Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Symbology as Such and On The Symbology of Man

Every expression of human spiritual life can be instinctually understood as a kind of symbol, and this understanding, in the manner of the ancient method and the method most recently discovered by our finest scientific minds, extinguishes all questions and all questioning. The symbol lies in eternal repose and so only elicits from man action insofar as his finite and temporal struggle will lead him to infinite repose, against which his worldly actions are nothing and come to nothing. As the symbol is whole and non-discursive, it is possible to talk about symbols only provisionally and with an eye to their finite dissolution into unity, but the existence of symbols is coextensive with the existence of absolutely everything and so some connotation of ancient balance lingers in all corruptible things as trace of what cannot be said or thought. There is nothing that is not a symbol of the ancient wisdom. Not only every mural, fresco, statue, painting, carving and book but also every toaster, turtle, and rock. This use of the word “symbol” is in no way metaphorical, for insofar as all things symbolize they communicate only the ebb and the flood of pre-original primordiality. That all is one is immediately intuitable at every point and in all things. The overflowing of the Eternal Feminine into the world and the return of the world to the origin is immediately present in all things and retained forever in them, subject only to the relative illusion that is the low tide of Being and which obscures balance and unity temporarily as power, materiality, masculinity, greed, interpretation and diversity. We live at the cosmic low tide and even now all things rush back into one, carried along by connotative chain toward their own identity. This is symbology as such, but within this incorruptible truth another thing is called “symbology” and manifests itself as the same drive in all stages of history, from its roots in the sages of the Orient to the alchemists of the Dark Ages to the physicists in their labs today.

As above, so below. The ancient teaching of symbology is the mirror image of that perfect and immobile symbology that is also the fountain of overflowing and return. Thus there is a superabundance of worldly symbology called the symbology of man that is the intuition of the world and the passage from worldly symbology to symbology as such. This worldly symbology consists in the cursory and expressive passing over of worldly things towards a docility that resembles the primary docility of the truth. As symbology as such takes away all questions and questioning the symbology of man gives obvious answers to unasked and unaskable questions through the superficially varied adumbration of what is already known. Every time the worldly symbologist turns his hand and eye to the disclosure of symbology in some speculative science or entertaining fiction, symbology irrupts with theory. What is theory? Toward what end this apparent entrance into the discursive field? This passage through the abyss is necessary in one sense since all things can be shown to be all things immediately and obviously, non-existent in another, for while the symbologist too must talk to his neighbor and buy his groceries he is also aware of the etymology of “theory.” The greek world for “theory” is θεωρία and does not mean theory at all but “vision” or, better, “intuition,” for it is the kind of vision that man receives when he looks at a painting of a familiar sunset or rural domestic scene. All worldly symbology is in the end the same and its appearance of superabundant variation in content and terminology hides a primary connotative identity: it is all the same in the end since it all leads to the same place. The mystical Zohar is understood side by side with marine biology, quantum mechanics, and Buddhism through the uncovering of certain core tenets of ancient wisdom. But to whom does the symbologist communicate?

Before this question can be eliminated, we must again inquire: How does the symbologist communicate himself? The answer is: badly. For the symbologist does not wish to give the impression that there lie in things any difference that makes a difference, but wishes to “communicate” the identity of all things before their origin, and so the symbologist puts in place of one term another and then switches them back and around again, each time moving from known to known through the casual association of term with term. Thus symbology communicates nothing definite in all its theoretical diversity, but in theorizing symbology the symbologist communicate nothing but the truth. That is to say, worldly symbology therefore communicates nothing but symbology itself. All symbology elicits a passage to itself that is no passage at all. Symbology is itself. Symbology is symbology.

