Saturday, October 18, 2014

Never Born ... Never Die (A Lecture on Gebser's Ever-Present Origin)

“Ever since I was born”—that since has a resonance so dreadful to my ears it becomes unendurable.
– E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
 – Rom. 8:22

My mother groan’d! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt.
– William Blake, “Infant Sorrow”

Two minutes after I was born I had already lost my beginnings.
– Clarice Lispector

Event of oneself, ongoing primordial,
Without way or opening, a very hard fall.
In the beginning, beginning’s very middle,
See my blinding opening, your pure white hole.
Summoned by something making answering its call,
Walking an opening where stepping is trail.
Stumbling perfectly, on stumbling, the way a ball,
Deep surface, no opening, feels, cannot, its roll.
Will these clauses, unconcluding, speak being’s wheel,
Our anarchic opening, foundation beyond frail?
Or are they, caught underneath, wax to empty seal,
Signs only of opening, of depths unreal?
Event of oneself, so perversely actual,
Queerest opening, a sparrow through the hall.

The Problem of Birth
A problem for whom? Well, for the born. So that from the outset the problem of birth seems paradoxically to recede and engulf everything including all bases for its being a problem in the first place. Like an abyss expanding behind me the more I emerge from it, at once magnifying and cancelling its mystery. A longest tunnel somehow wholly traversed despite my still being in it. Whatever birth’s problem, the time for fixing it seems over, or never was. The trouble is too deep, we are too much in the thick of it. So one falls into generally thinking-feeling about the problem of birth what Cioran, in The Trouble With Being Born, says of its putative remedy, suicide: “It's not worth the bother . . . since you always [toujours] kill yourself too late.”[1] Birth is not worth troubling over, since—ever since I was born—you are always born, too late, everyday. And as the thought of suicide, so ordinary and intolerable, to the point that suicide itself—like the second bullet Carlo Michelstaedter fires into his head—is only a flight from suicide, so the thought of birth escapes itself into the monstrous simplicity of being born—idiot-happiness of the birthday—only to seek secret refuge in some form of forever or never having been. The problem from this perspective is how to beget the death of birth, how to let life kill it. For that is what it is doing anyway, in the sense that birth is not mysteriously inaccessible but rather too present, too toujours. By ‘birth’ I am now inescapably talking about the (w)hole  impossible everything that holds the entire universe in place around the singular finite and absolutely arbitrary pole of you, all that in the evental face of which everyone only throws up their hands and assumes they were, by means of the weirdest possible spontaneous magic, somehow born from and into it.[2] Just as you crave the new and the next in evasion of this too tremendously new and next NOW, so do you blindly cling to being born to prevent being/doing the birth you are, think I-was-born-and-will-die so as to enshroud in a baby blanket of ‘my life’ a living origin whose infinite existential force intimately appears too exterior to ever be identical with one’s own. And if you do not like hearing it put this way, if you do not approve of being held personally responsible—for everything—then that only proves it. Only one individual, legend has it, was born laughing.[3] All the rest of us wept. And in this the human feels a perverse security, a pseudo-ownership of life, a weird propriety. So that through failure to truly receive it, the wisdom of Silenus—that it is best not to be born—is passed down, from no one to no one, all in the interest of being someone! And behind it all the nagging sense and strange blind certainty that I am still not born enough, that something more myself than me is yet to be born, even if it turns out to be nothing, nothing but my own inexistence. But I was born, wasn’t I?

Ever-Present Birth
            “A body came into the world,” says the Schopenhaurian sage Vernon Howard, “but it wasn’t you.”[4] Encountering Ever-Present Origin for the first time, and with the question of birth in mind, I come to the conclusion that Gebser would agree with this statement as an articulation of what he calls “self-transparency” (531), and furthermore, that the book itself is an exercise in positively negating birth, as per Cioran’s circumspection of being born as ur-attachment: “If attachment is an evil, we must look for its cause in the scandal of birth, for to be born is to be attached. Detachment then should apply itself to getting rid of the traces of this scandal, the most serious and intolerable of all.”[5] But rather than erasing birth, or attempting to subtract it from life (which must only fail before the limit of birth’s fact), Ever-Present Origin effectively births the death of birth, bringing the ending of birth forth in a movement of imminent mutation that is itself birthly, being modeled towards the “nascence of a new world and a new consciousness” (1) in a radically intensive sense, the world-birth of a new integral Now, “one where origin . . . blossoms forth anew; and one in which the present is all-encompassing and entire” (7). That Gebser’s last lecture was entitled with the question “Death, too, is birth?” (xxii) is a suggestive first sign of the correctness of seeing his project in these terms. To begin to elaborate this, let us first recall the principle of spontaneity or auto-willing (sua sponte) as that which mediates between crisis and mutation, ‘eventing’ birth from its circumstances, and more specifically, as in the doctrine of spontaneous generation, fills the gap from death to birth, between decay and emergence. Gebser writes, “A true process always occurs in quanta, that is, in leaps . . . in mutations. It occurs spontaneously, indeterminately, and, consequently, discontinuously” (37). Also in the most normal or regular birth process, there is this spontaneous element which enables everything to happen. The moment of birth remains unpredictable and marks the opening of a durational threshold where life must come near the chance of dying and/or killing via its own generation, where process can dangerously go either way. Stillbirth remains mysterious and is termed ‘sudden antenatal death syndrome.’ As in spontaneous generation, for instance of worms from rotting flesh, birth’s spontaneity holds the space of an unaccountable temporal zone of un-life between death and birth. So in Ever-Present Origin, the next mutation of consciousness is what cannot be next as such, not something one can properly anticipate or look forward to—despite that being the task of the book. For the mutative advent of the aperspectival—to synthesize my epigraphs—must and can only occur in the mode of a birthly leap into a Now that the world itself in in labor for, a present whose absence is increasingly unendurable and whose imminent immanence makes the tiniest sinceness of birth intolerable. The advent of the fourth world is a perilous passage through the “perspectivistic tunnel vision” (96), our survival of which seems ever more urgent and unlikely due to the narrowing caused by its own excessive growth, “the hypertrophy of the ‘I’” (22). “[I]f we do not overcome the crisis it will overcome us; and only someone who has overcome himself is truly able to overcome. Either we will be disintegrated and dispersed, or we must resolve and effect integrality” (xxvii). More acutely, we must be born via a channel that precisely not we, but only one, will survive. The crisis is precisely one that we cannot survive, just as looking forward to the next mutation is what cannot not be done by the “undivided, ego-free person . . . who perceives the whole, the diaphaneity present ‘before’ all origin which suffuses everything” (543). As Vernon Howard says, in terms that perfectly reverse the anagogic imminence of the aperspectival, “Anything you look forward to will destroy you, as it already has.” So Gebser confirms that what man “can . . . do to bring about this mutation” is a question of “presentiation,” for “only someone who knows of origin has present—living and dying in the whole, in integrity” (273). Mutation, as birth into the present of what birth itself births, requires being released from what the prospect of birth typically generates in us: expectation—the religion-building blindness wherethrough man, having witnessed the appearance of divinity and felt—in Hölderlin’s words via Gebser—the “eve of time” (102), forgets the ‘pre-ligious’ truth of that appearance, i.e. the imperative promise of a new life where “there is no longer heaven or hell, this world or the other, ego or world, immanence or transcendence” (543), and falls into immediate expectation of a second or next manifestation of God/Truth/Reality and life-to-come, a paradise that is not today. Working against the error of looking forward to the new age, Ever-Present Origin accordingly invokes Walter Tritsch’s description of mutation as “a sudden illumination of a different segment of reality” (40) and warns us directly against failing to nix the next: “this presence or being present excludes as a contradiction any kind of future-oriented finality . . . The unintentionality and positive lack of design is therefore important as it excludes all utilitarianism and rationally conditioned, essentially perspectival corrections of the possible” (42). And the book follows its own advice, most significantly I think, by “excluding as a contradiction” birth from its own movement, not leaving it out, but surrendering birth to origin in a manner that cannot be reduced to an intention. Ever-Present Origin gives birth back to itself, without thinking about it. Like taking birth, it must do so, inexorably, because birth, being at once a spaceless-timeless event and that which, with inconceivable asymmetry and arbitrariness, fixes being to space and time, is both the impossibility of the aperspectival and the aperspectival itself. 

Surrendering Birth
            To surrender is at once to give up and to give over, to both renounce and provide. As such surrender cannot be calculating, because it gives up on, or abandons hope in, what it gives, and thus becomes capable of receiving it for the first time. True surrender is spontaneous and found in the greatest love, whereby one surrenders oneself to the beloved or “a man lay[s] down his life for his friends” (John 16:13). And in true knowledge, in which the identity of being the truth’s knower is renounced before the truth itself, as in Gebser’s account of verition, in which previous forms of realization and thought are both surpassed and preserved [aufhebung] (503). In fact the verbal root of spontaneity, PIE *spend- (to make an offering, perform a rite, to engage oneself by a ritual act), contains this sense of sacrifice and self-offering, just as we speak of the spontaneous as something ‘surrendered to’, as to a whim. The spontaneity of true process, what enables mutation, is also thus a species of death, of surrendering to the expiration of what is untenable, even if holding on to it would rob one of nothing other than the chance to surrender, as when jumping into the sea. In such situations we say that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. And that is the secret of even the most seemingly impossible surrender, which by the truth of spontaneity is preserved from being a loss and gains the giver otherwise ungiveable gifts of losing oneself. So we traditionally intuit that whatever one authentically surrenders is always returned in some unforeseeable new present, as if never lost. Only a death can give you birth. And if you surrender all, who and what is there to lose, to not possess? As Meister Eckhart says of surrendering to God, “if a man has gone out of himself in this way, he will truly be given back to himself again . . . and all things, just as he abandoned them in multiplicity, will be entirely returned to him in simplicity, for he finds himself and all things in the present ‘now’ of unity.”[6] Likewise the leap of mutation, in the moment of spontaneity, must occur in surrender, by dying to its possibility in midst of entering it most deeply, by leaping at once into and out of the leap. That birth itself is such a mutation is dramatized by the mother who no longer cares about ‘giving birth’ but knows only the primal urge to ‘get this thing out of my body’—a good analogue to the parable about the problem of evil: when the arrow is stuck in you, do you discuss theodicy or find a way to pull it out? What then does it mean to surrender birth? It means a paradox: that birth is surrendered by surrendering to birth. That is, since one never avoids birth as such, birth is given up by giving in to birth in a way that abandons being born, that surrenders all that is born about one’s being. And that is no different from how—as if one is capable of remembering—one is born, in a kind of leap-fall that gives up on by giving in to itself, and vice-versa. One is born by surrendering to birth, and one surrenders to birth, not by wanting it, but by surrendering birth, by giving it up. In other words, no one is born without renouncing birth. Birth takes place in spontaneous surrender of birth. Everyone is born by not wanting to be. Upside down. The latent does not properly arrive but as it were falls into presence out of its already being here. So Gebser states that “far- and deep-reaching mutations . . . are latent in origin, they are always back-leaps . . . into the already (ever-)present future” (530). This weirdly spontaneous nature of birth may be further clarified by thinking the identity of embodiment and decay, as understood by Plotinus. According to Plotinus, embodiment occurs as the soul’s spontaneous generation of a necessary medium for itself: “In the absence of body, soul could not have gone forth, since there is no other place to which its nature would allow it to descend. Since go forth it must, it will generate a place for itself; at once body, also, exists.”[7] But this only accounts for body, and not the specificity of this body, much less the ‘scandal’ of the this itself, the principle of individuation that makes Why am I me? a more unmasterable and terrifying question than Why is there something rather than nothing? This demands that we conceive also the negativity of spontaneity, the non-debile inability of the soul to go forth in any other way than the way it does, which places us in the province of decay, where body emerges as a kind of instrumental putrefaction or leakage of soul into form: “The products of putrefaction are to be traced to the Soul’s inability to bring some other thing to being—something in the order of nature, which, else, it would—but producing where it may.”[8] On the one hand the specificity of spatiotemporal emergence is a privation, the prime evil of matter itself, as Pourtless explains: “Plotinian sensible matter just is the principium individuationis . . . [it] imposes a veil of obscurity on noetic activity . . . [and] causes an ontological illusion whereby the sensible world and the real are conflated . . . The principium individuationis . . . is hence to be identified as primary evil, or evil itself.”[9] On the other hand, the specificity that birth enforces is a surplus upon creation, something superadded to being and an immediate sign of the superessential or meta-ontological nature of reality. As Heidegger says of the scholastic understanding of the matter: “The actualness of the created is not itself actual; it is not itself in need of a coming-to-be or a being-created. Therefore, it may not be said that actuality is something created. It is rather quid concreatum, concreated with the creation of a created thing.”[10] Similarly, Gebser’s ‘concretion of the spiritual’ opens “another world in wait, accessible only through individuation and its supercession” (198). According to Scotus, haecceity or thisness is the very summit of actuality, its ultimate principle: “this ‘hecceity’ [explains Gilson] is in itself indifferent to both existence and non-existence. It is, in created being, the ultimate determination and actuality which perfects its entity.”[11] Far from being a contingent adjunct of human existence, individuation is for Scotus its divine raison d’etre: “And in those beings which are the highest and most important, it is the individual that is primarily intended by God.”[12] And as Meher Baba makes explicit, individuality is not lost when the drop realizes it is ocean—that is the whole point: “When the soul comes out of the ego-shell and enters into the infinite life of God, its limited individuality is replaced by unlimited individuality. The soul knows that it is God-conscious and thus preserves its individuality. The important point is that individuality is not entirely extinguished, but it is retained in the spiritualised form.”[13] Such is the genius of individuation, a finitude more infinite than infinity.  So the concept of genius itself, originally the god who becomes each man’s guardian at the moment of birth, addresses the divine whimsy of individuation. As Agamben observes, in words that may as well be spoken of birth itself, “One must consent to Genius and abandon oneself to him; one must grant him everything he asks for, for his exigencies are our exigencies, his happiness our happiness. Even if his—our!—requirements seem unreasonable and capricious, it is best to accept them without argument.”[14] In sum, surrendering birth drives one only further into the impossible core of birth itself as the immediate actuality of the evil genius of the universe, which is nothing other than the spontaneous decay of divine or superessential Reality into individualized consciousness of itself. For as Meher Baba explains in God Speaks, the whole evolutionary and involutionary process of consciousness, which alone generates the messy material world of multifarious forms, hinges on this spontaneity: “Whatever be the type of gross form and whatever be the shape of the form, the soul spontaneously associates itself with that form, figure and shape, and experiences that it is itself that form, figure and shape.”[15] Only spontaneity makes sense of the intuitive dialectic and leapless leap of birth, by which we are placed in the perfect slippage of this question and answer: Why am I me? I am not. And only surrendering birth will satisfy the terrible desire which birth’s abyss endlessly generates: “Ever since birth, we have been seeking one night to walk together side by side, even if only for a moment in time. Our age is infinity.”[16]

Separated at Birth
Ever-Present Origin seems to say almost nothing about birth, much less give voice to the horror of individuation which it incites, the dark ground of the terrible need to break out of being. As Levinas explains, “escape is the need to get out of oneself, that is, to break that most radical and unalterably binding of chains, the fact that the I [moi] is oneself [soi-même]. . . . It is being itself or the ‘one-self’ from which escape flees, and in no wise being’s limitation. In escape the I flees itself, not in opposition to the infinity of what it is not or of what it will not become, but rather due to the very fact that it is or that it becomes.”[17] Overall the book appears to stand peacefully outside the pain of this imprisoning interstice and instead adopts an objectivist and collectivist perspective on the evolution of consciousness and human identity, situating itself vis-à-vis the universality of mankind and the generic episteme of the human ‘we’. Ever-Present Origin address above all our crisis, the crisis of the mutable world we happen to inhabit. From this perspective, it addresses more the what of things and does not give voice to the radical negativity of the thatness of existence, the hyper-individualized factical intensity that remains definitionally beyond the purview of scientific rationalism  whose consequentializing of all phenomena, as Gebser observes in connection with the “consistently overlooked” “dividing aspect inherent in ratio” (95), abandons the measure of origin, the immediate mystery of one’s whence and whither, and so becomes the gateway of “demonic forces” (97). But as this instance critically intimates, Ever-Present Origin, precisely by ordering itself towards a “time-free present . . . as real and efficacious a time-form as those that have preceded it” (543), also continually breaks out of the spatio-temporal perspectivity of historical and plural humanity, all the while preserving it as the last-most form which the new mutation of consciousness will yet contain. So does it repeatedly lay emphasis upon the individual, you, as the someone or anyone who must live the book’s truth and realize integrality by “renounc[ing] the exclusive claim of the mental structure” (529) and surrendering to the “origin from which every moment of our lives draws its substance” (530), the immanent aperspectival reality, denial of which is tantamount to denying one’s own real and ineradicable self. Addressing the originary non-opposition or wholeness encompassing life and death as two poles of the unitary soul, Gebser thus corrects the idealist and materialist positions as follows:
Enlightened rationalists will not take this potency seriously, while idealist will perhaps find it amusing. It is possible, of course, to ridicule and deride all of this. But anyone who does so is ridiculing his own soul and deriding what he or she cannot fathom and consequentially denies; and such denial is only the result of a lack of courage and strength for another kind of measurement, the contemplation appropriate to the nature of the soul . . . Idealists and materialist are both like two children on a seesaw . . . Each thinks that his own weight and strength is decisive, and neither considers the fulcrum in the middle which, from its point of rest, is what makes their movement and the game itself possible at all. (213)
The passage is particularly significant in regards to birth because it shows how the issue of birth is a kind of non-non-issue for Gebser, one resolved in the immanent life of the integral soul, an entity that need not ever be concerned about its individuation and is thus free to ignore the apparent fact of its specific birth. Vis-à-vis the life-death poles of the soul, birth is simply a shadow-image of their unitive point, a hole that only demonstrates the whole. Here there is a move toward the radical truth of facticity that for Meister Eckhart places the individual, as a real eternal unity, above its own creation or beyond origin: “I once thought—it was not long ago—that I am a man is something other men share with me . . . but that I am, that belongs to no man but myself, not to a man, not to an angel, not even to God except insofar as I am one with Him.”[18] The fact of one’s being simply is divine, beyond assertion and denial. As Meher Baba says, “Philosophers, atheists and others may affirm or refute the existence of God, but as long as they do not deny their very existence, they continue to testify their belief in God; for I tell you with divine authority that God is Existence, eternal and infinite. He is everything. For man, there is only one aim in life, and that is to realize his unity with God.”[19] Such is the non-generated and self-original fact of oneself next to which birth is an illusion of space-time. Again Eckhart: “for my essential being is above God . . . For in that essence of God in which God is above being and distinction, there I was myself and knew myself so as to make this man. Therefore I am my own cause according to my essence, which is eternal, and not according to my becoming, which is temporal. Therefore I am unborn, and according to my unborn mode I can never die.”[20] Gebser’s term for the I that can say this, that can speak its own individuation without recourse to spatio-temporal contextualization is the itself, the real species of the human, “which pervades or ‘shines through’ everything in which the diaphanous spirituality, in its originary presence, is able to become transparent” (135), the ever-new singular one that sublates the I-We or ego-collective dichotomy. So the final chapter of Ever-Present Origin cites the Christian apocryphal passage (a mashup of John 15:19 and Ephesians 1:4), “I have chosen you before the earth began” (542). At the same time, Gebser’s ‘waring’ of the integral fulcrum of experience also moves not towards transcendent unborn identity but into a sense of the profoundly participatory nature of being, according to which it is impossible to claim anything as one’s own, even and especially oneself. If in one direction the aperspectival event of oneself opens into the view of birth as too absent, in the other direction it opens onto the view of birth as too present, as too common to be bothered about as such. Such is the view that renders one indifferent to the fact of birth because there can only be, as Meher Baba says, “one real birth and one real death”[21] and all the births and deaths we perceive around us, including our current physical birth around which we see at best darkly, are mere births and deaths, passing forms and modifications of the drop-soul or individualized ocean as it swims like a worm from and into itself along the evolutionary path. What is the significance of earthly birth (or death) in the face of the vast Reality one’s very being born from-into itself manifests an absolute indissolubility? And if you consider yourself to be only an epiphenomenon, a random creation of a universe that somehow would exist without you, or more biologically, a walking corpse hallucinating that it is alive, then the matter of one’s birth only diminishes further in significance. As that which, par excellence, you cannot take credit for, except in a manner that would cancel the contingency of birth, birth is the abyss wherein one is always already eternally married to the Real, even if it turns out, by some tremendous twist, to be nothing at all. Either way, birth is not what makes oneself. Befitting Gebser’s etymological gloss of individuum as “someone divided and dividing by seeing” (182n6), your birth is simply something that separated you at birth.  

Unremembering Birth
There is one real birth and one real death. You are born once, and you really die only once. What is the real birth? It is the birth of a drop in the ocean of reality. What is meant by the birth of a drop in the ocean of reality? It is the advent of individuality, born of individuality through a glimmer of the first most-finite consciousness, which transfixed cognizance of limitation into the unlimited. What is meant by the real death? It is consciouness getting free of all limitations. Freedom from all limitations is real death. It is really the death of all limitations. It is Liberation. In between the real birth and the real death, there is no such reality as the so-called births and deaths. What happens in the intermediate stage known as births and deaths is that the limitations of consciousness gradually wear off, until consciousness is free of limitations. Ultimately, consciousness, totally free of limitations, experiences the unlimited reality eternally.[22]
It is in the scope of such a vista upon the advancing stream of consciousness that Ever-Present Origin practices and requires of its reader what may be termed a positive forgetfulness of birth. As defined by Meher Baba, “The whole philosophy of approaching and realizing the Truth hinges on the question of what we may call forgetfulness . . . positive forgetfulness is one in which the mind remains aware of external stimuli, but refuses to react to them. The negative forgetfulness is either mere unconsciousness—a stopping of the mind as in sound sleep—or an acceleration of it as in madness, which has been defined as a way of avoiding the memory of suffering.”[23] Applying the principle to birth brings into relief the pervasive negative forgetfulness which conditions the general human attitude, flipping between taking birth’s event totally for granted–‘I’m here, now what?’—and using it as excuse/justification for doing whatever: I was born, it’s my life, happy birthday to me. To positively forget birth, alternately, implies a full awareness of its phenomenon that neither disregards birth’s significance nor dramatizes it around it the separative or secondary center of ‘that which has been born’. Here we should not fail to remember that, despite the discrediting of creationism, we (culturally speaking) still conceive of ourselves as effects of the universe, emergent things produced by some ungraspable reality yet somehow deserving of operatively being our own centers of the universe.[24] As if I can effect integrality! Positive forgetfulness, contrariwise, implies the avenue of a creative neutrality towards the fact of birth, an attitude that would neither appropriate nor ignore its inevitable force or spontaneous imperative, a being-in-but-not-of birth. The creative capacity of positive forgetfulness is described by Meher Baba as follows:
In such moments of true forgetfulness there is a mental detachment from all material surroundings in which the poet allows his imagination to soar. An artist, when he gives form to an ideal in which he completely forgets himself and all irrelevant surroundings, creates a masterpiece. The best of philosophy is uttered when a man surveys the problem of life without reference to the ups and downs of his purely personal circumstances; and some of the greatest scientific discoveries have been made in this same frame of mind. Such manifestations of genuine spontaneity of forgetfulness are very rare indeed, and although it is said that poets, artists and philosophers are born and not made, these fleeting phases of real forgetfulness are the result of efforts made in past lives. (214)
Importantly, the occurrence of positive forgetfulness is itself correlated with the vector of one’s birth, suggesting furthermore that significant human creativity, which Gebser describes in terms of “the way origin, budding and unfolding in space and time, emerges on earth and in our daily lives” (530), is not only essentially more connected than we may directly perceive with pre-birth latencies, with something still-to-be-born via birth, but furthermore that the spontaneity of positive forgetfulness in general is non-incidentally linked to birth specifically, that non-reactive awareness of birth is the paradigm of positive forgetfulness. That is, not only does true, creative detachment necessarily involve self-detachment in the mode of non-identification with oneself as born, but positive forgetfulness of birth itself, alertly acute awareness of birth’s fact that yet refuses to freeze into reaction, is an essential mode of spontaneous creativity. Here we may notice the phenomenal resonance between birth as spontaneous association of consciousness with new form and creativity as self-forgetful production. Of course to be true to this source will entail not following its consequences past itself. So here let me quickly kill in utero a potential pep talk on forgetful birth-awareness as the great untapped resource of human potential. Instead we must here think birth, not only as not properly an opportunity for something else, but as an opportunity for nothing except not itself. Birth is the chance—thank God!—to not, to never ever be born. To stop counting on something else to do it for you and die now, while you still have a chance. To exit the world in which you are trapped by entering it for real, from the outside. As Meher Baba said in 1926, on the occasion of this brother’s death: “The joy expressed by people at the birth of a child should be expressed when a person breathes his last – instead of all the show of sorrow, grief and sympathy. This is sheer ignorance and those who understand the secret of birth and death feel sorry at this hypocritical pretense . . . Die such a death that you will not have to die again. Die, all of you, in the real sense of the word so that you may live ever after.”[25] The imperative of birth, heard by everyone and obeyed by few, is thus a kind of autophagic or self-eating command, an instruction authentically followed by not following it, only by listening to it, too clearly, to the point of forgetting that one is listening, forgetting in the listening that one is born, knowing in the forgetting that one is not. May what birth whispers from inside your ear be the death of you! Like the child who is father of the man, birth commands what parents instinctively want for their children. With spontaneous love, birth tells you, whatever you do, do not be like me. But humans have the hardest time following even the simplest instructions.

Birth Told Me To
The imperative of Ever-Present Origin is clear: we can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way. Sooner or later, with a lesser or greater share of self-created suffering, the new mutation of consciousness, an integral reality, will be realized. “There can be no question that our task will be resolved, since it originates in necessity. The only open question is whether it will be resolved soon” (539). This is a pandemic pregnancy, in which the pervasiveness of crisis proves the necessity of mutation or emergence of a new whole. As Meher Baba put it: “The condition of the world, the strife and uncertainty that is everywhere, the general dissatisfaction with and rebellion against any and every situation shows that the ideal of material perfection is an empty dream and proves the existence of an eternal Reality beyond materiality.”[26] The imperative of mutation, its must, is of a piece with crisis, and hiddenly is it—mutation being precisely not the order of a remedy for the crisis, but the necessary leap into a new sphere. “The new world culture,” Meher Baba says, “must emerge from an integral vision of truth.”[27] Critically, by virtue of the inevitability of this necessity, inseparable from the very unity of life, that which maieutically effects this new mutation is not on the level of escape or emergency response. “The spiritual experience that is to enliven and energise the New Humanity cannot be a reaction to the stern and uncompromising demands made by the realities of life . . . Man will be dislodged again and again from his illusory shelters by fresh and irresistible waves of life, and will invite upon himself fresh forms of suffering by seeking to protect his separative existence through escape.”[28] What we must grasp, then, in order to realize this imperative, is the sheer vertiginous non-difference between self- and world-transformation, between the abiding experience that will enliven the new integral humanity and the aperspectival culture that shall characterize it. In Vernon Howard’s terms, “To live in another world, be another world.”[29] And it is precisely the incident of human birth, that spontaneous aperspectival flash wherethrough you leapt into world and world sprang from you, which best instructs us in this non-difference, providing a retroactive foretaste of the birth to come, a to-come that yet is only to be realized today. Natality is not futural but directed to the now. Birth’s vector is from and towards the principle of why and how you are here, all the more insistently as “I should not be here” is the very cry of birth. As Meher Baba explained on the occasion of his birthday in 1937:
The incident of birth is common to all life on earth. Unlike other living creatures which are born insignificantly, live an involuntary life and die an uncertain death, the physical birth of human beings connotes an important and, if they are extra circumspect about it, perhaps a final stage of their evolutionary progress. Here onward, they no longer are automatons but masters of their destiny which they can shape and mold according to will. And this means that human beings, having passed through all the travails of lower evolutionary processes, should insist upon the reward thereof, which is ‘Spiritual Birth’ in this very life, and not rest content with a promise in the hereafter.[30]
Who brought you to this point? How did you make it into this form? All I know for certain is that I should not be here. That this world, this time, this space, this self . . . is not my home. To listen to birth with such circumspection, to open your ears to the uncanny silence of its aperspectival spiral, means to recoil on yourself in a very special way, abandoning hope in what the world might give a you who never was and is already dead. To understand this should signifies to groan in the voice of that hearing, to die immortally into that mystical birth which lurks so near in the acosmic core of this world, deeper than all lust and longing, inside the abyss of spontaneous loving surrender. I will therefore now lay down this lecture, for my friends, by recalling Meister Eckhart’s perfectly human description of this birth:
[T]he masters write that in the very instant the material substance of the child is ready in the mother's womb, God at once pours into the body its living spirit which is the soul, the body's form. It is one instant, the being ready and the pouring in . . . You need not seek Him here or there . . . No need to call to Him from afar: He can hardly wait for you to open up. He longs for you a thousand times more than you long for Him: the opening and the entering are a single act.[31]


[1] E. M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Seaver, 1976), 32.
[2] “To be born is both to be born of the world and to be born into the world” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty,
Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith [London: Routledge, 1962], 527).
[3] “Our infancy, indeed, introducing us to this life not with laughter but with tears, seems unconsciously to predict the ills we are to encounter. Zoroaster alone is said to have laughed when he was born, and that unnatural omen portended no good to him. For he is said to have been the inventor of magical arts, though indeed they were unable to secure to him even the poor felicity of this present life against the assaults of his enemies” (Augustine, City of God, XXI.14).
[4] Vernon Howard, Your Power of Natural Knowing (New Life Foundation, 1995), 164.
[5] E. M. Cioran, Trouble with Being Born, 19.
[6] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 271.
[7] Plotinus, Enneads, trans. Stephen MacKenna (Burdett, NY: Larson, 1992), IV.3.9.
[8] Ibid. V.9.14.
[9] John A. Pourtless, “Toward a Plotinian Solution to the Problem of Evil,” Aporia 18 (2008):13-4.
[10] Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. A. Hofstadter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 104.
[11] Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York: Random House, 1955), 766-7n68.
[12] John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio II, d.3, n.251, quoted in John Duns Scotus, Early Oxford Lecture on Individuation, trans. Allan B. Wolter (St. Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute, 2005), xxi.
[13] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.74.
[14] Giorgio Agamben, Profanations, trans. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone, 2007), 10.
[15] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 2nd edition (New York: Dodd & Mead, 1973), 5. Cf. “Hence when God acquires a particular form, body or sharir according to particular impressions, He feels and experiences Himself as that particular form, body or sharir. God in His stone-form experiences Himself as stone. Accordingly, in consonance with impressions and their consciousness, God feels and experiences that He is metal, vegetation, worm, fish, bird, animal or human being. Whatever be the type of the gross form and whatever be the shape of the form, the evolving consciousness of God tends God spontaneously to associate Himself with that form, figure and shape which tends Him to experience Himself through impressions that He is that form, figure and shape. Similarly, when God is conscious of the subtle body (i.e., the pran) then God experiences the subtle world and regards Himself as the subtle body or pran. Likewise, God becomes conscious of the mental body (i.e., the mana or the mind), experiences the mental world and regards Himself as the mental body or the mana (i.e., the mind). It is only because of impressions that the infinite God, the Over-Soul, without form and infinite, experiences that He is veritably but a finite gross body in the gross sphere (i.e., the jiv-atma in anna bhuvan), or a subtle body in the subtle sphere (i.e., i.e., the jiv-atma in anna bhuvan), or a mental body in the mental sphere (i.e., the jiv-atma in the mano bhuvan). God, while experiencing the gross world through gross forms, associates with and dissociates from innumerable gross forms. The association with and dissociation from gross forms are called ‘birth’ and ‘death,’ respectively. It is because of impressions that the eternal, immortal, formless God, or the Over-Soul, without births and deaths, has to experience births and deaths a number of times. While God has to experience these innumerable births and deaths because of impressions, He has not only to experience the gross world which is finite and therefore false, but together with it He has also to experience its happiness and misery, its virtue and vice. All forms, figures and shapes, all worlds and planes, all births and deaths, all virtue and vice, all happiness and misery, experienced by God, Who is eternal, formless and infinite, are the outcome of impressioned consciousness. Since all impressions are but the outcome of the Nothing that manifested as the Nothingness, it means that whatever God experiences through His evolved consciousness in the gross, subtle and mental worlds is the experience of the Nothing; and as this Nothing by nature is nothing, therefore all the experiences in the intermediary illusory states of God are nothing but literally illusion and, as such, false and finite. Only when the impressioned consciousness is freed from all impressions is liberation or mukti in human form attained as nirvana or fana, where only consciousness ‘Is’ and where all else of the Nothing, which was as Nothingness, vanishes forever” (154-5).
[16] Robert Desnos, Mourning for Mourning (Atlas Press, 1992), 50. I thank Alina Popa for leading me to this passage.
[17] Emmanuel Levinas, On Escape, trans. Bettina Bergo (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 55.
[18] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 131.
[19] LM, 4055.
[20] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 424
[21] LM, 4388
[22] LM, 4388
[23] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 213.
[24] See Nicola Masciandaro, “Mysticism or Mystification?: Against Subject-Creationism,“ English Language Notes 50 (2012): 253-58.
[25] LM, 643
[26] Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing, 55.
[27] Meher Baba, Listen Humanity, chapter 4, my italics.
[28] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.21.
[29] Vernon Howard, Cosmic Command, #1243.
[30] LM, 1788
[31] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 58.

Monday, August 25, 2014

True Detection

A collection of philosophical and critical essays on the television series True Detective. 

"Traditionally, the detective genre deals with the problem of epistemology – how to know something that one doesn't know. There are some things we cannot know, and some things we should not know. Sometimes clues just give way to more clues, and epistemic tedium rules the day. These essays reveal knowledge becoming an enigma to itself, revealing the brilliant futility of the epistemological project." – Eugene Thacker, author of In The Dust of This Planet 

"The television event of the year - I would say many years - is without doubt True Detective. One deserving of forensic, unflinching, and unrelenting philosophical treatment." – Simon Critchley 

"The most intelligent series in TV history has opened strange crypts for explorers. This excellent essay collection reveals just how far the dark tunnels lead. Let it coax you from the comforts of death and fear, into detection of the guttering nightmare that is life, coldly seen." – Nick Land 


I. Black Stars
Gary J. Shipley – Monster at the End: Pessimism’s Locked Rooms and Impossible Crimes
Edia Connole – Contemplating the Crucifixion: Cohle and Divine Gloom
Nicola Masciandaro – I Am Not Supposed To Be Here: Birth and Mystical Detection

II. Separate From Itself
Fintan Neylan – The Labour of the Pessimist: Detecting Expiration’s Artifice 
Paul J. Ennis – The Atmospherics of Consciousness
Ben Woodard – Nothing Grows in the Right Direction: Scaling the Life of the Negative

III. There Was A Videotape 
Niall McCann – True Detective, Jean-Luc Godard and Our Image Culture: ‘This May Well be Heaven, this Hell Smells the Same’
Daniel Fitzpatrick –  ‘True Dick’ . . . The Accelerated Acceptance and Premature Canonisation of True Detective

IV. It’s Just One Story
Scott Wilson – The Nonsense of Detection: Truth Between Science and the Real
Erin K. Stapleton – The Corpse is the Territory: The Body of Dora Kelly Lange in True Detective 
Caoimhe Doyle & Katherine Foyle – The Flat Devil Net: Mapping Quantum Narratives in True Detective
Daniel Colucciello Barber – Affect Has No Story

V.  And Closure–No, No, No
Dominic Fox – koyntly bigyled
Charlie Blake, Daniel Colucciello Barber, Edia Connole, Paul J. Ennis, Gary J. Shipley – Bird Trap
Edge to Edge
Caoimhe Doyle & Katherine Foyle – The Chole Story

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bezna 5

Bezna 5 makes an ouroboric move of plunging into itself ('Bezna' in Romanian means consistent darkness + diffuse fear). Bezna 5 is darkly glowing dead thinking, cosmic pessimism, hairy autonomy, limbo sighs, horrendous pink volumes, underground nematodes, happy dismemberment, haunting prehumanism, glowing horror, sinister moods, eternal stillness, future plague, idiot nonknowing and news from Cioran.

Emil Cioran – The Book of Delusions (fragments)
Nicola Masciandaro – Following the Sigh
Alina Popa – Dead Thinking
Florin Flueras – Dead Thinking
Deanna Khamis – The Stillness of Eternity
Ben Woodard – The Horrendous Instantiation of a Homogeneous Pink Volume
Amy Ireland – Digital Dismemberment: Twitter, Death by A Thousand Cuts
Eugene Thacker – Cosmic Pessimism
Irina Gheorghe – A Short History of the Vague
Anastasia Jurescu – Puff. A Rolled Protuberant Mass of Hair
Cosima Opartan – Left Handedness
Dylan Trigg – The Prehuman Earth
Francis Russell – Underground? In Praise of Gnathostomiasis
Stefan Tiron – Glow Baby Glow
Sarah Jones – In Darkness
Dorothee Neumann – A-Ă-Â
Aulos – From the Under-Chambers of the Mind
Liviu Diaconesei – Black Golden Skulls
Mihai Lukacs – Plagued. The Fear of Theory
Bogdan Drăgănescu – Praise of Nonknowing

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sufficient Unto the Day: Sermones Contra Solicitudinem

The writings in this volume are bound by desire to refuse worry, to reject and throw it away the only way possible, by means that are themselves free from worry. If this is impossible—all the more reason to do so. 

I. The Sweetness (of the Law)
 II. Nunc Dimittis: Getting Anagogic
 III. Half Dead: Parsing Cecilia
IV. Wormsign
V. Gourmandized in the Abattoir of Openness
VI. Grave Levitation: Being Scholarly
VII. Labor, Language, Laughter: Aesop and the Apophatic Human
VIII. This is Paradise: The Heresy of the Present
IX. Becoming Spice: Commentary as Geophilosophy
X. Amor Fati: A Prosthetic Gloss
XI. Following the Sigh

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Silence: A Darkness to Ward Off All Spells

In fact, there is only God and me. His silence invalidates us both.
– E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints

Whenever [Meher] Baba went to a movie, it was his usual habit, no matter how good the film, to watch part of it, then stand up and walk out.[1]

Let us die, then, and enter into this darkness. Let us impose silence upon all cares, desires, and phantasms.
– Saint Bonaventure, Journey of the Mind into God 

A Constellation of Silence
On 12 December 1934, seventy five years to the day before the first Black Metal Theory symposium in 2009 and nine years into his self-imposed and never-broken silence, Meher Baba arrived in New York City on the Majestic, at that time the largest ship in the world. In the days previous it was made clear that he “did not wish to meet any outsiders while in New York – no new persons, no interviews and no publicity.”[2] There would be no headlines like the one in the New York Times two years before, “A Silent Seer Comes to Arouse Americans: Shri Meher Baba, Who Has Lived Seven Years Plunged In Thought, Teaches Disciples by Means Of Signs.”[3] A group of reporters and photographers attempting to enter his cabin before disembarkation were asked to leave and eventually dispersed. “Immigration officials tried to make him talk. But he just smiled.”[4] This was a period of work on the unrealized cosmological film project How It All Happened, the directions for which begin, “Show a calm, still, Shoreless Ocean of most dazzling light. Limitless, it has no space above it.”[5] The day’s activities included a meeting between Meher Baba, his disciple and silent film actress Norina Matchabelli, Hungarian film producer and director Gabriel Pascal, and German playwright and screenwriter Karl Vollmöller. In the evening, Baba and his close companions went to Radio City Music Hall, at that time the largest cinema in the world. At one moment on the following day, Meher Baba, silently texting on his alphabet board, said to a dumbstruck Spinozist philosopher, “Things that are real are given and received in silence.”[6]  

The Rest
            Silence is the largest theater and the most majestic ship, the space of most distant translations and closest communications. Cinema is cinema, the place of its own movement, on the grounds of willful silence—‘Please refrain from talking during the movie’—and the perfection of silence is glimpsed in the limitless ocean on the other side of a screen:

Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle,           
e questa siepe, che da tanta parte  
dell'ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati
spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
silenzi, e profondissima quiete
io nel pensier mi fingo; ove per poco
il cor non si spaura.[7]
Always dear to me was this lonely hill, and this hedgerow, which from so much of the ultimate horizon, excludes the view. But sitting and gazing, unending spaces beyond and superhuman silences and profoundest quiet I seem to see in thought, until my heart is almost afraid.

Silence is the rest. It is all that is left and everything that remains from the infinite beyond all the way up into each thing whose sight prevents us from seeing it. Silence is the quiet wherein repetition repeats the unending, all that is left and everything that remains from the infinite beyond all the way up into each thing whose hearing prevents us from hearing it. As place of the giving and receiving of the real, silence holds the transaction of truth, the sound of the setting aside of fictions, or rather seeing through them. Full of patient even painful silence is the moment when unmasking coincides with seeing the truth of the dream. Dante writes: “It happened that almost in the middle of my sleep I seemed to see sitting alongside in my room a young man dressed in the whitest garments; and with the aspect of one deep in thought he gazed at me where I lay; and when he had looked at me awhile, he seemed to call me, sighing, and spoke these words: Fili mi, tempus est ut pretermictantur simulacra nostra [My son, it is time to do away with our simulacra]. I then seemed to recognize him, for he called me as in my dreams he had often called me before; and as I watched him, he seemed to me to be weeping piteously and seemed to await some word from me” (Vita Nuova).[8] So in Leopardi’s poem there is symmetry between imaginatively seeing in anchoritic repose all that is screened from view by the local boundary and perceiving the infinite in the figment of its image at the cordial threshold of fear, where external expanses are expanded beyond perception by the enclosure which bounds their seeing to the imagination. A Spell similarly casts our gaze into vistaless vistas, but in an ambivalent, inversive manner such that what is felt beyond the horizon—a horizon that itself often feels too local and close—is less the vertiginous outside of cosmic nature as the shoreless planetary sprawl of the anthropocene. The horizons of this film are not dear in the Romantic sense of the proximate sublime; the line of their arbitrariness is not shot through with the Infinite, but permeated by wayward temporariness, by the inauthenticities of contemporary human dwelling. Here horizon attracts more in its claustrophobic aspect, by being a boundary within which one cannot stay and across which one must stray because remaining only generates more noise. “The present state of the world,” wrote Kierkegaard, “and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence! Bring men to silence.” This is the protagonist’s path. What is art if it does not silence? If it does not unveil the unmoving threshold where what it refers to is actually there, opening the eye in which nature is imagination itself?[9]   

Without Being Moved
            Cinema occurs in silence. Silence is the moving place of cinema’s screen, its immanent beyond. Observe how entering film is a question of facing silence vis-à-vis movement, of being able to be silent insofar as it moves or not being able to be silent as it does not. Correlatively, silences of cinema are awkward and/or sublime, aesthetically spelling a movie’s death and reduction to mere film and/or resurrecting its animation to life and the waking of consciousness to its own cinematic structure—those magic moments in Plato’s cave where the self-forgetful souls secretly recognize by means of the total projection itself their own enchaining enchantment and in that silent unshared flash of common mystical insight escape everything without going anywhere. Cinema’s infinite and absolutely literal truth, the truth that suspends it over the depth of its own silence, is that one is in cinema. As Meher Baba said to some Bollywood celebrities in 1958, “For better or for worse, the world of motion pictures has grown extensively within the larger world of so-called realities. But the film world is not foreign to the ‘real’ world—the two are affiliated so intimately that they can be seen essentially to be made of the same fabric.”[10] Whatever is given and received in cinema happens upon this supremely actual and invisible screen, woven from the imaginal ‘stuff of dreams,’ the universal medium or barzakh of experience through which anything is seen. “For when you perceive it and are intelligent,” writes Ibn Arabi, “you will know that you have perceived an ontological thing upon which your eyes have fallen. But you will know for certain by proofs that there is nothing there in origin and root. So what is this thing for which you have affirmed an ontological thingness and from which you have negated that thingness in the state of your affirming it?”[11] It is the space within-around all words and general line touching all forms wherethrough the whole world, the entire cosmic show, is per force a silent movie.[12] To see this is to resist and quiet the anxious excitement of subject-object relation, to rest in desisting from the correlation, drifting in the simplicity of a first, unmoved mover (akinēton kinoun) or non-cinematic cinema where “thought thinks on itself because it shares the nature of the object of thought; for it becomes an object of thought in coming into contact with and thinking its objects, so that thought and object of thought are the same” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1072b). This is the one place where the quantum law of the mirror, of simultaneous correlative movement, does not hold: “And the object of desire and the object of thought move in this way; they move without being moved” (Ibid., 1072a). Here is the cinematic mirror itself, as Meher Baba continued to explain to the movie people, “In the film world, the actor has to think, feel and act according to the pattern held before him—to mirror, though temporarily, the personality of the character being portrayed by him. This can be said to be true to a considerable extent of those outside the world of motion pictures who struggle to follow the conventional pattern of living as they imagine it is expected of them, even if it cramps their inner individual expression. This is so not only figuratively but literally. While looking in the mirror, people often see themselves more through the eyes of others than through their own. The reflected image evokes in their minds the impression they will make on others and the expectations which others have of them—and the best that most can do is to try to look the part they play. Thus, the mirror literally and figuratively has become such a seemingly indispensable part of modern life that we might almost name this age a mirror-civilization.”[13]
Yes And No
            The conspicuous motif of the mirror in A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness concerns the reality of the imaginal, which lives like silence in the middle, third domain of yes and no. As Max Picard observes, the image is interface between silence and language: “Images are silent, but they speak in silence. They are a silent language . . . They stand on the frontier where silence and language face each other closer than anywhere else.”[14] This subtle stuff of dreams filling the space between the corporeal and the intellectual mystically forms the immanent portal to the superessential Reality which is neither yes nor no, that is, the superlatively dark divine Truth which Dionysius says is “beyond assertion and denial”[15] and which is dramatized in the answering non-answering and non-answering answering of the God-Man: “‘Have you no answer to make? . . . But Jesus was silent” (Matt. 26:62-3); “‘Are you the Son of God, then?’ And he said to them, ‘You say that I am’” (Luke 22:70). Correlatively: “This event is so utterly extraordinary and so much against the experience of reason and against everything the eye has seen, that man is not able to make response to it in words. A layer of silence lies between this event and man, and in this silence man approaches the silence that surrounds God Himself.”[16] The silence of God as Man is the mirror in which the unseeable divinity of the human appears, the Narcissus-species of the Man-God. Silence fulfills the infinite reflective order of things, as per the conclusion of William Blake’s There is NO Natural Religion: “He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only. Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.”[17] It is specular place where the absolute yes and no of God-become-Man—Man’s own paradoxically perfect appearance as other-than-Man—becomes the inevitable impossibility of Man becoming God, so that against the religious blindness of believing in God, which guarantees not seeing Him, the will to see God is necessarily defined by affirmative denial and negative affirmation—Eckhart’s “I pray to God to make me free of God”[18]—in keeping with the the yes-and-no structure of the mirror, as explicated by Ibn Arabi: “Imagination is neither existent nor non-existent, neither known nor unknown, neither negated nor affirmed. For example, a person perceives his form in a mirror. He knows for certain that he has perceived his form in one respect and he knows for certain that he has not perceived his form in another respect. . . . He cannot deny that he has seen his form, and he knows that his form is not in the mirror, nor is it between himself and the mirror. . . . Hence he is neither a truth teller nor a liar in his words, ‘I saw my form, I did not see my form.’”[19] Proportionally, the cephalophore or head-bearing saint, a figure for the neither-oneself-nor-someone else[20] mystical subject who exits the self/world correlation and survives the absolute specular decapitation of entering Reality’s mirror, represents the third thing beyond the silence/speech boundary. As David Williams observes, “headlessness  . . . suggests, above all, silence, the removal of the body’s locus of speech. Thus the severed head that speaks compounds the monstrosity by adding a contradiction to it: the cephalophore represents speech in silence and silence in speech.”[21] These are the essential terms in which to understand Lowe’s silence-breaking scream near the film’s end, as a deafening silent word emergent from the severed head—corpse paint being an imaginal deadening of the face which restores head itself to the status of spirit mask. Having passed away into the self-dissolving flame of the silent universal mirror, the entity mystically remerges through unheard-of sound, only to be given back to himself by the mirror in the post-performance scene of auto-unmasking. This last act, placed before the final walking off into the dark night whose city-lit waters inversely reflect the beginning, is the penultimate summit of the film’s process, its summit as penultimacy or non-arriving arrival as per Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s definition: “Transcendental black metal sacralizes the penultimate moment . . . because it has been found that there is nothing after the penultimate moment. The penultimate moment is the final moment. The fabric of existence is open. There is nothing that is complete; there is nothing that is pure.”[22] Yet penultimacy, the almost ultimate, by its own logic, is not something that properly can be sacralized or set apart as transcendant and inviolable—which is clearly part of the idea. For if there is nothing complete, nothing pure, nothing absolutely perfect, no real summit, the penultimate is itself nothing but an optimal next, another false summit that, saved from having to be true, serves as the true one for the moment. Yet the next is precisely the hallucinatory or phantasmatic medium of affirmation’s reduction to hype, excitement, anticipation and thus humanity’s most perversely precious term of endless delusion and instantly pre-emptive self-destruction: “Anything you look forward to will destroy you, as it already has” (Vernon Howard). Therefore the transcendental affirmation of the penultimate, being in danger of sliding into that strange inverse apostasy of the faithlessly faithful, of the seeker who calls perilous lostness adventure and loves searching above finding, stands in need of comparison to the traditional understanding of the complete and pure as spiritually discoverable without closure, indeed, as found in an openness that is only disclosed by finding that there is in fact an ultimate. As Eriugena says, “since that which human nature seeks and toward which it tends, whether it moves in the right or the wrong direction, is infinite and not to be comprehended by any creature, it necessarily follows that its quest is unending and that therefore it moves forever. And yet although its search is unending, by some miraculous means it finds what it is seeking for: and again it does not find it, for it cannot be found.”[23] And Augustine: “Seek his face always, [Psalm 104.4], let not the finding of the beloved put an end to the love-inspired search; but as love grows, so let the search for the one already found become more intense.”[24] In other words, transcendent penultimacy is found all the more so on the fact that it has not been found that there is nothing after the penultimate moment. The silent ending of A Spell confirms this, as I see it.   

