Self-Constraints IV

(This contribution to the series records an exchange between me and Paul DeFatta, a friend of mine on Facebook who I recommend all my readers to follow. I have left it in its original form, while editing and adding some things for the sake of clarity. Although I mention this later, I want to stress from the beginning that my commentary is only loosely based on Paul’s initial post. I played freely with the ideas at the risk of caricature, for the sake making clear a certain symptom of the philosophical loop (of) self.  Paul writes:)

The first “note” announcing the shift into the interior is jarring and can fill our hearts with dismay. Surprisingly, the second note is often just as soothing as the first one was unsettling – for those who have done some serious inner work to prepare for such “turnabouts” which visit all of us from time to time.

For those who are heavily invested in – and attached to – persons, things, desires, habits, and conditions, this pivoting or about-face will be proportionally more disruptive in its consequences. For those who TRAVEL LIGHT, on the other hand, the reversal will be less jolting. Attachment and personal investment inevitably produce mass and inertia. Like a powerful locomotive pulling many cars behind it, the mind that undergoes an abrupt reversal of the direction of psychic energy will often experience a derailment or, at the very least, a paralyzing stall. Since nothing ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL is irretrievably lost or destroyed in such “personal” catastrophes, the survivor who rises up out of the wreckage of such derailments and stalling depressions is invariably a leaner, cleaner, serener being than the unconscious engineer-victim of the train wreck. Thus, we are all given the most compelling incentives to travel light – with ungreedy hearts and un-sticky fingers – through a world that is better simply to behold with a gasp of wonder than to hold, grasp, and plunder.

I understand the pleasure in traveling light, but what bothers me about this outlook is its violence. This is not to say that he who articulates it is violent. In fact, I assume the opposite, at least in terms of his aspirations. What interests me is the philosophical system it forms and of which it is a symptom, specifically, the loop (of) self that it reinstantiates after forcing the self through a thousand jarring movements, destructions, catastrophies, and so on. The paradox here, the source of the duplicity behind this system, is this: on the one hand, the self is to be unburdened of itself, stripped, denuded, wrecked, etc., while on the other hand, this process is framed as a “shift to the interior.” Is this not a devious trap? Looking inward, so the story goes, we will find our higher self or a higher reality: some being or way of being that is quicker on its feet, lighter, serener, because less attached to itself and to the world that surrounds it (body, people, habits, etc.). Through this ordeal and this shift, it is supposed to be purified and made “clean.” This is a reduction to a limit point of nothingness, one could say, especially considering that no removal of any worldly or physical quality could change what is “absolutely essential” for this (non-)being. (Many examples of this system could be cited, but I would prefer Kafka’s, who explains how the self consumes itself down to the undying Flame, cuts itself down to the size of the tiniest indestructible that is common to all humans.)

The irony is that, despite all the self-obliteration undergone, there is still a survivor, “one” who undergoes all these disruptions and who, it is assumed, must muster a rather extreme amount of courage and discipline in the face of all this turbulence; who must overcome that pitiful, “unconscious engineer-victim of the train wreck” that plagues the steps toward enlightenment and/or genuine self-encounter. At the very least, someone who must continue to tell himself that he is doing or has done this “serious inner work” (and for so many years!), and that he is doing it for his own good or for the good of others.

I am aware that the constantly repeated terminus of this process is the realization that this “he” who is shifting to the interior is a sort of mechanism or function, a kind of operative illusion (ego) that is useful only insofar as it is able to poke holes in its own structure, obliterate its own identifications, “die daily,” and so on. “He” is this figment of his own imagination who can only prepare himself to be bombarded, psychically devastated or spiritually violated by the Glorious. But then, toward whose interior does he imagine he is shifting during his preparations? To the heart of God (interior exteriority) or to the heart of the world (exterior interiority)? To “his own” interior, and if so, where is that? Of course, one is prohibited from grasping or appropriating any of these. The glorious finds you, as is the perogative of any Almighty worthy of the name. Put otherwise, this Ultimate Reality obtained through the turn-to-self can only be “beheld” by a being that is shocked-open-wide, bedazzled in a bestowal that is both the trainwreck of ordinary, personological consciousness and the awakening of a higher, quasi-transpersonal one from out of this shock or “death” (not all the way, of course). It is at any rate phenomenological, or at least it is still described on those terms and with those presuppositions. It requires the loop (of) self.

