gnosticism


gnosticism
  ---- by Jonathan Smith
  In Baudrillard's deluge of thought, his distaste for the 'faecality' of signified reality (CS, 30), his deliberate 'Evil Genius of matter' (FF, 95) and his desire 'Not to be there, but to see. Like God' (PC, 38) summarise a sensibility shaped by two Gnostic currents.
  The ideas of Valentinus (AD 100-60) and Mani (AD 215-77) interested Baudrillard as steps into a philosophy which assumes the duality of reality, with Spirit (Good) enslaved in Matter (Evil), yet destined for liberation. Gnostics seek this destiny in gnosis: a divine knowledge, secret wisdom or meta-rational grace. This is anticipated as an ecstatic exchange with God (Jonas, 1963). Once God is so challenged, something like gnosis (S) can arise within, yet from beyond, our 'Hell of simulation' and its 'evil spirit of commutation' (SS, 18).
  Baudrillard learnt about Gnosticism after Bataille (1985b) and Artaud (1958) and following the discoveries in Egypt in 1930 and 1945 of, among other scrolls, the Manichean Psalm-book (AD 350) and the Valentinian Gospel of Philip (AD 250). These ancient Coptic texts seem to have influenced the young Baudrillard after being translated. For example, Baudrillard's 'in the fields of dung winter has preceded us' (UB, 79) from L'Ange de Stuc (1978) appears to draw on the Gospel of Philip: 'the winter is the world . . . if any man reap in winter . . . his field is barren' (Isenberg, 1981: 132). Furthermore, 'this upright one . . . on this Persian stake' (UB, 78) seems to echo references in the Manichean Psalm-book to Mani on 'the upright Bema [seat] of the great judge' and to Mani's execution, plotted by 'the teachers of Persia' (Allberry, 1938: 8 and 16).
  Thereafter, Gnostic thoughts marked Baudrillard's work for five decades, manifesting mostly as Manichean dualism yet sometimes as Valentinian monism (F; Dyakov, 2009). To appreciate the significance of these references, readers need to know about the dualist tradition Baudrillard inherited and the Gnostic distinctions he used. Monists, like Valentinus, assume everything (including dualism) arose when an original single principle divided in its desire to be creative (see Grant, 1996). Dualists, like Mani, assume the duality of Good and Evil was co-infinitely present from the very beginning and thus did not need to arise from anything prior to it (Jonas, 1963).
  It was Manichean duality that animated the Albigensian (French Gnostic) tradition and then Baudrillard, via 'a prophetic moralism . . . inherited [. . .] from my ancestors, who were peasants' (Baudrillard, 1995b: unpaginated). Also called Cathars, these Gnostics were active (991-1207) and actively persecuted (1208-1330), but left a legacy in French peasant life (Le Roy Ladurie, 1979). If Cool Memories II (1996b, [1990b]) is any guide, we may assume Baudrillard got Albigensian ideas like 'destiny' and 'the demonic' from his peasant grandparents in the Ardennes (CM2).
  Duality as destiny eventually became 'the rule' guiding Baudrillard's quest for a 'secret' akin to gnosis (FS). Mani's duality of Good and Evil ushered Baudrillard towards this secret by being an antinomy (a pair of related, yet logically independent, contradictory concepts), not a Good/ Evil binary opposition. The significance of this 'irreducible duality' was first announced in Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a [1976]). The implications, for possible gnosis, were then fleshed out in several books (S, FS, FF, TE, P, F). Baudrillard summarised this potential: 'The totality constituted by Good and Evil together transcends us, but we should accept it totally. There can be no intelligence of things so long as this fundamental rule is ignored' (TE, 109). Here, the antinomy which enables an 'intelligence of things' is Manichean. As such, it cannot be contained within 'the tiny marginal sphere contributed by our rational model' (TE, 105) because it is, by definition, a co-infinite contradiction. Thus, like gnosis, the 'intelligence' must be gleaned from 'the symbolic level, which is the level of destiny' (TE, 105).
  As philosophy, Baudrillard's use of antinomy for gnosis was saved from circularity only by falling into an infinite logical regress. However, he made a virtue of this problem by discerning 'the secret' in an infinite 'eternity of seduction', especially 'the seduction of appearances' (EC, 74). Gnosis-viaantinomy was, therefore, his penultimate exit from the 'faecality' of signified reality (CS). His final move was the paradoxical project of eluding ordinary life-and-death by cultivating 'disappearance' via 'pure appearance' (FS, FF). For this, Baudrillard interpreted the Gnostic assumption of metamorphosis as 'the law of appearances', wherein 'passing . . . from one form to another is a means of disappearing, not of dying' (EC, 47).
  Here, 'to disappear is to disperse oneself in appearances [because] . . . dying doesn't do any good; one must still know how to disappear' (EC, 47). At this point, the Cathar practice of Endura (returning to God via sacred suicide) comes to mind (Runciman, 1947). Indeed, for Baudrillard, appearing and disappearing was, in fact 'suicidal, but in a good way . . . there is an art of disappearing, a way of modulating it and making it into a state of grace. This is what I'm trying to master in theory' (FF, 118).
  The prospect of disappearing in pure appearance seems to have been the seed and the fruit of Baudrillard's Gnostic sensibility. 'From very high the white-tailed eagle destroys itself and returns to what it was', wrote the young Baudrillard (UB, 78-9). The older Baudrillard had similar thoughts, stressing 'the dizzying joys of disincarnation' as 'the deepest spiritual joy?' (PC, 38).
  And yet, the dying Baudrillard evoked auto-da-fé (the ceremonial burning of heretics) before confessing that his 'major themes' were all shaped by his 'character traits, even character flaws': 'a disaffection with the physical world? . . . an unsuitability for the real . . . a denunciation of reality' (Baudrillard, 2007: unpaginated).
  Passwords
   § destiny
   § disappearance
   § duality
   § Manichaeism
   § poetry

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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