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The Theology of Altizer: Critique and Response by John B. Cobb, Jr. (editor)

John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. Published by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1970. Used by Permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

Appendix: Mercy for Miss Awdy, In a Vile Acting of the Sacred by Walter D. Love

Note: The late Walter D. Love was Associate Professor of History at the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

A Dissolution of the Many into One Act (Which is Indubitably an Epiphany of Eternal Being, Immanent in that Act, which is History, but which inevitably shatters History, and is thus Dialectically Transcendent, and so on. -- To be continued in the program notes for other deep and radically contemporary plays, such as Biblical Scatology and Old Rented Mistresses, etc.)


Arena University. Professor Oldteaser’s office, a dim room of the Freud Building. Upon the walls are prints of Chinese tapestries, visions of Hell, Dionysian orgies, and a number of pink and fleshy nudes. Among the books, all of which either wear their contemporary paper jackets or are recent paper-backs, on the shelves that climb the walls, are displayed plastic reproductions of such things as a Tibetan prayer wheel, African masks, a cross or two, a grinning gargoyle, several Indian-temple loving couples, and (standing in a corner) a crosier. There are also stones of various sizes, shapes, and colors, several Coca-Cola bottles, and many other objects sacred and symbolic. All are entirely new and wholly relevant.

The play takes place in deeply modern times.

The Professor is at his desk, squatting on his swivel chair in a Yoga posture (asana), concentrating on a single point, the "0" key on his typewriter. There is a knock at the door, which the Professor acknowledges, having put his feet down on the floor. The door opens, and Modern Woman is manifest. She bursts into tears.

MODERN WOMAN: Oh, Professor Oldteaser, I am profoundly disturbed about your class, Bible 101. You have destroyed my faith.

OLDTEASER: Good! Good! Sit down and tell me about it, Miss Awdy.

MODERN WOMAN: [Sobbing] I’ve begun to see that you are right. God died.

OLDTEASER: Yes. God is dead. That is what Nietzsche has taught us. He is the greatest prophet of the modern world. God is dead (Gott ist tot) -- the German, you know. Theological language. It is very important to find the words relevant to our times. So many English words aren’t.

MODERN WOMAN: I see. I do admire the way you use all the languages, Western and Eastern. But [still sobbing], I think I’m losing my mind.

OLDTEASER: Good! Good! How do you know?

MODERN WOMAN: [Now calmer] Well, I keep having these funny little experiences of . . . I don’t know what to call them . . . I don’t know how to describe them . . . I just feel unreal.

OLDTEASER: Good! Good! Don’t you know what all the greatest contemporary writers, without exception, have taught us?

MODERN WOMAN: Something you told us in class?

OLDTEASER: Yes. They have taught us that when you feel the most unreal, why then obviously you are most in contact with the profoundest reality.

MODERN WOMAN: Oh? But that isn’t what it feels like to me. I feel like nothing is real and feel unreal myself. What’s that you say over and over in class -- "wholly other"? That’s it. That’s what happens to me; I go along all right, and then all of a sudden I feel wholly other all over.

OLDTEASER: Good! Good! That is precisely what is to be expected in our times. Especially at the moment when it becomes wholly manifest to Modern Man -- or Woman -- that it is existentially true that God is dead (Gott ist tot). You are just where Modern Man -- or Woman -- must be, Miss Awdy; in order to begin. You must deny God in order to affirm him.

MODERN WOMAN: Oh? Why must I do that?

OLDTEASER: Well, it is not enough to deny him by wondering vaguely whether he exists or not. Lots of students do that, and start taking classes in philosophy. You can study the proofs for the existence of God -- ontological, cosmological, scatological, and so on -- but they are not wholly relevant. You must deny God radically.

MODERN WOMAN: Radically?

OLDTEASER: Yes, radically. It is very important to do everything radically. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing radically. Go all the way.

MODERN WOMAN: I quite often do.

OLDTEASER: Well, yes. But now you must deny God by saying he is dead. Say it existentially.

MODERN WOMAN: I’ll try. God is dead.

OLDTEASER: And the rest of it.

MODERN WOMAN: Gott . . . ist . . . tot. Okay?

OLDTEASER: Okay. Now that you have denied God utterly, you can move directly to the wholly opposite. You can affirm him.


OLDTEASER: Well, actually, just saying "God is dead (Gott ist tot)" is so radical, that it is the very same as saying he is wholly alive, even if we are in deeply modern times. That’s dialectic. Negation is affirmation. Coincidence of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum). Isn’t it exciting?

MODERN WOMAN :I suppose so.

OLDTEASER: Of course it is. And you have made the right beginning in negation. You start with the radical denial, negate that, and that negation of course posits the negation of the negation, which is the radical affirmation. Or did I put in too many negations? Never mind. The point is that you, Miss Awdy, are on the tao (way) to wisdom. Notice how I pronounce that "t" as if it were a "d" -- that’s because it’s Chinese, you know. The Chinese don’t spell like we do, because they’re so archaic.

