Monthly Archives: February 2009

Like madmen

‘He will laugh at the trials of the innocent.’ Silence of God. The noises here below imitate this silence. They mean nothing.
   It is when from the innermost depths of our being we need a sound which does mean something — when we cry out for an answer and it is not given us — it is then that we touch the silence of God.
   As a rule our imagination puts words into the sounds in the same way as we idly play at making out shapes in wreaths of smoke; but when we are too exhausted, when we no longer have the courage to play, then we must have real words. We cry out for them. The cry tears our very entrails. All we get is silence.
   After having gone through that, some begin to talk to themselves like madmen. Whatever they may do afterwards, we must have nothing but pity for them. The others, and they are not numerous, give their whole heart to silence.

— Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (trans. E. Craufurd)


[God is limitless], and that which is limitless cannot by its nature be understood. And so every desire for the beautiful which draws us on this ascent is intensified by the soul’s very progress towards it. And this is the real meaning of seeing God: never to have this desire satisfied. But fixing our eyes on those things which help us to see, we must ever keep alive in us the desire to see more and more. And so no limit can be set to our progress towards God: first of all, because no limitation can be put upon the beautiful, and secondly because the increase in our desire for the beautiful cannot be stopped by any sense of satisfaction.

— Gregory of Nyssa


The more [the soul] approaches the vision [of God], so much the more does it see that the divine nature is invisible. It thus leaves all surface appearances, not only those that can be grasped by the senses but also those that the mind itself seems to see, and it keeps on going deeper until by the operation of the spirit it penetrates the invisible and incomprehensible, and it is here that it sees God. The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.

— Gregory of Nyssa

The unnameable

‘The beyond-being’ does not refer to a some-thing, since it does not posit any-thing, nor does it ‘speak its name’. It merely indicates that it is ‘not that’. No attempt is made to circumscribe it. It would be absurd to circumscribe that immense nature. To wish to do so is to cut oneself off from its slightest trace.


We find ourselves in an aporia, in agony over how to speak. We speak about the unsayable; wishing to signify it as best we can, we name it.


The name ‘the one’ is merely a denial of multiplicity. We speak it so that we can begin our search with that which signifies the most simple, ending with the apophasis of even that.


Then there can be no ‘thus’. It would be a delimitation and a some-thing. One who sees, knows that it is possible to assert neither a thus nor a not-thus. How can you say that it is a being among beings, something to which a thus can be applied? It is other than all things that are ‘thus’. But seeing the unlimited you will say that all things are below it, affirming that it is none of them, but, if you will, a power of absolute ontological self-mastery. It is that which it wills to be; or rather, the being that it wills to be it projects out into beings.

— Plotinus (quoted in Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying)


The belief that a man can be saved outside the visible Church requires that all the elements of faith should be pondered afresh, under pain of complete incoherence. For the entire edifice is built around the contrary affirmation, which scarcely anybody today would venture to support.
   No one has yet wanted to recognise the need for such a revision. One gets out of the difficulty by having recourse to miserable expedients. The cracks are plastered over with ersatz cement, shocking mistakes in logic.
   Unless the Church recognises this need soon, it is to be feared that it will not be able to accomplish its mission.
   There is no salvation without a ‘new birth’, without an inward illumination, without the presence of Christ and of the Holy Spirit in the soul. If, therefore, salvation is possible outside the Church, individual or collective revelations are also possible outside Christianity. In that case, true faith constitutes a very different form of adhesion from that which consists in believing such-and-such an opinion. The whole notion of faith then needs to be thought out anew.


The dogmas of the faith are not things to be affirmed. They are things to be regarded from a certain distance, with attention, respect and love. They are like the bronze serpent whose virtue is such that whoever looks upon it shall live. This attentive and loving gaze, by a shock on the rebound, causes a source of light to flash in the soul which illuminates all aspects of human life on this earth. Dogmas lose this virtue as soon as they are affirmed.
   The propositions ‘Jesus Christ is God’ or ‘The consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ’, enunciated as facts, have strictly speaking no meaning whatever.
   The value of these proposition is totally different from the truth contained in the correct enunciation of a fact (for example: Salazar is head of the Portuguese Government) or of a geometrical theorem.
   This value does not strictly speaking belong to the order of truth, but to a higher order; for it is a value impossible for the intelligence to grasp, except indirectly, though the effects produced. And truth, in the strict sense, belongs to the domain of the intelligence.

— Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest (trans. A.F. Wills)

An ultimate liberation

It is no disproof of one’s presentiment of an ultimate liberation if the next day one’s imprisonment continues unchanged, or is even made straiter, or if it is even expressly stated that it will never end. All this can rather be the necessary preliminary to an ultimate liberation.

