this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Ontology

even the stars fall from the wall

even the stars fall from the wall

 

 

the first moon of the first year doesn’t have

a name anymore.

 

you leant me margaret mead made me gay

which i started last night

under a new moon. we call the moon

new because of how it relates to the

sun. anne

 

hutchinson was called new even

while being accused of all the old heresies.

they called her a witch just like

they called midwives witches. the most

common thing midwives

were accused of was the desire to steal

men’s penises, and

 

they were drowned,

burned at the stake, or crushed under rock.

then and only then could obstetrics emerge

as a science,

that is, a male-only medical profession, with

likewise

the instruments of the male medicinal

imagination, the forceps, which would scoop

the child out, piece by piece if necessary,

while the mother, tied or chained,

lay down, making for easier

 

reach and less strain on the doctor,

who assured the woman that pain was her

natural and allotted curse in life. i read

 

about that the other day and it made

me think of you and those

things you said about

motherhood. i thought

a lot about my

mother and the things

that happened to her when she was

young, how

 

they really happened to me too, at least

in a way. when you

finally met her it was sad

and i was guilty cause how typical,

i mean, me a man, and you, and my mother,

and i don’t

really know why but i cried

 

when i drove home.

after, i couldn’t forgive

anyone about anything for weeks

 

*                             *                             *

 

last year

i fell asleep at eleven while everyone

else welcomed the new year. and,

 

i thought to

myself, that this must mean

something i said and you said you

thought it

probably did too and even though you

didn’t really mean it did, i agreed. i told

you

 

about my uncle then and how i like

twin peaks and how scared i am of open

windows

and you brought up the female

eunuch and i said something about

transphobia and

 

we agreed but that was earlier

in the sun when we changed

our shirts to sit

in the shade. things were so

peaceful then in tank-tops underneath the

californian

sun which is really

the same sun everywhere for

everyone on this

planet. god. this planet. like that really

means anything anymore after

everything

 

*                             *                             *

 

you told me over the phone

you went to a conference where

they wore shirts

that said esther

newton made me gay. that’s

pretty funny.

esther

 

talks a lot about camp and in mother camp she

says something about

coping or transforming the

suffering of others’ fear into a state of irony

or something. i never was very good

 

at that. when i was 6 my dad said chicken

and i asked is that the kind

of chicken you eat or the kind that

flies. the tao

 

says something

about no place for the horn

to enter. no penetration. it would be pretty camp

to be candy

 

darling for halloween

i think, but seeing as i wear a lot of women’s

clothing these

days and what with my identity issues and

fucked

up sexuality,

going as warhol is probably pretty camp

too. i miss you too. i used

 

to be the cop who got shot

when my brothers played

cops and robbers. i hate

 

writing i miss you.

no risk

in the writing. no self staring back in

the

risk of writing. no

crisis of

language. no sainthood or eternality of the

soul or bullshit and

no risk of

bullshit. chickens

 

can’t even fly.

i hate

myself writing like this

 

*                             *                             *

 

i reallymiss how you sucked

my nipples. some

people say the

male nipple is useless. fuck

them and their

teleological bullshit. it was that sort of thinking

that led to clitoridectomies on “hysteric”

women with “erotic tendencies.” if

the 18th century

male bourgeoisie really took themselves

seriously

they’d never stop castrating

themselves. at least they’d

still have

 

nipples. i’d like

 

to think somewhere

there’s a picture of the little

christ child suckling away

at the tit of joseph. i’d like to think

 

it’d be easy to ask

someone to suck my nipples

 

*                             *                             *

 

later, you whispered something of a

new year (you must take this he once

said, and

 

maybe he too

will pass into night. forgotten

 

all implication and finally

be free) but

 

what could i say. for years he

visited me in the dead of night with

sad sad eyes like

 

the eyes of the american

night kerouac loved so much, and

 

i would dream about

those eyes and how they floated in

the bathroom

 

window, even though we lived on a

second-floor,

and how, even from an early age, i

 

wondered anyone got up so high, and

what it was about me and about

 

knowing, about fucking and all the

usual suspects

buried deep down inside. and,

 

here with you, and tonight, i just

really wish I knew

 

*                             *                             *

 

night emissions are what

they called it in

the glory days of 1970s freudian mumbo jumbo

america. this unconscious selffucking was

stranded somewhere on the

wire tight

between shitting and pissing oneself, not

quite as

 

juvenile as (or so they would

say) female clitoral

stimulation, but not quite the anti-social

pathology

of full conscious solo male fucking either. but

that’s what i want to do with this

night, in the heat of it, just fuck

it right out and fuck you

right out

and for once and finally be fucked in

two. of

 

course, we could take this to

mean that semen is like nighttime, emitted

from deep down inside

from some primordial sleeping granddaddy

erection, and every time dusk rolls

around it’s cause some

boy had a big wet one, bringing down both

the stars and moon on us all

 

*                             *                             *

 

in beginners, ewan

mcgregor

summarizes his fetish with spray

painting public property as historical

consciousness. mike mills

directed beginners

and also has a fetish with spray painting

 

public property. this says something

about the

artist and art and what it is to have an

audience and

shit like that. anyway i think

 

that’s what this is. historical

consciousness. you once told me

anthropology wasn’t creative and i

felt really sorry for you then, because

the truth is poetry is just like

ethnography but

with less research. when

 

you said you were

supposed to spend a year

doing research outside of

your own culture i missed you. i mean.

to take the lid

off the thing is beautiful

and liberation is all

we have left, but resonance is

enclosure. also

preservation, health. to uncover is to expose

or enculture, to invite bacteria

and all sort of life. to be

open to the possibility

of life. to bend your ass

bare to the sky. to risk

being fucked

in the fucking. sometimes

 

i admit i don’t know the difference but

 

it was sad when you

left and i got that line from the

poetics of space stuck in my head, how the world

would be a better place if pots

and lids

always stayed together

and i wanted you back

 

*                             *                             *

 

we’re supposed to be

making love. damn that patronizing

sexedup alvie singer.

