We Have Always Been Gnostic:
An Essay on the Notion of Overcoming
We have always been gnostic, whether we want to believe it or not. Philosophy as such, upon which our civilization is undoubtedly based, whether by subconscious mytho-historical accretion or by the all-too-conscious over-emphatic mass psychological upheavals of the short twentieth century, has its ground, fundamental origin, and sole possible justification, in the gnostic tradition, or better, on the gnostic promise and its corresponding outlook.
The common man will stare and blink, while the self-sure followers of so-called enlightened opinion will raise a great cry of displeasure—oh! To hear such dreadful news! But worst of all, and most unforgivable by far, given the circumstances and privileged intellectual position of the group in question, the professional philosophers will smugly sneer, as if to say: “Gnosticism? A system of unjustifiable dualities… and religious ones at that? Have we not already overcome such a failure of thought?” While gladly and perhaps morbidly acquiescing to life in the madhouse, it is common courtesy (all will surely agree) that the offending message at least be conveyed at some length, if not taken entirely seriously, since that is in this day and age far too much to ask of the scholarly busy-bodies of the academy.
But you, friends, are (thankfully) not the academy; let us, then, in any case, proceed.
The worst enemy of thought is existence; the worst enemy of thinking is being. It is a case where the genus and the species are hopelessly confused: Is it thinking that is a species of being, or being a species of thinking? Or is there an infinite gulf between them, never the two to meet? No philosophical answer is really any good, since all of them turn upon conceptual definition or transformation and in no wise furnish anything that could be considered concrete.
But less us step back: Why this dichotomy? Who established it and why ought we to pay it any mind? But we do pay it mind, quite without any sophistical artifice. Our language itself is riddled with the dualism (one particularly potent form of which is mind-body), and the most common form of logical or grammatical relation (if not the most common than at least nonetheless ubiquitous) is the binary opposition, itself the basis of the dualistic mode of thought.
Dualism is the transposition of this logico-grammatical structure onto a metaphysical plane. Mind and Matter – is this opposition not our constant companion? Indeed, a great many notable philosophers have made it their lifework to criticize, and in some cases even to brutally annihilate, this our fact of experience; it is already clear that a merely philosophical (and by this I mean a merely discursive, as will become clear) solution can only come to naught against the rocks of that very same experience.
And yet, there is something dastardly, something sinister and disconcerting, in this state of affairs. Do not the two deserve to be one? Have they not earned it by their stoic resistance to every pitiable scientific and theoretical advancement that the combined might of humanity has ever wrought? Indeed, something is amiss; there ought not be two. Ought there then be one?
But a one is already a two; and thereby we have a three; by means of this can we prove any metaphysical thing at all as we like, up even to our very own favorite number (and many people are partial to their birthdays, for instance, quite a high number with year and all). Nay, best to stop it while we can and settle on a first layer so to speak. Shall we, like the Christians, offer up a 1 = 3? While this is certainly a valid formula, it is reliant on a dogma that forces its extension beyond the necessary means for statement. Let us say, with Crowley, 0 = 2. Here we have nothing less than the non-duality of duality and non-duality. Indeed a terrifying proposition, let us leave this to soak in the basin of the brain and return to our gnostics, who miss us already, I am sure.
The gnostics believed, among other things of course, that matter was imprisonment of the soul (or spirit, depending on a complex history of translation and connotation) and that only by gnosis, a spiritual/intellectual/soulful activity (though certainly not a discursive one, for which it is nowadays liable to be mistaken, even by such admirable writers on mysticism as Vladimir Lossky) that allowed for the liberation of the true self. A dualism, then, like that of the neoplatonists, except that here the dualism has a stronger sense: it is not merely mind versus matter as two planes, but mind versus matter as good versus evil. The gnostics took the logic of dualism to its true and inevitable conclusions (this same extremity is present, so claim the philosophers of the contemporary period, in each and every such dualism… in this we can only agree, and perhaps smirk if we are feeling particularly cheeky).
Becoming-spirit can be effected not otherwise than via the spirit itself, via gnosis. The material body is a restriction; the more one is determined by matter, and especially by the body, the more unfree one is. In contrast, the less bound to matter one is, the more free, the more is one identified with what one truly is, that being the spirit or soul, which is in itself nothing other than pure freedom, unfathomable in its transcendence.
Why is matter restriction? Is not the word of sin restriction (as the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat has communicated to us)? By way of cosmic anticipation, the gnostics knew this, and thus declared matter to be equivalent to sin. In this they are not far off, for matter is the regime of separation, in fact just is a metaphysical separateness, a self-splintering of being, that is, mind (knowing which we have now answered the earlier question as to the genus-species confusion).
And yet we have not entered the misty lands of Advaita, fond of which though you readers might be. The purity of the soul is such as to have no object, to have no separation, but it is not to be thereby empty or featureless, as if it were nothing at all from its own perspective; and from ours? Here is the riddle of duality and non-duality, which can be solved – though not here – by a non-philosophical concept, namely the unilateral duality of the professional philosopher Laruelle. More simply, and certainly more comprehensible, we can take a page from Henri Bergson, to suggest the updated gnostic position as that of pure virtuality, an immediate wholeness of self which cannot be sundered, and a oneness of will; is this not a far cry from the annihilation of the aspirant (in ego? In soul?), which may nonetheless be a way of describing the process by which true gnosis is achieved. But beware, for as always and ever, the description is not the thing, and in the mistaking thereof there cometh hurt.
Are we then modern-day gnostics, despite our best efforts? We, like the gnostics we spurn, are believers in dualism. And, also like the gnostics, we want to escape the determining and reductionist nature of that opposition. And we are also not convinced by mere conceptual games; no, our malaise in unassailable by means of games, save only the Cosmic Game on which many more essays could be written and yet of which nothing substantial thereby could ever be said; which, in other words, must be played.
And then there is the case of scientism: is a contrived and unconvincing monism any better? Such a thing must be a reductionism, despite the inevitable protestations of an impossibly-articulated physics, positively overflowing with positivity (in the form of an imperious positivism). The gnostics thought not to reduce, as is often alleged of them. Rather, they confronted the tension, nay even the outright contradiction, directly, in the process of which confrontation is all power given. And what followed from this blasphemous empiricism? In fact, we are in a good position to find this out, being the good (post)moderns we are, and thus constantly confronting precisely the same issue even after all this time. The only difference, and it may not apply in all cases (though we do look to the academy with scorn on this point), is hypocritical and disearnest discourse that is always at odds with the consciousness of them who speak it. Would that they speaketh not...
The means of “overcoming” our centuries-old dualism is… not to overcome it! The author is every day more convinced that academic philosophy attempts to work out spiritual dilemmas by morbidly and obstinately reliving civilizational traumas, with each repetition taking on a negligibly different emphasis; the solution to this ever-more-tortured and self-flagellating exercise has been with us for millennia. Instead of this extraordinary psychological self-harm, why don’t you sit awhile, in silence and without disturbance of any kind, of body, mind, or otherwise? Doesn’t that sound much nicer anyway? And the goal is quite the same.