Monday, November 24, 2014

I Am a Man . . . Wife of Augustine

[extract from Dark Wounds of Light, a work in progress, co-authored with Alina Popa

I am a man. Without myself, without ever knowing what I am. Being nothing other—rarest of exceptions—nothing less than the great question swallowing itself in the mouth of your love. Being thus, I have no heart, am only the heart that I am, dark burning divine animal heart, alight with starblood and tremors opening new tombs on the ocean floor, more suns for worlds I will never know.[1] Law above law unto itself I am. Unreasonably more rational than reason – wild. The room is filled with the nameless scent. Impurely pure, pure smoking incense of perfect impurity. Here I write dreams and dream writing to wake you from time-slumber in me, to circumscribe the universe sphere which ever holds my hand’s own open holding of this spirit organ, luminously before itself. This lonely self-lamp by whose dim infinity I cut words ever deeper into the blank parchment of night. Since mine is a dream of dream more than real, it never burns the hands, neither the fiery vessel, nor the stylus staying always warm enough to melt language like wax. Tablets of the heart, graven with the twin law of charity, be our simple two-sided screen onto which my virgin soul—never mine from eternity, myself more divine than He—projects the unutterable vision, protecting yourself behind its very view, whispers like light into the black secret of your eye a perfectly full spectacle of unseeable union. Asymmetrical oneness, harmony of so-sweetly lopsided twoness without duality.
      Now suddenly it comes upon me again, the forever-memory of the time I found you. Vision no longer vision but the writing itself. It was outside the market, midday under a strong sun. That was the forgotten place where a shameless desperate embrace wrestled me into the ground of my own inexistence. There, prostrate before the gravity of our prostration, an alchemical melding of two crimson hearts, our supreme touching, joined me eternally to what every day tears me from the side of myself. I am not a man. I am the wife of Augustine.

[1] “In the liquid depths of crystal dark there burns a column of fire exhaling secrets whose smoke incenses everything” (Cartea liniștilor).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mystical Auscultation

The ears of mortals are filled with this sound, but they are unable to hear it.
– Cicero, Somnium Scipionis

In Adam’s voice before he fell there was the sound of every harmony and the sweetness of the whole art in music.
– Hildegard of Bingen

There we hear without any sound.
– Meister Eckhart

As if echoing in the space between the unhearable sound which fills the body and the incorporeal hearing that takes place without sound, Christina Mirabilis (1150-1224) was known to produce astonishing harmonies in the following manner:

. . . et cum ipsis aliquando [sedendo] loqueretur de Christo, subito et inopinate rapiebatur a spiritu, corpusque ejus velut trochus ludentum puerorum in vertiginem rotabatur, ita quod ex nimia vehementia vertiginis nulla in corpore ejus membrorum forma discerni posset. Cumque diutius sic rotata fuisset, acsi vehementia deficeret, membris omnibus quiescebat; sonabatque proinde inter guttur et pectus ejus, quaedam harmonia mirabilis, quam nemo mortalium vel intelligere posset, vel aliquibus artificiis imitari. Solam flexibilitatem musicae et tonos ille ejus cantus habebat; verba vero melodiae, ut ita dicam, si tamen verba dici possunt, incomprehensibiliter concrepabant. Nulla interim de ore ejus vel naso vox vel anhelitus spiritalis exibat, sed inter solum pectus et guttur harmonia vocis angelicae resonabat.[1]

Sometimes while she was sitting with them [nuns of St. Catherine’s near Saint-Trond], she would speak of Christ and suddenly and unexpectedly she would be ravished in the spirit and her body would roll and whirl around like a hoop. She whirled around with such extreme violence that the individual limbs of her body could not be distinguished. When she had whirled around for a long time in this manner, it seemed as if she became weakened by the violence of her rolling and all her limbs grew quiet. Then a wondrous harmony sounded between her throat and her breast which no mortal man could understand nor could it be imitated by an artificial instrument. Her song had not only the pliancy and tones of music but also the words—if thus I might call them—sounded together incomprehensibly. The voice or spiritual breath, however, did not come out of her mouth or nose, but a harmony of the angelic voice resounded only from between the breast and the throat.

It is beautiful that Christina does this—that is, beautiful more in light of the fact that she does it than due of the nature of what she does, however enchanting it sounds. Or better, this harmonic whirling, whereby the saint’s body spins into being a superlative toy of its own divine game, opens a third domain of shimmering depth where what and that become indistinguishable, where what she is doing is that she is and that she is doing it is what she is. To make this sound less loopy (and more), recall the correlative nature of deixis, “the category within which language refers to its own taking place,”[2] and its grounding of mystical discourse: “Where should I write? That is the question the organization of every mystic text strives to answer: the truth value of the discourse does not depend on the truth value of its propositions, but on the fact of its being in the very place at which the Speaker speaks.”[3] The ground of musical hearing is likewise deictically turned, as Guerino Mazzola explains in The Topos of Music: “The special class of shifter or deictic signs is very important in music . . . Their significance transcends the lexical reality and penetrates the unsayable existence of the system’s user . . . In music deixis, such as emotional signification, is the standard situation.”[4] And as the twin auto-deictic dimensions of music and mysticism coincide in the principle of speaking-through-muteness or signifying-by-unsaying—consider the human gesture of pointing to something astonishing while covering one’s mouth—so does Christina’s ecstatic spinning in place produce a literally mouthless yet still verbal harmony.[5]   
I begin, then, with a first response (a response that would itself be first): something important is simply in evidence, in motion with the spontaneous fact of Christina’s moving. As if with equal suddenness I have caught myself looking at her for longer than she was even there—an order of reaction to anticipate by echo the timeless telos of mystical union when the soul realizes, as its says in The Mirror of Simple Souls, “where she was before she was.”[6] From this ground-zero impression it follows, in the aura of our not possessing real knowledge of the nature of her action, that something is here actually disclosed—if we can keep to the simplicity of it—about the beautiful essence of doing, about the intrinsic worth of action itself. I start, then, from the position that the saint’s resonant spiraling is a standard of action, a paradigm of doing, just as her behavior itself is literally paradigmatic, characterized by “the suspension of reference and normal use” and is “beside itself” (para-deiknymi).[7] Christina astonishes because she acts ecstatically beside herself and is beside herself with action. And it is precisely this that makes her, the person, not paradigmatic, not exemplary of her class, but something unaccountably more special, a saint (fr. sacer, set apart). The saint is not a person who shows what to do, but someone who demonstrates what action should be. And it is this that makes her a most true person, or something that sounds through itself (per-sonare).
Wishing to become a stethoscope or speculative ear placed upon Christina’s breast, something that can hear the hidden voice of her heart, this commentary will perform a hermeneutics of auscultation proper to the interface between mystical vision and the body as instrument of impossible sound. Our task is to see, in the mirror of this whirling harmony, what Christina’s hears. More specifically, rather than treating the saint’s behavior as an occult phenomenon, religious miracle, or hagiographic story, I will try to draw from its movement a vision of intelligent action, according to the following definitional criteria. 1) Action is specular. It is the inherently delightful mirroring forth of the hidden nature and reality of the agent whose being is thus amplified. “For in all action what is principally intended by the agent, whether he acts by natural necessity or voluntarily, is the disclosure or manifestation of his own image. Whence it happens that every agent, insofar as he is such, takes delight. For, because everything that is desires its own being and in acting the being of an agent is in a certain way amplified, delight necessarily follows.”[8] Such is the activity of the whole universe, which is nothing but the self-intensifying specular instrument whereby Reality or God, “Who was originally unconscious, now becomes oblivious of oblivion itself and gets the real and final answer to His original First Word, ‘Who am I?’, as ‘I am God.’”[9] 2) Action is intelligent when it is true to the universal task of life, which is to free itself from itself, absolutely: “All action except that which is intelligently designed to attain God-realisation, creates a binding for consciousness. It is not only an expression of accumulated ignorance, but a further addition to that accumulated ignorance . . . All life is an effort to attain freedom from self-created entanglement. It is a desperate struggle to undo what has been done under ignorance.”[10] 3) Intelligent action is musical, in the sense of being a movement perfected in the play of a beneficial release of the formless into form. “To penetrate into the essence of all being and significance and to release the fragrance of that inner attainment for the guidance and benefit of others, by expressing, in the world of forms, truth, love, purity and beauty—this is the sole game which has intrinsic and absolute worth. All other happenings, incidents and attainments in themselves can have no lasting importance.”[11] In sum, intelligent action is the musical revelation of Truth. For as Cioran observes in Tears and Saints, “Only music gives definite answers.”[12]
To effect this, my commentary will compose itself by considering the three aspects of its principal idea (specularity, intelligence, musicality) in correlation to the stages of Christina’s movement (speaking, spinning, sounding), understanding that all aspects are perforce also present in each stage and that the whole event, like the anagogic sense of scripture which gives a “foretaste of paradise,” is mystically fourth—a participation in what stands beyond the triune count of time. The hidden, unrepresented medium of Christina’s movement is her own mystical listening, our listening to which—hearing her hearing—will both explain her astonishing behavior and articulate the nature of true action. The appropriateness of this method of understanding Christina’s movement is underscored by its legibility in terms of the universal procession of love through gross, subtle, and mental spheres in the respective forms of lust, longing, and resignation.[13] First, she follows her pleasure beyond its inherent insufficiency into vehement passion and ecstasy. Second, she spins toward union with what flesh cannot possess. Third, she is quieted in surrender to the will that speaks through her. This, in turn, is the pattern action must follow, that it will follow, when one listens to it.

