Hot and cold violence

[With his permission, I am posting Bruce Rosenstock’s comment on Inglourious Basterds as a fresh post, in the hopes of giving it the attention it deserves.]

It seems to me that when talking about the representation of violence one needs to ask: with what subject position is the viewer being asked to identify with? In Inglorious Bastards, the viewers are being asked to place themselves in the position of the Jewish/Apache squad and they are being asked to cheer (even while being made queesy) the scalpings, the beating, and the machine-gunnings. There is no pity whatever for most of the victims (maybe one exception: the new father). Is there a moral problem with this? Tarantino shows us a Nazi film that shows a sniper, and in the film the audience takes the subject position of the shooter and cheers at the deaths of his victims. Is Tarantino saying his film and the Nazi film are one and the same in their intentions? I think it is significant that Tarantino uses a sniper as the hero of the Nazi film. The sniper is someone who inflicts violence from a distance and precisely does not confront his enemy. Nazi violence is portrayed as hiding its face as it coldly snuffs out victims from afar (in the first instance of it, the victims are not even visible to the perpetrators.) The Jewish/Apache violence is face-to-face and hot. Is this a better way to commit violence? If such face-to-face, hot violence is somehow only possible against an enemy who shoots from a distance and commits cold-blooded murder, if it is revenge against this kind of cold violence, then perhaps it is better. One can argue that Shylock’s violence is of this sort, a protest against the hypocritical violence of the Christians that hides its face behind the mask of justice. When hot violence takes vengeance against cold violence, it arouses our sympathy. But any representation of this vengeance becomes questionable when there is collateral damage, when it becomes blind to whether it is attacking a perpetrator or just someone who looks like a perpetrator. Hot, face-to-face violence must never be blind; it must have the courage to look its enemy in the eye. I think Tarantino is very careful in IB to show us this kind of courageous hot, face-to-face, violence for us to cheer. Are we better off for seeing this movie? I for one think so, precisely because we come to feel what kind of violence is evil and what kind of violence resists evil.

29 thoughts on “Hot and cold violence

  1. I really enjoy that last line and it shows how much of the leftist in me has won over the former Christian pacifist in me. I still think pacifism is a strategy to be deployed, but is not a metaphysical constant of the universe.

  2. Great comment. I vote that Bruce should be asked to be a permanent poster on this blog.

    Thing is, much for all the violence of the film, not too many people have picked up a) what horrible people the violence is directed against b) the most awful violence of all is perpetrated by the clinical, intelligent and downright evil Colonel Hans Landa. Have people forgotten how the film begins? With Nazi soldiers slaughtering defenceless women and children in cold blood who are hiding under floorboards?

  3. The “morality of violence” issue aside (which for me isn’t very interesting at all), the connection you draw between the sniper story and the scalpers is brilliant and probably the best „key” to reading IB that I’ve come across thus far, as it gets at the structuring principle of the film.

  4. I happened across this today from Marx’s Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

    History is thorough and goes through many phases when carrying an old form to the grave. The last phases of a world-historical form is its comedy. The gods of Greece, already tragically wounded to death in Aeschylus’s tragedy Prometheus Bound, had to re-die a comic death in Lucian’s Dialogues. Why this course of history? So that humanity should part with its past cheerfully. This cheerful historical destiny is what we vindicate for the political authorities of Germany.

    I think Tarantino has offered us a comedy that cannot be said to quite allow us to part with the Nazi past cheerfully, but there is a powerful utopian-comedic element in the movie that transcends both cold and hot violence. Certainly the genre of WWII film needs such a comedy to put its history behind us, not a Spielberg film like Saving Private Ryan. Not since Chaplin’s Great Dictator or Brooks’s The Producers has there been such cathartic joy at the dream of the final triumph of good over evil.

  5. Perhaps the way Rosenzweig thought Christianity could evangelize pagans towards Judaism, ‘Inglorious Basterds’ shows how Tarantino’s violent phantasmagorias can redeem romantic/pacifists towards an acclamation of Schmittian ‘absolute democracy’ (it it’s hot face-to-face re-incarnation).

  6. The question of face-to-face vs. distant violence in the movie is so obvious once you say it, but I don’t think I ever would’ve come up with it on my own. In discussion with Anthony last night, we noted that Landa does kill the actress with his bare hands, but he’s not really putting himself in any danger there — she’s an unarmed woman with a broken leg. Also, the final scene where the two Basterds are firing into the crowd might be said to be sniper-like, but it’s also un-sniper-like in that they literally have bombs tied to their legs (and would die in the fire anyway — though they didn’t know that would happen going in, so the bombs are the crucial thing). So the apparent exceptions to this rule might actually be clarifications.

  7. Daniel-

    I see why you might want to equate applauding face-to-face violence with Schmittian acclamation of the dictator. Call it
    Tarentino as di(re)ctator. I completely agree that the Nazi use of film (and this a BIG theme in IB) is in service of acclamation, that is, the unification of the viewing audience before the image of a decisive leader who brings together a frightened demos into a sense of militant mission against an existentially threatening enemy. Think of those shots by Riefenstahl in Triumph of the Will of the rally at Nuremburg. Now there is nothing like this in IB. We are not made to feel like members of a mass in awe of a heroic-divine leader. (Again, the sniper who acts like Apollo killing the army with invisible arrows, and who in real life is treated as an Apollo, is more in line with acclamatory film.) We are not made to feel impotent as individuals who only acquire power via the mediation of the crowd. In fact, the whole point is that one man (the BearJew) can terrorize an entire army. His Jewish body overturns the masculine image of Aryan sculpted beauty (again, look at Riefenstahl) and the use of the baseball bat — a symbol of democratic sport — stresses the anti-Aryan image of the Jewish body.(And the most loyal crowds in baseball are utopian crowds backing decades-long underdog losers, a very un-fascist kind of solidarity. Can the Bear be a Cub?) I think it is important to raise the issue of Schmittian acclamation precisely in order to distinguish this film from Riefenstahl. I think it is Tarrantino’s intention to distinguish democratic from Nazi film, and I think he succeeds. (BTW, Frank Capra was the American director in charge of war propaganda film, and his Prelude to War James Agee considered to be a beautiful example of showing the enemy’s face directly to the audience. Capra volunteered for the role after watching Triumph of the Will.)

  8. Daniel-

    One minor note: Rosenzweig did not think Christianity could evangelize pagans towards Judaism, rather towards the revelation opened up in the Hebrew Bible. Unless you’re a Marcionite, that is not counter to the aims of Christianity as such.

  9. Bruce, I think you should consider writing this up for the Journal of Religion and Film (or wherever). You’re able to capture these aspects with a great deal of clarity that I at least find really helpful and genuinely interesting.

  10. Thanks for the nice words about my comments concerning IB. I am very glad to have the ear (eye?) of this blog’s authors and readers for such thoughts as I may have on film and violence (or other topics as they come up). I am honored to be included in the consistently interesting, informative, and often provocative dialogue here. (And, btw, in case people are interested in something longer I wrote along similar lines to my comments here, there is a link on my departmental web page to a piece called “Capra Contra Schmitt.”)

  11. Prof. Rosenstock, thanks for your great posts. I also look fwd to your new book, “Philosophy and the Jewish Question: Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, And Beyond.” I have an ardent interest in Rosenzweig and think his contribution to the ‘Jewish/Christian question’ is too often ignored (or unknown, see the Harvard Icthus blog series, “Israel, the Church and the Identity of God’s People” for example). No, I am not a Marcionite, just confused, I was thinking more of the situational mass experience that attends the consumption of any spectacle (and not solely concerned with Tarantino or his ‘intentions’). Should we be looking for Tarantino’s cathartic re-imaging of the ‘Wounded Knee Massacre?’ where Chief Spotted Elk channels Lukuas, the Jewish hero of the Kitos rebellion in Mesopotamia (115-117) and takes revenge (again) on Forsyth’s 7th cavalry!? Lucius Cassius in his early anti-Jewish, libelous acct. writes: The victorious Jews devoured the flesh, licked up the blood and twisted the entrails like a girdle round their bodies” (it’s got Hollywood/Quentin written all over it!). Shalom. (p.s. is your Rosenzweig blog inactive?)

  12. I’m just reading Zizek’s critique of Critchley in In Defense of Lost Causes, and I read a quote from Critchley saying that when you take up arms, you’re already lost — that you absolutely cannot imitate the evil you’re trying to fight against. I would’ve been convinced by that kind of thing a few years ago, influenced as I was by the same Christian pacifism as Anthony, but now I think it’s incredibly irresponsible — and that shift in my own thinking is probably what made my reaction to this post so positive.

    I’m trying to figure out a formal principle here, and it seems to be that violence is evil when it is done from a position of safety, and resists that evil when we put ourselves on the line. It’s the difference between bullying and a fair fight. But it’s not just that — the evil use of violence denies the nature of violence. It tries to use violence as an indifferent means, from a distance. The anti-evil use of violence acknowledges and assumes its destructive power, carrying out a kind of performative negation of the attitude of utilitarianism (since it can never be utilitarian to put one’s own life on the line). And I think that within this matrix, we can still say that Landa’s murder of the actress is evil whereas the Basterds’ mutilation of the Nazis is still just this side of the line insofar as they are making themselves more and more of a target. There’s an undeniable element of enjoyment in their violence and torture, but it also sends a dual message: fear us, and come and get us.

    But what would we say about a suicide bombing in this perspective?

  13. Re: suicide bombing. Two things: (a) it may depend on whether you are a target; and (b) even more, I’d imagine we’d have to reflect on who actually feels the brunt of one’s violence? Inciting fear and terror amongst the masses does not seem adequate to the cause of resisting evil.

  14. A bit of rambling, but here are some thoughts. I tend to agree with Hardt and Negri on violence. If it is strategically helpful to resist and struggle using violence, even killing legitimate targets (loaded words, but I’m thinking military bases in an unjust society or torture centers like in Chile or, you know, wherever people are being tortured) I think it fits in with this schema of good and joyful hatred. Suicide bombing of the kind that inflicts terror on a society that has the ability to wipe out the oppressed, i.e. as we find in Palestinian resistance to Israel, seems to be misguided and actively harmful to the struggle (Asad has written a book on this) and can turn civil society against it. Violence is not a thing that one finds hope or hopelessness in primarily, but a tool that one must evaluate. In the US waging a guerrilla war from the Rockies just isn’t going to work and so is strategically stupid and likely to end in the kind of violence that, again, turns the civil society against the struggle. The Zapatistas seemed to get this the most, using violence strategically, but not waging the struggle at the level of the State as such. In this way they actually, to my mind, embody the Hardt and Negri approach against either Critchley’s British form of weak thought or the seizure of power from the State (which doesn’t appear to be actually possible in the current form of Mexican politics).

  15. If we begin with the premise that the state is violent, then most of use would say that this violence is only justified when a perpetrator is punished for or prevented from committing a crime, and the punishment/preventive measure “fits” the crime. Why not use this as a basis for at least beginning to think about when it is justified for an individual to commit violence? Beginning here, the state and its legal apparatus should usually be trusted to commit violence in our name as citizens and we should not act as vigilantes. Now what would permit us taking on directly the responsibility for committing violence? This happens in exceptional cases only, where the justice we expect from the state has failed, or where the state itself becomes the perpetrator of crimes, and there is no recourse for us in our quest for justice (and here I am thinking of no recourse even at the international level, so that we cannot even bring a case before the International Criminal Court, for example.) But these exceptional cases should not have a different justification than we use when we, as citizens, allow the state to engange in violence in our name. Our principle should be: we seek to restore the justice of the state. When we feel the state is no longer just or no longer interested in justice, we must resist the unjust violence of the state, otherwise we are complicit in that violence by continuing as if we approved of the state. In Nazi Germany, there were no bystanders: everyone was either victim or perpetrator of the state’s unjust violence. But what kind of violence would a citizen justly undertake to commit in this situation where no recourse was availalbe except violence? I think that the violence must be such as the citizen would want the state to commit in his name. Since s/he is at least one just citizen in the state at this moment, s/he could not will that the state execute violence against every citizen of the state, or some indiscriminately chosen number of citizens. No, the citizen would seek to target violence against the perpetrators, ideally the most responsible perpetrators. Put it this way: any German citizen would be justified in assassinating Hitler on this principle. Likewise, any American soldier is justified in using violence against a German soldier defending Hitler’s state (only such violence as is necessary to defend his own life). But indiscriminate slaughter (fire bombing Dresden is one prominent case) is absolutely unjustified. Now since (I believe) there exists a passion for justice that makes us feel a sublime joy when we witness the triumph of justice over injustice (as Kant says about the French Revolution), the representation of such a triumph in a movie like IB strengthens our moral sensibility and the fact that we cheer it is a sign, as Kant said about the response of the spectators of the French Revolution, that we as a species are not entirely depraved.

  16. Let me add one clarification: I certainly do not think that beating a captured soldier to death is under any imaginable circumstances a form of justified violence. But I do believe that, framed within the spectacle of the triumph of justice over injustice, it can be part of the sublime joy of a utopian dream of the final defeat of evil in the world. The “rush” that perhaps the Bear felt at doing the beating is not what Tarantino wants us to feel (that is why he makes us queasy about it and feel a little of its moral horror by making the soldier seem somewhat noble). Rather, it is more the utopian-comedic joy at the defeat of evil. Or so I would hope.

  17. I’m reminded of the scene early on in The Battle of Algiers where Ali is inducted into the FLN by being given the job of assassinating someone – a cop or collaborator, forget what exactly. He’s supposed to shoot the guy in the back (and in fact the gun isn’t loaded, but he doesn’t know that), but instead he confronts him, tells him that he’s going to die, and pulls the trigger…

    I have a counter example. Suppose you’re in the French Resistance, and you’ve set some charges under a train line, and a train full of German soldiers and/or munitions goes over the charges and you detonate them; there’s a big bang, and several people die (some of them probably not especially vile Nazis, but ordinary conscripts). It seems to me that this is absolutely, unquestionably the violence that resists, and also that it is quite cold and remote – a feat of arms that requires considerable strategic preparation, and that is a long way away from “hot” face-to-face killing.

    Badiou talking about 9/11 says, incidentally, something quite similar: that the anonymity of the strike indicates that it belongs to the register of state power, rather than that of resistants who violent actions always declare, in some sense, that “the resistance” exists and is active in the situation. But this has less to do with “hot” and “cold” violence (or proximity/distance) and more to do with a kind of visibility or accountability: the resistant takes (indeed, actively claims) responsibility for his violence, rather than rationalising and anonymysing it as an operation of “security” or whatever.

  18. This discussion is akin to one on another blog that was dealing with a Christian understanding of Zizek’s “Viloence.” I think Zizek’s (and Marx) points on ‘systemic violence’ need to be reckoned with. Perhaps any Anabaptists would comment on their early interactions with Indians in the colonies during our continental expansion/genocide. Quakers and Anabaptists heroically strived to deal justly and non-violently with native peoples, but the mere fact of their existence passively contributed to colonial expansion. Emmanuel Levinas cites Pascal’s pensses lamenting that the “…I is detestable. In the sovereign affirmation of the I, the perseverance of beings in there being is repeated, but also the consciousness of the horror that egoism inspires in myself…my place in the sun is the image of usurpation of the whole earth.” “My place in the sun,” also references the Talmud, that even my shadow robs life and sunlight from a blade of grass. What then are we to do? Are we at best hostages, benignly complicit in a crime for which we, against our will, assist the perpetrators to escape and profit—indeed, the very fact of our ‘innocence’ is where and why our value as hostage obtains! But, Levinas goes farther “…we are all guilty of everything all the time, and me more than all the rest,” Levinas wrote that, after surviving the Nazi’s; what can he mean by that, where does this sense of guilt/responsibility come from? Can God be taken hostage or accused of being a guilty bystander? Meanwhile the uncountable body-count rises with the ocean’s tides and the murderous sun assaults our collateral shadows and justifiable killing is parsed into nano-frames of imaginary scenarios inspired by Hollywood blockbusters. Since my family is a mélange of Jews, Jesuits and Native Americans I will offer another perspective: The Lenape’ (Delaware) Indians, caught between English, French and American God-smacked nation-building fervor faced some difficult choices. Fight, Flee, submit, integrate, convert. The pacifist Moravian missionaries had been active among the Delawares and had made many converts. While some Delawares fought with the English and some fought with the Americans, the Christian converts chose to submit and integrate and live peacefully among their conquerors in ‘Huts of Grace’ or Gnadenhutten (a small town in Ohio, I used to live by). Of those that fought with the Americans, the few survivors were rewarded/betrayed with starvation, murder and relocation to Oklahoma. Those that fought with the English suffered the same fate but were relocated to Ontario. However, those that followed the Moravians in peaceful non-violence were set upon by Ohio militiamen. Given that the militiamen were also Christians, they allowed the 96 men, women and children lenape’ converts to pray through the night. In the morning they lined them all up on their knees, and as the 96 prayed the militiamen took turns bashing in their heads with a large mallet (they were conserving ammunition). There was some outrage and moral condemnation back in the comfortable living rooms in Boston and Philadelphia, but the boats kept landing and the immigrants, many fleeing persecution, injustice, starvation and oppression themselves, kept filling the wagons and heading West, their shadows leading them all the way to the Pacific ocean, and to Whidbey island, where I now live. I couldn’t care to guess what Tarantino’s irrelevant ‘intentions’ are, but maybe this is what Levinas was getting at? Shalom.

  19. I think we need to distinguish between justifications for violence and justifications for the representation of violence. My comments have been focused on the latter. But Daniel’s post reminds us that when we are talking about “justification” in either sense, we must have our eyes on Justice itself. Justice is not the mere legality of procedure, but the recognition of the dignity of every and each human being. Such justice is utopian, but it cannot only be utopian. It must also lead us to resist injustice, sometimes violently. And it also calls upon us to critique the forms of legal state violence that are merely covers for domination (of one class over another).

    I would like to recommend a book I just finished reading today and loved, a book that is, I think, hardly mentioned these days but that deserves much more attention: Ernst Bloch, Natural Law and Human Dignity. One of Bloch’s targets (and the book was published in the 1960s before the current rage) is Carl Schmitt, whom he calls a “prostitute” of the Nazi regime.

  20. Daniel Imbruglia’s story of the fate of the Moravian Lenape is truly shocking. It raises a question- is a form of life which does not defend its existence, a true ‘other’ in the Mussar or Levinas’ sense? Is there really an alterity here?
    Is violence, itself, really recognized as violence where there is no symmetrical will or capacity to retaliate?

    Certainly, in the past, there have been religions and systems of thought which hold violence- directed against any living being- to be a univocal, objective, and the supreme type of sin. However, when we examine religious texts, which uphold ‘non-violence’as an absolute, we are puzzled that types of violence we have no difficulty in classifying as murder are nevertheless shown as being no more than venial sins involving ritual purification.

    Such murders might involve a low caste man- for example the laundryman who instigates a learned Pundit to kill him in a fit of rage- or other outsider. In the case of the laundryman, his motive was patriotic. He was helping the cunning Chief Minister, Chanakya (author of the Arthashastra) to entrap the learned pundit into serving the State. A truly shocking story, but one retailed by the learned Jain Monk Hemachandra.

    Though violence, nowadays, may seem asymmetrical- our feeling of vulnerability as individuals increasing our commitment to human rights as an absolute value- this isn’t really the case because we can (except in ‘failed States’) collectively, pool a deterrent retaliatory capacity. The greater the symmetry of retaliatory capacity, the more likely it is that a modus vivendi will be reached, Treaties will be signed, a new branch of Law will come into existence.

    The question is, can there be law where there is no symmetry?
    Do concepts such as the Kantian categorical imperative, or the Rawlsian ‘veil of ignorance’, have any validity? Might they not yield perverse, counter-intuitive, results?

    There is a story that Hitler asked Dieter Eckhart if there was any such thing as a good Jew. ‘Otto Weininger (author of ‘Sex & Destiny)’ was the reply- ‘because he killed himself’.

    Similarly, Gandhian non-violence failed in India. True, it averted the far greater catastrophe of a general breakdown of law & order- and helped heal the wounds of partition. But, as a political strategy to hasten progress towards representative government, it was barren of result. Ceylon got a better deal earlier than India.
    This was bad not just for India but for the whole British Empire and by extension the ability of the Allies to combat the Axis powers.

    In essence, a situation where one group of people- from whatever motive- deny that they are in a symmetrical relationship with another group of people then the scene is set for a type of violence which is mere butchery- not an agon- and thus outside the purview of Ethics.

    From the point of view of the eschaton, of course, the true winners may be the slaughtered however, surely, this fact can not become the basis of a teaching. Non-violence of this absolutist sort can only be a halachah vein morin kein, so to speak. The fact that we know the Moravian Delaware were ‘in the right’ can not become the grounds for counselling others to go and do likewise. Indeed, one Rabbinic way of interpreting this would be to say that had the Moravian Delaware known that non-resistance was what God wanted, they could not then non-resist. They had to fight.
    Why should this be the case?
    Every tradition has its own answer to this question. The problem is that the answer might also involve either empowering an Inquisition or de-recognising large classes of ethically abhorrent violence by the use ad captum vulgi arguments about ‘natural inferiority’.
    It is true that one might turn to disciplines like cybernetics, game-theory, or refinements of notions like ‘defeasibility’ in jurisprudence- to give some sort of answer to this. However, the fundamental problem of alterity-which-isn’t-alterity by reason of radical asymmetry will still remain as a fundamental aporia for Human Beings.

  21. We hear this phrase “asymmetrical warfare” a lot these days. I think they mean by that that ‘we’ ethical Americans prefer a ‘stand up’ fight, while our enemies hide behind road-side bombs and suicide vests. There is nothing particularly new about this kind of national myth-making. In the grievances listed against king George the U.S. constitution states: “…he has incited domestic insurrections among us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the Merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is and undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” I am not sure of a definition of violence that insists on a ‘equivalence of capacity’ like troops costumed in blue and red lining up in cornfields and whacking away at each other. I think that the ‘alteriry’ Levinas talks about is not conditioned on circumstances or particularities. Levinas writes, “The other is not other because he would have other attributes, or would have been born elsewhere or at another moment, or because he would be of a different race. The other is other because of me; unique and in some manner different than the individual belonging to a genus. It is not a difference which makes alterity: ALTERITY MAKES DIFFERENCE (my emph). The recognition of the other happens beyond being, beyond essence…” But evidently not beyond the movies! It is not sufficient for Americans to vanquish their enemies in war; we must dig them up over and over, even in the midst of two ‘real time’ wars (that we refuse to witness) and enchant ourselves with grotesque atrocities upon our former enemies stylized corpses. “…Not even the dead is safe from the enemy, if he is victorious,” Benjamin wrote (On The Concept of History) “and he has not ceased to be victorious.” Prof. Rosenstock asks a different question though: “It seems to me that when talking about the representation of violence one needs to ask: with what subject position is the viewer being asked to identify with?” But does this standard mode of critique give too much authority to intermediates? Perhaps a different question is equally important: What are the total material conditions that allow for the production and consumption of cultural products in order for them to be profitably entertained, circulated, reproduced, and economically maintained, by the administrators of cultural production? The ‘intentions’ of directors or writers are irrelevant to this kind of critique, even more, that kind of critique can seduce us into a licentious complicity when we engage them as if they were actual agents and not merely the “whores of ‘once upon a time,’ in the bordellos of historicism,” as Benjamin put it (thesis XVI). Perhaps the director Spielberg is a relevant example. One can hardly name a movie more insidiously and dangerously anti-Semitic than “Schindler’s List.” Yet it was produced by a well-intentioned Jew with honorable objectives, brilliant direction and spectacular production values, yet interpolated anti-Semitism is shot thru the entire picture. Vivek Iyer asks above “Is violence, itself, really recognized as violence where there is no symmetrical will or capacity to retaliate?” How would Schindler or other Nazi’s answer this question? Colonel Goeth, I reckon, would agree, and so perhaps would most of the mallet-wielding Ohio militiamen who murdered the praying Moravian Indians at Gnadenhutten. Is this, perhaps, where we must leave the order of speculative pragmatism “for the order of holiness, the order of compassion, the order of love…” as Levinas argued, and instead enter into the “gratuitousness or the holiness of being-for-the –other (?)” Iyer then concedes: ”From the point of view of the eschaton, of course, the true winners may be the slaughtered, however, surely, this fact can not become the basis of a teaching.” Why not? It certainly was for the Moravians and Anabaptists. The martyrs of Gnadenhutten were not practitioners of strategic non-violence, they were faithful witnesses (martyrs) of their crucified God. As Yoder put it (from ID): “The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the swords are not as strong as they think – true as that is…It is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. One does not come to that belief by reducing social process to mechanical and statistical models, nor by winning some of one’s battles for the control of one’s own corner of the fallen world. One comes to it by sharing the life of those who sing about the Resurrection of the slain Lamb.” I am not a Moravian pacifist, but I can still bear witness to the sacrifice of their song in the midst of the horrific choices they were faced with. “Are we better off for seeing this movie? (Inglorious Basterds)” Prof Rosenstock asks, “I for one think so” he answers,” precisely because we come to feel what kind of violence is evil and what kind of violence resists evil.” Are those really the two most important questions to ask about violence in this death-besotted culture Is there any evidence that Americans (and perhaps others) have the moral/spiritual historical character to discern among competing spectacles of box-office carnage, and that consuming those representations can mature us towards an understanding of humanity “…as the voice of God reverberating in being” as Levinas taught? Obliged, Daniel

  22. ”From the point of view of the eschaton, of course, the true winners may be the slaughtered, however, surely, this fact can not become the basis of a teaching.”
    Why not? It certainly was for the Moravians and Anabaptists. The martyrs of Gnadenhutten were not practitioners of strategic non-violence, they were faithful witnesses (martyrs) of their crucified God.

    Daniel Imburgia’s carefully reasoned, beautifully worded, comment carries the stamp of true nobility of spirit. However is this the effect of Grace or Works? Pre-election or reasoned hermeneutics?

    Andre Weil- the brother of Simone- on the basis of his Gandhian reading of the Gita, decides that non-violence is an absolute value. He escapes to Finland to avoid the draft but is nearly shot as a Soviet spy. Finally back in France, after serving a sentence as a deserter, his life is saved from the Shoah because he counts as a soldier.
    Had Weil been shot, would he have been a martyr to the principle of non-violence? Or does his story smack too much of the Good Soldier Shweick rather than the noble warrior, Arjuna?
    Where there is Election, then certainly we can speak of martyrdom, of bearing true witness. What of those not so pre-destined?
    It may be that the Moravians’ song is an outward and visible sign- indeed, I for one could not argue otherwise- but can I be as sure that is the case for others elsewhere?

    Dare I repeat to the oppressed the advice Gandhi so glibly gave the Jews in Germany?
    It is in this context that some sort of halachah v’ein morin kein type understanding of the highest law- that which relates to violent death- must operate. Something is Lawful where there is Election but only if done spontaneously rather than on the basis of that knowledge. But, admitting such a Law- a Law such that once known it prohibits the action it otherwise sanction- has a curious effect on the entire hermeneutic fabric underlying Jurisprudence.
    In Islamic terms, this is to licence (the Sufi guide) al-Khidr and to relegate Moses to the ‘majazi’ or illusory world of outward show. Fine if you believe that adepts in these traditions really have miraculous powers but problematic for the rest of us.

    When Pinchas slays Zimri and Kosbi, his act is pre-eminently Halachah vein morin kein. What of Zimri? He too dies for something but what that turns out to be is to bequeath Heinrich Heine the hapless figure of the Shlemiel upon whom even the Shlimazel spills soup.

    But is that not what we secretly fear to be our own case? It may be that more My Lai type atrocities- or indeed the 9/11 outrage- occur because the great mass of us are more afraid of appearing ridiculous than monsters of hate?

    Admit metempsychosis, with the Hindus or the Hasids, and there is some complicated way to get the accounts to balance in the end. But have both Theodicy and Ethics really been saved or is the whole exercise like bailing out Enron by merging it with Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme?

    But without metempsychosis- or some Plotinian or Erigenian notion of Identity as Participation- or some ‘tuirgen’ type of New Age mysticism- with no other surety than that which St.Augustine gives that some are born saved, some are born damned- why it skills not to ask- ethical discourse ceases to be privileged, at least for those in doubt as to their election, and must compete in the market place of rhetoric- at times drowning out the Tyrtaeus of the times, at others serving the meretricious purpose of some Petain or Quisling.
    For those with the foreknowledge of Election- Phenomenology would be pretty much an empty project- there is no Hegelian struggle for Recognition, no Girardian mimetic desire- the other can be truly other- for truly damned- there is no game in the mirror, no exchange of selves, no mimesis, no real agon- but in that case the true skandalon, the true stumbling block, is this pharmakos, this scapegoat, which returning to life reveals the sacrifice to be just mummery.

    Benjamin certainly, reversing the arrow of history, can preserve the difference between the Moravian martyr and the Jihadi ‘shaheed’. But is this a mere Mannerism- a baroque turned rococo- an attitude? Surely no discourse so noble could end in a mere dandyism of the soul- an impoverished dandyism- while the Elect are raptured to Glory?

    Yet this too is a cross- bear it who may, though bespattered with our spittle- they bear it, perhaps, to our own redemption.

  23. “Grace, works, hermeneutics,” yes. “Nobility of spirit,” well, thanks, but my (relatively) cooshy life and meagre savings acct. belie my rhetoric. Of Zimri and Koshi, well the sages have been battling that out for centuries. Rambam though offers, ““The zealot may assault the violator however, only during the act of intercourse, as in the case of Zimri, as it is said and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman through the private parts.” Ouch! I couldn’t put it better than your last sentence: “Yet this too is a cross–bear it who may, though bespattered with our spittle- they bear it, perhaps, to our own redemption.” obliged

  24. Well, Maimonides’ judgement in this case reflects his own proto-scientific interests and Islamic milieu rather than traditional Jewish understanding.
    Neglecting explanations with ibbur, we still see a marvellous appreciation of deep symmetries between agents rather than a judgemental case-by-case approach. Thus, Moses’s slaying of the Egyptian sets off a chain of events that brings him to Midian, his marriage, etc. This provides the ethical justification for Kosbi’s seduction of Zimri- we are not speaking of harlotry, this has zero to do with miscegenation- Pinchas’s act is a type of holy madness- a phrenes Divine rather than thymotic- his soul departs from him and in a sense it is the two Kohainim who (for hubris? lack of Election?) were blasted by Hashem who are resurrected in him when he is admitted to the priesthood.

    The fact that the Jews developed as an Ethical people has to do with this continuing tradition of being bound by a Law which is itself defeasible- which points beyond itself to the deep symmetries that bind all things together.
    A Jewish Mathematician, Emmy Noether, has a theorem that proves that where a system displays a symmetry then there is a conserved property or conservation law. (This only holds for ‘non-dissipative’ systems)
    If History- or at least sacred history- is ‘non dissipative’, if it is meaningful, it is because all beings are bound in symmetrical relationships- there is an agon whose spectacle is edifying.
    It appears to me that the notion of a haecceity that is not sublatable, that is incommensurable, non rankable- outside the ‘great chain of being’- while valuable for combating the ‘primitive’ Platonic Logic of Being as Participation which, for all I know, may have been bad for medicine and good only for magic- has a price tag associated with it. The particular nihilism I see as being associated with, for e.g. Scotist univocity, but also Basho’s Zen, is that the mirroring of all things by all things ceases to be a way to restitch everything together. Jordan turns into that river of rocks, the Sabbatikon, which islands each from each.

    Now it may be that mathematical toilers in the vineyard of Brouwer and Weyl etc, might find a way to re-establish intuition, restore the continuum, end all the aporias of Aristotelian theology- & maybe, an episode of South Park will explain it all to me.
    Till then we have Tarentino- whose homage to the sacred violence of 70’s exploitation moveis- a liberation theology surely?- whose latest has sparked such an interesting discussion here.

  25. @ Daniel Imburgia
    Forgive me, your words had a real impact on me and I didn’t, couldn’t respond properly. The Aquinian (or rather Joycean-Aquinian) quality of ‘adequatio’ was lacking.

    It occurred to me, during my swim and private Gym ‘mini-workout’ (compulsory for under-worked mid-life crisis type, divorced Dads whose beloved but financially independent son is like 23! & still at Uni and NOT taking the ‘right’ courses) that you, like me, might have come to Theology relatively late- i.e. without a sense of Election- without that all important sense of destiny arising from the ‘Family Romance’- without, also, that spur of social mobility- or, as here, in Olde Englande, a lateral move under conditions of social stasis- which organised religion. alone, offers.
    I got all that from your reference to having savings- believe me, they couldn’t be more meagre than mine.

    Still, I too feel guilty about…what?… not being in debt…so there is a sort of commensurability here. Yet no adequatio.

    Of course, I’m wrong. You are actually a precocious 17 year old from a family of West Virginia coal miners who have already been betrayed by the lawyers and politicians. You have chosen Christ- against the wishes of your belt wielding step-dad, or your mousy … NO, not mousy, Social Activist (Martha has chosen the better part- says Eckhart- because she has taken the first step to BECOMING Mary) Mom.

    Yeah, I know, I’m talking nonsense- and am THAT GUY- the middle aged failure- with a bigger screen T.V than his little flat, his pied a terre- allows- worried about his spreading gut, who turns to Religion.

    Coz like that’s part of feeling better about myself? I DIDN’T MEAN TO WAKE UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND EAT all the COOKIE DOUGH! That was the Devil. Not me. Frankly, nobody understands. I think my personal trainer is a Satanist. I NEED HELP. And what’s more, like if I get really good at prayer and stuff- I won’t need hair plugs?
    And like Jesus Christ, already, could you please please stop my son from taking ridiculous courses at Uni- like Arabic for ****’s sake?
    Hey, let him be a missionary in… Salt Lake City sounds nice. Basra? NO ****ing way!

    Daniel, boss, you got a way with words. I love your ‘obliged’. You are of the Elect.
    I’m not so crass as to tempt you to simony (all the poppadum you can eat, if you persuade my son to, like, train to be a C.P.A)… still, maybe we can make a deal?

    Yeah, stuff like that- ordinary people gassing on and on- that is the true background for soteriology as a self-consistent praxis.
    In that restricted sense, Theology really isn’t rhetoric- or second guessing foundationally flawed chrematistic (not oecononomic) disciplines in which the heathen is as good, better, than the Christian- and to para-phrase Dubya- when America makes you its bitch- Democracy is the reacharound. You thought he meant Iraq? Sorry! He meant the Christ-seekers of- I will not say America- we are all Christ’s New Found Land- we are all a ‘wilderness Zion’- the Plymouth Rock of this petro-dollar St.Peter which lands not just on Afro-Americans, it lands on all who hope for that Christ who is with us when any two are gathered…

    As we are- you and me- by my addressing this to you.

    But, boss, words you’ve got a gift for- I don’t- I think as ‘crudely as possible’ like Brecht- I’m not you- but you, you have that divine afflatus, you don’t make it SEEM like rhetoric! (which it isn’t- let us be clear- no, nor showing off either.)

    Y’know Kant said- kinda- that a real Ethical theory would be like a prescription from a Doctor you trust- you’d go to the Pharmacy and get it filled out and everybody around you would be there for you to remind you about how important it was to follow through.
    Christ’s pharmakon aint like that.
    Or is it?
    Academic theology can’t have it both ways. Either, yes, Christ’s pharmakon is available to all by the agency of all- sin is no foundation for social stratification, poverty is about productivity- nothing more- OR WHAT IT IS REALLY ABOUT IS a bunch of guys who did or did not get tenure coz of Hitler or somebody equally foolish- and never contemplated, like Rambam- or Wittgenstein during the second world war- becoming like Doctors or Hospital ancillary staff or what have you.

    Look, essentially, I’m saying- but in a way I hope you won’t find embarrassing- that there is something you have, you in your workaday prose and signing off as ‘obliged’- which is the genuine Metanoiac roar of Christ the Lion.
    Boss, when you yourself have the power- the spirit which can move words to move people- mere words but real people- why invert the relationship and select as objects of study those who, precisely in that arena, so singularly failed?
    The Moravian Lenape had a duty to CONVERT not to die.
    Boss, the most ‘primitive’ tribal people today are in my country. I visit- India very hot- I’m no missionary.
    I’m a big fat dark ugly guy wearing thick glasses. Also, I’m real stupid. Hence, everybody loves me. The young fellows- happy they can beat the big black at wrestling or whatever- they are cool with me.
    The whole thing is enacted for my benefit- we guys could easily kill you- but this is how we throw a scare into you so you run back to your side of the accepted border and go back to trading with us.
    Bottom line- tribal societies- like the French or English- grant social mobility and reproductive success (girl-friends as opposed to a stone like WIFE)- so the tribe feels like a Nation not a fucking bunch of pig ignorant Apu-rejected-by-kwikimart guys like yours truly.
    What? I was actually rejected by an American multi-national’s management programme. Well, as the Italians say, the best revenge is Management Consultancy…or Theology to Organised Religion.

    Seriously, you’re better than that. To see a gedanken re. the problem of that alterity that aint alterity, to understand the scandal of the non- communicant- I direct you to my novella ‘Hunger’ part of the novel ‘Deus Absonditus’- full text on Google Books.


  26. Vivek, thanks for your gracious words. I am afraid, though, that we(me) may be violating several rules in the “comments policy” I just read (especially the part about ‘unique snowflakes’). Reckon we have gotten this far because this thread has been abandoned by everyone else, including the blog-master (Perhaps we have both drunk too deeply from the well of the post-structuralists and the ‘Language Poets.’) First a confession, I quoted you (out of context and w/o permission, forgive me) from your great post above over @ “Inhabitatio Dei” where they are having a similar discussion. Now to answer a few questions; I study Talmud and paint Orthodox and Coptic Icons. I learned theology as a lad, in candle-lit chapels praying the Stations of the Cross with my Sicilian Grandmother who raised me. The ethics of Puzo’s ‘Godfather I and II’ have served me as well as what passes for the same in much of Christian theology (Augustine and Tony Soprano have more of an ethical affinity than Jesus Christ and George Bush). I aspire to the Christian pacifism of the Quakers and Lenape Moravians, the grace and generosity of heart of Levinas, coupled with the wisdom of the Gaon of Vilna. I walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and research Mordechai Rosembaum and Franz Rosenzweig @ Hebrew University. When I have time I am painting the 14 stations of the cross. I am @ #6, but tackling acheiropoieta has proved a challenge, as it should. Obliged, Daniel

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