Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Heavenly Life: What Mahler Tells Me

"Hell is for Children" Pat Benatar

I dislike biographical intrusions into pure music, and Mahler's music is no exception, though the meme that Mahler's music is biographical dies hard. As a devout Mahlerite since the age of 8, I would defer the biographical elements of his symphonies, and think about the notes. Lately, Mahler's 4th symphony is my favorite; it is perhaps his clearest symphonic statement, and perhaps even his most perfect work. Musicologists often point out that Mahler's study of Bach influenced his approach in the 4th, and that fact might indeed inform the mastery of contrapuntal musics that appear in the symphony; but Bach does not account for the economy of scoring, voicing, and emotion that characterizes this work.

A look at the second movement, In gemaechlich Bewegung, can illuminate these characteristics of the 4th symphony in general. Apart from the key signature of 3 flats, the instructions for the performance already tells us something is up: the solo violinist is to have 2 instruments available, one tuned (gestimmt) a step above (ganzton hoeher) the other, and to be used for the famous fiddler on the roof (the theme of death himself?) introduced in the 7th bar. Death certainly loves a scherzo, and a scherzo loves death: who better to dance with? The solo violinist is forced into two minds by two tunings: this bifurcation captures the color pattern for the movement, and prepares for the 2 modulations (C and F, at 1 and 3, returning to 3 flats again at 5, with another flirtation with C at 6) in the outer form. We simply can dispense with Alma Mahler's injections of inspiration for these harmonic movements: that the solo violin is symbolic of the danse macabre. We allow the score and the theme to speak for themselves. Music does not leap across sign systems to symbolize something outside itself. Music, if it 'symbolizes' anything, 'symbolizes' within its own sign system--- other music.

2 violins and 2 other keys in the outer structure of the 2nd movement play off the counter-melodies and counterpoint in a fascinating development. At 9, the score instructs us to a come prima mood, and again in F, sets up perhaps the most ethereal music ever written, which occurs at 11, the modulation to D which announces what some might call an apotheosis of this earth. After the play of oscillations between scherzo and trio, Mahler transfigures trios and scherzos forever in these stunning 26 bars of heaven on earth. The glissandi of the strings lifts the key of D above the plaintive clarinets (4th bar of 11), whose song rises beneath the falling violins, who Mahler instructs to play molto expressivo, and leads them to an edgy "B-natural" in the 15th bar of this section, against the taunting harp arpeggiating the D major triad. The sixth (B-natural) against the fifth (A) is of two minds, and beckons the solo violinist to speak again at 12.

Mahler returns from apotheosis to scherzo after the stranger-tuned violin has its last word. The most spartan harmonies are reductions of scherzo-phrenic, contrapuntal voices wrapped around each other, invaded by a violin and violinist tuned outside the harmonic contour of the movement. This is not children's music, but music that has known itself from past and present.

Not quite kindertotenlieder, it is nonetheless a music that looks to its innocence and experience, as Blake would have it. Does Mahler give innocence the last word, as a voice tuned to the other? The final movement might suggest this were the 1st three movements missing. The nurse from Blake's second "Nurses Song" rushes in to disrupt the final movement from resting in the child's view of heaven. She shocks with speed and urgency the listener back to the scherzo, and the simple sounds of the 3rd movement and the lullaby of the first. Nessun dorma!

Everyone likes to talk about death when they talk about Mahler. Arnold Boecklin's painting inevitably comes up when the 4th symphony is considered. I'd rather think about the music. Though we all hope hell is not for children, they do not get to play in this most enchanting of symphonies.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Mark of Cain and the Biopolitics of the Flesh In Negative Certainties

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. [Gen. 4:13-16, NIV]

Cain was mistaken: he thought he was fated to be the first homo sacer, but the Lord said 'not so.'  If we take as points of departure Agamben's paradox of sovereignty in his Homo Sacer, and Marion's coalescence of 'proscription' and 'prescription' as the event of such sovereignty in Negative Certainties, we might conclude that there can be no univocity of sovereignty between God and the agency of the 'state of exception.' Indeed, to predicate sovereignty of God is to commit the idolatry of the concept. God does not place Cain under the ban, but instead, in a subversion of sovereignty, marks Cain as not only unsacrificeable, but un-killable a well. Even as the soil cries out the blood of Abel, God does not deem Cain unworthy of life; his life is given to posterity in a generosity inconsistent with sovereignty.

While Marion nods to Foucault and Antelme (The Human Race), there is no trace of a nod to Agamben, even in Marion's most political statement yet:

...even the philosopher, and perhaps he above all, has the means to confirm and thus also to put into question the humanity of other men: it is enough to establish that man defines himself as Greek, European, Aryan and so on...thus defining in the end which are not human. Every political proscription, every racial extermination, every ethnic cleansing, every determination of that which does not deserve to live: they all rest on the claim to define (scientifically or ideologically, because in the end the difference is canceled out) the humanity of man...(NC, 36).

