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THE SILENCE THAT THE HEART OF APOCALYPTIC TEMPORALITY
A voice cries out in the desert, shattering the stillness. Long after the voice dies out, the sound remains caught as an impression in the silence, as if waiting for its echo to circle back, to break it out of stillness once again. The desert, as a physical space is inextricably bound to its apocalyptic or revelatory temporality. Many who have entered the desert- prophets, mystics and artists alike, have done so seeking communion with time, and perhaps even an experience of how time is revealed to itself. Denis Saurat writes in Death and the Dreamer an account of a conversation with a monk from the North of France. Saurat’s impression of him is that of a priest in some long-drowned temple, isolated and timeless. The monk identifies in Saurat a lack of understanding but a certain capacity to listen and so he speaks to him frankly. He divulges his conception of the mystery of time and its revelatory unfolding. He goes on to say that time began nine months before the birth of Christ and ended in the same moment, but that it made, “so to speak, a great deal of noise in all directions”. He continues, stating that the predominant, linear conception of time was an attempt to order the infinite shattering out of the primordial moment, which continues to expand into the future as into the past. The philosophical implications of the monk’s concept of time and its revelation are vast. To look at them through the frame of the desert, apocalyptic temporality and the work of art is to begin with the center of time and unfold it from that point in terms of rhythm and repetition, with attention to a certain linguistic or spatio-linguistic dimension within time. Time, when isolated beyond human frames can be both constant and ephemeral, still and rhythmic. The undifferentiation of the atemporal dimension of the desert gives birth to rhythm, which relates everything back to the center. If time unfolds from a primordial point of origin, flowing backwards and forwards, how does it unfold and what is revealed? Can the primordial structure of the work of art, unlock, through this same rhythm, the desert as a space for divine repetition?
The primordial, as something to hold as a telos, both for the work of art and as an experience of time, is characteristically elusive and unknowable beyond its shadow. It does not merely underlie time, it generates it continually and because it operates outside of time it begins and concludes in one simultaneous moment beyond measure. It is only through the separation of moments through rhythm and repetition that we become aware of its unfolding through time. Conversely, time becomes aware of its own unfolding in a similar way, chiefly through revelatory repetition, wherein rhythm engendering moments reflect back to their source. The relational system is a sort of self-negating entropy. The system culminates and concludes in this compounding of awareness.
“The present is not a transition between moments. Time originates and reaches a standstill in the experience of the present. Instead of an eternal past depicted as linear, we need a ruptural experience of particular moments which stand out.” -Thesis 16, On the Concept of History - Walter Benjamin
Time and truth are often yoked together. It is through time, that truth, in the Platonic sense of Aletheia is unhidden. An issue arises when time, as an actuality, is subsumed into time as history. Historical understanding is often caught between two poles; that of progress and that of the past. While most occidental concepts of time, stemming from Aristotle are linear, cumulative, and designate the eternal to its own realm beyond the present, they also tend to give primacy to either the future or the past as the zenith towards which human activity has and must comport itself. Neither models are built towards the primordial which constitutes Aletheia, which underlies and is in turn masked and revealed by time. Through a flattening of time, wherein individual moments are subsumed into linear cumulations and contorted through illusory representation; the primordial is either seen as that which can be surpassed in the pursuit of progress, or conversely is sought, but ultimately lost to history. The loss occurs when it becomes located in empty ideas of history rather than outside of it in unhiddenness. For Benjamin, the end of history was to be defined by a return to a messianic and apocalyptic understanding of the unfolding of world events, the approach of which is juxtaposed to the empty resolution of history. The idea of the messianic is cognate with that of repetition, in the sense that the latter feeds into the former.
Before delving into repetition as an ecstatic experience of the primordial within the present, it is important to note that profane repetition also occurs. Baudrillard was preoccupied with the illusion of reality cast by the processional repetition of simulacra. In Baudrillard’s model, a simulation of reality is repeated until nothing remains of the original but profane, precisely because of the need to designate meaning and cumulative substance to it, which compounds the emptiness of history. It is important to note that the concept of simulacra was borrowed from Klossowski, who defined it as that which actualizes and communicates the incommunicable. In the work of art, simulacrum is capable of communicating of the incommunicable, without reducing it to empty illusion. This is due to the suspension of the numinous as signified beyond its material signifier in the work of art. The noumenon expressed is more than the sum of its material parts and avoids materialization and conceptualization because it cannot be fully grasped by the mind and cannot exist in its entirety in any form materially. Instead, it is preserved in a state of limitlessness before taking on meaning while still retaining its imposed meaning in simulacra, just as the impression of a voice crying out in the desert is preserved in silence. While Baudrillard's repetition acts as more of a distorting mirror, Klossowski’s acts as an antechamber, encapsulating the originary unknown.
