The letter of Lord Chandos

Morning mystery

Morning mystery

Hugo von Hofmannsthal

The Letter of Lord Chandos

This is the letter Philip, Lord Chandos, younger son of the Earl of Bath, wrote to Francis Bacon, later Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, apologising for his complete abandonment of literary ac­tivity.

…To sum up: In those days I, in a state of continuous in­toxication, conceived the whole of existence as one great unit: the spiritual and physical worlds seemed to form no contrast, as little as did courtly and bestial conduct, art and barbarism, solitude and society; in everything I felt the pres­ence of Nature, in the aberrations of insanity as much as in the utmost refinement of the Spanish ceremonial; in the boorishness of young peasants no less than in the most deli­cate of allegories; and in all expressions of Nature I felt myself. …

Abundance

Abundance

…For what had it to do with pity, or with any comprehensible concatenation of human thought when, on another evening, on finding beneath a nut-tree a half-filled pitcher which a gardener boy had left there, and the pitcher and the water in it, darkened by the shadow of the tree, and a beetle swimming on the surface from shore to shore, when this combination of trifles sent through me such a shudder at the presence of the Infinite, a shudder running from the roots of my hair to the marrow of my heels? What was it that made me want to break into words which, I know, were I to find them, would force to their knees those cherubim in whom I do not believe? What made me turn silently away from this place?

July quiet

July quiet

Even now, after weeks, catching sight of that nut-tree, I pass it by with a shy sidelong glance, for I am loath to dispel the memory of the miracle hovering there round the trunk, loath to drive away the unearthly tremors that still pulse around the nearby foliage. In these moments an insignificant creature – a dog, a rat, a beetle, a crippled apple tree, a lane winding over the hill, a moss-covered stone, mean more to me than the most beautiful, abandoned mistress of the happiest night.

Drenched

Drenched

These mute and, on occasion, inanimate creatures rise toward me with such an abundance, such a presence of love, that my enchanted eye can find nothing in sight void of life. Every­thing that exists, everything I can remember, everything touched upon by my confused thoughts, has a meaning. Even my own heaviness, the general torpor of my brain, seems to acquire a meaning; I experience in and around me a blissful, never-ending interplay, and among the objects playing against one another there is not one into which I cannot flow.

Falling

Falling

To me, then, it is as though my body consists of nought but ciphers which give me the key to everything; or as if we could enter into a new and hopeful relationship with the whole of exist­ence if only we begin to think with the heart. As soon, how­ever, as this strange enchantment falls from me, I find myself confused; wherein this harmony transcending me and the en­tire world consisted, and how it made itself known to me, I could present in sensible words as little as I could say any­thing precise about the inner movements of my intestines or a congestion of my blood. …

Busy as

Busy as

…For my unnamed blissful feeling is sooner brought about by a distant lonely shepherd’s fire than by the vision of a starry sky, sooner by the chirping of the last dying cricket when the autumn wind chases wintry clouds across the deserted fields than by the majestic booming of an organ. And in my mind I compare myself from time to time with the orator Crassus, of whom it is reported that he grew so excessively enamoured of a tame lamprey – a dumb, apathetic, red-eyed fish in his ornamental pond – that it became the talk of the town; and when one day in the Senate Domitius reproached him for having shed tears over the death of this fish, attempting thereby to make him appear a fool, Crassus answered, “Thus have I done over the death of my fish as you have over the death of neither your first nor your second wife.”

Luminescence

Luminescence

I know not how oft this Crassus with his lamprey enters my mind as a mirrored image of my Self, reflected across the abyss of centuries. But not on account of the answer he gave Domitius. The answer brought the laughs on his side, and the whole affair turned into a jest. I, however, am deeply affected by the affair, which would have remained the same even had Domitius shed bitter tears of sorrow over his wives. For there would still have been Crassus, shedding tears over his lam­prey. And about this figure, utterly ridiculous and contempti­ble in the midst of a world-governing senate discussing the most serious subjects, I feel compelled by a mysterious power to reflect in a manner which, the moment I attempt to express it in words, strikes me as supremely foolish.

