31 July 2007

No Recruit Left Behind

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:01 am

Tomorrow we enroll our daughter at the local high school. In preparation we’re filling out the paperwork: address and phone, prior schools, information about parents, and so on. “Who may pick your child up from school?” Mother and father. “May we include this student’s address in the Student Directory?” Yes. “Do you grant permission to release video and/or still photographs of this student to media groups?” Hmm, I guess, sure. “Do you grant permission to release information about this student to military recruiting officers.” What? No, of course not.

We turn to the next form: Parents’ and Students’ Opt-Out Form for Disclosure of Personal Information to Military. Again? Here’s what it says:

According to the Federal No Child Left Behind act of 2001: “(1) …each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall provide, on a request made by military recruiters or an institution of higher education, access to secondary school students’ names, addresses, and telephone listings.” …The No Child Left Behind Act REQUIRES that the school district provide student names, addresses, phone numbers to recruiters from the U.S. military and institutions of higher education UNLESS a parent or the student request in writing that this information be withheld.

No Child Left Behind is the Bush program for improving educational quality and accountability in primary and secondary schools. How does providing information about our daughter to the military enhance the quality of her education? At least this school makes it explicit that we can opt out of this requirement — I suspect that a lot of schools don’t even bother.

So we check the box: “I request that you DO NOT release the name etc. to any Armed Forces recruiter or the US Department of Defense.” But then the next box throws us: “I request that you DO NOT release etc. to any institution of higher education.” Our first reaction: sure, release the information; it might help when the time comes for university. But wait a minute… why is this question on the same form as the military recruitment form? Maybe it’s a trick question; maybe if we check the first box but not the second the high school sends the information to West Point or the Air Force Academy, who then hand over the information to the military recruiters and the Pentagon. No; let’s check that box too.

I wonder if the school is obligated to inform the Pentagon that our daughter just spent four years attending school in France?

30 July 2007

Invisibility Cloak

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 5:47 am

The night before last I had another isolation dream. This time I was in high school trying to do some sort of geometry proofs, and having a difficult time of it. I wanted to call somebody up to ask how it’s done, but I didn’t know anyone to call. I was feeling panicky, not knowing how I was going to complete the assignment. But my performance anxieties were overwhelmed by the impotent rage I felt at being so isolated. I had a sense that I could probably do the proofs if I just stopped looking for help and figured it out. But I was determined to find someone to telephone with whom I could discuss the work, all the while convinced that there was no one. An old friend was there with me; he said he’d call someone he knew and have that person talk to me. But as he’s dialing the phone I’m raving in frustration, to the point where my friend refused to call his friend because he was afraid of how I’d sound in the background.

I’m reading the seventh and final Harry Potter book, my daughter and wife having already whizzed through it. Just past halfway through the book Harry has decided to shift his focus from destroying the archfiend Voldemort to equipping himself with the means of defeating death itself. Legend has it that a wizard can accomplish this impossible feat if he possesses three specific magical objects: one, the Unbeatable Wand; two, the Resurrection Stone that can bring dead people back to the land of the living; three, the Invisibility Cloak, by means of which one can hide from any enemy, including death himself. Harry’s chums, Ron and Hermione, are skeptical: surely this is just a legend, a story to tell the kiddies. But, Harry reminds them, I already own one of the three objects, and you both know it. And they have to agree: Harry’s Invisibility Cloak is the real deal. It always works; its power never fades; it is immune to all counter-charms and spells and hexes.

Let’s say you have an Invisibility Cloak. It hides you from your enemies, from those who would destroy you if they could. It buffers you from interference, allowing you to pursue your private schemes without interference and to hone your skills before putting them to the test. It lets you explore dangerous and forbidden realms without compromising your safety or your reputation. All in secret you’ve amassed a storehouse of arcane knowledge, mastered strange spells, delved into the hidden realms and stolen their secrets. You’re ready to face death himself if need be.

But now, ready to unveil yourself, you discover that your Invisibility Cloak has wrapped itself around you so tightly that you can’t take it off. No one can detect your presence. What you know, what you can do, who you’ve become — hidden. You demonstrate your powers but no one is watching, or maybe they convince themselves it was an accident, or act as if it hadn’t happened at all. It’s as though you’ve become a ghost haunting the world of the living. But even more you’re haunted by it, by its separateness. It’s as if you’re already dead.

