Ian Whicher on Yoga and freedom

 

In his article ‘Yoga and Freedom: A Reconsideration of Patanjali’s Classical Yoga’1 Ian Whicher has sought to counter a dualistic and isolationist interpretation of Yoga he believes is presented by many scholars. He does this by analysing cittavrttinirodha (‘cessation of the turnings or modifications of the mind’), a notion central to Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra. He argues that far too often misinterpretations and misrepresentations have resulted from partial and misleading definitions of terms. His argument is built on the assertion that Patanjali defined Yoga as ‘the cessation of (the misidentification with) the modifications (vrtti) of the mind (citta)’.2 Rather than purusa misidentifying a relationship with prakrti – a relationship he holds to be of fundamental importance, Whicher locates the misidentification within that necessary relationship.

He claims that scholars and other writers argue that Patanjali taught a radical dualism on the basis of nirodha meaning a negation of the ‘mind’ for the purpose of spiritual liberation, resulting in the separation of purusa from prakrti (of which citta is an element), the divorce of pure consciousness from the world. By explaining nirodha as the cessation of vrttis, scholars have presented Yoga as a form of world-denial, rendering life in the world for the yogin as a purposeless existence that has no connection with consciousness. For Whicher, nirodha refers to the cessation of the empirical effects of the vrttis on the yogin’s consciousness, not the complete cessation of vrttis. He asks how one could attempt to obey a teaching that advises ‘death’ of the ‘mind’ when the ‘mind’ is what is necessary to both daily life and to the path of liberation. Exclusive identification with material existence as one’s true self is the source of duhkha. It is this misidentification and not the ‘mind’ that must be discarded. Not only is nirodha not the cessation of vrttis, it involves an expansion of perception such that the yogin can, as untainted pure consciousness or purusa, perceive the interconnectedness of reality. Further, the process of nirodha involves sacrifice of the yogin’s ego and surrender of his perspective and prepares him for a life of ethical compassion and service, a life very different from that led by the disengaged person who would result from the dualism that Whicher critiques.

Again, Whicher opposes those interpreters of Yoga who subscribe to a separation between purusa and prakrti leading to the eventual disappearance of prakrti. This impoverished split between spirit and matter derives from the Samkhya philosophy and Whicher argues that to apply this split to Patanajali’s Yoga trivialises it. Such separation implies the absence of the body. What Yoga involves is the absence of ego, towards the ending of samsara. Whicher writes that to even question why purusa would want to be integrated with prakrti is elitist. He questions when they have ever been separate – the integration of both is a unification and liberation of seer and seeing. Patanjali utilised the concepts of purusa and prakrti in the Samkhya world view to instil an orientation in the yogin that is both spiritual and practical, in which body, ‘mind’ and the world are not denied as is the case in idealistic interpretations. Purusa brings consciousness to prakrti and prakrti brings the content of experience to consciousness so that consciousness can function practically. To separate purusa from prakrti would result in an imbalance that would reflect on notions of the self inimical to Yoga – narcissism, egocentrism or a sense of isolation impelled towards self-negation might result.

Citta can be harnessed, not to ‘disentangle’ purusa from prakrti but to disentangle the nature of their true relationship, that between reality and appearance. The state of kaivalya (‘aloneness’) that Patanjali advocated was not one of solipsistic isolation nor a dualistic state in which there is a division between knower and known, seer and ‘seeable’ as is often maintained as the goal of Yoga, it is the ineffable ‘aloneness’ of the power of ‘seeing’ in its purity and clarity.3 Its attainment requires the integration purusa and prakrti in the act of pure seeing – purusa provides the consciousness of the seer and prakrti the realm of the seeable. In it, prakrti has been liberated from ignorance and purusa and citta attain a sameness of purity and balanced harmony. In it, the yogin has no misidentification with vrtti.

The yogin, having undergone the process of nirodha, lives a balanced and fulfilled life in this world, free of attachment, able to express the full range of emotions without being overtaken by them. This is obviously very different from the yogin who severs all ties with the world. Patanjali’s Yoga, defined as cittavrttinirodha is the eradication of spiritual ignorance. It is this ignorance that is the cause of our misidentification with and attachment to the world. Whicher argues that Yoga is a highly developed and integrated state of mystical illumination that enhances our self-identity, that Patanjali’s Yoga does not imply the extinction of our selfhood, together with the material world, but it entails the opposite.

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Notes

1. Ian Whicher, ‘Yoga and Freedom: A Reconsideration of Patanjali’s Classical Yoga’ Philosophy East and West, vol. 48, no. 2 (April, 1998), pp. 272-322

2. Ibid., p. 273

3. Compare with the concluding words of The Enneads VI,9.11: ‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’ Plotinus, The Enneads, third ed. abridged.,  Trans. S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, p.  549

The expunged two thousand year history of Indian materialism

The philosophy of Plotinus: part four

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

The One or The Good1 is the First hypostasis of the divine triad. It is logically the One, morally the Good. Plotinus also referred to it as The Formless Form, The Father, The Simple, The Absolute, The Infinite, The Transcendent, The Unconditioned, The Fountain and Principle of Beauty. Plotinus stressed its transcendence of that of which it is the source – existence, essence and life. It is the greatest of all, not in size, but in reality2 and power. Before all else, it is pure will,3 an undifferentiated power4 beyond comprehension, and is boiling with pure activity, the first of which is its goodness. Free from substance and being, it is the principle of substance and being in the intelligible world and ultimately of the becoming of the physical universe.5 It is everywhere, yet is beyond space, time, state, quantity, quality and extension – it is the source of all these.

Transcending the need for thought, the One is pure thought beyond knowledge. It can know neither itself nor anything else. Unthinking (since thinking is movement), but the cause of thinking, it exists before movement and rest, which pertain to being and make being multiple.6 Above all existence, it is not the Creator but is the source of life and generates that which creates in its image – Intellect or Divine Thought. To be precise, it is beyond even naming. Language and discursive reasoning are inadequate to it.7 Self centred, it is self-determined and self-sufficient because it is complete and has no parts. It is the goal to which all and everything aspires. Even those who have never entered the Good must acknowledge its existence because of the presence of its weak images in this world.

To find the One, we must turn inwards through silent contemplation, transcend morality, difference, and the form of intellect, and seek perfect unity with him, at the centre of our souls. Yet we are in Him and all souls find unity there. In reaching for the Good, Soul is reaching for its essence. On attaining its goal, it is beyond being and is truly (knows beyond knowing) itself. Since vision requires shape and desires its acquisition, unity with the One is the shedding of vision and a merging of seer, seeing and seen.

‘The First has no self-awareness; there is no need. It is no duality – or rather, no manifold consisting of itself, its intellective act distinct from itself, and the inevitable third, the object of intellection. No doubt since knower, knowing, and known are identical, all merges into a unity: but the distinction has existed and, once more, such a unity cannot be the First; we must put away all otherness from the Supreme which can need no such support; anything we add is so much lessening of what lacks nothing.’8

The attainment of this unity gives a unique experience higher than possible through the thought of Intellect. It is ‘an immediate intuition, self-directed.’9 Plotinus asked ‘But what if one be deceived?’ (regarding whether The Good has come to him). He answered: ‘In that case there must be some resemblance to account for the error: the good will be the original which the delusion counterfeited and whenever the true presents itself we turn from the spurious.’10

The Good is infinite productive power extending throughout creation. It is of eternal duration.

‘All derives from this: it (the Good) is the origin of the primal movement which it does not possess and of the repose which is but its absence of need; for neither rest nor movement can belong to that which has no place in which either could occur; centre, object, ground, all are alike unknown to it, for it is before all. Yet its being is not limited; what is there to set bounds to it? Nor, on the other hand, is it infinite in the sense of magnitude; what place can there be to which it must extend, or why should there be movement where there is no lacking? All its infinitude resides in its power: it does not change and will not fail; and in it all that is unfailing finds duration.’11

Like a sun before shape, it generates Intellect – its light12 and most perfect possible image.

Part four/to be continued…

Notes

1. Compare ‘“…the highest form of knowledge is knowledge of the form of the good, from which things that are just and so on derive their usefulness and value.’” Republic VI,505a, and ‘Knowing of The Good or contact with it is the all-important…’ VI,7.36. For Plato, the Good is a special Form synonymous with beauty and truth. “The truth of the matter is, after all, known only to God. But in my opinion, for what it is worth, the final thing to be perceived in the intelligible realm, and perceived only with difficulty, is the absolute form of Good; once seen, it is inferred to be responsible for everything right and good, producing in the visible realm light and the source of light, and being, in the intelligible realm itself, controlling source of reality and intelligence. And anyone who is going to act rationally either in public or private must perceive it.’” Republic Bk VII, 517b-c. Plotinus also drew on Aristotle’s definition of the Good as that ‘to which everything aspires’ (Nicomachean Ethics I.1094a3) and his Unmoved Mover, which moves all things as the object of desire (Metaphysics A7.1072a-b). Plotinus clearly parted from Aristotle on the latter’s rejection of a transcendent Good.

2. ‘…you may not hope to see it with mortal eyes, nor in any way that would be imagined by those who make sense the test of reality and so annul the supremely real. For what passes for the most truly existent is most truly non-existent – the thing of extension least real of all – while this unseen First is the source and principle of Being and sovran over Reality.
You must turn appearances about or you will be left void of God.’ V,5.11.

3. ‘So he was all will, and there is nothing in him which is not that which wills – nothing, then, before willing. So he himself is primarily his will. So then he is also as he willed and of the kind he willed, and what follows upon his will, what this kind of will generated – but it generated nothing further in himself, for he was this already.’ VI,8.21. ‘Neither can it have will to anything…’ VI,9.6.

4. ‘Power, There (in the Good), is no producer of opposites; it is that steadfast constant which is most decidedly power by inability to depart from unity: ability to produce opposites is inability to hold by the perfect good…’ VI,8.21.

