On Being and Becoming

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On Being and Becoming

Postby jonquil » Mon Oct 13, 2014 4:56 pm

I recently found myself thinking of Hermann Hesse as a grand master of qualification. This recently came to mind when reading The Glass Bead Game. Writing in the persona of the fictional biographer of the equally fictional Magister Ludi, Joseph Knecht, Hermann Hesse put great energy into the qualification of every type of experience he wrote about, as though he were trying to describe every possible aspect. But somehow this kind of effort, while quite noble and interesting, seems inadequate and possibly a bit tedious in its constant effort to delineate and elaborate to the nth degree. I can’t help thinking that it ultimately reduces the experience to nothing, possibly because of the limitations of language and culture in the face of the great existential conundrum of life. This might be what Eliot was getting at in the naming of cats: that one inscrutable, singular, and ineffable name

His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

It calls to mind the way that the biblical Moses poked at the idea with the tetragrammaton YHWH, “I am that I am.” We are thus left with that never-ending dichotomy of being and becoming. Being just is in all its ineffability, but becoming requires division, description, and expression. On the being side, Wittgenstein wrote: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." The Tao Te Ching tells us: "Tao can be told but any definition given is not perpetual; the name can be named but whatever name given is not perpetual." As for becoming, we can look to Heraclitus and his idea that nothing in this world is constant except change and becoming. Nietzsche emphasized this notion when he wrote that Heraclitus "will remain eternally right with his assertion that being is an empty fiction.”

If there is a happy medium between the two seemingly exclusive and incompatible ideas of being and becoming, perhaps it can be accessed through mystics like Meister Eckhart who wrote in a koan-like fashion: “The outward man is the swinging door; the inner man is the still hinge.” And for Eckhart, God is envisioned as a great underground river with many wells to draw from. It's our job to go down to the depths where we experience things in common.

Thus the answer to all questions surrounding the nature of existence might be as simple as thinking in terms of a curve instead of a straight line, a moving river as opposed to fixed ground. Thus we also get Boethius' circular river of time, the nunc fluens that underlies or informs all of existence and takes us out of opposites and divisions, hopefully, and into something like the way James Joyce decided to make his language stream run like the river Liffey in Finnegan's Wake.

Joyce took Boethius’ river to a new surreal level that can never be understood in a sitting position of just being. It seems to be telling us that being IS becoming, that the two are inextricably bound together as one, so that there is a kind of ineffable existential eternity in every space that doesn’t exist between the lines of time and space. Perhaps that was the result of a kind of mystical realization that pauses and punctuations do not tell the real story of humans in time and space. And that river, whether the real Liffey or the metaphorical one of Boethius, Heraclitus, or Meister Eckhart, can flow as slow or fast as our consciousness will allow.

According to Black Elk, nature is circular and, by implication, living in a square would be unnatural. His words resonate for us who seem to be living in a most insane, square-box world these days. If every avenue we take leads to a corner, we will live in a world of corners where being is our only thought and becoming leads only to the grave.

Now the first thought might be: how do I get out of the corner? But that would not be possible in a world of corners. So what is the solution to square-box thinking regarding being and becoming? It probably requires less of a change in physical space and more of a metanoia in order to make the corner round and eternal. Just square the circle, or circle the square, and then turn it into a river.

In those famous last words of Hamlet, the great precursor of Wittgenstein, the rest is silence -- spoken in life with a dying breath, leaving us only paradox: the essence of life and mystery, humanity’s curse and greatest blessing.
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