The Fate of the Image in Church History and in the Modern State

Joan Copjec
Center for the study of psychoanalysis and culture, university of Buffalo

* editing and publication by 17, instituto de estudios críticos

Volume 2, 2012

A zigzag path carved into a hill winds from base to crest, where it is crowned by a lushly-leafed tree standing solitary and upright like a kind of hieratic bouquet: this image recurs in three films – Where Is the Friend’s House? (1987); Life and Nothing More (1992); and Through the Olive Trees (1994) – which critics refer to as “the Koker trilogy” not because they were designed as a trilogy but because they were all set in the same location, the village of Koker in Northern Iran. The recurrence of this image throughout the films would seem for this reason to raise no question and require no explanation; it can easily be mistaken for a “found” image, part of the natural geography of the actual setting of the films. Still, there can be no confusing the image with natural geography. And this is so not just because we happen to know that the films’ director, Abbas Kiarostami, did not stumble by chance on this peculiar landscape while scouting locations, but deliberately instructed his crew to carve the pronounced zigzag path into the hill.

This built landscape, inserted by Kiarostami in the natural setting, replicates a miniature found in a manuscript, “whose full-page paintings in fantastic colors were executed at Shiraz in southern Persia at the end of the fourteenth century (A.D. 1398).”[1] In the painting, precisely as in the Koker trilogy, a sinuous path curls up the side of a hill atop which sprouts a single, flowering tree. This fourteenth-century miniature graces the cover of a book on Islamic philosophy, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, in which it is discussed by the influential Iranologist, Henry Corbin. Corbin presents the painting as “the best illustration…which has come down to us today” of “visionary geography.”[2] Distinct from natural geography, or physically “situated” space, which is ordered according to pre-established geometrical coordinates, visionary geography is a “situative” space. Neither a purely abstract space nor purely concrete and sensible, it is instead a “third” or intermediary realm between the abstract and the sensible and functions as a kind of creative forecourt of sensible reality, as “the origin of [reality’s] spatial references and [that which] determines their structure.”[3] In the imaginal world the sense-perceptible is raised and pure intelligibility is lowered to the same level; matter is immaterialized and spirit is corporealized or, “to use a term currently in favor,” Corbin adds, “an anamorphosis is produced.”[4] In Arabic this intermediate realm is called alam al-mithal; Corbin translates it: imaginal world.

While the imaginal world is a fundamental concept of Islamic philosophy, it was given different names by different philosophers: Shihabuddin Yahya Suhravardi (d. 587/ 1191), for example — who thought of it as an external place — called it Na-koja-abad, “the country of the Not-where.” It is, however often referred to without specific name by other philosophers. In the writings of Muhyiddin ibn ‘Arabi (d. 638/ 1240) it is the realm of archetypal images produced by creative imagination; Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Sadr al-Din Shirazi (Mulla Sadra) (b. 980/ 1572) theorized it as part of the internal workings of the soul. It is mainly through Corbin’s translation that the various references were able to be brought together and isolated as a true concept. In the words of Christian Jambet, this felicitous translation “opened a new path” in the study of Islam, for by highlighting “the importance Islam gives to the world of imaginal forms,” it gave us “nothing less than a master signifier with which to decipher the meaning and destiny of [the] vast continent of the [Islamic] soul.”[5]

Corbin did more than restore the concept to its central place in Islamic philosophy; he became a vigorous advocate of the imaginal world and bemoaned the consequences, into the present, of its regrettable loss. In his estimation 869 A.D., the year of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, was a decisive turning point, for from this moment on the mundus imaginalis fell permanently under the penumbra of its anathematization. We know that in the fourth century the Church began convening a series Councils in which Church dogma was hammered out in an attempt to quiet controversy and safeguard its position against future challenges. If it is specifically the Fourth Council of Constantinople that inspired Corbin’s lament, this is no doubt because it was at this Council that Photios I, the Great Patriarch of Constantinople, was deposed in retaliation for his condemnation of the filioque clause and for excommunicating the Pope as a heretic on the grounds that he insisted on retaining this controversial clause in the Creed. A Latin addition to the earlier Greek Creed, this clause states that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from God, the Father, “and from the Son.” In other words, it accords Christ equal divinity with the Father and in this way “abolishes the tripartite anthropology of spirit, soul, and body in favor of the simple duality of body and soul.” The Council’s deposition of Photios, the most powerful critic of the filioque and a staunch defender of the tripartite division, is considered historically significant because the embrace of the double procession of the Holy Spirit became a permanent source of conflict between the Eastern and Western Church and led eventually to the schism of 1054. Corbin’s denunciation of the Council is stinging: “From that moment on, the way was open that would lead to the Cartesian dualism of thought and extension. For, from this moment, it became impossible to conceive of Spiritual Forms in the plastic sense of the word, or of true substances that are fully real and have ‘extension,’ although separated from the dense, opaque matter of this world.”[6]

What was in effect anathematized in this moment, — and so thoroughly so that we have since come to associate its execration not with this Church Council, but with the triumph of secularism — is the world of “subtle matter,” as it was referred to in antiquity — a matter that was neither purely spiritual nor purely material — and an organ of knowledge, the imagination, which was distinct from both the intellect and the senses. Since the notion of the imagination did not wither away after 869, we understand the point of Corbin’s vehement objection to be that the ontological status of the imagination suffered a fatal blow as a result of the effective reduction of the tripartite division to a simple duality and thus the elimination of the intermediate realm of the imaginal world.[7] More than this, however, Corbin’s argument is that the impoverishment of the status of the prophetic imagination and of the images formed there — which would henceforth come to be regarded as simply unreal, as mere fantasy — went hand in glove with an impoverishment of reality itself, which, too, began to lose its dignity. The dualistic thinking of Western metaphysics — again, its reduction of the tripartite division to a simple duality — is instantiated most tellingly, in Corbin’s argument, by the fundamental dogma of Christianity: that of God’s incarnation in the person of Christ, His Son, which dogma Corbin never ceases to castigate.

Ostentatio Corpus

We begin, then, with a brief recapitulation of Corbin’s critical perspective on the concept of the Incarnation adopted as dogma by the Church centuries after the death of Christ, at which point the Church began to read literally the Biblical pronouncement, “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). What Corbin objects to is the Church’s decision to view God’s appearance as Christ as a unique historical occurrence located at a precise and irreversible moment of chronological time, rather than as an event that happens repeatedly at different moments in time and uniquely to each of the faithful. The latter position is the one adopted and collectively defended by the falasifa, the Islamic philosophers who took their inspiration from Avicenna, who taught them that the soul expresses itself in an aspiration toward the still unrealized and not, as Averroes held, in intellectual desire.[8] For the falasifa, therefore, the uncreated, or the divine, had to be returned to repeatedly and ceaselessly created; this belief set them in direct conflict with Church dogma, which maintained that the Godhead passed over into, or became incarnated in exoteric matter, in a single finite being and that this fact was publicly and universally attestable.[9]

The polemical opposition Corbin sets up between the complex of concepts – imaginal world, imagination, image – and the doctrine of incarnation — which, in his argument, laid waste to the former — requires explication. Broadly construed, the dogma of Incarnation concerns a central paradox not just of Christianity but of monotheism in general. It fully justifies the contention that far more than a simple reduction of the polytheistic pantheon to a single God, monotheism constituted “a revolution of cosmic proportions”; it caused “humanity to turn in a different orbit” and introduced a new, previously unthinkable being into the world.[10] Instead of simply reducing the many to one, monotheism – while making the One-God the God of all – radically rethought the One, conceiving it not as identical to but as always more and less than itself. One and yet plural, one only through this plurality. Christ offered a perfect illustration of this paradoxical conception, at the same time God and not identical to Him, different but inseparable from Him, the second person of God.

Still, the paradox of the incarnation had to be precisely stated and doing so entailed a protracted debate that lasted centuries and began even before the First Council of Nicea (325 AD), when it is generally assumed to have been first asserted. By referencing the Fourth Council of Constantinople, Corbin means to mark the point at which these debates took an irreversible turn for the worse: its edging out of the third, mediating, term forced an unfortunate collapse of the paradoxical conception of the relation between the divine and the human. Ultimately his point is that the excision of the third term produced a congealed One in the place of the “poly-fying” One, which had subtended the emergence of monotheism and which the falasifa managed to hold onto in their conceptualization of the One.

There is, however – or so it seems at first blush – a problem with Corbin’s historical reference. The Fourth Council of Constantinople is notable not only for having thrown its support on the side of the filioque clause, but also for reaffirming support for the iconophiles, who had battled the iconoclasts in two long and bitter wars (730 – 787 and 814 – 842 AD) over the status of the image. 869 is thus also the year in which the Church ratified the victory of the iconophiles by decreeing that images of Christ were to be accorded the same value as the holy gospels and equally venerated. More succinctly, the image was placed on a par with the word. That the Church embraced both the image and the duality implied by the filioque, almost in the same breath, would seem to cast serious doubt on Corbin’s linkage of the dualism he associates with the dogmatic conception of incarnation and the devaluation of imagination – but only if one views the “image wars” of the eighth and ninth centuries distantly, as having been waged between those who wanted to destroy and those who wanted to preserve and defend images. The question to be asked is not simply “Who won?” but “Which definition of the image prevailed?” The battle between inconoclasts and the iconophiles was, like most, waged less on a battlefield than over the question of what constituted it; the battle was a struggle to define what the two sides were fighting about. The ontological question, “What is an image?” was the pivot of the struggle.

The intensity with which this question was engaged peaked at the point at which it became a Christological matter. It was perhaps St. John of Damacus (676-749) who did more than anyone else to link the debate about the nature of the image to the question of the nature of Christ. John disarmed the iconoclasts of their single most powerful weapon, the prohibition against “graven images” in Exodus 20:4, by arguing that God himself suspended this prohibition when he instituted the new world order by incarnating himself in Christ, who is — significantly — referred to in 2 Corinthians 4:4 as “the image of the invisible God.” Violating/fulfilling his own law, God lifted its custodianship when he moved out of Himself, as it were, becoming Christ while remaining God at the same time. This act of procession, which defines the plural unity of God, makes Him precisely an image of Himself and produces for John — who, in his Treatises on divine images, continuously poses questions regarding the nature of the image: “What is an image? What is the purpose of the image? What different kinds of image are there? What is it to be depicted and what is not depicted? How is anything depicted?” — the central definition of what any image is. An image, he explains, is “a likeness and pattern and impression of something, showing itself in what is depicted; however…the image is one thing and what it depicts is another – and certainly a difference is seen between them, since they are not identical.”[11]

The point here is not that the image is not quite identical to what it depicts and is, but is merely like or similar to it. Because the depicted, insofar as it is immaterial and divine, is by definition “without image,” the image that figures it bears a “catechretic” rather than comparative relation — or relation of similitude — to it; it is a proton pseudos, an original lie or deviation. The image does not give us “direct knowledge” of what it depicts, but instead allows us to see that “the depicted” is hidden.[12] The primary function of the image is thus, for John, more to give us a something — a frame — to look through than to give us something to look at. Or: images give us simultaneously something to see and to see through; they have the capacity to direct our sight toward the divine, toward the invisible from which the visible world springs.

It is important to note that John did not endorse the filioque clause and that his conception of the incarnation as the event that elevated the status of the image does not conform to the conception of incarnation derided by Corbin. Corbin’s fire seems to be reserved for later decisions taken by the Church with respect to both the image and the dogma of Incarnation, which would precipitate the demotion of the former. Ironically, this demotion of the image would come about at the hands of the iconoclasts, though it would emerge out of the chrysalis of the defense mounted by iconophiles such as John. The latter’s rehabilitation of the image cleared the way for the Church not only to accept divine images, but to promote their use for purposes that ran contrary to those that had argued for their ennoblement. The Byzantine defenders distinguished icons from idolatrous images on the grounds that the former opened onto a dimension that would otherwise remain absolutely invisible, its existence unknown, rather than visibly invisible. Iconophiles valued icons for their translucency, for the way they allowed the light of the hidden, the invisible, to shine through them. The light irradiating from these artificial images illuminated their intimate relation to the divine, not the divine, whose privileged obscurity was preserved. The source of light remained hidden in the images’ hollows.

The Church, on the other hand, began actively to promote images on different grounds – namely: their pedagogical utility — than the iconophiles offered in their defense. Although it had long been argued that images had a unique capacity for illustrating the teachings of the gospels and the lives of the saints — particularly for the multitude of illiterates who made up a large portion of the Church’s membership – this argument now gained ascendancy to such a degree that it transformed entirely the definition of the image itself. The effect of this transformation was epoch-making; for all at once images lost their translucency and became opaque. No longer did they serve to orient those who contemplated them toward the divine source of light, they now effectively blocked that source out, severed the relation they once had with it. Revalued primarily for their illustrative (rather than their illuminating) function, images were no longer viewed as portals through which light passed, as thresholds between the visible and the invisible, and were regarded instead as if they “were [themselves] the light that reveal[ed them] and [made them] visible.”[13]

At the moment it ceased to shine through images from an invisible source, the meaning of light was itself altered. Once conceived as the phenomenon designated by the Latin lumen, light was now more properly conceived as lux.[14] The difference between these two forms of light can be stated in the following way. While lumen was attributed to a single, invisible source, the dazzling brilliance with which it became manifest at each image-locus – whether this image be of the artificial or human kind – was such that it rendered that image-locus unique, singular. In contrast, the point from which lux emanated was no longer real (as in the case of lumen), but abstract. When Corbin complains that the dogma of incarnation commits a grievous error by turning God’s appearance, his image, into a publicly and universally attestable fact instantiated in an object, or in “exoteric matter,” he is objecting to the way that dogma “de-luminated” the world by bathing the world it in an abstract source of light that shone “indiscriminately on every object.”[15] Lux lights a world with no hidden dimensions, a world in which all can be revealed, for when no distance separates what is seen from the invisible source of illumination, then everything can come into the light or “become objective to itself in reflection.”[16] Islamic philosophy is a philosophy of precisely illumination, that is, of lumen. The locus of illumination is the “depths” of the soul, the “ground” of inwardness unique to each individual who maintains a relation with another dimension.[17] The quotation marks will be justified as the argument progresses, for the moment we can say simply that what was most “internal,” most “esoteric” turns out in the peculiar topology of the falasifa to be “external” to the individual subject.

Now, if this is so, if these historical alterations in the conception of both the image and light truly did take place as a result of a “disastrous” turn in the Christological question of incarnation then underway, it should be possible to produce evidence of this shift, which would, moreover, demonstrate what was thereby lost. In other words, we should be able to see how the collapse of the tripartite division, its reduction to a simple dualism affected the conception of the historically unprecedented “new being”: Christ and man, double in nature, simultaneously human and divine. We do not, as it happens, have far to look. The historical shift is evident in the very place one would expect to find it: in the changing iconography of Christ. Art historians have long observed that while in the early centuries, Christ was most often pictured as a puer aeternus, an eternally youthful boy in whose historical form the light of divinity seemed to shine through, in later centuries, after the concept of the incarnation had been more fully established as the centerpiece of Christian orthodoxy, the earlier manner of depicting him was abandoned in favor of images in which he was pictured — Corbin states the observation discreetly — as a “mature man with signs of a differentiated virility.”[18]

This same point is made much less obliquely in a book-length study of representations of Christ in Renaissance art, in which the art historian, Leo Steinberg, reproduces hundreds of images which persuasively show that Christ’s fully rendered genitalia were insistently placed on display in the art of that period.[19] It seems that it had become necessary by about 1260, the time the broad movement of the Renaissance began, to demonstrate that the son of God was “complete in all the parts of a man.” This meant that even when the subject of a woodcut or painting was not a man, but happened to be the infant Jesus, it was not his glowing heart, but the unmistakable and ostentatiously displayed presence of his penis, his publicly confessed “flesh,” that greeted the spectator’s eye.

Around the two-hundred and forty-six figures reproduced in The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, Steinberg weaves a scholarly and visually astute argument that, among other things, confirms many of the points made by Corbin. Steinberg, too, makes a point of distinguishing the Renaissance depiction of Christ from earlier Byzantine and medieval images of the Christ Child, in which Christ’s body disappears under ceremonial robes that come down to his feet and he “remains an ‘image,’ a Holy Icon, without any admixture of earthly realism.”[20] And again like Corbin, Steinberg ascribes the distinctive gesture of these Renaissance representations – namely, the ostentatio genitalium — to the dogma of incarnation, which had become a dominant pictorial subject during the period. In brief, Renaissance art is shown to have defined as one of its most important tasks the visualization of this specific dogma of the Church. The Iranologist and the art historian each assert that the fervor of these later representations of Christ was fueled by a need to quash a principled doubt which still threatened incarnationist theology. Here is Steinberg:

[S]ince the Incarnation draws its effectiveness from responsive faith, it would have forfeited that effectiveness, had it been open to legitimate doubt: without proof of blood, the flesh assumed by the godhead might have been thought merely simulated, phantom, deceptive. Such indeed were the pestiferous doctrines advanced more than a thousand years earlier by Docetists and Gnostics, those who held Christ’s assumed body to have been spiritual, not carnal, so that he only appeared to be suffering.[21]

The paragraph that follows gives evidence that the phrase “pestiferous doctrines” is free indirect speech, the infused venom of Quattrocento orators who “discharge[d] the full spleen of their rhetoric” against the ancient errors and execrated names of the Docetists and Gnostics, whose heresies were denounced by the now fervently embraced dogma that the Godhead had incarnated Himself in the oozing, bleeding, suffering flesh of His Son. But Steinberg’s argument differs from the one Corbin advances in that the former does not bother actually to examine the various docetic arguments and certainly does not attempt to defend them against the attacks of the fiery Renaissance orators. Moreover, Steinberg suggests that the Byzantine and medieval representations of the Christ Child may in fact have been an earlier form of defense against the docetist heresies, rather than an indication that they had not yet definitively acquired the status of heresy.

A few points need to be underlined. There never was any such thing as docetism; no group or school who would have described themselves as docetists. What Steinberg refers to as a “pestiferous doctrine” never existed as a doctrine. Docetism was little more than a feature or tendency of a jumbled mass of Christologies that flourished before the great Church schism. The project of Corbin differs from that of Steinberg not only because Corbin tries to preserve and defend the docetic feature of Christology, but also because in doing so he succeeds in transforming that feature into a coherent position. (from the Greek noun, dokhema: a vision or fantasy, but also an opinion or expectation; and the verb, dokeo, to appear, to show itself, but also to think, imagine, credit, admit or expect) was explicitly denounced by the Church as apocryphal for the reasons Steinberg gives. The most important and original part of Corbin’s defense of this widely denigrated tendency is that “the traditional Orient” was, through its elaborate theophany, through its robust theorization of the precise manner in which God manifested Himself to the world, “resolutely docetist.”[22] Corbin uses this last phrase at one point to describe the Qur’an, specifically, referring to that particular passage in the Qur’an (4: 157) in which the claim made by “the people of the Book” — that is, the Jews — that they had killed “Christ, Jesus” is unequivocally denied. The Qur’anic passage states: “They neither killed nor crucified him, though it so appeared to them. Those who disagree in the matter are only lost in doubt. They have no knowledge of it other than conjecture.”

No matter that its doctrinal status is disputed, this docetic assertion, however unaffiliated with any school, still strikes believers as “pestiferous.” That Christ could not have been killed nor crucified because he never actually existed, that what witnesses saw was not a divine reality, but “merely simulated,” a “phantom,” is a claim that touches on a belief of the utmost historical and doctrinal importance to Christians and thus risks being read as a religious and political insult on a grand scale.[23] While Corbin attempted tirelessly to safeguard the specificity of the thinking that emerged out of the “traditional Orient,” he was equally tireless in his attempts to expose and develop the profound affinities among the Abrahamic religions where they existed. He is fully aware that the Qur’anic passage and his defense of it have the capacity grievously to offend. And yet, he insists, it is not the passage but the monotonous and misguided derision of docetism that is the source of the problem, for this derision manufactures a misreading of the passage’s intent. Neither the Qur’an nor Corbin denies the existence of Christ, his divine reality, or the reality of his suffering. These facts are not in dispute. What is forcefully denied is 1) that man has the capacity to kill, to eradicate, the divine and 2) that the divine can enter into or incarnate itself in a body or a world, as in a container or tomb. God cannot enter into the world; in the docetic conception, He comes, rather, to the level of the world. It is in the docetic tendency, rigorously conceptualized in the theophany of Islamic philosophy, that Corbin will find the resources to uphold this distinction between God’s entry into/entombment in the sublunary world and His appearance to and elevation of that same world. The distinction emphatically challenges the notions of the body and the world presupposed by the dogma of incarnation. Although the Qur’an may at first seem to belittle belief in God’s condescension to the human level or to ridicule the idea that that descent elevated human life, Corbin shows that the opposite is true. His vigorous defense of docetism in general serves as a defense of the Qur’an at the same time. His claim is that “docetism…far from degrading ‘reality’ by making it an ‘appearance’; on the contrary, transform[s reality] into an ‘appearance’ [and] makes [it] transparent to the transcendent meaning manifested in it. This docetism attaches no value to a material fact unless it is appearance, that is, apparition.”[24]. From this we glean that Corbin intends to argue for the existence of a material apparition.

But what is the “material fact” at issue in the instance we are investigating? The body of Christ. Or: as Steinberg precipitously puts it, “the sexuality of Christ.” In service to the dogma of incarnation, Renaissance art devoted themselves to depicting the sexual parts of Christ, but can we accurately say it pictured his sexuality? All we can safely say is that this art translated the incarnationist dictum, “This is my body,” into the pictorial ostentatio genitalium, “This is His penis.” This raises a host of questions that can only be indirectly addressed here, though they underwrite the entirety of our argument and motivate our interest in the docetic alternative to the incarnationist position. The Hellenic, or “pagan” gods, were always demonstrably sexed, endowed with features and foibles that were correlated with their visibly sexed bodies. Monotheism, in ridding God of all attributes, obviously rendered him bodiless and sexless. But in taking on human form, God – in Christ’s form – took on a body, one that was, perforce, sexually differentiated. This is precisely the fact Renaissance depictions unabashedly confronted. Our claim is not that Renaissance renderings inaccurately illustrate the dogma of incarnation, but that their very faithfulness to it highlights the problems we find there.

What Corbin says of “literalist theologians,” by which he means those who accept the incarnationist interpretation of “the Word was made flesh,” fits especially well the Renaissance artists’ insistence on rendering Christ’s genitals: “the great sin of the literalist theologians [is their] assimilation of this dissimulation to what it dissimulates.”[25] The “dissimulation” referred to here is to the “epiphanic form,” or “apparition,” or image through which God manifests Himself. If apparition dissimulates it is not by pretending to be what it is not, but by being dissimilar to, bearing no resemblance to, what it manifests. Apparition is a semblant, not a “resemblant” of the divine; not a copy of an original image, but an original image of that which is has none. To mistake this semblant for the reality it manifests as hidden, withdrawn from sight, to assimilate this dissimilation to what it dissimulates (God-who-is-without-image) is to fall into the literalist/incarnationist trap. In contrast, the incarnationist argument has it that Christ, the one true image of God, assimilates — precisely, incarnates — God. What makes Christ a true image rather than a dissimulation of God is that he is consubstantial with Divine Being, of the same essence or substance as It. That is, Christ is a natural, not a forged image. Corbin’s defense of docetism shares with the iconophiles’ defense of Iconic images the elevation of artifice, the art of forgery or human imagination. In other words, it is insofar as he is the Maker of images that man is able to function as the image of God. Incarnationists want to see in the world a deficit which God’s entrance entire would make good; the docetic position, on the contrary, views divine apparition (theophany) as a de-completion of the world which makes room for human invention and thus for world renewal.

To switch vocabularies slightly, the event of Christ’s appearance cannot be assimilated to the historical facts surrounding the life of Christ, even if it cannot be totally separated from them. The divine appearance is thus irreducible to the material density of Christ’s body and the narrative of its suffering. It adheres, rather, in the way the sensible bodies of those stirred by this event were raised up to a new status. No longer limited to their physical vulnerability, these “risen” bodies acquired the capacity to resist or override their physical limitations, to act in such a way that their physical well-being was not the sole determinant of their existence.[26] And yet this new capacity, as we will see, was dependent on no simple increase of man’s powers, but came about, rather, as a result of a redefinition of his reliance on the powers of a retreated or withdrawn God.

In exposing Christ’s sex, Renaissance representations of Christ inadvertently bring into focus the distinction between the body in its material density and the body as sexuated. The incarnationist imperative of these Quattrocento artists offers no option but the collapse of this distinction, which remains for them still-born. Docetism, however, through its insistence that apparition is not reducible to mere fantasy, but a material fact, opens the possibility of thinking finite bodies as “subtle,” (the term used by medieval philosophers), as unlimited by their vulnerabilities. Between the subtle body of the falasifa and the sexuated body of psychoanalysis I would propose a relation that is not one of simple homology, but is, rather, generative in the sense that this early conceptualization of the image continues to play a role in the psychoanalytic theory of sex, through notions such as the imago and the archetype. I develop elsewhere a docetic as opposed to an incarnationist conception of sex and the sexual relation on the basis of my arguments here.

But before trying more firmly to grasp what docetism offers to a theory of the image (and, eventually, of sex), I want to return once more to Steinberg’s account of Renaissance representations of Christ’s sexual organ. How are we to understand the complete title of this account; that is, how can we explain the subsequent consignment of the sexuality of Christ to modern oblivion? Why did post-Renaissance artists reverse course by refraining, recoiling even, from picturing the private parts of the Savior, going so far as to overpaint what came to them to seem the indecent exposure of these parts by earlier, Renaissance artists? Steinberg summarizes in stark terms the hapax that was the Renaissance moment and the hasty retreat that would define subsequent periods: “Renaissance artists, committed for the first time since the birth of Christianity to naturalistic modes of representation, were the only group within Christendom whose metier required them to plot every inch of Christ’s body.”[27] Several pages later we find a fuller statement of the same point:

[B]ecause Renaissance culture not only advanced an incarnational theology…, but evolved representational modes adequate to its expression, we may take Renaissance art to be the first and last phase of Christian art that can claim full Christian orthodoxy. Renaissance art…harnessed the theological impulse and developed the requisite stylistic means to attest the utter carnality of God’s humanation in Christ. It became the first Christian art in a thousand years to confront the Incarnation entire, the upper and lower body together, not excluding even the body’s sexual component.[28]

The focus of Steinberg is on the uniqueness of this moment, which he forcefully describes as a historically isolated synthesis of the Christological dogma of incarnation and a naturalistic mode of representation. Where he addresses the question of the recoil of later artists and audiences before this pictorial fusion, he does so minimally and in a flat, historicist way. Employing the term “incarnational realism,”[29] Steinberg suggests that the time would come when realistic representation would divest itself of the dogma with which it served during the Renaissance and become realism simple. Audiences and artists would later begin to find this fusion distasteful and realism would no longer seem compatible with or appropriate for rendering images of Christ, whose corporeality would thus cease to be a proper subject of representation. It is, of course, true that outside a few scandal-stirring works by modern artists, the practice of depicting Christ’s genitals was abandoned after the Renaissance, but if one reads Steinberg alongside Corbin’s critique of Church dogma, a different thesis regarding the reasons for this starts to emerge. To begin, one could argue that the realist – or in Corbin’s terms, the historicist — consciousness, is as such “incarnationist,” inseparable from the dogmatic teaching of the Church. This means that rather than abandoning or betraying the doctrine of incarnation, the “naturalistic mode of representation,” insofar as it is informed by historicism/realism, continues in succeeding generations to instantiate the dogma even if the subject of Christ’s incarnated body is no longer the subject of most art.

Recall that Corbin focused his attacks on the Church Councils’ ultimate reduction of the earlier tripartite division of the divine to a simple duality. A fuller account of his position would point out, however, that what concerns him is that this duality is inevitably menaced by one of its terms. Whenever three is reduced to two, you can be sure that shortly thereafter two will become one. But from which direction does the menace, this reduction to one come and why describe what takes place in this way? Officially, the Church claims that the beneficiary of incarnation is the order of humanity. Corbin contests the official position and contends that the dogma of incarnation results in the demotion of man and the sensible world, to the status of opaque matter.

This is why, contra Steinberg, we must see in the reluctance of post-Renaissance artists to merge Christ with the human order evidence of their continued and corrective adherence to the tenets of “incarnational realism.” Here we might appropriate an observation of Hegel about the impossibility of any conjunction between historical (or: realist) consciousness and God. Hegel maintained that it is precisely for fear of “reducing the sacred Grove to mere timber,”[30] that we deny ourselves God intellectually, for in this way we are able still to pine for Him in sighs and prayers. Translating this into our terms we could say that if later artists refused to render the son of God realistically (as fully incarnate), it was for fear of losing the real God of their faith. This real God, who reduces us to suffering, pining flesh is, as we are claiming, put in place by incarnational realism, which represents first a despoliation of earthly life and then, in a second step, oversees the elevation of higher reality from which earthly life depends on absolutely for its only meaning.