True repetition is one means by which the primordial is revealed and brought into “ruptural” action. Its capacity lies in how it displaces revelatory moments out of the flatness of history and into the ecstatic present beyond the vulgar present. Kierkegaard, when writing about his concept of repetition, made an important distinction between it and recollection. Plato designated recollection as the means by which knowledge should be obtained. He posited that the rudiments of all knowledge are already in the possession of the learner through the inherited structure of the mind. For Plato, all learning was merely exercised remembering. Repetition is different, because while repetition and recollection are of one analogous internal movement, they form in opposite directions. The difference in directionality is because “what is recollected has already been and is thus repeated backwards, whereas genuine repetition is repeated forwards.” The teleology and result of repetition is towards an ecstatic union with temporality wherein what is revealed appears like an arrow from the unknown. While what is revealed through repetition was always there, it does not appear that way to recipient of the vision, it appears almost as a revelation from the future. Seurat's monk concludes that the only conceivable way for one to contribute to creation is through unknowing. This unknowing echoes through the desert in repetition. The artist and time itself are united and made new in the momentary unknowing of repetition. There is a grammatical peculiarity in Revelations that illustrates this. It takes the form of a threefold vagueness of subject placement that is maintained in all translations. After a careful reading, it becomes unclear whether Christ is revealing himself, being revealed to himself, or if his revelation is being revealed. This peculiarity is in fact echoed throughout the text, and points to an intentional threefold meaning. The center of time; Christ in this case, is revealed and has the revelation of himself revealed to himself, at the heart of this is his own momentary unknowing. The moment of self-reflexive revelation lifts Christ out of time as the primordial becomes aware of itself through subjectivity. History becomes ecstatic through ecstatic revelation. While the primordial is transcendental and pre-incarnate, through translation it becomes a dialectic between the “eternal” and the subjective, the momentary and the historical, as with each revelatory repetition truth is lifted out of its homogeneous lineage and made new. It is through repetition that history is rescued. It is lifted out of self-distance and alienation and brought into the future. As Heidegger states in the The Essence of Truth, “true historical return is the decisive beginning of futurity”. Profane repetition exists without and divine repetition within the work of art, as in the desert. In this space only, is Baudrillard’s dualism is torn apart. Baudrillard could be viewed as a transcendentalist who desired to capture things in the state before they took on meaning, which is exactly what true repetition does, if it can be achieved or even imagined.
If repetition occurs within the desert through the experience of those who enter it, then the desert itself as a modality, constitutes rhythm. The desert, as a physical place, has the unique capacity to be a facilitator of an apokatastatic experience of time. For Seurat’s monk, each repetition occurred simultaneously as a radial expansion, emanating from Christ outwards, “into the past as into future”, as experienced. The revelations of the artist became points of repetition within the plane they inhabit, each time renewing history from the center out. If the this temporality is poised between acceleration and deceleration, then physical law dictates that what is left is stillness. What exists between that stillness is rhythm. Agamben wrote about rhythm in Man Without Content, spiralling out from a quote by Holderlin during his years of supposed insanity. In his bed, he proclaimed that “everything is rhythm, the entire destiny of man is one heavenly rhythm, just as every work of art is one rhythm, and everything swings from the poetizing lips of the god”. This Rhythm, Agamben extrapolates is that which grants the work of art its space in the originary, and also, constitutes the originary space itself. Therefore, rhythm has the dual function of making something what it is, and also constituting a greater, more universal other which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Rhythm then, also imparts structure, yet the structure it imparts is not a movement from undifferentiation to order. Instead of ordering time, it “[introduces] into the eternal flow a split and a stop”. Therefore, it structures time atemporally, from the center out. Just as the modality of the desert constitutes rhythm, all poesis constitutes rhythm and individual works constitute repetition.
Mallarme was a great poet of the center. For Mallarme, everything in the world existed to end up in a book, and further, nothing could exist “outside of the book”. His life, in turn was consecrated to the sole task of writing “le livre”, and thus preserving the immortal and pure word. Mallarme, like Benjamin and Scholem who divided language into the profane and divine, made a distinction between absolute language and a lower, more inessential language. To give this language a lower designation is not to lambaste it for its uselessness, but rather the opposite, for within the inessential is contained the absolute through lack and absence. For Mallarme, language is no mere signifier of meaning, but rather, it destroys its object and becomes the signified. Language does not only disclose a distorted image of the immortal and perfect word, it contains it wholly through negation. The immortal word is situated beyond language, yet must stay manifested within it in order to not lose what cannot be found outside of its boundaries. For Mallarme, the purpose of language was to be both meaningful and abstract. Authentic language has the dual and paradoxical function of representation and vanquishment of its object. Maurice Blanchot, writing about Mallarme, spoke of the “silenced object”, which in its “absence [reveals] the sign of something else, of truth in the classical sense”. In The Dice Throw, the words and what they carry and destroy fall in and out of the physical pages, leaving impressions seen only through the translucency of the paper, another reminder of the impression of the desert vocalization in silence. Blanchot explains that, for Mallarme, each poem was engaged in the creation of language itself, just as for Holderlin each work of art was of one rhythm. The book in this case has the same resonance as the desert. It contains within it, in a spatio-linguistic dimension, the immortal word and through it, the center of time
It must be noted that for Walter Benjamin, while creation occurs spatially and revelation occurs temporally, the messianic operates as both the culmination and completion of both spatial and temporal dimensions. Walter Benjamin’s messianism has a largely linguistic dimension, the word being the ultimate dialectical paradox. The word existed before creation itself as the transcendental self-reflection of god. This is displayed most clearly in Genesis 2:19 where god asks that Adam name his creations. The transition from the infinite word of god to the finite word of man is the movement from a creating word to a naming word, and later after the fall, from the divine word to the profane. as the desert engenders repetition, the name of god becomes unpronounceable, meaningless and inexpressible while simultaneously creating all meaning. Within the linguistic dimension all is contained; the template, the originary, its self-reflection as logos, the procession of manifestation, and its illusory shadow. The linguistic dimension imbues meaning though its deconstruction.
In the fullness of language and time, we return once again to the voice in the desert, which, for now, is human. A voice like that of Agnes Martin, who left New York in 1967 in pursuit of silence and solitude in the New Mexico desert. Deeply affected by the death of her friend and contemporary, Ad Reinhardt, she took a hiatus from painting, before settling down in the desert and resuming her practice, choosing to paint with her “back to the world”. Her paintings came as visions. She would spend weeks in silence awaiting the return of a glimpse, which she would then meticulously translate to the canvas. Taking the form of 72x72 and 60x60 squares, and painted intuitively, with mathematical accuracy and without the aid of a ruler, Agnes Martin’s paintings are both literally and symbolically repetition within the desert. Her non-desire to intellectualize is an internal movement through unknowing, towards a repetition which recollects forward. Each work is of one rhythm, emanating from the same core internal structure, but with infinite variations. Each work reveals the same vision of primordial and transcendental ecstasies. Agnes martin once stated that Mark Rothko "reached zero so that nothing could stand in the way of truth". If Rothko’s vision reached zero, then Agnes’ vision reaches through zero and beyond it again to one, to truth in repetition.
In conclusion, the poetizer is the receiver of the vision, a vision which is repetition. The act of poesis is one in which the primordial is lifted out of time and made new. At the heart of such a revelation of primordial and unhidden truth is the principle of unknowing, as what is contained in a fragment of unhidden truth is all that can be afforded. If any more were revealed at once, and through anything other than unknowing, it would cease to be absolute. As the monk departed, he envied Saurat’s ignorance, for in such unknowing is time created eternally.
THE TELEOLOGY OF THE SUBLIME
The word sublime is often tossed around with thoughtless abandon. Its uses overflow into a myriad of contexts beyond art to denote “that which is absolutely great’. The history of the sublime is vast, it gained its greatest popularity in the 18th century, though it extends back to the first century with the rhetorical sublime of Longinus. The Sublime, as concept, and further, what is signified by the sublime, remains constant and elusive Kant’s epistemological formulation of the sublime contra beauty, built upon that of Burke, is perhaps the most enduring. The sublime, in each of its permutations and definitions remains elusive due to it always being greater that what can be grasped of it. The sublime is a paradox and a dialectical process which is fundamentally transformative. Its underlying structure and dynamic can be expressed in the sublime myth of Sophia. Sophia is a central figure in the cosmogonies of various Gnostic sects. In the Valentinian mythos, Sophia is a young, unpaired aeon or emanation of the godhead. Upon seeing a glowing light from far below her, she descends with fear and love in equal measure, under the impression that what she sees is a graspable fragment of the godhead. She passes a threshold in her pursuit and falls into an infinite abyss. In her fear and agitation, she gives form to the endless undifferentiated matter before her and through this act is split in two. Her greater half returns to the pleroma from where she originated, and the lesser half remains, poetizing matter in a state of disoriented love and fear, awaiting an apokatastasis to her initial state of completeness. The myth of Sophia is an archetype of the experience of the sublime, both in the mind of those who encounter it, and in the formless noumenon as it searches for form within the sublime object. The experience of the sublime can be described as that of a divine terror, which overturns the harmony of imagination and understanding present in the subject’s encounter with beauty. The subject requires nothing of the sublime, but the sublime requires of the subject the surrender of the self. The artist who invokes the sublime is invoking both his death and resurrection through separation and sublimation of his mental faculties. Just as Sophia is split in two as she poetizes, both the artist and spectator of the sublime is made aware of his dual nature as both a sensible and suprasensible being and so, the sublime carries the risk, as Agamben describes in Man Without Content, of being “the poison that contaminates and destroys his existence”.
Criticality often pits itself against beauty, while remaining firmly within the disinterested, aesthetic realm. The teleology of beauty is a union between man’s faculties of understanding and imagination, and the phenomenological world as perceived, without the use of the higher faculty of reason. Beauty is enveloped by the imagination and becomes a buffer between its limits and the theoretical, or material, world. Furthermore, "pure", beauty for Kant, is by nature disinterested, unbound by desire and is an aesthetic end-in-itself; what he calls “a purposeless purpose”. The Teleology of the critical is diametrically opposed to that of beauty. Criticality opposes and seeks to deconstruct the seemingly superficial harmony beauty fosters within the spectator, or the "man of taste". The critical often seeks, on a material level, entropy and destruction of pre-existent forms. The sublime traverses and transcends the ideal, aesthetic realm of beauty and the disharmony it fosters transcends the material, and aesthetic, disharmony of criticality. The sublime then, as destruction and fulfilment of the goal of aesthetics becomes the becomes the tool for an apokatastasis to the original structure of the work of art, in ways that neither criticality or its counter, pure beauty is capable of.
The transcendence of the sublime is a genuine teleological transcendence and suspension of the material. This suspension is made possible due to the unique position of the sublime in relation to subject and object. The noumenon signified in the sublime is more than the sum of its material parts and avoids materialization and conceptualization because it cannot be grasped epistemologically and cannot exist in its entirety in any form materially. The noumenon maintains its immateriality and limitlessness in the sublime because neither subject nor matter can force it into material existence. This is due to the fact that the subject does not require or desire its material existence because what the sublime implies is enough to bring the subject to an arrested state of terror and love, paralleling that of Sophia. Matter and the sensible cannot encapsulate the sublime because What is signified in the sublime exists spatially in the “sub”- “liminal” space between mind and phenomena. The separation of sublime, or subliminal into its etymological roots is useful to understand how the transcendent is contained literally, “below the space in between” within the sublime, both linguistically and spatially. as it cannot be grasped fully by both mind and matter, it does not exist fully in either, so must therefore occupy its own space. The sublime work of art preserves the noumenon as immaterial other even as it is physically manifested. The artist Richard Mosse, in his recent video installation at the Barbican, “Incoming”, produced a work which creates its own intangible and unimaginable spatial dimension. Mosse uses military thermal cameras to capture “visceral yet unreal” images of refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and elsewhere Previously, he worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo using Kodak Aerochrome infrared film, which “records light from parts of the spectrum imperceptible to the human eye"(O’Hagan). The use of thermal cameras in “incoming” creates an inversion and fusion of sight and touch through heat being what creates the image. The result is an experience beyond experience, as what is seen is tactile and thermal, and yet never felt. The images alienate the faculties of touch and sight, rendering the invisible seen and yet unseeable, and the tangible felt and yet intangible. The suffering of the refugees becomes simultaneously more real and more alien. The pain of others, which is by nature always inaccessible, becomes simultaneously more and less accessible, Compounding the awareness of not being there. There are moments in the film where one feels alienated from their own faculty of sight, in a way, that prior to the use of this technology would have been completely unimaginable. While not numinous, the images transcend subjectivity and selfhood.
The Greek use of allegory is testament to the fact that, as Agamben explains; "the work of art communicates something else, is something else other than the material that contains it". Holderlin once wrote that he feared he "[would] end like the old Tantalus, who received more from the gods than [he] could take". For the sublime artist who gives form to spirit, poesis becomes a matter of life and death, sanity and insanity. The fate of the sublime artist parallels that of Sophia, who poetizes matter and becomes two self-alienated beings. This fragmentation of being was observed by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Through his work in individuation, Jung deduced that the psyche is composed of autonomous faculties, a reflexive as above, so below duality of consciousness and unconsciousness. The lower Sophia of consciousness is unaware of her counterpart in the infinite pleroma of unconsciousness. Contact with the higher Sophia and her contents would only lead to a subordination of matter and consciousness, as well as great fear and agitation. This is observable during the psychological event called “an abaissement du niveau mental”. This is a switching of values occurring in a state of threshold consciousness, between conscious states, where consciousness is lowered. For Jung, the conclusion and solution to the dissonance created by this switch was the paradox, the self-annihilating and fulfilling orobouros. The ultimate synthesis of the paradox does not require reconciliation though reason, but rather its opposite, a mystification and resignation to its individual parts, which together form a wholeness through a dual movement of sublimation and synthesis.
Kierkegaard realized this fully with his concept of infinite resignation. Kierkegaard begins with the dual premise of an infinite qualitative distinction between finite man and the infinite, and man as not yet a self, but a relation. For Kierkegaard, a true self can only relate itself to itself, but man is only, in agreement with Jung; a synthesis of two separate factors which relate themselves to a relation. In the first part of sickness unto death, Kierkegaard explains: "despair is a sickness in the spirit, in the self, and so it may assume a triple form: in despair at not being conscious of having a self, in despair at not being conscious of having a self; in despair at not willing to be oneself; in despair at willing to be oneself" He continues, describing the condition of the self when "despair is completely eradicated"; when the self, "by relating to its own self and by willing to be itself... is grounded transparently in the power which posited it”. Through absolute resignation, man is subsumed into the infinite. The fear and agitation cease and even the cathartic joy Kant described as occurring when reason is heightened and triumphant in the face of the sublime is surpassed. Instead of a resignation to reason and the further split of sensible and suprasensible faculties, man’s inherent split becomes reconciled and he becomes a self.
The sublime has previously been described as it occurs within the subject, as well as by its own spatial qualities beyond the subject. With this groundwork, the telos of the spirit held within the sublime will be interrogated. While the sublime itself only exists within the subject as synthesis, it's signified exists infinitely beyond it, within its own spatial dimension as spirit and idea. The story of the sublime work of art is that of idea, or spirit searching for form. Hegel describes the journey of idea in his Lectures on Aesthetics. Therein are described three stages of the manifestation of idea in form: the symbolic, the classical or ideal and the romantic. Such as in the tabernacle, spirit dwells within the symbolic form, but the form itself is inadequate as it will never embody spirit, but is merely capable of housing it. In the classical work, exemplified by classical Greek sculpture, spirit finds its immaculate sensuous form. If the symbolic aspires to embodiment and the classical achieves it, then the romantic transcends it. Spirit, desiring a more complete form than the ideal, and being still greater than the sum of any material, looks to a form that is more complete by virtue of its freedom. The spirit finds this form in the romantic, which through its unique spatial dimension allows spirit to become embodied and manifested through implication. The spirit finds its romantic form in the film “The Green Ray” by Tacita Dean. Tacita sets out to capture a natural phenomenon which is almost imperceptible to the human eye and to digital film. The sun, as it escapes into the horizon, is said to emit a brief, electric green ray. For years, many chased after the green ray, and failed to catch it. The green ray, and its inability to be captured by new digital methods fostered an enchantment in Tacita, as well as a relentless desire to prove the irreplaceability of analogue film. She set off to Madagascar with an 18mm film camera to capture the elusive solar event, and after much trial and error finally captured, if only briefly, the ‘last ray of the dying sun"; which after blooming before the camera, slipped away into darkness once again. According to Dean, the green ray ‘proved itself too elusive for the pixilation of the digital world’. While Tacita sought to prove the validity of analogue film, as well as capture a transcendent natural phenomenon, her film inadvertently became the accidental sublime. As with Mosse’s film, Tacita’s film captured through image, the unseeable. The moment in which the green ray flashes over the horizon is both unshrouded and mystified further through reverse time-lapse. The sublimity of the green ray is not the phenomenon in itself, but the spirit of the sublime finds itself in it. Spirit deceives camera and eye, revealing itself, but only enough to remain free.
Sophia, who’s name means wisdom, is in the end of her ordeal, rescued and reconciled by the same force which tore her apart. The story of Sophia and the story of the sublime is one of a dual movement of spirit and subject. Spirit, while searching for manifestation must cloak itself and form its own spatial dimension, in order to remain free. The subject, and most definitely the poetizer of the sublime, must surrender itself infinitely to the absurd and to spirit, if it wishes to move beyond fear and agitation to be reconciled within itself and become, a self. The spirit must annihilate form and compromise itself for fusion to occur. The sublime work of art is the setting of this dialectical traffic. The risk taken by the sublime artist is ever-increasing. As aesthetics enter further into the critical and disinterested realm, the sublime, as destruction and fulfilment of the goal of aesthetics, becomes a method by which apokatastasis to the original structure of the work of art, and of selfhood, is made possible.
