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M:  I’m curious why you’ve broken with Heidegger in your last post.

A:  Before I admit to breaking with Heidegger, which I may or may not have done, why do you accuse me of doing so?

M:  Have you read his Introduction to Metaphysics?

A:  Yes, but it’s been some time.

M:  Well, in it he says that the principal question of philosophy is, and has always been, “How does it sit with being?”  When you declare that real philosophy asserts the transcendent, you’ve curtailed the range of inquiry, which arguably means you’ve stopped practicing philosophy and entered into the realm of religion or something like that.

A:  Actually I think I’m agreeing with Heidegger, just carrying the inquiry to the next logical stage.  To ask “How does it sit with being” supposes that eventually you will reach a conclusion: “Being sits in such-and-such a manner.”  Even reaching a hypothesis requires some kind of cutting off of other options.  If that means some “great” Philosophers are revealed as having either drifted off course, or as having never earnestly engaged in the project… well… I’m okay with that.   Honestly, I’m not sure how one could avoid it.

M:  It just seems sort of arrogant to say these guys, who were way smarter than me, had no idea what they were doing.

A:  It’s not that.  We all stand upon the shoulders of giants… but which giant are you standing on?  Philosophers can’t all be equally right.  Eventually you have to say “I substantially agree with these guys.  Those guys made some good points, but I think they were wrong about X.  Those guys, over there, may have been brilliant, but they were wrong.”  Being smart is not a guarantee of being right in all situations.

M:  Yes, of course, but I’m talking about you breaking from philosophers that you, yourself, are standing on –  or at least have in the past.

A:  Such as?

M:  Nietzsche for one.

A:  Nietzsche is a very complex and deeply ambivalent figure.  I don’t think I’m breaking from Nietzsche, so much as picking up some of his threads and by necessity putting down others.  I admit that there are a lot of possible readings of Nietzsche.  I don’t think anyone can follow all of them to their logical conclusions and be consistent.

M:  Okay, let’s take a lesser figure.  De Benoist would say that transcendence is not a character of being.  It’s something we impose on being through our myth making.  He offers two readings: The Christian, that meaning is inherent in being, or the pagan, that meaning is absent from being outside of man’s intervention.  If you think meaning is latent on existence, you’re treading on Christian metaphysics, no?

A:  I think you’re inverting De Benoist’s distinction.  Paganism doesn’t posit that meaning is “absent” but rather immanent – inherent in the world, and not located in some “big other” which lies outside our experience.

M:  Check it out…. page 91: “In each case, it is a question of describing without depicting, of considering the world in some way as a coded ensemble whose key lies beyond visible appearances; of considering it, not as the site of forms to create, but a mystery to interpret, a puzzle to put back together, in which man, taken not as creator but as an intermediary, has the task of ‘discovering’ a hidden meaning, a necessarily unique meaning that predates his very existence.  The idea of the world-as-cryptogram and that of an absolute signifier allowing it to be deciphered (who might be Yahweh, but could just as well be the unconscious or the class struggle) then functions as diastole and systole.  If the world is in fact something other than what it is, there necessarily must be a universal key, which cannot be ignored and exceeded, which allows one to know what part of the world is being, and what is not.  Man no longer acts; he is acted upon as the ‘decipherer or hieroglyphs.”

A:  This is not what I’m talking about.

M:  Well, how do you define transcendent?

A:  To pull from another chapter in De Benoist, page 169: ” Far from forming an absolute that is entirely separate from the world, [the pagan supreme God ] is identical to the world’s very being.  Stoicism, whose religious foundations are essential constitutes a significant case in this regard.  The Stoic God is the ‘soul of the world’. The cosmos is a ‘living being full of wisdom.’  The logos that furnishes it its information is entirely consubstantial to it: it is incorporated into the itinerary and very substance of the cosmos…. The universe is not dependent upon another being, and it is in this world that man must realize his idea.  When the Stoics speak of the world’s ‘duality’ – by accepting, for example, the Pythagorean opposition between the celestial world, which is the perfect world of the stars to which souls belong, and the terrestrial, sublunary  world – it only involves a substantial opposition within a unitarian world.  Wisdom and virtue consist of living according to the ‘order’ of this universe.”  The experience of transcendence is when we step out of our own particular existence and apprehend this world-order in which we participate, not as an intellectual abstract, but as a living reality.

M:  This reminds me of our break with the Gnostics.

