Saturday, October 30, 2010

Urania, or, Astral Theses on Deep Bewilderment

 Steering Points
Now it is meet that Helicon stream forth [versi] through me, and Urania help me with her choir to put in verse things difficult to think.
Dante, Purgatorio, 29.40-2

[I]n every activity, whether sacred or profane, we must do our utmost to distinguish the two kinds of Love, for you may be sure that they will both be there.
– Plato, Symposium, 187e

Woe to those who, to the very end, insist on regulating the movement that exceeds them with the narrow mind of the mechanic who changes a tire.
– Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share

Exerting yourself to comprehend My Divine Game through the process of understanding opens up vast fields of speculation in which you wander and arrive sooner or later at a dead-end, finding yourself hopelessly lost. . . . I never make plans, never change plans. It is all one endless plan of making people know that there is no plan.
—Meher Baba 

Very true, Stranger; and in the course of my life I have often myself seen the morning star and the evening star and divers others not moving in their accustomed course, but wandering out of their path in all manner of ways.
– Plato, Laws, 821c

Hesperus is Phosphorus.
–  et al. (after Gottlob Frege)

Inspired by no one and nothing other than being here to (a)muse, this talk takes everything for granted in order to end and begin where we really are: totally lost. The totality of our being lost is not only a radical intensity of being lost. It is more than being ‘really’ lost, as language finds itself saying in the dark mouths of the mazed. Rather, our being totally lost is the ungraspable omnipresent reality that the statement I am really lost is actually on the way to indicating, namely, that being totally lost is the very substance of self-recognition, a direct perception of the truth that being is lost (being-lost). Arriving at this truth, seeing it in the mirror, amounts to a speculative solution to the inescapability of confusion, following Meillassoux’s advice that “in order to interrupt this see-sawing between metaphysics and fideism, we must transform our perspective on unreason, stop construing it as the form of our deficient grasp of the world and turn it into the veridical content of the world as such – we must project unreason into things themselves, and discover in our grasp of facticity the vertitable intellectual intuition of the absolute.”[1] Or as Ibn Arabi said, “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.”[2]

I will track being-lost by threading together the beginning and ending of the Divine Comedy, finding waylessness in the former and dislocation in the latter. Where the opening of the poet’s journey is defined by arrival at dereliction, its closing is constituted by departure into exile. In each place, the negativity of being-lost is the essential form and vehicle of truth, first, “del ben ch’i’ vi trovai” (Inferno 1.8) [of the good that I found there] which is the very matter of the poema sacro, and second, of one’s desire and will being already turned by “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle” (Paradiso 33.145) [the love that moves the sun and the other stars]. Joining beginning and ending in these terms, making the Commedia bite its own coda, is a way of harmonizing the revolving movements that condition each, and more deeply, of understanding how being-lost is a situation—we have a situation here—where arrival and departure are always meeting, an emergency of being wherein existence is a constant recursive questioning: How did I get here? . . . How do I get out? This corresponds to the ordinary experiential structure of being-lost. As a form of movement, following the imperative to find a way out, being-lost is where the one who is lost is always arriving at being-lost by departing from it. As a form of stasis, following the imperative to stay where one is, the one who is lost is departing being-lost by always arriving at it. Whether as stasis or movement, being-lost is a revolution, a turning and re-turning of itself. Bewilderment is a comprehension of the reality of this revolution. It is not confusion, but the infinitely perfectible incapacity to attain understanding, our being beyond from and to. As Ibn Arabi, whose spherical affinities with Dante are many,[3] says:   

For the bewildered one has a round [dawr] / and a circular motion around the qutb / which he never leaves / But the master of the long path / tends away from what he aims for / seeking what he is already in / A master of fantasies which are his goal / He has a ‘from’ and a ‘to’ / and what is between them / But the master of the circular movement / has no starting point / that ‘from’ should take him over / and no goal / that he should be ruled by ‘to’ / He has the more complete existence / And is given the totality of the words and wisdoms.[4]

Why are stars involved with this? Because: 1) Stars are never not involved with this, all the more so in light of their diurnal occlusion by another, by one of their own. As Bataille writes, “The night is my nudity / the stars are my teeth / I throw myself among the dead / dressed in white sunlight.”[5] 2) Giving birth to something stellar is what chaos in oneself does. As Nietzsche explains: “I say to you: one must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star. I say to you: you still have chaos in you. Beware! The time of the most contemptible human is coming, the one who can no longer have contempt for himself. Behold! I show you the last human being. ‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star? – thus asks the last human being, blinking.”[6] 3) Being around stars means being always already inseminated with love, never not pregnant with speculations, subtly and submarinely drowning in pneumatic aether (“the natural principle in breath [that is] analogous to the element of the stars” (De generatione animalium, 736b). As Agamben, summarizing the medieval synthesis of Aristotelian phantasmology and Stoic-Neoplatonic pneumatology, says: “the breath that animates the universe, circulates in the arteries, and fertilizes the sperm is the same one that, in the brain and in the heart, receives and forms the phantasms of the things we see, imagine, dream, and love.”[7] In sum, star is the inescapable vehicle of being-lost.