Corbin’s attack on incarnationist theology often echoes the bitter attack by Niezsche on the nihilistic depreciation of appearance in his day. As is known, Nietzsche targets Hegel’s dialectical theory as exemplary of the very historical/realist consciousness that gives rise to this depreciation. He complains that having replaced God by the man-God – that is, God as incarnated as fully human — the dialectic reactively demotes this man-God and the terrain He inhabits. “The pitiful cry, ‘God is dead!’ Nietzsche famously claims, does not get rid of God but, on the contrary, gives Him absolute power over us. The synthesis of God with time, becoming, history, and man turns God into an object of synthetic knowledge, at which point death enters God and the “centre of gravity” is thereby shifted “out of life into the ‘Beyond’”– thus depriving life of its center of gravity.[31] Put otherwise: that which dissimulates has here so thoroughly assimilated what it dissimulates that God disappears completely from earthly reality and emerges elsewhere, transcendent and apophatic simply, without relation to the world. If this sentiment is not exactly shared by Steinberg, it is at least made credible through his meticulous examination of the genitalia of Christ in Renaissance art: “The sexual member exhibited by the Christ Child, so far from asserting aggressive virility, concedes instead God’s assumption of human weakness; it is an affirmation not of superior prowess but of…the Creator’s self-abasement to his creature’s condition. And instead of symbolizing…the generative powers of nature, Christ’s sexual organ…yields…not seed, but…‘the first fruits of [his] growing death.’”[32]

Corbin says something strikingly similar: “Incarnated, [Christ] is buried in the flesh until time comes for him to be buried in the grave.”[33] And in terms that echo and significantly alters Hegel’s, Corbin warns us that, “The Burning Bush is only a brushwood fire if it is merely perceived by the sensory organs. In order that Moses may perceive the Burning Bush and hear the Voice [of God] calling him,” we must suppose an organ of trans-sensory perception, the creative imagination, and credit the existence of an imaginal world.[34] The difference between the sacred Grove and the Burning Bush is that the former is fully transcendent to, and therefore subsumes, earthly life, while the latter, the Burning Bush, is understood as other than but not completely separable from the brushwood fire. For the falasifa there was no other world but this world. Thus, while God remained for them apophatic, he was not transcendent; He disappeared not from the world but into his appearances there, into his radiant invisibility. The result of this disappearance was not the split into earthly and divine existence lambasted by Corbin and Nietzsche alike, but a world split internally between two modalities of being: actual and suspended, visible and invisible, wherein neither term was capable of assimilating the other.

A Docetic Cinema

Docetism, then. Thus far we have approached it mainly as the target of the Councils’ obloquy, as an anathematized tendency. The time has come to examine it more directly, not only to justify Corbin’s contention that the “traditional Orient” was determinedly docetic, but also to see what this “Oriental” wisdom might contribute to contemporary inquiries into the nature of the image.

The modern question, “What is an image?” is most cogently raised in response to a crisis not of theology but of psychology. At issue is no longer the relation of the human to the divine, but the relation of consciousness to spatial extension. Deleuze offers a summary of the crisis in Cinema 1.The Movement-Image.[35] While it had previously seemed possible to locate images only in consciousness and movement only in space, and thus to define images as qualitative and without extension and movement as extended and quantitative, psychologists began to find reasons to challenge this strict division. Studies of hysteria, for example, particularly of hysterical paralyses, demonstrated that images were necessary to produce movements and that paralyses could result not only from physical trauma but also from the failure to form an image of some body part. On the other hand, associationist psychologists became convinced that images were produced by “external perceptions,” which were reducible to “molecular motions.”[36] A stalemate was reached between idealists who saw the universe as composed of pure images in consciousness and materialists who viewed consciousness as a series of pure material movements. Each side in this stalemate attempted to efface the duality (consciousness/ extension) by asserting the prerogatives of one of the terms over the other. But the image was most interestingly thrust forward in this debate not because it was thought contradictorily as the source of movement, on the one hand, the product of it, on the other, but because it became possible to think it anew as confined neither to consciousness nor to space, but as that which opened a relation between the two. It was possible to think the image not as a bounded form but as a movement or action of breaking open. In this way the image was conceivable once again as a threshold term capable of “overcom[ing] the duality of image and movement, of consciousness and things” not by effacing this duality through the triumphant elevation of one term over the other, but by theorizing the way the two terms functioned in relation to each other without risk of fusing into a single entity. Modern technology also played a major role in unsettling these dualities. On the one hand, modes of rapid locomotion had profound effects on consciousness, on the other, photography, film, and advertising packed the material world full of images. It was inevitable that psychologists and philosophers would take these facts into account and would turn to one emerging technology in particular — namely, cinema – in order to question the old division, movement/ images.

Deleuze’s rehabilitation of the image in the cinema books resembles in broad outline the arguments made for the imaginal world insofar as the image becomes, like that world, the condition for the relation between disjunct terms. Indeed, in his description of “any-space-whatever,” as a space that is “no longer a particular determined space,” but one that has lost “the principle of its metric relations” to become “rich in potentials,” that is, “in the prior conditions of all actualization, all determination,” Deleuze comes very close to Corbin’s description of visionary geography as a situative rather than a situated space.[37] More: defining the plane of immanence as a plane of Light, Deleuze suggests a comparison with the falasifa’s philosophy of illumination. What Deleuze does not reflect on, however, is the way the technology of cinema, and particularly lighting technology, may also discover ways of preventing the emergence of images in the positive, rehabilitated sense. In his historical account, Blumenberg locates a stage of vision that no longer relies on either the “natural light” of lumen or the non-natural light of lux but presupposes darkness rather than light as a base-line condition of visibility. Into this darkness lighting techniques introduce an “optics of prefabrication” that coerces vision through directed light, which creates a non-homogeneous unevenness of the visible field. The “freedom to look around” is thus limited and vision controlled through a technological pre-casting of the field.[38] While there is no artificial image that does not seek to direct vision, this description of an optics of prefabrication invites us to admit that modern technology can in some cases be yoked to a logic inhospitable to creative imagination.

Against this historical background, medieval and modern, the cinema of Kiarostami emerges as exemplary. It is not for nothing that the recurrent image in the Koker trilogy — of the imaginal world’s “visionary geography” — appears explicitly in his work. His cinema prompts us to reflect on the ontological status of the image in a way that looks back on the work of the falasifa, while remaining fully mindful of the potential and problems associated with cinema’s unique ability to manipulate the visual field and direct or coerce vision. In a world increasingly controlled by “imaging techniques,” where images proliferate and command a growing share of our attention, the work of Kiarostami is remarkable for its focus on the dearth of images. One of the major themes of his films is the necessity of images and one of the main maladies of his frenetic characters is their debilitating lack of a self-image. This want of a self-image is not cast as a psychological but as a philosophical or psychoanalytic problem. For, Kiarostami seeks not to expose some inner characterological truth but that hidden “esoteric” dimension that compels us to forge images of ourselves.

Of all Kiarostami’s films Close-Up (1990) is perhaps clearest illustration of this problematic. Hossein Sabzian, a mostly unemployed printer and Turkish-speaking member of the mostazafin, — the downtrodden class which the Islamic Revolution was supposed to have lifted up but did not, the dispossessed betrayed yet again by the regime that replaced the Shah — finds himself in a sad situation. Having fallen through all the cracks in the system into near-total obscurity, he longs to gain a foothold in the visible world. And yet, because he has no real sense of what it means to have an image, how one comes to have one, he commits a crime that has no chance of succeeding: image theft. In an act of desperation he tries to pass himself off as Makhmalbaf, the famous Iranian filmmaker beloved for his film, The Cyclist, about a similarly dispossessed Afghani refugee. Momentarily mistaken for Makhalbaf by a woman sitting next to him on a bus, Sabzian eases into the role and is eventually caught trying to dupe this woman and her family, the gullible, film-fascinated Ahankhahs. He has been thrown in jail and is awaiting trial when Kiarostami reads about the case in a newspaper and decides to film the trial and a reenactment of the crime in which the principle characters are all persuaded to play themselves. This doubling of material reality by the cinematic image brings about a metamorphosis of that reality: the procedure and outcome of the trial are positively affected by the filming.

A primary function of the opening sequence is to delay the appearance of Sabzian whose lack of an image is precisely the issue. Two policeman, accompanied by a reporter, pull up to the gated home of the Ahankhahs to arrest Sabzian, not in a police car but in a taxi. There is something a little too relaxed, a bit too “informal,” as they say, about the official business of the police here. The reporter, too, is ill-equipped to deal with this prize story; he has failed to bring a tape recorder with him and as he runs from house to house to try to borrow one, he misses the chance to ride to the prison with the police and their prisoner. The taxi driver, who stays behind as the police enter the house to arrest Sabzian, is we learn a former airplane pilot who has lost his job. Nothing to see here, apparently, in this cul-de-sac of a street — nothing of interest. The cleric who presides over the trial seems to be of the same opinion, for he has no qualms about granting Kiarostami permission to film the proceedings in which he intervenes benignly and reasonably. But is all this informality, this lack of rigor or force, this failure to break through an unruffled surface, really so benign? Or is it not precisely to this informality, this laxity of the law, that we must look in order to account for the feelings of discontent and dispossession which the taxi’s driver and passengers – the police, the reporter, and eventually Sabzian – express? Are we not privy here to the operation of that political malignancy we know as the retreat of the State, the law’s semi-self-privatization or (to put it more informally) its selective indifference toward many over whom it rules? The law may coerce vision but it is not itself constrained to pay attention to what it does not want to see.

This is what I propose: what I am referencing by the term retreat of the State can most vibrantly and – especially in the context of Kiarostami’s cinema – appropriately be approached by contrasting it with the retreat of God as this concept was theorized by the falasifa; for the latter is as salutary for human existence as the contemporary retreat is devastating. The best place to begin this contrast is with the hadith that is perhaps the most intensely contemplated by the falasifa, foremost among them, the great Ibn ‘Arabi: “I was a hidden Treasure and I yearned to be known. Then I created creatures in order to be known by them.” The subject of this yearning is God Himself, an emphatically apophatic God, which we learn from His designation of Himself as a “hidden Treasure.” An apophatic or negative theology posits a God who is nondelimited, indeterminate and incomprehensible by dint of being absolutely without feature or image. It is for an apophatic theology that the problem of the image is then particularly acute, for how can there be an image of that which is incorporeal, invisible, immaterial, without form or limit? We have seen how intensely this question was debated during the Byzantine period. What strikes us as new in this hadith, however, is how profoundly this question concerns God Himself, who without an image would remain hidden, forever unknown not least of all to Himself. This matter of images bears witness to God’s utter lack of self-enclosure, or: to the radical relatedness of God to his creatures. The monotheistic principle is operative in this God of Islam as in the other monotheistic religions: imageless, he is unable to create creatures in — or, is said, after — His image. This is so even though a different hadith may seem to suggest otherwise, “God created Adam according to His own Form.”[39] If there is a Form of God it cannot exist prior to Adam but must come about through him.

Islamic philosophy knows itself not as a “philosophy of the multiple,” but as a “philosophy of the One.” Its first principle is that of the Oneness of God, who is the only necessary being in the universe, the only one who cannot not be.[40] The One could not, however, be designated or counted as such if He were left to Himself. This will lead the falasifa, and most notably Ibn-al-Arabi, “the great expositor of ‘Unity,’ [to] devote most of his attention to affirming the reality of multiplicity and explaining its relationship to the Oneness of God. […] God in His Essence is absolutely one from every point of view. But as soon as this is said, someone has said it, so in effect the reality of the other has to be affirmed.”[41] More precisely, it is the multiplicity of others, their plural reality that is affirmed by attestations of God’s oneness. Here we encounter once again one of the major differences between the incarnationist position and the docetism of the Muslim mystics. According to the latter, Christ cannot be the image of God; God cannot appear “in person,” in any fully objectifiable, universally attestable form. Rather, God manifests Himself in a multiplicity of forms, none of which can claim to be the image of God.

It begins to be clear from this description of the philosophical position taken by the “traditional Orient” that the commonplace “Orientalist” assumption, whereby non-Western societies are said to have a less developed sense of the individual than Western societies, is grounded on a gross metaphysical misunderstanding. For, far from conceiving individuation as a “secondary derivation,” as is often the case in the West, the “Iranian metaphysicians of the Aviennian tradition,” regarded individuation as “something truly initial”; the falasifa, in short, conceived the principle of individuation as the positing of a being and not as a mere negativity.[42] While Western thinkers often oppose the individual to the universal, the falasifa did not conceive individuation, the profusion of the multiple, in a dialectical way, as occurring in a second stage through the negation of the One, but as taking place initially, within the One. Rather than negate the One-God, the multiplicity of individual beings attest to His oneness, His unity; they manifest Him and remain tethered to Him. They proceed out of but do not exit from the One. And yet Ibn ‘Arabi, the author of The Book of Unity [Kitab al-ahadiyya], did not hesitate to insist: “Unity ignores and refuses you.”[43] Why is this? Because while it remains true that the One is that which is common to the multiplicity of beings, it is also true that it eludes each and every one of them. In escaping capture by each of the multiplicity, the One, shows itself to be not what atherses them in a unity, but that which disperses them. The One multiplies; it does not congeal.

Corbin’s warning against the “literalist sin” of assimilating the dissimulation to what it dissimulates is now graspable from another angle. The multiplicity of images which manifest God and attest to His oneness do not expose the “Hidden treasure”; on the contrary, they permit Him to remain hidden. The appearance of the image dissimulates Him not by announcing His presence but by announcing His withdrawal. The image bears witness to the retreat of God. And yet this retreat does not amount to an abandonment by a God who withdraws in order to “pare his fingernails” while remaining indifferent to his creatures. This type of withdrawal, this abandonment, would result in a situation comparable to what psychoanalysis has sometimes described as “hospital phenomenon,” in which a young child, left alone by his mother, is menaced by a sentiment of profound destitution or of non-being. It is, I suggest, along the lines of this phenomenon that we must begin to conceptualize the modern retreat of the State. The retreat of the Islamic God is, however, not to be confused with the indifference of the State.

Rather than leaving individual beings bereft, the withdrawal of Divine Being figures a salutary separation from them. The only necessary being, the only being who cannot-not-be, the Divine One, threatens to suffocate human being, to stifle individuation, by completely absorbing or circumscribing it in the confines of its necessity. This necessity must then be limited by the introduction of the possible. The concepts of the imaginal world, imagination, and theophanic forms developed by Islamic philosophers all seek to lodge potentiality in the place of that minimal separation that divides Divine from human being. The mirror analogy ubiquitous in this philosophy is employed repeatedly to underscore the fact that that which appears in that world/ in these forms is no more here, present in the actual world than objects which appear in a mirror are in the material substrate of the mirror. Images cannot be confused, as they are by incarnationists, with any material substrate because they are suspended (like images in a mirror) rather than actualized in the world. “Suspended being,” “suspended citadels,” these are the terms by which potentiality – being that does not yet exist — is thought across this philosophy.

It is said that “under the pen of the Shaykh al-Akbar” (that is, Ibn ‘Arabi), the idea of the “solitary” is repeatedly linked with that of “proximity.”[44] The retreat of Divine Being leaves human existence alone in its now solitary world. In the wake of the divine departure no other world but this one, the world of sensible existence, remains. But God does not withdraw – according to our Islamic philosophers — into another, superior world; He withdraws rather into the real, which imbeds itself in sensible reality not to become swallowed up there, but on the contrary to prevent that reality from closing over onto itself, thus swallowing whole its own interiority, its own esoteric dimension. Still, the human creatures from whom God withdraws are not left completely alone, for in the wake of His withdrawal emerges a feeling of proximity stronger than any we have with any actual neighbor, a closeness closer to us than our own “jugular vein.”[45] Unlike the feeling of proximity that takes place between “two heterogeneous beings,” this experience is that of “one being encountering himself (at once one and two, a bi-unity).”[46] That to which one is brought close is not another fully present being, but rather a being that is held back, suspended: potential being.

In what way is potential being connected to the image? Recall the hadith with which our contemplation of the image began, in which it is said that God, the Hidden treasure, created His creatures in order to be known. Human existence serves as the image in which God comes to see, to know, Himself. But how could an apophatic — an unlimited or uncircumscribable — God know Himself through an image, which would, perforce, circumscribe, limit Him? The impasse implied by this question — and reached by everyone who has ever seriously contemplated the problem of Divine images – suggests that the question of the image is inevitably soldered to that of the limit. We have acquiesced to this suggestion by stressing earlier that infinite, unlimited, necessary Divine Being had to be limited for potentiality to emerge and by implying that this limitation did not entail a negation of Divine Being. We have also gestured toward the fact that the image is precisely that which uncircumscribes finite, sensible being. The image (and thus the limit implied by it) determines human existence as indeterminable. If, as Ibn ‘Arabi argues, “The totality of our being is not only the part we at present call our person, for this totality also includes another person, a transcendent counterpart which remains invisible to us, our ‘eternal individuality,’”[47] this is because our finite being is endowed with an “eternal hexeity,” or “archetypal essence”[48]. Or simply: an Image, more suggestively referred to as an “incorruptible Image,”[49] which permits us to transcend or go beyond ourselves while remaining exactly who we are.

Gnosticism is usually understood to be founded on a hatred of the sensible body and a longing to escape it through transcendence. The Gnosticism of the falasifa, however, evinces no such distaste for the body; rather than seeking to shed the body, they seek to account for its ability to overcome its caducity. The term “incorruptible Image” betrays not an idealism (overt or surreptitious) but, rather, an attempt to think a non-caducous material body, one defined not by its perishable and transitory features but by its subtle nature, its infinite plasticity or its capacity to resist being undone, destroyed, by even radical alterations. What renders the body incorruptible is not some hard, unyielding core that remains intact despite the various onslaughts it suffers, but its ability to bend, flex, change courses or respond to onslaughts in its own way. It is to this subtle modality that the falasifa wished to elevate sensible existence.

The labor invested in the theoretical creation of this non-caducous body becomes especially apparent when one compares the position of the falasifa to their philosophical contemporaries, the Ash ‘arites. The latter conceive change as occurring in the sublunary world through a series of tiny “miracles,” wherein sensible human beings are made to function as the servants or instruments of God’s will. Much as in the occasionalism of Malebranche, in the theology of the Ash ‘arites the sensible world is de-modalized, stripped of potentiality through the attribution of every action, every change which takes place there to God’s constant and unilateral intervention. The simple raising of one’s hand requires His vigilant intercession. A Qur ‘anic verse, “It is not you who killed them, but God did so. You did not throw what you threw (sand into the eyes of the enemy at Badr), but God…” (8:17) would seem then to support the Ash ‘arite orthodoxy: God is the secret agent of all our acts and the organs of our body are merely the tools of His will.

The falasifa, however, read this verse very differently. They, too, maintain that there a secret lies behind our acts, a cause that cannot be known to us, but they insist further that there is a secret to this secret. God alone cannot constitute the secret; it is not He in His sovereign independence from and power over us who is responsible for “throwing what we throw.” If we are able to throw, to raise our hand, to act in an unpredetermined way this is due to the relation that obtains between God and us. Neither God in sovereign isolation from us, nor we in our self-enclosed isolation from Him (or from others) are capable of any real change. God, alone, is necessary, but alone he is also without capacity, without potentiality; potentiality emerges then only as a bi-lateral or joint affair; potentiality is being which is suspended in the relation between Divine and human existence, between one being and another. This is the secret of the secret: potential being depends on relation and belongs to no one alone. Potentiality is not at the disposal of one’s will not just because, unactualized, nonexistent, it depends on time for its unfolding, but even more fundamentally because its very (suspended) being is dependent on the existence of others as such.

In opposition to the Ash ‘arites, then, the Muslim mystical tradition conceives the organs of the sensible body not as tools or instruments of God, but as separable parts of Him. Here is Corbin’s statement of the mystical position: “[T]he soul gains awareness that it ‘sees’ God not through itself, but through Him; it loves only through Him, not by itself; it contemplates God in all other beings not through its own gaze, but because it is the same gaze by which God sees them.”[50] That is to say, our bodily organs, the organs of our perception, are not merely passive receivers of sensations but have a capacity for unprogrammed or unpredetermined action. Potentiality insists in the sensible world, belongs to us as sensible beings. And yet neither potentiality nor our bodily organs belong to us in isolation; they are ours insofar as we exist in relation to Divine Being and to other sensible beings. Images of God, we do not incarnate Him in any sense, in whole or part. The gaze or sigh or breathe, those sensible and semi-detached parts we share with God are nowhere and by no one incarnated; they belong neither to God nor to us as isolated beings.