5. ‘For the trace of the shapeless is shape; it is this which generates shape, not shape this, and it generates it when matter comes to it. But matter is necessarily furthest from it…If then what is loveable is not the matter, but what is formed by the form…one must assume that the first nature of beauty is formless.’ VI,7.33.

6. ‘The Unity is none of all; neither thing nor quantity nor quality nor intellect nor soul; not in motion, not at rest, not in place, not in time: it is the self-defined, unique in form or, better, formless, existing before Form was, or Movement or Rest, all of which are attachments of Being and make Being the manifold it is.’ VI,9.3. ‘That which can make all can have, itself, no extension; it must be limitless and so without magnitude…’ VI,7.32. Sources for these negations include the Parmenides 138b5-6 (on motion and rest), 139b3 (on place) and 141a5 (on time); also the Symposium 211b1.

7. ‘strictly speaking, we ought not to apply any terms at all to It; but we should, so to speak, run round the outside of It trying to interpret our own feelings about It, sometimes drawing near and sometimes falling away in our perplexities about It…’ VI,9.3.

8. VI,7.41

9. VI,7.38. Also ‘Since the Supreme has no interval, no self-differentiation, what can have this intuitional approach to it but itself? Therefore it quite naturally assumes difference at the point where Intellectual-Principle and Being are differentiated’ VI,7.39.

10. VI,7.26

11. V,5.10. Note that Plotinus associated movement with lack.

12. ‘The only reasonable explanation of act flowing from it lies in the analogy of light from a sun…the One shines eternally…’ V,3.12. ‘A circle related in its path to a centre must be admitted to owe its scope to that centre; it has something of the nature of that centre in that the radial lines converging on that one central point assimilate their impinging ends to that point of convergence and of departure, the dominant of radii and terminals: the terminals are of one nature with the centre, feeble reproductions of it, since the centre is, in a certain sense, the source of terminals and radii impinging at every point upon it; these lines reveal the centre; they are the development of that undeveloped.
In the same way we are to take Intellectual-Principle and Being. This combined power springs from the Supreme, an outflow and as it were development from That and remaining dependent upon that Intellective nature, showing forth that, so to speak, Intellect-in-Unity which is not Intellectual-Principle since it is no duality. No more than in the circle are the lines or circumference to be identified with that centre which is the source of both: radii and circle are images given forth by indwelling power and, as products of a certain vigour in it, not cut off from it.
Thus the Intellective power circles around the Supreme which stands to it as archetype to image…’ VI,8.18. Intellect cannot exist in the Good – to do so (adapting from Nietzsche on virgin birth) would make the One maculate.

The philosophy of Plotinus: part three

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

The creative process is a result of illumination from the One which from its superabundance, overflows and generates its image, Intellect. Living Mind in turn, stable beyond change, spontaneously and eternally pours forth the multiple power of the Forms in its image, Soul. It does so without reason, calculation, imagination or memory.1

Soul, like Mind, is moved and aspires to and returns into its prior. There it is filled and in the movement of its own excess, creates through its image Nature, the universe of sensation. As the lowest part of Soul, Nature does not know, but only gives form to matter. Because it brings form into being, creation is both contemplation and consummation,2 the divine contained in every act. Yet man,3 having ceased to be Intellect, cannot produce true images of himself. On the contrary, restoring himself to Intellect, he again becomes creator of everything, he again becomes God.4

Plotinus valued the dynamic creative soul5 and the principle (power) of creation over the created object.6 The two-way dynamism of his doctrine – the flowing from, return to, and absorption in the Absolute – is a complex dialectics of ‘mind’ involving a simultaneity of identity and difference, rest and movement. Plotinus theorised a dual activity on each level of being: one activity that is internal to it and one that goes out from it. The dynamism and fluidity of his doctrine is paramount.7

In the Enneads, movement is not the sign of life, it is the primary life. It is common to all life in ‘the sleepless light’8 of Intellect. It is the life of ‘mind’ and the active actuality of being and substance. It is being and substance itself.9 Being and movement are a unity since movement, in taking being from potentiality to actuality, makes it perfect, makes form awake.10 The artificial separation of being from movement occurs in discursive reason.11

Movement occurs through elevation, introversion (intensification and concentration), and a flowing outwards (dispersion and diminution). The fourth method of ‘thought’ which produces movement is in the dialectical opposition between the one and the many. This underlies the other three. Plotinus’ usage of the term is spiritual and moral,12 and he emphasised its importance with many metaphors:

‘…the Good stays still in himself; but intellect moves about him in its activity, as also it lives around him. And soul dances round intellect outside…’13

Movement, rest and being are the inseparable genera of real beings.14 When Intellect thinks these, they therefore exist, beyond the physical universe. Rest is not the opposite of movement, but is different to it. It is not a passive state of being.

‘…it is impossible to say that rest is the abolition of movement because it does not exist when movement has stopped, but when movement exists rest also exists. And rest there in the intelligible does not consist in the fact that something which is naturally adapted to move is not moving, but in so far as rest has a hold on it, it stands still, but in so far as it is in motion it will always be moving: therefore it stands still by rest and moves by movement. But here below it moves by movement, but when movement is not there it stays still because it is deprived of the movement which it ought to have.’15

For Soul, knowledge of itself is self-movement aspiring towards its purity.16 In bringing the copy of Intellect to this world, Soul originates the copies of movement and rest – motion17 and stillness.

Part three/to be continued…

Notes

1. This function of Intellect, the true creator of this universe, is based on the Demiurge or Craftsman of the Timaeus, in which thought in its movement is creation. In this dialogue Plato argued that the elements of the universe – earth, air, fire, and water – are composed of planes, which are in turn made out of elementary triangular shapes. Bergson, who thought that we are all born Platonists (Selections from Bergson. op. cit., 64), that there exists nothing positive outside Ideas (Creative Evolution.1907, trans. A. Mitchell, New York, 1911, reprint., 1983, 316), and that ‘consciousness does not spring from the brain’ (Creative Evolution. op. cit., 262), thought that there are ‘thousands of different planes of consciousness’ (Matter and Memory. 1896. Trans. N. Paul, W. Palmer. New York,1988, 241). Aristotle attributes a highly mathematicised account of the Forms to Plato’s later years.

2. ‘And lovers, too, are among those who see and press on eagerly towards a form.’ III,8.7

3. I use this gender consciously, both because Plotinus did, and in order not to disguise the patriarchal nature of his philosophy.

4. ‘…To me, moreover, it seems that if we ourselves were archetypes, Ideas, veritable Being, and the Idea with which we construct here were our veritable Essence, then our creative power, too, would toilessly effect its purpose: as man now stands, he does not produce in his work a true image of himself: become man, he has ceased to be the All; ceasing to be man – we read – “he soars aloft and administers the Cosmos entire”; restored to the All he is maker of the All.’ V,8.7. Beyond this, ‘The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour…’ V,8.11.

5. IV,3.10

6. ‘What we long for is the originating power, not the originated thing. For this reason, nature, having an immediate relationship to the creative power, also has a precedence over art.’ In Barasch, M. Theories of Art, From Plato to Winckelmann, New York, 1985, 37.

7. Plotinus drew on the Stoic notion of a dynamic power diffuse throughout the universe, which he concentrated in the One.

8. VI,1.8

9. ‘For if movement is the activity of substance, and being and the primary genera altogether are actively actual, movement could not be something incidental, but, being the activity of what is actively actual, could not any longer be called something which contributes to the completion of substance, but is substance itself: so that it has not entered some subsequent genus, not even quality, but is ranked as simultaneous.’ VI,2.15.

10. On this particular point, compare Republic Bk VII 529-530 in which Plato argued ‘that the true, philosophical astronomer should not seriously study the motions of the visible heavenly bodies, which, being material, are imperfect and changeable, but devote his attention to the laws of motion perceived by the intellect alone.’ Armstrong, op. cit., Vol. II, 12. The text around that to which Armstrong refers is ‘“Isn’t the true astronomer in the same position when he watches the movements of the stars?” I asked. “He will think that the heavens and heavenly bodies have been put together by their maker as well as such things can be; but he will also think it absurd to suppose that there is an always constant and absolutely invariable relation of day to night, or of day and night to month, or month to year, or, again, of the periods of the other stars to them and to each other. They are all visible and material, and it’s absurd to look for exact truth in them.”’ At 529d2-3 Plato equated ‘the true realities’ of the stars with their ‘true relative velocities’. As I have stated previously, the precedent for Plotinus regarding movement and motion was clearly in the import and text of Plato’s writing. See Note 40.

11. ‘…(movement) is found in being not as inhering in a subject; for it is its active actuality and neither of them is without the other except in our conception of them, and the two natures are one nature: for being is actual, not potential…discursive thought says that they are separate…’ VI,2.7.  ‘…if we bring in also Intellect and its life, we shall posit as common to all life a single genus, movement. And we shall posit substance and movement, which is the primary life, as two genera. For even if they are one, [the observer] separates them in thought, finding the one not one; otherwise it would not have been possible to separate them. But observe in other things also how movement and life are clearly separated from being, even if not in the true being, yet in the shadow and that which has the same name as being. For as in the portrait of a man many things are wanting, and especially the decisively important thing, life, so in the things perceived by sense being is a shadow of being, separated from that which is most fully being, which was life in the archetype.’ VI,2.7.

12. ‘When the soul begins again to mount, it comes not to something alien but to its very self; thus detached, it is in nothing but itself; self-gathered it is no longer in the order of being; it is in the Supreme.’ VI, 9.11.

13. I,8.2.

14. In VI,2 Plotinus expounds the Platonic doctrine of the categories of the Intelligible World (Sophist 254D-257A), Being, Rest, Motion, Same and Other.

