Thursday, January 14, 2016
A Case of Case: A Thought on A Grammar of Relations and the Verticality of Experience
As you no doubt recall, the nominative case is case of the subject, the accusative the case of the direct object, the dative the case of the indirect object, and the genitive the case of the multiplicities in subjects and objects (direct or indirect). There are special cases for these cases, but let it suffice for now to note these four. In phenomenology, and in post-structuralist approaches in general, the accusative gets some attention. It is the case of the "I" called, or called out, pointed to, seen, and even, of course, accused.
A little confession: I still like Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The film always struck me as a fairly obvious allegory of the theophany on Mount Sinai, and the calling of a people to an encounter with the divine. As you no doubt recall, the film depicts an alien visitation, a 'scheduled' visitation, on Devils Tower, the first declared national monument in the US. The aliens have sent a thought, a mental image to whomever can receive it, and the receivers are moved to all sorts of behaviors, mostly artistic endeavors that represent the mental image, which is of the famous monument in Wyoming. Roy Neary, the troubled protagonist in the film, is driven nearly insane by the image in his mind until he makes the visual connection between his sculpture of Devils Tower and its appearance on TV. He goes to Wyoming to learn if it's all real.
Just as Roy is called, we are all potentially open to an anonymous call, a call that pulls us into a relationality with something. Roy is driven by his accusation toward an image, a voice. Is Roy Neary a mystic? There is a wonderful scene in the film in which the communication between human and alien, a musical dialogue, a tonal conversation, takes place in a crescendo of notes. At first, single tones are played on a keyboard, and then a particular melody. finally the alien craft responds and answers the musical provocation, by completing the musical phrase. Then the music becomes increasingly complex, and the human keyboardist struggles to keep up, as the complexity emerging from the alien taxes his abilities. Finally, the alien takes over, and the keyboard is shown playing itself, being played by the alien, as the fantastic communication continues.
A theme shared by mystical traditions of monotheistic faiths is a graduated experience of the divine. This theme is magnificently described in Anthony Steinbock's Phenomenology and Mysticism (Indiana Univ. Pr.: Bloomington, 2007) and these comments are indebted to his presentation there. Whether Neary is a mystic or not is really not the point: what is important is that the accusative case is not only the case of being called, seen, or accused, but also of being chosen. I read the musical dialogue in Close Encounters as the gradations of verticality as one moves from the natural, human-directed efforts to ascend into a new relationality, toward the divine, where divinity itself directs the ascent---where the keyboard plays itself, where something other than the human takes over and lifts the human toward itself in a very close encounter.
Neary, like some of the mystics in the monotheistic traditions, is accused, called, seen and chosen. He acts in his world (as St. Teresa of Avila, Rabbi Dov Baer and Ruzbihan Baqli do in theirs) as part of his hineni, his 'here I am.' Perhaps 'everyday mystics' are potentially open to the kind of gradual (which is not to say hierarchical) approach to the divine insistence. Accusation and chosen-ness is the case of a grammar of relationality that releases the event of religious verticality. The less we try, so it seems, the more effortless our approach to the divine becomes, because we are seen, not because of our own will to be seen, but because the givenness of another will takes over, brings us over to another place. The shifting of grammatical cases plays out as 'subjects' become 'objects' and objects and subjects become multiples, in countless encounters as we find status before and after the Word, that is, the 'verb.'