Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Two Sides of Orpheus's Severed Head [abstracts]

[abstracts of two entries for Unsound / Undead, edited by AUDINT (Toby Heys, Steve Goodman, and Eleni Ikoniadou)]


Then too, even then, what time the Hebrus stream, 
Oeagrian Hebrus, down mid-current rolled, 
Rent from the marble neck, his drifting head, 
The death-chilled tongue found yet a voice to cry 
‘Eurydice! ah! poor Eurydice!’

– Virgil, Georgics, IV.523-6 

Purgatory—a state between damnation and blessedness, a place between time and eternity, an afterlife intersecting this one—is a monument to the metaphysical creativity of the premodern imagination, all the more so because its concept is founded on the reality of the imaginal and the virtual—the whole subtle world and ‘stuff of dreams’ wherein the visible and invisible, the corporeal and the intellectual, substantially meet. This relation between purgatory and the virtual is originally evident in 1 Corinthians 3:15, one of the Biblical passages on which the medieval doctrine rests: “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire [quasi per ignem].” The quasi-fire of purgatory is both more and less fire, just as the poetic image—visual, musical, or verbal—is always more and less true than the image or word of science, it being the image that speaks to the heart, the hyper-actual organ similarly situated between soul and body and defined by Augustine as “ubi ego sum quicumque sum [where I am whoever or whatever I am]” (Confessions, 10.3.4). Thus, while the essential medium of purgatory is spiritual fire, the flames of thought and feeling, this medium has no less a relation to the sonic, just as the heart itself is proverbially both flammable and the ground of voice: “in the same way that inhaled air was understood to go first to the heart, so it came forth outward through the mouth, carrying sighs, spirits, and voice” (Heather Webb, The Medieval Heart, 74). Accordingly, in the Divine Comedy, the fires near the summit of purgatory are in a special way the itinerant place of the poets who, wounded with love’s earthly nature, sorrowfully sing themselves into the joy of paradise: “‘I am Arnaut, who weep and go singing; with chagrin I view my past folly, and rejoicing I see ahead the joy I hope for . . .’ Then he hid himself in the fire that refines them” (Dante, Purgatorio, 26.142-8). In sum, purgatory, the space of communication and solidarity par excellence between the living and the dead, has a special relation to sound. In the 14th-century poem The Gast of Gy, a spirit in purgatory appears among the living only through sound and in Dante’s Purgatorio, the gates of purgatory are the subject of one of the poet’s most conspicuous sonic images: the roar of their resounding metal hinges surpasses that of Tarpea’s temple doors and the moment of passing through them impresses the pilgrim with the very musical ambivalence or inherently yes-and-no form of the imaginal: “The image rendered in what I heard was exactly what one perceives when there is singing with an organ so that now one understands the words, now not [or sì or no]” (Purgatorio, 9.142-5). As rhythm is an event at once inside and outside of time (see Eleni Ikoniadou, The Rhythmic Event), purgatory resounds with a future beyond temporality, beyond the division of life and death. “Nothing is more favorable to the inspiration of the muses than this place of purification . . . Purgatory surpasses heaven and hell in poetry, in that it offers a future” (Chateaubriand). Where but in purgatory can the severed head of Orpheus yet speak the name of his beloved?
            Drawing upon a number of medieval and early modern examples of intersection between purgatory and sound, from the temporally impossible voices of the Requiem to the spatially impossible speaking of Hamlet’s ghost heard “Hic et ubique” (Hamlet, I.5), this entry will define a few avenues for thinking the purgatoriality of sonic experience, that is, for conceiving how sound functions as a medium of spiritual purification, one burning us up from far beyond the spatio-temporal sphere.


                                             Orpheus’ limbs
lay scattered, strewn about; but in your flow,
you, Hebrus, gathered in his head and lyre;
and (look! a thing of wonder) once your stream
had caught and carried them, the lyre began
to sound some mournful notes; the lifeless tongue,
too, murmured mournfully; and the response
that echoed from the shores was mournful, too.
 – Ovid, Metamorphoses, XI.50-3

