Momentous Deities: Part 2

[album art by Amelia Bauer - via wrongdistance]

I wrote previously that I expected my readings for class (Augustine and Kierkegaard) would align or at least intersect in an interesting way with what I have been reading in Cassirer's Myth and Language. I wanted to pick up where I had previously left off although neither Kierkegaard nor Cassirer have been read entirely.

Cassirer's idea of the momentous deity should perhaps be described. In speaking of the evolution fo religious ideas he describes (from various anthropological examples) how the primary or original deities are always 'momentary deities.'

Something purely instantaneous, a fleeting, emerging and vanishing mental content, whose objectification and outward discharge produces the image of the 'momentary deity.

We feel a surge or locus of power in a single moment, a single experience, and attribute it to some other, outside force.

Just let spontaneous feeling invest the object before him, or his own personal condition, or some display of power that suprises him, with an air of holiness, and that moment has been created. In stark uniqueness and singleness it confronts us; not as a part of some force which may manifest itself here, there, everywhere, in various places and times, and for different persons, but as something that exists only here and now, in one indivisible moment of experience, and for only one subject whom it overwhelms and holds in thrall.

There's a bridge of some sort, an unexpected unity, and in its element of surprise and even disparity it becomes momentous -- unforgettable -- holy -- important. The person experiencing this moment is struck, mesmerized as it were, not numbed like the torpedo-fish of the Meno, but terrified and yet intrigued. These moments become deities, they acquire names, powers, importance, all because the human mind needs to try and understand what it has experienced. It needs to fit the power into some context which makes sense of it. We grapple with the unknown simply because it is unknown.

And that's Kierkegaard speaking through me -- but there is so much in what he unveils that I cannot help but shake my head vigorously in assent. It's true that we clamor at the limits of reason -- pushing, prodding, growing frustrated and lamenting loudly at the presence of the paradox, that which does not and cannot make sense to us. We are ourselves 'disconsolate chimeras'. The moment in time -- I've spoken of this before -- perhaps the model is the Euclidian point (or perhaps not) -- it is that which is in itself essential but which has no part -- it is an arc, a bridge, a leap -- it is the eternal housed in the temporal, it is the fullness of time.

I know this, perhaps in a lesser degree, but how would one even compare degrees of this sort of experience when the mere attempt to find it again in memory, in its immediacy is like clutching at tatters and remnants. Kierkegaard's moment, of course, has the 'decisive significance' that means it could not be forgotten -- his moment is transformative and not mere recollection. And I wonder if Cassirer's moments too are transformative. He speaks of them as having the power to so affect the experient that he creates a god -- he houses a god in the moment of overwhelming experience.

He says that these events are an extreme of 'the sensible present,' reality overflows, bursts its banks, and spills into the realm of myth and deification.

in this moment the entire self is given up to a single impression, is 'possessed' by it and, on the other hand, there is an utmost tension between the subject and its object, the outer world; when external reality is not merely viewed and contemplated, but oversomes a man in sheer immediacy, with emotions of fear and hope, terror or wish fulfillment: then the spark jumps somehow across, the tension finds release, as the subjective excitement becomes objectified, and confronts the mind as a god or a daemon.

And isn't that just what Kierkegaard says? Isn't that his description of the mind confronted by the unknown, by the other, by the absolutely different of which it can have no idea whatsoever ? Doesn't Kierkegaard speak of the leap that the mind necessarily makes in order to prove the existence of the god? Doesn't he say that the understanding, when confronted with the locus of power, the other, the deity, or whatever we shall call it -- doesn't the understanding recoil, fall into torment, try desperately to negate itself in order to understand that which it is not?

But Cassirer isn't interesting in resting in the paradox -- he wants to see how this experience has given rise to the objective, verbal, structured language. How is it possible that from such a walled-off, unanalyzable, dynamic experience we create something like language? Or, how does the deity we create in order to understand the immensity of power housed in a moment of experience, how does that deity establish itself as something rigorous and individual -- how does it acquire its name. For in naming we find the root of language -- and the name is not something entirely created, rather, the god seems to confront man with such power and necessity that it acquires its own objective reality. The pivot on the way from myth to language seems to be this:

the inner excitement which was a mere subjective state has vanished, and has been resolved into the objective form of myth or of speech.

I don't really understand what he's saying here -- I don't quite follow his elaboration of this transition, this development, but I do see so much Kierkegaard in this last passage that I can't but wonder at the indebtedness -- or rather at my own actively associating mind. Here it is:

All other things are lost to a mind thus enthralled; all bridges between the concrete datum and the systematized totality of experience are broken; only the present reality, as mythic or linguistic conception senses and shapes it, fills the entire subjective realm so this one content of experience must reign practically over the whole experiential world. There is nothing beside or beyond it whereby it could be measured or to which it could be compared; its mere presence is the sum of all Being. At this point, the word which denotes that thought content is not a mere conventional symbol, but is merged with its object in an indissoluble unity. The conscious experience is not merely wedded to the word, but is consumed by it. Whatever has been fixed by a name, henceforth is not only real, but is Reality. The potential between 'symbol' and 'meaning' is resolved; in a place of more or less adequate 'expression,' we find a relation of identity, of complete congruence between 'image' and 'object,' between the name and the thing.

Of course.

'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'

Don't we always just come back to trying to understand that?