Screens and revelations

The Universe as a revealing and revealed concentric structure — in a manuscript from Bruges, 1464, London, British Library, Royal MS 19 A IX, f. 149r

It takes perspective to see certain things. Not all things reveal themselves easily, and sometimes one needs special lenses and filters to make one side, angle or aspect visible.

We live our lives riveted to a small screen and are so used to seeing the world and ourselves through it — which is rather in and by it, more like a mirror — that we may not know that there was a time when looking into a screen meant looking at the world through an opening which allowed the unrevealed side of reality to appear to the seeking mind. A tool to reveal the dark side of the Moon, the submerged base of the iceberg.

The medievals were the experts at developing such revelatory tools. The reality, for them, was far more than what revealed itself to the senses. It went up and down on the chain of being, within and without the human being, the measure of all things, the only creature made in the image of God, a revelation unto itself, but also the most difficult object of investigation.

To seize the hiddeness of the world and make it intelligible to the mind, the medieval thinkers developed the concept of integumentum, which is a Latin word describing the membrane covering an inner core — or a veil. A tool to look at the world in a different way, to tap into the rich darkness of unrevealed presence, to bring out its transcendent meaning.

Integumentum was the outside looking in, the skin leading the eye to the core, the allegory wrapping, but also exposing, the undisclosed truth. A veil for peircing that which refuses to show itself unmediated, unsearched for.

Integumentum was not just a tool, but a pursuit, mainly a literary one, whereby the reader or the writer, would use figure and metaphor, allegory and trope, to push through the overgrowth into the wilderness of what lies beyond, below, beneath. A screen to look through in order to perceive. Not a reflection, but the pulsing withinness of that which exhausts the meaning, the source of significance.

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