The Consumers’ Association of Penang recently raised some concern at a statement made by the Malaysian Minister for Tourism Datuk Seri Dr. Ng Yen Yen regarding Ramadan. In a publicity drive designed to promote tourism in Malaysia during the Holy Month, he proudly announced “the first ever Ramadhan Summer Festival featuring food, shopping and other fun-filled activities”. The intent appears to be to specifically attract patronage from Middle Eastern tourists.
We can locate a problem with this. And then a problem with our problematization.
Utilizing 20th century vocabulary, the Malaysian Minister for Tourism has unwittingly turned Ramadan into Deleuze and Guattari’s reading of the Freudian theatre of representation/desire.
In D&G’s (mis)reading of Freud, desire derives from a lack, and to be satiated, must result in a subject that consumes. From consumption (of any form, sexual, culinary, literary, spiritual) comes representation, a theatre of being. This desire is ultimately sexual. Of course it is: everyone agrees on that. But the principle is general and applies to all modes of being. When life itself is construed as desire for lack/consumption-to-satiate, we are trapped in a misprison, an essentially capitalist state of values — at all levels of being, from the purchase of property, to how we read Shakespeare, to how we judge others, to how we do scientific research, to … how we read Quran and how we relate to our bodies (as regulated consumption machines) in Ramadan.
In thinking about life as satiation to make up for a lack, we live a theatre that represents what you might call “ordinary life”. A non-strange life.
So these philosophers’ solution is to call for a kind of hyper-Marxism, a Marxism at all levels of being. To smash this capitalist state of being — not merely at common sensical notion of a capitalist state — but the capitalist regulation of the body, of thoughts, of production, of consumption, the desire-as-lack world view. Then there are strategies for this. Let’s not discuss strategy right now.
What happens when this state is smashed, at all levels?
D&G propose a revised, anti-Oedipal (anti-Freudian) conception of desire as pure production. Not a Freudian theatre of lack and satiation, but a factory, with the workers of the “self” controlling the means of production. Living life as unadulterated, absolutely positive creativity — no longer regulated or driven by an assumed lack, no longer driven consume at all in the sense of consumption-as-satiation, but driven solely as creativity. Eating, feeding, would be an active creative form of production too: it would not be to fulfill a need so much as to temporarily conjoin (purely superficially, creatively and actively) a machinic assemblage of a sustenance component (for example, a nice carrot) with a digestive system component (as situated within the language game of biological science), resulting in a extended factory of production that might be directed anywhere for further productive conjunctions with other components of life (not necessarily biological at all) — more energy to participate in a race, to read Shakespeare, to play with the kids, to do an equation, to buy a bottle of milk … Bestowal outwards and undirected, not craving desire.
What would the implication of this be, spiritually, for Ramadan? Well, at all levels, we wouldn’t be slaves to capitalism, to an imaginary lack. We wouldn’t be hungry, as such. We’d be inspired, we’d be filled with the Divine word. We’d subsist on mana of creativity alone. This inspiration-as-creativity, inspiration as production would result in arbitrary assemblages: all taking the form of bestowal, all directed outwards, all productive. Charity is creativity, because creativity is bestowal outwards. So, feeding the homeless, first and foremost. Feeding the homeless at all levels of existence. Everyone suddenly creating: inspired, by the Divine, filled with the Power … to do new science, new art, new philosophy, new politics — no longer slaves to the inner and outer, to the lack-as-regulation principle, of a “me” that “needs” something — in breakage of that distinction of inner and outer, a Caliphate of Creation running freely, temporarily, assembling and reassembling eternally across all levels of reality. To feed the hungry at iftar would be exactly to arrange the ayat of Allah so that “the hungry” are indeed “fed”.
Ramadan would be the month of the “real” feast: a feast of gnosis.
But not quite — as a woolen footnote, I need to correct my misreading of D&G first.
The above makes for a nice manifesto. But, of course, we do experience a lack in Ramadan. A big lack. Freud is not the bad guy here. Rather, the Muhammedean reality is an interplay of the shahadic trajectories of desire as slavery (lack) and messaging (creativity) . So I need to balance my Freudian theatre with my D&G bacchanalia. Otherwise I might become drunk — like Noah — my workers controlling the means to wine production.
Freud is hiding behind a stone, ready to save the end of days by martyrdom. Let’s call him out now, reconstituted, according to a Sufi ear.
In Sufism, this movement from desire-as-lack (wanting) to desire-as-production is a movement from reception to bestowal. The movement is bidirectional, a diamond dialectic, a cosmic vibration. One without the other is imbalance.
D&G were hasty in their dismissal of Freud’s lack-as-consumption. Because we do consume to satiate.
O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for God loveth not the wasters.
We eat and drink, we wear clothes, we wear hijab that somehow satiates in an evasive sense that belies a desire for something else, something necessarily withheld.