Certainly Agamben's work resonates in these lines: when prescription melts into proscription, and biopolitics (Marion's science and ideology) determines the humanity (the bare life) of man,  determines the very status of man as included and/or excluded and therefore as the exception, determines even the status of man as undeserving of life, Marion describes the historical event of sovereignty. Forms of life (bios) collapse into 'bare life' (zoe) in proximity to sovereignty; these terms as appropriated by Agamben play out in the phenomenon of the flesh and its diminishment to the body in Marion's analysis of the medical gaze, the un sans papiers, and the 'economic agent,' all of which are versions of the biopolitical commodification of the human being. The flesh/body distinction under the medical gaze points to a certain hylomorphism: the ego is the form of the flesh, as (in classical sacramental theology) the soul is the form of the body. As the human creature is always a saturated phenomenon to itself, even the sovereign (himself a human creature) of the polis cannot legitimately declare the homo sacer, though as the agent outside the law that bans the sacred man to both inside and outside the law, he, as the Zizekian pervert par excellence, overturns the non-intersecting registers of the real and symbolic orders, and writes the real into the symbolic without translation. The flesh as saturated phenomenon finds its excess not in distance, but in closeness---relationality approaches not infinity but zero, as the flesh cannot see itself as self or ego. By rendering both 'forms of life' and 'bare life' as objectness, the perverted sovereign stages a bizarre hylomorphism and sacramentality: the sacrament of sovereignty is the man who is unsacrificeable and killable.

Agamben notes:

One of the essential characteristics of modern biopolitics (which will continue to increase in our century) is its constant need to redefine the threshold in life that distinguishes and separates what is inside from what is outside. Once it crosses over the walls of the oikos and penetrates more and more deeply into the city, the foundation of sovereignty – non political life – is immediately transformed into a line that must be constantly redrawn. Once zoē is politicized by declarations of rights, the distinctions and thresholds that make it possible to isolate a sacred life must be newly defined. And when natural life is wholly included in the polis – and this much has, by now, already happened – these thresholds pass, as we will see, beyond the dark boundaries separating life from death in order to identify a new living dead man, a new sacred man.  (Homo Sacer, 77).

Marion, in apparent sympathy with this delineation of 'threshold,' can observe, that under the medical gaze, 'the suffering of my flesh will be transmuted into a disease of my body' (CN, 28). Because the flesh is immense, only the parameters of the body fall under the physician's eye, which can only see that body as a machine defined by numbers (e.g., laboratory values), and whose gaze "opens the fearsome region where man as doctor must decide if, and when, that which the machine maintains as functioning in this particular sick man still deserves consideration  as a life. And if this life can still claim to be human" (CN, 28). The very threshold that delineates sovereignty's distinction of 'inside from...outside' is a clinical threshold. The very anthropometrics Agamben identifies in the politicization of bare life, for Marion become the biometrics that determine identity in the event of sovereignty--- the proscription and prescription of the unpapered being, whose identity requires an ever escalating 'constant verification' (CN, 34). For Agamben's "new living dead man," that verification is always sought but never comes, even as the sovereign becomes for the sacred other, the object of desire, ever so bitterly, in the jouissance of sovereignty itself.

Marion's analysis of King Lear sympathizes with Agamben's axiom that "The camp is the space that is opened when the state of exception begins to become the rule. In the camp, the state of exception, which was essentially a temporary suspension of the rule of law on the basis of a factual state of danger, is now given a permanent spatial arrangement, which as such nevertheless remains outside the normal order" (Homo Sacer, 96). While there is no actual 'camp' in the tragedy, the conceptual space drives the action: the reduction of Lear from bios to zoë, from sovereign to persona non grata, from a state of ousia to a state of non-being. The permanence in Lear is not all that permanent, of course, and the reintegration of what it means to be human with the politics of the tragedy requires the reestablishment of love at great personal cost.  The stakes are always high when the very definition of the human creature must rest in its indefinition in order to maintain humanity itself.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hermeneutics of Plasticity in Marion's Approach to Givenness

And to continue with more preliminary remarks...

The primacy of givenness in Marion's phenomenology creates inversions not only in metaphysics but in phenomenology itself. The centrality of the horizon bends toward givenness itself, which decenters 'horizon,' the sine qua non of the phenomenological gesture. Givenness does not erase the horizon, but puts it in play, allows it to multiply into a play of horizons that have become more fluid than was possible in the traditional practice of phenomenology. This kind of plasticity of the horizon and the allowance for multiplicity cannot be limited to the horizon, as its thrust impacts on the recipient of phenomena in more tangible and practical ways.

When Marion speaks of the 'ontological status' of the gaze, he speaks of hermeneutics---he can only mean hermeneutics. The anteriority of givenness suggests that the modifications of the gaze, which modify the thing itself, are rooted in the given. The asymmetric laterality of the phenomenological moment locates plasticity on the side of the recipient. In Marion's concept of phenomenality, that which gives itself does so unconditionally and therefore even in the absence of the gaze of the recipient, though the modes of phenomenality---the modes of the appearance of objects and events---depend on the existential experience of the recipient.

If Marion's approach is to remain coherent, the approach must always stipulate the origin of the ontological status of the gaze: givenness---the given calls the gaze into being. The 'self' of the given 'inscribes' its hermeneutic upon the self of the recipient. This kind of inscription should be thought of less as writing than as a shaping or a forming of the receiving self, while all hermeneutical variations trace to Dasein.

Such inscriptions and formations locate the negative certainty within the phenomenological moment in the plasticity of the receiving self. Akin to Keat's 'negative capability,' this uncertainty marks an acceptance within the receiving self of such uncertainty, which enables it to remain open to givenness. This understanding problematizes the nature of the recipient and renders it vulnerable to the obvious critique of the romantic impulse, which conjures up the 'critic-as-artist' or 'critic-as-hero' (read hermeneut, recipient for critic here). Yet, the recipient engages in a poeisis, not necessarily of an 'overflow of powerful feelings' but of an experience of phenomenality whose gradations or degrees of saturation or objectness can be 'recollected in (the) tranquility' of a counter-experience (pace Wordsworth).

Marion always insists nearly everywhere that his phenomenology does not identify actuality but, instead, possibility; he famously insists on this distinction to distinguish theology from phenomenology as they regard the actuality and possibility, respectively, of revelation. Still, a theopoetics is what the recipient reports back from her experience. Depending on the hermeneutical variations inducted by Dasein and the modifications of the gaze as constituted by givenness and as modifying givenness, the recipient will report back about either an object or an event.

I must insist that the unconditionality of givenness requires all modifications of the given are a function of the modified and modifying gaze, which cannot alter the essence of the given, but the aperture of the gaze upon it. As the self, inscribed and formed by givenness, waxes in its plasticity, its modified gaze strengthens to lift a bit higher the veil on the given. Degrees of unveiling are enabled therefore by the given giving itself to the receiving self, in its hermeneutic of plasticity. This process of the gift giving itself---the event of the gift---is the hermeneutical event from the side of the recipient. These are, apparently, often the same event.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quiddity, or the Face of Man; Image and Likeness: Univocity

In these few remarks I return to a more preliminary and provisional posture (certainly more than in "Marion, Kant, Keller...").

In his fascinating chapter (I) on the "Face of Man" (CN 8ff.), several issues seem to coalesce. The very dignity of the human creature is threatened by the seemingly benign query, 'What is Man?' The question brings 'man' onto his knees of objectness. "The inaccessibility of man to himself" begs the question of the "object" (19). The very 'what-ness' or quiddity of the human person opens upon the aporia of her image and likeness of God.

It may not be then that Marion has introduced a self-serving paradox of univocity and the impossibility of univocity. When it comes to the human being and God the univocity of love and incomprehensibility are exceptions that prove the rule of analogical imagination. "Man remains unimaginable, since he is found formed in the image of the One who admits none and, rightfully, resembles nothing, since he resembles only the One that incomprehensibility properly characterizes" (43).

That formulation is both a biblical and anthropological point of departure for both theology and phenomenology. Perhaps better: can Rahner's anthropological theology ever begin here? If so, it must begin in the saturated phenomenon of the Christ-event, and then 'lead back' to Genesis.

An Interlude: More Odds and Ends such as Tad DeLay, John Caputo, Jean-Luc Marion, and Even Graham Harman

It's not just Zizek that goes bump in the night, but he and Caputo, DeLay, Marion, and even Harman go bump in my head, which sometimes feels like a bump on my head. I have looked at Marion, Zizek, DeLay and Lacan in a recent piece on Marion's In the Self's Place, but now, as I read, Negative Certainties, with some of Caputo's 'projectiles' bouncing about, I am struck by how all these thinkers might interface.

Tad DeLay's freeing up Lacan's Borromean knot turns out to permit looking at the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic registers as a model for uncertainty. The play in this 3-ringed  circus that Lacan had already placed there, plays out further in DeLay's God is Unconscious, and in Marion's account of the saturated phenomenon as well. The non-intersections of RSI seem at the very least, analogous to Marion's non-simultaneity of the possession and manifestation of the gift.

While Marion seems to have little difficulty speaking of the sovereignty of the event, he never speaks of the sovereignty of the pure gift, or the pure call, in their spectacular unconditionality and anonymity: how like Caputo's weakness of God's insistence, and the anonymity of the call from the vocative order that haunts texts and confessional religion alike. Has Marion, in Caputo's view, cinched the saturated phenomenon, or has Marion slipped onto-theology through the back door on the saddle of the revision of the ontological argument, riding on the back of Cusanus (CN, 69)?

The distinctions and mode of distinguishing object from saturated phenomenon via Heidegger's analysis of the tool must intrigue Harman, who speaks eloquently on this matter in his discussion of Heidegger's metaphysics of objects (Tool Being, 2002); I wonder how he would read Marion on Heidegger's hammer, or his disposition of objects in light of the avoidance of undermining and overmining the object?

Catherine Keller certainly belongs in the title of this blogpost. Let me honor Marion this way: he should read Keller again. Such a rereading stands to illuminate.

End the interlude; Entr'acte.

Marion, Kant, Keller, Cusanus, Phenomenality and Certainty

Marion carefully lays out the distinctions among phenomena, noumena, objects and the event. He painstakingly concludes that while Kant's phenomenon is what he is calling the 'object,' noumena cannot translate into the event, or other saturated phenomena. Though he holds with Kant that the status of 'things' vary according to the hermeneutical gaze, it is only through Heidegger's analysis of the tool that the manner of the gaze can be differentiated between Kant's analysis and phenomenology, in particular, the appearance of objects and richer phenomena (CN, 194-99). Hence, Marion can speak of the discoverability of saturated phenomena (204-5), and beyond this discovery and its hermeneutic, a critique of the privileging of certainty, which is a broadening of phenomenality to include the domain of 'negative certainty,' which is work yet to be done (206). He concludes that all such broadenings illuminate an "infinite finitude" (207).

For readers of Marion, the question must be asked: has our philosopher given us enough analysis to make affirmative statements about the relationships among phenomenality and certainty? I think he has, and no critique of Marion can continue to assert that, after his In the Self's Place, his body of work suffers from a poverty of hermeneutic adventure; yet here in Negative Certainties, Marion has closed at least the epistemological circle with his decisive conclusion, now axiomatic with regard to  his body of work: The gift cannot at the same time be possessed and manifest itself (153; italics Marion's; emphasis mine). The certitude of the axiom, whether it finally turns out to be either a negative certainty or a positive uncertainty, traces itself to his concept of the impossibility of impossibility of saturated phenomena, and the eventiveness of such phenomena and of the gift itself.

Indeed, Marion has found the antecedent of such impossibility in Nicholas of Cusa. Had Marion recourse to the work of Catherine Keller, especially her tour de force appropriation of Cusanus, Cloud of the Impossible, he would not find such an antecedent 'strange' (69). Marion has avoided Keller to his great detriment and peril (Keller's mind is a saturated phenomenon if there ever was one). Regardless, the Cusanian folds in Keller's work certainly have far-reaching consequences for the folds Marion has enfolded in NC; in fact, Marion might very well have introduced another fold in the fabric of the impossible, the replication of the gift in his discourse on forgiveness (the re-gifting of the gift).

It is the very impossibility of the event of the gift that cuts to the certainty that unfolds the 'uncertainty' of simultaneity of Marion's axiomatic possession and manifestation of the gift. I cannot but read this kind of uncertainty apart from the uncertainty of the physicist who confidently states that a photon or electron cannot be a wave and a particle at the same time. The simultaneity is governed by the gaze of an observer---the probe of the intentionality/concept. Marion is quite decisive in problematizing the gaze/probe. "What then is happening with the modification of my gaze so that it modifies the status of the thing?[...]The variation proper to my gaze must have an ontological status...the 'as-structure' is inscribed within the rank of the existentialia of Dasein. [The] variation of the modes of appearing and of being thus is played out in the one and only instance of the existential hermeneutic that the unique Dasein puts into operation...[the] distinction between the modes of phenomenality (for us, between object and event) can be joined to the hermeneutical variations that, as existentialia of Dasein, have (ontological) authority over the phenomenality of entities" (198-99).

What holds for the gift, especially in the happening of the "process of its givenness" (153), also holds for other events, such as the saturated phenomena of the flesh, idol and icon. The gaze, the very probe of the intention and the concept, determines the variations in phenomenalities such that they can appear as simple objects under one gaze, or as saturated phenomena under another gaze, the variations of which always have an ontological status preventing objects and richer phenomena from appearing at the same time. The great value of 'negative certainty' is its contiguity with scientific 'positive uncertainty,' if not its very identity. In this manner, Marion gets to close not only the epistemological circle, but the hermeneutic circle as well, dissolving the privilege of certainty, and collapsing all knowledge into knowledge itself. Docta ignorantia.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Prodigal: Marion Returns from Khora to Luke

Marion's latest reading of 'The Prodigal Son' remains unintelligible apart from his analysis of 'fatherhood.' Fatherhood is the gift already reduced to givenness, and therefore without being, unconditional and without sovereignty. As such, this reduced gift of fatherhood exempts itself from reciprocity. "With fatherhood, the giver is manifested even insofar as he is absent, the recipient insofar as he defaults, and the gift in direct proportion to its unreality"(NC, 102; see the discussion in 98-114). The nexus between Caputo's thought on the weakness of the pure call, in its unconditionality and without sovereignty and Marion's analysis of a gift already and always reduced to givenness is striking here.

