Thursday, June 16, 2016

Part 10 (The Social Self and God)--Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual: The Social Self

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

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 9) and speaks to the social self and God;  and Larry Catá Backer responds.

Contents HERE.

...still trying to order my thoughts. And yet, even though I am not a Muslim reading this reaction made me think of a Qu'ranic verse that says
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds -

And I connected this particular ayah to notions of Truth and power, social and societal. I thought about the meaning of the verse “Lord of the Worlds” beyond all orthodox interpretations I am aware of. For instance, according to So-and-so (a well-known living imam) “Lord of the Worlds” refers to “the human and angelic worlds” (quoting from memory).

Whereas I prefer to understand this verse as a reference to “possible worlds”. By “possible worlds” I mean each one of the possibilities actual circumstances offer, and each one of the possible alternative futures that could arise from taking any of the available courses of action.

What is Truth? Truth, as Larry seems to indicate, is interpretive coherence inside of whatever framework (or frameworks) Power has produced for us. The door to the road that leads to the construction of coherence is heavily guarded and most of the times inaccessible.

The notions of Truth, and the figures of Al-Hallaj, Junayd and Franz Kafka are illuminating. Al-Hallaj, Junayd and Kafka knew how different and multiple Truths existed. Al-Hallaj died the moment he tried to express his Truth in the societal field. His death was a statement to the existence of multiple Truths. But, this insight remained confined to a minoritarian tradition. Junayd straddled the social and the societal field. But, he hid the existence of multiple Truths, preferring to yield to orthodoxy, and so he saved himself. Kafka knew multiple Truths as those multiple Truths were knowable to him in 19th Century Prague. But, he forever remained at the gate.


In the symbolism of the Bible, the Gospel and the Quran, the Devil is the only being admitted to the presence of God. Man, it is said, cannot stand before God lest he died, and even angels shield their eyes from the unbearable brightness of the Throne. Satan can stand before God and address him directly:
He said,"My Lord, then reprieve me until the Day they are resurrected."
[ Allah ] said, "So indeed, you are of those reprieved
Until the Day of the time well-known."
Surat Al-Ĥijr (The Rocky Tract) - سورة الحجر

Satan is a shorthand for a function neither man nor angels can perform. I wrote already how the Shaytan is the Adversary, the Opposer, the Disturber. Yet, Satan has been granted admittance to the Garden of Heaven. In the movie The Matrix, Neo – the Opposer – is allowed entry to the Mainframe, where he meets the Architect face to face, only to be informed that the 'systemic anomaly' he embodies was conceived to maintain stability and order within the Matrix. Both Satan and Neo are an indispensable part of the very system of meaning they believe they are opposing. Herein lies the allure, necessary institutional subalternity, and eventual failure of certain theories. Again, a dichotomy.


"All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts"...and so appear to be most of the significant concepts and discursive mechanisms of the modern theories of 'all-that-the-state-is-not'. A dichotomy produced by the endless, mind-numbing, serialized repetition of one and the very same theological structure cannot be overcome by attempting to resignify its poles. Or by seeking for an alternative theology, only to read it through the lens of dichothomy.

In the Islamic popular tradition, as well as in the popular traditions of the European, Asian, African and native American peoples, there exist a class of divine tricksters variously known as djinn, 'little monks', or with many other praise names, such as Lord(s) of the Roads. Mischievous and playful, they live not in the Pardes (the Garden of Eden) but in the world, because their task is putting humans to the test. These beings may be found in the four seas, in underground caves and galleries, or in the most remote corners of forests. They may be encountered roaming the streets in the dead of night, or lying in wait at corners and crossroads. Some of them like to hide into objects, or can travel through space and time with lightning speed, and take the form of objects, plants, animals or humans to pass unrecognized.

Discussing these figures in the context of Truth poses at least two risks.

First, the Lord(s) of the Roads are normally associated with gates, doors and entryways. Therefore it would be tempting – and easy! - to use them to produce a narrative of liminality. In the author's intention a narrative of liminality could provide a counter-altar to the distinction between the social space and the societal space, friend and enemy, good and evil etc. Such a narrative of liminality however would place itself side by side with other alluring yet institutionally subaltern theories. This narrative would justify a purported difference that is allowed to exist insofar as it can be managed, and it can provide an artificial flavor of “variety” to a truly uniform societal space. An exotic animal in a cage. If Power exploits liminal spaces – and there are sufficient reasons to believe that liminal spaces are the spaces where Power is produced – such a narrative would lead to the shrinking of the social space, and the unobstacled expansion of the societal space.

Second, one could follow the equally tempting – and easy! – road of walking along the footsteps of Henry Louis Gates. One could then argue that liminality (between social and societal, Truth and Untruth) provides a chance for what Gates call “signifying”...but who would “signify”, and who would be “signified” in this case? Those who engage in “signification games” must accept the rule whereby they may only be made to believe they are signifying – while in reality they are being signified. In other words, important questions are: on whose table the “signification games” are played, who is admitted at the table, why and how. The outcome of signification games is unforeseeable, yet signification games a la Gates are inherently exclusive and dichotomic.

In reality, the Lord(s) of the Road know of no dichotomy, and he knows of no exclusion as such, no dialecticism, “truth-in-the-middle”ness and much less notions of 'liminality'. What is truly distinctive about the Lord(s) of the Road is that they are one-and-many at the same time, without ever separating themselves from their true and autonomous nature. These figures transcend notions of space, time, good/evil, social/societal, true/false. This is an extremely difficult point to explain. 
LCB: Yet you explain the concept of the Lord of the Road quite well. Ordering principles may indeed express Truth, and the ordering agent may well assume the role usually reserved for a Divinity.  Yet this expresses little more than that the possibility of truth, of order, of meaning, is impossible to understand except as a reflection of the self in and through some other thing(s) through which meaning (yet another "thing"--there is a reason the ancient acknowledged Gods in hierarchies functionally differentiated) that is meaningful can be acknowledged in the mutual reflection among the self and the self's reflection. In many traditions it is not for nothing that God is said to have made people in his own image. God might be understood, in such a creative act, in building a mirror that serves to define the divine as well as the human within the small space in which they both interact with the other.  And thus the first quote you raise is critically revealing:
 All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds -
But the revelation is somewhat unorthodox: it embraces not just the notion of ruling (Lordship, mutual hierarchical reflection) "of" and "between" worlds, but indeed is a declaration of the more profound realization of the smallness of the world to which the holy books of Islam (and the other faiths in their own ways) are necessarily confined. The Lordship of worlds suggests two things.  The first, then, is the smallness of each world, and its partiality.  Each world can be complete in itself but is not close to describing the space within which it occupies space. Within that space orthodoxy is necessary and so is the Lord of the Road--both disciplinary mechanisms to ensure the functioning of a self referencing and internally complete subpart of a larger complex the reflection and meaning of which remains page within the small world over which God claims Lordship of people.  The second is implied by every faith but is also subversive. God can be a quite different manifestation, and God's relation to the world can be quite different when His lordship slips from world to world.  That suggests that even if there is such a thing as religious truth, its truth can extend no further than the space within which people expend their conscious reach. But this reality, this truth, does not exist beyond that.  Beyond that truth exists--also contextualized within the worlds in with there is a Lordship.  But the expression of that Lordship--of the social relations between mirroring images of objects (God and people--or whatever--in relation to one another) lies beyond our comprehension--but more important, beyond our power, judgment and approval. 
Thus notion can then be replicated throughout the societal spaces people have sculpted for themselves.  It is thus not for nothing that just as people were created in the image of God, so states and communities were created in the image of religion.  Thus one can understand the problem of colonialism--the effort to project the realities of one world community (that of an imperial state) into the world of another sphere (the colonized). Thus the notion of evil can be understood both an internal concept--the failure to conform and thus to seek to subvert the truth order of a "world" -- and as an external concept, the act of destroying a self reflexive Truth order and the imposition of another. In neither case is Truth absolute or a thing in itself. But in the later case the Truth that prevails after colonization so reshapes the order into which it is projected that the societal bases of social relations become unraveled and the purpose of truth itself is subverted. There is the devil in the overlordship of Truth--the acts that purport to advance it but in the process subvert its very pretension of describing the world. Signification in this societal order is not concerned here it is own meaning but in the construction of meaning as tool for a distinct project of signification--one that defines power relations by investing signs with a quite instrumental interpretation. Here, ironically, the social self no longer reflects god; it deifies the societal.  

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