O Happy Fall?

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (Genesis 3:6)

The Fall consists of three modes. The first might be described as practical. Eve ‘saw that the tree was good for food’: in other words, the tree that had previously been the site of absolute, unquestioned interdiction, now looms up as a source of diet. In a sense, the Fall has already taken place: until then, the garden was a place of bounty and superabundance. They were homogeneous with nature. But now both the tree and Eve have snapped out of this symbiotic self-sustenance. To say that she feels ‘hunger’ for the first time is apt, since the other two modes of the Fall are also forms of hunger, if less literal ones.

The second mode is aesthetic: ‘it was pleasant to the eyes’. The words of the serpent have induced in Eve the phenomenological distance necessary for beauty to arise, the inner distance between subject and object. It is only when this distance is born that the aesthetic can exist. The experience of beauty is in some sense the pleasing traversal of a distance (cf. the ethical in Levinas, as read by Badiou in his Ethics). Again, the Fall has already taken place.

The third mode is epistemological: ‘a tree to be desired to make one wise’. If the first hunger was of the belly and the second was of sensation, then the third is of the mind. Prior to the serpent’s words Adam and Eve must have endured a spiritual homeostasis: mind, body and surroundings fused in unconscious unity. But the serpent instils her with an intellectual lack which it becomes possible to fill. Once more, the Fall has already taken place.

The eating of the apple comes after the fact. It is a powerful symbol of the three hungers the devil has insinuated into Eve. Death already lurked in Eden: the insidious negative tickled and coiled into the ubiquitous preconscious and gave birth to self-conscious nakedness. When Eve shares the fruit with Adam, it is like a toddler experimenting with her newfound uniqueness; the first thing she does is offer the thing that used to be part of her a little of what she has. It is the first true act of generosity.

It is difficult not to be grateful to the serpent. Compared to the bovine contentment of paradise, history and love seem pretty exciting – even at the cost of death. (That said, given the record of human history so far, bovine contentment might have been the best bet). Though let us not forget Genesis 3:21: ‘Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.’ The God of Eden might be the punisher, but he is also the coverer of nakedness and shame. O happy fall?