A:  In a way, it is.  Neo-Platonic scholar Gregory Shaw in his text on Iamblichus describes various interpretations of existence within the Platonic tradition.  “Plato’s taxonomy of the cosmos and society exemplifies what Jonathan Z. Smith has termed a locative view of existence… In a locative orientation, evil and the demonic arise only when something is out of place… Since Platonic taxonomy was locative as well as monistic, the demonic element was only relatively evil, an unbalanced expression of divine elements.  Therefore the power of evil was temporary and limited to the province of an upside-down soul.  The pervasive acosmic mood of late antiquity… reversed the traditional locative taxonomy… The all pervasive and beneficent order of a cosmos… was transformed into a maleficent system of repression and punishment meted out by cruel demons…  man’s salvation is no longer measured by the degree of his assimilation to the patterns for the cosmos but rather to the degree to which he can escape the patterns.”  In this, I stand with Iamblichus and Plato against the Gnostics and Plotinus.  I’m not trying to escape to anywhere.

M:  See, when I read “philosophy has to be centered around the transcendent aspect of being,’ I read, “philosophy is about positing and accessing truth, which is not situated here, but out there.”  You’re defining the transcendent as imminent.  It doesn’t get more contradictory than that.

A:  There’s more than one way to understand the concept of transcendence.  “…in all [ classic ] schools – with the exception of Skepticism – philosophy was held to be an exercise consisting in learning to regard both society and the individuals who comprise it from the point of view of universality…. Similarly, in each philosophical school we find the same conception of the cosmic flight and the view from above as the philosophical way, par excellence of looking at things.” – Pierre Hadot.

M:  Have you read Kojeve on Hegel?

A:  No, but I have read some Hegel. I am not a fan.

M:  Well, Kojeve analytically breaks down all possible relations of Truth (or, the Concept) and being by discussing time. The possibilities are: Truth is: -temporal -identical with Time -eternal -identical with Eternity Of these possibilities, be says the only one that cannot be philosophy, because it excludes the possibility of philosophy, is “Truth is temporal.” All the others can form the foundation of philosophy, even if he himself thinks only one of them is the right answer. And that whole scheme is an incredibly ambitious assertion.

A:  I am very certain I do not mean that “truth is temporal”.

M: I know, but I’m saying your assertion vis-a-vis Philosophy is even more ambitious than his.  I’m just cautioning writing off tons of brilliant philosophers who don’t fit your model.  And just trying to show that it’s not a settled question as to what’s pagan, what philosophy requires, and so on. I wouldn’t be comfortable saying “that’s not philosophy.”

A:  Perhaps, but I don’t think I’m writing off as many as you assume.  I am asserting that philosophy has a point, and that “an open mind is meant to seize on something.”  By necessity, that seizing will have to exclude certain possible lines of development, which I have no choice but to leave to others.  I don’t know if we’ll see eye to eye on this particular issue, but I want to thank you for raising some great challenges.

M: That’s all a philosopher can hope for.

 

The-Wind-in-the-Willows-001

 

A: So, I just finished reading Kaczynski’s Perdurabo.

JT: What do you think?

A: I’d recommend it. On the whole he presents a far more coherent and balanced view of Crowley than the Symonds bio. I think for the last few years I have been struggling through the “vision of the demon Crowley” where his most difficult aspects take on monstrous proportion, and that’s literally all you can see anymore. He complained about having this effect on people. I feel much better about my investment in his work now, but I am more thoroughly convinced that the dominant interpretation found in the community simply will not work. Most of our problems, as a movement, are not new but have been with us from the beginning.

JT: Heh. I was just talking with a friend about the weird critical thinking problem we find in the community, like among people who otherwise seem able to navigate life and career just fine.

A: Well, I don’t think they see contradiction as an inherent problem. While Crowley tried to gain a rational understanding of his work – and he frequently encouraged his students to learn logic, he also indulged in self-justification through rejection of philosophical rigor. He wasn’t a philosopher and while he often found philosophers useful, suggestive, inspiring…

JT : He was an artist and a poet, and when he was told something he didn’t want to hear…

A: Exactly, and this problem still plagues us today. We point out “Hey guys, this can’t be A and B at the same time. That’s logically inconsistent.” And it’s like we’re speaking Mandarin to housecats. They just look at us like… “So?”

JT : And they can cite where Crowley avoided the same issue, or double-talked around it.

A: Right. Even if they’re smart enough to follow the point, they don’t really grasp why we think it’s so important. They are totally willing to criticize Crowley as a person, but they never trace back his errors and problems to fundamental mistakes in reasoning. Instead they trace it back to the aristocratic values of Liber AL, which they reject.

JT: Hmm… so how might a more philosophically rigorous approach help us?

A: Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between art, theurgy, philosophy, and meditation.

