From “Absolute Knowing,” Combined with “Emphasis,” Both by O.G. Rose

Spacetime Makes Sounding Dialectical and Balanced Really Hard

Because we can’t talk about everything at the same time, we can’t avoid sounding like we think hierarchically.

Photo by ORLANDO HENRIQUES

Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot is pretty confusing; take this section:

To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.

Water does not pour out of rays of sun, and a dry pool cannot cause a lotus to float and rise. Is Eliot drunk? No, Eliot is trying to describe an experience in “the present” being overlaid with experiences from “the past,” like layers of a painting all brushed atop and together. Frankly, Eliot’s poem all seems like nonsense unless it is understood as time gathered together, all as one. See how hard it is to make sense of something that doesn’t follow linear sequence? Because Eliot overlays time together, his work is poetry, and so we’re generally willing to forgive the difficulty. But if this was philosophy, politics, or something like that, we probably wouldn’t be so charitable. But guess what? That means we all have to talk in a linear and logical sequence, and that means we can’t avoid addressing subjects in some order, and the moment we do that, we can be accused of bias, carelessness, imbalance, and the like.

T.S. Eliot’s poem brings to mind a critique I think Hegel often faces, that he sacrifices “objectivity” for “subjectivity,” science for spiritualism, and so on. Generally, Hegel can sound like a denial of objective structure. But since we are stuck in time, we must always discuss one part of the dialectic at a time and not the other, necessarily making it seem like that discussed side is being prioritized at the expense of the other. A section from the paper “Emphasis” by O.G. Rose comes to mind:

An equal distribution of causal variables is probably rare in this life, and so (at least an appearance of) emphasis is likely necessary in many circumstances in order to “accurately represent” something, and yet in all of those circumstances, if I am making the argument, I could instantly be seen as ideological, biased, politically motivated, and the like. And even if it was the case that for a given thing or circumstance there was an equal distribution between causes, then the very nature of language itself would make it impossible for me not to come off as emphasizing something (disproportionally). I must discuss something first, and if I choose to discuss x instead of y, people could wonder why I chose to talk about x instead of y unless I thought x should be discussed first. But I had to discuss something first, and perhaps x was just as good as y in my mind, but if someone claims that I’m just saying that, how could I prove them wrong? Would it be worth the time to prove them wrong? How could I ever get anything done if all my time was spent defending the structure and order in which I spoke? And no matter who I satisfied, given the nature of language, I would fall right back into the problem next time I opened my mouth…

This is an inescapable dilemma of living in spacetime, and it’s also natural to think that “order or focus indicates priorities” (because it easily may). But it also may not: since we are in time and can’t discuss everything at once (like Eliot tries), we must discuss things within sequence (as Dante must describe sections of the Paradiso even if from the top they all appear somehow equal), and thus we can never avoid creating the impression that we think x is better than y. For, again, we must discuss things one at a time, and we can always ask “Why is the person discussing one thing and not the other? The very act/choice of doing so suggests the person must think x is more important than y, for otherwise the person would be discussing y.” And so on.

In my opinion, Hegel is basically always talking dialectically, but he (being in spacetime himself) must discuss a given dialectic in a sequence that, in the very act of expressing, makes it “seem like” he values one side of the dialectic more than the other (based on “where” we read in him). But he doesn’t. ‘Spirit is a bone,’ as Hegel famously puts it, which suggests bone is a spirit, and that means we can only find understanding by staying in the unstable and contradictory “is” between bone and spirit. Mysteriously and critically, “contradiction” (x = y) isn’t a “negation” (meaning x and y cancel one another out) if we somehow stay moving back and forth “in the equal sign”…

Teresa of Ávila would check and balance her mystical experiences with the church to assure that they “fit within” the “objective standard” of the creeds, church teaches, etc., but she did not emphasize this act in her writings. That could create the impression that she didn’t care about what the “timeless church” thought, but she certainly did: to her defense, there was already plenty of writing securing “the timeless church,” so there was no need to write another book on that topic. Understandings of mysticism are what Catholics we’re missing (in her view), and her mystical work was to “fit” within a network and concert of the entire library of church teachings.

Similarly, Hegel’s work on consciousness, Absolute Knowing (AK), etc. is to fit in an “entire network” of epistemologies, mental models, and the like, a network which includes Science. Science is critical for AK, because without The Truth (of Science), the AK cannot be itself, because the AK is generally “The Truth + The Subject.” And yet Hegel can arguably create “an impression” that Science doesn’t matter to him or that it matters “less than” The Subject. But this is simply an unavoidable impression resulting from spacetime, sequence, and focus.

Personally, I can’t include the books on epistemology, The Conflict of Mind and The Map Is Indestructible within the more ontological Reconstructing A is A, meaning I am forever vulnerable to seeming to “emphasize’ one versus the other (based on the order a person reads the texts). But this vulnerability is unavoidable if the books aren’t just to live on my laptop forever (which brings to mind my past talk with Ty Cooper), but hopefully the vulnerability proves fruitful…

Unless we’re a poet, we can’t write and speak like T.S. Eliot, and even if we did, we’d be difficult to understand. To be readily comprehendible, we must make ourselves vulnerable to seeming to emphasize and value certain things over others, even if we ourselves see value in both and seek a balance. Because of spacetime, we’re stuck “always seeming” to create hierarchies in a world that needs dialectics, but the only alternative is not to try at all. Where vulnerability is lacking, so too are we.

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