Monday, March 12, 2007

Reading Genesis 22 in light of Genesis 23

22:20 leaves the climax of the Abraham story behind, but it does so by returning to the words of 22:1, the beginning of the climax: "And it came to pass after these things" (there is the slightest difference between the two phrases in the Hebrew, but I'm not convinced it's significant). Two points might be made about the Hebrew terms here. First, the word translated "things" should not be read as reducing the content of chapter 22 in any way: the word (dbrym) has reference to the richness of encounter, usually denotes language (in the full sense of sprachen rather than the limited sense of sagen, if we can follow Heidegger here), and might even have etymological ties to the Holy of Holies (dbr). Second, the word translated "after" is worth mentioning. The Hebrew here (`hr) certainly can mean after or behind, but it also comes out in Hebrew in words like "foreigner," "stranger," and even "excommunication." I only bring this up to highlight something in Hebrew thinking: an event is, in the OT, never fixed, but always being surprised by the Other, the event that is still to come.

In short, if Genesis 22 overwhelms us (as 22:1 suggests we should be), the events that follow the Akedah are--we are being warned--just as overwhelmingly other. What I'd like to do this week, then, is think Genesis 22 through the implied categories of Genesis 23: if Genesis 23 somehow suggests that the Akedah is not climactic, is not a fixed event, how does it recast the Akedah and especially, then, all of our thinking about these four guiding questions?

Initial thoughts, then...

Obviously, the focus of chapter 23 is the death of Sarah and Abraham's purchase of the cave of Machpelah. This is, of course, introduced with an announcement of several births (and, with one's anticipation of chapter 24, the possibility of further births through Isaac). And it is no surprise, I suppose, to find birth and death at the heart of the story that follows the Akedah.

Interestingly, this story of death is characterized, as Isaac's is--at least in Jim's reading--by a separation: Abraham is in Beer-sheba when Sarah dies in Hebron (just as Abraham and Isaac are only a collective in Gen 22). Moreover, it is Sarah's death that finally leads to Abraham's first acquisition of land and, hence, the first fulfillment of the promise of that land (a point highlighted by Abraham's mention of his nomadic lifestyle to the sons of Heth). And again, at the very heart of the story in chapter 23, the theme of substitutability or exchangeability is introduced: the ram for Isaac, money for land.

In fact, we cannot overlook the role the economic plays in this chapter. Is Abraham appropriating Sarah's death somehow? He pays for specifically with silver, with the treasures of the earth: land for land. How should this be read? Is there a moment of totality/totalization here? Or is it better to read here a moment of excess? In fact, one must ultimately admit that there is a rather difficult intertwining of the excessive and the economic at play in this transaction (one to be mirrored later with the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite... the site of the temple): there is a gift to be given, but Abraham refuses to allow it to be given, cancels the gift, but only in that he desires also to give a gift, which, because it precisely counters a gift, is no gift whatsoever. And several witnesses confirm all of this. What is at play here?

If one reads into all of this the cancellation of the excessive in the name of economics, can it be read also as the economizing (the totalizing) of the gift of the land, and even of the gift of (Sarah's) death? And yet Abraham mourns....

Not so initial thoughts...

So, Robert says, "Jim's paper takes place-holding as anti-community, but I don't think he means to rule out typological meaning, and I think typological father-son meanings are particularly prevalent and somewhat distinctive in Mormon scripture." I'd like here to take up this question of typology and place-holding, but I'm not finding that I can yet articulate my thoughts very well. Let me do this instead:

Gen 22 gives us the typological (perhaps 23 as well), and Gen 23 gives us the economic/place-holding (perhaps 22 as well). How do these articulate all four questions? It seems to me that even to ask whether Abraham is a model of fidelity is to ask a question about typology. And it seems to me that even to ask what Abraham's story can tell us about theology is already to assume the possibility of a "typological theology." And it is certainly clear that there is a kind of typological structure at work in the family, which is confirmed profoundly by the intersection between Gen 22 and Jacob's typological reading. And the Mormon scriptures have more to contribute about typological thinking than perhaps anything else, or so I am increasingly convinced.

