Dear Nancy,
I was responding to your point in an another post in which you questioned whether Enlightenment could be an object of attachment. As you know, Eastern religions are largely apophatic, as was brought out on this list in a discussion of the Upanishads. The chant "neti, neti" warns disciples that God is "not this, not this." Nothing to which one could attach. (Whether this is truly negative is questionable, however.) Zen and other forms of Buddhism have their own apophatic methods.

I was raised in an Eastern Catholic church, the Byzantine or Greek Catholic church, which is a bit more apophatic than the Roman Catholic church. I'm not sure how much the via negativa figures in actual Anglican practice. But Christian literature does sometimes point in that direction, for example in an epistle of St. Paul, who writes that God is incomprehensible, unapproachable and unseeable, and the Book of Revelation that says that no man knows God's name, that only God knows it. There are other examples of an apophatic mystical approach in Christianity in the Gospels, and Aquinas quotes mystical comments by Pseudo-Dionysus in the Summa. OT mysticism is plentiful; Moses and the Burning Bush, for example. "I am that I am" and so forth.
Revelation of course is positive; God reveals something of himself to man. But even though the Logos became incarnate, mystical elements remain. Eliot's references to his faith certainly do not aspire to complete comprehension or articulation, being suggestive and mysterious, if not mystical.
"Wonders" and "signs" seem equivalent to me; I don't get the difference. It would seem that they both can be produced by charlatans. Obviously Eliot is drawing a distinction between them, but he might have made them sound more different.


I'm not sure what your point is here.  The people who take signs for wonders are not the enlightened; they are those who look for magic or astonishing stories.  The next line makes clear that they are the ones who, given a sign, still look for a sign--in the absurdities and falsehoods listed in "The Dry Salvages V."
Also your language seems to come from mysticism.  But there are both negative and positive ways of mysticism.  They are detailed in Evelyn Underhill, whom Eliot had read.  In later poems it is the negative way Eliot alludes to, but it is not the case that in Christianity in general there is no place for attachment.  Eliot notes that also in "Little Gidding III."  He lists "two lives"--"attachment" and "detachment," with the opposite of both being indifference. 
If "wonders" meant "genuine revelation," I do not see why these speakers are mistaking signs for them and wanting more. But the sign is "The word within a word, unable to speak a word, / Swaddled with darkness" that is present but not seen.  The images of "flowering judas," a kind of perversion of communion, and the seemingly degraded cosmopolitan characters that follow links them to those who fail to know a sign and want the magic of charlatans instead.  Nothing that I see suggest the wonders are genuine revelations that have not been given: that they are what signs are "taken for" makes them the failure to see signs.

>>> Diana Manister 03/13/10 8:31 PM >>>
Dear Nancy,

If Eliot's "wonders" connote genuine revelation or epiphany, that would be the Christian equivalent of enlightenment, a state that "passeth understanding." In no way is Enlightenment an attachment. While discipline is necessary, attachment to the result of spiritual practice guarantees failure. It's paradoxical. In
Zen in the Art of Archery (not an accurate text in all respects) Eugen Herrigal describes Zen archery this way:
"(...) The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art (...)"

Sent from my iPod

On Mar 13, 2010, at 12:53 PM, Terry Traynor <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Jerry -- thanks.


Diana --

>he was always asked for miracle stories, which he said were a sign
>along the non-rational path that could prevent enlightenment if the
>disciple got attached to them.
>I see a connection here to Eliot's distinction between signs and wonders.

As I understand it, Buddhism says that _any_thing that a disciple gets attached to could prevent enlightenment.  If so, wouldn't distinguishing between one object of attachment (sign) and another (wonder) be irrelevant?


Nancy --

>During and after WWI there was a massive interest in spiritualism,
>seances, and possible "signs" that would allow grieving people to make
>contact with their dead sons and husbands and lovers and brothers.

As you say, Eliot disapproved of the charlatans who took advantage of the situation, but do you think he believed that communicating with the dead was nonetheless possible?  I ask because I'm wondering what might be in the mind of a poet (and this pertains not only to Eliot) who addresses a real, not fictive, dead person. Is it just a literary convention? Eliot seems to be trying to communicate with the dead when he doesn't just dedicate his Prufrock book to Jean Verdenal, but follows the dedication with the passage from Dante that says: "Now can you understand the quantity of love that warms me toward you, so that I forget our vanity, and treat the shadows like the solid thing."


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