Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The paradox of parrhesia

Parrhesia.
A Greek word taken up by the Quakers to mean 'Speak Truth to Power.'
Following Foucault, its modish meaning is- how like Power speaks to void all that is True and Good and Just so just give me tenure already.

Still, the question remains, how can we have a Just Society if ordinary people can't speak freely and openly to the High and Mighty and that too with no more substantive defence against retribution than the conscious knowledge of having spoken the truth?
What could be simpler than that?
Surely, it is mischievous nonsense to suggest that Parrhesia, the plainest type of speech, could not just harbor but be founded upon paradox?
Indeed, what is with this modern obsession with aporias and paradoxes and logical fallacies and other such clever-too-clever word games?
Isn't it a fact that where Paradoxes most lushly flourish- as in the prose of Oscar Wilde, G.B.Shaw, G.K Chesterton- something has gone wrong with Society? It has become decadent. Wilde's mother, like Chesterton's mother, was a 'Radical'. Both women were against the injustices perpetrated by the Ruling Class. They demanded things like Freedom for Ireland, Equal rights for Women and the Working Class and an end to the Aristocracy of Vested Interest's perpetual program of wasteful Wars abroad and repressive Retrenchment at home.
Wilde may have caught the contagion of lapidary antinomy from his tutor at Trinity College, Dublin, J.P Mahaffy - arch-apologist for the Primrose League, but under the influence of his Mother, the redoubtable Irish Nationalist, 'Speranza', Oscar smote his old mentor hip and thigh- but then lost himself and was lost to his mother's cause, walking the Primrose path of paradox.
Chesterton's case was worse. He could have been a Christian. He should have been a Christian. Indeed, in all probability, he would have been a Christian if his immodest method of converting to Christianity hadn't turned him into a raging Anti Semite.
Dr. Bill Oddie disagrees. He thinks  Chesterton, now a nominee for Sainthood, was pro Jewish and cites the following passage, which Chesterton wrote after his return from a visit to Palestine in 1919- 'if the Jew cannot be at ease in Zion [a reference to Amos 6:1: "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion”] we can never again persuade ourselves that he is at ease out of Zion. We can only salute as it passes that restless and mysterious figure, knowing at last that there must be in him something mystical as well as mysterious; that whether in the sense of the sorrows of Christ or of the sorrows of Cain, he must pass by, for he belongs to God.'- i.e. the Jew is a homo sacer, too lowly even to be killed, whose primal sin relates to having once enjoyed wealth in Zion.
Incidentally, back in 1919, the Establishment view was that the Arabs would slaughter the Jews but not before having some fun with them first.

I live about halfway between the house where Chesterton was born and that in which Oscar Wilde welcomed his sons into the world. In between, where once were slums, all is salubrious because Socialism, it seems, so long as it is content to not, too stridently, call itself so, Socialism works. One way it works is by providing work for even worthless scum like me.
Is that the paradox of Parrhesia I wanted to talk about in this blogpost?
Perhaps.
I'd have to reason it out...
Just tried.
Fuck it.
Could we get back to something I genuinely excel at- like Anti-Semitism?

The Jews said to Christ, 'speak plainly- speak with parrhesia-  are you the Messiah?'
The problem here is that the word Messiah means different things to different people. Indeed, Zephanaiah 3.8 and 3.9 indicate that it is only after the dies irae, the day of wrath, when God chastens all the nations with His jealous fire, only then will God purify human speech such that all may call upon the name of the Lord and serve Him with one accord.
But that dies irae has not come to pass.
So, what is happening here?
Are the Jews, though appearing to speak with parrhesia, actually laying a parrhesiac trap for our Lord?
Is this the Gospel's parallel to the Quranic episode where the Jews say 'Ra'ina'?

To say yes, we must believe that the Jews were acting in bad faith.
They didn't believe Christ could be the Messiah.
But where is the proof of this?
Had Christ said, 'Yes. I'm the Messiah. I command you to rise up against the Romans.' might not those  same Pharisees have followed Christ though it cost them their lives? The fact is, the Pharisees- like Josephus- did rise up and were all but annihilated.

From the philosophical point of view, the Jews are demanding  from Christ a univocal answer to an equivocal question. This would be illicit, it would be bad faith, if Christ were not a Rabbi. But Christ was a Rabbi. He knew every word of the Bible- all of which possess literal truth with regard to the Unseen. Indeed, how could any text have a metaphorical meaning with respect to that which is beyond our ken? A beautiful orchard garden- pardes- can be a metaphor for Paradise because we have all seen a garden. Paradise, we have not seen. It can't be a metaphor for anything. God is not a person like any person we know. His commandments can't be metaphors for the commandments of some human person. 

Christ, answering the Jews, can only do so with parrhesia if he uses the language of the Bible, because he has knowledge regarding the unseen which ordinary mortals lack. This seems paradoxical. Surely to speak with parrhesia can't mean speaking of that which we can not, as mortals, know? 
However, perhaps, Christ resolves this paradox by speaking of something which, as an 'emergent' on mortal discourse, could exceed, without breaking, the mortal net of words.

Notice the phrase he uses, in answering the Jews, comes from Psalm 82.6

Psalm 82

A psalm of Asaph.

God presides in the great assembly;
    he renders judgment among the “gods”:
“How long will you[a] defend the unjust
    and show partiality to the wicked?[b]
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
    They walk about in darkness;
    all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
    you are all sons of the Most High.’
But you will die like mere mortals;
    you will fall like every other ruler.”
Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
    for all the Nations are your inheritance.

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