and it's long history in human consciousness
I find it easier to write when I am at the French Alliance, in spite of my occasional conflict with the little Feldwebelin--but she has remained fairly quiet and docile of late. When I do my work in the downtown office of my Iranian friend, I tend to feel more hampered by the environment and we often get into long conversations, which are always good to stimulate my thinking but make writing actually more difficult.
Still, we both enjoy spending time together shooting the breeze and usually repair for that purpose to some convenient watering hole, a little coffeeshop, maybe some terrace around Union Square or on Market St. Lately we have been constrained by the foul weather to hold our conversations in the food courts of the Westfield San Francsico Centre, where one can get completely lost in the maze of places to eat, drink and be merry--even when shopping itself is not on your mind. It's a little bit like being on one of those huge cruise ships, with grandiose staircases, curved escalators and domed ceilings ten stories high, arranged around such stores as Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and the Emporium. Macy's is not in the Centre itself, but only a block north on Union Square. All in all a lively, cosmopolitan environment. But we usually pick the same humble little Cafe Bellini, named after my favorite opera composer, where we can endulge in some Java or Sumatra while enjoying the ambience and our own scintillating conversation. Here is a picture of the place--showing just one of its many fine domes:
Our conversation yesterday ranged over a great number of topics, as it usually does, but I have been preoccupied for sometime with the idea of delving a little more into the history of enlightenment itself.
When I spoke or wrote about The Enlightenment in some previous journal entries, I used the term somewhat losely, including in it The Renaissance as well as the actual subsequent European Age of Enlightenment. There is no question that the two are connected, but technically they are of course two different historical epochs. To make it even more complicated, the Renaissance itself is also divided in an early and late period, as well as a southern and a northern Renaissance.
The French Renaissance and the Italian Rinascimento mean Rebirth in English, Wedergeboorte in Dutch.
It has little to do with the concept of being 'born again' in the usual Christian sense, which refers to a personal experience rather than a societal or cultural phenomenon, een cultuurverschijnsel.
As an aside, it is strange how one remembers things. The Greek verb phainomai means to shine, and when we were young gymnasiasten, preppies at the old Groen van Prinstererlyceum in Vlaardingen... (now reorganized as part of a scholengemeenschap, a community of schools, under the name Aquamarijn
Deze school was onderdeel van de Groen van Prinstererscholengemeenschap. Later is de naam veranderd in Aquamarijn Scholengemeenschap.)
...my classmates and I sometimes translated various Dutch songs into classical Greek (as best we could) and one of those songs was a St Nicholas song, een Sinterklaasliedje called Zie, de maan schijnt door de bomen--See, the moon shines through the trees. To make it singable in classical Greek we had to make it come out as Dia dendron he selene, he selene phainetai--through the trees the moon, the moon shines.
There was another popular song about the navy, You got to be with the Navy, Bij de marine moet je zijn, that came out as epi toi nautikoi esti, or something like that--I could be wrong about esti--My memory is beginning to fade here.
Those were our extracurricular activities when we were supposed to be translating Homer's Ulysses or Xenophon's Anabasis. Our tall skinny Greek teacher, Meneer Kleiwegt was quite tolerant of our ways to bring some fun into the learning process, up to a point. Because of that fun loving tolerance I still can recite to this day, more or less half a century later, the beginning lines from the first book of the Odysee:
Andra moi ennepe mousa, polutropon, hos mala polla planchthe, epei Troies ieron ptoliethron epersen. Pollon d'anthropon iden astea kai noon egno. Polla d'ho g'en pontoi pathen algea hon kata thumon....
sing me o muse of the man, the crafty one, who suffered many pains after destroying the holy city of Troy. Of many people did he see the cities and got to know the minds.
