What is an intelligent thought?

This note began as a comment on Levi Bryant’s recent post on Loops and Systems. In it, he discusses the two possible therapeutic outcomes in psychoanalysis. The first is linked to a tragic subject who realizes how contingent all of his or her representations are (all the prohibitions, desires, as well as his or her view of the past, etc.), and thus no longer blames the world, but seeks to reorient their own life, write their own rules, so to speak. The second is linked to the realization that the demand coming from the Other is incoherent and inconsistent, that the Other in fact does not exist. But this means that the subject him or herself does not exist (in psychoanalysis, the subject is sustained by the Other’s gaze). In this case, there’s no one to write the rules. The two options seem to be situated at opposite ends. On the one hand, you overcome your old hang-ups, let go of the past and get back behind the wheel of your life. On the other, the very consistency of your existence is called into question. This quote summarizes:

In the first instance we’re doomed to perpetually traverse the mobius strip of our symptom, while now doing so with knowledge of our tragic condition. In the second instance we collapse as a subject because we no longer have the gaze that sustains us as a subject.

In this post, I’d like discuss this second instance in relation to J. Krishnamurti’s “teachings.” At stake is the question of the abandonment of the “me,” the gaze or position centered in the “me” (the supposed “little corner,” says K). It is my feeling that there is something to this second instance or outcome, something unique, although not unique to psychoanalysis, but necessarily unique in each instance. However… and it is a big “however”… we have to be absolutely careful here. We are asking the question: how does one speak the “destitution” of the I? But also: what good is our theory about it? Who would this theory or our theorizing help? And is it really helpful or useful for us to theorize these things, or to even write about them? What does it mean that we want to? And finally, what happens to our discourse if we abandon, not only the desire to theorize this destitution, but if we even let go of the desire to experience it?

Such are the coordinates of this post. We know that speaking about it is difficult, because when we speak about it, we tend to lose all the ground we thought we’d gained. Having just experienced something of the relativity of representations, we return to the arena of representation in language to speak about it. Having just seen the folly in the tragic, we reintroduce it by talking about “collapse.” Having just seen the inexistence or inconsistency of (every) Other, we begin writing or speaking and immediately sway in a direction where we re-assume its existence and its ability to hear us. In this sense, perhaps there is a parallax at work here between the two outcomes, whose two irreconcilable perspectives are only irreconcilable from the standpoint of the first, precisely because the first is the only one that retains a standpoint and perspective. Only the first, in fact, is an “outcome,” because if we try to speak of subjective destitution as an outcome, not only have we misconstrued the reality (or truth) it tries to point out, but we’ve returned it to the subjective discourse it meant to utterly abandon and disrupt. Truth is, once the gaze-that-sustained is absent, there’s no returning to the visible for the one who nonetheless looks. Having said that, let me introduce a bit of what Krishnamurti has to say here.

Thought vs. Intelligence

For Krishnamurti, to be aware of the disorder “within” is already to bring order. Everything transpires as if this were the ultimate and only “step” to take. To recognize that we are inattentive is to be attentive. Awareness, “practiced” for its own sake and without motive, amounts to the awareness that I am not aware, that I am not there to be aware.

Already, let’s pause, precisely because this is very easy to say: “I am not there to be aware.” What links this to the reality of awareness has to be taken on slowly. It’s too easy to say, and we’re caught up in the poetry of it so easily. And yet, by definition, no experience whatsoever corresponds to it. Quite precisely, it means the end of the desire for experience, for enlightenment or whatever; and so it means the end of any discourse that would reflect it. These insights do not direct or teach, they cannot impose themselves. There’s nothing to learn about spiritual paths or subjective processes. The only step taken is in the direction of abandoning thought, and/as abandoning the “me” (the project of interior experience, Bataille would say).

What is at issue is absolute rupture at absolutely every second, complete moment-to-moment reprisal of the complex self/world, “effectuated” qua an attention or looking that does not separate itself off from what it’s looking at, and literally “lets go” everything about the prior moments.  Effort, will, desire… all of these cede their places to seeing, to seeing without prejudice, which is love. There’s no gathering of momentum, no “evolution” of thought, simply because these would only prevent the approach of the unprecedented, or at least give us the wrong idea of what K means by being “alert.”

Krishnamurti’s speaking style is indicative of this abandon of thought, or its lack of evolution (see his The Awakening of Intelligence). He usually prefaces himself by telling those listening to him that they are investigating things together, and that he has no answers for them. He often ends up undoing all the ideas that the audience members have about spiritual life and development, not to correct them or advance his own ideas, but to undo their reliance on ideation and “development” as such. He speaks in such a way that nothing develops, that there is nothing to develop whatsoever, and that there is no use for ideas, terms, images, theories, knowledge, etc. He is constantly saying “don’t read books,” “don’t take what the speaker says, but investigate, see for yourself,” and, “I cannot help you.” And the key word in his discourse is intelligence precisely because it is dependent on nothing: independent from any teaching or thought, independent from the whole of the past and every projection of the future, every institution of identity, project, group, and perhaps in psychoanalytic terms, no longer dependent on the Other, or its gaze.

In sum, says Krishnamurti, if we are attentive to our inner disorder and our inattentiveness, we will see how conflict is introduced, and we will see through the thought-image-representation-making machine. Then there is a chance to live without introducing concepts/conflicts, without relying on representations, images, previous coordinates of the situation, preconceived notions, etc., but to instead live such that these things, in each instant, have no control over us. The splits and divisions that thought introduces into every corner, and which corner us, fall through. They no longer trouble us; they are no longer there. With intelligence, we are no longer dependent on anything existing, we are free. The whole of the past, all of our memories, habits, etc., are seen in relation to something that has no past, has nothing to do with the past, and in fact indicates the absence of time, succession or progression. This absence or freedom is right here. And insofar as the “modal point” of all those memories and habits is “me,” all of this is linked to a recognition that one is not, an awareness of ones never. There’s no one to be absent, no one to think, and no one to be free. Intelligence and freedom begin here (“love,” “passion,” “energy”), belonging to no one specific, and in fact remaining without existence (Kierkegaard’s view of Christian or infinite love is not far off here… see his Works of Love).

Reality vs. Truth

Paradoxically, however, this “without”… exists. It’s me! But it is precisely these kinds of statements we ought to be weary of. How tragic they can be! Better yet, perhaps we ought to do something else entirely, and pay attention to the disorder within instead of figuring out some system or metaphor or mystery outside. But we’ll write theses until we’re blue in the face, study until we pass out, rather than spend one second with ourselves, honestly. The fact that we don’t want to attend to this is implied when we talk about subjective “collapse.” With Krishnamurti in mind, however, I would like to reframe what Lacan and Levi refer to as “subjective destitution” as a kind of de-instituting of the subject, rather than its mysterious dissolution.

But first, let’s admit that the metaphor of dissolution, destitution, collapse, and disintegration is hard to escape, precisely because we are talking about that “point” where my whole being proves to be the world, and vice versa. It magnifies in scope to the extent that it becomes enigmatic and, in a sense, “total,” although nothing “myself.” But before making metaphors out of it, we have to ask that question that’s primary above all others: what is the demand or reality of self-abandonment? what is really implied or entailed in the the “dissolution” of the center/observer/thinker (the “little corner” says K)? What is it really like? Is it really desperate?

These questions are important, I think, for one reason. If we proceed to discourse, to metaphor, or to theory, and discuss “subjective destitution,” we always run the risk of talking about something we don’t yet know the half of, assuming we can ever know anything about it. Because it is, by definition, inexperiencable, impossible to speak of with accuracy or from memory. Not being anything to attain, we have no way of knowing who is in a position to speak about it. Thus Krishnamurti’s constant down-grading of his own status, and his constant emphasis that everything takes place, and is at stake, on your side. It’s why he eludes to the fact of dying every instant, but not a tragic death linked to the loss of a treasured self-concept, but rather “death” as the opening up of intelligence or the immeasurable within the regime of thought, identity, and measure, or a contact between the homogeneous and the utterly heterogeneous. Thus, without trying to offer an answer to the above questions, I would simply say this: if we keep speaking of subjective destitution as a kind of painful undoing of my identity, we are still in a tragic mode and we have not even begun to de-institutionalize ourselves, or die. We haven’t yet begun to look.

I think I write this from a point of common contact with Levi (and countless others of course), where the de-institutionalization of myself proves to be impossible for me. It is absolutely resistant to whatever effort I exert. I can’t effectuate anything, and to try is to reintroduce the whole tragedy of “my” dimension. It is a “feat” that no thought can accomplish, no image can picture, and no theory can grasp. Failing it, everything is tragic; achieving it, the abyss opens ever wider. The concept of “achievement” itself empties out to the point of nonsense. There is nothing to be said, and we don’t know what silence is. And there is pain, because despite it all, we think that it is better to know than to look. Or at least, it’s simpler to look over words than to… stare into the abyss of “our own nothing.” Levi’s question is still absolutely pertinent…

With this second possibility [regarding therapeutic outcomes], the question arises of just what an agent (I won’t say subject) might be following subjective destitution…

… but Krishnamurti’s approach, for one, destabilizes it entirely. Certainly, no “agent” would be found as a remainder. To think that an agent remains attests to this desire for something like the will or desire to remain despite everything. (However, it is unclear in Levi’s post precisely what subjective destitution itself amounts to, how it transpires, how its conducted, so it’s hard to ask the question of an “after.”) Krishnamurti would answer the question — what is there after I no longer am? — rather simply. What’s there is what is.

An instant/infinity passes. To see what is there… is already to transform what is. It is to render the mind and its ideas, images, and projects ineffectual, mute points.

We’d have to bring up the question of bearing-witness and confession here. How does a subject bear witness to his own inexistence, so to speak? In his book on Auschwitz, Agamben says that ethics comes down to bearing witness to desubjectification. The negative capability of the poets fall in this category, along with accounts of the holocaust which knowingly speak the unspeakable, but I think he means for it to apply across the whole spectrum of “bearing witness.” What’s important, however, is that there’s no way to bear witness to desubjectification without passing through it, traversing it. Although it is impossible to bear witness for the muselmann, only those who witnessed or experienced such a state are able to bear witness for it (impossibly).

In other words, you have to find out for yourself, and writing it down is certainly no necessity. As K says, and Lacan indicates when he speaks of the “real journey beginning,” you don’t even accompany yourself. You don’t really find out anything (and perhaps attest most totally to this), but you enter into relation, as relation– not even “being” unless “being-relation,” or as Nancy says, the “self” is to-self, being-to-self. Extrapolating from K, this means being charged with the energy or passion of love that makes no division in the world, sees things as they are without the past prejudices or images attached to that seeing. Because seeing is an act of love when it is, each time, a first sighting, an initial seeing.

Krishnamurti says: hold to the initial seeing, at attention, for there are no more steps to take from there. There is only the initial seeing, and in that is the real of intelligence, as well as the beauty of love. Personally, there could be no greater challenge of “faith,” and not just because there’d be no division between the faithful, but because you’d be called to fall back on nothing, to literally be without recourse or past, to be totally suspended over the abyss of the present, where all identity runs aground.

What is at stake here is an encounter or a relationship with all things and others — or with otherness itself, “extimacy,” this heterogeneous and timeless dimension that cuts through the Same, or the Same’s very own undecideability — such that no image or idea or identity is attached whatsoever. To look even without seeing “objects,” or to sense oneself without thinking of “oneself,” to talk to someone totally without preconcieved notions about them, even if you’ve known them for years. In this sense, Krishnamurti seeks a true contact, a real relationship, in a world filled to the brim with thoughts. 

