The professor and the builder were visiting a gallery. They went to see a controversial retrospective of a Somalian born Dutch national artist called Ayaan van de Paddo. The exhibition was controversial amongst the Muslims of the city, because her oeuvre tended to follow a consistent theme: naked female bodies, painted, as if tattooed, with words of the Quran. Her message was in some way political, relating to the treatment of women in the Islamic world. The juxtaposition was too much for some of the believers. The outside courtyard of gallery was subject to constant noisy protest, a sea of brown and black voices crying out, sounding inside the gallery like waves of an angry post-colonial ocean about to break, or perhaps already broken, up on the shore of this strange Albion. The protest came courtesy of the local university’s Islamic Union, with much flag and effigy burning, angry sheikh speeches and quivering voiced sister vox-pops to the media. The outrage was not confined to this country, having spread as far south as South Africa and as far east as Indonesia, where the Dutch embassy suffered a bomb attack the previous day (no one serious injured, but the West now panicked and outraged). Of course, like other similar mass hysterics, there was a deeper religio-political wound at the heart of all this.
Wounds, upon bodies of all kinds, were on the builder’s mind, when he and his friend came upon the central, offending image of the exhibition: a large photograph of a woman’s naked back, a young and beautiful eastern back, apart from a series of awful lacerations and cuts, clearly the (very real) result of a severe beating. Upon her back were projected those words of Surah An Nisa (4:34) regarding the relationship of men and women.
“That old chestnut again,” said the builder, grimly.
But the professor was in no mood for post-colonial discourse, Islamic feminism or politics today. He was preoccupied with the subject matter of his current book: the triads of Proclus as they related to divine emanation in the Neoplatonism of Kabbalah. “The three moments of the Neoplatonic world-process, immanence in the cause, procession from the cause, and reversion to the cause: identity, difference and the overcoming of difference by identity. Procession creates individuality. So how can reversion still retain individuality?”
The builder was concerned with the artist’s work, and with the Muslims’ protest. However, he had brought his friend to the exhibition for a reason: to assist him in his research.
“Here’s the answer to your question, I think” he said, nodding in the direction of a gallery tour group who just entered from the southern wing. The tour guide was a beautiful Central Asian woman, dressed in a 1950′s Chanel style suit, but fashioned very strikingly out of tie dye rainbow coloured material. Her audience were clearly enraptured with her exposition of the metaphysics within Van Gough’s chair, the picture at the entrance to this room, her exotic melifluous vowels casting a spell over the rest of the room, so that soon the other visitors were drawn into the circle around her.
She flashed an exquisite wide smile at the builder as she gracefully led her group toward the Somalian photo, beside which the two friends had stood watching.
“You know her?” asked the professor.
“Yes, we met at a conference on architecture,” replied the builder, whistfully. “I’m surprised you don’t recognize her: she says she knows you, but perhaps you forget. She completed a PhD on Deleuze, the Body and Islam. You were at her viva.”
“Oh, of course. I thought she was teaching in Sydney.”
“No, she’s moved to London. To be with me, as a matter of fact.”
“Thank you. But listen for a moment. She knows all about identity, difference and the overcoming of difference by identity. It’s her bread and butter, so to speak. If there is anyone who can help you with your book, it is she.”
The gallery guide began her exposition by quoting the Quran.
The gallery guide’s speech:
And indeed We have created man, and We know what his ownself whispers to him. And We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. (50:16)
To God belongs the East and the West, wheresoever you look is the face of God. (2:115)
Everywhere we turn, there is God.
But everywhere is the creation of God.
So is God equivalent to the creation? Is the creation a veil that keeps this Creator hidden? But if the Creation is a hiding, then the act of Creation surely requires the Creator to contract its presence. But if God is contracted, then how can it be that the face of God is wherever we turn, for surely the verse intimates that the Face fills all space?
