What is it that any man can say about what gets said from him in the guise of others he is not aware of, or not completely in control of when he does at least have an inkling that there is another voice speaking the words he says or writes or thinks, sometimes thinking taking the form of writing, how one should phrase things in writing, we say when we are talking abut matters of diction and syntax (the latter when sentence structure is all about rhetoric).
Who speaks what to whom and when and where are all considerations for any author, or should I say writer, because, as you the reader have heard time and again in the pages of this review, just who or what the author is with relation to this or any text is also a creation of the writer, no? What I say, have to say, should say, will say, do say and have said are all of piece with respect to voice, the voice herein speaking philosophically, and in as much as all philosophy is one or another form of fiction, we can say fictively, whether narratively or in exposition. Theory cannot be anything else but fiction as fiction is has been will be stands one or another tests to tell us if we can ultimately accept the fiction as good fiction.
I am not trying to assert that the meaning of a word in use today should be ruled by its etymology; I do, though, believe that it can be and might even fruitfully be informed by the meaning it held in the language of its origin, in the time of its origin, I do have an affinity for things in illo tempore ab origine.
I also believe that language is not cut off from its source or sources, and that there remains residue of the past in its currency today. This said, I will venture a small etymological investigation to unveil some of what I understand about some words, particularly those involved in certain discussions of beauty, form and how they relate, connect, detach, reconnect in a philosophy of form and/or beauty, the latter particularly in its relationship with truth. Allow me to say that herein I will attempt an aesthetics of in/formation.
The word ‘form’ is from the Latin forma. Forma also translates ‘beauty’ in some contexts. In the Roman mind, as in the Greek, beauty was always in form. It had to be in form. Only in form could beauty exist. Therefore, form is beauty, beauty form–should this be a question. I know where you imagine this is going; I suspect anyone could, as I would have to as well, even if I were not the essayer here, the Grand Expositor, all exposition inquires, does it not. We do ask questions following questions and yet other questions in a string strung through the maze–the thing about labyrinths is that they are amazing, quite literally amazing.
So then, let me continue from where I left off before . . . if this form is beauty, beauty form, then we could say that truth–yes, that Truth we have heard Keats speak so eloquently of in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn” as well as a number of his letters–is also in form. If truth is beauty, then truth is form. If beauty truth is the result of truth is beauty, then beauty form is also inferred. Yes, without form, truth cannot take shape as idea. Truth has a shape in idea, it must seek its form.
What then does this mean for us in the maintenance of beauty, the maintenance of truth? What we say about the terror in beauty that amounts to our fear of truth? Who can live without beauty, one should ask, and I am not going to be so degraded in my aesthetics to imagine that the truth of beauty is only in the eye of the beholder. That would be like saying great wine is only judged by the taster, including all my American friends who have their tongues stuck up their asses–my Russian friends too–too many Italians as well. Don’t think that every Frenchman knows wine–the French would not have had the in use for as long as they had if this were true.
It is my responsibility to bear truth, even if to do so is to bear it as Francis bears other wounds; yes, to carry this idea . . . there is a Truth that is absolute, and It is an irony supreme that a culture so lacking in dexterity when it comes to carrying truth, bearing its pursuit to whatever term necessary, can persist in making abortion the issue it is in America, and insist that women must carry a fetus to term. We have aborted truth and jettisoned every notion of how form plays and interplays with beauty, the creation of beauty . . . I get tired having to rail against the stupid–we did not really have to in times past because we did not raise stupidity in our esteem. Perhaps we did not manage compassion as well as we should have, but in turn, we have managed to provide esteem for ignorance and stupidity where we once lacked sufficient compassion.
The link between beauty and form and beauty and truth links form to truth. To inform then becomes a kind of bearing of truth; the idea behind the act of informing is to place in/form, thus, at least residually in our traditional semantics it has something to do with maintaining beauty, what is beautiful. The aesthetics of Keats aside, whereby the pursuit of beauty is a pursuit of truth, there is too much exchange of information today, a thing a little less than beautiful, or so we could have assumed if we were awake, eyes wide opened. We are subject to much permeation from institutions wanting information about us, on us–always on top of us.
