And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
Traditionally, the parable of the unjust judge is interpreted as if it were an allegory rather than a parable, and specifically as an allegory for the power inherent to persistence in rightful supplication - it is retold as a try, try and try again fable of that power, in a civil rights sense, inherent to sustained subjective engagement with the cold indifference of established institutions. There are expanded versions of the allegory, where the emphasis is placed either on the ‘persistent widow’ (i.e. on her righteousness) who, by pursuing her interest, succeeds in neutralising objective bias personified by corrupt officials; or alternatively, an amen to that lesson is drawn from the ‘unjust judge’ (i.e. systemic bias and/or as a variant of the evil counsellors trope) whose failures by omission and/or their self interested cronyism, act as a constraint upon the possibility of righteousness in the world. In both versions, the story remains essentially the same - we shall overcome/they shall not prevail. However, the parable as parable, has another register, perhaps an underneath, which reveals the standpoint of the unjust judge... the only example, I have found of the this version (from the judge’s side) is in Tolstoy’s story, Father Sergius.
The unjust judge is unresponsive initially to the supplications of the widow, who appears to him first as if before the seat of religion and then as if before the throne of Caesar. But his unresponsiveness is not a product of his allegiance to the powers that be, nor is it a result of any corrupt hostility to the widow’s cause. Both widow and judge are thrown into their encounter, they have no choice in the matter, but the widow approaches the judge because she is driven by her complaint whilst the person of the judge is only caught up in that particular engagement by accident of his social function. The unjust judge is a bureaucratic time server. He has no motivation. He is an instrument. His aversion to the approach of complainants is a symptom of his lassitude, a characteristic trait of the nature of his burden.
The judge is not committed either to the Good or to the State. He is not committed to anything but the evasion of the position of responsibility in which his hearing of the widow’s case would inevitably implicate him. He finds himself there, in the place where his interest isn’t, in the place where he encounters the widow as other. He recognises how she works upon him, seeking to cajole and seduce his interest. The judge is not other to the widow, he is not therefor her. He is merely an instrument, a lever of otherwise abstract powers. The judge finds himself, as if before the widow’s judgment of him, precisely at the point of contradiction where the good must confront the state. Her complaint places him in the crisis of making a decision where the necessity of decisiveness indicates precisely a breakdown in the relational process of which his position as mediating instrument is a product.
Above all, the judge seeks not to be ‘worn down’. He finds himself thrown into the paradoxical position of immovable object against which is directed the irresistible force of the widow’s persistence. But whilst her persistence is self-identical with her interest, his own interest is located elsewhere than in his objective immovability. He neither wants nor does not want to accede to the widow’s demands (we can almost hear the old refrain: if it was up to me…) - already, he senses the paradox is resolved, as if by Zeus, at the level of a transposition into constellation, into a designated non-position. This weariness which seeks only not to be ground down, so that he might continue and not be overcome, realises the judge before the reader. We know nothing of the widow’s interest but recognise the self in the judge’s desire to evade his responsibilities.
Suddenly, as if before the judgment of the reader, and only in Tolstoy’s telling, the judge is transformed into a conflicted soul, as if he were trapped in some Levantine Greeneland, incarnating the eternal honorary counsel, the archetypical whiskey priest - we know the apparatchik desires to be left alone, weltschmerz is the affective ground from which every tv cop extracts audience sympathy. So much has already happened and now this, now the call comes, now the demand for engagement. The unjust judge is not actively malign but is fatally incapable of realising, from his abstracted position, the persistant’ widow’s desire for the Good. Why should the widow approach him and distract him with yet another intangible catastrophe that he is always the unequal to? Why must the whisky priest hear yet another deathbed confession, and thereby activate the trap of his fatal hubris? The unjust judge recognises the widow as if positioned in the jaws of the veritable deus ex machina - but without the necessary and objective instrumentalisation of his predicament, as he desires only not to give way but then also snagged by the conditions of his employment, the widow’s complaint cannot even begin to attain the full realisation of its righteousness, derived as it is not from a confrontation with the judge but from the counter claim of the ‘adversary’. Without the particular of his refusal, his concretisation of injustice, the widow remains stuck in mere vendetta:
So, the revolutionary process (or what we could call destituent power) thus consists in creating an adversary, in creating a “united counter-revolution.” It’s not about fighting for the revolution, but rather doing it in such a way as to produce a powerful counter-revolution, that, as you struggle against it, it allows you to go beyond the immediate situation. I find this illuminating. The insurrectionary party will only mature when it has a powerful enemy to combat. That’s why I am enthusiastic when the enemy grows stronger.
