Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dancing Hands At Catholic Mass

Today I went to afternoon mass with a Catholic friend. It was quarter of an hour past noon, and St Francis' church was three quarters full. We stood for the opening prayer, then in the middle of the prayer we all said amen and the priest said "Now we will pray" even though we had just been praying.

Later we said the Lord's Prayer (the only one I knew by heart), but when they got to the part that starts "...for thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, Forever and Ever, Amen", the priest just interrupted the prayer to put in his own words, and as we never got to say that end bit I murmured it under my breath so that the prayer should be complete. All inexplicable.

More standing and sitting, apparently without purpose, pattern, or signal.

Mumbled responses. I grew quiet and relaxed inside, but outwardly remained watchful among the papists lest some flimflammery ambush.

The sense of the vast range of inappropriate behaviors possible in such a narrow social millieu beckoned my imagination. I thought of the uptight spiritual folk I knew, men and women who rather than communion need to take a full emotional and intellectual enema and forgive themselves for having funny animal bodies. I thought of my desire for vengeance and my wish for freedom.

I thought of the good people around me doing piety with their lips and knees and holding their bodies so firmly on the spot. I watched all this and as I did became aware of the Presence of God in my heart, loving me and shining like a star. And I felt as if I was the only man with sight among the blind, until I saw that the Presence was also with the priest.

When I watched the priest's hands and ignored his lips he was nice. The hands spoke so much more sincerely and lovingly than the lips; they formed delicate mudras like a baby gesturing before its Mother's Nipple. The priest wasn't just going through the motions; he was being a good shepherd, so to speak, for his sheep. His shapely little white hands danced over the altar like the rememberancer of a lost sensuality, an Eden concealed behind the turbulent rivers of tradition, convention, pretension and pomp.

We left at communion. We had no desire to taste the wine overly fortified with spirits that they served.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Great Writer as Adolescent: Re-reading Andre Gide's Journals

Re-reading Gide's journals tonight, I am struck by how he obsessed over his image, over how others saw him. It is a little jejune for Gide to fret over what impressions his ideas and books make on others AFTER he has won public notoriety with his sex life. And how could it have been otherwise - I admit he was in a sore spot with Corydon and his autobiography - but still the overall impression of the journals is of adolescent angst.

Gide's introduction to Montaigne is a case in point. Andre Gide thinks he adds sharpness to Michel de Montaigne when all he is adding to Montaigne is Gide. Gide's Montaigne is 'risky' and 'impudent' because Gide has failed to discern his good taste from his ego.

Then there are Gide's assays into fields he is ignorant of. Three specific great writers he mentions in his journals he has signally failed to come to grips with.

First there is Marx. Gide's flirtation with communism is embarrassing because it reveals his adolescent-level political consciousness, limited (as politics should be with adolescents) to a passing enthusiasm.

Then William James. He thinks James' 'Psychology' is boring after a few pages, because he cannot understand the way James has reinvented the human soul along scientific lines without any loss of humanity or grandeur.

Finally in Freud he can see only the value of Freud as a de-mystifyer of sexual matters. About Freud's compulsive prose and striking insight into inner realities, not a word. He likes Freud because he is 'impudent'.

Gide consistently gets these great writers in a nutshell but misses the nut. And it's not simply a failure of his time or place, but a failure of imagination. Gide is too busy being 'impudent' to read these serious writers for adults.

I love Gide's work and personality, but the truth is he is basically an adolescent playing at being an adult much of the time. And it is a bitter pleasure to have outgrown his tutelage, and seen his limitations for what they are. Andre Gide is no less a great writer for the truth about him being less than complimentary. In fact, the pleasure of seeing the truth about him has inspired me to read his novels again.

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Judging Proust's Book From An Aristotlean Point of View

Marcel Proust's failure to play well with others; his lack of prudential or practical wisdom; and his insistent cognitive games - these three factors eventually win a beautiful relationship with others through the massive confessional that is Proust's art. The Book of Proust is practical wisdom on a biblical scale, as revealed via Marcel's practical foolishness and refined via a practical skepticism on a par with Montaigne's.

And the prose? Virtuistic, supple, sinuous - instinct rebels against this new snake in the garden. Because Proust fails to shock, like so many of his French colleagues, he nevertheless does not fail to build a relationship (a single unitary friendship on a grand scale) with his readers which is shocking in the way it involves readers in his neurotic verbal-emotional-worldly games.

Does this reader want to bitchslap the author? Sometimes. But since Proust is basically innocent and silly (albeit in a shrewd and wise way) I would regret it.

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Some of the High Moments From Plato's Meno

The Meno seems to present the original Socratic formula in the most basic terms. But because it has distinctive and important ideas in the beginning, middle, and end, it somewhat defies clear cut analysis. It is too good a piece to analyze without some measure of arrogance. I think that if you are not honestly baffled by the end of this dialog, I must impute your intelligence with rude names.

Socrates deftly prises the definition of virtue free from commonsense and common practice in the opening. It starts bad and gets much worse: not only don't we know what the Good is, but we seem to imagine there are many different goods.

Then in the middle, Socrates neatly demolishes the easy commonplace that education educates people to be good. We finish hardly even sure how learning itself occurs. Education goes quantum in Plato's Meno - it seems as if we become virtuous by some kind of spooky action at a distance.

Then in the end we figure out that we can't define any of these terms without first defining the ultimate context in which these terms occur. That is, 'education', 'goodness' and 'virtue' all occur in the ultimate context of the reality of a divine maker. Like it or lump it. But the deux ex machina is no easy answer here. The discussion of opinion versus knowledge that crowns the dialog completely undercuts any easy certainty you might place in the guidance of religious faith.

I'm surprised Meno didn't take his life there and then from philosophical despair. But the fact is that Socrates is quite definite in his faith that these things are knowable. And that once you begin to listen to the Socrates, something in his faith gives you faith and you begin to respond with genuine feelings, from disquiet to outrage, against the easy certitudes that falsehoods parade as under the name of "common sense".

Socrates show how uncommon true commmon sense is, and the Meno is an indefatigable guide to demolishing falsehood in the search for truth.

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