Back in my first year or so of graduate school, I attended a lecture on the importance of writing in mysticism. I wish I could remember the name of the woman, but it escapes me. I carried a copy of it around with me through a few moves, but there have been just one or two many sharp turns in my life since then; it fell off the proverbial truck.
It was the late 1990s and she had come of age reading Derrida and De Man, but beneath the veneer of deconstruction there was an astounding core: for a group convinced of the ineffability and transcendence of the divine, mystics were obsessed with writing about it. It’s almost compulsive. Rather than a via negativa that opens to a pleroma, what if it only ever opens to a threatening negativa, which it is the work of writing to obscure?
What if the ain soph is the illusion, a shadow? What if the annihilation of the self in God is just annihilation?
I still get a little queasy thinking about it. It reminded me of when I first started reading Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit and felt this immense cavern open up beneath me, like I was walking a filagree of golden words over a darkness I could not comprehend. I still remember turning off the lights and curling up onto the floor to feel its weight rise up to cradle mine.
Or when I read Goody’s transcription of the second Bagre rite, in which it is revealed to the initiate that the conquest of death promised in the first rite is a lie, that all the rite can do is help you acquire happiness in this life. To death you will go. The text itself, a startling mirror of Gilgamesh’s failure to acquire immortality.
Osiris is a black god.
Europe and America fantasized that Buddhism might be the avatar of this nihilism, softening it by making it exotic and foreign. Yet the Buddhists must invent the Boddhisattvas to explain why all these men and women who have erased themselves don’t stop answering prayers and pleas, but return in a ceaseless parade waiting.
There are more of us than ever, with only the slimmest queue of souls lining up at Nirvana Station for proper elimination.
You can’t even get nothing right.
And I am back again on that filagree of words, of prayers, of rites, stretched over and through this inpenetrable abyss which may be nothing or everything, but strangely seems to be some thing because I am within or upon it, it intrudes and guides us though we grasp it dimly, like water grasps the hard stone beneath soil long carried away.
All that we know of angels and devils, the dead and the yet-to-be, of God and creation?
Darkness, and a little light.