MODERN WOMAN: Oh. Do you mean that I’m going to like saying God is dead because I’ll still be thinking he isn’t?

OLDTEASER: Oh, yes. That’s wisdom. Saying the opposite of what you think. You see, when you take this college course it is not so that you can be instructed about the mere content of the Bible. That would only be knowledge. The goal of our quest in Bible 101 is wisdom. You can’t get there with mere knowledge, which is radically profane, and deeply modern. It’s what the sciences have. The humanities are supposed to teach you to think.

MODERN WOMAN: Oh, is that what they’re for? I have often wondered. They’re so boring.

OLDTEASER: That is because the people who teach most of them only know how to think profanely, and are so utterly irrelevant.

MODERN WOMAN: Right. And some of them are crude.

OLDTEASER: My courses are designed to make you think deeply and profoundly. That is to say, of course, I teach you to think dialectically.

MODERN WOMAN: Doing something to opposites, you mean.

OLDTEASER: You’ve got the crucial notion.

MODERN WOMAN: To make them stop being opposite?

OLDTEASER: Something like that.

MODERN WOMAN: Could I use it in my other courses?

OLDTEASER: Of course. Everybody should use it. I wish I could get our so-called political scientists to teach statesmen how to think dialectically.


OLDTEASER: Because then they could solve the world’s problems. For instance, American statesmen should make everybody else in the world mad at the United States. They should simply utterly alienate all the other countries in the world. Alienate them radically and completely and wholly. Then we would stand radically opposite to them in perfect enmity. And of course the moment the absolute extreme was reached it would immediately become transformed into its dialectical opposite -- friendship. Everybody in the world would love us, and there would be perfect peace.

MODERN WOMAN: That would be nice.

OLDTEASER: But of course, as Nietzsche, the greatest prophet of the modern world, has taught us, profound chaos is our destiny in the world. So it doesn’t actually matter what statesmen do.

MODERN WOMAN: Yes, it’s chaos that I’ve been feeling.

OLDTEASER: That’s because you’re so wholly contemporary, Miss Awdy. That’s the best way to be, because it keeps you relevant. But you need help.

MODERN WOMAN: I certainly do.

OLDTEASER: Well, now you have taken a number of courses at Arena University, and all have given you knowledge.

MODERN WOMAN: Well . . .

OLDTEASER: Of course they have. But now is precisely the time to start using dialectic. Negate your knowledge. The result obviously will be wisdom, because wisdom is of course the radical opposite of knowledge. You see?


OLDTEASER: Well, that is to say, it is time for you to wholly obliterate from your mind all the knowledge you have put in it. That will be your negation. Rebel! Rebel against knowledge, Miss Awdy! Rebel against Arena University!

MODERN WOMAN: I’d like to do that. I really would. But I don’t think I can do anything radical just now. Because, like I told you, I think I’m losing my mind.

OLDTEASER: Oh, yes. I remember. Good! Good! Deeply exciting. Could you describe in a little more detail these feelings of unreality you’ve been having?

MODERN WOMAN: Well, just this morning I was sitting down, just sitting down, and all of a sudden it happened.

OLDTEASER: What happened?

MODERN WOMAN: Just the minute I sat down, at the second that I touched . . .

OLDTEASER: Touched what?

MODERN WOMAN: When I touched . . . well, bottom . . . I had a vivid impression of having touched bottom just like that before.

OLDTEASER: Oh, of course. Modern Man -- or Woman -- is often thinking of the past. It’s a sign of the end of our Civilization. Just like the man who reviews his life between the time he’s jumped off the top of a building and before he’s reached the ground. Thinking historically is the greatest fault of contemporary sensibility. The terror of history.

MODERN WOMAN: It was terrible, all right. It was like I was touching bottom at this moment and touching bottom in the past moment, both at the same time. I felt like I was back there. And here, at the same time. Oh dear, I’m not explaining it very well.

OLDTEASER: [Profound pause] Miss Awdy, you don’t have to explain it. I understand perfectly. You have had a Proustian experience. I am amazed! [Pause] Did you like it?

MODERN WOMAN: I don’t know.

OLDTEASER: Of course you did. Your joy and ecstasy confirm existentially that it was nothing other than a Proustian experience.

MODERN WOMAN: Pardon me, Dr. Oldteaser. What is a Proustian experience?

OLDTEASER: You don’t know what a Proustian experience is? I am deeply shocked, Miss Awdy. You haven’t read Proust?

MODERN WOMAN: I don’t think so.

OLDTEASER: Everybody has read Proust. He was the last flower of the Ironic Age, but wholly contemporary. And utterly profane. He wrote the most immoral novel that has ever been written.

