One of the blessings of working constantly at a certain problem is that you end up constantly revising the way you ask the question. When you are allotted the time (or allot yourself the time) required to really tackle the problem, you will also likely be led far “astray”: you will wander into territory that you wouldn’t have thought pertained to the initial questions, and new lines of inquiry will be generated. If, along this already “erring” path, you allow yourself the interruptions of chance, and persevere in reaching out to unforeseen sources, you eventually find that the initial terms of the problem no longer apply. Or rather, that the problem you thought you had been pursuing was not really the “real” problem, and that you had been following the “real,” other problem all along. One allows oneself so many interruptions, diversions, waverings and turnings in the hopes of stumbling upon this “real” problem.
It comes as no surprise then that the “real” problem seems inevitably to return to what is meant by “real.” The real problem to which we return is always some form of, “Who am I?” or “What is to be done?” These real problems require the total traversal of a life; and everything that lives traverses this problem. We will make it our choice to traverse this problem with the awareness and openness required, not only to answer it for ourselves, but to answer it in such a way that we can answer to others. That is to say, these real problems are posed in us, and therefore to be addressed by us; and yet they are posed as a problem of being-in-the-world, or of being-with-others (“others” who we must presume are also asking themselves, “Who am I?, “What should I really be doing?”). This is our problem, and it is up to us to live its posing to the fullest.
Admittedly, to pose such questions requires a patience of which we are hardly worthy: a patience which, as if in spite of us, acts on us, and inspires in us our singular passion for the “subject.” In this sense, perhaps it is better to proceed suspended over the problem, or to think of oneself entirely as this problem, knowing full well it will take the full traversal of a life in order to “live” (as) this problem. In other words, to remain suspended over the question as to whether or not it is really a “problem,” if perhaps it is not really a blessing. While the case is perhaps rare, to really ask oneself “Who am I?,” and “What should I do?” is already to be blessed. Insofar as to exist is to have already (consciously or unconsciously) responded to these questions, to live at all is already to have been blessed. Perhaps, then, we are asked to live the measure of our blessing, and to not ignore the infinite as it manifest in us, that is, to not neglect the posing of these questions, our questions, in us (and, at the limit, as us). We are asked to be patient with ourselves, while at the same time never backing down from the passion of the posed question– in a word, to be poised before exposition (ex-peausition), infinitely.
We must pose again the question of “being,” not only of its meanings, but of its modes. But not the question of “Being” in the abstract. We must ask ourselves: what does it mean for me to be? What am I here to do? Insofar as we “are,” the question of what it means for us to be is always-already posed. Our “response” to this question is precisely what we do, how we act, and what we say. We are in a sense surprised and exposed by our response to this question that our being itself is. Our response to the question of what it means for us to be manifests most readily in two interrelated ways: our speech and our actions. That is, the question of “Who am I?” comes to the fore, and perhaps surprises us, in what we say and what we do, in our language and in our conduct. How do we relate to language and to our conduct, that is, to so many other beings who are also with us and with language?
To repeat, we are all exposed, eo ipso, to this question (of “being,” “language,” and “world”). Here, we have to say two things at once: (1) our being is always at stake in what we say and do; and (2) we must put our being at stake in what we say and do. In other words: (1) our being is always at stake in what we are (say and do); and (2) we must put our being at stake in what we are (say and do). Without this risking of oneself, some would say, there is no “oneself”: without putting oneself at stake, one cannot really say that one is. Pushing this even further, one could even say that “being” is “putting-oneself-at-stake.” Thus, while all of our speech and conduct shows immediately how we respond to the challenge of existing, there is a sense in which we can become conscious of this challenge, and make of ourselves this challenge. Again, there would be no reason or foundation for this putting-oneself-at-stake other than the sense that one has of needing-to-put-oneself-at-stake. For to put-oneself-at-stake thus is to call into question and challenge every established mode of speaking and acting that one has as of yet come to know. In short, one cannot only ask, “Who am I?” or “What does it mean to be?” in an abstract way. One must oneself be at stake in these questions (one must recognize oneself to be this blessed and cursed problem of being-self); otherwise, the question cannot stand, cannot even be posed, for these problems certainly do not “stand on their own.”
