Mesocosm

"Segne den Becher, welcher überfließen will, daß das Wasser golden aus ihm fließe und überallhin den Abglanz deiner Wonne trage!" – Nietzsche

Archive for June 2012

Quote of the Day

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“Now, when we said, ‘Minds are simply what brains do,’ that should have made us ask as well, ‘Does every other kind of process also have a corresponding kind of mind?’ This could lead to an argument.” – Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind

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June 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm

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Chinese Oracle Bones of the Shang Dynasty

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The Shang Dynasty flourished in the Yellow River valley during the second millennium BCE. It was a period that witnessed the introduction of two important technologies into China: bronze metallurgy and writing. We have no archaeological evidence for any predecessors or transitional forms of written language prior to the Shang era, suggesting that it was probably imported, along with bronze, from the Near East, where both technologies had been in use for over a thousand years.

The overwhelming majority of written material that has come down to us from the Shang Dynasty was preserved in fascinating artifacts called oracle bones, which are bone and shell fragments inscribed with an ancient Chinese script. They appear to have been known to peasants in the late nineteenth century, who were impressed by their evident mojo, and called them “dragon bones.” Unknown numbers of oracle bones were ground up and swallowed as medicine.

By the early twentieth century, they came to the attention of archaeologists, who have subsequently collected tens of thousands of the inscribed bone fragments and have deciphered their script.

Typically made from pieces of the scapulae of bulls or the plastrons of turtles, oracle bones were used some 3500 years ago to consult with the ancestors about matters of urgency. They were inscribed with questions inquiring about topics such as the likely success of the harvest, the need for military action, or fortunes of an expecting mother. In an elaborate ceremony attended by kings and courtiers, a burning-hot poker of some sort was thrust into the bones, and they would crack in characteristic patterns, signifying either a yes or a no answer.

Fortunately for historians, the Shang diviners carried out their art with a scientific spirit. The oracle bones were subsequently inscribed with reports detailing whether or not the predictions turned out to be accurate. Perhaps this was done in an attempt to determine which ancestors could be reliably addressed about which matters.

And so the earliest-known writing system in China is preserved in the form of tens of thousands of bones, used in magico-religious divination, inscribed with questions the practitioners regarded as of compelling interest, and with a record of how things turned out. Just a marvelous, fascinating phenomenon.

 
Sample Oracle Bone Translations

The divination on day chi-mao was performed by Kuo. The King after examining the crack forms commented that it would rain on day jen. On day jen-wu indeed it did rain. (1)

On day jen-in it was inquired: “There has been another chih of the Moon [an astronomical event of unclear meaning]. A sacrifice is to be made to Earth; should a burnt offering of cattle be made?” On day jen-yin it was inquired: “There has been another chih of the Moon.” The King did not want the disaster to befall on one person. yet again, there is a disaster. (1)

Crack making on gui-si day, Que divined: In the next ten days there will be no disaster. The king, reading the cracks, said, “There will be no harm; there will perhaps be the coming of alarming news.” When it came to the fifth day, ding-you, there really was the the coming of alarming news from the west. Zhi Guo, reporting, said, “The Du Fang [a border people] are besieging in our eastern borders and have harmed two settlements.” The Gong-fang also raided the fields of our western borders. (2)

Crack-making on jiashen (day 21), Que divined: “Lady Hao’s (a consort of Wu Ding) childbearing will be good.” The king read the cracks and said: “If it be on a ding-day that she give birth, there will be prolonged luck.” (After) thirty-one days, on jiayin (day 51), she gave birth; it was not good; it was a girl. (3)

 
References

1) Zhentao X. et al. “Astronomical Records on the Shang Dynasy Oracle Bones“. Archaeoastronomy. Supplement to Volume 20. No. 14. 1989. S61-S72
2) Keightley DN. Sources of Shang History. University of California Press. 1978. p. 44
3) de Bary WT, Bloom I. Sources of Chinese Tradition. Columbia University Press. 1999.

Images of oracle bone fragments from the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, (c) Barnaby Thieme.

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June 29, 2012 at 10:34 am

RIP Lonesome George

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I was saddened to learn of the death of Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island giant tortoises of the Galapagos. He died at an age somewhere around 100 years old, which is fairly young for a species that can live to be 200.

Like many people, I became aware of Lonesome George as a kid watching National Geographic specials and the like, and it’s hard not to have sympathy for the curmudgeonly ol’ tortoise who found himself alone after all of his brethren were eaten by sailors. It’s a melancholy story for a young boy, somewhat in the neighborhood of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

You can read about his life in this article by the Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere on the Internet.

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June 25, 2012 at 8:30 am

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Links Roundup: Really Old Stuff Edition

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Kyoto in a nutshell
(click to enlarge)

Exciting news in the world of archaeology!

Der Spiegel reports (auf Deutsch) that Roman glass beads have been found in a fifth-century grave near Kyoto! The reach of Roman trade was astonishing – Roman coins have been found in Vietnam, for example. However, evidence for European-Japanese contact at such an early date remains scarce.

Here are some beautiful photos of the Lascaux cave paintings from Life magazine.

A team of researchers have concluded that Stonehenge was built to commemorate the political unification of Britain by a late stone age culture. According to the press release, “Its stones are thought to have symbolized the ancestors of different groups of earliest farming communities in Britain, with some stones coming from southern England and others from west Wales.”

I find this an extremely attractive hypothesis on its face, which is congruent with the structure of the monument, which appears rather like a group of people standing in a ring, which is a common motif in neolithic Europe. The idea of symbolically expressing social transformation by bringing together totemistic stones corresponding to kinship groups has obvious analogs in cultures as far-flung as the Anatolians in Çatalhöyük, who may have exchanged the skulls of their ancestors to a similar end, and the Tlingit and Haida, who combined symbols and stories into the infamous “totem poles” of the Pacific northwest.

Not all the archaeological news is good, though. Depressed economies and austerity measures are combining to take a toll on excavation and preservation of important artifacts. I was disheartened to see back-to-back articles on the problems facing the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and the Trevi Fountain in Rome. It seems hard to believe that institutions of this magnitude could be threatened by lack of adequate funding, but then I hardly would have believed anyone would dig a huge oil pipeline through unexcavated ground at Babylon either.

It’s almost enough to make you think the US should cut the crap and re-fund UNESCO, isn’t it?

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting review of Andrew Robinson’s Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion. Sounds like a lively look at the initial decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Finally, the journal Biblical Archaeology Review has called its own editorial judgement into serious question with a breathless piece endorsing the “Brother of Jesus” inscription. But that’s just, like, my opinion – I invite the reader to make up her own mind.

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June 22, 2012 at 10:41 am

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The Chocolate Chip Cookie Sutra

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Thus have I heard: One day, the World Honored One was baking chocolate chip cookies.

His disciple Ananda came into the kitchen in disarray, saying “I have been speaking with a man of the Hindu persuasion, who has the most outlandish ideas. I have tried to dissuade him of his false, corrupt, destructive, and seductive views. His beliefs will lead him to harm himself. His beliefs will lead him to harm others. His beliefs will lead him to be reborn in the realm of animals, Blessed One, or in the realm of the hungry ghosts, or in the Hellish Realms.

“He would not listen to your teachings. What should I do?”

The Blessed One said, “Have a chocolate chip cookie.”

Comment: As I write these words, I have a pan of cookies in the oven. I wish you could smell them, I wish you could taste them.

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June 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm

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Putting a Face to the Name

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Albert Einstein on E=MC2 (English):

 
 

Carl Jung on death (English):

 
 

Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi on mind and its object (English):

 
 

Salvadore Dali, impressively composed in the face of an antagonistic Mike Wallace (English):

 
 

James Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake (audio only):

 
 

Richard Feynman on wave-particle duality:

 
 

Martin Heidegger on language (German with English subtitles):

 
 

Michel Foucault, interviewed by Alain Badiou (click CC for English subtitles):

 
 

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June 13, 2012 at 9:35 am

Posted in Ephemera

A Few Personal Updates

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Hey readers,

A couple quick notes. First, I want to quickly say how much I love being able to write and share my thoughts with you, and I’m grateful you take the time to come by and have a look. Please don’t hesitate to say hi in the comments and share your response, even if it’s “Man, you’re crazy, and here’s why.”

Ms. O’Cosm and I were prominently featured in the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. The front-page article describes some of the problems the city of San Francisco, like many other cities, is having with Airbnb and other businesses which broker short-term rentals of apartments or spare rooms. The explosive growth of the industry is creating a poorly-regulated network of untaxed pseudo-hotels.

I was contacted by the Chronicle‘s Carolyn Said on the strength of this blog post I wrote on Mesoscope, chronicling our ordeal. Perhaps that post hit a nerve – it got the most page hits of any post I’ve written by a large margin.

