Charles M. Stang — Our Divine Double
Don’t judge this book by its dreadful cover. It is an academic exploration of a fascinating but arcane and niche topic, tracing the idea of the divine double — or daimon, or genius — through Plato, the apocrypha (especially the Gospel of Thomas), and the writings of Mani and Plotinus.
Stang is a generous author. He signposts his arguments well, he repeats himself where necessary, and he writes clearly both when dealing with technical subjects and when introducing varied sources (of which he displays easy mastery).
The argument seems to me to hold water, although I’m not really qualified to judge because my ignorance forces me to rely on his paraphrasing of ancient texts which may or may not be contentious.
In the end Stang quotes WH Auden: ‘“We are lived by powers we pretend to understand”’, and suggests modern readers (like me, I guess) may assume this to mean we ‘are lived by our unconscious’. For the ancients, he argues, ‘the “powers” by which we are lived are not so much beneath as above us: they are divine,’ and this ‘power is simultaneously and paradoxically “I” and not-“I”’.
The urgency enters when we realise that ‘the “I” we are accustomed to recognise is at best incomplete (and worse, is a form of false consciousness),’ and that ‘we are on the move between the “I” we thought we were to a new I that includes the not-”I”’. A state captured by Henry Corbin’s phrase unus-ambo.
I promise he does write clearly. This all makes sense if you’ve read the book. In explanation, the ‘not-”I”’ could be said to be our divine double that serves to bring us back to the Good, the One, or God depending on the flavour of your beliefs. For Stang the “I” and the not-”I” is one of the perennial problems with which philosophy and religion wrestles, even if the problem is to be lived with rather than solved or answered.
Engaging with this conclusion, I am minded to paraphrase the closing remarks of John Gray’s ‘The Soul of the Marionette’: We yearn for a type of knowledge that would make us other than we are, but why try to escape from yourself? Accepting the fact of unknowing makes possible an inner freedom as you become content to let meaning come and go. Not looking to ascend into the heavens, one can find freedom in falling to earth.
An essay by Stang that summarises the main points of Our Divine Double can be found on academia.