Monday, February 05, 2007

Discussion summary: Reading Hagar, Gen 16

I will confess, from the very beginning, that I have no idea how to summarize this discussion using Jim's (Wittgenstein's?) numerical systematization (primarily because the discussion has been overly complex this week). Better: I haven't the patience to systematize this discussion that way because it looks like it will take me another week to do so without grossly misrepresenting things. Let me take a unique approach in summarizing the discussion this week by (1) summarizing where this week's discussion stands for now, (2) trying at the same time to synthesize a lot of loose ends by going beyond this week's discussion, and (3) trying to think (originally, and perhaps well beyond this week's discussion at all) about how what we have done this week bears on the four questions that are guiding our study.

Gen 16 picks up on the theme of metaphor from previous discussions, but in a rather unique fashion: in an(other) attempt to fulfill the promises given to Abram, Sarai brings Hagar into the story as a metaphor for herself, and this complication of the story opens onto the possibility of reading this chapter in terms of Hegel's master-slave dialectic. This metaphoric surrogacy introduces (or perhaps confirms) the symbolic order for Sarai: because of the (now) symbolic structure of her selfhood, Sarai's very selfhood is "split," and the dialectic attempts to work out her self-consciousness (perhaps according to a metaphysics of presence that is highlighted again and again by the textual theme of "seeing").

This metaphoric origin (Ursprung?) of the dialectic--because it is tied to surrogate motherhood--may well equate the symbolic in this narrative with the patriarchal: the introduction of the metaphor (the symbolic) confirms (even as it obviously reorients) the "naive" patriarchy at work before its introduction. But it seems clear, in the wake of Abram's experiences with God in Gen 12 and Gen 15, that this introduction of the symbolic (parallel to the "word" of the Lord for Abram) aims at a kind of post-symbolic order, ultimately an ethical order. However, perhaps because Sarai remains within a dialectical metaphysics of presence, she does not yet experience the rupture of the symbolic by what Adam (via Lacan) calls the Real.

That Sarai does not enter the ethical realm of faith/hope/charity is highlighted by the fact that she oppresses Hagar when she sees her pregnant (this sight seems ultimately to be bound up with the nature of the slavery to which Sarai has set Hagar: surrogate motherhood). If Sarai fails to achieve the ethical, Hagar seems to come much closer with her theophany in the desert, though the heavy emphasis on seeing in this latter pericope may also suggest that she too remains within a metaphysics of presence, as might the fact that Hagar does not receive a covenant for Ishmael.

This last point, that covenant outstrips contract, seems to be one of the most promising themes, especially if it is interpreted with an eye to the three stages of the symbolic discussed (apparently) by both Lacan and Derrida: the pre-symbolic (the tautological, the naively self-identical), the symbolic (the historical, the dialectical, the economical, the "temporal"), and the post-symbolic (the ethical, the evental, the "end of history," the "spiritual" or even "typological"). If contract and covenant are thought along these lines, one might read the three stages thus: the state of nature, the contractual, the covenantal. Apparently, Gen 16 finds Sarai (at least) still within the realm of the contractual. Does it find Abram at the same stage (what is the significance of Abram's hearkening to his wife, hearing rather than seeing, and especially after the covenant discourse of Gen 15; but then see #4 below)?

Finally, a couple of thoughts about how these still open questions might be brought to bear on the four questions that guide our collective study.

1. The covenant increasingly appears to be absolutely key to the faithful relationship embodied in the figure of Abraham. In the course of this week's discussion, that covenant has taken on a clearer meaning. It might be said that the word "faithful" (along with "hopeful" and "charitable") only makes sense on the level of the covenantal (the post-symbolic level). Faith implies covenant, and that seems at the very least to mean that faith implies an orientation to the Real that disrupts the symbolic order.

2. It is not clear how we ought to think about theology after this week's discussion. Looking back, it probably would have been better if we had taken this question up at some point along the way in an explicit fashion (though perhaps it has only become interesting with the comments made over the past twenty-four hours). But at least this: it is clear that theology can only happen once the symbolic order has been introduced (it must be a response to the word, whether it does so consciously or not). Might it be said that an idolatrous theology is one that remains within the symbolic order of the contract, while an iconic theology is one that surpasses the symbolic order by speaking from the post-symbolic site of the covenant? Might it be that a righteous theology is possible precisely in its (re-)orientation to the Real that disrupts the symbolic?

3. At least one family relationship discussed in Gen 16 bears on our third question, though it is not quite clear how the relationship itself should be read into the possibility of theology. The course of the discussion seems, at least on one level, to suggest that the im/possibility of theology is a question that outstrips the family relationship, while these relationships will bear powerfully on questions of theological method. In this end, this question seems to be the one we have least engaged.

4. Our fourth question perhaps cannot be answered productively until we have taken a look at more of the Abraham narrative, but the importance of D&C 132 to Gen 16 is at least suggestive of what is coming. The metaphoric surrogacy that binds Sarai and Hagar together at the level of the symbolic was, according to D&C 132, commanded of God. This might suggest that the metaphoric/symbolic substitution performed in Gen 16 is parallel to the "word" that comes to Abram in Gen 15. A similar hand-of-the-Lord-in-everything-Abrahamic permeates the Book of Abraham: perhaps specifically LDS scripture emphasizes the fact that the symbolic order is imposed by God in an attempt to point the way to the post-symbolic? This might be confirmed by the pairings of ordinances in the temple (first and second endowments; first and second sealings; call and election and then call and election made sure, etc.). That what is to be doubled for the Latter-day Saint is an ordinance may suggest that while there are other ways to perform an iconic theology, a uniquely LDS iconic theology would involve drama, ritual, physical enactment, covenant, priesthood, etc., all under the aegis of the temple.


Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Robert Couch just informed me my summary uses a private language of sorts: I've called the post-symbolic level the ethical, while Adam called on Kierkegaard's ethical/religious distinction (again, via Lacan, I imagine) in thinking about the transfer from the symbolic to the post-symbolic. I did do this on purpose, but I probably should have noted it. So here I've noted it. I'm trying to speak of the ethical in what is perhaps a "private" way there, but I think it is a way I share with Levinas and perhaps Derrida. Anyway, I hope that is clear.

8:16 PM  

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