Saturday, March 28, 2015

Zizek's Ghosts

From Ghoulies and Ghosties,
and long-legged beasties,
and things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

Enter Banquo's Ghost.

Why do you dress me in borrow'd robes?

Had Derrida, Caputo and Keller never written a haunting, spooking word, Zizek would still spook us, haunt us, and go bump in the dark. Lately I've been quoting Macbeth wondering about his clothes. I'm spooked, as was Cawdor. While he never visits Shakespeare's play, Zizek does play on Macbeth's stage when he asks, che vuoi? Once poor Macbeth asks his famous question to the disbelief of his friend Banquo, he spends the rest of his life addressing his world from those robes he freely seeks and dons. It is irrelevant to Macbeth that he never wears those borrow'd robes legitimately. He becomes (or more accurately, tranforms or rewrites himself into), as Zizek might say, the very object of the desire of the other. All the rest spooks the castle.

Zizek uses several characters to illustrate the che vuoi. He especially likes the fantastically unlucky Roger Thornhill, who responds to the assertion that he is the spy George Kaplan, by becoming (some version of) George Kaplan (The Sublime Object of Ideology, 2nd ed., Verso:London, 2008, 125. All subsequent (page numbers) refer to this edition). Though he never makes the conscious connection between che vuoi? and 'borrow'd robes,' the terms function the same way. Zizek's question, "why am I what you are saying that I am?" (126) is equivalent to Macbeth's question. Sometimes the result is comic, as in Hitchcock's North By Northwest, or Woody Allen's Play it Again Sam; but sometimes the result is tragic, as in Zizek's reading of the Antigone or his reading of the Annunciation through Rosetti's Ecce Ancilla Domini (126f).

Bearing in mind Zizek's commentary on film, pictorial art and fiction, I would like to briefly examine the Lucan Annunciation, and John's and Mark's Passion narratives to discover the event seeking release in the robing and disrobing that takes place there.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. [Luke 1:34;36, NIV]

Interpreted through the lens of Rosetti's painting, Zizek focuses on the implicit sexuality of Mary, but Luke's portrait is simpler: a Mary reluctant to be dressed in borrow'd robes. Regardless, the Lucan Mary takes on the mantle of the mother of 'the Son of the Most High' (1:32), as she moves from ecce to fiat. Mary becomes the object of desire of the Other; she dons the robes, and having asked 'why am I...', becomes she whom 'all generations' will call blessed (1:46-56). The price of blessedness is steep, though as her heart will be pierced by the cross.

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” [Luke 2:34-35]

Simeon's 'sword' is double-edged. 
In the Passion narratives, Jesus resists donning borrow'd robes, yet others, ghostly and haunting, disrobe in attempts to displace the object of their desire in their role as the Other. Caiaphas can't seem to disrobe fast enough, and tears his clothes off (Mark 14:63). The foregone conclusion takes on the shape of blasphemy against the established order, but the keriah betokens the loss about to occur. The loss is the loss of everything known about God, and the profoundest grief is laid bare before the assembly as if the rending of the cloth had rent Caiaphas's own heart asunder. Simeon's 'sign' of infamy has revealed the heart of the Sanhedrin.

The Roman prefect Pilate also wears his heart on his sleeve. He asks if Jesus is a king, that is, if Pilate's fealty should be paid to Jesus instead of Caesar; but Jesus rebukes him, refusing those robes, which must be transformed into the very mockery of royalty before Jesus finally dons them by force of royalty (John 18:33-38; 19:4-6). And yet, the rebuke sets Pilate's mind to free Jesus, and only failing that, can he settle on free himself of Jesus. At the Crucifixion, the crowds insist that Jesus don the robes of the God they create, but that God never appears, demonstrating that the emperor/false God has no clothes. The mysterious garments on Golgotha are gambled away into the Tradition.

In an interesting twist of time and place, the scantily clad young man who loses his garment in Gethsemane, runs off naked at the betrayal of Jesus, perhaps the last one to flee from the scene (Mark 14:51). The linens are displaced; they hearken to another scene, one not pregnant with disaster. They are properly placed as figura of the death linens (Mark 15:46). Robert Barron has suggested that the garment was baptismal garb, the sindon (σινδόνα ), which constitutes a double anachronism. The fleeing young man clearly has no clothes, so ill-fitting they apparently were.

Zizek's ghosts are not unlike Ibsen's; they are creatures of habit, predictable and haunting. Captain Alving demands to know why the living are George Kaplans, while the living remain complicit in the incest that is the syphilitic desire of the Other. Caiaphas, Pilate, the crowds make similar demands of Jesus, who finally demonstrates for them that there is, after all, no Big Other. Instead, the impossible excess insists itself into existence of saturated phenomena of the event that reveals the sublime (Zizek, 226ff). The very ambivalence and ambiguity of the un-named, un-interpellated, impossible: "[t]he Sublime is therefore the paradox of an object which, in the very field of representation, provides a view, in a negative way, of the dimension of that which is unrepresentable" (230). Here is Zizek at his most apophatic, making room for the un-nominated excess that lives between Vorstellung and Darstellung.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Quick Note on an Emerging Synthesis of Marion, Keller and Caputo

In my recent post, "Evidence and Phenomena," I stumbled upon the notion that the horizons of phenomenology bear the stigmata of apophatic entanglement expressed in the trinity of implicatio, explicatio, and complicatio

Central to my understanding of 'stigmata' in this context, is the breathing involved in this 3-fold formulation. The inspirations and expirations in this rhythmic process have, well, implications. The 'inseparability' of the counterpoints of reality envisages the accommodations of place ( I might have said 'space' here at one time).

I am not suggesting that such horizons are elusive moving targets, but that a certain dynamism is at play that marks Keller's folds. In pneumatic motion, reality adopts distinct but ephemeral conformations that either allow or generate the conditions for phenomena to make their appearance. I am thinking here about how electrons achieve higher energy states which move them onto another plane, and how they eventually regain their more relaxed location, and in the process emit a particle of light, a photon: illumination. 

The photoelectric effect is an interesting reflection of other effects in the cloud of unknowing. The fleeting conformations in Keller's Cloud of the Impossible of apophatic entanglements allow or generate 'something' to break through. Perhaps this 'something' has existed before, but has slipped into inexistence (again the behavior of electrons popping in and out of existence in their orbitals is instructive).

In apophatic placing within entanglements, horizons form, deform, reform, as predicted in Keller's mystical cloud theory. This theory also has, well, implications for phenomenology. In the cloud, the phenomenologies of Heidegger and Husserl must be read through the neo-phenomenology of Jean-Luc Marion, whose phenomenological reductions are 'snapshots' of moments in the flux of horizons. Perhaps these reductions are informed by uncertainty, the interstitial ether of the cloud (what some poets have poetically called 'dark matter').

In turn, therefore, it might be profitable to read Marion through Keller, whose apophasis makes a place for his horizons. In this way we can accept his notion that God is beyond being, presented to experience on the horizon of Love, before he appears on the horizon of being.

The 'something' that lurks in potentiality in the dynamic foldings of the cloud, then can be actualized in the rift (gap) torn open by the very fabric of the cloud. This is a something that makes a gap, not something that fills the vacuum of a gap. There is no empty space in the cloud, just the potentiality of forming a place.

Reading Marion through Keller allows us to read Caputo, who is always reading. Depending on where we catch him in the folds, he is reading backwards or forwards with his God insisting to cut a gap into existence. But Caputo's insistence of God is somehow akin to Marion's seduction of God, both of which are embraced in Keller's folding trinity of God. The stigmata of these faces of God etch themselves upon the flexing horizons of a call insisting, of Love seducing, and of the embrace en-/un-/with-/folding.

This trinity of thinkers is caught up in the tri-fold cloud, and their synthesis reshapes the shape of reality (which is as protean as the cloud itself). In such a manner, a provocative ethics is poised for an appearance, an ethics that has a profound respect for what's happening in the cloud.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Homily on the Passion

Holy Week and the Triduum approach us, and I am dreading another bizarre dramatization of the arrest, trial and crufixion of Jesus. The Liturgy of the Word is certainly lengthy, and perhaps the participation of all (the Faithful get to read the part of  the 'Crowd') is something of an antidote for the apparently soporific duration. This kind of thing used to be trendy, and designed to show the artistry of the evangelist, as in, for example, the Collegeville Bible Commentary on the 4th Gospel. Of course, the evangelists had access to the genre of drama, and the option of writing one was always there.

Often, because of the undue burden placed on all by the sheer mass of the Gospel readings, a homily is abbreviated or omitted. I present this homily for Lenten reflection and as a contingency plan.

The narrative of events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus is a human story about a human person. No one seriously questions the historicity of the general contour of the story of a man betrayed by a friend, falsely accused, tried by his peers and delivered to a foreign power for judgement and execution at the hands of the state. It is also a personal story about a particular man. He had a mission and was joined in it by close associates. His initial success captured the popular imagination which led to general admiration for him in certain circles, even though his success was a threat to others.

The final events of his life were concentrated into hours. He passed from fame to ignominy in a flash, abandoned not just by the general populace but by his closest associates as well. He was personally betrayed by someone who might have even been especially close.

In the flow of fleeting time he is disavowed by everyone. He is completely abandoned, a no-body totally subsumed into the unspeakable and ineffable power of the state. He is publicly mocked, marched through the streets to the jeers of the mob, and finally nailed to a cross, humiliated, defeated, separated from everything, and awaits an exquisitely painful dying.

We must imagine ourselves there: we witness to the event through the witness of the Gospel. We are at the foot of the cross, watching, hearing the anguish and abandonment of someone waiting for death to come.

Now imagine he is your son, brother, husband, friend. Imagine he is anyone's child, sibling, spouse, friend.

Here is your son, in the power of the state, on a gurney about to receive a lethal injection. You are there, separated from him perhaps by a pane of glass; you are there as a witness to the death of your son. Is he innocent? Is he guilty? At this point, what is the difference?

Do you rush to the glass, pound on it, try to break through it to embrace your son, hold him close, prevent it from happening?

You are restrained as you struggle against this impossible moment. Do you scream a scream so screaming the scream itself is impossible?

The injection is given and you see your son's body convulse, tortured in the throes of death. What are you thinking? Saying? Feeling? Does the word 'justice' come to mind?

You see your son's body finally relax. He is dead. What sounds do you make now? Where were you when he suffered death? Where were you in his moment of passing into that death? Does the word 'God' come to mind?

Now imagine God the son and God the father, on Calvary, in the moment. What is it like for God, united to his son, but unable to change the outcome? What kind of sound does God make when he is screaming against the suffering of the son? What kind of terror overcomes the son to witness God the father who cannot break through to the moment?

This is the Cross.

The Cross of Christ's death bears witness to us everyday, and we bear witness to the Cross when we hear its call.

Every celebration of  the Mass is a confrontation with the Cross, but especially on the Sunday of Holy Week, when we get to safely drown it all out with really bad acting.

Robert Barron reminds us, and rightly so, that we call the Friday of Christ's death on a cross, 'good.' It is 'good' not because of the horror beyond words acted out this day, but because of our deepest hope that the resounding scream of God overwhelms the howls of execration at the Crucifixion and the powers of the world.

The scream of God does not shatter glass, collapse mountains or hurl the planets into the sun; it is a scream that whispers on Elijah's breeze, barely perceptible perhaps, but beckons insistently, insisting to be received. It is a call without words that asks to exist; the sound that a Sunday morning makes; the sound made that inexplicable first day of the week so many years ago. The sound of the past made present.

ἐν τούτῳ νίκα

In this [sign], conquer. 

Latinized to in hoc signo vinces by Christian writers after Lactantius and Eusebius, the sign refers to the Chi-Rho, the digraph depicting the crossier-like shepherd's staff (Gk. letter Rho) with a superimposed "X" (Gk. letter Chi). Though he did not understand the meaning of the symbol, Constantine later interpreted it as a omen of victory in battle, and had the Chi-Rho incorporated into the labarum, the standard raised in the vanguard of the soon to be victorious Roman troops.

While the Chi-Rho certainly evokes Christ (chi-rho are the first two letters of the word) and the Cross, it was no crucifix. It is rather a sanitized evocation of what would later become an image depicting the body of Christ nailed to a cross. For Constantine the symbol was all idol. Some say Christianity takes a detour in the early 4th century and goes off on a tangent whose trajectory persists today (though some others limit that observation to the Roman Catholic Church).

So let me dispense right now with one of my pet peeves, namely that the "IHS" of the Jesuit symbol does not stand for 'in hoc signo vinces' but simply the 1st 3 letters of the name, "Jesus" in much the same way and the Chi-Rho spells "Christ." Sometimes there are just too many initials in the alphabet soup we call communication.

I mention all of this because Robert Barron's latest video, "ISIS and the Cross," presents the Cross as a provocation, a poke at the supremacy of authority, political power, the State. Barron states that when Paul preaches the crucified Christ, he deliberately subverts the norm, the political 'way things are.' Of course, in Paul's time there was no iconography of the Cross (which does not emerge in the history of the Church until the 3rd century); Paul asserts stauros to conjure the image of the cross and crucifixion, and that would have been enough to disgust, frighten and generally repulse anyone listening to him. His was a stroke of rhetorical genius, not iconographic genius.

The theme of subversion within early Christianity captures the modern imagination. Its popularity gains traction from time to time, but I was a bit taken aback by its appearance in Barron's video. Certainly, there can be no reduction of the Christ-event to a political movement or strategy in Catholicism, but both Paul and the Jesus of the Gospels do indeed introduce an angst into what was passing for religion and politics in those days and even today. 

Does the crucifix today have any rapport with the Chi Rho that launched the Christian West? Are all those Catholic school kids wearing their Communion and Confirmation crosses subverting their world? Does ISIS add to the rolls of the martyrology, and if so where is the victory over the sting of death? What is being seeded in the sacramental murders of these Christian martyrs?

The West has abandoned the Crusade and for good reason. It is interested in its advance and future accomplishments, and tearing its fabric along religious seams can only mean destruction of its project. Indeed, when the West is besieged by religious forces, as it is at this moment, its instincts move it to secularize the agency of its attackers. The political reduction is certainly an expeditious approach, but it distracts from marshaling those religious seams to aid in achieving a broader understand of just what phenomenon is invading and exercising religious violence.

The Chi-Rho is gone, and there is no longer a single Milvian Bridge, despite a West that sometimes appears to be divided against itself. But the earth receives the blood of the martyrs as it waits to insist for the justice-to-come; and brothers' blood cries unto the God-to-come, insisting to exist.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Evidence and Phenomena

I loved Bazooka Joe bubble gum and have the fillings and crowns to prove it. But the little comics tucked into each gum wrapper were precious. One little strip has been spooking me lately.

Bazooka Joe finds Mort searching for something in his living room. "Whatcha lookin' for Mort?"

"Oh, I lost my skate key in the basement," said Mort.

"Then why're ya lookin' in your living room for it?" asked B. Joe.

Mort replied, "because the light's better in here."

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom [1 Cor. 22, NIV]

There is neither Jew nor gentile [ Gal. 3:28, NIV]

Somebody's always looking for something. The positivist wants evidence, but the Christian has an experience. The former demands empirical access, but the latter offers phenomenality.  The former looks into the categories of knowledge and the latter to the horizons of experience. The former looks for data on the plane of immanence for what the latter locates in what transcends immanence. The former looks with the illumination of pure reason, and the latter with the light of intuition. The Christian asserts it is irrational to look to the horizon of being for what is to be found on the horizon of love. The positivist asserts that if that which is sought is not to be found on the horizon of Being  (or at least the empirical world), the search is irrational and meaningless, if not absolutely and maliciously false.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? [Luke 24:5, NIV]

In 1980, Johnny Lee was looking for love in all the wrong places. The lyrics, in perhaps another form, go back further than that; but some folks continue to look for stuff, even in places the stuff is surely not to be found. This is a 2-way street; the recourse to what John Caputo calls 'blackmail' is deployed by those who find themselves locked in the self-imposed binarities of faith/reason; atheist/theist; theology/philosophy, etc. The infinite loop of extortion does not lead to stalemate, but to violence of one sort or another. And that kind of intellectual criminality has to stop.

Reflecting on Nicholas of Cusa's almost surreal, ecumenical, instinctual critique applied to the religio-political peregrinations of his day---his call for non-violent engagement with Islam--Catherine Keller has observed that

[t]he question of religious multiplicity is, of course, today posed altogether differently.  It cannot begin or end with any "one religion." The pluralism of both theology and politics rule out any discourse of unification...[I]t arises now, for instance, within a renewed discussion of the democratically appropriate role of religion in the public sphere [t]hat now envelopes the planet. And that world appears pervasively complicated not only by the troubled relations between the religions, but also between religion and secularism[S]cholarship in religion might unsay religion, even as secular thinkers unsay secularism. (Cloud of the Impossible, 242-3)

Though Keller problematizes the inherent violence of religion (244-45), she points to the breathing room of saying and unsaying, on either side of the religious/secular binarity. Is this wishful thinking, or a description of nature of things? The blackmail inherent in binarities does seem to dissolve in the ebb and flow of enfolding, unfolding and folding together as each polarity takes the other into itself. This rhythmical, kenotic spacing through the slash---the accommodation of apophatic entanglement---the self-emptying of the one into the other opens into saturated phenomena.

Marion's icon and idol come into view in the nexus revealed in enfolding and unfolding. Resistance between the terms in a binarity results from the idolic gaze of the one upon the other. The response to the reflection is narcissistic, overwhelming and what Tad DeLay might identify as a perversion of, or a perverse relation to, reality (cf. God is Unconscious, 79). In the apophatic maneuver, the terms break through to the iconic other, allowing 'likeness and image' to unfold. Only through the idolic and iconic phenomena can a healthy reality present itself in its radical givenness; for, as Marion has provocatively asserted, the phenomenon gives itself (Being Given, 68). 

Keller's cloud, not unlike an orbital of probability, allows things to appear in a process of entangling---saying and unsaying, knowing and unknowing, insisting and existing. Phenomenological horizons themselves bear the stigmata of implicatio, explicatio and complicatio. It would seem that evidence for this trinitarian dynamic seeks its horizon of understanding in a givenness of res ipse loquitur glimpsed only in the folds where appearances come into truth. The drive to evidence must make room for phenomena, as phenomena evidence the horizons of experience of the real.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tad DeLay's God is Unconscious: Some Additional Thoughts

Blog lurkers are a wonderful folk. Too shy to comment publicly, they nonetheless find their way to share their thoughts. I am happy to receive commentary on my posts in any manner, and I am equally happy to keep lurkers anonymous, yet some have critiqued my recent review of Tad DeLay's new book, and so I will cryptically and elliptically respond in this little addendum to my original review

First, I must say that I do not know DeLay apart from his work. I have not attended any venue where we might have met (though I would love to get to a conference). Second, I do not think my review was especially generous; my facetious prolegomenon underscored the problematical nature of Lacanian (or any brand) psychoanalysis. 

That being said, I maintain that Tad has written a very useful treatise on the nexus of psychoanalysis and religion/theology/Christianity. He speaks clearly in his own voice in the first person, and allows Lacan to do the same in the ample quotations provided. The analysis is sound and smoothe and the reader always knows who is saying what. In this regard, Tad's book is more successful than Zizek's How to Read Lacan (referenced in God is Unconscious), which should have done the same.

On the rare occasion that I review a book, I think the work critiqued should be given pride of place and not my own cleverness (I have a blog to do that!). The point is that DeLay's book 'works.' If I were to identify an aspect of the book's argument that I view with a jaundiced eye, that would be how Tad appropriates Caputo's notion of insistence. In the discourse of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the unconscious has too much force, ousia, to insist the way God insists in Caputo's theopoetics. The unconscious has a materiality in psychoanalysis that is completely absent from Caputo's call from he knows not where. But this is a quibble in the scheme of things.

