Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Introduction to Transformation: Theology

“Now, ‘I am’ become …” 
J Robert Oppenheim, 
Paraphrasing the Bhagavad Gita


A man holds up his hands to form a circle. Inside it a wafer of unleavened bread occupies the hole. But is it empty? It depends on how we view it. The Parallax View shows two different registers: being and non-being, a sign and a dead object. Dialectics tells us that at the heart of this there is nothing. Dualism tells us that at the heart of this there is something we do not see and what we see is a lie, or worse. But the Trinitarian View of Incarnation shows one thing, and everything: being and becoming, living objects; a Queer Thing; a quasi-object; an ecological body. It is present and with us. in fact, we are all present with each thing: one in substance but ever transforming... ever transfigured.

In this post I continue my investigation of thought and thinkers that may contribute to a Queer Materialism. As in the previous post, these items will be revisited and elaborated upon more extensively in subsequent work. Here I aim to servey theological thinkers that can offer useful insights into the discussion of the Holy Paradox of Transforming Things. 

I have focused primarily on Catholic theologians in part because of that traditions extensive body of potential queer-materialists, but also out the accident of my familiarity. As in the prior post I focused mainly on Philosophers from Europe, the concentration on a primarily Catholic theology is not at this point intended to either characterize a body or group of thinkers as a whole or to make an inter-faith argument. The comparison here is primarily between dialectic/dualism conceptions of materiality and the Trinitarian /paradoxical view.

At this juncture I would add to the Holey Paradox of Transforming Things that... the Hole which is found at the juncture of extremes, into which hybrids appear to coexist and trans-form as paradox, is from the Trinitarian perspective the Incarnate All-in-One and One-in-All Divine Person/Thing (Panentheism). Catholicism (and its kin) in fact holds in its version of Monotheism that articulates a God which is both Queer and, in a sense, Material. 

In its status as "the Creative" first principle (articulated traditionally as "the Father") it is the singular source OF which all material eternally comes into being (that is, from the position of eternity there cannot be a before and an after so it must be a singular, constant action of the present).

In its status as "the Sanctifying" second principle (articulated as "the Son" or "our Brother") it is that which BECOMES material eternally (as the ACTIVE mode of being which articulate the ACTUALITY and HACCEITY of things), but through a TRANS-FORMATION which exists through, across, between finite moments (it is eternally born, killed and reborn from the perspective "in the middle" of the material universe). 

In its status as "the Mediating" principle (articulate as "the Spirit") it is that which serves as the ACT of STATUS which paradoxically relates/trans-forms the first and second principle together and with the second principle all things to these principles and to each other. 

It is the Dualistic perspective that in some senses the Trinity is either not-distinct (it/all are one, even it appears distinct), all are three fully alienated beings (thus the role of mediator is complicated), or that they are three sequential forms of being which never existed at once (as is the case with Zizek). Likewise these divided/ sequential statuses hold true within materiality, which is itself often regarded as relatively illusory or inconsequential to non-material dimension of the divided status of being. These positions however not only halt discourse but essentially dismiss the universe (at least in the large part) if not condemns it. If we ARE to pursue materialism in any form, we require then to acknowledge a paradox. 

If we are in fact to TOUCH any-thing, we require a sense of mediation that we are always -already touching. In the "Parralax View", intercourse is impossible and ever desired. In the "Trinitarian View," we participate in an orgy which has been going on for eternity.

If the Eucharist is a thing and a sign, then God is seperate, as we are from everything else. If the Eucharist is a paradoxic all-in-one (instantaneously and over-time through the ecology of digestion), then we not only touch the face of God, but it becomes us as we become it as we become together. It is an intercourse of multiplicities, a thousand tiny phalluses and a thousand tiny vaginas.


Taking the Father and Son At One Time:
When Monotheism Becomes Polyamorous

Paul of Tarsus and Thomas Aquinas: Key Concepts
·         The Trinitarian-View: Coincidence of Substance, Transformation  & Mediation
·         “This is my body”: Re-presentation versus Sign-ification
·         Performative Spirit: Prayer as the Act of Overcoming Ontology

Paul said that he is “all things to all people” which is both a performative and a central meta-physical statement of queer materialism.This can be approached from the perspective that Paul had his moments speaking in conflicting mind-sets and thus enacting the performative spirit he preached, and as an act of overthrowing certain identity/ ontological categories as such.

“There is no Jew or Greek, there is neither bond not free, there is neither male nor female. All are one in [the trans-cendent ecological body].”

The Trinitarian view, the panentheistic view defines “the self” as essentially a "community” and a community is only possibly through internal self-difference. Rather than a sort of vitalism or pantheism which would lump all things together into one, for saying a = b and c = b is then to say that "a" and "c" do not actually exist distinctly. Pan (all) en (in) theism (god) or the Trinitarian view however stations the multiple as together and inseparable, but also distinct in hacceity and their motions. They are “in” each other, identified to one another by its own act of mediation, but not identical.

This is the sense of “this is my body” in the Pauline and subsequently Thomistic understanding of the Eucharist. From the meta-physical to the empirically physical, things trans-form across all other things to form a perpetual becoming throughout time, space and other bodies. This is likewise the sense of why food is a logical means of, not "expressing" so much as "highlighting," the perpetual status of things. That which was is and will be, between bodies (either through digestion or other ecological methods of assemblage). “This is my body” is a re-presentation of this ecological self which is new with every momentary trans-formation into diversity. It is performative, but it is not a sign-ification, because the expression is not differentiated from the material status. If it is a language (logos) it is a material one.

“Wherefore henceforth, we know no man according to the flesh. And if we have known Christ according to the flesh: but now we know him so no longer. If then any be in [the ecological body] a new creature, the old things are passed away. Behold all things are made new” ~ Paul of Tarsus

Being, is queerly material, as it cannot sit still but constantly over-throws the attempts to vacuum seal it shut or hold it down. That which ceases to change is dead and thus apparent secret of “the living bread” even from an empirically material level, nothing dies. At the same time, every-thing constantly dies to itself as it becomes itself/other. Thus the Trinitarian view is one of re-birth and re-presentation. Resurrection, but one that admits that yes… you die, constantly in big and little ways.

Quivering Bodies: 
"When He Dwelt in Her, in his Manhood"

Margery Kempe: Key Concepts:
·         Queering Incarnate Visions: Schizophrenia and  “Her Bodily Wits”
·         Queer Visions of Incarnation: Converted Beyond Language
·         Performative Spirit:  Prayer as the Act of Overcoming Ontology

As the incarnation and utmost presence of the first principles of the Trinitarian view are paradoxically fully present as they are distinct with matter, then bodily experience is not low or secondary, but the only means of experiencing these motions/persons. All things exist and exist to one another through and as mediation.

Taking one such person who performs this Trinitarian view, Margery Kempe, we see that in her account of her life’s experiences she accounts of touching, intimately, visions of Jesus of Nazareth, the “risen” or “trans-figured” form of this body, as well as numerous other saints or figures from biblical stories. She writes that they were present in her body, tested her bodily wits and brought about intense feelings of both joy and pain (jouissance) which debilitated her at times. Were these experiences in her head? Yes, but her “head” is in her body and this certainly appears to be a network physical experience.

Due to the specific and sudden contrasting emotional extremes, the difficulty with linear self-narration or thought, the presence and blurring together of sensory experiences and personalities which Kempe writes as her daily, and particularly spiritual, life it is likely that she may have had the biological condition now clinicalized as “manic depression” or “schizophrenia.” This however does not preclude her from “true” experiences of reality but qualifies it and trans-lates it across certain expressively queer, qualities of experience and materiality.

Kempe’s shifting visions of empirically present material things and things which were present in a less generally observable manner demonstrate how things trans-form across places/times/things. In this way, Kempe experiences the queerness, the disorientation, the mediation and the trans-formation of things more acutely then the normative Christian (she would then, in fact, be in some senses more the ideal “norm” than the "normative.”)

Likewise, Kempe’s lived performance of this queer spiritual life leads her to trans-cend the identities of virgin-mother-nun-priest and female-male through the clothing and other things she made a part of the performance of her body. It is this which often lands her in trouble and gets her out of it again. She is not moving from one identity into another, but not identifying or limiting any single performance of identity to one. She becomes all the more disoriented/queer as she performs the spirit of materiality in a way which overthrows ontology, at the call of the queer theological motions/persons she orients herself towards.


Getting Dirty with Things: In Diverse Forms

Francis of Assisi and Vincent de Paul: Key Concepts:
·         Vincent: The Dignity of People As Things
·         Francis: The Dignity of Things As People
·         Performative Spirit:
       o   Prayer as the Act of Overcoming Ontology AND Liberating the Ecology

Considering the implications of this Trinitarian-view of queer materiality, there arises various ethical compulsions which Francis of Assisi and Vincent de Paul both articulate/perform through their spiritual lives.

“It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them." ~ Vincent de Paul

For Vincent, while he recognized the particular sacrament of his faith tradition, he recognized the sacramentality of every person who participates and is an enactment of the creative-sanctifying-mediating ecology of an all-in-one/one-in-all body. But this means more than service with the marginalized but a re-identification and solidarity with them. We are together with them as part of this body/ecology and what we have is there’s and vice-versa. The dignity we ascribe to them, or lack of it, we likewise ascribe to our-selves. To recognize that others have been marginalized and oppressed by actions (collective and individual) must also mean recognizing our own imprisonment. To give to others is to recognize that we have held onto and halted the ecology of things in a damaging/violent manner, by no recognizing the co-self of other-things/persons and thus co-ownership. A gift is as much a gift, as an apology/thanks for taking.

take away
 goods of 
another is
taking away

honor, they 
all.” ~ Vincent de Paul

Taken to its logical conclusion, it is not that people become recognized as “things” and "objectified" in a derogatory sense, but that their dignity, as material things is better recognized with our own. This is why Vincent focuses on material needs of those he serves. A person is a material thing, and that is imperative to serve and dignify.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” ~Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi approaches this issue from the other way around and focuses on the dignity of persons in things, things as persons. He recognizes the co-status of things as part of an all-in-one, one-in-all by which material things exist paradoxically as one co-incidental body and as ecology. Francis translates this insight into referring to things as “brother” or “sister” sun, moon, earth, air, fire, death etc.

“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” ~Francis of Assisi

The Franciscan method of performing the spirit is then is to regard the quasi-object and ecological status of things with the imperative metaphysical value that the first principles are present in them through the creative (constantly bringing into existence), the sanctifying (constantly transforming/becoming self) and the mediating (constantly transforming/becoming other). As a result, while the performance of the self becomes a contingent part of our queer materiality, like Judith Butler’s conception of drag, it constantly queers, undermines and overthrows this identity into not only new forms but with a co-existence/co-incidence with other-selves.

Sex with Chains: 
To Let You Know You Are Alive

Karl Marx and Leonardo Boff: Key Concepts
·         Labor: The Moving Spirit of Living Things
·         Liberation: The Moving Ecology of Living Things
·         Performative Spirit:
       o   Prayer as the Act of Overcoming Ontology AND Liberating the Ecology

In Karl Marx's statement that “Society does not consist of individuals but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand” we see an affirmation of the Trinitarian View of self as relationship.

“Men's ideas are the most direct emanations of their material state” writes Karl Marx, attempting to establish a sense of the immediate mediation inherent in materialism. Likewise when Marx writes that “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks” and that “Capital is money, capital is commodities. By virtue of it being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself,” we see how he abhorred the idea that ideas/language/psyche would or could take prominence over the materiality that not only bring them into being, but are in fact that which is the language through cerebral performance.

If we view objects as dead, or people as dead, that is to see we fail to see how as objects they are also subjects. Our quasi-objects, living bread and incarnation returns. In an ecology where existential nullity is impossible, death is the enemy to life in perspective primarily, along with the stagnation, violence and imprisonment it forms for the things it captures in its gaze.

“For the bureaucrat, the world is a mere object to be manipulated by him” writes Marx. “In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.” Thus in order to live, we must ascribe life to the world. To be person we must allow for our own contingency of the rest of the persons that participate in us and which we participate in.

Leonardo Boff and other Liberation Theologians certainly affirm the place of Marx’s thoughts within the performance and perspective of spiritual life. Anecdotally it is said that when asked to stop calling the Vatican “bourgeois”, Rev. Leonardo Boff, responded “you cannot possibly make that request from St. Peter’s while I am here living in the ghettos of Central America.”

In Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, Boff urges the need for ecological changes of perspective and action to find the locations in which we misunderstand or underestimate our own materiality. Boff combines elements of actor-network theory, eco-feminism, the quantum-physics and counter-psychoanalytic understandings of the mind simular to that which Deleuze and Guattari utilize, as well as Marxism, biology, a multitude of scriptures and Catholic theology to demonstrate that within one substance there are multiplicities of trans-formings and that it is through understanding this all-in-one/ one-in-all status that the ecology can be brought into more life-giving forms (that which is pit against stagnation and violence) and that it is not the body that is the opposite of the spirit (which he coincides) but the spirit and death. That is to say, the attempt for positivist stasis or for nihilistic violence/despair. For him Liberation comes through both celebrating/affirming and overcoming the "hacceity" of the self/selves. By affirming transformation.

Leonardo Boff also explores beyond the Sacrament of the Eucharist into the sacramentality of all things, the queer, life of all things. Each chapter begins with a meditation ranging from “My Father’s Cigarette Butt as Sacrament” to Tin Cans. Materiality is then performative, as it is relational, as it is sacramental, as it is transformative and as it is queer. Since the ecology is constant shifting, transforming and overthrowing attempts to ontologize it or pin it down, likewise social identities form another constraint to be liberated.


Transforming Intercourse: 
When One Thing Just Leads to An-other-Self

Slavoj Zizek and John Milbank: Key Concepts:
·         The Trinity: Sequence or Coincidence
·         The Living Bread : Dialectic or Paradox
·         Performative Spirit:
      o   Prayer as the Act of Overcoming Ontology AND Liberating the Ecology

Slavoj Zizek, via Hegel and Lacan, proposes an original nothingness that bursts into being, like consciousnesses from unconsciousness, ultimately to return into nothingness (creating one model of becoming from nothing to being to nothing and onward.) This model however keeps consciousness and being forever sealed off and alienated from not only others but itself (object v. subject).

Milbank however reads dialectics as the extreme extension of the traditional of dualism which arouse out of the mutual development of thought in the "enlightenment" and "reformation" which he, like Bruno Latour, view as the mislead division of hybrid substances into separate qualities that are then read as impossibly coincident, and thus bringing about nihilist conclusions on the impossibility of being.

Milbank's alternative proposes an essential "paradox" as the constitutive essence-form of being and not-being, finite-infinite, and other impossible coincidences that non the less exist, and proposing a positivist "between" that grounds finite together with the infinite, that all is mediated/mediation. All is still "becoming" but in a mode in which "being" itself perpetually "becomes" both in creating "more" from and of itself, which is a single eternal motion, that in-time occurs through what I call "trans-formation".

It is according to this model that Milbank reads the story of genesis as a theoretical (although not literal) treatise on being/life:

"Eve from Adam's side was not a sign of secondary inequality but, rather, mirrored the equal birth of the Son from the Father in the Trinity" ~ John Milbank, The Monstrosity of Christ

We need to better understand the words "Adam" and "Eve" to make sense of this:

"Man and woman are both under label Adam, and their drive to group up lodge in Eve. The name Eve denotes the collectivity that is so common to the behavior of living things. We should never forget that multicellular creatures, even humans, are in fact a highly efficient colony of single cellular creatures." (via:

Milbank was elaborating on his Trinitarian/paradoxical understanding of a reality which is based on a singular ESSENCE which as being itself inherently is draw to create, which means it is inherently drawn to manifest DIFFERENCE (if only between the numerical status of 1st and the 2nd, but more than only this) by continually adding "more" of itself to itself from itself.

This is what he means by the Father, or that which is the object which is being itself without deriving being from some other substance, is himself (or itself) BEING and as such BECOMES more/difference out of the inherent character of his/its existence. The Son is the (theologically perfect and manifestly historical) articulation of that God-becoming more-God. They are then one in substance, different in form.

Thus, "Adam" which is the mythical stand in for the human, is drawn inherently to produce "Eve" which is community; a mutually constitutive network/life-form which is also UNIFIED IN SUBSTANCE but UTTERLY DIFFERENT IN FORM.

We can then see a Trinitarian theological basis for the proliferation of difference between things through as the engines of "being" continued to sort through a multiplicity of "becomings". There is an underlying productive queerness which drives towards "more" and "different." The queer which always undermines totality is a fundamental element of being insofar as to suppose being/form to reach a final total of existence and a final form is to understand contrary to the inherent qualities of being.

No comments:

Post a Comment