Gauging Traction

There was no life you could live out to its end
No attitude which, in the end, could save you.
—John Ashbery

People are or act. From these primary modalities of being and action “outflow” certain words, ideas, images, diagrams, and so on. Being in action is a passion. What a person “distributes” into the world through their being and action: these are the marks of a passion – or a lack of it.

Prior to being and action, however, perhaps, there is “response.” In some sense, even prior to being, before we “are”, we are called out, called up. Set on fire like a candle before it gives any light. We are in an event of address. Our lives are in large part a response to what has occurred to us, what has befallen us – what inflated us with oxygen, made as float, as well as what has burned us and left our wings singed. The actions and words that accumulate to make us who we “are,” but these are the outflow of a responsiveness. Response to the rumblings of our bodies, its contact and distance with others. Response to gazes, voices, gestures. Response to events inside and outside. Response to what we have learned. Response to what is cruel and unjust. Response to dreams that conflict with life and life that conflicts with dreams. Response to illness and death. Response – need it be said – to everything. Whether or not it enters our conscious register, what the body calls the world is an accumulations of touches – soft touches, uncomfortable touches, spiritual touches, sexual touches, indifferent touches, empty touches. A circuit of being touched by the other and responding to the other constitutes our being, drives our acts. Our response to all this is our passion – our “suffering” of what touches us, our pathos and pathology, our emotion.

This touch comes “before” subjectivity builds an idea about it; before it represents an “outside” that touches an “inside,” or another touching it. Subjectivity helps stabilize a certain relation to the chaos of touches. But the subject, the sub-jectum, is not what underlies all the touches. It is what undergoes it. It lies beneath, not as foundation or substrate, but as that which is bowled over by what comes.

The subject is passion itself insofar as it manifests in a communicable way. It is not what says “I”, not the ego or its ego, not a representation of who one is. The subject is what slips underneath. It is the impasse in being that never ceases to be touched – some would say divided and cut – by the Real, where the Real is the disruptive and incomplete “totality” of touches, the Texture as such. The subject never comes to “be,” and yet it is never exempt from the metaphorical movement of coming-to-be. And so it desires and speaks…

Words are a primary element of our response. There is a reason antique humanity came up with the combination: “thought, word, and deed.” Everything in a life is inextricable.
And yet, for the most part, no one pays attention to our words except for those who “love” us in some way. Those who have some interest in responding and continuing to respond. Those whom, for whatever reason, our words touch.
If a word does not touch, it is nothing.

That words and ideas and images feed back upon being and action is obvious.

Witness only how ideology moves people to political and religious fervor; how value systems determine peoples morals and goals; how just a word can trigger our sensitivities and upset our course; how a conversation can change our mind; how we mind our secrets and silence; how we censor our dreams and shield deep regions of our psyche from everyone; how we find ourselves aggravated without cause; how new conceptions of things inaugurate new fields of creativity; how an invention changes the world; how we find in ourselves vows and aspirations that haunt us; how one profound meeting can overturn a whole life; how we carry with us all the traces of our response, of the love and lack of love we have lived.

We are fully in the ruptures and rivets of the symbolic. To try to escape it would just mean tearing a hole through it, which would leave a mark just the same.

Escape and the impossibility of escape: we can never, must never choose between these two.

Neither gnostic nor worldling, neither withdrawn nor immersed, neither rejection nor acquiescence, neither to condemn nor condone.

Our attitude to our time not only oscillates but straddles two worlds: the primordial one marked by a fundamental freedom-from, a time of birth without past; and the extant world with its laws, rules, grammar, structures, our ties and memories.

The fact of suffocating and the resurgent gasp for breath: these coincide in the metaphor of coming-to-be.

To treat words as fixed referents is the obsession of the imaginary, the fixation on meaning or withdrawn meanings, that leads to submission, fear, clogged arteries, linguistic habit, reliance on presupposition, and so on: everything that jams the contact, reduces the touch to a data point, turns the passion of the subject into a management of objects whatever they may be.

I have deep reference for words. I believe they have an intelligence all their own. But it is an intelligence of a movement of writing, not that of reference and imposition.

In prose like this, one always has the feeling a corner is being cut. A reference is too much assumed; a position too much taken; a viewpoint too much asserted. Writing – rooting itself in the passion of being – is interminable because of the feeling that one must wipe that excess certainty out, efface those traces with new ones, modify without trajectory, reject every appearance of belief. Obliterate whatever one could hold on to. Smash the entire conception to pieces.

Put otherwise, the “signified” must enter back into play at each fold. More strongly, the signified cannot even be treated like one, as if it were autonomous out there, distinct from writing – as if the system of textuality had a clear “outside” no matter the name we might give it. Whereas the silent universe, the non-human, even matter: none of these are outside like we might dream. “Textuality” means the texture of touches.

The “signified” is not what the signifier points to. The word does not represent or communicated. It is an indirect manifestation of a touching. In the “movement of writing,” the signified is just another differential trace.

