Saturday, August 18, 2007

Beyond Beyond: On High on Fire's "The Yeti" (4th installment)

ETYMOLOGICAL EXISTENCE. Etymologically, existence means something like what stands forth. Yeti is a Tibetan compound, yeh-teh, meaning something like person-animal or little manlike animal. The Yeti’s existence is therefore something like the standing forth of a small humanoid animal. And that is all the Yeti is, that is all the Yeti does! The Yeti is, so to speak, its own etymology, a truly namable being who is its own perfect instance, a non-derivative yet particularized nature. This does not mean that the Yeti’s existence lacks purpose. Rather, the Yeti’s existence is something between the purpose-bound existence we call “life” and the purposelessness of absolute existence: “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” (Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing, 62). The Yeti does not “live” beyond the mountains of ice, he exists there. Yet he does not simply exist, because his existence is constituted by a purpose, not a purpose identifiable with any other existing thing or being, but the purpose of his own being, which is to stand forth as a small humanoid animal. This means that the Yeti exists on the path to purposelessness and lives on the boundary between purpose and the purposeless – a liminality most evident in the Yeti’s solitariness. Does this mean the Yeti is lonesome? It is impossible to say.
His secret lies in the skies
EMPYREAN CONSPIRACY. Just as the Yeti is an open secret, something everyone knows about without actually knowing, without understanding, so the Yeti’s own secret, at once the secret he carries and the secret of himself, subsists in a present elsewhere or local beyond, in a place we can point towards but not to. The sky has this character above all through its dimensional dimensionlessness, its being so deep, so expansive that it appears flat and so perfectly flat that it contains extra dimensions. Which is of the essence of skies as a plural singular and singular plural. To be in the sky is to be in the skies, a multiple of itself, in something more than sky. To be in the skies is to be in the sky, a totality of themselves, in something greater than skies. The perfect circularity of the sky’s self-otherness thus leads both everywhere and nowhere. The skies are everywhere, but the place of this everywhere, the place of the sky, is nowhere. Where is the sky? Where the secret is. As secrecy is constituted by location, the undetermined elsewhere-being of a desired-to-be-known, so the location of the secret in the sky unveils the nature of secrecy itself as a something that is something else, a something else that is at once nothing at all, nothing else. In other words, the secret and the sky share an identical shape, the shape of a transparent covering of nothing. The sky covers its nothingness, both the nothingness of its location (its being nowhere) and the nothingness of its substance (its being emptiness), through its very transparency, a transparency which, against the background of the unthinkability of nothingness, becomes the illusory substance of infinite space. Likewise, the secret covers its nothingness, both the nothingness of its location (it being only where it is not) and the nothingness of its substance (its being an unknowable unknown), through its very transparency, its total lack of content, which, against the backdrop of the unthinkability of nothingness, becomes the illusory substance of mysterious significance. Which means that the secret and the sky also share the shape of a perfect lie, a lie that operates not through deception but through openness, by being such a fully open space for belief that we are led to place within its placelessness a truth we can never know, to lead ourselves by the nose into the fiction of a wholly external beyond. What compels us to do this? Nothing but (fear of) our own mystery. Because the only place where the universe might be is within the self and because a secret can similarly only be where it is not, in the unknowing self, we place our true self as a secret in the sky, build an empyrean where the self’s truth can live, unknown, locked in the safety of an unknowable knowing other. Why? To hide, to sleep, to preserve the privacy of superficial and self-centered being, to build and worship a god who knows us so we do not have to know ourselves, to avoid absolute honesty, to delay facing our own unknown knower, the God we do not know, to kill the unkillable question, who am I? . . . and all the other excuses (a.k.a. well-timed lies) for why we cannot risk ourselves. “He who speculates from the shore about the ocean shall know only its surface, but he who would know the depths of the ocean must be willing to plunge into it” (Meher Baba, Discourses, II.191) – a willingness that is nothing other than our being in the present, the nunc stans, where fear and speculation give way to the irreparable instant act of love: “’And what of our delight when the knight, almost before the fearful voice has ceased, without giving his situation a second thought, without stopping to consider the peril to which he is exposing himself, or even shedding the burden of his heavy armour, commends himself to God and to his lady and hurls himself into the boiling lake and, all of a sudden when he least knows where he is bound, finds himself amidst flowery meadows, far finer than the Elysian fields?’” (Cervantes, Don Quixote, I.50). Thus the transparent deeper meaning of the sky as the locus where the Yeti’s secret lies, the place exposing secrecy’s lie, the self-facing mirror where there are no secrets. The Yeti’s secret is that the Yeti, like other secrets, is not a secret. “And perhaps after all, there is no secret [Cf. Derrida]. We incline to think that the Problem of the Universe is like the Freemason's mighty secret, so terrible to all children. It turns out, at last, to consist in a triangle, a mallet, and an apron, – nothing more!” (Melville, Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, [April 16?] 1851). But if you want to dream about the Yeti’s secret, to believe in the Yeti (whatever that means) instead of be friends with him, or if you want to deny the Yeti’s existence all together, to disbelieve in the Yeti (whatever that means) instead of be friends with him, the sky will not stop you, but lovingly reflect your own gaze, lighting all things with the look of what you take them to be.


IndieFaith said...

I would like to give these posts a more careful reading (are they towards some course or publication?) but I find that your general thought line in this series to be very helpful in exploring an aesthetic (poetic?) account of existence and meaning. This particular post brought to mind something that came to me recently. It is learning to read our own name. Is there a syntax and grammar to it? I think there is both a stability and fluidity to this task and it reminds me of your reading of the existence of the yeti.
I am sure thoughtful and rigorous people have tackled my question but I thought I would share in any event. All the best.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

I am glad you are enjoying the gloss. I am finding it to be a very enjoyable form of writing/thinking, full of spontaneity and possibility. I've written a few things about the form in the "What is This that STands before Me?" piece under 'Other Writings', a kind of prototype introduction for what was planned originally as a collaborative project, which might come together one day. Meanwhile the commentary continues. One thought about the form, which could use a revival, that keeps playing in my head is Agamben's "Perhaps only a language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word, and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring, would be the true human language" (Language and Death).

Learning one's name. A wonderful problem. Who is speaking whom? Sounds like a situation of mutual giving. But what does one give to the name and what does the name give to oneself?