The Wound as Cosmic Structure
Last semester I witnessed a remarkable meditation given by a young member of the Chapel community.
That meditation required a lot of courage to deliver. It was characterized not by sumptuous images and lofty feelings, but by alienation, grief, and even despair. In homage to his offering, I will attempt to contemplate the wound as a fundamental feature of the Christian κόσμος.
The great French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) wrote an essay near the end of his life titled: “Immanence: A Life”. In it, he continued to explore the articulation of a singular life defined not by generalizing determinations such as rational substantiality, or political animality, or the so-called homo oeconomicus, or even the vaguely defined “philosophical subject”.
He argued that although we may experience the events which befall us as accidental relative to what we construe as our ongoing self-sameness, we become subjects through our subjection to what singularly befalls us as singular lives in the world of space-and-time.
That subjection also includes our transformation into human individuals through human relationships and institutions. Our first words are uttered in response to others. After all, who said the first word? We receive our names before we know them; many of us are baptized in infancy; we meet and make friends; we fall in love. We even befall ourselves through illnesses, injuries, psychic trauma, personal disasters – all sorts of wounds.
Deleuze says, “my wound existed before me.”
I take this to mean that, in a very real way, we come to embody, or even become, our wound. This task necessarily incorporates the entire history of the world. In Christian terms, it all has to do with the cosmic principle that we receive our lives instead of making them.
Today, I would like to confess my wound to you.
I have been separated from my best friend for almost fourteen years. You have probably heard her name in this Chapel. I thank you for your prayers for her and her children. Of her and me, I will only say that when you have sat in long silence staring into the black depths of another’s eyes, you can come to appreciate John 1:5, “And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” This separation is my wound; I was born to become it.
How to confess my wound if its cause—and object—is excluded?
I will tell you about my time at the College as a Teaching Fellow in the Foundation Year Programme.
When I studied here from 1998 to 2003, the College was yet able to maintain for us students the image of a harmoniously-ordered whole; a just city; a family. I believe that that image even prevailed in FYP’s dominant pedagogy at the time. When I returned in 2010 the reality was clearly different. I quickly participated in a union drive to establish legal protections and bargaining rights for FYP tutors when I realized how the College treated them.
I felt indescribable disgust in realizing that my own tutors had been subjected to basic, fundamental mistreatment in undertaking their duties. I was not a very good student in FYP. But my main tutor, Dr John Duncan, just about saved my life. The connection between FYP tutors and their students can be very profound – at least in my experience on both sides of the table. To my knowledge, such a relationship does not exist anywhere else in Canadian society. I would be happily surprised to discover that it exists anywhere else in the world.
It is not wrong to say that, during the three years that I taught here and organized the tutors’ union, which I was later to lead, I was consumed by nihilating rage. The College’s hostility toward our undertaking was beyond evident. I wanted frequently to destroy everyone whom I saw as perverting the College’s mission, which Father Doctor Robert Darwin Crouse’s thinking still embodies. The callousness, the blithe indifference, the thoughtless application of diabolical principles to our Collegial life all appalled me endlessly. When I left here in 2013 under acrimonious circumstances, I believed I would never return. I even cursed the place. It’s taken over three years, but I have returned, although I know it won’t close my wound.
Niko’s meditation, with its injunction to walk into the unknowable divine presence, to be co-present with God, in unknowing, brought me to consider the question of the wound as a cosmic structure.
In Dante’s Comedy, the pagan philosophers reside in the Inferno precisely because they are not wounded. Their κόσμος is closed and complete. Only the Christian κόσμος is defined by the irruption of an irreducible difference—of a veritable event, in Deleuze’s terms.
I think that all the great contemporary lay philosophers of singularity and the event preserve something essentially Christian in their thinking. Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault are just two names here among many. Their care for absolutely singular things defines their escape from an ossified world of monotonous representations and homogenizing concepts: the freedom of the market; the rights of man; progress in history; the substantialized and anthropomorphized divinity; the “philosophical tradition”.
If we connect them to someone like Gregory of Nyssa or John of Damascus, I would suggest that these lay philosophers strive to transform even the most banal material things into something like religious icons. By trying to perceive corporeal things “without fantasy” (that is, without abstracting them away from space, time, and accident), they draw out each thing’s immanent incorporeal ground. Finite, corporeal things are images of the divine by inversion, as the great theologian and philosopher Jean Trouillard might say.
For thinkers like Foucault and Deleuze, the history of the world—which Foucault refers to in a minor text as “a polycephalic cloud of events”—consists in eternal newness. As Trouillard, again, says in his essay “The One and Being,” “the procession is polycentric.” We can grasp that eternal newness—or, perhaps, Christ—through Foucault’s accounts of how we endlessly invent and actualize social κόσμοι. We can also see it in the black depths of another’s eyes.
It is no accident that puncture wounds symbolize Christ’s death. They are especially vicious and hard to treat. And, of course, the cosmic wound is eternally announced, inflicted, and suffered simultaneously in His despair on the Cross.
In the terms I have here adopted, thinkers like Foucault and Deleuze posit the wound as a pre-ontological reality. Thus they rob us of the strategies, policies, alibis, stories, and excuses we concoct in service of control fantasies. Concupiscence comes in many forms. And yet their lesson is not that we should reject the world, like Polyphemos in Homer’s Odyssey, but rather that we should dive headlong into it through the wound.
I have returned to my College, not to heal my wound but rather to embody it; or, more radically, to become it. As Deleuze would put it, our infinite ethical task is to become equal to the event that befalls us.
But becoming for Deleuze is not identical to natural generation and corruption. To become is to undergo, or suffer, transformation, transubstantiation, transversalization — even transfiguration. Our conscious and self-conscious moments are linked, through conversions. We emerge as bread emerges out of flour, water, and fire; as wine emerges out of its terroir. We are named, we speak, many of us are baptized, we make friends, we fall in love, we suffer. For Deleuze, our psychic well-being hinges on whether we embrace or deny this reality.
For all the years that I refused it, my wound turned me to diabolical ends. I have hurt many and been hurt by many in trying to make them be my best friend, or put them in her place, because I wanted to deny my wound instead of becoming it. I have also pushed and thrown people away for the same reason. I also have lied to myself and others for the very same reason. I have wandered in the region of dissimilarity. And the truth about my time here from 2010 to 2013 is that I brought my wound with me. I inflicted it on others and myself, even in and through the good things that I wanted to do. Father Thorne probably recognizes all this better than I, and probably recognized it before I did. That goes for Shannon Parker-Nicolle and Father Nick Hatt as well.
For these things, I am truly sorry.
That is why I keep returning to the Chapel. I keep returning because I can tell you with certainty that if I do not become my wound, I will annihilate everyone and everything around me.
I keep returning to the Chapel because the Chapel generates the Return as the advent of the new and everlasting wound. We celebrate the κόσμος as a grand singularity realized throughout infinite singularities, themselves composed of infinite singularities.
Yet the very eventality of the κόσμος takes everything away from us. As Foucault says:
you read, for example, that a man killed his wife after a dispute: it’s quite simple daily life which, at a given moment, in the wake of an accident, of a deviation, of a little excess, has become something enormous, and which will disappear straight away like a rubber balloon. There you go ... a daily life, an argument about a piece of land, about furniture, about old clothes. That’s it: the unconscious of history; it’s not a kind of great force, of a vital drive, or death. Our historical unconscious is made up of these millions, of these billions of little events which, little by little, like raindrops, erode our body, our way of thinking;
and, eventually, these raindrops wash us away. As Father Doctor Thomas Curran has put it here in this Chapel, we are called upon to rejoice and mourn, at the same time, for the same reason.
I return to the Chapel because for me the Chapel is a moving, expressive image of the cosmic wound. For me, the Chapel is an event celebrating the wound sorrowfully, mourning the wound joyfully. Here, we co-generate and receive the Return in our midst. When I say “the Chapel,” by the way, I do not primarily mean this building. But we also cannot understand, much less become, the Chapel without it—not for the time being.
I keep returning to the Chapel because the encounter of broken hearts is a salvific instrument here. Here we heal not by closing wounds. We bear one another’s burdens. We assume and affirm the punctured κόσμος, and understand our wounds as cosmic mysteries. Maybe our spirit animal is a patchwork quilt, or an ancient rock wall crumbling quietly into the Earth in an abandoned Newfoundland outport.
We come to the Chapel again and again in hope of the conversion that is conversion, pure becoming. Here we openly welcome the Return into the inner and outer reaches of mutable matter.
I keep returning to the Chapel because I cannot become my wound alone.