Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Faith in Profane Cinema



This is the republication of a work written in a private forum by Bakhos Najm








Philosopher and theologian Jacques Maritain once wrote, “By Christian art, I do not mean Church art… I mean Christian art in the sense of art which bears within it the character of Christianity (…) Everything belongs to it, the sacred as well as the profane. It is at home wherever the ingenuity and the joy of man extend. Symphony or ballet, film or novel, landscape or still-life, puppet-show libretto or opera, it can just as well appear in any of these as in the stained-glass windows and statues of churches.”

That being said, it is no surprise that, for the faithful –in this case, the Catholic faithful– observes the expressions of art seeking and detecting shadows that, in some way or another, manifest the Catholic “shape”.  This essay will refer to the cinema of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, containing that “Catholicity” in their profane art.  More specifically, it will examine the implicit ideas of Guilt and Redemption in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and  Raging Bull, whilst Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy culminates with the ideas of Grace and Hope.

It was pointed above that the believers will see through a subjective eye set by the Catholic culture and idiosyncrasy.  It often happens that the spectator finds in films things that perhaps were not intended to be seen, or even misinterpret events (nothing grave), but this is not the case in the masterful filmography of Martin Scorsese and Francis F. Coppola.  The first calls himself a lapsed Catholic; the later has always struggled with his Catholicism.  In a 2007 interview, when asked whether he is an observant Catholic, Coppola replied, “I was raised as a Catholic, but I didn’t like the Catholic Church at all. I thought the nuns were mean.” But how theologically acute is the faith of the film directors is not important here.  What matters is the fact that their Catholic backgrounds are passed along in their films, or at least, in those the essay refers to –which are arguably their most powerful gifts to Cinema.

Both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola belong to the post-New Wave of American filmmakers.  But they also share the Italian American milieu, typically Catholic.  However, the differences are immediate almost everywhere between one director’s films and the other.  The set for The Godfather is that of socially high ranking families and how they thoughtfully operate in the world of organised crime, and situations, such as the protection of family, end in harrowing acts of murder.  Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, for example, is quite the contrary.  Scorsese’s characters are the forgotten men, the socially unfit, victims of a world they didn’t choose.

 Martin Scorsese is considered to be what in film criticism is known as Auteur.  This theory of Auteurism, first advocated by François Truffaut, says that, in spite the industrial process that a films goes through, the signature, or influence, of its director still shines through.  Scorsese is known for crafting world acclaimed films that still contain a very personal meaning for him, and for displaying a singular mise-en-scéne.  Both narrative and aesthetics of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are charged with those personal stages of Scorsese’s life, marked by an inescapable relationship with the Catholic Church.  Unlike  the influential personages of The Godfather, Taxi Driver is the story of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a mentally unstable Vietnam vet who struggles to live up a moral life in a terribly immoral world, leading him to nerve-racking violence he thought was the way to Redemption.  

"All the animals come out at night: whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”  That’s how Travis Bickle describes the hell he lives in.  Martin Scorsese’s modernist cinema has the quality of portraying the world the main character perceives.  Travis Bickle’s perception results from rejection.  He is the loneliest of the lonely; he writes in his diary, “I am God’s lonely man”.  This isolation makes him incapable of sustaining common social relations, including, of course, relations with the opposite sex.

 Scorsese has always been haunted by Catholic Guilt,  especially sexual guilt, also during his year in the seminary.  And this is a theme explored in most of Scorsese’s films since his experimental feature Who’s That Knocking At My Door?  Travis  falls in love with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), described as a virginal image of women.  She is dressed in white in her first apparition –in a cameo take where Martin Scorsese himself appears staring at her.  She is blond, blue-eyed –an angelical figure– and caring in social and political matters of justice.  Notice the contrast of Betsy with the hell of “whores”, “skunk pussies”, and “queens” Travis mentions first.  Socially inept, Travis invites her to the movies to watch a Swedish porn film, at which Betsy feels gravely offended and leaves Travis alone in the theatre.  “And it is guilt, conceived in masturbation and prolonged in maturer symptoms of sexual bad faith, that is a recurrent motif, perhaps the recurrent motif, in Scorsese’s life and art alike”, writes Lawrence S. Friedman in his book The Cinema of Martin Scorsese.  

As previously said, Betsy is an activist concerned with social justice.  That is explained in her support for president candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), an obvious Democrat.  Travis Bickle, in a very Western fashion (the whole film is an allusion to John Ford’s The Searchers, a Western classic), prepares to attempt murdering Senator Palantine.  His use of sleeve-gun becomes a device for his paranoid vigilante fantasies after Betsy had rejected him.  The reasons for Travis to kill the Senator are debatable; some argue its a hint to the assassination of George Wallace by Arthur Bremer in 1972.  But to put in in the film’s context of Travis Bickle’s mind, Palantine represented a potential rival to Travis’ love for Betsy.  She described him as "a dynamic man, an intelligent, interesting, fresh, fascinating..”; then her friend, Tom (Albert Brooks), remarks, “You forgot sexy”, to what Betsy replies, “I did not forget sexy”.  In a from-the-heart performance of De Niro, Bickle enters the office and confronts Betsy by yelling “You’re in hell! You’ll burn in hell!”.  The fascination for religion in the script cannot go unnoticed.

Bickle, afflicted by the corruption of the city, was close to end up dragged by the mess he so much despises, as his attempt to assassinate Palantine is hindered by Secret Service agents.  But the opposite happens, and it was through a highly graphic recreation of bloodshed in cinema by the times.  During his insomniac ramblings in the cab, Travis drives a teenage prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster).  She was escaping her pimp, Matthew “Sport” Higgins (Harvey Keitel).  Depressed and increasingly paranoid, being rejected by Betsy made Bickle obsessed with rescuing young Iris.  When he meets her in the room where they were supposed to have sex, he tells her he wants to take her away.  When they are having breakfast in a coffee, he tells Iris, “You can't live like this. It's hell. Girls should live at home”, then Iris rises the question of her time, Women’s Liberation.  Travis goes on to say, “What do you mean 'women's lib'? You sure are a young girl. You should be at home now. You should be dressed up. You should be goin' out with boys. You should be goin' to school. You know, that kind of stuff”.  Travis is a Christian reactionary, opposing the cultural revolution of which he is cast away. But he is, also, in L.S. Friedman’s words, “mirroring the virgin-or-whore concept of women held by Scorsese’s alter ego in the Mean Street trilogy”.

Travis Bickle –nicknamed “Killer” by his cabbie mates– is determined to accomplish his quest to wash all the scum off the streets.  Rescuing Iris means the action to redeem himself, and violence is the path chosen by this existential hero.  Bickle approaches Sport, who stands as doorman of the brothel, and shoots him in the stomach, giving initiation to the slaughter.  Among the countless qualities of filmmaking, there is the capacity to mimic dreams, to recreate and bring to light what is in the human unconscious.  Like in dreams, the symbolic signifiers in films are not always substantiated by the common signified objects.  Interpretation is wide open.  The famous shoot-out sequence is displayed in an almost phantasmal manner.  The sequence was shot in slow motion, an old bouncer is shot in one hand, and while the echo of his cry “I’ll kill you!” is loudly heard, a graffiti in a wall reads “Jesus loves you” while the carnage is still carried on.  Travis draws a knife form his ankle and stabs the bouncer, this time in the other hand, in the opinion of some, alluding to the wounds of Christ.  At the end of the massacre, Bickle wants to end his own life, the revolver is out of bullets, so he surrenders on a couch.  When the police arrives, he places his finger on his head, gesturing a gun and pulling the trigger three times.  In the final two takes, the camera travels from above, nightmarish harp and drum music play, putting forth the aftermath of such a slaughter, how hellish earthly life can be.

Iris returns home to her family, her father sends a thank-you letter to Travis.  Newspaper regarded the one who wanted to kill Palantine as a model citizen, the self isolated was elevated to a hero by the media.  But what happened to Bickle after the shootout remains a fascinating aspect of Taxi Driver.



Film critic and historian Roger Ebert wrote: 

“There has been much discussion about the ending, in which we see newspaper clippings about Travis's ‘heroism’ of saving Iris, and then Betsy gets into his cab and seems to give him admiration instead of her earlier disgust. Is this a fantasy scene? Did Travis survive the shoot-out? Are we experiencing his dying thoughts? Can the sequence be accepted as literally true? ... I am not sure there can be an answer to these questions. The end sequence plays like music, not drama: It completes the story on an emotional, not a literal, level. We end not on carnage but on redemption, which is the goal of so many of Scorsese's characters.”
But the film ends exactly as it started, with the jazz music of Bernard Herrmann again reaching gritty notes suggesting that threats will never end.  Paul Schrader, script writer of Taxi Driver (and Raging Bull), said that the last frame "could be spliced to the first frame, and the movie started all over again.”  In Taxi Driver, Redemption through self-destruction, but not Grace, is reached.  

Raging Bull was released four years after Taxi Driver, but this time, the film is actually a personal work of Redemption for Martin Scorsese himself.  In 1954, Scorsese studied one year at Cathedral College, seriously considering priesthood, “wanting that vocation, selfishly, so that I’d be saved… I wound up finding a vocation in making movies with the same kind of passion”, argued Marty.  Raging Bull narrates the story of Italian American middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a champion in the ring, but, again, a character very difficult to grasp.  Straightforwardly, he is a beast who acts out of his savage instincts.  He is cursed with an insufferable personality, whose paranoid jealousy makes him incapable of articulating no word other than profanities.  And when cornered in dialogue, he responds as in the ring: with his fists. 

