an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
Volume 9, July - December 2012, ISSN 1552-5112
Of Religion and Politics: Refusing the Space-Between
1. Categorical Imperatives
The argument of this paper is that ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ do not refer to discrete experiences, possibilities, realities or truths, but are mutually determining, determined, and contested categories – aspects of each other – that sink or swim together. Neither independent of nor indifferent to each other, each term functions only in the context of the other, and relies on the other as its other to secure its own legitimacy, authority, alibi and guarantee. Each is, that is, the différance – the interminably deferred structural, historical, supplementary difference – of the other. Religion and/or Politics. Politics and/or Religion. One and other. Kith and kin. Like sister and brother.
Experiences are personal and particular, singular and unique, chaotic, contingent and concrete; bound to specific people, places, practices and times; and do not come with their meanings attached. Meanings are neither spontaneous nor self-evident but depend on context, contestation, change and chance; and, most importantly, on the availability and sanction of the words to say it. Meanings do not, that is, spring full-blown from the forehead of Zeus or any other deity ex machina. And there is no transcendent realm in which they inhere and from which they derive their authority and good (or bad) sense. On the contrary, they are conditioned by and conditional upon local and historical specificities of language, culture and tradition: always partial and provisional and subject to rejection, revision, reversal, disavowal, denial, dismissal and dispute.
Categories, on the other hand, are the products of systematic and collective reflection. They are abstractions from experience (and often abstractions from abstractions), authorized by a scriptural and heretofore exclusively male élite, returned to experience to provide the order, stability, continuity and right-thinking necessary to secure the interests of these élites alongside those of the established or emerging powers they serve. They order selected experiences in selected ways, enabling some things to happen and appear, and ruling out (disabling, suppressing, repressing) others. As such, like all ruling ideas, they are the ideas of the ruling class and ideological in the precise sense of ideology outlined by Althusser: alluding to reality in imaginary ways, idealizing (mystifying) and naturalizing (reifying) reality by presenting partial truths as if they were the whole truth (mystification/idealization), and historical or contingent truths as if they were necessary and/or universal (reification/naturalization).1 And, whether they are posited as Aristotelian categories: one of the possibly exhaustive set of basic classes among which all things might be distributed; or Kantian categories: one of the a priori conceptions applied by the mind to sense; or more loosely, as with any fundamental philosophical concept, categories are never experienced as such. We do not experience the categories of experience. We inherit them, or make them up, and we apply them. And because they are historical, contingent and abstract, we are differentially invested in their contested operation. And, of course, they are never adequate (commensurate) to their presumptive task: the exhaustive containment of all that is and is not, to be or not to be, said and done, in their name.
One must move toward whatever it is all the belligerent parties, at the height of the war now raging in the public arena, agree to exclude together. What does the unanimity of clienteles want to have nothing to do with? In other words, out of what exclusion is it constructed? What does it desire to vomit? (Derrida, 1995: 43)
What Religion and Politics (what is said and done in their name) agree to exclude together – an exclusion which constitutes each as an aspect and therefore rival of the other – is precisely this irreducible space-between category and reality (experience, aspiration, truth) and thus the historical and structural limits, irreducible residues, remainders, and excesses of their idealized, universalized categories and ends. And these, they consistently strive to obfuscate, appropriate or deny: alienate, denigrate, deviate, demonize, pathologize, disavow, control, conceal or destroy. In an endless task of re-citation, re-cuperation and re-vision which guarantees the infinite business of their future.2
There are two aspects of this constitutive exclusion which Religion and Politics (what is said and done in the name of) have in common that I want to draw attention to here: (i) their implicit if not explicit presupposition of patriarchy, i.e. of the inevitability of male dominance vested in the natural and/or cultural law of the Father (which is routinely perpetuated in their relentless use of the pronoun he and the word Man to designate humanity as a whole); and (ii) their corresponding presupposition of an objective World: the World as One, an instrument and object of representation and manipulation which makes no claims on Man but is there for Man to serve his interests and ends, and that is dedicated to ‘the self-establishment of Man’ as the essential ‘subjectum’: the knowing subject, ‘the being that thinks and represents,’ ‘the referential center of beings as such,’ ‘that being upon which every being, in its way of being and its truth, is founded,’ ‘that which lies at the basis as ground.’3 An objectification of the World and reciprocal subjectification of Man that defines a modernity that has indeed gone global: as in World music, World leaders, World religion, World trade, etc. ‘From this objectification, however, which is at the same time the decision as to what may count as an object, nothing can escape’ (Heidegger 83).
To give some substance and detail to these claims I invite you to consider two spectacular events of recent years which were systematically conducted, choreographed and conceived to demonstrate the conjunction of Politics and Religion to maximum effect on and for the world stage, and which reproduce, reiterate and reinforce the two constitutive aspects of Religion and Politics I have just outlined: (i) the presupposition of Man as the norm and measure of humanity, and thus and thereby of patriarchy, i.e. the inevitability of male dominance vested in the law of the Father; and (ii) the presupposition of the objective World: of a World as an object of representation and manipulation, which is there for Man – the essential subjectum – to serve his interests and ends.
