Sunday, November 30, 2014

Something's Coming: Our Daily Advent

Could be! 
Who knows? 
There's something due any day; 
I will know right away, 
Soon as it shows. 
It may come cannonballing down through the sky, 
Gleam in its eye, 
Bright as a rose! 

Who knows? 
It's only just out of reach, 
Down the block, on a beach, 
Under a tree. 
I got a feeling there's a miracle due, 
Gonna come true, 
Coming to me! 

Could it be? Yes, it could. 
Something's coming, something good, 
If I can wait! 
Something's coming, I don't know what it is, 
But it is 
Gonna be great! 

With a click, with a shock, 
Phone'll jingle, door'll knock, 
Open the latch! 

Around the corner, 
Or whistling down the river, 
Come on, deliver 
To me! 
The air is humming, 
And something great is coming! 
Who knows? 
It's only just out of reach, 
Down the block, on a beach, 
Maybe ...

Stephen Sondheim, "Something's Coming"

Every day is advent. Though the Liturgical Year presents it to us in kairos, we read in chronos. The kingdom comes: could it be? yes, it could. Whatever is in that humming, hums a call, a jingling, a knock; it is something unconditional and faint, distant, awaiting clarity and proximity, awaiting permission to come aboard, awaiting getting itself delivered, awaiting incarnation and a kingdom come.

On this first Sunday in Advent, Isaiah reminds us that the face of Elohim is hidden, as Israel is in guilt, awaiting creation.

For you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. 
Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands. 
[Is: 64:7-8, NAB]

The Marcan Jesus admonishes the disciples to be ready for God to turn his face back toward them, to be prepared to be discovered and to become.

Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. [Mk 13:35, NAB]

Something's coming. The Advents depicted are of differing occurrences (a promise of return, incarnation, the Kingdom, the day of tribulation) but they speak to the event, the Ad[e]vent of the call, and the response of becoming. That's the good news (and the bad news). The event in these sacred texts is released in the realization that in the kingdom, we do not make ourselves, that what we have made of ourselves withers and falls like dead leaves in the wind. In the kingdom we bring God's hand to our clay and break free in creation. We become something great, something new: we are made flesh from clay.

Every day is Advent. The call is there, and there really is a there, there. And there is the time for there to be found. Not at any particular time or dance, but in the dance that dances blindly through all seasons, all times of day. Watch and listen, the dance does not know from a winter solstice's day or night, does not know when or how the hearer's fiat, the yes to the call, the maiden's opening herself to the Spirit will happen.

It's in the air, humming a tune, an invitation to the dance, could be, who knows, it's only just out of reach, "and something great is coming."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tradition and Plasticity

"... the difference between art and the event is always absolute" T.S. Eliot, 'Tradition and the Individual Talent'

At the beginning of the last century, Eliot opined in his all but forgotten essay that subject and Geist combine to make art in the chiasm of time present and past, and in doing so, he confidently privileged chronos over kairos. Proceeding in a remarkably Hegelian mode, Eliot gives practical voice to Hegel's problem of the transmission of wissenschaft, what Eliot identifies as the handing down and reception of 'the tradition'.

"What is to be insisted upon is that the poet must develop or procure the consciousness of the past and that he should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career.
What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality."

The event taking place in the chiasm of the temporalities of consciousness is the kenosis of the ego into the ethos of the moment of presence in a work of art. There is no repetition in the process, no seasonality, no return. There is, though a certain plasticity at work in the past, which is never quite the same as the present continues to move into the future, or perhaps more troubling, into its omnipresence of the present. Indeed, for the poet to become part of the ever-changing matrix of time and tradition, he must somehow play in the plasticity of his own subjectivity and that of Geist. The 'writer' only find his place in time, when he finds the past in the present.
The process is complicated. The 'extinction of personality' problematizes the events within events. What passes into Geist is not names or artists and their various epochs, but pure pathos. The subject as personal mind is necessary to the process of entering the tradition, as it is the locus of plasticity, the 'black box' that transforms intertexuality, emotion, feeling, ethos into a tradition that is at once static and protean. But it is not the individual's experience of these 'elements' that move into Geist, but their impersonal realities.

"Tradition...cannot be inherited[.] It involves, in the first place, the historical sense...[;] and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity."

"No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead...[W]hat happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities."

"To proceed to a more intelligible exposition of the relation of the poet to the past: he can neither take the past as a lump, an indiscriminate bolus, nor can he form himself wholly on one or two private admirations, nor can he form himself wholly upon one preferred period... [He] must be aware that the mind of Europe—the mind of his own country—a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind—is a mind which changes[.]"

"The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him... Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things."
Certainly that's an awful lot of text, but it provides the final reference to "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Eliot's essay is rather brief, if not compressed, but I encourage a reading of it in its entirety to gain a deeper appreciation for just how complex Eliot's idea of art and tradition really is. Regardless, the text demonstrates the movement from kairos to chronos, from past to present, from the mind of the artist to the 'mind of Europe,' from the instantiation of the past to the instantiations of past in present and present in past, and from emotions to feelings. Eliot has his own conception of plasticity, though he does not use the term, and it is distributive. Unlike Catherine Malabou, who tends to locate plasticity within the subject, or Caputo, who tends to locate it in Spirit (these locations are argumentative strategies), Eliot locates plasticity in subject and tradition, and in the play of both. This strategy seems to me the more effective if one want to give the event every opportunity 'to come.'
The processes of surrendering and escaping result in a poetry that enters and transforms the tradition: this is the event of art. The event harbored in reading poetry is criticism, or the response to the call of the text. Interestingly, for Malabou, the event is released in Hegel by plasticity; for Caputo, there is no event in Hegel because plasticity is not plastic enough. For both of these thinkers, it would seem, the event harbored in sacred texts is released by Sein und Zeit. And Eliot might get behind that: the poet's mind is a catalytic Dasein, a 'being there' for elements to interact and combine to make something new and different, yet recognizable after the fact, something that is not quite seen coming, on a horizon that is there but not quite visualized.
Perhaps I take too many liberties with these three fascinating thinkers.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time and Season, Incarnation and Event





16:1 καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ Σαδδουκαῖοι πειράζοντες ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν σημεῖον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐπιδεῖξαι αὐτοῖς
16:2 δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὀψίας γενομένης λέγετε εὐδία πυρράζει γὰρ οὐρανός
16:3 καὶ πρωΐ σήμερον χειμών πυρράζει γὰρ στυγνάζων οὐρανός τὸ μὲν πρόσωπον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ γινώσκετε διακρίνειν τὰ δὲ σημεῖα τῶν καιρῶν οὐ δύνασθε [GNT]
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. [Mt. 16:1-3, NIV]
5:1 περὶ δὲ τῶν χρόνων καὶ τῶν καιρῶν ἀδελφοί οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε ὑμῖν γράφεσθαι
5:2 αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀκριβῶς οἴδατε ὅτι ἡμέρα κυρίου ὡς κλέπτης ἐν νυκτὶ οὕτως ἔρχεται
5:3 ὅταν λέγωσιν εἰρήνη καὶ ἀσφάλεια τότε αἰφνίδιος αὐτοῖς ἐφίσταται ὄλεθρος ὥσπερ ὠδὶν τῇ ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσῃ καὶ οὐ μὴ ἐκφύγωσιν  
5:4 ὑμεῖς δέ ἀδελφοί οὐκ ἐστὲ ἐν σκότει ἵνα ἡμέρα ὑμᾶς ὡς κλέπτης καταλάβῃ
5:5 πάντες γὰρ ὑμεῖς υἱοὶ φωτός ἐστε καὶ υἱοὶ ἡμέρας οὐκ ἐσμὲν νυκτὸς οὐδὲ σκότους [GNT]
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. [1 Thess. 5:5, NIV]

