Ordeals

Every exegesis should lead us to the truth of existence. –Yves Bonnefoy

The seeds of many possible academic projects have, in the past, catalyzed my mind: a dissertation on Kierkegaard’s theory of indirect communication in relation to Agamben’s notion of poetic inoperativity, for example; or on how the evolution of communism in society is directly proportional to a change in our experience of “private property” and “mineness”; or how Buber’s vision of the “basic word” I-You relates to the vision of “intimacy” set forth by Bataille in his Theory of Religion; or how Debord’s critique of the spectacle coincides with Nietzsche’s exaltation of appearances after all; not to mention that American heritage I love, from Jack Spicer to John Berryman to Leslie Scalapino, where so many discoveries lie in wait for us. But in the same breath that I’d recommend all these projects, to myself or to you, I’d discourage them: recommend them because they indicate worthy time that might be spent; discourage them because, in any attempt to come to terms with them—specific problems, the parameters and contexts and stakes we could readily supply with a little work—, we risk forgetting the essential thing: all these works express, above all, a struggle with the core ordeal of existence, an ordeal that no thesis, no amount of study could ever mitigate, an ordeal that no one, through no amount of work, will ever “come to terms” with.

There is no coming to terms with one’s existence: such is the animus of a writing that has no exchange rate. It cannot be compared or evaluated on any objective or intellectual scale. Being of the ordeal, it conceals and blindly shares more than it can tell and know. If the ordeal is not present in the work, at every instance, the work is nothing—or rather, too much something: the pawn of an argument, a tool made to bolster one’s position in the competitive world of writing, the mascot of a do-or-die position. Whereas a body of work is always a transcript, a negative, a “read-out” of a struggle to exist that is never “fit for words.” Only insofar as these studies lead us to a point where our own struggle is activated, where our words no longer “fit into words,” is our work justified, against the countless justifications for writing as work that come from the adult, business world.

Following these authors through the seemingly endless catacomb through which they weave the self-question should immediately confirm this for us. We must read them not to understand where they’re “coming from,” but to realize that their words always come “from elsewhere”— our elsewhere, if we can really read them, for they should transport us into “the real journey” (Lacan) where what is communicated is the incommunicable ordeal of an existence, founded on singular events, in singular locations, with an “indirectness” of expression charged with one imperative: to help us think what we really think, to expose us to our own truths— truths which, if we have the guts, we will then struggle to “come to terms with” on our own, vis-à-vis our own ordeal of freedom, in the navigation of our own practical actions and axioms, through the crucible of our own written “elaboration,” where said “elaboration” cannot ultimately mean or be anything other than living itself—or rather, the life (legible-illegible, up close and impersonal) of its living-death.

The elaboration of a philosophy is ever subordinate to the response of existence that prompted that elaboration, and so we have to read every result as just that: the unreadable cipher of a response. It therefore has to incite us to respond to our own existence, not to elaborate upon arguments. Furthermore, we ought to be convinced that what we read, no matter what it is, is first and foremost an ordeal of our own existence, a presentation of our own history which we have yet to assume and bring to truth. To be able to say “me” after this ordeal of alterity, to feel oneself otherwise, is the one needful thing. Of course, no writer can convince us of this; there is only the possibility of a “yes,” of an intuition that decides to no longer recognize anything like an “individual perspective” or “style” in what gets read, but instead recognizes the negation of the recognizable individual in what is read—the negation of the recognizability of any “individual.” Such is the prompt to negate all individual perspectives in the ordeal of an existence where all recognizability itself invariably grinds to a halt, where all individuality is ex-posed…

Academia prescribes projects in thought to avoid the properly impossible ordeal just circumscribed as the negation of individual perspective, where there is no identity of the writer to save or market. Surely this prescription is a result of the profession, which demands that one assert oneself through the production of individual assertions. This is not to say that there’s no value in academic argumentation—so long as they refuse to be manipulations, so long as they return us to the ordeal. But too often the conclusions of academics remain at the level of “answers” that try to “explain away” the ordeal, namely, by succumbing to the obligation to have an “opinion” on everything they read. To the extent that they are forced to accumulate knowledge, to keep their bearings within the capitalist world, it is forbidden for them to squander themselves, to risk themselves to the point of utter rejection by the adult world. Indeed, the goal in such work often seems to be to prevent real, earnest engagement with the text-ordeal, to reduce the irreducible and make the ununderstandable understandable—to put the texts they read to work, to make them function, operatively. But to put thought to work is inevitably to misapprehend the “purpose” of thought, its true worth in the worklessness of an existence without ends or purposes: it projects an individuality, a property into a thinking which does not really exist.

We are at a point in the history of thought where we can’t accept such misappropriations anymore. We have to temper the rush to conclude things about thinkers, really, to say anything about them. We must speak from ourselves alone; and we have to let the thought of the other stand singularly, just as we must strive to allow ours to stand on its own singularly. In a sense, we have to leave the body of work totally untouched. That is, we have to refuse the operation that would “penetrate” into the thought of the other, and thus destroy it. In other words, to write about others, if we do, only through an awareness of an unbridgeable difference; to no longer attach to their statements, but to love and befriend them; and so to respect them in all their vast self-impenetrability. To leave their joy and pain in tact, while at a distance sharing it.

As Bachelard reminds us, psychological explanations rooted in the individual will never be able to account for products of the imagination which, leading through the autonomy of language and thought, not only surpass the individual, but erase him. Texts that proceed from the modification of being can only be honored if they modify beings in their turn. What we need is an awareness of and engagement with a sort of absolute inconclusivity, freed of every assumption of knowledge, since “knowledge” is at the level of elaboration and not at the core level of response and mutation. What we need is a knowing of knowledge as affective, not argumentative. What we have to do is feel. And so we have to advance our conclusions in feeling ways, returning them always to the ordeal itself, testing and retesting their truth, which is never guaranteed; and yet still leaving a record of this revolving elaboration opened up and startled by each conclusion along the way, as the whole thing feels its way to the inconclusivity of existence. What we need is a love for this incompletion and openness, knowing that only the incomplete can make room for the freedom of others, for the ordeal of free existence.

But the difficulty lies in this: we become both more conclusive at every step and yet more inconclusive with regard to the status of that conclusion. And as inconclusiveness becomes more untenable, conclusions become more tenuous. This is the reason behind the recourse to re-writing. “Who undertakes literature with such seriousness these days?” is a question whose roots are similar to Heidegger’s observation: that what most presents itself to thinking is the fact that we are not yet thinking. We’re not yet writing from the night, from the immanent exposure of every conclusion to inconclusiveness, from the rigor of a vigilant “aperspectivity.” The light of day, surety, insistence on “world-views,” all of this is long overdue to be surpassed. They flatten life and freedom, represent evasions of the ordeal. This homogenization of thought, this insistence of horizontality can only be cut through by a revolutionary verticality which commits to heterogeneity at every step.

We see this heterogeneity at work in works that last. Only through difference does the inimitable event of existence come to course through language like a living vein. It “shows up” only on the level of thinking beings immersed and embedded in the serial progression of thoughts, intuitions, and feelings experienced as discrete and distinct, whose relevance increases with contradictoriness, whose only “unity” is in that eternally-returning “I” intimately tied to the writing-out (and never the writing off) of the historicity of thinking, which for that reason always writes sur rature. To participate in that history, thought has to return now: to the present ordeal of existing existence. And that ordeal, it goes without saying, is always someone else’s. It is always yours…

In this sense, what’s usually considered “free activity” is directly opposed to the rarity of entering this “vortext” (Pound) of thinking, being, and writing. Truly, does any authentic writing seem out of place in its history? No, and this proves that at this limit of the “free activity” of writing, there is a sort of determinism involved, a necessity. It is where the responses of freedom meet the limit of the elaboration of this response, a coincidence or unity between chance and necessity (Derrida) which represents the historicity of thought, of the thinking of freedom as such. Writing: free movement along the necessary “limit” of finitude that’s un-limited in the tracing of its inverse– by inscribing its freedom, sense, and purposeful activity entirely elsewhere, entirely outside, in the event of history that only comes. Such that history is retroactively ubiquity itself, leading us to feel the necessary desirability of whatever‘s immanent at the limit of the exposition of the real.

That writing seems to run so far ahead of the accepted history, ahead of all legibility and understanding, and even ahead of the speaking and thinking being, is neither an illusion nor a truth: it’s the uncertainty and inconclusiveness of the community of thinking beings as such, immanent in words thrown outside language, immanent in beings thrown out into the open (nothing), propelling themselves and propelled into a future without aim or goal, save to circle around this inconclusive coming, and to share in every instant what comes. They find themselves left with nothing to show for their efforts for good reason, and thus continue along the tortured and joyous journey we’re calling here the “ordeal of existence.” Lacan points out the difference between acquiring knowledge and enjoying knowledge, which means enjoying its creation—enjoying the drawing out of a design, the creation of a world ex nihilo. In other words: enjoying the experience of existing. Clearly, no rules apply here: there are an infinity of ways to enjoy the creation of knowledge, to exist. Each form gets formed in the throw of the thinking being into the negation of its individual perspective—into the pleasure it takes in thinking something different, in undergoing the ordeal of existence at its limit.

We alone know the concrete responses and actions to take, and no prescriptions will ever be possible here. Neither is there a concrete response or action without immediately rethinking it and critiquing ourselves and our position with regard to what we’ve done. This constant critique, with no laurel to rest on, is the “restlessness of the negative”: the ordeal of thinking the with as such—with ourselves, with others, with all of existence. That this borders on madness should come as no surprise; but we should be fearless and refuse to back down or capitulate to the powers of authority that be, for despite all their rhetoric to the contrary, these powers do not know their reason for existence– or of the existence of reason–, nor do they know what they could be without those rare souls who refuse to capitulate to them and instead take up the ordeal of thinking through their display of power— beings for whom the official powers constitute but an aggravated powerlessness, the weakest kind of existence there could be.

Limitations cannot ever be eradicated. They open upon an outline for possible action: each limit, each obstacle is needful, for there is no thinking that is not finite and historical. For that very reason, the required energy and material is always immanent. Each event is opportune. This is our one object of faith: that what exists is precisely what is necessary for the as-yet-possible and inexistent to make an appearance in what exists. This is our inspiration, our courage. It brings us constantly to the threshold of our impossible. Worlds do coincide on the horizontal—the random coincidence of our inner lives and “correspondence from the outside” convinces us of this. But there’s no magic here: no material, outside or inside, thoughtful or thoughtless, is by chance; and appearances, while almost always misunderstood, have yet to steer us wrong. We steer them and are steered by them: this is the absence of time in which an experience of writing inheres and insists (Blanchot)—a negation of the individual at the source of “not stopping with writing it.”

And so it should be obvious that one needn’t write a dissertation on Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Experience of Freedom to be free. The only reason to study such a book is to touch on and be touched by the freedom of existence. The only reason to write is to expose freedom as a fact of existence…. at the heart of an infinite ordeal no finite being can avoid. We know that the task and ambition of such a book is not easily matched, nor would we want to reproduce this task per se; but this book, to my mind, examples how writing itself can become a read-out of “one’s own” ordeal in thinking, experience, and freedom, at the limit where “one’s own” meets “our own,” absolutely—at the limit of communication where beings touch. Reading it, his freedom touches mine while leaving mine intact, and this space constitutes the tact proper to the ordeal-text and its “indirect” communication: its me-exposing, “mine”-erasing operation. There is nothing here but the care of a touch, the nuance of a phrase as delicate as the existence it stands for, the writing-through of what comes to be without “properly” coming to be at all—a happening that only happens in the happiness of its haphazard happening-away— the writing of love itself.

In the end, we’re ushered to the co- of coexistence, community, and communication itself, in full variation, whether we read or not. We all share the non-knowledge of this relation of existence to existence in the ordeal of existing. Each thinking being has its own way of being ushered to this limit where relation alone is real. Each has its own way and its own rigorous course of action laid out in front of it as that which can only be discovered afresh each time. That’s love: not knowing what’s expected of you and yet working vigorously for it either way, unafraid of failure—for the only failure is to be in fear of failing; whereas the one needful thing is to be consigned to failure (to half-saying): to the risk, the gamble, to this one possible way to be, altered, communicative, and feeling.

I say it is love and love alone which sustains us, this, and these words, though I have no basis other than this spontaneous intuition to base my claim on— that, without knowing you, I know we can touch, even from across all this distance; that compared to the vastness of this sweet and sublime feeling, all the labor of writing is truly nothing; and that we will forever be passionate for it, for it is the passion of participation in existence as such, our passion for what’s elsewhere and otherwise and ever contrary to ourselves. And that—all that, all this­—I think—is our glory: the brilliance of finite existence exposed solely to itself, in the negation of every individual perspective, in the enjoyment of a knowledge that can only be shared, in the life of real beings committed to always going further than they thought was possible, in this experience of freedom, which is world…

Fall 2010

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7 Responses to Ordeals

  1. Jake Riley says:

    Is this the text of your talk? I have so much to respond to in it, but I don’t have the time right now. Also, if it isn’t (and I can’t remember if it was this weekend or the next you are going to the conference) could you send that to me?

    • tmlavenz says:

      The conference was this past weekend, but this is not what I shared… I will post that text up to the blog very soon. This text, “Ordeals,” was first drafted about three years ago. I can distinctly remember writing it just after graduating from Iowa and trying to free my writing from theses-development and the other “argumentative training” that college implies. I was also reading (again) Nancy’s book on freedom, which is why it makes a featured appearance. I found the draft in the backlogs and felt it still had some life in it– especially after the conference, when I was again confronted with how differently I approach the “usages” of knowledge, and was therefore thinking a great deal about how I will go forward in maintaining that different approach. This text is my thinking behind such an ordeal– the product of my going forward.

  2. Pingback: Credible Sources | fragilekeys

  3. N Filbert says:

    Remarkable expression – I am grateful for it

  4. N Filbert says:

    Reblogged this on Aporias and commented:
    I cannot help but share with you this powerful writing…

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