This is an incomplete project that I may not be able to pick up for a while. Thought I’d post the fragment. It was inspired by Schelling’s dialogue Bruno.
A Walk to Imagination’s Limits
Chroma: We have chosen a wonderful evening to set out on a walk along the riverside. Don’t you think so, my friends? At the pace of our saunter, the sun should be setting in the western horizon just as we approach the edge of the waterfall to watch. It will be a glorious sight!: the sovereign sun swallowed by night, leaving the earth dark and the sky dotted with foreign stars. Then the silver moon will float above us, reflecting just enough light upon the ground to guide our journey home. May the beauty of the scene heal our souls of the wound that parts them from the world!
Phōsphoros: It is a charming night here along the river’s edge, I agree; but your enthusiasm for the scene surprises me.
Have you forgotten that the beauty of the sky is an appearance? The truth is that the light of your own sight is the source of its sublimity. In you lives the cause of heaven’s laws, from you space projects out to meet earth’s horizon. The world’s beauty is by your imagination made and in it displayed. The scene is in the seer!
Katoptron: What strange symphony has come over you, Chroma? And you, Phōs, have fallen happily in love with yourself, possessed by the mad ravings of a match-lit mind! You give your eyes too much credit. They are mirrors, reflecting the beauty of this scene and not creating it. The sun is the seen’s creator, not your eyes.
Both of you appear to be already drunk on moonlight, as if you’d never seen the day turn to night before. Tell me, Chroma, why you’ve dragged me out of the city for a walk into the woods? What is it you wanted to discuss with us so urgently that it could not wait until the morning over a cup of tea and a muffin?
Chroma: My friends, do not begin to quarrel so quickly! I have asked you to join me on this walk so that we might discuss an important matter, even the most important matter. We’ve left the electric lamps and paved roads of the city in order to find a higher light and a richer soil to bring ‘the sacred seed of philosophy to its fullest flower.’1 We’ve set out at dusk so that we might be ‘granted the favor of seeing beauty in its brightest splendor and not be blinded by the sight.’2 Look how the sun is slowly draining color from space as it turns ever nearer the horizon. Blue and white are becoming yellow and orange, and soon will fade to black.
Phōsphoros: So you’ve taken us on a beautiful walk in an attempt to soften our opinions of your mystical religion? If you are hopping to convince us of the divinity of philosophy, I will cheer you. But truly, we are each divinities with our own philosophical religions! Have you forgotten my recent argument concerning the multiplicity of philosophies, that wisdom finds as many unique expressions as she has lovers?
Chroma: I have not forgotten it. I grant you that love comes in a variety of species, but there is finally only one eternal vine of philosophy. This sacred seed of wisdom has taken root in me and desires that I speak on her behalf. I may be madly in love, even beside myself in ecstasy, but nonetheless, I am thinking more truly tonight than ever before. I desire to prove to you that ‘there is but one world, one plant, as it were, wherein everything that exists is merely leaves, or blooms, or fruit.’3 This proof will depend on the wisdom within me proving contagious.
Katoptron: I’ve heard only lunacy so far this evening from both of you. What magic charms have you brought along, Chroma, that might produce such an effect upon my thought? Mere words will hardly do!
Chroma: I speak of a sickness that carries its own cure, of a medicine that heals the body of birth and the soul of death. I do not expect to ‘express the inner essence of the eternal in mortal words,’4 a trick difficult even for Hermes. Rather, my intention in leading us along the river as the sun falls is to raise our spirits to holy contemplation of the beauty of creation. Not by my speech alone, but in concert with the songs of the flowing waters here below and the spheres up above, I hope to heal that oft forgotten wound that wrestled wisdom from our midst so long ago. Look just there! Naked Venus is burning bright with passion that we might succeed!
Phōsphoros: She burns bright tonight, indeed. But tell us, Chroma, what are these true thoughts you hope to plant in us concerning the unity of philosophy? For plant them is all you can hope to do. Only I can water them.
Chroma: I speak to you this evening with Venus, the setting sun, the rising moon, and soon, the chorus of all the stars as my witnesses. I will attempt to reconcile both your philosophies, logically consistent though each may be on its own, with the one true science of wisdom, whose logic meets no contradiction either within itself or from outside.
You, Phōs, defend the truth of the transcendental imagination; while you, Kato, defend that of the physical universe. If I succeed with my integration, you will each come to see that wisdom herself is neither ideal or real, nor a mixture of both, but rather a third thing in which the two become one. To love wisdom is to ‘uncover the original metal of truth, as it were, the prime ingredient in the alloys of all individual truths, without which none of them would be true.’5 Shall I continue?
Phōsphoros: I will at least listen; but though my fondness for you is great, Chroma, it will not be enough on its own to convince me to split any philosophical gold distilled along the way with Kato!
Katoptron: I have no need for Phōs’ fool’s gold, since its shine is golden only in his mind.
I will continue to listen to your sermon, Chroma, so long as you’re sure you’ve correctly diagnosed me. Why don’t you first let Phōs and I sing the praises of our respective positions?
Chroma: Thank you for indulging me, gentlemen. Kato is right. Before we turn to my great work of reconciliation, I should hear again from each of you, since it has been several weeks since our last meeting. Let us slow our pace and steady our pulses, for our only hope of conveying thoughts to one another is to remain attuned to the heart’s rhythms. Phōs, you are like a lamp, creatively generating light from within, while you, Kato, are like a mirror, faithfully reflecting light from without. Kato, perhaps you can begin by defending your view of the primacy of the physical?
Katoptron: Though it would be rhetorically easier to speak second, I will profess my philosophy first so as not to burden Phōs, who already has the challenge of making the false appear true.
Phōsphoros: I will gladly play the tortoise in this a race.
Chroma: Kato, play the hare then, and express your philosophy to us succinctly and with swiftness, so that Phōs can also speak before we reach the waterfall.
Katoptron: I am hardly prepared for a detailed accounting of the evidence. I can only begin by reminding you each of the vast body of scientific data and the theoretical consensus supporting a physicalist cosmology. Whether or not my philosophical appeal to you this evening is persuasive, the weight of scientific knowledge still remains for you to accept or refute.
You speak of healing the soul of death, Chroma, but the only way to do that is to cure the soul of itself! The soul simply does not exist, only the body. The human body has evolved through a few billion of years of natural selection, and before that emerged out of the activity of chemical gradients in the primeval sea. Hundreds of millions of years before there was water on the surface, the earth was a fireball of molten rock, freshly accreted from a cloud of dust orbiting around the early sun. Billions of years before that, all the matter in the solar system, and in the universe, was contained in a point of energy no bigger than a photon.
1 F. W. J. Schelling, Bruno, or On the Natural and Divine Principle of Things (New York, State University of New York Press, 1984), 203.
2 Schelling, Bruno, 222.
3 Schelling, Bruno, 208.
4 Schelling, Bruno, 199.
5 Schelling, Bruno, 221