Is Wholly Rational Action Realizable?
This to you, who lives beyond my reach and ken
Yet I love thee as I would the one who strains for me alone
I cannot breast such love as my heart now and then
Breaks itself upon the shore that also crushes bone
No wonder you exult the air above, the night that is beyond men
And women both, and all those in between that set in stone
No longer will love be known as ever that
Extant between the fair and fairer seen
And I am but the herald of this wider, longer matte
Laying underneath all two-souled color been
These souls have given up their claim, their pat
Clamor against which I have plugged by ears atween
Enter thus! I both command and commend to thee
So that we may port your soul and souled asunder
Split as is the heavens by the lighted scree
Split as were my eyes and ears and lips by thunder
Such storms as these will ever question me
So I shall ne’er accept the loot of blunder
Enter thus, I beg you in loving supplication
With my tears, my sweat, my mucus, juice and blood alike
Even my offal, but not awful urination
Meant no disrespect but only that with I would strike
Down all who overlook our human situation
And to this I call you to return to us your endless Reich.
In the quotidian of my life, I long for transcendence. Such are the days that have been that the days that will be are resented. But what of the days that might be? What of the moments that seem to uplift our consciousness into another kind of day altogether? What are their source? Can we conjure the magical from the mundane, the sacred from the profane, the very order of nature from the historic disorder of culture?
In the verse, the speaker ‘begs’, calls attention to her ‘loving supplication’ which is surpliced over with all manner of bodily disjecta membra, not in the service of a guttural paean but rather to state that every aspect of her being is involved in the orison. But at first we are called to attend the place of the one who is called and is to be called. She herself is so distant, so removed from the day to day that her very reality is doubted. She is ‘beyond’ both my reach, my experience, and as such it is also implied that such a beyond is separated from the doings of both men and women alike. This object of desire must be a creature of the night air, a being who is thus never at risk of shipwreck, as the speaker tells of herself. And how then to bridge that chasm? Give birth to a higher form of love, a love hitherto unknown and even unknowable. This novel love will no longer hold ‘between the fair and fairer’, and within its embrace those whose souls were separate give over their patent claim to be mere individuals. No, here they are to be only one thing, and yet this is not yet real, which is why the speaker casts herself as merely a ‘herald’ and one who has had to ‘plug her ears’ against the divisive character of previous human relations. The speaker vows to not be either distracted by a base show of emotions, ‘split as were my eyes and ears and lips’, nor by even nature’s display of forces which seem as well to lie beyond the mundane sphere. She also cannot be bought by illusion, the ‘loot of blunder’. Finally, she returns to her own humanity and realizes that this higher love is in fact part of our shared birthright that in turn cannot be ‘overlooked’ and to which she commands the return of that eternal birthright and its ‘endless Reich’.
Weber reminds us that any interpretation of human action in the world must call itself to attend to the fact that in each action there is a representation of something (‘The Nature of Social Action, 1922). And thus in each, there is also a herald, if you will, of the judgment of others upon not only how well I have represented this or that normative or superlative value but whether or not the value is itself worthy of my representation rather than one better, one lesser, or yet none at all. In calling across the ages to the thing that is most desired, be it a deity, a beloved friend, a kindred spirit long deceased, a work of art, we must first be more or less certain that how we value this ‘object’ is how we might imagine it valuing itself. What is the self-valuation of the object of desire? How does it, in other words, desire itself to be desired?
The most common example of the disjunction of such a calling occurs when we fall in love with one who cannot love us in return, or will not. Though this seems an extremity of social action or perhaps better, a moment of social inaction or even non-action, it is nevertheless not an extramundane experience in any sense. Its very lack sabotages any sense that it could become ‘something’ more than a distant desire, or at best, the ‘one that got away’. What Weber refers to as a ‘binding normative force’ in this instance and like others acts to prevent action, places a limit upon our desires – they must be shared and specifically must be shared by the object in question – and brings into play a quasi-discursive challenge to the day to day sociality of human relations. This challenge is issued from ethics.
The more amorphous the object – the divine, the natural, the cosmic, the aesthetic – the easier it is to overlook the ethical angle. Less vague are the dead. They were persons as we now are and yet are, but they are now not subject to personal desires. We might yet imagine they can respond to us through their works, of course. We are not, after all, impinging upon another person who is currently like ourselves or ever will be so again in the future. If we do so impinge upon him, he is more than likely long dead, far beyond our desire in any manner that would suggest an unethical stance. We might even ‘speak ill’ of him, in his unresponsive ‘state’ of being, and still do him no harm at all. This is one reason why a motion toward the transcendent is characterized by non-rational inclinations. In our impersonal ardor, we are ourselves removed from any responsibility towards a known ‘other’ who also lives and thus has her own life to live.
Calling upon the non-human, the past, nature, deity or cosmos as itself a bastion of Being which is non-being, remits any obligation on our parts to take care of the other, to be concerned for her status or her being in the world-as-it-is. This apparently non-ethical distanciation is convenient for anyone who seeks to convince living others that his intentions are pure, noble, and untainted by personal or even personalist agenda. ‘God is on our side’ feels inclusive and even oddly warm. It is non-threatening, at least at first, because someone has issued forth a demand that entails both myself and a transcendental being, of whom I know next to nothing, and can know at best that its non-human character is also not subject to human desires. This too is reassuring, for then I might well imagine that judgment could only emanate from a human or at worst, an historical source. ‘Religion is society worshipping itself’, yes, I may quote to myself, but what of belief? What of spirit? What of that ‘two-souled colour’ that has been the case prior to the novel call for an unheard of union of souls?
What the call to Being limits is our concernfulness for the living other. In its halcyon heraldry, transcendentally oriented orison cleaves the existential fabric that weaves beings together, in favor of contriving an ontological uplink that connects Being and beings in a manner that does vital disservice to both. Yet even in a ‘secularistic’ age, we have need of Being, and not only on our own terms. Being yet has a service to perform, and one about which there are several aspects; 1. It provides the model for rationality bereft of history; it is the ideal type upon which historical types are in counterpoint. 2. It is also a ‘role model’ for persons who are beings but who also occupy social roles which often conflict or are at best regularly strained in the face of one another; Being is unburdened of all roles and yet appears to possess a singular role, it is a form of imagination that owns its vocation rather than being owned by its labour. 3. It is a goal to which beings strive forward; it represents thus an ‘absolute value’ towards which rational action may be generally directed, and 4. Being retains its value as a manner in which to access, cross-culturally and across time, all of the human works, the works of beings, which have attempted to emulate it.
So far we have enumerated the facets of the ultimate object of human desire and also have seen how this ‘customary’ dynamic informs both a commonplace call to another to perform a function for us as well as the uncommon calling to the Other. This one has found herself distant and distanciated not merely from myself but from the world and thus must be called to return. She returns though in altered form and one in which is likened to a selfsame other who in turn cannot exist without my presence; ‘yet I love thee as the one who strains for me alone’. The much vaunted ‘death of God’ as a mere prelude as well as a foreshadowing of the end of mankind is a rootsy manner of expressing the problem of the loss of Being in beings-as-they-are. For a phenomenology, this existentiality insists upon only existing and not therefore being at all. Not that our historical beings must instead possess a profound essentiality about them, as if only those of our own kind and time have realized their spiritual potential, their ethical apogee, or their aesthetic will. It is neither a question of placing existence ‘before’ essence as if the Cartesian ghost in the Mandevillian machine had been awakened by the gnawing patter of the mechanisms at hand. For historical beings, existence is in fact our essential state. Dasein only ‘completes itself’ in its ownmost death.
I would thus suggest that any call to consciousness as either the modern gloss of deity or the post-modern guise of nature is premature. It not only presumes that what we know or what we can know of our own history is complete enough to have a stable and stamina-laden understanding of said consciousness, it also assumes that whatever is left over that we do not know or have yet to fully understand, including that of the collected works of many of our own recent thinkers, is all that is left to consciousness and therefore we have at least sketched its limits. I think we are mistaken on both points. Being as constructed from the history of consciousness alone forsakes the daily desires of myself and others which are never uplifted into either rational discourse or the ‘arational’ archive of human achievement. For we are mostly and daily kindred with the unknown soldiers of histories unwritten. We are beings without Being and yet we must be counted, and counted upon, in order for a history of consciousness to have taken shape and thence continually to redefine itself.
Therefore within this limited context wholly rational action too is not only implausible, it may well be impossible. One, if Being has represented to itself an ideal rationality, then history has seen all such transient representation come and go. Belief in the abstract is not enough for a deity to exist upon. Two, Divinity is itself, as a characteristic of transcendental Being, a Parousia of Being-not, for it cannot claim to be the ideal if it itself sets upon any singular circumstance that history affords it, from the human perspective. Only its radical alien quality may make such a claim; one without history and without a history. And how much value could such a Being have? Similarly, and three, we as beings cannot be beholden to the singular, either in our transient selfhood to which accrues not only differing social roles but also serial and ongoing phases of life which too are quite different from one another. In this sense, Being is but the idealization of a human life once lived and, in the completion of Dasein’s existence alongside that life, an idealized hindsight that connects us once again with the ‘sidereal circle in which the gathering of souls commences’.
G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, aesthetics, religion, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.