poems by Timothy Lavenz

true to continue paining
confer on the conference-
less earthface

Mortals made Woundling
immortal in the Wordobey
wound up with reraise
in the others’ mortal
fullest space.

(Excavate, behind,
into the murmuring deceit,
recover the pearl’s keepsake,
make it thought-
treat in your treasure chart,

Unburied, a surface
tension breathes, eyebrows
bend and speak – seeing out
into each creak:

Songswept millstone
hung to the ghost’s raving nape
seeking longingly for memory
as the treetop bird
cries safe.


Compress of ahead
chills the power of shackle,
contact-fissure grapples
with oblivion reactor,
forms burst forth with matrixial
voraciousness      as care
cleaves to the post register,
dashed-by destiny pasture

Etched in the lightache,
trembling, waiting trembling
for speed. The mind chases
shadow’s brittle battle,
forcehogs grunt and spleen,
coolants feed the dry vents
into fleshhot eye crevices
weeping prostrate repeating
craves for the unreadable.

Conclusion consents,
unstably; the agent clambers
silent from the wagered defeat;
but the bed spreads and the
seeds wet, drown into
resurrectables, found out now
in press retreat.


Frigid time’s gilded gale winds
whip up light in quick sediments,
in this dungeonous letterbit cave
lavished with stolid stirrings.

Belted, ripped, flung, shot:
grains flash-attack, linings give yield,
scrapes of unnatural beatings peal
as disharmonious ticklings set congeal
into starcrushed soulshapes slow-glittering;
bubbled-hollows reverberate kiddingly;
colorings clump and interweave in
abstract close range quantafigurines –
an eternal numeral, upstanding, log-rational,
love-graphic of the turtled skeleton.

A madhorn insignia escapes there –
forehead force gashed into the lately
reunified code-capitulation
until the unstained granite bliss out
and composite stroke eyes brightly see.

(Every steed comes whinnying
to an execution held hell deep
in wombfolds nurturing echo’s eek:
harness snap, unclasp, bail, repeat
into psychic glue outpouring
unbelievable: tongue, lick, greet.)

So pass the vial of that demented elixir
till rat gains entrance to the stone,
till it grasp the nebula in rotting torso –
humble portal in clay organ invisible
of demon-blessed, aged, porous
sudden airless taste vision
where lay down warm lips in dead gold.


No sentient remainder in the peat, tulips
despite the wipeout sprout craniums
fervent to wander thru the sprung leak –
drowsy outing to the unfathomable cling
of sleep’s whole silver possibility.

Humanless was that splendid offering:
pinecone, coast, and dropping heat.
I surveyed the dawn’s benevolent creep,
the honey-orange spirts and mockingjay peeps,
with a meal of torqued words snagged
from the mute chalice of the charred hands
eager to drink in the mixed relief,
tomorrow grief-delivered anti-people
clarified to perfection by extinction assumed
and the hard-won gallop of final innocence:

Unglorious, ungodly, divine release;
Medusa’s blithe gift: free feet.



An ox to manage the cradle
through the wasteland, with dry lips,
cracked hooves, and an anvil
to mark the pacing,
roughs it through the biting sand’s
indifferent heap.

A burnt catalog keeps the grainy trace
of every leg: those met archangels or
frowning faces, oceans or severed
toes – shipwrecks of belief (if you
can still imagine a flag
raised for poetry):

Embroidered on the canopy of that wagon,
conveying mind-wise the covenant creep,
transporting time’s unpassable channel,
is hoping; the word snorts and
eats a growth and goes ahead.

What remains is little tug,
sad chipped red left cleat;
fortune’s cause of thought
tumbled in the damaged deep
of an embankment, the old ropes
fraying, alone stuck on repeat.

A baptism in the palace of emptiness
is expected, to forbid relief.

The mute beast
affirms the necessity, almost
peopleless, as the child
readies its heart to peek.


lack of axis
cracked the motor,
time the road twice murdered
by two gunning pumping
human legs –

break! shouts the ladder
fall back! sighs the lone
sing again! rises mourning
denegatived –

erases the lag in the towline
to sow secrets
secret to both our regions;
across it, mirror shavings
for a line to be seen.

is anyone’s misery or
in-running ghost-


Out of the veil
in light the barrier,
I reckon lots out
with the stars,
come out empty-handed,

beneath white I carve
the gawking stares
led up high to the high landing;
underground I stand preparing
for the gate to go up, but
nothing, yet

asked for patience,
large starvings,
as the black beyond rises
to speak.


A phlegmatic film of
friable spirit and naughty deed
over drool-wafting nothingness
is our prime world decree:

A spider’s net, prepped to catch
shreds of notion and animate disease,
casting safe lines to unsuspecting regions,
levitating in the rugged elsewhere.

(Scamper faster, knead.
The gaps and leaks
sliced so cursorily in the shield
run deeper.)

The vacuum eats the weave,
the weave feeds the vacuum,
love and scar tarry
in creation’s unequal:
the existence of poetry.



Carefree chassis and access
whistle another hill due west
onward on the sacred road
promising victory in distress;
concepts offloaded, roughened,
understandings bite-sized, up-to-date;
for insight: vision is mastery
staring violet irises wild into sun tapestry
plowing down haply shimmering corridors
with flags strung mad honking and
seven plus 70 sonnets to future glory,
until the final line jolts us
from the eased pavement; the image
on the horizon tapers, emulates

Accident , where
startled the encounter actions
in the absence of met doves:
fate unsealed, beloved drive
canceled: a word generated
in fog of mysterious gentle
lifelong soul commiseration
in a ditch of lost numbers
where death awaits initiation.


ripping at the saw,
first perception’s
awe in the rift:

cut time
incinerate infinity image,
sun pinion on slim
revolve – a caption
standing resolve
let sunder.

O empirical crumple,
unresolvable episteme,
bracket dough being in fall;
total up to tea towel
in sludge;
disavow, become;
tell look again focus
and pull.


Trial myth of fire
on the explosion’s scream,
a clock that has you
alive and asleep,
rapt in contention
with the crackle’s glow.

(Gather the logs, guests
are entering,
set up more chairs
in the snow.)

Distorted the conflagration
unlags, it sparkles
in welcoming shadows,
legs out, footprints made,
announcing converge
on that damned clockface
where counting’s nothing and
elixirs goad the indemonstrable
into that oratory emplacement
of chuckling silence, standing or
sitting round the echo labor
in memory of chances
past earning.

(Friend’s intrusion
learns my inner memory;
I listen for the countdown
in our go.)


Imagination’s urgency
deferred into rumor purge
plans demonry.

Pronunciation of the thing
debates intangibles;
organs denaturalized
relearn lassitude;
the clasp on the ape’s back
refigures human

pop into purposes
unnoosed. The grey
lark chooses not to move
yet falls in for the truth:
petals touching, tardily,
the wind. –

for the cage flutters now
and the chairs up-tip;
a channel into dark
amber begins.


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Self-Constraints VI

Non-philosophy claims to be a science of philosophy, able to observe and isolate a system at work in it globally, so much so that instead of remaining within this system it can treat its various idea-complexes as symptoms. In later texts, this requires the invention of a quantum physics of philosophy or its quantic deconstruction, which will bear on concepts themselves and not just texts. There are two basic sides to the non-philosophical endeavor: to diagnose the philosophical symptoms of transcendence; and to invent its own machines or matrices that modelize radical immanence. Both sides proceed through the use of “oraxioms” emptied of their sufficiency, thus “weakening” discourse. These are the property of no ‘ego’ but of a ‘we’ as “quantum of expression,” at once lived and generic. Non-philosophical texts are everywhere the invention, expression, and practice of these oraxioms. Thus the confusion for many readers who feel confronted with yet another batch of neologisms from yet another eccentric philosopher. It is difficult to recognize that in-the-last-instance they have no recourse to the philosophical languages they transform. Devoted fans are sent down the perilous path of trying to ‘decipher’ yet again the ‘meaning’ of these supposed neologisms, striking deals with philosophy and thus dooming it to mixture and incomprehension. As for philosophers, they develop an uneasy resistance to non-philosophy that is even stronger than their resistance to science, because unlike the latter it cannot be subdued or hierarchized so easily, for non-philosophy has brought, however ‘indirectly’, a scientific-type thought to the terrain of philosophy, while at the same time placing both science and philosophy under the condition of a generic man. Indeed, it is in the name of a generic transformation of all the productive resources of thought that non-philosophy stakes this claim to be a science of philosophy. To liberate those resources from their self-constraint is one of its primary aspirations.

In this installment of the series, we will again opt to do little more than diagnose, hoping that by clearly illustrating the philosophical system we can loosen some resistances to non-philosophy, which in our view is justified in calling itself a radical treatment of that system, even if it is clear that no single text, indeed no text at all, could ‘manifest’ this in a transparent way. Because the material at non-philosophy’s disposal is of philosophical origin, even when it treats it scientifically, the evidential ‘output’ is, or rather objectively appears to be, philosophical. Only the choice to shift the base for thinking will ‘suffice’. A different style of philosophical materiality is required, one that no longer treats concepts as bodies and bricks, as interlocking parts or referential loops, as noematic isolates, in sum, no longer as trajectories arrayed in a predetermined space, whether that be the text in consideration, the tradition, or the world itself. Instead, concepts and styles themselves are to be treated as interfering waves, underdetermining each other by quantic superposition, in a flux of immanence that never forms a field or plane. If we focus provisionally on diagnosis, we do so with this altered materiality of style in mind and try to practice it. This may appear like a lack of concern for detail, like a mess of strokes too broad. These charges are often leveled against non-philosophy, and from the perspective of philosophy rightly so. But it has no need or desire to defend itself against them, quite simply because it has different goals–to defend humans from the constraint the self puts on their productive resources. Suffice it to say, a non-corpuscular but wavelike materiality in concepts implies a different approach to the world of philosophy, and not just when it comes to texts. In the end, it is up to the reader to discern to what extent the collision of conceptual particles in this non-philosophical experimental chamber is not merely a free-associative scramble.

Our goal here is to show that one strong line of demarcation running between philosophy and non-philosophy can be best summarized as the demarcation between the singular and the generic—specifically, between “singular existence” and the “generic lived-without-life.” To help orient us, we can say that where the concern of the first would be philosophy’s, the second is non-philosophy’s. It is a matter of showing a transcendental bias or privledging of singular existence that reigns in philosophy and, through it, in the world. The often-repeated claim that we are all “philosophers” more than we might normally think justifies itself here. Indeed, one of the main tasks of philosophy from its inception is to “know thyself,” not just oneself in one’s obvious particularity, but in one’s singularity or in one’s becoming-singular. Its most powerful articulation in recent times is perhaps Nietzsche’s “become who you are,” which implies that it is not inevitable–that there is a potentiality to become oneself that can lie dormant, and that only the self itself can awaken itself to that potential, which is inborn yet demanding the self’s constantly renewed decision for it (in Heidegger, this is Dasein’s “resoluteness” [Entschlossenheit]). Such is why it remains for the duration of a life mysterious. Sollers comments: “Nothing tells us what we’re capable of. We go through many situations and events that we aren’t. We don’t inevitably become what we are. False directions abound. That’s why most of us humans become something we’re not…” Know thyself is a practice of relating to oneself that passes through one’s potentiality to become oneself. Its first aim is to keep one from becoming something that one is not. The rigor with which one practices this “knowing,” obviously combined with a bit risk and luck, is the measure of becoming-singular. Philosophy no doubt sees this practice as the source of a joy that wants eternity, and thus signals a becoming that is infinite. As Agamben affirms: “Singular existence remains the experimentum crucis of philosophy, which it cannot avoid and in which it unceasingly threatens to shipwreck.”

Giving one of the most basic formulas for what non-philosophy will call double transcendence, Kierkegaard writes, “the self is a relation relating itself to itself.” The system of philosophy is to be found in this relation of the self to itself that the self is. What is at stake here is a being that is simultaneously a relation to Being–its own being or its being to be owned up to–, somewhere between being-itself and relating (to) being-itself (thus involving an expression of itself in some form). The being all alone is not elevated here, since there is nothing satisfying about its raw immediacy or its citizen-like obviousness. Philosophy divides this being in numerous ways, for example, between what it appears to be and its appearing. There is a sort of hidden excess always surging from somewhere that makes the quod never equal to the qua, presence never equal to coming-to-be. It is the relation here that matters, but so do the two sides. Finding itself divided off from the One, a duality is produced between potential-self and an actual-self. As we mentioned, the latter can go astray and miss its moment of “individuation.” This constitutes philosophy’s most passionate and sustained refrain: never lose sight of what you might be, never let yourself be reduced to what you appear to be. This even strikes down to the root of what we imagine ourselves to be. In other words, our potential is and must remain absolutely unimaginable, for it is the source of our very imagination of our self and world. If ever it were to be exhausted or to pause on an image, it would lose itself in actuality, and we would forget who we “are”: this relation between our being and ourselves as possible. Only a vital practice, a tireless vigilance over one’s own potentiality to be or not be, can hold these two divisions in contact and reconcile them.

When reading philosophers, one has to take care to see how this system is distributed, but it is also possible to treat it as a whole or as a symptom. Schematically: the relation of the self to itself runs between actual-self (often called the individual) and potential-self (often linked to the impersonal or preindividual), where the ‘result’ is the singular-self (the One recomposed from this initial Dyad). The paradox is that this ‘result’ is both presupposed and unpresupposable: presupposed in the virtual, but unpresupposable in reality, because any assumption of this result in reality risks halting the process of becoming-oneself. It is reality that is filled with traps of sleep and stasis, and the philosopher tries mightily to remind us–by reminding himself–not to rest, to recognize ourselves as desiring eternity, as desiring to be ourselves eternally. This is why the mode of being of self can often only be articulated in the future anterior tense: what I will have been. This is an important clue, because it points to the “end” of the self in both senses. The virtual moment when it will no have the life or the energy to relate to itself is, in a way, the only thing it can presuppose. But, in that it lives still, this virtual moment can only remind the self to “act now while supplies last,” as Kierkegaard would put it, to waste no time in willing oneself. Nietzsche’s noonday demon is a version of this ultimatum: what if one day you were told that you will repeat what you are doing now for all eternity? Would you be terrified or would you leap and rejoice? The self, to access its potential, must already have in mind its own wholeness, and this implies having a thought of its own impossibility.

Heidegger brings this home forcefully in Being and Time: “Death is a possibility-of-being that Dasein itself has to take over [zu übernehmen] in every case. With death, Dasein stands before [steht sich… bevor, Derrida gives “awaits itself”] in its ownmost potentiality-for-being.” The division here is between the facticity of Dasein, its thrownness [Geworfenheit], and the (im)possibility of Da-sein which it throws or projects [Entwerfen]. The result, which reveals itself to be the presupposition, is the transcendence of Da-sein as abyssal ground–the unthought of the thinking of Being. Put simply, it is the relation between a being and Being, which makes up the Be-ing of that being, which distinguishes itself from [unterscheidet sich von] the being and from Being, and yet “is (its) being itself.” The latter is virtually presupposed in order to eventually rest in itself, to attain to its own presupposed: to relate to its death as such. Our goal is only to recognize the system this creates. In Kierkegaard, this is the self, “resting transparently in the power that established it,” which he of course calls God. But it can just as easily be called Being, Power, Life, Desire… There are many mixtures and philosophical ‘decisions’ that can be made here, it all depends on who you ask, and there are even many different inflections that will flow from the same fundamental choices made. But the system and the hierarchy is always there.

Owning up to one’s potentiality to be oneself always involves some sort of approach to nothingness, whether this is being-toward-death or being-toward-wound (Deleuze), or a contact with the central emptiness of ‘inoperativity’ as in Agamben. It is an embrace of the preindividual or neutral, eventually a becoming-neutral as becoming-self, all the stronger for passing through the violent effacement of death. But ultimately this system works in the name of singularity, however “nameless” it may be. One quote from Deleuze will show this system distributed along the axis of individuality–virtuality–singularity, where it is one’s individual facticity (“internal and external life”) that must be somehow restored to its virtuality (“in the process of actualization”), through which something like a pure event (“‘a’ life”) can manifest:

The life of the individual gives way to an impersonal and yet singular life that releases a pure event freed from the accidents of internal and external life, that is, from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens: a “Homo tantum” with whom everyone empathizes and who attains a sort of beatitude. It is a haecceity no longer of individuation but of singularization: a life of pure immanence, neutral, beyond good and evil, for it was only the subject that incarnated it in the midst of things that made it good or bad. The life of such individuality fades away in favor of the singular life immanent to a man who no longer has a name, though he can be mistaken for no other. A singular essence, a life…

Not only did Deleuze write these words at the very end of his life, but this passage in the text is preceded by a Dickens story that recounts a man “held in contempt by everyone”  who is on his deathbed. Strangely, as he comes nearest to death, his caretakers begin to obsess over his slightest sign of life, caring for him and even loving him, and he himself is penetrated by something “soft and sweet.” But when he comes back from the brink, “his saviors turn colder, and he becomes once again mean and crude.” Only at the limit of life and death, where his life is becoming something impersonal again, only when life itself is at stake in his life, is there love for him, for then he “makes appear” a force of life-death that transcends him and all those around him, even as its very appearance reminds them forcefully of its fragile immanence, and warms them to the heart with life’s virtuality. But this is also where he himself–beyond all particularity–reemerges as a singularity.

Now, when it comes to generic subjectivity, it is the stance that is fundamental. This is why non-philosophy is not just another modulation on this system, but a shift of base to vision-in-One. It axiomatizes an a priori impossibilization of the self and double transcendence. In my work, I try to address this problem through a refutation of what I call the ‘one-man hypothesis’, whose symptoms can be recognized everywhere in philosophy and especially wherever it is a question of the self’s singularization. It is a matter of discovering other tools and traditions for a messianic-type conversion to “no one”; it hearkens Paul Celan’s “No-one’s Rose” and Bertolt Brecht’s “smallest greatness.”

The question of the generic lived-without-life is posed in the suspension of the ‘second step’ of recomposition whereby the one-man retains his corpuscular identity for the world, that is, whereby the self’s transcendence is restored most intensely through the very operation that immanentizes self as use, virtuality, practice, plane of immanence, etc. In a sense, it is to suspend thought in preindividual potentiality, without transforming it into the singularity of ‘a life’ (thus coming close to Simondon on the ontogenesis of the transindividual). The development of a subject-science that would bring down transcendence has as its basic aim the liberation of the productive of forces of thought beyond the conceptual persona of the philosopher. It demands the application of a scientific stance and procedure–precisely a subject-science that fuses the subjective occasion, provided by philosophy, with generic immanence. Philosophy does not have within itself resources to bring down the system of double transcendence any more than history, as Benjamin tells us, has within itself the resources to relate itself to the messianic. There, one needs a Messiah to create and accomplish the relation, and so to complete History. This already tells us the Messiah, taken in its genericity and no longer as one-man, is to be distinguished from any ‘singular existence’. As I argue elsewhere, the extent to which messianity has been viewed through the lens of the latter is the extent to which, in history, it has been time and again destroyed. Summarizing the stakes of the ‘generic turn’, Laruelle writes:

The lived experiences of faith, of art, of love, and so on are generic and are not marked by the singularity/totality of the philosophical or theological subject. The matter is somewhat more complicated: every generic lived produces a philosophizable, if not a philosophy, and this is the origin of the appearance of the circle. The lived is philosophizable according to philosophical generality, but is also underdetermined. The lived is subjectivity-without-subjectivation, without there being a fold of subjectivity and subjectivation, because it is identified with a scientific principle, assuming a certain stance and, as subject, submitting itself to an idempotent formation. Taken in its state as an ordinary lived, science submits it to a uni-version, as if subjectivity were smoothed out and ejected from itself—a generic neutralization that snatches it away from both singularity and totality.

Needless to say, the problem is immense, because it seems nearly impossible to think at any remove from the self-holder or the body-limit or what we could playfully call the speaker-speaker. Most would find it absurd to do so, given the urgent considerations of individual existence that press upon them. And, to refute any of this often opens one to the accusation of being a life-denier, or of denying the dignity of singular existences. There is also always this temptation to fall into a biology-based line of argumentation, based in the question of survival, but from which the very idea of legal personhood isn’t so far removed, as a way to defend the inevitability (always inevitable!) of starting with ‘the’ being that I am (or have to be)–the one-person we are each doomed or blessed to be, given our mucus membranes and our ‘private languages’. There is a line running from bare life’s nutritive upkeep and the biopolitical testimony before the court of other humans, as Agamben has amply shown, But once you have even the tiniest bit of suspicison about this ‘I’, its self-evidence for thought becomes immensely questionable. You begin to see how it is everywhere treated like an absolute constraint (“I am in the end alone with myself, I die alone”) and like an absolute gift (“I am that I am, none else with me can be compared”); the work of Jacob Rogozinski even seeks to revitalize this paradigm against what he sees as the egocides of contemporary philosophy.

Framed this way, it becomes clear that double transcendence has always meant glorification and divinization of self. We are all Gods in that we make this self-circle and picture our thoughtful efforts as rooted in ourselves, or as having a horizon of our unique testimony. An atheist questions God’s transcendence, but how often do they question that of their own individuality, as if not even quantum science was capable of challenging this “obvious fact” of being-in-the-world? But ‘questioning’ all this is not enough; after all, philosophy loves nothing more than to mull over the ‘who’ question, the question of a singularity’s own eventimentality. This self-inquiry almost always strengthens its depth, its power of decision, its embrace of totality, or its sense of interconnectedness with all beings, its immersion in them in some kind of continuity or communication. I call all these strategies the “inflation” of transcendence, in the sense of a belly distended by a painful inflammation (too much stress, too much spice).

We end up with the massively spiritual, yet also plainly mundane illusion whose grandeur and ecstatic limit both Nisargadatta Maharaj and Jacques Lacan attest: “Thou art That.” This is the identification of the (no-)self with the Reality-All as God. It would be helpful to read from another thinker, Adi Da Samraj, to see the alluring beauty of identifying myself in my Heart Source with The Bright–anyone can be guru (of) self. Western philosophy is undoubtedly a bit more nuanced, novelistic and hesitant than the Eastern gurus, but certainly no humbler, with its ego cogito, ergo sum. Lacan turns it into, “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I don’t think.” But just consider the sort of ‘reality-surface’ this creates. It implies an almost comically exaggerated extension of human thought over all of happening, of the signifier-signifed relationship over every sector, such that everything that happens relates to “me” (and so I’m allowed to have my opinion about it, which I pump out like an uncontrollable compulsion). It is all part of my Unconscious; it means something to me, at least potentially; and it is there for me to learn from, if only to learn my own zeroness or non-existence. “I think about what I am, there where I don’t think to think.” Thus everything is thinking the Me-All, even where I don’t think of myself; I suffuse the entire landscape, and everything I touch passes through this self-signifying surface whose power and reach is literally astronomical. Agamben has also shown how the question of anthropogenesis is about coming-into-language, certainly not in a merely signifying way, but where language is a setting-up of the truth of a singular being. There is a sort of spontaneous auto-emergence of the potential-self-relation into Reality-language insofar as thinking happens (‘it’ thinks), such that the one who is thinking is immediately an object of that thought, and this truly leads to an infinite regress trying to find out who is the thinker of this thought of the thinker that thinks the thought of the thinker in “me,” as is wonderfully articulated by a recent Frank Ocean song:

Dreaming a thought that could dream about a thought
That could think of the dreamer that thought
That could think of dreaming and getting a glimmer of God
I be dreaming a dream in a thought
That could dream about a thought
That could think of dreaming a dream
Where I can not, where I can not

As Lacan writes, “I identify myself in language, but only to lose myself in it like an object. What is realized in my history is the future anterior of that which I will have been for that which I am in the process of becoming” [Je m’identifie dans le langage, mais seulement à m’y perdre comme un objet. Ce qui se réalise dans mon histoire, [c’est] le futur antérieur de ce que j’aurai été pour ce que je suis en train de devenir]. As so often is the case in human thought, a poor presupposition becomes unsolvable enigma–a dream. It is perhaps not surprising that this can only occur through language or Logos, the regime of Being(-logos). Perhaps psychoanalysis is called a ‘Jewish’ science of dreams because it shares with that tradition the idea that the cosmos is linguistic by essence, that a God who is essentially Name suffuses every corner and aspect, that the worshiping body is hyperlinguistic; Derrida introduced this to us all with his famous, Il n’y a pas de hors-texte. Through the verbum caro factum est, Christianity shares this territory: the semotic become substance, spirit become body, the incarnation of essence in existence. Wo Es war, soll Ich werden. What is all this if not a constantly renewed decision to replace the Real with Self-relation, an operation so fragile and ‘unconscious’ that all of humanity plays out as one disasterous hallucination–one that non-philosophy does not hesitate to call the World and the ego-form–and which we address thematically once more under the heading of the self-constraint?

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Really Doing Nothing

Eric Santner’s Tanner Lectures begin with the observation that, in contemporary society, human bodies at work do not only produce products or services, but a surplus over them, “work in excess of any apparent teleological order, work that [keeps] one busy beyond reason” (Santner, The Weight of All Flesh, 23). What is this extra busywork for and why is it so exorbitant and unreasonable? Why does it spill over the limits of normal work hours, such that all participation in social life feels like work? What is this surplus? The short answer is glory, that intangible excess related to reputation, fame, and status. Glory lies behind our obsession with media and its images, celebrities and politicians, with any shiny new commodity. But it also has to do with the People themselves, with incarnating the social bond under capitalism. In this essay, we will examine the relation between glory and labor in some detail, before discussing some potential responses: Santner’s idle worship and our “really doing nothing” with the help of the imaginary number.

The Sovereignty of Ca$hMoney

To trace the development of busy-work, Santner returns to the moment when, starting with the French revolution, the People overthrew the Monarchy and popular replaced royal sovereignty. For many centuries, the production of glory was fixed on the King’s symbolic body, his so-called “second body” or glorious body, the one that divides and redoubles his real body, inserts him into the symbolic network as King, and sustains his authority. Once the King has been deposed and his throne emptied of its splendor, the necessities of glory do not simply vanish, for the “legitimacy” of the social world is at stake in them. To see where they go, and how they are transformed, we will have to look to the new forms of legitimation and administration of the social body, to capitalism and political economy.

For Santner, glory “descends” from royal transcendence into the realm of commodities, which is why they take on a sort of magical power, and why Marx called the commodity, “a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.” With modernization, the political theology of sovereignty is replaced by the political economy of the wealth of nations (30). The King is deposed and replaced by monetary value. What emerges is the, “perverse vitality of money qua symbolic medium of exchange” (50). Money is God: this is no cliché, but a perspicuous recognition by popular consciousness of who runs the show now that there is no King to run it and even time is money. The fetishism once aimed at royal persons is displaced onto new sites of ecstatic union between political subjects and commodities (and spectacles) in a generalized movement of the fetishization of things. But what is fetishized through them is, in fact, the “second body” of the People, who produce them to produce their own consistency. We will return to this, but first we must untangle the link between the glory left over from the collapse of the gods and labor itself.

Generally speaking, what produces glory is the performance of a liturgy, which literally means “work of the people” (litos ergos). Although we normally think of liturgy in connection to the religious context (the Mass, rituals, prayers, etc.), it is imperative to see it from a broader perspective. In the royal context, it took the form of a sort of constant vigilance over the King’s second body, his virtually real double, in a way that maintained his symbolic authority at all times and everywhere, and thus sustained the legitimacy of the social world itself (36). It is easy to compare in this way the constant bustling about of the King’s representatives and the constant trembling of worshipers at the altar: both are obsessed to produce and sustain the glory which sweeps them up and sweeps them away. Just think of monks rising at 4 a.m. every morning to chant Psalms, who spend all their waking hours praying to God. Or think of those in the King’s office who must constantly represent his infallibility, and must stay in the know lest they miss an opportunity to get closer to him. Following Agamben, who has amply shown that without these glorification practices there simply would be no God or King, Santner interprets capitalist society from this perspective: the production of glory (liturgies) that first manifested in these contexts has not been eliminated but only transformed in secular times. When capitalism itself is the religion, the process is “immanentized” into universal busy-body-ness. Just as the Jesuits called for the unlimited increase of the glory of God (“the continual increase of the glory of God that can in no way be increased” (100)), the call under capital is for the unlimited valorization of Value–for the unlimited increase in the splendor of the social body that supports it, and for unlimited capital accumulation.

This emptying of the throne and, more broadly, of the legitimacy of the positions once held by gods and royalty — and thus progressively of all social institutions themselves, as all heads of state lose their head — is part of a process often called disenchantment. But otherworldly spirits do not just vanish in this “secularization,” nor are modern subjects any less enchanted. In this transition, “from the glorification/valorization of sovereigns… to the self-valorization of capital,” there is simply a corresponding, “shift to new forms of the production of glory, splendor, and valor” (73). The center of the machine of glory loses its transcendence, and a sort of inversion takes place, such that this disenchanted world, “vibrates with a surplus of immanence.” Santner will use this image of vibrating often. It incidates that the task of dealing with the “royal remains,” what is left over from the King’s second body, has become immanent, assailing us and suspending us in a state of “petrified unrest,” such that even when our labor is meaningless, useless, or redundant, we are still producing the vibration of the social (82). Mass and social media obviously play a part in this, but they only reflect a more pervasive program that should grab our attention: the non-stop, 24/7, no-sleep pace of the modern capitalist world is a “democratization” or “popularization” of the ideal of the rex exsomnis, the King that never sleeps (36). In this constantly vibrating world, we are the busy-bodies who must, “discharge an excess of demand… that keeps us driven even when we are ostensibly ‘idling,’ keeps us negotiating even in the midst of otium” (80-81). In sum, the “liturgical hum” that once sustained theological sovereignty is now fully discharged into commodity-producing labor, whose real product is a spectral materiality, the modern equivalent of divine splendor (239). And it is this spectral materiality [gespenstische Gegenständlichkeit] that Marx says characterizes the metaphysics of the commodity.

The production of glory thus suffuses the very fabric of everyday life, and every social space becomes a site for it. Because no royal “second body” is there to uphold the social order, the People themselves must take it over. Lacking a royal person to fetishize, the need to upkeep glory infects the entire expanse of “valuable” things. Value-form itself becomes sovereign. The result is, “a ubiquitous pressure for productive wakefulness.” It is so extreme that only when we are asleep do we, “inhabit a truly human world, one not fully adapted to, (de)created for, the inhuman rhythms of 24/7 routines of work, consumption, connectivity, and vigilance” (34). The symptoms are well known: “constant production, consumption, communication, interconnectedness, interindebtedness, and profit-oriented self-management” (34). In this modern scenario, the flesh itself is invested with a debt drive, for it is everywhere indebted to produce the People’s “second body.” Thus the business of busy-body who must see to it that this body doesn’t fall apart. No one can get away from the office because the flesh itself houses it. That we work increasingly from a “home office” only confirms the coincidence of these two orders, where the flesh embodies the intersection of the household and the global. Even in our downtime, and certainly very often unconsciously, we “entertain,” and are entertained by, the radiant God of capital, through all the channels of the culture industry. But whether we worship money directly or its mediation by a commodity, it is really the abstract labor underneath it, which it veils, that we love. Both laborous and liturgical, this worship reaches so far that society as a whole looks like a non-stop cultic celebration of the spectral body of the social, to whatever degree it surfaces explicitly or is concealed underneath the products it produces.

