There be dragons!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Balance and conversion in The Republic

The Republic begins in the Underworld of Peiraeus (a trope of the underworld image of Hades to which one must descend in order to reach heaven) - Socrates "goes down" katabein into the port city to see the festival of the goddess of resurrection, Bendis/Persephone/Kore and is halted on the way back up by Polemarchus.  Such halting is symbolic of the halting soul of Glaucon, teetering on the brink of a dark vision of mankind (as witness in the beginning of Book 2 & the Myth of Gyges' Ring).  Like Eurydice he runs the risk of fading into shadows unless an artist of superior skill, like Orpheus, can "sing" him back into remembrance of what he really is, that is infinite.

Like Glaucon, the soul of the average reader of the Republic is on the brink of accepting the materialist vision of man's dismal nature - willing to accept that at heart we are opportunistic beasts that would cannibalize each other should the fear of the Leviathan, Law or Government, be taken from us; willing to accept that at best we can hope for a dull grey day without too much pain; willing to accept that, though we may not like it, life is a rum go and that's the truth.  The "dialogue" thus acts as a converting tool; a work of art designed like a cathedral to convert the soul from death to life, from darkness to light, from animalian ignorance to a higher state of consciousness.  

It does so by the use of esoteric thought and imagery, that is, imagery that operatives intuitively through connections of the smaller to the larger so that the soul eventually can reunite with the whole (as opposed to exoteric, or analytic, thought which breaks the whole into parts in order to comprehend the thing - at the end of which one is left with a pile of parts and no longer a viable bird).  Such a string of pearls rests on faith; one must believe that the larger can be comprehended through the smaller, that with faith the size of a mustard seed one can move mountains, that because we can be trusted with small things we can be trusted with larger, that man is made in the image and likeness of God.  It is this string of pearls that cannot be cast in front of swine (the symbol of mortality and darkness) and for which a man will sell all he has because it is of great price.

By a faith progression we move with baby steps to greater and greater vistas, the eyes of the mind are opened to see more of what the grand LOGOS really is.  This is called "gnomonic expansion" - movement from the "gnomon", or small, to greater expanses - and is the pattern and path of all great religious experience.  

The Republic is like a "cathedral of thought" showing to its readers the macrocosm of the LOGOS through the microcosm of dialogue.  Like a Cathedral or Temple the dialogue possesses a certain balance or architectural harmony by the use of chiasmi, or balancing elements in the work.  Images in the early part of the work balance images in the latter part of the work.  Once a reader moves through the whole of the work they can step outside and admire the whole frieze / structure in a single take, but while they are moving through the work they are as yet in time and cannot yet see eternity; past, present, and future are operative while reading the work but the higher conscious reached at the end allows the perceptive reader to comprehend all at once.

Given this, the three characters in the opening book, the vestibule or narthex of the dialogue, parallel the three images at the end in the myth of ER.  Cephalus, "the head", is a Hades/Osiris figure offering the idea that justice is "telling the truth and giving back what is owed"; he both sits in judgment over the justice and unjust but also starts the interrogation that rules over the dialogue.  

Polemarchus, "leader of the attack", is the son of Cephalus and, like the son of Hades/Osiris, he is Zagreus/Horus.  Like Horus, he inherits the argument and attacks the enemies of his father.  Like Zagreus, son of "Zeus in the Underworld" & Persephone, he represents the god that is torn to pieces by the Titans (creatures who appear later in the Myth of Gyges' Ring and from whose blood mingled with Zagreus' emerges the human race) and born again from Semele as Dionysus, the god of wine and the LOGOS.  Thus Zagreus is the god who is saved and not lost, as at the end of the Republic Socrates says, "Thus, Glaucon, a tale was saved and not lost" (Republic X: 621c).  Polemarchus has three definitions of Justice; the inherited Past definition of telling the truth and giving back what is owed, the Present definition of "doing good to friends and harm to enemies": the Future argument suggested by Socrates that Justice is "an art of stealing".  The arguments are a parallel to the three daughters of Hades, the Erinyes; Megara, punishing marital infidelity, Alecto, punishing moral crimes such as anger, cheating and theft, Tisiphone, punishing parricide, homocide and crimes of violence.

Thrasymachus with his anger, yelling, intimidation, the need to be held back by others, and the definition of Justice as "advantage of the strong" is Cerberus the dog (himself a trope of Tartarus, the black pit that devours the unjust).

