UNALONE (2016)

The exhaustion of the hero’s ego is his hatred—let him hate it too, and cry.

At the mercy of what harrows me, I become the dancing arrow of rejection’s blatancy, so that I cannot tell apart love of the future from my distaste for the present’s tepidness. To crave intensity is to bury oneself in a soil of indecency, knowing that the transgression is as ridiculous as the dilemma itself. Our chain to death made everything possible to our blindness and courage. Insignificance was our one call line: it’s what we pursued when every worldly pursuit proved done and corruptible. That drive brought us to our “solitude,” no, our awayness, our exile from the legible and thinkable. Only in this way did we deem it possible to gain trust. Our new desire was to submit ourselves to that law alone, singularly, and thereby to identify ourselves in life with god’s dust.

To be done with spitting out a bad infinity of theoretical riddles! And in the exact same commitment: to be done with the brutish buffoonery of pragmatism, realistic attitudes, democratic consensus-building, and all the other boring atheisms beholden to prevailing machinations of power. Enough with the bauble of the hour! That book lost its ritual magic eons ago.

To regiment instead a form (of forgiveness as of intensity, it amounts to the same break with presentness) is not possible: improvisation in contemplation losing itself in prayers dedicated to the indestructible oneness of the literate (human) offering was the only “option” left for the heavenly trust once exposed.

Stone of steady silence in blood, erupting with intimations that could please an exploded sun: what a “perspective” to take on the gravity of singularity, what a buzz to match the immortal fun of catching rays! How else to account for the deliberate making of ashes? (I take an infinity to decide, but once I decide, all I do is listen.) How else to abandon all glory of the one, and to destine it instead to what’s coming? (This time, this is the extra time in which I live: time of love of contact.)


What is a vision in words? For example: all that ever happens, all that we ever see, is but the ash falling off a flame which will remain forever invisible, which to that extent doesn’t “exist”?

The difference between a visionary of images and one of words is only a difference in modes of faith: the prophet means to instill it by scaring or dazzling, such that the audience holds on to the image and fears it; the writer means to obliterate it, to make the image hesitate in its definition and erase itself, to leave it forgotten in the spirit, such that the belief it teaches is radically “skeptical,” unbelievable, unmaintainable and thus demanding revisions—pure vision subtracting itself from images as praxis: as constant (abyssal) reevaluation and deliberation in the burial of every scene of vision (tragicomedy).

Articulation thus oversees the word’s progress into oblivion: it has meant this way to mean nothing, and in meaning nothing to drive the responsibility of vision to its darkest day, its bluest gaze.


How to distinguish between the obliteration of self and messianic illusion? The critic is the blind spot in his reason. The adventure’s all yours, if you can need it.


How will we ever learn to recognize each other’s injury—that we’re invalids for life, dis-abled for good? Worse than all the pain, even up to our paralysis, is misrecognition: the bullshit, that it should all keep trudging on like normal.

The trouble is always to mix the present up with the elation. “Ecstasy” exists in a vacuum of communication that is too drunk to pound out its words. (The future’s pull is contact, returning every move to its use; the present can only relate such moves in fragmented form. But there is a beyond of the fragmentary form: it is the demand of our being’s mode.)

Baseline on the outbound of the free, captivate me, “prove” to me the contact despite relation, echo me in the repetition of your touch, so trustingly other and complete.

For the treasure’s repeat, sound just again on the sword; tear in the fight onward to the eclipse of fear.

The story to end all stories is a quiet one, generated by presence in the most obscure ways.

You cannot not be seduced by a world; remember only, it is a transition: undergone eternal. (The comedy is glad to buy you time after the fact.)

Bringing “what I did” to nothingness: that was the meaning of the present in which everything I did could be lost. Deciding when the withdrawal was possible was impossible: it happened more often than being.

Ignoring the other was an evil with two sides: you’re the ignored one or you get to ignore the other one. To make a habit of both is happiness.

Sharing silence: the perfect saying. This would be a way to have everything—like praying.


This way of recoding demands all its sequels, every trace and present unequal (absolutely) to all their equals.

The minute you can leave me alone I’ll know you love me, that you’ve taken the risk of ease, oblivion, departure into the heart kept away in safety, indestructible and ever worthy of the trust we forget to give it.

Or perhaps I’m just an addict, gunning for the bottom of my pain. (You’ll forget whatever didn’t disappoint you, in other words everything.)

The other excels at reflecting back your ghost, thankfully.


Undeveloped, cut-off abruptly or after long perseveration, the trails all end in sorrows from the perspective of advancement, development, organization, establishment of truth or system or coherent fiction or even thesis statement, a most naïve basis or quick conclusion:

To put the step into thought means—with the vigilance of one fearing for their eternal soul—to restore the stepping of the step in each step, so that at no point an actual prior step can be presumed to exist, no trail whatsoever traveled: such would read an ethics of thinking as a practice of the other self.

Traveling full bore into the non-sense of a misspent life—the freely chosen trap without obligation or command, the listening gesture lost in the movement of all beings beyond all work and time—attached to them as unforgettable, as being forever only what they’re capable of: use in care of the inappropriable-irreparable-unthinkable: us.

My only one offering, my only one personal gift: to forever disappear into this (sadness, the perfected side of bless, connecting every mistaken instance to the Riß of unmissing and peace): seduction beyond belief, beyond being…

The irony of bliss would be: no one is talking to you. That would be the majesty of the other’s specter in me, living that I might again see.

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Testimonies―to an experience, an idea, a faith―become more and more personal over time and, for that very reason, more and more impossible to ‘defend’, ‘ground’, or ‘justify’. The highest accounts of spirit come with the disclaimer, “You must take me at my word!”―at least until you’ve read, understood, and experienced what I’ve said. But even then, don’t glance over this fact, don’t shrug off this supreme detail: it was all was pulled up, with intense and sustained effort, from that well I call my soul, the repository or inner oracle of the unique end-purpose of my being.

What I choke out in frustrated modes, what I embellish with rhetoric, what I labor out in slow movements of argument―all of this has its field and relevance. But underneath was a person who never, entirely, let itself be overlooked or covered over, who was present there, in and through it all. 

Famous figures tower in history because they saturate their own context. They lived an ‘intuition’ for which no concept was fitting. And so they were forced to express themselves complicatedly, given the limits of language and history. We have only their proper name as reference to an almost limitless enigma, one that might have spoken differently if it had lived another time. But either way, they underwent intimately their own suchness of soul, the singularity of an unfolding, full to the brim with a mostly invisible consciousness. What they left others, what we are left with, are only traces of an intuition, an insight, an idea that refers back to them and that only they back up.

The plea, “Please believe me!” (the content of what I say) is rooted in a deeper plea, “Please believe me!” (I, the one who speaks, the person addressing you). A gesture of faith must be given to the witness, a measure of credit; otherwise, the witness will never be credible, never entertained. Perhaps the cause of so much disharmony in social discourse is that this ground of credit has been lost. We speak at or about each other, instead of to each other, disagreeing there is any “soul” at all. We fixate on the active articulation of our view, paying little attention to the common “trust” of language we share. Restoring that implies an ethic of listening. But we all have learned, too, how difficult this is.

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Affirming Worth

Affirming Worth
March 27, 2018

An author can be conscious of what they’re doing, while at the same time not knowing what they’re creating or what it’s worth. Thus, nothing prevents them from creating something that is not worth knowing.

This means that what the author creates may remain unknown to them (perhaps for the duration of their life), without them ever ceasing to believe it may be worth knowing. The yearning to do something worthwhile may supersede the desire to know what is being done. The wish rushes ahead, leaving complete knowledge of what was done and what it was worth for future days. The process of knowing and valuing are not identical. They push each another to the limits of what can become clear about actions.

For the author’s coming to know what they’re doing is a long process, filled with insights and disappointments, miracles and dead-ends. This is compounded by the fact that they cannot always know beforehand if what they’ve undertaken is or will have been worth undertaking. This is amplified further the more the author writes in an abyss, without reader’s feedback, approval or admonition; and more importantly, if the subject matter remains elusive, if the object sought is characterized by some degree of unknowability. There may even be something dreaded in it by nature, or in the conclusions to which it leads. Nonetheless, the intuited worth of the pursuit will drive the author on, as they face and accept the prospect of not knowing what they are doing, thus in another sense risking the unforgivable.

The author of course goes through phases, differing tendencies, preferred modes of expression, shifting interlocutors and theoretical concerns. Consideration of ‘how’ can overshadow consideration of ‘what’ and vice versa. At times, one strives for clarity, which tends to simplify the issue or at least reduce it to its most readily intelligible dimensions. At other times, one refuses clarity, both about what one knows and in one’s use of language, such that other devices, situated at the limit of imagination’s power, come into play. Here one is liable to lose oneself in a labyrinth of experiments that are both heart-close, in greatest proximity to intimate experience, and yet of debatable worth, given that no extant standards could uncomplicatedly judge them. This includes the author’s own standards, though no doubt a tradition of similarly ‘strange’ poetic products and what is learned from it serve as a protection against accusations of inanity. But no one can persist in the realm of the unknowable forever. Such work is always broken up by episodes of reflection on results, and the deduction, if not of content, then of consequences, in the cardinal direction the experiments sketch out. Experiences arrayed in serial sequence call for unifying reviews, for contemplation of overall trajectories and trends. This need not produce synthetic judgments or self-exegetical texts, but it will make clear the ambition of the work, or rather, its kernel of worthwhileness, no matter how pathetic the shells.

For it is manifestly obvious that any endeavor which fails repeatedly to prove its worthwhileness, its appropriateness to our life, can only result in disillusionment and despair over lost time. This is a difficult psychological problem, since humans exhibit such a capacity to persevere through zones of meaninglessness, tepidity, and lack of hope. For one can be conscious of something being ‘inauthentic’ without knowing it in a way that is actionable. Even once known, a turn to the ‘authentic’ cannot precede knowledge of one’s ability to act on that judgment. Life is also not neatly arranged for decisions about worthwhileness to take place in a vacuum without friction. Outside pressures very often necessitate one assume a ‘holding pattern’ in the inauthentic. But even then, the process of knowledge, of readying oneself to make a change when the moment comes, need not come to a halt. Nor does one’s ability to alter course atrophy. For the question of worthwhileness doesn’t only touch upon the big elements in life — endeavors, relationships, commitments — but also the smallest — daily habit, thought patterns, manners of speech, respect of surroundings. None of these are excluded from the writer’s conscious economy, even if they have no place in the work. Meanwhile, the topic of authenticity comes up only sometimes, and often not at all. Life, unfailingly, can be the only guide, since at bottom worthwhileness comes down to the question: have you spent your time well and wisely? And failing a full affirmation: how have you or will you make right the time poorly and unwisely spent?

The affirmation ‘it was worthwhile’ is the expression of an intelligent and rational being capable of both knowing its reference object — in this case its time of life, what it did and created — and judging its value according to some immanent standard (whether this is fully known or not, invented or inherited). One escapes with difficulty the image of each life balanced on the scale, some moments wasted, others fulfilled, where the best one can hope for is a positive balance in the end. But recall that judgments require a standard. Standards can be changed and not all standards can be known. Furthermore, no mind but God’s is capable of synoptic view and perfect memory. So the data set for our judgment of worthwhileness is limited by conscious or unconscious selections among the mass. Much of our mood on these matters may well depend on how we select those sets and what we choose to forget. The selection process applies to data which is not always clear either. Moreover, the drive for what is worth doing can be frustrated at many levels. No good options may be at hand; one must simply push on through the inauthentic, in debt to oneself and time. This pressure is liable to make certain actions explode that we cannot, in the moment, understand or see the point in.

And so we confess a rather all-encompassing ignorance when it comes to the final meaning, purpose, or worth of what we do and value, whether it be this or that work or the lived datum of everything that has to do with us. And yet we judge and decide, know and act, stretching ourselves out in aspiration toward true and ultimate worthwhileness. For the latter is not an ideal we might quickly discard. Our life is promised its ultimatum: how can it be affirmed, down to its last grain?

Note at least the tenuous quality of judgments in the style, ‘it was worthwhile’: one must suspend both overly depressive and overly enthusiastic accounts, lest the inauthentic strike back or the responsibility to progress slacken. In spite of our ignorance, indeed because of it, one must judge oneself first, search one’s heart and examine one’s works to determine what is worth it. The question leads us to last judgments based on views impossible for any finite creature to have. Yet it is equally impossible to resist passing judgments on self and other, rightly so in some cases, misled in others. Nor is it easy to forgive self and other for time wasted in inauthenticity, on worthless endeavor. The temptation arises to decide out of hand that, for example, the universe is without intrinsic meaning or purpose, that all our efforts are relative to us and have no intrinsic worth outside the look we cast on them; or, conversely, that the universe has its source in a moral being who can see our works and intentions to fruition in eternity and in whom we ought to strive for authenticity, leaving the rest to faith. But here conceivable solutions abound. For Kafka, all our life in this world is a basis for the spiritual world, for our ‘eternal justification’. Faith is already present in the acknowledgement that ‘one cannot not live’: one experiences this even when one does not want to live and fails to see the worth in it. It is through the ‘one cannot not live’ that one seeks to know the standards for oneself and for one’s life that will or could lead to the affirmation, ‘it was worthwhile’.

The same dynamic can be observed in an author’s work, often in a more explicit way. ‘One cannot not write’ is the working principle that scrutinizes itself and its purposes in light of the personal and existential need to say, ‘it was worth writing’ (both the thing written and the doing of it). I have alluded to the fact that feedback from the broader community, that one’s words do have some significance and resonate, may help ward off the harsher difficulties of this process, but it can never solve them for good. Why? Because the standards are not general but intimate and singular. Even scientific endeavors require the decision, focused intention, and commitment that no knowledge could stimulate, no mere acknowledgment of worth could produce. The further away from the general the work tracks, the less any standard of judgment stands ready for application. Such standards — and they are required — must inevitably issue from the author’s own aesthetic and moral conscience. But it is precisely this which is only formed along the way, its knowledge of what it is doing and its decisions about what it should do never final. In these singular cases, one is as detached from humanity, only to meet back up with it at the end of an infinite trajectory, and even then only by way of parallels.

For no text or act exhausts the concerns of conscience such that they become transparent to the other, nor entirely to the self. An intentionality lies forever hidden, no matter how much one strains to articulate the relevant imperatives and the depths of the demand. Still, the author is not in the clear about these matters, as I have stressed. One’s secret is a secret to oneself. Ultimate standards, however clarified, retain the air of unknowability, or rather, of constant intensification. It is this that one must reckon with if, in the end which never comes, one is to say, ‘it was worth writing’.

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Nihilism’s Power

Nihilism’s Power
March 3, 2018

Nihilism as the fallen child of thought’s double capacity to entertain all possibilities and to doubt everything.

Given a ‘root statement’ or ‘root sentiment’ given any belief, value system, perspective, axiom or rule for life, etc. it seems always possible to discover or imagine a ‘world’ which corresponds to it; which satisfies these conditions. If I begin with a certain idea of what I can see/find, seeing/finding it is possible, if only in the imagination, if only by the power of belief and wanting-to-see.

But thought proceeds to check this world of its imagination — the world it sees to the extent that it sees what it wishes to see — with the world ‘as it is’, the world that often refutes, ‘objects to’, the world that we’ve devised.

Under the natural conception at least, the ‘real’ world — nature’s indifference to human wishes and meanings, to the progress of civilization, to the dialectic of history, etc. — contains no inherent value or purpose. Thus any world that we imagine as corresponding to our ‘root’ set of beliefs (about how things are, how things should be, what is worthwhile, etc.) is projected over an abyss. Thought can always find room to doubt, because the world ‘as it is’ always invites the invalidation of the world we imagine.

Any story, any account of things can always be challenged and shown to be more ‘fictional’ than ‘real’. Nihilism names a kind of ‘belief’ in this obliterating quality, the inherent destructibility of stories and beliefs. In practice it can itself become a belief in the quasi-‘natural’ view that everything is ultimately pointless; or at least that there is nothing whatsoever to lean on, outside of our own acts of fabrication and belief (thus its tie to ‘existentialism’).

Any manner of belief — any believer — can raise an objection to the nihilist’s objection. But it will require a suspension of disbelief in the gap that separates the story that gives meaning, the world we devise and believe in, and the obdurate resistance of ‘reality as it is’.

The result is not that there is no truth per se, only a revelation into the difficulty of maintaining any truth as true; the work it takes and the tests it must undergo, if it is to be believed as true because it is true, and not just because one wishes it were so. This is perhaps tied to the ‘work’ of the human — the human who, despite everything, seems teleologically oriented toward finding, creating, and seeing a meaningful world. Where the consequences of nihilism meet this task, it is inevitably up against the abyss of imminent non-meaning that humans undertake such work.

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Wanting In Truth

Wanting In Truth
February 4, 2018

I am entering yet again a phase in which I can only survey all my previous philosophical sympathies as “wrong, wrong, wrong,” with a rather ponderous shake of the head. This has happened enough by now that at least I’m not surprised. But I do recognize in these moments the drawbacks and even the fallacy of my general approach, about which I offer here a few meditations, with a silent note of thanks to colleagues and friends who’ve helped bring all this into greater focus for me.

The tension lies between my practical need to believe in the truth, goodness, or beauty of the form of thought I am currently ‘following’; and the inadequacies and shortcomings that always show through, once followed far. It is not enough for me to give disinterested surveys or discover basic problems to study. I enjoy too much the specificity and singularity of a given model, which, if I’m following it, I want to honor and replicate. I feel inside I must become an advocate, tell a persuasive story, and show the appeal of this particular way of looking at things, of thought and expression. Formerly, I might have said I cannot understand something without writing about it, but this isn’t exactly true. Rather, I write about it to clarify to myself why it is relevant to consider at all. Indeed, to make clear why it could seduce me, and in the process of that clarification perhaps seduce others.

Without meaning to cast my procedure in an entirely negative light, my efforts in retrospect are predominately ‘rhetorical’, borrowing the style of the thinking at hand and making it my own in the process of rearticulating or reactivating it. The result is that my treatments very often lack criticality. Instead, I dwell inside the model, run with it positively as far as I can go, not looking back lest my writing arm freeze into a pillar of salt. I play within the model and its terms, mix it in with other resources, infuse it with my own explicit or secret intentions, knowing that nothing I say aims to the absolute but only the exploratory and experimental.

Evidently, the belief never holds for long, and perhaps my trusting sojourn in its territory provokes the growing disillusionment. Sooner or later, a point comes when the limitations and biases of the model show themselves wanting in truth. This leads to outward disagreements and inner disavowals, a disappointment or even an embarrassment with the work I’ve done and the recklessness with which I’ve undertaken it. It is a point of doubt and then abandonment, like waking from a powerful spell and then fleeing the chamber where the magic happened. Then, I am so impatient to find something new to follow that the desire to return critically to old material does not occur to me. Or perhaps it is a matter of boredom creeping in to render the former love and fidelity stale. At any rate, the practical demand of work demands impetus and horizon, so if one well has gone dry, another must be sought out. It is not a matter of fetishizing variety, but of craving the absolute, though I know there is none—lest it be fabricated momentarily by this hand whose own belief in it it thwarts.

The consolation, less and less satisfying, is then to be found only in the ‘way’, the long-term trajectory I can only hope is leading somewhere despite all the detours and turns. I am not in the habit of rejecting anything I’ve written, but I also end up lacking perspective on the value of any of it, just as if I didn’t care or it didn’t exist for me. To put an affirmative spin on it, concrete products are merely “the ashes of a vital praxis,” as Agamben puts it; as good as nonentity, if not evil encumbrance. At the same time, because ‘following’ applies to my life as much as to my work―I shall not divide love from knowledge―, a feeling of having gotten nowhere, of having solidified nothing, is regular. Indeed, that I lack my own convictions; that I’m opportunistically building on things without enough reflection and distance; that I’m not situating anything properly in known contexts; that I’m not strong enough to follow something through to the end. The inquiry then appears to turn entirely upon passions and flights of imagination. I am aware of how all this could then appear, and perhaps could be: little more than a hobby, a series of personal projects almost not intended for anybody, save for me, in whom the entire endeavor is consumed or, as I fancy it, ruined.

My point here is not to earn encouragements, but to frame a problem I have a hard time even calling a problem. This is more a confession of floating in an empty space of emotion and mentality in which nothing I’ve said up to now seems to hold or needs to. Most of it I do not remember, nor feel obligated to stick to, unless it supplements a new excursion. Where is it anyhow, if not vanished in the virtual? At the same time, I cherish jealously the whole process, as if it were inseparable from myself. I take every discussion of approach and fundamental stands personally and fight for them as for my form-of-life. For I believe above all—and perhaps here I betray my core ‘following’—in the fluidity of writing itself, in the surprise of the unexpected voice that rises from the unfinished lines I crave. In poetry, if that is what is. For better or worse, I’m describing a ‘desiring-machine’ in my life whose fuel and engine sustain themselves quite on their own, somewhat impervious to suggestion and feedback, including my own, without any exclusive priority on content, though obviously I am far from indifferent to what I say. It is a compulsion to enter a creative space where I might be graced an utterance I never planned and which, departing from whatever I think I know, nonetheless embraces all the loose ends of my thought in a credible construction whose ultimate lesson, despite its shortcomings, is love. The prospect that I am deluded about all of this is insuperable.

Where truth is always wanting, always begging the sentence to differ, the scene is one of fickle beliefs and touchy directions threatened by imminent abandon or an immediate about-face. In the past, I might have fancied this a virtue, but sometimes now it strikes me as vice, excuse, or evasion. And yet, barring the appearance of something that could be followed and lived out without reservations, I don’t see this how this could change. I imagine in the end ‘being a writer’ means just this for me: with blindness and naivety to strike out with hope into language a few sketches of existence that may be believed, but never demand a following, not even on my part. There is freedom in that, but also dissatisfaction. And although I am far from illogical or random in my understanding and organizing of things, whether my inquiries adhere to any standard of philosophical or academic proof, rigor, balance, objectivity, or fairness, I highly doubt. Does it matter? So nags conscience: creation is good, but all hitherto held views are “wrong, wrong, wrong.” Engage overwrite protocol…

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Ultimate Concerns

Ultimate Concerns
January 6, 2018

It continues to frustrate me how, when faced with something that is clearly impressive, inspiring, innovative, far-reaching, thought-provoking, etc., the tendency on the part of many is: 1) to deliberately not understand it, its perspective, the goal toward which it strives and how this goal catalyzes all the elements in the construction; and then 2) with a willed myopia, to divert our attention away from any novel elements (the goal and desire behind the construction, the unthought it hides, its capacity for development, etc.) toward those elements which can already be understood within already-given coordinates and meanings and thus readily dismissed. The diversion works to tamp down the fire of novelty which risks consuming us in the unprecedented, focuses ‘critical’ attention on some generalized objection, sifts through for minor mistakes, or worse, makes it all personal and launches a character attack. Once enough of this goes on, it’s no surprise that the novel element can no longer be seen; it is covered over by petty worries, pink slips, nit-picks, ‘gotcha’ moments.

The negative consequences of this tendency are multiple and I can only name a few. It functions in effect like the police and has all the features of accusation, tribunal, defense, verdict and punishment. Also similar to the legal system, it slows everything to a blindingly boring pace. Instead of running fast ahead with the novel element, thought grinds to a halt in evidentiary hearings and grand juries. This is elevated as criticism or deconstruction, but in the end it waves the banner of non-creativity and resentment. In another way, it tries to cast a spell of doubt and aspersion over whoever was behind the novel creation: to paint them as a charlatan, a deceiver, a fake, derivative. My suspicion is that this obsession with the other’s strategy always contains something perverse. Why is so much critical effort exerted to pass judgments on others? Often these judgments are flung out into the void in a pathetic fashion, almost like pleas for help. And to anyone who has dealt with the novel elements, or at least understood in a fairer way where they’re coming from, such judgments are simply wrong and cannot but appear vindictive or jealous.

But what is most frustrating is how much time and energy it wastes. We all have a singular voice, a singular thought to think, just as we have a singular life to live. We would agree that a life spent thinking constantly about the mistakes or virtues of others would be a wasted life. But then why attend to such thoughts at all? Why do we not choose, instead, to do what we can with what we encounter, ‘take it or leave it’ according to the measure that it can be incorporated into the truth-procedure we are undergoing with our lives? Granted, this makes our output less ‘matchable’ to the current given coordinates of situations. And it opens us to the risk of being misunderstood and judged poorly. But what of that? At the end of the day, it is we who must render accounts for our thoughts, words and deeds; we might as well save ourselves the burden of obsessing with evaluations of the thoughts, words and deeds of others. The intentions of the other remain impenetrable to us anyhow. No one has a magic ball through which the other’s life’s worth of emotions, desires, hopes and dreams could be seen transparently and judged―and what hubris to think we could.

One could easy accuse me of not doing enough to evaluate the ‘claims’ that people make, not paying close enough attention to the ins-and-outs of argumentation, not doing enough to interpret and so on. I do not deny these activities―obviously not, since this is a part of thinking. But the ‘truth’ by which I measure my own thought ultimately is not dependent upon the truth claims others make. Truth is much too intimate of an endeavor to let anyone else invade its ordeal with some concern that is not of ultimate concern. Years and decades can be spent dealing with smaller points that are of some concern, general concern, critical concern, and so on. But behind each of those moments, I fear, an ultimate concern was ignored. If we could see the scales more clearly, perhaps we would be terrified at how much time we squandered needlessly on secondary concerns. A similar terror is at stake in Nietzsche’s thought experiment about the eternal return: if you had to live every single moment of your life over again and again, in exactly the same way, for all of eternity, would this terrify you or bring you joy? In other words, did you honor, in each moment, your ultimate concern?

The “impressive, inspiring, innovative, far-reaching, thought-provoking” things I brought up at the beginning can only themselves be by-products of a subject’s ultimate concern. Ideally, when I engage something I should always exert myself to discern just this, the ultimate concern at stake. That element is undeconstructible; it cannot be criticized or judged. Why? Because it remains a secret in some fashion, like the truth of a soul. At the same time, I know I probably have most in common with the undeconstructible or indestructible element I find there, to which I am exposed to through my engagement. What I should look for is the ultimate concern I share, making no compromise and recognizing it at stake in everything I engage. Then I will be sure to never overlook or usurp the novel element, for I will know that I myself am implicated in its existence, its coming-to-be. I am called upon for it to exist. For who on earth could ever guarantee me that someone else had also seen what was of ultimate concern? I may find encouraging signs, people with whom I can share important matters, but in the end even that does not save me from one bit of my own responsibility or the solitude of the task.

I can never know for certain if what is of ultimate concern will matter―unless I make it matter, put it in play in every judgment I make. That is what is my concern, which for better or worse is unknowable to anyone else, and often even quite secret to me.

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Silent Consonants of the Named

[The following was written in preparation for the “Literature Argues?” conference held at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on October 2017. I offer here my very warm thanks to Karl Pollin, Victor Udwin, and Huiwen Zhang for the invitation to participate and for the great hospitality and friendship they showed me then. Taking up again my research from 2011 (see In Light of U-topia), this paper is an attempt to explicate in greater detail Paul Celan’s poetics, as he articulates them in his ‘Meridian speech’ and in the draft materials for that speech. The study is supplemented with a reading of his poem ‘Schliere’ and various meditations on the relation between literature and silence.]

Silent Consonants of the Named

A word of refusal, but also of absolute commitment, forging its bonds of silence in the unfathomable silence of the bond. —Edmund Jabès

To write poems so that they remain attuned, if not to our talking, then to our silence, to our keeping-silent-with-the-named; so that we only silence ourselves before a most-foreign You as consonants [Mitlaute]—and give it a chance. —Paul Celan

The following reflections will explore the idea that literature “argues” for or from silence. Or, to put it more modestly, that literature issues from silence and has the power to restore us to it: a silence to which the work responds, defending and transforming it. Let us offer a working hypothesis: literary works suspend normal modes of discourse, seeking a language uniquely their own. They construct their own imaginative context or discursive space “subtracted” from everyday speech, forming an exception to it. Although this subtraction can be undertaken in different ways, literary works—both at their point of origin and of reception and in order to accomplish their exceptionality—impose silence upon the general noise of the world. They induce us to draw back, to reappraise the world and our immersion in it. This withdrawal inevitably involves a silencing, albeit for the sake of contacting a power of language that is perhaps neither known nor practiced elsewhere.

Let us characterize the problem as follows: everyday speech and discourse is “noisy” because it occupies itself with representing and communicating what there is in the world, the hubbub of objects, whereas literary works seek to express that there is a world—whether it be real or possible, dream or future. In its deployment, if not in its content, the work does not busy itself with merely discussing what is “the case.” This is one aspect of its refusal: it is never satisfied with established significations, with known judgments about things, with the norms of the situation, calculations of immediate value, and so on. The labor and hope of the work is more profoundly to express the inexpressible that there is of a world, that we are, or to make this ontological affirmation possible. This is its absolute commitment: to say what cannot be spoken in the language of consensus, and to say it once each time, with a singular speech isolated from the world. And yet, this speech is capable of forging human bonds where formerly only the general noise prevailed—bonds of silence that are perhaps stronger than any bond that could be spoken (or represented politically, for example).

To paraphrase Wittgenstein, the presence of a world—that which in the present is irreducible to reality—is that about which one cannot speak, that whereof one must be silent. Literature does not betray this silence so much as it betrays this limitation. It refuses to ratify the category of the “unsayable” or to put its faith in the repetitions of the mystical. Rather, it makes of this silence an imperative for its own speech, for its fabulation of that whereof propositional logic must remain silent: objectless presence.[1] For propositional logic deals in objects, our knowledge of them and how we can string knowledges together to form arguments about objects. Seeing what poetry could conjure without this mediation, Plato deemed it just to expel the poets from the city. Why? Because by operating a complete “dis-objectification” and proffering a thought that goes “straight to presence,” the poem ruins dianoia, discursiveness, the foundation of reason and dialogue. As Alain Badiou writes, “The poem is the exemplary instance of a thought obtained in the retreat and subtraction from everything that sustains the faculty of knowledge.”[2] According to him, the poem either gives us nothing (subtraction: the lack of any object) or the excessive equivalence of objects (dissemination: the object dissolved in pure multiplicity). Poetry is thus most readily opposed to journalism, which naively believes it responsible to “get the story straight” and communicate the current state of things objectively. Poetry is instead a conversation with the power of language at the point where it is no longer an instrument for the babble about objects, nor the negotiator of meanings, but delivers a thought of the presence of a world, of a “we” that nothing discursive could guarantee. Badiou characterizes the operation of the poem thus:

Folded and reserved, the modern poem harbors a central silence. This pure silence interrupts the ambient cacophony. The poem injects silence into the texture of language. And, from there, it moves towards an unprecedented affirmation. This silence is an operation… The poem is a halting point. It makes language halt within itself. Against the obscenity of ‘all seeing’ and ‘all saying’ – of showing, sounding out and commenting everything – the poem is the guardian of the decency of speech.[3]

On this account, poetry, explicitly arguing “for” nothing (no being), implicitly makes of this very “nothing” (of Being) an argument—a nothing destined to foil what is. In this sense, Blanchot is right to say that, “silence and nothingness are the essence of literature.”[4] The same sentiment is registered by Borges when he avows, somewhat disconcertingly, “I do know that literature is an art that can foresee the time when it will be silenced, an art that can become inflamed with its own virtue, fall in love with its own decline, and court its own demise.”[5] Whoever has spent time with literature, especially with the difficult act of writing it, knows what silences are required for even the least line to flow, and the extent to which creative work takes place on the edge of the void (or, as Blanchot might say, on the edge of death). As Sylvie Germain tells us, “To write is to descend into the grave of the prompter to learn to listen to language respire there where it silences itself, between the words, around words, sometimes at the heart of words.”[6] That said, it would be abusive to talk about all of literature in this way. Were we to accept these characterizations, we should concede that there are varying degrees of “purity” here. Some works are more “talkative” than others, if talkative means being busy with what is the case, as opposed to the enigmatic that there is or that we are. If we uphold, on the one hand, that all literary works in one way or another issue from silence, or require silence for their composition, on the other hand, in the work itself the degree of subtraction from the general noise and its interests lies on a spectrum. (To be clear, this is less a matter of content than of inclination; Shakespeare’s works are more than occupied with worldly happenings, but it is how he conveys them toward the infinite power of language, by holding them close to their ironic or tragic point of collapse (“all the world’s a stage”), that makes them literature.)

To investigate and deepen all these remarks, I will turn now to the poetry of Paul Celan, who certainly lies far to one end of the spectrum. His work exerts an extreme suspension not only of language as a means of argument and communication, but also of language as a means of lyrical expression and historical narration. The main goal in what follows is to illustrate the reasons why, as he tells us in his Meridian speech, “the poem today… has a strong tendency to falling silent” [eine starke Neigung zum Verstummen].[7] But before embarking upon a reading of one of his poems, it is important to clarify specifically what we mean and do not mean by silence. Continue reading

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