And The Word Became Flesh
I love comments, particularly the stimulating ones which goad me to dig deeper. So, this posting is a response to number of recent comments about the nature of “response” and responsibility itself.
This morning I was contemplating Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel. I’m sure you are all familiar with it.
As has been noted by others, God and the heavenly host form an image of the human brain, with the Divine Reason or Divine Intelligence reaching out to endow Adam with this same quality of Reason or Intelligence. What I haven’t seen commented on before (although it probably has been noted) is that Adam’s right foot is actually in the shape of a hoof — a cloven hoof. This might be taken as Michelangelo commenting on man’s sinister side or animal soul, or it may be that he wanted to say that Adam, as “natural” being, only became “man” with the gift or endowment of the Divine Intelligence, otherwise to become known as “Universal Reason”.
It is also in the nature of a response. God is shown reaching out to Adam, while a prostrate Adam, who seems on the point of rising but incapable to rising on his own, responds by weakly reaching out to meet God’s gesture towards him. Adam, although prostrate, with his bent left leg seems ready to spring forth, but he cannot do so on his own. He lacks that Divine Reason and intelligence that would “uplift” and promote him from the animal to the human form.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh” could just as well be another title for the Creation of Adam. In the gesture of the hands is the moment of inspiration. But inspiration is useless if it is not followed by aspiration — by action. This aspiration is Adam’s preparation for the “leap” he seems about to make from his semi-prone posture. His rising will be his response to God’s gesture. Adam is on the point of rising above his animal nature, but cannot complete this action on his own. He requires a powerful inspiration to inflame his aspiration.
Now, in this painting of the Creation of Adam, Michelangelo has depicted a grammatical relationship — one that depicts a relationship between a speaker and a listener, or more precisely between a “Thou” and an “I”, or an imperative and an optative. God’s finger pointing towards Adam is election — Adam becomes a “thou” for God as an addressee. “Live (thou)!” is imperatival form. In turn, Adam’s response is the discovery of his “I”. In his reaching back towards God he is responding, “May I live!”.
This “may I live” is however not yet an “I am” — it is only the suggestion of being rather than being itself. This “I” in the optative phase of the circulation of the spirit (so far, from inspiration to aspiration) is not yet fully formed or defined. Yet it is probably universally true that early man everywhere felt himself to be an addressee and respondent — a creature rather than a creator, and certainly not as “self-made”, and that man’s “I” or ego was only weakly formed.
When we speak of “sacred speech” we mean this kind of inspired, creative, transformative speech, and I want to highlight again the TED talk by Joe Dispenza mentioned earlier with its wonderful film footage of how inspiring speech can alter and transform the physical body, particularly the brain, in response. That seems to be what Michelangelo is implying also in his depiction of the Creation of Adam. The human brain — the human form or “Adam” — is the creation of sacred speech. This is a repudiation of any kind of strict genetic determinism. The “mind” can change the physical form. And it is Dispenza who used the phrase “the word becomes flesh” to describe how language modifies the human form — to build it up or to wear it and tear it down.
And I also want to bring to your attention as most interesting development in physical science that parallels this — how matter is created by light. That is, matter is really only a mode of manifestation of energy.
Let’s speak of this as the phases or stations of “the circulation of the spirit” in terms of inspiration, aspiration, transpiration, or expiration, towards actualisation or realisation. We could just as well call it the circulation of energy. That is the meaning of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and of what Gebser means by “the concretion of the spiritual”. Our present civilisation is built upon a misunderstanding of this circulation of the spirit, and it is corrupting the human form.
To the imperative “Live (thou)!” follows the subjective optative response (“may I live!”). But this optative is still a long ways from the full realisation of “the facts of life”, as it were. After the optative wish or inspiration comes the action phase — the aspiring. We call that phase “history” or “making history”. “I have lived” is narrative phase, utterable only after the action is completed and reflected upon. The final phase is the indicative or “fact” phase, when the circulation of the spirit stops. “Life is” such and such can only be realised truly after passing through the other three phases first of “Live!”, “may I live!” “I (or we) have lived”, and then, only after I have passed through these three stations, can I attempt to say what Life is… This is the indicative phase: definition or what we call “third person”.
Live! (infancy, parental)
May I live! (desire awakened, childhood)
We have lived. (action… adulthood)
Life is…. (old age)
These are the four phases or stations in the circulation of the spirit. In the last phase, the “objective” phase, the circulation stops. Until then, it is an open question what life actually is. Only after I suffer these other phases of the spirit may I speak of “the facts of life”. We are fourfold beings. Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” or “cross of reality” is truer of our actual experience than our present models.
Our civilisation makes the grave error of starting with the last phase — the definition and “the facts of the matter” — as if it were the first and even only phase. That also belongs to Blake’s denunciation of “single vision”. It is deforming. The action of the spirit is expired, and we call it “cold, hard fact” because the movement is dead.
Now, it is an interesting fact (the last I checked) of contemporary research into “universal linguistics” that there are no “primitive languages” as was once assumed. All human languages so far investigated are equally complex and intricate in various ways. And all grammars reveal a very interesting pattern — they all have, at a minimum, a four-person system of grammar. Korean is apparently the simplest, having forms for “You”, “I”, “We” and “He”. English has only seven or eight — those plus She, It, They and You (plural). Some other languages have a dozen or more pro-nouns, but they are variations on the same basic fourfold person system. That means that the “we” form is not a plural of “I” (as our grammar makes it), but an entirely separate entity — the “we” form is the group entity. We also call “I” the “first person”, whereas it is, in effect, the second person in the grammatical relationship following “You”. So the proper circulation of the spirit is
You! (imperative, dramatic form)
I (optative, lyrical form)
We (narrative, epical form)
He, She, It, They (indicative, analytic or “objective” form)
Nobody can attempt a definition of “being” until they have passed through all the stages of becoming as
May I be!
We have been
This final “is” is frozen life, the very last stage “after all is said and done”, as it were. But it is not the norm. The norm is represented in the first three phases of becoming as inspiration, aspiration, transpiration, and then only finally as expiration — as something definite for being refined and defined and confined as another “fact of the matter”.
Here’s why, then, Rosenstock-Huessy objects to the Cartesian formula “cogito ergo sum” — I think therefore I am. It is treated as a first principle of existence whereas it is the last phase of the spirit before it becomes reified as thinking or as abstract thought. Rosenstock-Huessy’s “respondeo etsi mutabor” (“I respond, although I will be changed”) is the actual situation of Adam in Michelangelo’s painting. His motto places the times and spaces of life — life as it is actually lived — back into their proper order.
Reason is, in effect, a perpetual balancing of the four phases, and knowing when to pass from one stage to the next, for each phase matures at a different rate, a different tempo.
Narcissism is, essentially, to become stuck in one of these phases alone.