15. VI,3.27. In the Timaeus is an encapsulation of a process and purpose which is of the greatest importance to Western philosophy, Christian theology and Western art theory and practice. ‘And (the Demiurge) gave each divine being two motions, one uniform in the same place, as each always thinks the same thoughts about the same things, the other forward, as each is subject to the movement of the Same and uniform; but he kept them unaffected by the other five kinds of motion, that each might be as perfect as possible.’ (my Italics) Timaeus, 8,40. Timaeus and Critias, op. cit., 52. (‘And he bestowed two movements upon each, one in the same spot and uniform, whereby it should be ever constant to its own thoughts concerning the same thing; the other forward, but controlled by the revolution of the same and uniform: but for the other five movements he made it motionless and still, that each star might attain the highest completeness of perfection.’ The Timaeus of Plato. Ed. R. D. Archer-Hind. New York: Arno, 1973, 131-133.) This little group of words summarises the pathway Plato established and Plotinus maintained – comprising at the same time identity and difference, stasis and movement – between perfection, its divine medium, and creation. It asserts that creation and ‘thought’ in its motion are equivalent and defines the nature of that process. The motions of Plato’s divine beings differ from those of the sensory world – they are effects of the soul in its activity. Plato is too often simplistically remembered as having given us eternal Forms (Plato as an eternal Form?). This quotation again exemplifies the importance and complexity of motion in his philosophy.

16. III,7.4. ‘…knowledge is self-movement, since it is a sight of being and an active actuality, not a state; so that it also comes under movement – but, if you like, under rest, or under both; but if under both, it is as something mixed…’ VI,2.18. Plotinus considered the ‘unchanging’ stars as part of Soul – therefore their movement is not spatial as in this universe, but one of divine life and vitality. It is therefore a self-referential and eternal movement of being which, to anything outside, would appear to be at rest. (my Italics) ‘This is the origin of the fixed stars, which are living beings divine and eternal and remain always rotating in the same place and the same sense…’ Timaeus 8, 40.

17. ‘…soul is the “origin of motion” and is responsible for the motion of other things, and it is moved by itself, and gives life to the ensouled body…’ IV,7.9. The quotation within the quotation is from Plato’s Phaedrus 245C9. Plato believed soul to be the ultimate cause of motion: Laws Bk X 895-897 – ‘Athenian: So what’s the definition of the thing we call the soul? Surely we can do nothing but use our formula of a moment ago: “motion capable of moving itself”. Cleinias: Do you mean that the entity which we all call “soul” is precisely that which is defined by the expression “self-generating motion”’?…Athenian: Very well, then. So soul, by virtue of its own motions, stirs into movement everything in the heavens and on earth and in the sea. The names of the motions of soul are: wish, reflection, diligence, counsel, opinion true and false, joy and grief, cheerfulness and fear, love and hate…Soul also uses all related or initiating motions which take over the secondary movements of matter and stimulate everything to increase or diminish, separate or combine…’. Notice that Plato cited emotions as motion(s of soul).

Hegel on contradiction: part two

 

…the negative as determined in the sphere of essence (is) the principle of all self-movement…External, sensuous motion itself is contradiction’s immediate existence. Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this ‘here’, it at once is and is not. The ancient dialecticians must be granted the contradictions that they pointed out in motion; but it does not follow that therefore there is no motion, but on the contrary, that motion is existent contradiction itself.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 440

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Part two/to be continued…

The philosophy of Plotinus: part two

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

The hypostases are interconnected, with Body having its existence in Soul, Soul its source in Intellect1 and Intellect its generation from the One. At the same time the One has independence from Intellect as Intellect in turn has from Soul. The notion of illumination passes through the Enneads. The One lights Intellect which in turn illuminates Soul which gives light to this universe. The further away from the One, the weaker the illumination.

The double movement in Plotinus’ doctrine – from unity to increasing multiplicity and return to unification and unity concerns an eternal outpouring from a transcendent One, descending through levels to the lowest reality – the universe of matter and the senses. With the purpose of showing the way to God, it is also an urging of soul through purification2 and simplification to ascend from a meditation on this universe to the one of intelligible reality, to union with the Good, which alone can give Soul true satisfaction. The impetus for the ascent is the memory of a beauty infinitely greater than its weak presence in this world.

Plotinus believed we have forgotten our true nature, which lies within us. So this ‘ascent of the mind to God’, fuelled by desire and remembrance, is equally a journey within, to the core of our being. The One is like the centre of concentric circles. It is beyond thought and desire, and therefore beyond movement. Intellect, which is thought and desire, both moves around the One, and is at contemplative rest. Soul, moved by aspiration towards and desire for Intellect, revolves around it.3

Progress of the soul in freeing itself from illusion and moving towards its goal, beyond the Platonic world of Forms, requires enormous moral and spiritual striving, of which few are capable4 and signifies a deepening contemplation, a closer communion between soul and its origin in pure reality.5 Plotinus’ philosophy unites the religious and the philosophical. Armstrong wrote that it amounts to a prayer.6

The perfect One, without movement, eternally creates and actuates its image, Intellect. Number gives Intellect – the eternal living reality and perfect unity-in-multiplicity – its structure. It in turn produces its image and activity, Soul. Nature is the lower phase and image of Soul, which, as its rational forming principle, carries form to matter.7 Though aspiring to Intellect in a ceaseless contemplation and therefore productive, it is almost the lowest form of contemplation, producing weak and dreamy forms, below which is only matter:

‘What does this mean? That what is called nature is a soul, the offspring of a prior soul with a stronger life; that it quietly holds contemplation in itself, not directed upwards or even downwards, but at rest in what it is, in its own repose and a kind of self-perception, and in this consciousness and self-perception it sees what comes after it, as far as it can, and seeks no longer, but has accomplished a vision of splendour and delight.’8

Matter (which also exists in Intellect), receives the Forms in the three-dimensional space of this universe. Though often referred to in the Enneads as ‘evil’, it has a weak tendency towards the One and so shares in its superabundant productivity.

Activity in the divine is reflected in the activity of the material universe. Existence at every level tends through quickening aspiration to rejoin the level above, of which it is a product and image. Contemplation of the source of an hypostasis always precedes and generates activity and production:

‘The procession of Intellect from the One is necessary and eternal, as are also the procession of Soul from Intellect and the forming and ordering of the material universe by Soul. This emanation from the One is because everything perfect is creative and produces something else. Here we touch an element in Plotinus’s thought which is of great importance, the emphasis on life, on the dynamic, vital character of spiritual being. Perfection for him is not merely static. It is a fullness of living and productive power. The One for him is Life and Power, an infinite spring of power, an unbounded life, and therefore necessarily productive.’9

Plotinus’ philosophy concerns one vast living system, streaming from the One: 10

‘…as the (Divine) plan holds, life is poured copiously throughout a Universe, engendering the universal things and weaving variety into their being, never at rest from producing an endless sequence of comeliness and shapeliness, a living pastime.’11

Life is an activity and power which is omnipresent, ever fresh, inexhaustible, ‘brimming over with its own vitality’,12 unquantifiable and indivisible – what is in the whole is in the part. The greater the living movement, the greater the beauty, and the more the embodied Good, which wakes and raises up the souls of those who respond to it. Hence the more intense is Soul’s desire for the source of that life, for the unity which overcomes loneliness and spiritual incompleteness: 13

‘So here below also beauty is what illuminates good proportions rather than the good proportions themselves, and this is what is loveable. For why is there more light of beauty on a living face, but only a trace of it on a dead one, even if its flesh and its proportions are not yet wasted away? And are not the more life-like statues the more beautiful ones, even if the others are better proportioned? And is not an uglier living man more beautiful than the beautiful man in a statue? Yes, because the living is more desirable; and this is because it has soul; and this is because it has more the form of good; and this means that it is somehow coloured by the light of the Good, and being so coloured wakes and rises up and lifts up that which belongs to it, and as far as it can makes it good and wakes it.’14

Life for Plotinus is eternal creativity and creation, ultimately that of self.15 He several times used the metaphor of a tree to illustrate the process:

‘For the gathering together of all things into one is the principle, in which all are together and all make a whole. And individual things proceed from this principle while it remains within; they come from it as from a single root which remains static in itself, but they flower out into a divided multiplicity, each one bearing an image of that higher reality, but when they reach this lower world one comes to be in one place and one in another, and some are close to the root and others advance farther and split up to the point of becoming, so to speak, branches and twigs and fruits and leaves; and those that are closer to the root remain for ever…’16

Part two/to be continued…

Notes

1. Both Intellect and Soul are Forms.

2. Plotinus distinguished between ‘civic’ and ‘purificatory’ virtues. The former pertain to life in this world, the latter to those which lead the Soul to ‘another life, that of the Gods’ and in Intellect. I,2.7.

3. ‘All things are around the King of all, and That is the cause of all good and beautiful things, and all things belong to That, and the second things are around the Second and the third around the Third.’  I,7.2. This is one of the foundation-texts of Neoplatonic theology and is quoted from the questionably authentic Second Letter of Plato (312e1-4). In the Timaeus circles are the governing force in the universe and in our heads. Also ‘…if one ranks the Good as a centre one would rank Intellect as an unmoved circle and Soul as a moving circle; but moving by aspiration.’ IV,4.16.

4. ‘…to those of power to reach, it is present; to the inapt, absent.’ VI,9.7. Cf. Bergson’s identification of two moral and spiritual types and his comparison between ‘static religion’ and ‘dynamic religion’ in ‘The Two Sources of Morality and Religion’, 1932.

5. Soul arrives at Intellect by contemplation but Intellect arrives at the Good through immediate unity with it.

6. Ibid, Vol.5, 29. ‘What is new (in Plotinus’ system)…is the notion of making the ‘Ideas’ states of being of the Intellect and no longer distinct objects, of bringing the very subject of thought into the intelligible world, of considering the hypostases less as entities than as spiritual attitudes.’ Henry op. cit., li.

7. Here I use Armstrong’s terminology. MacKenna translated this as ‘Lower Soul’, ‘Nature-Looking and Generative Soul’, ‘Logos of the Universe’ and ‘ Reason-Principle of the Universe’.

8. III,8.4. Also ‘the Nature best and most to be loved may be found there only where there is no least touch of Form.’ VI,7.33.

9. Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xviii-xix.

