Contributions to a Spiritual Aesthetics: Introduction and Meta-post

God’s death has invited much reflection on the nature and history of religion. This process has unfolded across a great many camps and in the thought of a variety of disciplines, but especially in history and meta-historical theory and more prominently within psychology and psychoanalysis (not to mention the New Age spirituality and self-help industries that have cherry-picked the easy elements of these works). But much of the critique of religion has focused primarily on religious contents or their realization: the comparison of mythic themes, the genealogy of specific rituals or even specific spirits, the inadequacy of specific cosmologies in the face of developments in science, the critique of the contemporary and historical political and social power of specific religious communities, the crimes of religious institutions, the list goes on. However, the critique of religion in terms of its forms is rarer, and attempts at a theory of the aesthetics of religion have tended toward myopic focus even where they have been illuminating in specific aspects. Of course, such a theory would face countless obstacles within the academy and even in its own genesis; we can already hear the rebuttals of multiculturalists, decrying the flattening of the aesthetics of specific communities or the privileging of data from larger systems, and the denials of the empiricists, claiming that the data is incomplete or that the theory is untestable or too large to justify. But might such a theory prove useful, even in an incomplete and working form? The development of a model for spiritual aesthetics could even prove testable in its performance as a tool for engineering new possibilities within the vacant realms of the spirit, should such opportunities arise.

The project of engineering these possible worlds indeed rests on such a theory; in fact, the primary value of such a theory is in its contribution to this project. In this light, one might imagine this hypothetical theory of spiritual aesthetics as a mere handmaiden of a much greater project: the development of a response to the death of God that can generate communities, values, and perhaps most importantly, a telos towards which its participants can aim. There should be no illusions about the ephemerality of such a response, but the handmaiden, sharpening the tools and weaponry of analysis in the rise and fall of new paradigms, can remain ever present, guiding further visions into future realizations. In this way, a working theory of spiritual aesthetics could lay the foundations of a response to modernity by uncovering processes by which meaning coalesces in the communal mind. Even those skeptical of the future power of religious models could find value in this theory, as it would partially serve as a rhetoric for the generation of ethos, an appeal that the scientific community often fails to realize in its quest to inform the public. Further, this procedure has already begun long ago in an unconscious form in the arts and may serve, at least, to inform the self-critical gaze of art with further methods of cultivating power for aesthetic visions. At very least, the project of generating a religious response to modernity will provide an alternative to war as a teleotic process, even if war is the more likely to arise.

As a contribution to a theory of spiritual aesthetics, this series will explore a variety of features across as many religious traditions as my research will allow. As mentioned above, these essays will be ancillary to more constructive efforts (and within the series, it’s likely that the essays will suggest handmaidens even to the handmaiden). However, these essays will form, I hope, a kind of foundation for PHANTOM CELL on which the rest of the project will rest.

This post will also serve to chronicle the articles in this series, which will number at least seven. As each is finished, I’ll link to them below (titles and subjects will likely change while writing). Addiditionally, I expect that this post will grow over time as additional need for introduction arises.

0. Contributions to an Aesthetic of the Spiritual: Definitions

I. Sanctified Technologies: Forms within the Spiritual Aesthetic

II. The Teleotic System: Functionalities and Significances of Sacred Works

III. Power Users: Entities, Beings, and Names

IV. Divine Privilege: Sacred status and Methodologies of Enchantment

V. Navigating the Celestial Bureaucracies: Organizational Models and Hierarchies

VI. Psychogenesis: Values and Power

VII. The Hypostasis of Eternity: On the Temporal Unfolding of Spiritual Systems

 

Let the lightning strike where it will.

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Phantom Cell: Definitions and Sources

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phan·tom cell, n.
[fan-tuh m   sel]

1. A covert or clandestine leaderless group that acts against an institution.

And as experience shows, many have been the conspiracies, but few have been successful; because he who conspires cannot act alone, nor can he take a companion except from those whom he believes to be malcontents, and as soon as you have opened your mind to a malcontent you have given him the material with which to content himself, for by denouncing you he can look for every advantage; so that, seeing the gain from this course to be assured, and seeing the other to be doubtful and full of dangers, he must be a very rare friend, or a thoroughly obstinate enemy of the prince, to keep faith with you.
– Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

2. A source of energy that provides power in a hidden or distributed fashion.

Language is more than a garden whose heirs will be refreshed by its flowers and fruits long into old age; it is also one of the great forms for all goods in general. As light makes the world and its forms visible, so language makes their inner nature comprehensible and is indispensable as a key to their treasures and secrets. Law and dominion begin in the visible and even in the invisible realms with the act of naming. The word is the material of the spirit and as such serves to build the boldest bridges; at the same time it is the supreme instrument of power. All conquests in concrete and conceptual realms, all buildings and all roads, all conflicts and all treaties, are preceded by revelations, plans, and invocations, in word and in language—and the poem leads them all. Two kinds of history can be said to exist: one in the world of things; the other in the world of language. The second contains not only the higher insight but the more effective power.
– Ernst Jünger, The Forest Passage

3. An illusory prison.

And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
– Acts 12:6-8

4. A body or container inhabited by a ghost.

THALES: That is Homunculus, whom Proteus has taken…
Those are the symptoms of passion’s imperative—
I almost can hear the loud groans of its travails.
He’ll shatter his vial on her glittering throne—
there’s the flame, there the flash, and already it empties!
SIRENS: What miraculous fire transfigures our waves,
that break on each other and shatter and sparkle?
Lights wave and hover, the brightness comes nearer,
what moves in the darkness is pure incandescence,
and all is enveloped in eddies of fire.
Let Eros now rule, the creator of all!
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust II

5. A cage for spirits.

At home, or at least having been guests, in many countries of the spirit; having escaped again and again from the musty agreeable nooks into which preference and prejudice, youth, origin, the accidents of people and books or even exhaustion from wandering seemed to have banished us; full of malice against the lures of dependence that lie hidden in honors, or money, or offices, or enthusiasms of the senses; grateful even to need and vacillating sickness because they always rid us from some rule and its “prejudice,” grateful to god, devil, sheep, and worm in us; curious to a vice, investigators to the point of cruelty, with uninhibited fingers for the unfathomable, with teeth and stomachs for the most indigestible, ready for every feat that requires a sense of acuteness and acute senses, ready for every venture, thanks to an excess of “free will,” with fore- and back-souls into whose ultimate intentions nobody can look so easily, with fore- and backgrounds which no foot is likely to explore to the end; concealed under cloaks of light, conquerors even if we look like heirs and prodigals, arrangers and collectors from morning till late, misers of our riches and our crammed drawers, economical in learning and forgetting, inventive in schemas, occasionally proud of tables of categories, occasionally pedants, occasionally night owls of work even in broad daylight; yes, when necessary even scarecrows–and today it is necessary; namely, insofar as we are born, sworn, jealous friends of solitude, of our own most profound, most midnightly, most middaily solitude; that is the type of man we are, we free spirits! And perhaps you have something of this, too, you that are coming? you new philosophers?—
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil