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Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Texas George Rex Judas (3)

Judas is a prototypical villain in Christian theology and secular mythology and history. Characterized as the epitome of evil, he haunts Dante's description of Hell as the ultimate sinner. Gnawed by one of the faces of Satan in Dante's vision, he symbolizes for the great Italian poet not only the the betrayal of God's Son but of the very principles that make human society possible. Alongside him is the Roman Senator Brutus, assassin of Caesar.

For Dante, Judas and Brutus both betrayed God--Judas betrayed God's eternal plan for humanity, Brutus betrayed the Roman Empire. For Dante the Empire was the supreme government and had been set in place by God to usher in the New World spoken of in the Gospels.

In recent literature, no one has plumbed the depths of Judas' betrayal more profoundly and more hauntingly than the French playwright and novelist, Jean Genet. In his novels, the theme of betrayal is a constant. In homoerotic and narcissictic terms, Genet's main characters act as fantasy characters of his own desires and passions. In his resentment at society's hypocrisy toweards his homesexuality and his early childhood of severe poverty, he has them carry out the ultimate evil act. For him, this is betraying the trust and love of others.

Genet was a life-long criminal--mostly petty thievery. His fantasy novels depict a world peopled by the Paris underworld and explorations of the criminal mind. What's compelling in Genet's portrayal of criminality is that he believes in evil for evil's sake. It is obvious that his hatred of society--perhaps for its disgust at his homosexuality--was so deep that he was motivated to commit the ultimate evil, the ultimate crime.

But Genet's evil intentions are not just aimed at the bourgeois world that rejected him outright. It is also directed at the idea of society itself, the very principle that brings people together in a bond that cannot--must not--be betrayed. Though he obviously identifies with criminals whom he knew so well, he also knows that no one is more hated among criminals than a snitch--a Judas. For Genet, therefore, Judas represents the ultimate evil being and his act of betrayal is an act in defiance of God for it undermines all good that God could mean for humans. The ultimate good, of course, is eternal and lasting love and friendship.

It is this intimate bond of friendship that Judas symbolizes not just for Genet but for other writers. Jorge Borges explores the temporal dimensions of Judas' betrayal. For Borges, Judas is a keystone in the eternal plan such that someone must be sacrificed for God's plan to work. In a mirror image of Jesus' sacrifice, Judas himself is a kind of sacrifice that enables that eternal act. For Borges, the profoundly ironical nature of this anti-sacrifice has metaphysical implications that call into question the human understanding of God's benevolence.

It is these dimensions of temporality and social bond that Kierkegaard discusses in his elaboration of the demonic. The virtue of Kierkegaard's understanding is that it tries to capture and express life as it is lived, in all its triviality, boredom and everydayness. Kierkegaard understands the tendency of fiction and works of art to project falsely stylized pictures of the world. Because of this aestheticization of life, the real nature of actuality is not captured by art. Only an idealized, static picture arises from art. While these works can teach much about possibility, they eventually lead to an imaginary reality of pure possibility that is simply unlivable and finally unethical.

Projecting into possibility the human striving for dignity and wholeness is at the basis of being who are are. As discussed before, possibility is the eternal aspect of human personality. Humans must balance in an unending work of passion the interplay between possibility and actuality. To allow one aspect to gain dominance is to falsify not only our understanding of the world but also ourselves. This unbalanced understanding will eventually affect the way we treat and value others.

As I noted in the previous section, the human being must understand him or herself as beings in time. They must understand that history forms them as much as they form it. Our understanding of ourselves and the world is paramount in this effort to engage our temporality. We accept the past in order to live towards the future in the present.

This ever-intensifying living in the present is a matter of passionate pursuit for what will outdo everything that would limit falsely or expand unconscionably our effort to be who we are. The effort demands an ever-vigilant undertaking not only not to deceive myself about why I do what I do, but also to accept responsibility for how I act and undertake that confrontation and engagement with the world.

One way that I can refuse to accept this responsibility is to say that something or other made me do what I did. Children obviously do this. Criminals often blame something or other for their behavior and actions. Kierkegaard understands that the demonic intersects with not only betrayal of oneself but also God. Judas, therefore, from this perspective symbolizes the propensity of all humans to run away from their duties to others and themselves as well as God. But Judas' betrayal is profound in that it rejects the very idea of what it is that would enable people to live together in a loving and compassionate way. Genet was right to focus on Judas as not only a narcissist but also an extreme anarchist, perhaps the only pure form of evil possible in this world.

I will take up the figure of George Bush and Judas in the next section, trying to show how Bush's interest in history is an attempt to flee from the truth of his actions in Iraq and thereby not only as a form of the demonic but a Judas-like act that betrays the true bases of human community.

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