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On the Divine Paratext

May 19, 2011

I was really, really underhanded with that last blog. I can just imagine my agnostic friends reading that through completely unawares, thinking that this was one of my secular pieces. And then, at the last sentence, looking stunned. “That *bleep* set me up!”

Not intended, believe me.

I went on and on and on about paratexts and the world of literature, but it wasn’t until that last line when I was struck with this realization that it was the temporal world I was talking about. With that came another “aha” moment, where I was able to reach a high I rarely get to reach, when I manage to push and push the boundaries of the temporal world and then start talking about the divine on the same train of thought.

But it was so overwhelming that my brain was straining from the leap it had just made, and I had to cut myself off. “Too much. Thinking! Must go look at lolcats!”

So this post is to apologize to those of you who felt that you were set up, because you weren’t. If anything, I was just as surprised by that last sentence as you were. And in this post I also wish to clarify what I mean when I say that revelation has no paratext.

It’s laughable for me to put it in a literal sense: to say that the Bible or the Quran don’t have a paratext. Nothing could be further from the truth. Now, we need that auxiliary body of work, an evolving body of work that explains the revealed work to us, that makes it relevant to whatever time and place we happen to find ourselves in.

But the divine text is different. It’s not the text in any conventional sense. It was the brilliance that was so intense that its revelation at  times would take a physical toll on those who served as its vessels. The divine text, that, at its inception, was a stand-alone text.

It’s like the idea of how we must worship Allah, but He does not need worship. God does not need a flattering synopsis. He didn’t need no fancy cover for His text. He didn’t seek any blurbs and endorsements. He said “Be!” and it was, just as anything conceivable is created. And the work speaks for itself. If the act of revelation is the act of publishing, then really, the paratext started forming from the moment it took on a temporal form–after it was published.

No amount of paratext can ever do justice to its grandness. All the scholarly tafsirs (scholarly commentary) on the Qur’an are sprinkled with the qualifiers “Wa Allah hu alam:” This is what we say, but ultimately, Allah knows best. One can never, ever, ever say that enough. To me, that’s the best piece of paratext out there. An attempt to understand, but a self negation about that which is beyond our conception.

I’m tired of the word “paratext” for now. My brain hurts again. Must go back to my lolcats.

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