Proposing a New Word: Subscendence

Culminant Man

The coinage subscendence is modeled after the standing term transcendence and is intended to be the antonym of transcendence.  The verbal form would be to subscend; the adjectival form would be subscendent.  The High Middle Ages – expressing themselves in Gothic architecture, in polyphony, and in spiritually heroic narratives such as the Grail sagas and the Divine Comedy – properly deserve to be called transcendent.   The current phase of Modernity – expressing itself in the cinder-block architecture of the strip mall, in amplified beat-based “pop” tunes, and in crude cinematic narratives of sex and violence – properly deserves to be called subscendent.

Let us call the subject of subscendence The Culminant Man.  He is a being without historical awareness and is uninformed by anything resembling a tradition.  He is dependent on external guidance in everything; he borrows his opinions, which he regards as his own, from the currently circulating small set of permitted slogans attached to the carefully vetted “issues” of the moment.  He lives vicariously through electronic media.

I invite Orthosphereans to furnish specific examples of subscendence that occur to them; and to help me in building up, if that were the word, the outward picture, and perhaps even the phenomenology, of The Culminant Man.

I would give the (very casual) example of contemporary dress.  I have noticed for some while that, not only college males, but also chronologically adult males, increasingly dress themselves like overgrown babies.  The ubiquitous “cargo shorts” and unwashed T-shirts lend an infantile appearance, which is often bolstered by degrees of flabbiness and obesity.  Add the cell phone, in attending which all people, male and female, now spend their lives, and the picture is complete.  On the theory that everything means something, this “look” would mean the subject’s insouciant rejection of the adult world and his intention, perhaps but dimly formed, to remain in his giant-toddler state indefinitely.

I would also give the (very casual) example of contemporary diction.  The grammatically deformed cell-phone question, “Dude, where are you at,” constructed as though the verb were insufficient, and invariably spoken with emphasis on the concluding unmotivated preposition, is a vocalization of subscendence.

53 thoughts on “Proposing a New Word: Subscendence

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  3. “It could use washed.”

    “The floor needs mopped.”

    “It needs done.”

    Dudes needs grammatically educated.

    (One of those was said around me this morning. I wanted to subscend him packing.)

      • “Where are you, man?” – that would be a fine Scots interrogative, especially with an emphatic “man” in the final position, would it not? But would a Scot really say, “Dude, where are you at?” Surely no Scot would call another Scot “Dude.”

    • These are not subscendant locutions; rather, they are examples of a non-standard dialect. Those with a broader education, or with finer linguistic sense, would not use their dialect when they would be better off speaking in the standard language, but not everyone is so blessed.

      Subscendance in speech and writing is more likely to be found among smart phone addicts, college students, and the like. They suffer from a poverty of words and cannot articulate their thoughts—because they have none. “Useful idiot”-level leftists, though often able to spew a barrage of political terms, are merely parroting what they have heard or read elsewhere, and are similarly subscendant.

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  5. In the traditional Western view, man occupies an intermediate position between heaven and earth, half angel and half beast. He could, however, transcend this position by ascetic overcoming of animal and earthly appetites. It would seen that subscendence would therefore involve overcoming angelic and heavenly aspirations and embracing one’s animal nature. In opposition to the beatific vision of transcendentalists, there is a beatific vision of the subsendentalists. The latter is encapsulated in the credos of subsendentalism: “Whatever!” “Chill!” and “No Big Thing!”

    In a world dominated by yearning for the transcendent, there are everywhere symbolic reminders pointing to that supernatural realm: bells, steeples, roadside shrines, etc. In a world dominated by yearning for the subscendent, there are everywhere symbols pointing to that natural realm: pornography, invitations to gluttony, advertisements for luxury.

    E. Michael Jones suggested that the flat roof was symbolic of what you are calling subscendence. No matter how tall a modern building rises, its flat roof asserts: “this high but no higher.”

  6. Debasement of language continues apace. The odd locution “based off of” rather than “based on” is becoming annoyingly common, and appears in every other student paper I grade. (It suggests deflection, like “bounced off of,” as if it were only based on something for a nanosecond.)
    “Subscendence” is a wonderful coinage, one that fills a semantic gap. David Bentley Hart writes in one of his essays that moderns believe in Nothing. Which isn’t to say that they have no beliefs, as in not believing in anything at all. Rather, they believe in Nothing (with a capital “N”). That Nothing is what the word subscendence first brings to my mind.

  7. Imagine a book on historical dress codes, arranged chronologically, with this difference : the last page contains a mirror with a subtitle : the Culminant Man.

    The transcendentally sensitive person will close the book perhaps with a sense of shame;
    The narcissistic person will concur and keep staring;
    The subscendentally insensitive person will text the publisher in anger for a missing page, demanding a rebate.

  8. Kristor: With Dali, it’s hard to say. The Traditionalist instinct is to classify him as belonging to decadence – to subscendence. It’s not impossible, however, that he was commenting critically on subscendence. In re Dali I can’t pronounce a definitive judgment.

  9. The cult of LSD is, I think, an example of subscendence as its adherents tend to view as a grand insight the idea that individuation is illusory. All this really amounts to is a picture of the universe as a meaningless blob, yet people are so proud to have gained this gnosis.

  10. The sudden proliferation of the related categories of “romantic comedy” and “urban fantasy,” in which everyone is portrayed as an archetype or stereotype, and fills a story niche, is a good example of the arts subscending. Rather than create a storyline and fill it with characters who are whole people, one can watch a romantic comedy and immediately know that the two opposites or unattainables will attract, they will fight it, there will be a betrayal or blow-out with one party storming off, they will fight to reclaim each other’s love, they will live happily ever after. The thought that goes into these characters is pitiful, as they are generally one-dimensional.

    The transformation of myth and legend into something only vaguely related (Gods of Egypt, Hercules, the second 300 movie, etc.) is another example. Why you would take the richness of the Greek and Egyptian pantheons, and change them into saccharine sweet love stories or basic gore-fests is beyond me. We’ve removed the moral of the story, the underlying truth, in a pursuit of … base entertainment. These movies get forgotten mere months after they are released, to be replaced by another desecration of art and history.

    • Romantic Comedy: There shalt be soppy music played while showing them apart and thinking about each other.

      My son loves the Percy Jackson books, which are an entry drug into the richness of Greek mythology.

    • “These movies get forgotten mere months after they are released.” That’s true. The ethos of subscendence is a throw-away ethos, despite the cult of recycling. If a product – a movie, let us say – were lasting, it would interfere with next month’s releases. All transcendent narratives are narratives of conversion. All popular narrative is the triumph of the superman over his blockers, who are the scapegoats of his story. Last week I showed Powell and Pressberger’s film A Canterbury Tale (1944) to the students in my Introduction to Literary Criticism course, in connection with some readings from Rene Girard. The story turns on the decision of three people not to scapegoat a fourth party. (It’s all very complicated, as Powell and Pressberger understood human affairs to be.) The students experience extreme difficulty in trying to understand the beauty of that decision. They want to see Magistrate Colpeper humiliated. Subscendent narrative is addictive.

      • The ethos of subscendence is, precisely, the ethos of the Culture of Death. It relies upon, and intends, the early death of all existing valuables – babies, buildings, nations, what have you – and their subsidence below the waves of chaos, to make room upon the frothing surface of history for the next generation of ateleological evolution: of *randomness* followed by *death.* And each generation consumes the last as its raw material, leaving nothing behind.

        Soylent Green is people.

  11. The aloha shirt (a.k.a. Hawaiian shirt), such as the one worn in the picture, is not inherently subscendent, especially not in Hawaii. However, as a token of casual wear, as a symbol of being permanently on vacation (and therefore taking nothing seriously), it certainly has a place in the subscendent wardrobe.

    Another sub-genre of subscendence is found in the bro and his friends. Bros (rhymes with rose) like pastels, “critter” clothes, backwards baseball caps, and cargo shorts (a picture and discussion here). Although possessed of college degrees, bros were too apathetic in college to have gotten anything resembling an education.

    Most tattoos are subscendent.

    Yoga pants outside of a yoga class or studio; ubiquitous athletic wear; and writing on clothing are all subscendent.

    Subscendent people are unable to discern when it might be appropriate to dress up, except for the very most obvious events, and not always then; I saw some casually-dressed people at a funeral I attended recently.

    Most of the Leftist Coast (Washington, Oregon, California) is subscendent.

    Nearly all pop “music” since the late 1960s, especially disco, punk, rap and its variants, hair metal, grunge, and all the big name performers of this century are resolutely subscendent.

    Hipsterism is subscendent.

    Anything that has been decontextualized into meaninglessness is subscendent, but not everything that is subscendent fits this mold.

  12. Modern indifference to magnificent feats of mechanical engineering–the stunning lack of interest in great ships, planes, and rockets about which you have written elsewhere–is subscendent. The corollary of this phenomenon is obsessive focus on small, handheld electronic devices, about the workings of which the subscendent hipster is blissfully incurious.

    • The cell phone is a Satanic device for sucking the souls out of adolescents. When one sees the kids hunched over like cripples, staring at their devices, and fingering them, that is what is happening.

      The late Rene Girard would have had a ready explanation for cell phone addiction: It is the instrument by which the person-without-resource, who wishes to experience desire, desperately searches for a model who will tell him what to desire. It is a subscending crisis because the model no more knows what to desire than the subject.

    • I agree. I’d even take it further, and say that our disregard for works of the hand (bridges, planes, space travel) and works of the mind (symphonies, literature, mathematics) has been replaced by….I’ve decided to call it ‘works of the self,’ but there may be a better term. Things like Social Justice activism, or twitter mobs, where we celebrate ourselves by belonging to the latest group, and we scream and demand rights for the latest oppressed category.

      Higher thought and achievement has been subsumed by good feelings and popular acceptance. Could you imagine Descartes, writing today about rejecting a-priori assumptions? He’d be publicly hated because he was rejecting identities or something.

  13. I would have thought “immanent” the natural antonym for “transcendent”, but subscendent captures a substantially different shade of meaning. Not merely immanent, but subscendent. Not sure I could use it in a sentence, but this is about as opposite of transcendent as I’ve seen in a while:

    • “Immanent” is the antonym of utmost transcendence, as of God. Subscendence is the antonym of any lesser transcendence, as of a saint or angel or courageous man. The “scend” in the words comes from Latin scandere, to climb (ascend, descend, etc.). Transcend means literally “climb beyond.” So subscend means “climb under.” It captures perfectly the animus of the soul determined to burrow further down into Plato’s cave.

    • I don’t understand duckface at all. I have a teenage daughter who has a cell phone, and I don’t understand duck face. What is it? What does it mean? What thirst does it slake?

      The solipsistic preening is just a failure mode of female brains, not difficult to understand. But what is duckface?

      • It thins the cheeks and inflates the lips, ostensibly enhancing attractiveness. There’s supposedly some evidence to the effect that female capuchin monkeys make nearly-identical faces during their equivalent of the courtship process. So, subscendence!

      • This definition of the word goes back farther, although the rappers may not know it. In western mining camps, the small cabins that prostitutes used for professional purposes were called “cribs,” as were those used by prostitutes in early Reno and Las Vegas. Apparently the underworld began calling dwelling houses “cribs” in the early 19th century.

        My guess (and its only a guess) is that the baby’s “crib” and the criminal’s and prostitute’s “crib” are separate developments from the root meaning of manger. The open construction of a manger suggested the name of the “corn crib,” a building made of slats so the corn would dry. A house that was no more secure than a building made of slats, and could therefore be called a crib. Or it may have been that very small and shoddy houses (like those used by prostitutes for professional houses) were being likened to a corn crib.

      • Thank you for this, Prof. Smith.

        Here’s the entry for crib from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

        “Old English cribbe “manger, fodder bin in cowsheds and fields,” from a West Germanic root (cognates: Old Saxon kribbia “manger;” Old Frisian and Middle Dutch kribbe; Old High German krippa, German Krippe “crib, manger”) probably related to German krebe “basket.” Meaning “child’s bed with barred sides” is 1640s; probably from frequent use in reference to the manger where infant Jesus was laid. Thieves’ slang for “dwelling house” dates to at least 1812, but late 20c. use probably is independent. The Old High German version passed to French and became creche.”

    • I couldn’t stop myself from clicking the ‘paraphilic infantilism’ link which act, I admit, is itself fairly subscendent — perhaps even very subscendent. But 50 years ago, weird, unnatural things were unknown to almost everyone and those to whom they were known were known discretely. The society that is oriented to transcendental things yearns for innocence; its institutions strive to preserve it. One is reminded again of Yeats and his ceremony of innocence.

  14. I believe that the French crèche has a purely Latinate origin: It stems from the verb crescere, “to grow.” I mentioned the contemporary slang-usage of crib only because it struck me as consistent with the noticeable adult infantilism that I identify as part of subscendence.

    • I have actually seen an adult, in public, sucking on a pacifier. Maybe we should have a big bowl of pacifiers in the middle of the table at faculty meetings. It would calm everyone down and shut some people up.

    • Baby Huey is not just a fictional cartoon character, he is the spitting image of a type of modern “man” as with those in the picture heading the post. One wonders why these fellows do not see the resemblance when they look into a mirror, or at one another.

      • If the outward appearance were the index of the inward state, then there would be no more awareness of the outward appearance than in an actual Baby Huey.

      • Yes, that’s true. It still confuses me that such men seem to never mature, or become self-aware I guess, to the extent that they would recognize in their appearance, their actions and mannerisms and so forth, the characteristics of Baby Huey. And begin then to dress and conduct themselves more … age-appropriately?

        Part of the answer, I suppose, is that the broader culture promotes and encourages this kind of infantile behavior in men, and as such those of us who would otherwise and openly identify it for what it is, in very many cases just remain silent and keep our opinions to ourselves. Thus, such men rarely if ever get the negative feedback they need.

  15. Terry, you are right, with one qualification. The pressure to mature can only ever be temporarily removed. Maturation belongs in the structure of existence. The “Baby Huey” regime of men is not, as liberals like to say, sustainable. The structure of existence will at some point reinstate the necessity of maturation.

  16. Unity, truth, and beauty “transcend” existence in Thomist philosophy.
    Ignorance “subscends” existence, as in willful ignorance of existential facts and reality.
    Thanks for the term.

    Of course, postmodern thinkers don’t like this kind of metaphysical stuff.

    • Indeed. Postmodern thinking – or rather “thinking” – thinks that it can get along without metaphysics. It tries mightily to get along without beauty and without transcendence and as it does so it becomes increasingly insipid and puerile.

  17. FYI, there is a concept of “axiomatic metaphysics” starting to evolve out of set theory.
    W L Craig and a few others are working it out.
    Turns out math can be applied as a limited metaphysics.
    The metaphysical method uses math “analogies”, as physics has done since Galileo.

    Math and sets are particularly suited to the study of transcendent Unity, the source of metaphysical error that Gilson noted in “The Unity of Philosophical Experience” (1937).
    From Aquinas, where one finds Unity, one will also find Truth and Beauty, all of which transcend existential “being”.

    Is there a sub-sphere of your Ortho-sphere interested in mathematical Christian apologetics?
    Visual analogies such as Venn diagrams and vector geometry can be very helpful in understanding Christian principles.

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  20. He is a being without historical awareness and is uninformed by anything resembling a tradition. He is dependent on external guidance in everything; he borrows his opinions, which he regards as his own, from the currently circulating small set of permitted slogans attached to the carefully vetted “issues” of the moment. He lives vicariously through electronic media.


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