Peace Unpositioned

The world is filled with humans taking positions and refuting positions, using them to seduce, spar, single out, intimidate, repudiate, confirm, etc. Social media makes the phenomenon, in all its futile hand-wringing, quite visible. No one is safe, for…
Someone wants to warn the world against the position some other has taken. Someone else wants the other to clarify the position they’ve taken before things go any further. Someone else wants someone else to prove they have a right to the position they’ve taken. Someone else wants to establish a common vocabulary so a shared position can be reached. Someone else has a problem with the way someone has phrased a position. Someone else wants to keep reading to get a grasp on all the positions. Someone else is on a hit list mission to eradicate anyone who holds some position. Someone else sees only their own position and acts violently to impose it, even if it’s insane or unreasonable. Someone else wants a clever, ironic position, to raise a chuckle or be cutesy. Others want to speak in the name of oppressed others through their positions. Others pretend to take positions just to agitate. Others throw up their hands wondering what will happen if certain positions keep gaining traction. Others want to advance radical change or cutting edge positions. Others are trolling positions, while others patrol trolls’ positions. Others are semi-consciously contradictory, taking one position, doing the other. Some are fully-unconsciously embodying with their actions the opposite stance of their desired position. Some spin position after position, circling in dialogue-chaos, thinking this is creativity. Many are not thinking through their positions or why they have them. Many have conflicting opinions and don’t have the energy to square them. Some can’t get a grip on any position. Others want to gain position and want to know what position they have to take to get it. Others are fully-automatic in attack position and put any position on blast because whatever. Someone else hides behind a position or a lack of position because it’s less stressful that way. And someone else is dedicated to carving out their own position, not even in relation to their peers, but for all humanity…

Take a position, refute a position, defend your position, etc.—who would have guessed we were all such philosophers? What are we to read in the hegemony of this form of thinking and communication in public space? How often do we ask about its real effectivity? How often do we seek the practice in the position? Why do we ask, “what are you thinking?” instead of “what is the goal here?” Is it really a position that persuades and changes hearts? If not, what is all the commerce in positions good for? If not perhaps to conceal the fact that this form itself is, everywhere, a sort of compulsion, if not a persecution.

It as if we were urging ourselves to the courtroom, situation by situation, demanding that a case be pleaded, positions validated or proved with case evidence. As millions persecute each other in this court of opinion, with hatred and resentment and division increasing. Victimizing each other with the commandment: take a position on the matter, take your stand, represent yourself. Be in the world already! Responsiblize yourself!

As it there were any proof of a responsible life. As if the real trial wasn’t faced in solitude, the real work invisible, embracing one’s entire life-way.

So I ask myself why we were ever content with this over-saturated level of language use, where the aim is quite boringly to have a sufficient argumentation on paper—so that what, after the position’s been broadcast we can go back life as normal?

What if position-taking (in the solid sense when it advances what amounts to an insufficiently founded, founded-upon-presuppositions, belief) was in some sense always a deferral of practice? Every word you waste on the world’s confusion—doesn’t it just confuse you? What is *really* the purpose for you to get involved with it? Positions are totally pathetic in this sense, feigning ‘decisions’ that really just excuse a level of disengagement. The concern can be retained on a discursive level ad infinitum, but indignation, for most of us at least, is hardly even a bare minimum of action. It is, let’s admit, mostly distraction and a way to exhibit the righteousness of our position as we esteem it. Strong positions—do they not always betray vanity?

Thus I come to ask myself if there isn’t a more radical “position” one might take on positions in general. Underneath the position-taking form, not an ex-posure or an anti-position, but rather non-positional a priori, in principle. Not by choice, not qua position, but because positionality does not correspond to, or at least cannot determine, humans in the final analysis. Because each human is the Unpositioned, an immanence that defends itself from the position-form, demonstrated by the ease with which we can change them, let them go, and find such ready reprieve from them among friends and loved ones. What if instead of positioning humans we came to their defense against entire regime of positionality? What if we assumed: no one is localizable? To take an end-time stance, where every position is understood to be fruitless, despite the spectacle effects it may generate in the interim. To say that every position is grounded in a human Uncertainty that is inexorable, not as a constraint, but as a freedom for the future as Indetermined. To let decisions be undermined, under-determined, under-positioned—not a humility geared to gaining credibility, but the credibility of humility as such, in its radical inability to take a position, its identity with the non-positional. Perhaps this would be a more surefire way to bring peace among humans. Indeed, doesn’t the suspension of partisanship, the side-taking, the believing-I’m-me, bring it immediately? Isn’t this what we know to be loving/human, despite the world’s confusion?

I ask myself why we ever compromised with the love we know, even for a single word.

But then those with the stronger position will win, you say? And thus, by some means, we must discover the more powerful position, convince others to adopt it, etc.? Perhaps our spontaneous belief in the power of discursive reason is overrated.

Perhaps it is, and always was, a matter of a human Real that can’t be stated and needn’t be: a faithful love, a use-of-silence, that knows it is the only position worth taking, and so takes it for all eternity.

If that is so? May the consequences for human practice be major…

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Every genuine beginning hesitates to begin.

No deed, word, thought, or activity suffices to prove that beginning has begun–not that these nor their “real effects” would be denied, but because the genuineness of the beginning requires hesitance. At no moment will we have established a foundation upon which we might build; nor can we be content with facile assurances, as those who build upon abysses would like to taut. Our responsibility to begin, and to begin well, forbids us any modicum of good conscience. Our conscience is not then bad, for at no point have we failed the beginning either. Nonetheless for the beginning to be genuine–to be an open beginning amenable to others–our conscience must remind us: as yet, we have failed to begin.

The beginning withholds itself from us: we will never know what we ourselves have inaugurated, yet we will have inaugurated it. For we are also withheld in the beginning. Our place in it we experience as our own suspension–as the mystery of an event that is “productive” of a language that grounds the possibility of a beginning, though without guaranteeing it. The beginning remains concealed in the product: this remaining is something other than the standing-there of an object. What lies concealed is only revealed as the possibility of another beginning as the genuine one–which, in the event, we experience as impossible and as first and last. It happens, it befalls us, as an irreplaceable.

