(urth) Long Review Essay on Wizard Knight
sbocian at poczta.fm
Thu Sep 27 10:59:55 PDT 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007, 11:45:49 PM, you wrote:
> On Sept. 24, 2007, Stanislaus wrote:
>>This is a Neoplatonic book.
> How do you know this? I haven't read The Wizard, but I recall
> somebody writing on this list that each world but the topmost is
> basically made out of stuff rejected by the world above. That's more
> Gnostic, if anything, than Neoplatonist. And the Kabbalah, which at
> least we know Wolfe knows about, has an emanationist cosmology just as Neoplatonism does.
Kabbalah is the Jewish version of Neoplatonism. For our purposes it is close enough.
As for Gnosis - there is a great difference. For Neoplatonism (and Kabbalah) the emanation of the world is a necessary process. The matter is comparatively much less good than spirit, but it is so because it is a very low emanation; there is nothing intrinsically evil in matter. It simply doesn't posess very much good.
For Gnostics the creation of the world is a terrible tragedy. An evil figure, the Demiurg, in his pride and will to dominate created an evil prison for souls.
There are a few Gnostic fantasy and sf books. The Long Sun trilogy is pretty obvious; less well known is "The Voyage to Arcturus" by Lindsay. If you want to see the difference between Gnosis and Neoplatonism, read it.
>>Neoplatonism was the ruling philosophy and religion of the Roman Empire and, in a version Christianized by Pseudo-Dionysius, of Byzantium (although the Ortodox authors tend to condemn Neoplatonism in its pure version).
> What is your source for this? I've read a fair amount about the
> Roman Empire, and nothing I've read suggests anything like this; nor
> does the Wikipedia article you cite. In any case, Neoplatonism dates
> from the 3rd century A.D., while the Roman Empire was founded in the
> 1st century B.C. (and became Christianized in the 4th century A.D.).
I blame Humanists. They liked only the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, and we must suffer the consequences. The late Empire is nearly unknown. But you can read some writings of Julian the Apostate, a Neoplatonist par excellence.
>>An important part is that there is nothing like forgiveness, charity etc. Those that are lower, are lower because they are worse; the higher are nearer to the One or to his earthly image, the Emperor, and therefore are better. You can rise, best of all by philosophy or by service to the State, but if you do not, it is your own fault.
> Again, nothing in the Wikipedia article, or in <a
> href="http://www.iep.utm.edu/n/neoplato.htm">this article</a>, which
> Wikipedia references, suggests that there is a single Neoplatonist
> morality, let alone that "there is nothing [in it] like forgiveness,
> charity etc." (which have nothing to do with Able throwing the
> captain out of his cabin, in any case), or that "good equals
> strong," to quote a later email of yours.
As to the pre-Christian morality, here is an interesting interview with Wolfe:
"JJ: That is an interesting perspective on it, I hadn't thought of at all. My wife had one of her professors that taught in a Moslem country for a while and said he woke up one day and saw the children had a bunch of kittens they were throwing up in the air and hitting them with a baseball bat against the wall and the mothers just sat by and watched. He said "I am not a Christian, I am an atheist, but I am a Christian in that I could not tolerate that." There has been an influence in our society that has made us different from pagans.
GW: We vastly underestimate the importance of Jesus. We think we don't. We have all these churches and we say how can we be underestimating Jesus? We don't until we start trying to figure out what it would be like if he had never lived. When you really start trying to figure out what it would be like if He never lived you realize that He is a much more pivotal figure than we give him credit for. All of these people, everybody at this convention is in that sense a Christian although most of them would tell you that they are not and some of them would tell them quite truthfully that they were Jews who practice Judaism in one of its various forms and so on and so forth. Nevertheless they have been influenced by Christ much more than they realized. We are very lucky to have had Him. We are very fortunate. A friend of mine learned to read Turkish. And he got hold of a Turkish joke book and read it. And I said, "What were the jokes like?" He said it was horrible. They were all about ugly tricks that were being played on blind people and things like that. This is what we have escaped from and we don't realize that it is there and we came very close to falling into it. We very easily could have and we still may."
Remember that for the Neoplatonists we live in the best of all possible worlds, and that this world is necessary.
If you want to know more about Neoplatonism, and especially Neoplatonism as it was reflected in the popular consciousness, I suggest two books by CS Lewis - "Discarded Mirror" and "Allegory of Love".
These are not philosophy books and are not primarily about Neoplatonism. They show however the popular worldview of late Antiquity and Middle Ages and are a necessary introduction to "Wizard-Knight".
Lewis explains one very important feature of Neoplatonism - the doctrine of mediation. Two beings from different levels cannot meet directly; they always need a mediator, a "tertium quid". That is the reason the hierarchy is so important. I cannot meet God directly, the best I can achieve is to see his reflection in my superior in the hierarchy - "the bright shadow" of Wolfe.
(Here, actually, Plotinus differs from the standard Neoplatonism, because he thought the direct mystical union with God possible.
Zeke Mazur, Unio Magica, Part 1: On the Magical Origins of Plotinus? Mysticism,)
A good popular introduction is Arthur Lovejoy's "The Great Chain of Being".
Some more info
http://classics.mit.edu/Plotinus/enneads.html The works of Plotinus
http://www.iep.utm.edu/n/neoplato.htm a short, but very good, article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
See also Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite "On the Divine Names".
Here is a fragment of the preface, written by the translator.
Keep in mind that Dionysius is an orthodox Christian, and the Wizard-Knight is not Christian, although in comparison with typical Neoplatonism it shows Christian influences. Super-Essence means God.
C. E. Rolt, Preface:
"Let us follow this creative process and see whither it leads. The
Super-Essence, as It transcends both Non-Existence and Existence, also transcends both Time and Eternity. But from afar It is seen or felt as Existence and as Eternity.
Thus the world-process begins (as Dionysius had learnt from Genesis and from the teaching of Plato) as the level of dead solid matter, to which he gives the name of ?merely existent? (ousi?d?s).
Thence, ... it advances to the production of plant and animal and man, being by the process enriched with more and more qualities as Life (autoz??), Wisdom (autosophia), and the other currents of the Universal stream begin to permeate it one by one.
Thus the separate individuals, according to the various laws (logoi) of
their genera and species, are created in this world of Time. And each thing, while it exists in the world, has two sides to its existence: one, outside its created being (according to the sense of the word ?outside? explained above), in the Super-Essence wherein all things are One Thing (as all points meet at infinity or as according to the neo-Platonic simile used by Dionysius, the radii of a circle meet at the centre), and the other within its own created being on this lower plane where all things are separate from each other (as all points in space are separate or as the radii of the circle are separate at the circumference). This paradox is of the very utmost importance.
The various kinds of existences being now created in this world of time, we can regard them as ranged in an ascending scale between Nothingness and the Super-Essence, each rank of being subsuming the qualities of those that lie below it. Thus we get the following system in ascending order: Existence, Life, Sensation, Reason, Spirit.
The diminution of Being which we find in glancing down the ladder is,
Dionysius tells us, no defect in the system of creation. It is right that a
stone should be but a stone and a tree no more than a tree. Each thing, being itself however lowly, is fulfilling the laws of its kind which pre-exist (after a transcendent manner) in the undifferentiated
Super-Essence. If, however, there is a diminution of Being where such
diminution has no place, then trouble begins to arise. This is, in fact, the origin and nature of evil. For as we ascend the scale of Being, fresh laws at each stage counteract the laws of the stage below, the law of life by which the blood circulates and living things grow upwards counteracting the mere law of inert gravitation, and again, the laws of morality counteracting the animal passions. And where this counter-action fails, disaster follows. A hindered circulation means ill-health, and a hindered self-control means sin. Whereas a stone is merely lifeless, a corpse is not only lifeless but dead; and whereas a brute is un-moral, a brutal man is wicked, or immoral.
What in the one case is the absence from a thing of that which has no proper place in it, is in the other case the failure of the thing?s proper virtues.
IV.?THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
At wearisome length Dionysius discusses the problem of evil and shows that nothing is inherently bad. For existence is in itself good (as coming ultimately from the Super-Essence), and all things are therefore good in so far as they exist. Since evil is ultimately non-existent; a totally evil thing would be simply non-existent, and thus the evil in the world, wherever it becomes complete, annihilates itself and that wherein it lodges. We may illustrate this thought by the nature of zero in mathematics, which is non-entity (since, added to numbers, it makes no difference) and yet has an annihilating force (since it reduces to zero all numbers that are multiplied by it). Even so evil is nothing and yet manifests itself in the annihilation of the things it qualifies. That which we call evil in the world is merely a tendency of things towards nothingness. Thus sickness is a tendency towards death, and death is simply the cessation of physical vitality. And sin is a tendency towards spiritual death, which is the cessation of spiritual
vitality. But, since the ground of the soul is indestructible, a complete cessation of its being is impossible; and hence even the devils are not inherently bad. Were they such they would cease ipso facto to exist.
Dionysius here touches incidentally on a mystical doctrine which, as developed by later writers, afterwards attained the greatest importance. This doctrine of a timeless self is the postulate, perhaps, of all Christian mysticism. The boldest expression of it is to be found in Eckhart and his disciple Tauler, who both say that even the lost souls in hell retain unaltered the ultimate nobility of their being. And lest this doctrine should be thought to trifle with grave matters, be it remembered that the sinfulness and gravity of sin are simply due to this indestructible nobility of our being. Man cannot become non-moral, and hence his capacity for wickedness. The soul is potentially divine, and therefore may be actually satanic. The very devils in hell cannot destroy the image of the Godhead within them, and it is this image that sin defiles.
It follows from the ultimate non-entity of evil that, in so far as it
exists, it can only do so through being mingled with some element of good. To take an illustration given by Dionysius himself, where there is disease there is vitality, for when life ceases the sickness disappears in death. The ugliness of evil lies precisely in the fact that it always, somehow or other, consists in the corruption of something inherently good.
It is, however, this ugliness of things that Dionysius fails to emphasize, and herein lies the great weakness of his teaching. Not only does he, with the misguided zeal of an apologist, gloze deliberately over certain particular cruelties of the Creation and accept them as finite forms of good, but also he tends to explain away the very nature of evil in itself. He tends to be misled by his own true theories. For it is true that evil is ultimately non-existent. St. Augustine taught this when he said: ?Sin is nought?; so did Julian of Norwich, who ?saw not sin,? because she believes ?it hath no manner of substance nor any part of being.? The fault of Dionysius is the natural failure of his mental type to grasp the mere facts of the actual world as mere facts. He is so dazzled with his vision of ultimate Reality that he does not feel with any intensity the partial realities of this finite universe. Hence, though his theory of evil is, in the main, true, he does not quite grasp the true application of his theory to this world of actual facts.
For this world is by its very nature finite. And hence, if the evil in it is
(as Dionysius rightly says) but partial, it must also be remembered (as he for a moment forgets) that its very existence is but partial. And,
therefore, though evil is ultimately non-existent, yet the bad qualities of things may, so far as this present world is concerned, have as much reality, or at least as much actuality, as their good qualities. And when we say that evil is ultimately non-existent we merely mean that evil ought to have no actuality here, not that it has none. Dionysius calls evil a lapse and failure of the creature?s proper virtues. But a lapse or failure has in it something positive, as he in the same breath both admits by using the word and also tries to explain away. It is as positive as the virtues from which it lapses. The absence of a wooden block is nothing, light has no proper place there, but the air, where light should is darkness and is a visible
shadow. St. Augustine has crystallized this truth in his famous epigram, quoted above in part, which runs in full as follows: ?Sin is naught, and men are naughtes when they sin.? The void left by the want of a good thing has a content consisting in the want. Probably had Dionysius seen more of the world?s misery and sin he would have had a stronger sense of this fact. And in that case he mould have given more prominence than he gives, in his extant writings at least, to the Cross of Christ."
I hope those resources will help you understand the problem.
Stanislaus mailto:sbocian at poczta.fm
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