Friday, January 05, 2018

Inner Life | Inner Death: On the Sonic Threshold of the Sacred

The ears of mortals are filled with this sound, but they are unable to hear it.
– Macrobius

The idea of the sacred, rooted in the concept of what is set apart for or marked by the divine, is necessarily a matter of the intersection between presence and absence, revelation and concealment, the visible and the invisible. It is impossible for the divine ray to illumine us unless it is enshrouded by a variety of sacred veils.[1] So the theory of the sacred is traditionally concerned with the order of liminal objects (aura, relic, vestige, shadow, image, etc.), forms that translate between presence and absence, forming their threshold, just as every threshold is sacred.[2] We speak of ‘traces of the sacred’ because the sacred appears universally and fundamentally as trace, that is, as the absent presence and present absence of another reality in the midst of this one—a presence that is no longer distinct in any way from an absenc­­­e.[3] The sacred is the sign under which all things are never only themselves but also signs, inscriptions of something vastly beyond and within them: all creatures in this world of sensible realities . . . are shadows, echoes, and pictures of that first . . . and most perfect Principle.[4]

Here the real mystery of the sacred, the mystery of its mystery, comes into view: not simply that the divine or eternal truth manifests itself, but that its reality becomes apparent without destroying or displacing the actuality which veils it, without consuming its otherwise profane covering. It is impossible to overemphasize the paradox represented by every hierophany . . . By manifesting the sacred, any object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself[5]—like iron in the fire (a common medieval symbol for mystical union). The truth of the sacred is not the eternal per se, but the ultimate paradox of its sojourn in time and space: In order to arrive at that . . . which is most spiritual and eternal, and above us, it is necessary that we move through the vestiges which are bodily and temporal and outside us.[6] In this sense, the sacred belongs less to the infinite than to the finite, to the hierarchy of mortal beings who somehow manage, as if from some infinitely secret reserve of inner strength, to vibrate with the tremendous power and music of the deathless. The paradox of the sacred is the very divinity of the world: The world—insofar as it is absolutely, irreparably profane—is God.[7] It is the omnipresent threshold of above and below, the zone both of heavenly or transcendent revelation and the unearthing of knowledge too immanent or immediate to admit, to begin with, The horror . . . that we know that we see God in life itself.[8]
The trace embodies the paradox of the sacred, its liminal intimacy with the profane, in the sense of being something left behind—a footprint, a sandal, a corpse. A trace is decidedly not the being of which it is the trace, and yet one cannot erase the presence of the thing in it. The logic of the trace explains the mutual potentiality of the sacred and the profane. As trace, an object is potentially worthy of being thrown away or used. As trace, an object is potentially worthy of being preserved or set apart from use. Contradictions of the cadaver. We do not cry over the loss of our shit, our former precious food. Then why on earth should we shed tears and weep and wail when the body, which is merely food for the soul, is cast off at death?[9] Thus the capital error to avoid vis-à-vis the sacred is to forget or deny what Bataille defines as its ‘subjective identity’ with the excremental: The notion of the (heterogeneous) foreign body permits one to note the elementary subjective identity between types of excrement . . . and everything that can be seen as sacred, divine, or marvelous: a half-decomposed cadaver fleeing through the night in a luminous shroud can be seen as characteristic of this unity.[10] The danger of ignoring the sacred/profane threshold, the line of the trace which both separates and joins them, is beautifully illustrated in an anecdote from 1929 about a disciple who refused to wear Meher Baba’s sandals: 

