Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Part II: Solidarity and Sexuality

Part II: Solidarity, Sexuality and the Liquification of the Body

Whether by happenstance or causal connection, John Paul II, and Benedict directly in the title of his most recent encyclical letter, have taken up the same prophetic call of Dostoevsky and de Lubac. The solution to the social monism that plagues the modern world is not the re-structuring of institutions, but rather, a new way of seeing the world, of “sensing” interdependence. In the end, this means a new understanding of the unity of humanity founded not upon a human seeing, but upon the vision from the Cross. This vision does not see a human aggregate but rather a profoundly interconnected community, a human family, intrinsically ordered to a peaceful unity in Christ. The meaning of aggregate and communio are deeply significant to papal and Thomistic teachings on solidarity. John Paul II reflects:
Beyond human and natural bonds, already so close and strong, there is discerned in the light of faith a new model of the unity of the human race, which must ultimately inspire our solidarity. This supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons, is what we Christians mean by the word communion.”
And Benedict concurs:
We do not live alongside one another purely by chance; all of us are progressing along a common path as men and women, and thus as brothers and sisters…. Without this transcendent foundation society is a mere aggregation of neighbours, not a community of brothers and sisters called to form one great family.
If humanity is fundamentally not an aggregate of individual human beings but profoundly a single unity, then there must be a structure intrinsic to every aspect of human interaction. Graham McAleer argues that at the center of John Paul II’s sexual ethics and political philosophy is the same gift-structure modeled on the self-diffusiveness of God’s own Being. It is to this intrinsic interconnection as the grounding of the meaning of human solidarity that I now turn.

Sexuality and Solidarity

In the first chapter of his book, “Desire and Violence,” McAleer lays the groundwork for a Thomistic theory of the body underpinning, he claims, John Paul II’s theology of the Body. The relationship between matter and form for Thomas is best described as a concreatum. In this understanding, “the desire of the parts for one another deposes each in the service of the other.” Such a theory contrasts with Averroes’ description of congregatum and Giles of Rome’s aggregatum in which there is a certain violence to the union of form and matter. For Thomas, “because desire is always already united with its object, and has – at the very least in promise – already attained a fullness of being, desire is at peace.” Thomas’ theory is thus a theory of promise and peace, modeled, argues McAleer, on a prior acceptance of the bodily resurrection. He claims that “Thomas’s deep philosophical objection to Averroes is the implication that if the material principle of our bodies cannot participate in beatitude in some fashion similar to our souls, then metaphysically a discord has been built into the human.” This notion undergirds all his anthropology, placing Thomas in opposition to all theories that pose a fundamental division with the structure of desire, from Schopenhauer to Foucault, Haraway, and beyond. It also places him in close congruence with the communio social theories that we saw above in John Paul II and Benedict, rejecting the notion of aggregate for community and family as a description of human interconnectedness.

McAleer next describes Thomas’s pseudo-Dionysian ecstatic structure of being. This means that the structure of human desire imitates the structure of Being, which is completely self-diffusive, both ethically and metaphysically. Thus, “Thomas describes a metaphysical order which, in ascending in perfection becomes increasingly ecstatic.” Another way of stating this is that “natural appetite seeks the divine likeness as its own perfection.” There is a peace structure at the center of human desire. This peace structure is fourfold: of the individual toward conservation, the species for offspring, the genus for community, and the universal for God. McAleer summarizes beautifully this inner structure of human appetite:
To begin to capture the implications of the ecstatic structure of desire as presented by Thomas in these passages, we can ask: what is the consummation of desire for each of the four levels of human desire? As we move through these four levels it will be seen that the least ecstatic desire converts its object into itself while the most ecstatic desire is converted into its object.
Thus, at the lowest level of desire, preservation turns food into itself, such that the Other barely appears. At the second level, however, the other appears in a child, rendering the parents’ desire truly ecstatic. The self-diffusiveness of form, of reason that is capable of universality, impresses itself on the sensual, expanding its ecstasy, just as invertedly the capacity for ecstasy is offered by the matter-desire to form. At the third level, other’s can appear in a political sense, and at the four level, finally, “desire is converted, having completed a movement of humility, and made into the Other. A (spiritual) food now converts desire rather than desire converting (physical) food.” Thus, while for Foucault the soul is no more than a technique for power and the body can never be innocent of power, and for Merleau-Ponty “one kind of violence (Marxist) was at least preferable to another (capitalist),” for Aquinas “the flesh participates in reason the more generous flesh is, the more other-directed it becomes.”

Two other notions must be supplied here. First, Thomas has a double notion of sensuality in relation to the Fall. When reason turned against God at the Fall, resisting its own ecstatic dynamism, sensuality rightly rejected reason. Yet sensuality anteriorly needs reason in order to direct its ecstatic nature toward what is universally good. Thus, before the Fall, human nature is both morally transgressive and naturally ecstatic. There is a natural resistance in the flesh that separates me from you. As Merleau-Ponty points out, when I shake your hand, there is a dual conformity of the hand that is never without resistance and tension. And as Foucault has argued, as expressed in this case, power is internal to all relations. However, this natural propensity of the flesh to simulate nutrition, to turn you into me, is simultaneously an ecstatic drive toward the other. This ecstasy requires the intellect, which, as Aristotle claimed, is in a way all things and desires unity with all things. Thus, while the most primordial drive of sensuality is toward ecstasy, by means of original sin, the simultaneous drive to turn the other into myself is emphasized and “intensified historically.” Since the principle of individuation does not allow one to become one with another, a “metaphysical conversion” is required wherein matter is given the ecstatic form it desires.

This metaphysical conversion is the second critical notion to be examined here. Thomas takes seriously the role that material individuation plays in the human community, anticipating Dostoevsky’s concern that “every one strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible” from every one else. If the person is to be truly healed in his or her sensuality, the body “must become a wounded body.” Thomas begins with an individuated body, but he then introduces “the other into the individuated body through the wound.” From the very first moment of creation, the human being was modeled upon the person of Christ and his crucified body. The “split tissue in Christ’s resurrected body scars as glory” such that the natural law was always anteriorly “a theory of appetites understood on the model of the wounds of Christ.” Through the liquification of the flesh by means of the wound, the other can always live in me. I would like to close this portion with a long quote that expresses significantly the necessity and capacity for liquification on the part of the human community:
But nothing is able to be transformed into another except insofar as it recedes in some fashion from its form, because form makes something one, and so preceding the division of penetration [that is, the lover’s penetration of the beloved] is another division by which the lover is separated from himself tending thereby into the beloved…. Because nothing recedes from itself unless dissolved from what holds it inside itself, just as a natural thing is not detached from its form unless the dispositions are dissolved by which the form is retained in the matter, so it must be that the lover is removed from the boundaries inside of which the lover is held and on account of this love is said to liquefy the heart, because a liquid is not contained by its boundaries.
This liquification is possible only through the wound of Christ that exemplarily cures the world of violence interiorly, rejecting the way of the Leviathan – the way of self-preservation – for the way of self-diffusiveness – the way of Love.

Markel, SJ

No comments: