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THE SEDUCTION OF WORDS AND FLESH AND THE DESIRE OF GOD: A POSTSTRUCTURALIST READING OF JOHN 1:1, 14 AND THE PILLOW BOOK
LILIANA M. NUTU
University of Sheffield If speech could be purely present, unveiled, naked, offered up in person in its truth, without the detours of a signifier foreign to it, if at the limit an undeferred logos were possible, it would not seduce anyone. Jacques Derrida, Plato’s Pharmacy1 There is the ‘system’ and there is the text, and in the text there are fissures or resources that cannot be dominated by the systematic discourse. At a certain moment, the latter can no longer answer for itself; it initiates its own deconstruction. Whence the necessity of an interminable, active interpretation that is engaged in a micrology of the scalpel, both violent and faithful. Jacques Derrida, Points ... Interviews 2
The Incarnation of the Word has preoccupied biblical scholars for centuries, although very few studies on it have been published recently and even fewer (if any) have been informed by poststructuralist sensibilities. I would like, therefore, to approach John 1:1, 14 with a little help from Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes amongst others, while connecting it to Peter Greenaway’s film The Pillow Book, with the intention of reading afresh the Incarnation of the Word in the former and the Inscription of the Flesh in the latter. By paying particular attention to the seduction of word(s) and flesh, the dynamics of speech and writing, and the desire of God, I would like to investigate the relationship between text and image, and text, image, and reader, and to expose the ocular-erotic character of reading. I shall start with the film.
1 Jacques Derrida, ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’, in Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (trans. Barbara Johnson; London: Athlone Press, 1993), pp. 63-171 (71). 2 Jacques Derrida, ‘The Almost Nothing of the Unpresentable’, in Jacques Derrida, Points ... Interviews, 1974-1994 (trans. Peggy Kamuf et al. ; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995); pp. 78-88 (82).
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Biblical Interpretation 11, 1
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The Pillow Book, or the Inscription of the Flesh Peter Greenaway’s film bears his unique signature: intriguing visual elements coupled with overwhelming sensuality. Connected to The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, this is a film about calligraphy on human parchment, both vivant and mort . When the circle of life and death is complete, death appears to be the natural context for the written word. Is that so, however? The film starts with a father writing on his daughter’s face. He writes her name in slow yet firm brush strokes, beautifully. He speaks, ‘When God created the first clay model of a human being, he painted in the eyes, the lips, and the sex’ (Fig. 1). God wrote, therefore, his creation into being.3 ‘Then he painted in the name of each person, lest its owner should forget it. If God approved of his creation, he signed his own name.’ The girl turns, and the father signs on the back of her neck: a seal of approval. Graphemes and phonemes are thus engaged equally in the genesis of text, almost a writing aloud (of which Barthes is so fond).
Fig. 1. Nagiko, as a child, on her birthday.
The girl is Nagiko, and she shares this, her first name, with one of the greatest writers of Japanese prose: Sei Shonagon. Written approximately a thousand years ago, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is still considered one of the most beautiful and informative col3
To be noted here is the pictorial character of oriental writing.
and. which they are not. for which publication proves to be difficult. Not the death of the author. When Nagiko is later married to a man who is incapable of either good communication or beautiful calligraphy. Nagiko tries to recreate her father’s blessing by typing her own name and gluing the paper onto her chest. Woodline Films Ltd. 2)6. unlike those of Sei Shonagon. which is the topic of another study. but the death of the word bearer. 1967). until one of them challenges her into becoming the brush. Alone in Hong Kong.). supposed to become filled with ‘all manner of observations’ and even accounts of all her lovers. See Ivan Morris (ed.r. The cost of the enterprise is an unimaginable one: death.5 Peter Greenaway’s Nagiko becomes a woman of letters through a complicated formative process. does lend itself to a psychoanalytical reading. she begins to crave writing and thus an identity. Licensed by Film Four Distributors. 7 This. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. She confides in her pillow book increasingly. Nagiko writes of ‘prejudice against literature’. the writing her father would perform on her skin and the readings from Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. her lover. 4 Sei Shonagon served as a lady-in-waiting to Empress Sadako during the last decade of the tenth century (‘Shonagon’ means ‘Minor Counsellor’). one dreads to think of the depression’ (Section 154). . Misunderstood. On her eleventh birthday she starts to write her own pillow book. Dissatisfied with the artificiality of the exercise. ‘If there were no writing. ‘Writing is an ordinary enough occupation. as well as the entire text of the film. She begins to look forward to her birthdays.a. 6 All images from Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book © 1995 Kasander & Wigman Productions IBV/Alpha Films s.’ Sei Shonagon ponders. 5 While an English translation of the Japanese book exists. it seems that Greenaway took the artistic liberty to imply that the texts presented in the film are direct quotations from The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon . her lists are all negative.7 Nagiko then begins to write on human parchment.4 and it betrays a strong passion for literature.words and flesh and the desire of god 81 lections of writings in Japanese culture. She quickly develops a sense of pleasure associated with writing. Among the ‘Things that Irritate’. Her skin becomes the paper for a string of calligraphers (Fig. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (trans. she is immensely disappointed. Her work numbers thirteen books. in which her aunt would submerge her. yet how precious it is. A pillow book was probably a generic term used to describe a collection of casual writings which men and women would compose when they retired to their rooms at night—somewhat like a diary—and which would be kept in the drawers of their wooden pillows. she eventually runs away. Ivan Morris.
