Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Saturday, July 24, 2010


As I got ready to post this, I noticed this post from Levi Bryant on what strikes me as a close analogue to what I am discussing here, in a very different and modern key. What Bryant calls daimons--"objects that bring other objects together"--is in some ways very near to what I mean by "correspondences" below. Of course I don't mean that Bryant and I are talking about exactly the same thing, but I think it lends some support to at least a prima facie case for the continued relevance of an ancient trope.

I said above that the interpretation of mythology is already a properly philosophical endeavor. This understanding offers us a way into the interaction between contrasting discourses. A myth from Vedic India offers us a glimpse of this intersection at a time when the rationale was being worked out:

The story is from the Jaiminiya Brahmana.(II.69-70) Like most of the Brahmanas, the story I am thinking of is a mythical rationale for a ritual. Prajapati, the “Lord of Creatures” (as close as one gets to a “creator” in the Vedic tradition) and Mrtyu, Death, have a ritual battle. The contest remains at a stand-off, with neither party attaining the upper hand, until Prajapati in meditation begins to discern a network of connections or correspondences between his ritual paraphernalia and that of Mrtyu.
At that time, the weapons of sacrifice were the same as these weapons of sacrifice used today. What is chanted, what is recited, what is being acted, that was Prajapati’s party. What on the other hand is sung to the lute, what is danced, what is frivolously done [or: done for mere entertainment], that was Mrtyu’s party. The parties of both were equally strong; as much as the one had, so had the other. For long, for many years, they tried to defeat each other, with no decision.
Eventually, however, Prajapati in meditation perceived
this sampad (falling-together) in sacrifice, this samkhyana (numerical coincidence)…therewith he defeated Mrtyu. When defeated, his soma wasted away. Falling backwards, to the western end of the sacrificial ground, he took refuge in the women’s hall….Now there is no sacrificial contest anymore. What was the second sacrifice wasted away. The sacrifice is only one. Prajapati is himself the sacrifice.
This narrative takes its extremely compressed form because of its genre; the Brahmanas are comprised of notes to sacrificial protocol. They are addressed to priests, who are already aware of the ritual actions and accoutrements. The myth provides an account of the secret significances of these things; for (as the texts constantly reiterate) “he who knows thus,” that is, according to the equivalences, “is immortal.” In view of its extreme economy of form, however, one might be justified in sampling the somewhat more expansive retelling of Roberto Calasso:
Prajapati was staring straight ahead, at Death….As he waited, Prajapati ran through everything that served as a frame to Death, a frame that amounts to everything that is…. He thought, “This is like that, this corresponds to that, this is the equivalent of that, this is that.” A vibration, a tension, a euphoria flooded his mind. If this is that, then that corresponds to this other thing—he went on. Slender bonds wrapped themselves like ribbons around this and that. The bonds stretched, invisible to many, but not to the one who put them there…. with the eye that wanders, evokes images, numbers, words, he went on getting things to “fall together,” sometimes things that were far apart, getting them to coincide. And the further apart they were, the more exhilarated he felt. The existent world—prickly, numb, empty—let itself be covered, taken, gathered, enveloped, in the mesh of a fabric. …every dapple of vegetation, every outline of a rock, concealed a number, a word, an equivalence: a mental state that clung and mingled with another mental state. As if every state were a number. As if every number were a state. This was the first equivalence, origin of all others. Then Prajapati…. thought: “If the sampads elude me, who am myself thinking them, they will be all the more elusive for Death, who knows nothing of them. (Calasso, Ka p 27)
These correspondences allow Prajapati to assimilate Mrtyu’s array to his own, whereby Death is defeated in the ritual contest. But the sampads are not a finite set of equivalences between these two sets; they are an underlying order which unites the whole universe in an infinite variety of different correspondences. It is for this reason that “knowing thus” can render one “immortal.”

The equivalences are numerical, symbolic, etymological. Sanskrit is replete with terms for such closeness; there is bandhu (counterpart); samkhydna (numerical equivalents); even upanishad, which can connote the closeness between master and disciple, but also can simply mean something like “secret connection.” These equivalences are first and foremost a ritual grammar; in the Vedic context they are the rationale for the various moves and ingredients in the sacrifices, whether the meter of a hymn, the number of bricks in the altar, the time of day deemed appropriate, the order of the gods invoked, the participants invited.

It will be worth our while to look in detail for a moment at some examples of these connections, in part simply to drive home how multifarious they, their rationale, or their application, can be. Anyone first making acquaintance with the Vedas is confronted by immediate evidence of the bewildering variety of the gods, a variety which is complicated by what at first looks to be a confusion among them. Siva, for instance, is frequently conflated with the archer Rudra (“roarer,” but also possibly “shining”), in part because Siva’s name is plausibly derived from a Dravidian term meaning both “auspicious” and “red,” (terms which also function in proposed derivations of Rudra). Both Rudra and Siva are (in turn) also called Agni, fire (in Siva’s case this has to do in part with his association with the rising heat of psycho-sexual energy or tapas). But Siva is also an epithet for Indra. Siva is one of the three gods of the Hindu trimurti, along with Brahman and Vishnu; however, in another schema (the Smarta tradition), Siva is one of five aspects of the godhead, along with Vishnu, Devi, Suya and Ganesh.

The same epithets and titles are met with in connection with disparate gods; and figures are given curious roles: the sage Brhaspati is called “the brahman of the gods,” for instance; he is also the planet Jupiter, and rules over the fifth day of the week. Likewise, in different contexts, the sun (for instance) is called the eye of the god Mitra; the severed head of Rudra; a god in itself (which drives moreover the well-established solar chariot complete with fiery horses); a heavenly goose; a clay pot glowing red-hot in the sacrificial fire; or a fire itself, aloft in the sky.

A typical passage in the Kapisthalakatha Samhita (47.3) says of the priest-sacrificer:
He brings forth the waters. The waters are the sacrifice. Having stretched out the sacrifice, he proceeds. The waters are the abode favored by the gods. Having brought forward the abode favored by the gods, he starts. Demon-slaying waters are used. This serves to beat away the demons. The waters are a club. He hurls forth a club, against rivalry.
This passage, with its considerable compression, is proffering an account and an explanation of a particular ritual sacrifice, made for the purposes of getting an advantage over rivals. The water “is the sacrifice,” a radical identity which points to the bootstrapping of the origins of the sacrificial system. (Indeed in the Satapatha Brahmana, Prajapati "the year" is even identified with his rival Mrtyu, death.) The gods are summoned by the sacrificer “bringing forth” the waters to the place of sacrifice, because the gods “favor” the waters as their abode. Likewise, the waters can be used against demons; they are “a club” used against them, and indeed against the sacrificer’s rivals. Water is here: a sacrifice itself, an ingredient in the sacrifice, a realm, a weapon combating demons, and a weapon against the actual human rivals. These explanations are provided in a text in order that the sacrifice may harness the power of the ritual; it is by knowing these secrets that he can accomplish the magical goal of the sacrifice. Indeed, in some contexts, it is clear that knowing these interpretations may itself be enough.