MODERN WOMAN: Really? I would like to read that.

OLDTEASER : Well you can’t read it. You have to live it. You will live through the passing away of absolutely everything and be pervaded by sorrow. Doesn’t that sound exciting?

MODERN WOMAN: I’m not sure.

OLDTEASER: Well you can listen to it then. Because it is a wholly contemporary vision of the Western Self, fully orchestrated by a Buddhist.

MODERN WOMAN: I can’t think how a novel would sound in an orchestra. I can’t think how a vision of a self would sound either.

OLDTEASER: Don’t try. You can just read it after all. And in it you will find Proustian experiences which exactly parallel what you have described in your own experience this morning.


OLDTEASER: Yes, it was essentially a vision, a vision of the Eternal in Time. It was a Moment with a capital letter. An illumination (illumination). Or -- and here is one of the seventeen greatest words in the language of dialectical theology: an epiphany.


OLDTEASER: Epiphany. Or hierophany. They are different, of course, but exactly parallel. I usually say "epiphany." That’s because Modern Man has found so many epiphanies in Flaubert, Rilke, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Joyce, and all those other last flowers of the Ironic Age. And there are even more in the genuinely contemporary writers, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Blake, Nietzsche, and all the artists of the Modern Age. E . . . Pi . . . Funny. Can you remember it?

MODERN WOMAN :I think so. Epiphany.

OLDTEASER: That’s precisely right. Now Proust’s novel, since it is radically profane, is . . . wholly sacred! He embraces time with those Proustian experiences. Stubbing his toe on stones, breaking plates with his spoon, drooling into his napkin, and choking on all those nasty little cakes. He embraces time radically by embracing these times so utterly and by making other mimes manifest inside them! So he dialectically reveals the Eternal as incarnate in fragments of time, and . . .

MODERN WOMAN: What did you say the name of it was?

OLDTEASER: I was careful not to say. In English it is called The Remembrance of Things Past, which is wholly misleading, because it completely fails to suggest the quest Proust made. That is, his quest for the mystic ecstasy of his little accidental moments of Proustian experience. The true name is in the French. It is called A la recherche du temps perdu (research for lost time). You must remember that when you’re reading or living it. Remember it’s really scientific research, and you won’t forget how contemporary it is, and profane.

MODERN WOMAN: But I can’t read anything now. [Starts to sob again]I’m losing my mind.

OLDTEASER: Now, Miss Awdy, stop crying. It’s so bourgeois. You must learn to think dialectically, so you won’t feel anything. Of course you’re losing your mind. That’s because you’re so contemporary. But it is precisely at this point that you must negate. Negate madness. Annihilate it. And what then stands forth? What could it be other than that you are gaining your mind? Your funny experience of unreality was a Proustian epiphany, remember? And there is nothing more real than that.

MODERN WOMAN: I suppose the reason it seems so unreal is that it wasn’t just that one moment before -- of touching bottom -- that I seemed to return to this morning. It was more bottom-touchings. It was like all the bottom-touchings I’d ever felt and every bottom-touching anyone else had ever felt. Since the beginning of the world.

OLDTEASER: Since the beginning of the world? That sounds like the exact parallel of the experience of archaic man, as revealed by Eliade. I am amazed, Miss Awdy! You experienced the Eternal Return in bottom-touchings! The archaic experience is to go back to the Primal Bottom-Touching. Out of time. It is utterly sacred, And you’ve had it! You know Eliade of course,


OLDTEASER: I deeply hope you do. He is the greatest living contemporary interpreter of the whole world of primitive and archaic religion. Also of alchemy in both East and West, as well as in the North and South. And of all the various forms of Yoga, and all fifty-two positions. He is the exact parallel of Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon profanely took all knowledge for his province. Eliade takes all wisdom for his.

MODERN WOMAN: [In tears again] But what does he have to do with touching my bottom?

OLDTEASER: Since he is a true historian of religions, he is able to write with authority and understanding and relevance about the whole vast realm of the sacred. So he can help us to recognize the archaic experience of the sacred, no matter what arena it is manifested in. And I think that it manifested itself in your arena this morning, Miss Awdy. Yes, you have indubitably been opened to the archaic sacred.

MODERN WOMAN: Which shows that I am losing my mind?

OLDTEASER: Not at all. It reveals your utter sanity. I thought you had experienced nothing but the profanity of the Proustian experience. But now I see that you were engaged in a deep dialectic. Your experience was also a genuine coincidence of the opposites (coincidentia oppositorum). It was merely profane in bringing together your contemporary bottom-touching with a past bottom-touching. You were still bound to history, with all its terror. But with your sensation of the repetition (anamnesis) of all bottom-touchings, you have manifested a Cosmogonic Act. That is a Return to the Eternal. You have abolished and shattered history, Miss Awdy! Isn’t that wonderful?

