Wednesday, October 13, 2004

liber mundi

Liber mundi is perhaps one of the most prevailing metaphors of the European mediaeval world. Essentially it has its origins in the New Testament myth that the World and the World are in symbiosis. It is St. John's Gospel's that first introduces the liber mundi metaphor: "In (the) beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things received being through him, and without him not one (thing) received being which has received being. ... And the Word became flesh".

I found this interesting article in Minerva (an internet journal of philosophy edited by Dr Stephen Thornton at the University of Limerick, Ireland). Here's an excerpt that pretty much sums up the "world book" metaphor:
"... the word "Word", as it is presented in John's Gospel, is the translation of the Greek word logos, meaning both "word" (verbum) and "reason" (ratio). As a result, from a Christian standpoint, the Incarnation made the world not only "readable" (since the Word "penetrated" and "inscribed" it), but also "ration-able", comprehensible (since God as ratio came the world into being). That would represent a crucial premise of the European civilization as one "obsessed" with the knowledge of the world. The world is considered "thinkable" since it essentially contains "reason" (logos), that is, the process of knowledge of the world is a process of "self-recognition" by which our reason (as a faculty of knowledge) recognizes itself in the very essence of the world (as one which came into being by the Supreme Reason)."
While the WWW is many things to many people, as a totality is it "wider" than any of those things taken apart, whether it's online text archives, museum gateways, shop fronts, or the ubiquitous home page of Joanna Blog. In fact, Steven Johnson is right when he says that "We've lived so long under the notion of the Web as a space of connected documents, it seems almost unthinkable that it could be organized any other way. But it could just as easily be assembled around a different axis: not pages but minds" (read more).

Johnson thinks that the explosive growth of blogging has given thousands of people the opportunity to enter in a kind of open ended discourse that email based online discussion forums have tried but failed. So asking "What happens when you start seeing the Web as a matrix of minds, not documents?" as Johnson does, brings up the question of whether documents are seen as public text or as personal testimony? However, the more intersting question is what happens when the Web becomes a sort of collective consciousness, a vast brain storming session that operates outside institutional protocols?

So how does this relate to the whole idea of liber mundi? The Book of the World is not simply a book of words but one of word-meanings, for it is the sentence (Lat. sententia) that according to Thomas of Celanos, makes the book something in which the totality of the world is contained (liber in quo totum continetur).

Unlike the Christian tradition where the world-word revelation closes with the gospels, in Buddhism, at least of the Mahāyāna variety, it continues long after the Buddha's parinirvāṇa. Sūtras and tantras continued to be composed and attributed to the Buddha for almost a millennium after his historical mission, and would no doubt have continued well into the modern age, had Buddhism endured in India after the 12th century C.E.

Here's my favorite example of a world book in quo totum continetur, the famous Ekākṣarīprajñāpāramitāsūtra:
"Thus I have heard at one time. The Lord was sitting on Vulture Peak with a great assembly of 1250 monks and many billions of bodhisattvas. At that time, the Lord said to the venerable Ananda, “Ananda, keep this perfection of wisdom in one letter for the benefit and happiness of sentient beings. It it thus, a.” So said the Lord and everyone - Ananda, the monks, and the great bodhisattvas - having understood and admired the perfection of wisdom, praised what the Lord had said."
What this sūtra aims perhaps to say is that the entire content of language resides in the potentiality of the first sound and letter of the alphabet. Yet Buddhism records an even more radical statement. It is said that from the night that he attained enlightenment to the night that he passed into nirvāṇa the Tathāgata did not utter a single word.

Next I'll spend some time on Derrida, who, now that he's dead, we can at long last begin to talk about him in past tense. No more metaphysics of presence, although I still agree with the metaphysicians of Tlön that metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature.

2 Comments:

At 4:32 pm, Blogger Escape said...

What exactly does liber mundi mean??

 
At 9:53 am, Blogger Brady Bowie said...

Biblio is technically Book. Roughly it is "World Library" World (Mundi) however being used in a more universal context than the planet Earth.

Most translate it as "Book (Liber) of the World (Mundi).

 

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