Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Touch, Prayer, and the Middle Voice: A Sacrament Meeting Talk

Hello, everyone. I’m Christian, and my name is Christian. I’m a grad student at BYU, where I’m doing a master’s degree in Comparative Studies. I gave a testimony earlier this month about the connection between the Gospel and something called the “middle voice,” and I was asked to give a talk today about that topic and its connection with prayer.

If you don’t remember high school English, the active voice and the passive voice are two ways we relate verbs (or actions) to their subjects. If I say “the cat ate the mouse,” the word “ate” is in the active voice. But if I say “the mouse was eaten by the cat,” “was eaten” is in the passive voice. The active voice is active: with it, you act, and you are not acted upon. But the passive voice is passive, connected with things that are acted upon.: “you are mocked,” “you are helped,” etc.

However, the middle voice describes a verb that makes its subject both active and passive at the same time. English doesn’t have a middle voice, but Biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek do, as do Albanian, Sanskrit, Icelandic, Swedish, and a few other languages. An example of the middle voice would be something like “The boy washes,” when it’s understood that the boy is washing himself. In English, you’d ask “Who is the boy washing? His dog? His feet? His car?” But the object of the sentence is the subject. “The boy washes.” Period. Full Stop. Who washes? The boy! Who is washed? The same boy!

This bizarre situation is, nevertheless, commonplace. We encounter it every day. I will give two examples of places where we encounter the middle voice: touch and prayer. In a sense, they are both the same thing, but we will only come to that point slowly.

When we touch another person, whether in a handshake, a pat on the back, or an embrace, we simultaneously are touched. Active and passive together. The Middle Voice. This seems pretty straightforward, right? But it has profound consequences. Take trauma, for example. The thesis I have been writing in my grad program is about trauma and how people deal with it, specifically in art and literature. And in my survey of the topic, I noticed some fascinating things. People suffering from PTSD withdraw from the world with their bodies. Their muscles tighten. They exhibit more-or-less constant fight-or-flight responses. They have declared the world an enemy. They cannot relax. This is a regrettable situation, one not unlike the autism spectrum disorder I suffer from. But touch therapy is amazingly helpful.

I have a friend who suffers from PTSD. She has a friend who is a massage therapist. When she finally volunteered for touch therapy, she initially resisted the presence of the other person’s touch. In a sense, she touched the other person with her skin, but she would not let herself be touched. She was not vulnerable. But when she relaxed, when she let in the pressure and felt safe doing so, when she let herself be touched, she began to weep. And she didn’t stop crying for three hours. A burden was lifted in a way nothing else could do.

When we are traumatized we cannot have both self and other at the same time. I cannot let you in. To the traumatized mind, it’s not safe enough. PTSD, in this sense, is a radical distrust of being. One touches, perhaps, and others can touch you, but never together. One is always on alert: like a startled cat, your shoulders are arched and your eyes are wide open, albeit constantly. All of life is life-or-death, or at least it seems that way. The traumatized person, therefore, needs to feel safe. That’s what PTSD therapy seeks to do. Mindfulness helps with this. So does art. And as I mentioned, so does touch. Each of these, to my mind, are ways of acting in the middle voice. When we are mindful of our fear, we both watch and are watched. When we represent our pain through art, we are both the painter and the subject of the painting. And in touch we are vulnerable, both the toucher and the one touched.

Prayer is like this. In it, I become naked before God. I tell him all my fears and insecurities. I speak out my anxiety, my depression, and my self-hatred to an empty room, and suddenly an inexplicable “something” comes into my heart not unlike the effect of a hug or a tender hand on a shoulder. I begin to empty myself of myself, to loosen my muscles. I lose my fear. For, like touch, prayer can make me feel safe. When I pray, just as in touch, I feel myself on both sides of a barrier. I loosen my shoulders. I relax, perhaps weep. I feel I could walk into a battlefield and be completely safe. That I am “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love,” to quote Lehi.

Prayer is this eternal embrace. It is the act where God and the soul touch, where something invisible yet very present is exchanged. Sometimes it’s illumination. Sometimes it’s comfort. Sometimes it’s a voice of warning. But is this illumination your thoughts? Your feelings? That’s the wrong way of looking at it. It is not active self-suggestion, and it’s not passive ecstasy, any more than touch is exclusively active or passive. You speak, and then you listen. You act, and then you receive. But in the best prayer, you enter the middle voice, and these acts become one. Acting is receiving. This can work on a small scale, when you ask for a small blessing and it comes, albeit without heavenly trumpets, or on a large scale, as when Enos had a “mighty wrestle before God” for his own soul and the welfare of his Lamanite brothers and sisters.

But sometimes this doesn’t happen. Sometimes prayer is awkward. Sometimes nothing happens. May I suggest for those in this state that action is and can be a kind of prayer. So if the heavens are quiet, if nothing moves, realize that your works themselves can be the answer to your prayer. Go and act in the way you think God would have you act. Make your acts of service a psalm. Offer up your voice in your deeds. And then, perhaps, inexplicably, you’ll discover that God was guiding you invisibly the whole time. This is familiar to writers who, when writing a rough draft, discover gems in the text that they did not expect or intend. Anyone who’s borne a testimony and found themselves compelled to speak words greater than their own knows this lesson. You are more than you. Your activity is also a passivity. You works are a grace.

My girlfriend wrote a poem expressing this point. I consider it inspired. An excerpt from it reads


“Oh Child,
If you want to hear the chorus of angels,
You just need to sing.”


How do you bring God into the world when he is absent? Pray, yes. But don’t forget to act. Have confidence that your actions, guided by your conscience, mean more than you think they do. They are full of significance that you can’t anticipate. You act, and so you are acted upon. The best prayer, and the best thought, is both action and passivity at once. You don’t look back. You only look ever forward.

