The Unruliness of Angelic Bodies

It feels at this point safe to assume that the following research proposal, like with all my of my previous attempts, has not met with success. I may at some point pursue it, but the likelihood seems dimmer & dimmer (as I am not intellectually curious enough to do it without funding).

* * *

Title of Proposed Research

‘The Unruliness of Angelic Bodies: Imagination and the Possibility of a Post-Secular Aesthetic Theology’

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Nancy on the excessive use of the term “political”: the death of politics?

In his book Philosophical Chronicles (a published set of radio addresses), Jean-Luc Nancy deals with a host of issues from daily life from the perspective of a philosopher, and some of them are deceptively simple, yet profound. His address from January, 2003, which addresses the word “politics” [politique], makes two very important points that have been haunting me for some three months now. First, Nancy points out the excessive use of the word politics, and its use in realms not normally considered “political.”

In the artistic domain in particular, it is often seen as necessary to declare that a work or an intervention has a political relevance, a political sense, or even a political nature. Whereas in the past we would come across the notion of the political commitment of an artist (of a writer, a philosopher, or a scientist), today we must refer to a necessarily political dimension in their practice itself. What cannot be said to be “political” appears suspect in being only aesthetic, intellectual, technical, or moral. (24) Read the rest of this entry »

“The Strange Contagion of Creativity: A Writing on Love” (Part 4 / End)

‘Oh God, I’m sorry. You know that, right? You know that I didn’t mean any of it? None of those words — none of those words that hurt. I mean only good, only the best – You know that, right? Of all people, you should. If not you, who? You know me better than those words. They’re only words, right? I take it all back. Give it back, please, let go of those words. They’re mine, not yours. You shouldn’t have them. Please, I need them back.

‘Listen, don’t listen to me — none of this – Because if you’d just look at me you’d see the truth. You’d know that I love you. Isn’t that so clear now? Surely, by now, you understand. You’re drowning, but you’re not dead. Isn’t that enough? What else do I need to do? You’ve taken everything already. I gave it all to you, only you, no one else. I promise.

‘You know, You said it yourself. Didn’t you? I thought you did. Wasn’t that you? I sometimes can’t remember details. Who would say that? Nobody. Nobody would say that. That’s why it had to be you. Nobody else. I knew it all along. You said it – now say it again.

Even today —

* * *

‘— And so I tell my life to myself’, Nietzsche writes in Ecce Homo (1969: 221). In this precise sense, God – and indeed any creator – gives birth to him/herself. What, then, we might wonder with Schelling, does this say about something as fundamental as sexual differentiation? We can, I think, understand this more fully by setting it in relief with the curiously hermaphroditic ambivalence about femininity that appears to have run in Schelling’s family.

‘Mysteries are female’ Friedrich Schlegel (his brother-in-law, once removed) writes in Lucinde, his loving ode to the romantic novel, ‘they like to veil themselves but still want to be seen and discovered’ (1971: 253). For his part, Schelling regards femininity both as fullness and lack, fecundity and emasculation, the In-Itself of Absolute Freedom and the sign of necessary weakness. Femininity, as such, is regarded by both Schlegel and Schelling as a lack – inasmuch as it must be actualised, i.e., made real, in the (male) Word, it ‘still wants to be seen’ – and as the inaccessible (‘veiled’), fecund Ground of its own being.
When one disavows corporeal nature, Schelling reasons, in exchange for an idealistic, ‘masculine’ desire for a spiritual Absolute that reflects its own identity back to itself without any recourse to objectivity, one has renounced one’s own body. It is, thus, ‘precisely when the (masculine) philosopher ignores (feminine) nature he sacrifices his own (masculine) nature’ (Krell 1988: 18). Which is to say, by excluding the feminine potency of nature, the manly men of Idealism, not least of which being Hegel, reveal themselves to be decidedly ‘girly’.

* * *

‘It’s funny the things that scare a person. Being alone. Being forgotten. Being forgotten and alone. Forgetting you’re alone – which is the same as being ordinary, the same — part of the crowd. At ease, patient — sleeping well. These are the things I want to tell you, that I keep trying to telling you, but I’m not sure you’re listening. You’re just staring. Those eyes —

‘What do you see that I don’t? What do you feel that I ought? Your so beautiful, and yet — oh, those eyes — but, you’re staring.

‘What are you thinking? What are your fears? I know you have some — you told me once before. I know what they are, but fears change, right? Fears are like people. We aren’t always afraid of our fears. But I’m always afraid of you. If only you’d just look, really look, without staring, I’d know that I shouldn’t be scared. Why do you want to frighten me? Is this some sick thrill? How can you be so cold?

‘You’re dead, aren’t you?’

You’re gone —

* * *

It is especially significant that Schelling’s description of the Idealist philosopher is not unlike the young protagonist of Lucinde, Julius, who sublimates, in the act of writing (described brilliantly by Martha Helfer as ‘an ideational erection’ [1996: 177]),his ‘mental lust’ and ‘sensual spirituality’ for his beloved Lucinde:

The words are dull and dreary. . . . A grand future beckons me to rush deeper into infinity, each idea opens its womb and produces countless new births. The furthest extremes of unbridled lust and silent intimation live simultaneously in me. I remember everything . . . and all my past and future thoughts are aroused and spring up against my will. Wild blood rages in my swollen arteries, my mouth thirsts for union, and my imagination picks and wavers among the many forms of pleasure and finds none in which my desire could fulfil itself and be at last at peace (Schlegel 1958: 10).

Julius’ ‘autoerotic narcissism’ (Helfer, 1996: 177) throughout Lucinde is unabashed: ‘I don’t hesitate to admire and love myself in this mirror [i.e., Lucinde]. Only here do I see myself complete and harmonious, or rather, I see full, complete humanity in me and in you’ (Schlegel, 1958: 10). Interestingly, what at first appears as strict, ‘straight’ heterosexuality is really anything but. In fact, Helfer draws our attention to a surprisingly stark homoeroticism that runs throughout Lucinde, where we continually find Julius expressing his pressing need ‘to find himself inside Lucinde.’

The difficult point that Schelling and Schlegel are each making philosophically and poetically is now what the analysis tells us psychoanalytically: that the female is the subject of desire par excellence. Which is to say, that the woman (i.e., in-and-for-herself) can only be characterized (i.e., for him). It is too easy to jump the gun and dismiss this as bygone misogynism, though. Rather, does it not share the ambiguity of the statue in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man that depicts a kneeling slave whose veil is being, depending on one’s perspective, lifted or lowered by a philanthropist, a scene the narrator describes as either ‘a revelation or a more efficient blinding’? For here, too, we are unsure — the veil of creative, divine femininity leaves both sexes and all genders severely constrained, where all we can do is stare through confused, blinded eyes.

* * *

‘I keep losing track of what it is I — Are you still staring? This is getting old. I mean, I can’t —

‘If only — You just — You know, Last night I totally believed in eternal life, but by the time I woke up I’d forgotten why.’

You’re blind —

‘I don’t know what you want. I’d stare back, but all I see is me — too much me — Where do you begin. Add one, subtract anything or add anything to infinity, Zeno says, and it doesn’t make any difference.

‘Do you have any idea what it’s like to see yourself in another? Do you know? Do you have any clue? You have to.’

All you ever do is stare.

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“The Strange Contagion of Creation: A Writing on Love” (Part One)

When thinking about creativity – how it emerges and is sustained in living discourse – we must I think begin with a question: what is the character of creativity? This question, however, is itself riddled by its own obvious equivocality. Is it the question asked of creativity; or is it the constitutive question of creativity? When we dare to think about the character of creativity theologically, a ‘transcendental’ analysis in so far as we are thinking about the beginnings and endings that condition our understanding, how do we begin at all, i.e., when the questions we ask in and of our own creative enquiry proliferate beyond the tether of their original intention. Divorced as it is from any traditional metaphysical verity, the (theological) question of creativity I wish to explore here, in both philosophical and narrative prose, can but beg that we always begin again, as a cathartic consideration of our creation’s problematic beginning.