17:20 ἐπερωτηθεὶς δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν Φαρισαίων πότε ἔρχεται βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν οὐκ ἔρχεται βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ μετὰ παρατηρήσεως
17:21 οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν ἰδοὺ ὧδε ἐκεῖ ἰδοὺ γὰρ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν [GNT]

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God
is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [Luke 17:20-21, NIV]

First off, I admit that there's more Greek NT here than is essential to the aims of this blog post. I offer it primarily for those who trust their own translations more than the New International Version, and to underscore some key terms, like chronos, kairos and basileia. Secondly, I happily join in the popular procedure of noting that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest document of the NT corpus: it is the first to be written, and the first to draw a distinction between chronos and kairos.

Paul's distinction is buttressed by his imagery of light and dark, day and night. He emphasizes the quotidian flow in the context of time as he simultaneously propagates the symbolic dualism of those who know and those who do not know that there is no right time, no right moment. The cognoscenti's vigilance is not to be fooled by the flux of the sun: day must be brought into the night, the light must illuminate the dark. Seasonality, like the the melting of morning into afternoon, afternoon into evening, dissolves into dayless, seasonless, blind time. The moment is coming, something whose coming has no horizon: the shape-shifting viens itself is suddenly present.

The kingdom of God, says the Lucan Jesus, does not appear in a sign, as phenomena, and it cannot therefore be observed or anticipated on a horizon. The kingdom is instead already there, invisible and real, insisting, a call awaiting a response that brings it into existence. The Matthean Jesus demonstrates to the Pharisees that they have not been paying attention, that their vigilance has betrayed them, that the redness (pyrrazo) in the evening means something different than redness in the morning not because of the evening or the morning as kairos would dictate, but because chronos reads kairos. In this reading a red glow is a red glow but the sign from heaven speaks directly to the Pharisees; yet interpretation eludes them because they wait for morning or evening to prod the reading along. The sign is as plain as day: just the day--neither morning nor afternoon, neither noon nor evening. Chronos decontextualizes both the morning and the evening, and so the interpretation of the red glow comes not from context, but from elsewhere. The day as day (chronos) is suddenly upon them, but evening and morning (kairos) prevent the sign from moving from invisibility to visibility.  The sign is in the Pharisees' midst, but they cannot hear the call or read the sign.

The kingdom is the Christ-event, the incarnation, the Logos made man. The invitation, the call, the insistence, is to live life in this event. The move from invisibility to visibility depends on the incarnation. Indeed, if we can defer, even if just for a moment, judging John Paul II's Theology of the Body as Kant gone wrong, then we can allow the pontiff's words to haunt the kingdom: "The body, and it alone is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it" (Feb 20, 1980). The very chiasm of the hypostatic union in Jesus Christ harbors the event in the 'signs of the times.' The Pharisees could hardly have know that their sign, glowing red, was right before their eyes; and Kant would be the first to insist that the body must be free to glow red, and be taken as an end in itself.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Some Comments on Christopher Nolan's Interstellar

What follows is not a review of Interstellar, but observations made through the lens of this blog's recent content. A 'spoiler alert' is offered as a common courtesy.
In Christopher Nolan’s film, Interstellar, chronos and kairos are folded together like beaten egg whites into cake mix. In an earth where time has essentially stopped, interstellar time finds itself in a physical realm, all geometried-up in refracted light and cuboid shapes. The film presents an uncertain moment in the Earth’s future in which the last generation of the human species must act to preserve itself. The environment is no longer habitable and urgency is undone by the tick-tocking of time. The film plays no politics, but simply assumes that climate change has reached its event horizon. Its many themes include time, physics, love and sacrifice.

The physics allows for depictions of a black hole, reified time, and gravity itself. The depiction of time is fascinating, and might illuminate some of what I have been saying about chronos and kairos (see “It’s about Time Because April is the Cruelest Month”). Seasonality has lost all practical meaning in Interstellar, and references to “next year” (next year’s crop of corn in a world where veggies are the only food)  are reduced to ‘more of the same,’ a syntagm one can see coming, and a measure of nothing. Kairos is lost in chronos, a memory of a fading ‘signified.’

Time, though, can be traversed in its physical iteration, and that’s how the film’s time travelling astronauts get back home, and communicate salvation retroactively. An interesting phenomenon related to time’s representation here is time's distortion by gravity. Because the first planet visited is so close to the black hole, Gargantua, gravity there pulls time out of joint, making every hour spent there tick off 7 years on Earth: fugit inreparabile tempus. This watery, lifeless planet recalls the ebb and flow heard long ago on the Aegean, but Vergil had it right before Arnold’s Sophocles.

Belief and love have a decisive confrontation in the unfolding drama. When making the decision on which planet to explore next, Cooper, our protagonist, argues from the data obtained by Dr. Mann (other explorers had been sent on ahead) on his planet, whereas Cooper’s crewmate, Dr. Amelia Brand, argues for Dr. Edmund’s planet. She also argues from data, but she is in love with Dr. Edmund. Accused of sentimentality, she responds with a discourse on love:  that love is real, not merely an abstraction, it can be felt and touched,  its effects measured. Her remarks bear repeating:

Love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful, it has to mean something... Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.

 Love is rather like time itself and the way it functions in the film. The truth turns on love, however, as Mann’s data is a manufactured falsehood designed to lure the spacecraft Endurance to his own rescue. Love, had it been chosen in faith, would have redeemed time, but the simple credulity in Mann’s data alone, diverts the crew in an unfortunate direction.

Love also plays out, finally, as the redeemer of the human race. The relationship between Cooper and his 10 year-old daughter, Murphy, is one that transcends time by traversing it.  The young “Murph” believes there is a ‘ghost’ in or behind the bookshelf in her room. Of course it is not a ghost but Cooper himself providing the drama’s ‘hauntology.’ Having traversed physicalized time, he returned to her to give her crucial data retrieved from Gargantua. Cooper tocks out Morse code on the second hand of the watch he gave to Murphy when she was a child. The grown Murphy (who shares father/trust issues with Dr. Brand), now a physicist, uses the data to complete the gravity equation that allows for the transport of humans into their redemption in time-space. So real was the love between father and daughter, that Cooper’s promise to return to Murphy is realized; but not without the ironic sacrifices each has made. In the antepenultimate scene, The young looking, 140ish year-old Cooper meets his aged daughter (who has apparently led a fruitful and rewarding life) on her death-bed. In this emotionally compressed scene, where Murphy’s extended family is at her bedside, father and daughter meet across time in the present, and confront time and space, and the love in a promise. Like Moses gazing on the promised land, Cooper is not permitted to be in the moment of his daughter’s death (a parent should never witness the death of a child). There is a loving farewell, and a hope that Cooper will find love for himself  (with Dr. Brand) in time. In the final scene, we learn that love has redeemed Amelia Brand, who, having buried Dr. Edmunds, is set to unleash human life on his most hospitable planet.

Interstellar nods to other films and science fiction themes from the 1950s through the 1970s. The giant pods designed to transport the human race into space are reminiscent of Gerard O’Neill’s cylinders or Timothy Leary’s L-5 structures. The geometries of time conjure images of the Krell’s subterranean power plant. Cooper’s space-time travel reverberates David Bowman’s odyssey. The film’s play with reified love and time, simple belief and authentic faith, takes an intertextual and theological turn as humankind discovers insistence within itself, as astrophysics harbors then releases the event of love.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why I Like Books that Live on Bookshelves

There's something about the real presence of books that comforts. A virtual book is fine; reading on line is fine; I've nothing personal against Kindle (though I can't imagine what's being kindled there). I want to hold my book, smell its age and its stories quite beyond the written word, live with it, make its author present. This is reading.

