In literature (particularly in the genres of autobiography, confession, the keeping of diaries and journals, letter-writing and the various forms of Bildungsroman), in interpreting the events of a life as a step towards a new integration, a new holism is keenly recognised. By giving structure to a series of occurrences, by choosing these events out of the plethora of all that happens to any one of us rather than those, an interpretation of one's life experience is crafted. Coming to understand is recognised as an important means of resolving questions about an incident or an action in which one has been involved. Writing in this sense, and interpretation is this sense, are therapeutic. Central to Kristeva's understanding of the processes of healing that operate in exchanges between analyst and analysand, her tales of love, is the bringing of what has been abjected and is aphasic into the realm of the symbolic, to negotiate the traumatised and suppressed semiotic drives in and through the symbolic.7 So in psychoanalysis, as in literature, the association between interpretation and therapy has been recognised, even theorised. In both these examples, the literary and the psychoanalytical, it is to be noted that I am employing a wide construal of 'interpretation' or, rather, I am viewing all acts of coming to an understanding of life, of dreams and drives, as well as more formal acts of reading as interpreting texts. And it is this wider construal that relates hermeneutics to anthropology and various
5 London: Routledge, 2001.
7 See Tales of Love, tr. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987). For a more developed exposition of Kristeva's position see essay seven, Allegoria Amoris .
phenomenologies (of the social, Hannah Arendt)8 or the flesh (Michel Henry)9 — a relationship explored throughout Paul Ricreur's work — that enables me to recover the profound association between interpretation and therapy evident in various exegetical practices found in antiquity and the early Middle Ages. For example, in Plato, there is a disciplining of desire and perception that comes from interpreting the world within the cave according to the light of the sun beyond the cave. This disciplining or, to use the suggestive title of Martha Nussbaum's book,10 the therapy of desire begins in the training received while in the cave itself — a training in the way things are to be perceived, that is, understood. This wider construal of 'interpretation' enables me to return hermeneutics to a pre-Reformation tradition, relating it to what Michel de Certeau called the practices of everyday life; to examine the relationship between interpretation and formation, and in that way point up what I mean by healing or therapy with respect to a certain teleology of the self. I want to do this not by explicitly examining here the exegetical practices of antiquity and the medieval period — for that will be done in chapter eight, 'Spiritual Exercises' — but by offering a phenomeno-logical account of the economy of response. My account of the way interpretation governs the operation between reception and response will point up how the activity of interpreting is both ethical and therapeutic with respect to the fashioning of the self.
Let me begin by outlining two crucial differences, as I see them, between the post-Reformation tradition of hermeneutics and the economy of response. First, and primarily, I want to develop an account of response that is embodied, and therefore not just historically and culturally determined but both gendered and erotic. Theoretical accounts of interpretation have, under the influence of the architectonics of Kantian reasoning, centred on acts of consciousness, the operations of Bewusstsein, the formation ofjudge-ments. Consciousness is viewed as transparent and possessing a self-presence that is immediate. This consciousness is reducible to representations, such that the aim of hermeneutics was nothing less than developing a general method of understanding, that is, an account (provided by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason) of the world as constituted by a disembodied but nevertheless unifying transcendental ego. Although Wilhelm Dilthey
8 See The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 1958).
9 See Philosophie et phénoménologie du corps (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965) and, more recently, Incarnation: une philosophie de la chair (Paris: Seuil, 2000). I discuss Henry's concept of flesh in essay five, 'Divinity and Sexual Difference'.
10 The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton University Press, 1994).
proposed a more sophisticated distinction between acts of explanation and acts of understanding,11 and although Gadamer took this distinction further by relating understanding to the processes of what he termed effective historical consciousness, both have no account of embodiment, what I want to call the language and knowledge of the body. This is despite the fact that there is a commitment in both thinkers to a Lebensphilosophie, an account of Erlebnis or lived experience. Gadamer is important for taking hermeneutics beyond the mental acts of individuals and, influenced by Heidegger's accounts of Dasein, Mitandersein, Vorgriff and Vorhabe, for recognising interpretation as a social activity — and I will return to this — but the theatre of interpretative action remains consciousness. Put briefly, he is still wrestling with a Cartesian legacy that cannot give an account of the interdependency of the psyche and the soma. We can see how, with a little help from Stanley Fish, Gadamer's thinking could appreciate interpretative communities;12 even, with a little help from Michel Foucault, could appreciate both the archaeology and the genealogy of knowledges. But the attention to understanding and what in one essay Gadamer terms 'The Universality of the Hermeneutic Problem' makes all this heady stuff. As Gadamer writes in his Foreword to the second edition of Truth and Method, he understands hermeneutics as 'a theory of the real experience that thinking is'.13 So, if minds are certainly not functioning as brains in vats, they seem unencumbered with legs and arms, breasts or chests either.
