Friday, April 27, 2007

Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Answers to Thomisticguy: 6 of 6, Systematic Theology and the Body Politic

This is the sixth post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.


I yesterday quoted McLuhan as saying: "...the visually oriented person stresses matching rather than making in all experience. It is matching that is often mistaken for truth in general." Interestingly, the sons of Korah said in Psalm 45 (The Msg.): "You're the handsomest of men; every word from your lips is sheer grace, and God has blessed you, blessed you so much. Strap your sword to your side, warrior! Accept praise! Accept due honor! Ride majestically! Ride triumphantly! Ride on the side of truth! Ride for the righteous meek!" Speaking of the meek, I'm still wondering what Aquinas was saying there about "liberality to" or "suckling" the "needy." Anywhoo.

"Making" - referenced by McLuhan as a standard of truth along with matching - or "narrative," is about the "handsomness" of the epiphanic. No, not ghosts - its about the ANNOINTING of the BODY of the king! Which by the way happens to be the vessel of sensory perception.

And interestingly, in light of McLuhan and technology, in the previous Psalm the sons of Korah said: "You're my King, O God—command victories for Jacob! With your help we'll wipe out our enemies, in your name we'll stomp them to dust. I don't trust in weapons; my sword won't save me— But it's you, you who saved us from the enemy; you made those who hate us lose face. All day we parade God's praise—we thank you by name over and over."

Also interestingly, regarding the "body politic", that very Psalm starts: "We've been hearing about this, God, all our lives. Our fathers told us the stories their fathers told them, How single-handedly you weeded out the godless from the fields and planted us, How you sent those people packing but gave us a fresh start." That changes the use or role of systematic theology - away from WHO tells things to one of the things our father tells us.

The message "freshly" "starts" from the mouth of the father, who REPRESENTS the Father. And that fact presents another problem with systematic theology. Its a bad REPRESENTATION of the Father. Its pretty good at telling the truth (giving it the benefit of the doubt), but its a horrible father. Again, too, this - being a conversation about systems and God and whether or not we will "set sail in a sea of sentimentality" - is also a question of what holds things together. Its acutally COMMANDED in the scriptures, for the fathers to pass it on to the sons.



Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Answers to Thomisticguy: 5 of 6, Justice and the Body Politic

This is the fifth post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.

B. 3. On the cross, violence and presence: returning to the quote on Brock and Parker:“Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker argue that belief in the saving power of Jesus's death has created a culture in which violence and suffering are accepted, in which destructive self-sacrifice is endured by the faithful—and especially by women. Rather than build a message of salvation around a traumatic and torturous death—God's murder of his own son—Brock and Parker suggest that Christians seek salvation through love, through compassionate connection with God and the world. They suggest a theology not of atonement, but of presence.”

In light of all that body and self-image and McLuhan stuff, what would you have to say to the following, which I actually quoted above: “Christians...have a peculiar war to fight which concerns their identity? The Christian feels the downward mania of the earth and its treasures, and is just as inclined to conform his sensibilities [note: did NOT say CHOICES] to man-made environments as anyone else. When the secular man senses a new technology is offering a threat to his hard-won human image of self-identity [DIFFERENT FROM HIS HUMAN NATURE], he struggles to escape from this new pressure. When a community [BODY POLITIC] is threatened in its image of itself by rivals or neighbours, it goes to war. Any technology that weakens a conventional identity image creates a response of panic and rage which we call 'war.' Heinrich Hertz, the inventor of radio, put the matter very briefly: 'The consequences of the image will be the image of the consequences.'When the identity image which we enjoy is shattered by new technological environments or by invaders of our lives who possess new weaponry, we lash back first by aquiring their weaponry and then by using it. What we ignore is that in aquiring the enemy's weaponry, we also destroy our former identity. That is, we create new sensory environments which 'scrub' our old images of ourselves. Thus war is not only education but also a means of accelerated social evolution. It is these changes that only the Christian can afford to laugh at. People who take them seriously are prepared to wipe out one another in order to impose them as ideals."

In other words, I’m not asking you about Just War Theory. McLuhan’s perceptions and notions here about what often leads people into war is different from a theoretical and/or moral question about the justice of one particular war or other. He’s simply talking about that self-preserving urge in man to which Christ refers when he says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you,” and “Take up your cross, and follow me.” That’s why he said: “The Christian…is just as inclined to conform his sensibilities [note: did NOT say CHOICES] to man-made environments as anyone else.” And that he said “sensibilities” (and in light of the above conversation about Descartes, absence, presence and being could just as well have said, “conform his being”) is why McLuhan is not necessarily a pacifist based on what he says here about war. In fact, knowing that Chesterton is one of his heroes, McLuhan was probably not a pacifist (but I don’t know). That he is talking about “self-image” is, again however, why he’s not mistaking humans for animals.

So, to be clear and explain where I stand in relation to Brock and Parker (since my explaining of myself is the purpose of section B here). Although I am interested in “presence”, and compassion and such things as that…their devaluing of the cross and their feminism sound a bit off to me. I don’t really jive with Brock and Parker, based on what’s being said here, although I am interested in presence and compassion (compassion, partially, is presence with another) in a community of believers washed clean by the BLOOD of Christ (and not just by the teaching of Christ to be nice to each other). To me, however, that does not mean that the authorities of the state are not called to perform the justice to which the Bible calls them.

I just can’t imagine being Matt Damon’s character in the film “The Good Shepherd.” That one seems easy. But then the one that really stumps me is Rober DeNiro’s character, who is Catholic. Much of what consumes his being is his duty to his country, which often involves things that really aren’t just, even in terms of just war theory.

I also can’t the get line out of my head from the professor who was about to die, which he spoke to Matt Damon’s character early on in his “Intelligence career”: “Get out while you still can, while you still have a soul.” Sure enough by the end of the movie he was friendless and alone. That the world is called to perform its justice, and that we are saved by the BLOOD of Jesus, does not, however, mean that we are then, as part of the process of the salvation of the world, concentrate on shedding its blood. Rather Christ is meant to allow the following proclamation, from Psalm 45: “My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness. I pour it out in a poem to the king, shaping the river into words.” That is not to dillude myself that suffering doesn’t come in Christ, but I hope you get my point.

Also - I am still wondering how all this relates, to the Aquinas link that you sent to me, as well as how it relates to whatever you meant by “the classical more hard-line” notions of justice. Here, then, I AM asking about Just War Theory – I suppose…?

B. 4. Hopefully the idea for me is the “presence” in the world of a community that identifies itself in Christ’s image firstly rather than by its own “now” sinful image as reflected in the world. The world follows that urge to build and maintain its self-image at all costs. That’s what makes it the world - that it hasn’t died to itself on the Cross! “What is needed is a readiness to undervalue the world altogether. This is only possible for the Christian. Willingness to laugh at the pompous hyperboles and banalities of moon-shots [very relevant to systematic theology] may need to be cultivated by some. The 'scientific mind' is far too specialized to grasp very large jokes. For example, Newton did not discover gravity, but levity, not earth-pull, but moon-pull." Such readiness for undervaluing and laughing at something so large as the world is needed, precisely because such pomp is an effort to fight for a strong self-image, which is of course a “vain” fight, to reference Ecclesiastes again. As a pastor said here in L.A. on Easter morning: “We all have a messiah complex.” Lol. Although its not funny when you feel like you’re o the cross with Jesus.



Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Answers to Thomisticguy: 4 of 6, Descartes' Senseless Self Image and the Absence of the Free Market

This is the fourth post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.

Also, just because man enters into the no-man’s land of thinking about the doughnut that he ate this past morning does not change the fact, as pointed out by McLuhan, “every human being is incessantly engaged in creating an identity for himself.” What that means is that everything after Descartes is cogitified. Keeping in mind that the thinking cogito is, of course, not a perceiving organ of the body, we still have to remember that it’s the MIND – and NOT the body – who is capable of even ever processing anything that is “absent” in the first place. Hence my reference to a man’s thinking about a doughnut that he ate this morning as his “entering into the no-man’s land of thinking.” At the same time, however, his body is still present and perceiving everything about his this-man’s land of his dining room.

Here what YOU said becomes VERY relevant: “Central to classical metaphysics is the study of ontology—the study of being. Therefore, the ‘metaphysics of absence’ seems like a strange concept. From an ontological perspective I might term this as the ‘study of non-existence’—which, of course, cannot be much of a study since a non-existent thing is literally nothing.” A Descartian “being” who actually IDENTIFIES himself BY, with and through that part of himself that is able to actually BE “absent” (present somewhere other than where his body is at any given place in space and time)…uuhh…that’s confusing….and yes, very very strange.

That means that Descartes actually identifies and defines his very self – and his very existing - by what IS NOT (present). How on earth does that make sense!? Answer: it doesn’t. The thinking being, however, is still existing; its just that what is present to him by which he identifies and defines his very existence is not actually present to his body, which, previous to Descartes, was very much a large part of how most folks thought of their very self and their very existing (or existence, or whatever). In other words, previous to Descartes, most folks identified themselves with their bodies.

Oddly enough, the idea seems a bit loony to us now, to identify yourself with your body. I agree with you: this “seems like a strange concept.” But its not my fault; blame Descartes. If my professor hadn’t beaten me over the head with this “body” stuff for three years in college before I ever came across McLuhan like three or four years later, I would have thought McLuhan was loony! Because implicit in everything he says is that our body is part of not only our being but our identity.

Anyway, I had previously indicated that all of this absence and presence stuff is connected to the idea(l) of a free market economy. Keep in mind that from the get-go the free market is a theoretical ideal. That is its essence; that is what “defines” it. Its being an ideal is how it is identified. And yes, you guessed it, that’s because man is now a theoretical being; man actually considers his very identity to BE his thinking, his speculating…so of course the “technologies” that are “extended” from his being are ALSO “theories” - which must somehow of course then be “applied” - and also of course, since man is also at the time of Descartes, after the printing press, also a visual being – this “application” must occur in a time sequence of occurring after the completion of the theorizing. Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations DOWN, then it was “applied”.

I stressed the “wrote…DOWN” part to reference “as if from above, so to speak” – to quote the guy who at the beginning of this conversation was commenting on Smith’s critique of the emerging church: “If some ancient-future emergents do not see some sort of continuity with an authentic Christian tradition nor configure their ecclesiology in accountable relationships to a broader body but they selectively appropriate parts of the tradition that they find preferable, they may be assuming another kind of autonomy--one that picks and chooses 'from above' as it were. This may operate as much in a consumer framework as otherwise, and as many have said, one common way to be post-modern is to be a consumer self…”

In that light consider for a moment that notion of an ideally free market with the original Greek root of the word “economy.” Economy simply comes from the Greek word for “house” – “oikos.” Its not a whole theoretical system of thought (from above) about value exchange “out” in the world (out in a place that is not present to one’s body in the here and now). It is simply your house, your household, your domus, your dwelling. It is what the household fights to “keep up” rather than what the doctrinal ideal “keeps free” from above. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

As you can see, then, what I mean by “a metaphysics of absence” and of “presence” is in fact strange, but it is not, however, occult. So moving on…

Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Answers to Thomisticguy: 3 of 6, McLuhan's Sensible Self Image

This is the thirst post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.

B. 2. Consider again the man in B.1. who would rather have his wife perceptually “present” with him. That was part of an exercise meant only to describe and go through the dynamics of the kinds of things that actually are present and absent in any given situation. In that light, however: that my ex-roommate felt like he was actually loosing a part of himself when his fiancée quite breathing when she had a seizure is why McLuhan was saying the following, which I quoted above: “Going along with the total and, perhaps, motivated ignorance of man-made environments is the failure of philosophers and psychologists in general to notice that our senses are not passive receptors of experience...They [psychologists of all periods] prefer to study the mechanisms of the senses rather than the worlds created by them...Every human being is incessantly engaged in creating an identity for himself. The image differs with the stages of youth and age, but even more it differs with the technological service environment within which this image-making activity proceeds." - McLuhan, The Medium and The Light, p. 91.

So consider the web of relationships between what is absent and present for a group of pre-alphabet Greeks speaking in their Forum about…whatever. I could go in any number of directions here, but the point I want to make is that the words present in their minds as they speak them have a meaning relationship given to them based on a code that they first learned and have only ever processed or perceived through the ear. Their memory of the word, and even how they associate meaning with any given word is associated for them with the very process of how hearing occurs, as opposed to their other four senses. This is why McLuhan talks about how the acoustic man experiences things in terms of a temporal “simultaneity” and “heterogeneity” (both special and temporal) in which everything seems to come from all angles at the same time, and in which there seem to be gaps between the pieces of information or thought or memory (or whatever you want to call it) that “become present” to your mind, or to some other person’s ear when you speak it, or to your own ear if it was spoken by the other person.

