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On Silence

I was greatly excited to find a copy of Yates' The Art of Memory while browsing for Wittgenstein at the Bloomington B&N store.  Being older now, I managed not to fall down a short staircase and break my elbow as I once did in a book store when I lunged for a book like it was a fumbled football, off balance and in vertigo over my discovery.  I had no interest in the price of this paperback.  It was now MINE.

I was looking also for Kripke's book on naming, but found instead his book on Wittgenstein: On Rules and Private Language.

So this morning I was very happy beginning to do some archaeology in the Foucault-ian sense on how John Crowley used the Yates materials in his Aegypt Cycle.  Profoundly, the concept of the imagines agentes-- or personifed,  fantastic tableaux that consist both of drama and symbol-- jumps right out as a wonderful novelistic tool.  So now I am re-reading Aegypt to see if not only do the fictional characters use this technique-- but are the characters themselves a form of this technique?  I suppose that a general or obvious way, of course they are if I insist;  but I will re-read to admire how much art may have been built into this idea that I may have missed on the first reading, not yet knowing Yates.

What I am trying to get out of Crowley's writing, beyond the story, the enrichment of the art, is an idea of how to imagine and structure a work of multiple volumes.  The Aegypt Cycle gets its structure from the research of Yates, significantly, but not of course, totally.  I am exploring options, for instance, such as a fictional journey using Wittgentein's propositions from the Tractatus as the structural glue.  Anybody is welcome to that, if they want to take it on!  There is more material out there than can be worked, and to some extent I believe the structural elements needed for fictiion may be nearly arbitrary-- merely a tree on which to hang things that must be brought to life.  And it is getting to the life part that is the real work.

That is another level that I appreciate about Crowley's fiction-- that it by itself is a work of alchemy.  By the arrangement of parts, and by the incantatory power of its text the alchemist brings forth "literary gold" from the dross, the confusion and messiness of our willy-nilly history. 

Note: the first book plate in the Yates book is titled Hermetic Silence.  Wittgenstein says we are in error if we attempt to say more than is demonstrably given. Logic is a smaller system than we would like it to be.  We confuse it with our need to explain.  Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must be silent.  Of course the trick is knowing where the line is drawn? I am wondering if Wittgenstein is thus not part of the hermetic tradition?  Do his pronouncement have the feel, if not the content, of a kind of Rosicrucianism? Does hermetic silence cover not some arcane wisdom, but instead hide the void?  Nothing to know, and thus nothing to say?

Fiction then, art?  To Wittgenstein are they just forms of wild error, unethical displays of excess, a crack cocaine for our brains, something that makes life a little more comfortable for us?  And yet if these illogical extensions of logic and fact are something we indulge in, are they then not in turn facts of our existence? But what sort of facts are they-- lesser, or imagined facts?  As humans do we exist in at least two realms-- the real and the humanly extended?  But since all that we can know is filtered by our human capacity, can we know the real at all, even though we may physically exist in it?  Don't we exist instead in a human fantasy we call reality as best we can, different perhaps for each of us?

And if reality cannot be known, then what is our task? Stop asking and look elsewhere? This is largely what we have always done.  But there is an important place for those who ask,  to keep asking.

I suppose our real task is to use  our human tools to live out our desires? 

And if we are to do so with human values, humanely, ethically, wisely,  do we not need rules, common principles of a mutually agreed reality? And if Wittgenstein's rules cannot in the end help us in our task? Don't we need novelists (like JC) whose fantasies give us structure and hope?  My circular logic is thus complete.

And yet the frustrated realist in me asks:  what can be more dangerous than a mutually-agreed-upon fantasy we call reality?  To which I immediately respond: who ever said we were safe?                       


