Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pessimism's Limbo [excerpt from "Following the Sigh"]

Pessimism exits paradoxically from philosophy by taking its sigh seriously, by recognizing the seriousness of philosophy’s not knowing its own sighing. “I turned away from philosophy,” writes Cioran, “when it became impossible to discover in Kant any human weakness, any authentic accent of melancholy [tristesse].”[1] Pessimism saves itself from philosophy by falling for the sigh that is philosophy’s hell, escaping philosophy by entering and exiting philosophy as hell. As Dante’s Virgil says of the eternal home of Plato, Aristotle, and other pagan philosophers: “Not for doing, but for not doing, have I lost the sight of the high Sun that you desire and that was known to me too late. A place there is below, not sad with torments but with darkness only, where the lamentations sound not as wailings, but are sighs” (Purgatorio 7.25). Pessimism finds a new alter-Limbo, a paradoxically inside and outside border (limbus) where thought, falling for the sigh, becomes a strange and incomplete hybrid of itself, a thought that sighs, a sigh that thinks. The thinking of a sigh that sighs for itself. The sighing of a thought that thinks itself. Such intellectual falling for the sigh is recorded in two perfectly incomplete epigrams by Cioran, each of which immediately follows an evocation of limbic identity. “To have introduced the sigh into the intellect’s economy . . .”[2] and “To have foundered somewhere between the epigram and the sigh!”[3] The first follows upon a wish for a kind of innocent fatality which synthesizes the earliness and lateness of Limbo’s souls, a desire for prescientific death: “Fortunate those who, born before Science, were privileged to die of their first disease!”[4] The second follows upon a correlative claim of ontological marginality: “I have never taken myself for a being. A non-citizen, a marginal type, a nothing who exists only the excess, by the superabundance of his nothingness.”[5] In contrast to the limbo of philosophy, a virtuously sinful state of omission which fails to go far enough via attachment to its own virtue, pessimism’s sigh communicates an at once forever lost and already inhabited existential limbo of neither doing nor not doing, the axiomatic breath of a being who nearly succeeds at never having been.

[1] E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Arcade, 1949), 47.
[2] E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Arcade, 1983), 68.
[3] E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Seaver, 1973), 176.
[4] E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered, 68.
[5] E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born, 176.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Yes And No [excerpt from 'Silence: A Darkness to Ward Off All Spells']

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.”[i] 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”[ii] 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,” Picard observes, “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.”[iii] 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.”[iv] 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”[v]—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.’”[vi] Proportionally, the cephalophore or head-bearing saint, a figure for the neither-oneself-nor-someone else[vii] 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.”[viii] 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.”[ix] 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.”[x] 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.”[xi] 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.   

[i] Max Picard, The World of Silence (South Bend, IN: Gateway, 1952), 80.
[ii] Pseudo-Dionysius, Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 141.
[iii] Max Picard, World of Silence, 228.
[iv] William Blake, The Complete Poetry & Prose, 3.
[v] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, 424.
[vi] Meccan Illuniations, 304.16, cited in Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, 118.
[vii] “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).
[viii] David Williams, Deformed Discourse (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996), 307.
[ix] Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, “Transcendental Black Metal,” in Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium, ed. Nicola Masciandaro (New York: np, 2010), 63.
[x] 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.
[xi] Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, trans. Maria Boulding, 6 vols. [Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2003], VI.186

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Matter of Sorrow [abstracts]

[for the Congress of Pessimism in Bucharest]

A Matter of Sorrow
Nicola Masciandaro

All men have grounds for sorrow [mater of sorow], but most specially he feels grounds for sorrow who knows and feels that he is. In comparison to this sorrow, all other sorrows are but a game.
Cloud of Unknowing

Two lectures concerning a universal theory of sorrow. Radicalizing Heidegger’s insight that “the being of Da-sein is care [Sorge, sorrow],” I will affirm that sorrow belongs to the simple fact of being. Far from being limited to the evolutionary environment of our terrestrial sphere or the humoral confines of the human, sorrow is more properly a weird kind of cosmic substance composed of all being’s refusal of itself, the intrinsic negation of its own event. Grasping sorrow in these terms does not render actual, particular sorrow irrelevant or merely ontologically atmospheric, but rather redeems sorrow’s palpable darkness from both the hallucinogenic obscurity of affordable, instrumentalized problematicity (sorrow as something to be fixed or solved in the putative self-interest of making everything OK) and base ‘Manichean’ materiality (sorrow as merely an evil ingredient in things). In this theory, sorrow is projectively restored to reality as not only a reflective index, but a perfectible operation of the universal, a way forward into new reality. Everyone knows that “he who increases knowledge, increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Now is time to see the necessity of the obverse: he who does not increase sorrow, does not increase knowledge.

I: The Trouble with Not Being Born

A body came into the world, but it wasn't you. – VH

The overwhelming and inescapable aporia of individuation—why am I me?—is an inevitable actual impossibility whose only ‘answer’ is that you are not. The fact that you are yourself is direct and irreparable proof that ‘you’ do not really exist, never have, and never will. Following E. M. Cioran’s instructions to rid ourselves “of the traces of this scandal [of birth], the most serious and intolerable of all,” this lecture will explicate the falsity of being born in relation to medieval concepts of mystical sorrow and patristic commentary on the crucifixion darkness, when “all creation mourned.” If all goes well, the conclusion of the lecture will coincide with finding yourself on the cross, surrounded by a voidal cosmos whose blackness is at once lamenting your birth and sucking you into the unending paradise of never having been.  

II: Following the Sigh

Becoming is nothing more than a cosmic sigh. – E. M. Cioran

Pessimism’s fidelity to the sigh—“In pessimism, the first axiom is a long, low, funereal sigh” (ET, “Cosmic Pessimism”)—is tied to its secret cosmicity, as if in silent inverse repetition of certain late medieval precedents: “Oltre la spera che piú larga gira / passa ’l sospiro ch’esce del mio core” [Beyond the sphere that widest turns / passes the sigh that exits my heart] (Dante); “Beyond the sphere passeth the arrow of our sigh. Hafiz! Silence” (Hafiz). What is the relation of sigh and cosmos? Where does one touch the other? On the one hand, the sigh, like a live pneumatic form of the soul’s impending exit from a corpse’s mouth, restores consciousness to the general funeral of being, to the passing away that is all existence. On the other hand, the sigh is not deathly exhalation at all, but a stranger kind of being-breathed-in by the cosmos, as if within spirit there were another breath still, inhaled by some larger superessential body that has nothing and/or everything to do with the life of the breather. This lecture takes pessimism as a starting point for following the cosmic sigh via commentary on select verses from Dante’s Vita Nuova, Leopardi’s Canti, and Rasu-Yong Tugen’s Songs from the Black Moon.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

AStWOtD - Live II

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness - Live II

‘What’s interesting about film is not the film, actually.’

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, directed by Ben Rivers and Ben Russell, is quietly connected to the history of Black Metal Theory (BMT), a simultaneously nascent and dying ‘metallectual’ movement that aims to invert, entangle, and reinvent the ordering of thought and music within the blackened continuum of metal and theory. The earliest known formulation of BMT was voiced around the ‘phenomenology’ panel of the first international conference on heavy metal, convened at Salzburg in the winter of 2008. The following winter, the first BMT symposium was held in Brooklyn, NY, resulting in the essay volume HideousGnosis, edited by Nicola Masciandaro. Two similar events followed: Melancology (London, 2011) and P.E.S.T. [Philial Epidemic Strategy Tryst] (Dublin, 2011). The website that announced the symposia defines BMT thus: ‘Not black metal. Not theory. Not not black metal. Not not theory. Black metal theory. Theoretical blackening of metal. Metallic blackening of theory. Mutual blackening. Nigredo in the intoxological crucible of symposia.’ In the wake of these gatherings, other publications have applied and/or reflected upon the BMT principle: Black Metal: Beyond theDarkness, ed. Tom Howells (Black Dog, 2012); Glossator 6: Black Metal, eds. Masciandaro & Negarestani (2012); Helvete: A Journal of Black MetalTheory (2013-); and Nab Saheb & Denys X. Arbaris, Bergmetal: Oro-Emblems of the Musical Beyond (HWORDE, 2014).  

A Spell’s sideways connection to this history is evident generally in the pacific and patently non-kvlt space it creates for the genre and more specifically in its choice of Queequeg for the film’s black metal performance, a collaboration between the film’s lead actor Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (Lichens/OM), Weasel Walter (Flying Luttenbacher/Hatewave), Nick McMaster (Krallice), and Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (Liturgy), whose manifesto ‘Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism’ has been a touchstone of BMT discourse since its first publication in Hideous Gnosis. At the 9th Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, in what was described as the festival’s ‘darkest and most trippy evening. An audiovisual mindfuck from another world and a black mass of monumental dimensions,’ Hunt-Hendrix’s lecture on Transcendental Black Metal formed the introductory component in a tripartite evening program curated by Rivers and Russell entitled ‘A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness - Live.’ Characterized as ‘an intriguing confluence of curation, criticism and practice,’ this program offered ‘an oblique sneak preview’ of Ben & Ben’s upcoming collaboration in the form of an ‘annotated riff’ on A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness. Continuing the structure of this event, according to the film’s three principal sequences, Darklight will apply insights of BMT to further expansion, dilation, and blackening of the film’s significance on the occasion of its Dublin debut. A true symposium or discursive together-drinking (sym-posium), ‘A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness - Live II’ will conjure itself in the form of three hours of bleak speculation, loving commentary, and intoxicated pedagogy, under the aegises of Solitude, Community and Phenomenology:

Under the aegis of ‘Solitude,’ and addressing what has in relation to this section of the film been described as ‘a beautiful loneliness,’ Paul. J. Ennis will present ‘Bleak Theory.’ Much less a philosophy than a disposition, what he calls ‘an aesthetic impulse’—an attempt to ‘outbleak black’ that emerged out of P.E.S.T. (Dublin, 2011)—Ennis’s bleak theory captures the solitude and misanthropy characterizing the second wave of Norwegian Black metal, and will speak to Rivers’s interest in the power of landscape freed from context to immerse observers in the mysteries of the natural world (previously addressed with Two Years at Sea).

Paul J. Ennis completed his PhD in Philosophy at University College Dublin. He is the author of Continental Realism (Zero Books, 2011), co-editor, with Peter Gratton, of the Meillassoux Dictionary (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming 2014) and co-editor, with Tziovanis Georgakis, of Twenty-First Century Heidegger (Springer, forthcoming 2014).

Under the aegis of ‘Community,’ and addressing the transition from solitude to collectivity immanent in the third wave of US Black metal and the original vision for the film, Edia Connole will answer the all important question ‘What is Black Metal Theory?’ by explaining the communal concept of love as it is taken-up and understood by Black metal theorists through medieval mystical exegesis, wherein all knowledge is understood to be knowledge acquired through love, per amorem agnoscimus. In exposing the instrumentality of Nicola Masciandaro to the transmission of this idea and its expression, Connole will speak to Russell’s interest in magnifying the nuances of cultural evolution (most prominently illustrated in Let Each One Go Where He May).

Edia Connole is the author of ‘What is Black Metal Theory?’ in P.E.S.T., eds. Michael O’Rourke and Karin Sellberg (forthcoming 2014) and co-author, with Scott Wilson, of ‘“[os mentis] mouth to mouth” with Nicola Masciandaro,’ in Weaponising Speculation, ed. Caoimhe Doyle (Punctum, forthcoming 2014).

Under the aegis of ‘Phenomenology,’ and addressing the tripartite dialectical progression of the film, Nicola Masciandaro will present ‘Silence: A Darkness to Ward Off All Spells.’ This presentation will unveil the question of silence as a dark intensive invalidation of discursive human identity, an increasingly powerful warding off of its terrible psychic spell. In the first stage of A Spell To Ward Off the Darkness, silence is what hovers within and without human conversation, disclosing it’s essentially hallucinatory, centrifugal, and hypocritical structure. In the second stage of the film, silence is what haunts human self-presence and aloneness in the minute and expansive forms of the extra-human world. 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. Interpreting these three levels of silence as phenomenal stages of a mystical ascent, Masciandaro’s presentation aims to invert all possible horizontal, human-to-human messages of the film into the pure verticality of silence itself.  

Nicola Masciandaro is Professor of English at Brooklyn College (CUNY) and a specialist in medieval literature. Some principal themes of his work are: mysticism, commentary, decapitation, and heavy metal. Recent publications include: Dark Nights of the Universe, co-authored with Daniel Colucciello Barber, Alexander Galloway, and Eugene Thacker (NAME, 2013) and And They Were Two In One And One In Two, co-edited/authored with Eugene Thacker (SCHISM, 2014). Current projects include Sorrow of Being, a book on mystical sorrow, and Sufficient Unto the Day, a collection of essays against worry. He is the founding editor of the journal Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary (

Respondents: Ben Rivers and Ben Russell. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

True Detection


Darklight - 29 April 2014 - Dublin

Sidney Piaget, illustration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem”

 . . . already I detect our whimpers, I even hear our screams. And the night that will descend upon our bones will not bring peace . . . but fear. 
– E. M. Cioran, History and Utopia

. . . an objective teleology cannot be elaborated and justified without a number of illusions, whose main defect is that they can easily be detected by a penetrating eye.
– E. M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

Aligning criminal detection and nihilistic terror, Nic Pizzolatto’s TV series True Detective saves the significance of detection from forensic positivism and restores its essential negativity (de-tect) to the immanent cosmic and existential horizon, that is, to the diurnal hell that is ‘you’. Against the anglo-historicist forensic norm of truth as something still there to be known, the crime show refreshingly advances the essential negativity of knowing, namely, the fact that truth is not an object of knowledge, but a swampy, lived matter of uncovering and exposure which perforce must stay open to its own most pessimal possibilities. The true detective, a secret friend of the irreligious saints of cosmic pessimism (Cioran, Ligotti, Thacker, et al.), is here one who entertains and contemplates the absolute worst. If he offers any salvation from evil, if he fulfills his duty to protect and to serve, it is at best in the name of the personally terrifying principle that there is no one to be saved. This symposium, taking shape around the dark intellectual subtexts of this mass entertainment, and in the midst of not knowing how the story does or should end, seizes itself as an opportunity for spontaneous reflection upon the shared fate of crime, investigation, and cosmic horror. It offers, on the formal grounds of True Detective’s narrative double frame, a speculative detection of detection upon the precipices of the true abyss.     

