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.
We are never more alone nor more vulnerable than at the times we mourn the loss of someone we love. The devastating event that deprives us of the beloved forces a thorough reorganization of our reality principle and re-creates the world we inhabit from within.
Love is intimately related to our ability to mourn. The first object of love we encounter is formed in the process of mourning: it is what remains after we have mastered our separation from the maternal body. The infant doesn’t know that the mother will return and thus experiences the first deprivation of her presence as a traumatic event. The moment mother leaves the room and leaves the infant alone is baby’s first encounter with death. The fact that she returns cannot erase the horror the infant has experienced in the meantime and this terrifying memory becomes part of the maternal imago, the first and to some degree the only love object in a given lifetime. Every subsequent love object as well as the placeholder of self-love will assume the basic contours of the maternal imago, which becomes the solid kernel of our individuality. The basic task of every culture is to master, frame, and cultivate the consequences of this originating event, which can also be called the birth of the human psyche or mind.
The kernel of our being is paradoxical. It receives its form in the process of mourning, the series of emotional and ideitic responses to the absence of the maternal body. Yet, because its dissolution would entail the disintegration of the entire psychic apparatus, the kernel remains intact and absolutely unmournable for the duration of our lifetime. It contains the memory bank of the mechanisms that form the basic structure of the individual mind. We develop these mechanisms to cope with the trauma of separation from the maternal body. They become the central framework for our being in the world, the structure of our attachment to the world, and are absolutely unique to every individual.
How does this paradoxical kernel maintain its integrity while initiating countless periods of processing loss? The introduction of the third person, the father, in the mother-child dyad initiates a secondary mourning process. The father represents the law and the conscious symbolic order of language. The foundational structure of secondary mourning is rooted in the individual patterns of the primary mechanisms, which remain unchangeable throughout our lifetime, but it also produces our conscience and consciousness, giving the mourning period its distinct meaning in the cultural symbolic order we inhabit. Thus, though the basic kernel of being remains rooted in the culture of the mother, the law of the father allows us to share it with others, to give it expression, and to design it according to the laws of the cultural-symbolic system we inhabit.
Love and Death
The love and death instincts are intimately intertwined from the very beginnings of our mental life. Our ability to attach to objects and environments outside the self is predicated on our mastery of the stage of mourning. This truth was buried in the mythology of ancient classical cultures, both Greek and Jewish.
The myth of Cupid and Psyche, recorded most thoroughly in Apuleius’s “Golden Ass,” anticipates the psychology of mourning in the formation of libidinal attachments. Psyche, the breath of life, soul or kernel of being, awakens to love and life by the very agent of her demise, Cupid, who was sent by his mother to destroy Psyche. Instead of piercing her with his arrow, however, Cupid scratches himself and falls in love with her. Their union is symbolic of the birth of the soul in a union that is dangerously close to death.
Likewise, the virgin Mary experiences the visitation of angel Gabriel as the moment her soul awakens to eternal life as she conceives the Redeemer.
A common depiction of the virtue of caritas, believed to be a gift from the Lord, the allegory of a crowned young woman with an infant at her breast, symbolized nurturing care for others. The fire emanating from her fingers symbolizes divine love and the flaming crown on her head divine rulership. In this allegorical figure, the virtue of love and of just rulership are combined into one. The painting was commissioned by the Florentine body that determined disputes among merchants, a public court of sorts that aspired to incorporate and embody Christian virtue.
On closer inspection, however, the flimsy comparative connections among the disparate parts that compose the allegory, don’t necessarily hold. A mother’s love for her suckling is instinctive, not virtuous. Virtue requires the overcoming of the flesh and it’s desires, whereas there is nothing more basically instinctive and of the flesh than a nursing breast’s attachment to its suckling and vice verse nothing is more instinctive than the child’s attachment to the breast. In fact, psychoanalysis teaches us that the psychic apparatus, the soul, begins to form through its mastery of the separation from the maternal breast. It is doubtful the instructions Moses received at Sinai and the kind of love — Caritas — Christ placed above all other commandments were of the carnal kind depicted in this allegory worshipped by merchants. What kind of love would encourage indulgence of the flesh and withhold the far more valuable experience of support during the phase of withdrawal and separation from the source of nourishment, the rupture in which the mental apparatus is born and “nurtured!” It is clear why those who made a living out of unbridled consumerism would worship this kind of mental regression and support its elevation to the level of virtue.
Shakespeare was among the first to contemplate this peculiar and contradictory condition of dawning modernity and its order of mercantile and banking rulership. The portrayal of Lady Macbeth as a woman who has given suck and is yet capable of plotting a cold-blooded murder is far from spurious. Though the Macbeths hail from rural Scotland, which was yet to join the new world order of bankers and merchants, their very backwardness proved a potent measuring tool of the damage the new order inflicted on old Christian virtue. Lady Macbeth is progressive by all critical accounts, and obviously well versed in the new mercantile symbolic order. She invokes the very image of the virtue of caritas even as she plots the murder of the old Christian King Duncan. Shakespeare was an allegorical thinker. His portraits are seldom simple individuals and always larger figures for the conditions of the times. His plays are prophetic allegorical sketches of the modern and postmodern condition of humanity, which is fettered by the order of banking and mercantilism that replaced the old rulership by the sacred body of a Christian head.
In true Christianity, the crown is worn by the child that was sacrificed in order to redeem the source of all sin, the flesh under the Edeitic curse of its instinctive desires. Only then does the mother receive her crown from Him. The mercantile allegory appears to reverse this process, also called the Second Creation, the “milk of human kindness,” and revert to the order of creation under original sin. When Lady Macbeth fears her husband’s weakness and calls him “too full of the milk of human kindness,” she is in fact referring to true Caritas, the kind that attaches to the Ghost returning from the grave, the Holy Ghost indwelling every Christian mind, which is both the source and true suckling on the breast of true Caritas. In the context of Lady Macbeth’s symbolic universe “the milk of human kindness” is precisely NOT the same as the real milk of the breast she has given, but the kind that causes a remorseful Macbeth to see the ghosts of his victims.
The Gospel revealed a dimension of human experience that is perhaps the most exalted and sublime, but also the most surreal and unreachable with the instrumental means of collecting, organizing and recording human knowledge. Since the expulsion from Eden we have known that human science is bound to the created world, but the human mind, heart, and soul will forever exceed and precede mere knowledge of the created world, no matter how powerful, technologically magical, and complex it may be.
Whether an individual confesses Christ or not, the principles intimated in the Gospel inadvertently and inevitably organize the unconscious layers of their psychic life. Faith is a means of making intra-psychic reality conscious and a practice of cultivating awareness of inner experience, while also developing empathy for the same in others. Knowing one’s inner world and allowing the same in others is essential to developing authentic morality predicated on the sanctuary of private life. Just as the external world has its measures and laws, so inner reality has its own commandments and imperatives, as Leibniz, encouraged in his faith by his patronesses, the royal dames of the House of Hanover, also wrote:
“Quid mirum, noscere mundum si possunt homines; quibus est et mundus in ipsis, exemplumque Dei quisque est sub imagine parva.” (Theodicy) “No wonder humans possess knowledge of the universe, being made in God’s own image and carrying the world inside them” (my translation)
Long before psychoanalysis, the Gospel stipulated the absolute primacy of love as the ultimate reality principle. Christ left us the final commandment, to love the next one as oneself, which fulfills the law and the remaining commandments. Likewise, when Freud linked the unconscious layers of psychic reality to libidinal reality, he essentially subordinated the law of existence to love. If love is not to be reduced to hypocrisy, empty protocol, and Pavlov-dog style external behavioural norm, however, it must reflect psychic reality. The problem with the Freudian approach is that since Christian love remained repressed and off limits to him, he could only conceive of the currency of libido as unsublimated raw sexuality, which remains under the sign of the moral law, not under the sign of love.
The final commandment teaches us to transform animalistic sexual attraction, the currency of love in creaturely existence, into the cultural ligatures that bind us to one another, neighbour to neighbour. In fact, many have testified to the vastly increased power of love when it is banned from carnal, animalistic consummation. The most basic concept in psychoanalysis and the vehicle of the therapeutic process is the libidinal attachment to the therapist known as transferential love, which to remain therapeutic and to enable the internalization of genuine morality and the re-organization of a failed and diseased moral stage of development must remain unconsummated. Sublimated sexuality, that is sexuality that is debarred from its carnal aim, is the very substance of what we call passion. The catechism preaches mortification of the flesh and its raw sexuality not to punish, as Freud imagined the moral law, but to enable greater love and greater passions, to scale the heights of the human spirit.
As an atheist working in the medical sciences at the time when materialism and calculus were crowned absolute rulers of being, time, and reality, displaced from the Christian context in which they originated, and forcibly re-routed in the failed materialist systems of a dead civilization, the classical Greco-Roman world, Freud was both aware and ashamed of the Biblical dimension of his inner experience. He called it the unconscious and dedicated his life to the singular obsession of articulating his deeply repressed knowledge of Christ through a dubious pseudo-science of natural sexuality. As a Jew he had an intimation of the teachings of the Gospel and understood instinctively the primacy of love. He struggled to explain it as libidinal energy in order to conform to the rigid, absolute materialism of the scientificity of his era. The pseudo-scientific and pseudo-psychological term libido served to disguise the Christian love he was obliged to repress and deny within himself.
Perhaps Freud was nowhere more blatantly and alarmingly confronted with the reality of the world he held imprisoned within than in the encounter with his most famous patient, the Christian aristocrat and exile Sergei P, whose case provided the most prolific psychoanalytic material in existence. Not only did some of the most productive concepts originate in Wolfman’s vocabulary, but post-Freudian analysis dedicated entire libraries to his case. Because it is as much Sergei’s case as it is Freud’s own, it continues to occupy psychoanalytic minds and attract new disciples to this day. In Sergei Freud recognized the repressions carried out not by some imaginary child raised in the Christian faith, but his own mental prison in the world of scientific publishing.
The next post will address some the most fruitful concept that emerged in the context of Wolfman’s analysis, THE PRIMAL SCENE, in its relation to visual expression, fashion and the visual arts.
The Wolf Man on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/selfmadehero/wolfman
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