Testimonies―to an experience, an idea, a faith―become more and more personal over time and, for that very reason, more and more impossible to ‘defend’, ‘ground’, or ‘justify’. The highest accounts of spirit come with the disclaimer, “You must take me at my word!”―at least until you’ve read, understood, and experienced what I’ve said. But even then, don’t glance over this fact, don’t shrug off this supreme detail: it was all was pulled up, with intense and sustained effort, from that well I call my soul, the repository or inner oracle of the unique end-purpose of my being.
What I choke out in frustrated modes, what I embellish with rhetoric, what I labor out in slow movements of argument―all of this has its field and relevance. But underneath was a person who never, entirely, let itself be overlooked or covered over, who was present there, in and through it all.
Famous figures tower in history because they saturate their own context. They lived an ‘intuition’ for which no concept was fitting. And so they were forced to express themselves complicatedly, given the limits of language and history. We have only their proper name as reference to an almost limitless enigma, one that might have spoken differently if it had lived another time. But either way, they underwent intimately their own suchness of soul, the singularity of an unfolding, full to the brim with a mostly invisible consciousness. What they left others, what we are left with, are only traces of an intuition, an insight, an idea that refers back to them and that only they back up.
The plea, “Please believe me!” (the content of what I say) is rooted in a deeper plea, “Please believe me!” (I, the one who speaks, the person addressing you). A gesture of faith must be given to the witness, a measure of credit; otherwise, the witness will never be credible, never entertained. Perhaps the cause of so much disharmony in social discourse is that this ground of credit has been lost. We speak at or about each other, instead of to each other, disagreeing there is any “soul” at all. We fixate on the active articulation of our view, paying little attention to the common “trust” of language we share. Restoring that implies an ethic of listening. But we all have learned, too, how difficult this is.