Thursday, September 16, 2004

Josh Corey has an insanely perceptive and articulate post regarding the selfsame Silliman post I excerpted from yesterday. I can’t say I agree with all of what he says (reservations noted below) but his position is lucid and inescapable. Be sure to read.

Now. The whole point of any true spiritual system, as I understand it, is simplicity. Away from, and not into, complexity, either its pleasures or its burdens. So, I don’t understand why Josh says “mysticism always diverts . . .” This is explicitly untrue of any true mysticism I am familiar with. What they do do is attempt to understand/exist within the world on its own terms, as a personal relationship. Organized religion often has diverted peoples’ spiritual energies away from the earthly as a means of crowd control (‘opiate of the masses’ &c), but when I think of a practitioner of a vital mysticism—say, at random (chosen flipping through a Joseph Cambell book) a Siberian shaman—they journey into the ‘mysterious’ to bring back to earth something real and of moral value—in the Siberian shaman’s case, to heal someone of a disease. How is this away from the earth, let alone moreso than Adorno, unless you are willing to dismiss even the possibility of actual efficacy coming from such practice? And what if it is shown to you such practice can heal? What does that do to the belief system you labor under now?

I’d also add I know of no wisdom tradition of any historical endurance which didn’t have a strong moral, social element. This is not to say there isn’t plenty of idiocy in the history of such things, but that the idiocy doesn’t cancel out the accuracy of what is accurate (Josh makes a similar point regarding theory, towards the end of his post, btw.).

I mean, let’s take Blake, as example. Blake’s a big hero, and his systematology is complex. But he didn’t set his complex systems up as an essential mysticism, for him, soul cleansed was simple; love. He advocated a cleansing of the doors of perception, and his complexities trace the paths of time, of such obstruction as needs to be navigated, the mind-forg’d manacles and all that. An attempt, that is, to bestow proper proportion upon the 'productions of time.' This is the proper role of a seer, of a mystic, of a Prophet, a wholly societal, local, generous and moral necessity. Not removed from earthly concerns, less a complex system to be adopted (i.e. made ritual) than an attempt to communicate a negotiable path out of the cave/Ulro/self/wilderness-of-Sinai to illumination. His complexity is there to teach you how to see clearly, and clearly is, simply, simply. (Simply is earthly, as earthly as can be. Why mystics forego opulence, eat so little, live in deserts, sleep in coffins, all that weird stuff to remind them what soul is. These are, note, not ends, but beginnings—it’s what follows from such practice that is important, not the practice as such.)

I mean, prophecy has always had less to do with foretelling the future as is, then with saying ‘if you don’t start acting right, some serious shit is going to come your way.’ A prophet is a citizen in the most complete sense of the word, and no society can exist without what s/he brings. We as a country are removed from that tradition (our cultic outbursts both symptom of, and reason for, such remove, I'd hazard to guess, though I could be horribly wrong), and we as poets feel the need to assert what is not an easily-definable, yet is an essential, perceptive ability, and I think the way theory has taken shape is part of that negotiation—a negotiation with our alienation on its own terms, attempting to make for survival of what we are.

So why is it so complex to say so, let alone do so? Well, this is one reason, I suppose, why ‘mystic’ is cognate with ‘mystery.’ My momentary apprehension is that society is, it has been commented, a group sharing a similar psychosis. We all talk to ourselves, and we all do so with a similar range of voices, probably. That’s one definition of what makes a community, I’d say. Stopping those is something like what Blake called cleansing the doors of perception I think, is a (re)turn to simplicity, getting through what you know of as ‘yourself’ to yourself (“God is a man upright in the noon sun” and all that) though getting yourself to do so is an arduous task, and seems along the way like a removal-of-self-from-what-is-apparent. The Taoists suggest forgetting something every day; that each piece of knowledge is a dust-mote on your pupil, an obstacle to ‘youing’ yourself through the world and the world ‘worlding’ through you. Navigating these voices back to their genesis is a matter of self-control, of mystical apprehension, and of poetic composition, I’d trepidate. They are all one you, I feel pretty confident saying, though I know there are theoretical frameworks I contradict in doing so. At least, I think there are.

