When you’re tackling a new set of ideas or coming to terms with a new way of thinking you can choose either to suspend disbelief or refuse to read on in a dismissive kind of way; on the sound Charles Fortian principle that anything dreamed up by human beings is worthy of consideration, I like to suspend disbelief. I choose to do so.
Whilst engaged on the Coursera Kierkegaard Course referred to in the previous Glob, I had to face up to the frequent use of the word ‘faith’.
Because there’s too much baggage attached to it I’ve never used the word ‘faith’ before; I’ve shied away from it; it’s just never figured at all in my vocabulary. However, towards the end of the eight week intensive study, I asked myself what ‘faith’ might mean to me shorn of its conventional religious associations; there must be some functional sense to it when you consider it not as a meaningless abstraction but as an aspect of human behaviour whence it was invented in the first place.
So I tried asking myself a question. What do I have a blind (unthinking) ‘faith’ in? What kinds of things do I do that I know will work without my having to think about it?
I write poems without knowing quite how or why…—strangely, it seems that I have ‘faith’ that the next poem I write will fall into a kind of order eventually after a bit of fiddling; I compose music in a thoroughly untutored kind of way by following my ears and I have ‘faith’ that on the rare occasions when there’s a live performance a composition will ‘sound right’; I make pictures and I know in my gut that the next Magic City will arrange itself satisfactorily.
Kierkegaard makes much of things being ‘appropriated’ to one’s sense of ‘inwardness’—for this to make sense one must first acquire the concept, take steps to make sure that the process itself gets appropriated in ‘real life’ (rather than just being an idle idea) and then there must be something else—some propulsion mechanism, something that makes things stick… Perhaps the added factor has to be something you could call ‘faith’ or blind certainty that, given prior experience of the process working, adequate and necessary mental preparation inside some Kierkegaardian inwardness of my own, it’s all going to work in an objectively subjective kind of way.
How does this differ from the notion of ‘faith’ in a conventionally religious sense? Says Kierkegaard, there comes a point when reason meets a brick wall, and it’s there that I notice ‘believers’ throwing in the conceptual sponge they call ‘faith’—it seems to me to be a very weak kind of capitulation to unreason. If that’s ‘faith’ it’s no wonder I’ve avoided the issue all these years!
But keep at it! Joseph Campbell points out that the word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin religare signifying a joining together or a binding up. There’s no doubt whatever that something there is that binds me to life; something there is that binds me in to creative processes; I am bound to write poems, compose music, paint pictures. I cannot imagine that life is about anything else; something there is that binds me to relationships of one thing or person to another.
While reading dense texts like those of Kierkegaard I have this habit of writing Found Poems in order to make personal sense of things, in Kierkegaardian terms this is what I understand by ‘appropriation’ of ideas, mixing them in to your own Being. The following came to me while battling with something Kierkegaard wrote, as I recall in Either/Or:-
I am idling along
minding what I take to be my own business
when suddenly out of some inconceivable blueness
simply in the rhythm of the knotty prose I’m reading in the building of images
comes a feeling throughout my body head to diaphragm nose to big toe
in my tingling arms that what I’m reading (the text itself) will make a poem
and so in Kierkegaard I find
a question about the binding of self to life: what is it binds us thus?
for the wolf (he says)
it is a chain made of cats’ paws walking on the ground
of the roots of cliffs
of the breath of fish and the spittle of birds
for myself (he says) it is gloomy fancies alarming dreams
troubled thoughts fearful presentiments
things flexible but soft as silk that cannot be torn apart
So I got to wondering what the chain is that binds me to life… It might not always be gloomy thoughts etc and I don’t think it’s always like that for the melancholic Kierkegaard—I was reading him in his persona as Romantic Ironist. I like the way he tries things on for size like that.
Whether he got it from the Latin (likely since he must have been fluent at the language, having conducted the defence of his Master’s Thesis in Latin—just imagine!) Kierkegaard himself has this notion of ‘binding’. A ‘religious person’ is truly one who works constantly at the question of what it is that ‘binds us to life’.
If I am an ‘atheist’—a word I never normally bother to use about myself because the word itself posits the very existence of ‘God’ which it sets out futilely to deny—then I am also profoundly ‘religious’ in that I believe that the whole point of living is to aim to figure out what it is binds us to it with such ‘enthusiasm’. (The root meaning of ‘enthusiasm’ is ‘being imbued with goddishness’: the theta (θ) is from the Greek θεος).
And Kierkegaard has the marvellous concept of the ‘Knight of Faith’… It works for me!
people commonly travel around the world
to see rivers & mountains & new stars
birds of rare plumage queerly deformed fishes
ridiculous breeds of animals—they abandon themselves
to the bestial stupour which gapes at existence
and they think they have seen something…
now for myself if I knew there was a Knight of Faith
to be located somewhere I would make pilgrimage
on foot to find him—such a prodigy
interests me greatly: I would not let go of him
for an instant; every moment I would watch
to see how he managed the movements
of infinity; I would divide my time
between looking at him and practising
the exercises myself… but I have not found
such a person…
if I had done the moment I set my eyes on him
I’d instantly push him from me; I myself
would leap backwards; clasp my hands
and say half aloud—good Lord!
is this the man? he looks like a tax collector!
but it is the man himself—the very Knight of Faith
and I draw closer to him watching his least movements
to see whether there might not be visible
a little heterogeneous fractional
telegraphic message from the Infinite—
a glance a look a gesture a note of sadness
a smile that might betray the Infinite
in its heterogeneity with the finite
I examine his figure from tip to toe
to see if there might not be a cranny
through which the infinite was peeping
but he is solid through and through;
his tread is vigorous belonging entirely
to finitude; no smartly dressed townsman
who walks out to Fresburg on a Sunday afternoon
treads the ground more firmly; he belongs
entirely to this world no philistine more so
I discover nothing of that aloof & superior
nature whereby you might think to recognise
a Knight of the Infinite—whenever I see him
taking part in particular pleasures he does it
with the persistence which is the mark
of the earthly man whose soul
is absorbed in such things
when he’s working you might suppose
that he was a clerk who had lost his soul
in an intricate system of book-keeping
so precise he is…
on Sunday he goes to church
—no heavenly glance or any other token
of the incommensurable betrays him;
if you didn’t know him it would be impossible
to distinguish him from the rest of the congregation;
his healthy & vigorous hymn-singing
proves at the most that he has a good chest
on Sunday afternoons he walks in the forest
taking delight in everything he sees:
the human swarm the new omnibuses
the water of the Sound; meeting him on Beach Road
you might suppose he was a shop-keeper
out on a fling—I have sought in vain
to detect in him the poetic incommensurability
towards evening he walks home with a gait
as indefatigable as that of the postman;
at home he lounges at an open window
and looks out on the square where he lives
with interest—there’s a rat slips under the curb
and there are children playing—in vain
I have sought in him the incommensurability of genius
in the evening when he smokes his pipe
you might swear that it was the grocer
over the way vegetating in the twilight;
he lives as carefree as a ne’er-do-well—
he does not do the least thing
except by virtue of the absurd
I could be furious out of envy
because every instant he makes
the movements of the Infinite—
with infinite resignation he has drained
the cup of life’s profound sadness;
he knows the bliss of the Infinite;
he senses the pain of renouncing everything
—the dearest things he possesses in the world
yet finitude tastes to him just as good
as to one who never knew anything higher;
having resigned everything infinitely
he grasps everything again by virtue of the absurd
constantly making the movements of Infinity
it’s the most difficult task for a dancer
to leap into a definite posture so that
there is not a second when he is grasping
after the posture but by the leap itself
he stands fixed in that posture—that is what
the Knight does while most people
live dejectedly in worldly sorrow & joy
sitting along the wall out of the dance
Knights of Infinity are passionate dancers:
they possess elevation—whenever they fall
they vacillate an instant which shows
that they are strangers in the world
never forgetting themselves
but grasping existence by virtue of faith
to express the sublime and the pedestrian
—this only Knights can do…
Found poem in
Søren Kierkegaard: Fear & Trembling
3 thoughts on “The Knight of Faith (R11)”
A pithy poem that reminds me of a conversation that somehow keeps faith burning. It’s quite a long conversation that is now tumbling, twisting, and turning along the grained edge of those lucky enough to hold certain things close to their bosom. Like Whitman throwing his wild man muse into the bloody soldiers dying before him, remembering it all and offering poetry so we too can remember. What is the life force that binds us? Whatever this magical stuff is, what better metaphor than dance to translate nature’s cosmic irony – nothing is as it seems. The poet Rilke used to ask his students to sit and gaze at a tree for at least 6 hours before putting pen to paper. Does this seem extreme, well it might, but maybe Rilke understood what he and his students were up against. Maybe Rilke was just clearing the ground for his students, the ground that to him was blessed, as long as one had a bit of faith.
If a man or a woman has developed faith in the process of writing poems and composing music, then who is to say this isn’t the same faith a religious person has in the creative mystery of God? These grey areas are fortunate for some and a source of prejudice for others. Irony has a tone that disrupts certainty; it’s the voice of the provocateur. It’s the I’m not sure if you’re being serious tone that slips from my mouth and may lead others scratching their heads, and asking, was he being sincere? Kids by the way get it much faster than, adults who march to the beat of the same drummer. Kids, love the hell out of that particular ironic twist that says, “I don’t know, I’m just the teacher.” This is becoming a lost art and there’s no fun in that – what a drag it is to witness the quickly declining level of conversation happening in our schools. What fun it is to have a student raise their hand and say, “are you being serious, do you believe what you just said.” It’s an attention grabber but the teacher must walk the line, and not fall into passive-aggressive bullshit. That could lead to cynicism.
