Thursday, March 26, 2009

Severed Thoughts on Severed Ways

Critics generally approach their objects as something to be measured against its (apparent/presumed) intentions and the possibility for those intentions to connect with or mirror those of some community or intended audience, or more crudely, against the critics own hypothetical intentions for it, what they want it to be. This can be called an athletic model of the object, according to which its nature gets articulated as quality, as good or bad performance of its own potentiality. But this also imposes a terribly restricted notion of potentiality on an object, potentiality as only what is visible looking through the backwards telescope of some notion of result. This is lame. We may 'have to live' with results, like everything else, but results do not belong to their supposed agents, nor need we belong to them. Results result only as the acts of other agents. Result fetishism is the twin of capital as dead labor. Cf. Graham Harman on Latour and occasionalism, the lecture I intuitively gravitated to the morning after seeing Severed Ways. And isn't that the ultimate occasionalism, gravity, a rudimentary form of love and impossible mediumless contact between objects? And isn't that why it is called heavy metal?

(Black) Metal says: fuck results, and if you live for results, fuck you (skip to seventh minute). "Black metal," as Scott Wilson decodes it, "is not a form of music nor simply an unholy racket, but an amusic that precipitates a trajectory of joyful, singular dissonance in (non)relation to the conformity of the age." The parenthesis are essential; it is a relational non-relation and non-relating relation. Or as I wrote elsewhere: "Wrestling with and against its own indication, in love with the sign as its fiercest enemy, metallic deixis is a noisy semiotic struggle to make itself what it points to. Before all signification or making of points, before all themes and purposes, metal indicates via the negativity of the unknown sign that it is indicating, that it is happening as indication. Indeed, metal utilizes significative forms (music, words) and digests whole discourses expressly for this purpose, neither to express nor not to express things with them, but to make and indicate the making of the sonic fact of their expression into a significance preceding and exceeding all they could express. From this perspective, metal’s conceptual commitment to negative themes (death, apocalypse, void, etc.) is an absolute aesthetic necessity, ensuring that insofar as metal does signify beyond itself, that this beyond only expose metal’s own inexplicability as significative event. Facticity emerges, is made present through metallic deixis the way it usually does, through suspension of the what, a suspension which belongs more generally to the experience of wonder, where not knowing what a thing is leaves us caught, fixed before the fact that it is. In this, metal bears an important relation to the avant-garde sublime, as explicated by Lyotard in relation to painting: "The paint, the picture as occurrence or event, is not expressible, and it is to this that it has to witness. . . . The avant-gardist attempt inscribes the occurrence of a sensory now as what cannot be presented and which remains to be presented in the decline of ‘great’ representational painting." But what distinguishes metal within this relation is that metal achieves its sensory self-inscription not by standing apart from representational tradition (a move more proper to the avant-garde as such) but by wholly investing in it, by locating itself as a beyond within representation, within musical and linguistic form. Metal achieves itself as such a beyond not simply by simultaneously signifying and not signifying (a domain more proper to conceptual and ironic art), but more ‘naïvely’ and desperately by signifying through the very refusal to signify. Noisiness constitutes this refusal as sound’s return from significance back towards itself."

In a final gesture that almost recognizes something like this, Manohla Dargis in the times review says, "“It is a delicious thing to write,” Flaubert rejoiced, “no longer to be oneself, but to circulate in the whole creation one speaks of.” If nothing else, Mr. Stone, from his tangled hair to dirty feet, has taken himself and his story into the beyond — way, way beyond [last three words unfortunately doubling as a bourgeois wink, introducing the idea of an ironic success, something to be enjoyed as B-grade, preemptive nostalgia, the 'safe' way of enjoying what you dont know how to]." But much more precise than Flaubert on this being taken away is Madrid's Wormed, whose concept exposes a metal trajectory much truer to this film, where one is no longer and yet still uncannily oneself, precisely not circulating in the whole creation but encased within it as within the digestive system of as an impossibly large body: "WORMED is a mental state in which the human being dwells inside this immense universe, like a small ‘worm’ inside an ‘intestine,’ (the Universe). And how he feels when realizes that he cannot get outside of it. The necessity of crossing to beyond, something as being caught in a pre-dimension. It isn’t anything material, it is simply a way of naming a deep human emotion, we call this feeling WORMED." This of course makes the perfect marginalia for the defecation scene (Wescott's excess realism), a moment which works according to the dissonance between the amount of food the characters were eating and its material evidence for the actors' more generous diets, i.e. the opposite of the actors in Herzog's Rescue Dawn. Which is exactly not excessive but what Scott Wilson calles x-essence (See Great Satan's Rage). In other words, the shitting scene produces the logical essence of the film: the living humans are WORMED within their roles the way the vikings in the story are WORMED within their world. And note the perfect Aesopian back look in this scene: why does a man look at his own poop? . . . stupid questions get stupid answers. What does someone look back to the norse discovery of america as (acoustic) black metal? . . .

