this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: November, 2010

a poem

Riding off of the high of You Find Yourself Staring I decided to continue to explore its themes of what poetry is and what metaphors are good for. Rather than pursue how we appropriate people with our language and metaphors, I decided to consider the poem itself as a place of meeting another. A poem functions not only as a world, with its own language, nooks, norms, open spaces, etc, but also presents a “who.” When we encounter a poem we encounter a “who” who is separate from myself and from the author, the “who” of the conversation as an object, the “who” of the poem itself. Enough pseudo-philosophy: the point being this poem (hopefully) explores that space and what it means to feel one’s way about a poetic world and come to grips with who we encounter in it. Enjoy!

 

a poem

 

could I say dry leaves blown across the

balcony, brown with autumn?

 

could I say the warmth of the body beside

me in the cool of night?

 

could I say lovelorn, mystic and blue?

could I say mortal and therefore

 

beautiful passing, the melting of snow cap

to riverbed or early showers?

 

could I say like the child shaking,

shaking, the rattle of toys

 

or clothes from one end of the glittered,

bowed box to the next?

 

what if I said it glows with the heat

of a tea-kettle, steam down

 

pouring over its sides, running up

kitchen walls? if I said

 

a certain internal consistency would

it help? if I said it dances

 

or called it the dancing girl, flesh

and red in rhythmic

 

twirl, would you finally understand?

and what if I split it, top

 

to bottom and buried it long ago under

a box of sheet music at your

 

great aunt’s, behind the electric organ

that smelled of her mid-

 

summer lily blossom-scent?

 

 

 

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Short thought on Christ, Derrida, and Aristotle

I was reading some of The Sandman, thinking of how Sandman is not simply “dream” but dreaming when it occurred to me that Christ does not simply deconstruct but is deconstructing. That is to say that Christ does not simply deconstruct sacred/secular, male/female, or rich/poor binaries but is this deconstruction itself. Another way to put it—Christ does not deconstruct things outside of himself, but rather is between them, in their absence. Derrida speaks of deconstruction as justice itself—by directing the “gaze” of deconstruction at something you imply for one, your care and love for it, and two, your desire to see it be what it ought. Christ is the act of deconstructing in this sense, the decomposition of the divine and human precisely because he loves the divine and human (or saint/sinner, etc).

The Pharisees have to be deconstructed as “the good” and the poor and widowed as “sinners” in order that in the absence of polarity, in the very wake of destruction, they may be found to already be in Christ. The space between is rightly an actual void too, what we could call the authentic sinner, the authentic last, the authentic death. In the embracing of this authentic void (death, my sinfulness, etc.) the sinner is revealed to be a saint, the first, the new man in that he is in between, in the void. This strikes me as Aristotelian in its ethical stance, the balanced soul, i.e. one must “break up” the brashness/coward distinction in order that courage might exist. The Aristotelian “mean” is the wake of destruction left by deconstruction itself .

Christ is not “in” this void, the mean, but is the act of voiding itself. It is in this way I can say I no longer ex-ist but it is Christ who ex-ists in me. I cannot be filled unless I am first emptied; he who ascends is the very one who descends. In short, I mean:

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

–Tao, 11

listen before you look

That wren–

looking here, looking there.

You lose something?

–Issa

Whenever we look around, cast our eyes from side-to-side, we are looking for something. We don’t need to know what, but something about directing our gaze over something communicates both to ourselves and everyone around us we are. Thus Issa can see the wren staring and know, instinctively, that something is lost to the wren. Likewise when my eyes pass over the scene at the coffee-shop, people cannot help but seem to respond inquisitively as to what I want of them; they respond, in turn, with a loss of there own, perhaps a loss as to why I am looking or what I am looking for. The man in the corner eyes a girl across the room and I know is looking for love–his gaze tells me so and I know by his very looking he feels he has a loss and is looking to satisfy it. Same with the couple arguing in the table in front of me. Each trying to search the other for meaning or something to convince him or her of the other’s point. Maybe the husband’s eyes communicate he has lost the relationship, he is cut off and refuses to allow the possibility that this person in front of him could be right.

