Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holy Aporias, Batman!

In Eadmer's Life of St. Anselm--a 13th century text that illustrates a developing interest in and market for writings about a living saint--a fellow abbot describes to Anselm his difficulties with the child monks in his charge: "They are incorrigible ruffians. We never give over beating them day and night, and they only get worse and worse. " To this abbot's frustration, Anselm responds by indicating that it is not the methods but the educational philosophy that are at fault:
Are they not human? Are they not flesh and blood like you?....Consider this. You wish to form them in good habits by blows and chastisement alone. Have you ever seen a goldsmith form his leaves of gold and silver into a beautiful figure with blows alone? I think not....In order to mould this leaf into a suitable form he now presses it and strikes it gently with hist tool, and now ever more gently raises it with careful pressure and gives it shape. So if you want your boys to be adorned with good habits, you too, besides the pressure of blows, must apply the encouragement and help of fatherly sympathy and gentleness (Southern, pp. 37-38).
What the goldsmith does, in this telling, is to creat an impression, an image. Elsewhere, Eadmer tells us that Anselm "compared the time of youth to a piece of wax of the right consistency for the impress of a seal....If it preserves a mean between extremes...extremes of hardness and softness, when it is stamped with the seal [matrix], it will receive the image clear and whole" (Southern, p. 20).

There are certainly a range of possible issues on which to interpretatively seize: pedagogical practices (cf., Guibert of Nogent), the new genre of living saint hagiographies and its connections to the growing exegencies and codifying of a canonization process, or Anselm's sexual metaphorics crying out for comparative analysis with later writers (here I'm think especially and most obviouly of Alan of Lille). But what most interests me is precisely this metaphorics of impression-making and its hagiographical placement. It is a metaphorics on which later spiritual writers will capitalize (see, e.g., Igantius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises), and which nicely registers what I would call the "aporetics of sanctity."

When, in other words, does a model become a template? When does the initial force exerted to create the impression--and, in my Deleuzian-inspired thinking, nothing is possible without the exertion of force, which is a neither in itself a good or bad thing--become something imposed with constrictively carceral power? I recognize that "template" may also effect certain processes of change, since when one follows an eletronic document template one is still able to make alterations. Still, what seems important is how a template establishes the boundaries and constituent parts of a field. Whereas a model is something to be emulated, a template is something to be followed. Moreover, and here I'm thinking of a more commonly scientifistic usage, a model can be modeled. That is, "model" can function as both noun and verb. The practice of modeling seems to be a practice a fabulation.

The aporetics of sanctiy, then, is that zone of indistinction or indiscernability where a model offered for emulation morphs into a template imposed. It is such an aporetics, and the moments of both indiscernability and radical undecidability it opens, that determine the patternability and force of sanctity.

[All quotations from Eadmer's Life of St. Anselm are taken from R. W. Southern's 1962 translation]

1 comment:

Karl Steel said...

Interesting post, Nic. In re: the fascinating passage on the crafting of youth, I'm reminded of another famous bit from Alan of Lille, and I wonder if the manipulation of (wax) authority and the manipulation of (golden) children can be put into motion with one another.