NO ESCAPE

NO ESCAPE

         We will die with horrified eyes in our faceless.
         Try to prove it otherwise with poetry.

No more life
in this signifier
of pain.

Bare out in days
the rotten ours:
smile of the shamed.

The exorcism of evil
never strength gains,
since it’s the strength that’s evil
and the gain that rapes.

There’s only one kind of angel—terrible,
for a reason.

*

And so I speak with those who make no choices,
those who don’t and won’t have voices,
those who never grasp the task of meaning
or community: those diagnosed, diseased,
who live and leave lacking infamy or applause,
who fail to stand at the head of groups or in circles,
who do not join in, who do not take sides or part,
who are, as the proud say, superfluous.

We are the people I’ll die without, not for.
We won’t invade each other’s souls, won’t meet.
We won’t say friend, we won’t say enemy,
and we will not stand together
in a name, in the future.

We, irresponsible, have no good conscience. We are not allied for change, are never radical. We do not feel the pleasure of courage, but sink into the horror of an anonymous displacement—for you reprehensible, for us inevitable.

Dante and Virgil pass us by; and you will be like them: the world will remember your name and theirs, never ours, for we have none.

For we are not lost in the waves of the marvelous.
We find no long-lasting roses, invent no glorious wheel.
If we are anything, it is blood and filth, no eternity.
We are the ones deemed tragic, guilty.

Because we are the faceless and we are in pain.
We do not have alternatives, we do not have a language.
We cannot respond to commandments, communications.
We do not make up a human race.
We do not have a history..

And we do not have time for complaints.
We lack the knowledge needed to place blame.
We lack being, god damn it, we lack the power to say what you say: “I am,” “I will,” “I can,” “I persevere.”

We are the ones who receive only condemnation.
We are the damned increasing the joy of the blessed.
We are the ones whose defects you’ve pinpointed, whose inertia you target with your silent poetic speech.

Because we are beasts, leopards, she-wolves. We brood, we fear, we are miserable. Hardly were we there and you contrived to speak our name. Hardly were we suffering and you chose to send us aid. Hardly were we alive and you told us, we must live.

But we do not want a right to know or be. We have not made an enemy of failure or embraced it. Victory does not exist in our erasement.

For our silence was always different from your silence. For us, there was no peace. We could seek no savior, nor imagine it. No consciousness of sun, no self-center.

You will tell us: we have wasted our time, our opportunities, squandered everything. Your life was a big maybe—an irrepressible stain.

Like everyone else. Like everyone.

*

Hell is here, yes. Here, but elsewhere also.
Take a look. It’s not a nightmare.

Here we see the stars—of the knockout.
Here we look up—to faint.

Strange praise here: no escape.

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Gespräche

There is no image [Bild] of deconstruction, no more than there’s a unity or a “one” to it.

Deconstruction is the impossible: that which arrives to us, but without arriving, that which is only ‘there’ in arriving, which cannot have taken place yet, however tied to the immemorial it is or seems. And so is justice: the future without prevision, previsibility, or foresight. Differance like the beat of time, of the present absent with itself, of thinking death, a work of mourning, anxious gladness, writing. But the question is alive in that joy also, the joy of listening, of being in what is coming: where we are situated with respect to it [ce qui arrive comme impossible], with the other that comes, inside and out. What will it have us say?

A side cannot be chosen, but the division (inside-outside, me-other) is still there. It is the hit and resonance, the wall crumbling while moving elsewhere, while we also move elsewhere along the wall. Le phantôm du mur est toujours là. The ghost of the wall is always there. “Berlin is the temple of this metaphor.” (Vive le phantôm, wrote Derrida, long live ghosts.)

The power of deconstruction is a kind of energy that puts us in harmony with [nous accordons]… [unclear]…

Deconstruction in der Welt, the Raum of Literature. Think only of Albertine disparue by Marcel Proust; he writes that he dies then (emphasis) when Albertine disappears, but he writes this in the “I.” Who is it—Proust, the narrator, Cixous, you, me? When did “she” disappear—was she still on stage, could I still hear her? When was the world I shared with her gained, when lost? And how often? What slips away in the instant is the truth we share, I with her and she with I, we with us, on a path of infinite flight away and towards, neither and both; I only share it in the instant, when it comes. (Love: the melody of memory put down.)

(Later, Cixous speaks touchingly about her mother (I understood neither her French nor the translated German through this part: my account relies on the account of friends), her mother who had said, “all writers die young,” and that she was the only one left. She and her daughter, Helene, exchanged letters until she was 101, and she lived to be 104.)

If we ask about death, it’s about the impossible: you can’t wait for it, you can only wait for it, it never comes. Though we think we see it happen to others, we never see it; either that, or it only ever happens to others, including myself, which means I never get to see what would be most proper to me. But this “we never see it” is right there on the face, like the visibility of the invisible, the “exposition of a soul.” “We never see it”: not the words either, not even these glances we exchange.

It’s a question of what comes in not coming [ankommt was nicht kommen an]. We still exchange glances, their letters, ours. Deconstruction as a factor for undoing or un-ordering: of welcoming disturbance, estrangement [dérange bienvenue]. —A prior(i) hospitality, where the other [autrui] is anterior to me, incessantly antagonistic to the relation I entertain with “myself” (another call from Levinas): inseparable from the question of language and relation, right there in movement, it is “as” energy—as a welcoming of what can never be seen before it comes—as passion.

Deconstruction, simply: the other who speaks in me [l’autre qui parle en moi]. Come, then, let him speak.

*

After the event, I found myself (where “spaced” I had wandered) in line for her to sign books. As I didn’t have one of hers with me, I showed her a passage from Nancy’s newest, L’Autre Portrait, which I had just discovered that afternoon: une mêmeté essentielle de ce autre que je reconnais comme “lui-même” [an essential sameness of this other I recognize as “himself”]. She read it and asked, “You want me to sign Nancy’s book?” Pressed, no doubt—was this the moment to defend love? the same love she’d just proved to me?—I said, “We are only absences… we only have absences to say and share with each other… so…”

What could I say about our departure, when the meeting had already been that? She looked at me and I looked at her. I was grateful, she smiled, nodded perhaps. For a flash, it seemed like I saw her, the face of another. A face on fire, eyes deep as a trinity. A look of graciousness, hope, and forgiveness. The face of a thinker, of a saint, and to her, what else, a writer.