Hence, how are we to think about typology here? How are we to think typology in terms of Gen 22? How are we to recognize the space between place-holding and typology? In short, here is the discussion question:

What is typology, and what is its significance for an LDS reading of Abraham as the faithful theologian and father?



Blogger Robert C. said...

Joe, you mentioned Jacob's typological reading, I'm assuming you're referring to Jacob 4:5--let me know if not (I was confused thinking Rachel's Jacob at first...).

Your mention of Abraham's first gift of land reminded me of a comment by Moberly. In carefully looking at the promises in 22:15-18 and how they contrast with the earlier promise to Abraham and other Biblical promises, Moberly noted that whereas most covenants are tied to land, this one is conspicuously not. Perhaps this helps in your thinking about "Here am I" as a pole of reference--that is, perhaps an association with land is more of a collective mentality in contrast to a meta-historical covenant of community whose reference is only to relation(s) itself(themselves).

Also, Moberly makes an interesting case that the naming of Jehovah-jireh is an allusion to Jerusalem where the temple would be built (or was already built when this passage was redacted). Surely there are interesting ways to use a distinctive Mormon view of the temple to build on this connection. I'm thinking about the infinite temple covenant, consecration, that quickly followed by a community of prayer that is quickly followed by a passing through the veil to see God.

Finally, to acknowledge your question Joe, I think one key difference between typology and place-holding, at least as Jim addressed it, is that place-holding requires substitution whereas typology is inherently inclusive. Perhaps this is why there only needs to be one Son sacrificed--one infinite sacrifice to substitute for all attempts to authorize a collective, a sacrifice whose mere promise (recollection for us) is enough to shock us into a vision of a better way, a way toward community that includes an infinite link of father-son types....

3:24 PM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

Robert, that's a very nice way to put it: "place-holding requires substitution whereas typology is inherently inclusive."

Was Sarah's separation from Abraham the result of what happened at Moriah? The medieval commentators, Rashi and Nachmanides, believed that, coming so closely after the akedah Sarah's death was probably caused by it.

As far as I know, Sarah is the only woman in the Old Testament for whom an age is given at death.

As has often been noted, Sarah's age, 127, suggests that the events of Moriah happened when Isaac was an adult rather than when he was a little child. That means that the sacrifice was not something he was forced into; he had to have cooperated or Abraham couldn't have tied him up and laid him on the wood. "They went both of them together" (verses 6 and 8), takes on more meaning at the mount itself.

Some medieval commentators also argued that the purchase of Sarah's burial place was one of Abraham's trials: He was promised the whole land, but had to pay a high price for even a burial spot, the only land he owned.

FYI, I've posted some notes on last week's reading.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Joe, I've been thinking a lot about your economizing question. I don't feel I've made that much progress, but here's one idea: Abimelech first seems to offer a gift to Abraham in Ch. 20, which eventually leads to a mutual covenant of peace in Ch. 21 (and Abraham offers a gift to Abimelech). Likewise, God offers Abraham a gift in Ch. 12 (the Covenant) which eventually leads to a mutual covenant between Abraham and God in Ch. 22 (where Abraham offers a gift to God). After Ch. 22 we see Abraham asking for a gift which leads to the reciprocating offer to give (whether merely in words, as most Biblical scholars seem to read this, or not). The giving motif in Ch. 23 chapter seems to be initiated by Abraham's asking for this gift. We do not read of Abraham asking for anything from the Pharoah or from Abimelech--in fact, it seems Abraham used Abimelech's well without asking. We do, however, read about Abraham asking God for a gift in Gen 15:2, a request which was answered by God's giving Abraham the promise of the Covenant. So, if the covenant itself was a result of Abraham's asking for a gift, and the acquisition of land was a result of Abraham's asking for a gift--and, importantly I think, acknowledging in both cases that it would be gift--then I think we should carefully consider the role of asking as it relates to gifts and the potential of peaceful relationships (cf. "ask and ye shall receive"; Job's asking for a hearing with God,; etc.). I would be inclined to think of asking as symptomatic of a genuine, interactive relationship.

(I think the Hebrew particle used for requests, na, also seems to play an important role in many of these Abrahamic chapters, but I haven't looked very closely at this yet....)

11:58 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Sorry to be a little tardy in commenting this week – we’ve been enjoying Spring break at my house so I haven’t been in my office looking for something to do other than what I ought to be doing :)

With the time that I’ve got this morning, I’d like to offer just a couple of general and semi-speculative comments about types and typology, etc. and maybe they’ll inspire someone else to put all the pieces together in a stunning tour de force of intellectual/spiritual brilliance.

1. It seems to me that a fundamental operation performed by a type is identification. To assert that A is a type of B is to identify A with B. As in Romans 5, Paul identifies a typological relationship between Adam (the “first” Adam) and Jesus (the “second” Adam). In this sense, types (like metaphors) produce a kind elision in which two apparently dissimilar things are, in fact, similar (or typologically identical). That typology is connected with community, then, is no surprise because it asserts a particularly commutative relationship. The trick in thinking about typological relations is to avoid reducing them to place-holding or using them as the means for asserting a closed totality.

2. Typology is an especially interesting kind of metaphorical identification because it involves time: typology asserts a kind of non-causal, non-historical temporal relation. Here, typological identification works, I think, as a kind of temporal abridgement that reorders time by conflating two separate historical events. E.g., Paul typologically aligns Jesus with Adam because Jesus, like Adam, is the “first” man. In identifying them, normally linear time is “folded” so that Jesus’ point on the “line” of time touches Adam’s point on the line. The point in “folding” or bending time in this way is to allow for something new to happen: here, Jesus, like Adam, is the first/new man in a new (post-resurrection) world. This all leads into Paul’s distinctive brand of eschatology in which the new world has both already begun and not yet arrived.

Let me propose the following equation: sin is the bind of causality in which the only kind of time is causal time. Every effect is determined in advance by a previous cause and every cause by a previous cause. Nothing new can ever happen, nothing free ever occurs (“free” here in the double sense of “freedom” and “gift” – thus touching on our economic questions). The effects of your mistakes are irremediably set in forward motion and there is no going back and changing things.

It follows that what typology aims to accomplish by “folding” time in a non-causal way is the introduction of a new temporal relation that can “re-set” certain chains of causality in order to introduce something new, free, unconditioned by causal conditions, etc. Another way to say this is that typology aims to “inject” a non-conditioned possibility into the bind of causal actuality. In my opinion, religion, in the end, has no other aim that to introduce such causal breaks that allow for something new to happen. Such a “fold” in time is, I think, exactly what we mean by repentance (what I did can be undone/reset!) or conversion (what “was” is changed into something new).

3. I’m leaning, then, toward thinking about types in the following way: typological identifications are a kind of “algorithmic cipher” through which the elements of a situation are passed in order to re-code or re-set or re-align them. Here, the actual typological identification is not as crucial as what it allows to occur and every type will be as good as it is effective in re-coding a situation. It doesn’t make sense (at least to me) to talk about a type’s being banally “true” or “false.” That kind of language is proper to the adequation of cause and effect. According to the rules and dominant paradigms of a given situation, every typological identification will be “fictional” or “speculative.” Jesus is not “literally” Adam: to think that the identification ought to be judged true/false is to miss the point of the type. The point of the type is to intervene in and interrupt the dominant standards for judging such things. Every type is as good as it is effective in producing such an unconditioned interruption.

Further, it misses the point, I think, to ask what a type “means” in itself. The type is a kind of cipher rather than a kind of symbol. The type “means” whatever it does to the situation as a whole. What does the type Jesus/Adam “mean”? For Paul, it means that all of the old rules and differences (Jew/Gentile, bond/free, man/woman) no longer apply because, having passed through the cipher Jesus/Adam, all of these terms have been temporally re-coded according to decisive new difference: faithful/sinner or Spirit/flesh.

Types, then, are a kind of ontological hinge on which a situation’s temporality surprisingly turns for the sake of “swinging” ourselves and the world off into a new direction.

4. It seems to me that one question we have to ask about types is: types for who? If we say that typology is essential to reading Abraham’s story, we could mean one of two things: (1) typology is internally essential to Abraham’s own experience in the narrative, or (2) typology is essential for us in making theological hay of Abraham’s story. I think that the second is pretty clearly the case, but the first might be harder to demonstrate. Abraham is a type for us, but are there types at work for Abraham? If so, what are they and do they work in the same way for Abraham as they work for us? Do the (profound!) differences in our respective situations require different kinds of typological identifications in order to produce the same unconditioned results?

