I haven't been following closely the recent debate over the theological status (or lack thereof) of fictional characters, but here are a couple of things that occurred to me, reflecting on the matter in solitary fashion.
First, this issue clearly arises, in part, because we live in a culture whose dominant paradigm is that there is the material world, accessible through sensation, and then there is just "everything else". This is the legacy of monotheism, which found it convenient to foster an inability to individuate incorporeals by anything other than form, because the notion of incorporeal individuals who were existential (i.e., prior to form) was integral to the henadological polytheism of the late Academy, a tenacious ideological foe, for all that we have largely forgotten it today.
When the cultural hegemony of Abrahamic monotheism began to decline, this ideological organization made it inevitable that materialism, whether crude or sophisticated, would tend to become dominant. And it remains helpful, of course, for recruitment into monotheistic faiths that the alternative in general should be materialist-atheist, rather than polytheist. In any event, the result is a lack of recognized criteria for distinguishing between Gods, angels, daimons, heroes, other deceased mortals, elementals, “nature spirits”, psychic manifestations, and whatever else shows itself in incorporeal fashion, including fictional characters, whatever mode of subsistence is theirs.
Second, something that may be missed in the debate is that the ancients also had fiction. That is, we do not only have from polytheistic societies hieratic texts, epic poems, and tragedy, which are all either in whole or in part concerned with entities that have a definite theological status. Tragedy is a hybrid form, inasmuch as it has Gods, heroes, and purely fictional characters. But there is also comedy, and in Egypt, India and Rome we definitely see the emergence, at a certain point—perhaps earliest in Egypt—of short stories, novels and plays that answer to our modern category of secular fiction. These clearly have roots in older forms of secular storytelling, namely the folktale, found in every culture.
It would be helpful in this debate, I think, to investigate how some of these ancient polytheistic cultures, and modern polytheistic cultures as well, actually talk about the relationship between these fictional works and the hieratic texts, because I think that a distinction between these textual genres is widely recognized. In the case of Egypt, we can see that the initiation of scribes prepared them, as a practical matter, to compose commentaries, at a minimum, on hieratic texts, as well as possibly creating new ones, but also to produce works of fiction. This would seem to suggest that fiction would be approached, within Egyptian thought, largely as a production of scribes, and hence as ontologically dependent upon the theological factors governing scribal production.
Some tweets from this morning.
"There is no one name for the pleroma in total; it must be good enough for us to name it with bare peculiars [idiotêtas psilas]" (Damascius, De Princ. II 62) It would be a good idea to introduce into contemporary philosophy, alongside "bare particulars", the "bare peculiars" of Damascius. Damascius says that these peculiars (idiotai) are like mountains we see from afar, shining forth a long way in their simplicity, but perceived by us without articulation, each being itself a total pleroma. Note that Damascius is completely inverting the stereotypical model in which the individuals represent a mere partial grasp of a totality. Instead, each is a mountain, with a whole universe of detail within it, but able to shine forth all the way to us by its simplicity. Instead of "many paths to one summit", many mountains. This does not leave us with relativism, however: we can orient ourselves to the notion of a summit, it need not be numerically one. The ascent that Damascius says is necessary is from the henads as a discriminated set to the unitary summit, i.e. to each henad. Practicing polytheists have always grasped this: there is the God in the context of a pantheon, and there is the God one-on-one. Damascius speaks of the "peculiars" (unique individuals) being at once "hemmed in" and "atomized" in our minds. In such a set, the unique can only be defined negatively, by what it has that no other does. Hence we identify the Gods with the narrow roles they perform in their pantheons. But each God is much more than this. Each pantheon is the cooperative work of a certain set of Gods, but each one who lends herself to this work also exists beyond it. This is probably most easily grasped by people who worship a deity with a small or apparently unfavorable role in her pantheon. The problem comes when people identify this "beyond" with a role in another pantheon, under another name. Damascius obviously doesn't mean anything of the kind, because he is specifically talking about proper names. But getting people to give up on the "one thing, many names" concept is quite difficult, due to its utility on lower planes.
A few brief thoughts occasioned by recent discussions in the polytheist community. I tweeted this material, but decided to post it here in a stand-alone form, in advance of compiling an archive.
I think that symbolic exegesis is not given enough weight and respect in the pagan community; it is not a "merely human" activity. Hermeneutics, exegesis, and yes, philosophy, do not share the structural characteristics of revelation, but they are still theophanic. If my Gods told me to slay my neighbor, I would interpret it symbolically, and so too if they asked me to slay a pig, or a rooster. Indeed, I would do so even if they asked me for a peach. I could not *help* but do so, because the “literal” is itself symbolic. Even if I gave my Gods "literally" what they asked for, an exegesis would have been performed, because the item offered could not *be* the exact individual requested. The "exact item” is always already a substitution. There is no eliminating my decision and my interpretation from the act, no foreclosing the ethical space that opens in the act of offering. A command cannot foreclose this space. The Gods are real, and so am I. They demand I use all of my faculties, for they are all from Them. These faculties are divine, even though they do not function like revelation, but rather exist symbiotically with it. Revelation is that which demands interpretation, this is constitutive for theophany.
As usual, my thanks (and apologies, if warranted) to my interlocutors. I make no claim to have done justice to their end of the conversation. Also, I archive selectively; a lot gets left out, not just retweets and links and ephemeral stuff, but also exchanges that I don't judge to have been sufficiently interesting in terms of what I said, or where the discussion went, or that I didn't like something about. (UPDATE 5/8: I've added the tweets from yesterday and today to this archive, instead of waiting until the end of the month.)
( Without further ado…Collapse )
The best books I read in 2012, in no particular order:
The Drunken King, Or, the Origin of the State by Luc De Heusch
Imaro by Charles R. Saunders
Embassytown by China Miéville
Treason by the Book by Jonathan D. Spence
Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson
The Solitudes by Luis de Gongora
Albert Edward, Prince of Wales series by Peter Lovesey
The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia A. McKillip
Star Trek: Voyager: The Eternal Tide by Kirsten Beyer
Kongo Political Culture: The Conceptual Challenge of the Particular by Wyatt MacGaffey
The Sun's Bride by Gillian Bradshaw
The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450-1700 by Jonardon Ganeri
The Orphic Argonautica by Jason Colavito
Forever by Pete Hamill
It took me a long time to get this archive together, in part I think due to a lack of enthusiasm about the quality and interest of my thoughts through this period. In any event, one consequence of the tardy assembly is that I've been especially remiss in capturing the threading of the exchanges; my apologies to all interlocutors.