Waiting for the U, I remembered to look. She’d dedicated it: “une autre, Hélène Cixous.”

*

Either she or some fellow sitting a row or two behind me said: ich kenne mich nicht: I don’t know myself.

“Don’t know myself”: that’s what I can’t pretend to be able to do, that’s what I can’t stop pretending isn’t true. That’s what I keep saying outloud, and writing, but that’s what’s true for everyone. That’s what we don’t want to know anything about– that about ourselves, we know nothing– not “this”: which comes without coming about, that, in the instant, is neither now nor then, but pure passage [differance].

My hospitality to the other in me is hostile (“I resist change,” I don’t listen to myself), but I can’t decide if that other is inside or out, or whether I myself am outside or in. I can’t, must not figure out: who welcomes whom? And yet not only must I welcome. The welcome shapes my own figure, my own life, my own text. I was welcomed before I could.

We are the surprise of each other in the welcome, the surprise of self caught in common with all then, lacking all “properness” and place. We are together the derangement. Et elle fait toujours autre chose que le même. Nicht mit Absicht philosophische. Wir wissen nicht was das Ich ist. Aber: l’idée de ma mort m’oblige à penser à l’identité de moi. [And it is always something other than the Same. Without philosophical intention. We don’t know what the I is. And yet: the idea of my death makes me think about the identity of me.]

*

To imagine the worst, one must see it, find it in oneself. The mission of the theater is to portray this worse (“portrait” it?), without making a character out of the criminal. To show the worse in the everyman, the every-me, in every discourse: derangement.

The theater takes place in a hole in the wall, and the wall is there. L’étrange in mir nous étrange.

*

Hélène said: spiritual practice [Übung]: accepter de déranger [accept and take on the derangement]. Respect what has not come yet, beyond whatever evidence never comes.

No, it is not natural, it is not proper to anyone. It can in no way be said to have begun, because it’s what we always start with: a look, at ourselves, at another.

Life’s thought in a death’s sentence, shredded by the distance that renders it, while we share it: infinite passion.

 

 

(To write, love, to work, the hardest approach: letting a “not” be, without destroying it, understanding it without understanding it. Writing as a permanent philosophical mediation: to love a subject that does not rest, that does not remain. Writing, that is finally: prayer.)

 

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Resistance of Poetry

Resistance of Poetry
by Jean-Luc Nancy

If we understand, if in one way or another we reach a threshold of sense, it happens poetically. This doesn’t mean that poetry constitutes some type of means or medium of access. It means – and this is almost the opposite – that just this access defines poetry, and that it only takes place when it takes place.

This is why the word “poetry” can designate a type of discourse, one genre among the arts, or a quality that presents itself outside of this type or genre, and may very well be absent from works of this type or genre. According to Littré, the word taken in an absolute sense means: “Qualities that characterize good verse, which can be found outside of verse. […] Poetic brilliance and richness, even in prose. Plato is full of poetry.” Poetry is therefore the indeterminate unity of a set of qualities that are not restricted to a type of composition named “poetry,” and which can only be designated by attributing the adjective “poetic” to terms such as richness, brilliance, boldness, color, depth, etc.

Littré also says, in a figurative sense, “everything that elevates and touches in a work of art, in the character or beauty of a person, and even in a natural production, is called poetry.” When one takes leave of its literary use, this word takes on a figurative sense; nonetheless, this sense is but the extension of an absolute sense, that is, of this indeterminate unity of qualities whose general characteristics are given by the terms “elevated” and “touching.” Poetry as such is therefore always properly identical to itself, from a piece of verse to a natural thing, and at the same time, it is always only a figure of this propriety, which cannot be assigned any proper, properly proper sense. “Poetry” is not exactly a sense, but rather the sense of access to a sense that is each time absent, and transferred ever further. The sense of “poetry” is a sense always to be made.

In essence, poetry is something more and something other than poetry itself. Or rather: poetry itself might be found better where there isn’t any poetry at all. It might even be the contrary or the refusal of poetry, and of all poetry. Poetry does not coincide with itself: perhaps this non-coincidence, this substantial impropriety, makes it, properly, poetry.

Poetry will therefore be what it is only insofar as it’s capable of negating itself: of renouncing, denying, or doing away with itself. In negating itself, poetry prevents the access to sense from being confounded with any mode of expression or figuration whatsoever. It denies that what is “elevated” could be placed in our hands, and that what is “touching” could ever get rid of the reserve from out of which, precisely, it touches.

Poetry is therefore the negativity wherein access becomes what it is: that which must give way, and so is initially evasive, refused. Access is difficult, but this is not an accidental quality, and it means that difficulty makes access. Difficult is what does not let itself be done, and this is properly what makes poetry. It makes difficult. Because it does so, it seems easy, and this is why, for a long time now, poetry has been called a “slight thing.” And this is not only how it seems. Poetry makes the difficult, the absolutely difficult easy. In facility, difficulty cedes. But this doesn’t mean that it can be made easier. It means that it is posed and presented for what it is, and that we are engaged in it. Suddenly, easily, we are in access, that is, in absolute difficulty, “elevated” and “touching.”

We can see here the difference between poetry’s negativity and that of its twin, dialectic discourse. The latter puts to work, identically, the refusal of access as the truth of access. But in doing so, it makes up a problem to be resolved and a task whose infinite character engenders both an extreme difficulty and the promise, always present and always regulative, of a resolution,  and consequently an extreme facility. Poetry, for its part, is not into problems: it makes difficult.

(This difference, nevertheless, cannot be resolved by the distinction between poetry and philosophy, because poetry cannot let itself be limited to a genre of discourse and because “Plato” can be “full of poetry.” Philosophy versus poetry does not constitute an opposition. Each makes the other difficult. Together, they are difficulty as such: the making of sense.)

It follows that poetry is also negativity in the sense that it denies, in the access to sense, whatever would determine this access as a passage, a way, or a path, and it affirms itself as a presence, an invasion. More than an access to sense, it is an access of sense. Suddenly (easily), being or truth, heart or reason, cede their sense, and difficulty is there, strikingly.

 

In a correlated way, poetry denies that any access could be determined as one among others, or one relative to others. Philosophy admits that poetry is another path (and sometimes, religion). Thus, Descartes can write: “There are seeds of truth in us: philosophers extract them through reason, poets uproot them through imagination, and thus they shine with a greater brilliance” (recited from memory). Poetry admits of no reciprocity. It affirms an access that is absolute and exclusive, immediately present, concrete, and as such inexchangeable. (Not being on the order of problems, there’s no longer a diversity of solutions.)

It affirms access, therefore, not according to the regime of precision – susceptible to more and less, to infinite approximation and tiny adjustments –, but to that of exactitude. It is finished, complete: the infinite is actual.

In this way, the history of poetry is the history of a persistent refusal to let poetry be identified with any genre or poetic mode – not, however, so as to invent one more precise than the others, and not even to dissolve them into prose as though into their truth, but so as to determine, incessantly, another new exactitude. It is always newly necessary, for the infinite is actual an infinite number of times. Poetry is the praxis of the eternal return of the same: the same difficulty, difficulty itself.

In this sense, the “infinite poetry” of the Romantics is a presentation that’s just as determined as Mallarme’s chiseling, Pound’s opus incertum, or Bataille’s hatred of poetry. This does not mean that these presentations are all the same, or that they’re only figurations of one unique, unfigurable Poesy, and that, because of this, all the battles between “genres,” “schools” or “thoughts” of poetry would be unfounded. It means that there are only such differences: access is made, each time, only once, and it is always to be remade, not because it’s imperfect, but on the contrary, because it is, when it is (when it yields), each time perfect. Eternal return and the sharing of voices.

Poetry teaches nothing other than this perfection.

To that extent, poetic negativity is also a position rigorously determined by the unity and the unicity that is unique to access, its absolutely simple truth: the poem, or the line. (We could also call it: strophe, stanza, phrase, word, song.)

The poem or the line, it’s all one: the poem is a whole whose every part is a poem, that is to say, a finished “making,” and the line is a part of a whole that is still a line, that is to say, a turning, an overturning, or a reversal of sense.

The poem or the line designates the elocutive unity of an exactitude. This elocution is intransitive: it doesn’t refer to sense as a content, and it doesn’t communicate one, but makes it, being exactly and literally the truth.

It pronounces, thus, nothing but what makes up the office of language, at once its structure and its responsibility: to articulate sense, it being understood that there is only sense in an articulation. But poetry articulates the sense, exactly, absolutely (not an approximation, image, or evocation).

That articulation is not uniquely verbal, and that language infinitely surpasses language, is another affair – or rather, it’s the same thing: “everything that is elevated and touching” is called “poetry.” In language or elsewhere, poetry does not produce significations; it makes an objective, concrete, and exactly determined identity between the “elevated” and the “touching” and a thing.

Exactitude is integral completion: ex-actum, this is made, this is acted upon up to the end. Poetry is the integral action of a disposition to sense. Every time it takes place, it’s an exaction of sense. Exaction is the action that demands something due, and then one that demands more than what is due. What’s demanded by speech is sense. But sense is more than anything that could be due. Sense is not a debt, it’s not required, and one can do without it. One can live without poetry. One can always ask, “What good are poets”? Sense is extra, an excess: the excess of being over being itself. It’s a matter of acceding to this excess, yielding to it.

This is also why “poetry” says more than what “poetry” means. And more precisely – or better yet, exactly: “poetry” says the more-than-saying as such, says so insofar as it structures speech. “Poetry” says the saying-more of a more-than-saying. And it also says, consequently, the no-longer-saying-it. But saying this. To sing also, then, to stamp it out, to intone it, to beat or pound it out.

The particular semantics of the word “poetry,” its perpetual exaction and exaggeration, its way of saying-beyond-speech, is congenital to it. Plato (him again, the greatest challenger of poetry) points out that poesis is a word in which one takes the whole for the part: the whole of productive action is in the solely metrical production of scanned speech. The latter exhausts the essence and the excellence of the former. Everything made is concentrated in the making of the poem, as if the poem made everything that could be made. Littré (him again, poet of the ode to the Enlightenment) records this concentration: “poem… from poiein, to do: the thing made (par excellence).”

Why would poetry be the excellence of the made thing? Because nothing can be more complete than the access to sense. It is entirely, if it is, an absolute exactitude, or else it is not (not even approximately). When it is, it’s perfect, and more than perfect. When access takes place, one knows that it has always been there, and that likewise it will always return (even if you, yourself, know nothing about it: but one has to believe that in each instant someone, somewhere, accedes). The poem draws access from an immemorial seniority, which has nothing to do with the remembrance of an ideal, but which is the exact, actual existence of infinity, its eternal return.

The made thing is finished. Its finishing is the perfect actuality of infinite sense. In this, poetry is represented as being more ancient than every distinction between prose and poetry, between genres or modes of the art of making, that is to say, of art, absolutely. “Poetry” means: the first making, or rather, making insofar as it’s always first, each time original.

What does making do? It poses in being. What’s made exhausts itself in its positioning as in its end. This end it took to be its goal is here its end as its negation, because what’s made undoes itself in its own perfection. But what is undone is identical with what is posited, perfected and more than perfect. Making accomplishes, each time, something and itself. Its end is its finishing: in this, it’s posed infinitely, infinitely beyond its work, each time.

The poem is what’s made by making itself.

This same thing that is abolished and posited is the access to sense. Access is unmade as passage, process, aim and transportation, as approach and approximation. It is positioned as exactitude and disposition, as presentation.

This is why the poem or the line is a sense that is abolished as intention (as wanting-to-say), and posed as finishing: it’s doesn’t revolve around its will, but its phrasing. No longer a problem, but access. Not to be commented upon, but to be recited. It’s not that poetry is written to be learned by heart, but that recitation by heart gives every recited phrase at least an inkling of a poem. Mechanical finishing gives access to the infinity of sense. Here, there is no antinomy between mechanic legality and the legislation of freedom: but the first liberates the second.

Presentation must be made, sense must be made, and perfected. This doesn’t mean: produced, operated, realized, created, acted upon, engendered. To be exact, it has nothing to do with any of this. It is nothing less than what is firstly, in all this, what making wants to say: what making makes in language when it perfects it in its being, which is the access to sense. When it speaks, it’s made, and when it makes, it’s speaking. As when one says: to make love, which is nothing made, but makes an access be. To make or to let be: to pose simply, to depose exactly.

