“The difference between subject and object can also be expressed as the difference between the two corresponding verbs, to subject (submit) oneself and to object (protest, oppose, create an obstacle). The subject’s founding gesture is to subject itself – voluntarily, of course…If then the subject’s activity is, at its most fundamental, the activity of submitting itself to the inevitable, the fundamental mode of the object’s passivity, of its passive presence, is that which moves, annoys, disturbs, traumatizes us (subjects): at its most radical level the object is that which objects, that which disturbs the smooth running of things.”¹
Zizek’s point on the activity of subject and object in relation to one another describes what happens to us with our opinions and observations about the objects of our concern and meditation. As we give ourselves to the consideration of ideas, we are the changed ones. The real difference in our opinions about God, or religion is observed in the changes our ideas have made on us. I do not so much change the object I perceive in the moment of my perception, as the object looking back at me informs and converts me. It proselytizes me to the degree that I as the subject have submitted myself to, and identified with it.
We are objectified by the objects we objectify. We are abused by the things and the people we abuse. Without taking action, they become ghosts haunting us. They become the demons of our tortured nights.
Perhaps nothing highlights this reverse objectification of that which stares back and objectifies us in return than the counter-intuitive illustration of the dual oppression of pornography. The attachment to pornography creates the dynamics of slavery in two directions. The objectification of women through the obscene narratives of them as sex toys, and objects of abuse and slavery is a tormenting, and twisted half of the story. Yet the paper and pixel ladies stare back, and traumatize the viewer in return. They call back silently from screen and paper in the middle of the night. They keep young and old men (and a growing number of women) up into the witching hours of exhaustion. The pixilated girls call during the day, and government and private sector resources are used for satisfying uncontrollable, unproductive urges. No one is a winner in the isolating and enslaving gaze of pornography. She haunts like a siren and slays many of those who paddle into the surf of her shores. She holds the potential to devour the souls of mistresses she keeps, and the scopophiliacs she titillates.
In my last post about the hermeneutic of the erotic, and when it becomes a hermeneutic of the obscene, I used four illustrations from current events: Two from the right, and two from the left. One illustration from each side should be observed in its internal focus as a descriptor of a worldview being presented. The second should be viewed as an external focus of the Other – an observation of critique from one worldview to another.
To the right, Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage, and his pulpit antics around anal sex and other provocative subjects forms an internalizing hermeneutic describing his view of orthodoxy. The Westboro Baptist Church highlights a group whose hermeneutic of the Other (being just about everything and everyone in popular culture) creates an obscene response to our world.
To the left, Queer Theology interprets scripture in the light of liberation of all things sexual and sees the Bible as a support of all consensual forms of sexual engagement. Queer Theology outlines an internalizing hermeneutic defining a community. Yet, in the second illustration from the left (the critique of the Purity Ball photo shoot) is an objectification of conservative Christian culture, which is similar in manner to the Westboro Baptist Church viewing others as obscene.
It seems then there are two ways to turn a hermeneutic of the erotic into a hermeneutic of the obscene. Through the objectification of our own world (as in the Mark Driscoll and Queer Theology examples), or through the objectification of differing and competing worldviews. In either case, through my objectification of myself or the other, I am traumatized by my interpretation of the erotic and enslaved to serve it as that object of my concern stares back and proselytizes me, converts me, and enslaves me.
How we fall into this trap is another point of concern for which this post has no room. More to come…
1 – The Parallax View, Slavoj Zizek, page 17.
Part One of a Hermeneutic of the Erotic: When the Erotic and the Prophetic Collide: Green Man, sonnet #42
Part Two of a Hermeneutic of the Erotic: Purity Balls, Mark Driscoll and a Hermeneutic of the Obscene