Criticism and Disposition

The Armadel is one of the few places I have seen my specific trinity of potencies identified (to the extent that they seem to recognize themselves in it on some level) as a trinity (the Grimorum Verum is another). That odd little duck gets lumped into what some call the “Arts of Disposition,” a category that seems to fit quite well with my own work with the trinity. It has been less a matter of achieving some specific thing, than of transforming myself.

But what’s the point of changing your disposition anyway?

For one, it highlights the magical dimension of our very being. Rather than setting out in search of the magical world beyond, the work of disposition sets us the task of finding and realizing the magic in our own lives.

There is also a matter of efficiency. Well-disposed, we can manage work more directly. Why take a hundred swings when one properly placed one will do?

There is something else, though. Disposition is also about cultivating forms of reflection, forms of imagination. These aren’t the sorts of things that necessarily relate directly to actual things, material or spiritual, but which help us to relate to those things by educating us in the plasticity of our mental and spiritual faculties. Learning to dispose our mind to see things in a certain way inculcates in us a habit of looking for other ways to see things, it enriches the way in which we use our attention.

Doing that with spirits is a funny thing, because you are basically opening yourself to letting spirits manipulate your disposition toward that end. The point of going to specific spirits is that their specific patterns of experiencing the world are alien and having them help you move toward their disposition allows you to attain certain viewpoints that would otherwise not even be visible to you.

That seems to be one of the key differences between cultivating imagination and undergoing a change in disposition. The alterity of disposing spirits makes the transformations more substantive, less subject to the same patterns of doubt. At the same time, it is more drastic, more likely to bring about a sense of dissociation.

It is also the sort of thing likely to lead to transformation, where the sorts of concerns that defined one disposition become less prominent with the development of a new one. In the terms developed by Duns Scotus, the arts of disposition provide us with the precious tools to alter the quality of our will, thereby altering the field of objects into which our attention projects us.

To use a well-worn comparison, this is the point at which we acquire a new grammar of our experiences. This places the arts of disposition into the broader field of initiation and its consequences.

Here, too, this becomes imbricated with the questions of how we use history to achieve these realizations, how we anchor ourselves, and how we liberate ourselves. The spirits of disposition do are often related to stories, to the way in which we imagine the world. They tell us new stories and perhaps thereby provide us with a chance to engage in living new stories, of moving into new lives made possible by the stories.

Which suggests to me that one of the ways to deepen and intensify this engagement occurs by way of criticism, in the sense of literary and philosophical criticism. These are defined by an exploration of the formal properties with an eye toward appreciating how they operate upon the will, as a means for intensifying and sharpening the operations of the spirits.

This is a dangerous fields of the work, where the shoals of relativism and abstraction strand many people. It is easy to lose touch with the operating spirits and fall back onto our own devices, playing with stories as a simulacra of spiritual work. One of the things that facilitates that is that this is also the point at which it becomes easier to talk with others, the point at which our sociality can become a hindrance to the work. When charisma enters the mix, it can be a proper loss.

(Which isn’t to dismiss narrative work on its own terms. Like the scientific insights fostered by spirit, we can sensibly talk about aesthetic ones, too, which can be developed into the visible world.)

There is the legacy of philological thinking to contend with, too. While a powerful and useful historical tool, its reductive capacities are profound. I wonder if there might be a way to carry off the insights that came from philologically-inspired mythology in the opposite direction, to produce a communicative mythology rather than a comparative mythology, one rooted in establishing points of contact rather than defining a more generic model.

4 thoughts on “Criticism and Disposition

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