In the very asking of the question “Who am I?” we see the absolute coincidence (or identity) of being and language/action. By “language/action,” we designate the point at which asking oneself who one is must be an act, where there is no “asking” without the “putting-at-risk.” Being passes through the abstract (“linguistic”) form of the question in order to apply it directly to itself as an act of being (which is the act of being par excellence); and being passes through this act, at least potentially, to some kind of response, whose form takes the question of “What is to be done?” It is really here, at the point of the response, that language and action are seen to be connected primordially. In the response to the question “What is to be done?”, any earnest response is both an action and a speech. In other words, any earnest response to these questions implies either an action which reaches the very limit of being a speech, or a speech which reaches the very limit of being an action. Any worthy response says something about who or what we are— whether this saying something actually “says something” or not, it is always an act, it is always speaking. So when we ask the question, then, “What does our being say of/for itself?”, we are addressing the whole spectrum of what our being is, says, and does.
Everyone knows that to not say something is also to say something. Silence is just as much a speech act as anything (just as to not respond is also a response). But to restrict our consideration to the so-called realm of discourse, or the duality of silence and language, is already to view being and language incorrectly, and to miss the way in which ones “being-in-language” is an active response to the question of being itself. To make ones being be is to make ones being speak (i.e., to come out into the open, to be put at stake, to be exposed…). “Being-in-language” and “what we say” is the name of everything that our being does; just as “being-active” and “what we do” is the name of everything that our being says.
Any language-activity of this sort carries silence along with it, or rather, feigns to exclude it. It is the impotence of this language-activity to effectuate our being in a total way, and shows us that something of our being always remains in excess of what we say or do. This silence carried along with any “speech act” is what we are, our “being.” If we say that there is an unavoidable “discursive” aspect to everything, we say that any motion, emotion, or immobility speaks (where “speaking” is almost synonymous with “happening”). What happens, what is, or what motions, is structured like a “language” insofar as it says something of what is. But this language is “indecipherable.” Why? Because it doesn’t exist; I do. What I do, while leaving traces everywhere, does not exist; or rather, it only ex-ists. What is said, what is done, flees: it is always ex-. But I, I am, and I exist. But I remain undecided as to what I am (for every decision that I could make as to what or who I am could only be based on those traces of what I’ve done or what I’ve said; but these traces can never take account of the remainder, the excess-over-the-traces (and even -over-myself) that I am). In this sense, I leave my “language” and my “actions” forever in indecision with regard to their meaning, end, purpose, reason, etc. In this sense, I am suspended over all meaning to being or reason for being, and these are suspended over the excess-over-them that I am. It is in this way that I can never identify with either (my) being, actions, or language, but instead must “identify” with the suspension itself.
One cannot comprehend the whole range of what one “is,” because to do so requires that being be “language” or that being be “action”: the absolute coincidence of the being-posed and the posing of the question, the absolute immanence of the question, present to itself. But how could this ever be the case? Only death, which hides nothing and yet says nothing, could have been an “image” of this absolute coincidence; but with death, the excess or remainder (that I am) that incessantly revived the question of the meaning of being vanishes into an infinite impenetrability. In this sense, and even regarding ourselves, while living, we have only what the living being said or did “during their lifetime,” speeches and actions which we can clearly see still fail to attest in a full way to the living being. But this failure of speech and action to attest to the living one is… how we recognize that a living one was there. To be blunt: we ought to live in a way that our speech and our actions are absolute nonsense unless they are seen in light of the total vision or “project” of a living being who conducted and spoke themselves in such-and-such a way. This implies the radical inexchangeability of our speech and action, such that it cannot be bought or sold, deciphered nor transmitted. It implies a radical individuation of the one who would have been there in the traces, if he or she had not exceeded them at every turn. It implies a view toward an on-going process of singularization in light of whatever plurality of speeches and actions, which goes on without end, not even ending at “death.”
Before being speaks “in language,” or “in action,” being is: being is be-ing, that is, being speaks. Where there is language or action, being has already been split off from itself; and yet, being isn’t anywhere “outside” language or action. We are trying to think here the way in which our being only “is” in what we say and do; and yet also the way in which the being that we “are” is not entirely in what we say and do. This is, again, the way in which we are not and do not exist apart from the evidence of our actions or the traces we leave behind us. Yet this is also the way in which our not-being, our not-existing, obviously paradoxically, is: that somehow we are our not-being-there, and that we are our “not-being-there” right there (that is, right here).
This not-being-there-right-here is what I am. It is my being (especially insofar as we are trying to understand being-at-its-limits). But to say so is already to send it to the side of “being-there,” the side of evidence and traces, of speech and action. That is, to say so is already to send myself this side of ghosts. But this is the only side from which I can really gather together in some kind of conception or identity “what I am,” and likewise the meaning of my statements and actions. I have no evidence for the fact that I “am” my “not-being-there,” except for the sense of this fact, and the enigmatic question it poses for me and as me. And in this speech, I cannot attest to the joy of being-there-as-not-yet-being-there brings, the blessing that this “mode of being-nothing” is. And yet for all that, I cannot leave out the possibility that this speech, as itself an action, will attest to it nonetheless, and in spite of its impossibility. I can say this only because there is a truth to being “in general” encapsulated in what I’ve said here: we share in not-being-there-there. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? I’m talking about what it means to be us.
To speak about the most cherished things, the most sacred things, used to be “forbidden.” What lies behind the prohibition against saying God’s name if not this fear that this name will be divorced from the being (today, now, whatever is)? I run the same risk, that of divorcing being from being, in speaking this way. To read these statements implies “recovering” them from language, in a sense; that is, to read them is to read what isn’t written them, to read them as a kind of transcript of ones own being-an-ordeal. To read this text is to read oneself into it. One cannot be impatient here. To simply repeat the words would fail to repeat the action itself, which I cannot summarize in the short space of this text, these traces. Why do we have such a penchant to repeat the word, and not the being of what the word says? And yet how do I think that these words can make up for a necessary lack of being (for it’s clear that I am not here right now)?
Why do we think, on the one hand, that our talk could possibly compensate for the lack of presence? Further, why do we think there is any compensating for this lack, being this lack already ourselves? And on the other hand, how can we keep deluding ourselves that there really is a lack of presence, that not-being-there-there is somehow not also a being-fully-there?
No, I’m perplexed because it is clear to me that there is no such thing as “loss.” Those who go away do not go anywhere; and in the traces they leave behind, they are there (with us) insofar as we ourselves are really there (with us). We remain with them, through and through, that is, if we are. But this means that there is no “gain” as well: the ‘not-,’ the ‘ex-,’ never stops not-being, never stops ex-isting. Yes, the law of touch is separation, but the separated ones, while separated, are together, are they not? A supreme irony underlies our belief that if we separate in our speech we have separated in our being! And likewise, that if we “separate” in being our beings have been separated! So frightened are we over a lack of touch, a lack of being, we do not recognize this lack right at its heart, in our heart. And I do mean our! But I’m driven away from the ones I love in trying to point out this infinite way, this infinite love. I speak stupidly, so as to attest that I was, and was one. Of course one is only initiated into it under the accord of their own self-rapport.
Does one say that “the point is to bring your being into accord with your language,” or “the point is to bring your language into accord with your being”? The difficulty is dual, because on the one hand, this accord is already the case; and on the other hand, this accord is always complicated by the (supposed?) split/rift between what we “are” and what we (say we) “say.”
There is a sense in which we are better off never speaking again, especially to those we dearly love. Or rather, we are better off never speaking with them just for the sake of speaking to them, for the sake of “being in touch.” Being is, beings are, in touch. There is a real symptomatic lack of faith with regard to this fact. I am nothing but my rapport with beings, I am nothing but the way I touch and have been touched. And I will touch again, I will speak (and I’ll be touched by this touching, touched by this speech…); and I will separate, I will fall away, I will be divorced.
It would seem that our only hope at preserving our love is to abandon one another to our own “respective” beings; that is, to go-it-alone in to the darkness of whatever destination…
Let us not link our beings together with “language.” Language? I tell you, we do not speak to one another, not even here. No, there is no language: we do not speak to each other. And yet we speak. We speak ourselves; our selves speak. Let us link our beings together, then, and let us see that there is in all being this link, that this link speaks, that being-together is.
“Revelation” by Robert Frost
We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
Till someone really find us out.
Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.
But so with all, from babes that play
At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.