Yesterday, on my bike ride, I (re)listened to Eric Voegelin’s Autobiographical Reflections. When I heard this passage I almost fell off my bike.

James’s study on the question “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?” (1904) struck me at the time, and still strikes me, as one of the most important philosophical documents of the twentieth century. In developing his concept of pure experience, James put his finger on the reality of the consciousness of participation, inasmuch as what he calls pure experience is the something that can be put into the context either of the subject’s stream of consciousness or of objects in the external world. This fundamental insight of James identifies the something that lies between the subject and object of participation as the experience. Later I found that the same type of analysis had been conducted on a much vaster scale by Plato, resulting in his concept of the metaxy — the In-Between. The experience is neither in the subject nor in the world of objects but In-Between, and that means In-Between the poles of man and of the reality that he experiences.

The In-Between character of experience becomes of particular importance for the understanding of response to the movements of divine presence. For the experience of such movements is precisely not located in man’s stream of consciousness — man understood in the immanentist sense — but in the In-Between of the divine and the human. The experience is the reality of both divine and human presence, and only after it has happened can it be allocated either to man’s consciousness or to the context of divinity under the name of revelation. A good number of problems that plague the history of philosophy now became clear as hypostases of the poles of a pure experience in the sense of William James, or of the metaxy experiences in the sense of Plato. By hypostases I mean the fallacious assumption that the poles of the participatory experience are self-contained entities that form a mysterious contact on occasion of an experience. A mystery, to be sure, is there, but even a mystery can be clearly expressed by stressing the participatory reality of the experience as the site of consciousness and understanding the poles of the experience as its poles and not as self-contained entities. The problem of reality experienced thus becomes the problem of a flow of participatory reality in which reality becomes luminous to itself in the case of human consciousness. The term consciousness, therefore, could no longer mean to me a human consciousness that is conscious of a reality outside man’s consciousness, but had to mean the In-Between reality of the participatory pure experience that then analytically can be characterized through such terms as the poles of the experiential tension, and the reality of the experiential tension in the metaxy. The term luminosity of consciousness, which I am increasingly using, tries to stress this In-Between character of the experience as against the immanentizing language of a human consciousness, which, as a subject, is opposed to an object of experience.

This understanding of the In-Between character of consciousness, as well as of its luminosity — which is the luminosity not of a subjective consciousness but of the reality that enters into the experience from both sides — results furthermore in a better understanding of the problem of symbols: Symbols are the language phenomena engendered by the process of participatory experience. The language symbols expressing an experience are not inventions of an immanentist human consciousness but are engendered in the process of participation itself. Language, therefore, participates in the metaxy character of consciousness. A symbol is neither a human conventional sign signifying a reality outside consciousness nor is it, as in certain theological constructions, a word of God conveniently transmitted in the language that the recipient can understand; rather, it is engendered by the divine-human encounter and participates, therefore, as much in divine as in human reality. This seems to me, for the moment at least, the best formulation of the problem that plagues various symbolist philosophers — the problem that symbols do not simply signify a divine reality beyond consciousness but are somehow the divine reality in its presence itself.

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