 

there are some things you can’t

swallow without

gagging. i was

 

annie then, wanting to

be fucked into nothing. you were

nico or jack kerouac maybe,

always ahead of

some careening. we made love

 

the night you

left. it was beautiful in a way. the

semen pooled

onto my chest

in the night. the coolness

 

there. the discharge. the sense of

self

found in the rubbing and

in the loss. you can

never really lose everything

 

you said. when our

broad shoulders touched

and your hands

were on mine

and you

told me about the iliac

crest, it

was the world that

was guilty. when i

couldn’t, the towel

swallowed your cum

 

*                             *                             *

 

maybe

you had to have

something or someone to forgive

unconditionally.

maybe you forgive lovepoems

 

too even though

you have

such a hard time with

people who say the word love like

it has

definite contours.

some people can’t

imagine

 

love spilling out

of itself. that’s

why god killed

onan. such a god lacks the imagination

to love without shame. moses

could only see god’s ass

who was so

afraid that moses would catch

him in

the buff and laugh

at the shame of it. i was kicked

by a bunch of

boys in the balls once in p.e.

and the teacher laughed. i

was obese which

meant i was sick which meant

it was funny to kick me

in the balls. i never

 

really got

the logic but the point is i imagine that’s

how god felt surrounded by

moses and with his

ass sticking out like that i feel

bad for him but

then again

what with the whole creator of everything

bit i kinda expect a little more out

of god

 

*                             *                             *

 

sadeyed lady of the lowlands

came on the other day and i

thought of how we never

listened to blonde on blonde while we

fucked

 

and how germaine

greer said the sadeyed lady and

the girl from north country were

eunuchs but

what does she know about dylan and the

beauty of the soul. when

orson welles

says he’s not a magician but an actor playing

the part of a magician he means

artifice is the only

magic this side of heaven.

you said

 

you weren’t really liberated

until you tasted your own menstrual

blood. well,

germaine, i don’t have menstrual blood okay

the best i can do is taste my

semen which is hardly the same thing. but

 

it’s been getting

sweeter lately. god, even i’m a

 

man. a piece of shit playing

the part of a man. sometimes even

an actor playing shit playing  the part of a

man. i’m

trying to tell you i’m sorry. i’m

 

trying to put this somewhere

 

*                             *                             *

 

the planet’s going to finally die someday

and of course type-1 diabetics will

 

still have diabetes in heaven and

martyrs always wear their scars like

trophies in

icons at the getty so you didn’t

see why diabetics shouldn’t proudly display

 

insertionsite scars and pumps

alongside st bartholomew and his heap of

flayedflesh. and we thought

this was beautiful, and that maybe

somewhere

the world’s flesh might be hung up to dry on

 

some temple wall someday and the

people genuflect and wonder what a world

we must’ve been and what a

death we suffered and what a beauty it all was

before heaven

so wonderfully dispersed its grace like

 

so many tiny bombs and the world fell

asleep in angelic wonder

and never woke up until the following year

sometime past midnight, clear-eyed and

 

fresh and ready

to begin again

as if for the first time in forever

 

*                             *                             *

 

you held me tightly there.

you fucked me

like a man fucks. ground me

down to a pulp of myself.

i wore a

 

love conquers hate

shirt for days. loving

oneself is like being

blind but not like the flower girl

in city lights with her christ imagery

and madonna silence. there’s

something so canned when

chaplin’s mouth gapes open

as wide as his eyes

and those sounds pour out

in a

proper english. but

 

how can you not cry watching the great

dictator

and even laugh when

he fucks the world he blew. you

know anything really

can save this world

except killing it.

 

when you visited

i missed you

and when you left

i missed you. even in kyoto

i long for kyoto goes a hass

translation of basho.

i guess there

is always something lost. even the

 

nightmares

of my uncle and the shit

he did and the night and the fear

of it and all of everything

burns out after awhile. and you get

left with something

tallow

i am much too large

for this day. it sags and pulls

in all the wrong places. i’d shave my head

for this day. yesterday my breast

burned but it was beautiful, clean, young

and tender. you are the body rendered

in these lines. the marble and the marrow. instead i’ll shave

my left thigh. tomorrow

the right. the day after a calf.

imagine my

right thigh tomorrow. imagine my calves on friday.

remember this breast but yesterday

and try to love me.

a Rant on Gender, Privilege, Floral Skinny Jeans, and Things

Gender, despite being constructed, permeates my whole being. I identify as a man. When I go to the store I am presented as, socialized as, received as, pressured into being, and communicate as a man. I use a men’s restroom. I speak as a man and people hear me as a man. Even when by myself and looking in the mirror I am confronted with the residues and traces of my masculinity—yes, gender is external, a social system that continues along with or without me, but it implicates me and I imply it. Although I do not believe there is anything biologically essential about how we as a society have presented and composed gender, there is something essential as regards my personhood—I am a man, and what I do and where I go and who is there engrafts, extends, or deflates this.

This means that all the privileges men have are mine with or without my consent. Masculinity extends beyond me and no matter how I personally treat women I reap its plunders of war—those plunders afforded by systemic pay inequality, assault, and rape (Susan Brownmiller called rapists men’s “shocktroopers”). Even if I volunteer as support for rape victims, a woman will be hesitant, nervous, or perhaps cross the street if I approach her late at night. I on the other hand wouldn’t feel nervous, certainly wouldn’t cross the street, and possibly be confused or perturbed by her behavior. But this is because I collect powers and privileges about myself simply by nature of my socialization and how I am presented.

Of course there are dissonances. When I walk into the grocery store wearing jewelry, a woman’s top, and tight floral skinny jeans, an obvious dissonance between the role-as-a-man I am supposed to be performing and the performance I am giving becomes obvious. This gap is traumatic for some people (often, but not always, other men). Whether they take offense at the audacity to question gender-roles and binaries or it reveals guilt they share at similar unacted upon desires, who knows, but people scapegoat the person who doesn’t fit. It calls things into question, puts words and structures in doubt.

There is a tension here. A tension between people thinking both, at the same time, that gender is wholly essential, entirely biologically given, and wholly accidental, not who they are. The presupposition is that I, by wearing floral skinny jeans et al, am acting out an unnatural desire, something outside the structure, against my nature, therefore not “human,” and yet that they are not “acting” a gender, that their gendered existence (clothing, voice, mannerisms, body, etc) is incidental to their personhood, their humanity. The thought emerges that they are a person beyond any institute (of gender), they are free, but yet anyone outside the gender binary is likewise “outside” the institute and therefore perverted, ecstatic, animal. Because they follow an implicit law, they would like to think they are free—while yet simultaneously accusing those who question it of being an outlaw.

I am no expert in the history of “Natural Law” or virtue ethics or St. Thomas Aquinas or anything, but I am inclined to think that this played no small part. Of course being male, white, and generally privileged seems “accidental” to someone who is white and male—one would have to admit his finitude and complicit participation in systems of power and abuse. And seeing as the history of Western thought is the thought of a white supremacist patriarchy (although a few other distinct lone voices have survived), well, it is unfortunately little surprise that white men are often entirely blind to their privilege. But it is quite clear that they thought being a woman was essential to a woman’s being—thus she was excluded from education, work, religious thought, and nearly all forms of public power. It makes sense, in a very evil way, that ideologies about gender and race and class would emerge alongside and in support of this power—whether they be religious or scientific ideologies (social Darwinism, eugenics, etc).