5. One problem in thinking the difference between (bad) place-holding and (good) typological substitution has to do with preserving singularity in the face of identification. I’ll (broadly) sketch the following in response. In general, the identifications that shape our sense of “everyday” identity in a situation are precisely what cut us off from the experience of singularity. To experience singularity is experience something profoundly new and surprising. To be bound by the causality of sin is to be condemned to the endless repetition of the same. Typological identification, as a kind of cipher that means to re-set or re-code a situation for the sake of something new, is a kind of “empty” or anti-identification that strips all of the elements that it re-codes of their everyday identifications in order to deliver something singularly novel. It doesn’t mark the difference of a person by relating them to the existing system of differences (“I’m a Jew, not a Gentile!”), but it introduces singularity by being profoundly indifferent to all of those differences, by introducing a new difference that runs “diagonal” to all those previous differences. It introduces a kind of singularity defined by being other than all of the other others (rather than being other by being the same as something else in the situation).

6. Typology seems, as Joe suggests, also to be crucially related to the issue of family relations. If we have a typological theology and typology and family are tied together, then we might have a path to a familial theology.

Let me speculate again. I’d suggest that being faithful to God means being faithful to the typological re-alignment of the situation he means to enact. To be actively engaged in this typological re-alignment (in the work of re-coding the situation by running its parts through the typological cipher) would amount to being a “subject” of the type. In other words, being actively faithful to the typological re-alignment constitutes one as bearing a certain kind of subjectivity, as being a certain kind of subject. To be a subject of the type is different than being a subject of the situation because it means viewing the situation not from its own perspective but from the perspective of the type. In this sense, being a subject of the type is to occupy the position or perspective of the type.

What if we read family roles as typologically oriented subjective positions? One becomes a father and has one’s world transformed according to this perspective to the degree that one becomes subject to the type “father.” In this sense, you would simultaneously become completely substitutable (any father could be a typological “father) and completely singular (the typological shift introduces you into a singularly new world). “Progress” through life might then depend on one’s willingness to have one’s life typologically “folded” into substitutions and identifications that strip you of your world and identity in order to give you a singularly new world and identify.

Parent/child relationships are especially important here because they are at the core of our experience of grace or the unconditioned. They are our fundamental experience of being given something (life!) we couldn’t have earned or expected in advance. How we relate to this grace (with resentment and confusion or gratitude and wonder) is absolutely fundamental.

7. This is a lot and its very rough, but I was hoping that it might shake something loose in a useful way for someone else - who would then explain how this really works :)

My best,

9:48 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Wow, Adam, great thoughts, my head is spinning. I esp. like your thought about repentance as a singular way of creating something new. It seems that the call to repentance thus enacts the gift of agency, a way to create something "(a)new" in responding to the call to change/repent. It'll definitely take some thinking to digest your comments....

The following verse got me thinking about "sealing" in terms of typlogy, perhaps my citing this verse and adding a couple of my simple thoughts help someone else here make some real progress on these ideas:

"[F]or verily I seal upon you[, my servant Joseph,] your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father." (D&C 132:49)

* Seal comes from the same root as "sign" (sek), which seems closely related to typology. (Perhaps sign-seeking can be thought about in terms of place-holding where we do not want to engage in a process of relating or responding to an interacting God or His word, rather, we treat God's word as replaceable by any word that can produce signs of power---in other words, sign-seeking is a predictable, conditioned, economic pursuit, in contrast to a more unconditionally responsive and freely-offered "typological faith.")

* Exaltation is defined as "elevation to power, office, rank, dignity, or excellence."

The very height of exaltation here seems to be given to Joseph in typologically suggestive terms, as an office or rank bestowed that gives him the authority of the King's seal (doesn't the prophet wear a seal-ring even today?), the right to act in the name of the King. The so-called "divine investiture of authority" that we (perhaps) see in Christ does not, then, supplant the Father's authority, but becomes an additional voice having that authority. This additional voice, importantly, does not create chaos in the kingdom because of the unity/oneness of those given the seal, a result of each subject/son choosing to be subject to each king/father.

