Nature's Sublime review (Chapter Two and Chapter Three)

PORTRAIT: Robert S. Corrington
Chapter Two, "Communal Vistas" is a discussion about trans-individual forms of the selving process or "individuation."  A major component of this chapter is the use of sign and symbol within communities.  Here semiotics makes its major appearance in the book, as does the ordinal phenomenological description of semiotic structures.  Ordinal psychoanalysis then discloses the forms of pathology present within the semiosis of community.  Normative analyses of "positive forms of semiosis" are reserved for the last chapter.

After Corrington presents some of the basics of semiotics and describes that discipline's relationship to the notion of "community" (done with plenty of Peirce in mind), the question is raised as to whether an Absolute sign "container/creator" is needed in order to explain the "actual infinite of semiosis that envelopes the finite sign user."  Corrington's novel approach suggests that "no," the self-linkage of signs is able to account for the actual/actualizing infinitude of semiosic process.  The key is that signs tend to function with a simple kind of isomorphism, "likeness drawn to likeness."  At points in Corrington's discussion about the self-linking nature of signs, based on isomorphic tendencies and relationships, I am reminded of Bergson but also Garbiel Tarde who had similar views about fundamental modes of communication (and symbolic exchange) between living beings, where beings tend to mimic each other with positive likenesses.  The totality of signings is said to be no sort of exteriority and thus cannot be said to be a "whole."  Rather, semiosic activity is always an actualizing, making a semiotic space for itself against a present horizon of meaning intelligibility.  In this way Corrington avoids deifying of the semiosic universe as a "closed" living entity.  He is not a panpsychist but states clearly that nature is the semiosic activitiy of natura naturans, a realm which is in itself devoid of self-reflective mind yet capable of producing semiotic sign-structures, natura naturata.

The relationship between Corrington's "aesthetic naturalism" and theology is complex.  While there is no "God" per se, or at the least "God" is one order among innumerable others (where this particular order for Corrington does not possess distinct ontological integrity - though is no more or less real than any other order - as it is in my own "speculative naturalism"), he does answer to the question of why his view is still relevant for theism, even if through the power of art.  The question becomes - as we are promised to have it answered in the last chapter - can art replace religion?  Indeed this is a radical question, but one that was familiar to those sources that Corrington is returning to, namely the German romantics or a philosophy of the sublime more generally.

Chapter Three is called "God-ing and Involution."  Involution refers to the way in which there is "a movement seeming to come into the world from elsewhere.  Something is entering into a state of affairs that was bereft of that content or force before the ingression." The content of the ingression is "larger than human, divine, or religious."  Put differently a few sentences later, it is explained that involution is of "a true sacred power that opens out the evolutionary matrix to an opening and a clearing that creates a space for a different kind of adaptation for the organism...[having] to do with the possibilities of meaning for the attending organism."  Involution is experienced as a radical break from antecedent and present experience in all of its evolutionary modes.  In my judgment, there are moments of Corrington's exposition of involution that sound similar to my own theory of "ecstatic transcendence" as presented in Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature.  In other words, a fully naturalized form of transcendence is presented in such a way that forms of life - not just the human - are capable of being presented a contrast between finite and infinite: a more ecological understanding of what transcendence means.  In this way involution is part of the way deity enters into and modifies evolution.  Deity cannot be construed as a personality or a figure of monotheistic tradition.  Rather, it is a process that has no teleological plan or cosmic mind of its own.  As a process Corrington suggests the term "god-ing" to capture the complex power afforded by the involuting process as well as the infinitizing nature of its actualization.  As Corrington writes, "The energy of involution, experienced as a form of god-ing that intersects with my selving process, helps provide me with a brief free space of non-instrumental semiosis in which I can open up novel prospects for more complex adaptations to my various environments, social and natural."

God-ing represents a unique turn for C3.  Before, in "ecstatic naturalism," Spirit had the role of healing and smoothing over the dark and taciturn edges of a nature gone wild - one that is utterly indifferent to human needs and concerns.  This was Corrington's concept of "natural grace."  Here, we are told that Spirit may be too idealistic to function within an aesthetic naturalist perspective.  God-ing is "the divine Somewhat."  Nature's canvas portrays all images and colors, dark and light alike, painful and joyous.  There is no "supernatural" mind aware of a conscious plan to offer telic redemption.  Thus God-ing is "not that of some kind of higher mind or some super being that is conscious of itself, entering into the sphere of finitude in order to launch a specific plan for the ‘redemption’ of the world.  Rather, it is like a pulsation or microburst of pure expanding energy that cracks encrusted semiotic shells and clears a space for the rapid unfolding of novel semiosis."  The key idea here, as Corrington sees it, is to understand how this pulsation "publishes itself" and can be understood within the orders and complexes of nature natured.  In this Schopenhauer's Will and Emerson's aesthetic vision of nature both connect to the romantic fecund sphere of the beautiful and the sublime.  At this point, Corrington believes that aesthetic language transcends religious language.  The deity (god-ing) that we wish to express (understand) must be reshaped within the whole of nature.  Citing Emerson,    

Nothing is quite beautiful alone: nothing but is beautiful in the whole.  A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace.  The poet, the painter, the sculptor, the musician, the architect, seek each to concentrate this radiance of the world on one point, and each in his several work to satisfy the love of beauty which stimulates him to produce.  Thus is Art, a nature passed through the alembic of man.  Thus in art, does nature work through the will of a man filled with the beauty of her first works.  (Emerson 1836: 18-19)  

How does involution, then, relate to this aesthetic appropriation of god-ing?  In a rather poignant passage, Corrington writes that, 
Involution works through beauty to cloth the selving process with the richest possible textures, tones, motions, and shapes of nature.  But nature need not be reshaped by the human process in order to manifest and be beautiful.  The interactions between self and nature add another layer to the beautiful if only by intensifying what is already there.  And there is restlessness in our semiotic systems as they too struggle to embody and manifest the beautiful in their robust forms of signification—especially in the actual infinite qua actualizing infinite.  
Chapter Four, "Genius, Art, and the Sublime" captures these themes and expands upon them.