The cultivation of childhood goes back to Mother Mary’s profound transformation of family culture.
We don’t see such enormous emphasis on the representation and refinement of nursery culture before her magnificent historic feat. The Greco-Romans were into adolescence and adolescent sexuality, but had no appreciation and no use for childhood. Children were treated more or less as slaves.
Christianity begins to invest in their individuation and recognition of their interior lives. This alone may have stimulated the enormous technological advances that were made in the Middle Ages and which led to the industrial revolution that improved the quality of life globally.
For writers, the reference to child subjectivity is among the endless sources of inspiration and productivity. In childhood lie the endless treasures of Mnemosyne that feed their productivity and inspiration.
Picasso was one of those eternally child-like artists who delighted in representing his own playful imagination in nearly every work he produced.
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus from the Sea, 1445
Surfer: I’m a simple man; my needs are very basic: give me the beach, the blue horizon, and a good wave and I am perfectly happy. I imagine natural men were not that different.
Priest: I believe you are simple, but you are mistaken about “natural man.” The very idea of “natural men” is a very complex cultural phenomenon that emerged and was refined over the past two centuries. Moreover your peaceful pasture, your beach and its blue horizon, are guarded by military and political might. Even more essential than military protection is the cultural and linguistic composition of your set of values, the freedom to choose them, and the peace needed to indulge them.
Surfer: But every man of every culture seems to appreciate what I love because it’s simple.
Priest: The concept of “natural man” is one of the most sophisticated and probably the most advanced cultural products. It sits on millennia of cultural development and certainly was not available to primitive men, who were anything but free to enjoy nature. To less civilised rudimentary societies nature is a monstrous and unpredictable enemy, not a bucolic idyll. The ability to perceive a violent wave or strong wind as anything other than a source of destruction and to control the fear it arouses is a highly refined psycho-cultural phenomenon.
Surfer: Then why is it so easy for people from less civilised parts of the world to appreciate and accept this lifestyle?
Priest: Once a product becomes available, it is easily consumed by all. Most consumers don’t ask if the product fits their culture and background. Like commercial images of instant aesthetics, which owe their appeal to an invisible, hidden production process, the numerous editing cuts and manufacturing stitches, superficial lifestyle features are easily copied and imitated, but they don’t change and don’t communicate with the more fundamental layers of the culture that receives them, remaining at best ornamental, primarily disposable, and at worst material for the stronger cultural elimination systems, scatological.
Surfer: Which is why you invoked political and military protection. My lifestyle is very precarious and likely only the most advanced cultural systems are able to protect it.
Surfer: Go on, I am intrigued now.
Priest: we may well be moving toward a political order that will no longer protect it for the same reason you were unable to appreciate the cultural significance of your seemingly simple lifestyle. The political, academic, and, unfortunately, clerical proletariat lacks knowledge of the production history and process of the culture they inherited. Contemporary systems of preserving and transmitting knowledge may well be condemning our common cultural background to scatological rabble. It won’t be long before your lifestyle is condemned and eliminated as insignificant to governing structures, just as romance and heterosexual love were devalued and eliminated from the cultural milieu. Simple bucolic lifestyles like yours have been associated with heterosexual love and romance since the inception of literary culture.
Surfer: Paul and Virginia, Daphnis and Chloe, Arcadia…
Priest: You know your literary history.
Surfer: Yes, I’ve devoured some university knowledge.
Priest: Then you know the sea wasn’t always a pretty site. Even to ancient Europeans it was just a means to an end and a dangerous business involving every thinkable monster and feminine treachery?
Surfer: I’ve heard of it yes, the Odyssey, Dido and Aeneas, and so forth.
Priest: It all began with the cultivation of natural spaces in Christian Europe. Renaissance art was obsessed with the sea. It is not surprising that at the time the British maritime empire was born, when America and the new world were discovered and developed, continental artists turned their eyes to the sea to define the standards of artistic beauty that dominate aesthetics to this day. Alongside the highest achievement in language, the Shakespearean canon of dramatic works, the Renaissance was also the time that established the visual idiom of modern aesthetic sensibilities.
Surfer: I don’t know about history, but just as I speak English I consider the sea my homeland.
Priest: The two are not unrelated. Britain remains the one and only maritime power in the world as we know it. The German Hansa was an equally successful achievement, but it didn’t survive intra-European rivalries and lost to the Swedes. Hence the English language has a great deal to do with the development of the marine aesthetics that dominate your worldview. Since the British isles were the first great maritime power, the oceans assumed a central position in the psycho-historical development of the Western imagination. In Italian art especially the sea became an icon of visual experience. The ancient Greco-Roman myth of the birth of the goddess of love Venus from the sea was revived in the context of global trade that involved predominantly Western European merchant ships. What you enjoy today and take for granted, even natural, isn’t natural at all, but has a long and complicated cultural history.
Surfer: That may be interesting, but doesn’t do much for me.
Priest: You said the sea is your homeland.
Surfer: It is.
Priest: But the sea is no homeland, no land at all!
Surfer: We surfers aren’t really into history and politics. We have no homeland. We are everywhere.
Priest: That’s what I’m trying to explain to you. You have a homeland, the old maritime powers that mapped the world. You inherited their cultural makeup. What you call awesome isn’t simply awesome naturally. It has a cultural history. And yet, you are right, you have no land-based homeland, only maritime culture.
Surfer: That may well be, but I’m not interested.
Priest: You are closer to our Lord than any man living on land.
Surfer: How so?
Priest: Like I said, Italian artists of the Renaissance revived some dead and forgotten Greco-Roman myths to compete with the pagan background of world trade partners, but the centrality of love and its association with world waters in the Western psycho-historical imagination has a different origin. Love is a Christian concept and virtue. Water is the element of baptism: the second birth and first sacrament of Christian worship. The sacrament of baptism represents the renunciation and crucifixion of earthly being. Everything in nature is perishable and mute. The profane is lacking in light. It is mute and dumb, unreflected. It lacks the intelligence of the Holy Ghost. The reborn, or born again, those who receive the baptism also receive the light through their second birth from the water, from the sea in a sense. Your understanding of your element is profane, but the origin of its valuation is definitely not profane.
Surfer: I carry light? You mean “salt of the earth,” that sort of thing?
Priest: Not directly, not unless you’ve been touched by God’s grace! You do know something that land creatures don’t. It’s your advantage. Like our Lord and his followers you have no earthly home to lay your head. The wave is your pillow, the cloud your blanket.
Surfer: All I know is how to ride a wave. I’m no figure of enlightenment. Nor do I wish to be anyone’s guide or model.
Priest: No, but you are a figure of baptism. You have the existential experience necessary to understand the message of our Lord.
Surfer: But I don’t have the message.
Priest: You are fertile ground for it.
Surfer: Base earth! A profane being.
Priest: No, you have a special, sacred relationship to beauty. You can see beauty at its inception. That is rare. It lends you grace and continual rebirth. Before birth and after re-birth, beauty appears in its pure form, the highest form of life.
Surfer: Like the unborn? Or the undead? Zombies, vampires, ghosts… Hollywood creatures?
Priest: You sneer, but yes. Transitional states of being are also eternal states. These two forms of life, the unborn and the undead, come closest to the purity of the medium of creation, the Word.
Surfer: Because the unborn lives in water?
Priest: Water is the perfect embodied metaphor for the Word, yes. The beauty of the unborn is greater than empirical beauty, because it represents a different state of being. The concept of unborn life and the Christian notion of the interior as sole temple of the Lord are very similar. The Virgin Mary receives the Holy Ghost and forms the Saviour in the interior temple of the mind? Word before flesh, spirit before matter. Christian experience takes place exclusively in the feminine realm of love, grace, and beauty. It is the only female religion. It softened and domesticated the sea and the furious wilderness.
Surfer: In love we are conceived, love we are, and to love we return. In its purity love contains the stuff all beauty is made of, primal beauty.
Priest: Like I said, you are a natural born philosopher!
Surfer: You must be joking.
Priest: You dwell in the no-land of the source of life, you know betweenness, you understand the impossibility of representing empirical beauty, because you feel it in inexplicable ways. And your sense of love is superbly refined.
Surfer: Words fail me.
Priest: You feel the impossibility of speaking the whole truth about what you know deeply; often words fail you when you try to tell others why you chase the waves; yet you know exactly what beauty is, you feel love to the core of your fear, and you sense its infinite power. Only love has the power to bring you back.
Surfer: The wave is different every day; how can you explain something that has so many shapes and that changes so often? Sometimes the fear just swallows everything.
Priest: You understand the impossibility of finitude, yet you fear it at every moment. You know every breath could be your last. You thrive on defeating finitude. You overcome your fear and your trembling every day, because you know love like Mary did. You go in only to come back a different person, transformed to the core. You thrive on change.
Surfer: No, I fear the elements, but I don’t fear change. I can’t afford to fear change. I have to stay on top of a constantly shifting ground. I can’t let it get the better or me. Change is inevitable. You have to think quickly on the water and go with whatever comes your way. If you are bent on carrying out the routine you learned yesterday, you are out of luck. You have to think fast and react faster.
Priest: I know, you live at the edge of human instinct. Instead of repressing, you chase and explore it. Instead of practicing learned habits, you adapt to untapped, slumbering human instincts. Instead of mastering natural forces, you seek to unleash them. You run the blade of human experience and redraw the boundaries of instinct, feeling out its limits as you go. In land-based cultures equestrians and falconers were valued very highly for their cultural achievement, because they support the cultivation of instinct. Maritime powers developed new forms of instinct design. Surfing is a key practice that developed in the context of oceanic exploration & conquest.
Surfer: I’m not too deeply learned.
Priest: Why do you think people admire you? They feel your mastery of instinct is superior and that’s a sign of advanced intelligence. Manifest human knowledge is very limited. The sum of our entire scientific know-how makes up less than one percent of material reality and the sum of our encyclopaedic knowledge less than one percent of our referential reality. Unbound the human mind is infinite, versatile and very prolific. One of the main functions of Christian faith is to unlock the mind and to open it to new dimensions of experience, to help it get accustomed to change just as you have to adapt to your constantly changing environment. Your craft is not learned, you learn it anew every day.
Surfer: That’s true. I can’t repeat a single run twice; every day is a new experience. But tell me, if the mind is infinite, why do we find it chained and belittled everywhere we look? Is it to satisfy what infinitely inferior knowledge considers necessity?
Priest: Sadly, yes.
Surfer: And infinity guarantees beauty? Is that why we love the undead, all the losses we couldn’t let go of?
Priest: We don’t understand infinity, or to be correct, simple infinity is all we understand. No given moment understands itself as finite, rather it perceives itself as infinite, but once it is gone and replaced, it can only return to a secondary infinity. It’s no longer simply unaware of its finitude, but it has overcome it. The infinite time of the undead is the origin of sacred love.
Surfer: We are all bound to earth by the same gentle fetters of beauty’s bounty. Otherwise we’d be committing suicide as soon as we are born. Existence is a terrible burden.
Priest: Yes and no. Existence is terrible in most belief systems, including the ancient Greek, but in Christian thought only what is capable of love and of being loved exists. Beauty is being, beauty is truth. Beauty that binds is earthly, but heavenly beauty sets us free.
Surfer: You mean naked beauty! The nakedness of the sea.
Priest: You don’t know it, but your foreknowledge of beauty, the very precondition of your passion, is instinct that has been educated, refined, and painstakingly cultivated through the ages by sacramental culture. There is nothing natural in naked beauty, though as in the Greek myth and in Botticelli’s painting, it is born from the sea. Rebirth before birth. Naked beauty suffers a sea change before it comes into existence.
Warhol, Detail of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus
Earthly beauty is clothed in human knowledge and rank, but the beauty you speak of when you speak of the sea is naked and it is absolutely superior. The Renaissance masters were able to render these truths in their visual idiom, like Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love,” for example.
Titian, 1613, Sacred and Profane Love
Earthly love is clothed and sits at one end of the sepulchre. Her sacred counterpart is naked and sits at the other end of the tomb. The clothed beauty represents our love of earthly pleasures and our bourn identities, but the sacred one represents the unborn and the undead, pre-birth, re-birth, and after death. Naked beauty represents the soul, which is filled with the spirit of infinity. We can only grasp it in its relation to earthly beauty, the tomb, and the elements surrounding her: earth under her bare feet, water and clouds behind her, incense and air above, and the simmering fire in the censer. Earthly beauty, on the other hand, is surrounded by her attributes: the luxurious shadows of a leafy shelter, her fashionable dress, and the burg on the hill, symbol of prestige, rank, power, and wealth.
Surfer: If they represent different forms of life and temporality, before and after birth and rebirth, why are they sitting on a tomb? Are love and beauty ultimately related to death?
Priest: Yes, love and beauty are never containable in simple temporal structures, because they exceed them; they don’t just exist and don’t simply cease to exist, but rather serve as frames for death. Beauty contains the passage between states of existence and temporalities. One could say it is the very necessity to defeat death that calls them into existence.
Surfer: Is that why this tomb is also a fountain?
Surfer: Because death like the sea is a source of naked love and sacred beauty?
Priest: If by source we understand something that undergoes transformation, yes. The origin is never fixed, never constant. Like water and the sea, a source — the origin — is in constant motion. There is no stable origin because it is the substance of mutability itself, a gate between states of existence. Likewise death is never final. Life and death are not opposed, but rather transitional states. Much like sleep death is a state that must be surmounted, transformed, and completed before life can spring eternal.
Surfer: So it’s not so much that death is the fountain of life, but that beauty and love spring from the triumph over it, transforming the sepulchre into a fountain of living waters?
Surfer: Not only are love and beauty not bound to the laws of time on earth, but their power consists in the triumph over time and over the powers of earthly authority.
Surfer: But profane love appears to be on the side of earthly authority.
Priest: Yes, there is a relationship between the two Beauties that mirrors the relationship between the first and the second Eve, Adam’s companion and the mother of Christ, Mary. Profane beauty is perishable, yet it becomes a source of sacred beauty after death. This is why the allegorical figure for profane love is looking away from the fountain and the figure representing sacred love gazes deep into it. Profane beauty knows no death and no mourning, whereas her sacred counterpart dwells on the remains in the tomb, which also contains the fountain of life. One cannot be represented without the other.
Surfer: Titian was a devout Catholic and painted almost exclusively religious material, didn’t he?
Priest: Yes, the iconography for this execution of a very philosophical visual reflection on love and beauty goes back to the image of the two angels who greeted the Magdalen at each end of the Empty Tomb.
Surfer: The Resurrection?
Schedone, Two Marys at the Tomb 1613
Surfer: It appears this is another transitional phase, like being on the water, like surfing the waves.
Priest: Indeed. Death is a transitional phase and so is most of life. We live out what is conceived during phases of transition. What’s significant here is Jesus’s commandment to the Magdalen: do not touch me before I have gone to the Father (https://designwithin.net/2016/08/12/work-of-marriage/). The period is 40 days, but this number is merely symbolic, not instructive. It refers to the period of mourning, during which time the bereaved practice abstinence from material satisfaction that involves the dead. Much like the time when unborn life forms in the mind and body of the mother, the period of mourning shapes what remains of the dead, the departed, and the distant, which becomes the fountain of life. The arts evolved as practices of mourning. All forms of art from painting and poetry to dance and music are elaborate mourning processes. The taboo on the dead isn’t simply neurotic, as Freud thought, but a very healthy process of sublimation, the psychic fabric of all cultural achievement. (please see https://designwithin.net/2016/04/22/sublimation-immaterial-self-design/)
Surfer: Is this why sacramental culture is organised around mourning, ordering the remains?
Rogier van der Weyden, The Seven Sacraments, 1450
Priest: Absolutely. The Sacraments order the transitional phases of human life from birth, through baptism, confirmation, communion, to marriage, confession, sickness and death. Transitional times are times of mourning, because a certain presence and reality are lost only to be replaced by their memory through the practice of abstinence. The cross is at the center of these transitions as the point of eternal return of the same. Perishable profane beauty does not return to dust and is not lost forever, but is transformed into sacred beauty, which is born in mourning. The resurrection angels Christians traditionally place on tombs and crypts personify sacred beauty, which in Titian’s painting is represented by the naked allegorical figure for Sacred Love. Yet there is nothing morbid about this focus on mourning. To the contrary, it is the source of life’s exuberance, the richness of experience, its infinite affirmation and ephemeral beauty.
Surfer: So ultimately the source of my delight, my homeland, the sea and the wave, is not the natural sea nor the natural body, but the cross, its memory data bank produced by the sacramental culture that has taught me sentience?
Priest: I envy you.
Priest: Because you feel what I know deeply. I spend my days in reading and prayer, but my body is weary, my sleep uneasy, my wine tastes bitter. The profound recognition of what I only read about is given to you. One of your days on the waves is more powerful and more persuasive than a full year of my liturgies.
Surfer: I wouldn’t know it if it weren’t for you. All I have is the nakedness of the sea.
Priest: The contemporary idea and ideal of beauty is body-based. We think it’s natural and spontaneous because we neither see the process of its production nor the history of its valuation, which goes back to our Lord Jesus. Sure the Greeks and Romans had beautiful bodies, but their beauty was purely external and passed on from generation to generation without feeling, bypassing the interior and its crypt. Christ taught us to internalize love. To the Greeks love and beauty are the same, but in Christian thought Beauty is profane, Love is sacred. In Christ beauty can change, develop, and deviate from classical proportions. In Christ beauty receives eternity, the human interior, and the infinity of the sea.
Surfer: The editing cuts and technological stitches that produce contemporary images of beauty have to be seamless and invisible to create the idea of natural, naked beauty. But that’s not what you mean by “naked.” I understand that now.
Priest: Naked beauty is transitional, immaterial. It exists between states of being and inherits the unborn dreams from the past recorded and transmitted in works of art, which is why they are so precious to our faith. Real pieces of art and technology endure beyond the constraints of the times of their performance. They carry the invisible, concealed but powerful creativity of being. Naked or sacred beauty is the origin of all art and of everything that keeps us in love with life on earth. You feel it in the moment when you undo your existence on the water and re-emerge reborn, undead… You love like no other creature on earth; your love is ferocious because it knows its precious transience. It carries the memory of our finest instincts. Heather Brown, Lady Slide, contemporary
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?
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.
To sidestep and integrate the automatic interior design propagated by the mass media in a self-authored private environment, some historical knowledge about the function of language is indispensable. The introduction of Christian teachings with the Vulgata by St. Jerome altered the function of language in ancient European cultures and their historiographies fundamentally. The very concepts of the resurrection and the transubstantiation, which structures the sacraments, introduced the realm of the immaterial to simple linguistic transactions like metaphor, simile, and poetic metamorphosis.
The new linguistic genre Christ introduced into human language in general and St. Jerome into Western languages was allegory. Christ invented this form of communication to speak to his disciples, because the truth he bore could neither be communicated nor understood by the followers through literal use of language. The simplest definition of allegory is telling a story with another story. The impossibility of a total match between the two stories, the manifest one and the one being illustrated, which is immaterial and internal, creates an opening, a caesura (see earlier post) for the immaterial to enter our material world.
There are two concepts of subjectivity, the deterministic concept and the Christian concept. The determinist view defines the interior as a largely unconscious entity comprised of emotional and psychological material. The Christian concept of subjectivity is open-ended and points to an infinity and to the immaterial. Behavioural psychology, psychiatry, psycho-pharmacology, and a large part of the psychoanalytic school contend that the interior of an individual consists of instincts and mental processes that are absolutely independent of the individual will, action, or emotions. According to this view, the interior is structured by biology, psychology, sociology, and the media. This view is correct as far as science goes, but it is by far not a total view and remains open to revisions and new knowledge. This opening is guaranteed by the introduction of immaterial transubstantiation with Christian thought. It is unlike Platonism, Aristotelian metaphysics, and unlike poetic metamorphosis, which were all known to the ancient pre-Christian world, which remained absolutely conditioned by physical and material laws.
We will continue to address the presence of the classical heritage in Christian civilisation, especially its philosophical foundations, but today it suffices to note that to earn a degree of autonomy over the interior, over the interior, private, subjective sphere, an individuality has to be established and furnished with its exclusive dwelling space of difference that refers to the immaterial.
Remains of Bare Life
Jacky Tsai, Floral Skull design made for Alexander McQueen
The Christian world celebrates Good Friday every year. The idea of the calendar originated not so much in the need to coordinate activity and synchronise human life and labor, but rather in the need to indicate points of return for otherwise fragile, transient, and fleeting life forms. The desire to preserve something that is destined to perish is the cornerstone of all material civilisations. The old religions and their linguistic systems function much like calendars and serve the preservation of culture, which in turn guarantees the return of perishable life forms. But culture also chains, because what returns is already dead. The material remains that make up the physical world, to which we have dedicated our learning and science, are not living and breathing. We engage in acts of repetition to give them breath and life again.
Remembering the crucifixion on Good Friday, we also contemplate the significance of human remains and how they shape and design our world. Christ is raised on the third day and leaves no human remains for us to enshrine, worship, and lock under heavy symbolic, social, and actual keys, as the old cultural and religious systems have done. The difference between the material sarcophagi of traditional cultures and the fragility of bare life is illustrated, allegorically, in material design, in architecture for example. Intelligent, impactful design not only follows theoretical concepts, whether consciously or unawares, but can also introduce them to the world. The little chapel of Mary in the impressive but austere glass and stone Catholic building on the lakeside where I live, designed by one of the leading contemporary female architects, Heike Buettner — https://www.uni-weimar.de/de/architektur-und-urbanistik/professuren/grundlagen-des-entwerfens/personen/prof-dipl-ing-heike-buettner/competence-and-performance/ — is reminiscent of an unassuming wooden barrel and presents a stark contrast to the glittering weighty structure. It is shaped like a keyhole, a narrow passage way; it is open to all; no key, no barriers, no remains. Through Mary’s womb Christ entered the world and became human — the Son of Man — but he left no remains, only the empty grave signifying the greatest hope and the resurrection, on which our civilisation is built.
Christian saints are identified not only by name but also by their main attribute, which functions like a miniature allegory of the main trial in their hagiography. St. Jerome, whose translation of the Bible from Greek into Latin, the Vulgata, became the foundation of Roman Catholicism, is identified by the skull — http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/july/why-st-jerome-is-icon-for-our-times.html. The cranium is the epitomic representation of materiality. It is proof that something material remains after death, not in heaven, but here on earth. It stands for everything we value highly on the market and in our social interactions: possessions, everyday household items, medicine and hygiene tools, educational material, instruments of knowledge, real estate, family jewellery, objects of value. In their original conception, art collections don’t belong to this list, because they are private, and like everything private, designed in the realm of immaterial interiority. Today art collections are used as material assets in global circulation, which has degraded their original purpose. As far as they are reducible to their market value and material ownership, contemporary art collections mostly consist of meaningless objects.
The material world surrounding us is symbolically represented by the skull. It is everything that remains after we depart. European civilisation is built on two strong pillars: the classical Greco-Roman heritage and the Bible. The classical world is the last great pagan age and the most advanced civilisation known on earth. It continued to develop after Christ, but only in relationship to the Church. The article linked above represents an irresolvable paradox, a binary structure, that forever opposes the classical to the biblical heritage. They are, in fact, not in some kind of competition over dominion of the world, but have blended wonderfully in the medieval, Renaissance and modern European world. The philosophical structures of the contemporary political order have departed radically from the Biblical heritage and rely exclusively on the ancient pre-Christian traditions. The evacuation of the Biblical contribution to European civilisation continues to justify political orders like socialism, national socialism, and refugee socialism, which have eliminated the individual private sphere and with it the only symbolic place where subjectivity can be created and self-authored. These regimes continue to engage in inhuman treatment of individuals and are currently threatening to undo every cultural, moral, and political achievement of Christian civilisation.
Alexander McQueen Design
Classical Aesthetics and the Bible
By introducing allegory in language through Christ’s words, the Bible became the world’s first material manifestation of the immaterial. Language is the paradoxical manifestation of the immaterial in the materiality of existence. In its function between linguistic elements, it is the only material trace that makes us God-like. The rest belongs to the realm ruled by the skull, which language names and masters by ordering it in our minds. St. Jerome belonged equally to the classical world of the past and to the always emerging, always breaking immaterial world of the transcendent word. St. Jerome’s passion for classical learning and aesthetics is the beginning of a long tradition of veneration for the classical arts that is still with us today. It has given us wonderful buildings to dwell in, beautiful art objects, sophisticated design, all theatrical and narrative arts from tragedy to Hollywood, plastic surgery aesthetics, the drive to dwell in healthy, beautiful bodies, and much more. The dominion of the skull is mighty powerful and it has a very specific origin: classical Europe. Language and writing were as highly developed and perfected in the Greco-Roman world as their material arts and sciences. But language was not considered a divine attribute as it is in the Biblical tradition. The classical world had little use of the immaterial. Even Plato and Aristotle could only conceive of ideas and metaphysics as metaphors and substitutive structures. Classical deities remained bound to dreams and phantasmagorias, to human wishes and desires that found no other manifestation than the materiality of a supremely powerful imagination, but they could not reflect anything beyond equivalencies between media of representation. St. Jerome remained enthralled by that beautiful classical world until his very last and this has something to do with his main accomplishment, the translation of the Greek New Testament into Latin. St. Jerome wrote the Vulgata, meaning popular, for the people, the common folk: http://www.vatican.va/archive/bible/nova_vulgata/documents/nova-vulgata_nt_epist-titum_lt.html.
Alexander McQueen Design
St. Jerome the Translator
Translation is an activity that requires transcendence, the breath of God animating bare life between the fixtures of specific language systems. What is transmitted between languages is the only living form on earth. What we consider living is not reducible to the sciences of biology and zoology. Neither is living language reducible to the state in which it is used and recorded at any given time in history. The historicisation of language, that is, its systematisation according to the social and cultural recording network systems of any given time, reaches highest visibility in its translatability. This is why translation is a form of burial and mourning of linguistic being. Translation represents the form in which language ‘remains.’ It is an excavation tool that lays bare the fossilised form of language. Languages are living organisms and as such not reducible to their bare remains. The Biblical God dwells in the Word of the Bible. If letters and words are sheep, the book of the Bible is their only shepherd. The preservation of languages depends on the degree to which they are permeated by allegorical Biblical language. It is in translation, however, that they “die.” The skull is St. Jerome’s attribute because he was the first translator of the Bible and because translation represents the death of language. The Vulgata, however, instead of remaining encrusted in a dead language, Latin, became the source of all modern European languages, because it allowed for its infinite translation. St. Jerome is its author and as such the founding father of all modern languages founded on the teachings of the Bible.
Alexander McQueen Scarf
St. Jerome’s Passion
The passion of St. Jerome was the classical heritage of Greco-Roman civilisation, which is still largely with us. His vision of his punishment at the hands of God’s angels for the sinful passion he nurtured for the classical arts is generated by his awareness of their historical demise and fossilisation. By the same token, however, the Resurrection also teaches us that everything that dies can be saved by the living breath of the Biblical word and thus transcend death. This is why St. Jerome’s translation is also transcendence. Latin is both a dead language and a transcendent language. The living breath of the word animates us and our languages, but it is not given in anything material, which is a mere fossil, mere remains.
Next to St. Jerome, Shakespeare is the other ‘founding father’ of modern language frequently pictured with a skull, not least because he wrote the most famous and most powerful scene with the mentioned prop, namely, Hamlet’s contemplation of the skull of his court jester and nanny, Yorick. Yet, Shakespeare’s skull is ironically the most notorious no-show in history. Periodicals circulate news of Shakespeare’s skull cyclically, obsessively, almost religiously. Here is the latest example: http://nyti.ms/1q4BmQg. The warning on Shakespeare’s grave, not to dig up his bones lest a curse befall the digger, is also meant to protect not a secret, but the very sanctity of life. As long as Shakespeare’s grave, like Christ’s, remains empty, his legacy and his language shall live. There is perhaps a degree of truth to the conspiracy theory that his skull was stolen. Every translation, every interpretation, every transfer of his work in other languages, media, and systems of thought is a kind of theft of the original that produces a skull. The remains are a work of translation and a dolorous work of mourning. Everything we “know” and understand clearly about Shakespeare is in fact stolen from the living breath of his language, the mystery that animates his creations and holds us in their thrall.
Life remains a mystery, its only manifestation being held in the living language of Biblical exegesis. By exegesis here I don’t mean scholarly interpretation, but rather a living hermeneutics, the power of the Biblical word to shape and re-create our daily life. Shakespeare’s work is deeply rooted in Biblical knowledge, though the scholarship of the past two centuries has been gradually moving away from reading Shakespeare side by side with the Bible. We will do so on this site and learn to read for our own reflection in the Bard’s incomparably rich, aesthetically immaculate, and morally superior texts. A future post will provide more literary historical and theoretical background to the infamous prop in Hamlet.
The skull made a spectacular appearance in the world of haute couture recently through the work of the late British designer Alexander McQueen. Fashion reaches the status of haute couture when it proves a faithful, more or less self-reflective record of historical cultural developments. At the same time, fashion has a historical record, its datedness, which it has to transcend to be considered art. The most recent developments in fashion originated in the bourgeois household that emerged with modern urbanisation. The transition from traditional landed gentry households to modern households has been plentifully documented in literature, but most memorably in the poetry of Baudelaire and the 19th century French novel. Future posts will take a closer look at the relationship between the adultery novel, the fashion world, and gossip media in more detail, but suffice to say here that modern haute couture has always been self-aware about its flowers — and passions — of evil. McQueen’s reference to one of the staples of Christian civilisation commemorating contemplatio mortis (contemplation of death) as a door or a keyhole between states, modes, cultures, and information systems was an expression of the designer’s struggle with the world he inhabited. His suicide, like the memorable, culturally significant designs, totalise his remains and bring them under the sign of absolute death. We’ll discuss this phenomenon in contrast to transformation and transubstantiation further in later posts.
The Saving Grace of the Word
The attraction of death is a mighty passion that participates powerfully in the design of our world and beckons with the pleasures of perdition. It possessed Christ as he took the dolorous path to Golgotha out of love for mankind, St. Jerome as he journeyed through the library of the classical world he could not let perish in oblivion, and McQueen’s designs as they weaved the condemned sites of our contemporary social milieus. The vigil we hold in the night of the Resurrection, however, and the living power of the Biblical word in Shakespeare’s texts provide the saving grace that will preserve the remains of passion’s work of destruction. From the veil of Veronica, the only material imprint of Christ’s passion, to McQueen’s prints our memory contains and curates the earthly remains of passion through the immaterial word within. Inside, in the hidden crevices and private languages of subjectivity, we weave the only living fabric of God’s image.
As subjects of the mass media, contemporary individuals often have little to no control over the process of establishing a private sphere, which is the main goal of iCulture therapy. One of the master tools available to the media in the formatting of subjectivity is the simulation and framing of traumatic events. A good example is the coverage of the terrorist attacks in Brussels on March 20, 2016. Since there is no master mind behind the mass media, the coverage of traumatic events has no individual subjective imprint and no human will.
The mass media are impersonal, automatic, and without the reflexive capacity of human intelligence. Their products are neither reflected, nor in any way designed. Journalists, producers, actors, anchors, etc. may possess an individual subjectivity, but it plays no role whatsoever in the production of mass media products. The individuals serving the mass media are mere cogs in a giant, entirely unconscious, global machine. In the past some film directors exercised a degree of individual authorship over their creations, but today authorship in mass formatted media is obsolete. The age of the auteur director and the auteur actor is long over. The very existence of the class “independent film” today is only testament to the lack of authorship in all mass media formats.
Most recently, even government supported academic research, which in the past bore the unmistakable imprint of the researcher, has been subsumed by the unconscious media giant. The spaces and opportunities for private reflection and genuine new research are disappearing. Ironically, only the online media, the latest edition of mass technology, offer an opportunity not only for personalisation, but for invention and innovation in all sciences. iCulture is offered as a service in the hope of stimulating individual contributions to arts and science by supplementing professional training.
Only a mind at peace has the capacity to reflect, which is necessary for innovation and recreation. The mass media are “smart” enough and equipped with an instinct of self-preservation. Their power lies in the continuous destabilization of the individual private sphere through traumatic events, with which they control and structure the individual private sphere. Our educational systems are too slow to respond to the new demands and have failed to provide the necessary educational tools to protect the individuality of the private sphere. Online opportunities abound and the dear reader is encouraged to take advantage of them.
It is the individual’s responsibility to reflect and reshape an event of media impact. The media consumer can design a singular response to an event and frame it actively, only if they are in possession of a private cultural sensurround equipped with a large range of references that include cultural products from distant ages, places, and media. This is why art collecting has been so important for art patrons over the centuries. The personal art collection is a kind of fortress that protects the individual psyche and allows it to luxuriate in its own, private, individual world of reference. With the vast cultural archive available online today, even individuals without means can establish a media fortress of their own that protects them from being vulnerable and hapless consumers shaped and formatted by the inhuman mass media apparatus. iCulture is a therapeutic process whereby the reader can learn to acquire and design a private media archive and art collection.
Interruption: Time out of Joint
Therapy always begins with an interruption, a break in the fabric of reality caused by a violent event. People seek therapy and enter spas to recreate their functionality and to re-compose a peaceful state. A month ago the world was shocked and horrified by the terrorist attack in the heart of Europe. The lingering memory is still with us, like a corpse awaiting burial. In philosophy interruption is known as caesura, a moment of suspension of the rules that structure reality. As if blasted out of the continuum of time, the moment of the event is either of traumatic origin or consciously introduced to reflect on something newly ushered into the regulated world of daily life. A violent media event such as the attacks is both, a traumatic occurrence and an opening for reflection and reorganisation of the private sphere.
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is a philosophical reflection on interruption. The young prince is traumatised by the sudden death of his father. The revelation of the ghost that the king was murdered by his brother Claudius who has usurped the crown and the queen his mother, is the media framing of the traumatic event. It is automatic, unpremeditated, and catches Hamlet unawares, much like media events do with us. His response, however, is individual. The play is a tragedy. Hamlet fails to contain the impact of the media event, the appearance of the ghost, and shatters his world and Denmark. Instead of turning within and not acting on the command of the ghost, Hamlet acts and dooms himself and his country.
In the opening between being and not being, between acting and not acting, the play offers a spectacular view of the interior. The stage curtain always lifts on an interior that becomes visible only in moments of interruption and caesura. The event in Brussels lifted the curtain on European culture. How will Europe respond? It is acting, but on whose command? The little lambs mercilessly slaughtered in Brussels have certainly not returned with a commandment to revenge their deaths. The media forgot them, buried them deeper than the terrorists did, because they have no value for the giant machine, which is only interested in control of the living. In a sense, Hamlet also failed because he did not act, but let Claudius act for him and determine his failure.
Media Event and the Psychological Task of Forgiveness
A tragic event is also the correct frame to illustrate the ability and the immense capacity to forgive. Forgiving is the most difficult psychological task imaginable and it is certainly unreasonable to expect anyone to be able to master it in one day. The mass media expect Europeans to simply bow down and accept violence as their daily bread. But learning to forgive would be meaningless if it were automatic, or if it were there only to fulfil a moral imperative. Forgiveness has the capacity to improve the quality of life, if it is engaged consciously and over a longer period of time.
The moral imperatives barked at us from media outlets cannot contain a traumatic event. The political arguments they carry will not help us frame a violent intrusion, no matter how morally correct and no matter how good it pretends to be. Political arguments are often dishonest and unhelpful, precisely because they ignore the psychological reality of the human experience. Contemporary political thought is geared toward the criminalisation of the individual and the glorification of the law. This goes against the teachings of Christ, who taught us to have a heart and an interior before all else. Political thought also goes against human nature, which is why the cultural heritage of the world, human languages and customs, are severely endangered. Political imperatives are delivered through the mass media. It is up to the individual to internalise them and make them one’s own.
Possessing a rich interior means above all knowing and understanding one’s internal value. Who we are to ourselves is the image we show God. The face within is the only genuine self-image, with which we invite Him to dwell in us. We can’t let material, external circumstances touch the interior self-image, because it is our unique identity in Christ. We don’t have to break the law, however, or disobey the authority of the world. By developing a deep, rich, engaged interior we can learn to serve God and not the political and media imperatives of the day. We can learn not to be affected by material circumstances and incidental events that are beyond our control. iCulture therapy is designed to help the reader gather and curate material to build an interior castle and to fortify it against the erratic media environment.
The mass media are culturally neutral. They have no faith and no relationship with God, but they affect the way we communicate. Though the media failed to reflect on the fact that the attack was carried out during Holy Week, the most important week of the Christian calendar year, they did not provide the corresponding cultural context of its interpretation. Thus the violence that threatened to darken the celebration and to mar the loving hearts of believers with anger, hatred, and disgust remains uncontained, splattered on the streets of Brussels, encouraging further violence. Remembering who Christians are and what they believe is their only defence against media violence. What happened instead was the intrusion of violence in Christian churches, which have now forgotten the relationship with Christ and have become mere mouthpieces for what was pre-programmed by the official mass media, unable to reflect anything of value to the individual. Because the church is subject to mass media, it cannot offer individuals the defence they need to recreate a peaceful interior.
Responding with the meekness and kindness of the Lamb of God is something that can only be cultivated inside. This does not mean Christians are unaware of the events taking place, the political theatre unfolding around them, the media coverage, and the designs of a hate-driven media apparatus against their way of life and indeed against their lives. No, they are aware, they reflect, think, express what they deem important to share with others, but they also preserve their internal peace by recognising that Christ is with the departed saints of Brussels. He is their Shepherd. Christians know the saints of Brussels don’t want revenge. They have one demand: that they are remembered, that the message of love and peace that came with the resurrection of the Christ is not forgotten and that Christians don’t let the darkness of violent media events consume their celebration. The worst response to a violent event would be not to listen to the inner voice and not to asks God what His Will is in this situation. How does He want Christ’s siblings to respond inside, according to the particular circumstances and challenges each and every one of them is facing at this particular junction of their lives?
Recreating the Interior Castle
In the course of iCulture therapy we will continue to engage the question of faith in Christ actively. Today’s post illustrates a major building block of the interior castle: faith. Faith is the cornerstone of Christian civilisation. To understand the culture that, much like structured Dior lace, supports the walls of the interior castle, which e-spa treatments aim to recreate, one must understand Christian faith. Every educational experience and every therapy begin with a caesura and an interruption. A media event bearing an interruption is always dated. It falls somewhere on the calendar and carries particular culturally specific content. Establishing a strong and stable internal core requires the individual exposed to media violence to remain grounded at times of crisis and disturbance. The only lesson to take away from Brussels is not to let the material circumstances structured by the mass media and mass politics, affect the internal image, which is holy and untouchable.
The fluidity of the concepts interior design and interior castle allows them to function both as a metaphor for processes of internalisation that create and recreate private worlds illuminated by faith and as literal points of reference that can only be reflected by a mind in possession of a large range of cultural artefacts. We will continue to elaborate the relationship between the internal private sphere and the outward material expression of interior design in the course of the therapeutic processes engaged in iCulture. Another point we will continue to elaborate is the relationship between sublimation, individuation, and faith. Come again!
There are over 60 million bloggers worldwide, not counting micro-blogging. Most blogs are private and function as either an open diary or a social organ. Business is secondary, though it consumes a good deal of resources and planning. iCulture estimates that most bloggers, no matter how technical the topic, have been transformed by their online work. It has given them a coveted opportunity to re-design their image and relationships, including the not unimportant relationship to oneself. Blogging is an entirely new, previously unavailable form of communication, commerce, education, and socialisation. The blog is a new medium of creation and recreation. Though it is yet to produce its masters and masterpieces, it is undeniably a new technical form of design. iCulture, an online, psychoanalytically informed therapy method developed on the basis of Prof. Dr. Viola Timm’s lifelong research, will help you harness this medium to design a genuine and rich interior by supplementing the historical, theoretical, and cultural knowledge you need to be effective in your blog therapy.
Here is why historical knowledge is important. To understand blogging and how it can serve us, we need to look at the way older media and the cultural and political institutions they spawned transformed the world. Since the liberal arts and humanities are currently being phased out of higher education curricula, there is no incentive for supporting research into media history and genealogy. The problem is of the catch 22 variety. The mass media transformed all educational institutions as they gradually colonised the liberal arts and humanities. As a result, there are currently no academic disciplines that possess the necessary autonomy to conduct research into media history and theory. In other words, there is no academic discourse that can inform an intelligent, self-conscious, and self-reflexive new media research and practice, because the new media took the place of the old academic humanities. As a non-academic research and educational platform, iCulture supplements self-reflexive research on the mass media. As a form of blog therapy iCulture also provides rehabilitation from the mass media by providing tools and materials to customise media experience the way liberal arts did in the past.
Mass Media Goddes
iCulture as Liberal Arts Education for Bloggers in the Age of the Mass Media
The mass media largely serve the politically dominant powers of the day. Even so-called independent outlets are formatted by the power discourses that structure the systems and networks of communication and socialisation. The mass media represent the most efficient tool of engineering social reality. At the same time, mass media structure the emotional interior of the individual. In the past, liberal arts education was able to offer a select and privileged few some guidance on interior emotional design. K-12 education then attempted to democratise this process by making the liberal arts available to all. The twin development of the technical mass media and psychotherapy in the 20th century, however, gradually made these functions of the liberal arts and humanities obsolete. Last century saw the end of the liberal arts and humanities in the form in which they had existed since their institution in the Age of Enlightenment.The enlightenment set in motion the discursive processes that supported the American and French revolutions politically, promised the liberation of the autonomous individual, and laid down the foundations of the existing institutions of higher education. Yet the gradual technologisation of the mass media brought this era to its limits. Todaywe are at the cusp of a new educational and political order. The extreme dependence of the modern political order on academic organs, however, has prevented the development of new research in all matters of government science. Since the 1980s philosophers have been discussing the return of religion as a social system, but little has been done to adapt the legal and governmental systems to accommodate this so-called ‘return.’ As a result the futures of both government and mass media discourse have become vast and unimaginable unknowns.
For as long as they functioned, the liberal arts and humanities offered some degree of freedom in designing an individual course of study. The gradual absolutisation of the scientific method in academic publishing, dictated by the colonisation of discourse by the technical media, coupled with the powerful takeover of the humanities by sociology and political science in the 19th century, have virtually evacuated what was known as the liberal arts from university and college curricula. The fundamental principle on which the liberal arts were built, the autonomy of the individual to design a pattern of thinking and inquiry that is developed privately and once it reaches critical maturity and sophistication is also articulated publicly, has collapsed.
The principle of private scholarship was first elaborated in Immanuel Kant’s famous 1784 address to the general public “What is Enlightenment?” https://archive.org/stream/AnswerTheQuestionWhatIsEnlightenment/KantEnlightmentDanielFidelFerrer2013#page/n1/mode/2up We will contemplate enlightenment culture in a separate blog post. For now it is enough to note that the disappearance and subordination of the autonomous sciences in higher education today has robbed us of a world of sublimation that in the long run will result in the spread of mental disease and make us increasingly dependent on controlled drug therapy.
Technology is not the enemy. Autonomy is always within reach to those who are willing to put in the time to think and research. Technical media like the internet are making it possible to connect, communicate, and research faster and more efficiently than ever before. The technical media are our helpers and our only hope to balance and diversify the unfortunate one-dimensional developments in our public structures.
The internet offers an endless array of opportunities for personal growth and custom-designed educational experience. iCulture therapy is the first of its kind as it offers an online matrix of individually designed, ongoing professional research and teaching. The platform replaces the traditional classroom professor with online tools for educating the scholar within. Individual or small group instruction is also available as paid service. Please contact your host for inquiries.
A Life-long Course in Interior Recreation and Design
iCulture therapy is a new online psychotherapeutic system and a free educational service to the general public. The methods of production and distribution are based on two existing systems of communication and research: blogging, which has been around for a couple of decades, and the academic disciplines that have traditionally addressed the life of the mind beginning with Theology in the Middle Ages, then branching into the Humanities, Liberal Arts, and eventually Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Psychiatry. iCulture is a synthesis of online technology, art and literary theory, psychoanalysis, and the philosophical foundations of the sciences of the mind.
iCulture Therapy as Interior Recreation and Self-reflexive Blogging
Just as the body needs rest, nourishment, play time, and TLC therapy, the mind has its own set of parallel requirements. The only place to reflect on the life of the mind is one’s interior. But do we know what it is and can we ‘hear’ it? Social, national, and global media are continuously and noisily shaping and designing our interiors, whether we realise it or not. The systems organising our values are vast and impenetrable, even to the designers, engineers, and political powers that control them with intent and purpose. There is a space, however, that is private and entirely up to the individual to control, design, and order. That is what in iCulture therapy we call the interior. On this site you will find helpful tools and inspiration to organise the internal space and to celebrate and enjoy its singular being in the world. In iCulture therapy cultural and consumer material is presented to you in a non-threatening and non-competitive way. The articles are designed to help you understand your contents without fear of judgement or retribution and without the need to compare one’s level of expertise and achievement with others, least of all with the author.
Interior Recreation is another word for self-reflexivity. A mirror reflects the part of the self we share with others and let others influence, design, and order culturally and politically. Unlike looking in the mirror, self-reflexivity requires another medium of expression, one that functions like an internal mirror. Only the individual is able to see and access the internal mirror, which orders reality in a particular way and, like a fingerprint, is absolutely singular. To understand its behind-the-scenes ‘programming language’ requires mastery of at least one external medium, through which the owner re-creates and re-designs the world daily.
Advanced observational skills are a vital part of learning to design the interior actively. iCulture therapy aims to build the necessary set of observational skills. To be a good emotional designer one must be able to observe the interplay between external and internal forces of design, as well as know one’s way around the tools of design. Social media have now made a range of tech tools available to the average individual, but there is a dire lack of academic research and training about using them productively, especially at the personal, emotional, and psychological level. There is even less research, if one can imagine it, on the ways in which knowledge about the mind, which humanity has amassed over thousands of years, can be revitalised and put to use through the tools of our contemporary technical media.
This blog service is intended to supplement the missing connections and research on the life of the mind and contemporary media. It is dedicated to helping the trainee build a practice of self-reflexivity that will not only enhance their well-being and quality of life, but also the work and products they put out.
iCulture Therapy as Emotional Design
The most self-reflexive form of design today is haute couture. It is the branch of product design that is most directly aligned with the needs of the individuality to articulate its internal makeup. Its products are highly sophisticated yet poorly understood and reflected internally, though the practice is very much aware of its social origins and functions.
Elisabeth I, van der Meulen
Dior 2009 Getty Images
Galliano for Dior 2009 Getty Image
A major component of iCulture therapy consists of periodic reflection on articles, artists, designers, and brands working in high fashion. The latter is a remnant of the landed gentry’s concept of high society, which was supported by Biblical hermeneutic knowledge and practical classical know-how. Through high fashion and its extensions, such as hotel design and amusement parks, what was available only to a few became potentially accessible to everyone. Keep reading this blog for more.
There are certainly days when everyone feels crummy: the hair isn’t right, thoughts and perceptions are out of order and uncomfortable, feelings of guilt surface, upsets with self-image, actions, angry outbursts, meltdowns, unpleasant situations we could have avoided abound. Negative moments happen to everyone and they ruffle the beautiful image we have of ourselves. How we master these moments, however, is part of our emotional design. No one is perfect, but educating the emotions is predicated on the ability to self-reflect. Naturally, we have PR specialists who make sure the public face is clear of blemishes. In reality, everyone stumbles and falls once in a while. PR efforts are not invincible. Damage-control is never total. Stumbles and falls are also the best opportunities we get to design a truly unique, high-quality interior.
St. Veronica by Mattia Preti
The only material image that remained from the Christ is the fabled Veronica (http://viola.bz/secrets-of-the-miraculous-veil-of-veronica/). The decomposed features of the Lord in the moment of his greatest suffering, doubt, and pain, are certainly not of the ready-for-closeup variety, but they are the only earthly imprint of the holy features. What remains from us for others to experience and contemplate is a re-created image of our less than perfect moment of decomposition. How we frame the negative features is what we will learn to understand and craft in the course of iCulture therapy.
The most profound and to this day unsurpassed scholar of human interiority, Shakespeare, also knew better than anyone that to design a powerfully gripping character meant fashioning his flaws in a way that is not only acceptable to conscience and moral authority, but irresistible and spellbinding. Since Shakespeare’s entire oeuvre was firmly and consciously rooted in biblical knowledge, his flawed characters serve as powerful allegories intended to educate even as they thrill and enchant the human heart. iCulture therapy follows Shakespeare’s biblical insights closely to help us understand and re-create/re-design a genuine and inimitable interior emotional space.