As we continue to explore the psychological reality of human relations in the post-Christian world with one of the masters of interiority as our primary guide, Shakespeare, we gain profound cognisance of the place, time, and design of the individual private sphere. But how do the works of private identity enter the realm of public expression and circulation? The answer is through marriage.
Resting on the reality principle of marriage and the relationship to the beloved woman, Christianity is not just the only earthly order organized by the feminine essence of love, but also the only system to circulate private works. The private constitution of the public sphere is the paramount legacy of Christian thought.
Since marriage is the fundamental structure and reference point of Christian fellowship, it carries the individuality and supports its entry into a public space structured by the works of love furnishing the material dimension of Christ’s marriage to the Church.
A large number of Shakespeare’s plays focus on marriage. “Romeo and Juliet,” currently on our agenda, is no exception. In the final reckoning, it is a Christian marriage and not desire that unites Juliet and her Romeo. The work of love they leave behind — fruit of their marriage — is their magnificent death: a gem of tragic poetry with a peacemaking mission. The grace Shakespeare bestows on his characters at the end of each play is probably the most precious, unsurpassed, and incomparable quality of his poetry. It is not withheld from the ill-fated lovers.
Noli me tangere
Titian, Noli Me Tangere, 1514
In the gospel of John 20, Jesus appears in the flesh on the evening of the first day of the week and admonishes Mary Magdalene, whom he finds weeping next to his empty tomb, not to touch him. To interpret this passage we need to consider the telos of the scriptural narrative, because it represents the meaning-granting caesura. Every caesura refers to the larger telos that frames it.
The Christian Reality Principle: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb
The Book of Revelations is organized around one central event: the wedding feast of the Lamb. The crowning moment of biblical teleology is a wedding feast. The New Testament transforms epic history and the book of the law into the Divine Comedy of love’s triumph on earth. The conclusive event, the wedding feast of the Lamb, however, is neither final, nor singular, nor historical. Since it represents the ultimate telos of the biblical narrative, it is also the point of its eternal recurrence.
The Christian reality principle is established in relation to the eternal return of the Lamb’s wedding. This singular event is always rising on the human horizon in its unspeakable, eternal glory and beauty, and defines the phenomenological boundaries of Christian experience. It represents the event horizon of the Christian reality principle.
According to the father of psychoanalysis who coined the term “reality principle,” reality is the product of a process of testing in the wake of death, caesura, or permanent loss. The caesura of judgment, like the finitude of death, withholds something of great value and disrupts the fabric of life in the psychological world of the subject. Reality testing is a form of mourning and repair of the damage inflicted by traumatic loss. It covers the period during which the mourner has to confirm the loss as real.
It is significant that Jesus does not allow Mary to touch him, not because she is doubting his resurrection like Thomas will, but because she must establish the reality of his death. The period between death and resurrection represents the psychological timeframe of reality testing, which establishes the core reality principle. It is a time of material absence, literally untouchable by the senses: “noli me tangere.”
When Jesus admonishes the Magdalene not to touch him, He also says that he is not yet ascended to the Father. Not yet ascended, He is in the space between death and reunion. The moment of eternal recurrence is the birthplace of earthly reality in its human essence, that is, as constitutive of human presence.
Universe of Christian Works
“Noli me tangere” refers to the fundamental principle of Christian reality. Untouchable and unavailable to the immediacy of the creaturely senses, the immaterial reality of sublimation structures the Christian universe.
Sublimation is the process of artistic or scientific creation whereby creaturely instinct is transformed into works of immaterial immediacy. It is the inherent, internal logic of a work, which requires another work to bring it to recognition. This is why we measure the staying power of works of art by their homages and reproductions or reinterpretations.
Jesus appears to the Magdalene on the evening of the first day of the week. Sunday evening is the pregnant time before the workweek begins and represents symbolically the time of conception of Christian works. The actualisation of the principle of individuality is the crowning work of Christian faith.
Sunday is a time of recurrence and repetition. The crowning work in a Christian biography and point of recurrence is marriage. It is the soil on which the individuality fully blossoms. Because Sunday is the day of God’s rest, it is empty of His creation and filled with the human works of love, invention and re-creation. To the works of re-creation belong all flowers and fruits of marriage, from children to the dazzling sepulchre of Romeo and Juliet.
In their bare state of nature, human children bear the mark of what John calls the “sign of the beast.” It marks the pure, creaturely state of being. The ritual and sacred practice of marriage is what makes the creaturely human body a Son of Man.
In Revelations, the time of the future — both utopia and apocalypse — is none other than the time of judgment of the works, for works are the currency of the soul’s final destination. Judgment Day is not a fixed, historical day in the distant or near future, but rather a recurring event like Sunday.
Power, Marriage, Recurrence of the Eternal Feminine
The late nineteenth century poetic work Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1892 correctly identified three rings symbolic of the power of recurrence and repetition inherent in the making of autonomous human reality, as coextensive of each other, albeit in the inverted anti-Christian context of Zoroastrianism. The author, Friedrich Nietzsche recognised that the ring of power, the ring of marriage, and the ring of recurrence symbolise the world of human action and God-given autonomy.
Nietzsche was, however, well versed in the Bible and Christian sacramental practices, being raised in a family of pastors. He inverted the Christian Trinity for poetic purposes and to lend a dying doctrine fresh power: the Father, who is all-powerful, the Son, married to the Church, and the temporal Spirit, which is eternal and internal recurrence.
Earthly power is simply the ability to set up reality. The Christian reality principle is the trinity of recurrence, marriage, and the power of governance.
Recurrence is the portal through which all Christian works of disparate times, languages & cultures communicate & sustain each other.
Marriage rests on the feminine principle of love, which subordinates all passions.
Common objects and works of circulation set up the power of governance. In the Christian experience power is intimately bound to the sacrament of marriage and its principle of the eternal feminine. The temporal dimension of power is allegorically illustrated through the main event of the Book of Revelations, the wedding feast of the Lamb.
The time of the events disclosed in the Book of Revelations is exactly a week after the admonition “noli me tangere.” It designates the time of the judgment of the works, a kind of aesthetic contest, when Jesus’s marriage to the Church takes place. A week is simply a cycle, a mark of recurrence. A cycle is an hour, a day, a century or a millennium.
To take place means to “make” an event in the physical world. Christ’s bride consists of the good works of God’s children. Every invention, every masterpiece, every work of art or literature are judged for their fitness to perform the marriage of marriages, the Lamb’s wedding of the Church, the Christian bride.
Marriage is a very special ritual in Christianity, not only on the wedding day, but every day thereafter, for the works of marriage furnish forth the eternal feast of the Lamb’s nuptials.
Jewel in the Bride’s Crown, Duomo of Siena
Not Yet Ascended: Between Heaven and Earth
Titian’s rendition of the moment Jesus asks Mary not to touch him is extraordinary in its sensitivity to the creaturely vulnerability of the natural human body at the time before its ascension to the Father, that is before its sublimation.
Jesus asks Mary not only not to touch him, but also to tell the others He is going to the Father. The vehicle of the ascension to the Father is made up of the works of one’s biography. The crowning one is the work of marriage, because it embodies the feminine principle of love.
The time before the ascension is also before the judgment when beings dwell between the creaturely body and the works of sublimation, which will either become their vehicles to the Lamb’s wedding feast or vehicles of their damnation. Not all works are good.
The day of Judgment does not mean judgement of the creaturely body, which is ultimately destined for death, sin, and disease. The creaturely body is already judged, because it is incapable of faith, whose vehicle is language. The apocalypse awaits mute nature and all her works not saved through sublimation.
The creaturely body and all works of nature are made good in their sublimated form, as works destined for the altar of the Lamb’s wedding day. Thus the touch of the gardener transforms and sublimates raw nature. As the work of human hands and instrumentality, the garden is healed, curated. Christ touched the sick to heal them. The same curatorial, healing power is allotted to his brethren. The garden represents the sublimated form of the wild bush, which is a work of nature.
On the eve before the work week begins, Jesus admonishes Mary not to touch him, for He has not yet ascended to the Father. There is a time then between cycles and between judgments when the power of healing is gone from the children of God and they must protect themselves from the touch of brute nature.
There are two sides to the Book of Revelations. In Latin, the book is called the Apocalypse. The time of the future is both the apocalypse of the creaturely world and the utopia of the Lamb’s wedding feast. All the good works accomplished by God’s children are destined for the feast.
The day of Judgment condemns and saves at the same time. It is a day that recurs every Sunday and at the end of every individual cycle. The Apocalypse condemns the creaturely body, but saves works of sublimation. As works of ascension they include reproductions of the creaturely body in funerary figures. These serve the representation of both the apocalypse and the utopian dream.
Works of sublimation grace the wedding feast of the Lamb. Secular works belong to this collection of masterpieces as well, because secularism shares the Christian reality principle. They too rest on the discursive foundations of sublimation and hermeneutics.
The judgment of the works establishes their reality and their ascension. The creaturely body, always already dead, is untouchable. At this vulnerable time between death and ascension, it is unavailable for sublimation and eternal return.
Shakespeare dedicated his most enigmatic and widely commented work, “The Tragedy of Hamlet,” to the temporal dimension of the untouchable. A later post will read the dark creation that can take place at this time, because of the double failure of marriage the play documents. Part II of this post will focus on the circulation of works, a system bordering on the limit Hamlet represents.
This post is dedicated to my mother and to my husband