Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Tree Grows in Palestine: Figs Among Grapes in Luke 13

My previous post, intended as a brief demonstration of a phenomenological approach to reading the parables, left too much unsaid, and did not exhaust the possibilities of the parabolic elements. We can begin, again, but this time, go a bit further into the richness of phenomenality.

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’ [Luke 13:6-9, NRSV]

13:6  ἔλεγεν δὲ ταύτην τὴν παραβολήν συκῆν εἶχέν τις πεφυτευμένην ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι αὐτοῦ καὶ ἦλθεν ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ οὐχ εὗρεν

13:7  εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀμπελουργόν ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ’ οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν τῇ συκῇ ταύτῃ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω ἔκκοψον οὖν αὐτήν ἱνατί καὶ τὴν γῆν καταργεῖ

13:8  δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτῷ κύριε ἄφες αὐτὴν καὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔτος ἕως ὅτου σκάψω περὶ αὐτὴν καὶ βάλω

13:9  κἂν μὲν ποιήσῃ καρπὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον εἰ δὲ μή γε ἐκκόψεις αὐτήν

The archeological evidence suggests that in Palestine at the time of Jesus both fig trees and grape vines grew, sometimes together, on terraced slopes. This parable speaks of a single fig tree planted in a man's vineyard. The man comes to the vineyard to gather figs, which he expects to discover on his tree. We learn that he has sought his discovery of the figs on this tree for 3 years, but to no avail. He orders the vineyard-worker to cut down the tree because it wastes the earth, parasitically taking without yielding the man's 'due.' The vineyard-worker asks the man to pardon the tree, to defer its destruction for another year, through which he will till and fertilize the earth. If the tree bears fruit, good; if not, the worker extends an invitation to the man to cut it down at that time.

The previous analysis noted that the man and the gardener/vineyard-worker each embodies a certain state of the self. The immediate context of this parable is the discussion of those who perish seemingly in willy-nilly occurrences, and Jesus's teaching that the deaths do not result from sin, but from horrific aleatory forces. The context runs in confluence with the natural attitude toward human suffering and sin (Luke 13:1-6 and cf. John 9). The man, citing a waste of the soil, accuses the fig tree (this fig tree [ συκῇ ταύτῃ  ]) of denying fruitfulness, and wishes to execute a version of justice, presumably a justice of the earth/soil. Such justice digs its roots in the expectation of reciprocity within a clear economy of exchange. An investment of money, time or figs, expects a predictable, grammatical return. This is the structure of expectation in the natural attitude.

 The natural attitude here also pretends to a certain ecology, taking an interest in the well-being of the earth (soil). The man is heavily invested in the productivity of the land as well: part of his investment must prepare the land to give up its yield every season; but he will cut his losses as he sees fit. The natural attitude here even allows for the protection of time: that the soil is complicit with the man's time, three years of it, three years of unproductive, waste of soil and time. Time and soil must yield in the natural attitude, and the parasitic fig tree, for its betrayal of time and soil, must become 'nothing:' "Cut it down," as the lives under 'Pilate' and the 'tower of Siloam' were cut down. The natural attitude has its own way of restoring balance to nature, and limiting exposure to a poor return.

The vineyard-worker certainly sympathizes with the man's natural attitude, but the man, who presumably did not deposit and sow (cf. Luke 19:12-27 for a topsy-turvy play of the attitudes), knows nothing of a particular way of the soil. The gardener, on the other hand, has his hand in the soil, and experiences the earth and time, and the fig tree's being in time, in a phenomenological attitude. He understands the past, but looks with another kind of expectation of the future with a certain 'hope.' The economy of giving and yielding in the natural attitude collapses, and the fig tree appears as it is in itself, as Argos appears to Odysseus, who collapses time and space that his dog might appear as he is in himself (The Odyssey, Bk. 17; emphasis mine):

As they were speaking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Odysseus had bred before setting out for Troy, but he had never had any enjoyment from him. In the old days he used to be taken out by the young men when they went hunting wild goats, or deer, or hares, but now that his master was gone he was lying neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung that lay in front of the stable doors till the men should come and draw it away to manure the great close; and he was full of fleas. As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master. When Odysseus saw the dog on the other side of the yard, dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaeus seeing it, and said:
'Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?'

Open to the givenness of the young tree, as Odysseus opens upon the essence of his beloved dog, the gardener chooses to nourish the soil (Odysseus nourishes memory, the past made present)---he sees not the depletion of the earth by parasitism, but a transformation the land, that, when nourished (cared for, perhaps even loved?), might feed the tree, so that the tree will flourish, and bear fruit in the next year. The 'gardener' redeems the soil, the fig tree and time, transfiguring them. The man, his patience taxed beyond the economy of his vineyard, closes himself off to the future, which he suffers through the anticipation of figs. He closes himself off to the redemption and transfiguration possible in what is far more visible in the gardener's attitude, whose view of the future anticipates, without anxiety, the bearing of fruit. Anxiety forecloses on hope and a change of heart: metanoia; anxiety forecloses upon a future different than the present.

The possibility of change is 'cut down' in the natural attitude displayed in the parable. Hope, future, faith root in the tilled earth of possibility. Threatened by its very otherness, as figs among grapes, possibility lurks within what is discoverable, visible to some, invisible to others. The man and the gardener are at once particular states of their very selves, or even a particular self in particular moments. The parable offers two ways of being in the world, neither is privileged, though if one were a fig tree, the gardener has the 'better part.' Like Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42), the man and the gardener are the same self in different attitudes whose oscillations bear sweet fruit.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Parables, The Natural Attitude and a Fig Tree that Didn't Do Nothin' to Nobody

My critique of John Caputo's reading of 'sheep and goats' pericope (Matt. 25) centers on his decision to remain in the natural attitude and identify ecclesial power in the economy of exchange of reward and punishment suggested in the parable. Such a reading subverts his theology of the event and the weakness of God, and defies St. Paul's own exploration of the inadequacy of the analogia entis in 1 Corinthians, where Paul derails the univocity of power: "the weakness of God is stronger than human strength" [NAB, 1 Cor. 1:25]. The vacating of power in Paul obviously plays into Caputo's 'weak theology,' yet in the Folly of God and in his Belfast presentation (linked above), Caputo locates the abuse of God and man in the destruction of the gift and of innocence. A paradoxical sovereignty of God serves a weak theology far better than a univocity of power: this thing between God and the creature fares better when the creator of everything is not the master of the world.

 Most, if not all, of the parables, understood as perlocutionary acts, present states of the self rather than states of affairs: they present the event stirring within phenomenological 'selves,' rather than personified binary oppositions, or systematic dualisms, or the strife of good and evil. The parables invite today's readers into the fold of Jesus's interlocutors, even his interloque, the hearer of the parables' call, those engaged and accused by the presentation of the parables. The reader, the one in the position to receive what is given in the parable, remains in freedom, in either the natural or phenomenological attitude; but the parables only 'work' for today's reader in the latter, as the former attitude lets all hell break loose (as Caputo is fond of saying). That sad state of affairs has had its run, and Jesus had vociferously condemned it in accusing those who hold the kingdom of God hostage against man (Matt. 23).

Let the teacher teach. Were Jesus preaching and teaching an economy of retribution, he would have presented no threat to the established order, and the body of his teachings would not have the radical stink about it. But his teachings, especially those within the parables, do indeed cense their aromas in an amorphous version of Jacob's ladder.

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” [Luke 13:6-9, NRSV]

The man and the gardener each embodies a certain state of the self. The immediate context of this parable is the discussion of those who perish seemingly in willy-nilly occurrences, and Jesus's teaching that the deaths do not result from sin, but from horrific aleatory forces. The context runs in confluence with the natural attitude toward human suffering and sin (Luke 13:1-6 and cf. John 9). The man, citing a waste of the soil, accuses the fig tree of denying fruitfulness, and wishes to execute a version of justice, presumably a justice of the soil. The natural attitude here even pretends to a certain ecology, taking an interest in the well-being of the land (soil). The natural attitude here even allows for the protection of time: that the soil is complicit with the man's time, three years of it, three years of unproductive, waste of soil and time. Time and soil must yield in the natural attitude, and the parasitic fig tree, for its betrayal of time and soil, must become 'nothing:' "Cut it down," as the lives under 'Pilate' and the 'tower of Siloam' were cut down. The natural attitude has its own way of restoring balance to nature.

The 'gardener,' and we always pay attention to gardens and gardeners in the New Testament, certainly sympathizes with the man's natural attitude, but the man, who presumably did not deposit and sow (cf. Luke 19:12-27 for a topsy-turvy play of the attitudes), knows nothing of the way of the soil. The gardener, on the other hand, has his hand in the soil, and experiences the soil and time in a phenomenological attitude. The economy of giving and yielding in the natural attitude collapses in the gardener's experience, and the fig tree appears as it is in itself. Open to the givenness of the young tree, the gardener chooses to nourish the soil, to transform the land, that it might feed the tree, so that the tree will flourish, and bear fruit in the next year. The gardener redeems the soil, the fig tree and time.

The gardener ain't no phenomenological 'phool', pie-in-the-sky cock-eyed optimist. He is a realist, and will deploy the natural attitude if it turns out that the fig tree is no good, and not destined to bear fruit, even if he is privy to the way of fig trees which perhaps give fruit in the fourth leaf, as the vine gives wine in the fourth leaf. This is a fig tree in a vineyard, after all. Today's reader of the parable sits next to Jesus's interlocutors as the parable unfolds. The man and the gardener are at once states of their very selves. The parable offers two ways of being in the world, neither is privileged, though if one were a fig tree, the gardener has the 'better part.' Like Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42), the man and the gardener are the same self in different attitudes whose oscillations bear sweet fruit.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Shinings: A brief note on Manifestations, or Appearances

Levi Bryant's blue cup perhaps best illustrates profane 'local' manifestations of objects. Beginning in the materiality of the
 cup whose essence shines forth from its substance or 'powers' in various contexts, the thing might show itself as itself through the evanescent mode of manifestation. Moreover, Bryant's notion of physical intentionality lends itself to distinguishing the substance and existence of objects that can make an appearance, yet it is distinctly unclear that things that possess 'virtual proper being' need to be existent actualities at all; but to clarify the possible phenomenological dimension of powers and manifestations, we might note that the 'powers' reflect the givenness of things, and the 'manifestations' to their intentionality (in the case of simple objects, their physical intentionality). However, the converse can also be the case, where powers reflect intentionality and manifestations reflect givenness, or better, the degrees of givenness: the latter case might especially highlight the phenomenality of the 'moment' when the thing appearing is potentially a recipient of the other (the crossed gaze).

In this regard, the asymmetrical laterality of the phenomenological moment plays off the phenomenality on either side of the 'moment.' Of course, Levi's general hostility to unbridled phenomenality resists a phenomenological reading of his essentially metaphysical analysis, but if we do not reduce the substance of the thing to its 'manifestations' as he eschews and decries, we need not torture his thesis. Nonetheless, we can agree with him that "the irreducibility of objects to their local manifestations also entails that objects contain within them a reserve or excess."

This very "reserve of excess" inform the dynamics of givenness in phenomenology. This "breaking of the regimes" of the intuition underscores the manner in which some phenomena (all phenomena?) might overwhelm intentionality with their essential uncontainability. These realities in no way disable us from speaking about them, or, certainly experiencing them methodologically within the epoche and reduction. Givenness itself guards against the belittling of objects/things to their local manifestations: but here we must part company from Levi's terminology. the reduction to givenness is beyond substance and powers, beyond metaphysics, or better, otherwise than metaphysics, despite the obvious flirtation with a robust metaphysics in this brief note.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Of Principles and Phenomena II: The Drama of Phenomenology and Violations of the 4th Wall

Art seems generically and ambiguously involved with sacred and is always inauthentic vis-a -is the purity of the ritual and vis-a-vis a thorough-going realism. This generic impurity is the best clue to its nature.
    A Kafka parable may help us to define more closely art's mixed essence:

Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry; this occurs repeatedly, again and again: finally it can be reckoned on beforehand and becomes part of the ceremony.

Profanation enters the inner sanctum, and become part of the holy. From a purist or ritual point of view there is contamination. The sense that the holy is contaminated is one of the views that emerges from Kafka's work as a whole. Not the death of God, but his impurity...Does not every system have its necessary and permitted profanations?

Geoffrey Hartman, "Struturalism: The Anglo-American Adventure," in Structuralism, ed. Jacques Ehrmann, (NY: Anchor, 1970), p. 157.

"Does not every system have its necessary and permitted profanations?" Hartman's prescient and startling remarks on the invasion of the profane into the sacred, nearly 50 years old, cut both ways with a decisive double edge in this discussion of the emergence of the new phenomenology. Hartman could hardly have known what was just beyond the horizon of structuralism when his piece first appeared in Yale French Studies in 1966. The Derridean storm, just forming off the coast of the Anatomy of Criticism, had only whispered a breeze in its advent; Being Given slumbered in the deep structure of the first reduction.

As I have suggested in my previous piece, the phenomenological method,  this new phenomenology, plays out on the stage of a consciousness of a self, whose finitude rests in immanence. If I may continue with the metaphor of an enacted drama, I would characterize Janicaud's (and many other's) critique of the new phenomenology as a description of violations of the '4th wall.' The Husserlian phenomenological inner sanctum is a closed space, not without a certain plasticity of course, but closed off in an inviolable integrity so robust that any infraction, any 'profanation,' would constitute an insurmountable transgression that results in not a renewal, but pure novelty.

4th wall violations in modern drama, either on an actual stage or in film, are common techniques and enhance dramatic effect, even when they shock and disorient with their hyperreal or surreal effects on both the drama and the audience. In my sense of them, such violations are not particularly modern, and one might argue that they have their antecedents in the Greek chorus and the soliloquy. Are such violations then always extraneous disruptions, or do they enter the drama and open it up to whatever is beyond the wall? And what of the violations that leap from the stage or screen into another 'real' space, such as "3-D" effects, or a character walking of the stage or screen into a surprised audience, such as Tom Baxter's escape from black-and-white into Cecelia's colorful world in The Purple Rose of Cairo?

The new phenomenology authentically addresses the phenomenality of any and all things that present in and of themselves. The effect of this address authenticates the method's account of such unusual phenomena while leaving the authentication of the thing 'open.' This openness itself addresses all kinds of openings, in the method and in the thing. The possibilities are endless on either side of the phenomenological moment, the given and the recipient.

This very respect for porosity and excess characterizes the deconstructive gesture in general. In-breakings and out-breakings move with Kafka's leopards. The new phenomenology of givenness can formulate a description of such feline motions in a way the offerings in the un-transgressed Husserlian chalice cannot. Classical phenomenology remains reluctant to chase after in-breakings, such as the in-breaking of the divine into history in the Incarnation, or of the in-breaking of the event in Scripture, the release of the event in the Word of God or the name of God. Is the right of such phenomena to appear suppressed, or do such rights not exist at all? What is forbidden?

Whether or not Hartman's observations of art and criticism apply to the phenomenological method in any illuminating way remains an open question, and only time will tell if phenomenology, properly understood, can accommodate Kafka's cats as the deconstructive gesture has accommodated Derrida's cat. Phenomenology's 4th walls of Husserlian givenness and immanence either evolve into the new phenomenology or they do not, but a phenomenology of givenness is not woven de novo from some novel fiber; it traces itself to a method and a principle. And while the phenomenal moment may already prefigure a hermeneutic according to the given, the utility of phenomenology as a critical approach is plastic enough to explore the possibility of the saturated phenomenon through a productive porosity of method and the thing that gives itself.

Method and its object enjoy a perennial and perhaps even an incestuous relationship, criticism and art a reverberating intertextuality where horizons interface in vague chiasmus. I therefore begin and end with Hartman, who has won the last word: "literature and myth are not mere accretions to a central mystery but involved in its very nature. They penetrate and become part of the structure of the sacred event...[a]lways flanked by its dark sisters, blasphemy and pornography" (op. cit., 158).

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Of Principles and Phenomena

"...that every originary presentive intuition is a legitimizing source of cognition, that everything originarily (so to speak, in its "personal" actuality) offered to us in 'intuition' is to be accepted simply as what it is presented as being, but also only within the limits in which it is presented there" (E. Husserl,  Ideas I, 44).

Another anthem for phenomenology might be "back to Husserl himself." His 'principle of principles' (as he described above) marks the points of departure for the deployment of the phenomenological method. Anyone wishing to comment coherently on the movements within phenomenology, especially within the 'new' phenomenology, does well to begin in Husserl's governing principle as it opens upon putting experience at hand. One does even better if one states one's own understanding of the principle, and restates it as an interpretation of it.

If I may restate and interpret, the 'principle' admonishes the excursions of method to have faith in the knowledge that what presents itself within the intuition 'writes' itself into consciousness with its 'own hand,' as it were, without or at least prior to any conceptual framework: nothing intercedes for phenomena as they enter consciousness. What is there is the thing itself, unencumbered by a traversal through an extraneous conceptual space that imprints a signature of its having been there before its arrival in the consciousness. Consciousness therefore only needs to traverse itself to lead itself back to the thing itself.

Having a handle on the principle assists in determining if an application of the method has violated it, as, for example,  Dominique Janicaud charges Jean-Luc Marion and others of doing (see his Phenomenology and the "Theological Turn"). I am uncertain if Janicaud is a maximalist Husserlian, as perhaps Eugen Fink seems to be; but if there is something worth protecting in Husserl's thought, something worth keeping from a contamination, it must be the principle itself. Fink himself protects Husserl's project from misunderstanding and at the same time suggests that what awaits the effective phenomenologist (one who deploys the method successfully) is nothing short of phenomenal (as in, 'he played a phenomenal game,' or 'the performance was phenomenal,' or 'it was a phenomenal film'). Nothing short of conversion or transformation awaits over the Husserlian rainbow (see Ronald Bruzina's Edmund Husserl and Eugen Fink: Beginnings and Ends in Phenomenology, 1928-1938, Yale, 2004; and, of course, Eugen Fink's own Sixth Cartesian Meditation: the Idea of a Transcendental Theory of Method, trans. R. Bruzina, Indiana, 1995).

How ironic then is Marion's work, work accused of violating the principle of principles and lacking 'rigor', which proves the method (a special case of the exception[al] proving the rule), demonstrates how the method really can get at the very possibility of conversion and transformation. What should trouble us more is the principle's not-so-subtle post-Cartesian appeal to certainty, or at least confidence; Marion has rehabilitated both the principle and Descartes in this regard. In any event, nothing in Marion's work, especially The Erotic Phenomenon and In the Self's Place, eludes 'rigor;' in fact, the former work can be viewed as overwrought, and both viewed certainly as vigorous and exhaustive (if not exhausting).

The principle, nonetheless, provides a basis for moving into this new phenomenology of givenness. I have described the maneuver of this graduated method as the phenomenological moment in part to remind me that the method defies causality---the moment is a moment of simultaneity---and in part to remind me to resist the temptation to think the reduction as the result of a sequential process of 'epoche' followed by the 'reduction proper.' Despite Husserlian 'givenness' rooting itself in the mathematical, in the given of geometrical proof, Marion's givenness leads back to the fecundity of such 'originary' givenness and deconstructs it, leading the way to his third reduction.   

Hence, the phenomenological moment is a busy place, whether sonorous or cacophonous. The horizonal element of the principle which sets the limits at which the thing presents itself also sets the tone (the stage?) for the moment itself, where the thing, consciousness, and the horizon intersect upon the 'ground' of the moment, which is none other than a shape-shifting 'self,' or better, shape-shifting 'selves.' At the risk of participating in the seemingly endless talk sometimes construed as a meta-discourse of 'phenomenology', let me remind myself of why the method tends to work in productive and fascinating ways. While phenomenology 'proves' nothing and only points to possibility, its effects can have profound critical implications, especially for the critical approach generally employed in this blog.

The stakes are high: reality itself. The moment of method recreates the world. So long as we dot our "I's" and cross our "gazes" we should be OK and live to commit phenomenology another day. We should also bear in mind that temporal and spatial markers [I underline some of these below] are merely a convention in phenomenology, much like the trope of its presenting itself in the first person singular---all convention, all Darstellung, all stage-craft. All the world's a stage.

The enactment of the method begins as the thing surprises consciousness into a consciousness of 'something.' That consciousness is a consciousness of a self, and that self is a self in the flesh, and that flesh rests in its finitude and immanence. The very boredom (how's that for an electrified term in this business) of the natural attitude, the attitude that accepts the science of reality as, for example, a clockwork (choose a metaphor for the scientific worldview), an acceptance of the clockwork in all its magnificence and awe, breaks off---boredom experiences a disturbance, even astonishment, at a thing presenting itself, appearing in view, within a gaze. What gaze? When did consciousness get a gaze? The thing awakens the gaze resting dormant---waiting to be born---in consciousness---the intention born of the thing.

What next? What happens next is boredom already collapsed upon consciousness's [t]race leading back through itself to the thing that comes into view. The world of the self has just gotten a bit bigger, stretched out by the space cut by the thing itself; the thing births an enlarged self, a self become through a becoming, a turning toward, a conversion to the thing by the thing. The collapse of the natural attitude, boring as such, comprises the epoche which brings into relief what has just collapsed it: the reduction proper and the thing itself. To separate the two into sequential occurrences would be tantamout to tweezing out rhythm and time from pitch and tonality in music. Let's not do it.

Cacophony or symphony? If experience forms the self, then the epistemological problem presents fully formed. "We are our experiences." "We learn through experience." Certainly these are not difficult notions. Truth is, phenomenology, when its not masquerading as its own meta-discourse, happens every day to everybody. We are 'everyday' phenomenologists, just as we are everyday mystics (as Karl Rahner would have it, referring to Christians who otherwise would be nothing at all), who experience something.

It's a place to start, a place for me to remember that I said this and was going someplace with it. Perhaps it is a place to start again, restart, from where I viewed this through a parallax view, or through the Lacanian registers and the role of 'lack.' In a modified version here, Lack constitutes the self in the flesh and its opening upon the immediacy of the thing fulfilling the intuition. The loss/lack within the self experiencing itself (as itself) and the world through the epoche, points to a fall into the reduction, a 'leading back,' which inheres in the growth of consciousness, and therefore recreates it. In the play of the Real (the condition of the absence of intercession for the thing, its immediacy of presentation), the method enacts, in the Imaginary order, something actually going on in the ineffable Real.  Lack is loss, but loss as a space for something to enter, not merely consciousness, but of becoming.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sacred Flesh and Profane Body: Falque on the Site of Phenomenality

Falque identifies the flesh as the site of transformation in his The Metamorphosis of Finitude, and in the process, sacralizes the flesh and medicalizes the body. The 'traces' or stigmata of finitude that remain in the flesh notwithstanding, the body is open in a way the flesh is not to alteration. "My flesh is that through which I experience my own body phenomenologically, and not the simple biological and molecular substratum that can be cured, or repaired, or modified" (MF, 136), or, in other words, medicalized. And yet none of this formulation denies "an insistence on the "resurrection of the flesh" (Leib) as a summing up of the lived experience of our bodies" nor does it "imply a denial of the reality of the substantial and material body in the Christian incarnation...It remains the case, however, ...that a total identification of the biological body with the resurrected body...leads to major aberrations" (137).

Aberrations indeed.

What is born of the flesh is flesh (Jn. 3:6). The flesh is born "to a world 'already there'---which I could naturally believe was there before me but which I have to recognize phenomenologically was born only along with me" (129). This birth does not enter the memory (past made present) of the one being born, though the event itself can be certified, witnessed, a birth certificate signed and issued by the physician (or just as commonly, by the professional midwife). Part of the business of medicine is to certify transitions of the body: as a physician, I have completed birth and death certificates, but I do not certify who has been born into finitude, or reborn into finitude metamorphosed. "What is true of birth, in the obscurity of the act of being born for the one who is born, is true also of the mystery of the act of being reborn for the one who is reborn" (129). What, then, precisely, is medicalized? The witnessing gaze of medicine 'sees' only the body, and it is a gaze of power, of science and knowing (see Foucault). The flesh, sacralized into phenomenality, and therefore into its manifestation (see below).

Nonetheless, as Falque argues, "I need witnesses of my flesh, for my birth certificate, but also for my rebirth (baptism and resurrection" (131). Only by such witness does my flesh have an 'origin' and only in this origin and this witness can one find the "clarity of giving birth"  which "can be claimed analogically for rebirth and resurrection." Falque's notion of 'analogy' is nothing if it is not charged. It seems at times that Falque, after taking Marion to task for his attempt to invert the metaphysical impulse that moves from the finite to the infinite analogically (analogy from 'below'), that is, by shifting to the side of the infinite as it analogically moves to the finite (analogy from 'above'), he inverts the inversion. And it really seems to be an inversion, and not a subversion, of Marion's novel inversion, which seems to have to happen prior to the implementation of Falque's stratagem.

Still, medicine, seeing the body only, wants to 'hear' from the flesh. The distinction between symptoms and signs, what the patients subjectively experiences and what the medical gaze accesses, respectively, rests in relation among the self, subjectivity and the flesh. When the flesh cannot speak, only a witnessing gaze is in play. In the case of birth, the gaze alone certifies the event. This medicalization of the body allows the flesh to appear in itself and by itself, albeit in a glass dimly.

Of birth certificates and death certificates, of births and deaths, either certificate will do: births are deaths and deaths are births. Being born and reborn remain distinctly other matters. When we are resurrected, we are resurrected 'in' the Resurrected One, who shows himself of himself and of his own initiative. "The initiative of his appearance guarantees me against my own fantasies, insomuch as I receive him there and when I don't expect him: That is to say, the apparition comes from him rather than through me. Thus he is the phenomenon---exactly as phenomenon is defined" (146). Such guarantees against fantasies underscore "the real existence of this object" that presents to consciousness (146). "When the body withdraws and the flesh becomes manifest, it is then that he shows himself" (145). The phenomenological method that elucidates the phenomenality of the body and of the flesh, also causes the withdrawal of the medicalization of the body, and allows the flesh to 'speak' in its own voice. The medical gaze recedes into its witness and certifications, as it is unable to grasp what the flesh communicates; it does not, finally, hear the voice of the flesh apart from its gaze of the body: it hears only through the gaze. The natural attitude simply will not suffice in the moment of the metamorphosis of finitude.

Medically un-certifiable, un-see-able rebirth, "[t]he resurrection is not simply the manifestation, or the appearance, of another mode of presence of the flesh. It is also a disqualification, or rather a withdrawal, of the substantiality of the body" (144). With respect to the resurrected Christ and the empty tomb tradition, "[t]he objectivity of the disappearance (of the body) signals, then, the disappearance of objectivity (of all reified bodies in the resurrection)". And along with such disappearances, whether on the road to Emmaus, in the delivery room or prior to delivery to the morgue, the medical gaze and all its medicalizations, that it itself visits or that which is visited upon it, is itself perhaps reborn into objectiveness (Gegenstandlichkeit, nach Husserl), which then might make an appearance in the phenomenological moment.

Emmanuel Falque certainly passes for a Catholic, but The Metamorphosis of Finitude will not be receiving the imprimatur or nihil obstat any time soon. He might turn out to be one of those radical theologians John Caputo has insisted into existence; the phenomenology of the resurrection is a theopoetics par excellence, and quite possibly haunts the Catholic tradition with rattling chains of a monadological panentheism. There is great beauty in the spiritual suffering in the Father through the suffering of the Son in the flesh, yet this can be construed as 'making of God' in the image of Husserl. The consciousness of God, on His side of the Resurrection, sleeps in Falque's phenomenology and somnambulates the divine perichoresis: God is Unconscious, to resurrect Jacques Lacan through Tad DeLay's treatise of that title on the psychoanalytic of religio-politics. The Father must be waked as he is [cata]Falque'd, so that we can see if he stays dead, or if this death of God is the death of a conceptual idol (31); so we can see if God awakens from the Mitternachtslied's 'deep dream' of the Symbolic order to insist on his existence. In the meantime, God rests in the Real, calling all finitude to himself, into metamorphosis, into a new heaven and a new earth,within a new God and a new human, in a world transformed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World Enough and Time: Emmanuel Falque on the Flesh

In The Metamorphosis of Finitude, Falque presents the flesh as always bearing traces of finitude (152). Indeed, we carry "indestructibly" within us both 'immanence and temporality.' I interpret Falque to mean here a necessary return to ourselves (in the flesh), regardless of our projects. Though he roundly rejects, in a rather spectacular way, Nietzsche's 'eternal recurrence' in favor of a rehabilitated 'resurrection,' Falque always seems to be suggesting that we always end up where we start, though we are transformed, transfigured and metamorphosed. It's almost as if, when we go to grandmother's house for Sunday dinner, as if when we leave at a certain time and traverse a certain space, that is, when we live through a time and a travelled distance, arrive, and then repeat in reverse, we never really left, at least not without a trace of never having left.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.[...]

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well... ('Little Gidding,' Four Quartets, V, TS Eliot)

Falque's reduction certainly leads us back, perhaps to the beginning, however transformed; perhaps to the historical critical bodily resurrection (e.g., R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer, etc.); perhaps to Stanley Kubrick's 'star-child'. 

The metamorphosis of finitude begins and ends in finitude,  and traces the resurrection of the flesh to traces of finitude finally transformed and transfigured. This flesh in MF is of a piece with the flesh in the work of Michel Henry (see CM Gschwandtner's Postmodern Apologetics? "Michel Henry: A God of Truth and Life" as well as her Degrees of Givenness) and Jean-Luc Marion. This "phenomenology of birth"... is a "way of talking about our resurrected relation to mankind as well as to ourselves" (128). We are born in the flesh in the world and in time, even in our worlding of our world. It is interesting that even here Falque avoids the flesh as a saturated phenomenon as overwhelming 'relationality;' yet as he argues, such avoidance is not a contradiction, but as a strategy to be taken as complementary (19).

There is world enough and time for the flesh, a lived body. That is a central point in the argument of MF. In order for a phenomenology of the resurrection to ensue, a commitment must be made to what is resurrected. And, if I may resurrect a concept that enjoyed some currency in this blog not so long ago, reshith also entails resurrection as a substrate in the creation. "The resurrection...must be the transcendental condition of every entry into Christianity...There is no (Christian) creation outside this new creation..."(24).

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Finitude Poised for Metamorphosis: Understanding Emmanuel Falque's Sense of Analogy

Emmanuel Falque's The Metamorphosis of Finitude: An Essay on Birth and Resurrection (NY: Fordham Univ. Pr., 2012; first published as Metamorphose de la Finitude: Essai Philosophique sur la Naissance et la Resurrection, 2004), presents 'finitude' within the context of the 'preemptive right of the infinite over the finite' in modern philosophy and phenomenology (MF, 16-17). Falque rejects the notion that finitude has its origin in the infinite, the notion that finitude is a snippet of the infinite within its tracing of infinity. Hence, we, in our finitude, do not first see ourselves as some imperfect piece of the perfect, but first see ourselves as defined by our facticity, our being within the plane of immanence, which, for us is 'impassable' (not impassible). Heavily indebted to Heidegger, Falque proceeds from our thrownness, our birth into a Dasein whose future is foreclosed by death. How shall we think Falque's 'finitude' productively?

If infinity is like a 'line,' a vector extending in two directions infinitely, then finitude is like a 'line segment,' with its end points of birth and death. This segment does not actually come from any pre-existing line as defined in basic geometry, but as a thing foreclosed in a being whose ends are clearly defined. Finitude knows of nothing in excess of its endpoints; it knows only of itself. This 'positiveness of finitude' is independent of the finite 'insufficiency of man' and of the infinite ( the plenitude of God), and it alone shapes Dasein (MF 18). Still, we must continue to think of the segment as in some way detached (I use the term advisedly in light of this theological motif in Meister Elkhart) from the line. Indeed, Falque depends on the play of this relation as he interprets the Incarnation as finitude coming face to face with the infinite as the Logos interdigitates with the flesh.

The likeness of the line segment to the line plays out in the 'apperceptive transposition' of suffering of the flesh of the Son to the Father (MF 67-74). The image and likeness of the segment to the line is the affinity of the one to the other. This image and likeness though plays on the horizon of finitude and the plane of immanence (not a 'concept' of immanence). The analogy of finitude and the infinite derives then solely from the Incarnation, where the very finitude of Dasein rests in the perichoresis of Trinity, which does not threaten in any way the integrity of the divine life (MF, 88-90).

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Solving the Deepest Issue in America

AOL News reports today that:

the president of the Rocky Mountains chapter of Planned Parenthood, Vicki Cowart, suggested a climate of rancor surrounding abortion in the United States sets the stage for such violence.
"We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country," she said.

Abortion certainly captures the Catholic imagination, and the Church clearly teaches that abortion has no place in a lived Catholicism, which also suggests that it has no role in a lived monotheism.

What is delightful in Vicki Cowart's remarks is her identification of the great American problem: 'a climate of rancor' and a 'poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism.' In one profound statement, Cowart has marshalled all the powers of her formidable, critical mind to denounce dissent in America, and identify an American terrorism no different from what has been lately visited upon the world. With her single and incisive statement, Cowart has equated Paris, Syria, 9/11, and global terrorism with the rancorous abortion issue in the U.S.

A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist.

Though officials have not released any information about the motives of the deranged shooter who killed 3 and injured 9 others, Cowart has determined that the shooter is profoundly 'pro-life,' and therefore violent: 'rancor' transforms the embrace of life into murder and mayhem, according to this president of the Rocky Mountains chapter of Planned Parenthood. Religious terror is simply religious terror, and any distinctions are merely distinctions without differences.

Cowart places Planned Parenthood in the bistros and theatres of Paris, and in the World Trade Center, and she likens this shooter to the radicalized elements of ISIS sympathizers and actants.

Cowart's strategy succeeds grandly because the American system is a 'stage for such violence,' and I applaud her for having the courage to equate the U.S. to ISIS. American liberal democracy has had its run, and now, as Cowart would have it, another form of government must step in and change the culture that breeds 'such violence' and feeds American terrorism.

Cowart has determined once and for all that mental illness and terrorism are the same entity. She has also proven that American 'extremists,' like theirs radical Islamist extremist counterparts, are part of the same global movement. The rancor must be silenced and the war on domestic terrorism must make America safe for abortion.

Vicki Cowart should run for president of the U.S. Her visionary gleam is just what America needs. The editors of AOL News should manage her campaign.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Emmanuel Falque and John Caputo: Martha and Mary Appear in Meister Ekhart

The resurgence of interest in mysticism in 20th century phenomenology, and its continuation into the 21st century worries and fascinates me. Both John Caputo and Emmanuel Falque (along with many other thinkers in the philosophy of religion) recognize an indebtedness to Heidegger's indebtedness to Meister Ekhart, while further incurring debt to the mediaeval mystic. I worry because phenomenology has a plasticity about it that enables its becoming all things to all people in cataphatic splendor and idealism, and I remain fascinated by its methodological edge that cuts to an apophatic and fecund space where an authentic realism takes root. Ekhart's sermon on Luke 10:38-42, the story of Jesus' visit to Martha and Mary's home, has entered the thinking of Caputo and Falque powerfully, and perhaps in complementary ways.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NRSV)

Caputo begins with Ekhart's privileging of Martha over Mary, despite Jesus' remark that Mary, sitting at his feet, "has chosen the better part," an inversion of the traditional mediaeval embrace of the vita comtemplativa  over against the vita activa. Martha responds to the Jesus event in her midst with an urgent agency that makes a space for bringing into existence something that insists (The Insistence of God, 43-49).  She makes a space ready for a very physical and fleshly Jesus, whose bodily needs are as important as his spiritual gifts. She is, in a sense Jesus' partner. Mary, on the other hand, remains enthralled by the call, and unable to respond as a partner, but as one lost in the music of the calling voice, paralyzed by insistence.

Falque reads Ekhart to be embracing Martha as one who already understands the flesh as transformed in the Resurrection. Falque follows Ekhart closely as the latter reads Martha, in effect, as already having been at the feet of Jesus and as one already enacting the life of the spirit by engaging the necessities of the life of the body. 

Meister Ekhart...described, in the visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary..., a kind of prefiguration of our mode of being resurrected. Martha...has in fact a kind of superiority over her sister Mary. She doesn't stay there sitting (objectively) at the feet of the Savior and listening to him but lets herself be inhabited (subjectively) by him. She remains detached from him...because he is in her. (The Metamorphosis of Finitude, trans. G. Hughes, NY: Fordham Univ. Pr., 2012)

Falque's definition of resurrection as 'transformation' of the 'manner of living' in this world and this world itself as embodied in Martha,  seems to complement Caputo's move from insistence to existence, from a call of an event, to an agency responding to that call. The response to the call in Caputo's schema is analogous to the transformations of in Falque's, which in turn, are analogous to Caputo's advent of the Kingdom. It seems then that Falque would agree with Caputo's assessment of Martha:

We take as a model the agency of Martha, the wife who was a virgin. Martha acts, but she acts from the ground of the soul, which is one with the ground of God. that means she is an agent mobilized in response to a provocation, to an event, who gives existence to an insistence, and that existence takes the form of the most material and quotidian reality(Insistence, p.48).

Friday, November 20, 2015

Levi Bryant on the Real and Monsters

I don't think I've ever done this before, but I simply want to direct readers to Levi Bryant's essay, "Ages of Monsters: Of Gods and Monsters," on Larval Subjects. On a personal note, I think Levi's thoughts resonate with some ideas floating in this blog, and I am sympathetic to his musings.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Folly of God: John Caputo's Tetragrammatology

It is unclear to me if John Caputo's The Folly of God: A Theology of the Unconditional (Polebridge: Salem, OR, 2016) [F] is the final installment in a trilogy comprised of his earlier work, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event [W], and The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps [I]. I am equally unsure that the last 3 books Caputo has published does not comprise some kind of valediction, as there is language in It Spooks, Hoping Against Hope and even F that is elegiac and valedictory. Perhaps these observations are nothing more than a recognition of Caputo's farewell to the academy, though he seems to pop up everywhere these days.

F is a brief volume that lays out Caputo's own (Tetra)Grammatology, in which he articulates the great themes of his previous work. In a nutshell, Caputo wants to leave a lasting impression of these four letters of deconstruction:

1. Anything culturally mediated is constructed.
2. Anything constructed is deconstructible.
3. Deconstructibility arises from any mediation, as inscribed spacetime ('from below') or from the 'pressure' of the undeconstructible itself ('from above').
4. Deconstructibility is constituted by conditionality, and undeconstructibility is constituted by unconditionality. (F, 23-29).

Hence, the call, the pure call that has captured the imagination of those enthralled by what's been going on in continental philosophy, unconditional and without sovereignty (cf. W), pressures 'from above' (but whence we know not), from undeconstructibility.

Unconditionality and undeconstructibility play out in the trace, the 'gramme' as Caputo states. The trace is what is already there, what already might be there, written before the letter is traced there. This is the locus of 'perhaps' (cf. I). The trace does a good deal of heavy lifting, for Caputo, and certainly for Derrida. Caputo repeats Derrida's grammatology in F (in his trilogy?) as a writing of a 'tetragrammatology' (my coinage, not in Caputo or F) of deconstruction, which is a way of making straight the path of the conditions for the release of the event (cf. W) which calls from the unconditional, anonymously.

After all this prolegomena to charity how can Caputo get it so wrong? How can he, after tracing the Protestant Principle  (after Barth's [ecclesia] semper reformanda) through the Jewish Principle (after Derrida's "semper deconstruenda"), let 'narrative time' lull him into misreading simul justus et peccator as an economy of a false gift, falsified by reciprocity? The sheep and the goats of Matthew 25 are pure Vorstellung, and they must not be read as a corruption of innocence (F, 119ff.). As I have argued elsewhere, all the parables and parabolic narratives (of which Matthew 25 is clearly one) are perlocutionary acts.

A more subtle hermeneutic allow for the possibility that the goats and sheep are the existential reality of the 'blessed of my father.' These actors in Matthew 25 are at once sheep and goats, and are liable to an act of faith and the justice to come already visited upon them. Caputo, then, has mistraced the trace in his reading into some imagined economy of reward and punishment. The sheep are traced into the goats, the goats into the sheep; and that trace is unconditional and without sovereignty---the goat-sheep in the 'blessed of my father' is undeconstructible. We must not, as Caputo warns (F, 126f), "confuse the unconditional (undeconstructible) with the conditional (deconstructible)." We must "[r]emember that in all this" (even when we appear in Matthew 25) "we play the role of the justus et peccator."

If W, I and F are a trilogy, then they certainly offer a vision of religion, not necessarily one 'without religion,' but one which itself is the trace that ghosts the letters in 'confessional' religions. The religion of the trace is the religion that is already traced in the insistence of the letter in all religion. Whenever the word is written, it is traced upon a form that comes from somewhere,  that can never completely be traced over, leaving a slight blur, a haze on the page that lets the words reverberate, that lets the already written come though the tracing of a letter. There is a quietude there, in the gentle beckoning of the trace, the call of the trace that quickens the letter of the word, and the word of the letter. It insists from above and from below, and even from the legacy of Caputo's tetragrammatology of the perhaps---the weakness, the folly and the insistence of God.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Is Paris Burning?

It has been only a few short months since this blog discussed sacramental violence offered in the name of religion. 

Paris, again, has become the stage on which a vampiric ISIS once again slakes its thirst with the blood of innocents. This deranged version of Islam seeks to execute an ideology of blood. This ideology, feckless in the light and dancing in the dark, knows itself only through the blood of the other. Like the Germanic monster, Grendel, it recoils at joy, and its heart laughs in the broken bones and blood of misery.

The joy and laughter of ISIS at the blood burning the streets of Paris is the joy and laughter of the Zizekian pervert. This misbegotten child infatuated with its image in the mirror continues to engage in a horrific oedipal struggle for the will of the infidel.

Such an ideology, hiding behind, or living between the raindrops of religion, only wants more blood. Che vuoi? A reduplicating 'more of the same,' more lust for sameness, more gluttony for blood. Jouissance of the pervert is the fantasy that sameness is safe, and the other is malleable.

ISIS is the ideology of the blood of the other: it drinks for everlasting life as its fangs etch its signature of violence into anything human. Like all perverts seeking to become the object of desire of its big other, it ultimately seeks self-annihilation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Death of the Flesh: The Way of All Flesh as the Calling of Religious Community

The natural disposition of the flesh rejects non-self. Auto-immune disease results from the flesh's self mistaking itself for non-self: the flesh rejects itself. Since I provisionally accept that the body can become diseased, but we always suffer in the flesh, the self never finds itself in the body. The self and the flesh form a unity. Immunology, though, occludes the possibility of any kind of dualism in this state of affairs.

When we declare the death of the body, the body, or parts of the body often remain viable; transplant medicine bases its project on this condition. Transplantation poses problems for the flesh, as it sets up a collision of two selves. The donor's self remains in the organ (the graft) that survives the death of its body, and when transplanted into the body (the host) of another imbued with flesh, self and non-self reject each other, in the clashes of host versus graft and graft versus host. The solution to this problem is to alter the host (and graft), via immune-suppression, so that it does not recognize non-self.

As we keep the matters of the self (or selves) in mind, we can return to death. That the body, or parts of the body remains viable, we continue to note that the body experiences disease and dying, but only the flesh experiences death. Dying of the body implies cessations of functions, shutting down of systems resulting from disease. But death never completely comes to the body until every process within it ends. Such is death for the body: absolute cessation of processes. I think HAL had it right as it flashed: "life functions terminated."

The flesh suffers, and it eventually suffers death. This death is the death of the self, as the flesh and self saturate each other: there is no room for another flesh or self: relationality, saturated with the flesh, in its very excess precludes another self in the same place. Self rejects non-self.

Which is the richer phenomenon, the living on of the body, with all its life-processes and genetic coding for more function and more life, albeit in the flesh of another, or the "living on" of the flesh and self, in their excess of relationality, after the suffering of death? We cannot speak here of an "afterlife," for otherwise we would not be speaking of a saturated phenomenon: we speak therefore of the life of the flesh, and the death of the flesh. The saturated phenomenon of the flesh achieves a negative certainty that the death of the flesh and death of the body are different phenomena. Better we should speak of something like an "afterdeath," or come up with a more robust understanding of death as it applies to the flesh. The reader should abandon this reflection now if she expects a discussion of 'consciousness after death' to ensue.

The event of death forecloses on disclosure. We defer any exploration of the relationship between self and consciousness. Instead we maintain the location of consciousness in the flesh and body of living creatures. So our question[s]: does the givenness of death constitute the self of the recipient in the phenomenological moment? Is that constitution fatal, or does it itself impart 'mortality?' Because we do not experience death as the death of our own flesh as a counter-experience, we are open only to the experience of the death of the other as death of the flesh. This is not to say that we do not have some experience of some aspect of death as our own, and in this regard, imaginative variations of the reduction can be in play; but because of the foreclosure of the event to us, that is, the necessarily incomplete 'reportage' of this event, the reception of death has no place to project itself.

If the flesh grounds Dasein's being in the world and its authentication through its being toward death, then at least one response of the self to the givenness of death is expectation. This is the way of all flesh: to receive formation of the self from the givenness of death, not in its lethality but in its invitation to authenticity, albeit in the manner of a special case of expectation: of advent and a messianism. The givenness of death calls the self into being, the self into a formation. The community, grounded in the experience of the self as the witness of phenomenality of the death of the other, arises in response to the same call.

The death of the other discloses terror or hope; if terror then a community of magic and superstition arises. If hope, a community of advent, of a messianism of an anonymous religion, an unthematic religion, arises. The former community is poised for a pantheon, the latter for Mashiach. The former is poised for rejection of non-self; the latter is poised for the self of the other as another in the flesh that is the image and likeness of my flesh. In this manner the phenomenality of death, the event of death, recapitulates the call of a community into the event of religion in each and every death; as the 'called' community recapitulates the givenness of death in the phenomenological moment. It is through religion that expectation, the response to the givenness of death, opens upon the possibility of revelation.