AN EXPERIENCE AT HEART
by Jean-Luc Nancy
Not to deal with Nietzsche here, not even with a theme from his thought, but to respond to the question: “What does Nietzsche tell us today?”
To respond, I would like to take the attitude that Bataille wanted to take toward Nietzsche and that I, in turn, would like to take toward Nietzsche and Bataille himself (from whom I won’t dissociate Blanchot: perhaps you’ll be able to discern why). Nothing less than the attitude of thought toward any thinker: not to cite, not to study, but to learn by heart, that is, through this organ that, to understand, must take in and fall in love with. This is a commonplace, but it demands to be revived: such is also, and first of all, the sense in naming “Nietzsche” today without just naming some field in the history of philosophy. (But to be precise: this is not simply about philosophy.)
Nietzsche tells me nothing without also communicating an experience to me. This contagion between discourse and ordeal thoroughly marks a work that, for this very reason, never ceases to exasperate, to enthuse and to teeter, uncertain, between excessiveneness and suffering.
The experience is always that of the death of God. The death of God is always the fact of this immense deposition of the representation of the principle, and with it of representation in general: because once the principle collapses, it can no longer be a question of representing anything. Everything, after that, puts presence directly in play. Everything makes a game of it and everything plays it out. The evil genius.
Nietzsche was the first to know the restlessness that grabs us when presence comes to tremble in the withdrawal of the principle. (To say “the first” is already to say too much: he was the second after Plato, or the fourth after Plato, Augustine, and Kant. But our whole history has known no jolts more potent than these, and since them we tremble always.) Presence is no longer detached from its foundation, nor can it disappear in to it: it’s held there, teetering, on the edge of its appearance in a world where there is no longer any rift between being and appearing. Presence itself has become this rift. (There is no longer a rift between being and appearing, or rather: there is no longer anything but the rupture between the two.)
Presence torn, presence tearing. It’s in the world in not being in it. It’s ahead of and withdrawn from itself. What happens to presence is thus what happens to the order of the world. Without a principle, the world can no longer justify the order that organizes its significations (the above, the below, the known, the unknown). Authority, virtue, and value are delivered to anarchy. They have no more -archy, but are in play underneath or inside the -archy. The anarchy in question is not some disorganized bombast against all forms of constraint; it’s the power that must commence everything, and every signification, without any sense given beforehand.
Umwerten has to be understood in this sense. One must um-werten the Werte: “um” always has the value of “making turn” and, as a prefix, often indicates reversal, the resurgence that returns. We must transvalue, reevaluate, counter-evaluate values. It’s not necessary to overthrow them (to devalorize them), but to reevaluate value itself. We have to reform it (in both senses of the word) or revolutionize it (in all these senses too). Which means: we have to rethink its price, by considering it as an absolute price, no longer dependent on a principle that would set the price.
Value must be valued without measure. Bataille formulated this by calling value the “heterogeneous”: the “homogeneous” is the exchange of values, the general equivalence. To value properly, value must be heterogeneous to this equivalence. (To speak like this, one goes from Nietzsche to Marx via Bataille, but one also does justice to the contemporaneity of Marx and Nietzsche, who are not by accident contemporary thinkers of value, even if they knew nothing about each other.) The heterogeneous is not in the business of usage or exchange: it’s a matter of experience.
Who, then, has the experience of absolute value (that is, value detached from any measure), value absolutely foreign to the order strung together by the world (of usage and exchange)? Who, then, introduces into the world this withdrawal of the heterogeneous—in place of the principle that once grounded and gave the measure?
It is he who saves the world from its absence of value, from this generalized equivalence that seems to bog it down. Nietzsche names him the redeemer (1). He gives him the title of Christ, and thus makes the Antechrist the very sign of salvation: for Nietzsche, the Antechrist is he who overturns Christianity so as to make “the redeemer type” emerge from this overturning.
This type is that of the “only Christian who ever was,” he who “died on the cross.” Nietzsche is the only one who knows him, the only one who recognizes him, behind the self-interested deformations of the first disciples and the evangelists. Certainly, this is a “decadent type”: but it’s also from decadence that he saves. The redeemer presents one form of the way out of nihilism: not the most active, but an way out, and perhaps this exit, I would suggest, is a weak, bloodless way out, which nevertheless comes in contact with an affirmative and vigorous departure. (The whole question of the exit from nihilism is suspended between a weakness and a vigor, which are both wholly necessary, both wholly perilous.)
This redeemer is he who founds no religion, who proclaims no god, who demands belief in no doctrine or any other kind of belief. For him, faith is a conduct, not the adhesion to a message. He is in the act and not in its signification, or rather, his signification is entirely in his act. He brings about the pardon, he is forgiveness given and received, redemption brought about here as come from elsewhere, because redemption, or pardon, truly consists in inscribing the elsewhere in here. He erases sin, that is, he makes it so that existence is no longer a mistake, a fault. On the contrary, existence consists in having, in this world, the experience of what is not of this world, without however being (in or of) another world.
The opening of the world in the world is the result of a dispossession or a deconstruction of Christianity that brings back up or advances in itself to this extremity where nihilism shatters the presence and the value of God, breaks down the sense of salvation as an escape from the world, effaces every value inscribed in heaven, effaces heaven itself, and leaves this world intact and touched by a strange gap, grace and wound at the same time.
In the dissipation of back-worlds and their fog lies the secret of salvation. It saves us from other worlds: it brings us back into the world, it puts us in the world afresh, as new. It delivers us into the world according to the novelty of an experience that is not of the world, because it is an experience of value : the values of this world are measured, that is, evaluated, by the necessities and interests of this world. But he who does not let himself be measured by this evaluation, he who makes for himself the experience of value, he is withdrawn from the world smack-dab in the middle of it. It’s not at all as if he became the subjective source of a value that would be his own: rather, he becomes the site of an experience that, in itself, is or creates value, absolutely.
This experience is an “inner” experience that is not at all the work [le fait] of an interiority as subjectivity. Here, the “inner” is not a hidden depth that must be retrieved or expressed, a sense buried and in need of interpretation: no, it is without interpretation the literal and simple text of a withdrawal from the homogeneity of equivalent, measurable, and exchangeable values (2). The same goes for «the one who loves, who not only displaces the feeling of values, but who has more value and is stronger» (3). Love («even the love of God,» Nietzsche clarifies in the same fragment) is only an increase of value in itself, without available measure.
Inner experience is the experience of what puts me outside the outside of equivalent values, even outside the valence of values in general, and thus outside all subjectivity as well as all ownership, whether this involves the property of market goods or spiritual goods (wisdom or virtues).
This outside of the outside envelops an “interior” wherein expectations are disarmed, where knowledge, certitudes, and doubts are disconcerted. For representations and significations, the affirmation of existence itself is substituted. Not some speculation as to its value, but value in itself as the affirmation and exposition of existing — that is to say, in fact, existing such as it exists, nothing more, but above all nothing less.
This affirmation affirms that existence is experience: that it does nothing else, free of the goal, the project, and willpower, but expose itself to the unforeseeable, to the unheard of of its own event. It only “events,” we might say. This “eventing” opens in the world an outside that is not a beyond-world, but the truth of the world.
The truth is value reevaluated: devaluation of every measurable value, devaluation of everything given by evaluation. Value is the existence that in eventing itself evaluates itself: makes itself a value without equivalence. This is the absolute price of an existence without price. The price that’s given to the existent that won’t let itself be evaluated by anything. It is given a price without price, which it can neither measure nor pay up. It has nothing to pay: no fault, no debt. It hasn’t sinned or borrowed: it’s redeemed of its being in the world by its withdrawal from the world. But this withdrawal is made in the middle of the world: it is contemporary with existing, it events with it, as it.
The redeemer is therefore a “type” that is inimitable: not a type, but the experience of existing — with nothing but this exposition to being nothing that could take on any price, any weight, or any sense from anything other than its own step inside/outside the world. This brief beat values: it is itself an evaluation without measure.
This redeemer is therefore one who saves man from God, from this death mummified in a mausoleum of sense. The divine, henceforth, is the empty tomb: it’s the void of the tomb as an affirmation of the eternal return of what has no price. Value returns eternally, precisely because it is priceless. The absence of price is what is inscribed and exscribed with each existence as its eternal presence, immediately in the world outside of the world, instantaneously eternal.
That’s why the world of the homogeneous presents evaluation as generalized equivalence sometimes as market value, sometimes as a sacrifice of existence to an all-powerful supreme: it’s always a traffic. It’s always a fundamentalism of one value against another: one value valued as the principal measure, God or money, spiritual worth or stock value. But heterogeneous value is worth nothing, or is only worth what “valuing” is worth in itself: an ex-position to measure when this measure is only the other of every measurement, or its infinity in act.
Nothing other, in this sense, than the Good epekeina tēs ousias: beyond all beingness, thus not being, being neither a being nor a non-being, but existing. Not God, not humanity, but the world as that in which an outside can be opened, and made experience. This experience is “an experience at heart” – eine Erfahrung an einem Herzen (4) : an experience that is made from and right in the heart, which is this heart beating with the beating of the inside/outside through which it ex-ists and, in ex-isting, senses and experiences itself inside/outside the world, senses and experiences itself as the very interval between the inside and the outside, as the non-place of its own most proper taking-place, and as the in(e)valuable value of this absolute property, without any goods of its own.
According to this redeemer, «The “Kingdom of God” is not something you can wait for; it has no yesterday or day-after-tomorrow, it will not come “in a thousand years” — it is the experience of a heart: it is everywhere, it is nowhere…» (5).
(1) The background for what follows are paragraphs 28-35 in The Antichrist.
(2) «E.g., “I feel unwell” — such a judgement presupposes a great and late neutrality of the observer –; the simple man always says: this or that makes me feel unwell — he makes up his mind about his feeling unwell only when he has seen a reason for feeling unwell. –I call that a “lack of philology”; to be able to read off a text as a text without interposing an interpretation is the last-developed form of “inner experience” — perhaps one that is hardly possible…» [Rather than translating the French translation provided in La Déclosion, I’ve restored Walter Kaufmann’s translation from The Will to Power, p. 266. –Trans.]
(3) Posthumous fragment, ibid.
(4) The Antichrist, sec. 34
The above is my translation of Jean-Luc Nancy’s text, “Une experience au cœur,” collected in his La Declosion (Déconstruction du christianisme, 1), pgs. 117-123. The practical reasons for translating this text are twofold: one, I wanted to share publicly a piece from this author who I am always talking about, and yet about whom I can rarely write “in my own words”; and second, because Bettina Bergo’s translation (see Nancy, Dis-Enclosure), while apt, didn’t quite suit me (perhaps for the simple fact that it was not mine: I had to learn the text by heart). While I haven’t departed from her translation too much, where I have, it is purposeful. Other than these rather incidental concerns of my own, I chose this text because it draws as close to the heart of Nancy’s thinking as any other, and because it covers such a huge swath of ideas in a relatively short space (although Nancy is always doing this; his discursive economy ceaselessly astounds me). Beginning from Nietzsche, he touches on the core ideas behind the deconstruction of Christianity and the overarching theme of all his later work, namely, that “the sense of the world is outside of the world.” For it is here that we find the truth of existence as such: in the absolutely-valuable that experience itself is.