’ she demands of him. She writes random thoughts on random bodies and photographs them. to her unique sense of value.82 liliana m. who is. Yet Nagiko hesitates: ‘I cannot get pleasure out of writing on you.. however. which she sends to her chosen publisher. surprisingly. Nagiko’s trade seems fair. Intrigued by the bizarre request and enchanted by the beauty of the one behind it. and love befalls them. nutu Fig. The pictures make the book. The same man now rejects the works of the daughter. Not knowing any new tricks. Jerome obeys. however. She runs away but succumbs to the haunting challenge only hours later. She begins to experiment on foreigners who would be quite ignorant of oriental calligraphy yet have a taste for oriental women. Nagiko’s cutting remarks lead Jerome to challenge her into writing. 2. Nagiko the writer decides to persuade the publisher by seducing his lover and translator. his ruling is that her book ‘is not worth the paper it is printed on’. ‘Use my body like the pages of a book. Nagiko meets Jerome in a café. You have to write on me’. The affair takes both writer and translator by surprise. Just take out your pen and write on me. They fall in love. the same man who had sexually abused Nagiko’s father for years in exchange for the publication of his books.’ the Englishman throws at her. only to find himself pronounced ‘a scribbler’ and his work ‘not writing but distasteful scribbling’. a melting pot of words and flesh: d’un parfait mélange. This is. with a calligrapher lover. . Jerome.8 as the subtitles accompanying the 8 Fr. Don’t ask me why. Nagiko. however. a perfect mixture. ‘I need writing. yet quite determined to succeed. your book. as an adult.
The passing of time is reversed to the initial innocence of Eden. first life. in the words of Greenaway. Jerome Adam. The elements of writing become symbolic. the beginning of knowledge. Each as intoxicating as the other. It looks as if the text of The Lord’s Prayer acquired her forgiveness. ‘The pleasures of calligraphy’ that Sei Shonagon praises in her pillow book are indistinguishable from the pleasures of the flesh in Greenaway’s film. Sex. Fig. West. 3). she is the primal woman. Writing is thus associated with first creation. She is a scroll bearing the Lord’s Prayer (written in English and Latin). Nagiko bears The Lord’s Prayer on her skin. one hand covering her pubic area. North and South’. Eve.words and flesh and the desire of god 83 soundtrack of the film suggest. In the beginning was the text. She is a book on a shelf. and a hat with a veil in Italian. Then she is canvas. There is certainly no utterance. And through sex yet again. as written by Jerome. her arms stretched sideways evoking the Crucifixion (Fig. stockings in French. ‘a signpost. through sexe d’un ange. The subtitles and the music (graphemes and phonemes together) suggest purity. knew Nagiko Eve through writing first and sex second. first love. Then through writing again. but writing. 3. . connecting with others. Writing. in a Botticelli pose. Jerome writes on Nagiko’s skin in all the languages he knows. as for the poet Edmond Jabès (on whose works Derrida comments arduously). Nagiko becomes. pointing East. like the beginning of an adventure. and thus she wears imaginary shoes in German. The garden here is not speech. gloves in Hebrew.