LAPIS LAZULI AND COLOUR AS THEOPHANY
A plane of deep, celestial blue, flecked with golden pyrite and occluded by calcite is typical of lapis lazuli, a stone which has been treasured for millennia by all civilizations with access to it. The stone is mined primarily in the mountains at Sar-i-Sang, in the Badakhshan province of North Eastern Afghanistan. Lower quality stones with a higher density of calcite inclusions can be found in the same mountain range in Tajikistan. Other deposits of the stone are found in Siberia, Chile, Canada, America, Angola, and Italy. In Afghanistan, where the highest quality stones are found, miners are said to leave the excavation site covered in a thin veil of blue dust, echoing ancient Zoroastrian rituals. The perceived value of lapis lazuli has never been directly bound to its relative rarity, with the exclusion of renaissance Europe. Rather, the stone emerged bountifully from the earth, like a gift from the chthonic gods. The axiology of lapis lazuli is unique in the sense that its value became bound to its elusive and symbolic currency. The stone took on a cosmological value in Mesopotamia where it became not only a signifier of but a true symbolic fragment of the starry sky. In Buddhism, it has been used to symbolize both sky and sea, joining the primordial waters and the firmament in one symbol. The Old Testament frequently mentions lapis lazuli, as a material signifier of the holy or celestial, as well as the impartation of the divine logos, and holy justice to man. The stone tablet of Moses was made of lapis and Aaron was commanded to construct a jewelled breastplate with twelve stones to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel, one of which being lapis. It is also often an adornment that indicates through its presence the unearthliness of the adorned. For example, in The Song of Solomon, the Messiah is described as having “arms [that are] rods of gold set with Topaz and a body of polished Ivory decorated with lapis lazuli”. The richness of the stone’s colour appears permanent, substantial, and unchangeable, but at times seems to possess a transient luminosity. The father of Neo-Platonism, Plotinus, when writing on colour described it as being “victorious over the darkness of matter through the presence of light, which is incorporeal”. ‘Simple’ or pure colour is mediated by the mind and is annihilated by both its linguistic signifiers and form, yet its perceivable reality is undeniable. Colour is both ephemeral and unmoving, and neither quality diminishes the other. Colour is symbolically theophanic, and its ontological reality makes it metaphysically theophanic.
Plotinus names fire as the highest, most beautiful, and most subtle of all bodies because it is nearest to archetypal light as a pure productive element. It imbues other bodies with light and heat, and yet does not take darkness or coldness unto itself. Fire takes on the role of the first colour and the first light because all other bodies take on their colour under its influence. For Plotinus, “[fire] shines and gleams as if it were itself form”. Yet fire for Plotinus is not perfect like purely incorporeal forms, because it does not sustain itself without consuming that which it raises. When the passive element can no longer sustain it, it dies and ceases to participate in colour. Therefore, pure colour is self-annihilating, it ascends to the heights of the numinous, and recedes back into darkness at the moment of its highest volition. The reality of fire corresponds directly to its symbolic currency as an appearance and manifestation of the divine in temporal and material reality. Following Titus Burkhardt’s writing on Hermeticism, symbols extend far beyond mere semiotics, into the realm of the archetypal. A symbol cannot simply be read but rather is a gestalt, greater than the sum of its parts and an indicative fragment of that which it symbolizes. This does not subordinate the corporeal signifier to the incorporeal signified, rather they share in a reality wherein they are mutually unhidden.
Heidegger’s concept of aletheia, or truth as un-hiddenness is described in his lectures on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Theaetetus. Through careful exegesis of the dialogues, Heidegger seeks to return to a more primordial conception of truth. Truth in the sense of aletheia is, as Heidegger shows, a precondition for understanding truth as correspondence, or propositional correctness. It also dismantles this epistemological basis for truth, turning to a more theophanic conception of reality wherein the divine is revealed by the material through its simultaneous and paradoxical presence and absence in matter. Heidegger proposes that one must make take part in “genuine historical return” in order to truly comprehend and take part in this more originary conception of truth. In other words, there must be a return to the cave and the fire. What follows is an analysis of the allegory, wherein Heidegger describes each stage of the prisoners’ journey as a movement through different levels of un-hiddenness within the different stages of the occurrence of truth. As Heidegger notes, “for Plato, un-hiddenness is a theme, and at the same time, not a theme.”. While un-hiddenness is described, its counterpart, hiddenness, remains untouched. Hiddenness seems to exist in a sort of conceptual vacuum as a mere dark shadow of un-hiddenness. The absence of an explicit description of hiddenness points to the possibility of the revelation of truth through negation. Heidegger explains that since the “un-hiddenness of beings is precisely wrested from hiddenness,. “un-hiddenness … in itself is simultaneously, and indeed essentially, hiddenness; a truth to whose essence there belongs un-truth.” For Plato, the forms themselves are truth in un-hiddeness, having been fully revealed. Yet the forms are never fully revealed, remaining epistemologically in hiddenness. In this model of truth, material reality becomes both a signifier of the divine and a fragment of the divine thing itself. For the reasoning subject, there is a perceived difference between hiddenness and un-hiddenness, as what is unhidden lies behind them and what is hidden lies before. The symbolic or analogical dimension operates at the threshold between hiddenness and un-hiddenness. The corporeal and incorporeal, in their relative gradations of un-hiddenness are ontologically unified as a dialectic, and yet to the reasoning subject they remain separate, and so the symbol operates between the two, mediating and reconciling them. The disappearing act of pure colour perfectly describes and embodies this simultaneous presence and absence of truth in the symbolic and analogical.
Colour is at a symbolic threshold between the corporeal and the incorporeal. The linguist John Lyons, when writing on colour, posited that while colour in and of itself exists, insofar as we perceive it to, colours do not exist beyond their linguistic designations. Linguistic signifiers of colour owe more to culture and language itself than to any objective quality of colours in and of themselves, other than correspondence to objects of comparable hue, chroma, and value, which even still largely depends on the atmosphere and surroundings of said objects. Furthermore, the colours we perceive do not arrive in our consciousness unchanged. What we perceive is mediated and essentially altered by the mind to maintain constancy in the perceived field of reality. The colours we see are contingent upon a myriad of variables between the perceiving subject and the coloured object, and yet colour itself cannot be said to be the product of either. Colour is again at a threshold. The minerals that compose lapis lazuli, and are revealed to us as “blue” in the English language embody this threshold. Lapis lazuli is opaque, it permits no light, and produces none of its own. It occasionally reflects it, but that is due to the metallic qualities of the pyrite which breaks the uniformity of the blue in particularly pure specimens. Like the sky that it symbolizes, it darkens in the night and is revealed in the day. Unlike fire, the blue of lapis is passive. It is the dark shadow of hiddenness to the un-hiddeness of fire, and yet both are hidden.
The language of colour hides and reveals colour, which in turn hides and reveals archetypal light. Language simultaneously and paradoxically represents and vanquishes its object. The language of colour does not simply signify it, but rather, it destroys colour and becomes colour itself. The language of colour discloses a distorted and arguably illusory image of pure colour, and yet it paradoxically contains it through the same distortion which is negation. Language and mind trap and preserve colour, and yet pure colour itself is situated beyond the colours we see and speak of. Due to its relationship with both the objects that are said to contain it and the mind that perceives it, colour itself is born in a liminal space between mind and object and exists fully in neither. The variability and implacability of colour does not in any way lessen its impact, for while colour is elusive and and self- annihilating as in the case of Plotinus’ fire it remains immovable as both a physical and archetypal reality. Its moment of volition is seen and yet unknown. It produces meaning and yet its meaning is unknowable. Colour, therefore can primarily be seen as a threshold, between truth and untruth, presence and absence, and the material and immaterial.
Colour has been spoken of as a symbolic and phenomenological threshold as well as in terms of its own ontology. It acts as a symbol and true occurrence of an intermediary gradation between the seen and unseen in its various forms. Yet, its significance in terms of the theophanic is not purely that of a flickering dialectical mechanism. Colour has a long theophanic tradition, and it is a tradition that is cultural and human and blurs, just as colour itself does; the ontological and the symbolic. Therefore, the ontological, as well as cultural aspects of colour must be looked at individually, and then together as a unified metaphysic. In order to understand the tradition of theophany and colour, there must be a return to, and explanation of the symbolical first principles of primordial ritual.
