4. Exhortation

Something I wrestle with a lot, often to the point of exhausted inaction, is communication.  The problem when you’re dealing with ideas like Being-with-a-capital-B, the transcendent, etc. is precisely the capital B, the fact of transcendence.  The transcendent, by definition, transcends us.  It can’t be captured in words, concepts, and the like, because if it could, if it were graspable in full by our categories, our concepts, then it wouldn’t be transcendent.  This is a problem because the mystery of Being is the mystery, the central question of our existence. 

See Anselm’s lament in the sixteenth chapter of the Proslogion:

My understanding cannot reach that light, for it shines too bright. It does not comprehend it, nor does the eye of my soul endure to gaze upon it long. It is dazzled by the brightness, it is overcome by the greatness, it is overwhelmed by the infinity, it is dazed by the largeness, of the light.

0 supreme and unapproachable light! O whole and blessed truth, how far are you from me, who am so near to you! How far removed are you from my vision, though I am so near to yours! Everywhere you are wholly present, and I see you not. In you I move, and in you I have my being; and I cannot come to you. You are within me, and about me, and I feel you not.

More, if these things cannot simply be given, as the answer to 2+2 or even “find X3+Y3+Z3=k for each k from 1-100″* can be given-that is if they are indeed mysteries, not mere problems-then they must be approached subjectively, within the individual.  The movement towards Being is itself the working out of the mystery, even if it is a journey with an unattainable end. The point of speaking about mystery, therefore, is to incite the listener to undertake this journey, almost (maybe wholly) an exhortation. 

We see this in the Meno, where the titular interlocutor compares Socrates to a torpedo fish, a sort of electric eel.**  The touch of the torpedo fish leaves us numb, silent.  But, paradoxically, this numbing is what breaks us free from the torpor of beings, and engenders the wonder which is the start of true philosophy (see the first note from a few posts ago).  This is also why Kierkegaard uses indirect speech in his own works, to force us to go beyond the words on the page, which do not and cannot convey an answer to the mystery of our existence.

We do this in teaching too, even teaching how to solve problems.  The math professor could easily just give you the answers, but instead he forces you to solve the problem for yourself, because the answer is not the object of his teaching. 

So, this is one of my aims, but, confronted with it, I’m sharply aware of the limitations of my ability as a writer, as a thinker.  I find myself offering hints of connections that I could sketch out in greater detail, leaving things unexplained and unsaid in the hope that it stirs you to take the journey for yourself.  I have no idea if it works, no idea if it’s not all just a waste of your time or if it just obfuscates what ought to be made clear.  But what else can I do but try?  I’m compelled to write by a call from the unseeable depths of my own being.

I started this post with the intention of explaining the distinction between beings and capital-B-Being, between things like chairs and cats and blades of grass and the existence in which they all partake. Somehow the preamble to that post ended up becoming this post, and thus you maybe see my aforementioned deficiencies as a writer and thinker and the perils of trying to write every day without a clear plan all the more starkly. 


*X = -80538738812075974, Y = 80435758145817515, and Z = 12602123297335631, duh

**This is also funny, because Socrates was famously ugly. Torpedo fish are not the handsomest of animals.

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