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)

The time of a brief note, for the moment, let’s analyse this proposition central to Christianity: verbum caro factum est (in Greek in the 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 trait determinant for the entire culture of the West– right to the heart of its “humanism,” which it marks ineffaceably, even if it does not found it (thanks to a reversal in the “divinisation” of man, to remain very summary).

The term “incarnation” is most often understood in the sense of the entry into a body of some non-corporeal entity (spirit, god, idea), more rarely, as the penetration into one part of the body by another part, 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 initially non connatural to the given reality, and this meaning 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. We are 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 literally the formula of the Christian credo to realize that it does not at all, 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 at first given outside of it: it is 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 givens that it is not pointless to recall: with the nuances, even the 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, it matters little) of the body of Christ into bread and into wine for a “communion” represent two developments or two intensifications of the 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, the other, by giving to his divine body the capacity of converting itself once again into inorganic material (thereby investing with “god” a tiny parcel of space-time as well as a reality — bread and wine — born of 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) to 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 itself of the spirit 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 begins placed 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 thought of the body will therefore 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 “emptying of himself”). “Body” becomes the name of the a-theos, in the sense of the “not-of-God.” But “not-of-God” means not the immediate self-sufficiency of man or the world, but 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 prison of the soul (sensible or fallen body), then, nor 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 wherein the statue is itself the whole divine presence): but the extension, spacing, and gap of the passing out itself. Body as the truth of a “soul” that slips away (concealed, robe dropped: putting in the nude 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: it is this erotic that wants the love of bodies to lead us to “conceiving the beauty in itself,” which is nothing other, in Plato, than to take on — 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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Shipwreck Eyes

If I go forward now, it’s only because I didn’t die, because for no reason some time remains for me. And because there is something more to say? Doubtful— whatever “more” is left will drown in the same silence that drowned it yesterday, that drowns even now all speech. Oh friends, there are no friends…

But I won’t be incarnating that silence— nor the ungraspability of being, nor the real of the impossible. Who could do so without laughing? Who would be innocent enough to try? And yet it’s true that I laugh, that I go on laughing, as time… And isn’t this the impossible itself, the simple, profane impossible we strive after every day— to go on laughing? Behind the curtain God attends, just past the Door of the Law, a toilet flushes, a pimple splits, a heart is broken, a mother sobs… Continue reading

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Thinking the Gift of Death

51xg31tIjCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jeremy Fernando’s book, The Suicide Bomber; and her gift of death (2010), challenges all the usual assumptions about, and approaches to, the suicide bomber’s act and to what is at stake in it. Rather than simply dismissing it as “evil,” he tries to think through the call and response of the bomber’s death. Fernando refuses to write her off, and instead writes through her and her act, indeed, writes it/her himself. For the book is not only concerned with her act, but with the similarities between her act and his own: the act of thinking and of writing a book.

Fernando tells us, in a section set apart from the main chapters (as indicated by a different tone and font), “Confessions: a suicide note,” that the reasons behind his study are profoundly personal (185 ff.). He makes it clear that he has not forgotten the fact that people die because of the suicide bomber’s acts, and he takes full responsibility for “defending” her. But his reasons for doing so are clear: he wants to place, “thinking and the suicide bomber– next to each other,” because for him both are (nearly unthinkable) “events,” and both involve our “relationship” to death. Therefore both are irreducible and remain forever enigmatic. They are both impossible to describe, impossible to trace back to “causes,” impossible even to experience, and so impossible to “know about.” In both, what is at stake is a trauma that simply will not give us any good answers. Furthermore, both involve a relation to the other, or to otherness as such, which precedes the subject and her account: a relationality that no “code” or “Law” will ever decipher or exhaust. Both involve a form of communication, a “symbolic exchange,” which is “profitless,” which has nothing to do with information, motives, trades, reason, or logic, but rather with the “impossible”: the gift of death. This gift cannot be recounted, remembered, or inscribed; it can only challenge us. And so we can only try to respond, knowing that no response will ever be adequate.
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Tongue-tied

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. –James 3:8

With the same tongue, we explode into argumentative rants, console the mourning, show others what we know, plead for sympathy, back-stab, make peace… The tongue puts on a show, or refuses to even whisper. Then it shouts, then it stutters, unsure of why it speaks. How does this thing– more intimate than we can tell– go so easily from confession to curse, seduction to condemnation? How do we allow it so much– repeating what it’s heard as if it were its own, talking over the other so as not to hear?

The tongue seems born to confuse. We’re talking before we know what a “word” is, we’re speaking and growing in our identity before we have any idea of who we are, before we’ve given any thought to what it is to “be.” It doesn’t demand anything from us, not the slightest care, not the least consideration: the tongue simply follows our desire– our desire to be desired, our desire to be recognized– in all its maddening ambiguity, its crass imitation, its immaturity and deceit. Just recall the awkward silence, the inopportune outburst, the mistimed word: does the tongue ever really know what it’s doing? is it ever quite certain who it speaks? Continue reading

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