If we have gone through the work, heard the myth of GYGES, seen the divisions of the kalipolis, encountered the myth of the metals, the myth of the cave, the divided line, the vision of the good, the regimes, then we reach at last the Myth of ER.  This last myth which is the vision of the afterlife from the perspective of a good, noble man, is divided into three sections; the four portals, the spindle of necessity, the judgment on the lawn. The myth is set up in an inverse of the three figures at the beginning - so portals (with the roaring voice and the casting into Tartarus of the unjust) corresponds to Thrasymachus, spindle (with the beautiful complex whorls and the three fates) to Polemarchus, judgment (with the lottery and choice presided over by the divine judge) to Cephalus. Such an inverse reflects Plato's frequent use of the inverted triangles of alchemical exchange; the dross of lead being converted to the wealth of gold in the soul - death being converted to life.  

In this vision the corrupt little earth man of GYGES (from Greek word for "earth" = GE) becomes the perfect macrocosmic man of ER (from the Greek word for the highest realms of air).  Thrasymachus' tyrannical roaring becomes the mouth that rejects the corrupt souls and the devouring Cerberus nature of Thrasymachus becomes the pit of no return, Tartarus. Polemarchus' democratic nature with all its attractive and persuasive colors becomes the spindle and its rainbow whorls, his definitions and their corresponding Furies become the three Fates; Clotho (past), Atropos (present), and Lachesis (future).    Cephalus/Hades, as wealthy an oligarch as Pluto himself, becomes the "certain spokesman"  and judge in the employ of Lachesis who "marshals them at regular distances" and presides over the choice of lives.  The underworld of Peiraeus becomes the bright pastoral lawn of the judgment area. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Gospel reading in Mass was from Luke:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

The interpretation by the deacon was good, standard fair: believing in Christ causes disagreements and division - but this leads ultimately to healing and unity.  It was a decent enough attempt to understand this difficult passage.
Let's look at it in an esoteric way.
To understand the passage better go earlier in the text to where Christ warns his disciples: 

"Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."

The Pharisees proclaimed a need to be obedient to the details of the Torah without any understanding; or more to the point, they were keepers of understanding themselves but they lorded it over others and used the esoteric knowledge of the law as a tool for oppression and control.  Their "leaven" therefore was hypocritical and hateful to Christ b/c it did not lead to any spiritual growth or understanding.  Then Christ gives a clue phrase (or more accurately, Luke gives the phrase) that

"there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known."

This phrase indicates that what he is about to say is code for esoteric understanding.  Such understanding was always hidden partly to prevent abuse or neglect of the deeper meaning but also to encourage ownership and growth in those who "had ears to hear."

Then Christ provides his disciples with this strange contradictory warning:

"he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.
And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven."

In the first passage he claims that anyone denying him before men will be denied before the angels, but if anyone speaks a word against the Son of man (i.e. denies him) this can be forgiven - only blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is unforgivable.  Why?  Why is the denial of the Holy Spirit an unforgivable offense?  is it b/c this means denying that salvation itself exists?  Thus one would be denying that there is an order, an esoteric structure, or mercy in the created world.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Love and the Nuptial Number (an exchange with my father)

I came across this portentous exchange with my father from a few years ago.  Fortuitous as my mind is going through a dark period now.  I think the company of saints is just this - the arrival of a piece of memorabilia, a photo, a message, a memory, a prompting from who knows where attributable to someone whom we loved and lost.

The Mass is important; but not as the modernists see it, a community sing-along around the campfire. Trivializing the Mass! The journey cannot be seen in a modern church in the round. One is, it is implied, already there, in the company of heaven already, surrounded by the saints on earth (and in heaven?). Wherever one looks, there are only other sinners and they as much confined into the prison as you. The sacrifice going on before us is itself obscured by the music and the casualness of the celebrant, and then the whole room becomes one great Platonic Cave, full of shadows.

I experienced much the same repulsion at *a certain school's* method of teaching the Scriptures.  I heard from a parent recently that they are ardently promoting this "sitting around a campfire telling our story" approach to scripture; promoted mostly by *a certain teacher*.  Not that scripture is a salvific history proclaiming a unique understanding of who the God is through the panoply of a highly structured literary architecture and use of symbols, but rather it's just "stories around a campfire in the dark";  never going anywhere, never having a cohesive thesis, never seeing the dawn.  No thanks.