Also, the Lord referring to my Father and yet referring to Abraham as Joseph's father seems intriguing, reminiscent perhaps of the time-folding typology between Alma and Lehi that Joe's discussed in Alma 36. Consider also the close and important connection between the sealing power and baptism for the dead in order to "turn the hearts of the children to the fathers" and vice versa given in D&C 128. What is going on with these inter-generational linkages? Why is Abraham the father(-type) to Joseph? Because he was the first father(-type) of this dispensation? Joe, isn't this related to the question you raised on the wiki a while back, why baptism for the dead is given before baptism for the living?

4:18 PM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

In this comment I will respond only to Adam's wonderful start on thinking typology (I'll have to get back to the rest of this later).

Adam's comments bring out, I think, a tension that I have encountered again and again in trying to think typology: what distance is there between a sign and a type. Let me phrase the difficulty in Saussurian terms: Adam has mentioned both the continuity and the discontinuity at work in the structure of the type as it passes through time, and this seems to be very closely related to Saussure's discussion of linguistic change/permanence. In a word, what is at issue here is iteration: it is iterability itself that at once grounds and yet puts in danger the possibility of language (Kierkegaard's theme of repetition is obviously closely tied to this idea). But are we then reducing types to signs? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that.

But can we raise the question of diachronicity vs. synchronicity? That is, might we say that the structure of the sign is synchronic while the structure of the type is diachronic? To some degree, I think this is justified because the sign might be said to temporalize what it signifies, the signified being, strictly speaking, non-temporal; while the type is bound to what it typifies (at least in scriptural typology) in a temporal relation rather than a temporalizing relation.

But to draw this distinction is perhaps to put my finger on the distinction: signs are a question of names and objects (names, of course, that are inextricably wrapped up within the play of differences; don't misunderstand me as reducing the sign structure Saussure gave us), while types are a question of events.

Events, then?

In thinking typology, if I'm not already too far astray, we need to think, in the end, the temporality of the event and how it can be, as Adam put it, "folded." This question of temporality is rather difficult to think through, but here are a couple of things I've picked up in my work on Alma 36 (over the past two weeks especially, so this may be other than what anyone has read me as saying).

I'm catching three different temporal "modes" at work in Alma 36. First, there is what Heidegger would call inauthentic time, the time of das Man or of the Western tradition. Alma goes about with the sons of Mosiah in this kind of time, the time that simply stretches forever and ever and into which we are interjected by nature. Second, there is what Heidegger would call authentic time, when historicity arises. This time begins for Alma when the call is issued to him from the angel ("three days and three nights"). Third and finally, there is what Heidegger can only really call death, but what Hegel was willing to call "the end of history." Alma experiences this at the moment of conversion (vv. 19-22 or so).

Now, strictly speaking, there is a kind of chiastic structure at work in these three "modes" of time: one begins in "inauthentic" time until the call is issued that draws one out of it into historicity. But that very historicity is then questioned (canceled, even) in one's loving response to the call. As history comes to an end, one returns, as it were, to "inauthentic" time, but in a kind of post-historicality: of course one proceeds along the stretch of linear time, but history as such has collapsed. It is only with the collapse of history that Alma can experience the non-temporal council of heaven and become, typologically, Lehi, but it is precisely then also that his "labor" begins, in post-historical, inauthentic (better: now non-authentic) time.

Now, what is increasingly becoming apparent to me in terms of Alma 36 is that there are two different typologies at work in the chapter. In verses 6-12 and then in verse 22, Alma is a type of Lehi (specifically of Lehi in 1 Nephi 1:5-8). But then in verses 13-22, Alma is a type of Christ (three days and nights of suffering, etc.). What is interesting about this is that Alma is a type of Lehi in his pre- and post-historicality, and a type of Christ in his historicality proper. I'm not yet sure how to think about that. But it must be significant that Lehi represents the past (Urzeit) and Christ represents the future (Endzeit). In Hebrew thinking: Lehi represents the Same and Christ the Other....

