“The final disarming of self-giving attires itself in the language of revelatory nakedness”

We read love in the glance, in the smile, in the grace of movement. The body speaks the soul’s language. The soul expresses life’s yearning. With the light of unbounded expressiveness.

Even in the most egocentric thirst for pleasure, the body of the Other is something much more than an object of desire. It is the signifier of the desire. What is signified, even if unconsciously, is only life. The longed-for body articulates the desire as a promise, but the principle of desire goes beyond the body of the Other. And that is why “the pleasure of women”—the pleasure promised by female beauty—is a pleasure “that has no limit.”

The signifier of desire arises in the “space” of beauty. The language of bodily beauty, in a first phase, and the language of dress. When the reciprocity of desire transcends the relativity of language, the nakedness is self-evident, the shedding of clothing. Then the whole body is a glance and a smile, and a rhythm of grace, an immediacy of desire, for the fullness of relation, the fullness of life.

Nakedness is never totally completed, the absence of clothing is not enough to achieve nakedness, or to live it. Nakedness is a progressive pursuit of the always indeterminate transformation of the signifiers, a transformation of the languages in which the principle of desire clothes itself. A ceaseless interweaving of the language of vision and the language of touch, from the intoxication of the call to the ecstasy of participation. …

There is an erotic nakedness, and there is an aggressive nakedness. The latter violates the relationship, destroying it by placing it on the level of “exchange.” It is the nakedness that is offered as an impersonal object of pleasure, outside the bounds of relation, of mutual self-offering. To satisfy a fleeting need, or the self-regarding reassurance of the ego as a desired object. It is the commercialized nakedness of pornography, the cold exploitation of sex. “It is light revealing as lightning” (cf. Luke 10:18).

Erotic nakedness is only self-offering. It is not contrived, it is spontaneous. Like the light in the beloved glance and smile. To reveal the renunciation of the last resistance of self-defense, which is shame. Shame is the natural defense against the egocentric demand of the Other. I defend myself with dress, I wear clothing to preserve my subjectivity: that I should not be exposed to gaze like an impersonal object of pleasure.

When love approaches the wonder of mutual self-renunciation and self-offering, there is no shame, because there is no defense or fear. Then the whole body speaks the language of the glance, of the smile, of the rhythm of grace. The whole human being becomes “wholly light and wholly face and wholly eye—a good given, and a perfect gift received.” It is offered without resistance or reserve. And the final disarming of self-giving attires itself in the language of revelatory nakedness. …

Erotic nakedness is never totally completed, because it is the language of self-emptying. The casting aside of clothes is not enough to accomplish nakedness. Nakedness must clothe itself in the language of self-giving and self-offering. In the boundless eloquence of the ceaseless surprises of the relation.

Christos Yannaras

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6 Responses to “The final disarming of self-giving attires itself in the language of revelatory nakedness”

  1. Tom says:

    Wow. Wonderful thoughts.

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  2. The icon of God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden portrays the Son as no one has seen the Father and the Holy Spirit is depicted at the baptism of Christ as a dove. But the Son is commonly seen throughout iconography. The Father does show up in Byzantine iconography as an angel in the depiction of Abraham seeing the three angels in Genesis 19 (or was it 18?). The Holy Spirit and the Son are also depicted as angels.

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  3. danaames says:

    Whoever translated this did a very herky-jerky job with the punctuation – too many sentence fragments that disconnect the flow of thought.

    Dana
    grammar geek

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dana, do you say this because you have read the Greek original? I’m just wondering whether Yannaras may have actually intended this. It reads to me more like the verse of T. S. Eliot than philosophical exposition—which I judge to be a positive. I’ll be terribly disappointed to find that the translator, Norman Russell, has taken radical liberties with the text.

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      • Jonathan says:

        I haven’t read Yannaras’ original Greek, but I do have a handle on Greek. It’s a very different language from English, as Indo-European languages go. Rather like German. Greeks don’t usually build sentences the way we do. Greek can more gracefully make bigger sentences than English can, with lots of subordination and a freer word-order. Often, when translating into a language like English, where word-order is of first importance, the best thing to do is to break up the original periodic sentences into smaller “fragments.” Probably that’s what is going on here. On the other hand, it’s possible, although I think less likely, that Yannaras wrote it with a grammatical style close to what we have here in English. But if he did, then his Greek wouldn’t feel to a Greek the same as this English translation feels to us anglophones. I expect that if Yannaras’ Greek actually looks very close to this, it would be *more* striking to a Greek-speaking audience than this somewhat poetic English is to us, because this kind of prose has become relatively common and legitimate in English, outside of a few more restricted circles… of course, it’s debatable whether Yannaras’ anglophone audience doesn’t primarily lie within those circles, so maybe it’s an even break in the end (going with scenario B, where Y’s Greek looks something like this English grammar).

        Grammar is mostly descriptive, not prescriptive. Something can be said to be grammatically “wrong” only when the language is uninterpretable. Not ambiguous, but uninterpretable. I don’t think that’s a problem here. Punctuation has always been a matter of convention, and not very stable convention at that. Obviously there are extremes that don’t work. For example, it’s pretty, clear, when someone, is using, just, too, many, commas. Also; the semicolon can become, in the hands of many an editor, rather a free agent. But even some basic “rules” of grammar are not very solid. Must a sentence contain a subject and a verb? Certainly not! But as with all things, there must be a norm in order for us to notice and appreciate — or deprecate — a departure therefrom. If a poet uses unusual grammar we understand that she does this deliberately. But if a high school student turns in expository essays that always look like they’re imagistic poems, you know you have a problem. This is a simplification, of course — a poem is not an excuse for sloppy writing — but you get the idea. It goes back to function. Good writing is writing that does the job it is meant to do, assuming a readership properly cued to what that job is. Writing that is trying to do something unprecedented will of course have to be careful to cue the audience and not rely on context (a standardized professional discourse, for example) to do this. In other words, a good book teaches you how to read it.

        Sorry for the pedantry. The short of it is: I wouldn’t worry overmuch about the translation. I doubt Russell is giving Yannaras a completely different tone and set of ideas.

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      • danaames says:

        No, I haven’t read it in Greek – it’s been all in translation for me. I would dearly love to learn Greek but have no teacher.

        I understand that Greek is structured differently; when you learn another language to fluency, you’re learning to think differently overall. My BA is in German, and I have done a bit of translation, both written and spoken, so I’m acquainted with the difficulties involved. I’m not accusing Russell of taking liberties with the text, but I think the key to good translation is how well not only the concepts but their links are rendered into the receiver’s language, reflecting the adaptation to the receiver’s way of thinking. The other translations of Y’s work I have read do this better.

        Rather than come to a full stop with a period, there are ways to indicate subordination and other types of clauses and freer structure into English by means of punctuation, so that it’s easier for the reader to connect the thoughts. For example:

        “The soul expresses life’s yearning — with the light of unbounded expressiveness.”
        “The signifier of desire arises in the “space” of beauty: the language of bodily beauty, in a first phase, and the language of dress.”

        I’m interested in clarity and flow of thought. I don’t find this translator’s choices as helpful to me in this regard as Briere, Schram and Ventis; I think Russell’s choices make understanding what the author is trying to say more difficult than it needs to be.

        That’s all I’m saying.

        Dana
        grumpy grammar geek

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