Friday, September 18, 2009

That Obscure Object of Symbolognosis

I am told that a chasqui will be arriving swiftly across the desert later today with my anxiously awaited copy of The Lost Symbol.  In the meantime, I will take advantage of the hours before my anticipated fortnight of total absorption in Brownian thought to return to the programmatic material inscribed into two loci classici of symbological fiction, with the aim of clarifying an important matter, an apparent paradox at the core of our field that has led many seekers after truth astray.  The matter could be phrased, imperfectly but bluntly, in the following manner: what is the object of symbolognosis?  To put it more allegorically: if an immortal symbologist were to follow the chain of symbols to its end, where would he or she arrive?    
The first text under examination is the terse and pointed "The Six Ramsean Stones and the Pillars of the World," by Professor Max T. Epper of Trinity College, Dublin, interpolated into the third section of Matthew Reilly's riveting The Six Sacred Stones.  Beneath Epper's sparklingly pellucid prose lurks a series of bewilderingly elliptical and paratactic structures of thought - his writing, to quote the Inca sage Juan de Espinosa Medrano, "embozando misterios, descoge humildes las cláusulas y llano el estilo" - which it behooves us to bring out into the light of day in order to illuminate their import.  
Epper begins with "the mystery of the circles," a matter that he poses iconically rather than discursively, placing before the reader a square containing a dazzling circle enclosing numerous concentric circles, one after another, whose perfect self-contained symmetry is marred only by the presence of a dark spot of the same size as the innermost circle, hovering just outside the outermost circle.  
What is this strange, smoldering blemish?  Instead of informing us straight away, Epper shifts, as is his manner, from the synchronic to the diachronic, declaring portentously that "the end of the world [. . .] may be nearer than we think" (67).  
Again without providing further elucidation, Epper moves onto a litany of deceptively bland "scientific" facts: "our planet exists in concert with our sun and the other planets of our solar system" (67).  He himself, he tells us, had occasion to empirically verify this remarkable fact during the Tartarus Event of 2006, but he was not the first: "Certain ancient civilisations also knew about these relationships: the Maya, the Aztecs, the Egyptians, even the Neolithic peoples of Britian; all of them saw patterns in the night sky" (67).  "Patterns": meaning; a web, perhaps, of meaning. Leaving the reader to detect the pattern of his text, much like a Neolithic Briton contemplating the firmament, Epper again shifts the focus of his discussion, now from physics to metaphysics: "For life [or anything, we might add] to exist, there must be balance.  Balance implies the harmonic existence of two things, what philosophers call 'Duality'" (68, italics in text).  He adds: "But not only must there be two of everything - man, woman; heat, cold; light, darkness; good, bad - but inside the good there must be some bad, just as inside the bad, there must be some good" (68).  
Let us attempt to disentangle the threads that have so far been woven into Epper's text.  First, an unnamed, luminous structure which, when examined closely, does not possess the self-sufficiency that is initially evident, thus provoking our opening question - what can be the outside to this perfect inside?  Apparently eluding this question , we instead find it transposed from space onto time: if we exist in time and only in time, what can be the end of time?  How can there be an outside to time?  Similarly, when we contemplate the harmony of the celestial spheres and recognize, like the ancients, the symbolic patterns which permeate them, we must ask: how can this not be perfect and self-sufficient?  Which is the same as asking: how can this come to an end?  
It is here that the troubling nature of Epper's perhaps superficially reassuring metaphysical propositions comes to light: not only can there be an outside to every inside, a Yin to every Yang, there must be, in order for it to exist at all.  Even for harmony itself to exist, it must exist in harmony with disharmony.  It is only a necessary consequence of this that "[o]ur Sun's dark twin now approaches, bringing with it our destruction" (69).
But for every destruction, there must be a non-destruction.  Epper calls this non-destruction "The Machine."  The "knowledge crucial to our salvation" - that is, both the knowledge of the Sun's dark twin, and the knowledge of the non-destruction enables the very being of this destruction by balancing it out - is nothing other than the knowledge of the operation of this "Machine": tout court, the "Machine" is nothing other than that which is in the harmonious solar system beyond the harmonious solar system, the minimal difference by way of which it offers itself to us, as to the Aztecs and the Neolithic Britons, as the object of symbolognosis.
In all the writings of "the great men and women who have held pieces of this knowledge," from Laozi and his student Confucius to Rameses II and Imhotep II to Cleopatra to the great Mayan king Pakal to Isaac Newton and Jean Cocteau, "the Machine is always represented by the same image, but what the image actually means, remains elusive" (69, italics added).
Thus: we know there is something, the knowledge of which was once a common, unified field of knowledge among the ancients, but we still do not know what that something is.  Almost apophatically, we may declare that the Machine is that which enables and is the non-destruction of the world and the non-discontinuity of time.      
Is the Machine simply, or not simply, Being itself?  
Epper does not tell us.  We must look elsewhere.
In Coelho's The Alchemist, the words are different but the meaning is the same, only more obvious.  Perhaps the shepherd Santiago will lead us where we wish to go.  On his journey, this seeker of the always-already known learns that alchemy is nothing other than fluency in the "Language of the World": "that language that doesn't depend on words" (45), "the universal language, understood by everybody, but [always-]already forgotten" (72).  Fluency in this language is nothing other than knowledge of the "Soul of the World."          
Why does the meaning of the images of the Machine remain elusive?  "Because people become fascinated with pictures and words, and wind up forgetting the Language of the World" (89), Coehlo tells us.  The logos of speech is as suspect as the graphos of "drawings, coded instructions, and obscure texts: "I don't know why things have to be transmitted by word of mouth [. . .] It wasn't exactly like they were secrets; God revealed his secrets easily to all his creatures" (88-9, italics added).  How can we account for this startling coincidence of the secret and the non-secret?  How can that which is most obvious (offenbar) not disclose itself to us in "intuition: the sudden immersion of the soul in the universal current of life" (76), and instead conceal itself? 
Once, the alchemist tells us by way of a parable, "the Master Work could be written simply on an emerald.  But men began to reject simple things, and to write tracts, interpretations, and philosophical studies" (127).  But does not the primordial mistake lie in the inscription, or perhaps in the emerald itself, which begets the temptation to inscribe?  "You don't even have to understand [. . .] all you have to do is contemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation" (129).  But is not the grain of sand also an obscure text?  When the world contemplates itself, is it not already its own dark twin?      

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pyramid, Chapter Ten

"But how come the conventional version of history still prevails?" Asked Rutherford, "Why don't you tell everyone about this map?"

Doctor von Dechend looked at him laconically.

"My boy, the world renowned physicist Max Planck once said the following:" von Dechend cleared his throat in a theatrical manner, "'A new scientific truth does not thrive by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.'"

If that were true, Catherine thought, then the past was awash with forgotten truths, long erased. And equally certain, people might simply be killed off, so that the world-view of the murderers might prevail. That idea startled her, and her thoughts turned to the Professor.

"People aren't murdered for their ideas, are they?"

Chapter Fifteen of Tom Martin's Pyramid, which of course contains the famous "Discourse on Gematria", has been widely accepted as the programmatic statement of the symbological project. While not wishing to detract from the general recognition which is justly accorded to this inimitable text, I hope briefly to draw attention to the short passage quoted above, as a salutory addition to the schema which emerge from its better-known sequel.

From the point of view of a rather simple-minded progressivism, one might understand that von Dechend is adducing this Planck's widely repeated bon mot to explain that, no matter how widely a piece of new scientific knowledge is disseminated, the rate-limiting step in scientific progress is the mortality of tenured champions of established orthodoxy.

Catherine, however, understands his meaning with characteristic celerity and lucidity. The point is not that hide-bound conservatives embarrass progress; rather, it is not the obstruction of "progress" which is to be mourned, but the loss of ancient wisdom which that so-called progress effaces, like so many hieroglyphs drawn in the sand before the advancing tide. In a flash of intuition, Catherine realizes that the reality of death must imply the consistent, accretive replacement of limpid primal wisdom with elaborate, ramifying falsehood. Moreover, she immediately sees that one, probably the most important, of the driving forces in this process must be the malevolent obscurantism of people who have something invested in an alternate (i.e., the conventional) version of history to the one which emerges without mediation from the most superficial study of any primary document. She realizes, to put it concisely, that contingency is conspiracy; that to the extent that the history of ideas diverges from the wisdom of the ancients, we can detect the action of patient, invisible hand of what has been called "the entropy of mythognosis".

Thus, her apparently moronic non-sequitur, "People aren't really murdered for their ideas, are they?" is apropos. She is not questioning the blatantly apparent fact that people are daily murdered for their ideas and have been for as long as is possible to document; rather, she has grasped the fact that to refer to the "entropy" of mythognosis is to naturalize the phenomenon, whereas, in fact, it is the result of a perennial, deliberate and articulate project of dysinformation, which we might instead simply call "cacognosis".

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Folk Logocentrism, Part 2

The true symbologist does not speak of the symbol. The symbol truly speaks when it speaks its own negation.

I believe I am not alone in taking the two foregoing statements as axiomatic. But since I fear I may have alarmed some of my readers, I would like to use the remainder of this column for the purposes of an exegesis and apologia of these declarations.

"Symbology" designates an imaginary knowledge (connaisance) structured by the passage through and overcoming of a delusion of mastery, a process synchronically implicit in the nature of the knowledge itself, since the symbolic mediations in which it pretends to be invested achieve their truth in their abolition and the restoration of a reassuring self-identity. Therefore, the lures of the false itinerary in which the naïve immediacy of identity ultimately resolves itself into itself resembles nothing so much as the circle generated by the serpent swallowing its tail (the ancients were not unaware of this).

The symbologist, qua symbologist, recognizes that the symbol can never be known so long as it is apprehended discursively, that is, so long as it remains an element whose value is dependent upon and determined in relation to the network of elements in which it is at least superficially ensconced. The starting point of the symbological pilgrimage, however, lies nowhere other than the gap generated when any seeker after truth encounters the self-evident, self-identical, self-sufficiency which coquettishly inscribes itself in its own vanishing point, the symbol. The temptation, at this crucial juncture, is to ignore the symbol's invitation to join in the eternally silent indifference to which its constitutive self-cancellation gestures, and mistake its propaedeutic and tentative figuring forth of a knowledge which any substantiality on its part would negate for precisely that: the substantiality proper to an object. Few, if any, do not succumb to this temptation, but precisely for that reason the delineation of its structure serves an essential role in my attempt at a prolegomena.

Let us make no mistake: the symbol bears a relation to an object, and that object is nothing other than the signified which would seem to fix its value in a manner prior to and transcendent in relation to the system of relations on which its value seems to the uninitiated to depend. But since the object remains positioned at precisely the vanishing point where the symbol's work began, that is, outside of and prior to the series of mediations in which the symbol, even if only as a kind of decoy, necessarily takes its place, the object (or "referent") can play no positive role in the journey initiated by the symbol's appearance.

The delusion of which I spoke is therefore that generated by the symbological neophyte's capture in the logos. Qua subject of speech, the symbo-logist may inadvertently tend to insert the symbol precisely in those networks of relations its transcendence of which constituted his initiation and set him on his path. The cruel irony of this predicament, despite the innumerable repetitions to which it has been subject (Akhnaten, Judas, Teabing), appears to be lost on many otherwise well-meaning expositors in our field, who by failing to recognize an inexorability that can proceed only from the very nature of the the hermeneutic situation generated when the symbol is spoken of guarantee its further recapitulation.

In what may initially appear to be a detour, but whose relevance to our attempts to delineate the true subject of symbological knowledge I hope will become evident shortly, I would like to conclude today's discussion by looking to the neglected work of the Araucanic sage Lonko Kilapán, a fragment of which is available at: In addition to providing remarkable evidence for the Spartan origin of the Araucanic race, Kilapán contributes significantly to the present discussion.

Kilapán advances the remarkable claim that his people, unlike many ancient peoples, developed a unique strategy for avoiding what one of my colleagues has dubbed the "entropy of mythognosis": "Science and History in all the races were in the hands of the higher classes: governors, militiamen and priests who, in the course of time, mixed with the common people and together with them Science and History disappeared, as it is the case of the Mayas, the Incas, the Egyptians, etc. This could never happen in the Araucanic Race, which, having predicted such a thing, has always had three Historians who mustn't know each other."

Why mustn't the three Historians know each other? Clearly, because were their relation to one another and to the common trove of knowledge they possess to manifest itself discursively, that is, were they to gather together and engage in logos regarding the ancestral wisdom of which they are their heirs (in other words, in symbol-logy), they would ultimately occasion the degeneration of this wisdom into something resembling, perhaps, semiotics, or at least the frivolous sort of academic inquiry discussed by Tom Martin in Pyramid. Therefore, they must constitute themselves as a kind of counter-Platonic-academy, defined by: 1) absolute commitment not to engage in dialogue regarding the object of knowledge under any circumstances; 2) an equally stringent commitment to preserve the ancestral wisdom in its inert, self-identical, inarticulate state.