Daniel Colucciello Barber, “Affect Has No Story.”
Edia Connole, “Contemplating the Crucifixion: Cohle and Divine Gloom.”
Caoimhe Doyle & Katherine Foyle, “The Flat Devil Net: Mapping Quantum Narratives in True Detective.”
Paul J. Ennis, “Consciousness is an Error.”
Daniel Fitzpatrick, “True Dick . . . the Accelerated Acceptance and Premature Canonization of True Detective.”
Nicola Masciandaro, “I Am Not Supposed to Be Here: Birth and Mystical Circumspection.”
Niall McCann, "'This May Well Be Heaven, This Hell Smells the Same': Dissecting True Detective's Aesthetic through Burroughs, Passolini, and Tarr."
Fintan Neylan, “Detecting Expiration's Artifice: On Time's Growing Frail Worlds.”
Scott Wilson, “The Nonsense of Detection: Truth between Science and the Real.”
Ben Woodard, “‘Nothing Grows in the Right Direction’: Scaling the Life of the Negative.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

SoB Sample: On Joy and Penthos

The superiority and affective majesty of mystical sorrow, in comparison to contrition as sorrow over sin, resides in its overcoming of sorrow’s essential doubleness, an overcoming which both releases sorrow from itself and the self from sorrow. Neither contrition nor despair yet showing aspects of both, mystical sorrow is a third and non-dualistic form of sorrow that follows the being of sorrow beyond being. Like an inner hell that inexplicably becomes an omnipresent paradise, the distinguishing characteristic of mystical sorrow, what marks its fundamental link to the superessential, is its mysterious conjoining of sorrow with joy and its correlative paradoxical connection with the spiritual necessity of cheerfulness, as expressed by the ‘ever-weeping’ St. Francis:

“[W]henever I feel tempted and depressed and I look at the joy of my companion, because of that joy I immediately turn away from temptation and acedia and toward inner and outer joy.” That is why the father rebuked severely those who showed their their sadness outwardly. One day he reproved one of his companions who looked sad and long-faced. He told him: “Why do you outwardly show your sadness and sorrow over your offences? This sadness is a matter between you and God [Inter te et Deum habeas hanc tristitiam] . . . Try to be joyful always around me and others, because it is not fitting that a servant of God appear before his brother or others with a sad and gloomy face.”[1]

Taking seriously the literal structure of Francis’s formulation, sorrow is something of one’s own between oneself and God, the negation of which has the power to restore another to inward and outer joy. This is confirmed in everyday experience. There is nothing really encouraging about a person who is happy about something, about some external thing. They are only happy horizontally. What is truly encouraging is the authentic spiritual verticality of someone who is cheerful independently of and moreso despite the horizon of relative objects. Such verticality deflects the will from self-slavery and pushes it back into self-command. Mystical sorrow is likewise inseparable from a spiritual ethics of sorrow founded on the self-knowledge of sorrow as always one’s own, as belonging to one’s self. This transcendent affect leading being beyond itself into the freedom of divine joy is to be understood as experientially founded within such a practical mysticism, as growing out of the conscious holding of sorrow to the space between oneself and God: “habeas hanc tristitiam.” As if one were to say: I know from experience and reflection that sorrow originates in me; I likewise know that ‘me’ is the barrier between myself and God; therefore I will enter my sorrow, indeed the sorrow that is me, and find God—what else is there to do? In fact the mysterious joyfulness of mystical sorrow is itself logically present within the simple knowledge of sorrow as intimately/cosmically one’s own, as metaphycially founded within the blind event of oneself. For the will’s self-grasping of its own infinity, or in Augustinian terms, the clear perception that nothing but God will make you happy and holding to anything else is sorrow,[2] is bad news only infsoar as the will is not itself, insofar as it still irrationally wants something other than its own infinity. Whereas actually, as addressed in the previous chapter, the terrible propriety of sorrow, the fact that it is an individuated matter between oneself and the universal Reality, is most excellent news, not only because it implies that one can spiritually do something about sorrow and stoically ‘wear shoes rather than cover the world in leather,’ but because it frees being from the false, perversely assumed burden of external wrong and sensibly restores it to critical awareness of the self-centered, perspectival vanishing point where creation and evil meet, where the primal object of sorrow, a sin more original than original sin, is, in the words of the Cloud, “a foul stinking lump, you know not what, between you and your God: the which lump is nothing other than yourself” (ch. 44). Like stony Niobe’s interminable self-liquifying tears—“fixa cacumine montis / liquitur, et lacrimas etiam nunc Marmora manant” [fixed on the mountain’s summit, she dissolves, and even now tears wet the marble][3]—mystical sorrow is a third form of sorrow grounded in and flowing from this lump, a liquid at once seeping from and eroding the essential hardness of self. Neither worldy sorrow (grief) nor sorrow over sin (remorse), mystical sorrow is a sorrowing of sorrow that is not discontinuous with either yet dissolving of both, an experientially new kind of sorrow that, synthesizing mourning of being and lament of self-wrongness, transforms one into the radical opposite of a crybaby.                   
       The nature of mystical sorrow intersects in these terms with the traditionally eastern monastic experience-practice of penthos (mourning, compunction) as a purified and purifying movement of sorrow that exits the pain of remorse and opens into spiritual joy: “The man wearing blessed, God-given mourning like a wedding garment gets to know the spiritual laughter of the soul . . . I find myself amazed the way in which inward joy and gladness mingle with what we call mourning and grief, like honey in a comb.”[4] Three aspects of penthos in particular touch upon the mystical sense of a sorrow at once beyond sorrow and self. First, the comprehensiveness and continuousness of penthos places it on the threshold between sorrowing over sin, as something manifest and solidified in discrete acts, and sorrowing over self, over the very, too-immediate fact and nature of one’s own being: “He who has called us has summoned us to mourn for ourselves.”[5] The comprehensiveness of penthic sorrow, grounded in unquenchable will for God, is continguous with its continuity, a continuity which both embraces the diurnality of joy-givng grief—“The man who mourns constantly in a way that pleases God does not cease to celebrate daily”—and shows sorrow’s perfect constancy, which can only intimated within the inevitability of spiritual failure: “When we die, we will not be criticized for having failed to work miracles. We will not be accused of having failed to be theolgians or contemplatives. But we will certainly have some explanation to offer to God for not having mourned unceasingly.”[6] Second, the joyfulness of penthos, as both a flowering of true sorrow’s rationality and a spiritual passage beyond intellectuality, marks its pertaining to the scintilla animae or apex mentis, the summit of the soul and secret heart of the mind whereby being unites with the superessential: “Tears are actually the product of thought, and the father of thought is a rational mind . . . Theology and mourning do not go together, for the one dissipates the other. The difference between a theologian and a mourner is that the one sits on a professorial chair while the other passes his days in rags on a dungheap.”[7] Transcending both feeling and thinking as such, penthos is to be understood in terms of an asymptotic entry into the superrational passionless sorrow of God, as per Aquinas’s reconciliation of divine mercy and impassibility:

