Ceremony

the body has got to be worth saving
eyelids are shining with headache and perspiration
morning is finding good intentions under sleep’s persuasion
the body has got to be…
our past lives were too heavy and too expensive
now we’re paying together for our inventions
maybe there’s a ceremony
written down inside the body
where maybe no one ever see
you begin like a lion and you end like a lamb
molars are grinding inspiration down to nothing
where are the instructions
on how to keep it going?
the body…
a patient motor in secret is whirring
binding together what was broken
with the heart’s string
to have without keeping
to sigh without boredom
to know without thinking
and to love without ever knowing
maybe there’s a ceremony
written down inside the body
where maybe no one ever sees

Caithlin De Marrais avers, with the depressed tentativeness typical in this genre, that the body is perhaps the body’s own best hope for salvation. A Better Version of Me, the album on which this song finds itself, is a masterwork devoted to exploring the ways that the body understands. Along with James Gronniosaw, a slave who heard a slave captain read the bible and was astonished to see a book talk, and Ezekiel who ate the scroll, De Marrias finds that our bodies are not governed in their appropriation of texts by the rules of discourse. She warns us not to assume the stability of ethics or interpretation. Good intentions do their daily battle with sleep’s persuasion. Molars grind inspiration down to nothing. The only hope is the eschatological one found in beginning like a lion but ending like a lamb.
This should not surpise us for the transmission and interpretation of truth is not stable or guaranteed when Ezekiel eats the scroll. Gronniosaw’s book so alarms him with its message that the message itself is lost in his amazement at hearing it. But while we should not look to our bodies to provide stability, certainty or any precise method, with De Marrias I want to explore the possibility of interpreting ethically with our bodies.
I begin with De Marrias not just because I like her music but because A Better Version of Me was created through a deliberately embodied process. De Marrias is trained as a dancer, not a bass player/vocalist and these songs grow out of a deliberate attempt to work from the inside out; to give voice first to the body. As an outline of the argument in this chapter, let us begin with an interpretation of the question of the body as Rainer Maria ask it. (continued … and it’s long … in the extended entry)

the body has got to be worth saving
If the body is worth saving then it needs saving from something or someone. For thinkers from Spinoza to Grosz, Descartes is the bodies’ oppressor having seperated it decisively from the mind and made it ultimately into a machine controlled by the mind. The dualistic, cognitive, rational, approach to the self does not begin or end with Descartes and perhaps finds its most strident advocates in thinkers like Hans Moravec who insist that our bodies are wholly coincidental with consciousness. Bodies on Moravec’s account are totally unnecessary; they don’t need saving.

eyelids are shining with headache and perspiration
The problem of dualism in accounts of the body leaves us needing work hard for possible other imaginations. In Western thought human reflective faculties are set against the body dualistically or hobbled by the need to attack this dualism so that almost all language about the body finds itself positively or negatively associated with dualism. Is there a possibility for a language about the body which isn’t dualistic? Can we recognize that it is both a headache and perspiration that result from this struggle against dualism?

morning is finding good intentions under sleep’s persuasion
If dualism is a persuasive dream, a view of a world that is ultimately deceptive, how can we wake up? One possibility is found in the good intentionality of phenomenology which offered by the 20th century the first effective counter-tradition to dualism’s dominant way of asking the question of the body. Phenomenology has provided a way of describing the body that is other than dualistic. Furthermore, it has sparked other accounts of the body that, while not resting comfortably on phenomenological foundations, work from phenomenological interventions towards different ways of describing the body.

the body has got to be…
… or does it. One of the questions that especially Heideggerian phenomenology poses is the question of ontology. Heidegger seeks to totally overhaul ontology and he is followed in this by other thinkers who question even the necessity of ontology. Ontology is a particularly important question for interpretation and understanding inside the Christian tradition due to the huge role that Greek ontological categories have played in specifically Christian thought from the creeds onward. While creedal Christianity is the best solution to intellectual problems raised by the incarnation if one accepts that questions of being must be addressed by Greek ontological categories, it is no longer perfectly clear (and perhaps has never been clear inside of Anabaptism) that ontological categories must be the way to intellectually approach the question of the body of God. Is it possible to think the body apart from ontology? Do we have in biblical texts “a parallel yet radically different world of writing and reflection” which figures the body in other than Greek terms?

our past lives were too heavy and too expensive
Of course the move beyond dualism and ontology is not simply in service of the need to provide ever more philosophically satisfying accounts of the body. The life of the body, especially the body as male, rational, perfectible, has become very heavy and expensive especially for women. This has lead to important account of gendered bodies which further extend the terrain onto which the body is being mapped. “The body, then, has become the site of intense inquiry, not in the hope of recovering an authentic female body unburdened of patriarchal assumptions, but in the full acknowledgement of the multiple and fluid possibilities of differential embodiment.”

now we’re paying together for our inventions
A further significant area of research on the body has followed human inventions down a more technological route. The possibilities of virtual bodies, the posthuman, the cyborg, and the technological mediation of interpersonal relationships ask their own threatening and promising questions. Typically theology has conservatively assumed that technology is also an expensive invention that bodies will pay for in more than just monetary ways. Are questions about virtual bodies necessarily questions that theology should be negatively predisposed to? Are virtual bodies simply an added possibility that should be acknowledged inside an account of differential embodiment? Or have Christians long thought of a kind of virtual body present in the Eucharist; the body of Christ? Questions regarding the real or virtual presence of Christ were questions of life or death during Reformation debates in England and Germany.

