It is perhaps a forgotten or simply ignored fact that Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, Bride of Christ, concludes a period of mourning.
The Church and the Second Creation
The yearly celebration of Pentecost marks the cyclical return of the moment the Holy Ghost descends on the apostles and all present and subsequent followers, enabling them to participate in the will and intelligence of the Lord. This is an unprecedented event in the history of the faith and in the history of humanity. It initiated a new order of things and marked the beginning of the Second Creation, which succeeds the first creation, which fell and became subject to sin and the law. The Second Creation is free of sin and the law. The story of its genesis sheds light on the nature of its substance and the substance of its freedom from sin.
Manifest History and Spirituality
To grasp the superb design of the Biblical testament and its truth, we would be best served by abandoning the idea of mere spirituality, soothsaying stories, and superstitious religious ideas in general. Spirituality and religion that don’t interpret the material dimension, nor organize it into a system of values, historic teleology, and manifest reality aren’t worth anything. A system of thought and values like the Judeo-Christian one, which has commanded world events over the last five thousand years isn’t mere superstition, religion, or spirituality. But to grasp the power of its bequest we would do best to position it in its proper temporal, material and historical context as the text itself defines it.
The event of the descent of the spirit takes place exactly forty nine days after the Crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.
Mourning between Tradition and Modern Psychoanalysis
Traditionally, the official mourning period is forty days. Though the number may be symbolic, it’s also concrete in the division of the year into weeks, which still follows the first seven days of creation, and the annual recurrence of the mourning period after Easter. Prescriptive rules about mourning aren’t there to force neurotics to perform compulsive acts of whaling and mourning, as Freud and anthropologists disdainfully believed, but an important period for the group and individual mental organization.
During the period of mourning the mind engages in highly productive activities and generates an imago that from then on will dominate the libidinal life of the mourner and organize their perceived environment. When he was more reflective and less anthropologically fashionable, Freud observed a period of latency (non-manifest psychological processes that are imperceptible but active at a fundamental level) in the wake of mourning that endows the entire world of the mourner with meaning.
In the individual development of the human psyche, this is the period following the dissolution of the Oedipal complex, when the child accepts the limits to its sexuality, namely that the mother and father are debarred from providing sexual satisfaction and with them, all representatives of the child’s own sex. This is a crucial moment in the development of the psyche, since without it the child will fail to build necessary emotional attachments to its environment and may be threatened with mental degenerative diseases. The child must learn that sexual satisfaction is only provided by an appropriate object in the future and for the specific purpose of producing an heir like him or herself.
The latency period, as Freud called it, is a mourning period that lasts several years until the psyche matures enough to seek love objects outside the family. It begins when the child accomplishes the important task of giving up instinctual satisfaction and renouncing its parents as sexual objects. This important period builds the entire world of the individual and imbues it with its specific and quite unique characteristics. Every future experience the individual gains will refer to this bedrock of reality. The future partner will likely be chosen from a similar symbolic order.
What is true for the individual is also true for large epochal and historical formations and phenomena. Pentecost likewise commemorates the establishment and continual growth of both the Church and every individual follower of Christ as a creature of mourning. The Second Creation is ex maeroris.
The prototype for this event in the Old Testament is the conception, birth, and life of Samuel the King-Maker. Anna conceives literally “ex multitudine doloris et maeroris” foreshadowing the Immaculate Conception, the Second Creation, and the birth of the Church from a period of mourning. As with the founding event of Pentecost, the task of mourning is the conception of a King-maker, a divinely appointed figure endowed with power over the kings and kingdoms of the earth. Taken at its most abstract, this power echoes the centrality of the world the child psyche erects in the wake of its renunciation of instinctive satisfaction. From the founding event of Pentecost onward, historical, political, and discursive power will derive from the act of renouncing the body of the first creation and its instinctual needs, symbolically represented by the Crucifix.
Pentecost: The Mourning Period from the Crucifixion to the Birth of the Church
The Holy Ghost is likewise a product of the work of mourning. Christ’s apostles and followers, especially the women, his mother, her sister, and the Magdalen, engage in the work of mourning during the forty days following the Crucifixion. It is important that His nearest accomplish the work, not strangers. Love, libidinal currency, is the driving psychological reality principle of the process. Mourning is intimately related to love. It is the response of the bereaved psyche to the death of the beloved.
Death is not simply absence. Those who depart on long journeys are also absent, but not dead. Death takes away our agency in the world, which is why the mourning period is so important for the preservation and curation of human remains. The mourning period isn’t just a superstitious ritual, but a crucial period during which the dead continue to have agency through the bereaved they have left behind.
Christ appears numerous times to the eleven disciples and to the women teaching them how to build the Church as they begin to draw multitudes. It is in the wake of his death that they learn to act on His behalf and to enact His will and legacy in the world. We participate in their work as we return to this crucial period cyclically.
The nine days from His Ascension to Pentecost add the week of Second Creation ex maeroris, which is two days longer than the 7 days of original creation because they include the day of Crucifixion and of the Black Sabbath, during which Christ descends to the realm of the dead to gather the heathens and non-believers He grants salvation.
On Sunday of Easter, when Christ appears to the Magdalen and commands her not to touch him, the work of the Second Creation, from mourning, that is, in the physical absence of His agency, begins. A lack of agency characterizes the Second Creation. It is a work of love and mourning. This is why I claim that Christianity is the religion of mourning. Mortification of the flesh is an essential part of the faith.
Consciousness of Mediated Reality
This is a decisive moment in the history of human civilization, when we begin to explore mediated reality, the materially manifest dimension of distance and the distant and their ability to remain active in the world through our love. Now we understand why the commandment to love is the highest. It participates in the work of mourning that enacts the will of the absent dead. It is different from following the commandments of the dead in that it is voluntary work of love, charity. The work of mourning is essential in the arts of mastering spacial and temporal distance.
Mourning isn’t merely a response to the death of someone near, but can be triggered by any kind of loss that takes away agency. It is a process of mortification of the immediate needs of the flesh, a separation from the instinctual body that repeats the original process of the birth and formation of the psyche in the course of individuation that takes place between mother, father & child.
Renunciation and the Bride
The renunciation of instinct is a kind of sublation of it and not a direct repression. When we renounce instinct, we don’t abandon it, but to the contrary, we bring it to work on behalf of the higher bidding of immaterial love in mourning.
The Church is called the Bride of Christ. The concluding event of the Bible and the final book of Revelations is the Marriage of the Lamb to the Body of the Church, the body of saints united in holy communion. The divine comedy reenacts the events of a human lifetime. As man is made in the image of God, so is his biography a copy of the divine biography or history as we know it.
Human development requires the child abandon and renounce its instinctual bond to the parents and replace it with the marriage partner. The frame for the choice of marriage partner, which guarantees a healthy covenantal relationship, is constructed during the latency period of mourning. That is the period we are in historically in relation to the Church and Her Bridegroom. History itself is a period of latency that culminates in the union and covenantal relationship to the Lord.
Botticelli, The banquet in the forest , Prado, Madrid
Romeo and Juliet’s Marriage
The most profound, unlikely and graceful aspect of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” is its award envelope, the covenant of marriage. A plot driven by a grisly engine of death and sexual violence unveils a stunning portrait of incomparable beauty, the good and faithful work of Romeo and Juliet’s wedding. The twin work of poetry and marriage shares a common heart, a counter engine to creaturely death, in its quest to re-create and immortalize the heavenly joys of marital bliss.
The Freudian concept of “work” and the Heideggerian concept of “enframing,” which refers to the phenomenological horizon of presence (Wesen) and being (reality), illuminate a rich analysis of both, the work of dramatic poetry and the work of marriage. The object of enframing is the seminal tragedy of the play Shakespeare wrote in the final decade of the Cinquecento in London, which he based on an imported Italian tale of an ill-starred vendetta. The “enframing” linguistic horizon of the tragic spectacle of star-crossed love, is the Divine Comedy of the Book of Revelations, which concludes the cyclical Biblical narrative with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
Defining Public Spaces: Tragedy, Marriage, and Public Health
Coming from a public health background recently I also consider “tragedy” in terms of its use of ex-votos. The pinax or votive tablets of ancient Greece were often used to drape and dress the stage of tragic sacrifice. As a public sacrifice of individual moral and familial deviation tragedy is harmful to public health. Ex votos are traditionally delivered as thanksgiving for healing, that is, as tokens of conformity and a testaments of aberration from the health norms of the public.
Corinthian votive tablet (Pinax), about 575-550 b.C.
The tragic process is a process of corpse production. The re-creation of the corpse saves it, along with the significance of its experience for the enrichment of public life and public health. The work of marriage, like all works of poetry elevates as it sublimates the work of death, which is the mode of production of all creation.
The word “work” in my reading refers both
–to the Biblical sense of works as that by which a man is judged
— and as a work of poetry in the Heideggerian sense I draw from his reading of the Greek term techne in “The Question of Technology”(1950). The essence of being, any being, is a product of technology. Poetry is techne.
The definition of works as products of technology is supported by Heidegger’s insistence on the reality building capacity of poetry as the ultimate source and maker of the world. The object Heidegger is concerned with is not a natural object, but a human work of language.
Human works are re-creations, not originals, but they are crucial to preservation, which the Bible calls saving grace. To save something is to steal it from death, from its creaturely estate. Products of human sublimation make up the world we inhabit and determine its recurring reality.
Techne and Recurrence
Heidegger’s unhistorical understanding of techne as the poetry of being and the Biblical teleology unveiled in Revelations share the same cyclical temporality of recurrence. What recurs is the moment when works are judged for conservation or destruction.
Their judgment is not human. It is a reality test, coextensive with divine judgment. Heidegger’s experiment can be concluded with a theorization of divine judgment. Nature saves and preserves the works of God’s creation, but the works of man undergo judgment. In Revelations the final judgment is both a Wedding Feast, of the Lamb to his Bride, the Church, and an apocalypse. In other words, some works are judged good and therefore recur to establish being and time, and some become condemned sites.
The Biblical point of return is feminine, because it is a work of love. It is marked by the ritual of marriage as the life-giving source of meaning and the techne of biographical memory.
Marriage as Eternal Telos
Though not the final event in the chronology of the five acts, marriage is nevertheless the eternal telos and the source of internal illumination of the tragedy. Every lasting work contained in the dramatic poem “Romeo and Juliet,” be it a trope of learned contemplation, a strophe of seduction, an image of vice, a portrait of virtue, or an eloquent philosophical argument, is a work of the holy union between the two young lovers, since it takes its significance directly from the event of their union in the chapel.
Ex Voto and Effigy
The two golden statues pledged by the survivors at the end are an eloquent effigyand a kind of ex voto offered for the healing of the families, whose strife had condemned their generation to mortal sin:
Effigy of Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1587
Capulet: O brother Montague, give me thy hand./ This is my daughter’s jointure, for no more/ Can I demand
Montague: But I can give thee more/ For I will raise her statue in pure gold,/ That whiles Verona by that name is known,/ There shall no figure at such rate be set/ As that of true and faithful Juliet.
Old Montague is pledging an ex voto that won’t bring his child back, but will serve to establish the identity of Verona, much like Thebes rests on the bones of the royal family of King Oedipus. This belongs to the tragic formatting of the poem. The marriage bond, coextensive as it is with the dramatic work, exceeds the Greek tragic format of both the sacrifice of the young lives and the identity of the city. The play contains the flower of their bond. Like the golden effigy pledged by Old Capulet, it is their true living legacy that will not only leave the walls of Verona, but also of London and go on a worldwide journey to attend the moment of eternal recurrence that Revelations call “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb,” when all victims are “raised again.”
Unlike Thebes, their tragedy does not become the tragedy of Verona, but remains the incomparably beautiful and beloved legacy of Romeo and Juliet, who then, like wandering stars, set off on a journey worldwide. The vehicle that sets them on a journey of global circulation is not the death of the creaturely phenomenological horizon, but love enframed by marriage.
St. Rita’s Legacy and the Union with the Lamb
The Saint of the Italian vendettas is St. Rita. The mortal rivalries plagued Italian youths for centuries and re-rooted the otherwise Christian belief system that prevailed on the peninsula in the ancient rituals of blood sacrifice. St. Rita was married off into a powerful family involved in a vendetta when she was only 13, the age of Juliet. She lost her husband to the vendetta and was about to lose her sons, but they were “spared” by untimely death by sickness. Rita took that as a sign that her prayers had worked. She knew no greater death than the damnation awaiting her sons if they were to commit the mortal sin of murder in the course of the vendetta.
Her faith was so enormous that she managed to reconcile the families and bore patiently a permanent wound in her forehead. Rita refused to let the wound heal. She believed every symptom, suffering, and trial we endure brings us closer to union with the Lamb.
Mortification of the Flesh in Marriage
This is another aspect of the Wedding Feast mentioned in Revelations: every work brought for judgement to the Feast, like the ex votos carried to the tragic stage or to the holy shrine, has to overcome some unique form of suffering, which sin roots in mortality. The vendettas are an obvious example. This gives the doctrine of mortification of the flesh a new and very special meaning.
Rita of Cascia’s wound never healed. She bore it fervently and was able to perform minor miracles of healing through the sheer power of her personality. Notorious in Cascia during her lifetime she became the patron saint of the city.
Today she is known as the Saint of improbable causes, the most improbable being faith itself.
French postwar painter Ives Klein dedicated his ex-voto to St. Rita in an act of defiance of the materialism of the art market. The sacraments dedicate all Christian works to sanctified love, even if it is not of one’s own marital bond. This is a very interesting moment in Christian thought palpable in Shakespeare. Ex-votos renounce the individuality of the symptom, yet for artists they take on the meaning of devotional objects in circulation. Thus marriage becomes the unique setting for the articulation of individuality. The circulability of works is a mark of common currency that guarantees their exchange value. It is finite and creaturely. The story they tell of suffering humanity on its journey to the wedding feast is in excess of tragic formatting. Marriage is the techne of love, the transformation and sublimation of the apple of original sin.
The Beautiful People
Rene Magritte, Le Beau Monde, 1960
The apple in Le Beau Monde is not a physical apple, but a two-dimensional image. The image recoups transient creation. But Magritte takes the act and product of painting itself as his object. He removes the proverbial apple, the source of temptation and ultimate object of original sin, twice from its fallen physical state. His is not a mere image of an ordinary apple, but an image that points to its second nature as image and a sublimated object. It is conscious of being a mirror within a mirror.
Magritte takes the apple of original sin out of its context in the natural world and then also removes it from the context of the technical world of painting. Magritte goes a step beyond Heidegger. Its pure technical essence consists of a few brushstrokes, colour, paint, and canvas (the elements in Ives Klein’s ex voto). Magritte sublimates the very materiality of the medium of representation and achieves a new level of sublimation at a time in history when his medium, painting, has become stale and desublimated as a cultural artefact.
A point of recurrence punctuates the transition from old to new techne. Nietzsche and the Odyssey place recurrence in the feminine province of love. Christian thought will make it its fundamental reality principle by making the Wedding of the Lamb the goal and point of recurrence of the Divine Comedy.
At a time when painting an apple has become an ordinary act, Magritte sublimates the crude, material act of painting by removing it one metaphysical level further from the origin.
Magritte, Son of Man, 1964
Magritte’s later work The Son of Man takes this self-reflexive process of sublimation even further. He paints his self-portrait as Christ and covers it with the trivialized image of an apple. The face we put in circulation in social circles is neither original nor unique. It hides the real face with a pre-fabricated image, a product of old cultural processes of sublimation that have been automated in their production of ‘individual’ identities.
Sublimation re-channels and re-creates the symbolic pathways of raw creaturely desire. A form of mourning that dispenses with the negative half of emotional ambivalence toward the dead, it does not deny nor conceal the loss.
New linguistic and artistic shapes and beings arise from basic instincts, movements and emotions when the natural object is withdrawn.
Between Death and Sublimation: Reality Tasting, Feasting, Consuming
Titian, Noli Me Tangere, 1514
In the gospel of John 20, Jesus appears in the flesh on the evening of the first day of the week and admonishes Mary Magdalene, whom he finds weeping next to his empty tomb, not to touch him.
The new testament achieves another marriage, that of the Greco-Roman and the Jewish heritage flowing into one world of love’s works. The conclusive event, the wedding feast of the Lamb, however, is neither final, nor singular, nor historical. Since it represents the ultimate telos, it is also the point of its eternal recurrence.
Freud introduced the term “sublimation” as a model for the psychological reality of Ovidian epic, which is metamorphosis. For Freud reality is the product of a process of testing in the wake of death, caesura, or permanent loss.
Judgment is also a kind of caesura and death. It withholds something of great value and disrupts the fabric of life in the psychological world of the subject. Reality testing is a form of mourning and repair of the damage inflicted by traumatic loss. It covers the period during which the mourner has to confirm the loss as real.
It is significant that Jesus does not allow Mary to touch him, not because she is doubting his resurrection like Thomas will, but because she must establish the reality of his death. The interruption constitutes the meaning-giving caesura. It is the moment of re-creation. The time of re-collection of the works, human and divine, fills the presence of the departed. Here it is the presence of Christ. This is the time when reality is made. The period between death and resurrection represents the psychological timeframe of reality testing, which establishes the core reality principle. It is a time of material absence, literally untouchable by the senses: “noli me tangere.”
What returns is the essence and internal being of the departed. Their transformed, reconfigured presence is re-collected from the good works. In the case of St. Rita of Cascia it is the famous rose that grew in the barren winter garden of her family home.
The Good Husband
Romeo is a melancholic. He is deeply entangled in the pleasures of metamorphosis. In fact, we first encounter him in a sycamore grove, mourning Rosaline an inch too deeply to be psychologically healthy. The sycamore is a symbol of aberrant forms of love well known to artists. An artist who delights in the sweet pleasures of parting, Romeo is also very skilled with the rapier. Romeo is Shakespeare, an indulgent and glamorous self-portrait. Poets, like good husbands, glory in the art and passion of departure.
This kind of passion is not unaccounted for in the Bible. In fact, it is central. When Jesus admonishes the Magdalene not to touch him, He also says that he is not yet ascended to the Father. Not yet ascended, He is in the space between death and reunion. The moment of eternal recurrence is the birthplace of earthly reality in its human essence, that is, as constitutive of human presence. In a sense we are always already ghosts.
“Noli me tangere” refers to the fundamental principle of Christian reality, which means beyond mortality and the mortal creaturely essence. Untouchable and unavailable to the immediacy of the creaturely senses, the immaterial reality of sublimation structures the sacramental experience of Shakespeare’s works.
Romeo and Juliet’s problem is one of oral impatience, as Freud would call it. Impatience impedes their ability to process the absence of the other. Their response to the reality of banishment is exactly to disobey the commandment: noli me tangere. Their failure initiates a relentless cycle of death: Mercutio, Tybald, Paris, Romeo, and Juliet.
Jesus appears to the Magdalene on the evening of the first day of the week. Sunday evening is the pregnant time before the workweek begins. It represents symbolically the time of conception of works. Sunday is a time of recurrence and repetition. Because it is the day God rested, it is empty of His creation and filled with the human works of love, invention and re-creation. All flowers and fruits of marriage belong to Sunday, from children to the dazzling sepulchre of Romeo and Juliet.
Juliet’s passion, her unique suffering is not initiated by murder as Romeo’s, but by a transgression against the name. The function of the name changes in the Christian experience. Christ’s sword delivers the cut of self-difference. The introduction of Biblical thought to the Greco-Roman cultural foundation changed the tragic dis-articulation of family identity by making a further division within the family. ” Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.35For I have come to turn “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’c (Matthew 10:34-36). Recreation introduces self-difference, absent in tragic sacrifice.
In language, the individuality dwells in the spaces between signifiers. Difference is the origin of poetry and the idiomatic calculus of unique interiors. In the endless chatter of language, a caesura introduces the breaking point where Christ’s sword cuts the self in two to introduce divine presence. Heidegger calls this presence techne. This healing cut vouchsafes the unique truth and being of the individuality. St. Rita’s attachment to her wound understood this profoundly. The sacramental use of the name altered its function from an objective unit in the chain of signifiers, whose meaning is guaranteed by blood lineage or by the nomos in Greco-Roman logic, to a guardian of unique suffering. It is the portal between language and internal infinity.
Juliet’s raw desire erases the name and precipitates regression to Greek tragic formatting. Violation of the limit built into the name initiates a relentless cycle of tragic annihilation.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself. (R&J II.ii.38-48)
The limit Juliet fails is the name. This purely linguistic operation erases Romeo’s and her own humanity. It is her wound, moreover, that makes her frantic but futile actions an engine of greater hunger for what she cannot have because it is already inside.
Her wound initiates an endless mourning ritual we still engage with pleasure. In the tragic format of the tale, the names of the young lovers, the very names they erased in their youthful passion, remain the monument of their union for all eternity: Romeo and Juliet. Their mortal passion becomes their passport to the global systems of circulation.
Circulation (to be continued)
Paul Klee, Sirens of Ships, 1917
Paul Klee’s 1917 image of the Sirens of Ships is an interesting commentary on the psychology of global circulability, epic transformation, and adultery. The Sirens represent the Bard Homer, whose song of war glory tempts men away from their work of marriage. Sirens beckon with the adulterous temptations Odysseus had to conquer on his long journey home to his spouse, Penelope. But unlike the Sirens of war, the crossed stars of Romeo and Juliet keep testing our works for their fitness to grace the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Reality testing and tasting is an endless work of epic transformation and sublimation.
As we continue to explore the psychological reality of human relations in the post-Christian world with one of the masters of interiority as our primary guide, Shakespeare, we gain profound cognisance of the place, time, and design of the individual private sphere. But how do the works of private identity enter the realm of public expression and circulation? The answer is through marriage.
Resting on the reality principle of marriage and the relationship to the beloved woman, Christianity is not just the only earthly order organized by the feminine essence of love, but also the only system to circulate private works. The private constitution of the public sphere is the paramount legacy of Christian thought.
Since marriage is the fundamental structure and reference point of Christian fellowship, it carries the individuality and supports its entry into a public space structured by the works of love furnishing the material dimension of Christ’s marriage to the Church.
A large number of Shakespeare’s plays focus on marriage. “Romeo and Juliet,” currently on our agenda, is no exception. In the final reckoning, it is a Christian marriage and not desire that unites Juliet and her Romeo. The work of love they leave behind — fruit of their marriage — is their magnificent death: a gem of tragic poetry with a peacemaking mission. The grace Shakespeare bestows on his characters at the end of each play is probably the most precious, unsurpassed, and incomparable quality of his poetry. It is not withheld from the ill-fated lovers.
Noli me tangere
Titian, Noli Me Tangere, 1514
In the gospel of John 20, Jesus appears in the flesh on the evening of the first day of the week and admonishes Mary Magdalene, whom he finds weeping next to his empty tomb, not to touch him. To interpret this passage we need to consider the telos of the scriptural narrative, because it represents the meaning-granting caesura. Every caesura refers to the larger telos that frames it.
The Christian Reality Principle: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb
The Book of Revelations is organized around one central event: the wedding feast of the Lamb. The crowning moment of biblical teleology is a wedding feast. The New Testament transforms epic history and the book of the law into the Divine Comedy of love’s triumph on earth. The conclusive event, the wedding feast of the Lamb, however, is neither final, nor singular, nor historical. Since it represents the ultimate telos of the biblical narrative, it is also the point of its eternal recurrence.
The Christian reality principle is established in relation to the eternal return of the Lamb’s wedding. This singular event is always rising on the human horizon in its unspeakable, eternal glory and beauty, and defines the phenomenological boundaries of Christian experience. It represents the event horizon of the Christian reality principle.
According to the father of psychoanalysis who coined the term “reality principle,” reality is the product of a process of testing in the wake of death, caesura, or permanent loss. The caesura of judgment, like the finitude of death, withholds something of great value and disrupts the fabric of life in the psychological world of the subject. Reality testing is a form of mourning and repair of the damage inflicted by traumatic loss. It covers the period during which the mourner has to confirm the loss as real.
It is significant that Jesus does not allow Mary to touch him, not because she is doubting his resurrection like Thomas will, but because she must establish the reality of his death. The period between death and resurrection represents the psychological timeframe of reality testing, which establishes the core reality principle. It is a time of material absence, literally untouchable by the senses: “noli me tangere.”
When Jesus admonishes the Magdalene not to touch him, He also says that he is not yet ascended to the Father. Not yet ascended, He is in the space between death and reunion. The moment of eternal recurrence is the birthplace of earthly reality in its human essence, that is, as constitutive of human presence.
Universe of Christian Works
“Noli me tangere” refers to the fundamental principle of Christian reality. Untouchable and unavailable to the immediacy of the creaturely senses, the immaterial reality of sublimation structures the Christian universe.
Sublimation is the process of artistic or scientific creation whereby creaturely instinct is transformed into works of immaterial immediacy. It is the inherent, internal logic of a work, which requires another work to bring it to recognition. This is why we measure the staying power of works of art by their homages and reproductions or reinterpretations.
Jesus appears to the Magdalene on the evening of the first day of the week. Sunday evening is the pregnant time before the workweek begins and represents symbolically the time of conception of Christian works. The actualisation of the principle of individuality is the crowning work of Christian faith.
Sunday is a time of recurrence and repetition. The crowning work in a Christian biography and point of recurrence is marriage. It is the soil on which the individuality fully blossoms. Because Sunday is the day of God’s rest, it is empty of His creation and filled with the human works of love, invention and re-creation. To the works of re-creation belong all flowers and fruits of marriage, from children to the dazzling sepulchre of Romeo and Juliet.
In their bare state of nature, human children bear the mark of what John calls the “sign of the beast.” It marks the pure, creaturely state of being. The ritual and sacred practice of marriage is what makes the creaturely human body a Son of Man.
In Revelations, the time of the future — both utopia and apocalypse — is none other than the time of judgment of the works, for works are the currency of the soul’s final destination. Judgment Day is not a fixed, historical day in the distant or near future, but rather a recurring event like Sunday.
Power, Marriage, Recurrence of the Eternal Feminine
The late nineteenth century poetic work Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1892 correctly identified three rings symbolic of the power of recurrence and repetition inherent in the making of autonomous human reality, as coextensive of each other, albeit in the inverted anti-Christian context of Zoroastrianism. The author, Friedrich Nietzsche recognised that the ring of power, the ring of marriage, and the ring of recurrence symbolise the world of human action and God-given autonomy.
Nietzsche was, however, well versed in the Bible and Christian sacramental practices, being raised in a family of pastors. He inverted the Christian Trinity for poetic purposes and to lend a dying doctrine fresh power: the Father, who is all-powerful, the Son, married to the Church, and the temporal Spirit, which is eternal and internal recurrence.
Earthly power is simply the ability to set up reality. The Christian reality principle is the trinity of recurrence, marriage, and the power of governance.
Recurrence is the portal through which all Christian works of disparate times, languages & cultures communicate & sustain each other.
Marriage rests on the feminine principle of love, which subordinates all passions.
Common objects and works of circulation set up the power of governance. In the Christian experience power is intimately bound to the sacrament of marriage and its principle of the eternal feminine. The temporal dimension of power is allegorically illustrated through the main event of the Book of Revelations, the wedding feast of the Lamb.
The time of the events disclosed in the Book of Revelations is exactly a week after the admonition “noli me tangere.” It designates the time of the judgment of the works, a kind of aesthetic contest, when Jesus’s marriage to the Church takes place. A week is simply a cycle, a mark of recurrence. A cycle is an hour, a day, a century or a millennium.
To take place means to “make” an event in the physical world. Christ’s bride consists of the good works of God’s children. Every invention, every masterpiece, every work of art or literature are judged for their fitness to perform the marriage of marriages, the Lamb’s wedding of the Church, the Christian bride.
Marriage is a very special ritual in Christianity, not only on the wedding day, but every day thereafter, for the works of marriage furnish forth the eternal feast of the Lamb’s nuptials.
Jewel in the Bride’s Crown, Duomo of Siena
Not Yet Ascended: Between Heaven and Earth
Titian’s rendition of the moment Jesus asks Mary not to touch him is extraordinary in its sensitivity to the creaturely vulnerability of the natural human body at the time before its ascension to the Father, that is before its sublimation.
Jesus asks Mary not only not to touch him, but also to tell the others He is going to the Father. The vehicle of the ascension to the Father is made up of the works of one’s biography. The crowning one is the work of marriage, because it embodies the feminine principle of love.
The time before the ascension is also before the judgment when beings dwell between the creaturely body and the works of sublimation, which will either become their vehicles to the Lamb’s wedding feast or vehicles of their damnation. Not all works are good.
The day of Judgment does not mean judgement of the creaturely body, which is ultimately destined for death, sin, and disease. The creaturely body is already judged, because it is incapable of faith, whose vehicle is language. The apocalypse awaits mute nature and all her works not saved through sublimation.
The creaturely body and all works of nature are made good in their sublimated form, as works destined for the altar of the Lamb’s wedding day. Thus the touch of the gardener transforms and sublimates raw nature. As the work of human hands and instrumentality, the garden is healed, curated. Christ touched the sick to heal them. The same curatorial, healing power is allotted to his brethren. The garden represents the sublimated form of the wild bush, which is a work of nature.
On the eve before the work week begins, Jesus admonishes Mary not to touch him, for He has not yet ascended to the Father. There is a time then between cycles and between judgments when the power of healing is gone from the children of God and they must protect themselves from the touch of brute nature.
There are two sides to the Book of Revelations. In Latin, the book is called the Apocalypse. The time of the future is both the apocalypse of the creaturely world and the utopia of the Lamb’s wedding feast. All the good works accomplished by God’s children are destined for the feast.
The day of Judgment condemns and saves at the same time. It is a day that recurs every Sunday and at the end of every individual cycle. The Apocalypse condemns the creaturely body, but saves works of sublimation. As works of ascension they include reproductions of the creaturely body in funerary figures. These serve the representation of both the apocalypse and the utopian dream.
Works of sublimation grace the wedding feast of the Lamb. Secular works belong to this collection of masterpieces as well, because secularism shares the Christian reality principle. They too rest on the discursive foundations of sublimation and hermeneutics.
The judgment of the works establishes their reality and their ascension. The creaturely body, always already dead, is untouchable. At this vulnerable time between death and ascension, it is unavailable for sublimation and eternal return.
Shakespeare dedicated his most enigmatic and widely commented work, “The Tragedy of Hamlet,” to the temporal dimension of the untouchable. A later post will read the dark creation that can take place at this time, because of the double failure of marriage the play documents. Part II of this post will focus on the circulation of works, a system bordering on the limit Hamlet represents.
This post is dedicated to my mother and to my husband
Flag Day is a fantastic opportunity for reflection on historic memory and the arts of memory. As I encourage you here to write down or document in some way your personal history, I also try to foster philosophical habits of reflection that help us think about historic memory as such. A good deal of iCulture’s content already focused on the arts of memory. Tragedy, allegory, poetry, visual memory and the techno media are all forms of record-keeping, technologies of memory, and arts of remembrance. This frame gives us a dwelling space within which we can engage in a contemplation and a discussion about Flag Day 2016. Historic memory and knowledge offer the best protection against the numerous acts of terrorism we are asked to endure daily, some by actual physical attacks carried out in our public spaces and some in our very homes and private spaces, courtesy of the press and the media networks.
The flag is a memorial. The flag of a nation represents its honour and its memory. Its appearance as an object and a prop in action reflects the health of the historical identity it bears. When it appears on the calendar, it does so as carrier of recurring content, content that requires remembrance and reinterpretation with every return of the day. The calendar is the most important memory technology we employ to collect our identity from the scattered and otherwise meaningless events of linear chronology. Ours is the Gregorian Christian calendar. Even though its secularisation emptied it of liturgical content, the calendar remains bound to Christian sacrament, the material practice of Christianity, which was designed to format human existence on earth from birth through baptism and confirmation to marriage, healing and death. History as we know it today began with the advent of Christ’s resurrection, in 0 AD. It begins with the birth of the Son of Man, the only God-begotten son, and stretches to eternity. Every historic body falls under the flag of Christian identity. Our calendar begins with the birth of Christ and our history can only be told through recurring structures in that calendar.
The Flag Stands for the Body of a Nation
The body the flag represents has a history. Today the identity of a historic body is often confused with totemic identity, which is marked by the sacrifice of a totem animal. When we say our soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice to the flag, their lives, we are in fact dishonouring them. We are all part of the same body represented by the flag, no more nor less than the soldier, but the flag elevates this body above the creaturely body fit for sacrifice. It is a dishonour to treat any part of the historic body represented by the flag as a sacrifice. It reduces us to the status of creatures and robs us of our humanity.
The body the flag represents is Christian. What does “Christian” mean? To some it is just another totemic identity, but that’s far from its intrinsic truth. Christian identity is different and special because it put an end to the sacrifice of creatures practiced by all pre-historic religions. The American flag does not represent the body of a creature, whose blood is to be sacrificed to the alter of group identity, because at its inception it did not serve humans practicing pre-historic rituals. The American flag represents a very different group body: an abstract, immaterial presence that is nevertheless active in history. Since the logic of this identity follows the historic path of the Son of Man, Christ, and his saints, all children of God, it is marked not by sacrifice, but by the struggles of the Lord at the hands of earthly power.
There is no other nation whose flag is fully identified with its role in history, because it is the youngest flag among the world powers. Christ was the door to history and this means the American flag, like the veil of Veronica, represents his earthly remains, a record of the suffering endured at the hands of earthly power. This is the flag the world celebrates on Flag Day, the flag of the Angel of Freedom and the living power of the Lord moving history relentlessly toward the splendour of His Kingdom of peace and eternal grace. On Flag Day the gentle wing of freedom glides over all the nations and the American flag embodies this ephemeral presence. This, more than the sacrifice of soldiers some believe is the meaning of Flag Day, is the true calling of the holiday.
Realities of War
Memorial holidays also remind us of the realities of war. Their significance changes every year as the nation is confronted with new challenges. It is the responsibility of the media to frame the new narrative intelligently, but partisanship and extreme censure by the political affiliations of news agencies and the press at large has reduced their capacity to reflect anything beyond pre-formatted political content. It is up to us to pick up the pieces.
It is fitting to remember the prayer for peace Nixon penned in 1969 in the context of a bloody, senseless, and unnecessary war that claimed the destiny of an entire generation of Americans. memorial prayer (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=105927) Wars and acts of terror are intended to change our identity. Our holidays help us heal the wounds of war and terror. They help us preserve our identity and our flag intact through every debacle and every national tragedy.
An example from our recent history is the Vietnam war, which was matched by an equally successful internal “drug” war, by which I don’t mean the war on drugs, but the war drugs wage on human life. The drug war claimed the lives of the most talented young artists, poets, and philosophers. It cut them off from reaching maturity, and robbed us of their contribution to the intellectual life of the nation. Besides holidays, the national media are also means of preserving our identity. The media, film especially, help us make sense of the immense losses of national resources every war and every act of terror cost.
Film Medium Processes Psychological Impact of History
Film: the Art and Psychology of Historic Memory
The film medium picked up the pieces with such productions as the musical plea for peace “Hair” (Forman, 1979). The title is, intentionally or not, an homonym for “Heir” and a reference to the Heirs of God who appeared to be abandoned by Him at the time of the most destructive war. Here is a reminder: Children Forgotten by God https://youtu.be/fhNrqc6yvTU. The more lasting reformatting of the psychological reality of unjust war came with the gradual re-definition of the horror genre from sophisticated Hitchcockian thriller to mass massacres at the hands of zombies, vampires, and cannibals. Film was not only responding to an altered reality, courtesy of the Vietnam war, but also began educating the mass consumer in the pleasures of sacrificial ritual until the viewing public became numb to its horrors and simply accepted the re-definition of Christianity as a religion of horror. Even Christian leaders forgot that the paramount goal of Christianity was the abolishing of sacrifice and slavery and began to accept a devastating historical narrative designed to abolish Christian faith. By the 1990s American youths had widely accepted the replacement of the immortality of the Christian soul with that of the vampire. The finest work of the film medium such as Neil Jordan’s 1994 “Interview with the Vampire” reflected and even embraced this new identity, which was violently imposed on Christian youth during and after the Vietnam war.
Children without God
Meaningless Vietnam War undoes and defaces the Just and Good Cold War Resulting in Hunger, Violence, and the Mass Displacement of Humans
The Vietnam war was a distraction from and ultimately the undoing of the Cold War, which was a just war. The Cold War had advanced the art of war to bloodless warfare, an unprecedented development in history. It achieved a level of sanity in the art of war and the highest historical standard of regard for human life. The powers of evil, unfortunately, continued to lust after blood. The Cold War shed no blood and was carried out entirely through media, industrial, and high technological means. The USA won this war with intelligence, technical sophistication, and an ideology of freedom deeply rooted in American Christian consciousness. The consciousness of a nation is its only claim to honour. It is won slowly, painstakingly, and with historical determination. The US is currently undoing both its honour and its memorial arts as it continues on a downward spiral of forgetfulness. The consequences are dire for the entire world, because its highest calling is to be the model democracy for the developing world and the guardian angel of European Christian civilisation, which would otherwise fall in the hands of tyrannical regimes, homegrown or imported.
We have now largely forgotten that the Cold War was not waged against the Russian people, but against the corruption of Marxism. Marx simply took the moral code of the Christian community and applied it to a meaningless materialist system of valuation, economic currency, thus emptying the community of the meaning of divine presence and of Christian sacrament. Marxism sounds good because it is re-selling the stolen goods from the Church. Marx provided the ideological foundation for all dictatorial regimes and gave them justification and historic validation. The 1993 US election reversed everything we gained in the Cold War. The years that followed plunged the world back into the pre-WWI colonial and economic chaos as the US embraced Marx as ideological foundation of its domestic and foreign policy. An unfortunate historic development, the institution of debilitating government bureaucracies had already taken hold of the (post)-colonial world. Would-be post-colonial democracies were delivered a final blow when the US embraced Marxism in the mid 1990s. Instead of seeing the US as a pillar of hope and a model democracy, newly freed colonies, fuelled by Marxist ideology, had been counting the US their enemy. Under pressure from the other colonies, in the mid 1990s the first and only successful post-colonial country, the USA, was seduced by Marxism. This left the developing colonial world with no real alternative and no real values. The corruption of the post-colonial world then led to mass migration, because the freshly minted democracies were too weak to sustain a moral code necessary for real economic and political stability. Mass starvation, mass corruption, and in some cases, mass genocides ensued. Photographers like Sebastião Salgado documented the atrocities that are still with us:
By 2001 the technological gains of two world wars and the cold war were essentially obliterated as the US, the only hope and model for the colonies, was debilitated by another Vietnam-type quagmire of a war with no end in sight, the Middle Eastern debacle. The senseless bloodshed is still with us and the number of hopeless, hungry, driven to violence refugees rises catastrophically on a daily basis.
The Gift of 2016: A Choice for the Future
Flag Day 2016 staged a contest between the two competing versions of the holy-day: those who believe it stands for totemic sacrifice and those who believe it stands for the only freedom available in history. This year, like every year, presents not only Americans, but honest citizens of free countries around the world, with the choice between tyranny and peace, for both are plentifully available to us, this year and every year. The choice is in every beating heart.
Tragedy of Flag Day 2016
The Orlando shooting is a national tragedy. Much like the terror attack in Brussels during Easter week 2016, this attack attempted to mar the celebration of our Christian flag. The spectrum of political responses is a strong indicator that democracy is well and alive in the country. The national territory is home to many who don’t identify as Christians and Americans and who do not honour our flag. We have a duty to be good hosts to them, but we also must recognise their difference and the impossibility of universal inclusion under one flag. By the same token, we have to preserve our identity and the sacred body represented by the flag intact. We cannot let our guests desecrate it and we must stake the right to ask them to leave if they cannot respect the identity of their host. We cannot let guests take over our identity and forget who we are, forget that we live under a Christian flag representing a historic body that has specific cultural features and traditions.
Christianity is not a religion of birthright, blood lineage, and totemic identity. In Christ we are all children of God, adopted, not born. We don’t belong to earthly entities like blood, land, and language. Romans 9:3: “it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise.” As children of the promise we have no earthly origin and no earthly resting place. God had mercy on us and granted us entry in His Kingdom by our faith in Him. Who are we to reject His grace and revert to beliefs of blood sacrifice and birthright? Even though we are surrounded by guests who are bound by their blood and ethnic lineage to preserve their identities, we should never forget that we are free of such ties. This is the essence of our freedom. It is represented by the flag.
Flag Day is also the birthday of the American army. Our army was created to protect the flag and our freedom from blood lineage and all earthly material determinants of our identity, including terror attacks designed to alter our sense of self and our identity as a nation. As the only flag on earth that represents the freedom to choose one’s identity, it deserves unconditional honour, love, and dedication.
Every tragedy has a flawed but lovable hero. In this case it is neither the terrorist nor his victim, but rather the average American who let the flag of freedom drop to accommodate a passion for some material identity that was too dear and too precious to renounce. It is up to the individual psyche to identify the loss and to forgive the offender within with the grace God gave us in Christ.
To sidestep and integrate the automatic interior design propagated by the mass media in a self-authored private environment, some historical knowledge about the function of language is indispensable. The introduction of Christian teachings with the Vulgata by St. Jerome altered the function of language in ancient European cultures and their historiographies fundamentally. The very concepts of the resurrection and the transubstantiation, which structures the sacraments, introduced the realm of the immaterial to simple linguistic transactions like metaphor, simile, and poetic metamorphosis.
The new linguistic genre Christ introduced into human language in general and St. Jerome into Western languages was allegory. Christ invented this form of communication to speak to his disciples, because the truth he bore could neither be communicated nor understood by the followers through literal use of language. The simplest definition of allegory is telling a story with another story. The impossibility of a total match between the two stories, the manifest one and the one being illustrated, which is immaterial and internal, creates an opening, a caesura (see earlier post) for the immaterial to enter our material world.
There are two concepts of subjectivity, the deterministic concept and the Christian concept. The determinist view defines the interior as a largely unconscious entity comprised of emotional and psychological material. The Christian concept of subjectivity is open-ended and points to an infinity and to the immaterial. Behavioural psychology, psychiatry, psycho-pharmacology, and a large part of the psychoanalytic school contend that the interior of an individual consists of instincts and mental processes that are absolutely independent of the individual will, action, or emotions. According to this view, the interior is structured by biology, psychology, sociology, and the media. This view is correct as far as science goes, but it is by far not a total view and remains open to revisions and new knowledge. This opening is guaranteed by the introduction of immaterial transubstantiation with Christian thought. It is unlike Platonism, Aristotelian metaphysics, and unlike poetic metamorphosis, which were all known to the ancient pre-Christian world, which remained absolutely conditioned by physical and material laws.
We will continue to address the presence of the classical heritage in Christian civilisation, especially its philosophical foundations, but today it suffices to note that to earn a degree of autonomy over the interior, over the interior, private, subjective sphere, an individuality has to be established and furnished with its exclusive dwelling space of difference that refers to the immaterial.
Remains of Bare Life
Jacky Tsai, Floral Skull design made for Alexander McQueen
The Christian world celebrates Good Friday every year. The idea of the calendar originated not so much in the need to coordinate activity and synchronise human life and labor, but rather in the need to indicate points of return for otherwise fragile, transient, and fleeting life forms. The desire to preserve something that is destined to perish is the cornerstone of all material civilisations. The old religions and their linguistic systems function much like calendars and serve the preservation of culture, which in turn guarantees the return of perishable life forms. But culture also chains, because what returns is already dead. The material remains that make up the physical world, to which we have dedicated our learning and science, are not living and breathing. We engage in acts of repetition to give them breath and life again.
Remembering the crucifixion on Good Friday, we also contemplate the significance of human remains and how they shape and design our world. Christ is raised on the third day and leaves no human remains for us to enshrine, worship, and lock under heavy symbolic, social, and actual keys, as the old cultural and religious systems have done. The difference between the material sarcophagi of traditional cultures and the fragility of bare life is illustrated, allegorically, in material design, in architecture for example. Intelligent, impactful design not only follows theoretical concepts, whether consciously or unawares, but can also introduce them to the world. The little chapel of Mary in the impressive but austere glass and stone Catholic building on the lakeside where I live, designed by one of the leading contemporary female architects, Heike Buettner — https://www.uni-weimar.de/de/architektur-und-urbanistik/professuren/grundlagen-des-entwerfens/personen/prof-dipl-ing-heike-buettner/competence-and-performance/ — is reminiscent of an unassuming wooden barrel and presents a stark contrast to the glittering weighty structure. It is shaped like a keyhole, a narrow passage way; it is open to all; no key, no barriers, no remains. Through Mary’s womb Christ entered the world and became human — the Son of Man — but he left no remains, only the empty grave signifying the greatest hope and the resurrection, on which our civilisation is built.
Christian saints are identified not only by name but also by their main attribute, which functions like a miniature allegory of the main trial in their hagiography. St. Jerome, whose translation of the Bible from Greek into Latin, the Vulgata, became the foundation of Roman Catholicism, is identified by the skull — http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/july/why-st-jerome-is-icon-for-our-times.html. The cranium is the epitomic representation of materiality. It is proof that something material remains after death, not in heaven, but here on earth. It stands for everything we value highly on the market and in our social interactions: possessions, everyday household items, medicine and hygiene tools, educational material, instruments of knowledge, real estate, family jewellery, objects of value. In their original conception, art collections don’t belong to this list, because they are private, and like everything private, designed in the realm of immaterial interiority. Today art collections are used as material assets in global circulation, which has degraded their original purpose. As far as they are reducible to their market value and material ownership, contemporary art collections mostly consist of meaningless objects.
The material world surrounding us is symbolically represented by the skull. It is everything that remains after we depart. European civilisation is built on two strong pillars: the classical Greco-Roman heritage and the Bible. The classical world is the last great pagan age and the most advanced civilisation known on earth. It continued to develop after Christ, but only in relationship to the Church. The article linked above represents an irresolvable paradox, a binary structure, that forever opposes the classical to the biblical heritage. They are, in fact, not in some kind of competition over dominion of the world, but have blended wonderfully in the medieval, Renaissance and modern European world. The philosophical structures of the contemporary political order have departed radically from the Biblical heritage and rely exclusively on the ancient pre-Christian traditions. The evacuation of the Biblical contribution to European civilisation continues to justify political orders like socialism, national socialism, and refugee socialism, which have eliminated the individual private sphere and with it the only symbolic place where subjectivity can be created and self-authored. These regimes continue to engage in inhuman treatment of individuals and are currently threatening to undo every cultural, moral, and political achievement of Christian civilisation.
Alexander McQueen Design
Classical Aesthetics and the Bible
By introducing allegory in language through Christ’s words, the Bible became the world’s first material manifestation of the immaterial. Language is the paradoxical manifestation of the immaterial in the materiality of existence. In its function between linguistic elements, it is the only material trace that makes us God-like. The rest belongs to the realm ruled by the skull, which language names and masters by ordering it in our minds. St. Jerome belonged equally to the classical world of the past and to the always emerging, always breaking immaterial world of the transcendent word. St. Jerome’s passion for classical learning and aesthetics is the beginning of a long tradition of veneration for the classical arts that is still with us today. It has given us wonderful buildings to dwell in, beautiful art objects, sophisticated design, all theatrical and narrative arts from tragedy to Hollywood, plastic surgery aesthetics, the drive to dwell in healthy, beautiful bodies, and much more. The dominion of the skull is mighty powerful and it has a very specific origin: classical Europe. Language and writing were as highly developed and perfected in the Greco-Roman world as their material arts and sciences. But language was not considered a divine attribute as it is in the Biblical tradition. The classical world had little use of the immaterial. Even Plato and Aristotle could only conceive of ideas and metaphysics as metaphors and substitutive structures. Classical deities remained bound to dreams and phantasmagorias, to human wishes and desires that found no other manifestation than the materiality of a supremely powerful imagination, but they could not reflect anything beyond equivalencies between media of representation. St. Jerome remained enthralled by that beautiful classical world until his very last and this has something to do with his main accomplishment, the translation of the Greek New Testament into Latin. St. Jerome wrote the Vulgata, meaning popular, for the people, the common folk: http://www.vatican.va/archive/bible/nova_vulgata/documents/nova-vulgata_nt_epist-titum_lt.html.
Alexander McQueen Design
St. Jerome the Translator
Translation is an activity that requires transcendence, the breath of God animating bare life between the fixtures of specific language systems. What is transmitted between languages is the only living form on earth. What we consider living is not reducible to the sciences of biology and zoology. Neither is living language reducible to the state in which it is used and recorded at any given time in history. The historicisation of language, that is, its systematisation according to the social and cultural recording network systems of any given time, reaches highest visibility in its translatability. This is why translation is a form of burial and mourning of linguistic being. Translation represents the form in which language ‘remains.’ It is an excavation tool that lays bare the fossilised form of language. Languages are living organisms and as such not reducible to their bare remains. The Biblical God dwells in the Word of the Bible. If letters and words are sheep, the book of the Bible is their only shepherd. The preservation of languages depends on the degree to which they are permeated by allegorical Biblical language. It is in translation, however, that they “die.” The skull is St. Jerome’s attribute because he was the first translator of the Bible and because translation represents the death of language. The Vulgata, however, instead of remaining encrusted in a dead language, Latin, became the source of all modern European languages, because it allowed for its infinite translation. St. Jerome is its author and as such the founding father of all modern languages founded on the teachings of the Bible.
Alexander McQueen Scarf
St. Jerome’s Passion
The passion of St. Jerome was the classical heritage of Greco-Roman civilisation, which is still largely with us. His vision of his punishment at the hands of God’s angels for the sinful passion he nurtured for the classical arts is generated by his awareness of their historical demise and fossilisation. By the same token, however, the Resurrection also teaches us that everything that dies can be saved by the living breath of the Biblical word and thus transcend death. This is why St. Jerome’s translation is also transcendence. Latin is both a dead language and a transcendent language. The living breath of the word animates us and our languages, but it is not given in anything material, which is a mere fossil, mere remains.
Next to St. Jerome, Shakespeare is the other ‘founding father’ of modern language frequently pictured with a skull, not least because he wrote the most famous and most powerful scene with the mentioned prop, namely, Hamlet’s contemplation of the skull of his court jester and nanny, Yorick. Yet, Shakespeare’s skull is ironically the most notorious no-show in history. Periodicals circulate news of Shakespeare’s skull cyclically, obsessively, almost religiously. Here is the latest example: http://nyti.ms/1q4BmQg. The warning on Shakespeare’s grave, not to dig up his bones lest a curse befall the digger, is also meant to protect not a secret, but the very sanctity of life. As long as Shakespeare’s grave, like Christ’s, remains empty, his legacy and his language shall live. There is perhaps a degree of truth to the conspiracy theory that his skull was stolen. Every translation, every interpretation, every transfer of his work in other languages, media, and systems of thought is a kind of theft of the original that produces a skull. The remains are a work of translation and a dolorous work of mourning. Everything we “know” and understand clearly about Shakespeare is in fact stolen from the living breath of his language, the mystery that animates his creations and holds us in their thrall.
Life remains a mystery, its only manifestation being held in the living language of Biblical exegesis. By exegesis here I don’t mean scholarly interpretation, but rather a living hermeneutics, the power of the Biblical word to shape and re-create our daily life. Shakespeare’s work is deeply rooted in Biblical knowledge, though the scholarship of the past two centuries has been gradually moving away from reading Shakespeare side by side with the Bible. We will do so on this site and learn to read for our own reflection in the Bard’s incomparably rich, aesthetically immaculate, and morally superior texts. A future post will provide more literary historical and theoretical background to the infamous prop in Hamlet.
The skull made a spectacular appearance in the world of haute couture recently through the work of the late British designer Alexander McQueen. Fashion reaches the status of haute couture when it proves a faithful, more or less self-reflective record of historical cultural developments. At the same time, fashion has a historical record, its datedness, which it has to transcend to be considered art. The most recent developments in fashion originated in the bourgeois household that emerged with modern urbanisation. The transition from traditional landed gentry households to modern households has been plentifully documented in literature, but most memorably in the poetry of Baudelaire and the 19th century French novel. Future posts will take a closer look at the relationship between the adultery novel, the fashion world, and gossip media in more detail, but suffice to say here that modern haute couture has always been self-aware about its flowers — and passions — of evil. McQueen’s reference to one of the staples of Christian civilisation commemorating contemplatio mortis (contemplation of death) as a door or a keyhole between states, modes, cultures, and information systems was an expression of the designer’s struggle with the world he inhabited. His suicide, like the memorable, culturally significant designs, totalise his remains and bring them under the sign of absolute death. We’ll discuss this phenomenon in contrast to transformation and transubstantiation further in later posts.
The Saving Grace of the Word
The attraction of death is a mighty passion that participates powerfully in the design of our world and beckons with the pleasures of perdition. It possessed Christ as he took the dolorous path to Golgotha out of love for mankind, St. Jerome as he journeyed through the library of the classical world he could not let perish in oblivion, and McQueen’s designs as they weaved the condemned sites of our contemporary social milieus. The vigil we hold in the night of the Resurrection, however, and the living power of the Biblical word in Shakespeare’s texts provide the saving grace that will preserve the remains of passion’s work of destruction. From the veil of Veronica, the only material imprint of Christ’s passion, to McQueen’s prints our memory contains and curates the earthly remains of passion through the immaterial word within. Inside, in the hidden crevices and private languages of subjectivity, we weave the only living fabric of God’s image.