I posit blasphemy as a positive act of posthuman articulation that perpetually deconstructs by questioning the material and ideological constructions or reality in an attempt to reconstruct, if only tentative and transitory, new cultural realities that resist commodification and disembodiment. Blasphemy is a parody of the defining myth of western institutionalized religion—a mythical position that questions the very mythology from which it springs: that of the satanic adversary. Blasphemy challenges reading. Blasphemy challenges writing. Blasphemy is disruption of words. Blasphemy (re)writes, sometimes violently, but always with confusion, severance, and dis-ease. Blasphemy looks for answers we don’t want—answers that we need, but aren’t there. Blasphemy is not dialectic; it is a slap in the face, a knee to the groin. Blasphemy gets us killed for our words. Blasphemy is healthy.

Blasphemy is articulated feeling—feelings of profound indignation at the current order. Blasphemy, however, relies on these orders for its existence. In this way, blasphemy is faithful to order, like a shadow is to light. Blasphemy relies on dualistic ontologies, like most religious cosmologies, in order to subvert them. Haraway’s use of blasphemy supports an established patriarchal system, rather than denounces it. Yet, the cyborg figuration, I argue, acts out the archetypal myth of the satanic adversary in an attempt to question the myth. That is, Satan’s action of questioning his position in relation to God’s provides the myth of the first blasphemy; this myth, consequently, initiates the duality that provides the foundation of Christian (Jewish and Islamic)—dare I say “western”—cosmology based on good and evil. This myth of cosmic duality has filtered into our belief structure, providing the foundation of both that which is right (white, male, heterosexual, etc.) and that which is wrong (everything else). A contemporary act of blasphemy reenacts Satan’s mythical questioning word which it attempts paradoxically to dispose of.

David Lawton, in his historical study Blasphemy, characterizes blasphemy as negative communal discourse based on the hegemonic Christian notion “where God is Word, the Devil is anti-Word"—both its absence and perversion (6). Blasphemy is rhetorical vituperation against the structures, myths, and ideologies that a society venerates—an attack against timeless Truths upheld by a society’s religious institutions. I would also add political and social institutions, obviously influencing and influenced by the religious orthodoxy, that maintain what Althusser called the “imaginary"—the story of reality that masks true material conditions of everyday life—like the institutions of the nuclear family, democracy, compulsory heterosexuality, and marriage in the United States. Blasphemy depends on these truths in order for it to offer a textual challenge of them in an attempt to control the social discourse. Lawton also adds performativity to the nature of blasphemy: the blasphemous words “need to be activated by a speaker before they have the power to offend, and that the denial of the speaker or writer is tactical, part of a larger strategy of repudiation [in a] carnivalised travesty of a public conversation” (5). Whether written or verbalized, blasphemy attacks publicly, preformatively, and rhetorically in an effort to control a shared discourse.

Lawton states that blasphemy is contingent on temporal and spatial location. It may be invoked by a either the indignant readers or writers of a text with which they take offence; e.g., Rushdie only became a blasphemer after Khomeini took umbrage to The Satanic Verses or Rushdie tactically chose to write the words offend the Shiite Islamic orthodoxy. According to Lawton, the former interpretation can only be called blasphemy: blasphemy’s “nature is rhetorical, more verbal than intellectual: blasphemy is form or sound or interference, where heresy is pure content. Whether it takes oral or written shape, the words count for everything, not their speaker or writer. . . . it may well project ideas but, unlike heresy, it is not philosophical” (4-5). One might wonder exactly how heresy could be communicated, being only “pure content,” and how blasphemy can be purely rhetorical without content, suggesting that the latter consists of knee-jerk, thoughtless iterations that seemingly have no purpose but to disrupt.

