Sunday, August 11, 2013

Logomachy Seven: Strange Forms of the Self, Ineffable Experience, and Language

by A. O. Spare
“Thrice did I slip backwards into strange forms of myself, and thrice did my Soul save me.”

What could possibly be a "strange form of myself"?

What is the Soul that it is different from "myself" in any form, strange or otherwise?

If we keep in mind the ideas from our previous interpretation we realize that everything is the self:
"...what you cannot conceive as yourself is yourself (as another reality).” So all of reality is, in fact, "forms of myself". We have little difficultly there. What of this differentiation between soul and self? Once more recall the previous discussion, there it was clear that the formative principle of reality was the soul such that loving anything was always loving the soul: "So the Soul loveth all who loveth him through those things he maketh..." To the extent that this is the case, there is always the conscious experience and conception of myself which can be contrasted with the underlying reality of the Soul and its desire as the foundation of Being.

It seems to me at this point that the only real mystery here, then, is the question of why Spare (or Zos) has stated explicitly that he slipped into strange forms of the self three times. What are the three types of strange forms of the self? Based on our reading from last time from the Book of Pleasure on the non-existence of dualism we can say that two such forms are the subject and the object. When I experience the butterfly as 'you' or this particular localized experience of typing away as 'I', my soul has indeed slipped into two strange forms of myself. What of the third? Perhaps even this third term, Soul, which is meant to save me. Indeed, to grasp the soul as other, as under reality, as an abstract foundation of being, and so on is to falsify its concrete reality into an empty abstract "spiritual" reality. So even in the form of the Soul, the Over-Soul or World-Soul if you like, I have slipped into a strange form of myself.

“Much is realized that seldom can be expressed and when it might be told—dissolves.”

Unspeakable ineffable realizations? What could possible be experienced which can't be spoke?

If we have no concept with which to make sense of the experience can a thing really be experienced?

The idea that there can be ineffable experiences is one of the foundations of most mysticism. Crowley, for example, often spoke of the inability to put exaulted states gained through meditation into words, one immediately breaks into poetry which can only attempt to suggest what one means. In this sense I am on board with the idea of the ineffable, something like Samadhi is beyond language because it destroys the very foundational assumptions of language (that there are subjects and objects, that there is a divide between me and the one with whom I would communicate, that there is any difference between myself, the world, or nothingness etc. etc. etc.) you can see how silence would be the best statement or else to face the curse of a Magus who must always speak in lies.

However, I am also wary of this whole idea because often it drives one to rely on the classic cognitive dualism of assuming that there is this special thing that exists in my head called a "thought" or "idea" and it maps onto this thing I put out there in the world called a "word" and the meaning of the word is a thought. On this model it seems obvious that we would have thoughts for which there are not words, right? I, as well as many of the philosopher's I am fond of (see the work of Wittgenstein and Heidegger for example), ultimately find this dualism untenable. Right now go and have a thought for which there is not a word. What did you think? It seems fairly clear to me that concepts are linguistic and/or operational (by which I mean we can know HOW to do things without being able to concisely put it into words, but we can demonstrate which is a form of articulation). In other words, what we take to be "ideas" are actually derived from words and not the other way around. In general, I reject the entire idea of ideas existing as the hidden heart of language. This is a debate I have had elsewhere, so I won't bore you further.

That being said, I feel (for this instance) as if I might want to affirm the possibility of ineffable experiences (ala mysticism) while rejecting the idea of ineffable ideas (ala our everyday conception of the mind as a box with ideas in it) where by "ineffable" I simply mean unspeakable. This is also tricky, however, because (as my original question should suggest) I take language and the conceptual framework it contains to be fundamentally active in our supposedly "sensory" experiences. Our conceptual-linguistic makeup directs our vision, for example. We don't see splotches of red and green etc., we see books and trees and grass. We see these things because we say these things, because we have already broken up the world and labeled/categorized it into primary/simple and secondary/complex entities and so on. I may see something and not know what it is, but I know that its metal and silver and about this big, or at the very least that its physical and in my back yard and so on. Radically different conceptual schemes are possible, though, which would leave us with radically different ways of experiencing the world. To reference the two philosophers I mentioned earlier, Wittgenstein states that a language is a way of life. Everything about the way we live, what we see and experience, how we see and experience it and further what we do with it is wrapped up and contained in our language (with language construed broadly to include what, really, is its heart... namely the "out there" enworlded engaged activity of speaking in all its many forms). Heidegger likewise asserts that "Language is the house of Being" which means that whatever exists exists in language, and only insofar as something is in language does it exist.

So, what can be experienced or realized which can not be expressed? Another one of my favorite philosophers, Gadamer, has suggested that we would be better off saying "Language speaks us" rather than "We speak language". Language, as a way of life and as the house of being, has an organic life of its own whereby it grows and changes. Language is what constitutes us as who we are, and so in the process of its change we change and grow too. This occurs slowly, over years or centuries, but perhaps it starts with ineffable experiences, first a grunt and a pointing meaning "That, that- I know not what" but in time, something more.

Of course the experience of Samadhi and other exalted mystical states sidesteps the complaints I offered above concerning mystical experience (i.e. experience is always of something rather than just sensory input) because strictly speaking these are experiences of nothing rather than experiences of an indescribable something. The reason Samadhi is ineffable is because it lacks the characteristics which would allow us to even describe it as experience in any reasonable sense.

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