No beginning is intimable; this is just what every genuine beginning intimates.

Predication belongs to the realm of calculative thinking appropriate to daily dealings. It implies maps of beings, sets of laws regarding motion and interaction, according to which tasks can be planned and prospects assessed. It needs a busy mouth and a busy hand. Preparedness is something very much other and belongs to the realm of meditative thinking appropriate to genuine beginnings. Preparedness is the capacity to remain in hesitant receptivity for the happening of the event as unexpected–that is, as exceeding all forehand representing on the part of the subject. It is a readiness to meet what exceeds knowledge (the event) with knowledge in order to grasp it and give is “permanence” (genuine beginning). But the permanence of the beginning is the most ungraspable, the most impermanent: no evidence for it exists save for a trace whose place and status remain undecidable. Thus is the beginning permanent solely in preparedness, in our preparation for it. The event never happens.

What prepares us then? The decision to ready ourselves. No doubt this calls upon our creative energies to organize the chaos surrounding us with an eye to disposing ourselves to Being. But the event comes over us, which is decisive for decision: what makes these starts (which may be “false” or indeed have to be) genuine is that representation–and with it predicating, planning, programming–is suspended indefinitely. The event effects this suspension and confers another sense of selfhood, one that does not dominate or master, or even create, but prepares for and receives the beginning. In the open region where the self approaches its own truth as a truth that originates in the other, readiness is a gift from the future and every orienting decision comes as a surprise or surplus. To maintain oneself in the “indecisiveness” required of this decisiveness is the ultimate effort: readying.

Ready eyes shuttle, unsettled, with one goal: to bring something home, that is, to transport into a realm of ownness that which is worth preserving so as to share with the other. We seek beginnings as some would seek certainties–we are not at home, we are heading there. Our “there,” our realm of ownness searching for the shareable, is our heading. Therein apprehension shuttles and exposes itself to the unknown of that goal, creating its home ahead of it, by readying itself. 

Ready words reckon with nothingness and do not despair. In them lamentation and jubilation are reconciled, for they are both similarly withheld. Such words come from and return to the pregnant silences of coming beginnings–to be-ing as possibilization, which encompasses death and embraces with without-me (and the without-them) of the coming world. In this way, what is one’s own becomes secluded entirely in the posthumous; afterlife is “lived” “today” as the enduring truth of one’s being. The silence that reigns there is a child that gives birth to its own father.

Business, lost in objects and programs, ensues when sufficient readiness is assumed and meditation on the self is superseded in favor of self-assertion, appearance, enjoyment, immersion: one heedlessly enters a world and its orders presumed to be valid presently, demanding and urgent, instead of encountering things as a chaos calling for creative reckoning, let alone experiencing oneself as belonging to a to-oneself-unique truth that is without precedent in anything already given, and that demands commitments from us that no knowledge can prepare us for, let alone any lived experience.


How to preserve the absolute commencement in its initiality? How to abide and remain in this fructifying reticence, this delay which appears to precede time and the representation of beings? The event comes over us and is in no way masterable, never verifiable. What could attest to it? Only receptivity to its possibility, which it itself makes possible. Does it not leave traces of this possibilization? Yet the trace is ash; in it there is no trace of activity or progressive step. Assimilation to the wreckage is total. Words have never safeguarded the event. It occurs only as the insistence of a withdrawal that summons us to a vigilance we only rarely honor.

Our tendency is  to appropriate the truths as our own or humankind’s treasures, reckoning discoveries as ours and interpreting the event or the word as that which befalls us: we remain entangled in metaphysics to whatever extent we take it “personally” or more broadly let the event settle in to an interpretation or view on things and the world. But doesn’t this truth call upon us to take it to heart in the most severe way? Are we not inspired to organize our commitments around the receptivity we have tried to name? Thus the question remains enigmatic for us and grounds our reticence: who is called thus? Is it proper to say that the event befalls us, appropriates us for the saying of its truth? Is the difficulty brought out by these questions a genuine difficulty, or only so because of the entanglement it seems we are trying to work ourselves out of? But we are not trying to overcome tendencies. Honestly spoken, we are not trying to do anything.

We are: not. So runs the inevitable conclusion, if conclusion we must have, though we don’t. A conclusion: that is what there is not. 

The event never happens. We ourselves are hesitating to begin, refused any being of our own. We are listening to the traces to prepare.


Dwelling in the opening just named, as what is most proper to oneself because never a property of or ownable by oneself, because only “there” in the decision (to decide) to be “there” in the withdrawal of being and removal of oneself (=existence), and not to unleash fury or hatred or indifference at this crossing fact, but to affirm the ungraspable beginning that one is in the midst of beings, the inception that befalls while keeping to itself and alone gives one one’s chance, leaving a trace of its emergence in a movement of erasure of that very trace, on the horizon of a time that only dawns–well, who could have the stamina for this, or the courage to withstand and not understand? How will we ever transcribe what occurs essentially? How will we ever remember how to believe what is happening?

We shall have more to succumb to this vertigo that rings, to risk a voice that never represents, to prolong the hesitant spreading of our lips.


Last minute preparations, the final touches: is this not the moment itself when possibility is most fecund and acts for all time instantly?

Each bend in the verse, every utterance moving towards its end, ferocious but calming steps, focused on the difference that erupts, the nuance that will seal the total affirmation with a kiss, and then exist, or fade, or carry on–we’re preparing for that as we act on it, in gate with a bull become tender, strapping ourselves tight to the violent wag.

September 2015

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It is thus up to us to create, nearly “from scratch,” using new parts transformed and amplified with the old, an experiment on philosophy in view of a non-standard philosophy, of inventing a generic as invention-in-person, force (of) invention. This is not a wager in the absolute or philosophical sense, where it is sensible to expect nothing while one covertly awaits a unique Fate or the Absolute. It’s what we call the generic risk or the radical wager, it demonstrates something; we hardly know what it is but we don’t pretend to expect nothing. We expect the immanent production of an apparatus that we know has the precise property of being a process of invention, and the invention is “our” generic finitude, our transfinitude, we humans who are neither transcendental nor absolute. We know that what we have to invent is not just one new particular form of thinking among others, but the very form of invention, the generic in-person. It is thus necessary to announce and decide the Generic Science, to attempt/encourage this experience. To announce-and-decide this posture with the same gesture, through special axioms. It’s a generic extension of the quantic probability of presence to the probability of the futural existence of a new conceptual writing.