JT : ok

A: What do they have in common? What about each is different? What distinguishes prayer from theurgy (if anything ) and art from ordinary productive activity?

JT : Big questions.

A: Indeed.

JT: To play devil’s advocate, and taking just the last question, I would argue in both cases that there is no essential difference, it’s just about the skill of the practitioner.

A: In so much as art is the highest form of external activity, and theurgy the highest form of prayer, I agree; but each is also distinguished by their character of transcending the rest of the category. Theurgy is prayer that becomes something more than prayer. Art is productivity that is more than regular productivity; not just more quantitatively, but qualitatively.

JT: Qualitatively in that they exist in a state of greater… connection, I want to say?

A: That’s one way to put it. I think what all these have in common is an orientation to being’s transcendent aspect, rather than its merely contingent aspect. Art, for example, is the concrete materialization of the artist’s metaphysics. Philosophy – classic philosophy anyway, is the discipline and organization of thought around the transcendent dimension of being. Prayer is the orientation of the person to the transcendent through direct symbolic communication. Theurgy, pace Iamblichus, is participation in the creative demiurgy through symbol.

JT : Direct participation as opposed to supplication?

A: In a sense, although I think theurgy should always be preceded by prayer. In prayer we orient ourselves toward the highest symbol of being. In theurgy we participate in that current. Crowley in Book 4 says that all magical work should be preceded by the confession, which is part of the consecration. If one reads his description of that act, it’s pretty much prayer – rather typical Christian prayer, actually

JT: So there is no “ascent on the planes”, you’re not identifying with the Gods.

A: Right, but if you pardon the analogy, you get your compass pointed in the right direction. Okay… I’m here…. North is… that way… now I’m moving North… now I’m AT North. I am North.

JT: So how is classic philosophy different from modern?

A: Well, to further belabor this metaphor: Classic philosophy is like map making. To be worthwhile, philosophy has to be logical organization AROUND something, and that something is supposed to be the transcendent aspect of being. Philosophy is ideally the practice of organizing thought, removing contradictions, and proceeding in a rigorous manner, in order to apprehend this transcendent. Modern philosophy is more like cataloging and describing the map making process. The early and late Platonists, the Stoics, the Peripatetics, and the Cynics are all, more or less, in agreement about the purpose of philosophy – even though they disagree about various aspects and approaches. For example, Platonists and Stoics disagree about the nature of the soul and the nature of universals, but they both agree that the soul is real and that universals are important.

JT: So what happens with the philosophical project? Why does it fall apart?

A: I think Epicureanism and Academic skepticism are the first breaks with the orthodox tradition. They retain the emotional emphasis, but they’re chipping away at the project itself. Ultimately though, I think Iamblichus again points us to the answer, and it is metaphysical. Man IS spirit, but FULLY descends into the body. This is necessary for the universe to remain whole, but it also places us in a very precarious position. Without reference to the transcendent view of the whole, we can lose our way. Through theurgy we can regain that reference point. The ancient Greek philosophers, some 800 years before Iamblichus, simply assumed a traditional pagan metaphysics. Many of them were initiates of the Mysteries or at the very least, were familiar with personal worship. It’s the same problem we run into in all Traditional societies. They already know that the Gods exist. It’s a very different point of view.

JT: Right. The problems of us moderns are… well… modern.

A: But as the social order, which they saw as inherently metaphysical in origin, starts to fall apart this confidence in being’s meaning and significance also breaks down. Maybe the Gods don’t really care about us? Maybe the Gods don’t exist at all? Now what? Christianity offers a solution of sorts. It claims that reason itself must be made subservient to faith. It stops at a barrier. Below the barrier, reason is fine, so long as it does not rise above its station. Beyond this you can only have faith in a revelation that is totally outside your experience and understanding. This is subtly different from what Iamblichus and the Pagan neo-Platonists suggest.

JT: I’m not sure how subtle that is.

A: No, I suppose not. Anyway, this arrangement between reason and faith works for a while, but then things start getting funky. Gaps appear in the world-view presented by a literal reading of the Abrahamic faith. In an effort to deal with these gaps, some people start applying the philosophic method to faith. Initially the hope is to improve the faith, but the end result is that it just reveals how contradictory and ridiculous much of it is. Philosophy, however, still lacks that transcendent connection. It’s been gutted of its original context to make it compatible with Christian faith. So while philosophy has revealed the problems with the Christian synthesis, it can’t really offer a replacement. Today we either hold onto the transcendent as a personal and private “belief” or we have faith that science and technology will resolve the problem – although we really aren’t sure how.

JT: Sounds about right.

A: Crowley inherits this condition, goes looking for the experience of transcendence, finds it…and then spends the rest of his life struggling with the implications. Rather than simply admitting that the transcendent dimension of existence is real, he tries to justify the experience of transcendence within the modern worldview.

JT: hmm… but also retain his own claim to transcendent authority and “mission”.

A: Right. As a result, he often identifies that which is above consciousness as that which is below it, namely sexual desire. This is an understandable mistake if you assume that discursive reasoning is insufficient, but you are also uncertain about whether or not the transcendent experience is actual, or just a manifestation of the powers of the brain or something. You have to locate that power somewhere, so he struggles with this and ends up in weird places.

JT: Such as?

A: Well, as an example, he and Rose are in China and Crowley isn’t sure what to do with himself. He contemplates getting away from Rose and the baby to go on a “magical retirement”. They do some theurgic work and Crowley is told NOT to go on a magical retirement, but rather to leave immediately with his wife and child, return to Egypt. He blows it off and does exactly what he’s told not to do. His first daughter dies shortly afterwards. Later in his life Crowley claims that the gods killed his kid for his ignoring them. He doesn’t think ,“ I shouldn’t have abandoned my newborn and wife in China. “, or “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken a newborn on a walking tour of the 3rd world”, but “the Gods – real external beings – reshaped the world to kill off my kid because they were mad at me.” He doesn’t seem to consider that they were trying to warn him of a natural consequence, or even that it was just impersonal fate, but he assumes that, because of his “chosen” station, it HAS to be personal.

JT : There’s a pretty strong historical backing for that attitude.

A: Sure, but at the same time it’s not compatible with the fundamentals of his own purported philosophy: “There is no god but Man”. It’s this weird back and forth with him.  He believes both simultaneously “I can do whatever I want, because we make our own magic, these entities are just ways of me reaching my highest creative potential”, and at the same time –

JT : “They kill my kids when I disobey”

A: Right. At the same time, “They are real, and I have a special mission chosen by them, and since my authority is divinely sanctioned, if you don’t do what I want you to do, you are in error, because you’re contradicting the will of the gods…which is also your own highest will, of course, and you’d know that if only you did what I told you to do.”

JT: Sounds like most biblically inspired would-be rulers.

A: Naturally. On the other hand, I think his identification of the value of theurgy and meditation is correct, and his visions are beautiful and real, and more often than not he gets things right. He values liberty and genuinely wanted the best for people around him, even if his own bullshit got in the way. He shows a way out of the modern mess – that you can still have the transcendent experience without “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, like refusing modern science and technology.

JT: That’s rather a big deal. Not just “these techniques may be psychologically useful” but rather “this stuff is important for mankind”.

A: Exactly. I also think he was right about the erotic dimension of our existence as a key, but I think he’s wrong about the how and why of it, and that error made his life far more difficult than it needed to be.

JT: How so?

A: Once again he’s locating the transcendent in the physical symbol; not as a correspondence and reference, but as a literal container. It’s not just the highest embodied symbol of the whole – that would be fine. Rather it’s “God” as intellectual superstructure on the physical apparatus of your nuts. If he was philosophically rigorous, he would have realized this doesn’t hold together. It’s just nihilism with some spooky stuff, which may or may not be personally meaningful.

JT: Being raised as a “Born Again” who needed to break through so much guilt about my sexuality, and then just guilt in general, I’m hard pressed to find too much fault with what Crowley linked onto. Embracing sexuality is part of embracing and acknowledging the whole self.

A: Yes, but it also returns us to this idea of fully descending into embodiment. Eros is the infinite force into which we descend. It’s our physical connection to eternity. We have to work with this, but simply indulging in it, letting it lead us around by the dick, which Crowley not only does but explicitly TRIES to do, just leads us into mess after mess after mess.

JT: So enough about these purely modern problems, right?

A: Glad to hear I haven’t drifted too far from the topic at hand.

A personal exegesis on Cleanthes “Hymn to Zeus”.

cleanthes

Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names, ever all-powerful,

The name of Zeus is not the name of a celestial “person”.  It is in fact a title, the etymological equivalent to the Latin “Deus”.  Zeus was often called “God of the gods” and the father of all.   He is not merely one deity among many, but God himself.

Zeus, the First Cause of Nature, who rules all things with Law,

The familiar story of his birth, how his mother Rhea concealed him from his father Cronus, who consumed a stone instead of his holy son, reveals his identity as the active creative force within the universe.  He is that which has conquered time – which time seeks to swallow but cannot hold, and in his power he forces time to vomit up all the other gods into the universe.  Yet creation also occurs within time (Cronus), and the fertile ground (Rhea) of being – hence his titanic parents.  Our God is not some abstract and distant hypothetical “creator”.  He is the force of creation itself. Therefore he is Law, since all things move according to the foundational creative energy.

