Thursday, August 30, 2012

Asprem on Sledge's approach to Dee

Drawing on the anthropological theory of “interpretive drift”, suggested by Tanya Luhrmann in her seminal research on 1980s witchcraft in Britain, Sledge suggests that the process of interpretation, experience, and rationalization is not formed by already fixed beliefs, but rather that this process itself may lead to an “epistemic transformation”. In short, action, even in this case a degree of deception, may well be an integrated part in meaning making and construction of belief systems, rather than the other way around:
We would argue that the second Enochian language begins to exist somewhere between being created and being discovered by Kelly under a state of increasingly pronounced epistemological inclusivity between the angelic revelation, his own thoughts, and the dizzying alterations in his consciousness brought on by the effects of the sessions themselves and / or mental illness. (32).
In short, the four types of considerations come together to form if not a mechanism then at least a plausibility structure from which the angel conversations could emerge. This is in itself a welcome and refreshing demystification of the material, even though it is not without its problems.

Corbin on Celestial Ascent in Avicenna

The Celestial Ascent (Mi'raj-Namah)

"You see, my son, through how many bodily things in succession we have to make our way, and through how many troops of daemons and courses of stars, that we may press on to the one and only God" — so Hermes expresses himself, addressing his disciple Tat to invite him to an upward journey whose goal corresponds with that which Hayy ibn Yaqzan proposes to his adept. In referring to the Hermetic corpus we are by no means seeking to define the "historical" origins of the motif of the celestial ascent, either in general or in the spiritual world of Islam; we are in the presence of an archetype whose many exemplifica-tions, in every sphere of the history of religion, are produced and reproduced by virtue of a deeper necessity than that for. which historical causality is called upon to account.

The necessity of an archetype means something entirely different from the propagation of a "commonplace." In speculative mysticism in Islam this exemplification will be likely to take the form of a ta'wil of the celestial ascent (mi'raj) of the Prophet; this ascent will itself presuppose the cosmological schema whose essential data were sketched in the foregoing chapters. It is such a book of celestial ascent in Persian (Mi'raj-Namah) that is attributed by the majority of the manuscripts to Avicenna but by some to Suhrawardi, in whose work Hermes personifies precisely the hero of the mystical upward journey from sphere to sphere of the "celestial Occident." Thus the admonition cited above from the Hermetic corpus figures here spontaneously in its place, as one of the many testimonies to the same vision. We may take it as unlikely that the Mi'raj-Namah about to be briefly analyzed is the work of Suhrawardi; nor is it any more probable that it is the work of Avicenna, although we have in it a book whose composition is con-temporary with him. Hence its spiritual teaching is of considerable interest. Like all treatises developing the same theme, it presents the typical chart of the soul's celestial itinerary in its upward journey toward its country of origin. It is the same "track" that the itinerary of the Avicennan Recital of the Bird will follow; and it is for this reason that this particular Miraj-Namah requires mention here, whether or not it is the work of Avicenna. For the Recital of the Bird, as mental effectuation of the journey into the Orient to which the closing words of the Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzan invites, is eo ipso connected with all the literature that has developed around the Mi'raj. The real meaning of the connection must be indicated at once. If Avicenna wrote his own Mi'raj-Namah, it will be precisely his Recital of the Bird; just as Suhrawardi's Mi'rdj-Ndmah is his Recital of Occidental Exile. By this we mean that both recitals testify to the fact that their narrators, each in the measure of his own spiritual experience, reproduced the case of the Prophet, relived for and by themselves the exemplary spiritual condition typified in the Mi'raj.

By experiencing this in their turn, they have performed the ta'wil, the exegesis of their soul. Whereas to write a commentary in the margin of the per-sonal Mi'raj of the Prophet, even a ta'wil of his Mi'raj, is still to advance no further than the situation of a commentator; however intelligent he may be, the pyre commentator will not write a Recital of the Bird in the first person. Now, it is in this situation that the penetrating commentator on the Mi'raj-Namah summarized below would remain if he did not from the first foreshadow the passage to the hikayat, to the personal "recital."

Without this horizon, the situation would be precisely that of the com-mentators on Avicenna's and Suhrawardi's recitals. Their ingenious ta'wil is only an exegesis of the texts, without exegesis of the soul. It leads backward, hitherward, to the theoretical data that preceded the vision; this they explain, showing quite capably "what it means," but without seeing or making seeable what it sees. Thereby the vision itself vanishes; its plastic aspect, corresponding to the soul's most secret anticipations, is destroyed; the symbol becomes superfluous and at the same time is degraded into allegory. Now, the experiential interest of the Avicennan recitals consists in the fact that, suddenly, the tissue of conceptual patencies and speculative discourse was broken, and there was the face-to-face with a person, even if the encounter took place only in the anticipation and the ardent desire that summons it but that also eo ipso is already experiencing it. In order that the author of a recital of "celestial ascent" may declare in closing: "It is I who am in this recital" —or else, like Avicenna at the end of the Recital of the Bird, may wrap himself in humor out of modesty— the case of the Prophet in his Mi'raj must have presented itself not as a simple historical case, whatever its historicity, but as an exemplary case that the mystic was called upon to reproduce. This presupposes an increasing approximation to this archetypal value. On this point we are indebted to the great Spanish Arabist Asin Palacios for researches whose fruits have not yet all been gathered. His demonstrations in regard to Muslim eschatology in The Divine Comedy had aroused memorable reactions among Romanists. The similarities assembled were undeniable, but they did not yet constitute positive proof of the "historical fact." The question remained: how could Dante have had direct knowledge of the Muslim eschato-logical representations, especially as presented in the literature of the Mi'raj? It was thirty years before renewed researches proved the existence and the dissemination of Castilian, Latin, French, and Italian translations from as early as the thirteenth century, with the result that the fact appeared not only possible but highly probable. After the monumental work in which the eminent Italian historian Enrico Cerulli brought together such a large number of translations and texts, it remains proven that the Western world was well acquainted at the period with a certain number of eschatological representations current in Islam, and the possibility that Dante himself had knowledge of them can no longer be denied. However, we are not here called upon to enter the maze of controversies that are all the more easily revived because their presuppositions are generally unavowed. There is simply the fact that these comparative researches have brought to light a whole literature on the subject of the Mi'raj, the recital of the celestial ascent, the connections between which and our Avicennan or Suhrawardian visionary recitals we have just indicated.

