Kendal Q. Binmore: A cacophony of silence: ground of the Triumvirate: 8. God without canon


        8. God without canon


I have become compassion, destroyer of worlds.


Utterances of Pau-Pau

Benjamin Suzuki

(In retirement)


           Some say the ways of God are not our ways, yet trust in that alien wisdom. The Holocaust, the euphoric, brief genocide of Rwanda–actuarials of righteousness in grace beyond our knowing, we who survive, so on the other side of the ledger. God’s ontology is not ours–this, I have already claimed, an operational definition of evil. The Absolute, beyond words, so beyond the inculcation of faith, faith itself beyond words, yet needing them as path, faith built on the divine absence. There is no faith, or need, in Absolute.


           This view is not new. Perhaps we should not expect novelty where the writing hand readily jumps to printed page. The Pauline, whether one man or several perhaps not as important as we would wish, the Pauline hints of it:


Prophecy will fail in time, languages too, and knowledge as well. For we know things only partially, or prophecy partially, and when the totality is known, the parts will vanish. ( 1 Corinthians 13:10; Unless otherwise noted, all Old/New Testament translations are from The New Jerusalem Bible, 1990, Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd.)


When the totality is known, the parts will vanish: but we, only parts, will we vanish as well? Faith will vanish. Gnosis, complete knowledge, will vanquish the paths of its creation. Cabrales’ God, moving towards Itself, A Dios, will vanish. In this Absolute there is no us, no we, no they. So the Pauline warns against his own social creation, against his epistles, against his faith:


Were I to speak the languages of all men and all angles, without having love, I were as a resonating gong or jangling cymbal. Were I to prophesy and know all secrets and every truth, were I to have faith strong enough to move mountains, without having love, I were as nothing. Were I to give away all my possessions, or give my body to be burned, without having love, it would avail me nothing.


Love…keeps all confidences, all trust, all hope, all endurance. Love will never go out of existence. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 7)


Love will never go out of existence, will be collapse into Singularity, into Absolute. Love is unbounded: all trust, all hope, all endurance–that too of our unspeakable enemy whose bodily functions are so much viler than our own.


           The Pauline knows his faith is partial, knows it will vanish, knows it must vanish for gnosis, full knowledge not of men, to come; so he enlists love as the greatest warrior, collapsing all into itself, breaking through all creeds in their commonality of trust, hope, endurance. Should we wonder why some scream when so loved? The Pauline knows, as does Cabrales, that no doctrine can be inclusive. Cabrales would use this consequence of finitude to avoid the Absolute; but he cannot avoid pursuit of the Absolute in finite form, from Gandhian fast to suicide bomber. He hopes the injunction A Dios, propelling search without finality, will quell thirst for fixed certainty which abhors travel, travel which is life unlived and so disdained.


           But words on a page have no efficacy in themselves. For a time Cabrales, Justice Cabrales, found a way to actualize such words. Now he is gone, and I, mere literary critic whose greatest act of courage is picking up my pen regardless of future sales, I write in hope that these words may flow, may infuse the social structure Cabrales helped to come, to arrive, not make. Or maybe I write not for those living that structure, these able to craft what words they need; maybe I write for those outside, for the great hands that would toss this structure aside, fearfully irritated by its tumult, its insanity, the pin point belief that each child is the significance of all. I would ask these Olympians of histories denied to most to look fine, to see alliance dissolve and renew, to see walks A Dios across generations, to use what is there, yes, for your ends, not mine, the Suzuki Court has taught me not to fear that; to use what is there, not to destroy the fumbling hope of people who look up to see the second story of a building they can never enter. If you do this, if you use this structure of tiny hopes to blossom small flowers of your creed, you may find, Olympians, allies in places unimagined. Of course, Cabrales, Suzuki, even Mitland, would say the same to your rivals. But this is not to be spoken.