10. ‘…Life streaming from Life; for energy runs through the Universe and there is no extremity at which it dwindles out…’ III,8.5. ‘…the law is, “some life after the Primal Life, a second where there is a first; all linked in one unbroken chain; all eternal; divergent types being engendered only in the sense of being secondary”.’ II,9.3.

11. III,2.15.

12. VI,5.12. The vital power of Romanticism, traceable to Plotinus’ doctrine, does not imitate nature, it is the hand of nature. Thus the artwork is not at third remove from the Idea, rather, it carries the viewer ‘upwards’ and ‘inwards’ to it. See Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790) Bk II, Analytic of the Sublime, No. 46 (Fine art is the art of genius) ‘Since talent, as an innate productive faculty of the artist, belongs itself to nature, we may put it this way: Genius is the innate mental aptitude (ingenium) through which nature gives the rule to art.’  The Sturm und Drang movement in Germany between 1770 and 1790 (with parallels in England and France) was the earliest expression of Romanticism and had vitalism as its nucleus.

13. ‘Here is living, the true; that of today, all living apart from Him, is but a shadow, a mimicry.’ VI,9.9. Although the Cubists’ use of (developments on) the philosophies of Plato and Plotinus was certainly influenced by the ‘alienating’ effects of rapid technological developments at the turn of the century, Panofsky positioned this in a deeper, historical context, arguing that doubt and the turn to speculative thought (questioning the relationship between reality, senses, ‘mind’ and artistic production) dates from Mannerism. ‘…the Mannerists considered it obvious that this “idea” or concetto could by no means be purely subjective or “psychological”; and the question arose, for the first time, how it was at all possible for the mind to form a notion of this kind – a notion that cannot simply be obtained from nature, yet must not originate in man alone. This question led eventually to the question of the possibility of artistic production as such…precisely such a way of thinking was bound to realise that that which in the past had seemed unquestionable was thoroughly problematical: the relationship of the mind to reality as perceived by the senses…Before the eyes of art theorists there opened an abyss hidden until then, and they felt the need to close it by means of philosophical speculation…Earlier art theory (pre- mid-sixteenth century) had tried to lay the practical foundations for artistic production; now it had to face the task of proving its theoretical legitimacy. Thought now took refuge, so to speak, in a metaphysics meant to justify the artist in claiming for his inner notions a suprasubjective validity as to both correctness and beauty.’  Panofsky, op. cit., 82-83. Also ‘At odds with nature the human mind fled to God in that mood at once triumphant and insecure…’, ibid., 99. More broadly (or perhaps more profoundly) – ‘the opposition between “idealism” and “naturalism” that ruled the philosophy of art until the end of the nineteenth century and under multifarious disguises – Expressionism and Impressionism, Abstraction and Empathy – retained its place in the twentieth, must in the final analysis appear as a “dialectical antinomy.”…To recognise the diversity of these solutions and to understand their historical presuppositions is worthwhile for history’s sake, even though philosophy has come to realise that the problem underlying them is by its very nature insoluble.’ Ibid., 126.

14. VI,7.22. ‘Why are the most living portraits the most beautiful, even though the other happen to be more symmetric? Why is the living ugly more attractive than the sculptured handsome? It is that the one is more nearly what we are looking for, and this because there is soul there, because there is more of the Idea of The Good…and this illumination awakens and lifts the soul and all that goes with it, so that the whole man is won over to goodness and in the fullest measure stirred to life.’ VI,7.22. Plato also tied life to truth. On the superiority of speech to writing – Socrates: ‘I mean the kind that is written on the soul of the hearer together with understanding…’ Phaedrus replied: ‘You mean the living and animate speech of a man with knowledge, of which written speech might fairly be called a kind of shadow.’ Phaedrus 276.

15. ‘If there had been a moment from which He began to be, it would be possible to assert his self-making in the literal sense; but since what He is He is from before eternity, his self-making is to be understood as simultaneous with Himself; the being is one and the same with the making, the eternal ‘bringing into existence’.’ VI.8,20. Also ‘Is that enough? Can we end the discussion by saying this? No, my soul is still in even stronger labour. Perhaps she is now at the point when she must bring forth, having reached the fullness of her birth-pangs in her eager longing for the One.’ V.3,17.

16. III,3.7. Also ‘The Supreme is the Term of all; it is like the principle and ground of some vast tree of rational life; itself unchanging, it gives reasoned being to the growth into which it enters.’ VI,8.15, and IV,4.11. In Creative Evolution, Bergson wrote ‘…life is tendency, and the essence of a tendency is to develop in the form of a sheaf, creating, by its very growth, divergent directions among which its impetus is divided.’ In H. Larrabee, ed. Selections from Bergson. New York, 1949, 72. Also compare Plotinus – ‘The fact that the product contains diversity and difference does not warrant the notion that the producer must be subject to corresponding variations. On the contrary, the more varied the product, the more certain the unchanging identity of the producer: even in the single animal the events produced by Nature are many and not simultaneous; there are the age periods, the developments at fixed epochs – horns, beard, maturing breasts, the acme of life, procreation – but the principles which initially determined the nature of the being are not thereby annulled…this is the unalterable wisdom of the Cosmos…’ IV.4,11 with Bergson ‘The animal takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides animality, and the whole of humanity, in space and time, is one immense army galloping beside and before and behind each of us in an overwhelming charge able to beat down every resistance and clear the most formidable obstacles, perhaps even death.’ From Creative Evolution in Selections from Bergson. op. cit., 105.

The philosophy of Plotinus

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

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

28.10.1997

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

Plotinus, the main expositor of Neoplatonism, was critical of democracy, had friends in the Roman aristocracy, and, despite the rejection of his proposal for the construction of Platonopolis, to be a city of philosophers functioning according to Plato’s Laws, was highly regarded by the emperor Gallienus. His writings, in the Enneads (according to Porphyry, from the age of forty nine), represent his mature thought.

Within this body of pacific austerity, Plotinus’ mysticism builds to a rationalised ecstasy. Reflecting this tension, his equation between contemplation and activity is central to his doctrine. By turning away from the external world1 and an inward concentration of spiritual energy through ‘reason’, the aim of his philosophy was that his soul and the souls of others might re-discover their true self and ascend to union with it and with their common source in god.

Although he was the last great philosopher of Western antiquity, developments on his treatment of spiritual freedom and purpose have continued to the present.2  His work is a blend of the writings of Plato, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers (particularly the Stoics.3 Major sources from his own time were Numenius of Apamea and Ammonius Saccas, of whom he was a pupil. His dominant influence, however, was clearly Plato.

Plotinus was open in his regard for Plato – ‘that godlike man Plato’,4 ‘the illustrious Plato’.5 His debt to Plato, as revealed in the Enneads, was always in his thoughts. He regarded his own writing as following and interpreting Plato’s philosophy, even attributing his mysticism to him.

The Plotinian scholar Paul Henry believes that the continued life of Plato’s philosophy is borne within that of Plotinus, in which dialectic becomes metaphysics – and that as a mystic, Plotinus has been perhaps a greater inspiration for Western philosophy than even Plato himself.6

Such distinctions between Platonic dialectic and Neoplatonic metaphysics are misleading since the differences which exist lie essentially in points of form not in the process of the philosophers’ intent.7 Plotinus developed on a philosophy which itself underwent significant development by Plato. The shift by the latter in his treatment of non-discursive elements (particularly the emotions) in relation to ‘reason’ – first banishing them, then in his later dialogues, allowing them a role in the soul’s aspiration to truth8 – is carried further by Plotinus, in whose philosophy they were central to the attainment of the Good.

Both Plato and Plotinus distinguished between the realm of Ideas beyond time, and the sensible world of matter, existing in time. They also held to a transcendent God, beyond even Ideas and, following from Socrates, both considered the soul to be immaterial and immortal.

One variation between the philosophies of the two men concerns the location of the Forms. For Plato, they exist in the ‘place above the heavens’9 but for Plotinus they are more forcefully tied to the nature of soul. Yet, both in the general inward tenor of his philosophy, and overtly, Plato prepared the ground for Plotinus believing that the Forms can exist within the individual.10

Movement and the tension between it and the Good is central to Plotinus’ philosophy and is considered to be another difference between the doctrines of the two men,11 but again, Plotinus developed on what lay in the work of his predecessor. ‘Thought’s’ double movement of ascent to and descent from the most general concepts of the higher world, around which the Enneads were written, was established in the Republic.12 The importance Plotinus accords to the emotions, in both his style – eager and inspired with spiritual purpose – and in his method, is reflected in the significance movement has in his philosophy.  His positioning of vitality and intuition as non-discursive means embodies this.

In order of rank and emanation, the three hypostases around which the Enneads are built are the One (the Good – for which Plotinus frequently used masculine pronouns), Intellect (Divine Mind or Thought – the realm of Forms) and Soul (All-Soul, the Principle of Life). Nature is a quasi-hypostasis. The Gods are frequently mentioned. Beneath the universe of Intellect is the universe of matter. Each hypostasis is inferior to the one preceding it and good to that which follows it, matter having the lowest standing.13

Part one/to be continued…

Notes

1. Porphyry wrote that Plotinus ‘laboured strenuously to free himself and rise above the bitter waves of this blood-drenched life’. Porphyry, ‘On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of His Work’  in  The Enneads. Third ed. Abridged. Trans. S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, cxxi.

2. Ficino’s translation into Latin of Plotinus’ philosophy in 1492 was pivotal to this. (He produced the first Latin translation of all Plato’s dialogues in 1484.)

3.‘In style Plotinus is concise, dense with thought, terse, more lavish of ideas than of words, most often expressing himself with a fervid inspiration. He followed his own path rather than that of tradition, but in his writings both the Stoic and Peripatetic doctrines are sunk; Aristotle’s Metaphysics, especially, is condensed in them, all but entire.’ Porphyry, op. cit., cxii. (Porphyry wrote a [lost] commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, known to Arab scholars.) MacKenna, consistent with his lyricism, wrote that the Enneads embody the pouring of new wine into very old bottles. See MacKenna’s notes in Plotinus. The Enneads. Third ed. Trans. S. MacKenna.  London: Faber and Faber, 1962.

4. Enneads  III,5,1. Further citations from the Enneads will omit the title.

5. IV,8,1.

6. P. Henry. ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought’. In The Enneads. Third ed. Abridged, op. cit., xlii – lxxxiii.

7. Compare the best-known ‘distinctions’ between the two philosophies – alternately, Plotinus’ division of reality into levels and his postulation of a One superior to the realm of Forms – with the sub-sections in Plato’s analogy of the Divided Line (Intelligence, Mathematical Reasoning, Belief and Illusion) Republic VI, 509d-511e, reflected in the hierarchy of both Plato’s ideal state and model of the soul, and ‘“The good therefore may be said to be the source not only of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge, but also of their being and reality; yet it is not itself that reality, but is beyond it, and superior to it in dignity and power.”’ Republic VI, 509b. Further, ‘…on at least one occasion (Plato) lectured to a general audience. We are told by Aristoxenus, a pupil of Aristotle, that many in Plato’s audience were baffled and disappointed by a lecture in which he maintained that Good is one.’ The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Ed. R. Audi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 623.) Panofsky, for example, accepted Plato at his word, confusing the reason of cognition with the non-discursive ‘reason’ of dualist contemplation, contributing to the maintenance of both a false distinction between Plato and Plotinus and a barrier to an understanding of their philosophies, of the relationship between them, and of their impact on Western culture. ‘Ultimately the theory of Ideas, originally a philosophy of human reason, was transformed almost into a logic of divine thought.’ E. Panofsky. Idea: A Concept in Art Theory. 1924. Reprint. Trans. J. Peake. New York: Harper and Row,1968, 38. Nietzsche made the same error, regarding Platonic dialectic as a development on Socratic rationalism (The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Section 13, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Trans. W. Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967, 88-89). Similarly Deleuze, who, despite noting Bergson’s ‘obsession with the pure’ and that his method of intuition was Platonic in inspiration, distinguished between Bergson and Plato on the point of the latter’s dialectic (writing that Bergson considered Platonic dialectic to be valid only in the beginning of philosophy). G. Deleuze. Bergsonism. Trans. H. Tomlinson, B. Habberjam. New York, 1988, 22, 120. Again, Stern-Gillet: ‘He (Plotinus) locates selfhood in the soul, further specifying that the inner core of our being is that ‘part’ of the soul which is capable not only of discursive thinking directed at the forms immanent in this world, but also of the intuitive understanding of intelligible realities as such.’ S. Stern-Gillet. “Plotinus and His Portrait.” The British Journal of Aesthetics 37, 3 (July 1997): 211-225, 214. In the Timaeus, Plato distinguished between the ‘rational’ and the scientific. He equated dialectic with ‘pure thought’, ‘intelligence’, and the direct apprehension of truth. Republic VI, 511b. Plotinus regarded Platonic dialectic as ‘authentic science’ which he opposed to ‘seeming-knowledge (‘sense-knowledge’)’ I,3,4, and defined it as ‘the Method, or Discipline, that brings with it the power of pronouncing with final truth upon the nature and relation of things – what each is, how it differs from others, what common quality all have, to what Kind each belongs and in what rank each stands in its Kind and whether its Being is Real-Being, and how many beings there are, and how many non-Beings to be distinguished from Beings.’ I,3,4. He correctly believed that Platonic dialectic is concerned with ‘realities’ (the Forms) and not with ‘words’ (the logic of discursive reasoning). I,3,5. For Plotinus, the hypostasis of Intellect is the site of reason. Intellect makes Soul rational by giving it a copy of what it has. The rational soul is the true man, within.

8. ‘The cultivation of Reason remained at the centre of the Platonic life-style, but non-intellectual elements were now incorporated into the life of the soul, as energising psychic forces on which Reason draws. On the other hand, it also complicated Reason’s struggle for purity. Both aspects of the divided-soul model emerge in the Phaedrus metaphor of the soul as a pair of winged horses, joined together in natural union with their charioteer. One horse is white, noble and easily guided; the other is a dark, crooked, lumbering animal, shag-eared and deaf, hardly yielding to whip and spur.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy. London: Methuen, 1984, 20. In the Phaedrus, Socrates argues that conflicting desires enables the love of wisdom. ‘The later Plato…thus saw passionate love and desire as the beginning of the soul’s process of liberation through knowledge’. Ibid. 21. In the Symposium, ‘in Diotima’s version of the lover’s progress Reason does not simply shed the perturbations of passion but assimilates their energising force. Reason itself becomes a passionate faculty and a creative, productive one.’ Ibid. 22. As an example of the function of another non-discursive element, the Republic’s myth of Er exemplifies Plato’s belief in the truth-revealing power of imagination.

9. Phaedrus 247d5ff. Here Plato was referring to the moral Forms. For Plotinus, righteousness is a beautiful ‘active actuality’, like a statue in intellect.

10. ‘“On the other hand, to say that it pays to be just is to say that we ought to say and do all we can to strengthen the man within us…’”. Republic IX, 589a. On his ideal society Plato wrote ‘“Perhaps,” I said, “it is laid up as a pattern in heaven, where he who wishes can see it and found it in his own heart. But it doesn’t matter whether it exists or ever will exist”’. Republic IX, 592b. Plato believed that the Forms are sources of moral and (particularly from the perspective of my thesis) religious inspiration.

11. See, for example: Plotinus. Enneads Trans. A.H. Armstrong. In seven volumes. London: William Heinemann, 1966-1988, vol. V, 25

12. Republic VII, 514-521. Plato argued that we should develop the motion of our (non-discursive) ‘thought’ as much as possible to reflect (restore to likeness with) the motion of the universe and of divine thought. ‘Among movements, the best is that we produce in ourselves of ourselves – for it is most nearly akin to the movement of thought and of the universe…’ Timaeus 47, 89, in Timaeus and Critias. Trans. D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977, 120, and ‘There is of course only one way to look after anything and that is to give it its proper food and motions. And the motions that are akin to the divine in us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. We should each therefore attend to these motions and by learning about the harmonious circuits of the universe repair the damage done at birth to the circuits in our head, and so restore understanding and what is understood to their original likeness to each other. When that is done we shall have achieved the goal set us by the gods…’ 48, 90, ibid., 121-122.

13. Armstrong described the often obscure Enneads as ‘an unsystematic presentation of a systematic philosophy’. Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xv

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The development of a philosophical current – from mysticism to materialism, from God to science

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Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

‘The German Idealists showed some interest in Nicholas of Cusa but the real revival of his thought was stimulated by…Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) who called him “the first modern thinker”…and by…Karl Jaspers.’

Dermot Moran, ‘Nicholas of Cusa and modern philosophy’, The Cambridge Companion in Renaissance Philosophy, Ed., James Hankins, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 173

***

‘Who, then, can understand created being by conjoining, in created being, the absolute necessity from which it derives and the contingency without which it does not exist?’

Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’, 1440), II, 2, 100

‘since God is Infinite Actuality, He is the cause only of actuality. But the possibility of being exists contingently. Therefore, if the possibility were absolute, on what would it be contingent? Now, the possibility results from the fact that being [which derives] from the First cannot be completely, unqualifiedly, and absolutely actuality. Therefore, the actuality is contracted through the possibility, so that it does not at all exist except in the possibility. And the possibility does not at all exist unless it is contracted through the actuality.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 137

‘since the contraction of possibility is from God and the contraction of actuality is the result of contingency, the world—which, necessarily, is contracted—is contingently finite.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 139

‘without possibility and actuality and the union of the two there is not, and cannot be, anything. For if [anything] lacked any of these, it would not exist. For how would it exist if it were not possible to exist? And how would it exist if it did not actually exist (since existence is actuality)? And if it were possible to exist but it did not exist, in what sense would it exist? (Therefore, it is necessary that there be the union of possibility and actuality.) The possibility-to-exist, actually existing, and the union of the two are not other than one another. Indeed, they are of the same essence, since they constitute only one and the same thing’

Nicholas of Cusa, De possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’, 1460), 47

Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel00 2

G.W.F.Hegel (1770-1831), Anonymous

‘Hegel came forward with the hitherto quite unheard-of propositions that the accidental has a cause because it is accidental, and just as much also has no cause because it is accidental; that the accidental is necessary, that necessity determines itself as chance, and, on the other hand, this chance is rather absolute necessity. (Logik, II, Book III, 2: Reality.) Natural science has simply ignored these propositions as paradoxical trifling, as self-contradictory nonsense, and, as regards theory, has persisted on the one hand in the barrenness of thought of Wolffian metaphysics, according to which a thing is either accidental or necessary, but not both at once; or, on the other hand, in the hardly less thoughtless mechanical determinism which in words denies chance in general only to recognise it in practice in each particular case.

While natural science continued to think in this way, what did it do in the person of Darwin?

Friedrich Engels 1860

Friedrich Engels in 1860

Darwin in his epoch-making work, set out from the widest existing basis of chance. Precisely the infinite, accidental differences between individuals within a single species, differences which become accentuated until they break through the character of the species, and whose immediate causes even can be demonstrated only in extremely few cases, compelled him to question the previous basis of all regularity in biology, viz., the concept of species in its previous metaphysical rigidity and unchangeability. Without the concept of species, however, all science was nothing. All its branches needed the concept of species as basis: human anatomy and comparative anatomy – embryology, zoology, palaeontology, botany, etc., what were they without the concept of species? All their results were not only put in question but directly set aside. Chance overthrows necessity, as conceived hitherto. The previous idea of necessity breaks down. To retain it means dictatorially to impose on nature as a law a human arbitrary determination that is in contradiction to itself and to reality, it means to deny thereby all inner necessity in living nature, it means generally to proclaim the chaotic kingdom of chance to be the sole law of living nature.’

