Future, Present, & Past:



Speculative
~~ 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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The way up is the way down


Alexander Schmemann says in a number of places that in the Eucharist, bread and wine become "what they are meant to be;" I might press this further and say "what they really are." One could even perhaps press one's luck and venture that as all theology is doxastic and sacramental ("or not at all"), and that theology thus must be the showing of the eschatological face of things, so too all philosophy is precisely the effort of asking of things what they are. This is why science as perpetually open ("revisable") is still philosophy.

Daniel Dennett likes to characterize philosophy as what one does when one doesn't know what the right question is. This is a witty way of attaching a degree of dignity to groping in the dark, but really what Dennett means is that all philosophy is prolegomena to science. I would rather say that science is philosophy which has (artificially) curtailed its questioning, fencing it within certain limits; it is philosophy under the supposition that one can delimit the question (what is known as "laboratory conditions"). Philosophy always aims toward the question of the Whole. Science forecloses this question, and asks, not "what is X?" but under what circumstances X occurs. It does not and cannot investigate the occurrence of "circumstances" per se.

What this means is that science is in a sense a "going further" than philosophy, but always by way of a more narrow focus, a quantitative reduction which is also a qualitative changing the subject. Any moment of science, however, still remains philosophy, in that it has ontological and methodological axioms, and these can be asked after without the concomitant narrowing.

If philosophy generates science as its own "finitely realizable" case, so too poetry arises out of religion, but in, so to speak, the opposite direction--as a move towards the impossible articulation of its alternatives, its presuppositions. Li-Young Lee comments, in a conversation included in Breaking the Alabaster Jar, that
religion is fossilized poetry.... Did you ever see the mouth where lava is being born? There's a place in Hawaii where it comes right out into the ocean. It's this hot, red thing coming out as the ocean is cooling. I'm looking at that and thinking, Well, that lava thing, that's art. When the lava hardens into these patterns, that's religion. They're worshiping patterns that were once living. When you look at it, it's a record of something that was once living. Art for me is the practice of that living--the mouth itself, what's really coming out. (pp 80-81)
Again, I would revise the disparaging analogy (though I don't know that Lee intended disparagement): poetry is rather the invention of the infinitely variable (and as it were, innocent) heresies and theolegoumena which are the indices of living faith; which surround, virtually, the actuality of lived religious experience. I would add that poetry is certainly, as it were, prior to theology, just as science does come after philosophy. (In this sense, science is paired with politics, poetry with love.) See, e.g., this post by John Gallaher on the way poetry is "spirituality," which is today's word for this move of the individual to be religious without "all that."

Science aims at a stricter denotation than philosophy; poetry at broader connotation than religion. Science is an attempt to go further than philosophy; poetry, to back up from religion. Is Theology--which from the outside (or from post-modernity) looks like a manticore (half botched poem, half abortive science)--where they meet?

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