however. Mirroring the good fortune of the Heian writer. dazzled by this beau idéal. or ‘that instrument of pleasure whose purpose is never in doubt. Writing is part of sex. she declares her intention of honouring her father by becoming a writer (Fig. 5). wants to take possession of it. as Derrida declares. Not to retire to one’s tent. Perhaps carrying such delights is not saying farewell to arms altogether. not an instrument of writing at all’. word becomes flesh. Deciphering the text is also discovering its texture: word and skin in one. London: Athlone Press. the sensuality of reading. for. 1972). Her book goes out alone. ‘there are two things which are dependable in life: the delights of the flesh and the delights of literature’ (Section 172). in order to write. and flesh becomes word. and the scent of fresh paper makes her recall the scent of a new lover’s skin. in the throws of love. and The First Book of Thirteen is written. quite unsurprisingly. but whose surprising efficiency one always. Nagiko remembers and subscribes to the wisdom of Sei Shonagon. Jacques Derrida. Alan Bass. to let it make its way alone and unarmed’. or that of calligraphy. 10 9 . In a less romantic fashion. The man of letters licks the writing and tastes the flesh bearing it (Fig. The word-bearer lends writing his beauty in as much as the word lends its bearer its own.10 One looks at Jerome’s written body.84 liliana m. ‘Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book’. Jerome becomes her paper. Perhaps they are meant to be indistinguishable. in which the written word (here) Misguidedly translated as ‘quill’ in the film. nutu The ink reminds Sei Shonagon of lacquered hair. 4). To be grounded far from one’s language. Thus. Greenaway does. However. but to draw back from one’s writing itself. Writing and Difference (trans. She associates the writing brush9 with the penis. incapable of discerning the superior beauty: that of flesh. loveless Nagiko had already disagreed with the lady-in-waiting and compared the penis to ‘a sea slug or a pickled cucumber. Sex is part of writing. p. When Nagiko takes the brush. and his first gestures betray both weakness and strength—the vulnerability of passion. ‘to write is to draw back. to emancipate it or lose one’s hold on it. always forgets’ (Section 167). He immediately desires it. The publisher is. in Jacques Derrida. present a progression of distinction between the word and the flesh. 70. Greenaway’s lovers appear to ‘enjoy them both equally’.
however. 5. becomes superior. . it is alas all too late. As a result of her own pain.words and flesh and the desire of god 85 Fig. Jerome becomes Nagiko’s first book. 4. Nagiko 11 It is certainly not my intention. When presented with the fifth book (The Book of the Exhibitionist). Jerome (who had left Nagiko and moved back in with the publisher by now). Fig.11 When Jerome realises his loss. the publisher ignores his Adonis-like. yet momentarily writing-less. to offend those for whom ‘large is beautiful’. The publisher encounters and succumbs to the flesh become Word. to pay attention to the extraordinary beauty of the words inscribed on the apparently unappealing body of the fifth messenger. lover.
soon to invade it and inundate it with its medicine. drunk. his essence is legible: he is Text. For the Word is God. 7). its drink. literature and sex. 152. kisses it (Fig. reveres it. The Book of The Lover. the sarx becomes logos. and the film takes a turn worthy of a Greek tragedy. Nagiko’s jealous friend advises Jerome towards the dramatic. ink. word and flesh. Meet me at the Library .. perfumed dye: the pharmakon always penetrates like a liquid. however. and attracts both judgement and punishment. Every Library. committing a metaphor known so well in Christian circles (Fig. The flesh becomes word. The publisher takes the pillow book out regularly. its potion. his skin scraped of all bloody flesh and treated until it becomes parchment. its brew.. in the end. Sperm. reads it. pleasure and pain. as for Jabès. Any Library .. .. I’m waiting for you. however. it is absorbed. the publisher has Jerome’s body exhumed and skinned. He clothes himself with the Word. and Evil is thus excommunicated . p. Her beautiful calligraphy covers Jerome’s dead body as a letter of introduction for the passage into the other world. the Englishman swallows the pills . which it first marks with the hardness of the type. water. the paper tries to write itself. paint. and he is the Lover.. Nagiko is heavy with child. nutu rejects him.86 liliana m. it seems that that liquid is the medium of writing. thirteenth book: The Book of the Dead. delivered by the final. Separated from writer and writing. The literal expression of this devotion is presented by Greenaway as sin. introduced into the inside. The film finishes with the promise of new life and new text. Not far from it. Desperate. Greenaway introduces Romeo and Juliet and Othello with one stroke.12 Jerome’s adieu note reads of his dissemination into ‘every library’: ‘Nagiko. The bearer of this final book kills the publisher. ‘the book multiplies the 12 Derrida.’ His elegy becomes Nagiko’s sixth volume. and incapable of separating the word from the man.. too. with ink. 6). He clothes himself with it in a gesture betraying both passion and devotion. ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. Greenaway treats his audience to a violent resurrection. Indeed. Jerome’s fate is not sealed. its poison. In love with the textandflesh that Jerome was. It looks as if the ink he drank re-surfaced to expose him to all. The human tissue becomes the timpan that separates and unites life and Hades. and the parchment bound until it becomes a book in three volumes: the Pillow Biblia. as Derrida remarks in Plato’s Pharmacy.
