A Paper VI
Many modern interpreters of old texts understand the two aspects of the mind in part but fail to follow through. For example, Karsten Harries uses some of the language of the two aspects of knowing, but because his interpretation is one-eyed, he misunderstands Eckhart in his most essential aspects. Harries speaks of Eckhart's move to 'introversion'; of recentering; of Eckhart's 'central silence', and 'unknowing'. He mentions Eckhart's opening to divine light; he even speaks of two modes of knowing. But in the end he mistakenly applies the modern notion of philosophy to Eckhart's concern for method—in fact, this mistaking of method for philosophy is a very common occurrence when the model of two aspects of knowing is not applied, even though it is the model the authors of these texts used.
Harries mistakenly goes on to say that 'Eckhart is too ready to leap beyond creatures and creature knowledge . . .' whereas, in fact, Eckhart is describing the simple shift in attention from self–consciousness, which is creature knowledge, to deep mind where the person becomes open to divine knowledge and the fullness of creation. Eckhart is giving practical instruction, but Harries, allowing for only one epistemology, cannot see this. He continues: '. . . Eckhart does not take the Incarnation . . . seriously enough; and what prevents him from doing so is the sin of pride . . ." (182)
This view of Eckhart is exactly backwards. It is Harries who does not take the Incarnation seriously enough and commits the sin of pride; he refuses to acknowledge that the most profound way of knowing takes place out of sight, i.e., beyond his control. This is the stumbling block for many modern interpreters, who refuse to acknowledge that the part of the mind that is hidden is in fact not only a thinking mind but the greater part of the rational mind. Eckhart takes the incarnation profoundly seriously because he has the humility to engage unknowing: he understands that by re-centering in the deep mind the person becomes open to be trans–figured by grace, and that, indeed, this is the only practical way, the only possible way, to proceed—today's neuro–psychology backs Eckhart, not Harries.
By contrast Harries will not relinquish the security of the prison of his own interpretive strategies, even if it prevents him from hearing what the text has to say. This is evidenced by his consistent use of the self–referential language of control and achievement to describe a process that is entirely emptying [kenotic], ungrasping, and self-forgetful; for example: 'self–transcendence', 'the power of self–transcendence', 'raise ourselves', 'self–elevation', and of course 'mystical experience' to name but a few of his problematic phrases (emphases mine). The language of achievement, grasping and control usually indicates that the interpreter who uses it does not understand what kind of text he or she is reading, much less what the text is saying. For as anyone who has practiced one-pointed meditation can tell you, anything that is given is given entirely gratuitously. As Eckhart notes above, divine knowledge, ken-gnosis, cannot be forced or achieved. In the work of silence, words become paradoxical: grasping is left behind for ungrasping; clinging to God means dispossession, and so forth.
In contrast to Harries, philosopher Karmen MacKendrick summarizes the approach I am suggesting: 'We still must use words; we still must draw out the questions that lie within philosophy. It is only that we have learned that we must use philosophy against itself, wrap our words around spaces without words, and leave them wordless, as if they could thus be kept, though we know that we lose them together with ourselves.'
(20) The following critique of Karsten Harries is taken from ‘Houston, We Have a Problem: Restoring Binocular Vision to the Reading of Texts’ Literature and Theology, forthcoming.
(21) See the quotation at note 24.
(22) Karmen MacKendrick, Immemorial Silence (New York: SUNY, 2001), 5.