Yesterday also marked the last performance of the season by the SF Sinfonietta, an amateur chorus and orchestra led by the inimitable Urs Steiner. We performed Mozart’s Requiem mass in D-minor (K. 626) in its entirety. For an amateur like myself, it illuminates an entirely new dimension of music to go inside of it like this. Additionally, it was a profound experience to perform a requiem mass with the genuine intention of honoring those who have passed away.

I shared some of my reflections on Mozart’s Requiem in this post earlier this year. You can see us performing the Requiem at a benefit for Arts Benicia in the picture above.

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June 11, 2012 at 7:56 am

Posted in Ephemera

Byung-Chul Han’s Critique of “Transparency Society”

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Update: I wrote a more in-depth analysis and critique of Byung-Chul Han’s work in a later post Digital Humanism.

I’ve been reading a lot about Byung-Chul Han’s new book Transparency Society recently, in which the German philosopher critiques what he takes to be the unexamined rhetoric of transparency, perhaps exemplified by the Pirate Party, the marginal but boisterous political party founded on the platform of open information exchange.

I take it that the gist of his analysis is that the pro-transparency discourse of European and American society supposes a fundamental link between transparency, disclosure and security, and thereby posits transparency as an intrinsic moral good. But, he warns, transparency whets an insatiable appetite for uncovering and disclosure, promoting a society of nakedness or shamelessness that verges on pornographic. The sense of life becomes inflected with performance and display, and this devalues intimacy.

Even worse, the dialectic of transparency, which presumes disclosure, excludes the possibility of trust. Trust can only occur in a society that allows for the possibility of concealment.

Han views the rhetoric of transparency as a conceptual tool of Capitalism and a corollary of Neoliberalism, suggesting to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that it is intrinsically tied to increased productivity.

I am won over by the need to subject the concept of transparency to ideology critique, but I’m suspicious that Han has not sufficiently differentiated between different modes of transparency, which carry radically different implications.

First, there is the transparency that has been vaguely asserted by Facebook to be a social good, and I think Han’s aesthetic critique of the devaluation of intimacy into episodes of performance is relevant to this regime. We might also include reality television and the prurient interest the public seems to take in the personal lives of celebrities and politicians under this mode.

Second, there is the desire for transparency in businesses and government, which is driven by the legitimate and compelling public interest to monitor powerful organizations for serious abuses. Is there room in Han’s critique for whistleblowers or investigative journalism?

Third, there is the insistence by governments and industries that they be allowed ever-increasing access to the public’s personal information. Under this regime, we have the TSA maintaining that air travelers in the US must submit to body imaging scans, for example – only one of countless examples of the post-9/11 erosion of the privacy protections in the US.

As soon as we start differentiating between different transparency regimes, we find that most parties favor some forms of transparency and oppose others, and these asymmetries are instructive.

The US government, for example, increasingly supports the creation of a massive surveillance infrastructure with ever-greater access to private communications, while simultaneously making ever-increasing demands that it be allowed to conduct its own affairs in secrecy. Examples of the latter include Obama’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers and the recurring use of state secrecy claims to circumvent lawsuits. State secrecy provisions have even been asserted to prevent disclosing the DOJ’s legal rationale for matters of urgent public interest.

We cannot simply lump all of these together as an amorphous rhetoric of transparency.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung review of Transparenzgesellschaft
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung interview with Han
Freitag looks at Transparenzgesellschaft
Perlentaucher page on Han

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June 8, 2012 at 10:12 am

On Crazy Wisdom and Other Bad Ideas

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“To ordinary people, I look completely mad. To me, ordinary people look completely mad.” – Milarepa

Viktor Frankl, the celebrated author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was addressing a congress of psychologists and psychiatrists when he read two short writings to his audience. One was written by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger; the other, by a hospitalized paranoid schizophrenic. Which, he asked, was written by one of the world’s most prominent philosophers, and which by the patient?

Of course, they were unanimous in judging Heidegger to be the madman. (1)

How do you tell the difference between craziness and genius? It’s not always so easy. Sometimes the perspective that makes sense is simply wrong.

When Thomas Jefferson heard reports from Yale that meteorites had recently fallen, for example, he is said to have replied that “it was easier to believe that two Yankee Professors could lie than to admit that stones could fall from heaven.”

Madness and genius both entail perspectives that lie outside of the ordinary range of what people accept to be true.

