32. “supreme principle”

The Supreme must be an entity in which the two are one; it will, therefore, be a Seeing that lives, not an object of vision like things existing in something other than themselves: what exists in an outside element is some mode of living-thing; it is not the Self-Living.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

Plotinus has given its fullest development to Neo-Platonism. We will follow his working out of the two fundamental ideas which, in his view, sum up all philosophy.

(1) The Process of Emanation from a Supreme Principle, the one source of all existing things, explains the physical and the metaphysical worlds. According as this principle gives out its energy, it exhausts itself; its determinations follow a descending scale, becoming less and less perfect. The following are the successive steps in the process:

The One

At the head of the intelligible world, far removed from the world of sense (Plato), reigns One Supreme Essence. To safeguard its transcendence, Piotinus states it to be absolutely indeterminate (apeiron). No quality marks or defines it; nothing can determine it, for all determination implies limitation (negative theodicy). The Supreme Being has no attribute, not even intellect or will: knowledge and volition suppose a duality of knower and thing known, of that which wills and that which is willed; and all duality is irreconcilable with the infinitely perfect. However, as this negative concept has for basis the Divine perfection, Plotinus has recourse to positive descriptions, the insufficiency of which, moreover, he fully recognises. By preference he describes the Supreme Being as the First (to prôton), the One, the Universal Cause, Goodness (Plato), Light. Immutable in itself, this First Unitary Being does not diffuse its substance into other beings, as the advocates of substantialist pantheism maintain; but it permeates them by its activity (dynamic pantheism); and what we call the proper, specific substantiality of things is simply the product of this activity. Furthermore, this outflow of the Divine activity into all other beings is not direct and immediate; it is effected through the agency of intermediary forces which emanate successively from one another. And as the effect is always less perfect than the cause, these activities are arranged in gradation according to their respective degrees of perfection, each one occupying a position which is lower the greater the number of intermediate steps by which it communicates with the Divine energy. What are these intermediaries into which the Divine energy flows, as it were, by cascades? Plotinus reduces them to three: Intelligence and the World-Soul in the suprasensible order; and, in the sensible order, Matter.

– Maurice De Wulf: ‘History of Medieval Philosophy’, 1909

Only blankness, complete awareness, distinterestedness; the “artist-as-artist” only, of one and rational mind, “vacant and spiritual, empty and marvelous,” in symmetries and regularities only; the changeless “human content,” the timeless “supreme principle,” the ageless “universal formula” of art, nothing else.

– Ad Reinhardt, ‘Timeless in Asia’, Art News, January 1960

33. “hold to unity”

The chief difficulty is this: awareness of the One comes to us neither by knowing nor by the pure thought that discovers the other intelligible things but by a presence transcending knowledge. When the soul knows something, it loses its unity, it cannot remain simply one because knowledge implies discursive reason and discursive reason implies multiplicity. The soul then misses The One and falls into number and multiplicity. Therefore we must go beyond knowledge and hold to unity. We must renounce knowing and knowable, every object of thought, even Beauty, because Beauty, too, is posterior to The One and is derived from it as, from the sun, the daylight. That is why Plato says of The One, “It can neither be spoken nor written about.”

– Plotinus: ‘The Good or The One’ VI, 9 [9]

47. “Interstices of void”

…Plato was well aware of the fact which Aristotle urges as a flaw in his theory, namely that it is impossible for all his figures to fill up space with entire continuity. In the structure of air and water there must be minute interstices of void; there must also be a certain amount of void for the reason that, the universe being a sphere it is impossible for rectilinear figures exactly to fill it up.

– John Cook Wilson: ‘On the Interpretation of Plato’s Timaeus’, 1889

Mr. Reinhardt is a puzzler. His tenacity over so long a period in the service of an increasingly tight premise is admirable. But the logical application of this premise (apparently, that by infinitely painstaking selection and discarding an artist may extract an irreducible essence from color and geometry, the bases of painting) has led him, , as it did not lead Mondrian, close to the discovery that essence but a void may lie at the end of his search.

– John Canaday: ‘Art, Running the Gamut’, New York Times, 21 October 1960

John Canaday, art critic of The New York Times, writing in 1960 of Mr. Reinhardt’s search for severe purity, said it “has led him, as it did not lead Mondrian, close to the discovery that essence but a void may lie at the end of his search.

– New York Times: ‘Ad Reinhardt, Painter, is Dead’, 1 September 1967

55. “Break through its own paradigms Reinvent cherishable world within prison of temporality”

The paradigm of the world is eternal; and his existence, as a paradigm, is that which is essential, and not accidental to him. But because he possesses the power of being a paradigm essentially, hence, as he is eternal, he will be eternally the paradigm of the world. If, however, an existence eternally is present with the paradigm, the image also will necessarily always exist; for a paradigm is a paradigm with reference to an image. But if the image was not when the paradigm was not, neither will the paradigm be when the image is not; since, in this case, it will no longer be a paradigm. For either it will not be a paradigm if the image is not, or it will not be the paradigm of the image. Of things, therefore, which are predicated with reference to each other, the one cannot exist if the other is not. Hence, if the paradigm of the world is eternally the paradigm of it, the world always is an image of an eternally existing paradigm.

– Proclus: ‘Argument the Second’ in Thomas Taylor: ‘Fragments that Remain of the Lost Writings of Proclus’, 1825

However, unless he would rather foist on Plato what he [Proclus] himself thought, just as he took over from Plato that the cosmos must be like the paradigm, so too must he show whether Plato wanted time to be infinite in both directions in order to infer the rest from Plato’s assertions in the following way: if the cosmos is like the paradigm in this way – by existing for all time just as the paradigm exists for all eternity, and if according to Plato is infinite in both directions. But in fact, since he is not able to show that this is Plato’s opinion, he assumes on his own without proof that time is infinite in both directions.

– Philoponus: ‘Against Proclus on the Eternity of the World 12-18’

But we never break free of our paradigms of order, and the new ones are always related to the older ones. Thus, when we speak of living in an age of perpetual transition, we are not abandoning the fiction of an end, but merely “registering the conviction that the end is immanent rather than imminent.”

– Leo Bersani: ‘Variations On a Paradigm’, New York Times, 11 June 1967