ON PURPOSIVENESS AND CURRENT
“ . . . the glory of creation draws us towards itself with a refreshed feel for its mystery. It is there for a good we try to divine, though often we come up blank. The poverty of that blankness can oppress us; it can also release a strange sense of purposiveness beyond any definite purpose we can fix. Creation is an ocean in current; streams come from sources unknown, far and near, perfumed with their origin, carrying ships somewhere, to undreamt harbors, elsewhere and here, who knows where exactly. The current seems to stream with overdetermined purposiveness and with no definite purpose the poverty of our souls can comprehend. Even to be able to see that the gift is a gift is itself a great gift and a release that brings relief.” G&B 185
WHAT IS INNER FORM: AN INTRODUCTION (MARCH 2012)
Inner form is a way of looking at compositions; it is also a process that informs communication from one person to another about the real world. It is not geometry or any other form of certainty but it can be analyzed and explained.
Inner form compositions resist the reductive tendency in media. In language, inner form resists the reductive tendency in the act of predication. The English sentence mimes the subject/object split in the reductive dualism known widely, if somewhat unfairly, as Cartesianism. To compose in English is to compose in sentences or sentence-like structures; the mind really does seek truth about the world outside itself. This is the first stage of any act of consciousness. But a complete act of consciousness does not stop there.
Inner form mimes the way consciousness transcends the object, then the self, and finally comes to know transcendence as other. (This way of explaining inner form is attested in studies of mysticism–see, for example, Louis Roy, O. P., Mysticism East and West) — and in various commentaries on Plato’s notion of the “middle” or “metaxy.”)
In what follows I shall follow a paragraph in one of the great metaxological works of our time, William Desmond’s God and the Between (2008); the passage is on page 122. In a sense, I am supplementing one terse paragraph, but in doing so I am drawing on years of research in many sources and many applications. The term “inner form” is one I have used for decades.
Inner form mimes the way of transcendence, which is natural to human consciousness. The way of transcending has four stages.
1. Univocal. The naming of the object “out there” which catches the attention of the thinker. At this early stage, the connection is “erotic”: the thinker desires to know the object. The stage is characterized by wonder at the appearance of the object in space/time. In the early stages of infancy, the sense of “it is good” predominates and objectivity is only faintly entertained. Yet at the core of the erotic going-out towards the object, the wonder that there is “something out there” shares with the primal ethos of “that there is anything at all.”
2. As consciousness grows more familiar with the object, it becomes more aware of its limitations (univocity is characterized by definition, categorical thinking, and other analytic modes) and indeed of the limitations of consciousness. Wonder gives way to perplexity. Desmond calls this the way of “equivocity” as opposed to univocity. This stage involves a crucial turning point. The perplexity challenges consciousness to either transcend the way of equivocity, which is characterized by a self-conscious dialectical relationship between the subject and the object, or to fall back into the abyss of the self in doubt and even despair. If the self yields to the temptation of doubt, the circuit is broken and falls back, consciousness recoils and either goes to sleep or looks about itself for an anchor in the world or in fantasy which can deliver itself from itself. Thus the way may become a way of alienation in which otherness becomes closed to transcendence and the self closed in upon its self as other. Self-mediation becomes the goal of consciousness: one sees this in bad art, all forms of solipsism, narcissism; at times thinkers as formidable as Emerson get caught in the vortex of dialectical thinking and can’t transcend it (in Emerson’s essays, one often finds that the way of inner form has yielded to the self-mediation of sentences, one after the next, yes flashes of self-consciousness but no progress towards transcendence as other; the pull or draw of the beyond has been short circuited by self). A case can be made that the closed stage of self-mediation has plagued American art since the Transcendentalist period. (Edward Hopper notably broke out of that mode; see Yves Bonnefoy’s essay in The Lure and the Truth of Painting.)
