God is dead, and even theology – at least the official, professional one – isn’t doing very well. In the last century, the theological imagination was, in fact, replaced by a modest form of humanistic sociology, concerned above all, more than with God, with the historical-political fate of human beings. God, the celestial hierarchies, the mysteries of incarnation and resurrection, the apocalypse: all this rich, luxuriant repertoire of images has been progressively dried up, replaced by a poorer discourse, unable to see in them anything other than an insane discourse on man, or a pedagogical projection. In short, Feuerbach’s true heirs were precisely the Christian theologians, increasingly reduced to the exercise of a sober, Protestant and demythologizing pedagogy.
But theology, fortunately, is not only the official, confessional one. There is another theology, equally ancient, but clandestine, which has distilled its most precious fruits in the last two or three centuries. The visionaries represented by this theology do not belong to any denomination (or yes, it doesn’t matter), and are found primarily among writers and poets. Not that poets and writers have been exempt, in the last century, from this historical-social humanistic wave which has involved theology, on the contrary; but the literary substance still had more room for lies, for mysteries and for theological artifices than theology and confessional religions had by now. The coexistence of mystery and parody of the mystery, inaugurated by Apuleius in the Metamorphoses, had opened up to this clandestine theology the possibility of hosting all the material that theology was gradually discarding, and therefore finally bringing it back home. This opaque and shiny material, modest and grandiose, now had citizenship in another land, which was, in reality, none other than its original homeland. The theology of Giorgio Manganelli is situated exactly in this region of the beginnings, in this primordial laboratory. Incipit parody.
In this theology God and the gods coexist together; the intact figurines of the crib and Dionysus in pieces; the song of muezzin and the mute populous Etruscan necropolis. Not because it is a theology, as they say, syncretistic, welcoming; but on the contrary, because in it the divine is made of a material that is still dense and stringy, older than all the forms that have been historically attributed to it and the places that have welcomed it. Manganelli is a theologian of «before» and «after» (but before and after what?). His theological imagination is, that is, more original and richer than the different and opposing theologies that have alternated historically. It matters little to him that God is dead; indeed, the death of God occurs ab aeterno (as it is written in Hilarotragoedia), and its crumbling is the only possible condition of theology.
“Literature organizes itself as a pseudo-theology, in which an entire universe is celebrated, its end and its beginning, its rites and its hierarchies, its mortal and immortal beings: everything is correct, and everything is lied”. Thus Manganelli wrote in the first gospel of pseudo-theology: Literature as a lie. What is pseudotheology? Pseudotheology is older than theology, just as a lie is older than the truth. Is theology perhaps an accident, a heresy of pseudo-theology? As truth is born from falsehood – with an arbitrary gesture of metaphysical violence – so theology is born from pseudo-theology. Pseudo-theology is theology in its embryonic state of power, or – as Stephen Dedalus would say – theology without its presuppositions: the only one to believe. The opposite of what Borges suspected is therefore true: fantastic literature and science fiction are only one branch – the neorealistic one – of theological literature. Because theology, or rather pseudo-theology, is above all literature: literature detached from any relationship of verisimilitude with the world.
To better imagine it, we should think of a theology of superstitions, a fragmented and illegitimate theology, in which the black cat and the amulets have the same theoretical legitimacy as the three trinitarian persons. A superstitious theology – therefore, too survivor? In the first story included in The nighttitled The effigy, Manganelli tells of a theologian – or he tells himself as a theologian – condemned as a heretic for his doctrine about the end of the world. “I tried in vain to explain to them that everything was “end of the world”, and that therefore we were unable to have knowledge of it, because there was no “outside” from which to contemplate it”, says the pseudo-theologian. Here then is a fundamental characteristic of pseudo-theology: its being, together, ultimate and total, summarizing and unknown even to itself.
Because pseudo? Because in it we celebrate and consume the disadequatio rei et intellectus, the divorce between the intellect and things. But not because things stubbornly resist our understanding, in the name of the so-called reality principle; on the contrary: because things exist first of all in language, absolute and sovereign, and there they shine mysterious, meaningless. Our relationship with the world arises from the gap, from the rift that words produce between the intellect and things. This circular pseudotheology is Johannine, or pseudo-Johannian: “In the beginning was the Logos.” But the Logos is not here an ordering principle of reality, which weaves together and finds the harmony of contrasts, as it was for the first Greek philosophers; it is a chatter, a chatter, noises and voices.
The fact that only language exists – the burning, consummation and resurrection of the world in words – does not at all mean that everything is in man, and therefore does not indicate a reabsorption of res in the’intellectus. Language, precisely because it is originally, is never a product, much less a human product, and indeed, it looks very little like it. This is one of the dogmas of Manganellian theology: language is never rational and it is never human. “Certainly something irreparable had happened: not in my mind, but in what the faithful called ‘the world'”, continues the pseudo-theologian. It is an alchemical transformation of world matter into verbal matter, a reabsorption of the cosmos into its vocal stage, chemically more original.
