Dying for It

In many ways, the means to answer the biopolitics of the present and its management of life is to consider the significance of another death that is truly beautiful and desired above all else. Through the biopolitical lens of Western culture death is little more than one physiological stage on life's way, a point at which the body might be incised so that its clues to the mysteries of vitality and pathology may be acquired. Put starkly, death is no longer a watershed but a tractable, if distinct, aspect of material existence. The aim of techno-science is to postpone the point at which that aspect of material existence impinges upon subjects, with a view to the indefinite postponement of definitive failure, the nuisance of dying.9 In the Fathers moves a very different intuition and experience of death that is wholly desirable in that the purpose of life is to die. The time of death is intrinsically linked to the death of Christ and the resurrection of the body Thus, in the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, the Christian's objective is to make "this life down below - as Plato says - a training for death" (Letter 31 in Gregory of Nazianzus 1961: 39). This insight, like the eschatological imperative, has been expunged from Christianity like those saucy passages of Shakespeare that were censored in children's editions of the great bard's works. Yet its importance can be measured in the vitriol it meets from one of the principal intellectual adversaries of early Christianity.

Do not try to tell us that those who can see are blind and that those who can run are crippled since it is you who are blind of spirit and crippled of soul, teaching a doctrine that relates only to the body and living in the hope of raising a dead thing to life! (Celsus 1987: 112)

The resurrection of the body is at odds with the management of life. Its potency arises from the training for death that is a way of life - body-loving as Celsus sarcastically but accurately terms it - lived in a fundamentally distinctive temporality. In the same way as Paul outlined a Christian comportment in the midst of kairological time, so the resurrection inaugurates a temporal performativity that responds to the irrepeatable that has been but which cannot be possessed (even in the biopolitical vision of the management of life).

This vision of a death transfigured leads us to a Christian eroticism that is adequate to the challenges of the present and the demands of that which is remembered - the Passion of the Christ. Thomas's reflection on the status of pleasure as "delightful desire" (delectatio), a desire that has no specific end or anchor and is outside measurable duration offers a clue to the status and temporality of such an erotic practice (Summa Theologiae 1a2ae31.2). Pleasure, in Thomas's account, is more akin to an experience that is kairological than anything that is possible in either historical or post-historical time. Pleasure is immune to economies of value or price because it is given as an experience and therefore is invaluable. Pleasure, as an apprehension of transcendence, is radically mundane. Pleasure is outside morality. True pleasure does not pursue, at any cost, the empty illusion of a righteous economy of sexual desire. Rather, this experience exceeds time and matter in the messianic interval of pleasure that impresses itself upon history and bodies in those encounters that are irrepeatable gifts. Attending to such time demands a truly qualitative revolution of our understanding of eros that draws bodies together in communion - an experience of the "time that remains" which actively embraces the promise of the One who returns.

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