Monday, July 30, 2007

What is "God" For? Getting a Little Scholastic

Washing the dishes in the wake of recent conversations -- clearly there are more than two ways to wash the dishes -- led me to ask this question and answer it as follows.

"God," God-as-concept, is fundamentally the inverse objectification of two formally related facts, one cosmic, the other individual:

1) The ever-present absence of a reason why anything is happening at all.
2) The even more palpable, because personal, lack of an account for the individualized self, whose existence as subject, as one among others, is "arbitrary" (why am I me?) and whose existence as consciousness is "impossible" (how can my consciousness simply pop into being, ex nihilo as it were, as the consciousness of this human being without some pre-human development of me?).

Note how pushing the question of the second leads one back to the first. Together these two facts of existence, generally ignored but always there, structure the conceptual need for a personal absolute.

Note that I am not asking "what is God for?" which is a totally different, though not necessarily unrelated, theological question.

So, to all you seemingly arbitrarily situated philosophers out there, I know this answer misses a lot, but am I wrong?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Beyond Beyond: On High on Fire's "The Yeti" (a preview)

Beyond the mountains of ice
Exists a creature of frost

STORIES PRECEDE BEGINNING. This one does, first, by beginning with a Yeti howl (another story), and second, by beginning (and unending) with a riff that is already a story, an epic, elephantine line whose measure, architecture, and fearsome fugal quality make it already narrative, not a narrative of something, but a narrative itself, so that we feel the first words before hearing them, sense the sonic approach of a story, the musical aura of temporal being. “For just as contraries opposed to contraries give discourse its beauty, so the world’s beauty [saeculi pulchritudo] is constituted by a kind of eloquence of contraries in opposition, not of words but of things” (Augustine, City of God, 11.18). This is the story of a story we know, the boundary of a place we have been before. Here the Yeti walks, through a place we passed through, once, on our way here. BEYOND BEYOND. This place is beyond all others where there are spaces between contraries, spaces for dissonance and harmony. But it is not totally beyond them. The Yeti’s place is something else, a middle between our place and the beyond, a magic zone around the intersection of Augustine’s contrariorum oppositio and Cusa’s coincidentia oppositorum. This is a place of simultaneously infintesimal and maximal space, a somewhere between unity and duality where things are held together, not by identity or difference, but by pure proximity, by a nearness so perfect that it is both infinitely intimate and absolutely open. This is the elemental world, a beyond that is not beyond but within and therefore a beyond beyond. In the elemental world, everything happens through sublime closeness, without means or agents. Here there are battles without armies, myths without gods, faces without features, conversations without words. Here the possible and the impossible make and unmake each other in unending loving strife. And this is why the Yeti cannot normally be seen, because he is too close, right there. But in remote places, where the boundary between things and elements thins, where there are momentary breakdowns in Gestalt, the Yeti can be glimpsed. As Heidegger explains, “the achieving of phenomenological access to the entities which we encounter consists in thrusting aside our interpretive tendencies, which keep thrusting themselves upon us” chief of which is the very category of thing: “For in addressing these entities as ‘Things’(res), we have tacitly anticipated their ontological character” (Being and Time, 1.3.15). ELEMENTAL ENTERING. Being an ever-present boundary between within and without, the Yeti’s elemental world is neither and both. You cannot enter it. It cannot enter you. Yet it is possible to be entered into it. This can happen when the Yeti’s voice, at once humanoid scream and howling storm, enters from within as a without. The most wonderful thing about this elemental entering is that it seems, it sounds, like you are hearing it from afar when in fact it is only causing, as its outermost reverberation, the experience of physical hearing. In reality the sound is not coming from anywhere but is a vibration of the very boundary between inner and outer. Thus the fantastic irony that Yeti howl recordings, such as the one High on Fire here samples, are mostly “honest” attempts by people who really have heard a Yeti to demonstrate the reality of their experience by proving the truth of a lie they are deceived by, namely, that the Yeti is a biological rather than elemental animal. The Yeti, like other creatures of his world, can be seen, smelt, heard, but not photographed, bottled, recorded, unless there is a way to photograph seeing, bottle smelling, record hearing (a mircomicrophone somewhere in Corti’s organum spirale?).