Tronti, On Destituent Power
Even endlessly repeated banalities find their moment: the only thing necessary for the triumph of good is for evil men to do nothing. And so it comes to pass that only the sadistic revolutionist is gladdened at the evanescent spectacle of a lordly power in its autumnal season, worn to ruin, and passing unrecognised amongst the righteous and insurgent desire of the other. The death-gripped, self-conflicted consciousness of the non-judging judge at bay, then giving way, articulates very precisely the standpoint of the other-knowing knower, who knows fatally he is not known by the other. Doesn’t the victim capture with its final gaze upon the world the image of the murderer in the dreadful act? Doesn’t the sudden collapse of RAAC built infrastructure reveal something oh-so allegorical about this, our Potemkin world? Then, in giving way to the widow’s force of will, i.e. not actively deploying but suspending institutional power, the judge allows for a good to be realised in the world as it were in the form of a non or infinitely suspended judgment; his let it be so (one imagines how Peter Ustinov would play it in one of those Hollywood epics of the late ‘50s: the simpering, the wave of the corpulent hand) is the implementation, in spite of his own proclivities, and in spite of his objective positioning. It is also more precisely the condition of his apophasis, his non-work (desoeuvrement). The judge recognises the work of the other in the event of his non-judgement, as his own inoperability. By, for once, not playing the role of mouthpiece, he channels at last the will of that of which he is already supposedly the instrument - he utters the will of god as he ceases to play god’s representative.
In this non-act of giving way, in this desiring not to be worn down (may you never be weary uncle!), not abandoning his given position, and therefore becoming immediately worn down and thus immediately unpositioned, he rehearses the humanistic theatrics of Pilate (but with inverted outcome). In the Tolstoy story, a mother beseeches a hermit to lay his hands on her sick child, he does not want to do it, but he is worn down, even if he has no healing powers he might still act as a conduit. The child recovers, the fame that this brings the hermit presents a new problem... if he is a conduit of divine power, it is eroding him, replacing his inner life with an external life. The perceived will of God corrupts him. If he had persisted in refusing divine possibility, he would have maintained his internal life and the possibility of a different encounter with the sacred (but then from that which is the widow’s position of non-recognising, supplicating desire). Tolstoy reveals, or rather creates, the distinction between the widow’s adhering desire and judge’s separating desire - it is this distinction that we make when we set the either/or between expropriating and relinquishing, between occupying and vacating, acting and not acting.
The parable of the unjust judge is strange and obscure - and an exemplar of the anti-allegory. Almost everything that lives in it is now lost to us, and yet what caused it to live familiarly when it was first recorded, still lives if strangely and obscurely to us. We read it archeologically, as if it were an unlabelled and unplaceable artefact, a liminal, sculpted coulaged ambergris regurgitated from the depths, and pocketed by some shadowy curator haunting the strandline of the British Museum. The judge is a given, and an unjust judge only more so, but why a widow? What is a widow before whatever a judge might be in that world at that moment? Who is the widow’s adversary, and what is her claim? If the adversary were another widow, or a daughter, or a mother, or a mistress, a whore? Perhaps the complainant is not a widow at all, perhaps the adversary is merely the other wife, and the husband is not dead, or is dead and they are disputing an inheritance. Yes, perhaps the husband is dead and it was this judge who condemned him to death, and in doing so cast the woman, or women, into poverty. Who, if not this particular judge, would judge the widow’s claims to be just? Who would know how to judge such mysteries? Would the judge finding in her favour thereby find justice because she is persistent (we know from literature, never surrender is invariably a slogan of the villain - and the unjust judge at first is also objectively persistent)? And why the state of weariness before the force of erosion (is it an allegory of the attritional nature of history as RAAC dialectics: ‘gradually at first, then all at once’)?
It is no accident that we find the parable of the unjust judge is followed by the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector which acts as a sort of corrective. Every parable, in sequence, is altered by what follows and succeeds - the whole becoming a meal of palate cleansing starters. And it is no accident that Christianity locates its own movement in the irresolvable predicaments of the unsavoury and unrighteous stock characters of folklore, the very personifications of corruption whom all revolutionaries negatively fetishise: judges, publicans, tax collectors, lepers, outsiders, gaolers, madmen, soldiers, traitors, prodigals, crucifiers. And the dead. And the Samaritans. The purpose of this identification with the unclean is twofold: firstly, it demonstrates the possibility of movement, and thus release, of the chance for redemption, which might be discovered beyond the works of activists and movements of enthusiasm, and located within that higher if interruptive register located further on than the register of fate which we call Grace; secondly, it inhibits the tendency to feedback runaway amongst the pious and patriotic who, by the very nature of their persistence, are only ever one step from acting on their indignation at the infidels and outsiders (the danger in the majoritarian discourse of appeal, the consciousness of acting in the name of the 99%).
The uncorrected trajectory of the persistent widow narrative has lately found its perfected expression in the sub-capraesque film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. We are reminded that in the allegorical version of the widow’s appeal, the best outcome would be the institution of a just judge judging justly for the widow and against the ‘adversary’. In the enlightened world, complaint driven reformism must result either in the white police chief being replaced by a black police chief, or in generalised extra-judicial vigilantism - no justice, no peace! In reality, under the conditions thus given, there is no political exit from the particularity of predicament except along the path into abstraction and thus representation. The function of motivating grievance, loss, grief, agony, as the authentic vector of the complainant’s interest is never anything but the casus belli of a runaway into inevitably justifiable war, and thus atrocity - precisely what the Christian parable form seeks to inhibit.
The characterisations in Three Billboards… are necessarily and absurdly truncated - the simpler the message, the more stupid (that is allegorical) the characters become in order to live the truth by recognition. Propaganda always brings its audience to the point where it must contemplate the necessity of injustice as instrument of justice. We are reminded by reference to the capraesque (unworthily rhyming antagonist to the kafkaesque) of how closely New Deal propaganda echoed the propaganda of its fascist contemporaries. We may also remember, as the ‘problem’ play of Three Billboards is succeeded allegorically by the ‘problem’ play of Barbie (as the persistent widow/unjust judge is followed by the pharisee/tax collector) that grievance can never be represented. The complainant may generalise only from this particular recognition of injustice as it is derived from her divergence of interest from the that of ‘the adversary’ against whom she seeks to be avenged. The resultant projected understanding of the generality takes on a motive-type exclusive form where social relations are stripped of their reproductive and mediating aspects and are conceived only as the non-relation of oppressor and oppressed. The export by American corporations of these truncated, complaint driven forms, converting them into products, advertising and entertainments has proved unsurprisingly successful in obscuring the complex of actually existing relations. Hollywood’s morality reminds us fascism is a modality of mass society where grief’s concrete particular is amplified into permanentised representations by corporate power. Complaint is the most viable, and also most corruptive, driver of social change - it recognises as success only its own enshrinement, and thus perpetuation, as a lever of exception on established power.
Perhaps in the end, the parable of the unjust judge, when separated from its allegorical escape routes and returned to the convolutions of its white box functions, articulates something that is more Greek than Hebrew - it is true that persistence and giving way have become the two sides of Christian ethics (first, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and then the acquiescing before earthly power), but the balance and the internal weighting of the parable seems to point more towards Athens than Jerusalem in the sense that both the parable of the Unjust Judge’s work and of its unwork must be metabolised as material of the ‘political’. Both the persistent widow and the unjust judge create worlds in the world, the widow’s world is cumulative (the persistence of force), whereas the judge’s world is interruptive (the giving way of the concrete). The widow overcomes, the judge relinquishes. Then, by way of dogleg, and also by association: High Pigs / Spectacles / Judges / Property.