           The Pauline knows his faith, his creed, inadequate to reach the Absolute, this in common with zen. Zen uses this awareness to explode itself, to deny the false reach toward everything, seeding its splintered texts into the innocent struggle of the mind to better its world, there to birth once more too much text, parasite on pain, yet harbor, for a time, only ever a time, harbor for the bruised face of the sensitive. Zen makes no claim to transcend this finitude forever removing the Absolute to an unplaceable elsewhere, inviting the practitioner rather to recede into the infinitesimal, no singularity encompassing all that will come, but removal so space may become vast–for something else, preservative of difference.


           The Pauline will have fullness, and waits for it. He loves beyond his faith to make that faith more inclusive, stretching not the boundaries of creed, this he knows not how to do, to give up his partial knowledge for an emptiness of form; no, he loves beyond his faith to pierce resistence of the foreign, to dislodge other belief through love. Love, charity unconditional to search for a greater knowing, a greater faith enduring ever more virulent otherness–this before canon is closed, before Council comes to end revelation. The Pauline writes in struggle for Church nascent, for the right to imagine, for the right to travel in, with imagination. The pen of 1 Corinthians 13 does not know what its creed will become. The hand of 1 Corinthians 13 sees love as a path to greater gnosis. Love may pierce foreign belief, but risks piercing in turn. 1 Corinthians 13 is triumph of final gnosis over any secured path to that end. All faith is partial and will vanish with gnosis. The hand of 1 Corinthians 13 is not Christian. It annuls any final form to the Pauline corpus, corpus which cannot become canon, yet we have so made it.


           Anthony Pau loved 1 Corinthians 13:13


For the present, then, three things matter–believing, hoping, and loving. But supreme is loving.


Or, in the King James version


Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three. But the greatest of these is charity.


An invitation to break the boundaries of creed, to become something that text will not allow, will not allow because it cannot fathom, see such future: to confront another, immersed in other text, thereby to risk fusion, victory, defeat, both, neither. The verse is central to A Dios, to depart the scaffolding of belief through which hope resides, to depart in risk of love, a hoped seeding of hope, hope leaping from belief so that it might, not will, be reborn elsewhere. Yet Cabrales shunned gnosis as uncatholic, preferring a wandering God cobbled from worship given, no promise of full knowledge once dead, only acceptance, as process if not content, faith living tool of this day. He took the faith of the illiterate, of the inarticulate, as it was; he would not promise a fullness irrelevant to their present lives. God’s promise of inclusion is in Its fracturing.


           The Suzuki Court’s Arms decision, placing rights formation beyond the Court; Cabrales’ fractured monotheism; and the hand of 1 Corinthians 13 all place their faith in process over content. 1 Corinthians 13 is more kindred to Arms than Cabrales, as both envision a trajectory which can be called progress. Cabrales’ fractured God, everywhere yet always something else elsewhere, begins with potential full inclusion, but inclusion only as a set of sets, an abstract you too which nonetheless disallows entrance through the local door, whereas Arms and 1 Corinthians 13 would end only in every expanding, unreached limit. Cabrales sees no progress, only partially retained inclusion; lives lead will determine what God becomes. So too, of course, the Founding birthed of Arms, but the Founding is ratcheted by its past, memory a road to future, unable to wander freely. Yet more free than 1 Christians 13, which would obliterate all potential knowings, its perpetual parents, in gnosis. Neither Arms nor Cabrales envision an end; for both, love is no motivation to bring the end of history. 1 Corinthians 13 would love us to, then beyond, any death, any temporality, any finitude.


           The Pauline envisions an end to remove all ends, and with the coming of canon comes Apocalypse and the transformation of love into tool for conversion. The coming of canon–in the same epistle. 1 Corinthians 15:50-7 predicts an immanent end of days:


…mere human nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God: what is perishable cannot inherit what is imperishable. Now I am going to tell you a mystery: we are not all going to fall asleep, but we are all going to be changed, instantly, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet sounds. The trumpet is going to sound, and then the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed, because this perishable nature of ours must put on imperishability, this mortal nature must put on immortality. And after this perishable nature has put on imperishability and this mortal nature has put on immortality, then the words of scripture come true: death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin comes from the Law. Thank God, then, for giving us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Very much Jesus’ victory. Primitive Mark has Jesus make the same claim:


But in those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will come falling out of the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send the angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of the sky.


Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, right at the gates. In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Mark 13:24-31)


Jesus and the Pauline prophesied falsely of their time; the End of Days, the Apocalypse, did not come. Yet this common failure is the only clear overlap between primitive Mark and the Pauline letters. Promised Apocalypse was so crucial that neither text is amended to exclude the predictive failure during its trek of survival. So canon is made to save these strangely necessary words of paper, Revelations welcomed to place events beyond history:


Then the One sitting on the throne spoke. “Look, I am making the whole of creation new. Write this, ‘What I am saying is trustworthy and will come true.’” Then he said to me, “It has already happened. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelations 21:5-6)


Jesus spoke to mortals. Revelations’ reply to failure means Jesus contextually lied–blatantly so. It has already happened: prophecy detached from history, fulfilled as Jesus spoke, fulfilled as the Pauline wrote. But equally fulfilled before either, a trick, a false expectation for each generation, expectation which is no expectation, prophecy not in history but outside of time. A manipulation, a belittling of those outside gnosis: that which always already is may ever be prophesied. The canon closes on the destruction which is history and its solution–resurrection.


           Yet 1 Corinthians 13 is an appeal to the present, to what can be done in the present. The small congregations the Pauline addresses ferment in hope, in the social power which myopia bestows, ignorance of the full world outside vehicle of belief essential for growth. Not knowing how difficult the world is, the impossible endures fitfully, always somewhere, if not here.


We have seen a fire of sticks burn out. The fire now burns in some other place. Where? Who knows? These brands are burnt out. (Thomas Merton, The way of Chuang Tzu)


The Pauline would use love to endure, hold aloft, the impossible, to hold a diversity of being in a single communion:


There are many different gifts, but as always the same Spirit; there are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord. There are many different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all…. To one is given from the Spirit the gift of utterance expressing wisdom; to another the gift of utterance expressing knowledge, in accordance with the same Spirit; to another, faith from the same Spirit; and to another, the gift of healing, through this one Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, the power of distinguishing spirits; to one, the gift of different tongues and to another, the interpretation of tongues. But at work in all of these is one and the same Spirit, distributing them at will to each individual. For as with the human body which is a unity although it has many parts–all the parts of the body, though many, still making up one single body–so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 8-12)


Love holds this diversity together, one speaking in tongues, another giving the meaning, the first shaking in fear at what has been done, the other taking the burden of otherness from them all. But love sets us adrift, forces a redistribution of ties in an enlarged world. Cabrales uses this love to fracture God. He would not deny a single Spirit among a congregation; he would not deny a single Spirit at every locale. He would deny that these single Spirits are the same Spirit as a matter of epistemology. To link them as same is to walk to them, A Dios, sundering what was there before, sundering what is left behind, each a new God in the walking, a new fracture wondering if there is a separateness. To link is to break some past; to embrace is to walk away from an exclusion, exclusion being the walking away. A Dios is an uncertainty principle of faith, of God.


           The Pauline would know everything without moving, a gnosis making Singularity, when the totality is known the parts will vanish (1 Cor 13:10), an apocalypse collapsing the world:


About the gifts of the Spirit, brothers, I want you to be quite certain. You remember that, when you were pagans, you were irresistibly drawn to inarticulate heathen gods. Because of that, I want to make it quite clear to you that no one who says “a curse on Jesus” can be speaking in the Spirit of God, and nobody is able to say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:1-3)


He would use the Spirit to police, afraid of false (really false–or just “heathen”?) gods, afraid of nothing but imagination, afraid of where the Spirit is not. This a curse of destruction upon what we are not, haram, consuming, converting the foreign, a minor apocalypse, a 9-11:


If there is anyone who does not love the Lord, a curse on such a one. Maran atha [“Lord, come,” or “The Lord is coming”]… My love is with you all in Christ Jesus. (1 Cor 16:22, 24)


Only in Christ Jesus. Prophesying an immanent End of Days hobbles love; what was once wondrous exploration becomes forced reconciliation of words, becomes canon. Canon: the principle that words must be understood in the entirety of sanctified text, a tethering of God, howling at the end of Its chain. An impossibility, to force words of different days into such intimacy.


           From this pen flows a sentence, not canon. I read and read, but when I place this pen here, comes a sentence, not canon.


I read a book to make a sentence

Benjamin Suzuki


Marvel of the human mind that it consumes books yet jettisons them all in a single sentence. The sentence stands freely, oblivious to its genesis, alone, yet sinuously capable of transversing text old and new. Our thought consists of innumerable sentences using one another, traveling through one another, a relativism, a relativism check by the present groped standard, where each says “I am,” YHWH (“I am what I am”) unbound. Yet the instanced utterance is a weak, bound thing, wriggling across only a few minds before gone. It is text which lies dormant, without bound. The mind can overcome text, yet text outlasts mind, text which is the excreta of the mind’s temporary supremacy.


           Canon is text’s attempt to harness the mind, to control its creator. Canon is anti-human, denying the mind’s ability to obliterate, in single sentence, all that has come before. Yet that sentence is text, candidate for canon; we need live in the realm of our enemy. To speak openly of the moment of textual obliteration, to record the sentence, is to risk enslaving the future. But it is always already enslaved. The challenge is to release that future, not for all, that impossible and in any case counter-productive; to release that future for someone, somewhere, ever, most necessarily ever, beyond our sight. This the challenge of zen.


           Canon is a lie. Sentences walk within canon, but never fully, never completely; canon itself fractures, Cabrales’ God cannot be avoided by a big, thick book. We hold the same text yet differentiate. It is denial of this fundamental process of the human mind which is atrocity, apocalypse, singularity, collapse of the world.


Ben returned from vacation, less rested than before he left. He does not see the Court as work. After all, he says, he should not be here: “Big mistake!” Books open everywhere in his chambers, he seems to dance across pages, hop across tomes. I avoid looking at these open books. Once I looked, found Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass next to a history of the pre-war Nazi Party. Somehow these two made their way, in spirit, into a Court opinion. I could tell, sitting on the Bench while Ben read the opinion of the Court. I decided then not to know where opinions come from; best to take them as they are.


Ben had visited his parents. Now, pacing in chambers, he says, “Enter room, find huge world, insignificant minutia suppressing all else. Say word, word flops off couch, bombarded by minutia, until it crumbles on the floor, each crumb new insignificance.” Hands in the air, he looks at me. I am supposed to say something now.


“All minds are vast, Ben. They expand to fill the universe.”


He pouts: “What of all the other minds?”


“They are pushed back into their skulls and told not to come out.”


“Then no one will come out.”


“Mostly true.”


“Then Justice consists in denying this vastness!”


Child Suzuki pronounces yet another definition of Justice. And I, once again, have written it down. (From the journal of Henry Mitland, dated around the time of the first voucher case, West v Louisiana)


Justice consists in denying this vastness: a denial not through some greater thing, but through the singular sentence, through incompleteness, through refusal to say. That refusal is the wandering of God; a fracturing, to stay among those who would stay, to go with those who would go. A love so great, a perpetual recreation of being so great, that God sunders Itself.


I cannot tell where the words of others take them. Their base existence is as mine. They love, hate, are indifferent as I. Yet they have become foreign in their words, they flee from me in their words. My horizon consequently shrinks, fewer to be with, rushes toward me as if to imprison, as if to crush. I have fewer steps to take as they flee. How can anger not arise within me as I face this unavoidable terror of pluralism? From this terror the gambit of Justice comes: all are terrified, even those words fleeing from my world, which is why they flee. Let them be. From mutual terror comes the courage of Justice. (Journal of Benjamin Suzuki, on the Court, during the Shepherd case)


Cabrales would have us drift with love. Suzuki would have us look back; not return, look back. From that backward glance Justice may come. See, Benjamin Suzuki, this critic can define Justice too–that’s what you wanted, no?

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