There is no way
Nel mezzo del cammin . . . In the middle of the way of life I found myself in a dark forest, for the direct way was smarrita [lost, confused, bewildered] (Inferno 1.1-3). Taking both subjective and objective objects, the word occupies the zone of indistinction between external conditions and inner state that being-lost is all about.[8] It locates the reality, which I am positing as an operative absolute reality, of the identity between losing the way and finding oneself. Discovering, finding oneself to be lost means directly seeing the non-difference between one’s being and the fact that the way is lost. Confirmation of arrival at this non-difference is provided by the sense of factical thrownness that colors the wayfarer’s getting a hold of himself: Ah, how hard it is to say what that wood was . . . I do not know how to tell how I entered there . . . so my mind which was still fleeing turned itself to rimirar [gaze upon with wonder] the pass that never left any person alive (Iinferno 1.4-27). That is, the forest is not a special place of bewilderment located in the middle of life, but the space wherein life is re-discovered to be a middle in a frightening way: an ontologically inexpressible and seemingly unenterable thing that only the dead exit. Note that the scene manifests the sylvan aura of bewilderment as a starlit event. It was the beginning of the morning, and the sun was mounting with those stars that were with it when divine love first moved those beautiful things (Inferno 1.37-40). Stars do not lead anywhere, and certainly not to themselves. They guide simply by remaining in their course wherever you are lost. A star orients only by never ceasing to indicate that everything is nowhere. It guides on behalf of the fact that there is no way, no path other than where you are, that all roads lead nowhere. There at the ending of the valley that pierced my heart with fear, I looked up and saw its shoulders already clad in rays of the planet that mena dritto altrui per ogne calle [leads, drives all, each one, others straight, aright, direct through every path, track (Inferno 1.14-8).[9] Where fear concerns a coming close of the detrimental within “the patent possibility that it may stay away and pass us by” (Heidegger),[10] the intimate harmless staying afar of astral light is a ground of love. “Seeing something simply in its being-thus . . . is love” (Agamben).[11] And con-sidering the star, being with it the way one is with stars, that is paradigmatically ALL you see, the essential accident of its appearance, the individuated specificity of whatever it will be however so long ago the light it made left to have been a star in your wandering eye.

All is lost  
Staring finally into the somma luce (Paradiso 33.67), the triune light (trina luce) that shines “in unica stella” (Paradiso 31.28), in a single star, the bright empyreal being that eternally fulfills and exceeds astral identity, the poet confesses his faith in being-lost: Io credo . . . I believe that because of the acuteness of the living ray which I endured, I would have been lost, smarrito, if my eyes had been turned from it (Paradiso 33.76-8).[12] And it is with something like an event or coming true of what is here believed in that the poem completes itself. Here, qui, power failed the lofty phantasy; but already desire and my will were revolved, like a wheel that is evenly moved, by the love that moves the sun and the other stars (Paradiso 33.143-5). The Commedia ends with Dante becoming lost, but with the extra truth, a realization standing outside of the vision proper, that being-lost is supreme, dynamic participation in whatever through which anything, everything exists is in the first place. Here the final goal is not a terminus, but the dislocating actualization of being as absolute movement, as a self-exceeding truth whose knowledge is attained only as and in the doubled turning of one’s own desire and will. Deleuze & Guattari say: “This conjunction [and] carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be.’ Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you heading for? These are totally useless questions.”[13] Follow me![14] This is the only way of staying with the center: constantly succeed to the furthest boundary of its infinite outside.[15] So the perfect failure of his own imaginal faculty, of what would re-present the way things are, is the poet’s final guide, taking him to the real reality that does not have to be brought from anywhere, that is nowhere missing. “Guidance,” says Ibn Arabi, “means being guided to bewilderment, that he might know the whole affair is perplexity, which means perturbation and flux, and flux is life.”[16] Among other things—and it is precisely in the midst of the astral multiplication of other things that the text openly ends—what is finally grasped in this failure is the here itself, the place of being-lost, only disconcealed from the illusion of its ever having been . . . elsewhere. Read in its blind truth, the pilgrim’s inalienable gazing into the living ray signifies that there is no seeing elsewhere, that the present vision of the all-seeing is the simple perception of all seeing as taking place here. The possibility of becoming lost by looking elsewhere is not a real alternative possibility, but the dark aura or image-concept of the bewildering movement that the eternal light itself is. “The world—insofar as it is absolutely, irreparably profane—is God.”[17] The mobile confusion between being and place constitutive of being-lost is the intimate shadow or specular figure of its impenetrable substantial fact. Andrey Smirnov explains: “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.”[18] Staring into the face of the highest star, the eye finds oneself joined to being-lost in the astral self-multiplication of an unending reality, abandoned to the dreaming real of an inexhaustible love. “I was wedded to all the stars of the sky,” Ibn Arabi says of his midlife vision in Ceuta, “There was not a single star left, and I married every one of them with greatest spiritual pleasure. Then I married the moons.”[19]

