Thoughts during the plague № 7: In the moment of quarantine we find out who we are
Today I would like to talk about Neoplatonic interpretation of the quarantine. I mean this necessity with which we all, I believe, were confronted these days: the necessity of staying at home and not going out anywhere. It is a completely unnatural state for all, except perhaps the scientists, that don't go anywhere anyway, living in the world of their own thoughts (they don't care where they go or who are they with, because they live in their inner world). But for everyone else it is obviously a shock, and that's the reason behind lending each other dogs and sometimes even children in order to justify going to a clinic: anything rather than staying locked up in a room.
I would like to point out that this desire to go out shows a deep metaphisical aspect of modern man. In order to describe, interpret and decipher this aspect, I suggest turning to neoplatonic philisophy (preferably starting with Iamblichus, Plotinus and Proclus). The point is that for the
neoplatonic philosophers that followed Plato there existed a triad of the principal aspects of Being (of the soul, of the world, of history, of politics, of ethics), and this triad, which applied to different levels of life (Being, Knowledge, Cosmology, History, Society, Politics and everything else), explained everything. It's a kind of fundamental metaphysical formula that, whatsoever it was applied to, explained everything immediately.
What is this triad?
In Greek it was designated by three states: "moné" (the state of being in permanent calm), "próodos" (the state of exiting; precisely this term "pro", from, and "odos", to leave, meant at the same time "odos", journey and "pro", to: "exiting to", "from something to something" and thus exiting the state of "moné") and the third element, "epistrophé", "return". Thus there was a specific picture, at first a certain Origin that (always) remains in itself (the Being, apophatic, not yet outwardly manifested One, the human Soul, Spirit, Tradition, Philosophy, Thought, Logos) and to which corresponded various structures; it is that which in permanence is the most valuabe, sound, unchanging (for neoplatonics it didn't change depending on the other two motions). This means that in fact these vertical movements (exiting and return) didn't alter that Nature of Permanence, which equaled itself (dispassionately, always).
Thus that which left this First Cause and that which returned to it didn't touch the Permanence. In other words, exiting this singular, unchanging state created the world with all its objects, and the return into this singular State restored the fullness of the cycle. Therefore each cycle (of Creation, Manifistation, Thought, Political History) exited this premise, spreading itself through próodos to many different points, and was then gathered back together.
Here it is important to point out that the Greek word próodos has been translated into Latin as "progress" (pro-gressus, pro like próodos, gressus like "step, movement"), which was considered by neoplatonics as "going out" (the movement from the First Cause, from One toward a certain multiplicity, from Fullness to Emptiness), i.e. as a dispersion. And this "progress" was thought of, not as a movement upwards, but, on the contrary, something that should be understood as an actual element of entropy. But when this entropy, "exiting" the Origin reached its maximum, when these unfortunate particles, rays and objects, which suddenly fell out of One, got dispersed in the Universe, creating things which reached a critical point, that's when a switch began ("restoration", "return").
This is a very important point: the "return" was possible even when no "exit" was made, and when there was an "exit", and when there had been a "restroration", and during that "restoration". But precisely that which had left, experienced the drama of separation (from itself, from its own essense) and then the thorny path of returning to itself. This is then the picture of the Universe. And by the way, for the neoplatonics the birth of a human being (the appearance of the human soul in the material world) meant the immediate ceasing of the próodos (the Soul had fallen into Matter, and then began to understand something little by little: the "return").
That's why man is, really, a returning being: he was separated, having ended up in a world of multiplucity, and understanding the need of returning to himself. That's the nature of the world, the State, which is ruled by an unchanging Tzar, a Filisopher (from it come the messangers; if they are stupid, a revolution happens, epistrophe, "return"). Thus "progress" is in essense a falling down, a dispersion in matter. But regardless, comes a moment when we approach epistrophe (for Christians, for example, it's Christ, for other confessions - something else).
In this regard, this neoplatonic picture (mone - próodos - epistrophe) is a universal platonic (spiritual) means of analyzing any situation.
Now let's apply this formula to the quarantine.
In the face of the danger of being infected by the pandemics we were forced to stay in the state of mone: forced to be ourselves. But why can't we stay there? The answer is obvious as a blow: we live in an entirely different mode. In the mode of running from ourselves. The apartment, where we are, is not our apartment. The people with whom we have been interacting for a long time are simply unrecognizable to us. (Only now, in the moment of quarantine, do we find out who they are. Whom have I married thirty years ago? Who are these creatures that creep there?) This discovery of the people close to you, this staying in the state of mone (with yourself, with others, accompanied by a certain absence of outward activity) discloses to us an entirely unique dimension, which without the quarantine we are completely deprived of.
We live in the próodos, the "progress", i.e. in the constant dispersion. We need, not necessarily to go "somewhere", but to get away "from" (for example, after brushing our teeth, out of the apartment in some direction, and as fast as possible), not "to something" but "from something", i.e. from ourselves, from that fixed point where we should have stayed.
That's why life, for us, is an exiting out of the limits of ourselves. There was a time where Jerome K. Jerome talked about Montmorency: the dog which was one of the main characters of his novel Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), and which thought that running around empty yards, chasing cats, always finding some sort of dirty and unnecessary objects and dragging them to her owner, was "life".
Thus the modern man exists, in fact, in precisely this sort of life - in the style of Montmorency. The most important thing is to walk around, talk to someone, do something, forward something to somebody, always casting a glance toward the screen of our gadget, smile, clear your throat, ride in the metro, in the car, date, hold negotistions, and as a result this life ("progress"), remains in the state of constant dispersion, the deepening of the exile from ourselves. And that's when the quarantine accomplishes the epistrophe: "Stop, my dear. From now on you won't exist in the state of próodos. We return you to yourself." And ending up in this manner in your own apartment, with your loved ones or with your accustomed objects and habits, you suddenly ask yourself: and who am I really? To what extent I feel empty and bored here? Maybe I should pretend to be a leper escaped from the Kommunarka hospital, in order that some sort of life should begin?
And at this moment the human being breakes (as an addict or as that very leper), beginning to realize, or at least sense, to what extent he had neglected his own inner essense, so that in its place a sort of monster is formed, or else emptiness, or else an actual Nothing. But the worst is not here, but ahead of us, at the moment of our return to ourselves. And that's where the real horror begins. We begin to truly realize that the center of gravity, it turns out, is completely outside of ourselves, that we have lost this mone, that we didn't even think about it, ever: not about our apartment, not about our loved ones and relatives. And that's when coronavirus makes its neoplatonic step (a basic one) in order that we may this way return to our natural place according to Aristotle. But it turns out that we don't know it and, more broadly, unequivocally realize that it is not our place and that we have a different center. This means that we have lost ourselves to such a point that we have nowhere to go back to. And this is a very right thought.
If the epidemics will inspire in us such a philosophic reasoning (or, deeper, a philosophial statement), we may then approach not only the understanding of this motionless state, but an effort to understand that highter End, which contains in itself the epistaphe. But for that we should turn to neoplatonics, to religion, to our own soul, and turn our consciousness to the Great Return, because that is out Goal, our only acceptable vocation. If we turn away from this vocation, then this pandemics will seem child's play, because the Forces of Being will return us (if need be, forcefully) to the right path. And those who will not return will get dispersed till the end.