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Essentially Indescribable

Page history last edited by mobius@... 7 years, 5 months ago

The Ends of Words: Mystic Practice and Rhetorical Limit Experience

Richard Doyle 

Penn State University 

RSA Workshop 2013

 

“The old writer couldn't write anymore because he had reached the end of words, the end of what can

be done with words. And then?” William S. Burroughs, The Western Lands

 

Writer Alan Watts once described himself as being in the business of "Effing the ineffable" - putting the

unspeakable into words. This workshop will explore the tensions endemic to effing the ineffable.

Mystic rhetorical practices are collectively defined by this paradoxical attempt to describe the

indescribable, and in so doing they explore the rhetorical limits of any given historical moment or

domain. And mystic texts, while often well out of the mainstream in their content and style, are hardly

marginal in the usual sense; perhaps precisely because mystic writers must explore the very limits of

discourse, mystic texts are at the core of many rhetorical traditions, where they explore the limit

experience (Bataille) of language in the space of all possible rhetorical practices. And this “end” of

words can at times also be their very telos, as in the eighth century Sanskrit chant “Nirvana Shatakam”

or the fourteenth century English mediation manual the “Cloud of Unknowing”. Exploring an itinerary

from these early texts to twentieth century science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s The Exegesis, the

workshop will collaboratively map some rhetorical domains of what is possible, and not possible, to

"eff."

 

Texts:

Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing ( short selections)

De Certeau, Michel. Mysticism 

Dick, Philip K. The Exegesis (short selections)

Leonard, Ron. The Transcendental Philosophy of Franklin Merrell-Wolff ( pp. 107-155)

Merrell-Wolff, Franklin. Transformations in Consciousness (short selections)

Segal, Suzanne. Collision With the Infinite ( Short Selections)

 

Schedule

 

Workshop Participant Wikis

Adi Sankara, “Nirvana Shatkam”

 

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