A Paper VIII
Now I would like to say a word about the way we might classify texts according to what I have said so far. For example, if you look at the group of texts that are commonly referred to as "The English Mystics" you will see that there are all sorts of texts included, some of which have little resemblance to the others. There are didactic texts, such as the Ancrene Wisse; there are abstract texts, such as Walter Hilton's; there are devotional texts such as Richard Rolle's; there are anagogic texts such as Julian of Norwich's Long Text and The Cloud of Unknowing. The devotional category is probably the biggest, and the anagogic category the smallest. The former includes everything from devotional manuals to visionary texts to Rolle's trance-inducing canor, and the latter is limited to those texts that lead the reader into infinite openness and invites him or her to remain there without filling up the space with a lot of devotional kitsch. All of the groups except the anagogic are firmly products of the self-conscious mind and reflect the reader back on him or her self. Only the anagogic texts lead into the liminal. Of course there might be phrases or tropes in any of these texts that act as triggers that propel the reader into the liminal, and it is to them that we now turn.
Poetics: A Short list of Tropes
I mentioned in the beginning the importance of reading literarily instead of literally, and the need to read many texts as poetry even if they are set out as prose. The Pseudo-Dionysian corpus is a good example. The author even tells us that he is writing hymns, though I have yet to come across an interpreter who acknowledges that fact. In doing theology through hymns he is following his Syriac predecessor, Ephrem. In fact, he is more like Ephrem than Neo-platonists. But that is the subject for another paper.
Many authors, while writing prose, use poesis to bypass the relentless linearity and self-referentiality of language. These tropes offer the reader the opportunity to be opened to deep mind and transfiguration. I do not have time to more than a list of a few of these tropes: apophatic images, conflated subjects and objects, word-knots, deliberate ambiguity, self-subversion, hyperbole, irony and so forth; and there is time only to discuss two of them at any length. The following descriptions are taken from the paper "The Apophatic Image", which Vincent Gillespie and I co-authored.
Apophatic images and surfaces are themselves non-figural but allow projection from within the viewer or perception derived from ineffable knowing. Moses' encounter with the burning bush is a classic apophatic image which allows the focussing of the imagination on a single image but which eschews representation of what it communicates. . . Such images and surfaces tend to the paradoxical. Water, wine, pearls, the moon, clouds, a flame, all partake of a play of light and darkness and offer neutral surfaces on which images can resolve and dissolve themselves. The coinherence of meaning or layers of meaning in a single image is a hallmark of the liminal signifiers of the apophatic. They defy or defer the lapse into linearity and monovalency that characterises most conventional interpretation and allow for the generation of productive paradoxes within the same signifier. . .
Word-knots, a term based on medieval love-knots, gather the many threads of meaning attaching to a single word—and it is a rule of thumb in such usage that all meanings are meant. Julian of Norwich's semantic clusters, especially the use of the word 'mene' is a case in point. She is using it to imply that the showing was without speech and without intermediary.
The nominal senses of mene include: sexual intercourse; fellowship; a companion; a course of action, method or way; an intermediary or negotiator; an agent or instrument; an intermediate state; something uniting extremes; mediation or help; argument, reason or discussion. Adjectivally it can mean 'partaking of the qualities or characteristics of two extremes'. As a verb it has the senses of: to intend to convey something; to signify; to say or express something; to remember something; to advise, admonish or urge somebody to do something. It can also have the sense of: to complain; to cry out for help; to pity, sympathise with or condole with somebody. A further adjectival set of senses coheres around notions of lowness, inferiority and smallness which resonates with Julian's sense of humble self-emptying. (MED, sv mene, n.; menen, v.). Julian's exploitation of the polysemousness of this word means that it becomes the meeting place for many of her key ideas, perceptions, responses and expressions.As you can easily find the paper to read, I will go on to my final topic.