"And now, behold this dazzling scroll unrolling before us! It is the sea between the isles. Ah, moralists, what good so many explanations, and theories, and threats, when we know instantly that the filth in us is irreconcilable with the saphire? Let colours and perfumes deliver our souls, not enslave them! Only a purified soul will comprehend the odour of the rose!"
Alas! The moral theologian today leaves the sea, the saphire, and the rose to the poets. The dogmatic theologian too, usually. Of course, in terms of expressiveness the language of rationality or of explication is naturally prosaic. I am not unaware of the danger of confusion, and I recall Alquie's remark, that "our age is no doubt only too inclined to confuse philosophy and art. But it is also very ready to confuse philosophy and science." Any confusion distorts the real, in the latter case perhaps more than the former. But to bring together is not to confuse. In the life of soul and spirit there are lateral and vertical linkages, "mysterious interchanges" between reason and sensitivity, spirituality and taste, a reciprocal interiority of problems. While the theologian may not borrow from artists their language, he is allowed to ask questions of the experience which that language translates. Not that it is necessarily wider and deeper than his own, but the artist frees it better from the heavy nets of utility which overshadow its aspects of purer gratuitousness. They bring the most real of the real flaming out.
Thought has harmonics which conceptual exactitude ought not to prevent being heard, in that "shadow of our hearing" Valery mentions, which is disposed to hear them with delight.
Father Louis Bouyer notes that theology, when it is "faithful to its eucharistic origins," has a "lyrical, hymnic resonance"; it expresses itself in "a prose raised to the verge of poetry," as can be seen in the great Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus in particular. But theology has been known at times, in the name of reason, to close itself to the spirit. Then, deaf to the voice of the "poetic logos", which Cyril of Alexandria said every person bears hidden within, it speaks of God without hearing Him sing; and in so doing condemns itself to not being able to hear the song of the world at all.
We have known since Bergson how much artificiality comes from cutting up and dismembering "holy reality" according to the logic of convenience, how the most elementary observation of things is prevented when utility ceaselessly lays down its own laws. What with emergencies, adaptations, habits, classifications, subjection to all the coarse forms of sensitivity, how, under such cold lighting, are we to "feel" the harmony of the contradictions with which this world is woven, or "sense" the accord in God of suffering and beatitude? "To be capable of giving birth to a dancing star," said Nietzsche, "you have to bear chaos within yourself." Poets free the mind of false clarity, deliver logic from those simplifications which may be necessary at a certain level of rationality but which, in terms of what is essential in life, are misrepresentations. Rationalism is, literally, in-human; it offends against reason as, at the other extreme, fideism offends against faith. Both claim to deal with the mystery of God, but both apply the rules of analogy on the basis of a truncated reality. You find yourself dreaming of a white-hot analogy, by which I mean one launching itself, on its flight towards God, from that experience which poets and artists render incandescent
Mallarme's drooping faun, on that afternoon which, thanks to Claude Debussy, yet continues for us, receives the opposing sensations of coolness and heat, light and shade, chastity and passion, amidst the swaying of roses, the bursting of pomegranates, the humming of bees and the warbling of the flute. It is not possible, said Francis Jammes, "to distinguish any single molecule in this solar vibration!" It is blinding! And if the poet has this ability to create a blazing sun, with the rainbow and the trembling of a summer garden, how much more dazzling, within the uncreated mystery, will be the nuptial union of pain and joy!
But, says Mallarme in his Prose pour Des Esseintes, hyperbole arises only at the end of long "paths" of "knowledge" and "patience." In the same way, in the attentive soul there slowly matures a sense of God beyond all opposition, a possibility of dark perception of the Simplicity.
The divine Simplicity is not simple as things which we simplify become simple. Here the anthropomorphic slope is particularly slippery.
Just as a poem is "denied" if, having studiously decomposed it, we fail to recapture it intuitively in the rich unity of its complexity, so likewise the Transcendence is "denied," even while we claim to be tackling it, if we affirm in an entirely abstract fashion the unity of the divine attributes, without ever pausing to question our own experience where the antinomies of contingent reality are already, in a way, lived out concretely. Art has an irreplaceable value as guide here. While logic "declares" that in God contraries coincide "meta-logically", art "realizes" that coincidence. Only up to a certain point, for there is always the "promise that cannot be kept". But the promise would not be a promise if it were not already an anticipation.
In the fifteenth century, Nicholas of Cusa gained acceptance for the idea of the "coincidence of contraries, the identity of opposites" (coincidentia oppositorum). When reason in its reasoning is brought up short against the "wall of coincidence", "the simple eye of the intellect" seeks God beyond it. "Learned ignorance", ceasing to demonstrate but basing itself on symbols, "sees" the Being to which non-being is not an opposite, the One to which the many is not an opposite, the infinitely great to which the infinitely small is not an opposite, the movement to which rest is not an opposite. And Nicholas coins the word possest to indicate the power with which the act coincides.
We are not going to invent one word to suggest the harmony within God of suffering and joy; but perhaps, by the grace of a long contemplation of a Vermeer, or at a given moment as a piece of music unfolds, we shall see a crack appear, a breach open in the "wall of coincidence."
"To be serious as a child dreaming": by dreaming, or reverie, Gaston Bachelard means the ability to "awaken the sources". Quite different from the dream which, by day or by night, fulfills a past desire, most often distant, infantile, reverie arises at that deep point at which a person is creator in the image of God. Beyond the rigidities of habit, it brings springing up that real which seems unreal, but which the poets do well to term "surreal".
And I have sometimes seen things people thought they saw.
Reverie restores the mind to itself, freeing it of the social, mundane superficiality that suffocates it. It restores in it its vocation to freedom and gratuitousness. By reverie, the depths of things and the depths of man unite in delight. That is the reason why "you do not read poetry while thinking of something else. As soon as a poetic image is renewed, in any single feature, it reveals a primal naivety." Naivety, or nativity, both words have the same root. It is a matter of life itself, taken at the source, either before reflection gets a hold on it, or after reason has given up, if the opposites it has attempted to harmonize are logically irreducible. In the words of the Dutch philosopher Van den Berg, quoted by Bachelard, "we are constantly living a solution to problems which are without any hope of resolution by reflection."
When the "poetic moment" arises, time stops "flowing", it leaps. The "even horizontality" of on-going duration, in which one event succeeds another, one sensation another, one feeling another, joy after pain, pain after joy, "the successive era", "disappears" and all becomes simultaneous. This "moment" is complex: there is not just one simultaneity, but numerous simultaneities, unified vertically. "Essentially, the poetic moment is a harmonic relationship of two opposites. In the poet's impassioned moment there is always a little reason; in the reasoned rejection there is always a little passion. Successive antitheses already please the poet. But for there to be ravishment, ecstasy, the antitheses must contract into ambivalence... At least, the poetic moment is the awareness of an ambivalence. But it is more than that, for it is an excited, active, dynamic ambivalence. The poetic moment forces a being to appreciate or depreciate. In the poetic moment, a being rises or falls, without accepting the world's time which would reduce the ambivalence to an antithesis, the simultaneous to the successive... Thus we shall find the true poetic moments of a poem wherever the human heart can reverse the antithe ses."
Bachelard illustrates his idea by "the study of a tiny fragment of vertical poetic time", just two words from Baudelaire's poem Recueillement, "regret smiling":
Vois se pencher les defuntes Annees,
Sur les balcons du ciel, en robes surannees;
Surgir du fond des eaux le Regret souriant;
Le Soleil moribond s'endormir sous une arche,
Et, comme un long linceul tranant a l'Orient,
Entends, ma chere, entends la douce Nuit qui marche.
(See the late lamented years, leaning
over balconies in the sky, wearing out-dated robes;
and rising from the watery deep Regret smiling;
the dying Sun falling asleep beneath an arch,
and, like a long shroud trailing in the East,
hear, darling, hear gentle Night come walking.)
This is the moment "when night falls asleep and stabilizes the shadows, when the hours scarcely breath, when mere solitude is already a remorse! The ambivalent poles of "Regret smiling" almost touch. The slightest oscillation and they exchange places. This "Regret smiling" is one of the most delicate ambivalences of a delicate heart. Obviously, it develops in vertical time, since neither of the two moments, the smiling or the regret, comes before the other. Feeling is here reversible, or, more correctly, reversibility of being is here sentimentalized: the smile regrets and the regret smiles, regret comforts. Neither of the moments expressed successively is the cause of the other, and that is proof that they are not properly expressed in successive time, in horizontal time. Yet there is still from one to the other a passage of becoming, a becoming that can only be experienced vertically, by rising, with the impression that the regret is lightened, that the soul rises up, that the fantom forgives. Then truly unhappiness bears flowers."
Bachelard defines Baudelaire's "correspondance", not as "a mere transposing, yielding a code of sensual analogies," but as "a summing-up in a single moment of a sensitive being." But the sensitive is not purely sensitive. In this line, "where the poetic moment was never more total", "Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarte" (Vast as night and as brightness), what is suggested is not a spatial vision, but "the double eternity of good and evil." "Darkness and light are motionless moments, moments dark or bright, joyful or sad, dark and bright, joyful and sad."
Pursuing the same line of corresponding images, Bachelard talks somewhere of the time when he used to "listen to the plums ripening." The birth of the image is a "logos event." It has "touched the depths before troubling the surface." As we receive it, "we experience its worth of intersubjectivity. We know that we shall repeat it in order to communicate our enthusiasm." I think it was Alain who said, "Art is the shortest path between two hearts." Thus, says Bachelard, "the realism of unreality imposes itself. Faces are understood by their transfiguration. Speech is prophecy."
It is possible to "explain the flower by the fertilizer." It is useful, there are many experts. But we may prefer those who offer us its perfume, especially when God is our concern. Such is the advice of reason: as for Rimbaud, and for all who seek the key to being, the song of the angels is "reasonable."
Bachelard is undoubtedly a master when it comes to making people aware of the "coincidence of opposites". He educates on the basis of the most common of realities. For example, a flame: "Why go off looking for dialectics of ideas when you have, at the heart of a simple phenomenon, dialectics of facts, dialectics of beings? A flame is a being without mass, and yet it is a mighty being." Or again, the water of a river:
"The bottom of the river has also, for this painter (Claude Monet), subtle surprises.
From time to time, from the depths beneath, a singular bubble rises; in the silence of the surface, the bubble babbles, the plant sighs, the pond groans. And the dreamer painting is bothered by pity for a cosmic distress. Does some deep hurt lie beneath this Eden of flowers? Must we recall with Jules Laforgue the hurt of flower-strewn Ophelias "Et des nympheas blancs des lacs ou dort Gomorrhe" (and the white water-lilies of the lakes where Gomorrah sleeps)?
Yes, the most cheerful, most flowering water, in the clearest morning light, harbours a gravity."
We need to read, too, those marvellous pages where Bachelard ponders on the gender of words, leading him into subtle relexions on reverie in the animus and, more profound, in the anima. Alongside those pages I note down a few words, punctuated with question-marks: mal, malheur, are masculine; douleur, souffrance, are feminine, as are pitie, misericorde. Bonheur is masculine; joie and beatitude are feminine. "O femme, monceau d'entrailles, pitie douce!" (O woman, mound of entrails, gentle pity) says Rimbaud, who certainly does not realize that he is translating almost literally the multitudo miserationum tuarum of the Psalm. Animus is perhaps powerless to attain the mystery of God's suffering; that needs the genius, I mean the ingenuity of Anima.
Notes in pencil! and very lightly sketched, they are only fantasy. Still, I am quite sure that the "gros bonheur" mentioned by someone in Julien Green, after having met a "gros homme", cannot be God's happiness.
Immutability accorded with mobility: such is the paradox suggested by Saint-John Perse when, refusing to take pleasure in past sorrows and with his face turned towards the future, he says: "Plutot l'aiguille d'or au gresillement de la retine" (rather the golden needle with the crackling of the retina).
The golden needle is the gaze's element of fixity, the sign of the stubborn seeking. In Claudel's words:
Ni regret, ni memoire, ni curiosite,
Mais seulement le devoir devorant et la transe de la direction rectiligne.
(Neither regret, nor memory, nor curiosity,
But only devouring duty and the transe of rectilinear direction)
The crackling is the flame, mobile, changing; an alacrity to reflect the variety of things.
If nothing is immobile at the heart of mobility, everything comes undone in the soul. If nothing is mobile around the immobility, the soul is no longer in the world.
But enigmas are best resolved on the harp (Psalm 49:5). Mozart, if heard with a child's heart, leads more effectively to the borders of the mobile immobility of God. The image which his music brings to bloom is not that of Saint-John Perse. As Jean-Victor Hocquard, one of the finest interpreters of Mozart's "thought", has very well understood, Mozard has several faces but only one gaze. The features are mobile; the gaze is "not fixed, but unchanging. It seems to twinkle on the verge of a smile, then seems to blaze with a wild fire if the face is tense with vehemence. But it is always the same gaze, with its orient of utter love."
To express the unique quality in this gaze "which lies beyond faces", Hocquard refers to Simone Weil's La Pesanteur et la Grace: "There it is said that the heaviness of the flesh pulls downwards, so that in order to rise the wing of the spiritual quest is needed. But that rising, that return upwards, leaves the flesh beneath, being obliged to shun it, and total reality is thus amputated of what had to be rejected. And here arises the sublime question: What wing of double power can bring downwards without heaviness? Such a descent gives light to everything without sacrificing any part of the lower reality, which also demands redemption. And there is a music that touches everything, even the most vile, making all pure and porous to the Light. The whole of Mozart lies there: a descent without heaviness."
A descent without heaviness: the approach to the mystery of God is here qualified in a more spiritual manner than by the too-general words of immobility and movement. Music miraculously enables us to "hear" how God, in taking flesh, remains God, how he can suffer without his beatitude being reduced, how "serenity is truer than anguish, since it does not consist in simply freeing oneself of the anguish, but in absorbing and consummating the anguish."
If we succeed in removing the ambiguities of romanticism, belief in a sensitive God becomes possible. He would not be "sensitive to the human heart", indeed, if he were not in some way sensitive in himself. But here all words fall short; the vocabulorum inopia Saint Thomas Aquinas suffered from is as total today as it was in his time. All we can do is refer to certain experiences of very high emotions which do not originate in the flesh and to which the soul is not enslaved, which are on the contrary connected with freedom, since in order to be moved by them we must not be troubled by them, even if the eyes are moist and the voice a little shaky. There are poignant beauties. Any intellectual who is not sensitive to them, I would venture to claim, despite vulgar opinion, is not serious. A delicate sensitivity is one of the qualities of a spiritual being. Whoever sets out to be invulnerable does not bear others within him; he sees them outside of himself. Other people's suffering touches us when without distance we touch them. To be sensitive is to be close. The word tact is one of the most beautiful in our language: it hesitates wonderfully between the physical and the moral senses, passing from one to the other in a sway of charity.
I think of God when Levinas talks of that "passivity of being for others which is possible only under the species of the gift of the bread I eat. But for that, he says, it is first necessary to enjoy one's bread, not in order to have the merit of giving it away, but in order to give one's heart in it -- to give oneself in giving it. Enjoyment is an ineluctable moment of the sensitivity."
If God were not infinite Beatitude, it would be meaningless to reflect on his Suffering.