MODERN WOMAN: I should say so. Only I wish I’d done it sooner. Before I took History 101 and 102. Still it will help some of my friends. How did I finally get rid of it?

OLDTEASER: Like this: During your epiphany you simply were not living in time at all, because you were far too archaic. You were living in Eternity, which is to say, in illo tempore (in those (lays). And I can tell you, Miss Awdy, Eternity is the only time worth living in. Especially now, in deeply modern times, when history is such a terror. It’s just been asking to be abolished and shattered. And the best way to do that is to become radically archaic with Eliade. Rebel, Miss Awdy! Be a primitive man. Or Woman. Negate!

MODERN WOMAN: I quite often am, quite primitive. And utterly archaic. Especially on dates.

OLDTEASER: Please do not tell me about your personal life, Miss Awdy.

MODERN WOMAN: But, Dr. Oldteaser, I want to tell you all about myself. That’s what I came to your office for. You help me so much. To think, and all. It’s so exciting to negate and rebel. I want to know you. Please, Dr. Oldteaser . . . Tim? . . . Call me Elly.

OLDTEASER: No, Miss Awdy. I can’t do that. You may be a shaman, but you are still a student in Bible 101.

MODERN WOMAN: [Sighs] I see.

OLDTEASER: But you are the first shaman I’ve had in Bible 101. It is exciting. By making contact with the profane like Proust, and with the sacred at the same time, like Eliade. you are existentially immersed in the most profound dialectical relationship to yourself. Having become radically archaic you have of course inevitably manifested yourself as radically modern. That’s dialectic.

MODERN WOMAN: I see. All my friends are very modern. But I don’t think any of them are as archaic as I am on dates.

OLDTEASER: But Miss Awdy, impressive as your revelation of the sacred is, and profane as your bottom-teaching is, and as deeply dialectical as you are, I am afraid you have not gone far enough.

MODERN WOMAN: I haven’t? My friends think I’ve gone much too far.

OLDTEASER: No. Your creation of the profane bottom-touching is radical and your creation of the sacred bottom-touching is radical, but they’re just not radical enough. Radical, yes, but not truly radical.

MODERN WOMAN: I’m sorry. What can I do?

OLDTEASER: I don’t know. I’m afraid we have reached the limits of your sensibility. Unless . . .

MODERN WOMAN: Unless what?

OLDTEASER: Unless you could remember something especially concrete and thus utterly profane, grounded in your modern consciousness this morning. It would have to be at the Moment of bottom-touching. As you were sitting down, did you think of any particular concrete, historical, and thus more radically profane thing that your bottom had touched?

MODERN WOMAN: Well, now that you mention it, I do believe I did think of something. I thought of sitting down on . . .

OLDTEASER: On what, Miss Awdy?

MODERN WOMAN: On my father’s knee.

OLDTEASER: [Profound pause] Really? That is profane. Your father’s knee! Your father. I’m having an insight! I’ve got it! Do you know what this sitting on your father’s knee means?

MODERN WOMAN: What does it mean, Dr. Oldteaser?

OLDTEASER: It means that your vision was not only Proustian and Eliadian, it was Freudian. And that is more radically profane.

MODERN WOMAN: I know it’s not a very nice word.

OLDTEASER: Of course it’s nice. Because it’s so profane. All profanity is sacred. Remember that.

MODERN WOMAN : I’ll try.

OLDTEASER: You have revealed your deep Oedipus Complex this morning.

MODERN WOMAN: [Bursts into tears again] I knew it. I was crazy. I’ve lost my mind.

OLDTEASER: Shut up, Miss Awdy. You have not lost your mind. You are simply on the tao (way) to wisdom. By a dialectical route. Everybody has an Oedipus Complex.


OLDTEASER: Of course. Haven’t you read Freud?

MODERN WOMAN:I don’t think so.

OLDTEASER: You haven’t read Freud? I’m deeply shocked, Miss Awdy. Everybody’s read Freud. And the good news is that everything he wrote is indubitably true and real. Insofar as it has met with such a profound response from the contemporary sensibility. Can’t you see that your sensibility has responded profoundly to him? He is even more deeply profane than Proust.

MODERN WOMAN: Did he write immoral novels too?

OLDTEASER: Unfortunately, no. He was much too busy with his hysterical patients and with his Analysis. You know what that is, don’t you?

MODERN WOMAN: Oh, yes. It’s very expensive. Some of my friends . . .

OLDTEASER: Well, it didn’t cost him anything. Because he was able to do it to himself. Which exactly parallels the polyeroticism of his greatest interpreter, Norman Brown. It was the first analysis. The Primal Analysis.