Now my problem and where I'm wobbliest is exactly where Socrates indicates he is wobbliest.  That nuptial number that he raises in book VIII has always struck me as the key to any humble man's comprehension of these things (that seems redundant; how could any man truly perceiving these things not be humble)  But what makes humility is that one "sees" the greatness of the architecture, its wholeness, harmony, radiance, but than look around you; how did things get where they are?  Inexplicable.  More to the point, there is a lacuna, a disjunct, something of a system interrupt that occurs at a crucial point (and as this is the first time I'm putting this into print, bear with me).  We understand that the words in the story actually refer to a greater truth beyond themselves.  We understand that the mathematics refers most directly and purely to the same truth.  We understand that the same truths are expressed in multifarious ways; music, art, literature, philosophy, mathematics, nature, et alia.  Where the disjuncture occurs is whether there is anything that really IS being represented.  Certainly the scriptures claim that there is an IS and that He IS, and we can comprehend what is being said, but how do we know that what we give creedance to isn't just an accruing of images by humans who do not want to believe otherwise; i.e. that we really are totally alone on this hunk of rock?  Even if all the systems of thought were complex, harmonious, radiant, whole, even if we could spend hours and days staring at them for their beauty, would we still be deluding ourselves into thinking that our thought was actually connected to anything real?  Or was it just the complex constructions of an overly developed primate brain?

I think that is the sticking point to which Socrates is alluding with the nuptial number.  If we seek "real" proof we won't get it.  Instead we will get stuck by an implacable and impossible "number" which will be the absurd and unattainable linchpin for the success of this great and glorious city we just constructed.  So what is the point?  Not to seek for such a linchpin?  To turn aside from finding that and look instead at the beauty of the principle which instills in us a "knowing" beyond our intellect?  But what if it's delusion?  What if we're fooling ourselves?  What if...  Then the only calming response to such fears is "Let me tell you a story.  I once knew a man named (Er, or Lazarus, or Jesu barJoseph, or Fred the technician, or Bilbo Baggins).  And with that soothing bedtime story we can more easily go to sleep.


Ah, my son. You have reached the desert point. The desert is the making of breaking of a man. 

Is there an I AM anywhere, or did we make him up? Human inventiveness.

But what if there is a...? Then what?

That point of doubt is there for any man who tries to see God.  My point has to do with the natural connections, the natural symbols, of the buildings and the liturgies of the Faith. One must believe, but more importantly, trust; that is the real meaning of Fides. Trust, Troth.  He said, Lo, I am with you always, I am. And either we trust through the dark or we go screaming around the halls. Which is the truth? which is the paliative, comfort blanket, dream, fiction? The empty halls where we scream, or the voice in our heads that says I AM?

"I don't believe, I know," said the old C. G. Jung in an interview.  It comes down to that, do we know, intimately and personally.  On that trust hangs all our creativity and life, or else we give up and live by our appetites.  A pious atheist is a non sequitur.  Moral and humane perhaps, but not awake or full of vision. The world is dead for the atheist. But we who know always have that temptation in front of us, the temptation of the Garden and the Apple perhaps, to be as Gods.

My point is that for  the believer, the church shape is the shape of a journey, that is not an arbitrary interpretation, walking up the main aisle to the altar is a journey, from there to here, or from here to there. And what the church gives us on the road up there is the images of the journey, those we meet or should meet. Once we have come to the high point of the journey, the altar and the meal of Him, we can then experience his own journey, the Stations, in reverse and widdershins order, the road down. Until that point we don't know what all that story means. And if we go beyond the altar, we enter the cave of the skull, the apse, and find our contemplation, our "dark contemplation" as St. John of the Cross called it, passivity, there.  I am only making natural connections, not allegories.

Reading scripture as campfire stories is ok, campfire stories are spooky and stick in the head. But to make sense of those campfire images needs correct interpretation, connection to the greater whole of the story's parallels and connections.  What Tolkien called "correspondence." And that is done in terms of a moral world, and the consequences of choices, then a symbolic world, the natural field of the story, (Allegory) then the inner world of the anagogy, the "movement up," that is our own personal and non-communicable experience of the story within our own minds, How we take it in, what it feels like, etc. that is what the medievals called Heaven. Our innerness. In that innerness we participate in the greater cosmos and the reality that is the Forms, the Neters. But we cant say what we are experiencing, it is not verbalizable. Only by conventional connections, Gold Streets, Palaces, Domes, Spires, etc., or whatever, The colleges of Oxford, or the streets of an imagined New York. Or maybe one's infant bedroom and the presence of mommy and daddy.  I sometimes see that old room again and me on the floor beneath my parents in their rocking chairs, playing with my blocks and listening to the radio and the dramatized stories that were so popular then, movies, novels, etc. Most possible not what a child ought to have heard. My parents talking to each other or to my sisters who came in and sat on the bed above me. Is heaven that? Certainly not golden streets and harps everywhere. And no wings.