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 30th, 2008 04:42 pm (UTC)
The Art of Memory.
Have you also read Little Big? If you haven't, you should because it adds to the picture of how the art of memory has influenced John Crowley's work. With regard to Aegypt, I think Frances Yates' book played a mayor role (of course, we will have to ask Crowley to know if this theory is correct). One of the first impressions "The Art of Memory" made upon me, was her bewilderment at the realization that there had been this vast system of memory that was taught and used throughout the centuries, until books became widely available; A system that doesn't make any sense in our world anymore, to the point that it has slipped from our awareness. The manner in which she expresses her bewilderment reminded me irremediably of the sense of wonder that arises from Aegypt's view of history. I believe Crowley went from sharing her wonder at particular historic oddities, to extrapolating it into other aspects of how the world had, or could have, been factually different in the past:"Once, the world was not as it has since become"
Nov. 30th, 2008 07:44 pm (UTC)
Re: The Art of Memory.
Yes, I agree. I have read Little, Big and have subscribed to the special edition coming out soon (I hope). I was struck by how LB existed, possibly, seamlessly, in the same novelistic realm, or world, as the Aegypt novels. And this was underscored by the characters also using the Art of Memory. Perhaps this realm is equivalent to a kind of "Middle Earth" perspective in a Crowleyian way? I would not mind reading many more novels from that same realm.
Nov. 30th, 2008 08:03 pm (UTC)
I reacting to my own post above, I want to add that I do not see my perspective as dualism. I see rather, that our most objective perspective, is still a subjectively human "objectivity." Anything we might observe, or think about is already only a humanized version of itself-- if indeed the universe can be said to consist of parts at all.

Language barriers remind me of the barriers of scale. We do not see atoms, nor do we see all galaxies. It seems that we cannot use thought as tool to comprehend the sub-constituents of thought. I think Wittgenstein suggests we cannot use language to extend logic. I would add that perhaps language cannot be described adequately with language, and even less with mathematics.

I agree with Searle, and not with Dennett. Whatever goes on in our meat brains, even though the process may seem a "black box" right now, a computer version of it that passed the Turing Test would not be "equivalent." It would have no consciousness and be nothing like our minds at all. Without the observation of our human consciousness to direct and interpret, a computer is meaningless and functionless. A machine is a fabricated idea, not a life form. If one were sophisticated enough to fool us, well, then shame on us...

Nov. 30th, 2008 09:00 pm (UTC)
And yet...
What proof do we each have, that the other's consciousness is actually originating in an organic brain?
And anyway, does our soul require a containing body in order to exist? And if not, what does the nature of that body matter. But if it does, how can it be considered independently from the biological properties of the flesh and what is it then that makes it inimitable?
Oh, I do agree with your opinion, but still, I am at a loss to answer the questions above.
Dec. 1st, 2008 03:28 am (UTC)
Re: And yet...
Having more questions than there are valid answers seems to be our human condition.

But I think that Wittgenstein has good ideas about what sort of questions ought to be asked, or ought not to be asked. The problem of correctly framing a question is the first hurdle before we even look for answers.

I wonder if it can be said of the Aegypt cycle that its structure encompasses all human endeavors and values and thus sorts them out in its own way. Structure somehow becomes a default value, an ethic, morality.
I am warming to the idea that the "wild forms" that appear in the novel are just there to make us remember the ethical points they display, echoing the Art of Memory method.

I notice that I am trotting through the ideas of thinkers in 30 minutes in my spare time, light-handedly critiquing them and their deep thoughts perhaps obtained through many years of painful contemplation of the abyss. I contradict them, myself. But as a friend once told me: "Don't take yourself too seriously, after all, no one else does!"