3. Ground Zero
The phallic symbol of
Nobody can deny, though many do try in the interest of preserving the purity of one category or another, the conjunction of Religion and Politics that made a spectacle of itself on 9/11. For me, and I suspect for many, including the former military officer cited above, the most arresting moment of this event was the collapse of the World Trade Center and the enormity of the material devastation it left behind, and from which the World of the World Trade Center – the object World of modernity, manipulation, and reflection – of World leaders, World religions, World music, World trade (World peace and World war) remains in a state of shock and awe. For, this singular event (if indeed it is one) thrust that World and those who took its inevitability for granted into the space-between in a most spectacular fashion, throwing all the categorical imperatives by which we are accustomed to make sense in and of that World into question and dispute: religion, politics, freedom, power, leadership, democracy, security, sanctity, sanity, strength, fantasy, reality, intelligence, myth, reason, knowledge, truth, courage, cowardice, poverty, weakness, privilege, wealth, idealism, patriotism, friendship, faith, fear, loyalty, terror … success.
so, that almost ten years later we still do not know how to name it other than
as a number and a date: 9/11. As if there were only one 9/11.5 As if the World of the World Trade
Center ended on that day. Words fail us. Not so, for the devastation it left
behind which was quickly named and collectively proclaimed (to be) ‘Ground
Zero’. A particularly apt turn of phrase that reveals perhaps more than is
suspected or intended in its routine invocations. For what the twin towers of
Seeing them collapse themselves, as if by implosion, one had the impression that they were committing suicide in response to the suicide of the suicide plane. (Baudrillard 43)
thereby the truth of the abyss of ground – ground zero – at the basis of
Western, i.e. American (i.e. European, i.e. Christian) self-establishment,
self-assertion, self-certainty, self-idealization, self-salvation: liberty,
democracy, technology, prosperity, reason, progress, science: the reciprocal
objectification of World and subjectification of
For the sovereignty of Man vested in the law of the Father – as origin and end of being and becoming whether in this world or the next in Politics or Religion – is founded on the systematic disavowal, denigration and denial of the truth of (his) human origins in and as the body of a woman and likewise of his primordial entry into language in/by/through the la langue of the mother tongue which precedes, exceeds and sustains any discourse of the Father. A fact that cannot in fact be discredited, denied, or overcome. No matter how much it is mystified, vilified or veiled in secrecy, sanctity, science or smut. This truth of maternal origins – and of its strategic obfuscation and suppression – remains as a symptom of patriarchy: as a constitutive weakness in the self-establishment of Man as the essential subjectum (that which lies at the basis as ground), a deficit in (his) being that cannot be made good, a trauma that insists, an open wound that can be neither healed nor concealed – by construction or destruction – on its/his own terms precisely because it is constitutive of them. Leaving individual men who aspire to fulfill the measure of Man with an abyss of ground – a constitutive lack at once revealed and concealed in the figure of the ‘smoldering vagina’ and a corresponding ‘passion for the real’ – that can only by eliminated (redeemed) by the elimination of the self (the Man) that is founded upon it.6 Hence the suicide missions – ‘the revenge of the body proper’ (Derrida, 2002: 89) – at home and abroad of (usually, though not exclusively) young men in the depths of despair who have been promised the whole World and receive nothing – ground zero – in return. ‘Revenge is taken against the decorporalizing and expropriating machine’ (Derrida, 2002: 88). Indeed:
…it will be like the LA riots, the
4. The Largest Gathering of Statesmen in History
The funeral of Pope John Paul II which took place on 8 April 2005 is my second example of a spectacular event of recent years systematically choreographed, conducted and conceived to demonstrate the conjunction of Religion and Politics to maximum effect on the World stage and thus and thereby to reproduce, reinforce and reconfirm the two constitutive aspects of Religion and Politics identified above: (i) the presupposition of Man as norm and measure of humanity, and thus and thereby of patriarchy, i.e. the inevitability of male dominance vested in the law of the Father; and (ii) the presupposition of the objective World as One, World as object of representation and manipulation, which is there for Man, the essential subjectum, to serve his interests and ends.
Almost 200 countries expressed interest in sending representatives to the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
The list of invited dignitaries seated in the basilica for the requiem mass at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April 2005 runs to sixteen single-spaced pages on the Wikipedia website, thirteen of which name the official delegates of the 113 countries who sent representatives ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, including Algeria, Burma, China, Iran, Israel, Lesotho, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Syria, and Turkey, for example. The remaining three pages of the sixteen page list names dignitaries representing International Associations, Religious Leaders, and Unofficial Delegations. For a total of approximately 600 invited dignitaries who assembled in the basilica on 8 April 2005 for the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
Now how many of these 600 named dignitaries do you think were women? And by what title, entitling them to be there, do you think these women were most often designated? Well, I found a total of forty-nine women’s names on this list of 600. And the title they were most often listed by – forty-two of forty-nine – was their familial relationship to a previously named male dignitary of the same delegation: two as ‘daughters’ and the remaining forty as ‘spouse’, ‘consort’, or ‘wife.’ Which means that only seven women of the approximately 50 women and 550 men who attended Pope John Paul II’s funeral in April 2005 were invited dignitaries ‘in their own right’ and not by right of one of the 550 male dignitaries to whom they happened to be related by marriage or birth.8
The largest gathering of statesmen in history.9
So, what is going on here with these 550 statesmen – Protestant, Catholic, Atheist, Hindu, Muslim, Jew – from 113 countries, many of whom are otherwise at war with each other, gathering with dignity and mutual respect (together with the world’s media) for the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April 2005? This is the Pope after all: erstwhile heretic, anathema, anti-christ.