Nothing is made (no art or technique, no gesture, no work) that is not more or less covertly wrought through with this disposition.

Poetry is to make everything speak – and to depose, in return, everything spoken in things, itself being like a thing made and more than perfect.

A recitation from childhood:

Schläft ein Lied in allen Dingen,
die da träumen fort und fort,
und die Welt hebt an zu singen,
triffst du nur das Zauberwort.

[There slumbers a song in all things
As they dream on and on,
And the world commences to sing,
If only you find the magic word.[1]]

This poetic affair, so old and so heavy, cumbersome and sticky, resists most strongly our boredom and our distaste for all poetic lies, for pretentiousness and sublimity. Even if it doesn’t interest us, it brings us to a halt, necessarily. Today just as much as in the time of Horace, Scève, Eichendorff, Eliot or Ponge, although in different ways. And if it was said that after Auschwitz poetry was impossible, and then the opposite, that poetry after Auschwitz was necessary, it is precisely because it appears necessary to say both things about poetry. The exigency of the access of sense – its exaction, its exorbitant demand – cannot cease to bring discourse and history, knowledge and philosophy, action and law, to a halt.

Let no one speak to us about an ethics or aesthetics of poetry. It is well in advance of them, in their immemorial plus-que-parfait, that the making called “poetry” is upheld. It stands crouched like a beast, stretched like a spring, and thus in action, already.

[1] http://books.google.je/books/about/Romantic_poetry.html?id=eSa4fY_LQVYC

[This is a translation of Jean-Luc Nancy, Résistance de la Poésie, Bordeaux, William Blake & Co., 1997.]

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Eucharist

Eucharist
by Jean-Luc Nancy

The feminine body is mythical—“admirable body” as in the perfection of the story that is offered to us, the body given, abandoned in such a way that this gift itself comes about as myth (non-“arbitrary” writing) and that, by the same stroke, “passes beyond the mythic and the metaphysical.”

What is meant by this paradox of a myth that goes beyond the mythical? The mythical in association with metaphysics can designate the order of fictional “back-worlds,” to speak like Nietzsche, and therefore is myth in the current sense of a fable.[1] But “the truth of the mythical body” is of a different order. So much so that one will have to renounce the “too facile symbolism” of “pagan Aphrodite.” This epithet gives an indication of the direction that follows this mythic, outra-mythic and spiritual ascension: in an unexpected and even more remarkable way, it is going to culminate in the figure of Christ.

The admirable body of the female abandons itself, “up to the possibility of immediately ceasing to be […] by her own desire.” She can, to her own liking, desire to disappear, desire conforming to the “fragility of the infinitely beautiful, of the infinitely real” (how can we not think of the traditional catholic formulas that speak of an infinitely great, good, and powerful God?). The same infinity renders “uninvolved” its identification with mythological persons, whose figures have been named [in an earlier chapter]. “In every way, […] she belongs to the community.” The return underlined by this term, which gives the theme here, is followed by the motif of foundation: “through her fragility, she makes her inaccessibility sensible, and through her magnificence, that the foreignness of what cannot be common is what founds this community.”

At this decisive point—decisively ultra-dialectical—and before coming to the ultimate identification or (trans)figuration of the female, one final variation is consecrated to man. Blanchot reminds us that he is the one held, “outside the circle of love,”  and therefore the one for whom the feminine abyss represents at once attraction, threat and loss. However, he makes clear that the story does not stop at “these abrupt affirmations” and that, in spite of everything, man enters into this, “surprising relationship […] which shows the indefinable power of the feminine over even that which wants or believes itself to remain foreign to it.” I won’t pause here anymore than before on what concerns man because his role is delimited by what was just been said: he is the homogeneous that shies away from the heterogeneous, while worrying about it nonetheless and relying on it in the end despite himself, “changed more radically than he believes.” And his sickness[2] comes not only from a “lack of love” but “also (or first of all) stirs itself up in she who is there,” and in whom, or through whom life (“existence itself”) is opened to its own abyss.

In other words, at least death will be communicated from one to the other and in both senses. Excessive death of the woman, sickly death of the man, perhaps passing one to the other, double form of incommunication, in excess of or in default on love. Death or dying, in reality or in imagination, as we’ll see.

Right when this “surprising relationship” is affirmed, it is also affirmed that “existence apart from” the woman “has something sacred about it”—“without there being any trace of profanation”: no more than one assists or spectates a rape does it have to do with a sacrifice. This “sacred,” whose excess does not call for transgression and whose access is created through abandon (a consent in which even the idea of a victim disappears), is one in which sacrifice is overcome or relieved in the gift of self. Blanchot writes: “she offers her body, like the eucharistic body was offered through an absolute, immemorial gift.”

It’s a comparison, but it’s a comparison that’s going to be shadowed in such a way that it’s worth assimilation or identification. If Blanchot kept his distance from formal identifications under mythic names, it was to get away from that which harbors the danger of idolatry, and no doubt he is anxious to keep at bay a definite name like “Jesus-Christ.” But at the same time, he proceeds to a sort of incorporation that is even more audacious, because the offering of the “eucharistic” body is not an image here, it is not a representation or a symbol: this body “was offered”—it’s written in the indicative, it’s a reality. Of course not the reality that Christians (and more precisely Catholics) recognize in the story of the Last Supper (which is nothing but the reprisal or sublation of the Pascal meal already twice evoked), but the “immemorial” real, which we know is that of a “transport that overwhelms and disturbs every possibility of remembering it.”[3] Not lived experience (Erlebnis, psychology, sociology…), but an experience the same text authorizes us to call “mystical”—this controversial term with regard to Bataille and in Bataille himself, this term that also comes up in the expression, “mystical body,” through which theology designates the assembly of all, the community in Christ, in other words, the entire unfolding of that for which the eucharist is the founding gesture.

