6.27.2009

Speaking Between the Lines

Sometimes, two people who love each other deepen their bond by making fun of other people together. Or at least, my wife and I do that, once in a while. But sometimes she misfires, and rather than laughing and pointing at our unfortunate target with her, I feel like she's making fun of a trait in someone else that I share. This is always the danger in gossip, I suppose.

But this morning she goes, "Oh my God; listen to this: this guy left a comment on facebook for one of our friends (ahem): 'Random Levinas question for you. I'm interested in Gnosis as an alternative to epistemology and hermeneutics - underside of modernity, that kind of stuff. Specific context for me is 16th century France but I'm curious about Levinas on this. Any texts you'd recommend?' "

After she finished reading in her best know-it-all voice, my wife waited for me to jump on the guy. But I said, "Umm... actually, that guy's awesome. Gnosis is what I'm into. [long pause] But yeah, I guess all those words people use can end up sounding douchey, huh?"

See what I did there? I compromised. The wife must be part right: using the word Gnosis is always risky (it's a very elite concept, no?). Using Levinas, epistemology, modernity, and hermeneutics in the same little Facebook paragraph is probably ill-advised.

So let's try a low-brow translation of the original, just to see if anything absolutely necessary gets lost: "What do you think about revelatory or non-rational ways of knowing?"

Was anything lost there? Speaking of Gnosis, here's what the "Gnostic" Gospel of Philip says on the matter of whether anything was lost in the translation:
Names given to the worldly are very deceptive, for they divert our thoughts from what is correct to what is incorrect. Thus one who hears the word "God" does not perceive what is correct, but perceives what is incorrect. So also with "the Father" and "the Son" and "the Holy Spirit" and "life" and "light" and "resurrection" and "the Church (Ekklesia)" and all the rest - people do not perceive what is correct but they perceive what is incorrect, unless they have come to know what is correct. The names which are heard are in the world [...] deceive. If they were in the Aeon (eternal realm), they would at no time be used as names in the world. Nor were they set among worldly things. They have an end in the Aeon. (italics added!)
So here's what I've learned in my years of studying "Gnosis." The true initiate understands that it is not what is spoken, but rather what is heard, that is of the greatest importance. Know thy audience, etc. I'm totally into what that guy on Facebook was writing about -- and I hope he makes a book out of it, because there aren't enough academic books on this kind of thing. But I wouldn't be surprised if, eventually, some editor somewhere forces him to change or diminish his language. It's unfortunate: but again, as I said, for the real initiate, it shouldn't be a problem.

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