One must move towards whatever it is all the belligerent parties, at the height of the war now raging in the public arena agree to exclude together. What does the unanimity of clienteles want to have nothing to do with? In other words, out of what exclusion is it constructed? What does it desire to vomit?
It is obvious to me that what the otherwise belligerent parties gathered at the Pope’s funeral agree to exclude together is precisely the unspeakable, obscene, abysmal truth revealed by 9/11: the large smoldering vagina – the zero ground – at the basis of patriarchy, of the presupposition of male dominance vested in the right of the Father and constituted in, of, and by the subjectification of Man and the corresponding objectification of (the) World. This unanimity of clienteles agreed to set aside their differences and disputes in order to collectively confirm and reaffirm as One – One World: One Body Politic: One Man – the transcendent ‘sanctity of the phallic effect’ (Derrida, 2002: 83), the inevitability and sustainability of which had been thrown into question by the spectacular collapse of the twin towers. They gathered, that is, to participate in the collective production of the equal and opposite spectacle of its resurrection: of phallic power universalized, spiritualized, normalized, naturalized, idealized – globalized – to maximum effect on and for the World stage, under the guise of respect for the Catholic Pope. A power that functions, let us remember, only when veiled – under one category or another – Freedom, Democracy, Spirit, Science, Reason, Right, Soul, God, Man.
Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.
Religion and Politics: obfuscating origins of language and life.
Men/man: refusing the space-between.
an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
Volume 9, July - December 2012, ISSN 1552-5112
1. See Louis Althusser, Essays on Ideology (London & New York: Verso, 1993).
2. For a more detailed elaboration of the space-between categories and experience with particular relevance to theories and practices of spirituality, politics, and ethics, for example, see ‘The Politics of Spirituality: The Spirituality of Politics’ and ‘The Space-Between Ethics and Politics. Or, More of the Same?’ in Geraldine Finn, Why Althusser Killed His Wife. Essays on Discourse and Violence (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1996): 152 – 165, 166 – 177.
3. For a thorough,
detailed, and sustained elaboration of this understanding and critique of
‘modernity’ in terms of the objectification of ‘world’ and subjectification of
’Man’ see the works of Martin Heidegger in general and ‘The Age of the World
Picture’ in particular (in Off The Beaten Track, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2002: 57 – 85) from which the quotations in this paragraph
have been taken. See also Benjamin Crowe’s recent study on Heidegger’s
Phenomenology of Religion. Realism and Cultural Criticism (
4. From “The Land
of the Smoldering Vagina,” Men’s Action to Rebuild Society, http://www.mensaction.net. Cited by Susan
Faludi in The Terror Dream. Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11
5. As my colleague
and friend Alex Bruzzone was quick to point out, for him 9/11 had already
happened 28 years earlier in September 1973 when a military coup in his home
6. ‘Is this not an
exemplary case of what Alain Badiou has identified as the key feature of the
twentieth century: the ‘passion for the Real [la passion du reel]’?’
(Zizek 5). The reference is to Alain Badiou, Le Siecle (
7. ‘From the
journal of Eric Harris, who, with Dylan Klebold, committed suicide after
killing thirteen people in April 1999 at
8. From the “List Of Dignitaries at the Funeral of Pope John Paul II’ available from Wikipedia. The numbers are my calculations based on information from the site and should be regarded as approximate figures only. I did not have them checked by others and Wikipedia was my only source of information. I determined whether a dignitary was a man or a woman from the names and designations as they appear on the list. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List of_dignitaries_at_the_funeral_of_Pope_John_Paul II.
Louis (1993). Essays on Ideology.
Jean (2002). The Spirit of Terrorism. Translated by Chris Turner.
Benjamin D. (2008). Heidegger’s Phenomenology of Religion. Realism and
Jacques (1995). ‘Ja, or the faux-bond II,’ in Points …
Interviews, 1974 – 1994. Translated by Peggy Kamuf and Others. Edited by
(2002). ‘Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of “Religion” at the Limits of
Reason Alone’, translated by Samuel Weber in Acts of Religion. Edited by
Susan (2007). The Terror Dream. Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11
Geraldine (1996). Why Althusser Killed His Wife. Essays on Discourse and
Harper’s Magazine. (2002) February.
Martin (2002). ‘The Age of the World Picture’ in Off The Beaten Path.
Edited and translated by Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes.
Slavoj (2002). Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Five Essays on September
11 and Relatied Dates.