Hail! It is right for mortals to call upon you.
since from you we have our being, we whose lot it is to be God’s image,
we alone of all mortal creatures that live and move upon the earth.

Since our God is the active force within the world, we reject the so-called “negative theology”, which seeks to discover God through a removal of all “limiting” attributes and images.   Rather, we use all art and artistry as a fitting symbol of God, for those things that remind us of God move us closer to him, through participation with our own divine essence.

Accordingly, I will praise you with my hymn and ever sing of your might.

We praise God and the other deathless ones not because it is good for them, but because it is good for us to be brought closer to our highest nature.

The whole universe, spinning around the earth,
goes wherever you lead it and is willingly guided by you.

Since all things follow their own first cause and nature, the world is ruled by providence.

So great is the servant which you hold in your invincible hands,
your eternal, two-edged, lightning-forked thunderbolt.
By its strokes all the works of nature came to be established,
and with it you guide the universal Word of Reason which moves through all creation,
mingling with the great sun and the small stars.

The divine thunderbolt steers all things.  The stars are the great regulators of nature. This doctrine is expounded in great detail by Heraclitus.

O God, without you nothing comes to be on earth,
neither in the region of the heavenly poles, nor in the sea,
except what evil men do in their folly.

Although the world is ruled by providence, we posses free-will.  When men misunderstand themselves, and their fellow man, and do evil, that is not the fault of God.  The possibility of error is but the price we pay for independence.

But you know how to make extraordinary things suitable,
and how to bring order forth from chaos; and even that which is unlovely is lovely to you.

Yet even the possibility of error is part of the divine order and beautiful.  No great work of art, no great game or story, is without tension.

For thus you have joined all things, the good with the bad, into one,
so that the eternal Word of all came to be one.

Existence is beautiful.  The world is divine.  We are not cast out of the majesty of God.  We are not alien from ourselves.  Even our most human and ordinary needs are part of the wonder of creation.

This Word, however, evil mortals flee, poor wretches;
though they are desirous of good things for their possession,
they neither see nor listen to God’s universal Law;
and yet, if they obey it intelligently, they would have the good life.

It is a misunderstanding of the nature of the world that leads men to evil.  If they would turn to wisdom, and live in accord with nature, they would have a good life.  Zeus does not “punish” in the human sense.  He is above such pettiness.

But they are senselessly driven to one evil after another:
some are eager for fame, no matter how godlessly it is acquired;
others are set on making money without any orderly principles in their lives;
and others are bent on ease and on the pleasures and delights of the body.

What makes these things evil is not the acts themselves, but misunderstanding them.  Fame earned through great deeds is the definition of nobility.  Wealth gained through orderly principles is harmony with yourself, the laws of nature, and society.  Pleasure is health and well-being of the body.  By themselves these things are indifferent – neither good nor bad, but to be intent on them, to seek to gain them AS IF they were good in themselves, and to sacrifice that which is truly good: godliness, principles, and the well-being of one’s character, that is evil.

They do these foolish things, time and again,
and are swept along, eagerly defeating all they really wish for.

By doing evil you do not harm Zeus, but yourself.  You defeat your own happiness.

O Zeus, giver of all, shrouded in dark clouds and holding the vivid bright lightning,
rescue men from painful ignorance.
Scatter that ignorance far from their hearts.
and deign to rule all things in justice.
so that, honored in this way, we may render honor to you in return,
and sing your deeds unceasingly, as befits mortals;
for there is no greater glory for men
or for gods than to justly praise the universal Word of Reason.

Amen.

circa 1920: Jupiter, the Italian sky-god connected with rain, storms and thunder, who was identified with the Olympian Father of the gods, Zeus. A Colossal statue found on the shores of Lake Alba Longa. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

circa 1920: Jupiter, the Italian sky-god connected with rain, storms and thunder, who was identified with the Olympian Father of the gods, Zeus. A Colossal statue found on the shores of Lake Alba Longa. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

heraclitus
All things resolve into Unity and from Unity resolve all things – binding wholes and parts, things combined and distinct, in harmony and disharmony.

Nature’s law is the Will towards Unity.

Wisdom is oneness with the purpose that steers all things.

To learn this, listen not to me but to the cosmic reason.

For of letters and writing the way is both straight and crooked.  Like the working of a loom, words go upward and back again, spin around and return, spiraling around their meaning like a snail’s shell.

