Monday, February 13, 2006
A Fantasy of Description* (Paper)
Propositions and discursus towards an Amateur Angelology
“To come into this world, as we said a moment ago, can have no significance other than to convert its metaphoric reality … into its true Reality …. Our author makes it clear that there can be beings who, although they have in appearance come into this world, since they are there, have in fact never come into it. Inversely – and here the analysis becomes most striking – there are men whom we can visibly discern to have left this world. They are dead, they are no longer there. We say: “They have departed.” No, actually they have never left this world and they will never leave it. For to leave this world it does not suffice to die. One can die and remain in it forever. One must be living to leave it. Or rather, to be living is just this. Can we distinguish in the winter, as Nasir-e Khosraw says, between a living tree and a dead tree? Both, it is true, are materially there. But in one the sap flows secretly. In the other the sap does not flow, because its roots are dead. When the spring comes – that is, the Imam of Resurrection—only the first will be covered with flowers and savorous fruits at his call. It is no indulgence in a mere literary reminiscence if the image of the Iranian philosopher suggests the thought of Balzac: “Resurrection is accomplished by the wind of heaven that sweeps the worlds. The Angel carried by the wind does not say: Arise ye dead! He says: Let the living arise!”(58)”
—from Henry Corbin’s *Ismaili Gnosis and Cyclical Time* (1964)
I. Five Propositions Towards an Angelological View of Materialism Written During a Period of Decisive Withdrawal
Prop. 1. That the world appears materially, but is ungrounded in its apprehended “materialism”.
Prop 2. That there is likely no “material” or “immaterial,” only the hidden (which is to say, occulted) and apparent (or revealed).
Prop 3. That the individual itself (both turned towards and beyond “the each” and “the all,” and being “alone with the alone”) makes the hidden appear as truth.
Prop 4. That in this making the hidden appear the individual achieves exteriority through a radical form of inwardness, what we may call a radical interiority.
Prop 5. That this process is ever fleeting, however utterly dis-continuous and e-ruptive.
II. Discontinuous Creation or A Platonism Without Guarantee
What would a site of discontinuous creation be?
How does such a site complicate “site-specificity” as a term indicating a literalized and anti-metaphorical materialism?
Is the recent turn away from “site-specificity” (if such a turn has in fact taken place) the turn away from an Incarnationalist discourse towards a Docetic view – where the Incarnationist-dogamatist cynically believes that God could be destroyed as matter in the form of the incarnated Christ, and the Docetic-heretic that the incarnation was only the appearance of one, that is, a phantasmic materialization, becoming ghost, or virtual corpse -- the “insight” specificity of each whose eyes beheld the prophet. This “insight” specificity, the assertion of a radical individuation of revelatory and ecstatic vision the gifts of which are bestowed by a Theosophical-Pentecostal Holy Spirit and an Oriental-Islamic Angel Gabriel, hinges primarily upon the verse from the Koran (4 : 156): “They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them, and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture. They slew him not for certain”; yet also on the verse from the apocryphal Acts of Peter: “I saw him in such a form as I was able to take him in.”
Following the opposition Incarnationist / Docetic, is the turn from a “site-specificity” to an “insight” specificity a cultural shift towards understanding “site” as virtual, labyrinthine, non-continuous, apparent, and constitutive of multiple universes, worlds, aeons or degrees (the archaic gnostic divisions of the universe)?
How can the museum / gallery or, for that matter, post-Smithsonian dialectic of “site” / “non-site” become a site of non-relation after this cultural shift? How a site of radical inwardness? Of the responsibilities, if not the imperatives, the necessities, of the super-sensible, the subtle-invisible, and the eternal battle for an imaginal realm? What French Orientalist and scholar of Islamic Theosophy, Henry Corbin, calls, “the battle for the angel”. That is, the battle for the form of one’s possible soul, the soul *in potentia*: an angelic form the event of which is metamorphosis and resurrection of the self, and the world as it extends into invisiblity.
Where, in other words, does “site” become “insight”? And how can works of art and the spaces which ostensibly circumscribe them, turn us from sense to non-sense in productive encounter? Where and when does “site” turn inward to become outward again? The inside inside… The outside inside inside… Being "alone with the alone" to encounter the world.