Might there be here some difficulty of equivocation at work in the very word "typology"? It is used in two similar but ultimately quite different ways. On the one hand, typology is the tying together of events such that an earlier event anticipates a later event. On the other hand, typology is something like "self-application" of the scriptures. If the former is geared by the structure of the type and the antitype, the latter is perhaps more closely related to the relation between type and archetype. I imagine that the two became conflated in Christianity, where a completed eschatology essentially collapses the distinction between the two. At any rate, perhaps this gives us a way to think about that difference.

Now, I'm out of time, but I have at least one further thought I'd like to follow up on: this question of family. To sketch the thought out just briefly: one could earth-life as the historical event par excellence, and thus relegate to pre- and post-historical time the whole of pre-mortality and post-mortality; I think this would fit in with much of 19th century thinking about the relationship between Adam and his relation to the rest of us....

7:11 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

A few responses.

1. Robert - commenting on my claim that typology, by interrupting causal historicity, opens freedom - says:

"It seems that the call to repentance thus enacts the gift of agency."

I think that this is exactly right. We are agents (free) precisely to the extent that we give and receive (free) gifts.

2. Joe says:

"Might there be here some difficulty of equivocation at work in the very word "typology"? It is used in two similar but ultimately quite different ways. On the one hand, typology is the tying together of events such that an earlier event anticipates a later event. On the other hand, typology is something like "self-application" of the scriptures. If the former is geared by the structure of the type and the antitype, the latter is perhaps more closely related to the relation between type and archetype. I imagine that the two became conflated in Christianity, where a completed eschatology essentially collapses the distinction between the two."

I think that this distinction between type/anti-type and type/arche-type is very helpful. Clearly what I wrote a few days ago about types equivocates between the two uses. I want to agree with Joe when he says that these two kinds of types are "ultimately quite different." But I also want to agree with him when he equivocates a few sentences later and says that Christianity may "collapse the difference between the two." Can we say any more about what the difference would be and/or how it might matter or not matter to maintain it?

Could we read the "arche" (the Greek word meaning something like "beginning/governing principle") of the arche-type as referring to the never given (immemorial) beginning to which Jim refers us? And type/anti-types as being particular, evental instantiations of typological "folding" in which the synchrony of the immemorial beginning breaks into history again?

3. Joe says:

"But can we raise the question of diachronicity vs. synchronicity? That is, might we say that the structure of the sign is synchronic while the structure of the type is diachronic? . . . But to draw this distinction is perhaps to put my finger on the distinction: signs are a question of names and objects . . . , while types are a question of events."

My first inclination here would be to align typology with the synchronicity that interrupts and realigns the diachronicity of symbolic economy. Where signs typically unfold in an endless diachronic chain, types short-circuit this operation by folding together in a non-diachronic way two distinct events. So that time would be essential to types insofar as events are involved, but events would be "evental" only to the degree that they fractured a normal, diachronic temporality. Types, I'm inclined to say, would be "immemorially" temporal. Maybe.

My best,

9:51 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Thank you, Adam, for probing my rambling thoughts so carefully. You've clarified much for me (this booming, buzzing confusion is something that only takes shape for me in dialogue).

First let me summarize what I think you are saying. The type-antitype structure is a realigned (I like Marion's "distracted") sign structure (signifier-signified). Precisely because a sign structure is at once entirely arbitrary and fully temporal, it is diachronic (the sign system is constructed over time). But what distracts this diachronic sign structure (in all its play) is a synchronic imposition of the non-temporal (khora, differance, "something like God," etc.).

Am I following you here?

If I am, here is where it disrupts my own thinking up to this point. I had assumed that the type was a temporal something that was somehow linked up with a non-temporal something (the antitype), that the non-temporal something disrupted a temporal something and thus rendered it a type. I understand you to be suggesting that the antitype is not what disrupts a temporal something to render it a type, but rather that it is, just like the type, a distracted temporal something. That is: the type is the distracted signifier and the antitype is the distracted signified.

Again, am I following you here?