Rising up, and coming down, we move on the same path.

Of this eternally existing order people lack understanding, both before and after they hear of it.  Everything comes to be through the universal reason, but even when it is spoken of plainly most people remain ignorant.  They do not notice or remember what they do when awake, just as if they were sleeping.

Thus it is necessary to seek out and follow the universal reason.  Although it is common to all, many act as if they alone had purpose.

You will never discover the limits of your soul by wandering, even if you tread on every path – so deeply do you partake of the cosmic mystery.

For the soul is a law of being that increases its own power.

The cosmos was made by neither gods nor men, but always was and is and will be – like ever-living fire, flickering and rekindling itself forever.

This fire moves in an endless sea of alterations – half solid, half storm.  The solid is dispersed into the storm and measured out again, as it was before.

For a great thunderbolt steers all things.

This God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger.  He changes as fire changes when it is mingled with various spices.  Men name the scents according to the various delights of each of them.

For God all things are beautiful and good and just, but humans have supposed some things to be unjust, other things to be just.

What is in opposition is secretly linked, and the most beautiful harmony comes out of things in apparent conflict.  Individual striving is the father of all things.

This is like a bow or lyre: its form depending on a harmony of opposing forces.  Being at variance, it agrees with itself.

This hidden harmony is superior to what is visible.

The sun is commander and guardian of the cycles of changes and the seasons, which bring to light all things.

Human character grants no inborn purpose.  That is reserved for the Gods.

The Gods consider men, as men consider children.

Night-roaming wizards, drunken mystics, howling preachers, those frightened by death… by their customs people are initiated into mysteries less than holy.

They purify themselves in vain by staining themselves with blood, as if a man having stepped in dirt tried to wash himself in dirt.  They pray to objects, just as crazy people are observed talking to houses.  They do not know what gods and heroes really are.

In life we see death as an impenetrable nothing, but when sleeping all we see is sleep.

What awaits us in death we neither anticipate, nor can even imagine.

Life is a child playing, moving the pieces of a game.  Kingship belongs to this child.

A man’s divine fortune resides in his character.

All things are compensation for fire, and this fire in turn for all things, just as goods are exchanged for gold.

goldlightning

cicero

Political allegiance in the West has an taken on an aspect of religious devotion and fervor.  Perhaps because religion no longer occupies the same space within our society, we have simply replaced that “god shaped hole” in our hearts with the nearest available ideology?  To be sure, there is a messianic tendency at play.  I’ve fallen into it myself, believing if I just converted the right people the world could be saved, or at least stopped from getting much worse.  We have, after all, been told all our lives that we, the people, are the government – or at the very least determine its decisions.  Strange then that the government seems to do very little that we actually want, and a great many things we emphatically do not want.

All societies have systems of governance: methods of resolving disputes between members, adjudicating the use of common resources, and representing that society to the outside world.  All of these functions are predicated on the boundary between “us” and “not us”.  The political theorist Carl Schmidt laid out that the fundamental function of politics was the distinction between friend and enemy, including various degrees of neutrality or uncertainty.  This may seem harsh or overly militaristic to some, but if you consider it you will discover that no government decree can be meaningful without weighing on this distinction.  Hence the apocryphal quote attributed to George Washington, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force.” This shocks many middle class Americans because there are layers and layers of bureaucracy between their many transgressions and the application of force: notices, fines, extensions, court dates, etc… etc…  At the end of that process however there is always the threat of force or, to put it another way, the possibility of sliding over the line from friend to foe, from “us” to “not us”.

Yet in our real lives the distinction between “us” and “not us” is not political but rather personal.  Our family, our friends, our town, our work – these are our things.  It is on the quality of these things that our well-being depends.  It is within the system of these things that we are judged and remembered.  What dispute does the average American have with the average Chinese that requires the intervention of a massive bureaucratic apparatus? What common resources (other than Federally created ones) exist to be fought over between California and Florida?   Political discussions and symbols, especially in this age of the sound-byte, the re-post, the 128 character limit, take on the role of substitute tribal markers, but without physical substance.  They are purely symbols of conceptual, rather than actual, allegiance.  As such they may weigh on philosophy, but have very little to do with real politics – that is, the distinction between friend and foe, unless we let them.

