Consider the barrenness of the notions that earthly things fall because they sink to the earth’s center or that fire rises to the empyrean home of burning suns and stars (i.e., the Aristotelian teleologies in physics). Yes, they accord well with our sense that falling and rising are peculiarly interesting aspects of the observed world. For centuries, however, the former made it harder to get to the Newtonian insight that all matter attracts all matter—and the Earth just happens, in a boring, quantitative way, to be the largest lump around. Similarly, the latter made it harder to see that anything less dense floats in anything more dense. Fire isn’t heading home. It’s just buoyant in a limited, measurable sense that has nothing to do with its romantic and sentimental associations.
Ditto for Galileo’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities; ditto for entelechies in biology. The mechanization of the world picture had its costs: One could no longer appreciate Dante in the same way, because Satan’s imprisonment at the Earth’s center—as far as possible from the heavens—had become a matter of sound physics and cosmology.
Such developments have moved around considerations of the Platonic overworld until it becomes the object of most of Rilke’s poetry, or—in another direction—the Symbolique of that extraordinary psychoanalyst, whose seminars I attended for four months during my second stay in Paris…
I have a house in the land to the north, one half of it red gold, the lower half of silver.
Its porch is of white bronze and its threshold of copper, and of the wings of white-yellow birds is its thatch, I think.
The candlesticks are golden, with a candle of great purity, with a gem of precious stone in the very middle of the house.
But for myself and the high-queen, none of us are sad; a household there without old age, with yellow curly-crested hair.
Every man is a chess-player, there are good companies there without exclusion; the house is not closed against man or woman going to it.