The Eternal Secret Society of Entities

Saturday, July 21, 2007

From Where Have I Returned?

From where have I returned? There is no telling
Between this morning’s brightness
And the utter, the outer darkness.

The separateness of beings? I cannot stand
This bystanding, our boredwalking over
The opening, the happening of our passing.

Deep emotions, desperate thoughts? I’ve got them
Cornered, spear-weary bristling boars,
And tired of not saying it, I’m all cut up.

Self talking to self? No wonder people
Turn respectable, shutting chatter like
From where have I returned?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Some Writing on the Hand

Between us and our hands there is an abyss of infinite intimacy, a space that is always unbridgeable and already traversed. This is the space of actuality, the place where body and being are joined in the friendship of the now. All human life, all history, all experience are constituted within this space, on whose reality rests our being in the world and the world’s being in us, the very possibility of saying we. We hold with our hands because, but insofar as, our hands hold us.

Hands do not own this space, but they do reveal it in a conspicuous and definitive way. The hand of God descending from a cloud, horror’s self-moving severed hand, gesturing hands, caressing hands, praying hands, chiromantic hands – all point to a special relationship between the visible and the invisible within and around in the human hand. What is this relationship? How does the hand touch the invisible? The beginnings of an answer are suggested in a passage from Augustine’s Confessions, in which the hand carries both the possibility and the impossibility of experiencing the nunc stans, of grasping the eternal present:

Who will hold fast the human heart so that it may stand and see how eternity, standing beyond past and future, speaks both past and future? Is my hand capable of this? Or can the hand of my mouth accomplish such a great thing through language?

These questions dream the hand as a self-seizing power, as the special tool that could untie the time-bound self and hold us gazing within time at what is beyond it. Their fantasy is of the hand as a force of direct apprehension, a faculty through which understanding and possession are fused in the unmediated experience of the thing itself. The hand is imagined as a medium that transcends mediation. The corporeal hand, rather than simply being discarded or metaphorized in this dream, is more properly its very ground. The impossibility of grasping heart with hand is the basis for imagining language as a hand that might seize the self. There is no question of either hand succeeding, but the questions open up the significant impossibility of their failure, an impossibility embodied in the hand itself as the place where body and self perfectly yet hopelessly meet.

The familiar topos for this meeting is the experience, also articulated by Augustine, of the hand as the perfect, instant servant of the mind, as the place where the self, when it wants to be there, already is:

The mind commands the hand to move with such facility that it is almost impossible to distinguish command from execution. Yet the mind is mind and the hand is body. The mind commands the mind to will and it does not, though it is the same. Whence this marvel [monstrum]?

Here also the hand provides the model for a self-possession or self-control that the self should be able to exercise but cannot. The hand defines a power that, simultaneously possessed and lacking, makes the human always more and less than itself – a bifurcation to which the functional and symbolic asymmetry between right and left hand gives concrete expression. The hand is, in a special way, the monstrum of the human in both senses, a projection at its extremity that is at once transcendent and grotesque. On the one hand, the hand defines the god-like self-possession of the human being, its being a seamless conscious agent of itself. On the other hand, the hand haunts the human with the fact that the self it controls is not itself, that its self-possession takes place through an undetermined immersion in something other than it. The hand is a place where we experience ourselves to a conspicuous degree as joined but split, split but joined, an intimate periphery where we are and are not.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More Metal Lyrics

"Burning Witch" (chorus by Zak Smith)

Her eyes melt into blood.
Her soul is a flame.
Her heart shrieks in blood.


No one knows her name.
Her bones now are mud.
Remember her pain.