Metamorphoses of Self | Ch.II – Catagogic Discord

| André Masson - Acéphale, 1936. |

Areteus writes of sick people he saw tearing off their own limbs because of religious feelings in order to pay homage to gods who demanded this sacrifice. But it is no less striking that, in our day, with the customer of sacrifice in full decline, the meaning of the word, to the extent that it implies a drive revealed by an inner experience, is still as closely linked as possible to the notion of a spirit of sacrifice, of which the auto-mutilation of mademen is only the most absurd and terrible example. – Georges Bataille1

Ok then, sure, the transgender identity has no ontological validity and is quite immoral. But if that’s the case, that perhaps a male-body-united-intellect somehow comes to relate to itself as female, and it is a male body that allows it, how does one become deluded into such a transgender self-relation? Let’s analyse the process that facilitates this.

A sound intellect can know more truly what masculinity and femininity are and how they are able to perfect said soul, but it potentially goes awry in mixtures. Beauty, Plotinus relates, is in symmetry, in a constellational harmony. A good example is the harmony of the virtues. In Meister Eckhart’s commentary on Colossians 3:1, he argues that some people are half raised up: practicing one virtue but not another. Some, ignoble by nature, covet riches. Others of a nobler nature care nothing for possessions but are bent on honour. Yet the virtues are necessarily interdependent.2 Though a person may incline to the practice of one virtue rather than the others, they are nonetheless all interconnected. Some people are fully raised up but are not raised up with Christ. Resurrection “here” with Christ can so be thought of in this totality of will assimilation, at least insofar as we read along with Eckhart’s simultaneously allegorical reading to the ressurection “there”. “Here” refers to the perfection of man in his immediacy whereby Christ is borne “in the soul” as through him and the Father we are given the gift of supernatural grace from the Spirit qua trinitarian perichoresis, “there” refers to the historical Christ-crucified who rose again on the third day3. To be rid of death, to be resurrected “here” is such a state, then, when the full constellation of virtues are in harmony with themselves and so with Christ. All in all, ugliness does not persist when the constellational harmony of virtues persists in a musical union such that when ugliness confronts it, the soul “shrinks within itself, denies the thing, turns away from it, not accordant, resenting it.”4 

So with Eckhart and with Plotinus, in Christ-becoming or the ideal self respectively, we have the completion of the virtues in such a perfected manner that one might aspire towards perfection through. The good self-relation is then nested within this constellation of beauty and virtue. It is properly harmonious when a person through his body comes to see himself through himself as he is, biological design and all; the orientation is innately anagogic. This an anagogic metamorphosis of self best exemplified by St. Paul [Gal. 2:20]. We will return to this in the third chapter. First, let us explore its opposite in more detail.

By contrast, to see one’s self-relation as wrongly configured by the demiurge perhaps as the dysphoric do, is one of innate discordance – but a discordance that is not there because it cannot really be there, except conceptually; as a mental phantasm of sorts. So what essentially takes place is the hypostasising of an idealised mental construct or image of the other – its beauty or goodness in some veiled sense, of the opposite sex, that is unreachable in the present biological state which serves as such a veil. It’s this misidentification whereby the self goes out of itself, tries to leave itself but never returns to itself, to ‘know thyself’. n1x provides an apt and colourfully Deleuzean description (albeit serving a very different dialectical purpose):

The masculine cracks open its stern carcinized exterior to reveal the smooth post-human feminine alien within. The phallus becomes the Acéphallus, the body is emancipated from the reproductive humanist death drive to become the Body without Sex Organs.5

My good friend Alexander Iulianus has a great exploration of how this happens at a more psychological level here as it pertains to MtF transgenders. A choice quote:

There are these men, however, who are not so naturally resilient against impressions, and are more susceptible to slip towards the extremity of their internal psychological actualisation. The psychical life of these men turns malicious towards themselves as feelings of inadequacy and insecurity begin to dominate them. Pornography and their sex life ceases to be merely the fulfilment of a primitive urge towards reproduction, and it takes a totally new meaning and purpose. A ‘fulfilled sexual-self’ becomes mentally symbolised, pornography and sex becoming mediums for affirmation and confirmation. It is through these and other sexual mediums that they believe they will receive the goods they perceive to be lacking.