Mircea Eliade is an anthropologist and comparative mythologist who wrote at great length about primordial ontology, theophany and the repetition of the cosmogony through ritual in various cultures and systems. According to Eliade, every ritual had its divine model or archetype. The repetition of the high ritual or sacrament, with its highly specific formal and symbolic mechanisms, is designed to create an axis wherein temporal or profane time is suspended. In the moment of the culmination of the ritual, the divine model meets the profane and they become unified as one atemporal moment and one action. Attempts would be made to ritualize every aspect of life, in order to renew each moment through its divine counterpart. Through this suspension and movement, like Heidegger’s notion of aletheia, the profane fully participates in the divine and vice versa. Human ritual, built upon mechanistic divine models capture the god through repetition. The use of colour in ritual is multivalent depending on the aim of the ritual in question. According to Mircea Eliade, the ritual, and therefore, the cosmological value of lapis lazuli is a product of its participation in the power of the sky that it symbolizes. Furthermore, the sky in itself, of course, does not lie at the limit of this power but becomes a symbol in itself of the spirit that underlies it. In the case of Lapis lazuli, a simulation of its celestial blue was in certain contexts and cultures enough to suffice. Eliade explains that in West Africa artificial blue stones are highly prized as well as lapis itself. The symbolism and ritual value of these stones find their valence in their celestial colour and the sacred power in which that participates, rather than any other quality of the stone. The Characteristics of lapis lazuli itself; the permanence of the blue and transient luminosity become important in Buddhism. The Amitayur- Dhyana-Sutra is an early text of Mahayana Buddhism. It speaks of a specific kind of meditation wherein the meditator envisions a ground of lapis lazuli below them. It Reads: “Thou wilt see the ground consisting of lapis lazuli, transparent both within and without”. Beneath this ground of lapis is the “golden banner” or symbol, “dhvava”, In Sanskrit. The golden symbol is a signifier of ultimate truth which lies hidden beneath the watery blue surface; that is, hidden in matter. The surface of the lapis lazuli in this case is once again the boundary between the material and immaterial. In ritual, colour’s theophanic potential goes beyond signification and simulacra. Just as YHWH may appear and disappear from the tabernacle at will, colour may appear and disappear in a sort of divine mystery. The colours which are used to symbolize higher principles are just as elusive as that which they signify. Symbolic colour; while it may reveal as a theophany, does not edify, rather it stupefies the subject and further shrouds what it reveals in hiddenness.
The logic of colour as theophany is of course bound to a theophanic interpretation of truth, which itself is bound to a metaphysic of correspondence and participation. In Truth in Aquinas, John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock make a reappraisal of Aquinas’ theory of truth and theology of participation. They argue that the much-maligned correspondence theory of truth, that is, the notion that a true statement or belief must correspond to its object in the real world, is only in crisis when taken from an epistemological rather than ontological perspective. When understood epistemologically, correspondence supposedly falls apart as it presupposes truths that have no correspondence themselves. For example, one might say that blue is blue because my experience of blue dictates that all future occurrences of blue are blue. Milbank and Pickstock discern four opposed conceptions of truth in contemporary thought. These are, firstly, a nihilism that doubts the existence of all truth, secondly, a confinement of truth to pure theory devoid of any relation to the sensible, thirdly a confinement of truth to pure heuristic value and, finally a fideistic belief in the existence of a particular religious truth. These notions of truth, Milbank and Pickstock argue, can be reconciled in Aquinas, for his participatory and revelatory theory of truth is unknown in contemporary thought and is a theory wherein “truth is immediately accessible to the simplest apprehension, and yet amenable to profound learned elaboration." Aquinas’ system of truth is at once theoretical and practical, and yet at the heart of it is silence and mystery, which is designated its logical place in paradox. Most contemporary theories of correspondence regard the mind as independent and therefore highly fallible. For Aquinas, the mind has no freedom to produce its own reality and is inextricably bound to its world, both seen and unseen. In Classical Greek thought, the primary function of the mind was to recollect from an already created order that the mind fully and intrinsically participates in. For Aquinas, the grammatical is grounded in ontology, because human logic requires coherence ceases to have meaning when it does not reflect both the coherence and the unity of the world it describes. The same must be said for symbols. Furthermore, for Aquinas, signifiers of objects in the mind are as real as their material existence beyond the mind. Aquinas' ontological approach "realizes or fulfils the being of things known, just as much as it fulfils the being of truth in the knower's mind." This approach, while holistic, has unknowability and paradox as its beginning and end. At the heart of language there is silence and at the heart of presence is absence. The paradox in all its forms contains this silence and expresses it, and therein is contained all the positive and negative potentiality of the theophanic.
When the miners in Afghanistan depart the mines they are coated in the blue dust of lapis lazuli. They become, unknowingly, points of divine repetition within time and space, just as their ancient predecessors did thousands of years ago. The power of colour is expressed in the fact that while those miners are unaware of what they carry with them on their backs, the resonance is still the same. Repetition still takes place like a primordial ex opere operato. Even apart from high ritual, colour remains ontologically, phenomenologically and symbolically as a theophany because of its ability to continually vacillate between presence and absence, being and non-being. Colour reveals the divine as a continuous flicker in the dark.