Quick Takes — Deep Time / Pseudo-Dionysius and a Pug’s Bottom


First Quick Take:

We here love how “deep time” humiliates our human pretensions. From my own deep time archive, from my distant childhood, here’s a video to watch alongside Chris Stenner, Arvid Uibel and Heidi Wittlinger’s “Das Rad.”

Second Quick Take:

People have had their good laugh, or worked up a good dander, at the divine image on this dog’s butt, which joins toast, tortillas, and a mishmash of other humble materials in attesting to god’s catholic love for creation, or as a joke at the expense of the credulous. Here’s a typical outraged response:

What do I think? I think blasphemy and a blatent disregard for things that are sacred to people is completely out of hand. I see the person who wrote this did not put their name on the article but shame on you and shame on [Huffington Post] for “printing” such garbage just to annoy good people.

I am not a Christian but I have all the respect and admiration for Jesus Christ who came to this world to teach love and peace and respect of fellow human beings. HP please grow up and try harder to help with peace, love and understand rather than upset good people.

If you’re looking for more interesting ways to get upset, or seeking out ways to prove the relevance of medieval studies to skeptical deans and indifferent colleagues, by all means (please don’t) take this chance, and direct the uncertain and uncurious to the negative theology of pseudo-Dionysius, Celestial Hierarchy II, 3 (141A-B):

Since the way of negation appears to be more suitable to the realm of the divine and since positive affirmations are always unfitting to the hiddenness of the inexpressible, a manifestation through dissimilar shapes is more correctly to be applied to the invisible. So it is that scriptural writings, far from demeaning the ranks of heaven, actually pay them honor by describing them with dissimilar shapes so completely at variance with what they really are that we come to discover how those ranks, so far removed from us, transcend all materiality. Furthermore, I doubt that anyone would refuse to acknowledge that incongruities are more suitable for lifting our minds up into the domain of the spiritual than similarities are. High-flown shapes could well mislead someone into thinking that the heavenly beings are golden or gleaming men, glamorous, wearing lustrous clothing clothing, giving off flames which cause no harm, or that they have other similar beauties with which the word of God has fashioned the heavenly mind….Indeed the sheer crassness of the signs is a goad so that even the materially inclined cannot accept that it could be permitted or true that the celestial and divine sights could be conveyed by such shameful things.

Obviously, pseudo-Dionysius doesn’t go far enough in his persistent distinction between “similarities” and “incongruities,” between, say, the grandeur of a 900-ft Jesus rap-rap-rapping on the United Nations, and the apparition of the selfsame savior in a dog’s bottom. A more dedicated negative theology would abandon these merely human hierarchies and get far filthier. It would fall weeping on the pugend, finding in it as much mystery and holiness as any gleaming ceiling in Ravenna.

Confidentially to the befuddled: this is all a joke, kind of….except that mockery implicit in the dogbutt photo works best if both believer and blasphemer believe sclerotically, each committed to an anodyne and precious purity, anxious and easily sullied, each unwilling to trek into theology’s weirder regions. The dogbutt Christ is funny, because to mere humans like us dogbutts are funny. But a better mystic, a better believer, and even a better materialist, antihumanist atheist, like me, should find something holy or wondrous in what we mistake as the most wretched things. To make belief stranger, and blasphemy far more difficult, we have to get dirtier.

And if this horrible event actually happened, I have to hope that a little more negative theological weirdness could have stopped it.

For further reading:

Bertrand, Daniel A. “Le Christ Comme Ver : à Propos Du Psaume 22(21),7,” in Le Psautier Chez Les Pères (Strasbourg: Centre d’Analyse et de Documentation Patristiques, 1994), 221–234.

Masciandaro, Nicola, “Wormsign.”

Ruaro, Enrica. “God and the Worm: The Twofold Otherness in Pseudo-Dionysius’s Theory of Dissimilar Images.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 82.4 (2008): 581-592.

(update with a relevant clip from an excellent post by Steven Shaviro on Dylan Trigg, Object-Oriented Ontology, and Lévinas “The vague sentience of the slime mold (my favorite biological organism) is not in the least horrific for the slime mold.” In short, the Lovecraftians may be going at things entirely wrong)