Severed Ways is precisely about what does not result, what has no issue, as driven home in the final dying scene, in which the snow-submerged face of the dead norseman becomes the final text: "The Norse Discovery of America." And it is metal because it is not interpretively intelligible as result. The possibility of such ateleology is interestingly communicated in the several reviews I have read which acknowledge a space outside of their critical judgement, for fans, etc (which itself is funny contradiction, the reading/promoting of the film as metal, despite the general lack. This is an object towards which criticism is impotent, with which it has nothing to do, with which it experiences its own 'dissonance in (non)relation . . ." Severed Ways 'succeeds' via obliviousness to 'failure', by belonging to its own impossibility of being a critcal object.

If I knew what I was talking about, I would say that Severed Ways beats Matthew Barney at his own game without playing it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Still Beyond the Sphere (in cahoots with Anna K.)

Quand’ elli é giunto lá dove disira

NO ARRIVAL (but this one), NO LOVE (but this one). The when of the sigh’s arriving is the place of desire’s Dasein, the there of its being at issue for itself. Who arrives where desire goes? Who follows it ? Only you, the one who never had and who is desire, only the flowing thing that is barely you. Whence the story of the musk deer finally finding what it wants only when arriving at itself as its source.[i] There is the real fragrance, the sweet self-presence of the perfectly dying, the odor sanctitatis of the ultimate philoputrefaction or consummate nuptial complicity with anonymous materials.[ii] The place where desire wants to be is the there where love already is: “Ego tanquam centrum circuli . . . tu autem non sic.”[iii] But this there is the very here of desire, where it takes place, i.e. in the unity of the double meaning of dove disira. This guinto, the becoming endless of the identity between desire’s to and desire’s from, is love. Ergo love’s intelligibility only as eccentricity, as the heart’s being where you are not: “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matt 6:21). Here the lover lives, in the utopia of the infinite sphere (see Empedocles et al.), forever translating (opus suspirii) the no-where of the circumference into the center’s now-here.[iv] Love’s irresistible gravity, drawing things towards each other via invisible curvatures, is the always-arriving flow of this eccentricity: “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stele” (Paradiso 33.145). Nota Bene: in the non-finality of their innumerable multiplicity, the other stars have the final word. Being-in-love is belonging to what flows beyond, possessing one’s possession by the unpossessable: “there is indeed a belonging to the rivers . . . It is precisely that which tears onward more surely in the rivers’ own path that tears human beings out of the habitual midst of their lives, so that they may be in a center outside of themselves, that is, be excentric. The prelude to inhering in the excentric midst of human existence, this ‘centric’ and ‘central’ abode in the excentric, is love.”[v] Cf. Joy Division’s “Love will . . .”

[i] “Once, while roaming about and frolicking among hills and dales, the Kasturi-mriga [deer whose navel yields musk] was suddenly aware of an exquisitely beautiful scent, the like of which it had never known. The scent stirred the inner depths of its soul so profoundly that it determined to find its source. So keen was its longing that notwithstanding the severity of cold or the intensity of scorching heat, by day as well as by night, it carried on its desperate search for the source of the sweet scent. It knew no fear or hesitation but undaunted went on its elusive search until, at last, happening to lose its foothold on a cliff, it had a precipitous fall resulting in a fatal injury. While breathing its last the deer found that the scent which had ravished its heart and inspired all these efforts came from its own navel. This last moment of the deer’s life was its happiest, and there was on its face inexpressible peace” (Meher Baba, Discourses, 6th ed., 3 vols. [San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1967], 2.193).

