It was said of Abbot Agatho that for three years he carried a stone in his mouth until he learned to be silent. –Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert
You appeal to my writings, and testify to what I may at some time have said or written. You may deal in this way with others, who in their discussions follow prescribed rules. We live for the passing day ; we say whatever strikes our minds as probable ; and so we alone are free.
A useful reminder.
The popular idea that Christianity says “human nature” is inherently bad is actually the opposite of what the earliest Christian theologians believed. This book challenges the popularized negative view by proposing a prophetic alternative grounded in early Greek Christian sources. It draws on the wealth of early theological reflection, the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers, and the heritage of Eastern Christianity to discover what God has made us to be.
Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation (Baker Academic, 2010), 5.
This book arrived several months ago. I have dipped into it, and have wanted to get down to a serious reading of it many times, but let’s just say that other things have intervened. I don’t intend blogging on it in detail, worthwhile though that would be, because such an intention would no doubt simply go the way of all my other…
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Abiding in hope…
Ed Mooney, over at Mists on the Rivers, has been mulling over the Heidegger passage I posted yesterday, as have I. The passage fascinates me in part because so many paths intersect in it: one from Socrates and his avowal of ignorance, one from Eckhart and his working-out of contemplation, one from St. Thomas and his condemnation of curiositas as a form of cognitive intemperance, one from Neitzsche and his linking the will to knowledge to the will to power, one from Husserl and his plying of the reduction, one from Marcel and his ideal of secondary reflection, and one from Wittgenstein and his contrast of explanation and description.
I cannot rise to the level of Ed Mooney–but let me say a bit more about the line from Marcel. Marcel distinguishes primary from secondary reflection by distinguishing between what we might call their ‘objects’, problems and mysteries. There is a lot to say about that distinction, and I have toyed with it on the blog a time or two (here for example). But a key idea is the idea of investigations that are, as it were, self-willed, where the investigator stands above, over and against, what he investigates, and one where the investigator is ‘object-willed’, moved to consideration of what she stands enmeshed in, alongside, and which calls out to her for consideration. We might say that in the first case, the investigation proceeds in light produced by the investigator, in the second, in light produced by the ‘object’ investigated. (Marcel works a far-reaching change on the popular understanding of mystery, which he regards, not as a darkness that overwhelms, but as a light that is blinding, –at first, but that becomes eventually the light in which we see light: think of Christ on Mount Tabor.) Heidegger seems to understand some things as worthy of thought, as calling out to us to think them, and to think in relationship to them. Curiosity all-too-often is something that we project upon the world–we think about what we regard as worthy of thought, instead of what calls us out of ourselves and into thought.
There seems to me little doubt that Walden (to hook up with Ed’s reflections) is not only a book about but a book that exemplifies secondary reflection. And I think that secondary reflection is at play too, albeit in different ways, in Socrates’ unknowledge, Echart’s contemplation, St. Thomas’ studiositas (the contrast to curiositas), Husserl’s reduction and Wittgenstein’s descriptions. It seems likely true even in Nietzsche’s transvalued knowledge. For all of these, the relationship between the investigator and the investigated transforms the investigation, and that must always already be on the mind of the investigator. The world does not bumble around us, a flattened pother of objects indifferent to their investigation and that we investigate willy-nilly as we choose, but instead structures and variegates itself around us, featuring objects that call us to thought and objects that do not. And what they reveal to us is not a matter of what we take from them but of what they give us, sometimes only after we have earned it by abiding in hope before them, listening even to their silence, waiting for them to speak. What we ‘know’ of them in such moments is not something that we can commodify, something that we can learn by banking on our own conceptions of reasoning about them, our own ability to wring answers to our questions from them.
Didn’t Aristotle push us this way, too, long ago, when he noted that the problem of method is entirely (note that word) determined by the object?
This passage of Heidegger has been rolling around in my head all day. It must be connected to something else I have on my mind. Lord willing, I will eventually figure out what that is.
Thirst for knowledge and greed for explanations never lead to a thinking inquiry. Curiosity is always the concealed arrogance of a self-consciousness that banks on a self-invented ratio and its rationality. The will to know does not will to abide in hope before what is worthy of thought. –“A Dialogue on Language”
I’ve been reading Browning for the last two or three years–but only here and there, a little at a time. He’s like strong drink: in the right amount, he sweetens and deepens experience; in the wrong amount–too much–he overwhelms experience, making it too easy to lose oneself in the various dramatis personae on offer. But what has been on my mind lately is the systemic and instructive similarity between what Browning is doing in offering his dramatis personae and what Kierkegaard is doing in offering his psuedonyms.
Browning plots his course in various places, Book III of Sordello, in the Epilogue to Dramatis Personae, in intrducing The Ring and the Book and in Fifine at the Fair. He aims to be a “Maker-see”, not just a poet who tells you what he sees but rather a poet who causes the reader to see:
See it for yourselves,
This man’s act, changeable because alive!
He takes it that we simply do not possess the requisite moral imagination–call it a negative capability–for really understanding the lives and the aliveness of others:
Action now shrouds, now shows the informing thought;
Man, like a glass ball with a spark a-top,Out of the magic fire that lurks inside,
Shows one tint at a time to take the eye:
Which, let a finger touch the silent sleep,
Shifted a hair’s-breadth shoots you dark for bright,
Suffuses bright with dark, and baffles so
Your sentence absolute for shine or shade.
Human beings are not always in their Sunday best or Saturday worst. Browning wants us to catch a glimpse of the “bustle of a man’s work-time”, to see what the man or woman sees on a middling Monday, to see how hard it is to categorize when we attempt to realize the concrete spiritual drama of an individual’s life.
Once set such orbes, –white styled, black stigmatized, —
A-rolling, see them once on the other side
Your good men and your bad men every one
From Guido Franceschini to Guy Faux,
Oft would you rub your eyes and change your names.
…The inward work and worth
Of any mind, what other mind may judge
Save God who only knows the thing He made,
The veritable service He exacts?
Browning believes his work will be of value for so long as the soul of a person remains precious to us. Now Kierkegaard works a slightly different angle, but it is importantly related in its technique. He too wants to be a Maker-see. He wants us to confront the concrete spiritual drama of the lives of others. But the lives he dramatizes are lives we are meant to see as objects of comparison with our own–they are meant to lead us to self-confrontation. No doubt Browning’s dramatic monologues can and in fact often do the same, but that does not seem to be their primary purpose. We might say that whereas Browning wants us to awaken to the mystery of others, to the littleness of our understanding of others; Kierkegaard wants us to awaken to the mystery of ourselves, to the littleness of our understanding of ourselves. I suspect, though, that the two tasks are inextricably related, and that their being so is one reason why often Browning seems like Kierkegaard and Kierkegaard like Browning.
I plan to pursue this comparison across a few post in the next week or two.