Ktismatics

14 June 2007

The Anxieties of Free Play

Filed under: Culture, First Lines, Ktismata — ktismatics @ 5:41 pm

Perhaps something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that could be called an “event,” if this loaded word did not entail a meaning which it is precisely the function of structural — or structuralist — thought to reduce or to suspect.

– Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” 1966

Derrida begins by contrasting structure with event, stability with “rupture.” Historically, structures have been constructed around a center, a fixed point of origin. The center serves as the basis for coherence and balance within the structure. Having a fixed center makes it possible to “play” with the elements of the structure, but this play is also limited by needing to remain compatible with the center. The center, while giving shape to both the form and the freedom of the structure that surrounds it, isn’t really part of the structure.

Thus it has always been thought that the center, which is by definition unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which while governing structure, escapes structurality. This is why classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center.

Derrida goes on to say that, as always, coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire. What is the nature of that desire? It’s the possibility of safe play, of playing within a framework of a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude. The fixed center is what attachment theorists in developmental psychology refer to as a “secure base,” giving the child a sense of certainty that enables her to master the anxiety inherent in exploring strange situations. What’s important is that there be a reliable presence at the center of the exploratorium.

The rupture, says Derrida, came with the realization that the center was not the center, that the actual center was the desire for security rather than the specific presence on which this desire happened to land. The presence, whether it existed or not, wasn’t part of the structure — it was free of the structure. The center was not a fixed locus but a function. This stabilizing function, rather than being part of the structure, permeates the structure as a system of signs that together constitute the principle of structuration. This was the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the moment when, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse.

…and now it’s time to pack my Derrida book into the box because the movers are on their way. I’d wanted to post on this essay for a week but couldn’t quite get around to it, so now it’ll have to be a half-post. (Several hours later…) The movers have come and gone, taking the boxes away with them. And now I see that Derrida’s essay can be found on-line. And so I can finish after all…

Paradoxically, the event of decentering cannot occur without assuming the architecture in which center and structure make sense. When Nietzsche replaces being with play, truth with interpretation, he does so from inside a metaphysics of being and truty. Freud can’t replace consciousness with the unconscious except by consciously accepting the distinction. The opposition is part of the system.

“Human nature” is premised on the idea of universality, that across cultures human beings share certain common features. But what happens when language, education, law, technology, art, are universal? Nature is decentered, displaced by culture. But the conceptual distinction between nature and culture remains useful as a method in studying human societies, even if the truth of this distinction can no longer be sustained. Nature as a concept thus becomes a convenient myth sustained by science. Nature is a myth produced by culture.

This too is a decentering procedure in the human sciences, with truth being displaced by method. Levi-Strauss refers to this particular decentering as bricolage — borrowing techniques on an as-needed basis without regard for their original context or application. He contrasts the bricoleur with the engineer, who presumably follows a systematic and integrated praxis. But all praxes have been assembled from various sources. The engineer is a myth produced by the bricoleur.

Is it possible then to make myth the original condition and the center of all cultural endeavor? No, because there is no way of identifying the original myth, or the original source of myths. Myth is always already part of a structure of discourse that contrasts myth with fact. And the fact of the original myth can never be found, because the whole contrast between fact and myth is also part of this same structure. Neither can ever become the center because each always already presumes the other.

It’s not possible to build an all-inclusive structural discourse on anything because the whole endeavor of structuration is always being undermined and inverted. On the other hand, it’s also impossible to construct a complete empirical description of a phenomenon, because it’s always possible that new data will turn up that overturn the prior findings. Totalization, therefore, is sometimes defined as useless, and sometimes as impossible. The contemporary failure of all totalizing discourses can be lamented as a consequence of the finitude of human perspective. But it’s arguable that totalization is simply inappropriate, that the fields of inquiry simply do not lend themselves to comprehensive and all-inclusive understanding. Language, thought, society, culture — all human activity is characterized by free play: the ability to go outside the collection of all prior empirical instances and every rule of the game. Free play is possible not because of the potentially infinite extension of structures built around a center, but because of the finite and contained flexibility inherent in absence, in lack, in structures without a center. When the elements of the structure are disconnected from the center, then all the interconnections are supplemental to the structure. And human invention insures the continual surplus of supplementarity, the continual ability to restructure the elements in an uncountable number of variants.

