The Romance of Orphic Scholarship  [1]



“Love that discourses in my mind" –Dante, (Pugatorio, Canto II)


“Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure.” –Victor Hugo


Thus, since philosophy & love (like argument and song) are so dialectically intermingled on Re-Vision Radio, everybody knows—in the final mythopoetic analysis—that nobody knows whether the philosophers are singing the praises of love or the lovers are discoursing on the virtues of philosophy. (from Re-Vision Radio Manifesto & Visionary Recital)



Scholarship usually means the academic methods and discipline in pursuit of knowledge. It is also the knowledge resulting from study and research in a particular field. Thus, a scholarly work is a professionally done piece of research, erudite and meticulous in its mastery of the facts of the subject at hand. In the Western world, especially in Anglo-American world, scholarship operates within the framework of rational discourse governed by the "reality principle," the opposite of the “pleasure principle” or eros, which includes love, myth, mythpoetics, and imagination.


Therefore, the Gypsy Scholar would argue that there can be a "Romance of Orphic Scholarship,” which is an alternative tradition where scholarship becomes a kind of imaginative discipline in the service of eros. [2]


Back in the revolutionary mid-sixties, Prof N. O. Brown (UCSC) had challenged the entire structure of Anglo-American scholarship, identifying its roots in what he termed "Protestant literalism," which denies symbolism. He describes it as "the crux is the reduction of meaning to a single meaning—univocation." He takes it right back to Martin Luther, whose German word for "unification" meant the "single, simple, solid and stable meaning" of scripture. Thus, Prof. Brown makes the equation: "Protestant literalism is modern scholarship." And modern scholarship, with its reductionism to single meaning, is, according to Brown, made up of a "new hierarchy of scribes, controlling interpretation, the higher scholarship." In this world of protestant literalism, Prof Brown says that scholastic rigor becomes “rigor mortis.” In other words, it is ultimately ruled by thanatos, the death-principle and not the life-principle of eros. Prof. Brown’s own alternative to this scholarship of “Protestant literalism” was embodied his 1966 book, written in an aphoristic style, Love’s Body.


Actually, there have been earlier dissenters from the academic ranks that could be examples of what Prof. Brown would put in place of the scholarship of “Protestant literalism.” The Gypsy Scholar's favorite academic dissenter is Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom he identifies as his mentor—the “Orphic Scholar”:


Ah ye old ghosts! ye builders of dungeons in the air! why do I ever allow you to encroach on me a moment; a moment to win me to your hapless company? In every week there is some hour when I read my commission in every cipher of nature, and I know that I was made for another office, a professor of the Joyous Science, a detector & delineator of occult harmonies & unpublished beauties, a herald of civility, nobility, learning, & wisdom; an affirmer of the One Law, yet as one who should affirm it in music or dancing, a priest of the Soul yet one who would better love to celebrate it through the beauty of health & the harmonious power [of music].”


Around the same time that Brown was writing his vision of an alternative form of scholarship, “poet and entertainer” Donald Sydney-Fryer (b. 1934), a UCLA graduate, was writing of a more visionary scholarship in his study of “West Coast Romantics”:


The scholarship was a metaphor, as it were, for what I was actually doing, in my researches on Clark Ashton Smith. [Clark Ashton Smith, 1893 – 1961, was a self-educated American poet, sculptor, painter and author of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories. As a poet, Smith is grouped with the West Coast Romantics, alongside Ambrose Bierce, Joaquin Miller, Sterling, Nora May French, and others, and remembered as 'The Last of the Great Romantics' and 'The Bard of Auburn'.] I began as a scholar, but the scholarship became the key to unknown realms, about which I wanted to know more, and the only way I could do it was by reading these imaginative projections of other people… So I perceived myself as this latter-day adventurer in the realms of scholarship and poetry. [3]



So what is “The Romance of Orphic Scholarship”? The Gypsy Scholar’s notion of "The Romance of Orphic Scholarship" would be an alternative tradition, where scholarship becomes a kind of imaginative discipline, and thus a kind of art form in its own right. It is not in service of the literalism of traditional "Protestant scholarship," which is in service of the principle of thanatos (what the Romantic poet Wordsworth called "murders to dissect)," but in the service of the “pleasure principle,” of eros, which seeks not just analysis but synthesis and vision. Thus, the scholarly apparatus can be used for non-literal applications; for symbolic meaning—such as a “musical essay.”  “The Romance of Orphic Scholarship,” then, replacing “Protestant Scholarship,” would be a counter-tradition in which eros, not thanatos, is the governing principle. A scholarship in service to eros values synthesis (making connexions), pattern, intellectual beauty, meaning, intuition, insight, and illumination though a hermeneutical interpretation that issues in a complex web of meanings, insights, associations, correspondences, and textual synchronicities. Therefore, the act of scholarship opens up hidden pedagogical moments of deep revelatory significance—what poet-scholar Donald Sydney-Fryer means when he relates how “scholarship became the key to unknown realms.”


In envisioning what a “Romance of Orphic Scholarship” would be, the Gypsy Scholar goes back—way, way back—and draws on what has been called the “Great Platonic Synthesis,” which basically reconciled the split between the older mythopoetic tradition in Greek culture and the newer rationalizing impulse of philosophy. In other words, it was a synthesis of mythos and logos; between the earlier mytho-mystical, as it was transmitted through the Greek Mystery Religions, and the newer rationalist development in Philosophy that had broken away from it. As one historian of philosophy has put it: "Intellectual rigor [logos] and Olympian inspiration [mythos] no longer stood opposed.”


Because eros (in Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus; i.e., "erotic mania" as the driving force of the philosopher) is revealed as the secret inspiration of Philosophy itself, the “Romance of Orphic Scholarship” means that Philosophy as a kind of Western Quest-Romance, wherein the scholar is (as poet-scholar Donald Sydney-Fryer found himself to be) “a latter-day adventurer.”  Indeed, the scholar is a lover-adventurer. There is then a hidden relationship between love and ideas running through all of Western philosophy because of Socrates and Plato. (“Oh, Socrates and Plato/ They praised it to the skies / Everyone that ever loved / Everyone that ever tried…” ~V.M.) After Plato, this was elaborated by the Plotinian (of Plotinus) principle of nous eron—“the desiring intellect.” This is the basis of ancient Neoplatonic and medieval Christian (heretical) understandings of love and knowledge (amor ipse intellectus est; “love is itself knowledge”).  Thus Philosophy as Quest-Romance means that knowledge becomes eroticized in a commingling of love and ideas (in what archetypal psychologist James Hillman would see as); "a simultaneous knowing and loving by means of imagining.”  Furthermore, Philosophy as Quest-Romance means (as one recent book title on the history of philosophy has it) “Falling in Love with Wisdom" (Wisdom, called "Lady Philosophia" by early philosophers). Therefore, “The Romance of Orphic Scholarship,” as a model for a new, postmodern scholarship of the imagination, advocates the union of knowing and desire. ("You can call my love Sophia / I call my love Philosophy." ~V.M) In terms of recent trends in philosophy, this union of knowing (gnosis) and desire (eros) would be equivalent to an “integral knowledge” which is (a postmodern) “embodied knowledge;” that is, an all-embracing unity of the rational and the mystical that includes sensuous, intellectual, and spiritual knowledge.


The “Romance of Orphic Scholarship” for the discipline of Philosophy is also incorporates Plato’s admission that Philosophy as he knew it was a form of “play”—an artistic endeavor.  This means that a way opens up for the scholar of philosophy to become a scholar-artist, who is distinguished by his or her ability to synthesize and (as Irwin William Thompson would have it) “play with knowledge to create a collage of ideas or intellectual mind-jazz.” In order to create the art of scholarship, would-be scholar-artist would use his or her chosen subject as the canvas on which to paint a treatise or essay on the artistic organ par excellence, the human imagination. Therefore, the Gypsy Scholar, practicing his own form of the twelfth-century Troubadour "Dialectic of Love” (“Love that discourses in my mind”), in mixing “love and ideas,” seeks to become a “Troubadour of Knowledge.”


From here, the Gypsy Scholar has been aided in this ideal of the “Romance of Orphic Scholarship”—and therefore of scholarship as an art form—by some contemporary, dissenting academics who have called for a synthesis of rational and mystical hermeneutics in postmodern scholarship (at least in the field of religion and philosophy). In pointing out that the discipline of modern scholarship has a dual inheritance of both Enlightenment reason and Romantic imagination, of both the noetic and the poetic, a synthesis of rational critical theory and mystical hermeneutics is not out of the question. This synthesis, they argue, is theoretically in line with the radical hermeneutical practices of postmodern scholarship. Thus, particularly in the area of studying religious—and especially mystical—texts, they posit rational analysis and mystical intuition working hand-in-hand, yielding hermeneutical insight. Because this kind of synthetic scholarship is inherently paradoxical, the designations of “gnostic rationalism” and “kabbalistic hermeneutics” have been given to it.  In Greek terminology, this dialectical paradox (or coincidentia oppositorum) has been referred to the principle of a logos mystikos, which makes for a radical postmodern “mystical hermeneutics,” or “ hermeneutical mysticism.” In other words, there is a postmodern form of scholarship that is an art of hermeneutics as a mystical practice.


In practicing the ideal of the “Orphic Scholar” on radio, based upon the alternative model of the “Romance of Orphic Scholarship,” the Gypsy Scholar's Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack plays both aspects of the psyche, both reason and imagination; both critical intellect and intuitive heart, both academic research and mystical insearch, both secular hermeneutics and sacred hermetic/kabbalistic interpretation, both scholarly rigor and poetic reverie, both painstaking precise phrasing and euphoric poetic diction, both Apollonian clarity and Dionysian obscurity, both philosophical questioning and romantic questing, both philosophical aptitude and the musical amplitude (of heightened discourse). This issues in the paradoxical reuniting of the Western head and heart—a Romantic commingling of a "sensuous reason" and a "feeling intellect," thereby synthesizing the left and right brain: "If my heart could do my thinking / And my head begin to feel / I would look upon the world anew / And know what's truly real." (~V. M.)



[1] I confine this thesis of “The Romance of Scholarship” to the scholarship of “Religion” and “Philosophy,” the subjects that the Gypsy Scholar has an advanced degree in.


[2] By “Orphic,” I mean based upon Orpheus: “divine rhetoritician” and “singer of love songs.”


[3] Donald Sydney-Fryer, The Golden State Phantasticks: The California Romantics and Related Subjects ~ Collected Essays and Reviews