On chance and necessity (iii). What is meant by creation? Are musicians special?

Now on to slightly more heavy-duty stuff. Please do not be confused; there is absolutely nothing even slightly original in this posting. Every single thought has been expressed many times by others much better qualified to do so. Still, I wish to set up some waymarkings to how I am going to proceed further. And just because it is not original does not mean it is not controversial.


What is meant by "Creation"? Some, perhaps many, would say nothing at all, but let us in this Christmas season exhibit a little charity and allow it a place in the pantheon of meaningful words, at least for the moment. If it means anything, it surely can only do so by reference to that equally problematic word "God". Creation is generated by God; depends on God, was (and is) made by God; all these would be reasonable views of what the word might be found to contain upon unpacking it. I want to argue - or even, rather more ambitiously, show, that these ideas of Creation are rather bad news for the control-freak wing of theology (CFT).

Here is Jürgen Moltmann on the topic:


"And if (because of creation out of chaos, and creatio ex nihilo) we have to say that there is a 'within' and a 'without' for God - and that he therefore goes creatively 'out of himself', communicating himself to the one who is other than himself - then we must assume a self-limitation of the infinite, omnipresent God, preceding his creation. In order to create something outside himself, the infinite God must have made room for this finitude beforehand, 'in himself'."


"Isaac Luria developed this idea in his doctrine of zimsum. Zimsum really means concentration or contraction, a withdrawal into the self. Luria transformed the ancient doctrine about God's concentration at the single point of his Shekinah in the Temple, into the doctrine of God's concentrated inversion for the purpose of creating the world".



Luria (fl. mid 16th Century) was a central figure in Kabbalism. What both these authors (Luria in fact wrote very little, so almost all we know about him is second hand) are getting at is that in order for Creation to mean anything, it must be at least in some way "other" than God. If not, why not simply regard creation as just another divine subdepartment? And thus, what work would the word "creation" really do? God is unlimited and fulfilled; but in Creation, at least the "ravine of existence" must be brought forth.

After all, anything that one completely and permanently controlled would, in a fashion, be simply regarded as a personal extension; and there seems no reason at all not to call it part of you as well. But for God to have created Creation, so to speak, implies a self-limitation, a literal "making space" (there was no space before); or, as Luria puts it, a "contraction".

So it seems that creation, if real, must produce some element of genuine freedom. That is not to say that creation is autonomous, in the sense that once "up and running" it would have no further need of God. What this "need" might be must be examined later. But at the moment, suffice it to claim that the freedom the world has must be radical. Here is Moltmann again: "Creation is the first stage on the road to freedom."

It is absurd, as the CFT would have it, to claim that this somehow diminishes God. Au contraire. A self-limitation on behalf of someone else implies not weakness but community; the society of love. I want to claim later that this diminishment necessarily involves tragedy, loss and cost, and thus to nail my colours firmly to the mast of those who reject the "philosophical" idea of the impassible (ie unsuffering, unaffected) God. If only a God can save us, it is indeed a God that has given the possibility of salvation in the first place; ie a Creator in the sense given above.

It would be hardly be reasonable not to point out at this juncture the relationship (even if it is just linguistic) between Creation here and the creation of an artist - a point explored in a demanding but rewarding way by W. H. Vanstone in Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense. In a blog ostensibly about aesthetics, this is all well and good. But I want to point out something else here; which is that, in the best art, art is concealed. Let me give another Bachian example: in Book I of Das wohltemperierte Clavier, the D sharp minor fugue (no. 8) is one of the most austerely complex small works ever written, with ten stretti, inversions, augmentation etc etc; yet of course the listener is not really aware of the structure per se, only of the endlessly cycling permutations of the theme. I want this thought to be an organic part of what I will go on to say later. It could easily be seen as preparing the ground for a later (and boring) evasion of the question of why God is not more obvious in the world (or indeed, not obvious at all!). But that is not my point. Rather, when we respond to a work of art, it is not the work of creation that we are directly responding to; only to the aesthetic experience that that work gives us. It is only with a reflective movement that we deepen our appreciation of the work by an intellectualizing of the experience. Just as we gain something by knowing something about the geology of a landscape, we can appreciate Bach more by knowing how he constructs his musical landscape. But objectively, we see or hear the same thing. I am not really implying a Gestalt switch here, for that is too abrupt; and perception, when not of a duck-rabbit, can change and deepen gradually as well in catastrophic mode.

Several questions to ponder: does the performer, who necessarily (or not?) must have more insight into composition of music, have a privileged access to experiencing it? If intellectualizing, indeed, does not add something more to the aesthetic experience, does it add something else, and if so, what? And if the intellectual pondering of divine creation adds this "else", what is it in this case - something similar, or different to the music example?




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