The publisher clothes himself with the pillow book made of Jerome’s skin. 13 Derrida. Nagiko’s seventh book reads without answers. 76. Fig. Greenaway does not answer all questions. . ‘Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book’. p. book’. He finds peace under the roots of the bonsai tree that watches (over) as Nagiko writes the blessing on the face of her newly born baby-girl. A new book. however. 7.words and flesh and the desire of god 87 Fig. 6. The circle is complete. The publisher reveres the pillow book made of Jerome’s skin. his is not a perfect picture.13 The recovered Text of Jerome is committed back to earth.
but we read that Truth itself is a liberator. which deal in particular with the incarnation of the word. Do we keep running because we are fated for liberation. bright-orange carrot dangling in front of our noses. like Jabès. John’s Prologue. ‘Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book’. life. the perfect book of births and beginnings. On Sinai God writes. The very presence of the Almighty is thus evoked. ‘The garden is speech.. of the Logos and the Text. and I shall pay attention to vv. It shuffles the pages. 1. which feels like moving forward. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. We are all victims of logocentrism. creative word of God that occupies centre stage in the book of Genesis seems to be the strongest echo. Knees tremble. We salivate and keep running in circles. When one reads John 1:1. although we very rarely can tell the difference. p. is the Prologue of John’s Gospel.88 liliana m. 14. of origins. glory as of the only Son from the Father (John 1:1. In Eden God speaks. but we definitely seem to have a perpetuum mobile. and jaws open. Greenaway desires to expose the seduction of beginnings. 65. The promise of Truth seduces. For me. but we will always ask questions about the Truth. Its echoes seem to wear primordial colours. The concept of wisdom (perfect knowledge coupled with ultimate reason) is our tantalising. 14). the seventh book is called The Book of The Seducer . nutu Where is a book before it is born? Who are a book’s parents? Does a book have two parents—a mother and a father? Can a book be born inside of another book? Where is the parent of the book of books? How old does a book have to be before it can give birth? Perhaps quite aptly. or the Incarnation of the Word In the beginning was the Word. ‘the dead and rigid 14 Derrida.. we have beheld his glory. . it is not the written word. and creation ex nihilo. and the Word was with God and the Word was God . We may never know the Truth. Perhaps. his spoken word emanates presence. the seduction of the questions surrounding all genesis. the desert writing. the spoken. or do we desire liberation because we are fated to keep running? We may not have a perfect picture.’14 Thus.
‘The garden is speech.16 Being present with God in. the desert writing . p. Derrida. recipes and formulae. In his analysis of the work of the Jewish poet Edmond Jabès.17 On this. the reason. p.’ he laments. piles of histories. Within the first verse. Choosing to consider the work inversely as ‘The Question of the Book’ (the question of the orphan). through . Derrida. ‘Judaism and Writing are but the same waiting. the same depletion. that between speech and writing and that between text and reader that preoccupy me here and that entice me to a good chase. 73. the ‘once upon a time’ formula grips us with the promise of a good story. Thus.’ Derrida continues. in the presence of God in the beginning. even after the Beginning enthrones the word. the Logos is pros ton theon. the Logos. 65. ‘Semiology and Grammatology’. work outside the garden’. as the ruler supreme even before one knows anything else. that comes forth and through the veil of written paper. and it is precisely the dynamics of these relationships. at . Derrida. ‘Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book’. as Derrida believes. Everyday language is indeed far from innocent or neutral. p. it does carry with it not only a considerable number of presuppositions of all types. For Jabès. the same hope. Derrida postulates writing as being ‘displaced on the broken line between lost and promised speech … The difference between speech and writing is sin. Derrida salutes its author as ‘he who writes and is written’. Logos. I’m game.’ Jabès writes. in the pro-logue of John’s Gospel.18 And yet. nomenclatures. Derrida pursues his deconstructive impulses by exposing the associations of the spoken word with life and of the written word with death.words and flesh and the desire of god 89 knowledge shut up in biblia. although little attended to. What is clear to me is that all genesis seduces.’ as Derrida volunteers.. the Logos. ‘the anger of God emerging from itself. which. towards God. and Beginning. there seems to be in writing a passion for the 15 16 17 18 Derrida. ‘Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book’. A race is born of the book. 68. with God. and. . John employs (and is employed by) three fundamentals: God. all in a cemented alliance through presence . 19. ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. the wisdom. are knotted in a system. It is the language of Western metaphysics. Le livre des questions. but also presuppositions inseparable from metaphysics.. the difficulty of being a Jew is correlated to the difficulty of writing. p. lost immediacy.15 but the spoken word.
of location. Understandably.’ Jabès cries. I am more anonymous than a bedsheet in the wind. God becomes God when the human body accepts his word and his glory. ‘God becomes God when creation says God’. 20 Derrida. The creator poet is indeed the subject of the book. 19 Jacques Derrida. is the child of his name. nutu garden. Creation creates itself in the absence of God. The creator/writer leaves creation/writing. its substance and its master. whose master he himself is. 70-71.’21 One could say that. ‘Ellipsis’. not falling outside the parent’s breath. direct questions and answers. for a return to the imagined free.. and the book is indeed the subject of the poet. 294-300. and of the writer (who is like God). to be ‘its diaphanous element of its going forth: everything and nothing’. ‘The word was God. ‘My name is a question.90 liliana m. I volunteer: God becomes God when text shows God. in Jacques Derrida. and I ask: If God is the Creator and the word his instrument. as the poet. Derrida recalls Maister Eckhart’s dictum. the one considered ‘first born’. the speaking and knowing being. both the garden and the desert. 70. On that. God. however? God is the parent of both speech and writing. a speech. pp. Writing and Difference . one must write. of being alive because an obviously alive parent? Is the Word God. p. pp. for Derrida. ‘Ellipsis’. letters write themselves while missing the writer. Yes. ‘Without my texts.’19 At the heart of Jabès’s book there is absence: of God. how can they be one and the same? Is there just the illusion of speech not leaving its parent.’ John pronounces (John 1:1b).22 Thus. its servant and its theme. There are traces of each in the other. ‘Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book’. .20 Being written is not sufficient in order to have a name. ‘to write is to have the passion of the origin . p. who in the book writes on the book. 22 Derrida.. however. without his creation. Derrida sees the poet as finding himself both bound to language and delivered from it by a poem. 65. To leave writing means. So. or (here). or is God the Word? Why should the Logos be reduced to speech . God would be more anonymous than all. 21 As quoted by Derrida in ‘Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book’. to be there only in order to provide a passageway for it. genealogy and etymology are interwoven.
if at the limit an undeferred logos were possible. the parent is absent. The living speech does indeed need the half-dead writing. however. ‘If speech could be purely present. glory as of the only Son from the Father (John 1:14). may be perceived not only as alive (because it has ‘a living father. offered up in person in its truth. a whole carnal stereophony: the articulation of the body. Since need always produces vulnerability. the intimacy broken. sand and misery—is perceived as suspicious. in a different (con)text. need the word to become flesh before it can seduce us. By contrast. or the aide-memoire supplement. it would not seduce anyone’. no one would truly be surprised should birth rights change ownership. rather. a text where we can hear the grain of the throat. 1976). its genetic structure.words and flesh and the desire of god 91 speech.25 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. without the detours of a signifier foreign to it. speech cannot impress. As Derrida puts it. writing appears as the half-dead orphan. not that of meaning. its own dunamis—mere resilience fed by silence. The power of writing. pp. should writing. 77. 25 Roland Barthes. bear not only the father’s print. 63-171 (71). p. ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. of the tongue. Barthes dreams of writing aloud as an aesthetic of textual pleasure. to record wisdom and history. too. On that. Thetford: Lowe and Brydone. Athanasius—who comes Derrida. writing is either medicine (while loyal to its parent. and its moral law) or poison (if allowing for a metamorphosis of violence. Speech can also be perceived as inferior to writing. who is present. the voluptuousness of vowels. 24 23 . Richard Miller. but his signet ring. While Sei Shonagon was taken with cherry blossoms and indigo paper. Derrida. behind it. the theatre of emotions’. perhaps we. we beheld his glory. ‘Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book’. too. Like Plato’s pharmakon . the language lined with flesh. its aim is seen not as ‘the clarity of message. 66-67. The Pleasure of the Text (trans. attending it in person in his own name’). sustaining it with his rectitude. standing near it. this writing aloud ‘searches for (in a perspective of bliss) the pulsional incidents.24 Like Greenaway’s publisher. and since the increase of knowledge is directly proportional to this need. the patina of consonants. it cannot function. of language’. pp.23 but also almighty. naked. far away. Perhaps without writing. because it has an Almighty parent. even patricide). unveiled. within it.