Michel de Certeau’s concept of “tactic” may be useful here in further theorizing blasphemy. In his distinction between “strategy” and “tactic,” Certeau suggests that the former maintains a dominance in a specific environment by the othering of “an exterior distinct from it"; the latter operates within the same environment by seizing opportunities which the tacticians constantly generate. The oppressed social position cannot escape the cultural milieu which has marginalized him/her, but must live by always being “on the watch for opportunities that must be seized ‘on the wing.’” The marginalized person must continually manipulate events within the system in order to precipitate transient victories constituted by everyday practices. Certeau attributes the tactical practice to the Greek concept of mêtis, or “ways of operating” (xix). These tactics are performative, but not necessarily political in that Certeau seems to suggest that a tactic is a surreptitious action based on opportunity that does not seek necessarily to communicate its transgression. The tactician’s ways of operating includes tricks and distortions that subvert dominant orders on an individual scale, but do not aim to influence a communal reaction, like blasphemy. Blasphemy commits a tactical action à la Certeau where subversive actions act against strategic positions by using the components of the dominant ideologies against them, but does it publicly in the realm of discourse as to effect a community rather than just the individual. Blasphemy could be seen, then, as tactical, but on a level that announces it transgression in order to affect a political change, redirection, or mutation.

Blasphemy is like a mutation: the current orders are called into question and altered fundamentally by the physical and intellectual milieu. As the overwhelming evidence suggests, current feminist theorists and activists cannot change current power structures of patriarchal and capitalistic control, but they can attack these structures with the mutating force of posthuman blasphemy. Like “flickering signifiers,” which Hayles characterizes by their “tendency toward unexpected metamorphoses, attenuations, and dispersions,” mutations introduce randomness into otherwise stable systems causing an alteration to its very structure (PH 30). Hayles continues:

Mutation is crucial because it names the bifurcation point at which the interplay between pattern and randomness causes the system to evolve in a new direction. . . . It marks a rupture of pattern so extreme that the expectation of continuous replication can no longer be sustained. (PH 33)

Hayles suggests that, because of informatics, emphasis continues to shift from a presence/absence dialectic, based on Lacanian psychoanalysis, to a pattern/randomness dialectic that can mark the point at which the human confronts the posthuman at the moment of mutation (PH 32-34). Mutation, then, replaces castration as the operative metaphor for change and difference that disrupts the even flow of the machine, forever changing its direction. The Word, then becomes perverted and mutated by words.

Much of feminist theory has been committed to naming the oppressor—to attributing “blame” to the phallo-logocentric institutions of the west that resort to “linear, teleological, hierarchical, holistic, or binary ways of thinking and being” (Flax 68). Our word “blame,” derived from blasphemy, enacts a blasphemy by emotionally uncovering and pointing to that which oppresses (Lawton 2). In discussing the additional racial oppression of women of color, Moraga states that “without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place” (quoted in Russo 308). Moraga’s statement makes clear that only by knowing the enemy and the way that enemy’s actions and beliefs suppress others’ actions and beliefs can the first step be taken to articulate a challenge. Yet, as Flax reminds us, “any episteme requires the suppression of discourses that threaten to differ with or undermine the authority of the dominant one,” so in blaspheming against the dominant ideas of a society, the newly articulated idea “may require the suppression of the important and discomforting voices of persons with experiences unlike our own” (Flax 79). While it is perhaps unrealistic to consider the desires every marginal voice in any declaration of an episteme, blasphemers must also, as the quotation from Moraga expresses, be aware of falling victim to rigid statements from within.

One of the major themes of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is summed up in two questions that echo throughout the book: “What kind of idea is he? What kind am I?” (Verses 111). All expressions of orthodoxy were once blasphemous, and orthodoxies are both external and internal institutions; they are epistemes that order our material reality into ideological statements of truth. These articulated statements of truth vie for dominance in all societies until one or several related ideas form an episteme that must suppress others if the society is to remain cohesive. Rushdie’s questions attack external political articulations or truth and that which Haraway calls the “moral majority within” by questioning the practice of ossified statements of truth within an ever-diversifying global village (149). Information technologies have narrowed our earthly community to the point where other and othered voices can no longer be kept silenced. Technology provides the means where all can blaspheme and declare war externally—what kind of idea are you?—and internally—what kind am I?

Braidotti sees the metaphor of war entering the social and cultural imaginary through technologically dependent rap music. This music has masculinist ideas of struggle for power, but Braidotti sees women, like Salt ‘n Peppa, getting mad and demanding their own “cyber dreams, we want our own shared hallucinations” (par. 31). Braidotti sees women artists beginning to intervene in public places in ways that attack ideas rooted in traditional orthodoxies, as well as those that seemingly attack these orthodoxies: God and Satan alike. These artists could, in Sandoval’s words, construct “lines of affinity” from which to blaspheme against the dominant order, whether that order is political, social, economic, or cultural (413).


4/5/99 - gerald/r/lucas