Saturday, October 07, 2017

Green Imagination

[draft of essay for KAF]

Pierre Jean François Turpin, The Primal Plant [Urpflanze], 1837[1]

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green thing that stands in the way . . . to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself.
– William Blake 
Inside the horizon of every line, green is looking for green. The eye of eye is green. Closing my eyes, I gaze out looking for you through myself, and I grow green. Greenness of the eye of the heart.

It is not a simple thing to think this greenness. The matter of color is so mysteriously specific, an appearance stronger than its own fact. How to grasp green without following thinking into falling for seeing it as color of, without losing its real quality among the vines of association? It is a question of understanding greenness according to its own literality, of reading it like a letter, of spelling it like a word.

This one may do by staying with the hyperliterality and non-arbitrariness of Blake’s image, its itself-ness. Here, where truth is seen right on the surface, the tree is not simply an example of nature as imagination, but its very likeness, its species. Nature is a green thing that stands in the way because imagination is green. Thus we approach inversely a properly intellectual vision, that which “touches on things which do not have any images that are like them without actually being what they are.”[2] Such hyperliteral seeing may be conceived as a vision through no one, via the deep-flat immediacy of a paradoxically questioning presence ‘who’ apparently already understands, as per Augustine’s well-known reflection on time: “What is time? If no one [nemo] asks of me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone asking, I do not know.”[3] This nemo (from ne + homo) is the inhumanity of a too-close vision that touches, plant-like, what it cannot see precisely by simply seeing it. It is an order of understanding requiring precisely that no one ask the question, a non-asking asker ‘who’ is the presence of imagination itself, its species. So we find in Michael Marder’s fortuitous formulation of our blindness to plant intelligence the perfect corollary to Blake’s tree of imagination: “Imagine a being capable of processing, remembering, and sharing information—a being with potentialities proper to it and a world of its own . . . most of us will think of a human person, some will associate it with an animal, and virtually no one’s imagination will conjure up a plant.”[4]

Species: image-growth of the entity, face of an essence, appearance of true self-imitation—the spice of being. Image (from the root *aim- ‘copy’) and greenness (from the root *ghre- ‘grow’) converge in the auto-mimetic nature of growth. Thus Goethe begins The Metamorphosis of Plants: “Anyone who has paid even a little attention to plant growth will readily see that certain external parts of the plant undergo frequent change and take on the shape of the adjacent parts—sometimes fully, sometimes more, and sometimes less.”[5] Green is the species of imagination, its spice. Imagination tastes green.[6]

To observe more clearly the verdant idea of the image, consider Augustine’s description of the three levels of vision (corporeal, imaginal, intellectual) as a picture of plant-like growth: “When you read, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31), three kinds of vision take place: one with the eyes, when you see the actual letters; another with the human spirit, by which you think of your neighbor even though he is not there; a third with the attention of the mind, by which you understand and look at love itself.”[7] Vision greens, sprouting forth in three unified orders not unlike the form of a plant. Corporeal, objective vision, that which sees surface or what cannot be seen through, touches the image as leaf. Imaginal, mediated vision, that which sees transparently via the subtle lines seen by seeing through, touches the image as stem. Intellectual, immediate vision, that which sees the very form of the seen, neither without seeing through it nor with seeing through it (or both), in other words seeing the thing directly through itself, touches the image as root.

Once again the specific example—the second part of love’s ‘double law’[8]—is more than example, being specularly paradigmatic of vision as the movement and manifestation of will. The love seen in seeing love mirrors and is mirrored by love’s seeing per se. Likewise, the three levels of vision are themselves conceptually evident in the conspicuous text: in the objective fact of the neighbor (from the root *bheue- ‘to be, exist, grow’) or one who dwells near (plēsion, proximus), in the meditating fact of the likeness (from the root *lik- ‘body, form; like, same’) between oneself and neighbor, and in the immediate fact of self-love.[9] The neighborliness of seeing reflects vision as a force occurring through the mirror of love, via the first unseen image of itself—like the gap between conatus and connatus, twixt one’s inborn gravity for oneself and the non-autonomous withness of one’s birth.[10]

The unitary, divine fact of love—“Love is the reflection of God’s unity in the world of duality. It constitutes the entire significance of creation”[11]—is imaginally present through the law of love in plant form. Seen in this way, in the moment of Augustine’s picking of this example, the three-fold order of vision becomes a revelation of the second commandment as graft of the first. As image grows mimetically via the cut-and-splice process of self-copying into the very synthesis of vision that sees a thing all at once in gross, subtle, and mental dimension, so does the image’s verdant structure here expose the second part of love’s double law as a cutting of love itself, the living image of the will to love the One as love. “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5).

And in the original articulation of the first commandment, we see a similar representation of the various levels of being synthesized by the power of a unifying force: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Likewise, Dante’s account of the double necessity of love of self and love of God conspicuously deploys the locution of cutting (division, decision) to express the indivisibility of amorous vision: “Or, perché mai non può da la salute / amor del suo subietto volger viso, / da l’odio proprio son le cose tute; / e perché intender non si può diviso, / e per sé stante, alcuno esser dal primo, / da quello odiare ogne effetto è deciso” (Purgatorio 17.106-11).[12] Impossibility of self-hatred is the identical, unquestionable twin of severance from hating God.[13]     

Love as the rhyme (from root *sreu- ‘to flow’) flowing between sight and color: “No white nor red was ever seen / So am’rous as this lovely green.”[14] Love as greenness of beauty’s eye, of the image that sees, seizing one by its look, the color of the species as flower of imagination: “The plant that achieves only stunted flowers in the relentless struggle for existence, having been released from this struggle by a stroke of good fortune, suddenly looks at us with the eye of beauty.”[15] Or as Meister Eckhart says, also with respect to the extrahumanity of vision, “All creatures are green in God.”[16] Being the alterative of pink or rose, the generic red-cum-white of living beauty and non-spectral color perceived as if between the high and low ends of the rainbow (white light minus green equals pink),[17] green is the presence of the absence of the spectrum’s unity within itself, the index of the will that curves it into infinity.  

The self/world-annihilative power of love’s vision—“Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade”[18]—concerns an absolute and unendurable interfaciality, the divine revelation of universe as mirror. At the intolerable summit of Narcissus’s specular torture, finally liquifying in the fire of love—“sic attentuatus amore / liquitur et tecto paullatim carpitur igni”[19]—the lover surrenders into the green to become a flower: “ille caput viridi fessum submisit in herba, / lumina mors clausit domini mirantia formam” [he laid down his weary head in the green grass and death closed the bright eyes marveling upon their master’s beauty].[20] In the end everyone follows their heart, dies into the reality behind beauty’s dream. As Klima writes in Glorious Nemesis, “But what the mind does not believe, the heart does. And in the end the intellect does, too; what else is left for it to do?”[21]

Green is the color of man’s most properly eyeless neighbor—the manifest appearance of vision as a naturally missing power: “We speak of privation . . . if something has not one of the attributes which a thing might naturally have, even if this thing itself would not naturally have it, e.g. a plant is said to be deprived of eyes.”[22] Being somewhere in the middle of the rainbow, in the midst of the spectrum visible to humans, green reflects the heart as the omnipresent medium or general line of being: “my heart, where I am whoever/whatever I am.”[23] It is the spectral aura of the ghostly eros of all things, their being ( )here in all the creaturely fullness of uncircumscribable restlessness and indeterminacy: “For you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[24] So in the impressional order of experience, green corresponds to the intensity of longing: “All thoughts, words and acts cause sanskaras or impressions on one’s mind. Sanskaras are of seven different colors, the same as those of a rainbow . . . Intense spiritual longing gives rise to sanskaras of the green color. Just as red sanskaras are the worst, so the green ones are the best.”[25] As if seeing with eyes one naturally misses, longing grows through the distance of its own missingness towards the presence of what would only be missed more were it present.[26]

Seek his face always [Psalm 104.4], let not the finding of the beloved put an end to the love-inspired search; but as love grows, so let the search for the one already found become more intense.”[27] The search that never ends is green—the looking of imagination itself or that which stands everywhere in the middle with an eye for the whole. The gravity of green corresponds to the color spectrum’s vital center, a location at once for the above and of the below. So is the weight of every image double. Image, forever undecidably inside and outside the eye, looks simultaneously into and beyond one’s vision. Seeing no one, lacking the eyes whereby it sees, the green life of imagination searches through every face, growing beyond all someone ever seen.

As the radically individual fact of one’s human form gives too-literal witness to its being envisioned by one without eyes to see it,[28] so does the green reality of imagination, this actual reflection of our missing eyes, lure one to outgrow the fantasy of identity and rest in the limitlessness of a will freer than one’s own—that most ancient love alone capable of creating the unimaginably new.      









