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All these dwellings are temporary On desire Matthijs Walhout

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about his desire to be ‘dissolved’, to be loosened from his earthly life, in what we know commonly as his cupio dissolvi.1 We often hear this desire of Paul explained as standing in direct relation to the next phrase, and to be with Christ; his desire to be dissolved is simply a prerequisite for his desire to be with Christ, and this is the true desire we should focus on. But that is not what he writes. Paul writes about the two as separate desires: ‘desiderium habens dissolvi et cum Christo esse’2, in which desiderium habens refers to both dissolvi and esse. (This desiderium habens of the Vulgate is also quite a bit stronger than the popular cupio; it is not a simple wanting, but a stronger longing, lacking, or ‘grief for the absence … of a person or thing’3. The original Greek epithymia is even associated with a longing or lust, ‘especially for what is forbidden’4 .) Moreover, this trivializing explanation of Paul’s cupio dissolvi contradicts what he writes just a few verses earlier: that ‘to live is Christ’5—the Amplified adds: ‘[His life in me]’6 —, in which we may read that to be with Christ can also, or especially, be experienced in our earthly body. He continues, plainly, that ‘to die is gain’7. So although Paul is alive in this body, and to live is Christ, his body is also the host of a death drive. He desires to be unloosed from his body, he griefs the absence of its death. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers explains Paul’s use of dissolvi through how he—and we as his readers—may look upon the body through the metaphor of a tent: ‘The body … is looked upon as a mere tabernacle…. and death is the last striking of the tent on arrival.’8 (The same term is used here for the tent of the body that is used to describe the Holy Tabernacle, the dwelling place of Shechina, ‘the divine presence itself as contrasted with the divine transcendence’9.) The Commentary also refers us to 2 Corinthians 5:1, where Paul writes: ‘For we know that if the tent which is our earthly home is destroyed (dissolved), we have from God a building, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.’10 To get more of a hold on how exactly Paul does look upon the body and the tension between earthly life and what comes after, we read on: ‘Here indeed, in this [present abode, body], we sigh and groan inwardly, because we yearn to be clothed over [we yearn to put on our celestial body like a garment, to be fitted out] with our heavenly dwelling, So that by putting it on we may not be found naked (without a body). For while we are still in this tent, we groan under the burden and sigh deeply…—not that we want to put off the body (the clothing of the spirit), but rather that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal (our dying body) may be swallowed up by life [after the resurrection].’11 1

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Philippenses 1:23-24, Biblia Sacra Vulgata (Vulgate): ‘coartor autem e duobus desiderium habens dissolvi et cum Christo esse multo magis melius permanere autem in carne magis necessarium est propter vos’
 Philippians 1:23-24, Douay-Rheims Bible (DRA): ‘But I am straitened between two: having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better. But to abide still in the flesh, is needful for you.’ 
 Although not a literal citation, the phrase has become commonly known and referenced as cupio dissolvi. Phil. 1:23 (Vulgate). Emphasis mine ‘desiderium’, in Simpson, D.P., 1987 [1959], Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, 5th ed., London: Cassell ‘ἐπιθυμία; epithymia’, Strong’s Greek Concordance, 1939. The same word is used in other biblical instances to refer to the ‘desires of the flesh’ or to ‘lusts’ (Romans 1:24, Ephesians 4:22, Titus 3:3), however also to the desire with which Jesus desired to eat passover with his disciples before his suffering (Luke 22:15) Phil. 1:21 (DRA). Emphasis mine Phil. 1:21, Amplified Bible (AMP) Phil. 1:21 (DRA) Barry, Alfred, 1905, ‘Philippians’,in Ellicotts Commentary for English Readers, ed. John Ellicott, retrieved 25 Oct 2017, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/philippians/1.htm ‘Shechina’, in Collin’s English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged, 10th ed., New York: HarperCollins 2 Corinthians 5:1 (AMP) 2 Cor. 5:2-4 (AMP)