I always try to catch myself when I am inclined to say I've 'read' a book. I don't think one could safely use the past tense of  'to read' to refer to books, certainly not the great books. I am always reading, always in the process of reading. I enjoy living with my books as well. I have a room (none dare call it a library) with many books on bookshelves. That room is their room; they live there, and I visit often. As they sit there, I am reading them. In a sense, they are reading me. Symbiosis.

I have a lot of paperbacks. I am an admitted bibliophile, so most are in pristine condition. They tell me something about myself. For one thing, happily, I enjoy reading. I never judge a book by its cover, but that doesn't stop a book-cover from judging me. In fact, my paperbacks tell me something about my age. I have measured my life with book-covers, especially the prices on them. The Confession of St. Augustine, 95 cents; Sons and Lovers, $2.95; Steppenwolf, $1.25; Deconstruction and Criticism, $8.95 (I remember thinking that a little steep).

This last book is interesting because it was one of those books that comes along from time to time that really hits you between the eyes. After negotiating the essays in that little tome, nothing really was the same again, certainly not when it came to reading, and even writing. There they were, the movers and shakers of the problem of the word. And there was Derrida right smack in the middle of it all. He wrote the book's longest essay, "Living On," and it is as long as any three of the others combined. He dwarfs Bloom, De Man, Miller, Hartman, all affectionately known as the "Yale Critics." Derrida has a good deal to say.

I bought the book hot off the presses in 1980 during my doctoral studies in the English Dept. at Stony Brook University. How nice to have all these thinkers in one little volume, I thought. Before we really knew what it was, my fellow grad students and I were deconstructing menus in Chinese restaurants, the front page of the NY Times, and even some poems.

After a once-through, I was invigorated and even more arrogant than I was before I read Deconstruction and Criticism. It was all  there, the event, theology, grammatology, transgressive reading, Viens, questioning the location of the text. Bad timing or good, I did my first official deconstruction on my written exams. In an essay on Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" I came out guns blazing, a true parasite on the conventional reading of the poem. I read as close as the bleeding in the poem: a bleeding knuckle, a belt buckle scrape, the destruction of the very center of a home: the kitchen. Falling pots and pans, a breath that could light a fire, a child clinging to life for fear of death. I took that death and waltz and read through the lens of any 3/4 movement of Mahler's symphonies.

The doctoral program director hated that essay; another reader on my committee loved it. I must have been doing something right.

There is nothing naive about the essays in the book; they are as fresh today as they were nearly 40 years ago. Reading them yields a place to stand in the world of John D. Caputo and the response to the speculative realists responding to the theological turn. The new theologians Caputo prays for are yet to come, but I wonder if their grandfathers are not in the pages of Deconstruction and Criticism. At $8.95,  the book compels me to say I feel old and young, as time has been friendly and cruel, either in its guise as kairos or chronos.

I am uncertain that Caputo's books have hit between the eyes, but the eyes certainly have it. I am in a place of unrest, perhaps haunted by these ideas haunting me for 40 years. As a Catholic, I am reminded about the centrality of the Tradition; but I read that tradition. I have been asking just how Caputo's work might sit atop this Tradition. Is this a case of possible assimilation, as a sense of the development of doctrine might have it? What would Newman say about this 40 year old set of problems that simply won't go away? Can postmodern strategies invigorate 5000 years of Judeo-Christian theological thinking?

Perhaps I am due for another visit to the books that live on bookshelves in my house.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Viens, oui, oui

You know how they're going to come at you?
                                                                             ---Tom Hagen to Michael Corleone, The Godfather

'to come,' the verb, intransitive...
                                                       ---Lenny Bruce

Power and force come from a familiar horizon, in the trappings of the expected. The power of a word or the power of an assassination attempt rides on wings of sound and fury. Yet, God does not come in thunder and earthquakes and fire, but in a sound like a whisper; he does not come with an army or pomp and circumstance, but from the substance of ordinary life, and then thin and marginal.

"The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” " [1 Kings 19:11-13, NIV]

Theophanies are always invitations to incarnation. The theophany on Mount Sinai in Exodus came with the fury of hair-raising, blood curdling thunder, but God was in the silent writing of the law into stone brought to the people by a weary Moses. Elijah gets another crack at it at Horeb, and gets it right. He does not understand the natural wonders of the earth to be the shekinah, but hides his face to the gentle whisper, the very presence of God. The real event harbored in the name of God comes from the weak force of an apophatically derived whispering breath, not the strong force of thunder and fire from the mouth of a dragon.

"an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus." [Matt. 1:20-21, NIV]

"...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." [Lk 2:7, NIV]

"My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest" [Jhn. 18:36, NIV]

God does not enter the city with an army, in a parade of pageantry; he comes on the margins of the city's own excess, crystallized, as from a saturated solution,  in the saturated phenomenon of a newborn. The incarnation is the event where the chiasm of the divine and human enters time and space. In the Annunciation, God insists and Mary brings God into existence, into the plane of immanence. Hence, the incarnation is the response to a call for the impossible.

"How will this be?" [Lk 1:34, NIV].

God comes at us unconditionally and undecidable in a dream, in the voice of an angel. In the Matthean and Lucan narratives theophany is accepted as incarnation, and the Synoptic transfiguration (Mk.  9:2-8; Mt. 17:1-9; Lk. 9:28-36) is the event of resolution of past and present, Logos written, and Logos made flesh. All 3 evangelists record a dumb-founded Peter, who responds in haste, not understanding what he is experiencing. On this high place/Mt. Sinai/Horeb theophany morphs into the incarnation of the Logos ratified by a disembodied voice emanating from a nebulous somewhere. Peter should have deferred his interpretation, which he  based on experience of his senses alone. The imperative to 'listen' that haunts the 'voice' is also aligned with Moses and Elijah, whose own voices were not always heeded. The Tranfiguration validates the entire tradition received by Judaism and handed down to Jesus and his contemporaries, with an eye to the future; but any supersessionism would be a poor reading strategy here. At least Peter gets that part right: 3 booths/tabernacles for three embodied voices.

These texts give religious voice to the event(s) harbored in the name of God, to his insistence from where one knows not. This insistence, and the event released in its response, grounds the contingency of theophany. The Christ-event, which signals something new suddenly upon us, is the existent of the theophany's beckoning. It's denoument is in the faint cry of abandonment on Calvary, an apostrophe to a dying God, and resurrection in the making.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Never Met a Physics I didn't Like

Astrophysics and particle physics meet in the concept of equivalence. Astrophysicists measure distance in terms of time (light years) and particle physicists measure mass in in terms of energy (electron volts). Certainly measuring distance in terms of time is not new (it's biblical) and for the people of today, measuring mass in terms of energy is something rather ho-hum.

When John Caputo asserts that physics is all the metaphysics we're likely to get, he does not mean to transpose the transcendental signifier onto the negotiations with the natural world. He is more likely arguing for the jouissance in physics (and all of science) with its awe and mystery as all the wonder the postmodern world can take. He seems already to be intuiting the conceptual equivalence of all the physics we're likely to get as well. There are no permanent gaps in the human understanding of the universe, and any God that would fill them is dead on arrival, and so Caputo's entire project: the weakness of a God without sovereignty whose insistence is the gap God opens in 'events.'

Stardust memories light the corners of any mind open to the event: if the 'penny drops' in  the 'AHA' moment that gives Neal DeGrasse Tyson goose-bumps--the realization that everything in the universe is made of the same stuff, the same stardust--that mind is beckoned by a call made from a telephone booth in scientific "truth," whatever that is, and responds to its insistence, which gets itself done (in the middle voice, Caputo would say) in what we are calling the 'event.' No theory of everything here: the nature of events is ruled by uncontainability. The very excess of truth is the moment of the event.

And no Begriff is large enough to manage the excess in such moments; not unless it is constantly regenerating itself from nano-second to nano-second in the flow of streaming events that recede into vast distances.