Double Parentheses

Before extending this argument linearly, two parentheses are necessary to herd back into the fold essential aspects of our discussion that may seem to have been left behind. First, the cinema of Kiarostami. It is well-known that this filmmaker has often described his films as “half-made.” This is commonly, and correctly, understood to mean that his films unfold between what he puts on screen and the audience who views them. But Kiarostami’s statement, a statement about the creative act as such, cannot be fully appreciated outside the context of the conception of potentiality just outlined. He, Kiarostami, can no more claim to make his films than you can claim, so says the Qu ‘ran, to have thrown what you threw; this is to say: Kiarostami aspires not to put his sovereign will on film but to demonstrate that creation arises neither from will nor ex nihilo, but out of potentiality.

His claim to “half-make” his films is less an indication of his modesty than of his philosophical ambition and should be read alongside another claim he famously made about his desire to make his audiences to “see with borrowed eyes”:

I want to tap the hidden information that’s within yourself and that you probably didn’t even know existed inside you. We have a saying in Persian, when somebody is looking at something with real intensity: ‘He had two eyes and he ;borrowed two more.’ Those borrowed eyes are what I want to capture – the eyes that will be borrowed by the viewer to see what’s outside the scene he’s looking at.”[51]

In Close-Up Kiarostami’s self-proclaimed cinematic ambition is implemented by a unique technological strategy: Sabzian’s trial is filmed with two different cameras. While one of them records the official proceedings, the other – the “close-up” camera – is devoted specifically to Sabzian, who is instructed by Kiarostami to address to it feelings and thoughts that would not be admissible as evidence by the court. This camera is the equivalent of the borrowed pair of eyes. The inclination — to be avoided at all cost — is to view the first camera as providing an objective or public record of the trial and the second as offering access to the private, inner core of Sabzian’s being. Such a misreading would constitute a metaphysical calamity. For, the second camera gives us, can give us, no more access to the inner sanctum of Sabzian’s being than “esoteric Islam” allows generally, which is to say: none at all. The close-up — or esoteric — camera is associated, it is true, with a feeling of intimacy; it brings us close, places us in proximity to something beyond ourselves, but that something is not the solitary truth behind Sabzian’s posturing, public facade. There is, first of all, no solitary truth; that is the secret behind the secret: truth lies in the joint nature of incipience. Rather than a public and a private space the two cameras, exoteric and esoteric, present two kinds of public space. If we were to see the trial only through the first, we would witness the proceedings as taking place in a completely exoteric or de-modalized world in which Sabzian would be virtually without means to alter his circumstances and cinema a matter of little to no account. The second camera intervenes in this space; it defines publicity not on the sole basis of externality, but on the basis of the relatedness of beings. For this camera, that space is public in which potential being insists or hangs suspended.

In this obscure public space not only Sabzian, but cinema, too, is transformed, elevated; Sabzian is supplied with an image by this image-making machine. But what does it mean to say this, to say that Sabzian acquires an image through cinema? To have an image is to stand out from the rest in one’s singularity, where “the rest,” the existence of others, does not negate all positive terms to define the individual by her relative difference. Rather the existence of others affirms the reality of being-in-suspense, which each individual realizes in her own way, absolutely differently. Rather than rendering transparent the inner core of his being, the esoteric camera draws us close to a presence that clothes Sabzian, shrouds his being in obscurity. It is from this cloud – and not a crowd of differences — that he will come to stand out. The first camera places us on the scene, which we regard from the sidelines or the bench; from this exterior position the film audience sees Sabzian for what he is: an impostor, a liar, however inconsequential his deceptions may be. This view depends on its exterior position and regards itself as having the power to penetrate the interior. The apparent deceptions of Sabzian depend on a myth of transparency that defines falseness as feeble, as something that can be seen through. The second camera repositions the audience not by placing her in the scene, but by removing the sidelines, the bench, that gave it its boundaries and thus its inside along with its outside. This close-up camera places us, rather, in proximity to Sabzian, which implies a slight distance as well as a closeness, the “unique phenomenon of a distance however close the object might be,” to use Walter Benjamin’s famous phrase. We do not see eyeball to eyeball with him, regard the world in the same way as he does; rather, we see ourselves through the same gaze. This is not to say that we have a common experience, but that we each encounter “our common” as obstacle to experience. We are each exiled from ourselves by that which hangs suspended between us. In this context we can define what hangs there suspended – the presence of what is not, of what is not yet existent — as a falsity. That to which we are brought perilously close, that which resonates in us as if coming from another, is a falseness which is not feeble but imperative. It is the imperative of imposture (of being which is not) to imposture (to be not like another, but to be other than we are, to rise to the occasion of our uncertain future). Sabzian’s desire to extricate himself from his dead-end situation by forging for himself some kind of identity through the close-up is resignified as a response to the imperative of the false being-that-is-not.

Our second parenthesis concerns psychoanalysis and the intense feeling of subjective destitution that is “hospital phenomenon” and which we began to contemplate earlier as a phenomenon not unlike the one produced by the State’s retreat from its obligations to its citizens. Freud famously observed his grandson engaged in a little game that allowed him to escape this debilitating phenomenon, to survive the periodic disappearances of his mother and even her permanent withdrawal through death a few years later. Lacan returns to the game of fort/da — which the boy played with a bobbin he repeatedly threw out and pulled back — in order to make the point that this is not, as is usually thought, a game of mastery, whereby the boy attempted to seize control of his mother’s comings and goings by throwing her away and pulling her back.[52] Such an interpretation would presuppose that the bobbin represented the mother; Lacan, however, sees the bobbin not as a representing of any already existing thing, but as a bodily organ-agent of desire, a detachable part not only of the boy but also the mother. In short, Lacan reads the bobbin precisely as Ibn ‘Arabi reads the gaze, which belongs simultaneously to God and man. Can we say in this context, then, that Freud’s grandson is the master of the throw, that it is he who throws the bobbin? Not exactly, but he does not not throw it, either. Not a needless hedging, this neither/nor formulation acknowledges that the creative hand of man, unique among sensible creatures, is raised by a capacity that inheres neither in him nor in another, but in the incalculability, the sheer unpredictability inherent in his entanglements with others. Potentiality always lies between one being and another, between the self one knows and that half-separated “other person” which one is not yet. Suspended being converts loss into a paradoxical — because absent, suspended – presence and serves as the latent power of his individuation. It is responsible for the grandson’s plastic ability to survive the trauma of the various tragedies that will befall him.

The distinguishing difference between the Divine retreat and the current retreat of the State lies here, in the way this between, this isthmus is characterized. Withdrawing from those it abandons, the State leaves nothing in its wake; or: nothing but a void separates the State from its isolated and abandoned citizens. Its mostazafin. The Divine withdrawal functions otherwise, as we have seen; it suspends something in the void, leaves in its wake an exciting, vacillating, being-in-suspense that disperses human subjects in their singularity without isolating them. The State-in-retreat evaporates potentiality, that exciting vacillation in which one being exists in relation to others. This absence of suspension, this radical informality, I claim, marks the opening sequence of Close-Up. In the absence of the formation or coming to presence of being-in-suspense, the very condition of relation, what remains is a void crisscrossed only by a tight network of mechanical connections, narrative, legalistic.

The films of Kiarostami have a distinctive rhythm which is characterized by the frequent insertion of shots that pause the action. The opening of Close-Up contains one of the most commented upon of these: while waiting for the reporter and the police to bring Sabzian out of the Ahankhahs’ home in handcuffs, the cab driver kicks an aerosol can down a sloping street. Kiarostami’s camera, which remains transfixed on its long roll down the incline, arrests the inevitability of the unemployed man’s arrest by delaying the shot of his being escorted from the house. Some would describe this as a modernist distortion of time through the insertion of a surplus of time into the narrative chronology. But it would be more accurate to say that it is classical narrative which operates a distortion of time, whenever it excises such “excess” moments when being-in-suspense makes itself manifest, in order to lend the narrative an air of inevitability. Kiarostami’s pauses attempt to insert in the void of this sort of tension annulling de-temporalization, which betrays the State’s abrogation of its relation to those from whom it withdraws, suspended citadels of surplus time.

The Body and the Barzakh: From the Falasifa to Freud

The concept of the image is necessarily sutured to that of the limit because every image implies a limit by definition. Yet despite the fact that the image was acknowledged to limit Divine infinity, the iconophiles and the falasifa denied that they circumscribed Divine being. We are now ready to confront this apparent contradiction by insisting that a a concept of limit distinct from that of perimeter was articulated by those who defended the icon and the apparition. Indeed, we find such a concept at work in the following Qur’anic verses (55:19-20): “He has set two seas in motion that flow side by side together/ With an interstice between them which they cannot cross.” The term interstice translates the Arabic term barzakh, a fundamental concept for the followers of Avicenna. Listen first to Ibn ‘Arabi’s definition:

A barzakh is something that separates … two other things while never going to one side …, as for example, the line that separates shadow from sunlight. [In the Qur’anic verses regarding the two seas] the one sea does not mix with the other.[…] Any two adjacent things are in need of a barzakh, which is neither the one nor the other but which possesses the power of both. The barzakh…separates a known from an unknown, an existent from a nonexistent, a negated from an affirmed, an intelligible from a nonintelligible.”[53]

The barzakh – which is also, significantly, another name for the imaginal world – is a limit that does not circumscribe, that is, does not create a bounded whole by defining a periphery. The first function of the barzakh is to divide, separate, disjoin one thing from another by passing between, not around, them. It is precisely because it does not circumscribe what it limits that Ibn ‘Arabi can move from speaking of a separation between things to speaking about a separation between a known and an unknown, an existent and a nonexistent, and so on. The terms of a duality are separated, disjoined from themselves by the barzakh and in this way lose their definition as inert things. While the concept of the “Supreme Barzakh” names the specific separation of God from Himself, the separation of the nothing He is as nondelimited from His theophanic forms; individuals, too, are conceived as disjunct beings, as exiled from themselves by the limit. Yet the barzakh or imaginal world also separates the divine from the human world, the intelligible from the sensible. It is thus the barzakh which raises the initial objection to the dogma of incarnation insofar as it denies to the flesh of Christ any toleration of admixture. Human and divine do not meet or mingle in the flesh; they do not flow or “leak” into each other as they have a tendency to do in the dogmatic conception of homoousia. The barzakh is above all a membrane of division; it guarantees the separation of adjacent terms and refuses their synthesis in the figure of Christ.

