Emptying Recurrence

The self is due–to be emptied.

How to read this interrupted sentence? How to read the hyphen that splits it in two? How to determine the status of these two divided parts? Does one command the other? Or do they arrive together? Or do they both state simply the case? But then when? To whom? To what self is this sentence due to arrive? And what does it mean, in this passive formation, “to be emptied”?

The self is due–to be emptied. As if nothing could be simpler than that.

The self is due–to be emptied. On the one hand, it seems to name an event that befalls the self: it empties itself, it is emptied, it’s due to happen, that’s all that happens, nothing could ever prevent it. On the other hand, and at the same time, it seems to name a duty: the self must empty itself or let itself be emptied, this debt to empty falls due, it has already fallen due, it can no longer be postponed. There’s no catching up to it, you’re already too late. Already, the self’s debt–to be emptied–is overdue.

The self is due–to be emptied. This sentence is open from the beginning to a repetition without end. Whatever it means (and at every instant, upon every repetition, it means something different–if it isn’t perhaps even a name for differance itself), it holds true to infinity. It holds the self’s truth–to infinity. For as long as there is a self, somewhere, in some form, in whatever state, it is due–to be emptied. It falls due, infinitely: “to empty” is how the self is itself, how it renders itself. To empty itself or to let itself be emptied: to render what is due. To be emptied: to render what is due to the other: the self itself as that empty space wherein the other might live…
Read On

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The Law’s Curse

Today’s mantra is: we must restore law and order. But without backing that mandate with an intelligent targeting of failing areas, of those areas in need of extra resources or attention, the illusion soon spreads that there is no law and order whatsoever anywhere (“an environment of lawless chaos”), and that a heavy-handed intervention must be made, since terror threatens every doorstep. In this way, every public space is rendered a potential check-point or quarantined area, but without any actual necessity to the excessive surveillance, save to assuage inflated fears that a grave danger is imminent. Continue reading

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The Lesson of Illness

Will humanity ever learn the lesson of illness?

I’m sure we’ve all learned this lesson personally. Times of illness exist on a different plane from times of health. Normally, we are driven by desires and duties, caught up in hundreds of swirls of activity. But when ill, the sick body becomes an unavoidable obstacle to the normal course; it demands attention, rest, nursing, operation, medication, therapy. Sometimes, however, it seems like even all this won’t be enough. Emotionally, we have all felt the fear of losing it entirely, of exploding with fever, migraine, ache, attack, up to that terrifying point: “I thought I was going to die.” We fall, faint, curl up, scream, unable to get rid of, or get outside of, this insane, sick, abnormal thing: the ill body forced to recognize itself as such and, if it can, “do” something about it–wait it out, get help, but from whom, and what if nothing can help? Such is the fear that cascades over us in a moment of great illness, paralyzing us with worry, foreboding the end of everything (or so we think).

The healthy, though they too have been sick before, cannot comprehend us in such moments, because illness cannot be imagined. Thus the shame of the sick body, its regret, its bleeding apology, even its “obscenity.” Our heart races, our skin crawls, our bellies churn, as if in a vacuum of madness, a chaos of evidence without clarity. Every inch of the flesh becomes a raging sensor, signaling our mortality, our fragility, and the thinness of the border between the normal course and its potentially indefinite suspension. This is not solitude, but the aloneness of the body, alone in its outcry and decrepitude. We even think illness portends death, because in it we “intuit,” beyond all speculation, a kind of personal portal or torture that coincides exactly with our ownmost individuality, so much so that we feel nothing will save us from the trial of our unique pain. Whoever surrounds us simply cannot look in, though we are sure they have or will face something similarly horrifying for themselves. (There is in illness grounds for a universal pity, and for an understanding of the shame of being housed in such corruptible vessels.)

The lesson of illness is not about the virtue of health, but about the “grace period” of healing and recovery between illnesses; the temporary restoration of the body to its own relatively autonomous order, where it does its daily thing rather miraculously, without our having much of a clue how it all actually holds together. When the tension abates, when the poison is evacuated, when movement is released, when we are back “on our feet again”: for the ill body, this is quite enough—enough to be thankful for, the simple continuation of life without outstanding pains. Who has not felt the almost divine nature of such breakthroughs, marked essentially by the fact that the body is no longer screaming at us like a parasite on our soul. We feel so renewed because it implies a return of ease, that is, a use of the body that is not forced to be conscious of itself, and that can thus act spontaneously, or trust habit, or plan deliberately, or contemplate what it can do, etc. Outside of this, we do not even recognize life proper, but only an interim stage, neither dead nor alive.

The heart of the lesson of illness is to be found in the gratitude we feel when the simple potentiality of life is restored to us corporeally, for this frees us from the sick body of constraint, and moreover frees us for the convalescing body of creation, shot through with that simplest potential. After a serious illness has finally cleared, we feel like newborns, shaken by what we’ve felt, but ready to embrace the chance of even one more day. The lesson of illness is there, not in the pain, but in the subtle bridge that links it to knowing convalescence. If it inspires such incredible thankfulness in our hearts—yes, even just one more day!—it is because it signifies nothing less than the presence of eternal life in us. On those days, we even experience the truth of our participation in it. The lesson of illness is that the sick body and the convalescing body are the same. (Would this not be the phenomenological core of resurrection? Paul: carrying with us always the dying body of Jesus, so that we might live his resurrection, the power of God perfected in weakness, etc.; much to be said here.)

For years I’ve fantasized about writing a book with the title: The Peace of the Invalids. I love this phrase because of its many paradoxes. Invalids are those who cannot participate in the normal course of society any longer, not by revolutionary choice, but by physical inability. They require the care of others because they physically cannot care for themselves. This group is essentially rejected by the world of politics and economics, whatever we call society. They are literally invalid: they cannot work or create value or in many cases even move. They not only produce nothing, but they take up the time of other members of society who could be more productive but are instead occupied by invalids who may never be nursed back to full health.

Then there is the paradox of peace, for an invalid can only find peace through a renunciation of any return the normal course of things, through an acceptance of their mortal fate or condition. It’s true I imagine this as a version of deathbed peace, which I think I have witnessed, though I certainly cannot, today, imagine having it. But from the limited observations in my own life, I can say that such peace is not had easily; it bears upon the whole struggle of holding onto life and letting go of it; essentially entrusting the eternity of life to others, even though we only ever felt it through our own living body. A terrifying and beautiful process. No one comes back from it; but along it, a knowledge that no other form of “research” could procure does seem possible. At such terminal points, the importance and reality of love—including the unshakeable bond between the living and the dead that love alone can establish—is communicated in its fullest impact and breadth. Again, it is not imaginable: it comes from the other side, just as the spoon feeding you is held by the hand of a caretaker. (It is given but exceeds our ability to receive it.)

The ultimatum posed to humanity by illness is just this: if we will feed the body of the invalid, or not? Will we grant the dying body its peace?

It is not economy or politics or art and philosophy that matter in the end for humanity: it is illness, the ill. It even defines humanity in its singularity: an obsession with its own end, its own impossibility. It’s no metaphysical mix-up that we think so much about death, for it is rooted in the most unmistakeably raw experience of illness. Only this theme will take us past the hostile logic of the survival of the fittest, which only makes sense if we leave out or deny sickness. Yet we never learn the lesson of “sickness unto convalescence,” of daily resurrection into life. We fail to hold tight that gratitude, and instead just move ahead. Once healthy, we fall back into the groove of the normal course, taking it for granted that the body will do what it’s told, forgetting that all around us there are burdened and broken bodies that cannot and won’t. The laboring body–is it as capable as we pretend? Is it healthy, or merely convalescent? Is there not an invalid underneath it, waiting to find peace?

And why is it that the body that has dwelt long with illness, by and large, finds it so absurd to return to the normal course once it has healed and refound its ease? Why does it feel—or how does it know—that this would be a total waste of the extra time, the grace period, it has been granted? Why does a taste of invalidity lead to such courage in refusing the society that operates on the assumption of general health (as opposed, for example, to the assumption of a general resurrection)? Why is the peace of the invalid so hard for us, invalids in wait, to face?

I wait upon the restructuring of society that would do justice to our common invalidity. It is love, a caretaker’s love, that will do this—not law or political drum-thumping.

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In order to be who we are, we human beings remain committed to and within the being of language, and can never step out of it and look at it from elsewhere. Thus we always see the nature of language only to the extent to which language itself has us in view, has appropriated us to itself. That we cannot know the nature of language—know it according to the traditional concept of knowledge defined in terms of cognition and representation—is not a defect, however, but rather an advantage by which we are favored with a special realm, that realm where we, who are needed and used to speak language, dwell as mortals. —Heidegger, The Way to Language

Heidegger’s meditation puts into words an idea that has been with me, in an unspoken and perhaps obscure way, for many years: that the true “place” of our being is in language; or that the truth of our place among beings is best found there. Language is not merely understood here as an instrument of communcation, as a collection of signs, or as a carrier of meaning, but more profoundly as revealer of being. Everyone who engages with human being engages with language and inscribes themselves as a thinking being there in some way. They inhabit words that are not their own, but common to all; yet their mode of inhabiting those words is uniquely their’s, just as much as it is uniquely given over to the thinking of being that they were, or rather, that they are insofar as they remain thinking in language, by the power of language to continue revealing being. Such is one reason why I write and encourage so highly the thoughtful sharing of words, attentive as possible to the linguistic formulation that the thinking takes. It is not just a trade among phrases, an exchange of ideas, but the profoundest form of our dwelling with one another in time, in our common home, language, which Heidegger elsewhere calls the “house of Being.” (So why pretend like these words might not be the last ones I ever say? We wait far too long to give our final testament. And so we miss our living childhood.)

The notion that our being abides in, and so ought to be entirely committed to, listening (in/to) language, can also be found in Christianity (referring not to the organized religion or any doctrine, but the texts associated with it as an experience, dare I say the experience “Christ” tries to name). John’s Gospel begins with the claim: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Sadly, the gripping need to pin this… sovereignty? preeminence? loving space?… of the Word onto one person, a savior reigning peacefully over all things, has probably thwarted generations of believers from thinking through what about the link between language and life (or being) makes such a claim possible; and so the glorification of Jesus Christ kept believers from an even more promising engagement with the Word, from a creative transformation because of It, within and with It (radiant stillness? gracious Saying?). More difficult to think, though perhaps “simpler” by essence, is the primacy of the Word for our being, the Word as realm (or home) of our being as such, down to its most intimate aspects, up to its most shareable; and how this Word calls us to singularity, a point of irreplaceability in the order of things (usually interpreted in Christianity as: God’s unique love for us), where we can speak and give ourselves up to this speaking, to be used for Its abiding-stilling Saying (Christianly: dwelling in the peace of Christ).

All the talk of denying earthly-everyday existence, talk against sin and covetousness, the call to die while living, to lay down one’s life in friendship: all of this finds its unity, not in a hatred of mortality or in restrictive morality, but in this insight: that our being comes from and returns to the (giving-given) Word, which transcends all attachments and desires of the flesh, all will-to-power, the entire metaphysics of subjectivity that Heidegger himself constantly tries to deconstruct. All of our life is already a survival, structured according to traces we share with others and keep not for ourselves; thus Christianity’s ruthless condemnation of riches and property, its call to “the highest poverty” where things are “used without using them up,” things are done as not-doing them. “Presence” (parousia) is inseparable from a work of mourning that cannot be completed; our destiny is in loving remembrance (of the other), which charges everything with an unknown destiny (beginning with the present, beginning with each word). To make the word flesh is what I owe you as a thinker of being who thinks with you. The word as flesh is how you have always appeared to me, which does not at all mean that you only are what you say; on the contrary, your body’s every movement is verb. Our entire being “says something,” shows something, let’s something appear. Without that factum, there’s just rot and machine, nothing visible or hearable about me or you or humanity in general. But how much there is of us to see and hear!

The Word said, “Abide in me and I will abide in you.” Fantasies about being absorbed by some metaphysical person can be left aside here. Sharing a body with God and/as sharing a body with all people; life after death and/as life in the other or in the future; resurrection in a spiritual body as undying existence in the word consecrated to the thinking-revealing of being; the remaining, therefore, of what is “proper” to one, one’s soul, for all eternity in this common space, language; the justice to be done at the end of time, when every testimony will be heard; the word of faith dwelling near to the heart forever, spoken beyond human understanding, effective in its very act and utterance—all of this can be, needs to be, rethought along the lines of Heidegger’s thinking: “man finds the proper abode of his existence in language.” Paul put it like this, likening the Lord to the “unknown God” of the Greeks: “He allotted the times of existence [of all people] and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” Now, we are smart enough to rethink the “he” Paul is referring to here as, perhaps, the mystery of the Word itself, or as Being(-logos). We are smart enough to not be scared by the religious nature of all this and, inventively, venture new interpretations, new paths to and through language, for the sake of rendering clear the stilling Saying whose offspring we are.

Ultimately, these new paths to language will command a different respect for what we so facilely call “words”–our relation to them, our strangeness in them. At stake in language is what our entire being “says,” shows, lets-be-seen. How much truth of Being can we stand? And how could we stand it, without words? No mortal ever sees or comprehends this letting-be-seen in its entirety; perhaps we are only given a sentence-by-sentence glimpse of what we have contributed to the “revelation.” Yet, in another way, we never cease, will never cease, “saying” it. Different respect for that means a different respect for others—for the otherness of the other(‘s word): the unknowability of their being insofar as any knowledge of their true belonging in/to “language” totally escapes us as individual mortals, even as it is preserved there and demands our attention. It calls for a different politics, for a different relation to time and intervention in the social. It bespeaks another kind of body, another kind of extension, another story of giving life. It calls us to think our responsibility to the Saying and to ask what we must do “in remembrance,” “in thanks” of such being.

For what would it mean, finally, to be thankful for, “that which in the event gives delight, itself, that which uniquely in each unrepeatable moment comes to radiance in the fullness of its grace”? As Heidegger confessed, “To guard the purity of the mystery’s wellspring seems to me hardest of all.”

Such a work of guardianship at the origin of language, where the word is made flesh and our flesh is given over to our true life in the word, would revolutionize our thinking about personhood, self-image, personal narratives, what sort of responsibility is due in all that we Say, what sort of realm our utterances are ultimately given over to, and so on. Who has really understood what it is to be heard as an entirety speaking? Who is it who would see everything we have let be seen through our saying-showing word, the gesture of our existence? Surely, it is not we ourselves. What sort of secret is this? What is a person, a signatory, a thinker? Where does it get its sense, its unity, its (in)visibility to others? How is it, or how does it become, touchable, memorable, lovable? We are recalled again and again to our reality in the word: an absolute mystery in which we never cease trembling, an inappropriable gift no reception can receive, the miracle of a testament moving and staying, “heaven on earth,” created-discovered, heard-spoken, word by word, trace by trace: a “silent” (speechless?) surprise stroke over the abyss, promising fast everything: delivering us back somehow to our origin, over there, in the heart of other people. What then makes the impresentable, impenetrable essence of “us” so communicable? To what do we owe this grace—this pleasure?

from April 2016marcel_eichner_6(Image: Michael Eichner, Untitled)

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Avian Stripes

The lust after silence is a remnant of the philosophical desire for superiority, excellence, elevation, and purity — poetry is its material machine, its ideal reflection.

But Baudelaire’s desire, learning from Poe, was different: a literature that would paint modern life in all its crowdiness, without animosity or resentful critique à la Nietzsche. An embrace of the disconcerting flux of bodies is not at odds with a sensibility for the rare, which silence symbolizes and never fails to recall, but that appears jeopardized in a noise-filled world. This thesis was however disproven by Cage, who affirmed silence to the extreme, but this time through the refutation of its possibility: zen for New York City like a flower of evil for Paris. These advancements, however elitist they seem, are undoubtedly developments in the direction of a Marxian fusion of theory and the masses — against a Mallarmean verse of the void and a Malerian tragedy of tones, though not without sharing a few traits. Ennui and play, within the frame of no escape from the city: these are the terms for a liberation of aesthetics from its philosophical overdetermination by silence.

But they are not yet the sparrow in the cafe, who fascinates us with his graceful swoops, his clever pecks and steals. His naturalness, so expected yet so photogenic, announces a miracle to us: he is as comfortable here as he is in the woods, and no doubt does not make the differentiation. His presence punctuates our planned afternoons, accompanies our downtime — or, for those whose feathers ruffle easily, he is a nuisance to be shooed away, an unwelcome guest who does not belong at our tables. The attitude of aristocratic thinkers toward the new generic thought is simliar: curious, tiny, and constantly in flight, it is at first tolerated, mostly because it is so cute, until it starts snatching crumbs and interrupting the conversation, whereupon it annoys and annoys even more as it so easily hides away; thus it provokes surveillance, ruining the meal even when absent.

Meanwhile, children go on chasing after it, not to catch it but to befriend it and learn about the shifting movements of its head. St. Francis was not by accident an early herald of the generic: he realized a simplicity of immanence that not even the transcendence of Christ could complicate. This loving preacher to birds understood a silence that the enlightened elitists cannot help but  transform into the sublime presence of a void. In the name of purification and peace, they hang a sign telling the birds they aren’t allowed here, and erect a million walls, debate a thousand problems, just to avoid a confrontation with the generic. They return always to their spiritual journeys and flights, unable to see the simple elevations dancing before them.

The fusion of theory and the masses requires a practice as clever as the sparrow in the cafe and thus equally capable of capturing the childlike attention of any human. The old idea of aesthetic excellence should be displaced in this direction. It is absurd to imagine birds erecting a nest to wow humans, but their murmurations, their unisonical flights and formations, impress us without them having to know a thing about it. We too must invent new knowledges, and make them dance to a new use that ‘impresses’ without reflection or recognition, without oeuvre, with only the working itself — but this time a lived work, as simple as the birds’, who do not scrounge for crumbs but play a game with finding them. Our crumbs are all the knowledges, thoughts, and events that strike us as we move through the crowds and libraries, here understood in their radical equality, their equal useability, for generic thought.

Like the sages of old, we too know how to be quiet, but it is not the quiet of withdrawal or rarification; it is the quiet of the bird’s wing, transporting a tiny body from rafter to floor and back, from table to open sky. Excellence remains here, but it is no longer the aesthetic replacement of the banal, that ‘monotony’ from whch we seek refuge in vain. For the birds, nothing is monotonous about the city: one time each time, they peek and peep, each time in a different corner, for a different crumb. They never return upon the same place, but fly their patterns in a novelty of immanence with the grace of a knowledge they are without knowing it.

Generic thought, too, knows this, without learning it — and look, it has already hopped on to someplace else.


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Evil Compassion

If we immoralists do harm to virtue? No more than anarchists do to princes. Only after they’re shot do they again sit firmly on their throne. Moral: one must shoot at morality. –Nietzsche

There is a necessary — but only because morality is so stubborn in its “necessities”! — link between evildoing and the exploration of the human possibile, for such research inevitably breaks with is expected from standard behaviors and outlooks, from whatever is predictable based on a known arrangement of the world. Where humans are increasingly dispensible and submitted to the harshest homogenization of character, the pursuit of the possible demands insistent and thoroughgoing insubordination, an active combat against all aesthetic and moral conditioning, and a rigorous skepticism regarding the validity of every horizon and every rule. There is then no way to avoid doing violence to the known patterns and, moreover, to those with whom one interacts intimately — those whose patterns one often surveys with discomfort, and regularly with disgust. It follows that there is no way to avoid feeling guilty for this exploration and the rejections, the recoil from the comfortable, that it implies, though this “transgression” only is one from the side of regulation, whereas from the side of exploration, it appears a liberation, albeit one at the limits of conscious control and always risking a measure of criminality and abuse — for it means experiencing, “the terrible cleavage which separates [us] from everything that is customary or reputable.”

Unless of course one has been disabused of their adherence to cultural “meaning-well,” to the paranoid and backward glances that seek common recognition and approval, and has replaced complacent irony with an irritating battle for truth. Such a one begins not from disenchantment, negation, and critique, nor from some will to infringement, but from an affirmative existential ingenuity that reckons with its highest chances within the circulating All constantly being revealed — the main playground of interaction and intervention,  the one thing worthy of its Dionysian faith. It was Nietzsche’s ambition to harden his readers against all flimsy forms of sympathy for humanity, understanding that “man” was an undefined animal: a promise, a transition, a bridge toward another form of life acutely aware of its own eternity — its own style of arrowing into the unknown, its refusal to believe in the flimsiness of that uncourageous being so inhibited in his language and his manner, so caught in dull desires and fears: the modern liberal man. Instead: an explosive clandestinity whose every artifact is dynamite, ready to release its mercurial energy and spark off new paths; a posthumous tenacity that knows how to overflow and waste itself forever; an “evil compassion” that knows the depths and correct consequences of pity…

What is nihilism? It is to believe that the limits of a situation, and thus the limits of what is possible for us in it, are known with certainty, that they could never stretch beyond these supposed “limits”; in other words, that determinations of the given (its coordinates, its variables, its layout of finite beings) are adequate to determine action, or constrain it absolutely (this bias in fact liquidates the possible, turning it into nothing more than an extension of “reality”). Nihilism is then an excuse to not experiment with morality; to not disrespect boundaries and cross limits, sensible or conceptual; to not challenge norms of thought, presentation, behavior; to not work in the strong poetic sense of the term, where work implies singularization of and participation in the general intellect or a generic truth; in short, to not make of oneself an unbending antagonistic element in the world that is in no way and nowhere identical to anything that is. But we know that such denials of potentiality lead to interminably confused comportments, leaning now towards cynicism, hatred, and hopelessness, now towards a frantic and paranoid fixation upon every global horror from terrorism to populism, now towards a freewheeling acceptance happy to dance out its frustrations, a facile generosity that pontificates about love’s power, all modes of an insidious “let it be” attitude that binds us to the so-called present and accustoms us to the monotonous run of a lost citizen: a beetle who sometimes sparkles in the sun like an opal but for the most part buzzes around in darkness, ignored — unless of course it infests something…

Nihilism is a belief in the sufficiency of any determination of what is, of how it is, of how one is, of what the future will be, in short, of what can or even might be (known, created, changed, destroyed). To turn one’s back on this presumed sufficiency of the thought-world necessarily leads to offense — but offense is not the goal, nor the non-nihilist’s point of pride; it is rather an effect of the search for future causes, for novel grounds of creativity not legitimated by any given situation or horizon of sense — causes that remain essentially unknown and suspended in their sufficiency, thus in constant contact with their own evental conditions, their own force of potential and means of invention. In Nietzsche’s words: “Excess force in spirituality setting itself new goals.” Bataille adds the following: no one can go to the limit of the possible on their own. Our behavior toward friends must be motivated: to shake them from their torpor, their sufficient egos and work-projects; to violate their good sensibility of self; to reduce their attachment to the appearing world to a minimum; in short, to declare war on them for them — for the war we believe they are on the verge of realizing they are. Such prodding gestures, which are never guaranteed to suceed and indeed seem futile from the point of view of worldly “effectivity,” must be as politically charged as they are symbolically challenging. They must be flexible enough to enter individuation processes without alienating the target audience from the generic potency of their life-world. In the end, the most basic sufficiency to be denied is that of ‘myself’, of being qua being, of any totality of consciousness whatsoever — for this alone can genuinely open the floodgates of creative expenditure.

For explosive beings, personal life seems to fall into shatters because it stops looking after itself and its preservation — but again this is only an effect of the search for intenser causes and new goals; it only looks “necessary” from the perverted and hegemonic perspective of person-moralities. The latter will always seek to calm the nerves and restore harmony; it will seek psychological explanations or hide behind historical details; it will try to dismiss the ennerving quality of every artefact that does not readily fit within a universalizing frame. Whereas a veritable theater of cruelty emanantes from whoever has loosened the grasp of these shit-based economies of presence, in comparison to which the nothingness of opening toward “possibility beyond measure,” this infinite “dance inside out” (Artaud), actually looks quite scrupulous and discreet. Their efforts, dedicated to a humanity of-the-last-instance, could only be labeled “evil” by those already programmed beyond hope by the lie of “lifetime value” — of beetlehood. For the beetle can hardly do more than “dance on its own,” swear it’s only human, and imagine a world in which everyone “lives for today”; its only salvation is the ephemeral moment it respiritualizes or reinvests with selfhood and deep meaning however it likes; its dreams are calculated like pathetic bucket lists, or else flow through pipes corroded by a thousand cliche-chemicals and market additives; its imagination stretches no farther than the known kerfuffle; it contrives to brainstorm what should be done but only generates an endless commentary that transforms no one because it fails to transform itself in the process; it could not stand to be resurrected, and so it dies tomorrow…

Who is this beetle, the addressee of all this “vitriol”? Can its accuser really be so “conceited”? We couldn’t bear to see such a monster in person; he must be seething! — So speak the last men and blink, thinking they have heard yet another resentful, critical discourse. Why? Because they deal in packages whose dimensions are knowable and dish out judgments that are just as small and compact; because they have no nose for expressive tendencies, for vectors of futurality, for the sort of effort and offensiveness necessary to let man pass beyond his moral prejudices; because he can only see anger and prohibition and limitation here; because he does not know how to put the shame he legitimately feels to good use; because he can only view action as a minor modification of fate and happiness in his own sphere and, looking for a recipe for health and happiness, has no idea how the displacement of the certainty-center can “change everything”; because he is a nihilist who feels little more than remorse and resentment in himself, who knows nothing but his beetle shell, who believes in gravestones and lacks all sensitivity for “impossible symbolic exchanges” (Baudrillard); because, finally, he does not yet understand the necessity of evildoing — of demolishing the democratic fetishes and familial fantasies that hold humanity hostage to figures like the town drunkard, the disgruntled customer, the angry voter, the husband snoring in his man cave, the woman dissatisfied with her looks, costumes so imposed by the culture industry that those who wear them cannot help but identify with them and worry about their figure, their image, and their happiness, thinking it’s all on them, without any idea of how to disengage or disrobe — indeed, who are we addressing if not these nihilists of blind passivity who suffer the paralysis of one seized in a night terror?

Yet let us not wake them too soon. Let us not sympathize with their hurt so mechanically. Let us not console them with easy words of consolation and morale-boosting, for we know what deep slumbers that could unleash. For we know it is a disservice to stroke a weak conscience and sooth it with gracious, premature words. Let them instead burn in the purgatory of their own unambition; perhaps they will understand that at stake here is an evil one does to oneself in seeking alternative causes — that such evil might even prove to be compassionate, the only way to respect humanity and honor what it could be.

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Credible Sources

My longing for truth was one single prayer. –Edith Stein

In response to the simple but essential question, how do you know what sources to trust?, the easiest and best answer is: trust your gut. In the beginning, of course, one has to get a feel for sniffing out snakes and fakes–people who have “run out of holy spirit” and so “speak in mechanical tongues,” as Adorno put it; those whose motives are corrupted in whatever way, who spread bloated truths or spinelessly pontificate, or who belabor and bore with numberless stalls and equivocations. But, trusting, soon one isn’t even led in the direction of the drones and boosters. Soon one finds only those spirited souls who do not want anything for themselves–who basically don’t want to appear, or if they must, only lend weight to human-generic potentiality, let some impersonal light shine through. Beyond that, trust those who are trusted by those you trust–look up the steady influences and loves, draw the useful comparisons, follow the trails and mark out new ones, connect all the dots only you could spot. Above all, do not trust councils and authorities or too much established doxa, but complete humans–especially those who had a taste for solitude, for they will be honest about the real difficulties. Incapable of mishandling any inquisitive eye, they will quicken vision to the point of the actively-creative truth, revealing don’t generative impulse to the aspirant, which is surely the hope of every genuine soul.

More interesting than learning correct knowledge is discovering what creative things can be done with knowledge. I value reference to tradition, but not as highly as innovation. I lay the most importance upon works that have a high “testament” quality: when one can tell that a soul has unceasingly poured itself out into its work, in abandon and in care, even if this means confusion and contradiction all along the way. To testify to an ordeal is better than to give answers, especially when it comes to the “spiritual.” Thus I view with equal credibility Simone Weil, who drove her religion to the physical extreme, and Antonin Artaud, who did the same with his atheism and rejection of God. Both understood the need to upturn the normal modes of thought and action in man, and that philosophy, religion, mythology, theater, and prayer had to be used in novel ways to achieve this end and to spur this development. When it comes to the soul–not objective theories about what the soul “is,” its place in the cosmos, its relation to God, or anything that would adequate it through knowledge, but to our soul, the monument at stake in all our psyche–both offer indispensible testimonies. It is worthwhile to engage and deem credible all the colors of this spectrum, from Merton to Cioran, Wei Wu Wei to Tzara. Regardless of where one ends up, one is strengthened by this exposure and better understands one’s own doubts, as well as all the openings for novel rumination.

There is a form of engagement that goes beyond close reading, attentive examination, and the tireless suspension of certainty that is required to touch the body of any other thinker. What exceeds and fulfills this is a more complicated, incohate form: experimenting-with. To experiment-with is to let one’s mind and habits be fundamentally altered, if only for a time, by another thinker and their worries, to adopt not only their terms and concepts, but also their outlook and temperment, and thus to befriend them, to share a form-of-life and a common world of concern. But even the word “experiment” is inadequate here, for it could imply a controlled set-up with known parameters and variables, a mere test that could run its course and end back at a neutral state, with only some conclusions or “findings” deduced. Whereas here there is no return to origin. Setting aside any objective or critical distance, you must let the other leave direct some traces in your life-world, your moves and your memory, by entering or even mimicing their ordeal as best you can, of course in the compass of your own constraints and freedoms.

To become a credible witness, to verify the source as credible, to discern sources that are credible–those sources that alone can lead you to yours–one must follow. To follow is, “to give oneself up to the same trial, to the same derangement,” as Bataille says regarding his quest for community with Nietzsche. If it is Lacan you are reading, you will know you are being trained as an analyst; if it is Kierkegaard, you will be sure your training is in Christianity; if it is Laruelle, you will be sure you are becoming a non-philosopher. There is no other way to pursue a lived thought through to its consequences than to let it derail you, shift you, change not only your identity but your basic horizon. In this way you carry the other with you and everything they carried with them. Then your body remembers them and what they sought to transmit. Translating and transforming it, you absorb it in an unconscious, physical way. You are generated, yet another alterity. Of course, one must choose good companions along this journey, but it is not a matter of picking the perfect leader or the right system. This is an appretenticeship in a vocation without preexisting form–an adventure into a world never yet born.  It is an imitation without original, a variation on a melody not yet played. It leads one closer to oneself, by leading astray. By following, one learns what it means for one to believe. Perhaps it even makes one worth following for a while: credible.

What Nietzsche says of the New Testament–that it is advisable to read it with gloves on–is therefore good advice regarding all texts, ancient or new. Never forget that even sacred texts were written and chosen in human, all-too-human ways, and nothing about their provenance or their arrangement is to be deemed heaven-sent. One look at the apocryphal Gospels of Philip or Thomas, which exceed the Synoptic account in profundity and intensity, will convince you of that. Like any group seeking worshippers, subscribers, and never wanting to empower solitary followers–a church seeks cohesion in doctrine and structure, thus reproducing a monotonous homogeneity in thought and practice. Because of the risk they pose to its foundations, it has to torch the heretics who give simpler and more elegant visions and explanations than it ever could. With these sorts of groups, which include anything from academia to revolutionary parties–for these too are ‘sources’ that aspire to credibility–it is good to maintain a cool distrust. Likewise with all big structures and mindsets that seek unification, for they inevitably clash with the instauration of the complete human. On the other hand, when it comes to basics, “unity” and agreement can often be found easily, without nit-picking overly and with the simple goal of upbuilding the general spirit. Usually in public that is all that is needed: to ally oneself with the causes worth following and lend them the support of one’s voice and reason. Obviously occasions affect the urgency of this support and its volume, but at bottom one must still trust one’s gut and not react out of compunction.

When it comes to one’s own yearnings and need for soul-satisfaction, it will forever be necessary to dig beyond the level accessible to committees and thinktanks. It will forever be necessary to make form. The good in the world calls for it, as Frost reminds us. Luckily, all of poetry, art, philosophy, and science is there to keep one busy, free of the mediocre and boring. What one can learn from the Bible and other mainstream sources must be supplemented with the strange outliers and exceptions, which is where their truth is to be found; they must be complexified to match one’s own endeavor in the making of form, without worrying if this straying might be perceived as a transgressive, sacreligious, or disrespectful. Rather, one must learn to trust these secret interpretations that, in a way, remain secret even to oneself. It is enough to not be ungracious in listening, and to follow the trail.

What is a credible source? Although it will surely transmit a well-founded knowledge, it is important to situate that knowledge within the context of its emergence. I have tried to argue that knowledge is inseparable from its testamentary value, and this substantially so. To put it another way, the production of knowledge must be a pleasure for the soul–a creative labor of love. Thereby it retains the traces of its ordeal, though this does not make it “subjective” or expressive of an enclosed identity. Rather, it bears the mark of a solitary passage, of an exposed experience traversing the limits of the possible. Beyond all the ends to which knowledge can be put, in the last analysis it must at least also attest to the faith that makes it supportable, that sustains it through unknowns and pivots, that haunts its bearer even beyond their tolerance of abandonment, and destines them to a truth and a movement that could never once be called their “own.”

Faith and understanding are of heterogeneous orders. While action should be informed by what is known, there is always a leap that goes beyond knowledge and entrusts our fate to the unknown. It leads us to follow our lead, to believe in a destination that does not yet exist. This of course leaves us on guard with ourselves, since we can never be sure we’re headed in the right direction; moreover, there isn’t one until we’re traveling it, and perhaps the best direction is one defined by permanent reroute. Still, it is undeniable that a sense of “being-carried” is often there. I believe this is called grace–lightness in distress, clarity in confusion, bestowal at the impasse. Here, one is possessed rather than possessing, had rather than having. One is pushed, seduced, seized into new being. Recall how Paul confessed, “I do not yet consider myself to have taken hold of it,” that is, of the very thing that has already so strongly taken hold of him, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” (Phil 3:13).

What can be credited–what can be followed–always surprises freshly. It changes with each act of creativity that follows from the last. Even the slightest achievement in making form, “must stroke faith the right way,” Frost also tells us. But we have to be very resolute participants in this quest, impervious to a great many distractions, including all the bumpers that would redirect us back to the central track. Often we fail in perseverance and lack the requisite gravitas, the temerity of the prodigous. But we can trust that we can begin again anywhere, that our faith in the instant of renewed creation is never blocked off from us; that we begin open to it, or are already opening on to it, wherever we might begin.

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