3. But if consciousness yields to inner form and transcends itself, it continues the journey into the metaxy. The knowing of the object and the self expands into a ecological stage. Here the inquiry becomes not so much objective as ethical. Desmond writes, “The middle equivocities cry out for more intensive mediation.” Art is a “more intensive mediation” of the between. As such, “Hamlet” is a study of life “in the between” in a certain place at a certain time when all those certainties yield to the inner form of consciousness and the mode of transcendence.
Examples abound. The development of Shakespeare’s tragi-comic mode, it could be argued, responds to his increasing capacity for following inner form to its appropriate end depending on the particulars of the story. Or in painting, Van Gogh’s chair is a “luminous object” that fully participates in the full loop of transcendence: univocal (the particular chair), equivocal (the chair as it communicates itself to the artist and through him to us), metaxological (the ever-expanding awareness of form, color, texture, indirect references to beyonds) and, finally, perhaps the search registers the pull of the divine Beyond, which becomes known to and by and in a sense through Van Gogh.
Many literary critics explore the metaxological dimension: within certain limits, each of the following works can be recommended (and they are the tip of the iceberg): Frank Kermode’s The Sense of An Ending, William W. Bevis’s Mind of Winter: Wallace Stevens, Meditation, and Literature, John F. Desmond’s Gravity and Grace: Seamus Heaney and the Force of Light. Poets like Milosz, Geoffrey Hill, and Alice Oswald deserve to be read metaxologically; the list goes on and on. The metaxological way involves communication in figures such as metaphor, analogy, and symbol. Walker Percy’s essays on semiotics, collected in The Message in the Bottle (1975), are classic introductions to this way of understanding consciousness.
4. The metaxological way as a way of openness to transcendence as other yields to the final stage: the way of agapeic being. In one way of seeing this, this stage is a return to the wonder that there is anything at all (the first stage), but a return to a Beginning that is itself an End. Here inner form leaves the knowing self at a threshold of transcendence as other. Religion articulates this stage, but literature may be the handmaiden of the sacred. The vulgarization of religion in modernity has closed off this way to many artists, and this closure infects the other stages of inner form. And yet some of the greatest contemporary poets struggle towards a “theological poetics” (see Geoffrey Hill’s Collected Critical Writings, passim.)
Inner form leads the understander to the threshold of transcendence as other. Literary works often “end” with a feeling of awe, transport, “revelation.” A great work of art seems to stun consciousness into an unutterable state of comprehensive uncomprehending comprehension of the Mystery of Being (here one must recognize Gabriel Marcel as a lonely soldier at the outpost of being during the existential phase of modern thought). Art’s capacity for self-transcendence is well acknowledged: its orientation towards transcendence as other is an aporia for most critics. As Desmond says, “we live between crux and peril.”
From John Milbank, WORD MADE STRAGE, 201.
“God’s incomprehensibility is not, for Gregory, just an epistemological matter, but is rather ontological, and means that God literally does not comprehend himself. Therefore, although he fully knows himself, this knowing is not on the model of our knowing which is a grasping or manipulative effecting, a Stoic katalepsis. And nor is it vision, which also grasps. Instead it is infinite bestowing and bestowing back again. And the same, doxological account of knowing, extends even to human understanding — here also the earlier does not explain, and katalepsis is only for purposes of pragmatic technological benefit. There can be no grasp of essences, since the essence of the world is a mirroring of divine incomprehensibility. The world does not comprehend itself, cannot be known within itself, but instead, as Gregory repeatedly insists, the logos about the world is bigger than the world itself, because it accounts for it only as derived from a transcendent elsewhere and therefore as unfathomable even down to its smallest details. The identity of the world resides in a power from beyond the world that gives the world itself a power to go beyond what is previously given.”
from Eric Voegelin, Collected Works, Vol 12, 326 (“Wisdom and Magic in the Extreme”)
“Of intentionality and mystery, we shall speak as ‘structures’ of consciousness with the caution, however, that they are not fixtures of a human consciousness in the immanentist sense, perhaps an apriori structure, but moving forces in the process of reality becoming luminous.”