As such, a theological assessment of creativity is an engagement — a violent battle as much as it is a formal promise. But with or to whom? Charles Winquest’s description of theology as a ‘lover’s discourse’ is especially apt:

Love is an intense valuation of specificities in the finite display of experience. It is precisely because finite experience is highly variegated that the ‘yes’ to the importance of any specific person or object is meaningful. In Love, we are making life meaningful, but it is a meaning that can be neither contained nor controlled. Love makes life unsafe. This is its frightening and wonderful transformational power (1995: 149-50).

Clearly, this question of love – i.e., of theology’s identity or character, beginnings and endings – is not an easy one. It is, nevertheless, the one that will also most concern me here, this most characteristic question of creativity. Too often confused as an irrational discourse of mystical silence or an irrelevant discord of ecclesiological excess, the creative character of theology / the theological character of creativity must be given voice, even if we must begin with the echo of a god who may or may not be dead.
* * *
‘Are you listening? You never listen.’

You never talk —

‘You’re never here.’

You never look —

‘I love you, you know that? Are you listening to me right now? Do I have your attention? Do these words make sense? How can they when you don’t listen? You don’t see what you ought, what you must. ‘I am not unclear: I am to the point. Are you so blind as not to know? How could you not? Do you need me to rip open my chest — do you need to peek inside? Am I not transparent enough already? You look through me so well, can you not also see inside?

‘Look at me!’

It’s all the same —

* * *

‘Why might God be laughing?’ Milan Kundera wonders, as he reflects on the Jewish proverb, ‘Man thinks, God laughs’. He concludes that it is because ‘man thinks and the truth escapes him. Because the more men think, the more one man’s thought diverges from another’s. And finally, because man is never what he thinks he is’ (1988: 158). The joke is on humanity, he concludes, in its expectations of structure, of beginnings and endings that stabilise and congeal meaning and significance, that seek to fill an absence. The laugh, in other words, is on humanity insofar as it continues to think, thus missing the joke — i.e., the ‘sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing’ that Kant ascribes to laughter (1951: 177). As we will see, though, this excessive ‘nothing’ is a joke that quickly gets out of hand. The punch line of reality is simply too much, leaving us in stitches with our most insane of laughs, in which we snort inappropriately as though an animal, or weep in spite of ourselves, screaming ‘Stop! No more!’ — unsure if we mean it or not.

The comedy, as I see it, emerges from the peculiarity of God’s primal desire for a voice. Namely, that in finding his voice, i.e., in the Word, from which the whole of Creation is made real, God is not completely Himself. In fact, in even more scandalously theological terms, it is only in ‘original sin’ — the Fall of God from God, as it were — that God is at all.

Though his later thinking is riddled with ambivalence, to the extent that even Tillich could appeal to him as faithfully as I am now, in Philosophical Inquiries Into the Nature of Human Freedom and Ages of the World, Friedrich Schelling is particularly unambiguous on this point. The God that makes reality intelligible in the decisive act of love, i.e., in speaking himself into existence, must also relate to the Ground of his own existence. The God of Creation, therefore, ‘is not God viewed as absolute’ (1936: 32). The Creator-God, rather, the God of the Word, is God only insofar as He speaks. For Schelling, this explains ‘the veil of sadness spread over all of nature, the deep, unappeasable melancholy of all life’ (ibid: 79) — when the eternal-divine sine qua non of God only is inasmuch as, in the decisive act of divine creativity, it ‘contracts’ its (finite) existence, in the decisive act of its speaking, its self-creative Word.

Does Meillassoux need Lovecraft?

Why more people don’t read Dominic Fox is beyond me. He has a great piece up right now responding to Ray Brassier’s recent article ‘The Enigma of Realism’ in Collapse II. Fox demonstrates that thought can have a real vitality and creativity outside the academy proper without anything like ressentiment. As the possibility that I won’t find a job in academia is rather high this is very encouraging and inspiring to me.

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