Necropathy: The Charm of Guilty Parties
And this high dial, which my sorrow crowns- So much- even so. And yet I know not well, For that the evil ones comes here, and say, 'Fall down, O Simeon: thou hast suffer'd long For ages and for ages!' then they prate Of penances I cannot have gone thro', Perplexing me with lies; and oft I fall, Maybe for months, in such blind lethargies, That Heaven, and Earth, and Time are choked.
- From A. Tennyson, St Simeon Stylites
You can act immaturely or maturely, and this is a function of an ongoing friction between values and life-experience (hence also, irreducibly, a function of time). Guilt simulates maturity by simulating, to the “guilty” and others, the position of the most mature, the most wise – the dead. It really became an epidemic once God was killed. However, if measures up against living maturities, guilt is at least – in its own mind/world – protected from being it specializes in avoiding suspicion (its own and other guilty parties’) of being one of those immaturities. Ephemeral and unsure, they dissipate upon the encounter, like air against a tombstone. What is more sure, more assured, than death?
The immature, however, is the secret of guilt’s power; it is a child’s stance towards the world: whining to himself behind the tombstones of the dead, this invisible child, at the same time, claims the position that fully grasps the totality of life/time. And just like this jailed, purloined and helpless child, like with the dead, all discourse loses its power. Both wholly innocent and all knowing, it is a position of mastery tailor-made for self-identified victims: no earthly value can disturb this impervious position of the dead/child.
And maybe every de-cision is marked by this betrayal, where maybe it is only guilt that can alert you of the unburied ghosts still haunting the site of the cut. Maybe. Or maybe it is just that guilt assures such statements to be unassailable. But this cannot be allowed to become a prescription, or an alibi; it is not an ethics. In fact, it was originally designed as a weapon that can (and does) spew slander against any emerging value as a harm; for, you see, values contain hierarchies, but death, oh sweet, sweet death, is all entropy. The living, who inspire and expire, offer a multiplicity and flux of value-formation/adherence, but the dead can hold to the “final Truth”.
As Nietzsche discovered, this weapon against all earthly value was a Jewish invention, relying on an absconded God whose exterior/transcendent position is almost exactly that of the “guilty-conscious-havers”. Almost. The Jewish God left Letters of Law, something around which to deploy and deny values; but it was something. When this God dies, when this God is said to have been (almost literally) eaten and drunk, what gets shit out is this moralism of guilt. Guilt loves (and suffers for) precisely the nothingness of its master(y); indeed that is its sole sustenance.
This guilt is a travesty of Jewish ethics, but this only makes it a unique site of ethical inquiry. For we did learn something from guilt's genius in simulating ethics. Guilt does this in such a seductive way, that studying its machinations will reward any project that seeks to address the question of justice, social or otherwise, in a world that guilt seems to have already brought to its knees (Sound familiar? Guilt is only ever satisfied in the grave).
The Other calls from beyond guilt, and my fullest self-sacrifice does not even come close to my responsibility towards this call. It does not even go in the same direction. In fact, it is always already reactionary against all directions. Guilt is really good with abating evil. It is the best. But it does this by burning everything that evil can feed on and corrupt. It is the Pyrrhic victory of the meek, of helpless newborns and hapless tombstones. In some strange way, ethics resides in sites of corruptible maturation, and it is in this relative darkness, where ‘victim’ can no longer be used to abolish a value (question it? Of course! But guilt only knows the polarities. It does not respond; it cancels).
<Illustration of St. Simeon Stylite by W. E. F. Britten>