Secondly, what an economy of response sets out to demonstrate is that the role of interpretation is not to mediate between the textual and the nontextual, the word and the world, the sign and what it signifies. Somewhat paralleling the Cartesian dualism, post-Reformation hermeneutics drew this distinction between the textual and the non-textual, word and thing, the
11 See 'The Development of Hermeneutics' in Wilhelm Dilthey: Selected Writings, tr. and ed. H.P. Rickman (Cambridge University Press, 1976). What is often missed out of the history of hermeneutics is the contribution of phenomenology, particularly Husserl. Husserl's understanding and examination of apperception and intentionality concerned the manner in which objects were taken up into consciousness and made meaningful. Objects never appeared as such, and phenomenology did not treat them as such; objects were already experienced in terms of webs of interpretative relation. Interpretation became a mode of living in and experiencing the world. Nevertheless, it was the unity of consciousness that became the focus for Husserl's hermeneutical epistemology and his investigations into mindedness (Zumutesein). In this he was influenced by neo-Kantians like Paul Nathorp.
12 Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980).
13 Truth and Method, tr. Garret Barden and John Cumming (London: Sheed and Ward, 1975), p. xxiv.
text and either the referent it pointed to or the sense it contained.14 Representation became both necessary (to present a consciousness of the world) and something to be transcended; it was both tool and impediment. Fundamentally, and philosophically, post-Reformation hermeneutics continued in and developed out of nominalism. The emergence of Reformation literalism (as distinct from the subtle and complex understanding of the sensus rectus or the historical sense) is inseparable from the nominalist separation of the word and the world, the sign and its meaning.15 Post-Reformation hermeneutics had as its task to render an account of how interpretation joined back together again the word and the world. The movement for this joining could, then, only proceed one way — from word to world, sign to meaning. The role of interpretation is then to mediate, to offer a one-way bridge that enables us to grasp that which is immediate and beyond the word, beyond the sign — indeed, beyond interpretation, the end of interpretation: the self-present meaning.16
What I wish to outline in this essay is a different approach to hermeneu-tics that rejects the dualism of psyche and soma, as it rejects the dualism of sign and the reality that it signifies. I wish to situate the processes of understanding, sign recognition and interpretation in the wider economies of our embodied response to the world. If, following both Heidegger and Wittgenstein, all seeing (and that seeing I suggest embraces touching, smelling, tasting and hearing) is seeing as, then we are as sensate creatures continually involved in coming to judgements about our embodied experience in the
14 This is why some of Ricœur's work and Charles Taylor's is so important. In his essay 'The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as Text' (tr. Kathleen Blamey in Kathleen Blamey and John Thompson eds., From Text to Action (Evanston, 1ll.: Northwestern University Press, 1991, pp. 144—67), Ricœur pointed out how the interpretation of a text can act as an analogue for the interpretation of social action. This, along with the development by both structuralists and poststructuralists (like Roland Barthes, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Michel de Certeau) of social semiotics, began to break down the barrier between textual interpretation and cultural interpretation more generally. As I noted above, one cannot omit here the importance of phenomenology for both Ricœur and post-war French thinking more generally. Charles Taylor's examination of human beings as interpretative animals again widened the scope of hermeneutics. See his essay 'Self-Interpreting Animals' in Human Agency and Language: Philosophical Papers: Part I (Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 45-76.
15 See here my essays, 'To Be a Reader: Bunyan's Struggle with the Language of Scripture' in Literature and Theology 4 (1), March (1990), pp. 29-49; and 'Speaking Otherwise: Postmodern Analogy' in Philip Goodchild ed., Rethinking Philosophy of Religion (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), pp. 187-211.
