Against the Absolute

It is much easier to voice an exuberant affirmation of the Absolute than it is to voice one’s failing confidence in that Absolute. This is because, in the affirmation, recourse to the Absolute is immediate, implicit, obvious. One only needs to invoke the name of the Absolute and one’s discourse is supported: not only by the discourse of the Absolute (the mythology), but by all those who have and continue to affirm this discourse through their speech and their actions (the religion). But when my confidence in the Absolute wanes, so too does my confidence in my ability to voice anything at all. This is because, then, there is no longer any net to catch me. There is only my fortuitous free-fall through the absence of such a net, the absence of any Meaning that would reign in the disparity of my articulations, the absence of any Transcendent Will that would consecrate my actions to its Purpose or be the Goal of my history’s course. In the effacement of the Absolute, there is nothing like this left at all, and there must not be. We are exposed to the lack of any transcendent support whatsoever. We are exposed to the fact that “meaning” does not yet exist. We are exposed to the infinite demand for sense.

It is therefore incorrect to say that one’s confidence in the Absolute wanes. It is rather that the Absolute shows itself for what it is: a sepulcher of Completed Meaning that does not live. The Absolute, enclosed in itself, can no longer respond to the demand for sense because the Absolute manifests, according to It, the only Sense there can be. No matter how far-flung its official discourse is, the latter always points back to It as both source and destiny. Nothing is “lacking” in it, even if everything remains “mysterious,” We are assured that, however limited our cognitive (or spiritual) capabilities are, something lies behind our inability to comprehend the mystery– namely, the Absolute itself (which is of course very kind with us severely handicapped human beings, who slowly mull over and develop the revelation…). According to it, if we exist outside this Absolutely-defined Sense, we are in the wrong; we are blind and ungracious; we have not yet seen what there is to be seen; we require conversion; etc.

All the mysteries are specially tailored for this seamless operation to continue forever. Prayer is the operation that reifies it and makes it vivid for the believer. “Divine illumination,” however, while having no limit in principle, is limited to the confines (the assurances) of the Absolute. For anyone disabused of the Mystery, the contrary is the case: there is no primordial Light that is not overshadowed by its own lack of sense, its own ruse of comfort. To be disabused of the myth therefore entails a rather ambivalent, or even unwanted, fate: it is not to see anything any clearer; it is to peer into the “night,” that is, to see the sight of no-sight, a sight that sees its own blindness. How much easier it would be to live with an Absolute to fall back on, a God to guarantee the meaning of our discourse and our life! But here, self-authenticating Light will no longer do. It can only temporarily mask an instability or uneasiness (or darkness) at the origin of sense. It offers answers and condolences, saving us from the need to make sense of things on our own, for ourselves. Whereas we have no use for explanations once we understand the (infinite) demand for (a finite) sense. Indeed, then any “explanation” or “reason” takes us in exactly the wrong direction. Then, no matter how glorious our ascension into the Absolute may feel, doing so we succumb to the worst kind of evil. And if we know it is no good, we are wrong to do it (even if what we’re left with is horrifying).

“There is lack somewhere; to name it God is to cork it up,” writes Lacan. I think there is something undeniably modern in the need we feel to not cork up the “lack,” to leave the lack in sense open to us and in us. As Derrida tells us quite early on, one’s proximity to this “nothing” is the very birth-engine of art/writing (“the blind origin of the work in its darkness”). Blanchot has a similar admonition: keep watch over absent meaning. To which we could add: do not siphon this absence through any given discourse (religious or not). There is no guarantee that this watch will be successful; but really, the very idea of “success” is being effaced here. In fact, all success is refused because any accomplished signification would fail to meet the “omnipresent” demand for sense (and it is obvious that many discourses that proclaim to be disabused of the Absolute still feign accomplished signification and so fall prey to the same traps). Success must be refused because there is no Absolute (no Truth, no History, etc.) guaranteeing the validity of our discourse any longer. And by “our discourse,” I of course mean “our life.”

Nothing guarantees the sense of these words because nothing needs to. No need for beliefs and/or for knowledge. Naked existence, naked thought is precisely what is demanded of a world stripped-bare of the Absolute. We are exposed in common to this lack, this naked existence that has no “givens,” no “given meanings.” And so we are exposed to this demand to make sense; and this demand is not to be finished one fine day, but held suspended and incomplete before death itself. We are exposed as “beings of sense”: yes, indeed, we exist. A common and maddening re-petitioning of sense that takes us to its, and our, limit, without any resorption in any system of meaning. Where the self once found its cozy place in the bosom of the Absolute, now there is only the restlessness of a “self” that can’t for one single second remain itself, a “self” thrown into its own self-absenting gesture– and this just to make some sense. What remains is this passion of the origin that constitutively defers itself. What is left is writing.

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