Saturday, November 18, 2006

It is Saturday AM in Rome. The iron is dead and the sky is threatening. I came across a passage from Stanley Cavell's Cities of Words, in which Cavell discovers that Henrik Ibsen has “secularized” the transformation presaged inPaul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians (15:51-53). I find this claim to dramatic secularization extremely close to Eric Voegelin’s lcaim that modernity is essentially a project dedicated to the immanentization of the eschaton. Indeed, Cavell could have found just another instance of the modern project in Ibsen.

There is, however, more to Cavell’s claim. Cavell notes that Emerson (who is responsible for discovering what counts for Cavell as philosophy in America) cites from the same passage. Cavell in turn interprets Emerson’s use of the scriptural passage, not so much as a secularization, but rather as the locus of Emerson’s recognition that another, a prior transformation needs to take place. If the mortal needs to put on immortality in St. Paul, then those who have forgotten their mortality must re-acquire (cognizance of) their mortality before they can truly pass into immortality.

The divinization of man and all creation in St. Paul, in other words, must be preceeded by a re-discovery of humanity. I point out, and do not at this point ask you to come with me, but I say that I see here at least the possibility that Emerson has discovered in America the need for responding to the Delphic command: γνώσε σεαυτόν, that is, “know that you are a man,” which must mean, “know that you shall someday die.” To paraphrase (and not by much, either) St. Augustine, we are mortalitatem circumferentes, i.e. we are carrying our death around with us.

Recognition of this fact is one of the conditions that Augustine puts on our ability rightly to sing the praise of God.

All of this would make America the place in which philosophy and true religion are constantly being dis-covered.

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