Tragelaph?

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As far as I am concerned the sun can stay below sea level to all eternity, so long as I can scrape up enough money to stoke my coal stove and put some oil in my lamp. p.12

Inordinately shy and a stay-at-home possessed of Sitzfleisch in quantities enviable even among brothers, enabling me to become the long-distance translator that I am to this very day, I have made virtue out of necessity: whenever I am forced to enter the company of other people, something positive usually happens to me. Never enough, mind you, to suppress my congenital aversion to contact with the external world, but just enough to catch me up, as in a safety net, in my tumble from solitude.p.13

Within this breast of mine, as if by a miracle of Santa Maria del Pilar, my own and my tragelaph* Vigoleis’ heart keeps on pumping constantly and undauntedly . . . p.9

From The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen, (translated by Donald O. White)

*Tragelaph stumped me. While I enjoyed the Virgin Mary reference, to the only recorded instance of Mary mystically bilocating while still alive, tragelaph, I suppose draws on a figurative usage as something composed of incongruous elements, rather than a mythical creature which is part goat and part deer.

‘We are appearance to ourselves’

“When I attempt to understand other human beings, I must necessarily do so on the basis of my own self-understanding. Yet because my consciousness is conditioned by a history and by a culture that can never be completely external objects for me, precisely because I am in them, I can never achieve full self-transparency when it comes to understanding myself and my reactions to other human beings.”

From the prologue to Myth and the Human Sciences, by Angus Nicholls.

This succinct summary of a difficult epistemological situation made me smile, as I read it  several hours after just such a conversation. Unfortunately my side of that discussion was neither as concise or lucid as Nicholl’s.

Writing in the early 1970s, Hans Blumenberg dealt with the same problem as follows:

“Man has no immediate, no purely ‘internal’ relation to himself. His self-understanding has the structure of ‘self-externality.’ Kant was the first to deny that inner experience has any precedence over outer-experience; we are appearance to ourselves, the secondary synthesis of a primary multiplicity, not the reverse. The substantialism of identity is destroyed; identity must be realised, it becomes a kind of accomplishment, and accordingly there is a pathology of identity. What remains as the subject matter of anthropology is a ‘human nature’ that has never been ‘nature’ and never will be.”

Battles Against Windmills

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“To clarify thought, to discredit the intrinsically meaningless words, and to define the use of others by precise analysis – to do this, strange though it may appear, might be a way of saving human lives.

Our age seems almost entirely unfitted for such a task. The glossy surface of our civilisation hides a real intellectual decadence. There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that   . . . or: There is capitalism in so far as . . . The use of expressions like ‘to the extent that’ is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.”

From The Power of Words, by Simone Weil, translated by Richard Rees.

Partial Notes: The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

‘These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.’ Gospel of Thomas 32.10-11, in NHL 118. — p.14.

Another text, mysteriously entitled ‘Thunder, Perfect Mind‘, offers an extraordinary poem spoken in the voice of a feminine divine power. — p.16.

‘Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as a starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, ‘ My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body,’ Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate . . .If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.’ Hippolytus, Refutationis omnium Haeresium 1. — p.18.

As early as the second century, Christians realised the potential political consequences of having ‘seen the risen Lord’: in Jerusalem, where James, Jesus’s brother, successfully rivalled Peter’s authority, one tradition maintained that James, not Peter (and certainly not Mary Magdalene) was ‘the first witness of the resurrection’. — p.39.

Mary  lacks the proper credentials for leadership, from the orthodox viewpoint: she is not one of the ‘twelve’. But as Mary stands up to Peter, so the gnostics who take her as their prototype challenge the authority of these priests and bishops who claim to be Peter’s successors. — p.44.

[Bishop Irenaeus] charges that ‘they boast that they are discoverers and inventors of this kind of imaginary fiction’, and accuses them of creating new forms of mythological poetry. — p.48.

Another group of gnostics, called Sethians because they identified themselves as sons of Seth, the third child of Adam and Eve. — p.50.

