Editors' Introduction


Kenneth Reinhard and Julia Reinhard Lupton

University of California--Los Angeles and University of California--Irvine

Copyright © 1999 by Kenneth Reinhard and Julia Reinhard Lupton, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the authors.

    "I know that you're not believers, right? But that doesn't mean that you aren't all the more conned ... because even if you are not believers, you still believe in that aspiration [for the love of God]. I won't say that you suppose it; rather, it supposes you."
    --Jacques Lacan, Seminar XXI: Les non-dupes errent

  1. With these words, Lacan sounded a familiar theme in his seminar: namely, the continued effects of religious narratives and motifs within the world of secular institutions and theoretical thought which appears to have replaced them. In Lacan's analysis, it is not that secular intellectuals suffer from unexamined religious "suppositions" or assumptions, to be swept away through a little ideology-critique or time on the couch. The case is rather, in Lacan's strong formulation, that religious discourse supposes us--supports and underwrites our very structures of being, subjectivity, and social interaction. That is, the secular subject is produced by the religious discourses that precede and continue to speak through it; the challenge for the contemporary critic is not to silence or debunk those discourses, but rather to bring the modern subject to assume responsibility for their enunciation. The project of this volume is to articulate the religious "suppositions" or "supposings" of modernity, in Lacan's dialectical sense: to track the ways in which modernity "supports itself" on the remains of sacred myths, texts, laws, and axioms, religious a prioris on which the secular subject finds its basis, its rest, its informing impetus, but through acts of negation or disavowal that strive to render that support system invisible or ineffective. The aim of this collection is to bring modernity to terms with the fact that it only achieves its coherence and stability as a field by negating, always imperfectly, the regime of the sacred that precedes it: this means on the one hand that modernity has never yet fully "enlightened" itself, and on the other, that religion has never not already anticipated and incorporated the necessity of atheism, of its own preliminary sublation.
  2. In what sense, then, does religion "suppose" atheism--support, include, anticipate, or require it? In the standard view, atheism accompanies the movement of modernity towards a progressively purified and rationalized philosophical perspective; in this account, atheism involves the removal of all "presuppositions," all unexamined assumptions that reek of divinity. Yet, as Emmanuel Levinas has argued, atheism is also a necessary moment within religious thought, indicating not an historical process towards Enlightenment so much as a phenomenological position and ethical stance native to religious discourse itself. Levinas writes, "The rigorous affirmation of human independence, of its intelligent presence to an intelligible reality, the destruction of the numinous concept of the Sacred, entail the risk of atheism. That risk must be run. Only through it can man be raised to the spiritual notion of the Transcendent" (Difficult Freedom 19). By the "numinous" Levinas means the positive intersection of religion and philosophy, their meeting on the common ground of Being. The "transcendent" on the other hand names the negative intersection of these two fields, as each points beyond the ideal of a self-same Being towards the realm of human obligation, of ethical responsibility, embodied in the alterity of the neighbor. Levinas defines transcendence as "a relation with a reality infinitely distant from my own reality, yet without this distance destroying this relation and without this relation destroying this distance" (Totality and Infinity 41). The atheism that Levinas urges us to risk constitutes a step towards such "transcendence" insofar as it breaks through the totalizing structures of representation that have crammed the vasty distances of the world into the "wooden O" of the theatrum philosophicum. Such an atheism has as its task to clear the skies of the Spirits that continue to haunt the acadamies, missions, and outposts of the West. To rephrase Lacan, it is not that modernity "supposes" religion, but that religion supposes modernity--the skepticism, autonomy, and freedom of the modern individual as well as the self-limitation, death or sacrifice of God(s) have always been understood as "stages on life's way" in the global itineraries of the subject of religion.
  3. Whatever his or her personal set of beliefs, the professor in the secular university is "by profession" an atheist in the first, narrower, sense, committed by vocation and contract to the scientific method in its humanist variants. In Hannah Arendt's definition of the secular, "The public-secular domain, or the political sphere, properly speaking, comprehends and has room for the public-religious sphere ... the political theorists of the seventeenth century accomplished secularization by separating political thinking from theology. . . . The point was not to deny the existence of God but to discover in the secular realm an independent, immanent meaning which even God could not alter" (Between Past and Present 70). In the modern university, the Humanities and Social Sciences similarly "comprehend" religion as a field of study, taking religion as an object of research along with other areas such as art, literature, history, and society. Yet we propose that religion is extimate--intimately excessive--to the institutions that comprehend it, insofar as its defining impulse towards the Transcendent challenges or contaminates standards not only of objectivity and rationality, but just as much of historical relativism and the belief in the inherent "correctness" of indigenous cultures. The protocols of academic study necessarily filter and reshape religious phenomena to accord with scholarly values and criteria, whether those of the traditional fields or of contemporary multicultural and interdisciplinary approaches. Whereas the multiplicity of its forms makes religion an obvious area for historical, anthropological, and literary comparativism, the singular claims of individual religions and sects are often fundamentally at odds with the humanistic methods applied to them. This incommensurability between object and method leads to tensions, interferences, or polarizations between theological analysis and historical criticism, blind spots that can impede the critical study of religions in both their self-understandings and their cultural impact. Rather than reducing or ignoring these difficulties by separating off questions of "faith" from those of "knowledge," such contradictions between object and method can also be the site of productive work on both the interpretive challenges raised by religious phenomena and their implications for the structure of secular knowledge.
  4. The public university is, and must be, founded on ideals of rationality and tolerance instituted by the cancellation of religious bases for knowing and doing. One consequence of the secular contract, however, is the reliance on models inadequate to the increasing claims made in the name of the sacred in almost every aspect of contemporary life outside the academy. Whereas religion finds its place in the modern university as a minor field, religion has become an increasingly major factor in both local communities and world politics. Despite, or even because of, this resurgence in religious activity, the academy tends to treat religious thinking as necessarily primitive, magical, or anti-intellectual, a bias that in turn inhibits the effective analysis of these developments in their contemporary and historic dimensions. How can the critic operating within the secular university rise to this challenge without disavowing the basic conflict between religious experience and the very project of the humanities and social sciences? How can we account for the suppositions--the incommensurable interdependences--that link reason and religion in the difficult dialectic of modernity?
  5. In this Special Issue of Jouvert, we position religion in the post-colonial era "between culture and philosophy," as the critical intersection which offers the best chance for an integrated historical and theoretical analysis of religion from the perspectives opened up by secularization. The various essays in this volume test the resources and limits of both cultural studies and critical theory in order to identify and develop approaches that dialecticize these two intellectual directions. The work of articulating the religious origins and trajectories of such categories as scripture, nation, and redemption in modernity both challenges and reinvigorates cultural studies and critical theory taken separately, by resisting the relativizing drive of historicism on the one hand and the absolutism of speculative reason on the other.
  6. The rise of cultural studies in its various crossings of history, anthropology, and literature with problems of gender and ethnicity has added significantly to the investigation of religious identities. The emphasis of cultural studies on the complex relations between individual and community, as well as its heightened sensitivity to the politics and poetics of cultures in their diversity, makes this approach especially conducive to the reinvigoration of religious studies in the current moment. Yet the very wealth of cultural studies itself leads to a certain impoverishment, insofar as the concept of "culture" as an historical Gestalt or semiotic system tends to equalize the objects of its analysis into interchangeable symbolic elements that make up a particular socio-historical formation. Too often religion is treated as an empirical feature of human identity that takes its place along with other traits such as race, gender, and class. Religions themselves, however, imply highly articulated theories of sexuality, ethnicity, and caste, and institute fundamental signifying systems, imaginative and ideological templates, that actively fashion the relations of the individual to the group. These encrypted social and representational theories function as parts of larger exegetical and theological complexes whose specific claims and economies tend to disappear into the secular theories of culture that strive to interpret and, implicitly, to replace them.
  7. Religion, that is, constitutes not only a feature of identity, but a theory of identity. For example, in Judaism the problem of cultural identity is already located in the different terms and conceptions of nationhood. The Hebrew goy (people or nation) becomes the Christian ethnos or gentile, which in turn becomes the etymological core of the secular concepts of "ethnicity" and "ethnography." This philological trajectory encrypts a series of elisions in its story of conversion and translation. Thus the notion of Judaism as an "ethnicity" is both very ancient and very modern: ancient because it derives from the biblical discourse of nationhood, and modern insofar as that originary problematic has been assimilated into the universalist idea of individual cultures.
  8. Philosophy, especially in its more recent incarnation as critical theory, has been in a stronger position to think seriously the difference of religious discourse from other forms of aesthetic, political, or epistemological thought. Even while founding itself on the renunciation of cultish enthusiasm, philosophy has conceptualized and reappropriated religion in two ways. On the one hand, it has absorbed "Spirit" into the workings of reason, not only allowing for the creation of theology as a branch of philosophy, but also rearticulating the idea of God at ever higher levels of rational abstraction (i.e., Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel). On the other hand, certain critical thinkers have isolated those aspects of religion resistant to theoretical sublation in order to criticize the grounds of philosophy per se, often in the name of a renewed religion or anti-religion (i.e., Schelling, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Rosenzweig, Wittgenstein, Levinas). The confrontation of these two traditions offers promising resources for addressing the peculiar shapes that religion has taken in secular modernity and for uncovering the idealism that inheres in the often pre-critical concept of "culture."
  9. Yet the very intimacy between these philosophical traditions and the discourses of religion itself poses a danger to a religious studies that would draw primarily on theory. The hypostasization of "Religion" as a theoretical concept tends to overwhelm the study of religions in their historical, textual, and practical specificity. Indeed, it is not clear that the term "religion" adequately describes the varieties of experience, both within and between different traditions, that are subsumed under its aegis. Philosophical approaches to religion tend to emphasize metaphysical, epistemological, and moral concerns at the expense of other dimensions of religious thought and life, a limitation supplemented but not fully sutured by the rise of phenomenology (i.e., Gabriel Marcel, Simone Weil, Vladimir Jankélévitch, Jan Patoka).
  10. The term "religion" itself poses certain problems for the study of post-colonial formations, since the word has assumed its modern shape within the specific history of monotheism and its rapprochement with Western philosophy. As such, it cannot simply be applied to practices and beliefs that have developed outside of these traditions and their immediate genealogies. Indeed, it is not clear that "religion" (or even "monotheism") effectively accounts for the differences among the People of the Book, let alone bears automatic extension to more distant traditions. The phrase "religion between culture and philosophy," then, not only names a methodological problematic, but also derives the types and urgency of these questions from the historical and theoretical ground laid by the vicissitudes of monotheism as it has spread over the globe in various missionary, colonial, secularized, and capitalist forms. The competition, sublation, and persistence of "religion" in its monotheistic determinations have not only happened in history, but also as history, leading to the invention of modernity and the faulting of its solutions.
  11. This Special Issue of Jouvert falls into three segments. It begins by examining religion in four distinct scenes of the colonial experience and its aftermath: India, Haiti, South Africa, and Korea. It then turns to the Jewish foundations of Western modernity, with essays on the Bible, Freud, Arendt, Benjamin, and Scholem. The volume ends by addressing the paradoxes and dilemmas of the profane that unfold in and as the Christian-secular West, with special attention to the vagaries of Christianity as it turns into apocalypse on the one hand and into philosophy and secular culture on the other. Together, the three sections demonstrate how the texts, discourses, and paradigms of religion "suppose"--support, prefigure, and assume--modernity in its Christian, secular, and post-colonial variants. Moreover, each essay chips away at the critical hegemony currently enjoyed by Cultural Studies from the alternative positions and suppositions offered by psychoanalysis, philosophy, hermeneutics, and theology.
  12. Section One, "The Religion of Empire," approaches the vicissitudes of religion in nations caught between the overthrow of traditional Western colonialism and its re-configuration in the form of the global economy. In that peculiar staging of modernity that we have come to call "post-colonialism," religion takes many shapes within the fields of (local) cultures as they undergo and resist restructuration by (Western) philosophy. The larger dynamics addressed in this section include the re-reading of sacred texts within the scene of secularization (Sawhney); the conflicted legacy of the Christian missionary arm of the colonial project (Cheng); and the creative re-appropriation of that same legacy by intellectuals in emerging countries (Freda).
  13. In "Remembering the Veda: Accumulations of Interest," Simona Sawhney performs close readings of key Vedic hymns on the nature of language, readings situated in the history of the Rig Veda's colonialist and secular-nationalist reappropriations. By studying this foundational work of Indian religion and civilization within the framework of its successive re-readings, Sawhney restores the status of the literary, in its long passage from sacred to secular formations, to the largely culturalist debate about canons and colonies. Sawhney's focus on revelation in the Indian context foregrounds the literary not as an oblique and always compromised window onto the "real" issues of politics and culture, but as a crucial feature, emblem, and product of the modern secularization project in its global manifestations.
  14. Willy Apollon's essay, "Vodou: The Crisis of Possession," is a chapter from his book Le Vaudou, which was his doctoral thesis in philosophy at University of Paris VIII, written under the direction of Gilles Deleuze. Apollon, born in Haiti and educated in France, had originally been studying with Claude Levi-Strauss, but given the strongly philosophical orientation of the work, Levi-Strauss advised him to ask Deleuze to be his primary advisor. The writing (or at the very least the conception) of the book preceded Apollon's turn to Lacanian psychoanalysis, although its focus on Vodou as a "space for the voices" anticipates the later work on psychosis for which he and his colleagues Danielle Bergeron and Lucie Cantin would become famous, and in which the theory of the voice plays an important role. Apollon has recently returned to the question of Voodoo from a more psychoanalytic perspective, in an essay devoted to its place in the political discourse of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (whom Apollon served as a special advisor in the period immediately following his reinstatement).
  15. The political and historical work performed through Vodou and other New World Africanist religions is addressed in Deborah Wyrick's review essay, "Divine Transpositions: Recent Scholarship on Vodou and Santería Reigious Art." This article focuses on material representation as legible forms of cultural discourse--as sequined, beaded, dressed, and carved texts that encode their own exegesis. These religious artworks demand epistemologies different from those grounded in Judeo-Christian or Hellenic assumptions, aesthetic or theological. Postcolonial theory can provide to non-adherents partial access, Wyrick suggests, but ultimately the art objects stand in extimate relationship to the individuals and histories, philosophies and cultures that produce them.
  16. Sinkwan Cheng's piece, "The Kingdom of Heaven versus the Kingdom on Earth: Christianity and the Displacement of Africans in Black Anger," moves us from the hybridizations of Haiti back to the divisions that scar modern Africa--in particular the South Africa of apartheid documented in Hans Sachs' Black Anger. Taking up the question of the complicity between Christianity and colonialism, Cheng refuses to take the standard tac that would emphasize the "hypocrisy" of Christendom, choosing to look instead for the contradictions internal to Christian discourse as such, contradictions that allow its exponents both to champion the oppressed and to facilitate colonialist racism. Cheng uses Lacan to demonstrate that in the colonial scene, Christianity "receives its message in inverted form"; following Lacan's reading of Kant and Sade, she puts pressure in particular on the "non-pathological" dimensions of Christianity--its moments of greatest disinterest and ethical rationality. It is precisely these moments that demonstrate the insidious structural relation between the universal subject of freedom implied by Christian theology and the creation of a racialized and colonized object who represents the envers--the Hellish inverse--of that subject.
  17. James K. Freda's "Discourse on Han in Post-Colonial Korea: Absent Suffering and Industrialist Dreams" examines the reappropriation of Christian theology for creative and revisionist purposes by Korean intellectuals rearticulating a national tradition in the face of the repressive forms taken by capitalism in post-colonial Korea. Han refers to the poetics of suffering derived from Korean Shamanism, the Korean literary tradition, and liberation theology as it becomes refigured by progressive intellectuals in Korea in the 1970s. Sawhney uses the status of the literary in its link to revelation, and Apollon and Cheng use Lacanian psychoanalysis, to interrupt or rechannel culturalist approaches to post-colonial religion. Freda, on the other hand, uses the genealogy and phenomenology of pain--in its crossing with Western articulations of prophesy and utopia within both Christian and Marxist traditions--in order to present a view of contemporary Korean life and thought that is at once locally responsive and transculturally responsible.
  18. The second cluster of essays revolves around the theme, "The Jewish Strain in Modernity." Judaism constitutes the foundational yet abrogated ground of Christianity, representing both the essence of Western economies of text and nation, and an "Oriental" principle of anti-economy encysted within its motivating fantasies. This group of essays traces the "Jewish strain"--at once a persistent influence and a troubling fault-line--in the founding documents of Western monotheism as their legacies and scandals pass into key structures of modern thought.
