An Article of Possible Interest

Snake in the Garden

Ned May has posted my essay “On the Ontological Sickness” at his website The Gates of Vienna.  The essay is a much rewritten and expanded version of the last article to appear under my name at The Brussels Journal, in December 2014, just before the site became dormant.  On the Ontological Sickness explores the late René Girard’s theory of “mediated desire” and applies it to an analysis of current social trends.  I offer an excerpt:

In I See Satan Fall like Lightning (1996; English edition, 2001), Girard returns to the relation of mimesis and resentment by commenting, in his first chapter, ‘Scandal Must Come,’ on the text of the Tenth Commandment. Girard remarks how the Tenth Commandment calls attention to itself: ‘The tenth and last commandment is distinguished from those preceding it both by its length and its object.’ Where the other commandments prohibit acts, the final one ‘forbids a desire. Girard quotes this version: ‘You shall not covet the house of your neighbor. You shall not covet the wife of your neighbor, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or his ass, nor anything that belongs to him.’ Girard argues that the slightly archaic character of the verb to covet makes it seem as though the Tenth Commandment only prohibits a species of exotic or exaggerated desire; but this is not so. The noun covetousness in the King James Version means, not exotic or exaggerated desire, but only ordinary desire, experienced by everyone since the Serpent convinced Eve to covet the forbidden fruit. The injunction is so familiar and, apart from the archaic verb, its language is so seemingly banal, that, other than frowning at it as a formally hate-worthy interdiction, the modern self-liberating consciousness might wonder what the fuss is about. Girard often exhibits his exegetical strength in recovering the significance in what has come to seem flat and obvious. He does so again here.

Consider the neighbor. Excepting the subject’s family, the neighbor hovers nearest and most familiarly in the subject’s social awareness. The neighbor reproximates and omnipresents himself like none other. Yet what belongs to the neighbor falls under the constant rebuke of that very property line that so aroused Rousseau’s ire in his study of inequality; whose claimant indeed stood, in Rousseau’s rhetoric, for the total scandal of structured, and therefore of oppressive, society. It is the property-line that makes the neighbor. It is the property-line as injunction that makes the neighbor to loom so large, endowing him with apparent privilege. To the speaker, for example, in Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall,’ the neighbor appears ‘like an old-stone savage armed’; and when, as the monologist says, ‘we meet to walk the line… we keep the wall between us as we go.’

In an “Afterword,” I explore the relevance of “the ontological sickness” to grasping the essence of Islam.  Ned and Dymphna, as they call themselves, have made a handsome job of formatting and presenting my text.  I would not suppose that I need to remind Orthosphereans what a fine site The Gates of Vienna is; but in the unlikely case that a reader of The Orthosphere is unfamiliar with The Gates, I urge familiarity with it as soon as possible.

Proposing a New Word: Subscendence

Culminant Man

The coinage subscendence is modeled after the standing term transcendence and is intended to be the antonym of transcendence.  The verbal form would be to subscend; the adjectival form would be subscendent.  The High Middle Ages – expressing themselves in Gothic architecture, in polyphony, and in spiritually heroic narratives such as the Grail sagas and the Divine Comedy – properly deserve to be called transcendent.   The current phase of Modernity – expressing itself in the cinder-block architecture of the strip mall, in amplified beat-based “pop” tunes, and in crude cinematic narratives of sex and violence – properly deserves to be called subscendent.

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