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 217-221

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Aristotle and Nicholas of Cusa: to be and/or not to be, that is the question

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet ‘…she described her character as “manly and resolute, but nonetheless thoughtful…[he] thinks before he acts, a trait indicative of great strength and great spiritual power”.’ (Wikipedia)

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet ‘…she described her character as “manly and resolute, but nonetheless thoughtful…[he] thinks before he acts, a trait indicative of great strength and great spiritual power”.’ (Wikipedia)

‘Now it is also the case that there can be nothing intermediate to an assertion and a denial. We must either assert or deny any single predicate of any single subject. The quickest way to show this is by defining truth and falsity. Well, falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that that which is not is and truth is the assertion that that which is is and that that which is not is not. Thus anyone who asserts anything to be or not to be is either telling the truth or telling a falsehood. On the other hand, neither that which is is said either not to be or to be nor is that which is not.

And if there were an intermediate of contradictory statements, then it would either be like grey between black and white or like the non-man-non-horse between man and horse.’

Aristotle The Metaphysics, Gamma 7 1011b, Trans. and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 107

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‘I want to tell you of one more thing that I see to be marvellous above other things. …since all things are singular, they are both similar, because they are singular, and dissimilar, because they are singular; (and they are not similar, because they are singular), and not dissimilar, because they are singular. A corresponding point holds regarding same and different, equal and unequal, singular and plural, one and many, even and odd, concordant and discordant, and the likes, although this (claim) seems absurd to the philosophers who adhere – even in theological matters – to the principle that each thing either is or is not (the case).’

Nicholas of Cusa, De Venatione Sapientiae (On the Pursuit of Wisdom), Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations, Six Latin Texts Translated into English, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1998, 1320-21

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God is not dead: Nietzsche’s aesthetics of self

Michelangelo, ‘The Young Slave’, marble, c. 1530-34, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

Michelangelo, ‘The Young Slave’, marble, c. 1530-34, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

‘…since Kant, transcendentalists of every kind have once more won the day – they have been emancipated from the theologians: what joy! – Kant showed them a secret path by which they may, on their own initiative and with all scientific respectability, from now on follow their “heart’s desire.” ’1

When we begin to study a text, we place our craft on a flow of words and are borne away. Are we won by their cogency? Or convinced by their force – by the impulse from their origin? Might we know them by the friends they keep, and by the deeds they commit upon us? Or do we engage with them and seek the contradictions – where the eddies, the cross movements, and the undertow – where the richer signs of life? …And to what are we blind, and why?…

We have understood Nietzsche, a man who wrote so much on the relation between form and content, largely according to his will. His writing on and against philosophical idealism sustains his work – he boasted that he had risen above that current running from Plato, through Christianity (‘Platonism for the people’, for which he felt the most bitter antipathy) to Hegel, Kant and Schopenhauer.2 He told us that Dionysus and Apollo overthrew this sickly orientation, that perspective should replace universals, that binary oppositions are false, and that the best art is synonymous with creativity, life and truth. And we welcomed his perspective.

Evocative of Proverbs 1: 20-31, Diogenes the dog in search of an honest person and Macbeth, Nietzsche’s madman entered the market place, lantern in hand, and cried words which have echoed through a much larger marketplace – ‘God is dead’. If not a shout of victory, these words convey the stamp of finality, emphatic in their simplicity. But why have they been ripped from their context, why has their meaning been torn from them, and both context and meaning discarded?

‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives – who will wipe this blood off us?…Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?‘ (my Italics)3

This quotation indicates how Nietzsche ‘solved’ his primary concern, the problem of God(’s death). Having willed His death in eternity…Nietzsche resurrected (created) Him in the temporal flesh. He brought back to earth and maintained in ‘life’ that which he attacked Plato and Christianity for having sent beyond. But it was to an earth beyond time, the life of ‘mind’.4 And he proselytised God in the name of another faith – his own creation, Dionysus.5

Nietzsche’s Dionysus and Apollo arose from a chain of inspiration originated by Plato, which has continued across generations, with inevitable developments and variations in emphasis. The Timaeus, a dialogue from Plato’s ‘middle’ or ‘late’ period, and generally and mistakenly regarded as a minor work, is his attempt to give a scientific explanation for the divine creation of this world  – for that reason alone positioning it as a major work by him. In it is written an encapsulation of a process and purpose which is of the greatest importance to Western philosophy, Christian theology and Western art theory and practice

‘And (the Demiurge) gave each divine being two motions, one uniform in the same place, as each always thinks the same thoughts about the same things, the other forward, as each is subject to the movement of the Same and uniform; but he kept them unaffected by the other five kinds of motion, that each might be as perfect as possible.’6

This little group of words summarises the dual yet undifferentiated pathway Plato established between perfection, its divine medium, and creation; it asserts that creation and ‘thought’ in its motion are equivalent; it defines the nature of that process. The motions of his divine beings differ from those of the sensory world, they are effects of the soul in its activity.

Plotinus’ mystical and emotive development on this (on the Soul’s contemplation of and desire for its source, his development of the realm of Forms into that of Intellect, and differentiation between its lower and higher aspects as the ascending Soul’s activity quickens, culminating in its unity with its source, his hypostasis of the One – which he defined as the greatest activity in the greatest stillness) was absorbed into Christian theology and Western philosophy as the methods of contemplation of form and (the movement through) desire, passion and the emotions, toward union with that which was desired (God).

These methods underlie Kant’s notions of the beautiful and the sublime,7 they echo in Schopenhauer’s writing and recur in his aesthetics8 – and again in Nietzsche’s Apollinian and Dionysian.9 As Plato’s Demiurge created the world and gave it form, as Plotinus’ Soul brought form from the far more ‘real’ universe of Intellect to Intellect’s eternal creation in matter, as the God of Christianity created the world to which He sent His Son as the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, so Dionysus eternally creates the world and gives of himself through the beauty of Apollinian form (which Nietzsche applied to appearance). Demiurge, Soul, Jesus and Dionysus are the media, ‘mind’ the message.10

For Nietzsche, the ‘tragic’ artist attains the Dionysian state through Apollinian apotheosis, the perfecting of man’s self.11 Obsessive self-love has its justification.12 Nietzsche emphasised the fecundity of Dionysus, destroying as he eternally creates – in so doing he drew from the work of Plotinus, who had an immense impact on Nietzsche’s own thought and of whom it was written that because of his mysticism, he has been a greater inspiration for Western philosophy than even Plato13

‘…the tragic artist…creates his figures like a fecund divinity of individuation…and as his vast Dionysian impulse then devours his entire world of phenomena, in order to let us sense beyond it, and through its destruction, the highest artistic primal joy, in the bosom of the primordially One.’14

The notions of vitality and creativity are fundamental to Plotinus’ philosophy. Not only are Intellect and particularly its source, the One, overflowing with activity, there is in Intellect an ‘…endlessness for ever welling up in it, the unwearying and unwearing nature which in no way falls short in it, boiling over with life…’15 The language Plotinus used to describe this excess of life resonates in Nietzsche’s description of Dionysian creativity.16 Creation is not for its own sake, but to produce objects of ‘vision’, to enable knowledge and ultimately the unity of seer, seeing and seen.17

Even Nietzsche’s description of man’s perfecting of himself

‘(In a Dionysian state, man) is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: in these paroxysms of intoxication the artistic power of all nature reveals itself to the highest gratification of the primordial unity. The noblest clay, the most costly marble, man, is here kneaded and cut, and to the sound of the chisel strokes of the Dionysian world-artist rings out the cry of the Eleusinian mysteries…Do you sense your Maker, world?’18

is shaped not by Kant’s hand of nature, but by that of Plotinus, who  commanded, in reply to the question ‘But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness?’

‘Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine…the Primal Good and the Primal Beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, Beauty’s seat is There.’19

Consistently, this current in philosophy is not driven by a will to life in this world but to one, as the hero in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities said as he mounted the scaffold, in ‘a far better place’. What connects Plato, Plotinus and Nietzsche in this is their artistry, their immense sensitivity to the creative process and therefore their intense spirituality.

But they theorised about spirituality not as a fundamental quality of community but only of the male self and its Soul. They were unable to reconcile the elements of their brain’s functioning (from the emotional and non-discursive to cognition) both internally and to the world in which they lived.20 Their philosophies, ostensibly developed as a guide to life, grew in reaction to it. They direct away from life. Plotinus concluded his Enneads

‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’21

The metaphor of flight illustrates their desire to break free from the gravity of objective reality – the flight of the poet in the Ion, the flight of the Soul in the Enneads, the flight of angels in Christianity, the flight of man in The Birth of Tragedy.22 This flight was aided by the non-discursive tools of intuition23 and, as Nietzsche was the first to acknowledge, the self-deceptive art of lying

‘…there is only one world, and this is false, cruel, contradictory, seductive, without meaning – A world thus constituted is the real world. We have need of lies in order to conquer this reality, this “truth,” that is, in order to live…To solve it, man must be liar by nature, he must be above all an artist…This ability itself, thanks to which he violates reality by means of lies, this artistic ability of man par excellence – he has it in common with everything that is. He himself is after all a piece of reality, truth, nature: how should he not also be a piece of genius in lying!…In those moments in which man was deceived, in which he duped himself, in which he believes in life: oh how enraptured he feels! What delight! What a feeling of power! How much artists’ triumph in the feeling of power! – Man has once again become master of “material” – master of truth! – …(man) enjoys the lie as his form of power.’24

Nietzsche wrote

‘An artist cannot endure reality, he looks away from it, back: he seriously believes that the value of a thing resides in that shadowy residue one derives from colours, form, sound, ideas; he believes that the more subtilised, attenuated, transient a thing or a man is, the more valuable he becomes; the less real, the more valuable. This is Platonism, which, however, involved yet another bold reversal: Plato measured the degree of reality by the degree of value and said: The more “Idea,” the more being. He reversed the concept “reality” and said: “What you take for real is an error, and the nearer we approach the ‘Idea,’ the nearer we approach ‘truth.’” – Is this understood? It was the greatest of rebaptisms; and because it has been adopted by Christianity we do not recognise how astonishing it is. Fundamentally, Plato, as the artist he was, preferred appearance to being! lie and invention to truth! the unreal to the actual! But he was so convinced of the value of appearance that he gave it the attributes “being,” “causality” and ‘goodness,” and “truth,” in short everything men value.

The concept of value itself considered as a cause: first insight.

The ideal granted all honorific attributes: second insight.’25

In the above, Nietzsche stated his belief that the artist cannot ‘suffer’ reality and that there is a profound connection between the artist, Plato and the Christian. He wrote that this connection, developed by Plato, opposes the equivalents of Idea or form (as Apollinian appearance), lie and the unreal, to being, and the actual. He tied their retreat from reality to the creation of and faith in a higher one in ‘mind’. For Nietzsche, Apollo and Dionysus were the gods bringing form and content to his new and lonely faith – a faith in which he was torn, as Plato revealed of himself in his writing of the Timaeus.

Nietzsche’s philosophy has much to offer, not least because it details the tension in his thought between life and Life, between perspective and religious vision. That he was a man of ‘god’, no less than his father and both grandfathers, who were all ministers in the Lutheran faith, he could not have denied. That his faith was strongly flavoured by the Christianity he despised he would have rejected, but it underpins his mask of the myth of Oedipus

‘Sophocles understood the most sorrowful figure of the Greek stage, the unfortunate Oedipus, as the noble human being who, in spite of his wisdom, is destined to error and misery but who eventually, through his tremendous suffering, spreads a magical power of blessing that remains effective even beyond his decease.’26

and his greatest mask, his ‘counterdoctrine’ of Dionysus

‘One will see that the problem is that of the meaning of suffering: whether a Christian meaning or a tragic meaning. …The god on the cross is a curse on life, a signpost to seek redemption from life; Dionysus cut to pieces is a promise of life: it will be eternally reborn and return again from destruction.’27

Not only does Christianity teach that Christ on the cross is the symbolic promise of eternal ‘life’, as Dionysus was for Nietzsche a signpost to seek redemption from the life of objective reality, both the god on the cross (who was also ‘cut to pieces’) and Nietzsche’s creative interpretation of his own god embody Platonic and Neoplatonic influence.

Nietzsche never lost the ‘intense piety’ of his youth – he adapted it.28 He was a major figure in the development of twentieth-century Modernism, and as we contemplate art that bears his influence, we might think of him and his heritage not as he willed, but critically.29

The epistemological flow which I have addressed here – this pathway to perfection, this stairway to heaven – is intimately bound to patriarchal power. Plato was born into a prominent Athenian family with many political connections – his mother’s second husband was a close friend and supporter of Pericles. Porphyry wrote that Plotinus was ‘greatly honoured and venerated’ by the emperor Gallienus.

It is a current suffused with exclusions – the exclusion of the complexity and possibilities of life in this world from what has been redirected and appropriated to a ‘higher’ one, the exclusion of ‘the feminine’ from ‘the masculine’ – of the intuitive and non-linguistic from the discursive – the exclusion of women from power, the exclusion from true power of the majority by the minority. The content of this current constitutes the core of the visual ideology of capitalism and permeates capitalist ideology.

The creativity which most fully involves the range of our brain’s capacities is that which can stimulate the viewer to recognise and embrace the necessity of contradiction and to engage ethically with the one (theoretical) absolute – that of change in a material world. Such a view is diametrically opposed to the philosophical current discussed, which aims to stimulate the viewer to the denial of contradiction and change – ultimately to a commitment to ideological stasis – through an orientation towards and a desire for God the Father, God the Self.

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Notes

1. In extracts from On the Genealogy of Morals (1887) Third Essay, Section 25. Trans. W.Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1969, 156. The ‘secret path’ which Nietzsche bestowed underlay creative respectability.

2. ‘…the worst, the most tiresome, and the most dangerous of errors hitherto has been a dogmatist error – namely, Plato’s invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself…this nightmare…It amounted to the very inversion of truth, and the denial of the perspective – the fundamental condition – of life, to speak of Spirit and the Good as Plato spoke of them…Christianity is Platonism for the “people”.’ From the Preface to Beyond Good and Evil: A Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. (1886) In G.Clive. Ed. The Philosophy of Nietzsche. New York: Mentor, 1965, p.123.

3. From the madman’s speech in The Gay Science. (1882) 125. In the Introduction by R.J.Hollingdale to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. (1883-1885). Trans. R.J.Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969, p.14.

4. Nietzsche wrote about the ‘…rare ecstatic states with their elevation above space, time, and the individual.’ The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Section 21, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Trans. W.Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967, p.124.

5. ‘As a philologist and man of words (?!) I baptised it, not without taking some liberty – for who could claim to know the rightful name of the Antichrist? – in the name of a Greek god: I called it Dionysian.’ In ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’ (1886), Section 5, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner op. cit., p.24. Also: ‘Whoever approaches these Olympians with another religion in his heart, searching among them for moral elevation even for sanctity, for disincarnate spirituality…will soon be forced to turn his back on them, discouraged and disappointed. For there is nothing here that suggests asceticism, spirituality, or duty. We hear nothing but the accents of an exuberant, triumphant life in which all things, whether good or evil, are deified.’ ibid., Section 3, p. 41; ‘(Dionysus is) a deification of life…the religious affirmation of life’. The Will to Power  (1901), Bk IV, 1052. Trans. W.Kaufmann. and R.J.Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1968. p.542; ‘I am a disciple of the philosopher Dionysus, and I would prefer to be even a satyr than a saint.’ (two gods and their ministers?) From the Preface to Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is? (1888), Section 2, in G.Clive. Ed. The Philosophy of Nietzsche. op. cit., p.134. Christianity has long had a central place for the passage of Spirit into flesh in its own mythology, under the rubric ‘et incarnatus est’. And this arose from a complex and rich heritage which Nietzsche correctly traced to the immeasurable influence of Plato (obviously Plato was not the only source).

6. Timaeus, 8, 40. ‘And he bestowed two movements upon each, one in the same spot and uniform, whereby it should be ever constant to its own thoughts concerning the same thing; the other forward, but controlled by the revolution of the same and uniform: but for the other five movements he made it motionless and still, that each star might attain the highest completeness of perfection.’ The Timaeus of Plato. Ed. R.D.Archer-Hind. New York: Arno, 1973, pp.131-133. Plato is too often simplistically remembered as having given us eternal Forms (Plato as an eternal Form?). This quotation also points to the importance and complexity of motion in his philosophy. Lee argued that a major concern of the Timaeus is human psychology and that ‘…as the first Greek account of a divine creation, containing a rational explanation of many natural processes, it remained influential throughout the period of the Ancient World, not least towards its end when it influenced the Neo-platonists and when its creator-god was easily assimilated by Christian thought to the God of Genesis.’ In his Introduction to Plato Timaeus and Critias. Trans. D.Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin,1977, p.7.

7. ‘…the feeling of the sublime involves as its characteristic feature a mental movement combined with the estimate of the object, whereas taste in respect of the beautiful presupposes that the mind is in restful contemplation and preserves it in this state.’ I.Kant, Critique of Judgement. Bk II, Analytic of the Sublime, 24. Trans. J.Creed Meredith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952, p.94.

8. Consider his distinction between the methods of science and experience – the rational method which is alone of use in practical life and in science (the method of Aristotle) – and ‘the method of genius’ – which is valid and of use only in art (the method of Plato). ‘The first is like the mighty storm that rushes along without beginning and without end, bending, agitating, and carrying away everything before it; the second is like the ray of sun that calmly pierces the storm and is not deflected by it. The first is like the innumerable, violently agitated drops of the waterfall, constantly changing, never for an instant at rest; the second is like the rainbow, silently resting on this raging torrent.’ A.Schopenhauer, The World As Will And Idea. Book III, 36. (Abridged in One Volume) 1819. Trans. J.Berman. London: Everyman, 1995, p.109. His aesthetics, expounded in Bk III were overtly Platonic – simply, he believed the object of art is the Platonic Idea. ‘Raised by the power of the mind, a person relinquishes the usual way of looking at things…He does not allow abstract thought…to take possession of his consciousness, but, instead, gives the whole power of his mind to perception, immerses himself entirely in this, and lets his whole consciousness be filled with the quiet contemplation of the natural object…he can no longer separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one…then what is known is no longer the individual thing as such, but the Idea, the eternal form…The person rapt in this perception is thereby no longer individual…but he is a pure, willess, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.’ Book III, 34, p.102; also ‘(Art) repeats or reproduces the eternal Ideas grasped through pure contemplation, the essential and abiding element in all the phenomena of the world…it plucks the object of its contemplation out of the stream of the world’s course, and holds it isolated before it. And this particular thing, which in that stream was a minute part, becomes for art a representative of the whole, an equivalent of the endless multitude in space and time. So art pauses at this particular thing; it stops the wheel of time, for art the relations vanish; only the essential, the Idea, is its object.’ Book III, 36, p.108.

9. Nietzsche wrote of ‘…that splendid mixture which resembles a noble wine in making one feel fiery and contemplative at the same time.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 21, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.125.

10. Nietzsche was very aware of the heritage on which he drew – he creatively blended its elements in his writing ‘…the whole divine comedy of life, including the inferno, also pass before him, not like mere shadows on a wall – for he lives and suffers with these scenes – and yet not without that fleeting sensation of illusion.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section I, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.35. Here Nietzsche refers to Plotinus through Dante’s great Christian allegory of the Way to God – ‘to that union of our wills with the Universal Will in which every creature finds its true self and its true being.’ – from the Introduction by Dorothy L. Sayers, in Dante. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri The Florentine. Cantica 1: Hell. Trans. D.L.Sayers. London: Penguin, 1988, p.19 (in which Dante is guided by the shade of the poet Virgil and then led by the beautiful revelation of God through philosophy, Beatrice, to Paradise), and directly to the simile of the cave in the Republic. Sayers referred to the ‘cold passion’ of Dante’s style (p.42). It might have been better described as repressed.

11. Nietzsche was consistent with the patriarchy of this philosophical current. In the Enneads, Soul, on its way to pure unity with itself, aspires to and unites with Intellect.