But how, you might ask, can knowledge be preserved and passed on (as it has been for over two millennia among the Araucans) absent some sort of preservation in and by logos? "Each one of [the Historians] ought to have a Team, consisting of all the ages, and it was from this team that the successor Historian came. As far as I am concerned, I have 25 persons, scattered from the north to the south of the country, who no one else knows, and their ages range from 6 to 72 years old. All of them have parapsychological abilities (this is required by law), excellent memory, developed judgement and sense of responsibility in the facing of each hardship. Nobody can narrate a Historical fact accurately." In other words, the Historian assembles (without them being consciously aware of it, or for that matter of each other or of him) a random collection of 25 inarticulate and otherwise undistinguished individuals of all ages who possess an extra-discursive telepathic ability to intuit the facile truisms inherited from the ancients, once again, without being aware they are doing it. Three of these ultimately, by virtue of what we might call their "radical ignorance," ultimately ascend to the rank of Historian. This honor is also fraught with dangers, as is evident in the problematic status of Kilapán himself: by announcing himself publicly as Historian, publishing a series of works detailing the true origins of the Araucans, and forming an Araucan Federation, is he not betraying the symbological already, since presumably he should know, to paraphrase Twinglebrook-Hastings, that "all [the] learning [he seeks to impart to the populace at large] is ultimately pointless in the face of the already known facile wisdom [it] possesses"?

Kilapán provides a possible way out of this Bezumovian impasse when asked: "Are there possibly any other publications or pertinent statements before the publication of your book (in 1974)?": "No, because the release to the public of a part of our History and the handing over of military secrets to the Chilean Army was decided in the Council in 1972. There are only publications of mine in newspapers and magazines, because no one can write about History, as I previously explained" (italics mine). He rather seems to skirt the question by on one hand explaining that only "a part of our History" has been revealed (as the result of a Council decision which we can only assume took place telepathically among its members), while on the other hand proclaiming so crucially that "no one can write about History," an axiom I take to be more or less synonymous with the declarations I made at the outset. The Historian states unequivocally here, it seems to me, that his own publications (qua writing and qua logos) are not History, even though the uninitiated might make the mistake of taking them for such a thing.

Thus, we may understand symbology here and elsewhere as an apophatic discourse: when the symbologist talks about the secret wisdom of the ages, we can only know that everything the symbologist seems to talk about as the true object of knowledge (the Grail, the Benben Stone, the Amakpu) is not its true object. Symbological discourse, or "logos about the symbol/History," in its uncorrupted form, is therefore an exercise that serves only to teach us to recognize its own nullity and return to the obviousnesses we have always assented to intuitively with newfound conviction - something I have referred to elsewhere as indifférance, the uniquely adequate response to what my colleague Benway has referred to as the "strong irrelevance" of the knowledge which composes our field.

Kilapán himself points us in the right direction when asked "What is the purpose of the Araucanic Federation?": "Its purpose is to make the Chileans live the way we do, adopt our Law and control the birth rate, because the overpopulation is the cause of wars worldwide." In other words, the kernel of the secret wisdom passed down from the Bringers of Light to the Spartans via Lycurgus, and later the Araucans, turns out to coincide with the goals of the United Nations as well as most mainstream NGO's.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Joseph Smith: American Symbologist

Much ink has been spilled over the meteoric career of Joseph Smith Jr., first Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This florescence of verbiage has naturally been perceived to comprise a simple emic/etic system. On the etic side, the Smith's thought has been approached according to the evolving menagerie of disciplinary inclinations which comprise the history of religions, e.g. towards the methods of political science, literary criticism, anthropological theory, etc. On the emic side, Smith's work is understood as a (or perhaps, the) event in religious history, and analyzed in the explicitly ecclesiastical registers which have developed within the academic establishment of the LDS Church.

When Antoine Lavoisier articulated his theory of combustion, the entire intellectual apparatus of phlogiston theory was resolved into a tissue of misguided falsehood overnight. Likewise, it is the present writer's contention that the (re-)discovery of rigorous symbology eradicates the distinction between these two modes, or rather, that it subsumes them both within a larger circumscription of general nonsense and sophistry.
these terms represent epiphenomenal deviations whose significance is only self-evident from the deluded perspective of the modern subject and whose essence...consists solely in this, that each is solely through the other, and what each thus is it immediately no longer is, since it is the other."

Indeed. The words of another famous Continental are
apropos here as well: Claude Lévi-Strauss remarked in his little-known and now out-of-print Autour du Vrai Symbologie, "The ubiquitous and reverberating occurrence of these very simple transformations [transformations tout simple] cannot but provoke us to listen for the insistent voice of a singler, simpler voice which speaks to us in the language of unity through the hallucination of diversity." [auth. trans.]

I enthusiastically second
However, like Lavoisier, we must first properly situate the the profusion of discourse which has arisen in the modern era in order to approach the proper object of symbology.

Therefore, the present writer intends two brief interventions here: first, to illustrate the interdigitated incoherence of etic and emic readings of
The Book of Abraham, one of Smith's mature works; second, to demonstrate that the text resolves itself, without any interpretation, as a symbological masterpiece in the absence of this intellectual agon.

The Book of Abraham
is a component of the Pearl of Great Price which Joseph Smith described as "a translation of some ancient records, which have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt". These "records" were a series of papyri Smith purchased from a travelling exhibitionist in 1835. The Book itself consists of three "fascimiles", reproductions of papyrus paintings, and a "translation" of the text of the papyri. The fascimiles are reproduced below, although they will not be treated extensively in the following analysis since it is considered that their interpretation is self-evident.