Of course you can continue to take advantage of your invisibility, cultivating the kind of uniqueness that only isolation affords, but if no one can ever see you what’s the point? You stop watching, learning, creating, caring — as if you’re already dead. Would you even care if you found the Unbeatable Wand if nobody knew who was wielding it? And instead of bringing people back from the dead, wouldn’t you rather find the magical Stone that can transport the living across the barrier of invisibility so they can see the ghosts of the lonely dead?

28 July 2007

600 and Counting

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 12:48 pm

I thought about baking a virtual cake, but it might not meet everyone’s tastes or dietary restrictions. Instead, tonight I shall raise a glass of my favorite libation in honor of the Ivan, Are You Okay? post and its 600th comment. As best I can tell Ivan holds fast to atheism while Sam remains Christian. Others are always welcome to join the discussion, which has been going on since last December.

27 July 2007

The Terrorism of Desire

Filed under: Movies, Psychology — ktismatics @ 5:19 am

Luis Bunuel was born in 1900; Jacques Lacan, in 1901. Both grew up in Catholic countries and attended Jesuit schools. Both associated with the important surrealistic artists and writers of their time. Both lived in Paris. For both the object of desire became a kind of obsession. But whereas Lacan grew up in Paris, Bunuel was born and raised in a medieval Spanish town. Maybe that’s why for Bunuel desire remains more primal, more obsessive, more religious, more sadomasochistic than it does for Lacan. No, that’s not quite it. Lacan analyzes perverse desire; Bunuel shows it.

In Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, an aristocratic older gentleman becomes obsessed with a much younger working-class woman who appears in his life as a new maid on the serving staff in his elegant home. Matthieu follows Conchita around slavishly, lavishing attention and expensive gifts on her. She seems cooperative enough, to the point of sharing his bed. But she will not give him what he wants: her virginity. She tells him that he doesn’t really love her, that once he gets what he wants he’ll abandon her. He protests, he pleads, he threatens, to no avail. Conchita is capricious, alternately confessing her affection and devotion, only to taunt Matthieu cruelly when he abases himself before her. He tries to free himself of his obsession, going so far as to have her deported from France. But he’s drawn to her, following her to Seville, where his humiliation reaches its nadir. Finally he’s had enough, and he beats her. When Conchita follows him to the train station, pleading for reconciliation, Matthieu pours a bucket of water on her (this is where the movie begins; most of the story is told retrospectively).

It’s a straightforward tale, but there are strange features in the telling. The turmoil of this perverse love story is punctuated periodically by violent and seemingly random acts of terrorism, the motives of which are unexplained but which are attributed in media accounts to the enigmatic left-wing Revolutionary Society of the Baby Jesus. Conchita repeatedly walks away but, through the most unlikely coincidences, she keeps showing up in Matthieu’s life: in the aftermath of an armed robbery perpetrated on him in a Swiss park, as a coat-check girl in a restaurant where he’s eating lunch, in an apartment window he happens to be passing by. Perhaps most disconcertingly, the role of Conchita is played by two different actresses: one a thin and chic Parisienne, the other a darkly voluptuous Spaniard. The two women alternate in the part without apparent rhyme or reason. Sometimes a scene will begin with one Conchita, switch to the other, then back again. Granted, the girl is two-faced, but both actresses show us both faces of Conchita.

Bunuel never explained why he used two lead actresses to play the same part, but here’s my theory. It’s not the specific woman that’s important. The “obscure object of desire” can move from one receptacle to another, as if it has a life of its own. The actresses aren’t the same; maybe the character they play isn’t the same either. Maybe the French maid isn’t the same girl as the robbers’ accomplice, or the hat-check girl, or the flamenco dancer in Seville. Maybe it doesn’t matter who she is; it’s the object of desire that remains constant.

So is woman the object, the unfulfilled sexual attraction without which a man feels incomplete? It would seem so, but then there’s the title telling us that the object is “obscure.” And though Matthieu is the narrator of the story, though he portrays himself as the pathetically masochistic captive of desire, he too seems to possess an allure for Conchita. She also desires him, or something he has. Matthieu’s desire for her bestows value on Conchita; she desires his desire; it’s what gives her that haughty self-assurance. But she despises him for it; she recognizes her dependence on him at the very moment she feels the most full of herself. And so she pushes him away. But as soon as he threatens to leave, as soon as he begins to reject her, she reels him back in.

The object moves back and forth between the two of them, his attentions alternately attracting and repelling her; her refusals alternately attracting and repelling him. And the inescapably obsessive part of it is that her repulsions attract him, while his repulsions attract her. There is no escaping this mutual terrorism of desire, short of blowing the whole thing up.

(Certainly this film by Bunuel — his last, made when he was in his mid-seventies — manifests the Lacanian idea of desire stimulated by prohibition, discussed at length in a series of recent posts about Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, especially in this one and this one. One can also regard the movie as a precursor to Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien, discussed even more recently, where Luisa brings the old Spanish obsessional desire to the younger generation of Mexico. Other relevant posts include this one, about Hegel’s master-servant dialectic, and this one, about another Bunuel film, made more than twenty years prior to That Obscure Object of Desire.)

26 July 2007

Overheard Conversation

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 4:00 pm

I was walking the trail near the marshy part of the creek when I saw two young women approaching, engaged in conversation, and for some reason I flashed back to France. Walking the crowded sidewalks of Nice or Antibes I would hear people speaking in all manner of strange languages. Whenever I overheard an American I’d cringe a little: the intonations seemed louder, more abrasive than most others. The worst part was that I could actually understand what they were saying. My wife and I agreed: whatever little snippet of American conversation we overheard in passing, the topic always seemed to be about money. So I’m watching these two women approach, knowing with certainty that they’ll be speaking American. As we pass on the trail exchanging smiles, one of them is saying to the other, “…the standard of living…”

My Dream

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:04 am

I woke up at about 3 this morning, had a coffee, did some stuff, felt sleepy, went back to bed for a nap. As I was lying there I was thinking about alternate realities, about how I need to make them the central concern in my practice, about how they’re not just subjective imaginings of the ego but intersubjective, linking people together. I must have dozed off, because it took awhile for me to realize that what I’d just been experiencing had been a dream…

I’m in France, hanging around at some guy’s office or possibly his apartment, I think he is American. I’m standing around reading a magazine without much interest. There’s another guy there too, somebody I did my postdoc with, pleasant but boring. It’s time to go to lunch; they ask me to come with them to a restaurant. I’m trying to save money, so I say no. But then I’m thinking, I really ought to make myself socialize more. Okay I’ll come.

We’re at the restaurant. It’s quite large and very crowded. It looks like the Full Moon, my favorite restaurant here in Boulder. I realize I left my stuff back at the office/apartment. I mention it to the guy whose place it is, and he shrugs indifferently — I figure I’ll have to go back after lunch. These two guys I’m with are having a drink. On the table is a bottle of tonic water and clear square plastic container about a foot cubed: inside the container is the booze, on top is some sort of mechanical siphon for dispensing the booze. I pour myself a glass of tonic, but I can’t figure out how the booze dispenser works. I ask the two guys: they fumble around with it giggling — I realize they’re already drunk and have nearly drained the container. I sip on my tonic.

My two companions get up and walk into the crowd of people standing around inside the restaurant. I wait. I’m surprised to see three young guys sit down on the bench right next to my chair. They speak to each other but do not acknowledge my presence. I sit and wait. I finish my glass of tonic, and start thinking that I ought to order myself a beer. After awhile the three young men on the bench get up and leave. I realize that the restaurant is nearly empty now. I also realize that my two friends must have left. The waitress passes by; she shrugs her shoulders and says in French that it’s strange, but they’ve gone. I realize that she is not going to bring me a bill for the drinks, but that my friends probably didn’t pay either. I get up to leave the restaurant.

24 July 2007

All of Mexico Goes Past

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 8:11 am

Y Tu Mama Tambien is a road movie, a quest for the paradise of the imagination, a place they call Heaven’s Mouth. It’s also a coming-of-age movie about innocence lost, though for the two teen-aged Lotharios it’s the kind of innocence that’s perhaps best left behind. And it’s also a movie about innocence reclaimed, if only for a moment, its traces soon washed away in the gentle waves of eternity.

Julio’s girlfriend’s mother, a Lacanian analyst, asserts that the kids’ relationship is innocent. If so then it’s an innocence characterized by self-indulgence. But it’s not an entirely limitless hedonism: there’s the Charolastra Manifesto (yesterday’s post), recited gleefully by Julio and his best friend Tenoch near the beginning of the long drive from the big city to the sea. It’s the passenger in the car, Luisa, the older woman, the object of the boys’ seduction fantasies, who exposes the emptiness of the code and the duplicity of its adherents. As they drive down the road she lays down her own law (in a comment to yesterday’s post), the law of the Big mOther, naked but untouchable — the kind of law that spawns not mere licentiousness but good-old-fashioned desire.

The two Manifestos reveal one kind of portal in this movie; Heaven’s Mouth is another. Then there’s the car, the means of passage between realities. A lot happens inside the car; a lot more happens when the car stops. But what’s happening on the road, outside the car, as they make passage?

– The car passes a VW bug bedecked with flowers — a couple of newlyweds. Julio’s radio is playing a cover of an old BeeGees tune: “you don’t know what it’s like to love somebody…”

– We watch from the side of the highway as the car drives by, the camera positioned next to a couple of hand-made crosses. Marked on one of the crosses: INRI Adolfo Rios 1955.

– All of Mexico goes past, with its bleak and magnificent landscapes, its picturesque and impoverished vilages.

– At one point the narrator tells us that one of these villages, Tepelmeme, is the birthplace of Tenoch’s nanny, an Indian woman who has cared for Tenoch since his birth, whom Tenoch called “Mama” until he was four. Tenoch says nothing about it; the car whizzes by.

– A barricade blocks their passage. It’s a festival of some sort; a woman comes to the car window asking for a contribution for “the Queen.” As the car passes we see two men stoically holding up a lawn chair on which is seated a young and smiling girl wearing a bridal gown.

– Luisa, whose parents died in an automobile accident, tells the two boys that her first boyfriend too was killed on the road. The narrator interjects: if ten years ago the car had passed this very spot on the road they would have come upon an overturned smoldering truck with two bodies lying next to it and a woman standing over them crying inconsolably. Out the window of the car we see two more roadside crosses.

– On the roadside we watch some military policemen searching two cars. Then the road is blocked temporarily by a herd of cattle. After awhile the cattle move aside and the car starts up again. A police truck passes them, then pulls off the road. Through the back window we watch the police jump from the truck and start frisking some men standing by the roadside.

– The car passes a large group of people walking slowly up the road. Some men are carrying a coffin — it’s a funeral procession. The car passes the cemetery, where a burial is underway.

– As Luisa recites her alternative manifesto the car whizzes by another roadside cross, another police shakedown, some women washing clothes in a stream. As soon as Luisa lays down her tenth and final law — “You’re not allowed to contradict me” — they arrive at the end of the road, which is the sea.

23 July 2007

Charolastra Manifesto

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 11:47 am

1. There is no greater honor than being a Charolastra.

2. Do whatever you feel like.

3. Pop beats poetry.

4. Get high at least once a day.

5. You shall not screw another Charolastra’s girl.

6. Whoever likes Team America is a fag.

7. Whacking off rules.

8. Never marry a virgin.

9. Whoever roots for Team America… (it’s worth repeating)

10. Truth is cool, but unattainable.

11. The asshole who breaks any of the previous rules loses his title of “Charolastra.”

(from Y Tu Mama Tambien)

20 July 2007

He Who Does Not Name

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 8:28 am

One of the issues that arose in Galatians concerned the seemingly inseparable link between desire and the Law, which simultaneously tells us what we desire and forbids us from pursuing it. Can we have immediate access to pleasure, or do we need the Law to experience Paradise? I mentioned in the comments that I’d previously written a related exegesis on Cultural Parody Center. In the interests of continuity of thought here it is.

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by the law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning her husband. So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she is released from the law concerning her husband. So that if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. (Romans 7:1-4)

In Paul’s hypothetical scenario there are two triangles: wife – husband – law; wife – husband – other man. The husband dies but the other man lives. Strangely, Paul doesn’t say that a new triangle forms that links the widow, the other man, and the law; i.e., through her remarriage. Instead, Paul says that with the death of the husband the widow is released from the law. Now what had been an illicit cuckoldry becomes a free relationship between the widow and the other man, not bound by the law. Before her husband died she was double: both wife and adulteress. Afterwards she is neither — she is not named by the law, even though she is still joined to the other man. He too, we observe, is unnamed; throughout he is “the other” (hetero in Greek).

