Tuesday 15 March 2011

The unsuccessful mystic as ideal


In desperate times, where moral inversion dominates discourse; could it be time to try and lead lives in which transcendental priorities are inverted?

Not, of course, to stop fighting the transcendental inversions (evil is good; lies are truth; ugliness is beauty); but to fight them on a different front, where they are less defended.

Not to fight with laws and rules, but with mysticism and authority?

Not to fight claims of status and power with an attempt at the same; but to fight them with failure...


A particular horror of modernity is the legalism, its procedural quality - a pseudo-rational process of strict definition and algorithmic calculation...

Or, more precisely, its literalism.

How to combat literalism? Well, not (I would say) by an opposing literalism.

And not either by a 'post-modern' denial of reality - obviously not by that!


This could, perhaps, be fought indirectly, by refusing to enter that arena; by a focus on the mystical aspects.

Not to fight democratic politics (politics without authority - with merely the fake-authority of votes and survey) with ideas of divinely-sanctioned politics, nor pseudo-logic with real logic, nor legalism with laws... that doesn't seem to work.

Indeed I wonder if these weapons have not been turned against us?

But to fight the actually corrupt processes with the non-rational (not irrational) certainties of mysticism - and not our own mysticism, but on authority of real mystics, those much further advanced on the path.

It would perhaps be the best possible approach, in such an era - to be an unsuccessful mystic


What would it be to give the highest status to mysticism, to try to practice mysticism oneself - but to fail abjectly (of course! how could one succeed under modern conditions?).

(And, anyway, if one did succeed in walking the mystical path - how inevitably it would lead downhill: into the cut-off, self-perpetuating state of spiritual pride)

...to be a fully-acknowledged failed mystic; but not to give-up - to continue being just that!

A failed mystic as a way of life!


One great advantage is the humour of the situation!

(Mysticism nowadays maybe needs humour, for most of us at least.)

Another could be its subversive effect - it eludes the worldliness and status seeking of modernity.

(To adapt Peter Sloterdijk's terminology) It is a Kynical stance, but not cynical - it fully honours the transcendent: more than that - it bases action on the transcendent.

Subversive of subversion.


And w.r.t. to the transcendental Goods - how if we put virtue, morality, ethics (especially social ethics) as the lowest of them?

Not of course to deny or disregard the necessity of virtue, but simply to place it lower in current priorities than beauty, and lower also than truth.

Because on the one hand, virtue is corrupted by legalism - and seems always to descend to atomistic discussions of what makes people happy or suffer - while on the other hand, beauty is surely the most disregarded of transcendental Goods in modernity.

For modernity, virtue/ morality/ ethics is the bottom-line, be-all and end-all of the human condition (or rather, the project of subversion of traditional concepts of virtue is this, anyway).

Currently and for a couple of hundred years, beauty is the Good which (deep down, or not very deep down) we believe is not really as important as virtue or truth, beuaty is (to moderns) really just a matter of opinion (or fashion, or money) - because it has no acknowledged laws.

The problem is that beauty fails to be literalizable.

Let us acknowledge this failure, with no quibbling, no excuses.


(Even when 'modern art' is accorded awards and prizes and government funding, and its practitioners are given status, money and honours - still the public refuse to recognize modern art as... beautiful! So it has given up even pretending to be beautiful. Beauty is apparently not assimilable by bureaucracy.)


So not literalism, not a virtue focus - but of course strength is necessary. (Especially if we are operating apparently 'alone' in this world - albeit in a great company at the real transcendendal level).

We must be able to draw lines and to refuse to join and cooperate in the social project of soul-destruction (whether or not this involves actually 'saying no')

We must be able to say a firm yes to the Church - but not the corrupt actual Church (although we should be careful not to oppose or damage it) but yes to the mystically pure Church.

A mystical yes to the mystical Church - and not to defend this with logic or literalism.


To refute wickedness and lies of course - but not with literalism and logic, instead with mystical beauty.


To refute democracy (managed mob rule by voting); but not with some alternative system but instead with the mystery of authority.

To defend our submission to authority, but not with logic and literalism (not with facts about the deservedness of our authority: that to which we cleave) - but with statements of the mystical authority of authority.

Not to defend authority on the basis of its incorruptibility (especially not to devise systems that are supposed to prevent corruption) but on a mystical basis of providence.


Unsuccessful mystics, focused on beauty, authority and transcendental values...


Would it work?

What do we mean by 'work'?

Do we means would it work at a socio-political level validated by literalism and logic? Of course not.

But would it work at the level of the individual?

Maybe it could.


Maybe, at least for a while, it would wrong-foot our enemies, and allow us a breathing space



The Crow said...

Aha. Now there's a word, as yet not ransacked by people simulating being Mystical. Unlike "spiritual".
Mystic: One accepting of Mystery.
One comfortable working alongside it.
One who is not threatened by mystery, and who reveres it.

You speak of its authority, and that is a profound observation.
I will re-read your fine post, but I didn't want to, just yet, in case in so doing, my original understanding of it became lost before writing this:
Mysticism is only authoritative when it remains pure, as in not being exploited to "use" it for desired ends.
It is what it is, a view, a perspective, insubstantial yet potent, when untouched by human hands.
Mysticism is power. But only inasmuch as no attempt is made to control it.

Something mystical is going on here. Thanks Bruce :)

Brett Stevens said...

Mystics and artists have been subverting the inverted (but quantitative) with the aesthetic, ambiguous, obscure, occult and vague (qualitative, implied) for centuries. It works, but it can also lead to misunderstanding, because when your message is not based on clarity, it invites any interpretation -- a backhanded path into relativism.

I like the idea of mysticism however. The problem with modern society is the death of mystery, adventure, hope and exploration. Challenge needs to be resurrected, not the tin-canned type that involves standardized testing and multiple bank accounts, but the kind that involves flinging oneself into the company of the truly unknown.

Esther said...

I loved this post.