Journal Articles

June 2020 - Vol.50 / No.2
Eastern and Western Apophatic Paths between Pre-Modern Divinity and Post-Modern Secularity
Author : William Franke
Keywords : wisdom, between, apophatic, unknown, negative theology, speculative philology, conjecture
In speaking to the topic “Between Humanity and Divinity: In Literature, Art, Religion and Culture,” this paper places its emphasis especially on the “Between.” Humanity and divinity can be experienced only in this “between.” The vast traditions, humanistic and religious alike, in both Eastern and Western cultures, define images of humanity and divinity always only in at least implicit relation to one another. Humanity no less than divinity is indefinable and unknowable as such. This unknowability is fundamental to Socratic—but equally to Daoist—wisdom. Only the space between humanity and divinity allows for representation of either and indeed for the extremely rich forms of figuration produced with astonishing abundance by literature and the arts, as well as by religious rites and practices, throughout world cultures. The paper expounds something of the apophatic or negative logic underlying these fields of representation, moving between divinity and humanity, as seen through “apophatic” (or negative theological) lenses. It attempts to do so in a comparative spirit reaching across cultures from Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance studies in the West to ancient and venerated forms of philosophical, religious, and aesthetic thinking in the East, particularly in Chinese tradition. The paper also includes, in closing, a methodological reflection on philology as a speculative discipline. Such a theoretical perspective is solicited by the overall theme, since thinking the “between” of humanity and divinity entails suspension of all univocal, positive positionings and fosters a kind of thinking without defined objects, a thinking in and from the space between all definable fields.
Dante’s Fleece: Instilling the Divine, Transfiguring the Human in the Heaven of the Fixed Stars
Author : Brian K. Reynolds
Keywords : Dante, Commedia, Virgin Mary, incarnation, poetics, divinization
At the outset of Paradiso 25, Dante imagines himself returning triumphant as poeta (8) “with altered fleece, with altered voice” (7) to his beloved Florence after long exile, so as to be crowned with the poet’s laurel at the font of his baptism. At first glance, this seems a strangely presumptuous and poignantly personal ambition for one who has supposedly risen above all such earthly concerns. But a closer reading will suggest otherwise. Teetering between hubris and humility as he strives to give voice to the unbounded reaches of his vision, Dante may now dare to count himself among the poets of old; indeed, he has surpassed them, for his is a poetry, “to which both Earth and Heaven have set their hands” (1-2). The fleece that Dante seeks to bear back to the world is far greater than the golden treasure sought by Jason (Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.720-7.158). Where Jason’s magnanimous journey has as its end mere earthly glory and leaves in its wake a trail of destruction, Dante’s purpose in ploughing a furrow through the ocean of Heaven, drawing us in his wake (Par. 2.18) is to transhumanise us. His “altered fleece” is the dew-impregnated fleece of Gideon (Vulgate Bible, Judg. 6.36-40), traditionally interpreted as a type of the Incarnation, because, like the Virgin Mary, the poet wants to “magnify the Lord” (Luke 1.46). His poem, far from being some sort of personal vindication, bears a message of conversion for the world that lives so badly (Purg. 32.103) that it might rediscover the God who “open[ed] the road that runs from Heaven to earth” (Par. 23.37).
Gaze, Object, and Precious Stones in the Book of John Mandeville
Author : Wei-fan Cheng
Keywords : The Book of John Mandeville, object(s), precious stones, gaze, Lacan
Manifesting the desire for seeing, the fourteenth-century travelogue the Book of John Mandeville presents a world of spiritual, physical, and especially visual wonders by having its first-person protagonist travel to Jerusalem, the holy cities nearby, and amazing places far beyond. Though the narrative seemingly reveals the exotic world and recounts the abundant material objects through the perspective of a Christian knight, the “gaze” shown in the text is not a unidirectional viewing from the Latin West, but a bidirectional, or even multidirectional, gaze that splits between self and other. In addition, the gaze in the text is intriguingly intertwined with precious stones and jewels, the material objects typically associated with the exotic. Lacan’s conceptualization of gaze as a third locus surpassing the simplistic self-other relationship may potentially contribute to the interpretation of this connection. In this paper, I would like to appropriate Lacan’s idea of gaze as objet petit a to explore three specific parts in Mandeville’s description, namely the episode of the Castle of the Sparrowhawk, the description of the Sultan’s merchant-spies, and finally the almost omnipresent “gold, silver, and precious stones” in the lands of Prester John. This paper aims to scrutinize how the gaze-object in Mandeville’s narrative challenges the traditional subject-object relation and configures a new kind of subject that can never be settled and closed, which echoes Mandeville’s portrayal of the Earthly Paradise as an alienated and eternally unreachable Christian center.
From Passion to Affection: Milton’s System of Emotion in Paradise Lost
Author : Chien-wei Yang
Keywords : emotion, affection, passion, Milton, Paradise Lost, General System Theory
Does God have emotions? If so, how does one as a mortal gauge divine emotion? For what purpose(s) does God choose to be passible? These are the questions constantly pondered and debated by readers of the Bible in early modern England when emotion becomes a popular subject of treatises and pamphlets. While emotion, or passion, is almost unanimously considered by early moderns as one distinct negative capacity, the questions of divine passibility remain disputable. This debate naturally would not escape Milton, who holds absolute faith in his vocation as a prophetic bard. In Paradise Lost Milton explores divine emotion exclusive to the divine, angelic emotion shared by heavenly beings, corrupt passion unique to the fallen angels, and prelapsarian and postlapsarian emotion embodied by Adam and Eve. I argue Milton, consciously diverting from the theological convention and contemporary mainstream discourse on emotion, establishes a concept system of emotion. Distinguishing between affection and passion, Milton treats affection as pure sensation felt by the angelic hosts and God yet portrays passion as unruly disturbance of mind experienced by the satanic crew and the fallen mankind. Drawing upon the General System Theory, I argue Milton’s versifications of affection, passion, and emotion can be read as his poetic attempt at building an open system of emotion in which each subsystem constituted by distinct emotion exists in close interaction to sustain the harmony of the system.
The Technology of Time, Mathematization, and Hyperobjects in Interstellar
Author : Nai-nu Yang
Keywords : time, the technology of time, mathematization, hyperobjects, the posthuman future
In this paper, I will discuss the issue of the relationship among technology, time, and object, especially regarding how the technology of time re-shapes or transforms the human beings so as to enable them to travel in outer space. Mathematization, Quentin Meillassoux’s term, a nonhuman approach, is the key to enabling humans to explore the worlds and realities beyond their common understanding of time, space, and themselves. Timothy Morton’s conception of hyperobjects offers us a nonhuman perspective to (re)examine humans’ relationships with matter outside of Earth. With its background of possible space travel in the future, Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar shows us how the technology of time becomes an essential tool for humans to explore the universe and leads us to a posthuman and even nonhuman future. In Interstellar, while it appears that the storyline centers around the love between father and daughter, the gap between manifest time on Earth and physical time in outer space transforms their relationship. Love is still love, but their love bears witness to the “a-mortalizaton” of human relationships.