Monday, July 9, 2012

Parting (Hewn Redux)

Boucicaut Master, 15th c. Fitzwilliam Museum
I've spent the morning in and out of the Garden of Eden, with Genesis, with Hugh of Saint Victor's Didascalicon, and in and out of modern authors and their takes on it all (a couple of recent vivid examples assembled here by Jeffrey Cohen), and, as happens when I'm overloaded or overwhelmed (how am I going to get this all down into a syllabus? what to take from it all for my article? my short presentation next week?), I clear the decks by asking needlessly na├»ve questions.  So I start to wonder about the animals in and after Eden: are they expelled as well? do they have a "fall," too? or do they just "go with" Adam and Eve out into the world? Here, a marvelously ambiguous image: I always think at first that Adam and Eve are in Eden and everything outside their enclosure is outside of Eden.  But then, how to explain the lounging angels (so casual! the red sword more colorful than brandishing) and the several animals outside the enclosure (the swan, the fish leaping out of the water behind the enclosure, the bird perched on the enclosure itself, that little mouse, the swan the fish the hen pecking outside and the rooster looking inside the enclosure), and the unobstructed opening whence a river pours forth?  Are we not, instead, in some enclosure within Eden, created especially (?) for this meeting between Adam and Eve?  This ambiguity helpfully troubles the otherwise absolute break of the expulsion, the interminable inside and outside that the expulsion provokes, the endless yearning for return and reconciliation that it initiates.

"Parting" is a term in geology that denotes the breaks along parallel lines in rocks due to stress (in utter layman's terms). Once it is made, that's it, the stone is never whole again.  And I think of this geological act of hewing, (and of seeing it in those Squire Boone caverns), and I think of the hewn as a primal human condition (order hewn from chaos, Adam hewn from dirt, Eve hewn from Adam, humans hewn from Eden - some of these thoughts assembled here), and all of a sudden just now it became important to think about animals' parting from some Eden state.  Darwin and the urban pigeon would point to adaptability instead of Eden, Donna Haraway and Tim Morton would tell me to stop looking for origins and original states already, but (because I am just as fascinated by the mythology of Eden as I am by our potential freedom from/abandonment of it) I would want to pause and insist on asking about the post-Edenic fate of the pre-human.  Animals were created before Adam and Eve in this our heavy and laden Judaeo-Christian ecology.  When humans parted from Eden for their moral failing, how did this affect the animals in Eden? Are animals innocent morally? Innocent of morality? There's undoubtedly an answer in medieval theology, I just have to keep reading (and keep thinking through Karl Steel's book).  But until then, I will keep turning to the pre-human as a way to consider the ecologies of the non-human and the post-human: did/do they have partings?

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