I once wrote an essay with the title, A Meditation on Imagination’s Cynical Purpose. The idea came from a quote by the poet Richard Hugo in his marvelous book, “The Triggering Town.”
“The imagination is a cynic. By that I mean that it can accommodate the most desperate elements with regard for relative values. And it does this by assuming all things have equal value, which is a way of saying nothing has any value, which is cynicism.”
You could say my imagination was swept away by Hugo’s brash statement, but if I said this there would be a slight shift in tone, an ironic “I” in me standing back just enough to dis-identify with the being swept away part of the premise. A meta-position keeps the intellect from drying out and becoming pedantic.
Take a leap of faith:
Jesus was hung on—and held together—the cosmic collision of opposites (revealed in the very geometric sign of the cross). He let it destroy him, as his two nailed hands held all the great opposites safely together as one: the good and the bad thief, heaven and earth, matter and spirit, both sinners and saints gathered at his feet, a traditional Jew revealing a very revolutionary message to his and all religion, a naked male body revealing an utterly feminine soul. On the cross, Jesus becomes the Cosmic Christ. Father R.
And so all the esoteric wisdom is held in this one beautiful passage! To transpose all the esoteric knowledge reflected above would be to integrate the ancient teachings found in the most obscure texts scattered among the four corners of a universe without measure. All spiritual laws are composed together in this one symbol ; Jesus on the cross. Like one perfect symphony striking one perfect chord, spreading its light to every sentient being dead and alive, this is our true history. From the mathematical genius of the enneagram, to a child’s drawing stuck to the front of a refrigerator, this light breathes life into our worn and tattered souls. All things merge into one and all our paradoxes vanish in silence.
I wrote this, off the cuff, a few days ago. I was so inspired by Father R’s use of language that I wanted to join in on the conversation. The only thing I remember about Kierkegaard, before reading your marvelous glob, was that his prose had a different flavor than Kant or Nietzsche. It’s not strange that the name Kierkegaard evokes a spiritual image in my mind, along with the pleasant experience of conversing with such a lovely writing voice, instead it can be seen as one form of faith, the faith that authentic language has an effect on us human beings.
It begins as a burning question, in my case brought on by a feeling that something is missing, this can’t be all there is. It’s empty and hollow but most of all it’s the anguish, the gnashing of teeth, the clenching of fists, and the lonely sense of not knowing who the enemy is. My imagination essay crumbles and then rises again… Stop!
Now imagine that these wonderful conversations never happened. No Whitman, Woolf, Emerson, Gurdjieff, Sexton, and the rest of our shambled heroes that move around our libraries.
Imagine that this thing we called consciousness wasn’t blown apart and rebuilt by the many living and dead geniuses who helped us develop our own dance of faith. It’s so damn ironic, the way we stumble and keep going, following something bigger than ourselves that sits on a shelf waiting…
Thanks so much for this, Patrick!
Part of my Xmas reading was Genesis Revisited by Zecharia Sitchin, author, amongst other things, of The Twelfth Planet. The argument is that the Ancient Sumerians knew far more about the origin of life, death and the universe than we’ve ever done.
In the place north of Zimbabwe where it is more or less established that Homo Sapiens originated there were in ancient times gold mines. The Annunaki who came from outer space from the planet Marduk which circles the sun in a very eccentric way every few thousand years (I forget the exact number) needed gold to insulate their space-craft (still done). Their workers in the gold mines rebelled against their conditions and so the Annunaki decided to pair themselves up with primitive humankind to produce a new race of workers.
Divine elements were needed for this: through immersions in a ‘purifying bath’ the essences of a god’s blood was to be obtained. In Sumerian this was called TE.E.MA, ‘…at best translated ‘personality’, a term that expresses the sense of the word: that which makes a person what he is and different from any other person. But the translation ‘personality’ does not convey the scientific precision of the term, which in the original Sumerian meant ‘That which houses what binds the memory’. Nowadays we call it a ‘gene’…’
‘…The other element for which the young Anunnaki was selected, shiru, is commonly translated ‘flesh’. In time, the word did acquire the meaning ‘flesh’ among its various connotations. But in the earlier Sumerian it referred to the sex or reproductive organs; its root had the basic meaning ‘to bind’, ‘that which binds’. The extract from the shiru was referred to in other texts dealing with non-Anunnaki offspring of the ‘gods’ as kisru; coming from the male’s member, it meant ‘semen’…’—‘the resulting Primitive Worker stemmed from
this mixing process. In modern terms we would call him a hybrid…’
In relation to my original post, it was the word BIND that sent shivers up my spine!