Ktismatics

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.

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7 Comments »

  1. This is an interesting theme in Paul’s thinking that is rarely analysed.

    In Colossians 2 there is this very graphic desciption of how God dealt with the Law:

    ” When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

    In Jesus death the Law too was crucified not to rise again!

    Comment by samlcarr — 20 July 2007 @ 10:35 am

  2. Zizek from The Fragile Absolute on Romans 7 and the Law:

    What if the Pauline agape, the move beyond the mutual implication of Law and sin, is not the step towards the full symbolic integration of the particularity of Sin into the universal domain of the Law, but its exact opposite, the unheard-of gesture of leaving behind the domain of the Law itself, of ‘dying to the Law,’ as Saint Paul put it (Romans 7:5)? In other words, what if the Christian wager is not Redemption in the sense of the possibility for th domain of the universal Law retroactively to ‘sublate’ — integrate, pacify, erase — its traumatic origins, but something radically different, the cut into the Gordian knot of the vicious cycle of the Law and its founding Transgression?

    What many people find problematic in the Pauline agape is that it seems to superegotize love, conceiving it in an almost Kantian way — not as a spontaneous overflow of generosity, not as a self-assertive stance, but as a self-suppressing duty to love neighbours and care for them, as hard work, as something to be accomplished through the strenuous effort of fighting and inhibiting one’s spontaneous ‘pathological’ inclinations. As such, agape is opposed to eros, which designates not so much carnal lust as, rather, the kindness and care that are part of one’s nature, and whose accomplishment delivers its own satisfaction. But is this, in fact, Saint Paul’s position? Would this stance attributed to Saint Paul not be, rather, love within the confines of the Law, love as the struggle to suppress the excess of sin generated by the Law? And is not true agape closer to the modest dispensing of spontaneous goodness?

    Comment by ktismatics — 20 July 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  3. “What many people find problematic in the Pauline agape is that it seems to superegotize love, conceiving it in an almost Kantian way — not as a spontaneous overflow of generosity, not as a self-assertive stance, but as a self-suppressing duty to love neighbours and care for them, as hard work, as something to be accomplished through the strenuous effort of fighting and inhibiting one’s spontaneous ‘pathological’ inclinations.”

    My good married, or almost married friends’ experiences would seem to support this view of love with which that “many people” have a problem. Of course I’m not sure about the words “duty” and “inhibiting” there, but you get the point. When left to my married friend’s own devices, he goes elsewhere for “love,” his wife feels abandoned and used, they become distanced…then they try to close the distance by doing things for each other, it doesn’t work, and sex sucks ass. The whole thing works quite differently when both are relying on and going to God for the “hard work” of love…for God and for each other.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 21 July 2007 @ 11:30 pm

  4. Paul’s idea is to give and keep giving, to be poured out completely, and I guess this would link too with the new covenant, where Jesus says almost the same thing. But again, and against Zizek’s “modest dispensing” and personal struggle, while spontaneity is indeed an indredient, one idea seems to be that ‘immersion’ in Christ, in his teaching itself (perhaps?) may be what rechannelises the flow of desire in such a radical fashion

    Comment by samlcarr — 22 July 2007 @ 6:39 am

  5. Non-believers tend to view Christianity as a system dominated by what Zizek calls love within the Law, the continual struggle to suppress sin. It seems clear that Paul rejects this idea, that for Paul love grows like a fruit. Maybe using this image of fruit we’re meant to see something less like possession and more like pollenization. Through something like impregnation the Spirit fuses with the human psyche to generate a kind of hybrid set of drives that spontaneously move toward love. It seems to me, though, that in Paul’s reasoning the Law itself erects a barrier that diverts natural drives away from fulfillment in love and toward their own corruption in guilty desire.

    Comment by ktismatics — 22 July 2007 @ 7:55 am

  6. Paul certainly is no fan of continuing with the Law or even of modifying it. It should be put to death. Paul is also clear that the only way to do this is to nail it to the cross with Jesus and to allow Jesus to then be resurrected in us, with the spirit and minus the Law.

    I think that there are a number of places where Paul speaks of struggling but there the context is different. If anything it is a striving to be more deeply immersed in the kingdom.

    Comment by samlcarr — 22 July 2007 @ 9:09 am

  7. That’s my general sense of Paul’s epistles too. Here’s more from Zizek:

    When we obey the Law we do so as part of a desperate strategy to fight against our desire to transgress it, so the more rigorously we obey the Law, the more we bear witness to the fact that, deep within ourselves, we feel the pressure of the desire to indulge in sin. The superego feeling of guilt is therefore right: the more we obey the Law, the more we are guilty, because this obedience, in effect, is a defence against our sinful desire; and in Christianity, the desire (intention) to sin equates the act itself — if you simply covet your neighbor’s wife, you are already committing adultery… However, this superego dialectic of the transgressive desire engendering guilt is not the ultimate horizon of Christianity: as Saint Paul makes clear, the Christian stance, at its most radical, involves precisely the suspension of the vicious cycle of Law and its transgressive desire.

    Comment by ktismatics — 22 July 2007 @ 9:35 am


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