Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beyond the Infinite

Once again we will be considering Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Last time we considered it in the context of epistemology. This time I would like to consider it in the light of ontology. I offer a pair of ideas, the first via quotations from Thomas Aquinas (from his Summa Contra Gentiles) and then, from Nietzsche. In Kubrick's spirit of not forcing an interpretation of the film I will refrain from synthesis and merely offer these ideas as food for thought.

L. For whatever is imperfect in a species seeks to acquire the perfection of that species. Thus, whoso has an opinion about a matter, and therefore an imperfect knowledge about it, for this very reason is spurred to the desire for certain knowledge about it.

This immediate vision of God is promised to us in Holy Scripture: We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. It would be impious to understand this in a material way, and imagine a material face in the Godhead. Nor is it possible for us to see God with a bodily face. Thus then we shall see God face to face, because we shall see Him immediately, even as a man whom we see face to face.

It is through this vision that we become most like God, and participators of His blessedness, since God understands His substance through His essence, and this is His blessedness. Therefore it is said (I John iii.2): When he shall appear, we shall be like to Him; because we shall see Him as He is.

LII. However, it is not possible for any created substance to attain, by its own power, to this way of seeing God. For that which is proper to the higher nature cannot be acquired by a lower nature, except through the action of the higher nature to which it properly belongs. . . Therefore no intellectual substance can see God through the divine essence, unless God Himself bring this about.

If any two things have to be united together so that one be formal and the other material, their union must be completed by an action on the part of the one that is formal, and not by the action of the one that is material; for the form is the principle of action, whereas matter is the passive principle.

Hence it is said (Rom. vi. 23): The grace of God is life everlasting. For we have proved that man's happiness consists in seeing God, which is called life everlasting.

LIV.  There should be proportion between the one understanding and the thing understood. But there is no proportion between the created intellect, even perfected by this light, and the divine substance; for there still remains an infinite distance between them. Therefore the created intellect cannot be raised by any light to see the divine substance. 

. . . because it is not seen as perfectly by the created intellect as it is visible, even as one who holds a demonstrated conclusion as an opinion is said to know it but not to comprehend it, because he does not know it perfectly, that is, scientifically, although there be not part of it that he does not know. 

LIX. All the intellect sees in the divine substance, it sees at once. Hence Augustine says: Our thoughts will not then be unstable, going to and fro from one thing to another, but we shall see all we know by one glance.

LXI. Therefore this vision takes place in a kind of participation in eternity. Moreover this  vision is a kind of life, because the act of the intellect is a kind of life. Therefore by that vision the created intellect becomes a partaker of eternal life. . . The intellectual soul is created on the border line between eternity and time. . . therefore by this vision it enters into a participation of eternity. . .

For this reason our Lord says (Jo. xvii. 3): This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God.

Regarding Nietzsche

(Picking up on our discussion of Nietzsche from our previous look at 2001.)

What of the man of the final scenes? What does he do? It is he who creates from the primordial soup or is it the monolith? Does he do everything or nothing? Is he creative or impotent? Is his final gesture one of supplication or resolve? Affirmation or negation? Clearly his final reaction to the monolith differs from the others. Is he the übermensch or the last man?

With both St. Thomas and Nietzsche in mind: 

Consider the title of the final act: Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. Consider the use of György Ligeti's Requiem in the famous "Star Gate" scene. Who dies and who is born? Lastly, is the monolith ever comprehended by anyone in the film? Does it actually affect the characters or is the film about man's dialogue with this unknown? How does the final encounter with it differ? Is the scene of the star child birth or re-birth?

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