, well endowed in some, but much less so in others, and it is one that is particularly dependent upon the mother’s genes, as thus far the dreaded scientists have only found intelligence conditioning genes on the X chromosome, of which we ladies have two.

          The best predictor of intelligence in both sexes is the IQ of the mother. Yes, there is the evidence of the tails – more male genii – and I am very happy to accept that. In general I have personally found brilliant men to be more..um.. brilliant than brilliant women. Doesn’t bother me at all. Though this theory of the tails also means that for all the extra Nobel prize winners there are on average more idiots in the male line. You win some, you lose some 🙂

          If women posssessing intellect is self evidently absurd then one can extrapolate from tnat thesis that anyone, male or female, possessing the ability to navel gaze is likewise absurd, as the capacity would have been bred out of the species a long time ago.

          • Han Fei says:

            It’s interesting how that particular comment attracted attention, but not the one right before it. I try not to allow my chauvinism to show without an equal amount of self reflection.

            In any case I should have said something like “women are rarely predisposed towards an intellectual existence”. But there is no comment edit function. Obviously if women did not possess a measure of it, relations between the sexes would be impossible. One can only fathom if such a conviction led the Greeks to justify their shota complex.

            In any case I was noting in bemusement that it is perhaps the dryness of a man’s mind that puts the greatest obstacle in front of an empirically unverifiable arguments about reality as well as its essentially passive character in Western traditions at least. Of course I don’t limit the scope of what such “empirical verficiation” could entail to what Neill the Grass might term as the standard of verifiable truth.

    • Malić says:

      As a matter of fact, I am working on an article, or more likely, series thereof, precisely addressing this problem. The thing with intellect is that, as all powers of human being, it is not to be observed in itself, but in its origin. Its high status in Antiquity was a matter of course, both for Church fathers and philosophers, yet with different understanding of nuances that make all the difference – chief among them, in my opinion, being Christian explicit personalization of it. Not that this was unheard of in Pagans: Aristotle is also quite explicit about it but he had never gotten around to explain precisely what he means.

      The main point is that intellect is the nexus of visible and invisible accessible to everyone simply because the whole of the inner nature of human being is actualized by it. As such it has power to wreak havoc once it doesn’t understand itself properly and I would argue that, if we leave formalized terminology aside, this is also self evident because the proper expression would be he doesn’t understand himself properly.

      My problem with modern notions of intellect is that they mostly understand it either as an empirical apparatus or syllogism machine a.k.a. “discursive reason”, which amounts to isolating it from its origin and it is quite illogical to claim one understands something if he at least doesn’t affirm the existence of its origin. Discursive reasoning is not machine like chaining of thoughts but expression of the ultimate human limit, i.e. temporality that sometimes can be infused with the power making it transcend its limits, but only for a specific reason that is not to be found in the intellect itself but precisely in that origin of his. This is the reason why I am always wary about the ambition to transcend the intellect – it always seems to be so intellectual, especially when it proclaims itself anti-intellectual.

      The problem of intellect gone awry is, in my opinion, above all else the problem of freedom. We are so identified with our daily concerns that we forget that we posses the power of straying into thinking that everything is possible, precisely because we can conceive ourselves as creators of not only history, but world itself. This power comes from the fact that intellect is that higher imprint upon which everything else in human being is being informed and it can delude itself into seeing itself as its own origin and thus creator. I think that, when this happens, the idea of human based re-creation of the world comes as a natural consequence. As wrong as this is it is the condition of human dignity – a God given ability to cosmically screw up.

      As for women, the ability to take a night flight riding a broomstick, hopefully after it was applied to less wanton ends in the service of the household, is one of those wonderful imprints demonstrating the limits of our understanding and calling man to humility before the transcendent origin of it. I mean, you just can figure out where’s the buzz in that.

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