Instead of affirming the self, the dysphoric who find themself akin to the opposite sex affirms a relation to something else it is out there with, but not essentially united too. The process becomes quite mercantile in a very peculiar sense. In this process of, say, becoming-woman is the homo-economicus desire to strive. It is a drive downwards in nobility. It is materialistic in that it seeks its good purely in a bodily re-transfiguration as opposed to say the Christian desire to be ruled by the eternal λόγος such that Christ lives in you. This gives a whole new dimension to Nick Land’s proclamation that transgenders are the “jews of gender”. The dysphoric self-relation is a competitive process against the self for the attainment of sensual satisfaction, to attain this appetitive good for its own sake, only to feel radically unsatisfied once obtaining it – an interiorised competition between the socially present self and phantasmal otherness being reached for. The further realisation that this dysphoric state will not be ameliorated at all by going further into the process merely heightens this dreadful and disordered yearning.

Dysphoria feels like being unable to get warm, no matter how many layers you put on. It feels like hunger without appetite. It feels like getting on an airplane to fly home, only to realize mid-flight that this is it: You’re going to spend the rest of your life on an airplane. It feels like grieving. It feels like having nothing to grieve.6

I say “desire to strive” because my intuition seems to point towards a distinctively libidinal aspect at play here; a kind of perverse pleasure in the idea of such a metamorphosis – sometimes even in its irreversibility. Put back into the mythic account of Plato’s then, transgenderism could be represented as a flight towards what the gender dysphoric might see as the forms after death, which is another manner in which to reconsider what n1x called “emancipation”. We will call it death, to emphasise the dualism and shedding of the body to unite with the image of the other, much as “deadnaming” is seen as a kind of attempt at resuscitating the σώμα [“soma”: corpse] of the previously incarnate self. But of course, this isn’t really a going-out-of the self towards the truth of things which are in the soul, and the soul in it. What is it a going-out towards then? Consider the following testimony from Alex Marzano-Lesnevich:

When the world went into lockdown five months after I started taking testosterone, I thought it would be easier not to see people for a while. Maybe they wouldn’t hear my voice go scratchy or see up close the hormonal acne splattered across my face. Alone in my apartment, I imagined that all my difficulties in being seen and recognized as transgender-nonbinary would evaporate. No one would gender me except myself; my pronouns would be right there in the text box on my Zoom screen.

So I was surprised by how much my gender instead seemed to almost evaporate. No longer on the alert for how to signal a restaurant’s waitstaff that neither “he” nor “she” applied to me, or for whether colleagues and neighbors would use the right language — devoid of anyone to signal my gender to — I felt, suddenly, amorphous and undefined. It was as though when I had swapped my Oxford shoes and neckties for fuzzy slippers and soft sweatpants, I, too, had lost my sharply tailored definition.7 

It’s no wonder that when deprived of the social space that allows for the generation and sustainment of these phantasmal models, that the transgender self-relation is immediately problematised. This is a going-out towards simulacrum; towards an often pornographic in the MtF cases, perhaps commodified or otherwise fetishistic understanding of the other – but its lifeblood is a very specific kind of sociality. However, another key point to note is how such a social mode of being is generated. In the above FtM example, the exchange and display of socially mediated commodities, is very clear. Their identity is included amongst the various commodities that must be on perpetual display in order to be real. For MtF, vaginoplasty surgery expectations are quite revealing of the fetishistic aspect here;

Transgender patients who elect gender affirming feminizing genital surgery do so for a variety of reasons- often all in combination, which include gender dysphoria associated with the male appearance of their birth genitalia, a desire to have female-appearing genitalia, and a desire to be sexually active with genitalia in alignment with their gender. Indeed, many often present with varying expectations about the appearance of their vagina post-surgery. Some patients, for example, prioritize well-defined pendulous labia. Many patients also relay anxiety that their new vagina look “natural”, and often, the standard referred to are images of vaginas from downloaded from the internet (often pornography). Vaginoplasty can be performed with creation of a vaginal canal (for vaginal receptive intercourse), or without creation of a canal (what we term “shallow-depth” vaginoplasty). The choice for creation of a vaginal canal is important for patients because a canal requires strict lifelong commitment to regular vaginal dilation and douching, where failure to do so is associated with high risk of vaginal canal stenosis, and resulting chronic infection and pain. Many transgender women, however, have not considered (or have difficulty accepting) that a vagina is not defined by the presence of a vaginal canal, which is never visible – but rather, by what is visible, and its normal female urinary and sexual function.8

As we explored above, how one comes to know or understand is mediated through the senses and so irrevocably by the sexed body. We might also note how in tandem with Kitaro Nishida’s account of pure experience, we do not first have the “I” and then “experience” as a posterior phenomenon, but rather, the “I” is enveloped within experience. Experience is prior to the knowing subject. What does this mean for the catagogic metamorphoses of self? It means that there is necessarily a prior social mode of being, a 自覚 「jikaku」or self-realisation that such a sociality entails – the 自覚 of being an adolescent boy perhaps – which such pure experience presents itself as. But then in this catagogic process, there is a kind of creation of the individual that must take place. This is the creation of a subject that is able to define itself against such a sociality, against a prior 自覚, which takes the form of identifying the threats to the assent towards the reified opposite sex, and then engaging against a characteristically gnostic revolt against the social defining of the subject. Adam Katz points out that it takes the form of the demand  not to “look at me as a _____, but look at me as… the other of _____.” The demiurge has not just gone wrong is the configuration of the body, but in the configuration of the social order which generated a 自覚 whose archons must be dispelled. How does one escape the trappings of the demiurge its oppressive archons that govern the social? Through Mazdakian orgiastic rites of initiation that consist of increasingly depraved internet pornography, through castration, pharmaceutical drugs, and other such soteriological short-cuts. In such an inebriated state, the gnostico-dysphoric can only be described from the outside similarly as Bataille does: sinister, but we might add “drunken”, love of darkness. The progressive development of a monstrous taste for the obscene and lawless archontes. It is with this recognition that Bataille notes that such licentious Gnosticism, it’s sexual rites, fulfil a kind of, consequently, irreducible demand: a kind of black magic.

While to some extent we have all communed with the demons ever since we were cast out of the Garden, becoming cyborgs when Adam and Eve first decided to wear clothes and thus fuse the inorganic to the organic, the trans woman is unique. Her performance of herself and her desire has been intertwined with technocapital, in a way that could not even be cast off if she wanted to rip out a cybernetic implant. She is, in other words, perhaps the first truly molecular cyborg.

[The transwoman] mutates from castration, from the creation of the Acéphallus, the phallus perverted into a purposeless desire for desire’s sake. In this castration, in this mutation into an Acéphallus, she becomes the Body without Sex Organs: The body in a virtual state, ready to plug its desire into technocapital, becoming fused with technocapital as a molecular cyborg who is made flesh by the pharmaceutical-medical industry.10

The end of economic liberalism would asphyxiate transgenderism, and fatally so. Without the surgeries and drugs coordinated by pharmaceutical companies, spurred on by NGOs and Academia under the absolute farce that is “academic freedom” – without the domination of the investor class who are the only ones who seem to gain at all from it being a prevalent phenomenon, it would cease to be. The parallel of transgenderism through internet culture and Gnosticism could be taken even further with an exploration of e-grooming as essentially the basis of their underground cults but I shall leave that for another time. What is important to note is that while the constructed image that the hapless dysphoric goes towards might in some sense be an assemblage of signs which indeed have real referents, the unified synthesis of models becomes so far removed, whilst already gesturing towards something unreachable, that the understanding that moved intellect here might as well have moved it into an abyss. It’s not the internet pornography that spurred the realisation that one was not of the gender their body was ensouled with, but it was the internet pornography that resulted in the dysphoric delusion, to begin with. As the above paper illustrated for us, the intellect fundamentally moved it into a void because the image of the female genitalia that is reached for was totally devoid of the function that made its supposed referent what it is. It’s only natural that those who persist through their surgery do so in a kind of resignation. And so we get testimonies like this from Andrea Long Chu:

Next Thursday, I will get a vagina. The procedure will last around six hours, and I will be in recovery for at least three months. Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound; as a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain. This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. That shouldn’t disqualify me from getting it.11 

Returning to Plotinus, he relates that for humans, the Good and beauty are not identical. But they are identical from the supra-lunary vantage. Beauty is a feature of the intelligible world, while the Good, the Godhead, is beyond intellect, it is the spring and origin of beauty. Contrarily, ugliness is caused by an “admixture of evil living, a dim life and diluted with a great deal of death”. Speaking of moral ugliness:

Suppose, then, an ugly soul, dissolute and unjust, full of all lusts and all disturbances, sunk in fears by its cowardice and in jealousies by its pettiness, thinking mean and mortal thoughts as far as it thinks at all, altogether distorted, loving impure pleasures, living a life which consists of bodily sensations and finding delight in its ugliness.12 

Plotinus finds even ugliness poignant. In a misguided search for beauty, the soul clutches compulsively at everything that crosses its path, seeking to possess it by joining it to itself. “The soul becomes ugly by mixture, and dilution, and inclination toward the body and matter… just as pigs, with their unclean bodies, like that sort of thing.” And such is what we see with the reified, hallucinatory model that the dysphoric wields as a perverse inversion of the Plotinian ideal-self upon themselves. 

On what principle does the architect, when he finds the house standing before him correspond with his inner paradigm of a house, pronounce it beautiful? Is it not that the house before him, stones apart, is the inner idea stamped upon the mass of exterior matter, the indivisible exhibited in diversity?13

Herein lies another fundamental issue. Christ or the ideal-self operate as this indivisible pre-containment of the harmonious constellation. Consider the elements of the constellation as points on a circle. Each one of these points are one of the many virtues, excellences, and potentially infinite dramatic responses to “how should I act?” with “what Christ would do,” – let these all be individual points on a circle’s circumference. Now picture that these points recede upon their radii to the centre and watch the circle gradually shrink. But as they converge upon the centre, upon each other, the circle blinks out. Due to the harmony of this constellation, it is perfectly pre-contained in the eternal Christ. Not two, but one Christ. Two natures yet a unified person that beautifully exhibits itself in diversity with us – eternality that exhibits itself in time. The incarnation then gave humanity, body and soul together, a triumphant dignity;

John 1:14 | And the Word was made flesh, and came to dwell among us; and we had sight of his glory, glory such as belongs to the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.14

The bodily nativity of the Son of God took nothing from and added nothing to His Majesty but rather gave us a share in his immeasurable dignity. As the Word took the flesh into the unity of His Person, it was as if, as Eckhart tells us, that a mighty king who had a beautiful daughter gave her to the son of a poor man and so all those who belonged to that family would thereby be raised up and ennobled.15 By assumption of Manhood into God, spirit and flesh both were given immeasurable dignity just as how Christ taking on this universal human nature born from the Virgin Mary;

…through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so, is it with the King of all…16

The foundation of the transgender self-relation does not operate this way in the slightest. Evidently enough from n1x, the body is allowed no such dignity in a transgender self-relation, not even the low dignity of being Socrates’ prison which is not just to capriciously escape from. It is necessarily discordant because the transgender self-relation creates an oppositional form of radical dualism that has no ontological basis for validity. It then is sustained by this very specific kind of ephemeral sociality that is inherently disordered, drawn away from perfection, and naturally so because the process of man becoming-woman or woman becoming-man requires immense violence to be done upon the body. It suffices to say that the only level upon which we should speak of this self-relation is upon one that is confined to its ephemeral sociality, because it is bound by it. 

Recall Plotinus’ images of soul’s relationship with body as a gardener whereby the soul and body are tied in a passionate sexual union. When a transgender self-relation dramatically manifests, what does it look like? Discordance. Naturally, between the Elizabeth Arden perfume and the 5 o’clock shadow, the miniskirt and the Adam’s apple, the narrow heart-shaped pelvic inlet and the permanent wound between the legs, what symmetry or concord could there be? To have the freedom to mutilate oneself in hopes of bodily perfection is no freedom at all. Its drive is entirely ruled by this will towards a hallucinatory material image for its sake, which culminates, through the progressive realisation though a likeness to gnostic rites, a bodily sacrifice to the demons of neoliberal technocracy. Castration for the transwoman serves as a far more grotesque and extreme version of the Israelite circumcision. Yet the need for that far humbler sacrifice of the body was overturned with the Son of Man [Acts 15:7-10, Gal. 2:2-5], being an archetype of the sacrament of baptism [Col. 2-11], “the circumcision of Christ”. Land’s statement that transwomen are the Jews of gender could thus be extended to mean that the transwomen continue their sacrificial mutilation because they likewise still are waiting for the messiah. n1x is surely still waiting for AI to truly realise itself through a technologically deterministic kind of Roco’s Basilisk retrocausitive providence and singularity eschaton. The sacrifice then operates as such: that in exchange for the act of auto-mutilation, the pharmaceutical company receives the financial and bodily devotion of the transwoman in return. The transgender person is no gardener, and not just any kind of gnostic, but a technocratic gnostic who lacerates the flesh to fit in conformity to a socially generated set of bureaucratic, reified attractions.

With this displacement of the subject, the inexorable mechanics of desire take center stage. The quasi-autonomous motor of desire forms things now in this way, now in that, legislating upon plastic matter. The body becomes a kind of prime matter, “a surface for the recording of the entire process of production of desire.” With this sentence, Deleuze explains the tattoo phenomenon. If the body is a surface on which desire writes, then desire is free to form it as it wishes. These days, this formation of the body by desire does not stop at sex. In “body modification,” people may have horns implanted in their foreheads, and worse—because the body has no innate intelligibility before desire begins to inscribe it with its blind purposes.

Thus, instead of a rational engagement with an ­intelligible—that is, already formed—material world, there arises the technological imposition of form upon the passive surface of the body. “The question posed by desire is not ‘What does it mean?’ but rather ‘How does it work?’” Deleuze insists. “Desire makes its entry with the general collapse of the question ‘What does it mean?’” Autonomous desire, the evacuation of meaning, the technological inscription of form: All are exemplified by Andrea Long Chu’s vaginoplasty.17

It’s not that transgenderism is the only case of such a thing, but it is a topical and visceral example of it with much to explore within it. This applies to dysphorias of all kinds. But also, if we follow Plato’s Symposium, what is loved by the intellect is in some sense born within. So one must ask: would you rather be pregnant with the pornographic, consumeristic desires or desires that bestow upon you nobility? As Lady Philosophy tells Boethius, those who are driven by material wealth end up covetous,  those who yearn for honours find themselves begging humbly of their giver who they long to surpass and “become cheap through the baseness of your begging”.

Do you desire power? You will lie exposed to dangers, prey to treachery. Would you lead a life of pleasure? But who would not despise and reject being primarily in service of so very base and frail things as the mere body?18

If a man has been immersed in filth or daubed with mud, his native comeliness disappears and all that is seen is the foul stuff besmearing him: his ugly condition is due to alien matter that has encrusted him, and if he is to win back his grace it must be his business to scour and purify himself and make himself what he was.19

Such catagogic metamorphosis, depravity and filth being born in the soul due to the yearning for it takes this particularly macabre expression in the intrinsically sacrificial and gnostic nature of transgenderism. Bataille notes of circumcision, that it is an initial rite which many primitive cultures have equivalents of, such as in New Guinea where in the tearing out of a tooth replaces circumcision. Keeping in mind Andrea Long Chu’s self-resignation and Marzano-Lesnevich’s loss of self due to the dissolution of the social space she constructed for sustaining her gender identity, the rupture of personal homogeneity and projection beyond the self of a part of the self in such primitive cultures, are linked to periods of mourning or debaucheries openly evoked by the ceremonies marking the 自覚 of adulthood20. That transition into adulthood meant not only the bearing of responsibility but also of a degree of self-sufficiency – the opposite of which we see with the transgender reliance on a meticulously constructed social assemblage that comes from the self’s own body-bound desires that debase and denature the body.

 

[NOTES]

[1] Footnote: 

[Areteus was] a famous Greek doctor of the first century A.D., the author of ‘De morborum diuturnorum et acutorum causis, signis et curatione’. The vocabulary of sacrifice is still used spontaneously by Montaigne when he reports a case of auto-mutilation in chapter 4 of his Essais: mortified by an amorous adventure in which he behaved foolishly, a gentleman “mutilated himself and sent his mistress the organs that had disobeyed him in his desires, as a kind of bloody victim capable of expiating the offense he believed he had committed against her.”

Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess, Selected Writings 1927-1939. 2008. Minnesota, Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gough, 67.

[2] Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works. 2nd ed., 2009. New York: Herder and Herder, Sermon 33, 200.

[3] Joseph Quint’s footnote reads; ‘There’ refers to the historical birth of Jesus, ‘here’ to the birth of Christ in the soul.

ibid., Sermon 18, 133-136

[4] Plotinus., 1948. The Enneads. Boston: C.T. Branford Co. I.6 § 2.

[5] n1x land., 2018. Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper. [online] Vast Abrupt. Available at: <https://vastabrupt.com/2018/10/31/gender-acceleration/&gt; [Accessed 10 May 2021].

[6] Andrew Long Chu., 2018. Opinion | My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/24/opinion/sunday/vaginoplasty-transgender-medicine.html&gt; [Accessed 10 May 2021].

[7] Alex Marzano-Lesnevich., 2020. Opinion | How Do I Define My Gender if No One Is Watching Me?. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opinion/transgender-nonbinary-pandemic-transition-.html&gt; [Accessed 10 May 2021].

[8] Garcia, M., 2019. 010 A Novel Pre-surgery Counseling Aid for Transgender Patients Undergoing MtoF Genital Gender Affirming Surgery with Vaginoplasty, to Help Manage Patient Expectations and to Facilitate Patient’s Choice of Surgery (Full-Depth or Shallow-Depth Vaginoplasty). The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16(4), pp.S5-S6.

[9] Bataille, Visions of Excess, Selected Writings 1927-1939. Gnosticism and Base Materialism, 48.

[10] n1x land., 2018. Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper.

[11] Andrew Long Chu., 2018. Opinion | My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy (Published 2018).

[12] Plotinus., The Enneads. I.6 § 5.

[13] ibid., I.6 § 3.

[14] As per usual, I always either quote from the Knox Translation Bible or Douay-Rheims. Sometimes a mix but the above is purely Knox.

[15] Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 13b, 108.

[16] St. Athanasius., 1953. De Incarntione Verbi Dei. 2nd ed. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. § 9, 35

[17] Angela Franks., 2020. Deleuze on Desire | Angela Franks. [online] First Things. Available at: <https://www.firstthings.com/article/2020/04/deleuze-on-desire&gt; [Accessed 10 May 2021].

[18]  Ancius Boethius., 1978. The Theological Tractates; The Consolation of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Loeb Library., Consolation of Philosophy Bk.III § VIII.5-13.

[19] Plotinus., The Enneads. I.6 § 5.1

[20] Bataille, Visions of Excess, Selected Writings 1927-1939. Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gough, 68.

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