It’s What YOU See

its-not-what-you-look-at-that-matters-its-what-you-see

Have you ever ran across one of those quotes, or sayings, that no matter how hard you rack your brain the simplicity of the statement gets lost on you?

Usually, I get lost when reading Hegel, Whitehead, or some other abstractly concrete thinker begging me to silence all the glowing screens and focus on the ENTIRE argument. I take no shame in admitting that on more than one occasion, I not only read, but I re-read, and do so loudly, to follow the argument and make damn sure I have understood every word, every sentence, every nuance that might be hidden beneath and on top of the words.

But sometimes, when I travail against my own inclination to cohort with academic prose and I succumb to the allure of imagination, I read fiction.

Fiction teaches me to see. It teaches me to create.

It’s not an argument; its an invitation to see something that no one else sees yet is seen by everyone. It invites us into a picture shrouded with ideas, worlds and ends that are somehow conjoined together by the illusory fiction that fiction is based on seeing what the words give us, rather than seeing what the words create in us…hence recasting our angle of vision into something not even the author could have foretold.

So I read and I am shaped. I see.

I am shaped by those fictive words and those non-fictive ones, in anticipation of something I know not what but inevitably lead me to seeing as I never have before, or will, thereafter.

The beauty in such seeing is that some passages, particularly ones that don’t require a ton of exegetical context literarily, fly off the pages at us and slap us with their simplicity. They teach us to see when we forget we had forgotten.

We grew up. We put aside child play. We lost our sight.

One such passage that now sits ornamentally on the desk I pretend to write at is by American literary icon and transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau.

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but somehow I have managed to live my life without much Thoreau. This isn’t surprising. I have managed to live without much of a few things that I now find indispensable. I was 33 before I read a single word of him and this to my shame.

I am 33 now.

To the point, Thoreau is deserving of all the accolades that adorn his name, his books, his story. In his journals, he writes of seeing as only a transcendentalist can.

To risk the cliché I mention it here, the simple words that slapped me in the face, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it what YOU see.” [emphasis mine].

Thoreau’s work is full of this idea of sight, of seeing what others miss even though they are staring at the same damn thing. His work is full of a oneness of thought and rugged intellectualism that unities nature and nurture. His writing taps into that human originary desire to peel back the complexity of life and just…you know, be human in the world.

At first blush, a philosophical treatise made more sense to me than this quote. What does it mean? What romantic ideal is he describing and why does it matter?

I am always suspicious of these bleeding heart Utopian dreamers, like Thoreau, that push me to the edge and dare me to jump.

Yet, I need them.

Their logic is impervious to a logic that sees in this sentence what I see in prose, even poetic prose.

When I first read Thoreau, this quote, I think, “Of course it’s not what we look at that matters! It’s what we have been sociologically conditioned to see! We see only what our lenses allow us to see!”

Allow a simple American sports analogy.

It is common parlance for someone to say, as if to commend their sight, “I call it like I see it.” This once simple sports confession by umpires has now become common vernacular for “it is what it is” or “It is what I see” so to speak.

In other words, this trite saying presumes the one seeing is seeing correctly. In reality, who cares “if you call it like you see it,” especially if you’re an idiot and you saw it wrong! The fact that you’re relying on your own weak empirical vantage point doesn’t make your sight impeccable.

So when I, one trained in the humanities, read Thoreau and I see this, I think, “well, duh, of course it’s all about what you see…it’s never been about what you’re looking at.” From Plato’s cave to an Atlanta Braves baseball game, life is never about objectivity, it’s always about perception.

Then, something made its way into my life.

This quote now not only sits in the Journals of Henry David Thoreau, but it sets on my desk, encompassing a circular pewter encased magnifying glass. To remind me, “hey stupid, look here, remember this lesson.”

This small object careened into my life and it yelled at me.

Those words, “it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what YOU see,” punched me in the stupid head that is supposedly filled with things that make me smart.

It careened not only into my life but was born during a moment in which it appeared that everything I have been working toward for nearly 15 years was finally coming to fruition. Yes, you did the math correctly. This would be a journey that started when I was 18.

Ubiquitously, this meteor of awakening fell into my lap only recently, a year past what has become a loss, and not a victory. I stared at this object, with these words, Walden rolling around in my brain, and my nihilist self thought, “what the hell does this even mean? What the hell is HDT even talking about?”

You see…I was dense. I admit it. It’s one of only 3 hamartias in my life. Being dense is prob 3rd on the rung.

So, I asked someone wiser than me. I was the Ethiopian Eunuch and I needed a Philip.

I asked, “what does this mean? How does this make sense? How I see obviously got me no where!”

And I have to admit. I am not prone to emotion. But the next few words that hit my ear were equivalent to the Blitzkrieg emotionally, precisely because I am dense, “it never mattered if you got in, what always matters is the way you see things because the way you see things is unlike anyone else.”

Ho.Ly. Shit.

Srs?!

I thought what I achieved mattered! I thought that my great ideas mattered! I thought the prestige of this next journey mattered! Nope. None of it. I was wrong.

None of that ever mattered…and as I stared at where I wanted to be a year ago, I finally learned (though I have hardly incarnated), it’s not what I was looking at that mattered. What mattered is what I saw when I opened my eyes, light flooded my body and I inhaled creativity each day…because no one did that, or does that, quite like me.

What always mattered was just…my seeing. What my sight beheld never mattered; it was always what I saw through my sight that mattered. That was the gift, even though I often berate the smallness of the gift, of my own human potentiality or possibility.

Of course, I have been taught how to see. I see because of many factors, most of which I did not choose. My Apologies to Arminius.

No one has quite had the same experiences I have had. No one has read the bizarre combination of texts and integrated that with the many people that have walked through life with me. No one is the unique mess that is my life. And my life is comprised of a ceiling that covers my world and shapes what I see when I stare at what is through the glass ceiling that hangs above us all.