I bear you my testimony that God lives, that you can reach him through prayer. You are safe. You are listened to. You are loved.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son.

Amen.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Autism, Circles, & Infinity


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Review: The Electronic Doppelgänger: The Mystery of the Double in the Age of the Internet

The Electronic Doppelgänger: The Mystery of the Double in the Age of the Internet The Electronic Doppelgänger: The Mystery of the Double in the Age of the Internet by Rudolf Steiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunningly, here a Rudolf Steiner speaking in 1917 says this about the twentieth century and beyond:

“And the connection will be made between the death forces in the human being, which are related to electromagnetic forces, and outer machine forces. In a sense, the human being will be able to let his thoughts flow into machines.”

Sounds like our reality, right? As I type this review, I’m doing exactly what Steiner described a hundred years ago.

He explains that within the electricity of our nervous systems, there is another spiritual entity, a kind of doppelganger, who lives in our autonomous reflexes and unconscioius compulsions, who belongs to the sphere of the evil being Ahriman. They are beings who, cast out of heaven before the twentieth century even started, plague the earthly level of our consciousness. They long to destroy the human capacity for connecting to the etheric level of consciousness - that part of us that thinks simultaneously and not successively, in felt mental images, not coldly or mechanically. And they’ve been doing a pretty good job, I’d say.

The editors of this book make the point that the computer and the Internet, as machines that mutliply data beyond our ability to consciously remember (*consciously* being the key word), are versions of this Ahrimanic double. The Internet — in its memes, its tl;dr’s and its Buzzfee article—is pure reflex, pure automatism, making us more and more into machines. We can’t focus: it’s too long; I didn’t read. That’s why it’s so gosh darn important to use the exercises that Rudolf Steiner described in his lectures, or something similar. For example, we can think a series of events backwards, or try to take a mental snapshot of where we left our keys so that we can call that image up to find it again. These tasks are being taken over by the Ahrimanic double, aka the smartphone/PC.

But they aren’t pure evil. Steiner even says so: that they will inevitably come, and that it’s how we relate to them that matters. For me, I’m going to try relating to my electronics with a will and a memory rivaling theirs. I will not let my computer become my brain.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Blind Womb of Being: The Existential and Transpersonal Themes in George Frederic Watts' "The All Pervading"

Another paper I wrote in my Victorian class!:

George Frederic Watts was British painter from the Victorian era who anticipated the Symbolist movement. In his paintings, he strove to represent intimations of realities beyond the realm of conscious thought and yet which pervade the human experience of life. “Hope” is one such painting; “Love and Life” is another. These paintings, abstract and yet viscerally concrete, are the embodiment of what is too diffuse to otherwise have a visible form. What does hope look like? Perhaps a blindfolded woman playing a lyre. These painted embodiments, however, do not come from deliberate, conscious ratiocination. They are dreamed up; they realize themselves as they are painted. In this essay, I will discuss Watts’ painting “The All Pervading” and the deep existential and transpersonal themes at work in it.



In a biography she wrote about her late husband, Mary Watts described the experience that the painter had which led to his work on “The All Pervading”:

In the centre of his studio, which was the drawing-room of the house, there hung a huge glittering chandelier. To the unimaginative its glass drops and beads appeared to be the last thing in the world to suggest a picture. It was French according to the taste of thirty or forty years before, and nothing more. But he had found there some suggestion of the beautiful, and from it grew the solemn and mystic figure holding the universe in hands that encircle the sphere; the picture he named “The All-pervading.” (Watts 104-105)

The painter experienced something in the seemingly bare glitterings of a chandelier that was more than texture, more than light. And this “something” could only realize itself obliquely in those obscure ephemera. Captured, recorded, remembered, they realize themselves fully not through a casual glance but instead through an eye that gazes, that, as though hypnotically, gives that experience enough space within the artist’s mind to not merely stay the same, much less fade, but grow.

The All-Pervading pervades all. She stands outside the whole, in the periphery of the circle, the globe, circling it, caressing it, enrapturing it and enraptured by it. Her eyes do not gaze; they are closed or…perhaps…they have never seen at all. Perhaps, pervading all, this “solemn and mystic figure” has no need to take things into her being through the senses, since, after all, she is one with all of them. She holds being in her bosom. For her, all is touch. Hers is the primal copulation that precedes sight: the latent intelligence of being, the ecstasy of womb, the anonymous infinity that precedes birth, follows death, and lies beyond the edge of our visual field.

This is what Carl Jung experienced as a dream after a heart attack. In his Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he writes of how “on the floor in front of [an] altar, facing me, sat a yogi—in lotus posture, in deep meditation. When I looked at him more closely, I realized that he had my face. I started in profound fright, and awoke with the thought: ‘Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has the dream, and I am it.’ I knew that when he awakened, I would no longer be.” (Jung 323) This is Jung’s “Self” archetype, the reality that lives itself as an individual ego, forgetting itself but thereby perhaps realizing itself. It contracts itself into a focused whole, a concentration, centers itself from the periphery, realizing the circle it is. The circular nature of the All Pervading would not be lost on him. The painting, the gestating woman it depicts, and the universe she gestates: it is all a mandala.

