Flora Sapio (FS), Beitita Horm Pepulim (BHP), and I (LCB) continue our experiment in collaborative dialogue. We move from the individual to the social self as we work toward a philosophy of the individual. While at first blush this appears to be well worn ground--who hasn't, over the course of the last 5,000 years, in every civilization with a recorded history NOT spent vast amounts of time thinking about the social self? But much of this thinking starts at the social and works through the issues of control, management and socialization of the individual. That is, they start from the core premise that the individual is the object of a project for which the social serves as an instrument and as an ends. In the spirit of the emerging philosophy of the individual, we propose to invert the conversation--to start with the individual and work through the issues of control, management, and individuation of the social.
But we move from the individual in herself, to the individual as subject and as symbol, as something which, when observed and transformed from itself to the idea or symbol of itself, assumes a quite distinct, and useful, position for the organization of selves--and for the structure and operation of the law of the social. To that end our conversation will likely flow around and through the following:
1--the social self as the reflection of the mother
2--the social self as a reflection of the family
3--social self as a reflection/result of one's ancestors
4--the social self as a reflection of God
5-the social self as a refection of the state
6--the social self as terrorist
7--the social self as orthodox
This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts. Your participation is encouraged.
In this post Flora Sapio (FS) responds to earlier comments (Part 4) and speaks to the social self as a reflection of the family and Larry Catá Backer responds.
FS: Dear friends, I am resuming this dialog after a month or so of silence.
This far, we have been playing with the Relational, and the signification of the individual through various words, mechanisms, and functions – the Mother, the Family, the social, and the societal. I have tried to follow some order in discussing the various topics we chose but, this time I am jumping straight to the topic of “the social self and God”. This is perhaps the most intricate part of our dialog. Man, a friend recently observed, is a story telling animal (Mac Intyre). Therefore, rather than approaching the social self and God in the usual way, which would be the most reasonable thing to do, I want to tell you a story.
I have chosen a story from the Islamic tradition. I am not a Muslim, but I have found the story of the Martyrdom of Mansur al-Hallaj deeply fascinating since I first read it in 2003. During his lifetime Mansur, who was known “the wool carder” (al-Hallaj) was perhaps the most controversial of sufi saints. He traveled wide and far, from the mountains of India to the plains of China. Along his journeys, he reached the city of Baghdad. There, he met his friend Junayd, who prophetized to him: “The time will soon come, Mansur, when you will stain a piece of wood red." Junayd meant that he believed al-Hallaj would eventually be executed for speaking the truth. Al-Hallaj was known to be prone to moments of mystical rapture, where he would suddenly shout out the words “I am the Truth!” (Unal Haqq).
To us, the utterance “I am the Truth!” if made by a wanderer wool carder, may seem little more than the blabber of a madman. But, to Islamic jurists who lived around 900 AD, this utterance had a very precise meaning. According to the Islamic tradition, God has not one, but ninety-nine names. The number 99 can to be understood either literally, as Islamic orthodoxy did, or as a metaphor for an infinite number of attributes and possibilities. Each one of the names may stand for an actual attribute of God, for a function God plays in the world, or for a possibility. It is also believed that utterance of any of the divine names will provide he who recites this name with its inherent powers, faculties, or possibilities. The act of uttering a divine name is an act anyone can perform. Schooling by an imam, or an Islamic proselytizer, is not needed. Knowing how to correctly pronounce the Arabic word that stands for the relevant attribute, or function, or faculty is sufficient to utter any one of the ninety-nine names. To orthodox Islamic theologians who lived in the 10th Century AD, this fact was deeply destabilizing, as it went against their conviction that they were the only holders of truth. Whereas to the Sufi, singing the divine names and other similar practices were the norm.
As the story goes, one day in a a moment of rapture al-Hallaj shouted the words “I am the Truth!” in public. In so doing, his destiny was sealed. According to the scholars and jurists of the day, among whom there was his friend Junayd, who had disrobed himself of the Sufi vestments to don the jurist's cloak, al-Hallaj had violated the dogma of divine unity. The True (al Haqq) was, in fact, one of the 99 divine names which – taken together – made the essence of God. By proclaiming “I am the Truth!” the wool carder had meant that the “world in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) was manifesting in himself, and he himself was manifesting as God. Even worse, he had meant that there existed a fundamental unity between God and man. Even more heretically, by shouting “I am the Truth” al Hallaj had meant to say that God may have been one, yet had many different faces.
The implications of al-Hallaj's utterance are many. Was his statement a call for what today we would call “pluralism of values”, a call he made using the language available to him, and which everyone could understand in 10th Century Baghdad? If so, then there was no reason why his utterance should have been considered as a violation of religious dogma. That God had many different names, many different manifestations in the world, and that al-Hallaj's proclaimed 'I am the Truth', did not mean a denial of the the divine unity.
On the contrary, if “God is a substance of infinite attributes expressed in infinite ways, everything that is possible finds existence at some point in this world”...included Truth, al-Hallaj, and al-Hallaj-shouting-I-am-the-Truth. The ways in which what is possible finds its existence on the plane of immanence are characterized by those possibilities that, at any given point in time, exist in the immanent realm. In a market square of 10th Century Baghdad, the Truth could proclaim itself only through al-Hallaj the Wool Carder, and so it did, testifying to its own infinite ways. Had Truth proclaimed its existence in any other way, no one would have recognized it as Truth...but even so only few could see the Truth in al-Hallaj's utterance.
Al-Hallaj shouting “I am the Truth” meant that God - however Baghdadi scholars/jurists of the day imagined him or her to be - was dead a few centuries before Nietzsche wrote his epitaph. And so al-Hallaj had to be put to death, and his execution order had to be signed by his friend Junayd, who was an eminent Islamic scholar. Wasn't al-Hallaj's death a tragic and revealing parallel to the death of an artificial idea that had limited “infinite attributes expressed in infinite ways as infinite possibilities” to the views of 10th Century imams?
A description of al-Hallaj's martyrdom can be found in Farid ad-din 'Attar's Memorial:
“Al Hallaj's hands and feet were then tied to the stake, and with a single stroke of his sword the executioner severed Hallaj's hands. As the blood spurted out from his wrists it was seen to form the words 'I am the Truth' (Unal Haqq) as it poured onto the wooden boards of the scaffold. (...)
Al Hallaj's tormented body was left to bleed as he merged slowly into death. At the time of evening prayer the executioner cut his head off with a single blow, releasing his soul unto Almighty God. As the blood pumped forth from his trunk it uttered the cry 'I am the Truth' (Unal Haqq). Then suddenly every dismembered part of his body began to take up the cry, 'I am the Truth'. Throughout that night his trunk, limbs and sensory organs kept up the constant repetition of 'I am the Truth (Unal-Haqq).”