The Saint

            For quite some time I’ve sensed this kind of cloned nostalgia for the 50’s beat perspective, when there were still bookstores, authors spouted their poetry in coffee shops that didn’t require a second mortgage for a cup of joe (and weren’t called “trendy”), and musicians/visual artists critiqued work with an eye to the authentic and genuine. Being the digital age, it is all cloned (of course) since it can only appropriate, not originate. Something was going on then but the only acceptable description is a digital one which means it must be objective (or should I say, all meaning is only found with the objective). Sigh. It is lacking some “Je ne sais pas.”


The Saint

            I was very surprised to find the spring 09 edition of Critical Inquiry to be totally devoted to The Saint. What a drag! Why are they doing this religious inquiry? Totally irrelevant! In the spirit of committed perversity which makes one a subscriber of such journals, I started reading some of the articles. For starters, St. Elvis (first protestant saint, patron saint of the American Dream), written by a non writer, a photographer, chosen at random and easily digested. Eventually I moved on to more weighty fare (Patron Saint of the Incongruous: Rabbi Me’ir, the Talmud, and Menippean Satire). I went through the essays categorically.

            In their version of the traditional religious song, Run On For A Long Time, the Blind Boys of Alabama sing the lyrics “Some people go to church just to signify, trying to get a date with the neighbor’s wife…” This seems to be the status quo when it comes to most people’s commitment or involvement with religion. It is totally mediated, a part or segment of an otherwise preoccupied and multi interested/involved life. The Saint (at least from what I surmise from reading all the various essays in this journal) is someone who has a very direct and unmediated relationship with the divine. Depending on who is doing the analysis, the Saint is found in all cultures, religions (though some religions or sect’s eschew the notion of anyone being a saint). This may be all very fine and interesting to students of religious studies or multi-culturalism, but what in the H does it have to do with us, with now, with the current culture?

            There is a very curious correlation between the cloned nostalgia for the authentic and genuine, and the topic of the spring Critical Inquiry. If one shifts, or “translates” (the preferred academic term these days) the religious connotation (definition) of the Saint to a secular one, one having to do with  what was formerly ascribed to Humanism- the pursuits of literature, music, and visual arts- one finds a surprising relevance and insight. The Saint is this individual with a direct and unmediated relationship. The current digital culture yearns for just that. Yet mediation is precisely what defines the current digital culture. What is unmediated, is not; cannot be described or reproduced. Critical Inquiry spending an issue to deal with the imaginary of the Saint is to speak the unspeakable, to think the unthinkable (one of the consequences of critique, critical thinking, according to Judith Butler). To cut to the chase, to speak of someone involved with literature, music, or the visual arts who isn’t producing “just to signify” (assure themselves a place in heaven by advancing their career) or “get a date with the neighbor’s wife” (networking to get some for themselves) is to speak of a Saint- something totally unimaginable (unthinkable), something indescribable (unspeakable) within the current mediated culture. Like Elvis at the dawn of rock and roll, Michael Jackson becomes the de facto patron Saint of the current digital culture (was there ever a “Michael Jackson Unplugged” performance? Even his singing with his children is “remembered” through videos). Indeed, the hermaphroditic qualities found in Michael Jackson “embody” his direct and unmediated relationship to the nascent mediated, digital culture.


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