Monday, 2 April 2012
A Taste of Faith 2 (The Hazlenut and the olive)
Rationale for March 29 Food event following the book launch and talk by Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster.
The recipes were devised in the spirit of a critique of Simon’s book on the basis of the psychoanalytic method that informs Jamieson’s writing and practice.
‘The infinite ethical demand allows us to become the subjects of which we are capable by dividing us from ourselves, by forcing us to live in accordance with an asymmetrical and unfulfillable demand—say the demand to be Christlike—while knowing that we are all too human’.
Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless.
‘The superego is an imperative ... [it] has a relation to the law, and it is at the same time a senseless law, going so far as to become a failure to recognise [meconnaissance] the law. ... The superego is at one and the same time the law and its destruction’.
Jacques Lacan, Seminar II: 102
‘The superego is your amigo’, Simon Critchley, On Humour.
In Faith of the Faithless (Verso, 2012), Simon Critchley shows once again that his philosophy is based on an ethics of the superego, the faculty of a divided self that, in its infinite, unfillable demand, is nevertheless our ‘amigo’. In his latest book, he continues to explore the superegoic paradoxes inherent to faith, truth and law. The book opens with ‘a parable of sorts’ concerning Oscar Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol in 1897 and his delivery of the manuscript of De Profundis to Robert Ross in France where he would spend that last two and a half years of his life, ill and destitute, dying in 1900. While he was not given a capital sentence for his acts of ‘gross indecency’, the two years hard labour in Reading Gaol ultimately amounted to a death sentence. Critchley is interested in ‘the religious dimension’ of Wilde’s text, ‘particularly Wilde’s interpretation of the figure of Christ’ and how suffering can become the ‘occasion for a fresh mode of self- realization’ that is analogous to redemption. The title for Critchley’s book comes from the following quotation from Wilde’s De Profundis.
When I think of religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine. Everything to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith.
The theme of the last supper of bread and wine conjoins both the Eucharist – a taste of the afterlife in the consumption of God – and the last taste of the earth for the condemned man or woman. For the condemned the last meal is an entirely sensual affair, all nourishment at that point being strictly redundant. As such it is symbolic of the capital crime for which the prisoner has been condemned. In contrast to the Christian sacrifice of life for the everlasting life-in-death of Heaven, the criminal’s commitment to life on earth is affirmed in a spirit of transgression, in the ecstasy of crime, or at least in the determination to pursue material interests, the satisfaction of the drives, or consumption generally which, through risking the death penalty, is raised to the level of a categorical imperative. This imperative, the law of the lawless, is, we suggest, the continuous underside of the faith of the faithless.
In his book On Humour, Critchley revisits the scene of capital and state crime to give his readers an example of Freudian gallows humour that affirms, he argues, the importance of superego.
Freud speaks of a criminal who, on the morning of his execution, is being led out to the gallows to be hanged, and who remarks, looking up at the sky, “Na, die Woche fängt gut an”, “Well, the week’s beginning nicely”.
The humour here, Critchley remarks, is generated by the superego that turns ‘the desperate situation into a joke’, making light of it in order apparently to make it bearable, even enjoyable. In its function as an executive faculty of the divided self that enjoys itself mocking the self-importance of the ego whose personal suffering and tragedy is about to unfold, Critchley says, ‘the superego is your amigo’ (95, 103). It seems to us that the structure of Freud’s gallows humour is not dissimilar to that which shapes the symbolic power of the last meal: the affirmation of life in the taste of food (or in laughter) that is precisely enhanced by the proximity of death, one’s own death that is also that of the Other (the victim of the crime of passion and the crime of state execution that becomes identical to the whole world that is extinguished in the life that is taken). The evening’s culinary delights are thus dedicated to this world that is both sacrificed and affirmed, the world that is symbolized and embodied in the hazelnut that for Julian of Norwich contained the entirety of God’s creation and in the single olive that the anonymous prisoner of one of James Reynold’s death row pictures selected for his or her last meal.
The superego has been called a ‘gourmandise’ because ‘the more you feed it ... the more it wants’, which is why we offer the gourmandising, infinitely demanding philosopher of superego a celebratory feast that we hope is faithful to the spirit of a community of the faithless. The food for the evening is intended to evoke the continuity (as if on a Moebuis strip) between faith and faithlessness, law and crime in recipes inspired by Jesus Christ, Julian of Norwich, Angela di Folignio, Saint Agata of Sicily and prisoners on death row.
Edia Connole & Scott Wilson