Thursday, May 2, 2013
I’ve already written about two related challenges that I faced at Pete Rollins’ The Idolatry of God retreat in Belfast last week. Because of my religious background and my role as researcher, these were the challenges of moving from intellectual to existential doubt and of moving from information to transformation.
Yesterday, I used Ikon’s transformance art event The End as an example of a moment in which I was able to reflect on the shift from intellectual engagement with ideas to what was literally an instance of ingesting ideas. I said that if, as Slavoj Žižek has argued, belief is unconscious – embodied in our material practices and actions – rather than conscious, we might intellectually or cognitively believe that the end is always already nigh, but in our everyday existence we act as if we don’t know this. Because to really and truly (bodily, materially, existentially) know what we already (cognitively, intellectually) know would be too traumatic.
I thought that, in the moment the dust from the coffin reached my lungs, I made a shift from an intellectual engagement with the idea of death to an existential experience of death and decay, physically ingesting and therefore knowing bodily what had previously been a merely cognitive affirmation.
But as I chatted on Facebook yesterday with others who were at The End last week, and who were left feeling undone by it in different ways, I realised that the level at which I had engaged with this event, and the level at which I am continuing to engage with it, remains an intellectual one.
For example, when I started breathing in the dust, I was still being present as a researcher, trying to distance myself from what was happening and to supress my own bodily reactions to it. I was there going, ‘Don’t cough, don’t cough. You’re a Critic, you’re a Critic. Don’t let people know that this got to you. Don’t let people see this idea sinking into your body’.
And it’s also clear now that my own way of actively avoiding a truly existential engagement with The End was to use the transformance art piece as a whole, and the moment of the dust cloud in particular, as a way of thinking about the relationship between ideas and the material ingestion of ideas!
So, in the end, at The End, I failed.