As we exist in the cosmos, navigating the signs, living through signification, we are unaware that all things (linguistic, physical, objective, subjective) are signs that have within them, ultimately, an indication of what philosophers have called the Other. The Other is nothing but the Indescribable Beloved who stands to Creation in Total Alterity:
There is nothing like Him, but He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (Qur’an 42:11)
There is nothing comparable to Him. (Qur’an 112:4)
The unnamable G-d, the 100th name of Allah, the unknowable infinite Ein Sof!
Vision cannot grasp Him, but His Grasp is over all vision. (Qur’an 6:103)
And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me that I may look at You.’ (God) said, ‘You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, ‘Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.’ (Qur’an 7:143)
Nothing is comparable to the Other.
But all things intimate the Other. All signs are in submission, and submission is intimation. The Indescribable Beloved is intimated by all signs, whether we are aware of it or not. This is the perception of the Prophet (pbuh): all things submit to God. Indication is submission and all names indicate the unnamable:
Do they seek other than the Deen of Allah, when all things in the heavens and the earth, willingly and unwillingly submit to Him, and to Him they will be returned. (Qur’an 3:83)
In daily, unprophetic life, we unaware of this property of the signs. The light of their deferral to the Other, their submission to the inexpressible, is hidden from most of us, most of the time. We use the signs in our judgements as if we have captured the value of the signs, as if our judgements have an absolute value. This is our spiritual fallacy.
The cosmos consists of signs: nothing else but signs. All that is said, thought, seen, acted is the dual function of arrangement of signs and the attempted explanation of their meaning through judgement. But judgement is not absolute, because all signs are in deferral. Judgement is an attempt to capture signs whose true signification is in infinite deferral. So judgements cannot be said to possess an absolute value. Our judgements are attempts to attribute a value to signs that indicate something beyond judgement: the absolute Other, our Beloved, our End Goal.
So in this sense, if our lives are the process of signification, then whatever judgements we make have, within their constituent signs, the property of submission to the Beloved: their constituent signs are illuminated, their ultimate valuation being deferred to the Infinite Invaluable. Does this make all judgement, all human activity, all human thought and perception, in essence, illuminated? The Sufi sheikhs speak of all human love being a veiled love for God: at the End, the veil is lifted and we see that whatever we loved in this life was, in fact, this Other.
Does this mean that the way we signify is all of equal value? The way we choose to live our lives, the meanings we attempt to form for ourselves: are these all equivalent in value, when the chips are down? If all judgements are formed from signs that submit to the Beloved Other, then are all judgements equal before God? Or else, if all judgement is an attempt to explain, to attribute a fixed value, to signs that defer to the infinite, then is judgement itself a kind of follow, to be avoided through a hypothetical silent mysticism that somehow denies signification?
But again and again, the Holy Book informs us of a criterion, a measure, an ethics that distinguishes one subject from another, raises one human’s judgement above another human’s judgement. At the Yawm al-Qiyamah (Day of Judgement), we are ranked according to the judgements we have made, in the sense that there is a Jannah and a Jahannam. And even within Jannah, there are are levels of ascendency that rank our journeys:
Some of these apostles have We endowed more highly than others: among them were such as were spoken to by God, and some He has raised yet higher.
The Prophet (peace and blessings) distinguishes between good and bad.
How is this reconciled with what we have said? For it would seem that, if our existence through is signification, if our experience of Time is signification, then the only way in which one form of signification might be raised in station above another would be if there were an absolute valuation at the end of Time that values our signification. It would seem to demand a Yawm al-Qiyamah in which our judgements are ranked according to an external system of good and evil. If no such valuation is possible, then how can there be a criterion for ranking the subjects?
For philosophers such a Heidegger and Derrida, the End is an absolute death of signification, an absolute alterity against which all life is framed. They certainly never conceive of it as a supreme entity standing in judgement over us. Is not the End Goal understood in religion as a final judgement upon our lives and deeds, a judgement passed down upon us from above, a judgement outside of Time:
Is the judgement at the End of Time such a thing?
And here is our point of concord with the philosophers: Heidegger (along with his predecessors including Nietzsche with his famous proclamation) is right to reject an absolute God of external judgement. There is no judgement, no form of law that is external to the cosmos. Modern philosophy is correct to say that all is textual. The entire cosmos is textual. This follows from the Cosmic Romance , because the textual is the logical: a field of difference, of relations, of possibilities, of things that can be or can not be. This reality follows as a consequence of the sublimation of the Logos within the Romance, and is the precondition for our path back to the Beloved, the precondition for our Romance Supreme.
So to imagine such a thing as law external to existence is to imagine a logic outside of the logical, because law is logic and existence is logical. To imagine a language outside of the linguistic, because law is language and existence is textual. It is to imagine something of the same form as this universe, somehow transcending this universe.
But the universe is a field of difference, and therefore encompasses all differentiation. And law is differentiation, so law cannot transcend it. Whatever you think of as transcendent, it cannot be a differentiation, because differentiation is always contained within the cosmos. But logic cannot stand outside of the logical. If I make a new logic to encode a smaller logic, I am still working within a language: I have not escaped language. All that is logical, all that is linguistically positioned, all that is imaginable and sayable is reasoned, positioned, imagined and said within this cosmos.
God is the Lord of Judgement: but God’s Judgement is internal , not exterior or transcendent to the cosmos, because the cosmos (as we experience it) is judgement. The cosmos is the space of difference, it is textual, the space of signification,
it is the space of logic, the space of what is and what is not, what is possible and what we choose to make possible.
So again, within this framework, if our lives are nothing but a process of signification, so that our existence is, in a sense, the sum of our judgements, then how is it possible to have an ethics of signification? How is it possible to say: this subject has judged better than this other subject. For surely, if such a distinction were not possible, then God’s judgement is simply the entire space of all possible judgements we can make.
Our answer takes the form of a dialectic of authenticity.
If life is signification, we would like to frame our ethics of signification as in terms of authenticity, and distinguish certain forms of signification as being more authentic than others.
But instead of the philosopher’s authenticity in the face of death, we will employ a better choice of words for our religion and say illumination reflecting the face of the Beloved .
Recall that authenticity is essentially making choices with a full self-awareness of our life as dasein moving toward death. Similarly, illuminated signification can be distinguished from an inauthentic, dull signification in terms of how self-aware it is of the light within its signs, how aware it is of its constituent signs in their deferral to the Beloved.
All signs ultimately defer to the Other. This deferral is a necessary component of the space of language, of difference, of separation from the Beloved. If signs did not always indicate back to the Beloved, there would be no separation, and without separation there would be no language or difference.
We call this deferral, this submission of the signs their light. The property of deferral is necessary for signification to work. Without deferral to an Other, there would be no difference and no language. Without a full stop, sentences cannot end and signification cannot take place. So if the Comic Romance is our being thrown into a linguistic space of separation, then the Romance has fashioned signs in this way for us.
So we can legitimately mix metaphors here and say that a sign’s property of submission is like a spark that is placed within it.
Now, when we signify, we arrange signs and pronounce a judgement with them. This judgement is meant to explain the signs in some way. Absolute explanation is ultimately impossible, because all signs defer to the Other and judgements as explanations must therefore be necessarily incomplete and non-valuative.
But consider a judgement that, in self-awareness, explains (however incompletely) the spiritual, submissive properties of its constituent signs? Such a judgement would, in a sense, make explicit and apparent the sparks from within its signs, albeit in a limited fashion, still open to further deferred explanation. Such a judgement would be an authentic, illuminated judgement.
I am going to the shops to buy a litre of milk.
The second is intended to be an illuminated judgement:
A polytheist was the guest of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The Prophet gave the guest the milk of seven goats. The Prophet did not stop offering the guest milk until he was satisfied.
Both statements involve the sign “milk”. Following Derrida’s philosophy of language, the sign for “milk” is not fixed, and has a meaning that is necessarily deferred to the absolute Other. Both sentences have made an attempt to position and attribute an absolute value to “milk” in the context of their language game (one game might be a conversation with a friend, the other might be the game of hadith telling) and both can be taken in a way that is not illuminated. But the second sentence is readily taken as illuminated, because the essential, deferring, submitting nature of the sign “milk” is here used in a mode of self-awareness. The hadith teller is aware that “milk” is a sign that defers to God, and utilizes this in the story by providing an explication of milk that judges (however partially) according to a mode of submission to the Beloved. (He does the same thing with the number 7). The value of the judgement is, of course, still subject to infinite deferral. Someone might ask: what exactly is meant by “milk” in the story? And an interpreter might then make an explanatory judgement of the form: in these hadiths, “milk” means the comfort of Divine Wisdom. And then they might be asked: but what is “comfort” and what is “Divine Wisdom”, and so on, ad infinitum .
But in spite of the judgement being essentially non-valuative, it is self-aware, because it has utilized the implicitly submissive property of the signs to bring out, explicitly, a mode of submission to the Beloved in its explanation.
So we may follow a reading of Lurianic Kabbalah here: what we call God’s Judgement of right and wrong is the placement of sparks within the signs (within all signs) of cosmos. The sparks are the light of indication to Truth. A spark is hidden within a sign in the sense that its deferral is implicit in the ordinary ways we judge with signs. But, through an illuminated judgement, we can bring out, make explicit, a mode by a sign indicates or submits to the Beloved. Depending on where we stand, on how we judge, we locate this light, reflected in the signs, as sparks revealed. If their submission, their deferral the Other, is a form of hiding, then our illuminated judgement is their restitution. Tikkun olam, the repair of the world, in Lurianic Kabbalah is exactly the process of illuminated judgement.
So illumination, how much of our signification takes the mode of illuminated judgement, is the ethics by which we navigate the signs.
Illuminated judgement happens rarely in ordinary experience. It happens constantly to the prophets. If the prophets are closest to the Beloved, and the meaning of life is to love the Beloved, certainly we should desire to to cultivate something like prophetic mode of judgement, so that we might aquire more light.
The prophetic station is one in which all judgements passed are illuminated. The prophets are crowned by God‘s Judgement, they bring God’s Deen-as-Religion through God’s Deen-as-Judgement. Moses brings the law. The Seal of the Prophets is a law-maker.
It is said that Abraham’s realised the name of Love, but was completed as a prophet when he was commanded to sacrifice, to judge Issac and Ishmael. The mystical interpretation of this act, found in the Zohar and in the works of the Sufi poets, is that this sacrifice was a spiritual sacrifice, an ascention or initiation of the sons, to crown them with Love (because the end of the story is that God sends Love in the form of the sheep). But the meaning of the sacrifice for Abraham was that, through becoming the agent of God’s Judgement, he was crowned by the name of Judgement, realising a higher prophetic station.
Life is the process of signification.
So if we were to perform a logical analysis of how prophetic judgement figures in the lives of the prophets, we would examine how their judgement relates to the signs they utilize in making their judgement.
When a prophet speaks, they work within the context of their language game: a set of signs and rules for assembly of signs that come from their culture, their religion and their time. It is said that there have been 124,000 prophets for the nations of the earth. Each would have had a different context. The Seal of the Prophets spoke from within the context of 6th century Arabian life, within a wider middle eastern religious language, in a particular political climate. He perceived, acted, said and arranged signs from the language games of that particular era, culture and religion. John the Baptist acted, thought, perceived and spoke using signs from a similar middle eastern religious language to the Seal, but within the radically different context of Roman occupation. And so on.
In each case, they operated with a different set of tools, encountered, navigated and created from within differing language games, using different rules, constraints and signs. But what they have in common is that each took these signs and, self-reflexively, recognized the implicit deferral of their signs to the Beloved, making the deferral perfectly
manifest, so that all judgements they committed were in a mode of perfect submission to the the Beloved, shaping a speech where the submissive property of all constituent signs is the unifying feature.
In this way, when we read any Holy Scripture, we are puzzled by two things. First, that, depending on the culture and historical context, the signs are different. Second, that in spite of this, the register of the song is the same: the judgement is pronounced with the same tone. An illuminated mode. Because the prophets speak God’s revelation and navigate the signs according to the same path. They all say: “I speak the Truth”, expounding a law in which the Light within the law’s constituent signs is brought out in full self-awareness, to manifest from within a law the Truth its signs defer to. Their signs vary, but their illuminated mode of judgement is in isomorphism.