By choosing the word “eucharist”—which in Greek means grateful joy—, Blanchot expresses himself in the most proper sacramental lexicon, and at the same time he avoids using the word “communion,” in its normal catholic usage. We know that this word was set aside early on for a reason that Nancy brought up: its proximity to a fusion similar to that of “one single individual, closed in his immanence.” With the Eucharist and the Last Supper, we return nonetheless to communion, but only by virtue of what one could call an other theology or an other spirituality: of a mystical body that would not be a superior individuality but a plurality in the mysterious unity of a body essentially offered and open, dispersed. One could say: Jesus-Christ en femme, which also implies the woman in Jesus-Christ—woman remaining woman in this transcendental, holy, and “solemn” assumption. Transubstantiated woman, we can say, in reference to the catholic theology of the Eucharist: this offered sensible body possesses mystical reality, the suressential femininity of a subject absent to himself and to the other in his gift, as his gift—his communication.

The christic scene does not stop there. It’s completed with two other episodes, thanks to which we can reconstitute the path of what we call the passion of Christ. The first holds to a single remark: returning to Duras’ story, Blanchot cites the words of the woman that echo the “Take and eat” of the Gospels— “Take me so that it’s done”—, and then he continues: “After that, having consumed everything, she is no longer there.”

Consummatum est: another one of Christ’s words, the last he uttered on the cross. The Latin translates the Greek tetelestai: it has come through to the end, to the goal, it’s finished. Life is at its term, its telos, God’s design is carried out.

Finally the last episode comes in support of “the memory of lost love,” which we can assume is revealed in man. “Just like the disciples at Emmaus: they were only persuaded of the divine presence once it had left them.” The whole cycle of the Passion was traveled: Last Supper, death, resurrection and departure from this world. Thus is fulfilled the work of salutation (salvation) of a god who is abandoned in and to human existence. And woman also “did her work” and “changed” man “more radically than he believes” (by creating a new man, according to the Christian formula?).[4]

The christic equivalence— to remain reticent before the temptation to employ terms like “identification” or “assimilation”—is developed here with a breadth and precision that leave no doubt about its importance. In it comes to be perfected the ensemble of motifs in religious and spiritual resonance that were presented throughout the text. In it takes effect a mythic and mystical force whose form is very recognizable even if it is withdrawn, along with the name, the determination of the figure (which was accorded to Aphrodite). But the absence of the name rightly belongs to the God of Jesus-Christ, inheriting the biblical god or rather, as we have understood it, relieving, if not even preceding it here according to the logic of the immemorial. (Several times in other texts, Blanchot came back to the unnameable name of God.) At the same time, the common name of passion will have discretely but surely guided the insinuating penetration of the evangelical story into Duras’, their conjunction giving shape to Blanchot’s text.

 

Notes:

[This text is my translation of chapter 19 of Nancy's book, The Disavowed Community, published March 2014, Galilée. It is a work in progress.]

[1] Although it is not about keeping to this current sense in its most heavy-handed value (fairy tales, dupes), one must no less hold on to the fact that nothing makes secondary the fictive character of Duras’ story, and those by Bataille.  In a context where ’68 could have been called a direct, “lived” story, the recourse to fiction is only more eloquent.

[2] Whose name, “may have come from Kierkegaard,” as Blanchot pointed out (ibid., p. 58), which is quite likely indeed and makes a gesture toward the other mention of this name by Blanchot, apropos the “mortal leap.” (Kierkegaard wrote The Sickness unto Death in the sense of “that which leads to death,” borrowing from the Gospel of John, verse 11:4).

[3] This real is also, no doubt about it, that of the “real presence” in the transubstantiation of cash.

[4] How can we not think that Blanchot kept from the catechism of his childhood the formula not long ago well known for designating the sexual relationship: “work of the flesh”?

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On a Community of Equals

What makes us “equal” is that we are all equally “unequal” to each other– just as no one is “equal” to themselves. What makes me me is unequal to whatever makes others who they are. But this is just what we share: that we are all “unequateable,” inexchangeable, and so priceless in our own way. Ethically, this prevents me from imposing my “way” or my “form-of-life” on anyone else– in other words, that it is unethical to try and make everyone “equal” in terms of qualities, actions, projects, ideas, etc. Thus it will always be difficult to “build,” by force of persuasion or arms, a community of equals. How can we do so without sacrificing the unequal that each one is, remembering that paired with each is an absolutely unique “community,” an absolutely unique exposure in the world? Because to subsume the unequal under the sign of the equal is not equality, but unreason.

“Unequalness” between unique beings (which takes on countless forms, from love and respect to incompatibility and conflict) is the crux of a “community of equals”– which is therefore spared no confrontation, no altercation, but is also open to every manner of alliance and address, however precarious they may be– and perhaps in forms that political consciousness has not yet or will never discover. For a community of unequal equals, no possibility of sharing is precluded– since sharing above all shares what can’t be exchanged: the inexchangeable between (un)equals–, and thus its “form” cannot be predicted or planned. In a sense, it manifests itself (it is no doubt entirely a question of manifestation), according to the relation that makes it possible. But we forget most often — and indeed, forgetting is a part of it– that we are this manifestation.

Manifestation makes possible a different idea of community: a social space not captured by identities, representations, projects, and so on, but made up solely of exposures, of relations between each and each; made up of those who recognize that they can’t properly recognize or understand or even contact each other. But as a fragment expresses it: “The greatest blessing is for your beloved to have no idea who you are.” A community of equals is one whose members are left to their strangeness, to their unequality– and thus “let” withdrawn from any “official” community. This means leaving the other to their own otherness in an absolute sense, leaving them to the world that they are so as to respect it and them, and in only this way to respect oneself and one’s own– to respect the manifestation named “us.”

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Perhaps we could take up the notion of Namaste here: the eternal in me salutes the eternal in you. Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of “adoration” also involves this kind of salutation between “equals”– who are not equal because they share certain physical characteristics, legal rights, or existential qualities, but who are equals dans la mesure où they are “incommensurable” with each other and to themselves. It is this measure of the community of incommensurables (right there where it is: manifest) that each of us measures up to, is measured by, and measures with. Here I am not “one,” we are all plus d’un: more than one and no more one, even the one petal; and this excess over unicity and self-identification (any common representation of essence, for example in the party or state or religion: any contrivance to occupy the “empty place” of the “sovereign”) is simultaneously what is most proper to each and most common to all.

