Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful

I had posted recently about an ongoing dialog with SKS people about the relative values of "finding the truth" versus "doing good." I found it even more interesting when I read Ken Wilber discuss "the differentiation of the value-spheres" into "the Good, the True, and the Beautiful." As he discusses it in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, the virtue of modernity was that it allowed the value spheres to differentiate, so that the search for truth (science) could progress without inteference from quest for the good (ethics) or the beautiful (art). The result is that we have much more sophisticated knowledge, social values, and aesthetics, since the value spheres are allowed to do what they do best, without getting in each others' way. It has also, alas, opened the door to dissociation of the value spheres, so that science denies validity to religion, and vice-versa.

I had always been somewhat suspicious of the philosophy cutting up "the Good" and "the True" -- while I can understand it readily enough, it always smelled like an ultimately arbitrary distinction that the Greeks (especially Aristotle) were so given to. But Ken Wilber has convinced me that the distinction between Truth, Goodness, and Beauty is not arbitrary, because he ties them directly into modes of perception:

Truth = objective third-person understanding = "it"
Goodness = interpersonal relations = "we"
Beauty = subjective experience = "I"

What makes this especially interesting to me is the relative paucity of good spiritual guidance on the nature of the Beautiful. Religion seems to have lots to say about the True ("believe in this") and the Good ("live this way"), but doesn't seem to have a whole lot to say about the Beautiful. Sometimes, in the mystical poets like Rumi, you will find hints of how beauty relates to the divine . . . but its rare. More often, you will find something going the other way: authors and poets given over to the wonder of the creative process, and feeling a sense of awe that is almost indistinguishable from religious reverence. Poets like e. e. cummings and Carl Sandberg would show their heartfelt awe for the world and its creator, and also betray a certain distrust for any religion or politics that was full of prescriptions for knowledge and goodness, and yet had nothing to say about the eye with which they saw the world. Their romanticism, their trust in the individual, his perceptions and his creations, have been a continual koan for me. I have always had an intuition that the spiritual philosophies that I have trafficked in have been missing something important. Yes, we are called to discover the truth, and we are compelled to love our neighbor . . . but maybe even before that, more primal and immediate and real, we were called to something more basic: to be a witness to the universe. God has come here to See something. Open your eyes.


Post a Comment

<< Home