Sunday, March 14, 2010

Litcrit and metaphysics

T. S. Eliot in his  "Four Quartets," said "We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time."  He's dead and I am using his words to make a point about the modern mind, nothing about Eliot himself, or anything in any way personal.  But he wrote and people responded, the poem series referenced is widely acclaimed, and so a few points here about the world we live in may be appropriate, using his words as evidence.  For these words were spoken by the same person who famously announced he was Conservative, a Royalist, and Anglo Catholic.  He should have added he was a resident of bus stations, waiting for a bus to transport him.
One assumes his poetic descriptions derive from what some would call mystical experiences. He had  no one to point out how mystical experiences figure in a larger economy of mankind, and the whole weight of human history was against his figuring out for himself, --- that these so-called moments of religious, aritistic scientific discovery, cannot be labeled without hindering their return.  For what they denote is nothing that can be verbally labeled.  They in fact are like frosting, which could be a hint of other realities, but if discussed, these common human experiences, become categories and prevent one from discovering ---- the purity of cake. The frosting of these moments of insight can mean one is close to a doorway, they are not  really the finish.
The bus mode of transportation is the common verbal assumptions that allow people to assess their world. These shared assumptions largely veil actuality. If they studied the human propensity for mystical apprehension they would realize, as Gurdjieff noted (though not in these words) that these experiences have started as many wars as religions. 
Listen again to what Eliot said:
 "We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time.  Sounds fine, but knowing some place for the first time means not categorizing your perceptions verbally.  That it sounds okay, is because of all the literature Eliot read, not from any ability of his to grasp what it could mean to: know the place for the first time.
How can I be sure of this?  Eliot was aware, as were all artists between the wars, of the work of Georges Gurdjieff, who alone, with Jan Cox, sought to drag religion sticking and careening, so to speak, into the 20th century.  And these are the words Eliot used to discuss one of Gurdjieff's students and translators, A. R, Orage. Orage he wrote in an obituary was a "reckless religious adventurer."  So we can assume Orage learned enough to appreciate that whatever the real path is, the trodding of it is always, alone, on foot. No waiting at respectable bus stations for Orage. Part of the difficulty of finding the start of the path, much less how to proceed, is that, and again, Eliot is merely an example, but the words of the poets we take to be accurate descriptions, clues. So we recall them at certain times, and thereby risk cutting our own throats, if our goal is really to explore a new land, to "know the place for the first time."  Because that knowing must be non-verbal.

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