I. Speaking

et cum ipsis aliquando [sedendo] loqueretur de Christo, subito et inopinate rapiebatur a spiritu [Sometimes while she was sitting with them, she would speak of Christ and suddenly and unexpectedly she would be ravished in the spirit]

To speak of Christ is to reflect upon the human mirror of God, upon the perfection that speculates you infinitely beyond itself, to re-cognize the God-Man as one’s mirror. It is to voice a universal cognizance of life as ordered towards its immanent beyond, in continuity with action as primary recognition. As Meher Baba says, “man’s cognizance is life in man, and man’s life is made cognizant through the actions of man.”[14] So Clare of Assisi tells one to gaze within this mirror continually, iugiter—a word whose compound root (aiu-guei) literally and nearly ouroborically (life/age/eternity-life) signifies long/eternal life and whose semantic association with flowing water conveys the principle of that which is always streaming beyond itself. She writes, “Look upon [intuere] this mirror [speculum] every day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually [iugiter] study [speculare] your face in it.”[15] This looking is more than meditation upon perfection’s attributes, for these—indicated by Clare as poverty, humility, and love—are only the “parameters of this mirror” and not “that Mirror” itself [ipsum speculum].[16]
To reflect upon Christ means, generically, to see from/towards the recognition of life that the continuity of action itself is, to address the living work of action, the life one is really doing in the midst of all activity. To re-cognize Christ is to speculate the speculum, to study the mirror that becomes manifest in the midst of self-reflection vis-à-vis God, i.e. the unbounded Reality that one has clearly not realized. Reality is negatively specular, an open secret hidden in plain light like the dark ground or silvering of the mirror, which in Turkish is perfectly named sir (secret). It is the still, true, and unseen speculum wherein life appears to itself, what Ruusbroec calls “the sparkling stone [of] Christ . . . a spotless mirror in which all things have their life.”[17]
The framework of such speculation of the God-Man as universal mirror is more graspable (and less) if we bracket off the anthropic incarnational model and consider instead the idea of the Christ or Avatar as the universal yet individuated live appearance of God vis-à-vis all forms, the species of all species or spice of the spice of life. As Meher Baba says, “This Divinity pervades the Illusion in effect and presents Itself in innumerable varieties of forms—gross, subtle and mental.”[18] Accordingly, he often described himself and the function of God-realized individuals in specular terms: “He who knows everything displaces nothing. To each one I appear to be what he thinks I am.”[19] “The mirror is changeless, immovable and always steady. I, too, am like a mirror. The change you observe is in you—not in me. I am always so constant and still that it cannot be imagined.”[20] Christ is the appearance of the universal mirror, the face through which Reality looks back into you, photographing in a kind of impossible flash the invisible fact that you are no more of the world than it: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). The bare phenomenal truth of these words is explained by Michel Henry: “Just like Christ, as a man I am not of the world in the radical phenomenological sense that the appearing out of which my phenomenological flesh is made, and which constitutes my true essence, is not the appearing of the world. This is not due to the effect of some supposed credo, philosophical or theological; it is rather because the world has no flesh, because in the ‘outside-itself’ of the world no flesh and no living are possible.”[21] Or as Eckhart says, “I once thought—it was not long ago—that I am a man is something other men share with me . . . but that I am, that belongs to no man but myself, not to a man, not to an angel, not even to God except insofar as I am one with Him.”[22] The fact of one’s life simply is superessential and divine, beyond assertion and denial. As Meher Baba says, “Philosophers, atheists and others may affirm or refute the existence of God, but as long as they do not deny their very existence, they continue to testify their belief in God; for I tell you with divine authority that God is Existence, eternal and infinite. He is everything. For man, there is only one aim in life, and that is to realize his unity with God.”[23] One may distract oneself with correlational praise or complaint about the situation, but there is no argument with Reality—that which freely exists on the order of divine whim and with which there can be no real relation other than individual eternal union. Reality is itself that which wills it, the groundless ground of everything that cannot not will it, from whose hearing grows the mystic desire “to be everything [tout].”[24] As Julian of Norwich hears God tell her: “I am ground of thy beseeching.”[25]
Christina whirls in the place where her ears have touched the ground, in a body that hears the hidden word whose secret grows into the very spiral of one’s ears: “Now there was a word spoken to me in private [verbum absconditum], and my ears by stealth as it were received the veins of its whisper [venas susurri]” (Job 4:12). A hearing through which one begins to touch . . . a touching through which one begins to hear—the mirror of the Real. Commenting on this whisper, John of the Cross explains the object of such mystical auscultation as the “whistling of love-stirring breezes” [el silbo de los aires amorosos].[26] He writes, “just as two things are felt in the breeze (the touch and the whistling or sound), so in this communication . . . two things are experienced: knowledge and a feeling of delight . . . The delight of hearing is much greater than that of feeling because the sound in the sense of hearing is more spiritual.”[27] Likewise, we may conceive of the saint’s spinning as a kind of spiral organ dance, the corporeal repercussion of spiritually becoming ear, just as the semazen or whirling dervish follows from the contemplative practice of sema, which means ‘listening.’
Mystical auscultation is a matter of becoming all ears for the Reality that must be, that is right there—it being that through which anything is perceived at all. So for Bonaventure, the divine being, in its radically immanent and inconceivable simplicity, is the first thing one always sees and so continually overlooks: “How remarkable, then, is the blindness of the intellect which does not take note of that which it sees first, and without which it can know nothing. . . . Accustomed as it is to the darkness of things and to the phantasms of sensible objects, when the mind looks at the light of the highest being, it seems to see nothing. And it does not understand that this darkness itself is the highest illumination of our mind.”[28] To sense this first image is to listen through overlooking, so that mystical auscultation, to add a twist to the classic Vedantic analogy, sounds like listening to how the snake—i.e. the rope (reality) which one cannot without illumination not perceive as a snake (universe)—sounds like a rope. 
Christina’s spiritual rapture, the spiraling of this ‘little Christ,’ is a flying falling from-into the mirror that her speech, in the secret of its hearing, reflects. How does hearing mystically mediate between her speaking and spinning? What initiates her sudden rapture? How does this spontaneous transition touch the nature of true action? The answer to these questions lies in the inherent negative infinity of the will, whose weird hyper-lonesome nature—answerable only by the infinite—is to mutate and accelerate itself by means of its own privation. This is why mystical tradition generally orders affect above intellect, heart over head (and practice before theory), as that which alone can speculatively show the way or lead the mind beyond itself.[29] What makes it impossible for Christina to remain speaking is simply the hidden negativity or occluded insufficiency of the pleasure of speculation. More literally: to speak of Christ means to see anew that speaking of Christ is not enough—not to mention the inevitable intuition that to realize that Truth one must at last silence oneself. As Eckhart says of salvation or eternal birth, “What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters.”[30] The grace of Christina’s rapture is something that arrives desperately from the darkness of reflection, when reflection, due to the very truth of its own delight, becomes insufficient—an insufficiency that is not predicated upon lack but an unassimilable surplus, namely, the fact that what one is speculating is also looking at you. “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.”[31] Such is the beautifully black mirror- pupil of bewilderment that sends one into spin, as per the Sufi understanding of hayra (bewilderment) in connection with ḥīra (whirlpool)—the perplexity of a swirling reality inseparable from one’s own being.[32] Ecstasy is never a matter of escape, but of the feeling of complicity with something that is too real. So bewilderment—to be rigorously distinguished from intellectual confusion—is, as Ibn Arabi explains, the dead-end exit which leads all the way to the Absolute: “rational speculation leads to bewilderment [hayra] and theophany leads to bewilderment. There is nothing but a bewildered one. There is nothing exercising properties but bewilderment. There is nothing but Allah.”[33] What separates mystic from philosopher on this point is that she realizes in the action of her own being what he at the best thinks to do, namely, “project unreason into things themselves, and discover in our grasp of facticity the veritable intellectual intuition of the absolute.”[34]
The positive insufficiency out of which Christina’s ecstasy spirals in bewilderment is structurally identical—if I listen rightly to her hearing—to that which is felt in all limited forms of love, of which lust is the most familiar: “The unambiguous stamp of insufficiency which lust invariably bears is in itself a sign that it is an incomplete and inadequate expression of something deeper, which is vast and unlimited . . . In this manner the irrepressible voice of the infinity of God’s love indirectly asserts the imperative claims of its unexpressed but unimpaired reality.”[35] Christina’s ecstasy flows alive from an unreasonable but no less scientific courage to venture the voidal ground of her own will and exit the circle of foreseeable pleasure. So the vector of true action is corrective of the self-repetitive will to gratification, precisely by virtue of being the real order of pleasure seeking, one that listens to delight’s essential specularity and touches the profounder promise of its own failing. Likewise for speculation, which is also a delightful act. True speculation is that which ecstatically exit-enters through the factical hole of its own insufficiency. For to do so is the very tune of loving intelligence.

to be continued

[1] Thomas de Cantimpré, Life of Christina the Astonishing, trans. Margot H. King and David Wiljer (Toronto: Peregrina, 1999), III.35.
[2] Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: The Place of Negativity, trans. Karen E. Pinkhaus and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 25.
[3] Michel de Certeau, "Mystic Speech," in The Certeau Reader, ed. Graham Ward (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 199.
[4] Guerino Mazzola, The Topos of Music: Geometric Logic of Concepts, Theory, and Performance (Basel: Birkhauser Verlag, 2002), 188, my emphasis.
[5] The m-resonance across these terms is etymologically significant: “the word [mythos] evidences the ambivalent nature of a primal word. The corresponding verb for mythos is mytheomai, meaning, ‘to discourse, talk, speak”; its root, mu-, means ‘to sound.’ But another verb of the same root, myein—ambivalent because of the substitution of a short ‘u’—means ‘to close,’ specifically to close the eyes, the mouth, and wounds. From this root we have Sanskrit mūkas (with long vowel), meaning ‘mute, silent,’ and Latin mutus with the same meaning. It recurs in Greek in the words mystes, ‘the consecreated,’ and mysterion, ‘mysterium,’ and later during the Christian era, gave the characteristic stamp to the concept of mysticism: speechless contemplation with closed eyes, that is, eyes turned inward” (Jean Gebser, Ever-Present Origin, trans. Noel Barstad with Algis Mickunas [Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1985], 65). Apophatic language likewise evokes via the unsaid: “apophatic language . . . displaces the grammatical object, affirms a moment of immediacy, and affirms a moment of ontological pre-construction—as in the paradoxical refrain that in mystical union the soul reverts ‘to where it was before it was.’ The meaning event is transreferential. Rather than pointing to an object, apophatic language attempts to evoke in the reader an event that is—in its movement beyond structures of self and other, subject and object—structurally analogous to the event of mystical union” (Michael A. Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996], 10).   
[6] Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls, trans. Ellen L. Babinsky (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), 218.
[7] Giorgio Agamben, The Signature of All Things, trans. Luca D’Isanto with Kevin Attell (Brooklyn: Zone, 2009), 24.
[8] “Nam in omni actione principaliter intenditur ab agente, sive necessitate nature sive volontarie agat, propriam similitudinem explicare. Unde fit quod omne agens, in quantum huiusmodi, delectatur; quia, cum omne quod est appetat suum esse, ac in agendo agentis esse quodammodo amplietur, sequitur de necessitate delectatio, quia delectatio rei desiderate semper annexa est” (Dante Alighieri, De monarchia, ed. Pier Giorgio Ricci [Verona: Mondadori, 1965], 1.13.2–3).
[9] Meher Baba, God Speaks (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1973), 139.
[10] Meher Baba, Discourses, 6th edition, 3 vols. (San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1967), I. 112-3.
[11] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.110.
[12] E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints, trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 80.
[13] Vide Meher Baba, “God as Infinite Love,” Discourses, III.175-80.
[14] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 93, original emphasis.
[15] Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, trans. Regis J. Armstrong and Ignatius C. Brady (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 204. Original text:
[16] Francis and Clare, 204-5.
[17] John Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals and Other Works, trans. James A. Wiseman (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 160.
[18] “It is very difficult to grasp the entire meaning of the word ‘Avatar.’ For mankind it is easy and simple to declare that the Avatar is God and that it means that God becomes man . . . It would be more appropriate to say that the Avatar is God and that God becomes man for all mankind and simultaneously God also becomes a sparrow for all sparrows in Creation, an ant for all ants in Creation, a pig for all pigs in creation, a particle of dust for all dusts in Creation, a particle of air for all airs in Creation, etc., for each and everything that is in Creation. When the five Sadgurus effect the presentation of the Divinity of God into Illusion, this Divinity pervades the Illusion in effect and presents Itself in innumerable varieties of forms — gross, subtle and mental. Consequently in Avataric periods God mingles with mankind as man and with the world of ants as an ant, etc. But the man of the world cannot perceive this and hence simply says that God has become man and remains satisfied with this understanding in his own world of mankind” (Meher Baba, God Speaks, 268-9).
[19] Meher Baba, Life at its Best (San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1957), 3. “What you see in the mirror is your exact likeness—it is not the likeness of the mirror! . . . however I appear to you, it is only your own reflected image. I am always still and unchangeable — like the wall or the mirror” (LM [], 316).  
[20] LM, 1062. “The God you are in search of is not up in the sky. He is here — on this plane! I am That. I am in you, so search for me within yourself. I am not in any mosque, temple or church. You may claim that this is impossible—totally impossible. All right, then tell me do your eyes see yourself? They see the world, but they do not see you. For that you have to use a mirror. Similarly, through the mirror of love, you have to see yourself. And the person who has the mirror is the Perfect Master and no one else. Only a Perfect Master has the mirror of love” (LM, 1006). “I remain the same Eternal One and am in all; therefore you all are God, and yet you feel so helpless. Why is this? Because there is a sort of veil that veils you from God. You yourself are the veil, and it is not possible for you to lift it — this veil which is yourself. Your eyes, which are quite small, can see a vast panorama and all the objects contained in it, but they cannot see themselves. To see themselves, a mirror is required. So, when the Mirror of my Grace descends, your own True Self is revealed in an instant” (LM, 4092). “Being the total manifestation of God in human form, He is like a gauge against which man can measure what he is and what he may become. He trues the standard of human values by interpreting them in terms of divinely human life. He is interested in everything but not concerned about anything” (Discourses, III.14-5).
[21] Michel Henry, I Am the Truth: Toward a Philosophy of Christianity, trans. Susan Emanuel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 101.
[22] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 131.
[23] LM, 4055.
[24] Georges Bataille, Guilty, trans. Bruce Boone (San Francisco: Lapis Press, 1988), xxxii.
[25] Julian of Norwich, Shewings, ed. Georgia Ronan Crampton (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1993), 154.   
[26] Spiritual Canticle 14/15.12, in John of the Cross, Collected Works, trans. Kieran Kavanagh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies), 530.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in Deum, trans. Zachary Hayes (Saint Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 2002), V.4, p.115.