To watch over this “common incommensurability” entails something like that “more human love” that Rilke invokes when he speaks of, “two solitudes that protect and border and greet one another.” While most evidently manifest in the relationship between lovers, this type of welcoming allowance or space-giving-embrace could conceivably be extended out to the whole community– or rather, to an infinite series of faces and counter-solitudes–, which is surely an element of Rilke’s own poetic endeavor. But this is as far from activism as the Duino Elegies are from Newsweek; the extension of this love is not an operation to conduct, but a way of relating to existence as it manifests itself. For in every approach, in every relationship– indeed, every manifestation–, there is both encounter and leaving-be, approach and withdrawal, touch and separation– such that what is shared is indeed “ahead of all parting,” but only by bringing the departure into the very equation of “arrival,” which is therefore an arrival-at-a-distance– exactly what brings unequals into the space of just communication, as equals.

For indeed, the other is already absent when I am with them– since we can no longer understand presence save as co-presence, where the hyphen implies an absolute “abyss,” destabilizing self and other-self at once: this is what makes it so precious to be with them. But we must ask– perhaps in adoration of what slips away from all presence: what kind of “with” is this, if its “presence” can no longer be understood according to the present? If the community is already lost in and to itself? For it is impossible to think of “turning” to the other without also “mourning” over them, and the gap that makes our loving salutation possible demands it– as if turning-to and letting-go were two sides of the same opening to freedom, the same truth of the community. In that freedom, I could become myself, but only by losing myself in an address coming to and from the other, and which lets them be the other they are insofar as I get lost in my own address– which is also, but not equally, theirs.

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These comments– along with the whole problematic existence of the “inequality to self” that makes the self possible, and which manifests itself most clearly in the self’s own possibilities– lead directly back to the question of “the other in the self” and the possibility for a “return to self” after the encounter with the other. For the “encounter” is precisely what is at stake in the where? and whither? posed at the heart of a community of equals.

So far as the “self” is concerned, everything plays out as if we lost touch with its pricelessness to the very degree that we took it to be our own most prized possession– instead of thinking the self as it is, instead of sharing it: as the relation of itself to what is not itself, to what exceeds it inside and out. Because otherwise there is not really a “self,” but simply a concentrated, collapsed point in space-time, subtracted from the play of the world and its textures. But we must also remember that this deduced “self,” supported by an ideology of individualism and “rights” that cannot deconstructed here, is not simply imaginary. On the contrary, it is the symbol of the social relation that lives and dreams in us. The question is how to take up our lives amidst this social intimacy that dreams– that runs deeper than any form of sociality and association, since what is at stake here is the entire community of the living and the dead and the yet-to-come: the community of equals who never cease to be energized and enervated by the slope and shape of the sense of “we,” our world.

We use the word “intimate” for those moments of encounter when we feel closest to what nevertheless remains not-us or outside of us– or equally, at a depth deeper than we thought was possible, more interior to us than we are to ourselves (interior intimo meo), such as in moments of meditation or love: at stake is a “plenitude” that goes by way of an overflowing, one other into another, in being othered. Because intimacy is above all this: revelation of — alongside and as the creation of — a relationship to depths, which is therefore also a relationship to spilling-over. Reversed on its head, Augustine’s formula means that God is this relation itself, or its exceeding itself; and every relation is of such intimacy. Whether it draws blood or sends a kiss does not change the fact that, in this reversal, the revelation reveals nothing (if not the absence of mystery): that the depth is manifest, right there at the surface.

Knowledge capsizes, and must become non-knowledge, when presented with the infinity of instances of this “interior” God, these exterior faces of the world that are all absolute and unequivocally unequal, which can be felt anywhere I’m emptied and drawn into relation with “it.” Interior to us is this spacing-out of ourselves in the world, whereby we take up the relation, all different, all extended, all again: faces, flowers, fortune, whatever (equal?) it may be, everything is an instance, and so the insistence, of an “inside outside me”– and “I myself” am one of these instances, a “monad” so long as we don’t think it is without windows, and that rather, in the form and content of its very self, it is a relation that relates: more than mirroring the world, I reflect the relation of myself to it, my outside of it, and through that and it through others to myself– which both constrains it (temporally, physically, linguistically, spiritually) and makes it an absolutely “unequal” instance of the world as such. It is the unequalness of this world that we are that makes us equals, an “interior” experience unleashed and outside itself communicating. We are each an exposed origin, falling into its othered-self. And this exposure, this each-time-unique origin, is: manifest.

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To relate myself to God is therefore to relate to the world opening up outside me, and so outside of itself. To love God is to have faith in the otherness there presented; to love my neighbor is to share in that faith in full otherness, testifying to it. Sometimes “nearest” is another person, but sometimes it is me. Always am I suspended in the relation that makes me possible, and must love that possible self just as I love what is nearest, one in the other and both through each other– loving the strange neighbor that I am to myself, because in truth I am just such a stranger like all the rest. Speech (irreducible to what’s written) also involves this intimacy of love for self and for others– where ethics tips over into poetry, and prayer into punctuation. Because just as we don’t know what to say til we say it, we only become who we are in our exposure to existence, to us and the existence of the world.

But again the question, “Where is the other really located, inside or outside, and how can I reach or let myself be reached by that otherness?” In the final analysis, we cannot decide, and we cannot let ourselves decide; all we can do is “hold ourselves” to the “heterogeneity” or difference that constitutes us, and which constitutes us and every thing as an instant-origin. Sometimes the draw of heterogeneity leads to a withdrawal from the society, other times it means following the line to its center axis; modes of engagement with the world will vary as much as every “unequal” being varies–will be as various as the manifestation itself is. Only by comprehending the possibility of openness– which is absolute– in this engagement (which thus exceeds every obligation and commandment) can we understand the meaning of a “community of equals,” because this unequality of each to each, the “unequalness” of the self to itself,  implies that each must trust his or her own sense of the thing, his or her own sense of possibility: what it means for them to “hold to” the other, to the heterogeneous, to the “opening of the world”– beyond all predetermined specificity of what or who this ‘other’ will be. But the world is already holding us open there, waiting for us to embrace it beyond its present self; and this embrace, this welcoming of the world, is “equal” to one’s very self: it is the (im)measure of (un)equality, of pricelessness. It is the uniqueness of that relationship, this one each time renewed, that makes each “self” the world (and perhaps also the changed world), unequal to every other: an absolutely intimate apart.

For even the act of thinking — of contemplating my own capability to act, which Spinoza says relates directly to blessedness– makes me different from myself automatically, engages the world in its broadest possibility by suspending its actuality (in a sense, this condenses the whole problematic of otherness). Likewise, speaking brings us into another communication with otherness– with the otherness of words and languages, but also voices and mannerisms, all of which make it impossible to say positively “who” said “what” (which is partially what led Bataille to say of his Le Coupable, “The wind outside is writing this book”). Because we see here, find here, only an infinite dispersal of intimates in the intimacy of “being” (each one the joining, each one the disjointure): there is otherness in the kitchen, on the train, in the class room, at the reading, at the kino, at the wedding, at the funeral… How could we ever “pinpoint” where we are “situated” in this heterogeneous mix of things and moments– where whole moments can be things, and things moments? What can we do but “hold ourselves” to it however we know how, and to share the hold– exceeding knowledge, exceeding oneself, in the direction of the other even when that other is me myself, withdrawn from everyone else– as if it were just then that the world outside became most at stake in my own soul and body?

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Again the question of “mine”… When I say “my,” whom do I speak? And how could I speak of “me” if not through these common words, in a clearly equal way? Can one hold one’s “mine” to the other at all costs, to the point of pricelessness? This bent of the question is a question of “faith” and of “testimonial existence.” Faith acts, is fully its act and is only in its act, of community. That is, it only acts in and through the other, or through and for the other; and it is through this other-wise that it is possible for me to be infinitely more than I would have been in and for myself, to speak something that reflects a relation to the world and not the position I may or may not have in it– to testify to the common manifestation, to the world we share.

But since I can never know what the other needs (in that they are absolutely distinct from me, in desire and in being), and since I can never know how I will be exposed to the world, to the instant that manifests (the how of the world remains absolutely withdrawn), each time unequal to all the rest, the “heterogeneity of the origin,” the “sense of the world outside”– so can I never “know” or be assured of what it means to keep the faith. Justice requires this not-knowing, requires this “absolution” in the other: I can only remain exposed in what I don’t know, exposed to all the otherness in existence, however it presents itself when it presents itself (even if it presents it as “me,” or whether or not it “presents” itself at all), in all the million ways that being is expressed in the time of existence, acting in faith that this is the only way to will to “live and breathe” justice at the level of the body, word and deed– at the level where “my” body is first and foremost a matter of spacing, heterogeneity, and contact… and so of community and language– of equality and peace.

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Verbum caro Factum

“Verbum caro Factum,” by Jean-Luc Nancy (2002)
translation by Timothy Lavenz (2014)

In the time of a brief note, for the moment, let’s analyse this proposition central to Christianity: verbum caro factum est (in the Greek text of John’s Gospel: logos sarx egeneto). This is the formula for the “incarnation” through which God is made man, and this humanity of God is indeed the decisive trait of Christianity, and through it a determinant trait for the entire culture of the West– right to the heart of its “humanism,” which it marks ineffaceably, even if it does not ground it (thanks to a reversal in the “divinisation” of man, to remain very summary).

The term “incarnation” is usually understood in the sense of the entry of some non-corporeal entity (spirit, god, idea) into a body, and more rarely as the penetration of one part of the body into another, or of a substance, in principle foreign, as one speaks of an “ingrown toenail.” It is a change of place, the occupation of a body like a space that was initially non connatural to the added reality, and this sense easily extends to “figuration” (the actor “incarnates” the character). According to this current acceptation (which is certainly not the major theological one), incarnation is a mode of transposition and representation. One is in the space of a thought for which the body is necessarily in a position of exteriority and sensible manifestation, by distinction with a soul or with a spirit given in interiority, and not directly figurable.

It suffices to read  the formula of the Christian credo literally to realize that it does not at all, in and of itself, bear in the direction of this interpretation. If the verb was made flesh, or if (in Greek) it became it, or if it was engendered or engendered itself as flesh, it is not because it penetrated into the interior of a flesh that was at first there outside of it: it is the verb itself that became flesh. (Theology deployed superhuman efforts– now is the time to say so– to think this becoming that produces, in one single person, two heterogeneous natures.)

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Let’s add here — reserving it for analyses to come later — two supplementary facts that it is not pointless to recall: even with the nuances and important differences between “Catholic,” “Orthodox,” and “Reformed” Christianities, the human maternity of the logos (with or without the virginity of the mother) and the “transsubstantiation” (real or symbolic, either way) of the body of Christ into the bread and wine of a “communion” represent two developments or two intensifications of incarnation: the one, by giving the god-man a provenance, already, in the human body, and in the body of a woman (in one sense, the incarnation takes account of the sexes), and, with the other, by giving to his divine body the capacity of converting itself back into inorganic material (thereby investing a tiny parcel of space-time with “god”, as well as a reality — bread and wine — that comes from a transformation of nature through human technique).

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In this sense, the Christian body is totally other than a body serving as an envelop (or prison, or tomb) for the soul. It is nothing but the logos itself that is made body as logos and according to its most proper logic. This body is nothing but the “spirit” going out of itself or of its pure identity so as to identify itself not even with man but as man (and woman, and material). But this exit from of the spirit from itself is not an accident that befalls it (we will allow ourselves here a vast ellipsis around the question of sin and salvation, which we can provisionally hold aside). In itself, the divine Christian spirit is already outside of itself (this is its trinitarian nature), and undoubtedly one must go all the way back to the monotheistic god common to the three religions “of the Book” to consider how he is already, himself, essentially a god who is put outside himself through and in a “creation” (which is by no means a production, but precisely the putting-outside-of-self).

In this sense, the Christian (even monotheistic) god is the god that is alienated: he is the god who is atheised or who atheologises himself, if we can for an instant forge these words. (It is Bataille who, for his account, created the word “atheological”). Atheology as a thinking of the body will then be a thinking of this: that “god” was made “body” inasmuch as he was emptied of himself (another Christian motif, the Pauline kenosis: the becoming-empty of God, or his “being emptied of himself”). “Body” becomes the name of the a-theos, in the sense of “not-of-God.” But “not-of-God” does not mean the immediate self-sufficiency of man or the world, but rather this: no founding presence. (In a very general way, “monotheism” is not the reduction to “one” of a number of gods in “polytheism”: its essence is the passing out of presence, of this presence that the gods of mythology are.) The “body” of the “incarnation” is thus the place, or even the taking-place, the event of this passing out.

