The Mystery’s Wellspring

“To guard the purity of the mystery’s wellspring seems to me hardest of all.” ―Martin Heidegger

How one translates the verb “being” need not accord with common sense, which links it most immediately with “existing.” This is the primary function of the copula, to designate something as being-there-in-the-world. To exist signifies: standing, standing out, or even stepping forth there in a space, occupying it with its material extension. In this manner, what “is” can be pointed to, referenced, usually in an unquestioning way. The designation makes the entity available for thinking and use. The automobile “is”: this means that it is parked there, occupying a space, and even if it drives away from us, it still exists, taking up its space somewhere else. This notion of the being of beings as ex-sisting allows us to know beings in a stable way, since by and large they exist or stand-out in an “immobile” fashion — not that they don’t move, of course, but, barring their destruction or transformation, remain identical to themselves, “unchanging” not on an atomic or molecular level but in our mind, in our reference, in our operation. Whatever we can reference in this way “is” for us; it exists through our stabilization of the chaotic flux of waves into discrete entities which “hold up” over time, which bear many instances of reference over time, thus convincing us of their beingness. It is a sort of convention of stability without which being itself would seem not to make much sense.

But what if existing and standing weren’t the only translation for being? What if these standards were only accepted so broadly because they served the pragmatic aims of man and language to stabilize them? Can’t we see here a certain choice that is as unfounded as the human world is in nature? For one could easily imagine that the standing-there which allows for the knowledge of entities could be replaced, for example, with an arising(-there) or a withdrawing(-there) that prevented all knowledge from holding them steady. Being would not imply the actuality or inactuality of beings in the world any longer. Indeed, the borders between entities, separating them — which relies on clear divisions in being and on the distribution of these divisions over space-time — would no longer be offered up and accepted as an obvious self-evidence. Discreteness could no longer so easily be assumed, because in a paradigm of arising or withdrawal all grasp of stability would lose certainty. It is not just that the flower blooms without why, but that the ground blooms up into it, and with it the bench beside it and the path leading to them.

But how then could we continue to say “it” and “them”? Here the language of reference evidently fails to suggest anything other than entities. One will object that we are simply confusing things, fusing them together into the unstable flux; that we thereby lose all specificity, losing beings to one undifferentiated arising and withdrawal, robbing us of knowledge; that we are contradicting the very conditions of experience, space and time. It is perhaps nonsense to try and rework these notions, specifically, to decouple coming-to-be from coming-to-stand-there, or more simply, coming from coming-to(-be). How could arising and withdrawal not themselves be referential to objects or at least to us as subjects, indeed, to our “stand-point”? Human thought on reality is so overdetermined by such “points” of being(s)-there that the very possibility of thinking otherwise seems absurd. In truth, arising, emerging, withdrawal, (dis-)appearing, going-down, all these potential replacement translations for existence and standing-there fall short, or at least suggest their own limitations; and, in any case, it is clear that a simple substitution of definitions, the suggestion of new claims about the essence of being in novel propositions, could only ever prepare the way for a more originary thinking. This, I believe, was Heidegger’s task, and we can name it: dwelling in the mystery — the enigma of (it) (not) being (there).

But to express this will require something more of us than propositions, theses, and claims, for here no war of “positions” is possible. Indeed, it is no longer even suitable to speak “about” beings or being. It is rather the case that we must invent, through a sort of “(poetic) naming of Being,” new forms of langauge, forms which do more releasing than grasping, more clearing than positioning, and which only arrive at concepts through long experimentation with bizarre discursive arrangements which make possible a suspension of the common sense stabilizations and “stationalizations” of beings as objects of knowledge. This is to go against the grain of what everything about assertorial discourse asserts about being. What is clear, however, is that there is no clear “outside” to language as we inherit it, nor to the propositional form of understanding. Bringing the mystery and our dwelling in it to language requires intead a sort of constant displacement in thinking: it demands a sort of disbelief in statements, in the evaluation of rightness and wrongness (for this inquiry, not absolutely or in general), seeking instead those words which bear the truth of being and, if we can say so, its silence.

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3 Responses to The Mystery’s Wellspring

  1. Rex Styzens says:

    I am rereading Nancy and your comments are in keeping with his. A FINITE THINKING can be characterized as his foremost struggle with Heidegger. What has struck me most forceably so far is Nancy’s insistence that it is likely in our present time to feel abandoned. Maybe that’s living with the mystery, too?
    “It is a question of what coming or birth to presence means. To exist: the coming to presence of absent sense, sense coming to its absence, to the absenting of all presence and any present. It is a question, furthermore, of a mimesis that one could try calling mimesis of appresentation, on condition that one hears in the prefix the sense of spacing, of distance.” “Presentation” as the spacing of sense.”—Jean-Luc Nancy, A FINITE THINKING, pp. 23-4.

    • Rex Styzens says:

      From my limited study of Heidegger, I would guess that he would appreciate your comments, although some of his critics declare that he insisted only he, Heidegger, can express his ideas. I have shifted my attention to Jean-Luc Nancy in order to avoid the inevitable dismissal on account of Heidegger’s history of Nazism. He held an official position as rector of a German university for a bit more than a year in the early 1930s. It seems clear to me that he thought he could reform the politics of Germany with his philosophy, an error that he later referred to as his biggest blunder.
      I am currently reading Krell’s PHANTOMS OF THE OTHER that includes a close analysis of Derrida’s study of MH’s rectoral address, where MH’s appeal to the concept of spirit proves to be a slippery effort aimed at asserting an exceptional privilege for the German language.
      Nancy offers an extended critique of MH that eventuates in Nancy’s insistence that being is fragmented, even granular. No wonder that Graham Harman was asked to contribute an essay to JEAN-LUC NANCY AND PLURAL THINKING.
      Nancy’s more recent explorations for the deconstruction of Christianity are coherent with the value of “the mystery’s wellspring.” He writes in ADORATION, “a thing considered in absolute terms — as, perhaps, a musical chord, a nuance of color, an inflection of voice, a visage, a pebble, a tree — absorbs into this “nothing” the totality of consideration, whose spirit is then transported into this thing and changed into a sound, a color, a gaze or a smooth opacity. Such is adoration: the intimacy of this transport.”

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