Lumière, Odilon Redon, 1893. Lithograph, 24.6 x 17.8 in. (sheet).
In the category for Daily News on Monday, January 15, 2018, I shared a quote from Proverbs: “To answer before listening — that is folly and shame.” The folly of gossip is so ubiquitous today that we hardly think about its manifestation and consequences, but it remains a very destructive power in the emotional world of humanity. In the news and on social media, the practice of discrediting a person’s character to avoid engaging their God-given reason, arguments, and the uncomfortable truths they may be stating, often by stooping to such low forms of communication as dog-whistling and trolling the domain of their expertise, is so widespread and all-pervasive, it escapes scrutiny. But the damage to the social fabric remains and it translates easily into damaged physical environments.
What happens when we engage a person’s character, identity, or political identity instead of listening to what they have to say? We dehumanize them. It doesn’t help that every liberal institution in the West today exists for the sole purpose of pandering to identity politics, which are not only not helping create a harmonious social milieu, but in fact commit the folly of gossip in their foundational system of signification. To treat a person as a representative of their specific political group is the same as gossiping about them, answering them before we listened to them speak. This form of social interaction destroys the very origin of knowledge, intelligence, and the quality of social life, which take shape and become historical events that have the power to re-create and re-establish human reality at the very intersection between external social reality and inner reality. How did we get here?
Linguistic Transformation in Christ
To answer this question we must understand the enormous linguistic transformation Christ initiated by depositing the gospel of his life and teachings in the midst of living humanity and for the renewal of the Jewish faith. The human world does not exist in itself. It is made real by language. Linguistic features are essential not only to communication, but to the very foundations of reality, which is what makes human reality essentially different from that of other living species who may communicate, but whose reality is fully dependent on human language. Nothing more is meant when the Bible tells us that man is the ruler of the animal kingdom. Our language determines the reality of animal existence, which is why it is more imperative than ever to take care of language in order to protect animal rights. Language has a divine origin, that is to say, it takes place between individuals, between languages, and between cultures. What IS, the Jahweh of the Old Testament (I am Who I Am), has being only in language and that means between entities.
There is no reality beyond language. The pre-Christian Jews knew this to be true, which is why they based their life, culture, and traditions, in other words what makes an ethnicity, on one book, the Torah. This tradition is unprecedented and is really only seen among pre-Christian Jews and later among the Christian nations, which founded their societies on one book, the Bible. With Christ the linguistic reality principle of absolute domination of the world through language was passed onto heathen cultures. This is why different linguistic groups produce different environments. By the same token, however, all post-Christian systems based on a more diffuse form of language and on later books, like the Quran and the countless Marxist systems of organization and world order, are reduced to instrumentality, that is a closing off of language, in a sense the deadening of language, the closure of its present and its future. ONLY IN CHRIST does language remain living, forver changing, and reflective of the deepest, most profound transformations humanity undergoes, because, unlike the later examples, the Gospel represents an open linguistic system. It is wrong to understand humans as mere representatives of ethnicities, because ethnicity is subaltern, that is lacking linguistic expression, animalistic. Post-Christian systems like Islam and Marxism reduce language to an animalistic functionality and close off its divine attributes: an open future and the infinite play of the signifier between subjects it requires.
Language creates environments. Christ changed the languages of the world by introducing one basic principle: the establishment of human interiority. To be sure, the Greeks and Romans had the notion of a subject and an emotional interior, but these concepts were only made meaningful in relation to their dialectical opposite, the world of objects. Yet in Greco-Roman thought the world of objects is absolutely independent of human subjectivity. Not so in the gospel where the Word is accorded absolute primacy in the creation of human reality. In ancient Jewish and in Christian thought, interiority is purely linguistic, that is, neither object nor subject, but pure language, pure medium. As such it is absolutely protected from objectivation and understanding in human systems of knowledge and science. It is this sacredness of the interior that changed Christian languages to the core. The verb “to be” for example was suppressed in systems of knowledge and replaced with bridge structures as in the suppression of the linking grammatical structure known as copula, the verb “to be,” in the English language. The emptying of Being, Jahwen, which is inherent in the copula, is not an emptying of content, but only of the certainty of existence that is fixed in human language. In other words, God dwells between signifiers, in a rarefied state of language where it is not merely fulfilling the utilitarian functions of communication and memorization of knowledge.
Simply put, whereas pre- and post-Christian heathen systems of signification and morality are completely external and require total submission to a law that becomes reality precisely at the moment it falls to its death, language IN CHRIST refers to interior reality, which is much subtler, sophisticated, sublimated, and ultimately unavailable to vulgar linguistic structures that operate at the animalistic or instrumental level. Nothing more is meant by the final commandment to love God and one’s brethren as oneself. It bespeaks the interiorization of the law, the re-making of the law as subjectivity, the emotional substance that binds us to the world of existence and to others. The space between us is dominated by God. Reducing a human being to their political group is the equivalent of murder in God’s eyes.
