Why is religious art so weak?

It’s not God who died with the advent of modernity, but religious art.

Consciously Islamic or Christian art today is stagnant, mediocre, boring and exists within a culture that aspires to mediocrity and polices its boundaries to ensure stagnation is final. Someone passed me this website as an Islamic example.

It is straightforward to compare and contrast to what has been produced in the name of God (within the West or the Orient) — and see that something when wrong at some point.

I was resisting the idea for a time, but now concede to post-colonial theoretic consensus that Islam is also a race, not just a religion — and therefore, within the space of contemporary Islamic art, a comparison to contemporary, racially-focused art is also valid (for example, art that explicitly sets out to document the psycho-economic struggles of African-Caribbean diaspora in the UK). But again, here, the comparison shows Islamic art in a weak frame.

There is (always therefore) the opportunity for a strong Islamically focused art (probably not for Christian art, which was so cruelly crucified over the course of 20th century, its last breath filmed here) — based purely on the exploration of race, but there is also a similar danger of an inherited set of cliches.

Honesty — lack of sexual honesty — is the source of weakness here. Failure to fetishize correctly is the reason why religious art is ridiculous and unexciting. That is to say — sexual repression is a good thing in art — but it must be permitted (at least) a release through innovative fetishization/fashionable reinvention (personal arousal) — not through jackbooted marching up and down the square.

The advertisement for a “progressive” Islamic art competition prescribes a rule “Artwork must adhere to Islamic principles; exercise your prerogative, ask if in doubt.” The subtext is to immediately curtail (castrate) the child artist — we’re watching you, you are not permitted that outlet — the Islamic competition, its judges — they hold the phallus, pleasure/outlet is denied completely. Sexual desire is always deferred — but here it is cut out as an avenue. The student’s Islamic art competition is, in fact, a trap — a means to power, a policing activity, ensuring the phallus is held only by the judge — and that sexual deferral is channeled into other avenues (castrated, group support for a particular kind of politics, nationality, identity, etc).

But sexual deferral, fetishized to the point of generating individual pleasure — meta-corporeal jouissance via the agency of the Fetish — this has been (in the past) central to religious experience and is the meaning of art.

  1. Art is weak when the Fetish is not lived, acted upon, but merely stands as inherited qlippoth, copies, simulacra (where the Fetish becomes sacrosanct, the policeman-father is in the room, pleasure is not permitted).
  2. Art is strong when that which is inherited is rebooted (swords), rearranged so as to provide both a lineage of reference — but also continual sexual novelty, to reinvent the wheel of life, mother-father excitation. (Freudian replacement.) Fashion, effectively: she buys into this year’s season to arouse him.

Islam is a nation as well as a race, a style of clothing as well as a body, with a uniform, with flags to wave, with an inherited vocabulary of fetishes that afford it capital, power. Islamic art of today utilizes these fetishes (carefully non-mimetic burqa themed pictures, the shahada depicted in tastefully decorative calligraphy, etc).

But it is incapable of the strong reinvention of the Fetish — sexual novelty — necessary to resonate with the mother-father excitation. Instead, its vocabulary of fetishes are denied the child, and sexual desire is channeled into group worship. Religious art today is, simply speaking, but in the deepest kind of way, unfashionable.

I took the girls to the Kusama exhibition last night. Two observations:

  • Her work relates directly to the Artist Formally Known as God by religious (Christian, Islamic) artists in the (now distant, lost and ideal Eden of a) past. This is clear from her exploration of the Dot throughout her artistic journey and also in her “Aggregation” sculptures that play upon phallus (micro-yesods), multiplicity and object (effectively giving us an fetishized view of the process of Fetishization, the micro-cosmic fabric of perceptive reality, the calculus of creativity/generation/perception).
  • She crosses East and West, is culturally referent, but only inasmuch as she is culture — not just an inheritor of husks, but a lifeline back to her race — thus her references to East and West are micro rather than macro level, always physical, not a referral, an are honest. Because she is living culture (living fetishization), not a depiction of national fetish, she is a productive factory, a Japanese corporation (see her competition with Warhol) able to take on the world new seasons, reimagination, novelty — all from within the confines of the capitalist asylum.

God

So where does God fit into things?

“God”, as a signifier, employed within a sentence, carries cultural baggage. You cannot speak about “God” without interfacing, in some way, with a particular culture (or set of cultures), even if it is to deny their exclusive ownership of that signifier or to espouse a pure spirituality, separate and distinct from religious culture. The fact of the matter is that “God” has featured as a character (first person, second person, third person) in an extensive set of texts — and to invoke “God” is to interface with these texts. And not only with these texts — with the people and times that produced them — and with the people today who carry these texts.

“God”, as a thought, experienced within the mind, emerges as the result of psychology: “God” is thought and experienced as the side effect of any number of hidden, displaced desires, moving about unconsciously, like sharks in a pool. In my own case, some of these displaced desires obviously manifest themselves as individuated religious experience — but with the caveat that this individuation is the byproduct of displaced desire for the cultural/racial baggage of particular people (and, when I began to really focus on things, a fetishization of displacement itself, labelled prophecy).

Yet at the same time, we can’t deny it: God exists, certainly. Not as any kind of immanent, impersonal kind of nature-deity. But, rather, as a distinctly personal creature, someone who speaks directly to you, like one person speaks directly to another. Precisely because “God”-inscribed is cultural baggage and “God”-thought is displaced desire. It’s not an illusion — it’s reality, seeping through the cracks of culture and psychology. But it’s reality, peeping into, the unreality of being: a smiling, inscrutable, strange kind of care and love.

This is what gives God consciousness a slightly mad edge.

The real story

There are a heterogeneity of mentalities that must equate sex with religion.

There is the healthy, culturally circumscribed locus of the sexual metaphor, the bride of Christ, etc. Then there are the tribes of tantricists, bachantines, sex magik rites – who find the goddess within all perception, so that to perceive is to make love to her, according to the tribal dialect, the sex laws/scripture inherited.

These are ideals, possibly fantasies – I don’t know if thy truly exist because I can’t speak for others.

Then there’s little old me. For whom the sex drive is intimate with desire for identity, for whom identity is intimate with the genetics of locality, race-as-religion, religion-as-race. And whose tantra is therefore a red herring. I see a woman I want — and distract myself, in order to find myself, by transforming want into wine, exclaiming — “Look over there, it’s God!” or “Trust me, I’m the Logos.”

But it’s not God. Nor is it an excuse. It’s identification with the cultural capital of God, fetishizing his capital power in potential, that religious derivative of my own Lack.

What of love? Is there love? Certainly – this process is what is operating under the hood of my love – and it has inner and outer expression and mystery.

Umm Waraqah and the Judaic Interruption

Three years ago, I published some notes on the hadith of Umm Waraqah.

The brief commentary was an opening into a revision of Islamic tafsir – through a cousin mysticism, that of Judaism and Kabbalah. Umm Waraqah, the woman who leads the prayer, whose house is visited by Muhammed and his disciples every Friday : she is equated with the Shekhina, she who is sought on sabbath, whose house is the temple, the feminine, receptive, immanent aspect of God, God as presence, God as perception-filling tranquility. (Her slaves are the reflection of the material Adam and Eve, fallen, with Shekhina/Waraqah as the tree of life.)

It’s an equation that is still pleasing to me: I prefer the hadith read in this fashion.

But what lies beneath this reading?  The traditional Islamic readings of the hadith are generally legislative and materialist:  for example, it is cited as a legal precedent for women (in certain circumstances) to lead the prayer and always understood literally as an historical.

What motivated me, then, to plug the Kabbalah-metaphoric machine into the Islamic-materialist machine? Irrespective of whether the original writer of the hadith was a Kabbalist or not, it is a fact that a Kabbalic imposition is alien to the Islamic reading.

When I proposed the re-reading to Muslims, the response was generally negative — “I don’t need Jewish mysticism to understand my own text!” Given the current ethnic tensions between the two races, of course it ought to be anticipated that a Zoharic-Quranic conjunction would meet with resistance and, from the Islamic perspective, would touch a number of raw nerves. (Noting that the inferiority/corruption of precedent, father-mother texts is the perennially Oedipal subject of Islamic TV, within the mosques and in discussion groups. The murder of parental scripture is ingrained as a constant Oedipal tension within the Islamic culture.)

I’m not a Muslim and never have been. Islam is a pure race, an embodied, local, indigenous tradition — while my body is mixed race, globalized, identity-less. Of course I had exposure to the Islamic understanding of precedent scripture (including deviant mysticism), thanks to my genetic experiments. My attempts to become Muslim, physically, to replace my body with an Islamic, ummatic body.

I think that the Judaic machine is invoked here as an interruption to my becoming Muslim — but not a cessation — it is proposed as a short cut — a Shekhinic short cut — to an alternative, truer, fantasy Muslim body. A fantasy Muslim body whose nature is short cuts, whose nature is Shekhinic substitution — the substitutive act itself is central here. In other words, the Kabbalic machine short circuits the literalist Muslim body, injecting it with a Shekhinic virus that takes over the hardware, leaving only software, each line of code now spelling out the unnamable Name of God.

This fantasy body becomes fetishized — and is what I named Prophecy. It is a totem that offers me satisfaction and power, because I am no longer — seemingly — dependent upon the literalist machine (exterior authority of interpretation). But what is the machine itself a symptom of? Desire for the Islamic body. And what is the Kabbalic interruption offering? A substitution for that body — but a substitution that gives pleasure in its self-recognition of itself as substitutive, immanent, fetish. The Islamic body can therefore be short circuited, apparently — we ignore the “real” historical Umm Waraqah, the legal precedent Umm Waraqah — and in her place, substitution, transcendent joussance through immanent metonymy. And yet — she’s there still — repressed, desired as a lack, needed to be possessed to complete me, racially, culturally. Lack of an Islamic body, desire for Islamic bodies — these still drive the connection, the substitutive act. Racial lack is what motivates the (frowned upon) fetish of substituting Kabbalic, exiled transcendence for Islamic, aboriginal belonging, legislation.

The spiritual schizo

The spiritual schizo exists within a shimmering, ecstatic, intoxicated, timeless frenzy. All possibilities are open, all is infinite, generative potential: for pleasure in generation.

But the schizo hides something. He represses desire for the unspeakable – and, like us all, this repressed desire manifests upon his skin as symptom, substituted signs for the unspeakable.

But unlike the neurotic, the schizo relishes this effect, renders it ideal, positivized – he fetishises the substitutive act itself. Substitution, metonymy itself – this is the thing substituted for what is desired. We all understand. What’s so sexy about substituting one orifice for another? The substitutive act itself.

Is there anything wrong with this state? Of course not – it is the essence of Tailorite spirituality. But it needs to be recognised as motivated by repression, by desire for what is lacked.

Of blood, shit and symbolism

The reason why the Tailorite objects so vehemently to literal interpretation of the Qur’an and Torah (circumcision, genocide, warfare, menstruation, wife beating, etc) is clear. He occupies a perverse religious subjecthood: he is a bio-spiritual assemblage, the biological machine connected to the tafsir symbolic machine, but (unnaturally, anally) via a repressive-ecstatic interface, as opposed to the (natural, indigenous) conduits of genetically inherited habitus.

He obtains pleasure through the denial of the body that is so intimately conjoined to the scripture that he reads.

His tafsir machine, superficially, appears to generate a creative play that subverts/deconstructs the primacy of the material (bodily function) within the scripture. But it’s more complicated than that.

He denies the literal meaning of menstruation in Islam, invoking the Juadaic trope, that menstruation is the cycle of Torah’s reading, a cycle of Truth’s harvest. He denies the literal meaning of the hadeeth concerning the direction of defecation and the undesirability of standing in urination, considering these to spiritually intimate the deeper (self-referential) nature of reading as consumption of grain/discarding husks of Truth (never toward the South, the Southern city of Mecca, the city of Love, and never standing, because, again invoking an assumed Judaic mysticism, to stand is to engage in the diamond dialectic of the two feet, Hod and Netzach, Aaron and Moses).

It appears as though he denies the literal interpretation. It also appears that he denies the straightforward metaphoric. In actuality, the pleasure of the tafsir, thus generated, lies in the repression of desire for the body, the real, biological entity, that bleeds and shits, that hurts and is hurt. Specifically, a desire to possess, to substitute his own globalized body of displacement (his empty, dislocated body) for the valuable (fetishized) locality of an indigenous Islamic body. His desire, repressed, the source of that tafsir-as-symptom, is for that blood, for that shit, to hurt and, ultimately, to be hurt.

And the unspeakability of that desire, thus repressed, forms a repressive-ecstatic interface from the biological machine into the symbolic factory, enunciated, blogged, inscribed jouissance that is necessarily playful, humorous, evasive, an embodied schitzo metonymy (“It’s not about real sex, but it’s not a metaphor either, it’s metonymy”) and, in this way, self-consistent with its narcissistic ideal, the “Prophetic”.

The Tailorite tafsir machine is not a simple denial of the literal, nor a productive evasive metonymic generator of pure (evasive) light. It generates evasion as a symptom because its interface is evasion: generated, perverse, covetous desire of the religious subject’s bio-essence, its DNA-culture, so blatantly flowing through every line of scripture. Like a vampire, the globalized Tailorite desires to feed upon that blood to re-constitute itself as culturally authentic and real, sexually fulfilled — but, because of the unspeakability of this — instead generates the evasive symptom.

Of body and tribe, fetish and gnosis

O you who have believed, avoid much assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear God; indeed, God is Accepting of repentance and Merciful. O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted. (49:12-13)

This is not a tafsir.

The first lines concern appropriation of bodies — body snatching. Assumption here is the symbolic: it is the tafsir machine, connected to the bio-Islamic body, it is the source of symbolic capital that can be applied to the religion of Islam. It is the Tailorite project, mapping out lines upon the body of the brothers and sisters of Islam, projecting an erotic Shekhinic symbolism upon their (sublimated) bodies. Not so much a colonization as a fascination or fetishization of the Islamic body, a clothing factory producing garments, whose energy generator is connection-as-repression of bodily desire. The machine generates tafsir, but ultimately is a necrophile’s body-snatch, an unachievable ploy to centre the Tailor, that globalised, displaced corporate Frankenstein, within the idealized locality of indigenous, pure, Asian-Islamic DNA.

The tafsir assumption generator is sinful: not in a moral sense, but in the sense that it is perverse. It goes against the natural, corporeal order, by fetishizing the garments, the leather boots, whips, latex, the hijabic valuation — over the actual body. But these garments are not standalone — they are fetish, and their value as sexual capital is determined by the interface of repression that connects the Tailor to the biological reality of Islamic DNA, of the bio-spiritual subject.

But it’s deemed necrophilia — in the sense that the bodies are unwilling to play the game. The capitalism of the Tailorite factory is plugged into a dead body, and is therefore rendered absolute, disconnected valuation — no actual exchange takes place between the bio-Islamic body and the symbolic tafsir generator. Like a financial derivative (all fetishes are insurance), the value of the tafsir/assumption is entirely speculative, not a genuine exchange. But God-the-father here, comically, speaks as a financial regulator: necrophilia/colonial sweat shops are henceforth illegal.

The next verse is thus not so much about reconciliation across a multiplicity of viewpoints — or lineage from a unifying soul, the primordial Adam and Eve. “Male and female” = biological sex (right now, not historical or metaphoric, but raw biological copulation). Biological sex is invoked as the left hand side of an equation, whose right hand side is racial/religious/tribal/embodied identity — sex is bodies, the male/female is bio-spiritual identity.

And “recognition” here is the mirroring/narcissistic value of effectively deployed symbolic generator interfaced with particular bodies: successful contracts, satiation, temporary states of sexual fulfillment. Fulfillment derived from identifying/mirroring your own body in the Other’s tribe, by plugging the symbolic capitalization machine into a bio-spiritual body and generating cashflows of self-recognition/physical satisfaction in accord with the permissible derivative contracts, an acknowledged fetish/valuation based upon free market economics (acceptance of, reconciliation with the globalized nature of the Tailorite body — a free, relativized play of body-pricing in relation to his globalized, decentered, racially ambiguous DNA) as opposed to the now illegal necrophiliac tafsir.

This is not a tafsir: this season’s all about the fetish, subject to regulatory standards.