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The barbarism of the intellect: 2/2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-06-23 14:21:26
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The ancient and modern rationalists, on the other hand, have a penchant for subsuming the poetical under the rational. In so doing they lose sight that without the poetical reason becomes mere rationalism rationalizing what ought never be rationalized, planning an Holocaust in two hours and making the trains run on time without inquiring as to their destination…; that while it is true that one may not reason by images alone, the other side of the coin is also true: that one may not reason by concepts alone at the risk of losing sight of reality out there and having logic without experience or experimentation eat its own tail deluding itself that everything can now be explained by an ideology formulated in a closet.

The other delusion is that of thinking that within the world of human reason, the universal precedes the particular and the relative. Even the classical rationalist Aristotle recognizes in his Metaphysics that it is the other way around: the particular precedes the universal. Things may be different within the mind of God wherein verum and factum are one and the same, but Vico is analyzing how the human mind functions by examining human artifacts such as language, institutions, artistic objects galore, etc. He goes as far as saying that nature which has been made by God will never be fully known by Man. What is more properly scientific and knowable by Man are the cultural products as encountered in his/her history. Which is to say: Man is his own history.

After this brief recapitulation of Vico’s speculation on the poetical let us see how Lewis’ Till We Have Faces reflects those Vichian principles. The quote at the beginning of this essay by the heroine Orual supplies the title for this mythological novel which, with the exception of Perelandra, C.S. Lewis considered the best he had ever written. Curiously enough, it had little commercial success. So, perhaps commercial success is not such a reliable yardstick by which to judge the power and endurance of a myth but rather, as Jung has pointed out, the existence of certain collective persistent archetypes of the human imagination which seem to be vital for a proper understanding of the human condition. They seem to repeat themselves in different forms in different cultures, even those with no contact with each other, but always retain their underlying logos.

The myth has no author; rather, the myth expresses the collective unconscious, the common wisdom of a people and it is usually poetical. Vico calls it “the common sense” of a whole people and he proved it by pointing out that philologically the Odyssey and the Iliad could not have been written by the same man. Which is to say, there is no Homer proper and Plato was misguided in subsuming him under rationality and demoting the symbol of the common sense of the people from “educator of Hellas” to the role of a mere poet entertainer. That was on operation which subsumes the common exoteric wisdom of the Greeks to Plato’s own esoteric wisdom fit only for a few elitist initiates.

The story in Till We Have Faces is basically a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche (as told by Apuleius) but with a twist. The twist is that in this story Psyche’s sister is not jealous. Although we do not know the name of Phyche’s sister, Lewis gives her the name Orual. In a sense she is the personification of what later Lewis in his The Four Loves will call filia (friendship: the second kind of love) and eros (sexual love: the third kind of love).

In the character of Orual there is much of Joy Davidman, the American admirer with whom Lewis corresponded for several years and whom he ends up marrying, passing from filia to eros and eventually to agape, as portrayed in the movie A Grief Observed. It is not however a realistic portrait of her. As with Dante’s Beatrice this is a real woman who has been transformed into a myth, a myth that grows on the reader every time the novel is read. The archetype that Orual incarnates is that of the spiritual journey, from pagan worship to apostasy and atheism and then, by way of Platonism, to her final surrender to God.

It parallels Joy’s pilgrimage from her Jewish background by way of atheism and Communism to her final conversion to Christianity after reading Lewis’s own description of his conversion experience in Surprised by Joy, written some thirty years before he met Joy, who in some uncanny way becomes the incarnation of the phenomenon of sudden unexplained joy and grace which led him to God; the reversal of Dante’s experience who thirty years later meets Beatrice as a “donna angelicata” [an angelic woman] via imagination. Which is to say, the myth of Joy appears in Lewis’ life before the real Joy and it lasts long after Joy has transcended time and space. Myths and symbols in fact have that kind of power: they transcend time and space even as they incarnate the history of mankind.

In the novel there is the physical Joy, the middle aged and not particularly good-looking woman who for a long while Lewis considers nothing more than another friend, just as Baudia in the novel treats Orual. So the theme of friendship in the true sense of that word, i.e., as filia going beyond mere affection, is explored but not exhausted. The theme merges into that of the beautiful woman married for love in the ordinary sense and then the sudden perplexity as one jumps forward some twenty years or so to find her middle aged, tired, no longer physically attractive. It is important to remember that Lewis and Joy married when they were both in their fifties.

The question Lewis seems to be exploring is: Does love survive? Is the love of affection and friendship (the first two kinds of love as described in his The Four Loves) stronger, even better, than erotic love? Lewis was already exploring this issue in his youth when he is writes a ballad on the story of Helen of Troy. There too we find a twist. Menelaus meets Helen ten years later, after the fall of Troy and finds her an utter disappointment: she is now tired and beaten by the terrible realities all around her. But on the way back home he finds out that the real Helen is in Egypt, as beautiful as ever. The same theme of Helen having a double who has gone to Troy with Paris is also explored by Euripides in his play Helen of Troy, and again in modern times by Haggard and Land’s The World’s Desire. Menelaus now has to choose between the two Helens. In fact, the real Helen is the tired Helen of Troy and not the beautiful Helen of Egypt.

It is intriguing that Lewis dedicates the novel to Joy Davidman, who is by now his wife and a few years away from her tragic death with bone cancer. Are the two Helens, combined into Orual, none other than Joy? For this work, much like Dante’s Commedia, is an allegory, which is to say, a work of historical imagination: Psyche is an instance of anima naturaliter Cristiana, that makes the best of the pagan religion she had retreated to (just as Virgil did) and in so doing is guided toward the true God. In a way she is like Christ as every good man and woman is like Christ. She is not a mere symbol but a case of human affection in its natural condition: true, tender, suffering.

However, since this love is natural, not yet agape (the ultimate, fourth kind of love), it is still possessive, ready to turn to hatred should the beloved cease to be its possession. What such love cannot stand is to see the beloved passing into a sphere where it cannot follow; into that fourth dimension of love wherein a Therese of Avila and a John of the Cross, or a Francis of Assisi and Clare, can be true friends on this earth and forever after, wholly bypassing the third stage of love.

This is undoubtedly a recurring myth in Western Literature and ironically it has been called “Platonic love.” The very title of this novel suggests that at the end of the journey we shall meet the gods because we shall have taken off our comfortable masks and our hubris to be known as we really are. Then each of our lives will be translated into the universal language to be placed in the book of Life and everybody will be able to read everything about everybody else. That will be the ultimate history book. The story will be everlasting and in it, true intimacy shall reign, without jealousy or promiscuity. Indeed, after all our peregrinations we will arrive at the place we were exiled from and know the place for the first time.


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Sand2007-06-23 16:12:16
I will not bother with the body of this piece as it contains such a tangle of unwarranted assumptions, presumptions, odd analogies and inappropriate conclusions and personal choices that it tries to claim are universal to all individuals that it is not worth my time or interest.

But the first two paragraphs do have some points worthy of examination. The assumption that there is such a thing as poetical reason without specifying how one undergoes the process leaves me, again, as I first encountered this odd beast, totally in the dark.

I seriously doubt the Holocaust was conceived in two hours. The ground was well prepared for centuries by the Catholic Church that labeled the Jews as Christ killers and incessantly reminded the populace under its constituency of Jewish guilt. The pogrom was not a novel Nazi invention but was a historically recurrent phenomenon and this insane hatred of an isolated and oppressed people was well established when Hitler took power. My father’s family had to flee to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century to prevent being massacred by Catholic Christians well before the enterprising Nazis used this irrationality to control a populace angered by their punishment under the treaty of Versailles. And it is well known that the Vatican had cozy relations with the Nazis and protected them after WWII. There is solid documentation for this. See http://www.sxws.com/charis/history-6.htm.

I can only wonder that organization for railroad efficiency can be criticized as indicating a lack of poetic reasoning. That type of reasoning evidently is a very deep mystery.

It is not a fact that one may not reason by images alone but this error is understandable in an individual who is totally embedded in language to solidify his limited thinking. Engineers and scientists and technicians and designers and artists continually, in their creative processes, think in images alone manipulating shapes and three dimensional forms and colors and dynamic interactions to produce their results. These days there are computer programs such as AutoCAD and 3D Studio Max and PhotoShop to aid in this non-linguistic thinking but before the onset of the computer creative people did these things in their heads. Einstein was well known for visual thinking and Nicola Tesla once remarked that he knew an alternating current electric motor would function before it had been constructed because it had been running in his mind for weeks.

He idea that reasoning cannot take place without reference to reality is, again, a gross mistake. Mathematics is often taken for a science because many of its creations originally were internally consistent logical constructions that found immediate application in understanding known physical processes but actually mathematics continually concerns itself with processes in the inter-relationships of abstract concepts that may or may not be represented in known phenomena.
When Einstein conceived of a four dimensional universe he was able to reach back to Riemann and Lobachevski who had concerned themselves with Euclid’s strangely unacceptable parallel hypothesis. They had devised non-Euclidian geometries which, at their inception, had no known physical counterparts. But they fitted well into Einstein’s theories and were ready and waiting for him when he needed them. Today the theories of multidimensional universes have solid mathematics behind them although they are not yet accepted as being congruent with reality.

The implications of Paparella’s outlook that logical speculation without some sort of absolute grounding in experience would indicate that all proposed systems that have yet to be tried are necessarily evil or lead to tragedy would freeze novel innovation and bring human advances to a dead stop. There is no doubt that many systems that have been attempted have also failed miserably and resulted in bad ends but on occasion they have succeeded very well. Our environment, as people are rapidly becoming aware, is not static. In its own ingenious way the universe is out to kill us all unless we pay close attention to its erratic behavior. We cannot smugly assume that the Earth, whose life support parameters have remained within tolerable limits for the last few thousand years, will continually present us with benign behavior. We must face the fact that life has faced since its inception. We must innovate or be overcome and innovation is without a doubt a very dangerous business. But not to do so, to grovel before imaginary super beings and beg for help when we must use all our creative mental resources in high gear is a recipe for disaster.

The concept that nature is ultimately unknowable is a resignation to defeat. Perhaps humans will never know it all but we can know enough to survive and can use what we do know to learn more. The things we know and control today in the nanoworld would be unimaginable only a few decades ago and new knowledge is appearing at a rapid speed. Our danger is not in knowing more but in how to use the knowledge for maximum benefit and minimum danger. So far, we have shown sluggish agility in this. Our legislatures and leaders are far behind the times in utilizing our best capabilities. I don’t know how it will turn out but to turn to the ignorant past rather than to the promise of a future would be a fatal error.

Paparella2007-06-24 00:16:29
Here is a less biased and less prejudicial view of the historically misguided and slanderous link you and your cohorts desperately wish to establish between Nazism and Catholicism, to better grind your ax against religion in general. See this link below:


Sand2007-06-24 05:24:15
There appears to be some controversy in the matter of the Pope. Do you also deny the centuries of persecution which the Catholics and other Christian sects imposed on Jews where they were shunned by society and kept in enclaves to separate them from society? That, after all, was the basis for Nazi persecution.