Complicated

Complicated

Now and then at night the image of this Crassus is in my brain, like a splinter round which everything festers, throbs, and boils. It is then that I feel as though I myself were about to ferment, to effervesce, to foam and to sparkle. And the whole thing is a kind of feverish thinking, but thinking in a medium more immediate, more liquid, more glowing than words. It, too, forms whirlpools, but of a sort that do not seem to lead, as the whirlpools of language, into the abyss, but into myself and into the deepest womb of peace.

The price of gold

The price of gold

I have troubled you excessively, my dear friend, with this extended description of an inexplicable condition which is wont, as a rule, to remain locked up in me.

You were kind enough to express your dissatisfaction that no book written by me reaches you any more, “to compensate for the loss of our relationship.” Reading that, I felt, with a certainty not entirely bereft of a feeling of sorrow, that neither in the coming year nor in the following nor in all the years of this my life shall I write a book, whether in English or in Latin: and this for an odd and embarrassing reason which I must leave to the boundless superiority of your mind to place in the realm of physical and spiritual values spread out har­moniously before your unprejudiced eye: to wit, because the language in which I might be able not only to write but to think is neither Latin nor English, neither Italian nor Spanish, but a language none of whose words is known to me, a lan­guage in which inanimate things speak to me and wherein I may one day have to justify myself before an unknown judge.

Glow

Glow

Fain had I the power to compress in this, presumably my last, letter to Francis Bacon all the love and gratitude, all the unmeasured admiration, which I harbour in my heart for the greatest benefactor of my mind, for the foremost Englishman of my day, and which I shall harbour therein until death break it asunder.

This 22 August, A.D. 1603

PHI. CHANDOS

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Source

With many thanks to Steven Baird for his permission to use his images

‘To hold fast to the positive in its negative…’

Hand_holding_burning_coal

‘Take a burning coal and put it on my hand. If I said the coal burnt my hand, I would do it injustice. Were I to say truly what burns me, it is negation, for the coal contains something that my hand has not. It is this not that burns me. But if my hand contained all that the coal has or can effect, it would be all of the nature of fire. Then, if anyone were to take all the fire that ever burnt, and poured it out on to my hand, that could not hurt me.’

From Sermon 13 (b) in Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, Trans. and Ed., Maurice O’C. Walshe, Crossroad, New York, 2009, 109

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Study for cembalo

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

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Image source

Plotinus’ subject and object and the activity of self-knowing

8-cell human embryo, day 3. ‘The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour…’ The Enneads, V.8.12

8-cell human embryo, day 3. ‘The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour…’ The Enneads, V.8.12

The One generates the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle (Divine Mind) which in turn gives birth to the world of reflexive consciousness with its activity of self-knowing, and to Soul.

Knowledge by Intellectual-Principle – a unity-in-multiplicity – requires an object. ‘Either we must exhibit the self-knowing of an uncompounded being – and show how that is possible – or abandon the belief that any being can possess veritable self-cognition. To abandon the belief is not possible in view of the many absurdities thus entailed’ (The Enneads, V.3.1)

On the division necessary for the creation of philosophical (conceptual, spiritual) objects Plotinus asks ‘How is the self to make the partition? The thing cannot happen of itself. …The intellectual object is itself an activity, (my italics) not a mere potentiality; it is not lifeless…’ (V.3.5)

For Divine Mind, knowing its objects in their ‘life’, in their movement, equates to knowing itself. Plotinus asks ‘Now, can (Intellectual-Principle) know those objects alone or must it not simultaneously (my italics) know itself, the being whose function it is to know just those things? Can it have self-knowledge in the sense (dismissed above as inadequate) of knowing its content while it ignores itself? Can it be aware of knowing its members and yet remain in ignorance of its own knowing self? Self and content must be simultaneously present…’ (V.3.1)

