The new icon of the Resurrection © St Andrew Holborn
In blessing a new icon (above) depicting the Resurrection, Rowan Williams reflected on the relationship between history, age and the body (or more specifically the face). His sermon echoed and harmonized with aspects of Michel Foucault’s essay ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, as well as Mike Featherstone’s recent analysis of cosmetic surgery. Rather than comment on these points of harmony, I will lazily present three quotes.
Michel Foucault on the body and the imprint of history.
The body is the surface of the inscription of events (raced by language and dissolved by ideas), the locus of the dissociation of the Me (to which it tries to impart the chimera of a substantial unity), and a volume in perpetual disintegration. Genealogy, as an analysis of descent, is thus situated within the articulation of the body and history. Its task is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body.
Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in Michel Foucault: Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology, Penguin, London: pp.375-76
Mike Featherstone on plastic surgery and the attempt to erase history’s inscriptions.
Cosmetic surgery and associated techniques promise to repair the [ageing] process, by restoring a more youthful face, hence allowing greater congruence and expressive potential for the inner ‘ageless self’. An interesting development here is the increasing use of Botox (a diluted form of the neurotoxin botulinum toxin)…Botox is marketed as an anti-ageing technique to ‘clear’ wrinkles. It does so by blocking the nerve impulses that control muscle movement and therefore restricting the ability to contract facial muscles. The problem with Botox is that it makes it impossible for the face to form certain expressions and so limits the capacity to emote. It impairs the recording of the reactions to everyday events on the face, which normally leads to an accumulation of patterned muscular responses, which eventually mark the face with lines and wrinkles. Botox not only limits the potential for expression, but also the need for impression, the face as a recording device, a surface on which events are written, which shows the marks of time. Rather, the lived face, which is marked by experience, the emotional reaction to events, which is an archive of the accumulated memories one has lived through, which some people claim to be able to ‘read’ for signs of character traits, gives way to the new beauty ideal in line with the goals of the cosmetic industry.
Rowan Williams on the resurrection and transfiguration of the historical body.
The resurrection is the beginning of the new creation; the resurrection is the rising not only of Jesus, but of Adam and Eve. Then you look more closely at Adam and Eve in the icon, and you see that this is Adam and Eve grown old. They are not the radiant, naked figures of the first beginning of the story. Their faces are lined by suffering and experience, by guilt, by the knowledge of good and evil, scarred by life and by history. This is Adam and Eve having lost their innocence – the Adam and Eve who are of course ourselves, we who carry around with us the marks of history, of experience, of the knowledge of good and evil, hurts received and hurts done. Those are our faces on the icon, Adam and Eve ‘four thousand winters’ on, as the carol rightly puts it. Because the history of Adam and Eve is a wintry one, and we know that in ourselves.
So, when we speak of the resurrection as a new beginning, a new creation, it is in the sense that the risen Jesus reaches down and touches precisely those faces: Adam and Eve grown old. He doesn’t wave a wand and make them young again, strip off their clothes and leave then standing in their first innocence. What he deals with is humanity as it has become, our humanity, suffering and struggling, failed and failing. The resurrection is not about the wiping out of our history, pain or failure, it is about how pain and failure themselves – humanity marked by history – may yet be transfigured and made beautiful. Perhaps the most poignant feature of this and indeed all such icons is those aged faces. Adam and Eve four thousand years old in winter, turning to their spring, and being renewed.