Utopic Expressivity

My article Utopic Expressivity: On Laruelle’s Oraxiomatic Method and Paul Celan’s Vision of Poetry was recently published in the first issue of Oraxiom on the topic of the end of time. See this link for the other great articles in the issue.

My article presents and weaves together four models of imaginative activity: Henri Corbin on the idea of imaginal worlds (mundus imaginalis); Francois Laruelle’s idea of the oraxiom and philo-fiction; and Paul Celan’s vision of poetry. Laruelle and Celan were passions of mine for many years, and this article was a way of reconciling my attraction to these two bodies of work which could not be more different in terms of their use of language. Corbin provided the framework for me to collide them together. From that emerges the fourth model, my own, “utopic expressivity,” which I present at the outset of the article and then flesh out through the other three as illustrations or refractions. The larger abstract reads as follows:

A radical vision of the end times requires an equally radical mode of expression to transmit it, one that tears language from convention and renders it capable of visionary communication. This effort is palpable in non-philosophy’s oraxiomatic method as well as in Paul Celan’s poetic works. What use of language can induce an “eschatological comportment”? How does one voice a subjectivity “of-the-last-instance”? In this paper, I advance the idea that eschatological imagination and utopic expressivity are two sides of the same messianic activity of vision-creation. My principal goal is to explain and explore this thesis and these concepts through an encounter between Laruelle and Celan. To set the ground for this, I begin with Henry Corbin’s theory that the active imagination produces imaginal worlds (mundus imaginalis) which are invisible to mundane perception because they exist “nowhere.” Such worlds are accessed by creative acts that leap outside the world and open a space for the unlocalizable, or u-topia. My proposition is to treat Laruelle’s philo-fctions and Celan’s poetry as imaginal worlds and to collide them to produce a new understanding of messianic vision-creation. To achieve this, I frst examine Vision-in-One and the oraxiom as a discursive method, as well as the rationale behind non-philosophy’s claim to produce a fnal ultimatum. I then challenge Laruelle’s claim that only this method is suited for the purpose. After reconstructing Celan’s vision of poetry from his 1960 Meridian speech and drawing inspiration from his poems, I contrast and synthesize these two radical modes of expression. Poetry is idiomatic and testamentary, not oraxiomatic and generic. Nonetheless, the two modes share many features, including: a critique of “suffcient” interpretations; a move beyond metaphor and meaning; a “use-of-silence” aware of how silence impacts speech; an orientation of the written work as “last-thingly” [letztdinglich]; and regarding the messianic dimension, a desire for person and language to form an indissoluble unity which is forever loyal to the human quest for utopia. I also argue that the oraxiom addresses a “You-of-the-last-instance” which Celan makes explicit; his work thus helps us understand non-philosophy’s own operations and, more importantly, the relational dynamic at play in all messianic and visionary works. By weaving together these manifestations of utopic expressivity and exploring their divergences and parallels, I offer a unique vision of how language can foster an end-times subjectivity and produce works that catalyze the eschaton.

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TUMBLE THUS pt. 1 (video poem)

Part 1 of a video series composed from poems from my book TUMBLE THUS.

I hope you will enjoy it.

– Tim

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Bhakti and its sant-poets

Bhakti and its sant-poets
April 21, 2008

Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers, things standing shall fall, but the moving ever shall stay.

This verse, written by Basavaņņa, offers a poetic summation of three important components of the Bhakti movements: the personalization of man’s relationship to God (“Listen…”), the rejection of the usually accepted social relations and practices (“things standing shall fall”), and the emphasis on the movement of the heart exclusively towards God as the sole purpose of life (“the moving ever shall stay”).

The devotionalist movements made a significant turn from the traditional pantheon of deities towards a monotheistic understanding of Hindu faith, whether towards Śiva or Krishna or Rama. God’s love for the devotee is valued above all else (including puja, meditation, knowledge, or renunciation). Bhakti is characterized by putting love for the chosen deity above all other concerns. The emotion of Bhakti is memorialized in the verses of the sant-poets. Their songs have been recited throughout the ages as examples of the majesty of experiencing loving union with God. Founders of the Bhakti movements are thought to have achieved total union with God and are therefore divine in their own right, their words revered as the words of their Lord. The love they write of is not only a matter of learning, but of yearning and feeling. They serve witness to a love for and from God which is fostered by the devotee’s thinking of nothing other than God, rather than on scriptural knowledge.

The theme of moving towards God by thinking of and loving only Him is paired with the turning away from the conventional ways of the world.  Krishna as a young child in the Gita-Govinda cares little about the normal social order, and yet his rebellion is non-threatening to the citizens. In fact, they adore his antics and admire his freedom and the harmony is brings to the village. Also, Rādha’s love for Krishna is cross-caste and cuts through conventional Hindu society’s practices which would normally outlaw their relationship. This rejection of “things standing still” is amplified by the social activism associated with the Lingayats, their rejection of discrimination against women, the inequalities of caste, and animal sacrifices. These traits are best understood in the context of the devotee’s new relationship with God and how this new relationship dissolves the long-standing “superiority” of God over men. For the devotionalists, God and man long to realize one another. When each realizes the other, the supreme goal of creation has been achieved: union of man and God (or, transcendence of the illusion of separation). We see this especially in Krishna’s love for Rādha. Early on in the Gita-Govinda, he tells her to put her foot on his head, an symbolic act equating God with man, rather than placing Himself above man. Such an act made a stark contrast to the prevailing Brahmanical order.

Bhakti achievement is the enactment, mobilization, and realization of the nature of Divine Love, perhaps best expressed by Vidyapati when writing of how he felt when overcome by Krishna: “Love is transformed, renewed, each movement.”

The fluidity of God’s love is expressed in the personalization of names for God in Śiva devotionalist poetry. Basavaņņa writes to his “Lord of the meeting rivers,” Dāsimayya to “Rāmanātha,” and Mahādēvi to her “Lord White as Jasmine.” This difference in title for the Lord, varying from poet-to-poet, emphasizes the unique and intimate relation the Bhakta has to his or her God, each displaying an aspect of spiritual life. Different poets have different conceptions of the one God, different names and forms, yet all long for love from Him/Her and wish to merge with Him/Her. These different conceptions are considered complementary rather than in competition. For the realized one, filled with experiential realization of union with God, such as Sri Ramakrishna, it is no contradiction to worship the Divine Mother Kali and, at the same time, affirm that “All this is Brahman.” The forms through which God is loved, are not at odds with realizing the formless God.

The Tamil saints used their poetry and songs to draw a picture of Śiva that is both terrifying and beautiful. Karaikkal Ammaiyar sees Śiva as perpetually dancing victoriously in the cremation grounds with matted hair and bloody fans. Other Nayanmar poets unabashedly call Śiva a “Madman!” while simultaneously affirming that, if a human could only see His maddening dance, then “even human birth on this wide earth would become a thing worth having.” In divine union, there is divine vision, there is divine purpose for life. For these poets, Śiva is Lord of the Dance. Through total, self-sacrificial love for Śiva (to the point of being a “slave” to Him), a devotee can see his beautiful dance and ultimately merge with Śiva in His creation. Mahādēvi thinks of Śiva as a husband who needs her just as she needs Him. She forsakes the world to be His bride and gradually gains the total attention of her love. In her poetry, Śiva is angry at His separation from her and the separation must be annihilated: both human and devotee long for absolute union. For Dāsimayya, when this separation is annihilated, the bounds of time, space, and the “separate self” all cease to exist in oneness with Śiva. His poetry goes so far as to dissolve both man-god and man-woman boundaries. He writes “[Rāmanātha], your body is in mine” and “the self that hovers between is neither man nor woman.” In Basavaņņa’s poetry, we find both the longing for union with Śiva and the overwhelming joy experienced after merging with the God. Śiva is only imaged as the “Lord of the meeting rivers.” This portrays the spiritual longing between human and God as a process of each finding themselves in the other: two rivers reveal themselves to be one River, always moving to one another to be One. In each of these case, we find the Bhakta moved towards union with god and motivated only by merging with Him. The unique flavor of their poetries only emphasizes the intimacy of the relationship between Bhakta and God.

In comparing Siva bhakti to Krishna bhakti, one finds many similarities. Jayadeva’s Gita-Govinda, a poem set to ragas chronicling Krishna and Rādha’s love, is the seminal text of Krishna bhakti and in this text we see many similarities to the poems of the Vīraśaivas. As in Mahādēvi’s poems, the Gita-Govinda shows the relationship between Rādha and Krishna as a human-deity relationship pervaded with longing, jealousy, and separation, though we know throughout that both Rādha and Krishna long for reunion. The pain associated with this separation is felt throughout all the bhakti literature. There is also the common theme of human-god union as being felt bodily. In both cases, this union is humanly real, sometimes erotic and sexual, and it is all-consuming. Just as the Śiva devotionalists longed for merging with God, so too do the Krishna devotionalists. They long to live forever in Brindaban with Krishna, the perfect, heavenly setting of the Gita-Govinda, where Krishna lives forever in eternal peace, a place of beauty and natural harmony. Just as Basavaņņa envisioned God as two waters meeting, so too did Govinda-dasa who says, “Let the water of my body join the waters of the lotus pool he bathes in,” and later, “Let me be sky, and moving through me/that cloud-dark Shyama, my beloved.” Dvija Chandidasa says of Krishna, “He draws me—to become an outcast, a hermit woman in the woods!” echoing the same intuitions expressed by Karaikkal Ammaiyar, who lived as a hermit in the woods to watch Siva’s terrifying dance, or Mahadevi, who lived naked in the woods to become as intimate as possible with her Lord. Even Mahadevi’s conception of Siva as “white jasmine” is replicated in the Gita-Govinda, only this time it is Krishna addressing Radha (not a human addressing God but vice-versa). Jayadeva writes for Krishna, “[Radha] your teeth are white jasmine. Love’s flower arms conquer worlds by worshipping your face.” This verse epitomizes the devotionalist realization that God longs for man just as much or more than man longs for God—Krishna is saying (my phrasing), ‘Radha, as you worship my face, I, too, worship yours.’

Love’s flower arms conquer worlds by worshipping Your face.

Worlds stand still, yet fall. Love is always moving. Paradoxically, “the moving stay.” This truth and its implications, known through God in the lives of sant-poets, go beyond mere words. Nonetheless, their words are a testament to both their experienced reality and to the power of expressing our own deepest realities as verse or social movement or song or, ideally, through our being. The devotionalist movements found an experience of the personality of God, each experience unique unto them, and wrote to show their longing for Him, His longing for the devotee, and the spiritually transformative power unleashed when this love is allowed to flourish in the world. They bear witness to our own potentiality to ascend to where they have been. Ascension to this point is where Bhakti points, where love for God points. It is the moving experience of a God who remains ever-peacefully stayed. Where can we say one river becomes two? Wherever that centered stream flows, wherever Krishna and Siva eternally dwell. This is where bhakti directs a devotee’s thoughts, powers of attention, and above all, a devotee’s love.

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