Whoever comes to this gnosis — this insight — is ready to receive the secret sacrament  called the redemption (apolytrosis; literally, ‘release’). Before gaining gnosis, the candidate worshipped the demiurge [the creator], mistaking him for the true God . . . — p.62.

. . . gnostic description of God — as Father, Mother and Son — may startle us at first, but on reflection, we can recognise it as another version of the Trinity. The Greek terminology for the Trinity, which includes the neuter term for spirit (pneuma) virtually requires that the third ‘Person’ of the Trinity be asexual. But the author of the Secret Book has in mind the Hebrew term for spirit, ruah, a feminine word; and so concludes that the feminine ‘Person’ conjoined with the Other and Son must be the Mother. — p.74.

Ialdabaoth, becoming arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those who were below him, and explained, ‘I am father, and God, and above me there is no one,’ his mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him: ‘Do not lie, Ialdabaoth; for the father of all, the primal Anthropos, is above you; and so is Anthropos, the son of Anthropos.’ Gospel of Philip 1.30.6. — p.132.

Some who seek their own interior direction, like the radical gnostics, reject religious institutions as a hindrance to their progress. Others, like the Valentinians, willingly participate in them, although they regard the church more as an instrument of their own self-discovery than as the necessary ‘ark of salvation’. — p.133.

Many gnostics . . . insisted that ignorance, not sin, is what involves a person in suffering. — p.133.

So, according to the passage scholars call the ‘nightmare parable’, they lived

as if they were sunk in sleep and found themselves in disturbing dreams. Either (there is) a place to which they are fleeing, or, without strength, they come (from) having chased after others, or they are involved in striking blows, or they are receiving blows themselves, or they have fallen from high places, or they take off into the air though they do not even have wings. Again, sometimes (it is as) if people were murdering them, though there is no one even pursuing them, or they themselves are killing their neighbors, for they have been stained with their blood. When those who are going through all these things wake up, they see nothing, they who were in the midst of these disturbances, for they are nothing. Such is the way of those who have cast ignorance aside as sleep, leaving (its works) behind like a dream in the night. . . This is the way everyone has acted, as though asleep at the time when he was ignorant. And this is the way he has come to knowledge, as if he had awakened. Gospel of Truth, 71.20-21 in NHL 420. — p.134.

He learns what he needs to know by himself in meditative silence. — p.139

According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus praises this solitude: ‘Blessed are the solitary and the chosen, for you will find the Kingdom. For you are from it, and to it you will return.’ — p.149

 

‘We have no models, we have only precursors’

It would be easy for this blog to become a whirlpool, rotating obsessively around a small handful of writers that, to my mind at least, carve out a highly individual niche; perhaps a series of whirlpools that interconnect only at the periphery, and in doing so twirl off creating other eddies and vortexes. That sounds like a description of my reading mind. Two writers I keep returning to over the last few weeks, at night particularly, trying to understand why these two have captured so much of my waking and dreaming attention.

What is it that draws close the writing of Mircea Cărtărescu and Maria Gabriela Llansol? They are both European writers in the broad sense that they call upon a common pool of themes, myths and visions. Their writing appears, from what is translated heroically into English, to be marked by a transgression of genre, seeking instead to dance in the spaces between realism, magical realism, poetry, essay and analysis. Both writers summon strange figures to an oneiric imaginary geography, slipping in and out of the dramatis personae that is above all a way of constructing a form of hermitic autobiography. One could argue that their novels’ narrative fabric exists primarily as a device for reflection. There is also the space in which their stories function, bound not by a common conception of time but spatially, an amazing world where time sags and slows, dissolving into seemingly bottomless holes.

Both write in dialogue with ancient sources (the Bible and Ovid came quickest to mind) and also a strange world of literature that explores metafiction and intertextuality, inevitably hearkening back to old touchstones like Borges, Kafka, the Woolf of Orlando, even Nietzsche, and to writers I tasted and disregarded like Pynchon and García Márquez.

[The title of this post is from Roberto Bazlen’s Notes Without a Text.]