[1] Public domain image. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Urpflanze.png
[2] Augustine, On Genesis, trans. Edmund Hill (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2002), 470.
[3] “Quid est ergo tempus? Si nemo ex me quaerat, scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio” (Augustine, Confessions, 11.14.17, http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/conf/).
[4] Michael Marder, Grafts: Writings on Plants (Minneapois: Univocal, 2016), 41, italics mine.
[5] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Metamorphosis of Plants, trans. Douglas Miller (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 5.
[6] Cf. Marder’s discussion of the vegetal nature of imaginal freedom in terms of ‘crude taste’ of first play: “The material freedom of imagination is the echo of vegetal freedom in human beings, but so is the formal aesthetic play-drive, indifferent to the real existence of its object. To let the plant in us flourish, to give free reign to imagination in its materiality, we should forget the formality of ‘high culture,’ which corresponds to the upper tier of play, and to abandon ourselves to what Schiller decries as crude taste: ‘first seizing on what is new and startling, gaudy, fantastic and bizarre, what is violent and wild.’ Nietzsche’s Dionysian art, itself linked to the intoxicating power of a plant (the fermented grape), is no doubt crucial to this appeal, as is Deleuze and Guattari’s take on ‘drunkenness as a triumphant irruption of the plant in us’” (Michael Marder, Plant Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life [New York: Columbia, 2013], 146).
[7] Augustine, On Genesis, 470.
[8] “’Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no greater commandment than these’” (Mark 12:30-1).
[9] Cf. “There can . . . be no bodily vision without the spiritual, seeing that the moment contact is made with a body by a sense of the body, some such thing is also produced in the spirit, not to be exactly what the body is, but to be like it; and if this were not produced, neither would there be than sensation by which extraneous things present are sensed” (Augustine, On Genesis, 492).
[10] William Desmond addresses this dimension—and the separation it inspires—in terms of porosity: “The conatus essendi takes shape as the will to self-determination, but in doing so forgets its own more original passio essendi which is itself as more intimately and vulnerably porous . . . The selving on the surface of self-determination thus tries to snip the umbilical cord that ties it to its own soul—and no nourishment from the womb of the porosity comes up to it, even though in this, all its endeavor is still an affair of being ‘birthed with’ (con-natus)” (William Desmond, “Soul Music and Soul-less Selving,” in The Resounding Soul, eds. Eric Austin Lee and Samuel Kimbriel [Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2016], 377).
[11] Meher Baba, Discourses, revised 6th ed., 4 vols. (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2007), I.169.
[12] Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977. [Now, because love cannot turn its sight from the well-being of its subject, all things are safe from self-hatred; and because there is no being that can be conceived as existing all by itself and severed from the first, every creature from hatred of that one is cut off.]
[13] “No one hates himself. And, indeed, this principle was never questioned by any sect” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson [New York: Macmillan, 1958], 20).
[14] Andrew Marvell, “The Garden,” lines 17-8, in Poems and Letters, ed. H. M. Margoliouth, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), I.48. Thanks to Tom Haviv for reminding me of this poem.
[15] Friedrich Nietzsche, Writings from the Early Notebooks, trans. Ladislaus Löb (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 36. Marder comments: “The absence of a conceptually mediated meaning does not signal the voiding of sense in the flower that represents nothing, but conversely announces a shift in the directionality of sense . . . The beautiful flower ceases to be an object of human regard, instead looking at us with the de-subjectivated and impersonal ‘eye of beauty’ because we do not exactly need it” (Plant-Thinking, 141). Cf. Narcissus as bound by the impossible actuality of the image’s love of him: “Admit it, the gaze is really too much. Who can withstand it? No one shall see me and live. That must be why Narcissus never stops spontaneously lying to himself about his reflection, never ceases to fall in love with his own image, seeing neither that it is an image nor his . . . How eternally precious those passing moments, when the gaze opens itself a little more and sees, by some unfathomable magic or trick of the abyss which if you gaze long into it gazes back into you (N), that the image is no less in love with Narcissus” (Nicola Masciandaro, “On the Gaze,” in Dante | Hafiz: Readings on the Sigh, the Gaze, and Beauty, eds. Masciandaro and Tekten [New York: KAF, 2017], 59).
