Friday, May 4, 2012

infinite density and aesthetics



Infinite Density and Aesthetics

 This semester I am using Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism text and DVD series as part of my "Catholicism and Asian Religious Traditions" course that I am teaching (which also covers Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism).

Preparing for my lecture  tomorrow, on the life of prayer, I found a rather poignant reminder concerning not only the depths of the soul, but also the depths of all things, of the immanent creative life - the Holy Spirit - that is near and inside all things, and infinitely so.  This became apparent to me as I was reading Fr. Barron on Saint John of the Cross.

Reflecting on Saint John of the Cross, Fr. Barron discusses how John was a reformer and therefore unpopular and criticized.  Eventually for his criticisms and reforms, John was beaten and put under arrest by his Carmelite brothers. There in his cell John composed verse in his mind (he had neither pen nor paper).  One day, however, John escaped through a tiny window from his prison.

Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951), Dali
In his verses, Saint John offers a powerful image of the soul.  Within us, John states, are unfathomable and great "infinite caverns" of intellect, will, and feeling.  These caverns are infinite precisely because they are ordered to God.  They are unfathomable because it is not until that one raises one's mind and heart to God that they would be filled, completely only in a "beatific vision," given in the afterlife.  The initial moment of raising of our heart and mind to God, however, is not a fuga mundi, not a "flight from the world" John said, but it is rather a looking into the world.

How this happens occurs in two steps, as outlined in Saint John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul.  First, during the "dark night of the senses" one peers into the senses seeking to empty them of their exterior content, in order to traverse "inside."  Second comes "the dark night of the soul" when one "empties oneself" traveling yet even further inside the soul - preparing oneself to be a conduit for God, to receive the gift that God wants to give.

As with Saint Teresa of Avila, the "interior" here is a fortress, an "inner castle" - the innermost and deepest chamber that may only be filled in union with God, and it is only in beatific vision with God that the deepest aching of the heart will ever be satisfied (Edith Stein, otherwise known as Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, a student of Husserl, described the soul this way as well and wrote beautiful letters and phenomenological essays concerning the soul as an inner-chamber that houses an "infinity" within itself).

Dali, said that his painting (above) came to him in a "cosmic dream" where he gained insight into "an atom's nucleus" - inside the object he saw the "entire universe, Christ!"  The atom's shell-like surface is translucent, and so we may be drawn back into to its center point where the internal-external divide is dissolved within an infinitely deep center. Thus: the intuition of the infinite exterior (life) is to be found within all interiors.  "Entering into" another, or being "entered into" by another, seems to be another meaning of ecstasis.  An ecstasis through empathy: all of nature is ecstatic, all of nature is empathic.

Saint Teresa's ecstasy was similar.  A "transverberation," as she called it: inter-vibrancy.  For her, a castle was a keep, a place of safety and power, giving one shelter from all storms.  Yet, the inside, the radical interior, which always leads to another level of the chamber, always withdraws as we approach it.  But, there always is a trace.  One thus senses the infinite density within this realm of the interior, and one senses that this infinite density must be had by all things as divinely created beings.  Within the glassy surface of all things there is depth.

Now, as my research these days into Schelling progresses, my theory is that the psychoanalyst need not necessarily look further and further into the human person in order to flesh out the soul, the infinitely dense interior.  Rather, perhaps, we may turn to an aesthetics of sublimity on the outside, in that one that may probe into a radical material exterior in order to engage the spirit as well.  Does that exterior, too, withdraw from availing its sublime gift of the spirit?  May nature "out there" reveal soul, spirit?  Allow me come back to this idea in just a moment.

Fr. Barron writes of the spiritualists who write about this theme of the center, the "divine still point around which the self properly revolves."  In my own "speculative naturalism" this divine still point is in each object of nature, the center of each monadic perspective-point: a soul.  As Teresa's interior castle indicates, the things of this world may stand as places of evocation, each with their own interior castle, each with their own receding inner chambers.  The "inside" of those chambers are revealed through semiotic aesthetic expression to the other as mediated traces, yet are also immanently intuited as a feeling, a feeling out of and intuition "into" another soul or perspective, another deep world all of its own.

The above suggests that the human soul may rest confidently in Christ and find a place in Him wherein the mystical marriage unfolds.  But, for as much as Christ is in those who seek Him, those who seek refuge in Him, and lean on Him, the Word also became flesh, and so we are also in all partakers in God's body being one with the Holy Spirit as it is enfleshed in the Church and in the world.  Thus Christ is part of the mystical body of God with the Holy Spirit, Christ as that body's head. Or, in Plato's organic conception: there is the "body" of God, Christ the logos speaking God's sentience.  Or, from the Catholic Church: the church of God is God's mystical body with Christ as its head.  A panentheism of love (Hegel), or a cosmic body (Plato, Schelling).

With these topologies in mind, and wishing to turn toward the exterior, that great plane of immanence and the body of the virtual power constituting it, let me now return to my earlier thought and entertain for a moment what Emerson tells us with respect to nature being God's "Great Church" (nature being exterior and universal, being catholic).  The spirit is also the exterior nature, that which helps to construct the vital living material of the Great Church.

“Nature is my church, philosophy and poetry my scripture.”  - Emerson

“It [Christianity] is not yet one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.”  - Emerson

 I would like to, in the future, suggest that the supposed "fleshing out of [the] soul" in psychoanalysis, being an interior turn for most, is also possible in a turn toward the exterior material realm of the natural world, where such divisions unite and dissolve through the rhythms of nature "naturing."  Psychoanalysis and aesthetics join hands, then; psychoanalysis through a peculiar aesthetic moment becomes nonhuman, perhaps even suprahuman, focusing on the enfleshment of spirit; revealing within materiality an infinite density, the depth dimension of the spiritual pole, the tragic and manic aspects of its God longing for wholeness and completion, in short: deity as it pertains in its innermost essence to natura naturans. The revelations within natura naturata.

Would this result, then, outline the contours of a truly philosophical religion: aesthetics being its crown - a result that Schelling and the early German romantics and idealists were seeking as they wrestled with an analysis of consciousness, nature, and (the unconscious drive of) spirit?


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