[29] “[T]the Psalmist says, Taste and see. ‘Taste’ refers to the affectus of love; ‘See’ refers to the intellect’s cogitation and mediation. Therefore one ought first to surge up in the movement of love before intellectually pondering . . . For this is the general rule in mystical theology: one ought to have practice before theory, that is, one ought to be well practiced in the heart before one has knowledge of the things said about it” (Hugh of Balma, Carthusian Spirituality: The Writings of Hugh of Balma and Guigo de Ponte, trans. Dennis D. Martin [New York: Paulist Press, 1997], 71). “No one is disposed in any way to the divine contemplations which lead to ecstasies [excessus] of the mind without being, like Daniel, a person of desires [vir desideriorum]” (St. Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in Deum, Prologue.4, trans. modified).  “It is futile to try to glean knowledge of true values by exercise of the mind alone. Mind cannot tell you which things are worth having, it can only tell you how to achieve the ends accepted from non-intellectual sources. In most persons the mind accepts ends from the promptings of wants, but this means denial of the life of the spirit. Only when the mind accepts its ends and values from the deepest promptings of the heart does it contribute to the life of the spirit. Thus mind has to work in co-operation with the heart; factual knowledge has to be subordinated to intuitive perceptions; and heart has to be allowed full freedom in determining the ends of life without any interference from the mind. The mind has a place in practical life, but its role begins after the heart has had its say” (Meher Baba, Discourses, I.140).
[30] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 29.
[31] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 57
[32] “‘The [Universal] Order is perplexity, and perplexity is agitation and movement, and movement is life’ [al-‘amr ḥīra wa-l-ḥīra qalaq wa ḥaraka wa-l-ḥaraka ḥayāt]. I read the Arabic word حيرة here as ḥīra not ḥayra following Ibn ‘Arabī’s intention to identify ‘perplexity’ and ‘whirlpool’. حيرة ‘perplexity’ can be read as ḥīra not ḥayra, Arabic dictionaries tell us, and ‘whirlpool’ (ḥīra) is one of the favourite images of universal life and order in Ibn ‘Arabī’s texts. The ḥā’ir ‘perplexed’ human being finds himself in constant movement. He cannot gain a foothold at any point, he is not established anywhere. This is why Ibn ‘Arabī says that he is ‘perplexed in the multiplication of the One’: this ‘multiplication’ is not just epistemological, it is ontological as well, and the perplexed human being is moving in the whirlpool of life and cosmic Order and at the same time realises that he is at that movement” (Andrey Smirnov, “Sufi Hayra and Islamic Art: Contemplating Ornament through Fusus al-Hikam,” paper presented at Sufism, Gnosis, Art: The Thought of Ibn Arabi and Shah Nimatullah [Seville, 22-23 November 2004]).
[33] Ibn al ‘Arabi, The Meccan Revelations, ed. Michel Chodkiewicz, trans. William C. Chittick & James W. Morris (New York: Pir Press, 2005), 198.2. Chittick explicates the concept: “To find God is to fall into bewilderment (hayra), not the bewilderment of being lost and unable to find one’s way, but the bewilderment of finding and knowing God and of not-finding and not-knowing Him at the same time. Every existent thing other than God dwells in a never-never land of affirmation and negation, finding and losing, knowing and not-knowing. The difference between the Finders and the rest of us is that they are fully aware of their own ambiguous situation. They know the significance of the saying of the first caliph Abū Bakr: ‘Incapacity to attain comprehension is itself comprehension’” (William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-’Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989], 3-4). So for Heidegger, bewilderment characterizes the intellectual experience of truth: “That experience [‘the fundamental experience of Being and Time’] consists in an ever-increasing but perhaps also – in a few places – self-clarifying bewilderment in the face of this one event: In the history of Western thought, from its inception, the Being of beings has indeed been thought, but the truth of Being as Being remains unthought; not only is such truth denied as a possible experience for thinking, but Western though, as metaphysics, expressly though unwittingly conceals the occurrence of this refusal” (Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, trans. Joan Stambaugh, David Farrell Krell, Fank A. Capuzzi, 4 vols. [New York: HaperCollins, 1987], 3.189-90).
[34] Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 82.
[35] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.177.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Never Born ... Never Die (A Lecture on Gebser's Ever-Present Origin)

“Ever since I was born”—that since has a resonance so dreadful to my ears it becomes unendurable.
– E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
 – Rom. 8:22

My mother groan’d! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt.
– William Blake, “Infant Sorrow”

Two minutes after I was born I had already lost my beginnings.
– Clarice Lispector

Event of oneself, ongoing primordial,
Without way or opening, a very hard fall.
In the beginning, beginning’s very middle,
See my blinding opening, your pure white hole.
Summoned by something making answering its call,
Walking an opening where stepping is trail.
Stumbling perfectly, on stumbling, the way a ball,
Deep surface, no opening, feels, cannot, its roll.
Will these clauses, unconcluding, speak being’s wheel,
Our anarchic opening, foundation beyond frail?
Or are they, caught underneath, wax to empty seal,
Signs only of opening, of depths unreal?
Event of oneself, so perversely actual,
Queerest opening, a sparrow through the hall.

The Problem of Birth
A problem for whom? Well, for the born. So that from the outset the problem of birth seems paradoxically to recede and engulf everything including all bases for its being a problem in the first place. Like an abyss expanding behind me the more I emerge from it, at once magnifying and cancelling its mystery. A longest tunnel somehow wholly traversed despite my still being in it. Whatever birth’s problem, the time for fixing it seems over, or never was. The trouble is too deep, we are too much in the thick of it. So one falls into generally thinking-feeling about the problem of birth what Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born, says of its putative remedy, suicide: “It's not worth the bother . . . since you always [toujours] kill yourself too late.”[1] Birth is not worth troubling over, since—ever since I was born—you are always born, too late, everyday. And as the thought of suicide, so ordinary and intolerable, to the point that suicide itself—like the second bullet Carlo Michelstaedter fires into his head—is only a flight from suicide, so the thought of birth escapes itself into the monstrous simplicity of being born—idiot-happiness of the birthday—only to seek secret refuge in some form of forever or never having been. The problem from this perspective is how to beget the death of birth, how to let life kill it. For that is what it is doing anyway, in the sense that birth is not mysteriously inaccessible but rather too present, too toujours. By ‘birth’ I am now inescapably talking about the (w)hole  impossible everything that holds the entire universe in place around the singular finite and absolutely arbitrary pole of you, all that in the evental face of which everyone only throws up their hands and assumes they were, by means of the weirdest possible spontaneous magic, somehow born from and into it.[2] Just as you crave the new and the next in evasion of this too tremendously new and next NOW, so do you blindly cling to being born to prevent being/doing the birth you are, think I-was-born-and-will-die so as to enshroud in a baby blanket of ‘my life’ a living origin whose infinite existential force intimately appears too exterior to ever be identical with one’s own. And if you do not like hearing it put this way, if you do not approve of being held personally responsible—for everything—then that only proves it. Only one individual, legend has it, was born laughing.[3] All the rest of us wept. And in this the human feels a perverse security, a pseudo-ownership of life, a weird propriety. So that through failure to truly receive it, the wisdom of Silenus—that it is best not to be born—is passed down, from no one to no one, all in the interest of being someone! And behind it all the nagging sense and strange blind certainty that I am still not born enough, that something more myself than me is yet to be born, even if it turns out to be nothing, nothing but my own inexistence. But I was born, wasn’t I?