—François Laruelle, Non-Standard Philosophy (in the French, p. 140)

By way of economy – and in order, in a single word, to formalize this absolute economy of the feint, this generation by joint and simultaneous grafting of the performative and the reportive, without a body of its own – let us call the event of such sentences, the logic of this chance occurrence, its ‘genetics’, its ‘rhetoric’, its ‘historical record’, its ‘politics’, etc. teleiopoetic. Teleiopoiós qualifies, in a great number of contexts and semantic orders, that which renders absolute, perfect, completed, accomplished, finished, that which brings to an end. But permit us to play too with the other tele, the one that speaks to distance and the far-removed, for what is indeed in question here is a poetics of distance at one remove and of an absolute acceleration in the spanning of space by the very structure of the sentence (it begins at the end, it is initiated with the signature of the other). Rendering, making, transforming, producing, creating – this is what counts; but, given that this happens only in the auto-tele-affection of the said sentence, in so far as it implies or incorporates its reader, one would – precisely to be complete – have to speak of auto-teleiopoetics. We shall say teleiopoetics for short, but not without immediately suggesting that friendship is implied in advance therein: friendship for oneself, for the friend and for the enemy. We all the more easily authorize ourselves to leave the self of the autos in the wings, since it appears here as the split effect rather than as the simple origin of teleiopoesis.

—Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship (in the English, p. 32)

The split effect Derrida mentions — where “the self of the autos” is the effect of a splitting, of a division of the teleiopoetic event, which itself is complete and “final” — is a good example of the philosophical procedure of doubling: it presupposes a division and then strains to reconcile it with thinking (in this case the ever-delayed, yet perfectly announced reception of the messianic sentence by the other in an unforeseeable future).

This self produced in this split retains its integrity as a responsible self capable of promising (‘ipseity’ in Ricoeur’s sense), in relation to an other whose presence remains both called for, feared, and deferred. Derrida can only look at the teleiopoetic sentence as a completion that uncompletes itself in order to reach completion in sending itself to the other who thus will have co-signed the sentence from the very beginning; (and/or) the other is given prior-to-first-priority and (as hinted at in The Postcard) in a quasi-metaphysical way gives the self to write what it will have written (though this gift is nothing and cannot properly be received, if it is to be well received, that is). This is the auto-tele-poesis: the self relays to itself as other its a priori death and differance and “existence” (however ghostly) in/of/from the other. It is filled with the all of the world to mourn and a black hole of intelligence equally, and all this no doubt on the other’s inspiration, at its beck and call (Blanchot: “Keep watch over absent meaning”).

The self as ‘auto’matically self-interrupted by the other-than-self; the present ‘auto’matically unhinged, out of joint, at-the-end, or even in a ‘delay’ before world-time starts; a look at the other that is ‘forever ignorant of death’ (cf. Athens, Still Remains) — all this is symptomatic of a self-hermeneutical interpretation of radical immanence. It requires that the splitting be maintained, and with it the drama of recognition and recovery, recoil and friendship, crypts and secrets this split effect initiates: the ‘kernel’ of the self-confession, bearer of a passion for justice, witness to the instant of (the gift of) death, etc. It is unable to make the leap into the generic, the pre-emption of the lived by immanence (undulatory, non-egological) and the fall into-immanence of the transcendence that had, philosophically, been separated off (or projected or promised). Yet the splitting was, in its very presupposing, meant to disappoint and deconstruct itself — or worse, to prove itself a lie, an egological game. To prevent this appearance, and to prevent it in reality, Derrida must affirm (as he does everywhere, this is his duty) that every responsible decision (one not calculated according to a program, etc.) is a decision “of the other.” The self split off from the other — the other as phenomenologically inaccessible to the self, as “never present,” “illocalizable” in time and space, etc. — this self must nevertheless, by a sustained miracle that suspends the self in différance ‘auto’matically, it must let itself be affected by the other in its depths and/or in the indeterminate exterior. While upholding the decentered or operative status of the responsible self at the critical (quasi-sacrificial) moment, it still must submit itself to an ex-propriation and its quasi-mystical contact with the Unawaitable.

Thus the aporia of a decision for which the self is fully responsible yet which is “unconscious” in a non-psychoanalytical sense, a decision that comes from and returns to the other. Event, hospitality, justice — all of these are animated by the (im)possibility of this decision of the other “in me” (conceived with the help of Augustine’s interio intimo meo and Levinas’ “obsession” by the other prior-to-self and prior-to-being). In the sphere of ethics, it results in a meta-performative powerlessness and an exposed vulnerability, exposed to the other and to the self through the other. Yet more hints in the direction of a generic science, but the doubling enforces itself, even when the strictest duty is set out. Philosophy and the philosophical self are, in a last stage, tempted to dream up a new story, one about “a god who deconstructs itself in its own ipseity” (Rogues) — but why all these ‘itself’s’ and figures, these splittings and transcendentalizations, the suggestion of time travel, telepathy, a communion of phantoms? The deconstruction of the self gets caught short in its own allowance, and the other is forced to foot the bill.