“With the energy from the subtle and the illumination from the mental spheres, for trillions upon trillions of years in the past and in the future, the gross universe has been and will be forming and disintegrating into countless stars, suns, planets, worlds, moons and meteors. Yet, in fact, there are no such things as time and space. Once the soul is freed of illusion, Illusion does not merely cease to exist, but is then found never to have existed at all.”[20] . . . For we are like creatures in the wind, and wild is the wind.

[1] Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 82.
[2] 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).
[3] See books by Miguel Asín Palacios and Gregory B. Stone.
[4] (Ibn Arabi, Fusus al-hikam [Bezels of Wisdom], chapter 3, cited from Michael Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, 101-2).      
[5] Georges Bataille, “The Oresteia,” I, The Impossible, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1991), 147.
[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Adrian Del Caro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 9-10.   
[7] Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Literature, trans. Ronald L. Martiez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 92.
[8]Smarrire trns. perdere, ma non senza speranza di ritrovare. É composto di marrire che si trove nel prov. e nel mlt. col significato di confondere . . . Più vicino all’ etimologia é l’uso di smarrire nelle frasi ‘smarrire la strada, la ragione’ e rifl. errare la strada, sbigottirsi, perdersi d’animo” (Franceso Zambaldi, Vocabulario etimologico Italiano [Città di Castello: S. Lapi, 1889], sv. “smarrire”). “The sense of going astray, losing the way, is derived from the troubled state of one confounded with affliction. . . . It. marrire, to go out of one’s wits through fear or amazement, to miscarry as letters do, to stray” (Hensleigh Wedgwood, A Dictionary of English Etymology, 2nd ed. [London: Trübner & Co, 1872], sv. “mar”). 
[9] Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi, comment on Inferno 1.18:  “che mena dritto: conduce per la via diritta (dritto è predicativo) – dando l'orientamento – gli uomini, ogni uomo (il pronome altrui ha in antico questo valore generico; cfr. più oltre, v. 95); è evidente il richiamo alla diritta via smarrita dall'uomo che è sulla scena, che qui ritrova il suo orientamento” (Dartmouth Dante Project <>).
[10] Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (San Franciso: Harper & Ros, 1962), 180.
[11] Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 105.
[12] Robert Hollander observes the development of smarrire across the poem in his comment on Paradiso 26.9: “The past participle, smarrita, of the verb smarrire (to confuse, discourage, bewilder) is used to suggest Dante's inner state in Inferno I.3, II.64, V.72, X.125, and XIII.24 (see the note to Inf. X.125). In most of those situations, the protagonist felt sympathy for the damned. Here, in the penultimate occurrence of the word to indicate his inner state, his loss of the faculty of vision is not the result of his sinfulness, but represents only a temporary failing (a result of his remaining tendency to see with carnal eyes?) in his increasing capacity to understand things divine. A final occurrence of the verb to indicate that condition awaits (Par. XXXIII.77); there it will refer to a rather different (and loftier) “confusion” on the protagonist's part” (Dartmouth Dante Project <>).
[13] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 25.
[14] “. . . Swaying drunkenly to and fro like the branches, fresh as raw silk, which the winds have bent. Gloss: ‘Swaying drunkenly,’ in reference to the station of bewilderment (حيرة)” (Ibn Arabi, Tarjuman al-Ashwaq [Interpreter of Desires], trans. Reynold A. Nicholson [London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1911], 22.13).
[15] “That bewilderment is achieved in the continual transformation from form to form and in the circular motion beyond the dualism of origin and goal” (Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, 102). 
[16] Ibn Arabi, Bezels of Wisdom [Fusus al-Hikam], trans. R.W.J. Austin (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 254.
[17] Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, 89.
[18] 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).
[19] Abdul Qadir Husaini, Ibn al-‘Arabi: The Great Muslim Mystic and Thinker, 6.
[20] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 165.


Kbob said...

Hi Nicola, I found your Blog by chance online yesterday and linked it on my FB page. Incredibly, my friend Ben mentioned that he had been emailing you this past week! A striking coalescence of serendipity! I look forward to reading more of your essays. I'm intrigued...

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Nice being bumped into!

Happy Halloween,