[16] “The prophet says, ‘God will lead His sheep into a green pasture.’ The sheep is simple, and so are they who are simplified to one. One master says that heaven's course can nowhere be so readily observed as in simple animals: they guilelessly accept the influence of heaven, as do children with no minds of their own. But those folk who are clever and full of ideas, they are carried away in a proliferation of things. So our Lord promised to feed his sheep on the mountain on green grass. All creatures are green in God” (Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, trans. Maurice O’C Walshe [New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2009], 459). Observe how the passage performs the unifying simplicity of vision by immediately transferring the color of the pasture to the creature partaking of it. This is a good example of what I have elsewhere termed “animal mysticism,” wherein the stupid immediacy of animal awareness is used to figure the depth of apophatic illumination; see “Unknowing Animals,” Speculations: Journal of Speculative Realism 2 (2011): 228-44.
[17] See, “There is No Pink Light,” http://youtu.be/S9dqJRyk0YM.
[18] Andrew Marvell, “The Garden,” lines 47-8.
[19] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Frank Justus Miller, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), III.489-90.
[20] Where others prefer the past tense here—e.g. Mandelbaum’s “eyes that had been captured by the beauty of their master” (Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Allen Mandelbaum [New York: Harvest, 1993], 97)—I translate ‘mirantia’ in the literality of its present so as capture the total liminality of this moment wherein Narcissus’s eyes, still gazing upon themselves in the mirror of imagination, hold open the possibility of his soul’s attainment, via death to his identity, of a higher self-knowledge and more continuous vision of beauty. So the greenness that receives his dying head touches the vitality of death itself, its being an inherent mode and instrument of life rather than its opposite. As Rudolf Steiner observed, “green is the lifeless image of life,” in the sense of the qualitative visibility of the invisible life living through lifeless matter: “Life itself we do not perceive. We perceive plants because they contain the lifeless substances. And because of this they are green” (“Colours as Revelations of the Psychic in the World,” http://wn.rsarchive.org/). Vital and deathly, green is sign of the life that lives through what lacks it, the tint of soul elevating itself from matter, the tone of animal growing itself through mineral. So is it the color of love as will refusing the boundary—or encompassing the continuity—between life and death. Like Criseyde nearly dying of love-sorrow in Troilus’s arms: “O Jove, I deye, and mercy I beseche! / Help, Troilus!” And therwithal hire face / Upon his brest she leyde and loste speche – / Hire woful spirit from his propre place, / Right with the word, alwey o poynt to pace. / And thus she lith with hewes pale and grene, /That whilom fressh and fairest was to sene” (Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, IV.1149-55, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987]).
[21] Ladislav Klima, Glorious Nemesis, trans. Marek Tomin (Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2011), 64.
[22] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1022b, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), II.78, italics mine.
[23] “[C]or meum, ubi ego sum quicumque sum” (Augustine, Confessions, 10.3.4).
[24] “[Q]uia fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te” (Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1).
[25] Meher Baba, Meher Message, 2:7, p. 8 (July 1930), quoted in Life Eternal, “Sanskaras,” http://www.meherbabadnyana.net/life_eternal/Book_One/Sanskaras.htm. See Nicola Masciandaro, “The Inverted Rainbow: A Note on the Spiritual Significance of the Color Spectrum,” https://www.academia.edu/10834707/The_Inverted_Rainbow_A_Note_on_the_Spiritual_Significance_of_the_Color_Spectrum.
[26] “Longing does not diminish when the subject is present to what is missing, but rather increases” (David Appelbaum, The Delay of the Heart [Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001], 143).  
[27] Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms, trans. Maria Boulding, 6 vols. (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2003), 5.186.
[28] “The prehuman forms through which it [the soul] has to pass before it can incarnate in the human form are innumerable. Strictly speaking there is only one form—the human form—which is latent in all of the previous forms. The mineral, the plant and the animal forms actually contain the human form in its latent state, and this is gradually and increasingly manifested until it is at last completely expressed as a human being in a human body” (Meher Baba, God Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose, [New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1973], 188).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

