Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Fire

I've been busy: working out my re-considerations regarding natural language as a form of crypto-text to be de-cyphered (technically, decoded is perhaps more accurate - but there is something there even at an alphabetic level, where cyphers work). There is a fascinating book by John Irwin called American Hieroglyphics, The Symbol of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the American Renaissance, in which he speculates upon the influence that the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphics had upon Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Whitman and Melville, to name but a few favorites. There is a telling quote by Emerson from Nature:

As we go back in history, language becomes more picturesque, until its infancy, when it is all poetry; or all spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols. The same symbols are found to make the original elements of all languages... A man's power to connect his thought to the proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends upon the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth and his desire to communicate it without loss. The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language.

Further on is this from Poe's "The Literati of New York City:"

The supposition that the book of an author is a thing apart from the author's self, is, I think, ill-founded. The soul is a cipher, in the sense of a cryptograph; and the shorter the cryptograph is, the more difficulty there is in its comprehension -at a certain point of brevity it would bid defiance to an army of Champollions.

This, of course, brings to my mind that master of cryptic brevity, Heraclitus, and his foremost interpreter, Heidegger. There is an absolutely crucial essay for me in Heidegger's book, Early Greek Thinking: The Dawn of Western Philosophy, entitled Alethia. It is, essentially, an exploration (although in the Heideggerian world, it would perhaps be more aptly termed a "penetration") of Fragment B 16 of Heraclitus. One particular translation for this fragment is:

How can one hide himself before that which never sets?

The original greek fragment contains the word: aletheia - which we have no word for in English, but which might be roughly rendered as "unconcealed." (Many translators simply use the word, "truth" - which is a violence.) The etymology is revealing. a- is used a an alpha-negation and lethe is "forgetfulness". Recall that the Lethe is one of the rivers that flow through Hades. Called the River of Oblivion, the shades of the dead had to drink from this river to forget about their past lives on earth. Following this, aletheia is an un-forgetting. Heidegger comments:

But what does 'forgetting' mean? Modern man, who puts all his stock into forgetting as quickly as possible, certainly ought to know what it is. But he does not. He has forgotten the essence of forgetting, assuming he ever thought about is fully, i.e. thought it out within the essential sphere of oblivion. The continuing indifference toward the essence of forgetting does not result simply from the superficiality of our contemporary way of life. What takes place in such indifference comes from the essence of oblivion itself. It is inherent in it to withdraw itself and founder in the wake of its own concealment. The Greeks experienced oblivion, lethe, as a destining of concealment.

When I first read this years ago it was as if my own thoughts were being perfectly expressed for me. The Holy Fools journey to the Godshack to find the Bones of God and the Godskull was my own idiosyncratic working through of the "oblivion" of my life and times. Later in the Bone Carver series, the Bone Carver states:

Yessah, you most certainly did forgets. But you knows that I is a most forgiving soul. I sure enough all ways forgives what you might forgets.

In fact, on one level, the entire Bone Carver series is an exploration of the dialectic of for-giving and for-getting - two of the most cryptic words in the English language. And, for me, intimately bound up with aletheia. Here is the key to the mystery of the Fugitive Gods, to the crippling seductions of the Time Slut, to the nature of the Bone Carver, indeed the the bone itself. You see, the living bone is always hidden within the flesh. Death "reveals" it, decrypts it, unconceals it. The Godskull is the un-hidden, un-forgotten, aspect of God's being in our consciousness.

More beautifully and wonderfully poetic Heidegger:

We are too quick to believe that the mystery of what is to be thought always lies distant and deeply hidden under a hardly penetrable layer of strangeness. On the contrary, it has its essential abode in what is near by, which approaches what is coming into presence and preserves what has drawn near. The presencing of the near is too close for our customary mode of representational thought - which exhausts itself in securing what is present - to experience the governance of the near, and without preparation to think it adequately. Presumably, the mystery that beckons in what is to be thought is nothing other that essentially what we have attempted to suggest in the name the "lightning." Everyday opinion, therefore, self-assuredly and stubbornly bypasses the mystery. Heraclitus knew this.

My recent forays into the history and methodology of cryptography and codes has only furthered my conviction that what separates us from the transcendent and overcoming mystery of God, better aletheia, is merely the thinest of veils. Upon this is projected the ephemeral and sorrowful dreams of our named and faced lives. Like small children - or most of the idiot vulgar - in a movie theater, we come to believe that what is up there on the screen is more real that our own lives. But it is only a trick, an illusion. The projection that I am working to see through these days is language - even more the spirit that informs the language. I go back again and again to Govinda from The Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism:

If we reproduce in our intellect experience which according to their nature belong to other dimensions, we do something comparable to the activity of a painter who depicts three-dimensional objects or space on a two-dimensional surface. He is doing this be consciously renouncing certain qualities belonging to a higher dimension and by introducing a new order of tonal values, proportions and optical foreshortenings, which are only valid in the artificial unity of his picture and from a certain point of view.

The laws of this perspective correspond in many ways to the laws of logic. Both of them sacrifice qualities of a higher dimension and confine themselves to an arbitrarily chosen viewpoint, so that their objects are seen from only one side at a time, and in the proportions and foreshortenings corresponding to the relative position of the viewpoint.

The use of logic in thought is as necessary and justified as the use of perspective in painting - but only as a medium of expression, not as a criterion of reality. If, therefore, we use logical definitions, as far as possible, in the description of meditative experiences and of the centers of consciousness, with which they are connected, we must regard these definitions only as the necessary springboard towards the understanding of the dimensions of consciousness of a different nature, in which the various impressions and experiences of different planes or levels are combined into an organic whole.

It amazes me how many congruencies there are between Tibetan Buddhism, Heidegger, Heraclitus and my own spiritual pathways. I am attempting to understand the essence of the human experience of the infinite within, the non-language or un-language of god. This is more than a mere translation or rendering, it is a spirit (Geist) moving beneath the surface of words. It is, if you will, the decrypted meaning indicated by every "true"/ "authentic" mystic and poet.

Just listen to Rilke, even through the encryptions of translation and time, and you can hear Heraclitus and Heidegger and all the singers of Upanishads and Vedas, the Buddha, Novalis and Holderlin and the Holy Fool - even the whispering decay of the Skull of God:

Where slowly from the long-forgotten,
Past experience rises up within us,
Perfectly mastered, mild and beyond measure,
And realized in the intangible:
There begins the word, as we conceive it,
And its meaning quietly surpasses us -
For the mind that makes us lonely wants
To be sure that we shall be united.

These sublime words trembling within the fragile skeleton of grammar sing of something beyond, more, deeper, further, something un-sayable but with more "reality" than any word can hope to capture. I imagine most words like tiny gnats trying to drink in the ocean. But Rilke's words and language are filled with aletheia, a palpable sense of remembering, of un-forgetting, of un-hiddeness, great beasts of Being slowly emerging into the clearing of our consciousness. And I stand here waiting and watching, knowing with no doubt, that this is the purpose and meaning of my life. To turn away, to become distracted, to lose my sense of presence, is to lose everything. To not maintain the discipline and rituals that hold me in this sacred place, this crucial clearing, that I am now within would make me less than nothing, an abomination, a true oblivion.

I once wondered what kind of belief it took to hold your hand in the fire until all of your flesh burned away and not for one instant waver or doubt. Now I know.