Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sabbatical Post 4: Starting to think about transgression

I am starting to read more deeply into explanations and descriptions of transgression in various fields.  It is a topic with a good amount of literature.  While waiting for some sociological and anthropological studies to arrive from Amazon, I delved into Foucault's "A Preface to Transgression" written in 1963.

Foucault uses transgression as a new type of sacralness, representing the modern zone of human experience where the sacred has collapsed into the profane.   With the death of God, Foucault sees the goal of human experience to be constant transgression of our limits.  Every time we cross the limits, we see the limits, and we move the limit until we find ourselves face to face with the limit of our own being, in the experience of emptiness.  For Foucault, sexuality represents the totality of human experience and it is in its transgression that God is replaced. 

Is it just me, or is this a redeployment of traditional Christian mystical eroticism in a post-modern philosophical guise?  Maybe I am misunderstanding what Foucault is saying, but I seem to hear the echoes of the Christian mystics for whom the crossing of the ultimate boundary of being was sex with God or his/her representative. 

Some quotes I found intriguing for my work on the Gnostics and their transgressive esotericism.
"The limit and transgression depend on each other for whatever density of being they possess: a limit could not exist if it were absolutely uncrossable and, reciprocally, transgression would be pointless if it merely crossed a limit composed of illusions and shadows.  But can the limit have a life of its own outside the act that gloriously passes through it and negates it?  What becomes of it after this act and what might it have been before?" (Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice; edited by Donald F. Bouchard, 1977, 34).

"Transgression forces the limit to face the fact of its imminent disappearance, to find itself in what it excludes (perhaps, to be more exact, to recognize itself for the first time), to experience its positive truth in its downward fall?  And yet, toward what is transgression unleashed in its movement of pure violence, if not that which imprisons it, toward the limit and those elements it contains?  What bears the brunt of its aggression and to what void does it owe the unrestrained fullness of its being, if not that which it crosses in its violent act and which, as its destiny, it crosses out in the line it effaces?" (34-35).

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