Exposure is perhaps the very hallmark of modernism.
What began with what Moses Mendelssohn called the psychological sublime, an aesthetic category for awe-inspiring creations of inner experience, culminated in the exaltation of private subjectivity.
At the threshold of the modern age, the Faery Queen Elizabeth famously said she didn’t plan to build windows into human souls, prefiguring perhaps more than she knew, because that is exactly what the arts of the subsequent age accomplished.
By the nineteenth century an enlightened pastor in Berlin, Schleiermacher, recognized that this movement had begun much earlier in the history of humanity and re-introduced the concept of Christian hermeneutics.
What appears to be secular and even defiant of simplistically conceived religious prohibitions, is in fact profoundly Christian. The mere fact that such art was bred on the rich soil fertilized by the Word of the Bible speaks eloquently in support of this thesis.
The realm of private experience is nowhere closer to its ontological vulnerability than in nudity stripped of its exchange value within a public economy. To re-sexualize this act of sublimation would rob us of a world within.
But as the prophetic Queen warned us, the interior has to remain off limits to power, money, and politics, which act as desublimating factors, exposing the contents of the soul not only to the curious, admiring, and loving gaze, but to envy and plunder.
The Gospel revealed a dimension of human experience that is perhaps the most exalted and sublime, but also the most surreal and unreachable with the instrumental means of collecting, organizing and recording human knowledge. Since the expulsion from Eden we have known that human science is bound to the created world, but the human mind, heart, and soul will forever exceed and precede mere knowledge of the created world, no matter how powerful, technologically magical, and complex it may be.
Whether an individual confesses Christ or not, the principles intimated in the Gospel inadvertently and inevitably organize the unconscious layers of their psychic life. Faith is a means of making intra-psychic reality conscious and a practice of cultivating awareness of inner experience, while also developing empathy for the same in others. Knowing one’s inner world and allowing the same in others is essential to developing authentic morality predicated on the sanctuary of private life. Just as the external world has its measures and laws, so inner reality has its own commandments and imperatives, as Leibniz, encouraged in his faith by his patronesses, the royal dames of the House of Hanover, also wrote:
“Quid mirum, noscere mundum si possunt homines; quibus est et mundus in ipsis, exemplumque Dei quisque est sub imagine parva.” (Theodicy) “No wonder humans possess knowledge of the universe, being made in God’s own image and carrying the world inside them” (my translation)
Long before psychoanalysis, the Gospel stipulated the absolute primacy of love as the ultimate reality principle. Christ left us the final commandment, to love the next one as oneself, which fulfills the law and the remaining commandments. Likewise, when Freud linked the unconscious layers of psychic reality to libidinal reality, he essentially subordinated the law of existence to love. If love is not to be reduced to hypocrisy, empty protocol, and Pavlov-dog style external behavioural norm, however, it must reflect psychic reality. The problem with the Freudian approach is that since Christian love remained repressed and off limits to him, he could only conceive of the currency of libido as unsublimated raw sexuality, which remains under the sign of the moral law, not under the sign of love.
The final commandment teaches us to transform animalistic sexual attraction, the currency of love in creaturely existence, into the cultural ligatures that bind us to one another, neighbour to neighbour. In fact, many have testified to the vastly increased power of love when it is banned from carnal, animalistic consummation. The most basic concept in psychoanalysis and the vehicle of the therapeutic process is the libidinal attachment to the therapist known as transferential love, which to remain therapeutic and to enable the internalization of genuine morality and the re-organization of a failed and diseased moral stage of development must remain unconsummated. Sublimated sexuality, that is sexuality that is debarred from its carnal aim, is the very substance of what we call passion. The catechism preaches mortification of the flesh and its raw sexuality not to punish, as Freud imagined the moral law, but to enable greater love and greater passions, to scale the heights of the human spirit.
As an atheist working in the medical sciences at the time when materialism and calculus were crowned absolute rulers of being, time, and reality, displaced from the Christian context in which they originated, and forcibly re-routed in the failed materialist systems of a dead civilization, the classical Greco-Roman world, Freud was both aware and ashamed of the Biblical dimension of his inner experience. He called it the unconscious and dedicated his life to the singular obsession of articulating his deeply repressed knowledge of Christ through a dubious pseudo-science of natural sexuality. As a Jew he had an intimation of the teachings of the Gospel and understood instinctively the primacy of love. He struggled to explain it as libidinal energy in order to conform to the rigid, absolute materialism of the scientificity of his era. The pseudo-scientific and pseudo-psychological term libido served to disguise the Christian love he was obliged to repress and deny within himself.
Perhaps Freud was nowhere more blatantly and alarmingly confronted with the reality of the world he held imprisoned within than in the encounter with his most famous patient, the Christian aristocrat and exile Sergei P, whose case provided the most prolific psychoanalytic material in existence. Not only did some of the most productive concepts originate in Wolfman’s vocabulary, but post-Freudian analysis dedicated entire libraries to his case. Because it is as much Sergei’s case as it is Freud’s own, it continues to occupy psychoanalytic minds and attract new disciples to this day. In Sergei Freud recognized the repressions carried out not by some imaginary child raised in the Christian faith, but his own mental prison in the world of scientific publishing.
The next post will address some the most fruitful concept that emerged in the context of Wolfman’s analysis, THE PRIMAL SCENE, in its relation to visual expression, fashion and the visual arts.
The Wolf Man on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/selfmadehero/wolfman
Some shades of darkness are impenetrable under their aquamarine and amethyst awnings, trapped beneath the depths and yearning for life’s pulsing light
Some memories from ages that passed before the birth of the world are yellow like the leaves of ancient books made of darkness that mourns the light that shunned it
Virgil’s wisdom suffers a thousand sea changes, yet remains ever loyal and constant to its eternal beloved staring at the skull: enduring testament, divine harmony, lament
Like Virgil’s precious words of glory past, the dusty treasure chests of Prussian princesses hold times not so much forgotten but buried in the safety of diamond walls
In the inner chambers of the impenetrable cage, the beating crux pulsates rhythmically as it liquefies its undisciplined bubbly charge, a private ocean
Of unruly passions that tire of galloping the dusty pages of old books on Alexandrine shelves and fly into the action of the hour, winged by Mercury’s tragic folly
The jovial conductor whips the miraculous fluids into a richly laced, intricate whirlpool of converging and embracing golden veins and ruby cardiac sinews
To animate the crucifix of abandoned epochs whose sighs and whispers, amplified and glorified, fill the music rooms of the powerful eminences of the day
Revered, cultivated with the finest instruments and state of the arts magic, the treasure’s precious burden moves seas, ships, planes, and mountains, world history
Even as it stops in awe before the little heart of one lost princess, lost in the labyrinth of her forbidden love for the golden rider of the casket’s diamond-crusted roof
Who was he? Did they meet? Did they write secret letters? Did they waken Mercury’s dubious loyalty to speak in tongues that only their hearts could read? Did they kiss?
The world stops, time halts its heartless march, power and glory draw a breath in pain, and bow to the crucifix of a love given up for the body of the eternal bride, our church
Its currency of living blood and ruby darkness forever longing for the life of the light pulses in our life-line to the perishable world of things both precious and redeemed
Unknown lover, teach me the selflessness of your renunciation that gave me life and let me know the measure of your handsome ransom for the blood of my love
A script lies in the treasure chests of lost princesses that gives and takes in silence, takes less than it gives, for no posthumous glory can lend a dead lover breath again
The script tells our secret destinies as they crush us daily in splendid mortars bearing the miracle blood of precious vanitas choking on unquenchable thirst for the light
*September 19 is the feast day of St. Januarius whose blood liquefies every year on this date for the worshippers gathered to celebrate the martyr of Diocletian persecution of Christians. Relics were traditional objects of worship that gave every sinner and every poor person the opportunity to share in the glory and riches of the Church. As Christian rulers gradually lost power, so did the status of relics in the material world, but miracles like the annual liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius remind us that they are neither powerless nor irrelevant.
Christ separates God’s from Caesar’s Province. Please note, Christ is the MEDIUM between the two provinces, the one below and the one above. The Coin of Caesar, Domingo Sequeira 1790
God’s Letter to us
God’s letter to every individual, the Gospel, speaks differently to each of us. It echoes the unique internal landscape and architecture each of us carries inside. It is infinitely satisfying to read, interpret, and marvel at the beauty of the revelations held in scripture, but Biblical reading on its own is as fruitless as living and reading without the guiding light of God’s word.
Just as much as we are children of God we are dust of the earth, that is, transient, instinctive, natural beings. In an environment where government, academic, medical, and legal institutions have abandoned Biblical teachings and have adopted the single dimension of creaturely existence, it is difficult to find anyone remotely interested in following the Bible. But the truth is, most who do crack it open and begin to engage in its truth, end up cutting themselves off from worldly formats and ways of living.
The truth is, living with the Bible and living in contemporary historical reality are not mutually exclusive, but they do require a complete commitment to scriptural interpretation.
A good metaphor for the relationship between the Christian self and the worldly self, both of which dwell inside us, is the contrast between a natural reserve and a garden.
The garden is designed architecturally, styled, and groomed observing the conventions of art, technology and design appropriate to the historical era of its creation. The natural elements are no longer wild and purely creaturely, but re-created by a human mind and hand. Nature is sublimated in the garden creation, elevated to another dimension of existence that is recorded in books and other media. Based on these records a garden may be maintained for indefinite time. The garden immortalises transient, fallen nature, and displays the splendor and glory of the biblical elements of human existence. It does not dispose of creaturely natural elements, but uses them as a painter uses a pallet, as the basic elements of a human creation that supplants them.
To be true Christians we must do the same with the instincts we bear inside and the reality we face outside. History in and of itself is no different than nature. It is driven by natural and instinctive life cycles and transient living forms. At the same time, history is the path we travel toward Biblical revelations. In other words, the Gospel is the garden that sublimates and immortalises historical material existence. This also means there are as many historical realities as there are individual human interiors.
It is no accident that the only surviving historical recording systems hail from Christian societies. The Greco-Roman world, which also led historical records, became extinct and was resurrected in the Renaissance only due to the diligent efforts of Christians who preserved and ordered its archive, keeping much of its teachings alive in its own doctrines and in medieval scholasticism. The passion of St. Jerome for classical philosophical pleasures was never extinguished in Christian thought and became quite perilous and disproportionately powerful in the fading modern age.
The existing formats of what we have recently come to understand as the Deep State, a perilous new formation threatening the communicative nature of democracy, should be approached as natural, instinctive formations. Since most of us have to function in some fashion in the real world, we can’t avoid these formats, but we can frame and contain them within the province of Biblical teachings. This is the form of webevangelism I want to propose to you.
There are plenty webevangelists who perform the basic task of delivering scriptural wisdom in its raw, unadulterated form, but few to none that engage our contemporary — often unpleasant and ugly — realities. Most Churches today preach abstinence from the political process, but is that indeed what Christ counselled? Can we ignore Caesar or the priestly castes?
Since Christ intimated the separation of Caesar’s and God’s provinces (Matthew 22), Christians have been confronted with a choice between two masters and two realities. Christ was certainly not advocating a double existence and a divided conscience, one abiding by the laws and systems of the historical-political reality in which we find ourselves, and the other the Biblical reality of God’s rest: eternal peace and unity in Christ. If we make a decision to devote our life and works to Caesar’s world, then we will inevitably subject Biblical reality to Caesar’s reality. If, on the other hand, we choose God, we subject Caesar to God. The Chalcedonian rulers of Europe understood this very well and willingly subjected themselves to God’s Word.
Deep State Theocracy and Elite M
Chalcedonians are not to be confused with theocracies, which represent a social order run by elites, by an entire class of priests who have usurped the right to know and interpret God’s word. The Deep State today is a theocracy, though it claims the God it serves is a No-God, atheism. In fact, we have regressed to non-Roman, ungodly, pre-Christian times when the priestly – now academic – castes determined the rule of the land. The current global political architecture is absolutely denying Christ and European Christian experience and history.
In contrast, the Chalcedonian kings, had accepted Christ as their personal savior and recognized only the authority of God’s Letter to the gentile nations, the Gospel. Of course, Church and Crown worked very closely together, but the main tool of their collaboration was communication through the Word of God, not an administrative network determined by the priestly-academic caste as we do today. The Chalcedonian were incredibly successful and managed to develop the most sophisticated cultural networks and recording systems known to humanity, the European humanities until the French Revolution. In the center was human individuality. Chalcedonian kings comprise the subject matter of the entire Shakespearean canon, which unfolds the richness and beauty of human consciousness and places it at the center of political power. This kind of apotheosis of humanity is unthinkable in our contemporary global theocracy.
Are we walking in Christ’s shoes?
It may appear that the formats of the deep state and the elite media who have appointed themselves global rulers of every nation today have placed evangelists and webevangelists in the position of the Christ once again. It may appear that our hands are bound by these formats, but that is not true. The Christ came already. We are not facing another crisis. Jahweh’s promise to us is as good and true as His promise ever was.
The current ruling castes and systems are creaturely and as all natural creation they will pass. Like silent nature and the silent animal kingdom they worship as their god, they cannot save themselves, because they do not possess God-given language. The ruling elite only has the system language of natural science and the bureaucracies derived from natural scientific knowledge. These formats area absolutely transient and will go to dust.
It is up to us, Christians, evangelists, and webevangelists to save the remains of the deep state, elite media, and the secular academic archive. It is up to us to interpret their legacy in accordance with God’s architecture, the sublimated edifice to which Christ ascended. It is up to us to frame them and preserve their contribution to life on earth. This requires forgiveness, because they did throw us under a bus and because they have banished Christian thought.
Media of Forgiveness and Testimony
By forgiveness Christ never meant forgetting the evil done, but rather understanding that it belongs to the order of the snake that tempted Eve. The order of the snake preceded Him on the pole of knowledge at the center of human understanding. This is the order of fallen nature. By forgiveness Christ meant neutralizing material nature, understanding it is dumb and deaf, understanding it is condemned to return to the dust from whence it came. By forgiveness and testimony, Christ meant rising above and beyond good and evil to frame and glorify fallen nature and its earthly remains as God’s creation in our TESTIMONY. This does not mean submitting to evil, serving its formats, or even participating in their evil doing, but it does mean representing it with grace as something past and gone, as something transient, because we were chosen to carry its memory in eternity.
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
As we continue to explore the psychological reality of human relations in the post-Christian world with one of the masters of interiority as our primary guide, Shakespeare, we gain profound cognisance of the place, time, and design of the individual private sphere. But how do the works of private identity enter the realm of public expression and circulation? The answer is through marriage.
Resting on the reality principle of marriage and the relationship to the beloved woman, Christianity is not just the only earthly order organized by the feminine essence of love, but also the only system to circulate private works. The private constitution of the public sphere is the paramount legacy of Christian thought.
Since marriage is the fundamental structure and reference point of Christian fellowship, it carries the individuality and supports its entry into a public space structured by the works of love furnishing the material dimension of Christ’s marriage to the Church.
A large number of Shakespeare’s plays focus on marriage. “Romeo and Juliet,” currently on our agenda, is no exception. In the final reckoning, it is a Christian marriage and not desire that unites Juliet and her Romeo. The work of love they leave behind — fruit of their marriage — is their magnificent death: a gem of tragic poetry with a peacemaking mission. The grace Shakespeare bestows on his characters at the end of each play is probably the most precious, unsurpassed, and incomparable quality of his poetry. It is not withheld from the ill-fated lovers.
Noli me tangere
Titian, Noli Me Tangere, 1514
In the gospel of John 20, Jesus appears in the flesh on the evening of the first day of the week and admonishes Mary Magdalene, whom he finds weeping next to his empty tomb, not to touch him. To interpret this passage we need to consider the telos of the scriptural narrative, because it represents the meaning-granting caesura. Every caesura refers to the larger telos that frames it.
The Christian Reality Principle: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb
The Book of Revelations is organized around one central event: the wedding feast of the Lamb. The crowning moment of biblical teleology is a wedding feast. The New Testament transforms epic history and the book of the law into the Divine Comedy of love’s triumph on earth. The conclusive event, the wedding feast of the Lamb, however, is neither final, nor singular, nor historical. Since it represents the ultimate telos of the biblical narrative, it is also the point of its eternal recurrence.
The Christian reality principle is established in relation to the eternal return of the Lamb’s wedding. This singular event is always rising on the human horizon in its unspeakable, eternal glory and beauty, and defines the phenomenological boundaries of Christian experience. It represents the event horizon of the Christian reality principle.
According to the father of psychoanalysis who coined the term “reality principle,” reality is the product of a process of testing in the wake of death, caesura, or permanent loss. The caesura of judgment, like the finitude of death, withholds something of great value and disrupts the fabric of life in the psychological world of the subject. Reality testing is a form of mourning and repair of the damage inflicted by traumatic loss. It covers the period during which the mourner has to confirm the loss as real.
It is significant that Jesus does not allow Mary to touch him, not because she is doubting his resurrection like Thomas will, but because she must establish the reality of his death. The period between death and resurrection represents the psychological timeframe of reality testing, which establishes the core reality principle. It is a time of material absence, literally untouchable by the senses: “noli me tangere.”
When Jesus admonishes the Magdalene not to touch him, He also says that he is not yet ascended to the Father. Not yet ascended, He is in the space between death and reunion. The moment of eternal recurrence is the birthplace of earthly reality in its human essence, that is, as constitutive of human presence.
Universe of Christian Works
“Noli me tangere” refers to the fundamental principle of Christian reality. Untouchable and unavailable to the immediacy of the creaturely senses, the immaterial reality of sublimation structures the Christian universe.
Sublimation is the process of artistic or scientific creation whereby creaturely instinct is transformed into works of immaterial immediacy. It is the inherent, internal logic of a work, which requires another work to bring it to recognition. This is why we measure the staying power of works of art by their homages and reproductions or reinterpretations.
Jesus appears to the Magdalene on the evening of the first day of the week. Sunday evening is the pregnant time before the workweek begins and represents symbolically the time of conception of Christian works. The actualisation of the principle of individuality is the crowning work of Christian faith.
Sunday is a time of recurrence and repetition. The crowning work in a Christian biography and point of recurrence is marriage. It is the soil on which the individuality fully blossoms. Because Sunday is the day of God’s rest, it is empty of His creation and filled with the human works of love, invention and re-creation. To the works of re-creation belong all flowers and fruits of marriage, from children to the dazzling sepulchre of Romeo and Juliet.
In their bare state of nature, human children bear the mark of what John calls the “sign of the beast.” It marks the pure, creaturely state of being. The ritual and sacred practice of marriage is what makes the creaturely human body a Son of Man.
In Revelations, the time of the future — both utopia and apocalypse — is none other than the time of judgment of the works, for works are the currency of the soul’s final destination. Judgment Day is not a fixed, historical day in the distant or near future, but rather a recurring event like Sunday.
Power, Marriage, Recurrence of the Eternal Feminine
The late nineteenth century poetic work Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1892 correctly identified three rings symbolic of the power of recurrence and repetition inherent in the making of autonomous human reality, as coextensive of each other, albeit in the inverted anti-Christian context of Zoroastrianism. The author, Friedrich Nietzsche recognised that the ring of power, the ring of marriage, and the ring of recurrence symbolise the world of human action and God-given autonomy.
Nietzsche was, however, well versed in the Bible and Christian sacramental practices, being raised in a family of pastors. He inverted the Christian Trinity for poetic purposes and to lend a dying doctrine fresh power: the Father, who is all-powerful, the Son, married to the Church, and the temporal Spirit, which is eternal and internal recurrence.
Earthly power is simply the ability to set up reality. The Christian reality principle is the trinity of recurrence, marriage, and the power of governance.
Recurrence is the portal through which all Christian works of disparate times, languages & cultures communicate & sustain each other.
Marriage rests on the feminine principle of love, which subordinates all passions.
Common objects and works of circulation set up the power of governance. In the Christian experience power is intimately bound to the sacrament of marriage and its principle of the eternal feminine. The temporal dimension of power is allegorically illustrated through the main event of the Book of Revelations, the wedding feast of the Lamb.
The time of the events disclosed in the Book of Revelations is exactly a week after the admonition “noli me tangere.” It designates the time of the judgment of the works, a kind of aesthetic contest, when Jesus’s marriage to the Church takes place. A week is simply a cycle, a mark of recurrence. A cycle is an hour, a day, a century or a millennium.
To take place means to “make” an event in the physical world. Christ’s bride consists of the good works of God’s children. Every invention, every masterpiece, every work of art or literature are judged for their fitness to perform the marriage of marriages, the Lamb’s wedding of the Church, the Christian bride.
Marriage is a very special ritual in Christianity, not only on the wedding day, but every day thereafter, for the works of marriage furnish forth the eternal feast of the Lamb’s nuptials.
Jewel in the Bride’s Crown, Duomo of Siena
Not Yet Ascended: Between Heaven and Earth
Titian’s rendition of the moment Jesus asks Mary not to touch him is extraordinary in its sensitivity to the creaturely vulnerability of the natural human body at the time before its ascension to the Father, that is before its sublimation.
Jesus asks Mary not only not to touch him, but also to tell the others He is going to the Father. The vehicle of the ascension to the Father is made up of the works of one’s biography. The crowning one is the work of marriage, because it embodies the feminine principle of love.
The time before the ascension is also before the judgment when beings dwell between the creaturely body and the works of sublimation, which will either become their vehicles to the Lamb’s wedding feast or vehicles of their damnation. Not all works are good.
The day of Judgment does not mean judgement of the creaturely body, which is ultimately destined for death, sin, and disease. The creaturely body is already judged, because it is incapable of faith, whose vehicle is language. The apocalypse awaits mute nature and all her works not saved through sublimation.
The creaturely body and all works of nature are made good in their sublimated form, as works destined for the altar of the Lamb’s wedding day. Thus the touch of the gardener transforms and sublimates raw nature. As the work of human hands and instrumentality, the garden is healed, curated. Christ touched the sick to heal them. The same curatorial, healing power is allotted to his brethren. The garden represents the sublimated form of the wild bush, which is a work of nature.
On the eve before the work week begins, Jesus admonishes Mary not to touch him, for He has not yet ascended to the Father. There is a time then between cycles and between judgments when the power of healing is gone from the children of God and they must protect themselves from the touch of brute nature.
There are two sides to the Book of Revelations. In Latin, the book is called the Apocalypse. The time of the future is both the apocalypse of the creaturely world and the utopia of the Lamb’s wedding feast. All the good works accomplished by God’s children are destined for the feast.
The day of Judgment condemns and saves at the same time. It is a day that recurs every Sunday and at the end of every individual cycle. The Apocalypse condemns the creaturely body, but saves works of sublimation. As works of ascension they include reproductions of the creaturely body in funerary figures. These serve the representation of both the apocalypse and the utopian dream.
Works of sublimation grace the wedding feast of the Lamb. Secular works belong to this collection of masterpieces as well, because secularism shares the Christian reality principle. They too rest on the discursive foundations of sublimation and hermeneutics.
The judgment of the works establishes their reality and their ascension. The creaturely body, always already dead, is untouchable. At this vulnerable time between death and ascension, it is unavailable for sublimation and eternal return.
Shakespeare dedicated his most enigmatic and widely commented work, “The Tragedy of Hamlet,” to the temporal dimension of the untouchable. A later post will read the dark creation that can take place at this time, because of the double failure of marriage the play documents. Part II of this post will focus on the circulation of works, a system bordering on the limit Hamlet represents.
This post is dedicated to my mother and to my husband
The main attribute of our personal idenity, the name, is, as Juliet discovers on her balcony, not part of the creaturely body governed by desire. Literary and philosophical contemplations of love and desire often bring the boundary between family identity and group identity into sharp focus. Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” can enrich the theoretical discussion of the tensions between private and pubic identity as the play refines the distinctions between love and desire, between the name and the word, as well as between the self, the family, and the state. Not unlike Sophocles’s “Antigone,” a tragedy about the clash between family duty and state duty, (on the tragic aesthetics of State design please see: Tragic Design), this early play by the Bard reformats the relationship between tragic love and family identity.
Shakespeare’s play is perhaps the crowning masterpiece in the Western canon about the limit built into the very nature of love, a limit that is intimately related to the function of the name and to the growth and flowering of living language. The boundary introduced by the name is central to the growth of language and all the arts, because it erects an irreducible difference and a remainder into the grammatical calculus of language. The name introduces difference and an inviolable limit, which girds man’s divine presence like a halo and protects his dignity as a child of God. The divine nature of humanity is given in language. The name is the limit at which language originates and at which it must also stop if it is not to consume itself without remainder and thus also annihilate the human world language constitutes.
The Name of Adoption
The name is the cornerstone of Western morality built not on pagan but on Biblical principles, because the Bible altered the function of the name from representing the bare life of a pure biological unit to a mark of divine nature and grace. This is the function of the sacrament of baptism, which symbolised God’s adoption of the name. It is not just an empty ritual. Historically it altered the way language functions by introducing the immaterial dimension to mores, morality, all human relationships, and above all, it to one’s relationship to the self.
Forms of metaphysics and narcissistic worship of the self are well known and widely available in antiquity. Classical metaphysics remain absolutely dependent on physics through the logos (word and logic) and the nomos (law). They are not related in any way to human agency and the name it carries. The name introduces an inviolable limit within language, a limit desire seeks to transgress, but without which love becomes superfluous, its sublimating power drained of actuality, and aesthetic currency emptied of its immaterial minting.
Aesthetic currency is pure desire. Juliet’s transgression is all-consuming love, the kind of love known as desire in the philosophical lexicon: hot, unruly and uncontrollable creaturely passion destined for death. Desire is not conditioned by the internal law of the individual being, but by purely external, objective, shared reality. “You kiss by the book” says Juliet to Romeo, who at the time of their encounter is emerging from a fresh break-up, emotionally battered and internally unavailable for a new relationship. Juliet runs the show from the very beginning. Romeo follows, blindly worshipping at Juliet’s altar. His emasculation, like the erasure of his baptismal name, is the tragic action driving the play. He is going through the motions of courtship automatically, “by the book,” even bureaucratically. Desire burns his and Juliet’s young lives quickly and leaves nothing but their desire as their legacy.
The aesthetic conventions of desire consumed the individual without remainder. In the true fashion of tragic poetry, which shatters the flawed hero onstage only to preserve the rules of classical perfection, which are purely external and ostentatiously public, Romeo and Juliet’s remains become the common property of the world. Indeed, countless languages, media, and art forms have adopted and adapted the play since its original appearance in London. Only the internalisation of their transgression individualises their passion and confers upon it a saving grace.
Political Misappropriation of Juliet’s Tragedy: Nomos over Name
The en vogue interpretation of the play among scholars of the new historicist school of thought today foregrounds the young couple’s victimisation by traditional values. This interpretation justifies social design of racial and cultural interbreeding as a form of intervention in tragic destiny. This classical state intervention, however, is not supported by Shakespeare. It ignores basic cultural distinctions between the classical and the biblical traditions, as well as among biblical traditions.
The internal logic (nomos: law) of the tragedy of desire and the two corpses it inevitably produces is as dead-certain and fixed from the beginning as the law of gravity. Interracial unions based on racial identities, which conflate the distinction between the group, the family, and the individual in one dominant racial currency, inevitably produce violence and senseless destruction. Such is the tragic nature of the limit family identity posits to group identity. The group cannot articulate itself except through the family, but in order to adopt a family identity, the group must sacrifice it, that is, articulate its desire as common aesthetic currency. This was the function of Greek tragedy.
Ancient Rome demanded the sacrifice of the family to the state. It permitted the articulation of family identity only within the circulable discursive network of the state. In this case, interracial union is simply a matter of state interests, neither family nor individual interest. The relentless calculus of tragic aesthetics governed the ancient world and even as it pitted existence against the harsh realities of desire, it also developed the fine arts at the locus and limit between the nomos of the state and the family. Roman patricians took great pride in their family history, but only insofar as it served the ars memoria of the state.
Civic Crown: Nomos not Name
Biblical Name & Freudian View of the Family
Only in Jewish thought is family identity completely subsumed by group identity. The names listed in the Old Testament are inviolable and protected, not subsumable by the law (nomos). In the old testamentary biblical context interracial breeding becomes taboo. Freud’s thought originated in this tradition, which he confused, unwittingly and unfortunately, with the Greek tragic tradition. This made his articulation of the psychoanalytic world-view of the family as the centre of the universe a little blurry. But Freud made a mistake by merging tragic with Jewish family identity. The natural mores of gentile nations and their moral universe remained materially grounded in the tragic distinctness of the family from the nation. Tragic poetry, and later in Rome, more neutrally, pastoral poetry, served to articulate distinct family identities. Thus gentiles maintained a crucial distinction between the group and the family that is not available in other identity patterns.
Christian Re-Interpretation of Classical Identity Patterns
I will devote future posts to the Greco-Roman virtue of sacrificing the interests of the family to those of the state, especially Shakespeare’s Christian treatment of the material in “Coriolanus” and the other three Roman plays. Suffice to say at this point that the creative lancet of classical aesthetics operates between the family and the state. This is the price and the place of classical perfection. The profoundly Catholic Jacques Lacan considers tragedy the ultimate calculus of desire’s irreversible march toward death.
Christ’s Sword: Birth 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. The Christian individuality under God is separate from the family, as well as from the group/state. In antiquity separation from the family was normal and expected. In Jewish thought it is unthinkable. Christ has Romans and Greeks in mind when He says: “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). What Christ introduces in this crucial passage is self-difference, which is absent in both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultural reality.
Self-difference produces an infinite remainder that prevents annihilation of the individual. His consummation by social, biological, aesthetic, and all other currencies he shares with a group, be it family, tribe, national group or political organisation, is never total and complete. Self-difference produces a remainder that does not obey the logic of time and nature. It has its internal clock and calculus, even as it encloses the temporal and the natural world. Mathematically self-difference is evident in the number Pi. Simultaneously a finite value, a conglomerate of finite values, and an infinite number, Pi is the number of individuality.
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. This healing cut vouchsafes the unique truth and being of the individuality. The Christian context altered the function of the name profoundly. From objective unit in the chain of signifiers, whose meaning is guaranteed by blood lineage in Jewish thought or by the nomos in Greco-Roman logic, the name becomes the guarantor of a unique interior. The name is a portal to language and to internal infinity.
Desire and Regression to Tragedy
Desire erases the baptismal name and precipitates regression to tragic formatting. Shakespeare sets tragic regression in motion with Juliet’s famous balcony soliloquy. 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, the source of her transgression, is the conflation of the word and the name. This purely linguistic operation erases his humanity. Words in circulation represent a system of signification that orders the created world. We name creatures, but as creatures ourselves we lose the power to name. Nature is mute. Only humanity has the God-given gift of language, the medium of human creation. A bee may remain a bee even if we call it a violet or a true. The name of an object is replaceable. Stripping a Christian of his name by equating him with his race or family annihilates his interior and his being. Juliet’s curse, much like Romeo’s, is their bondage to families that indulged the magnificent tragic passions of family rivalry. Italy inherited the tragic arts of Rome and never really let go of them.
The function of the name is to stop the infinite circulability of words, to mark a limit that re-routs external passions to the interior. It also protects the teaching of Scripture, which no Christian can claim in his own name. Christ said “I am not here in my own name, but in the name of the Father.” This was necessary for the conversion of gentiles. The maker of their identities is not God, but the pale, earthy image of desire and its tragic beauty. This is why their initiation in the Biblical lineage is by adoption only, that is, by grace. The sublimation of Romeo and Juliet’s gruesome end is an act of grace. The play initiated an endless mourning ritual we still engage with pleasure. Shakespeare gives each character enough time to begin mourning and internalising the other marking a temporal caesura for their salvation.
The Limit in Love
Though Romeo and Juliet do marry, the consummation of their love is without remainder until the bitter end when Shakespeare makes them mourn each other and acknowledge their difference. The erasure of the name is also an erasure of the limit between the two. In a sense the tragedy of their union is the total merger of the two individualities. A love too passionate to stop at the threshold of transgression that consumes the beloved is star-crossed in its nature. Ironically, it is the names Shakespeare gave the young lovers, the very names they erased in their youthful passion, that remain as their only monument for all eternity: Romeo and Juliet.
In the ancient currency of tragic aesthetics the name is accidental, objective, and property of the state. In Christianity, the name simultaneously designates the entry to the interior and the guarantee of objective reality of Scripture. It certifies the name-bearer’s dual citizenship in the reality of Scripture and in his own difference from it. In a sense, it transports the tragic cut between the gentile family name and the classical nomos within the self. Because we know self-difference ourselves, we can identify with the transgression of the young lovers. Their passion remains in the cleavage between the self and its negative.
As self-difference the name constitutes an internal tragedy, the separation of one’s own name from the name of the Father. Self-difference is the essence of Christian passion. It is not narcissism, because there is no pure yield of pleasure nor self-worship, but to the contrary, a glorification
of difference. The identity pattern of self-difference initiated industrialisation and Western liberalism. The latter permitted other cultures and religions to participate in the project of modern statehood. Whether the politicisation of an internal Christian principle was a positive development is a question for another post.
What does the name have to do with the news? Which identity pattern emerges in the news and how do we relate to it?
In response to a user’s question, this post elaborates on a term used in the previous post. The original context, in which the term sublimation appeared was a historical observation on the disappearance of the liberal arts and humanities from college curricula and research platforms, which results in cultural impoverishment. Sublimating activity is essential to the survival of cultures and traditions. The essential part of the process, which is a key aspect of iCulture therapy, takes place at the individual level of media engagement before it is publicised. Blogging is a promising new medium that has the potential to rejuvenate stagnating traditions, if it is engaged consciously, with purpose and design. As a tool of self-design sublimation is a key theoretical concept and the central practice of iCulture therapy. A number of posts will be devoted to this category, since it is not only a purely theoretical reference, but also a fundamental literary, religious, and consumer structure. Consumer products are not acts of sublimation, but they are inscribed in a cultural network that provides a number of media for sublimation activity. In this sense, sublimation can also function as consumer practice.
Origin in psychoanalysis
The concept originated in Freud’s writings on psychoanalysis and remains a much contested and elaborated term. It has a very specific definition and function in iCulture therapy. Traditionally sublimation refers to the displacement of instinctual satisfaction through mental engagement of the arts, science, and religion. In iCulture it refers to these activities as they are changed and re-designed by online activity, especially blogging and social micro-blogging, aka social media. Whether we realize it or not, every message we send into cyber space is potentially an instance of sublimation.
As in chemistry, where the term is reserved for the transition of solid substances directly into their gaseous state without passing through the intermediate liquid phase, in iCulture therapy sublimation stands for structural transformation of mental states, mental demands and commands from a state of raw physical instinct, material wish, or impulse into its metaphysical state of valuation.
Here is a crude example of sublimation: boy can’t get girl; boy writes a song or a Tumblr post to satisfy his hungry instinct. This explains the numerous soft-porn images we see on Tumblr, but iCulture will train users to perform at a more sophisticated, culturally relevant level. When deprived of an opportunity to satisfy a wish or an instinct directly and immediately, the mind begins to search for alternative solutions in the immaterial, mediated realm. It engages material media and performs a number of symbolic actions that have the capacity to satisfy the failed execution of the demand. Instinctual demands are not biological, but rather culturally and historically determined. Culture, though born through sublimating activity in the immaterial, symbolic realm needs renewed acts of sublimation to maintain itself and not be degraded to instinctual materiality in a process of de-sublimation. A lot of what passes for culture today in fact belongs to a degraded material system of instinctual satisfaction and no longer qualifies as “culture” in its original state of sublimation.
Other Practices of the Immaterial: Dreams and Hallucinations
Sublimation is different from hallucination and magic, which are purely imaginary activities that cannot bring about the symbolic satisfaction of instinct. They can only simulate material satisfaction. The dream is different from both sublimation and hallucination in that it hides the sublimating activity it performs. In sublimation the symbolic conversion of mental data is real and has a real effect on the structure of the mind. It alters the mind and its behaviour. It also alters the medium of its execution, which makes it available for all forms of externalization and socialization. Thus it produces culture.
The dream performs this activity behind the scenes and in private. It is well-known that a dream is the fulfilment of a wish that cannot be satisfied in reality or that is repressed in the unconscious, as Freud argued, because it is not admissible to the system that programs one’s self-image. For example, Mr. Smith is angry with Mrs. Smith, who cheated, and wishes to kill her, but his conscience, which is the mastermind behind his self-image, prohibits the very notion of murder. Mr. Smith represses his anger and the wish to kill Mrs. Smith and dreams about the unfortunate demise of a certain gold-smith in a flood. The dream has converted the murderous wish into a mental picture that performs it in a benign, permissible scenario, in which Mr. Smith remains a good person, yet the negative image of Mrs. Smith has been cleaned up. Her transgression, which caused anger, has been safely erased from his emotional landscape. Mr. Smith forgets his displeasure with Mrs. Smith and the two enjoy a harmonious relationship. The dream has performed its function and restored love between the two.
The dream alters the mind by rewriting unwanted scenarios, but since the mind was not conscious of the alteration, it is not empowered by it. The dream work does not interact in any way with the public sphere. It remains inarticulate and does not impact in any way the medium of its execution. Dreams use all available media the mind engages in wakefulness. In an act of sublimation, Mr. Smith would engage an existing medium to accomplish what the dream did, but with the tools and technical know-how of a master. If the act of sublimation is executed with mastery, which requires that Mr. Smith is familiar with state-of-the-art technical artistic media, the product, which can be a song, a novel, a prayer or a blog post, will alter the medium itself, because it will make a new form of its application available to others. This is what makes works of art priceless. Alterations in the medium also alter reality, which is entirely structured by media. Only sublimating activity can alter reality. Dreams, magic, and hallucinations cannot. They are passive, whereas sublimation is an active manifestation of individual will. It contributes to the design of culture.
If we were plugged into a vast social system, well engineered by political and social scientists to meet every instinctual demand, we would never need to sublimate, dream, hallucinate or perform magic. In fact, the entire entertainment industry and consumer culture would become obsolete, because that is their job, to offer substitute satisfaction where we can’t get it. A world free of instinctual or material demand is often what sociologists and politicians promise to deliver. This is an empty promise, indeed emptier than most consumer products. Sooner or later we will lose a dear beloved, a loved one will reject us, or we will be stranded on a road without food or drink. We will run into fatal ‘friends’ or somehow get into trouble. This is when the cultural and consumer habits get activated to protect the mental apparatus from collapse, so it continues to function and maintain the memory and continuity of what we know as human life, as bio-graphy, or blog-graphy.
To sum briefly, sublimation is mental power, whereas dreaming achieves passive satisfaction. Hallucination, much like magic, is an illusory and delusional activity that does not change the state of instinctual need, nor the mind of the individual. Both the dream and the hallucination do not alter the personality, which makes them unusable as tools of self-design. The dream has the capacity to heal a broken link in the mind and to restore it to its original design, but only sublimation has the power to change the design of the interior.
Artists, musicians, writers, professors with original ideas — very rare today — appear eccentric and quirky because the cookie-cut personality, in which an individual is issued by the particular programming language of his culture, has been altered by works of sublimation. The reason people generally shy away from sublimating activity is their fear of disfiguring the perfect, socially acceptable face they put on in order to function in the civilized world. If Mr. Smith is unable to acknowledge his anger, his wife’s transgression, and his own sinful wish to retaliate, he will fail to initiate a conscious sublimation process.
Self-reflexivity, the ability to observe oneself, is crucial to the process of self-design. Acknowledging an uncomfortable truth about ourselves or a painful realization such as the loss or betrayal of a dearly beloved does not mean condoning evil and transgression, and even less acting on it. To the contrary, the negative experience is the fossil fuel that propels the creation of objects of high cultural value.
The next post will broach the religious host of sublimation and a later one will address Shakespeare’s use of sublimation, dreams, and magic in The Tempest.
Magritte, The Son of Man
Magritte’s Works: Mirrors within Mirrors
Like most works of art that have altered perception historically, Magritte’s paintings possess a high degree of self-reflexivity. The apple in Le Beau Monde is not a physical apple, but a two-dimensional image, the sublimation of an apple. But Magritte does something else: he takes the act and product of painting as his object, thus removing 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 an image and a sublimated object. It is an image that is conscious of being an image, a mirror within a mirror. The apple of original sin is taken out of its context in the natural world and then also removed from its context in the technical world of painting, where it consists of a few brushstrokes, colour, paint, and canvas. Magritte sublimates the very materiality of the medium of representation and achieves a new level of sublimation at a time historically when his medium, painting, has become stale and physical as a cultural artefact, in other words no longer capable of sublimation.
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. The Son of Man takes this self-reflexive process of sublimation even further. Obviously referring to Christ, who is the original Son of Man, Magritte paints his self-portrait as Christ covered by the external and trivialized image of an apple. The face that is put in circulation in social — media — circles is not original, nor individual, but pre-fabricated through old cultural sublimation processes that have become automatic in their production of ‘individual’ identities. Original sin, as Soren Kierkegaard also writes in his Sickness unto Death, is not having a unique identity that is invisible to others and available to oneself and to the world only through acts of sublimation. Human autonomy is unthinkable outside sublimation processes where the individual is free to practice auto-design.