Paul doesn’t shy away here from describing bodily desires, and his relation to earthly life in his body proves to be complex: He groans in it, at unease with the state he is in, hoping for his body to eventually be katapōthe, swallowed down, consumed, devoured, drowned12 —although a less direct wish than expressed in the letter to the Philippians, still a dramatic and destructive one. Paul’s grappling with his physical body and desires seems to lead to a plurality of views on the body and on life that exist alongside each other in these verses; the body as a temporary dwelling place for a more eternal or transcendental ‘self ’, or perhaps spirit, vs. the promise of a more eternal dwelling place for that self in a future, the body as a tent vs. the eternal as a celestial garment. There are tensions between the physical self and a more transcendent being of self, between the body as a thing to be inhabited or to be covered, between thisworldly and otherworldly desires (it is worth nothing that the zoē which Paul longs for the mortal to be swallowed up by doesn’t refer strictly to an after the resurrection as the Amplified adds it, but may refer to life of either ‘physical (present)’ or ‘spiritual (particularly future) existence’13). Let us, amid these images of tents and bodies, temporary and eternal dwellings and in-dwellings, sacred and mortal, together and alone, allow ourselves to ‘journey into a mythical space of temporal slippage so that [our] moment and Paul’s moment touch’14 . Transcendence and immanence intersect here, we inhabit while desiring to be inhabited, we are inhabited while desiring not to be naked, we sigh inwardly, desiring to be wholly devoured, remaining solely as what dresses us, a ‘whole theological sexual performance of dressing and undressing (uncovering)’15… And all of these dwellings are temporary. The way Paul speaks about his desire to be dressed, to not be found naked, reminds me of the nakedness of Adam, and how his nakedness was only nakedness—and only reason for shame—because of, and after, his eating from the ‘tree of knowledge of [the difference between] good and evil and blessing and calamity’16 . This was the third division of things; the first being the division of the nothing into things by the Word of God (Logos), the Creation; the second being, of course, the division of humankind into man and woman, creating Eve from Adam’s rib—the nothing having already been divided into things, this creation could not be from nothing, but was from ‘man’, who, until then, had not been a man, but a whole human, from whom a part was removed. Alan Watts writes of the act of creation by the Logos (which John 1 reveals to us as Jesus) as division of the maya, ‘for māyā is that “no-thing”, which, when measured or divided, becomes things. The Divider (“I came not to bring peace, but a sword”) is the Logos, who “set a compass on the face of the deep”a, who “divided the light from the darkness”b, and created the firmament to “divide the waters from the waters”c. Thus it is prophesied of Mary, “A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also”d, since in all the great traditions creation is always through a sacrifice: the multiplicity of things is the One dis-membered and divided.’17 In this divided present, then, torn between the here and hereafter, ‘straitened between two’18 desires, between blessing and calamity, between two types of bodies, two types of life, two types of dwellings, in the realization of his state of (un)dress, exposed to his reader Paul sighs and groans, ‘murmur[s and] pray[s] in [his] soul, inwardly’19, ‘inaudibly:—with grief, groan, grudge, sigh.’20 Language, even that of prayer, becomes useless, insufficient to him in the context of this body. 12 13 14

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‘καταποθῇ (katapothē)’, Strong’s Greek Concordance, 2666 ‘ζωῆ (zōē)’, Strong’s Greek Concordance, 2222, cf. Castelli, Elizabeth A., 2014, ‘Introduction: Translating Pasolini translating Paul’, in Pasolini, Pier Paolo, St. Paul. A screenplay, trans. Elizabeth A. Castelli, London: Verso Books. xxxvii Althaus-Reid, Marcella, 2000, Indecent theology. Theological perversions in sex, gender and politics, New York: Routledge. 96 Genesis 2:9 (AMP) Watts, Alan, 1968 [1959], Myth and ritual in Christianity, Boston: Beacon Press. 108 a) Proverbs 8:27; b) Genesis 1:4; c) Genesis 1:6; d) Luke 2:35 Phil. 1:23 (DRA) ‘στενάζω’, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Strong’s NT 4727 ‘στενάζω (stenazó)’, Strong's Greek Concordance, 4727