~Henry Corbin
Avicenna and the Visionary Recital

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tuning a piano Tunes the brain

Here's an interesting BBC Article on research about the effects of piano tuning on the brain. Evidently there are changes in the hippocampus reminiscent of what happens with taxi drivers, whose brains "grow on the job." Of course this appeals to me as a former pizza+airporter driver (who never had the benefit of a GPS, just handy maps and sometimes a good dispatcher), and as somebody who has spent a lot of time fooling around trying to tune a guitar. However, what really struck me, and got me thinking about magic, was this distinction between "pitch space" and navigation in the usual sort of space. "Our study is consistent with a form of navigation in pitch space as opposed to the more accepted role in spatial navigation." I would be interested to see the results of studies on the brains of experienced ceremonial magicians, who get a lot of training in the navigation of ritual space. Same goes for practitioners of the ancient, medieval, and renaissance arts of memory (...too bad we can't study their living brains--unless anybody knows a good neuro-necromantic ritual).

I'd love to get perspectives from any perspectives on this notion of occult training in navigating ritual space. How does it compare to learning to get around in the real world, or in the spaces of harmony?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Weber on Ecstasy

"Ecstasy as an instrument of salvation or self-deification, our exclusive interest here, may have the essential character of an acute mental aberration or possession, or else the character of a chronically heightened idiosyncratic religious mood, tending either toward greater intensity of life or toward alienation from life. This escalated, intensified religious mood can be either of a more contemplative or a more active type. It should go without saying that a planned methodology of sanctification was not the means used to produce the state of acute ecstasy. The various methods for breaking down organic inhibitions were of primary importance in producing ecstasy. Organic inhibitions were broken down by the production of acute toxic states induced by alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs which have intoxicating effects; by music and dance; by sexuality; or by a combination of all three - in short by orgies. Ecstasy was also produced by the provocation of of hysterical or epileptoid seizures among those with predispositions toward such paroxysms, which in turn produced orgiastic states in others. However, these acute ecstasies are transitory in their nature and apt to leave but few positive traces on everyday behavior Moreover, they lack the meaningful content revealed by prophetic religion.

"It would appear that a much more enduring possession of the charismatic condition is promised by those milder forms of euphoria which may be experienced as either a dreamlike mystical illumination or a more active and ethical conversion. furthermore, they produce a meaninful relationship to the world, and they correspond in quality to the evaluations of an eternal order or an ethical god such as are proclaimed by prophecy. We have already seen that magic is acquainted with a systematic procedure of sanctification for the purpose of evoking charismatic qualities, in addition to its last resort of the acute orgy. For professional magicians and warriors need permanent states of charisma as well as acute ecstasies." (Sociology of Religion, tr. Fischoff, London, 1963, p. 157-58)

stolen from borbor_chan on LJ

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

New Critical Reduction

"The New Critics, the best of them skilled technicians in the art of close reading, narrowed their study to individual ­poems, each seen as an airtight mechanism or operating system that, if painstakingly dissected, would yield its hidden meaning, usually reducible to a cluster of ironies and paradoxes."

From this NYT article: Harold Bloom: An Uncommon Reader

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The "Mask of Agamemnon"

(we actually don't know who it's a mask of)

Frank Herbert Quote

“A creature who has spent his life creating one particular representation of his selfdom will die rather than become the antithesis of that representation”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Speculative Geographies

Looks like a very interesting anthology of quality writing on place.
My twitter friend @claudiakincaid has a chapter that looks especially fun:

Karen Gregory—Geography of Intimacy
A psychogeographic passage through three New Yorks, and an ethnography of its psychic storefronts

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Weber on Providence/Magic

Belief in providence is the consistent rationalization of magical divination, to which it is related, and which for that reason it seeks to devaluate as completely as possible, as a matter of principle. No other view of the religious relationship could possibly be as radically opposed to all magic, both in theory and in practice, as this belief in providence which was dominant in the great theistic religions of Asia Minor and the occident. No other so emphatically affirms the nature of the divine to be an essentially dynamic activity manifested in God's personal, providential rule over the world. Moreover, there is no view of the religious relationship which holds such firm views regarding God's discretionary grace and the human creature's need of it, regarding the tremendous distance between God and all his creatures, and consequently regarding the reprehensibility of any deification of "things of the flesh" as a sacrilege against the sovereign God. For the very reason that this religion provides not rational solution of the problem of theodicy, it conceals the greatest tensions between the world and God, between the actually existent and the ideal.
- Economy and Society, ed. G. Roth and C. Wittich (Berkeley: University of California Press), 527
(borrowed from the LJ borbor_chan)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Carolyn Hax (out of context)

"Yes, counseling, ASAP. You seem to think it won't change anything, but I wager it will -- in part because yours is a situation that's very hard to sustain when spoken out loud. The stories you're telling yourself are credible only in your own mind, and trying to articulate them to someone else is often a quick way to expose that."