Friday, December 30, 2016

Altered States

If the Lacanian register of the Imaginary bears wakefulness and the panorama of images that appear before consciousness, and the register of the Symbolic bears the sleep where images and themes dance their dreams across the stage of the unconscious, then surely the register of the Real comprises the topos where dreams dream their dreams. Lacan does not by accident locate the divine within the precincts of the Real: God does not first appear in a bush burning in un-consuming flame, or the nightmare of a bloody Cross, but in the trace of these that points to the very heart of the Real, the place with sound but no sense, with melody but no logos, the place without an urge to grasp or otherwise conceptualize, the place before thought, the place where intentionality is not even a dream, a consciousness that is not conscious of something, but where, instead, waits to be born, where awareness waits for a theme.

The register of the Real contains the moment Levinas has described as insomnia. The cite of 'saying', the Real refuses thematization, the prison and ownership of language and image; it harbors the trace of the 'said', but prior to the being of the word.  An eerie place that awaits the things that go bump in the night, insomnia declares a wordless discourse of the infinite, the Cartesian 'infinite in me', an infinite not of me, but nonetheless found there: what Levinas names the il y a---there is.  To maintain the discourse of God beyond essence, to defer the meaning of God and therefore his entry into being, Levinas locates God's transcendence in the non-thematizable space of a wakefulness without a watching, a vigilance that does not already know what it keeps vigil for (or vigilant of), an insomnia that is interruptible, but without the trappings of, or tools for, naming God. For Levinas, once consciousness is a consciousness of something, that something is already dressed in the garb of being and outside the register of the Real. Levinas wants it the other way around: he wants transcendence to 'dress' consciousness in the garb of the 'otherwise than being'.

Levinas opens a space for the discourse of the divine, or transcendence, and that space subverts what he calls the moment of the Other within the Same, that which disturbs the empty---unthematic---wakefulness of insomnia. He names this place without terminus (ad quo/ad quem) 'Infinity' ("The God of Philosophy", in Basic Philosophical Writings, 133), which shakes up insomnia, making the "I" aware that the other is before it. Indeed, the very 'character of insomnia: the Other within the same who does not alienate the Same, but who awakens him" ("In Praise of Insomnia," in God, Death, and Time, Stanford Univ. Pr., Stanford, 2000; 209), puts this wakeful emptiness in the position for an irruption---always on the verge of an encounter.

Levinas's insomnia is not the 'insomnia' encountered commonly in medical offices throughout the world. This insomnia, this awareness of the difficulty in falling asleep, has many therapies, and many avenues for further diagnostics. Rather, Levinassian insomnia has its physiological reflection in the devastating medical entity known as the persistent vegetative state (PVS). Medically defined as 'wakeful unawareness', PVS evokes the infamous cases of Karen Ann Quinlan, and more recently, Terry Schiavo, and the 'right to death' movement. The particulars of these cases notwithstanding, certain things come to mind. Does the Other who is not merely unconscious, but beyond either the unconscious or consciousness, make the same claim on me, participate in the same ethos, as the Other whose awareness precedes itself or me? What ethics comes to the fore when the Other's mind and body are divided? How shall I respond to the 'Infinity' Levinas has posited in the structure of consciousness when the Other remains trapped in the insomnia of wakeful expectation, even if nothing is to be expected---has not the mode of expecting?

Joseph J. Fins, in his Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics and the Struggle for Consciousness (NY: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 2015), presents the compelling cases of patients and their families confronting PVS and the newly recognized diagnosis of the Minimally Conscious State (MCS), a state of profound impairment of consciousness, but a consciousness with demonstrable awareness, that which is absent from those with PVS. Fins, a physician and medical ethicist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, bears his own historical consciousness here, and draws upon civil rights history to point to the civil rights of mind, of consciousness. His call for absolute diagnostic precision in assessing these cases is poignant and powerful. His ethical sense derives not only from medical integrity in diagnosis and treatment, but also from the identification of the presence of consciousness itself, obscured by horrible injury and brain malfunction. The medicine and technology behind what drives Fins to defend the rights of mind, while fascinating, do not command me here; what commands me is the patient before me who cannot be reduced to mind.

The Other who appears before me appears to me as the human other, and when the Other appears to me suffering or perhaps dying from devastating disease, appears as the spread body whose call is this is my body, or with a Levinassian tenor, thou shalt not kill. Both phrases intone the unconditional now pressed upon me. In medicine, we imagine we see PVS frequently, but in reality, PVS might be rarer than that. Perhaps, as Fins has suggested, we are better than 40 percent wrong about PVS, and what we are really seeing is MCS; much uncertainty informs the actual state of affairs. Because of the prognostic implications of either diagnosis, medicine simply has to 'get it right'. For Fins, the ethical imperatives drive 'getting it right' so that consciousness can be nurtured and healed, and a person can come home to a family in waiting. This is impossible for Fins: to be aware of the world when the world judges unawareness, and acts this judgement out. It is simply impossible to miss the presence of consciousness; missing it is not an option.

The ethics of the spread body, in the instance of PVS, the separation of mind and body, a wakefulness unaware of its embodiedness, calls from this body decisively: this is my body and thou shalt not kill. There is no greater vulnerability than this; it is equal to the vulnerability and precarity of the consciousness thought to be absent. The space Levinas has opened for Infinity is the mode of existence of the spread body in PVS. It is the physiological equivalent of the pre-phenomenality of insomnia, unaware that is expecting the arrival of consciousness---the disruption of insomnia by consciousness---the moment of transition from PVS to MCS. This place of Infinity, the distance between mind and body, the seeming impossibility of traversal within the vegetative state, the moment of the unthematic Real, bears the trace of the divine, the infinite, the otherness of the other, and opens and announces a sacred place.

Patients in PVS bear the posture of Infinity, which has locked them within itself. Perhaps what has divided here is not simply the mind from the body, but even the mind from mind, the non-intentional consciousness pointing aimlessly toward itself. In this sense, the patient with PVS remains within an infinite circuit whose centripetal vector points to what Levinas sometimes calls "God". This trace of the divine glows perhaps a bit brighter, inscribes its line perhaps a bit bolder, in the face of this other whose eyes move, yet trace no line, whose body moves, yet traces no direction. This is absolute vulnerability whose unconditional call calls me relentlessly: this is my body. This is a vulnerability that claims its right not to be killed, and compels me to be responsible for it unconditionally.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Gentle Rain: Levinas's Conversion to Catholicism, Justice, Jerusalem Sopra Athens

"The proximity of the other is the face's meaning, and it means from the
very start in a way that goes beyond those plastic forms which forever try to
cover the face like a mask of their presence to perception. But always the
face shows through these forms . Prior to any particular expression and
beneath all particular expressions, which cover over and protect with an
immediately adopted face or countenance, there is the nakedness and destitution
of the expression as such, that is to say extreme exposure, defencelessness,
vulnerability itself".  Emmanuel Levinas, 'Ethics as First Philosophy'

Now that I have the reader's attention, allow me to disown the ridiculous assertion of Levinas's conversion. I abuse both 'conversion' and 'Catholicism' here (not to mention Levinas himself) to point to the interesting, fascinatingly gripping, dilemma Levinas articulates in his important essays, "Ethics as First Philosophy" (The Levinas Reader, S. Hand, ed., Cambridge: Blackwell, 1989; henceforth EFP), and "Peace and Proximity" (Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings, ed. A. Peperzak, et al., Bloomingtion: Indiana Univ. Pr., 1996; henceforth PP). Levinas employs Athens and Jerusalem as metonyms for (among other things) the Hellenistic and Hebraic ethos, respectively, especially as he critiques the notions of Europe and Europeans, and the concept of the West. His 'conversion' is his embrace of a both/and posture, and a sophilology (my coinage and appropriation of 'Catholicism' in this context), the 'wisdom of love' (PP, 169), which always complements philosophy, the 'love of wisdom'. As Judith Butler has suggested in her Precarious Life (London:Verso, 2004, p.135f.), Levinas might very well be getting at a vision of Europe where Jerusalem surpasses Athens in vying for the very heart of the West.

"Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down" (Isaiah 45:8).

For Levinas, justice can only be the Derridean justice to come. "But the order of truth and knowledge has a role to play in the peace of proximity...the ethical order of human proximity...calls for the order of objectivity, truth and knowledge...the very sense of Europe: its biblical heritage implies the necessity of its Greek heritage." Levinas denies a "simple confluence of two cultural currents" which, he declares, "do better than converge." Europe is the "concreteness" where peace and proximity "demand a reason that thematizes, synchronizes and synthesizes...concepts necessary for the peace of humanity" (PP, 168). This gentlest of rain is "the first question of the interhuman."

The iconic (pace Jean-Luc Marion) face of the other means this proximity (EFP, 82). In fact, there can be no justice if such a justice traces itself back merely to truth and knowledge. We need to know just what brand of justice we are to embrace, to hope for, whose advent is always just on the horizon. We need, as Levinas asks, to know if such 'justice' comes from war (and the risk of perpetual war and conflict) and destruction and violence, or from "the irreducible responsibility of the one for the other" (PP, 169). Such responsibility is the claim of the Other upon me, a claim that does not 'lay claim' upon some deontological imperative, something I bring to the table, but a claim that comes only from absolute alterity:

"But, in its expression, in its mortality, the face before me summons me, calls for me, begs for me, as if the invisible death that must be faced by the Other, pure otherness , separated, in some way, from any whole, were my business. It is as if that invisible death, ignored by the Other, whom already it concerns by the nakedness of its face, were already 'regarding' me prior to confronting me, and becoming the death that stares me in the face. The other man's death calls me into question, as if, by my possible future indifference, I had become the accomplice of the death to which the other, who cannot see it, is exposed; and as if, even before vowing myself to him, I had to answer for this death of the other, and to accompany the Other in his mortal solitude" (EFP, 83).

This is the face, in its iconic stature of the saturated phenomenon, in its 'regarding' of me, gazes upon me, even before I turn my gaze, and seizes me, positions me to see that the face is seen, that I recognize the condition of threat, the state of siege that the face of the other finds itself (Befindlichkeit). Perhaps a mutual illumination presents itself here,  the call of the spread body as coming from an elsewhere and an itself, a coming from the presentation of the spread body and the appresentation of the personhood of the itself. Levinas boldly appropriates Husserl's 'appresentation' as the 'epiphany' of 'the unicity and alterity of the unique' as 'concretely the face of the other human' (PP, 166). May I now be equally bold in appropriating the epiphany of the icon of the face, now as the voice, the call of my patient's body lying in her bed on the hospice care unit? Thou shalt not kill is the this is my body transposed into another key in the same symphonic motion of the Other's appearance before me. Both unconditional calls from the iconic face of the Other, one calls me to the movements of society and the polity of the 'one for the other'; the other calls me to the movement of my patient under siege, under the threat of death, of dissolution and expansion into oblivion, and the movement to healing.

These biblical warrants, the thou shalt not kill and the this is my body, make claims upon any "I" encountering any Other. For Levinas, the 'one for the other', the wisdom of love, tends to obviate any recourse to violence, would render a response of violence unintelligible. The hybridization of the Hellenic and the Hebraic would write into Europe itself the face of the Other and the one for the other. The wisdom of love, the both/and of the body and the human person (the recognition of a hybridization), plays out at the bedside of the suffering and dying as presentation and appresentation of the spread body and human person, respectively. Only in the peace and proximity of the face does the call of the spread body receive its voice.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Call of the Spread Body: From Anamorphosis to Anagnorisis, A leading-in to a Recognition

In the last two posts to this blog I have tried to describe the experience of the suffering and dying body, which, in turn, has important implications for personhood, the human person, human dignity, and an ethics for caring for those at the end of life. At first, it seemed as though the spread body could be thought through the this is my body, and distinguished from the my body. Unfortunately, the New Testament texts of the words of institution of the Eucharist clamored with such interfering turbulence, little communication could be heard over such deafening noise. Methodologically, the body had to be thought more deeply, more phenomenologically, and somewhat differently: the this is my body re-emerges, not as the spread body as such, but as its voice, its unconditional call. The this is my body might return to this analysis of the spread body, but for now, I am subsuming that term into the 'call of the spread body'---the pure call of the spread body, the unconditional givenness that inaugurates its entry into phenomenality, from, by, through, in and of itself. The call comes from two lungs, of the person and of the body, which is to say, it comes unconditionally without sovereignty from something both pushed apart and pulled together. Illness and dying drive the engines of these bidirectional vectors,  which threaten the integrity of the body and the person.

Phenomenologically, I begin in my patient's body, a body threatened by life-limiting illness and dying itself. My patient's body is always the body of someone, a person; yet the very structures of such experience shout out for recognition and understanding that transcend the uniqueness of my patient.  Still, I begin with a particular person who has come to me because I have promised her re-humanization, to restore her humanity lost to the paradigm of the cure (itself a promise to restore her to the health of premorbidity, the time before the illness). I have promised her not cure, but care, care of her body and of her personhood, her self. Paradoxically, she comes before me as fully alive but dying. Her life, her personhood, is replete with history, a past and a present; but a personhood irreducible to her story without remainder. She is always in excess of what could be said---language could never complete her. Nonetheless, the narratives provide the interstitium of her person and her place, the matrix she moved and moves within as she was and is.

Illness throws the body centrifugally so that the spread body, pushed apart, becomes palpable, visible, smell-able; simultaneously a natural, primordial vector pulls it back toward the center, centripetally, in a struggle to maintain integrity. My patient as person is along for the ride, as her personhood is threatened by the same vectors. My patient's body is at a distance from itself, receding from itself. This spread body calls me to itself: it is a call that shapes how it gives itself from itself and positions me (tells me where to stand so that I can decipher, discern, see it) it relationship to it. Because this call is from this body, it is this body's own call, for itself from itself. Having no agency of its own, though, its only recourse to itself is to get itself done, through my agency in the event of rediscovery and recognition. I am not obligated by any sense of duty prior to the call. The obligation that arises is called for by the givenness of the spread body whose singular thisness, which is for, by, in the 'itself' of this body that unconditionally makes a claim on me.
But this call, while only from, of, by, in my patient's own body, is not solely for me. My experience of it is the structure of its experience for anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, a body to touch. How does my agency, anyone's agency get the 'itself done' of my patient's body? This is the event, the event released: when I discover, recover, recognize, acknowledge the humanity and personhood before me, made to recede by the situation of the spread body in the hospice, the 'itself' getting itself done by my agency, finds in my agency of recognition and recovery its own self-recognition, recover, rediscovery. In conventional terms, this is 'healing'.

The key structures of the givenness of the spread body and its call are its directing of my gaze, for a [re]positioning and a recognition. When I speak of this positioning, the anamorphosis proper, "the aim here is to shift this gaze to the point of view...that, on the basis of which and according to the demands of this sudden phenomenon giving itself, would succeed in showing itself" (Jean-Luc Marion, in Givenness and Revelation, NY: Oxford Univ. Pr., 2016; p. 65; emphasis Marion's). "In this way, we better understand that the phenomenon can come at once from 'elsewhere' and from itself" (Marion, Being Given, trans. J. Kosky, Stanford: Stanford Univ. Pr., 2002, p. 124). In this instance, of phenomenalization, I provisionally place personhood 'elsewhere' and the spread body in the place of the call. Everything now in its place, my gaze, now oriented by the call of the spread body, its very thisness, intends what is intended by my patient's own gaze, looking back toward me, with unconditional purity of the call, calling for the release of the event of recognition: anagnorisis.

For now, I leave Aristotle's discussion of peripety and anagnorisis in the Poetics, and among the aesthetes; yet, in order to full explore the phenomenality of the call of the spread body, I will attempt to illustrate how 'recognition' works in those scenes where Odysseus makes his home-coming: for the anagnorisis called for by my patient shares similar structures. Of course, on the strictly mimetic (hence, ontic) level, Odysseus, the great tactician, with the assistance of Athena, steers events and the gradual unfolding of his identity until the catastrophe in the hall reveal him in his full regal stature. On the ontological level of Odysseus' movement from beggar to king, however, we are very much made privy to the tension of a beggar becoming a king again, in all its uncertainties and conditions. The chance that the beggar will remain a beggar threatens the return of the king.

With each unfolding recognition, first by the royal Argos, whose animality immediately connect him to Odysseus, through the recognitions of Eumaeus, Eurykleia, Telemachus, Penelope (who is the deal-breaker here, and whose steadfast love remains anchored to the royal bedpost), through the stringing of the bow whose plucked tone heralds the arrival of the Odysseus the king and bloody justice, the beggar is reunited to himself: personhood, identity is incrementally restored to the body of the king, now made whole, even renewed. Each successive recognition by others, brings Odysseus to recognize himself regained, made whole, in his former regal stature. Some may argue that these recognition scenes are charged with ambiguity, that perhaps not every character 'recognizes' Odysseus in the timeline I suggest; yet the stakes are high---recognizing the king in the beggar before the beggar comes into his own can be lethal business in Ithaka. A king must be kingly or he is not a king at all. The violence at Ithaka, the restoration of a king, is risky business, and is no stranger on the hospice, where bodies are under constant threat of violence, constant threat of being pushed further apart, splayed into unquenchable space. Those at the bedside, my patient's very own Eumaeus, Telemachus and Penelope, are invited by the same call---to my patient's return to Ithaka, the recognition of her own self in the recognition of others.

I do not direct, invoke, or otherwise prescribe the experience of recognition that my patient phenomenalizes. Recognition comes from her alone, and she alone makes use of the conversion of my gaze which she herself has converted, and my gaze, though constituting her wholeness which is for me, finds its way into her knowledge of herself and recognized as and for herself. I know nothing of her experience apart from my own experience of her self having an experience of recognition, recovery, and healing. I can know of her experience more concretely, as when she might tell me she feels more herself (if she can utter such words), or when she laughs or smiles. Or I might know this from a loved one, whose experience of being at the bedside of the dying becomes transformed, and perhaps informed by an ineffable hope, perhaps even in what Simone de Beauvoir, in her A Very Easy Death,  has called a 'miracle'.

The call of the spread body takes the shape of a whispered phrase, whose contours mouth this is my body, whose urgency gives and shows itself. By my being present at the bedside, the solemn givenness of my patient's spread body disposes and poises me to enter into the phenomenality giving and showing itself unconditionally. Without an agency of its own, a call alone invites me into to the event harbored in suffering organicity whose blood vessels, fluids, discolored skin gains a voice from its self-donation. The call comes from the elsewhere, the distance of my patient's self and from the nexus of vasculature and other (barely) human tissue. The bilocations of what is pulled and pushed in opposite directions converge in a single phenomenality that enters my experience of a unity under threat of dissolution and extinction into oblivion. Of the experience of being expanded and splayed, which belongs only to my patient, I know only of its call for recognition, which elicits acts of healing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Simone de Beauvoir's Body and the This is My Body

"...habit kills desire"---A Very Easy Death, Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's account of the last month of her mother's life, A Very Easy Death (trans. P. O'Brian, NY: Pantheon, 1965) presents experiences of death and dying, patients, doctors, nurses, daughters and families, as vibrant today as when they were lived in 1963. It should not shock that the author of The Second Sex was a daughter whose ambivalences and trials might echo those of any daughter, or child, or family whose grief and profound loss would indelibly mark a moment in life. Putting aside what might have been dubious in her politics, a reader can open upon emotional, visceral,  even existential impulses within this famous daughter. What might remain somewhat abstract in the description of care at the end of life, for example, in Emmanuel Falque's piece, "Toward and Ethics of the Spread Body," comes to life in de Beauvoir's homage to her mother. The 'this is my body,' which clearly needs a fleshing out, finds a place from which to speak in the narrative of A Very Easy Death (VED).

Certainly the phrase 'this is my body' falls on biblically sensitive ears as inextricably linked to Jesus's words of institution as they appear in the Synoptics. I place the definite article, 'the', in front of it, to loosen it a bit from its biblical context, even though I concede that even this maneuver still points to the words of institution. I want the 'this is my body' to be jarring enough to permit the phrase to point elsewhere. I find biblical warrant for this 'elsewhere' in the biblical context itself. Sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing point, not to Jesus himself, his own body from which the words emanate, but to the species demonstrated by the 'this': this is my body...this is my blood. 'This' directs the senses to the actual bread and wine, smelled, touched, tasted,  etc., and in fact away from the performative voice and its speaker. Only after the disciples cope with the 'this' pointing to the bread and wine must they contend with 'my body'.

VED possibly assists in an unpacking of my awkward phrasal noun. "The sight of my mother's nakedness jarred me. No body existed less for me: none existed seemed reasonable to me that her body should retain its dual nature,  that it should be both repugnant and holy---a taboo." (VED, 19-20). 'Repugnant and holy'---the eating of flesh and the drinking of blood, a scandal of the Church since John 6, and the crux of the body dying before me---my patient's body dying---in my care in the nursing home or the hospice. Falque has eloquently captured the repugnant and the sacred in his descriptions of experiences on the hospice unit in his essay. The oozing purulence exuding in and from his litanies of the 'spread body' calling forth an ethos, also conjures the pathos of the Last Supper and the Cross. So, too, does the 'this is my body' call from my patient's body, calls me away from the 'my body' and toward something else, from elsewhere. Not my patient's 'my body' which I share in a common humanity, but something uniquely my patient's and my patient's alone. It is a body that could not exist less for me, and one that could not exist more. A taboo we can no longer avoid, as Falque pleads, the middle term between the extended body and the lived body yearns to be heard, felt, seen.  We seek the secret, often silent, voice of the spread body whose lingua franca is the 'this is my body'. This tenuous call emanating from my patient's dying body locates the spread body, the topos which is the continuum of the res extensa and the 'lived body' between which Falque has powerfully described the spread body. Me voici, hineni, exhorts this body.

The experience of being-with the dying body opens upon a 'nearness' so close that it might even imprint itself upon those present to that body; de Beauvoir even tries on her mother's mouth for size. "I had put Maman's mouth on my own face and in spite of myself, copied its movements" (VED, 31). This experience does not reduce to mimicry or even a conversion reaction. The movements of the dying body etch their signature on the lips of a bereaved daughter. Even in the absence of Maman, Simone, at home with Sartre no less, begins to partake of her mother's spread body, whose call not only speaks, but writes. Simone's lips reverberate, in sympathetic vibration, an emblem of the suffering other in the mouthing of soft words, in the whispering of woes (Falque's maux and mots, a pun in "Toward and Ethics of the Spread Body" somewhat lost in English for those who lack an ear for alliteration).

The speech of the dying other, the words of the 'this is my body' sometimes present in hieroglyphics that command a hermeneutics of the spread body. "One had to listen very intently to catch the words she labored to breathe out; words whose mystery made them as disturbing as those of an oracle" (VED, 46). Why would such words be 'disturbing'? Is it simply because they fall on struggling ears, faintly and undecipherably? Perhaps it is less a matter of physics, than metaphysics. Perhaps the words speak all too loudly and clearly, but hidden by a veil supplied by the hearer, to blunt their devastatingly plain meaning of a suffering begging for meaning. Only the anamorphosis of the senses toward the origin of the call provides the proper orientation to unlock the moment whose hermeneutics tax the limits of experience.

If the spread body, through its voice as the this is my body, manifests its own hermeneutic of living and dying, of living until not living, participating in life until death, today is the first day of classes."What touched our hearts that day was the way she noticed the slightest agreeable sensation: it was as though, at the age of seventy-eight, she were waking afresh to the miracle of living" (VED, 50). To experience the dying patient requires a loss of the mind and a coming to the senses. Ordinary rationality can only deny the spread body  because it has yet to think the categories of knowledge that might find a portal to the call. Just as we do not know the transubstantiation of bread and wine through pure reason, we do not know the call of the spread body though objectification. What can we know of a 'waking afresh to the miracle of living' in someone dying of cancer? Only a theopoetics, a phenomenology at the border of theology, can open a 'miracle' inside a death by cancer.

A good amount of touching goes on in Maman's room: mostly clinical touching, the routine care of the human body--- cleaning, dressing wounds, positioning. With a daughter's touch, Simone touches her mother's face because her mother senses she is falling into 2 halves. Her right side feels as if in a dream, her left, 'real'. Perhaps because de Beavoir mentions Sartre a few times, or because Falque speaks of him in a discussion of the caress, I wonder about Falque's distinction between the medical touch and the caress. Falque quotes Sartre: "I incarnate myself  in order to realize the incarnation of the Other (The Wedding Feast of the Lamb, 164; n. 280). Here, Falque also permits the 'lived body' a triumph: "the erotic takes precedence over the medical, and lived bodily experience recovers its right over the extended or spread-out body" (WF, 164). Tortured by the torments wreaked upon her mother's body, Simone muses, "I was not worried about her nakedness anymore: it was no longer my mother, but a poor tormented body" (VED, 53). What has become of repugnance and the holy here? A daughter has attempted to suppress what cannot be suppressed through an evanescent rationalization. Touch, even the caress, speaks in tender tones, but in clear and undeniable tenor.

Repugnance recurs thematically at the end of life, so much so that it never really stays 'repugnance' but becomes transformed through the daily rigor of continuous revaluation."And with a frown and a look of determination on her face she said, as though she were uttering a challenge, 'The dead certainly do it in their beds.' ...And Maman felt no was a form of courage to take on our animality with so much decision" (VED, 54). What shall we say of the 'courage to take on our animality' [emphasis mine]? Certainly this text does not encourage an incarnational hermeneutic in the same vein as Falque does in those exceptional pages in WF (chapters 4 and 5, "The Animal that Therefore I Am" and "Return to the Organic"), but neither does it discourage such a reading. Many characteristics unite members of the animal kingdom, but perhaps the most compelling is the gut.  The little miracles that occur between the mouth and the anus unite man and the other beasts. My argument does not call for a medical knowledge of gastrointestinal physiology. Simply put, what goes in must come out: that fact unites all the beasts, including any and all bipeds, and for animals the inputs and the outputs are similar. The learned 'shame' in de Beauvoir's telling undergoes transformation into nothingness, except perhaps a certain kind of courage to be the animal that each human is. What fascinates here, though, goes beyond mere transformation: Maman does not just 'take on' her own animality, but ours as well. It must be a divine courage to take on animality, as that precisely is what the Incarnation takes on. Simone could never 'take on' this motif explicitly; instead she let's her mother's body speak it. Yet, we would be stingy readers indeed were we not to allow Falque's analysis and de Beavoir's narrative meet somewhere in a kind of existentialism, if not a phenomenology.

Though our experience of the dying is simply that, our experience, sometimes we catch a glimmer of how the dying experience their own experience of dying."Maman had not been in the habit of taking notice of herself. Now her body forced itself upon her attention" (VED, 59). The spread body spends its time on a continuum, somewhere between the extended body and the lived body. Where does Maman's attention direct her; does she, like either the palliativist or the surgeon, shift toward one end of the continuum? Is there a violence in this 'force', and does this force oppose in some way the life-force, the will to live, conatus, as it were? A close reading suggests that the wisdom of Maman's body enjoys a midpoint that grants a clear view to either end. Perhaps I am being a bit sentimental. Whether there is safety in the midpoint, where a middle term like the spread body can resist or postpone interpretation, or not, it remains a locus of refusal, of deferral. "The earthly meaning of eternal life was death, and she refused to die" (VED, 60). Maman often thought 'eternal life' very far away. Man stirbt, just not Maman, until she dies. Man stirbt. Auferstehen. Memory makes present the past."And the early tenderness that I had thought dead for ever came back to life[to] simple words and actions" (VED, 76). These words are as close as Simone de Beauvoir could get to a theopoetics of resurrection. 'Words and actions' are for her the liturgies and sacraments of sacred memory. With rosaries and crucifixes safely stored in a drawer, the ritual of mother and daughter come onto the stage of death. These actants of life play on until the grim stage director puts out the lights and pulls down the curtain. Still, the actions play out the awesome changes within all the players, as the transitions at the dramatic peripety point toward an all-to-fast falling action and denouement.

The transition from bios to zoe, from a person dying to an organic body (the spread body) that lingers as bios moves into a distance---the release of the flesh, the yielding to mere organicity, while not a universal event for everyone at the end of life, manifests strikingly (if not stereotypically) when it does occur and enter the experience of those at the bedside. "Her mouth opened, her eyes stared wide, huge in that wasted, ravaged face: with a spasm she entered into coma...already she was no longer there---her heart was beating and she breathed...with glassy eyes that saw nothing" (VED, 88). This phenomenological moment draws the limits of the spread body. A person is 'no longer there' as the organic body stays awhile longer. The perception of a vacancy and also of something remaining diacritically pushes conatus before me. Something stubborn, something bodily, something cellular, and even molecular now, at this moment, can only echo the voice that directed it toward me. I am  directed still toward something, but now it is a virtual presence, already emptied of the flesh but goes on, barely, as a tenacious reserve of chemistries and mechanics. Here I find something familiar: the objective, anesthetized, animal, extended body of the gaze of a surgeon (cf. WF, 42), who cuts boldly (not necessarily bodily) into medicalized bare life (zoe); yet here, the anesthesia cannot lift---bios makes no return. It breathes and pulsates (as it did before) but in a strange automaticity: the beating of a simple animal's heart outside its body. A flesh is all around me, but its locus is elsewhere; it is loosened from the spread body tout court, hovering perhaps, about to flee. A soul? No, the echo of a voice, a voice no longer able to emerge from the throat of a body now dis-inhabited, exhibiting the unsupressible residue of embodiedness and animality (WF, 40). Repugnant? No, but ever so holy: not a separation looking forward to metempsychosis,  but the irreducible residua---my patient's own residual me when the other part of her me removes to a distance. These are both my patient's own me, which now enters my experience of her at this moment. The voice lives in my ear, but where does it come from? It still calls and directs me toward the body engulfed in the white linens under the blanket brought from home, my patient's own blanket palliating the whiteness of clinical white. She is there and elsewhere, and I am present in and to this moment, the moment of care.

Bereavement begins early for the dying and their loved ones. After the death, the living relive the past. To be a human being fully alive is to have a past. "When someone you love dies you pay for the sin of outliving her with a thousand piercing regrets...With regard to Maman we were above all guilty, these last years, of carelessness, omission and abstention. We felt we atoned for this by the days that we gave up to her, by the peace that our being there gave her...She had a very easy death" (94-95). 'A very easy death' does not make its first appearance here; interestingly, a nurse first utters them shortly after Maman's death, the moment the automatic engine that kept her alive ceased its moribund functions (88). The memory of medicine, or the interface with the clinic, the hospice, the nursing home, leave stigmata on those who move on. Medicine must take responsibility for the nature of the marks it leaves on the living and the dead, as it must note the varied anticipations of grief and loss. Medicine must begin to think the ebb and flow, the to and fro that govern the intercourse of bed and bedside, of room and hallway, of resident and visitor, the the living and the dying, of life and death.

In her final remarks, de Beauvoir offers a departing salvo: "You do not die from being born, nor from having lived, nor from old age. You die from something" (105). There something wonderfully poetic in this assertion, something even worth savoring; but it is, by and large, untrue.  While it is certainly true that some die from disease or trauma---a direct cause of death, some others simply die by falling in their tracks or in the midst of a dream. Unless that something is finitude and facticity, some do indeed die from nothing, nothing at all, nothing---in particular--at all. When someone who dies in her sleep at 117 years of age, what shall I declare---what shall I certify---as her cause of death?

Still, I give the final word to Simone de Beauvoir, which came to her as she lived with Francoise de Beauvoir's living and dying, living until she died. A defiant word,  it is a word that challenges the goals of care and the very heart of the hospice and its practitioners:

"There is no such thing as a natural death: nothing that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation" (106).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Emmanuel Falque's Spread Body: A Place Between the Extended and Lived Bodies

National Hospice Month enjoys celebrations across the U.S. in the month of November, and such celebrations have taken many forms. One such celebration took place in my own living room, and was reminiscent of the home seminars Heidegger conducted at Medard Boss's home in Zollikon.

On November 5th, a gorgeous fall day on Long Island, NY, Emmanuel Falque presented his paper, "Toward an Ethics of the Spread Body," to an attentive audience comprised of philosophers, physicians, psychologists, nurses and social workers in an afternoon that one can only describe as extraordinary. Falque, professor of philosophy in the Institut Catholique de Paris, addressed professors of philosophy and graduate students from local universities (Fordham and SUNY) and several of my colleagues from my own medical center, and entertained searching questions and comments generated by his thinking on the body. Notable seminar participant and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University, Ed Casey (fondly known by many as the father of continental philosophy here in the U.S.), received Falque's presentation with a warm enthusiasm and provocative commentary. Indeed, the paper, the presentation and the ensuing discussion among engaged attendees illuminated an already well-lit room.

Falque's paper takes the next logical step in his explorations of the body, flesh and phenomenology that he had already articulated in his fascinating study, The Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eros, the Body and the Eucharist (New York: Fordham Univ. Pr., 2016; henceforth WF). His paper begins in Spinoza's Ethics, and moves through his poignant experience on a Palliative Care Unit, where he situates the notion of the 'spread body' as the middle term between the Cartesian 'extended body' (res extensa), and phenomenology's own 'lived body.' Describing the experiences of doctors, nurses, caregivers and patients who interact in the comings and goings in a hospice setting, the concept of the 'spread' body, the body expanded (epandu), splayed, poured out shapelessly, comes into sharp relief. Indeed, Falque speaks of

...the thing-like strangeness of my own body rather than solely reducing it to the lived body, the struggle for life or the power of the organic rather than simply welcoming suffering, all open up onto the concept of the “spread body,” caught between the “extended body” and the “lived body.” [T]he body ‘is spread out,’ more than it is extended or lived. To repenetrate one’s own being does not simply come down to being incorporated in a physical or objective body (Körper) or to be incarnated in a phenomenological or subjective flesh (Leib), instead it means to be embodied  in an organic flesh made up of nerves, muscles, digestion, secretion, respiration... things that can, like so much of ‘this is my body,’ remain foreign to me if I am not fully able to make them my own.

In these lines Falque addresses the inadequacy of the phenomenological 'flesh/body' binary that all too often accomplishes little more than rewriting the 'soul/body' distinction into post-modern terms (cf. his brief but crucial introduction to WF). Such a dualism disintegrates in the face of the 'spread' body.

In my reading of both WF and Falque's paper and his presentation of it, 2 important, if not completely novel notions arise: the notions of the 'my body' and the 'this is my body' as distinct phenomenological entities, that is, as distinct experiences. Though I am already appropriating these concepts for my own phenomenological dispositions of the phenomena of the body in medicine, the concepts trace their way indelibly into Falque's oeuvre. When he writes of the 'this is my body' in WF, the phrase is always italicized and linked to the Eucharist. "Eucharisticized eros," the 'this is my body' stands on the foundation of the incarnation: "Certainly, this is not, or not directly, a question of the eucharist, (this is my body), but rather of the Incarnation (the person of Jesus Christ)" [WF, 46]. In short, the 'this is my body' points already to the 'spread' body, yet a body nonetheless, however traced to ratification of the 'spread body' by the Incarnation.

When I think the 'my body' I think the human body I share with the body that appears before me; but as I experience it, the 'my body' has its limits in what it shares, or could possibly share, within a common humanity. The 'this is my body' is the body of my patient, spread out against the whiteness of clinical bed linens. My patient's body, characterized by its uniqueness impressed upon it by its very 'thisness', its 'haecceity', is completely other to me, and I cannot 'know' its excess, its surplus of being. Yet, this haecceity, the 'this is my body' initiates a call from its vulnerability, a call that calls unconditionally but without sovereignty from this middle place, middle-voiced (as it were, pace John Caputo), calling to get itself done: the very insistence of the spread body whose Levinasian imperative positions me, perhaps anamorphically (pace Jean-Luc Marion), and obligates me to a posture of presence before it. Where the 'my body' appears as a surface that I already know because of its metonymy with my own [my] body and its saturated reflection of me, the 'this is my body' has a gaze of its own which points to me, as only an other that is 'completely other' can. The 'this is my body' therefore is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones, yet it is irreducible to the 'my body'. I recognize it because its signification is given to me from a voice embodied in an organic flesh in a 'body language'  that I speak, but it is a self that is not me, whose power (conatus, the centripetal vector that tends to undo the centrifugal spreading of the body) commands my agency.

The insistence of the spread body calls for the release of the event that constitutes an ethos and an ethics of a place between the Cartesian 'extended body' and the Husserlian 'lived body'. As Falque so poignantly has experienced and described in his paper, every 'body' on the hospice unit also 'knows' this. Perhaps the distinctive experiences of the 'my body' and the 'this is my body' might further qualify Falque's description of the surgeon who prods the spread body toward the extended body, and the palliativist who prods it toward the lived body. Because the 'my body' and the 'this is my body' cannot simply lay atop the extended and spread bodies, respectively, the spread body always has the last word, and insists on keeping just who is doing the prodding anonymous.

Just what is this unconditional call, without sovereignty or agency, swallowed up by the whiteness of clinical linens? Perhaps  its voice calls not for a singular event, but a plurality of events, one of which is the brokenness of the world disclosed by the brokenness of the body---a brokenness of a body that can no longer do---now spread, poured out, emptied (kenotically?). It is a brokenness constitutive of the human body and the human predicament and calls for a proper formation of persons, relationships, and societies, a knitting of parts known to the Psalmist (139) of the knitter par-excellence.

Perhaps what appears as the spread body against the linens of the hospice recalls the reconfigured linens in the Johannine tomb, linens no longer configured for death, but reconfigured for and by a transformation. Poised between the res extensa and the 'lived body', the spread body whose finitude is laid bare before something new, enters into the incarnation itself, swallowed into a resurrection of God knows what. Nonetheless, "[t]here is a paradox here: the body finds itself all the more when it is lost...Or at least, we can say that the body is most present when it surrenders itself" (WF, 218). 

The spread body is what I am and what I shall become.

I should not be surprised at all to find Emmanuel Falque's work engaged on this blog. His work is refreshing and courageous and has moved me through the limits of theology and phenomenology, a movement that has occupied him in his Crossing the Rubicon. The transgression of circumscribed disciplines is quite at home in the daily practice of medicine. A question remains: just where does medicine pitch its tent on the frontiers and intersections of theology and philosophy?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Commentary on Graham Harman's Immaterialism

A commentary on a philosopher whose work sometimes appears inimical to the philosophical commitmments of my project might at first blush seem incongruent if not reckless; yet Harman's work has already appeared in these pages, and at least some of his interests seem to resonate with themes in a phenomenology of givenness as I understand them. Only the reader will discern if I've shot myself in the foot with the remarks that follow, and if I've chosen a good topic to end a nearly 3 month hiatus.

A continuing critique of phenomenology, and a critique of Actor-Network Theory and 'the new materialism', Graham Harman's Immaterialism (Malden, MA: Polity, 2016) develops the philosopher's object oriented ontology and extends his new metaphysics of objects (and his recent critique of Heidegger's das Geviert) to 'objects and their relevance to social theory' (1). Though a familiarity with The Quadruple Object (Zero Books, 2011) serves a reading of Immaterialism, Harman's recap of the former's essential features and his signature concepts of 'undermining' and 'overmining' renders the latter something of a précis of his work in general.

Interestingly, something new comes to the fore in Immaterialism, namely the notion of the object as 'surplus exceeding its relations, qualities and actions' (3), (emphasis mine). Harman coins the term, 'duomining' (7) to acknowledge that neither the deployments of undermining nor overmining rarely occur in isolation, and that both and either threaten the surplus of things by denying objects their own dignity and integrity by reducing them down (undermining) to something more fundamental without remainder, or reducing them up (overmining) to their relations or actions (10)---the conceptual space of their manifestations---without remainder. 'Without remainder' here means without surplus of reality---the reality of things rests not in the things themselves but elsewhere.

Harman  therefore consecrates his approach to the thing in itself (27-8). Before I proceed any further, I must distinguish the 'thing in itself'  (27) from 'back to the things themselves'. For Harman the thing in itself is the reality of the thing that cannot be paraphrased (8) or reduced down to even more 'real', smaller constituent particles, or up to a greater 'reality' of 'what it does' (28). His speculative realism does not 'back into' the thing itself, but thinks the thing from itself; hence, Harman's project is a metaphysics from 'above', a metaphysics whose terms are not imposed upon a thing, but instead, are dictated by the thing. The phenomenological war cry that leads 'back to the things themselves' calls for an erasure of judgments and other a priori baggage that, now quelled, allow the thing to appear. This is not a subtle distinction: Harman's ontology is not phenomenology and a phenomenology of givenness is not a speculative realism, even if both share an abiding concern for the freedom of things, for things to be free to be (or give) themselves, unencumbered by methodological reductions that undermine, overmine and duomine. His argument, therefore, points at Kant more than Husserl.

If it is not already clear, I suggest that a phenomenology of givenness neither paraphrases things, nor converts things into a knowledge of them without remainder; it does not undermine, overmine or duomine. And what fascinates here, is the shared concern for the dignity and autonomy of things to be themselves, certainly, but to give themselves from and of themselves, on the part of Harman's metaphysics, and a phenomenology of givenness. Now to be sure, Harman uses the terms 'excess' and 'given' negatively, and he remains critical of the 'given' to the bitter end. Immaterialism gives an account of things apart from phenomenality, and certainly apart from (new) materialism. Still, Harman's 'surplus' of objects coincides nicely with the excess embraced in a phenomenology of givenness, even if Harman's 'given' is not quite the same as what it means in 'being given'.

Harman is quite clear that he wishes to negate the tenets of materialism by positing an immaterialism whose tenets are the direct opposite, the 'antonym of the approaches' of the new materialism: stability trumps change, boundaries are the rule and gradients are the exception, some things are not contingent, nouns trump verbs, autonomous essence is the rule, and experimentation approximates it no better than theory, what things 'are' are more interesting that what things 'do', thoughts and their objects are just like any other 2 objects, the singular trumps the multiple, the world is not just immanent (14-15).

These antonyms take on a greater thrust when viewed against the backdrop of Harman's critique of Adrian Johnston (29-32), who posits a very slippery slippery slope between the thing in itself and negative theology. Countering with Pseudo-Dionysius' 'lighted house' analogy of  the Trinity (30), Harman emphasizes its cataphatic power, and then concludes with a pounding of Johnston's 'all or nothing' epistemology as inadequate to account for art. Only art itself can direct an account of it, and 'sometimes we can only reveal things obliquely, looking for paradox rather than literally accurate predicates as our entry to a thing' (32).

The larger part of Immaterialism presents an analysis of the Dutch East India Company (VOC in Dutch) as exemplar of an object with import to social theory. I will not summarize Harman's provocative 'ontology' (39) of the VOC here, but instead observe several points in his method. He is not after history here, though he wishes to underscore seminal occurrences that define the 'stages' of the life of his object, the VOC. Taking his point of departure from Leibniz's reductio ad absurdum that the VOC is no more an object than a heap of stones, Harman proceeds to proclaim that the VOC is indeed a unified object (37). Further, he speaks of the life-cycle of objects and various stages in a single object, as opposed to the development of new objects.

In order to assure that 'an entity qualifies as an object as long as it is irreducible both to its components and its long as the object is not exhausted by undermining or overmining methods' (41), Harman develops the concept of symbiosis. The biological term has had a life of its own, and has undergone transformations of meaning, but in Harman's hands the term refers to a commensal interaction between objects without prejudice to the integrity of either object, even when they form a 'new' object, 'however fleeting' (43). He stipulates, along with Badiou, that 'events' are rare (47), and not every interaction between symbionts (Harman does not use this term) are 'decisive' (44): 'immaterialism proposes symbiosis as the key to unlocking a finite number of distinct phases in the life of the same object rather than the creation of a new one' (49-50).

Again stressing that the thing in itself cannot be reduced to what it does or 'can do', Harman warns that any privileging of 'doing' gravitates to the 'most histrionic incidents during' the lifespan of a thing, and excludes a good deal of ousia. Such a strategy might interest a history, but not an ontology. Instead, Harman's ontology focuses on the connection between two objects in the nominative case (53). The interaction between objects as ingredients (not actors) and symbionts, and this holds even when one of the symbionts are human.

What follows is a thorough investigation of incidents in the life of the VOC. By emphasizing a democracy of objects interacting in the life cycle of the VOC Harman eventually performs a sic et non critique of Actor-Network Theory (97-106). Finally, he levels his sharpest critique against the decadence of mindless recapitulation of great objects. Of special interest is his attack on the followers of Husserl, Derrida and Deleuze, on those affected imitators who have lost sight of the dangers faced by these original thinkers (125). In  this critique Harman can only refer to the overminers, underminers and duominers who have lost Husserl et aliter and find themselves lost in false realities of 'deeper 'substances and 'broader' accidents.

 I certainly do not want to blithely fall into a systematic decadence of things. A phenomenology of givenness does not, as it looks to the thing to give itself from and of itself, collapsing anything in epoche that would fetter the thing. Because Harman speaks of incidents rather than 'events' that symbiotically move an object through several stages in its lifecycle, we cannot levy the saturated phenomenon of the 'event' against his thesis, nor can we leave 'selection bias' on his doorstep because he proffers an ontology rather than a history of the VOC. So what then can a phenomenology of givenness and an immaterialism, as symbionts (can they ever make such a connection?), come to know about their respective life cycles? Can the thing that gives itself from and for itself enjoy a being and a giving that are modes of each other? What finally can it mean for a thing to give itself prior to being---certainly we mean by that something other than a statement of spatiotemporal status.

It is clear to me that Harman is about cherishing the integrity, unity and even dignity of all 'things' and especially the surplus in things, what phenomenology calls the 'excess' that inheres in things, an excess that cannot be known directly but only indirectly through counter-experience. When a phenomenology of revelation claims that God loves before he is, it means that the encounter with the divine depends on the givenness of God---God's self-donation, and not at all on a metaphysics of the analogia entis. Harman has no interest in that outdated metaphysics which his own seeks to supplant. In fact, Harman's ontology is a descending metaphysics whose descent from the thing in itself is the only proper pedigree for a productive metaphysics that does justice to the thing, whether under the aegis of an object oriented ontology or a genuine speculative realism. 

Regardless, neither rationalism nor any other positivism can sustain the argument that a phenomenology of givenness reduces to a negative theology, and Harman agrees with at least this much. Phenomenology would assent to the analogy of apophasis with undermining and cataphasis with overmining because givenness comes only from the given, from the gift. Phenomenology sees sacrifice as a kind of citation, a gift given, received and re-gifted; similarly immaterialism sees symbiosis as a kind of connection where immaterialism might concede a givenness informing that interaction: Harman has spoken of paradox as entry to a thing, but is he ready for the paradox of the gift? In any event, that both a phenomenology of givenness and a critical immaterialism should uphold the excess in things, whether in their phenomenality or immateriality, should give pause for a wave and a smile from either side of an ever so slightly narrowed chasm.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Towards a Phenomenology of Gained Sight in John 9: The Man Born Blind

[1]Καὶ παράγων εἶδεν ἄνθρωπον τυφλὸν ἐκ γενετῆς. [2] καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ λέγοντες Ῥαββεί, τίς ἥμαρτεν, οὗτος ἢ οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ, ἵνα τυφλὸς γεννηθῇ; [3] ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς Οὔτε οὗτος ἥμαρτεν οὔτε οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ, ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα φανερωθῇ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ. [4] ἡμᾶς δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι τὰ ἔργα τοῦ πέμψαντός με ἕως ἡμέρα ἐστίν: ἔρχεται νὺξ ὅτε οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐργάζεσθαι. [5] ὅταν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ὦ, φῶς εἰμὶ τοῦ κόσμου. [6] ταῦτα εἰπὼν ἔπτυσεν χαμαὶ καὶ ἐποίησεν πηλὸν ἐκ τοῦ πτύσματος, καὶ ἐπέθηκεν αὐτοῦ τὸν πηλὸν ἐπὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς, [7] καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ὕπαγε νίψαι εἰς τὴν κολυμβήθραν τοῦ Σιλωάμ ὃ ἑρμηνεύεται Ἀπεσταλμένος᾿. ἀπῆλθεν οὖν καὶ ἐνίψατο, καὶ ἦλθεν βλέπων. [8] Οἱ οὖν γείτονες καὶ οἱ θεωροῦντες αὐτὸν τὸ πρότερον ὅτι προσαίτης ἦν ἔλεγον Οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ καθήμενος καὶ προσαιτῶν; [9] ἄλλοι ἔλεγον ὅτι Οὗτός ἐστιν: ἄλλοι ἔλεγον Οὐχί, ἀλλὰ ὅμοιος αὐτῷ ἐστίν. ἐκεῖνος ἔλεγεν ὅτι Ἐγώ εἰμι. [10] ἔλεγον οὖν αὐτῷ Πῶς [οὖν] ἠνεῴχθησάν σου οἱ ὀφθαλμοί; [11] ἀπεκρίθη ἐκεῖνος Ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὁ λεγόμενος Ἰησοῦς πηλὸν ἐποίησεν καὶ ἐπέχρισέν μου τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ εἶπέν μοι ὅτι Ὕπαγε εἰς τὸν Σιλωὰμ καὶ νίψαι: ἀπελθὼν οὖν καὶ νιψάμενος ἀνέβλεψα. [12] καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ Ποῦ ἐστὶν ἐκεῖνος; λέγει Οὐκ οἶδα. [13] Ἄγουσιν αὐτὸν πρὸς τοὺς Φαρισαίους τόν ποτε τυφλόν. [14] ἦν δὲ σάββατον ἐν ᾗ ἡμέρᾳ τὸν πηλὸν ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἀνέῳξεν αὐτοῦ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς. [15] πάλιν οὖν ἠρώτων αὐτὸν καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι πῶς ἀνέβλεψεν. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Πηλὸν ἐπέθηκέν μου ἐπὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς, καὶ ἐνιψάμην, καὶ βλέπω. [16] ἔλεγον οὖν ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων τινές Οὐκ ἔστιν οὗτος παρὰ θεοῦ ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ὅτι τὸ σάββατον οὐ τηρεῖ. ἄλλοι [δὲ] ἔλεγον Πῶς δύναται ἄνθρωπος ἁμαρτωλὸς τοιαῦτα σημεῖα ποιεῖν; καὶ σχίσμα ἦν ἐν αὐτοῖς. [17] λέγουσιν οὖν τῷ τυφλῷ πάλιν Τί σὺ λέγεις περὶ αὐτοῦ, ὅτι ἠνέῳξέν σου τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν ὅτι Προφήτης ἐστίν. [18] Οὐκ ἐπίστευσαν οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι περὶ αὐτοῦ ὅτι ἦν τυφλὸς καὶ ἀνέβλεψεν, ἕως ὅτου ἐφώνησαν τοὺς γονεῖς αὐτοῦ τοῦ ἀναβλέψαντος [19] καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτοὺς λέγοντες Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς ὑμῶν, ὃν ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι τυφλὸς ἐγεννήθη; πῶς οὖν βλέπει ἄρτι; [20] ἀπεκρίθησαν οὖν οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ εἶπαν Οἴδαμεν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς ἡμῶν καὶ ὅτι τυφλὸς ἐγεννήθη: [21] πῶς δὲ νῦν βλέπει οὐκ οἴδαμεν, ἢ τίς ἤνοιξεν αὐτοῦ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἡμεῖς οὐκ οἴδαμεν: αὐτὸν ἐρωτήσατε, ἡλικίαν ἔχει, αὐτὸς περὶ ἑαυτοῦ λαλήσει. [22] ταῦτα εἶπαν οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ ὅτι ἐφοβοῦντο τοὺς Ἰουδαίους, ἤδη γὰρ συνετέθειντο οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἵνα ἐάν τις αὐτὸν ὁμολογήσῃ Χριστόν, ἀποσυνάγωγος γένηται. [23] διὰ τοῦτο οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπαν ὅτι Ἡλικίαν ἔχει, αὐτὸν ἐπερωτήσατε. [24] Ἐφώνησαν οὖν τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐκ δευτέρου ὃς ἦν τυφλὸς καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ Δὸς δόξαν τῷ θεῷ: ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν ὅτι οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἁμαρτωλός ἐστιν. [25] ἀπεκρίθη οὖν ἐκεῖνος Εἰ ἁμαρτωλός ἐστιν οὐκ οἶδα: ἓν οἶδα ὅτι τυφλὸς ὢν ἄρτι βλέπω. [26] εἶπαν οὖν αὐτῷ Τί ἐποίησέν σοι; πῶς ἤνοιξέν σου τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς; [27] ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς Εἶπον ὑμῖν ἤδη καὶ οὐκ ἠκούσατε: τί πάλιν θέλετε ἀκούειν; μὴ καὶ ὑμεῖς θέλετε αὐτοῦ μαθηταὶ γενέσθαι; [28] καὶ ἐλοιδόρησαν αὐτὸν καὶ εἶπαν Σὺ μαθητὴς εἶ ἐκείνου, ἡμεῖς δὲ τοῦ Μωυσέως ἐσμὲν μαθηταί: [29] ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν ὅτι Μωυσεῖ λελάληκεν ὁ θεός, τοῦτον δὲ οὐκ οἴδαμεν πόθεν ἐστίν. [30] ἀπεκρίθη ὁ ἄνθρωπος καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἐν τούτῳ γὰρ τὸ θαυμαστόν ἐστιν ὅτι ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε πόθεν ἐστίν, καὶ ἤνοιξέν μου τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς. [31] οἴδαμεν ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ἁμαρτωλῶν οὐκ ἀκούει, ἀλλ᾽ ἐάν τις θεοσεβὴς ᾖ καὶ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ ποιῇ τούτου ἀκούει. [32] ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος οὐκ ἠκούσθη ὅτι ἠνέῳξέν τις ὀφθαλμοὺς τυφλοῦ γεγεννημένου: [33] εἰ μὴ ἦν οὗτος παρὰ θεοῦ, οὐκ ἠδύνατο ποιεῖν οὐδέν. [34] ἀπεκρίθησαν καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ Ἐν ἁμαρτίαις σὺ ἐγεννήθης ὅλος, καὶ σὺ διδάσκεις ἡμᾶς; καὶ ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω. [35] Ἤκουσεν Ἰησοῦς ὅτι ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω, καὶ εὑρὼν αὐτὸν εἶπεν. Σὺ πιστεύεις εἰς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώ που; [36] ἀπεκρίθη ἐκεῖνος [καὶ εἶπεν] Καὶ τίς ἐστιν, κύριε, ἵνα πιστεύσω εἰς αὐτόν; [37] εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς Καὶ ἑώρακας αὐτὸν καὶ ὁ λαλῶν μετὰ σοῦ ἐκεῖνός ἐστιν. [38] ὁ δὲ ἔφη Πιστεύω, κύριε: καὶ προσεκύνησεν αὐτῷ. [39] καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς Εἰς κρίμα ἐγὼ εἰς τὸν κόσμον τοῦτον ἦλθον, ἵνα οἱ μὴ βλέποντες βλέπωσιν [40] καὶ οἱ βλέποντες τυφλοὶ γένωνται. Ἤκουσαν ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων ταῦτα οἱ μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ ὄντες, καὶ [41] εἶπαν αὐτῷ Μὴ καὶ ἡμεῖς τυφλοί ἐσμεν; εἶπεν αὐτοῖς [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς Εἰ τυφλοὶ ἦτε, οὐκ ἂν εἴχετε ἁμαρτίαν: νῦν δὲ λέγετε ὅτι Βλέπομεν: ἡ ἁμαρτία ὑμῶν μένει.

The Primordial Situation:

A child is born into a world where blindness is a consequence of sin. The child is born blind, either because of his own sin, or the sin of his parents. The child, become a man, a man born blind (henceforth, MBB), is a beggar, one who sits and begs.

The Reversal:

The world is not what it seems (or what it was thought to be): neither for his own sin nor the sin of his parents is the child born blind.

The Existential Situation:

Un-sight to Sight


The Process of Gaining Sight:
1. clay of spittle applied to blind eyes.
2. Washing off of the clay of spittle.
3. establishment of vision.

A Note on Classical Causality:
1. formal cause: 'while I am in the world...'
2. material cause: clay of spittle
3. efficient cause: light of the world
4. final cause: sight, seeing, faith, proclamation of faith in, and Lordship of, Jesus

A Note on Ankyloblepharon filiforme adnatum:

1. Being born with imperforate eyelids
2. Naturalistic causality: Jesus performs a surgical procedure in which the abrasive component of clay, coupled with the enzymatic action of saliva, disrupts the attenuated membrane adhering the eyelids
3. Jesus quite literally opens the eyes of the man born blind
4. Interestingly, none of this impacts the phenomenology of gained sight.
5. What is the diagnosis, if not this one?

Being-in-the-world of the MBB:

1. Usurpation?/sublimation of the divine signature: I am (ego eimi) he who was blind. I now move in the world I see.
2. Testimony: Jesus made clay, applied it to my eyes, he told me to wash, I washed, now I see.
3. Repetition of testimony to the Pharisees
4. First proclamation: he is a prophet
5. Complication: MMB embroiled in dispute of who Jesus is
6. Challenged:  the healer is a sinner
Transformation of the world and being-in-the-world: Transformation as the beginning of Authentic Engagement of the World.
7. You say sinner-uncertainty; I see with certainty he is of God
8. Challenger: I gave apparently unheeded testimony: I will not repeat unless you want to follow the healer; not only is he not a sinner, but devout of God.
9. Self-assertion: sui generis: one born blind has never gained sight before this event.
10. Assertion of Jesus as being of God as efficient cause of this event.
11. Rejection: cast out by the power of the 'old world' Blind and in sin.
Authentic embrace of sight and Responsibility of Seeing:
12. Invitation to faith
13. Further ownership of sight.
14. Seeing is believing: I believe "Lord"
15. Worship.

Sight as Breeding Ground of Phenomenality:

1. Incredulity

2. Unreliability of the sense of sight

3. Testimony

4. Proclamation

5. Rhetoric

6. Irony
7. Faith
8. Novelty
9. Renewal

The narrative structures as outlined above inform the structure of the MBB's experience of gaining sight as the pericope presents the MBB's engagement of his world. There are 2 versions of 'sight' in play in John 9: the effecting of the neurological apparatus of vision, and 'seeing' with those neurological, biological, bodily eyes a world never seen before. The MBB moves into his world as a newly seeing person, and such novelty of sight enables him to see some things that others who have had operational eyes for their whole lives cannot see: 'not seeing' drives and structures the experience of sight for the MBB.

What are the first things he 'sees'? He first experiences the incredulity of those who 'know' him (isn't he the one who sat and begged?). Then he experiences the trompe l'oeil (no, he just looks like that one). His first experiential encounters are with those who do not believe their eyes. He sees those with eyes not seeing very well. He enters a world that does not know him, a world in which he is a stranger. As the stranger, he attempts to bring others to their 'senses', their eyesight: he reassures them : "I am" ( that one).

Wonder begets questions. The MMB moves deeper into his brave new world, giving testimony to the facts at hand in the order of their occurrence: does he hear the words of Jesus as he says he is the 'light of the world'? Perhaps: but for now just the facts: clay, application ('anointing'), wash, see. He lives in each moment of a series of events resulting in the experience of gaining sight and the use of the sense of vision through the normal functions of the eye. Upon being brought to the Pharisees, he articulates the testimony again. He experiences incredulity, an incredulity not budged by his own testimony, but one moved only by the testimony of his parents. He experiences belittlement and rejection until corroborating testimony establishes the facts of blindness from birth and seeing today. He experiences 'seeing' as a mode of suffering, or at least as something unpleasant.  His experience of sight accuses him in the sight of others. Has he feigned blindness? Was he really 'born' blind? Was is congenital or acquired? That he sees now is not the question: Was it that he saw? Only after a brief but humiliating 'trial' can he be acquitted of sight itself.

Nonetheless, there is now something new in the body that in that moment transforms his flesh. Though it is far from clear that his further engagement of the world comes from his transformation from beggar to rhetorician, he does indeed decline a third request for the same testimony. Now he starts asking the questions and drawing conclusions, conclusions he judges as un-seeable to the Pharisees: he eloquently proposes that Jesus is no sinner, and is in fact, of God. More than this, the MBB is 'amazed' at the Pharisees for not knowing/seeing 'where he is from,' whence he comes, his origin: for it is plain for the MBB to see, as plain as the eyes in his head, that his healer is of God.  For this he, with his new found stature of sight, is roundly rejected, and pronounced a disciple of Jesus.

The discussion between the MBB and Jesus is not a non-sequitur, despite how the MBB addresses Jesus, whom he has never seen, as Lord (kyrios). After his encounter with incredulity and those who simply will not see, the MBB, wishing to further engage this new world, seeks the Son of Man offered to him, that he might see and believe: Jesus directs the MBB to himself, and the MMB sees and believes. In this new world where men born blind come to sight, this statement of belief is a powerful engagement of the reality in this world. The MBB begins to move within the fabric of his world, and comes to see the space between its fibers.
So, what then is the structure of the MBB's experience of sight? It begins in an action that sets other actions into motion, and in a phenomenon that generates other phenomena. Clay, its application to the eyes, a command to wash at a specific location (Siloam, 'Sent'), the actual washing off of the clay, and the 'opening' of the eyes (enoixen mou tous ophthalmous). Within these occurrences, the MBB has experienced only the acquisition of the sense of sight, of functioning eyes. The beginning of the experience of sight is first a change in the status of the body. But the experience extends from a body with working eyes to a self that sees and knows a world brand new to that self. He moves from a static 'my body has eyes' to a generative 'my flesh sees'. New body---new flesh.

His body and flesh have a new mode of being-in-the world. His world unfolds from sight as 'sight-of-those-who-do-not-see' into 'my-sight-that-sees'. He sees that eyes, for some, cannot be trusted, or are sometimes distrusted by other selves. He experiences his very self as a stranger to others, and perhaps even a stranger to himself (tantalizingly, the text is silent on the matter of whether he see a reflection of his own visage in the pool of Sent). He comes to see/know rejection. He even comes to see that, now even though he sees, others can see him as remaining fettered in 'utter sin'---that even in this new world, despite his sight, others can see him as still blind. Though he plainly sees the error in the Pharisees, and succinctly and eloquently refutes their assertions, he experiences unwelcome.

Yet, sight breeds not dejection, but greater openness and opening into the world. When he finally sees Jesus, he recognizes him as the one he concluded was 'of God.' He saw the Son of Man, and his sight put him in a posture of worship.


An Interview with the MBB

Interviewer (I): What happened to you today?
MBB: I began to see, though I have never seen before.
I: How did that happen?
MBB: A man put clay on my eyes, and when I washed it off, I saw.
I: What did you see?
MBB: I saw what I did not see before.
I: What was that?
MBB: I saw others seeing me.
I: What was that like?
MBB: While the voices seemed familiar, they seemed strange, too.
I: Tell me how things were 'strange'?
MBB: I was a stranger to them. People who saw me every day, saw me as a stranger.
I: How did that make you feel?
MBB: Strange.
I:How did that make you feel?
MBB: I felt a stranger in my own world. I was confused that those who saw me and knew me, saw me and knew me for the first time today.
I: Did that speak to you in any particular way?
MBB: I thought that 'seeing' has something to do with more than just having eyes that function. To see, is also to be open to seeing, to have a willingness to see.
I: How did you handle that?
MBB: I asked them to lose their minds and come to their senses. I reassured them that I was I who used to sit and beg.
I: What happened after that?
MBB: Some did see me, did see that is was really me; others thought I was just someone who looked like me.
I: Tell me about 'seeing'. What can you tell me about the world you saw today?
MBB: Well, I didn't get to see as much of it as I would've liked; I got whisked to the Pharisees who quizzed me about the whole thing. They did not believe what I said.
I: Why do you think you were not believed?
MBB: I do not know.
I: Do you have any guesses?
MBB: They knew my blindness was from some sin.
I: Go on...
MBB: They could barely see me as someone who could see. When they came to know that I was born blind through the testimony of my parents, they granted that I was no longer blind, and could see. They could not get past the sin, though.
I:Why do you say that?
MBB: Because when I deduced something about the man who gave me sight, they said I had nothing to offer them, and that I remained in utter sin. But what sin was this in a man born blind who could see?
I: I don't know: what do you think?
MBB: My mind is still in a muddle. I will think about it.
I: What about the man who gave you sight? Did you find him?
MBB: He found me. He asked if I believed in the 'Son of Man.' I saw who he was, or I intuited who he was. I told him I wanted to see him that I might believe. He said I was seeing him that moment. I believed in him, and kissed his hand.
I: I see we're just about out of time for today.
MBB: Yes, just about out of time.


Sin and the Temptation of Theodicy

The gaining of sight of a man born blind is unprecedented in the biblical literature: the 4th evangelist knows that fact, as does his MBB. The restoration of acquired blindness is both empirically and phenomenologically of a different order. In the world in which the MBB, Jesus, his disciples and adversaries move, being born into blindness has a simple etiology (aitia): sin.
The setting therefore for the gift of sight is striking. Sight cuts into a world governed by sin. The disciples attempt to locate the cause of the man's blindness in the sin of either the man or his parents. The first choice is patently absurd, but Jesus denies the other as well. Blindness simply is and is without cause or why. The so-called theodical element of the pericope is an artifact of the Tradition, and not of the substance of the language. Properly translated, the passage is exonerated from theodicy: 'It is neither because of the man's or his parents' sin that he is blind. Regardless, through him the works of God will become manifest: we must do the work of the one who sent me in daylight' (9:3-4). Jesus has introduced a newness in the world for the MBB to see.

If the opening lines of Jn. 9 were really theodicy, those would be the only lines in the library we call 'the bible' in which theodicy appears. The man was not born blind so that Jesus could strut his stuff. Despite all the translations in English, the 4th Gospel does not know theodicy. The bible itself knows only of the juxtaposition of evil and the inscrutable God, and that juxtaposition is not in itself theodicy properly so-called; there is no systematic or thematic theodicy in the bible.

There is no other passage in the bible rendered in English in such crass theodical terms. The evangelist, in fact, goes out of his way to dispel any kind of display of divine power for its own sake. Even when the the MBB 'appears' (i.e., when he is referenced) in the next 2 chapters, John assures us that the signs are not capricious displays of what John Caputo calls the 'divine testosterone'. The point is simply that either we are dealing with the only clearly articulated theodicy in the bible in Jn. 9, or we are not dealing with it at all. A proper translation is not about eisegesis here, but about seeing what John wants us to know about his world.

Did the MBB ever experience his blindness as a consequence or manifestation of sin? The Pharisees insist that he do just that; his world relegates him to sitting and begging, the posture of a sinner and a beggar of mercy, or at least the 'kindness' of others. Does his status as beggar already place him in the grip of sin, already commanding his experiencing blindness as sin? Does he ever ask if his blindness results from his or his parents' sin? Perhaps. Perhaps his emergence as a foil to the Pharisees suggests he's been contemplating the problem for a long time as he sat and begged. He does not reference his time as a beggar when he engages the Pharisees. He does not say to them, in effect, 'well, I've been thinking about all this for a long time, and what you have been peddling makes no sense.' He simply states his critique of the Pharisees' owned ignorance of his healer's origin: he is astounded that the obvious conclusion from his syllogism has eluded them. Indeed, their inability to see that the healer is 'of God' is even thaumastos, a wonder. The MBB offer a concise but edgy rhetoric that so undercuts the Pharisees ignorance, that he nearly embarrasses them into submission, were it not for their obstinacy, which is the point, of course, to the MBB's little speech. He has told them, in other words, you do not see because you will not see. This willful lack of vison (you do not see because you will not see) hangs on thaumastos. The MBB marvels at the machinations of argument that foreclose on verticality and delimit the richer phenomenon (prophet being richer than sinner).*** The myopic logic of not knowing where Jesus is from limps in the world of gained sight. Whatever evidence the MBB adduces to proclaim his healer as 'a prophet' has a logic appropriate to the experience of prophets. The evidence the Pharisees adduce for Jesus as sinner is not compelling, as even they are divided over such logic. But the logic of the experience of gained sight is unassailable.

Only 'sin' can leverage the Pharisees' hold over the MBB, whose sense of sight has yielded common sense as part of his experience of gaining sight. His speech to the Pharisees comes directly from the MBB's experience of sight structured by 'not seeing:' it is a rhetorical expression of the phenomenon of gaining sight in this world in which the MBB moves, engages, and critiques. So, does the MBB ever experience his blindness as a consequence of sin? He has tried that mode of experience 'on for size', and has rejected it out of hand with the sharp tongue of rhetoric, a far more effective and aggressive way of experiencing a new found sight and vision. The last time a beggar offered such a critique, he shot a very sharp, bronze-tipped arrow through the bodies of other usurpers of another lifeworld. The MBB now navigates a new lifeworld, where sin need not hold sway, need not find its way into the hands of the power brokers who yield it to control, humiliate and maintain the status quo.*

I am not suggesting that the MBB has become a marauder upon the status quo, upon the conventions of his facticity that positioned him to sit and beg. This is not about 'payback.' It is about the gift offered and received in love, which in John 9 goes by the names of 'light' and 'sight.' In this world, sin does play, but it plays out ironically through the judgments that come out of one's own mouth, as it often the case in the 4th Gospel. The MBB experiences the ignorance of the Pharisees by savoring its ironic spice, its marvel, its wonder. The Pharisees convict themselves through their 'owned' ignorance, just as they convict themselves with blindness in the closing verses of the chapter. Why, where sight is given in and as love can it also be taken away? The chapter ends very differently for the Pharisees than it does for the MBB. For the Pharisees, seeing where there is no love, light or sight convicts them of sin; for the MBB, the gift of sight and light is received in love and expresses itself in belief and worship---an entirely different experience of sight and seeing as gait into an ever-expanding world.*


Another Interview

Perhaps at the MBB's next interview, the Interviewer, having taken good notes, picks up where they left off:

I: Last time, you were telling me about how you kissed the hand of your healer. Can you tell me more about what that was like for you?
MBB: I had just received sight, and I was present to the man who gave it to me, and I conformed by body to this moment of mutual presence, I worshipped him. I experienced him by seeing him, and what I saw put my body in relation to whom this man is. I experienced him in the conformation of my body.
I: Did he offer his hand for a posture of worship?
MBB. No. My sight found me to take that form in his presence. I could only experience him at that moment in that shape and posture.
I: Was that different from any other posture you have adopted at any time before this moment?
MBB: When I sit and beg, I am in a posture of humiliation; when I am bent in worship, I am in all humility, present to him and to myself.
I: How is humiliation different from humility?
MBB: When I am humiliated by sitting and begging, each coin pressing against my body causes me pain; I suffer because I am grounded in my broken pride. When I am present to love, light and sight, in humility, I am not grounded in pride, but I am not self-grounding at all: my sight finds the light and love of joy in such presence that grounds me outside myself.
I: I think you should be the Interviewer.
MBB: Well I see we are just about out of time for today.



Classical causality, the explanation of things and their behaviors, finds it hard to enter the world of the MBB. It doesn't even seem to be comfortable in the outline presented above, for its language and concepts are foreign to the phenomenalities of gaining sight in such a world. In John, picking up the phone causes it to ring. Before Abraham was I am. The 4th gospel even subverts grammatical tense. Forcing the action of John 9 into such categories sheds little light (though it burns hot in the conceptual idol). Sight, then, in John 9 begins not in an image projected upon the human retina, the body, but in the attempts of others to see. The MBB experiences his sight first by being 'not seen.' His 'seeing' encounters not seeing before he sees: the first thing he sees in not being seen, known, or recognized. The irony than runs rampant through the gospel runs through the experience of sight in our pericope. Its irony also mocks the niceties of causality that can only function as mere labels, signposts for vistas that signposts, being what they are, can never reach or see.

The gaining of sight to the MBB functions as semeia, perhaps even as sacrament, perhaps even in a hylomorphism according to sacramental theology---for us readers. Does the MBB experience the gaining of sight as sacrament? Does the gaining of sight 'signify' for the MBB, and does it cause what it signifies for him, in his experience of it? The anachronism of 'sacrament' aside, can we legitimately ask if the sign of giving sight to the MBB, is a sign for the MBB? This question cannot operate at the level of the phenomenon, and the gaining of sight enters the MBB's experience prior to any signification. Sight is before it can signify. Sight is unmediated even if arrives first by 'not-seeing.' In this sense, 'not-seeing' does not mediate the reception of sight for the MBB.


Ego Eimi and the Purloined Signature

Perhaps I make too much of this kind of thing. Still, I am fascinated that apart from the divine, only the MBB utters the words ego eimi. Given the economy of John's gospel, that deployment of the divine signature by a mere mortal, let alone a man who's spent his whole life humiliated by a culture that views blindness as sin, is no lapsus linguae. Though we must supply the natural corollary, as every translation does, 'the man,' 'the one who was blind,' etc., the evangelist does not, and I would suggest he does not to invite ambiguity. What we must supply is certainly implied by the language and context, so naturally, we supply what John does not. A small point, for sure.