Rather than relishing in double binds and aporias and making them into the engine of more deliberations on selfhood and its ‘distance’ from the other, a science of the generic takes this doubling as part of the philosophical symptom: to seek in the macro-physical and corpuscular (thus the ego-form and its double, the world-form or All/Whole) a metaphor for a mechanism that doesn’t in fact require it but only tends to overdetermine it in the direction of the personological and thanatocentric. Though Derrida crushes the traditional notion of the indivisible soul or the indivisible letter into ever more divisible pieces beyond all gathering, this is ultimately only meant to magnify the responsibility of the exposed and vulnerable self before the other (wound, trace, “fear and trembling”) in a time out of joint; and to destine the thinker to an even more profound task of “holding-together the disparate” in a “community of those without community.” Once again, the sentimental paradoxes demand to be transformed scientifically (algebraically). The self-referential loop is not broken simply by referring the self to its transcendental grounding in the other, even as wholly other or any other. It remains in some sense a (Kierkegaardian) self resting transparently in the power that established it. Whether that be the archive, a heritage, a language, or the other-mortal-messiah who reads me and blesses me without asking for my help, with whom I exchange a “hello without salvation,” all these figures can be summed up under the heading of: the unconditional, non-sovereign/universal, singular-exceptional, encountered-as-never-present, quasi-sacred, coming-without-coming “other.” The result, however, is that the other is commissioned with carrying “my” lost wor(l)d: the other becomes the handler of my remains or of what remains of my thinking, and to think death is to consider this unknown other as a handler quasi-immanent to all of my own personal considerations. I even have the power to, I even must, give the other the freedom, as friend/enemy, to not read, to burn-before-reading, to not answer my call, to abandon me, etc.–but these are more symptoms of the personological hesitating in the melancholic before the generic or Last Instance.

In the generic, friend and enemy could only be seen as “partners” ‘occasionally’: in this case, an occasion to highlight the structure of the teleiopoetic (messianic) sentence. Instead, this occasional element is redoubled as a secret ultimate referent – even if the argument then contorts itself to deconstruct or indetermine these referents. The inverse operation would be to under-determine the ontological sufficiency of those references (self/other) tout court. “O Friend, there are no friends” (words of the dying sage) and “O Enemies, there are no enemies” (cry of the living fool) could be generically translated as, “O Clone, there are no clones, only liveds added to themselves generically, superposed with an ascending vector of salvation that is non-global and non-egological but immanent.” This is to take seriously, without reflecting an image of emptiness back to itself like a specter, the “no-one.” The generic-in-person does not designate an in-body or in-presence or an X-phantom, but a priori in-no-one, in-anyone: a form of invention, a radical wager on the One-in-One. There is no call to an other who would come to complete the message, even if such calls and messages remain occasional ‘motivators’ for the hermeneutical and corpuscular subject; but this motivation comes under a “quantic” and generic condition, subtracted a priori from the individual and the macro-physical, a pre-emption of the lived wherein the self/other “split” is under-determined.

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To want the encounter is never to have it; the act in relation comes to you, relates you to the relation happening, inspiring, breathing life into you, into that act yourself, the repetition, at bottom, of relating: the relation happening. With the latter we confuse ourselves: we combine ourselves to it as it renders us inassimilable to any order. As a “combination” of acts (selves), we remain enigmatic to ourselves, in the combination of relations that the instant is.

The distinctness of these relations, of all these relations all relating to one another each to each, and without any ordered assembling or combination, is the instant, which is itself another relation, of itself and to itself, combining itself with itself to create a “constantly impossible” combination, impossible to distinguish from its very surge: the atemporality of an instant that constitutes no present (Derrida), neither present nor absent, and that at best, in secret, comes to you. Combining ourselves to it, “we” are the relation happening, the act in relation, the impossible interaction or “haphazard” combination of distinct relations in a self, in a world, in an encounter, constituting an outside to everything, suspending the given in the distinctness of whatever “new” relation is there, or rather surprises us, vanishes in air.

Each one of these (relations, selves, worlds, encounters) suspends the combination and its real, or rather, makes itself manifest in and as its very surge… even and especially when the manifestation comes in secret. Can there be a materialism of the secret? Only at the suspension of real activity, of ethical being, of the “already given” combination. The tutelage of the secret is suspense, and the suspense (of knowledge, of thought, of categories) is what it offers to us. It’s what comes to us in the surprise of the encounter—the one we can’t and have to open to, the one we open to by being opened by it.

This surge of the wholly other in one, “veiled” in what we call the real, in the given combination, is not veiled in the sense of a deprivation. The veil of the real never fails to allude to the combinatory thrust, however obvious its outcome in dissolution (“at one” with unity, as Hölderlin knew). The veil (“of the present”) is an appeal, not a cover. It cuts across the present and lets its relations combine. It is itself caution. Even a god could be born there…

This instant is the lifting of a veil that never lifts (at least not so far as we have any time left for ourselves; we will return to the time that remains); but it is an unveiling that is indistinguishable from the outcome of dissolution. It is in this sense that the instant is abandoned (is never god, and never allows for one; unless it be a “god” desacralized, god as the sharing of interiors, as the surge of relations in secret), abandoned along with every instant of relation, self, world, and encounter— into an outside of time in time, to a type of manifest genesis, to an ‘original origin’ of the instant, in the instant of…

Hips, spiders, glasses, chains… mirror images, words, playthings: all these are promises of relation that interrupt the composition of things, the given combination in the world.

And perhaps desire is just this excess, the relation-in-act: an appeal and an attraction that comes from the outside in and from the inside out, where the arrangement of things cannot be made clear, thus evoking the strongest passion to relate. Desire is like water: every unit is both a bonded relation and a combinatory force; each unit’s weight or thrust a product of attractive and repellant relations that do not “balance out,” but displace. And yet, as non-combinatory and not countable, desire also represents something like the “haywire of structure.” Each of its instances are inalienable in their quality of suspension, in the uniqueness of their “singularity breaking through,” the singularity of a world, a self, an encounter, a relation.

The differentiality of instants has no telos or intention, no more than the ebbing tide does. It only ever escapes behind itself up front, disoriented around anything like an object. It is a differenting without end that is nevertheless complete in every instance. It is, manifest and in its arrangement of veiled relations, utterly original, causal, or “occasional,” in the strong sense as “opportune”: through the blinds of the given combination, a decision comes through to you, through the other to you (the impossible happens).

It welcomes the bodily expression, the veil that urges on the surge of the uncountable and uncontainable relation, which does quite well without meaning: the “only” chance that this manifestation of veils and relations reveals and appeals to itself: the encounter at a standstill, absolutely and forever “unhad,” desire communicated, sealed, sent off, reachable.

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The other’s ebb

Capitalist society is organized to make it easy for us to avoid our neighbors, who are diminished in the rush of things to servants, salespeople, and strangers – figures with whom we can hardly be said to have “dialogue” in the daydream that is our daily life. They of course reciprocate by treating us as customers to be dealt with efficiently, potential offenders to be surveilled and policed, or again, one in an endless sea of insignificant strangers whose desires are incongruous with theirs. This lack of real interaction in the public sphere – which can also apply to co-workers one sees constantly, insofar as even that contact is adulterated by the “ulterior motive” of business – is in turn “balanced out” by the emphasis placed on private relations, which thus become the medium of escape, comfort, long-term meaning: the epicenter of our life’s desire. Suicide rates and the boredom of people -bored with themselves – in our culture would however indicate that this balance is only ever imperfectly achieved; it requires decent economic and job stability for one, but also that one adopt certain norms of behavior that make integration less bumpy and painful. (This adjustment of my desire to what is expected of me, however, is also labor: it extends to all the rules of etiquette, of self-advertising, gossip, rivalry, etc., in a word, whatever it is that pins us down as “individuals.”)

I would argue that this bifurcation between work and play, between productive labor and what we do in our “free time,” exacerbates the problem of “love” in the community, namely by foreclosing possibilities of Philia and Agape. Love becomes Eros – unity of two souls who ‘complete’ each other – when the space for love is only “big enough for the two of us.” This supports the illusion that individualistic or couple-centric happiness is the only one available and, moreover, the most preferable, most rewarding type (and TV sitcoms are there to convince us of it). Public is the place where you are to parade your private parts (selfies, family photos, status updates, etc.). “Public” is rendered a space of publication, publicity, and popularity – the private lives of notorious individuals, their curious desires and exploits come to dominate the private imaginations of average TV viewers. Our private life is increasingly being experienced as something to be put on show for all our friends. This is, to an extent, a positive development, even if it takes a distorted form in celebrity culture (but where else would we learn how to present ourselves? Van Gogh, Kafka, were also social media experts). Vilem Flusser calls it the “publishable private”: an emptiness that we share, exposing the truth of our finitude to other mortals. The negative side, however, is that the public sphere risks being stripped of being anything but an indifferent place where we share our private philosophical musings: a neutral sphere of commerce, transaction, anonymity, and distance. If we happen to connect with a stranger along our way to the grave, we’re lucky, and that’s beautiful; but ultimately we leave the organization of daily life up to capital. We do not challenge the work/play, productivity/leisure bifurcation, but accept it as the price we must pay (literally) to find true love and build a life with others.

I find it difficult not to see in this model of desire and of public privateness a perfect lubricant for the capitalist apparatus. To be clear, I do not mean to deny, or even doubt, the quality of love between people who make the most of having to live in such a barbaric situation. Nor do I wish to cast aspersions on the refined artistic creations that manifest in the soul’s retreat from it. But all this romanticism and pathos surrounding the solitary one – Negri calls it blackmail! – does make it very easy to forget the others struggling around you and to focus exclusively on the betterment of oneself. It lets one forget any notion of collective desire that would be free from the “spiritual” demands of the individual – and that would produce a group subjectivity that wasn’t limited to supporting its favorite authors and sports team.

Let me develop the last example for a moment. Again, I do not mean to knock on people who enjoy public sporting events, or to question the “authenticity” of the group experience they have there. But it is important to recognize that – however “loyal” one is to one’s team, or to one’s band, etc. – this experience is a fleeting one; it forms what Guattari would call a “dependent group,” meaning that it is largely inhibited from forming an utterance that would issue directly from it itself – a creative utterance that breaks through the cycle of stats, player profiles, mascots, and champions. Instead, the group remains dependent – on tour schedules, merchandising, trades, big money, executive power – all sorts of authority that, through one way or another, demand the repetition of the same structures, and thus ultimately bar time. To put it another way, the desire of this group remains unconscious, in an alienated state; it cannot actually develop its own perspectives, but is limited to adapting to other groups; it ossifies into a ‘mass’ and, very predictably, sticks to the rules of the game; it is inert because it constantly returns to the same problem, namely, that although it can be loud and make itself heard, in reality it has no idea why, or who cares to listen.

After the game, the fan is forced to head home to their computer and participate on forums or watch highlight reels on youtube. The relation between individuals who externally profess a certain shared desire actually never meet; or it is not a deep meeting, in the sense that this encounter transforms their respective existences and, more importantly, leads them to say things, talk about things, they never would have expected before the encounter. They continually perform a routine filled with meaningless, “unproductive” gestures that only reproduce a kind of vicious circle of winning and losing – and the exchange of money. In that sense, it is very productive: just the kind that keeps all the given structures in place; yet unproductive in that no change in subjectivity is ever activated: only an anger constantly frustrated for having missed its real social object. Let’s not be shy to state the stakes: these disconnects among the organized masses will repeat for centuries – unless something breaks and these dependent groups become subject groups. (Which is not unheard of: when LeBron James wears a T-shirt in support of Eric Garner reading, “I can’t breath,” the true power of the dependent group shines through into a subjectivity-producing machine that is immediately opened on to other groups and explodes with a freshly-molding desire; it is on this capacity that we must “capitalize.”)

To return to my main point: When “desire” is constrained to be the desire of an individual, that individual is doomed to be hung up in a structure that encloses it within a given totality and overdetermines what it wants (for example, there are many fish in the sea, true love is waiting for you, etc.). This view of things comes to define the entire field of one’s potentiality, the scope and limitations of one’s individual life. It closes up the “circuit of personal identity” and lets one “have” something, attach to some desired object, albeit a phantasy; but whether it be a person, a team, an experience, or even a book deal, everything ends up functioning according to what ‘they’ say. It is an odd structure: because one needs (or believes one has) a clear place of equilibrium in the order, the latter becomes all-encompassing and oppressive, making one do and desire a million things uncontrollably, unconsciously, according to scripts that get dreadfully stuck on repeat under the guise of just “being me” (or wanting to be). Soon, people who live on the same poor block of the neighborhood, with the same economic and political reasons to fight back against the systematic oppression of their potentialities, are shooting each other in a battle to be “the realest.” What we need to remind them and ourselves is that we are only the realest as other.

For the reverse, of course, is not to regain control through a purified conception of what should be desired (digging down into “what I really want”); nor is it to try, à la Buddhism, to strip oneself of all desires, tending to self-oblation (which remains caught in the same vicious circle). Rather, “The first item on the agenda [and it remains the first item] is to open up to the complete alterity of the situation,” without knowing at all in advance where it will lead (73). It is to expose oneself to the rupture with inertial structures through an act (of being, of potentiality, of the signifier, but let’s be careful here) whereby we are no longer at the command of signifying chains without depth, enslaved to “timeless” operations, but instead wield the signifier in explosive ways, producing utterances that can be shared by coming collective subjectivities. It is to let oneself be decentered outside oneself by desire – by the other that never lets itself be reduced to an object in a face-to-face, and yet is nonetheless material, real, resistant – to exceed the narrowly defined sphere of the individual’s (for the most part fabricated) “needs,” in constant recourse to this absolute alterity that is no stone statue or god, but is independent of you and of me, does not hand over its identity papers, and forever disallows its dissolution (203; 75). As Guattari writes: “The I for I was only a possible mirage in the intimacy of the other for me.” May we lose the security of even that position – indeed, of any body or work of reflection – and tease out, even as we are teased by, what can only come to be if we are we.

[Quotes – for my own record keeping, but where of course my own record keeping is already the other’s – from Félix Guattari, Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955-1971.]

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The Grill of Language

(A short note in response to Thanks to Aishwarya Iyer for giving this piece a title and proper epigraph.)

The Grill of Language

By the sense of light / you guess the soul
–Paul Celan

Poets are, by definition, exhilarated by the magic of words–not just what they can express or remember, but also what they can make possible as new modes of being and thinking. But these same words can also make a poet sick: the nausea that comes when it turns out the public is indifferent, and somehow not exhilarated by poetry or thinking. Why is this the case?

Poetry makes different and strange. It suspends the normal relations of things, sometimes by tearing them apart, sometimes by rhyming them together. But its way of doing so is ephemeral, “flimsy,” less powerful than its closest neighbors, film (strings of images, bending temporalities) and music (melody and silence). It takes reality too seriously, it is too emotional; but then it laughs, too, insanely. It bears the mark, some might say, of psychological instability. It increases vulnerability and threatens with it.

Poetry, though it can be put to the service of political or social goals, is resistant to easy meaning, to popularity, commercialism, and consumption. Its meanings aren’t the meanings that are normally at issue when people talk about the meaning of words or the meaning of discourse. And it doesn’t do much by way of negotiation, but is idiomatic, “obscure,” difficult. It takes practice to understand, and anyone can fall out of practice. Moreover, every poet speaks to us differently, which confuses.

Poems don’t come right out and communicate a message; if they even have one, the reader must go through a kind of ritual to get it: they must give the poem its own space, must enter it, while also bringing their whole self to the poem in letting it speak. And one can always be deceived. One is always called by the poem to rereadings. For the meaning escapes (it’s meant to). Every poem falls silent at the end–which is part of the exhilaration, but can also feel futile, useless. Why not get on with the pertinent discussions of the day? Why waste our time in “fancy”?

Poetry, perhaps more than any other art, requires activity and passivity simultaneously: in the breath of reading, one must go with the line, follow its spacious or narrow tracts; but one must also articulate, reassemble, associate, and think. Poetry is both entirely on the surface, and entirely beyond it. It is secretive and reticent, however forthcoming. Thus one is never certain if one has really read the poem or not, which adds to its uncertainty and again raises the question why bother. Poetry has its moment, and then starts over, as it must. It is there entirely in its passing, like words themselves–and like us.

I’ve always thought that the ordeal of poetry was best and most simply put in Jack Spicer’s poem, “Thing Language”:

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

The refrain–“No one listens to poetry”–is an experience that every poet has had, at least until they start to find other poets or communities of readers who respect the art and are willing to lend an ear. But I imagine that even the most successful poets in this respect remain haunted by poetry’s ghostly status. It is not recognized by society as vital in any way. It seems this is truer today than it has ever been; poetry is opposed to nothing so much as to soundbites and limited attention spans. But I imagine poets themselves are also haunted by their inadequacy. Who gives poetry the time it requires, the time it deserves? We poets barely give enough time to our own poems.

In the poem by Szymborska quoted in the article, she asks with a jibe, “O Muse, where are *our* teeming crowds?” The politicians have them, the musicians have them, the actors and athletes have them, even the hack journalists and bullshitting evangelists have them. But poets? Largely no. It takes a scandal, or the outrageous personality of the poet, for the public to take notice. Not only is there no dogma, there’s no “point.” I’m sure others have asked the question: is poetry even for the public? The question is impossible to answer, because poets do not write to suit their audience. They address us all, but only in that they address us each individually. It is also a very flimsy thing to say, but poets write for the heart: from their heart to the heart of the other. Which is to say they write for eternity, from beyond the grave, to someone that they know they cannot accompany.

By doing so, however, by writing in separation and with an awareness of our finitude (which implies an awareness of the fragility of words), poets teach us something about “being-in-language” in general. We can make ourselves heard best today when we scoot past the difficulties and go straight to the meaning or the message. One-liners are successful because they can catch fire and spread without difficulty. But ultimately no one’s existence is reducible to the opinions they have or the positions they take on this or that issue. There are things in us to say that we’ll only ever say to friends, relatives, loved ones–things that are sacred and unspeakable, things that show us at our most vulnerable, when our guard is down, when we’re ecstatic or weeping. These are the things we plead to be heard without any assurance that we’ll ever be understood. These, I believe, are the most irreducible elements of our existence, however rarely they strike us and however unaccustomed we are to voicing them. It is the courage of the poet to dwell in such a crisis and to hone the articulation of intimacy–to let us into a life that is irreducible, untranslatable, unrepeatable, and priceless; and to remind us that our life is just like theirs in that way.

Perhaps what poetry has to teach us–and why it is so repressed by the masses–is that such naked expression, like a deathbed confession, is the realest form of discourse imaginable for human beings, the one most engaged with our mortal situation and thus the one with the best chance of securing beauty. It will not be broadcast on your local television station, but it does exist: something better, something prescient, is there, openly available for whoever is patient enough to tune in. And it doesn’t matter how many do. You are alone, hearing them, trying to understand what can’t be. That is the exhilaration. And the reason.