Sound of the Mirror
The first mirror in A Spell is the dark mirroring lake of the opening shot (and its continuing permutations) which, in panning horizontal accord with the spontaneously emergent song, visually mimics a sound wave being played. “And darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:12). Such is the headless cinematic gaze of what is creating universe by projectively seeing it into being and being it into seeing. Whose eye is this? Meister Eckhart says, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love.”[25] Can your gaze encompass the monstrous circle of the Abyss whose depth forever gazes more deeply into you, the terrible circuit of eternal honesty? Of Meher Baba’s silence, Charles Purdom wrote, “Is it not terrifying that Baba should have maintained silence all these nearly forty years? For silence is the abyss, or the very edge of the abyss. In the ordinary way in silence we come dangerously near the gap of meaninglessness, in which nothing has a name or a rightful place. To me it is astonishing that a man should look into the darkness so long, and should live.”[26] From within the specular faciality of the first scene, sound comes like a spontaneous echo of abyssic silence and thus a dissonance which births a third thing, something unheard of. The monstrous birth is music, Schopenhauer’s “true and complete image of the essence of the world, which continues to roll on and maintain itself in the vast confusion of innumerable forms and through constant destruction.”[27] The musical is the form-relation between silence and sound whose becoming immediately becomes more than itself, the emergent excessive third whereby world is maintained whether you will or no at once beyond and in the duality of affirmation and negation via the temporal procession of creation (yes), preservation (yes and no), and destruction (no). Whence the filmmaker’s inaugural insertion of the flame-triangle frame within fire’s appearance from its own sound—an alchemical symbol of its own substance that thus allegorizes cinema itself as the world-frame. Repeating the first opening of the world or world-as-opening, the image re-occurs at each phase-transition in the film, three times in total before vanishing without vanishing in the final black silence which holds it all along. The virtual non-appearance of the image in the final transition signals the ultimate acosmic not yes nor no—both Mahapralaya, “the final annihilation of the world, when the world becomes what it was in the beginning, namely nothing,”[28] and the unveiling of a fourth world beyond the triplex domain of this one, which is composed of the nested intersection of gross, subtle, and mental spheres, or in Meillassoux’s terms, matter, life, and thought.[29] Yet so much about the film—the apotropaic title, its iconization of the temporal-processual triangle, its respectable atmosphere and elision of brutality (Stone’s Severed Ways [2007] and Herzog’s Happy People [2010] are appropriate fictional and documentary counterpoints)—seems to betray a spiritual fidelity to the preservational, a desire to hold on to and perpetuate the possibilities of this-worldly life, the circular human chains of horizontal being, and thus some kind of delay of or indifference towards what stands outside the temporal count of things. This is confirmed by the parallel statements in the published synopses, which define the film as “a direct inquiry into what it means to lead a spiritual existence in an increasingly secular world” and “a radical proposition for the existence of utopia in the present”—statements whose obeisance to the anthropic cultural-historical frame impossibilizes the traditional significance of their privileged terms, which concern the eternal, that which stands beyond time and space. That the film obviously and deliberately fails to demonstrate within itself this meaning or proposition, that it is darkly and intentionally symptomatic of itself in this way, means that A Spell is more truly a statement on silence as the darkness to ward off all spells, that its truth is expressed insofar as it strongly quiets itself against human delusion, namely, the primal ideology of separate and finite identity which is rooted in identification with time and language, the nexus of the word spell.[30] Neither inquiry nor proposition, the film is more properly a spelling of silence. Silence is the mirror A Spell provides for simultaneously seeing through its own mask and yours, for glimpsing the cinema that holds them both in place. This is why all of the movie’s three literal mirror scenes, one for each phase, are involved with face paint, with the non-masking mask and alter-self one projects into the world without fooling anyone but oneself, the see-through spell of identity or person (from per-sonare, what is sounded through a mask in the theater). Where the first mask, a fantasy of being someone, is the mask applied to the child by society, the second, a counter-mask of being no one, is the self-applied fiction whose negativity releases one into the third, cephalophoric stage of being neither someone nor no one. The authenticity of A Spell is that it masks itself in silence, in an image truer than itself, and thus casts the truth that is found only, and only found, in no longer being oneself, i.e. you.  

A Triangle of Silence
The three-part dialectical progression of A Spell (commune à solitude à black metal scene) unveils the question of silence as an intensive, darkening invalidation of discursive human identity, an increasingly powerful warding off of its terrible psychic spell. In the first stage, silence is a presence hovering within and without human conversation, disclosing it’s essentially hallucinatory, centrifugal, and hypocritical structure. Everything that is said within this phase, however meaningful or senseless, is absorbed and cancelled by the parallel silence of camera and protagonist. Here silence is something erasing human identity from within human nature itself. In the second stage, silence is what haunts human self-presence and aloneness in the minute and expansive forms of the external world. All of the natural and cultural objects of human attention here appear submerged in silence, existing within their own kind of visible yet inaccessible stasis, so that the movements of the protagonist communicate arbitrariness and absence of purpose beyond whatever is necessary to maintain stillness. Here silence is a planetary-cosmic presence cancelling the human centripetally from without. In the third stage, silence is what secretly unnames the human inside the negativity of its own desperate self-representation, in the shared a-community of musical non-belonging. This is a deeper and higher vertical silence, a positive world-silencing silence heard in music’s negativity as a force driving logos into itself, into the unlying inner word—pure yes/no—described by Augustine as follows: “this word cannot be uttered in sound nor thought in the likeness of sound, such as might be done with the word of any language; it precedes all the signs by which it is signified, and is begotten by the knowledge which remains in the mind when this same knowledge is spoken inwardly, just as it is.”[31] Here silence is a third presence cancelling the human identity from beyond internal and external nature, at points of impossible unity between center and periphery. Simply: the silence directly seen within the reflective human face, in some more than others.

