A busy day today. Another centre hasn’t enough teachers, so they rang my boss and asked if she had any spare hands. i duly went, being as i am desperate for cold hard cash, like a Bruce Springsteen character. 80 minutes on the train (each way) reading essays in a parallel text edition, German/English, lent me by Juniper, our exquisite MILF receptionist. Strange to see her marginal annotations (in pencil), to reflect i am learning her language so, as she learnt mine. How a language as it were sneaks up on one – every day, some words, a few sentences even, and then you can understand, a little. And suddenly a language.

The other book was Peter Kingsley’s In the Dark Places of Wisdom, which i read for the first time in 2009. i came across Kingsley’s excellent Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic, in the Manchester University library before my TEFL course. i was looking for TEFL textbooks, as i’d bought a visitor’s card, purely to get at one book, and thought i may as well try to get something out of it. The Kingsley book caught my eye as i wandered down an aisle; i did a double take, thought “it’ll just be academic shit” and continued, then felt a doubt, a tug, and went back, thought again “academic bullshit”, nearly left again, took it from the shelf, and there it began. Kingsley himself describes coming across Empedocles via a book literally falling off a shelf in a North London bookstore.

i have for a few years had some sense of how human beings are connected to each other, and to our previous lives. Books falling off shelves, or the title tugging at one’s sleeve – these are as good a means as any, to reawaken. i can trace the steps that led to the (gradual, gentle) path to the knowledge of my last life, via a book i read in 2007, written by one of my old countrymen, obsessed as he was.

A few months before reading Kingsley i had concluded that one must “die, without actually physically dying”. Kingsley writes of Parmenides and Persephone: “She’s saying, without having to say it any more clearly, that you’d only expect to arrive where he has arrived if you were dead. So that’s what he has done – travelled the road of death while still alive, gone where the dead go without dying.”

i’ve encountered various unsubstantiated attacks on Kingsley. A fairly typical comment on youtube:

What a ridiculous hodge-podge of unproven statements! This man is an embarrassment to humanity – an intellectual minnow who has allowed his critical faculties to become a prisoner of his desires. I beseech anyone that sees this to not accept it at face value. Look for proof in his statements and you will find only dreamy wish fulfillment. Shame on you Peter Kingsley

In general i have no interest in proving anything, but attacks of this sort, general abuse rather than specific criticism, vitriol not backed up by counter-arguments and evidence, don’t convince me. When there are two sides, consider which has arguments, evidence, logic, and which resorts to blustering ad hominem attacks of the “these people are obviously insane/stupid/evil” variety. Prove it; dissect it, as does David Thompson. Why is it insane? Isolate and disprove mistakes for me.

Kingsley provokes a certain vitriol among academics. A classical scholar (the Ancient Philosophy book reads half like an interesting academic work, half like an initiatory text), he arouses the ire of academics who prefer to regard Greek philosophy as dry as dust theorising about matters academic, as if Plato was designed to generate articles to meet RAE quotas. As Kingsley writes, with Plato & Aristotle philosophy went from being the love of wisdom to being the love of talking about the love of wisdom. That something of the Pre-Socratics was lost, buried by Plato, is i think true; Heidegger & Wittgenstein (born the same year) both in a sense reached back to the pre-Socratics, or at least they tried to get back of Plato. i like Plato but something was lost, then. Naturally, not many people have really paid any attention to either Heidegger or Wittgenstein, in the depths (at first i wrote “no one” but recalled Guy Davenport on Wittgenstein).

The youtube troll doesn’t provide specific criticisms. i would guess he feels vitally offended at Kingsley’s just appropriation of Parmenides and Empedocles, as figures of magic and mysticism rather than as pre-Socratic footnotes. i have yet to come across a single critical close reading of Kingsley, just abuse of this sort. The figures of Heraclitus, Empedocles, Parmenides, Pythagoras – these are not academics, not “philosophers” in the modern sense, as tenure-holding, article-publishing, RAE-approved dons. They are not Terry Eagleton.  They are mystics, magicians.

i know a little of the real Pythagoras and he was no academic. He remembered some of his other lives, which i guess would not do in any modern department of philosophy. Such knowledge cannot be proved. And it is such knowledge – the great curtain torn in half – which is worth having. The rest is, ultimately, academic. i respect true scholarship, whether knowledge of Milton or mathematics, but if you cannot move beyond it, and so beyond your mortal self, your vanities, it is distinctly limited. The aim of such knowledge is to leave it behind, and so move beyond the human – to the gods. You want power? Abandon yourself. Leave yourself behind; serve a god. As Kingsley writes:

That ‘s what initiation was: to find out how you’re related to the world of the divine, know how you belong, how you’re at home there just as much as here. It was to become adopted, a child of the gods. For those people it was all a matter of being prepared before you die, making the connection between this world and that. Otherwise it’s too late.

Not for academics. Such insects would ask Saint John of the Cross for proof; they would fire Wittgenstein for not publishing enough. There is no proof, in the sense of objective, mechanical computation, by statistics, probablity. There is only experience. For that, you must move beyond worldly knowledge. You must actually enter death and meet – that which is there.