On Form

29 07 2008

To perpetuate the image of “an ordinary man”, to represent an individual, is not art. The one thing worthy of detaining our attention, and of being fixed in an immortal work of art, can only be the beauty of an ideal form. If one is going to sculpt the figure of a man, let him gather together everything beautiful as he can find. If you’re going to make a statue of a god, says Plotinus, do as Pheidas did when he sculpted his Zeus: “He did not use any sensible model, but he took him as he would be, if Zeus wished to appear before our eyes”.

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision

Conversion to Ourselves

23 07 2008

For if the essence and perfection of all good are comprehended in the Gods, and the first and ancient power of them is with us priests, and if by those who similarly adhere to more excellent natures, and genuinely obtain a union with them, the beginning and end of all good is earnestly pursued ; if this be the case, here the contemplation of truth, and the whole possession of intellectual science are to be found. And a knowledge of the Gods is accompanied with a conversion to, and the knowledge of, ourselves.

-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis

At a Glance

18 07 2008

Even in this world, we know a great deal about people even when they are silent, through their eyes. There [i.e. in the intelligible world], however, the whole body is pure, and each person is like an eye; there is nothing hidden or fabricated, but before one person speaks to another, the latter has already understood just by looking at him.

Plotinus, as cited by Pierre Hadot

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On Quiet and Other Ramblings

9 07 2008

It’s really quiet here. I don’t mind it at all. It reminds me a bit of my old cell back in the monastery. I have said before that one of the complaints that I don’t have since leaving the monastic life is having enough time to pray. After you go through all of the hand wringing and breast beating about being “a sinner” and “forgetfulness of God”, I would tell you, “Go ahead. Go into the desert and see how well you pray.” If you are like me, you’ll probably just have a 50 Cent song stuck in your head. And it’s not about our “evil age” or our corrupt lives. It is just about life in the here and now. Anyone who has read the Fathers of the Desert for a paragraph would conclude that very quickly. So I am satisfied with the little “quiet time” I have with God.

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The Tenderness of Vision

2 07 2008

Hadot Reads Plotinus

[Plotinus] gently accepted the multiple levels of our being, and all he tried to do was reduce this multiplicity as much as possible, by turning his attention away from the “composite”. For him, it was necessary that mankind learn to tolerate itself.

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision

Plotinus is without a doubt the father of mysticism in the Western world. His language, elan, and depth have been imitated by countless Christian mystics, and his ideas of knowledge as turning within into oneself continues to influence all spiritual seekers from the cloistered Carmelite nun in traditional habit to the New Age ex-hippie in a yoga class.  Plotinus can be exceptionally beautiful to read, but his is often a hollow beauty, a beauty that is inaccessible, fleeting, and of little application to daily life. Pierre Hadot, in his book on Plotinus, seeks to plant the third century Alexandrian philosopher both in heaven and on earth. He endeavors to show that, especially towards the end of his life, Plotinus was well aware of our condition as corporeal creatures, and sought always to purify his followers for the ultimate re-encounter with the ineffable One.
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Vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere

1 07 2008

For the Sun signifies all these things, and simply all essential truth and prophecy and kingship. It follows from this, that as the Sun ascends to the midheaven it fosters the vital and animal spirits in us in a miraculous way, and as it descends, each spirit is debilitated. This is why David, the trumpet of Almighty God, rising to his lyre at daybreak broke forth into song and exclamation. It is vain for us to get up before dawn, for it is clear that the rising Sun brings us every benefit and revives our spirits, which wonderfully aroused and illumined, are called to sublime things.

-Marsilio Ficino, The Book of the Sun

Apollo – Part II

20 06 2008

Above: a scene from the Balanchine ballet, Apollo

Indeed in the same way that this sensible light is experienced by the senses, illuminating, invigorating and forming all sensible things and faculties of sense and converting them to higher planes, so a certain intelligible light in the soul of the Sun illuminates, kindles and recalls the inner spiritual eye. I think for this reason the Sun was called Apollo by the ancient Theologians, and creator of all harmony, and leader of the Muses, since he releases minds from a certain confused turmoil, not so much by visible but by hidden influxes of rays, and he tempers them proportionately, and finally leads them to understanding.

-Marsilio Ficino, The Book of the Sun

Plato’s Angel

13 06 2008

…[L]ater Neo-Platonists thought that Aristotle and Plato agree, are ‘harmonised’, as long as their respective philosophies are well distinguished. Aristotle is valid insofar as he refers to concrete things of our ordinary experience, the general terms we construct in our minds, and the language by which we express them. However, true reality, independent of human categorisation, is only hinted at by Aristotle, and is better studied through Plato. The latter Neo-Platonists frequently allude to the relative value of Aristotle and Plato in their harmonised scheme of Greek philosophy. They usually call Aristotle  daimonos, which in their Greek jargon has the double meaning of ‘ingenious’ and ‘an intermediate to god’. On the other hand, they invariably called Plato ‘divine’. In other words, Aristotle relates to Plato as an angel does to the word of God.

-Lucas Siorvanes, Proclus: Neo-Platonic Philosophy and Science

Plotinus on Beauty and Form

11 06 2008

Sylvie Guillem in Kitri’s Act I Solo (rehearsal)

Like a dancer taking up different poses, the Forms – and their Beauty- are only the figures in which the fecund simplicity of a pure movement expresses itself: a movement which engenders these forms at the same time as it goes beyond them, all the while remaining within itself. The experience of grace, as we saw, is like this too: “Beauty is nothing but fixated grace” [Leonardo da Vinci]. Every form, therefore, is derivative: “Form is only the trace of that which has no form: indeed, it is the latter which engenders form…”

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision

On Being Corporeal in the Modern World

9 06 2008

…Or: The Luxury of Monday morning theological quaterbacking

When I was a teenager, one of the Mexican religious icons I began to notice was that of the poor beggar Lazarus from the Gospels who is represented with open soars and with dogs licking those soars. This is part of the earthiness of Spanish Catholicism that I have described before: the use of images of the fallen world to ascend beyond the world of appearances towards the absolute. Indeed, I have read in some places (they escape me now and my readers can thus confirm is this is true) that some Spanish kings would be buried with open caskets to show their decay to their subjects: even their mortal kings, when you got down to it, were but rot, dust, and ashes.
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