Thus. The Pleasure of the Text. after all. v-vi. . not made’. As for Jabès. a hard look at the horizon of our literary culture suggests that it will not be long before we come to a new word for orgasm proper—we shall call it ‘being’. the word and the wisdom assume a material body as an instrument of communication. The Bible they translated calls it ‘knowing’ while the Stuarts called it ‘dying’. the word becomes flesh. His is a word-flesh. as an instrument. Presented in an Alexandrine framework. Thus.. ‘the sound clothes itself with the inscription’? The logos becomes sarx .. It is Christ’s deity rather than his humanity that preoccupied the writer of De Incarnatione . The logos that holds everything together shows itself as text . pp. outside of which does not exist. Could not one read. became Man that we might be made God. Athanasius presented ‘God. and we call it ‘coming’.. Yet. through which he was known and in which he dwelt’ (2:8). Thus. namely his comments on the translation of Barthes’ ‘jouissance’ into ‘bliss’ in Richard Miller’s rendering: But of course he cannot come up with ‘coming’. 8:54). the word and the wisdom of the true God’ (3:16) descending on Earth and assuming a human body ‘as a temple for himself . Could one also say that the Word ‘came into being’? I am thinking of Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text and Richard Howard’s hors texte. Christian anthropomorphism does 26 Barthes. Athanasius’ theology is mainly built around the deity of Christ. they are one. therefore. the garden and the desert come together in the incarnation.. while other gods can shamelessly take credit for creation as a product of sexual activity (even masturbation).26 The ‘coming into being’ of the Word as the ‘coming’ or the ‘being’ of God? ‘Begotten. ‘logos assumes graphein ’. the Victorians called it ‘spending’. in which the word is the governing principle within the paradox of the Incarnation. the difference between speech and writing here is that between the garden and the desert: sin. which precisely translates what the original text can afford. speech becomes writing as différance . nutu to mind because some unfinished business and my rather strange taste for pastiche—was consumed with thoughts on the incarnation of the word of God: ‘The word of God himself .92 liliana m. but not yet. Thus. speech becomes writing. or ‘high’ Christology. He manifested himself by means of a body that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father’ (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei.
speech–writing. yet not in a subordinate position—contra Origen) was one of the principal concerns of Athanasius. timpan . the two elements are united and separated simultaneously.28 This joining I cannot but link with the Derridian crack. and the other to the divinity. full–empty.656 C-657B. the sur (super)name? And how can God be a Father without a process of creating a son. Patrologia Graeca . Through the Incarnation. a mother and a father (although John banishes the mother from his unique birth narrative—the topic of a different study). who is Himself? Can the Father be his own son? Is this Paradox? Duplicity? Both? Neither? Something else? Scholars of the Bible have struggled with these questions for centuries. Beginning is that which starts. In the Johannine text. so that one class may be ascribed to the body. until Beginning begins to be a beginning. indeed. These are not events occurring without any connection. 27 Athanasius wrote in a letter. the pro-geny (who is. in J. Divine–human. life–death. for it is arche -less. supreme. The biblical logos is usually presented as having parents. ‘Epistulae ad Serapionem’. how could anything that lacks something be arch-anything? The progeny cannot be that without some genesis. apart from the body.P. IV.. God is the Father of the Logos. . it does not begin to be an end. When Derrida introduced his ‘Two Interpretations of Interpre27 Explaining the unity between the full deity (‘homoousios’ rather than ‘homoiousios’ with the Father—contra Arius) and full humanity of Christ (who is seen as the Son of God. 28 Athanasius. In its moment of inception. simply the family name.and pro-genesis) is the arch-Logos who is indeed arche -less. apart from the divinity. now–not yet. Discussing the different actions of Christ in the light of what he and many others understood as the paradox of the Incarnation. forgiveness–sin. infinite–finite. The arch-Logos cannot be arch-. yet without beginning. QeoV. present–absent.. Migne. or supreme. beginning. They all occurred in such a way that they were joined together . hymen .words and flesh and the desire of god 93 not easily lend itself to such notions. birth. The End itself is not an end. but only in reference to a stopping and an end. margin. distinguished according to their quality. 14. pre. 26. transcendent–immanent. and the Logos is God. Beginning is the end of that which has been or not been before. How can someone without birth and outside genesis be a progeny? How can the Logos be God if God is the father of the Logos? Can the Logos be his own Father? Is ‘God’.
