I am human, or so I have assumed, and allow me to assume so for the time it takes me to complete this notion that I am something at least akin to human; that is, as human stands in contrast with what it means to be homo-sapiens, one of many animals here on earth. But I repeat myself; yet repetition at best is called motif.
I am not a chair, a rock, or a gorilla; this I have presumed. There is enough evidence to the contrary of anyone of these, enough quantifiable evidence excluding me from categorical membership. I do however, share categories with them, especially the gorilla. As matter, the rock and I are one in some ways, but then elementally, the sun and I share commonality. The stuff of the stars. There have been opposite turning strands of RNA found on asteroids, that is, building components in DNA that differ from all of those found on earth.
Now whether I am human or not depends on factors that we assume are not quantifiable, at least in our current dogmas of empiricism. Yet, empiricism is essentially an anti-rationalism, if rationalism is understood as it has been in our civilizations philosophic traditions: the supremacy of reason over sense perception. Okay, my humanity then is what? Anyone is homo-sapiens just by having been born; this is clear. Cousin to the Great Apes is our birthright, and this is for reasons other than the empirical conclusion that I am very hairy.
How much humanity I have has everything to do with how humane I am; this has been said before by me in other essays within the OR; however, it must be said again, repeated as much as motif will permit–and herein so far we are talking both qualitatively and quantitatively, each reciprocal with the other; human/humane.
English, in its lexical plenitude has two words for being human whereby French has one. The English words ‘human’ and ‘humane’ both come from the French humaine; the ideas referenced by the two English words find their expression in the one and only one French. The semantic dichotomy in English leads us to mismanage our metaphysical construction of what it means to be human; it’s a wonder we do not all go off an ontological cliff.
Philosophy used to be a love of wisdom, as set by its Greek etymology, philo sophia; however, the highest wisdom nowadays rests in doubt, and not merely a mistrust of what we know, thus testing the limits of knowing, but a conviction that we can never know as we once believed was possible. We have been, for about a century and a half, or more, playing an epistemological Russian roulette. Anyone who asserts anything categorically or abosolutely, anyone that has conviction for what he knows, becomes immediately suspect.
French semantic duality, though, should lead to a holistic understanding of our human being, in other words, our humanity, whereby we could allow this French view of what it means to be human to inform our cultural understanding of our humanity; that is, if we were serious about diversity and multiculturalism, as something other than what we practice, which is multiculturalism as a costume to wear and only valid if it maintains allegiance to contemporary dogmas on what it means to be a liberal American bourgeois capitalist bureaucratic intellectual–any perceived contradiction notwithstanding.
To be human or to be humane is simply enclosed in the one French word, humaine, ; there is no humanity without being humane, of course is the correct inference. This weds the idea to be humane with the notion to be human; in the French mind. The latter cannot become without first the former coming to be. Nonetheless, what the French language understands clearly, and what the French people understand individually or collectively has often been at odds.
We do take humanity today as something given and not something to achieve or to build; yes, our humanity is something to make, and that’s to make in a special way, becoming a unique maker, someone who is, yes, a poet.
‘Poet’ comes from the Greek poeta. Herein we can say that poets are for humanity and that humanity is in poetry; poetry is something more than verse on a page or verse spoken, recited, sung. This of course is contingent with thinking about poetry in a deeper, more comprehensive, or simply a broader way. But humanity for us is no longer a poetic endeavor, if I am permitted to return to the Greeks and undertstand making in this ancient yet viable way. For them, humanity moved along lines seen parallel with the development of arts and letters.
A poet can only make in this special way inferred, and only with that special attention toward perfection which we must understand is a special kind of completeness, one that does not come from perpetual doubt or praising mediocrity or insisting that the one who does know something is pretentious. The culture of igonorance in America has been upon us for almost two generations at least; a fear of knowing collateral in its rise with the desire to abdicate responsibility.
So a poet is one who makes, but not just anything anywhere any way he or she chooses. A poet invests something of the spirit of the muses in what he does, how she makes . . . A poet is not a mere craftsman, although a craftsman can elevate what he makes to the level of poetry, if you do pause to understand how poet is used herein. Nonetheless, how we talk about art and and how and when we become an artist in our culture only shows we know too little about what we fail to mean at with the words we garble in our mouths and on our pages . . . there must be this special attention to perfection.
‘Perfect’ comes from the Latin perfectum, and perfectum in Latin was anything complete in this metaphysical way; and metaphysics is not simply a way to talk about the real, it is of the real itself, it is by the real and for the real. Whatever a poet does do he does with enthusiasm, but more than the mere enthused we get about a new movie coming out starring our favorite actress, or how we get when the Yankees win the World Series, although there has always been poetry in the way Derek Jeter plays ball.
The poet suffers a divine malady when infected by the spirit of the muses, what the ancient Greeks called enthousiasmos. This enthusiasm is of divine proportions. The poet is infected by the muses, instilled with something of their energy; they do invade and pervade the poet. It is a form of spiritual possession whereby in their cohabitation of the poet’s mind and body the muses bestow their quite literal blessings on the poet. But wait.
If the origin of blessing here is understood in its French etymology, whereby to bless is blesser or to wound, then this blessing by the muses, as any blessing from God or Gods, would also be a wounding.
Il a ete touche par dieux, my grandfather used to say in French whenever he saw someone whom we used to call lame; he has been touched by God as Francis was touched by the Holy Ghost. Yes, wounded are we who have been blessed; to carry the cross, as it had been taught to us, as it has a million applications to how we ennact compassion in the world day to day. In his lameness, the wounded man becomes a poet of compassion; his affliction itself the poetry of compassion. We who behold, the students, the apprentices.
I recall from boyhood, the colloquial expression, “touched,” used for anyone who suffered mental illness, someone who had been touched by the angels a great-Aunt from the Berkshires had once said to me. There are lessons to be learned by us from each of those who cross our path, and on his or her path, either bears his or her cross. I can still see the heavy, think, carved wooden crucifix affixed to the wall above the bed upstairs at my Great Aunt’s in Pittsfield, my mother’s mother’s older sister, the latter having taken care of my mother after the former, my grandmother, found she could not be a mother in the way others expected her to be a mother. She abandoned her daughter and sons and left her husband with three children and a farm.
The perfect human,. therefore, is the humane one, one who is endowed with the fullest faculties of his or her humanity intact, fully realized in his or her ability to be compassionate and forgiving, fully capable of loving his fellow woman and his fellow man, yet one who bears the marks of this humanity as wounds, each of us blessed by and for this humanity as Francis was by the wounds of Christ. If human, humane; if not humane, never human. But perfect means complete, and no one is complete until he is dead?