Years ago my sister and I were swimming in the ocean as a storm was coming in. The waves were huge and powerful. It was nearly impossible to move from the shallows where broken waves grappled in churning knots, out further to where the waves dropped one another in permanent quarter-ton suplexes, and further still to where we wanted to be: the place where the curls formed. Out there the waves were still simple, and their univocal thrust could lift us and carry us back over the violence and set us on shore. But the closer we got to the break line, the harder it was to stand upright and advance. We would get knocked off our feet and thrown to the bottom, and tumbled back into the foamy mud, our mouths and noses full of dirt and our bellies scored by sharp little shells.
Where the water is deeper, it is more impersonal and disciplined; waves move through the ocean and the ocean feels the movement running through it. Each quart of water makes a patient circle like a rider on a ferris wheel, returning again and again to where it began.
But once the force of the wave hits resistance, everything gets personal. The water at the bottom is smashed into the sand; the water in the middle loses its balance and begins to topple; the water at the top is overthrown and falls on its face. Volumes of water compete to be the wave, to have the wave’s momentum. Every eddy strives to pull the rest of the ocean in its wake. A foaming brood of rivers coil, constrict, crush and swallow each other endlessly.
Somewhere between the complacency of the depths and the ambitions of the shallows, where the waves touch bottom with the tips of their toes, there is motion that can move us through or over the dirty spasms of everyday conflict to bring order where there are too many orders. But to get there we must wade, fight, get slammed, sliced up and set back by the very waves we hope to ride in.
When I read books on certain subjects, I find myself longing for conversation on those subjects.
And, for me, each of these subjects connects to particular people who have indentified with these subjects — but who were never able to transcend their identities out into these subjects.
Their personalities are trapped inside their identities, and these subjects are locked inside their personalities, so the conversations are everted inside-out, and became about them and me, about mine and theirs, about alienated, alienating inwardness, about incommunicable, isolating uniqueness. Conversations on subjects of study are paths out of individual subjectivity, but one must want to come out.
An oyster sooths the irritation of a grain of sand and the dread of the ocean by coating both with mother of pearl. A pearl is an everted shell; a shell is an everted pearl.
A flower invites in a grain of pollen wandering through the sky. In fact a flower exists to welcome the pollen. And when the pollen settles and fertilizes the flower, the petals fall to the earth, a seed is formed and also falls, and beneath the earth erupts into new life.
Isn’t it interesting that it is customary to give flowers and pearls as gifts? “The world in a grain of sand; heaven in a wildflower.” Shelter, comfort, love.
The mezuzah is a Jewish Janus-face, a point on the door we pass as we go out and as we come in. Hidden inside the mezuzah case is a binding priciple of inside and outside.
As we go out we remember the kind of life we want to live out.
As we come in we remember the kind of home we want to keep.
I’ve put well over 10,000 hours of focused work into discovering where and how I’ve been wrong, and for the most part, the work has been highly successful.
I had unusually vivid dreams last night. I saw two identical bristling wolves drowning two identical boys in a crystal-clear winding river. Then I was trapped under mounds of trash beneath a sprawling trailer park, and I was trying to escape but kept falling over and sinking beneath tacky lawn decorations, cheap fencing and bbq grills. I was trying to get to my car, but when I finally got there it was stripped and the engine was gone.
For stylistic reasons I am considering adopting the term “realist” instead of “transcendent”. I mean the same thing by both words, though: they both refer to being that exists independently of our minds and therefore has the capacity to shock our expectations and our logic. Only active and receptive engagement — experiment — permits us relationship with this kind of being (as opposed to relationships with our own ideas of things, which is relationship between parts of our selves).
But concepts that refer to such relationships tend to degrade into ones that lend themselves to mental reduction.
Transcendence distorts toward arbitrary magic, but realism distorts toward rule-governed matter-of-factness. Real transcendence is between the two — approximate order with unpredictable interludes of inexplicability. When it comes to this kind of subject of thought, words empty faster than they can be made up.
I’ve been writing my own thematic index of Latour’s latest magnum opus (the 4th of his career, by my count), An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence (or AIME). One of the most interesting of these themes is Transcendence.
Latour repeatedly points out a distinction between “mini-transcendences” that occur across all continuities and “maxi-transcendences” that stand unified above or behind reality, causing and unifying all things. For Latour, any unity is the hard-won result of numerous mini-transcendences, not the cause of some hidden, pre-existent, transcendent force orchestrating from another plane of being.
By making this distinction, and then expounding it by distinguishing fifteen different kinds of mini-transcendence, each with its own kind of trajectory and way of leaping (and many with their own version of maxi-transcendent, space-filling ghostly entity that usurps the role of causer and unifier), Latour is helping me sharpen and refine my own religious understanding, which sees the best ascetic denial in renunciation of big billowy grand gods, to better embrace the infinite God who approaches us in much smaller, less glamorous and more challenging ways every minute of the day.