Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beheading and the Impossible

Non potest hoc corpus decollari: Beheading and the Impossible
Nicola Masciandaro

The human being arrives at the threshold: there he must throw himself headlong into that which has no foundation and has no head.—Georges Bataille

We are the limbs of that head. This body cannot be decapitated.—Augustine

When thou seest in the pathway a severed head . . . Ask of it, ask of it the secrets of the heart.—Rumi

Beheading and sanctity are fundamentally related within the Christian experience and understanding of holy martyrdom. As suggested already in John’s apocalyptic vision of the “souls of them that were beheaded [animas decollatorum] for testimony [testimonium, marturion] of Jesus” (Rev 20:4), saintly decapitation is inseparable from dying as God’s witness—a conjunction formalized in the at-best-brief survivability of beheading, its being the unmistakable terminus ad quem of martyric passion. This relation is implicated, crucially and paradoxically, in the ultimate impossibility of beheading in light of the capital hierarchy regularized by Paul: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3). In short, saintly decapitation dramatizes spiritual unbeheadability. Focusing on elements of the impossible within the tradition of hagiographical beheadings inaugurated by John the Baptist’s execution, this lecture analyzes and enjoys the phenomenal and poetic logic of beheading as a window that opens at once onto the originary meaning of Christian decapitation and into the essential impossibility of the head itself.

Friday, December 4, 2009, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.), Room 4406.
Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.