Wednesday, October 19, 2011

notes on Graham Ward's 'schizoid Christ'...

Graham Ward is a theologian who will be the new Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, beginning in Fall 2012. He has written extensively on a range of topics, particularly the relationships between theology and culture. The following are some notes I took while reading his essay, "The Schizoid Christ", as part of a systematic theology seminar.

In the essay, which is included in a collection of essays related to Radical Orthodoxy, Ward is essentially working against a conception of the self as an individual subject who is in control of its own consciousness and identity. He speaks of the 'operations' of Christ rather than an 'identity' of Christ. he would thus rather "examine this profound theological nexus as a mobile site for the production of desire and belief, love and hope." (p. 229)

Some may be taken aback by his use of the term 'schizoid', as it infers the mental instability of schizophrenia, which most Christians would be uncomfortable with as a description of Jesus Christ. However, Ward - drawing from Deleuze and Guattari's philosophical writings - suggests that "'schizophrenization' is therapeutic" inasmuch as it allows a variety of representations the opportunity to show themselves. So, the self that is free to be 'schizoid' can apparently, in some sense, reveal more of itself than a self constrained by the traditional understanding of selfhood as 'identity'. The reliability of such a view is not something I can address at present.

So, Ward sees a certain kind of Christology that can be gleaned from this approach, a Christology that "emerges from a participation in which we are responding to representations of this figure." (p. 229) He then develops three characteristics of what he calls "Christic operation." (Ibid) The Messiah, he says, "is not just a person but an eschatological operation." (p. 230) Using the biblical account of the woman who is ill with a flow of blood (Mark 5:24-34), Ward speaks of Christic operations in terms of touch, flow, and relation. He sees all three of these as characteristic of Christ as 'schizoid'.

For the woman in the passage mentioned, Ward suggests that there are two moments of 'knowing': first, she knows in her body that something has taken place, and then she grasps (at least to some degree) what has happened to her.  How, asks Ward, can we develop a better understanding of these two forms of 'knowing'?  His answer is that we must become more attuned to the ways that we know bodily; that is, both types of knowing are related to the body. (p. 231)  Ward points out that there are many references to touch in Jesus' interactions recorded in the Gospels.  He sees a connection between the statement 'Your faith has made you well' (or similar statements, depending on the translation) and the touch of Jesus.

Is there a deeper reason for this connection?  Ward attempts to draw one out.  He says that active touching between persons involves an "intentional structure." (p. 234)  By this he means intention in the Husserlian sense of the word, which refers to an "object made meaningful for me." (Ibid)  In other words, when I touch something, that object gains a new kind of meaning that I could not know prior to the touch.  Likewise, when I am touched, whatever touches me also transfers meaning to me.  Touching affects whatever it touches.  But this leads to a question: Is it touching itself that makes the difference, or is it that we humans are doing the touching?  Clearly it seems that for humans (and, if there are any, other similar beings) touch is meaningful precisely because the search for meaning is part of what makes us human.  Without a recognition that there is the possibility of meaning, touch would not seem to be meaningful.

Additionally, touch depends upon a direct relation between two objects.  This seems obvious enough.  Ward says, "touch... cannot communicate to a third party." (p. 235)  That is, I can never directly present to you my experience of touch.  I can describe it, and I can even touch you in a similar way, but one experience of touch will never be synonymous with any other experience of touch.  Every touch is unique, since the person who experiences the touch is unique in their humanity.  But this, of course, raises the question of whether the self can be completely stripped of all identity, since it would seem that there still needs to be some sense of 'self' that is solid enough for the experiences of touch that happen to me to be my experiences of touch.

Ward explains that the intimacy created by touch is a "'knowingness', not a knowledge." (p. 235)  What does this mean?  It is not, he says, a "bringing to identity..." (Ibid)  In other words, there remains a bodily recognition of touch that is not symmetrical to any rational conception of knowledge.  He says, "The body perceives itself in relation and knows the nature of that relation." (p. 236)  This is a different sort of knowing than a standard epistemological model, it seems.  It is a knowledge that flows between bodies in the relationships that exist between persons.

Ward then suggests that "the economy of [the body's] response [to touch] is governed by desire." (p. 237)  Ward relates this desire to intimacy, and then develops a further phenomenological account of intimacy, including the possibility of intimacy with God.  In this regard, he quotes a section from Thomas Aquinas on participation with God.  It is the participation with God that constitutes the highest form of intimacy, and all desire is an expression of the desire to be known by God, in this intimate, touched expression of 'knowing'.

Distance, explains Ward, isn't necessarily spatial; distance has no proximity.  It is more a matter of exteriority.  It infers alterity, irreducibility, excess.  What's more, he states, "There is no access... outside of participation." (p. 238)  Here is one of the main principles of a RO-inspired theology - the ontological participation of all things in God, such that to lack participation in God is to lack being.  Thus, distance and a lack of participation are not synonymous.  Ward says, "It is not that distance escapes representation, in fact it demands [it]... but... distance exceeds chains and combinations of signifiers..." (p. 238)  So, this opens up a more multivalent conception of distance, one that could include both those who are distant from God ontologically, and those who are distant from God in other ways.

Intimacy, says Ward, is "mutual abiding" and this gives the impression that both God and the person have a role to play in the relationship. (p. 239)  But, there is an "asymmetrical reciprocity" at work as well.  Salvation, and the "operations of grace" move into "an ever-deepening participation in God." (p. 244)  This is a rich idea that deserves further unpacking, however Ward does not seem to do that here.  Nevertheless, it seems clear that God is doing a work that we, as human beings, cannot do, drawing us into intimacy with Godself.

Ward then says that "there is only one motion, because there is only one telos..." (p. 245)  This is to say that whether we see God's action in relation to the creation as kenotic or 'pleromatic', or whether we sense ourselves becoming more intimate or less intimate with God, it is all related to the same movement of God's grace, and our participation - indeed, any notion of participation - requires that we recognize this single movement.

To sum up: Grace includes an element of touch.  Community is grace, because it involves people 'touching' each others' lives.  Touch is more important than words.  Healing is a sign of salvation, and we can all bring healing to someone through touching them, physically or otherwise.

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