From Sacrifice to Speech

From Sacrifice to Speech
Jean-Luc Nancy and the sharing of finitude

Let me begin with a few observations on Jesus’ saying from John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” What is expressed here is a certain logic of sacrifice which says: it is only by dying that we participate in the life of the community and help it grow. Unless I deny myself and my life, I remain encased in an egotism equal to hell itself. But I don’t make my sacrifice for my sake or for me, but rather for an “Outside” that’s greater than me: God, life, the harvest, the community. That is, sacrifice is in service. Through it, I “commune” with an essence greater than myself, contribute to a project bigger than my own. Finally, it is important to note that this call is universal and addressed to everyone. Everyone must make a sacrifice.

Let’s briefly try to formalize this logic. In such a model of life in the community, everyone is asked to adhere to a common calling, to head in a common direction, to seek to reach a common destination. They agree upon what is of ultimate value; they imitate a common desire or practice oriented by that value; and through this mimesis commune in a common essence or identity with all the others. Now, the saints and martyrs of the Church, who commune in the mystical body of Christ, or the regular evangelical who communes in the social identity of “being a Christian,” are only examples of this logic. I would argue that all communal projects imply this conformity of value, desire, direction, and practice, for the sake of “communion” (methexis), whether it be in an identity, a cause, a land, or some other ‘catch’ for shared meaning. From Nazism to contemporary military mobilizations, terrorist groups to corporate organizations, professional sports teams to human progress, this logic is at work: one communes with the common body by giving oneself up to its desire and its purpose. One sacrifices one’s autonomy in service. “Inclusion” is impossible otherwise; and those who are unable or unwilling to make the sacrifice are excluded, ostracized, marginalized, excommunicated, jailed, or killed. In each example, one must sacrifice oneself to a necessity that, although commanded and imposed from the outside, one accepts, thus participating in whatever figure of the “Outside” one believes has summoned one.

Although we no longer sacrifice human beings on sacred altars, we have inherited and internalized this logic. Hegel gave us its canonical statement, writing, “…the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being.”

What we have here is a vision of life as being sacrificial through and through; a life of stress, constantly stretched thin: unable, incapable, and forbidden to just be. Here, a being cannot just be what it is; it has to “tarry with the negative” in order to participate in Being at all. Finitude has to destroy itself, or let itself be destroyed, in order to ‘win’ its truth and participate in the life of the community. Only by becoming a functionary of some truth, or of some communal project, do I have any meaning, do I exist at all. There is no better example of this than Jesus, who was most glorified in heaven for having emptied himself most; but whether I interpret this in Christian, Muslim, fascist, revolutionary, artistic, hedonistic, humanistic terms, the logic is the same: I must be emptied out, must give up my life, in order to put myself in service of a commandment and thereby to win the reward of participating in the community (in God, the revolution, and so on). I have to respond to the external demand, I must take on our necessity as my own; and whoever would like to participate in our community must imitate the same, even if we ruin ourselves realizing it.

Giorgio Agamben has analyzed this notion of the functionary in relation to being itself in his recent book, Opus Dei, where he shows how the West has always been crossed by two contradictory ontologies. The first addresses being in a denotative way, saying, “it is,” while the second addresses being in an imperative way, commanding, “be!” As this unhappy union develops, being starts to coincide with having-to-be, with a duty to be, such that being = being-effective (productive, operative, useful). Being becomes indebted to the supposed purposes of being. In order to fulfill its debt, being is asked to deny itself, to negate itself in the process of becoming. It’s not enough to just be; one has to become somebody. In this situation, which Agamben criticizes, all our potentiality is subordinated to actuality, to the commandment to “actualize” our potential, which usually means, to sacrifice ourselves to some end that isn’t our own (some ‘end’ or ‘reason’ imposed on us from outside). If we do not obey this necessity, we’re useless: we are not allowed to not be, and there is no room for being unproductive either: one has to be “effective.” Even the humanities succumb to these pressures, arguing for how useful a liberal arts degree is on the job market. Everything is sacrificed to this necessity which summons us to action universally: do something worthwhile, produce some real meaning, don’t appear useless. Just think of how someone who has just met us will ask, innocently enough, “What do you do?” The fact that we do not first ask, “What are you?” tells us a great deal about the extent to which the ontology of duty rules our lives. It shows that we conceive of being almost exclusively as being a function of something, as a support for an operation outside us. In other words, as a kind of sacrifice.

Of course, we are fascinated by all this– fascinated by the God who demands the full allegiance of our emptiness; fascinated by the spirit demanding dismemberment in the name of knowledge; fascinated by the leader who demands the devotion of all our energy to his wiles; fascinated by the market which seduces us into dreams of wealth and profit; fascinated by the promise of a career of influence and great reputation; fascinated by strip-clubs and bars and drugs luring us to ecstatic filth and cleansed doors of perception all at once… We’re all gripped by these images, these fires, these dreams of an existence transfigured, transported, transcended. In Bataille’s words, through sacrifice I become “the same as the magnificence of the universe.” Whatever its avatar may be, that’s the bargain: to be merged, fused, lost in the Outside, to participate in the obscure Desire of the God, the Community, the Other, even if that desire is all projection and fantasy.

In a world where no one feels good enough, when “work” and “daily sacrifice” define our lives, perhaps its time to reevaluate the notion that finitude has to be sacrificed in order to be meaningful and participate in communal life. If we end up destroying ourselves for the sake of realizing causes and projects, for the sake of producing meanings and identities, perhaps it is time to find a different starting point, to invent a new mode. In 1938, Gaston Bachelard could still say that, “The funeral pyre of Hercules continues, like a natural symbol, to portray to us the destiny of mankind.” But after the fires have shown to us what great sacrifices and horrors man will commit in the name of his so-called destiny, perhaps it is time to admit, with all its consequences, that the Phoenix has had its day, and that this sacrificial logic is finished.


I would like to take the second portion of my paper to discuss Jean-Luc Nancy’s work and especially his notion of “adoration.” Guiding my thoughts will be his word: “Existence isn’t to be sacrificed, and can’t be sacrificed. It can only be destroyed or shared.” Whatever we do from here, let us at least try to not destroy each other, but to leave each other intact, and to share.

Nancy begins from the naked fact of existence, not “how” it is, but “that” it is. This “that it is,” each time, is an event that can’t be programmed or controlled. It is not the world as it is or should be, nor is it simply one part of the world. It is the very opening of the world as such, in all its unprecedentedness: its first opening, each time. “This opening of the world, this event, is, from inside the world, its outside.” At each instant, this “that it is,” this event of existence, surprises us with the gift of the world, and it is this gift which calls for adoration. [See Priceless presents for more on this.]

Everything here revolves around our conception of and relation to the “Outside,” which I tried to formalize above as that to which and for the sake of which finitude is sacrificed.  What is at stake here is a deconstruction of that “outside”: to no longer turn it into a figure, to no longer try to possess it for our purposes, identify it, signify it, or project our desires on to it. Adoration begins from the fact that the outside, the opening of the world, is each time inappropriable: it can’t be spoken, it can’t be figured. In a sense, there’s nothing to know about it, and nothing to say. After all, it isn’t any thing

It is this “outside,” this opening, that opens us. It opens our mouths prior to every project in speech, prior to every meaning-to-say. Adoration is speech open to this opening of the world, open in its very speech, not imposing itself on the world, but remaining exposed to it–exposed to the fact of existence, to the naked event, each time, “there is.”

The “there is” precedes us and goes ahead of us. It cannot be mine and will never be mine. It can’t be yours or mine, but happens. As such, we remain impenetrable to ourselves and to each other. I can’t know what it is for you to be. Adoration honors this inability to know the other by listening. It implies respect for the fact that each fact of existence is unique, absolute, unconvertible, inexchangeable. Our worlds don’t match up, our desires don’t conform, and we don’t commune in any common essence. Adoration respects this distance between us, and between us and ourselves. There can be no imitation, and ultimately, we won’t be ourselves. Because we are each an absolute origin of the world, and this origin, for each of us, each time is always different–as different as every moment of our lives. Adoration exposes itself to what Derrida has called the “heterogeneity at the origin”– this difference in events, persons, and voices– every instant.

If we attend to existence as it is, as it comes, sacrifice can no longer make sense. Along with it, all the projects modeled on the form of sacrifice, which we have seen take the form of effectiveness and duty-to-be, no longer make sense. That is, it’s no longer a matter of constituting a community through sacrifices, or of striving to commune with a common essence, not even that of humankind, but of letting ourselves be exposed to the community that is existing, to the unpredictable event of being-with, spaced out in the event of existence. For adoration, coexistence matters in and of itself. It does not require an operation, it does not need to be forged or organized, it does not need to be given meaning; and rather than fusing us together, coexistence demands the tact of distance, spacing, and separation. That’s what adoration does: it opens a space, makes room, invents a distancing. It guards that distance, that space, and in that way it acknowledges the infinite distance between us, which can never, must never, be collapsed. But it is this very distance that opens up in us the possibility for intimacy, and for sense. For adoration.

Adoration holds to the nothing of the opening, the interval between us. It makes its address without knowing to whom, without figuring the outside or community to which it’s sent. Simply said, it doesn’t know, it’s intimacy is dark. And so it makes its address without intention, and in this sense, is tension itself: the tension of an existence suspended over nothing, the tension of a speech addressed to what lies outside any possible speech.

It is in this sense that adoration decides for existence and for existence alone. It decides for what exists presently in all its impenetrability and inaccessibility. It refuses every closure of the world, every supposition of ultimate meaning or final sense gained. It refuses to accept every given reason for the world, which is why it also calls for a “dis-enclosure of reason.” Adoration is addressed to what is in excess of every reason and end. In other words, to existence itself, to a value without equivalent. The sense of this event of existence, of each coming event, can’t be measured or adequated in any way. Adoration honors this inability to measure, or to know, what is happening out in the open. It suspends itself there, refusing to let the opening of the world close up around signs and projects and identities. Its task is to hold itself exposed to what happens to it in time, in the unpredictability of its event; and so to remain passable to a sense that only comes and goes, here and now or never, a sense that only passes, a sense that isn’t for anyone or for anything, a sense which is without finality, accomplishment, or effectiveness. Such speech does not function. It’s measured only by the excess of the gift.

To be sure, finite existence is still offered, but it is not offered by anyone or to anyone, and above all: it is not offered as a sacrifice. It offers itself, offers nothing, for nothing. It’s offering is its own end, without any purpose or goal save to offer. In other words, it is simply shared–the sharing of nothing. Such is why adoration never proceeds from necessity, never demands destruction, but always comes from nothing. This nothing is priceless existence itself. It has no transfiguration in mind, but strives only to stay open to the generosity of existence, this nothing of existence, as it comes.

No one will deny that this speech still troubles us. It’s a matter of holding ourselves to a lack of answers, a lack of certainties about the open. It’s a matter of facing up to an absence of meaning in the event, to how each event makes us responsible for the sense of it, to how we are abandoned to this event and to our responsibility. It’s a matter of showing how meaning can’t be fixed, but can only pass through. We’re trying to be responsible for this absence or passage of sense without reducing it or explaining it away– or saving it. We’re trying to enter all these passages and passings-away of sense, to sense how sense exists nowhere but in these passages, in this exchange between us inexchangeable existences, where each relation, each exchange, is in itself inexchangable. The fact that we exchange the inexchangeable, that some sense passes through, is the generous surprise of being an existent of the world, each time real, each time passing.

So here is all the joy and misery of our adoration, the source of our grateful tears and our gentle exhilaration: everything, as gift, remains inappropriable. Existence remains open, vulnerable, outside. Everything I love remains not mine. Everything real, is elsewhere. But here, in steady adoration, we learn how to say that it is so, how to respect existence in its infinite distancing from itself, how to hold open this space where things can happen, where some sense can pass through.

Our hearts are still broken by the fragility of finite existence, by the precariousness of our relations, by the fortuitousness of a life abandoned totally to itself. Humanity has always sought to overcome this fragility with its countless salvific projects, which would fix finite existence or consecrate it to an infinite one. But we have learned that to try and save finite existence only destroys it. The transfiguration of humanity has no end but sacrificial horror at the funeral pyre. Such is why Nancy’s thought, following Derrida, calls for a “salutation without salvation,” for an acknowledgment of the “irreparability” of beings and things, as Agamben writes. This is not a call to resignation, but to make sense of the irreparable. It’s a call to find the immeasurable in the very contingency of the world, infinity in the opening of finitude. It’s a call to life as relation, to the world as a creation of relations. It’s a call, in a word, to love.

What matters here is not to recover from our misery or to keep ourselves from weeping over the fact that existence passes away and only passes. What matters here is to salute each other, to salute all the existents of the world, human and nonhuman alike– to address each other from the place in us which is incommensurable with the world, to the place in the other, in you, which is incommensurable likewise. Each “hello” bears with it this affirmation and recognition of the other as an unsacrificeable, finite existence, and for that very reason open to an infinity of sense. Adoration is no more complicated than holding itself open to this, to a word of relation without motive–offered, but not in sacrifice. It’s as simple as a hello that doesn’t destroy, a hello which leaves the other intact. Indeed, it’s as simple as the hello we are sharing today, for there is no greater truth than this: that we remain suspended in this gesture of adoration, infinitely.

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7 Responses to From Sacrifice to Speech

  1. Jonathan Tillotson says:

    If it were yours, in your love, it would not be anything other than a self-love, would it not? Despite this, I note an interesting tension in your fragilekeys post, regarding the self. On the one hand you want to challenge the dynamics of sacrifice, insofar as they deny finitude, and could we say the singularity of the self (and I agree we should step beyond sacrifice). While on the other you write, as above, words that can perhaps seem to place a low emphasis on, if not a different kind of rebuke, to the self: ‘Everything I love remains not mine. Everything real is elsewhere’. I’m not suggesting you are contradicting yourself, since I think you are not wanting to deny the actuality of the self (otherwise how could you love?). I just find the tension here interesting. Do we need a new sense of self that is neither sacrificed to a common being and its levelling demands, nor elided or effaced in a being-in-common that might potentially over-expose us to the other – even in its lack of specific injunctions (but perhaps, Im just thinking tentatively, in a kind of ghostliness). The openess that we need in community can also, can it not, be an opening also in us. Can everything I love still remain ‘mine’ in a different sense? Otherwise might not finitude face a different kind of challenge, an erosion of the raw specificity of being-in-common’s opening of itself in me. And is there a real sharing if there are not two, and more than two, people who share. But I am not talking here about inter-subjectivity, so perhaps we have returned to Bracha.

    • tmlavenz says:

      You are right that everything rides on the “sense of self,” on a new sense of things, that is at stake. This is not an easy question, and won’t be answered here, at least not explicitly. (Since it would have to do with a certain praxis of sense, it’s unavoidable that this sense of self be at work implicitly– already and before me.) But I’m glad you asked. More on that shortly. As for what can be addressed here…

      “Existence… can only be destroyed or shared.” In that sense, the neither/nor you present would both be instances of destruction: first, by being sacrificed, absorbed, leveled; second, by being ‘over-exposed’, elided, erased. To me, these say almost the same thing (and really, your concatenation of adjectives moves much too quickly for me). In each case, you’d have a lack of tact regarding the spacing of being-in-common (a word which I think you’re misappropriating, at least if you’re referencing Nancy’s usage). Trying to come up with concrete examples to match this neither/nor, perhaps one could say: You’d have the violence of torture on the one hand, and the illusion in the voting-booth on the other– both of which endow the self with a voice just to distort it or reduce it to a data point. Whereas what we’d need, instead, is a thinking of the voice that didn’t destroy it for the sake of finding the objective truth or for the sake of generating publicly its subjective truth. In that sense, I agree with you: we have to recognize that the other can be destroyed objectively, but also subjectively (and it is maybe the latter type of destruction which is much harder to protect ourselves against these days…).

      “Openness”: now this word gets thrown around a lot and often masquerades as a kind of meta-value. This is where we have to be careful and not confuse morality with ontology. The same goes for “exposure.” The point is not really to say, “open yourself up, expose yourself,” but rather to say: you are in the open, you are exposed. I realize it may sound like a subtle shift, but the latter, as ontological statements, don’t come with commandments– even if an awareness of existence as exposed, as open, ultimately does lead to changed behavior, which of course it does.

      With Nancy, what we are responsible for is exposed existence and to somehow make sense of it. What makes sense, clearly, is relation. But this does not come with anything else. It does not say what kind of relation or what kind of sense. All it says is: existence is exposed to being-in-common; and we, together, are responsible for making sense of it. In which case, as you say, “the openness of being-in-common” (or of the world) opens up right inside of me, without any subsequent act, involvement, engagement, or movement “into” the world. That opening is equiprimordial or conprimordial with my being. I might say: it’s the very opening of my heart, which drives me to relate– to write, to open spaces, to love, to think. But this drive to relate may very well take the form of a withdrawal from the world. Intimacies never come with pre-scribed forms. If they did, there’d be no chance at sense, but only a leveling Ultimate, a meaningless data point.

      With sharing, of course, there’s always more than one. But I’m already more than one to myself. In speaking, I already hear myself as other, and the self becomes self as a becoming of the other. Without there being a distance between myself and myself, it would be impossible for me to relate to myself, to make sense of myself, and so to be myself. This is the complex and fascinating question of “being-singular-plural.”

      Lastly, a comment on the lines you quoted, “Everything I love remains not mine. Everything real, is elsewhere.” I would say that for me these utterances try to walk the line between ontology and practice– a practice (an affectivity, a sensibility…) that derives from what is recognized to be an ontological fact. That’s why I’d take a distance from your initial question about “self-love,” because for me it isn’t a matter of censoring self-love (which only leads to frustration), or of doing any sort of moralizing on selfishness or selflessness, but of recognizing the ontological fact of PASSAGE. It will be much easier to change how people relate to the world and to each other if we can make clear the conditions of those relations– as being relations in passage, as being finite relations. Then I think the mode of those relations will change, not because of any great idea or new stance on human behavior, but because of a new SENSE of how beings are and of how sense passes through the world.

      Because that’s what matters here, that’s what’s at stake: that in this common space, together, we gather in a new sense of self, a new sense of things…

  2. Jonathan Tillotson says:

    I wasn’t trying to criticise Nancy’s conception of being-in-common -insofar as I understand it- by suggesting what I suggested; only that I thought it was interesting that this could result perhaps from a mode of thought moving in this direction: this loss of the self to too much exteriority in a different and much more subtle sense than just in surrendering yourself violently to a demanding Big Other. And I was thinking yes, more in terms of praxis. How can we be openly implicated within each other, ex-positioned towards each other, turned to the other, whilst at the same time nevertheless remaining in experience neverthless singularly ourselves, both unsacrificed and unfused. There must be indeed a different kind of self. Might we call it a calm and reconciled to-itself, as opposed to a fraught and tragic, self-fragmentation (that kind of a sense of self I can’t help getting from Lacanianism). Easier said than done, perhaps. I am just thinking out loud. My apologies if you took my points as critical.,of either yourselves or Nancy. I dont see this retention of a real sense of self in its own openess as impossible at all, I just wonder about how it would be, how we would be. Thanks very much for your further elaboration on this question Tim.

    • tmlavenz says:

      No, I didn’t take any of your comments as critical (wouldn’t bother me if they were), it’s just that when you are dealing with a philosopher’s “concepts” you have to be able to differentiate between what’s being offered as an ontological statement and what’s being offered as a suggestion regarding praxis and how to be. “Being-in-common” (so far as Nancy utilizes this phrase) is not a suggestion of how to be. Nor is it something added on to being but is “foundational” for any being insofar as that being is. In Heideggerian terms, it isn’t a categorial, but an existential. (Also, being-in-common is one of Nancy’s ways of translating “Mitsein”– but there are others. Again, cf. “Being Singular Plural.”) Being-in-common speaks to facts of existence, facts of being-with– facts of spacing, squashing, squirming, squeezing, skootching, skeedaddling, snorting, snoozing, etc.– facts of proximity and distance, facts of touch and separation– facts of compearance.

      Generally speaking, I would say that Nancy does not proffer suggestions regarding how to be. He does not play the game of theorizing new modes of behavior, new forms of society, new ways of relating to people (and in that sense, what I said in my previous comment about finding a “new sense of self” is totally ridiculous and off base). Since I’ve been reading Lacan all day, I would say that Nancy situates his discourse like an analyst: he does not respond to demands, he never prescribes action, but listens to the being reading him and invites them to engage their own desires (their own being). He reminds us that we are responsible for existence, for making sense, but there is no rubrics for this, no common program, no sense ready made, nor is there an end to the ordeal (certainly no happy end guaranteed), nor is there ever an end to the interruptions of meaning, the cut-offs, the squirrelings. This is why I respect his work so much. He’s never told me anything. He just listens to me, keeps his distance. To read him is to hear myself speaking qua the other of self. You have to be prepared to be transformed to really read him, but that means being prepared to transform yourself.

      The philosophical endeavor is never going to be– and maybe never was– to offer a new vision. At any rate, the time for vision is past. That’s why I suggested in my previous comment (I’ll try not to repeat myself) that the only way to clear space for a new sense of self is, not by offering a new vision of self, but by clarifying the self’s (or being’s) ontological situation– or, if you like, the conditions of its becoming. This is what a philosopher does, hearkening back to the Socratic notion that the philosopher does not teach us anything but only awakens us to what we already knew. Descartes is after this with the cogito, Kant’s after this with the transcendental I, Heidegger is after this with Dasein’s pre-understanding of itself as being-in-the-world, and so on. Freud and Lacan are also after this in the discovery of the subject of the unconscious, and add to the equation the realization that man’s being only finds consistency in language (to be more precise: being reaches a limit of consistency in language) (Heidegger understood this too, albeit in a “mystifying” way). But again, this isn’t something “new” to know, it isn’t a new vision, but a making-explicit of what is implicit in the “being of man” as a “being of sense.”

      Of course, I’m not trying to equate all these ideas, just to suggest that the philosopher’s task is very humble in this sense: he tries to get clear about the state of his own being, about the very possibility of his being, about what makes it possible for there to be such a thing as a “parlêtre,” this speaking being. What we’d have to recognize (especially after Derrida) is that there is no possibility for a unifying theory or view here– I mean: none of us can use the same terms to express these conditions of being (better said: of becoming-speaking) even if we sense that they’re the same conditions. For example, Agamben has also pursued this “same” topic in his theory of the experimentum linguae in Infancy and History. I want to be rather insistent on this point: we can’t return to anyone’s theories, we can’t pretend like we have anything to return to. On the contrary: “What we need are voices that are singular, distinct, and that do not properly understand one another, voices that call to one another, that provoke one another,” Nancy says.

      Through this rather modest work (and it is always work with language, really, it is “being” AS “coming to speak,” let’s never forget: the voice is never a “given”…)– through this rather modest work, there’s no guarantee that we’ll be heard aright. Agamben tells us that in every communication, what is communicated first of all is a potentiality or power to communicate; but that doesn’t keep whoever hears me from narrowing everything down to one or two things I’ve said, attaching a theory to my name, and so on. I can’t worry about that, and after all, it doesn’t effect my becoming-being unless I let it. For those who want to listen, the wager is this: I offer the impenetrability of my own coming-to-language, and I don’t respond to your demands; if you gather anything here, it is that language is summoning you to speak otherwise than as you have; it is that language is waiting on you to clarify the situation of your desire (being), the conditions of your becoming(-X). This is no small thing to do, and it is an endless task, bordering– as every true sense-making activity does– on madness.

      So, if you like, here’s Nancy’s one bit of advice: “The age old saying ‘become what you are’ has changed: ‘be what you are becoming,’ and be so to the very infinity of your possibilities, without any final consecration.”

  3. Jonathan Tillotson says:

    It is perhaps true that I am rather ‘too keen’ to draw into practice ideas that emerge in philosophy; too keen that is, in the sense that the original thinker had not perhaps been as interested in (such) practical applications or interpretations themselves. If this means I am not a philosopher, this doesn’t bother me, since as I write elsewhere, and increasingly believe, I do not have an identity, nor do I wish to have one (even though sociologically I am pressured to have one in order to earn money- to be ‘a’ this or ‘a’ that). I am, however, concerned if I misrepresent, or mis-convey a thinker, so I’m happy to be taken to task for that. But I would like to think that we can expose ourselves to pragmatic questions about how to turn into practice certain ideas. And from what I have read of Nancy, I am enthralled and delighted by him, and I shall read more (amongst innumerable other things crowding around me- even here beside the Mekong, beneath these trees). Without doubt any kind of an appropriation and application could be a distortion, but I suppose I can’t help asking if it need be one necessarily. I really like what you say towards the end about what I am understanding as a kind of provisionality, a tentativeness, a reversibility (?) of meaning. If I understand this wrongly, well, I still like my misunderstanding. I wonder though whether I care more than you perhaps suggest I should about being understood or misunderstood. I agree that ‘there’s no guarantee that we’ll be heard aright’, but I think there are degrees of misunderstanding and extents-to-which the full picture is not conveyed. I woulnd’t want to deny that there is an ethical obligation placed upon each of us not to suppose that we finally understand the other, especially when, in the very moment of our reception of each other, we might be given to react in a hostile manner towards each other, upon the basis of such misunderstandings. Perhaps the final consecration, if there is to be one, is that there is no final (specifc or specifying) consecration, but a consecration of the open, of the all.

    • tmlavenz says:

      Isn’t there a contradiction between the assertion “I do not have an identity” and your desire to convey the “full-picture” at a minimum of misunderstanding? If there’s no identity, what whole can there possibly be to be understood? Wouldn’t the identityless (however self-proclaimed) admit that there are only “transsubjective” traces in a situation of dispersal and dissemination? How reconcile such a hope of “comprehension” in a situation of no-return, of nothing-to-recognize?

      This has nothing to do with you, of course; I’m just trying to read the text, as I prefer to do. In any case, I sense my starting point is quite otherwise, although I’m not foreign to this dilemma, which I would say is ultimately one with anguish at heart, essentially, can one make out of the void an operation of understanding? That is, what exactly are we trying to say here, or to show? What game is playing us? And “at the end of the existential night,” whose laughter really is it…?

      “Yes, I would say that, on the whole, we get along rather well…”

  4. Jonathan Tillotson says:

    Interesting. Well, can’t people have a sense of what they want to say, even if that sense in-itself is pre-linguistic? They know perhaps after the event of expression that this has not been achieved because of the way it has been received. As T.S.Eliot might put it in Prufrock: ‘That is not what I meant at all, that is not it at all’, and ‘It is impossible to say just what I mean!’ Here the inadequacy of language is clear but the actuality of a kind of meaning seeking to emerge is not denied or disavowed. As for my not having an identity, this is not meant to imply that I am not here (hello! here I am!), nor that I do not have distinct things to say, nor that I do not have distinct things that I desire, and not desire. It’s just that if I say I am a given label or name or category, then it might be supposed that I am not also more than and other than that. Yet it is precisely in being more than that, for example in being ‘more’ than or other than an Englishman, that I in a sense am not that thing at all, if that thing had been understood to be prescriptive in what it must exclude and include. I don’t mind having identities then, as long as I can have many. And as long as that is in-itself not understood as the mark of my being some kind of a game-player or dissimulator. And if that wreaks havoc, or madness, on our understandings of the boundaries of categories, then that’s fine with me. As long as the unlimited specificity of the finite, the infinitude of finity is protected from reduction, from being captured and represented as what it is not.

    “Yes, we get on fairly well. “….


    “How will we manage to disappear?”

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