The Tibetan Buddhists speak of a distinction between what is true from the perspective of ordinary life, and what is really true. According to one tradition, something is conventionally true if it cannot be disproven by normal reasoning or perception. But ordinary reasoning and perception are mistaken, so there is no simple way to arrive at the ultimate truth. (2)

This distinction between the way that things appear and what’s really going on is at the heart of Buddhist teachings, which hold that our mistaken ideas about the world are the ultimate source of all suffering.

When we translate this problem into a human context, we find groups of people trying to collectively orient themselves with respect to what’s really going on. But how do you know?

Of course, you can simply not worry about it – you can settle down in your own vision of reality and say that everyone else is wrong. That’s a common approach.

But if you don’t accept the normal version of reality, and you want to figure out what’s really going on, you have to go outside of convention. Most of the venerated spiritual masters have said that the ordinary perspective is mistaken.

The problem is, whenever people come together and reinforce a shared set of beliefs, they run the danger of creating a sealed-off world and losing their moorings to the planet earth. There has to be some basis for staying grounded, or it is very easy to drift off into space.

In the west, we have a particular danger of gurus who cynically or naively capitalize on the possibilities that open up when you lead people out to sea. Many such teachers claim that their degree of understanding places them outside of the normal range of human values. Sure, they may seem like selfish assholes on the surface, but that’s just because they’ve broken through to the other side. And if that means the guru wants to sleep with your wife, like Adi Da or Richard Baker, then brace yourself for a lesson on non-attachment.

Such teachers have often appealed to the idea of “crazy wisdom,” which is supposedly of Tibetan origin, though in my 15 years of study I have yet to see the corresponding Tibetan term, or find any teacher in Tibet who advocates it as a philosophy.

There is, however, a rich tradition of folklore regarding venerated teachers who shock their disciples with unorthodox behavior, trying to wake them up by confounding their expectations. People like Tilopa, Milarepa, Drukpa Kunley, and the Sixth Dalai Lama fit the bill. It’s also a beloved and common motif in China and Japan – the itinerant Zen priest who piles contempt on the bureaucratic functionaries of the great temples.

It’s a charming motif, the mad fool. But I see no evidence that it was ever intended as a philosophy of practice or teaching. Most of the Tibetan sources I’ve read that deal with such an approach consist of scornful denunciations of self-described Tantrikas who use the Dharma as an excuse to indulge their appetites.

In the short history of the Dharma in the west, we have been blessed with an abundance of controversial teachers who, to all appearances, have acted unethically by pressuring students to sleep with them as part of their practice or by appropriating funds. And many of these teachers are defended as practitioners of crazy wisdom. Two of the many examples that come to mind are Chogyam Trungpa and Richard Baker.

Trungpa, who drank vodka like you and I drink water, according to his friend Shunryu Suzuki, is remembered as a sensitive, insightful teacher and a gifted writer. But he is also remembered for his raging alcoholism and controversial sexual tendencies, including reports that he led his followers in wild sex parties that got out of hand, with some students literally finding themselves stripped bare by hordes of others.

Having written a book by the name of Crazy Wisdom, Trungpa probably did more than any other figure to introduce and defend the concept to American culture. He spoke of crazy wisdom as though it were an established and mainstream tradition in Tibet, which it is not.

That may well be his most enduring legacy to western Dharma, which leads me to agree with Kenneth Rexroth, who said that ““Many believe Chögyam Trungpa has unquestionably done more harm to Buddhism in the United States than any man living.”

Richard Baker is an American Zen monk and energetic disciple of Shunryu Suzuki, the Japanese Soto Zen priest who founded of the San Francisco Zen Center. Baker was an enormously effective organizer and played a vital role at building the Zen Center into the prominent institution it is today. But he also was an egomaniac, using community funds to buy expensive vases and cars while a number of the students who worked full-time to keep the Center afloat did not even receive health care. And he slept with many of his students – a behavior that was, for whatever reasons, long tolerated and indulged, until one of his students became suicidal after his wife began sleeping with Baker. (3)

Eventually he was forced out of the institution that he helped build, but many years after that debacle he showed himself in interviews to be bizarrely heedless of the impact of his behavior. Reading an interview he gave with Tricycle magazine, I got the sense he doesn’t even understand why people were angry.

It is not so odd to me that a charismatic narcissist could set loose his unfettered appetites on a crowd of students and call it enlightenment. But it is odd to me that so many of his students didn’t seem to know how to take it.

