Friday, February 15, 2013

Alison 7 of 9

7. Seeing myself through the eye of Another

Let us step back now, into our larder or pantry, to consider further the oddity of this place of the interface between our desire and the voices which run us. So far I’ve emphasized the negative – the rupture – what we are becoming dislocated from – the way we have been run by the regard of the social other. Now please note that there is no alternative to being run by the regard of another. It is not the case that we can strip off the false-selves given us by the social other, and that there, underneath it all, radiantly, will be our true self, untrammeled by the social other.

No, we always receive ourselves through the eye of another. The really hard matter of prayer is learning to receive ourselves through the eye of Another other. For what on earth is it like to be looked at by Another other? What does that “regard” tell us of who we are, and who we are becoming?

My sense is that the collapse of the “self of desire” which begins when we step out of the regard of the social other is much easier to notice than the much quieter and more imperceptible calling into being of a new self-of-desire, without any flashy over-againsts, or bits of grasped self, sodden with the wrong sorts of meaning. But it is here that the work of imagination, to which Jesus was appealing in his example of the importunate widow, has its proper place. For it is as we stretch the boundaries of our imagination formed by the social other that we may catch glimpses of being looked at by One who is not part of that at all.

What, for instance, is meant by the deathlessness of God? And here, I don’t mean the usual associations which come with “immortality” or “eternity” – meaning something like invulnerabililty, or going on for an awfully long time. Rather, part of what we mean when we talk about being looked at by God is that we are held in the regard of someone who is αθανατος – deathless. Someone for whom, unlike anyone we know or have ever known, death is not a parameter, a reality, a limit, a circumscription. Someone, therefore, for whom mortality, existence in limited time, our reality, looks entirely different. Someone who can wish us into acting as if death were not. This is the sort of regard that can suggest into us the possibility of believing it is worthwhile to undertake projects whose fruition we may not see. The sort of regard that is unhurried enough not to be bothered by my failure, that empowers me to share the space of those who are despised because secure about my long term prospects. It is the sort of regard for whom Keynes’ famous phrase “in the long term, we’re all dead” is simply meaningless, for the only long term that exists is one in which death has no incidence.

Or again, what does it mean to be looked at through eyes that only know abundance, for whom scarcity is simply not a reality, for whom there is always more? Think of the rupture this produces in my patterns of desire! “If you want more, there won’t be enough to go round” or “there’s no free meal at the end of the universe” or “Grab what you can before it all runs out”, or just the gloomy depressed “euugh” of disappointment with things, life, and so on not matching up to expectation, the way of being in the world and perceiving everything which the ancient Hebrews referred to as Vanity, or futility. What does it look like to spend time in the regard of One for whom it is not, as the whole of our capitalist system presupposes, scarcity that leads to abundance by promoting rivalry, which we then bless and call competition? Rather it is a hugely leisured creative abundance that is the underlying reality, and an endless magis, “more”, is always on the way.

What does it look like to spend time in the regard of one for whom daring and adventure, not fear and caution underlie the whole project of creation, for whom everything that is is open-ended and pointing to more than itself, and for whom we are invited to share in the Other’s excitement and thrill, to want and to achieve crazy and unimaginable things?

What is it like to sit in a regard which is bellowing at us “something out of nothing, something out of nothing”? Our pattern of desire says “unnhh, nothing comes from nothing” and feels sorry for itself. Yet the heart of the difference between atheism and belief in God-who-is-not-one-of-the-gods is not an ideology, but a pattern of desire which thrills to “something out of nothing”. The wonderful verses of second Isaiah, fresh from the great breakthrough into monotheism in the sixth century BC shout this out [9]:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

This is a definition of God as quite outside the pattern of desire into which the social other inculcates us: “something out of nothing”.

Well, these terms – deathlessness, abundance, daring and something out of nothing – are just a few of the sorts of phrase by which the Scriptures attempt to nudge our imagination into spending time undergoing a regard that is not the regard of the social other, one which has a wish, a longing, a heart that is for us, much more for us than we are for ourselves, one which we can trust to have our long-term interests at heart. And in each case, spending time in the regard of the Other other will work to produce in us a way of being public which seems to go directly counter to the expectations of the patterns of desire which the social other produces in us. Our temporary abstraction from public life will not have made us private. It will have empowered us to be public in a new way, whose precariousness and vulnerability rests on an unimaginable security.


  1. These Alison postings are very thought provoking but leave me confused. say everyone who thirsts come to the waters, come get your fill for free, is a lovely thought, but this is not what we are supposed to say to the hungary. We are supposed to share whatever we have, even if we earned it by working 2 jobs and they do not seem deserving, the gospel message is always to share, always to maintain that awareness that I am my brother's keeper. I realize God is telling us we can have what we really need, what really fills us for free, that God is abundance for all and wants the best for us, but I keep going back and forth between the figurative and the literal and my head hurts! Don't even get me started on the deathlessness of God, there is not enough Motrin in this office.

    1. These readings do bend your mind a little. I have to read them slowly to make sure I get the point. Enjoy them with your Motrin.