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.
A version of this post was presented at the World Shakespeare Congress in Stratford Upon Avon, 2016
David Hockney 1965 Beholding the non-Object in the Mirror Frame
For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing. (James 1: 23-25)
The Consumer Product and the Non-Object of Technology
The last post focused on the way Heidegger modified the classical philosophical notion of the object in response to the discursive demands the age of technology imposed on thinking. He performed a monumental shift from the classical object to the Thing (das Ding). All natural sciences still work with the classical definition of the object and are yet to shift their theoretical focus to the Thing. Richard Feynman (https://books.google.de/books?id=2OCKrF6YNKEC&redir_esc=y) began introducing theoretical sophistication in the natural sciences, but his success remained short-lived. The mass production of science, that is, the huge increase in the numbers of global “scientists,” required mass education for the new class of blue-color science workers. The massification of science enabled the perpetuation of an outdated philosophical format, which continues to dominate not only basic scientific principles, but also the way we perceive them, make policies about them, and organise the scientific traffic of information. Outdated practices of scientific research and publication in turn influence the decisions made by giant bio-technological concerns like Bayer and Monsanto, which format the health practices and wellbeing of an increasingly global, that is, controllable, humanity. Philosophers like Michel Serres (https://dlcl.stanford.edu/people/michel-serres; http://mas.caad.arch.ethz.ch/mas1011/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/The-Origin-of-Geometry.pdf) are still producing entire libraries in defence of the classical Greek notion of the object despite enormous evidence that humanity has long since moved on.
Thankfully technology continues to develop and progress without or even despite the philosophical anachronisms that dominate academic science. The classical object is simply something that confronts the subject and exists independently of his will or action. Heidegger’s Germanic-etymological definition of the Thing introduced not only time, but also action to the concept of the object. He noticed quite simply that an object of technology is very different from classical objects, because its essence, its mode of being, depends on its potential for action and on its ability to store energy for this potential action. For example, the airplane is not like a shoe, which can be used in specific settings and for specific purposes, because it enables the subject to move well beyond its immediate objective limitations. The airplane has an engine and a storage of energy. It stands in reserve (the infamous Gestell), which makes it quite different from the shoe, which is moved by the subject’s own energy and engine. By the same token, the existence of the airplane changed the way we think to such an extent that perceiving the shoe as an object vis-a-vis the airplane, made it an object of art worthy of lengthy philosophical contemplation (http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/filmphilology/heideggerworkofart.pdf). In other words, van Gogh’s work is only conceivable in the industrial frame of object relations.
Van Gogh, Pair of Shoes, 1886
The potential for fulfilling human will beyond its physical, objective limitations is intricately related to the phenomenon of interiority where fantasies of reaching beyond material limits originate. The valuation of this immaterial fantasy world was made possible by Christian teaching and sacramental practice.
Though Heidegger claimed his philosophy returned to the pre-Socratic roots of classical Greek philosophy, because he found it closer to language, his pan-linguistic and pan-nationalistic shift was not of that nature. He found the definition of the Thing not so much in language (in German etymology Thing (Ding) means stretch in time, dehnen, which implies action), but in his groundbreaking, and to this day unsurpassed, philosophical reflection on the being of technology (http://simondon.ocular-witness.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/question_concerning_technology.pdf). What Heidegger forgot, however, was the immense historical change Christian sacramental practice introduced in Germanic cultures, languages, and human psychology. The German language and its modern literary history are like an open book on the subject, because they experienced the most recent historical modification caused by Christian thought and practice as a result of the introduction of Luther’s translation of the Bible. Luther made the word of God available to every literate German speaker. This enormous change in the function of language was coincidental with — or directly responsible for — the initiation of the technological industrial age.
We’ve been told humanity has outlived the industrial age and is currently living in the information age. That may be true, if we consider the shift from object to thing Heidegger documented, but the production of information is an industry as well, which probably means the industrial age is not about to go anywhere, least of all disappear into the dustbins of history. We can never reflect wholly and intelligently on the information age, if we don’t understand the beginnings of industrialisation. The shift from production of objects to production of information as the ultimate consumer good, which is characteristic of the information age, is also about to make another transition and morph into a hybrid of the two, the so-called internet of things. Technologies like three-dimensional printing and drone delivery will likely bring the industrial consumer product and its ‘age’ back, but this time in a way that requires its wrapping in information, which is known as “content marketing” in current web retail lingo.
Beholding the non-object in the mirror frame
Not to lose sight of the main goal of iCulture therapy, reclaiming the interior, building meaningful consumer practices, and collecting objects that matter, let’s refocus on the self-image. A relationship to mere objects that carry no meaning for the interior world of the individual, which is how consumer products are perceived by the natural and human sciences today, is “like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror” and immediately forgetting what he beheld. Our goal here is to create, build and design an internal mirror that establishes an intimate relationship to the objects, things, actions, events, and energy sources that make up reality: the world we share with others. An individual cannot have an autonomous relationship to the world unless he is able to exercise a degree of control over it that allows him to change it. Every human breath sends a ripple of change into the physical world. Likewise, every movement in the interior is capable of affecting a lasting change in the world that potentially benefits everyone. Strengthening the individual identity cannot be separated from Christian practice, because the sacraments guarantee the functionality of the individual from birth and baptism through maturation, marriage, illness, and unto death. We experience our contribution to the world, through which we design an interior that is memorable and significant, as discomfort, if not illness, because the difference that we bring into the world does not initially harmonise with its order, because the objective order of the world has no place for it. It is our responsibility, through our interaction with the world, through words and objects, to bring an initially painful perception to harmonise with the world and to re-create it.
David Hockney’s 1965 lithograph in color Picture of Melrose Avenue in an Ornate Gold Frame represents an externalisation of an inner mirror containing the traffic of high quality goods, synonymous with Melrose Avenue. The street or a website, an airport or a railway, as well as the collections of books, information technology gadgets, artworks, knickknacks, ornaments, and furniture that make up our dwelling spaces can be termed Melrose Avenue collectively. They become one’s own, however, not so much through purchase or legal ownership, but through a framing mechanism that makes them parts of the internal mirror. Antidepressants do little to help us cultivate an elaborate mechanism of collecting and re-creating, because they repress the most creative and unique part of ourselves, the symptom, disharmony, and difference we harbor inside. Our difference, our disharmony with the world constitute the only engine of creativity we will ever possess. Tarrying with one’s difference and understanding its potential for action in the world is what therapeutic and intelligent consumer practice should enable.
Without an active relationship to God, the experience of one’s absolutely individual symptom is doomed to remain encapsulated inside or follow prescribed mechanisms of action that are not its own. The saving grace of the word of God, given to us in the Bible, has been growing active in the makeup of our internal world through the generations formed by Christian sacrament and teachings. The sacraments and rich teachings represent the ultimate container for internal experience and the only architect of the ornate gold frame that holds the mirror within intact. The traffic of goods and people that fills our private Melrose Avenues is engineered by the word of the Bible and contained by our individual frames as dwelling places for the Lord. The source imbuing our interiors with meaning is Christ and His word. Meaning originates in Him, but has multiple and infinite outlets enabling us to leave a legacy in the world. We can only harmonise with the world if we know its history and design, which is why the liberal arts and humanities, heirs of the classical Greco-Roman civilisation, remain central to the endeavour of a doer who works. The man blessed in his work and doings introduces new technological non-objects in the world, not mere objects, but objects that carry the individual imprint of his internal difference. The internet of things offers an incredible new opportunity for binging the interior of non-objects and the classical object world together on the same page of symptom-design. The next post will walk us through the relationship between action and tragic action. Stay tuned.
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.
Material technologies of mourning are as perishable as the contents they bury, frame, and allegedly preserve. Technologies of the interior, on the other hand, have been preserving beings without a future for over two thousand years by programming internal psychological reality, which endures beyond the material remains of bare life. Only under the protection of Christian sacramental practices does the interior attain the status of reality. Its technologies of introjection structure the psychological reality of future generations and represent the ultimate form of cultural preservation.