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Janus as the principle of distinction
> But what god am I to say thou art, Janus of double-shape? for Greece hath no divinity like thee.
While I was musing, writing-tablets in hand,
The house seemed brighter than it was before.
Then suddenly, sacred and marvellous, Janus,
In two-headed form, showed his twin faces to my eyes.
Terrified, I felt my hair grow stiff with fear
And my heart was frozen with sudden cold.
The principle of distinction explains the duality of mind and world; it is thus by Janus that fragments are identified of the whole. As god of the threshold, Janus at once oversees—and hence his two heads—the twin elements of inclusion and exclusion. Janus himself is the principle of distinction and the power behind its operation.
Thus by his power we come to concepts of mind and world, but here we see while some distinction tends to be recognised there is little consensus as to the specific name for each aspect. The most obvious is mind, but what are we to oppose to this? Some say world, as we have, others body or nature. We may see that neither figure is strictly opposed to another except as negation; it is mind and not-mind.1
This is a basic problem in philosophy: the relation between this and that—whatever they are. Here we have stated at the outset that it is Janus as the principle of distinction that explains this duality. At one level it is only by Janus that we conceive of a distinction at all, for we could hardly think a thing without the principle of distinction to isolate and grasp it. Yet our explanation is deeper still.
Janus must be conceived as the power of distinction; it is by the nature of this divinity, and thus according to this nature, that we are endowed with this capacity. The separation entailed here is the first mediation of understanding as presence. We identify a figure from ground, thereby step outside of the basic ground as an undivided wholeness in flowing movement.2
By Janus we grasp an aspect in particular as object; it is only by the threshold that any figure exists let alone has meaning.3 The concept thus derived entails by necessity a negative and positive aspect. Or rather, it is only in the activity of distinction—wherein the threshold is implemented—that the object actually exists. Every discernment of figure from ground thus entails the repetition of Janus’ rites:
It stretches, this little trick of mine, from book to book, and everything else, comparatively, plays over the surface of it. The order, the form, the texture of my books will perhaps some day constitute for the initiated a complete representation of it.
Ovid tells us that Janus was the first god, prior to whom there was only chaos; it is Janus that operates not only as the principle of distinction in man but that of the cosmos also. We may leave aside this aspect, settling to know merely the human importance of this singular deity. Janus is the principle of either/or, the possibility of discernment; at once freedom and alienation—thus we fall into time.
Whate’er you see anywhere—sky, sea, clouds, earth—all things are closed and opened by my hand. The guardianship of this vast universe is in my hands alone, and none but me may rule the wheeling pole.
There is a school of thought in my country that the world can be divided simply into wood and not-wood, and everything is structured in these terms.
The contrary mode is that of a ‘flow state,’ as when loses oneself in activity. This may occur until we encounter some contradiction, as if we slip and stab ourselves with a chisel.
From French exister, from Latin existō (“to stand forth, come forth, arise, be”), from ex (“out”) + sistere (“to set, place”), caus. of stare (“to stand”); see stand. Compare assist, consist, desist, insist, persist, resist.