2012 In Review: Intimacy and the Word
January 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Because after a little more than two weeks in, I’ve noticed The Change. Change as a concept is something I wrote briefly about last year, when I said, “The New Year has rarely felt as new as this one does to me,” and then again after I moved to DC, in a post where I wondered if “uncertainty is the rigor, if being thrown is the routine.” But in each post, both of which were more journal-y than I think mine tend to be, I missed the point, I think. I missed the point that I’m feeling the edges of, seeing the contours of, now, in 2012.
Is it surprising anymore that the grounds of truth, the place where meaning springs up from and lives project themselves off of, is located in another person? This is the reality I saw glimpses of every couple of months for the last year – last years even – but it wasn’t until 2012 that it hit me, that it ran me through and made me know it.
What I mean is something like this: the way we move about this world, the way we understand it and communicate it, the way change occurs – which is an internal, rather than external thing, always, I’m convinced – all of it, all of this that means anything at all, that is meaningful, it happens through intimacy.
I know: rolled eyes and groans. This is not a long and convoluted segue into a review for the movie New Year’s Eve. I used to not use that word, intimacy, for what I’m trying to get across. I used to say conversation. And really, conversation is a good word for the structure, perhaps, of how truth bubbles up, created through two Others, a fusion of disparate, distinct, and often overlapping yet still heterogenous horizons and traditions. But the word misses something that intimacy foregrounds, which is something like the willful intention of generosity, empathy, and interest.
There’s probably a better definition for what I’m aiming at, but the point is that intimacy, when you’ve had it, when you’ve really had it with someone, it changes you. Again, I don’t mean this in a Hallmark card kind of way: it changes you the way we assume things in life like getting a job or having a kid change you, but the form of it all is a different kind of intimacy. It means that we are suddenly relating to someone, something, some situation in a way that completely implicates us, our decision-making, our interpretations and thoughts.
This processing – this vague and roundabout meandering – led me to the Gospel of John recently. In the beginning was the Word, says John. What a strange opener, what a strange revision to Genesis, where the author says, In the beginning God created… And yet not strange, for how did God create? He spoke, and existence followed. Our collectively poor reading skills focus on the what too often, ignoring the how, ignoring the latent and powerful poeticism that hums beneath the text: does it matter at all that we engage in a creation-evolution debate, when the proof for creation is a Poem? Isn’t that clue enough to read this differently, to look for the meaningfulness, not the science?
The same poor reading skills let us jump over John’s introduction. The Word, we read, and those who like me grew up in a steadily Christian environment understand: Word = Jesus, and also Bible. But does it? Does it, especially, mean The Bible, thing created and codified some generations later?
There’s more here than that. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. No mystic can put it more poetically, no philosopher can conceptualize the underpinnings of this life into a clearer analysis of intimacy. Later in John’s Gospel, he does specifically align Word with the Christ, saying, The Word became flesh.
What does it do when the very world rests upon a word? What I think it does is inaugurate us into that other word, a conversation, with someone else, or Someone else – we can be agnostic with our capitalization. But to have a conversation with existence, with one’s self and the beings around one, is to say that there are no direct paths, no direct people, nothing in this world that doesn’t shimmer and glow with the electric field between me and it.
In the second introductory chapter to Being and Time, Heidegger analyzes the Greek term Logos, which means “word,” the same term used by John, in its Ancient Greek significance. John wrote of course after Plato and Aristotle, and his use of it forces the reader to understand Logos in all of its philosophical baggage. Heidegger says, “Logos lets something be seen…, namely what is being talked about, and indeed for the speaker (who serves as the medium) or for those who speak with each other.” He later defines logos in Greek as phone meta phantasias: “vocalization in which something always is sighted.”
In other words, Logos is Speech that makes us see, or the sound of something seen. It is synaesthetic, meaning it combines two ways of experiencing (an example of synaesthesia would be something like “the red sound of a trumpet”), and it is this, this speech of discovery that John says was with God and was God. It means along with intimacy and conversation, a third word must be thrown into our ontology, and that is discovery.
We were built with the desire for discovery, for truth-as-discovery, not the way we think of discovery as finding a new thing, but discovery as it etymologically is: an un-covering of what exists, an unconcealment. Through intimacy and conversation, we hear what was hidden, we see what was muffled.
To pad along the line of sentiment, if I haven’t been yet, this is all familiar to the person who has experienced love with an Other. While I can tell you all of her facts and details, while I can explain every mechanism of her kiss or what she does with her eyes when she’s interested or the exact decibel of her snore, I can’t tell you the discovery, the intimacy, the truth that changes a person and a worldview.
It is the same with the world at large. Every reductionist understanding of why things do this cannot ever explain the aesthetic of the natural world, or the sehnsucht of watching a bird fly overhead, or the qualia of experience. Rational knowledge is a sieve that ultimately everything meaningful, poignant, and revolutionary escapes from. Because we were built for the meaningfulness. We were built for the Word, the speech that uncovers what is being talked about – and this speech that is sound then being given the flesh of another Person, the tradition of Christianity preaching that Christ, the Word of God, the speech of discovery, was then enfleshed. The speech that sees through feeling. The word that understands what it touches.
And so, this is my 2012 in review, not because I don’t expect more nuances and diversions and learning, or because I feel done with the year already, but because I believe my first two weeks of 2012 provided the grounding of Change and Self that I had been inching toward, and as I should have known, it’s always in an Other.