The Beginning of the Beginning -Part 5



The True Story


The authors of Genesis 1, as I said, were conscious of beginning an act of participation in the mysterious Beginning of the It , when they put down the first words of their text. As a literary document, the text is to be dated in post-Exilic times, somewhere between the middle of the sixth and the middle of the fifth centuries b.c. It opens a story of mankind from its beginning in Creation, through the history of the Patriarchs, of captivity and Exodus, of Palestinian settlement, of the Davidic-Solomonic empire, of the kingdoms and their catastrophe, of Exile and return, down to the Deutero-Isaianic dream of a world-Israel, under the guidance of God's covenants with man. Through Israel, the history of man continues the creational process of order in reality; it is part of the comprehending story of the It ; and the point at which the story arrives in the event of Genesis derives its significance from the revelation of the truth that the epiphany of structure in reality culminates in the attunement of human history to the command of the pneumatic Word.

The story and the truth it is meant to convey are clearly told, but what do the story and its truth mean in terms of experience and symbolization?

The quest for truth, it appears, does not result in a piece of information that would have been available at other times and in other situations or that, when found, would be unqualifiedly valid in its specific form for all future times in all future situations. The event of the quest is part of a story told by the It , and yet a story to be told by the human questioner, if he wants to articulate the consciousness of his quest as an act of participation in the comprehending story. The "story" thus emerges as the symbolism that will express the awareness of the divine-human movement and countermovement in the quest for truth.

One of the profoundest connoisseurs and practitioners of story-telling in the twentieth century, Thomas Mann, has symbolized the divine-human metalepsis of the story in the concluding sentence of his Joseph novel: "And thus ends the beautiful story and God-invention of Joseph and his brothers." Telling a story in this metaleptic sense of the term is not a matter of choice. The story is the symbolic form the questioner has to adopt necessarily when he gives an account of his quest as the event of wresting, by the response of his human search to a divine movement, the truth of reality from a reality pregnant with truth yet unrevealed. Moreover, the story remains the constant symbolism of the quest even when the tension between divine and human story is reduced to the zero of identity as in the dialectical story told by the self-identical logos of the Hegelian system.

From the consciousness of the quest as an event whose story must be told as part of the story of reality becoming luminous for its truth, there result a considerable number of problems to be dealt with in later chapters of this volume. For the present we have to concentrate on the implications for the problem of the Beginning.

The great quests for truth in which the consciousness of the metaleptic story becomes differentiated—be they the priestly quest of Genesis with the prophetic quests in the background, or the Judaeo-Christian quest, or the Zoroastrian, the Hinduist and Buddhist, the Confucian and Taoist quests, or finally the noetic quests of the Hellenic philosophers—do not occur in a vacuum. They occur in social fields, constituted by older experiences of order and symbolizations of their truth, now experienced by the questioners to have fallen into disorder and decline.

The quest for truth is a movement of resistance to the prevalent disorder; it is an effort to attune the concretely disordered existence again to the truth of the It-reality, an attempt to create a new social field of existential order in competition with the fields whose claim to truth has become doubtful. If the quest succeeds in finding the symbols that will adequately express the newly differentiated experience of order, if it then finds adherents to the new truth and durable forms for their organization, it can indeed become the beginning of a new social field.

The account of these personal and social events, however, does not exhaust the story to be told; in addition, the successful establishment of a field of differentiated order creates new structures in history through its relations to other social fields. For the quest, if successful, imposes on the older fields the previously not existent characteristics of falsehood or lie; this imposition will provoke movements of resistance from the adherents to the older, more compact truth, as well as from the discoverers of verities alternative to both the old and the new truth; it will furthermore meet with the social obstacles of spiritual dullness and indifference; and it will encounter movements of skepticism aroused by the new plurality of verities.

The quest, thus, is not only its own beginning. By restructuring the social fields at large in their relation to the truth of order, it marks the beginning of a new configuration of truth in history. Since the questioner's quest is accompanied by his consciousness of the event as a beginning in the personal, social, and historical dimensions of order, the questioner has to tell quite a story indeed. It is the story of his experience of disorder, of the resistance aroused in him by the observation of concrete cases, of his experience of being drawn into the search of true order by a command issuing from the It-reality, of his consciousness of ignorance and questioning, of his discovery of the truth, and of the consequences of disorder unrestrained by regard for the order he has experienced and articulated. The event as a beginning is the story of an attempt to impose order on a wasteland of disorder.

The story of the quest is the word that evokes order from disorder by the force of its truth. But how does the listener recognize the story to be true, so that by the recognition of its truth he is forced to reorder his existence? Why should he believe the story to be true rather than consider it somebody's private opinion concerning the order of his preference? To questions of this class only one answer is possible: If the story is to evoke authoritatively the order of a social field, the word must be spoken with an authority recognizable as such by the men to whom the appeal is addressed; the appeal will have no authority of truth unless it speaks with an authority commonly present in everybody's consciousness, however inarticulate, deformed, or suppressed the consciousness in the concrete case may be.

Using the Heraclitian distinction of private and public, we may say, the appeal will be no more than a private ( idios ) opinion unless the questioner finds in the course of his quest the word ( logos ) that indeed speaks what is common ( xynon ) to the order of man's existence as a partner in the comprehending reality; only if the questioner speaks the common logos of reality can he evoke a truly public order. Or, in the language of Genesis, the story of the quest will have the authority of truth only if it is attuned to a comprehending reality that itself is a story of pneumatic evocation of order from disorder.

The character of truth, thus, attaches to the story by virtue of its paradoxic structure of being both a narrative and an event: (1) As a narrative, the story of the quest conveys insights into the order of reality by language in the mode of intentionality. The human narrative refers to reality intended in the mode of thing-ness. (2) As an event, the story emerges from the It-reality; its language articulates an experience in the metaxy of divine-human movements and countermovements. The story is an event in which the It-reality becomes luminous for its truth. Under the aspect of this second structure the language of the story is not narratively referential but luminously symbolic.

However, although these structures in the story can be distinguished, they must not be hypostatically separated. The story that opens with Genesis 1 must not be construed hypostatically as a narrative told either by a revelatory God or by an intelligently imaginative human being. It is both, because it is neither the one nor the other; and it has this paradoxic character inasmuch as it is not a plain narration of things, but at the same time a symbolism in which the human beginning of order becomes translucent for its meaning as an act of participation in the divine Beginning. The participatory structure of the event and the account given of it in the referential structure of the narrative are inseparably one in the paradoxic structure of the story.

In Search of Order , CW Vol 18
Ch 1, The Beginning of the Beginning,
§5. The True Story,
pp 38-41.

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