Now consider the same exact conversation occurring in the same exact place by a group of post-alphabet Greeks. How the words that are “present” to their mind, to their ears or to another’s ear has meaning in reference or relation to an “absent” piece of papyrus with those very words written on it, words which that person has actually viewed before on that piece of papyrus. The absent visual image of the written or carved word is actually now present in or to his mind. This man has a very different relationship to the word(s) that he is speaking than did the pre-alphabet Greeks who were having the same exact conversation not too long before him. For this man, his memory of the word, and even how he associates meaning with it is associated for him with the very process of how SEEING occurs, as opposed to HEARING. This is why post alphabet man thinks more in terms of temporal sequence of one after the other in which everything is connected through a special homogeneity that corresponds to the visual field before him.

Visually right now, I can see the wall, the computer screen, pieces of paper, my cell phone, a marker, some yellow post-its on the wall…I can see them all in my visual field but the way they are perceived by my eyes and processed by my brain is one after the other in the context of that unified field of vision. That is different from if I close my eyes and don’t know when what sound might come next from what direction or how it might relate to any other sound that might occur before or after and come from any similar or different angle in my acoustic field.

Again, however, because man is always busy building a self-image for himself, these perceptual processes that occur are not just incidental things that happen without consequence or effect on our being. Like it was hinted at above, how we actually perceive or process our environment actually effects how we think and how we define who we are. The visual man comes to think more in terms of connectedness and sequence. The visual man comes to think of himself as a homogeneous being who experiences the world in a sequence of moments that follow upon each other (Aristotle). Truth for the visual man is only valid or legitimized if one thing can be successively matched up with or can correspond with another things homogeneously (Plato’s idea of Truth in the Timeaus). McLuhan notes that Plato and Aristotle funnily fancied that the sudden cultural shift in emphasis to such connectedness (“mistaking matching for truth in genral”) was owed solely to their THEORETICAL endeavors!

Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Answers to Thomisticguy: 2 of 6, Doughnuts and Metaphysics

This is the second post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.

B. My trying to help you understand where I’m at.

B. 1. You said: “I hate to seem dense, but, I literally do not know what ‘metaphysics of absence’ means. Therefore, it becomes an impossibility for me to connect it to free-market theory. Let me share with you one of the reasons why I find it so hard to grasp what you are trying to communicate. For instance, the terms ‘metaphysics of absence’ seem odd to me.” First of all, I would have a hard time believing that you are less “dense” than myself. My profile name is partially an indication of my stubborn immobility.

Secondly, let me see if I can help you understand a bit what I mean, if I can. Imagine a man sitting in his dining room thinking about something, anything. We will go through a number of different scenarios of what he might be thinking about in order to hopefully get at what I mean.

So, first of all, imagine him thinking about the empty plate that was just a few minutes ago filled with food. Imagine him thinking about the color of the plate, how it might have been made, how the light shines on it, and even his judgment on whether he thinks it’s a good plate or not, and what it is on which he decides to base his judgment. First of all, the plate itself is “present”, as is the man himself thinking about the plate. This means that he is actually PERCIEVING the plate, as well as “thinking about it,” since he’s decided to “con-centrate” on it. In his thinking about it (con-centrating his being on it), as well, there is a lot of things involved in his thinking that are NOT “present”, so things which are absent (as least absent in relation to what is there present). The plant where it was made, the machines that went into making it, the sun itself that he cannot see that’s causing the light to shine in a certain way in the certain way that he can see, the food that he could see but now can only feel in his belly (so the food that he is still perceiving, but in a different way – as visual beings we would actually think of the food itself as “absent” once its no longer on the plate, which in itself is interesting).

We could go through the same exercise with an object of his longing that is NOT “present” to his sensible perception in the actual here and now. Imagine that he’s thinking about his wife, and not even in any “dirty” way. He just loves her and wants to be with her, and so finds her “with” him, so to speak – but at that moment she is with him “merely” in his mind – and I say“merely,” because he’d rather have her with him.

And we could go through that same exercise as well if we consider the very same man sitting in the very same place, but rather thinking simply “about” a sequence of words, placing a series of words that have a relationship to each other in time that gives them some sort of meaning, whatever the meaning happens to be of whatever words happen to be the object of his thought at that time. I don’t here like the term “thinking about”, because in reality he is actually thinking something, but there is also an “aboutness” in regards to the words as “objects” in his mind. Nonetheless…that’s not critical now, because that’s not what we are talking about. What we are talking about is absence and presence.

So what my concern here is what is actually present and what is actually absent to this man at this moment. Or, to say that anything is “absent to him” and “present to him” is in reality sort of just a figure of speech. Because in reality they are present in his mind or absent from his mind. Or there, as with the plate, there may be things that are absent but that lend meaning or substance to what it is that does happen to be present in his mind, which therefore in a sense actually ARE part of what is present.

Example. Lets say he is thinking: “Man, that doughnut was really good this morning.” The complexity of the dynamics there in the various relationships between what is actually present and what is actually absent is astounding, but in this case it is all only present in his mind. Neither the doughnut nor the morning is actually present to his senses at that moment. The goodness could be said to be present, but at the same time it is only through the memory of the absent doughnut that he ate in the absent morning.

Now if you consider all the interrelationships between what was actually present and absent in the moment when he was actually sensually perceiving the doughnut (including the hole in the middle of the doughnut :)…holy crap that’s a boatload of complexity – especially in light of the absence of the doughnut right this moment when he sits at his dining room table! The question is, did he eat the doughnut at his dining room table, or at Dunkin’ Doughnuts!? And was the night that partially defines his morning one of warmth, coziness and good sleep or one of coldness, alienation, restlessness and a broken central heating system in his apartment (all of which involve things beyond just his own experience…for example we all “experience” alienation and separation from God, which is a truth in itself beyond one’s “experience” of it)!?

Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Questions to Thomisticguy: 1 of 6

This is the first post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.


A. To start with my trying to understand where you’re at.

A.1. On the body politic. You said: “My response is, yes, I also believe that Fitch’s thoughts are “an example of thinking in terms of a body politic.” Additionally, his article is about the relationship between systematic theology and the body politic. However, my view is that we need to make systematic theology a high priority precisely to avoid the kinds of theological errors that Fitch is making. If the ECM devalues systematic theology it will be susceptible to these kinds of serious errors.”

So, are you saying that thinking in terms of a body politic is in itself “the kind of serious error” to which you refer? Even regardless of the issue or question of multiculturalism within that potential body politic? If so, then what is a political relationship? Is it only a relationship between a governing “body” and one governed? And what too would be a social relationship, or even a “society”? Would a “society” just be a mass of people, in which a social relationship is a glumb or piece from that “mass” relating to another glump or piece? Yes, I made up the word “glump”; and yes I used the word piece instead of “part” or “member” on purpose – to ask my question.

My suspicion is that its not like that for you, but that political and or social entities of whatever sort are generally defined for you by geographical or territorial markers or boundaries and/or property boundaries. And with differences in political and/or economic ideologies that characterize different political groups or “nations.” And then maybe cultural, linguistic and racial differences come into play as well for you, I would imagine.

My basic question is whether or not your idea of what forms, makes or defines a community has anything to do with its being a “body politic” – since geography and ideology really doesn’t necessarily make up a “body politic”? Additionally, I am asking whether for you thinking of it in such terms would be a “serious error”? Is being part of a body politic not actually an essential part of what it means to be human?

A.2. On the Cross, presence and violence. In your attempts to understand what I mean by “a metaphysics of presence”, you quoted: “Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker argue that belief in the saving power of Jesus's death has created a culture in which violence and suffering are accepted, in which destructive self-sacrifice is endured by the faithful—and especially by women. Rather than build a message of salvation around a traumatic and torturous death—God's murder of his own son—Brock and Parker suggest that Christians seek salvation through love, through compassionate connection with God and the world. They suggest a theology not of atonement, but of presence.”

Are you thinking that Fitch (or myself) are devaluing the cross or its violence in regards to its theological significance? Or that we are devaluing contemporary humans’ relationship to the cross (not to ask an either/or question between the theological value of the cross and a contemporary human being’s relation to the cross, but to ask two separate questions)? Or are you thinking that Fitch or myself are misinterpreting the Cross’s consequences for our ideas of justice in the world – that the Cross’s message to humans about how to relate to each other “externally” is not coming across properly?