OLDTEASER: And while engaged in the quest, he discovered that Oedipus, a Greek king (rex), lay right in the center of his vision. That was the discovery of the Oedipus Complex.

MODERN WOMAN: How lucky. Did he patent it?

OLDTEASER: No. He couldn’t genuinely do that, because he was so unoriginal. I’m sorry to have to tell you that Freud was only the authentic descendant of Nietzsche, the greatest prophet of the modern world. He prophesied the whole modern world, including Freud.

MODERN WOMAN: That’s Too bad.

OLDTEASER: No. It’s really good. Good for Nietzsche’s reputation, which needs a boost. Freud never read Nietzsche, of course. Nietzsche was so rich that Freud could make no more sense of him than anybody else and gave it up completely. That’s why we say he was an authentic descendant. We’re speaking dialectically of course. It’s because Freud got none of his ideas from Nietzsche.

MODERN WOMAN: I’m not sure I understand that.

OLDTEASER: You will when you’re older and more contemporary. What excites me now is that in your very vision of the profane and sacred bottom-touching, in your epiphany of the Eternal in a fragment of time this morning, you touched bottom to your father’s knee and felt wholly other all over.

MODERN WOMAN: That’s right.

OLDTEASER: [Pause] Now think carefully, Miss Awdy. I want you to think very carefully.

MODERN WOMAN: Not dialectically then?

OLDTEASER: No. Just try to remember. [Pause, deepens voice] Are you sure it was your father’s knee you sat down on this morning?

MODERN WOMAN: This morning?

OLDTEASER: Yes, this morning. And in Eternity (in illo tempore) too, of course. Don’t evade the crucial issue, Miss Awdy. Was it your father’s knee?

MODERN WOMAN: [In a low voice] No.

OLDTEASER: What was it then?

MODERN WOMAN: [Almost inaudibly] You know.

OLDTEASER: Of course I do. And that is profane. What could be more radically and genuinely profane than that? Though not particularly contemporary.

MODERN WOMAN: Nothing, I guess.

OLDTEASER: [Loudly] What did you say?

MODERN WOMAN: [Raises her voice] I said, "Nothing."

OLDTEASER: Good! Good! Miss Awdy, that is the profoundest statement you have made in our times. Nothingness is precisely what is more profane than the mere object of your Oedipus Complex.

MODERN WOMAN: I would have thought it was better than nothing.

OLDTEASER: No, Nothing is better than it. You have of course read La nausée, the first and most important novel of Jean-Paul Sartre?

MODERN WOMAN: I don’t think so.

OLDTEASER: You haven’t read La nausée (Nausea)? Then surely you have read L’être et le néant (Being and Nothingness)?

MODERN WOMAN:I don’t think so.

OLDTEASER: You haven’t read Being and Nothingness? But it is Sartre’s magnum opus (big work). It reveals to Modern Man -- or Woman -- that Nothing is the key to Sartre’s system. It is the "hole of being," right in the middle of everything in his book. Have you ever thought of that?

MODERN WOMAN: Well, now that you mention it, this morning, while I was sitting and feeling wholly other all over, I did begin to imagine that a big hole gaped below me.

OLDTEASER: Are you sure?

MODERN WOMAN: Oh, yes. The biggest hole you ever saw. It made me sort of dizzy.

OLDTEASER: Of course. Nausea at the sheer isness of the world. In that hole. Because the world, properly negated, is nothing other than a hole -- absolute Nothingness. You were really negating more radically than I realized, to see that, Miss Awdy. To see the world as a hole. But what was happening to your father at this Moment? What was happening to his knee and all?

MODERN WOMAN: I was sort of pushing him out. Into the hole.

OLDTEASER: Good! You were annihilating him, profane as he is. And making him into Nothing, which is even more deeply profane.

MODERN WOMAN: Oh. he’s not so bad.

OLDTEASER: I am speaking theologically. Don’t bring in any moral judgments.

MODERN WOMAN: All right. Well, anyway. I was pushing him out, and while I was doing it, my mind was going completely blank, just as empty as that hole. But just as it went blank my father somehow rose up, somehow changed -- changed so that he wasn’t just a man anymore, but a woman too. He was both at the same time, floating up from under me to fill the whole world around. Oh! [ bursts into tears] That’s worse than an Oedipus Complex. I must have been completely insane by that time.

OLDTEASER: Not at all, Miss Awdy. You weren’t even in time, remember? You had destroyed history. You had manifested the Eternal in your bottom-touching Moment. All that radical sacred. And you had in those days (in illo tempore) also embraced your radically profane father. Still more radically profane, you could push him out of your . . . uh . . . vision and embrace a hole, a hole full of Nothing. And you did it with joyful nausea. I congratulate you on your profanity.

MODERN WOMAN: Thank you.

OLDTEASER: But now you have revealed that you were also witness, in the midst of doing all these other exciting things, to a big Archetype. The Male-Female Archetype. That’s what came floating up from under you. Do you know what it means?


OLDTEASER: The big Archetype.

MODERN WOMAN: What does it mean?

OLDTEASER: Well, Miss Awdy, when the Male and Female are wholly interpenetrated and androgynous (male and female) [male et femelle], they are manifesting a cosmological principle. And cosmological principles are Archetypes. Can you see that?

MODERN WOMAN: I’m not sure I can.

OLDTEASER: Well, I hope you aren’t thinking of a Jungian archetype.

MODERN WOMAN:I don’t think I am.

OLDTEASER: Good. Jung, I’m sorry to say, has next to no claim to contemporaneity, though he lived a very long time. He just gradually became increasingly irrelevant with age. Every step he took after he left Freud took him farther and farther away from the world of Modern Man -- and Woman. Ultimately, myth prevailed in his system, and his thought lost all semblance of rational meaning. Isn’t that too bad?

MODERN WOMAN: I suppose so.

OLDTEASER: Your Archetype is Eliadian. And he says that the interpenetrated Male and Female are nothing other than the primary symbol of the primordial Totality. That is to say, they are Everything. Totality. See what your Nothingness has turned out to be?


OLDTEASER: Everything. Because right in the center of Nothing, in that hole, you manifested precisely the right Archetype. I again congratulate you on your morning’s work, Miss Awdy. How did you do it?

MODERN WOMAN: I don’t know. When I think back on the way it happened, it seems to me I just pushed and pushed and out went my father’s . . . uh . . . knee and all. Out went my father. In came the Archetype -- or whatever you call it -- and then out again. In and out, until even the hole was gone. Nothing below me and nothing above. In fact, my mind was a complete blank.

OLDTEASER: Good! Good! A complete blank. That is truly a radical vision of the sacred and Eternal, by far the best way you have described your morning’s Moment. And you just pushed?

MODERN WOMAN: Yes. I couldn’t help it. I had to. I suppose it was mad. But I just pushed them out and my mind went utterly blank while I did it.

OLDTEASER: "Pushed them out"! What are you saying, Miss Awdy? [ pause] Listen carefully to me, Miss Awdy. Open yourself to me wholly. I have just had a profound insight into your Vision. Where were you this morning when you had it?

MODERN WOMAN:I never said,

OLDTEASER: I know. Now I want you to.

MODERN WOMAN: Do I have to?

OLDTEASER: Indubitably. I must know. I must know because it is of the greatest importance that you embrace still more radically the historical moment in which the epiphany was manifested. Let’s do that now.


OLDTEASER: Do I have to explain to you again the principles of Dialectic? You have now revealed to me that in your Moment you reached the goal of the most radical, radical sacred. Your mind was completely blank.

MODERN WOMAN: That’s right. It did.

OLOTEAsER: Now to reach the higher goal of coincidentia oppositorum (coincidence of opposites) you must have let stand forth the most radical, radical profane. Tell me now, where was your epiphany manifested? In what room?

MODERN WOMAN: Oh, Dr. Oldteaser, do I have to say?

OLDTEASER: Yes, you do.

MODERN WOMAN: In the bathroom.

OLDTEASER: I knew it. This is deeply exciting. And you were sitting down?

MODERN WOMAN: [Whispers] Yes.

OLDTEASER: And you touched bottom.


OLDTEASER: You actually touched bottom to the toilet seat, didn’t you, Miss Awdy? You just thought of touching your father’s knee and all.

MODERN WOMAN: [Sobs] Yes, I did. I didn’t want to tell you that part of it. What my bottom touched.

OLDTEASER: Well, I’m glad I found it out. Don’t be embarrassed. Genuinely modern people are frank, you know. We embrace the profane. And I think you did that too, this morning.

MODERN WOMAN: I suppose so.

OLDTEASER: Good. So now listen carefully to me again. This is of the greatest importance. It is precisely at this point that I must ask you, precisely what action were you engaged in -- existentially -- while you sat there, having your epiphany?

MODERN WOMAN: What do you mean?

OLDTEASER: I mean what were you pushing out -- existentially -- Into the hole beneath you? Tell me.

MODERN WOMAN: Oh dear, Professor Oldteaser; I can’t say it.

OLOTEASER: Come on now. Don’t be bourgeois. Rebel. Say it.

MODERN WOMAN: Well. [Whispers] Faeces.

OLOTEASER: Oh, my God. Nobody says faeces anymore except psychoanalysts. Don’t you know that the grossness and absurdity of psychoanalytic language is beyond satire? The language of dialectical theology, I’m proud to say, is not. Say "shit."