To return to the two therapeutic options on these terms. The first, tragic dimension corresponds to the ability for us to understand ourselves as “not,” whereas the second corresponds to this very fact. When the former tries to grasp this fact, it’s doomed to tragedy. But when we bear witness to the fact as it is, our existential struggle itself dies down, losing its whole foundation. From the standpoint of understanding (as knowledge, as image, whatever), you have endless, tragic mobius strip; but from the second, the sudden or continuous awareness of “limitation,” and thus the immediate contact with the other side of the limit, the unlimited. There’d be no rest to this movement or contact in intelligence, and I’d never “return” to my old plans and person-ideas. I would hold to the step/not gained, and everything would be “decided” in an instant. Thought is always on the first path, stricken to images and memories, alas to the regime of identity. Whereas intelligence is eo ipso unprecedented, unheard of, each time, stricken to no regime, not even the regime of “reality.” This is why Krishnamurti insists on this: “Truth cannot enter the field of reality.” (The Limits of Thought; discussions with David Bohm).

So let’s take a good look at the fact before we try to understand it, or discuss it, or write about it. I am saying this to myself right now, after years of trying to go the opposite way and “write myself into enlightenment,” as I now see it. What farce ! We really ought to slow down and see for ourselves what is worthwhile, what paths to pursue, what resources to draw from, what creations to create. Writing makes thoughts flow too easily, and ideation keeps us from really looking. I’m saying this having tasted a bit of its truth, and don’t mean to convince anyone. Nevertheless, it seems imperative to stay with (or in) the cut of the immeasurable, where I am “not” and everything that “is” is transformed. We have to find out what it really means to be “intelligent” in the sense that Krishnamurti gives it (and by “we,” paradoxically, I can only address myself also, I can only mean “me”). The question of a non-tragic reality, or truth, depends on it.

“After destitution,” or, Communication

Perhaps by refusing to introduce divisions and conflicts into the world under the auspices of the “me,” and instead bearing witness, each time, to what is, i.e., the radical fact of non-separation, we ourselves can become a flash-point, where our words can resonate with that infinite/immeasurable/intelligent point that we all share, and thus become communication as such, ourselves.

We see how hard it is to break out of the habits, the language, the past; but we also see that there is no breaking out of them. And there is no one to break out or break away from. Nor, really, is there anyone or anything to “share.” Again, our language deceives us here. It returns us to the tragic mobius strip when it ought to set us free from everything. Because– perhaps it’s obvious– no one, no theory, no thing, can be a flash-point for anyone else. Sure, there is an urgency implicit with intelligence to speak and to point. But when it comes to seriously taking up this whole notion of “subjective desitution,” no one at all leads the way, and nothing said or thought up in the past will “help.” If we are really to take the inexistence of the Other seriously, we will cease looking for answers in anything other than ourselves. And, in a sense, we will cease speaking to anything or anybody, save for that swoop of the infinite that slices through any “finished” thing, the intelligence that rocks every thought.

Krishnamurti never answers this question that he often brings it up as being quite fundamental, if not totally impenetrable: what is the relationship between intelligence (always unprecedented and without past or future) and thought (memories, images, knowledge, daily understandings, everything that “is,” etc.)? How can we hold to intelligence and also let thought operate on its level (albeit radically transfigured)? But isn’t left unanswered out of inability or neglect, but rather because this question is ultimately irrelevant. Krishnamurti needn’t worry about thought and its results when everything is a question of attention and the immeasurable. Without intelligence, thought is just a dead machinery, but that doesn’t mean we try to use intelligence introduce anything into thought. An intelligent thought runs infinitely ahead, transfiguring everything:

Abandon the thinker/thought, abandon this very division, and intelligence awakens. Thought will “structure” itself… just like a garbage dump structures itself, oblivious to where anything goes, or who put what where, and without any need to rearrange.

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