And marginally, how does this relate to Aquinas and “to each his own”? In other words, does Aquinas’ notion in some way determine what you are asking here or what you mean by your question? If so, then how?

A.3. Also in regards to the above quote from Brock and Parker, what is your reaction to B.3., below?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

History and Salvation, Prometheus and Pan

Immediate warning and disclaimer: the following post thrusts the reader into an already ongoing conversation on lots of things between two people who view those things differently. So be prepared to do lots of mind-bending imagination-gymnastics, which you hopefully enjoy...

Recently, John Doyle proposed - over at this particular post at his ktismatics blog - the following: "And The [Nicean] Creed doesn’t even cover a lot of the big debates that would take center stage in subsequent centuries: transubstantiation, the Fall, predestination, universal salvation… It’s not that consensus broke down later; it’s that nobody had thought about these issues clearly enough for a controversy to arise."

Then whether my response really had a whole lot to do with what he meant by that I said the following: "I think that the emergence of these pot-stirring debates over time owes less to Pandora than to Prometheus and/or Pan. Pan does, however have some similarity to Pandora. If you ask me, Pandora is a bit of a knee-jerk attribut(ion). That scientific evolution stuff, man. Fight or flight. Or maybe even the emergence of particular arguements at particular times owes less to Prometheus than to Genesis. Regardless, 'because no one thought of them clearly enough' sounds way too 'endless series of chance-driven cause and effect relationships' for me." Eventually, we got on more of the same page, but in the more immediate future, he asked me who on earth I meant, and I said something like the following. Let this serve as some of my thoughts on history.

Pan/Prometheus? I was referring to our conversation about Giotto, Crosby and that whole time period (example here). The relationship between the unification and universalization of things coupled with the tying down of things. While Dante was unifying the languages of Italy and the mystics were being all spiritual and what-not, Giotto was distinguishing each separate figure in the field of a painting. Dante probably did something that corresponds, most likely, and the mystics were obsessed with the meaning of each little number. My guess is that with Dante language took one step in the direction of the positivists, in which each word and each referrant has a one to one ratio, and only such.

I know that the discussion on predestination and universal salvation arose around that general time, or soon thereafter. These are very much questions that are tied to the ability, nature and working of the human mind. Questions as much of its grasp on things as on the “truth” of one side of the argument or the other. Which, of course, has almost nothing to do with who wins or looses the argument, but with the very historical preconditions of the argument in the first place. Its man who lived history. Its man who is being referenced in the myths of Prometheus and Pan. McLuhan doesn’t speak of War and Peace in the Global Village in terms of who wins and looses wars, and why, but in terms of the Man who is fighting the wars in a global village.

As for the Fall, predestination, universal salvation, ect. Aquinas was roughly contemporary with Giotto. A generation previous, I think. Augustine, I think, was decently soon after the monstrosity of the Roman Empire - a key fact about the Roman Empire, again, being its conquering of the whole KNOWN world - was broken up into two whole big monstrosities in themselves.

And…so far as I know…Augustine lived sort of in that nomands land between classical Rome and when the “darkness” of Medievaldom set in…called Byzantine Europe…which actually produced some of the most beautiful and glorious art and architecture of Western history. Nonetheless…Augustine’s time was still one in which the tension between what is seen from a Promethean mountain top (”universal”) and what is seen from the great view of being chained to a rock with an monstrous eagle/vulture thing tearing at your liver every day. I consider the period between the fall of the Roman Empire, or just before, and Augustine, to be a key period in the story of that very tension.

Just like the key historical events in the Bible, the key points in that story (described above) sort of occur roughly every 400 years. Nicea/Augustine (don’t remember the exact date of Augustine) was like around 4000-500. Then Charlemagne, who brought back classical values and fought off the barbarian hoards coming up from Spain (who, if they would have won, would have radiacally altered the course of WORLD history), around 800 or 900 or so. Then Giotto, Dante, Aquinas and the mystics, sort of around 1200 or 1300 or so. Then Galileo and the modern scientific revolution, around 1600 (which is also when humans appeared the the foreground of perspective painting, and also like a generation after the tumultuous events of Michelangelo’s time). Then around or just before 2000 you have two WORLD wars, Sputnik and electronic media that turns all experience into a global experience. The internet got big right around 1990ish, I think. And we might be about to have WW III.