One can lament the loss of the center, or one can celebrate it:

As a turning toward the presence, lost or impossible, of the absent origin, this structuralist thematic of broken immediateness is thus the sad, negative, nostalgic, guilty, Rousseauist facet of the thinking of freeplay of which the Nietzschean affirmation — the joyous affirmation of the freeplay of the world and without truth, without origin, offered to an active interpretation — would be the other side. This affirmation then determines the non-center otherwise than as loss of the center. And it plays the game without security…

There are thus two interpretations of interpretation, of structure, of sign, of freeplay. The one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering, a truth or an origin which is free from freeplay and from the order of the sign, and lives like an exile the necessity of interpretation. The other, which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms freeplay and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics or of ontotheology-in other words, through the history of all of his history-has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of the game…
There are more than enough indications today to suggest we might perceive that these two interpretations of interpretation — which are absolutely irreconcilable even if we live them simultaneously and reconcile them in an obscure economy — together share the field which we call, in such a problematic fashion, the human sciences. For my part, although these two interpretations must acknowledge and accentuate their difference and define their irreducibility, I do not believe that today there is any question of choosing — in the first place because here we are in a region (let’s say, provisionally, a region of historicity) where the category of choice seems particularly trivial; and in the second, because we must first try to conceive of the common ground, and the difference of this irreducible difference. Here there is a sort of question, call it historical, of which we are only glimpsing today the conception, the formation, the gestation, the labor. I employ these words, I admit, with a glance toward the business of childbearing — but also with a glance toward those who, in a company from which I do not exclude myself, turn their eyes away in the face of the as yet unnameable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so, as is necessary whenever a birth is in the offing, only under the species of the non-species, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity.

This is already a long summary, and I’m too fatigued right now to think about implications for my own projects.

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20 Comments »

  1. Very interesting.

    I resonate with “…these two interpretations of interpretation — which are absolutely irreconcilable even if we live them simultaneously and reconcile them in an obscure economy…” I see such simultaneity in many Christians. And I especially see “an obscure economy.” My previously referenced frustration, though, is what seems like a lack of aknowledgement or understanding, from my “Christian fellows,” that, as Adrian would probably note, the center is present…which is then incompatible with the other interpretation.

    Just last night at Canvas Group the leader said, “[Dallas] Willar [whose book The Divine Conspiracy we just begun reading] would ask: ‘Can you see God’s kingdom out in the streets?” He was asking someone else in the group, but foreseeing the importance of the question as well as the leader’s (as well as his interlocutor’s) probable response, I interjected: “That’s a trick question.” He nodded and said, “yeah” quickly – but then he answered supposedly-rhetorically, “No!” His “now” was with the emphatic exlamation point. These are the things that make me go “argh.”

    And, as sort of a side note (very SORT OF), this post isn’t exactly a study in ancient taxonomy of a One, lol. “When the elements of the structure are disconnected from the center, then all the interconnections are supplemental to the structure. And human invention insures the continual surplus of supplementarity, the continual ability to restructure the elements in an uncountable number of variants.”

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 14 June 2007 @ 9:21 pm

  2. Oh…I forgot. When I said “These are the things that make me go ‘argh,'” I was referencing “[the] obscure economy” of oh-so-many of my fellow Christians.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 14 June 2007 @ 9:23 pm

  3. A recent email conversation with said small group leader, pertaining to Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. [with commentary from me in brackets].

    —————————

    Leader: This week, we’ll be studying Chapter One of Dallas Willard’s “The Divine
    Conspiracy.” Please come with your questions and reflections.

    Me: My question…what’s his like for Tolstoy? Tolstoy wasn’t Christian? Don’t get the wrong impression…I don’t think I’ve shared with you yet…the more I get into the book…the more I like it. Ch. 3 might be the coolest thing I’ve read in a while (his talk of “personhood”…which runs directly counter, in my mind, to “objective truth” (ex. – Aquinas talks of how science and theology should correspond, since God is the author of both…Aquinas does not speak of an “objective truth”). Although I stopped/got to a natural stopping point anyway…about half way through Ch. 3 when he favorably mentioned Tolstoy again!

    Leader: Books, besides the Bible, are always like grapes. Some are sweet and others are sour. Mostly, they’re edible, you just have to spit out the seeds.

    [Since my leader is Christian, due note the “obscure economy” of his “spit out the seeds” language]

    Me: I’ve heard you say that before, and I was never comfortable with it. To me a book is like how Willard describes a person in Chapter 3. It has a face, and the facial expression reveal what’s going on “in” the unlocatable person, which does have a substance. I don’t feel like you can take the parts of a book to be collaged together, so to speak, any more than you can do that with a person. So then, I am left wondering what is the role of Tolstoy’s voice in the “person” (Willard’s book), so to speak. I don’t feel like I can just spit it out.

    [due note the relation between bricolage and collage]

    [next comes the prototypical over-moralization that comes with said “obscure economy”]

    Leader: Not what I meant – for you as a reader, you have to accept the good and reject the bad. That’s different from how we deal with one another. On the other hand, you’re right – Tolstoy does play a part in who Dallas is as an individual, so it’s right to try to figure out how Tolstoy fits into Dallas’ person. Finally, I wouldn’t judge Tolstoy too critically – we’re all flawed human beings, and we need His grace as much as the next person.

    Argh/:)

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 14 June 2007 @ 9:32 pm

  4. BTW my point about the 60’s kind of freedom…if the center IS present…we simply aren’t free in such a way. The “two interpreations” are “irreconcilable.” And as I mentioned, this has not been an easy lesson in my life. Not that I am “equating” Derrida with the hippies, but…I hope you get my point. Its a question of the center and presence.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 14 June 2007 @ 9:36 pm

  5. “the center is present…which is then incompatible with the other interpretation.”

    I’m wonder if it’s possible to make use of Derrida here even if you believe that God is present at the center — a position you’ve maintained often. Derrida begins by saying that the center — be it God, man, ontos, immanence, or whatever — isn’t really part of the structure that surrounds it. The center is unconstrained by the structure, so the center can roam freely. The structure, meanwhile, substitutes for the real center a functional one — a psychological sense of “reassuring certitude.” You could make an argument that this was Jesus’s point to the Pharisees — they had installed the law, the priesthood, etc. at the center as a source of immobile certainty, even while the true Center was freely moving on to something else.

    Freud doesn’t deny consciousness when he talks about the unconscious; he just moves consciousness out of the secure center position. He says they’re both part of the structure. In this move the unconscious loses its freedom to wander, knowing that it’s grounded in consciousness. But now both consciousness and unconsciousness interact relative to each other, with neither at the center. Material can freely move back and forth between the two mental domains, making virtually unlimited kinds of connections.

    Say you’re the church. You acknowledge God, but you also acknowledge that what’s at the center of the church isn’t God but a sense of immobile security. You can put God at the center, but now you’ve restricted God’s freedom to maneuver because he’s strapped to the structure of the church. The people in the church are free to roam knowing that God is at the center, but God himself is hindered in his freedom because he has to serve this secure base function. So instead you envision an uncentered church with both God and man interrelated. It’s a human institution on this earth, which means it’s finite. But the interrelationships between God and man become virtually unlimited due to the surplus of creativity brought by both God and man. And the interrelationships aren’t locked down; free play becomes possible, even if there is a certain nostalgia for the loss of security afforded by the old centered church.

    Anyhow, if you’re Christian, and even evangelical, I don’t think you need to reject Derrida’s decentering and detotalizing of human religious structures. Derrida’s is not an intrinsically atheistic or agnostic position.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 14 June 2007 @ 10:21 pm

  6. “Tolstoy wasn’t Christian?”

    I believe he was, that he had a conversion after he’d written his most famous novels.

    “I don’t feel like you can take the parts of a book to be collaged together, so to speak, any more than you can do that with a person.”

    Derrida’s position is that books are best seen as collections of commentaries and citations of other books, that each individual book is simultaneously a collage in its own right and also part of the larger collective which is all of writing. Derrida’s own writings typically and explicitly take the form of a commentary — in this essay he comments extensively on Levi-Strauss. Derrida decenters the book.

    I think the idea of emerging Christians “bricolaging” together a theology and a philosophy from various sources, including atheistic ones, is compatible with what Derrida says in this essay. The idea of “systematic” theology or psychology or whatever is a mythic construct created by the systematizers themselves. It’s part of the irreducible paradox that structure destructures itself from the inside, that systematics itself is a kind of bricolage pieced together from other systems.

    Of course Derrida also decenters the person…

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    Comment by ktismatics — 14 June 2007 @ 10:35 pm

  7. “BTW my point about the 60’s kind of freedom…if the center IS present…we simply aren’t free in such a way.”

    I’m sure there’s a Derridean transformation possible here. Hippies existed in part as a reaction against and in contradistinction to the “establishment” or the “military-industrial complex” or the “pigs” or the “squares.” The squares were the center, so the hippies were able to explore freeplay with the secure base at the center. It might have been a rebellious sort of play, but there was little doubt that the center would hold.

    Contrast this with a decentered situation in which squareness and hippieness coexist but neither is at the center. There might be any number of interrelationships and exchanges between these two social constructs. Squareness doesn’t have to retain its rigidity as the “father figure” of the hippies; likewise the hippies don’t have to define themselves solely in reaction against what daddy wants and values. Both sides are freer relative to one another, without needing to veer into licentiousness or fascism just to prove a point to the other.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 14 June 2007 @ 10:43 pm

  8. There’s lots of really cool stuff here on which I want to really put some time and concentration into, so I will comment later when there is less work/boss-pressure.

    For now though, on Tolstoy:

    From the Intro. to What is Art, on p. xiii: “Tolstoy converted himself momentarily…and turned to the community of the Orthodox Church. He became a practicing Christian….he continued to attend church services for another year or so, noting some of the occasions in his diary…But a new crisis was brewing in him. Suddenly, in a diary entry dated 30 October 1879, we read…[bla bla bla]…So he ranged himself on the side of the heretics, purifiers or opponents of the Church…There was too much in the dogmas, the mysteries and the authority of the Church that his reason and conscience could not accept. Later in that same year he turned his back just before taking communion and walked out of the church, never to return. Tolstoy referred to this rejection as the moment of his conversion to ‘true Christianity.’ In his Confession, written in December 1879, he described his spiritual state in anguished terms and gave the reasons for his sudden break with the Church. By March of the next year, he had produced a Critique of Dogmatic Theology, the first of his attacks on the Church’s supposed perversion of the Christian truth…He then began work on a Conflation and Translation of the Four Gospels, his personal version of the New Testament, purged of references to Christ’s divinity, to miracles, the supernatural, redemption, immortality, all of which he considered irrational and pernicious additions to the teachings of Christ.”

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 15 June 2007 @ 5:59 pm

  9. Interesting side note on Tolstoy…..He wrote The Gospel in Brief, which Ludwig Wittgenstein read with great interest and fervor during the WWI period. Wittgenstein recommended the book to many fellow soldiers, especially those in distress.

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 15 June 2007 @ 6:36 pm

  10. Thanks for the Tolstoy info.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 15 June 2007 @ 8:34 pm

  11. Doyle – you’re welcome.

    Erdmanian – when was that book published? Do you know?

    Jason

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 15 June 2007 @ 11:33 pm

  12. OK…here I am…on centers…

    Just to get it out of the way: “It might have been a rebellious sort of play, but there was little doubt that the center would hold.” I think that in terms of what appears in and as the world…the center was long gone by that point. And I’m not referring to the moment of original sin, but the what I’ve discussed as Michelangelo’s being the last to work with a “ground.”

    And I like what you say here: “There might be any number of interrelationships and exchanges between these two social constructs. Squareness doesn’t have to retain its rigidity as the ‘father figure’ of the hippies; likewise the hippies don’t have to define themselves solely in reaction against what daddy wants and values. Both sides are freer relative to one another, without needing to veer into licentiousness or fascism just to prove a point to the other.”

    But I think its important and “natural” that a man HAVE a “father figure” at all and in the first place in his life. I would actually maybe say that the whole issue is that everyone has the same shitty and imporsonal Father Market…and everyone is either stressed out (the “squares”) or pissed off (the hippies…not the circles…but a different rectangle maybe, lol) about it.

    Now here’s what I see as the bread and butter: “Derrida begins by saying that the center — be it God, man, ontos, immanence, or whatever — isn’t really part of the structure that surrounds it. The center is unconstrained by the structure, so the center can roam freely. The structure, meanwhile, substitutes for the real center a functional one — a psychological sense of ;reassuring certitude.’ You could make an argument that this was Jesus’s point to the Pharisees — they had installed the law, the priesthood, etc. at the center as a source of immobile certainty, even while the true Center was freely moving on to something else.”