That is to say, we do lack something, despite the call to creativity, to freedom from the lack, we nevertheless fall in debt:
Oh you who believe, when you contract (tadāyantum) between each other any debt (bidaynin) for a fixed term then write it. And let there inscribe between you a scribe in justice. (2:282)
The root of the Arabic for contract and debt here is D-Y-N, whose basic connotation is of Judgement or Belief System. What we have called the Fiery Left Hand of Logic.
The space of Judgement is the space of differentiated signs, the symbolic domain in which we journey. This space is the entirety of the Cosmos: we cannot escape the signs, being formed of signs ourselves. A contractual intersubjective debt is necessary in order for there to be differentiation, for there to be power/signification, in order for there to be systems (systems of selfhood, of politics, of countries, of belief — including the system we are constructing now). Or rather, strictly speaking, intersubjective debt is not necessary for the emergence of systems: rather, intersubjective debt is D-Y-N, it is the differentiated fabric of the reality behind all systems.
Systems are formed from debt to one another because we are, ultimately, in debt only to the One that cannot be signified: to Divinity. This something evades the capture of our systems of contract and, consequently, we necessarily transfer the debt onto a crystalized signifier, onto one another, onto the Others. This transference is for a fixed term, because ultimately the veil of the contract is lifted at the end.
But once the debt is transferred — contracted to the Others — we are given the capacity to discover exactly who and what we are, by means of intersubjective reflection. First we become aware of debt to Others. Then we perceive the the debt as a contract, as a Symbolic veil or hijab of D-Y-N, a veil of power play and capitalization between each other upon the Cosmic field of differentiation. That the intersubjective debt itself is fixed, is itself a debt owed, sourcing from, transferred from something much bigger. We then obtain an intersubjective self-awareness, reflecting upon the others reflection upon us reflecting upon them. Indebted to their loan that they borrowed from our debt sourced to them. The self-awareness takes the form of inscription between us (the root being K-T-B, as in Kitab, book) — its always there, between all human interactions — that encodes or traces our lives as power play, our lives as signification and arrangements of the Ayat of Allah. And we understand that the scribe (also of the root K-T-B) who encodes this book upon us, between us, is the Nur of Prophecy, the capacity of the human to arrange the signs in pure illumination, to form speech/inscription/life that is self-aware of its own ultimate deferral and submission to the Creator.
Or we can ignore all that and simply fall into the trap of believing the meaning of debt stops at owing money to others. To believe in the transfer of debt: and fall into a slavery to capitalism, to believe the verses concern solely the contract of base consumption rather than the nature of contraction. To stay locked into Freud’s Theatre of Desire: forgetting the fact that a scribe has drawn the stage as a contract for a fixed term.
This Ramadan, it’s our choice!
Rather than smashing the capitalist state, we need to recognize that there is actually only One Need, one thing Lacking. This recognition is to attempt to supplicate, becoming slaves — not to the Demiurge of the Capitalist Oppressor — but to the actual King.
I am not proposing to negate the previous generative, creative movement, D&G’s strong poetry that stands in reaction to the Freudian precursor. Their productive aspect is key. Rather, from the Sufi perspective, the D&G movement is complementary: it is the creative, generative, charitable aspect of our soul (from which zakat derives) that allows us to approach closer to Ultimate Creator, Generator, Charity. All comes from God’s charity, but from charity of the first movement, we can find ourselves in a space of Divine messaging, a productive, creative, inspired field of pure creative becoming. It’s like the light comes down as a charity from above to a mirror that reflects that light off at all kinds of crazy angles, out into the dark spaces of the universe, in a multiplicitious, purely productive, generative frenzy of reconstitution, forming, amongst other things, the last two paragraphs I just wrote.
Nevertheless, that movement, that framing of production sources from the greater debt. They themselves appear to be in debt, predicated upon, by the ghost of Freud: to mention his theatre in their strong reactive misreading is to form a contract of debt to him from which they cannot escape for a fixed term. If they were to locate the inscription, the trace of that poetric genealogy, their understanding would be incompletely complete in the Sufi mode we are attempting to generate (productively yet in contract to D&G) now.
The two movements of capital debt and hyper Marxist production are also known as martyrdom and victory, or slavery and messaging.
In summary, what would the implication of this twofold movement — of slavery and messaging — be, spiritually, for Ramadan? It would be, fundamentally, to understand that the Malaysian Minister for Tourism is within each one of us, there is a capitalist state within our basic outlook on life, telling us what we are lacking or other, determining our needs and wants by the agency of a false lack. We’d need to seek him out and reverse this morphism.
Only when this left handed morphism reversal is complete would we locate the Bride of tattered garments and ready ourselves for the marriage to the Nur of Submission. And then by that vertical movement, into the right handed Victory, the Power I mentioned above. If the morphism reversal doesn’t occur, then creativity will be adulterous, absolutely free, promiscuous: Foucaultian pork chops.
Before the symmetry was broken, all of this of course is simply about getting as close to the source as you can: the covariant is the meditation upon our existence of identityless identity in gratitude to the Mercy of the One Identity.