APEIROKALIA

Olavo de Carvalho
www.olavodecarvalho.org

Published in Bravo!, 1st year, no 1, November 1997 and O Imbecil Coletivo II. Rio de Janeiro, Topbooks, 1998. translated by Pedro Sette Câmara reviewed by André von Kugland

The general understanding of the term higher education is that it basically means the training for the most well-paid professions. Thence one rightly concludes that every normal human being is able to receive it and that any elitism whatsoever would be unjust, even when the case is not one of intentional discrimination but of unequal distribution of luck. However, if we are to understand by that name the overcoming of the intellectual limitations of the environment, the access to a universal perspective of things, and the realization of man’s highest spiritual qualities, then we will find that many candidates have an insurmountable impairment that, sooner or later, will end up excluding them and assuring that higher education – in the strong, not the administrative sense – continues to be, by right and deed, a privilege of few. This impairment, thank God, is not of economic, social, ethnic or biological order. It is one of those human evils which, like cancer and matrimonial quarrels, is more or less fairly and equally distributed among classes, races, and genders. It is the only kind of fault that could be justly invoked as the measure of an elitist selection. Anyway, that would be totally unnecessary, because by itself it segregates, in a way so natural and spontaneous that the excluded cannot even imagine what they have lost, and are actually quite happy about their situation. Thus, perfect harmony reigns among the happy few and the unhappy many, safeguarded by the impassable distance which separates them. The impairment about which I speak is not material, nor is it quantifiable. The IBGE 1 does not include it in its figures, and the Ministry of Education ignores it completely. Nonetheless it exists, has a name and has been known for more than two millennia. A trained mind can recognize its presence immediately, by an intuitive act of perception as simple as differentiating day and night. The Greek called it apeirokalía2, which means simply lack of experience of the most beautiful things. By this term it was understood that the individual, who in decisive stages of his development had been deprived of certain interior experiences that arouse on him the longing for beauty, goodness, and truth, would never be able to understand the conversations of the sages, no matter how much effort he put in learning Sciences, Letters and Rhetoric. Plato, for instance, would say that this man is a prisoner of the cave. Aristotle, in a more technical language, would say that rites are not intended for the transmission of specific teachings to men, but to cause on their soul a deep impression. Anyone who is aware of the importance Aristotle gives to the imaginative impressions will understand the extreme seriousness of what he means: these impressions performed upon the soul an illuminating and structuring impact. In their absence, intelligence blindly drifts about the multitude of sensible data, without grasping the symbolic nexus which, bridging the gap between abstractions and reality, prevents our reasoning from dissolving into a maddening amalgamation of empty syllogisms – the pedant expressions of the impotence to know. Of course, the inner experiences which Aristotle refers to are not exclusively granted by rites in the strict and technical understanding of the term. Theater and poetry also can open souls to the inflow from
1 Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, portuguese for Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. 2 According to Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon: ἀπειροκαλία, ἡ, ignorance of the beautiful, want of taste, “ἀμουσία καὶ ἀ.” Pl. R. 403c; “ὑπ᾽ ἀπειροκαλίας” ib. 405b; vulgar extravagance, “ἀ. περὶ χρήματα” Arist. E. N. 1107b19; of literary style, D. H. Dem. 23: in pl., vulgarities, X. Cyr. 1.2.3, from ἀπειρόκαλος, -ον, ignorant of the beautiful, tasteless, vulgar, “ἀ. καὶ ἀπαίδευτος” Pl. Lg. 775b, cf. D. H. Pomp. 2 etc; “περὶ λόγους ἀ.” Plu. 2.44d; “ἀ. ἡγοῦμαι πάντων μεμνῆσθαι” Æl. Tact. 1.2; τὸ ἀ. = ἀπειροκαλία X. Mem. 3.10.5. Adv. “-λως” Pl. Phdr. 244c etc; foolishly, rashly, Onos. 11.4.

above. To music – to certain music – we cannot deny the power to generate a similar effect. The simple contemplation of nature, a providential happening, or, for more sensitive souls, even certain states of loving rapture, when associated with a strong moral appeal (remember Raskolnikov, before Sonya, in Crime and Punishment), can put the soul in a certain state of bliss that frees it from the cave and from apeirokalía. However, it is much more likely that the most intense experiences a man may have during his life will drive him away from what Aristotle had in mind. For what characterizes the life-giving impression the philosopher mentions is precisely the impossibility to separate, in their content, truth, goodness and beauty. From Plato to Leibniz, there was not a single philosopher worthy of the name who did not most emphatically proclaim the unity of these three aspects of Being. And here begins the problem: most men never had an experience in which beauty, goodness and truth did not appear separated by an unsurpassable abyss. Such men are the victims of apeirokalía – and among them we may count some of the most influential intellectuals in the world today. Unfortunately, the number of victims seems to be destined to increase. Back in 1918, Max Weber already pointed to the loss of the unity of ethical-religious, æsthetical and cognitive values as prominent traces of the newborn age. Goodness, beauty and truth became more and more distant every day, and because of that the most sublime values have retreated from the public life, either to the transcendent world of mystical life, or to the fraternity of personal and direct human relationships... It is not by chance that today, only in the small and intimate circles, in personal human situations, there remains something that may correspond to the prophetic pneuma which in ancient times would sweep large communities like a fire.3 The two fortresses of the sublime that Weber mentions did not last for long: mystical life, harassed by the tide of fake esoterism that stole its language and prestige, ended up recoiling to silence, off the mainstream, in order not to be contaminated by profane babble. Intimacy, assaulted by the media, violated by the State’s interference, made the object of hysterical exhibitionism and sadistic sneaking, disowned of its language by the commercial and ideological exploitation of its symbols, simply no longer exists. The whole literature of the 20th century reflects this state of affairs: first the incommunicability of the egos, then the suppression of the ego itself – character dissolution. But much has happened since Weber. Nearing the end of the millennium, what is understood by mysticism is barren intelectuallism of philologists; as love, the contact of anonymous bodies through a membrane of rubber. The three supreme values, at this point, are not only independent, but antagonistic. Beauty is not only alien to goodness: it is decidedly evil. Goodness in its turn is hypocritical, falsely sentimental and stupid. Truth is ugly, meaningless and depressing. Æsthetics celebrates vampires, the death of the soul, cruelty, the man who shoves his arm up to the elbow into another man’s rectum. Ethics is reduced to an accusatory discourse of each one against his own antipathies, with the most cynical self-indulgence. Truth is nothing but the statistic consensus of the corrupted academia. Under these conditions, it is a veritable miracle that an individual can escape for instants from the led dome of apeirokalía, and another miracle that, upon his return to the nightmare he calls “real life”, these instants do not seem to him like a dream that he should better not mention in public. But nothing will prevent a writer from speaking, in his own works, to the survivors of the spiritual shipwreck of the 20th century, hoping that they exist and that they are not so few. Overwhelmed by the combined harassment of banality and brutality, they can still suspect that in their hidden dreams and hopes there is a truth more certain than everything the world today imposes upon us with the label of “reality”, guaranteed by the seal of Science and the Food and Drug Administration. It is to those that I speak, aware that they will not be found in larger numbers among the educated than among the poor and the destitute.
3 Max WEBER, Science as a Vocation in H. H. GERTH and C. Wright MILLS, Max Weber: Essays in Sociology.