Indeed. or the collaboration of difference and deferral. ideology–Scripture. even if criticism and critical theory might wish or attempt to prioritise one or the other’. as soon as the recipient knows it as a gift. Indeed. In the Reading Gaol: Postmodernity. as Cunningham would have it. 31 Jacques Derrida declares that it is impossible for a gift to exist and appear as such. and then the Word creates himself. Identities fail without difference and referents. between the two … the real enactments of what Saussure perceived as language’s dualité oppositive and actualisations of what is really arresting Derrida in the marginality of textuality’. clash. or God’s desire for our flesh? Whose was the gift? Was there a gift?31 Perhaps we 29 Valentine Cunningham. 1994). since nothing can be either truly present or truly absent.. s/he thanks the donor and thus cancels it as such. Some questions that arise are: Does humanity cancel God’s gift once it thanks God for the Word/Christ? And what of the gift of humanity? In giving its flesh. Barthes took the same opportunity to ask the audience to recognise that ‘cultural facts are always double’. The true Saussurean. All is encompassed by the play of différance. Whose will be done. ‘And. however? So. Is this the result of our desire for God’s Word. Texts and History (Oxford: Blackwell. pp.’ to quote Derrida. the true Derridian. then it is cancelled as a gift since it cannot escape the economy of exchange. opposed sides of that border must inevitably get taken and be read and interpreted conjointly. creation is written. it seems that texts that appear to foreground certain binary oppositions (pivotal in recent criticism). ‘not allow any dominance by either side of the binary coin. nutu tation’. either simply spoken or simply written. the linguistic case is that meaning arises at that duplicitous.. 30 I am indeed grateful to Valentine Cunningham for his clear thesis on this.29 In view of this duplicity of language (and text. Thus. metonymy–metaphor. to infinity. will perhaps. p. 60. fullness–emptiness. and indeed there is nothing outside of it. humanity . speech–writing. in In the Reading Gaol.94 liliana m. the texts in question will ‘present meaning as arising precisely in the busy overlap. the Word writes himself into flesh. 4-61. as Valentine Cunningham noted recently. See his ‘Word and World’. interaction. This is the betweenness of writing.30 Thus. I propose that In the beginning was the text . For as soon as a gift is identified as a gift. like presence–absence. slippery place where apparent opposites apparently conjoin. therefore). so that both of the connecting. while drawing attention to Benveniste’s remark that ‘the discovery of the duplicity of language gives Saussure’s reflection all its value’.
189-210. Cited by Kearney.words and flesh and the desire of god 95 should entertain the thought that there should not be a question of either one or the other.35 Kearney sees this as the same impulse about which 1 John warns its readers.32 It is all about seduction. or the ‘ocular erotic drive to appropriate the ephemera of the visible universe .). the Gift. Does this exchange cancel both gifts? Does God acknowledge humanity’s flesh as a gift. p. Caputo. ‘Desire of God’. fornicatio spiritus. Cited by Kearney. 36 Augustine. New York: Penguin. pp. or visio dei. or Derrida’s ‘God as the other name of desire’. On the Name (Stanford: Stanford University Press. When writing on the desire of God. Scanlon (eds. Caputo would be eager to interject. p. So. after all. perhaps some cultures ought to permit no visible text’.33 Richard Kearney puts forward the theory that there are two ways of desiring God: onto-theologically and eschatologically. 112-145 (112). The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. is humanity’s gift of flesh the only gift standing. but of ‘inhabiting the distance between the two with as much grace and ambience and hospitality as possible’. 1994). p. since it has neither been acknowledged as a gift nor thanked for as a gift by God? Thoughts for further study. The Wake of Imagination (London: Routledge. pp.. the obsessive epistemological curiositas with regard to absolute knowledge’. Confessions (trans.34 or that which has been deemed as ‘the evil drive (yezer hara ) to be God by refashioning Yahweh in our own image’. Pine-Coffin. 174-80. 1997). p. . which seems to endeavour to possess God through metaphysical vision.37 Luther aralso presents forward a gift. 245-47. Augustine’s insight became a preface to the work of many other theologians and found climax (as Heidegger pointed out) in the work of Martin Luther. 1961).36 Indeed. in John D. p. ‘Desire of God’. ‘Some cultures permit no images. the same flesh that God gave humanity in the first place. 34 Richard Kearney. 37-53. 173. he quotes Augustine’s critique of the concupiscentia occulorum. 113. namely ‘the lust of the eyes’ for what shines and seduces. pp. The Young Heidegger: Rumor of the Hidden King (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 33 Jacques Derrida. after all. Caputo and Michael J. as John D. as Greenaway’s Nagiko is admonished at one point. R. ‘Desire of God’. 35 Richard Kearney. 1995). 1994). 10. 113. and Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1999). however? It is. In an inspired gesture. The onto-theological understands desire as ‘lack … as the drive to be and know absolutely’. 37 John van Buren. who spoke strongly against the ‘fornication of the spirit’.. God. 32 John D.
