Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

‘Double-Click Communication’

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Just in time for Easter, here’s a link to a provocative and eminently worthwhile talk from theorist Bruno Latour (later published under the title “Thou Shall Not Freeze-Frame”) on a new way to think both religion and science outside either the tired notions of “culture war” or “nonoverlapping magisteria,” which should benefit believers and non-believers alike:

To put it simply —but I hope not too provocatively: if, when hearing about religion, you direct your attention to the far away, the above, the supernatural, the infinite, the distant, the transcendent, the mysterious, the misty, the sublime, the eternal, chances are that you have not even begun to be sensitive to what religious talks tries to involve you in. Remember, I am using the template of love addressing, to speak of different sentences with the same spirit, the same regime of enunciation. In the same way as those love sentences should transform the listeners in being close and present or else are void, the ways of talking religion should bring the listener, and also the speaker, to the same closeness and to the same renewed sense of presence —or else they are worse than meaningless. If you are attracted to the distant, by religious matters, to the far away, the mysteriously encrypted, then you are gone, literally you are not with me, you remain absent minded. You make a lie of what I am giving you a chance to hear again tonight. Do you understand what I am saying? The way I am saying it? The Word tradition I am setting into motion again?

The first attempt at redirecting your attention is to make you aware of the pitfall of what I will call double-click communication. If you use such a bench mark to evaluate the quality of religious talk, they will become exactly as meaningless, empty, boring, repetitive as misaddressed love talks, and for the same reason, since they carry no messages, but transport, transform the messengers themselves, or fail. And yet, such is exactly the yardstick of double click communication: it wants us to believe that it is feasible to transport without any deformation whatsoever some accurate information about states of affairs which are not presently here. In most ordinary cases, what people have in mind when they ask ‘is this true?’, ‘does this correspond to a state of affair?’ is such a double click gesture allowing immediate access to information: tough luck, because this is also what gives the lie to ways of talking which are dearest to our heart. On the contrary, to disappoint the drive towards double click, to divert it, to break it, to subvert it, to render it impossible, is just what religious talks are after. They want to make sure that even the most absent minded, the most distant gazers are brought back to attention so that they don’t waste their time ignoring the call to conversion. To disappoint, first, to disappoint. “What has this generation in requesting a sign? No sign will be given to them!”

Transport of information without deformation is not, no it is not one of religious talks’ conditions of felicity. When the Virgin hears the angel Gabriel’s salutation, she is so utterly transformed, says the venerable story, that she becomes pregnant with the Saviour, rendered through her agency present again to the world. Surely this is not a case of double click communication! On the other hand, asking ‘who was Mary’, checking whether or not she was ‘really’ a Virgin, imagining pathway to impregnate her with spermatic rays, deciding whether Gabriel is male or female, these are double-click questions. They want you to abandon the present time and to direct your attention away from the meaning of the venerable story. These questions are not impious, nor even irrational, they are simply a category mistake. They are so irrelevant that no one has even to bother answering them. Not because they lead to unfathomable mysteries, but because their idiocy makes them generate uninteresting and utterly useless mysteries. They should be broken, interrupted, voided, ridiculed —and I will show later how this interruption has been systematically attempted in one of the Western Christian iconographic tradition. The only way to understand stories such as that of the Annunciation, is to repeat them, that is to utter again a Word which produces into the listener the same effect, namely which impregnates you, because it is you I am saluting, I am hailing tonight, with the same gift, the same present of renewed presence. Tonight I am your Gabriel! or else you don’t understand a word of what I am saying —and I am a fraud…

Written by gerrycanavan

April 7, 2007 at 10:10 pm

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