Then, the strange therefore clause: Therefore, brethren, you died to the Law through the body of Christ, in order to be joined to another, who is the risen Christ. It’s not death of the wife that’s envisioned here, but the death of the husband. The “brethren” are represented by the wife/adulteress who becomes the widow; the husband is Christ. It’s Christ’s death that frees the brethren, a death that releases the brethren from the death or diversion of desire caused by the Law’s binding action. There’s a doubling of the wife with the dead husband: he dies to the Law, and she dies through his body — some kind of coupling between the wife and the husband’s corpse. But it turns out that the other man is also Christ — not the dead Christ but the resurrected Christ, the dead husband brought back to life. Which implies that the wife’s husband is always already dead. But she too must already be dead, bound in death to her husband’s corpse.

The Law binds a corpse in marriage to a corpse, and it also binds an adulteress in transgression to the other. Both of these two channels of desire lead to unfulfilled barrenness. Freedom and fecundity result only through resurrection, passing through death to the other side. The dead husband comes back to life as the desired other, the bound wife/adulteress comes back to life as the unleashed and unnamed desirer. And the desire is fulfilled; it “bears fruit.” So: Law either kills desire or channels it into a digressive hetero-sexuality. Resurrection deterritorializes desire, allowing it to attain fruitful satisfaction. And God is on the other side of death, not as one who binds desire but as one to whom unbound desire flows. God is the name of the dead Law resurrected and deterritorialized; God is He who does not name.

17 July 2007

New Reality, New Self

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:34 pm

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:14-15)

I’m pretty sure thhis is my last post on Galatians. My interest was in trying to understand what motivates the Christian not just to avoid doing bad but to do anything at all. In Chapter 5 Paul contrasts the works of the flesh (bad) with the fruit of the Spirit (good). How does it work? Paul doesn’t offer much by way of explanation, but I’m going to offer a tentative theory:

The Law creates desire: both the desire to please and the desire to transgress. The temporal authorities who stand behind the Law desire to assert authority over those who subject themselves to the Law. This whole economy of Law and desire, power and enslavement, embody the worthless elemental things of this world (Galatians 4:9). The crucifixion of Christ reveals both the futility of the Law and its fulfillment in a new law: love your neighbor as yourself. This new law establishes the foundation for a new creation.

The old creation is a way of being in the world that’s characterized by the Law, slavery, and the desires and works of the flesh. In contrast, the new creation is an alternative way of being characterized by love, freedom, and the fruit of the Spirit. There is no way of changing or renewing the old creation to make it achieve the desire results. The only thing to do is to kill off the old creation and replace it with a new one.

But the self is part of the creation; the self takes on its meaning in the context of the larger reality in which it’s embedded. Killing off the old creation also means killing off your old way of being in the world. The new reality defines what a self is and how selves interact with each other. You can’t transform your old self gradually into this new kind of person, because your old self is part of the old reality. Realities define selves, and selves take their meaning within the context of realities. Paul says to let the old go: the system of the Law and the self’s enslavement to that system. Instead take your place inside the new reality of love, and there you’ll find a self that can live freely inside that reality.

And that’s about all I can see for now.

15 July 2007

Castrating the Big Other

Filed under: Christianity, Culture, Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:35 am

But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. (Galatians 5:11-12)

We back up a little more in our investigation of Galatians to savor this rhetorical flourish from Paul. Wouldn’t you say that circumcision is a symbolic or metonymic castration? It’s a perpetual reminder not to enjoy yourself too much or else. But Paul says the real stumbling block, the real skandalon, isn’t forbidden desire but rather the cross.

The cross isn’t meant to function as an even more intensified warning — if you don’t stop giving in to your desires you’re dead, just like Jesus. Here’s a guy who follows the Law to the letter, and what happens? He gets killed anyway. Wouldn’t you infer that the Big Other who stands behind the Law isn’t playing fair? And you’d be right, because the crucifixion demonstrates that the power behind the Law isn’t God but the social order that derives its power from enforcing the Law. Jesus did what the Law specified, but he antagonized the priests and the rabbis and the Jewish political leaders. They’re the ones who punished Jesus, holding out the threat of castration or worse for anyone who fails to acknowledge their authority.