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Neither the prison of the soul (sensible or fallen body), then, nor the expression of an interiority (“proper” or “signifying” body, which I would even call the “raised” body of a certain “modernity”), nor however pure presence (statue-body, sculpted body, re-divinised body in the polytheistic mode where the statue is itself the whole divine presence): but extension, spacing, gap of the passing out itself. The body as the truth of a “soul” that slips away (concealed, robe dropped: baring an infinite breakaway).

But this syncope that the body is — and it is one of a singular dress, taut between a cry of birth and a sigh of death, a flair that is modulated in a singular phrasing, the discourse of a “life” — is not simply a loss: it is, as in music, a beat; it joins (syn-) in cutting (-cope). It joins the body to itself and the bodies between them. Syncope of appearance and disappearance, syncope of enunciation and sense, it is also the syncope of desire.

Desire is not a melancholic tension toward a missing object. It is a tension toward what is not an object: namely, the syncope itself, as it takes place in the other, and that is only “proper” by being in the other and of the other. But the other is only the other body so far as it, in its distance with mine, makes touch at the gap itself, to the body open over the syncopated truth.

A (Socratic) erotics passes through the (Christic) incarnation here as by a fold internal to the logos: this erotic wants the love of bodies to lead us to “conceiving the beauty in itself,” which is nothing other, in Plato, than to catch — or to be caught by — the only one of the Ideas that would of itself be visible.

A circle thus brings us back without end from the visibility of the Idea– or, from the manifestation of sense– to the syncope of the soul– or, to the breakaway moment of the truth. The one in the other and the one through the other, in a hand-to-hand whose body trembles and suffers and comes.

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Indifferent Angel

One would like to distill a warning from the mad dash of arbitrary words; to halt the progress of time in the newsreel; to better linger with the instants that punctuate the mortal march; to repeal the lie of advertisement; to give back to language its genetic potency; to strike from pain and possession all semblance of ownership; to broaden the act beyond its personal stakes; to give oneself implicitly with each gesture, as a face gives all humanity; to break the animosity between alien and host, mistaken and correct; to quote back to the world its own anguish, its own envy and manipulation, in inverted form, to rouse it to states less certain, more vulnerable; to incite a riot in the soul of every being, reflecting its violent outlook, its critique of the world, back upon itself; and to determine then whether or not there is any justice in our ways…

But the past weighs too heavily. Our will to forget embraces us, shelters us, from horrors too pungent for consciousness to take in. Overburdened by a guilt inexpressible in the language of things, we capitulate to habits of exaggeration and distraction, the one giving an air of disturbance and concern, the other liquidating it on the command of light pleasures. All are complicit in the general denial, all have their strategy to attend and look away. Our barbarity is to spectate while pretending to know the essential, without preparation or inquiry, to argue our points like priggish pundits, without philosophy or history. The hodgepodge of concepts making social reality possible remains unprocessed, unquestioned at its roots; convention drives everyone, without a thought for the “commons.” Thus self-preservation enshrines itself, finding its opium in a den of gossip and gadgetry. We parade unaware of the alienation our individualism perpetrates and represents; and with neither the tools nor the willingness to investigate the matter closely, we’re caught spreading rumors, the truth of which we can’t perceive and so fail to disprove. Our capitulations and our laziness combine to condone murder, and we hoard away whatever they don’t take.

And so the saving phrase will never find its way– not after the endless deluge of words molested now and forever by the indifferent arms of technology, which immodestly decides their fate immediately as forgotten: points on a list of grievances too long to be read, let alone to publish. Never again will words of admonishment or salvation come. Never again will a message come without falling into the disrepute of all commentary, its active properties cordoned off, its fervency reduced to platitude; or into comedy, the destiny of bare thought. We can only feign allegiance to the real of an engagement, now that everything has been sucked up in the ritual of ignominies that characterizes the virtual world– which has so gripped us, so cleverly, with the mirage of our own prodigiousness, that we have not even noticed the distress on the face of that world, which lies there, sawed into pieces, pushed off into unseen corners, while the maestro waves his hand, making everything disappear.

The audience falls asleep clapping, their fate sealed by an earlier visit to the teller’s booth, where, like God incarnate, an operative, well-placed man told them about their dreams and their future in such a forthright manner, in so caring a tone– like fathers who never strike the child but wield through their suggestions a power to outweigh all misgivings, if not through assurance, then through fear, both of which he wields equally, for his task is to expiate their guilt– that they had forgotten he’d made them sign before leaving for the theater: a contract to be themselves for the rest of their lives.

But with the curtain closed, the maestro lulled backstage against bookshelves housing the vivisected dame, certain of the audience members drew awake from their snooze and, with a flutter so light not even science could register it, walked away from the parquet in silence. They knew it was by chance that they were there. Instantly they took notice of each other, no longer as individuals, but in the manner of ghosts: hollow outlines representing holy absences, apparitions gliding, in time with the maestro’s prostration (time thus ended), not to the back doors, but to the stage, where it had become visible to all, with reticent consciousness, how much blood had been spilled in the act. They knew it would not be enough to conceal the stains, and that there was no way to clean them up now. As for the assistant, with whom they all felt “connected” (they assumed she’d played no willing part in the dealings, having presumably signed a contract), she was going to stay there, dazzling, scattered, accursed, however she was.

The maestro precipitated as his snoring grew tremendous. The only light left beamed on him with a stale, unwavering brightness. They thought to themselves, Here is the first indifferent Angel– for its light, though undirected, was enough for them to peer back into the crowd, to notice other figures rising from their seats, like young turtles from a summer spent baking under sand, crawling from the night to the sea.

For it was on stage that they were made to assemble, at least that much they knew. But the show was over now, the whole scene positively irreparable. In this, their strange afterlife, which had resurrected them to the same evils they’d faced in life earlier, but now that the act was over they could see, they had melted out of existence, staying with it; and although this impression made it impossible to verify themselves or the others– for none of them, nor their numbers, could be counted, escaping as bodies do their place among numerable things, being never in one room, but always between two–, it was beyond proof that they were there together. They had seen their eternal aspect, and now it was all they could see. And thus the posthumous commission was ordered: take note of the evils that the living wouldn’t dare to, and wait for the rest to get up.

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