Jung and the others influenced by Freud saw all this as a form of Projection, a wish fulfillment, but at the end, he also came to say, "I don't believe in God, I know."  

So the point of doubt is the point of the nuptial number indeed, a move to find some rational way to name what isn't rational. One's trust.

Must close. My arm is hurting tonight where the pic line is in. Thursday I get a port like Beth had. And CT scan tests to see where I have come after seven chemo treatments.

Much love to my little ones and to you and Beth. I am so glad you are my family. I have put the wonderful photos of the kids on the mantel with the week's candle and my prayers.

Love, Dad

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gawain and the Order of the Garter

See?  There it is again in Gawain.  The red dragon and the white. Bertilak and his Lady.  He is the sun and she is the moon; the masculine and the feminine; the solar and the earthly.  A British version of the dyad and Gawain torn between them.  They both pose a threat to him, one jovially posing an impossible exchange all the while threatening violence and the eviscerating doom that befalls the captured animals; the other seducing him like Oedipus' mom and lulling him into the carnal, physical, earthly illusion that nothing will change and there is no crisis.  They are Arthur and Guinevere pulling Lancelot apart, heaven and earth, the spiritual and the carnal, the paradox of human existence (expressed with a British accent).  Gwalchmei, Gawain, the falcon who is meant to soar is dragged down by his human desire for physical pleasure, love and the appeal to pride, then is bolstered up by receiving gifts and praise.  But it's all a game; an illusion; a vanity.  Vanity of vanities all is vanity.  How to escape all that?  Is it chivalry?  Is it cleverness of speech or gallantry of manners?  Immersion in physical pleasure or adherence to honor?  Perhaps a magical sash or some other miracle of science?  Yet inevitably the young hero most enter into the valley of the shadow of death to find the green chapel/cairn and face his own doom.  Perhaps then the nick on the neck, the fateful nert, is necessary - punctures in the hands to remind doubting Thomas - circumcision around the softer parts - that we never forget just what is at stake (or on the block, or in the docket).  Is Gawain the hero?  Does he deserve the order of the garter?  Does Camelot do any good but to produce blowhards and battle and eventually dissolve on the island into the hunters and the hut-makers?  I wonder. And there's philosophy for you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Paradox in Book 6 of the Republic

Rep. 6.491b

“The most surprising fact of all is that each of the gifts of nature which we praise tends to corrupt the soul of its possessor and divert it from philosophy. I am speaking of bravery, sobriety, and the entire list.” 
“That does sound like a paradox,” said (Adeimantus).

The word "ἄτοπον" is defined in Liddell & Scott as "out of place; extraordinary" even "foul", "monstrous" and "absurd".  It is paradoxical that what we gain by nature also dissuades us from truly following wisdom, a spiritual state that requires the very negation of the things that should most easily lend us to the acquisition thereof.  But more to the point is the monstrousness of the word "ἄτοπον" - a word that makes men marvel, thaumazo, and since all philosophy begins in wonder the very road to love of wisdom begins at being gobsmacked by the paradoxical nature of human existence.  Man is both pig and angel, bull and man; he is a monster, scuttling between heaven and earth - and the marvel that he elicits should lead us down into the dark to hunt for gold rings.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Plato. The Ion.

The Ion

Lane Cooper writes in the introduction that

The dialogue is proof that the balance between opposites which had made the Periclean Age possible was passing away and had already passed to such a degree that the greatest of the Athenians had to put his effort into counteracting the rapidly growing disorder in a state ruled more and more not by the mind, but by the emotions.
But I tend to disagree.  As with most dialogues there are more questions than answers and Plato's mystery meaning is hidden beneath what appears to be a put down of art and a praise of philosophy.  As Cooper writes, "In this little dialogue Plato is amusing himself."  Yet the questions lead us away from such an interpretation.

Why, for instance, is the main character named "Ion"?  There certainly was a contemporary of Plato's by that name, a famous rhapsode specializing in Homer, but Plato never passed up an opportunity for mythological meaning in his characters and this is no exception.  Mythologically Ion was the son of Apollo and Creusa.  His mother abandons him in a cave and he is raised by a nymph, eventually adopted again by Creusa and Xuthus, almost killed by his jealous mother but finally accepted into the family.  A man at odds with his origins and, unaware that he is divine in nature, accepts his life as the son of a mortal man (much like Superman with Jonathan and Martha Kent).

Why is Ion's home in Ephesus, the land of Homer and the temple of Artemis, moon sister of the solar Apollo, lord of music and artwork?

Why has Ion come from Epidaurus, the capital of the cult of Asclepius and the home of healing?  Is this part of the healing art of the dialogue?  Is the healing begun at Ephesus only completed by Socrates inquiry into the true nature of the man?  "We owe a cock to Asclepius" says Socrates at the end of his life, in praise for his lifetime of healing work and himself being finally "cured" of life.

What does Socrates mean by the image of the magnet and iron RINGS, an image very similar to the chain of being brought up later in the Republic.
SOCRATES: In like manner the Muse first of all inspires men herself; and from these inspired persons a chain of other persons is suspended, who take the inspiration.  For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed.  And as the Corybantian revelers when they dance are not in their right mind,so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains; but when falling under the power of music and meter they are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysus but not when they are in their right mind.

Do you know that the spectator is the last of the rings which, as I am saying, receive the power of the original magnet from one another? The rhapsode like yourself and the actor are intermediate links, and the poet himself is the first of them. Through all these the God sways the souls of men in any direction which he pleases, and makes one man hang down from another. Thus there is a vast chain of dancers and masters and undermasters of choruses, who are suspended, as if from the stone, at the side of the rings which hang down from the Muse. And every poet has some Muse from whom he is suspended, and by whom he is said to be possessed, which is nearly the same thing; for he is taken hold of. And from these first rings, which are the poets, depend others, some deriving their inspiration from Orpheus, others from Musaeus; but the greater number are possessed and held by Homer. Of whom, Ion, you are one, and are possessed by Homer... (translation, Benjamin Jowett)

Do the poets and artwork act as a medium between man and god?

Why is the magnet called by its other name "Heracleaneum"?  like Heracles?  Does the poet (and poetic imagery) do the Heraclean task of keeping man connected to the divine (or concept of the divine in spite of all pull toward the earth) - iron is the metal of the earth, after all.  Man is "iron" (piggish, apelike, bronze) until connected by poetry/art to the divine.

"... your words touch my soul, (says Ion in a remarkable poetic and religious, rather than philosophic/intellectual, metaphor) and I am persuaded that good poets by a divine inspiration interpret the things of the Gods to us."
SOCRATES: And are you aware that you produce similar effects on most spectators?
ION: Only too well; for I look down upon them from the stage, and behold the various emotions of pity, wonder, sternness, stamped upon their countenances when I am speaking: and I am obliged to give my very best attention to them; for if I make them cry I myself shall laugh, and if I make them laugh I myself shall cry when the time of payment arrives.
Later on in the dialogue Socrates seems to remind Ion of his real nature when he asks him about the charioteer passage in Odyssey.
SOCRATES: Tell me then, what Nestor says to Antilochus, his son, where he bids him be careful of the turn at the horse-race in honour of Patroclus.
ION: He says:
Bend gently in the polished chariot to the left of them, and urge the horse on the right hand with whip and voice; and slacken the rein. And when you are at the goal, let the left horse draw near, yet so that the nave of the well-wrought wheel may not even seem to touch the extremity; and avoid catching the stone.

Here Socrates is posing as though he were Nestor and Ion (as his son) is coached better in his craft by the Athenian.  Perhaps also there is an element of Socrates riding or training the "horse" Ion, especially at the end when he cuts him off like a boss - "Enough"; "ἀρκεῖ." - which also is "ward off, or keep off." The race horses are like the black wild horse and the tame white horse of the Phaedo that guide the human soul.  Similarly the poet and images help guide the soul in the "race course" of life.
SOCRATES: You know the passage in which Hecamede, the concubine of Nestor, is described as giving to the wounded Machaon a posset, as he says,
Made with Pramnian wine; and she grated cheese of goat's milk with a grater of bronze, and at his side placed an onion which gives a relish to drink. Now would you say that the art of the rhapsode or the art of medicine was better able to judge of the propriety of these lines? 
ION: The art of medicine.
SOCRATES: And when Homer says,
And she descended into the deep like a leaden plummet, which, set in the horn of ox that ranges in the fields, rushes along carrying death among the ravenous fishes,- will the art of the fisherman or of the rhapsode be better able to judge whether these lines are rightly expressed or not? 
ION: Clearly, Socrates, the art of the fisherman.
SOCRATES: Come now, suppose that you were to say to me: "Since you, Socrates, are able to assign different passages in Homer to their corresponding arts, I wish that you would tell me what are the passages of which the excellence ought to be judged by the prophet and prophetic art"; and you will see how readily and truly I shall answer you. For there are many such passages, particularly in the Odyssey; as, for example, the passage in which Theoclymenus the prophet of the house of Melampus says to the suitors:-
Wretched men! what is happening to you? Your heads and your faces and your limbs underneath are shrouded in night; and the voice of lamentationbursts forth, and your cheeks are wet with tears. And the vestibule is full, and the court is full, of ghosts descending into the darkness of Erebus, and the sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist is spread abroad. 
And there are many such passages in the Iliad also; as for example in the description of the battle near the rampart, where he says:-
As they were eager to pass the ditch, there came to them an omen: a soaring eagle, holding back the people on the left, bore a huge bloody dragon in his talons, still living and panting; nor had he yet resigned the strife, for he bent back and smote the bird which carried him on the breast by the neck, and he in pain let him fall from him to the ground into the midst of the multitude. And the eagle, with a cry, was borne afar on the wings of the wind. 
These are the sort of things which I should say that the prophet ought to consider and determine. 

Socrates seems to know Homer as well as Ion.  Why does he prompt him, then to recite the charioteer passage?  Why does he choose these passages?

Why does he call him a general (a commander or leader of men) at the end of the dialogue?
SOCRATES: And are you the best general (στρατηγός ἄριστος), Ion?
ION: To be sure, Socrates; and Homer was my master.
SOCRATES: But then, Ion, what in the name of goodness can be the reason why you, who are the best of generals as well as the best of rhapsodes in all Hellas, go about as a rhapsode when you might be a general? Do you think that the Hellenes want a rhapsode with his golden crown, and do not want a general?
ION: Why, Socrates, the reason is, that my countrymen, the Ephesians, are the servants and soldiers of Athens, and do not need a general; and you and Sparta are not likely to have me, for you think that you have enough generals of your own. 
What is the "war" in which humanity is engaged if Ion is a general?  Are poets commanders in a war?  Does the war involve images?
SOCRATES: ... indeed, Ion, if you are correct in saying that by art and knowledge you are able to praise Homer, you do not deal fairly with me, and after all your professions of knowing many, glorious things about Homer, and promises that you would exhibit them, you are only a deceiver, and so far from exhibiting the art of which you are a master, will not, even after my repeated entreaties, explain to me the nature of it. You have literally as many forms as Proteus; and now you go all manner of ways, twisting and turning, and, like Proteus, become all manner of people at once, and at last slip away from me in the disguise of a general, in order that you may escape exhibiting your Homeric lore.
The question is larger than Ion - it is a question about artwork itself.  Is artwork artifice?  Mere calculated deception?  Is it dishonesty or is it inspired?
SOCRATES: ...if you have art, then, as I was saying , are not dealing fairly with me. But if, as I believe, you have no art, but speak all these beautiful words about Homer unconsciously under his inspiring influence, then I acquit you of dishonesty, and shall only say that you are inspired. Which do you prefer to be thought, dishonest or inspired? 
Does art lead us as a general does his troops through the terror of battle against the ideas that we are nothing but iron, pigs & monkeys, clay?  Or does art merely deceive us into false hopes, convince us to buy more product, give us childish visions that have no basis in fact?  

The common interpretation of Plato is that only knowledge, philosophy, the mind's power can lead us to sure fact.  But I'm not so sure of this.  As Ion says, "what am I forgetting?"  Knowledge is a remembering of things latent in our person, so Plato says.  The remembering is a remembering of who we really are, that is, the Asclepian healing power of all Plato's dialogues is that they attempt to remind us of our real Apollonian, solar, greatness.  They do so by stripping away our false pretenses of knowledge and granting us instead poetic images of what we real are.  

Thus by the end of the dialogue Ion no longer claims to know everything there is to know about Homer but simply states that "There is a great difference, Socrates, between the two alternatives; and inspiration is by far the nobler."  For this humble recognition he receives the true crown of nobility from Socrates.

A soliloquy (by J. Unicorn)

I, unicorn, once untamed,
Raged, a creature of burning light
Chthonic like a thing unchained
In the forests of the night.
Wild, majestic, virulent power -
Many the heroes I did gore,
Many the youths I did devour
From darkened vale to airy tor.
Til maiden fair, her tresses free,
Into my forest love-enwrapped
Ventured there and captured me
When gently my head laid in her lap.
Now I’m fluffy, fat and cuddly as an egg.
What fairer thought lies 'twixt maid’s legs?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mythopoeic speculation in the vision of Ezekiel

Ezekiel’s Vision of God
1 Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as Iwas among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions[a] of God. 2 On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, 3 the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans[b]by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Tell me all the places where I come from.