I admit it is very pleasurable to talk this way, to describe this system. It gives one the feeling of having understood something that needs to be disseminated as widely as possible, of having done a service not only to humans who just might escape their narrow and ugly self-enclosures, but also to the Self who has been aided in Self-realization. Because of the existential surplus-value or “ecstasy” generated by such discourses and the behaviors they shape, many books, religious and otherwise, have been written and sold on the topic. And many are yet to come, praise God! Jokes aside, I would never discourage them per se, if only because I am well-acquainted with the turnabouts (of) self that Paul so forcefully describes. But what troubles me here, as I said initially, is simply the violence of these turns. Not of the turning itself per se, but of the operation of turning: the violence of the oppression or suppression that the self imposes upon itself in order to liberate itself or let itself be liberated. This violence, once assumed necessary, reasserts itself whenever the self feels caught in itself, or when it percieves that another self is lacking self-realization and must be taught the ways of violence. This self-“pression” haunts or plagues the suffering I until that breakthrough moment when the I breaks through itself or is broken through by… you name it. All of this inevitably demands, if not a breakdown, then a practiced breaking-down whose horizon is the Unbroken (lightness traveling). In the end, it is a system of despair–which does not mean that it cannot be well-adjusted to and compensated for through renewed exaltations to Becoming, through impassioned and poetic exortations to “go to the limits of the possible” (Bataille), or by touting its wisdom before others and becoming respected for spiritual achievements.

I do not mean that someone who thinks such thoughts is doomed to despair–on the contrary. I only wish to point out is how this system requires it, this “sickness unto death,” in order to function. Check the discourses: they would be in despair if they did not know they could count on a reservoir of despair to slosh around in (in themselves or in others or in humanity in general)! Whereas normally one thinks that despair is what befalls us, and that we must find our way out through some sort of leap, it seems to me rather that the loop–and the command to leap–is the despair. Of course one knows that the loop is unreal. But the deduction that almost always seems to follow is that this unreality is itself “real” in some fashion and must therefore be reckoned with as something to be derealized (on the way to a higher or lower “rerealization”), and reckoned with through some sort of decision or operation (for example, a “shift to the interior”). We should not be fooled by the turns of phrase that say things like: the loop is meant to be broken; at the end of the loop one sees there is no loop there; something will come along to break me whether I like it or not, so I had better get my loops ready. In each case, the loop requires a cut–the scission of trauma–and the looper has to become a “cutter” or a cut-receiver. Something like a hyperreal symbolic suicide machine, a time-traveller who must kill past and future selves and whose cutting field is the abyss’s edge, the void’s teeth. All in all, it is a strange but predictable performance, full of threats and twisted smiles.

I say this without moral critique, but as an observer of this system who took its truth on faith for many years, but who now refuses to inflict upon himself the violence it requires to be maintained. I would instead like to develop an approach or a “discourse” that can suspend its nefarious procedures. Those who follow and articulate this system are not usually violent people, but their discourse very often is, though this is often unperceived. The tone is accusatory, pedagogical, authoritative, condescending, even “hazing,” and all of this in the guise of possessing a higher knowledge or perspecitve that must be imparted to others for their benefit, to save them from their lack of self-knowledge or get them going with the esoteric. They pontificate on the void and do not recognize that the inner essence they are promoting conducts so much despair and, worse, substantializes its conditions. Even when they have internalized all this violence, for example in the form of a humble spiritual mission, traces of bitterness and resentment remain which, sadly, seem invisible to them. Worst of all, none of this can be acknowledged, for fear of being caught out as a fraud. Again, I say this without reference to any one person, for it is entirely a part of the system; indeed, these are its inherent symptoms. (I should say on a personal note that I have felt the need to disavow a great deal of my own old writings simply because I ended up recognizing in them the presence of these symptoms and did not wish to spread them.)