Academic Egyptologists and historians of religion have criticized the work on the grounds that no conventionally possible reading of the papyri is compatible with Joseph Smith's translation; that it is reliably datable to the Ptolemaic period, (1400 years after the death of its alleged author,); and that it is easily and obviously comparable in every particular to a well-studied genre of funerary document, to which it clearly belongs.

Mormon academics counter that the book contains themes derived from extra-biblical sources contemporary with Abraham of which Smith could not have been aware, and that the fragments of the papyri which remain are partial, and seize on differences in the surviving papyrus fragments from other, similar Egyptian documents for which no revelatory provenance is claimed.

It should be immediately obvious at this point that both schools of recrimination proceed from the same premise, i.e. that Joseph Smith set out to produce a translation, (conventionally understood,) of a document in a foreign language in addition to a referential description of some associated imagery. The only difference is that one side claims he failed through ignorance and the other that he succeeded through divine inspiration.

There is little substantiation in Smith's life or work, however, for either view. Smith never claimed to be producing the kind of translation for which his champions laud and his detractors villify him. He may have used words like "translation" and "alphabet", but his explicitly and repeatedly described method of textual production was direct intuition by means of magical objects - initially a stone in a hat, and subsequently the famous "Urim and Thummim", generally understood to consist of a breastplate with an attached pair of spectacles.

Symbology, simply stated, is the intuition of primal meanings associated with definite referents through synchronic speculation. Symbols are bound to one another by distinct and immutable associations, inherent in their remotest history, which in turn are absolutely faithful to their referents, which are single, definite and physical. Chains of symbols are unidirectional, and lead only to broad statements of primal wisdom which are entirely immanent in the symbologist; they are merely articulated by symbolosis, and their articulation is always rendered superfluous by their immanence and profundity.
All symbology is anamnesis. Symbology is therefore constitutively (and solely) productive of what I have elsewhere called "strong irrelevance", and others have termed, less flatteringly, "The Flagrant Cop-Out".

Viewed in this context, the
Book of Abraham is quite obviously a work of symbological propaedeusis.

It is symbological because, in terms both of form and content, it is exclusively constructed using elements which have already been identified as essential features of symbology, both in the précis above and elsewhere. In the interests of brevity, a few illustrations of this are offered, although many more suggest themselves.

The slippage to the referent: this is clearly embodied in 1:31.

But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of the Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hadns; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept unto this day.

The slippage to the referent is likewise clearly represented in 3:6-9, where the Lord describes the amplification of "reckonings of time" from that of the earth, which is the most ephemeral, to that of Kolob, the star closest to God, where it is tantamount to or at least asymptotically approaches eternity. It is also unmistakeable in the genealogy of Ham (it has already been shown elsewhere that the symbological emphasis on genealogy generally and royal bloodlines in particular is merely an anthropic tendency of the slippage to the referent) described in 1:21-24, which explains why the "race of Ham preserved the curse in the land".

Repetition: viz. "And it came to pass", “The god of Elkenah, and the god of Libnah, and the god of Mahmackrah, and the god of Korash, and the god of Pharoah, king of Egypt”, and the insistent repetition of “I, Abraham”, (all passim.) Smith is often crudely lambasted for his use of this core feature of symbological narrative. As Langdon says, however, "If one pentacle is good, two is better." (DVC 63).

Epistemological homogeneity: None of the knowledge imparted to Abraham is of an even remotely subversive character with respect to his prior epistemological position. This is the necessary character of symbolosis, since it refers by means of univalent relations to symbols which sufficiently represent existent (although often "lost") physical referents. This is most clearly demonstrated in the celestial vocabulary lesson he receives in 3:13:

This is Shinehah, which is the sun. And he said unto me: Olea, which is the moon. And he said unto me: Kokaubeam, which signifies stars, or all the great lights, which were in the firmament of heaven.

This is simply a list of synonyms which apparently enjoy one-to-one correspondence.

Orthognosis = transparent intuition + antiquity: Abraham is only able to interpret the above mentioned "Records of the fathers" by means of the Urim and Thummim. That is to say, he stands in exactly the same synchronic and unmediated relationship to absolutely primal knowledge as Smith does to his text. They are coeval and interchangeable qua intuitors.

The Book of Abraham
is propaedeutic, as, one might argue, are all works of symbology, because of its strong irrelevance. If we examine its content, the ostensible symbolic meat of the work, what do we find? Smith offers us a briefly novel biographical vignette about Abraham which is essentially a re-phrasing of the story of Isaac. This is followed by a description of the progression of orders of time and intelligence towards the godhead, which is clearly, as has already been pointed out, a formal demonstration of the slippage to the referent. The work then concludes with a recitation of the Hexaemeron, which is faithful to that narrated in the King James Bible except in that the deity is described in the plural - which, as has been widely pointed out, it is in the original Hebrew text. The revelations received, therefore, give the illusion of travelling down a chain of esoteric signification which simply ends in an unregenerate recapitulation of the basic cosmological data already well-known to Smith's (or any Western) audience. By this turn to strong irrelevance, Smith indicates that behind the veil of tacit antique wisdom lie the comfortable fundaments of the symbologist's original position. The Book of Moses, then, constitutes a chrestomathy of techniques for symbological orthognosis.

This observation is formally applicable to Smith's entire
ouevre, which is best interpreted as on the whole a set of heuristics for the maintenance of orthognosis. This brief reflection has left much ground un-tilled, which represents fertile soil for future research; for instance, the LDS' obsession with genealogy and the dogged insistence by Mormon ancient historians, in the face of near-universal derision and approbation, on a rigorously unreflective archaeology.

Two conclusions, however, seem to spring naturally from this limited study.

First, the protracted and acrimonious debate between LDS historians and historians of the LDS movement must be abandoned immediately by both sides in favor of a close re-reading of the
Book of Abraham at least and probably the entire corpus of LDS scripture in the light of The Da Vinci Code, The Gaudi Key, Pyramid, and possibly Kingdom, in addition to the secondary work already produced by contributors to this forum.
Second, anyone looking to better their material and spiritual lot in this world should undoubtedly throw their full financial and intellectual weight solidly behind BYU's archaeology department, and buy stock in Central American tourism companies.

Dr. Benway is a pseudonym of Convivia Cohen-Bar Shepsut, SLG. Sister Cohen-Bar Shepsut is a Visiting Reader in Applied Inorganic Symbology at the University of Tunbridge Wells (llc), and chairs the Concerned Englishwomen's Committee for the Restitution of Pharaonic Rule in the Nile Delta.

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Gedanken über Angels and Demons

Having begun with a post on Theory, I will follow up today with some applied symbology, the object of my analysis being the film "Angels and Demons," based on Dan Brown's first symbologically oriented novel. I hope in the process to initiate a conversation which will continue with the forthcoming release of Brown's "The Lost Symbol." I have focused my comments on one of the essential areas of debate in which symbology must intervene: the ostensible conflict between "Science" and "Religion" to which Brown's novel and its cinematic version direct their attention. I use inverted commas to indicate, as my colleagues will agree, that the entities designated by these terms represent epiphenomenal deviations whose significance is only self-evident from the deluded perspective of the modern subject and whose essence, to paraphrase Hegel, consists solely in this, that each is solely through the other, and what each thus is it immediately no longer is, since it is the other. Let us see, then, whether and how Ron Howard's retelling of Brown's fable takes us where we always wish to go, to the place of the always-already known:

1. In contrast with the novel, which uses parallelism and counterpoint to reinforce endlessly the dichotomy of "Science" and "Religion," the film almost entirely elides the Science half of the plot. Leonardo Vetra appears only for long enough to get killed literally minutes after the antimatter is successfully created, and is inexplicably renamed Silvano. Vittoria only refers to him as "my research partner," and the parallels between the Camerlengo/Pope and Vittoria/Leonardo relationships do not surface. There is only one brief scene at CERN, and Vittoria's use of marine biology to challenge the assumptions of modern physics is not even mentioned. The film does, however, suggest that like any good "Scientist," she would know off the top of her head, for example, the exact physical manifestations of a particular type of poison on the body of a 14-day old corpse. Vittoria's presence is almost entirely decorative, although she does help Langdon with some Latin at one point (which, since the whole narrative about her being brought up by a priest is eliminated, seems to suggest that all good "Scientists" also must know Latin). Perhaps equally significantly, there is no Maximilian Kohler - one of the implications of which is that there is no "Scientific" counterpart to the Pope, and another of which is that there is never anyone who even briefly seems to be a real Illuminatus, since even the killer who brands the Cardinals makes clear that he is only a hired hand. Remember that in the novel, "Science" and "Religion" appear to be so entirely incompatible that, for instance, it would presumably be unimaginable for a Catholic University like Notre Dame to have a Chemistry Department or Medical School (for example, Kohler's beef against "Religion" is that his Catholic parents refused to give him medicine for polio when he was a child because they thought it would be blasphemous to intervene artificially in the course of events and not simply let God's will be done). The film is not even close to this emphatic.

2. I had wondered how Hollywood would deal with the stunning Orientalism of the portrayal of the Hassassin (which, alas, wouldn't have even been a problem back in the '80's or even '90's, and certainly would have been fun to see translated into the cinematic idiom). The answer is: by eliminating it entirely. The killer is instead a slightly geeky nondescript European who seems to bear no particular grudge against the Catholics, is even somewhat apologetic towards the Cardinals, and deliberately refrains from killing Langdon and Vittoria because "they didn't instruct me to kill you." Since none of the "Scientists" are portrayed as having any particular antipathy towards the Church nor seem to have any reason to, the effect of also depriving the plot of the bloodthirsty, prurient, and lascivious Arab desperate to avenge himself for the Crusades is rather startling: the Catholic Church, it turns out, seems not to have any actual enemies. In the novel, even though the killings and antimatter theft turn out to have been orchestrated by the insane and power-hungry Camerlengo in order to avenge himself on the Pope for his betrayals of "Religion" to "Science" and at the same time ensure his own elevation to the Papacy, there are a number of other plausible culprits who have their own detailed reasons to attack "Religion." Thus, Langdon's, and everyone else's, belief that the Illuminati are probably behind the nefarious plot is at least reasonable in relation to the range of possibilities created by the fictional world (although the novel's insistence on the reality of the Illuminati mentality - that is, that most "Scientists" do bear violent grudges against the Catholic Church - if not on the continued existence of the actual secret society does leave the question of why the "Illuminati" have not yet acted in the way that the novel wants us to think they are acting for most of the plot. The same problem turns up in DVC: if the Catholic Church is actually terrified of the truth about Mary Magdalene being revealed, why has it not orchestrated the assassinations of Saunière and other Priory of Sion members, instead leaving the job to be carried out by the, once again, insane and power-hungry Teabing?). What is strange in the film is that, even as potential motives behind an intricate ritualistic terrorist strike against the Vatican barely surface other than in Langdon's sporadic mini-lectures about the 17th century persecution of the Illuminati, Langdon and the other characters never for a moment seem to question who is behind the attacks (again, unlike the book, where his level of initial scepticism is absurd in relation to the objective overabundance of candidates for Illuminati membership, viz. Kohler and the entire CERN crowd minus the Vetras).

3. Since the film effectively removes all potential sources of conflict outside the Church by never putting forward any potential Illuminati and eliminating the Hassassin character, the Vatican hierarchy itself turns out to be the only possible origin (which, of course, turns out to be the case in the book as well, but not for lack of outside candidates). What is odd, though, is that the only final explanation given for the main events of the film relies on a completely incomprehensible reversal. At the beginning, when Langdon first arrives at the Vatican, we are told that the recently deceased Pope was a "progressive," and his protegé, the Camerlengo, seems to fit that bill as well, speaking openly, for instance, of his remorse about the Church's treatment of Galileo and other Illuminati, making frequent remarks about the need for the Church to be more open, democratic, receptive to the people, etc, and giving Langdon access to the Vatican archives despite the latter's avowed agnosticism. Also on the "progressive" side seems to be Olivetti, the chief of the Vatican police. On the other, reactionary, side are the Swiss Guard, stoical, fanatical, and hostile towards Langdon, and the fuddy-duddy Cardinals, especially Cardinal Strauss, who mindlessly refuses to postpone the sealing of conclave and then to evacuate the Vatican despite the antimatter bomb threat, making what seem to be the unreasonable claims of mindless, irrational faith ("the Lord will protect us," "we must all be taken up by the Lord sooner or later," etc.) Except, well . . . . In the end, it turns out that it is the Camerlengo who is the insane reactionary, who killed the Pope, his beloved mentor, because the latter had approved of the Vetras' "God particle" experiments with antimatter (although, since the film has made clear that the Camerlengo is a "progressive" in favor of reconciling "Science" and "Religion" it is not clear why this would upset him), and then orchestrated the Illuminati plot in order to put on spectacular display the triumph of "Religion" over "Science" (the novel, of course, provides a second and more elaborate motivation which, although absurd, might at least explain why someone would be demented enough to go through with such an elaborate procedure: it turns out that the Camerlengo has found out that he was a test tube baby created by the Pope and a nun he was in love with, thus making his origin, from his own perspective, a kind of grotesque parody of the Virgin Birth and turning him into a sign of the Pope's blasphemous acceptance of "Science" and betrayal of "Religion" - none of this is in the movie, which makes the Camerlengo's megalomania completely inexplicable in the terms of the film, which as I said previously portrayed him as the voice of reason within the otherwise stuffy and reactionary milieu of the Church. Meanwhile, in the final scenes, Cardinal Strauss, Richter, the head of the Swiss Guards, and the rest of the traditional Vatican establishment, turn out to be conciliatory, reasonable, etc, and in no way opposed to "Science." In fact, the mainstream candidate for the Papacy, Cardinal Baggia, after being rescued by Langdon from death by water, takes the name "Luke" (get it? Luke was a physician . . . and a Christian!) when he is crowned Pope, as a "powerful symbol" of reconciliation.

4. The impact of these developments deserves some emphasis, as I think it can be understood as an interesting variation on the cop-out. Because, if you follow the implications of points 1, 2, and 3, the ostensible conflict between "Science" and "Religion" which is the occasion for the entire plot, turns out not to exist, except in the minds of a few of the characters - primarily, the Camerlengo and Langdon, who, it should be added, seem in the end to have been the only people who know or care about the Illuminati at all. Once again, then, the symbologist turns out to be more part of the problem than the solution, and the villain is merely a deranged symbologist bent on removing symbological knowledge from the safe, speculative realm of the academy and using it for the purpose of egotistical self-advancement (cf. Teabing, Bezumov, Herzog, Álvaro, etc). So in other words, the reconciliation of "Science" and "Religion" is not implicit in the teachings of a harmonious proto-civilization, but is actually always- already immanent in the world as we know it today. So once the film is over, the deranged Camerlengo done away with, and Langdon safely back at Harvard, we can simply forget about the whole thing and get back to the facile wisdom, which is so facile, in this case, that it does not even need to be articulated by a wise Copt or female descendant of Mary Magdalene. The film, then, I would argue, is a more consummately and rigorously symbological narrative than the book, because the book ends with the sources of conflict (fanatical Catholics of whom the Camerlengo is only the most extreme instance, fanatical Scientists, of whom Kohler is only one of many working at CERN, fanatical, sadistic, disgusting Arabs like the Hassassin, who are presumably the entire population of the Middle East) still out there, ready to disrupt our received knowledge and oblige Langdon to apply his symbological analysis to real-world problems.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Folk Logocentrism, Part 1

Attempting to offer the kind of historical and theoretical overview of the subject to which this blog is dedicated represents a unique and perhaps unsurpassable challenge in the case of the symbology.  Since symbology is, to adopt the felicitous phrase of Tom Martin, “older than its origin,” the kind of chronological survey that it would be possible to perform for most other important schools of thought encounters immediate difficulties in this instance. 

In light of the extraordinary persistence and pervasiveness of the modes of analysis we are investigating here, some commentators have gone so far as to identify symbology as nothing less than a transhistorical structure prior to and constitutive of the interpretive practices we generally associate with, for example, mythology, theology, art history, and the history of ideas.  In what is undoubtedly the most audacious formulation of this sort, Geoffrey Galt Harpham has gone so far as to declare symbology “the thoughtful component of thought” (see The Symbological Imperative in Culture and Criticism [Amsterdam: Institute for Global Esoteric Studies, 2006]).  In Harpham’s view, given the unparalleled prevalence of symbological presuppositions and methodologies in an astounding variety of supposedly independent cultural spheres and across a swath of historical epochs whose most representative symbologists evidently exercised no direct influence on one another, it behooves us to identify the type of thinking we tend to regard erroneously as one option among many in the contemporary marketplace of ideas as nothing less than the “deep structure” of thought as such.  “As we attempt to define ‘symbology,’” Harpham reflects, “we would obtain a more thorough sense of its broad shape and contours by attending to the deviations from it that mark its outer limits, deviations which I am confident we will ultimately come to view as ephemeral ripples on the surface of the ocean of human thought.”    