This is one of the great side-effects of our bureaucratic age: that conceptual politics effaces the natural allegiances and friendships between men.  First political power is removed from its natural scope. No longer are disputes handled within the organic community in which they arise, on the smallest reasonable level.  Next political power is vested in agents entirely removed from the consequences of their decisions. A rotating cast of elected charismatics and disinterested pencil-pushers takes over functions that were once aristocratic and honor based.  This massive political apparatus, Nietzsche’s “coldest of cold monsters”, fails utterly to provide on a human scale that which politics must by definition provide – the ability to adjudicate friend and foe in complex and uncertain situations. As a result, the political process wells up in other spheres, out of its natural bounds, and ruins everything.  Activism becomes our final refuge. The demand of the perpetual infant replaces measured discourse, because discourse absent from power fails to satisfy the political need.  In truth, what is activism other than making enemies by choice, and seeking friends through conceptual alliance?

The solution is to put things back into their proper place.  Conceptual struggles must be grounded in philosophy, not politics.  Politics is influenced by and dependent upon philosophy, not the other way around.  Politics qua politics should be engaged in on the local level, if at all, and intrusions from distant bureaucrats treated with all the contempt and loathing reserved for a foreign occupier, for that is what they actually are – foreigners, strangers, not us, the enemy.   For us, and our kind, if we are inclined to the political we should seek it out where it matters.  Before we make common cause with strangers on some televised stage, can we make it with the people in our actual lives?
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One of the chief difficulties for aspiring artists of all kinds, is that we often misunderstand the relationship between what our art could be and what it presently is.  When we encounter great art it appears like the transformative power of the magician’s staff.  Great art opens a gateway to the realm of the gods. It reveals things hidden to our normal senses. It changes our view of the world and ourselves. Great artists seem to pursue their art as a sacred calling, as if it were the grail itself: a chalice of solace and renewal to which they return again and again throughout all of life’s vicissitudes. Even among those artists who are merely technically excellent, and not necessarily endowed with greatness of insight and expression, we wonder at the power their art has to move the world. We see it bring to some riches and renown. We see it used to shield the weak, humble the wicked, build communities of friendship and tear down prison walls. Our own work of course does none of these things.  It seems rote, mechanical, and immature.  Our enthusiasm for what art represents rubs against our experience of actually doing it. We stop. We balk. We falter.  Why?
There is a pernicious lie we believe.  It is the lie of the “inner genius”. The substance of this lie is that somewhere within us resides an homunculus – a tiny person. This “inner artist” possesses all the wondrous creative power we seek, complete and fully developed. In order for us to achieve the artist’s life, it is only necessary to contact this mischievous imp, who will then spin thread into gold, make the sun still in the sky, and open the doorway to Narnia. This is assuming of course that we are “real” artists.  Non-artists don’t have an inner Shakespeare, a miniature Gauguin, or a tiny Beethoven. Perhaps they have a pet genius for spreadsheets, or an innermost sacred accountant.  Having this model of the creative process, we are disturbed when we sit down to work and find our minuscule demon missing from his station.  Perhaps we have done something to drive him away, and should seek out some kind of artist’s penance?  There is a whole industry of books, support groups, and retreats providing this service.  Perhaps we are not sensitive enough and must “develop” our “creative intuition”?  Most occult and spiritual practices are substitutes for nothing else.  Perhaps we are – horror of horrors – not a “real” artist at all, and should resign ourselves to corporate mediocrity and mindless entertainments?  Whatever it is, we must do something. Clearly something is wrong with us, for the magic gate is closed.

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The simple truth is: the “little artist inside” does not exist.  There is no “inner you”.  There is only you as you find yourself: as you presently are right now.  The art you are drawn to is not a magical wand, or the holy grail of your life, or even a potent weapon for YOU.  It may become ALL of those things in time.  For now though, for YOU, it is but a possibility.  One of the many things which you may become.  It is an interest, for which you have some natural inclination.  It is material to be worked.  No different from learning to shape wood, or metal, or repair machines, or developing your body, you must approach it as a CRAFT.  For that is the possibility the art opens to you right now.  It is how the Muse first approaches anyone – not in her wedding finery, and even less in her bedclothes, but in a humble workman’s smock, bearing tools of labor. This prospect should cheer you and bring you courage, for while the sword is fearful, and the road to the grail unknown, and the wand a mystery – the potter’s wheel, the blacksmith’s anvil, the dressmaker’s shop, these things are all known and open to you.  Craft is not hard to develop.  Anyone can do it.  It only requires a little patience and a small amount of discipline.  Sadly, in our modern world of mass produced goods and “service” jobs, fewer and fewer people have any experience in craft.  Think about it.  Most working adults today have mastered little other than a very specific rote process with little or no significance outside the bureaucracy in which they work.  Because of this, a little instruction may be helpful.
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In my personal experience, the development of craft is a process of three interlocking and self-perpetuating activities.  The first is practice.  You should practice your craft every day.  Even if you can only manage half an hour, or five minutes, it still counts.  Practice grows organically in time.  Some say that it takes around twenty hours of practice for a new skill to become anything other than a difficult and confusing task.  I like to think of this as a day – twenty four hours of time.  When you have spent twenty four hours doing something –  actually doing it, and not worrying about it, agonizing over it, or avoiding it,  then you have a basic understanding of what the activity actually feels like.  Of course, this is just the beginning and, even after you have been at it for some time, your work may feel mechanical, crude, and unimpressive. But practice is not fundamentally about what you produce.  Practice is the work you do on yourself, for your soul has a shape, and through practice you are molding it.  To produce great art you must first become someone who is capable of great art.  Therefore, the more you practice, the more rewarding it will become as your soul takes on the artist’s form.  Periodically however, even in the best of circumstances, you will “get stuck” and practice will seem indescribably tedious.  This brings us to the second activity: experimentation.

You must give yourself permission to try new things, things that will not work, things that will appear – to your critical mind, to lead nowhere.  Think of them as little gambles, for you are embarking on a journey of discovery, no different from a Galileo or a Magellan.  There has never been, in this turning of the cosmos, a being precisely and exactly like you: with your constitution, history, aspirations and perspective.  Thus, no one can tell you exactly how your art will be, or should be, what medium you should work in, or how you should structure your practice.  You must discover this road as you travel.  Do not abandon critical thought, but merely put it aside for a moment, and only analyze your experiment after it has run its course.  The problems of art cannot be solved merely by thinking them through.  You must think, but you also must act even – dare I say especially, without perfect knowledge.  To demand that you succeed before you have experienced failure, to know of what you are capable before you have tested your abilities, is to doom yourself to paralysis and bitter stagnation.  Art is invention.  Without uncertain and untested innovation, it becomes merely industry.  Somewhat paradoxically art must posses a recognizable form, despite what some in the “post-modern” school claim ( a nonsense phrase by the way, as art is eternal ).  Random emotional ejaculation cannot be art, because it can never first be craft.  All learning, all thought, all self-improvement, occurs within a tradition, and this brings us to the third activity to which you must apply yourself: study.

Like any other craftsman, you must study – not just your discipline, but the world.  Along with the lie of the homunculus – the “inner artist”, there is the lie of the ORIGINAL artist.  This is the lie that the content of our art is something we produce from “within” like a gall-bladder produces bile.  In fact, these are two aspects of the same lie: that the artist is some kind of isolated autodidact, and this comes from a faulty view of the world.  Do not misunderstand me.  Self-directed learning is fine, in fact it is necessary, but self-learning is not the same as self-teaching.  You cannot by definition teach yourself something you don’t already know.  The universe is not fundamentally made of isolated bits of stuff.  It is a whole – a continuum – a living body.  An artist is not a world unto himself.  Rather an artist is like a nerve – a particularly sensitive and intelligent ganglia within the cosmic body.  To improve your function as an artist you must reach out to that larger neighborhood of beings who make up “your kind”, and plug in.  To be sure, you will need periods of isolation, for reflection, digestion, and germination, but understanding comes from context.    You must know what has been done in your craft before you came: what works, what doesn’t work, what has already been tried, and what has no one ever attempted.  You must also know what is happening in the world.  To not know your craft is to be ignorant.  To only know your craft, is to be an idiot – in the technical definition of the term, doomed to repeat the same inanities over and over and over again.   For, like a nerve, you cannot decide to feel something that is not present – that does not lie within your field of experience.  To create something great, you must know what greatness looks like.  To create something new, you must experience something new.  This requires no great effort.  Newness is everywhere. Even the most ordinary experiences become profound when viewed with attention.   Cultivate attention, and you will find teachers everywhere.

These three activities: practice, experimentation, and study will develop your craft.  All you have to do is act, and not give up.  There is a fourth… thing, you must develop.  It is not an activity as such, but rather a quality. That is patience.  Be patient with yourself – and, if you do not know how, learn to be patient.  If you study your craft with diligence you will develop this quality.  Patience is not putting up with suffering.  Patience is a knack for finding contentment and happiness within all of life’s situations.  It is the art of learning how to enjoy this journey, on this planet Earth.  For in the end, we never arrive anywhere.  Every ending is the beginning of some new adventure.  No effort if wasted.  No opportunity comes too early, or too late.  There is no experience that cannot be used in the service of the universal harmony, if you come to view it in the right way.  What else did you expect, from art?

artthoth