Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Quoting The Philosophers' Secret Fire

On the Seal-Woman's Skin (The Princess and the Deer)

"Animals are also the ancestors ... humans and animals are interchangeable."

On St. Patrick's Purgatory (Plato's Cave)

"[There was a] Greek notion that we have two different kinds of souls. Thymos is warm, emotional and red-blooded; while psyche is colder, deeper and more impersonal. From thymos' point of view, the Otherworld is the cold, grey, unsubstantial Hades.... From psyche's perspective, it is our robust, red-blooded world which is unreal, while Hades who was called Pluton (Pluto), the Rich One, holds all the treasures of the imagination. ... Thymos has been assimilated into the robust ego-consciousness of Western man who believes in no reality other than his own. From the deeper psychic viewpoint, however, ego-consciousness is - as the Neoplatonists noticed - a kind of unconsciousness. We are unaware of reality, claim the Romantics, except in moments of imaginative vision. The Otherworld lies all about us, an earthly paradies - if we would but cleanse 'the doors of perception,' as Blake put it, and see the world as it is, 'infinite.'"

On The Soul of the World

"One of the distinctive innovations of Western thought has been to turn the Otherworld into an intellectual abstraction. It has been formulated in three main ways: as the Soul of the World; as imagination; and as the collective unconscious. The latter two models of the Otherworld have the added eccentricity of locating it within us.

Historically, all three models have been largely ignored or outcast by Western orthodoxy, whether Christian theology or modern rationalism. But wherever they have as it were broken the surface and emerged from their 'esoteric' or even 'occult' underworld, they have been accompanied by extraordinary efflorescences of creative life. In Renaissance Florence, and again, among the German and English Romantics three hundred years later, imagination was exalted not only as the most important human faculty, but as the very ground of reality."

On Matter and Spirits

"What Western culture claims as the increasing triumph of rationalism and the progress of science, the daimonic tradition reads as the perpetual striving of the daimons to restore the true ambiguity and equilibrium of reality, either by countering one ideology with demonized opponent, or by subverting it from within."

On The Daimon's Tales (The Structure of Myth)

"As Rodney Needham reminds us, myth 'reflects history, provides a social charter, embodies a metaphysics, responds to natural phenomena, expressed perennial verities, copes with historical change, and so on almost endlessly...', but no theory of myth comes close to explaining all myths. The reason for this is simple: theories about myth are themselves further variants of the myth, re-tellings in the language of the day, even if it is unpalatable psychological jargon. Myth, like Nature, kindly provides 'evidence' for the truth of any theory we care to hold; but that theory will in the end flow back into the source stories that circle the earth like great ocean streams.

What myths most resemble, I suppose, are dreams."

On The Hero and the Virgin

"It was a movement from below, from the people, which forced the papacy to create two articles of dogma which have no biblical justification. The first was the Immaculate Conception which effectively makes Mary a goddess by asserting that she was born without sin; the second, made about a hundred years later, in 1950, was the Assumption - which asserts that Mary did not die but was lifted bodily up into Heaven. Roman Catholic orthodoxy ratified the myth thrown up by the popular imagination.

The myths are clear expressions of the traditional tension between human and divine, mortal and immortal, masculine and feminine. In a pagan society variants of the Christ story would go on proliferating, as if attempting to resolve these contradictions by constantly transposing them into other terms and on other levels. But Christianity does not do this. It does not offer us a mythology. Potentially it did, because there were powerful variants which said that Jesus could not have been crucified - as God, he was pure spirit and therefore only his apparition hung on the cross. Conversely, there was a variant which held that Jesus was not a God, but a man - albeit an outstandingly good man. But these myths were called heresies and banned. However, their spontaneous appearance meant that the main body of the Church had to sit down and define exactly what Jesus was. At the Council of Nicaea, they came up with the official myth: that a man, Jesus of Nazareth, was also the Christ, meaning the Anointed One. He was both man and God. The only myth he was officially permitted to mirror was the myth of Adam. Just as Adam was a god-like man who, through a sin 'fell' from an earthly paradies into the human condition, so Jesus was a man-like God who, through a sacrifice, 'raised' mankind up to a heavenly paradise.


The paradox as the heart of Christianity is what made it so offensive to the Jews, so ridiculous to the Greeks and so awe-inspiring to the Christians."

On The Animals Who Stared Darwin in the Face

"[Mother Nature] is not the fixed entity that scientists, who view her through literalistic spectacles, would have us believe. She is a sea of metaphors which reflect back at us the face we show her. We characterize her by whatever perspective we look at her through - as an implacable enemy, for instance, or as a vast harmonious rhythm; as a wild creature who must be tamed, or as a nymph who must be left unspoilt or as a violent animal, red in tooth and claw. As Darwin quails in the face of a dizzying Nature, and fends her off, so she comes back at him, hostile and sickening. By the time he is fifty he will write, shockingly: 'the sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick.'"

On The Transmutation of Species (The Scientific Priesthood)

"'Everything possible to be believ'd,' asserted Blake, 'is an image of truth.' Evolutionists are guilty of idolatry, not because they worship false images, but because they worship a single image falsely, fixing the wealth of Nature's metaphors in a single rigid mode and so obstructing the fluid, oceanic play of imagination, so appalling to Darwin, yet so essential for the soul's health."

On The Transmutation of Spirits (Genes as Daimons)

"The daimon is our imaginative blueprint. It lays down the personal myth we enact in the course of our lives; it is the voice that calls us to our vocation. All daimonic men and women are aware of personal daimons and their paradoxes. Both Yeats and Jung spoke of having daimons who drove them ruthlessly - often, it seemed, against their will - towards self-fulfilment; who gave freedom in return for hard service. The same language of ruthless driving and bruth necessity, but without the concomitant meaning and freedom, is used by biologists to describe genes.

Genes are literalized daimons. I am not of course claiming that they do not exist.... They are shadowy, borderline, elusive, ambiguous entities - to judge by the amount of disagreement [amongst sociobiologists] about them - and as such, they satisfy the daimonic criteria.

They greatly exercise Richard Dawkins, a leading proponent of evolutionism. In language remarkable for its primitive anthropomorphism, he avers that genes 'create form,' 'mould matter,' 'choose,' and even engage in 'evolutionary arms races.' Like demons, the 'selfish' genes 'possess us.' The are 'the immortals.' We are 'lumbering robots' whose genes 'created us body and mind.' This, surely, reminds us more of the sermon than of science. It certainly demonstrates the ubiquity of daimons, even (especially) when literalization prevents them from being recognized as such. Traditionally, our bodies have been seen as the vehicles of our personal daimon, our soul or 'higher self.' Now, by an amusing inversion, we are simply asked to believe that our most treasured attributes are simply pressed into the service of genes.... Given such an extreme ideology, it is no wonder that sociobiologists want to believe that genetic engineering will solve everything from cancer to drug-addiction to unemployment."


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