And in the experience of the chandelier that was nevertheless more than a chandelier, we have a glimpse of how the All-Pervading works herself into the limited awareness of sight. For “she” can only come in a glimpse, a dimming of consciousness, a sight that is no longer sight but something deeper, more primeval, less mortal. Sight here erases itself, cancels itself out, makes itself null, renders itself transparent. Something shines through, so to speak, a light that is not light, a light that makes all light darkness, a light that is darkness, nothing more than a glimmer. The “light of common day” continues as it always does—sunlight, candlelight, the moon and stars—but from the experience of that uncommon light there grows something alien and yet hauntingly familiar. Could it be? Could that glimpse, that momentary ecstasy, be the real world? Could my life be nothing more than the peripheral echo of that glimmer, that kaleidoscopic, ephemeral surfacing of light? It cannot be. It is too terrible, the loss it suggests too unbearable. And yet…

The All-Pervading is the primeval, erotic darkness of light. The globe she holds is, of course, the chandelier itself, the room, the painter, the canvas, the world: what extends itself spatially from the reference point called “here and now.” But outside that sphere, outside what can be mapped, where no light shines and yet sleeping within light as its inner vitality, there stands a being: asleep, vaguely maternal, angelic. We are gestated in the lap of this great being. We are a dream in her archetypal slumber. And because her being is itself sleep, is the primeval osmosis of touch itself, she is never seen with eyes or heard with ears. Except, of course, when a painter drifts into a trance himself and, with an eye asleep within his eyes, traces the contours of a great draped mother and, waking up, astonishes himself at the haunting and terrible mystery he has thus remembered.

The All-Pervading carries the peace of something we all leave behind in order to reflect, think, or even exist. For she is the peace beyond and within all existence, surrounding it, sleeping with it, idly fondling its contours. She is the life of what we forget, the life of forgetfulness. But it does not trouble her. For she never changes: all is touch; all is communion; all is love.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Scrooge the Healer

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Like all of us, the artist suffers from the spirit of the age. The creative artist, like a shaman and magician, however, is able to be in-formed by and constructively channel, transmute, and out-picture the seemingly obscuring daemonic energies of wetiko in a symbolic form that takes away wetiko’s spell-binding power over themselves, while at the same time helping to nonlocally dispel the collective enchantment pervading the entire field of consciousness. Discovering novel, creative, and ever-evolving articulations of language to express experience is a “spell-casting” activity, in that it serves to dispel the veil of illusion which limited forms of language can cast which seemingly obstructs us from the true richness of our own experience. Creatively expressing what is moving us is the very act which liberates us from the compulsion of having to unconsciously re-create these energies (self)-destructively in a way that continually retraumatizes both ourselves and the world around us. In the figure of the artist, the creative spirit realizes itself through us, while at the same time we, as artists, reciprocally realize ourselves through it  - Paul Levy, Dispelling Wetiko

My first meeting with him entirely changed my opinion of him and of what I might expect from him. I remember this meeting very well. We arrived at a small café in a noisy though not central street. I saw a man of an oriental type, no longer young, with a black mustache and piercing eyes, who astonished me first of all because he seemed to be disguised and completely out of keeping with the place and its atmosphere. I was still full of impressions of the East. And this man with the face of an Indian raja or an Arab sheik whom I at once seemed to see in a white burnoose or a gilded turban, seated here in this little cafe, where small dealers and commission agents met together, in a black overcoat with a velvet collar and a black bowler hat, produced the strange, unexpected, and almost alarming impression of a man poorly disguised, the sight of whom embarrasses you because you see he is not what he pretends to be and yet you have to speak and behave as though you did not see it. He spoke Russian incorrectly with a strong Caucasian accent; and this accent, with which we are accustomed to associate anything apart from philosophical ideas, strengthened still further the strangeness and the unexpectedness of this impression. .... G.'s [Gurdjieff's] words, in addition to their ordinary meaning, undoubtedly contained another, altogether different, meaning. I had already begun to realize that, in order to arrive at this hidden meaning in G.'s words, one had to begin with their usual and simple meaning. G.'s words were always significant in their ordinary sense, although this was not the whole of their significance. The wider or deeper significance remained hidden for a long time. - P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous


The new film The Man Who Invented Christmas is a psychological masterpiece. An origin story for A Christmas Carol, it depicts Charles Dickens writing that book as a way to understand and come to terms with his painful past. Dickens, whose father went to debtor's prison and who had to black shoes in a workhouse as a very young child, was traumatized by poverty. He gave compulsively to the poor, wrote socially conscious novels about the plight of the lower classes, and yet couldn't help getting himself in debt. He was bound to scarcity, as it were: it repeats itself in him. He is fettered by the chains he (unknowingly) forged in life. By writing A Christmas Carol, he meets his pain, talks to it, and integrates it.



In the film, Scrooge is the face of that pain. He is Dickens' shadow side, the aspect of him he does not acknowledge and which acts out in unexpected cruelty. He is scarcity; he is fear; he is the terror of not having enough. Of course, this "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" is ridiculously larger than life, a bit absurd. But for good reason! Like all cliches, he covers up the writer's baggage. And baggage works itself out there despite the cliche, for The Man Who Invented Christmas discerns the hidden truth that Scrooge, as Dickens' shadow side, carries Dickens' wholeness. Scrooge is secretly a healer. In the film, Scrooge (played by Christopher Plummer) has a twinkle in his eye. He reminds me of a Zen master, of Rumi, of the profound spiritual rascal G. I. Gurdjieff, but most of all my therapist when he impersonated my negative voices. This Scrooge is Dickens' wholeness impersonating his pain with a thinly veiled theatricality, fanning the flames at just the right intensity so Dickens can realize that pain without getting too hurt. And though it can seem cruel at times, it is one of the best therapeutic techniques I know.

However, this cathartic integration of Dickens' shadow side happens through writing, and The Man Who Invented Christmas says what I said in my last post: that writing, as the shadow side of our collective conscious attitude, carries that attitude's wholeness. If we want to heal, there is no better way than to start writing! By writing, what lives itself out in me unconsciously can shunt itself out and present itself anew to me through the medium of pen and paper. The page is an external hard drive, another brain, a way by which pain can live itself out away from my habitual restrictions. Works which heal in this way carry and perpetuate that healing in and through whoever reads them. And so it is no accident that A Christmas Carol is so popular, that it's basically the reason we still celebrate Christmas, that my folks' theater puts it on every year to sold-out audiences. Dickens was a wounded healer; the book is the medicine he distilled from that wound's poison. And we can tell.

More specifically, A Christmas Carol is a way we can heal our past baggage, and that's because (among other things) it has a lot to do with the past. For the book's ghosts are spirits of time, time-spirits, "Zeitgeist" in German: Past, Present, and Future. There is a mystery contained here that no one has seen. For I suspect that the book is so healing because it struggles to this conclusion: we will only heal--as people, as a species, as a world--when past and future stop fighting each other. For all pain is an enmity of past and future.

When we experience great pain and refuse to look at it, a part of our personality is trapped at the moment when that pain happened. Through trauma, the past has been hermetically preserved, and we look forward to our goals and projects in life with that part of ourselves uninvolved. The life in the past and the numb corpse of the future have been severed from each other. There is no memory; time unravels.

This book, then, is a great act of memory. Scrooge remembers being a boy, remembers Bob Cratchit, remembers his guilt. And as the film's postscript says, the skyrocketing acts of charity that followed its publication are also deeds of memory.  Through memory, pain knows itself in the present and the present is no longer cut off from the life trapped in pain. Memory is the mark of the world on the body, the mark of the other on the self. Without it, we are as solitary as an oyster. With it, our shut-up hearts open freely.

Whenever we read or A Christmas Carol, that reintegration, this re-embodiment gets played out like a great collective sacrament. In it, something new is born in us from a long conflict. The child, who would otherwise die, does not die. We no longer squeeze or wrench; we open our palms, tenderly, vulnerably. And the life in our hearts comes out onto the world stage. It is Christmas.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Writing is Repression

Kids, the fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists. - Stephen King, It
And so, my most worthy and impartial colleagues ,It must now be clear to you that if, for some reason or other, the useful information concerning knowledge already attained by men about past events on the Earth fails to reach our descendants through genuine initiates, then thanks to this new means of transmission I have proposed, men of future generations will always have the possibility of discovering and understanding for themselves, if not everything now existing on the Earth, at least those fragments of common knowledge which chance to reach them through these "works of the hands" of our contemporaries as well as through those various ceremonies existing today, in which, in accordance with this great Law of Sevenfoldness, and by means of these "artificial" indications of ours, we shall now put what we wish. -G. I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson
But now that we are facing an incarnation of Ahriman in the third millennium after Christ, Lucifer's tracks are becoming less visible, and Ahriman's activities in such trends as I have indicated, are coming into prominence. Ahriman has made a kind of pact with Lucifer, the import of which may be expressed in the following way. — Ahriman, speaking to Lucifer, says: “I, Ahriman, find it advantageous to make use of ‘preserving jars’. To you I will leave man's stomachs, if you will leave it to me to lull men to sleep — that is to say to lull their consciousness to sleep where their stomachs are concerned.” You must understand what I mean by this. — The consciousness of those human beings whom I have called devourers of soul and spirit is in a condition of dimness so far as their stomachs are concerned; for by not accepting the spiritual into their human nature, they drive straight into the Luciferic stream everything they introduce into their stomachs. What men eat and drink without spirituality goes straight to Lucifer! And what do I mean by “preserving jars”? I mean libraries and institutions of a similar kind, where the various sciences pursued by man without really stirring his interest, are preserved; these sciences are not really alive in him but are simply preserved in the books on the shelves of libraries. All this knowledge has been separated from man himself. Everywhere there are books, books, books! Every student, when he takes his doctor's degree, has to write a learned thesis which is then put into as many libraries as possible. When the student wants to take up some particular post, again he must write a thesis! In addition to this, people are forever writing, although only a very small proportion of what they write is ever read. Only when some special preparation has to be made do people resort to what is mouldering away in libraries. These “preserving jars” of wisdom are a particularly favourable means of furthering Ahriman's aims. - Rudolf Steiner, Lucifer and Ahriman

Writing is repression. When we write, we do it to ignore something we'd rather not think or feel. So we put it down on paper instead, maybe ignoring it, maybe publishing it, maybe making millions off of it, but nevertheless still forgetting it. The life we refuse to experience ends up in our books. And it teems there.



Apart from what we write, we talk. Idly, mindlessly, we chatter with each other about nothing in particular, nothing important, always kind of numb. We check our social media accounts; we scroll through Instagram; we may double tap a post occasionally to like something. But without the life in our books, we're lifeless.

This situation, where speech pretends not to notice everything that it leaves behind in writing, is actually a kind of muscle tension. Our shoulders, back, or legs, like writing engraved in muscle, are constantly tight, but that tension is always unnoticed. And this tension, like all tension, comes from trauma. Something violates an intrinsic wholeness, which then ignores that violence, dissociating into a conscious aspect that steels itself against the pain and an unconscious one that repeats it unconsciously. Here, speech is that conscious "ignore-ance" and writing is the movement of the trauma it ignores.

This trauma is *consciousness*. When human beings gained an awareness of themselves as beings separate from the world, when they started to build cities and cultivate the land, they experienced great alienation and exposure at being cut off from the unity every animal takes for granted. For animals, speech is writing and writing is speech: body language is instinctive and there is no need to plan or record. But when we cut ourselves off from the world, we had to repeat that severance by severing those feelings from ourselves, storing that pain somewhere we can look away from: in our cuneiform tablets, our illuminated manuscripts, our blogs.