Mercy is especially to be attributed to God, as seen in its effect, but not as an affection of passion. . . . a person is said to be merciful (misericors), as being, so to speak, sorrowful at heart (miserum cor); being affected with sorrow at the misery of another as though it were his own. Hence it follows that he endeavors to dispel the misery of this other, as if it were his; and this is the effect of mercy. To sorrow, therefore, over the misery of others belongs not to God; but it does most properly belong to Him to dispel that misery.[8]

Penthos correlatively implies within itself the immanence of a sorrow-erasing sorrow without sorrow, a sorrow like God—independent of all relation and thus equally in perfect relation to all things. Similarly, Meister Eckhart, without contradicting in the least the principle that one must “cast out all grief  so that perpetual joy reigns in your heart,”[9] identifies sorrow as the root of all virtue and its perfection in Christ as an expression of the divine-human unity: “’My soul is sorrowful even unto death’ (Matt. 26:38) . . . if the collective woe of all creatures were to fall on one single creature, it would not be so grievous as Christ’s woe was, owing to his exalted nature, to the blessed union of divine and human nature.”[10] Indeed Eckhart explicitly identifies the sorrowlessness of divine sorrow with true—as opposed to anxious or worried—repentance:

 . . . then I grieve for sin without grief, as God grieve for all evil without grief. I have grief, the greatest grief, for my sins, for I would nto sin for everything that is created or creaturely, even though there were a thousand worlds existing to all eternity—and yet without grief, and I accept and take the suffering in God’s will and from God’s will. Such suffering alone is perfect suffering.[11]

The vertiginous affective rationality of penthos, a mourning that accepts everything, flows towards the hiddness of a secret objectless sorrow, a divine sorrow preceding and terminating all sorrow, and thus a mystically negative will or refusal that, like the superessential ‘nothingness’ of divinity, is really an unnameable surplus or excess of approval and agreement. Over and against the demand of reasons for tears—‘why are you crying?’—penthos touches upon the apophatic domain of sorrow where tears are neither irrational passion nor volitional response but an inexpressible expression of the inexpressible itself. Accordingly, penthic tears are characteristically distinguished yet in no way determined by their uncanny stillness and silence.[12] Third, the potential negative virtuality of penthos, its subsistence within the inability to mourn, connects it to the divine realm of superessential actuality, where what does not happen is eternally more real than what does.[13] As described by John Climacus, such negative virtuality, in which non-appearance equates with reality rather than vice-versa, is a kind of withholding of sorrow from sorrow that establishes and preserves sorrow in spiritually illuminative purity, saving it from compromise and diminishment:  

I have seen mourning in some; in others I have watched mourning for the inability to mourn, for though they have it they act as if they did not, and through such splendid ignorance they remain inviolate. Regarding such, it was said: “The Lord makes wise the blind” (Ps. 145:8)[14]     

As a gloomy face is a sign of hypocrisy—“Be not sad like the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:16)—penthos as non-manifest mourning for not mourning fulfills the paradox of a true hypocrisy whose authenticity (auto-entes) or self-doing resides in the silent-even-to-itself apotentiality of a secretly active mournful not-mourning, a sorrow that mysteriously persists without its own potential. Where potentiality is the power to do something, and impotentiality is the power to positively not do something, like the active silence of who can but wills not to speak, apotentiality here means more than a lack of power but a power as it were more powerful in its lack, a third form of potentiality altogether: the power to do something at once without the power to do it and without the doing of it, without its act. If doing what one properly cannot, what is impossible, connotes a miracle, this positively inactive apotentiality is a species of negative miraculousness, the miracle of doing what you cannot by not doing it. The tears of those who are incapable of crying, somehow wept in not crying. The words of those who are incapable of speaking, somehow spoken in silence. The silence of the one who is incapable of not speaking, somehow spoken in words. Where freedom or the ability to do as one wills is “to be found in the abyss of potentiality . . . [and] is . . . to be capable of one’s own impotentiality,”[15] penthos points to a freedom beyond freedom, a freedom free of its own free will, a freedom free of itself that is freedom itself: “The just man serves neither God nor creatures, for he is free, and the closer he is to justice, the closer he is to freedom, and the more he is freedom itself.”[16] Such freedom is the  characteristic condition of the intoxicated lovers of God who, like perfect instruments of charity’s right hand (Matt. 6:3), “do not know how to consider themselves good or evil” and are pregnant with “the true seed of divine Love, which makes the Soul completely surprised without being aware of it.”[17] “People weep at the sight of me and find themselves loving me even when they say they don't love God.”[18] The perfect intoxication of the wine itself: “And she is inebriated not only from what she has drunk, but very intoxicated and more than intoxicated from what she never drinks nor will ever drink.”[19] Via all three of these aspects, the lesson of penthos to be drawn here is that mystical sorrow, as much as it is a profound and mysterious affect in touch with being’s beyond, is, like the ocean by strange virtue of its very depth also to be found right on the surface, right at the merest or pure self-presenting shore of itself. Understanding this reveals, as we shall now show, the strong, seemingily impossible perfect sense of the Cloud’s definition of sorrow as a definition to be sorrowed over: “And whoever has not felt this sorrow, he may make sorrow, because he has never yet felt perfect sorrow” (Ch. 44).

[1] Mirror of the Perfection of the Status of a Lesser Brother, 7.96, Francis of Assisi: The Prophet (New York: New City Press, 2001), 342-3.  Cf. “Even if your heart is cut to bits, let there be a smile on your lips” (“Song of the New Life,” Tales from the New Life with Meher Baba [Berkeley: The Beguine Library, 1976], x).
[2] “For Thou hast hade us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee” (Augustine, Confessions, 1.1); “Whereever the soul of man turns, unless towards God, it cleaves to sorrow, even though the things outside God and outside itself may be things of beauty. For these lovely things would be nothing at all unless they were from Him” (Ibid., 4.10).
[3] Ovid, Metamorphoses, 6.311-2.
[4] John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, 140-1. See John Chryssavgis, “‘Joyful Sorrow’: The Double Gift of Tears,” chapter 5 of John Climacus: From the Egyptian Desert to the Sinaite Mountain (Burlington, VT: Asgate, 2004) and Hannah Hunt, Joy-Bearing Grief: Tears of Contrition in the Writings of the Early Syrian and Byzantine Fathers (Leiden: Brill, 2004). Hunt’s definition of penthos nicely articulates both its distinction from ordinary sorrow over something and the sense of its being a refined repentance which affectively touches the divine mystery, a powerfully liminal summit of sorrow in which the operations of nature and grace palpably touch: “a heartfelt sorrow, expressed by actual tears, or a desire to weep, which is generated by and expressive of the mystery of divine participation. Such grief is never despair, self-pity, or mourning for human losses. It thus occupies a unique position in the crux between body and soul. It is the purified passion experienced by the penitent who, through the pricking of conscience, accepts his or her need to repent, in order to be restored to God . . . Penthos is a process, not a static condition. It is the remorse of the sinner as much as the charism of the perfected spiritual athlete” (3).
[5] John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, 138.
[6] Ibid., 140, 145.
[7] Ibid,. 139. As Hunt notes, “this comment must be interpreted as meaning that knowledge divorced from practical experience was worth little, and even risked being prompted by unhelpful intellectual passions, such as a desire for the power knowledge might confer, and the admiration of others. In other words, to be a theologian of this sort—rather than the Evagrian definition of a theologian as one who prays—is to be prey to the sins of vanity and vainglory” (Joy-Bearing Grief, 78).
[8] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, Pt. 1, Q. 21, Art.4. Cf. “Tristitia . . . et dolor ex ipsa sui ratione in Deo esse non possunt” (Summa contra Gentiles, I.89, [sorrow and pain by their very nature cannot be in God].
[9] Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 7.
[10] Ibid., Sermon 9. Cf. “Whoso does not suffer from love, for him sorrow is sorrow and grievous to bear; but whoso suffers from love he sorrows not, and his suffering is fruitful in God. Therefore is sorrow so noble; he who sorrows most is the noblest. Now no mortal’s sorrow was like the sorrow which Christ bore; therefore he is nobler than any man . . . Sorrow is the root of all virtue” (Meister Eckhart’s Sermons, trans. Claud Field [London: H. R. Allenson], 1909], Sermon 7).
[11] Complete Mystical Works, Book of Divine Consolation, II, p.531.
[12] “[T]here is often an externally perceptible contrast between natural and spiritual tears. In natural weeping, the face is frequently—although not always—flushed and contorted, while the whole body shakes with sobbing. This does not happen with spiritual weeping. There is in this second case no facial contortion, no bodily shuddering. The tears flow gently, peacefully, and silently. But this may also sometimes happen with natural weeping. Discernment between the natural and the spiritual weeping is never easy or mechanical” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, “’An Obscure Matter’: The Mystery of Tears in Orthodox Spirituality,” in Holy Tears: Weeping in the Religious Imagination, eds. Kimberley Christine Patton and John Stratton Hawley [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005], 249). As Ware observes, “There is . . . a puzzling, elusive, and even apophatic character about tears” (242).
[13] “In the eternity of existence there is no time. There is no past and no future, only the everlasting present. Therefore, in eternity nothing has ever happened and nothing will ever happen. Everything is happening in the unending NOW, if there is anything happening at all; because all that has apparently happened, all that is
[14] John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, 141.
[15] Giorgio Agamben, “On Potentiality,” in Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 182-3.
[16] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 17.
[17] Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls, trans. Ellen L. Babinsky (New York: Paulist, 1993), Chapters 8 and 18, respectively.
[18] Meher Baba, quoted in Lord Meher, 1285,
[19] Ibid., Chapter 23.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

From SoB -- Why?

. . . Third, identification of the crucifixion darkness with withdrawal corresponds to the radical question of divine dereliction that marks the darkness’s ending: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Hanging in a kind of infinite suspension between the withdrawal of God and the withdrawal of matter, between the divine darkness of mystical vision and the essential darkness of everything the eye lights upon, this question voices a universal affective abyss and eternally ancient negative will whose emergence as voice spontaneously shatters all darkness in the endless light of its own inexplicable origin. Before all hermeneutic rendering and probing of the meaning the question, over and against every answering and explanation of its why?, there stands the absolutely free and independent truth of the question’s own actuality, a pure actuality silencing all questions about it. Whatever the theological truth of the abandonment signified, in the intensive reality of the question—a reality more real than the real it questions—there is no abandonment whatsoever. Such is the significance of the question as the end of the cosmic darkness, that the question’s emergence marks its perfective conclusion, at once completing it and destroying it in the paradox of finality captured in John’s version of Jesus’s last words: “It is finished [τετέλεσται]” (Jn. 28:30). The darkness is total—there is no more darkness. On the one hand, this radical question, the question of divine dereliction, is an absolute darkness, a negative indication of an eternal negativity. The given ground of the question is something that could not be darker, a loss of Everything that swallows all lights, all the more so if any are left after the loss. On the other hand, the question’s negative indication of its ground, the infinitely ordinary yet equally miraculous capacity of the question not only to indicate this eternal negativity, but, in the non-difference of its own substantial negativity, to speak it, is a superessential positivity, an affirmation beyond affirmation and denial. The actuality of the radical question of divine dereliction, what makes it radical in the first place, lies in its fulfillment of the superessentiality of negation, the apophatic principle that “the negations are not simply the opposites of the affirmations.”[1] The abyssic profundity of this question goes far beyond the transcendent mystery of its unanswerability, the insolubility of its being the opposite of a hidden answer, for that mystery is both affirmed and denied in the immanence of the question, in the still greater mystery of the question’s real remaining, a remaining that ‘answers’ the question precisely by not answering, by remaining silent. The question silently answers itself, not propositionally, but in its own being. In being voiced, the question resurrectively survives itself so to speak, dispelling the darkness of its substance or what with the brilliantly dark light of its own fact or that.[2] The perfect absence of an ‘answer’—the presence of silence—in the actuality of the question is the best of all possible answers.[3] In these terms, it is imperative to take seriously and matter-of-factly exactly what seems most impossible regarding the optimal and pessimal statements defining the beginning and ending of the cosmic darkness, namely, that the today of paradise and the why? of divine abandonment are the same, the very place of being with God. Similarly, to extend the auto-destructive darkness of the question to the surrounding senses of the crucifixion darkness elaborated above, the universality of the darkness is the identity of the withdrawal of matter and the withdrawal of the divine, a unitary coincidence of the essential whatlessness of everything before the superessentiality of its that. The radical question of divine abandonment is, literally and figuratively, the cosmically silent sorrowful voice of matter itself, a saying of absolute abandonment showing the impossibility of being so.   
     What saves this reading of the crucifixion darkness from being only an intellectually gratifying speculative conceptualization of mystical Christian truth is the reality of sorrow itself, a reality that is the very condition of truth, as per the obverse of Ecclesiastes 1:18: he who does not increase sorrow, does not increase knowledge. For it is only in sorrow that the coincidentia oppositorum of the crucifixion becomes more than a mystical conceit, only in the actuality of tears that cosmic darkness around it is more than an interesting image. Like the nigredo of the alchemists, the darkness of sorrow is the creatively self-destroying term that opens the corporeal to the substantial nothingness of matter and the infinity of its immanent beyond. So at the level of mind, “it is only in the starlight of sorrow that we become conscious of other worlds."[4] As the crucifixion darkness is seen externally as a medium of stupefying, supernatural transition—“An awful darkness, which was entirely supernaturally and terrible! Here a new world was begun”[5]—so sorrow itself, internally, is a kind of supernatural or magical problem, a problem whose problematicity, if actually understood, abolishes all problems and inverts today into paradise: “Understanding our sorrow is pure magic. When sorrow is truly understood it ceases to be sorrow.”[6] According to the Cloud of Unknowing, the ground of such magical contemplative mutation of the pessimal into the optimal is the brute inescapable fact that being simply is a sorrow to itself, a sorrow cosubstantial with its own unearthly material: “but most specially he feels matter of sorrow that knows and feels that he is.”[7] Ultimately, the only thing the matter with anything is the mere/pure fact of one’s being, apart from anything about one’s being. The matter of sorrow is a literally essential negativity moving between being and the experience (knowing and feeling) of being. Paradoxically, this supreme and originary sorrow is both disclosed and overcome only by assuming and entering it. As the Cloud-author explains in another work, this is the real crucifixion, your own:

For all the sorrow that exists [alle the woo that may be withoutyn], apart from that, is nothing in comparison [not a poynte to that]. It is then that you are yourself a cross to yourself. This is the authentic exercise [trewe worching] and the way to our Lord, as he says himself: “Let him carry his cross”: first, the painful heaviness of self [peynfulnes of hymself], and then “follow me” into joy [blis] or the mount of perfection, tasting the sweetness of my love in godlike experience [godly felyng] of myself . . . this dark unencumbered [nakid blynde] feeling of myself . . . is a feeling not of my activity [doynges], but of myself. Many men identify themselves with their activity [clepen here doynges himself], and it is not so. For I that do is one and my deeds done are another. And it is the same with God; he is one thing in himself and his works are another. I would rather weep till my heart should break because I lack this feeling of God and of the painful heaviness [birthin] of the self, and thus inflame by desire to have and to long for that feeling of God, rather than enjoy all the well-devised imaginative and speculative meditations that men can tell of or find written in books, no matter how holy or worthwhile they appear to the subtle regard [ighe] of your speculative mind [corious witte].[8]

Entering and assuming the sorrow that is oneself means making it actual and new, realizing it in the in-authenticity or inverted self-doing of honest, self-erasing work. This working is neither an activity nor an inactivity, but something outside and between doing and being whereby being overcomes itself—becomes beyond being—by means of a contrition of being, a woeful crushing and crucifixion of itself under its own weight, within a gravity of sorrow that spontaneously converts into the freest paradiscial flight. Where “melancholy is the unconscious music of the soul,”[9] a movement of being that stays within the circuit of the self-world correlation, mystical sorrow is the soul’s conscious music, a movement of being that escapes being’s correlativeness by crucifying it to itself, by ceasing to call oneself with the names of doing and desisting to flee the torture chamber of one’s own existence. Being the actual com-motion of a sorrowful universal passivity, the crucifixion darkness is the real manifest image of this music. Mystical sorrow, letting oneself be swallowed by this cosmic darkness, is not really your feeling of this dark universal music. The music is the hidden, sorrowful sound of the universe feeling you.[10]

[1] Pseudo-Dionysius, Mystical Theology, 1.2, 1000B.
[3] Reaching beyond the question as action, silence is here to be thought as what is transacted in the unanswered question: “Things that are Real are given and received in Silence” (Meher Baba); “Silence is nothing merely negative; it is not the mere absence of speech. It is a positive, a complete world in itself. Silence has greatness simply because it is. It is, and that is its greatness, its pure existence” (Max Picard, The World of Silence, trans. Stanley Godman [Chicago: Regner, 1952], 1). Any answer breaking this silence—“Because . . .”—would be at once no answer at all and the worst of all possible answers.
[4] Ricard Le Gallienne, The Romance of Zion Chapel (New York: John Lane, 1898), 238.
[5] Martin Luther, Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, trans. P. Anstadt (York, PA: P. Anstadt & Sons, 1899), 154.
[6] Vernon Howard, The Power of Your Supermind (Pine, AZ: New Life Foundation, 1967), 124. Cf. “Feel sorry for yourself rightly by feeling sorry that you have a self” (Vernon Howard, A Treasury of Trueness [Pine, AZ: New Life Foundation, 1995], no. 689).
[7] Cloud of Unknowing, ch. 44.
[8] A Letter of Private Direction, ch. 8, in The Pursuit of Wisdom and Other Works by the Author of the Cloud of Unknowing, trans. and ed. James Walsh (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 237. Middle English supplied from English Mystics of the Middle Ages, ed. Barry Windeatt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 95.
[9] E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints, trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 104.
[10] “Music” is used here, not metaphorically, but as a categorical term for the willful, being-in-motion of being, its being always something beyond and in excess of being, an excess necessarily understood in the negative, as shown by the nature of indication—“the significance of the This is, in reality, a Not-this that it contains; that is, an essential negativity” (Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: The Place of Negativity, trans. Karen E. Pinkhaus and Michael Hardt [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991], 14)—and realized in self-denial: “Being is dying by loving” (Meher Baba, Discourses, 6th ed., 3 vols [San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1973], I.29).