[ii] The “unfolding of the cosmic time’s pure contingency through life and by life is expressed by decay as a dysteleologic process. In this sense, life is the medium for the incommensurable tensions between the contingencies of the cosmic time. And decay is the expression of these incommensurable tensions or contingencies along the infinite involutions of space—a complicity between time’s subtractive enmity to belonging and the enthusiasm of the space for dissolution of any ground for individuation, a participation between the cosmic time’s pure contingency and the infinite involutions of space from whose traps nothing can escape” (“Memento Tabere: Reflections on Time and Putrefaction,” <>). Note that this commentary participaties in this process: “It is no accident that hidden writings are associated with collective authors . . . One of the initial symptoms of inauthenticity that Hidden Writing produces is positive disintegration . . . Inauthenticity operates as complicity with anonymous materials” (Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials [Melbourne:, 2008], 62).

[iii] Dante Alighieri, Vita Nuova, 64-5. [I am like the center of circle, to which all points of the circumference bear the same relation; you, however, are not]

[iv] “Utopia does not split off from infinite movement: etymologically it stands for absolute deterritorialization but always at the critical point at which it is connected with the present relative milieu, and especially with the forces stifled by this milieu. Erewhon, the word used by Samuel Butler, refers not only to no-where but also to now-here” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell [New York: Columbia University Press, 1994], 99–100).

[v] Martin Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”, trans. William McNeill and Julia Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 28.


Click the "corpse."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Opening Aesop

As I will read him, Aesop exemplifies the place of intersection between labor, language, and laughter as the human itself. The Aesopian human is an earthy, contingent creature preeminently in touch with the question of its own nature and the nature of things, a being who lives among its evolutionary neighbors most freely in the indeterminate situation, also known as the Open, where the places of both (human and thing) are always in question. As Agamben writes,

Things are not outside us, in measurable external space, like neutral objects (ob-jecta) of use and exchange; rather, they open to us the original place solely from which the experience of measurable external space becomes possible. They are therefore held and comprehended from the outset in the topos outopos (placeless place, no-place place) in which our experience of being-in-the-world is situated. The question “where is the thing?” is inseparable from the question “where is the human?” Like the fetish, like the toy, things are not properly anywhere, because their place is found on this side of objects and beyond the human in a zone that is no longer objective or subjective, neither personal nor impersonal, neither material nor immaterial, but where we find ourselves suddenly facing these apparently so simple unknowns: the human, the thing.[i]

So it is here in “this ‘third area’ [whose inevitable phenomenal identity with Paul’s ‘third heaven’ I insist upon] that a science of man truly freed of every eighteenth-century prejudice [i.e. a proper humanism] should focus its study.”[ii] As citizen of this non-territorializable place, the present utopia of humanism’s homesickness, the Aesop I am following points the way to an apophatic humanism, a humanism of unknowing, one grounded in the passion of the question as the substance of human being. In other words, the passion of questioning, what Heidegger’s calls “the open resoluteness to be able to stand in the openness of beings,” is not an adjunct to experience, not something happening alongside our being, but is the very mode of the experience of experience itself, the movement that reveals being-in-the-world as radically interrogative, rooted in questioning:[iii]

[T]he openness essential to experience is precisely the openness of being either this or that. It has the structure of a question. And just as the dialectical negativity of experience culminates in the idea of being perfectly experienced—i.e. being aware of our finitude and limitedness—so also the logical form of the question and the negativity that is part of it culminate in a radical negativity: the knowledge of not knowing.[iv]

A human being does not simply have questions, but experiences questioning as its essence, is itself only by existing through the question of itself, as communicated in Augustine’s famous auto-dialectical self-realization, “quaestio mihi factus sum” [I am become a question to myself], a statement that is meaningless if read as some kind of metaphor.[v] Nor is it necessary to restrict such a radical ontology of the question to the biologically human. However much unknowing, as manifested in both internal experience and external production of its intensities (e.g. aporia and invention), may seem specifically and exclusively human, this faculty not only logically demands, but is itself evidence for the possibility that all entities are human or potentially human in this way. In other words, a real radical ontology of the question (question as the very potentiality or placeless place or event-space of being), one that follows questioning behind the discursive into more fundamental and original regions of being, into the too-present place where all experience is “whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know,” must by its very nature stay open to its own utmost primordial possibility, namely, that the cosmos and its evolution of questioning beings is itself the ongoing production of a question.[vi] At minimum, unknowing is, as Jean-Luc Marion has argued, the sine qua non of any ethical humanism, the privilege of the human as precisely what preserves the human from itself, what impossibilizes its reification and ideological reduction to an ism.[vii] Yet this ethical function of unknowing is itself unthinkable, except in a superficial utilitarian sense, without the inevitability of the transhuman, without our fundamental exposure to what is other than human, to the animal/divine. Perhaps this why Aesop’s fables use talking animals to teach humans “to be humble and for to vse words.”[viii] Perhaps this is why they (re)initiate us into the quotidian panpsychist atmosphere where all things question and answer each other: “And whanne the wynd sawe the potte he demaunded of hym/ who arte thow/ And the pot ansuerd to hym/ I am a potte” (191).

[i] Agamben, Stanzas, 59.

[ii] Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, 59

[iii] Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, tr. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 23.

[iv] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, tr. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. 2nd ed. (New York: Continuum, 1994), 362.

[v] Augustine, Confessions, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951), 10.33. In other words, I am an “I” only insofar as I am a self-questioning being, an event shot-through with who am I?, something that actually is a question to itself. Or as glossed by Jean-Luc Marion, “I experience myself insofar as I discover myself to be unintelligible to myself” (“Mihi magna quaestio factus sum: The Privilege of Unknowing, The Journal of Religion 85 (2005): 5). Questioning’s ontological depth is revealed less abstractly in the practical necessity for the experience of the question, their irreducibility to concepts. “Questions are as they are actually asked, and this is the only way in which they are” (Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 21).

[vi] In proportional way, David Skrbina explains how modern theories of mind need to become conscious of what they do not know, so as to clarify their own exposure to the panpsychism: “Nearly all present-day philosophers of mind are emergentists, who assume that mind emerged at some point in evolution. Usually, however, they do not address the question of how such emergence is conceivable, and they do not acknowledge that one need not assume this. . . . Most commonly one finds a mushy middle ground in which philosophers fail to clearly articulate their views one way or the other. They seem to know that a clear and comprehensible theory of emergence is extremely problematic, but they cannot bring themselves to adopt the only viable alternative” (Panpsychism in the West [Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005], 7).

[vii] “The weakness of humanism’s claim consists in dogmatically imagining not only that man can hold himself up as his own measure and end (so that man is enough for man), but above all that he can do this because he comprehends what man is, when on the contrary nothing threatens man more than any such alleged comprehension of his humanity” (Jean-Luc Marion, “Mihi magna quaestio factus sum: The Privilege of Unknowing,” 17).

[viii] Caxton’s Aesop, ed. R.T. Lenaghan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 74.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Excerpt: Local Humanism

Here thinking becomes and belongs to the world, to the diurnal event of being where deferral is impossible. The coming humanism, the humanistic avenir for which I am happy to labor, is not a new program or implementable theory of the human and its eponymous disciplines. Rather, it is an entering into a more and more honest, anarchic, and spontaneous experience of this already present existential place via the ongoing renunciation and forgetting of three false values through which discourse pretends to transcend these powers: bourgeois-elitist attitudes toward the liberal arts (discourse ≠ labor); intellectualist conflation of knowledge and language (discourse = truth); and scholarly gravitas (discourse ≠ laughter). Unknowing is the antidote to these pretensions in the sense of being the always present place or indispensible vessel for the possession of true values, that is, values as immanent to things themselves—a relation that is elaborated, for instance, in David William’s beautiful exploration of the medieval poetics of monstrosity as a deformed discourse that apophatically kept open the “question of the adequacy of the intellectual concept of the thing in relation to its ontological reality,” a “symbolic language that . . . expressed the inadequacy of human cognition in containing the limitlessness of the real.”[1] The coming humanism is an anarchic apophatic mysticism of the human, a monstrous hermeneutic movement that utopically realizes the place of its practice and thus the larger life into which it is thrown as a third heaven on par with the one into which Paul is ravished (raptus, harpazo), “whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know” (1 Cor. 12.2). It is the discourse that creatively negates the ideology of the human, realizes the human without the ism: “We are the heretics, apostates, false messiahs, deserters, non-believers, and nihilists, who immediately realise life outside the law on the body of the earth.”[2] For it is not only “apophatic texts [that] have suffered in a particularly acute manner from the urge to paraphrase the meaning in non-apophatic language or to fill in the open referent.”[3] Without unknowing, reality itself shuts down.[4]

[1] David Williams, Deformed Discourse: The Function of the Monster in Mediaeval Thought and Literature (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996), 5-6.

[2] Benjamin Noys, “Anarchy-Without-Anarchim”

[3] Michael Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 4.