  19. In "Israel as Host(ess): Hospitality in the Bible and Beyond," Tracy McNulty retrieves two Biblical models of hospitality. The first is instituted by Abraham's absolute hospitality in relation to the stranger/angels who visit his tent, a scene in which Sarah's incredulous laughter represents the split between the patriarch/master on the one hand and the hostess/Thing (Host-Es) on the other. In the second instance, the Prophets, writing from a position of national disaster, are increasingly wary of Israel's relations with strangers, relations which take the ominous socio-libidinal forms of foreign alliances, intermarriage, idolatry, and temple prostitution. In McNulty's essay, the perspective of secular modernity and humanistic inquiry remains the necessary--if re-visited and re-visioned--standpoints from which Biblical narrative is examined.
  20. In his essay, "On the 'Myth of the German-Jewish Dialogue': Scholem and Benjamin," Alexander Gelley takes a literary and philosophical approach to the historical and sociological problem of Jewish assimilation to German culture at the turn of the century and after. Walter Benjamin's friendship with Gershom Scholem, who would eventually emigrate to Israel, manifests both his own turn towards Judaism after a series of formative friendships with Gentiles and his own resistance to the Zionist solution that Scholem's life and work represents in favor of a certain productive yet critical affirmation of his own Germanity. Gelley uses the dialogue within Judaism represented by the Scholem-Benjamin relationship to reflect on the limits of the "German-Jewish dialogue"--a slogan that stood for the special essence and promise of German Jewry before World War II. Gelley examines the friendship of Scholem and Benjamin as a specific modality of "dialogue" that illuminates the libidinal economy of identity in Benjamin's life and thought.
  21. In "Finding Fathers: Hannah Arendt and Sigmund Freud Write Their Jewish Histories," Jack Marmorstein turns to another Jewish couple, this one formed not by the biographical actuality of friendship but by shared resonances of position and disposition that link Arendt and Freud across very different discourses. Marmorstein uses Freud's late speculations in Moses and Monotheism to analyse an essay by Arendt on the seventeenth-century Messianic movement led by the charismatic rabbi Sabbatai Tzwi. Arendt, herself an avowed secularist and a critic of Zionism, nonetheless finds in Tzwi's life an enabling model of Jewish political activism; like Freud in Moses and Monotheism, Arendt uses Tzwi to create a father of national fantasy for a renewed Judaism, no longer equated with culture or ethnicity, that might survive the threats of assimilation and annihilation conducted in the name of a racially defined "Jewishness."
  22. In "Lacan and Monotheism: Psychoanalysis and the Traversal of Cultural Fantasy," Kenneth Reinhard shows how Moses and Monotheism, Freud's last great work of cultural criticism, must be read in the context of his essay "Constructions in Analysis," his last attempt to define the work of the clinic, psychoanalysis as a therapeutic technique. In "Constructions," which was written at precisely the same time as Moses, Freud strictly distinguishes the work of construction from that of interpretation, associating it both with the delusions of the paranoiac (which hit on reality from awry) and the primal fantasy of the neurotic, the subject as such. Lacan's clinical and critical practice depends on this distinction, and allows us to conceptualize Freud's project in Moses as one primarily of cultural clinique rather than critique--a gesture meant to directly act upon rather than merely interpret the ambivalent fantasy of Jewish origins that underlies western civilization's self-representation.
  23. The final cluster of essays approaches the question of the religious remainders that persist in the secular era--not as superannuated, atavistic fossils, but as sites of continuing cultural, philosophical, and libidinal productivity. In "An Illusion with a Future: Religion, Epistemology, Narrative," the philosopher Edmond Wright addresses recent versions of the problem of the adjudication of faith and reason by describing two current models of religious epistemology, the Wittgensteinian approach, based on a fairly traditional realism, and the more hermeneutical tact of the New Critical Realists. Wright defends this latter approach as a naturalized, genetic, and evolutionary epistemology, one in which truth--and ultimately the "truth" of God--is not the telos of an intentional search, but a necessary assumption in a system of inter- and intrasubjective reciprocal regulation. Wright's essay brings valuable insight to the current state of the philosophy of religion by laying out the subtle thinking and strong possibilities of this recent critical direction.