The limit conceived as barzakh is not, however, an impassable fault. Far from it. Indeed, we have previously and consistently painted it as a zone of linkage, a zone in which images — the theophanies in which God and individuals simultaneously appear — are born not from the head of God alone but from the encounter between Him and man. Images are born only through this encounter. Ibn ‘Arabi describes the act that takes place in this relation as one of “com-passion.” In his conception, however, compassion does not imply a morality – the prescription of a kind of demeanor to be adopted toward another, seen as unfortunate – but a metaphysics of active relating to that which escapes comprehension. In short, barzakh is the concept through which a minimal separation is the very condition of a passionate encounter or: in which a nonencounter supports an encounter of a more subtle sort.

It is once again Ibn ‘Arabi who opens the door to understanding this idea more fully. An observation appears in one of the ellipses we inserted in his definition of the barzakh above. Here follows the crucial elided passage:

Though sense perception might be incapable of separating the two things, the rational faculty judges that there is a barrier…between them that separates them. The intelligible barrier is the barzakh. If it is perceived by the senses, it is one of the two things, not the barzakh.[54]

This insistence on the imperceptibility of the barzakh stands out as puzzling and unmotivated until we recall that Ibn ‘Arabi, like other followers of Avicenna, was an attentive reader of Aristotle, in whose text, “On the Soul,” we discover an insistence strikingly similar. That the barzakh is defined as imperceptible, as smaller than the eye can see, is surely an indication that its conception finds inspiration in Aristotle’s analysis of touch in that revelatory text.

Aristotle begins axiomatically by stating that all senses sense across a medium or interval that separates a particular sense organ from a sensible object. When he begins to investigate the case of touch, however, the axiom seems no longer sustainable for a separating membrane cannot be located, it is imperceptible, it “escapes our notice,” Aristotle twice states, as if stunned by the observation. But he refuses to be deterred by this apparent obstacle and instead insists that with touch the membrane or medium that separates the organ from the object places the object at a lesser distance from us than do the mediums of the other senses.[55] There is with touch still a distance, a membrane, but it permits one to have a feeling of greater closeness to the object touched, a feeling of intimacy with it. This distinction allows Aristotle further to distinguish touch from the other senses; for, he writes, when we see or hear, “we perceive because the medium produces a certain effect on us, whereas in the perception of objects of touch we are affected not by but along with the medium; it is as if a man were struck through his shield, where the shock is not first given to the shield and passed to the man, but the concussion of both is simultaneous.”[56]

Prior to this, he had imagined a finger over which a fine mesh had been stretched tight and had rejected the idea that this mesh constituted the membrane of touch. What is the difference then between the mesh and the shield? The mesh is too clearly separate, too external to the body, while the shield, though separate, receives the blow, the touch, at the same time as the man does. In this way, the imagined shield, unlike any ordinary one, behaves as if it were not a covering added to, but a part of the body itself. Ibn ‘Arabi’s uncompromising insistence goes further than this; it intervenes in a most instructive way not by following Aristotle absolutely, but by developing the specific concept of the barzakh from the Aristotelian concept of the membrane; he appends to Aristotle’s positive definition this negative one: if it is one of the two things, it is not the barzakh (and thus not the membrane). The medium cuts through the body, is internal to it, dividing it into known and unknown parts, and yet what results from the cut is no simple division or twinning, but an intertwining of the body with the body of another. Aristotle acknowledges the inner division of the body, he does not go so far as to argue that this division is born of the presence of others as such.

In his defense of divine images, John of Damascus states that while human nature was once under a curse, which enjoined us from touching the bodies of the dead lest we be reckoned unclean, “now…our nature has been truly glorified and its very elements changed into incorruption.”[57] We have been released from the custody of the law, the law of this former curse, and as a consequence of this release our bodies have been elevated to a new status of “incorruptibility.” This suggests — though John never says so directly — that we are also released from the taboo against touching; thus a different notion of touch would seem to have become available at this historical moment. Which moment? That one in which “divinity is united without confusion to our nature.”[58] Union without confusion, without commingling or synthesis, is a docetic notion; it cannot be properly sustained within an incarnationist framework. The cut or bar of the barzakh is necessary precisely because it prevents commingling. In the absence of this cut, this specific form of limit, death, time, the outside seeps into the body only to expose it to rot. We touch and that which we touch eats into our bodies, corrupting it.

How does the new notion of the no-longer-tabooed touch render us incorruptible? How is the body able to resist, if not eventual death (we do not insist on miracles), but being taken over, eaten through, by an infecting outside? While trying to explicate what is “essential and original in Freud’s thought” concerning the libidinalized body, Lacan makes it possible for us to answer this question, for his explication permits us see how close Freud’s originality brings him to the position of the falasifa. Lacan contrasts Freud’s theory with the age-old dream — lyrically and brilliantly re-dreamed by Walt Whitman — of “total, complete, epidermic contact between one’s body and a world that [is] itself open and quivering”[59] This dream relies on the metaphysical myth of touch as a phenomenon of the periphery, of touch as contact along an epidermic surface. Freud, like Aristotle — and the falasifa who followed him – divorced touch from its association with a surface or periphery and defined it instead as an “inner sense,” a sense situated within the body defined by a cut that divides it.

The “electric” body Whitman “sings” expresses a pastoral optimism: that the “perpetual, insinuating presence of the oppressive feeling of some original curse” will somehow disappear.[60] There it is again, the curse that enjoins touch, but which is now somehow optimistically dispelled, wished away. This curse will, nevertheless, not disappear. Not as long as the body is thought to come into contact with its world along its surface. For this surface is a boundary that defines the body as a thing acted upon, impressed, by the world, its environment, its surround. The periphery inserts the body into the world as in a whole that contains and constrains it. The surface does not hold the world at a distance, on the contrary, it puts the body into direct, corrosive contact with the world, with an outside that bites into it. Reinvoking Ibn ‘Arabi’s distinction, we would say that the surface cannot be a barzakh, cannot be a limit in our sense, because it belongs to one of the things, namely the world outside the body. All the critiques of the binary oppositions of Western metaphysics have taught us this: they always constitute a hierarchy wherein an unmarked term both includes the marked term and defines it as exceptional, as outside. The surface is porous in one direction inasmuch as it allows the unmarked term to appropriate its (marked) outside.

Lacan opposes the Whitmanesque dream of epidermic contact to Freud’s theory of the insertion of the corporeal subject into the world: “Freud, on the contrary, emphasizes a point of insertion, a limit point, …at the level of what we might call the source of the Triebe.”[61] Triebe, drive, is a limit phenomenon; it functions in the same way the barzakh does. Drive belongs to neither of the two “things” (neither, in this case, the body nor the psyche), but to the two, to the fact of the two. And yet, it is not something which the two have in common insofar as neither of them has or is in control of it. The drive is thus like the barzakh in the additional sense that it divides or disjoins the two rather than oversees their synthesis or commingling. One is unable to state the drive’s difference from the epidermic surface by asserting that it is porous in both directions rather than one. The limit (both in the sense of drive and in the sense of barzakh) is impermeable. Why speak, then, as we did above, of passage; why countenance the arguments of the iconophiles regarding a movement through and beyond which takes place at the limit? If the limit is impermeable, if it prevents the two seas from flowing into each other, it would seem to be an absolute fault, unable to be crossed. How then can one maintain that it is rather that which permits passage?

The limit, which defines both the barzakh and the drive, is premised on the fact that there is at least one other, that there are two. If there were no other, there would be no limit. But this is so not in the way it is commonly supposed: every dreamer eventually comes up against the limit of a hard reality he wanted to ignore; if I thrust myself forward willfully, I am bound to encounter the resistance of someone else’s will; and so on. In all such cases a reality or being bumps up against another, opposing reality or being. With the limit that defines the barzakh, touch, and the drive, one does not bump up against another existing person or thing, some opposing actuality, but encounters instead what is inexistent or potential. Lacan describes the encounter with the real as a non-encounter for this reason; in the real encounter or the encounter with the limit one meets up with being-in-suspense, with what is not. To repeat: what is not — that is: potentiality — is not a solitary phenomenon, but testifies through its very inexistence that there is another. We overstep this point if we continue to think of the encounter as the encounter with another, for it is not; it is the subject’s encounter with her own nonexistent being, her capacity to be other than she is. The experience of the limit is not an experience of fusion with or passage into some other actually existing thing, but of being outside or, perhaps better, alongside, oneself. At the limit one enters into proximity with oneself, becomes exterior to oneself; one passes beyond oneself, not into the other through whose auspices the limit is formed.

Several of Kiarostami’s films consist in large part of two people riding side by side in a car, engaged in conversation while watching the road ahead. These shots of car travel are not composed in the usual way, however, as two-shots. Kiarostami prefers not only to shoot one at a time — the driver and the passenger, alternately, each in his own frame — but, as he states specifically with regard to Taste of Cherry, to leave empty the space beside each character who is at that point being filmed. As the driver now, and then the passenger appears on screen, no character occupies the adjoining space in which, instead, Kiarostami sits, filming him. Is this not an ingenious way to represent cinematically the experience of the barzakh, the limit? The barzakh does not homogenize and does not join, producing a shared space; instead it permits on each side separately an encounter with a heterogeneous element that cannot be absorbed into the actual (cinematic) space. A docetic element that cannot be incarnated.

Kiarostami’s philosophical-aesthetic commitment to the imaginal world, to the barzakh, appears diegetically in his characters’ quests for an image and formally in his peculiar style of editing, his periodic insertion of an image of a lone tree atop a snaking hill-side path, and in the way his films come into being. The “Koker trilogy,” we said, was not planned; the three related films came into existence in response to an earthquake that devasted the village of Koker after Kiarostami finished filming his first film there and after a romance developed on the set during the filming of the second film. Kiarostami could not have foreseen either event; each testifies to the existence of another, another reality (natural rather than aesthetic, in the first case), other individuals (the emergent couple, in the second) beyond his ken and his control. Critics are not wrong, however, to persist in drawing attention to their internal relations by continuing to describe them as a trilogy. What this series of films makes us aware of is precisely the point we have been stressing: the experience of the limit is an experience not of an external but of an internal outside. Kiarostami is pressured by events to go beyond his own previous film and filmic practices; that is, these events happen to him insofar, and only insofar, as they place him outside himself.

