“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

divine entrapment

LI was pleased as a parrot with our Wings of Desire post, but it seems to have fallen flatter than an illmade pancake on the ears of our readers – alas! Getting all that dough in the auditory canal – that’s fucked up!

And yet, such is our hardness in vice that we are going to continue a thought we started in that post – a thought that extends back to our reading of Michelet’s La Sorciere last summer.

When Michelet writes about the importance, to the witch, of doing things backward to undo the powers that be that rule over the world, he is, of course, thinking of the Lord’s Prayer. As we pointed out, reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards was a perfect symbol of what Marxists call the negation of the negation. It also bore a relation to the unconscious poetry that runs through Marx’s own texts, where things that are upside down have to be reversed to stand right side up. But that inversion isn’t done by laying rough hands on the reader and shaking him – the reader has to see something that is impossible to see, which is: how he sees. In the path to seeing the things of this world in their real order, the reader has to go through a demonic moment.

Well, in the W.o.D. post, we pointed out the system of espionage lightly concealed by the cosmology of angels and Satans. And the clustering together of all the little fathers, pharaoh to Stalin, around God, the supreme fiction of a society that needs to turn the innocent. That needs a quota of the damned. Up to an including the kids in Miami that the FBI has dropped into a dark hole, forever, after encouraging their fantasy of blowing up the Sears building - or at least having something exciting happen in a life of unremitting economic boredom and terror - i.e, life on a unskilled worker's earnings in America.

Turning the innocent – entrapment of one sort or another – has evolved a whole discourse. It is called temptation. When you say the Lord’s prayer backwards, in a sense, you can hear for the first time that craven plea not to be led into temptation – and you can ask, who are we pleading with here?

As a matter of fact, St. Augustine (my friend and foil Paul C. should perk up his ears, here) had decided ideas about this. In a letter to Constantius, St. Augustine considers a passage in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonicans in which he seems to imply that “only the devil tempts us, and God tempts no one – as in effect Saint John says literally. However, it is said elsewhere, the Lord your God tempts you; and it is necessary that the words of the Scripture which appear contrary be accorded one with the other. And how can they be? By the diverse signification of the word temptation: for temptation is an other thing which comes to seduce us and makes us fall from that which comes just to test us. In the first sense, it is from nobody else than the Devil; but in the second sense, God tempts us some times. Voila, the difficulty resolved.”

That resolution echoes down the centuries and in every cop show you want to watch: is it genuine evil, or government authorized non-evil evil?

In a famous commentary on the Psalms, St. Augustine has more to say about the phenomenology of temptation. We will end with this quote, and pick up this theme in another post:

Now these three kinds of vice, namely, the pleasure of the flesh, and pride, and curiosity, include all sins. And they appear to me to be enumerated by the Apostle John, when he says, "Love not the world; for all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." 1 John 2:15-16 For through the eyes especially prevails curiosity. To what the rest indeed belong is clear. And that temptation of the Lord Man was threefold: by food, that is, by the lust of the flesh, where it is suggested, "command these stones that they be made bread:" Matthew 4:3 by vain boasting, where, when stationed on a mountain, all the kingdoms of this earth are shown Him, and promised if He would worship: Matthew 4:8-9 by curiosity, where, from the pinnacle of the temple, He is advised to cast Himself down, for the sake of trying whether He would be borne up by Angels. Matthew 4:6 And accordingly after that the enemy could prevail with Him by none of these temptations, this is said of him, "When the devil had ended all his temptation.

2 comments:

Paul craddick said...

Roger,

Interesting post. I must confess that I'm having trouble following the drift of the argument - the "articulation" if you will.

At the risk of distracting from your wider aims in the piece ... my admiration for St. Augustine certainly has its limits! In Beyond Good and Evil, Kaufmann translated a statement of Nietzche's as referring to "the holy rhetorician Augustine" (heiligen Rhetor Augustin). I assume that - owing to a similar etymological provenance - in German as well as English one might wonder about a little "homonymic" riffing going down, as in, "the wholly Rhetorician." I wouldn't go that far, but sometimes I feel that way a bit.

roger said...

Heilige can also be saint. But the pun won't work in German.

So, Paul, you are politely saying: what the fuck are you talking about, dude?

I am calling attention - in a Nietzschean way, I suppose - to the political side of temptation, the need of authority not only to forbid, but to continually test the governed with the forbidden. Have you ever read Blumenberg's book on curiosity? Don't you think that Augustine quote is... uh, curious?

And isn't there something peculiarly abject about praying for the Supreme Leader not to entrap one in one of his interdictions? This, surely, is a primo moment of slave morality.