Mary Pat Kelly, in her book Martin Scorsese: The First Decade, writes:  “The Jake LaMotta film.  It’s called Raging Bull.  It’s really a straight, simple story, almost linear, of a guy attaining something and loosing everything, and then redeeming himself.  Spiritually.”  And that was Scorsese himself, who, shortly after Taxi Driver, was heavily into the “high living”.  By redeeming LaMotta in the ring, Scorsese redeems himself in life.  Jake’s outmost desire was to defend his animalistic pride, symbolised in the belt.  

To achieve it he had to gain the favour of the Mafia, which convinces him to loose against Billy Fox (Eddie Mustafa Muhammad).  LaMotta was reluctant to fall, making the fix of the fight evident.  While at the dressing room, the proud Bull breaks in tears, not for being suspended as much for not surrendering to his bodily necessity to strike back.  This dependance on fighting made him interrupt his only moments of passion with Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), holding wisdom credence that sex slackens the fighter –“Maybe it’s because I’ve done bad things”, he argues after being defeated by Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes), the same day he had sexual relations with Vickie.  The passional intimation between Jake and Vickie is watched by imposed crucifixes and Catholic iconography, a reminder of Scorsese’s mesmerism in Church imagery, and sexual guilt; it places the viewer in a position of shameful voyeurism.

In a very beautiful opening sequence, Jake LaMotta appears shadowboxing, dressed in a leopard cape, and surrounded by the ring ropes, giving the illusion of being an animal


Jake’s acquaintance with young Vickie came to happen as the result of his infidelity to his first wife.  Perhaps it is natural to a person to imagine things from their own personal experiences; if LaMotta was once irreparably infidel to his wife, he may as well think  that his wife is cheating on him.  But the problem goes further when this paranoid jealousy overwhelms the soul of a man whose concept of manliness is reduced to bestial rage, expressed both in and out of the boxing court.  He does not comprehend the magnitude of his uncontrolled temper until he does thrash his brother, Joey LaMotta (Joe Pesci), and then blows his wife’s face.  Add to it an evident masochism, the Bull willingly decides to embrace physical punishment for his rage.  And so the film reaches its climatic point when Jake invites Sugar Ray to carry out his purgation.  Joyce Carol Oates in her book On Boxing recalls Jake LaMotta as the fighters who:

“invite injury as a means of assuaging guilt, in a Dostoyevskian exchange of physical well being for peace of mind.  Boxing is about being hit more than it is about hitting, rather just as it is about feeling pain, if not devastating psychological paralysis, more than it is about winning… The boxer prefers physical pain in the ring to the absence of pain that is ideally the condition of ordinary life.  If one cannot hit, one can yet be hit, and know that one is alive.”

The sequence was partially shot in a Scorsese’s trademark of slow-motion for climatic situations.  LaMotta is washed with blood and water, in a very ritual sacrifice fashion.  Robinson begins unstoppably hammering the face of the new champion while the spectators and camera flashes heat the circus; Jake clings with his arms to the ropes of the ring, again, alluding to the Crucifixion, as blood runs down through his legs.  Vickie covers his eyes while Joey watches the cruel spectacle on television, and a sense of guilt is transmitted to all  the viewers. A blowing right punch sprays with blood the faces of ring siders, making everyone accomplice in the suffering of LaMotta, a Christ-like image of  passion.  The scene is invariably distressing, and cruel.  Although both Paul Schrader and the real Jake LaMotta had no religious purpose, the screenwriter does assist Scorsese’s redeeming aim when he wrote:  “Yes, but redemption through physical pain, like the Stations of the Cross, one torment after another. Not redemption by having a view of salvation or by grace, but just redemption by death and suffering, which is the darker side of the Christian message.”



But that was not yet enough.  While Sugar Ray Robinson is proclaimed winner and takes the middleweight title, beaten to bloody pulp, LaMotta taunts to Robinson the famous lines, “I never went down, man”, “You never got me down, Ray”.  Five years pass, Robert De Niro is now a retired, obese Jake LaMotta.  The man who had no oratory aptitudes is now a  bar owner and stand-up comedian.  His wife, Vickie, announces her decision to divorce him the morning after the 11th anniversary of their marriage.  He is subsequently jailed for pandering.  All this sequence of misfortunes were finally vented against the wall of his cell, he cries “Why?!” while punching the wall of concrete, as if attributing his pain to the hands that destroyed all his relations, especially with his wife, who had taken his three children.  L.S. Friedman notes that, “As broken as the belt, the jailed LaMotta first rages, then weeps, ‘You’re so stupid…I am not an animal.’  Perhaps the admission of the first phrase justifies the denial of the second.  If so, it may be the necessary preface to the redemptory text.”  

The film goes back to where it started, the dressing room with Jake LaMotta rehearsing in front of the mirror the exact speech of Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy in the 1954 film On The Waterfront, which says, “You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit…I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley.”  Thus, Jake manifests the emotional dependence he had on his brother, who mentored and advised him throughout his career, and life.  

Raging Bull, regarded by many as Scorsese’s magnum opus, cuts to black with the sad and beautiful music of Pietro Mascagni, Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana, and quoting the Bible:
So, for the second time, [the Pharisees] summoned the man who had been blind and said:

"Speak the truth before God. We know this fellow is a sinner."
"Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know," the man replied.
"All I know is this: Once I was blind and now I can see."
John IX. 24–26, The New English Bible

    “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”, is one of the lessons Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) provides to his heir son, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino).  Unlike the mentally unbalanced, deranged, and alienated protagonists of Scorsese, Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy follows the rise and decline of families whose members are, indeed, model characters of chasm, class, and acumen.  Another luring quality of the trilogy is its portentous presentation of moral struggle.  But morality here is not only the earthy meta-ethical pose bounding regular men and women of everywhere; the moral confrontational setting for The Godfather is that of the Catholic Church –distinctly, the pre-Vatican Two Catholic Church.  Aside the fact that the first two films are universal masterpieces of cinema, the trilogy is actually a wonderful, profoundly Catholic work of art. 

The Corleone’s way is deep-rooted in traditions, norms of genteel procedures, almost monarchical vogue, embraced from their homeland of Sicily.  Thus, the Sicilian circle, although readily immersed in the underworld of crime, is based on rituals and rules only analogous to the reverence of the pre-Conciliar Church proper to Catholic Americans of the decades before the sixties. The mobsters of The Godfather are not the same of Goodfellas; depiction of prostitution, apology to gambling, or use of narcotics, are absent here. When interviewed by Deborah Solomon, Coppola is quoted affirming, “I think I am very religious… I was raised as a Catholic, but I didn’t like the Catholic Church at all. I thought the nuns were mean… I sort of think that the people I have loved and lost are somehow still there. I can’t believe that something so specific is gone”.  And although the director ceased to practice the Faith, the sacramental beauty of the Church permeates everywhere in his gangster trilogy.  The Catholic viewer will particularly feel appealed with the venerable display of baptisms, first communions, weddings, confessions, and funerals, elevated by Catholic iconography and Latin hymns.  But the most prevalent Christian element in The Godfather is Sin, the deliberate and organised execution of murder.  And it is the unforgettable Baptism in Part I that settles Michael Corleone in his dark path of sin and tribulation.

Michael Corleone was the outsider in his family, he had assured his first girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), that his was a different future, distanced from the family business.  When Michael is aware of the fragile life of his father, hospitalised after being gunned down, he decides to retaliate.  He bows to kiss his father’s hand, a ritual of spiritual submission and unfailing loyalty.  Killing drug baron Virgil Sollozzo (Al Littieri) and NYCPD Captain Marc McCluskey by his own hands was his initiation as mafioso.  

But his unbreakable pact with crime was sealed during the Baptism of his nephew, also named Michael.  In the climatic sequence, D.W. Griffith’s technique of cross cutting to provoke suspense is mastered in the scenario of a High Church Catholic Baptism, and the assassination of the New York family dons and Moe Greene (Alex Rocco).  Latin verses echo with the music of Church organ, announcing the parallel cosmical events that are going to take place.  Salt, oil, and water, are prepared by the priest, Minister of Life; simultaneously, arms and weapons are prepared by Corleone’s capos, Ministers of Death.  “Do you renounce Satan?”, “And all his works?”, “And all his pomps?”, the priest asks Michael, whose guilty gaze is shown replying “I do”, aware of his perpetrated crimes happening at those very minutes.  The Baroque organ riches its highest pitches as the brutal killings occur.  Michael affirms his baptism as cuts show the aftermath of the bloodshed.  Cinematically, this scene is magnificent; narratively, long-lastingly chilling.  Michael Corleone renewed his Catholic baptism, but also sealed his pact with crime, he has been baptised in blood. 

The second key moment in the life of Michael Corleone comes in The Godfather, Part II.  Frederico “Fredo” Corleone (John Cazale), is Michael’s older brother.  He is the suave man, whose hedonist life and weakness of character, cast him away from the patriarchal order and more violent life of his brothers, the hot-head Santino “Sonny” Corleone (James Caan), and the cold minded Michael.  His imprudence served the Jewish businessman Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), an old –but untrusted– business partner of the Corleone family.  As the Sicilian code of honour –or Omertà– rules, a betrayer must pay with with his own life.  At one evening, Fredo shares his secret for a satisfactory fishing, which is to pray one Hail Mary before each try, with Anthony (James Gounaris), Michael’s son.  Anthony is called apart, so Fredo goes fishing with caporegime Al Neri (Richard Bright).  Frame is set on a middle wide shot, then camera travels toward Fredo, reciting “Holy Mary, Mother of God”, then cut to Michael, who contemplates from the boathouse, as audience is left to finish the prayer, “now and at the hour of our death. Amen”, Neri shoots.  The sky is gloomy, and only the silhouette of Neri is seen.  

