PANTA RHEI AND THE PERSISTENCE OF OLD PREMISES: A METALOGUE BETWEEN HERACLITUS AND MARCUS AURELIUS[1]

ABSTRACT

A ‘metalogue,’ a literary exercise first used by Gregory Bateson in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, is an imagined dialogue on “some problematic subject.”[2] This metalogue is a fictional conversation between Greek philosopher Heraclitus and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. This exercise understands Aurelius’ Meditations as proposing a theory of universal flux (contradictorily) through an Aristotelian epistemology of the mind/body split. The problem in question is that Aurelius has made claim to eternal knowledge or supernatural proximity with God at the price of severing the body from the mind. Because of this split built into his whole philosophy of life, the cryptic flow of Heraclitus’ reasoning is unacceptably incomplete and hazy to him. Heraclitus confronts Aurelius to make apparent the irony of applying words of epistemological and ontological fluidity to, ultimately, produce a body of imperial strategy. This metalogue attempts to implicate both Aurelius and Heraclitus in the process of learning about the nature of the world of which their own assumptions are a part, as they orient themselves through the oddities of this context.

KEYWORDS: flux, strife, mind-body split

*

Marcus Aurelius: “Always bear in mind what Heraclitus said… men forget where the way leads… and they are at odds with that with which they most constantly associate… And what they meet with everyday seems strange to them… we should not act and speak like men asleep” (Kahn, 31).[3] Hear me. The Roman man’s sense of duty to the Gods awakes him from his base bodily existence. Only in war, the utmost expression of the most venerable governing state, does he relinquish this sweet slumber in oblivion and implement his prayers—

Heraclitus: You man, have you no second thought that what might appear as such, may not be? I am stirred from the underworld in this dialogue with you by no reason or logic I can fathom, but now I may be inclined to think that it is of no God’s gamble that we meet.

Aurelius: Are you…—

Heraclitus: The conditions by which we perceive and communicate have changed, and continue to change after we have both partaken of our distinct lives in Rome and Ephesus—and perhaps there is something that needs clarification between us.

Aurelius: Nothing harmful indeed comes from doubting what the reason and rule of Divine Nature has composed for us, yet this is the most unnatural phenomenon. I ask, bizarre old man in tawdry rags: why have you barged in here—wherever ‘here’ is—and interrupted my speech?

Heraclitus: You have made this happen, Marcus, not the will of the gods, not supreme rational purpose—you have made me appear here through your love of speeches. I estimate that the time and space you have been occupying has paused, or has been relocated for our talk. I do not expect you to comprehend this temporary relocation, for neither can I in its entirety. I ask of you, however, to surrender to it out of necessity—like you would surrender to the god that you believe is seated in you. Since my appearance drew you away from your council, I speculate that my disappearance will instigate your return. Nothing will be changed, except everything that evades your control.

Aurelius: What sort of sly contrivance is this? Even if you are the great Hēraclītus of a time before me, how are you governing my existence so, blundering like livestock in mud? Reverse this trick and take me back.

…Or maybe not. Perhaps it is a test of my virtue to accept this moment as it has presented itself. Very well then. As a Roman, a statesman, a ruler, I will accept this meeting as the will of the gods and quash any scepticism, for nothing the Whole-Nature makes occur is of bad deed or intention. But you have not answered my initial question: why are we here?

Heraclitus: Countless others after me have reached and grappled with mere splinters attributed to my name… some too worn to be reclaimed, some blatant hearsay.[4] Yet, I am not here to police the epea and erga of those who cannot defend themselves here.[5] You, however, with your straight back and thick shoulders cloaked in the finest crimsons and golds, have used my words on numerous occasions to vindicate your attitudes and objectives—with no regard for mine, the flow of my larger situation or intention. This face I forget myself remains illustrated still through your gaze and touch, but it is a further clouded, distorted face that I must squint at and ultimately presume the resemblance.

Aurelius: Please address me as ‘Emperor’. So you are here to accuse me of leaving integrity behind when using your words? Why do you doubt my honour, my virtuous way of life, my wealth of knowledge!

Heraclitus: I am not accusing you of anything, Marcus. I repeat: perhaps there is something that needs clarification between us.

Aurelius: My title is ‘Emperor’! If only you knew who I am, what I do, the depths and breadths of my duties, my job as leader of the imperial world… Well then, why will you not just tell me what that ‘something’ is? I cannot decide if your evasiveness is a greyhaired philosopher’s strategema [military strategy or intellectual artifice], or just a silly old man’s trickery.

Heraclitus:  It has come to my knowledge that you have made claim to a notion of Man seated alongside gods, in eternal wisdom and transcendence of spirit, at the price of severing the body from the mind. This is the precise locus of my grievance, and perhaps why we are ‘here’.

Aurelius: [not listening] Since you will not be clear in your own quest for clarity, let us start from the fundamentals. I draw upon you to reflect on physis, the genuine nature or structure of mankind and of the world at large. From Thales of Miletus’ natural philosophy I set my basis that it is in eternal impermanence man’s life ebbs and flows, and the immediacy of his attachments and desires are as insignificant as the annual detritus of an old tree.[6] Surely, you agree with me that it is in accordance with a larger nature that man exercises his reason inviolate, nurturing the divinity that is within him, a microcosm of the Sacred Whole. Reason, and Reason alone, redeems him from the illusions of the senses, the immorality of impulses, and the rot of the body. [7]

Heraclitus: “Nature (physis) loves to hide” (Kahn, 33). The true character of a thing delights in hiding. Indeed, the true nature of man, and the world itself, is the prize of wisdom mined by philosophical gold-seekers—but it is not there for the taking (105).

Aurelius: You say so yourself then! Men must “travel the roads of nature” into the realm of existence separate from the anxiety and capriciousness of worldly desires (Staniforth, 44).

Heraclitus: It is, and it is not.

Aurelius: Do you think this is child’s play? Why must you ridicule my sincerity?!

Heraclitus: You mistake sincerity for stubborn rigidity. It is true that wisdom comes to those who are hard at work, searching for that which can never be found. Yet it is from the senses, the skein of perceptible change granted by experience that the logos of the world could think of revealing itself.[8]

“Whatever comes from sight, hearing, learning from experience: this I prefer” (Kahn, 35). Men in their confusion pray to statues, as if they are carrying on conversations with the Gods—this convenient assumption of the dogmas of poets only deters the quest for true knowledge (G.S. Kirk, et al., 209).[9] Like and unlike you, I agreed with Thales in my lifetime that the act of explaining natural phenomena must be scientific and endlessly propositional (as opposed to an act of making them conform to mythic stencils), needing close investigation and attention with the soul. For this, the philosopher must learn the language of the world with which it speaks to men without stutter. Your Reason, I presume, is nothing more that the capacity to participate in this life of language.

Aurelius: Reason, and the act of reasoning, is a purely self-sufficient faculty… it is from sources in itself that it acquires its impetus, not faltering in the sight of its own selfappointed goals (Staniforth, 51). The one true goal is to say and do in accordance to the Whole-Nature, to execute and fulfill Zeus’ decrees for the sake of his well-being and well-doing. Sight, hearing—the Good man must cleanse his soul from such illusions of the flesh, the emotions of his lesser self! Have you yourself not condemned the god Dionysus as the god of the dead in Egypt?

Heraclitus: I admit, I could never come to see in Dionysus the qualities that redeem him, and for me he will always be the beardless boy that leads men drunk, stumbling, not perceiving where he is going, having his soul moist (Kahn, 77). I hold true that madness and drunkenness is psychic death; Dionysus allows men to forget themselves in a sheer pursuit of what you disdain as mere flesh, the “sins of desire in which pleasure dominates, indicating a more self-indulgent and womanish disposition” (Aurelius, 14).

Aurelius: So you have read my Meditations in the underworld! Aye. “The capacity for sensation belongs also to the stalled ox; the wild beast, homosexual, Nero or Phalaris” (Aurelius, 27).

Heraclitus: Yet… if this meeting allows the free play of interpretation, I trust that it also must be free from deceit. In truth, it is the Fire I saw in the Dionysian spirit that terrified me, the Fire that is an unending cycle of need and satiety. Cosmic Fire is and is not eternal; it materializes air and powers the psyche of men for all time, but it also dies to give birth to water. But Fire alone, as a phenomenon retreating inwards so as to impose itself onto the world—fire as “the drunk passion (thymos) that buys whatever it wants at the expense of the soul”—this I always feared and loathed (Kahn, 77).[10] But the one true ‘always,’ the eternal verity governing man’s life, is change…

Aurelius: Despite your honesty, which indeed is a virtue of World-Nature, I cannot accept your feeble attempt to rewrite your words and opinions on the nature of objects of sense. Sight, hearing, all that the animalistic body ‘feels’ will lure us into base pleasures, affright us with pain, or sway us in self-conceit. How shoddy and abhorrent such delusions are, how degenerate, and how quickly fading and dead!

Heraclitus: “Into the same river no man can step twice” (Bateson, 13). Have you yourself not taken to these words, which you attribute to my name? The kosmos in its entirety is ‘quickly fading’, a world of eternal flux. In a context where the image of water flowing by is useful to you, change is fine, but I see that it is not so when the fact of change in man’s material life, as well as his experience and ways of thinking, brings you anxiety.

Aurelius: Why, I have only used your words to convey the truth of man’s life as short and capricious, worth nothing in the grand totality of Being. “His being is in incessant flux, his senses a dim rush light, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful” (Aurelius, 17-18). Matters to do with the body are as coursing waters, but the work of the philosopher keeps permanent the divine spirit in him, and transcends all pleasure and pain.

Heraclitus: Before any kosmos is made perceptible to you, there is and always was chaos and then Gaia (McEwan, 61). The pleasures and pains of earthly existence, and the earliest, ageless gap of uncertainty is the ‘Being’ you speak about—endemic to the world and therefore your experience of it. Are you saying that the world must be transcended?

Aurelius: Of course not! The man who seeks to transcend the world is far from being a philosopher, but is “an excrescence on the world, when he disassociates and dissevers himself from the laws of our common nature by refusing to accept his lot” (Aurelius, 36).

Heraclitus: Are you seeing the conflict in your reasoning? I am inclined to think that the Reason you herald as divine is only making explicit the epistemological arduousness of grasping such a structure as ‘divine spirit’ or cosmic logos—which is also recognition of the self. You do not see this because you do not want to. Your duties, your coveted role in your governing state, wills you to tread purposively on a single route: to secure yourself within your beliefs of transcendence, progression, and achievement. These beliefs have become something like natural laws for you, they seem as effortless and transparent as a river flowing in the direction it has always flowed: but I am here to tell you something otherwise.

The philosopher is always in a state of lack, as often as he cries ecstatic in life (Plato, 80-84).[11] Experience of this logos, or ‘World-Nature’ as you may call it, lies in something other than disembodied rationality, perhaps in the realm of perceiving these ‘opposites’ as one, silence as communication, conflict as justice.

Aurelius: What I mean by World-Nature is the essence of being behind all things. The thingness of things, its inconstant, decaying material existence, is not a part of the World that is divine, all-knowing, free from all pain and mischief. Because of the cosmic flaws of our bodies, the world as we ‘feel’ it is an illusion.

Heraclitus: Ah, therein lies the difference between you and me. The body is indeed different from the soul, the soul being like water and the body solid, yet it is the body that allows that soul to perceive. There is no separation: “from all things one and from one thing all” (Kahn, 85). Like you say, man must recognize himself in the world, and the world in him.

Aurelius: I say something of that nature, but also I do not. (I am beginning to sound like you! What is happening?!) I say that as a part—infinitely miniscule compared to the Whole—man inheres in the Whole.

Heraclitus: So to you, man and nature are separate entities, while being made of the same stuff?

Aurelius: Yes, but I must emphasize that man is a momentary speck of the stuff that the Whole-Nature is, was, and eternally will be. He is indeed separated, estranged from the source as he is possessed by the brute forces of everyday, animalistic life. Yet man, good, noble man who lives in accordance with the ordinance of reason, will vanish into that which gave him birth. He will be transmuted back into the creative Reason of the universe (Staniforth, 32).

Heraclitus: A far-away foreigner I want to draw your attention to would agree with you, up until you make the separation between part and whole. I believe he is addressed as Gregory Bateson of ‘England’, which in your time you know as part of the Roman province of Britannia. You were not yet born when the Roman conquest of Britannia took place, when Julius Caesar conquered the Britons, a people already assimilated by other Celtic tribes. You and I are far dead when, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Britain is then invaded by Germanic tribes or the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ as they are known, then occupied by the Normans originating from Scandinavia, and so on.

This Bateson, coming from what he would call a ‘muddle’ of origins, believed that such a recognition of amalgamation and concurrence was the central matter of aisthesis: sense perception in recognizing matters of ethics, how to be and act in an ‘ecology’ larger than oneself.

Aurelius: Your after-years have taken an absurd turn, old man. Who is this strange man you talk about? Do you really expect me to humour the thoughts of an obscure brute from the provinces?

Heraclitus: He was so fond of quoting me during his lifetime, much like you, that I had to see for myself. He gleaned from the fragments that are left of me that my logos was in fact scientific inquiry, which is desire to build an all-embracing view of the universe that would at once show what Man is, and his locus within the rest of the universe. He believed that the world I was trying to conceive was an ethical and aesthetic one, a world in which, if man accepts erroneous and delusory ideas regarding his own soul, he will be led to a profoundly immoral and ugly state of existence.[12] I will give you a fragment, make of it what you will:

It is the attempt to separate intellect from emotion that is monstrous, and I suggest that it is equally monstrous—and dangerous—to attempt to separate the external mind from the internal. Or to separate mind from body. 

Epistemological error is all right, it’s fine, up to the point at which you create around yourself a universe in which that error becomes immanent in monstrous changes of the universe that you have created and now try to live in (Bateson, 470; 493).[13]

 And another, related but not very explicitly, which he could not make in his lifetime but set the context for his daughter, Mary Catherine, to hint at:

…Aesthetic unity is very close to the notions of systemic integration and holistic perception. And arguably the appreciation of a work of art is a  recognition, perhaps again a recognition of the self (Bateson and Bateson, 199).

Aurelius: Such peculiar words! And you would say the interpretation of this odd spirit with an even odder name is superior to mine?

Heraclitus: No—but it is precisely the nature of that question that reveals the scaffolding of your epistemological framework. What this odd man saw was something I had hidden beneath the surface of the epea you so readily co-opt as the premises of your politicoethical doctrine. He understood that to speak plainly about such a subject as the logos of the universe would be to falsify it in the telling.[14] No genuine understanding would be communicated in the act of determining one entity over the other, or in outright declaration of what-is and what is happening. The truth in these matters is so odd and complex, they succeed in escaping our recognition (Kahn, 69).[15]

Aurelius: What, then, is the purpose of words and language at all, if you do not use it—or cannot use it, that might please your more—for the sake of directing the good will of people, and cultivating the virtuosity of the human soul?

Heraclitus: This is the paradox of hyponoia [underlying meaning], with nothing (and everything) to do with your notion of ‘purpose.’[16] “The lord whose oracle is in Delphi neither declares nor conceals, but gives a sign” (Kahn, 69). My Greek counterparts are familiar with this paradox of ‘giving a sign,’ uttering one thing that in turn gestures towards another, in image, sound, ambiguous wording, and so on. Hyponoia enlarges the dimensionality of phronēsis, intelligence and acts of intelligence, but also might annihilate thinking itself—dull one’s mind into a humid lethargy. The stimulating vastness of such plurality and complexity of meaning might thrust you in a state of hypnosis. The rule of hyponoia might be described by saying the taut physis of a thing is always hinted at, but never expressed.[17] Yet this mysteriousness or unknowing does not mean that one must, as you say, “forget your books” (Staniforth, 11).

Aurelius: When man’s end comes, he must not argue with his fate but meet it with dignity and pure gratitude for the gods (Staniforth, 11). Books, learning from the minds of other men, only instil the illusion that he can think differently and beyond the will of the gods, when he must accept what happens to him by his own free will (47).[18] The world, or the supreme unified Reason governing it, will never do him true wrong—so there is no value to indulging in uncertainties.

Heraclitus: I repeat, my inquiry is one of aesthetics, but also of ethics, like you. From this, I fear that what you have just uttered is also what emperors and autarchs in the best place say to their men in the worst place.[19] But you, Emperor, must understand the purposive efficiencies of such, the way such beliefs justify your militant conquests… Yet, that is a whole other foot to put down in the river, perhaps at a different time and place. It seems that my time here is coming to a close; for it may be that this co-incidence operates on a word count. Gaia’s shadow beckons our return.

Aurelius: But you have not clarified anything for me! You merely submit declarations you may have made or have not—I do not even know if they were made during a symposium or in the privacy of your bed or on the toilet. You have not made explicit your own interpretative stance, so who’s to say what is wrong or right?

Won Jeon
Western University
NOTES

1. panta rhei – all things flow

2. A metalogue ‘happens’ beneath the surface of the logical flow of time or space, or between the differences and disjunctions between the two people participating in it. Distinct positions are presented, but are not fixed; the thoughts, logic, and language of the players necessarily evolve to adapt to the shifting context of their interaction. The structure of the metalogue embodies the structure of the contrapuntal nature of ideas it is about; that is, something new and potentially insightful about both of them, and the ideas in general, can emerge in a playful interface of differences. See Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 3-58.

3. Quotations are ‘directly’ drawn from scholarly material on Heraclitus and Aurelius. The reader may keep in mind that the directness of quoting words, especially when encountering the epigrammatical, fragmented state of Heraclitus’ work, is an unreliable practice when approached with the goal of obtaining hermeneutical certainty. The reader must have in mind, then, that the following words cannot be taken as anything other than an imaginative rendering.

Not only do words and their meaning change through the constant transmission, translation, and recontextualization of the texts through time, but by its very nature, Heraclitus’ work, as deliberately obscure metaphysical assertions that either began as double-binding aphorisms or, left as fragments from his lost essays, ended up that way, is inevitably fragmented. Aurelius’ philosophy is also epigrammatical, but is not fragmented by comparison. Although acknowledging the complications that come from this largely ‘said to have said’ transmission of aphorisms and ideas, this metalogue encounters and perhaps enacts an inevitable distance of ideas from a linear and ‘reliable’ system of attribution. Perhaps this unreliability or instability of meaning is an unlikely, but necessary precursor by which such a dialogue can be imagined.

4. In the metaloguing universe, Heraclitus seems to be aware, at least in general, of the vast tradition of philosophers and other scholars that have transferred his fragments, or fragments of his fragments, into the frames of their own respective projects—and in contradicting ways more often than not. Heraclitus is infamous for much obscurity and uncertainty of interpretation. From the long tradition of ‘biographical fiction’ that attempted to define Heraclitus as a bizarre mythical figure (i.e. Diogenes description of him as a misanthrope withdrawn from the world who ended up burying himself in dung, or the Romans’ characterization of Heraclitus as the ‘weeping philosopher’ that humorously plays upon his idea that all things flow like rivers) to the reductive forms of Heracliteanism by the likes of Cratylus and the Stoics, the surviving fragments are located within vast and different underlying contexts or layers of diachronic meaning. At this meta-level of conversation, however, Heraclitus wishes to hone in his thought away from the noise, and speak to Marcus for a specific ‘cause’: towards some sort of disclosure of the multilevelled repercussions of the mind-body split, and of Aurelius’ hubris in trying to excise and contain a piece of the flow in order to grasp it eternally.

Kirk et al. suggest that the surviving fragments take the form of oral pronouncements or apophthegms, “concise, striking, and therefore memorable […] they do not resemble extracts from a continuous written work” (184). In keeping with this oracular tradition, the reader may imagine a lively conversation spared from the diachronic noise.

5. epea – words erga – facts, work, deeds

6. Marcus Aurelius biographer Anthony Birley notes that the Stoic system was divided into three main sections, logic (theory of knowledge and the study of language), physics (theology, metaphysics, the natural sciences), and ethics (pursuit of eudaimonia [the good life]). Aurelius is evoking the common metaphor used by the Stoics to illustrate these branches of Stoicism as practiced: logic is a wall that protects the trees, physics the trees themselves, and ethics the fruit borne from the trees (Birley, 98-99). The detritus of the tree, the inevitable but foul waste products of the bones and flesh and blood of the philosophy, Aurelius would ascribe to the dependencies and desires of the body.

7. Birley clarifies that Aurelius never identifies himself as a Stoic. There is a four hundred year gap between the early lectures of Zeno, the founder of the school, and Aurelius’ birth, and Aurelius never refers to Zeno or his successor Cleanthes. Yet by virtue of the context of his education, he adopts various Stoic teachings in his Meditations. Aurelius records the names of the philosophical friends and teachers that have influenced him in the opening of the text: Claudius Maximus, Sextus of Chaeronea, and Cinna Catulus, who have all cultivated a traditional Roman philosophy of life by way of Stoic teachings and Antoninus Pius’ demonstration (Birley, 98).

A central premise of the Stoic school that Aurelius puts forward is the ‘rational principle’—logos—which animates the universe, and gives way to virtue at the scale of a man, the sole good in human life. The acquisition and understanding of virtue depends on individual human will—a man’s capacity to learn to live in harmony with nature. Logos, however, is also identified with fate or divine providence: the will of the gods that ensure the man will stay on a virtuous and meaningful path (Birley, 99-100). The central premise of logos and virtue is indeed a central contradiction in Stoic thought and perhaps Aurelius’ Meditations, a contradiction that perhaps emerges in heralding the ‘Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man’ as man denies his own bodily existence. The dynamics of this metalogue begins from and returns to this central contradiction.

8. “Listening not to me but to the Logos it is wise to agree that all things are one.” “Those who speak of sense must rely on what is common to all, as a city must rely on its law, and with much greater reliance. For the laws of men are nourished by one law, the divine law; for it has as much power as it wishes and is sufficient for all and is still left over.” (Kirk, et. al., 187; 203). From observing the eternal flux of natural changes of all kinds occurring in regular and balanced patterns, Heraclitus presumed a notion of unity that seems inherent to the systemic behaviour of the world itself. When he spoke of god or divine law, he spoke of logos: the fact of the world ordering and maintaining itself in accordance to a common constituent of things—a ‘knowledge’ that governs the dynamics of the kosmos. The same logos governed a man’s soul in proper relation with the world: the endless flux of human experience and knowledge itself is in relation to some sort of measure or ordering that keeps the human soul in a taut balance, from the excesses of retreating into private folly or losing oneself in public opinion. The sense experience of a man with sense enlarges and enriches his relation with the world at large.

9. From fragments iterated by Aristocritus and Clement of Alexandria, G.S. Kirk et al. understand Heraclitus to have ridiculed the anthropomorphism and idolatry of the contemporary Olympian religion. It was not the idea of divinity and worship that he was opposed to, but the form and process of ravenous celebration (i.e. ritual) that Heraclitus believed was misguiding. This also attests to his lifelong disdain for the god Dionysus and his institution of bacchanal undoing, which will be addressed explicitly later on. Aristocritus quotes this Heraclitean fragment in Theosophia:“They vainly purify themselves with blood, as though one who had stepped into mud were to wash in mud… Further, they pray to these statues, as if one were to carry on a conversation with houses, not recognizing the true nature of gods or demi-gods.” And Clement in Protrepticus: “The secret rites practised among men are celebrated in an unholy manner.”

10. Kahn writes in a footnote: “Thymos: heart, spirit, mind; passion, desire; manly spirit, courage; anger, rage: the last sense is understood here by ancient authors.”

11. Socrates recalls Diotima recalling that the philosopher is a lover of wisdom; since love is born from Poros and Penia, or Plenty and Poverty, the lover of wisdom exists within a mean between the two. The philosopher lives in a state of eternal, but potentially creative ambiguity—or, an eternal concurrence of opposites.

Kahn traces the Heraclitean influence on Platonic thought, ranging from the claim that ‘all nature is akin’ in Meno (81C9), to attributing to Heraclitus the notion of elemental cycles in Timaeus (49Bff.) (). Aristotle also identifies Cratylus of Athens, the best known fifth century Heraclitean, as one of Plato’s teachers in Metaphysics (987a32) (). Plato mentions him mainly in a humorous or ironical way, as the universal theorist of flux, and Aristotle accepted this flux-interpretation and carried it further. What both Plato and Aristotle may have overlooked was the fact that many of the Presocratic thinkers, especially the Ionic thinkers that preceded Heraclitus (i.e. Thales, Anaximander, Xenophanes) were struck by the dominance of change in the world of experience. Heraclitus surely was more dramatic in this expression of change, but what is unacknowledged in the flux-interpretation is his complementary idea of measure inhering in change, the stability of logos that persists through flux, that was of utmost importance to him.

12. “If I had been asked fifteen years ago what I understood about the word materialism, I think I should have said that materialism is a theory about the nature of the universe, and I would have accepted as a matter of course the notion that this theory is in some sense nonmoral. […] I would have been discarding the less respectable views of such men as Heraclitus, the alchemists, William Blake, Lamarck, and Samuel Butler. For these the motive for scientific inquiry was the desire to build a comprehensive view of the universe which should show what Man is and how he is related to the rest of the universe. The picture which these men were trying to build was ethical and aesthetic” (Bateson, 264-265).

13. Heraclitus’ gesture in bringing this fragment in his reply indicates that he himself is learning at another meta-level from this distant and odd successor: perhaps Aurelius is not wrong to seek permanence and eternity, a solid ground perhaps adjacent to the river to stand and observe on. He is mistaken, however, to think he can reach it with disembodied words—with maps that only cloak, if not blot out the territory. One could imagine that Bateson’s words resonate as that which suggests sense (bodily and mentally, without a firm line between) of boundary-less flow that is ‘eternal.’

14. If this metalogue occurred via a cinematic medium, the scene would cut to Aurelius’ face flinching in utmost confusion when Heraclitus delivers this line. The basis of Stoicism and Aurelius’ ethical doctrine in Meditations is that knowledge is attainable for the rational, living being who occupies space in the rational, living being that is the universe (Birley, 99). Logic as the study of knowledge and language included the study of syllogistic argument and dialectic: how to make logical maps of the universe wholly containing, and therefore being, that which it aims to know.

Gregory Bateson, drawing from Alfred Korzybski’s general semantics, the poetry of William Blake, and Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell’s theory of logical types in Principia Mathematica, among others, suggests how such a fallacious and detrimental belief (now seeped into the level of presuppositions) gives way to mass maladjustments in human adaptation at various scales of the individual, society, and ecosystem. Bateson writes: “You will remember that St. Paul boasted, ‘I was born free.’ What he meant was that he was born Roman, and that this had certain legal advantages. […] St. Paul’s ambition, and the ambition of the downtrodden, is always to get on the side of the imperialists—to become middle class imperialists themselves—and it is doubtful whether creating more members of the civilization which we are here criticizing is a solution to the problem. […] I want to consider the dynamics of the whole traditional pathology in which we are caught, and in which we shall remain as long as we continue to struggle within that old conflict. We just go round and round in terms of the old premises” (Bateson, 432-433).

See “Conscious Purpose versus Nature,” Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 432-445.

15. An interpretation of Heraclitus’ maxim: “Incredibility (apistiē – untrustworthiness, unreliability, incredulity) escapes recognition (ginōskein).”

16. Plutarch writes in De audiendis poetic (4.19) that hyponoia was the term which the “ancients” had used imbue resonances of hidden meaning, a conjectural or suppositious ‘feeling’, veiled by the literal surface. The noetic character of hyponoia urges the the reader or listener to see through labels and identifications that seek to expose and exhibit meaning as obtainable and consumable truth. In a work of art, hyponoia may gesture towards its latent theme or suffusing aura. Hyponoia could be understood as the mystery, the secret, the unexpressed, unseen, nonliteral, or simply intelligible dimension of eros in what is other. See: Plato (Republic II. 378d), Euripides (Phoenicians 1131-33), Aristophanes (Frogs 1425-31), Xenophon (Symposium III, 6).

17. “An unapparent connection is stronger than an apparent one.” [Hippolytus]

“The real constitution is accustomed to hide itself.” [Themistius]

“They do not apprehend how being at variance it agrees with itself: there is a back-stretched connection, as in the bow and lyre.” [Hippolytus] (Kirk, et al., 192). Heraclitus’ metaphor of the back-stretched connection resonates with his understanding of logos: the image of the archer’s stance when the bowstring has been pulled back as far as possible, or the strings of the lyre stretched tightly for a tense middle space where music may sound, all gesture towards the central wisdom of logos as a unity constitutive of ongoing taut strife between opposites. Logos as analogous structure or the common arrangement in things as they are constantly in flux does not produce disconnected chaotic variance, but connects through pattern, through hyponoia, an unapparent wholeness of sorts within which man’s life (his whole self, mind-and-body) is indissolubly located. That which is most important to logos must remain hidden. The central wisdom maintained for the flexed tension of the coherent, unified, and efficient whole of nature translates into the paradox of not seeing, not stating the most important thing to be seen and said for small arcs of understanding of physis (the process-context of becoming), the ’connectedness’ of things to be perceptible at the scale of the human body.

18. “There are two reasons, then, why you should willingly accept what happens to you: first, because it happens to yourself… being a strand in the tapestry of primordial causation; and secondly, because every individual dispensation is one of the causes of the prosperity, success, and even survival of That which administers the universe” (Staniforth, 47).

19. Aurelius bothered little with the metaphysical or scientific doctrines of Stoicism; what was important was the ethical question of obtaining the freedom to live as one wanted, to master and foster genuine freedom in the interiority of the virtuous soul (Birley, 102). Heraclitus, however, views Aurelius’ wholesale acceptance of the universal logos of the world with an insight into a dissonance between moral and physical freedom. The master that propounds such discourses about inner freedom does not take into account the violence done upon the outer freedom of the slave. Heraclitus himself cannot venture beyond just an inkling that perhaps one who is or has been a slave should have more, or at least a radically different outlook on freedom than any ancient philosopher.

WORKS CITED

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations. Translated by Maxwell Staniforth. New York: Penguin Books, 1964.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. San Francisco: Chandler Pub. Co., 1972.

Bateson, Gregory and Mary Catherine Bateson. Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.

Birley, Anthony. Marcus Aurelius: A Biography. 1966. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1987.

Kahn, Charles H. The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Kirk, G.S., Raven, J.E., and M. Schofield. The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts. 1957. Second edition. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

McEwan, Indra Kagis. “Daedalus and the Discovery of Order.” In Socrates’ Ancestor: an essay on architectural beginnings. Cambridg: MA MIT Press, 1993, pp. 41-76.

Plato. The Symposium. Translated by Walter Hamilton. New York: Penguin Books, 1951.

 

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