For the other thing: they are all, in different ways, struggling towards the spiritual (for lack of a better term). Latour writes on ecotheology, Alexander is determined to undo materialist metaphysics in favor of something rigorously old-fashioned and hylozoic, and Moore – well, I’ll get to him. This spiritual bent is somehow linked closely to the disreputable qualities. At least in the eyes of the MIT-trained-nerdy-atheist aspect of myself. They beckon to me from outside prison walls that I seem to have erected for myself.
Latour and Alexander I’ve written about previously; Moore is a more recent object of obsession. He is, of course, pretty well-known at this point as the most accomplished writer in the comic book format (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentleman). What I didn’t know until recently was that he had declared himself to be a Magician, in roughly the Aleister Crowley sense, and was getting seriously into all sorts of mystical shit. In fact he’s written about this widely and you can find stuff on the net; his series Promethea is pretty much a catalog of various mystical systems in graphical form. While this sort of thing is not really my thing, I can at least respect that it is neither crazy or lamebrained or even supernatural. Here is a rough statement of the core of his stance as I understand it, from an interview in The Believer (emphasis added):
Actually, art and magic are pretty much synonymous. …The central art of enchantment is weaving a web of words around somebody… When that enchantment is the creation of gods and the creation of mythology, or the kind in the practice of magic, what I believe one is essentially doing is creating metafictions. It’s creating fictions that are so complex and so self-referential that for all practical intents and purposes they almost seem to be alive. That would be one of my definitions of what a god might be. …It is a concept that has become so complex, sophisticated, and so self-referential that it appears to be aware of itself….If gods and entities are conceptual creatures, which I believe they are self-evidently, then the concept of a god is a god.This is more or less exactly the same idea I was groping towards a few years back. Given my background and biases, I’m inclined to think of god-concepts in more quasi-mathematical terms, whereas Moore thinks in quasi-linguistic terms, but I think we are pointing in the same general direction. The title of this post is my attempt to condense the idea down to a sort of formal notation, because that’s what I do.
This way of looking at things seems so simple and obvious and at least partially right that I can’t believe it’s all that original (with either Moore or me). Yet I can’t find much prior art. Perhaps it isn’t really satisfying to most people who want to know one way or the other if there is a referent on the other end of the symbol. Maybe people’s concept of concept is not rich enough to encompass these kind of complex, quasi-autonomous structures. Concepts are insubstantial; gods if they are not mere fiction have some effects in the world. We are used to thinking of symbols as dead things on paper; but the more primal oral form of language was always alive, always closely connected to the real-time human activity of a speaker. The causal powers of words in the old days was immediate and obvious.
But we are getting more experience even in our advanced writing-based culture, with complex symbol systems that are immaterial and yet have effects in the world. That is what software is, after all. Gods are pieces of cultural software, powerful enough to erect cathedrals, start wars, bind together communities. Like software, they are living texts, actualized fictions.
Another doctrine that might sound profoundly anti-rational is that God’s holy four-letter name, the Tetragrammaton, is identical with God Himself. Unlike other names that merely point to the signified, when the unnamable Absolute becomes known to the created beings by a name, that name itself becomes the personal God of religion, ’Elohey Is ́ra’el. When the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai, they experienced a synesthetic vision, in which the sounds of the commandments were seen as flying letters, made of pure light...during their synesthetic experience, the Jews actually saw God as identical to His name. Therefore, it is permitted to bow before the letters of the Tetragrammaton, because they are God, in an esoteric sense, and not just a visual representation of Divinity, which Judaism forbids.From Between Enlightenment and Romanticism: Computational Kabbalah of Rabbi Pinchas Elijah Hurwitz, Yoel Matveyev, talking about an 18th century encyclopedia assembled by Hurwitz ]