fornEVErgreen



Torturous asymmetry 
Cutting all in whole 
Askewness of you and me 
Amputating soul.  

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[pNEuMO Series, Number 4] 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

pulmONEssimism




All this while on the sea floor
Breathing through two eyes
Until my lungs cut a door
Opening the skies.

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[pNEuMO Series, Number 3] 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

bewilldereliXir



Absolute bewilderment
Anonymous sigh
Acosmic imprisonment
Abjection of I

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[pNEuMO Series, Number 2] 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Notes and Quotes on the The Gaze



Who can fix a limit to the gaze? Who will dare to define it scope, point out its center, or draw a circle around its sphere? As far as I can see, everyone turns away. Where? To the gaze.

On the one hand, the gaze is limitless, extending in all directions, further than the eye can see. “The self,” says Ibn Arabi, “is an ocean without shore. Gazing upon it has no end in this world and the next.”

On the other hand, the gaze is nothing, nothing but itself, a zero through which only another I is looking. “All creatures are absolutely nothing,” says Johannes Tauler, “That which has no being is nothing. And creatures have no being, because they have their being in God; if God turned away for a moment, they would cease to exist.”

Is my gaze my own? Yes and no. I look, yet cannot see myself. I am seen, yet none sees me. Is that you, looking back at yourself in the mirror? No and yes. The gaze is the mirror of the gaze, every look a reflection of itself. Where would I be, what would become of you—everything—if that which sees and is seen by seeing, vision’s own visibility, were blotted out, blinded? If the gaze through which we gaze shut its eyes? “Do not separate from me,” says Hafiz, “for you are the light of my vision. / You are the peace of my soul and the intimate of my heart.”

I see that one is always turning toward and turning away, turning away from what one turns toward, turning toward what one turns away from. What an endless revolution, the restless conversion of the still, ever-spinning eye. Zoom in on planet pupil, a little nothing meaning all, suspended in its own universal reflection, projecting and filming everything through the point, the navel of itself. Is your gaze born from you or you from your gaze? “I believe,” says Dante in Paradiso, “because of the sharpness of the living ray that I sustained, that I would have been lost if my eyes had turned away from it.”

Admit it, the gaze is really too much. Who can withstand it? No one shall see me and live. That must be why Narcissus never stops spontaneously lying to himself about his reflection, never ceases to fall in love with his own image, seeing neither that it is an image nor his. If you are me then who am I? If I am me then who are you? Perpetual predicament of the illusion that sustains reality. As Meher Baba once rhymed, “Oh, you ignorant, all-knowing Soul / what a plight you are in! / Oh, you weak, all-powerful Soul / what a plight you are in! / Oh, you miserable, all-happy Soul / what a plight you are in! / What a plight! / What a sight! / What a delight!”

How eternally precious those passing moments, when the gaze opens itself a little more and sees, by some unfathomable magic or trick of the abyss which if you gaze long into it gazes back into you (N), that the image is no less in love with Narcissus. As Francis Brabazon said, “And so one arrives at the painful conclusion that the Beloved alone exists—which means that oneself doesn’t. And that’s a terrible predicament to find oneself in—for one is still there! The only solution I found was to accept the position: ‘You alone are and I am not, but we are both here.’”

Whose gaze is that? What eye calmly turns itself towards the gaze of the real, penetrating the sight of life, which is death to the living? It would seem as if the person who possesses this look also cannot sustain it. Are not saints, or the truly beautiful, forever ashamed of their own eyes? Here is a passage from Meher Baba to fall in love with: “A wali . . . has the power to open the third eye and grant divine sight, if he is in the mood. He can do so by simply looking into the eyes of the aspirant, even if the aspirant is at a distance. When the third eye is opened, all is light . . . It is so powerful an experience that the recipient either goes mad or drops the body . . . One type of wali is called artad. They are very, very few, quite rare. They are very fiery, with piercing eyes that break through anything, even mountains! Their gaze is sufficient to cut an animal in two, hence they always keep their eyes on the ground. That too is split apart.”

If the gaze splits, surely that is because it is without number, because the manyness of our eyes only sees by reflecting one. Thus the individual neither sees nor is seen by unity without being cut in two. Consider this as the principle of honesty or natural self-discernment. I am only whole, authentic, truthful, when I see how double, how dark to myself I am, when eye see myself seen by seeing itself. “Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me” (Song of Songs 1:6).

Imagine a map of all vision, a long tracing of its every line, individual and collective, from the beginningless beginning to the endless end, from the earliest emergence of anything to its final absolute evaporation. A one-to-one map scaled to the continuum of seeing itself, all of its sleeps and wakings, every stop and start across the seas of every kingdom of being, in short, from stone to human. What does it look like? In his Dialogue on the Two Principle Systems of the World, Galileo, in order to explain how “this motion in common [i.e. the motion of the earth] . . . remains as if nonexistent to everything that participates in it,” conceives the figure of an artist who draws, without separating pen and paper, everything he sees while sailing from Italy to Turkey: “if an artist had begun drawing with that pen on a sheet of paper when he left the port and had continued doing so all the way to Alexandretta [Iskenderun], he would have been able to derive from the pen's motion a whole narrative of many figures, completely traced and sketched in thousands of directions, with landscapes, buildings, animals, and other things. Yet the actual real essential movement marked by the pen point would have been only a line; long, indeed, but very simple. But as to the artist's own actions, these would have been conducted exactly the same as if the ship had been standing still” (Galileo Galilei). Is not the real hero of the story the hyper-saccadic story of the eye? Now raise that to the power of itself ad infinitum. What a line!

More locally, the gaze concerns the duration and depth of seeing, the extensity and intensity of its time and space. Gazing not only looks but looks beyond looking, exploring the very surface of vision as a dimension otherwise than surface. The gaze sees by seeing into seeing itself, in both senses at once. No need for a map, the gaze directs itself. As Merleau-Ponty explains, the focus of the gaze, through which we establish the qualities of objects by interrupting them from “the total life of the spectacle,” operates through an essential reflexivity: “The sensible quality, far from being coextensive with perception, is the peculiar product of an attitude of curiosity or observation. It appears when, instead of yielding up the whole of my gaze to the world, I turn toward this gaze itself, and when I ask myself what precisely it is that I see; it does not occur in the natural transactions between my sight and the world, it is the reply to a certain kind of questioning on the part of my gaze, the outcome of a second order or critical kind of vision which tries to know itself in its own particularity.”

So we are led back, willy nilly, to the essential gravity of the gaze as an exponent of will, to looking as the weight of the love of a being who is its own self-consuming question. But what of the one whose will is annihilated? “To those in whom the will has turned and denied itself,” says Schopenhauer, “this very real world of ours, with all its suns and galaxies, is—nothing.”

What does the gaze that sees nothing see? “And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing” (Acts 9:8).

I trust that both Dante and Hafiz agree that this gaze sees not only nothing, but everything. As their contemporary Meister Eckhart says, “A man who is established thus in God's will wants nothing but what is God's will and what is God . . . Even though it meant the pains of hell it would be joy and happiness to him. He is free and has left self behind, and must be free of whatever is to come in to him: if my eye is to perceive color, it must be free of all color. If I see a blue or white color, the sight of my eye which sees the color, the very thing that sees, is the same as that which is seen by the eye. The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love.”

This makes me want to see what these two poets might see looking into each other. For both are so well versed in the mystery of the unitive doubleness of vision experienced in the gaze, wherein the two-ness of the eyes becomes one. As Hadewych explains, “The power of sight that is created as natural to the soul is charity. This power of sight has two eyes, love and reason. Reason cannot see God except in what he is not; love rests not except in what he is. Reason has its secure paths, by which it proceeds. Love experiences failure, but failure advances it more than reason. Reason advances toward what God is, by means of what God is not. Love sets aside what God is not and rejoices that it fails in what God is. Reason has more satisfaction than love, but love has more sweetness of bliss than reason. These two, however, are of great mutual help one to the other; for reason instructs love, and love enlightens reason. When reason abandons itself to love's wish, and love consents to be forced and held within the bounds of reason, they can accomplish a very great work. This no one can learn except by experience.”

And I am looking forward to this encounter all the more, not only because, as Vernon Howard says, “Anything you look forward to will destroy you, as it already has,” but because what is seen between the gazes of these two poets will no doubt be something neither could see—the beauty of a spark leaping between the eyes of two no-ones.

As Hafiz says, “اهل نظر دو عالم در یک نظر ببازند” [Men of sight can lose both worlds in one glance]. Or as Love tells Dante in the Vita Nuova, “Ego tanquam centrum circuli . . . tu autem non sic” [I am as the centre of a circle . . . you however are not so].

Friday, June 03, 2016

pNEuMenOn



A spontaneous telegrammatic lyric sequence. Undersea ditties of love and despair.  

Split into one like all else | There’s nothing special | About a lost heart that melts | The fires of hell.

The alternate universe | Where this is published | Is probably worse | Than this one—I wish. 

"I imagine a reading of pNEuMenOn on a rooftop in New York City. Jozef van Wissem playing his lute in the background, seated next to a statue of the Virgin Mary. An audience standing in an oval around the poet and lute player, and twelve rows of cushioned white seats—no one sitting in them—garnished with silver cords reaching into the heavens." — Brad Baumgartner


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[pNEuMO Series, Number 1] 



Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Miracle of the Sigh


[opening statement for Reading the Sigh]


If I sigh for the miraculous, for the beauty that takes breath away in wonder, maybe it is because the sigh itself is a miracle. And if it is not, if as the song says, a sigh is just a sigh, perhaps that is the miracle, that a sigh, to be miraculous, need not be anything other than itself.
The miracle of this gathering is that we get to hear and speak the sighs of Dante and Hafiz together, to have them, side by side, in the same room.
Dante died in 1321. Hafiz was born in 1325. So this is something that could never have happened. Or, in light of the mystery of reincarnation, properly identified by one anonymous author as “in no way a theory which one has to believe or not believe . . . a fact which is [to be] either known through experience or ignored” (Meditations on the Tarot), this may be something that could never have not happened. Thus who knows, this gathering might be both and something better than either, the miracle of a third thing, the event of the presence of one in whose name two or three gather.
The impossible is inevitable. And in this case, there is also lightning, a striking resemblance. Above all, the greatness of these two poets, the height and depth of their sighs, belongs to the sphere of intense experience, ecstatic and torturous, of the intersection of human and divine love, more specifically, the noble love of a woman and the love of God. For Dante, it was the death of Beatrice which marked the center of his poetry’s turning toward the divine. Only from the abyss of sorrow and the poet’s death to himself within it does there spring the miraculous vision of the Commedia, the potentiality of a truly new poetry, of a word that authentically writes itself now, in light of the eternal present. As Dante states near the end of the Vita Nuova, “And to arrive at that, I apply myself as much as I can, as she truly knows. So that, if it be pleasing to Him for whom all things live that my life may last for some years, I hope to say of her what was never said of any other woman.” For Hafiz, the death of his beloved instead takes place virtually, in experience, upon the imminence of the long-sought moment when he could finally realize his desire. Where the death of Dante’s beloved is the ground of seeking her in God, Hafiz’s earthly love is eclipsed by desire for the divinity that grants him the opportunity to fulfil that love. With uncanny complementarity, the two poets’ experiences appear as different as they are similar. Hafiz’s story is recounted by Meher Baba as follows:
Once in his youth, Hafiz encountered a very beautiful girl of a wealthy family. That very instant he fell in love with her; it was not in the carnal way, but he loved her beauty. At the same time, he was in contact with his Spiritual Master, Attar, who himself was a great Persian poet. Hafiz, being Attar's disciple, used to visit him daily for years. He used to compose a ghazal a day and sing it to Attar. . . Twenty years passed and all this time Hafiz was full of the fire of love for the beautiful woman, and he loved his Master, too. Once, Attar asked him: “Tell me what you want.” Hafiz expressed how he longed for the woman. Attar replied: “Wait, you will have her.” Ten more years passed by, thirty in all, and Hafiz became desperate and disheartened. . . . Hafiz blazed out: “What have I gained by being with you? Thirty years have gone by!” Attar answered: “Wait, you will know one day.” . . . Hafiz performed chilla-nashini, that is, he sat still within the radius of a drawn circle for 40 days to secure fulfillment of his desire. It is virtually impossible for one to sit still for 40 days within the limits of a circle. But Hafiz’s love was so great that it did not matter to him. On the fortieth day, an angel appeared before him and looking at the angel’s beauty, Hafiz thought: “What is that woman’s beauty in comparison with this heavenly splendor!” The angel asked what he desired. Hafiz replied that he be able to wait on the pleasure of his Master’s wish. At four o’clock on the morning of the last day, Hafiz . . . went to his Master who embraced him. In that embrace, Hafiz became God-conscious. (Lord Meher)
