Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Notes on Materialism, Neoplatonism, and Ineffable Experience

Some thoughts currently going through my head: 

1. Does the possibility of the “supernatural” rely on individually-directed powers, as opposed to those universally-directed/generally-directed powers recognized by modern science?

2. Relatedly, what on earth is materialism? Or idealism for that matter? I definitely have deeply idealist sympathies when defined in one way, but if we take materialism to be the postulate that thought and being might not necessarily coincide, then perhaps I might be a materialist. Why? It seems to me that materialism as a privileging of difference, as against the thought of identity (identitarian thinking, identified by Adorno), enacts a kind of strawman of idealism. Badiou, for his part, has fallen into line with this definition, or more precisely a closely related one, where materialism is defined with regard to the void. In this sense, Zizek too is a materialist, even though he has nothing whatsoever to do with matter (and Badiou's mathematics is in a similar conceptual locale). On the other hand, I do hold intelligibility to be an important aspect of any philosophy, since intelligibility implies the thinkability of truth, or the philosophical proximity of truth and being. This, I think, distinguishes true philosophy from sophism, however defined.

3. The Neoplatonic doctrine of emanation is very cool. The One, as perfect, overflows itself and emits something from itself. That something then turns around and differentiates itself from the One (since the One cannot make differentiations, since it is a simple and immediate One); by this activity the something determines itself as Nous or Intellect (or some other level in other Neoplatonic philosophers). This is the level of intelligibility and forms, as well as being. The One, it can be said, is properly beyond being. Iamblichus even posits an Ineffable layer or entity beyond the One, in order to better speak of that One.
Even if one does not buy the proliferation of levels, or at least the reasons given for this proliferation, one must look upon Neoplatonism with a kind of awe. It accomplished a very delicate, if rationally incomplete, meditation on the concept of worlds or orders of being, something that was rather inchoate in the works of Plato himself.

4. Because transcendent or otherwise ineffable experiences are wholly or partially removed from sayable reality, from linguistic structure, the interpretation or imputation of them within that structure will always be a shaky affair. That mystics should agree on many points is not by any means an obvious necessity to me, and indeed I think we could interpret mystical experience in a far more wide-ranging manner than is usually done. The “similarity” of the accounts of that experience are suspect rather than straightforward corroborations of one another. It all smacks too much of extrinsic linguistic restrictions, of common ways of thinking about worldly problems imprinted from centuries or millenia of philosophical speculation on the one hand, but more important from theological (non-mystical) modes of thought, myth-making, and social cohesion.
It is not that there can be no effable measure of the ineffable. And honestly, most experiences that fall under the rubric of mysticism or the occult are not strictly ineffable like, say, the “Vision of God Face to Face”. But this goes for ordinary experience as well, I suppose: how we theorize the experience does not obviously and directly fall out of that experience itself.
This is, then, a plea for interpretive pluralism with regard to mystical, non-standard, and liminal experiences, until a more clear measure of knowledge of those happenings be found. NOTE: I do not say a clear measure of their truth is lacking, for truth and knowledge are in reality opposites, truth being a hole or exception in knowledge, a process of becoming eternal, whereby one beholds the Forms (or some other such theorization; Badiou's is rather good and clear on this matter).

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