“Perhaps it is the great teaching of Buddha,” they may have said to themselves, “when he takes the food off my plate. I should greet it with equanimity.”

***

I was inspired to write on this topic this morning after reading in the New York Times about the latest chapter in the dramatic saga of American teacher Michael Roach, founder of the Asian Classics Input Project, and formerly a geshe of the Tibetan Sera monastery, until he was kicked out.

I took one of his correspondence courses in 2000, and at the time I was put off by what I took to be his doctrinaire perspective. Many times in his lecture series, he exhorted his students to just “take the Buddha’s word for it.”

Now, I do not subscribe to that point of view. The Tibetan scholar Gendun Choephel said the following about “taking the Buddha’s word for it”:

One may think: ‘We concede that our decisions are unreliable, but when we follow the decisions of the Buddha, we are infallible.’ Then who decided that the Buddha is infallible? If you say ‘The great scholars and adepts like Nagarjuna decided that he is infallible,’ then who decided that Nagarjuna is infallible? If you say ‘The Foremost Lama [Tsong Khapa] decided it,’ then who knows that the Foremost Lama is infallible? If you say ‘Our kind and peerless lama, the excellent and great so and so decided,’ then infallibility, which depends on your excellent lama, is decided by your own mind. In fact, therefore, it is a tiger who vouches for the lion, it is a yak who vouches for a tiger, it is a dog who vouches for a yak, it is a mouse who vouches for a dog, it is an insect who vouches for a mouse. Thus, an insect is made the final voucher for them all. Therefore, when one analyzes in detail the final basis for any decision, apart from coming back to one’s own mind, nothing else whatsoever is perceived.” (4)

There is no way out of this circle. Ultimately, you are the judge of truth and falsity, and you are responsible for your judgment.

Michael Roach and Christie McNally

Michael Roach’s behavior has become increasingly strange in recent years. He was disowned by the Tibetan establishment after he began an unprecedented “celibate marriage” with his student Christie McNally several years ago, in which they were never to be more than fifteen feet away from one another.

That struck a lot of people as pretty weird. It’s the kind of distorted expression of sexuality, I think, that tends to come out of celibate clergies. I could not help but wonder why he didn’t do the obvious thing, give back his monastic vows and marry his cupcake? It seemed like a red flag to me.

The story just got a lot worse. Reports came out this week that McNally, who has since “divorced” Roach and married another fellow, was found delirious on the desert property run by Roach’s group.

McNally and her new husband Ian Thorson had continued living at Roach’s desert retreat center, but had a turbulent time of it. The two were apparently told to leave the retreat center after McNally stabbed Thorson during a fight.

Instead of complying, they headed for the hills and hid out on the land. Tragically, both fell ill while living in a cave, and were too weak to retrieve water. By the time the couple was found by a search party, Thorson was dead.

You know, in all of these cases, the warning signs were not subtle. We have charismatic personalities associated with devoted students. We have increasingly prominent evidence that something is wrong with the guy in charge, and the signs are ignored. Cognitive dissonance is explained away by the students as crazy wisdom.

So, students of the Dharma, a word of warning: if your teacher tells you that sex with him is part of the practice, something is probably wrong. When they’re driving a Rolls while the center is kept afloat by volunteer work, something is probably wrong. If you’re told to “just trust” the tradition or the guy in charge, something is probably wrong. When you start seeing widespread evidence of students considering unethical or criminal behavior, something is probably wrong.

I’m an advocate for Sane Wisdom.

And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when your teacher starts talking about crazy wisdom, the sane thing to do is get up and walk away.

 
References
1) Frankl V. The Will to Meaning. Plume. 1988. pg. 4.
2) See, for example: Newland G. The Two Truths. Snow Lion. 1992.
3) Downing M. Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center. Counterpoint. 2002.
4) From Choephel’s Ornament of Nagarjuna’s Thought, translated in: Lopez Jr, DS. The Madman’s Middle Way. The University of Chicago Press. 2006. pp. 49-50.

Written by Mesocosm

June 7, 2012 at 10:12 am

Mnemosyne, by Friedrich Hölderlin

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Castle Near the River, K. F. Schinkel

Completed around 1803, Hölderlin’s “Mnemosyne” anticipates many of the themes of Modernism by over a century. I’ve given my translation below, but as with all translations of great poems, much is lost. Hölderlin possessed an acute sensitivity to nuance, and many of his wonderful devices can’t be duplicated in English.

