Today, the Full Moon is in Pisces and I’m thinking about how not that many lunations ago, I would not have known nor cared about what that signified. I’m less concerned with what this time might mean for me and more in awe with how a couple of conversations could cascade into a whole new comportment towards vast webs of signification—stimulating ideas, for sure, but also, whole communities of practice. I’ve stumbled onto a wholly foreign shore and have realized that millions of people have been here all along. It really doesn’t matter what I end up getting out of being here; the very fact of first contact having turned into some depth of domicile already blows my mind.
The year started off on a different trajectory, or so it seemed; I had planned on challenging myself to get through a particular school of ecosocialist theory, but five or six books in, I kept finding myself pulled in many directions: hermeneutics, esotericism, feminist exegesis, kabbalah, social trinitarianism, mariology—some paths winding back to previous forks, others veering off too far and forcing me “off-road.” I kept trying to keep track of where I’d been, thinking that I’d eventually circle back to my original itinerary while growing more anxious as the summer days grew short. Then it dawned on me: the reason I was interested in ecosocialism in the first place was the same reason I was getting distracted. These side roads weren’t off course; they were the scenic route of a different journey.
This whole thing started with a book called Marx’s Ecology, which I picked up because it claimed to rewrite the story people tell about Marx and nature—far from the pro-industrial Prometheus who simply wanted extractivism for the people, the author and the whole MR school he inaugurated argued that environmentalism was both explicit and implicit to Marx’s very method of analysis; that you can’t really think like Marx and reach non-ecological conclusions. It reminded me of Christian theologies of creation: how half the battle of churches celebrating “Creationtide” right now is to rewrite the story we’ve told about what exactly is going on in the Book of Genesis, to undo the damage that “dominion gospels” have already done—an exegetical disaster that was not lost on Marx himself, I might add.
The book makes a compelling argument for Marx’s ecology having roots in the Epicurean tradition of Ancient Greece, that source of so many foundational narratives we’ve inherited. That very earthy fact of place & time and decisions made about forks & paths is becoming even clearer to me as I attempt to read Pavel Florensky’s defense of Platonism.
Florensky argues that “the essence of the matter” for ancient philosophy lay in “the antimony of environment and individual—hen kai pan (the one and the all),” which is another way of talking about the problem of universals. He tells this story with a map with three or four forks in the road, if you count the nihilist option, that lead to five actual philosophical positions ranging from “strict realism” to “nominalist terminism.” But what’s even more interesting is how Florensky goes further and describes all sixteen potential positions implied by this combinatorial space—even doctrines that no one actually holds (yet).
That sort of branching off reminds me of the perennial need to return to the sources and I’m drawn to writers who either do that explicitly or force me to do that through their use of categories or language or figures I’d already rejected. Like Plato. I don’t really know anything about him other than his becoming a sort of shorthand joke in the fields I’d been formed in—“some kinda platonic ideal” was pretty much a cuss word when dealing with social structures or discursive formations.
Doubling-back to the heart of the matter, to the one and the many—that constant return to the headwaters of knowing—is the very opposite of efficient. But it’s absolutely necessary for the life of the world.
That’s kinda what Jesus was all about. In his very person, he was a reinterpretation of scripture and tradition—a literal transfiguration of our conception of God. As Leonardo Boff puts it: “Jesus, as he is presented by gospel witnesses, gave evidence of being a genius of good sense. A freshness without analogies pervades all that he does and says. God, human beings, society, and nature are immediately present to him. He does not theologize. Nor does he appeal to superior moral principles. Nor does he lose himself in a minute and heartless casuistry … Jesus does not wish to say something new, merely for effect and whatever the cost, but something as old as humankind; not something original, but something that is valid for all; not astonishing things, but things people can comprehend on their own if they have clear vision and a little good sense.”
And how does Boff define “good sense”? It is “related to concrete knowledge of life; it is knowing how to distinguish the essential from the secondary, the capacity to see things in perspective and place them in their proper place. Good sense is always situated opposite exaggeration. For this reason, the lunatic and the genius, who resemble one another in many ways, are fundamentally distinguished on this point. The genius is one who has radicalized good sense. The lunatic is one who has radicalized an exaggeration.”
I fear that much of our modern-day education is based on the lunacy of the latter. We fork out and branch off and forget how and why. Christ is the hope of return and reconciliation—the all in one, as crazy as that sounds. That’s where faith comes in. One day, all of this will cohere, but for now, we retrace our maps and charts and take another loop around the sun.