I stand by the thrust of my original review, and I recommend Tad's book to anyone looking to make sense of Lacan and the application of psychoanalysis to religion and theology. Peter Rollin's Foreword to the book has got it just about right in identifying the potential impact on theology of Tad's work.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

God is Unconscious: A Review

Psychoanalysis is structured like a religion. It is a coffee-table book about coffee tables, and turns itself into a coffee table if one is needed. Christianity is structured like a cup of coffee.

A man approaches an analyst asking if there's anything he can do to help his brother who thinks he's a chicken. The analyst responds, 'why don't you bring him in?' The man replies, 'because we really need the eggs.' No, not that Marx.

What that anecdote excludes is the jealousy of the analyst, who would like a brother like that, because he really needs the eggs, too. The analyst's desire is for eggs in perpetuity.
The analyst is the subject-who's-supposed-to-know. He just doesn't know Foucault. The original Ovaltine (or better yet, 'Roundtine') determines just what knowledge is. That's right: that Marx. Seinfeld, Groucho, Allen--I get them all confused, but not so confused as to miss out on my secret decoder ring, which, when it comes to Lacan...

We can add up Lacan, Zizek, and perhaps Delay, then divide by Lyotard, and you're left with a religion without a metanarrative. But what is psychoanalysis without its metanarrative of power, its hegemony over real, symbolic and imaginary registers poking its nose through the unconscious into consciousness? While it allows the analysand to dig deeper, psychoanalysis will not discover its own difficulty with things that don't work in the image of the discoveries of the analysand. It is blind to see that the reflection of the knave is the fool, and the fool's reflection is the knave. "And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind..."

When psychoanalyts leave the bedside (couch-side? In any event the traditional clinical setting) to become culture critics, yet bring the same tools (bag of tricks?) to the game, we should expect some electricity. Cultures must undergo a reduction to organism whose narrative is not told in the first person, but always in the 3rd. The relationship between the critic and the subject is dramatically transformed. Against Lacan's protestations, the analyst, far from interrupting too soon, tells the whole story (at least when they give seminars or write books); but, of course, the master has endorsed the creative shift away from the altar, away from ritual, to the vox populi.

Tad DeLay's wonderfully written book on the interface of theology/religion and psychoanalysis, God is Unconscious: Psychoanalysis & Theology (Wipf and Stock, 2015) is a fascinating recollection and meditation of the discipline's unfolding into the intellectual worlds of the 20th and 21st centuries. I identify the work as a 'book' because I have not decided just what genre the book should be received into; and that could be a good thing. I recall that Michel Foucault once said his major works were more like novels than philosophy. I'll therefore stick with 'book,' though genealogy, novel or rhapsody would work just as well.

The book opens with an anecdote recalling a conversation between Jung and Freud, who upon sailing into NY Harbor and viewing a statue guarding an impressive city, recognized that they were delivering a 'plague,' not unlike the way the USS Indianapolis delivered the 'bomb.' Either way, an explosion can't be far off, or at least something that goes 'bang.' DeLay writes about an invasion, a cathectic advance of an occupying force that electrified the world with currents buzzing to this very day. Freud and Jung were no lads from Liverpool, but they were bigger than Jesus Christ.

Or so the story goes. Cathexis is the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of the king. In his introduction, DeLay promises a dose of rage with a sense of irony (xxiv) that will result in a "materialist protest against theologies that do no work" (xxii). He offers an anti-cathexis on nearly every page, allowing the book to breathe, enfold, unfold, then fold together. No doubt this is why religion emerges triumphant: the registers of subjectivity are charged and discharged in rhythmic but unregulated apophatic space, in the movements across the unguarded frontiers of the real, symbolic and imaginary by disembodied spirits of the hysteric, the obsessive, the psychotic and the neurotic, searching horizons of anxiety, resistance and repression. It's a religion of a mystic.

Still, if psychoanalysis is to 'unsettle theology,' it must relinquish the analyst-as-subject-supposed-to-know and rely on differance. Intepretation must be deferred and differentiated from imagination, for the truth must be reloaded in manageable aliquots (27). The process is very tenuous, of course, because repetition is irresistible in its thirst for the 'new' (39). "Wherever there is theology, there is anxiety...[T]he relation of theology is fluid and produces a back and forth experience of the negative and the positive" (43). Apparently, theology is unsettled by exposing its undulations of apophatic and cataphatic moods, its claim that anything gets done, that something is working in the bipolarity of mood swings.

Even an unsettled, perhaps haunted, "[t]heology is at its best when it acknowledges itself as a nexus around a void" (47). And here is where DeLay discovers but does not annouce the incestuous relations between psychoanalysis and its cognate siblings. Cathexis masquerades as a drive encircling a void that must momentarily be filled by any of the cognates (47). Here is a great irony with no little rage: all the cognates love to build fences, and that these fences spin and oscillate around the objects taking turns in the center: the cognates are the objects of their own desire, and results in an excess of jouissance for its own sake. The more things change the more they stay the same: that's the trick of any cognate dreaming of hegemony.

The problem of desire is foundational for Lacan, and DeLay's exposition of it in his Chapter 4, "Psychopathology" positions his critique of "American Evangelical," "fundamentalist," Christianity, especially his exposition of perversion (122 ff.) He remains faithful to the axiom that 'one's desire is the desire of the Other.' "[T]he pervert is primarily defined by the mechanism of fetish disavowel and his fantasy that he is the object of the Big Other's desire" (77). Simplified to its basic term, perversion is delusion (78). Here is DeLay at his most meticulous, and he must be read cautiously and deliberately. Let him hold his reader's hand very closely, through his articulation of 'transference' to his disclosure of an essential "pattern: perversion pressures neurosis to reorient specifically as obsessionalism, often through hysteric or psychotic language," which is, like any other language, conventional, "exchangeable" and "irrelevant" (123). The only thing that matters is "that things work smoothly."

And things work smoothly until they don't work smoothly. And then we must begin again. Not in Zizek's nightmare Hegel where 'again' is more of the same, but in a hope that repetition has a rebirth, and something actually changes, something psychoanalysis might call a cure, but in its religious version would call a cura pastoralis. And this is why I predict that the authorial intelligence at work in the synthesis of God is Unconscious cannot rest until it rests in the heart of Keller's Cloud.

DeLay's book deserves a 2nd printing, and not just to rid the book of its distracting and escalating typographical errors and frank word omissions. God is Unconscious deserves a second hearing. DeLay writes pleasantly, with clarity and controlled enthusiasm as he takes his reader on a search where he himself searches. We must allow him to steer us on the never-intersecting edges of the rope of the Borromean knot, through subjectivity and into his enthralling subject, which he admits is not deconstruction, but certainly not indeconstructible.

Unconditional and Without Sovereignty

ecce agnus dei---the Baptist

ecce homo---Pilate

ecce, ecce, read all about it, God without Sovereignty, ecce, ecce---anonymous

"Absolute omnipotence is a religious and metaphysical fantasy, but one that contains and displaces a powerful core truth, which is that by "God" we mean the possibility of the impossible." John Caputo, in The Weakness of God, (87-88)

The biblical warrant for a God without sovereignty is conveniently located in the 4th Gospel. Jesus is a lamb of a king, but a king nonetheless, for Pilate had written what he had written. He responds to the Baptist's ecce agnus dei with his own myopic ecce homo. The Synoptics have John baptize Jesus and Pilate baptize his own hands, which is as far as Pilate could see; the 4th evangelist essentially agrees, as his Pilate distances his vision from the whole affair.

The 'weak force of God' (Weakness, 94 ff.) is at work in the Johannine narrative.

“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. [John 18:33-38, NIV]

Pilate is able to conclude from his questioning Jesus's unconditional kingship without sovereignty in this here and now. Jesus is a sovereign without visible, effective power. No retinue; no rescue; nothing from 'another place.'

“Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.

Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free [John 19:10-12, NIV]

Exousia is rendered in these verses as 'power,' but the gist of the term in context is its unconditionality, which drives Pilate's attempt 'to set Jesus free.' Apologetic in nature or not, this shift in Pilate's mood is an extraordinary narrative event. Exousia in the mouths of both Jesus and Pilate provides a micro-discourse on power-as-authority, as something unconditional in itself, something that insists, but only exists when brought into the realm of the here and now, the plane or stage of immanence where two forces-in-the-making face-off, the one the strong force of politics, the other, the weak force of God. In short, Jesus has been reduced to a plaything of the Pax Romana, and the only power at work on Gabbatha is Pilate's, and all this without prejudice to the exousia of unconditionality. The weakness of God, the possibility of the impossible, displaces what one might expect from divine omnipotence.

Pilate will allow Jesus this much: he is a sovereign, but a sovereign of nothing with nothing but the mock-up of a mock-epic. Politically, this is the only sovereign the Jewish people under Caesar will ever get, and Pilate writes as much. This is 'truth:' a king with a crown of thorns in a purple robe of Roman majesty mocking any pretension to Jewish sovereignty in 1st century Palestine.

When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” [ John 19:5-6, NIV]

Behold the man: king of thorns, lamb of God, King of the Jews. This was a most crucifiable moment. Before his crowning, Jesus appeared to Pilate as the saturated phenomenon of the idol, whose gaze reflected the elusiveness of truth back upon the viewer. Pilate must look away, for any intentionality is completely drowned in the currency of impossibility. So, too, the chief priests can only say, "Crucify!" in response to the idolic gaze reflected upon them: that image of themselves is the idol they wanted dead as soon as [im]possible, which spills over their intentionality and betrays their intuition. The powerbrokers must be done with this Jesus, once and for all: he is too disturbing to the idols that maintain the status quo.

The thorns in Jesus's head pierce the sides of both Pilate and the chief priests. Jesus is the thorn that must be removed so that Pilate can move on to more pressing matters and the people to the Passover. And therein lies Caputo's displacement. The only omnipotence at play on Gabbatha is Roman, and Jesus has upstaged Caesar, who in turn, now must upstage Jesus, to set things right. It's a crucifixion of expediency. On Golgotha, the chief priests get their own fist in the face. They must gaze upon the "King of the Jews." Everybody from that morning gets a black eye.

There is too much complicity at the Johannine Crucifixion to allow abandonment to come forth, but the evangelist, too, enlists the 22nd Psalm (18), for its aleatory wit (John 19:24). The casting of lots shifts to another impossibility: what garments, and who would want them? the 4 soldiers gamble on the truth, or at least on what the truth came wrapped in. Truth is a game of chance.

What is truth? Truth is that which is orchestrated in the strains of Golgotha intoned on Gabbatha. The Johannine Jesus has all the company he needs.

Monday, March 16, 2015

TAD, Tad DeLay, Sclerocardia, Cathexis and Events of Repression and Anxiety

Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomypathy (ARVC) results from derangements in cellular and electrical structures in cardiac muscle. The heart quite literally hardens as its normal myocardial cells are replaced with fibrotic, fatty infiltrates. One of the minor diagnostic criteria is a Terminal Activation Delay of greater than 55 milleseconds (TAD > 55ms). If we think of cathexis as any focal investment, such as saturated phenomena or charged meanings (charged particles) attached to items in the symbolic register, we effect change and charge at a distance: when the symbolic and imaginary realms are so charged with content something is let loose or perhaps discovered within the Real itself, such as when anxiety is discovered in the pre-linguistic domain of the Real upon reflecting on the ripples on the surface of the symbolic.

Electric charge (the cathectic accumulation of charged particles such as ions) in biological systems lead to action potentials and the performance of work in the enfolding and unfolding of depolarizations and repolarizations of excitable tissue, such as heart muscle or the brain. The surplus of charge, whether configured in tissues of the body electric or psychic energy, push reactions in one direction or another. Surpluses of charge or meaning share in their properties of excess, which insist on their moments.

Do not expect a review of Tad DeLay's warmly and enthusiatically written nexus of psychoanalysis and theology, God is Unconscious, any time soon. I'm afraid the book, slender in appearance but dense in substance, requires living with it for a while; therefore a review in this blog will be a tad delayed.  But DeLay has digested Lacanian psychoanalysis in a manner most palatable, and even a cursory reading (NOT recommended) gleans a healthy dose of how Lacan's registers of the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary conspire to betray the play between anxiety, repression and the (Big) Other. The Delay of God is Unconscious is poised for the Cloud, with its rhythm of folding, unfolding and folding together. Truth be told, everyone likes a (really) good conspiracy theory.

Anatomical sclerocardia and its attendant dyscrasias are difficult to treat, and treatments focus on preventing sudden cardiac death. At the nexus of psychoanalysis and theology, metanoia remains challenging but amenable to manipulation. Still, a broken heart can mimic ARVC, and a change of heart often beckons from the dyscrasias of the Lacanian trinity, the Cusanian-Deleuzean manifold, or from Galen's humors, which may or may not have anything to do with jokes and their relations to the unconscious. After all, not everything is spooky, just most things; not everything that has yet to unfold is repression cutting a gap in the Real.

Sometimes we just need to take a deep breath in the Cloud.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Joseph C. Goodson has provided an incisive and poignant critique of my meditation on the Crucifixion. His critique is all the more searing by its deep authenticity, anchored as it is, in experience. I do not have the words of response to such a profound experience of this world, yet I would offer my presence and witness to this experience. I cannot physically stand by Joseph, but I can provide a poor surrogate to stand next to his critique, clearly nothing of a point by point response, but perhaps a response of...solidarity...

If anyone needs proof that brevity is the soul of wit, then I would recommend the 90 minute film Gravity. I am strangely attracted to this work, and rarely miss an oportunity to watch it again on any occasion of its cableTV reprises. The setting is orbital space and the routine interface of humans and technology. Ordinariness, though, is quickly overcome by the impossible. When stripped of a cooperating technology, the human becomes very human.

The film focuses its interrogations on the person of Ryan Stone, a mission specialist, biomedical engineer and mother who has lost her 4 year-old daughter, Sarah, to a senseless death. The disaster that befalls her in space reflects the profound loss she still very much experiences. Indeed, the disaster is a metaphor of the failure of everything (and anything) to make sense. To restore any sense, Ryan must rebuild the technology from scratch by revitalizing what was dormant.

Rather than re-present my earlier thoughts on the film, I am now looking it at through the lens of the crucifixion, my reflections on it, and Joseph's critique. So, I am now seeing in Gravity Ryan Stone's crucifixion. She hangs on the Cross, abandoned by everything she has taken for granted in its grand betrayal. Though she perseveres, she eventually despairs in her abandonment, and chooses death by asphyxiation. Then something else impossible happens: in her hypoxic stupor, her wits sharpen through an encounter with a most unexpected visitor, her dead co-worker, Matt Kowalski, who reminds her of her knowledge and skills, which she then puts to work forthwith.