And this pain, this life, is intelligent. It has volition, and it plans. Books want to be found. For anything in literature is really the aspect of us that we've ignored and choose not to face, but by doing so, we're denying it a place in the light of day. So of course our media (for all media, by definition, are kinds of writing) predict great world events before they happen. Events think themselves fictionally before they incarnate in flesh and blood, whether it shows up as The Wreck of the Titan or The Simpsons predicting both 9/11 and Trump's election. This cunning life is working within us whenever we watch a movie, read a book, or create any work of art. It is working toward the time when it can be integrated into the great body of the collective psyche. Literature wants to become conscious. Fiction wants to become real.

To heal as a species is to let the written speak. We must take fiction at face value, not as something entertaining or cathartic, but as something more real than everyday life. Only then can we invest "everyday life" with the reality heretofore only found in fiction. This will be painful: we invented writing in the first place to hide from our experience of that life. But it will be worth it. Speech will be kind of writing; writing will be a kind of speech. The fictive will be real; the real will be fictive. Life will return to a dead world.

Pray for the books.

The Final Problem: Sherlock Holmes, Trauma, and the Nature of Identity

Here's a paper I wrote for my class on Victorian literature and art. Enjoy!



There are two ways for the whole to relate to its parts. In one, the whole occurs as a function of the parts, where parts combine and rearrange themselves mechanically to create a generalization, an abstraction. In the other, the parts occur as a function of the whole. Here, the parts are expressions of the whole, which is present—wholly—in each of those parts. Here, the whole reproduces itself, even perpetuates itself—through the parts. The parts are the way the whole “wholes.” In the first, the whole is an abstract, generalized concept, ultimately unreal. In the second, the whole is the reality of the part, not “apart” from it, reproducing its own qualities intensively throughout. In one, the whole occurs as the uniform abstraction of what parts have in common. In the other, the parts express—in their differences—different metamorphoses of that whole. In one, the whole is something reached by a consensus, a least common denominator. In the other, the whole expresses itself through the differences of the parts. One opposes identity and difference. The other furthers identity through difference.

Following the example of Henri Bortoft, I will call the first relation of whole to part “unity in multiplicity” and the second “multiplicity in unity.” (Bortoft Location 1031) For “unity in multiplicity,” unity holds itself inviolate and can only relate to multiplicity as something “outside.” Thus, the only unity is that of the atomistic part. For “multiplicity in unity,” however, multiplicity is something in unity, not opposed to it. Multiplicity, together, makes a unity that is not inviolate but instead composite. Unity in multiplicity sees multiplicity as a threat to unity. Multiplicity in unity sees multiplicity as unity’s necessary sustenance. One identity is exclusive; the other is inclusive.

These two models of relating the whole to its parts can occur in human beings both individually and in groups. As such, we can read history and the products of history as the interactions of these two models of identity. Exclusion, or unity in multiplicity, sees difference as a threat. If a nation, a culture, or a person has an identity, this model sees the intrusion of another identity as a threat to the first. Partes extra partes, anything foreign, anything deviant, threatens the coherence of the party line. On the other hand, inclusion as partes intra partes sees every different identity as an elaboration of its own. The “other” here is always an extension, a perpetuation, a metamorphosis of the “same.”

However, a political mindset bent toward inclusion in this sense has never existed. Every culture, to be itself, sees the other as a threat to that “itself.” This is obvious for autocratic or authoritarian governments. However, even democratic cultures—in their talks of bi- or non-partisan politics—cannot get away from a “partisan” model, where even if there is to be “tolerance” of one side for another, the sides remain separate. And even if one side were to disappear or be absorbed into the other, this is always at the expense of the side that disappears or is absorbed. A model in which one political perspective becomes itself more by becoming the other has never entered consciousness. The other and the same are always opposed.

However, this unity in multiplicity is nevertheless only a permutation or metamorphosis of that multiplicity in unity. Exclusive identity is a way inclusive identity forgets itself. However, this observation means that we can treat an ostensibly “exclusive” relationship of whole to parts as one where that relationship is inclusive. A “self-subsistent” whole is always undermined by the wholes of its parts and, indeed, can only say it is a whole in the inclusive sense of the word. Every identity is constituted by difference, and the more it pretends to define itself, the more violently unconscious is that constitution.

This paper will examine the relationship between these two models of identity. If it is true that exclusive identity is only a permutation or metamorphosis of inclusive identity, the question arises: why does it conceal itself in this way. Why does identity pretend to oppose itself to difference when it strongly depends on it? We seek to discover this origin, and thereby we undertake a “genealogy of exclusion.” And to discover where the illusion of “unity in multiplicity” begins, we must find the ways a totalitarian unity relies on what opposes it. In Freudian terms, we must find the return of the repressed. By doing this, the original act wherein multiplicity in unity veils itself becomes apparent, repeats itself like a forgotten trauma.

As a part of this, we are also seeking way to heal and integrate this trauma into the body politic of modern identity. We are seeking not only the original veiling of inclusive identity in exclusion, but also the means whereby that inclusive identity can unveil itself once more. By finding the emergence of the repressed inclusion, we are looking for what happens as it does so, that we can discern how to re-enact this process for the sake of healing and insight.

But we must find a starting place for this analysis. In pondering the history of identity in the sense we have been describing it, we realize that the model of exclusive identity has never been more dominant than in the Victorian era of British history. In this epoch, the triumph of unity over multiplicity became absolute and unquestioned: the few control the many, the rich beat down the poor, men control women, the sun never sets on the Empire. Britain, as the ultimate avatar of “identity,” opposes any dissenting threat to that identity. There can be no dissent, no rebellion, no contrary social mores. Difference is outlawed.

This period will be our starting place. We must find a place in the Victorian relationship of part to whole wherein an authentic relationship of multiplicity to unity occurs. And while there are a few places that could serve for this purpose, for ease of analysis, I will choose the Sherlock Holmes canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is a character who defies Victorian convention: he is improper, wears disguises, is a drug user, and associates with the lowest strata of society. And yet, as a detective, he ultimately serves the law and order of Victorian society. In fact, he is indispensable, as any casual reader of the canon will know. This makes Sherlock Holmes an incarnation of a reliance on difference, of multiplicity in unity. Sherlock Holmes therefore is the return of Victorian society’s repressed. The bulk of this paper will, therefore, consist in reading the Holmes canon to discern the return of inclusion from inclusion.