Van de Paddo has done something quite close to a metaphor of creation and the path to the truth. She has depicted a body, inscribed with the words of the Holy Book. This is very close to the truth. But it is only in her depiction of the body as cut that she fails as an artist, because the body of inscription suffers no cuts, if she could but understand. The body is impossible to cut because, as pure surface, it has nothing inside: or at least, nothing inside that can be accessed through cutting.
For the Creation is not so much a veil, as a body without organs, a space of pure surface, over which meaning plays out as adorning tattoo.
For those of you who are not conversant with modern philosophy, I am sure the phrase “body without organs” sounds most peculiar, almost sinister. The concept comes from the work of French philosopher Deleuze and the Italian psychoanalyst Guattari. In many ways, it is the apotheosis of our previous atheist century. Their other name for the body without organs is “the plane of immanence”. They believe it is a virtual domain from which all meaning derives as actualisation of possibilities (what I prefer to call inscriptions upon the body).
Why do they need to talk of a body without organs?
A body with organs is the old philosophy, which they wish to depart from. Because organs are internal to a body, they are “under the skin” of the body. So in a sense, organs provide the source of meaning for the body: they are the source of its vitality. And that was how the old philosophy – the philosophy of Plato, or Descartes, or Russell, or Freud for example – viewed meaning. The old philosophy would say: there are things in the world, whose true meaning is buried deep “under the skin”. If we can characterise what is “under the skin”, if we can develop an anatomy of these organs of the body, then we have a Single Logic that explains the meaning of the world.
A body with organs is also how the mainstream world religions view the cosmos. The truth is buried under it all: the Single Logic is in fact the Law of God, for instance.
But in the later philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, there is nothing under the surface, and there is no Single Logic. In this century, this fact has been established, we cannot argue with it. For we all understand now that, whenever we try to codify this Law, something escapes. Because life is always in flux. That if we ever try to say: this is exactly what a chair is, someone will find a chair that will violate those rules, but still be a chair in a different game. That when we say there is only one mode of Islamic practice, a thousand other Islamic practices will appear in competition, some as bifircations from others, some syncretic marriages with other cultures and so on. When we say, this is what America stands, or this is what Iran stands for, a multiplicity of alternatives appear to confront our assumptions.
Let’s relate the problem to Islam, because we stand now in front of this picture and can hear the angry cries of the students outside. If we say this is what the Quran or Injeel or Torah means, the same problem emerges. An interpretation that relates Quran to Kabbalah, an interpretation that relates Quran to my personal day today, an interpretation that relates Quran to the situation in Israel right now. Endless possible alternatives, where meaning flows from one point of departure (the Holy Book for example) to mate with alien territories and form new meanings (politics of contemporary Israel, my personal day, Kabbalah, etc).
And we can’t win. Say we were to fight the multiplicities and say: “The Quran should only be understood in terms of the historical data we have regarding its revelation and how the prophet’s socio-political context relates to our lives and society today.” Then we are still utilizing the holy book as a point of departure to mate with the science of history (how was history written in the time of the hadiths), with all the related problems of the history of history, and to mate this in turn with the poetry of analogy (saying “our society is like the society of Mecca at that time” means that we engage with the poetics of “likeness”).
Whenever we try to pin everything down to a Single Logic, all we do is generate a logic of many, to draw a line from one territory to another.
That is, there is nothing below the surface: there is no true single meaning of a chair, of America, of woman or Islam or even of the Quran: there are only flows of meanings that play upon the endless surface of reality, interacting, forming new meanings, generate and actualise new possibilities. The Cosmos is the Earth. Deleuze and Guattari write “The Earth is a body without organs. This body without organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles.”
The body without organs is linguistic. It is differences, truth and falsity, hot and cold, light and darkness. It is logical in nature (because difference is logic), but it not a single logic, because language (the differences) are dynamic, procreative and multiple. They are signs arrayed as generative multiplicities, chains of signification emerging through relativities. The Cosmos is multiple logics, bifircating and mating to form new logics. And this explains, incidentally, why Time is essential to the whole picture. The Cosmos is dynamic and temporal: the relative generation of signs is how we measure time, because that is how we become things, how we enter into practices, how we function in the world.
Is there no morality in the new philosophy? There is only one of fascism versus freedom. Deleuze says that if we insist – as a fundamentalist insists – that the logic is the Single Logic, then we engage in fascism and develop a “cancer” on the body without organs. But if we acknowledge that the logic is one of many, then we open ourselves up to wondrous possibilities, and life becomes a life fulfilled through creative exploration and openess toward new engagements and new actualisation.
The new philosophy is indeed in accord with the theme of multiplicity within the Holy Book. There, the variations and differences are the characterisation of life: life is multiplicities of speech, thought, language, in continual unfolding.
And amongst his signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and colors. Verily, in that are signs for those who know (30:21).
The Holy Book lists multiplicities, infinite variations as the meaning given to us in the Creation. And within its own text too, self-reflexively: Do they not reflect on the Quran ? if this book were from other than God, they would certainly find much variation and contradiction in it. (4:81) The Holy Book itself, as the microcosm of God’s Creation, is all variation and relativity!
To summarize: the Cosmos as we see it is characterised, actualised by the plane of immanence, an infinite body without organs. Everything we see, hear and utter is like tattoos being inscribed upon this body.
Let’s say we believe this, whether Muslim or not, as no one here wants to be called a fascist, after all!
So is this body without organs the body of God? Does our Cosmos of difference abide within God? Is God immanent to our vision?
No, God is not the body.
A parable. A king courts a lover, a maiden so modest that she never looks at her suitor, lowering her gaze to the ground when he is near. And so modest, she wears full burqa from head to toe, covering all her face, except her eyes. The king makes a gift for his lover: a pendant with a golden locket. The locket is not a normal locket, for it cannot be opened, and is in fact solid gold, without a space inside. But it is still a locket of sorts, because within the locket is an embossed image of the King’s face: but image is hidden, because the locket and the image are the same substance – they are all gold. The locket is pure gold and so his lover does not see the face, even though, as she places it around her neck, his face is as close to her as it can be. But the locket is alchemical, and its metal changes form according to the lover’s dress. When she wears her burqa and walks in the bright lights of the marketplace amongst the common folk and their daily transactions, the locket is pure gold and reveals nothing. But when she is alone in her bedchamber, the locket was such that, as she removes some of her burqa, its metal turns to crystal, and some aspects of the image appears as hints. The pendant is not the King. But the action of giving-as-love is what defines him for her. And as she removes her burqa, she knows her wedding day approaches.
The king is God. The lover is the body without organs, or what we call the sublimated Logos. This forms the Vine. The transforming pendant and the burqa is the process of inscription upon the body without organs: what we see as the Cosmos. These form the branches of the Vine.
We call this body the sublimated Logos, because the sublimation is sublimation to difference. This body is still a space of difference, in spite of its enabling multiplicitous actualisations, relativities and temporalities, its multiple dynamic becomings.
Inscription upon the body can become a righteous inscription or an inscription in prostitution. As we have said, for difference to be born, the Logos is sublimated, and the True Time is enabled.
Sometimes, this appears as a contraction of God, but this is only a psychological appearance. In reality, God never contracts: God’s actions are Love. And Love here takes the form of breathing into and casting out. The breathing into was first the Logos, the word that abides within each of us. But the Love Affair is supreme Romance, so there was a casting out, which sublimated the Logos into the form of the Vine, the domain the philosophers call the body without organs.
The body without organs – as the space of difference – is thus a corollary of the Love. God’s Love prescribes the body, because the Love’s strength entailed a casting out, and also yielded an inscription, a path across the body. As the chosen take their line of flight from north to south, from west to east, the body is inscribed with righteousness. The prostitute, once shamed, is then forgiven.
So is the body without organs a veil that hides us from the true reality?
God appears to us as a decider and a judge, and so God’s name is Judgement. Judgement is an act of Love, because Judgement enacted lays down a path of return to the Beloved. The love as laying down comes through God-as-judgement “hiding” itself – as sparks obscured – within all acts of inscription, within any and every sign that may be written down upon the body, within every thought, wish, action, time period. Within the cosmos. This is the submission of the signs: they all bow down to the beloved, because of the spark contained and mixed within.
Why do I qualify my use of “hide” here? It is not hiding, because God is wherever we turn. But the sparks are hidden – because the Lover wears her burqa, and the burqa relates to the pendant.
God-as-judgement must be present wherever we turn within this body without organs, must be a potential (the golden spark of potential) contained alongside the duller temptations and deviations of multiple potentials within signs.
It is in this sense that God is wherever we turn: God-as-Judgement is wherever we turn, because our space is the space of judgements-in-multiplicity, a body over which multiple logics may play. Righteous and sinful. But the sparks are embedded within the signs, so are wherever we turn. The restitution of these sparks will lead us to a righteous body, a body with righteousness(es) tattooed upon its surface. But we can’t see all the sparks in this lifetime. This is impossible. We cannot collect them in entirety because then we would see Judgement and become a prophet. But we can seek the sparks, which psychologically appear as the descent of the Shekhina-Sophia, a “revealing” of a “hidden” God.
But God is near in a different way: God-as-Love is near, knowing us: We know what his ownself whispers to him. The True Lover knows and recognizes completely his beloved (this is why God’s love is infinitely stronger than ours.) Understanding is nearness. The nature of the Romance dictates modesty, so keep our eyes to the ground, but the certainty of the knowing Lover provides all the sustenance we need: we are understood, so our Love is near.
Two modes of nearness. But nearness is still something that must play upon the body without organs, if that is all we see.
So how does God descend upon us directly, inscribing a path upon the body linguistically, if God is himself not a traveller, if God is not a nomad (or a branch) like man is? It is not a direct descent, not a direct inscription: it occurs through agents. This is necessary because the Cosmos is not us and we are not God. If we were the same, there would be no Love.
What is the agent that enables the descent of the Shekhina-Sophia, the agent that makes the sparks apparent? It is the Logos sublimated: the Truth “embedded within” us by God. This is why the lights can be situated upon our body without organs. God placed the source of light deep within us, further than any anatomy can capture: and from that place, the sparks derive, like stars projected upon a planetarium’s roof.
So, in fact, the body without organs does have an inside, inasmuch as an interior implies absolute vitality, a Truth beyond multiple logics. But an inside that it is impossible to cut into: the Logos. We cannot characterise the Logos as something like an organ, or fundamental Single Logic. That is not the nature of the Logos as an inside of the body.
In a sense, the Logos is exactly the body without organs. Certainly when the Logos is sublimated, the body without organs emerges. The sublimated Logos has the form of the Vine, and the Logos “embedded within” is the life of the Vine. It is less like the brain of the body and more like the soul of the body. And when sublimated, it is exactly the body.
Let me make myself clear here: the new philosophers were correct in their understanding of the body without organs as the source of signification. The cosmos is multiple becomings inscribed across the surface of the body, and meanings and interpretations are relativities, bifircation and sycretisation between lines of flight. But I disagree that to say in their morality: their equation with fascism of privilaging a “correct” path over other paths. Certainly to privilage is to enter into fascism in all cases, except one. There is a third way between freedom and fascism, one that follows from the Faith.
Let me make myself clear: the body without organs is not the final say. For wine is cultivated from the Vine. This is why the new theology follows from the new philosophy. For the body without organs is a gift between lovers. And a gift is a dowry. And a dowry is a prelude to marriage. But the nature of the marriage is not simple, it is marvelous, miraculous and supreme.
And yet the body without organs is key: it is given to us for a reason. Multiplicities of speech, thought, language, in continual unfolding are given to us:
And amongst his signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and colors. Verily, in that are signs for those who know (30:21).
The Holy Book lists multiplicities, infinite variations as the meaning given to us as signs the Creation. And signs are a gift, because they indicate the Beloved. Signs are a dowry and earthly meetings reflect the greater meeting: You shall give the women their due dowries, equitably (4:4). But a gift is not the same thing as the giver, the dowry is not the husband. It is not the final say: the gift is a prelude to the wedding.
But again, if there are at least the Logos and the Beloved below and above the body, then is not the body without organs as a veil is lifted when we die or are enlightened? Are we to despise this dunia as something like an illusion of no value? No: the dowry is abudance. There is space enough on the earth for all nations. The dowry is freedom to journey. But what does this lead to? What is the result of the gift, the result of this freedom?
The gift follows from Love, and the dowry completes the circle of the Cosmic Romance because it provides the means of individual return. The body without organs enables reversion that still retains individuality.
As the Holy Book says, when we die, we return are individuals, not as one. They are there, the others, greeting us by our side. We reside with them all, on couches and thrones together: our ancestors and lovers, all different.
How is this possible? Should not reconstitution of the obscured sparks – as should surely happen at the end of days – should this not lead us back at least as though a single illuminated soul? A single Logos to return?
But no, we return as individuals. The sparks guide, the Shekhinah-Sophia guides, but individual garments are still formed, our personal interpretations are still mapped out. A righteous journey is from west to east, from north to south: but it is mapped out, seeker-by-seeker, guided by the however and whatever form Sophia takes for that seeker. So the collecting of the sparks of truth, the inscription we enter into, the line of flight we follow, the words of the Quran as encountered by us, these ultimately form an amalgam, a conjunctive and unique machine, a condensation-as-unification that is an individual garment of days.
Yes, the result is a veil: but it is also what we call our higher soul, that which survives in the afterlife. We began – in a sense — as one, but return as individuals return. Such is the nature of the Love we receive from the Beloved Creator!
The body is recreated anew, but now pristine, virginal.
Reclining upon couches lined with silk brocade, the fruit of both the gardens near to hand. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that you deny? Therein are those of modest gaze, whom neither man nor jinn will have touched before them. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that you deny? Like the jacynth and the coral-stone. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that you deny ? (55:54-59).
The body without organs is replaced by the remade New Body. There is no prostitution in the afterlife, only the Pleasure of the Path remains. We wear robes of different days in the afterlife. Because the Logos is then no longer sublimated as a body without organs, and is instead fully apparent. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-15). Sublimation was the precondition of the Cosmic Romance. But now it is completed, we will all know the Creator within the New Body.
The New Body incapable of sin, because sin has been banished: where the truth is collected above, the wine is matured and the dry branches of the vine are thrown to the fire.
Son of man, what will become of the vine-tree out of all trees — the branch that was among the trees of the forest? (Ezekiel 15:2)
I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2).
In our dunia, in our world today, our body without organs is a Vine of infinite surface, wherein difference may be inscribed as dry branch and grape, darkness and light, inscribing a diamond dialectic. Sparks are contained within signs by the agency of a Logos sublimated, and a God unknowable. But the New Body is the wine perfected, but of vintages and styles all individual, all superb, all a drink of Truth. All different garments, all righteous, of differing gradations, differing arrays of sparks.
The differences form logics too, so it is right to call this space of the New Body a body still. But, in this time of resurrection, the purification delivers only matured, perfected wine. Without the Logos sublimated, the configuration becomes one of abiding. One of knowing. And we will abide. We will abide. We will abide.
And with this the guide concluded her speech, and led her group to the next picture, leaving the builder and professor alone.
The professor smiled and offered up thanks to the Beloved Maker, in gratitude that, even in front of this blasphemous image, there is a spark of Wisdom to be collected, and offered supplication that these sparks might guide the friends on their journey along the edge of time, that the modest girl might abide at her end – in individual, multiple repetition — with the Beloved King.
Find the bride you’d break a lent and find content in resolution of
Appearance and Speculation.