Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Modern Gnosticism: Surrealist Revolution & Death by Sex

Modern Gnosticism: Surrealist Revolution & Death by Sex

Fuck you André. You just look silly. 
And Bataille, instead, was awarded the Legion d'honneur
Boring excitement, exciting boredom... “The time of the eternal recurrence is, then, not the 'eternal present' of a goalless revolving in which past still becomes and future always was; it is rather a future time of a goal that liberates from the burden of the past and arises from the will to the future.” [1] Surrealism, in “its revolutionary phase – the analogous universe is destroyed... the world with itself and the ego with itself are disunited, and both equally are smashed to pieces. The surrealist allegory orchestrates the worldlessness [Weltlosigkeit] of a nihilistic experience, that initially joins itself to the postulates or a revolutionary communism... [this aspect of] the surrealistic experience “repeats” in modernity the nihilistic worldlessness of Gnosticism in late antiquity... The Gnostic pneumaticist is [much like Baudelaire] the dandy of antiquity.” [2] To cite Benjamin: "A reconciled humanity will take leave of its part -- and one form of reconciliation is gaiety. '...The last stage of a world-historical form is its comedy... Why does history follow this course? So that mankind may take leave of its past gaily.' Karl Marx. Surrealism is the death of the nineteenth century in comedy." [N5a,2]

If we are to foreground certain more-or-less secularized elements drawn from the tradition of Gnosticism, it should be emphasized that, as Jacob Taubes notes, in his rejoinder to Hans Blumenberg during their discussion of Surrealism and Gnosis, Gnosticism in Late Antiquity could hardly be called a monolithic doctrine. If it is true that eschatological and apocalyptic thought is rooted in gnosis, it is equally true that doctrines such as that of Marcion emphasized a rather more “modern” response to the evil of the world and demiurge – rejection and revolt against the established order, destruction of a corrupt world in the hic et nunc. This radical opposition which refuses collaboration by having no particular vision of the immanent and imminent, improved world to follow the rupture, Taubes illustrates, is borrowed and explicitly acknowledged by Ernst Bloch.[3] Norbert Bolz, in “Erlösung als ob: Über einige gnostiche Motive der Kritischen Theorie,”[Salvation as if: On several Gnostic motifs in Critical Theory], makes the case for a gnostic element, not only in Bloch, but at the very heart of Critical Theory as a whole, and particularly in Karl Barth, Theodor Adorno (“es gibt kein rechtige Leben in dem Falsch,” and “die Ganze ist unwahr” and Negativ Dialektik, on the whole, evidence a gnostic acosmism) – including Dialektik der Aufklärung,with Horkheimer, and especially in Benjamin, from his earliest to latest works. Bolz writes that Baudelaire can be seen as an allegorical image of Modern existence:

          In Modernity, as the time of Hell, never appears identical to itself, rather the most recently named –                   
          this is infernal eternity... In great abbreviation, Benjamin unveiled the Gnosticism of Modern everyday 
          life in the necessary form: Nothing is boring to living people than the cosmos [4]

Here it would be apt to draw a parallel to Blanchot's politics of refusal and rupture, which, of course, is indebted both to Bataille and Benjamin; refusal is defined by Blanchot as “absolute, categorical... not discuss[ing] or voice[ing] its reasons,” refusal of “an offer of agreement and compromise that we will not hear. A rupture has occurred. We have been brought back to this frankness that does not tolerate complicity any longer.” This cursory glance alone demonstrates a remarkable kinship to Marcion's gesture of freeing man “from all that was of this world, while providing nothing better,” as Bloch wrote in Atheism in Christianity (1968), which “gave birth to that 'break' mentality which was always to militate against any idea of 'reception': history is devoid of salvation, and salvation of history.” [5] The only determination of refusal is gained in its extreme form, in the “right to insubordination,” which, as an exemplary instance, “designates the right that founds or maintains itself in this refusal and from this refusal: the right not to be oppressed and not to be an oppressor." [6] Whether gnostic in actual inspiration or not,[7] Blanchot's politics and the events of May '68 at large, point to the periodic repetition of gnosis – in its Marcionite form, in this instance – throughout history, which render an exemplary moment of crisis and revolutionary kairos visible and active. [8]

Klossowski's Illustration of Bataille's L'Abbé C.

Pierre Klossowski (1905-2001)
Pierre Klossowski, in an interview with Jean-Maurice Monnoyer, published in 1985, makes the startling revelation that: “Benjamin lent me his copy of Dokumente der Gnosis: the collection edited by Schulze.9 From there I began to study the great heresiarchs, Carpocrates, Valentin, Basilides, before the theologies of Catholicism or Calvinism. ”10 Gnostic allegory. “Allegory should be shown as the antidote to myth.” ([27], 179) “As soon as the poetic power of allegorizing leaves [Nietzsche], the whole decomposes into two contradictory parts, which only conflict holds together. For the tendency to eternalize that has become ephemeral does not enter into the circuit of the eternal cycle of the natural world – unless the temporal will of human existence that has become eccentric were to fly in a superhuman fashion into the heaven of the pre-Copernican world, in order to circle along in the middle of being.”11 Allegory in late antiquity: “In the course of such a literature the world of the ancient gods would have had to die out, and it is precisely allegory which preserved it. For an appreciation of the transience of things, and the concern to rescue them for eternity, is one of the strongest impulses in allegory.”12

He later became Cardinal and died in a whorehouse.
There is a word for death by orgasm: epectasis or epecstasy
Bataille was already interested in and familiar with Gnosticism, having published “Base Materialism and Gnosticism” in Documents, in 1930. His friend and theological interlocutor, too, Fr. Jean Danièlou, S.J., a scholar of patristics, in particular of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, later lectured on the topic of Gnosis for the Vie Spirituelle circle, on the topic of Gnosis: “Revelation is apportioned out by the gift of God, and this transmits itself in secrecy. Human beings are divided by predestination into somatics or psychics, and it is impossible during the course of life to pass from one category to another. Only the pneumatics can attain salvation.”13 While Bataillle, in 1930, did not mention Marcion, using Basilides as touchstone instead, the Gnosis he describes is rooted in materialism, that is, insubordination:

Abraxas, from the Gnosis of Basilides
It is difficult to believe that on the whole Gnosticism does not manifest above all a sinister love of darkness, a monstrous taste for obscene and lawless archontes, for the head of the solar ass. The existence of a sect of licentious Gnostics and of certain sexual rites fulfills this obscure demand for a baseness that would not be reducible ...Gnosticism, in its psychological process, is not so different from present-day materialism. I mean a materialism not implying an ontology... it is a question above all of not submitting oneself, and with oneself one's reason, to whatever is more elevated, to whatever can give a borrowed authority to the being that I am, and to the reason that arms this being. This being and its reason can in fact only submit to what is lower, to what can never serve in any case to ape a given authority. Also I submit entirely to what must be called matter, since that exists outside of myself and the idea...”14

In view of Bataille's marriage of Gnosticism to materialism, we must at least entertain the hypothesis that the theology which, in Benjamin's “Concept of History,” is both the puppet-master and secret weapon of historical materialism, might in fact be neither Christian nor Jewish – and rather more Gnostic than Kabbalistic. In the first instance, Bloch's discussion of Marcion casts an intriguing light upon Benjamin's reference to the fact that “the Great Revolution introduced a new calendar. The initial day of a calendar presents history in time-lapse mode. And basically it is this same day that keeps recurring... in days of remembrance.”15 Bloch writes that by designating the year of Marcion's birth as Year Zero, the Marcionite calendar marks “the beginning of a new time-series which in itself has no real place, but only an apparent one, in history... the only real parallel lies in the Jacobin calendar, whose year naught was 'also' intended as a totally new beginning, with its break from the entire 'old testament' of history.”16 In the context of this admittedly inexact parallelism, the content of Eingedenken, and of the whole of history, would be the nullity and nullification of that which has been transmitted and passed off as history “the way it was.” Just as Marcionite Gnosis sought to “wrest tradition from the conformism [of the ruling classes] that is working to overpower it”17 and to start anew, Benjamin substitutes the practice of redemptive memory for the “general system of redemption by forgetting – or forgetting conceived as an apocalyptic event (this is one of Basilides' theses that I discovered in reading Schulze's collection,”18 in which Eternal Recurrence and the figure of the Antichrist, which “is not just a word, except in pure criticism, such as that of Lotze, which binds together the history of christianity19 inhere. However, in the damnatio memorae of the redemption – in taking leave of the past following victory over the Antichrist – the Gnostic superposition of redemption and forgetting remains.

1Karl Löwith, Nietzsche's Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, Trans. J. Harvey Lomax (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 87.
2Jacob Taubes, “Notes on Surrealism,” From Cult To Culture, 101-2.
3Jacob Taubes, “Notes on Surrealism,” & “The Iron Cage,” From Cult to Culture, 118-20 & 139-142.
4Norbert Bolz, “Erlösung als ob: Über einige gnostiche Motive der Kritischen Theorie,” Jacob Taubes, Ed., Religionstheorie und Politische Theology: Gnosis und Politik (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1984). 264-289. 267. Translation R. Tepper.
5 Ernst Bloch, Atheism in Christianity, Trans. J. T. Swann (London & New York: Verso, 2009), 176-7.
7Blanchot, “[The Declaration (of the 121) … is not a protest manifesto],” PW, 23.
8 See Sur-Representation: Revolution & Repetition (R. Tepper).
9Wolfgang Schultz, Dokumente der Gnosis (Jena: Eugen Diedrichs, 1910).
10Pierre Klossowski & Jean-Maurice Monnoyer, Le Peintre et Son Démon, (Paris: Flammarion, 1985), 184. Trans. R. TEpper
11Löwith, 83.
12Benjamin, Origin, 223.
13“Père Danièlou: la gnose, Vie Spirituelle, seance n° 8, 7 mars 1942,” Digraphe 86-7, 45-6. Trans. R. Tepper
14Georges Bataille, “Base Materialism and Gnosticism,” Visions of Excess, 48-51.
15Benjamin, SW 4: 395.
16Bloch, Atheism in Christianity, 177.
17Benjamin, SW 4: 391.
18Klossowski & Monnoyer, 184. Trans. R. Tepper
19Klossowski & Monnoyer, 184.

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