What sets one off and what keeps one going would be two different things. A third different thing would be the final “reason” for it all (which would remain forever deferred from consciousness, forever without fulfillment, due to the very nature of this “reason”: namely, that once you’ve articulated a reason, you’ve exhausted it and already made it necessary to go beyond it). Let me explicate or experiment with these assertions a bit.
One sets off from the raw experience of suffering and joy, and the question to understand their source. This is to begin to understand the very source of the world: to understand the source of the world’s suffering; thereby, to understand the role of joy. (The intersection? Tragic peace.)
One begins to understand this source just by seeing that it’s one and the same for both self and world: our capacity to be cruel, to judge unfairly, to accuse, to punish, etc., but also our capacity to be grateful, to connect, and to share. We realize that to “cure” the source within ourselves is precisely what it takes to “cure” that source in the world. To recognize the source of suffering to be the source of joy as well, two in the same one, and thus to see their reversibility in this respect, is the lesson of mourning. It leads to a practice of forgetting. But it is also to see that one doesn’t joy for oneself anymore than one suffers solely for oneself. This latter is precisely what the “rootedness” of suffering seems to occlude from us: that there is no ‘private suffering,’ even though, just like joy, it will forever ‘feel’ private. To examine and understand what ‘privateness’ occludes is to see the shared quality of the whole ordeal of suffering and joy. It is to begin to respond to it as a shared ordeal: a question of “self” that belongs to no “oneself,” but always to “ourselves.”
One continues along this journey of discovery once one find this dual source of joy and of suffering to be lost to us, i.e., us in the ‘privative’ sense; but thereby accessible to ‘us’ in the ‘communal’ or ‘communicative’ sense: precisely where we go beyond ourselves. It’s this ‘me’ that is firstly ‘us’ that I enter qua forgetting-myself. Thus, the “one who would set off” itself becomes the question, raised again and again, and to ever more intense degrees; and, we again and again come back to this affirmation: it is we who sets off. Always we. This brings (the) me to the paradox of personal (‘privative’) existence, a paradox which is never annulled. Truly, how to reconcile the recognition that the question to understand suffering and joy is a universal quest(ion) that is nonetheless played out within a sphere that is intimately ‘mine’? This is where the individual is undone by what is universally true, but also where what is ‘universally true’ can only be articulated from the position of an individual. It’s also where all articulations from the position of the individual are undermined by their own experience (for experience always outstrips its formulation: there is no ‘universal truth’ of joy and suffering, neither in the form of creative work, nor in the form of existential epiphany or realization). It is my view that this paradoxical short-circuit between universal truth and individual experience is what animates this ‘path of discovery’, whether you construe this as the bodhisattva vow or the infinitely negative work of the philosophical mind. They are united insofar as they undertake the infinite work of articulating, not the inarticulable (for I am saying precisely what is universally true for me, now), but that which can never rest on any one articulation, and thus takes to ‘infinitely finishing.’ (For me, this is a work of writing, and every new sentence offers a new lesson: erase).
This paradox between universal and individual allows us to ask about the strategies upon which the individual can draw to negotiate the non-negotiable gap. Forgetting is one such strategy which offers the paradigm for all others; but whatever strategy we could think of (and they are infinitely diverse) is united under the common idea of ‘othering.’ It is in the spirit of ‘othering’ that I refer to ‘entering.’ Othering bring us to the point where we yearn within our heart for anything but stasis, anything but stagnation and boredom, anything but a resting in our “one.” We yearn for a new self and a new world, all at once, two in one, one in two, and this sends us everywhere in love and friendship, speech and creativity. We yearn for more suffering, to weep, to feel torn, to mourn; and we yearn for joy, to weep, to feel epiphanic, to recover the lost source without recovering it. We yearn to embody and experience the ex-static core that we slowly “realize” that we are. We embody and experience this ex-static core to the extent that we realize that at this core is a question: a question dually divided between “what am I?” and “who am I?”: a question divided between the exterior world of particular moments or “existential articulations” and the inner world of universal moments or “existential awarenesses.” And in the middle of these questions is the affirmation: here I stand.
