Monday, August 3, 2015

On DeCasseresian—Nihilism: The Irrelativity of All Relatives

In this lecture I will attempt to expound the seemingly impossible to harmonize and explicate ontological and pantheistic nihilism of writer Benjamin DeCasseres.
Benjamin DeCasseres was born in Philadelphia April 3, 1873 and passed away December 7, 1945. He was an American journalist, critic, essayist and poet.

In his final work entitled "Finis" written on his death bed in 1945 Benjamin DeCasseres laid out his meta ethics, and ontology, and his pantheistic nihilism.
In the Forward he writes:

"I entitle this book FINIS not because it is necessarily my last book but because it expounds my conception of the END for which this universe exists. For, it seems to me, that if there is one ultimate fact that can be affirmed without contradiction by a human mind it is OBLIVION. FINIS, in a manner, is a summation of all my books, of my lifelong beliefs."

Clearly in the above quote DeCasseres makes it clear that this book is an authoritative reliable summation of his philosophy.

In this article however, I will be focussing only upon his ontology and attempt to elucidate what he wrote in the first chapter of Finis entitled "THE IRRELATIVITY OF ALL RELATIVES" in which he laid bare his ontological views concerning existence.
1 He begins by stating that "whatever is, is relative". For the sake of clarity "Relative" in this context means "something dependent upon external conditions for its specific nature etc. (opposed to absolute )." As defined by
In this first chapter he makes it clear that this is how he is using the term "Relative" when he stated quote:

"What we mean by a relative universe is that one thing (any thing) can only be known (we can only become conscious of it) through some other thing. Black is known because of white, I because of you, water because of land, pain because of pleasure, etc., etc., ad infinitum. The external universe is only known because it is related to an internal universe—the brain, the consciousness, the emotions. All, then, is relative. All is interdependent."

We like to think of ourselves as discrete autonomous beings, but in "reality" we are contingent codependent arisings. That is we are —along with everything else only existing in relation to other things. Things (that is shapes, relational properties) could not exist without the nothing—ness of space surrounding them. One could ask the question "if everything was red how would you know?". When this emerges that emerges, when this disappears that disappears. It should be noted however that this notion of a contingent relative existence is nothing novel on his part but is actually found in the Buddhist doctrine of "codependent origination".
In this context he is using the term existence to mean "that which stands out".

DeCasseres however is not satisfied to stop there but probes further. He asks "But to what is the sum of all relatives related?". He realizes that "relatives" cannot logically be an absolute or ultimate since such would be a contradiction. To put it another way if the sum total of all relatives (or the some total of existence) is not related to anything then the relative becomes the "absolute" and therefore he concludes that the "relative" ( or that which stands out) must be an illusion. An absolute doesn't exist in relation to anything else, and if the sum total of relatives is not related to anything then it is an absolute which we have already seen is a logical contradiction.
DeCasseres is using the term absolute (again to borrow from to mean "something that is free from any restriction or condition, something that is independent of some or all relations." An absolute is not relational and has no opposite. In other words it is not relative, it is not contingent. The human organism along with all other organisms are contingent upon certain conditions which are in tern contingent upon other conditions (or relations).
The absolute by its very nature is not "that which stands out" and thus does not exist. Thus the absolute cannot be an object of knowledge for an "object" is by its very nature relative to what it is not.(space and other opposites).

He then concludes that you and I as a provisional nexus of opposites and contrasts have no ultimate existence but really exist in "The Absolute".
We are the absolute experiencing itself and experience cannot happen without relationships. Thus the absolute experiences it self as relational properties or as separate and fragmented. That is as relatives.
In his book Chameleon: Being a Book of MySelves he speaks of man as "a phenomenal fragment on an infinite sea of being".
And in the same book he refers to the Absolute as "The Nothing Everything". Or to quote from his poetic magnum opus Anathema: Litanies of Negation

"I reverse all axioms. Out of nothing comes some- thing, as a god is born of the air; out of something comes nothing, as all things return to me."

And later in his book Chameleon he said quote:

"The Star sees itself through the medium of the human eye. And the moon shines on itself".

"The star", "the human eye", and "the moon" are ultimately only concepts. Thus  "the star" "the human" "the eye" and "the moon" along with every other so called "thing" are really one process with no absolute distinctions. Concepts are one way in which The Self (the Absolute) carves itself up into relatives.
In a sense then no things exist, only process, occasion, event. That is, ultimately even from a 3rd person perspective only the seamless absolute exists and not an endless collection of "things" or relatives.

Or as Alan What's explained:
"..."Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you're a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off and don't feel that we're still the big bang, but you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually—if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning—you're not something that's a result of the big bang. You're not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you I see not just what you define yourself as...I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I'm that too, but we've learned to define ourselves as separate from it." ~Alan Watts...

DeCasseres had many names for his deity.
The Irrelative Absolute
The Super—Infinite
The Super—Consciousness
The God of Negation
The Great Necromancer
The Super-Naught
And so on...
For DeCasseres The Absolute (or "God" if you want to call it that) is not conscious or aware of anything as a whole.  However, as little localized portions it experiences itself as little selves "individuals" which as already stated are ultimately merely an illusion of separateness and relativity.
The "in it self" is absolute nothingness. In the 3rd chapter of Finis DeCasseres wrote the following concerning the Absolute he labels Oblivion.

"for all of mind and all of matter and space and time and all that has ever existed or that ever will exist are such "stuff as dreams are made on"—and the extensionless Dreamer is Oblivion whose other names are Timeless Eternity and Spaceless Infinity."

The absolute is by definition not a thing or relational property but is whole and limitless and therefore cannot be in actuality fragmented.
Relatives, (that which stands out) only "exist" as illusions or maya!

In his book Anathema: Litanies of Negation he writes:

"With you I have labored through the Uncon- scious, through the waste-matter of worlds and forms, evolving the eternal Illusion—we the tools and the scaffolding, the elaborate experiment in Time of a God sick of his error, who struggles up through the morass of our souls to the citadel of our final negation."

And in his book Chameleon: Being A Book of Myselves he refers to the Absolute as "The Self".

"All the waves of Time can be held at peace in the lap of the mind, all delusions can be held in the pupil of the eye, and the mouth of pain can be twisted into a smile.
Against the infinite screen of Self the world-shadows come and go, and the fireflies of knowledge emit their light and fall dead forever, and Chance undulates in countless waves, or swirls or spouts, bearing peoples and nations to the crest and silently dropping them into the hollows of Oblivion. Against the screen of Self is all this pictured and each one may see it, for each is that Self.  If the objects of the so-called material universe are nothing but states of consciousness, then there is no one particular state of consciousness that has a greater validity than any other state of consciousness.

Thus DeCasseres' pantheism consists of an irrelative absolute which spins a web of illusory relatives and experiences itself as the opposite of what it (not an it) really is. Or as he so eloquently put in Anathema: Litanies of Negation;

"I walk through the woods flecked with the gold-leaf of noontime, drowsy with whispers, and the oaks bend to me, and the birds call to me (or is it I who chant gayly from their throats?).
I dandle the sea on my knee and allow it to slap me in the face with its foam as one allows a child so to do. It knows me, the space-eater, menstruum of time, avatar of the Inscrutable...
Thus do I sport in the hippodrome of the Cosmos, drinking sometimes at the founts of the finite, lounging through the Louvres of creation, sometimes at watch from the eye of the Sphinx, or nonchalantly watching the hens warm me out of an egg. For verily I am a sportsman."

 Paradoxically then, the illusion of relative existence cannot exist without the absolute irrelative and is yet ultimately not separate from it. The absolute cannot be imaged or it would not be the absolute.

It should also be noted that unlike vedanta the absolute is not ultimately some kind of pure awareness or consciousness. Consciousness and awareness is contingent and can arise only when there is something (or an illusion of something) to be aware of.
Thus consciousness or awareness cannot be Absolute.
However, I would also like to make clarify that the subject and object are one and according to DeCasseres this can be realized through a kind of Super—Consciouness. Quote:

In these moments we know that all our states of mind--personality itself--are merely a lower activity of that Super-Consciousness. it is not known through thought. It is felt as a Presence when there is the least conscious thought in mind, it is known, comprehended, with a degree of certainty to which a transitory state of mind can never attain. It comes as a supreme Awareness, abolishes by absorbing, object and subject, Time and Space.

It seems to me that this kind of awareness allows one to momentarily return to the source (so to speak).
Perhaps it was His view that this kind of subject—object dissolving awareness was achieved in the heights of the evolutionary process (or evolving oblivion as he puts it)
In his book "Finis", in a chapter called "THE PRESENCE: Hymn of a Nihilist to OBLIVION:" he wrote:

"My pain and my pleasure are unknown to Thee as a moth is unknown to the lamp, 0 Presence ! Black with despair or rubescent with joy, I walk in Thee, 0 Presence ! Sleeping, I drift in Thee like a blind fish. Waking, I sail the boat of my soul on Thy Being, 0 Presence ! When I have acclaimed Thee there is no applause. When I have cursed Thee there is no frown, for Thou knowest me not, 0 Presence !"

Thus the above quote clearly shows that The absolute is not as a whole aware of its myriad of finite selves and only as a particular manifestation of a finite self does awareness emerge.
Consciousness is not fundamental. The absolute is not just pure awareness or as the Buddha noted:

“There is, brethren, a condition wherein there is neither earth nor water, nor fire, nor air, nor the sphere of infinite space nor the sphere of infinite consciousness, nor the sphere of the void, nor the sphere of perception nor non-perception; where there is no 'this world' and no 'world beyond' ; where there is no moon and no sun. That condition, brethren, do I call neither a coming nor a going nor a standing still nor a falling away nor a rising up. It is without fixity, without mobility, without basis. THAT IS THE END OF WOE."

In other words the "in it self", Absolute or God is absolute No—Thing—ness. If it helps Think of his notion of the absolute as the distinction—less black board upon which stories are written, the un manifest from which manifestations (or that which stands out) appear. Or as DeCasseres put it "the un create Nil".  In the 3rd chapter of Finis DeCasseres wrote the following concerning the Absolute he refers to as Oblivion.

"for all of mind and all of matter and space and time and all that has ever existed or that ever will exist are such "stuff as dreams are made on"—and the extensionless Dreamer is Oblivion whose other names are Timeless Eternity and Spaceless Infinity."

Ultimately then, consciousness is part of the illusion. That is ultimately the separation between "subject" and "object" doesn't exist but the illusion of such must exist in order for there to be awareness of a thing. The subject and object are one and neither are fundamental. To put it another way when the moon (the object) shines on the subject or "the human eye" it is actually shining on it Self. Since again, everything is reality one process and these particulars are ultimately only useful concepts or ways of configuration. When the eye dissolves there is no awareness of shining because awareness is a process and when that process dissolves there is only Oblivion which is the Absolute Irrelative. The ultimate fundamental. The Ultimate, the source— the "no—state" from which states emerge for a while and then pass back into Oblivion. Like a finite wave emerging from an infinite sea only to merge once again. While there is wave there is distinction (that which stands out) but ultimately no separation ever occurs. There is only the infinite.
Everything is really the Nothing—Everything. Man is quote "a phenomenal fragment, a temporal circumstance, a momentary coagulation of debris on the infinite sea of Being."

The Absolute may experience it Self as little localized selves but this misperceiving is the mirage of Maya! That is a product of the illusion of fragmentation.

"The individual is God differentiated."

One further example of an illusion (or Maya) would be how we platonically think of objects moving through time and space, when they are in actuality all one. If we were to speed up time we could better see the seamless fluidity of reality.
One more example could be the appearance of solidity. That is there appears to be solid objects but we now know that what we think of and feel as solid, is actually 99.999999999999 % empty.
"Things" don't pass through things because they are levitating on an electrostatic field. When you sit on a chair, you may think that you are touching it, but that is a kind of Maya of the senses.
All that is existence, is that which "stands out" which is ultimately Maya.

"we do not live in a world of substantials, but in a world of pure relations, which are the uniting link of cognition between illusions"
Chapter 2 of Finis by Benjanmin DeCasseres

Copyright © 2015 by James Theodore Stillwell III

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1 comment:

  1. My latest essay. On DeCasseresian—Nihilism is concerning the ontological nihilism of Benjamin DeCasseres.