However, in reading the Sherlock Holmes canon, we will read it in a way proper to multiplicity in unity. Only such a reading will be appropriate for the subject at present, which is the self-forgetting and return from repression of that inclusive identity. To do anything else would be to oppose ourselves to the text as something outside, an act that implicitly exclusionary. By doing this, we would only ourselves with the dynamic we are trying to study. However, by reading the text in an inclusive way we will come to realize the ways in which things beyond the text can perpetuate themselves in the text through its movements, not unlike the flow of water in and out of an eddy in a river.

But how can we do this? By reading it for a wholeness or identity in the text that transfigures itself into all of its parts without losing that identity. We will look for that element in it which reproduces itself in each of its parts, that in it which organizes and orders the canon as a whole, as a gestalt. Naturally, this is not a meaning or even a set of meanings but rather a movement. For inclusive identity, as something that perpetuates itself through its parts, is far more like a verb than a noun. Inclusive identity is what happens when you slice an apple with a knife: here, the wholeness can be reduced to neither the apple nor the knife nor the counter but instead the slicing. Reading Sherlock Holmes in this way, we will read it for the verb that occurs throughout the text, for which all the entities in the text (whether they be words, sentences, chapter headings, characters, settings, etc.) only serve as an expedient means.

But we cannot read the whole canon in this way. This would be ungainly and impractical. Instead, we will look for a place in the canon where this implicit movement, this “verb,” this inclusive quality, comes most fully into view. This is following the scientific method of Goethe, who looked for the archetypal manifestation of what he was studying, not abstracting from it from many iterations of it, but seeing where the “Ur-Phenomenon” of that object of study comes most fully to the fore. It is our thesis that this inclusive quality reveals itself most clearly in The Final Problem and The Return of Sherlock Holmes, with the conflict between Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty, and most specifically with the literal events involving Holmes’ apparent death at the Reichenbach Falls. Once we uncover this movement, we will then apply our discovery to features of the whole canon and, thereupon, to the whole Victorian epoch and the history of identity as a whole.

If we take Sherlock Holmes as an embodiment of the return of inclusive identity from repression in exclusive identity, we could say that Professor James Moriarty is the inversion of exclusive identity. In The Final Problem, Holmes describes him as the paragon of Victorian values:

“His career has been an extraordinary one. He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the Binomial Theorem, which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it he won the Mathematical Chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearance, a most brilliant career before him.” (Doyle 440)

Moriarty, as the Victorian Wunderkind extraordinaire, is the perfect embodiment of exclusive identity. He is a “man of good birth,” inducted by default into the upper strata of the Victorian society that championed it. He received “an excellent education,” and not only that, but pursued a career in mathematics. Mathematics is the science of exclusion. Mathematics and logic implicitly or explicitly rely on Aristotle’s “law of excluded middle,” where one term is either equal to another term or unequal, where difference is always opposed to identity. James Moriarty is a caricature of exclusive identity; in a sense, he is exclusion

But if one excludes the middle, one can only ever leap to the other side. For Moriarty has abnegated his Victorian mores:

…the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. (440)

Moriarty is the embodiment of Victorian exclusive identity, but he abandons that identity. However, he does not abandon exclusion. He has merely flip-flopped. The Victorian paragon he once was, he now opposes; what he once opposed, he now is.

This exclusionary quality even appears in the description given of his countenance. In the first conversation he has with Holmes, Moriarty appears, “clean-shaven, pale, and ascetic-looking, retaining something of the professor in his features.” He moved from side to side “in a curiously reptilian fashion” and peered at Holmes “with great curiosity in his puckered eyes.” These descriptions are of a predator. Moriarty, with no hair, no pigment, no joy, has opposed himself to the milling throngs of life. He is an observer, a detached analyst, a mathematician of being. All this can be summed up by saying that Moriarty “stands back,” for he does not participate. He waits, watches, and then pounces.

The first words that Moriarty says to Holmes evince this reptilian quality: “you have less frontal development than I would have expected…It is a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing gown” (441) Whatever else this means, the surprise Moriarty shows at Holmes for having “less frontal development” points to the reality we have been alluding to. For neither Holmes nor Moriarty have frontal development. Holmes, of course, is the detached observer, always noting developments, reading the crime scene, etc. However, Moriarty’s eyes, as we have seen above, are “puckered.” That is, they do not look toward the front but instead inward, backward, restrained, retained. They hold onto themselves, never leaping but only, as Nietzsche would say, “blinking.” (Nietzsche 13) And all exclusion “blinks.” It stands back, never acting but only watching, erecting an absolute barrier between thinking and doing, between identity and difference. Identity cannot change without losing itself: to itself, it must be changeless. And Moriarty, the professor of mathematics, with his restrained eyes, perpetually thinks himself.

As such, an exchange on the possibility of knowing then takes place:

“‘You evidently don’t know me,’ said he. “ ‘On the contrary,’ I answered, ‘I think it is fairly evident that I do. Pray take a chair. I can spare you five minutes if you have anything to say.’ “ ‘All that I have to say has already crossed your mind,’ said he. “ ‘Then possibly my answer has crossed yours,’ I replied. (Doyle 441)

Here, Holmes and Moriarty perfectly know each other. Any action the one does is foreseen by the other, and so neither does anything. The intellect has stalemated action; identity has trapped difference. This recapitulates exclusive identity as a whole: it traps the possibility of change. In this game of identity, no change can ever take place, since change by its very nature violates identity. The next lines put this sentiment in startling brevity:

“ ‘You stand fast?’ “ ‘Absolutely.’ (440-441)

In exclusion, the only option is to “stand fast,” to remain what one is, to never relinquish the hold one has upon himself, to never become but only to be forever and ever. As if to further elaborate this point, Moriarty then takes out—not a pistol—but “a memorandum-book in which he had scribbled some dates” (442). Moriarty, who then goes on to recount the places and times that Holmes had crossed his path, is doing what exclusion always does and never stops doing: think. Mathematically, abstractedly, Moriarty has forgone action.

