Sunday, February 18, 2007

ToR Part 3: God, Alienation, Cannibalism

Part 1
Part 2

This animated world inevitably has a divine flavor to it, but it is still immanence. There is still the indistinct flow of being into being, water in water. The animated, divine world, however, coupled with objects, results in a particular object being elevated over all others. This is the supreme being, distinct from the flow and limited like a thing; the attempt is to create value, but it is actually a loss of value. A particular thing - which is inevitably a finite thing - is intended to be the repository of all value.

Now, Bataille puts forth a theory about why the Abrahamic God has attained so much prestige in the world; other attempts at developing a personal God occurred in places and times in which the sense of continuity was still too strong. The fact that there are degrees of continuity remains important, though, since it is in contrast with the discontinuous world that the continuous world becomes the fascinating sacred. It is a world that is closed off to us, and this creates both fascination and horror. Horror, because it is a threat to the profane, utilitarian world of work and subjects.

The partly continuous, partly discontinuous world of animated objects becomes a hierarchy of spirits. This hierarchy is based on how much a given spirit depends on a body, in other words, how much it depends on an object. God, being pure spirit, is highest. The spirits of dead humans, animals, plants, etc, all find their places in such a hierarchy.

So, we have a hierarchy of spirits, and a world of objects. It is at this point that two things happen. First, the mind is recognized as being connected to spirits, and so the body is relegated to being an object. The mind/body split. With this new emphasis on mind, objects that were previously seen as animated subject-like things, are also quickly reduced to objects. The animated world begins to give way to a more mechanical view, a world of objects that can be controlled. This is the emergence of the real world, the final fall from a world filled with the continuous.

With the loss of this animated world, the animated objects, like animals, simply become objects. This view of animals as objects cannot be complete, of course, because they need to be domesticated or dead in order to be eaten — animals in fact only become objects to be eaten and negated when the are cooked, when humans have performed work upon them, fashioning them. To kill and alter is not to change from an animated object to a simple object, but rather to assume an animal is an object in the first place. To kill and cook is to implicitly affirm that the food was never anything but an object; hence our trouble with cannibalism. It needs to be remember this is a world with spirits, and that man is partly body, partly spirit. When a human dies, their spirit is more present than ever before. We can’t take humans to be objects that easily. After all, who does cannibalism hurt? If your soccer team crashes in the Andes, what on earth is the problem with using a permanant marker to divide up cuts of meat on your pudgy coach like fattened cattle?

An additional consequence of this fall is an alienation from this world of things created by humans. To subordinate nature into tools and utility is not only to alter the subordinated element, but to change oneself. Nature becomes subordinated to man, but man is tied to nature; it becomes property, but only on the condition that it is closed off; it ceases to have any immanence at all. It can only be utility; the river is not a river but a power source to be manipulated. But in order to this positing to take place, in order for the world to be in man’s power this way, man must forget that he is a part of this world.

Objects are compelled to have a utility, a purpose that is alien to it. The utility of a plow has nothing to do with its reality. In order to eat a cow, it has to stop being a cow; it can’t be the thing that it is. There is a chain here, of things being what they are not; the cow is not a cow, it is a head of livestock, and the human involved is a stock raiser. The head of livestock is a thing, but so is the stock raiser, during the time that they are working. A thing, a person; alienated from what they are.

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