What we call information and the act of informing, what we mean when we say we want to inform, is quite separate from making or maintaining the beautiful. There is no beauty in the superstate’s obsession with information. The process of information is to put things in form, to have all things subjected to a kind of formation that resembles those in the military, whereby we find ourselves in rows and columns and other kinds of formations. We know of this from our experience with American football, not so unlike those of warfare. When the guardians of the prison told Patrick McGoohan, in the TV show, The Prisoner they wanted information, it was quite simply–they wanted him in . . . formation.
I’m not so certain today we even know what exchanging information means. Anything akin to a philosophy of beauty would be lost on us. The idea of truth is lost on us. Aesthetics has long lost its influence in the academies of learning in America, somewhere now in an intellectual graveyard with philology and metaphysics. We have given up on ever perfecting this special acumen; even if the possibility of perfecting them in our lifetime or all of our lifetimes did not exist, the pursuit was what was important. It was the realization that truth was perhaps a construct that misguided us. But it was not the transcendental truth that was a construct, but the forms that truth took or could take that were constructed, were things made. We lost our ability to speak metaphysically. We convince ourselves that metaphysics was bullshit and a power game played by men who were white and thus naturally determined to be racist oppressors.
We no longer believe in truth–of course we do not. We cannot be seriously critical of our culture and not know that doubt has become the highest wisdom, that knowledge has become impossible, that what we know is that we might never know, and not the once believed we can never know completely, but veracity and validity themselves have become the question, and not either in the Socratic, I know nothing as an emptying point whereby we can get to see what fill our cup with . . . yes, it is beyond pessimism; it is a deeply and broadly pervasive nihilism, the only escape from becomes solipsism.
But we have in turn lost our ability to build any truths rooted in an ideal Truth, or set against the ideal. Where has this left us but at the mercy of the Elite: Monied, Power, Media, whatever have we in terms to modify the Elite. We are like the character in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons who would cut down all the trees of law in the forest to get at the Devil, but when the Devil turns to face him, he is asked, what have you to hide behind, what is left to come between you and the Devil. Like ourselves wandering in a wasteland that was once the forest of truth, nothing.
I recall having read about a professor in Japan who wanted to know all he could about Zen, so he came to a Zen Master and asked the question, Can you teach me all there is to know about Zen? I would have asked a different question, but straw dogs are straw dogs . . . no? That is not what is happening here? Anyway, the professor imagined the professor was asking an intelligent question.
There was a pause, after which the Zen Master invited the professor into his home. This of course happened when the professor arrived to receive the answer to his question which the professor had sent in a letter introducing himself and making his request. The Zen Master had responded to the professor’s request to come and visit, but the Professor had imagined that he needed to ask the question again. Perhaps there are formalities in Japanese life I am not familiar with, or I have no experience with because we in America are wonderfully and horribly without formality. We are also horribly confused about matters of decorum, and raising stupidity in our esteem, in a culture where doubt is the highest wisdom, and everyone is allowed to be an expert for fifteen minutes, after which he must return to his doubt the way a dog does to his ken.
The two sat down to have tea before they were to embark on this quest for knowledge on the part of the professor. The Master began by pouring tea into the cup he set out on the table for the professor who was already seated at the table. I know you know this one–but knowledge of the story of Oedipus did not keep the Greeks out of the theaters to watch Sophocles’s Theban Trilogy . . .
The Zen Master had brewed the tea as the professor patiently waited. What the professor did not expect was what was to happen next, which was that the Master continued to pour the professor’s tea into his cup even after the tea had reached the lip of the cup and the limit of what would go in. As the Master continued to pour the tea, it spilled over the rim and onto the table and eventually the professor stood in desperation and shouted for the Master to stop, to stop pouring the tea, then adding, Can’t you see that no more will go in!
To this the Master replied calmly and succinctly, Like this cup, you too are full, full of your own opinions and preconceptions. Before I can teach you what you seek, if not what you need, to know, you must first empty your cup.
Our cup is full of doubt now and then it is full of our random thoughts (a hop-scotch with words we play while randomly passing images in the mind in one confusing montage after another) . . . received thoughts and received ideas that we then parrot back with glee.