This leads us to suite of further reflections. Corbin often insisted that the imaginal world was unlike the imagination as it is currently conceived in that the imaginal did not imply a mere “freedom from constraint,” a kind of wishful thinking. We can now see that the experience of the barzakh is, rather, an experience of a kind of imperative to make appear, to put into form or formalize what has as yet no form. If his characters seem to be in pursuit of an image (even in The Wind Will Carry Us the villagers, who spend so much film time trying to avoid having their pictures taken, in the end cannot resist turning their faces like sunflowers toward the camera and smiling at it), the films Kiarostami makes and the philosophical heritage they put into play teach us that having an image means something precise. It means attaining the status of incorruptibility. Because the sensible, sublunary or mutable world was and is usually thought to be corruptible in comparison with the unchanging, eternal world of divine being, the tendency is to misconceive the notion of the “incorruptible image” as something that staves off the mutability we associate with temporal existence in order to render the latter, in some manner, immutable. We have seen, however, that corruptibility pertains primarily to mutability conceived specifically as rot, as the seepage of the outside into the person or thing, which results in the deterioration of that thing. Having noted this, we can now put the matter in this way: the image eliminates the rot of corruption by avowing the presence of unripe potentiality. Mutability is not eliminated by the image but defined now by a different condition. Sensible, corporeal beings are not simply assaulted and worn down by the external world nor are they simply immunized against it. To have an image is to be inserted into the world, to gain a foothold, a presence there, but it implies more than this. To have an image is to be inserted in the world in such a way that that the aspect we currently present to the world does not exhaust us. Not only our being but our being-in-suspense becomes a presence in the world through our acquisition of an image. The consequence of “having an image” is that temporal events do not simply ravage us but also open new and unforeseen opportunities for change.

That Kiarostami undertakes a reinstatement of the imaginal world – along with its attendant phenomena – the image, the barzakh, touch – within a cinema still affected by the taboo against touch, specifically the one between unrelated men and women, is of course very much to the point. Evidently this taboo reposes on the idea that sex is a surface phenomenon that places men at risk of corruption by women. This idea is not only un-Freudian, it is antithetical to the basic tenets of the falasifa, who did not shirk from placing sexual relations at the center of their work. One could speculate that Kiarostami’s intention is to lift once again the curse of corruptibility from which the falasifa asserted long ago that we had been released. But in Close-Up, Kiarostami goes further than this by forcing us to ask if we are indeed under the same curse we were unburdened of, at least in theory, by these early Iranian thinkers. It is now the State, and not only in Iran, that places us in the custody of a law that creates a new class of “untouchables.” From this class the State retreats not, as one is tempted to say, because their existence is of no account, but because their inexistence is disavowed.


01. Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi’ite Iran, trans. Nancy Pearson, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1955, p.31.

02. Ibid., p. 30.

03. Ibid., p. 20.

04. Henry Corbin, The Voyage and the Messenger: Iran and Philosophy, trans. Joseph Rowe, Berkeley, North Atlantic Books, 1998, p.128.

05. Christian Jambet, The Act of Being: The Philosophy of Revelation in Mulla Sadra, trans. Jeff Fort, New York. Zone Books, 2006, p. 284.

06. Christopher Bamford, “Introduction” to The Voyage and the Messenger: Iran and Philosophy, xxi; although he is quoting Corbin, Bamford does not provide a reference to a specific text.

07. A disturbing, if laughable, illustration of this demotion of the imagination is provided in Barry Mazur, Imagining Numbers, New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2003, which quotes an editor at McGraw-Hill: “We were told [in composing high school history text books] to try to avoid using the world ‘imagine’ because people in Texas felt it was too close to the word ‘magic’ and therefore might be considered anti-Christian,” p. 15.

08. Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1969, p. 71.

09. Ibid., p. 84.

10. Henry Corbin, Le Paradoxe du Monotheism, Paris, L’Herne, 1981, consists of three essays that lay out the paradoxes of Islamic monotheism, the necessity of its angelology, and the main tenets of its apophatic theology. In a conversation with Fethi Benslama, titled “ Traductions des monotheismes,” (Cliniques mediterraneennes, 73-2006) Jean-Luc Nancy represents monotheism as a mutation of cosmology; this essay is translated by Ed Pluth as “Translations of Monotheism,” and published in the on-line journal, S, no. 2, 2009, in a special issue on “Islam and Psychoanalysis,” edited by Sigi Jottkandt and Joan Copjec. In Imago Dei. The Byzantine Apology for Icons, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1990, Jaroslav Pelikan discusses the conception of Christ as representing a “new being.”

11. St. John of Damascus, Three Treatises on the Divine Images, trans. and intro. Andrew Louth, Crestwood, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003, “Treatise III”, p. 95.

12. Ibid., p. 96. 

13. Henry Corbin, “Theophanies and Mirrors. Idols or Icons?” Spring, vol. 2, 1983, p. 2.

14. Discussions of the distinction between lumen and lux can be found, among other places, in Hans Blumenberg, “Light as a Metaphor for Truth: At the Preliminary Stage of Philosophical Conception Formation”, in Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision, ed. David Michael Levin, Berkeley, L.A., London, University of California Press, 1993, pp. 30-62; and in Tom Cheetham, After Prophecy. Imagination, Incarnation, and the Unity of the Prophetic Tradition, New Orleans, Spring Books, 2007, pp. 90, 95. 

15. Cheetham, op cit., p. 90.

16. Blumenberg, op. cit., p. 50.

17. Ibid., p. 43.

18. Corbin, Alone with the Alone, op. cit., p. 276. 

19. Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, New York, Pantheon, 1983; this book was originally published as a special issue of October, 25, Summer 1983. Steinberg, who died in March of this year, was honored with an appreciative obituary in The New York Times, March 15, 2011, which praised his book, The Sexuality of Christ… as “one of the most provocative art-historical studies of the 20th century.” 

20. Ibid., p. 9.

21. Ibid., p. 63.These pre-Said, yet still self-conscious references to “Oriental thought” do not constitute in Corbin’s usage evidence of “orientalism.” For the falasifa, Corbin reminds us, the Orient was a spiritual direction rather than an actual geographical location.

22. Henry Corbin, “Comparative Spiritual Hermeneutics,” in Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, West Chester, Pa, Swedenborg Foundation, 1999, p. 130.

23. For an extensive discussion of this issue, see Todd Lawson, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an, One World, Oxford, 2009.

24. Corbin, Alone with the Alone, op. cit., p. 244.

25. Henry Corbin, “Divine Epiphany and Spiritual Birth in Ismailian Gnosis,” in Cyclical Time and Ismailian Gnosis, New York, Routledge, 1983, p. 106.

26. I am thinking here of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Noli me tangere: On the Raising of the Body, trans. Sarah Clift, Pascale-Anne Brault, and Michael Nass, New York, Fordham University Press, 2008, which is about the body of the risen Christ specifically. Yet, since Christ is the paradigm of the “new being” instituted by the new monotheistic order, his body stands in for all those of human beings in general.

27. Steinberg, op. cit., p. 16.

28. Ibid., p. 72.

29. Ibid., p. 76.

30. Quoted by Catherine Malabou in The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic, trans., Lisabeth During, London and New York, Routledge, 2005, p. 110.

31. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, New York, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 273; quoted in Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson, London, Athlone Press, 1983, p. 152. 

32. Steinberg, op. cit., pp. 46-47.

33. Corbin, “Divine Epiphany…”, p. 149.

34. Corbin, Alone with the Alone, p. 80. 

35. See, Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1. The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1986, p. 56 for the full statement of this historical crisis.

36. Jean-Paul Sartre, Imagination: A Psychological Critique, trans. Forrest Williams, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1962, p. 23. This is still a very useful and insightful book about the crisis of the image in psychology.

37. Deleuze, op. cit., p. 109.

38. Blumenberg, op. cit., p. 54. 

39. Corbin, Alone with the Alone, op cit., p. 245.

40. William C. Chittick, Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination: The Sufi Path of Knowledge, Albany, SUNY Press, 1989, p. 356.

41. Ibid.

42. Henry Corbin, “Apophatic Theology as Antidote to Nihilism,” trans. Roland Vegso, Umbr(a), 2007, “Semblance”, pp. 64-65; this essay appeared first in Corbin’s Le Paradoxe du Monotheism. 

43. Michel Chodkiewicz, An Ocean Without Shore: Ibn Arabi, The Book, and the Law, trans. David Streight, Albany, SUNY Press, 1993, p. 40.

44. Ibid., p. 50. 

45. Corbin, Alone with the Alone, op cit., p. 156, where Corbin quotes Ibn ‘Arabi, “Love is closer to the lover than his jugular vein.”

46. Ibid., p. 145.

47. Ibid., p, 173.

48. Ibid., p. 210.

49. Ibid., p. 155.

50. Corbin, Alone with the Alone, op cit., p. 151.

51. “Taste of Kiarostami,” interview with Kiarostami by David Sterritt, (accessed 12/22/2003), p. 5. For Ibn’Arabi on the concept of “seeing with two eyes” see Chittick, pp. 356 – 381.

52. Freud’s observations regarding the puzzling game are found in Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, London, The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1955, 8:14-16; Lacan’s reading is found in Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan, London, The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977, p. 62. 

53. Chittick, op. cit., pp. 117-118.

54. Ibid., p. 118.

55. Aristotle, De anima II.11, 423b, translated in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, New York, The Modern Classics Library, 2001.

56. Ibid.

57. St. John of Damascus, op. cit., p. 91.

58. Ibid.

59. Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Porter, London and New York, Tavistock/Routledge, 1992, p. 93.

60. Idem.

61. Idem.

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