the definitive quid

"I seemed to be living under a bell jar, and yet I felt I was close to something essential.  A subtle veil, a thread, barely separated me from the definitive quid."    - Eugenio Montale

Once in a while, in the midst of your bibliophiliac meanderings, you happen upon a book like Ezra Pound's would-be "ball of light in one's hands" - the true intellectual manna, the book you've been searching for half-consciously.

Not long ago I tripped over such a book : a work in philosophy by one Borden Parker Bowne, published in Boston (by Houghton Mifflin) in 1908, titled simply Personalism.

This book (and the Cambridge academic group loosely associated with it - now called "Boston Personalism") played a role in Martin Luther King's early thinking.  I suppose I was drawn to it for that reason, and due to my own prior interest in "the person", the personal (in an abstract, quasi-philosophical sense).  I suppose it was the same focus which had motivated my enthusiasm (7 years or so ago) for the philosophical writings of Michael Polanyi - another advocate for the "person".

I'm not in the mood for strenuous, inadequate paraphrasing tonight.  You'll just have to read Bowne's Wikipedia entry, maybe look further yourself.  Prof. Wiki calls Bowne "an acute critic of mechanistic determinism, positivism, and naturalism."  He was also an acute critic of abstraction, idealism, and totalizing systematics.  Nor he was one of those run-of-the-James American pragmatists.

Bowne seems to be located somewhere in that dawn twilight between late-Victorian disenchantment, on the one hand (the Brown Decades), and early 20th-century dynamic physics (relativity, uncertainty, quanta) plus mid-20th-century Existential neo-Medieval (Eliot) suprematism/despair, on the other.  He's a very sharp knife... a very free-thinking kind of Methodist minister, if you can imagine that.

What I mean to say : Bowne seems to offer a logical, informed, & convincing philosophical ground for my own more cloudy poetical conceptions.  He makes a rational argument for the plausibility of a "metaphysical" universe - originating in a living creative benevolent ineffable divine Person, and manifested (or progressively accomplished) in an experiential reality of free spiritual persons ("souls", you might say - human beings) joined in fellowship.  A reality of Persons.

And he's a pretty incisive critic of rival theories : scientific positivism, materialism, determinism - any kind of "objectivity" which reduces human beings to pawns, cannon-fodder, statistics - chips in a cosmic-mechanical system.  He shows them to be unthinking extrapolations from both common sense (ordinary experience) and science (the useful application of observation & measurement to ordinary experience) - neither of which give access to meaning in the philosophical sense.  The final cause(s) & purpose(s) of existence - beyond both common-sense utility and scientific measurement - have yet to be comprehended.

Bowne provides, I guess, a firm & bright "phenomenology" (probably wrong term) of the Person : not just the physical, embodied individual, but the thinking, feeling, invisible "subject" - the living, breathing personality/soul/spirit - the invisible Me and You beyond physical cycles & change - and related to (stemming from) the original, originary, creative Act of the perfect invisible ineffable universal Spirit-Person in the hidden heart of our own beings, and at the center of the Real.  Thus the individual human person exists as an imperfect, partial, limited image or "child" of the Spirit from whom he or she is created (& thus, also, "we hold these truths to be self-evident..." etc.).

Imagine how such a particular philosophical firmness or intellectual integrity might fortify the confessional faith/confidence of someone like Martin Luther King.  And to what heights (& depths) that might lead him.

I'm nowhere near being a philosopher.  I'm just a poet - but maybe a poet with philosophical tendencies.  I've always had an interest - since childhood, I daresay - in the "big picture".  My conception of poetry has always harbored a polemical aspect : I'm against the abstract objectification of the human person - the various philosophies, dogmas, pseudo-scientific theories, & ideologies aligned against the human being as a free spiritual-material entity with a future.  I think of poetry as a force of expression - a bearing-witness to this living, breathing, personal, metaphysical dimension of the human soul, persisting in relation to that benevolent over-arching Love-Plenitude-Origin-Being we call God.

Many inured cultural habits of the modern mind militate against the patterns of such a viewpoint.  But like Eugenio Montale, I feel myself on the edge, walking along a wall topped with broken glass - so near that definitive whatness, just beyond this thin veil of worn threads...

I feel we are on the cusp of a new cultural Aeon or Era.  The heavy meteoric Stone (Mandelstam's akme-kamen) of divine Presence hovers near again... the Ghost of Manitou, the leader of the Ghost Dance... the human incarnation, the global human per se, arises at the crossroads of time & reality.

The human soul is integral, invisible, personal... & stands under judgement, in relation (to the horizontal-vertical, the neighbor and the Spirit).  Nothing in the universe is either objectified or determined.  Your soul is alive as it revolves, turning toward its own intelligible Origin.

Of course, this could all be phony mumbo-jumbo.  But poetry stands as a criterion for dialogue, simply because poetry is undetermined by anything but dialogue. It emerges out of the living encounter between speakers & listeners, listeners & speakers.  Poetry is the opposite of discourse, lecture, prose - because it recognizes (intuitively) that it bears witness to a creative force both proportional to and incommensurable with itself : the mysterious origin of life, love, beauty, truth (& poetry itself).

I'm not suggesting that poetry per se has some special role in advancing this new Aeon.  This is only my own personal application of poetic resources toward a particular polemical end.  Poetry & State, in general, should both keep a courteous distance from Religion.

But we have had enough of Man the cipher, Man the factor in an abstract design.  We live in a dense world of love & sleep, of conscious & unconscious motive... moving in a dance of form & feeling.  Man the spiritual Person abides at the center, amid vast fields of other ineffable Persons (invisible heights & depths).

I believe in the ever-living Spirit, shaping the cosmos toward miraculous reconciliations & renewals.  I believe that Beauty is the signature of a creative Mind as Source; & that moral beauty - the beauty of compassionate & selfless love for all Creation - has been imprinted upon human history, like the trace of a smile across the ravaged face of suffering & grief.   Mary, Francis... John... the women at the Cross, the Tomb.

The tomb, the crossroad, dead end, turning-point.... anonymous blind alley, where the unknown soldier (Everywoman, Everyman) turns toward the hills.  Walk on up there...

Borden Parker Bowne

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