Following love’s infinity in the face of the finite, through the domain of death, the poetry of Dante and Hafiz fills the space traversed by longing, the degree or mode of love which moves between desire and surrender, the form of eros that at once insists on satisfaction and grasps the futility of that insistence. As the word of the word of love, the tongueless articulation of the heart before and after speech, a murmuring of the heart as mouth around the spiritual limits of language, the sigh is the proper expression of longing, of desire across distance and the hopelessness of separation. Thus the sphere-piercing spatiality of the sigh, its mapping of the paradoxical parameters of the heart as something both excluded from and already established within its own home. Like a breath at the edge of the universe which is no less one’s own, the sigh traces the heart as no less exterior than interior, as both trapped within and containing what holds it. Augustine defines the heart as “where I am whoever or whatever I am [ubi ego sum quicumque sum]” and love as “my weight [which] bears me wheresoever I am borne [pondus meum, amor meus; eo feror, quocumque feror]” (Augustine, Confessions). So the sigh, echoing simultaneously one’s first and last breath, both the spirit which animates you in the first place and the expiration which becomes no longer yours, pertains to an essential openness and mobility, the unbounded wherever and wheresoever of things.
This for me is the sigh’s miracle—not anything supernatural, but that it marks the miracle of reality itself as infinitely open, as spontaneously expanding without limit or horizon into more and more of itself. Hear how, on the one hand, a sigh resonates with the sense of the weight of facticity and necessity, the crushing gravity of that (that things are as they are, that anything is, that something is not) and hear, on the other hand, how a sigh floats in the space between the actual and the ideal, in the sky of its own indetermination and freedom. The suspension of the sigh, its hovering, pertains to the paradox of freedom as realizable yet unpossessable, the necessity of freeing oneself from oneself, from one’s own freedom, in order to be free. As Meister Eckart says, “The just man serves neither God nor creatures, for he is free,  . . . and the closer he is to freedom . . . the more he is freedom itself.” The sigh is the dialetheia of freedom and necessity, the joy (and sorrow) of knowing that nothing is fixed and the sorrow (and joy) of seeing that it everything is—that thank God there is absolutely nothing and everything you can do about it. As Vernon Howard said, referring to yourself, “you want to take that to Heaven?”  
The admixture of joy and sorrow found in the sigh reflects the miraculous fact, the light weight and grave lightness, of reality’s paradoxical openness. As Agamben says in The Coming Community, “The root of all pure joy and sadness is that the world is as it is.” The intimacy with separation spoken in the sigh likewise manifests separation as a special order of intimacy. As Mechthild of Magdeburg, a Beguine of the 13th century says, “O blissful distance from God, how lovingly am I connected with you!” Or as Meher Baba once spontaneously rhymed, “Oh, you ignorant, all-knowing Soul / what a plight you are in! / Oh, you weak, all-powerful Soul / what a plight you are in! / Oh, you miserable, all-happy Soul / what a plight you are in! / What a plight! / What a sight! / What a delight!” (Lord Meher).
We are indeed in a fiX, in a spot marked by a great, unfathomable X. Such is the order of the truth of the sigh. That the mystery of the world is more than metaphysical. That not only is there something rather than nothing, but that one is. That there is not only eternity but time, not only good but evil, not only truth but illusion, not only oneness but separation, not only the universe but the individual, not only you but me. These are astonishing things, stupendous facts pointing to a reality more stupendous still. All is somehow more infinite for being finite. In other words, there is something about the sigh that turns everything inside out. I hear Levinas sighing as he writes, “Time is not the limitation of being but its relationship with infinity. Death is not annihilation but the question that is necessary for this relationship with infinity, or time, to be produced.”
The opening of the world, in both senses, is poetry, the miracle of the word which takes you aside and makes one hear its silence and speak what one cannot say. Thus the singular story in the Gospel of Mark of Jesus’s sigh: “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude private, he put his fingers into his ears, and spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (Mark 7:31-4).
                Therefore, to close my opening of this gathering, to thank the sigh for making possible our being side by side with these two poets, I will read a poem by a third poet, one Pseudo-Leopardi, on the same theme: 

Unable to swim the ocean of each other’s eyes
We must sit side by side, gazing at a blind world
Whose dumb mouth has lost all taste for silence.

Heads dizzy as ours naturally lean together,
Kept from falling off only by the golden sighs
Suspending these bodies like puppet strings.

The soft tautness of the secret lines is thinning us,
Sweetly drawing all life-feeling inward and up
Into something pulling strongly from far above.

There is no doubt that the sigh-threads will one day
Draw our hearts right through the tops of our heads,
Eventually turning everything totally inside out.

Already my body is something much less my own,
As if the thought of your form is my new skeleton
And your memory of my flesh your new strength.

If I embrace you my own power would crush me
And if you cling to me I would surely evaporate.
Dying lovers do not touch without touching suicide.

Side by side we float and stand. It is our way of lying
Bound together across space on this lost world
Whose eyes will not survive seeing us face to face.