That there is an ‘undead’ relation between sorrow and sound, a relation uncannily surpassing the boundaries of living and dying, is evident, on the one hand, from the generically sorrowful human experience of birth and death, and on the other, from traditional representations of non-human sorrow, the Virgilian lacrimae rerum [tears of things] elevated by Christianity into the supernatural darkening of the cosmos itself during the Crucifixion, during which time—the historical center of time itself—”all creation [universa creatura] groaned [congemuit], and all the elements at the same time felt the nails of the cross” (Leo the Great, Sermons). The sounds of sorrow, the (a)music of its sighs and moans and strains, both signify the universal immanence of the will’s infinite abyss and materialize its superessentially negative transcendent immanence in the mode of a corporeal, emotional, and intellectual matrix of waves whose reality is inseparable from that of one’s own being: “the being of Da-sein is Sorge [care, worry, sorrow]” (Heidegger, Being and Time). However you cut it, the fact of sorrow simply hits up against facticity itself: “The root of all pure joy and sadness is that the world is as it is” (Agamben, Coming Community). Whence the definition of perfect sorrow in The Cloud of Unknowing as sorrow that one is: “All men have grounds for sorrow [mater of sorow], but most specially he feels grounds for sorrow who knows and feels that he is. In comparison to this sorrow, all other kinds of sorrow are like play. For he can truly and really sorrow who knows and feels not only what he is, but that he is. And whoever has not felt this sorrow, he may make sorrow, because he has never yet felt perfect sorrow” (ch. 44). As the dead are a fact no less than the living, and as anything no matter what—even nothing—is not without the fact of itself, what is there to prevent everything from touching everything else in pure sorrow? Since “We now know the location of this narrow passage through which thought is able to exit from itself—it is through facticity, and through facticity alone, that we are able to make our way towards the absolute” (Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, 63), is not sorrow, as the lonesome aloneness of facticity per se, the mobile condition or the through—aka ‘vale of tears’ and ‘thoroughfare of woe’—whereby thought’s way to the absolute is actualized? Is not sorrow itself—somehow—the sound of facticity and secret music of the absolute?  
            This entry will accordingly take up the question of the sonic relation between sorrow and facticity by giving commentarial attention to examples of sorrowfully weird sounds, sounds which voice sorrow not only within but beyond the human, for example: the terrifying love-screams of Angela of Foligno, unstoppable “even if someone had stood over me with an axe ready to kill me” (Memorial); the hideously indescribable sound/voice of Poe’s Valedmar, “Yes;—no;—I have been sleeping—and now—now—I am dead” (Edgar Allen Poe, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”); and H. P. Lovecraft’s “singular mad word of all too obvious source: ‘Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!’” (At the Mountains of Madness). Marking the uncircumscribability of their own event, such unsound sounds testify to the non-difference between the negative infinity of the will and the sonic abyss of the universe. That is, they echo the origin of the worlds of mind, energy, and matter in reality’s unanswerable question of itself, in the spontaneous generative word of its sorrow-becoming-sound.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Synaesthesia: The Mystical Sense of Law [abstract]

[abstract for The Routledge Research Handbook of Law & Theory]

Synaesthetic perception is the rule [la règle].
– Merleau-Ponty

For to everyone who senses something there comes about, in addition to the apprehension of the thing that he is sensing, also a certain self-awareness [sunaisthēsis] of [the fact] that he is sensing.
– Alexander of Aphrodisias

Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.
– Wittgenstein

The question of the relation between law and the senses—the interface between the senses of law and the laws of sense—necessarily touches upon the synaesthetic nature of all experience. As law is itself not something properly observable, but is rather a matter and force and idea operative through a non-circumscribable matrix of forms, the sensing of law is unintelligible without reference to the principle of synthesis which governs sensation, that is, the common sense and sensing of sense first named by Aristotle’s commentators as synaesthesia. “Formed by the addition of the prefix ‘with’ (sun-) to the verb ‘to sense’ or ‘to perceive’ (aisthanesthai), the expression in all likelihood designated a ‘feeling in common,’ a perception shared by more than one” (Heller-Roazen, The Inner Touch). Indeed the creative proportion between the with-sensing of perception and the with-thinking of commentary (from comminisci, to devise, invent) reflects back upon the inseparability of law and commentary, and thence to the broader perceptual sphere wherein the reflective sensing of law’s being—what law is and that law is—operates and/or fails to operate upon tradition’s margin, “the gap between the thing to be transmitted and the act of transmission” (Agamben, Man Without Content). In these terms, understanding the synaesthetic dimensions of the sense of law carries the potential to reanimate awareness of the agency of our acts of perception vis-à-vis law’s various domains, restoring our senses (corporeal, imaginative, and intellectual) to their commentarial role as interpreters and shapers of the multiform fact of law. In the four-fold medieval scheme of scriptural exegesis, the mystical or anagogical sense, termed the “foretaste of paradise,” is the “locus of intellectual synaesthesia” (McLuhan, The Sensus Communis, Synesthesia, and the Soul) wherein the other senses (literal, allegorical, moral) are synthesized and led beyond themselves into the immanence of what they signify. Likewise, to sense the law in light of the principle of synaesthesia leads to where it is no longer possible to perceive law as being any less within than without, nor any less above than within. At the level of physical perception, synaesthesia points back into the mystery of the immanent fact of the sense occurring without its proper object, as in the classic form of audition colorée, or remaining without object at all, as in the perception of black. So with respect to the law, synaesthesia points back to the threshold of freedom where law persists without itself. For “the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient” (1 Timoty 1:9) and “this Soul is above the law, not contrary to the law” (Porete, Mirror of Simple Souls).

My exploration of synaesthesia as law’s mystical sense falls into three parts. In the first, I examine the range of correspondences between synaesthesia and traditional definitions of law in connection with the three levels of being (physical, subtle, mental) whose ancient legal forms are sunétheia (custom), ethos (habit), and nomos (law), demonstrating therefrom the need for an appreciation of the impressional nature of perception and the auto-mediated structure of rationality as “ratio or proportion among the sensuous components of experience” (McLuhan, Understanding Media). As law is sensed synaesthetically, via the self-mediating sense of sense, so does synaesthesia expose the interface of rule and mediation found in the Greek root med-, which “express the notion of a thought that rules, commands, moderates . . . ‘he who utters the law” (Chantraine, quoted in Galloway, Thacker, and Wark, Excommunication). In the second, I consider Quentin Meillassoux’s concept of justice as a “fourth world” spontaneously emergent from the three worlds of matter, life, and thought, showing how his model of the “vectorial subject,” one for whom “politics . . . seeks its own proper abolition in the accomplishment of the end that is sought,” is congruous with becoming a synaesthete of law per se, in the sense of one who cannot not sense in law the presence of something beyond and other than law at work. In the third, I comment upon Arthur Rimbaud’s famous synaesthetic sonnet “Voyelles” in light of Dante’s poetic concept of authority, drawn from the vocalic verb auieo (to bind together), as a binding of words worthy of faith and obedience, in analogy with the five vowels as “the soul and bond of every word” (Dante, Convivio). Playing upon the tradition of a mystical correspondence between the five senses, the five vowels, and the tetragrammaton, Rimbaud’s poem masterfully presents synaesthesia as a portal to the astonishing plenitude of spontaneous life found openly between law and its anarchic beyond.    

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory

Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory (Mimesis, 2015). 300 pp. (sewn binding)
[available in print or ebook]

Introduction: Mystical Black Metal Theory
Black Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’: A Gloss on Heavy Metal’s Originary Song - Nicola Masciandaro 
Leave Me In Hell - Edia Connole
What is This that Stands before Me?: Metal as Deixis - Nicola Masciandaro
Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya - Nicola Masciandaro
WormSign - Nicola Masciandaro
On the Mystical Love of Black Metal - Nicola Masciandaro
The Missing Subject of Accelerationism: Heavy Metal’s Wyrd Realism - Edia Connole
Silence: A Darkness to Ward Off All Spells - Nicola Masciandaro
Les Légions Noires: Labor, Language, Laughter - Edia Connole 
Black Metal Commentary - Nicola Masciandaro and Reza Negarestani
Interview (Miasma) - Nicola Masciandaro
Interview (with Dominik Irtenkauf, Legacy) - Nicola Masciandaro
Interview (with Domink Irtenkauf, Avantgarde Metal) - Nicola Masciandaro
Interview (with Nina Scholz, Jungle World) - Nicola Masciandaro
Metal Studies and the Scission of the Word - Nicola Masciandaro
Reflections from the Intoxological Crucible - Nicola Masciandaro
Interview (with Dominik Irtenkauf, Legacy) - Edia Connole
What is Black Metal Theory? - Edia Connole

Friday, May 29, 2015


C o n t e n t s

Rendering Darkness and Light Present: Jean Gebser and the Principle of Diaphaneity
—Aaron Cheak
Beauty, Desire, and the Soul of the World
—David Fideler
Exploring the Fractal Nature of Ibn ‘Arabī’s Cosmology
—Moselle N Singh
Arcane Cartographies: An Interview with Timothy Ely
—Sabrina Dalla Valle and Timothy Ely
The Alchemical Chiasmos: Counter-Stretched Harmony and Divine Self-Perception
—Aaron Cheak & Sabrina Dalla Valle
The ‘Place of Nothing’ in Nishida as Chiasma and Chōra
—John W M Krummel
Never Paint what Cannot be Painted: Master Dōgen and the Zen of the Brush
—Jason M Wirth
The Philosophy of the Flowers: In Search for the Genealogy of Yûgen—A Cosmic Sublime
—Elisabet Yanagisawa
Never Born, Never Die: Individuation, Mutation & Mystical Birth via Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin
—Nicola Masciandaro

'Dark Wounds of Light' in VESTIGES_00: Ex-Stasis

VESTIGES_00: Ex-Stasis
beauty as an experience of the limit

Featuring: Daniele Bellomi, Louise Black, Gabriel Blackwell, James Brubaker, Mauro Javier Cardenas, Ryan Chang, Erin Fleming, Tristan Foster, Michaela Freeman, Róbert Gál, Evelyn Hampton, Anton Ivanov, M Kitchell, Sam Kriss, Emily Laskin, Robert Lunday, Stéphane Mallarmé, Nicola Masciandaro, Elizabeth Mikesch, Rebecca Norton, Yarrow Paisley, Andrei Platonov, Alina Popa, Tom Regel, Forrest Roth, Jacob Siefring, George Szirtes, Colin James Torre, Chaulky White

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bask in the Glory of Bewilderment

  1. To perish with every breath in overwhelming astonishment.
  2. To be so far gone that you never arrived.
  3. Have no idea.
  4. To be so clueless that every clue is itself eternally stunned by its own inexistence.
  5. Obliterate multiverses by means of bewilderment.
  6. Become so lost in disbelief that everything is absolutely, unintelligibly true.
  7. Wonder so deeply why anything is happening at all that it never did.
  8. Mercilessly send all your questions back to the omnipresent front lines.
  9. Fail to meet me for fear of being swallowed alive by an enormous question.
  10. Fall into the gaping abyss under your feet until you shoot up out of the ground.
  11. Writhe in unknowing.
  12. Live in the midst of continual well-coordinated all-out attacks upon everything you ever felt or thought was true.
  13. To always already be inexplicably pierced by yet another incommunicable arrow.
  14. Watch the world vanish like mist before the glorious sun of secret maximal confusion.
  15. Leave me behind so fast that you bump into me in infinite regress.
  16. To give everyone a look that shows what they are in for.
  17. Lay your life aside in favor of becoming a cosmically autophagous query.
  18. See human knowledge for what it is: a messy mass of poorly formulated search terms.
  19. Drink wine of bewilderment until the tears wash away your face.
  20. To erase every trace of yourself with a free lifetime supply of the Ointment of Mystification.
  21. Think about something by evaporating the thought.
  22. Act in way that effectively accuses everyone of insufficient astonishment.
  23. Follow yourself off the cliff of total bafflement.
  24. Leap for joy into spontaneous senseless distress like a child into the arms of its mother.
  25. Indulge profoundly in the pleasure of forgetting everything people say.
  26. Offer everything as a reward to anyone who successfully steals all your answers.
  27. Infinitely reverse the ontological order of answer and question.
  28. Immediately become incapable of following any directions other than the irrepressible hunch that you are absolutely and hopelessly lost.
  29. Dive into delightful epistemological despair past the point of really needing to do away with yourself.
  30. Abandon inner connection to all persons who actually think they know what they are talking about.
  31. Exploit your friends to bust all of you out of the prison of knowledge.
  32. Deliberately refuse to know, no matter what the world offers you.
  33. Develop courage for greater and greater bewilderment by remembering all who have died in the depths of ignorance.
  34. To wonder why one ever bothered to . . .
  35. Fail to believe how you ever fell for it.
  36. Make no difference between small and great matters that do not make sense.
  37. Know not what to do, think, feel, or say.
  38. Place no secret hope in your absolute bewilderment.
  39. Figure out a way off the island of being that does not involve figuring it out.
  40. Suspect everything.
  41. Renounce your bewilderment for nothing (except greater and greater bewilderment).
  42. Know so little that the whole universe flocks to your for meaningless questions.
  43. To let no light ever escape the black hole of your non-knowledge.
  44. Offer no explanations, give nothing away.
  45. Die of unknowing.
  46. Remain unintelligible, especially to omniscience.
  47. Thrive by robbing yourself in the apophatic alleys of radically immanent auto-blindness.
  48. Eclipse all knowing in the perfect pitch blackness of your pupil.
  49. Wonder why until why itself never made any sense in the first place.
  50. Expose your whole system to the plague of inexplicability.
  51. Hypothetically blame everything on everything in order to be even more astonished by all that remains unaccounted for.
  52. Crack open your skull like lightning on the stone of pure astonishment.
  53. Bask in the glory of bewilderment.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Essay on Forgiveness

[written, in 2011, for Don Stevens]

Looking for a way to begin—a chance to start without knowing how—I take a ‘fal’ or sortes from the poetry of Hafiz. My finger finds this line:

When there is no purity, one are the Ka’ba and the idol-house.[1]

Encountering these words immediately suggests two insights. First, that forgiveness is a work of purification on which rests the very possibility of authentic religion, that is, religion as the practical love of Reality as opposed to the mere veneration of self-projected idols, what Meher Baba defines as the religion of life.

The Religion of Life is not fettered by mechanically repeated formulae of the unenlightened, purblind and limited intellect. It is dynamically energized by the assimilation of Truth, grasped through lucid and unerring intuition, which never falters and never fails, because it has emerged out of the fusion of head and heart, intellect and love.[2]

Second, that the work of forgiveness, for all of its difficulty and seeming impossibility, proceeds paradoxically, not unlike the act of taking a ‘fal’ from a text, through the freedom of an essentially negative condition, in the midst of the experience of not knowing, not remembering, not worrying.[3] Real forgiveness is necessarily on the way to forgetfulness, a state of being that, rather than leading to oblivion, proceeds by the mind’s own perception that there exists an infinitely important unknown what at once beyond and essential to itself. As Meher Baba explains, such forgetful forgiveness arrives at real remembering.

[W]hen the same mind tells him that there is something which may be called God, and, further, when it prompts him to search for God that he may see Him face to face, he begins to forget himself and to forgive others for whatever he has suffered from them. And when he has forgiven everyone and has completely forgotten himself, he finds that God has forgiven him everything, and he remembers Who, in reality, he is.[4]

Here we must consider the relation between these two dimensions of forgiveness, between what it is and how it is. The necessity of the act of forgiveness defines the identity of forgiveness and its act. Over and against the narrower impulse towards forgiveness as project, towards what can be accomplished by means of it, what matters here above all is that one forgives, regardless of the result. The external power of forgiveness, its ability to open ways out of intractable individual and collective problems, rests wholly within its intrinsic value, in its being its own ‘reward’. This means that forgiveness is not simply a virtue or something good to do, but a true value in the sense elaborated by Meher Baba.

Mistakes in valuation arise owing to the influence of subjective desires or wants. True values are values which belong to things in their own right. They are intrinsic, and because they are intrinsic, they are absolute and permanent and are not liable to change from time to time or from person to person. False values are derived from desires or wants; they are dependent upon subjective factors, and being dependent upon subjective factors, they are relative and impermanent and are liable to change from time to time and from person to person.[5]

So forgiveness demonstrates the truth of its value by virtue of being itself an exercise in freedom from subjective factors. In these terms, the impulse to forgive is to be understood as something different than a desire or will for something. Instead, forgiveness is ordered toward the actualization of its own truth, the making real of its own potential to be.[6] One forgives, not so much by aiming at some concrete end, such that one could definitively arrive at the success or completion of forgiveness, but rather by staying within the truth of forgiveness, by not transgressing the imperative to forgive. Thinking of forgiveness in this way, as the activity of remaining inwardly free from (and not necessarily rid of) the forces that cannot forgive, helps to clarify the deep relationship between forgiveness, spontaneity, and forgetfulness. Meher Baba’s words on this relationship are inextricably linked with the idea of freedom from results. With regard to the practice of forgiveness as a kind of good work, we find the general principle that service or work bound to the objective good of others, though “of immense spiritual importance,” is from the perspective of the goal of life, a kind of interminable dead-end.

[A]s long as the idea of service is . . . tied to the idea of results, it is inevitably fraught with a sense of incompleteness. There can be no realisation of Infinity through the pursuit of a never-ending series of consequences. Those who aim at sure and definite results through a life of service have an eternal burden on their minds.[7]

The principle of freedom from results is defined more absolutely in Meher Baba’s description of the purposelessness of divine, infinite existence, our arrival at which is the very goal, or purpose, of everything.

Reality is Existence infinite and eternal. Existence has no purpose by virtue of its being real, infinite and eternal. Existence exists. Being Existence it has to exist. Hence Existence, the Reality, cannot have any purpose. It just is. It is self-existing. Everything—the things and the beings—in Existence has a purpose. All things and beings have a purpose and must have a purpose, or else they cannot be in existence as what they are. Their very being in existence proves their purpose; and their sole purpose in existing is to become shed of purpose, i.e., to become purposeless. Purposelessness is of Reality; to have a purpose is to be lost in falseness. Everything exists only because it has a purpose. The moment that purpose has been accomplished, everything disappears and Existence is manifested as self-existing Self. Purpose presumes a direction and since Existence, being everything and everywhere, cannot have any direction, directions must always be in nothing and lead nowhere. Hence to have a purpose is to create a false goal. Love alone is devoid of all purpose and a spark of Divine Love sets fire to all purposes. The Goal of Life in Creation is to arrive at purposelessness, which is the state of Reality.[8]

Forgiveness enters this purpose-enflaming fire. Rupturing the chain of never-ending consequences, it relieves beings from the burden of results and opens the way into actually living within the inherent purposelessness of Reality. Far from fleeing life, forgiveness gives life back to itself as the very place of freedom.

This realisation must and does take place only in the midst of life, for it is only in the midst of life that limitation can be experienced and transcended, and that subsequent freedom from limitation can be enjoyed.[9]

Felt from the perspective of this goal, forgiveness is less a duty or responsibility than the radical activation of the seemingly passive power of not-worrying, a very difficult and profoundly enjoyable exercise in the freedom of one’s inherent divinity. The exercise of forgiveness accordingly has a spontaneous character or style. Practicing it might be called a form of immediate cooperation between the impasse of experience and the ultimate independence of reality.

[B]y virtue of being absolutely independent it is but natural for God to exercise His infinite whim to experience and enjoy His own infinity. To exercise a whim is always the mark of an independent nature, because it is whimsicality that always colours the independent nature.[10]

Meher Baba thus places forgiveness within the broader category of positive forgetfulness, a happy state combining awareness of and non-reaction to both adverse and favorable circumstances that flowers in conspicuous creativity.[11]

Positive forgetfulness . . . and its steady cultivation develops in man that balance of mind which enables him to express such noble traits as charity, forgiveness, tolerance, selflessness and service to others. . . . Positive forgetfulness, although it lies at the very root of happiness, is by no means easy to acquire. Once a man attains this state of mind, however, he rises above pain and pleasure; he is master of himself. This forgetfulness, to be fully effective for the spiritual life, must become permanent, and such permanence is only acquired through constant practice during many lives. Some people, as a result of efforts towards forgetfulness in past lives, get spontaneous and temporary flashes of it in a later life, and it is such people who give to the world the best in poetry, art and philosophy, and who make the greatest discoveries in science.[12]

The practical crux of positive forgetfulness lies in this developmental relation between steady cultivation and spontaneity, in the fostering of an impulse not to react that bears abiding and unforeseeable fruit, what Meher Baba calls “manifestations of genuine spontaneity of forgetfulness.”[13] The doing of forgiveness resides in dynamic relation to the inevitable unfolding of perfect, universal individuality.     

The limited individuality, which is the creation of ignorance, is transformed into the divine individuality which is unlimited. The illimitable consciousness of the Universal Soul becomes individualised in this focus without giving rise to any form of illusion. The person is free from all self-centred desires and he becomes the medium of the spontaneous flow of the supreme and universal will which expresses divinity. Individuality becomes limitless by the disappearance of ignorance.[14]

The imperative to forgive must thus be understood in the broader phenomenal context of the paradoxical correlation between habit and freedom. Forgiveness is spontaneous, but its free exercise is a development of habitual practice, the liberating result of ongoing intentional action.            

The life of true values can be spontaneous only when the mind has developed the unbroken habit of choosing the right value.[15]

The crucial distinction to be drawn, the distinction across which the decision to forgive operates, is thus between habits that bind and habits that set free, between, on the one hand, actions whose impressions [sanskaras] limit life and intensify separateness and ignorance, and, on the other, actions whose impressions liberate life and generate knowledge and enjoyment of its inherent unity—a spontaneous state of being also known as love.

In love . . . there is no sense of effort because it is spontaneous. Spontaneity is of the essence of true spirituality. The highest state of consciousness, in which the mind is completely merged in the Truth, is known as Sahajawastha, the state of unlimited spontaneity in which there is uninterrupted Self-knowledge.[16]

The core of this distinction (between binding and liberating actions) lies in the inevitable deconstruction of the ego, “the false nucleus of consolidated sanskaras.”[17] The restrictive and ultimately eroding ego is the recurring obstacle on the path of experience, the imprisoning framework that each and every action works to reinforce or destroy.   

Any action which expresses the true values of life contributes towards the disintegration of the ego, which is a product of ages of ignorant action. Life cannot be permanently imprisoned within the cage of the ego. It must at some time strive towards the Truth.[18]

As a mode of relation to this inevitable disintegration or decay of the limited ego—limited because it persists only in ignorance and active denial of the inviolable unity of all life[19]—forgiveness is definable as a movement of giving experience over to the unitive gravity of spiritual reality. Taking direct action against the very constraints of action, against the psychic chains that would determine it as re-action, against the interminable self-condemnations encapsulated in the separative rallying cry of never forget!, forgiveness forcefully and non-violently asserts the absolute spontaneity of reality, the inescapable freedom of which the pseudo-whims of personal interest are a pale shadow.              

At the pre-spiritual level, man is engulfed in unrelieved ignorance concerning the goal of infinite freedom; and though he is far from being happy and contented, he identifies so deeply with sanskaric interests that he experiences gratification in their furtherance. But the pleasure of his pursuits is conditional and transitory, and the spontaneity which he experiences in them is illusory because, through all his pursuits, his mind is working under limitations. The mind is capable of genuine freedom and spontaneity of action only when it is completely free from sanskaric ties and interests.[20]

Forgiveness is an act of relinquishing interest, not for the sake of becoming disinterested, but on behalf of a deeper interest that absolutely exceeds the framework of determined interests. The one who forgives is not uninterested in the particular problem that forgiveness addresses. The one who forgives is instead hyper-interested in the problem, interested to a degree that is totally uncontainable by the relation to the problem as object of worry or negative concern. Forgiveness puts into play a profound need to relate to reality in a non-reactive way, to become more intimate with it precisely by remaining outside the confining and ultimately uninteresting patterns of self-interest. Forgiveness thus partakes of the “divinely human life” embodied in the Avatar whose appearance, like the advent of forgiveness itself, takes place in the middle of seemingly terminal conflict:

The Avatar appears in different forms, under different names, at different times, in different parts of the world. As his appearance always coincides with the spiritual birth of man, so the period immediately preceding his manifestation is always one in which humanity suffers from the pangs of the approaching birth. . . . There seems to no possibility of stemming the tide of destruction. At this moment the Avatar appears. 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 a divinely human life. He is interested in everything but not concerned about anything. The slightest mishap may command his sympathy; the greatest tragedy will not upset him. . . . He is only concerned about concern.[21]

This does not at all mean, however, that forgiveness should be conceived as a solely individual process of human spiritual self-development. Like the unseen work of the God-Man that occurs on all levels of being and is only partially perceivable to humans,[22] the mystery of forgiveness is that it is radically for the other and the world itself. One does not ring the doorbell only for oneself, for the ringing of it effects a real alteration in the objective world, in oneself and others. This fact is essential to the meaning of Meher Baba’s description of the “charity of forgiveness”:

People ask God for forgiveness. But since God is everything and everyone, who is there for Him to forgive? Forgiveness of the created was already there in His act of creation. But still people ask God's forgiveness, and He forgives them. But they, instead of forgetting that for which they asked forgiveness, forget that God has forgiven them, and, instead, remember the things they were forgiven—and so nourish the seed of wrongdoing, and it bears its fruit again. Again and again they plead for forgiveness, and again and again the Master says, I forgive.

But it is impossible for men to forget their wrongdoings and the wrongs done to them by others. And since they cannot forget, they find it hard to forgive. But forgiveness is the best charity. (It is easy to give the poor money and goods when one has plenty, but to forgive is hard; but it is the best thing if one can do it.)

Instead of men trying to forgive one another they fight. Once they fought with their hands and with clubs. Then with spears and bows and arrows. Then with guns and cannon. Then they invented bombs and carriers for them. Now they have developed missiles that can destroy millions of other men thousands of miles away, and they are prepared to use them. The weapons used change, but the aggressive pattern of man remains the same.

Now men are planning to go to the moon. And the first to get there will plant his nation's flag on it, and that nation will say, It is mine. But another nation will dispute the claim and they will fight here on this earth for possession of that moon. And whoever goes there, what will he find? Nothing but himself. And if people go on to Venus they will still find nothing but themselves. Whether men soar to outer space or dive to the bottom of the deepest ocean they will find themselves as they are, unchanged, because they will not have forgotten themselves nor remembered to exercise the charity of forgiveness.[23]

Forgiveness is charity, not only because it expresses divine love, but because it actually gives something to the other, something better than all other possible gifts. What does forgiveness give? The answer lies in connection to the question of sanskaras or impressions, the very of medium of conscious experience.

There are two aspects of human experience—the subjective and objective. On the one hand there are mental processes which constitute essential ingredients of human experience, and on the other hand there are things and objects to which they refer. The mental processes are partly dependent upon the immediately given objective situation, and partly dependent upon the functioning of accumulated sanskaras or impressions of previous experience. The human mind thus finds itself between a sea of past sanskaras on the one side and the whole extensive objective world on the other.[24]

Forgiveness gives a new past. This is not only a metaphor, but a literal and actual fact. Forgiveness effects a real and palpable alteration in the impressional stuff through which the limitations of past actions remain operative in the present. It accelerates the decay of dead forms and clears new pathways to “the Present, which is ever beautiful and stretches away beyond the limits of the past and the future.”[25] More than the violence and suffering to which it most characteristically responds, forgiveness participates in and attests to the struggle of life itself.

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, to throw away the accumulated burden of the past, to find rescue from the debris left by a series of temporary achievements and failures. Life seeks to unwind the limiting sanskaras of the past and to obtain release from the mazes of its own making, so that its further creations may spring directly from the heart of eternity and bear the stamp of unhampered freedom and intrinsic richness of being which knows no limitation.[26]

For no less than evil, goodness must be also be forgiven.

[1] The Divan-i-Hafiz, trans. Wilberforce Clarke (London: Octagon Press, 1974), 216.3.
[2] From a message sent by Meher Baba to Mildred Kyle in 1948, published in Seattle by Warren Healey, and cited in Bal Natu, Glimpses of the God-Man, Volume VI: March 1954-April 1955 (Myrtle Beach: Sheriar Foundation, 1994), 87.
[3] Such a relation between forgiveness and unknowing is suggested by Jesus’s “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), which presents forgiveness as grounded in the knowledge of ignorance, in the recognition of not knowing. Nor is it necessary to read the line as predicating forgiveness on intellectual superiority and/or better knowledge of the other. My knowledge that the other knows not what he does can very well include and in fact grow from recognition that I also know not what I do. So the words might be rescribed into a general imperative description of the act of forgiveness: do not what you know.
[4] Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing (Beacon Hill, Australia: Meher House Publications, 1963), 69-70.
[5] Meher Baba, Discourses, 6th ed., 3 vols. (San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1967), 3.139, original italics elided.
[6] Insofar as forgiveness is constituted by a negative movement, a decision not to be angry, hate, seek revenge, and so forth, and more deeply, a decision in some sense not to decide, it participates in the negative essence of freedom or potentiality, which resides not in the ability to do as one wants, but in impotentiality, or the ability not to do. As Giorgio Agamben explains via Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener, it is precisely impotentiality that preserves ethics from reduction to law: “Our ethical tradition has often sought to avoid the problem of potentiality by reducing it to the terms of will and necessity. Not what you can do, but what you want to do or must do is the dominant theme. This is what the man of the law repeats to Bartleby. When he asks him to go to the post office (“just step around to the Post Office, won’t you?”), and Bartleby opposes him with his usual “I would prefer not to,” the man of the law hastily translates Bartleby’s answer into “You will not?” But Bartleby , with his soft but firm voice, specifies, “I prefer not” . . . But potentiality is not will, and impotentiality is not necessity . . . To believe that will has power over potentiality, that the passage to actuality is the result of a decision that puts an end to the ambiguity of potentiality (which is always potentiality to do and not to do)—this is the perpetual illusion of morality” (“Bartleby, or On Contingency,” in Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, ed. and trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999], 254). Impotentiality is proportionally essential to Meher Baba’s cosmology with respect to the infinite whim that causes the created cosmos: “Whim after all is a whim; and, by its very nature, it is such that “why—wherefore—when” can find no place in its nature. A whim may come at any moment; it may come now or after a few months or after years, and it may not come at all. Similarly, the original infinite whim, after all, is a whim, and too, it is the whim of God in the state of infinitude! This whim may not surge in God at all; and, if it surges, either at any moment or after thousands of years or after a million cycles, it need not be surprising” (Meher Baba, God Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose, 2nd ed. [New York: Dodd, Mead & Co, 1973], 83-4).  
[7] Meher Baba, Discourses, 1.133. Cf. “Worrying about the results is no good and of no use. If a person wishes to do anything for others, he must do it sincerely. And having done it, he should not worry about the results, for results are not in human hands. It is for humans to do, for God to ordain. To remain aloof from results is not difficult, but men do not try. Because it is human nature to think of the results of one's actions, however, it does not mean one should worry! Man must think, but he must not worry” (Meher Baba, cited from Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher, 5.1866, ).
[8] Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing, 62.
[9] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.12.
[10] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 83.
[11] “One who is not equipped with this positive forgetfulness becomes a barometer of his surroundings. His poise is disturbed by the slightest whisper of praise or flattery, and by the faintest suggestion of slander or criticism; his mind is like a slender reed swayed by the lightest breeze of emotion. Such a man is perpetually at war with himself and knows no peace. In the exercise of this positive forgetfulness, not only is non-reaction to adverse circumstances essential, but also non-reaction to favourable and pleasurable circumstances. Of these two the latter is the harder and is less often described, although it matters just as much” (Meher Baba, God Speaks, 213-4).
[12] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 213-214.
[13] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 214.
[14] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.41, original italics elided.
[15] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.64
[16] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.192
[17] Meher Baba, Discourses, II. 66.
[18] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.65
[19] “Only spiritual freedom is absolute and unlimited. When it is won through persistent effort, it is secured forever. Though spiritual freedom can and does express itself in and through the duality of existence, it is grounded in the realisation of the inviolable unity of all life, and is sustained by it” (Meher Baba, Discourses, III.101).
[20] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.162.
[21] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.15, my italics.
[22] “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. But this is not all that the word ‘Avatar’ means or conveys. “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)
[23] Meher Baba, Everything and the Nothing, 69.
[24] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.54. The situation is not, of course, exclusively human. Rather, human consciousness is itself the last stage in the evolution of individualized consciousness through the various pre-human kingdoms (stone, metal, vegetable, worm, fish, bird, animal), the form through which the soul exhausts all impressions: “It is the evolutionary struggle that enables the soul to develop full consciousness as that in the human form, and the purpose having been achieved, the side-issues or by-products of evolutionary travel (the nuqush-e-amal or sanskaras) have to be done away with, while retaining the consciousness intact. The process of reincarnation therefore is to enable the soul to eliminate the sanskaras by passing through the furnace of pain pleasure” (Meher Baba, God Speaks, 29 note).
[25] Meher Baba, cited from Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher, 5809, ).
[26] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.113, original italics elided, my emphasis.

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: http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/letter/572.html.
[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 [lordmeher.org], 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.