We are alike because each one of us is exposed to the outside that we are for ourselves. –Jean-Luc Nancy
And so my flight into otherness is headlong either way. This– “my problematic”– was my liberation. My answer? Going out to meet you was always worth it, especially when it made me uneasy; in fact, it gave the very criterion of “worth,” gave us over to what was most invaluable: that being feel itself other, feel itself through the other, in another– at the intensity of a death brought closer to us both. How strange, my conclusion! That the reason for our hope be that we shared death, with no hope of return, without communing, already.
To be exposed therefore is automatic, does not constitute a work. But then there is no way purposely to get closer. An unapproachable nearness is absolute.
An ominous cloud passes over the disorder of our incompleteness. Never have I felt so on my own, so close to you. Never have I been so open. Never have I felt so touched.
Everything starts over here then, from here on out. Back to the drudgery– truth of singularity– intuited long ago when this serial ordeal first started. What’s piled up here– comatose; the tower– tumbling; the middle of it– eroding; approaching– literature.
Dizzily, always dizzily, I embrace this strange intimacy, this bubble we form together that’s popped over and over again by each dry, passing event. You think you can remember it; you think it can be evoked; but you and I and our bubbles are broken, provoked exposed by this limit we share unbeknownst to us, this limit suffusing every word with death’s truth. The coming cut understands us, absorbs us and thrusts us back out. This violence is our life, our community, the obsessional basis of words. We’re doomed to a strictly mutual falling out; and ultimately, we cannot do each other any good– no more than we, feebly seething, can help ourselves.
Here then ends the myth of “me”– constantly, repeatedly. In this rupture what’s left is only the unnavigable landscape of my emergency: no map to be had, no appropriate vessel to man– as if to navigate it one had only to bear the vessel being bashed by the weather swirling about it. As if this is what it meant to be “human.”
Who has the courage to face up to all this, to the humbling limit of non-being, without defaulting back into the conciliatory territory of myth, replacing sand dune with oasis and crevice with unity? The free fall, the death of God, has one basic consequence, or it has not even flapped us yet: to break the bubble of all self-narratives, all “unities,” to expose all our “properties” as lies. What falls out here is our bond– even if what we then fall into is each other. This is the abject territory in which the myth once set up its offices, architectural and literary, where now our orifices just cream. What we lose here is our belief in the ability to be happy and right. It signals an infancy of being that, in the end, requires every resource we don’t got– every patience, every measure– requires that we offer ourselves up to a communication that reveals to all our self-outsiderness. That we receive the grammar of the other in the lived abandonment of solitary thought. Such trauma delivers to us our joy, our everything: but we can only tremble, dizzied by the magnitude of unimaginable possibilities, which blind us and make us scream.
And so like a blind man I reach out for the master of truth and light in vain, anticipating what I know can’t be handled, what I know cannot be reached. Does it trace out my reach or my failure to reach you? What does the offhand offer you? Remains to be seen: I could not see to it or foresee it, let alone foretell the thing. –But what if I learned, if I was taught, to see while staying blind? If you taught me something by your blindness, right here? I’m tempted to say that then, finally, I would be alive. Then, finally, we would be.
But admit this also: there would be no consequences… save to be exposed to the extremity of our blindness… and so to not look to eliminate it… but to instead enter this obscurity of sight so thoroughly that the anchor of our witness might emerge.
I thought I’d start reading you today so here are some reactions to your thoughtful post about a possible “contact” with the other.
Please feel free to correct me in my reconstructions of your position.
Generally, you are very attentive to the various limits that philosophical investigation points out with regards to a great number of things of which we kind of need to convince ourselves that we know them in order to be existentially at ease. Some of the figures of limitation in this text include:
– the limits of language. The signifier never “captures”. and thus the barren absolute.
– the limits of knowledge of the self (we are an outside for ourselves, Nancy), and my emergence, of which no map is available.
– the limits of knowledge of the other and of intimacy.
You also point out that the very locus of this limit/these limits is “unbeknownst to us”. From that follows that this existential problem is often covered up with myth, as you say. After all of this, the human is just “human” for you, a downgraded figure.
I agree with all of these descriptions so far. The question which emerges for me starts perhaps with the mood of the piece. You speak of an “ominous cloud”, burst bubbles, uneasiness, and blindness. The general vibe I am getting is that you claim to have an intuition of what a human (not a “human”) would have been before the great limitation was imposed upon him, and that a mourning ground, a kind of Rest In Peace sign, needs to be erected to remind us of the (now?) limited nature of our being. Hence the mood of unrecuperable, definite loss. The sentence which expresses this sentiment most clearly to me is the following: “And so like a blind man I reach out for the master of truth and light in vain, anticipating what I know can’t be handled, what I know cannot be reached.”
My basic suspicion is that we needn’t greet the figure of the limit with mourning or an ethics grounded in awareness of the obscurity of sight. Although we should be suspicious of philosophies which problematically ignore questions of the limit, for political reasons. For me, a discourse of limits can ground an immanent and intelligent being-in-the-world which engages with the horizon of its finitude. Limit is that which engenders possibility, as opposed to necessity or arbitrariness. We are finite beings which cannot in ourselves infinitize. We can only contribute to a larger movement towards infinity, but not as individuals. (A topic for another time) I consider limitation and finitude key constituents of being a human. They have their negative function (they stop us from obtaining absolute knowledge), but also their productive and positive function (they produce finite possibility as an existential condition). Therefore, I am not sure why mourning is the only adequate response to the philosophical arrival at finitude. Enthusiasm may just as well be a response. With Heidegger it becomes interesting to consider all of the emotions/moods from the perspective of finitude as an existential condition. (Being and Time, paragraphs 29 and 30)
We humans have no immediate intuition or originary memory of what it means to see/think/speak/feel without limits. This very fact constitutes seeing/thinking/speaking/feeling, as you are very aware. But the philosophical awareness of this limitation, even if we don’t know exactly where it is located, does not make us blind/unable think/speak/feel. The seeing/thinking/speaking/feeling you oppose to our supposed blindness, is exactly what in theology would be the omniscience/omnipresence/omnipotence/immanence of god. So, I am led to think that your mourning site is a R.I.P. for the god in us. Now that is an interesting topic: how does the awareness of our own limitations point to a beyond of those limitations?
You stress that the limitation you mention are unbeknownst to us. This is also very interesting, because this is a different position than Kant’s, which states that the limits themselves are discernable intellectually, but that their “beyond” is fully off-limits. For you, the site of the limit is itself also off-limits (which creates the problem that the placement of the mourning site is also in a non-place). This engenders the question whether those limits are thought to be transhistorically fixed, or flexible, despite their unknowable status. Can “human” or human alter his/her limits without necessarily having them clearly in sight?
Cheers, and looking forward to having you in Berlin!
I’m having difficulties responding to your comments. They stem from what you deduced was my position, whereas to me the text was not written with any positions in mind. There’s nothing behind it, everything is right on the surface; indeed, if the piece has an argument, that is precisely what it is. Now I’m thankful and interested in interpretations, but I rarely feel like I can connect them to the original. It’s clear to me that we’re reading two (or more) very different texts, and that what you’ve shared is your witness. Once again, this is a positive thing, again the only thing the text is about. If it be so opaque, you know you are in contact with a body; and that, in responding to it, you respond yourself, “in the dark,” with no promise of being plugged in.
So I hope it was helpful for you to read the text and compose your comments, because I doubt my response will be nearly as helpful. I don’t know how useful it would be for me to clarify my position, since the text itself is the position, and in that sense, it answers for itself. It’s very clear to me that I’m excluded from what it says. What it knows it knows, and my desire is to respect that, rather than to make an attempt at an explanation. I realize that this is not the customary way to go about things, and perhaps sounds like an evasion. But I take what this piece calls its grounding “in the obscurity of sight” quite seriously. “It tries to give an account of the very thing it undergoes” (Nancy). So to me, it’s not a show, hiding anything else. It has its own strategy and leaves me far behind. In my reading (see below), I’ll try not to give it any more words than it has, and to stick as closely as I can to its signifiers.
Because that’s the big question: can I see what I’m saying? Is this a creative piece, filled with pathetic exaggerations of loss and disconnection? Or is it something more “organic,” seeking in its expression glimmers of hope, of community in the raw act of exposition?
I will try to address the main elements of your commentary, that my text gave the idea that mourning was the only adequate response to an awareness of finitude, and that the text revolves around the loss of the divine or of the “God in us.” I would say that this text has less to do with this loss than with a need to destroy (or to enter the auto-deconstruction of) the myth of “me.” It begins by admitting that the plunge into otherness is “headlong either way,” and proceeds to revolve around this “strange intimacy,” ending with the belief that through a lived awareness of the limitations of this “me” (the extremity of my blindness) this strange intimacy can emerge– if not visibly, then at least sensibly. And, I would add, if not for me, then perhaps for you (cf. the penultimate paragraph). (If there is the suggestion that this very problematic is, “my liberation,” it is certainly not an accomplishment of one alone.)
In that sense, this text is not at all about the great imposition of limitation because of the death of God, but rather the great imposition of limitation that we impose on ourselves insofar as we back down from the risk of exposition. If its tone borders on the fearful, it is because there is something anxiety-producing about this risk and about “closeness” in general: body to body, being to being, but also the closeness of the other already in me. “Never have I been so open. Never have I felt so touched,” I write, in the reception of the “grammar of the other” in the “abandonment of solitary thought.” From the perspective of this piece (because there’s no one perspective on exposition, since exposition always comes first; it isn’t intentional), this closeness (“unapproachable nearness”) is like a freefall that doesn’t let me ever return to the happy and self-righteous oasis of “me.” It reveals our “self-outsiderness” and breaks the “bond” of narrative and personal property. But, in my reading at least, the piece is less horrified than hopeful at this “infancy of being.” This awareness of the other in the same, while traumatic for the mythological “me,” through an acceptance of this risk of exposition delivers us to joy, to “everything,” and at the piece’s close, to the “anchor of our witness”– whatever or whoever that would be, and certainly, one always other, always exposed. Perhaps we could say: otherness, as the truth of exposition, is the witness, insofar as it asks us to bear our own otherness, our own exposure, and so our own witness.
And so if there’s a “master of truth and light” I’m trying to reach but know I cannot reach, it is this “our” (not God); and the reason I can’t reach it is because it asks something of others (the risk of exposure), and I can only answer/expose for myself– at the limit of “me” where I fall into the other’s speech, and upon which the text can only wait. In other words, this “master” would be “you,” the other, the reader: limit of my reach and sight, limit of my thought and meaning. That is what the penultimate paragraph tries to dramatize, at least, I think.
So there is my reading. I can only offer that to you, just as you could only offer your reading to me. Thank you for bearing with a difficult text, and with a response which I doubt is any less difficult. It has helped me to understand my own position, which only seems fitting, since without you I can’t see.
“The point of view of thought is the blind seeing whose tears flow, those laughter flows, in the bosom of this immense outside.” Jean-Luc Nancy
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As you write in “Intimacy Estranged”, “the only ‘exit’ from this paradigm will be painstakingly indirect”. That’s how I understand Nancy’s ‘outside’ and its relation to ‘sense.’ I have not yet tried to write about it for fear that those I can communicate with will hear it as babble. The risk of exposure, indeed.