But moving on. Josh’s point regarding the transcendent joys of apprehending critical logic is luminous, and a worthy addition to Silliman’s point. Such joys I think of as Talmudic, and I know it’s strange for me to be advocating a non-knowledge-based self-apprehension given that my tradition is of such extreme (in practice as well as in longevity) text-basedness (and on Rosh Hashannah no less—o God, please know all this is to praise you; and write me in the Book of Life—how’s that for a text-based mysticism?), as are near all of the purest connection I have found, from a very early age, first as a reader and now, even, occasionally, as a writer, but I think there has to be a balance. How much of what words are is pendant on that not being all they are (or, even, primarily are)? Derrida’s powerful theorizing would have no power were he really arguing that words are all there are—same with Lacan. Even these guys still labor under certain materialist assumptions which I think are untrue (that consciousness can have no direct effect on things/’reality,’ for example). Laura Carter has been making some wonderful points regarding Plato and what she suspects his original intentions in his original Greek are. Her new tag-line, a quote of his, sounds nearly Blakean, or nearly Kabbalistic, or nearly Taoist—take your pick. They are all paths up the mountain, I suppose you could say, or you could say “all religions are one religion.” Can Lacan be taken as a path up the mountain? I just don’t know yet (I have to admit, I'm completely confused by this point). Maybe he is part of some coalescing-‘mysticism’, we are too. Because it really does take a tradition of honest teachings for any one person, short of a ‘spiritual genius,’ to figure their way out. That’s kind of how I think of poetry, by the way, when I’m feeling like it. And the world has changed a bunch, maybe it does need a new true knowledge system to find its way back to balance (how hippy do I sound?).

Anyway, this has gone fantastically far afield, and I feel like I’m thinking myself back to a certain type of undergraduate conversation bound to end in “hmmm.” Needless to say, this is in no way a scholarly approach, spoken more out of my intuition of the words and what they mean to us today. I want to have said this all better, and I’m all thumbs today, my mind is just slow, & I feel entirely inadequate to the task of saying what I feel I need to, but I felt I needed to put something up. Maybe it'll make more happen. Because conversations like this, at least the part I get to listen to, I could easily get used to. Probably something like the discourse Dante encountered in that peaceful castle within the Infernal gates, before he crossed the river.

& I like how Josh ended his sophisticated post, getting through the body & quoting Roethke, fierce and floppy advocate of self-knowledge as world-knowledge. The thinking-attention itself is a kind of world-interaction, good reminder. It also reminds me, Roethke also belongs in my list of tree-mystics, as posted a few days ago. And that somehow Greg Perry’s recent dwellings (1 & 2) on Frost seem worth mentioning as a further counterpoint.

Stuart, Thanks for tagging me (the new tag-line as of tonight is Joni Mitchell, though I think it could work too) on the post.

I keep thinking about the Plato thing, & about how even as a limited amateurish translator I find his writing emanates (yes, on an intuitive level, much like Blake) (& perhaps it's the mindset, the essentialism of it) with such Beauty (Plato as poet) / beauty (take your pick) & that this beauty is what distinguishes him from the other writers I've studied (i.e. Menander---yucch, & he was a misogynist, too, pretty bad), i.e. Aristotle. Not that the Greek itself isn't beautiful, but that Plato somehow makes the language into a form of (gulp---the p word) prayer? Maybe I'm overreading, but I think we always are, & that's my tack. It's good that this conversation has been popping up on blogs lately, because I've been taking a lot of heat from a person I chat poetry with for being an "essentialist." Does that ultimately make me close-minded or "hysteric"? (The word came up. Never mind the gender issues.) Isn't it just as "essentialist" in a different way to be "anti-essentialist" (for whatever reason)? I love what you said the other day about you not being your own context. Reverence & irreverence are opposite sides of the same coin. Then there's the kind of stuff that just feels, well, less than alive, but not really dead.... Does that make sense?

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