To some degree, the equivalences stem (in the rationale of the Vedic mind) from accounts of origin:
Prajapati declares: “May I reproduce.” From his mouth he measured out the trivrt (nine-versed) hymn. Then the god Agni was brought forth, the gayatri meter, the rathantra chant; among human beings the Brahmin; among animals, the goat. Therefore they are foremost, for they came forth from the mouth. From his chest and arms he measured out the pancadasa (15-versed) hymn. Then the god Indra was brought forth, the tristubh meter, the brhat chant; among humans, the Ksaitriya; among animals, the sheep. Therefore they are strong, for they came forth from strength. From his middle he measured out the saptadasa (17-versed) hymn. Then the deities the Visvadevas came forth, the jagati meter, the vairupa chant; among humans, the Vaisya; among animals, the cow. Therefore they are to be eaten, for they were brought out from the receptacle of food. Therefore they are more abundant, for they were brought forth after the most abundant of the gods. From his feet he measured out the ekavimsa (21-versed) hymn. Then the anustubh meter came forth, the vairaja chant; among humans, the Sudra; among animals, the horse. Therefore these two, horse and Sudra, are dependent on others. Therefore the Sudra is not fit for the sacrifice, for he was not brought forth with any diety. Therefore they support themselves by their feet, for they were brought forth from the feet. (Taittiriya Samhita VII.1.1.4-6).
Note here the way that the cosmogonic myth is pressed into service to account for social relations (the priority of the Brahmins, the exclusion of the Sudras). The alignments outlined here remain relatively stable across the Vedic literature, according to the scholars I have read and my own far more schematic familiarity. Other correspondences are specific to particular texts or myths. Their various rationales might be etymological, numerological, analogical, narrative; they might hinge upon a purely “surface” similarity (the roundness of the pot and the sun; the similarity in sound between asva, horse, and asru, tear—these and some other examples cited here are from this paper by Michael Witzel); upon a narrative or characterological coincidence (for instance, Arjuna and Rudra are both archers); upon a lexical equivalence; as, for instance, taking an entry at random from the Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary, Ma can be: the base of the first person pronoun; time; poison; a magic formula; the fourth note of the scale; the moon; the name of Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, or Yama; happiness; water. (This plural significance is of course a frequently noted feature of “primitive words;” it figures in Freud.) Still other equivalences, like that of the sun with an eye or a goose, or the waters with a club, are more strictly context-dependent. But what is always at play is a readiness to cross categories that to our minds are sealed from one another.

That the correspondences are not unique to the Vedas is obvious. They arise in every culture where “primitive thought” begins to take its bearings. The sampads are simply the unfolding of totemism or animism, as can be seen from a cursory look through anthropological literature, no matter which teachers one adopts as ones standard. They are, in other words, the traces of participated reality. They are also astonishingly long-lived, unfolding up to the present day, through mystical systems, mnemonics, liturgy, poetry.

I will adopt the terms sampad, correspondence, and equivalence as more or less synonymous terms for the idea of a correlation between two or more features of the world—whether natural or cultural.

Philosophy has two interests in the correspondences. One is simply reconstructive: it is scholarly, and in this role the sampads provide us a window of understanding upon spiritual, philosophical and literary traditions with which philosophy must be concerned. In this connection, the sampads allow us to read, say, Hegel, or Giordano Bruno, or Boethius, or Empedocles; but also to read Yves Bonnefoy or Ezra Pound or Laura Riding, Holderlin or Blake or Racine, Chaucer or Dante or the troubadours. Above all they open up for us the mythical matrix out of which philosophy fermented—the spiritual vocabularies and practices with which philosophy remained in continual dialogue and tension.

A second and perhaps deeper significance of the equivalences for philosophy, however, is their rationale and their critique. Their rationale: What sort of experience could ever have given rise to the strange notion that a human being and a crocodile or a marmoset or an emu were somehow the same? That one could read a passage in more ways than one because the words in it were also numbers? That the kinds of political regimes would have anything to do with tuning a stringed instrument? That the slow progression of the stars across the sky night by night and year by year “was” the turning of a millstone?

And, as important again, their critique: What made this idea go away? Why, if it was ever plausible, did it stop being plausible? Why, and in what manner precisely, does it linger despite this implausibility?

And should philosophy take sides on this question?


  1. In the Brahma Sutra Bhasya I.i.4 Shankara dismisses the idea of sampad as a path to realisation of the identity of Self and Brahman. Karma (work) only creates more work, only knowledge brings freedom. Sacrifice etc may purify and prepare the mind for the highest knowledge but it must be distinguished from it.

    But this knowledge of the Self and Brahman is not a kind of meditation, called Sampad, as in "The mind is certainly infinite, and the Visvadevas are infinite, Through this meditation one wins an infinite world" (Br.III.i.9). Nor is it a form of meditation called Adhyasa, as in "One should meditate thus: 'The mind is Brahman' " (Ch.III.xviii.1) where the idea of Brahman is superimposed on the mind, the sun, etc. Nor is it a meditation based on some special activity, as in "Air is certainly the place of merger", "The vital force is certainly the place of merger" (Ch.Up.IV.iii.1-4) Nor is it a kind of purification of some factor in some (Vedic) rite, as for instance the act of looking at the oblation (by the sacrificer's wife for its purification). If the Knowledge of the unity of the Self and Brahman is accepted as a kind of Sampad etc., then it will flout the ascertainable meaning of all the words occurring in such sentences and establishing the unity of the Self and Brahman as, "That thou art" (Ch.VI.viii.7), "I am Brahman" (Br. I..iv.10), "This Self is Brahman" (Br. II.v.19).....

  2. Further to the above:
    He goes on to quote more of the Mahavakas of the Upanisads and finally finishes with:
    Therefore the unity of the Self and Brahman is not a kind of Sampad or anything of that sort. Hence the knowledge of Brahman is not dependent on human action.

    On what does it depend then?

    It is dependent on the thing itself, as in the case of the knowledge of a thing got through such valid means as direct perception. By no stretch of imagination can such a Brahman or its Knowledge be brought into contact with work. Nor can it be held that Brahman has some association with work by virtue of its being the object of the act of knowing; for in the text, "It is different from the known and also different from the unknown" (Ke. I.4), as also in the text, "Through what should one know that owing to which all this is known?" (Br. II.iv.14)

    He goes on at great length to press the idea that liberation is not a product and that it is not the result of activity. So did the jnanis kill participation or the idea that everything is really everything else if that is what it is taken to imply? They would say that unity is the answer but it is a unity of the substratum not a notional unity or even a sort of nature mysticism. Wilber has written of this as you know.

    Now the matter, slightly off topic, of the subreption of the daimon. Harman who calls from his minaret 5 times a day recently wrote of his finally coming to accept the dreadful 'hopefully', the bete noir of his English teacher. My problem with it is that it destroys the sense of 'It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive and the true success is to labour' (R.L.Stephenson El Dorado)(memory). Daimon is like this in that it is demoted from its high place to stop a hole that might be filled with more suitable lumber. If the daimon goes its associations are weakened with such topics as 'having a genius' and 'being a genius', genius loci, devas or shining ones, dakini and so forth. We may lose the connection with a band of non-rational reality which this 'filthy modern tide'(Yeats) is eroding into a rationalism as smooth as the shingle on 'Dover Beach'.

    Catalyst has been suggested, there's media, node, transform (as in alters by informing). Bateson's Levels are useful I, II, III and IV cf. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. deChardin or the annals of evolutionary theory will surely have suitable candidates. It's a matter of the ecology of the noosphere,
    sort of. I know I will regret that sentence.

    "Yeah, well, the Dude abides".

  3. Ombhurbhuva, you (and Sankara) have anticipated somewhat development of my argument in upcoming posts. To be sure, sampads cannot really account for insight. Correspondences are at best a form of or a skillful means to insight. They figure large in myth and poetry, and certainly in magic[k], and they recur with surprising tenacity, which may indicate a sort of gravity tugging against any assumed teleology of consciousness (if such there be), but the skeptical criticism of them ("What do you mean, 'Venus rules copper'? How do you know this?") is articulated very early, already e.g. with Xenophanes and others who attack mythological depictions of gods. (It is not sufficiently recognized that the critique of anthropomorphism is also an attack on anthropocentrism; however, this critique itself could have got no traction until participation was already on the wane, for humanity never thought of itself as the lynchpin of the universe until later. For early participating consciousness, humanity is only one of the stopping-places for mana.... )

    I rather thought you might not like Bryant's re-casting of daimon, and as I say I am not sure it's precisely the same; but I was quite struck by his definition and the etymology of sampad (="falling-together," roughly, but caveat lector, I have Small Latine, Less Greeke, and no Sanskrit).

  4. "Should philosophy take sides on this question?"

    That's a great question. Both of them I mean. Thinking about it feels like it teeters between the Dionysian and Apollonian. The interconnections and correspondences seem infinite but when we choose one the whole seems to crystallize and perhaps break.

    Omb~ Are you sympathetic with Yeat's judgment of the "filthy modern tide"? I don't know that the rise of rationalism totally eclipses the magical harmonies that underlie poetic and religious themes. After all they do persist today in so many forms. And Yeats wasn't above using rationalism, such as it was, if it could improve his creative drive. Here's an interesting article about the craze of being "Steinarched" for that end.


    It seems to me the "filthy modern tide" had less to do with rationalism (as that was alive and well in ancient times) but more to do with a sense of exhaustion and deflation. They were looking to get their mojo back. The old intoxicants (the ones sold by poets and priests) just weren't giving the same kick any more. I think this whole discussion on the loss of participation and how that has been playing out is exactly on target.

    I appreciate the rich discussion here. I follow as best I can but I certainly don't have the familiarity with these ancient religious themes that others here display.

  5. dy0~~ No question, it isn't rationalism per se, but rationalism motivated by, in conjunction with, or simply as an expression of, a certain a kind of ingrown will, that makes our era the kali yuga. (Nietzsche saw this very well, even if he could not follow the advice "physician, heal thyself.") However, almost all discussions of spiritual & cultural matters tend to get derailed into rationalism vs ir-rationalism, because it is much easier to discuss this-- there are canons of reason, whereas moral, cultural, or spiritual criteria are all easily critiqued as subjective- more and more easily, the more the circumstance cries out for them, alas.

    Re. erudition, there's very little of that here, and what there is is brought by others. What you see me arguing for is not any conclusions one would need to know a mountain of footnotes in order to understand; rather, I'm urging a way of engaging with these things, whether myth or science or scholarship or metaphysics. My one real concern is to insist that these things all belong together, that we do violence to the matter if we keep them artificially apart, and that separating them is artificial. It's in this sense that I maintain that philosophy-as-metalepsis keeps, if not the sampads themselves, then at least their deeper raison d'etre, and relies upon it

  6. Skholiast:
    Excuse the very long post which was mostly quoting Shankara and perhaps made him seem like an austere philosopher that discounted the value of ritual and symbolism and all the trappings of conventional worship. That isn't the case of course as he is the author of Sundarya Lahari a compendium of yajna, yantra and mantra each of which is tailored to gain specific goals some of them quite worldly. He also composed hymns.

    As you say the 'only connect' aspect of Hindu ritual is very marked. All modalities of consciousness are flooded by the single thought 'Tat Tvam Asi' - That Thou Art. I have seen the Fire Ceremony carried on over the 9 days of Dasara and it is a very powerful event that has been going on for 3,000 years without a break and yet the fire pit is made out of loose bricks as though saying, Agni consumes all, there is nothing permanent.

    On my occasional blog I have been contrasting poems of Yeats and Denis Devlin and the effects of ruling images and ideals of harmony and symmetry. The other poem I mentioned Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold, recalls the 19th.C. general loss of simple faith before the Darwinian view of evolution. Yeats who was the first editor of William Blake espoused a different reality steeped as he was in a stiff brine of Celtic Mythology. What Blake rejected in the Age of Unbelief, (18thC.) Yeats continued to deplore in the early 20th.century. The poles that we oscillate between in our time seem to be fatuous scientism or dolally New Ageism.

  7. Skholiast:
    Apropos of daimons; has their work been outsourced to 'media'? I can't tell. There's an Annie Hallmoment lurking in the queue.

  8. Thanks for this interesting post and the interesting comments. If you (Skholiast) really do not know Sanskrit, it is encouraging to see that one does not need to dedicate years and years to its study in order to get a glance of the cultural history embedded in Sanskrit texts. I am no expert on Brāhmaṇas, but I agree with your general understanding of the centrality of correspondences. I might only add that they seem to be actualised by the event (Ereignis) of sacrifice. Since sacrifice is constantly described (in Mīmāṃsā sacrificial exegesis) as something 'to be done' (and not already there) it may be suggested that it is the dynamics of sacrifice which make the identity between, say, a pot and the sun, possible. A static pot is not the sun, but it acquires "sun-ity" during the sacrifice (and looses after it). This is my personal key to understand why these correspondences have been thought of —and why they seemed so obscure outside the precinct of the sacrifice-performance.
    I also agree that the study of correspondences is crucial to understand a share set of poetical/affective connections which may emerge in both poems and philosophical writings. Nonetheless, 'rationalistic' critiques of the correspondences, has hinted at in the comments above, are found already in ancient times. The contemporary age has only added to them the faith in the scientific paradigm as the only possible one.
    By the way, I share with dyOgenes a feeling of inadequacy…

  9. Hi Elisa,

    Thanks very much for this. Yes-- it's the ritual context that lets the sun-ness of the pot, or vice-versa, make sense. This is also why I insist on the liturgical setting for understanding any scriptural tradition-- and why I maintain that outside of this, a tradition loses this understanding, no matter how they may repeat the insistence, "sola scriptura". It's precisely the "sola" that cuts them off from "scriptura."

    The deeper question though, is, can we (and in what manner/ to what extent) export the understanding of participation outside the ritual context? I.e., can we apply the significance of the sampads to the world in general? To the extent that this is even a meaningful question, I think it means extending the ritual context more and more broadly; seeing the cosmos itself more and more as a great liturgy. Of course, the question legitimately arises as to whether "seeing it as" is sufficient. And-- "sufficient" for what?

  10. I see your point. I guess that this extension of the scope of ritual is what happened to many Indian ritualists. The title of a book on Mīmāṃsā by F.X. Clooney (a member of the S.J. —and this is not an accident, I would say) says it explicitly: Thinking ritually. The ritual can become, and actually became a paradigm for understanding many worldly matters.
    Still, I can't see your point where you seem to propose this *move*. Either one 'sees the world as a ritual' or it seems quite hard to try to do as if. Doesn't one risk to arrive to just a sort of "decadent new-romanticism" where confusion is taken as poetry and anti-rationalism as an *alternative* to scientific rationalism? Sorry for asking questions far away from my expertise.

  11. Elisa~~
    I do not know whether it is the intention of liturgy or not, but I suspect that the effect of great liturgical traditions is to cultivate such a participatory worldview. The hitch of course is that ritual tends of its nature to privilege its own moment. Thus every sacred spot tends to acquire a numinous aura which does not "really" obtain. The choice, once this is noticed, is threefold. One can insist that the temple does have a special magic inhering in its precincts. This is superstition. Or one can laugh off the whole thing and say that it was all superstition to begin with. This is scientism. (Superstition is not avowed these days by that name but is clearly endemic; scientism is sometimes still considered a sneer word but in fact it is expressly embraced as a label (for themselves) by a growing cadre of philosophers.)

    The third way is hard: to acknowledge that there is nothing in the temple that is special, but that the temple reveals the word, shows us that the world itself is holy, or destined to holiness. As Alexander Schmemann writes somewhere, in the Christian Eucharist, bread and wine are revealed for what all bread and wine is meant to be. (I [mis?]quote from memory). This third way is far more tricky than it sounds. It frequently not only looks like but actually is a mealy-mouthed pseudo-compromise that allows bad faith to save face-- in other words, it is just a cloak for scientism or superstition or waffling between the two. I think this is more or less what you warn against in your cautions about

    > "a sort of "decadent new-romanticism"
    > where confusion is taken as poetry and
    > anti-rationalism as an *alternative* to
    > scientific rationalism"

    To wrest from this oscillation a true third way, one has to go about it with deep intention-- honestly, passionately, I would even--or better, above all--say, prayerfully. (I would like however to "insist" on this in a way that did not prescribe in advance just what this means to anyone). It calls for fine distinctions and flexibility of thought and a certain "negative capability." I tend to shy away from even saying this much because of the deep risk of just being sanctimonious. This is only something I am sketching, not a fait accompli. Since I am in any case not a saint myself, what do I know about how this is done, about how the "holiness of the world" is revealed, or even what this would mean?

    In any case I do not think one can "try" to "see the world as ritual." You are right-- one either does, or doesn't.It is not simply a matter of will (as though one could force oneself-- or trick oneself--into "believing").But, one can cultivate comportment (external and internal) in such a way as to make a different sort of participation possible. There is a yoga to this.

