Distance

What do these economies of response with respect to the body of Jesus, the Christ, enable us to understand about theology and sexual difference?

First, I have throughout paralleled the notion of difference with that of distance. This is partly to ensure that difference is always thought relatively, as distance is. There is no pure difference. Difference qua difference is an abstraction no one could recognize. Difference is relative, and distance spatializes that relativity and also suggests the possibility of a temporal dynamic. That is, because distance is relative so also actions with respect to that distance will alter it - reducing or expanding proximity. In the same way, difference now understood not as an abstraction but as an aspect of a temporal situation concerned with the relational spatializing of bodies with respect to each other, admits degrees thereof and modifications to those degrees. To associate difference with distance - that I will go on to suggest is a profoundly theological notion that the early Greek Fathers termed "diastema" - prevents any difference, sexual or otherwise, from becoming a stable marker of a living body.

But a question now arises about the adjective "sexual" with respect to difference. Put plainly, how does difference get sexed? From the analysis above I would suggest - and this is the second point in a developing understanding of sexual difference - that difference, to the extent that it concerns the bodies of other responsive beings, is always erotic and therefore sexually charged to a greater or a lesser degree.4 This is because it is only constituted in relation, and relations between responsive bodies become increasingly eroticized through proximity. The move from seeing to touching in the scriptural accounts we have examined, marks a degree of erotic charge between the bodies as well as a change in what the body knows. The body's knowledge is, I suggest (following Merleau-Ponty), profoundly related to desire. Although I would not want to draw a sharp line between the senses of sight and touch - voyeurism would warn us against doing this - certain forms of seeing can indeed be tactile. There are certain exchanges of glances that can wound or excite, that can caress or puncture the body A look can make me feel ugly, feel aroused, feel pain. It is somewhere in the engagement between sight and touch that bodies become sexualized, somewhere in the junction between reception and response within the body's own knowing. Such that desire for knowing or being with the other is simultaneously an attraction to the other. Is it at such a moment of sexualization, in the arrival of attraction, that bodies take on a sexual difference? What I am arguing here is that in the same way as there is no difference as such, there is no sexual difference as such. Sexual difference is not a given, a fundament, a starting point. It is always an "achievement," in Hegel's understanding of that term - it is produced in and through specific acts of encounter. To take this further, with respect to Christian theology: there is no theology of sexual difference, only the production of sexual difference in a theological relation. And we will have to ask what is a theological relation in a moment.

The difference which arises from any encounter is not sexual with respect to the physiology of the bodies involved. Of course this is not to deny the physiological or the aesthetic (the beauty, which accords with fashion, of this man or that woman). Neither would I want to deny the role that having sexual organs plays in the performance of an explicit sexual encounter or the adrenalin rush that comes with stimulation. Throughout my exegesis and analysis of Scripture, I have emphasized the interplay between what the body receives and responds to and what the mind understands.5 But the bodies themselves, I suggest, become sexualized by the consciousness of being-in-relation - they are not sexualized before it. In other words, there is no pure physiological state. To return to a point I made with respect to the mythologizing of relations in Jesus' encounter with Mary in the garden, the erotic experience is already mythopoetic, shot through with images, fantasies, and mythemes. Thus when I speak of "consciousness" here I do not simply refer to a mental state as distinct from a physical state. The central argument of this chapter would reject the dualism of mind and body, psuche and soma. Orientating oneself round a city, anticipating other vehicles and pedestrians whilst driving, reaching for and choosing a shot at tennis in response to a return, are all examples of the body "thinking" and consciously moving with respect to other bodies without necessarily reasoning in these situations. The body is taught to "think" in this way through habituating practices. One can then "know" one is in-relation without the physical proximity of the person. And similarly one can know of being-in-relation without necessarily being mentally attentive to the person one is in relation to. Bodies, I suggest, become sexualized through a consciousness of being-in-relation of various kinds, through attentive rationalizing and responsive readings of body language. In being sexualized bodies negotiate both difference and affinity, distance and proximity - they do not just encounter difference/distance. Attraction, key to the dynamic of desire, operates through economies of both difference and affinity, distance and proximity. It would be as absurd to label the erotic encounter between Mary Magdala and Christ as "heterosexual," as it would be absurd to label the meeting of Thomas and Christ as "homosexual." Both of these labels treat sexuality as a self-subsisting thing, a property that can be attributable to relations, a predicate of persons that encounter awakens. This would be Freud's understanding of the libido as a substructure of selfhood. My analysis would suggest this is an entirely wrong way of understanding sexuality. The erotic nature of a sexual relation is intrinsic to relating itself. The relation itself, in its constitution, participates in an eros and a pathos pertaining to all relations between responsive bodies. (And I would be at a loss to say at what point an organic body is unresponsive.) Any understanding of sexual difference has to think through what is relation and embodiment as such.

Let me begin with embodiment, and a distinction as important to St Paul who distinguishes body (soma) from flesh (sarx) as it is, more recently, to Michel Henry (2000: 7-9) who distinguishes flesh (chair) from the corporeal (le corps). The distinction is this: there is the material order of things and there is what I will term the ethical order of things. A distinction is not a division. I am not suggesting the world of genetic pools and carbon compounds is divorced from the world of values and significances. In fact, what I understand by the theological term "incarnational" would describe the material order as already inhabited by - only made possible by - the ethical order of things. But the distinction nevertheless remains a useful strategic tool for disrupting the empirical and positivist assumption that what is real and what is true is constituted by the basic elements of carbon and DNA alone. The corporeal (St Paul's sarx, Henry's le corps) is the material in itself, the pursuit of which for both thinkers is nihilistic and atheistic. The corporeal as such is, on one level, a philosophical abstraction or isolation proceeding from the complex knowledge of the body (St Paul's soma, Henry's le chair). On another level, the corporeal as such is only possible on the rejection of the theological and ethical orders that give value and significance to the body.

Positivism assumes the opacity of objects; it assumes objects are as they appear. Appearance is the starting place for understanding and thinking about them. Ontology is epistemology. It is exactly this assumption that I wish to "queer" with respect to human bodies and how we reflect theologically upon them. To a certain extent phenomenology has already begun to think this disruption of appearance, by asking not about appearance as such but about the how of an appearance, the intentionality of the gaze. Phenomenology asks a prior question about the object of scientific enquiry - how does it give itself to appear as such. Understanding is not the discovery of what is the state of affairs but an "achievement" in and through relating to that which gives itself. Phenomenology distinguishes between an object's appearance and its manner of appearing - for Henry there is "l'apparence" and there is "l'apparaƮtre." As such, phenomenology is not asking questions about the material composition or contents of the object, it is asking about how it gives itself to be understood. The phenomenological investigation, as Heidegger realized, gives way to an ontological enquiry that is distinct while remaining inseparable from that which makes its appearance. The ontological question is then secondary and dependent; the mystery of what gives itself, the mystery that invests what is with its values and significances, the mystery of donation,6 remains primary.7

Now let us take this one step further with respect to embodiment. For what I am suggesting here is that the meaning and significance of bodies is ultimately ungraspable. Their giveness cannot be accounted for - except mythopoetically or theologically - and they cannot account for themselves (as empiricists would like us to believe). If Jesus the Christ can be understood as the second Adam, then incarnation does not just characterize his body, but, in some sense, all bodies. This incarnational nature is the mark of the mystery of the body's donation, or what Rowan Williams (2002) has called "the body's grace" (being donated). Of course, Christ as the second Adam does not repeat identically the first Adam since Adam was made "in the image of God"; he was not God. And so when I say all bodies are "in some sense" incarnational they are not identical repetitions of Christ's body, but nevertheless participate in that incarnation in their own creaturely way. Embodiment, therefore, is analogically related to incarnation, and it is as such, that Paul's soma can refer both to (a) the historical and physical body each possesses, even Christ, and to (b) the transhistorical, spiritual body that is Christ's alone but which is made of several members constituting the church. This rich, analogical understanding of corpus is detailed in Henri de Lubac's study of medieval sacramentality, Corpus Mysticum (1948). Embodiment maintains its mystery, rendering the particularity of its thereness continually open to a transcorporeal operation. This transcorporeal operation is not beyond the body or supra-corporeal. The body's transcor-poreality is constituted in and through its relations to other bodies.

This brings us to the second of the two categories that, from my exegesis, will determine a different, theological account of sexual difference: relation. A body is always in transit, always exceeding its significance or transgressing the limits of what appears. The body is constantly in movement and in a movement. It is these complex movements in and upon the body that the economies of response attempt to sketch. Put differently, the body exists fluidly in a number of fluid operations between reception and response, between degrees of desire/repulsion, recognition/misrecognition, and passivity/activity. These operations maintain the body's mystery by causing it always to be in transit. As such a body can only be reduced to a set of identifiable properties of its appearance (such as identifications of sex as "male" or "female") by being isolated from these processes and operations; by being atomized. Embodiment maintains its excess, maintains its transcorporeality in and through its congress with the mysteries of other bodies. It is with respect to other bodies that the operations of reception and response, reading and rereading, acting and withdrawing are not only conducted but constituted. These operations bring into being systems of dependence and interdependence, which any singular body can always resist but from which no singular body can ever finally extract itself. I suggest it is from within these systems, with respect to these operations, that the sexuality of embodiment and its distinctiveness in relation to other sexual embodiments emerges. There is no sexuality or sexual difference as such, just as there is no difference as such, only distances and affinities occurring across networks of relation. Put briefly, and theologically, if the mystery of embodiment and its eros is articulated with respect to the body of Christ, then the ambiguities and latitudes of difference and relation are articulated with respect to the operations of a God who is three and who is also one.

In contrast to the determinative biological starting point for discussing sexual difference (filtered through scriptural exegesis) of Karl Barth and Balthasar, I have offered here another place from which to begin - with the "operations" or economies of embodiment and relation. Gregory of Nyssa - writing On "Not Three Gods" - provides us with a theological formula for this post-Nicene basis: "every operation which extends from God to the Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit" (Gregory of Nyssa 1994: 334).

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Body Language Mastery

Body Language Mastery

Master The Arts Of Reading Body Language. Get Powerful Messages Across With Ease And Make People Listen To Your Every Word With This One Of A Kind Guide To Effective Body Language! These Hidden Communication Techniques Will Help You Get Important Messages Across To Your Audiences Fast And Help You Achieve Your Desired Results With Ease!

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment