Sunday, January 10, 2016

Notes on the Ineffable & Its Relation to Philosophy

The various esoteric traditions provide a jumping-off point, particularly in the bizarre combinations of symbolism and intuited systems of relation between those symbols, for theorizations of form and formlessness. The “ineffable” is of course a central category of mystical and magickal philosophies, but to remain, willfully or not, on the experiential level is to miss a prime opportunity to theorize the relation between form and formlessness (or non-relation as the case may be). However, every occurrence of formlessness is simultaneously experiential and “abstract” or theoretical. A study of form and formlessness must therefore incorporate the insights of its experience.

One cannot fail to be struck by Austin Osman Spare's use of sigils as a way to escape language. This then would be a further possibility of escape beyond Lacan's proposals of mathematics and punning. A sigil is emptied of content, becomes pure form to consciousness. But then its content is only occulted in some manner, manifesting of course as the wish if the casting is successful. While the implications of this line of thought remain cloudy to me at this point, the promise of a formal ontology informed by speculative experience is tantalizing.

Another obvious point of contact is non-duality, advaita. The non-dual is the ineffable, since language is partition, splitting, duality. The experience of non-duality, however, is said to transcend both language and rationality. I do find it interesting, however, to contrast non-duality and Oneness. If reality has a more interesting and complex structure than simply duality (say, complex differentiations of various types), non-duality could relate to some of those differentiations but not others. For example, non-dual states of consciousness could still apprehend triadic differences. Of course non-duality is supposed to include all differentiations, but the word choice is suggestive of new possibilities of thinking speculative consciousness.

Many writers are unclear, however, as to whether the ineffable (taken as an esoteric category) is unthinkable, unrationalizable, unspeakable, or whatever else. Certainly, since language is not in essence reason (and the problems encountered in formal languages as they relate to natural languages are here instructive), there may be things unspeakable in some sense which are yet thinkable in another, most likely highly speculative, sense. It seems obvious to me at least that speculative reason and speculative imagination can apprehend things not communicable, or at least beyond the current system of linguistic or even more broadly communicative possibility. This is to suggest a dialectic (of a sort) between the ineffable and the thought of the ineffable.

There is also the related question of the relativity or absoluteness of the ineffable. Is there an absolutely ineffable reality, experience, or entity? Or, as seems intuitive to me, is the ineffable always such in relation to some system of putting-into-words or putting-into-thought, or perhaps better, of en-forming? The question of all religion, and of the occult philosophy, seems to me a question of the relation between the formless, form, and the proper method of en-forming.

There is a great intellectual conservatism within the esoteric community. This primarily manifests as a baulking at the crucial philosophical moment of en-forming. Either the ineffable shall forever remain ineffable, or it will be en-formed in an ill-fitting form, within an ill-fitting philosophical structure.

Note that this is not the problem of explaining or somehow putting experiences into words, as if qualia could actually be contained in words and summoned to the surface in all their intensity through cognition. While this is certainly possible in certain states of consciousness, it is a separate question than the one being posed here.

Here, the issue is the structuring of experiences into a system. I claim that experiences can be theorized, and furthermore that theory can be experienced. There is not so great a gulf between the two as has often been supposed, especially within the esoteric community. Theory and experience are both thought. And lest one think that this a “mere” thought, it is worth pondering the meaning of Parmenides when he says that “thinking and being are the same thing”.

Is it, then, a kind of Marxist thesis, in which structure and history (or in Badiouian terms, being and event) are at odds, history providing a moment of disruption of the structure, which it then reorganizes. The result is a new structure, transformed by the moment of history. This new structure has, in turn, its own possibility of history or breakdown. The question is: How are these various ineffable moments related to one another as regards the question of absoluteness or relativity?

Obviously, within the system these extra-systemic moments are ineffable. Hence from within the system they all appear, perhaps, as the same thing, a kind of undifferentiated ineffability. The system follows the principle of the identity of indiscernibles, or at least appears to follow it in the case of mysticism. Whether this is warranted is difficult to say, but perhaps it would be a matter of (speculative) decision whether there is a oneness to ineffability or whether it is multitudinous. This undoubtedly corresponds to various esoteric doctrines.

There will always be ineffability, or formlessness, so far as I can see. No system is complete, no structure lacking the moment of history. Although perhaps certain religious or esoteric beliefs can be interpreted as positing God's system, which of course cannot have history in the above way. Nothing can be ineffable to God, and this is perhaps also another take on the justification of all actuality. On the other hand, certain esoteric currents coincide with left-wing politics in that the justification lies not in structure but in history, not in actuality but in the ruthless criticism of everything existing transposed to the spiritual, ideological, political, or whatever level.

As Mao said, “It is right to rebel”.

These considerations in some sense lead me to conclude that, perhaps, Badiou's four truth-procedures need to be complemented by a fifth, that of religion/mysticism/esotericism, various manifestations of which could be related to Badiou's subjective forms.

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