But this cannot last forever, as we see in one of the following paragraphs:

“‘Tut, tut,’ said he. ‘I am quite sure that a man of your intelligence will see that there can be but one outcome to this affair. It is necessary that you should withdraw. You have worked things in such a fashion that we have only one resource left. It has been an intellectual treat to me to see the way in which you have grappled with this affair, and I say, unaffectedly, that it would be a grief to me to be forced to take any extreme measure. You smile, sir, but I assure you that it really would.’ “ ‘Danger is part of my trade,’ I remarked. “ ‘That is not danger,’ said he. ‘It is inevitable destruction. You stand in the way not merely of an individual, but of a mighty organization, the full extent of which you, with all your cleverness, have been unable to realize. You must stand clear, Mr. Holmes, or be trodden under foot.’ (442)

The stalemate of exclusion does not continue. Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty, two embodiments of exclusive identities, each seek to destroy the other, and here we can discern a movement away from exclusion altogether. Exclusion, in its nature, seeks to end what it excludes, to ignore it, to suppress it, even to kill it. However, to do this is to kill itself, for an exclusive identity with nothing left to exclude loses its reason to be. Exclusion is therefore literally suicidal. In perpetuating itself, it inches closer and closer to its own death. By eliminating every enemy, by killing what does not fit its model, it is left with no referent by which it can define that model. In a struggle like this, one is either killed or loses one’s footing: what Moriarty correctly discerns as “inevitable destruction.” Exclusion will give way, like it or not.

This is what Freud observed when he discerned the existence of a “death drive” in the human psyche. In his Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he noticed that in the compulsion victims of trauma have to repeat that trauma in a disguised, symbolic way, a drive more fundamental than all others is showing itself: the drive to return to “an old state of things, an initial state from which the living entity has at one time or another departed and to which it is striving to return by the circuitous paths along which its development leads” (Freud 613). Let us read Freud’s “old state of things,” this state devoid of tension, as the original condition where identity perpetuates itself through difference. This is pure movement, loose, fluid, lithe, uncontaminated by the fixity of exclusion. Exclusion repels, steels itself, defends, and as we have seen, it necessarily seeks its end. Freud’s death drive, then, would be the way the original contradiction of identity in multiplicity seeks to right itself, to liberate of difference from the prison of identity, to bring the life of difference. to an identity cut off from it.

The repetition of trauma, then, is the way difference seeks to perpetuate itself in and through a stubborn identity. This makes sense, of course: trauma is always some violation of a perceived boundary, a safety compromised, a bubble popped, what Freud calls “any excitations from outside which are powerful to break through the protective shield.” (607) Freud notes that war veterans who have injuries rarely experience trauma, whereas those who don’t sustain those injuries endlessly repeat the trauma to process it (610). We can see the injury as the mark of difference on the stubbornness of the body’s identity, and we can read trauma in the uninjured veteran as an attempt of difference to establish itself freely through its exclusive contours.

As a side note, we should note that the characteristics we have noted of Holmes’ and Moriarty’s identities bear the mark of dissociation from an early trauma. Both aloof, both unconcerned with human relationships, both somewhat “inhuman,” they nevertheless seek out fast-paced dangerous situations somewhat compulsively. As such, we could read Holmes and Moriarty’s penchant for crime (whether that shows up as solving or perpetrating them) as ways to relive an early violence against their person. On this note, it is worth noting that the otherwise absurd work Ms. Holmes of Baker Street hits wrongly on the right chord when it asserts that Holmes is a woman in disguise: Holmes does have a crisis of identity, but it is one of trauma and not one of sex or gender (Bradley et. al. 1). Holmes is also addicted to cocaine, and addiction is common for victims of trauma. As such, both are trying to understand, to process, to “master’ an original violence. And this is dangerous for them, as it often is in repeating dangerous traumas.

As Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty make their way to their “inevitable destruction” at the Reichenbach Falls, this trauma—and the difference in it that seeks to weave freely through identity—is compulsively trying to consummate itself. More broadly, the tension of exclusion is here striving to give way. This can happen in two ways. First, identity can perish altogether: it can die, losing itself in the waterfall’s crags and foam. However, it can also maintain itself through the release of tension, coming to terms with difference by realizing not exclusive but inclusive identity. In one, identity would rather die than include; in the other, identity is reborn in inclusion. And we notice that Moriarty and Holmes embody these responses, respectively.

Although The Final Problem ends with Holmes ostensibly perishing in the depths of the waterfall locked in mortal combat with Moriarty, as the subsequent story The Adventure of the Empty House makes clear, Holmes survives. Specifically, won the fight against Moriarty and hurriedly climbed down the cliff side to safety (Doyle 456-457). Reading the waterfall as the portent of exclusion’s extinction, the way it swallows Moriarty and not Holmes points to the two ways that identity responds to the threat of inclusion. Moriarty, as one who flip-flops from the upper crust to the sordid underbelly of society, dies. But Holmes lives. And this happens because Holmes can entertain the possibility of identity in and through difference.

Holmes is removed and abstracted, yes, but he can also impeccably impersonate people very different from himself. He is an actor. Moreover, he can discern the significance of the concrete, reading the significance of a stain on a boot or the length of one’s fingernails in solving a crime. These factors point to a peculiarity of Holmes’ character: he is able to contain tension. As an actor, he can keep track of both his identity and the identity of that person he is impersonating. This is multiplicity in unity, inclusive identity, identity that persists in and by means of change and difference. This propensity toward inclusive also shows up in the details of his observational method: he does not only notice the bric-a-brac of what he sees but the way those bric-a-brac combine to create the details of a scene. He sees neither just the individual details nor the abstracted whole but instead the ways in which those details contribute to the whole. Without its inherent multiplicity, without the relationships that those multiple parts form, without the inclusive factor that arises thereby, he would be able to do no work. In both impersonating and deducing, he can contain the tension of difference in the cauldron of identity.

Speaking in terms of trauma, this means that Sherlock Holmes embodies the healthy response to it. Typically, the trauma repeats itself compulsively in a way that the person is unable to consciously understand. He just does it; he does not know why. He acts out and then pulls himself back to the conscious attitude, in a cycle. He is unable to integrate the trauma’s perspective into his identity. He is unable to entertain the difference the trauma is trying to weave through his being. And in this way (often literal muscular) tension emerges, a defense, a rigid wall against difference that integrates the identity even more. Holmes, however, is broad enough in his identity that he can maintain it between both poles. He can “be both” consciously. And it is only this that enables the trauma to weave difference throughout an identity without killing it altogether.

In the waterfall drama, this means that Sherlock Holmes undertakes the same descent that Moriarty does, but with one crucial difference: he holds on. In descending into the bottom of the waterfall, where exclusion must necessarily give way, he retains his hold. That is, he remains conscious. He keeps a hold of himself; he doesn’t let go. And yet he uses this grip not to ascend but to descend. In other words, he does not try to escape the pit; he goes right into it. That is, what Moriarty does involuntarily, Holmes does voluntarily. Moriarty’s compulsion is Holmes’ volition. Moriarty falls; Holmes climbs down. In terms of identity, this means that Holmes faces the pain of his original trauma, the unbearable movement of difference that threatens self-contained identity, and does so with his identity intact. He does not die but instead only pretends to die. In the Heideggerian vocabulary, he has authentically and resolutely let himself be called forth to his ownmost Being-guilty (Heidegger 353). He “plays out” death and, freed from the compulsion to seek it, rejoins the land of the living.

We thereby arrive at the following formula: Moriarty is identity that comes to terms with difference by losing itself; Holmes is identity that comes to terms with difference by perpetuating itself through difference. In other words, Moriarty is the death drive fulfilled through death; Holmes is the death drive lived through and satisfied without having to die. Moriarty is the futility of literal death; Holmes is the hope of life within and beyond death.

If we now come to our original question, we can ask: what does the emergence of inclusion into exclusion teach us about the origin of exclusion? We have discovered that inclusion emerges into exclusion by a descent: into trauma, into pain, into the threat of difference’s movement, either through literal death or a figurative death whereby unity rediscovers itself in multiplicity. This descent is also an immersion, a headlong rushing into, an enclosure. Each permutation of this movement is one that goes from the expansive toward the compressed, from the outside in, from the above down. It is one of compression, of condensation, of densification. As Holmes must descend into the waterfall’s depths to be “reborn” in this way, identity must always descend to perpetuate itself beyond exclusion.

However, if identity must descend, must intensify, must condensate, to free itself into inclusion, this suggests that the original problem that precipitated inclusion’s self-forgetfulness is descent, is intensification, is condensation. We therefore suggest that exclusion is the repetition of an original, primordial descent, intensification, and condensation. Moreover, notice that these are all words we could use to describe tension, and tension always occurs together with some trauma. Therefore, if trauma can be read as the attempt of difference to weave itself freely through identity, might we also suggest that this is traumatic not only for the exclusive identity proper to the person but also the inclusive identity that weaves through him or her? The trauma repetition compulsion, then, is not proper to exclusion itself but, instead, the inclusion that ontologically precedes it, that lies within and around it, what the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls “the anonymous existence, of which my body is continually the trace” (Merleau-Ponty 370). Trauma repetition, and therefore all tension, is therefore a battle between inclusion and the exclusion that occurs within it as something that “it” surely sees as a cancer.

We therefore suggest, finally, that exclusion was imposed on inclusion as something that upset its freedom of movement. This is the trauma that exclusion violently resists and inclusion vehemently pursues. Exclusion longs to perpetuate itself as itself; inclusion longs to perpetuate itself as other. Inclusion sees the imposition of exclusion as a violence that it strives to repair; exclusion sees this reparation as violence. And while they are both right, they are also both wrong. For the more that exclusion strives to perpetuate itself apart from inclusion, the more inclusion resists those efforts by trying to weave through exclusion. Neither acknowledges the possibility, nay, the reality that trauma is the way inclusion repeats the pain of being passively violated by exclusion by actively violating what has violated it. No one except Sherlock Holmes, that is.

For if trauma is really the way inclusion mimics its violation by exclusion, the way it revenges itself on that exclusion, both sides of being are traumatized. Inclusion feels victimized by exclusion and exclusion feels victimized by inclusion; neither accepts the other. In our presentation of Sherlock Holmes’ death, we observe that he does what very few iterations of being anywhere do: accept the violence done to him as a revelation of his own being. This ends the war: for as soon as exclusion stops fighting, inclusion has nothing to fight for anymore, for inclusion is paradoxically in a war against war. By accepting inclusion as a part of its own being, exclusion forgets itself and so gives to inclusion a cathartic repetition of its own self-forgetting in exclusion. By forgetting himself, Holmes undergoes the original and perpetual pain of being for his own separate existence. And in doing so, he not only heals himself; Holmes heals being.