this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: August, 2010

Phenomenology of Music

Starting research on a psycho-analytic, biological, phenomenology cross-over thing on music and organized sound. I hope to be posting a new meditation on the topic every two weeks or so. Look for the first to come, on listening and being in a world that calls on us to listen, within 10 days or so. Should have lots of Merleau-Ponty.

The metaphysics of misogyny prt. II: sacrament & anarchy

In the first part of this post I briefly sketched why the sacramentality of marriage is anarchical—that is grounded in submission to the other that is rightly a decomposition of all boundaries and hierarchy. There is no hierarchy in humility, no metaphysical chain in marriage. Sacramental marriage is to be the context in which one most learns submission and humility, not as a means to other one’s relation to the world, but to be reciprocally bound up with the world. Sacraments are not microcosms opposed to the cosmos but rather liturgize you towards the cosmos. This is why the Eucharist is not opposed to eating but a sacramentalizing of all eating—it is in the Eucharist one learns how to receive all things; the posture man is to take to the divine. The grace of marriage then is not inclusive, but reciprocal, and should interpenetrate all relationships with its grace.

State marriage is a certain making-sense-of the sacramentality of marriage—a pulling of a hierarchy out of the anarchy of marriage. Simply because we live according to the spirit and the freedom of charity does not mean the law is done away with per se. The law is still a helpful “about-which,” a way of talking about that which is always beyond our language. Law is an abstraction of existence. It is this way we can make a law, “do not call your brother a fool,” and yet, in an appropriate situation, i.e. for his own over-coming of his foolery, still call one a fool. The law reflects a meaning beyond its literal content—in order to follow the spirit of the law, the literal content of the law at times must be broken. In the same way Christ broke the Sabbath to fulfill the Sabbath. The law is the language the spirit often takes—the arche of anarchy, the making-sense-of what is rightly non-sense.

I make this distinction simply to show that the law is a mere sketch, a making-sense-of that which is beyond totalizing, namely existence. The law fundamentally must disregard situation, it feigns transcendence, and disregards time and location. The more the law fools itself into being transcendent or ethical the more particular and reified its form, the greater a totality is formed out of anarchy. Christianity is directly opposed to such totalization; it is precisely the gospel of charity that overturns the tables of hierarchy by its very submission. Thus the more inclusive the law is of the spirit, the more charity flourishes—the more exclusive then the more submission leads to charity. To commodify a Pauline trope, to flourish in the spirit is to incarnate Christ to the world; to submit and suffer by the law is to gain it. The latter points towards the co-existence that is the former.

What then to say of Proposition 8? To grant the government the right to “define” marriage as exclusively any relation is to create a totality out of humility, to trick the law into thinking itself the spirit. It seems to me a non-exclusive state-marriage allows for the most flourishing of Christ to the world. And who has divine enough language to declare where and when the mystery of the sacraments starts and stops? Is not granting the state the right to define the “who” (and therefore, at least in part, the “what”) of marriage a giving away of the mystery to the state? If any have this right, and I doubt any does, shouldn’t it be the right of the church itself? Is not the disavowal of a definition of marriage by the state a placing-it-in-the-hands of the church?

By way of caveat I would like to have a short digression on freedom and co-existence. The first objections to my argument I imagine are the question of polygamy and underage marriage, both of which seem to still fall under this sketch of sacramentology. In response to the argument of polygamy I would respond that there is a sacramental submission in polygamous relationships albeit of a differing sort. Marriage elicits such meaning due to its radical particularity, a complete letting over of one perspective unto one other, and vice versa to the creation of a third mediating world between the two (it is here where filioque language may prove helpful). This complete resignation of one person to another stretches beyond the self and other, and, a la Kierkegaard, into the realm of the infinite. Where three are gathered this phenomena still occurs to an extent but enters a sort of reciprocity and finitude more exemplary of a world-schema than resignation.

As regards underage marriage this gets back to the exclusivity of marriage. Marriage, as a sacrament and thus a rite, is a strong force of personal narration and therefore projects a certain mode of being into the future. Although many societies are grounded upon a belonging to a rite (arranged marriages, child baptism, circumcision, etc.) rather than a “willing,” a polarity perhaps warranting deconstruction, ours often has the meaning and revelation resting on the yonder side of “maturation.” In this way the narrating property of the rite in our context tends to garner a greater sense of revelation and individual resignation when framed by personal freedom. Perhaps this caveat warrants a future post on freedom, co-existence, and rites of passage–we shall have to see.


Just got back from my father’s marriage which occurred on Virgin Gorda of the British Virgin Islands. This trip has inspired me to write the poem just posted, the island known as the fat virgin, as well as a hopefully forthcoming follow up to the metaphysics of misogyny on sacrementology and proposition 8. Should be fun.

the way things just come together

Last night I dreamed of a girl from Berkeley
who I went to high school with, a writer
who I can only recall in vague feelings of jealousy
and remorse and pride—she ran the high
school magazine and her fingers were in everybody’s
pie with her poetry and essays at a time when I was
content with role-playing and chocolate yogurt
with granola for lunch; I’ve been talking with my
roommate about philosophy and poetry and what to do
after college when we touched on the subject of what
to do if things went awry, so we both pledged
to drive to Berkeley, maybe even attend, he would
write his music and I my poetry, and things
would be grand, which, I suppose, is what sparked
the memory of the girl from high school at Berkeley.
I have this fear of graduating I think from
all those angsty post-college films which are always
undergirded with that terribly depressing irony that
these post-graduates make films after graduation
so what right do they really have to talk about
lost opportunity and misplaced trust with their
Hollywood and 30 million dollar budgets
anyhow? We stayed up late that night drinking
espresso and talking about Levinas when I
couldn’t help but wonder if he had this
conversation in mind when he spoke of
“encountering the other face-to-face” and
“putting the self in question” (which lead
me to wonder further if one can ever have
the other “in mind”); and as I finally dozed off
I couldn’t help but think of that girl, not
the one from Berkeley, but the other one with
dark brown hair whom you went to Rome with,
the art graduate and one I love, when the phone rang
and she apologized for waking me and I wanted
to say so much but couldn’t and never can,
and I finally, for the first time in a long time,
felt alone, speechless and alone, and fell
asleep only to dream of the girl who wrote
poems in Berkeley, chat with her over coffee
in the opacity of a make-believe surrounding when
she coolly and suddenly thrust over a document in
secret as if it were stolen or sacred or both which
read as follows “the artist’s mission statement:
to write about the kind of self and understanding
of the self found only in other people, and the horizon
of living we call loneliness, asking always the same
old self-same question, that is ourselves.”