“Master, I could never wear your holy sandals.” Thereupon, Baba bitterly remarked to the others present, “How unlucky Vishnu is! When I give him my sandals to wear, he just touches his forehead to them and puts them back. This type of worship and reverence pains me. It is not worship; it is punishment. By disobeying me, Vishnu does not worship me he punishes me. And the sad part is that he thinks he is revering me. Not to keep my word and to worship one’s own sentiments is sheer disobedience. Vishnu does not revere me. He reveres his own emotions, and to him, they are apparently superior to my orders. Such things deeply pain me.” Disturbed, Chhagan asked, “Are we not to consider your sandals as sacred?” “Every belonging of mine is sacred,” replied Baba, “and to have a feeling of reverence for them is good. But they are not more important that I am . . .” Baba’s mood changed and he then asked those present, “Have you ever examined what I defecate?” Some replied, “Yes,” and some said, “No.” But none could give a description which satisfied Baba. So he himself explained: “You have no idea what my feces contain. In the beginning of creation, I defecated, and all the suns, moons, stars and universes came out. They are all my excrement! But just imagine! When this dirty thing is so beautiful, how can you ever imagine my real splendor? You will lose your senses if you ever see even a glimpse of it.”

Refusing to wear the Master’s sandals is tantamount to losing the truth of the sacred as trace and veil of itself, as something whose sacredness cannot be severed or set apart from its fitness to be sacrificed for its own essence. Not wanting to step upon the holy, to place it between one’s feet and the earth, one loses its meaning as threshold of the divine, its being another veil or step in the ladder of vestiges leading beyond oneself. The order of the sacred, of the divine infinity of the trace, commands one simultaneously to disregard the world as waste and revere it as holy. As a sacrifice is the visible sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice,[11] so the expanding wasteful expenditure of the visible universe is but the trace of a Reality we fail to glimpse. Failure to touch and hold open this threshold produces two opposite and intersecting artificial worlds: 1) a world where the sacred is everything and thus nothing is sacred (all things prone to being exploited, violated, destroyed); and 2) a world where the sacred is nothing and thus everything is sacred (all things prone to being overvalued, protected, preserved). Lost to both is the supreme naturalness and spontaneity of life, what John of Ruusbroec calls the “outflowing generous commonness of the divine nature.”[12]

In order to abandon both of these spheres, ambivalently religious and secular, let us trace the sacred less in terms of what happens than in terms of what does not, less as an event to be sought than something more exciting and overwhelming than any occurrence: the direct, trembling evidence of that infinite existence and eternal present in which nothing has ever happened and nothing ever will—where all is happening NOW. In the midst of life’s non-stop plenitude of sense and sensation, the sacred summons our aptitude for the fundamentally unknown yet deeply felt, at least by the selected few, who scattered amongst the crowd, silently and unostentatiously surrender their all. [13] Guided by Riminaldi’s painting of the martyrdom of St. Cecilia, the patron of music, I will listen for the sacred as the unheard filling our ears, taking up along the way the crucial question of what it calls one to sacrifice.

[1] “[I]mpossibile est nobis aliter lucere divinum radium, nisi varietate sacrorum velaminum circumvelatum” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I.1.9,, citing Pseudo-Dionysius.
[2] Porphyry
[3] Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, 5.
[4] Bonaventure, Journey of the Mind into God, 77.
[5] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, 12.
[6] Bonaventure, Journey of the Mind into God, 47.
[7] Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, 89.
[8] Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H., 154.
[9] Meher Baba, Tiffin Lectures, 272.
[10] Georges Bataille, “The Use Value of D.A.F. De Sade,” in Visions of Excess, 94.
[11] Augustine, City of God, 10.5.
[12] Ruusbroec, Spiritual Espousals, quoted in A Companion to John of Ruusbroec, 145.
[13] Meher Baba, quoted in C. B. Purdom, The God-Man, 212. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Reached out to remove the mask
Hand pulled off my head
Thought of a question to ask
Answer shot me dead.

text   print

[pNEuMO Series, Number 5] 

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:
[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,
[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,”
[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,” 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,” See Nicola Masciandaro, “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


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

text    print

[pNEuMO Series, Number 4] 

Saturday, April 29, 2017


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

text     print

[pNEuMO Series, Number 3] 

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Absolute bewilderment
Anonymous sigh
Acosmic imprisonment
Abjection of I

text    print

[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].