Sunday, May 27, 2007

Gearing up for Koons...

Just between you and me...
(Image from Wikipedia)

The recently noted issue of Gnosticism has reminded me of my first encounter with the thought of Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996) back in the early 1980s.

His greatest work, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the book in which I first encountered his thought, came to me as a hard revelation. Hard to understand, I mean. It had just been translated from the German by Robert Wallace into somewhat 'Teutonic' English -- those long Germanic sentences that Samuel Clemens complained about in "The Awful German Language."

Anyway, the interesting thing, for me, lay in Blumenberg's revelation of how the Church's early overcoming of Gnosticism, particularly in Augustine, was actually a mere postponement, that the genuine overcoming of Gnosticism occurred with the rise of the Modern Age in reaction to the Nominalist construction of God as a radically free being who could have created a world entirely evil without having to apologize to anyone about having done so -- the very sort of intra-Christian theological irrationalism that Pope Benedict was referring to in his Regensberg Address that got him into difficulties last year for not limiting himself to a critique of the one brief phase of Catholic thought, nor to the extensive phase of Protestant thought, on God's nature, but extending his critique by noticing that the God of Islam, Allah, seemed to be essentially (if one can rationally speak of essentialism here) the paradigmatic Nominalist God.

Yes, I've just written an awful Teutonic sentence. Sorry.

Protestantism as a sort of Neo-Gnosticism is an old critique, and while it's a bit misleading (because based on a certain reified understanding of what Gnosticism was), I understand the point and concede that there's something to it even though it's at times been used to silence a protesting voice. I recall the very Catholic professor Helmut Waldmann calling me a Gnostic during a discussion of his views on Gnosticism back when I was living in Tuebingen, perhaps late 1992 or early 1993. He meant that I was Protestant, and I didn't take his attack very seriously, for he rather arbitrarily located the origins of Gnosticism in what he called Mannerbunde (literally, "bands of men"), by which he meant warrior bands, if I recall, but I never read his book.

But these things that I'm telling are all just biographical details revealed to fill a slow blog day while I gear up to return to the essay by Koons, which had mentioned the Gnosticism referred to in the first line of this post. I had hoped to investigate his argument a bit further this morning, but my family and I took at trip to Inchon yesterday, so I didn't get up at my usual early hour this morning, and I now have to prepare myself to attend my 'Gnostic' church...

But I'll leave you with this poem, which I've posted before (January 31, 2006) but which has relevance this morning because it was inspired by my first reading of Blumenberg, whose investigation of Gnostic strains in post-Medieval theology brought me to wonder how the preterite might feel about the arbitary God of some variants in Protestant thinking:
Preteritic Memories

The risen lord has passed over me.
I have felt his shadow, like the cold, dark
shade of a vicious bird of prey, seeking
out those whom he elects, into whom he
can surely sink penetrating talons.

I am glad he has passed over, this
cruel angel of death, wings beating with
cool passion roused in that one
ancient of days, Yahweh, semitic god
before whose solemn name men trembled.

Was it the darkness I felt passed then,
when I shivered, or was it my fear;
and did I hesitate, to raise my eyes,
afraid of what it was might be above?
Look not upon the form of god, and live.

Pronoia has passed from the world,
never fully persuaded, anyway,
by the word -- and neither could the mighty
divine will work its mysterious way,
recusant matter refusing ideal form.

Utterly lost, but haunted by the past,
an illusion, a cosmos we could trust,
nostalgic for the order broken then,
we now construct unhidden purposes --
but find concrete transcendence has its cost.
I wrote this poem around 1985, and it was also influenced by my reading of Thomas Pynchon, who has rather a lot to say about Gnosticism in his novels.

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At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OT (only tangential), but with the note on the Regensburg address and God as "radically free," I'll slip in this latest on Tariq Ramadan by Paul Berman.


At 1:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, MB, for thinking of me on this. I'm quite interested both the question of Mr. Ramadan and the thought of Mr. Berman.

Coincidentally, I had just this morning downloaded the entire Berman article. If I'd only waited, you'd have saved me a lot of work.

Jeffery Hodges

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