In his reading of Luke 15:11-32, Marion complicates his analysis of fatherhood with a "denial of the very fatherhood of the father" (149) and "lost...filiation" (150). Such denial and loss can only be reconciled to fatherhood in the death of the son. Indeed the death of the son results from his dissipation as his inheritance itself dissipates. Like Lear, the younger son yielded his ousia, but unlike Lear who crawls unburdened by being to the grave, the younger son crawls back to the father, who, through forgiveness, restores being to the son, who was dead but alive again. In this manner, all that fatherhood entails remains untouched by the son's loss and denial. Filiation is therefore just as unconditional, irrevocable and undeniable as fatherhood itself. The gift already reduced to givenness forgives the misinterpretation of the gift.

In a fascinating turn, Marion locates the operations of hermeneutics within the sons, whose conversions are prerequisite to their proper exercise of their hermeneutics. In order for the hermeneutics of the gift to interpret the gift of life and filiation correctly, the gift itself must operate as pure gift. The sons must see the gift as the gift already given in givenness without being, without causality and sufficient reason. The unconditional call of the father echoes within the son when he realizes that he has spent his inheritance and has become destitute. Dispossessed, the younger son, who has lost "the call" (150), rediscovers it as its response, which is the return from khora to the father. Forgiveness, "the gift given over again," allows the father and son, gift and gifted, to be unveiled: "the unveiling of the father as father coincides with the unveiling of the son as son" (150-51). This "complete phenomenon of the gift" dictates the operation of its hermeneutic in the hands of the son possessed of conversion, metanoia, but also a turn toward the father.

The elder son, feeling a bit disenfranchised by what seems to him to be an overreaction to his brother's return, disowns his brother by relinquishing him into filiation: "this son of yours has squandered your property" (Luke 15:30). But the father, in giving his fatherhood to his elder son ("you are always with me and everything I have is yours" [15:31]), unveils both sons' filiation, and restores brother to brother: "this brother of yours was dead and is alive again" (15:32). Hence, the gift already reduced to givenness, offers itself in love and life. The elder son's hermeneutics will receive the gift by accepting it in its givenness, or not.

Fatherhood lacks sovereignty because it cannot participate in the economy of the gift and reciprocity. This gift already reduced to givenness can make no claim on economic return, but in its unconditionality, effects a return nonetheless. The father of the two sons make no gift of property as Lear does. Lear, unable to forgive, fatally operates within the economy of an impure, inadequate gift, which he wants to give again but cannot because it is always arrested by reciprocity. Instead, the father in the parable merely passes what is already the son's to the son: "he only does him justice in an equal exchange" (149).

I wonder why Marion ignores the father with two sons in King Lear, Gloucester, and his sons Edmund and Edgar. In this famous sub-plot, the play of the natural attitude and the reduction to fatherhood provides a compelling version of a difference in filial hermeneutics.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Reason not the Need: Marion on King Lear

O, Reason not the Need
                                       ---King Lear  (II,vi)

In Negative Certainties, Marion problematizes the gift in King Lear. I continue with several preliminary observations about the tragedy through Marion's general approach.

Lear will be driven mad by reason as he discovers that he has divided his ousia and distributed it to Regan and Goneril, without remainder. In Lear's world, one's being is one's possessions, and he has dispossessed himself that he might crawl unburdened to the grave. In such a world, that would be a very short crawl: Lear finds himself suddenly without being. Regan and Goneril speak of reason and need and he is trying to speak of the untranslatable gift, which he seeks to retroactively give to his daughters, and in return get back a little of that ousia. These 'givees' have not received what Lear has given, so he must attempt to re-give his gift, this time not as his ousia, his propertied objectness, but the gift which cannot answer to 'need.' The gift, Lear has discovered too very late, is like the rose, 'without why.'

Marion, speaking of the event, actually extends the analysis of the givenness of the gift:

"The objective interpretation of the phenomenon masks and misses its eventiveness...because the concept of permanence has no pertinence for its description as the effect of a cause" (NC, 177).

The gift is without why and beyond interrogation by need. Lear's daughters have mistaken what they have received as permanent being, as a permanent and certain state of affairs within the categories of causality. Lear has experienced a most unhappy version of an event he thought would bring peace; but events cannot be choreographed, subjected to the conditions of design. The objectification visited upon what his daughters receive, prevents the event, diminishes the gift to sheer objectness, erases the possibility of the gift by rewriting it into the permanence of objects. The 'needs analysis' performed in Act II of Shakespeare's play, diminish Lear to non-being.

Marion touches upon the tragic confusion of divestiture with the gift, but pursues 'forgiveness' instead of the logical extent of this confusion: the inaccessibility of the gift by reason and need. Nonetheless, he powerfully concludes that "no forgiveness can take place except on the basis of a prior gift" (143). This formulation allows him to segue into another iteration of his reading of the Prodigal Son.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Negative Certainties, Counter-Experiences, The Impossible and Saturated Phenomena

Some preliminary and very provisional remarks on the arrival of the English translation of Marion's Negative Certainties (trans. Stephen E. Lewis, Chicago Univ. Pr: Chicago, 2015) will record impressions of a first reading.  This book is either very easy or very difficult: I am simply uncertain.

Marion concludes 'the necessity of God's possibility' through 'the impossibility of God's impossibility' (69). This section, "Possibility without Conditions," achieves an alarmingly apologetic tone, mitigated only by his making a safe landing in Cusanus and the latter's posse ipsum. Marion does not succumb to unadulterated apologetics because he enfolds his argument in apophatic entanglement, which deconstructs metaphysical possibility and impossibility.  'The impossible for man has the name God...[H]ere we find the  fold of the impossible...of which the world, metaphysics, or perhaps even philosophy are capable of merely the slightest glimmer' (82).

I surmise that within these apophatic folds the nature of saturated phenomenon come into view through the lens of negative certainties via a counter-experience that experiences such phenomena as 'saturated' in the first place. Marion seems to be rewriting differance as negative uncertainty of the trace of (im)possibility. While it is impossible that saturated phenomena are impossible, our sense that they have truly entered experience is constituted by the uncertainty characteristic of their overwhelming the intuition and blinding the intention. We know we cannot know them as they are in themselves, but in a counter-experience of them, we know their saturation in its fullness but not its content. Of this reality we have negative certainty. In other words, we know a phenomenon is saturated when our certainty becomes negative.

Conversely (and implicitly), the relative poorness of phenomenon becomes apparent through its 'positive uncertainty' (Marion does not use this term, but he does deploy 'positive certainty' to characterize the certainty of scientific affirmations, p.4). Phenomenon that present as closer to their objectness neither saturate intuition nor foil intention. On the contrary, such phenomenon are the focus of pure science, which knows them through their characteristic of uncertainty that can be calculated or viewed by an observer. Positive uncertainty provide the courage that inscribes a curve through data points delimited by 'error bars'; it also allows for the understanding that some poor phenomena present themselves in one way or another, depending on the vantage point of an observer (this kind of phenomenon has been elegantly described in the famous double slit experiments).

Their may indeed be a kind of polarity between negative certainty and positive uncertainty. When we identify one or the other, we know we are either doing something like phenomenology or something like physics. Whether or not these poles are situated on a continuum or not remains open to conjecture, but should a continuum become an attractive model, degrees of saturation, givenness and certainty might play out on such a model.

Regardless, the implications for hermeneutics become clearer, especially regarding the interpretive approach to sacred scripture. The scriptures are not divinity itself, but are always already there to release the elemental event of revelation---the self-communication of God, regardless of such an event as being a saturated phenomenon (as such). We can speak about scriptural texts as they speak to us, not as the voice of God, but as the voice of an unconditional, anonymous call, a vocative 'pure gift' and 'pure call.' The saturated phenomenon of the call, the insistence of saturation, cannot preclude our deconstruction of the text, because the voice---the voice to which scripture itself is directed and already a response---is always in advent.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Phenomenology and the Self: An Asymmetric Laterality of Phenomenality

In light of Jean-Luc Marion's critique, rehabilitation and appropriation of the Cartesian subject, especially as viewed through the lens of Christina M. Gschwandtner's discussion in her Reading Jean-Luc Marion ("Phenomenology of the Self"), I would like to revisit the relationship of the self to the given in the phenomenological moment. Previously, I have attempted to blunt the dialectical tension within the concept of 'polarity' of the 'self' and the 'given' which is prominent in the critique of Marion's work in this area, and I opted for a  more neutral notion of 'sidedness' or laterality, despite the asymmetry inherent in the relationship between either side of phenomenality. I have posited a concept of phenomenodynamics and phenomenokinetics (quite frankly, based on the analogy with the principles of pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics in medicine and drug therapy), where the former describes the effects on the given upon the gifted, and the latter describes the effects of the gifted upon the given.

Individuation and the formation of the 'self' are constituted by the 'given' in this moment. In order to maintain the utter freedom in which the given gives itself in its degrees of saturation, and to maintain the unconditionality and anonymity of any 'pure gift' or 'pure call,' there must be at the core of phenomenality a productive 'back and forth,' an oscillation (Schwebe, nach K. Rahner) between given and gifted that has the fortuitous effect of bringing the self into itself more fully, which increasingly opens the aperture upon the given which is always showing itself fully. The gaze of the viewing, receiving subject itself  remains  open to individuation, which is a response to the 'call' (i.e., interlocuted, interpellated), shaped by the given. Phenomenodynamically, the given opens into the subjectivity of a self that is always emerging, individuating it into something new. Phenomenokinetically, the widening  gaze of an emerging, individuating self opens the aperture upon the given. The nature of the aperture is problematic (is it 'really' a feature of the given, or of the gaze?), but practically speaking, in terms of the laterality of the phenomenological moment, the aperture seems to straddle either side, hence, it also seems to be constitutive of the relationality that inheres there.

This schematic flux of phenomenality has implications for how the given and gifted radiate their relationality. If the aperture works to show degrees of givenness, in which phenomena have the characteristic of presenting as simple objects or less saturated phenomena, or intuition-busting, intention-bending embarrassingly rich saturated phenomena par excellence, such types of givenness and saturation 'depend' on the recipient. The recipient/gaze cannot be constitutive of the unconditionality or anonymity of  the given, but only of how these enter experience. If I may bastardize Lacan's 'mirror stage' here, the glass dimly seen might be able to interrogate the gaze. Since one does not look into the face of the Gorgon and live, the gaze must either be reflected or refracted---the given is always privileged in givenness and objectivity (it 'is' there regardless of a gaze; it need not enter phenomenality).

Individuation, the gaze, the aperture, the given and the gifted play out upon a version of Lacan's mirror,  which for our purposes is a shape-shifting, property-altering, flexi-plexi-glass mirror. It distorts but it also represents; it reflects but also refracts the gaze; and behind the glass something beckons. The gifted can see its own image, but never in isolation: it is always upon the surface of the glass: it can see its wholeness as a differentiating flesh, but always surrounded by surfaces reflective and translucent, but never quite transparent. It sees, yet it sees within the possibility of being seen---interrogated, read, perhaps even received---loved. At times, it suspects that the mirror is a two-way mirror, like the one in police and FBI interrogation rooms. It might not be love at all.

This 'mirror' gives an account of saturation, which can be of several types, but certainly the icon and the idol. The icon saturates the intuition by bending the gaze through a translucency of the glass that allows for being seen (open to the other); the idol saturates through its massive reflection of the gaze back upon the subject, which knows its image is contextualized but declines the company and becomes isolated within a flesh that can only be seen by itself, and forecloses 'being seen' (solipsism). A self poised toward openness receives the gift as that gift individuates the subject and its gaze which can orient itself upon the aperture that determines the degree of givenness that can come into view, into phenomenality. The play on the mirror is a game of surfaces. The asymmetric laterality straddled by the aperture upon the given might add degrees of porosity of those surfaces into either side of phenomenological moment.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

NT Parables as Perlocutionary Acts: A Prodigal Son Returns

I have recently begun a discussion of how Jesus' parables place their characters within a type of vision, a type of seeing, which can open upon the saturated phenomena of the idol and the icon. By identifying the parables and parabolic language as an example of Marion's 'perlocutionary act,' this NT rhetoric can enter a phenomenological moment in the erotic reduction and then the reduction to givenness. The parables become songs of love that give themselves to the 'gifted' (or perhaps the 'devoted'-to-be). I will present the well-known 'parable of the two sons' through the lens of Marion's work to demonstrate how his phenomenological approach can release the event harbored in this familiar rhetorical device of the parable.

The parable of the 'Prodigal Son,' unique to Luke's Gospel (15:11-32), contains several elements that constitute the perlocutionary act.

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” [NIV]

In the previous chapter (Luke 14), the evangelist had just presented a somewhat uncomfortable meal with some Pharisees in which Jesus was under intense scrutiny. At the meal, he spoke of healing on the Sabbath, and saving an ox or a child fallen in a well. His healing of someone meets silence. Who will break the tension? Finally,  "one of those at the table"(14:15, my emphasis) responds joyfully to the advice Jesus gives his host about hospitality. The grammar of the parable already leads back to what might be going on in the 'one.' Afterwards, when he is with the crowds, and again with the 'tax collectors and sinners' (Luke 15:1) Jesus discusses the needs of the one over the many (4-7; 8-9) through a reduction, and finally illustrates the event: the 'rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents' (7;10). 

The 'Prodigal Son' (through the prodigal 'one') speaks to the event of an inversion of reward, of what is due, and when it is due. In Luke 14, hospitality, outside the economy of reciprocity, had its reward in another order, the order of resurrection (Luke 14:14). The father's gift of hospitable reward in this parable is displaced from the order of expectation. Here, a change of heart is a matter of life and death, and a 'coming-back-to life' warrants the event of celebration and rejoicing. The father's hospitality can in no manner require reciprocity, for the prodigal has nothing because of his sin against God and his father (15:19;21).

Marion's own reading of this Lucan pericope focuses on property (and indirectly, expectataion) as instantiation of ousia (15:12-13). While his task in God Without Being is to displace metaphysics and being itself, he links the displacement of ousia with property in the prodigal's demand for cold cash (pp. 95-100). This is precisely how ousia works parabolically: as expectation, great expectations (pace Dickens and Pip), and an eye that looks to dispose of an inheritance. Indeed, a large portion of the family goods and property, translated into currency, is disposed of rather quickly as the very ousia that brackets itself into epoche is dissipated. These great expectations are the same for both sons, though one seems to prefer to wait a bit longer for the will to be read, even if he will complain that a little breaking of the family treasure would be welcome.

The second displacement of expectation begins in the fascinating verse in which the father recognizes his son from a distance. Makran (μακρὰν) often suggests very great distance (especially as it is appears in Luke-Acts) that would make such a recognition difficult, yet here it seems to describe a running distance, though a parabolic running distance. Given the situation, the father might not recognize his son, for example, by some article of clothing, as the son has become destitute, disfigured by ousia. He must have looked to the horizon every day in hope that his son would come over it so poised and ready he was to receive that moment, that gift; and so he does recognize him---see him--- from afar as his son returned, returned from the dead. Through overflowing emotions of hope and joy masked as a 'gut feeling,' esplangchnisthe, (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη), the prodigal son comes into view. Seduced by the very horizon of love, the father is overwhelmed, overcome in his very bowels, which constitute his reception of the gift that is the his son brought into being through love: the father's expectant hope and love produces the appearance of his lost son on the horizon of love---he comes into view as love pulls him into existence, from the dead into new life and new being. The existential horizon of the parable (itself pulled into being by love), the horizon of being and the horizon of love meet in the event.

Premonition or very good vision brings a saturated phenomenon into the experience of not only the father but also the auditor of the story. The devoted 'gifted' sees the 'return' as metanoia, and therefore as iconic. Clearly this is not the only response, as the older son responds with incredulity and perplexed anger. The splendor of his robed and ringed brother presents to his gaze as the bedazzling idol of ousia, and reflects his gaze back onto himself, and only onto his own bedazzled perception of deprivation and an experience of injustice. He presents his brother to his father as 'this son of yours' as not only a disowned brother, but as the faceless other, a face defaced and erased by wanton living and sin against the father. The elder brother still sees the younger as 'dead' and not 'alive again.' Metanoia is invisible to him, and his gaze has foreclosed on the icon that presents an offer, an unconditional gift, to see him---that he be seen by a change of heart, that a change of heart sees him as the accused direct object of the 'to see,' the refracted gaze bending back, leading back, toward him. The father says, in effect, 'look at yourself, everything you see is yours.' He then reorients his elder son toward the icon, inverting the elder son's rhetoric of distance and expectation: "this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." The father directs his elder son to the face of the [br]other. In this reading, ousia can ride behind the chant of love, at least for a time, a time for celebration and the fatted calf. Ousia is reborn and rewritten after the song of the parable is sung, and love has uttered its lyric. Being always follows love.

The parable has therefore the same rhetorical thrust, the same perlocutionary (performative) action as the parable of the sheep and goats. It is an invitation to placing the self within view of metanoia, the pure gift, and within the phenomenological moment that releases the event of seeing the face of the other in love, with a gut feeling of compassion that sees the other viscerally, that sees the other as if it were within its very flesh, as if the gaze were coming from that flesh. This self is not only the self of  the elder brother who receives the invitation to the icon, but to Jesus' hearers of his words, those who stand in relation to the parable and its actors.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Polarity in the Phenomenological Moment: An Uneven Laterality of Phenomenality

If givenness, as the sole horizon of phenomena, drives the phenomenological moment, then the relationality between the given and the gifted provides a certain polarity that drives the very reduction that allows the given to show itself. The secondary literature on Marion's work often identifies either pole in the moment, and still more often marks an unevenness or asymmetry of the privilege enjoyed by the given and the receiving consciousness, the pure call (the gift) and the receiver (the gifted).

Though it is probably impossible to retrieve Husserl's noema and noesis, buried as they are in 100 years of critical sediment, they still might illuminate the polarity within the Marion's phenomenological moment. Despite Marion's apparent dissatisfaction with these terms because of their ultimate inadequacy, noema seem to belong to the given itself, and noesis to the gifted. In particular, noema embraces the self of the given within its essence---its act of meaning, and noesis embraces the self of the gifted, within its gaze of seeing---its mode of knowing. If we avoid becoming too dogmatic here, too structuralist, too dialectical, hold too hard to the correspondence between the two terms, or their tension, we might find an oscillation within the polarity in this moment---its inherent sidedness---where the given enters the intuition and the crosshairs of the intention.

To maintain the integrity of the unconditionality of the given giving itself, giving must remain anterior to showing. Giving then is the dynamic of showing---what it is doing to the consciousness. Showing is the revealing of a surface that appears within the gaze of the recipient whose response constitutes the kinetics of either ignoring or receiving---giving of the self to the call. The reduction to givenness allows for an oscillating play in which noema presents meaning and essence to the receptive noeisis through the gaze; for noema constitutes the self of the given, which through giving, shows itself in the noesis of the receiving self of the gifted. Both selves on either side of the phenomenological moment 'do' something to the other: the dynamic side of the given unconditionally calls the self on the other side, which in turn gives itself to what is shown through the kinetic gaze which either ignores or responds.

'Phenomeno-dynamics' maintains the initiative of givenness, while 'phenomeno-kinetics' maintains a limitless response to the gift without compromising its initiative. It might turn out that noema and noesis are simply probes that identify a polarity in the phenomenological moment and leave us with these ideas of phenomenodynamics and phenomenokinetics, which ensures the integrity of an (asymmetric) laterality that marks phenomenality itself. Perhaps we should avoid speaking of polarity and begin to speak of a constitutive laterality if that really turns out to be a distinction that makes a difference.