If I am, then your comments on the conflation of the archetype and the antitype must be understood in a rather careful manner. By drawing on the Urzeit and Endzeit, I was thinking about how Christianity might collapse the distinction between the immemorial before and the immemorial after: the beginning (gathered about the throne in a great song of praise) is precisely the end (gathered about the throne in a great song of praise). Now I'm trying to think about a double structure at work within time that is, somehow, distracted (synchronically, I suppose) by something non-temporal (synchronic, then?).

I think this is fruitful, especially if we oppose (as the scriptures consistently do) the temporal to the spiritual: the Father is bound to the Son in the Spirit. Here two somethings (!) are bound to each other, sealed if you will, by the Spirit, by the spiritual, by the non-temporal. Something very like this is at work in Genesis 22, where the father and the son are bound by the Spirit, by the spiritual.

This is the direction we need to go, I think, but I'm realizing that I've just walked to the very edge of my thinking about Abraham and Isaac. And I'm unclear of how to take the next step. I need to do some thinking.

I won't summarize this discussion until tomorrow sometime, for reasons of free time (and internet troubles).

10:56 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


Great questions. Let me try and address the following point you make (and I'd be grateful if Jim, or anyone else for that matter, could chime in here with any clarifying suggestions):

"Precisely because a sign structure is at once entirely arbitrary and fully temporal, it is diachronic (the sign system is constructed over time). But what distracts this diachronic sign structure (in all its play) is a synchronic imposition of the non-temporal (khora, differance, "something like God," etc.)."

I think that I'm more Lacanian here in my thinking about the signifier than Sausurrean (this may account for our difference in readings). For Lacan, it's all about the signifier (whereas for Saussure it is all about the "sign," which is composed of signifier and signified). Rather than taking the sign (the unity of signifier and signified) as primary, let's follow Lacan for a moment and take the signifier itself as primary (this is, I think, Derridean in flavor as well).

What happens is that the signifier, when diachronically deployed, can generate significations through a system of structural differences. The difficulty is that such sense is only ever economically and differentially constructed. The meaning of each signifier is conditioned by the other signifiers to which it is diachronically related.

However, as you point out (and this is the key for Lacan), the signifier is "at once arbitrary and fully temporal." The sense or meaning that signification produces is fully temporal, conditioned, etc. - but the crazy thing about the signifier itself is that it is completely arbitrary. I understand the dimension of the immemorial, of "khora," of "differance," or "God" to be directly connected with the arbitrariness of the signifier itself. (This dimension is, for Lacan, the realm of the unconscious).

The signifier is, in itself, completely senseless and arbitrary; no meaning inheres in the signifier itself. Meaning is only the product of the differential and diachronic play of signifiers. The result is that every signification strangely bears within itself a kind of antecedent, non-sensical underside of arbitrariness that doesn't normally show up as such but is always necessary to the production of meaning. In Jim's language, every historical moment has an underside of the immemorial that makes it possible; it just doesn't normally appear.

The senselessness and arbitrariness of the signifier can, however, come to the fore - but only to the ruin of diachronic sense. Think about the way one can repeat a signifier over and over again (take any word you'd like) until it starts to sound "funny" (read: arbitrary), loses its meaning, and becomes strange.

I'm proposing that events are tied to those moments in history when the antecedent underbelly of signification comes to the fore, interrupts the diachronic chain, and "resets" that signification's vector.

Events are tied to the unconditioned because they are ultimately arbitrary (there is no reason that conditions them). In this sense, grace and the unconditional and the event all intersect in the arbitrariness of the signifier.

In this way, types might be figured as kinds of pure signifiers that are arbitrary (as I mentioned in the previous post, it wouldn't make sense to ask if a type was "true" or to ask what the type itself "meant"). They might involve a kind of senseless identification (an idenitification that has no real, justifiable, historical ground) that interrupts the normal flow of sense but which, in this interruption, resets or recodes or reorients the normal flow of signification. Types, on this model, would be a kind of cipher, but not something readable within the situation itself as having any meaning (a cipher can decode or recode something for you, but it doesn't itself "mean" anything in particular).

Types then would be grounded in what exceeds signification, in what is more than or in excess of sense: that is, the abitrary and senseless signifier that makes sense possible.

Does this bring us closer together or move us farther apart?

My best,

12:11 PM  

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