[percy-l] Re:Seminal events of consciousness

Parlin, Steven PARLINS at culver.org
Tue Dec 17 19:39:02 EST 2002

 -----Original Message-----
From: 	James Piat [mailto:piat1 at bellsouth.net] 
Sent:	Tuesday, December 17, 2002 1:37 PM
To:	percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject:	Re: [percy-l] Re:Seminal events of consciousness

Dear Steve,

You wrote:

> You said "Granted the world may exist apart from our collective
> consciousness of it (indeed I believe probably does) but I don't think we
> can prove this and at a minimum I think there is an enormous difference
> between our unconscious experiences of events and our conscious experience
> of them."
> Yes. This is precisely my point. However, I think we can still demonstrate
> the nature of the thing. Take the following analogy: Light that is emitted
> from a source can't be used to illuminate the source of the light. In the
> same way, the words that we use can't be used to "illuminate" the "source"
> of the words. The source exists independently of the words and furthermore
> defies our attempts to render it in form.

I take the notion that things have a source or cause (or causes as Aristotle
I think put the matter) to be a theory or perhaps an assumption.    I do not
take it to be an established fact.  Also, seems to me that a light source
can be used to illuminate it source.  In fact I'd say light is the very best
example of something that is self evident.  But I think I may be using some
key words (source, cause, etc) somewhat differently than you.  Seems that
when we or anyone else tries to communicate about things ultimate we quickly
run up agains the limitations of language  -- all of which makes me wonder
if perhaps the notion of the ultimate may be one of those mistaken (albeit
very popular) theories of how the world is.

 Again, I think poetry is the
> finest example of this. Poets, even the good ones, or perhaps especially
> good ones, know that they are ultimately powerless to name. They know that
> the things most in need of naming can't be rendered in form. That is the
> tragic condition of the Poet. Poet's know they are trapped.

Perhaps existence is circular and that ultimately all is one and everything
is fully and exactly what it is without need for further explanation.

> You also said "I have been trying to suggest that it is representation
> itself (symbolization) that provides the added dimension of awareness."
> Yes, exactly. It does provide the added dimension of awareness. I don't
> think a FORMED or FORMULABLE awareness of the world is possible without
> symbols. Helen Keller comes to mind. And, like Percy I think there is a
> bootstrapping effect, i.e. the words provide a vessel for meaning, and
> meaning fills the vessel (This image of a vessel works nicely, I think,
> because Percy was also interested in how words can be "emptied out" or
> "evacuated" or "cracked and leaking". If they can be emptied, WHAT is
> poured out?). My point is that there remain things that we want to say
> the world that no symbol fully comprehends. In this way, the mind is
> ultimately intractable and unnamable.

Yes, I think I follow what you are saying -- you are grappling with trying
to expresss the ineffable or at least get the notion through my thick head.
And I appreciate the effort and your patience with me.  At times I am simply
confused but at other times I am being the devil's advocate and I don't make
clear or even know myself which I'm doing at the time so you are indeed a
tolerant person to put up with me.  But on this point of what it is we are
trying to express when we have a feeling that we are trying to express the
ineffable.  Seems like some sort of paradox or self contradiction  (unless
of course we know our thoughts and it is only the putting of them into words
that escapes us).  Well I'd like to suggest that it is only the putting of
experience into words that makes experience known to us in the form of
thought.  Thought and symbolism are in my view one and the same.  (BTW,
although I find what you say about God the un-nameable very interesting, I
do intend what I am saying just now as commentary on your views concerning
the nature of God.  I am a much smaller point I want to explore for the
moment).  Perhaps what we experience as a vague and frustrating sense that
we know something we can't express (a bit like the tip of the tongue
phenonmena, but of course not quite) is better explained as resulting from
the fact that we can't reproduce for others (in a way that they can
recognize) the symbols we have in our minds eye or memory.  IOWs the reason
we feel we already  "know" the ineffable is because in fact we have already
symbolized it.  The frustration and sense that it is ineffable arises from
the fact that the symbols we are using to convey it to others are not eqaul
in clarity to the symbols we have used to make the so called ineffable known
to us in the first place.  Bear in mind that anything can serve as a symbol.
A feeling, a smell, a word, a sound, a hope or a whole constellation of
things collectively can be used as a symbol.  But when we try to find a word
or even a picture, song or poem to capture and convey a complex symbolized
experience we are often at a loss to do so.  And so we say (as we sometimes
do of pornography) "I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see
it".   This is to me a simple truism.  And when we are trying to symbolize
something as vast and abstract such -- well comparisons fail.  But this does
not mean, in my view, that thought precedes symbolization.  Thought IS
symbolization.    But I think I've repeated myself enough on this subject so
although I remain open to any comments or thoughts of yours I promise to
shut up about this unless I really do have some pressing new idea that I
think I simply must can get feedback on ;).

> You said, " I credit Percy with expressing this view in a very compelling
> way.  Had he lived long enough I think he would have eventually come full
> circle and converted to Judaism but that is another story with a very long
> radius".
> Hmmm. I dunno Jim. Percy couldn't really have converted to Judaism since
> already considered himself Jewish. He was Catholic, yes, but he understood
> Catholicism, I think rightly, as the fulfillment of the Jewish drama,
> story. In converting to Catholicism, he converted to the whole story.

Yes, I think this was Percy's view of the matter and one which I personally
believe is one way of expressing the truth if truth there be.

> "You then go on to say (if I am understanding you) that we since we are
> talking with you we must all be talking about what you are talking about
> else how could we all be talking to one another.  And since you are
> about is God we must all be talking about God."
> You're close to my meaning, Jim, but your misunderstanding about what I
> by "God" only serves to further illustrate my point, and I think Percy's
> point. God is not limited in scope but infinite, and therefore ultimately
> unnamable. (Similarly, Saussure ultimately considered meaning
> "unrecoverable". Though, I wonder if he knew just how apt the word
> "unrecoverable" was in relation to the Fall; he sensed that something had
> been lost and needed recovering). So when we use the very word "God", we
> referring to that incomprehensible infinity, that unfathomable nexus of
> being, thought, power, love, goodness, beauty, truth, justice, etc. This
> the realm of consciousness (which literally means "to know together") that
> am getting at. We know it. We try to name it. Our words ultimately fail.
> Trying to name God is a slippery thing. What I meant by God was the
> unnamable.
> Cheers!
> Steve

I think I do follow you somewhat here,  Steve.  I hesitate to assert this
too confidently because now we are speaking of God and almost by definition
to reduce God to something that can be encompassed by a name or a concept is
to miss the point.  Still,  I wish to respectfully register a bit of doubt
or lack of certainty on my part.  Perhaps the notion of the infinite is an
illusion or in some way a logical, empirical, linguistic or philosophical
error.  Maybe the number series is not infinite, maybe the universe is not
infinite  -- maybe it's all just circles  -- big and tiny loops  --and
everything that goes around comes around.  Maybe we can't imagine the
infinite because in fact there is no infinite and what we mean by the
infinite is no more than that uneasy feeling that accompanies our hand
waving when we are at a loss to make any more sense of what we started off
talking about.


Thanks for the further thoughts    --

Jim Piat


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