Monday, August 31, 2015

The Play of Icon and Idol among the Sheep and Goats: What is Seen and Unseen in the Kingdom of Heaven

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” [Matt. 25:31-46, NIV]

I have commented on this passage recently, in light of John Caputo's recent presentation at Peter Rollins' Belfast bash in April 2015. In this post, I would like to pursue how vision, the gaze, works in a dialectic of Marion's saturated phenomena of the idol and icon. The gaze upon either phenomenon leads to bedazzlement, as such phenomena cannot be grasped within the intuition, nor can the intention take aim. Instead, these saturated phenomena saturate the gaze, the intuition, and overcome the receiving self. The idol reflects the gaze so overwhelmingly that the self is overcome by its own reflection; the icon refracts the gaze and overcomes the self not with its own reflection but by bending back toward the self which is itself now seen.

The phenomenological reduction of Matthew's parable of the sheep and goats takes a good amount of air out of the tires of the 'muscle car' that drives the receptions of the inheritance of the sheep and the punishment of the goats. By collapsing the glory, the assembled nations, the seat of judgment, and the economy of reward and punishment (25:31-32; 46), we are left with an animal farm whose versions of vision release the event (25:34-45). The Matthean Jesus has already spoken of the parables and of vision:

13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. [Matt. 13: 13-17, NIV]

The hermeneutics of the parable is the self coming to a new heart in metanoia. Jesus places quite a premium on the breaking or softening of a thickened, hardened heart. In these lines of Matt. 13, Jesus invites his audience to don Isaiah's healing lenses.

"When did we see you," say the sheep and goats to the Lord. What is seen and unseen depends on whether one sees through Isaiah's eyes or other eyes. Some eyes discern the idol and others, the icon. Neither the sheep nor the goats saw the Lord in the face of the other, yet the sheep respond to something, a call, heard or unheard, that haunts the face of  the other: they act upon something insisting, bringing something into existence. The sheep see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger iconically. The Lord, though invisible to them, is made visible in the event of their acts of mercy. The light of the other shines upon them, and they are seen by something in the face of the other. They act from their very selves opened up and emptied to receive---in a play of kenosis and apophasis---an unconditional call, a pure call and pure gift. The sheep grow a pair of eyes in the newness of their emerging selves, which are now poised to respond to the phenomenality of the self of the given.

The goats are also overwhelmed; they, too, ask 'when did we see you?' But here, the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger remain invisible in the glaring, bedazzling light of the idol. Their vision is blinded by the gaze reflected back upon them. They do not see the other, but merely a version of themselves that never enters the flesh of the other. The goats are not seen; no light shines upon them, as so they are left in the dark, clueless that they have missed the appearance of the invisible Lord and a opportunity to make visible the invisible. They do not hear the call because they do not see the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger, even though could speak about them matter-of-factly. It was not only the Lord that was invisible to the goats, but their brother in the other, their selves before the selves of a phenomenality that never enters experience.

Do goats therefore diminish the saturated phenomenon to mere object, or an impoverished phenomenon? Shall we reframe the story like this: when phenomenology sits on its throne of judgment it will separate the see-ers of saturated and poor phenomena, gather all the universities and churches, and take them to task for mistaking phenomena for mere objects. There is something to this preposterousness. Whether we privilege the given which gives itself unconditionally, or the recipient whose gaze is constituted by givenness, such a phenomenology invites hierarchy on either side of the phenomenological moment. Are all saturated phenomena 'better' than less saturated phenomena? Are the selves within the given ordered to degrees of givenness? Are some 'gifteds' more gifted than other 'gifteds': are some recipients better prepared than others to have their selves opened and replenished? Are there degrees of negative capability, of the gaze to see?

The economy of the gift that outrages Caputo in the natural reading of  the frame of Matt. 25:31-46 is either read through the play of the icon and idol, animal and flesh of the stranger or it is not. If it is, then it plays out in the justice-to-come. The acts of mercy visited upon the hungry by the sheep, do not seem to be visited upon the goats by the king. Yet, in the kingdom, the mood is subjunctive, not performative. Verses 41 and 46, viewed from the icon, do not condemn, but warn and invite. If we translate 41 as "continue, if you like, on the path (πορεύεσθε) of the idol, to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels," then it is an invitation to metanoia, a change of heart, and an opening of the vision past the idol into the icon. Similarly, v. 46 depicts a choice between the idol and the icon, a choice between penalty (κόλασιν) and life. 

Thematically, the sheeps and goats follow the virgins with their oil and the servants with their talents. The kingdom is suddenly upon all of them, and they all get an invitation to life. Parabolically, the king that separates the animals according to the flesh does so with the same voice as the Lord of the wedding banquet (25:11) and the master of the servants (25:19). Silly virgins and judgmental servants are invited on the same journey as the goats of the idol. Unless their fates are sealed in a divine predestination, sealed off against hope, sealed off from metanoia, a crossroads awaits them all.

Finally, all parables in the NT demand the erotic reduction that opens unto these crossroads. Despite the disconcerting content of some, especially those in Matt. 25, they are prayerful and non-judgmental; they are loving. Neither performative (in the Austin/Searle sense) or declarative speech acts, their subjunctive moods create the mood for their "perlocutionary" acts. Indeed, Marion has given us a remarkable means for evaluating the event of parables in his discussion on the discourse of love in "What Cannot be Said" (The Visible and the Revealed, Fordham Univ. Pr., 2008, 110-118). "The perlocutionary act produces its effect...beyond the overwhelm, and possibly seduce someone...[P]erlocutionary acts prove to be is difficult to say where convention begins or ends...I can predict this effect" (111-12). Conventional parables and other parabolic locutions, acts of love all, are the perlocutionary acts that dictate their own hermeneutics. The event of love harbored in each parable receives its voice between the voice of their speakers and their hearers; for in the song of the parables, seeing is a way of loving, and loving is a way of knowing. Both are food for the heart, the food of love that moves it to metanoia. If such music be the food of love, play on.

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