And this is the lesson: The world is never what we look at…what we look at is only what we see in front of us. The real world is what we see in the world that we look at, and that position, is unique to us all, even when in our darkest moments we feel like the eternal night of the soul will never end.

Quit looking for the gift…the gift was already given and it’s what happens when you see the world and you give the gift of sight to others.

The Well is Dry

empty well

The well is tapped dry.

I dropped a coin over the ledge, leaning my shoulders over the abyss as my arms held me in place.  I listened as the coin plummeted to the bottom of the world.  Then it happened.  It was swallowed by the darkness.  The darkness swallowed it whole, the hole that swallows all wholes; it never made a noise; it never reached its destination; the well was empty with the darkness that swallowed everything.

I cock my head to the left, pitch my ear to the right, and stare at the wooden frame erected over the well that is apparently dry and defunct of use.  The wooden slats are held neatly in place, hugging one another tightly as cob webs are strewn from the miniature trusses that hold this cap over the darkness in place.  There is a pitch that holds the wood together; its boards being aged on the right side of the moon, apparently preventing the shrinking that would have exposed this hole for what it is.  The wood is a dark mahogany, that has grown darker with age, or perhaps it has grown darker from the dark beneath it, just as the moon gets its light from the sun in front of it.  The wood has a precarious position, such as Nietzsche’s sparrow, suspended over this abyss, only it remains without wings and is instead supported by columns that themselves have not the task of sitting over a dried up vitality that is this hidden indentation.

I listen as the coin was swallowed, waiting for an echo, a clink, a subtle sound that might suggest something is alive in the this wholesh hole into which coins go to die.  My ears were attentive, and my hands held onto the wooden beams for support.  No vibration.  No wind.  No noise.  Nothing.  The wood refracts no sound.  It reflects no light.  There is no living water in this well…this well is filled with darkness.  This darkness beneath enveloped in a spacious cavernous pit saliently thrusting itself into the earth, as porous particles of light radiate into this sheet of nothing, a darkness that not even the light can overcome.  Isaiah and John sit speechless peering over the ledge…

Precariously this empty well is contained in its place.  It has stones walls that descend to its presumed bottom and rise up out of the ground, at a quaint 3 and a half feet.  The stones hug one another closely, placed by a master artisan.  The beauty of its construction is matched by the terror of its design.  These stones are impregnable.  They are wed at each joint.  Their rough edges and roundedly smooth surfaces buttress their neighbors in a fortress that contains the darkness of the dry well.

What was meant to provide structure and security, now contains madness and despair.  It contains coins that never return and water that has disappeared.  These stones hold back the nothingness of a creativity that is lost and a exuberance that has been pillaged by the salt of time.  The stones are cool to the touch, just as one’s hand can notice if one dips their arms and phalanges into the crisp presence of the dark plane contained therein.  The coolness is refreshing, but it is a revitalization that betrays our senses.  It is cool to the touch not because it has life but because nothing is there.  Even these stones mock this reality, as mossy edges now cover their surfaces to disguise the absence of dead water and an empty well, a well run dry.

As I sit crouched over toward this wall, inspecting these stones, staring back at this wooden ceiling and hearing nothing inside this cage of nihilistic absence, at once an act of art and now also an act of creational treason, my hand touches these stones.  My fingers, the same ones that grasped into the well disguised as subsisting life, now feel the timelessness of these weathered and empty stones.

These stones seem to mock me with their silence.  They stare at me with their faceless expressions; The moss a testament to my stupidity rather than my anemic profundity.  I sit here, bent over, elbows on my knees, staring at the dry ground around this now dry well, and I do what becomes instinctual.  Like a man so long ago, I write in this dirt beside this empty well.  I write what I do not know, but what must be written.  I stare at the instantaneous production of semiotics.  I stare at the ridges of the dirt made by the tip of my life.

I take both arms off my knees, lift myself up and in a flash of Humean conviction, I drop one more coin, just in case the first careened into oblivion by accident.  To my chagrin, accidents are for Gods, not men.  God’s make gardens and then repent.  Men make a mess and then find no repentance, just a coin that plummets into the well that was never supposed to run dry.

I back away from the well, pulling my head back from under the protective cover of this behemoth of silence, encased by the hands of men and rocks of earth that live to tell us we too shall become empty.  This well, a microcosmic disclosure of the death that is pending…of the death that sometimes kills what we never thought would die even as it still lives inside of us.

My mind cannot handle this dry well.  My hands cannot tolerate grasping nothing.  My body cannot withstand having no one to claim it, nothing to renew it.  As I back away, I crouch once again, and stare back at the ground, my feet having now blurred the writing that was written with words unspoken and a language not yet created.  I sit and stare…in silence…my hand leaning against the encasement of a well that won’t give back, despite the romantic appearance of it architecture.

My head bends down, leaning heavy from my shoulders, as if Atlas can no longer carry the weight.

Sometimes, as one kneels over such places, losing parts of our selves, the coins that once splashed in wells such as this, we stand impotent.  This well has run dry.  The saints used to say the only proper response to such reality is doxology: praise in the darkness.  Yet, such praise is often swallowed by the demons in this well, the apparitions of hopes gone awry.  I cannot sing doxology in this place, not beside this well.  I cannot lie to my soul or myself long enough to speak words over a well that simply steals my voice.

What can I do, as the dirt beneath my feet contains vestiges of words written only momentarily?  I can do nothing but be.  I sit, crouched, yet close enough to my own oblivion to lean my head against its walls, feelings its jagged terrain press upon my forehead.  I hold myself with both arms, leaning forward into nothing, only protected by these barriers of moss and compressed minerals.  I stare blankly at the feet of the well, feeling nothing but gravity pressing upon my frame.

What can I do?  I can do nothing…but weep.  Tears trickle down the arch of my nose, to the tip of my face, the furthermost point a tear can travel and still claim to be mine.  I stare at it as it hangs on this edge of my being, waiting to fall and perhaps water this now barren place.  I wonder as it leaves me, if it will be enough to water this earth, seep beneath this ground and penetrate this stone laden bunker, perhaps convince the darkness that it needn’t be so mean and empty.

Yet, as the second tear crosses the pores of my skin, and moves slowly across the ridges of the face by which people know who I am, I taste the reality that neither doxology nor even tears can erase this beautifully laden scar.

 

Drinking Coke with Lacan: the quest for THE can

soulmate can

The Coca-Cola company’s recent advertising campaign is nothing short of brilliant. Drink not just any coke, but drink the one made for you, your friends, even your soulmate. Brilliant. Nothing brings the world together like the combination of aluminum, acidic water, and high fructose corn syrup.

In one fell swoop, they have conjured up an attachment to American Corporatism, our own sense of subjectivity, and religion in a singular summer campaign that is as original and as appealing as the primordial stories of the Genesis narrative…stories that we continue to tell ourselves because we are still looking for ourselves.

An attachment to American Corporatism in that this campaign has tapped into the younger generation’ s preference for personalized products that make them feel unique, special and appeals to their sense of self. The brilliance: making us think we had something to do with the design and target of this product. The reality: we’re just having our selves sold to us in the name of our personal preference. The genius continues as nearly everyone from young adulthood to seniorhood can join and not feel excluded. How many advertising campaigns can accomplish this?

An attachment to our subjectivity in that is asks us to pursue the product made just for us. It appeals to a product with which we are familiar, but now wholly unfamiliar because now this familiar taste is labeled with our distinct form of being toward one another, our true identity marker, our name. Find the can that was made for you, then, find your friends can and you are inextricably linked in your bond of sugary, watery, goodness. Its shiny outward appearance doesn’t hurt either.

An attachment to religion because this is the real exploitation going on here. What is life but a quest for ourselves? For Meaning? For finding something that we can tangibly taste and finally find fulfillment within?
We walk into the convenient store, see ourselves pulled toward the façade of the glass covered forest of soft drinks that vie for our attention, even as the colors and wrappers distract us, and we stick our hand in the cooler, foraging around the forest until we find ourselves, our can, the one that will satisfy our thirst. And like religion, we grab the one we want, the one that helps us find ourselves, we drink, and then find we are still thirsty. Looks like we better go back for more because our thirst is never fully satisfied. Coke, the drink that satisfies without quenching. Religion, where we look to satisfy our thirst and locate ourselves in the ocean of creation. Only this coke campaign is so much cooler than religion because Coca-Cola is tapping into this unconscious reality we carry with us, rather than boringly preach it from pulpits.

But what is it that holds all these strings together? Wherein might we combine the corporate, the subject and religion into a coherent understanding that binds them all and makes this campaign so effective?

And make no mistake, it has been effective. We have yet to see the 3rd quarter results of the campaign here in America and Britain, but we know in Australia when the campaign was rolled out (2011) the sale of coke products increased among young adults by 7%, garnered 18.3 million media impressions and injected an 870% increase in Cokes Facebook following. Correspondingly, #shareacoke has been used more than 29,000 times on Twitter and early statistics for the global impact show that sales of Coke are up 6.8% to date.

This is an impressive campaign. So what holds it together?

While many media outlets want to continue to see this phenomenon as a pure marketing gimmick, appealing to the needs of a younger generation of consumers, this fails to consider that a huge spike in impressions, sales, and usage of the product cannot be created by single use/purchase history of consumers. People are not just looking for their Coke once. We are looking for it over and over again, looking for our friends, even looking for the elusive BFF or Soulmate designation that in a single can taps into our inner desire to find happiness and finally suppress our existential angst. What makes this campaign work is something that goes to the core of human constitution; it’s not as simple as “consumers like X so let’s make X.”

It works because at an unconscious level humans are continually looking to fill what Lacan calls the Lack in their own constitution, their own being, the gap created as soon as we are speaking beings born into the symbolic order. The Bible calls this “fallenness,” but perhaps Heidegger’s notion of “thrown” and Tillich’s idea of “Fall” is closer to Lacan’s idea of Lack than the of rottenness of our humanity bequeathed to us from St. Augustine.

The can is something we seek, but the reality is that the real object behind the object that is the can, let’s give Lacan some play and call the can the “O Object” (as he would), is never found. It remains hidden, out of our grasping, yet constitutional of our sense of “we’re missing something” in our life that continues to push us deeper into the field of objects we think can satisfy us yet always keep us thirsty…you know, kinda how you feel after you drink a can of coke and are thirstier than ever.

lacan-object-a

This O Object is central to the constitutionality of us all as subjects. In other words, the Can of coke is always already ontologically linked to who we are and how we create meaning, even as meaning is always still sought. The only thing that changes is the “o,” the object that symbolizes our desire for more than we have, and thus, is representative of the lack. The lack always remains with us, even though the object can change.

Today it is a can of Coke with your name. Tomorrow it may be the ring you give your lover, the car of your “dreams,” the child you’ve always wanted or even the Sports team into which you have poured all your energy. These are just “o” objects, remnants of the eternal symptom of our humanity to want more, be more, and find absolute truth in our lived experience…yet the lack remains. We need a bigger ring, a newer car, a child of a different sex, and one Super Bowl simply begets the desire of another. Nothing fills this lack, not even the living water of Jesus that requires us to return weekly in order to be served perpetually.

But where does this “o” object come from? The O represents the loss we have in our lives, and it’s not the “god shaped hole” if that is what you are thinking.

Constitutional of humanity is an originary loss. Christian theology talks about this loss as the fall from grace, the irreparable damage done by our pre-diluvian ancestors that marks the lack of God in all of us that has now been filled with a “sin” nature. What Lacan is getting at is a little more exact, observable and more empirically linked to our human relationships. It’s not the story we tell to ourselves to explain ourselves (via Genesis); it is rather the story we have lived.

At first the loss is between child and mother, child and father, as these relationships begin to stretch and sever one another at various points of a child’s development. We have all seen this, as a child moves away from fusion that the child desires to separation. Distance that is the goal of parenting and it begins to be sharpened as we speak and take in the field of objects now available to us in place of the relationship we had with our parents. Loss marks our entrance into the symbolic order of language, custom and construction of the world. Thus, life is marked by this attempt to again find wholeness and oneness that is now taken away from us in that originary unified oceanic experience that brought us into existence and nurtured our lives. Life is marked by trying to bridge that gap, between separation and unity, incomplete and complete, that creates us as subjective entities and a sense wholeness that is now only known because of the lack between ourselves and fulfillment.

Following this line of logic, Alexandre Leupin describes the possibility of “o” objects, objects of desire that fill the lack that cannot be filled, when he states, “Inasmuch as all objects of desire will later be substituted for these primary metonymies (voice, gaze, breast [of mother]) the o object is the cause of desire. Given the infinite number of objects human desire aspires to, o may be almost anything.”

The O object is not real. It is encased in the symbolic order of reality as representation of what we want and are missing in the world; it is masked as a egotistic projection. Thus, the object is both that which is external to us and also created by us as a projection of what sort of desire can actually satisfy us and give us ourselves back to ourselves. As such, these objects are inherently narcissistic. If there is one thing we can say about this Coke campaign, it is certainly that narcissim is central to its success. The objects that attempt to placate our desire, however, are always already partial objects. They can never fully fill the task that creates them. They can never satisfy desire. Or in the words of Lacan, the object is so lacking to fill our lack that it is the alienation of desire itself, pushing it further from its fulfillment. “The object is failure.” You can find your can, but you never really find you can. It’s your name, but not really. It acts to fill a need, yet it exacerbates it.

Desire is the symptom of our larger problem, of a larger truth for which we continually quest. This does not mean that truth can never be found or that the quest for truth always ends in the repetitive cycle of desire. What it does mean, however, is that truth is hidden, its clues given in the object as symptomatic expression of our lack, a lack that makes us human…and even filling the God shaped hole with Jesus won’t keep us from being drawn to cans of coke with our existential names on them.

So what makes us want the “can” with our name…the can that is better than all others and whose contents are more satisfying than any coke before them? It is that these Coke cans, who name us even as we name ourselves through them, are representative of the infinite symptom of what we all lack and are also always seeking. It is the idea that we pursue because this idea both consciously, and unconsciously, helps us construct our sense of selves and give us purpose to navigate the world, at a level of both honesty and dishonesty.

And there is nothing that does this better than finding the can for which we have been looking, only to find that we are still thirsty.

And this is the brilliance of the Coca- Cola Company. It has sold us something old, with something older, and tapped into the need we have to look for it over and over again.

*Statistics for this blog may be found at the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2013/jul/24/share-coke-teach-brands
*Text used as reference Alexandre Leupin, Lacan Today, (Other Press: New York, 2004), 4-8.

Sex is Divine: Zizek, Jayadeva and the radicality of Incarnation

Jayadeva

When the falsely innocent Christlike figure of pure suffering and sacrifice for oursake tells us: “I want nothing from you!” fails miserably – we should not forget that these are the exact words used by the Priest to designate the court in Kafka’s Trial: “The court wants nothing from you.”  When the falsely innocent Christlike figure of pure suffering and sacrifice for our sake tells us: “I don’t want anything from you!,” we can be sure that this statement conceals a qualification “…except your very soul.”  When somebody insists that he wants nothing that we have, it simply means that he has his eye on what we are, on the very core of our being.

 

Wondrous dwarf, when you cheat demon Bali with side steps

Water falls from your lotus toenails to purify creatures.

You take form as a Dwarf, Krishna.

Triumph, Hari, Lord of the World.

 

The incarnation is the perverse core of Christianity and the perverse core of the perverted god’s that desire the absolution of a person for the sake of their own divine egos.  The incarnation has historically been the doctrine of the divine overtaking the human form in the person of Jesus and using this medium to exact divine revenge and quench the thirst for the apparent ontological masochistic necessity that the God of the Bible seems to display.  What sort of God is this that takes over our way of being, the form of our human flesh, and uses it to appease his own ineptitude of not securing a tree in the Garden that would not be violated?  Could we not have saved our flesh had this God not created this obvious temptation?  This is what a pervert does and this is the practice of perversion.  The pervert sacrifices the innocence of another person in order to gain something from them, typically sexually.

Sex and violence have always been partners.  How useful is a doctrine of the incarnation if it is continually used to reinforce a theology of perversion and furthermore place the object that it sacrifices, humanity, into
the debt of the God that asks for the sacrifice?

This is the string that is attached.  Christ has died, and in this required death, we are in debt, even though God does not need our currency.  If this is the case, than why require the currency of flesh?  Sigmund Freud was right, we do owe death a debt.  Only the debt we owe, as so finely articulated by Zizek above, is the debt of our being, our flesh, because the Christ figure has given us his being, his flesh.  There must be an alternative way.  The divine has always been playing games that have not limited their play to the fertile crescent.  Jayadeva also plays similar games of violation and psychologically twisted debtful obligation.

I will argue below that by reading the incarnation through the work of Zizek and Jayadeva, one is left with the incarnation as a sexual ethic that is embodied between two people.

Zizek argues for the end of the incarnation as a transcendent referent and for a more embodied discourse that takes on the Pauline insistence of ethical living.  Jayadeva makes very clear that the incarnation is the articulation encounter one has had with the Big Other (read God) that typically occurs under the auspices of a sexual encounter.  While the encounter that Jayadeva describes is thoroughgoing sexual, one needs to penetrate beneath the sexuality to the core that pushes the encounter to occur in the first place.  This is known as the drive or Freud’s Trieb, even though this methodology may be a trifle anachronistic (we all read from somewhere).

The trieb is not only the locale that cannot be localized, it is also the thing deep within oneself that longs for the fulfillment and rest that can only occur, according to Jayadeva, in the encounter with Hari.  When the trieb is left empty, it is sorrowful and lacking.  It is the mourning Rada.  The body demonstrates outward signs of mourning, until the Divine, or Hari, once again comes home from wandering and offers a temporary place of rest.  Then the ankle bracelets may resume their ringing, though briefly.

Jayadeva unmistakably articulates the necessity of sexuality for human being/becoming in relation to the divine, particularly as that experience that is best known as jouissance, or painfully pleasurable arrival…or what most Christians call heaven.  Thus, the incarnation is a sexual ethic that is to be lived between people, between two subjects that might not know one another exist.  This is evident in the amount of failed relationships that occur, not because love and sexuality is not present, but because an incarnated sexual ethic is not embodied.  If Jayadeva were writing/righting today, perhaps he would suggest that the only Big Other (read Lacanian sense of Other that is not oneself i.e., structure of language, trauma, or the feminine) that is left is the other of the person.

For Zizek, questions of divine culpability go to the heart of the Christian God.[3]  For this reason, Zizek argues for a radically different approach to a doctrine of the incarnation than may be found in Athanasius’ De Incarnatione.  Zizek spots the perverse core of Christianity, and in so doing the pervert Christianity historically calls God, and calls for the forging of a new direction not located in transcendence.  For Zizek, the incarnation is not a statement about the importance of transcendence, but a statement about the importance of the body, the immanent reality of living people caught in living structures of truth seeking and fulfillment.  God needs the world and drains transcendence in the process.  Jesus, known as the Christ, is the desublimation of the transcendent God of Judaism.  Judaism could never bring God to where it was/is, thus it negated any sort of anthropomorphic identity to the Supreme Creator.  Zizek argues that this negation of anthromorphic concepts, however, necessarily places Judaism on the road to making God man, on the road to Christianity.

Zizek describes it thus,

“it is the Jewish religion which remains an “abstract/immediate” negation of anthropomorphism, and as such, attached to, determined by it in its very negation, whereas it is only Christianity that effectively “sublates” paganism.  The Christian stance is here: instead of prohibiting the image of God, why not, precisely, allow it, and thus render him as JUST ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, as a miserable man indiscernible from other humans with regard to his intrinsic properties?”

For Zizek, what occurs in the incarnation is not the propitiation of sins in the form of a human being or the restoration of the divine image that was lost at the fall, but the handing over of the world to humans.

When Christianity asserts that the divine THING has come in/as Jesus of Nazareth, the THING that is beyond, known as God, is shown to be absent because Jesus is present.  Zizek interprets Jesus as a figure within the symbolic order or the drive/thing/law schemata, wherein the drive toward rest is always directed toward the thing that is supposed to give rest, i.e., God, but such rest is always prohibited from fully resting because of the prohibitions from the Law separate a person from the THING or destination.  Jesus, however, traverses the Law and makes the divine present and therein ends transcendence.  He makes the destination of the drive apprehensible, thus offering a place of rest and an end to the excess of sin that is produced in seeking the relationship with the divine via attempts at becoming divine.

This means that the event of the Christ is not an event that brings one into relationship with the BIG OTHER God.  Christ does not do our work for us and pay our debt through his divine threshold of pain.  Rather, the incarnation, the coming of God to humanity, the shrinking of transcendence, is the event that gives us the chance to be free from our excessive quests for the unattainable THING, God, for in Jesus, says Christianity, God is with us.

Yet, Zizek writes, “Christ is not the contingent material embodiment of the superasensible God: his “divine” dimension is reduced to the aura of pure Schein.”

The Incarnation, therefore, is a statement about the end of transcendence into immanent transcendence in the Christ figure, Jesus.  Jesus as the incarnation is not the living apprehension of an ontological other, but the dismissal of that Other and the freeing of humanity from its haunting and obsessive quests toward something else.  In turn, Zizek argues, this freedom from the excess of looking for the THING that is present in Jesus allows a person to love and act ethically.

What is most important in the incarnation, therefore, is the possibility to embody agape and to act in loving ways toward the opposite sex, abolishing all sexual barriers.  The power of the incarnation to release one from metaphysical whims produces a reality wherein there is no Jew, nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.  No wonder the “Christ was a traumatic scandal.”

Zizek offers readers an alternative reading of the incarnation.  In so doing, he offers readers a different kind of incarnation resulting in the adaptation of an ethic of agape that destabilizes dominant worldviews and begins a constructive theology.  The incarnation is the event that makes true ethical behavior possible because God is (us) with us.  Jayadeva will finalize this embodiment for us.

While Zizek and Jayadeva could be juxtaposed,  together they provide a coherent synthesis and ground upon which incarnation can be expanded to the embodiment of a sexual ethic.

This essay began with the quote, “You take form as a Dwarf, Krishna.”

Krishna, like Jesus, is an embodiment of something.  Both are individuals that come from elsewhere.  Both are individuals that interact with humans and seek to satisfy the excess of the human quest for the place from which Krishna and Jesus come.  Krishna is the coming of the THING.  Unlike much of Christian tradition that places a Law between the THING and the person, Jayadeva is the wall effacer.  There are no restrictions in Jayadeva that could prohibit the person from experiencing the THING of God, except God’s wandering ways and lustful lies.  Jayadeva wants to make St. Teresa’s “coming” a reality, but in so doing one realizes that one cannot really “come” because Hari is never always there, he is always already never there when he is there.

 

When Hari and Rada are together, their experience is beatific and mystical, yet, it is one that does not last.  It leaves both Rada, and Hari (even erstwhile he is promiscuous) wanting for more.  If they had found fulfillment in one another, then the trieb of Hari would be of no consequence.  One cannot help but notice as the poem moves that Hari must be dreaming of others, which he does in fact pursue, “The wondrous mystery of Krishna’s sexual play in Brindaban forest IS Jayadeva’s song.  Let its celebration spread Krishna’s favors.  At the end, however, Krishna exclaims, “Glance at me and end my passion’s despair.”

The poem may be read as the story of unquenchable desire that simply exhausts the ability of the other to end passion whatsoever, particularly the passion of the god’s.  Who/what, after all, can quench a divine libido?

Therefore, one is left with an incarnation of Jayadeva as linguistic explanation after the encounter one has with God or one can argue that the incarnation is the ethic that is not expressed in Jayadeva, thus reading against the texts sexual obtuseness, while at the same time reading with it.  If the incarnation allows for a real ethic, as proclaimed by Zizek, this ethic must look different than is described in Jayadeva, particularly in that Zizek challenges Jayadeva’s insistence on questing after the suppression of passion by attaining the THING, Krishna, God, one’s rest!

If Jesus as incarnation is the power to free one from the excess of trauma, than what does this say about being free from the traumatic effects of the relationships the gods have with people, particularly Rhada?

Reading Zizek alongside of Jayadeva indicts the Gitogavinda for its sexual hierarchy, yet it does locate the place of heaven and incarnation as being between two peoples in sexual encounter.  The sexual encounter is brief and simply complex, but the insistence on its placement in the development of Krishna as a God, and Rhada as the subject receiving the impalement, testifies to the inability to fully describe a REAL sexual encounter, one that is ethically responsible and fulfilling for both parties regardless of the passions that are quenched.  The dialectic is that the moment initiates more moments in hopes of finding the real one.  Rhada and Krisha fall together, they fall apart and then back together again, but they never arrive.  Zizek, however, suggests that this arrival is already here making the journey null and void.

 

 

 

 

 

Hamartia and the REAL Faults in our Stars

hamartia

 

Hamartia is a lack. A negation. An absence. It is not a sin. It is the absence of landing in the right place, evading ones spot, presuming the spot, or target, was important enough to be hit originally.

The New Testament writers are correct: it is a wide landing, a missing of the proverbial bull’s-eye but the landing in itself implies a landing still.

But what if a ricochet occurs, and not only is the mark missed wide, but what if the “it” never lands? What if “it” transgresses infinity?

What if the hamartia never finds a home. What if what one was doing finds oneself in the place of undoing and the undoing just “is” because the hamartia remains in orbit…encircling everything but never finding anything?

One can peer into the abyssopelagic contours that contain the constant ringing of the hamartia that eternally misses. One can stare into the obsidian destitution that contains a plethora of cascading lights.

But the lights never shine on anything. They only illumine themselves. They are nothing but silent noise. Sparkles of madness.

The hamartia just rings through the halls of infinity.

Hamartia, typically translated “sin” doesn’t have to mean its translation. It can just mean landing elsewhere, even if elsewhere is nowhere. Its precise determination as a resting place that alluded its object.

The object is empty.

But suppose this is not the result of the carrier of hamartia. Suppose it’s a mark missed even when it was attempted to be hit with precision, care and a dream that burned hot until it incinerated its own content; content that turned into Thomistc straw.

Suppose hamartia is the most intended unintentional thing that has ever happened. Suppose volition meets boundlessness and the boundaries become forever blurred. Suppose this happens and it takes itself nowhere even as it misses the place that used to be somewhere.

 

Hamartia diagram

Hamartia, viewed in this realm, is not the transgression of an originary command or the lack of following the rules of Paul’s Christ. It is, rather, the eternal recurrence of unintended return that starts but has no end. Its end and its beginning is its own endlessness.

There is nothing that can be done about; it just Is. This is the sin that cannot be forgiven because forgiveness is a someplace that cannot hold the no-place. The mark is missed; Pandora refuses her box.

There is nothing more hamartirian than missing wide, landing nowhere and exceeding the balm of forgiveness that disguises no place as placed.

It is the deepest agony. The most profound sense of purposelessness. The ambiguity of ontological ambiguousness.

It is the burning of a thousand hells within, around and enveloping this hamartia because even hell spits it back out when it tries to land. This hamartia finds noplace, not even in the place where God is absent.

The Dark night of the soul is what they call it. The shade of St. John of the Cross patiently offering his silhouette. It is the night that outshines the sun.

Hamartia: the paralysis of going nowhere but having to be somewhere or the somewhere that is the nowhere. The mark that is missed because it can never be hit.

The disenchantment of totem objects decorating the sacred halls that no longer contain the element of the taboo…and lacking this…so too do they now lack our concern, let alone a concern that is ultimate.

The Nakedness of God revealed in the insulation that can no longer warm the heavens.

But all of this could be avoided if the hamartia had never occurred at the originary moment of its release. If the bow of Heracles had never been pulled back and caught in the cross hairs of the Christ.

What if the allure, the whispering from out of the closet, had…
rather than wandering on this Yellow Brick Road?
Ah…the hamartia, the beguiling moment that is never found because it never could be on this journey…the ricochet that never rests. The existent non-existent allurement of the thing that presses itself into creation without having any weight.

Hamartia being lost in a sea of woods, drowning in the idea that will never be thought, on the trip that leads to no place, captured in the words that do not matter and laughing at us from out of the darkness in which no one resides…

At the dream that should have never been dreamt.

This is the REAL Fault in our Stars.

Not All Evangelicals Suck: John Wesley and his Radically Christian Economic Ideas

wesley money

The driving characteristics and hallmarks of capitalism today would have all found an uneasy home within the theological and moral world of John Wesley. He did not accommodate himself to the themes of the pervading culture, and despite his hierarchical political approach, he was revolutionary in his political and economic thought because it was predicated on a commitment to a specific image of God and a proper order for creation. Of the many things that might most concretely disrupt and deter from this image was an irresponsible relationship and understanding of one to wealth and capital.

Indeed, Wesley one finds almost the complete antithesis to most major themes that buttress the design of capitalism run rampant.
Themes that include, but are not limited to: a disregard for the other, the valuation of material, the desire for affluence, insatiable want, the inability to share, a disregard for community, the holy trinity of democracy, republicanism and economic theory, a lack of personal austerity, the limitless pursuit of desire, solidarity with the poor, a generous spirit with ones resources and a fixated concentration on market values and futures. At virtually every point Wesley is opposed from an economic, political, and most importantly, a theological perspective.
Wesley was not an economic theorist nor did he hate money. What concerned Wesley were the economic structures that would result from an inordinate desire to have money, to earn money, and to hoard money. In other words, what concerned Wesley was the unsanctified nature of the world. The theological resolution to keeping money in proper perspective was Wesley’s commitment to a theological concept he called sanctification or also Christian Perfection.
Simply defined, sanctification literally means setting a particular object or person apart for God’s use; humanity consecrates the said object and God sanctifies it, sets it apart, for Gods use. Sanctification is the reality of the life of the believer because it is the manifestation of the love of God in the believer wherein selfish desires are progressionally driven away. Perhaps more than any other theologian in church history, Wesley emphasized the process of sanctification as a necessary aspect of Christian existence. As Randy Maddox notes, “For Wesley this facet is an inseparable compliment to justification; namely, our present deliverance by God from the plague of sin, not just its penalty.”
Wesley an evangelical that not only cared about converting; he was intimately interested in how God shapes the world through sanctified people.
Sancification was part of saving grace that shaped how a believer related to the world, so when Maddox indicates that sanctification is about delivering from the “plague of sin” such may be interpreted as that grace that reshapes how one relates to the world and lives out their daily existence in practical ways. Sanctification is the means by which one is delivered from colluding in evil and selfish uses of money and our lives redirected toward living a life that is reflective of God as a donating, mutually sharing and all-together loving way of relating to the world and others. The reorientation from love of self to love of others is in no clearer way embodied than in our economic transactions and in one’s ability to speak truth to that which seeks to debase humanity through cycles of production and consumption. For Wesley, capital is not a goal; the goal is holy living. The result is surrendering one’s resources to God.
An additional aspect of sanctification was its communal orientation. Sanctification was something that occurs within the community of faith in order to minister to creation.
As H. Ray Dunning points out, virtually all sanctification texts in the New Testament are corporate in nature. All aspects of a Christian’s life fall under the auspices of sanctified reality. This means Wesley was concerned with a sanctified relationship to money due to his awareness of the unbridled nature of human desire. Sanctification in our current context need not mean Wesley was concerned with making money holy, but that he understood it to be an object that must be properly set apart for specific purposes and ends, thus squarely placing our relationship to capital and economics within his theology of the ordo salutis (Order of Salvation).
Wesley further notes that unsanctified Christian practice has the ability to implode as it could potentially become the hand-maiden of demonic political and economic forces that seek to challenge and re-narrate the world. Wesley is prophetic as to the current impotency of Christianity to occupy anything other than its own institutions and bigoted agendas precisely because it is unsanctified in its disposition:
“For wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches! And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity. Now, if there be no way to prevent this, Christianity is inconsistent with itself, and of consequence, cannot stand, cannot continue long among any people; since wherever it generally prevails, it saps its own foundation.”
Wesley’s political and economic philosophy is bound to his anti-materialistic convictions founded on his reading of the Bible. When the world around him was appealing to natural rights, empiricism, nominalism and other popular intellectual fads, Wesley was insistent on founding his political and economic perspective on Jesus.

As Stephen Long notes,
“Wesley’s moral theology assumes Jesus as archetype (against Hume’s ectype). This necessitated an apriorism. What is something cannot be determined solely by its brute givenness; it is intelligible against the backdrop of the archetype. But this does not dissolve the world into essences and ideas that have no real existence. The pattern for reason is the hypostatic union where humanity and divinity are brought together such that a particular individual discloses to us the fullness of divinity.”

Wesley was convinced of a biblically shaped politic that placed others at the fore of one’s embodiment of Christ. Just as Jesus was not concerned with the acquisition or accumulation of goods, but was marked by a life of giving, so too did Wesley envision the Christian life as one lived in service to the other as a model of the supreme archetype that is Jesus the Christ. Yet money has the inverse effect of not disclosing ones servitude and obligation to the other as an obligation to God, but as that which enables others to serve us, feeding the monetary urge to desire more and give less. Wesley was suspect of the role of money in the lives of believers because of its power to negate Christian faith.

Wesley’s sermon on the “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,” is an excellent example of how serious he takes avarice and the misappropriation of means when he declares that if one has gained all the money they can, and saved all they can, then they should in greater portion give all they can if they have any desire to escape damnation. Otherwise, Wesley fears that one can have no more hope of salvation than Judas Iscariot himself. Wesley is so utterly convinced of the corrupting nature of money that he offers little by way of hope for anyone who is rich. His notable sermon “The Danger of Riches” squarely places the onus of corruption on money in general and not simply as part of the immoral acquisition of money.
At this juncture, Wesley’s famous sermon on money has incredible import. Here, Wesley advocates a proper understanding of capital and how it is to be used. It is not a sermon on the demonization of money, but it is a sermon that clearly articulates a healthy relationship to the object of exchange known as money. In fact, in the sermon one gets the very strong impression that money and capital, when used rightly, is a good and virtuous object; yet money that is not dissipated properly can result in various evils and injustices. Along with sound personal economic advice, one finds a thoroughgoing Wesleyan critique of the very idea of money that keeps our system occupied through debt and exchange values. A look at Wesley’s take on money, and then debt, will show Wesley’s revolutionary political core.
Simply put, Wesley suggests one should make all they can, earn all they can and then give all they can. The first 2 propositions are self explanatory. Wesley believed in making an honest living and saving what is necessary for one’s future sustenance. The most important anti-capitalist sentiment found herein is his conviction that one should not harm the well being of another in ones quest for earning a living. Wesley would find it abhorrent for one to put another out of business or to attack another’s trade in any form of economic activity, especially activity that would result in the destitution of the competitor. But isn’t this exactly what the “free” market does? Does not a market built on competition and capital, driven by desire and greed, encourage activity that will generate individuals/corporations whose ultimate value is the value of money? Indeed, are not some of the most “successful” businesses in America those that see weaknesses in competition, study them and then implement strategies seeking to destroy the other company?

Hear Wesley’s injunction
“We are to gain all we can without hurting our neighbor. But this we may not, cannot do, if we love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot, if we love every one as ourselves, hurt anyone in his substance [note Wesley’s personal italics here]. We cannot devour the increase of his lands and houses…by gaming, by over-grown bills, or by requiring or taking such interest as even the laws of our country forbid. We cannot, consistent with brotherly love, sell our goods below the market price; we cannot study to ruin our neighbors trade, in order to advance our own…None can gain by swallowing up his neighbors substance, without gaining the damnation of hell!”
In addition, his statement that currency should not be manipulated seems to embody a preference for a working wage wherein the consumer and the producer can operate at an equal level of exchange, neither one abusing the other. However, in our current climate, not only is currency manipulation adversely affecting its valuation, and thereby undervaluing property and working wages, the entire global edifice of economic exchange is based on currency valuations against other currencies, which often times results in the over-valuation of the goods of some countries to the extreme detriment of another.
Another crucial issue raised by Wesley is the issue of debt. Perhaps more than any other issue this lies at the heart of capitalism as multiple recent studies continue to contend from liberal and conservative economists alike.
Philip Goodchild notes, “There is no more significant social force within the contemporary global economy than debt…Debt is a means that becomes an end…to repay interest on a loan, someone else must have created the money elsewhere as debt, so that the original loan is repaid and the debt is canceled. The amount of debt money in the economy spirals ever higher. The force of debt grows ever stronger.”
For Wesley, debt keeps people from being able to give. Wesley’s emphasis on ministering to the poor is not out of pious ambition; it is out of his commitment to love of neighbor and love of God. The poor need to receive as a redemptive act, and in such reception, one is also part of the activity of God whereby one declares their independence from the compulsion to consume and the worship of mammon. Thus, accruing debt is in sharp contrast to the spirit of giving, particular in our culture today where non-existent money is not called debt; rather, it is known as a form of discretionary spending called credit. The accumulation of debt, especially discretionary debt, is a clear indication the ones affections toward money are already unsanctified.
Wesley’s historical context prevented him from developing a rigorous theory of money, but had he been able to do so he most likely would have been able to see that on a global scale money is unable to sustain the stability of trade because there is nothing beneath it to guarantee its value. Money is a symbol, whereby the means of exchange value, and exchange use, are confused in the symbol money with use value imposed by the physical presence of money, the idea of money itself. The great miracle of capitalism is that it discovered, along with the invention of credit, the nature of money as a value established without any intrinsic worth. Money becomes its own goal that actualizes hope in itself and is defined by invisible markers such as “markets” and “speculation” both ideas and concrete economic places that are in actuality nowhere precisely because they have no location and do not exist.
While Wesley did not have a sophisticated opinion on how an economy might function on a micro or macro-economic scale, he knew well the things that drive our current markets such as fear, desire and greed. His sermon, “The Danger of Riches” can almost act like a primer on economic exchange and consumer psychology.
In this sermon, Wesley offers an acute awareness of the role of desire in economic exchanges. He writes, “First, they that desire to be rich, to have more food and coverings; they that seriously and deliberately desire more than food to eat…” He notes that desire is the catalyst of inordinate consumption. He then couples the desire for more than one’s necessity with the idea of endeavor, or the commencement of causes to satiate the desire for more than one needs. One might today call the endeavor entrepreneurship or venture capitalism.
Endeavors are falsified because the place from which they arise is the unholy affection of “more.” It naturally follows for Wesley that the result will be an individual that is determined to possess material wealth, rather than immaterial recognition in the being of God. An economic exchange built on desire, mobilized by endeavors, results in more things than are necessary. This collection of things results in the apparition of personal property for individual purpose and ownership. The result, for Wesley, is not a decrease in desire or the arrival of the American dream or the “good life,” but a perpetuation of the “desire of having more.” A desire that is endless and who’s own longing is its own destruction.

The Hapless Nihil

hapless nihil

Those moments when you want to write, but feel lost in the sea of your own non ideas…As if every ounce of inspiration has been siphoned from your soul leaving you with nothing but a hollow spirit with clanging walls and cold diameters. And this is the nothing that is everything…the nothing that so stigmatizes your soul that it becomes what is…while the space that was once filled with vibrancy and lumination has become the cavern of respite and indifference…the nothing that weighs everything and the nothing that is absolutely the heaviest thing…that can lodge itself in the consciousness of a human being. How can we shake this cold hard absence? How can we embrace rigor mortise before it makes all resurrection impossible?

It’s easy to stare across the wasteland of intention and see nothing but parched land and tumble weeds. Intention is just that, an unrealized act, an unrealized event…the realization that the realized is pure potential without any form or content other than its own absence. How strange it is to feel this space and emptiness in one’s self. To see passersby occupy this same space, to try to lead them through it, to try to make a friend, only to be dismissed as something you are not.

…and the earth simply becomes more parched…unflinchingly absorbing tears as soon as they plummet to the earth in quiet despair. To be in this place and have absolutely no power, yet it is your place. This is Hell. To scream so loudly that no one hears you. To lift the weight of the world with your soul only to find your soul is simply the custodian of the burden. It’s going nowhere.

How, with your head cocked and fingers longing to be free to touch and feel again, how long does one sit in this squalid silence? To want to stand up and move. To want to be in relation with another anything. But feel pressed down by the force of a gravity you did not create nor can you negotiate. To feel absolutely helpless. To remain silent because you can do nothing else.

A cascade of ideas is not enough to pierce this earth and pry back its cracked ground…and force water into the crevices. A cascade of will…this nothing scoffs at. A cascade of desire sits at the fray of this nothing that is more chaotic than all the things created…and desire just sits…lonesome, knowing her other half is most likely never returning. There will be no homecoming.

The nihil is. When all else seems to fail and the great questions of our day are asked…meaning will simply be reduced to a reduction ad absurdum…laughing at us through its slanted eyes and cursing those of us who long for more than a world that is hapless before darkness. It is so difficult to live a new creation when the old one has been remade without our permission.