The metaphysics of misogyny or: how I learned to stop abusing social systems for my own self-aggrandizement and love other people

Ephesians 5 has been invoked by abusive fathers, slave owners, and misogynists alike in the attempt to appeal to St. Paul as some sort of gender theorist, an empiricist thinker sketching metaphysical categories, some sort of chain of being or hierarchy of relationships. The Gospel message is at root a deconstruction of these things however, especially by St. Paul himself, as Galatians 3 declares there to be neither “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.”

So how is the latter part of Ephesians to be interpreted then? It certainly appears to be a claim to hierarchical structure at first glance; however, to invoke a hierarchical structure is not inherently to endorse it. The context of this list of submission is framed by the powerful mantra to submit “yourselves one to another.” What is important here is not the metaphysical structure of male to female, slave to free, or Jew to Greek for in the Kingdom of God (which is now and already inside you) there are no such hierarchies. The virtue then is not in the relation of social statuses but in the submission of self to others. God became man and made himself lower than man and was killed by men—what greater deconstruction of hierarchy has ever been than this? What is rightly more anarchic?

The paradox of it all is that Christ declared true power, true willing and overcoming to be humility, anarchic submission, not the power of institutional totalization. Humility, in that it is submission to the other, is true power. Christ is portrayed as the husband and Church the bride—yet what power does Christ have over the Church? Self-sacrifice. Death. Christ’s power is this sort of anarchic submission, the capacity to fully and actively submit to prejudice, bigotry, and immoral judicial decision, assume them, and suffer on behalf of the world. This is what “masculine” power looks like.

Marriage is a sacrament not as to set it apart from other relationships so much to as elucidate the sacramentality of all human relationships. All relations of self to the other should be undergirded by this humility, this submission, we could even say this violence. For this harsh particularity of complete barrenness before the other is nothing shy of pure power and strength—not strength in the sense of bringing the other to submission which is always done out of fear of others, inadequate feelings of self, and totalization of other people—but strength in self-certainty, openness to other people, and radical charity towards the particularity of the other.

The Pauline gospel is not one of hierarchy but one of anarchy, the deconstruction of arche. Yet St. Paul advocates the assuming of that suffering, for such is humankind’s stance towards the divine in the other—Christian power is charity, the turning of the cheek, the laying of one’s life down for friend and enemy alike, the love of neighbor, absolute and complete bare submission to other people.

The A-theology of Theology: Theological Discourse as Atheism

A fundamental paradox underlies all treatment of language—that of desire and invocation. Do we call upon the other to desire her or throw ourselves at her that we may speak about her? This paradox of formal orientation towards the thing and the desire that is defined by its orientation underlies all discourse. We are creatures grounded in the call of seeking and the projection of the call, or according to St. Augustine we “ seek you […] in calling on you, and call on you in believing in you.” (Conf. 1.1)

In order to invoke a discourse, that is to agree, critique, reject, or otherwise, I must have cast judgment upon it. I must be oriented towards it. This typically occurs in a pre-conscious way, a meaning I cast upon the thing in that I am in a world endowed with meanings. This meaning I find “in” things in that I am in a world always suggesting a hermeneutic is inherently an existential project—it is in the lived world. Every object I approach is already interpreted and named in a fundamental, often pre-conscious, way. I never have to learn a prejudice. However this human pre-judgment of the thing in turn opens up the object for experience, allowing me to then bring to light my biases and critique them through my self-awareness. Hermeneutics is first silent and often in the background. It is not an issue of the “mind” or consciousness or awareness even, but of the hypostatic body—I am always already in a world interpreted.

So what does this have to do with theology? Well, theology often elevates its speculations beyond the grasp of hermeneutics and biases to think itself some eternal metaphysic or chain of Being. The point of this post is to say our biases do not belong to us so much as we belong to them—we belong to a world of interpretation which is always ahead of our consciousness, which is just another way of saying we do not possess language but rather belong to it. Human error and difference is not something one can do away with, as in an objectivist epistemology, but rather is the groundwork of existence, as it is in all hermeneutics.

Discourse then is an abstraction grounded in the difference of its own speaking. Theology as a term then refers to a certain gamut of error and prejudice in speaking, the falling-short-of-grasping-the-thing of a language game. Theology is grounded in its a-theology as all discourses are grounded in their differences and absences. Theology is always a talking-about the thing and therefore always not the thing—further it is precisely in the silence of theology where the thing, Theos, is named. Here we do not speak of apophantic theology alone, but rather that all positing posits negations that gird the positive.

Perhaps a better title for this post would have been “Theandric Theology”, that is, a theology whose very grounding rests without or outside the divine, with humanity. Theology, like all discourse, is an extension of humankind, an extension upwards, but its base is in humanity not divinity. Though the object we invoke with our discourse, Theos, may be Other, the calling and language we use will always be a-theistic in that it is our language, the language of the Same.