The cultivation of childhood goes back to Mother Mary’s profound transformation of family culture.
We don’t see such enormous emphasis on the representation and refinement of nursery culture before her magnificent historic feat. The Greco-Romans were into adolescence and adolescent sexuality, but had no appreciation and no use for childhood. Children were treated more or less as slaves.
Christianity begins to invest in their individuation and recognition of their interior lives. This alone may have stimulated the enormous technological advances that were made in the Middle Ages and which led to the industrial revolution that improved the quality of life globally.
For writers, the reference to child subjectivity is among the endless sources of inspiration and productivity. In childhood lie the endless treasures of Mnemosyne that feed their productivity and inspiration.
Picasso was one of those eternally child-like artists who delighted in representing his own playful imagination in nearly every work he produced.
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.
classical dichotomy of divine beauty and earthly passion
Pure Classicism: Divine Beauty Conquers Earthly Passion
Jose De Ribeira’s 1637 masterpiece Apollo and Marsyas depicts the commencement of the satyr’s flaying by the classical god of beauty and the arts. The painting illuminates an ancient myth about the power of art as it contemplates self-reflexively the function of art in the re-creation of humanity. The Renaissance re-framing of mythic material alters the meaning of a scene of torture and carnal ritual sacrifice fundamentally. An unbridgeable cultural gap separates it from its organic context.
Our reception of Ribeiro’s work removes it from the origin even further and re-inscribes it in a new aesthetic system. Yet a kernel of the myth remains and it has to do with the immediacy of the passions. Ribeiro’s rendition easily rivals the slasher and splatter images hardening contemporary aesthetics. Its gory depiction of a bloodied piece of Marsyas’s torn skin most recently prompted a Twitter commentary by Sotovoce @MP27: “…si’ come quando Marsia traesti dalla vagina delle member sue.” Translation: as if Marsyas brought forth a vagina from his limbs.
Myths, like fiction and self-reflexive art, reveal structural psychological realities that would otherwise remain buried in the common systems of signification and circulation. It has been widely contested that, like King Oedipus, who committed the crimes of patricide and incest not knowing who his parents are and did cruel penance for his offences, Marsyas too did not deserve the brutal sentence of death by flaying.
Nietzsche discovered the origin of tragedy in satyric revelry
The satyr was famed for the incomparable music he composed on the autos, Athena’s abandoned flute. Apollo, god of beauty and perfection, offended by a rivalry he could neither master nor surpass, engaged the satyr in an unfair contest that would condemn the creature to a cruel death.
The original cultural system of values the tale reflects is the basic aesthetic of classicist naturalism. Nietzsche was a devout follower and went as far as to claim that life is so horrible, it is only worth living as an aesthetic phenomenon (Birth of Tragedy). In classical aesthetics, forms and shapes that copy the paragons of nature dutifully are objectively beautiful and perfect. Everyone must emulate them to be virtuous, existence justified.
The subjective world of the satyric revelers who were famed for indulging their wild passions in drunken orgies in the wilderness was not granted human form. Satyrs are only half-human half-bestial in the mythological system of Greco-Roman antiquity.
Peter Paul Rubens’s study of a satyr
Nietzsche’s grand discovery and most profound insight was the recognition of drunken satyric revelry as the main item on the tragic menu of ritual sacrifice. Nietzsche felt the passions that moved dithyrambic poetry and claimed the origin of the beautiful proportions and mathematical precision of tragedy for Dionysus, the god of all satyrs.
The dualistic aesthetics represented by the Janus head of Apollo and Dionysus dominated all classicist movements from the Renaissance onwards. Their major flaw is the sacrificial mindset they indulge by insisting that the flayed skin of individuality and interiority is simply discarded, relegated to nothingness, sacrificed at the altar of natural beauty and mathematical perfection.
As Hegel recognized in his reading of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” the Christian world differs from its pagan heritage, including the Greco-Roman, in that it recognized the impossibility of nothingness. Killing an enemy does not make it go away. Banquo’s ghost returns to haunt Macbeth’s feasts.
the ecstasy of music transcends the woes of passion
Because its reality principle recognised, valorised, and included condemned passions as such, Christianity developed musical annotation. The only system designed for the preservation of music in turn allowed for the development of polyphonic recitals, then symphonies and eventually opera. By contrast, no Greek music survives. We will never hear the sound of antiquity. Only the voice of nature remains.
Apollonian perfection tortures the subjective dimension into submission to the laws of the created universe. Some strands of biblical thought have developed a parallel belief, the doctrine of creationism which is coextensive with the absolutism of science. Creationism declares all creatures holy, yet leaves no room for human creation.
Current global health systems are likewise dominated by the scientific-creationist doctrine, which views the body as purely natural and creaturely and does not take into account the vast systems of manmade cultural articulation that participate in the establishment of health and wellbeing. Culturally displaced human individuals suffer enormous health damages, currently unacknowledged by the barbaric administration of global migration.
Caravaggio recognised his own passions as reflexive of the ghostly sickness of the satyrs’ aberrant aesthetics; 1593 Self-Portrait as Sick Bacchus
Biblical Twist: Symptom blossoms into Beauty
Christian thought introduced the value of the symptom and the value of difference as co-creator or re-creator of the world. Hence, Christian art not only produced a vast treasury of masterpieces but also preserved the sublime legacy of Greco-Roman antiquity.
Interiority could not develop in the classical world because, like Marsyas, its aberrant outward form was continually flayed by the demands of Apollonian perfection. It never entered the systems of circulation. As the Twitter user cited above correctly diagnosed, the interior is profoundly feminine, because it exists in the spaces between the natural units measuring systemic reality.
Feminine love saves the beast in the folk-tale. Beauty’s love endows the Beast with the magnificent shapes of human proportions. But feminine love itself is of the beastly nature of the passions, the central symptom on display in the classical arts of tragic poetry.
As Heidegger recognised in “The Question of Technology” and “The Origin of the Work of Art” (http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/filmphilology/heideggerworkofart.pdf), poetry is the engine of invisible reality, the fundamental tapestry of love. Our little lives are rounded not so much with sleep but with poetry. Caravaggio’s depictions of suffering saints emerging from pitch black darkness put the human body in all its passionate creaturely glory on display for the first time in the Christian history of art. Ribeiro’s reinterpretation of the flaying of Marsyas borrowed the poetic idiom of Caravaggio’s profoundly Christian aesthetics, thus re-inscribing the satyr in the feminine position of the saint who bears his suffering patiently in not so silent complicity with the passion of the Christ. The rest is music.
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.
Heidegger modified the concept of the traditional philosophical term “object” to account for the new objects of technology by shifting the emphasis to the more general term “thing.” Forgetting the techno-philosophical background of the term’s origin in Heidegger’s thought trajectory, Lacan applies it, nevertheless correctly, to the psychoanalytic object of desire, making the thing a creation ex nihilo, Latin for ‘out of nothingness.’ He illustrated the concept with the object of the empty vase, which does not hold an object, but rather nothingness. The empty space signifies nothing beyond an essence that can only be revealed in the course of its being put to use, in the course of its proper time. The vase is a reservoir of emptiness or energy that can only unfold its being-unto-death as a thing in the course of its tragic-poetic action. Kate Mandrukevica’s Dislocation, Scale and Transparency is an uncannily correct illustration of the infamous Lacanian vase. (saved from fineartphotographyvideoart.com)
Rise of Modern Literacy: Invention of the Interior
I did promise Goethe and Burckhardt for this post, but I realised we need more background in theory before we can place them properly in the discourse and practice of iCulture therapy. In preparation for the fathers of modern classicism, we need to stake the Christian position on technology. Classicism is a disappearing aesthetic today, but still structures the formal design of most products we buy, so we need to be able to reflect on it intelligently, if we truly want to ‘own’ it. The modern industrial age would not have been possible had a literate public not demanded cultural sophistication for the design of its private sphere.
Milestones in the History of Technology: the Printing Press
The invention of the Gutenberg press reformatted a large group of individuals who became increasingly aware of their interiority and whose demands were more cultural than materialistic. This historical development was lost on historians focused on materialist history. One unfortunate consequence of materialist historiography is that contemporary identities and consumer practices around the world are almost entirely structured by politics.
To understand how the immaterial human interior participates in the material world of objects and things in order to cultivate better, more self-reflexive and ultimately more satisfying consumer habits, we need to understand the relationship between the structure of Christian faith and technology. Technical knowledge alone is not sufficient to initiate the kind of large-scale technological modernisation we see in early modern Northern Europe. Many cultures have claimed pretty much every major invention in the history of technology, but none of them launched the industrial age. There are two reasons for this development: Christianity made the technological era possible by providing the needed identity mechanism and it also invented interiority in the first place by postulating that God dwells in His subjects and the subjects in God. In a sense the initiation of technological modernity worldwide was the fulfilment of the Christian structure of the interior temple. This structure was unknown to ancient civilisations, including the Greco-Roman. A number of posts will be devoted to the development of technology in Christian civilisation now and in the future, but let us begin with a few cornerstones from twentieth century philosophical thought, since the most recent past is the most repressed and most misunderstood.
Blindspots of the Academic Discourse on Technology
Academically influential twentieth century philosophy was largely unconcerned with the Christian experience and if so, either only critically or in conformity with a theological school of thought that remained absolutely divorced from modern developments, scientific, technological, and philosophical. The problem the Church has with philosophy lies in the great schism that took place in 1054, which split the Church into a theoretical East and a largely political and practical West. The Reformation initiated by Martin Luther tried to amend the evacuation of theoretical reflection and that allowed the rapid modernisation of the North. The South remained relatively underdeveloped, which carried over into the new Latin territories in America. The Reformation stalled, however, when national and socialist thought gripped the main engine of progress in Europe, the Germanic countries, in the 19th century. The Church is yet to bridge the immense gap in philosophical development socialist thought inflicted on German letters.
An important philosopher, who had otherwise a great deal to contribute to the conception of technology, Martin Heidegger, remains a national socialist thinker. His academic progeny has been struggling with this fact, failed to account for it, and remains unable to reconcile itself to it. But the fact that academic philosophy paid little attention to the monumental historic importance of the Christian experience for the development of technological modernity does not mean it was not operative in the blindspots of philosophical practice. We will try to fill in some of the gaps, insofar as they concern the practice of iCulture therapy.
The Classical Heritage and the Philosophy of Technology
Human interiority is intricately involved in the history of technology and is deeply invested in technical sophistication. Historically, the interior represents a fairly new object of philosophical reflection, one that traditional philosophy is ill equipped to handle, because philosophical structures are pre-Christian. This is why history and theology have little to tell us about the historic importance of Christian interiority for the development and refinement of the technologies of emotional and psychological design. On the one hand, history is limited to politically backed power discourses and hence is not always reliable as a source of truth. On the other hand, theology is limited to the disciplines of logic and philosophy, both unable to reflect on the core of Christian experience.
An earlier post discussed St. Jerome’s tormenting passion, classical philosophy and arts. The author of the Vulgata was unable to tear himself from the incredibly rich intellectual pleasures and passions the classical world had to offer. And perhaps he didn’t have to. Since the Nicenean creed does specify the historical time of the crucifixion, the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, classical civilisation remains an essential part of the earthly design of the Christian experience, even though the tension between the two can never be resolved. It also means that the political Latin framework remains the earthly and historical dominion of Christianity.
The Vatican has a huge responsibility to the entire ecumenical Christian community to incorporate its experience in its practices, but it keeps failing at this task. Instead of incorporating new developments of the interior and its technologies, it keeps reconciling itself to foreign political developments like Marxism and Islam, failing in its basic task to be the earthly protector of the Christian faith. The Vatican is currently more open to socialism and nationalism than to the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox teachings and traditions. This problem is not intrinsic to the Church. It is dictated by academic discursive developments of the past two centuries.
Even the Vatican cannot deny, however, that classical antiquity was carried forth by Christian civilisation. Without Christianity, the Greco-Roman civilisation would have become extinct. This fact was lost on the best philosopher of technology we have to date, Martin Heidegger. The reason Heidegger was unable to develop a satisfactory bullet-proof philosophy of technological being on the basis of Germanic etymology alone is because he failed to take into account the historical significance of the Christian mechanism of subject-formation in language. His philosophy was inspired by Germanic etymology, forgetting as it were that the German language was radically altered through Luther’s translation of the Bible. No more nor less than the Hebraic, the Germanic language is not the native or natal context of Christianity, which provided the psychological mechanism for the initiation of the technological and industrial age. Every language is native to Christianity, but the Latin language and classical antiquity remain the materialist, historical-political core of the Christian world. This is stated in the the Nicene creed. Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilatus, a Roman governor. This material event is the portal to the historical and political manifestations of Christianity then and forever. Contemporary political philosophers like Georgio Agamben have recognised this fact, but took it as licence to preach socialist dogma, without reflecting on the fact that socialism originated in a different historical and political context, namely a pagan — classicist — Germanic one, not in the native Latin of the Nicene creed.
Though always at multiple removes from their origin, Latin and classicism exist in multiple translations and not in a pure state of natality. We’ll get back to the concept of distance in sublimation. Its cultivation is another important topos (point of return) of Christian civilisation. The history of the Christian experience remains firmly rooted in the classical world, at least as far as its pure historical record goes.
Literary and Visual Archive
There is one exception to the purely historical archive: literary history and its twin branch of art history. Both disciplines run on parallel tracks with the history of technology and contain an archive that is fairly independent from political-historical data and documents. The literary and visual archive contain psycho-genealogical data and the shrouded history of technology. Before a piece of technical equipment becomes manifestly operative in the world, it exists not as a clear Platonic idea, but as psychological reality that has no means of articulating itself in existing media of communication. It has to await the invention of a suitable medium or technological equipment as it were to unfold its being. The literary archive and the visual depositories of historical data have a good deal to tell us about the psycho-genealogy of the technologies that structure our being in the world, our communication systems, and our interiors.
Technologies of Mourning
Shakespeare has more to tell us about the still ongoing burial of Julius Caesar than any historical document, because his play, a form of burial in words, focused squarely on the afterlife of the dominant political format of leadership (Workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni and Marco del Buono Giamberti Italian, 1415/17-1465 & 1403-1489 The Assassination and Funeral of Julius Caesar, 1455/60)
The most sophisticated philosophical approaches to technology have treated it as a funeral practice, a way of framing, preserving, transmitting, and storing remains, human remains. Twentieth century thinkers like Martin Heidegger, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Friedrich Kittler are among the more aesthetically sensitive readers of technology. All four, though Heidegger will never admit it, work in the shadow of the Freudian pre-historic interpretation of ethics, which he based on his reading of a literary work, Sophocles’s tragedy “Oedipus Rex.” Freud was in fact more deeply influenced by Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” which he coupled with the ancient Greek predecessor to plummet Hamlet’s labyrinthine depths. We will return to this problematic, but for now it is important to stake that for Freud the murder of the father becomes the founding event of any symbolic system, because it clears the path to substitution.
Language functions by way of substitution. For example, in the statement “the rabbit is a carrot-eater” the term “rabbit” stands for “carrot-eater,” because they are interchangeable. The verb “to be” is in a sense the ultimate weapon and harbinger of death, because only dead entities can enter the system of substitutions. Whatever is known of the rabbit, that it is a carrot-eater, a mammal, etc., constitutes its transience, its creaturely status. The sum of all substitutes that account for its being are only equal to its mortality, the shape of its corpse and its creatureliness. The rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland,” on the other hand, is not mortal, but also not considered a real being, even though it has all attributes of a real rabbit. What the rabbit in the children’s book does as opposed to what it is makes it a techno-rabbit, a thing standing in reserve and holding energy, to borrow Heidegger. To be interchangeable is to be dispensable, i.e. capable of dying, disappearing, dissolving into dust, non-being. In Heidegger’s system the essence or presence of being is hidden in language and can only unfold in the process of thinking, not by way of metaphor or substitution, but rather by the very circumvention of the verb “to be.” In a sense Heideggerian being cannot enter the grammatical system of circulation, grammar being among the most ancient technologies known to man. Being is not available for direct representation just as the thing, something of technological nature, is not simply an object, but rather a reservoir, a container of energy, like the Lacanian vase, that will only reveal its essence, that is its ability to be present, in action.
Though Heidegger was not usually concerned with ethics, but rather with the truth of being and especially what he considered its most beautiful version, Greek antiquity, his subordination of being to language shares a great deal with Freud’s conception of the world as ordered by the law of the father. The two are reconciled completely and nearly without remainder in Lacan’s work, which inspired Friedrich Kittler’s invention of media-genealogical research and alienated Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, both of whom represent a more hermeneutic dimension of thinking about technology, that is, an interpretation based on subjective difference. Just as for Heidegger and Lacan the object of post-Socratic philosophy becomes a thing standing in reserve, a reservoir of energy whose essence is revealed in action, the subject in Kittler and Derrida becomes, respectively, a consumer and an individual, that is, non-repeatable difference.
On the set of F. W. Murnau’s “Faust” (1926), a visual interpretation of J. W. Goethe’s prophetic tragedy of the modern leader
Preserving the Cultural Traditions of Tragic Formatting
Over the course of its two thousand-year reception history, tragic poetry has remained the highest form of expression of what Heidegger called being. It is not accidental that its definition coincides with Heidegger’s shortcut definition of technological being: the unfolding of an action over a given time at a fixed place. An ancient technology of mourning, tragedy is a thing that unfolds itself over the time period of its use. A carrier of pure energy, it is synonymous with death or nothingness. In the next post we will see how Lacan treats this insight in his interpretation of the Sophoclean tragedy “Antigone” and what that may have to do with the invention of the war plane and modern warfare.
The ethical being that emerges in tragedy is mortal in an absolute sense, since its being unfolds from its annihilation. It is the only subject of war and statesmanship subordinated to the military. To the Greeks, tragic spectacle was not a matter of entertainment or aesthetic pleasure, as it is to the moderns. It was a religious ritual, probably based on sacrificial rituals, and a way of programming the citizens’ interior to accord with the ethical principles of the Greek community. This was the meaning of the Aristotelian term “catharsis,” a process whereby the emotions of the spectator are ‘purged’ of all unwanted and unethical elements. In ancient Greece tragedy was a form of social engineering.
This form of social engineering is still alive today, though it is almost entirely unaware of its origins, affiliation, and philosophical genealogy. It pervaded postwar political thought through such concepts as “bare life,” “human rights,” post-colonialist views of what constitutes a ‘native,’ and especially the concept of “natality” as we see it articulated in Hannah Arendt’s tragic writings. As a student and intimate companion of Heidegger, Arendt’s thought was programmed to understand being as something that unfolds through its action unto death. Her concept of “natality,” which was implicitly designed as a polemic against the Christian notion of rebirth and life-after-death, is in fact being-toward-nothingness and reduces human life to its funereal technologies. The native “futures” her tragic worldview defended so emotionally are in fact foreclosed. If we are to carry forth the values of universal care — caritas — for human life, we need to be more vigilant about tragic ideas contaminating discourses about native life. Arendt’s case is a good example of the confusion brought about by the perilous indulgence in pure classical philosophical thinking, especially in regard to political philosophy, that St. Jerome rightly feared.
Premature critics of Christian thought mushroomed after the war and were quick to blame Christian civilisation for the atrocities of war. This was possible largely because theologians had failed to establish a dialogue with contemporary discourses, but also because official organs of the state, by default, that is, through no fault of their own, demanded a total war effort from intellectuals. The movement was carried by blind emotions of political allegiance, horror, and moral outrage, but cannot be maintained on the strength of its poor, unsustainable arguments forever. Outspoken intellectuals who waged war on cultural Christianity, Lacan being among them, have read the Christian concept of life unfolding “after death,” especially in hagiography (https://web.archive.org/web/20150331030718/http://www.the-orb.net/encyclop/religion/hagiography/hagio.htm) as creation ex nihilo, that is, birth out of nothingness. This was a much mistaken application of the term and originated with Lacan’s Heideggerian reading of ex nihilo as the essence of technological being in his most famous seminar “The Ethics of Psychoanalysis:” http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1315975.files/6%20Seeing%20Things/Lacan-%20seminar%207%20Ethics%20of%20Psychoanalysis%201959-1960.pdf
Heidegger’s greatest contribution to human thought was his discovery of the essence of technology. His focus on the thing rather than on the classical object revealed its essence: a reservoir and a potentiality holding energy, always standing reserve. Its being is held in its action and use, its emptying of energy. The concept of the thing suffered a reduction by its subordination to Heidegger’s general conception of all being as being unto death. Thus the specific essence of technology remained bound to objectivity, its classical frame. Heidegger remained trapped in the native Germanic roots of language-based philosophy and did not take the Biblical “after death” into consideration. The proper trajectory “after death” is a means of transport to the interior as a form of sublimation and displacement. The Biblical “after death” is far removed from classical metaphysics. It points to the immaterial realm of sublimation and its action enables emancipation from material existence. Had Heidegger taken his Germanic insight further, he would have been able to position technology where it belongs: inside the human psyche. But his philosophy remained famously non-receptive to any kind of psychological formatting of subjectivity, in a truly tragic line of thought, because his philosophy remains, tragically, without a future.
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.