4 Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. 5 Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And thiswas their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. 6 Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. 7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. 8 The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. 9 Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.

10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies. 12 And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went.

13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning. 14 And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.

15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces. 16 The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. 17 When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went. 18 As for their rims, they were so high they were awesome; and their rims were full of eyes, all around the four of them. 19 When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, because there the spirit went; and the wheels were lifted together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures[c] was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures[d] was in the wheels.

22 The likeness of the firmament above the heads of the living creatures[e] was like the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads. 23 And under the firmament their wings spread outstraight, one toward another. Each one had two which covered one side, and each one had two which covered the other side of the body. 24 When they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a tumult like the noise of an army; and when they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 A voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads; whenever they stood, they let down their wings.

26 And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. 27 Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
These four gods of Babylonian mythology, propping up the main god, Ashur, in his chariot, would have surrounded Ezekiel who, when he attempts to describe the vision of awe, would have used the culture that surrounded him (Babylonian/Assyrian culture) in order to express himself.

But more than that, because there aren't actually four corners to the earth.

Why do we think in fours?  What is the significance of fours and why is four the number of the earth?  The same four gods of Babylon which Ezekiel uses to express the vision of the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord are the four horsemen of the apocalypse seen when the ruin or devastation that transforms the earth comes upon us.
Albrecht Durer's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"

There is, technically, no up or down, forward or backward, left or right.  The very movements that we name by these terms are the limits of our perception.  "Fourness," then, is just that - not literally the four corners of the earth (or the four winds or whatever) but the limits of the human perception.  Consequently, who is bolstered up by the four in this vision of awe?  Who rides in the chariot in the role of Ashur?  Ezekiel proclaims that it isn't God but "a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it" - man is the god; the center of the perceived world, round about whom is the awesomeness and might of The Almighty.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Luke 16: 1-13

In the gospel for this last Sunday (9/23/2013), Luke 16: 1-13, Christ tells the parable of the unjust steward to his disciples.

I admit that I have no idea what is going on in this gospel.  To date no one else seems to either; though I have heard numerous homilies about social justice, despising materialism, caring for the poor, not serving mammon, etc., I have NEVER heard a homily that explains what the text has to say.  Worthy attempts are made here, here, and here.  But none of these fully satisfy.  Perhaps I'm just TOO inquisitive, asking too many questions about literature and art.  Perhaps I'm looking for something that just isn't there and the text is simply an enriching statement about how we should be good stewards and lay up treasure in heaven.
But then there's this possibility:

I acknowledge that this is a reading of another passage - but couldn't the same be said here?  For instance there are numerous questions which a straightforward reading does not answer: why the material goods of olive oil & wheat?  why 100 in each instance?  why are the characters a rich master and steward?  Why does the master commend the steward for "acting prudently"?

A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.

What does this "squandering" symbolize?  Is this merely a morality tale (don't squander the property entrusted to you)?  Is there any human who doesn't, through the very nature of our pride, "squander" what we are given?

He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?

From whom does the lord hear about the squandering?  Why does he give the steward a chance to respond (rather than merely dismissing him)?

Prepare a full account of your stewardship,

Does this mean to balance your books?  or does it mean show that you were a good steward?  or does it mean give me the documents of office (clear out your desk)?

because you can no longer be my steward.’

Seems that this moment of "being fired" is akin to the moment of death - like the brush with death that causes conversion.  Is this a conversion story?  is the steward changed by his little heart attack?  and why does the master say this rather than Donald Trumping him with "you're fired" or "get out of my sight"?

(The steward says) I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.

why are these the alternatives to stewardship?  digging and begging are menial labor and the steward seems to recognize suddenly his own limitations.  Before he bore the chain of office and lived luxuriantly as did his own lord; now he must live like a slave.  Why?  does it make sense that a man of such office would ONLY have digging or begging as alternatives?  a desperate man might dig or beg, but not someone who could earn otherwise.  Digging, of course, associated with the earth is also related to death and tomb building.  What does begging (which shows up frequently in the NT) represent?

I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’

Here the "they" seems to be the debtors whom he visits next.  Consequently it seems that he is either deceiving the debtors in order to be on their good side (with the proviso that should they find out they will punish him in futura) or swindling his master in order to make friends of the subordinates.  Wouldn't the master seek vengeance for such swindling, thus making the friendships with subordinates worthless? Wouldn't the friends seek vengeance if they found out the deception?