16 A critique about the possibility of ever being able to arrive at this meaning is at the heart of Derrida's deconstructive analyses of what he terms 'logocentrism'. Neverthless, he remains caught within nominalism himself; see my 'In the Daylight Forever?: Language and Silence' in Denys Turner and Oliver Davies eds., Silence and the Word (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
world and the text; the phenomenological, the social and the corporeal are continually being engaged concurrently — as the quotation from Merleau-Ponty at the head of this essay announces. We never stop interpreting: 'we are condemned to meaning',17 though 'condemned'is a strong metaphor to employ here, recalling Heidegger's use of 'prison' to describe the language we always indwell. We never get beyond interpretation, we are constantly reading and re-reading — others, ourselves and the furniture around us — but I want to suggest there is a redemption in this. We are continually moving within and handling the operations of reception and response; and in this movement we are both constituted as subjects and coming to a reflexive understanding of who we are. That is something of what it means to be human. What I am wishing to do is give an account of that concurrent engagement. Ultimately, I suggest, this account points to an excess, what Jean-Luc Marion has recently termed le surcroit. For him, that is the character of 'saturated phenomena' — playing on the way excess requires us to believe, croire, an infinite interpretability that Marion associates with the iconic.18 My account of the economy of response, therefore, finds its ultimate frame in the theological, in mythologies of the transcendent. The work of Merleau-Ponty, sketching a phenomenology of le corps propre in which the body is already a field of intentions such that thinking and knowledge emerge from its immersion in the world; and the last writings of Michel Henry, developing a phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty's self-confessed secularised account of incarnation: both provide resources for presenting an economy of response. Both are aware that such an account must necessarily draw upon and return us to a certain Christian legacy that has refused the dualism of soul and body, mind and world, and, in developing its theologies of incarnation and being human, has sought to think in terms of the ensouled flesh, or the enfleshed soul. I would point to the writings of Gregory of Nyssa, particularly his reflections In Canticum Canticorum and Augustine's De Trinitate, for example, as textual sites where — though the body is disciplined in and through practices of piety — the psyche and the soma work one in relation to the other.19 The soul is formed in and through the body by a participation of both in the economy of grace. In a sense, then, my account of the economy of response is another take on a question that dominated all Augustine's thinking: what is the relationship between the body and the soul? I will suggest towards the end of this essay that the
17 Phenomenology of Perception, p. 420.
18 De Surcroit: études sur les phénomènes saturés (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2001).
19 There has been a notable shift in the recent scholarship on Gregory of Nyssa towards a reaffirmation of embodiment. See Sarah Coakley ed., Modern Theology 18 (4), October (2002) for discussions and examples of this shift in critical attention.
kind of therapeutic interpretation that is fashioned by and for and in the self is determined by the nature of the hope towards which understanding aspires. It is exactly at this point that the project of theological hermeneutics announces itself.
But how do we give an account of how we receive, respond and grope towards understanding? There are, it seems to me, three possibilities.
First, I could give an abstract analysis of what is involved in receiving, responding and understanding, treating the moves involved between sensing, interpreting and acting. Charles Taylor has gone some way towards doing this in his fine essay 'Self-Interpreting Animals'.20 In the development of a philosophical anthropology, Taylor begins by demonstrating how much of our experience involves descriptions that in turn compose judgements about the world.21 Things have 'import' for us. That is why we register and experience them, and why, in turn, that import tells us something about the kind of people we are.22 Reasoning is then 'embedded in feeling',23 and concerns itself with interpretation. Language facility is also then bound up with these feelings and their interpretation. Language is constitutive of our emotional experience and interprets such experience. So, Taylor concludes, 'interpretation plays no secondary, optional role, but is essential to human existence'.24
Within the analytical tradition of philosophy Taylor's essay is important for the way it arrives at conclusions paralleling those of the continental tradition with and after Heidegger. It is valuable for the association it makes between two rival schools of modern philosophy. But its problem for answering the question posed here lies with its very abstraction — it does not situate me as a reader, writer and thinker (and, more generally, language-user) with respect to the analysis. My own partial standpoint is erased or forgotten; and so my own acts of interpretation are masked in attempting to articulate the logic of understanding. This approach would remain true to Enlightenment ideologies. It is insufficiently phenomenological.
A second possible approach could then lie with a turn explicitly to the work of phenomenologists. I could begin by detailing the analyses by Merleau-Ponty of the chiasmus or intertwining in which he attempts to explore prereflexive thinking, thinking embedded in an immersion of the perceiving body in the world.25 I could then take this further by examining
20 See footnote 14.
21 'Self-Interpreting Animals', p. 47.
25 See The Visible and the Invisible, ed. Claude Lefort, tr. Alphonse Lingis (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 1968).
both Henry's examination of la phénoménologie de la chair and Marion's phe-nomenological analyses of givenness and saturated phenomena. I could then point to the silences in their texts — Merleau-Ponty's resistence to treating excess as supernatural while toying with a certain mystical language, Henry's appeal to an immediacy and purity of revelation, Marion's abstract formalism (and also appeal to an immediacy and purity of revelation). I must say I was very tempted to take this approach because it would foreground that my own reasoning (like anybody else's) works on the basis of reading and rereading. But the problem here is the level of philosophical abstraction that still remains — I would not to able to demonstrate the embodied nature of reading and rereading: the operation of desire, for example, in the economy of response. I would escape what I see as fundamental to the ethics of interpretation — interpretation's fallibility and the finitude it invokes.
So thirdly, I decided the best way to demonstrate the economy of response is to examine two specific encounters, or rather (since we never have just encounters as such) two specific readings (and writings) of encounters which I am subsequently rereading, allowing my own 'prejudices' (in the Gadamerian sense) to structure that rereading. Thus, in this way, I can open up other ways to interpret these texts and point up the finitude of my own interpretative reasoning. And since I wish, ultimately, both to contribute to the development of a theological hermeneutics and to be able to give an account of a specific therapy operative within acts of interpretation, I have chosen two encounters from the Christian Scriptures.
The first account is Jesus's encounter with Mary in the 'garden':
Mary stood at the tomb outside, weeping. As she wept, she peered into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body ofJesus had lain. They said to her 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She answered, 'They have taken my Lord [Kurion] away, and I do not know where they have laid him.' With these words she turned round [eis ta opiso] and saw Jesus standing there, but did not recognise [edei] him [Iesous]. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Who is it you are looking for?'. Thinking it was the gardener, she said, 'If it is you, Sir [Kurie], who have removed him, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.'Jesus said, 'Mary!' She turned to him and said, 'Rabboni!' (which is Hebrew for 'My Master' [Didaskale]). Jesus said, 'Touch me no more [Me mou aptou], for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers, and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.' Mary of Magdala went to the disciples with the news, 'I have seen the Lord! [Eoraka ton Kurion]'. (John 20.11—18)
The second passage follows this narrative after a space of five verses:
One of the Twelve, Thomas, that is the 'Twin' [ho legonomenos Didumos], was not with the rest when Jesus came. So the disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord [Eorakamen ton Kurion].' He said, 'Unless I see the mark [tupon] of the nails on [en] his hands, unless I put [balo] my finger into the place [tupon] where the nails were, and [balo] my hand into his side [pleuran], I will not believe'. A week [emeras okto] later his disciples were again in the room, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them, saying, 'Peace be with you!' Then he said to Thomas, 'Reach [phere] your finger here: see my hands. Reach [phere] your hand here and put [bale] it into my side. Be unbelieving [ginou apistos] no longer, but believe.' Thomas said, 'My Lord [Kurios] and my God!' (John 20.24—8)
In both of these encounters a transaction takes place between self and other that results in a vocalised recognition — 'my master' and 'my Lord'. In both accounts the transaction takes place through emphatic bodily actions and gestures (Mary's turning and embracing; Thomas's reaching beyond the boundaries of his own body to penetrate [pherao] and thrust [balo] himself into the body of Christ). In both accounts there is an economy of response, a structured dialectic between self and other, in which difference and affinity, distance and proximity is negotiated in a sensuous move from sight to touch.26
26 I am aware there is a tradition of reading these passages such that neither Mary nor Thomas may have actually touched Christ. C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (2nd edition, Philadelphia, Penn.: Westminster Press, 1978), sums up the difficulty with regards to the phrase 'me mou aptou in the account of Mary's encounter: 'The present imperative with me in a prohibition signifies the breaking of an action already in progress, or sometimes the attempt to perform an action' (p. 565). To him either reading is valid, though Dodd (The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, Cambridge University Press, 1955, p. 443), Rudolf Schnackenburg (The Gospel According to St John, vol. 2, trs. Cecily Hastings et al., London: Burnes & Oates, 1980, p. 318), and J. H. Bernard (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St John, vol. 2, Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1928, p. 408) prefer to view Mary as touching Christ; Bultmann (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, tr. G.R. Beasley-Murray, Oxford: Blackwell, 1971, p. 687) inclines to agree. The interpretation I propose would also tend to the first of Barrett's translations, but if it were the other way, then there is a contrast between Mary's desire to touch, as there is an assumption that such touch will be possible once he has ascended (see Barrett and also Loughlin's reading as cited in footnote 30) and Jesus's invitation to Thomas to touch (following his ascension to the Father?). For a discussion of the relationship of resurrection to ascension with respect to this verse see Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 2 (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1971), pp. 1011—17. Brown concludes, though, after an exhaustive survey of interpretations, that the verse 'probably implies that she is touching him' (p. 992). 'The resurrection has made possible a new and more intimate spiritual [and carnal — my insertion] union between Jesus and his disciples'; Barrett, p. 566. Barrett raises no question concerning Thomas's touching of Christ, and Bultmann only suggests 'Thomas did not first undertake the contact' (p. 694), with the implication that he does so eventually. I should record though that Ernst Haenchen, John, vol. 2, tr. Robert W. Funk (Philadelphia, Penn.: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 211 views the abrupt transition from Jesus's offer of his body to Thomas to Thomas's confession of faith as evidence that Thomas 'did not make use of the opportunity he requested to verify the resurrection'. Weighing the evidence presented in the debates, Schnackenburg concludes significantly that contact with Christ 'is not impossible' (p. 332).
In both accounts there is an eroticism, but I will treat that aspect of these texts in the next essay, 'Divinity and Sexual Difference'. For the moment we will focus on the economy of differences and affinities.
The difference and affinity of those involved in the actions are inseparable from speaking, words and the translation of words from one language to another. The knowledge that comes through recognition, through the economy of responding to the other and the other responding in return, is a vocalised knowledge. It takes the form of an exchange. Although, with Thomas, the words are spoken to the disciples directly and, one assumes from the story, overheard in some sense by Jesus who then returns them to Thomas when they meet. The cameos of relations with the Christ are themselves written compositions by 'John' who, throughout his narrative, is conscious of the creative power of language, and thinks powerfully about the nature of signs. He is aware of the theological significance of his own written, semiotic act (John 20.31). The text moves across the Aramaic acknowledged as the language being spoken by the disciples and Jesus, translating those conversations into Greek. It is a text concerned throughout with the act of naming: in the first account there is Jesus as Lord and Master and the response elicited by being called 'Mary'; in the second there is Thomas, called the Twin (Didymus), and Jesus is called both Lord and God. Furthermore, the common theme is paralleled in the common structure of these two economies of responding to the resurrected Jesus. On the one hand, there is Mary's inability to recognise who Jesus is; on the other, there is Thomas's inability to accept a man whose radical difference from all other men is manifested in his conquest of death. For each of them a new alienation from someone once familiar is experienced. In both scenarios there is a coming to know through speaking with and understanding the other, through desiring and engaging with the other, through seeing, naming and touching the other. In both accounts a topography of bodies is sketched. Mary stands, stoops to peer, turns, turns again at the mention of her name, moves forward to embrace, moves back from the embrace and withdraws to tell the disciples what she has seen. Jesus stands in the midst, confronting Thomas, then offers his body for examination, Thomas moves forward, extends his finger, stretches out his hand, pushes it into the side of Christ, withdraws. This topography of bodies in both passages focuses on Jesus's body, coming to understand, coming to an identification of who he is through engaging with this body. The knowledge then that issues in identification is both carnal and theological.
Let us follow these economies of response a little further to see how this topography of bodies maps onto a relationality in which difference and affinity, distance and proximity, are understood; let us ask how difference and affinity, distance and proximity are not only established but what they signify about Christian relations. First, we can note the play of absence and presence. When Mary stands at the tomb, Jesus is, in one sense, not there because the tomb (and the positioning of the angels accentuates this) is empty. And yet he is there in Mary herself, contained within her, internalised as Lord and Master (or Teacher). In a revealing passage on the body's knowledge, Merleau-Ponty observes:
When I imagine Peter absent, I am not aware of contemplating an image of Peter numerically distinct from Peter himself. However far away he is, I visualise him in the world, and my power of imagining is nothing but the persistence of my world around me. To say that I imagine Peter is to say that I bring about the pseudo-presence of Peter by putting into operation the 'Peter-behaviour-pattern' ... Peter in imagination is only one of the modalities of my being in the world.27
In the same way Jesus's presence is part of Mary's presence, and it is the physical absence of that presence that remains within her, displacing both a sense of herself and him, and installs her desire. The question the angels ask her elicits a vocalisation of her desire: to have present, even if only as a corpse, the body ofJesus. Jesus himself not only reiterates the angels' question but he elicits a more precise naming of her desire. Like the night watchmen in the Canticum Canticorum speaking to the Beloved, he asks 'Whom do you seek?'28
Secondly, we can observe the states of knowledge. We begin with incomprehension, because the body is missing while the presence of Jesus in her and to her remains strong. We continue with misrecognition, for she thought it was the gardener. Turning and turning about (where the body imitates a coming to consciousness of what it itself understands),29 she turns into a hearing of her own name. The calling calls her not only to herself and
27 Phenomenology of Perception, p. 210.
28 See A. Feuillet, 'La recherché du Christ dans la nouvelle alliance d'après la Christophanie de Jo 20, 11—18' in L'homme devant Dieu (Paris: Aubier, 1963), I, pp. 93—112, who develops this association and its erotic allusions to the Canticum Canticorum.
29 Most commentators on the Greek in verses 14 and 16 at this point allude to the complex movements involved. To eliminate the vertigo of such turnings, reference is frequently made to a possible Aramaic version of this text (proposed by M. Black in An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954) that might read not 'turned' but 'recognised'. The verb has then been mistranslated when the Gospel was put into Greek. The Sinaitic Syriac version of this text would then be the correct one, that replaces 'turned' with 'she recognised him'. What is interesting from my point of view is the relationship between turning and recognition that this textual debate reinforces.
into a new knowledge, but to an identification through his voice of herself with him (in him, if we can understand the name dwelling in his mouth and mind). The absence that previously filled her disappears, and the two bodies come together (again imitating a state of knowledge) as they embrace. The negative command, Me mou aptou, installs a distance again, but it is not an absence — although neither is it presence as possession, nor the unity of the identification of herself in him and with him.30 In a sense, when he speaks her name he speaks her into existence as part of himself; when he explains to her why she should stop touching him he speaks to her and so demonstrates they are not one. His speaking to her is a communication with her, but also a separation from her. (Perhaps this is the condition of all theological understanding, that works between a sacramental presence and an inability to grasp fully what faith understands.) Gerard Loughlin has found a most felicitous phrase for this second observation: 'the language of dispossessive affinity'.31
Thirdly, we can identify the modes of address as they shift from interrogation to affirmation, to the giving of a command, to the giving of an explanation, to the giving of a commission, to a final acclamation and testimony before witnesses: 'I have seen the Lord.' The topography of bodies maps, then, onto an economy of response that begins with the paralysing contradiction of absence and presence, issuing dramatically into a consummating knowledge which is then followed by a dialectical relation of affinity (or recognition) and difference, knowledge and desire. The economy of response is composed of four complex movements — of bodies, of language, of knowledge and of desire. The movements are not equally distributed between the two figures. The body ofJesus the Christ is more central to the narrative than Mary's body, though it is Mary's body that moves while Jesus's stands still. The language operates upon and within Mary for the most part — she answers or she listens until she makes her statement before the disciples. She does not control the direction of the language. She speaks within a language given to her by invitation (from the angels, from Jesus). The
30 I very much like Gerard Loughlin's 'carnal' and theological reading of this moment in the Gospel: 'Jesus tells Mary not to cling on to him because he has not yet ascended, as if she might hold him once he has ascended ... Thus it is that Mary can touch him once he has ascended, once he is with his disciples in their following of him, in their forgiving and feeding of others. It is in their caring for one another, and for others, that they touch the Lord, and he embraces them, holding them in his arms; his touch being their embrace'; Alien Sex: The Body and Desire in Cinema and Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), p. 266. In a footnote Loughlin points to how this theology is in agreement with Gregory of Nyssa's and alludes to Jean-Luc Nancy's book Noli me tangere: essai sur la levée du corps (Paris: Bayard Editions, 2003).
movement of knowledge is time-bound — eureka, I have seen. She understands, then, by remembering. Her moment of identification with Jesus is crossed by an ignorance that he is not yet ascended. She makes no answer to the account of going to the Father, ascending to God. What is known, then, is always being crossed by what is unknown. The language says more than is understood. It operates as an expression of desire as it changes in the moves from loss and longing, to being united, to being separated and given the task of going ahead to speak to others. Desire remains because it cannot fully attain the understanding faith seeks. Desire remains — confused and lacking an object (fetishising the corpse), finding and uniting with its object, being displaced on to another object; desire knows difference while knowledge has identified again what it knows: 'I have seen the Lord.' All the various aspects of the economy of response are orientated towards a future state. Mary must go and tell the disciples, Jesus must ascend; the knowledge and the language are not yet perfect. The body receives and responds (it sees, it hears, it touches) more than the mind understands, but what the body knows is not incomprehensible, it merely sketches a knowledge that has yet to be entered into; and the future is carried on the wings of desire. The very secret of the structure of time is contained in that moment of embrace and recognition.
The economy of response in the account of Jesus and Thomas is more truncated, though also more visceral. The theme of absence and presence opens this account too, though it is Thomas's absence to begin with, followed by Jesus's absence when Thomas returns to the upper room and the disciples. There is a different choreography of bodies. But again, Jesus is present in Thomas, as his pronouncement to the disciples makes evident. For Thomas rehearses the wounds inflicted on Jesus by the crucifixion. In fact, he returns us, like the victims of trauma return the trusted enquirer, to the scene of the crime: the nails hammered into the hands, the lance puncturing the side. Jesus's death lives in Thomas; it lives in his memory, his language and his understanding of who this man is/was. Let us interpret this generously, as Caravaggio did (see the front cover). This is not atheism, nor even agnosticism. This is love that cannot come to terms with loss; this is belief that cannot yet take on the burden of hope. Jesus comes to Thomas as Thomas imagines him, as Thomas has internalised him. There is no mention of Jesus's wounds in Mary's encounter, nor in the encounter with the other disciples that takes place off-stage, so to speak. But something more is needed than seeing these wounds. These wounds have shaped within Thomas an understanding of this crucified man; that understanding must now undergo a transformation. In Contra Celsum Origen suggests that Thomas 'thought that it was possible for the physical eyes to see the body of the soul in a form in every respect like its former shape'.32 In other words, he believed in ghosts, and Jesus had to demonstrate to Thomas through being touched — and the Church through him — that he was no disembodied spirit. Jesus invites Thomas to plunge into the very depths of the tortured Messiah that he has internalised. The touch is demanded of Thomas; it was Mary's spontaneous response. Thomas must go where no other man or woman has been allowed to go — into the very flesh of the Christ. He must be brought to a new knowledge and identification through the engagement of bodies. His future in Christ is only possible on the basis of the carnal reception of and response to flesh touching flesh. Touch and identification are, as with the earlier account, inseparable, but a new and more dramatic crossing of bodily boundaries is required. Thomas has to be brought not to announce his desire but to perform it. It is the same desire as Mary's — to be one with Jesus. But in neither case is seeing enough. Mary has to hear first and then embrace. Thomas has to be commanded. Subsequently, he has to submit to that command (which is only voicing what Thomas himself had voiced within himself). Thomas has to be brought to a knowledge; a knowledge Mary seizes in an utter surrender of herself at the call of her name. Caravaggio captures this leading, this manuduction, for it is Christ who guides Thomas's finger into the wound. And the wound is opened by that finger as if lifting the lid of an inner eye, or even parting vaginal lips. Thomas is led to an intimate, carnal and spiritual knowledge; his face is fixed with both a curiosity and an incomprehension. But let us go just a little further — further than Caravaggio's depiction of Thomas, towards Caravaggio's depiction of and response to embodiment itself. For the painting as a whole, Thomas in his context, suggests the touch is commanded, is solicited as an act of love, initiating a process of healing. Is Jesus's pain in being wounded somehow lessened, healed, by that touch of Thomas's? Is that touch akin to those visions of mystics who kiss the wounds of Christ not out of some gruesome masochism, but out of a love that wishes to touch the very place of pain with love, and begin its healing? Thomas's hand remains forever touching the torn flesh of Christ; and when does touch become caress? The composition suggests a healing of relation; a distance remains (registered in the look on Thomas's face of absolute incomprehension), but it is a distance known in proximity.
The four aspects of the economy of response that we have examined are different in this second account: what is being performed by and upon the body; the coming to know [Erkenntnis] and identify; the language which is
Contra Celsum, II.61.
not of interrogation and explication, but of command; and the operation of desire in which the scene is almost freeze-framed as Thomas reaches into the side of Christ. But the telos of the economy is the same — the learning of difference and affinity, distance and proximity through the establishment of a self-transcending relation.
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