maybe there’s a ceremony
In the last ten years there has again been a dramatic increase in explicitly theological reflection on Christian worship as it pertains to the formation of the Christian body. One can perhaps see this work most clearly in the virtue/narrative tradition of Christian ethics and the theology movement of Radical Orthodoxy. Both of these movements attend to the possibilities of ceremony to effect some kind of transformation in our various theories, theologies, habits and practices. Bodies and embodiment have come to play a significant role in both of these traditions. Rainer Maria are not alone in looking to ceremony as the liberative balm for the body.

written down inside the body
In looking to save the body, however, Rainer Maria don’t suggest that we will be able to look outside the body for its salvation. The transformative ceremony is to be found inside the body. Somewhere inside the body, the ceremony is written. In looking to something written to save the body, Rainer Maria follow practically every approach hinted at above in seeing the body as a now discursive, inscribed phenomenon.
This written trajectory begs it’s own new question, for what if the body is somehow more originary than all of these aforementioned options? “How does a body perform its way out of a definitional framework that is not only responsible for its very ‘construction,’ but seems to prescript every possible signifying and countersignifying move as a selection from a repertoire of possible permutations on a limited set of predetermined terms?”
Is the body not, in and of itself, more than simply a blank parchment to be written on? And is not there a certain incommensurability between writing/speech/language and the body that demands our attention in any attempt to connect ethics to interpretation?

where maybe no one ever sees
Incommensurability is one of the central problems dealt with in much of phenomenology. Phenomenology is a philosophical method for describing experience, but lived experience is pretheoretical and cannot therefore be reduced to philosophical or theoretical concepts. Whether the question of incommensurability is put in terms of immanence-transcendence, alterity-immediacy, body-language, or any other disconnect, it is a question of the possibility of a showing of the other that occupies our gaze.
Focusing in on bodies we can say two things about the body’s relationship to language and possibilities for incommensurability. The body exists before our speech and is not contained by it, but is also the necessary precondition for the possibility of language. So, is it perhaps not so much the peaceful diversity of interpretation that is constitutive of our existence as it is the plurality of bodies (or a differential embodiment) that is constitutive of the diversity of interpretation?

you begin like a lion and you end like a lamb
If these questions about the body (dualism, ontology, inscription, incommensurability) find one answer in the possibilities of virtual bodies, perhaps another helpful direction can be found in addressing the other limit of human existence; our relationship to animals. Animals are both a mirror of ourselves and in Henry Beston’s words, “they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.” Reflection on the differences between humans and animals has long been an aid to the definition of what makes a specifically human body. But is this strategy of exclusion the best strategy in imagining a body that is open to the possibility of differential embodiment? Is there a way of learning from animal bodies that need not be perfected by reason as in the tradition of Catholic natural law or the cold scientific rationality of modern animal experimentation? What is the significance of animal bodies for ethics? For interpretation?
The way that we begin like a lion and end like a lamb is perhaps best captured in the eschatology of Paul who says in Romans 8.22-23,
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Our redemption, and the redemption of our bodies is a question set in the context of a suffering creation.

molars are grinding inspiration down to nothing
To reflect on our body in this context means we focus less on our hands, eyes, or brain, and more on our teeth, mouth and nose. Can we like Ezekiel take into ourselves some redemptive word from God? A word which is not written on us or read by us but digested so that it becomes a very part of us? Can we do this without grinding it down to nothing?

where are the instructions on how to keep it going?
In all of this I am not suggesting that writing/reading are unimportant. Our bodies work with texts with our eyes, hands and brains as well. But like Adam, Fowl and Smith, I am somewhat dubious about our ability to isolate clear instructions on how to either interpret or eat. Inspiration, always the most important aspect to any theology, is still (perhaps it must be) the least understood. Whether we are looking to the spiritual or to the Holy Spirit in the 16th century or today the possibilities of a embodied mystical theology seem distant.

the body…
And this is no surprise, for just as language fails …

a patient motor in secret is whirring
Out of this apophatic, prelinguistic, pretheoretical space, an imagination of the body can be generated that is able to encompass language without being either reduced or abstracted to language. The account of the body that I imagine Rainer Maria seeking in this lyric seeks a broad understanding of the problems besetting the body and and even broader approach to reimagining the body with the purpose of reintegrating aspects of the body that have been previously neglected.
binding together what was broken
This kind of account must continually move across the terrain between language and the body with attention to the violence that concepts can wreak on the body. However, if the problems of predication and determination which, for Levinas and Derrida, shape the violence of the concept, can give way to some other attitude, then this binding is perhaps possible so that the interworkings of the body and language can be framed in a fashion more like Grosz’s, “As an essential internal condition of human bodies, a consequence of perhaps their organic openness to cultural completion, bodies must take the social order as their productive nucleus. Part of their own “nature” is an organic or ontological “incompleteness” or lack of finality, an amenability to social completion, social ordering and organization ….”
Here we have finally the possibility of a body that is virtual, individual and social.

with the heart’s string
The other attitude that the body opens to is an attitude manufactured by the heart apart from the logics of predication and determination. It is closer to praise or confession.

to have without keeping
It is an bodily attitude of participation and offering, of incarnation and suffering.

to sigh without boredom
Of satisfaction, contentment, completion.

to know without thinking
And finally, of the possibility of knowledge, understanding and interpretation without conscious, linguistic, ontological predication or determination.

and to love without ever knowing
This is a knowing that brings us back to love and resonates again with Augustine insistence that any interpretation that builds up charity must be a good interpretation. This reading of “Ceremony” results in an account of the showing body. Our bodies, always simultaneously virtual, individual and social, show ourselves to ourselves and the world.

1 thought on “Ceremony

  1. beautiful poetry!

    (personal note to blog-owner: thank you for stopping by my corner of the blogosphere, trevor…if in fact, you are the trevor who commented there. if you are not he who called himself trevor on my blog, then consider yourself invited to visit anytime.)

    hope all is well east of where i am.

    james

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *