this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Theology

There are No Good Men, No Not One

I’ve been having a fun little back and forth with a friend’s post over at the The Evangelical Outpost. You can find the whole of the post as well as my comments here. The gist of the article, which you should really read if you want more than my bad summation, is that it’s offensive to refer to men as boys or to treat them like boys. If a man is guilty of boyish behavior, one should treat him like a man, that is, address the responsibilities he is failing at, rather than resort to inaccurate name calling. My last comment summed up my position I thought pretty well, so just for the hell of it I thought I’d repost it here:
After some basic criticisms of this idea of a “man” and why I think self-identified “boys” or “bois” should be called what they want to be called (cause it’s nice), Nathan (the author) responded,

Whatever semantic labels you prefer, the fact is that people gain responsibilities as they age and sometimes they shirk those. I hope that in talking to people who turn away from responsibility we can show them that they do not have any semantic hiding places that will save them from what they are doing.

To which I wrote as follows [edited for spelling and grammatical error],

Yeah. I’m pretty sure I get the broader point about responsibility. And I agree about semantic cubbies and hiding places. But also semantics shapes the cubbies. It’s the mountains to the valley–complete with snowy peaks and potential landslides. It’s important to periodically stroll through and maybe close down an unsafe road or two.

It’s this correlation between being adult, masculine, strong, and virile with responsibility that I guess I was trying to push back against. Of course we give children responsibilities and we should be forgiving towards adults. If it’s a question of responsibility, all fine and dandy, but children have taught me a lot about responsibility and adults have at times been disappointingly repressed, irresponsible, and narcissistic. It’s not so much how to balance these two (adult/responsible with child/irresponsible) but more unlearning the ways we’ve been taught to privilege adults and trivialize children.

It seems like the source of frustration for you was this category “boy” and how it was implying you weren’t fit for or outside of certain responsibilities. I agree with you–it’s trivializing and dismissive. Yet it’s not just trivializing and dismissive to you, but to boys and children in general, while also assuming adults are way more secure and essential than they are. Just as the male who dismisses someone as a “boy” positions himself as a firm and solid “man,” so too joining in with calling all boys irresponsible positions you and I and all males into a comfortable category of “man.” It becomes this very sort of semantic hiding place–a means of coping by bullying those we’d like to think weaker and smaller than ourselves. It buttresses our own insecurities with a safe semantic and social shell, shirking responsibility of ourselves while scapegoating others.

So I guess my problem is a binary that’s so neat it pretends boys, and children in general, are irresponsible and men/adults are responsible. Like childhood is some bit of ash we must pass through to really, truly, finally be born. But children were born and are people and no less real. We give children responsibilities according to what they can and can’t do just like we do for adults. We expect them to follow through just as much. They have voices and stories worth telling and it’s nothing shy of narcissism to turn a deaf ear, thinking ourselves to have come much farther then they. After all, the kingdom belongs to such as these–a kingdom where there is no “man” or “woman.” I’d like to think St. Paul wasn’t just thinking about gender or birth-sex but birth, growth, maturity, aging, and dying. Ultimately, I think The City of God might be a little less “mature” and “civil” than we think, and just a bit more like Neverland.

a Creed

I believe in the mothers

who bore the earth and who bare the earth still

like so much clay on their shoulders,

and for whom the earth groans

deep in the joy of its naked flesh;

 

I believe all is conceived in the

darkness of a miraculous sorrow and

born into a light of a name which,

if we could speak, would make us one

 

even here so far below heaven;

 

and there is a profanity so holy

we can only taste of the womb thereof;

 

that we must grind ourselves down

to mere pulp or ash of the bark

of some tree before we can whisper

its name into the ears of our sleeping fathers,

 

who are the great devourers of all and lovers of all

 

and whose night-dreams are never ending;

 

I believe in the holiness of the breath

of everything that dies, whose breath

both in the worm and mother alike

is the same in life and prophecy;

 

whose singing is dance

and whose song is the body

which is forever and always being born

and is forever and always beautiful, even though

you will hear it is never beautiful enough;

and the soul too is beautiful, far more than enough,

and its beauty is the beauty of all things,

a beauty that, if you could touch,

could change the world, and all things in it.

Polytheism

We forget, sometimes, how many goddesses

and gods there really are. Take just the Torah,

for instance. Sure, we have Yahweh, the righteous

one, but we have the many-breasted goddess,

and the god who appears in fire or pillar of

cloud, and, if we include the prophets, there’s

Lady Wisdom, which is only to name a few. It

seems silly to pick favorites, although a fair share

of world religions ground themselves upon this

sort of favoring, and, oddly enough, those who

feel it their duty to choose just one favorite god

or, much more rarely, goddess, seem to me to

pick the least interesting ones possible. The just

god or merciful god or the suffering god. But sometimes

I imagine, if just for a moment, how much different

it all would’ve been if instead of a Trinity those church

fathers—for, despite the prevalence of women, there

were no church mothers then, which, one imagines,

played no small part in deciding a deity, let alone one

that consists of three persons—proposed such a god who

walks about the garden, enjoying his fruit, and, on

occasion, searches out the body and inquires of our

nakedness. Or, as proposed somewhere later, she was

more like a giant hen, frightened but willing to do

almost anything to keep her chicks safe from the cold.

Sometimes, I really wonder, what kind of world we would

have if people gathered on Sunday mornings to joyously

laugh at the god who, after wrapping up his earth about

him like a blanket in a whirlwind, asked us all to touch

ourselves and quit our weeping, join him in song for awhile

about sea currents or lions perhaps, and who, on such

a Sunday, would come down and walk among us, asking

in the most gentle but earnest of voices where the rain comes

from, and, if we know of a place, where he could find some.

Doubt, Sacred Objects, & Religious Orientation

Over the past few days I have been having what for me is a fruitful discussion on what ‘religion’ is (although it seems to be mostly geared towards Judeo-Christianity and religions of ‘the book’) over on my Google+. I’ve had a few insights into my own thinking by having to articulate them so I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few excerpts here and get other people’s thoughts and advice.

It begins with the question of orthodoxy, religious certainty, and ‘sacred’ objects:

I personally consider myself a Christian and think the Bible is not inerrant. I attend mass. I consider myself religious. I am certainly not alone in this conviction as many of my friends and acquaintances are in the same boat. I am a Christian in so far as the Bible is a sacred object of study for me, as is Christ, the Eucharist, blah blah. However, these objects are consistently called into question, doubted, and critiqued–this almost seems a precondition to religious belief to me. Of course I doubt god’s existence, question what that existence is. This is my religious belief.

In other words, I agree that there is a difference between an examined/questioned belief and an unexamined one–it is unexamined beliefs, the ones that reveal themselves to us in events and catastrophes (the person who considers hirself fair and charitable until in a context with another that reveals racism, sexism, transphobia, etc), that are rightly fundamentalist convictions. Beliefs deep in us, in others we trust, and in our systems of thought, culture, and politic are “fundamentals”–not the convictions of people who consistently examine, question, deconstruct, scrap, re-construct, etc, these beliefs.

This moved into a discussion over how religion and philosophy are similar and differ, me arguing that philosophy too has historically had ‘sacred’ objects and revered ‘saints’ as well as its host of ‘heretics’ and philosophic ‘profanity,’ i.e. an ‘orthodoxy.’ Which lead to clarifying that,

not all religions preserve such a[n eternal, sure, and certain] sense of orthodoxy, and the ones that think they do (which aren’t terribly many–certain Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox strands of Christianity jump first to mind, but not all RC or EO persons would affirm this at that) fall into countless and obvious contradictions for thinking this way. It seems silly to lump all other religious convictions and expressions in the same boat. Tradition, even in an RC context means precisely that, traditio, to hand down, which is to say to take something from another place and time into another place and time. Even the staunchest of religious dogmatics think that these principles take different forms and are to be questioned and applied differently according to context. Sometimes they are outright done away with.

But as the history of say Christianity shows, even this dogmatism is a minority. Just look at the Reformation. Or the Anglican church. Or the Quakers. Or the Mennonites and on down the line. These are constant perpetual revisions, contradictions, of one particular instantiations of one particular religion–all throwing out heaps of dogmatisms, even what dogmatics fundamentally is, along the way. This isn’t identical to the history of philosophy, of course, but it is to say these things are pretty related and interconnected both in a structural sense and a historic sense.

And lastly then expounding on what doubt of orthodoxy looks like and what this implies about say a theology of god:

As regards doubt, using the language of orientation again, one can pray to a god one doubts exist–this is what a religious orientation is to me. It’s called a risk. I suppose, given how you use the term then, I am agnostic in that gnosis (some sort of ‘special’ revelation) is suspended–but I am oriented towards some*thing*–it may be a fiction, but fictions are certainly things. So what is in question is not whether or not this thing I pray to called god exists or not but what kind of existence it has and the implications of this. I am oriented towards it as an object. It’s almost like a sexual orientation. I am ‘oriented’ towards an ‘orient’ (an other, something unknown, something withdrawn, something in-reserve) by an insatiable erotic attraction . This involves the risk of the thing possibly being revealed to be substantive, a fraud, dead, horrific (Bergman’s spider-god), childish, feminine, masculine, etc. It involves the risk of realizing my desire exceeds me. That I don’t really want what I think I want. Just because this risk exists doesn’t mean I’m suddenly not a theist–just because I do not know with 100% certainty what way or shape a god would look or sound or act like doesn’t mean I can’t orient, pray, revere, and worship one.

Any thoughts?

Towards a Constructive Penance: On Accountability, Guilt, and Power

I find it interesting that evangelical Christians still practice confession. Confession is, of course, a Roman Catholic practice that developed early in the medieval era and was codified as sacrament at the Lateran Council in 1215. Sure, the formation has changed, certainly it is unlikely an evangelical would use the phrase “the Sacrament of Penance,” but the idea of a small group, accountability group, pastoral counseling, etc., still abounds. I find this word ‘accountability’ particularly telling in terms of how it differs and yet is in complete alignment with the medieval practice. By contrast, penance could (and often did) take the form of inquisition and torture (consensual or otherwise), and if we were to take a look at medieval doctrines of the body, ecclesiology, and sexuality I think we would see why this was. The contemporary evangelical church shies away from such a direct denial of the body—although American consumerist Christianity (and I include myself in that label) definitely has its fair share of body-shaming and hatred. Also there is skepticism as regards church hierarchy, i.e. confessing to someone in particular. We don’t like the idea and, perhaps justifiably so, of someone with that sort of absolute knowledge.

However, I still think the comparison is ripe with similarities. For instance, although no vertical hierarchy, there is still sort of a lateral hierarchy (if this makes sense)—although there is no longer a direct person who must know, i.e. a priest (although pastoral counseling can look remarkably similar to this), there is a community itself which is in possession of knowledge, and it is still essential for the person confessing to confess to this community. In other words, rather than punish the individual for erring, the individual is condemned rather to feelings of inadequacy and guilt for keeping secrets. These communities are founded upon knowledge of the other, ‘accountability,’ rather than punishment. What is fascinating is how this takes the language of ‘truth.’ The implication is that there is some defining ‘truth’ of the individual, typically sexual but not exclusively, that is hidden or unseen and one should be open with the community and the community should know (the language is typically that of ‘brokenness,’ i.e. the image of the church as hospital, you must confess in order to be healed). In order to be ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ one cannot ‘hide’ one’s ‘brokenness’ from the community. Thus one reveals the ‘truth’ to the community, the ‘hidden’ side that no one sees ‘except God.’ This invocation of ‘God knows’ is a roundabout way of saying that the community of believers, i.e. those who ‘have’ the Spirit and who Christ ‘lives in’, already *really* knows. God knows. That’s what matters. So confess it to us and be ‘real,’ ‘authentic,’ ‘broken.’ That’s what ‘counts’ (thus ‘accountability). There is something (sexually) perverse at your core, God knows it, we know it, now tell us.

One has to wonder if this is much different than inquisition. Sure. It’s nowhere near as violent, obviously, and it is certainly not my intention to trivialize the horrors of the Inquisition. But in terms of power and knowledge—a community with the power of who you *really* are, with the power to control where you are (within the community), the injunction to reveal this to the community—there is something inquisitional about ‘accountability.’ By being in a community it is implied there is a part withdrawn, not entirely present to the community (the personal/sexual life), this is bad, and the community demands it of you (all in the name of ‘accountability,’ to take account for yourself).

This is particularly clear in men’s groups where discussion/confession of things like pornography and masturbation is ripe. The language used in such things, at least in my limited experience, fails to take the form of why these things are wrong (systemically), how to correct them (systemically), or any such thing. They take this language of accountability—confessing one has not given ‘everything’ to God (i.e. the community of believers), that they are ‘still holding on to things in their heart,’ etc. What these men tend to confess is their own finitude or withdrawal from the community rather than fruitful discussion over how to or even if we should overcome these issues. I have yet to ever here a sex-positive approach from a Christian as regards say pornography or even masturbation in such a context. The tacit assumption is these are things the church tells you not to do, but we all know you do them, so tell us you do already. Further, the ultimate confession is not that this person has objectified women, been unable to accept their own body, had sadistic fantasies even or what have you, but rather confessing how long it has gone on without telling anyone, how selfish this was of them, how bad it is to keep secrets, how they haven’t sacrificed everything to Jesus/the Church, in short, how they haven’t revealed all, haven’t been honest, broken, authentic.

I don’t mean this to be a bitter ‘all-confession-is-stupid-why-don’t-you-read-some-Foucault-or-queer-theory-already’ post. I mean this to be an urge towards a positive construction of penance—not one founded on guilt, of not revealing everything to the all-seeing-eye of the Church, but one grounded on lively conversation on how to overcome these real issues rather than use them as vehicles for pity and scapegoating. Men’s groups are so often scapegoats for not dealing with the issues they are supposedly attempting to correct. They so often devolve into self-pity, guilt, and lack of urgency to do anything constructive—meaning women are being exploited at the expense not only of these men’s sexual pleasure, but also for their self-pity and guilt as well. These are real people suffering who can’t afford the luxury of your feelings of guilt and pity. This is a call to have things like ‘accountability’ and Men’s groups to actually constructively deal with these issues—whether that be picketing, joining MCSR, teaching yes-means-yes at schools, boycotting products with sexist advertisements, or simply working for more female representation in the structure of their local church. It’s time for the contemporary American evangelical church to stop feeling sorry for itself and, who knows, start showing some sense of charity and justice.

Emmaus

And when he finally came back,

after having left behind in shame

those who loved him, what was there

left to love? It was their love for him

that died, and sure, there was hope,

but it was a hope he was gone, that

no stone would be upturned to

reveal love become that: pale and sick,

wounded, convinced of holier things.

Brainstorming: (Mis-)Reading Genesis

Just had a possible paper/research idea that I haven’t seen flushed out before, but if anyone has, feel free to let me know. I know Derrida addresses this in some of his essays and such, but it would by interesting to see a more systematic approach. I think it would be pretty great to look into the development of language and interpretation a la Derrida as layed out in Genesis (in particular, but the Torah as a whole).

Obviously, in the beginning there is the direct, intentioned, authored meaning. God speaks. Things are. Direct correlation of intention, thought, speech, act, being. The creation of Adam as monadic unity to function as an other to be spoken to. Thus the breathing. Image of god, logos, et al. Communion, i.e. a home, is established by commitment through speech—common ground—walking with god. Adam is established as one who names—the naming of creation and its creatures. This establishes a hierarchical relationship between hir (at this point Adam is “they,” both in Genesis as well as according to St. Paul—that is, there is no gender-difference—I think of Paul’s no male or female in the kingdom bit) and god as the one who speaks into being and the one who names—that is, opens up to a meaning.

Adam cannot bear a name nor be inscribed hirself though (therefore be-different, have identity) rightly without the dialectic relation of the lateral other, i.e. Eve. Enter alterity, linguistic difference, blah blah. The “transgression,” that is the break with the one-who-speaks(-into-being) is an entering of polysemic meaning—that is Eve and Adam orient themselves towards the tree, name it, in a different way than it was spoken. The polysemy is engrained further by the separate verbal curses—enter gender difference (man works, woman births).

This carries over into the transgression of murder by Cain, transgression of the commitment to the (br-)other. The (br-)other is outcast in a solidification of exterior/interior as a fundamental relation of self/other—establishment of the Jew/Gentile distinction. The tower of Babel is a going beyond polysemic meaning to Derridean dissemination. Suddenly translation exists which is to say the residue/reserve of untranslatability of a given text (irony of the attempt to dissolve difference by building “up” to god). The giving of the law represents a duel movement of unutterability, the Cloud of Unknowing, mystical experience, residual darkness, as well as the reification into law. The tension and difference between the law—the priest, arche, the natural—and the Cloud of Unknowing—the prophet, anarchy, the wilderness—is established.  Enter Derridean justice with a touch of Levinasian commitment.

Just a fun potential project. Who knows.  I don’t feel like reading that much Derrida right now though to take such a project seriously…

NPR and the “Historical” Adam & Eve

NPR has put up a post on the so-called “historical” Adam & Eve debate. Let me just come right out and say it: I do not believe in a historical Adam & Eve. Although I respect people who hold that position, in the sense of respect them as persons, I find such a position to be, well, silly. I just see the whole issue as, well, a non-issue–this is not what Genesis is about. Historical and scientific grounds aside, I mean, do we really think the author of Genesis (who could very easily have lived well after Moses) was actually trying to write a history text devoid of social mythos and meaning? S/he did a pretty lousy job then. I mean, there is a constant telling of stories and interpreting them throughout Genesis and the Torah as a whole. Just one obvious instance, when the author posits “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” (2.24) etc. Here the author presupposes an understanding of masculinity, femininity, marriage, kin, sexuality, et al. Just on an obvious narrative level, s/he is clearly not talking about the motherless and fatherless Adam & Eve—further, Adam never had to leave anyone or thing, Eve was separated from him. The author is presenting a view of sexuality, masculinity, femininity, et al via a story.

The creation myth is presented as an anecdotal means of presenting the author’s moralistic and metaphysical conclusions on the myth (which, as themes, play out throughout Genesis as a whole). Granted, this doesn’t de facto mean the myth can’t be true, but it means that the truth-content of the myth is irrelevant to the conclusions presented. The author doesn’t seem to care if it happened. The text doesn’t seem to care if it happened. So why as a reader should you? It’s like thinking the parables of Christ of the New Testament are historically valid and then deriving doctrine from the parable rather than from what they were meant to communicate (to those people, in that culture, at that time). Who reads the parable of the sower and the seed and thinks, “My God, what a fabulous agricultural technique?” or the shepherd and the sheep and thinks, “I should leave my flock behind to be scattered and devoured to find just one sheep! Flawless shepherding!” I know I certainly don’t trust Jesus’ science as regards the mustard weed.

The book of Genesis is first and foremost a story. It’s about a historically real people group, their cultural and religious experience, the oppression they faced, and how they became a nation. This story is told from within that rich culture, full of religious meaning and mythic stories that flow in and out of the text itself. This is hermeneutics 101. This is not only how you read fiction and fairy tales (Brother’s Grimm), but fictionalized history (Shakespeare’s Richard III) as well as histories (Thucydides).  This has nothing to do with what genre the book of Genesis is “in,” it has to do with the fact that the author of Genesis acts as if s/he is telling a story. The whole tone of the thing has a grandparent telling a child, perched on hir knee, the “story of our people” tone.

The question of whether it is true misses the whole point of what type of truth it’s trying to communicate.  Even Thucydides is trying to get at something—ideals of virtue and masculinity, etc. Shakespeare quite clearly is not interested in portraying the historically accurate account of Antony or Brutus. Likewise the author of Genesis doesn’t seem to care about presenting us with the “historical” Adam. Perhaps it’s a valid question to delve into how historically accurate these things are, i.e. “is the Genesis creation myth more of a Grimm fairy tale or Shakespeare history” (SPOILER ALERT: I’m pretty sure it’s the former), but this question is far from essential to asking the question of what the myth is about or means.  If the myth doesn’t really care if its textuality corresponds to “historical reality,” why should we?

A TOTAL SIDE NOTE: This is for those theistic non-evolutionist friends of mine: I’ve always wondered how you reconcile speciel and racial variants given how short you claim the earth to have been around (and DO NOT toss out the micro/macro distinction like that solves everything). I mean, let’s say humans have been around for 8,000 years or whathaveyou and we all came from two people. Am I really to believe that all racial distinctions we see today happened in a mere 8,000 years? And if we toss in the fact that racial distinctions have been recorded for, oh, I don’t know, since we started recording history AND the fact that “the flood” happened well after “creation,” we are left with anywhere from 0-2,000 years for every racial variant of every species to suddenly emerge. That is rapid. You have to have a MUCH firmer belief in evolution, its capabilities and rapidity, than I do to think that all racial varieties happened in, at best, 2,000 years. I am sure there must be an answer to this—surely I am not the first to ask this question. I’m just curious what a non-evolutionary response to this would be.

“How can you force the perverts to live like virgins?”: Anarchy, freedom, and servitude in St. Paul’s Galatians

“I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2.14)

For St. Paul, the correlation between the slave, the Jew, and the woman is obvious. These are all functionally the same thing for Paul–the servant of the law of the other–the one who submits to the master, the Gentile, the male. Paul sees the oppressed as being “held captive to the law,” (3.23) that is, the law is our oppression. Paul consistently accuses the Galations of perverting the gospel of freedom, of anarchy, into another gospel–an unholy gospel which rather than put to death the “guardian” (3.25) of the law, tries to make oneself the master of the law–the law’s guardian. This for Paul is what it means to cause division, to live according to the flesh.

Rather radically, Paul sees the law as directly opposed to freedom (“by works of the law no one will be justified,” 2.15). It is important to realize that it is not just the Judaic law, but the law of oppression as such. To overcome this kyriarchy, the master/slave binary, is to willingly make oneself a servant–that is to love. Law itself is flesh and death, spirit is love and living in freedom: “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (5.13-15). Paul sees anarchy, that is a religion without law or constraint but purely grounded in the freedom of love, as the very basis of “Christianity.”

The often quoted list of sins Paul accuses the Galatians of (“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (5.19-21)) is typically treated as a list of things Christians ought not do (a new law?), but, given what was just said above, this is exactly antithetical to Paul’s view of a lawless religion. Rather, these are things Christians cannot do. These sins only exist in a religion of the law–they are impossible for those living a lawless religion. Having a religion of the law is what creates rivalry, division, and strife, particularly gender, kyriarchical, and racial divisions–remember, according to the spirit there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one” (3.28). Likewise, idolatry is something which can only emerge when one follows a religion of the law–afterall, Paul’s religion is a rather idolatrous one: he refers to living under the law as being “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (the implication being living according to the spirit is to be of the nature of god, to be gods) and considers god to be more himself than he himself is (“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (2.20)).

Even sexual immorality is impossible in the anarchy of the cross because there is no more perverse/virgin binary. This is the purpose of the allegory of the slave woman and the free woman in 4.22-26. Christ has destroyed this binary. We have all become liberated from the law, from the language of perversion. We now live with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (5.22-23). Its not that we ought not to be perverse, we ought not to be idolaters, we ought not to cause divisions–its that according to living in the Spirit–freedom and love–these things simply cannot exist. Perversion is no more–what is there to pervert if there is no law? How can one betray the image of the “ideal-servant” when there is no master-law to submit too?

When living according to the spirit the very ideal of the virgin (the pure woman of submission), the Jew (the pure follower of the law), the slave (the pure and silent worker), etc., is an utter impossibility. These things are no more. There is no virgin. No Jew. No slave. When the law is irradicated and is replaced with love, that is willful and reciprocated “bear[ing of] one another’s burdens” (6.2), freedom flourishes. Freedom for Paul, by definition, is love beyond kyriarchical binaries–a love beyond the perverse/virginal, master/slave, Jew/Greek, wo/man.

A Carnival’s Carnival: The Queerness of Grace

This is a sort of synthesis between two previous posts, the one on Cabaret as a carnivalesque inversion of the Law as well as my post on the queer-other. Žižek quite frequently throughout his work (here or here) refers to how the breaking of the Law, psychoanalytic pleasure (think here of Civilization & its Discontents—the breaking of the Law is precisely incivility, that is, contentment), is the “glue” of communities even more so than the Law itself. The Law itself is the “ordering” of the social, but it is the exceptions, the cases in which transgressing the Law is more lawful than the Law itself, that are the true binding of a community.

Žižek’s classic example of this is the Ku Klux Klan as the carnivalesque inversion of the social order of the Law—it is the true glue that bound together the 1920s Southern white community, not the Law. Imagine, though, if a member of the white community revealed the identity of key Ku Klux Klan members to the authorities (because, after all, legally these persons are criminals). This person is rightly fulfilling the Law of the white community, but, in so doing, is removing the very glue (that is the invert, the exception) of the community of the Law. The common title for such a person, e.g. Atticus Finch, is a n*gger-lover. The correlation between betrayal of the inner “true” community, the Ku Klux Klan, as the ultimate perversion of the Law (despite the fact that such a person would be literally obeying the Law to the utmost) and the individual’s sexuality is obvious. Here is a person who is not-quite a brother, not really a member of the white community, but yet not really a member of the black community either.

And this is what I meant by queer-other in my previous post—the one who loves the brother-ideal, the Law, the Father, etc., in such an “authentic” way—without irony—that it can only be viewed by the brotherhood as perversion, parriphilia. Another obvious example of this is Joseph of Genesis—the son who wholly embraces the love of the father without irony to the neglect of the brotherhood—thus the brothers must cast him out (into the carnival’s carnival—the inversion of the inversion itself, which is slavery in Egypt—arole Egypt fulfills throughout Judeo-Christian imagery—the land without Law at all: which, in the police/Ku Klux Klan analogy would be the black community).  This point is quite explicit given the repetition of this pattern—Joseph becomes Potiphar’s favorite, but Potiphar’s wife finds this love too authentic, perverted, thus he is outcast again. It repeats yet again when he is put in prison and becomes the prison-guard’s favorite (the homoerotic motif here is quite explicit). In this version of the queer-other myth he is ultimately outcast into the ultimate carnival, that is as carnival-King, Pharaoh’s servant (as a dream-interpreter, a typically eunuch role).

The irony being that Israel, the “handmaiden”/”Bride” of the Father/Law, is ultimately redeemed by the queer-other, specifically by his queerness—that which does not “fit” (is in excess of) the Law or its inversion in the carnival. Just as in the case of the police/Ku Klux Klan analogy, the “n*gger-lover” is neither a member of the white community nor the black community thus s/he is able to go beyond both, so too Joseph, who was neither a “true” brother nor a “true” Egyptian went beyond Israel and Egypt. Further, just as there is a perverse love for the Law/police and a rejection of the double of the KuKlux Klan/carnival tension for the “n*gger-lover”, so too there is the perverse love of Jacob (the Father/Law) precisely in that he was the perverse favorite—the firstborn of Rachel—yet to the rejection of the double of the family, the carnival brotherhood, of which he was not a true brother—remember his dreams which met with his brothers’ violent disapproval. But it is precisely in this otherness, which goes beyond the language of Law/transgression and from outside (from Egypt, the carnival’s carnival), that the ultimate redemption of the community of the Law comes.

This is what in the Christian tradition is called grace. Grace is this perversion of the Law, the transgression of transgression, the ultimate exterior gift.  Joseph becomes, through his very queerness (his love of the Father/Law which goes beyond the community and its carnival-double) the King of the carnival’s carnival (the perverse double of the Pharaoh who is the perverse double of Jacob), and thus is in a position to save the “inside” community from the furthest “outside.” Likewise, this is why the Christian God went beyond merely entering the carnival of creation as a person but entered the carnival’s carnival—the ultimate transgressor, the ultimate criminal and sinner, even to death on the cross (or: if Rome is the carnival of Israel, he became the ultimate citizen of nowhere, the criminal-slave of Rome). It is only from this position of exteriority, outside the dialectic of law and transgression, grace can come as an authentic gift—a gift that is wholly from without, other, queer.