People with privilege (cis, white, male, upper-class, able, heterosexual, etc etc) are unaware of their privilege and take any questioning of the structures that supply them with this privilege as an insult to the very “natural” structure of things themselves. I include myself here too of course. No matter how many pairs of floral skinny jeans I own I am obviously endowed with privileges and power. I move about so often oblivious to my gender, race, class, et al, that for me too it takes “queer” figures outside my comfortable systems of power to shock me, traumatize me into seeing how deeply and essentially ideology and institutional privilege penetrates and constitutes my being. Gender is not biologically “essential” in some sort of ordained hand-of-god coming down and structuring my being sort of way, but it is essential to who I am: who I’ve been socialized as, how I present myself, and how I am expected to act.

It seems like a lot of people say they “get” that being sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, et al is bad—while simultaneously being oblivious to the privileges these very relations provide. So let’s get one thing straight—my position as a subject is composed, at least in part, by the systems of power I am implicated in. I often do not “feel” male or white or middle-class because I exist in a milieu of ideologies that tell me not to question my position—that the only reason women receive less pay is because they are bad workers, that black men have a higher arrest rate because they are criminals, that the poor are lazy, and all that bullshit. I reap these benefits, even when I don’t want them, because questioning privilege and one’s positionality means acknowledging I participate in a gender, a race, a class. These institutions penetrate deeper into me than I can see and extend farther from me than I can grasp. BE AWARE OF YOUR PRIVILEGE.

Text All the Way Down: Gadamer, Submission, & Entropy

A text is a dialogue. Conversely, when I use the word “text” I mean any object that is approached as a dialogue. Therefore film, theater, liturgy, discussion, music, sign language, interspeciel communication, are all text. Anywhere two objects come together to form some sort of relationally-binding third object, this third object is what I mean by a text. Therefore a marriage is a text as regards the partners involved, fire is a text as regards the spark and kindling, and the human species is a text as regards other species and mutation. This is, of course, all a way of saying everything can be a text given a context. This is tautological in a way, and I get that, that is precisely the point. I could align myself with deconstruction or Foucauldian theory or whathaveyou and use “discourse” or OOO and use “sensual object” or Hegel or a host of other people to get at this point[1], but I am choosing “text” as this is a post specifically about Hans-Georg Gadamer and hermeneutics.

Gadamer throughout his seminal work Truth & Method keeps grounding all hermeneutics in what he calls “tradition.” He defines tradition in its original Latin sense though, that is, something that is “handed down.” This is also tied up with his notion of prejudice. For Gadamer prejudice is not meant to have the connotation of a bad pre-judgment, but rather prejudice means any prejudgment whatsoever. Our prejudices then are our first impression, our fore-conception or fore-having, of a text. Our first inkling of the emergence of a text.

As an example, when I first met my now good friend and roommate I did so under the context of a meeting of various concert music composers at my school. I met him with a certain fore-having/prejudice—I “had” a space in me already as to what he was going to be like, an inscription, a sort of pre-text, the potential for him to emerge as-in-a-relationship. I had this prejudice given a history of course, a history of other friends I had, other composers I had met, etc. The only way in which he could appear to me as a potential friend was because of my prejudice of what he would be like—which was a very tentative, incomplete, and tendential interpretation. Suffice to say as I got to know him, my prejudice, my pre-text or first-interpretation, was constantly revised and deconstructed and re-constructed and obliterated and slightly modified and affirmed and denied. In turn, my tradition, my history of how to approach new people and more specifically composers (and men and people with red hair, etc, etc) was also revised, deconstructed, re-constructed, et al.

Sometimes our prejudices are fitting and appropriate and other times they are oppressive and cruel—this is not so much the concern of this post—but prejudice is always occurring—this is what allows texts to be intelligible. All texts emerge given prejudice—a fore-having of the text. This is what is meant by the “hermeneutic circle” (we approach a text with prejudices which the text revises which changes the prejudices ad infinitum). The point is that when we approach a text we already have a whole set of prejudices we bring to it. And, as a phenomenon, this is essential. There would be no text without prejudices—just as there would be no fire without the kindling to have the potential-to-be-lit. These prejudices exist within a personal tradition, the history of each object involved that are coming together to allow a text to emerge. Following Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer refers to these traditions as horizons and the text as a fusion of horizons. The key is that this fusion as a movement is violent, the emergence of text is a sort of birthing. The fusion is like two objects colliding, two radically differing objects forced to come-to-grips with one another and birth something alien.

This coming-to-grips, the birthing of the alien, is the emergence of text. And this is what I meant earlier by a dialogue—when two persons discuss a common language emerges between the two. The language is neither person A’s language nor person B’s language. It is the violent assault of A over B and B over A that emerges and appears as neither A nor B. It is sort of a collapsed-AB language. It is a text. And here we could go on about how the text is an infinite void or collapse or such but I would rather like to take a sort of detour to make another point—if person B accepts person A’s language whole-heartedly, there is no dialogue, no text. Granted, one wonders if this could ever really happen (I’m always, at the very least, understanding someone’s language through my own language, prejudices, tradition, etc), but, and here I may sound silly, some dialogues are more dialectic than others, some texts more textual.

In a lecture for instance the students are given the burden of having to “do” the majority of the fusing—they are the ones having to conform to the lecturer’s use of language—it is the students’ language receiving the brunt of the collapse. However, it is important to realize there is still fusion; it’s just an asymmetric fusion. There is still a dialogue occurring, the students (hopefully) are not entirely withdrawn from the lecture, they presumably are engaging it as a dialogue (and if the teacher is a good one, s/he is as well). And, of course, the lecture as prepared by the teacher is itself a history of dialogues, the teacher’s host of experiences. And here is where I part ways (somewhat) with Gadamer. It’s text all the way down. The text, although an emergence between two objects, itself is an object and has a history of it’s own which it in turn is in dialogue with thus allowing another text to emerge (i.e. a certain reading of a text, a certain history of a text, a certain community of the text). There is no end to texts, because every prejudice, fore-having, pre-text, tradition, etc., is itself a text.

This is all a way of saying that to engage a tradition-as-a-text, i.e. “orthodoxy,” one inevitably must be in dialogue with it—which is to say, in some sense, not accept its terms. Dialogue, even in a dialogue involving submission, as was the case with the teacher example, emerges as a coming-to-grips, as not wholly accepting the other speaker/object. The kindling does not wholly accept the spark, but rather burns, which is to say engages entropically with the spark. Every birth of a text is also the entropy of a text. Text is itself this breaking down, the collision, the entropy, the fusion of languages/horizons. Thus, even when submitting to a creed or scripture, one submits by questioning, doubting, and breaking down what is being submitted to. To “accept” a creed whole-heartedly would be to mistake one’s prejudice, one’s own text, as the creed itself.

