Ainur’s Vision: Desire for the Real

Metaphysics of the Music, part 36

The psychological consequence of the Vision’s implying a greater degree of being than the Music is that, more than merely calling the Ainur’s attention to an abstract or hypothetical possibility of the extra-mental, physical world it portrays, the Vision is also conspicuous in its eliciting in the Ainur the intense desire that this world should be made real, that it should be given the gift of its own independent act of existence. When the Vision is concluded, after all, the Ainur’s wish is not that the Vision–much less the Music–should be renewed, but rather that what they have seen in the Vision should be made real: “Then there was unrest among the Ainur; but Ilúvatar called to them, and said: ‘I know the desire of your minds that what ye have seen should verily be, not only in your thought, but even as ye yourselves are, and yet other…’” (Silmarillion 20). David Bentley Hart again captures rather precisely the tension between what I’m suggesting is the Kantian disinterest of the Music and the Thomistic desire for the real found in the Vision:

Beauty evokes desire… precedes and elicits desire, supplicates and commands it (often in vain), and gives shape to the will that receives it. Second, it is genuinely desire, and not some ideally disinterested and dispirited state of contemplation, that beauty both calls for and answers to: though not a coarse, impoverished desire to consume and dispose, but a desire made full at a distance, dwelling alongside what is loved and possessed in the intimacy of dispossession. Whereas for Kant, for instance, ‘interested’ desire figures as the negation of the aesthetic and the ethical alike, as incompatible with contemplative dispassion in the former case and with categorical obligation in the latter, for Christian thought desire—which includes interest—must be integral to both. It is the pleasingness of the other’s otherness, the goodness that God sees in creation, that wakes desire to what it must affirm and what it must not violate, and shows love the measure of charitable detachment that must temper its elations; it is only in desire that the beautiful is known and its invitation heard. Here Christian thought learns something, perhaps, of how the Trinitarian love of God—and the love God requires of creatures—is eros and agape at one: a desire for the other that delights in the distance of otherness. (The Beauty of the Infinite 19-20)

The Vision, in short, depicts a physical reality the realization or perfection of which necessarily requires that it be something more than a mere Vision. This means that, in their love for the things portrayed in the Vision, the Ainur necessarily have an interest or concern to see that the possibilities exhibited there should be given their full metaphysical due. The Ainur thus give expression to the same desire we find at play in St. Thomas’s metaphysics of beauty, namely that, as W. Norris Clarke has put it, “[w]hat we really desire when we desire a possible being is its actuality, not its possibility” (“What is Really Real?” 82).

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One thought on “Ainur’s Vision: Desire for the Real

  1. Pingback: Music or Vision, Dream or Art | The Flame Imperishable

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