Post-Human Language and the Dreary Fate of Homo Numericus
from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
Vanderleun has a piece today that really got me to thinking about language. I'll see if I can weave some of it in as we continue our reflections on Balthasar's analysis of The Word...
Back to language. Vanderleun talks about how, in order to begin to enter the world of the epic poem, we must "make a leap of imagination from the present day to the night gatherings around bonfires and flickering torches in which these tales of love and death were told."
Obviously the Bible is an epic, and I think we need to pay attention to Vanderleun's advice when entering its world. First of all, it is a world -- a sacred world, or the world of the sacred. Although the epic must be told in a horizontal manner, the obvious purpose of the epic is to attune us to the timeless world of the vertical, which is always present but unnoticed unless we do the noticing -- similar to quantum physics, whereby we decide whether the fundamental reality is particle or wave. Only we can decide whether words are just digits or something more.
The Bible is obviously based upon an oral tradition that was eventually reduced to written form. This is fine, but I wonder if, because we live under the Reign of Quantity, this doesn't render the Bible a closed book for many people? Consider what Vanderleun says about the epic poem:
"Part story, part panegyric, part worship, the reciting of an epic was an event that could span days, even weeks. How the earliest bards held all of the poem in memory is still somewhat of a mystery,"
but he cites the analogy of jazz, which relies upon an underlying fixed structure, over which the soloist freely improvises. Just like human freedom, this musical freedom is not absolute but relative, as it is constrained by the underlying structure.
Again, I cannot help wondering if this isn't the manner in which we are supposed to engage revelation. Because this is exactly what I try to do every morning, which is to say, "riff" over the cosmic chords provided by the Creator. It's really a kind of singing, just singing about this sacred world I find myself in. It is not the world of Darwin, or of matter, or of colliding physical forces. I know it's a real world, and in fact, I also know that it is the cause, not a meaningless effect, of lower worlds. But I have no inclination whatsoever to argue with someone who insists that he is simply the expression of his selfish genes. What can I say? Your genes won. Now go away.
Here is the takeaway point. Vanderleun writes of how contemporary poetry is, "for the most part, deeply embedded in the secular culture, and there is no affirmative available to that culture, since the affirmative depends on a belief in something other than, larger than, the self.... Poetry can't matter as it once mattered because the base ground of being has been yanked out from under the culture, leaving it stranded in mid-air, unable to ascend, having only the fall before it."