[4] And not simply in some vague phenomenological sense: “The lack of certainty is not the weakness of scientific thinking, but rather its strength. . . . Reality continues to appear to us other than we had thought. And in the evolution of our love story with it lies the growth of our knowledge” (Carlo Rovelli, “Anaximander’s Legacy,” Collapse 5 (2009): 69-70.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Severing Does Not Stop

Hovering somewhere between being an object of unachievable murderous desire and the subject of a confused opinion about miraculous resurrection, the fact of John’s beheading is real precisely through an inability to appear so. The what of John’s beheading is absent, the substance of his passion imprisoned, occluded by the presence of its that, the post-mortem circulation of his head: “And he beheaded him in the prison and brought his head in a dish: and gave it to the damsel, and the damsel gave it to her mother” (Mark 6:28).

Accordingly, the prophet’s head phenomenally anticipates another palpable impossibility that it was later interpreted as figuring, the transubstantiated Eucharist (on a paten, diskos): “Caput johannis in disco: signat corpus Christi: quo pascimur in sancto altari” [The head of John on a dish signifies the body of Christ by which we are fed at the holy altar].[i] Like the Host, impossibly transformed from bread into Christ’s body, John’s severed head becomes a comparable sacred presence precisely through its simultaneously no longer being and yet phenomenally remaining wholly what it is, i.e. his head. The logic of this equation is perfectly unconcealed in Byzantine representations of John (reintegrated with haloed, perfected head) presenting his own severed head on a paten, paralleling the more common image of John presenting the lamb of God within a paten/nimbus, the analogue of his “Ecce agnus Dei . . .” (John 1.:29) respoken during the eucharistic rite.[ii] Like the dish that it inherently transforms into nimbus without alteration, only by being placed on it, John’s head becomes itself by aesthetically staying and being ontologically emptied of what it is, that is, by becoming a severed head, a head without soul that is nevertheless and irreplaceably his, and more abstractly, by being something it cannot be, the individuated self-negation of itself.[iii] This conceptual structure is related to the more general tendency within the iconography of beheading for impossible capital doublings that work to expose decollation’s impossible self-negating logic: haloed headless bodies holding unhaoled heads, unhaloed headless bodies holding haloed heads, haloed headed bodies holding unhaloed heads, and haloed headed bodies holding haloed heads.