Of course I could have cheated, but I didn't--and needed only two minor corrections (h and n) as you can check from the following website: Homer, Odyssey where the text appears as follows:
andra+ moi ennepe++, mousa, polutropon+, hos mala polla
planchthê, epei Troiês hieron ptoliethron epersen:
pollôn d' anthrôpôn iden astea kai noon egnô,
polla d' ho g' en pontôi pathen algea hon kata thumon,
Our Latin teacher was even more enlightened--his name was Henry Willy Pleket, a dazzling young man of 27 we were all in love with, who had been a boxer in the Dutch Army before he became a Greek epigrapher, a subject he got his Ph. D. in from Cambridge around the time he was teaching us the rudiments of Latin: rosa rosae rosae rosam rosa--the rose, of the rose, to the rose, the rose by the rose. That's all we learned in our first lesson. But he always allowed at least half of his class time for just plain fun and bantering. I have to say, he inspired us all. And to his tribute, I can still recite the beginning of Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico:
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur...The whole of Gaul is divided in three parts, of which one the Belgians inhabit, another the Aquitanians, a third who in their own language are called the Celts, in ours the Gauls. This one I know I got right--but go ahead, prove me wrong.
Those are the kind of teachers all students should have--even today, in America. My love of languages has its roots in these enlightend teachers. Sadly there were others as well, less fun to be taught by--and the negative results still show in many ways.
As far as Henry Willy Pleket--he quickly was recruited to teach at Leiden University and you can find his name all over the internet. Here's just one of the hundreds of links to be found through google:
|Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 49 (1999) Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum - SEG 49 Edited by HW Pleket, RS Stroud, and JHM Strubbe by A. Chaniotis ISBN:|
But my old teacher Henry Willy is perhaps best known in the popular culture for a book he co- authored on the long history of the Olympic Games--check your local library, or the following link:
|Olympic Games : The First Thousand Years by MI Finley, HW Pleket|
This is a longer aside than planned. But I dont plan things like this to begin with. Anyway, the Greek word phainomai, shining, schijnen stuck with me and enlightenment, verlichting, of course has everything to do with shining light. I realize I may have lost whatever readership I might have had by now, for I seem to be rambling on aimlessly, as I so often do--and to some that may seem ridiculous, but be aware there is some method to my madness. Rambling means freedom, freedom to go wherever you feel like going, and that often leads to amazing places and the most unlikely discoveries. I am referring again to that difference between directed thinking and associative thinking I wrote about in a previous journal entry--except that rather than use the word directed thinking, I prefer to use the word directive thinking. There is a difference.
Associative thinking is akin to dreaming, there is no conscious structure, no rhyme or reason, to the way thoughts come up. Directed thinking refers to thought that follows directions, like the rules of logic, rules of academic structure, and so on. Rules imposed by society, by some outside authority.
What I mean by directive thinking is a kind of marriage between the two: you allow whatever thoughts that come to you to surface, but then you direct them in a kind of organic manner towards a certain (or perhaps uncertain) goal. No prescribed structure, just a little push and pull here and there, sort of the way one grows a bonzai tree. There is no rule as to what the tree should look like, just an intuitive sense of what direction you would like it to grow in based on some vague aesthetic sensibility. Another metaphore might be that with directive thinking you grown an informal English garden rather than a formal French garden. I don't know about you, but I prefer the informality of English gardens. Yet they too are consciously designed.
I am groping my way forward here. Brahm just called. The Feldwebelin gave me a dirty look because using your cell phone is a nono here. I have not yet figured out how to make the ringing change into a vibration. But there is hardly anyone here, ever, except me and the staff. So what's the big deal. I always take my calls outside anyway. The ringing is such a minor infraction, only a Deutsche Feldwebel would make it a capital offense. But voilà. Befehl ist Befehl. But then, I tell her, this is not the Goethe Haus, for goodness sake.
OK, back to my bonzai tree and the roots of enlightenment.
There was of course 'The' Enlightenment--The Enlightenment and the article you find in that link is a fairly good summary of what Europeans understand by it--here is a blurb from that article:
Although the intellectual movement called "The Enlightenment" is usually associated with the 18th century, its roots in fact go back much further. But before we explore those roots, we need to define the term. This is one of those rare historical movements which in fact named itself. Certain thinkers and writers, primarily in London and Paris, believed that they were more enlightened than their compatriots and set out to enlighten them.