And from where do the leaders of the Jewish community derive their authority? They would have you believe that they’re stand-ins for God himself, temporal representatives of the Big Other. But Paul says it’s not so. So where do they get their authority? From those who allow themselves to believe that the authorities represent the Big Other. Back to Galatians 4:17 — They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. The leaders derive their power not from God but from the people they dominate, from the community that assembles itself around and beneath them. The rulers can rule only if they can seduce people into following them. And people are willing to follow, because they want someone to tell them precisely what God demands of them. Paul warns the Galatians: don’t let them get away with it, don’t give in to your own desire to enslave yourselves.

This is how the rulers get off: by seducing the heirs into being slaves, by proclaiming rules and punishments, by issuing warnings and threats, by commanding respect — by positioning themselves as the Big Other. If that’s what makes them hard, says Paul, then they ought to cut their own dicks off.

14 July 2007

The End of the Cannibalistic Economy

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 11:23 am

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15)

Backing up a little in Galatians we encounter this curious passage. I’m particularly struck by the last sentence: if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. I always thought Paul was warning the Galatians against attacking one another out of spite, envy, mean-spiritedness. But now I’m reconsidering in light of the context.

If you regard the other as an object of your desire, then your desire seeks above all to possess that object of desire. You want to consume the other, incorporating the desired object into yourself. Bite by bite you devour the other, trying to fill yourself up with your desire. But when you’re done eating you realize you’re just as hungry as you were before. Meanwhile you’ve eaten up your desire for the other: your desire is unsatisfied, but the other no longer has that elusive thing you desire. Maybe it has moved on to another other? You look around; you think you see it; you begin sniffing, licking, nibbling…

But you aren’t the only predator: while you’re on the prowl the other is leering at you and licking its chops. You are an object of desire for the other. This is the economy of the flesh, a cannibalistic economy where everybody eats each other.

Paul warned the Galatians that the Law doesn’t just repress desire; it also creates the desire it represses. Desire to satisfy the Law; desire for what the Law prohibits; desire to be punished by the Law — desiring the desire of the Other. The Law eats you up and spits you out as a flesh-eating zombie. But the Law is never satisfied; it’s always hungry for fresh flesh. In pop-psych parlance, the Law and the flesh are codependent.

In place of the cannibalistic economy of the flesh Paul substitutes the freedom of love. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, says Paul. “Fulfilled” means “filled up”: the Law eats the one word, the one logos, and it’s not hungry any more. Freed from the hunger of the Law, the flesh too loses its appetite for flesh. You shall love your neighbor as yourself is the one logos. What do you want? Want that for the other as well. The freedom of love puts an end to the cannibalistic consumer economy of the Law and the flesh.

13 July 2007

The War Goes On and On…

Filed under: Culture — ktismatics @ 12:45 pm

Here’s an article from The Nation that summarizes interviews with fifty American veterans of the Iraq war describing their experiences in-country. It’s a very long piece, but you get the idea pretty quickly.

[Note: Link courtesy of Lenins Tomb, a Marxist blog from England. The link might look like an ad, but click the place where it says to go on to The Nation (I don’t remember the exact wording) and it’ll take you to the article.]

Everything is Permitted

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 8:00 am

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities , strife, jealousy , outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness , faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:18-25)

Desire is perplexing. On the one hand, if we don’t have something like desires animating us then we’re inert matter. It’s hard to believe that we’re motivated primarily by thought, which in turn creates emotions and intentions and the will to act. We are animals after all, and other animals seem to move themselves around in the world apparently without the benefit of consciousness. On the other hand, the New Testament seems antagonistic to desires, regarding them as the source of sinfulness. So what’s the Christian praxis for dealing with desires? Does the Spirit give you the strength to suppress desire, enabling you to live by thought or morality or some other higher motive force? Does the Spirit redeem desire, removing its corruption and restoring it to its natural and good function? Or does the Spirit replace desire with some other motive force?

So far in Galatians 4-5 Paul has been contending that the Law as a list of dos and don’ts was meant to function as a kind of nursemaid. But it’s essentially a slave morality, an outside force that restricts freedom. When Christ sets people free then the Law becomes pointless. Paul even contends that the Law is counterproductive, instilling an awareness of what isn’t permitted which stimulates the desire to do the forbidden thing.