12. ‘If we conceive of it at all as imperative and mandatory, this apotheosis of individuation knows but one law – the individual…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 4, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.46. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote ‘Sense and spirit are instruments and toys: behind them still lies the Self…Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a mighty commander, an unknown sage – he is called Self. He lives in your body, he is your body.’ and ‘Your Self can no longer perform that act which it most desires to perform: to create beyond itself. That is what it most wishes to do, that is its whole ardour.’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., pp.62, 63. Likewise, Plotinus’ philosophy is concerned with the creation and perfection of self: ‘If there had been a moment from which He began to be, it would be possible to assert his self-making in the literal sense; but since what He is He is from before eternity, his self-making is to be understood as simultaneous with Himself; the being is one and the same with the making, the eternal “bringing into existence”.’ Enneads VI,8,20.

13. P. Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought’. In The Enneads. Third ed. Abridged, Trans. S.MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, xlii-lxxxiii.

14. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 22, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.132. Plotinus wrote: ‘Is that enough? Can we end the discussion by saying this? No, my soul is still in even stronger labour. Perhaps she is now at the point when she must bring forth, having reached the fullness of her birth-pangs in her eager longing for the One.’ Enneads V,3,17. The same religious belief in creativity was held by another extremely influential voluntarist and vitalist contemporary of Nietzsche’s – Bergson, whose best known work is titled Creative Evolution (1907). Plotinus believed that through loving oneself in God, one becomes God, one becomes the Creator.

15. Enneads VI,5,12.

16. ‘…in order that being may exist, the One is not being, but the generator of being. This, we may say, is the first act of generation: the One, perfect because it seeks nothing, has nothing, and needs nothing, overflows, as it were, and its superabundance makes something other than itself…Resembling the One…Intellect produces in the same way, pouring forth a multiple power – this is a likeness of it – just as that which was before it poured it forth. This activity springing from the substance of Intellect is Soul…(which) does not abide unchanged when it produces: it is moved and so brings forth an image. It looks to its source and is filled, and going forth to another opposed movement generates its own image, which is sensation and the principle of growth in plants…So it goes on from the beginning to the last and lowest, each [generator] remaining behind in its own place, and that which is generated taking another, lower, rank…’ Enneads V, 2, 1-2. Nietzsche wrote: ‘(The aesthetic state) appears only in natures capable of that bestowing and overflowing fullness of bodily vigour: it is this that is always the primum mobile…“Perfection”: in these states (in the case of sexual love especially) there is naively revealed what the deepest instinct recognises as higher, more desirable, more valuable in general, the upward movement of its type; also toward what status it really aspires. Perfection: that is the extraordinary expansion of its feeling of power, riches, necessary overflowing of all limits.’ The Will to Power op. cit., Bk 3, 801, p.422.

17. The points of focus Nietzsche created to enable his longed for ascent to Truth are the Dionysian reveller, the satyr and Dionysus: ‘Such magic transformation is the presupposition of all dramatic art. In this magic transformation the Dionysian reveller sees himself as a satyr, and as a satyr, in turn, he sees the god, which means that in his metamorphosis he beholds another vision outside himself…With this new vision the drama is complete.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 8, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.64. Compare Nietzsche’s words: ‘Only insofar as the genius in the act of artistic creation coalesces with this primordial artist of the world, does he know anything of the eternal essence of art; for in this state he is, in a marvellous manner, like the weird image of the fairy tale which can turn its eyes at will and behold itself; he is at once subject and object, at once poet, actor, and spectator.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 5, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.52, with the chain of inspiration in Ion and Plato’s use of the metaphor of sight in the Republic’s simile of the cave, in which the philosopher attains the supreme ‘vision’ – that of the absolute form of the Good (Bk VII 514-521), ‘the brightest of all realities’.

18. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 1, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.37.

19. Enneads I,6,9. Nietzsche responded powerfully to the same ‘intoxicated’ drive to ‘shape’ and control the self in Plato in whom ‘…as a man of overexcitable sensuality and enthusiasm, the charm of the concept had grown so strong that he involuntarily honoured and deified the concept as an ideal Form. Intoxication by dialectic: as the consciousness of exercising mastery over oneself by means of it – as as tool of the will to power.’ The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 2, 431, p.236.

20. ‘Thrown into a noisy and plebeian age with which he has no wish to eat out of the same dish, he (‘who has the desires of an elevated, fastidious soul’) can easily perish of hunger and thirst, or, if he does eventually “set to” – of a sudden nausea. – We have all no doubt eaten at tables where we did not belong; and precisely the most spiritual of us who are most difficult to feed know that dangerous dyspepsia which comes from a sudden insight and disappointment about our food and table-companions – the after-dinner nausea.’ Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1886), 282. Trans. R.J.Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 1990, p.213. Nietzsche’s writing details over and again the gulf he felt between himself and others:  ‘I don’t want to be lonely any more; I want to learn to be human again. Alas, in this field I have almost everything still to learn!’ From a letter to Lou Salomé, 2 July 1882. From the Introduction by R.J.Hollingdale to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., p.21.

21. Enneads VI,9,11.

22. ‘…(man) has forgotten how to walk and speak and is on the way toward flying into the air, dancing…he feels himself a god…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 1, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.37.

23. ‘(Dionysian) music incites to the symbolic intuition of Dionysian universality…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 16, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.103.

24. The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 3, 853, pp.451-452.

25. Ibid., Book 3, 572, p.308.

26. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 9, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.67.

27. The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 4, 1052, p.543.

28. I use Hollingdale’s expression, in his Introduction to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., p.12.  Also: ‘What the Christian says of God, Nietzsche says in very nearly the same words of the Superman, namely: “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.”’ ibid., p.29.

29. ‘Art raises its head where creeds relax. It takes over many feelings and moods engendered by religion, lays them to its heart, and itself becomes deeper, more full of soul, so that it is capable of transmitting exultation and enthusiasm, which it previously was not able to do.’ From Human, All-Too-Human. A Book for Free Spirits. (1878) vol. I, 150, in The Philosophy of Nietzsche. op. cit., p.516.

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Some thoughts on mysticism

M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

Hello Moshe,

I’m sorry I haven’t replied to you earlier. I wanted to sit with your question. And I could sit with it a great deal longer.

Mysticism for me is the deepest feeling for and orientation to the whole, yet sensitivity to the parts that comprise it (in each part is the whole), to the relationship between whole and parts, to their infinite complexity and unceasing motion – and that awareness is essentially ineffable, yet intuitively understood.

If you remove ‘feeling’, ‘the ineffable’ and ‘intuition’ from this statement you have the description of a relationship that bears comparison with the first words of Lenin’s ‘On the Question of Dialectics’ – ‘The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the ‘essentials,’ one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) or dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter (Aristotle in his Metaphysics continually grapples with it and combats Heraclitus and Heraclitean ideas).’

My comparison is appropriate, because mystical philosophy, as Marx acknowledged (particularly its Germanic current culminating in the philosophy of the ‘German Proclus’, Hegel), is the philosophical core, stood by Marx on its feet, of dialectical materialism.

Lenin went on: ‘the correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science.’ This can be simply demonstrated – if you hold a rock in your hand, you hold a unity. While it looks utterly still – in its composition, in its parts, it is in unceasing motion. The contradictory motion of those infinitely divisible parts is the very thing which results in the apparently stable unity you hold in your hand (I am reminded of Plotinus’ profound and profoundly poetic position regarding his One – that it is the greatest activity in the greatest stillness).

And the interaction of this rock, this material composition, with the greater, infinite material whole will one day result in the passing of the form and contents of that stone into other material structures.

Thus everything passes, and only matter (objective reality) driven by the (theoretical) absolute of change remains.

While capitalist ideologues treat mysticism like pornography as they secretly study and draw from it, claiming, as true patriarchs, that their appropriations are the result of the most rigorous conceptual ‘reason’, materialists should be proud of their philosophical heritage and continue to mine it for more philosophical gems.

Intuition’ is one such. I believe it is a form of reasoning far more holistic and connected to our ‘emotions’/our ‘feelings’, our ‘sense of self’ than is the reason of language and concept. The latter, while its benefits and the achievements made with it are obvious, comparative to intuition (which is always functioning in the background), is plodding.

An example: suppose you were to walk around a corner while another did the same thing walking towards you. You bump into each other. Your eyes meet. Without doubt you would both have an instantaneous wealth of thoughts and feelings so rich and complex that thinking linguistically in and of that moment would not only be an impediment, it would be an impossibility.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), ‘Ecstasy of Saint Theresa’, marble, 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), ‘Ecstasy of Saint Theresa’, marble, 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Yet the thoughts and feelings you both have in those few seconds will be formative, evidence of a type of reason which I think is central to our sense of self.

When the monotheist prays to God – ‘God, give me guidance’, they are calling on that other form of reason which requires emotional ‘stillness’ to be heard and listened to. They speak of ‘stillness’ and ‘listening’ at such times.

It is a flux of reason that draws on their life’s experience, on their spiritual connection to the world, on all that comprises them.

‘Spirituality’ – a concept I rejected for many years – for me is the feeling for and knowledge of profound material connectedness.

Intuitive reason is like ‘another’ to that of our usual, linguistically conditioned self.

There is certainly nothing of the patriarch to it, yet if you fail to listen to that ‘voice’, you do so at your peril. You will be like the man in the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket – reading all the labels, unable to choose, looking for an impetus and answer only in words, his linguistic ‘self’ disconnected from that other, deeper, more holistic, intuitive ‘self’.

In this unity of self (both linguistic and intuitive) and the world is to be found the unity of both mystic and materialist – it is one, unwilled yet profoundly dialectical, profoundly ‘poetic’ world.

When I am presented with any problem, I first try to intuit a way forward or a solution, then I apply my ability to reason linguistically. And although the results are usually different (my intuition seems consistent with necessity – which supports my understanding of intuition), I play those two results against each other to arrive at my answer.

These are a few of my thoughts on the subject of mysticism.

What are some of your thoughts on the subject?

Best regards,

Phil

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Images: 1st/2nd