Manganelli is therefore a theologian; but not only in the sense that he affirms something about God. On the contrary, his theology of him is almost always negative, even when he formulates assertions, arguments and counter-arguments about the divine nature. Manganelli intends to keep that space empty – since God is above all a locus rhetorical; his is an experiment in negative theology obtained using all the means and tools of positive theology. By dint of defining him, of circumscribing his paradoxical nature, God disappears, reveals himself as nothing. Pseudo-theology is hypothetical and impossible; God is a highly effective rhetorical hypothesis, an enormous void (but the void can be huge?). Here, God is precisely the place of opposites, the conjunction of opposites, the affirmation of contradictions.
Despite this, although all the images can be accommodated by this theology, there is a predilection for the nocturnal, dark figurations of the divine, which in Manganelli certainly have a greater importance than the solar and diurnal figures. God is not so much «intellectual light full of love», but «cloud of non-knowledge»; Manganellian gnosis does not have the icy geometric necessity of Weilian or Kafkaesque gnosis, since it draws directly on the images of the luxuriant, superfluous and inexhaustible gnostic reservoir. Manganelli’s thought is no less theologically advanced than that of Simone Weil or Franz Kafka (two of the great representatives of clandestine theology of the last century): but Manganelli, as we have said, comes from an area even earlier than that of Weil and Kafka, because Manganelli is not interested in salvation.
In Weil and in Kafka there is the night of divine hiding, there are thresholds and pains, there are intermediaries, there are abysmal distances, there is disconsolate good; in Batons the night has no pathos of darkness, it is a night-substance. It is not absence, but self-revelation. If Manganelli isn’t interested in salvation it’s because he isn’t interested in it truthbut atimage. His theology does not look at suffering (nor, therefore, at the solution of suffering), since it does not look at man, but at design, at the recognition of the god (or of the name).
God, we said, is a rhetorical hypothesis. From two Manganellian apocrypha, one recounted by Lietta Manganelli, the other by Ginevra Bompiani, we know that Manganelli would have said, on different and probably distant occasions, that «God is a deformed child», and also that «God is the linguistic”. Perhaps the deformed child is the non-linguistic? Would that mean that form is “the linguistic”? Pseudo-theology would thus have as its object everything that resists form, the deformed and the formless – and, together, that which, in language, resists the linguistic. Are we sure that literature is language? Maybe it’s a formula that precedes articulated language, a magic word, or a continuation slip. Surely then God is a mistake, but an exact mistake.
In Manganelli there is also another theology, simultaneous to the first, which continually recurs in his work, although it finds fewer formulations. It could perhaps be called psychotheopathology. “The gods have become diseases,” Jung once wrote. All that is divine is found in this world disguised in the sordidest guise of disease. And it is this psychotheopathology that interests Manganelli: the gods or the God as symptoms; or rather, the symptoms as gods. Torn away from psychopathological and psychotherapeutic jargon, and returned to theological language, the symptoms acquire a new form, a new life, much more interesting than the first.
The good Lord hides in all that is involuntary, and in this pulsating involuntary nucleus he acts as a form that appears: so our tics, which we detest, suddenly become ritual and exact gestures; our fears and phobias, ceremonies to unknown gods; in short, what we see only as our sufferings – far from being simply the trace of a biographical experience that took place in childhood – express a whole very rich cosmogony, a populated world that it is above all a question of recognizing and honoring. It is the opposite of a justification of the disease, which would imply some consolatory form of reduction. It is the coming to life of the cosmos – something that in Manganelli coincides with the opening up of the vocabulary. Pseudo-theology also abandons any etiology: we are not only objects of meaning, products of certain causes and blackmailed by them, but metamorphic emblems, ciphers in the carpet.
Finally, there is a further possibility of pseudotheology, which does not concern the rhetorical hypothesis of God, nor the ways or symptoms in which the gods manifest themselves, but concerns the very possibility of speaking. All language, in fact, is theology: it is a machine that serves to make God exist (that is, if we listen to the etymology of the word divine, the world at its most intense and brilliant). A great Indian grammarian also said it: if suddenly the linguistic palimpsest failed, the light would stop illuminating. Language, somehow, is forced to give birth to God, it must produce him with the insufficient means of grammar and rhetoric, so that the world exists and manifests itself. Words have not only a communicative meaning, but also a theurgic and cosmogonic one.
But to this doctrine – which represents the most ancient theological-poetic idea we have – Manganelli opposes his pseudo-theology. Literature is pseudo-theology in that it is the ability to make the world exist not in its reality, in its semiotic and semantic efficacy, but in its appearance, in its purely emblematic nature. Therefore the possibility of making the world exist not only in its luminous consistency, but also in the invention of the night.