In the first film,  Michael Corleone marries Apollonia Vitelli (Simonetta Stefanelli), who died in an explosion intended to kill him.  This is the first bitter loss that Michael bears on his back; that fact that it happened in Sicily is important, because Sicily was supposed to be the place where Michael would find safety, his voyage to his homeland would grant him a second chance.  Instead, he learns that the burdens of his sins followed him even there.  In the second film, an evolving, cold minded, frightening Don Michael Corleone, capable of handling intricate situations, has a hard time dealing with family issues.  His second wife, Kay Adams, had undergone an unholy abortion as she did not want another son of Michael to be born, touching the sore of Michael’s vulnerability, his children.  She then divorces and abandons him, but he keeps their two children with him.  His sister, Constanza “Connie” Corleone (Talia Shire), had chosen a life of eccentricities, “Michael, I hated you for so many years. I think that I did things to myself, to hurt myself so that you'd know - that I could hurt you”, are the words of his sister, who pleads him to forgive Fredo.  But when honour and pride posses men, they lead to tragical actions, and so does Michael killing his own brother, a decision that would burden him for the rest of his life, as shown in the third film.
  
Financial circumstances compelled Coppola to direct the third instalment, The Godfather, Part III was released in 1990, 16 years after part II, receiving mixed reviews.  But this was the chance for the director to make Michael pay for his sins.  The scene of Michael’s confession to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone) is particularly appealing for the Catholic viewer, not only for being a not-so-frequent case of Hollywood portraying an honest (Catholic) clergyman, but also because it tells that even the gravest offences are forgiven by God’s mercy, when the soul is surrendered to Him.  Michael admits that “it’s been 30 years”, since his last confession; but for the cardinal, the Laws of the Church are timeless, “I always have time to save souls”, he replies.  After saying that he betrayed his wife, betrayed himself, Michael breaks in tears, and finally confesses, “I killed my mother’s son, I killed my father’s son.”  He prays before the corpse of Don Tommasino (Vittorio Duse), “I swear on the lives of my children, give me a chance to redeem myself and I will sin no more.”  God’s Grace worked on Michael’s soul.
  
However, it seems that the purgation of the Soul sometimes begins on Earth.  Anthony Corleone
(Franc D’Ambrosio), Michael’s son, performs a magnificent debut as an opera singer in Palermo –during which killings are executed, again, surrounded by religious aura.  When the family is leaving Teatro Massimo, and Michael’s daughter, (played by the director’s daughter, Sofia Coppola), Mary Corleone, is following her father asking for answers, hitman Mosca, disguised as a priest draws a gun and shoots twice, intending to kill Michael.  Mary is hit by accident, and she mutters “Dad”, before falling dead in front of her father.  He is witness of his last and most bitter loss.  The scene, which closes with Mascagni’s Intermezzo –as with Raging Bull–  is beautiful, sad, memorable.  The shock painfully hits everyone, but not as hard as Michael.  Al Pacino here offered an outstanding performance of sorrow and grief from a man who carried all the weight of guilt upon himself.  He received his most painful punishment, and his unforgettable scream attests for it.  A montage shows Michael with all the women he had lost in his life, then a dissolve transition reveals an old, half-blind, and lonely man.  It is perhaps ironic that he would not die by the sword, but for a man who sincerely performed the Sacrament of Confession, and paid the highest price with the death of his daughter, Michael Corleone is reconciled with God, and dies peacefully in his homeland.

Catholicism in cinema is an inexhaustible theme in film literature, needless to say, there’s all time classics about specifically Catholic references.  But what fascinates about profane filmmaking is that they respond to the regular viewer’s conscious and unconscious.  Not romanticising about the infinite mercy of this saint, or the unbearable passion of  that martyr,  profane films with Catholic themes manifest our own fragilities, weakness, societal and spiritual anxieties.  The epigraph for Taxi Driver quotes Thomas Wolfe in his unpublished essay, God’s Lonely Man, saying, “The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”  While Taxi Driver talks to everyman, Raging Bull is Scorsese’s own story of Guilt and Redemption, conceived by his Catholic background.  When talking about his The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese explains, “My whole life has been movies and religion.  That’s it.  Nothing else”.  Francis Ford Coppola, in setting the highest standards for gang films, directed what could be considered a marvellous Catholic work of art.  Perhaps the iconoclasm of Protestantism could not offer the mystic beauty and luring darkness that permeates The Godfather trilogy, ironic as it may seem, Catholics can make better mobsters.  But what Coppola also shared with his audience was the Catholic Hope in the Sacrament of Confession, where even the most heinous sins cannot exhaust God’s desire to forgive.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism

Though born Alphonse Levée, and called Brother Elias by his fellow monastics, the author of Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism identifies himself as 'A Monk of the West'. This is an act of defiance against the 'cult of personality' that defines the modern academic environment; it is first and foremost a statement of anonymity that evinces the writer's earnest motive to put 'theory into practise'. It is a traditional act insofar as his work is accomplished not by Alphonse Levée, born in Paris in the year 1911, but by his inner vocation: '[It] is not inasmuch as he is ''such and such a person'' that the artifex produces his work, but inasmuch as he fulfils a certain ''function'' that is properly ''organic'' and not ''mechanical"' (René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, p. 64).

It is not coincidental that we quote Guénon here, for this entire endeavour is in no small part indebted
to the French metaphysician. Throughout the 20th Century there was no philosopher or theologian more committed to both the inner conciliation of East and West, and to the intellectual reorientation of the West through the rediscovery of her traditional principles. In Guénon's view this would take place through an authentic understanding of Eastern ideas: 'In the first period it is by the study of Eastern doctrines, more than by any other means, that those who are destined to belong to this elite will be able to develop and acquire in themselves pure intellectuality, since they cannot possibly find it in the West. It is also only by this study that they will be able to learn what a traditional civilization is in its various elements, for it is only a knowledge as direct as possible that has any value in such a case, and there is no place for mere book-learning, which is of no use by itself for the end that we have in view' (René Guénon, East and West, pp. 145-6). It is this 'elite' to which A Monk of the West belongs, and, inspired by Guénon, his studies of Eastern spirituality have compelled him to seek their concordance with Christianity, the tradition of the West.

An additional reason for Brother Elias electing anonymity is to emphasize his subordinate position in the ecclesial hierarchy, as well as in the intellectual domain itself. He repeats on several occasions the fact that his thoughts are hardly authoritative: '[We] do not have the authority to make final judgments in these matters, and we now leave the last word to judges of greater competence and authority' (A Monk of the West, Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism, p. 136). This text is indeed nothing more than a speculative insight into possible fundamental agreements between Christianity and Advaita Vedanta, and there is no pretense as to it being otherwise. The thoughts and the opinions of the author are properly relegated to the realm of the layman, and not to official sacral positions.

That is, however, no reason to discount them. Indeed, given the present crisis of the Church and its swift falling away from knowledge of itself, the studies of a layman, provided that they are performed in the appropriate manner and with the right mentality, might even be considered to be of greater value than something produced by more conventional channels. In any case, or rather in the present case, Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism (CDND) is an exquisite example of a private study that nevertheless recognizes its subordinate place in the greater scheme of things; it is intuitive, erudite, insightful, poetic at times, but above all this text is respectful of higher knowledge, final authority, and of the near certainty that it does not and will not have the last word.

CDND is essentially organized around four or five main metaphors, and it is around these that we shall conceive of this review's remainder. To begin, however, it will be necessary to revisit a basic principle in order to fully understand what follows. God is perfect Being; that is to say, God is wholly Being, which means that nothing outside of God has full existence; instead, everything outside of God has only partial existence insofar as everything outside of God has only partial Being (namely the part it receives from God, from sharing in His nature). This is due to the fact that anything that goes out from God goes into the void of Becoming, and thereby ceases to be fully divine; if God went into the void and remained fully Himself there would be no creation, for there would simply be God, uncreated and universal. Creation presupposes a diminution of divinity, for creation in itself has no Being of its own (and thus can only offer a lack or a want). This means that everything that exists is borne purely of God, the First Cause, even actions which we might ignorantly consider our own:

'The creature does not belong to himself, but all save the intelligent creature are ignorant of this. We emphasize: this is true first of all of his free acts in themselves which are certainly personal and responsible acts, but in no way being his own acts, being also - we should say being first - acts of God, the universal First Cause. In reality I have as my own only the interior act by which I adhere to evil recognized as such.... It is nonetheless true that God does everything because evil as such has no being, and "everything that happens is worthy of adoration".' (Ibid, p. 15)
'Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.' (Matthew 10:29)

God is real; evil is unreal. The only acts that are properly our own are those which are evil, because they are not acts of God; if they were good acts they would belong to God. We can see already, then, that our means of attaining realness, of attaining being, is through acting like God. When we act like God, we become like God, and by becoming like God we become more real. Conversely, when we act viciously, we act more like 'ourselves', i.e., like persons divorced from God - 'independent', but only in the sense that we derive and base our actions in a lesser, polluted source. In the end, however, because we are made in the 'Image of God', when we act like God we are more truly ourself: 'True man is actually relative to the Creator-Agent, and this actuality of the relationship which places him in existence, makes him essentially an image of God' (CDND, p. 16). Etienne Gilson likewise says, 'Image - the greater man's resemblance, the more he is himself'. This is because at the heart of man is the thing which created us - God's love. The more we become like the Creator, the more we become like the creature we are made to be.

The first metaphor that the monk introduces us to is that of the sun reflecting on the water. The essential idea of this is not dissimilar to that of Plato's cave, namely that the true reality is only vaguely reproduced in sensible impressions, viz., via the shadows on the wall or the reflections on the water. The first point that the author dwells on, however, is that the images on the water are not unreal in themselves, but only in relation to the sun which creates them; it is true that they are not the final form and the first cause, that they are but a secondary product of something superior, and yet they are nevertheless existing by virtue of that superior source:

'As the reflection of the sun in the water is illusory with regard to the real sun although in itself is a real reflection, so the contingent being is illusory with regard to real (divine) Being although in itself it is a real contingent being.... Just as the reflection of the sun is at once real and illusory, so contingent being is both real and illusory. If we attempted to isolate the image from the object and to reduce it to itself, it would immediately cease to be, since it is solely the actual relationship to the real object which makes it a real reflection.... Thus the world understood as the totality of existents is simultaneously reality and illusion (māyā), reality in itself, illusion with regard to the Supreme Reality in which everything that has any reality participates and without which there is nothing whatsoever. It must be understood, however, that nothing is illusory in itself. The illusion is entirely in the one who takes the reflection for the sun in itself, or the world for Reality; Illusion is Ignorance.' (Ibid, pp. 17-8)

The things which we see using our senses are therefore not unreal - they are there by virtue of their participation in the Real. They are only unreal in relation to the divine archetypes which they reflect visibly, materially, and the only illusion possible is when we take their material forms for their final forms. This is moreover true a fortiori of man himself: illusory in regard to the Supreme Reality, from which all his being proceeds, but real in regard to himself (by virtue of that being proceeding from the Supreme Reality). He is not the Divine, but he is made of the Divine. There is nevertheless a principal difference between man and other existents, namely that he is called for something higher; he is called to be the Supreme Reality:

'[Man] is directly called to union (yoga) wherein the Delivered (mukta) realizes or, more precisely, verifies - for there is no change - the illusory or entirely dependent character of his existence, "having no other being of its own than this dependence" of the human individual vis-à-vis the Supreme Self (Paramātmā), which is true and total Being. Rather, it is Beyond Being, entirely free from every condition of limitative determination whatsoever: He alone is who is the very Being of Himself and of all beings, Deity beyond Being.' (Ibid., pp. 19-20)

The real Being, therefore, is even beyond Being, for Being presupposes some kind of limitative delineation, even if a purely intellectual and metaphysical one. The real Being is beyond even that, for the real Being is Ātmā, the Self which transcends the personal, creator God (Brahmā) and whose only likeness is the supreme, uncreated God (Brahma):

'Neither the higher intellect (buddhi), nor the mental (manas), nor the sense of self... none of these is the Self. Strictly speaking, it should be said that Ātmā is nothing, nothing that can be perceived, nothing that can be conceived or known in any manner whatsoever. Like Brahma, Ātmā is "Non-Being", which is not to say "nothingness", but, on the contrary... we would be tempted to say that Ātmā is what escapes determination altogether, including the first determination which is that of pure Being itself. Ātmā is beyond all perception, conception, or experience in general, beyond all things implying subject and object; beyond all existence and essence, even beyond pure Being, as we said, and therefore beyond Unity, with which Being is coextensive; in short, beyond God (Ishvara or Brahmā).' (Ibid. p.42)

This does not render the 'creator, personal God' (Brahmā) unnecessary, from a religious point of view or otherwise; infact, Brahmā is pivotal for the worshiper, constrained as he is by the existence necessitated by māyā and its nebulous and imprecise forms. The devotion to Brahmā (called the 'divine energies' by Eastern orthodoxy and 'God' by Meister Eckhart) signifies a devotion to Brahma (called the 'divine essence' and the 'Godhead' by the same) in his personal, apparent aspect; it is necessary to venerate and submit to something personal insofar as it is impossible to do the same for the impersonal. It is moreover by the awareness of distinctions that we perfect our knowledge of the lack of inner distinctions:

'If you want to know the Absolute, invoke this Brahman with attributes who hears your prayers, and it is He who will make you know the Absolute. For He who is Brahman with attributes is also Brahma without attributes. Distinctions make for the perfection of knowledge.' (Ramakrishna, L'Enseignment, no. 1262)
The second main metaphor is one of the most familiar in the Vedic tradition, namely that of the rope and the serpent, where the rope is confused for a rope by a man in ignorance: 'The rope is supposed to be the snake only so long as the mistake lasts, and there is no more illusion when the snake vanishes' (Sankara, Vivekachudamani, v. 197). The principal idea of the metaphor is similar to the previous one, viz., it shows reality to be twofold: the one part which is Supreme and the part which is only a semblance of the Supreme, the part that we experience 'ordinarily', 'sensibly'. The rope is Brahman, the underlying reality, and the snake is the mundane reality - which only exists because of our illusion as to the real nature of what we experience.

Initially this may sound dualistic - which seems to be a contradiction considering that advaita means 'not dual'. This is easily cleared up, however, when we consider that that second part, the 'serpent', is just an illusion, which has no existence of its own. Its being is facile, and totally dependent on a confusion between real and not-real. The rope is Brahman, and as such it is the only thing that is real, and how can the only thing that is real have a true opposite? Anything that is unreal cannot rightly said to be anything - it is simply illusion and void. There is only one thing that exists, which is God, possessor and purveyor of Being:

'Again, what is God? That without which nothing exists. It is as impossible for anything to exist without Him as it is for Him to exist without Himself: He is to Himself as He is to everything, and thus, in a certain way, He alone is who is the very Being of Himself and of everything.' (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, De consideratione, v, 6, 13) 

This is naturally the source of the accusations of Vedanta's 'pantheism', something that Brother Elias pays a lot of attention to in refuting it. There is a much more intricate and involved argument employed in his work, but the basic idea comes down to a semantic confusion, or how we understand the term. In the sense that the word 'pantheism' (all-god) simply means that God is all, there is no problem, no suspicion of heresy, and even no discordance between Vedanta and traditional Christian theology; as we have already seen, God really is all, because God is pure Being, and outside of God there is necessarily something that is not as real as He is: 'By what could Brahma be hidden since nothing other than Brahma exists?' (Sankara, Vivekachudamani, v. 570) And: 'He who would add the entire world to God would have nothing more than if he had God alone. Without God all creatures have no more being than a midge; without God, exactly as much, neither more nor less' (Meister Eckhart, Omne datum optimum). On the other hand. if we understand pantheism to mean that 'God is everywhere' in the sense that we impart things that have no ontological value with the quality of being 'divine', then we are indeed adopting the false, heretical doctrine, for that would assume that māyā has a divinity and a reality that proceeds from herself. In assigning the nebulous and the mundane with a wholly divine quality we are subject to a grave error of ignorance, of confusing the natural with the supernatural; we are infact guilty of confusing the rope for the serpent.

The third metaphor is that of the man looking at himself in the mirror. He sees two forms, both himself and his reflection, but of course realizes they are but one. This is to convey the truth that the 'Delivered while living' (jivan-mukta) knows that 'the "produced beings" have no other reality than that which is communicated by Himself, which [is] an exact expression of the doctrine of cosmic Illusion...' (CDND, p. 95). This is again touching on familiar ground: the forms we see around us are but the reflections of something interior, beyond the sensible domain; the divine archetypes are produced in this world as though it were a mirror, reflecting them back, albeit in new, inferior shapes.


The second part of this metaphor is utilized to illustrate the perspective of God (Ishvara) in his creative function. In contrast to the prior two metaphors, where the observer or the participant was 'deluded' and belonged to the domain of the reflection, in this situation the observer is identified with the object in itself, that is to say, the real object, while the exterior is the plane upon which the secondary reality presents itself. God the Producer can therefore perceive the divine objects not in themselves, as they exist inside of him, but as reflected in a different arena; his divinity is promulgated into a new, external sphere where it takes on the diverse (and not unwelcome) forms of materiality:

'God (al-Haqq) wished to see the essences (a'yān) of His most perfect Names... in an all encompassing object which, being endowed with existence, epitomizes the entire divine order thereby manifesting His mystery to Himself. For the vision that a being has of itself in itself is not the same as that provided by another reality which serves it as a mirror. There it manifests itself in the form determined by the "place" of the vision; the latter would not exist without the "plane of reflection" and the ray that is reflected therein.' (Ibn 'Arabi, Sagesse des Prophetes)


The fourth and final metaphor is likewise constituent of two parts, both of which revolve around the image of the 'dreamer'. When we sleep, we dream, and in dreams we imagine an artificial world, a world which might share characteristics with the real world but one which is nevertheless false - it is an illusion. At the same time, however, we project things which are true into this world; the dream, in Jung's words, 'is a series of images, which are apparently contradictory and nonsensical, but arise in reality from psychologic material' (Psychology of the Unconscious). The dream is unreal, but it is informed by things which are real. It is thus a powerful metaphor for the nature of māyā, of the mundane. There are moreover two types of dreamers: the one who is unaware that he is dreaming and the one who is aware. The first is of course deluded, and as such he 'imputes the nature of the ego to the Self, just as the sleeper identifies himself with only one of the mental forms of his dream to the exclusion of others' (CDND, p. 97). This type is caught in his own projected reality, completely ignorant of its falseness and what lies behind it. The second type, the one who is aware of the fact that he is dreaming, is certainly not 'deluded' insofar as he has realized the transitory, secondary nature of the dream. The second dreamer 'is in the situation of the man who looks at his own image in a mirror knowing that the image is "he", with the difference that here the "forms" that are viewed, instead of being exterior and sensible, are interior and mental' (Ibid. p. 97). He has realized that the things which he sees in the dream are merely impressions of his own inner state; he is like the God (al-Haqq) of Ibn 'Arabi's description, extending his essential nature into an exterior plane.