The figural equation of John’s head with the Eucharist, grounded in the conceptual medium of the disc, leads us to discern more clearly the presence-producing, deeply factical aesthetics of beheading, the strong sense in which seeing the severed head is seeing that someone is beheaded, a that which occupies a special phenomenal durability or ontic aura through the intimate identification between person and head, as if the severed head itself emanates the psychic immanence of the beheaded person, endlessly bleeding an atmosphere of what it is. “L’horrible tête flamboie, saignant toujours” [the horrible head flames, bleeding constantly], writes Huysmans on Gustave Moreau’s representation of the Baptist’s head in The Apparation.[iv] [thank you Valter for this reference!] So the disc is definable as the materialization of this very that, the enframing form that poetically constitutes the invisible property of individuated actuality, i.e. haecceitas or thisness. Each and every thing is of course present to us in this sense, in disco as it were—that is what it means to see a thing, to be before what is placed and displayed in thingness—but beheading produces or brings into presence the more extreme thingness of a being, the thingy presence of what is not a “thing” at all. The severed head is a fatally displayable object especially proper to that ontological seeing whereby what something is withdraws without diminishment into the fact that it is, into actuality, as exemplified by the similarly extreme example of eucharistic presence, in which the fact that the Host is the body of Christ completely overtakes its breadiness in a manner that not only does not displace but actually perfects it, permitting the paradoxical experience of seeing and tasting God via purely aesthetic, free-floating breadiness. According to Aquinas, this happens as a disjunctive simultaneity of intellectual and corporeal seeing. The intellect or spiritual eye (oculus spiritualis), “cuius obiectum est quod quid est” [whose object is what a thing is], sees the divine substance while the corporeal sees the bready accidents which miraculously “in hoc sacramento manent sine subiecto” [remain in this sacrament without a subject].[v] It is the simultaneity and interplay of these two kinds of seeing that constitute more generally the experience of presence as a witnessing of being. More specifically, the eucharistic doctrine demonstrates the withdrawal of what something is as the ground for the emergence of its actuality. The miraculously remaining subjectless accidents are not peripheral to eucharistic presence but the very means, indeed the miracle proper, the impossible unmaking, whereby seeing the Host is not simply seeing the body of Christ, but seeing that it is the body of Christ, and therefore witnessing that God is or being in the presence of God, which is the content of real presence as a fulfillment of the original deixis of the ritual, “This is my body” (Matt 26.26). In other words, subjectless accidents (breadless breadiness) are the means of divine presence precisely because they signify the absence of substance (bread) and as such provide a place for spiritually omnipresent divine being. In a wholly proportional way, the severed head is a supreme subjectless accident that opens both toward recognition of the decapitated person as immanent transcendent substance, that is, as person in the saintly sense, the universally individuated being who is at once there in the highest divine beyond and here with their body, and toward the opposite twin experience of the decapitated person as radical, omnipresent absence, as a substance that is precisely both nowhere and entirely there, wholly reduced to its objective material remnant.[vi] The heretical experience of the Eucharist is thus analogous to the orthodox experience of the traitor’s severed head, the political heretic. Rather than somehow still containing the person who inhabited it, the severed head holds their instensest and most intimate absence, an absence that is always already filled with the impossible, ongoing fact of their beheading, expressible as the unspeakable conjunction of two statements: 1) the person is beheaded, this is their head, therefore they are; and 2) the person is beheaded, this is their head, therefore they are not. Such shimmering, dialetheic facticity belongs to the severed head in a special degree, more perfectly than to the corpse, because of the way beheading inherently allegorizes or plays back into itself the separative movement of death, its removal of one of the living from the living, as its very form and cause: severing. Grounded in the inevitable and impossible identification of human person and head, beheading is the living allegory or self-symbol of death itself, the sheerest aesthetic spectacle of its unthinkability and therefore a natural space for the living experience of death’s utmost possibilities. The figural identification of John’s head with God’s body thus suggests the necessity for a deeper phenomenal understanding of the relation between decapitation and the martyr’s crown, between the beheaded human and the unbeadable body of God, and ultimately, between losing one’s head and the perfection indicated by the halo, beautifully traced by Agamben (following Aquinas) as the potentiality at the end of possibility: “One can think of the halo . . . as a zone in which possibility and reality, potentiality and actuality, become indistinguishable. The being that has reached its end, that has consumed all of its possibilities thus receives as a gift [in dote] a supplemental possibility. . . . Its beatitude is that of a potentiality that comes only after the act, of matter that does not remain beneath the form, but surrounds it with a halo [la circonda e l’aureola].”[vii]

[i] Breviarum ad usum insignis Eccelsie Eboracensis, ed. S.W. Lawley, 2 vols. (Durham: Andrews & Co., 1880-3), “In festo decollationis sancti johannis baptiste,” Lectio v, 2.817. This and other meanings of the Baptist’s head are surveyed in Janes, Losing Our Heads, 97-138.

[ii] For an example, see see A.A. Barb, “The Round Table and the Holy Grail,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtald Institutes 19 (1956), fig. 9e.

[iii] On the Baptist’s head-dish as paten and the possible intersection of both with the halo, see Barb, “The Round Table and the Holy Grail,” 46-7.

[iv] Joris Karl-Huysmans, A rebours (Paris: Bibliothèque-Charpeniter, 1955), 89.

[v] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Opera Omnia, ed. Roberto Busa (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1980), III.76.7, III.77.1.

[vi] Cf. Peter Brown’s commentary on a devotional moment from the Miracula sancti Stephani (PL 41: 847), which also silently suggests a more precise relation between the experience of such presence and having a head: “‘and she, taking the Kingdom of Heaven by storm, pushed her head inside and laid it on the holy relics resting there, drenching them with her tears.’ The carefully maintained tension between distance and proximity ensured one thing: praesentia, the physical presence of the holy . . . [T]he praesentia on which such heady enthusiasm focused was the presence of an invisible person” (The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 88.

[vii] Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 54. Original cited from La communità che viene (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2001). Agamben is following Aquinas’s understanding of the halo as a surplus to perfection, something that adds to it by adding nothing: “beatitudo includit in se omnia bona quae sunt necessaria ad perfectam hominis vitam, quae consistit in perfecta hominis operatione; sed quaedam possunt superaddi non quasi necessaria ad perfectam operationem, ut sine quibus esse non possit, sed quia his additis est beatitudo clarior” (Scriptum super Sententiis, 4.49.5, Opera Omnia).