The body without a soul.

We call it a zombie. But it’s a little unfortunate that the word is West African in origin, and so its etymology isn’t going to clarify anything for us. In a sense, that’s fitting: it is a word cut off from its proper history — it continues to function, but, as a kind of linguistic fragment, always out of its proper context.

On my podcast, I have gone to great lengths, and frankly invested a lot of energy, in trying to explain a very particular interpretation of what was happening (politically, culturally, materially) as early Christianity got itself up and running. The short version of my thesis can best be explained by my explication of Ephesians 2:11-16. Come on, do a little leg-work here and get into it with me:

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

That’s the passage. And my explication of it involves understanding the dynamics of what Paul calls “the wall of hostility” that had been dividing the circumcision (the Jews) and the uncircumcision (the gentiles) on the eve of Jesus Christ’s life & teaching. To go just one layer deeper here, I will link you to my episode on Thucydides, where I try to show that the entire Mediterranean world was absolutely riven by wars that endured for generations. Division and hostility were the norm until the Logos made cooperation and coexist seem like a possibility.

Heraclitus had caught a glimpse of this new idea. If you have eyes to see — if you have begun to crack the esoteric meaning of his often very cryptic and msyterious sayings, which are preserved only as fragments — you will recognize that his life (which was interrupted by the Persian Wars, which decimated his home-town) and his thinking were a sustained effort to introduce this idea of Logos to the intellectuals of the Greek world. Arguably, we begin to see harbingers of Logos in forms like the Delian League and the Achaean League. There is a sense that the age of strife is drawing to a close and the age of love (these are Empedocles’ terms) is dawning. The possibility of unity arises, but it remains, for the time, a unity without a transcendent purpose: the Delian League made sense because of war-time threats, but it was a kind of martial-law situation; it wouldn’t have occurred to the participants to build a permanent civilization around what was a war-time expediency.

Christ came, the messiah promised to Israel, and made possible the cooperation and coexistence of Jew and Gentile where no such possibility had existed before his coming — this according to Paul, not just in Ephesians, but in Romans, in Galatians, everywhere. The crucial fulcrum for everything that follows in Paul’s vision is that unity is possible because of Christ. Unity is possible in Christ. We can “come together as one,” as a new body, with a new soul — in Christ. Thus, Galatians 3:28 reads,

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Emphasis added. Everyone was invited to the party — indeed, Jews were invited first and foremost (Romans 1:16). No one was to be excluded unless they chose to exclude themselves by rejecting the offer. And get this: the idea worked. Cooperation became the norm. By the time of Constantine, many formerly-different peoples who had existed uncomfortably alongside each other for centuries were now living in peace — the age of war had come to an end. For the holdouts — for any who refused the offer, it was “outer darkness,” as Jesus had predicted. The Jewish Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and Hadrian banned Jews from entering Jerusalem, banned circumcision, and renamed the city in 134 A.D.

But here’s the point of all this — Christianity made possible the cooperation of groups of people that had formerly been at each others’ throats — these formerly warring peoples literally gave up their old identities and put on the armor of Christ. They were born again. They began to share values. They put away idols. They became a new people. They thought of themselves as God’s children. The old animosities were gone. No Jew, no gentile, no man, no woman, no slave, no master — but all was Christ. The body with a soul.

What I want you to understand is that the soul — Christ — is what made the unification of the body possible and logical. It was his example that made it possible for people to imagine giving up their old identities and being born again in a new identity. Resurrected, with a new body. Try to understand.