Weighing the People’s Flesh

What we are fascinated with in the commodity or the spectacle is nothing less than the flesh of the people. Debord’s desgination of the spectacle as a worldview materialized, as a unification obtained in the language of universal separation, is confirmed here. As Santner writes, underlying this feverish 24/7 restlessness of the capitalist world is, “a new form of business—of quasi-official busy-ness and busy-body-ness—[that] comes itself to function as the work of incarnation, as the production site of the flesh of the People” (26). To understand this, we have to return to the beginning and ask: what purpose did the King actually serve? Nothing less than the justification of social space itself, its laws and normative rules. Once he is no longer there to serve as this guarantee, this justification will have to be found through other modes of social upkeep. The world of “business” is only sustained by the busy bodies that buzz to uphold it. But if so many suffer under this busy-ness, why is it too not abandoned, deposed like the old royalties? Quite simply because then the lack of ultimate foundations of human forms of life would be exposed–in other words, the originary and anomic violence upon which the juridico-social order and its laws are built. (The crucial point is that glory is an apparatus that captures this void, this originary lack, and conceals it; and in doing so, it makes the whole apparatus shine with splendor, i.e., makes it work.)

It is this dimension of juridico-political normativity, the violence of law itself, which the King’s “symbolic body” once served to conceal. Law in fact does not function unless there is some “little piece of the real” to conceal the void at the heart of the law’s vicious circle (its legality is founded on something extra-legal, for example, on the sovereign who is an exception to the law). By “law” we understand not just the laws upheld by the police and the procedures followed in courtrooms, but the entire field of political-social normativity (including the etiquette and politeness we practice even when we don’t believe in them; Zizek would say this is ideology at its purest) (83). Once this “little piece of the real” is gone, the social world is opened up to an abyss, because now the violence at its origin is no longer concealed, and thus its violence no longer has an excuse for its existence, no alibi to vouch for it.

In effect, according to Santner, human life is distinguished by a gap that opens up between the somatic and the normative, bare life and the “worldly” life into which it is inserted. This insertion begins before the human child is even born. Even by dint of its name, it is inserted into what Lacan called the Symbolic. It is only because of this inaugural incidence of language on the living being that the human being “is” in the sense we understand it, namely, as a speaking being (or what Lacan called parlêtre, a speakbeing). Its entire “life” will play out at the intersection, at the jointure or break, between the natural and the worldly. The latter is not a biological given, but acquired insofar that we are exposed as a being in language and thus “thrown” into the world. Even more, this insertion is never complete, nor is our being ever fully acquired, but something always misfires, the gap is never fully closed. For Santner, it is through this amplification or “potentiation” of our vulnerable biological life, through our exposure to historical forms of life (ultimately, the space of what we call “meaning” and significance), that the “flesh of creaturely life” unfolds, including all the labor it must undergo to “make sense” of this gap (84). Put otherwise, our biological life is “inflamed” by this insertion, and we work to give meaning to this inflammation, which for the most part we did not choose (239).

Flesh is not just brains and muscles, but these plus the weight of social relations. Thus the uncanny pressure that encroaches upon us when we stand before a board of review or in the immigration office. We feel the pressure of a self-amplifying dynamic, where, “the ego is, in some sense, under constant pressure to live for the greater glory of the super-ego, to ‘fatten’ its status as Über-ich, which might indeed be better translated as surplus-ego” (99). Whether or not we consciously percieve the core unfoundedness of these spaces and of the norms they enforce upon our body, we know they put us to work in a way that is not just physical or “cognitive,” but social. The politeness that a waitress must show to her rude customers, night after night, condenses well the burden of this “weight,” and the cost she must pay to “vibrate” to the busy-body rhythm of Capital.

Clearly, because these forms of life into which we are inserted are historical, they are subject to breaking down at any moment, if we can say they ever truly, fully, succeed in covering the gap. As creatures made of this “flesh,” we do not only feel the pressure to uphold the norms of social life that correspond to our placement in it. We also feel the much greater pressure of the void around which they orbit, “the lack of any ultimate grounding or authorization of those normative statuses” (84). Santner calls formations of the flesh all the manners in which this “ontological vulnerability” is covered up, where formerly it was the King who covered up this void and absorbed this pressure of the radical contingency of social forms of life. He emphasizes that the King covered this in two ways: by veiling it (this is the immediate effect of the glorious body) but also by vouching for it, that is, for whatever debt in justifications remained. It is this function that, with the deposition of royal sovereignty, comes to spread itself across the whole fabric of the social. The “subject-matter” of the modern citizen-subject directly involves these formations of the flesh which labor to veil the void and to vouch for the legitimacy of those forms. This is the People’s second body, which must now function, “as glorious guarantor covering the missing link at the ‘anthropogenetic’ knotting of the somatic and the normative” (86). And, going by appearances, the more illegitimate the world appears to be, the greater the debt to the commodity-form of sovereignty and the stronger the debt drive, the harder human flesh must work to legitimize it and to knot together some sort of logic to make sense of socio-historical life.

Political economy thus pertains to the maintenance of the People’s Two Bodies, not just its material life (the management of biological life and death), but its spectral life (the glory and splendor of its body). It inherits the duty to vouch for the normative order and its suture to the somatic, and thus to constantly “redeem or indemnify” a lack at its origin. Biopolitics does not only address man as species and population, but this dimension of the flesh as the bearer of royal remains, for, “the threshold of modernity is marked by the ‘massification’ of the physical-juridical flesh of the king, its dispersion into populations that for that very reason must be placed in the care of biopolitical administration” (89). Biopolitics, in this sense, is the regime of the justification of veils and their securitization. What appears to be the mere “policing of empirical bodies and forces” actually conceals a liturgical or sacramental dimension, for this administration is responsible for covering the void upon which social existence is build. Foucault even showed in his geneological analyses that policing was originally conceived as, “the art of the state’s splendor as visible order and manifest force,” not just the maintenance of rule but the maintenance of glory. But it is not just the police but every political subject who inherits responsibility for the People’s second body. This is what underlies modern busy-body-ness, what weighs uncannily upon us: the production and shaping of the glorious flesh of the social bond (99), the imperative to care for this “spectral flesh of the sovereign People” (86).

For a Paradoxological Idle Worship

Santner sums all this up under the heading of the ‘doxological’ dimension of labor itself. Here, work is conceived as the performance of a liturgical practice, a “public service” in the sense that it is increasingly concerned with the production and maintenance of this “spectral flesh” or materiality of glory, the glory of the social bond itself. In short, work is one form of the doxology of everyday life (100). This logic of glory far exceeds rational self-pursuit, even if capitalism justifies its worship through this ideology or knotting procedure. According to this doxology, what matters above all is to “vibrate” with the social body in unison with this strange order of busy-body angels who no longer produce glory to God but the self-valorization of Value. Santner summarizes: “the labor theory of value is fundamentally a theory of the production of glory, of the liturgical dimension of labor performed in the service of the greater valor, glory, splendor, of Value” (115). Thus, any critique of political economy must be paradoxological, because it must work through the doxological dimension of Work, albeit by looking at it from the side.

Worshiping money is not limited to its monetary or commodity forms, but is present wherever this social liturgy is invested, wherever the fundamental void at the heart of social normativity is captured to a certain end, made to work and operate, to produce value. What’s more, capitalism is indifferent to the specifics of this labor, or of the place where this liturgy is practiced. All that matters to it is the quantity of value-producing labor, the “simple average labor” to which even the most complex labor is reduced (103, 106). What disappears in the commodity, what its fetishism denies or willfully overlooks, is this massive reduction of all the specifics of labor into a, “gelatinous mass in and through which our sociality is constituted as a kind of quasi-religious, quasi-secular mass in the liturgical service of the self-valorization of Value” (106)– of value which in itself is a weightless, quasi-spiritual thing. This is why the “weightless” commodity, in its gespenstische Gegenständlichkeit, exerts such an “enormous gravitational force on everyone and everything” (276). Santner calls the alchemy of capitalism this process whereby our bodily expenditure is reduced or abstracted to become a substance of valor, glory, radiance, and splendor. It is here that flesh and gold become interchangeable: both sparkle with the promise of an unlimited increase in glory. Both are the “instrumental cause” of Value’s self-valorization (113), which is why both are fetishized for their “shine,” their glory-potency. In the end, of course, all are forced to operate to produce the People’s body, and are operated upon by capital for it, whether or not our bodies can bear what it demands.

This operativity, which weighs upon the flesh and which the flesh weighs, is at stake wherever the subject sustains-entertains the Agency of Value, “feeding it with the splendor of surplus value,” so as to effectively enjoy the entitlements that it enjoys from this work, nothing less than “its being in the Other.” The cliche that those who serve the machine are the only ones to benefit from it is confirmed here. Only those who help capital valorize itself are worthy of reaping the benefits of the value produced (“pay the cost to be the boss”), just as only those who glorified God were worthy of reaping the benefits of his grace, or those who served the King faithfully could benefit from his priviledge. Obviously, there are many for whom this liturgical service is not optional, given that without reaping some “benefits” of Capital one will starve. Santner does not address this problem in his lectures, namely, how for most this liturgical service is obligatory. Nonetheless, it is certain that any critique of capital today demands an interruption of its unending Wertesdienst and the transferential dimension that it sustains, where, “each day commands the utter fealty of each worshiper” (Agamben, Kingdom and the Glory, 88).

Of course, our conscious condemnation of nation-states, our disidentification with the People, even our interventions into social organization, do little to remove this demand, for it is ‘unconscious’ in the strong sense. It is our bodies that are busied and act out these symtpoms in spite of us. And, as Freud learned, one does not “conceptually annul” a fetish. Critique must analyze the spell cast by the doxological machine over everyday life, so that it can later intervene into, “the labor process itself along with the quasi-somatic, quasi-normative pressures informing it” (120, 87). Santner suggests a lived critical practice on par with a psychoanalytical working through:

the often difficult, sometimes comical, and always repetitive emotional, cognitive, and practical reelaboration of the lived and embodied ways in which one participates in one’s own unfreedom, of the modes of busy-body-ness in which one’s capacity for freedom is held in a sort of suspended animation (263).

Alongside this mode of critique, however, Santner does propose a more positive project: a para-doxological “idle worship” that would be revolutionary in essence, a form of idleness, of non-capitalist and non-glory-producing worship that would “unplug” us from the constant vibration whereby the busy business upholds itself and produces its glory (114). What we must induce is a general strike against liturgical labor (which is both political and economic), such that the void, “the absence of purpose and destination proper to human life,” the fundamental otium or inoperativity that marks it, is no longer captured and incorporated into a seperate sphere (politics, economy, religion, etc). This means the introduction into social practices, into the formations of the flesh that predominantly serve the invisible hand of Capital, an coefficient of non-doing that would help us recognize the fact that humanity lacks any fundamental task or telos, that it is fundamentally without purpose, and that man, “in his essence… is completely devoid of work [opera], because he is the Sabbatical animal par excellence” (Agamben, 246). For us, “devoid of work” also means: devoid of glory and without need of it, neither on the level of singular existence, nor on the level of communal accomplishment. (I would even suggest a radical critique of radiance itself. All that glitters is gold and that precisely is the problem. I refer the reader to the introduction to FOR NOW which, however inadequate (because stuck to an ontology of singular being and not yet seeing that glory itself is not a human necessity), sets out a partial program for a “technics of glory” that would know how to never fill in this void of inoperativity, how to leave open the lived absence of all telos, and thus how to disqualify and depotentialize glory at its source, the soulflesh.)

On Really Doing Nothing

The answer to Santner’s closing question–what would happen if, once work has lost all sense of usefulness, we all joined in ‘idle worship’, a sort of sublime or sabbatical idling?–obviously cannot be “nothing.” To begin such idling is precisely to start doing nothing, but what does “doing nothing” really do? What manner of doing characterizes and what can be meant by the “passive sabotage” (Berardi) called for here? We have to be very careful and, in the development of this paradoxology, distinguish between the doing nothing that does nothing in the sense of “it doesn’t do anything,” and the doing nothing that “does something,” or rather does nothing, as when one says that one does the laundry or does one’s duty: carries the object of the activity through, sees it to completion, only here the object is no-thing but inoperativity, generic human (im)potentiality. Doing nothing then, in this active sense, is counterintuitive and radically non-prescriptive, since in essence it prescribes a void. It nearly ‘commands’ that one act rigorously non-telelogically– that one install nowhere everywhere?– and this in order to honor being ‘human’, that animal with no proper work, no proper biological or cultural goal or end-point, that strange creature of pure means whose heart is filled with the very void whose flooding into the world is both the greatest risk and its potential saving force.

To really do nothing is to introduce into the world the only type of cause that is relevant: one that doesn’t work, that doesn’t add up, that is “good-for-nothing” and can succeed “at not being pictured” (270-1). An enigmatic signifier, a cause of the future.

Yet it is nearly blasphemy to most ears to assert that there might be a form of “doing nothing” that is revolutionary or somehow interventionist, even if only in the form of suspending the apparatus of glory-production. Is it possible to produce no value without surrendering oneself to total uselessness? Bataille developed this problem under the heading of the accursed share, that little piece of the real that could not be included in the global system of the work world. Perhaps it takes a special ear to hear that call, or to see its motion in history, beginning with the first moment of contemplation up to the development of the scholē and into our age where even the last remnants of authentic leisure and silence, withdrawal and inactivity, are being liquidated–at least on the surface, but can “doing nothing” ever be detected on the surface? How would we see such interventions, were we not ourselves so caught up in them, such believers in the power of doing nothing, that it had become impossible not to believe? The difficulty is, and I suspect will remain, the quietist nature of “idle worship,” even its invisibility. How will doing nothing leave its mark in a world overloaded with titles and reputations? Are we not, after all, hard working?

Doing nothing and becoming nothing, or becoming no-one, no doubt overlap; such is the extent to which the discontinuation of glory must go. The mystics were perhaps the first technicians of this, at least to the extent that their activity was not entirely absorbed in glorifying God. For our part, we would like to emphasize the importance of raising the banner of the generic in this debate. In our view, both dissolution into the They-self (the mob-mind that unthinkingly worships Value) and the set-up of singular existence (the withdrawn-mind that thoughtfully worships the unique Value it creates for itself, often philosophy’s own concern) must be avoided. Both appeal to radiance and forclose human-generic potentiality, which we might call a takeoff-without-landing or a lightness-without-light. Perhaps we must learn to detect and depotentialize the appeal not just of gold but of whatever glitters, whatever flashes or wishes to turn its flash into Value. Perhaps this does imply the assumption of a radical night for thought?

What is certain is that we need a strong theory of “idleness” if we are going to prevent thoughts like these from sinking back into a nihilism of relaxation, spectatorship, ironic distance, and laziness. The paradox is that it is incredibly hard work to do nothing–to both keep oneself apart from the apparatus of glory-production, while also not defaulting on the easy solution of “vegging” out indefinitely. We need something different from the “drop out” model of the hippies or the “withdrawal” of the philosopher-contemplative. We ourselves continue to circle around this point central to Agamben’s own project: how to work the unworking into the work? How to exhibit inoperativity, to act the de-activation, to de-stitute the constituted and instituted powers, to depotentialize the value-imperative? How to ensure that at each moment of its deployment something draws it back, retracts it, such that nothing is ‘in’ the work–yes, nothing–, save its potential to work-or-not-work?

For that too is part of “idle worship”: the contemplation of what one can and cannot do, but also what one can not do–all the things that one can abstain from and “prefer not to do”–like, for example, refusing to participate in the mediatized game of glory and repute, though not without putting its channels (like social media) to a new, “deactivatory” use. Idle worship implies finding those “margins” of resistance to the social liturgy and turning them into new centers of inoperativity and, in this sense, of anthropogenesis.

What we need is a non-Bartleby: borrowing his famous “I would prefer not to” without giving ourselves over to the catatonia of one who must be forcibly removed from the law (office) by the narrator/lawyer, only to die unknown in some asylum. A non-Bartleby for the streets, virtual or otherwise, who has internalized or radicalized the “I would prefer not to” so much that there is no prohibition on work or activity attached to it–no refusal to scriv. We could even imagine this with the help of complex numbers, which have a real and an imaginary number component (a + bi). Here, “I would prefer not to” is the “imaginary” component: it leaves the real coordinates of work be, while simultaneously bending, sending, or otherwise redirecting them toward “idleness,” adding to them a factor of “ultimate” non-action or zero-potentiality, “reducing” them to a generic vector of redeemed humanity, and so destining them to a humanity ever on the threshold of discovering the properly “imaginary” dimension of its “real” work. In a sense, this would mean the embrace of a purely spectral materiality– we would prefer to say material futurality— that did not once again refer exclusively to any “real” component or “real” social body. Accepting the imaginary number as an immanental algebraic constant for every “human equation” could indeed help us fulfill Santner’s wish to, “strike something other than what’s there.” Properly understood, we would unhesitatingly identify it with the “messianic dimension of human action,” or with what Honig calls “Sabbath-power” (47, 259). At the very least, it is a speculative way to avoid making a contradiction out of teleology and the ateleological.

Really doing nothing “produces” nothing in two senses: (1) the manifestation of the Non-, the “unthinkable emptiness” or inoperativity at the heart of human operations, but also (2) the “overturning of the Nothing” insofar as the latter might imply a destructive or negative figure, which is here excluded. Especially once considered as algebraic constant, the Non- is simply that which accompanies every work, its virtuality or open messianity, undoing it immanently and from within its very purpose– though again the purpose is upside down, for here every purpose to its repurposing; or it shows the parody of purpose at the point of utmost purposiveness, thus “unconcealing” the radical indeterminability and undestinability of human work. Put otherwise, really doing nothing in the active sense cannot do without un-binding the positivity of what is– whatever value, whatever social, whatever being— by introducing into the order of the positive a “negative” which acts in the present as a positive cause of the nothing or of the future, against the mere (re)production of the present or the past. In this way, the folly of producing anything with the aim of producing glory shows itself, such that the global business of producing it and the restless tizzy into which it sends us all now appears wildly “counter-productive.”

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Ethics of the Idea

[The following is a translation of Alain Badiou’s seminar from February 15, 2016, part of his last series of lectures on the Immanence of Truths. The video in French is here and the transcript (which I have added to in parts) here. For ease of reading, I’ve divided the text into sections: [1] Introduction to oppression as covering; [2] Finitude and constructible sets; [3] Infinity and non-constructible sets; and [4] Fundamental ethics of the Idea.]

[1] General Introduction to Covering

The major idea we are working with for the moment, I recall, is that ultimately every figure of oppression comes down to an imprisonment in a finite figure of existence, right there where an infinite perspective could have been upheld. In other words, we are transforming the problem of emancipation, or the process of liberating human possibilities, by no longer treating it directly under the form of an explicit contradiction between loose or separated terms like the oppressors and the oppressed. In fact, we believe that what attracts oppression upon oneself, oppression in all its figures, is always the fear, doubt, risk, or possibility that something will emerge that would be radically in excess over the order whose guardians are the masters. If the order functions without supposing its opposite, then specific methods of oppression will not even have to be used. Order itself then constitutes the oppressive figure. What we will discuss is the specific, identifiable figure of oppression that is required once order–in its own functioning, in the only machine it constitutes–no longer appears sufficient (or so it fears) to contain in the finite closure of oppression the figure that it represents.

Our intuitive point of departure is that oppression manifests itself whenever something that could extract itself from the order that contains it dares to appear. This is one possible meaning of the strong old revolutionary statement: “Where there is oppression, there is revolt.” Unfortunately, this is not quite true; it is not mechanically true. What is certain, on the contrary, is that where there is revolt, there is oppression. Where something surges up that appears to disturb the general order, that order will immediately and always put in place precise and specific figures. How is an antagonistic possibility is contained?

My hypothesis, which has an ontological character, is that the dialectic adequate for thinking this in its being is the dialectic of the finite and the infinite. The ambition of a closed order, whatever its nature might be, is to perpetuate itself, to maintain its closure as such, that is, to prevent the manifestation of something qualitatively foreign to this closure. This closed order can always be described as the maintenance of a certain type of finitude. Everything that appears as being beyond the dominant conception of finitude, everything that appears in excess of it, as deregulating this closure, is perceived as a perilous in-finitization of the situation. And, in particular, of the in-finitization of possibles. Because locking-down what is possible is the key to maintaining order. That is why, in general, order begins by saying that nothing other than itself is possible, blocking the possible itself, in a precise point, through this very fact. What we are doing is finding the deep underlying logic whereby order seeks to actually break that which appears to go beyond the norm and the rule. For this logic is even more fundamental than the system of means, which we all know so well (mechanisms of propaganda, policing, open oppression, etc.).

My second hypothesis has to do with an extremely important procedure that I call covering. At the most general level, it is the attempt to neutralize the possible emergence of a new infinity by covering it over with preexisting significations, already given in the situation, which aim to forbid its development, on the one hand, but also its internal meaning, the immanent sense of this infinite, of this excess, this new infinity. It is not a matter of declaring that it did not happen or that nothing happened, but rather that this something does not have the signification it gives to itself. It is possible, in effect, to analyze this situation in terms of oppression itself: it is to cover up in some way, as if one had put a sack over the top of it, the set of that which is said and done in the name of this novelty with old, generally stereotypical significations internal to the situation, and in such a way that the very intelligibility of what has happened is annihilated, such that even those who participate in it wind up no longer really knowing if what they are doing is truly what they say it is. For this procedure also aims at an intrinsic demoralization of the agents of the novelty, by convincing them, through numerous artifices, that what they believe is new is in fact old, and not just old, but harmfully antiquated. That is the general operation of covering. In order to cover something up, one has to plaster already-existing significations over its advent, its upsurge, its embryonic instances. In that way one kills the pioneering intensity of the upsurging or novel figure of infinity. Continue reading

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The Christian Topic

[The following is a translation of the Epilogue from Jean-Louis Chrétien’s 2014 book, L’espace intérieur. It is slightly abridged in the middle, splitting it into two parts. The text is then supplemented with a number of “footnotes”; these lead to other quotations from the rest of the book chosen simply for their beauty and wisdom, as well as for the light they shed on the Epilogue itself. The result, I hope, is an adequate representation of the author’s main ideas and intentions. To prepare the reader, a brief note is in order. The problematic at play here involves the self, subjectivity, and interiority. Chrétien wants to show that the modern version of this problematic has lost touch with its origin and its founding moments, which he traces to numerous Christian theologians and mystics. The crucial difference is this: where contemporary thought sees an increasingly isolated psyche struggling to gain control of its unconscious tendencies and become master of self and world, the Christian “topic” instead focuses on the edification, exploration, and expansion of an interior space in which God may dwell. Of prime importance here is the presence of infinity or alterity that we “house” potentially within ourselves, or even more strongly, whose residence we are. The book draws on numerous figures present in the Christian tradtion from its inception, from the chamber of the heart (Matt. 6:6) to St. Theresa’s Interior Castle, to illustrate the energetic, dramatic, and libidinal-economic dynamics at play in this Christian topic of interior space. Each chapter ends by showing how modern thinkers appropriated and twisted these figures, stripping of them of their God-orientation and tipping them progressively toward the “kingdom of subjectivity” we know so well today. Chrétien’s aim, however, is not proselytistic, but philosophical and schematic: to show the intelligibility of this model of inhabitable personal identity and how it might inform impasses that have proved intransigent for modern thought. I hope the reader will enjoy the contemplation of this text as much as I have.] Read from Interior Space