Nov. 30th, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
More Aegypt.
Something else about Aegypt that might be useful for your musings, even though you will not necessarily agree with, is to view it as a story of maturing. Of course, it is much more than that, but regarding it through this narrow filter gave me some insights. Obviously, one of the main strands is Pierce's process of maturation, but one can also regard the times of passing as stages in the coming of age of the world and mankind. On such occasions, the world turns into what it should properly be, an adult version of its former self. I.e, magic stops working because mankind has become reason centered and conversely mankind develops science because it is the better way of dealing with reality in the new world.
This view is in close accordance with the story of Bruno turning into a donkey in Endless Things; that couldn't work, not because people do not migrate their souls into beasts, but because in the world that came out of that time of passage the proper way to become immortal was to risk one's life for one's ideas. And in fact, if Bruno had actually escaped the stake nobody today would remember him, but as a martyr for science he will be remembered for as long as science is considered fundamental in our understanding of the universe.
Of course I'm not saying that Crowley wrote the novels with the above in mind, or that there is an intentional discourse of these ideas in them, but if even if you look closely you'll see that they do seem to fit, and that's why I concluded that they were worthwhile interpretations.
One last thing, I think that Crowley, even if he doesn't state it anywhere explicitly, has a great preoccupation with things being the way they should be, as I mentioned above in regard to the times of passage. This comes out at its clearest in Great Work of Time, with the suffering of the angel-like creatures (if my memory serves me well...)
In any case, I have often found myself thinking that Crowley's books read as if they had been written for my benefit, because, not only do I find so much in them completed that I had only formed weak notions of, but also things that reveal an uncanny level of empathy, as if we were sharing in a pool of memories. And yet I know that I am only somewhat close but definitely not equal to his ideal reader, as he described him/her on an LJ entry around the time of the publication of Endless Things.
Dec. 1st, 2008 03:44 am (UTC)
Re: More Aegypt.
I have had a similar idea that this "sense of possibility" is just reality made to seem more magical by Crowley's touch. Whether or not there is a profound cycle altering physics or not-- whether there is magic or not-- everyday change is magical enough if seen by the same lens. There seems to be always that "window of opportunity" in our regular lives, a window that cannot be revisited once it has passed.

I find Bruno's transformation to be a burlesque of Shakespeare and Apuleius. But I find Boney's inability to ascend to heaven to be utterly thrilling and convincing. I believe JC had to try his hand on making the fantastic literally, descriptively, true, no matter how out there it seemed.

What if we wrote a reality where everything Augustine said in City of God was described in a fiction as literally true? Interesting framework there.
Dec. 1st, 2008 09:09 pm (UTC)
You make me want to start rereading the Ægypt cycle, which I'm waiting for the definitive paperback edition of Endless Things to do. And to go back to the "Wittgenstein the Man, and His Second Thoughts" chapter of Toulmin and Janik's Wittgenstein's Vienna. "Anrennen gegen die Grenze der Sprache? Die Sprache ist ja kein Käfig."

Amazing that I read this today and didn't remember it was John Crowley's birthday.

If I recall correctly, a Festschrift for one of the founders of the shortlived interdisciplne of "literature and theology" was titled The Shaken Realist, which must be a quotation from something. ...Why yes, it's from Wallace Stevens' "Esthetique du Mal," Stevens being one of the sacred texts of that mid-20th-century interdiscipline. Anyway, you sound less like a "frustrated realist" than like a "shaken realist" who still hopes for "the imagination's new beginning."

And of course Wittgenstein believed that all that was humanly valuable was outside the purview of meaningful speech: "What can be shown cannot be said." "This shows itself; it is what is mystical." (I don't feel like looking up the German, whereas the quote above is an epigraph that I always quote in the German and have never looked up the translated text.)

Edited at 2008-12-01 09:10 pm (UTC)
Dec. 4th, 2008 06:01 am (UTC)
Yes, shaken is appropriate. I prefer my realists and realities "shaken not stirred"-- and I wouldn't want a "frustrated" martini either, or any kind of martini actually, since I don't drink martinis.

And now I am going to bed because obviously making sense is beyond my reach right now...

Dec. 4th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
Slept. Now I remember I wanted to remark on the German. "Running up against the borders (or limits?) of language. Language, is of course, not a cage."
I wonder if it is indeed a cage that we are just incapable of noticing from the inside? A very nice gilded cage that seems as big as we like, so why complain?

Second thought: so while it is true that we can talk ourselves out of, or into, anything, are any of our arguments sensible, factually true, or are they merely convincing?
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