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Tennyson’s Poetry of Departure and the Heart: Posthumous Mind and the Limit Case in Ulysses, Tithonus, The passing of Arthur, and Crossing the Bar

Tennyson’s Poetry Of Departure And The Heart: Posthumous Mind And The Limit Case In Ulysses, Tithonus, The Passing Of Arthur, And Crossing The Bar

In this discussion I will look at the concept of posthumous mind described by William Desmond and the concept of the limit case described by Barry Miller and at how these perhaps difficult and even controversial notions are illustrated by what I have called Tennyson’s poetry of departure and the heart and how, in turn, the concepts may throw further light on both the poems and Tennyson’s thought. Thus my intention here is neither to valorize “theory” over literature nor the reverse, but rather to see them in, and partake of, their dialogue with each other.

Eric Voegelin reminds us of St. Augustine’s comments on departure in the Sermons on the Psalms:

“Incipit exire, qui incipit amare. Exeunt enim multi latenter, et exeuntium pedes sunt cordis affectus; exeunt autem de Babylonia (They begin to depart who begin to love. Many there are who depart and not know it. For their walk of departure is a movement of the heart. And yet they depart from Babylon)” (Voegelin, 1990, 105, trans. by Voegelin).

What precisely is this sense of departure and movement of the heart? From where do we depart, to where do we embark? Voegelin and Desmond explicitly, and Tennyson and Miller certainly implicitly, see our condition as human beings as metaxic: in between. Our being qua beings becoming is lived from our coming to be from non-existence to our departure from this existence: the “middle” can seem to be all there is whilst we are in the midst of things (presumably for the scientistic materialist it is all there is) yet for many of us we have or retain a sense of the mystery of our thus being given and, too, the possible giving source, the beyond of this givenness. Desmond calls this middle ‘a kind of field of energy’ in which we are actively seeking:

“to the limit and beyond the limit. There is no fixed limit. This is not say there is no limit. But in matters of mind and spirit and existence the limit cannot be spatialized in any completely determinate or univocal sense” (Desmond, 2005, 81).

There is no fixed limit. This is not to say there is no limit, as Desmond says. But this raises questions about this limit, and its “nature” or “the limit of limit,” so to speak. Barry Miller has some interesting things to say about this, what he will call “the limit case(emphasis Miller’s), that which is “beyond” all limits simpliciter. Tennyson, too, will confront the limit case, I will suggest, in his poems of departure and the heart.

It is a commonplace to think of life as a journey, as it to perhaps think that “it is better to travel than to arrive.” But, sooner or later, we must all reach the limit of any journey, certainly the limit of our life’s journey:

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

As Tennyson expresses it in Crossing the Bar, the poem written toward the end of his life which he insisted should be the final poem in any edition of his works. The speaker has reached the boundary of his life and confronts again “the boundless deep” with, I suggest, what Desmond calls “posthumous mind(fullness).” This

“posthumous mind is the later knowing of what was and is prior; it is knowing the elemental from a distance that undergoes the otherness of life, yet in the intimacy knows no distance (Desmond, 2001, 177). Desmond adds the important caveat: We come later to this knowing, we almost always come too late” (ibid. 177).  

But this is still the journey, even if we are finally crossing the bar to the limit. But, for all that, we have not yet crossed; and Tennyson, as we shall see, has been departing for a long time, for this “departure is a movement of the heart.”

What is this limit that it seems we must reach? It is the unbounded “limit beyond limit” that Barry Miller describes as what he calls “The Limit Case Instance of Existence.” It is unbounded because “Only a zero-bound instance would differ absolutely from any member of a series of bounded instances of existence” (Miller, 2002, 145 – emphasis Miller’s). It is curiously, even ironically, easy to pick words to describe the Limit Case of Being: unique, originating, overdetermined, omniscient, perhaps omnipotent, agapeic. Although some these words may take on more meaning when we consider the nature of Limit(s) Simpliciter of Being(s).

All finite beings are limited simpliciter. Bounded by what it is, an atom, a rock, a tree or a human being, it is limited by its form to what it is: it has no absolute being. Clearly the limit simpliciter can vary enormously: a human being is less limited than perhaps any other form of being. Nevertheless, even if human being is the limit simpliciter of being(s) per se, in so far as, to the best of our knowledge, human beings have the greatest potential for self-transcendence: we journey towards that which is other or beyond. As Tennyson has Ulysses (in his version of one of literature’s most recurring archetypes of life lived as a journey) put it:

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d

Greatly, have suffered greatly . . .

                        . . . I am become a name

 For always roaming with a hungry heart . . .

This hunger of heart – and hunger of heart is certainly one way to describe heartfeltness – that constant eagerness to depart, to journey, is that which for so many, for so long, motivates action, what Desmond calls the conatus essendi, our becoming as endeavour erotically propelling us forward filling us with the world. Ulysses says, “Much have I seen and known; cities of men/ And manners, climates, councils, governments.” This is the individual ego erotically asserting itself, “Myself not least, but honoured of them all . . .” Yet, all this journeying must come to rest and approach its end (but see below – especially Note7).

Tennyson, in his reworking of the myth, will have Tithonus express the horror of “fatal immortality” ironically fated to “wither slowly” at the “quiet limit of the world,” which is just that: a limit of the world, a limit simpliciter; Tithonus is trapped, as it were, and unable to cross the bar, now become a barrier that is also a “gap,” and thus is unable to reach his limit at the limit case: that which is most ultimately other to him; that from which he came to be, that enabled his becoming, the origin that is also the end, and towards which he must ultimately return. This is not more life, it is that which is beyond life, beyond all of life’s material and temporal boundaries: it is the zero bounded.

As such it is the absolute difference to finite creation; it is the origin(ator) of bounded beings, but that which itself must be unbounded. I’ll try and make this clearer using an example from Miller, based on speed: The upper limit of speed may be that of light but this is still “just” its limit simpliciter, a part of the series, whereas the limit case of speed, that from which acceleration must start (and return?), is zero – which is not a speed but that “beyond” of speed, before, after and yet enabling speed (otherwise we are faced with an impossible infinite regression from which nothing would ever “get started”). It is the boundary of speed from which speed must begin, but it is the point, too, of a kind of infinite stasis and movement, across the “gap” in and from which all moving/speeding/motivated creatures i.e. every living being “begins” and, by implication, to which they “yearn” to return: the infinity of zero boundedness (or, perhaps more accurately  to remind ourselves, this is one of the phrases we choose/use to signify the case limit). Clearly speed is only an aspect, even if an elemental one, of creatures, and Miller also uses the image of a line/point to demonstrate the same notion and, in principle, the “totality” of elementals would demonstrate the same point both individually and collectively.1

Hence, since all beings manifestly “are,” and “are” simpliciter, it follows that there can be only one “instance” of ultimate originating zero-bounded being (more and the “ultimates” would cancel each other out, and the problem of infinite regression would simply return) which is therefore “that” which grounds all bounded beings even as “it”, as transcendence itself, is beyond all that transcends towards “it” (beings) even as “it” (rather like Voegelin’s notion of “It-reality”2) is both their origin and destination: the overdetermined agapeic source of all. Created beings then, free to the extent that their specific form “allows,” individually original yet, nevertheless, in themselves bounded “originals simpliciter” of the series (of beings) that would approximate ever closer (it would seem maximally closely in the case of the human being) to the unboundedness of the origin – the limit case of being.

Human beings (indeed all beings) thus live metaxically, dynamically poised between two deeps, the “boundless deep” and the infinite sky.3 Yet human beings can be more or less conscious of their metaxic conditionality. Tennyson’s poems of departure, Ulysses, the Passing of Arthur and Crossing the Bar, all depict protagonists who have literally launched from the shore and are very consciously heading towards an unknown “region.” Each is on the final stage of a journey that has been ceaseless from the beginning of their lives, as it is, and has been, for all beings. Ulysses speaks to his companions: “Death closes all: but something ere the end . . .”  He hopes still to do “Some work of noble note . . . Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods” thus clinging on to quotidian life even as “The long day wanes’ and ‘the deep moans round with many voices” of the past, of the pull  of the past. But the nostalgia that looks backward is also the nostalgia that looks forward/homeward:

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset . . .

Doubt will persist, “It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: /It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles.” It may not be, of course, and Tennyson, I think, wants us to share Ulysses’s strength in will “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Ulysses and his companions may be
“Made weak by time and fate” yet they must try and cross the barrier and “sail beyond.” Theirs is the ship simpliciter, but they would it was a case of the ship absolute.4 For Ulysses movement has been his all in all, he would not wish to “To rust unburnished, not to shine in use” and yet this utilitarian attitude5 would move beyond itself; his was ever a:

                        . . . spirit yearning in desire

 To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

 Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

Ulysses’ worldly self-becoming, his endeavour to be (his conatus essendi) has become a “Self-becoming that is called to something more beyond the limit [that] comes to itself in the discipline of the limit” (Desmond, 2005, 215). Ulysses has, perhaps too late, perhaps not, reached the stage of posthumous mind, itself a kind of awareness or sense of zero-boundedness that, as Desmond puts it:

“Return to zero [which] is related to the sense of philosophy as a form of what I call posthumous mind, which is always open to being reborn out of the nothing…a seeing things new, as if anew, for the first time. Philosophy, as Socrates said, is the practice of death: but there are different deaths. As there are different lives” (ibid, 128 footnote).

Ulysses and Tithonus were written in 1833 when Tennyson was still a young man but grieving following the unexpected death of his close friend, Arthur Hallam. They perhaps record the poet’s own early encounter with posthumous mind, occasioned by this facing the abyss of death yet which, nevertheless, manifests itself as an “ontological patience” (Desmond’s phrase) that would meditate deeply on both life and death rejecting “simplistic” or reductionist explanations. Death is an encounter with nothingness, and, as Desmond puts it: “perhaps too in our knowing ourselves to be as nothing, there is also a new, or renewed, porosity to the divine” (ibid, 92).

Tennyson will approach these situations from a different angle in his reworking of the Arthurian legends. Tennyson had always been fascinated by the Arthurian legends, and wrote about King Arthur at various periods throughout his life, but his last published thoughts are expressed in the final poem of Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur.

Written in 1869 this poem, the twelfth and ultimate text of the sequence, depicts Tennyson’s new interpretation of the last hours of the king. The story is told by Sir Bedivere, “no more than a voice/ In the white winter of his age” of “that last weird battle in the west” and finally of Arthur’s departure itself. The last battle is over, Modred and his worldly knights are dead, but Arthur is mortally wounded. The battle has been fought at the “sunset bound of Lyonesse” a land “upheaven from the abyss/ By fire to sink into the abyss again.”  After Arthur has received his mortal wound, Bedivere

uplifted him

 And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,

 A broken chancel with a broken cross,

 That stood on a dark strait of barren land:

 On one side lay the Ocean, and on one

 Lay a great water, and the moon was full.

In this “broken” place between two deeps Arthur discards or, more accurately, returns the “gift” of his individual life in time, symbolised by the sword Excalibur, ordering Bedivere to cast it back into the lake. Interestingly, the loyal knight almost fails in this late task as he is arrested by the sheer material beauty of the sword, “For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks/ Myriads of topaz lights and jacinth work/ Of subtlest jewellery” – quotidian life is literally hard to let go of. Nevertheless, Bedivere overcomes his reluctance and Excalibur is returned to Lady of the Lake (both giver and receiver) thus the gift (of material life) is returned.

Tennyson is now ready to depict Arthur’s final earthly moments. Brought at last by Bedivere to the shore of the lake, Arthur is placed in the “dusky barge” by “Three Queens” (who are these Queens?  They surely symbolise the mystery, not only of Arthur’s life, but all life – their “meaning” is precisely in this impossibility to “identify” them). It is now that he makes his last speech. Tennyson will allow us a further hearing and “sight” of Arthur than he has of Ulysses: the dying King expresses his final comments about his earthly journey and his/its destination, curiously echoing Hamlet (and Lear), another habitual looker “beyond”. He addresses Bedivere, the last knight become everyman:

Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not the hands of prayer

Yet equivocality remains even now for Arthur (“For all my mind is clouded with a doubt”) – there never is any certainty – but he will nevertheless hope to reach Avilion, “Deep-meadowed, happy, fair.” He makes his last statement, “Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.”

But our perspective will revert to that of Bedivere (as it must – Arthur is passing beyond earthly life). Climbing the rocks higher and higher, straining to catch a last view of the departing barge, as Arthur seems to pass through his own limit simpliciter and “pass on and on, and go/ From less to less and vanish into the light” approaching it would appear the limit case of being itself,  until he (Bedivere) hears what seems to be a great cry greeting “a king returning from his wars” and we have here moved far beyond Tithonus’s static languishing and are hearing “As from beyond the limit of the world.” Merlin’s “weird rhyme,” rather gnostically describing Arthur, which Bedivere now recalls, had been “From the great deep to the great deep he goes” and through the poem’s further illustrations of this metaxic image of that which is between finitude and infinity Tennyson has indeed taken us as far as we can go: yet through the artistry of this poetics can we, too, hear an echo from the beyond?

Tennyson, through Bedivere, I suggest, invites us to feel “a new, or renewed porosity to the divine” (see Desmond above). Bedivere may know himself, or feel himself to be, as nothing, but as the sun rises “bringing in the new year,” returning him for now to the world, where his experiences have surely engendered his “ontological patience” his, and perhaps our, burgeoning posthumous mind(fullness): a renewed or remembered finesse, a properly proportionate reverence toward the intimate strangeness of being in the intimate universal (see also Note 5 above).6

To recall what I said above. I have tried in this discussion to see theory/philosophy and art/poetry as united in a shared poetics of mutual illustration of the issues and images presented here. Yet finally, perhaps, in what I would take to be a spirit not uncongenial to any of the philosophers mentioned, it is in the anamnetic-yet-projective products of great art, that we encounter the purest distillations of our metaxic in-betweeness, especially those composed upon the  boundary conditions where life may feel itself not merely nothing, but rather sense that no-thingness beyond nothing, the hyperboles of the overdetermined  origin, the return to the zero that is the zero-bounded, the fullness of Being, the absolute which is the antithesis of (materialistic/scientistic) nihilism.

In Ulysses and The Passing of Arthur Tennyson has presented us with characters at the closing stages of their earthly lives, similarly lives of action, of a dominant conatus essendi but, for all that, they are representations of different kinds of living. Ulysses, the great-grandson of Hermes, is thus “unequivocally” descended from a supernatural being and, in some ways, has lived a more “straightforward” life of action, immersed in wars, campaigns, journeys and, it is only finally  as we have seen, after his long, long journey back to his earthly home, that he sets out to journey beyond journeying. Arthur’s life has been one of action too, but it has also been more reflective, mirroring its mysterious and uncertain beginning in secret and magical origins; and Arthur’s life itself has been throughout, in his dealings with his earthly kingdom, one fully acquainted with ambiguity, both human and ultimate.

However, as he undertakes his final earthly journey, although he seems perhaps uncertain about where he is going, nevertheless he seems certain enough that he is going somewhere. Arthur, like Ulysses (see above) has attained a similar Self-becoming that is called to something more beyond the limit [that] that comes to itself in the discipline of the limit…that knows it can never come to itself in an entirely determinate way (Desmond, 2005, 215), that is, determinate in a material, univocal way. Each has reached the moment where to further find themselves, they must transcend themselves, and each has the necessary courage to embark upon their last voyage, their lives of earthly endeavour almost behind them.7

In summing up, I will return again to Tennyson’s final poem of departure and the heart, Crossing the Bar. What, precisely, do we mean by heart here in what may be the poet’s most heartfelt poem. From the circumstances of its composition to Tennyson’s wish, already mentioned, that it be the final poem in any collection of his work is confirmed the poem’s importance to him. Desmond describes heart thus:

“The heart is what I call elemental. There are depths to our selving that exceed dialectical self-mediation. The heart is an inward abyss and excess that will never be made completely transparent to itself in a purely conceptual way. The heart is a metaphor for what we are in the intimacy of our being, the idiocy of our being. It names the marvel of inward singularity, the “mystery” of the this of personhood” (Desmond, 2005, 96 – emphasis Desmond’s).

Written in October 1889 while crossing The Solent to his home on The Isle of Wight just off the south coast of Britain, this is a poem literally composed between the great deep/abyss of the ocean and the infinite beyond of the sky above. The poem symbolises, from the most personal perspective, those “great deeps” from which we come, and to which we go, elementally and mysteriously. The voice here is in the first person, it is the intimately universal voice of human being, singular and general, whose origins lie in deeper darkness perhaps than those of the “supernatural” creations of our imaginings.

 It is not actually the poet’s final journey, but late in his life as it is, his mind seems once more opened or renewed to that “porosity to the divine.” Rather like Aristotle’s thaumazein, that sense of wonder that, inchoate at the beginning of our lives, can come back (and, to remind ourselves, sometimes very late, if at all) with its intimations of immortality and this, then, is the “return” of our original passio essendi (which is often, during the course of our lives, immersed in and by our conatus essendi). Perhaps, too, it may impart a sense of compassio essendi, something like an agapeic feeling of and for all being(s) in their sometimes radical otherness, yet ultimately through recognition of the universally shared origin and that, for all the apparent disorder of this our temporal conditionality, beings are oriented “beyond” disorder, an ordered series after all, homing in on the limit case of being, the one “limit case instance of existence,” that Origin or One 8 (perhaps the ‘Pilot’- see below) that:

“although differing absolutely from them, it would be precisely that towards which the ordered series points. For just these reasons, a zero-bound instance of existence would indeed be a limit case instance of existence” (Miller, 2002, 145). 

In a sense the homeward journey begins with the beginning of life itself, “For tho’ from out our Bourne of Time and Place/The flood may bear me far” and may become “Too full of sound and foam” nevertheless for each of us will come “Twilight and evening bell,” a “between” time suggesting a resolution of the chiaroscuro of our metaxic state, neither light nor dark but rather those late in-between moments that render again the world’s mystery in a new dawning, and require our mindful esprit de finesse;  yet this, at least here for Tennyson, as for both his Ulysses and Bedivere earlier, may be “something more, a bringer of new things” and the poet’s wish that “there be no moaning of the bar/ When I put out to sea” and his request that “there be no sadness of farewell/ When I embark” is justified by his words “I hope to see my Pilot face to face/ When I have crost the bar.”

 

References

 

Desmond, William (2001).  Ethics and the Between. Albany, NY. State University of New York Press.

Desmond, William (2005). Is There a Sabbath for Thought? Between Religion and Philosophy. New York. Fordham University Press.

Miller, Barry (2002). The Fullness of Being. A New Paradigm for Existence. Indiana. University of Notre Dame Press.

Tennyson, Alfred. Ulysses (1833), Tihonus (1833), The Passing of Arthur (1869), Crossing the Bar (1889).

Voegelin, Eric (1990). Configurations of History. Published Essays 1966 – 1985. Collected Works Volume 12, edited by E. Sandoz. Baton Rouge and London. Louisiana State University Press.

Voegelin, Eric (2000) Order and History, Volume 5, In search of Order. Collected Works Volume 18, edited by E. Sandoz. Columbia and London. University of Missouri Press.

 

Notes

1. In some aspects these notions of “gaps” and “zero-boundedness” bear some resemblance to the aporias so often described in post-modernist thought; in such deconstructive thinking though these conditions are generally presented in a negative light as paradoxes and, as such, they are seen as a kind of impediment to fully determinate understanding; in (postmodernist) practice they are ignored or “left hanging” so to speak. However, I see these conditions of aporia or “gaps” and so on in a more positive way (contra Compte to Baudrillard et al): they demonstrate the “limit(s)” of our understanding, the very conditionality (limit simpliciter) of our being itself, and in doing so point toward a necessary beyond of that understanding and being (the limit case) that invites our openness towards it.

2. Voegelin describes “It-reality,” this ‘primordial field of reality’, as follows:

“Thing-reality and It-reality, though grammatical subjects in propositions, are not entities but tensional poles experienced as mutually participating in the process of reality: the It-reality is the ‘comprehending’ dimension experienced as present in all things, and the things are experienced as ‘transcending’ their existence into the It-reality (Voegelin, 2000, 93 – emphasis Voegelin’s).”

It-reality can thus be seen as another way of formulating the notion of the limit case.

3. All at sea; being between two deeps. This is an image of our metaxic state: between nothingness and God (as an analogy of conditionality, and the source of that, and of the necessary beyond of conditionality). Desmond has this to say (I quote at length because this is the very core of the issue):

“Every being is qua happening a being given to be. It is not self-originating, not just self-becoming, but is a coming to be before it becomes this or that (this ‘before’ is not a ‘temporal’ before). Qua happening it, it intimates its source as other, in excess of what happens to be, by reference to a more radical ontological origin than itself. Is this reference a referral of finitude to nothing? If you say that a philosophy of finitude entails nothing but finitude, how then speak as if this nothing were an other of finitude, for certainly it is no finite being? Why go on about it as if it were a kind of ultimate? You say: finitude comes from nothing and overreaches itself into nothing. Then all this too comes to nothing, and hence all is nihilism – as in the beginning so in the end. But how could this be, if finite beings come to be, even if it is out of nothing? There must be more than nothing, not only with reference to the being of finite beings, not only with reference to their coming to be at all, but in that the very being at all of finite beings is in communication, is finite in an ontological referral to an origin that is other to nothing, and other as ultimately originative. Otherwise there would be no finite being, there would simply be nothing. Beings are and so we must think otherwise” (Desmond, 2005, 66 – emphasis Desmond’s).

Thus we are between two deeps. This apparent lack of solid ground is, of course, itself deeply unsettling: like someone drowning we grasp desperately for a firm hold on something determinate, yet in our desperation:

We must not be too overtaken by the belief that science, philosophy and religion are fixed determinations . . . Such determinations are the results of processes of coming to be determinate [that] point to sources of determining that are in excess of all fixity and univocalization” (ibid, 262).

Yet we are and we must think otherwise . . . It is here perhaps that the artist, Tennyson here, is most able to find the depth of esprit de finesse required to give the most apposite expressions of the equivocality of our condition. At sea, yes, but not hopelessly adrift.

4. Where does this “must”, this compulsion come from? It seems another consequence of dismay/wonder at our human condition itself that feels nevertheless a presentiment that there must be “something” beyond our world: a whole beyond the/our whole. Desmond, amplifying the Anselmian quality of this, says:

If we have some presentiment of God beyond the whole, and of the qualitative difference between finite creation and the absolute origin as other, then this dismay will never entirely leave us (Desmond, 2005, 185 – emphasis mine).”

It is this precisely the sense or memory of this qualitative difference that is the source of our dismay, which is yet our passio essendi.

5. A reflection, perhaps, of Victorian Britain’s concern with utilitarian usefulness (exemplified in the works of J. S. Mill and others). Yet here Tennyson’s Ulysses would transcend this practical yet mundane attitude and strive towards what could be called a “uselessness” that is beyond “mere” utility. Desmond says this “Uselessness is disproportion: it reveals a trace of infinity in the finite knower; and hence it mediately connects with reverence of the finite religious person for the infinite” (Desmond, 2005, 274). It is the disproportion which suggests the “gap” between our quotidian world and the infinity from which it comes to be. This is what, in us, becomes religious in a sense that recalls, or calls up, that would reconnect, re-ligare: that going back which is a going forward (and knowing the place for the first time?) and that need for re-connection to source that is exemplified by Ulysses, Arthur and the speaker in Crossing the Bar.

6. Ulysses hopes to touch the Happy Isles, Arthur vanishes into the light and the speaker in Crossing the Bar will say I hope to see my Pilot face to face. Do these metaphors of the Beyond attempt to express that sense of God-as-beyond yet intimately close, a finesse of feeling for the intimate universal that would yet resist “mere” description? Astrophysicists will talk about the “background hum” that is an echo of the Big Bang, the “beginning” of time and the material universe; but the intimate universal would go “further back” than that: it would seem to be something like an echo of creation itself, of the ontological peace that is both before and after time, a kind of hyperbolic sacred-yet-intimate, and intimately universal, non-temporal limit case of time. This kind of peace, as felt by beings (if reflectively felt) is, for all its exposure to fortunes slings and arrows, as Desmond says, like the intimate universal, the most taken for granted, and also the most difficult to speak about. For it makes everything else possible but is not itself anything, and hence when we try to fix it, it always eludes fixation (Desmond, 2005, 320). That which enables all things, but which is not anything; this is, it would seem, the limit case of being: seen as the peace which passeth all understanding? Perhaps, unless through the glass darkly of the “metaphorical realities” of art.

 7. Desmond further explains this mood:

There is a genuine self-transcending that has the courage to find against itself, and so seeks to be released beyond itself. In the intimate heart of conatus essendi as striving to be itself by being beyond itself, the passio essendi surges up with the mysterious solicitation that it is the “beyond” of self that self-transcending seeks, and not just itself again. The conatus essendi would, so to say, burn up its own selving as a kind of offering to this “beyond” of self (Desmond, 2005, 257 – emphasis Desmond’s).”

Ulysses, Arthur and the speaker in Crossing the Bar, have each, it would seem, reached this mood or state of mind.

8. Perhaps we seem, finally, to end with yet another paradox, another condition of aporia? But it should have become clearer throughout the present discussion that this is not quite the case. For even though there is a “return” to the source, as it were, and the source is revealed as the limit case of being – the One itself – this is not to be conceived of like any kind of closed monad that has “just” been disporting with “itself”, or with, at best, clones of itself. If “Now, Subsistent Existence is the limit case of all non-limit case instances of existence had by concrete individuals. [and] Moreover, their instances of existence are the richest of their properties (Miller, 2002, 153) and, further, if human beings are, as far as we know, the least bounded of existents, then of Subsistent Existence “itself,”:

“If even its instances are so rich, therefore, it is fair to say that their limit case will be not merely rich but the limit case of such ontological riches . . . Subsistent Existence would therefore be the ultimate in ontological wealth (ibid, 153).”

This ultimate is “beyond”: it is the Beyond – across the “gap” – and, as such, qualitatively different (see above Note 4). It is the agapeic source of other difference(s). Desmond writes:

“The communication of the One is not the self-duplication of the One. The agapeic One is not a self-cloning God. A self-cloning God would always give rise to the same again: no genuine newness or originality would arise in creation . . .A self doubling, self-cloning God…would be absolutely autistic. There would be no finite creation as genuinely other, and no finite powers of origination endowed with the free power to bring the new into being, after the form of finitude – in a word , no imagination, and no imaginative originals such as we human creatures are” (Desmond, 2005, 152 – emphasis Desmond’s).

The “return home” is thus not a return of the same to the same: Ulysses, Arthur and the speaker in Crossing the Bar have made their human journeys, each in his own original way; now each must make the final passage across the “gap.” These characters, be they myths, legends or an actual individual human voice, is each an artistic representation of an individual ontological richness, an otherness, a freely creating originality that would that they could go on as such, even though any such continuance, that would strive beyond boundedness, however ontologically rich, must it seems become posthumous mind, that must be directed toward the zero-bounded and infinitely rich One. The existent, every limit simpliciter, is thus ever-moving towards its limit case:  Subsistent Existence. None of the voices we have heard wishes to actually cease, even Tithonus would wish to continue if granted renewed vigour. To wish to cease would be to wish to be nothing, yet on the purview of infinite Being itself, how could that no-thingness possibly “be”? It is Hamlet’s question, sure enough, and Shakespeare, too, knew that it had no answer. Ulysses, Arthur and the “speaker’s” journeys are “last,” but in what way, precisely, could we say they were “final”?

Stephen H. Conlin

Steve Conlin is an independent scholar whose Master's thesis was on Hans-Georg Gadamer's "Truth and Method" from the University of Southhampton in England.

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