    Now, obviously Jesus said that he didn’t do anything in his own name, but in the name of the Father who sent him. That’s sort of a decentering. At the same time, though, I believe in the Incarnation. That is a kind of centering. That, along with “apostolic authority” is the claim for the Catholic Church for the presence of the center…at least the apostolic authority plays a big role in that claim.

    Now, La Tourette is a monestary by Corbusier of which you’ve heard. The plan is organized around an empty center that you cannot access without going OUT of the building, then under it over to the grassy “natural” center. Further, sort of jutting out in this mainly center is a little chapel that points to heaven…which we can see through the glass through which we can gaze at this empty center…calling us toward that center that we cannot reach.

    This is the main “hall” of the building, and said empty center can be seen through the glass on the right:

    Interestingly, the hall leads to the main chapel; and the smaller little chapel, referenced above that sort of draws your gaze TO the center (layers of meaning intended), is seen also.

    La Tourette was built/designed in the early sixties…after Corbusier had sort of become his own version of a postmodernist.

    Villa Savoye, however, Corbusier’s other most famouse work (probably), is also organized around a kind of “open center.” However, this one you can physically enter through a sliding glass door in/through the main living room. This building was done in what might be termed his “modern” phases, prior to his disillusionment after the war, I think. Its all white, unlike La Tourette, which is hard and grey. Interestingly, though, the “center” isn’t even in the geographic center.

    The referenced “open center” (open to the sky) is on the left of the following drawing, in the middle. You can see that, from that open space on the “piano noble” (noble floor, the main floor of the villa) you can take the ramp up to the roof garden.

    Here’s the plan of the piano noble. The living room is on your right (with the fireplace, which you can see in the drawing), and the open space, the “center”, is accessable from there. In the drawing the referenced “center” is “above” the ramp.

    The view from facing the front door (which is painted red):

    “Say you’re the church. You acknowledge God, but you also acknowledge that what’s at the center of the church isn’t God but a sense of immobile security. You can put God at the center, but now you’ve restricted God’s freedom to maneuver because he’s strapped to the structure of the church. The people in the church are free to roam knowing that God is at the center, but God himself is hindered in his freedom because he has to serve this secure base function.”

    I don’t really like the language here, sorry. It sounds backward. God is never strapped in to any human construct. And at the same time, humans get their freedom from God’s wellspring of it. Its not that humans are free to move and roam, whereas God is strapped in to their constructs when they desire security in their constructs rather than in the freedom and peace of God, who is ultimately Unknowable and Uncreated. That’s how I think of it.

    But anyhow, my nostalgia isn’t so much for the security offered by the centered church, but for the time when what appeared was taken to be a reflection of God’s substantial and personal presence and work in the now here and now. Reflecting that attitude, you would see actual physical objects taking up the “center” of a space (usually not in the geographic center…that only came after like the Reformation and Galileo and such destabilizing events). I am thinking, interestingly, of the ALTERS, which were “central” to the cathedrals and chapels. There the center was made present, while the human came to know his role as being a servant to God, who is Himself the center of the cosmos.

    And yes, Derrida did decenter the person; but not quite like that. But his affinity to that kind of idea is what makes him intriguing to me. But ultimately, it just doesn’t mean the same thing for him.

    :)

    Jason

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 18 June 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  13. “I think that in terms of what appears in and as the world…the center was long gone by that point.”

    As Derrida points out, the center is a function — a psychological sense of security that participants in the system rely on. The functional center of the structure, then as now, was the American economic system, which created overly zealous policing in the American cities and in the Southeast Asian jungles. This economic sense of security remains strongly in the driver’s seat for most people, driving their decisions about careers, homes, happiness, etc. Derrida agrees with you that the centering function is and has long been illusory, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped relying on it.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 June 2007 @ 4:16 pm

  14. “But I think its important and “natural” that a man HAVE a “father figure” at all and in the first place in his life.”

    Recall the post about triangulation and learning: a kid learns when s/he and the parent focus their attention, and their intentions, on the same thing at the same time. It seems to work best when the adult attunes to the kid’s interest, rather than expecting the kid to tune into the adult’s interest. So who’s the center of this relationship: parent or child? I don’t think it matters. What matters most is the relationship and what happens in it. Both adult and child have to decenter themselves in order for the learning exchange to be effective — they both have to take one another’s perspective.

    As a father I’ve found it important to be able to adapt the way I interact with my kid as she matures. The whole era of “wait till your father gets home” would have forced me into a more rigid disciplinarian role than I’d feel comfortable with, or than seems necessary. Discipline has rarely been an issue in our little family, partly because we all tend to arrive at what seems like a sensible way to proceed rather than anyone issuing a decree and set of consequences for disobedience. Very few battles of the will ensue, and though there are things I wish both my daughter and I would do better, generally the results are excellent.

    Am I a source of security? Sure, I suppose so. But I think a child is also a source of security for its parents: a focus of attention, effort, amusement, etc. So it’s mutual.

    By the way, in my experience with other parents it’s mostly the mother who’s the authority figure. Dads are just too goofy to be taken seriously. Is this a problem? Not that I can see. I personally find the current generation a more interesting and perhaps less screwed-up bunch than my own generation.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 June 2007 @ 4:31 pm

  15. “I believe in the Incarnation. That is a kind of centering.”

    In certain ways the incarnation decenters the God/Lord man/servant hierarchical relationship by putting a God-man on earth as a servant. Or at least you could say the incarnation “reterritorialized” the center-periphery structure of the Old Testament. It disrupted the psychological sense of immobile security that people had gotten used to and built a whole religious system around.

    Apostolic authority is yet another reterritorialization, clearly built as a hierarchy with the Pope and Rome at the center. Tracing the authority back to the apostles is kind of strange, since the apostles’ own authority seemed not particularly rigid. That’s what the Sunni versus Shiite fight is all about: who are the legitimate successors to the “apostolic authority” of Muhammad?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 June 2007 @ 4:38 pm

  16. “God is never strapped in to any human construct.”

    Agreed. God isn’t strapped in, but people who build structures strap something into the center and call it God. This centerpiece God may bear some resemblance to the real God, or perhaps participate God, but the reality of God is substituted by this sense of psychological immobility and security that people demand of the center. The human construct of God, the image man makes of God, is strapped into the structure, while the real God is moving elsewhere.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 June 2007 @ 4:46 pm

  17. “I am thinking, interestingly, of the ALTERS, which were “central” to the cathedrals and chapels. There the center was made present, while the human came to know his role as being a servant to God, who is Himself the center of the cosmos.”

    Clearly the Reformers didn’t agree. They believed that placing the altar at the center glorified the priest, who alone had the “power” to change the bread and wine into the body and blood. So the liturgy builds up to the consecration, with the priest in his majestic holy garb raising the host and the altarboys chiming the bells and the congregants bowing in homage. You might regard this imagery in its pure form, but the whole stage and performance became (to some) a sacrilege and a man-centered travesty. Just as in Israel the priests wound up with the authority.

    So the Protestants placed the minister’s podium at the center and made the sermon the centerpiece of the service. The intent was to focus on God and his word, but the focus perhaps inevitably shifted to the preacher. It’s hard to override the human urge to build hierarchical structures that provide security and impose authority.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 June 2007 @ 4:54 pm

  18. “As Derrida points out, the center is a function — a psychological sense of security that participants in the system rely on.”

    Right, but to me, the center is personal. It is a person, or three persons in one, you might say.

    Although I still end up agreeing heartily with the folloiwng: “Derrida agrees with you that the centering function is and has long been illusory, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped relying on it.”

    The reason I still agree with that, of course, is because God isn’t exactly a stuffed animal for a kid to play with. Not that that’s what you are saying…you seem to have said the exact opposite in this series of comments. But my point, though, is that surrender to and contact with God’s nature, reality or image brings “fear and trembling”…wonder, awe and glory. God – in His reality – is our peace and our security. But God – in our oftentimes illusory self-made image of Him – is a false security blanket. I like what Marley says, to paraphrase, “My fear is my strength.”

    And…I think the same thoughts would apply to the idea or question of “strapping God in” to human constructs.

    So far as the whole father and family thing goes…I resonate with what you are saying. I’m neither a dad nor a psychologis, so I’m not an authority on the family, that’s for sure. But I do think that some sense of heirarchy and authority, however it plays out (and I’m not entirely sure about that) is basic and foundational to the way God set up the cosmos.

    Like you said, though: “Am I a source of security? Sure, I suppose so. But I think a child is also a source of security for its parents: a focus of attention, effort, amusement, etc. So it’s mutual.” I’d say its similar in the relation between man and God. God takes joy in looking after and loving us. But I don’t think God “needs” us.

    A father and mother “gather around” a child, and focus on the things on which it focuses, so to speak, but they don’t “need” the child for “security,” I don’t think (?). Plus, in your story, the partents focus their attention on the object of the child’s attention. What object can a man attend to that God Himself didn’t create or for which He doesn’t bear ultimate responsibility? So in that sense, God follows our gaze, and is also the reason for our gaze in a particular direction.

    And I agree, I think, that the original apostalic authoritorial structure wasn’t as rigid or well-defined as it later became. That’s why my point is that hierarchical structures in general are basic and foundational to the way God set up the cosmos; I’m not trying to push apostolic authority and Papal infalliblity, ect.

    So far as the alters go…I was referring to the idea of man’s sacraficail offering of his very self to God as being “central” to his living in ultimate reality, in God’s world, in living union, harmony and faithful contact with God. I think the church was originally meant to be a representation of that idea or event or whathaveyou. In terms of the intent of the Reformers, I’m not sure what to think of that. I’m having a conversation about it right now with Thomisticguy:

    http://simplegodstuff.blogstream.com/v1/pid/232251.html?CP=

    Pointing to the Reformers doesn’t really help my vocational call…so…yeah…that whole topic kind of gets me uncomfortable.

    Anyway…additionally…I don’t necessarily think that hierarchy and authority either should be or ultimately are “imposed.” I guess its sort of a case by case thing. Example. Recently (couple weeks ago) I slipped up big time in my old struggle. Spent lots of money. Felt like a retard. Thought to myself, “there goes this month’s effort at getting myself out of the financial hole I had dug for myself.” Like, the amount I spent was pretty much EXACTLY what WOULD have gone to my putting some dirt back in that hole.

    So then two days later, my car breaks down (Sunday evening). The next day (Monday) I spent 500 more dollars paying my trusted mechanic to fix it. Now its running good, but at that point I got to thinking of something God had said to me (in my reading that is a part of my trying to get out of my “hole”) Sunday evening just after my car broke down (Hebrews 10:26-31 (English Standard Version)):

    “26For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

    Interestingly enogh, the FRIDAY BEFORE, when I made the big goof…I was VERY conscious of what I was doing. I had no illusions. I even thought to myself, “This is giong to hurt. Its going to make me feel like crap. And its probably even going to have some practical and/or emotional consequences in relation to the world and life. Maybe I should call someone? Nope. I don’t even WANT to.” So I proceeded with my “goof.” And a big goof it was.

    So, then, my point is…in that case, I needed a good authoritative slap IMPOSED upon my stubborn and willful “golden” ass. Interestingly, as well, throughout the whole process…Sunday and Monday and such…I got to thinking about how the “punishment” was out of LOVE. Even though it WAS “imposed.” Sometimes I NEED “imposed,” because I can tend to be an ass. God knows, shit. I’m the idiot who does NOT know…and so needs “imposed.”

    :)

    Jason

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 21 June 2007 @ 8:10 pm

  19. Tolstoy has to be one of my favourite authors. After reading his novels I was really surprised to find a very different Tolstoy in his Confessions. he certainly did reterritorialise his beliefs but without I think ceasing to be ‘a Christian’ if by that one means just a follower of Jesus.

    I wonder though whether one has to know and acknowledge ‘the center’ in order for it to function? The fact that we constantly do reconstruct our structures, and the apparent fact that there are umpteen ‘meaningful’ or coherent ways of constructing our structures itself really says nothing about whether a center actually exists or not.

    In other words, it seems to me to be premature to delete the center (and presumptuous) or even to convert the center into a function, though it may be functional to think so!

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 23 June 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  20. “I wonder though whether one has to know and acknowledge ‘the center’ in order for it to function?”

    No, I don’t think so. Derrida spends a lot of effort making explicit the previously unacknowledged centers of structures. Lacanian psychoanalysts do this at the individual level, helping the analysand bring into consciousness the Master Signifier that shapes the interactions between self and other. However, both Derrida and Lacan deny that anything or anyone objectively occupies the center. Either the center is really empty (Lacan) or there is no center (Derrida). I think even if one is agnostic or a believer, it’s almost certain that whatever one subjectively perceives as the center is distorted by tacit and unformulated distortions that would be worth exploring.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 September 2007 @ 8:18 am


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