|dc.contributor.author||Faubion, James D.
Faubion, James D.. "The subject that is not one: On the ethics of mysticism." Anthropological Theory, 13, no. 4 (2013) Sage: 287-307. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1463499613509991.
Any anthropological approach to ethics that gives a central place to subjects and the
positions they might occupy is obliged sooner or later to address an apparent paradox,
instances of which are widespread. They occur in those many ethical systems that
valorize a condition that can hardly be characterized without equivocation: the subject
that is not one.We commonly think of such a (non-)subject as a mystic. A useful starting
point in coming to terms with the mystic rests in the distinctive place in which he or she
typically stands in relation to any given ethical domain – a place decidedly not at the
center, at the axial conjunction that the ethical Everyperson occupies. Victor Turner’s
treatment of liminality provides a useful analytical precedent, but it does not of itself
adequately clarify either the specific ethical difference or the specific ethical function of
mysticism as such. Crucial to both is the mystic’s generation in practice of what turns
out to be a very real paradox of self-reference, the thinking and acting out of the
proposition that ‘this ethics is not an ethics’. The upshot is that the mystic as (non-)
subject confronts the ethical system in which or by which he or she resides with its
logical and its social incompleteness. No wonder, then, that mystics are rarely beloved
of ethical absolutists, whose absolutism – by their very being, and whether or not
wittingly – they call into question. No wonder, on the other hand, that moral-ethical
liberals so often find them beyond the pale. The ethical paradox of the mystic is insuperable
– but all the more socioculturally significant in being so.
The subject that is not one: On the ethics of mysticism
John of the Cross
paradox of self-reference