A long time ago, there was an attempt to speak the language of the world. Ultimately, it came to look like this:
Gutenberg Bible of 1455
The idea was that that book had been dictated by a god of no name, because his name, not bound by words, couldn’t be contained by them.
Diagram of the Names of God in Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652–54).
What Kircher was really trying to say was this:
Eventually, by a sleight of hand, this god came to be represented as a man making man in his image which was not an image of a man. (It just looked like it to men.) As I said, a neat trick and good for getting past the censors who were trying to stamp out such sneakiness.
Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel c1511.1512 Source
This man was born in a space called the world. He was the point at which this divine power touched the world. Eventually that notion was set aside in favour of an idea of a divine world, feminine, which didn’t need a spark of the (male) divine to set it into motion. We still call this space “Nature”.
Christian Morgenstern, Norwegian Landscape with Mountain Path and Seashore, 1829.
What was left for male power was to “develop” this nature, into this kind of thing:
Berlin City Palace, 1900
Notice how it is codified into rooms (chapters) in its body, and a domed head, with a cross (or lightning rod) reaching up to Heaven. It’s a lot like this, really:
Morgenstern’s representation of a human-god relationship as “nature” and “emotion” (i.e. human nature) was a revolutionary change — the world was within humans, not without them. Here’s the previous image of what Morgenstern’s landscape looked like. You will note that the physical narrative is subordinated to a human one, which is subordinated to a sermon. Everything here has a symbolic dimension, controlled rigorously by a pre-determined idea. It is, I repeat, the same landscape as the one above. It is also called “Nature.”
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, c. 1530
Morgenstern’s image (here it is again for your viewing pleasure)…
… placed all the intellectual material in Cranach’s Garden of Eden (again…)
…into the emotional imagination: it was the garden; there Adam lived with his god. About that, there are a couple important points. First, that emotional response is readable within the original image. It looks like this:
There is an apple picked from a tree, and beauty, and desire, and confusion, and the humour of a stag holding up Adam’s sagging, leaf-covered penis. Perhaps he needs some help in that regard, which Eve is, really, trying to help him with. A quarter century earlier, without such humour, Cranach portrayed that tree, and that apple, like this:
Lucas Cranach the Elder: Jesus on the Cross, c. 1500 – 1503.
The blood red of the apple, Eve’s menstrual blood no doubt, has drenched the women here and the priests, but not Jesus, born this time of woman and not God’s …
…erect finger. Sound confusing and ancient? It shouldn’t be. A few billion people still live within this story — chances are, even you who are reading this. It contains the namelessness of this god, written as mathematics and represented as geometry (or the bonds holding atoms to other atoms), as here in the ceiling of the church in the Monastery of Maulbronn, one of the sites where monks invented Gothic architecture…
… and here, in the more feminine image of a window, with its roses turned to stone, rising above monkish shapes, all very gothic and again in Maulbronn…
… and finding perfection, as an idea, here in the cloister library at the monastery of Saint Galen, in Switzerland, where western handwriting was invented and the elaborate, geometrical roof was turned into a series of symbolic paintings (without losing their geometry) and all the world was transformed into book form, catalogued and categorized, with the hope that when the task was done Eden would be recreated and the perfection of God’s creation would be viewable by humans, whether they knew his name or not.
Until that point, humans would remain characters in a ruined book …
Farm Women Returning Home in an Evening Landscape, Eugen Kampf, before 1933
It was actually a revolutionary idea: instead of human identity being controlled by the will of a man trained in the tradition of God’s geometry, people could live out their own emotional lives, within that geometry, while remaining unaware of it. The geometry would not longer be portrayed mathematically, but as arrangements of colour and form on canvas, or what is called ‘art’. The faculty of reading human identity, or vision, out of such arrangements was at the same time being transferred to the feminine image of “Nature”, with results like this:
Thomas Moran, View of the Rocky Mountains
Despite its appearance as “physical” reality, it contains all the information of Cranach’s image…
…just subsumed into the emotional world (when present in humans, who hold the position of Adam/Eve/Christ/Mary in this story), or in the “natural” world, when concentrating on the garden, in which the story is told. An exemplary example of this reading of the book of the world and all of time …
… in the physical world, is Yellowstone Park, which sometimes looks like this :
Brooks Lake, Yellowstone National Park
I’m telling you this story, because I think it’s important to keep in mind that for all the modernity in modernity, and all the progress in progress, there has been no replacement of the old story. The identities given to contemporary humans remain as much symbolic constructions within a story as this…
They don’t look like this anymore….
…but in a time in which Nature has been constrained within a full book-like persona …
… instead of the purer, geometrical one, rising organically into human social life through art and artifice …
Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Michael Angelo
… so have humans adopted the romantic notion of an (emotional, “natural”) self, even though it is a supreme artifice…
… in place of a self as a body…
Lucas Cranach the Elder, again
Playing around, as usual.
… in place of who they are, which is as unknowable as the God who has no name.
Kin Beach, Okanagan Lake
Just try to name that as your self, even though it is.
Whatever else can be said, we are not our selves, and whatever ideas we have for selves come from traditions of books, of reading the world as a book and reading books as the world, all with the goal of revealing the hidden energies of the universe.
The fact that that sounds strange, and that the image of the pond above is not seen as an image of contemporary humans (because it is not an image of a self) is an indication of how much humans have been trained to think like books, using book-selves to animate bodies, just like Cranach pointed out …
… so long ago and the poets and philosophers of the Enlightenment put into place. What the world, or ourselves, look like remains a mystery because that un-knowing is built into human identity and from there into the nature of the original quest to name the god that has no name. What if it’s not a god?
That changes everything.