They believed that human reason could be used to combat ignorance, superstition, and tyranny and to build a better world. Their principal targets were religion (embodied in France in the Catholic Church) and the domination of society by a hereditary aristocracy.
Ipso--that's it, voila, there it is, ziedaar, zo is het--toch, right?
However, when I referred to The roots of Enlightenment in the heading to this Journal Entry, I did not have in mind what the above article was talking about, for the roots go much deeper. Enlightenement in a generic sense has a much longer history in the human experience--it undoubtedly predates even the time of writing, for there must have been enlightened human beings long before then.
Nor does enlightenment per se, op zich zelf, have much to do with reason or rationality.
For all we know, there may be other enlightened species, enlightened dolphins or elephants perhaps--we have no proof one way or the other. Even trees may be enlightened beings for all we know. Enlightenement is not necessarily connected with European or even human culture--we need to be humble about this.
If we find even one little bug or microbe somewhere other than on this earth that was not brought there by us, the chances are very good that the cosmos is teeming with life--and where there is an abundance of life forms, the evolutionary process, given enough time, will eventually produce enlightened individuals, of whatever species. The entire cosmos is after all a manifestation of the one divine reality we are a humble manifestation of ourselves. The divine reality itself is at the roots of enlightenment.
Having said that, we are not at the stage where we can endulge in an investigation of the roots of enlightenment on other planets or in other planetary systems. Nor can we go further back than the historical record in finding the most likely roots of human enlightenment, for oral traditions are not easily verified. Yet there are examples of enlightenment among preliterate tribes that appear to have been documented: there are the Indians living in the Colombian province of Santa Marta near the Venezualan border whose chiefs are called Mamas: JSTOR: The Aborigines of the Province of Santa Marta, Colombia and whose state of enlightenment, from what I have heard and read about them, appears unquestionable.
I can't dwell on them right now, for I want to go on with my directive thinking. Most likely there have been enlightened individuals among many aboriginal cultures, including that of the Australian aborigines who speak of a dream world which to them is more real than the stricltly material reality.
The Bible itself refers to malchizedek Malchizedek (the name probably means king-priest: malik-zadok) and other prehistorical figures, who even though probably mythological, intimate that there were unusual human beings at an early stage who might have been enlightened.
A magus is the Latin version of a mag, a priest of the Medes who also had special shamanic powers. The three magi of the New Testament were in fact three Medean shamans or priests. Like the Persians, their allies, the Medes were Indo-Europeans and the root mag can be found back in other Indo European languages, like in the Dutch vermogen, mag, macht (might, power) as in: het is in mijn vermogen (it is in my power, in my might.)
[From Middle English magi, magi, from Latin mag, pl. of magus, sorcerer, magus, from Greek magos, from Old Persian magu; see magh- in Indo-European roots.]
Of course I read both Don Juan and The Magus a long time ago, probably back in the seventies, but they helped me at the time to formulate a different idea of how our own concept of reality was not the only conceivable way of looking at the manifest world. And even before that, I have to give credit to someone like Eric Bentley for pushing me to look at this shit (meaning the material reality) from all angles (as my dear friend and partner Louis used to put it delicately) and not to let some chosen frozen form of Calvinist Christianity continue its strangle hold on my mind. Bentley helped me overcome my fear. I helped him with his--he came out of the closet in 1969, and I freed myself from Christian dogma. Eric Bentley - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
But the book I wanted to spend more time on, which I also read in my younger years when I was still living it up in the New York of the sixties and seventies, was known best under the title of:
It is close to the time I was going to take a stroll downtown to meet Brahm for coffee so I will wrap up this journal entry for now--and pick it up again later to show the connection between Padma Sambhava, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Evans Wentz translation (which I read a long time ago) and the Timothy Leary version (which I never did read, but would still be interested in checking out for myself) and how these writings led to the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism into Western consciousness and in particular western psychology and psychiatry in the middle of the 20th century.