Plotinus continues ‘Unless there is something beyond bare unity, there can be no vision: vision must converge with a visible object. …If there be no distinctions, what is there to do, what direction in which to move? An agent must either act upon the extern or be a multiple and so able to act upon itself: making no advance towards anything other than itself, it is motionless, and where it could know only blank fixity it can know nothing. …the intellectual act will always comport diversity as well as the necessary identity…If (the Intellectual-Principle) had to direct itself to a memberless unity, it would be dreasoned: what could it say or know of such an object? …In sum, then, a knowing principle must handle distinct items: its object must, at the moment of cognition, contain diversity; otherwise the thing remains unknown…Similarly the knowing principle itself cannot remain simplex, especially in the act of self-knowing…’ (V.3.10)

The ‘knowing principle’ is the activity of self-knowing – Intellectual-Principle and intellectual activity are the same. That activity is driven by contradiction1 and is known perspectivally.2

Divine Mind gives birth to objects as the embodiment of its outgoing creative power and in its contemplative recollection of and desire to unite with the One. This very activity means that it is incomplete. But the conceptual and spiritual development of its multiplicity (deepening self-knowledge rising from the particular to the general) brings it back to the One, enabling union with (vision/knowledge of) it.

‘Thus the Intellectual-Principle, in the act of knowing the Transcendent, is a manifold. It knows the Transcendent in very essence but, with all its effort to grasp that prior as a pure unity, it goes forth amassing successive impressions, so that, to it, the object becomes multiple: thus in its outgoing to its object it is not (fully realised) Intellectual-Principle; it is an eye that has not yet seen; in its return it is an eye possessed of the multiplicity which it has itself conferred: it sought something of which it found the vague presentment within itself; it returned with something else, the manifold quality with which it has of its own act invested the simplex.

If it had not possessed a previous impression of the Transcendent it could never have grasped it, but this impression, originally of unity, becomes an impression of multiplicity; and the Intellectual-Principle in taking cognisance of that multiplicity knows the Transcendent and so is realised as an eye possessed of its vision.’ (V.3.11)

Here, prior to the fertilisation of Christianity by Neoplatonism and the conflation of the hypostases by the Christian mystic Böhme and the consummate Neoplatonist Hegel is their source for God’s requiring diremption from himself in the world through his other, Christ, to enable the process and completion of his self-knowing and its resolution in a unified perspectival cultus of the Spirit.

Notes

1. ‘In that Intellectual Cosmos, where all is one total, every entity that can be singled out is an intellective essence and a participant in life: it is identity and difference, movement and rest, the object moving and the object at rest, essence and quality.’ (V.9.10)

2. ‘…since the object of vision has variety (distinction within its essential oneness) the intuition must be multiple and the intuitions various, just as in a face we see at the one glance eyes and nose and all the rest. But is not this impossible when the object to be thus divided and treated as a thing of grades is a pure unity? No: there has already been discrimination within the Intellectual-Principle; the Act of the Soul is little more than a reading of this.’ (IV.4.1)

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 Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), Trans., Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991

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Hegel on the role of academic philosophers – priests at ‘a continual divine service’

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

“This conceptual cognition of religion is by its nature not universal, but is rather only the cognition of a community. For that reason three stages take shape in regard to the kingdom of the Spirit: the first estate is that of immediate, naive religion and of faith; the second is that of the understanding, the estate of the so-called cultured, of reflection and the Enlightenment; and finally the third estate is ‘the community of philosophy.’”

In a note the Editor commented: “The ‘community’ (Gemeinde) – the community of faith, of the Spirit, the Christian community – seems now to have passed over into the philosophical community, and along with it its cognitive (i.e., its theological) activity.”

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion vol. III, The Consummate Religion, ed. Peter C. Hodgson, trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 247

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The ascetics Proclus and Nietzsche on eternal recurrence

Proclus 412-485 C.E.