— Kafka, Diaries (trans. M. Greenberg)

The devils

The invention of the devil. If we are possessed by the devil, it cannot be by one, for then we should live, at least here on earth, quietly, as with God, in unity, without contradiction, without reflection, always sure of the man behind us. His face would not frighten us, for as diabolical beings we would, if somewhat sensitive to the sight, be clever enough to prefer to sacrifice a hand in order to keep his face covered with it. If we were possessed by only a single devil, one who had a calm, untroubled view of our whole nature, and freedom to dispose of us at any moment, then that devil would also have enough power to hold us for the length of a human life high above the spirit of God in us, and even to swing us to and fro, so that we should never get to see a glimmer of it and therefore should not be troubled from that quarter. Only a crowd of devils could account for our earthly misfortunes. Why don’t they exterminate one another until only a single one is left, or why don’t they subordinate themselves to one great devil? Either way would be in accord with the diabolical principle of deceiving us as completely as possible. With unity lacking, of what use is the scrupulous attention all the devils pay us? It simply goes without saying that the falling of a human hair must matter more to the devil than to God, since the devil really loses that hair and God does not. But we still do not arrive at any state of well-being so long as the many devils are within us.

— Kafka, Diaries (trans. J. Kresch)

Abandoned bare on the heart’s mountains

Abandoned bare on the heart’s mountains. Look, how small there,
look: the last little village of words, and higher,
but also how small, a last
homestead of feeling. Familiar to you?
Abandoned bare on the heart’s mountains. Rock base
under your hands. True, something blossoms
here; from silent erosion
an unknowing herb breaks into blossom, singing.
But the knowing man? He who began to know
and is silent now, abandoned bare on the heart’s mountains.
True, with awareness intact many a creature
moves about, many a mountain animal lives secure,
changes and stays. And the great bird at home here
circles the pure negation of peaks. — But
homeless here on the heart’s mountains…

— Rilke (trans. M. Hamburger)


Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.



If a disorganized education having only that minimum coherence indispensable for the merest uncertain existence is suddenly challenged to a task limited in time, therefore necessarily arduous, to self-development, to articulate speech, then the response can only be a bitterness in which are mingled arrogance over achievements which could be attained only by calling upon all one’s untrained powers, a last glance at the knowledge that escapes in surprise and that is so very fluctuating because it was suspected rather than certain, and, finally, hate and admiration for the environment.

— Kafka, Diaries (trans. J. Kresch)


Among swordmasters, on the basis of their own and their pupils’ experience, it is taken as proved that the beginner, however strong and pugnacious he is, and however courageous and fearless he may be at the outset, loses not only his lack of self-consciousness, but his self-confidence, as soon as he starts taking these lessons. He gets to know all the technical possibilities by which his life may be endangered in combat, and although he soon becomes capable of straining his attention to the utmost, of keeping a sharp watch on his opponent, of parrying his thrusts correctly and making effective lunges, he is really worse off than before, when, half in jest and half in earnest, he struck about him at random under the inspiration of the moment and as the joy of battle suggested. He is now forced to admit that he is at the mercy of everyone who is stronger, more nimble and more practised than he. He sees no other way open to him except ceaseless practice, and his instructor too has no other advice to give him for the present. So the beginner stakes everything on surpassing the others and even himself. He acquires a brilliant technique, which gives him back some of his lost self-confidence, and thinks he is drawing nearer and nearer to the desired goal. The instructor, however, thinks differently — and rightly so, since all the skill of the beginner only leads to his ‘heart being snatched away by the sword’.

— Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery (trans. R.F.C. Hull)


‘If it weren’t for the fact that you’d think I was completely drunk, gentlemen, I’d take an oath on the truth of what I’m saying about the effect his words have had on me — an effect they still have now. Whenever I listen to him, my frenzy is greater than that of the Corybantes. My heart pounds and tears flood out when he speaks, and I see that many other people are affected in the same way. I’ve heard Pericles and other good orators, and I thought they spoke well. But they haven’t produced this kind of effect on me; they haven’t disturbed my whole personality and made me dissatisfied with the slavish quality of my life. But this [man] here has often had this effect on me, and made me think that the life I’m leading isn’t worth living. You can’t say this isn’t true Socrates. Even now I’m well aware that if I allowed myself to listen to him I couldn’t resist but would have the same experience again. He makes me admit that, in spite of my great defects, I neglect myself and instead get involved in Athenian politics. So I force myself to block my ears and go away, like someone escaping from the Sirens, to prevent myself sitting there beside him until I grow old.
   ‘He’s the only person in whose company I’ve had an experience you might think me incapable of — feeling shame with someone; I only feel shame in his company. I’m well aware that I can’t argue against him and that I should do what he tells me; but when I leave him, I’m carried away by the people’s admiration. So I act like a runaway slave and escape from him; and whenever I see him, I’m ashamed because of what he’s made me agree to. Often I’ve felt I’d be glad to see him removed from the human race, but if this did happen, I know well I’d be much more upset. I just don’t know how to deal with this person.’

— Plato, The Symposium (trans. C. Gill)

The Master reads philosophy

The Master must have felt what was going on in my mind. He had, so Mr Komachiya told me later, tried to work through a Japanese introduction to philosophy in order to find out how he could help me from a side I already knew. But in the end he had laid down the book with a cross face, remarking that he could now understand that a person who interested himself in such things would naturally find the art of archery uncommonly difficult.

— Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery (trans. R.F.C. Hull)