III. Anti-Historical Materialism and Post-Cinematic Insight
Proposition 6. Historicity is not creative alone, if it is creative at all…
Yet site specificity assumes the case of a series of facts related in sequential duration by cultural or natural forces. History, like evolution, is then continuously created.
But can the non-sense of an imaginal shift throw sense back upon the mind radically, the mind in turn back upon itself. Beyond psychosis per se, halluciogenetics, dream or trance states, hypnosis. Beyond empirical or psychological shifts. . . .
The view of creation I would like to oppose to the continuous one is one eruptive and re-creative, atomistic, occasional. It is one most recently intuited and demonstrated by post-cinematic media. Lebanese artist and writer Jalal Toufic, shows this view of creation as it is demonstrated by cinema in his article, “Middle Eastern Films *Before Thy Gaze Returns to Thee*—in Less than 1/24 of a Second”. His primary examples are taken from the cinema of Armenian-Georgian filmmaker, Sergei Paradjanov.
Thru the jump cuts of Paradjanov’s cinema, the cinematic gaze returns to the viewer before the viewer has had the perception that in an instance between percepts the entire world has been made anew, renewed in a void of non-being. Yet, as Toufic shows, it is entirely in these moments of non-perceptibility that one’s prayers for the world become necessary, a commemoration of the divine as it erupts in the discrete intervals of the world’s creation:
“Out of the clash of any two images, but even more clearly of any one image, do not arise, as in Eisenstein, many concepts (even if, as in Einsenstein, beneath them all be the concept of the dialectic itself or of class struggle), but a *dhikr* (invocation, remembrance) of the one necessary Being, who is beyond concepts; or the notion of the absolute dependence of the myriad entities. The jump cut, 'the sound of one hand [or image] clapping,' is a silent *dhikr*. Forgetfulness of God is a molar illusion, since creatures, not having their substance in themselves, are always returning to that which alone has subsistence, God. If one is enjoined not to forget God for an instant, it is that that is the maximum that one can possibly forget Him, since at the end of the instant one reverts to Him, thus remembering Him. From the standpoint of perpetual creation, we are not forgetful of God, but of our return to, of our non-forgetfulness of, God. As in Buddhism, where though we are in *Samsara*, occluded, we have Buddha nature and Buddha face; in Islam, we are, through this renewed resumption into/return to Being/*al-Haqq*, involved in a perpetual *dhikr*. The explicit *dhikr* in the form of the repetitive invocation and remembrance of the name of the one necessary Reality has an echo in an implicit *dhikr* in the form of the recurrent resolution back of the non-subsisting entity to Reality. The disciple must have meditated enough this atomism and the *dhikr* it implies that however much he reiterates the name of God during a *dhikr* ceremony, he does not go into trance, since trance would be a sign of an obliviousness to the former *dhikr*.”(*Forthcoming*, 2001)
Against Gertrude Stein’s admonition from her 1934 lecture in America, “Portraits and Repetition”: “the only thing God can not do is to make a two year old mule in a minute” – Stein, that writer of “continuous present” and “stanzas in meditation” – everything is possible in Paradjanov’s cinematic universe so long as it can be established by a cut (or, more recently, by CGI). So it is perhaps in inverse relation that Paradjanov/Toufic and Stein compose the world serially, Stein becoming ‘I not any longer when [she] sees’ (that is, non-identical in the act of writing as envisioning), Paradjanov/Toufic expressing God (or remembering not to forget Him as it were) where there is no longer an identical subject “I,” the subject becoming disidentified by the recurrent occasions of divine commemoration.
Following Toufic’s highly original body of work, insofar as post-cinematic media is non-linearally generated, serialist, and emanationist (created and creative of light) it may do us best to locate a phenomenology of insight specificity in a poetics of cinematic and post-cinematic metaphorization.
IV. The Preservation of the Imaginal or Non-Sensical Imaginary as an Approach to Being Opposed to a "Literal"-"Allegorical" Imagination (or How to Make a Radical Interiority)
The special view of “materialism” I have only begun to point to and articulate in this presentation is one derived from Gnostical trends since the 1st century (Common Era), and both subtlized and intensified by the confluent discourses of Sufism, Neo-Platonist Theophany, and Persian Gnosis between the 10th and 12th centuries, yet it is a view that may be useful, if not salvational, for our present. What now is at stake in angelological insight and how does it bear on aesthethic production and reception?