In the constant interplay between these two, “one” becomes more and more “two,” and is thus able to carry the truth insofar as one carries their other(ness) where they stand. It is insofar as one must carry ones otherness where they stand that this otherness is unknown. To strategically orient oneself towards it is to orient oneself to the unknown. One does not know how one carries ones other, but one does. One simply carries it, through suffering and joy, by acknowledging that it is there, and by trusting its capacity to outstrip knowledge; one simply accepts the other and his or her question; and one does what one can do to double oneself (forget oneself, enter oneself) in the response to it. Forgetting is but one strategy of carrying otherness, linked naturally to self-entrancing. There are countless other strategies and modalities of carrying otherness, but all of them involve a kind of forgetting: open dialog with a friend, surrendering our past hesitations, sending an unknown letter into cyber space, going on a museum visit with strangers, drinking a bottle of wine with classmates, risking our attempt to say the truth without “knowing” precisely what we’re saying, etc. Remember, forgetting is not obliteration, but a release. It makes a chance where there wasn’t want before, for it builds it’s chances not on what “was,” but on the promise of what is yet to come. All of this amounts to becoming aware of the demands that ex-stasis places on our self-world and having the courage/conviction to follow through on those demands, to not be discouraged when otherness doesn’t seem to come. This courage is so difficult because it can only deepen our awareness of ourself-world as a slipping-away: truth as a groundless endeavor, friendship as always missing something and in need of renewal, the lover as infinitely removed from us however close, a good that is never definitively distinguishable from its opposite.
When the source proves to be nothing but this slipping-away, we both desire it and know its attainment to be impossible. For the source is ourselves, and we are to ourselves the most lost object of all. This is what makes us but a mirror reflection of the world, and the world a mirror reflection of us: despite what we say of ourselves or label in our world, it’s lost. That is, lost eventually. I speak from the position of absolute otherness: our death. Does it ever come? For us, no. Our death is only for others. But I assert that it is the paradigm of growth in life: this otherness that can never be reach, and yet which animates all of my becoming-other. No time is guaranteed. All that is there is its thickness, and loss proves to be less an absence than an animate and moist thing, not unlike our bodies or a gulp of water we drink (likewise, our consciousness of what disappears accordingly in our actions).
We continue forward in this way, away from the naiveté of attainment, deeper and deeper into unknowing, deeper and deeper into non-knowledge. We do this not “without knowledge,” but along side it, “beside ourselves.” We do this precisely to access the other(ness) that we have been carrying all along. If we are disciplined in our heart (this is precisely the most difficult thing: to hold true to our own potentials despite their never becoming ‘actual’ as such (no more actual than death will ever be)), we cease just to be ourselves and become instead ourselves: that is, we increasingly ‘close the gap’ between ourselves and our world. But we close it by widening it, enter or remember ourselves in forgetting any narrow conception of ourselves. We begin to speak and create in the tongue of the world; or, more precisely, we bring the world to the limits of what it can say. When “we” as the source of suffering and joy can be recognized as lost, as such, for good, there we forget ourselves to the very degree we enter ourselves. We enter ourselves in creating ourselves where once we were lost, not by nullifying the distance or compensating for the loss, but by inscribing the loss itself into what we create. That is to say, to inscribe the degree to which we “are” our self-loss. And, it cannot be inscribed. In writing, it isn’t what can be read. But we begin to derive a paradoxical enjoyment from the impossibility of attaining to be ourselves, the impossibility of compensating for the loss at the heart of the world, the impossibility of inscribing the truth of this loss even. It becomes an infinite work whose only “reason” is to respond to the joy and suffering that touches us; and likewise, to share in responding with all the world.
If, therefore, we set out to understand suffering and joy; and we understand that the source of joy and suffering is ourselves-forever-lost-to-ourselves; and so we set off into the farthest reaches of not-knowing in order to touch this source(which is not to “know” it); then it becomes clear that the circle is endless. But it is really a spiral, for here it involves everyone, at the limit of what ‘everyone’ means. What is thus infinitely mediated in the person who suffers and joys is the very meaning of the world, forever deferred: a meaning without reason, a reason stripped of articulation, a reason reduced to the silence of epiphany, the silence of weeping. The “cure” was the raw and inarticulate experience of existing to begin with, and never required anything more than a tragicomic perseverance through suffering and joy. In other words, the cure was always squarely before us, confronting us with our otherness, in the play of mourning or forgetting in counterpoint with entering or remembering ourselves.