Anchoring ‘outside’… anchoring ‘inside’…
Looking for a place to begin, we may find an exterior which is the place of the eternal (anchoring outside) or we may find the self as eternal (anchoring inside) or again (or moreover) we may find a role for someone (or something) as in a mediating position (the anthropomorphic projection or personification).
There appear to be two essentials to any thought system: its system of priorities, its value-giving, ordering or sense-making, and, as an apparently unavoidable prerequisite, the resort to a (largely unconscious) mental operation we might call, ‘putting outside’.
‘Putting outside’ involves religion’s personifications and beyonds, God, Nirvana, Heaven, Hell, Eternity, etc., closely followed by the rationalist’s universals, Platonic forms, essences, the realm of the a priori or first principle, as also the mathematician’s (or logician’s) axioms (necessary to any formal or artificial language). This slot for the ‘putting outside’ of criticism may even be filled by the ideologist’s notion of race, class, history or species together with whatever teleology (or final end) these may suggest - and so whatever it is that we regard as most important, as above the market, or above utility, as the secret of History, or just the Secret, as the Sacred - or just as ‘sacred’.
Yet this ‘putting outside’ almost immediately implies the role of a mediator, messenger, someone in-between bridging, crossing (like a sacrificial being, or oracle, or prophet, or guru, or ‘leader’) enabling ‘contact’ with this trans-historical, transcendent exterior. Someone that is both ‘in’ and ‘out’ (part-God and part-man) and so ultimately immortal, a mythic hero now become intercessor; a role also shared by angels, ghosts, demons, and the like… Like our ‘soul’, no less, the ’vital’ or ‘divine spark’, our experience of which is our consciousness, sense of self or the eternal present (from which it is inseparable).
So allowing us to move from the idea of the sense of self as in the eternal present, to the sense of self as the eternal present. Not in time but of it… if indeed it is not something that we spin out of ourselves…
Personification and the Rhetoric of Eternity.
Personification. “Self” as first… as the first personification, or ‘first person’, the giving of the ‘I’ a unified sensed of person, as embodied, borrowed from our sense of others, the other in the mirror (the first person we ‘feel’ as attached to a body image). Then to the second personification, the source of this self-image: others, the projection of our sense of self into other members of the same (or indeed other) species (and including the personification of matter or place, the spirit of the place, or genius loci). Extending, finally, to the Other, or Absolute Outside (or other putative meta-sets or ‘final’ contexts), personified as God. Some others may also partake of the Other and it is these ‘others’ that function as mediators, between the Outside or God (position, personification, or axiom) and ourselves. (Or we may find the ‘god slot’ itself as mediator between ourselves and the big, inimical or incomprehensible world… including the putative source of the sense of the Sublime, the other side of time or death. Personification; always already a projection of self into others, into matter, into place (at once a ‘humanisation’ of the world and a species solipsism). Personification as bestowing value (or its negation-bearing opposite - but never neutral).
The Rhetoric of Eternity. Illusion of Self in the Eternal Present (eternally self-present, constitutional of the sense of self). The foundation for the extrapolation that is the eternal realm (eternally ‘outside’). Place of gods and immortals, angels and other mediators, as of that part of the self posited in most religions either as origin, or as present dual existence with(in) matter, but as spirit (as true of Gnosticism or Manichaeism as of Existentialism and other phenomenological insights into self). Or as future (resting) place; crossing the barrier at the far side of the future. An extrapolation into teleology. The repository of the illusions that we use to order past and future with present into narrative, the axis that is the arrow of time. As well as ordering the narrative (lets call it the ‘horizontal’) axis of past, present and future, the eternal or outside pole also takes part in another (lets call it the ‘vertical’) axis which crosses the narrative axis passing through the ‘present’ slot. The opposite poles of the vertical axis consist of the ‘outside’ of time (projection of the present’s ‘inside’ of consciousness) and another, ‘mixed’, position, a ‘both in and out’ or ‘not in and not out’ position, which covers dreams and visions (and Surrealism or Magic Realism type aesthetic positions, including such Kafkaesque novels as Ishiguro’s ‘The Unconsoled’). This later position may be glossed as the ‘outside, inside’, and covers the genres of the Gothic and Supernatural, as well as the experience of popular superstition or the popular sublime (in contrast to the Sublime proper which is always pointing ‘outside’… utilizing the god-slot in our needy consciousness).