Perhaps a better question may be why does a mystical or Gnostical understanding of the material world still matter?
If gnosticisms (literally: special ways of seeking knowledge) and mysticisms have continually been persecuted since their beginnings in Hellenic-Alexandrian culture (5th century B.C.) it is probably because they present a radical relationship between the individual and the divine. This relationship, for lack of better terms, may be called immediate and Pneumatic insofar as the individual, beyond the authorities of a Church or dogmatic hermeneutics or law, discovers the divine for herself through visions, revelations and ecstatic intuitions, that is, through a special imaginative ability. The angel of Islamic, Ismailian gnosis, for one particular example, is not the angel of a multiplicity or a community of beings, but a singularity equivalent only to the soul of the individual who seeks to know that soul as a name, event or symbol within a cyclical and recurrent eternity: an eternity of not one resurrection but countless, of not one degree of being but many: an eternity that the contemporary French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, after Nietzsche’s Persian influenced notion of Eternal Return may recognize as a “disjunctive [ontological] synthesis,” and his colleague, Alain Badiou, “the truth of the event”. The struggle for this singular angel within eternity becomes a collective struggle, a struggle of all beings for the resurrection of the world, through a going within – into the imagination, into the mind, into a dialogue with divinity – that turns each individual towards God and in so turning turns God toward itself, face-to-face with the reality of its creation. In being so turned, “alone with the alone” as the 11th century Theophanist Ibn Arabi calls it, one turns outward towards the entirety of beings which should not be said to be of an actual world, but an imagined one which determines the “apparent” or “material” one so-called. Surpassing any contemporary view of the individual as an ego cruelly isolated by her interiorization, capitivated by the reifications of late-Capitalist Postmodernity, such a notion of interiority may be said to be radical in the way its puts the singular and multiple into ethical relation. The movement of this ethics, an ethics that may be termed that of a radical interiority or an interiority surpassing interiority towards exterior, is one that begins in the imagination coeval with the nervous system (the heart) however irreducible to the senses per se, compelled, as it were, by a non-sense of subtler organs…
If I could finally put forward an equation for a gnostical materialism of the radically interior it may look something like this: from the heart the imaginal, from the imaginal the interior, from the interior to the interior’s limit, from this limit to dialogue of the divine, from the dialogue of the divine to one’s angel (soul-event or true name), from the angel to a community of beings, from the community of beings a return to the heart… Universal Love being preserved by this need to imagine, to turn towards, to be face-to-face, to defer a conclusive understanding of the mysteries one most needs to know.
V. For the Cycles
“It is their own Iblis [darkness, demon] that they must hurl into the abyss, and in doing so they wage battle for the Angel who is in them in potentia. To reflect in oneself the Temple of the eternal Imamate is to anticipate the consummation of the aeon; it is here "to become aeon," to produce in oneself the mutation of cyclical or measured Time, and for each adept this consists in assuming in his person an increasing exemplification of the Angel's being. This implies that what occurs in and by the person of each adept also affects the being of the Angel who is their archetype and who finds exemplification in them.”
Where space begins suddenly
In time and presupposes our love
For the worlds (the world) what image will you
Will one make
So neutral to think
A delay shapes
Delayed shapes suddenly here
And not here
Not yet to shore
The body up
Not the erotic
Mind you occult
By drinking up ink
A scholastic problem
Of love delaying future shapes
Of a certain bow
Of an angel struggling
In potentia with
A certain bow
Circular to sing
The inside before his breath is done
Before light light falsely
An allegory of their fall
And not a fall
From light evening light
Night / Light
Not a fall
As light so literal
An angel in actuality
Kept by its words.
*"A Fantasy of Description" was delivered as a paper at Smack Mellon gallery (Brooklyn) Feb. 11th, 2006 as part of the second of two panels (Fantasy of Description I & II) organized by Eliza Newman-Saul for her project "From the Notebook of an Amateur Materialist" currently on exhibit at the gallery. Newman-Saul's talk, "From the Notebook of an Amateur Materialist" will take place March 4th at the close of the larger exhibition, Site 92. Other panelists have included Matvei Yankelevitch (Ugly Duckling Press), Professor Raphael Ortiz (Rutgers University Art Dept.), Jane Lea (Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture) and Andrew Skomra (The Center for Psychoanlaysis and Culture, SUNY-Buffalo).