Both parties express ocular-erotic inclinations. by quoting eroticoecstatic passages from his Confessions .40 Almost like the double genitive. 113. p.39 This desire. the destruction of ontotheological desire might be more properly conceived as a spur to transcend our captivation by all that is (ta onta ) for another kind of desire—a desire for something that eye has never seen nor ear heard. Cited by Kearney. the desire of God plays between its subjective and objective domains and embodies them both in reciprocity . It seems to me that. became Human that we might be made God. this Christian criticism of onto-theological desire is not the clear equivalent of the rejection of it: The Nietzschean verdict that ‘Christianity gave Eros poison to drink’ is not quite as self-evident as it seems. 38 To his aid. nutu gued that the attempts to objectify the deus adventurus is only a ‘desire to dominate and master’. On the contrary. Instead. 113. Somehow. My emphasis. Thus. I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you. Reciprocity is the ground of fecundity. . VI). Now. ‘Desire of God’. I am reminded of Athanasius’ understanding of the Incarnation: ‘The word of God himself . He manifested himself by means of a body that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father’ (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei. becoming text is the means of seduction. You touched me and I am inflamed with love’ (Confessions .. and we feast our eyes on the inscribed letters in front of us while our hearts are racing with the hope for a reality beyond the page. his descriptions of the erotic restlessness of the soul in search of God. whose glorious radiance can—and is meant to—be beheld (John 1:14b). That is to say. in which the onto-theological and the eschatological desires couple. however. p. in order to be—and be known as—God. 8:54).96 liliana m. God desires our flesh as much as we desire his Word. Kearney invokes Augustine again. we read about the Word becoming flesh. Yet. ‘Desire of God’. the inquiteum cor nostram. in the Incarnation. The 38 39 40 Kearney. ‘You shed your fragrance about me. as Kearney argues. the Word desires our flesh as an inscription of himself. Christians were encouraged by Luther to entertain a Pauline desire for the kingdom of God as ‘hope for what we do not see’. seems to have been initiated by God himself: it was he who shed [his] fragrance and touched Augustine first (‘You shed your fragrance … You touched me’). I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour. eschatological desire..
who in the Biblia writes on the Biblia. 41 Cunningham. and reader. the dynamics of speech and writing. and the desire of God. do inhabit the territory of reciprocity. Connected to one of the most valuable collections of writings in Japanese literature. image. in the words of Greenaway. Ours is the foreplay . allow our flesh to be inscribed through fugitive foreplay. The subject and object of our desire is the Word.words and flesh and the desire of god 97 now but not yet of our being with the Word—visible in print and invisible in concept—makes us gasp with desire. while focusing on the seduction of word(s) and flesh. foreplay and orgasm. the audience and the book. Perhaps we should also subscribe to the wisdom of Sei Shonagon. this world and the other. and it exposes the ocular-erotic character of reading. and it identifies the Incarnation as the hymen which both unites and separates the human and the divine. and dream of becoming one with the Word while we read of the Word becoming one with us. through poststructuralist theory. 1:22). 56. this world and the other. eat his flesh and drink his blood. we read the word. the audience and the book. namely The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon . Greenaway’s film treats the ‘delights of the flesh and the delights of literature’ as indistinguishable from each other. flesh and word. which is but a hymen uniting and separating the human and the divine.41 What seems rather clear to me is that Christians. declared that ‘there are two things dependable in life: the delights of the flesh and the delights of literature’ (Section 172). and text. we clothe ourselves with our own Pillow Book. In the Reading Gaol. the flesh and the word. Abstract This paper looks at John 1:1. and the promise of a glorious climax is guaranteed by God’s applying his ‘seal of ownership’ on us. the immanent and the transcendent. p. the immanent and the transcendent. while it is anticipated actively by us through our devotional. who. With the hope of orgasmic heaven. the self-declared seduced. Derrida makes a strong point when calling God ‘the other name of desire’. our souls (2 Cor. . and celebrate our communion with him. 14 and Peter Greenaway’s film The Pillow Book with the intention of reading afresh the Incarnation of the Word in the former and the Inscription of the Flesh in the latter. It investigates the relationship between text and image. controlled orgies. I will not agree this time with Cunningham and his idea that textuality rhymes all too conveniently with sexuality. by inscribing it onto our hearts. This paper defends the idea that the Incarnation exposes the reciprocity of desire of God: God desires our flesh as much as we desire his Word.
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