The ‘outside’… the making use of the ‘god position’ (a place in our imagination, so outside as originating inside). Now that it has been evolved historically -indeed as constituting the inner place and basis for the history of religion- this mental slot provides our need for an external anchor as ‘ground’ of the religious sense (together with our myths, the necessary fictions of gods and universals act as our outside equivalents, the fillers of this slot). A position or mental habit or a priori thought form (the ‘outside’ similar in status to our intuitions of space and time and causality) that has evolved from a belief in (a) god or from the fear of large imponderables…
The ‘inside’… but now pulling eternity, which was outside, back inside as us. Turning our foundation in time, the eternal ‘now’, from an apparent unity into a diremption of supports: of self (eternal present) as of beliefs required by self (eternity as ‘outside’); as simple origin in self and as ‘economic’ use of this sense… whereby one sense becomes, supports, two. Double illusion; yet based on ineluctable experience – taken for centuries as foundational (Descartes to Husserl). Now replaced by a foundationless science, capable of answering all our questions as relating to ourselves (and our world) as object, but constitutionally incapable of responding to questions of ourselves as subject, and so to those questions alone that are able to confer quality to the world.
…(with the above, as the pulling back inside of what was once originally inside in the first place, illusion of eternal self pushed out gives eternity (re-personified, gives god), pulled back in again asserts the eternal self, or soul as part of god; the return of the illusion on higher plane…)
Difference as occupying (generating) the growth of the Middle. The greater the opposition (of terms with in the human mind), the greater the need for a mediating position. The appositeness of there being a Middle. In and out once so divided, once established as foundational for our thought habits, also require the necessity of working together: so requiring a bridge, a means of crossing, other than the positing of a (now lost) originary unity (as in the return to an infantile imaginary or in the recognition of the eternal present of our being in time as the origin of its mirror image ‘eternity’…). This division, once established, then leads to a search for the passage in-between, the construction of a bridge as way of mediation, a path openned by means of a sacrifice (ritual time and its objects) or by means of an identity or personification (an intercessor, prophet, shaman or angel). Such forms of exchange (objects or messages sent or carried by a special envoy), are the means of communication or route between a putative absolute ‘here’ and an absolute ‘there’ - all the better to cement our identity (in which this division and its ritual dramas take place). So like an ‘identity exchange’, as the bridge between the apparently irreversible diremption of matter and idea, thing and self, subject and object (including ourselves and our products, ourselves and our sense of community). Two moments: one imaginary, a guide, echo of self, alter ego, ideal; and one ‘real’, the ritual exchange. This bridging, or exchange, may be accomplished by means of a special piece of matter, a ‘fetish’, or sacred gift, an object mediating in ritual, memory and daily life. But ultimately a gift of the only thing that matters, the gift of our all-too-finite and so infinitely valuable time.
Or it may be accomplishes with reference to a special personage. Product of our time spent on such rituals, as personified, gathered up as brighter shadow of ourselves, then projected. Such a mediator can thus be read as a personification of this simpler function (again witness our tendency to personify when in doubt…or make manifest…to make like ourselves – or make into an imaginary, even infantile, fantasy of what we might like to be… as something mysterious and powerful, and not infinitely fragile). This imaginary ritual would appear to be the internal model for the actual exchange rituals of life and identity (their combination as the cementing together of inside and out, but this time as subjective and objective life, final function of the greater projection beyond…). This time given as the bridge between them.
Ritual as route in between, complete with convener, mediator or guide -also an imaginary entity- even if embodied in a shaman type figure or priest (part of our thought map, map of what is connected to what ’place’, map of sacred connections, or significant meta-sets). Angels and prophets and gurus, embodied ‘this side’ in leaders and teachers and guides. Their role in ritual activity, as part of the ritual that brings the sacred spinning down upon us. This time as the exchange relation with the ‘outside’ as other side… This time given as the bridge between them.
So again we find two movements…two measured responses to the impositions of received religion: the first, that of no God, but retaining a god-figure as mediator; the second, of self as ‘eternal’, as ‘soul’ (extension of the existential illusion, or impossibility of experiencing our own death).
Mediation replaces the outside. The first movement, the taking of god as an angel, or of the demoting or the relabeling of the god position as that of a mediator (deferring, demoting, putting aside), that is as guide, as spirit guide, as an imaginary bridge from here to there; the place of the anchorage of our ideals, which we do not trust with a base on ‘this’ side – so return to the shamanism or intercessor as means to access the realm we have chosen for anchorage, but (constitutionally) can not get to… But if we do this consciously as befits those who know ’too much’ to believe, and are too fastidious for the (sheer hypocrisy and adolescent ego trip of the) ’noble lie’… so we are left with a de-centering which effectively removes god, by recognizing that we construct ‘him’ in our image, whilst still maintaining some function that allows ‘access’ to somewhere we can rest our core beliefs, our bottom line, the ‘something’ (rather than the .’nothing’) that must be sacred. So a guide, ‘spiritual’ teacher or received ‘spiritual’ culture is what remains. (The thinking person’s usual solution to religion).
The second movement; the taking of ourselves as eternal (that is, as ‘eternal’), as first (existentially, and so in the sense of always being in the ‘eternal present’) and so as equal and as valuable as God (indeed as the only conceivable model of this projected personification of ourselves as authority figure). By this means religion is evaded and we are provided with a basis for bestowing (and understanding the bestowal of) quality in the world. As also our experience of thrown-ness (topic of a century of ‘existentialist’ writing and texts basing themselves on a purely human experience… as, for example, before death). But also the basis for an unbridled individualism (not entirely a Protestant legacy); the ‘Western ideology’, a (usually male) antinomianism as support for the cult of the individual ego.