Anacharsis Cloots was born in 1755. He was Prussian by birth, but he became a provocative theorist of politics during the period of the French Revolution. The embodiment of the Enlightenment, Cloots called himself “the orator of mankind,” and chose his name (after an early Scythian philosopher) as a signal of his rejection of Christianity. His big idea was even more ambitious than anything dreamed up by Robspierre (who, by the way, argued that Cloots was actually conspiring to subvert the Jacobin movement with his overly ambitious project) — it was nothing short the Universal Republic of Mankind. All division, up to and including the use of states and borders, was to be abolished according to Cloots’ thinking. Here’s a helpful excerpt from an article on Cloots published by a Princeton professor in 2012 in the History of European Ideas:

Sovereignty was necessarily despotic, he wrote, but since mankind’s sovereignty would unite interests and create no artificial oppositions, it would not have the same deleterious effects as a clash of multiple national sovereignties. He theorised the sovereign unity of mankind on logical grounds by arguing that sovereignty, a property inherent in people rather than institutions, was by its nature indivisible, and therefore could not be plural. All divisions and distinctions bet- ween individuals were arbitrary and irrelevant to the purposes of sovereignty, which inhered in mankind collectively as the only indivisible and therefore relevant category. In other words, Cloots derived human unity from the concept of sovereignty. The only true natural barrier was the one ‘between the Earth and the firmament’. As long as there was no bridge to other planets and, presumably, intelligent life there sovereignty resided in the entirety of mankind.

And here we have it: a body without a soul. Or at least — a very different soul than the one that had made possible the cooperation of various peoples who came together under Christ.

Since the Enlightenment, post-Christian thinkers have been gradually approaching the “Clootsian” eschatology by retaining “the unity of the body” as an aim even as they discard Christ as the soul of the body. I suspect that they retain unity as the goal because they dimly understand — even if they haven’t read Thucydides much lately — that an age of Strife can always return. But every body is unified around a principle. In the modern age, we will be unified under the principle of Unity itself. We are become Frankenstein’s monsters. Witness the many peoples of the world, forced to retain the form of a body — but not unified under any principle, having no soul. Parts sewn together by force to form a body. Ghastly because it has no soul.

Parts sewn together by force to form a body. Ghastly because it has no soul.

We are caught in a circular trap — retaining unity as a telos because we fear disunity. But whereas the unity-under-Christ implied a moral content, and the standardization of traditional forms of social dynamics, the new unity-for-the-sake-of-unity is not beholden to any moral content at all.

I propose that all of this gives us a way of understanding the intensification of hyper-pro-social behaviors, virtue signaling, and the hysteria that seems to follow whenever anyone dares to set themselves apart from, or refuse to go along with, the group. If the chief principle (the deity itself, the pseudo-soul) of the body is unity, then all deviation from unity-in-unity is correctly perceived as the potential source of the reintroduction of an age of Strife. It no longer matters what we are unified under, or for — whether it is for the rainbow flag, or for shopping, or for an abstract principle like equality. The important point is that unity has become an end in itself. And the devotees of this zombie-body go into a panic when they feel any significant effort from any of the part of the would-be, must-be, body to resist being stitched in.

I feel like I could go on and on with this idea. The short of it is: unity in Christ is possible because Christ intended it to be so, because it makes sense, because it is true. Unity for unity’s sake is unjustifiable, unnatural, and it becomes perverse when, and because, it is forced. The Universal Republic of Man dreamed up by Cloots was unimaginable before the 18th century — but we are all living in it now. Or rather, we are all stitched into it now, not exactly living, a body without a soul. Ghastly.

Abandoned Episode Script: The Way of Aletheia & The Way of Doxa

Here’s a short episode attempting to synthesize a few of the consistent themes of this podcast — with a focus on returning to the roots, which means considering again the fragments of Parmenides and Heraclitus, as well as the Bible. Three themes: 1) Language & Being 2) Idealism 3) Conversion, the shock of conversion to these views.

In my last video — the one on Idealism & Democracy — I tried to spell it all out so that you sort of couldn’t miss it: if you are a materialist, you believe that what exists is the stuff you can detect with your five senses. This sort of a metaphysic does not, in my view, provide a foundation for values — things like Justice and Goodness are not observable in material reality.  The consequence seems to be that if we accept a materialist conception of reality, we cannot reliably evaluate things — because without a notion of Goodness, for example, we cannot say which things are better and which are worse. The result is a kind of flat-monism, where what exists, exists, and that’s all we can say about it if we don’t believe in transcendent universals, which are also called Platonic ideals. In a materialist world, all there is is opinion — to speak of “Truth” cannot be anything other than a kind of rhetorical jockeying unless we rely on the transcendent ideals to anchor our claims.

Let’s put this in another context. I know some of you are newish to the channel, and so you may not have made it all the way back in the deep archive to watch the episode on Parmenides — but it was a good one, episode 28. To briefly summarize one of the points I made in that video, the only extant writing we have from Parmenides is a poem called “On Nature.” It is fragmentary, but there are enough fragments to get a good sense of his overall schema. It’s very short — takes about ten minutes to read the whole thing, and if you have any interest in Philosophy, it’s absolutely essential reading. Parmenides is often called the father of Philosophy, which is sort of interesting, because this doesn’t read anything like an essay by Kant or Hume. It’s more like a short story in dactylic hexameter. The speaker, presumably Parmenides himself, reports a dream-like vision… in the vision. He is drawn along by a set of steeds on the way of the goddess, who conducts “the man who knows” through all things. After that psychedelic preamble, he says he’s going to tell us what ways are available for thinking — there are two main ways, and the first is called “The Way of Truth.” In a very Heideggerean sort of a way, Parmenides then makes the important claim that “never shall things that are not, be.” He says this confuses people, and gives them “two heads,” and basically just confuses them. Here, he anticipates and rejects dialectic as a misleading path — if we want to avoid confusion, we should speak only of what is, and never of what is not. By this path, Parmenides arrives at his very mind-blowing conception of The One, which is totally undifferentiated, unmoving and eternal (or rather timeless, existing only in the present). That’s the Truth.

But then Parmenides says he’s going to put that aside and talk about the Way of Opinion, or the Way of Belief — which is Doxa in Greek. He says,

Here I stop my trustworthy speech to you and thought about Truth. From here on, learn the beliefs of mortals; listen to the deceptive ordering of my words. For they made up their minds to name two forms, where it is right only to name one (here is where they have gone astray)…

So… I’m not going to go full-depth into this here because I already did in the episode I just mentioned, but let me try to make clear why I’m showing you this: for Parmenides, men have gone astray, and the place they went astray is in the way they started using language to label… what isn’t. In his poem, there is the world of Day and the world of Night — these correspond to what is, and, well, what isn’t — only, what isn’t, isn’t. And so REALLY what Parmenides is trying to give us is the way of what is, and the way of confusion. He is trying to show us that there is only REALITY — everything else, and that includes talking, is not reality. But that place, the not reality, is the route taken by almost everyone. He calls it, in contrast with the way of Aletheia (of Truth) — the way of Doxa (of belief, of opinion).

Listen to this. In my last episode, I spoke at length about how materialism, which is nominalism, denies the existence of universals and clings to things that can be perceived as the only realities — and I said this is opposed to the idealism of Socrates, who proposes that universals exist. Particulars, that is, the many things that can be perceived, only exist in reality to the extent that they partake of ideal forms — and those, the ideal forms, are the true realities. Well, Parmenides hints at the same difficulty. There is the way of Truth, that he’s trying to show you, although language makes it difficult — and the way of opinion, of doxa. Remember, I said you can only have opinion when you aren’t an idealist, because you have nothing on which you can anchor your claims. You have to read this poem for yourself, and really think about how it comes together, especially in the ninth part — but when he gets through that part, Parmenides switches into a prophetic register. He says, in part 10,

And thou shalt know the origin of all the things on high, 

and all the signs in the sky, and the resplendent works of the 

glowing sun’s clear torch, and whence they arose. And thou 

shalt learn likewise of the wandering deeds of the round-faced 

moon, and of her origin. Thou shalt know, too, the heavens 

that surround us, whence they arose, and how Necessity took

them and bound them to keep the limits of the stars . . .

These are the two ways — the way of the sun and the way of the moon. Later, in fragment 14 and 15, he clarifies how this analogy works. Speaking of the moon, he says it is “Shining by night with borrowed light, wandering round the earth.” Listeners, can you hear that? Are you able to unravel the mystery! The light of the moon is not primary, but reflective. And what does the moon do because it is not the primary light? It wanders around the earth. And in the fifteenth fragment he says, of the moon, that she is “always straining her eyes to the beams of the sun.” And of course, the moon has always been associated with madness. 

Reality without a Filter

I’ve been listening to a bunch of talk from Bernardo Kastrup on YouTube lately — he’s obviously smart, although there seems to be another level to what’s going on with him. He has also done interviews where he speaks of the fundamental ineffability of revelatory experiences. My sense is that he’s a sort of mystic trying to smuggle his mysticism past the gatekeepers in academia, which is sort of cool, but not as cool as he thinks it is.

Anyway, the upside of this is that he’s putting all of the emphasis on the perceiver, going so far as to say that the world exists only in our heads, effectively. I guess he says he’s not just re-uploading Bishop Berkeley, but it sounds pretty close. He also pulls from Parmenides, claiming that all things are One (and that all things… are consciousness).

To me, I mean — I don’t know, I’m small brained. Maybe this is all true, or maybe it’s like a reflection of the truth, or whatever. But it does get the mind contemplating the question of how “out there” gets perceived in our minds… and Kastrup makes the important point that basically there is no perception without a filter. You’ve all seen those comparisons of three photos showing how a selfie looks on an iPhone 8, 10, and 11, right? Same person, very different looks.

Well this question was raised centuries ago, implicitly at least, by the portrait painters. The question is, which of these paintings above is mostly “accurate” with regard to depicting the world as it really is? Even those barely acquainted with painting and art history will be able to identify the Rembrandt and the Botticelli, because these (like Van der Weyden in my opinion) have such consistent styles. But is that because they consciously made a choice to “warp” reality a certain way, consistently, in painting after painting? Or should we imagine that they were trying to depict reality, but kept missing the mark, always in the same way? Or, finally, should we imagine that they were perceiving it quite rightly, but we ourselves, viewing their paintings, are jarred — because we’re not perceiving it correctly??

This is fun stuff.

Language, the House of Being

It sounds like a cool restaurant from the 1990s — the House of Being — but it’s from the opening paragraph of Martin Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism.” This is some dense writing, because it’s so “intertextual,” to use the academic term — it’s basically written in response to Sartre’s essay, “Existentialism is a Humanism,” which I have not read. So, I’m putting in the effort to try to understand this essay. That means I have to learn (again) what Humanism means, and try to figure out what “eksistance” is and what “dasein” is, and not in the way where I read about it on wikipedia and pretend to know it, but like, really.

But… the good news for listeners of the show is that, when/if I really do crack this mystery, I’ll report back and explain it in English, rather than German, words. Stay tuned.

New Developments!

Just updating my few readers because it seems that I gained a bunch of new followers recently. I’m transfering my videos from YouTube to Odysee, and if you click here, you can subscribe to my channel there. It’s supposed to be safer and less susceptible to censorship.

I’m also working on episodes on The Gospel of Philip, Emil Cioran, and Lu Xun — so stay tuned!

What’s the Matter with Bartleby?

I think I’m going to attempt an episode on Bartleby next — stay tuned. It feels like a big thing to attempt because it’s obvious that I can’t cover everything in 45 minutes. But I think we’re due for a reconsideration of what capitalism does to the human mind. Essentially, we’ll consider whether Bartleby himself is the problem, or if (maybe) there are certain element and influences in the environment he finds himself in that lead to his demise. I’ll try to do this… without notes!

Amanda Gorman and the Question: “What is Poetry?”

