This will be a short piece; I want to think out loud through some ideas coming up around the apophatic material, see how they sound. Take what I say here with something of a grain of salt because I am stating the ideas a bit strongly to see them more clearly.
As I work through the implications of apophatic work, syncretism presents itself again and again as a problem, one intricately bound up with the concern for idolatry that runs through the gnostic material. Kabbalism proper is necessarily anti-syncretic, but I suspect that even less rigorous expressions of this gnostic vein of thought (like my own) must be suspicious of syncretism.
Part of this has to do with the difference between comparative and communicative mythology that I have been circling around. Let me be clear, I’m using those two terms more rhetorically than analytically. Comparison, at its apogee, is about communication, the differentiation and conversation of two things. It is just that too often what is called comparative turns into a lazy fusion, an identification of one thing with another. when the differences fade, so too does the opportunities of the comparative moment.
If communication, the preservation of differentiated moments in communication, is the ideal, it’s easy to identify the two directions by which it is is undermined. The first is communication turning into opposition and the second is communication turning into syncretism and fusion.
Now, from my position, neither of these are exactly wrong; they are just less than ideal. In order to maintain the possibility of communication, they must be restrained as much as possible. Syncretism at its best is a holding place, a point at which the communication can be resumed. Opposition at its best is a deferral of communication when one or both parties is incapable of maintaining proper distance.
There’s an ethical dimension to this, too, because a practice the emphasizes the communicative proceeds by a dual movement of contraction and intensification. Contraction is what creates the space across which communication can take place and intensification undertakes to develop that contracted place more fully. From this perspective, most any form of syncretism entails (problematic) expansion and identification. While this expansion and identification is necessary, it is not itself a goal.
To intensification belongs the work of discovering principles, the invisible points toward which contraction moves. The visible space remains, of course, but as the means through which we may communicate only insofar as we can keep from occupying it. Still, what comes to move through the visible will leave traces, which makes communication fraught, an occasion which can lead us away from our intensity.
There is a dialectical rhythm to this as intensification spills into expansion, encounters and potentially comes into conflict with others, withdraws, intensifies. As soon as I affirm the primacy of intensification, the necessity of its dissipation and recreation makes itself apparent.
I’m liking the term ‘a-syncretic’ because it suggests both an acceptance of the possibility of syncretism and a certain indifference toward it, a readiness to withdraw from it.
This is probably a bit abstract, no? I’ll talk a little more about how this actually looks another time.