Ever-Present Birth
            “A body came into the world,” says the Schopenhaurian sage Vernon Howard, “but it wasn’t you.”[4] Encountering Ever-Present Origin for the first time, and with the question of birth in mind, I come to the conclusion that Gebser would agree with this statement as an articulation of what he calls “self-transparency” (531), and furthermore, that the book itself is an exercise in positively negating birth, as per Cioran’s circumspection of being born as ur-attachment: “If attachment is an evil, we must look for its cause in the scandal of birth, for to be born is to be attached. Detachment then should apply itself to getting rid of the traces of this scandal, the most serious and intolerable of all.”[5] But rather than erasing birth, or attempting to subtract it from life (which must only fail before the limit of birth’s fact), Ever-Present Origin effectively births the death of birth, bringing the ending of birth forth in a movement of imminent mutation that is itself birthly, being modeled towards the “nascence of a new world and a new consciousness” (1) in a radically intensive sense, the world-birth of a new integral Now, “one where origin . . . blossoms forth anew; and one in which the present is all-encompassing and entire” (7). That Gebser’s last lecture was entitled with the question “Death, too, is birth?” (xxii) is a suggestive first sign of the correctness of seeing his project in these terms. To begin to elaborate this, let us first recall the principle of spontaneity or auto-willing (sua sponte) as that which mediates between crisis and mutation, ‘eventing’ birth from its circumstances, and more specifically, as in the doctrine of spontaneous generation, fills the gap from death to birth, between decay and emergence. Gebser writes, “A true process always occurs in quanta, that is, in leaps . . . in mutations. It occurs spontaneously, indeterminately, and, consequently, discontinuously” (37). Also in the most normal or regular birth process, there is this spontaneous element which enables everything to happen. The moment of birth remains unpredictable and marks the opening of a durational threshold where life must come near the chance of dying and/or killing via its own generation, where process can dangerously go either way. Stillbirth remains mysterious and is termed ‘sudden antenatal death syndrome.’ As in spontaneous generation, for instance of worms from rotting flesh, birth’s spontaneity holds the space of an unaccountable temporal zone of un-life between death and birth. So in Ever-Present Origin, the next mutation of consciousness is what cannot be next as such, not something one can properly anticipate or look forward to—despite that being the task of the book. For the mutative advent of the aperspectival—to synthesize my epigraphs—must and can only occur in the mode of a birthly leap into a Now that the world itself in in labor for, a present whose absence is increasingly unendurable and whose imminent immanence makes the tiniest sinceness of birth intolerable. The advent of the fourth world is a perilous passage through the “perspectivistic tunnel vision” (96), our survival of which seems ever more urgent and unlikely due to the narrowing caused by its own excessive growth, “the hypertrophy of the ‘I’” (22). “[I]f we do not overcome the crisis it will overcome us; and only someone who has overcome himself is truly able to overcome. Either we will be disintegrated and dispersed, or we must resolve and effect integrality” (xxvii). More acutely, we must be born via a channel that precisely not we, but only one, will survive. The crisis is precisely one that we cannot survive, just as looking forward to the next mutation is what cannot not be done by the “undivided, ego-free person . . . who perceives the whole, the diaphaneity present ‘before’ all origin which suffuses everything” (543). As Vernon Howard says, in terms that perfectly reverse the anagogic imminence of the aperspectival, “Anything you look forward to will destroy you, as it already has.” So Gebser confirms that what man “can . . . do to bring about this mutation” is a question of “presentiation,” for “only someone who knows of origin has present—living and dying in the whole, in integrity” (273). Mutation, as birth into the present of what birth itself births, requires being released from what the prospect of birth typically generates in us: expectation—the religion-building blindness wherethrough man, having witnessed the appearance of divinity and felt—in Hölderlin’s words via Gebser—the “eve of time” (102), forgets the ‘pre-ligious’ truth of that appearance, i.e. the imperative promise of a new life where “there is no longer heaven or hell, this world or the other, ego or world, immanence or transcendence” (543), and falls into immediate expectation of a second or next manifestation of God/Truth/Reality and life-to-come, a paradise that is not today. Working against the error of looking forward to the new age, Ever-Present Origin accordingly invokes Walter Tritsch’s description of mutation as “a sudden illumination of a different segment of reality” (40) and warns us directly against failing to nix the next: “this presence or being present excludes as a contradiction any kind of future-oriented finality . . . The unintentionality and positive lack of design is therefore important as it excludes all utilitarianism and rationally conditioned, essentially perspectival corrections of the possible” (42). And the book follows its own advice, most significantly I think, by “excluding as a contradiction” birth from its own movement, not leaving it out, but surrendering birth to origin in a manner that cannot be reduced to an intention. Ever-Present Origin gives birth back to itself, without thinking about it. Like taking birth, it must do so, inexorably, because birth, being at once a spaceless-timeless event and that which, with inconceivable asymmetry and arbitrariness, fixes being to space and time, is both the impossibility of the aperspectival and the aperspectival itself. 

Surrendering Birth
            To surrender is at once to give up and to give over, to both renounce and provide. As such surrender cannot be calculating, because it gives up on, or abandons hope in, what it gives, and thus becomes capable of receiving it for the first time. True surrender is spontaneous and found in the greatest love, whereby one surrenders oneself to the beloved or “a man lay[s] down his life for his friends” (John 16:13). And in true knowledge, in which the identity of being the truth’s knower is renounced before the truth itself, as in Gebser’s account of verition, in which previous forms of realization and thought are both surpassed and preserved [aufhebung] (503). In fact the verbal root of spontaneity, PIE *spend- (to make an offering, perform a rite, to engage oneself by a ritual act), contains this sense of sacrifice and self-offering, just as we speak of the spontaneous as something ‘surrendered to’, as to a whim. The spontaneity of true process, what enables mutation, is also thus a species of death, of surrendering to the expiration of what is untenable, even if holding on to it would rob one of nothing other than the chance to surrender, as when jumping into the sea. In such situations we say that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. And that is the secret of even the most seemingly impossible surrender, which by the truth of spontaneity is preserved from being a loss and gains the giver otherwise ungiveable gifts of losing oneself. So we traditionally intuit that whatever one authentically surrenders is always returned in some unforeseeable new present, as if never lost. Only a death can give you birth. And if you surrender all, who and what is there to lose, to not possess? As Meister Eckhart says of surrendering to God, “if a man has gone out of himself in this way, he will truly be given back to himself again . . . and all things, just as he abandoned them in multiplicity, will be entirely returned to him in simplicity, for he finds himself and all things in the present ‘now’ of unity.”[6] Likewise the leap of mutation, in the moment of spontaneity, must occur in surrender, by dying to its possibility in midst of entering it most deeply, by leaping at once into and out of the leap. That birth itself is such a mutation is dramatized by the mother who no longer cares about ‘giving birth’ but knows only the primal urge to ‘get this thing out of my body’—a good analogue to the parable about the problem of evil: when the arrow is stuck in you, do you discuss theodicy or find a way to pull it out? What then does it mean to surrender birth? It means a paradox: that birth is surrendered by surrendering to birth. That is, since one never avoids birth as such, birth is given up by giving in to birth in a way that abandons being born, that surrenders all that is born about one’s being. And that is no different from how—as if one is capable of remembering—one is born, in a kind of leap-fall that gives up on by giving in to itself, and vice-versa. One is born by surrendering to birth, and one surrenders to birth, not by wanting it, but by surrendering birth, by giving it up. In other words, no one is born without renouncing birth. Birth takes place in spontaneous surrender of birth. Everyone is born by not wanting to be. Upside down. The latent does not properly arrive but as it were falls into presence out of its already being here. So Gebser states that “far- and deep-reaching mutations . . . are latent in origin, they are always back-leaps . . . into the already (ever-)present future” (530). This weirdly spontaneous nature of birth may be further clarified by thinking the identity of embodiment and decay, as understood by Plotinus. According to Plotinus, embodiment occurs as the soul’s spontaneous generation of a necessary medium for itself: “In the absence of body, soul could not have gone forth, since there is no other place to which its nature would allow it to descend. Since go forth it must, it will generate a place for itself; at once body, also, exists.”[7] But this only accounts for body, and not the specificity of this body, much less the ‘scandal’ of the this itself, the principle of individuation that makes Why am I me? a more unmasterable and terrifying question than Why is there something rather than nothing? This demands that we conceive also the negativity of spontaneity, the non-debile inability of the soul to go forth in any other way than the way it does, which places us in the province of decay, where body emerges as a kind of instrumental putrefaction or leakage of soul into form: “The products of putrefaction are to be traced to the Soul’s inability to bring some other thing to being—something in the order of nature, which, else, it would—but producing where it may.”[8] On the one hand the specificity of spatiotemporal emergence is a privation, the prime evil of matter itself, as Pourtless explains: “Plotinian sensible matter just is the principium individuationis . . . [it] imposes a veil of obscurity on noetic activity . . . [and] causes an ontological illusion whereby the sensible world and the real are conflated . . . The principium individuationis . . . is hence to be identified as primary evil, or evil itself.”[9] On the other hand, the specificity that birth enforces is a surplus upon creation, something superadded to being and an immediate sign of the superessential or meta-ontological nature of reality. As Heidegger says of the scholastic understanding of the matter: “The actualness of the created is not itself actual; it is not itself in need of a coming-to-be or a being-created. Therefore, it may not be said that actuality is something created. It is rather quid concreatum, concreated with the creation of a created thing.”[10] Similarly, Gebser’s ‘concretion of the spiritual’ opens “another world in wait, accessible only through individuation and its supercession” (198). According to Scotus, haecceity or thisness is the very summit of actuality, its ultimate principle: “this ‘hecceity’ [explains Gilson] is in itself indifferent to both existence and non-existence. It is, in created being, the ultimate determination and actuality which perfects its entity.”[11] Far from being a contingent adjunct of human existence, individuation is for Scotus its divine raison d’etre: “And in those beings which are the highest and most important, it is the individual that is primarily intended by God.”[12] And as Meher Baba makes explicit, individuality is not lost when the drop realizes it is ocean—that is the whole point: “When the soul comes out of the ego-shell and enters into the infinite life of God, its limited individuality is replaced by unlimited individuality. The soul knows that it is God-conscious and thus preserves its individuality. The important point is that individuality is not entirely extinguished, but it is retained in the spiritualised form.”[13] Such is the genius of individuation, a finitude more infinite than infinity.  So the concept of genius itself, originally the god who becomes each man’s guardian at the moment of birth, addresses the divine whimsy of individuation. As Agamben observes, in words that may as well be spoken of birth itself, “One must consent to Genius and abandon oneself to him; one must grant him everything he asks for, for his exigencies are our exigencies, his happiness our happiness. Even if his—our!—requirements seem unreasonable and capricious, it is best to accept them without argument.”[14] In sum, surrendering birth drives one only further into the impossible core of birth itself as the immediate actuality of the evil genius of the universe, which is nothing other than the spontaneous decay of divine or superessential Reality into individualized consciousness of itself. For as Meher Baba explains in God Speaks, the whole evolutionary and involutionary process of consciousness, which alone generates the messy material world of multifarious forms, hinges on this spontaneity: “Whatever be the type of gross form and whatever be the shape of the form, the soul spontaneously associates itself with that form, figure and shape, and experiences that it is itself that form, figure and shape.”[15] Only spontaneity makes sense of the intuitive dialectic and leapless leap of birth, by which we are placed in the perfect slippage of this question and answer: Why am I me? I am not. And only surrendering birth will satisfy the terrible desire which birth’s abyss endlessly generates: “Ever since birth, we have been seeking one night to walk together side by side, even if only for a moment in time. Our age is infinity.”[16]

Separated at Birth
Ever-Present Origin seems to say almost nothing about birth, much less give voice to the horror of individuation which it incites, the dark ground of the terrible need to break out of being. As Levinas explains, “escape is the need to get out of oneself, that is, to break that most radical and unalterably binding of chains, the fact that the I [moi] is oneself [soi-même]. . . . It is being itself or the ‘one-self’ from which escape flees, and in no wise being’s limitation. In escape the I flees itself, not in opposition to the infinity of what it is not or of what it will not become, but rather due to the very fact that it is or that it becomes.”[17] Overall the book appears to stand peacefully outside the pain of this imprisoning interstice and instead adopts an objectivist and collectivist perspective on the evolution of consciousness and human identity, situating itself vis-à-vis the universality of mankind and the generic episteme of the human ‘we’. Ever-Present Origin address above all our crisis, the crisis of the mutable world we happen to inhabit. From this perspective, it addresses more the what of things and does not give voice to the radical negativity of the thatness of existence, the hyper-individualized factical intensity that remains definitionally beyond the purview of scientific rationalism  whose consequentializing of all phenomena, as Gebser observes in connection with the “consistently overlooked” “dividing aspect inherent in ratio” (95), abandons the measure of origin, the immediate mystery of one’s whence and whither, and so becomes the gateway of “demonic forces” (97). But as this instance critically intimates, Ever-Present Origin, precisely by ordering itself towards a “time-free present . . . as real and efficacious a time-form as those that have preceded it” (543), also continually breaks out of the spatio-temporal perspectivity of historical and plural humanity, all the while preserving it as the last-most form which the new mutation of consciousness will yet contain. So does it repeatedly lay emphasis upon the individual, you, as the someone or anyone who must live the book’s truth and realize integrality by “renounc[ing] the exclusive claim of the mental structure” (529) and surrendering to the “origin from which every moment of our lives draws its substance” (530), the immanent aperspectival reality, denial of which is tantamount to denying one’s own real and ineradicable self. Addressing the originary non-opposition or wholeness encompassing life and death as two poles of the unitary soul, Gebser thus corrects the idealist and materialist positions as follows:
Enlightened rationalists will not take this potency seriously, while idealist will perhaps find it amusing. It is possible, of course, to ridicule and deride all of this. But anyone who does so is ridiculing his own soul and deriding what he or she cannot fathom and consequentially denies; and such denial is only the result of a lack of courage and strength for another kind of measurement, the contemplation appropriate to the nature of the soul . . . Idealists and materialist are both like two children on a seesaw . . . Each thinks that his own weight and strength is decisive, and neither considers the fulcrum in the middle which, from its point of rest, is what makes their movement and the game itself possible at all. (213)
The passage is particularly significant in regards to birth because it shows how the issue of birth is a kind of non-non-issue for Gebser, one resolved in the immanent life of the integral soul, an entity that need not ever be concerned about its individuation and is thus free to ignore the apparent fact of its specific birth. Vis-à-vis the life-death poles of the soul, birth is simply a shadow-image of their unitive point, a hole that only demonstrates the whole. Here there is a move toward the radical truth of facticity that for Meister Eckhart places the individual, as a real eternal unity, above its own creation or beyond origin: “I once thought—it was not long ago—that I am a man is something other men share with me . . . but that I am, that belongs to no man but myself, not to a man, not to an angel, not even to God except insofar as I am one with Him.”[18] The fact of one’s being simply is divine, beyond assertion and denial. As Meher Baba says, “Philosophers, atheists and others may affirm or refute the existence of God, but as long as they do not deny their very existence, they continue to testify their belief in God; for I tell you with divine authority that God is Existence, eternal and infinite. He is everything. For man, there is only one aim in life, and that is to realize his unity with God.”[19] Such is the non-generated and self-original fact of oneself next to which birth is an illusion of space-time. Again Eckhart: “for my essential being is above God . . . For in that essence of God in which God is above being and distinction, there I was myself and knew myself so as to make this man. Therefore I am my own cause according to my essence, which is eternal, and not according to my becoming, which is temporal. Therefore I am unborn, and according to my unborn mode I can never die.”[20] Gebser’s term for the I that can say this, that can speak its own individuation without recourse to spatio-temporal contextualization is the itself, the real species of the human, “which pervades or ‘shines through’ everything in which the diaphanous spirituality, in its originary presence, is able to become transparent” (135), the ever-new singular one that sublates the I-We or ego-collective dichotomy. So the final chapter of Ever-Present Origin cites the Christian apocryphal passage (a mashup of John 15:19 and Ephesians 1:4), “I have chosen you before the earth began” (542). At the same time, Gebser’s ‘waring’ of the integral fulcrum of experience also moves not towards transcendent unborn identity but into a sense of the profoundly participatory nature of being, according to which it is impossible to claim anything as one’s own, even and especially oneself. If in one direction the aperspectival event of oneself opens into the view of birth as too absent, in the other direction it opens onto the view of birth as too present, as too common to be bothered about as such. Such is the view that renders one indifferent to the fact of birth because there can only be, as Meher Baba says, “one real birth and one real death”[21] and all the births and deaths we perceive around us, including our current physical birth around which we see at best darkly, are mere births and deaths, passing forms and modifications of the drop-soul or individualized ocean as it swims like a worm from and into itself along the evolutionary path. What is the significance of earthly birth (or death) in the face of the vast Reality one’s very being born from-into itself manifests an absolute indissolubility? And if you consider yourself to be only an epiphenomenon, a random creation of a universe that somehow would exist without you, or more biologically, a walking corpse hallucinating that it is alive, then the matter of one’s birth only diminishes further in significance. As that which, par excellence, you cannot take credit for, except in a manner that would cancel the contingency of birth, birth is the abyss wherein one is always already eternally married to the Real, even if it turns out, by some tremendous twist, to be nothing at all. Either way, birth is not what makes oneself. Befitting Gebser’s etymological gloss of individuum as “someone divided and dividing by seeing” (182n6), your birth is simply something that separated you at birth.  

Unremembering Birth
There is one real birth and one real death. You are born once, and you really die only once. What is the real birth? It is the birth of a drop in the ocean of reality. What is meant by the birth of a drop in the ocean of reality? It is the advent of individuality, born of individuality through a glimmer of the first most-finite consciousness, which transfixed cognizance of limitation into the unlimited. What is meant by the real death? It is consciouness getting free of all limitations. Freedom from all limitations is real death. It is really the death of all limitations. It is Liberation. In between the real birth and the real death, there is no such reality as the so-called births and deaths. What happens in the intermediate stage known as births and deaths is that the limitations of consciousness gradually wear off, until consciousness is free of limitations. Ultimately, consciousness, totally free of limitations, experiences the unlimited reality eternally.[22]
It is in the scope of such a vista upon the advancing stream of consciousness that Ever-Present Origin practices and requires of its reader what may be termed a positive forgetfulness of birth. As defined by Meher Baba, “The whole philosophy of approaching and realizing the Truth hinges on the question of what we may call forgetfulness . . . positive forgetfulness is one in which the mind remains aware of external stimuli, but refuses to react to them. The negative forgetfulness is either mere unconsciousness—a stopping of the mind as in sound sleep—or an acceleration of it as in madness, which has been defined as a way of avoiding the memory of suffering.”[23] Applying the principle to birth brings into relief the pervasive negative forgetfulness which conditions the general human attitude, flipping between taking birth’s event totally for granted–‘I’m here, now what?’—and using it as excuse/justification for doing whatever: I was born, it’s my life, happy birthday to me. To positively forget birth, alternately, implies a full awareness of its phenomenon that neither disregards birth’s significance nor dramatizes it around it the separative or secondary center of ‘that which has been born’. Here we should not fail to remember that, despite the discrediting of creationism, we (culturally speaking) still conceive of ourselves as effects of the universe, emergent things produced by some ungraspable reality yet somehow deserving of operatively being our own centers of the universe.[24] As if I can effect integrality! Positive forgetfulness, contrariwise, implies the avenue of a creative neutrality towards the fact of birth, an attitude that would neither appropriate nor ignore its inevitable force or spontaneous imperative, a being-in-but-not-of birth. The creative capacity of positive forgetfulness is described by Meher Baba as follows:
In such moments of true forgetfulness there is a mental detachment from all material surroundings in which the poet allows his imagination to soar. An artist, when he gives form to an ideal in which he completely forgets himself and all irrelevant surroundings, creates a masterpiece. The best of philosophy is uttered when a man surveys the problem of life without reference to the ups and downs of his purely personal circumstances; and some of the greatest scientific discoveries have been made in this same frame of mind. Such manifestations of genuine spontaneity of forgetfulness are very rare indeed, and although it is said that poets, artists and philosophers are born and not made, these fleeting phases of real forgetfulness are the result of efforts made in past lives. (214)
Importantly, the occurrence of positive forgetfulness is itself correlated with the vector of one’s birth, suggesting furthermore that significant human creativity, which Gebser describes in terms of “the way origin, budding and unfolding in space and time, emerges on earth and in our daily lives” (530), is not only essentially more connected than we may directly perceive with pre-birth latencies, with something still-to-be-born via birth, but furthermore that the spontaneity of positive forgetfulness in general is non-incidentally linked to birth specifically, that non-reactive awareness of birth is the paradigm of positive forgetfulness. That is, not only does true, creative detachment necessarily involve self-detachment in the mode of non-identification with oneself as born, but positive forgetfulness of birth itself, alertly acute awareness of birth’s fact that yet refuses to freeze into reaction, is an essential mode of spontaneous creativity. Here we may notice the phenomenal resonance between birth as spontaneous association of consciousness with new form and creativity as self-forgetful production. Of course to be true to this source will entail not following its consequences past itself. So here let me quickly kill in utero a potential pep talk on forgetful birth-awareness as the great untapped resource of human potential. Instead we must here think birth, not only as not properly an opportunity for something else, but as an opportunity for nothing except not itself. Birth is the chance—thank God!—to not, to never ever be born. To stop counting on something else to do it for you and die now, while you still have a chance. To exit the world in which you are trapped by entering it for real, from the outside. As Meher Baba said in 1926, on the occasion of this brother’s death: “The joy expressed by people at the birth of a child should be expressed when a person breathes his last – instead of all the show of sorrow, grief and sympathy. This is sheer ignorance and those who understand the secret of birth and death feel sorry at this hypocritical pretense . . . Die such a death that you will not have to die again. Die, all of you, in the real sense of the word so that you may live ever after.”[25] The imperative of birth, heard by everyone and obeyed by few, is thus a kind of autophagic or self-eating command, an instruction authentically followed by not following it, only by listening to it, too clearly, to the point of forgetting that one is listening, forgetting in the listening that one is born, knowing in the forgetting that one is not. May what birth whispers from inside your ear be the death of you! Like the child who is father of the man, birth commands what parents instinctively want for their children. With spontaneous love, birth tells you, whatever you do, do not be like me. But humans have the hardest time following even the simplest instructions.