Now things get interesting. Through a series of impossible events, Ryan is hurtling back to earth as a mob of wreckage and other flotsam chase her, bent on her destruction. She emerges from her harrowing of hell as atmospheric light flashes through the window. The capsule's parachute deploys, and she descends into the watery womb of some nondescript body of water. The treachery of the waters also tries to kill her, so she must now divest herself of all the technology holding her down into the water; she must break free to be born. The scene is primordial as she struggles to live, to become. She comes face to face with ontogeny, a freely swimming frog, as she finally breaks through the surface of the water.

Here is resurrection, entangled as it is with death. She has crossed into the Cross and out the other side into reshith, from tehom, the deep. She reifies the feminine beginning. In stunning visuals, she recapitulates genesis, humanity's emergence from the praemeval waters. We witness the first human thought: gratitude. We know not its object, but we are made present to the thought. Etching a hieroglyph into the ground with her fingers, she whispers, "thank you." The moment suspends the direction of the utterance. She slithers from the water,  becomes a quadra-ped,  then struggles to stand as the first bi-ped; and we hear a faint laugh, perhaps Sarah's laugh (for nothing is impossible with God).  

Gratitude is a problem. Ryan has lost so much: her daughter, her co-workers, her faith (in everything). After such knowledge, what forgiveness? If Zizek were to have had a hand in the film, I imagine a final scene in which the camera pans the calmest surface of the water and finally rests under the surface---on Ryan, face down, still in her murderous spacesuit, quite dead with a quizzical expression on her face, perhaps a smile in final recognition that she had freed herself of the Big Other.

But of course that is not the final scene, and we are left with the mystery of gratitude. Impossible gratitude.

Other films come to mind here, Ray Kinsella's epiphany that Iowa is heaven (Field of Dreams), Ellie Arroway's (Contact) conviction that her experience was real and filled with hope, non-abandonment, and the preciousness of the rarity of life, even Edward Jessup's (Altered States) assertion that the 'first thought' was the violence of eating. Each of these films depicts some evocation of gratitude.

Who would ever think that gratitude could be the response to the real?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Crux of the Crucifixion IV

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,  but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. [1 Cor. 18-25, NIV]
We Preach Christ crucified.
Paul is pretty tough on Wisdom here, and this distresses me no little bit, as I have been essaying a distinction between knowledge and wisdom in this blog. Of course, Paul is contrasting the wisdom of God with the wisdom of man, and the latter is found wanting while the former goes unrecognized. So, God in his wisdom, does not hold divinity hostage, and becomes man:
he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death
even death on a cross! [Phil. 2:7-8, NIV]
Christ crucified and death on a cross. Foolishness to some, wisdom to others. It's a matter of reading. There is something Johannine going on in these passages. Those who are 'in' share something wonderful; those who are 'out' were never in and share in something false (cf. 1 John). In the Pauline version, 'in' has the power and wisdom of God, and 'out' has a stumbling block and foolishness. But foolishness and and wisdom go hand in hand; for God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and his weakness is stronger than human strength.
The weakness of God. Repetition. Reading the Cross finds the weakness of God. We have noted earlier that confronting the reality of the Cross entails stripping divinity of analogical strength and power, the self-indulgent imposition of human characteristics upon God, the human intellectual, physical and emotional likeness upon God. The jeering crowd sums many of those characteristics up:
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. [Matt. 27:39-44, NIV]
The crowd betrays their embrace of a God that would swoop down from heaven and take Christ off the Cross, rescuing from his persecutors. This is the God that dies on the Cross of Christ. That death is sealed with the words of the 22nd Psalm, whose quotations began in the bitterly ironic 'wisdom' of the crowd. The Psalm, though beginning in abandonment,
moves from abandonment to union with the God who is, the God finally free of all anthropomorphism and anthropopathism and released into his nature of relationality. Christ's antiphon to the foolishness of the crowd is the wisdom of God. "God, God, why have you abandoned me?" Christ starts the psalm again to exonerate the crowd from their God, to displace that God with 'the Lord' God. The very weakness of God does not lower Christ from the Cross, but punctuates that weakness with death. The Lord 'God who is,' is the God of resurrection.
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it! [Psalm 22:30-31, NIV]
As I have noted earlier, all themes of the Gospel find their trajectories through the Cross. The foolish mockery of 'sonship' from the passing crowds becomes the relationality within the Trinity itself. Here, too, the Cross cuts an apophatic space: the space made between Father, Son and Spirit, and the very relationality that comprises the triune Godhead. In this way, it is Christ who unfolds the mystery of the Trinity as relationality that cannot remain enfolded in the gender of Father and Son. The event released in the Cross, the truth of God revealed in the Crucifixion, is whats going on between the human and divine. And part of that truth is that God made humans in his image and likeness, male and female he created them, and he saw that it was good, as good as it was when the man saw the woman and saw himself as other in the Other.
The Cross is the threshold to new life. By sharing in the experience of the Crucifixion, we undergo a kenotic release, creating the negative space to receive the spirit of Christ, who has commended it to God and everything that is. It is the liturgical movement of the Mass that moves us to cross into the Cross, partake of the Body of Christ, and move into a new life in the future. It is true that we leave the 'God that is us'
behind, but we have opened ourselves to the space for the
'God who is.'