The second type is nevertheless still caught in a limited dimension insofar as he remains immersed inside a world of his own production. There is something higher yet, namely the dimension of unlimited freedom, which we enter into when we wake up. Once the dream ends, the whole array of false images and disparate narratives comes to an end, leaving the individual with reality as it really is: 'It is only when he is fully awake that the images dissipate and only the pure Self remains, free, unconditioned, unlimited, as in reality it has always been. All distinctions will then be extinguished. For Him, henceforth identified with the Supreme (Parabrahma), there will be neither "outside" nor "inside", neither "Producer "(Brahmā), nor "produced", neither "Creator" nor "creatures", neither "Truth" nor "illusion", neither "Liberation" nor "servitude", under their aspects of distinct realities, but only THAT, the Supreme, totally unlimited' (Ibid. p. 97). Upon waking, like Plato's philosopher emerging from the cave, the shadows disappear, and the viewer beholds only himself: 'Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes' (C.G. Jung). His reality has been transformed from something transient and illusory to the Ultimate Reality wherein all things are indistinct windows looking right into God. There is no longer anything intermediate; there is only you and God, both become one: 'It is therefore by his incorporation in Christ and his participation in the Paschal mystery that man would receive the possibility of verifying the Supreme Identity in his person' (CDND, p. 117).

That is the fundamental message of this astute and extremely useful text, namely to illustrate how essentially the same metaphysical insight is shared across traditions, from Shankara to Plato to Ss. Paul and Thomas Aquinas. There is also, however, a more muted but equally important message, one which is sent to our own troubled tradition, that of modernity and the crisis of contemporary existence, of which Brother Elias accuses of having neglected God's wisdom for man's hubris: 'Blinded by the separative illusion, we attempt to make man's world closed and autonomous, but one which nevertheless continues to exist, as if a room could still retain the light of the sun for a single instant within its closed walls after the shutters had been closed! The world is not "autonomous", but "theonomous", God-governed. Whether man in his profane blindness knows this or not, changes nothing. Nothing escapes the sovereign domain of God' (CDND, p. 124). Our humanistic pride has assumed that reality proceeds from our own nature or that of the physical world, but, as we have seen, these are but fragments of the ultimate reality, the being and beyond being which sustains all life; they are shadows of the real world, the eternal, infinite, and absolute hypostasis that subsists at the root of everything. We might describe it as sat-chit-ananda or as the most perfect Love (1 Corinthians 13:7), but the essence is the same, and it is one which we, the global community, have as a whole forgotten. This final excerpt, which is reminiscent of Guénon's mission, suggests how our Western civilization might rediscover our roots, namely by curing our amnesia through the revelation that Western and Eastern wisdom have a common source:

'If the closing twentieth century has been that of "socialization" and "technicization", may corroborating indications lead us to think that the first century of the third millenium may be, at least for some, of whom the number is growing, that of the quest for lost identity. Is it not precisely this which explains why contemporary young people with their "hunger for the absolute" (which, although too often mixed with elements that are more than suspect, is undeniably characteristic of them), turn so readily toward the non-Christian east to try to discover what Christianity no longer, or seems no longer, to offer them? Is not one of the most notable services which the Orient could render Christianity today, to oblige it to return to its own center instead of seeming to wish to dilute its identity in a hollow and vacuous world where all interiority, all solitude, all silence, all recollection have been banished?' (CDND, pp. 124-5)



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Love Loses: The False Union of Sodomitical Sex

Disclaimer: We are writing this short, introductory article on Love and its subversion by the modern ethos not because we are 'disappointed' or in any way scandalized by the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage; we accept this event as something of an inevitability, a kind of 'symbol' in Spengler's meaning of the ever-hastening decay of Western Civilization. We have long come to terms with the fallenness of the West and, save for the intervention of supernatural sources, with the impossibility of its salvation or the retrieval of its earlier health. We are simply using this event as an excuse to proliferate an essential critique of homosexual perversions, to investigate how the phenomenon of gay marriage symbolizes or indeed epitomizes the modern weltanschauung, and finally to reinforce the traditional, supramoral perspective on Love.

Secondly, while we understand the definition of sodomy to be every sexual act that is not conducive to procreation, we will be using it to refer exclusively to the sex acts waged between the same sex. This is because, while certainly masturbation, fellatio, and especially anal sex between a man and a woman are perversions, acts performed between members of the same sex are particularly devious deviations from the normal order and thus most representative of what we will be speaking about: it is the sin of sodomy between men, after all, that 'cries out to Heaven for vengeance'.







I

'Here is the key to all the metaphysics of sex: Through the Dyad toward the Unity.' ~Julius Evola




To really understand something physical we must understand the metaphysical. Man in his original, higher form is a sexually undifferentiated being. His ontological state in this primordial perfection is one of absolute unity, possessing within him both male and female principles coherently organized and whole in themselves. It is only as a result of being in creation, of participating in the world of regeneration where things are characterized by their multiplicity and duality rather than their unity or oneness, that male and female forms eventuated: 'Brought low by the gulf of his sin, man suffered the division of his nature into masculine and feminine, and because he was unwilling to use the heavenly mode of propagation, a just judgment reduced him to animal-like and corruptible multiplicity, consisting of male and female' (John Scotus Eriugena, De Divisione Naturae). The Fall mythologized in Genesis depicts the descent of originally integrated man into two separate beings who, while certainly able to recreate after a fashion their former unity through mutual love, are nevertheless doomed to continually engender separated beings through their copulation. This unending division of man represents his division from God, whose likeness man in his wholeness bears:

'God created his image and likeness in a single man.  Adam was a man and also a woman... for God did not in the beginning make man and woman, he did not create them at the same time, because the life in which the two properties of masculine and feminine are united in one, constitutes man in the image of God.' (Jacob Boehme, Mysterium Magnum)
Man and woman are therefore two halves of a whole, dissociated from one another in every conceivable way. They are as two opposite poles on a metaphysical spectrum, with the principle of masculinity standing for creativity and leadership while that of femininity stands for fertility and submission: 'The male represents the specific form; the female represents the matter, being passive insofar as she is female, whereas the male is active' (Aristotle, De Generatione Animalium). In 'ordinary reality', i.e., the realm of multiplicity, these two poles constitute a Dyad that defines all material creation; this duality is expressed symbolically, such as the sun and the element of fire symbolizing maleness while the moon and the element of water symbolize femaleness.

This extends to all traditional metaphysics; just as the Western peripatetic schools considered form as masculine and matter as feminine, the Vedic system comprehended purusha (spirit) as masculine and prakriti (nature) as feminine. In the Upanishads, purusha is the immaterial creative principle which expresses itself through prakriti, the mutable material; and in the Tantras the principled, motionless entity is the god Shiva, whose 'emanation' in the Blakean sense is the goddess Shakti, who orbits Shiva and allows his hypostatic nature to manifest itself in creation. In 'The Great Treatise', one of the main commentaries of the I Ching, the same formula is expressed thusly: 'The male acts according to the way of the creative, whereas the female operates according to the way of the receptive' (T Chuan, I, s. 4). From the Hellenic and Roman rituals that associated masculinity with fire and femininity with water to the Kabbalah concepts of dubrah and nubkah (God and his Shekinah), every traditional metaphysic intuited the same fundamental reality: the male is creative and the female is receptive, and together they are necessary for the sustenance of life as we know it. They are two parts of one whole (hence the hermaphroditic Shiva, Ardhanarishvara, who represents the synthetic whole of Shiva and Shakti).

The concept of yin and yang is an especially useful example in that it precisely explains the interdependence of the male and female principles and the necessity of their union. Again, all reality is conditioned and conceived in terms of male and female, yang and yin: 'All phenomena, form, beings, and changes of the universe are considered at the level of various encounters and combinations of the yin and yang.... From their dynamic aspect yang and yin are opposed but also complementary forces. The light and the sun have a yang quality, whereas shadow and moon have a yin quality' (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex). Male and female belong to the same order of ideas as virility and fertility, activity and passivity, spirit and nature; they are all analogous to one another, each representing in a different form what the others also represent. They essentially represent the principle duality that intrudes upon all created reality; they represent what the Pythagoreans called the 'Dyad', the law of opposition that defines everything which is manifested.


It is also in accordance with this law that each principle requires and desires its opposite, for in its differentiated state it is useless: what is creativity without material to use for creation? what is virility when everything is barren? Just as we cannot reproduce without partnership with the opposite sex, so we cannot recover our whole self without participation in 'the other', in whatever it is that we do not ourselves possess. Plato himself says that 'each person without any hesitation would deem that he had finally heard expressed what had certainly been his desire for a long time, namely to be united and fused with his beloved so as to form one single nature from two distinct beings. Now, the cause of this desire is to be sought in the fact that this was indeed our primitive nature when we constituted one unit which was still whole; it is really the burning longing for this unity which bears the name of love' (Plato, The Symposium). All creation desires wholeness insofar as all creation desires to return to its original, preconditioned form.