We now live in a “post-truth” world according to what seems like a majority of people. That means that whenever there’s a debate about a definition or the meaning of something, most people are inclined to shrug and retreat into “that’s just your opinion” territory. Well, I’m not there yet. I think there is Truth, and it’s closely related to Beauty & Goodness & Justice. And so rather than just accept the always-changing opinions fed to me by mainstream media, I’m going to try to stick to my guns here and address an interesting aesthetic question: what is (good) poetry? And was that inaugural poem that we heard yesterday an example of good poetry? First of all, in case you missed it, here’s Gorman’s reading of her own poem:

And here’s a link to the text of the poem.

Okay first of all, I don’t love it. I know — if you’re a liberal, that’s scandalous. But stick around to hear why I don’t love it. The first thing I want to note is that there is a difference between the “performance” of the poem and “the poem itself” (which I take to be the text). However, this is already a disputed point. Is poetry chiefly meant to be heard aloud, or is it meant to be read? The ancient epics were generally oral performances — and they were rhythmic, and rhymed. But at some point around the 17th century, or a bit earlier, poetry started to be separated from any music, and buying volumes of poetry to read to oneself became a common thing.

And this question has ramifications for the form of poetry, I suspect: those who want to hear poetry generally like to hear it rhyming and rhythmic, and perhaps with certain dramatic inflections, whereas those who generally read poetry are more inclined to appreciate poetry that doesn’t rhyme and isn’t rhythmic. For what it’s worth, almost every MFA poetry program in America has, for fifty years or more, taught that rhyme is mostly a no-no, and regular rhythm is unnecessary. And this brings me to a controversial sociological point: if a white poet had written a sing-songy and occasionally rhymed poem like Gorman’s, it would have been ridiculed by all the top poetry professors in the country, who, when they read, read in much different tones:

When people who aren’t acquainted with modern poetry hear a poem like Gluck’s, they often don’t understand the tone of the reading — “why don’t you put some gusto into your reading?” But there’s a reason for that lack of gusto. It’s because these poets are relying on the language itself, in its meanings, in the images, to do the main “work” of poetry. Listen to Gluck’s poem again. The whole thing is written from the perspective of a (personified) iris flower. The poem almost requires re-reading. It requires its readers to use their imagination — “overhead, branches of the pine, shifting — then nothing; the weak sun flickered over the dry surface. It is terrible to survive as consciousness buried in the dark earth.” There are levels to this poetry. It helps to know that an iris is a perennial plant and that it “dies” every winter only to be reborn in spring. You have to imagine its voice, to hear it talking about death and rebirth — you have to zoom in with your mind and see it, and then you are rewarded with that astounding last image of the purple flower itself bursting out of the green shoot: “from the center of my life came a great fountain, deep blue shadows on azure seawater.”

Could Louise Gluck make her poems rhyme? Pretty sure that’s a yes. Could she get all caffeinated up and read them with ferocious breath, and gasp for air between lines, in the style of “Slam poetry?” I’m sure she… could, if she could get over the embarrassment of trying a style that felt unnatural. But does she need to? I would argue definitely not. She’s excellent just the way she is.

Compare “The Wild Iris” to a few lines from Gorman’s poem:

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice

The first thing I notice is that these images are much less concrete — “where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” Well, huh? What am I supposed to picture there? It’s certainly not as vivid as “overhead, branches of the pine, shifting — then nothing; it is terrible to survive as consciousness buried in the dark earth.”

“The loss we carry?” — what loss? Can you be specific? I can’t “see” anything in my head. “A sea we must wade” — okay, I can see that, but… why? And then a real doozy: “We’ve braved the belly of the beast.” Okay again, every poetry teacher in the country would strike that and say “avoid cliches,” and ask her to substitute something original and specific, an image that readers can see.

And again, “quiet” and “peace” are very abstract notions, hardly images at all. And “norms and notions” is redundant and totally abstract. And then this annoying and cheesey word-play on “just is” and “just-ice,” all to make an oversaturated political point, however vague.

The point isn’t to be merely critical. The point I’m trying to make here is that the way Gorman’s poetry works is that it relies heavily on the tone produced by the speech of the poet — it works the way you’re able to tell if someone is angry even if they’re hollering in a language you don’t speak. But that, in my view, isn’t really poetry. It’s a kind of oration, and what it communicates, it communicates at the level of tone–not the intrinsic tone of the language itself, but the extrinsic tone, literally found in the pronunciation of the words.

The difference here is that Gorman’s poem suffers when it is flat on the page–when we have to read it for ourselves. There are almost no images in Gorman’s poetry, and no (interesting or original) analogies, no good similes. Compare it to something chosen almost at random out of The Iliad:

Just like huge ocean waves on the Icarian Sea,
when East Wind and South Wind rush down together
from Father Zeus’s clouds to whip up the sea,
the whole assembly rippled, like a large grain field,
undulating under the fury of the storm,
as West Wind roars in with force, all ears of corn
ducking down under the power of the gusts—
that’s how the shouting men stampeded to their ships.

And here is the solution. Because remember, The Iliad rhymed. It was rhythmic. It contained consonance. But it also requires readers to hold an image in their mind, sometimes for many lines. So maybe Louise Gluck needs to re-introduce music and some “verve” to her readings — okay fine, maybe. Maybe Gorman is a better performer. But on the other hand, Gorman still needs to learn to write better. She’d be a good emcee at a social event, but I’m not buying her as poet laureate yet, be

It’s fun to imagine some synthesis emerging between — let’s be honest here — white poetry and black poetry. But my suspicion is these two sorts of poetry will simply evolve in different ways, where the one becomes more and more like pop music and the other becomes more and more like the cryptic utterances of the Oracle of Delphi. You know where to find me, friends.

Considering an Author’s Background in Relation to His Unstated Motivations

What is called “biographical criticism” is not everyone’s cup of tea, but outside of (a parody of) the strictest New Critical approach to reading, most people will allow that considering the author’s biography may help to shed light on their thinking. For example, if we want to understand Melville’s “Moby-Dick” or “Billy Budd,” it can be helpful to know when he lived, what sort of childhood he had, what social class he was from, where he traveled, what sorts of political events defined his experience in early and middle-life, etc., etc.

Or, if I want to try to understand Heraclitus’s thinking, it might be worthwhile to try to read Herodotus, who wrote around the time Heraclitus lived, and described the world of Heraclitus’s time — this may not be a definitive explanation for Heraclitus’s ideas, but it certainly seems fair to consider it. For instance, Ephesus was decimated in the Persian Wars around the time Heraclitus was middle-aged. This may not have defined his thinking, but it seems unlikely that he would’ve taken no notice of these events.

Now, for some reason, this rather mundane & “basic” approach seems unobjectionable to almost everyone at this point. Yes, we should think about Melville & Heraclitus’s personal background if we really want to understand their thinking. Yet, for some reason, if we apply this same logic to someone like Leo Strauss, people get a lot more sensitive. Where was Strauss from? What major events in politics & war defined his early & middle life? How might his Jewishness, for example, shape his interpretation of Plato and of Thucydides — and how might his exile from his birthplace, and his being unable to find work in England because he was Jewish, have shaped his teaching when he finally found work in academia in America?

These seem like reasonable questions to me — but if we arrive at a hunch that his personal experience gave him cause to subvert or work to change certain definitions or even to deceive students for his own benefit, or for the benefit of other exiles, etc., well — that seems all the sudden more controversial.

Just an observation. I’m just getting started listening to some of his lectures.

Why is Stoicism Popular Right Now?

Maybe because stoicism teaches that the past and the future are beyond our control, and so it puts us in the present — and so… when else would it be popular? And what does Stoicism have to say about the Logos? And how is the Logos related to politics?

My latest episode was a good one, and I hope you’ll check it out: