The Immanence of the Other
How we relate and connect to "the other" is not limited to how we relate to the arts. It is central to all human living, underlies the various truths of our religions, philosophies and politics, illuminates all possible avenues of human thriving, and is central to the distinctiveness of the Socratic contribution to education I wish to articulate in this essay. So how do we really touch the other in art or in anything else?
It is important, at this point, to think upon one small gap in the chain of reality's discourse. Consider this, that you have never talked directly to anyone in your life. You have never directly seen another human being, a sunset, or the food on your plate. You have only ever communicated with your own brain's presentation of these things. You have only ever experienced your own brain's interpretation of the sounds you call music or the movements in a ballet. In every aspect of art and life, what you are experiencing is just your own brain's secondary interpretation.
Imagine standing before the most beautiful sunset in history. Most people would speak of the amazing colors. Yet, these imaginary colors are only different wavelengths of light. Color only exists as a creation of your brain's interpretation of these wavelengths. The truth is that we only ever respond to our brain's interpretation of things. We are trapped in our own biological "secondary city", never able to have a direct experience of that which we seek to know. We always defer to the secondary talk of our own brains. In a very real way that is virtually a principle of physics, "the other" is always within you. Even if a different idea or work of art, which challenges or inspires you, came through a different person. That difference is only known to you as your brain unfolds it to you in the immanence of your own unique configuration of mind.
The human embrace of meaning is not outward towards the transcendent and God. The direction of that human embrace is inwards towards our immanent knowledge of self and the capacity to give hospitable welcome to all these others who are presented to us courtesy of our own brain's interpretive discourse. This means that every real presence we encounter and every "other" we give hospitable welcome to is known to us only within the interpretations and commentary of that biological secondary city we call the brain.
In this Socratic perspective, living the examined life begins with the realization that "the other" is primarily and immanently a reality within ourselves. This is not just a euphemism to encourage toleration among different people or openness to their created works. "The other", in its plainest sense, is first and foremost a dynamic of our own being. Beyond merely seeing that we are always responding only to our brain's interpretations, we also have extraordinary diversity within ourselves. Within one mind there are dramatic differences of perspective and radical variations in the possibilities of being, which give rise to the same distresses of conflict and the same joys of union and cooperation that we know from our relations with different people. Within one mind there are the beloved ideas, the cherished ways of thinking and perceiving, the favored ways of being. These darlings of our consciousness, which receive the lion's share of our attentive strength, charm us or through the attrition of our need to survive frighten us into their tightening embrace. Within the same mind there are also the marginalized thoughts, the new visions, the disturbing perspectives, and the new possibilities that differ radically from our preferred way of understanding and being.
We do not need to seek out another human being in order to find a vivid experience of "the other". There are plenty of strangers to be greeted and known within our own minds. It does not require the presence of a different person in order to challenge our favored preferences for how we think and live. Such challenges, in their severest form, exist within our own minds. However, the real presence of these others can never fully come to light without the rigourously attentive self examination that comes with living an examine life. The capacity of the human mind to rattle its own cage and tear down the carefully decorated temples, where the pampered sacred has been kept separate from the neglected profane, is far more powerful than we usually realize. We are that complex and that full of conflicted and ingenious sensitivity such as to be a wellspring of the other unto ourselves. Socratic discourse seeks to empower the discovery of ourselves.
In Steiner's perspective, the nature of meaning in language and the arts is expressed in relation to the transcendental and a grounding in God. In this Socratic perspective, the meaning of language and art is in the immanence of our knowledge of self and our capacity to give hospitable welcome the others that live within ourselves. These two perspectives are not innately in conflict. The idea that self knowledge relates to the knowledge of God is not rejected by the major religious traditions. There is no need to engage in a dialogue on if God does or does not exist. The immanence of self knowledge is simply a correct focus on the actual mechanism of action in the subjective human embrace of meaning that is valid with or without the assumption of God's existence. Jesus' sayings, "The kingdom of heaven is within you." and "Love your neighbor as yourself", as well as the Islamic hadith, "Knowledge of self is the key to the knowledge of God, according to the saying: "He who knows himself knows God" illustrate the truth that the question of the relationship between transcendence, immanence and meaning cannot be decided on the terms of theist vs atheist conflict.
It does not matter if the actual data of our mind's experience, which is the basis of all meaning, can be expressible as something that comes from transcendent ground exterior to us or from an immanent space within us. The mechanism of action for our embrace of our experience of life is always towards our interiority. It is the profoundly immanent experience of the interiority of our own minds that that makes any intimate visitation of art or life possible. In the immanent embrace of our minds, the consummation of our relationship with meaning is manifested with or without a theology. Even if all the inspirations of all the muses and gods come from outside our being, we cannot offer a fertile response to such inspiration unless we are first able to be hospitable to the strangers within us, who are also us. It is the living courtesy and hospitality to the interiority of our own minds that prepares a receptive place at the table of our hearts for the muses who inspire as well as for the neighbor who challenges. Transcendence has no power to be the ground of meaning without the bindings of immanent focus through which the rigorously attentive mind has the power to create the internal common grounds and shared spaces through which all meaning finds its beginnings, expresses its life, and extends its invitation to us to take another step in an amazing journey.