Don’t live your political identity. Live your passions, the forum within that gives Christ a place to BE, and express this being in your care for your linguistic environment. It is foolishness and folly to speak before we listen, but not because Proverbs say so, rather because we thus rob ourselves of the air of love we need to live and prosper. To hear between the lines what another brethren has to say is to give them love, the love we need to breathe. For giving is receiving!
Reducing a human being to their political representation is the most malignant form of the folly of gossip. Private gossip may rob a person of their peace, but the political usurpation of their will and voice is the equivalent of social murder. Political groups are nothing more than death cults that require their members to discard their individual existence, unless they share a confession that respects the rights of the individual such as the Christian confession when it is practiced in conformity with the gospel. Even the Church has been guilty of reducing its members to political bodies at certain times in its history, but that is a separate problematic.
In the history of Christianity, gossip occupies an interesting locus for social communication. It evolved gradually from a vice, an unhealthy and destructive form of social interaction, to a sophisticated tool of verbalizing and articulating inner experience. The development of the stage monologue, for example, offered a fictitious peep into the inner world of sinners. The (early) modern stage character evolved from and inherited the characteristics of the medieval allegorical figure of vice. Bodies of work that were devoted to exploring the interior of these characters like Shakespeare’s ultimately gave rise to the now nearly extinct but once mighty and crucial to the development of the modern sciences literary canons of the the Christian vernacular languages.
In literary genres gossip is a form of knowledge. Literature elevated, purified, and sublimated gossip, which eventually gave rise to the human sciences of psychology and psychoanalysis. Today yellow press gossip still functions as a tool for the design and representation of the interior dimension of human experience in a world that doesn’t have one. In this form, gossip still serves the articulation of interiority, but it often lacks the self-awareness and sophistication of its fine literary counterparts. Much worse is the usurpation of this form of communication by external political platforms, which constitutes a regression to pre-Christian linguistic being that not only annihilates the possibility of literary expression, but also imprisons linguistic structures within structures of power. Christ liberated language from power structures, but identity politics re-root linguistic being in political power. Once the mass media degraded the literary forms of gossip to tools of political propaganda, it was forced into regression to its function of silencing the voice of the other it performed in pre-Christian times. The loss of fine literature is also a massive setback for mental health. Identity politics is a very unhealthy vice that threatens the very fabric of social harmony.
Despite the loud insistence of the mass media on dehumanizing the President of a free country, do not damage your psychological health by falling in that trap. Maintain your dignity and the dignity of the person they dehumanize. Refuse to participate, refuse folly, listen to your internal voice, and love against the odds.
“And in the same disc of the sun shines the face of Jesus Christ,” Odilon Redon. Plate X in The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1888. Lithograph
“To answer before listening — that is folly and shame” Proverbs
Allegory of the Folly of Gossip, French 1600
The unfortunate story in the news today left us all rattled and puzzled at the blatant distortion of what everyone can see to be the truth. iCulture e-therapy consists of verbalizing an event as it occurs in our interior environment. Leibniz, the father of modern calculus, once said that it is no wonder man is able to search out knowledge in the world since he carries God’s image and intelligence within. The harmony between external knowledge and internal intuition is the only origin of true knowledge. Let’s unpack the event today, so we can verbalize what occurred inside us as we read the headline story today: a major newspaper deliberately twisting and misrepresenting the truth.
It is hardly worthwhile to honor the intentionally false statements published in the WSJ, but let’s entertain them for a second to understand the folly they are committing. The President of the United States, a legitimately elected head of the government of a free country, was attempting to communicate his well advised and well researched peaceful approach to the totalitarian regime in Asia, whose figure head is Kim Jong Un. Instead of reporting on the substance of his statements, the goal, means, and intelligence involved in the approach, WSJ stooped to malicious gossiping and maligning of the President’s character. There is nothing further we need to state or think about the incident to protect our inner world from the pollution caused by a liberal public institution.
When a public institution, which is an external organ of knowledge, abuses its power and falsifies the truth we are robbed of our interiors. What we know and see to be true is silenced, brutalized, and denied expression. This leads to feelings of anger and despair, which in turn gives evil a foothold in our souls. Thus public institutions like prominent news agencies destroy character, enslave our thinking, and seduce us to walk a path that leads to further destruction and degradation.
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus from the Sea, 1445
Surfer: I’m a simple man; my needs are very basic: give me the beach, the blue horizon, and a good wave and I am perfectly happy. I imagine natural men were not that different.
Priest: I believe you are simple, but you are mistaken about “natural man.” The very idea of “natural men” is a very complex cultural phenomenon that emerged and was refined over the past two centuries. Moreover your peaceful pasture, your beach and its blue horizon, are guarded by military and political might. Even more essential than military protection is the cultural and linguistic composition of your set of values, the freedom to choose them, and the peace needed to indulge them.
Surfer: But every man of every culture seems to appreciate what I love because it’s simple.
Priest: The concept of “natural man” is one of the most sophisticated and probably the most advanced cultural products. It sits on millennia of cultural development and certainly was not available to primitive men, who were anything but free to enjoy nature. To less civilised rudimentary societies nature is a monstrous and unpredictable enemy, not a bucolic idyll. The ability to perceive a violent wave or strong wind as anything other than a source of destruction and to control the fear it arouses is a highly refined psycho-cultural phenomenon.