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Les effets-Levinas, by François Laruelle
trans. by Timothy Lavenz

Pointless to talk about and comment upon Levinas, an enterprise he does not tolerate very well and, besides, there are colloquia for that. In the most decisive part of his work, he himself does not comment upon a tradition of philosophy. Husserl and Heidegger only serve him as foils. It’s not even certain that he does a reading of phenomenology in the rabbinical style. He does something that some philosophers do but with many mediations and ruminations of style, of which Derrida gave us an idea. He registers and “translates” as closely as possible, annulling the translation, the trauma of the Shoah, echoing it immediately “with” or rather “in” the means of a language whose intelligibility is no longer classic, even if these means are paradoxically the effects or affects of a globally ontological mode of intelligibility. If we don’t want to think ourselves capable of appropriating him in an erudite commentary, we also have a duty to simply register some Levinas-effects, which are those of a text as inadmissible as it is irrefutable. Levinas is impossible: there it is, without delay, i.e., without différance, the point of the situation. He will have persecuted us, we philosophers. Regarding this Levinas-persecution, here are some traits: Continue reading

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A Mind in Relief

Writing is perhaps the last best way to give broad thought form, for the mind itself can hardly extend its grasp beyond the singular detail drawing its attention just right now, though it sense at the periphery the many nebulous associations it provokes. Limited by its own power of mobile concentration, the mind does not, cannot stablize what it grasps; it can only dance around rippling circles of sense, meeting the tiny waves gingerly and purposefully, smoothing some and roughing up others, while the liquid itself is wicked away by time, lost between the fleeting fathom of the dance. By contrast, a written text, by dint of its basic inertia, can hold frozen an almost endless number of instances at attention, ideally in their most becoming flourishes and postures, approximating a photo album of the mind’s best takes. It lets stills lie flat together as on a contact sheet, concealing the chaos of the mind’s frenetic snap, the wild dilations of its aperture. Then, in the darkroom of editing, where zooming reigns, the developed captures can be enlarged, cropped, stitched, collaged, colored, rearranged, etc. Thus is the influence between each element made continuous, text-flow matched to thought-flow, though they be incompatible. An illusion as regards the mind’s process, it nonetheless renders the truth of its labor concrete in the lasting, legible form of a writing, accessible to any mind that can read and think.

Because the mind’s activity is necessarily in rapid dispersal, darting at slants and diffracting its energy around myriad thought-bulbs, it is essential that it leave footprints everywhere, shades of its arrows. It must pour out inscriptions at a breakneck pace, lest it lose heart in the endless race, or persuade itself it is winning. Without these pathmarks, these “facts” of thinking–detailed attention distilled into attentive details that can be grasped–the mind has only its own useless pride, built upon a heritage of errors. Pride deludes the mind into thinking it could stand up on its own, without the thousandfold externalized supplement; that it has a substance of its own to call home or defend, an inside or a depth dignified in itself; that it could retain something apart from its own refinement process, its labor on the details, which has only an outward face. Those who esteem their mind with pride accomplish little, believing there is something essential to it “behind” the accidents it handles. But the mind is not found in the abstract dimension of Self, where every shoot is stunted by an identity poisoning the roots; it abhors ambitions that only claw at importance and recognition, that fantasize about grand ideas too good for spadework. No, it is only between the lines–in the lining of a sequence that is yet to be sequenced through–that mind occurs. Outside of its work on the materials, its pursuit of breakthroughs and follow-ups, there is only a delusion of intelligence and its dead letter–half-hearted efforts and half-assed conclusions. Anyone satisfied thus, with verdicts and vindications, is doomed to a lifeless winter, however much fame they might accrue; while others, scared off by the bombast and conceit, default into an anxiety that paralyzes and postpones even further the fresh, inaugural gesture of writing proper, where the mind is activated by what could be, not what is. Faith must back this invisible wager, must testify to the truth the process engages, lest the mind seek itself in products and freeze.

And so, when seeking new details in uncharted territories, the mind can only really trust its orienteering gear, its nose and charting skill, its compass of intuition and will. From  maps of adventures it has already plotted, it reads off the mystery of its own search and desire, the unfinished history that makes possible its future. Relying on its native audacity, using references like walking sticks collected along the way–or whittled into masterpieces when fatigue made new hikes impossible–, the mind grows page by page in curiosity and skill, extending its exploration confidently, free from the past steps it loves to leave behind thankfully. Its gratitude for its “text”–rethought here as the tactile texture of the spirit in which it moves and lives–is an appreciation of its “death”–rethought here as the line of departure, infinite and without closure, that the mind’s massive journey represents to the world. Nothing static, no established sense, ever comes out of this; only the spark to venture farther into the distance that its love opens up to the incommensurable, which the mind only ever comprehends by overflowing itself. Though these concrete traces make up the framework of every move, the mind forgets them effortlessly, glued to the detail it can only just now pursue, and to the rhythm its pursuit composes–the new trail.

The work of the mind is entirely in these steps, in the quiet crunch of the traveler’s evanescence. In the physical effort each step takes and in the physical mark each step makes, we find the only manifestation of the mind’s roving span. Should we then think that broadness in thought is measured by the volume of traces? Or by the weight of their imprint, the stack of the maps? These would be superficial indicators. Mass is more an effect of time’s stretch than of mental sharpness, which on the contrary knows precisely how to strip time’s mass away, or to approach every volume through the weightless; this is in order to do justice to thought’s inherent liquidity, which is also its innocence. In any given moment, there is but a taste of the mind’s future consummation, when the climax of epiphany will pervade the whole human fabric. Besides, no mind has ever comprehended the “scope” of a thought at once, or ever. Such all-encompassing views are the province of illusory sovereigns who dread losing control over their domain; whereas the mind remains a wanderer in both foreign and familiar territory, content to bring to each encounter a humble tone, a word of insight, a knowing smile or a bit of laughter. The grace of its minor gestures relieves it of the pressure to own, impose, prove, or attain. Lightness is its only moniker, for it reports on time’s forgiveness, the mind’s ability to regain innocence after so many enslavements, and to let things be other than they have been.

Upon closer inspection, then, nearly everything but the presently swimming memory is lost to oblivion, and it is only with the support of a technical apparatus that all the lost pieces gather together. But through its patient work on the paper trail, the mind can make a force of this oblivion–not to master it, but to liberate it from the despair of its limitation, its inevitable incompleteness. In this act, memory embraces oblivion as essential to its own chance, since without it it would be stuck in what was, in a chain of consequences. If the mind could not let go of its mappings, it would be a trap, a prison. It would be confused with the object, monument or shelter that lends it concrete manifestation, which it needs but which never equals it. The mind’s act–equaling, essentially, zero, the void without which no inspired construction is possible–has to be in excess of the memorable, since otherwise memory would be no more than an account of facts, an adherence to the state of the situation. It would lose its redemptive impulse: to ensure that the memory in creation is not just welcoming of past traces, but generative of future ones that will soon come to reerase and reframe those past. Despite the finite evidence that the mind leaves in its wake, with each stroke it affirms this actual infinity, the passion of its escape velocity, which is its gift to humanity. Broadness of thought can only be gauged by reengaging the mind’s own broadening effort to think, and that takes all of us, our ardor and our patience. Only by binding and releasing detail after detail does the mind prepare its resting place, wherein its absurd destiny is perceived: to dwell in the majestic present of thinking.
Read the Addendum

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