Paparella2007-06-24 06:09:17
The bias comes out loud and clear. Those who would like to link the Catholic Church to the Holocaust somewhow always conveniently forget to mention that it was not only Jews who were exterminated. Those were approximately 6 millions. But there were five more million undesirables considered some sort of sub-species of humanity: gipysies, gays, retarded, catholics, protestants, free-thinkers, dissenters, encompassing various nationalities. This was logistically planned not by lunatics, but by rationalists without an ounce of the imaginative and the poetical and with Ph.D.s after their name in the name of an ideology which was in fact morally condemned by Pius XI in one of his encyclicals. As Tony Judt puts it in his voluminous book on Europe, to misremember is to dishonor one's humanity, and if one dishonors one's humanity how can he respect that of others?

Sand2007-06-24 06:33:35
I hope I may be forgiven for considering that the Jews were more than a mere minor casualty in the Holocaust. Sometimes facts blow things way out of proportion.

Paparella2007-06-24 06:37:51
The encyclical of Pius XI "With burning concern" were Nazism is condemned was issued on March 14, 1937. In that encyclical anti-semitism is condemned. To disrespect facts and engage in slander is like spitting at the sky, it will inevitable fall back on one's face.

Sand2007-06-24 07:17:26
I take it then that you are sure the material at http://www.sxws.com/charis/history-6.htm

is total fabrication. Frankly it tends to confirm my suspicions of your unfortunate psychosis.

Paparella2007-06-24 13:09:08
I take it that your think that the encyclical of Pius Xi agains Nazism and antisemitism is a pure fabrication. Regarding psychosis: people who cavalierly dispense epithets such as psychosi, phony, little beast ought at the very least entertain the doubt that they may be projecting their own badly appropriated shadow.

Paparella2007-06-24 13:25:50

The link above will take you to a more intellectually honesthonest and less biased report on the activities of the Catholic Church vis a vis Nazism; specifically on the activities of Cardinal Roncalli (who later became John XXIII)which helped many thousands of Jews escape Nazi atrocities. Thanks for demonstrating what Vico partially meant by the expression "the barbarism of the intellect."

Sand2007-06-24 13:35:53
Go argue with Simon Weisenthal, not me. He's the vicious Jew with the barbaric mind.

Paparella2007-06-24 13:52:54
That too is part of the barbarism: to turn the table around and attempt via irony to put words never uttered into one's opponent mouth. A less rationalistic age would not conceive of such a reprehensible operation.

Sand2007-06-24 13:53:18
For a more complete understanding of the relations of the Vatican and the Jewish people extending back in history beyond the Nazi era see:

Paparella2007-06-25 08:40:00
Funny. There was no Vatican before 1931. Ignorance? Let us be kind and assume that in science-fiction time and space are quite relative and transposable; therefore the Vatican can be extended back in history at will, to better allow for the grinding of an ax needed in the story.

Sand2007-06-25 11:10:35
This from the Vatican site:


The history of the Vatican as a papal residence dates from the 5th cent., when, after Emperor Constantine I had built the basilica of St. Peter's, Pope Symmachus built a palace nearby. The pope usually resided in the Lateran Palace until the “Babylonian captivity” (14th cent.) in Avignon, France. After the return of the papacy to Rome (1377) the Vatican became the usual residence. The Renaissance popes, principally Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, Julius II, Leo X, and Clement VII, were great patrons of the arts, and it was they who began to assemble the great collections and to construct the wonderful galleries. Gregory XIII and Sixtus V spent huge sums on the Vatican and also began the Quirinal, a palace that served as the papal residence from the 17th to the 19th cent., was the Italian royal palace from 1870 to 1946, and is now the home of the president of Italy.

Paparella2007-06-25 15:06:13
Vatican refers to a sovereign city politically ruled by the Pope. That was established by concordat with the Italian State who had taken over all of the Papal holding in 1870, in 1931. The confusion you are creating is that of attaching residences next to Vatican. Of course the Pope has resided in Rome from time immemorial but Vatican city state did not exist prior to 1931. I suppose you have also learned today, to your chagrin that the Catholic Church was the patron of the arts from time immemorial too and much more. That explains partially why 70% of the world's artistic treasures are in Italy.

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