Proclus (412-485)

‘Prop. 199. Every intra-mundane soul has in its proper life periods and cyclic reinstatements.

For if it is measured by time and has a transitive activity (prop. 191), and movement is its distinctive character (prop. 20), and all that moves and participates time, if it be perpetual, moves in periods and periodically returns in a circle and is restored to its starting-point (prop. 198), then it is evident that in every intra-mundane soul, having movement and exercising a temporal activity, will have a periodic motion, and also cyclic reinstatements (since in the case of things perpetual every period ends in a reinstatement of the original condition).’

‘Prop. 206. Every particular soul can descend into temporal process and ascend from process to Being an infinite number of times.

For if at certain times it is in the company of gods and at others falls away from its upward tension towards the divine, and if it participates both intelligence and unintelligence (prop. 202), it is plain that by turns it comes-to-be in the world of process and has true Being among the gods. For it cannot (have been for an infinite time in material bodies and thereafter pass a second infinite time among the gods, neither can it) have spent an infinite time among the gods and again be embodied for the whole time thereafter, since that which has no temporal beginning will never have an end, and what has no end cannot have had a beginning. It remains, then, that each soul has a periodic alternation of ascents out of process and descents into process, and that this movement is unceasing by reason of the infinitude of time. Therefore each particular soul can descend and ascend an infinite number of times, and this shall never cease to befall every such soul.’

Proclus, The Elements of Theology, Trans., E.R. Dodds, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, 175, 181

‘At the twilight of antiquity there were still wholly unchristian figures, which were more beautiful, harmonious, and pure than those of any Christians: e.g., Proclus. His mysticism and syncretism were things that precisely Christianity cannot reproach him with. In any case, it would be my desire to live together with such people. In comparison with them Christianity looks like some crude brutalisation, organised for the benefit of the mob and the criminal classes.

Proclus, who solemnly invokes the rising moon.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, ’We Philologists’, Trans., J.M.Kennedy, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Delphi Classics, Hastings, East Sussex, 2015, 7535

NIetzsche_the_birth_of_tragedy

Nietzsche_Thus_spoke_zarathustra

“What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine.'”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Trans., Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 194-195

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Images: top/below left/below right

NASA, ESA and a fine paragraph by William Franke

1. Flaring black hole accretion disk in the binary system V404 Cygni

1. Flaring black hole accretion disk in the binary system V404 Cygni

‘My own belief is that apophatic or negative theology holds in its keeping a key to the perennial vitality of philosophical reflection that does not simply define and then exhaust arbitrarily laid down, heuristic limits for its thinking. The willingness to let go of all definitions, to negate all its own formulations, opens thought to what is moving within it, beyond or beneath the definitive grasp of words and concepts. Philosophy at this level is not merely cognitive but also shades into and merges with other dimensions of human experience and being, such as the affective and conative (or wilful). In the ancient world, notably among the Neoplatonists, philosophy was so understood as a spiritual exercise involving all the human faculties of intellection and sensibility and praxis.’

William Franke, A Philosophy of the Unsayable, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 2014, 200-201

2. The sparring Antennae galaxies

2. The sparring Antennae galaxies

3. A cosmic couple - the star Hen 2-427 and the nebula M1-67 surrounding it

3. A cosmic couple – the star Hen 2-427 and the nebula M1-67 surrounding it

4. The Veil Nebula supernova remnant

4. The Veil Nebula supernova remnant

5. The Little Gem Nebula - planetary nebula NGC 6818

5. The Little Gem Nebula – planetary nebula NGC 6818

6. The barred spiral galaxy NGC 986 discovered in 1828 by James Dunlop

6. The barred spiral galaxy NGC 986, discovered in 1828 by James Dunlop

7. NGC 7714

7. NGC 7714

8. The ‘anaemic’ spiral galaxy NGC 4921

8. The ‘anaemic’ spiral galaxy NGC 4921

9. The Tadpole Galaxy, Arp 188. Its tail is about 280 thousand light-years long.

9. The Tadpole Galaxy, Arp 188. Its tail is about 280 thousand light-years long.

10. NGC 5972 - ghost of a quasar

10. NGC 5972 – ghost of a quasar

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Images: 1./2./3./4./5./6./7./8./9./10.