Superior Modality of the Void
“If we see things black, it is because we weigh them in the dark, because thoughts are generally the fruit of sleeplessness, consequently of darkness. They cannot adapt to life because they have not been thought with a view to life. The notion of the consequences they might involve doesn’t even occur to the mind. We are beyond all human calculation, beyond any notion of salvation or perdition, of being or non-being, we are in a particular silence, a superior modality of the void.”[32] Such is the thought of Black Metal, the thought which Black metal is. What, then, the formal relation of Black Metal to silence? I will conclude with the sketch of a theory and its application to A Spell.
First, let us distinguish between the active and passive ways in which Black Metal figurally invokes silence. The passive form of Black Metal silence is that which belongs to the astral depths, inhuman cosmic domains. It is the oppressive and misanthropic silence that falls upon man from the vast alterity of nature, silence which speaks the nightmare of being. This is the silence out of which Black Metal rants and moans like a derelict suicidal ghost. Example: Striborg, “Beyond the Shadow of Silence,” Nefaria / A Tragic Journey Towards the Light (Displeased Records, 2006). This passive form of Black Metal silence is the modern shadow and inversion of the traditional cosmos as silently speaking the divine glory: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalms 19:1-4). The active form of Black Metal silence is that which pertains to apocalypse and the anti-human earth. It is the peaceful and deathly silence that fills the world when all enemies, or life itself, is finally destroyed, silence which sings in the absence of all hearing. This is the silence towards which Black Metal shouts and screams like a satano-fascist warrior. Example: “Silence fell / Upon the earth / All gods were dead / We killed them first . . . A silence planet / All life erased” (Gehenna, “Silence the Earth,” WW [Moonfog Productions, 2005]). The active form of Black Metal silence is the shadow of that towards which divine wrath is ordered: “Their way has become painful to me, / By day I cannot rest, by night I cannot sleep; / I will destroy (them) and put an end to their way, / That silence be established, and then let us sleep!”[33] Black Metal circulates between these two ideas of silence, one freezing and the other burning, turning them within one sonic image.
Music effects silence by sounding the materiality of thought. It manifests silence by means of the suspension of thought’s structural mechanicity, exposing the space between one thought and the next whose continuity is time. Expanding and contracting time, silence is absorbed and released in mutations of thought’s materiality that bring into presence its immanent beyond. Accordingly, silence is produced in six ways which correspond to the six types of transformation or phase changes among the three states of matter (gas, liquid, solid). Silence is analogous to the inverse of the presence of heat in these phase changes. It is what is absorbed and released by them as thought, binding its time to sound, allows itself to change shape. Silence is released in the melting, evaporation, and sublimation of thought. Silence is absorbed in the condensation, freezing, and deposition of thought. Melting silence: music produces this silence by loosening thought-space, untying the noetic joint, softening the gap between thought and thought. Here silence emerges from the smooth flows of thought. Evaporative silence: music produces this silence by dilating thought-space, stretching open the noetic joint, loosening the gap between thought and thought. Here silence emerges in airy cloud forms of suspended thought. Sublimative silence: music produces this silence by exploding thought-space, blasting the noetic joint, momentarily destroying the gap between thought and thought. Here silence emerges as the instant flight of individual shards of thought. Condensing silence: music produces this silence by closing thought-space, shrinking the noetic joint, touching thought to thought. Here silence emerges as the gravitational falling of thoughts. Freezing silence: music produces this silence by bonding thought-space, fixing the noetic joint, fastening the gap between thought and thought. Here silence emerges as the immobility of thoughts. Depositive silence: music produces this silence by imploding thought-space, collapsing the noetic joint, instantly growing the gap between thought and thought. Here silence emerges in form of the crystalline film of thought. The three domains of these six phase changes correlate with the three principal form of Black Metal (Profane, Melancholic, and Occult) [34] as follows.

As the three states of matter (gas, liquid, solid) also reflect the three universal worlds (mental, subtle, gross), the six forms of silence correspond to the six products of thought, feeling, and sound (feeling of thought, sound of feeling, feeling of sound, thought of feeling, sound of thought, thought of sound).

The three stages of A Spell are present in the diagram as the three tangent-vectors of increasing length localized around the liquid state of feeling, as per the film’s scenic emphasis upon water. The first two constitute the movement of profanation which culminates in the burning of the hut-church of human cultural dwelling. The third shows the passage towards the fourth world via evaporative silence. Further than that we cannot go. All other details and aspects of the diagram I will pass over in . . . .


[1] LM, 1663 ( Cf. “Baba would often say he wished to go to the movies to contact the spectators internally. Immediately after his work was over, he would get up and leave. Those who accompanied him had often become engrossed in the film's story but had no choice other than to leave with him” (Ibid., 1570).  
[2] LM, 1648.
[3] New York Times, 24 April 1932: XX7.
[4] LM, 1648.
[5] Meher Baba’s Early Messages to the West: The 1932-1935 Western Tours (North Myrtle Beach, SC:
[6] LM, 1654. Asked about the possibility of any kind of fortuitous connection between this statement and Spinoza, Daniel Colucciello Barber replied, “That makes sense—in Spinoza's terms, human fictions create causal purposes and in doing so make things contingent upon the fiction. Human fictions thus preclude seeing things as they really are, and so I take silence as meaning  a refusal to speak such fictions” (email correspondence, 5 March 2014). Keeping silence works to erase the illusion of agency, as per the passiveness of the construction “things . . . given and received.” There is a giving and a receiving, but where the Real is transacted, who is the giver and who the receiver?
[7] Giacomo Leopardi, Canti, trans. Jonathan Galassi (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010), 106.
[8] Dante, Vita Nuova, trans. Dino S. Cervigni and Edward Vasta (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 12:3-4.
[9] “But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself” (William Blake, The Complete Poetry & Prose, ed. David V. Erdman [New York: Doubleday, 1988], 702). “The work of art does not simply refer to something, because what it refers to is actually there" (Hans-Georg Gadamer Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful, 35).
[10] LM, 4350.
[11] Meccan Illuniations, 304.16, cited in William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-Arabi’s Metaphysics of the Imagination (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 118.
[12] Cf. Oleg Tcherny, La Linea Generale (2010).
[13] LM, 4350.
[14] Max Picard, The World of Silence (South Bend, IN: Gateway, 1952), 80.
[15] Pseudo-Dionysius, Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 141.
[16] Max Picard, World of Silence, 228.
[17] William Blake, The Complete Poetry & Prose, 3.
[18] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 424.
[19] Meccan Illuniations, 304.16, cited in Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, 118.
[20] “Here, being neither oneself not someone else, one is supremely united by a completely unknowing inactivity of all knowledge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing” (Pseudo-Dionysius, Complete Works, 137).
[21] David Williams, Deformed Discourse (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996), 307.
[22] Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, “Transcendental Black Metal,” in Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium, ed. Nicola Masciandaro (New York: np, 2010), 63.
[23] Eriugena, Periphyseon, PL 122:919, translation cited from Bernard McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism: Gregory the Great through the 12th Century (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 118.
[24] Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, trans. Maria Boulding, 6 vols. [Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2003], VI.186
[25] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, trans. Maurice O’C. Walshe (New York: Herder & Herder, 2009), Sermon 57. “The created world . . . is the vision of God—in both senses of the genitive, for the world is theophany, or self-showing of God, created in and through God’s seeing of it and of himself in it. And the created human, in its relation to the theophanic creation, sees itself as seen by the God who creates by seeing” (Thomas A. Carlson, The Indiscrete Image: Infinitude and the Creation of the Human [Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008], 94).
[26] C. B. Purdom, The God-Man (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1964), 413.
[27] Arthur Schopenhauer, The World As Will and Presentation, trans. David Carus and Richard E. Aquila, 2 vols. (Boston: Prentice Hall, 2011), II.507.
[28] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.45-6.
[29] Quentin Meillassoux, “The Immanence of the World Beyond” in The Grandeur of Reason: Religion, Tradition, and Universalism, ed. Conor Cunningham and Peter Candler (London: SCM Press, 2010), 444-478
[30] “Identity is the primal form [Urform] of ideology” (Theodor Adorno).
[31] Augustine, On the Trinity, ed. Gareth B. Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), XV.20.
[32]  E. M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born.
[33] Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: A Complete Translation of All the Published Cuneiform Tablets of the Various Babylonian Creation Stories (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 19
[34] See Nicola Masciandaro, “Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya,” in Hideous Gnosis (New York: n.p., 2010), 90n41.