I would like to attempt to respond to Harpham’s injunction, albeit by posing what may appear to be a different question: Why symbology?  Why now?  The first answer is that the unprecedented prominence symbological thought and analysis has come to enjoy in the wake of the controversies provoked by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code has also generated the need for certain clarifications, since Brown largely avoids engaging in any systematic delineation of the field of study inhabited by his alter ego Robert Langdon.  But the problem is compounded if, like the bloggers associated with What is Symbology?, we do not regard Brown’s representation as particularly representative of symbological practice.  If the novelist has done symbologists a service by bringing their work to the attention of the wider public as no previous author had done, he has also disseminated a model of their work that many of them find highly problematic.  In particular, by giving the imaginary Langdon a post at Harvard, Brown simply elides what is undoubtedly a question absolutely central to the epistemological debates current in symbological circles: is the kind of knowledge sought by symbologists at all commensurate with the kinds of knowledge whose pursuit is authorized by academic institutions?  In short, is symbology, at least in relation to the fields of knowledge production that take place within the contemporary academy and its sanctioned disciplines, intrinsically and constitutively non- or even anti-academic?  Or does it aspire to displace and substitute itself for the academic disciplines which it is thought to resemble superficially?  These are open questions, and we hope to bring them to the attention of a public which, due to Brown’s unfortunate misrepresentations, may have been unaware of their centrality and urgency. 

A second, and closely related, answer to the question posed above emerges out of a larger discussion concerning what is widely agreed to be a “crisis in the humanities,” by which those who talk of such things generally mean the academic disciplines of literature, art history, history, philosophy, and a few smaller related subjects.  Pursuing the most radical implications of Harpham’s argument that “the deviations from it that mark [thought]’s outer limits” will ultimately come to be viewed as “ephemeral ripples on the surface of the ocean of human thought,” it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the time of the “crisis of the humanities” cannot be anything other than the time of symbology.  That is, to follow Harpham’s metaphor, the time of the calming of the ocean of human thought, and the flattening out of the ripples on its surface.  If we think of the disturbances brought about by the dangerous and perverse trends that have briefly established themselves as academic orthodoxy in the modern research university as mere ripples, and fix our eyes on the depths, where, if we have the requisite boldness to take a deep breath and proceed to the solid ground beneath, we will find Lao Tzu, Plato, Manco Cápac, Hermes Trismegistus, long buried but unaltered in their adherence to truth, waiting to impart the knowledge which they have never ceased to offer to minds adventurous enough to seek it out in such an unlikely and distant place….

What is Symbology? will attempt to track major themes in the development of symbology from its inception (if such a term is meaningful here) to the present day.  While it is characterized by certain shared core epistemological and ontological concerns, symbology exhibits a diversity among its proponents that both contributes to its richness and poses substantial barriers to understanding its significance.  When pursuing the diverse elements that comprise symbological research, it is important not to lose sight of the shared set of assumptions, procedures, and goals that underlie all rigorously symbological thought.  To that end, I would like to conclude with the astute observations of an unlikely scholar of symbological thought and practice, the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, whose gnarled and nihilistic theoretical work has had an influence on the modern “humanities” which, although pernicious in the short term, may have helpfully precipitated a decline which was in any case inevitable given the emptiness of the premises from which “humanistic” inquiry has proceeded since its institutionalization at the outset of the modern period.   

“Up to the end of the sixteenth century, resemblance played a constructive role in the knowledge of Western [sic] culture,” Foucault accurately declares in the second chapter of his study The Order of Things (1966).  “It was resemblance that largely guided exegesis and the interpretation of texts; it was resemblance that organized the play of symbols, made possible knowledge of things visible and invisible, and controlled the art of representing them.  The universe was folded in upon itself: the earth echoing the sky, faces seeing themselves reflected in the stars, and plants holding within their stems the secrets that were of use to man.  Painting imitated space, and representation was posited as a form of repetition: the theatre of life or the mirror of nature, that was the claim made by all language, its manner of declaring its existence and of formulating its right of speech.”  He proceeds to ask “What form constitutes a sign and endows it with its particular value as a sign?” and responds, remarkably given the diametrically opposed premises of his own methodology: “Resemblance does.  It signifies exactly in so far as it resembles what it is indicating (that is, a similitude).  But what indicates it is not the homology; for its distinct existence as a signature would then be indistinguishable from the face of which it is the sign; it is another resemblance, an adjacent similitude, one of another type which enables us to recognize the first, and which is revealed in turn by a third.  Every resemblance reveals a similitude, but this signature is no more than an intermediate form of the same resemblance . . . The signature and what it denotes are of exactly the same nature; it is merely that they obey a different law of distribution; the pattern from which they are cut is the same.”   

As Foucault so eloquently declares, “To search for a meaning is to bring to light a resemblance.” 

But while Foucault believed himself to be composing a belated epitaph for a “moment in time [when] resemblance was about to relinquish its relation with knowledge and disappear, in part at least, from the sphere of cognition,” we are confident that the utter exhaustion of the perverse dogmas of différance coincides with the reemergence of resemblance as the guiding structure of our thought and that the cataclysmic shifts Foucault believed himself to be describing will leave no traces in the fossil record. 

Vive l’indifférance!  To the referents themselves!