The body of the soul (continued)

1. The popular masterworks of American composition in the last ten years have shared at least one distinctive trait: the manipulation of sonic architecture. Architectural theory in the last half of the twentieth century has shown how spatial organization and orientation not only affects our understanding of time and place but are at least partially constitutive of understanding and subjectivity itself. The task of contemporary architecture has been to raise the art from the bottom of Hegel’s hierarchy to the top: i.e., to construct experience as such. If the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries consisted of the inversion of the baroque, i.e., as an attempt to control the flight of the soul by mechanisms of discipline (the panopticon* is the obvious example here), however, current “neo-Baroque” chic should come as no surprise (and notice that what should be most irrelevant in any depictions of futuristic architecture is a body whose motility is no longer limited by continuous locomotion).

*As Bentham said, the doors of the panopticon, as the building’s name suggests, must, “like the doors of all public establishments ought to be, thrown wide open to the body of the curious at large—the great open committee of the tribunal of the world”—the consequences of which Foucault understood immediately.

Yet that future is already here, for example, in works such as Theofanidis’ “Rainbow Body”. What Theofanidis attempts is not a representation (in the way, for example, that Tchaikovsky gives us a life in the sixth symphony or Hayden’s famous oratorio narrates the creation of the world) but, through the materiality of sound, the creation of new bodies. The term “rainbow body” he explicitly borrows from the mystical notion of the body’s transformation into light, which should not be confused with a separation of body and soul but, rather, the soul’s final and complete unification with the body.

Although Theofanidis draws the principal motif of “Rainbow Body” from Hildegard of Bingen, such unification has been the singular mystical vision not only of the Tibetan and Indian traditions but of the Latin west easily since the thirteenth century. In a strange sort of anti-Platonism, as Bynum has shown, the mystical act consisted not of the escape of the soul from the body but their transformation. The eucharist is not only the transubstantiation of the body of Christ but, in consumption, an ecstatic encounter “with that humanitas Christi which was such a prominent theme of women’s spirituality. For thirteenth-century women this humanity was, above all, Christ’s physicality, his corporality, his being-in-the-body-ness; Christ’ s humanity was Christ’s body and blood”. Lest, however, the body be confused with the source of base and carnal desire, Catherine of Siena reminds us that in the search for the eternal truth “the soul catches fire with unspeakable love, which in turn brings continual pain. … Still, this is not a pain that troubles or shrivels up the soul. On the contrary, it makes her grow fat [emphasis added]. For she suffers because she loves me, nor would she suffer if she did not love me”.** Just as the body suffers to give birth to life, so does the soul suffer to give birth to beauty—to become beautiful—by its communion (koinonia [Plotinus!]) with the divine.

**Later in the dialogue we read that “often … the body is lifted up from the ground because of the perfect union of the soul with [God], as if the heavy body had become light. It is not because its heaviness has been taken away, but because the union of the soul with me is more perfect than the union between the soul and the body”.

2. But, as Catherine says, such beauty consists in a life of virtue and charity. For us, however, who are unable to hear the convertibility of conscience and consciousness (on which little work has been done, unlike the Anglo-Saxon misspellings of “God” and the “good”)—we have been forced to adopt the morality as the child of a poor will with the resources of technically advanced intellect. In this respect, Kant is thoroughly medieval: the moral will is necessarily beholden to an intellect that can never satisfy the task necessary to motivate virtue; on the other hand, if Schopenhauer were right, (reflective) consciousness would be impossible. Perhaps we might in the end be able to rescue something of the moral sense: neither understanding nor will but as a capacity (dunamis) for suffering. Moral suffering, however, is not my suffering but suffering for suffering, embraced for the love of the good.


Among the various writers who have challenged the ideologies of “objective history” (e.g., Heidegger, MacIntyre, Ricoeur, White, and, most recently, Megill’s Historical Knowledge, Historical Error), it was Deleuze who has most insistently pressed the issue despite rarely explicitly thematizing the problem as being “historical”. We cannot, Deleuze says, speak of “the” history of philosophy but, rather, only of histories of philosophy. (Is this not also a direct consequence of the famous relevant sections of Being and Time?)

When Deleuze’s monographs explicate a history of philosophy, each author is presented as a complex or a composite: it is well-known that Deleuze’s Bergson, Spinoza, and Nietzsche are inseparable, for example; Deleuze is explicit about the “monstrous children” of philosophy in this regard.

We can escalate this procedure in the case of Bergson and Merleau-Ponty by literally intertwining two texts on philosophy and history:

the relation of philosophy to earlier and contemporary philosophies is not … what a certain conception of the history of systems would lead us to assume. [Bergson] Between an “objective history of philosophy” … and a meditation disguised as a dialogue … there must be a middle-ground on which the philosopher we are speaking about and the philosopher who is speaking are present together, although it is not possible even in principle to decide at any given moment just what belongs to each. [Merleau-Ponty] The philosopher does not take pre-existing ideas in order to recast them … The truth is that above the word and above the sentence there is something much more simple … [i.e.,] the meaning [sens], which is less a thing thought than a movement of thought, less a movement than a direction. [Bergson]

In a letter, Bergson would say that an “ism” is not merely the name of the set of principles held by a particular doctrine but rather a “tendency, a direction of thought followed by a philosopher”. Is this not precisely what Deleuze means by presenting a “Bergsonism” under the guise of a “return to Bergson”? This is obviously not a reactionary move; Bergson performatively made the same point when he instructed his executors and wife to destroy many of his writings on his death.

The “history of philosophy”, above all, must resist the temptation to become a museum or a marketplace. The task of history is to attest (this word is important) to the “life” of ideas. History is not this life; nor can history—lest it devolve into the ideologies of “objective history”—orient itself toward the ideas themselves (nor to concepts—Deleuze, again). The only proper history of philosophy is neither philosophical nor historical but, rather, metaphilosophical and, perhaps, metaxiological.

The persistence of ethics

If life is thought, even if thought is conceived in more contemporary terms such as reflection (Sartre), a fold (Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze), or self-identity (Fichte and idealism), need one be naïve to hold that the task of philosophy is essentially an ethical one? One might say here that we are still dealing with Hegel (see Marcuse’s thesis under Heidegger on the role of life in the theory of historicity in the Phenomenology), which ultimately means the persistence of Kantianism, especially insofar as the center of the Kantian system was precisely in morality. Even if our allergy to speaking of morality is the result of crude readings of Nietzsche, we need not be trapped between a choice of a return to Kantianism or fundamentalism (even though morality is arguably intrinsically theological or “religious” in the strictest sense of the word). One way in which philosophy is moral is insofar as it is metaxiological. There has already been significant work at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics; what remains is the conjunction of metaphysics. The question is not “what is the meaning of life?” but, rather, what is a life?

Images IV

(This is a spinoff from a work in progress.)

The primordial rain is Lucretius’ central image. “It is raining”, Lucretius says. The impersonal “it” of this expression is not quite like the silence of Cage for whom silence is filled with the rush of sound that is my presence to myself. This is the “it” of a positivity without presence, without concept—of that indefinable space between the raindrops that fall with a muted clamor not into the earth but into the ocean where it is not a question of limit or nourishment but, rather, the conjoining of infinity to infinity.

Can there be an experience of this image? This is the metaxiological question. Lucretius presents us with a conception of poetry that is nothing less than the imagination of matter (à la Bachelard): matter cleaved from form—a pure matter, an-archic matter, power, dunamis, tendency. But this presents a problem, for thought cannot admit of a material imagination thus separated from formal being, for such an imagination is by definition infinite, liquid, without principle or measure.

Thus we begin, as always, in sensation, that is, in aesthetics. The verticality of rain effaces location. On the one hand, the rain violates the law of the elements: it is a downward motion that does not move to the center. We cannot experience the downwardness of the falling rain, for a face turned upward is already immersed in the rain—it is all around—and no index permits a “there” (a Da-sein). There is only a “here”—I am here!—but it is not the rain that is around me. There is no outside because the rain is in me insofar as I am in the rain. The rain that falls on my skin does not merely entreat entry, but I become “soaked to the bone”. There is no inside; there is no location. If it is the rain that falls, it is I who rise—taking to the sky, to reverie. The rain lifts us from the earth, away from the center.

But is this not to imply a direction (to move away from the center)? Rather, the (primordial) rain “returns” us to the origin insofar as the center is not originary. But neither can we properly speak of an “original” rain. The primordial rain is infinite: it is the image that has taken the place of God—not the masculine creator but the feminine genetrix. There is no thinking of images, just as there is no thinking of God (Dante, Paradiso XXXIII). What the medievals had called the beatific vision can now be called material imagination. The image does not come from elsewhere, through the rays of emanation, from the outside. This form of absolute transcendence is, of course, impossible; but is not, too, the imagination of matter?

The imagination of matter requires a propaedeutic. Several candidates have been previously proposed for thinking: aporiai, contradiction and dialectic, epoche, reflection, etc. Lucretius proposes “attention”; similarly, perhaps what we need to expect is not clarity of vision but, rather, we need to learn how to listen.

Panagia: the poetics of politics

Why the image? Panagia has also answered this question, though perhaps less emphatically as one might like (for one, Panagia explicitly avoids the term “the musical” in favor of “the poetic”). In proposing a poetics of political thinking, Panagia has taken important (though early) first steps, faithful to the spirit of Rancière, in the diachronous (or what Desmond would call the metaxological; or what could even be called metaxiological) thinking of aesthetics and politics. But the insight expressed by Panagia’s method is not simply the value of aesthetics for politics and political thinking (although the reading of Rawls given therein, for example, is second perhaps only to MacAdam’s deconstruction of the original position) but the development of a poetics of thinking that preserves the (not just formal) distinction between ontology and logic and the refusal to reduce ethics to either (a poetics of political thinking is, rather, an account of the ethics of representation).

In other terms: the image is what, in representation, exceeds the subject. But of course this is unhelpful because everything exceeds the subject. It is something like, in the Lyotardian-Kantian sublime, the experience of this excess. Or, succinctly, the image is precisely what Bergson said it was (no one else has managed to say it better): the universe is simply an ensemble of images.