He called in his master’s debtors one by one.

Sounds like there are a great many debtors.  Why does he call them in one by one?

To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’

Why olive oil?  why one hundred measures?  wouldn't the steward know what was owed?  why does he ask?

He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’

The promissory note was the note of what was owed.  If the steward had the promissory note why did he have to ask in the first place?  Moreover, is he here encouraging the debtor to forge a new note?  is this action in order to help the steward or the debtor?  why does the debtor write a note for 50% of the promissory?  does this hide what the steward owes the master?  is the steward denying a cut that he otherwise would take?  is he getting out something (which is better than nothing) from the debtor?

Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’

What is a kor?  why use that word instead of "measure"?  again with the fake promissory note.  What is going on in that exchange and is the debtor writing his own ticket?  why here is it 80% percent (an increase from 50% and thus a 50-80-100, 5-8-10, relation)

And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.

So the master is bad too?  he would have to be if he commended an evil act.  OR he is foolish/duped for allowing himself to be fooled by the steward.  OR he is recognizing the wittiness and craft of the steward and thus overlooking the badness of the act.  OR is the action of the steward really truly prudent?  if so is this how we ought to act (for it seems the master/God is condoning the action)?  That makes little sense unless there is another meaning to what the steward is doing.  Is he forgiving the debtors over whom he previously had power, even power to bleed them dry?  Is the Christian act then to forgive our debtors as we have been forgiven our debts by the Lord?

“For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.

Notice the insertion of quotation marks here - why?  Is Christ suddenly talking when he wasn't before?  is this just to mark the end of the parable and beginning of the moral interpretation?  How do "children of this world" contrast "children of light"?  in which tribe did the evangelist intend his audience to fall?  in which camp do we fall?  Generally the "children of this world" are the sinister, corrupt types - full of guile - and the "children of light" are the saved, the righteous, the Christians.  Is it just that non-Christians are simply better when dealing with worldly things?  is this an indictment of millenial religiosity which seeks only the things of the next world?  the philosopher without the king part?

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Does one read this as "make friends with wealth"?  or as "employ wealth in order to make friends"?  or as "use only dishonest wealth (not honest)"?  the "it" seems to refer to wealth failing, but could it be the "it" is this world, this life?  if so, does making friends allow us to be welcomed in eternal dwellings?  or does making friends with wealth allow us to be welcomed into eternal dwellings?  and why that word, "dwellings"?  is there a contrast between "eternal dwellings" and "mortal dwellings' (it)?

The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.

Where does the steward of the story fit in this moralizing?  is he trustworthy in small matters and great? or is he dishonest in small matters and great?  if the former, do we emulate his actions in the parable above?  if the latter, why does he save his skin so successfully in the parable only to be pasted in the moral part of the story?  it seems that he is the trickster figure in the parable - the survivor and one for whom the outcome of his tricks is that he continues to prosper after his narrow scrape with ruin.  Then is he to be extolled, or is he a warning?
This section also resembles Matthew 25:14 - 30 in which the Lord says to the FAITHFUL servant who invests his talents wisely "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."  Why in Matthew is the recognition of being faithful over many things rewards being faithful in a few things given to the good servant whereas in Luke the same recognition is given to the "unjust" steward?  Is Luke wrong?  Is Matthew wrong? 

If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?

"true wealth" vs "dishonest wealth" seems to have the ring of immortal and mortal - dwellings that are eternal vs. dwellings that are mortal.  If you cannot be trusted to care for mortal things like the body and money and property in this life how can you be trusted with the true wealth of eternity (whatever that is)?  is true wealth a code for knowledge?  insight?  esoteric understanding (like casting pearls before swine)?  and "dishonest wealth" is the same phrase as above - to make friends with or to make friends by means of.  does "dishonest wealth" imply images, lies, deceptions such as mythology that draw a person into truth but are not themselves truth?  does dishonest wealth (which we are encouraged to make friends with and be trustworthy with) imply imagery and myth; thaumatapoioi?

If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?

"what is yours" - what does this mean?  what is "ours"?  the kingdom of heaven?  eternal dwellings?  and what is it that belongs to another?  and who is the "another"?

No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Mammon is traditionally the god of wealth - Pluto - Hades - lord of the underworld.  So if one is serving only him isn't one trapped in the cave of images?  is the gospel then encouraging us to move beyond the enslavement of images and using images as though our lives (or jobs) depend on bringing others to happiness and accord with the Lord?  Thus by saving others do we save ourselves?  I don't know.  But it rather seems that way.