Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lecture: Beheading and the Impossible

Non potest hoc corpus decollari: Beheading and the Impossible
Nicola Masciandaro

The human being arrives at the threshold: there he must throw himself headlong into that which has no foundation and has no head.—Georges Bataille

We are the limbs of that head. This body cannot be decapitated.—Augustine

When thou seest in the pathway a severed head . . . Ask of it, ask of it the secrets of the heart.—Rumi

Beheading and sanctity are fundamentally related within the Christian experience and understanding of holy martyrdom. As suggested already in John’s apocalyptic vision of the “souls of them that were beheaded [animas decollatorum] for testimony [testimonium, marturion] of Jesus” (Rev 20:4), saintly decapitation is inseparable from dying as God’s witness—a conjunction formalized in the at-best-brief survivability of beheading, its being the unmistakable terminus ad quem of martyric passion. This relation is implicated, crucially and paradoxically, in the ultimate impossibility of beheading in light of the capital hierarchy regularized by Paul: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3). In short, saintly decapitation dramatizes spiritual unbeheadability. Focusing on elements of the impossible within the tradition of hagiographical beheadings inaugurated by John the Baptist’s execution, this lecture analyzes and enjoys the phenomenal and poetic logic of beheading as a window that opens at once onto the originary meaning of Christian decapitation and into the essential impossibility of the head itself.

Friday, December 4, 2009, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.), Room 4406.
Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Problem is not anything in particular

Problem is not anything in particular,
More like the friction of being particular.

Think life deepestly stupid, perhaps on a train,
Not exactly anywhere in particular.

Each day I massage a new spot on Ghalib’s heart.
The health benefits? General and particular.

Why not let love kill everything, turn all to dust?
Soon you’ll begin, stop being so particular.

The sound of death is projects receiving applause,
A hurried knell drowning all things particular.

Empire dies drunk on the taste of its own folly,
Belching worry-consumption of particulars.

If you finally meet Nicola, please recall
His name, remind him of this one particular.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sorrow, Funny

"Alle men han mater of sorow, bot most specyaly he felith mater of sorow that wote and felith that he is. Alle other sorowes ben unto this in comparison bot as it were gamen to ernest. For he may make sorow ernestly that wote and felith not onli what he is, bot that he is. And whoso felid never this sorow, he may make sorow, for whi he felid yit never parfite sorow. This sorow, when it is had, clensith the soule, not only of synne, bot also of peyne that he hath deservid for synne. And therto it makith a soule abil to resseive that joye, the whiche revith fro a man alle wetyng and felyng of his beyng." (Cloud of Unknowing, 43: 1554-61, my italics)

“Existence is an absolute that is asserted without reference to anything else. It is identity. But in this reference to himself [soi-même], man perceives a type of duality. His identity with himself loses the character of a logical or tautological form; it takes takes on a dramatic form . . . In the identity of the I [moi], the identity of being reveals its nature as enchainment, for it appears in the form of suffering and invites us to escape. Thus, escape is the need to get out of oneself, that is to break that most radical and unalterably binding of chains, that fact that the I [moi] is onself [soi-ême]” (Emmanuel Levinas, On Escape).

"I imagine a small organ, neither inside nor outside myself, like a polymelic phantom limb, a subtle psychic appendage implanted at birth behind my crown, during the moment of my coming to be, whenever that was. This organ (or appendix, or tumor), whose painful inflammation is despair—‘despair is the paroxysm of individuation’(Cioran, 1996, 59)—is like a strange supplementary bodily member, intimate and inessential, which I can feel yet not move, barely move yet without feeling. . . . A very special monstrous growth then, means of the apotheosis of monstrosity, something whose troublesome spasm is really the vibrational awakening of a primordially inherited perfection . . . penumbra of whatever being, like the distorted self-shadow that a lamp casts by its own light" ("Individuation: This Stupidity").

Funny how things come together. Someone (an unalterably binding I-me chain) will be speaking on these subjects next week:

Thursday, November 12
NYU English Medieval Forum [at NYU]
"The Sorrow of Being"
19 University Place, room 224. Visitors from outside NYU should bring photo ID.

photo courtesy of Liza Blake