I know it’s foolish to make such sweeping hypotheses about poetry and what poets do. I want to correct the impression, if I gave it, that poems are always the expression of the poet’s self. That’s not true, I’ve never believed it, and I’ve spent much of my time trying to deconstruct this idea. Rather, we’d have to open the question of what a ‘self’ could be anyway, how’s it constituted, where are its ‘true edges’ (just remember Whitman: I contain multitudes). Poems of course also record dates and facts, real and imaginary lives of others, myths, as well as the shocks, dreams, and disappointment of the collective. Sometimes they even speak for animals or inanimate things. Poems issue from intimacy, I think, but that intimacy is something shared. The word deep in the heart is, in a way, already the other’s word; it’s meant for them, and the poem sends it to them, to be received and, through the grill of language, sent again. That’s the “magic,” and the poem is the plane upon which vibrates the between.

But it’s best to let poetry speak again. Another favorite of mine, by Paul Celan:


Eye-orb between the bars.

Ciliary lid
rows upwards,
releases a gaze.

Iris, swimmer, dreamless and dim:
the sky, heart-gray, must be near.

Skew, in the iron socket,
the smoldering splinter.
By the sense of light
you guess the soul.

(Were I like you. Were you like me.
Did we not stand
under one tradewind?
We are strangers.)

The tiles. Upon them,
close together, the two
heart-gray pools:
mouthfuls of silence.

(trans. Joachim Neugroschel)


Augenrund zwischen den Stäben.

Flimmertier Lid
rudert nach oben,
gibt einen Blick frei.

Iris, Schwimmerin, traumlos und trüb:
der Himmel, herzgrau, muss nah sein.

Schräg, in der eisernen Tülle,
der blakende Span.
Am Lichtsinn
errätst du die Seele.

(Wär ich wie du. Wärst du wie ich.
Standen wir nicht
unter einem Passat?
Wir sind Fremde.)

Die Fliesen. Darauf,
dicht beieinander, die beiden
herzgrauen Lachen:
Mundvoll Schweigen.

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(An Interlude)

To think is to surpass myself. To think about things in a way that exceeds me, whatever I am, to strip myself of every intentional meaning, or to let them be stripped away, so as to pave the way for the “intentionless intention” of thought, by letting the tracks run as they will. To think is to be surpassed by thought itself, in oneself, not for the “self” in general, but for what exceeds each self in every “oneself” every instant, where this excess-over-oneself is put into play as thought. But thought becomes difficult here, where everything seems clear, misleadingly “final” or “true.” And as the adage suggests, what’s true must be tried: put on trial, put to the test. Thought tests itself by testing its “staying power” and tempting its fate, succumbing to infinite reconfiguration. It draws only one conclusion: thought has no staying power. That is, nothing stays still in the thought. It can only tremble on its own edges, disrupt its own timeline, bump up against its own shoulders, space itself out.

Thoughtscape: not a landscape we’d know, where intentions, projects, and ambitions were mobilized or sketched out, but one unknown, where we’re tensed and stretched, exposed in action and mobilized like this: in the different tracts that run and end. Thoughtscape affects us and we affect it, makes changes to us as we make changes to it, leads us back to it by leading us away from it, in thought. “It,” “us,” “thought”: unknowable landscape in/of language, putting all its knowns back into play, exposing everything given to what exceeds the gift in itself. Thought: exposure to an infinite “outside” right here, coming into tension right here, being subject to something (a scientific or political truth process, a work of art, a line of prose, a train of thought) right here. Thought: resubjected to thought’s escape.

Thoughtscape: the unknowable result, equal only to its own expanse, its own “substance,” everything in it misleading, held for deception, so as to be thought. Subtle tension between writing the line, drawing out the thought in mind, and (anonymously) the line being written: the being-drawn-out of the thought (mysteriously), such that script and scribe cannot be discerned and yet, together. Thought irreducible to the thinker, thinker irreducible to the thought: a move toward thinking in the desert. Thus thoughtwander: activity of thinking the “thinker” (who?) to the end, activity of the thinker thinking thoughts by holding true to the train they follow, the gathering-together of a thoughtscape, the “undone doing” of a thought in its spacing, allowing abandonment. A deranged landscape, a spot exploded, thought doing but one thing: sending itself further.

This sending or spacing – wandering and scaping – is lived. But the trajectory of this life in thought is blurry, obscure. Its train falls off track so as to come into existence genuinely. Thoughtwander: experience of the trembling of this line, the derailing of the track in motion. Thoughtwander: experience of a life. No one is the “first” to undertake it, everyone does; and yet “society,” the headless mass, remains ignorant of this thought, as if by definition: ignorant of thought as experience and life, unable to account for it without subtracting its thinking essence and thus doing it the worst evil. In the great works of its thinkers, “society” cannot detect a world, but merely a thesis, an argument, a concept, a “work.” But society gives way, for and in the thinker, to thoughtscape: where a power to think remains unbound and permeable to an act of excess. Where there once was a society (collection of elements), a world is createdA thoughtscape is a world among worlds, touching other worlds, other languages, other thoughts, other voices, referencing some and avoiding others. (Remember, no world is continuous with itself, for there are as many ruptures and lapses in it as there are moments of convergence.) Between thinkers, or even for the “same” thinker, no thought stays the same; for it is rooted in the world-creating being of thought that, in the act, does not wait.

The thoughtscape cuts thought off, runs it dry, leads it astray. It traces the limit of society by exceeding it, by refusing to cohere. It incites a transformation of its use by resisting all predicted effects. It establishes the outer boundaries of what’s possible, manifesting surreptitiously, in the process of its consumption, a thoughtscape, which indicates that something “more” is possible, that “thought” is the way toward this “more,” or simply is more. Thought traces the very limit of the world – whose “inside” limit is society (all its conventions in language, gesture, etc.) and whose “outside” limit is pure thought (nothing/pain) – by making an impossible thought possible in it. To make an impossible thought possible: to experience the impossible and follow its line.

The inside limit of a thought is its form, its outside limit its desire. Thought doesn’t want to be “a” thought, but a thoughtscape that estranges and loses, to the point of blending in with the abyss. Thought wants to take form as thoughtscape so as to give itself over to another thought, another thinker, another thoughtscape: criss-crossing of actual-virtual subterrains. Not to pierce the abyss, but to continue to stand out from it, however tenuously or submerged. It wants to remain swerving irrecusably on the margins of its form, in the trembling of these margins – in sight, felt, considered. In the same gesture that exceeds society or self, thought makes a world or an experience out of this exceeding. Thought makes for more. Drawing everything from the inside limit of the given “contents” of society, it experiences the inconsistency of these contents and, drawing back from them, draws them out, draws them to their “logical” conclusion, which is to explode and be undone. In this way, thought gives something back: a veritable world in the tracing of an experience of thought (not totally unlike “withdrawing” from society, but withdrawing so as to demark it, to foil).

The minute someone inquires into the gift, they cease to be enclosed in society and become an open world. For while thought gives a world in the “terms” that society knows (similar letters, similar punctuation, similar concepts, same tradition), it only does so by making these terms and everything “similar” tremble in dissimilarity, making its own inconsistency and fragility manifest. Inconsistency reaches its pitch of tension in the thoughtscape, precisely where “nothing can come to an end.” In this process, the “thinker” – who is really just a by-product of thinking, divided into thoughtscape and thoughtwander – feels isolated precisely because he or she has literally drawn the inconsistency of the whole world (including his or her own thoughtscape) to its breaking point: precisely, to the limit where it outdoes itself. Society is a helpless illusion without the “proactive” transformation of its “stuff” into an artistic, thoughtful world. Thought (speech, art, song, revolution) quite literally “falls on deaf ears” because only an ear “deaf” to society can hear it, one that can hear a sentence beyond itself and anything given in it priorly. That is, an ear bent to the gift of the world/self/other complex, an ear that lends itself, so as to be affected by and resonate with the gift that each world is. Thoughtscape: an ontocartography of the gift.

Thoughtscape: the trembling of the thought-world in an ear. In it – although it’s composed of outsides alone – social life and the life of thought come into accord, appear to. Life is exiled into the space of participation (society) and life participates in exile (thinking and the creation of a world). Accord, harmony, rhythm, correspondence: between thoughtscape and thoughtwander, between society and a world, between life and its activity, between the form and want it wants. Pleasure of the thoughtscape: to find an infinite pulse, each time, outstripping or re-functioning the finite form.

Because the thoughtscape is distinguished from a mere thought in this: a thought can be pinned down (and obviously, word by word, it is), but a thoughtscape can only disconcert, flounder, sink and fall away. A thoughtscape is a space that, without “holding” or “containing” thoughts, arranges a movement of thought and, first and foremost, a desire to think. In a word, it’s pleasing to compose a thought, and it’s displeasing to survey its nonexistent totality in/as the thoughtscape. This impasse is generative and yet destines to defeat. The desire to think plays out between these two extremes, which pass seamlessly and unnoticeably into one another in the act of thinking. Dissatisfaction with the thought drives thought on; consequently, a world is created, a thoughtscape is engendered or formed. For the desire to think can take no form other than an act of thinking – sending, addressing, tending –, and the pleasure of thought found in the act precipitates from its own self-dissatisfaction.

The form of an act of thinking is thus thoughtscape: where the form will never settle because of its concomitant dissatisfaction with itself (which thought inscribes into the thoughtscape), due to its imperative to world. Thought is dissatisfied with itself because the only evidence of thought is in the thoughtscape, which always falls short of the world. But the pleasure of thought lies in thoughtwander, which wants and knows it wants more, such that “the thought” cannot be finished, no more than a “life,” a “world,” or a “want” can be finished. Thought therefore opens on to the infinity of thought and world, and expresses this. This expression is thoughtscape, infinitely reopened, reworked, rethought, expressly thoughtwander. Tension between the landscape of thought and its wandering, the given society and the gift of a world, the conventions and the convening of heart.

Interplay, intervention, intersection: interspersed locutions, interjections, mediations, relations, missions, interviews, interchanges, interruptions, interpretations. Interminable “interiority” made of intermittent interconnections, intersubjectivity intervoked, each of us interested and interlocked. Starts up an attention, turned and tuned in toward thought: the very question of inter-, the very question of tension, turning, toning up: what drives an “artist” to his “medium,” or more simply an “art” to its “art form,” a being into being-world, thoughtfully and attentively extending the tension along a line (of thought, self, work, love, world) as far as it will go. In each instant, thought exhausted, wasted, disposed of, lost, knowing that its “trace” (word, sound, line, file, color) cannot “contain” the tension, the thought “in itself,” knowing that the trace in itself is in exile and requires an “involvement” to recover it from senseless oblivion. Knowing that the trace in itself is perfectly common: perfectly societal until it becomes perfectly world, becoming perfectly social in standing out from every existing form of sociality, creating its own form of communication as its creation of itself.

The trembling of pure thought between a thoughtscape and a world. Thought creates itself as if it were in exile in its own thoughtscape, even though the thinker only has a thoughtscape – a world! – for its resource. Thinking resources the thought ex nihilo, reconstructs the world out of its own nothing, draws itself from the flat expanse of nothingness left behind. Thoughtscape, then: not a “receptacle” for thoughts, because in receiving them it displaces and disturbs them immediately; not the “interval” between thoughts, because there’s no pivot point but the very pointlessness of “points” made manifest; not a pure “space,” because something is there, something real (world, life, experience).

Thoughtscape, then: the exhaustion and transformation of every form of life and thought, every word, bent on recomposing the precarious, cherished world. Khôra giving way to boundary lines, bounding forward, unbounded and unbent. In an immanent way: shared. Wandering from place to place, thought to thought, experience to the world and back, on a trajectory immediately undone by the dual imperative: think the thoughtscape, create a world. Compose them both, in and from the very body’s place.

Thoughtscape: a body, this one here, this body of thought forever unfinished, but showing itself forth, coming forward as something, someone, exposed. A loose transformation in consciousness, practically deprived of a world…

December 2012

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