Birth Told Me To
The imperative of Ever-Present Origin is clear: we can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way. Sooner or later, with a lesser or greater share of self-created suffering, the new mutation of consciousness, an integral reality, will be realized. “There can be no question that our task will be resolved, since it originates in necessity. The only open question is whether it will be resolved soon” (539). This is a pandemic pregnancy, in which the pervasiveness of crisis proves the necessity of mutation or emergence of a new whole. As Meher Baba put it: “The condition of the world, the strife and uncertainty that is everywhere, the general dissatisfaction with and rebellion against any and every situation shows that the ideal of material perfection is an empty dream and proves the existence of an eternal Reality beyond materiality.”[26] The imperative of mutation, its must, is of a piece with crisis, and hiddenly is it—mutation being precisely not the order of a remedy for the crisis, but the necessary leap into a new sphere. “The new world culture,” Meher Baba says, “must emerge from an integral vision of truth.”[27] Critically, by virtue of the inevitability of this necessity, inseparable from the very unity of life, that which maieutically effects this new mutation is not on the level of escape or emergency response. “The spiritual experience that is to enliven and energise the New Humanity cannot be a reaction to the stern and uncompromising demands made by the realities of life . . . Man will be dislodged again and again from his illusory shelters by fresh and irresistible waves of life, and will invite upon himself fresh forms of suffering by seeking to protect his separative existence through escape.”[28] What we must grasp, then, in order to realize this imperative, is the sheer vertiginous non-difference between self- and world-transformation, between the abiding experience that will enliven the new integral humanity and the aperspectival culture that shall characterize it. In Vernon Howard’s terms, “To live in another world, be another world.”[29] And it is precisely the incident of human birth, that spontaneous aperspectival flash wherethrough you leapt into world and world sprang from you, which best instructs us in this non-difference, providing a retroactive foretaste of the birth to come, a to-come that yet is only to be realized today. Natality is not futural but directed to the now. Birth’s vector is from and towards the principle of why and how you are here, all the more insistently as “I should not be here” is the very cry of birth. As Meher Baba explained on the occasion of his birthday in 1937:
The incident of birth is common to all life on earth. Unlike other living creatures which are born insignificantly, live an involuntary life and die an uncertain death, the physical birth of human beings connotes an important and, if they are extra circumspect about it, perhaps a final stage of their evolutionary progress. Here onward, they no longer are automatons but masters of their destiny which they can shape and mold according to will. And this means that human beings, having passed through all the travails of lower evolutionary processes, should insist upon the reward thereof, which is ‘Spiritual Birth’ in this very life, and not rest content with a promise in the hereafter.[30]
Who brought you to this point? How did you make it into this form? All I know for certain is that I should not be here. That this world, this time, this space, this self . . . is not my home. To listen to birth with such circumspection, to open your ears to the uncanny silence of its aperspectival spiral, means to recoil on yourself in a very special way, abandoning hope in what the world might give a you who never was and is already dead. To understand this should signifies to groan in the voice of that hearing, to die immortally into that mystical birth which lurks so near in the acosmic core of this world, deeper than all lust and longing, inside the abyss of spontaneous loving surrender. I will therefore now lay down this lecture, for my friends, by recalling Meister Eckhart’s perfectly human description of this birth:
[T]he masters write that in the very instant the material substance of the child is ready in the mother's womb, God at once pours into the body its living spirit which is the soul, the body's form. It is one instant, the being ready and the pouring in . . . You need not seek Him here or there . . . No need to call to Him from afar: He can hardly wait for you to open up. He longs for you a thousand times more than you long for Him: the opening and the entering are a single act.[31]


[1] E. M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Seaver, 1976), 32.
[2] “To be born is both to be born of the world and to be born into the world” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty,
Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith [London: Routledge, 1962], 527).
[3] “Our infancy, indeed, introducing us to this life not with laughter but with tears, seems unconsciously to predict the ills we are to encounter. Zoroaster alone is said to have laughed when he was born, and that unnatural omen portended no good to him. For he is said to have been the inventor of magical arts, though indeed they were unable to secure to him even the poor felicity of this present life against the assaults of his enemies” (Augustine, City of God, XXI.14).
[4] Vernon Howard, Your Power of Natural Knowing (New Life Foundation, 1995), 164.
[5] E. M. Cioran, Trouble with Being Born, 19.
[6] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 271.
[7] Plotinus, Enneads, trans. Stephen MacKenna (Burdett, NY: Larson, 1992), IV.3.9.
[8] Ibid. V.9.14.
[9] John A. Pourtless, “Toward a Plotinian Solution to the Problem of Evil,” Aporia 18 (2008):13-4.
[10] Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. A. Hofstadter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 104.
[11] Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York: Random House, 1955), 766-7n68.
[12] John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio II, d.3, n.251, quoted in John Duns Scotus, Early Oxford Lecture on Individuation, trans. Allan B. Wolter (St. Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute, 2005), xxi.
[13] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.74.
[14] Giorgio Agamben, Profanations, trans. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone, 2007), 10.
[15] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 2nd edition (New York: Dodd & Mead, 1973), 5. Cf. “Hence when God acquires a particular form, body or sharir according to particular impressions, He feels and experiences Himself as that particular form, body or sharir. God in His stone-form experiences Himself as stone. Accordingly, in consonance with impressions and their consciousness, God feels and experiences that He is metal, vegetation, worm, fish, bird, animal or human being. Whatever be the type of the gross form and whatever be the shape of the form, the evolving consciousness of God tends God spontaneously to associate Himself with that form, figure and shape which tends Him to experience Himself through impressions that He is that form, figure and shape. Similarly, when God is conscious of the subtle body (i.e., the pran) then God experiences the subtle world and regards Himself as the subtle body or pran. Likewise, God becomes conscious of the mental body (i.e., the mana or the mind), experiences the mental world and regards Himself as the mental body or the mana (i.e., the mind). It is only because of impressions that the infinite God, the Over-Soul, without form and infinite, experiences that He is veritably but a finite gross body in the gross sphere (i.e., the jiv-atma in anna bhuvan), or a subtle body in the subtle sphere (i.e., i.e., the jiv-atma in anna bhuvan), or a mental body in the mental sphere (i.e., the jiv-atma in the mano bhuvan). God, while experiencing the gross world through gross forms, associates with and dissociates from innumerable gross forms. The association with and dissociation from gross forms are called ‘birth’ and ‘death,’ respectively. It is because of impressions that the eternal, immortal, formless God, or the Over-Soul, without births and deaths, has to experience births and deaths a number of times. While God has to experience these innumerable births and deaths because of impressions, He has not only to experience the gross world which is finite and therefore false, but together with it He has also to experience its happiness and misery, its virtue and vice. All forms, figures and shapes, all worlds and planes, all births and deaths, all virtue and vice, all happiness and misery, experienced by God, Who is eternal, formless and infinite, are the outcome of impressioned consciousness. Since all impressions are but the outcome of the Nothing that manifested as the Nothingness, it means that whatever God experiences through His evolved consciousness in the gross, subtle and mental worlds is the experience of the Nothing; and as this Nothing by nature is nothing, therefore all the experiences in the intermediary illusory states of God are nothing but literally illusion and, as such, false and finite. Only when the impressioned consciousness is freed from all impressions is liberation or mukti in human form attained as nirvana or fana, where only consciousness ‘Is’ and where all else of the Nothing, which was as Nothingness, vanishes forever” (154-5).
[16] Robert Desnos, Mourning for Mourning (Atlas Press, 1992), 50. I thank Alina Popa for leading me to this passage.
[17] Emmanuel Levinas, On Escape, trans. Bettina Bergo (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 55.
[18] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 131.
[19] LM, 4055.
[20] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 424
[21] LM, 4388
[22] LM, 4388
[23] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 213.
[24] See Nicola Masciandaro, “Mysticism or Mystification?: Against Subject-Creationism,“ English Language Notes 50 (2012): 253-58.
[25] LM, 643
[26] Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing, 55.
[27] Meher Baba, Listen Humanity, chapter 4, my italics.
[28] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.21.
[29] Vernon Howard, Cosmic Command, #1243.
[30] LM, 1788
[31] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 58.