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Noble Blasphemy
Part VII.

– Feb. 18, 2013

Return to Part VI




"A time must come in which society, from politics to art, reorganizes itself into two orders or ranks: the illustrious and the vulgar. That chaotic, shapeless, and undifferentiated state without discipline and socialstructure in which Europe has lived these hundred and fifty years cannot go on. Behind all contemporarylife lurks the provoking and profound injustice of the assumption that men are actually equal. Each moveamong men so obviously reveals the opposite that each move results in a painful clash."
Ortega y Gasset, "The Dehumanization of Art"(1)

Let us for the moment break the apology away from any singular historical moment or any recognized pattern of historical events. To understand its complexity requires (or, its complexity is) the recognition that the apology serves the greater ideological context: capriciously speaking, an apology is not an apology is not an apology. The character and nature of the apology can vary greatly from situation to situation, and is heavily dependent upon various elements, the primary being the intention of the blasphemer, the nature of the offense as experienced by the offended, and the desire of the offended as regards an apology.(2) These elements are not independent and impossible to isolate from each other. In the end, however, they all go to answer a simple question: what, exactly, is any particular blasphemer apologizing for? Which then, depending on the answer, prompts another, far more fascinating question: should the blasphemer be apologizing at all?

The full field of the question is tinctured primarily by the blasphemous act itself. As previously discussed, irrespective of the positions or intents of the individuals involved, the essence of blasphemy is its challenge to the internalized nomos. Blasphemy does not exist except that there is an internalized, world-defining narrative whose ontological truth is called into question by the blasphemy. The blasphemous act can be of two natures. On one hand, the act can be the uttering of a different nomos. If there is enough power inherent to the utterance, it can be recognized as a challenge to the dominant nomos. This kind of blasphemy is continually demonstrated through cultural prejudices and xenophobias. At a practical level, it behooves a trader to know the customs and mores of the foreign people he is trading with so as not to offend their societal constructs and elicit a negative response. The core of the grammatical blasphemy is primarily substantive: the world-building of the other clashes with the world-building of the offended society. The conflict that arises can be settled through mediation and slow mutual adaptation, through conquest or imposition of an ideology, or through the drawing of lines followed by retreat away from the point of contact and back into respective narratives. So long as the narratives do remain in contact, and thus in conflict, even though the societies erect ideological barriers refusing the power of presence to the other, so also will the societies be in conflict, and so also will the nomos of each society be acting to defend itself against that conflict, either through denial of the other or through unconscious mediation with the other. The greater the degree that the conflict touches on the more fundamental elements of the world-building construct - especially as with legitimations such as religion -, the more energy will be put into the conflict, both at an individual and societal level, the more the response will be the denial of the other nomos, and the less will be the ability of the nomos to quietly adapt to the external pressures outside the vision of the societal conscience. Nonetheless, grammatical blasphemy is known blasphemy. It is the necessary other half of the binary.

Creative blasphemy also exists as a threat to the nomos; only, the nature of the blasphemy - and as such, its threat - is a modally different. Instead of being a counter-nomos, an other standing in opposition to the dominant half of the binary, it is perpetual disruption of nomos itself (not "of a nomos," but "of nomos"). It is not an other definition opposed to a dominant definition, it is an Other to the very structure and functioning of the dominant nomos. It is not-definition. Where grammatical blasphemy is B set against A, creative blasphemy is not-A. Creative blasphemy does not offer an alternative reality, it reveals that believed reality is not in fact real.

The obvious immediate solution to a creative blasphemy is to eliminate it. A difficulty arises in that creative blasphemies often carry an identity or characteristic, or operate within a specific arena, that give the blasphemy protection within the society. A primary example would be the arena of art, which frequently finds itself in opposition to the will of societal ideologies. Yet, depending on the historical moment, art can nonetheless be protected from the dominant nomos by a powerful enough minority. (3)

If a creative blasphemy can not be eliminated, the nomos will respond instead by nominalizing it, by covering up its creative being with a definitional skin.(4) The process is not that different from normal world-building. The nomos identifies "tree" or "wife" or "Democrat" as it is understood within the grand narratives, and when an individual looks at that material object to which the definition applies, they see and understand the object to be the definition as established in the nomos, rather than as the material reality of the object understood as "tree." A blasphemy is different only in that the blasphemy itself operates to destroy the label put upon it. As such, the label may be given more energy, to assure the viewer sees the blasphemous object as the nomos needs the viewer to see it. Through nominalization, the blasphemous event can be transformed, as it were, into something not threatening to the nomos (or, even reaffirming of the nomos). This can be done through, say, giving art objects fixed "readings" to stand in place of true engagement with the object. Simply enough, teaching "This poem means this," or, "This is Manet's Olympia. It was painted in the 1860s as a reaction to Salon formalism. It is a picture of a prostitute or courtesan. The model Manet used also became a painter." Through pre-established definition there is maintained control over meaning, and supplying meaning eliminated the necessity of the student's reading or viewing - and thus potentially engaging for themselves - the text in question. It is the purpose of the skin to prevent just that: actual individual engagement with the creative blasphemy. To note, the nominalization does not change the nature of the utterance. It changes the perception of the utterance. It represses the experience of chaos by hiding it behind narrative grammar. The creative utterance continues, but is not perceived.

Embedding the utterance within a historical, scholarly, religious or other narrative is how the blasphemy is brought safely into society. When the blasphemy cannot be eliminated or nominatively 'skinned,' however, the nomos can yet expel the blasphemy. This is very regularly witnessed in the U.S. through conservative Christianity's responses to socially deviant popular artists. Works such as that of Marilyn Manson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ozzie Osborne, even Tom Waits, or contemporary music as a whole (if you remember the religious right's anti-rock movements of the '80s, or the response to rock-and-roll in the '50s), in being identified as, say, "demonic," or more simply "sinful." The purpose, source, nature and content of the work is thus both known and understood: it is of the devil; it is not of god. Yet, instead of hiding the blasphemy behind a safe skin where the individual can not see it, the nomos here creates strong, societal pressures for the individual not to look at it at all, and even, if possible, to materially eliminate the blasphemy. It is such characterization that permits the bizarre contradictions of such events as witch-burning, or book-burning or -banning, which on their face are purely in conflict with fundamental moral and ethical beliefs (as in Christianity's Golden Rule, or U.S. constitutional liberties). With the blasphemy strongly identified as counter to the 'divine' order, they can be expelled and eliminated without creating psychological dissonance - at least, to the degree the individual is themselves subjugated under the nomos.

These are after-the-fact negotiations of the societal construct with the blasphemous utterance, however. Our concern here is with the initial conflict - the initial societal response, and the function of apology within that matrix. Which is not to say the above can not occur within the immediate moment. For example, characterizing an event as "demonic," "heretical," "heathen/pagan" or otherwise barbaric, is a knee-jerk response by the nomos via religion, and it is an amazingly efficient way to quickly deal with threats to the nomos. In societies where such a response can be followed with an equally immediate material response the initial conflict is easily remedied. However, blasphemy as we are considering it here concerns societies where the processes of resolution are much slower and more methodical. The state-as-legitimation in an increasingly global reality must continually negotiate a broad variety of nomoi, both within its boundaries and without. In the West it is generally not the state that reacts to the act of blasphemy. It is an individual or group to brings the blasphemy into the legal/political arena.

There is in the discussions of legal issues of blasphemy a frequent confusing of the intent of the act and the act itself. In part this is caused by the context of the discussions involved. But, concomitantly, it is also caused by a false understanding of what blasphemy actually is, and a failure to recognize that blasphemy does not depend on intent to be blasphemous. In final analysis, intent is utterly irrelevant to the question of whether an utterance is in fact blasphemous: all that matters is that the societal nomos perceives a threat to its stability. The locus of blasphemy is not in the will to act but entirely within the utterance itself. Indeed, attempting to be blasphemous but failing to in fact denigrate the sacred in the eyes of the target nomos is not blasphemy. It is the equivalent of attempting murder by pointing a finger and saying "bang, you're dead."

This does not mean intent of the utterer is irrelevant to our discussion, however. There are two distinctions that need to be made. First is that which underlies the confusion above: blasphemy and the intent to do malice are two independent acts. Intent only factors in the latter. To "intend blasphemy" is merely to intend to make the utterance (with, generally, a belief or other psychological stake inherent in the utterance). If the blasphemous statement is made with the intent of malice to others, there are in fact two injuries: the malicious act and the blasphemous act, one to the individual who is the target of maliciousness, one to society as a whole.

The second distinction, already mentioned, lies within the first: whether or not there is intent to blaspheme. An Islamic individual speaks in passing in conversation at a diner in the Vatican of the idea associated with polygamy within an unspoken context that accepts the notion as morally legitimate. Has the speaker committed blasphemy? Yes: by denying the legitimacy of the governing morality of Catholicism the individual blasphemed the dominant ideology. Did the individual intend to blaspheme? Not necessarily: a passing thought that is to the Islamic individual quotidianly legitimate would not generally be made with intent to undermine an ideological basis. Could the blasphemy be intended? Yes: but in the end the blasphemy is not in the making of the statement. Rather, it is any performance of an other nomos within the dominant nomos, whether by vocalization with belief or by simple performance of cultural mores: say, a woman in Topeka putting on a t-shirt rather than an abaya. Obviously, the question arises, how can the actions of a person in Topeka be blasphemous to, say, Muslims in Iran? What if the woman was in the center of a Mosque in Tehran? What if the woman was standing just over the Iranian border? What if it was a film of a woman putting on a t-shirt in what appears to be a mosque in Tehran? What of a film of a woman putting on a t-shirt in Topeka being played in Tehran? What difference if the woman was Iranian? European? African?

The answer ultimately lies not in the act or the act's locus or historical verity but in the degree that the act as perceived is threatening to the governing nomos. The measure of the severity of blasphemy (or whether blasphemy in fact occurs) is found in the sensitivity and severity of reaction of the nomos. (An act could legalistically be blasphemous but in fact be no threat to the nomos, and as such would not in fact or experience be blasphemous. Indeed, state action against such an act will generally cause a negative reaction from the populace. Legalistic blasphemy describes the degree to which the nomos has adapted: within the nomos, even though the act is contrary to aspects of the prevailing belief system, performance of the act may yet be acceptable (e.g., accepted forms of protest or justified civil disobedience), and as such action against it becomes the blasphemous act.)

But even with the measure of blasphemy being found in the societal nomos rather than the act itself, there can still be a question of whether the blasphemous act was intended. The question is merely did the woman intend to put on a t-shirt rather than an abaya. Generally, that is an empty statement. It gains power to the degree that the woman knows that the act is actively counter to the dominant nomos - for example, the t-shirt says "Fuck the Draft," or the t-shirt is transparent and the woman does not wear a bra, or the t-shirt merely says "I don't believe in God." Keep in mind we are excluding the notion of act with intent to do malice. Knowledge that the act is counter-cultural does not mean that the act intends to injure any person. They are two different motivations. But the act, nevertheless, is intentionally blasphemous. Which means what?

Merely this: that the act is intended to be counter to and disruptive to normativity of the dominant nomos. More simply, that the person was not acting like everyone else, like it was expected for her to act. It is paradigmatic: to be different is to be blasphemous. A further step must be taken however: and that is it must be asked, What kind of blasphemy was the individual intending to perform?

  1. The individual could be intending only to speak a grammatical utterance which is non-blasphemous in their own nomos - that is, correctly conforms to their own ideology - but which is nonetheless blasphemous to the dominant nomos. Conversely, the individual could be intending to speak a grammatical utterance which is non-blasphemous in the dominant nomos that is likewise by accident blasphemous to a minority nomos.
  2. The individual could be with knowledge speaking a grammatical blasphemy within and against a nomos without the utterance being anchored within a second nomos (that is, counter to A without also be affirmative of B). That is intentionally speaking a grammatical utterance counter to the dominant nomos (without necessarily intending to conform to some other nomos).
  3. The individual could be intending to speak a creative blasphemy.

Of the three, the second situation describes what is generally thought of as the event of blasphemy: the blasphemer who intends the act knowing their statement of a minority ideology functions to disrupt the societal norm. The first situation describes the situation that underlies oppression of a minority other - e.g., the current attitudes of the dominant U.S. nomos to homosexuality. Obviously, there is a good deal of overlay with the two. As concerns legal culpability, these two situations are functionally equivalent (again, outside of intent acting within the measure of remedy/punishment). Though, whether the offended nomos is dominant (as in the Gay News controversy) or minority (as in The Satanic Verses) will effect how the events play out.

The third is the most interesting case, and the most revealing theoretically (and, ultimately, legally, socially, and liberatorily). It is the blasphemy of Olympia. But, further and full consideration of it will have to wait until later.

What is essential here is the recognition that in blasphemy the blasphemer is innocent of any action against any other individual. Rather, the blasphemer is, whether with knowledge or not, guilty only of performing something outside the dominant nomos. What makes the event blasphemous, however, is not the act of the individual, but the response of the nomos. As such, the primary action lies not in the individual, but in the societal mass.

That is, in terms of the functioning of the nomos, blasphemy is a reversal of guilt. The primary action is the nomos acting to protect the dominant narrative: blasphemy does not exist until the nomos reacts to a threat. When it does, it attempts to eliminate, exclude, or cover up the threat. The oppressive act of elimination must also be covered up, though, or the nomos would itself be speaking its own guilt, and more importantly its own functioning. If society sees blasphemy as defense of a narrative, a narrative that is supposedly grounded in transcendent truths, that naturally spurs the question of why the grand narrative needs to be so defended - that is, why the fundamental truths need to be defended - which is revealing the artificial nature of the grand narrative. So the nomos must shift the perception of the action from societal oppression to individual action: it is the blasphemer who is the guilty individual, not the nomos.

The distinction between the blasphemous and malicious act functions also within the reception of the blasphemous utterance by the offended party. The dividing question is, Was the offended party offended because the utterance was blasphemous (irrespective of whether any malice was intended), or was the offended party offended by the maliciousness of the utterance (irrespective of whether the utterance was blasphemous or not)?(5)

It is easy enough to recognize how blurring the distinction between the two permits the nomos to regulate blasphemous acts (especially in a society that has shed a priestly caste) by labeling the psychological response to the acts as a response to maliciousness. As well, it is a similar conflation of content with use or result of use that permits blasphemy, obscenity, and all the like to be regulated under broad, undefinable categories such as nuisance law. It is as simple a thing to regulate what would otherwise be legal enterprises by saying the societal result of the enterprise is a disruptive nuisance, and as such should be closed (or closeted, or exiled). And the nuisance laws do bring to the surface the action of the nomos: the smooth functioning of society is being protected. What is important for our purpose is what is being concealed: a mechanism by which otherness is being legitimately suppressed. By legitimating the regulations under nuisance, the true nature of the event as a blasphemous event is being erased. The onus of immorality or criminality is put on the actions of the offenders rather than on the actions of what is in fact an oppressive societal mass. What is lost, as will be seen, is the possibility of a socially productive reaction to blasphemy - i.e., a resolution of a blasphemous action that responds directly and constructively to the true nature of the injury and the causes thereof.

The presence of malice makes the suppressive actions of the nomos all the easier to legitimate, especially in that the object and focus of malice need not be individuals, but could be religion itself, or societal mores or constructs. Malice against the religion is not necessarily blasphemy, however; and maintaining the distinction would serve not only in legal/nominal distinction but also in approaching, societally or psychologically, the source of the malice to an end of truly beneficial resolution. Even if the malice were against the offended individual, there must be caution in confusing the malice and the utterance used to enact the malice. The statement could be a legitimate critique or grievance aggravated emotionally through the negative effects brought about by the root cause underlying the grievance. Through the combination of the religious aspect and the presence of malice, a legitimate grievance can be quashed under the actions of societal maintenance. If blasphemy is in fact involved, it makes the societal repression all the easier.

Though the judges in the Rushdie case - where the grievance is on the part of the offended - did not agree with the law as it existed, by passing the onus of the grievance onto the legislature they were nonetheless reiterating the dominant nomos, and thus asserting the inferior position of the Muslims within the British legal system. Washing their hands of the burden of recognizing the blasphemy - even if with legal justification - was not at all an effective sidestepping of the matter. Rather, it reaffirmed the Christian hegemony and dismissed not the blasphemy (which is recognized implicitly in the affirmation) but that there was grievance asking to be addressed. More importantly, the potential for negotiation between agonistic nomoi. Which is not to say the court should have recognized the Muslim claim of blasphemy. But, just as a person should have the right within open discourse to cast a biting critique, so also should the target have the same right to cry out in response, "that hurt!"

These last sentences may raise the question whether Rushdie's intent in writing the book was malicious. Whether or not Rushdie was being malicious, it can safely be said that the book was intended to be a critique of conservative Islam. The book is a knowing blasphemy of no small severity. It is difficult to sever completely such critiques from the idea of malice, since the critique carries within it the dislike of the critiqued nomos. However erudite or socially positioned, the intent of a biting critique is, in the end, to bite. What is being bitten, however, is critical to the event: it is not the Muslim people; it is Muslim society. I personally do not believe Rushdie's critique would be deserving of legal consideration of malice. The issue at hand, however, is not in the end Rushdie or The Satanic Verses, but social hierarchies, and a clash of world-building constructs.

In such we see that the desire of the offended in the apology is as important an element as the other two elements. Perhaps even more so in that we are here getting to the question of negotiation between the opposed ideologies. The hinge issue is whether the injury of the offended is based on the threatened nomos or on the individual's own, true psycho-emotional response. If it is based on the nomos the purpose of the apology is capitulation to the nomos by the blasphemer with consequential elimination of the societal threat and simultaneous reiteration of the reality of the dominant nomos. As Cox points out, Rushdie was very much caught in this type of situation: in having been "set up as a martyr to the cause of freedom of expression," the fear of a true apology was that it might be "misinterpreted as capitulation."(6) The Satanic Verses, being critical of orthodox Islam, is, because of the societal nature of Islam, blasphemous. Islam demands apology for the work because the nomos is threatened and needs to be stabilized through the removal of the threat, preferably by the speaker of the threat himself performing the truth of Islam. As such, to apologize for the work is retraction of the critique as unfounded in the face of the ultimate truths. If the injury is based, rather, in individual, emotional responses (for example, a valid critique delivered in a crude or violent manner), the injured has a right in discourse to be heard, and ask an apology for the manner of delivery.

What would have been a more beneficial event would have been if Rushdie could have been able to speak his emotions about the people who were injured and killed without having to retract the critique: it would be difficult to believe that Rushdie, when writing The Satanic Verses, did not believe it would pass into the world without incident.(7) He was, after all, critiquing a deeply entrenched ideological structure, one with numerous and potent material mechanisms at hand that it can mobilize to its defenses - and as such, mechanisms powerful persons within the society can mobilize to their own ends.

Critique of religion is by definition blasphemous to that religion. That Anglo-American society is in various stages of shrugging off the social castes of religious legitimation does not mean that they should expect Muslims to be in the same state of political cognizance. The Muslim community did respond with an actual grievance which deserved to be recognized. But what nature of recognition? The Muslims seek recognition and apology. Yet, it is a very different situation between the offended people seeking apology for the individual, emotional grievance and seeking apology for the threat to the nomos. The latter desires reassertion of societal, communal constructs at the expense of the expressions and thoughts of the individual. The former is concerned not with the critique but with the emotional result of the critique. One is inherently repressive. One is potentially progressive. For the latter is seeking silencing of the threat and the re-establishment of the hegemony over the individual, while the former recognizes not just the right of the individual's expression, but the very existence of the individual as an individual, rather than as a voiceless, faceless iteration of the social norm. In essence, the former is seeking the continuation of discourse, even if, initially, only at a basic, emotion level, where the latter is seeking continual restatement of the fixed truths of reality.

Discourse - the free exchange of ideas - is in its very nature detrimental to the nomos and as such has to be suppressed to levels that the nomos can tolerate without its populace losing faith in the reality of reality. (Again I point to the emasculation of public school textbooks in the U.S. as an example.) The nomos does this by creating a "false" discourse of customary, established meaning: established within the fixed narratives through which the world is recognized and known collectively, without aberration or irruption; legitimized through the establishment of the transcendental Truths that act as the establisher and establishment of reality. Even science and philosophy must act in accord with this false discourse: and the endless and intricate logical explorations of the Scholastics are testament to the degree of exploration that can occur without ever straying from established Truth any further than the nomos can tolerate.

The stronger the society-stabilizing functionality of the nomos, i.e., the more fundamentalist the societal mass, the less there is discourse within the nomos. The primary character of the social nomos is stillness (or, in Derrida's preferred word, sedimentation). Blasphemy is an unsettling in that stillness, whether through the counter-positioning of an other nomos or through the disruption of very nature of hat it means to know. For a narrative to function as world-defining, the narrative can not be questioned beyond the flexibility of the narrative. The narrative must be internalized so as to appear as the narrative as spoken by reality itself, rather than a narrative external to reality that organizes one's perceptions and understanding of reality. Speech functions as the primary method of reiterating that narrative within society, and as such must be limited through the mores of society so as not to question the narrative. Discourse is as such limited to reproduction of the nomos or trivial individual utterances that either do not carry the energy to be disruptive of the nomos or are readily recharacterized so as to exist safely within the nomos or to permit the nomos to remove the speaker to places where the speech can not harm the nomos. Any statement that carries enough energy to force its recognition by the populace and which does not reiterate the nomos will invariably create a societal disturbance which is the manifestation of the nomos adapting to the force of recognition to what degree it can, and of the nomos suppressing to what degree it must (and vice versa - the primary concern of the nomos is maintaining the belief in the reality it establishes, not maintaining any specific reality).

Within the narrative, there can not be conflict or the narrative can not serve its purpose, which is both to create the stability necessary and constituent to communal society and to satisfy the need to collective identity. That surety is created through performance: through repetition - and the re-assurance - of the known. And the known is that which is established within the collective identity. To speak the nomos is to speak always what has already been said. To speak new is to speak a counter-nomos blasphemy, which must be silenced to preserve the hegemony. To speak creatively is to reveal the artificial nature of the reality-construct. That also must be silenced, or the sure safety of reality itself is at risk.

That said, we can now return to the apology, and the final two questions posited above. The penultimate, What would the blasphemer be apologizing for?, has already been answered. Which leaves us only to finish with, Should the blasphemer be apologizing at all? (That is, for the blasphemy itself.)

If the blasphemous act was the critique of ideology, then no liberated philosophy would desire an apology. For the apology will only serve to subsume the individual and the statement of the individual back within the collective state. It can only serve to re-establish the dominant ideological construct over any challenging construct through the removal of energies from the critique. As well, it acts only to satisfy the construct's greatest wish: to silence not only the blasphemous utterance, but also free discourse in its entirety. The liberated purpose of an apology would only be served when the apology furthers discourse, which can only happen when the blasphemy itself is permitted to stand and is accepted as a legitimate critique - that is, when it is the blasphemy that is recognized (as opposed to the offended state of the supposed 'victims').

When Cox writes

It could well be argued that because Muslims do take their religion so seriously, and by virtue of their vulnerable position in British society, Muslims actually merit more protection against religious abuse than Christians do.(8)

he confuses a number of elements. First, "religious abuse" confuses malice and blasphemy. The latter can not be considered "abuse" under any normal understanding of the term - except from within the dominant ideology as legitimation of the defense of the ideology. Second, the idea of "taking a religion so seriously" would not, within the socio-legal context, be a liberatory reasoning for protection of a group. It could, however, be a reason for protection of a liberatorily constructive - i.e., discursive - society: the more 'seriously' the religion is taken - and the word here carries the idea of the religion pervading the society's functioning as a legitimation of the social nomos - the more the religion is a threat to a society based upon equally shared freedoms. A liberatory society should be defending itself not against the 'injury' that might occur to a religious institution but against the potential threat of that institution to the open discourse that is an imperative for a free society. Finally, I agree that the vulnerable position of a minority group should always merit it extra protection. But protection in what nature? Not protection against disruption of its nomos, but, rather, protection of its ability to participate in societal discourse. And as well, in the initial context of blasphemy it is always the blasphemer that is the minority.(9) (In the Rushdie affair the Muslim British became the minority when the context expanded from the initial blasphemy to the appeal to the state for recognition and cure.)

Note, finally, that the defense of open discourse should not be confused with freedom of expression fundamentalism. The latter itself is establishing an ideology which serves, paradoxically, to suppress freedoms in defense of that ideology. That is, as an ideology it is to the fundamentalism's benefit that it also suppress discourse disruptive to that ideology: and any shutting off of discourse is injury both to a liberatory society and to the individuals within that society. Part of the failures of the parties in both the Rushdie incident and the Danish cartoons incident is that right at the moment when discourse needed to be the most open, the 'liberal' parties instead retreated into the bunkers of their own freedom of expression fundamentalism, closing off any generation of a discursive field. Now, it may be wishful thinking that the Muslims would have entered into the field of discourse - I do not want to guess at the motives in either case. Had discourse been offered, the refusal to accept the invitation to inter-engagement is their right. Free discourse includes freedom not to participate in discourse.

Yet, had the discourse been opened and the Muslims not participated, that refusal to participate would also act as an abandonment of their original claim of injury. For what, in the end, is a blasphemy claim? It is not injury to an individual, but a claim within a legal arena to legitimize the elevation of their ideological construct over the expressive existence of the individual - which is, in the end, nothing other than requesting that the legal system functions as an facilitating arm of state oppression. That is something all the more troubling when the blasphemous utterance was blasphemous because of its creative nature. If I may repeat the quotation that headed this final part of this essay:

A time must come in which society, from politics to art, reorganizes itself into two orders or ranks: the illustrious and the vulgar. That chaotic, shapeless, and undifferentiated state without discipline and social structure in which Europe has lived these hundred and fifty years cannot go on. Behind all contemporary life lurks the provoking and profound injustice of the assumption that men are actually equal. Each move among men so obviously reveals the opposite that each move results in a painful clash.(10)

Ortega y Gasset is revealing the ultimate negative of the legal and social pursuit of blasphemy, in whatever form: the societal repression of the creative individual. If one is to establish a liberatory legal/social theory, it must be premised upon that recognition: the very nature of society functions to the suppression of the individual, creative act. Liberalism, if it functions within society, if it functions as part of a nomos, is likewise then functioning to the suppression of the individual. That is, it is in its very nature functioning to the suppression of the very freedoms it claims to defend.


Continute to Bibliography.


Note numbers link back to text.


1. Ortega y Gasset, 7.

2. The previous discussion already covers such material factors as the timing or positioning of the apology.

3. As well, there is a second difficulty with elimination. A creative blasphemy can continue to resonate in the minds of susceptible persons even after the blasphemy is eliminated.

4. For a more developed discussion on the idea of ideological 'skin,' see Judith Butler's Gender Trouble and before her Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger.

5. The confusion here goes to the heart of applying Feinberg's analysis.

6. Cox, 44.

7. And it is known that Rushdie was aware of the more-than-likely negative reception the book would invite.

8. Ibid., 43.

9. This needs qualification: the blasphemer - even one of a dominant nomos blaspheming a minority nomos - is nonetheless individually subjected to the response of the blasphemed nomos (remembering the event of the blasphemy lies in the offended nomos, not the offending individual; and the initial response of the nomos is against the individual).

10. Ortega y Gasset, 7.