Viscosity, the heat
the oil drips
down my cheek. As I sit,
my feet barely touching the floor,
the exorcism begins
right there in a chair, up against
the kitchen sink.
Frightened and fascinated too
I look up into her face over me
into the small black centers
of her eyes.
My mother calls out the evil spirit
that has been put into me
by some other little girl, due to jealousy
she told me that first time.
If only I could I would place my big sister there—
to sit beside me, hold my hand and insist we both resist.
Unworthy of taking the office
of doing what only the ordained were meant to do,
she proclaims evil living in me
before she casts it out and sets me free.
I did not move.
So it would seem that even before I was I, God was displeased with me,1
having been found guilty of some sort of receptivity, or complicity.
Her illegitimate wielding of power fixed what would never come to be:
Clarity, definition, not even an uneasy settlement between the real and the unreal,
the good and the bad, would there ever be.
I lived in my childhood not so much in my own skin but in a shroud of undecidability and a loneliness in my sister’s inability to attend to me – her means of psychic survival a denial of a mutual infection of wounds. Left to a private communion, falling back into an ecstasy of fear, my gaze would fix on his hands and feet, ripped through. Blood poured down from the gash in his side, and the ignominious crown of thorns was driven into his brow. I did not fail to kneel, early in the morning and later in the night, each day translating something done to me, correcting an idolatry, resisting a false worshipping yet ever inviting an attachment to my mother and this sacrilegious confrontation with evil, this will to do violence with the violence of the sacred, a misappropriation of a divine violence.
My fingers move from bead to bead, ten and then one alone, and then ten again:
feeling without seeing, tactile before being visible, like a blind person’s object or thing, counting and praying, Hail Marys.
Although thought to be mostly a matter of the Reformation, iconoclasm existed in the late Middle Ages as a drive to rid spirituality of images or objects mistaken for the real, confusing the miraculous with the magical. In the late Middle Ages, iconoclasm was enacted in religious art as a movement from scenes of the crucifixion with the upright figure of the suffering Christ to those scenes of his body being brought down from the cross, on the way to the grave, dead and becoming invisible.2 Together these scenes can be taken as an allegory of an iconoclasm of the image: the image making god visible in the body of the crucified Christ and then the body brought down to be buried, the image becomes mere image again pointing only to an invisible god. But by the late sixteenth century, the host of the transubstantiated flesh, Christ under the guise of the everyday is held up for the adoring gaze of those who pray in a golden monstrance edged with a corona of light and administering angels all around, shifting weight from the commandment to turn away from false gods, mere objects or images,
to believe and cherish instead
the divine touching the human,
two substances aligned:
salvation by complex perception of the real,
there to be felt more than seen or known,
there in affect, advancing to what is without language
more magical than magic.3
Iconoclasm may well be a violent start of a genealogy of philosophies of the object and relations, implicating the nature of reality. And again today another turn in philosophy in an effort to touch vitality, in an effort to recover objects and their energetic powers, their virtuality: to recover objects from the assimilating act of human consciousness. The correlation between being and knowing is broken and the question of the image and the real is replaced by the question of substance and manifestations, objects and relations, the vibrations, rhythmicities or oscillations of each and every thing.4
But is it idolatrous to say that objects are themselves lively, that they have capacities to affect and be affected? Is it idolatrous to say that objects withdraw from human consciousness and from each other, falling back into the networks of meaningful reference of which they are apart but from which they stand apart. And yet, do objects take measure of each other, feel and be felt by one another and by feeling become however slightly or massively changed, indicating the object’s internal energy, its differing from itself, its nonidentity with itself from which the object radiates a lure to feeling, an aesthetic of forces of repulsion and attractio. Can we say that there is an aesthetic causality that once philosophers thought to be a force of evil, a demonic force beyond understanding and will?
Nothing left but this: aesthetic practices, ritual practices to think at the limit of thought beyond thought, beyond understanding and will.5
My fingers move from bead to bead, ten and then one alone and then ten again: the rosary, like a holy abacus for counting mysteries, as I laid in bed and prayed.
Perhaps an important marker of our similarity and difference was the position of our beds, iron cots pulled out each night, my sister’s placed right next to my parents’ bed, the three of them, head to head to head, while mine was placed at the foot of the bed near enough to touch their feet, moving, moving under the sheet. And just beyond and over their heads, the crucifix hung that my sister could not see from where she lay. It was there, I thought, only for me: to condemn or protect me, I could not be sure, from the evil spirits that I thought I saw all around.
She with my parents, and me left to pray the rosary, counting Hail Marys against the return of some little girl’s jealousy.
The Rosary is a string of beads used to keep count of prayers as they are recited. First given to Saint Dominic by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the 13th century, the rosary would be popularly practiced with spiritual intensity. There also were rosary books, among the earliest vernacular devotional manuals to be printed, thus defining the role of print as a way of shaping and reflecting religious awareness. But the rosary was popular as much among those who could read as those who could not, as indulgences were offered offering a surplus value of grace in exchange simply for the number of prayers that were recited. And with this, a concern arose that the value given to sheer repetition would mix up quantity and quality, spirituality and superstition, depth and superficiality, faith and calculation. Against this mere repetition in the use of the rosary, a set of meditations were prescribed: scenes from Christ’s and his mother Mary’s lives. Mysteries, they would be called, joyful, sorrowful and finally glorious, to be kept in mind as one prayed.6
My fingers move from bead to bead, ten and then one alone, and then ten again. The beads vibrate with certain energies, having been touched for centuries. Hail Mary full of grace. Hail Mary full of grace. Hail Mary full of grace.
And so it would be that no one cared that my sister was not kind to me. As I struggled to comprehend another already born, in my place and yet different than me, I was turned to abstract thought and a philosophical wonderment that offers the very young child a sense of the mind like a womb, giving birth to ideas, numbers and numbers of them, in one series and than another adhering one series to the other, trying to bring together body and soul, quality and quantity, substance and sensuality, my sister and me.
By the sixteenth century, the host had become an object of adoration especially for women. Linked first to the Eucharistic feast, the host was believed to be the body of Christ in the consecrated bread. It was meant to encourage in the one who beheld it an imitation of Christ’s life – for the woman mystic to be in her body as he was in his suffering and dying. This union gave her the experience of horrible pain whether inflicted by God or by herself was not clear. But this was not an effort to destroy the body, not primarily an effort to shear away a source of lust, but rather an effort to plumb the depths of Christ’s humanity at the moment of his most insistent and terrifying humanness, the moment of his dying. This embrace of physicality at the point where it intersects with the divine was thought to be a refusal of dualism: body and soul, matter and spirit in ecstatic union. For the woman, this is a becoming Christ as a matter of fact, not imagination or memory. Of a tradition in which male is to female as soul is to matter, these women found in themselves a blessed physicality that endowed them with authority to point out uncomfortable truths about the male priesthood. Yet this, a women’s power, often was seen as resulting from possession by demons rather than being of a Godly inspiration.7
And what now of this history and a mother misplaced by centuries such that what was once of spiritual significance comes to have a psychic resonance, infecting my thinking oscillating it between godly inspiration and demon possession and turning me most recently to those translations of theologies into philosophy, heeding a call to rethink a dark mysticism8 and to find a prayer adequate to a world near destruction or violent extinction.
To refind poetry
to allude to what cannot be told directly
of a mixture of hate and love unresolved,
of tendencies to reproduce an evil of failed recognition and lack of care
yet seeking a way to a new ethics and a political repair.
The reproduction of evil today is understood psychoanalytically and thought to be related to malignant trauma and the experience of intense loneliness. This loneliness is not “something wordless that can be ultimately rendered in speech.”9 It is “unformulatable.” As described, it is a paradox: “the experience of traumatic annihilation produces the need to be known that continually meets the impossibility of being known.” Experience in this mode exists only in the ephemeral somatic present and never becomes linguistically encoded while it shapes bodies affectively with its full force.
So that in bodies there still can be a memory that points to trauma and beyond to a divine violence brought with the wild intervention of the dark angel of history who seeing the pile of debris of nameless, faceless suffering, a wreckage of injustices, and the misappropriation of the divine, she strikes back to enact revenge for the destructive lack of care, love having all but failed. Let us go meet this angel. Let us meet her without fear.
1 John Donne, A Sermon, Preached to the King’s Majestie at Whitehall (1625), quoted in: Juliet Mitchell, Siblings, Sex and Violence (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2003), p. 59. These words, taken from John Donne’s 1625 poem Sermon actually are “And God was displeased with me before I was I.”
2 See also: Amy Knight Powell, Deposition, Scenes from the Late Medieval Church and the Modern Museum (New York: Zone Books, 2012), p. 21–42. Knight Powell argues that through the fifteenth century the deposition from the cross was so frequently represented that it rivaled the representation of the crucifixion and as such these representations together not only prefigure the iconoclasm of the Reformation but also the disposition of the image itself.
3 Knight Powell, Deposition, p. 121–158.
4 I am referring here to what in philosophy and critical theory has been called the ontological turn that is especially concerned with the agencies or affective capacities of objects. Here objects refer to any entity or thing without their being opposed to subjects or without privileging the epistemological position of human consciousness. See also: Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman, eds., The Speculative Turn (Melbourne: Re:press, 2011).
5 I am especially referring here to: Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (Chicago and LaSalle: Open Court, 2005); idem, “On Vicarious Causation,” Collapse II 11.26 (2007): p. 187–221; Steven Shaviro, “The Universe of Things,” paper delivered at Objected Oriented Ontology, A Symposium, Georgia Technological Institute (April 23, 2010); idem, “The Actual Volcano: Whitehead, Harman, and the Problem of Relations,” in: Bryant et al., The Speculative Turn, p. 279–290; Timothy Morton, “Objects in Mirror are Closer than they Appear,” in: Tom Sparrow and Bobby George, eds., Singularium Lessons in Aesthetics, 1 (2012): p. 2–35; idem, “An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry,” New Literary History, 43 (2012): p. 205–224.
6 Anne Winston-Allen, Stories of the Rose. The Making of the Rosary in the Middle Ages (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).
7 Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption. Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1991), p. 119–150.
8 Eugene Thacker, Horror of Philosophy Vol.1: In the Dust of This Planet (Washington: Zero Books, 2011).
9 Sue Grand, The Reproduction of Evil: A Clinical and Cultural Perspective (Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 2000), especially p. 4.
Affect, or the process by which emotions come to be embodied, is a burgeoning area of interest in both the humanities and the sciences. For »Timing of Affect«, Marie-Luise Angerer, Bernd Bösel, and Michaela Ott have assembled leading scholars to explore the temporal aspects of affect through the perspectives of philosophy, music, film, media, and art, as well as technology and neurology. The contributions address possibilities for affect as a capacity of the body; as an anthropological inscription and a primary, ontological conjunctive and disjunctive process as an interruption of chains of stimulus and response; and as an arena within cultural history for political, media, and psychopharmacological interventions. Showing how these and other temporal aspects of affect are articulated both throughout history and in contemporary society, the editors then explore the implications for the current knowledge structures surrounding affect today.