In closing, I believe there is another sort of peace that does not require all this self-violence. In lieu of a longer discussion, I can only share what I believe to be its “first term”: the lived-without-life (Laruelle). This term does not describe a special reality, but is adequate for an approach that would bring down the biases of phenomenology (interiority, self-constitution, properness, etc.) and the loop (of) self system it forms (culminating in a philosophy of life or a negative theology of otherness). It tries to acknowledge experience as a mere occasion, without granting it the transcendental flavor that the self would like to taste in it by turning inward and wrapping itself up in it, or by turning itself around outside because of it, or by letting itself be pierced by it like a traumatic laser beam of Infinity. Without any operation, any decision, or any process of becoming, the self is impossibilized by the Real in an immanent fashion. This is not meant to be another metaphysical statement, but an axiom for practice and for innovation in philosophical discourse. The lived-without-life is a radical solution to the problem of “traveling light,” for it need not reference a living traveler or hallucinate access to the transcendent.

I would like to part on a note of thanks to Paul for all his thought-provoking writings. I have obviously picked up on only a small piece of them. My goal as stated throughout was only to bring some clarity to the problematic of the system, to play with it and profane its sacred structure, which in my view always returns back to an unjustly assumed separation and an imperative of self-scission. My concern here reaches back through many years of “struggle and study” that in retrospect appears like little more than a laughable cruelty, what one might call the “self-inflicted wounds of glory.” Whereas today the only solution I can see passes through the generic, which by definition is unglorious. I leave it there, resting assured that the conversation will continue.

[Paul:] Timothy, to the extent that I was able to follow your language here, I am intrigued by your observations about the violence inherent in the ‘looping system’ that you detect in my piece above. It’s very late and my energy is spent for the day, but I would like to return to this tomorrow and see if I can’t get a better grasp on where you’re going in your critique. One observation I had, concerning the violence of the ‘turnabouts’: as the pairs of opposites that constitute the psyche are better understood and more successfully kept in balance, these ‘about-faces’ occasion less and ever less emotional disruption for me. When I was younger, I was the victim of quite overwhelming pendulum swings (between introverted and extraverted psychic energy; between action and contemplation; feeling and thinking; loving and withholding, etc.), but in recent years I seem to be wiser about allowing lopsidedness to happen, so that I seldom allow myself to stray too far from the ‘middle’ of the polarities that energize my psyche. Does this begin to speak to your concern about the ‘violence’ of the reversals I was writing about?

[Me:] Hi Paul, let me pick up from here: “Whereas normally one thinks that despair is what befalls us, and that we must find our way out through some sort of leap, it seems to me rather that the loop [and the command to leap] is the despair.” What I was trying to get at was how the efforts to escape the loop (of) self are themselves always led back into the same circle–the grinding dialectic of anguish and ecstasy, to paraphrase Bataille. The despair has its grounds in self-attribution or -appropriation of whatever stripe, in the “this is my journey.” Superficially one could attack this as the illusory assumption of “me” and “mine,” but it is clear to me that attempts to destroy this ‘illusion’ are doomed either to despair, again, or to identification with something transcendent, whatever it may be. To put it very simply: why do I attribute the immanent moment that is lived to me? Why this compulsion to “double” it? To fold the lived up into “a life”?

At any rate, this is the problem that has been occupying me, largely due to a reading of Francois Laruelle. He tries to think an immanent reduction of all transcendence, to think how all transcendence “falls” into immanence and can only ever ground itself in immanence. This is an attempt to think transcendence in its most simplified form, and the greatest consequences of this simpliciation is the reduction or neutralization of the self or subject. The lived is then thought, each time, as a simple occasion, the subject nothing but the clone of the Real. It leads to the notion of a lived that is not captured in “living a life.” A lived that is one time each time, and thus not redoubled into the transcendence of a self.

I have very high regard for your writings and they often remind me of my own quasi-Nietzschean efforts to come to terms with the problem of self. I also share with you the need, even the mission, to de-program us from our conscriptions to power and false-self-thinking, which no doubt requires a “separation” in some manner from the deformities of our culture. Likewise your description of the “overwhelming pendulum swings” resonates with years of experience from my younger days. I can still remember when these swings went from being long (a week in the doldrums, a week on high) to being just a few days apart, and finally to shorter almost infinitesimal time-spans. This certainly has to do with allowing the “lopsidedness to happen,” as you say. It would be a lie to say that these swings end, or ever could end, for “me”; they are indemic to the loop of self-affection. But is it really a loop? What evidence, what justification do we have for turning the affect so spontaneously into an affect (of) self, into self-affection? Nothing would seem more natural or spontaneous than this, of course, but this is the “program” I am trying to treat (“philosophy” itself, in Laruelle-speak).