As for Jazz in particular…that’s interesting. It would be interesting to compare Jazz with Gregorian Chant, which, as has been noted, was erotic. Both, however, sort of have a general erotic thread running throughout that doesn’t really climax at any one point. Jazz, however, was developed after Max Planc. After the telegraph, after electric technology had taken hold. After the radio, after Imagism, after cinema. Dude, we were already in “acoustic space”, as McLuhan (and Corbusier) would say. We were already in a space of “universal experience” of everything-at-onceness, really…although not to the degree that we were in after WW II. I think Jazz was developed a bit earlier than that, like the 20’s or 30’s.

Theater, Opera and Missles

Let me set the scene for a discussion on the the sense of alienation that runs the course of contemporary living and is so often discussed in various circles (example here in a discussion on "deconstructivist" architecture). Click here to find the story of a black woman in the South who probably feels pretty alienated right now due to what I view as some pretty deeply-seeded and alienating aspects hidden underneath of our society. We will come back around to this scene, but for now we're off to a different set of characters, props, places and such...

The ritual that sort of defined or set the scene for what was going on in ancient Greek theater was when the priest of Dionysius would sacrafice a goat on the alter and place its guts in the horizon line between the performers and the audience that has gathered to watch a world play out before them. I see a connection between this ritual and Aristotle’s notion of Catharsis. Unlike all things modern, ancient Catharsis is not modeled after sex, in which everything slowly builds up in stages up to a “climax”, and then quickly dissipates.

This is because ancient cathartic purgings are primarily modeled after the relationship between what is divine and what is at the mercy of what is divine…which is everything else, and cannot be located, notated and pinpointed at one act of pent-up release...a release of desires "to reach out and touch someone", so to speak. To break the consuming alienation and darkness. To reconcile ourselves to the hold that death has upon us. The cathartis of a Greek tragedy is sort of drawn out throught the entirety of the play.

Interstate 95 does seem to go on forever...

What sets the scene for modern opera, is - first of all - not a ritual or religous sacrafice, but is literary. The picture of it is the picture of a modern doctor standing over a horizontally laying patient on an OPERAting room table, reading from a book. Writing is top-down. Modern instruments are horizontal. The vertically-standing harp is relegated over to the corner of the stage as a trace of a former lost time and a former lost relationship to the body. Oh this lost and lonely body, floating and frollicking in the Wilderness of "Where's-My-Cogito?"! Compensatorily, modern opera takes after sex…builds up to that great climax and quickly finds its peace and reconciliation with itself.

The ferocity with which one fed-up woman is matched only by the verve by which modern men uphold their laws concieved in a Cogito-Land that defines their very existence! "I think, therefore I am." The woman objects: "I throw my soda at you, therefore I exist!" I propose that both must be pretty alienated. So what? I aslo propose that there exists another hidden probem that too often seems to go unnoticed; hidden to us because we lay (not stand) immersed in it. To cure her alienation the alienated Doctor of modern Law throws more less-than-helpful "missles" at the poor unsuspecting woman. The "rule of law" places ultimate authority in the hands of no living being or person with whom we may converse, but in those of this slightly-nebulous "Law" entity. And the law gives a certain abstracted cogito-definition of "missle" - into which a Mcdonalds soda somehow manages to be squashed - from which no living voice has the right to stray! Only to say, "Throw her in jail!"

As a reflection of this modern compensation for its own loss of relation to the life of the body, the audience (specifically, the rich white folks up in the private suites, as opposed to the poor peasants down on the floor part of the “house”) is off on its own sexual escapades throughout the show. That’s why they go the the opera.

I wonder what the judge does for the entertainment that the black woman couln't afford before he ever threw her in jail.

Incidentally, there are no animal guts, no blood stains, or anything of the sort, on the floor marking the relation between stage and house. Just some wood flooring or something…or a void…however you want to think of it. The curtain, however, which did not exist in ancient theater is exists largely to hide the operation of all the huge machinery in a modern theater, is red.

Feeling like her life has escaped gone on an exodus, this woman now sits in a void, stares at the bars of her cell, and endures (maybe) the wonderous friendliness of her jailmates, the "justice" system, and her own lonliness (which of course means a lack of the sexual fulfillment that "fills" the house of modern opera/tions). The modern machine has left her bleeding with desire to be with her distant children and to fulfill her now-impossible desires.

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