Nicholas of Cusa on the world

1. This artistic illustration is of a binary black hole found in the centre of the nearest quasar to Earth, Markarian 231, 600 million light-years away. The central black hole is estimated to be 150 million times the mass of our sun and the companion weighs in at 4 million solar masses.

1. This artistic illustration is of a binary black hole found in the centre of the nearest quasar to Earth, Markarian 231, 600 million light-years away. The central black hole is estimated to be 150 million times the mass of our sun and the companion weighs in at 4 million solar masses.

‘Who would not admire this Artisan, who with regard to the spheres, the stars, and the regions of the stars used such skill that there is – though without complete precision – both a harmony of all things and a diversity of all things? (This Artisan) considered in advance the sizes, the placing, and the motion of the stars in the one world; and He ordained the distances of the stars in such way that unless each region were as it is, it could neither exist nor exist in such a place and with such an order – nor could the universe exist. Moreover, He bestowed on all stars a differing brightness, influence, shape, colour, and heat. (Heat causally accompanies the brightness.) And He established the interrelationship of parts so proportionally that in each thing the motion of the parts is oriented toward the whole. With heavy things (the motion is) downward toward the centre, and with light things it is upward from the centre and around the centre (e.g., we perceive the motion of the stars as circular).

With regard to these objects, which are so worthy of admiration, so varied, and so different, we recognise – through learned ignorance and in accordance with the preceding points – that we cannot know the rationale for any of God’s works but can only marvel; for the Lord is great, whose greatness is without end.’

Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance), 1440, II.13, in Nicholas of Cusa on Learned Ignorance, Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1990, (online) 100

2. A massive black hole hidden at the centre of nearby galaxy Centaurus A, feeds on a smaller galaxy in a spectacular collision.

2. A massive black hole hidden at the centre of nearby galaxy Centaurus A, feeds on a smaller galaxy in a spectacular collision.

3. Large Hubble survey confirms link between mergers and supermassive black holes with relativistic jets

3. Large Hubble survey confirms link between mergers and supermassive black holes with relativistic jets

4. A ‘rose’ made of galaxies. Interacting galaxies Arp 273

4. A ‘rose’ made of galaxies. Interacting galaxies Arp 273

5. Spiral Galaxy M96 from Hubble

5. Spiral Galaxy M96 from Hubble

6. Hubble observes merging galaxies’ evolution in slow motion - NGC 3921

6. Hubble observes merging galaxies’ evolution in slow motion – NGC 3921

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Images: 1./2./3./4./5./6.

Contra sacerdotes latentes: Phillip Adams vs. ‘god’

Gilded mummy portrait of a woman, probably from er-Rubayat, Egypt, Roman Period, about AD 160-170. This image is often used to depict Hypatia of Alexandria because it dates from about the same time, comes from the same region and is beautiful - she was supposed to have been beautiful. A more life-like reproduction of this image is in The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt by Euphrosyne Doxiadis, Thames and Hudson, 1995. The original is in the British Museum, London.

Gilded mummy portrait of a woman, probably from er-Rubayat, Egypt, Roman Period, about AD 160-170. This image is often used to depict Hypatia of Alexandria because it dates from about the same time she lived (c. AD 350-415), comes from the same region and is beautiful – she is supposed to have been beautiful. A more life-like reproduction of this image is in The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt by Euphrosyne Doxiadis, Thames and Hudson, 1995. The original is in the British Museum, London.

Originally posted 30.03.14

Email sent to Phillip Adams 06.09.09

To Phillip Adams, host of Late Night Live, ABC Radio National, copied to John McDonald

Hi Phillip,

Would you be interested in delivering a very serious blow against ‘god’, against time-serving academics in a dozy, servile culture and in so doing, delivering an immense blow for intellect, the love of knowledge and the freeing-up of the potential of the most advanced organisation of matter yet known to us in the universe – what we all have between our ears?