What concerns me is the root of these violent reversals and circles (“shifting inward”…) and if there isn’t a way to treat them that would not come from the will, from decision, or from any effort or operation of self, which usually amounts to a counter-violence against the (old) self. This concern stems from lots of observation and a distaste for the ‘traps’ that even the most spiritual of remedies set up for the self. By focusing these energies on the self-problem, especially when the self is construed as the one singular actor who might work for its own liberation (beginning with the interpellation, “you must change your life!”), they can even lead to its exacerbation–to arrogance in spiritual achievement when they succeed, and to terrible confusion when they fail.

So I am trying to displace the entire problem away from the self, not by not caring about it, but by inventing a solution that, rather than starting from its transcendence (which constantly turns about itself, reverses on itself, attacks itself, denounces itself, or wills itself to its own destruction…), begins one time each time from or in immanence, where immanence so to speak “impossibilizes” the self a priori. This allows, not the ignoring of, nor the obliteration of, the “objective appearance” of transcendence, but its radical treatment and simplification. The power of this objective appearance is weakened, brought down, rooted back in immanence as non-acting, non-thinking, non-speaking, non-decisional and non-positional (of) self. The question then shifts from the will-to-power–which accuses, obligates, and assumes so much, not only about itself, but about “others”–toward the passivity of the lived-without-life (traveling light). This is obviously not without a connection to the detachment you articulated in your original post, but it no longer retains the imperative: detach! Instead, one will speak of the Subtracted-without-subtraction, for example, in order to get at the non-operatory quality of detachment, and to loosen the command upon the self to effect by some means its own detachment from itself. This is about an a priori reduction from immanence that is not an operation or effected by a decision, but one time each time “complete.” (Transposed to the register of wholeness, what is at stake is the One–to which one does not need to “go”…)

I am not sure if this makes any sense to you. It isn’t a defense of what I wrote before but an attempt to make the problem clearer. Despite the sound of it (one sometimes gets polemic when thinking, as you know, and it is often necessary to draw contrasts), I did not mean to raise a critique. It’s more that I was inspired by your thoughts to bring them into contact with my own, and to discover therein the remnants of the loop-system, of the “vicious circle” of the eternal return of the same, one could say, or what Laruelle simply calls “double transcendence.” It is from there that I tried to isolate the (structural) “violence” of the “shift to the interior” as an unnecessary task, yet another hurdle to test the self, and once again guilt-tripping it into transcending itself toward itself, or to think itself all the better for having turned inward–for having operated on itself, for having determined its reality, and so on. There is nothing but recoil in this structure, for the self is a harsh master. When it isn’t raising threats against itself, it’s looking to save a world of selves from themselves. This not an unworthy goal. I consider Laruelle’s non-philosophical work and my small attempts to build from it in continuity with other philosophical and spiritual systems. But here it is a matter of recognizing symptoms in them and how those symptoms run amock in the most lofty guises of greatness (the pretension of “enlightened minds” or “exemplary figures”). Here, systems are seen in their insufficiency, which lets us treated them as raw materials for modeling immanence instead of as a support for the self-loop and its violences.

I regret that my initial text was so “negative” in nature, but I am trying to have patience with myself in letting these thoughts “sink in” in a playful way. I hope with this comment I have at least made my aims a bit clearer.

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One Response to Self-Constraints IV

  1. Rex Styzens says:

    “… begins one time each time from or in immanence, where immanence so to speak ‘impossibilizes’ the self a priori.” That’s really hard to get across, for those of us not yet accustomed to imagining as Wittgenstein put it in CULTURE AND VALUE, “It is humiliating to have to appear like an empty tube which is simply inflated by a mind,” or in this case a “self.”
    On the topic of despair, I recently came across this in Nancy’s “Preamble” to the volume, RE-TREATING RELIGION.
    “This is why my interest is not in gathering together some sort of remainder, neither of Christianity nor of the entire Western monotheistic complex. It is to understand how the civilization that propagated itself throughout the world in the forms of scientific, legal, and moral rationality has arrived at a sort of confinement both of reason and of the world that makes us despair of ourselves.”

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