No one is absolutely independent of the language we have acquired – from imposed references, discourse as a means of discipline, training, subjugation, and punishment – and it would be foolish to assert otherwise.

At the same time, there is undeniably a freedom of response rooted itself in the often-foreclosed, -repressed, -forgotten freedom of be-ing vis-a-vis “what is.” That is the ground of action not tied up in the self-conscious mind or dependent on the sedimented meanings of inherited language. This does not negate the inheritance but renders all inheritance critical. The critical question, at every step, becomes: How to inherit it well?

To use words to deconstruct and reroute the world-chains, the crudities of unquestioned ideas, the impositions of power – these are ways to inherit well the language we did not choose. They proceed from that point – natural as animal nudity as well as the spiritual-speculative “cancellation” of the socialized individual – where existence is birth.

There, action is the upsurge of the Unattributable. There, ideas set in action by a touched subjectivity can become the means of transfiguration. There, a passion expresses itself and, in the process of its disappearance, makes a transference possible – enigmatic as it is alive.

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Critique of Judgment, by Pascal Quignard (Richard)

[Translation of a write-up by Francis Richard on Pascal Quignard’s book, Critique du jugement. French original may be located here, here, and here.]

After 25 years of judgment, from 1969 to 1994, Pascal Quignard decided one day to judge no longer. As he writes in Critique of Judgment, this allowed him from then on to “truly read”: “By that I mean that I no longer fill a role or even a function to play in my reading. What I lose with the faculty of judgment (compare) I gain in the capacity to think (meditate). There is no longer any point of view in my vision. The idea of killing, or of hierarchizing, or of electing, has withdrawn.”

Pascal Quignard defines: “In Greek the word critic designates the judge. The word crisis designates the judgment. The word crime names the sorting and serves to designate the result of the crisis (the criminal). Stasis [civil war] designates political experience, which comes down to saying the division to death of individuals among themselves, before which the group searches for a solution (a band, a king, a city, a divinity).”

It is in St. John that he found the most beautiful text on judgment: “Nolite judicare: Judicium judicate.” (“Do not judge: judge first the Judgment”). Put differently: “Discern well what discerns, for the problem of crisis is the judgment.

It is Christ who says, always in St. John: “Ego non judico quemquam.” (“I do not judge anyone.“) Put differently: “I have no right to set myself up as a judge, for when you judge the other, it only counts for you. And if it counts in your eyes, you judge it no more.”

Christ says again in St. John: “Judge not.” According to Pascal Quignard, this means: “Do not completely interiorize language or society in your soul. Stop creating rivals in subordination to common sense. Renounce the social judgment, the social lie, that founds the separation of those who must live and those who must die.”

For Pascal Quignard, “thought begins in the extinction of judgment”: “A man who thinks does not want to make a judgment.” To reach that point, “one must make possible the dis-oriented, de-missioned, dis-engaged, un-bridled curiosity that thought, that is, writing in act, requires.”

Creators are solitaries, ascetics. Their asceticism “is a ruse for the sake of creation”: “It is a matter of not being observed by one’s community, of not being disturbed by anyone, of being genuinely alone, of creating, that is, of losing oneself in one’s gray or black cloud, one’s haze, one’s breath, one’s shadow, one’s thing, one’s dream, one’s invisible.” Continue reading

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Generic Hopes

Generic Hopes
(Loose remarks on Laruelle and Badiou)
Dated: March 26, 2017

For Alain Badiou, the One is not, because the one is always the result of the count of a multiple. Why? Because the only access to being is through the multiple. Being presents itself, in the first place, as an inconsistent multiple, what is called a pure multiple-presentation. However, this inconsistent multiple is unthinkable, precisely because thought takes place in a situation, and a situation already implies the operation of counting-for-one. The situation is structured such that every presented multiple belongs to it and can be counted as “one” element of the situation. Only retroactively can we say that, “upstream” of the situation, there is only inconsistency, and that presentation is an inconsistent multiple. “Downstream” there are consistent multiples, i.e., multiples that count for one, the many-ones that make up the situation which structures them.

The radicality of Laruelle’s approach is perhaps best illuminated when set beside this equally brilliant, though differently conceived, thought of the one. Non-philosophy stakes everything on the axiomatic posture it takes. At the simplest level, this posture posits that the undivided One is given without any operation of givenness – without any mediation by presentation, appearance, reception, or being. Vision-in-One means that all thinking about being and presentation, ones and multiples, the appearance and transcendence of the world, subjectivity and affectivity, takes place in-One, in the One as immanent a priori: the immanent real-One which causes thought in-the-last-instance, whereas thought never causes it or even thinks it, properly speaking. Here, the multiple is not thought with a view to being-qua-being or the count, but according to the One-in-One. The multiple could only be the One-in-superposition, the One that “remains” One without leaving itself. Continue reading

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