For example, the key line “Zweifellos / Ist aber Einer,” literally means “Undoubtedly / Though, there is one”. Zwei, the root of Zweifellos, means two, and the contrast between multiplicity and unity echoes the movement of the mind from a condition of primordial unity into the diversity of the phenomenal world, which constitutes one of the primary themes of the poem.

Also lost is the repetition of nemlich, which highlights various images in the poem in the sense of “that is” or “for example.” But it literally means “namely,” and carries the suggestion of naming or reference, enhancing the sense that objects of experience are signs or names of a sort, meaningful in themselves, and our world is saturated with an intertextual significance.

The title of the poem refers to the Greek goddess of memory, mother of the Nine Muses who inspire and exemplify the great arts of music, history, tragic poetry, astronomy, and so forth. Mnemosyne was an important figure in the mystical traditions of Orpheus, in which she stood as a counterpart to Lethe, goddess of forgetfulness. In this esoteric sense, the memory exemplified by Mnemosyne is the act of bringing forth eternal truths.

This idea is closely related to Plato’s theory of anamnesis or recollection, discussed in his dialogs Meno and Phaedo. Plato argued that our knowledge of subjects such as math and metaphysics is a kind of remembering. The soul can relate the particular objects that it perceives to universal truths, and in so doing the soul makes contact with the timeless realm of abstract relationships from which it came.

The Orphic mystics believed that the soul’s condition in life is one of forgetting its divine origins. Through mystical practice or contemplation, it is possible to recollect and reconnect with the timeless realm.

Hölderlin represents the world in an Orphic light – as a flux made sensible by the mind’s power to relate objects of experience to ideas, memories, or stories. This process is symbolically depicted as the actions of the gods. Memory serves as an image of mystical union with an object out of reach, a vanished memory or lost age.

Perhaps he had the story of Orpheus and Euridyce in mind when he wrote “…mortals almost / Reach into the abyss. Thus it turns, the echo, / With them.” Orpheus, you may recall, pursued his dead love into the underworld, and tried to bring her back into the light of day. But when he reached the mouth of Hades, he turned around to look at her, and she vanished. Perhaps with memory, in a similar fashion, the sought-after object disappears in the dark underworld when we try to grasp it.

Depending on your perspective, Hölderlin’s immortals are metaphors for workings of the mind, or vice versa. The poem is filled with images of signs and reference, but the sign and its object stand in an ambiguous relationship. The poet wavers between two reference points; either the mind knows its object, or the mind and its object are one.

Which is primary – the myth of the flower, or the narcissus that I see? The history or the land? The word or the flesh? Is there a Greece without Achilles? Is the world brought forth by mind, as Buddha taught in The Sutra of the Ten Grounds? Are we ourselves ideas in the Universal Mind?

Now the poem.
Mnemosyne

We are a sign, meaningless
We are painless and have almost
Forgotten speech in exile.
But if there is strife in heaven over mankind
And the moon travels in force, so the sea
Will speak and the rivers must
Find their way. Undoubtedly, though,
There is one, who
Can bring forth change daily. He scarcely needs
The law. And it sounds the leaves and rings the oak trees
By the glaciers. As not everything is possible for
The heavenly ones. That is, mortals almost
Reach into the abyss. Thus it turns, the echo,
With them. Time is
Long, but the truth
Will come to pass.

But what of love? We see
Sunshine on the ground and burnished dust.
And deep with the forest shadow and it blooms
Smoke from the rooftops, in the old crowns
Of towers, peaceful – the signs of day are good, that is,
If an immortal wounds
The soul in answer.
For snow, the abundant,
like flowers, stands signified where
It may, glistening off the green
Alpine meadow, half
There, speaking of crosses, the
Law is the dead at one stage
Along the way, on higher paths
A wanderer moves in wrath,
Knowing from a distance with
The other one, but what is this?

At the fig tree my
Achilles died to me,
And Ajax lies
In the grottoes of the sea,
At the brooks bordering Skamander.
Following the fixed, constant tradition of
Salamis, Ajax died of the temple’s fury
in strange lands.
Yet Patroclus in the king’s armor. And
Many others also died. At Kithairon
Lay Eleutherae, the city of Mnemosyne. There, too, when
God’s mantel was cast off, the one like night then parted
Her locks. Celestials, that is, are
Unwilling, if one had not gathered
His soul together in healing, but he must; in the same way
Suffers the mourner.

Written by Mesocosm

June 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm