Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Last Unicorn and The Republic

Now, I completely understand confirmation bias. I mean by that that I know I am as guilty of confirmation bias as any person who thinks reasons are required for reasoning. So, take this with some grain of salt. You see, I'm teaching The Republic alongside The Last Unicorn because, to me, there are things the latter is saying about the former that, I think, are already there buried in the dialogue's complex patterns.

I then had the idea to see that Amalthea is Jesus, but the unicorn—as largely was the case for the Christendom that wrote and talked about unicorns—is Christ. The Word, the root of all beautiful things as that which speaks them into being, becomes flesh and dwells among us, and don't we behold her beauty, her glory? It's the Jesus we fall in love with, as the body-lugging, smiling, relaxed, firebrand prophet and introverted iconoclast rebel man. But he was Word before flesh, and he is Word forevermore, and into that power and elevation into the gloriest of glories, Jesus is lost and vanished and forgotten, remembered only as a figure only a few who died so long ago, and imagined many generations and cultures later based on their own implicit political dreams. This supports one of my student's idea to read Kierkegaard in light of Unicorn, or vice versa, since he saw Lír as an example of a knight of faith. I don't think that's so clear, since he seems so much like a knight of infinite resignation than faith. But it's a dialectic anyway.

So, what if Amalthea's assertion of humanity, her denial of being the unicorn, while still remembering how the unicorn will feel living forever differently from feeling living's rotting, is a human's refusal to be an immortal soul secretly, deeply, underneath the substances of material encasing it? There is a good bit of the way Unicorn tells its story that appears to be inversions of the popular ideas people say are found in The Republic, such as the allegory of the cave or forms versus appearance. I do think the real target is a NeoPlatonic, Great Chain of Being, Perennial philosophy, as philosophy the way it's imagined in the popular myths and stories: the unveiling of truth as a journey through questions, asked from others or within one's self. Unicorn conceives of the journey as a thing already written, through which we interact as characters with the setting, some more stagestruck than others. So, think about Amalthea, deep in the Bull's cave, standing there and arguing into her lover's eyes what she knows. She knows her mortal human love will die away in the eternal, immortal being she is underneath. The immortal will not hold onto the feelings the mortal body possesses (threat! feed! fuck! sleep! drink! shit! piss!). Those feelings and intensities fade into a monochrome of feeling dull, and dull feelings make for dull words. She resists that. She fights that.

Why, then, does Plato set up this intriguing narrative of desiring to remember our immortal knowledge? Why do the immortal sit around and lament what it was just like to feel things and crave, only to queue up and try another go of it, making the better choices each time we can?

Why does a Christian want to live forever? What if the temptation we say of Jesus is exactly this kind of pleading and fear in Amalthea? —I mean, have you asked this question: what was he really that stressing about in the Garden? The pain? The dying? The brief void when you switch the body off and wake up insubstantial? It's Jesus. He knows all of those things. "Yes, but he is a human now, tempted in every way we are." Right, but isn't the real temptation not actually atheism, believing there is no god-thing nor immortality-being, but not giving a damn about all that, knowing the system is rigged against the mortal person being the one who comes back (how can you? The neuronal firing patterns are all different because they're different bodies, things not causally connected anymore. You are the history of your body and how it holds its story together. Remove the body, and you are just words losing the coherence the body provided in spacetime. The words vanish as the media holding them vanish, to include those physical bits we retain as our biological memories—themselves lost when you die.)? The temptation for Jesus was to resist what he knew was going to happen: the Word will resurrect him, he will ascend, he will become an insubstantial thing, but he will not be Jesus, the one who is dreamt by the sleeping immortality.

Living forever is not possible. The most you can do is turn yourself into words, many many words bound together in named things—The Republic, "Hey Jude", Romans, The Origin of Species, &c.

Philosophy, of all things, is other than religion a method to create immortality in the form of words. It attracts vanity because the vain understand that the body dies, but the word must become flesh to die. What is it about magic that separates from this, especially a magic that accepts the inevitable fade from one story into others?

1 comment:

  1. Shortly after changing, Amalthea is very much a unicorn still, so she is unswayed by the obvious attraction of Lír. But as the unicorn falls deeper into slumber and dreams Amalthea into being, Amalthea becomes more and more a separate person. The scenes of her inability to distinguish between dreamer and dream show how it is Lír's gaze that brings Amalthea fully into being. It is his willingness to live inside *her* dream that she becomes everything he did not know he could want and she is all too willing to be. It is when she is fully human and asserts her willingness to die when her beloved dies in the cave that she has fully embraced her humanity. Notice, then, that she is the immortal, immutable being who has descended into the cave, became rotting flesh, and now has forgotten, and wishes to forget, her sleeping self for good.

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