I think here of how in many non-denominational Christian churches (and I admit this is an exaggerated negative stereotype, but, I swear, I have heard people say this) the claim is often made “I don’t need any creeds, denominations, popes, seminaries, or traditions—all I need is me and my Bible.” This is blind prejudice in the negative sense—it assumes that creeds and tradition mediate, that is function as Gadamerian prejudices, and that this is wrong: rather one should trust one’s gut instinct and just read the Bible without any outside aid as this is in some way immediate. Of course this individual is still doing hermeneutics, still bringing prejudices and tradition to the text, but is completely unaware of doing so. Gadamer’s point is rather a Hegelian one—the “immediate” only appears through mediation. Because, as I said, it’s text all the way down. We can never avoid or escape hermeneutics—just be oblivious to it.

To truly engage a creed or scripture is to question it, to not wholly accept it, to break it down, to come-to-grips with it. In that the scripture, which is of course itself a text, engages us, a new text, interpretation, is birthed through our struggle, our breaking down, our entropy. This text in turn is tentative, incomplete, tendential, and entropic. Every interpretation is a revised prejudice. Every reading that happens without this struggle is a reading that covers up the otherness of the text: it disavows what is alien. In this sense, submission is a sort of rebellion.


[1] Granted, all the aforementioned authors mean something very different in their use of their terms: “the real” does not equal a “sensual object” does not equal “power-structure” does not equal the “trace”/”inscription”—they all stress very different aspects of what I see as a similar movement however, namely, the emergence of a relational object.

Empire is No More or: Give up “Nature” and it Will Be a Hundred Times Better for Everyone

This is a response to two other blog posts, one by my roommate Kevin here, and the other by my dear friend Brett here. Both deal with the notion of “the” environment or “Nature”—this notion of a pure, virginal, giving earth-mother. And, to quote Slavoj Zizek, I would like to disagree and say, “Nature is a crazy bitch.” That is to say that the boons of Nature are equally a catastrophe—i.e., oil. Nature is a chaos. Which begs the question, is the notion of “Nature” even a helpful one then? Kevin, and I am with him here, argues emphatically “no.” Brett, however, argues for a sort of chimerical amalgam of society and nature that, to me, ends up looking like a socialized-Nature.

Now I have a few problems with this. Granted, although a more complicated, more nuanced depiction of Nature, a socialized-Nature still is this sort of top-down metaphysics Kevin’s post seems to be arguing against, namely, a direct and knowable lost (or able to be lost) Utopia. It seems just as tautological as “Nature” or “the” environment. And, as much as I love me some Czeslaw, this seems to be his problem as well as Brett’s to me—Czeslaw may recognize the chaotic, the Moloch, in the “social” world as well as the “natural” world, but these still seem to be opposing worlds even to him no matter how you choose to reconcile them or shove them together. In other words, Nature+Society=World is as bad of a formula as Nature=World or Society=World.

To conceive of a whole that is the sum of its parts and therefore in some way a greater object as such, therefore submitting the parts to the whole, is, in short, totalitarian. Aristotle wouldn’t do this—this is what teleological thinking avoids and, I believe, it was here Kevin was intending to get us. Namely that if we can speak of a world that is a whole it is not a holism which the parts are submitted to in anyway but a whole strictly speaking as regards its telos (which, given Kevin’s leanings, I am to assume is the Kingdom of God—which is to say those parts realized as themselves, people as truly fulfilling their ethical desires as authenticated people, the earth no longer groaning, lion lying down with the lamb, etc.). In other words, if we can speak of any great “whole” we are floating around in it is 1. always tentative and conditional given our finitude and situatedness and 2. not a top-down metaphysics (ie Nature is the Good/holism so we all must make sacrifices, as its parts, to appease her).

My final critique for this notion of a socialized-Nature is the same one I have with Heidegger’s conception of Welt (world), namely it’s rank anthropocentrism (and therefore tacit racism, sexism, et al). We immediately must ask whose society socializes? I get that one could respond societies as such or an amalgam of social systems but at some point we in our finitude are establishing a hierarchical whole (a “top”) from within that very system (pretty much near the “bottom”). I immediately want to ask, when faced with this notion of a socialized-Nature, what sort of “socialized”-world do, say, amoebas or sea slugs inhabit then? They equally have an ecological world that has a vast impact and, in ways, conditions our very social world as well. Point being is vast amounts of our world have facets which our society does not come in contact with yet still function socially and presumably have vast effects on us (just think of global warming for one example).

It seems to me that this way of constructing existence breaks down on itself. I think what is so profound about the Tim Morton Ecology-Without-Nature “movement” which, I think, is what all our posts are tacitly about, is that it attempts to radically abandon this top-down, whole>parts discussion as involves worldhood. There is no Nature rightly speaking as regards this top-down hierarchical structure (fallen mother, etc). However, ecological worlds are very real and we happen to be in one that is very real, namely, “our” society. These worlds all interact (touch, elide, collide, withdraw) within… what we call a world for lack of a better term—whatever our sharedness and otherness floats around in. But rightly speaking this isn’t a more true locality or world, it’s just the amorphous fluid all of our worlds happen to be mis-communicating in. It’s just as much of an object as say the world of rabbits, the world of east Indian botanist-missionaries, or the world of mice who I am convinced are hiding in our walls. Just as much of an object as my laptop too. There is no Nature because there is no “system” that is an inherent “top” system.



the soul which is you which is to say me

(I knew upon my creating of the categories “essay” and “poetry” they would surely deconstruct themselves at some point)

the soul which is you which is to say me

The lover loves the body—
no—the lover has a certain
pull to a beyond the body—
a desire already ahead of
the—no—a love of the
person who is in—no—in
front of
? no. behind? no. There
is a limit to what we do with language
and what it means to talk about love.
We tend to think of the person as a beyond or over-yonder away from sensation or bodies; an inner truth wrapped within an outer sensation which often leads to deception. We have come to call this soul that we in turn have coined into mind, intentionality, and lastly consciousness or perception. But is the traverse from soul to perception an accurate one? Is not the view of the soul in Dante more of a body than this body albeit born of ether?

To conceive of an inner soul implies the relationship of inner to outer, which is a relationship grounded in the physical. To think of the soul as higher or more divine is a relationship grounded in the intentional, directional language of the physical. To think of the soul as a pilot is to resort to physically grounded metaphor. To think of the soul as anything requires a body not just as background but as constituting agent. To think of the soul requires a body. To think requires a body.

How then are we to retain any conception of the individual soul? If the soul is not to be that which masters the physical what is it? It seems to retain the soul we must say it is that which is pre-physical, pre-conscious, and pre-intentional. This is not Freud’s unconscious of which we speak for the unconscious speaks the language of consciousness, that is it is a language the analyst taps in on, the language the self reveals to the self via consciousness. We are speaking of that which comes before and is always prior to origin. We speak here of primordial myth. Namely the self of which to utter its name is to already put it outside itself. The soul is a-physical not in the sense that it opposes matter but is beyond it—the soul is the self beyond any totalizing of being.