'In its most profound aspect, eros embodies an impulse to overcome the consequences of the Fall, to leave the restrictive world of duality, to restore the primordial state, to surmount the condition of dual existentiality broken and conditioned by the "other".' (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex)


II


This brings us to our proper subject. As Plato says above, Love is the means by which we achieve this wholeness, our union with ourselves. When we strongly desire something, we see in that object some parcel of Heaven, of the intelligible reality, and most of all of who we essentially are: 'Love, thus, is ever intent upon that other loveliness, and exists to be the medium between desire and that object of desire. It is the eye of the desirer; by its power what loves is able to see the loved thing' (Plotinus, The Enneads, III, v, 2). That initial pain we feel when this love is awakened is evidence of our new cognizance of our lacking a piece of ourself; it is as a hungry person becomes keenly, tortuously aware of his hunger when he sees and smells something delicious, only a thousand times more agonizing due to the far greater need for spiritual than physical satisfaction. Solovyov agrees that man in his 'empirical nature' is filled with this constant state of want, and purports that the aim of Love is to reintegrate him with his 'missing parts':

'The peculiar character of [our spiritual nature] consists just in a human being's ability, while remaining the selfsame human being, to accommodate absolute content in his own proper form, to become an absolute personality. But in order to be filled with absolute content... that same human must be restored in its entirety (integrated). In the empirical nature of the human being, as such, this is by no means so - he exists only in a specific onesidedness and finiteness, as a male or female individuality. However, a true human in the fulness of his ideal personality... cannot be merely male or merely female, but must be the higher unity of both. To realize this unity, to create the true human being as a free unity of the male and female principles, preserving their formal individualization but having surmounted their essential separateness and divergence - this is the proper immediate task of love.' (Vladimir Solovyov, The Meaning of Love)

The reconciliation of male with female individuality is necessary for the formation of true personality. This is true because man in his essence is not either one of these: he is both. Otto Weininger surmised that we are naturally attracted to, even in the psychosomatic sense, individuals who possess a substance which we do not: '[All] individuals have as much femininity as they lack masculinity. If they are completely male they will desire a completely female counterpart, and if they are completely female, a completely male. If, however, they contain a somewhat larger proportion of Man and another, by no means negligible, proportion of Woman, they will demand an individual who will complement them and their fragmentary masculinity to form a whole; at the same time, their proportion of femininity will be completed in the same way' (Otto Weininger, Sex and Character). Thus, someone who is, for example, '75% male' will naturally be most attracted to a woman who is '75% female', and vice versa, because it is in this way that both individuals best complete themselves; they are fulfilling what each of them lack inside of them. The law of 'opposites attract' has never been clearer. There is moreover no such thing as someone who is 'transgender', because insofar as we are born male or female we will always have a higher portion of that principle whose sexual representation we are born as. Even if someone is merely '51%' male (and thus '49% female'), he is authentically male, and no amount of surgery or drugs will alter his inner nature. This is because things are manifested according to their metaphysical principles, and thus not subject to chance but causal authority:

'If birth is not a matter of chance, then it is not a coincidence for a being to "awaken" to itself in the body of a man or a woman. Here too, the physical difference should be viewed as the equivalent of a spiritual difference; hence a being is a man or a woman in a physical way only because a being is either masculine or feminine in a transcendental way; sexual differentiation, far from being an irrelevant factor in relation to the spirit, is the sign that points to a particular vocation and to a distinctive dharma.... [Man] and woman are two different types; those who are born as men must realize themselves as men, while those who are born as women must realize themselves as women, overcoming any mixture and promiscuity of vocations' (Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World).

We can already guess what this means for 'homosexual' activity, and indeed Weininger goes on to say that the great majority of homosexual relationships occur where the partners are intermediately differentiated, meaning that they possess high proportions of M and W and thus desire fellow beings who are also intermediately differentiated; the man who has 49% of W in him will have far more of an attraction to a man of like proportion than a man who is 80 or 90% M will. This explains the very high ratio of homosexual men and women who also identify themselves as 'bisexual', or are at least not averse to normal sexual relations. Evola also supports this, but adds that 'when homosexuality is not "natural" [meaning according to the theory of middling sexual differentiation just explained] or else cannot be explained in terms of incomplete inborn forms of sexual developments, it must have the character of a deviation, a vice, or a perversion' (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex). So, in our society, for instance, where spiritual and mental disorders (the ones which are not psychiatric make-believe, that is) resulting from the dissolution of the family, the community, and the entire socio-political realm are more pervasive than ever before, it is altogether to be expected that the rate of sodomitical sex is as high as it is, certainly much higher than it otherwise would be if it were limited to partners who were on the border of being '50% M' and '50% W'.

The real crime of homosexual activity consists simply in its complete inversion of the normal interaction of the sexes. The metaphysical traditions which we outlined above are not theoretical abstractions that exist in an 'intellectual void'; they are that which is fundamentally real, in comparison to which this created world, the 'veil of Maya', is but an illusory distortion. They profoundly influence this world because they are this world in its truest, most articulate form. In the performance of copulative union, for example, man and woman recreate the genesis of the world; they merge together and create not only a life of their own, a new world, but they create themselves through their erotic synthesis of each other: 'Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2335). Man becomes truly man, woman becomes truly woman, and together they become the new Adam: 'And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore they are not now two, but one flesh' (Mark 10:8). The Fall is conquered by their physical union which, sacramentally, also has the nature of a mystical union; where they were formerly opposed to one another, the dual principles (yin and yang, Shiva and Shakti, Nut and Geb) are now intimately combined in the maximal expression of their essential nature and in their relations to each other:

'If the root of false existence consists in impenetrability, i.e., in the mutual exclusion of beings by each other, then true life is to live in another as in oneself, or to find in another the positive and absolute fulfillment of one's own being. The basis and type of this true life remains and always will remain sexual or conjugal love.... True union presupposes the true separateness of those being united, i.e., a separateness by power of which they do not exclude, but mutually replenish each other, each finding in the other the fulness of his own proper life.' (Vladimir Solovyov, The Meaning of Love)

Sodomy receives no such justifications or blessings; there is no telos whatsoever to its practise: '[Homosexual acts] are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2357). This unbridgeable dispute between sodomitical activity and man and woman as they really are is what makes it unnatural in both a metaphysical and a physical sense. Indeed, it is because there is no metaphysical legitimacy to homosexual relations that there is no physical legitimacy: the copulation of man with woman results in the birth of a new life because of their union on a higher level (at least in potentia; procreation that is the consequence of extramarital sex is still natural, but it is divorced from the sacrament of marriage, hence it is of a lesser quality due to the absence of a sacral authority blessing the union).

The copulation of man with man and of woman with woman, on the other hand, bears no such fruit because of their incompatibility in the principial realm. The principle of maleness only acts according to its nature when it is associated with the principle of femaleness, which correspondingly acts according to its nature; that which is virile and creative naturally desires that which will bring out these qualities in it, which is of course the fertility and the passivity of its female counterpart. By reneging on this primordial agreement and a metaphysical law, homosexual 'union' condemns itself to a fruitless pursuit of something that it longs for but is looking in the completely wrong place; it is a sacrilegious caricature of supreme union, and makes something which is ideally spiritual and sacred into something strictly physical and therefore ugly. Instead of the satisfaction felt when something smoothly falls into place, like pouring wine into a glass, the homosexual act consists essentially of the frustration involved in pouring water into a sieve, because there is zero complementarity between two active or two passive principles: male and female create a self-sufficient whole that completes each other while male and male or female and female are doomed to wander alone, unredeemed, and separated from themselves.


'All the natural loves, all that serve the ends of Nature, are good.... Those forms that do not serve the purposes of Nature are merely accidents attending on perversion: in no sense are they Real-Beings or even manifestations of any reality; for they are no true issue of Soul; they are merely accompaniments of a spiritual flaw which the Soul automatically exhibits in the total of disposition and conduct.' (Plotinus, The Enneads, III, v, 7)

III


If the aim of all human life is to become reintegrated as a whole person in the manner of Adam prior to his Fall, it cannot follow that establishing an erotic relationship with a woman is necessary for this end, for that would mean the futility of all ascetics and holy men and other such types who have surely come nearer to this reality than the vast majority of married men and women. The truth is that the capacity for reintegration subsists in the depth of our own self: the potential to become whole is already within us. To love a female is simply the most direct means available because it is neatly aligned with our libidinous appetites, but it is hardly the only one, as the various spiritual or yogic paths to self-completion are manifestly singular by nature, oriented around the fulfilment of one's inner nature or dharma. Infact, even in loving a woman what we are really doing is loving ourselves; the presence of another person is merely the object which sparks in man a desire for some element of himself shown in a separate individual. The truth of this should already be apparent by virtue of our earlier arguments, that male and female are really one entity, and that males and females inherently pursue beings whose natures correspond to what they are lacking in an effort to create a whole; thus, if we really do feel love as a burning desire to restore ourself to an earlier state of integration, it would make sense to see in our beloved simply the other half of what we once were.

It is crucial not to be confused by what we mean by 'loving oneself'. We certainly do not mean that we are engaged in an auto-erotic narcissism wherein we idolize our ego or the shadowy fragments of our malleable personality; what we do mean is the love of who we are as a composite whole, of our self as a personhood composed of both male and female harmoniously organized. In our love of another person we see ourselves as perfected: 'Whenever a man loves, he loves only himself. Not his subjectivity, not what he actually represents as a being tainted with every weakness and baseness, every gracelessness and pettiness, but what he wants to be completely and what he ought to be completely, his most personal and most profound intelligible nature, free from any scrap of necessity and from any residue of his earthly nature' (Otto Weininger, Sex and Character). The disturbed and amorphous constitution of ordinary reality and of our conscious minds is suddenly clarified into something so solid and true that we cannot help but pour our hearts into it, feeling our beloved as something absolutely necessary to our being: 'It is not for love of woman that woman is desired by man, but rather for love of the atman' (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV). The atman is the highest principle of Self, pristinely real and unadulterated by the conditional factors (such as space and time) of the created world, and it is that which we see in what we love. Shakespeare beautifully expresses this idea in a sonnet:

'Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, wherethrough the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on me.' (William Shakespeare, Sonnet 24)

The neoplatonist French poet Antoine Hermoet is equally sublime in his description of the same thing:

'[I meditated upon] how our hearts, bent on "death",
Revived one another;
How mine, loving his,
Transformed itself into his without changing.' (Antoine Heroet, La Parfaicte Amye)

So, again, in stark contrast to the normal order of things, homosexual relations are founded not on a spiritual love of Self conceived as a perfect whole comprised of both male and female, but on a purely physical love of self. The sex act of the sodomite is not something that symbolizes the harmonization of male and female into one flesh and one soul, but something that represents the man's false love for himself; it is not the atman which he 'loves', because that would imply a reconciliation of opposites into one Self, but merely his own lust and ouroboric desire and possibly his own demented personality. It is infact not even an entrance into the Other: for in copulating with another man (or woman with woman) he is copulating with himself; while they are ostensibly two different persons, both members of the act derive from the same principle of maleness, and thus metaphysically correspond to the selfsame individual. It is as though Shiva were to try to act through Shiva instead of his Shakti; the world would go uncreated, and he would never be reunited in himself.

