Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Raise to the Lintel

Call it sublimation—whatever that word actually means.
     [Plucked from a diary entry of mine.]

Post-and-lintel a ways back...
One of the best proofs that we are very strange creatures indeed is that we use words like sublimation and know exactly what we mean. That in turns means to have a real grasp of the process described, but the description of it in any kind of effective detail is difficult, slippery. It involves an inner movement of the soul, indeed a quite complex series of such movements, sustained over some period of time; both the “experience” sublimated and what happens to it after that process must, of course, be retained in memory. But to signal that nexus of perceptions and actions, we must have recourse to physical shorthand. My title betrays what sublimate actually means: it means to raise something to the lintel. So what does that mean?

Well, let’s go to work by using a contrast. Submerge means to dip something under the surface of a body of water. In submerge we encounter, as in sublimate, the prefix sub-. That Latin form has multiple meanings. It means “under,” the function used in submerge; but it also means “close to, up to, towards, and up from below” of which “up to” plays the functional role in sublimate—but with “move X” simply understood. Surface? Here we encounter the French slurring of the Latin super-, one of the meanings of which is “on top of”; therefore on top of the face. The water has a “face”? Only to very strange creatures like we are. In the paragraph above I use the word sustain. Here, by contrast, the French slurs sub- into sus-, using the meaning of “up from below.” The verb tener means “to hold.”

Curious how the human mind sovereignly uses concepts employing the same basic symbol, this way, that way. Sub- now means up, now under. So which is it? No problem. Just leave it to that in finitely malleable human intelligence.

Lintel is another of those wonderfully fluid concepts useable in different ways. It comes from the Latin limen, meaning threshold, but the word is related to limes, meaning boundary or border. It is, at the same time, the upper limit of the opening, thus its border; at the same time it is the member that lies under the structure above it, thus is a weight-bearing member.

The threshold or boundary toward which we move something when engaged in sublimation is, of course, the edge or border of the material sphere. The movement is toward the transcendental. Getting to that limit is hard enough; passing it, of course, would be sublime.
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Image source is Wikipedia (link).

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