Sunday, 15 June 2014

Writing and naming (3)

In Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, God points while Adam lets his hand fall, in arrogant refusal. The real tragedy of the episode is this: Adam’s gesture loses forever the pointingness of the index finger. This is how we, humans, have grown accustomed to experiencing the world through definitions, through intermediaries, through signs. By closing the fist, man started creating the illusion of self-sufficiency.

The fist

Any enclosure is a means of delimiting what is one’s own. The closed fist encloses the index finger, which is the way things were denominated before man came about, with his language, with his understanding, with his embarrassing impotence. Fold the index finger and you’ve cut off your access to Paradise. Fold the index finger and you’ve got a revolution. The revolutionary clenched fist indicates specificity; it indicates the uniqueness of one’s beliefs.

Source: Classical Concert Reviews
The First Revolution, the revolt against the self-explanatory nature of paradisiacal objects, was, unfortunately, a success. And here we are now, fists clenched, never letting go. It’s not by accident that even the most religious gesture (the positioning of the hands in prayer) is itself a form of enclosure, of placing one’s fingers together (sometimes even knotting them together) in a way that’s anything but paradisiacal. In prayer, we ask for what’s been taken away from us. We ask, in fact, for the return of the identity between objects and signs.
To re-inhabit the Tower of Babel or, better still, the earlier glory of the world without signs, would be a form of ecstasy for us as a species.

What if

I’m fully aware of what this would mean, what this return to Paradise would entail. It would mean our definitive erasure of the arts, of sciences, of everything that makes humankind great. In order to return to Paradise we would have to forget all the things we have been admiring ever since we started making. Homo faber, man the maker, is what we have become when we lost Paradise. And as homo faber we started admiring our own creations. But this admiration is really admiration of ourselves. Of what we have been capable of. Of what we have created by ourselves ever since God rejected us from the kingdom of Everything.
Without our Fall there would have been no poetry. There would have been no chronicles, no epics, no romances, no novels. There would have been no painting, no music, no sculpture, no dance. There would have been no theories of the atoms, no arithmetic, no geometry, no invention of flying objects. There would have been no folklore and no telling of heroic deeds. There would have been no heroes, really, because they wouldn’t have been necessary. There would have been no history!
Without the Fall there would have been no wars and no lethal epidemics, no fear of death, no betrayals, no jealousy, no stupidity, no drunkenness, no vain glory, no starvation, no social injustice.
Stop. Rewind.
For a better understanding of what is good and what is bad in our life as a species, let’s list the latter part again. Without the Fall there would have been no…
  • wars (the source of the Iliad and the Odyssey)
  • lethal epidemics (the source of the Decameron)
  • fear of death (the source of the Divine Comedy)
  • betrayals (the source of almost all Shakespearian tragedies)
  • jealousy (the source of the entire Arthurian Cycle)
  • stupidity (the source of Gargantua and Pantagruel, of comedy and farce)
  • drunkenness (the source of everything Francois Villon ever wrote, of everything that Omar Khayyam ever celebrated)
  • vain glory (the source of Don Quixote, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina)
  • fear of starvation (the source of Crime and Punishment and Knut Hamsun’s The Hunger)
  • social injustice (the source of all of Emile Zola and Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

Without our Fall from the grace of the index finger, we would have had no masterpieces. We would have had no writing. No need to “justify the ways of God to man.”

Source: Dreamomania
The index finger, however, is not completely lost to us. It has been preserved by orators, who, in their attempt to persuade, have made pointing the ultimate argument: an appeal to the authority of the divine. Declamation poetry has been doing the same thing by invoking the greater powers of gods and muses, by making them their source of wisdom and truth. But there is little else left in the tip of the index finger to persuade us about. That’s because writing has taken over all other forms of expression. And writing is, of course, the work of a closed fist.

“Oh how unlike the place from whence they fell!”

I’m using this predominantly religious symbolism and I am not even a religious person. Somehow, the thought of writing makes it necessary for me to talk about things non-human, because I feel the need to have some kind of perspective. Some kind of critical distance is what it is.
Without the awareness that writing is a technology, we run the risk of not realizing that writing is not exactly the holder of truth. ‘It’s true because I’ve seen it written’ is an old argument by now. It came about with the advent of inscriptions and it hasn’t lost its force ever since: not even when visual media (painting, photographs, television, the internet) attempted, at various moments, to hijack the realm of signs. ‘It’s true because I’ve seen it written’ is the argument on which the media thrive. But in this little statement one will also find the seeds of how things go from innocent reporting to the roaring thunders of the most villainous ideologies. Tyrannies of all kinds have built their careers on the foundation of this propensity of ours to take things for granted and to grow accustomed to signs.
So having this perspective (which seems irreverent because it is irreverent) is, I think, a necessary measure of self-defence. We love the products of the spirit: the good ones, that is. And we’re so pleased, so excited by this admiration that we turn a blind eye to everything else. But the problem is that the good things originate in the same place where the evil ones are born. And so we need that perspective – we should beg for it. We should be irreverent to the point of self-exclusion. At least so long as to understand that what is human is only part of what is.

Source: The Telegraph
“Someday we must write the history of our own obscurity – manifest the density of our narcissism,” Roland Barthes ones suggested. This is not an impossible project. To materialize it, all we need is honesty and perseverance. Honesty, perseverance, and the ability to declaim, like Milton, that the place we lost when we fell is so unlike the one we have been given.