This is the paradox of sight: the grand deception that in this loss, the essential lack of looking, I can find possession. I focus my eyes, my field of sight, on the refrigerator and I think I “know it,” I have somehow grasped it mentally, reflected it. Yet, as I said, this is an illusion because it does not account for the loss in vision. By looking at it I am already looking for it–I already have carved out in me the loss I am looking for. Think of the man in the corner eyeing the girl. He already has carved out mentally what it is he is looking for, a sort of recessive mold of the girl he feels he lacks and should “have.” He already possesses the loss–looking is merely an outward bearing of this “fore-having,” his already possessing the mental form. Yet, as we know, looking at her is not enough; whether his intentions are sinister or holy is irrelevant, on some level he wants to feel he “has” her, that he possesses her. And here is the paradox again, that sight is the outward bearing of a loss that simultaneously lays claim to or possesses the lost object.

And it is here, in the image of sight and illumination, that western metaphysical philosophy and subsequent discourses of reason find their beginning–that looking at the thing, making an assessment of it visually, has explained or in some way given the thing to me, object-ified it. Since the pre-Socratics light and vision have been the primary metaphor for thought: seeing the light of truth, seeing in light of something, light of the eye, the mind’s eye, etc. This paradox then is at the heart of ocularcentric thought, that in talking about the thing I bear a loss, an already carved out mental category or container for the thing, and proceed to argue to fill in this very loss. But, like the lone man in the corner, this attempt to exhaust any one thing is simply futile, he is only using his very loss to justify his loss to himself. Ocularcentric thought then can be characterized by reciprocal self-pity–this is why so many philosophic systems devolve into rank solipsism.

Ultimately then it is the illusion of possession we find in sight that brings us this paradox. If we could address the loss as a loss, with no since of entitlement or justification, then perhaps we, both on a personal and philosophic level, could overcome this paradox. Essentially this is what psychoanalysis is, the attempt to reveal the trauma, the wound, as essentially a lack or loss and deal with it rather than cover it up with self-pity, projection, deferral, etc. I think this sense of entitlement in vision stems in large part from visions limits, or, conversely, from our capacity to focus. As we said before looking is always a looking for, inherently expressing some loss. We only know one is gazing at us by the direction of the gaze–his or her eyes communicate to us that they are looking for us. It is in this “looking for” that we find entitlement, the man looking for just a certain type of woman he has already etched out in his mind, already possessed.

Listening differs drastically from sight in this way, I cannot help but take in all sounds equally. Sure, I could focus on one sound over another, I can listen to the refrigerator’s low hum but at the same time I cannot help but hear the lawn mower buzzing and birds chirping outside the window. And, it is true, I can also “listen for” sounds, as in the voyeur overhearing a private conversation. But this sort of listening is antithetical to listening as it usually is–we could say that these are visual metaphors we have taken up into listening (as likewise when we try with sight we can give up “looking for” things and merely take in the whole field of vision, not focusing or gazing, when we close our eyes for instance, but these are all atypical to seeing as such). For listening is always open-ended, many sounds pass through its field as expected but there are always unknown sounds, uncanny sounds, divine sounds. Listening does not lay claim to objects in the same way the gaze does, in fact, listening does not object-ify like vision does at all. Because listening is so much grounded in the temporal (my eyes can follow objects moving through time, but sounds come and go out of my aural field) often times we do not even classify sound phenomena as one or two “objects,” we simply let sounds sweep through us.

My solution to ocularcentric thought is not so much an answer then as a question. What would philosophy as listening look like? What if we stopped trying to explain or account for things as isolated objects but merely listened to them, in all their temporal and spatial instability? What would we hear with the mind’s ear? What would we see if we stopped looking?

the Five (updated) Solas

This post is in response to a post on Ex Animus’ blog. Both him and I have expressed our disgruntled-ish-ness at people who, one, invoke the five solas as if they were dogmatic, and, two, completely misinterpret them. Although I may not have the complete support of Kevin here (author of Ex Animus), I thought I would “update” the five solas because I feel like being reactionary. For those of you who do not know (or easily forget) he are the five solas that are often invoked by Lutheran/Reformed types as being demonstrative of the Christian life:

Sola scriptura—by Scripture alone

Sola fide—by Faith alone

Sola gratia—by Grace alone

Solo Christo (or Solus Christus)—through Christ alone

Soli Deo Gloria—glory to God alone

Not that these five solas are insufficient per se, but I felt the need to update their language in part to be snarky and also to proffer how I think most of the five solas are to be interpreted. Enjoy.

by scripture alone–>by the World alone

It strikes me that all knowledge I have of scripture, “divine revelation,” comes from and is based upon previous but equally divine other knowledge, what is called “natural revelation,” such as my knowledge of language, interpretation, genre, history, etc. In short, the fact that I am in a world, a created world that is endowed with meaning and life, precedes any understanding I have of scripture. The world is the most primordial (and convincing) “argument” for God and our only means of communing with the divine (why else would God become man?).

by Faith alone–>by Love alone

Faith has nothing on love. It is only by moving beyond myself to feed and clothe the poor that I may enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 25.31-46). Further, faith is only “seen” or given fleshly existence by and in the act of love. Love precedes all belief, faith, and knowledge.

by Grace alone–>by Humility alone

This is more of a specification—I am saved by and participate in the grace that is Christ’s humility. It is only in Christ’s emptying, his becoming “truly” man, that I may meet him face-to-face in this life by equally emptying myself and becoming truly man. It is only in recognizing oneself as worthless, dying to the old man, realizing I am the last, poor, naked, wretched, etc. that one can be seen to already be the first, the new man, rich beyond imagination, and part of the Kingdom of God. Humility is realizing what you are as such and further realizing you do not deserve it.

through Christ alone–>through Everyone-Except-Yourself alone

I personally think this is what solo Christo means to begin with. Love everyone as if yourself, that is to say, love yourself only in loving others—it is in this way you love God. Who are you justified by? At the risk of sounding new-age-y, everyone except yourself, for the image of God (that is Christ) is in everyone, no matter how “fallen.” Every single one of them has something to teach you and save you by—the only place you learn about Christ in this world is through other people, whether that be the experience of the trace of another in the scriptures or through the face of a loved one.

glory to God alone–>glory to the other alone

…wherein “the other” is God, Christ, the Trinity, humanity, your neighbor, the poor, and, perhaps most of all, your enemies. Once again, I think this is what soli Deo Gloria is supposed to mean to begin with, but thought I would strip it of all poeticism for the sake of this post.

As most of these descriptions say I essentially think this is what the five solas are intended to mean on one level or another, but I felt the need to “personalize” and update the language due to absurd abuse I have often seen. Feel free to polemically disagree.

towards the abolition of marriage

“ Only one who draws the knife gets Isaac ”

-Johannes de Silencio

I tend to generally avoid political posts, politics being far from my field of study. That being said I care a fair deal about religion, specifically sacramental theology, and thus the connection between state and marriage. Having made that caveat I would like to propose a not entirely new idea but one that is often neglected by the religious mainstream—that of the abolition of state marriage. Marriage as an idea is vastly perceived as a politico-economic unit (as, for better or worse, politics is almost unilaterally becoming a politics of economy). As marriage becomes reified to a capital value, an asset, it seems that religious or social meaning dwindles under its commoditization. Thus it seems a wise solution to me to sacrifice state marriage, that is any ties or rights involved between marriage and state, in order to gain marriage as an act beyond a mere reduction to fiscal or political value.

Marriage’s purposes for being political are almost exclusively for the increase of capital, i.e., tax-deductions in the hopes to produce future tax-payers (allowing more money to encourage child birth). With the increase of same-sex adoption as well as single parents this progressively becomes an untenable system. To give tax-deductions to heterosexual couples alone implies, if not ontological superiority, at least fiscal entitlement. Rather than bringing economic benefit to marriage as a religious good it economizes marriage as a political commodity.

Further the plethora of views on what marriage is as such have further caused any definition by the state reductive. By reducing marriage to a politico-economic unit it not only pulls it out of a religious[1] context but inevitably favors one interpretation over another. To give the right to define marriage into the hands of the government, as we have, is in short to entitle them to favor one interpretation of marriage to the exclusion of others. So doing not only suppresses marriage interpretations but shuts off the meaning of whatever interpretation it chooses (if everyone was required to be married according to Roman Catholic dogma for instance, it would mean very little to be a married Roman Catholic, even if you took your vows more seriously than others). Choice is only intelligible as a choice when given the option not to chose it—likewise marrying within a body of meaning (religious or otherwise), symbols and rituals, can only have significance when set against the background of conflicting views. Choosing to vow without the possibility of divorce, for instance, is only a meaningful vow if other people in the world can divorce. Likewise it would be meaningless to define marriage as between only a man and a woman if same-sex marriages had not been introduced. It is only against the background of disagreeing particulars that the radical particularity of a choice or vow gains significance.

To “abolish” marriage then is not to outright remove an institution but to allow it to live again, that is, to allow a space for differing interpretations of marriage to thrive side-by-side: a sphere in which a Roman Catholic church could deny divorced couples to re-marry, conservative Christians could deny same-sex marriages, and the unreligious could have a desacralized service in peace. Abolishing state marriage would open a place for peaceful cohabitation and disagreement between differing parties, as well as restore religious meaning and distinction to stricter vows (i.e. to be a married Roman Catholic would suddenly mean something distinct, given the background of differing marriage vows and restrictions). In order to save what marriage means we must give it up—a separation of marriage and state in order that marriage may once again have civic, social, and even political meaning.


 

[1] I consider desacralized marriages equally religious and I hope I do not cause offense in doing so; it strikes me, however, any ceremony that proffers some sort of narrative meaning, specifically as regards the individuals, human sexuality, and society (and often the cosmos) is inevitably religious in nature.

You Find Yourself Staring

A poem I began writing for Biola University’s literary journal, the Inkslinger, whose topic this year is “gender.” Given the broad topic (there’s a misogynistic pun in there somewhere) I thought I would write a poem wherein gender is at the fringe of the poem, in the images, characters, but ultimately absent. I was thinking of AR Ammons’ wonderful poem Unsaid, thinking of poetry’s fabulous capacity to reveal emptiness or void. Thus my hope was to somewhat show this empty (or, to use a more positive term, “open”) quality of gender and personhood (subjects). I hope you enjoy!

 

You Find Yourself Staring

 

You find yourself staring at the first morning specks of crust

in your girlfriend’s left eye, similar, you note, to your second

oldest brother, the one you shared a bunk bed with in grade

 

school, her stretching and yawning and far from erotic stench

spread out before you, her various intimacies of bodily dismay,

the rinse and spit of teeth brushing recalls a sailor setting forth

 

to sea on the froth of a foaming mouth, the return of the spit

cup reminiscent of a butcher, large, Albanian perhaps, leaning

to grab slabs of meat from the top stretches of his furthest shelf

 

of sheep gut—how can you not help but notice those first few

early sprouts of hair along her inner thigh, chest, or belly? You

grow convinced over time to tell her she reminds you of Cassius

 

Clay, particularly at the ends of those quasi-lectures, about who

met who at wherever and how it made her feel, her groaning

to the tone of a later Allen Ginsberg, grown old, roughly sounding

 

an Hare Krishna mantra, Blake-like vision, the songs of Whitman,

but, just before you can tell her anything, something about her

fragile piece of hair-tie suspended gingerly, finger to finger along

 

her wrist, the play of it from hand to hair back to hand again, seems to

say—you know, she starts, you are not the feminist lesbian graduate

student, eyeing the girls in her first period discussion group, you’re

 

not even the shy anthropology major with her not-so-secret crush

on her backpacking instructor, your morning walks have never reminded

me of a lone poetess hiking the trails of southern Chile, mad with hysteria,

 

pack filled to the brim with cucumber, raw almond, peanut and flax,

how you could ever think yourself Simone de Beauvoir or French at all for

that matter is, in fact, entirely beyond me, you could never look good

 

in heels—she pauses—because you are the lone flight attendant

from Milwaukee, middle-aged, whose perfume scents of musty rose-petal

from cabin to business class, cart firm in hand, saying to the passengers

 

as you idle by: “Do try the San Juan fish encrusted in macadamia nut,

with a light honey rum glaze—mixed pre-packaged nuts perhaps—that will

be 17.50—cash only please—what was that? white wine? ginger ale?”