16 May 2019
I’ve made slow progress on Hesiod (Theogony and Works and Days) ever since leaving for Oregon. Barely back into reading him.
Returned to read again some very dense pages on Hegel and Hesiod in Voegelin’s last book, In Search of Order, published posthumously (1987), which he wrote in his 80’s. This short passage, lifted out of its theoretical context, explains far better than I could why am I attracted to turn to Hesiod again. It is so refreshing for a mind steeped, as we all are, in what I call “Cartesian thingism,” which was highly beneficial for the development of modern natural science, but detrimental to more human, whole-aware consciousness. Here is the lifted passage:
“Hesiod’s mythospeculation makes us aware of fundamental experiences of reality that require for their expression the language of the gods even when, in the process of differentiation, the many gods are superseded by the One God. The past of experience will not die with differentiation; it is part of the Whole of reality, of 'the things that are, that shall be, and that were before' [Theogony].”
You may or may not have a clear understanding of what Voegelin is saying; I think I do, but then, I’ve been reading him for about 45 years; and I study the context. If you think back to some of the poems I’ve been dabbling with in the past number of months, you will see some of my concrete attempts to rediscover my own experiences that engendered speech about “the gods” in the first place. I have no difficulty experiencing the moon as “a goddess,” as Siléne. And what you may not understand or appreciate in my approach to reality is that for me, sensing the divine aura in the moon is far more real than all the scientific talk I’ve heard about the moon. I do not reject the scientific talk, but it has never really engaged my imagination or mind. It is abstract, and for me, beyond experience and internally unknowable; however useful, science is a secondary kind of knowledge. But to experience the earth, sky, ocean, moon, sun, stars as gods is directly experienced, as one can remember from childhood, before oblivion set in. I think that if teachers and professors had sought to preserve the fundamental experience, and also explored the physical world scientifically, I would have been far more interested. (I do not fault them; it would take a philosopher to be able to experience the Whole and engage in science at the same time.) As it was, I preferred the mysterious Whole to the analyzed part, although I probably could not have explained it as clearly when I was 20 as I can now. That is why I so strongly reacted against Descartes when I began to study him, with his conception of human being as a “res cogitans,” “a thinking thing.” Reading him made me feel imprisoned in his flattened consciousness things. (Even his “god” is a thing, of whose “existence” Descartes can “prove.” Makes no sense to me at all.) Knowing of what the moon is made, and when, surely has its own beauty and wonder, but it remains quite alien to immediate consciousness. But to feel awed at the feminine beauty of the moon is surely part of my (and I presume, everyone’s) concrete experience. The experience of the oneness of each and of all precedes naming and analyzing; this context for human consciousness is what is absent in Descartes and his descendants.
Who was the philosopher who bemoaned how scientific consciousness had taken the mystery out of the world? Was it Nietzsche? Whoever it was, I agree, even as I appreciate the usefulness gained by science and its offspring, technology. The mystery is not out of the world for Plato and Aristotle. Recall that not long before he died (about age 62, as I recall), Aristotle wrote in a letter, “The older I grow, and the more I am alone, the more I love myth.” Why? I would say that it reconnected him to the Whole, which philosophical-scientific analysis in themselves cannot do. And myth for Aristotle would surely have meant, above all, Hesiod and Homer, perhaps also Aeschylus.
I read Hesiod to help reground me in fundamental experiences that precede analysis and even to an extent, speech (logos) itself.
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