The sin of sodomy is the worst instance of onanism possible because it simultaneously satirizes the holy union of male and female and projects upon another person one's own failings; while this is so in all extramarital intercourse, it is manifestly and monstrously worse in this case by virtue of the involvement of a more extreme narcissism, psychic and spiritual disorders that take pleasure from abnormal practises, the confusion of one's principial maleness or femaleness (i.e., their natural desire to be with the other), and the complete absence of any natural end to the event. Once more, it is essentially characterized by self-love: 'Perversion may be defined as the diversion of sexual desire from a person of the opposite sex to a body of the opposite sex... or to a person of the same sex... or to an inanimate thing (fetishism). At the root of all forms of perversion is self-love, the utilization of another, who... is seen as no more than an instrument for one's pleasure (or pain)' (Vladimir Moss, The Theology of Eros). The extent of how morally and spiritually adverse this kind of behaviour is, inasmuch as it is not self-evident, is illuminated all the more by comparison with normal sexual behaviour:

'Man should help woman to free herself from her womanliness (as incompleteness), and woman, in turn, should help man, so that in both of them the full primal image of man will inwardly merge again. Both of them, instead of being half-men, will become whole men once again, i.e., Christians. For the expressions: to have become a Christian, to be born again, and to have recovered integrity of human nature are synonymous.' (Franz Xaver von Baader, Werke)

In the crisis of the modern world, the principles that were once intimately known and even taken for granted are entirely obscured by both an exclusively empirical and positivistic understanding of reality that determines everything according to its material nature, and a falsely 'humanistic' crusade for 'human rights' to the point that the instinctual and temporal desires of the individual, regardless of how perverse, matter more than either the health of his soul or of the community at large. It is in this environment that the 'cult of the body', exemplified by the 'Sexual Revolution' in the middle of the previous century, has been able to flourish, for it is only in the absence of the intellect and moral awareness that the sensual impulses are able to riot uninhibited by their normal constraints. Evola is right in attributing this to the lateness of our civilization's current cycle, for, like any organism in nature, our culture is an old and dying animal: '[It] remains true that a universal and feverish interest in sex and woman is the mark of every twilight period and that this phenomenon today is among the many signs that this epoch is the terminal phase of a regressive process.... It is clear that today by regression we are living in a civilization whose predominant interest is neither intellectual, spiritual, nor heroic, nor even directed to the higher forms of emotion. Rather the subpersonal - sex and the belly - are idolized....' (Julius Evola, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex). It is exactly this, the subpersonal, that motivates such notions as homosexual nuptials (or even the normalization of paedophilia, as the 'slippery slope' proceeds apace), for real personhood consists not of realizing one's sexual fantasies in another individual, but in identifying who you are, which invariably means a reconciliation of the male and the female inside of you.

As the demonstrably false phenomenon of 'gay marriage' spreads to those places in the West which most accurately mimic the ethos of modernity, it is crucial to remember that fraternal love, or sincere love between men, is entirely possible - provided that such relationships remain celibate. We need only to bring the reader's attention to such practises of adelphopoiesis in the Byzantine Church, which ritualized an extraordinary friendship between men, or of the blood-brotherhood of the Norse society and the Scythians which united men into something much more than friends. The difference, of course, consists in the modernist's permissiveness in the sexual realm, where everything is allowed so long as it remains a 'victimless crime' (a terrible vacuity when considering the spiritual damage such acts lead to); the 'gay' man becomes gay not merely by his perverse sexual habits, but by his very identity. One's gayness marks him out as who he is more than any other facet of his character, thereby epitomizing the modern's purely physical comprehension of reality, where nothing exists other than what we can touch and feel. Indeed, the rather ridiculous idea of 'gay pride' serves as an inordinately transparent symbol of modern man's hubris: we are not merely permitting our regression into worse forms of barbarity, we are proud of it, as though we are calling God out to destroy Babel once again, daring him to smite us.

In deep contradistinction to this is the traditional worldview, according to which the spiritual is not only real, but it is more real than the physical. Man is called not to 'be who he is' in the vulgar sense, but to become who he is essentially; which means the reconciliation of the sexes, which means becoming like unfallen man, which means becoming like God. Yes, this can be achieved through the special love between man and woman; but it can even more strongly be achieved through a direct unity between man and God: '[There] is need for the blessed passion of holy eros; it binds the mind to spiritual objects and persuades it to prefer the immaterial over the material, the intelligible and the divine to the sensible' (St. Maximus the Confessor, On Charity). The 'passion of holy eros' is an excellent way to describe man's fervour for God; in the place of a woman who inspires him to find his Self, man starts to see God, who will help him in that regard more than anything else. By imitating God, man becomes like God: 'For the Son of God became man so that we might become God' (St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione). The love between a man and a woman is but a reflection of the love which God has for his children, and those who love him in return are guaranteed salvation: 'I love them that love me: and they that in the morning early watch for me, shall find me' (Proverbs 8:17). Love loses when it is reduced to something physical, to something that makes a mockery out of God's laws and tries to marry two things which are already one; love wins when two different beings come together out of separate, solitary lives to form one whole. For love exists not to divide us or to join us to our basest elements; love exists to unify us.

'I am you and you in me mutual in love divine.' ~William Blake, Jerusalem


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Decline of the West

Upon reading Spengler's magnum opus The Decline of the West for the third time (in three days this time, because I have no life), and feeling as though this was the first time I more or less completely understood it, it behooves us to draft a brief tribute to the text, which truly is one of the most important narratives of the 20th Century.



Perhaps Spengler's greatest quality consists in his scathing polemic against the myopic, atomized, causal, linear perspective of modernist history that ruled with particular dominance in the rationalistic 17th and 18th centuries. He had determined that this was a superficial reading of history that accounted merely for circumstantial, incidental happenings, and failed to take stock of what was really going on: 'there can be no question of taking spiritual-political events, such as they become visible day by day on the surface, at their face value, and arranging them in a series of "causes" or "effects" and following them up in the obvious and intellectually easy directions. Such a "pragmatic" handling of history would be nothing but a piece of "natural science" in disguise... (The Decline of the West, p. 6).'

As a counter-attack to this elementary outlook, Spengler proceeds with an intuition into Destiny and Time, into history conceived not merely as a chain of events related only by their causal connections, but as ideas and events that are expressive of greater, deeper cosmic motions that subsist beneath human social activity. Spengler suggests that Cultures are not the arbitrary results of disparate communities, but their own organisms, their own individuals with a certain constitution not fundamentally unlike any other living thing; he peers into the cyclic nature of reality wherein organisms are born, thrive into manhood, linger into old age, and finally die. Spengler argues that Cultures/Civilizations are not specially fixed to progress indefinitely, immune to the biological decay every life form faces, but are uniquely shaped by their own inner identities and therefore subject to their own higher telos:

'I see, in place of that empty figment of one linear history which can be kept up only by shutting one's eyes to the overwhelming multitude of the facts, the drama of a number of mighty Cultures, each springing with primitive strength from the soil of a mother-region to which it remains firmly bound throughout its whole life-cycle; each stamping its material, its mankind, in its own image; each having its own idea, its own passions, its own life, will and feeling; its own death.... Here the Cultures, peoples, languages, truths, gods, landscapes bloom and age as the oaks and pines, the blossoms, twigs and leaves - but there is no aging "Mankind". Each Culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression which arise, ripen, decay and never return.... These Cultures, sublimated life-essences, grow with the same superb aimlessness as the flowers of the field. They belong, like the plants and the animals, to the living nature of Goethe, and not to the dead Nature of Newton. I see world-history as a picture of endless formations and transformations, of the marvelous waxing and waning of organic forms. The professional historian, on the contrary, sees it as a sort of tapeworm industriously adding onto itself one epoch after another.' (Decline, pp. 17-8)

The Decline of the West comprehensively answers all of the major questions of the Faustian soul, and unveils who we are as Westerners, as a distinct Culture (or presently a Civilization, as all Cultures must become as they are petrified into something increasingly lifeless). To provide one of many possible examples, whereas the Classical man is preoccupied with the community, with how man relates to the world at large (hence their conception of the persona, the mask we present ourselves in to face our fellows), Faustian man is singularly concerned with himself,  with how he relates to the cosmos beyond, to Infinity and the impossible loneliness therein: 'here infinite solitude is felt as the home of the Faustian soul. Siegfried, Parzifal, Tristan, Hamlet, Faust, are the loneliest heroes in all the Cultures. Read the wondrous awakening of the inner life in Wolfram's Parzifal. The love of wild nature, the mysterious compassion, the ineffable sense of forsakenness - it is all Faustian and only Faustian' (Decline, p. 99).