But this Gnosticism can lead to a deferral of God to elsewhere (far away, infinitely far, so as to be too far to be any effect, but still ‘there’ as a prop for, as an external foundation for, part of the outside as foundation for our beliefs ‘this side’). So we arrive at the Gnostic or Manichean solution. In effect a rejection of this distant or disdainful entity as of any practical or present use. But by so doing running the risk of leaving our local god (deities or ideologies) as fallen but elevated by proximity, negative but necessary, thus becoming a justification for a kind of Satanism - a pure reactivity or simple reversal of values. A worship of transgression for transgression’s sake – and so complicit with that with which it would replace.
Rather than defined as the product of a fallen state; the projection of a god-figure from out of ourselves, mirror image of this sense of self as enfolded in base matter, as the opposite pole to this abject materialism; we may conceive of this belief itself as the performance and perhaps even origin of this fall.
Final movement (‘either/or’ versus ‘and/and’). How to be faithful to both insights; the necessity for an outside, and the fact that we produce it (together with its occupants and messengers… and so fabricate the narrative of our own fall)?
If we move from the realm of actual or external ritual to internal or imaginary ritual (the internal repetition of an imaginary operation) then the mediating form is more likely to be a personification than an ‘object’ (as the gift of prayer, the time set aside for ritual reverence, is offered to a mediating entity). A minimal projection such as an ‘angelic’ or spirit guide (as, for example, in the case of. Jesus Christ as guide or prophet, but not son of God) is a minimal version of this place (‘outside’). A ritual realization of this ‘fact’ (the realisation that it is not real but -in order for us to be human- is nevertheless necessary). A realization that is ritual in effect and in kind. (As in Confucius’s ‘minimal’ requirement for, or of, ritual, even as he overloaded it, as a kind of ‘lip service’ or minimal placeholder…). Ritual belief as a useful habit; with little or no actual belief required… yet conferring many of the useful effects of belief.
This use of a minimal, if in this case largely unacknowledged place, is also true of the rationalist’s heaven; where the outside is also the place of universals. Proof: rationalists replace god with universal (extra-temporal) axioms on life and human nature. So refusing to turn the skepticism that undermines so effectively the beliefs of their opponents, onto their own presuppositions (axioms: logical, essential and existential, in effect the foundation stones of their own belief as ideology).
Yet for consciousness to come into being and disappear is no different from the behaviour of matter at the sub-atomic quantum level; where the basic units of matter/waves do just that (between particle and wave, positive and negative, being and not being); perhaps we should be content with this…
Once we have agreed that we are eternal (in the sense of being eternal to ourselves in the ‘eternal present’ of our conscious experience) and that any resurrection or rebirth must take place here as part of this experience – as a ‘pulse’ in our flow of experience (and so ‘born again’ as refreshed by ritual passage, a change or reaffirmation of belief). Then the next step is to comprehend this realization as allegorical; of our being on earth, embodied, as self and its enfolding religion, the system of justification that circles around it, as an allegory of what happens when an animal thinks of, for, or on itself – indeed when matter thinks (for) itself (a privilege we occasionally cede to animals but are not yet ready to cede to artificial intelligence). In much the same way, schools of thought labeled ‘idealist’ are really about this dilemma, of our constitutive position as always already within language and culture. ‘Materialism’, the ‘other half’, of this binary, in fact reveals its own idealism (or foundational binary division into ‘real’ and ‘ideal’) as it excludes ideas and thought from the realm of matter… from the realm of what matters – whilst being made of such (ideas and matter) themselves. Consciousness (whatever its origins) requires answers that work (perhaps before they are true…).
What to do with this knowledge, that of the ‘internal’ nature of the ‘outside’ and its link to a posited ‘mediator’? Once we know - are educated, enlightened - do we still then follow, even if this following is only as an act of deference to our received culture, our geo-cultural heritage (or regional ontology)? Or do we succumb to the temptation (again, read ‘ego trip’) of the ‘noble lie’? To give quality to the world, to give it value (beyond price) we do not require an outside (transcendental origin) or mediator (voice of authority, discourse of the master). All humans can do this. It is our particular gift to the world; perhaps it defines us as a species… But… yet… we still appear to require this move (this putting out of court (the court of history (unless of History as a meta-set)))… Require this deferral, this denial of our powers, this justification - as if scared of what we might become… (as our history teaches us we should (so necessitating this very denial (of putting aside (placing outside))))…
For our troughs are our peaks, our burying the elevation of a mound, all this we can do, but still need to ask which is which – even if it is of a being we ourselves imagined, at the place we ourselves built.
©Peter Nesteruk, 2009