Creatio ex profundis, part II

Beginnings are always taking place. Beginnings do not mark a definitive newness. There is no single origin, just an infinite amount of creations. The cosmos is ‘beginningless’. Creation takes place in media res, in process.

The logic of creatio ex nihilo, on the other hand, “has reigned largely uncontested in the language of the church since the third century ACE” (Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep, p. 4). Biblical chaos is treated as nothing; God created the cosmos not out of something but out of nihil. However, as Keller writes, the Genesis account of creation does not support this view. By her account, the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is utterly ‘flimsy’. For theologians of this idiom, creation was zapped into being from nothing: the origin is not ambivalent but absolute. As deconstruction shows, on the contrary, the demolition of this founding certainty trembles and destabilizes itself ‘from the inside’. That is to say, ‘hermeneutical multiplicity’ is always already integral to orthodoxy.

As the second verse of Genesis shows, the narrative of creation is densely packed with a ‘mysterious tremor’ that unsettles our ‘ceremonious triumph’ of order, master and control: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Or, what is the same, chaos is always already there. From the perspective of the ‘colonizing episteme’, disorder and darkness is synonymous with disorder and anarchy. These are the ‘sins of darkness’ or ‘marks of chaos’ that the dominant discourse continues to repress.

For (male) theologians, chaos erodes meaning. In this way, the doctrine of creation that is ‘preceded by absolutely nothing’ ensures the ‘pure and simple presence of God the Creator’ without any monstrous remainder. But as Keller points out, this attempt to establish a ‘true origin’ is doomed from the start: in the beginning was ‘bottomlessness’, difference and multidimensionality. In other words, there is always already primal chaos, or, in the tradition of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, ‘thick darkness’:

The felicitous tehoms of Joycean language itself reveal…not nonsense but an excess of sense, in which every word of the book, like every unit of the universe, comes webbed in unpredictable, multiply allusive, interfluencies (p. 12)

All of this suggests that the primordial creation alluded to in the second verse of Genesis is nonpatriarchal. Rather than promoting dominology, lording over the world, or reaffirming gender stereotypes that men transcendentally create while women are the immanent passive procreators, the doctrine of creation from formless, preexistent salty stuff more than suggests a sexual economy of creation, a ‘chaosmos’ out of chaos and cosmos.

As mentioned above, scripture only knows “a formation of something new from something—else, something yet unthinged, unformed, some sort of marine chaos not identical with the literal sea but not separable from it” (p. 25). Augustine, in his Confessions, even admits to the hermeneutical complexity at the opening of Genesis. In fact, the flux and flood of Genesis splotches the whole landscape of scripture. The oceanic chaos of Genesis is depicted in monstrous sea terms elsewhere in the Bible, namely with Leviathan. The immense waters and monstrous sea-creature is typically considered evil, but there are certain psalms that praise Leviathan: “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there” (Psalm 104:24-26). Keller furthermore notes,

To love the sea monster and their chaos-matrix is consonant with affirming their “goodness” within the context of the whole. It doesn’t make them safe of cute. They also get poetically “rebuked,” i.e. bounded, held back, so that the orders of creation may emerge; so that any creative work may be wrested, as it must be in all our creations, from chaos. But this tradition cannot be reconciled with the identification of chaos and its wild creatures as evil (p. 28).

Stated differently, creation and creativity emerges out of chaos and complexity. In contrast to the mythic lineage of Babylonian, Ugaritic and Caananite sources, creation emerges from procreation, not slaughter. More specifically, in contrast to the matricide of Babylon, the ‘oceanic all-mother’ of the Hebrew Bible denotes that to love is to bear with the chaos, the dark and the sea. Western civilization, on the other side, demonizes the deep and energizes myths of ‘mastering chaos’. But opposing this misogynist horizon of Western thought, reclaiming the creativity and beauty of feminine iconography has bolstered the resistance of women to the ideologies and images of male-centered history.

According to this ‘feminist’ tradition, order is generated not in opposition to the chaos but upon the face of an originary indeterminacy. However, it would be erroneous to conceive of this trajectory of ‘feminist’ thought as a ‘new tradition’. Rather, as Keller notes, “The proposed tehomism necessarily implicates us anew in ‘the tradition,’ that is, in the iteration of texts in which ‘she’ left hardly a trace” (p. 35). In this sense, the differences and multiplicities in interpretations, that is, the multidimensionality and ‘multilateral matrix of meaning’, is to be considered a gift rather than a heresy for the church. But as Keller correctly asserts, the church “has rarely learned to bear with its own chaos” (p. 39).


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