What Lies Beyond the Surface of Things?
Human fallenness, as the final scene of Fellini’s labyrinthian Satyricon confirms (relentlessly exploring the grotesque facets of Plato’s Cave), entails loss of being, our reduction to the hellish condition of a mere shadow of what we are in eternity.  We, Adam’s progeny, are exposed as having fallen into the surface of things, where in-moving we… The post What Lies Beyond the Surface of Things? appeared first on VoegelinView.




Human fallenness, as the final scene of Fellini’s labyrinthian Satyricon confirms (relentlessly exploring the grotesque facets of Plato’s Cave), entails loss of being, our reduction to the hellish condition of a mere shadow of what we are in eternity.  We, Adam’s progeny, are exposed as having fallen into the surface of things, where in-moving we seek our way out of our trap, a trap resulting from the abandonment, even betrayal that Eden’s story warns us of, but that we hear a vivid echo of in Greece’s tales of Icarus and Narcissus.  Forsake paternal counsel and fall into the surface of things—lost in “superficiality!”f
Modern, Machiavellian, man has sought to make a virtue of vice by inventing “complexity” as antidote to superficiality.  We have sought a way out of our trap by building “scientific” castles of symbolic abstractions founded upon the principle of superficiality formalized most glaringly in the Cartesian technological imperative; to which Romanticism objected with a shadow of that same imperative, with depths of feeling spiraling ad infinitum waiting for a deus ex machina to impose a ceasefire opaque to all intellection.
The Cartesian surface has opened up a new horizon for us: the death of meaning, of God, as consummate fate.  Therein we keep falling, repeatedly, continuously, in Sisyphus’s shadow, condemned to pretend to be free by identifying freedom with bodily motion as such—and life with embellished survival.
Meaning, or God, has been reinvented to decorate our meaningless fall—our moving-astray on the surface of things, wandering without any ultimate cause aside from unquestioned ready-at-hand circumstances of life.  Guided by chance, we stray and make straying our kaleidoscopic cause.  The sacredness of the profane, of compulsion, even of the vile is invoked as consummate justification for our “virtual free falling.”  For are we no all fallen?  Are we not therefore all endowed with the supreme right to abide in compulsion?  The right to slavery; the right to betray, to abandon, to obfuscate, to pervert, to appropriate for no other reason than faex Romuli, the feces dispassionately decried by Cicero.  Our heritage, today: excrement cleansed by a digitizing machine, reformatted to feed us universally.  “Soylent Green.”  What we owe our fathers is fuel for madness.  That is progress, leaving all that is not mere-fuel behind.  Shedding ends to pursue means.  Discarding being to pursue becoming, as if power were an absolute a priori.
Destined for compulsion, our “new man” has discovered right in its absence.  Not satisfied with proclaiming that might is right, our Age stands for the systematic abolition of any reminder that right is irreducible to might.  The eradication of Platonism becomes a moral imperative.  Old right must be destroyed and with it the lingering vestiges of old reason.  Might is not only a brutal Cyclops, now, but a vengeful one driven to punish old reason for having exposed might’s blindness.
Old reason was a foreigner, a stranger, as the xenos/ξένος of Plato’s Laws.  He arrived on the isle of nearsighted brutes, not as a mercenary seeking to offend our passions, but as a mentor exposing the congenital blindness of tribal passions born of the obscure depths of a swirling sea.[1]  The nameless mind (metis/Μῆτις as me-tis/μή τις) presaged by Odysseus did not arrive to offend fallen nature, but to expose its blind-spot, or its brutish incapacity to distinguish strange appearances from outright evil.  For the stranger, the strange Other, is not primarily a threat, but a challenge to awaken to a common nature, a “lost” one as long as we do not reason or enter into the patrician circle of reason (in “interpretation” as inter-patratio) by transcending the tribal one of cyclopic (from kyklos/κύκλος or “circle”) passions.
What would the proper or original role of reason be, then?  It would be at once human/civil and natural, where reason would stand in the way of the dream of a society at peace in the absence of exposure to its ground in the element of self-questioning or dispassionate reflection.  Reason would show that divine patronage is not nearly enough to save our imagination from madness.  No more than God’s life-shattering immediacy is for Abraham.  Angelic mediation is needed to remind Abraham that his destiny is not to renounce, nay slay all human inheritance in favor of the absolute presence of the divine, but to seek the Father through the Son, the metaphysical through the ethical, the divinely Other through the humanly Other.
Divine Logos alone may not be sufficient but its presence among men, as dialogos, is what is necessary.  That which Homer’s Cyclopes did not appreciate in the least, but that Odysseus’s “strange” and unexpected presence stands to intimate.  A reason that works to mediate the sensory and the divine or to free the sensory from the delusional identification of the apparent with the real simpliciter. It is the divine and man working together.
If only the divine could guide the senses to divine perfection thereby showing that human reason is at best an expendable homage to tribal peace!  Such is the dream evoked by Dostoevsky’s saintly Father Zossima in terms that are easily digested by the modern reader.[2] But what if that fundamentally all-too-modern dream were a deluded one begging for a strange reason’s intervention?  What if the proper alternative to Dostoevsky’s “atheist” were a philosophical theist bent upon opening up sense-certainty to a foundation of pure intelligibility entailing the conversion of all discrete answers into indefinite questions, or the transposition of all physical certainties in the element of dispassionate dialogue?  What if our destiny were not to leap from the profane to the sacred, but to abide in the hiatus, even microscopic interstice—imperceptible crack in a great wall of numbed certainty—separating the two poles as a meaningful, even creative necessity?
No matter what “fallen man” may feel, the surface of things, no matter how divine, stands as a question to man as man, man in his essence.  That question seeks an answer in reason, not in feelings, no matter how enthusiastic; in reason, yes, albeit one that “humbles” itself into the Socratic role of mediator between the High and the Low, as opposed to rising as Promethean or Luciferian authority establishing autonomous light in homage to darkness.
Classical liberation from superficiality entails both more and less than the bolstering of surfaces through the reduction of mind to a “system of thought.”  Plato’s philosophical theism calls for elevation from surface to principles (the archai of “archeo-logy”) given which the surface is “raised” from its death, as Lazarus from his body/tomb (σῶμα/σῆμα), called out of its world of mere-appearances where truth is but an object of grasping.  Hence Jesus’s injunction, noli me tangere (μή μου ἅπτου)!  In dialogue, truth is disclosed, not as appearance to grasp (apto/ἅπτω), but as substance to receive as gift faithfully, “in waiting.”
Classical reason teaches us, then, that the content of experience is irreducible to graspable appearances, having a depths produced by a transcendent mind, an “active intellection”–as Aristotelians of old would call it—that sustains surfaces as living beings.  There, the key to life is no assemblage of surfaces, digitized or otherwise, but a poetic mind giving depths to surfaces en arche (ἐν ἀρχῇ), or from their ground up.  “In the beginning” surfaces are deep, where the agency giving them depth or life from-within abides in inseparable communion with a transcendent mind, a mind without surface; a hidden One.


[1] See Euripides, Cyclops, 20-22.
[2] Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov, Book 6.2.b: “The Role of the Holy Scriptures in the life of Father Zossima.”

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