Marginalia, no.146

What the soul is, is of no concern for us to know; what it is like, what its manifestations are, is of very great importance.

~ Juan Luis Vives, De anima et vita

Vives saw half his family murdered by the Spanish Inquisition and so knew the blunt force of abstraction when applied to the job of defining the soul.  Metaphysical temptations to the contrary, we sense the truth of what he says.  To know impressionist painting or mechanized warfare (manifestations, perhaps, of the soul’s extremities) solely in terms of refraction of pigments or caliber of armaments is nothing but a technically informed ignorance.  Similarly, we seem to estrange ourselves through attempts at direct acquaintance but proceed somewhat toward self knowledge by means of metaphor.


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One response to “Marginalia, no.146

  1. Thanks, Ian, for what Vives and you say.

    It calls to mind (to mine anyway) that often-quoted passage from “Self-Reliance”: “Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes; for that for ever degrades the past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame, confounds the saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why, then, do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is.”

    As RWE would have it, the soul’s works, in all its becomings, are precisely its changing “manifestations.” Whereas novelty (becoming) is what the Inquisition “hated,” and, in its savage “repose,” set about to punish and destroy.


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