The very phenomenon of gaining sight in the MBB's world lead him to utter the very first words he utters as a human with sight. He says them as two words only: ego eimi. To say the words that only divinity says is to participate in the divine. Why these words, and why these words to neutralize the 'blindness' of those whose incredulity can even assert simulacra? Sight gained by a man born blind announces itself to the MBB and his world with the divine ratification of divinity's signature. He will, in short shrift, find himself before the Pharisees who will try to convince him that he should direct his praise to God, not Jesus, who is a sinner whose origins are unseen and unknown. In short, the MBB experiences his sight as an expression of being itself, as an assertion of being itself: I am. Seeing is not only believing, but being as well; and being is believing, it would seem. Sight is about to deliver the MBB into belief in his healer as one who is 'of God.' In the MBB's very being-in-the-world, in the act of serial engagements in his world, sight finds faith.

Within the compression of John 9, the MBB recapitulates Jesus experience in the same world. He enters the world bodily with eyes to see, engages the world, wins recognition and earns contempt, he is cast out, and received into divinity, into love. The world is transformed by the light, sight and love of divine gift. The MBB is rather like Jesus. What's a signature amongst friends?**


Another Interview

I: You said recently that the coin in your hand hurt. Can you tell me a bit more?
MBB: It did not hurt until the day I could see.
I: How does seeing now make you feel pain in the past.
MBB: I could not see the way things were until I saw the way they are.
I: How are the way things are the way things were?
MBB: The day I gained sight gave me sight into the past. I never saw myself begging. I can see now my humiliation then, only because I see with humility now.


Sight fleshes out being and time for the MBB. Only in his being given by sight can he see his non-being. Through the lens of Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians, the MBB has lived both the ta me onta and the ta onta. He undoes the ta onta as he moves through his being given through sight, and undoes his ta me onta as a sitter and a beggar. He could not move into a world of sight because he didn't have enough 'body' for the task; now with sight in his eyes, body and flesh, he engages being-in-the-world and being-toward-others.

The phenomenon of gaining sight is a complex phenomenon that generates other phenomenalities as it unfolds in the MBB's lifeworld. He experiences sight as novelty and strange, and he experiences himself as a stranger in a strange landscape. The unseeing on the part of others enters his visual field at the moment he sees and, seeing, announces his own being's arrival: I am. With his newly gained sight, he encounters disbelief, incredulity, and the unreliability of the eyes in the heads of some others. What is a trompe l'oeil for them is absolute clarity of focus for him. The MMB experiences his gift of sight as structured by the distortion of sight, of unseeing. He then experiences sight as knowing and discernment. Though his sight prompts testimony of receiving sight, his testimony, and therefore his sight, is rejected until the testimony of 'more reliable witnesses' corroborates the transformation from unsighted to sighted. The Pharisees attempt to redirect his view toward God because they do not see or know the healer. His gaze, though, remains invulnerable to misdirection as his focus remains fixed on what the Pharisees only think they see and know. They see sin where there is no sin. The MBB sees no sin where there is no sin. The MMB's sight relocates sin to its proper place, not in a blindness of the body, but a blindness in the flesh. The MBB's experience of sight is further complicated by its dislocation of the status quo, the dislocation of power from the ones who wield it inauthentically, to the one who wields it with authenticity. His experience of sight is finalized in his worship of the Son of Man. Sight is light, being and believing.

Each lived moment of sight asserts the here-ness of the MBB. That here-ness begins to leave artifacts in his lifeworld: he speaks his being into Being (I am); he speaks his testimony as instantiation of sight; he proclaims the 'prophet'; he confronts the error of the Pharisees by qualifying its premise and pointing to its logical flaw; he sees his healer as Son of Man; he believes what his sight has given. Each step his sight takes into being-in-the-world leaves a footprint of here-ness of a someone who really is there.

Though the MBB has already moved on and the final words of Jesus to the Pharisees do not enter his experience, his experience of sight-as-rhetoric has prefigured that moment. Jesus makes concrete what the MBB has made implicit in his own speech to them. The MBB, with a sight gained, merely points to the Pharisees lack of sight, and merely suggests that what they do not see is the divine in action. Jesus, that other rhetorician, ties the whole experience of gaining sight into a subversion of the world order: you assert your vision in the absence of vision and that is sin. Your vision is a vision of power and being, but now your power and being is reduced to sin because you say you see where you do not see. The MBB now sees his world: those who saw their world now see their world fade away.


Is Sight a Religious Experience for the MBB?

Is the world of the MBB a religious world for him prior to gaining sight? He sits and begs. That is his life. It is sin that has dictated his predicament. Does 'sin' make his world de facto a religious world? Does the appearance of the word, "God," impose religiosity in this world or within the experience of the MBB? I think not, for the appearance of the word, 'God', is the appearance of just another thing in the world.  There is no question that worship concludes and ratifies the MBB's experience of gaining sight. The progress of the narrative, though, gives us pause. He knows nothing of his healer: he does not see him, and he might not even, at first, hear him. The experience of sight dominates his navigation of his world. He has not gained sight because of his faith in God, or in Jesus: his faith has not saved his eyes. We know nothing of his faith status, his belief system. Perhaps his religion is blindness itself. Perhaps he simply believes in a sightless existence and moves in a 'religious' space of darkness. We only observe his experience of sight when it is thrust upon him, and he, in turn, discovers himself thrown into a world in which he sees. His sight then provides a vehicle of discovery, and he rides this vehicle like a bat out of blindness. Fleeing from blindness and flying headlong into his world he discovers truths of the senses, of the emotions, of knowledge, of power, of injustice (and justice, too), of 'religion', of teachers who will not be taught, of the gift.

Wasn't sight always a gift in the experience of the MBB? He certainly receives something in his body that was not there prior, yet, as first, sight is not a gift, but still another mode of receiving. Sight enables the MBB to receive his world as he grasps it. At first, things seem less than promising; but as the aperture of his sight widens upon his world, and he moves closer and closer to the things in his world, he approaches the gift more closely too, as he navigates his way to the giver of the gift, the healer-of-God. When does sight become, for the MBB, sight-as-gift? It might be that moment when sight becomes unequivocally positive, when it gives what it give absolutely and irrevocably. When I say 'absolutely' here, I do not mean that he ever completely grasps the saturated phenomenon in toto, but that 'negative certainty' is evoked absolutely. The 'impact' is absolute: the counter-experience is crystal clear about how unclear the phenomenon is experienced. As such, sight becomes gift; it is received in absolute perfection, completion, when it is united to the vision of the giver: when the Son of Man comes into the MBB's view of the world. Sight, in this moment, enters the MBB's consciousness as absolute gift and it is received in belief. It is only at this moment that sight extends into the phenomena of religious experience.

Urgency and Meaning

The MBB moves through his world with an urgency born of the novelty of sight. Every engagement with his world propels him to a subsequent encounter. As he himself becomes increasingly visible in the world through which he moves, that world becomes increasingly visible to him. He wants to see; he desires to see more and more. He searches for the very substance of sight itself: he searches for meaning. Is this urgency palpable to him, or is it an artifact of textuality, of the compression of motion within the MBB's landscape? His very movements trace the gift of sight within his body to a gift of sight within his 'self.' From the pool of Silo'am to the feet and hand of Jesus, he pursues a logic of sight to the logic of meaning. At each juncture of his sight and the sight of others, he confronts confusion and wonder, the very heart of the search for meaning, for what it means to see. What meanings does sight have? These enter his experience as the burdens of sight, the demands of sight, the responsibility of sight and seeing.

As he develops a sense of ownership of sight, he witnesses how others own their sight. Some own sight quite loosely; others tightly and even stingily, with the narrowest deployments of sight and vision. In response, the MBB acquires a generosity of sight as its aperture opens his world. Even in the biting irony of his rhetoric visits upon the Pharisees there rests an invitation to discipleship. Though the Pharisees disappoint his generosity, and humiliate him, the MBB continues to create his world anew as he continues his journey to the source of his sight. He seeks and he is found. Being found is being seen, and the MBB is founded upon an invitation to see the Son of Man. He accepts the invitation and discovers belief as he sees the one he gazes upon. "I believe, Lord." The entire motion from blind beggar---ta me onta, to a new and seeing being---ta onta, unites sight with being, and being with seeing and believing.

End Notes

*I try hard to avoid Binswanger's 'error' (I wonder if Merleau-Ponty makes a similar 'error' in The Phenomenology of Perception) as delineated in Heidegger's The Zollikon Seminars--- failing to distinguish regional from fundamental ontologies, or even the ontic from the ontological. When I say 'new lifeworld,' I refer to the novelty of gained sight, and renewal of the person and his being-in-the-world, and I remain mindful of lifeworld as co-constituted by homeworld and alienworld. I deploy these terms as Husserl has done so, but mainly through Anthony Steinbock's appropriation and explication of them in his Home and Beyond. How might these terms work in Jn. 9, or for the MBB? The MBB's homeworld is his 'comfort zone' as one who sits and begs in blindness; the alienworld, for him, is both everything excluded by blindness, and also the passerby who comes crashing into his homeworld, disrupting it of its very constitution, by visiting gained sight upon his homeworld. His lifeworld is forever changed. The experience of gained sight is the creative imposition of the alienworld upon his homeworld, co-constituting the lifeworld in which he is now someone who sees. The lifeworld evolves through ever emerging encounters of the homeworld and the alienworld.

**John's genius gives us a MBB with gained sight who navigates his world as one crying in the wilderness, prophet-like, discovering his call from the divine by taking on the being of the divine (by appropriating the divine signature). Does that 'save' him? There is a distance between re-enacting the Christ event in microcosm and coming before God and saying 'I believe, Lord.' Unless, of course, we consider the instance when the human touches the divine, as response to the call. This is the place where ego eimi means 'I believe, Lord.' It is the place where, in response to 'where are you' one says hineni, here I AM. Interestingly, LXX declines translating hineni as ego eimi, and instead uses all kinds of circumlocutions.

***Verticality is tricky here, except for the information provided by the Pharisees: 'give glory to God.' The verticality involves identifying the yet to be named Jesus as 'of God.' The Pharisees attempt to 'delimit' what the MBB has 'de-limited', and that 'delimitation' is 'idolatry'. I probably would have couched the larger point here in language other that 'breeding' and 'generativity,' were it not for Steinbock's analysis of static/genetic/generative phenomenologies, and how complex phenomena breed a complex phenomenology to cope with them ('generative' phenomenology); and after Heidegger has opened his analysis to the 'phenomenon of proclamation' in Phenomenology of Religious Life, I felt myself on surer 'breeding' ground.