OLDTEASER: Good! Now that we have settled that, this is precisely the point at which I must tell you that your epiphany, at such a moment, is of the profoundest significance. Your mind was completely blank, so you were in direct contact with the radical, radical sacred. At the same moment you were engaged in pushing out shit, which is the profanest thing you could have been doing. The radical, radical sacred and the radical, radical profane, Miss Awdy. They coincided in you this morning! The coincidence of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum), you see. That is precisely the goal of the dialectical movement. Aren’t you pleased?

MODERN WOMAN:I guess so.

OLDTEASER: And am the same mime, you have been witness to the deeply anal character of Western Man -- or Woman -- as in Brown. Norman Brown, who will someday stand forth and be manifested as Freud’s greatest interpreter. He has penetrated into the anal character of Western Man in the most exciting part of his book, Life Against Death.

MODERN WOMAN : Life against what?

OLDTEASER: Life against death. He has his dialectic too, like all truly contemporary artists. Instead of the sacred and the profane, he has life and death. You could probably make them coincide, too, now that you have learned how.

MODERN WOMAN: But not now please. Actually I don’t think I’m through with the sacred and the profane. There was a little more, one thing more, in my Moment this morning. Do you want me to tell you?

OLDTEASER: Yes, very much. Please do.

MODERN WOMAN: Well, while I was having my epiphany and all, sitting there . . on the toilet . . . pushing out . . . shit, and my mind a total blank, a funny little phrase suddenly came into my vision, and I don’t know what it means. I’m afraid it is quite mad.

OLDTEASER: What was it?

MODERN WOMAN: It may sound funny. I don’t know what it means. It was this: "The just lives by faith."

OLDTEASER: What? Miss Awdy, are you serious?

MODERN WOMAN: I think so.

OLDTEA5ER: Are you sure? Is that indubitably the phrase you heard?

MODERN WOMAN: Oh, yes. I’m sure. It was plain, running through in a tinkly little voice, like water on tin.

OLDTEASER: Miss Awdy, I am amazed! Your epiphany, then, is an exact parallel to that of Martin Luther. Those were precisely the words he was meditating on when be had his experience in the tower.

MODERN WOMAN: What was that?

OLDTEASER: He had a message from the Holy Spirit while he was on the privy in the tower of a monastery in Wittenberg in the sixteenth century. And that was the beginning of the Reformation. The anal character was particularly deep in Luther and all the Protestants who came after him. He was doing precisely what you were doing when he had his experience in the tower. And the same phrase came to you as had come to him in the midst of a profound epiphany! What a Moment!

MODERN WOMAN: Mine or his?

OLDTEASER: Both. But especially yours. How did you feel about it at the time this morning?

MODERN WOMAN: Of course my mind was a complete blank, except for the little phrase. It was sort of nice to have the little phrase there while I was feeling so wholly other all over, and . . . oh . . . doing what I was doing. I felt strongly that I would like to have it keep happening. I would like it to keep happening over and over, for ever.

OLDTEASER: You felt that, Miss Awdy? That’s wonderful! You willed that Moment to come back to you eternally. What could that be other than Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence, his greatest doctrine? I often put it in capital letters. That’s when I’m thinking of it joyfully, and metaphysically. When it seems to me as if the future would be awfully tiresome with all these moments coming back again and again, then I put it in small letters, and think of it existentially, to show my anguish (Angst). Or is it the other way -- capitals for existential thinking, and . . . -- anyhow the distinction is crucial.

MODERN WOMAN: I’ll bet it is.

OLDTEASER: You’d win. Of course Nietzsche said I should be horrified at the thought of eternal recurrence. He thought of it while he was swallowing a snake, and he was utterly horrified, thinking of coming back to Germany again and again and again, having to write over and over all those books that have to be in archaic English, even though he was not archaic himself, since he was so contemporary and wholly relevant. And then think of having all those rumors about his sister repeated eternally, when there has been such an effort to quash them. But now you, Miss Awdy. You are going to have this morning forever. You have willed it, joyfully. Isn’t that a nightmare? It takes the deepest courage to embrace it, but I believe that you, Miss Awdy, are open to it. Have you ever swallowed a snake?

MODERN WOMAN:I don’t think so.

OLDTEASER: I’m sure you can do it.

MODERN WOMAN: I’m glad you believe in me.

OLDTEASER: I do, more and more. You have come so far in the quest, the quest for wisdom. You were engaged from the first in trying to return to illo tempore (those days), in your archaic experience of eternal bottom-touching. But in that effort you are actually trying to go backward, to primitive nontime. That was only an Eternal Return, which was created by Eliade, I put that in capital letters. I forget what it means when I put it in small letters, so I guess the distinction is not crucial.

MODERN WOMAN: Apparently not. But what is the distinction between Eliade’s doctrine and Nietzsche’s?

OLDTEASER: They are an exact dialectical parallel. Nietzsche’s doctrine is Eternal Recurrence, instead of Return. He wills the eternal repetition of the profane moment in time, and so looks forward to the future, instead of the past. It is his triumphant hymn of joy in praise of a vast and meaningless cosmos.

MODERN WOMAN: Meaningless?

OLDTEASER: Of course. In the stance you took this morning, you yourself are witness to the truth of the vision of the world as shit.

MODERN WOMAN: Oh, Dr. Oldteaser.

OLOTEASER: You are. And it is the profoundest truth you have ever manifested. But you have embraced wholly that truth. For you have willed the eternal Recurrence of shit. You needed to do that, or you would have been left only with the Eternal Return of the sacred bottom-touching. Now you have embraced them both: the most radical, radical profane -- shit -- and the most radical, radical sacred -- the utter blank of your mind when your bottom is touched. All together, immersed and dissolved in your morning’s Moment! But what a Moment!

MODERN WOMAN: Yes. I am beginning to see that it was something. At first I just thought that I was losing my mind. And I’m not sure, quite, that I haven’t lost in. Though you do help me so much. I think I see that you mean that I finally got in my Moment to the coincidence of opposites you talk about in Latin so much, or whatever language it is. So they ought to stop being opposite now. Does that mean I’m through with my dialectic?

OLDTEASER: No, Miss Awdy. The end is of course precisely the beginning. There is one thing about your Moment you have forgotten.

MODERN WOMAN: What is that?

OLDTEASER: That it is a Lutherian Moment. As well as Prousmian, Eliadian, Freudian, Sartrian, and Brown.


OLDTEASER: So you have willed the Eternal Recurrence of the Reformation!

MODERN WOMAN: The Reformation? What’s that?

OLDTEASER: That’s what Martin Luther started in the privy. And so all the real Christians left Rome. I’ve often feared I might have to go back, but I won’t worry any more, since we are to have the Reformation again in our time. This is precisely what is the dearest hope of Eliade: the rebirth of a new Man -- or Woman. I have been so busy with the employment of this or that modern artist as a route to a new form of theology, that I just haven’t had time to make any contacts like yours. Now we can work together. You make the contacts, when you have time, and I’ll open myself to the truly paradoxical language that the new theology will need to employ in the contemporary Christian dialectic. It never occurred to me that the new contemporary and radical theology would be precisely the Recurrence of the Reformation, until you revealed it to me, Miss Awdy. Now we must get busy. Let’s see now. Luther spread the glad tidings of the advent of the new man and new theology, by nailing 95 theses to the church door. Or was it 94? That is precisely what we will do. Now, where’s some paper? Here. We need a long one. That legal pad. Now. 95 theses. Maybe only 94. Here we go: Number one. All traditional theological thinking has become wholly meaningless, now that civilization has ended in our deep and modern times." I wonder if that is strong enough. "Number two. The first requirement of a contemporary theological method is a full understanding of the death of God. Gott ist tot. Of course everybody knows that by now. "Number three. Modern Man-or Woman (that is a reference to you, Miss Awdy) -- is engaged in the quest of a Christian dialectic between the sacred and the profane in the context of our present situation." I will use you, Miss Awdy, to show them how profane our present situation is. Though of course some people are more profane than others. And some are more contemporary, too. I do feel sorry for those who aren’t sufficiently contemporary and modern and radical, Miss Awdy. They must feel utterly sad, in their antiquity pockets, being so irrelevant. Now you and I, Miss Awdy . . .

[PROFESSOR OLDTEASER pauses and looks up. MODERN WOMAN has risen from her chair, walked into the exact center of the room, hoisted her skirts, and manifested herself right into the most characteristically modern of genuinely contemporary dance positions -- the defecating. Her eyes stare, and her expression seems a perfect blank. She is concentrating on a single point. She shudders slightly. PROFESSOR OLDTEASER jumps to his feet and cries out]:

Wait! No! Not here, Miss Awdy. Don’t have an epiphany here. Not in my office! Not on my floor! Stop!

[MODERN WOMAN does not move]

Listen to me, Miss Awdy. I think this sort of thing is not an epiphany after all. You are not having visions. You are losing your mind. You really are. I know I said it was not madness, but a vision, and I was negating. Well, now I negate the negation. You are losing your mind. Miss Awdy, listen to me. You are as mad as a hatter. Get out! Va-t’en! Schnell! Get out of my office!

[MODERN WOMAN is still motionless. She is grounded in dead center, and looks neither forward nor backward. The stage slowly dims until it is wholly black, as black as the terrible night created by the death of God, At once, inevitably, as in a coincidentia oppositorum. there is a blinding flash. Light appears in precisely those corners which are most filled with darkness. It gradually focuses down upon the exact center of the stage, where MODERN WOMAN is still manifest, skirts around her waist, and there is revealed to us in these our modern times nothing but

The Profoundest,
And Most Radical

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