Paul frequently contrasts faith with works, where “work” (ergon in Greek) means effort expended for the purpose of making oneself morally good. Paul regards these efforts at self-sanctification not only as useless but as contrary to the Gospel. Here in Galatians 5, though, “deeds” (ergon) refer to recognizably sinful acts: immorality, impurity, sensuality, etc. If these are the things people do when they’re out of control, then why does Paul call them “works”? I think Paul is saying that, within the slave morality of the Law, moral and immoral acts are equally unnatural and non-spontaneous. The Law simultaneously stimulates the desire to self-justify and the desire to transgress. The resulting sense of conflict and futility makes everything an effort. It’s the life of a slave.

But, says Paul, this futility isn’t necessary. Christ set the Galatians free; they’re no longer slaves but heirs. In Dostoevsky’s famous novel Ivan Karamazov concludes that if God is dead then everything is permitted, that all things are lawful. Curiously, Paul contends that just the opposite is true: if the Spirit sets you free then all things are lawful (I Corinthians 10:23). Has the Spirit put God to death? No, but the Spirit did put to death the slave morality of law-desire-transgression that had come to be identified with God

So now you have a free people, heirs with Christ of the Kingdom. What moves them? The Spirit, says Paul. So again, does the Spirit renew the desires and passions, freeing them from their enslavement to the futile moral economy of the Law? Is the Spirit an alternative means of controlling the inner animal passions, replacing the outer Law with an inner restraint?

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Based on this statement it sounds as though the Spirit kills off the animal wants and passions, replacing them with a different “engine.” And that engine is the Spirit, God Himself. Whatever once motivated the person to feel and to act and to decide is now gone, replaced by an outside force that takes possession of both body and soul. And this is freedom? Sure, it’s easy to do the right things now: goodness just happens, like fruit growing on a tree. Still, it sounds more like complete slavery to me, like the Borg, the pod people, zombies, the undead. No thanks. I think I’ll stick with Ivan Karamazov’s path to freedom.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll see if Paul is able to redeem himself and his version of freedom in chapter 6.

11 July 2007

Freedom from Desire

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 4:28 pm

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:16-18)

So I’m reading Fink’s book on Lacan, and he’s talking about how important it is for the analyst not to accede to the analysand’s demands. Why? Fink says it’s not so much to keep control of the analytic relationship as it is to bring desire into play:

When there is no lack — when everything demanded is surrendered — desire is stymied. Nothing is left to be desired. Desire springs from lack… Satisfaction buries desire.

When Paul says that “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit,” what does he mean? One possibility is that Paul is describing an Aristotelian hierarchy of the soul, where the flesh and its desires are “lower” and the spirit is “higher.” The higher should rule the lower, says Aristotle. But Paul has been talking not about internal divisions of the self but about slavery versus freedom, about the Law versus the Spirit. It is for freedom that Christ set us free, Paul asserts at the beginning of Galatians 5. No hidden agenda; no freedom in order that. So why would Paul now start talking about using freedom as a tool to enslave the passions to the mind and the will?

I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. (Romans 7:7-8)

The Greek word translated as “covet” here is the same word that’s translated as “desire” in Galatians 5. I would not have known about desiring if the Law had not said, “you shall not desire.” This I think is precisely what Lacan has in mind. When there is no gap between demand and surrender, when nothing prohibits fulfillment, then there is no desire. Desire is created by the Law, by the prohibition it inserts between you and what you want.

So: prohibition creates lack, and lack creates desire. In this sense desire isn’t a natural urge or passion; rather, it is an artifact of prohibition. So to seek fulfillment of your desires isn’t just to seek natural satisfaction; it is to violate the prohibition that created the desire in the first place. That’s why desire is sin in Romans 7. And that’s also why fulfilling your desires can’t satisfy you. Desire = prohibition; fulfillment = violation.

So, when Christ sets the Galatians free from the Law, he isn’t just making it possible to be good without following the rules. By getting rid of the rules, Jesus eliminates the prohibitions that create desire, which in turn eliminates the temptation to violate the prohibitions.

The Spirit brings freedom from the Law, from prohibition, from desire, from violation. Someone who remains enslaved to the Law experiences desire as a corrupted fusion of passion and prohibition. The Law-bound person can never do what he wants, not just because what he wants is prohibited, but because his wants are themselves distorted by the prohibitions attached to them by the Law. Under the Law want is inextricably bound to the desire to sin. There is no freedom in this kind of desire. But the Spirit releases want from prohibition, fulfillment from violation. Only in the Spirit are you free to “do the things that you please.”

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