If so, I strongly urge you to consider contacting and interviewing on Late Night Live William Franke from Vanderbilt University regarding the 2 vol. anthology he edited – ‘On What Cannot be Said’.

Despite one student posting on RateMyProfessors.com ‘Dr. Franke is the most boring professor I have ever had. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I sit in the back of Benson 200 and wait for death. Also, he answers every question with “Yes, that’s a question, isn’t it?”‘ and despite his intent in his editorship being far more limited than the result he achieved, he has compiled a body of texts from Western religion, philosophy and arts that, together, have the potential to contribute most significantly to the above.

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in Agora (2009)

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in Agora (2009)

In his anthology Franke presents the history of mysticism in Western culture till now, the evidence that clearly indicates the degree to which it suffuses our culture and underlies and informs the work of many of our culture’s most significant figures and particularly, he addresses how it functions now, despite the denials of those who would be thought of as representatives of ‘reason’ and the new – when in fact they argue for mysticism and the ancient. Franke himself believes his anthology comfortably extends the academic corpus – he does not see the former’s liberating potential.

The teaching of mysticism is rejected from Australian universities – ‘If you want that’ those in ivory towers behind cloistered walls believe, ‘do not even stop at religious studies, go straight to a college of theology – you will find one at the dead end of the street.’

Michael Lonsdale as Theon and Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in Agora (2009)

Michael Lonsdale as Theon and Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in Agora (2009)

As a materialist (those who describe themselves as ‘physicalist’ or ‘realist’ cause me to think of a mouse trembling before a trap, the cheese on which is ‘materialist’, the trap being ‘communism’…) I argue that the failure to even know about and understand this theological current let alone to teach it (not to advocate it but to teach the analysis of it, the understanding of it) as fundamental to our culture, which analysis and understanding is again fundamental to moving forward in the most rounded way, is the most massive failure, the most massive display of determined ignorance, dishonesty and servility to the dominant ideology by generations of academics – those in philosophy and the arts hold the greatest responsibility.

In relation to ‘god’, the most sound way for knowledge to progress is not to deny the concept, to dismiss it, to mock it. Doing this rejects engagement with it and does not show respect either for the religious who believe in that concept (for the a-theists who reject it – because they describe themselves against it) or for the cultural achievements made in its name. It is to do as Franke has done. He not only traced the history of mysticism in the West, but thereby showed how the arguments in its maintenance developed. He let ‘what cannot be said’ speak for itself. To fully understand the work of so many, particularly those in philosophy and the arts who dissemble about their sources and influences, would be impossible without such work.

Of the greatest importance, in his two volumes, Franke has unerringly and unintentionally flushed out a concealed priesthood, a priesthood that argues it is doing nothing other than the most principled and often most abstract reasoning – a priesthood that often denies its belief. With this priesthood, Franke has flushed a living ‘god’ into the open. And behind this ‘god’ there stands a dominant class and the most fundamental question of all – which precedes which – consciousness/thought or ‘matter’ (that which exists independently of consciousness/thought)?

I have tried for 25 years to get academic support towards my analysis and exposure of the impact of this mystical current on the visual arts – and to date have met, in the end result, with the most adamantine commitment to the dominant bourgeois ideology re- this crucial subject from academics in the visual arts and philosophy.

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria and Oscar Isaac as Orestes in Agora (2009)

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria and Oscar Isaac as Orestes in Agora (2009)

I know of no university in this country where one of the greatest philosophers and aestheticians in the West (in terms of an impact comparable with that of Plato and Aristotle) – Plotinus – is taught. It is an outrage against intellect, an utter failure in social responsibility by time-serving academics in their guardianship of a distorted and limiting understanding of ‘reason’. To expose and exemplify the extent to which mysticism pervades what they believe to be the products of the best ‘reason’ and what it has inspired in philosophy and the arts must challenge their understanding of ‘reason’ itself – an understanding increasingly at odds with the exponential growth of knowledge in brain science.

A couple of weeks ago you interviewed Jane Montgomery Griffiths re- the Neoplatonist Hypatia. For the sake of doing something truly new for philosophy and the arts in this country – and that to begin with, I urge you to expand that focus immensely, beyond Hypatia, to address the current of which she was a part, and interview Franke on your program.

Regards,

Philip Stanfield

P01144

P01145

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Images: top/2nd, 3rd and 4th/bottom

Contra sacerdotes latentes

Marie Spartali as Hypatia, 1867, Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron

Marie Spartali as Hypatia, 1867, Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron

Originally posted 21.03.14

Emails sent to ABC Radio National – I did not receive a reply to either.

To Alan Saunders, ‘The Philosopher’s Zone’ ABC Radio National, 03.09.09: ‘Knowledge or “god” ’

Hi Alan,

On 18.10.08 Graham Priest said on your program:

‘I mean one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century had a definite mystical overtone to what he was doing. So you may or you may not have heard of Wittgenstein, certainly one of the greatest twentieth century’s philosophers. If you read the only book that he published in his lifetime, the Tractatus, that ends by saying “I’ve shown you all I can show; there’s more but you can’t say it.” So it’s a direct appeal to the ineffable. Ineffability and direct experience is not alien to the Western philosophical tradition. So to say that these things have religious aspects or some mystical aspects, therefore they’re not philosophy, is just a non-sequitur.’

On 01.03.09, in reply to a question from you, Stephen Gaukroger said:

‘I think a lot of the motivation for developments in science in the seventeenth century, particularly the late seventeenth century, are driven by developments in natural theology, that’s to say particularly in England for example, and this is a view to which Newton was very sympathetic, the idea is that you have these two sources of knowledge, still unreconciled from the beginning of the thirteenth century, namely religion and science, and the thing to do is to triangulate them so that you can sort out the wheat from the chaff, and the idea is that there is just a single truth: both these discourses aim at truth, so let’s triangulate them, get them fixed on the same thing so that we can work out what’s true and what’s false in each of them, and in the process, build up something that’s much stronger than either of them taken individually.’

Your program on 04.04.09 was on Hypatia of Alexandria and Neoplatonism. The blurb stated:

‘This week, we look at the woman and the heritage of what is probably the longest-standing philosophical tradition in Western civilisation: that rational yet mystical, sometimes Pagan, sometimes Christian, body of doctrines known as Neo-Platonism.’

On 11.07.09 Moira Gatens said of George Eliot:

‘I think at the time that she’s writing and Feuerbach are writing, the relationship between theology…and philosophy was much stronger than it came to be in the twentieth century.’ A week later Clive Hamilton argued for a mystical view of the world.

Just as Gatens gave the standard and profoundly incorrect assessment of the current relationship between theology and philosophy, Priest, Deakin and Wildberg addressed elements of a theological current that suffuses Western philosophy and arts – that of apophatic or negative theology – mysticism. It is one of the two great pathways to ‘god’ in our culture (‘great’ because of their impact and because of the contributions to the arts done on their basis). The other, from which it is inseparable, is the distorted and limiting understanding and application of ‘reason’ (or as the Christians believe – ‘Reason’) which in the twentieth century was revealed in academic philosophy as ‘the linguistic turn’, divorced from a basis both in materiality and practice.

As a materialist (those who describe themselves as ‘atheist’ require ‘god’ for their self-description no less than do theists, while those who describe themselves as ‘physicalist’ or ‘realist’ cause me to think of a mouse trembling before a trap, the cheese on which is ‘materialist’, the trap being ‘communism’…) I argue that the failure to even know about and understand this theological current let alone to teach it (the understanding of it, the analysis of it) as fundamental to our culture, as fundamental to moving forward in the most rounded way (distinct from Lloyd’s Man of Reason) is the most massive failure, the most massive display of determined ignorance, dishonesty and servility to the dominant ideology by generations of academics – those in philosophy and the arts hold the greatest responsibility.

Guthrie wrote that the strict meaning of ‘philosophy’ is ‘the search for knowledge’ and it is to knowledge not to a subject pervaded by a concealed priesthood (or in the case of Gaukroger – overt) that my allegiance lies. If you have a similar regard for knowledge and would like to contribute to the exposure of timeservers on a narrow goat-track leading from ivory towers behind cloistered walls, if you would like to use your program to contribute something truly new in this country to knowledge and philosophy, you might do your best to get Wiilliam Franke from Vanderbilt University on your program and interview him regarding his two volume anthology On What Cannot Be Said. These two books clearly reveal the impact of ‘god’ and mysticism on our culture, on academic philosophy – right up to the present.

Franke, himself imbued with academicism, does not realise what he has done. Rather than, as he sees it, taking philosophy into ‘new areas’, he has laid bare the priesthood of an ancient current.

I urge you to interview him, and by so doing, contribute to doing likewise.

I have tried for twenty five years in this dozy and servile culture to get academic support towards my analysing and exposing the impact of this current on the visual arts – and to date have met with consistent ignorance and had very qualified success. I know of no university in this country where (in terms of an impact comparable with that of Plato and Aristotle) one of the greatest philosophers in the West – Plotinus – is taught. It is an outrage against intellect, an utter failure in social responsibility by time-serving academics.

Kant wrote in the preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason that he had found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith. I recall Wittgenstein, in an even more miserable tenor, writing in the Foreword to his Philosophical Remarks that he would have dedicated it to God but people would not have understood. Is this acceptable to you?

In the Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion excerpted in the reader for this year’s ‘Christianity as a Global Religion’ course at the University of Sydney it states: ‘One cannot ‘study’ mystics, except to the extent that they are prepared to write or speak about their experiences. There was however no lack of such material…’ True. This study is done in philosophy and the arts at every university in this country where these mystics are taught, but they are called ‘great thinkers’ and their experience is bounded by the limits of language banished from the Word.

Just as Cato the Elder argued ‘Carthago delenda est‘, I argue that the concealed priesthood particularly in philosophy but also in the arts must be flushed into the open, to unshackle the potential of the most advanced organisation of matter yet known to us anywhere in the universe – what we all have between our ears.

The title of your last Philosopher’s Zone asks ‘What makes a world class philosophy department?’ You are in a position to contribute to that answer and thereby to those with a passion for knowledge and progress.

Regards,

Philip Stanfield

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To Alan Saunders, ‘The Philosophers Zone’, copied to Phillip Adams, ‘Late Night Live’, ABC Radio National, 11.06.11: ‘Plotinus and what cannot (but must) be said’

Hello Alan,

Congratulations for having finally done a show on Plotinus. Now move from the safe and distant past to the present and do a show on the impact of Neoplatonsim and mysticism on modern and current Western philosophy and culture. You could take Kant and any of the German idealists, the ‘genius’ and mystic Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Derrida etc. Take your pick. Contribute to exposing the concealed priesthood in philosophy – of which the Neoplatonic ‘priest’ Nietzsche wrote – and which is a massive impediment to the acceptance of our rapidly growing objective knowledge of the world.

Interview William Franke of Vanderbilt University who wrote a groundbreaking two volume anthology On What Cannot Be Said: Apophatic Discourses in Philosophy, Religion, Literature, and the Arts, exemplifying the impact of mysticism on our culture up to the near present. Or perhaps Mark Cheetham at the University of Toronto, who in 1991 published The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting – on the impact of Neoplatonism on Cubism – the pivotal moment of modernist art – both books met by thunderous silence in this dozy, servile and provincial culture.

Regards,

Phil Stanfield

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