Friday, March 30, 2007

Transparency, Sacramentality and Representation

The image and idea of transparency is an image that runs deep in our blood. Its one of the pillars of modern democracy, it runs so deep in our epistemological blood that no one seems to be able to imagine any other sort of being or knowing, and besides those things its actualization is everywhere you look in daily living.

Lets start with the politics. As G.K. Chesterton explains in his What's Wrong With theWorld, the big shift from medieval to modern power was its being handed over to the people. Of course we all know that "the people", in modern democracy", are "represented" by "their people". So the moderns erected the pillar of transparency upon which thier construct might stand. You can't have the representatives of the people making decisions in a sacred and hidden castle chamber like that of an English Medieval king! Everyone must see what everyone is doing so that everyone may keep everyone from screwing everyone over. Only problem is, as history unfolded, it seems not to have prevented everyone from screwing everyone over; but that's a digression from the topic of transparency itself.

Because the question or issue of transparency is actually an issue of sacramentality. That which is sacred is that which is hidden. Either the king's sovereignty - and perfectly legitimate right to rule from his castle - is sacred, or his hiddenness mirrors the hiddenness of that which is sacred. Another pillar upon which modern democracy rests is desacrilization. If that which is sacred is hidden, and we want to see everything, then, well, everything can't be sacred (of course)!

So we have arrived at the epistemological question. To know is basically to see something, for something to be a spectacle of your vision (or at least that has a lot to do with the origin of the idea). Interestingly, however, the Greek verb "to see" is "thea", which, of course also very much has to do with the sacred. "Thea" also means "god". Ever heard the term "theology"? Interestingly, once recently I was having a conversation here (search "transparency" if you want to find the sub-conversation in that conversation) with a contemporary American lawyer (Catholic, interestingly) who claimed that Socrates and Co. lauded and spoke of "transparency" as one of the highest of virtues. For one, of course, the above history tells a different story; but as well any time Socrates and Plato ever even spoke of knowldege, they were at least partially making references to the divine! Modern projection, dude! Jeez. Again, however, concerning projection, I digress. But just to give an idea of how deeply transparency runs in our bloods: even Neitche, despite his distaste for the moderns, still lived in an epistemologically transparent space!

On to everyday living...we spend a good fraction of our lives staring through a mechanically-made "windshield". What need exists for a windshield if no one presumes transparency in the first place!? Damn bodies of wind (which we can't see)...they just get in our way now. And what good is a city hall these days without curtain windows? Or at least a big huge glass entrance. Before modern glass? Just make everything white! Take a little stroll around Washington D.C., and you'll see what I mean. And here's an interesting example from "everyday living" that many of you may not have seen before.

The way I see it, this whole issue hinges around a question of representation. This, however, is the broaching of a huge topic, but I will keep it short, sweet and relevant. Basically, in terms of the question of representation, you can sort it out into a question that is asked or answered in the two ways outlined above. That which is hidden -and held in extremely high regard, even called "sacred", protected, "hallowed" - might be revealed in the appearances of this sensible world. Or there might be nothing sacred. It becomes our sacred duty to uncover all that might otherwise be sacred. To expose it to view, to know its workings. Even to control it technologically. Interestingly, however - as some have noted - after that point in history the physical universe seems to have ceased existing.

In English to reveal is to uncover -- to take the veil off. Also in Greek to reveal is apokalypto: apo = separate or take away; kalypto = cover. A veil is a kalyma. Kalypso the nymph was the hider or the hidden one, originally a goddess of death. Kalypto is related to klepto, to steal; in English steal is related to stealth, to do something in a hidden way. There's strong precedent in the New Testament to use visual metaphors for understanding: to remove a
barrier that obscures (i.e., that makes dark). The assumption here is that things would ordinarily be in plain view but that some artificial barrier has been placed in the way.

So in Genesis 3 you've got Yahweh walking in plain view through the garden but Adam and Eve veil themselves, first by making themselves clothes (their first creation) then by hiding in the trees. Were they trying to make themselves holy by hiding themselves? Are the hidden holy ones ashamed to lift the veil?
You've seen this in movies. The priest sits in a small compartment behind a closed door, unseen. You enter an adjacent compartment, close the door behind you, sit in darkness, waiting: there's another compartment on the other side of the priest, and the priest is now attending to the sinner in that other compartment. You hear a vague mumbling through the partition separating you from the priest, but can distinguish no words. You sit there rehearsing your lines. The muttering ceases; your pulse quickens. A soft clattering noise seems loud in this setting. The priest raises the little wooden barrier separating himself from the sinner. It covers a hole that's maybe a foot square. You're kneeling on a kneeler, facing toward the square that just frames your face. The trapdoor opens, but there's still a reinforced grid draped in black cloth that covers the window. You see a dim and vague profile of the priest, who sits facing the door of his little chamber, his ears lined up with the windows on either side of him. He leans his ear toward you. In a voice just above a whisper you begin: "Bless me father for I have sinned."

I see I've struck a cord! Lol. No, much of that picture reflects your own emotional landscape in relationship to the (Catholic) church?

And as for your first comment: for now I'll just say that your notion of uncovering in the first comment doesn't seem to jive with Revelations, as in the book...unless one were referring to the removal of the cover off of the false power of the Romans. It certainly jives with the idea of theft, however.

Well...I say that...but in a sense it jives perfectly with Revelations. The whole point of Revelations, really, is to live now as if the kingdom of God were fully present; since that's "really" the way it is anyway...especially in the present risenness of Jesus Christos. From here I can jive with what you are saying about Genesis 3....but I don't think that's entirely what you mean, if I'm not mistaken.

The whole point though is that the issue is always 2-sided.

Anyway, I would not say that Adam and Eve were trying to make themselves holy by hiding themsleves, since the sacred is Sacramentality - sacred ritual - does not entail making hidden that which is in plain view. It entails making sensible that which is hidden...through the patterns of human living in space and time. Which implies, however, that what is ultimately most sacred, now, is ultimately hidden.

So then for me, of course, they also weren't ashamed to lift the veil that had not made them holy in the first place. Although the discussion of the question makes it interesting, ultimately, that they hid themselves as a result of their sin and shame. Its like a mirror. You can't avoid God's holyness, lol. You run smack into it while running away from it.
Jason -

I like your post. There is an urge to subject everything to rational scrutiny: movies, novels, poetry, paintings, lives. There are languages that do not translate into language. There are also the terrors of the hidden things of the world. Confession was mystified in a way that made me quite relieved when it was over. I did have the sense of a veil being placed in front of something that was quite straightforward and rational. Does understanding a mystery give you control over it? To an extent I think it does. But there is also the lure of the hidden terrors. And I think too that modern science has become so complicated, specialized, and nonintuitive that it starts taking on mystical overtones. People become afraid of it, paranoid about it, as if it were a gnostic cult. I don't have any strong point to make; just things coming to mind as I think about your post and comments.
Thanks John, had (have) the sense that confession mystified what was quite rational and straightfoward. Meanwhile in my conversations with you I've been learning how to translate between the scientific language of addiction (and such things) and the not-so-scientific language of the N.T. Which is good, considering what I'm going through right now :)

And shoutoutgirl,

Thanks. Who are you?

Hey Jason,

What's your email? Can you drop me an email? I didn't see an email in your profile.
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