Spengler is equally keen in his insights into who we will become, even from the unsettled vantage of a century ago. While emerging sooner than he anticipated, Spengler's idea of 'Caesarism' became manifest even in his lifetime with the ascent of Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, Franco's Spain, etc. The masses were congealed beneath a great personality, a masterful dictator who mustered all the historical energy peculiar to his time and threw it upon Civilization as was his destiny. Spengler is able to envision this because he is not limited to a narrow mindset which sees history purely as sequences of cause and effect, but as a manifestation of something much deeper, the very soul of a Culture, the inner fountainhead of what that Culture brings forth. By studying and juxtaposing one Culture upon another, patterns become present, patterns which can even be used to forecast the future insofar as the future will necessarily correspond in some analogical way to a different Culture, to the model of how Cultures develop and recede. This is precisely what linear, modernistic historical thought fails to do because it is concerned not with the essential, but with the accidental, and treats a Culture not as an organism unto itself, but rather as another step in an arbitrary ladder reaching up into nowhere:

'We know it to be true of every organism that the rhythm, form and duration of its life, and all the expression-details of that life as well, are determined by the properties of its species. No one, looking at the oak, with its millennial life, daresay that at this moment, now, is about to start on its true and proper course.... In the case of higher human history, however, we [i.e., the Gibbon-type historians] take our ideas as to the course of the future with an unbridled optimism that sets at naught all historical, i.e. organic experience, and everyone therefore sets himself to discover in the accidental present terms that he can expand into some striking progression-series, the existence of which rests not on scientific proof but on predilection.' (Decline, pp.16-7)


By peering into the 'platonic idea' of what a Culture is essentially, Spengler can analogically relate one Culture to another, and thereby determine what is particular to that particular Culture, and what is universal to all Culture, i.e., the inherent nature of what a human Culture is as a genus. Just as there are different trees with their own unique qualities, so too are there self-contained Cultures possessing their own unique qualities; but insofar as both are organisms, both are destined to live and die accordingly. By realizing the nature of the species, in other words, Spengler can reveal the nature of the individual organism in an acutely visionary manner that is impossible to attain otherwise.

Spengler is moreover deeply conscious of the falling quality of our Civilization, hence the title of this book. With the fading of Culture, which is itself caused by the fulfilment of more and more of its possibilities and therefore by the exhaustion of its inner energy, first religion, the realm of spirit is distorted into new, hostile forms; Protestantism and puritanism, driven by a specially Faustian rationalism, disturb the old order, and limit the creative impetus and unity of the spiritual dimension. Then art, once subordinated to socio-religious organization, emancipates itself in a new fury of polyphony and counterpoint, of Sturm und Drang, until it too exhausts itself; the life of an artistic tradition, such as that experienced by Beethoven and Weber and Schubert, provides a superfluity of inspired production to artists in this period, but by the time of Wagner it dries up, forcing the artist in his period to work especially hard to achieve anything. In the political realm, grand politics and the organic State soon submit to abstract ideals such as 'human rights', 'world peace', and finally something exclusively economic wherein all that matters is the material: 'Politics sacrifice men for an idea, they fall for an idea; but economy merely wastes them away. In war life is elevated by death, often to that point of irresistible force whose mere existence guarantees victory, but in the economic life hunger awakens the ugly, vulgar and wholly unmetaphysical sort of fearfulness for one's life under which the higher form-world of a Culture miserably collapses and the naked struggle for existence of the human beasts begins' (Decline, p. 400). In all things, where one cultural facet flares up and succeeds gloriously, where all the historical power of a Culture in that instant is concentrated, it is expressive of the Culture's interior character; but these things all must perish, too, and in their decline they open up further possibilities through which the dying Culture gradually reveals itself.

As a Culture goes through its motions. spending its last imaginative impulses before nestling into bleak, urbanized, bloated, mercantile, and mechanical Civilization, it comes closer and closer to its Destiny, to what its purpose was in the cosmos. As it proceeds thus, the Culture is defined less by those specific qualities that once differentiated it from other Cultures and more by those qualities that define every Civilization in steep decline: an orientation around the practical, a 'moral' coldness toward 'the good life', a lapse in true hierarchy, and especially a sovereign interest in business, in manipulating the material world for selfish ends. Spengler claims that all Civilizations in their Winter seasons are characterized by these symptoms, and especially when they are removed from their homeland, citing such examples of the Chinese in California in the 19th Century, the Indian trader in East Africa, and of course the Wandering Jew. This is because these are all ahistorical peoples, ahistorical because they have already accomplished their work in this world - they are essentially dead, having no remaining vital role to play, and doomed to simply subsist amongst other Cultures until they might inseminate the earth with the seed of the next Culture. This is exactly what is happening to the West: we are dying, we approach the fulfilment of our Destiny, and as we die we become closer in spirit (or rather by our mutual lack of spirit) to the Jew to the point where neither of us will be recognizable, because we are both historically extinguished:

'Today this Magian nation, with its ghetto and its religion, itself is in danger of disappearing - not because the metaphysics of the two Cultures come closer to one another, but because the intellectualized upper stratum of each side is ceasing to be metaphysical at all. It has lost every kind of inward cohesion, and what remains is simply a cohesion for practical questions. The lead that this [Jewish / Magian] nation has enjoyed from its long habituation to thinking in business terms becomes ever less and less (vis-a-vis the American, it has almost already gone), and with the loss of it will go the last potent means of keeping up a Consensus that has fallen regionally into parts. In the moment when the civilized methods of the European-American world-cities shall have arrived at full maturity, the destiny of Jewry... will be accomplished.' (Decline, p. 353)

With these tremendously valuable contributions that Spengler has produced being mentioned, we are obliged to bring up our complaints with his opus, of which there are two main ones. The first is that which we share with Julius Evola, who lamented the fact that Spengler had no clear comprehension of the 'transcendent' portion of a Culture's identity: 'A sense of the metaphysical dimension or of transcendence, which represents the essence of all true Kultur, was completely lacking in [Spengler]' (Julius Evola, The Path of Cinnabar, p. 179). This is true in that Spengler, for all his concern with the philosophical and intellectual and even spiritual qualities of the man of any which Culture, approaches these questions from a typically modern immanent position; much like C.G. Jung confuses the mythical creations and rituals of primitive man for existing purely in the psyche, Spengler does the same, only he places these higher elements in the psyche of the Culture.

There is no truly transcendent character in Spengler's cultural world-soul, because everything is subordinated to the organic process, to the organism's cyclic existence, to its strictly this-world nature. While Spengler undoubtedly critiques Civilization, he does this in the same way as a doctor would critique a man in old age, that is to say, from a purely relative, immanent perspective. This absence of a true metaphysic leaves Spengler with no other objective criterion with which to judge a Culture, whereas Evola and the other traditionalists offer something more substantial in their suggestion of a 'world of Tradition', which is rigidly organized around a Culture's metaphysical principles (they also suggest its antithesis, the 'modern world', which is not organized at all in the proper sense, and is responsible for the downward, telluric tendencies of a Culture).

The second major complaint consists in our reaction to Spengler's claim that these Cultures are wholly self-contained, that they are perfectly isolated from either previous or succeeding Cultures, and from neighboring Cultures. While still rejecting the idea of a linear historical narrative, it is nevertheless true that prior Cultures play a decisive role in the Becoming of the following Culture. What would Western Culture be, for example, without the twin genii of Plato and Aristotle? the wisdom of the Old Testament? the Hellenic-Hebraic synthesis of the New Testament, the Incarnation of Christ? the materially fading but symbolically supernatural power of the Late Roman Empire? the technical and philosophical gifts of the Arabian? While doubtless these were all uniquely understood in the fashion of Faustian man, these were powerful, virile seeds that were planted by 'Classical' and 'Magian' man even at their waning in the world, and at the very least serve as crucial links between these superior world-souls.

Oswald Spengler possessed a perilous, incendiary insight which mastered the world's attention. He corrected some deeply erroneous methods of the modern historian by supplanting them with a radical new perspective of his own (though we could have done without him mentioning the novelty of his work every so often). His awareness of the morphological structure of history, and especially of the underlying forces that motivate the Cultures that constitute history, breathes new life into modern historical consciousness which has grown stale and placid. His is a relentless polemic that mercilessly scythes down many of our most beloved and most facile notions (his precise, destructive summary of democracy and freedom of the press is unsurpassed), and suggesting instead of an inexorable progress an inevitable death. 'Optimism is cowardice', Spengler famously writes, urging us instead to look at the facts in themselves, even if they incline us to a miserable pessimism. But then, Spengler surprises us once more toward the end of Decline: while the 'powers that be' will fight their wars over the ore and fuel and gold of the mundane, and the Culture at large will present no real value to the discriminating individual, there is nevertheless hope for him, a kind of transcendent peace that was not possible to any of his forefathers, living as they were in a Culture in the throes of Becoming. For this is the peace of Destiny, available to the man who realizes the fulfilment thereof, to the man who sits and contemplates not the misery of the world around him, but the fact that he sits at the peak of an entire historical organism. He dwells at the end of the line, and possesses the special consciousness of having realized the whole of history, of Becoming finally Become:

'With the formed state having finished its course, high history also lays down weary to sleep. Man becomes a plant again, adhering to the soil, dumb and enduring.... And while in high places there is eternal alternance of victory and defeat, those in the depths pray, pray with that mighty piety of the Second Religiousness that has overcome all doubts forever. There, in the souls, world-peace, the peace of God, the bliss of grey-haired monks and hermits, is become actual - and there alone. It has awakened that depth in the endurance of suffering which the historical man in the thousand years of his development has never known. Only with the end of a grand History does holy, still Being reappear.' (Decline, p.381)