When John writes of the Logos in his gospel, he describes that he has ‘dwelt among us’21 —the Amplified translates it ‘tabernacled (fixed his tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us’22, using the verb, eskēnōsen23 , of the same root as the word, skénos24 , that Paul uses for the ‘tent which is our earthly home’25 in 2 Corinthians. When writing about this verse in her ‘Obscenity no.1: Bi/Christ’26 , Marcella Althaus-Reid finds a great promise of instability in precisely this verbing: ‘If we consider that in John 1:14, the Verb is said to have … “put his tent among us”, the image conveys Christ's high mobility and lack of fixed spaces or definitive frontiers. Tents are easily dismantled overnight and do not become ruins or monuments; they are rather folded and stored or reused for another purpose when old. Tents change shape in strong winds, and their adaptability rather than their stubbornness is one of their greatest assets. The beauty of this God/tent symbolic is that it can help us discover Christ in our process of growth, the eventual transformations through unstable categories to be, more than anything else, a Christ of surprises.’27 Althaus-Reid’s obscenities are not at all unrelated to Paul’s state of undress. In fact, they are a reversal of Sartre’s oppositional pair of ‘Obscenity’ and ‘Grace’28 , which she says he ‘has worked out in a theological fashion’29, using the image of a nude dancer using grace as ‘a cover-up, an emotional make-up and a form of metaphysical underwear, a spiritual cold shower which controls lust, and controls the body.’30 Obscenity, in Sartre, enters through those things which ‘reveal the inertia of its flesh’31 and ‘add the element of the uncontrollable body to the scene.’32 Althaus-Reid’s Bi/Christ, which uses the unstable God/tent symbolic, is obscene because it reveals an instability that graceful Christologies have covered. Her focus on Logos as the Verb is central to a queer understanding of our subject matter, as it is central to an understanding of all queer practice: ‘To be queer is to not know exactly who or how one “is”. It is to have confused the categories of meaning so deeply that they no longer provide meaningful residence. It is to turn identity inside out, and identity politics on its head. To be queer is to “verbify” the noun: to queer.’33 ‘Queer theory exposes in its very figuration the way in which discourse flattens out phenomena in an attempt to make them palatable, digestible sound bites. It exemplifies the contradictions nestling within concepts, the way in which meanings proliferate and spill out of terms the more we try to contain them; the impossibility of owning, or securing so-called proper definitions for, words and phrases. While being interested in both what is and is not said, queer theorists are also excited by what cannot be said.’34 For Althaus-Reid, then, within the field of theology, which so often seems to seek solidification, to interpret the Logos as the Verb—to verb the Logos—is not insignificant, and again uncovers an instability. She writes that ‘if God is the Word (or Verb), the final authority in discernment is also speech, and not ecriture.’35 Reading Paul through this notion, his groaning, his inaudibilities, his sighing, gains even more significance. John 1:14 (DRA) John 1:14 (AMP) 23 ‘σκηνόω (skénoó)’, Strong’s Greek Concordance, 4637 24 'σκῆνος (skénos)’, Strong’s Greek Concordance, 4636 25 2 Corinthians 5:1 (AMP) 26 Althaus-Reid, 2000. 112-120 27 Althaus-Reid, 2000. 119-120. Emphasis mine. Cf. p.111 where the word discovering is stylized dis-covering: ‘Theology as a classic systematic sexual act is in need of exposure and grace dis-covering obscenity.’ 28 Sartre, Jean Paul, 1956, Being and nothingness. An essay on phenomenological ontology, trans. Hazel Barnes, New York: Philosophical Library. 401 29 Althaus-Reid, 2000. 110 30 Althaus-Reid, 2000. 110 31 Sartre, 1956. 401 32 Althaus-Reid, 2000. 111 33 Winnubst, Shannon, 2006, Queering freedom, Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 134 34 Giffney, Noreen, 2009, ‘Introduction: The ‘q’ Word’, in The Ashgate research companion to queer theory, Farnham/ Burlington: Ashgate. 8 35 Althaus-Reid, 2000. 158 21 22


This is the part in the text where I've come to expect an epiphany, a revelation, something euphoric that enraptures the train of thought and brings about ‘great shouts and leaps (possibly of a ritual nature)’36 , an overcoming of challenges, an encouragement. This is where I've come to expect—almost to want—that a ‘man … perceives a heavenly light, a light that comes from heaven.’37 But what if I am not this man, not a man at all. If God, the Son, is really the Word, Logos, then, here, in Paul's body, in my own, in my dysphoric silence, He has deserted us. Paul is, I am, at loss38. We stand ‘between two’39 , our body, Paul's, mine, ours; naked. If the Word is Verbing, it is sighing, groaning, wanting, lacking—words that have us stand outside language. This is the part of the text where I wish I could write in tongues the way one speaks in tongues. This is where I wish we had escaped language before it had escaped me. ‘The resulting confusion has been so vast … that all our current terms, our very language, so partake of the confusion that they can hardly straighten it out.’40 This is where liminality appeals again to me. I dissolve. ‘The world … is haunted by possibles, and the consciousness of each of these is a possible selfconsciousness which I’41 dissolve into, my unloosing from language multiplicity of identity. ‘At times it feels like desire displaces, or replaces, identity. Perception retreats or rather turns toward this dark interiority that isn’t my own.’42 ‘God and I are one in this operation: He works, and I come into being. Fire changes into itself what is added to it, which becomes its own nature.’43 ‘I don’t want to leave this charitable structure that permits my detailed dissipation.’44 ‘[I have] no past, and the stain which [I seem] to leave behind [me] … is a seeming only. In reality it is not there; in reality there is only the spark of eternity in the trackless abyss.’45 A ‘radical openness, an infinity of possibilities’46 ‘clothe[s me] over’47 ‘that I should be burnt up therein and melted and reduced till I become nothing’48 , ‘only a speaking silence’49: ‘[M]y groanings are poured out like water. … I was not or am not at ease, nor had I or have I rest, nor was I or am I quiet,’50 but ‘flush with yearning, bursting with innumerable imaginings of what could be. … A jubilation of emptiness.’51 Yes, here, slowly, are words, ‘as they yearn toward expression’52 —here I break up, slowly, the God/tent. My ‘spirit knows neither number nor numberlessness: there is no numberless number in the malady of time. No one has any other root in eternity, where there is “nobody" without number.’53 Here language and I depart, simultaneously, here we dissolve to each other, if only temporarily, if only in dreaming. ‘Don't for a minute think that there are no material effects of yearning and imagining’54 — ‘Once born, he [sic] neither sees nor pays heed to God’55. 36

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Van Gennep, Arnold, 1960, The rites of passage, trans. Monika B. Vizedom & Gabrielle L. Caffee, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 112 Eckhart, Meister, 2009, The complete mystical works of Meister Eckhart, trans. & ed. by M.O’C. Walshe, New York: Crossroad Publishing. 124 Remember that Paul’s desiderium is a longing out of lack, a grief. Phil. 1:23 (Vulgate) Watts, 1968. 62 Sartre, 1956. 164 Robertson, Lisa, 2012, 'Time in the codex’, in Nilling. Prose essays on noise, pornography, the codex, melancholy, Lucretius, folds, cities and related aporias, Toronto: BookThug. 16 Eckhart, 2009. 332 Robertson, 2012. 13 Watts, 1968. 129 Barad, Karen, 2012, What is the measure of nothingness? Infinity, virtuality, justice, Berlin: Hatje Cantz. 16 2 Cor. 5:2 (AMP) Eckhart, 2009. 124 Barad, 2012. 12 The Book of Job 3:24-26 (AMP) Barad, 2012. 13 Barad, 2012. 13 Eckhart, 2009. 124 Barad, 2012. 13 Eckhart, 2009. 307

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All these dwellings are temporary  

On desire —meditation on Paul's 'cupio dissolvi', published on the occasion of the exhibition 'I unloose, dissolve, destroy' in at7 project...

All these dwellings are temporary  

On desire —meditation on Paul's 'cupio dissolvi', published on the occasion of the exhibition 'I unloose, dissolve, destroy' in at7 project...

Profile for matthijsw
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