Saturday, 21 February 2015

Transfiguration and Disfigurations

Almost every day it is inevitable that we encounter advertisements. Among these commercial advertisements especially of clothing and other body related merchandises (shoes, perfumes, etc.), displays a body of that of a model. This visual representation of the human model who poses on the advertisement is the so-called ideal image of the user, which is projected. The bodies of the male and female models are selected and represented in a way that those bodies become an image of fantasy, a thing to be achieved, and to be reached. These advertisements go beyond the representations of the products themselves; they produce a discourse on human body and its aspirations. In psychoanalytical terms those bodies become objet petit a (“unattainable object of desire”). And unfortunately, it is within those visual representations, popular notions of beauty and handsomeness are being understood, and the quest for them by the masses, fuels the market in many ways which is obvious. Within those norms, Beauty for woman has come to be synonymous for a supermodel and handsomeness or maleness comes in the way of toned body and six-packed abdomen.

This discourse on body and the metanarrative of beauty and the beast (the distinction between the supermodel and the masses) is even more prominent in a recent Tamil movie ([1]), wherein the revenge motif is disfiguration of the other. Disfiguration as an act of revenge spells out for us the way media works on the discourse of beauty and ugly polarities. If in a normative way the model represented in the advertisement becomes the ideal beauty and the rest are marginalized into the other polarity, the serious question then arises, what of those who really suffer from serious bodily ailments of physical disablements, they become doubly marginalized by the market forces and social norms and are even more forcibly ebbed out of the beauty discourse perpetually. We should respond to the question if not politically at least theologically.

As a part of theological response to beauty/beast discourse, we could turn to the gospels and focus on the life of Jesus. Gospel of Mark reports that, of the three times Jesus’ foretelling of suffering and death (Mark 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), immediately after the first prediction, the event of transfiguration is placed (Mark 9:2-8) and in the last prediction they were on the road to Jerusalem, which is the death knell of Jesus and the imminence of his crucifixion. This very journey from transfiguration to crucifixion could be seen as an Christological significance of a kenotic journey of the Son of God. However, one notices a polarity between the journeying from transfiguration mount to the disfiguration on the cross on another mount. The journey which begins in transfiguration as “dazzling white” ends up in the “darkness over the land.” This whole journey when read through notions of beauty/ugly polarities, transfiguration event reveals to us the dazzling beauty of the Son of God which is objet petit a, that ends in the total disfiguration of the same on the cross. And the event of the Cross which in the words of Isaiah makes it more significant, were he writes “so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals”, “as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account”(Isaiah 52:14; 53:3). This passage talks about the disfiguration of the messianic figure on the account of salvation.

If we claim that, it is on the cross that we have found our redemption, then our redemption or total liberation or salvation, comes from the absolute disfiguration of the transfiguration or transfigured (mysterium tremendum et fascinans). And it is this liberative aspect of disfiguration comes alive on the event of the Cross, wherein disfigured body remains to be gazed as only means to salvation. It is imperative that we need to be redeemed or saved from the discourses of absolute beauty discourses, which finds itself in the form of transfigurations of human bodies which are “dazzling” in every hoarding and billboards. It is these “dazzling” experiences of transfigurations have come to haunt us in the name of beauty and handsomeness, which are no less oppressive. It is also in these discourses that our salvation remains in the Cross, where the glory is beheld in the ultimately disfigured body which delivers us from every distinction of beauty/ugly oppression. It is in the scars and stripes we are healed and delivered.

[1] The movie has protagonists both from the discourse of beauty model and bodybuilder categories. And the antagonists mar the body of the bodybuilder turned model and in turn the protagonist takes revenge by disfiguring the villains one by one. This kind of narrations and reinforcement of beauty as ideal and disfiguration as “revenge” motif is terribly insensitive and perverse.