Surfer: Then why is it so easy for people from less civilised parts of the world to appreciate and accept this lifestyle?
Priest: Once a product becomes available, it is easily consumed by all. Most consumers don’t ask if the product fits their culture and background. Like commercial images of instant aesthetics, which owe their appeal to an invisible, hidden production process, the numerous editing cuts and manufacturing stitches, superficial lifestyle features are easily copied and imitated, but they don’t change and don’t communicate with the more fundamental layers of the culture that receives them, remaining at best ornamental, primarily disposable, and at worst material for the stronger cultural elimination systems, scatological.
Surfer: Which is why you invoked political and military protection. My lifestyle is very precarious and likely only the most advanced cultural systems are able to protect it.
Surfer: Go on, I am intrigued now.
Priest: we may well be moving toward a political order that will no longer protect it for the same reason you were unable to appreciate the cultural significance of your seemingly simple lifestyle. The political, academic, and, unfortunately, clerical proletariat lacks knowledge of the production history and process of the culture they inherited. Contemporary systems of preserving and transmitting knowledge may well be condemning our common cultural background to scatological rabble. It won’t be long before your lifestyle is condemned and eliminated as insignificant to governing structures, just as romance and heterosexual love were devalued and eliminated from the cultural milieu. Simple bucolic lifestyles like yours have been associated with heterosexual love and romance since the inception of literary culture.
Surfer: Paul and Virginia, Daphnis and Chloe, Arcadia…
Priest: You know your literary history.
Surfer: Yes, I’ve devoured some university knowledge.
Priest: Then you know the sea wasn’t always a pretty site. Even to ancient Europeans it was just a means to an end and a dangerous business involving every thinkable monster and feminine treachery?
Surfer: I’ve heard of it yes, the Odyssey, Dido and Aeneas, and so forth.
Priest: It all began with the cultivation of natural spaces in Christian Europe. Renaissance art was obsessed with the sea. It is not surprising that at the time the British maritime empire was born, when America and the new world were discovered and developed, continental artists turned their eyes to the sea to define the standards of artistic beauty that dominate aesthetics to this day. Alongside the highest achievement in language, the Shakespearean canon of dramatic works, the Renaissance was also the time that established the visual idiom of modern aesthetic sensibilities.
Surfer: I don’t know about history, but just as I speak English I consider the sea my homeland.
Priest: The two are not unrelated. Britain remains the one and only maritime power in the world as we know it. The German Hansa was an equally successful achievement, but it didn’t survive intra-European rivalries and lost to the Swedes. Hence the English language has a great deal to do with the development of the marine aesthetics that dominate your worldview. Since the British isles were the first great maritime power, the oceans assumed a central position in the psycho-historical development of the Western imagination. In Italian art especially the sea became an icon of visual experience. The ancient Greco-Roman myth of the birth of the goddess of love Venus from the sea was revived in the context of global trade that involved predominantly Western European merchant ships. What you enjoy today and take for granted, even natural, isn’t natural at all, but has a long and complicated cultural history.
Surfer: That may be interesting, but doesn’t do much for me.
Priest: You said the sea is your homeland.
Surfer: It is.
Priest: But the sea is no homeland, no land at all!
Surfer: We surfers aren’t really into history and politics. We have no homeland. We are everywhere.
Priest: That’s what I’m trying to explain to you. You have a homeland, the old maritime powers that mapped the world. You inherited their cultural makeup. What you call awesome isn’t simply awesome naturally. It has a cultural history. And yet, you are right, you have no land-based homeland, only maritime culture.
Surfer: That may well be, but I’m not interested.
Priest: You are closer to our Lord than any man living on land.
Surfer: How so?
Priest: Like I said, Italian artists of the Renaissance revived some dead and forgotten Greco-Roman myths to compete with the pagan background of world trade partners, but the centrality of love and its association with world waters in the Western psycho-historical imagination has a different origin. Love is a Christian concept and virtue. Water is the element of baptism: the second birth and first sacrament of Christian worship. The sacrament of baptism represents the renunciation and crucifixion of earthly being. Everything in nature is perishable and mute. The profane is lacking in light. It is mute and dumb, unreflected. It lacks the intelligence of the Holy Ghost. The reborn, or born again, those who receive the baptism also receive the light through their second birth from the water, from the sea in a sense. Your understanding of your element is profane, but the origin of its valuation is definitely not profane.
Surfer: I carry light? You mean “salt of the earth,” that sort of thing?
Priest: Not directly, not unless you’ve been touched by God’s grace! You do know something that land creatures don’t. It’s your advantage. Like our Lord and his followers you have no earthly home to lay your head. The wave is your pillow, the cloud your blanket.
Surfer: All I know is how to ride a wave. I’m no figure of enlightenment. Nor do I wish to be anyone’s guide or model.
Priest: No, but you are a figure of baptism. You have the existential experience necessary to understand the message of our Lord.
Surfer: But I don’t have the message.
Priest: You are fertile ground for it.
Surfer: Base earth! A profane being.
Priest: No, you have a special, sacred relationship to beauty. You can see beauty at its inception. That is rare. It lends you grace and continual rebirth. Before birth and after re-birth, beauty appears in its pure form, the highest form of life.
Surfer: Like the unborn? Or the undead? Zombies, vampires, ghosts… Hollywood creatures?
Priest: You sneer, but yes. Transitional states of being are also eternal states. These two forms of life, the unborn and the undead, come closest to the purity of the medium of creation, the Word.
Surfer: Because the unborn lives in water?
Priest: Water is the perfect embodied metaphor for the Word, yes. The beauty of the unborn is greater than empirical beauty, because it represents a different state of being. The concept of unborn life and the Christian notion of the interior as sole temple of the Lord are very similar. The Virgin Mary receives the Holy Ghost and forms the Saviour in the interior temple of the mind? Word before flesh, spirit before matter. Christian experience takes place exclusively in the feminine realm of love, grace, and beauty. It is the only female religion. It softened and domesticated the sea and the furious wilderness.
Surfer: In love we are conceived, love we are, and to love we return. In its purity love contains the stuff all beauty is made of, primal beauty.
Priest: Like I said, you are a natural born philosopher!
Surfer: You must be joking.
Priest: You dwell in the no-land of the source of life, you know betweenness, you understand the impossibility of representing empirical beauty, because you feel it in inexplicable ways. And your sense of love is superbly refined.
Surfer: Words fail me.
Priest: You feel the impossibility of speaking the whole truth about what you know deeply; often words fail you when you try to tell others why you chase the waves; yet you know exactly what beauty is, you feel love to the core of your fear, and you sense its infinite power. Only love has the power to bring you back.
Surfer: The wave is different every day; how can you explain something that has so many shapes and that changes so often? Sometimes the fear just swallows everything.
Priest: You understand the impossibility of finitude, yet you fear it at every moment. You know every breath could be your last. You thrive on defeating finitude. You overcome your fear and your trembling every day, because you know love like Mary did. You go in only to come back a different person, transformed to the core. You thrive on change.
Surfer: No, I fear the elements, but I don’t fear change. I can’t afford to fear change. I have to stay on top of a constantly shifting ground. I can’t let it get the better or me. Change is inevitable. You have to think quickly on the water and go with whatever comes your way. If you are bent on carrying out the routine you learned yesterday, you are out of luck. You have to think fast and react faster.
Priest: I know, you live at the edge of human instinct. Instead of repressing, you chase and explore it. Instead of practicing learned habits, you adapt to untapped, slumbering human instincts. Instead of mastering natural forces, you seek to unleash them. You run the blade of human experience and redraw the boundaries of instinct, feeling out its limits as you go. In land-based cultures equestrians and falconers were valued very highly for their cultural achievement, because they support the cultivation of instinct. Maritime powers developed new forms of instinct design. Surfing is a key practice that developed in the context of oceanic exploration & conquest.
Surfer: I’m not too deeply learned.
Priest: Why do you think people admire you? They feel your mastery of instinct is superior and that’s a sign of advanced intelligence. Manifest human knowledge is very limited. The sum of our entire scientific know-how makes up less than one percent of material reality and the sum of our encyclopaedic knowledge less than one percent of our referential reality. Unbound the human mind is infinite, versatile and very prolific. One of the main functions of Christian faith is to unlock the mind and to open it to new dimensions of experience, to help it get accustomed to change just as you have to adapt to your constantly changing environment. Your craft is not learned, you learn it anew every day.
Surfer: That’s true. I can’t repeat a single run twice; every day is a new experience. But tell me, if the mind is infinite, why do we find it chained and belittled everywhere we look? Is it to satisfy what infinitely inferior knowledge considers necessity?
Priest: Sadly, yes.
Surfer: And infinity guarantees beauty? Is that why we love the undead, all the losses we couldn’t let go of?
Priest: We don’t understand infinity, or to be correct, simple infinity is all we understand. No given moment understands itself as finite, rather it perceives itself as infinite, but once it is gone and replaced, it can only return to a secondary infinity. It’s no longer simply unaware of its finitude, but it has overcome it. The infinite time of the undead is the origin of sacred love.
Surfer: We are all bound to earth by the same gentle fetters of beauty’s bounty. Otherwise we’d be committing suicide as soon as we are born. Existence is a terrible burden.
Priest: Yes and no. Existence is terrible in most belief systems, including the ancient Greek, but in Christian thought only what is capable of love and of being loved exists. Beauty is being, beauty is truth. Beauty that binds is earthly, but heavenly beauty sets us free.
Surfer: You mean naked beauty! The nakedness of the sea.
Priest: You don’t know it, but your foreknowledge of beauty, the very precondition of your passion, is instinct that has been educated, refined, and painstakingly cultivated through the ages by sacramental culture. There is nothing natural in naked beauty, though as in the Greek myth and in Botticelli’s painting, it is born from the sea. Rebirth before birth. Naked beauty suffers a sea change before it comes into existence.
Warhol, Detail of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus
Earthly beauty is clothed in human knowledge and rank, but the beauty you speak of when you speak of the sea is naked and it is absolutely superior. The Renaissance masters were able to render these truths in their visual idiom, like Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love,” for example.
Titian, 1613, Sacred and Profane Love
Earthly love is clothed and sits at one end of the sepulchre. Her sacred counterpart is naked and sits at the other end of the tomb. The clothed beauty represents our love of earthly pleasures and our bourn identities, but the sacred one represents the unborn and the undead, pre-birth, re-birth, and after death. Naked beauty represents the soul, which is filled with the spirit of infinity. We can only grasp it in its relation to earthly beauty, the tomb, and the elements surrounding her: earth under her bare feet, water and clouds behind her, incense and air above, and the simmering fire in the censer. Earthly beauty, on the other hand, is surrounded by her attributes: the luxurious shadows of a leafy shelter, her fashionable dress, and the burg on the hill, symbol of prestige, rank, power, and wealth.
Surfer: If they represent different forms of life and temporality, before and after birth and rebirth, why are they sitting on a tomb? Are love and beauty ultimately related to death?
Priest: Yes, love and beauty are never containable in simple temporal structures, because they exceed them; they don’t just exist and don’t simply cease to exist, but rather serve as frames for death. Beauty contains the passage between states of existence and temporalities. One could say it is the very necessity to defeat death that calls them into existence.
Surfer: Is that why this tomb is also a fountain?
Surfer: Because death like the sea is a source of naked love and sacred beauty?
Priest: If by source we understand something that undergoes transformation, yes. The origin is never fixed, never constant. Like water and the sea, a source — the origin — is in constant motion. There is no stable origin because it is the substance of mutability itself, a gate between states of existence. Likewise death is never final. Life and death are not opposed, but rather transitional states. Much like sleep death is a state that must be surmounted, transformed, and completed before life can spring eternal.
Surfer: So it’s not so much that death is the fountain of life, but that beauty and love spring from the triumph over it, transforming the sepulchre into a fountain of living waters?
Surfer: Not only are love and beauty not bound to the laws of time on earth, but their power consists in the triumph over time and over the powers of earthly authority.
Surfer: But profane love appears to be on the side of earthly authority.
Priest: Yes, there is a relationship between the two Beauties that mirrors the relationship between the first and the second Eve, Adam’s companion and the mother of Christ, Mary. Profane beauty is perishable, yet it becomes a source of sacred beauty after death. This is why the allegorical figure for profane love is looking away from the fountain and the figure representing sacred love gazes deep into it. Profane beauty knows no death and no mourning, whereas her sacred counterpart dwells on the remains in the tomb, which also contains the fountain of life. One cannot be represented without the other.
Surfer: Titian was a devout Catholic and painted almost exclusively religious material, didn’t he?
Priest: Yes, the iconography for this execution of a very philosophical visual reflection on love and beauty goes back to the image of the two angels who greeted the Magdalen at each end of the Empty Tomb.
Surfer: The Resurrection?
Schedone, Two Marys at the Tomb 1613
Surfer: It appears this is another transitional phase, like being on the water, like surfing the waves.
Priest: Indeed. Death is a transitional phase and so is most of life. We live out what is conceived during phases of transition. What’s significant here is Jesus’s commandment to the Magdalen: do not touch me before I have gone to the Father (https://designwithin.net/2016/08/12/work-of-marriage/). The period is 40 days, but this number is merely symbolic, not instructive. It refers to the period of mourning, during which time the bereaved practice abstinence from material satisfaction that involves the dead. Much like the time when unborn life forms in the mind and body of the mother, the period of mourning shapes what remains of the dead, the departed, and the distant, which becomes the fountain of life. The arts evolved as practices of mourning. All forms of art from painting and poetry to dance and music are elaborate mourning processes. The taboo on the dead isn’t simply neurotic, as Freud thought, but a very healthy process of sublimation, the psychic fabric of all cultural achievement. (please see https://designwithin.net/2016/04/22/sublimation-immaterial-self-design/)
Surfer: Is this why sacramental culture is organised around mourning, ordering the remains?
Rogier van der Weyden, The Seven Sacraments, 1450
Priest: Absolutely. The Sacraments order the transitional phases of human life from birth, through baptism, confirmation, communion, to marriage, confession, sickness and death. Transitional times are times of mourning, because a certain presence and reality are lost only to be replaced by their memory through the practice of abstinence. The cross is at the center of these transitions as the point of eternal return of the same. Perishable profane beauty does not return to dust and is not lost forever, but is transformed into sacred beauty, which is born in mourning. The resurrection angels Christians traditionally place on tombs and crypts personify sacred beauty, which in Titian’s painting is represented by the naked allegorical figure for Sacred Love. Yet there is nothing morbid about this focus on mourning. To the contrary, it is the source of life’s exuberance, the richness of experience, its infinite affirmation and ephemeral beauty.
Surfer: So ultimately the source of my delight, my homeland, the sea and the wave, is not the natural sea nor the natural body, but the cross, its memory data bank produced by the sacramental culture that has taught me sentience?
Priest: I envy you.
Priest: Because you feel what I know deeply. I spend my days in reading and prayer, but my body is weary, my sleep uneasy, my wine tastes bitter. The profound recognition of what I only read about is given to you. One of your days on the waves is more powerful and more persuasive than a full year of my liturgies.
Surfer: I wouldn’t know it if it weren’t for you. All I have is the nakedness of the sea.
Priest: The contemporary idea and ideal of beauty is body-based. We think it’s natural and spontaneous because we neither see the process of its production nor the history of its valuation, which goes back to our Lord Jesus. Sure the Greeks and Romans had beautiful bodies, but their beauty was purely external and passed on from generation to generation without feeling, bypassing the interior and its crypt. Christ taught us to internalize love. To the Greeks love and beauty are the same, but in Christian thought Beauty is profane, Love is sacred. In Christ beauty can change, develop, and deviate from classical proportions. In Christ beauty receives eternity, the human interior, and the infinity of the sea.
Surfer: The editing cuts and technological stitches that produce contemporary images of beauty have to be seamless and invisible to create the idea of natural, naked beauty. But that’s not what you mean by “naked.” I understand that now.
Priest: Naked beauty is transitional, immaterial. It exists between states of being and inherits the unborn dreams from the past recorded and transmitted in works of art, which is why they are so precious to our faith. Real pieces of art and technology endure beyond the constraints of the times of their performance. They carry the invisible, concealed but powerful creativity of being. Naked or sacred beauty is the origin of all art and of everything that keeps us in love with life on earth. You feel it in the moment when you undo your existence on the water and re-emerge reborn, undead… You love like no other creature on earth; your love is ferocious because it knows its precious transience. It carries the memory of our finest instincts. Heather Brown, Lady Slide, contemporary
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
Historical consciousness is a major component of personal identity. From naming practices, languages, and sign systems to insignia and historiography, words and images communicate identities. Personal identity takes no less advantage of all means of communication than national states and public institutions do. Like the insignia of medieval rulers, the dimension of personal historiography is virtually non-existent today. It has been gradually disappearing over the past couple of centuries as a format in circulation. Since the rise of the social sciences and political philosophy in the nineteenth century personal historiography has been phased out and pushed into the group format of the technical media. It has now disappeared as a component of general education completely. At the same time, the social media revolve around the design of personal identities. Blogging and micro-blogging represent a new form of personal historiography. The practice is still too young to have received any kind of meaningful treatment by the philosophical sciences, so it is the most important experimental field in the humanities. Since the humanities are disappearing, blogging is left to its own devices. No educational institution today is tailored to strengthen the articulation of individual identity. We go about body building more methodically than we do about identity-building. iCulture therapy was initiated in the hope to offer this missing link in contemporary online education. It will give the reader the tools and knowledge to develop and cherish a highly articulate, sophisticated personal idiom that is aware and equally attentive to the interior dimension as it is to the exterior facade designed to interact with and benefit the social interface. An empty facade, no matter how correct in its ethical principles and ideals of social justice, cannot contribute anything to the lives of others. It exists only for itself. iCulture is deeply rooted in the intellectual and artistic history of Christian civilisation. The theoretical portion of its contents will continue to elaborate the Christian foundations of the concept of the self as a dwelling place for the trinity.
Political Philosophy and Individual Identity
Since the nineteenth century official political organs dominate und survey the discursive matrix and formats of communication. Edgar Allen Poe’s short narrative “The Purloined Letter” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/poe/purloine.html) is an astute and intuitively refined allegory of what took place on a much grander scale with the institution of the modern state bureaucracies. That the Freudian structuralist philosopher Jacques Lacan will read this story as justification for the emptiness of subjectivity only confirms that the twentieth century was the century without a subject. We will engage this line of argumentation in a later post, but to set up the coordinates of our journey at this point, it is sufficient to note that Hegelian thought allowed for structuralist reduction of all forms of communication and identity formation.
Though they don’t actively control and censure historiography, through this wider domination of discourse, political organs eliminate not only dissident versions of history, but also multiple and pluralist versions, by withdrawing their discursive legitimacy. Even as they pay lipservice to the buried values of free speech and open scholarly discussion, political structures and edifices of social engineering have been withdrawing investment in the private sphere, which has been wrongly but ubiquitously stigmatized as capitalist and therefore of low value for the community. Nothing is further from the truth. Without individuals capable of articulating their private subjectivities, communal systems of communication and cultural systems of preservation and transmission will stagnate and die.
Material historicism was introduced by the Hegelian thinker Karl Marx and his followers. Its concept of the private sphere does not extend beyond its economic significance, that is, the monetary value of private property. Philosophically, the platform is extremely reductive, but there are historical-discursive reasons for its sweeping success in the twentieth century, the most violent century in Christian civilisation. Political reality is changing rapidly, primarily due to the new forms of communication and exchange of information available to vastly more populous and increasingly more literate regions.
Today millions have access to cultural information that is not mass formatted and at the same time available to the free individual for private use. Individualism is beginning to thrive in a way it has not been since the Renaissance. This is the reason we are seeing the old state bureaucratic systems crumble and lose their legitimacy, as well as the trust of their constituents. The change is not political. No political change is ever initiated by political action. Even revolutionary and partisan violence are incapable of supporting change that is not already programmed by the technological means of information and cultural production. This doesn’t make technology the alpha and omega of reality, simply because technology in and of itself is absolutely neutral and ineffectual. It requires human will and human breath to become actual. Innovation and reflection on technology is where political change takes place. Violent revolutions not only don’t bring change about, but are often a messy and ineffective way of coming to terms with new realities dictated by technological innovation.
G. W. Hegel was able to reflect on the political world to come before it was born because he focused on the movement of thinking, which he called phenomenology, but didn’t go far enough to conceive of thinking as being preceded by technê, Greek for ‘making,’ ‘production,’ ‘craft’ (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/episteme-techne/). iCulture therapy treats technê not as dualistically opposed to episteme, as the Stanford encyclopaedic article does for clarity and simplicity, but as its very creation. Rather than as the practice of theory, iCulture treats technê as the active, underlying, structuring principle of knowledge. In this iCulture follows a Heideggerian conception of technology as the poetic making of being (http://simondon.ocular-witness.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/question_concerning_technology.pdf) A later post will expound on this notion, but for now it is important to note that the locus of the relationship between language and technology is poetry, the literary record of individual subjectivity. Techne is creation that takes place in words and other units that carry information. Hegel was too focused on heaven to bother to contemplate the material reality of the phenomenon, which remained pure in his system. Thus he left the materialist side of his system to his followers like Marx, who were, however, not as gifted as their teacher. The functional, utilitarian, economy-based branch of his philosophy, which was undertaken by Marx and which can be termed “economic absolutism,” is simply an afterthought, whereas the core of Hegel’s philosophy remains his contemplation of the standard of Christian phenomenology and its history. By subjecting what remains undeniably private, Christ’s internal presence in the subject, to the principles of classical philosophy, to which interiority was as absolutely foreign as the contents of Poe’s purloined letter, Hegel opened the door to a political reality that will gradually eschew the demands of the individual.
Political change is dictated by an ever changing and a vastly more complex technological system than the social sciences of economic absolutism can grasp. We live permanently in a political laboratory, despite the vein hopes of nineteenth century social science to engineer the future of humanity at the cost the private sphere. The power of social science has peaked and since it dominates the academy, an alternative is yet to be developed. It cannot be expected from the academy. The new political order will be created in the new idiom of technology understood as the individual mastery of its standard. What is taking place online today does not have a political will yet, because it does not know how it understands the world and hence it does not understand what it wants from the world. This initial stage of creation, techne, the making of reality, takes place in the interior before it seeks ways to communicate itself in the world. The dying structures of social science will challenge the new reality in the making to articulate itself in opposition to them, which is why it is of paramount importance to protect its technological foundation from direct engagement with them, if we are to preserve its independence. It is more vital than ever to secure a strong, culturally articulate and self-reflexive interior that will keep one’s core identity steady through times of political turbulence. This endurance has always been the secret of survival for the two millennia old Christian civilisation. It is the meaning of the Christian doctrine of shunning the influence of the world. Far from an ascetic ritual, this doctrine actually protects new creation, the poetry of making the future.
Identity in Psychoanalysis
Paris, Bibl. Mazarine, ms. 1581, f.211v from liberfloridus.cines.fr
The private individual has a personal history that is much more important for the formation of his emotional and psychological character than his political, national or materialist historical identity. The beautiful design from the French book of flowers illustrated above is a creation first and foremost of the interior of the human psyche. The execution of the private fantasy by means of technê is an act of externalisation and projection in the world that relies on state-of-the-art technology for its impact. Technology on its own, without the contents it carries is an empty structure that cannot survive decay and obsolescence. The crude intelligence of political organisations is furnished with defence mechanisms and instincts of preservation that are developed enough to recognise that control over the individual is afforded by an identity mechanism. It is in the best interest of the political group body to usurp private historiography and claim it as its property, subsuming individual history under the greater political-historical narrative. The past plays an immense part in the formation of identity, which is why political organs rely on identity mechanisms to justify and perpetuate their existence. This mechanism is simple: a set of historical and genealogical data determine the political identity of any given person. This data has little to nothing in common with the real functional and psychologically far more consequential familial history, which is private, i.e. not circulated in public discourse and not participating in social interactions. Even dynastic families possess a private dimension that is separate from the execution of their public identity, such as the coat of arms, for example, and even the most profound psychological analysis of family aetiologies cannot cover it in its entirety.
Psychoanalysis alerted us to the punitive mechanisms that replace the private, familial symbolic order with the group format of political identity at an early stage of mental development. Freud wrongly believed that the threshold crossed at the oedipal phase of development is a transition from a maternal, dyadic inarticulate and largely pre-linguistic familial world into a paternal, triadic social symbolic order. He called this phase of development the Oedipal stage. The ancient Greek tragedy of King Oedipus, written by Sophocles, was a well known piece of literature and familiar to Freud’s turn-of-the-century classically trained Viennese audience. Oedipus’s criminal deed, murdering his own father and begetting children with his mother, was considered by Freud the centrepiece of the emotional world of the developing psyche. He used this classical tragic story to illustrate the renunciation of male desire for the maternal figure that, he thought, every young boy undergoes at a certain age. This may well have been the case with the pre-Christian family, but the Christian symbolic order re-routed the material linguistic and communication systems to refer to the immaterial dimension of the Holy Family, which is both internal, private, and external, heavenly. Because exteriorisation in the Christian discursive structure is no longer rooted back into the material world of the sign’s origin, the Oedipal phase is spared. As a result the private identity of the individual remains in flux, not bound to material constraints. But since Christianity does not exist in isolation from the non-Christian world, political formations were inevitable and with them the necessity of adopting a political-historical identity. For Christians, however, this identity is a mere necessity and a mere part of the material circulation systems. Political identity is truncated and drastically reduced. It is not paramount to the core individual identity as it is for the Greeks and the Romans and all other pre- or non-Christian social orders.
The oedipal formula Freud introduced is only possible if the father is perfectly identified with the group to which he belongs politically. But that cannot be the case in reality, because no individual is absolutely identical with the limited data a politically structured group has about him. The transition from the private and familial to the public and national group format is not necessarily punitive either. Freud understood the function of public law from a Darwinist and anthropological perspective, not from the perspective of Christian civilisation.
Modern society invested a great deal in principles based on Darwin and anthropology, which rely on data from pre-Christian and pre-historic cultures. The goal of the Darwinisation of culture was to eschew and replace the Christian technê of European civilisation. It succeeded, but the price was a massive loss of native languages and cultures, as well as the merciless massification of human slaughter. One needs only remember that upward of multiple thousands of soldiers were slaughtered daily in the trenches during WWI. Humanity had never known such mass destruction before, because Christianity had advanced technology to a point where its highjacking by pre-Christian cultures could only produce mass calamities. Though the Romans had the knowhow to initiate something like the industrial age, they did not, because it took the Christian belief system to create the identity pattern necessary for the development of the technological era. Pre-Christian cultures are not equipped with the identity structure to handle the high level of technological development in Christian civilisation. Currently the displacement of nearly one fifth of the world’s population is another example of the failure of pure technology to design a functional world order.
Technological innovation is quite independent of the Darwinian sciences that dominate the global academy today. Science employs technology as a tool and a legitimating object, but it cannot produce it. Instead of allowing innovation to free humanity of labor, Darwinist social science enslaved it anew. In his contemplation of technology as a social process, the Frankfurt School sociologist Herbert Marcuse found that the natural trajectory of technology leads to the liberation of humanity from the need to labor, but he also immediately retreated in horror from this utopian vision, because he realised that personal loss would then become much more central in the private life of the individual. Here is a link to this strangest of conclusions: http://users.ipfw.edu/tankel/PDF/Marcuse.pdf. Marcuse’s fear of the private sphere was nearly pathological, but understandable if one remembers that sociology trains the mind to think only in terms of structure and treats content as fodder. We will return to this problematic.
Freud’s sophisticated primitivism influenced intellectual life in the twentieth century and continues to do so, though today largely unconsciously. His worldview evolved from the belief system of sacrifice-based religions. A later post will walk you through his fascinating but deeply flawed treatise “Totem and Taboo,” on which this claim is based, but today it is enough to note one of his definitions of the totem, namely as vessel for the identity of the dead father. Freud is most illuminating when he discusses the significance of death and the dead. His theories unveil the foundations of political identity and the entire field of the social sciences. For Freud the father is always dead, because he is experienced as usurper and posessor of every material object of instinctual desire. Since the posessor of what one wishes to own is always wished away, argues Freud, one harbors a death wish against him. This makes the father’s presence both ghostly and material. His identity is dominated by ambivalence. The dead are powerful rulers, writes Freud. The making of reality for Freud is undoubtedly entirely a matter of preserving, organising, re-animating, and re-empowering the material remains of the past. This is true of political structures, but not, as Freud wrongly thought, of individual psychology. His method became a mass success only after the first world war broke out and his therapy was employed in the treatment of the war neuroses. Since his therapy promised the release of pent up and thwarted instinct, generals were inclined to believe the talking cure could bring a soldier to kill the way it could bring a woman to perform her duty as wife and mother. Needless to say this view of both love and war is based on the most basic, primitive forms of human existence, which is thus reduced to its biological, creaturely dimension.
Eyeing the Interior with a Camera — Spellbound, Hitchcock 1945
The interior castle, though its temporal dimension is eternal, and because it is marked by absolute difference from the mortal remains organised by linear time and the calendar, also bears an indelible print of history. It is simultaneously a player on the timeline of history, on calendar maps of return and repetition, and through its capacity to externalise its unique living reality as technê also the grand master of the future. In the next post we will consider the culture of interior cultivation, which saw its rise in the Renaissance and its fall in the age of science. Next to the usual suspects Freud and Heidegger, two new companions will accompany us, the classicists Goethe and Burckhardt, the modern fathers of classical literary history and classical art history.