What is Your Conviction?

Hi everyone

I opened up my browser this morning and spotted the news that the city I grew up in, that is, Birmingham (England), was declared by a so-called terror expert to be “totally Muslim”. If you haven’t read or seen this item which was aired on Fox News, check out Yahoo’s Dyland Stableford’s report.

How did Steve Emerson come to the conclusion that this was the case? How does his remarks contribute to the telos that is Islamophobia? How does one escape this? You might want to check out the response – just google it.

In this blog post, I am going to talk about conviction. I attach the second lecture by Johnny Golding entitled Two Views of Consciousness below for you to listen to. I recommend listening to it in its entirety because she reviews the previous lecture quite extensively before going into the discussion which focuses on the “teleological suspension of the ethical” and why this forms the basis for being an artist.

What is a conviction? How does one come to a conviction? How does it relate to the ‘ground’? It is not dogma, whether that dogma is political (as with Emerson [sic]), or religious  (as with right-wing religious extremism), racial – or other – dogma underpinned by bad science, or any form of fascistic beliefs that supports the status quo and traps the individuals – both the believers and the targets of such beliefs –  within it. It is not a legalism that defines itself by what it is not. That is so limiting!

Speaking of dogma and its results, there is an African story from the Yoruba which illustrates this perfectly. The Yoruba tell of the god Edju (Eshu/Edshu) who makes and wears a hat that has four colours, white, red, black and green. He walks through a village and two men on either side of him see their version of the hat and go to war over their views. If one reads the original story as told by Leo Frobenius in his 1912 book Und Afrika Sprach (Voice of Africa), you will find out that these men were very close friends who were well known to Edju as he walked the same path every morning. You will also note that the colour of the hat he used to wear before he changed it was black. Sounds like there might be a lesson in anthropology here. Anyway, through a strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ Edju successfully brought strife between the two friends. Same hat…

There is a follow-up to the story that results in the near-destruction of the entire village as they tried to catch the trickster-god.

Does this sound familiar?

So, what is conviction? It is knowing there is an exit. It is daring to know there is an exit. Having the courage to know there is an exit. Kant says, “The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!”  You must write poetry after Auschwitz. If you’re an African American who has experienced racism first hand, for example, you must take the racist imagery and turn it on its head in order to find healing (see below):

Saying “I can’t” is the lazy person’s way of dealing with the exit/the call to adventure. Going back to Kant’s (pun not intended – lol) response to the question, What is Enlightenment? he says:

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even
when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance.., nevertheless gladly remain immature for life.

Courage is not the absence of fear. Daddy may threaten you. Daddy may say to you it is not safe to leave. Daddy may say if you make that decision to break the rules I cannot guarantee your success. Daddy may say what you are doing is foolish. It takes courage to say NO to Daddy. To say NO to Daddy is to reject the ‘ethicality’ within the zero-sum game. What does this mean?

When Yahweh commands Abraham to give up Isaac, and that he has to kill him, this is an ethical issue. Kierkegaard discusses this issue in Fear and Trembling (1843). The following excerpt is taken from an essay I submitted for the contemporary philosophy module. The question was: “what does it mean to have ‘faith’ in a work of art?”

Within Kierkegaard’s account, he is exercised with the question of the ethical aspect of this trial, this test, this temptation, in that he sees it as murder. If Abraham were alive today and this had happened, whether or not there would have been a divine intervention at the point of raising the [sacrificial] knife, and assuming the evolution of humankind since that event to the present day, if he been caught, he would have been tried for murder/attempted murder within the generality/telos/system. He notes that ‘the religious expression is, that he would sacrifice Isaac’. In-deed the words used from the outset throughout the scriptures in relation to this event are ‘offer’, ‘offered’, ‘offering’. The only time the synonym for murder, that is, ‘slay’, is used in Genesis 22 is at the point of no return when Abraham lifts the knife and he is about to (ethically speaking) murder his son.

Abraham, right up to the point that he is about the kill Isaac, has been keeping this command a secret from Isaac, from his family, from his servants. I wonder, if Abraham were alive today with the age of the Internet, and, in particular, the allure of social media for instant validation, would he have behaved differently? Could he have kept the secret? Would he have kept the secret? There are those, who claim to hear the voice of god calling them to kill, and they sometimes state their intentions on social media, perhaps because everything is on record and they want to be remembered. They want to feel important.

I can see Isaac now with his smartphone now, posting tweets including perhaps something like, “what the f*&k is going on here?!” The tweets might have started from the point when they set out to Mount Moriah up to the point when he starts questioning what the whole thing is about. I am assuming that GPS would be built in and because the phone is on, it would send pings to the nearest cell phone tower/s along the way. The next tweet would be his response to Abraham’s response: “God will provide himself a lamb”: “eh? WTF!” Abraham’s response is ironical in that it says everything, yet it says nothing at the same time. However, Abraham doesn’t really know how things will turn out and – I think – he knows that he doesn’t know. Those who know that they do not know, know (Joseph Campbell).

There is nothing outside of the totality of knowledge. If we were to apply the Hegelian dialectic here, on the other side of the thesis (knowledge) is the antithesis (the secret), the not_knowing. This is where we begin as artists, that is, the not_knowing. The thesis is sublated into the antithesis and produces the synthesis. The synthesis is the result of the telos. The telos is the goal. The goal gives meaning to the ground. The ground is the basis on which we are able to move forward. We can move forward because we now have conviction.

Again, an excerpt from my essay, in closing:

The first question of this essay is ‘what does it mean to have faith in a work [the making] of art?’ To have faith in this context is to have a conviction, courage. It is movement, it is embracing ‘that which is difficult’. With regard to the last phrase, Abraham had to keep God’s command secret, and it was all the more difficult to do so because Isaac was his ‘only begotten son’, and thus the child of ‘promise’. Someone that he loved. The artist functions within a telos that is difficult to break, that forms and in-forms their creative thinking process and production, the result being that work that is produced is pleasing to the ear/eye of the consumer who is locked into a particular way of thinking about art, but may sometimes leave the artist feeling dead, life-less, de-motivated, because they have realised that they were not producing for themselves, they were producing for the telos/system, to be accepted by the mainstream, a culture industry which reinforces the capitalist (?) ‘ideal’, and which needs subjugation, sublation, to survive. Their work had no real conviction, no passion, no violence, no presence, no excrement, no viscerality, no sensuality, no love, within it, and thus it failed. The ethical was not suspended and may have instead been embraced for the sake of making one’s work commercially acceptable/palatable to the telos/system/mainstream.

The work of art thus fails because the artist allows it to be mediated by the rules/’ethics’ of the telos that he/she is working in. It takes courage to say NO.  It takes courage to be cruel in art, especially because you know you can be, and that you will be. It takes courage to submit to your art. It takes courage to move towards your exit and go through it. Courage is not the absence of fear. Fear is more than a fight or flight response. Fear is not an internalised phobia, whether homo-, negro-, trans-, or whatever prefix you wish to add here. Steve Emerson’s comments included. Fear is the “unbridled, devotion of surrender” (Kierkegaard) to your art.

I AM…The Queer Philosopher

Sources used:

What is Englightenment?

Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard

The Power of Myth (video) by Joseph Campbell