To speak of the soul is not to speak of matter but neither is it to speak of mind or consciousness. The soul envelops the whole of the body and is the body; it envelops the whole of consciousness and is consciousness—yet the soul is already beyond these things for to speak of them as-such is to fool the self into categories which always fail to exhaust the unutterability of the self.

This self though is not the self of the “outer” world, the self friends and families possess, the ego of Sartre, the self of first impressions. Likewise though it is not the self of the self, the imaginings of myself, my intentions, my conscious thoughts, as these are reductions of the self shaded by pride and intelligibility. It is the self beyond my possibilities, beyond my commitments to others—it is the self so holistic it is only to be uttered by the voice of God by the opacity of his silence. Here we enter Kierkegaard’s realm of the absurd and the impossible. The self that is infinitely high and thus always beyond grasp, no matter what height thinking or formalizing reaches.

Yet despite the infinity of the height of the self we do catch glimpses and traces of it, don’t we? In the face of the one whose viewpoint is unintelligible to us and where we stand, the other who is beyond your grasp (which is to say everyone), the girl in the line at the supermarket who paid with exact change or a hand-written check, your girlfriend even when you find out your
conception of her is wrong and your
re-conception wrong
and that you always get her wrong
and that is the beauty of it—
Don’t you find the absurd unutterbility
of the divine in his or her face? and
when I say other you know I mean
love of the other and by the other I
mean the self which I would tell
you about but then it wouldn’t be you?

Being-With, Iconoclasm, & the Other: a Reflection on Emmanuel Levinas and The Brothers Karamazov

The other resists my attempt at investiture, not because of the extent and obscurity of the theme that it offers to my consideration but because of the refusal to enter into a theme, […] the other lays him- or herself bare to the total negation of murder but forbids it through the original language of his defenseless eyes. –Emmanuel Levinas, Transcendence and Height

To destroy is to declare oneself a destroyer, to present a certain way of being-with to the world. The destroyer of art not only removes art but also presents himself as an iconoclast. To destroy is to present oneself as one who destroys, to liturgize the self towards a certain behavior or being-in-the-world. The iconoclast destroys icons not because he sees iconography as an inherent wrong, as if representation, significance, or meaning were evil, but rather is ironically guilty of making an idol out of the icon.

The icon is a space for meaningful and authentic worship, a place for the religious to inhabit. Worship is an approach, a movement of an individual towards another precisely in that it is another—no one can be said to authentically praise that which is the same as the self, this is self-love and pride. Thus when we authentically worship, we worship a God as the ultimate Other, or the lover, or the hero for precisely that which we cannot see or grasp in the self. The iconoclast then does not see the icon as a sight of habitation or possibility, he cannot even see the trace of the other, rather all he sees is propositional or doctrinal “content.” All the iconoclast sees is an extension of himself, his ideals. The iconolast is idolater par excellence for he reduces the height and infinity of the icon, its possibility as a space of worship, to one exhaustive interpretation. To see in the icon nothing but the potential for doctrinal error and supplant the whole of the artwork’s possibility to that fear is not to see god in the icon, in the light bursting through the stained glass, but to see nothing more than the reflection of the self.

The idol is diametrically opposed to the icon; the idol is a reduction of the opaqueness of existence to an ideal or proposition, while the icon is a sacred space of inhabitation, something to experience that can always be viewed as something but never exclusively. Once the iconoclast has reduced the icon to an idol he can see nothing but his ideal negated, the inherent polarity in his conceptualization, and thus must destroy it. The iconoclast takes metaphor, ideality, as existence rather than as language or a way to speak about something—he reduces the art of Rublev to Trinitarian heresy by conceiving what it is the Trinitarian god should be presented as and thus inevitably what it should not. To destroy the icon then is to first reduce it to a negation of the self’s ideals, and secondly, in the destruction submit the self and its actions to one’s own ideals. Wherein metaphor is meant to be a commonality, a way of making available a shared world, reciprocity, the iconoclast reduces to a shutting off of the world for one’s own sake, a reduction of others to the self. Every iconoclasm is thus also a totalitarianism, a spreading out of an exhaustive metaphysics over all that one sees, a shutting off completely of being-with-others. It is here that we can see inherent in all exhaustive metaphysics the groundwork of solipsism, for any attempt to narrate the whole of the world and make it known to the self is at heart a reduction of the world to the self, the destruction of the other.

Here both the iconoclast and killer are guilty of the same crime, namely that of subsuming a unified whole to an abstracted ideal. Each person is a unique perspective on the world, and therefore live out an entirely differing set of possibilities than myself. As the stained glass window is a “filterer” of light and yet our means of experiencing the light so too the individual is our means of experiencing that which is beyond ourselves yet made available by our self and body. When we experience the other we authentically experience something entirely other than the self yet it is always experienced from somewhere, namely the self and its whole factual, historical existence. The self is here a background though, that by which the other can be presented as other and is thus a thoroughly different phenomena than seeing the other “as” a pre-existing conceptual category exclusively. It is precisely here where man as icon, the imago dei, gains relevance, for it is the other, the neighbor, who most bears the trace of deity. It is in the face of the other that one cannot help but be made responsible to it and invert the declaration of the self to a questioning of the self, for here is immediately before the self that which is just beyond any conceptualization. There are times when to utter to the lover any formulation of the relationship is to shatter the very phenomenon which binds them. The thing has already been “named” in a primordial way and any subsuming under a mental category would be a violence.

Thus to see the other “as” any one thing exclusively is a reduction of the neighbor to an enemy, it is in this way that all hatred is murder as in the gospel of St. John (3.15). For prior to any killing is the violent act of seeing the individual qua self, to deny the light and artistry of the icon. The murderer like the iconoclast subsumes the individual as a condition of meaning and sees only one meaning—as-criminal, as-enemy-of-the-state, as-race—actualizing his ideals by negating another’s existence. The murderer always claims that he is still loving however in that he has a love “for humanity,” yet this love never transcends conceptuality and can never be an authentic love of one’s neighbor. This is a love of the distant rather than the close—and it is precisely those who are close, the neighbor, we are called to love. The murderer is guilty of Ivan’s conceptualization in The Brother’s Karamozov for Ivan,

could never understand how one can love one’s neighbours. It’s just one’s neighbours, to my mind, that one can’t love, though one might love those at a distance, […] for anyone to love a man, he must be hidden, for as soon as he shows his face, love is gone.

And again,

One can love one’s neighbours in the abstract, or even at a distance, but at close quarters it’s almost impossible. (The Grand Inquisitor, prt. II)

This reduction of love to the conceptual and thus impossible in the face of the other is precisely the hatred of which St. John’s Christ speaks. Ivan rightly had no neighbors for all he could see in the face of the other was his own terrible self-loathing. Smerdyakov was right in calling Ivan the true murderer of Fyodor Karamazov. Dmitri on the other hand could not murder Fyodor, although he had the pre-murder of subsuming Fyodor to ideality, he could not bring himself to do so when he saw his face. For the face of the other makes us responsible to it, and one cannot look into it authentically and murder the other (see Levinas, Transcendence and Height). To murder then is to cut off existence from others entirely, to destroy what it means to be in a shared world with other people.

The reciprocity that is co-existence is destroyed when one can only see the other “as” something regardless what the “as” is. This is to be distinguished from the other as given to something or the other “for” something, i.e. the other for me as father is not reductive in the same way as the other as enemy of the state—for to see the other as father is to have a stance by which to see the other and opens up his being to me as possibility, a significance which opens up a meaning and allows my father, a unique other, to exist for me. To see one as a father is a non-exhaustive role, one which whenever I act upon I also acknowledge rather than deny or repress his other possibilities. If ever it becomes exhaustive however, i.e. I can no longer see my father as anything other than say the one who pays for my education or food, as Ivan had done, I have committed parricide in the utmost sense, for I have reduced another to a mere idealistic operation or function. Likewise when I look into the face of another and all I can see is an abstraction which can only follow from a co-existence which I have possessed and deny its being-given (I claim rather than my belonging to it, its belonging to me), extending myself through my Ideals, I have murdered my neighbor. This is Narcissism to the utmost, not only being able not to see or hear the other but not even being able to conceive of the pool, the shared background of metaphor and significance, but to only see reflected back the self.

As the iconoclast destroys the art because he refuses to see the art in light of the other, or trace of the other, only seeing one possibility rather than a condition for possibility, so too the killer can only see in the face of the other a possibility which the self already possesses, denying the transcendence which the face of every neighbor gives. To deny the other in this way is in short to deny being-with-others and that each of us have a unique perspective on the world, it is to conflate oneself to omniscience. And the cycle is vicious for to cut off oneself from the world is to spiral ever within the self and to only see the self, and what the self already has, in the world around us.

Baptism as World Collapse

We make a narration of our lives, choose roles, vocations, because we are finite, temporal creatures. Any possibility I am faced with I actuate because I am certain that there will be a time when I am not—what Martin Heidegger called the possibility of no more possibilities. It is only in light of knowing that I cannot fulfill all of my possibilities that I must “narrate” my life; why would I limit myself to being a student, a teacher, an artist, a construction worker if I could actuate every possibility? It is in anticipation of death that I choose a particular role for myself, a certain set of possibilities and no other. My language, location, role, and meaning in this life are defined in their particularity only because I face this possibility of no more possibilities that is death.

In so living out a role, a narrative, I am limited to a certain background, a common condition by which those possibilities are presented to me. For instance, the fact that I am born in a particular place, raised with and in a certain language, culture, and, of course, that I am to die all shape a certain background by which I am faced with choice and possibility. This background is not a choice or willing on my part, yet it is something that I inevitably “take up” as it were, it is what I live through. When speaking with someone else there is a shared background that we each work through that communication may occur—we speak a certain way, stand a proper distance apart, speak at an appropriate volume, etc. All this background activity is not rightly “our conversation,” rather it is what all conversation presupposes, it is a condition of possibility as Merleau-Ponty would say, the medium by which possibility is possible. These conditions of possibilities and backgrounds are all facets of the world, the unified whole that we all work from and have in common and represent to one another; as Heidegger says, we are “the world existingly” (Being and Time, Harper & Row, 1962, p.416). By representing the world it is not meant that our actions are determined, but our conditions of possibility are a given thing, fixed, like how close I stand to someone when I speak is a societal “given” although what I choose to speak is not.

There are cases apart from my own death which cause a possibility of no more possibilities, cases in which my background radically changes, what has rightly been called a world collapse. When a particular, finite something enters my world and becomes a narrating force, i.e. a location, culture, individual, this can collapse my entire operational framework, not just what I see, but how I see. If a tornado destroys my home, if a loved one dies, if my government is overthrown, not simply have my possibilities changed, but my entire means of making choices have—my background has shifted, my conditions have changed. I have lost something I used to feel my way around in the world.

Depending on what phenomena narrates my existence world collapse gains deeper and greater significance. A divorce does not de facto destroy ones whole mode of being or how one goes about in the world; however, as embodied creatures we do not just think through abstractions and analyses but through our spaces and relationships. I think about everything always against the background that I am a body and it is here and now in a certain space with certain people. When I lose a loved one I do not just lose them but I lose the world as a place with them. This loss is like the soldier returning from the war lame—he has not simply lost the use of his legs, but he has lost the world as a place to be walked in or stood on. He has lost a certain mode of being in the world altogether. Likewise the widow sees the world as a place shot through by absence, feeling for the limb so to speak which is not there and denies her her possibilities. A world collapse is this falling out from possibility, the recognition of our world haunted by impossibility.

Thus there is a way in which I can be living in denial of an already collapsed world, like the widow who continues to act as if her husband were still alive. She deliberately lives within a paradox, living as if her husband where there, thinking of her role still as wife-of-someone (the condition of possibility), while yet clearly being denied of his actual presence and possibility. In the same way the man with the lost limb can deny his deficiency and continue to see the world as a world to be walked in, creating a “phantom-limb,” or he could recognize he has a new set of possibilities and can no longer live as if in the old world. This dilemma presents itself in unhappy marriages and dissatisfaction in a career or location—one recognizes that what they thought was possible is in fact no longer possible, and thus collapse this aspect of their world in hope of a new, more satisfying one. In so many words this is how William James describes the phenomena of religious conversion—one is faced with the dissonance between the intentional and lived world, and, like the corrupt marriage or state, the individual must articulate the collapse by a psychical and physiological experience, a rite of passage, a divorce so to speak. This is precisely why the sacrament of Baptism is not just metaphorically called a death; it is the articulation of an entire world collapse, a literal death of a world, of an entire background I live through. Baptism is first and foremost a sacrifice of the old world, a burying of the old man—out of that collapse though a space is opened for a new world to be articulated, the birth of life in the Spirit.

Conversion into Christianity then is not the assumption of a foreign world per se, but also of the intentional world actuated, the death of the self and its world in order that it may be more truly and meaningfully itself. It is like the lame man giving up his phantom-limb in order that he may live more fully as he actually is. In death we are raised into a life not lived in face of the possibility of no more possibilities anymore. Rather the Resurrection of the Dead demonstrates that death is to be anticipated as that by which our roles and narrations gain their meaning. Our resurrection authenticates not just our bodies into what they were intended to be, but the whole of the life we live as Baptized. The life of the Spirit and grace does not stop at the ego, the individualistic level, but extends to the furthest reaches of our world. By being raised to new life I reflect that life in each action I make—my actions as a resurrected creature bring the Kingdom of God to fruition on earth. However, because the Kingdom runs alongside the world of man the new world is still haunted by the old, and each possibility declares both that I am a dead as well as a living thing. In other words, each choice declares that I am baptized, and every decision I make is a looking-back, the taking up of my cross, as well as a looking-forward, my bodily resurrection and perfection. Possibility is therefore always an artistic endeavor for the resurrected individual, for in every action is the destruction of the old world and the creation of the new.

Thus living out a “role” is no longer done so in avoidance of or in spite of our actual death, but rather in anticipation and in hope of that death—I am no longer a teacher because of the limited possibility of my world, a teacher for-myself, but I am a teacher because it is my vocation, I am a teacher for-the-world. My role then is not just something to do in the face of death, but an actuating of the future infinite in the finite, the City of God within the City of man.

Toward a Common Hermeneutic: a Reconciliation of Theology and Art

One of the most basic postures we take as humans is to invoke names. By names we designate, invent and reinvent, and even deconstruct. A name paradoxically shades and narrows our interpretation of something while simultaneously being our only means of opening the thing up for experience. All discourses, in this case particularly those of theology and art, interact with and employ names as a means of communicating. After providing a brief reflection on the phenomenon of naming, I will expound further on what shape naming takes primarily in art, as imaginative disclosure, but in theology as well. A reconciliation of the two and a possible use of theology as aesthetic discourse are finally presented.

A Brief Sketch of the Phenomenon of Naming

Since the linguistic turn it has become increasingly difficult to conceive of language as simply a representation of inner thought, a sort of equipment our minds sadly have to use to communicate. Language does more than just carry thoughts, it encapsulates how we think, act, and behave within our given situation (and, arguably, is what gives us those situations). It is out of language that philosophy and worldview present themselves. For it is not that language incarnates an abstract notion of mind, but rather language shapes how and what we think. The language we speak brings with it a history of how to think with that language. Of course reason is a vast whole and this treatment cursory, yet it is clear that language and reason are inexorably linked. It is for this reason that the primal substance of creation as viewed by many of the pre-Socratics was logos: the reason, thought, word, and systematic imagination of the cultures of men. St. John picks up on this theme when he speaks of Christ as the primal Logos in his gospel. As those who participate in the Image of God, Christ the Logos, we too share this image, the imago dei. Traditionally the imago has been associated bearing a logos, the stamp of the divine, in that we are in a thinking-discourse. The Church Fathers, particularly St. Irenaeus, used such logic to eventually reach the formal designation of man as “rational animal.” We must not understand this as Descartes did, the res cogitans, thinking things, but rather as being rational in that we have language and language has us.

The creation and recreation of man is framed around a hermeneutical approach to existence. As mentioned above St. John saw the Incarnation as the Logos, the Word, assuming humanity and vivifying their logos, the divine in man. But before this recapitulation of humanity in Christ man was first created to be a steward over creation and to name the things of the earth, as outlined in the creation myth of Genesis 1 and 2. Out of all the actions that could be at the center of man’s posture to the world in Eden we find the phenomenon of naming. If we see the “naming of the animals” and the possessing of a logos as related then it follows that any posture toward a thing (interpretation, prejudice, understanding, et al) is a sort of name. To articulate any interpretation of an artwork is to “name” it, to take a certain stand on the thing. Even silent articulations, thoughts, are names (although not shared). Likewise to make an artwork is a naming. To approach something with any sense of the thing, any pre-judice, is to already have named it.

How then does naming shape how we live? Naming is to existentially “place” things: naming defines a “here” and a “there.” In this sense we touch on Heidegger’s distinction of man as Dasein, “being-there,” or that which presents a “there” wherever it is. Man most primordially designates space in relation to himself, the lamp as here, the chair as yonder, etc. Granted, he perhaps has an understanding of the chair as 10 feet away, but this is a formal designation that follows suit from the existential, the “there.” In fact, I can only conceive of a there because I am here; the lamp has a there only in that it is a possible here for me. Before I can conceive of quantified space I conceive of relational space—me as here. Naming is thus a strictly human, existential action; it places things in relation to itself, designating a space for a thing to appear as intelligible. To name then provides not only a means of talking about the thing but a context and situation for the thing to be understood as that thing. Naming then has a degree of paradox to it—it simultaneously gives a “space,” an interpretation, of the thing while yet shutting the thing in particularity, naming it this.

Naming a thing as this then works backwards onto our experience of the thing. For instance, the male and female form are two objects, things, which every culture or context interprets in a certain way, what we call masculinity and femininity. However, I never experience the male or female form objectively, that is devoid of any interpretation of them. Even if I have the ability to conceptualize the female form as something separate from femininity this presupposes my experience of femininity from which to derive it. Here we run into Heidegger’s famous hammer analogy—the hammer’s being is constituted first and foremost by its hammering (as a thing “ready-to-hand”) long before we can conceive of it as an objective thing possessing a height and weight (as a thing “present-at-hand”). Just as we experience a lamp as over-yonder before we think of it as 10 feet away we first experience gender as our context and culture presents it. Further, to be able to conceive of something as objective (devoid of context, self-subsistent) I must have already subjected it to this embedded interpretation. This is all a way of saying that before I talk about something I must name it. Before I can cognitively separate or categorize something I have to have experienced it and thus already interpreted it.

Art as Imaginative Disclosure

Naming then is an articulation of something that is already there, or rather an articulation that the situation presents to me. Before naming, the thing has already presented itself to-be-named and I have taken a posture of one-who-names. Naming is not creation ex nihilo but revelation and prophecy, an opening up of this silent dialogue. Objects themselves beckon to the namer, the situation I find myself in calls for the object to be articulated. The stone beckons to the sculptor in this way, asking of the sculptor to “name” it, chip away at it, until it becomes what the situation calls for, namely, a work of art. Naming an object then opens what was once closed off, revealing in an articulated form an interpretation that was always there but withdrawn. This is why Heidegger chose the word “disclosure” to talk about the phenomena of actuating this type of possibility. Naming is exactly this sort of disclosure: for to name a thing is to reveal in physical form a certain posture we are disposed to take before the thing, just as the sculptor is disposed to “name” the stone as a work of art.

Not only does naming bring out a situation then, a “there,” but also reveals an interpretation of the thing already in that situation—it discloses a meaning. In this disclosing we interpret the thing as-something, metaphorically extending the thing. Metaphor in this sense is literally a carrying (phora) over (meta) of meaning, as in the phenomena of gender—I experience the female form and anatomy first and foremost by its metaphoric-extension, femininity. We know objects by the names we give them. So, for instance, if our sculptor was commissioned to make a bust of a political leader, before he puts chisel to stone there is a silent dialogue of the art work—the sculptor has a certain way of sculpting and the political leader has a certain way of appearing, the possibility of the work of art is there already. The situation the artist is in beckons for the work to be made in such a way. If our sculpture is the David then we have a metaphoric-extension and naming of David—this is David the masculine, ideal, the icon. However, if we shift the situation and think of Shostakovich and his Ninth Symphony in “honor” of the Soviet victory at Berlin, we have a very different metaphoric-extension—a piece which is superficially an ode but at heart a carnival-like mockery. Although simple examples we must not dismiss metaphoric-extension, the creation of symbol and culture, as superfluous or inessential, for it is by metaphor we experience the world as such. For the theatre is not a microcosm but the actual cosmos presented more obviously and naturally; likewise, art is not a reflection of the world but the very means by which we see and experience the world—there is no discourse without names.

The Metaphors of Theology and Art

All naming, not just as exemplified in the arts, has artistry to it, interacting with mental space and supplying us with new metaphors to “take up” and use. Theology likewise is artistic in this way, supplying us with metaphors to take up and think through the Divine. Visual art does this even more so though in that it both commodifies mental and physical space—art extends not only mental metaphor but also visual metaphor. Michelangelo literally modified the stone into metaphor in his David while also extending the mental metaphor of say masculinity, iconography, Creation, the soul, as well as how we think of David as a mythic-historic figure. Art works from the physical metaphor and lays hold of, besieges our mental spaces—in this way the metaphors of art inhabit our being. As the body and soul are only discernible as things in reference to each other, so too mental and physical space are defined by each other—no physical experience of art is without an appropriation of metaphor by the soul. Art is then a sort of incarnational naming, a transformation of a physical situation into a meaning. This is not to say theology is a-physical per se, but rather that its epistemology is grounded upon an admitted Unknowable, inclining it to a theoretical, mental space.

Art as a discourse then is an incarnational whole whose physical space always has mental, metaphoric significance—every artwork supplies a metaphor, a name, beyond itself. The David extends away from David the person to create a metaphor that occupies its own mental space. Not only does the artist name David-as-statue, but he creates the “as” of the metaphor—there is now the possibility for something to be like the David. The artist has created a relation and named it—disclosing David-the-ideal as a particular. Consequently, theology as a discourse discloses meaning in light of the Unknowable. The metaphoric-extensions of theology, its categories, formations, and divisions are all interpretations of the ultimately pre-predicative, anti-propositional whole that is God (like the David is an interpretation of David-the-ideal). Just as the female form can only be discussed in that it has been already interpreted as femininity, so too theological discourse is that interpretation of God, which is not God, yet our means of experiencing Him.

Because this is the case we can apply the “as” of theology, its metaphoric-extensions, to the “reading” of art. If we take up the metaphors of the theological discourse we can readily see that all art is already enmeshed with theological meaning—and, because of the hermeneutic circle (pre-judices affect the reading which affect the judgments which affect the reading ad infinitum), art in turn supplies metaphors for theology to take up. As the naming of an artwork is found in the situation the artist finds himself in (the silent dialogue) so too the meaning of the work is found in the situation of the artwork and its world.

As an articulation the artwork has a shared sphere of intelligibility—I am not the sole interpreter of an artwork, nor the artist, but rather the situated community interprets the artwork. That is to say I may name something (i.e. make the artwork) but I as an artist am equally alongside my peers as an interpreter of the work—once a name is created it is taken up by the community and used as it sees fit. In a fabulous text Owen Barfield (in Poetic Diction) sketches a history of the word “ruin,” showing how its meaning had been developed and redeveloped by such authors as Shakespeare, Spenser, and Coleridge. None of these men have “ownership” of ruin nor its meaning, rather they took up a name they did not create and presented an interpretation to the world—in turn their interpretation was taken up by another and commodified. There is no functional difference between ruin and Richard III. Each is a name that has been handed down with a history of various interpretations and meanings. Interpretation of a name or artwork is essentially artistic, a re-naming. The situation the word appears in, what people and contexts commodify the word, are those who orient where the history of the word is to go—they salvage the word from a past, present it to the present, and project its meaning into the future. If there is to be any dialogue between the discourses of theology and art here and now it can only be done so if theology chooses to approach and interpret art. If theology presents itself as an ideological discourse by which meaning can be found to be in the work (i.e. as Marxism, Freudianism, and Foucaldianism have) then that meaning will be found to be already in the artwork.

What is it to be a theological artist then? It is to be a human in the fullest sense; to understand the cultural-mythic languages given, dialogue, deconstruct, and recreate them in response. This is the primordial stance of what it is to be human, to worship the Creator by pulling out of creation its possibilities. All art though inevitably has theological implications, as it does psychoanalytic or epistemological ones. The artist if not intentional in his theology should at least be aware of these implications (Rothko and Hirst clearly seem(ed) to be). What is it to be an artistic theologian? To provide a sphere of intelligibility for art—a situation in which art can thrive and be interpreted and re-interpreted. Christian aestheticians have done this throughout history, St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger all provide theological theories of art as a basic groundwork of their philosophical-theologies. The Christian artist and theologian are called to be human in their situated, perspectival views on the world. Although they have differing viewpoints each take a similar stance toward the world, both concerned with man and his interpretations. Being human is an erotic existence, one in which things are experienced, felt, internalized, named, interpreted, worked into a mythic scheme, formalized, rejected, and finally re-experienced as people and their culture shift, opening up the space for ever new interpretations and possibilities to be named.

Untitled

To frame memory.

To frame intimacy.

To wall-in space and the absence
between objects,
the space our minds fill-in
to make sense of here and there—
what Heidegger would call “nearness”
or de-severencing.
To hollow-out the middle ground
like so many childhood
brain-teasers would,
forming a house or ocean
out of the seemingly dots of red.

And that summer we drank whole bottles of dry vermouth
redistributing those disembodied selves around our rooms
like so many drip-castles winding the shore of existence,
more communicative of the passage of time in the image’s
closeness & warmth then the turning of suns that lapses our way
of being to mere consciousness. Bottles like Wednesdays or
Advent or baseball season toppling gestures of time to solidity.

Into a here and a now,
the soul & body shaping
absence into positive space,
into a mental space,
and in the shaping, inhabiting;
stroke and blur into line and colour,
not mere dash of acrylic rouge on canvas
but the peal and age
of worn-out paint
and the stain of paint.

A rust-bitten structure
of the proximity of things.

A certain pealing of memory.