    I said "a different sort" of participation, because while such practices cultivate participation, I think they do not leave participation "just as it was." Barfield does not think so. As dy0genes points out, the trees, though no longer dryads to us, are nonetheless still enticements to a whole new sort of wonder.

  12. misprint: I meant "the temple reveals the world," not "the word."

  13. Skholiast, thanks for this insightful and somehow also touching comment. If I understand you rightly, you suggest not to engage actively in the third way (since this would automatically destroy it and make it vanish into superstition) but to leave one's doors open for receiving it. Of course, this needs a preliminary faith that the world *is* in fact holy and only expects a proper locus to manifest itself as such. Prayer and external attitude may facilitate —although not cause— it.

  14. Elisa,

    I have often remarked that things only get interesting on this blog when we get to the comments.You have reflected back my rather sprawling remarks in a very succinct way that says much better than I did what I meant. Thank you. Yes, I really do hold that what we can do-- what we are "called" to do, I would say (but to say this, as Heidegger or Rilke or (after all) St Paul might is already to have recourse to the sampads, yes?)-- is to "leave our doors open." My only caution-- though this little butterfly of a caveat may presage some large argumentative monsoons later-- is that this is not exactly pure quietism. We have a drive or a need for articulation (and this has its own canons) that ought not to be merely repressed. Yet, as Auden was fond of repeating, "orthodoxy is reticence." I do believe one can cultivate the chance of faith. I do not see how one can "make" it happen. But much of this is just the Epistle to the Romans, after all.

  15. "Orthodoxy is reticence"

    That phrase struck me and I had to wonder at the obverse--Is reticence orthodoxy?

    In an earlier comment you stated that both the theist and the atheist reach the same ultimate conclusion: nothing matters but the moment. I balked at bit at that as it seemed to suggest that since I am not a theist and reached that conclusion I must be an atheist. I do not think of myself as an atheist. Nor am I an agnostic. I'm fairly certain that there is more going on in the big cosmic dance than I can understand. And that's not just because our science is still immature. My stance on these deep questions is not to assert an answer but to be reticent. And of course to be skeptical of those who aren't.

    So that comment by Auden made me wonder if I wasn't in some crazy way being orthodox. Certainly not the way I would have ever characterized myself. But as I started working it through it occured to me that what I'm actually doing is radicalizing the second commandment. I don't posit a theist position because a human conception of god is forbidden. I turn my back on god, as it were, because I am forbidden to look at god. I turn my back on god as an act of piety.

  16. dy0genes,

    you are right to have balked, and I apologize for seeming to have pigeonholed you. The far too-easy di- or trichotomy atheist-agnostic-theist is a good deal like the outworn political spectrum that assumes positions can be meaningfully categorized according to the seating arrangements in the French national Assembly circa 1789. There are many many possible positions not dreamed of by this [non]belief-for-dummies schema, including the abjuring of "positions", if you like. Consider, e.g., Ivan Karamazov (with which your stance seems to have something in common-- though I would not say they are the same). As though the important thing about God was whether one "believed"! Of course, the term "belief" was used a great deal by the N.T. writers, and we seem to be sort of stuck with it.... but I think it was, if I can put it this way, a "participated" belief; it had precious little to do with abstract assent to a number of propositions. Orwell says somewhere that no Christian believes in God the way he believes in Australia." (I presume he is referring to non-Aussie Christians). True enough, and a good thing too, since after all such "beliefs" are not held to define one in analogous ways, and Australia will not save your soul. But I suspect there are some "theists" who do their damndest to believe in God in precisely the way they believe in Australia.

    (How does one believe when in Australia, anyway? I've never been.)

    Incidentally, I think most of Wittgenstein's work can be thought of as a spelling-out of consequences of the second commandment.

  17. Ivan, really? I guess if I felt a brooding and unstable guilt about my position that might fit. I certainly share his suspicions of the rule of religion and its effects (Grand Inquisitor). But Ivan was a nihilist who rejected the world. I see the act of turning ones gaze from god to the world as an act of accepting the world, taking responsibility for it, and finally owning it as ones own. In my cosmology father and son are not ultimately at odds but reconciled in turning attention away from melancholy fears of salvation/damnation toward a joyful embrace of life. I think Dostoevsky would probably agree with me that the best way to achieve that is to be a good father oneself.

  18. On re-reading the comment you refer to, I realized that while you sparked a train of thought that had made me think of the atheist, but I hadn't meant to identify you as one. (But I see why you might have thought this.)

    The isomorphism (which as I say is very incomplete) I see between your stance as outlined above, and Ivan K's, is mainly the turning-away bit. I think you are far more affirming in your motivations, however. (Shades, perhaps, of what the old pope said to Zarathustra: "Some God within thee hath converted thee unto ungodliness. Is it not thy piety itself that letteth thee no longer believe in a God?" Though again I would want to qualify, it isn't a question of belief per se.)

  19. I never really thought that you were trying to pin the atheist title on me and you have no reason to apologize to me. I was just exploring what I think is a different way. Mostly I think I tend towards a sort of quietism on these issues and like very much your take on Wittgenstein. It is important to continue taking problems seriously even when we no longer feel that they are still problems that are still active in our lives. That can be very hard to do. Dismissing them as mistakes or misunderstandings just means we no longer see why they were a problem. That usually means we've forgotten some context. Sometimes it is nice to forget all that context but I don't think teachers have that luxury. Thats a hard job. Better you than me:) Oh wait, parents are teachers too....damn.

  20. I watched a stunning performance by Stephen Colbert last night on the gay marriage issue
    that I recommend to anyone.

    I saw some parallels with this discussion that I thought I might bring up. First the obligatory caveats. I know that I'm in the company of subtle and sensitive thinkers and when we disagree it is more often than not that we tangle on words than substance. I know that I at least am guilty of swinging out at times at my own ghosts and not really digesting the material before me. I'm about to describe a prejudice I've seen in the religious community I grew up in and don't intend to ascribe that to anybody else.

    One strength that a religious life gives is a sense of certitude. Religions solve real problems for people, give them answers and directions that they need. Many also develop a sort of tunnel vision in which they cannot see any other way of life as being capable of answering those questions. I don't know (nor do I care) what the doctrinal/scriptural proscriptions against homosexuality are. I hope at least that the sincere emotion of those who oppose gay marriage is that they do not believe such a life is capable of delivering happiness. I think they are trying to prevent what they perceive as a terrible mistake, much as one would try to prevent others from becoming addicted to drugs. Needless to say I think the opponents of gay marriage are guilty of a groundless and objectionable error.

    This type of bias is more general than just this one issue: it extends to any deviation from the "one true path". My Mormon family has expressed profound and tearful sadness that I have "chosen" to not spend the eternal afterlife with them. They also have terrible anxiety that my children are being raised with only a historical outline of who Jesus was. I take quiet pleasure in seeing their shock that my children are happy, well adjusted and getting along just fine without their "necessary" principles. I think they are guilty of a very similar error in this regard as they are in their opposition to gay marriage. They assume that my life must be hollow and full of secret despair. How could my children be so loved if I could accept that we must eventually part? How could I be happy without their community or certainty? Why don't I need to be forgiven and saved? I know they will never have answers to THESE questions. The best revenge is to live well and show that godlessness is not a terrible fate. Only by living well can I show that godlessness is not nihilism full of angst and gnashing of teeth. I eschew the temptation to hold up the Nietzchean inversion that it is theism that is nihilism to mirror their prejudices back at them. I'd rather just go fishing with my kids.

    It occurs to me now as I reread this that I am always bringing the focus back to parenting, in particular father issues. Certainly that is apropos to The Brothers Kramazov. I guess I just see the world from my own perspective. I'm a man and a father. That's who I am. That's my life and I'm caught up in it. Take it for what it is: one perspective.

  21. d~~ Put up a perhaps rambling answer sparked by this comment, as well as other thoughts. The only thing I would add here is that, as you wrote earlier, a teacher has to remember numerous contexts in which various problems are relevant (or not); and that a parent is likewise a teacher. Within one's own perspective, there is always the place that opens up upon all the others. I find the world opening up the widest when I live my own life as intensely and honestly as I can where I am.