(urth) OFF LIST Re: Wolfe and Materialism

James Wynn crushtv at gmail.com
Fri Feb 11 09:32:23 PST 2011

Dude! You should post this.

On 2/11/2011 10:42 AM, Craig Brewer wrote:
> Whoops. I obviously forgot to change the address line. My apologies.
> I'll add something substantive, then:
> The interesting thing about approaching Wolfe from the direction that 
> Lane outlines below is that the "spiritual" meanings of what can 
> otherwise be seen as merely physical phenomena in Wolfe can be seen as 
> at once physically real AND spiritually meaningful. And we can do that 
> without just saying that they are metaphorically or symbolically 
> meaningful.
> For example, when Sev brings the New Sun, it could, physically, just 
> be a complicated Hiero/grammate plot to travel backwards in time and 
> ensure that they were created by whatever humans eventually evolved 
> into (or whichever version of that "alien conspiracy" story we 
> currently believe). But that evolution could also be literally 
> spiritual, even if it isn't quite up the level of actual salvation.
> My difficulty with finding real spiritual/supernatural events in the 
> plot of New Sun has always been that I could figure out ways that what 
> happens is metaphorically full of religious meaning...but it so often 
> seemed possible to reduce it to some other 
> physicalist/materialist/Hiero conspiracy explanation. With Lane's 
> model, though, when Sev brings about Urth's evolution/salvation, it 
> can be at once a mere physical event but also a step on the ladder of, 
> as he says, "reconciling spirit with matter."
> It would take me some work to find textual evidence that this is what 
> Wolfe thinks is what's going on, but I think it's an idea worth 
> sticking with for a bit.
> Craig
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *From:* Craig Brewer <cnbrewer at yahoo.com>
> *To:* The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
> *Sent:* Fri, February 11, 2011 10:30:09 AM
> *Subject:* (urth) OFF LIST Re: Wolfe and Materialism
> Lane,
> I'll write off line so as not to bore the rest with non-Wolfe stuff. 
> But I almost wrote my dissertation on the relationship between Spinoza 
> and Milton's materialism, with a lot of reference to other early 
> modern materialists. But I found out that a couple of others were 
> doing the same thing. There's a fascinating book by one of my 
> advisors, though, about Milton's philosophical relation to other 
> "materialist" debates of the time: Stephen Fallon's _Milton Among the 
> Philosophers: Poetry and Materialism in 17th Century England.
> And, years ago, I had to teach a course on Philosophy of Mind. I had 
> the same suspicions about Kim as you said. And speaking of Phil of 
> Mind, there's no better book to enrage undergraduates than Ryle's 
> _Concept of Mind_. It provides such a succinct conceptual and 
> argumentative structure for responding to any and every objection that 
> it drives them crazy when they can't get out of its circle. Been 
> awhile since I've thought about that book, so thanks for making me 
> free associate a bit!
> On Wolfe, though, I love this:
> >> The sense of redemption or of reconciliation of matter with spirit 
> is then a heroic process that runs counter to the natural inclinations 
> of things.
> That actually makes a fair bit of sense and is worth rethinking what's 
> going on in New Sun, I think. It's also very Miltonic, so 
> automatically like it. :)
> Thanks for the great post!
> Craig
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *From:* Lane Haygood <lhaygood at gmail.com>
> *To:* The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
> *Sent:* Fri, February 11, 2011 10:17:38 AM
> *Subject:* Re: (urth) Wolfe and Materialism
> The modern usage of materialist as ontological naturalist/physicalist 
> is an unfortunate hangover of a terminology shift.  Two hundred years 
> ago people that believed only in physical things would be called 
> materialists because we did not have any idea about atomic science.  
> Now we call them physicalists because "matter" seems so inadequate, 
> however they mean the same thing (unless one talks to Jaegwon Kim, who 
> is really a dualist but too scared to admit it).
> I wouldn't even call Milton's position materialism, as it sounds much 
> more like Spinoza's version of modal monism, or even something like 
> Leibniz' monadology.
> We could, of course, be approaching this from the wrong side, starting 
> with matter, when we should be starting with spirit.  A pure and 
> eternal unchanging essence (eidolon, spirit, universal soul) is a 
> common top-of-the-ontological-pyramid feature of a lot of the 
> mythic/philosophical systems Wolfe pirated for BOTNS, as well as a 
> defining feature of the ontologies of the early church fathers.
> That pure Spirit substance is then filtered or refracted or corrupted 
> as it leaves the Ain Soph Dei or whatever and gets down the lowly 
> earth-world of imperfect, temporary and flawed beings such as us, 
> where it is now instantiated not as eternal and unchanging spirit but 
> now base matter.
> The sense of redemption or of reconciliation of matter with spirit is 
> then a heroic process that runs counter to the natural inclinations of 
> things.
> LH
> On Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 10:05 AM, Craig Brewer <cnbrewer at yahoo.com 
> <mailto:cnbrewer at yahoo.com>> wrote:
>     Just a note that there are quite a variety of "materialisms" out
>     there. Perhaps
>     one that would be interesting to think of in relation to Wolfe
>     would be Milton.
>     Milton was a materialist. But he was also, obviously, not an
>     atheist. For
>     Milton, matter and spirit were on the same continuum, and spirit
>     was just
>     "refined" matter. Technically, Milton gets categorized as a
>     "monist" meaning
>     there's only one substance, rather than a dualist who says that
>     mind/soul and
>     body are two different "things."
>     In his theological writings, Milton says this right out, but you
>     can also get a
>     much more beautiful version in Paradise Lost (5. 469-490) when
>     Rafael explains
>     it to Adam. I'll quote it below, but I'd point out that this kind of
>     "materialism" might be interesting to think about, particularly in
>     relation to
>     the notion that, with Wolfe, mimicking something can help you
>     become that thing.
>     Perhaps, like Milton, Wolfe is saying something along the lines
>     of: "lowly
>     matter gets refined into a more spiritual state when it behaves
>     like something
>     more pure/moral/spiritual/whatever."
>     Rafael to Adam:
>     O Adam, one Almighty is, from whom
>     All things proceed, and up to him return,
>     If not deprav’d from good, created all
>     Such to perfection, one first matter all,
>     Indu’d with various forms, various degrees
>     Of substance, and in things that live, of life;
>     But more refin’d, more spirituous, and pure,
>     As nearer to him plac’t or nearer tending
>     Each in thir several active Spheres assign’d,
>     Till body up to spirit work, in bounds
>     Proportion’d to each kind. So from the root
>     Springs lighter the green stalk, from thence the leaves
>     More aery, last the bright consummate flow’r
>     Spirits odorous breathes: flow’rs and thir fruit
>     Man’s nourishment, by gradual scale sublim’d
>     To vital spirits aspire, to animal,
>     To intellectual, give both life and sense,
>     Fancy and understanding, whence the Soul
>     Reason receives, and reason is her being,
>     Discursive, or Intuitive; discourse
>     Is oftest yours, the latter most is ours,
>     Differing but in degree, of kind the same.
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