More on the metaphysics of invisibility

Tolkien’s metaphysics of evil, part 35

In the previous post I made the point that the Ring, by making its wearer invisible to all others while they remain visible to him, effectively makes the being of others an extension of the wearer’s own self. In a related remark Stratford Caldecott has observed that the Ring’s

gift of invisibility symbolizes this ability to destroy all natural human relationships and identity, to become untouchable by light. The person who places himself within the golden circle of the Ring seeks not to be seen, and thereby to have power over others… Its circular shape is an image of the will closed in upon itself. Its empty center suggests the void into which we thrust ourselves by using the Ring. Once there, unseen by others, we are cut off from human contact, removed from the reach of friendship or companionship, anonymous and isolated… In that world of evil there is no room for two wills: the wearer is either absorbed and destroyed, or he defeats Sauron and becomes another Dark Lord himself. (Caldecott, The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind “The Lord of the Rings,” 57-8)

Peter Kreeft gives a slightly more theological analysis of the problem of invisibility:

Invisibility also means isolation. God alone can endure this (and only because He is a Trinity of persons, a society in Himself). He is God alone; there is no other. Yet He is other in Himself and never alone. God is a community. That is why He needs no community, as we do. The Ring cuts us off from community, and contact. We are alone with the Eye. There is no room for an Other in the One Ring. This is why the Ring surrounds emptiness. If We-ness, or Relationship, or Love, or Trinity is the name of ultimate reality, then the Ring makes us unreal by isolating us. It plunges us into its own emptiness, like a Black Hole. Its circular shape is an image of that emptiness: it encloses nothingness with its all-encompassing circle of power. (Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien, 181)

Finally, Jane Chance has approached the visibility-invisibility issue raised by Tolkien in light of Michel Foucault’s discussion of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon,

a ring-shaped building enclosing a tower that oversees cells that might contain a convict—or a lunatic, a patient, a worker, or a student. It is the same model used by Tolkien to locate the nature of Sauron’s power… Visibility—the searching Eye of Sauron—is necessary to ensure access to all individuals; it is this same visibility that insists on a rigorous and universal power. (Chance, “The Lord of the Rings”: The Mythology of Power, 21)


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