  24. Gérard Pommier's essay, "From the Gods to Monotheism. From Demons to the Devil," explores the emergence of a figure of radical evil in Judaism and Christianity from a psychoanalytic and anthropological perspective. Pommier's argument, like Cheng's, is based on Lacan's theory of the return of the message in "inverted form." The devil is God's double, his "semblable" or hidden face, created like God in order to negate the multitude of demons from which he arose. Monotheism is not so much against polytheism, as against the cult of the dead; even the denial of the existence of a Hell in many early Jewish texts is a symptom of the refusal of the dead. The one eternal dead father (YHVH) comes to replace the many dead fathers, the elohim. And the consequence of the monotheistic message is the constitution of a single personification of evil. But Satan is also the emptiness that resides in every act of speech, the void which the subject casts onto his interlocutor, as the evil in his neighbor--or more precisely, in woman and her jouissance. As such, the devil embodies not only the drives that divide one person from another, but each person against him or herself.
  25. Bonita Rhoads and Julia Reinhard Lupton's "Circumcising the Antichrist: An Ethnohistorical Fantasy," presents a commentary on a forgotten footnote from the iconography and historiography of the Antichrist--namely, the image of the Antichrist undergoing circumcision as part of his counter-Messianic career. The specter of a Jewish Antichrist, who rebuilds the Temple and undergoes the rite of circumcision within it, represents a bizarre instantiation of the more general economy of ethnicity--a "universalism minus the circumcised"--implied by the mission of St. Paul to the Gentile nations. This apparently minor episode in the medieval legend symptomatically situates Judaism and Islam in an ethno-historical fantasy of national covenant, trans-national conversion, obdurate de-conversion, and apocalyptic redemption.
  26. Marcia Ian's "Invisible Religon: The Extimate Secular in American Society" examines the paradox by which the foundational secularism of the American idea has led not to the disappearance or evisceration of religion, but rather to its diffusion and internalization as the unconscious of American consumer and sentimental life. Using the Lacanian conception of extimité, an intimate externality that posits a piece of the real at the heart of the symbolic, Ian argues that Christ is "the immanent transcendence of material nature become the signifier of culture--American culture." In lieu of simply reading religion as an aspect of culture, Ian suggests that religion, by virtue of its disavowal, bears a more structural relationship to culture as such, forming its occluded ground rather than one of its characteristic attributes.
  27. Levinas defines religion as "the bond that is established between the same and the other without constituting a totality" (Totality and Infinity 40). The ligatures of religion, Levinas suggests, serve to link the subject to the other--from the neighbor, the stranger, the guest, and the resident alien, all the way to God--without resolving that relationship in an economy that would neutralize their infinite differences. We take this less as a description than as a prescription, an ideal for religion (and religious studies) implied by both the achievements and the failure of religious discourses in the history of colonialism. Religious studies in the post-colonial era, we argue, is best located "between" culture and philosophy, between the resources of historicism and the promise of theory. Indeed, religion creates this "between" insofar as it posits a transcendental moment within historical time and an element of temporal crisis within the synchronies of reason. This volume of essays aims to address and give shape to an emergent movement of scholars interested in coordinating cultural and theoretical approaches to religion. Religious Studies itself has become increasingly polarized between strictly sociological, anti-humanistic tendencies and more liberal theological traditions of comparative religion. Both within and outside of Religious Studies, however, a growing number of scholars is striving to design approaches that avoid the biases of liberal Religious Studies while refusing the empiricist solace of reducing religion to sociological phenomena. The authors in this volume have come to the problem of religion from their primary work in other fields. For many of us in the humanities, religion has emerged as a kind of limit case that puts our critical orientations to the test, forcing us to acknowledge and think through other positions and possibilities. Yet many of these intellectual questions have been posed in relative isolation; gathering together essays by scholars who find themselves addressing the problem of religion from diverse trainings and backgrounds will, we hope, lead not only to a volume of essays on new approaches to religion, but also to a network of relationships and resources that will continue to develop its ligatures of intellectual affinity in the form of a widening and deepening conversation on these urgent themes.

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