Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Heretical Mind

T. S. Eliot famously observed the nature of the heretic as, "a person who seizes upon a truth and pushes it to the point at which it becomes a falsehood." This generalization strikes me as especially perspicacious and indeed indicative of a particular mode of thinking in which one observes events and attributes them all to one, or even a few, central causes. This cause-seeking reasoning is of course useful and fundamental to understanding the natural world, yet it is a potentially myopic approach.

Dr. Jeroen Vanheste in his study of classicism similarly observed that
Theories that consider everything to be a construction or a convention or the expression of a specific ideology, are a radicalization of an intuition that in itself obviously contains some truth. [1]
We are all liable to such a preoccupation and we see the generalizations everywhere when we read the
philosophically-untrained simplifying the world for us. We read of historical slights like "the essence of Greek culture" and political drivel about "the three ways to fix. . ." We see scientists struggle with  what occurred before time and anthropologists and now neuroscientists trying to make sense of human action. The fruits of such thinking often seem to come in the form of prescriptions, and Dom Prosper Guéranger, speaking about antipathy toward the Roman liturgy, observed:
All heretics without exception start out by wishing to return to the customs of the early Church... they prune, they efface, they suppress–everything falls under their hatchet–and while we await a vision of our religion in its pristine purity, we find ourselves encumbered with new formulations, fresh off the press, and incontestably human, for the men who created them are still alive. [2]
All other values, principles, and accidentals are stripped away and replaced by those of the observer, which are usually invisible to him and those of his age. The whole has been destroyed, but what has been revealed and what has simply been lost?

It seems, perhaps, that while both are necessary, learning by observation and learning by deconstruction (all too often "murdering to dissect"), are the lesser and lower, or better, preliminary, forms of learning. The ideal, then, would be learning by creation, no longer looking or digging but learning about the nature of things by purposeful making and being.

Now the creative act surely seems the most radical for it is no small matter to change the world, let alone make one, yet all three approaches change or make, yet only the creative admits to its purpose. Too it is just as systematic, built on rules and laws, and as well fuses past, present, and future just as the overtly fact-seeking sciences seek to contribute to one true knowledge.

The heretical mind is the philosopher as hunter-gatherer. The creative mind is the philosopher as man.

[1]Vanheste, Jeroen. Guardians of the Humanist Legacy: The Classicism of T.S. Eliot's Criterion Network and Its Relevance to Our Postmodern World. Brill Academic Pub. 2007. p. 437
[2] Institutions Liturgiques 1.399

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