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 (lordmeher.org). 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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Following the Sigh

Haven't people learned yet that the time of superficial intellectual games is over, that agony is infinitely more important than syllogism, that a cry of despair is more revealing than the most subtle thought, and that tears always have deeper roots than smiles?
– E. M. Cioran
Out of agony and grief, from behind every atom of dust comes sighing and lamentation, but your ear is deaf.
– Rumi
“In pessimism, the first axiom is a long, low, funereal sigh.”[1] Pessimism follows the sigh. Beginning with expiration, pessimism comes after the sigh by going where it leads, all the more so if the sigh not does lead anywhere. For to follow the sigh, even into the worst, is at least to escape the worse-than-worst death, the interminable self-tyranny of looking forward to something: “Anything you look forward to will destroy you, as it already has” (Vernon Howard). Pessimism’s axiom invokes the sigh’s palpable universality, its being a truth we find in our blood. “Axioms in philosophy are not axioms,” wrote Keats, “until they are proved upon our pulses.”[2] The universality of the sigh resides in its profound negative singularity. Moving via endless auto-releasement, it achieves the remote. “Oltre la spera che piú larga gira / passa ’l sospiro ch’esce del mio core” [Beyond the sphere that circles widest / penetrates the sigh that issues from my heart].[3] The axiomatic sigh of the pessimist is in a way the pure word of philosophy, a thought that thinks without you, speaks where you are not. The live pneumatic form of life’s eventual exit from a corpse’s mouth, the sigh restores consciousness to the funeral of being, to the superlative passing away that is existence. Like a bitter, dreg-drinking mystic, pessimism speaks in piercing silence-producing aphorisms because first it sighs. “Beyond the sphere passeth the arrow of our sigh. Hafiz! Silence.”[4]

Already one perceives in this axiom, in the sigh as axiom, the sigh’s essential polarity, how it holds in one long moment the life of the mind and the death of the body, the wandering movement of thought and the eventual, already-imminent passing away of mortal incarnate being. The place of this polarity is the heart, interface of soul and body, invisible and visible, mind and matter. Heart is the restless, swervy atom of existence, the ungraspable third zone of experience[5] which being can only blindly grasp as its own place and which is visible only to love, that is, by a knowing which is specular, in touch with the threshold of species and phantasm, the interface where the object—the seen which seeing cannot see through—is unveiled in reflection. Augustine writes: “But as to what I now am while I am writing my Confessions, there are many who desire to know . . . Yet they have not their ear at my heart, where I am whoever/whatever I am [ubi ego sum quicumque sum]. They wish, therefore, to hear from my own confession what I am inwardly, where they cannot pierce with eye or ear or mind. They desire to know and are prepared to believe but will they know? The charity by which they are good, tells them that in my confession I do not lie about myself; and this charity believes me.”[6] To follow the sigh, to trace its path, requires a will to see that can traverse this threshold, an ear that hears what speaks between word and breath, an eye that can enter the image—piercing the sphere of the perceptible. “Heaven splits in two at the sigh of a lover.”[7]
Pessimism’s first axiom must be distinguished from the plethora of semiotic and expressive sighs, all those signifying exhalations which are for the sake of something and pathetically want to be heard, above all by oneself. True sighing inhabits an untraceable boundary between sighing and not-sighing, traditionally a secret place where only the soul and God can hear. The sixteenth-century Francisan mystic Francisco de Osuna writes, “Do not fail to avail yourself of sighs and even to utter them softly when alone. And I advise you to love solitude for no other reason than because it is so conducive to sighing and exceedingly pleasing to your beloved . . . You should understand that the sigh that leaves your heart is a swift arrow shot by the bow of desire to the Lord on high and that it does not return without the Lord himself.”[8] Distinguishing pessimism’s sigh is thus not simply a matter of deciding between inauthentic and authentic sighs, because all sighs are at once authentic and inauthentic. Authenticity is the condition of truth or integrity defined by self-doing (auto-entes) and what is more authentic that one’s breath? Whence the sigh’s essential inauthenticity, which truthfully lies in its being an improper vocal appropriation of breath for speech and speech for breath, as if what is spoken in the sigh is wasted breath and what is breathed in the sigh is wasted speech. The issue of the sigh’s in-authenticity is charted by Cioran. On the one hand he identifies its continuity with the affective histrionic fakery of your typical human being: “Fraudulence of style: to give the usual melancholies an unaccustomed turn, to decorate our minor miseries, to costume the void, to exist by the word, by the phraseology of the sarcasm or the sigh!”[9] On the other hand, he knows the sigh as a permissible exception for the noble soul: “A true mystic, he [Louis Claude de Saint-Martin] disliked irony—antireligious by definition, irony never pays; how could this man who had cast the world behind him have resorted to it, who perhaps knew but one pride, that of the Sigh? ‘All nature is but a concentrated suffering’; ‘If I had not found God, my mind could never have attached itself to anything on earth.’”[10] The sigh cannot escape being an imposture, a violation, precisely because it is an escape of what should not, of what properly should be kept secret, as per the mystic’s traditional dictum, “Secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi, vae mihi” (Isaiah 24:16) [My secret is mine, my secret is mine, woe is me]. Rumi writes, “If You should cast me into the fire, I am no true man if I utter a sigh.”[11] Meher Baba explains: “Love sets on fire the one who finds it. At the same time it seals his lips so that no smoke comes out.”[12] “Even a sigh of the pangs of separation is an insult to that love!”[13] In the axiomatic sigh of pessimism the should-not-be of the sigh and the should-not-be of being are compounded, as if this first axiom would also represent an impossibly already underway and endless first sigh. A sigh turning under the secret tension, with all the weight and lightness, all the truth and falsity, of the first truth. A sigh that, now silenced into axiom, sighs for what is before sigh itself, for the knowing-without-knowledge before the burdensome weighing of truth into axiom.[14] “Pursuing the antecedents of a sigh,” writes Cioran, “can lead us to the moment before—as to the sixth day of Creation.”[15]

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].”[16] 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 . . .”[17] and “To have foundered somewhere between the epigram and the sigh!”[18] The first follows upon a wish for a kind of fatality which synthesizes the earliness and lateness of Limbo’s innocent souls, a desire for prescientific death: “Fortunate those who, born before Science, were privileged to die of their first disease!”[19] 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.”[20] 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.

Dark Ages
The pessimist senses in sighing the weight of an earlier and older world, a time when the darkness of the universe was more brilliant and the breath of man’s heart might travel clearly in its abyss. He knows that the sigh, which formerly meant something and encompassed a metaphysical depth, has been replaced, now that place itself has been historically displaced by time.[21] As Cioran states, under the heading of “Secularization of Tears”: “The torsion of the will replaced the suavities; the contradiction of the feelings, the naïve flight; frenzy, the disciplined sigh; heaven having vanished from music, man was installed there.”[22] Now our sighs have nowhere to go. And this does not mean that they do not go anywhere. For this not-having-anywhere-to-go is really a superlative situation for the sigh, the very situation it lives for, nowhere being the place from which the sigh best goes everywhere. The paradise of pessimism, the thought-discipline of the worst, is that it provides an optimal home for the sigh, a si-gh-te wherein the sigh re-becomes a place of cosmic vision. In this new centerless here, the now-here of the post-medieval world, the sound of one sigh fills the universe, only there is no one to hear it. As Cioran says, “Becoming is nothing more than a cosmic sigh.”[23] Now the sigh finds a new dimension, a weird meta-spatial materiality capable of occluding everything. So Tugen sings, “And so sighs alone have been sweet to me, since they have taken the place of living. And if I am lucky the sighs will eclipse living entirely, and this is all that will remain. But that is obviously a fantasy.”[24]

Yet the fantasy is real, perhaps more real than it can or will imagine. For fantasy always impinges upon the idea and fact of its being a fantasy as part of the fantasy. It is in the phantasmatic nature of fear—a ghost story the mind tells itself—both to forget and to insist that fear is a phantasm. “Fear may be defined as a pain or disturbance due to a mental picture [phantasmata] of some destructive or painful evil in the future” (Aristotle, Rhetoric, II.5). One forgets the phantasm so as to fear a real thing. One remembers the phantasm so as to fantasize control over the thing feared. Cosmic horror—fictional reflection of the horror of philosophy[25]—specializes in doing both at once in a conspicuously philosophical way, insisting nihilistically upon the ultimate insignificance of horror a la H. P. Lovecraft’s “the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large”[26] and fantasizing about that horror’s real and eventual consequences:

We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.[27]
Lurking within this fear, as if something the fear itself fears, is the spectre of a more speculative horror, an inadmissible identity-dissolving terror that the fantasy is actually true and that human experience does have cosmic significance, only a significance that has little or nothing to do with you. It is the easiest thing to fear hell, anything, everything that is out there. Anyone can do that, and everyone does. That is the number one way of being someone in this world. “The being of Da-sein is Sorge [care, worry, solicitude, fear, anxiety, sorrow].”[28] But when I see the sheer auto-hallucinatory insanity of that, when I see what horror itself reflects and face the blindness whereby “I have all the defects of other people and yet everything they do seems to me inconceivable,”[29] now I glimpse that my fear only veils what I will not see, something too terrible to my fear to see, namely, that I am already in hell, that being me is everything I fear.[30] Cosmic pessimism ecstatically exposes experience to such greater horror, the horror-without-us seized by drowning thought in the fact that one’s pathetically finite and isolated human being is perforce so abyssically in universe that neither is there anywhere to hide nor any reason to, because the life on whose behalf one trembles was itself never one’s own. And so the sighs of the pessimists, like bubble-words from a drowning coincident with birth, float into new forms of strange good news, showing the way to the happy, unheard-of atmospheres of the optimal, perfect worst. On the one hand, these sigh-spheres breathe life back into the human as its own greatest horror: “We moderns have discovered hell inside ourselves and that is our good fortune.”[31] On the other, they point to an unbounded, acosmic reality: “My soul is chaos, how can it be at all? There is everything in me: search and you will find out . . . in me anything is possible, for I am he who at the supreme moment, in front of absolute nothingness, will laugh.”[32]

Beyond the Sphere
Pessimism’s unsighably axiomatic sigh, comprehended within one’s own inescapable breath, is not worry or self-dramatization, but a veritable piercing of the bubble of existence. If this sigh hearkens back to the metaphysical expirations of premodern mystics and poets, it is not out of nostalgia or inauthentic traditionalism, but in light of modernity’s unveiling of the “monstrousness of the external,”[33] the black, neither subjective nor objective reality of a universe whose truth is feeling more and more medieval. “We perceive no more of Creation than its destitution, the grim reality . . . a lonely universe before a lonely heart, each predestined to disjoin and to exasperate each other in the anthithesis.”[34] For this is the no less ancient than futural situation, the terrifyingly actual situation of the this (which I will wager that weirdly you do not really want any other way), in which something must give, where the given itself is given up, and something in oneself turns, who knows where. As Cioran asserts, from the heights of despair, “The deepest subjective experiences are also the most universal, because through them one reaches the original source of life. True interiorization leads to a universality inaccessible to those who remain on the periphery.”[35] Therefore, if there is such a thing as being a good pessimist, a best lover of the worst, it is dubious whether anyone will ever hear from him again. As Rumi wrote, “That man is truly successful who is drowned in that sigh.”[36]

[1] Eugene Thacker, “Cosmic Pessimism,” Continent 2.2 (2012): 66-75.
[2] Letter to J. H. Reynolds, 3 May 1818 (http://englishhistory.net/keats/letters/reynolds3May1818.html).
[3] Dante Alighieri. Vita Nuova. ed. and trans. Dino S. Cervigni and Edward Vasta. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 1995. 41:10.
[4] Hafiz of Shiraz. The Divan. trans. H. Wilberforce Clarke. London: Octagon Press. 1974. 10.9.
[5]  ". . . is neither within nor outside of the individual, but in a 'third area,' distinct both 'from interior psychic reality and from the effective world in which the individual lives'[Winnicott]. The topology that is here expressed . . . has always been known to children, fetishists, 'savages,' and poets. It is in this 'third area' that a science of man truly freed of every eighteenth-century prejudice should focus its study. Things are not outside of us, in measurable external space, like neutral objects (ob-jecta) of use and exchange; rather, they open to us the original place solely from which the experience of measurable external space becomes possible. They are therefore held and comprehended from the outset in the topos outopos (placeless place, no-place place) in which our experience of being-in-the-world is situated. The question 'where is the thing?' is inseparable from the question 'where is the human?' Like the fetish, like the toy, things are not properly anywhere, because their place is found on this side of objects and beyond the human in a zone that is no longer objective or subjective, neither personal nor impersonal, neither material nor immaterial, but where we find ourselves suddenly facing these apparently so simple unknows: the human, the thing." (Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, p.59).
[6] Augustine, Confessions, trans. F. J. Sheed (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006), 10.3.4.
[7] Jalal al-Din Rumi, Mystical Poems of Rumi, trans. A. J. Arberry, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 150.5.
[8] Francisco de Osuna, The Third Spiritual Alphabet, trans. Mary E. Giles (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 306.
[9] E. M. Cioran, All Gall is Divided: Gnomes and Apothgems, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Arcade, 1999), 15.
[10] E. M. Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Arcade, 2012).
[11] Rumi, Mystical Poems, 191.4.
[12] Meher Baba, Listen, Humanity, ed. D.E. Stevens (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 19.
[13] Meher Baba, Lord Meher, 3625 (lordmeher.org).
[14] Correlatively, the verbal concept of axiom signifies a becoming weighty of a movement, just as axioms are measured by the inner movement their impression causes. “Axiom, from Latin axioma, from Greek axioma ‘authority,’ literally ‘that which is thought worthy or fit,’ from axioun ‘to think worthy,’ from axios ‘worthy, worth, of like value, weighing as much,’ from PIE adjective *ag-ty-o- ‘weighty,’ from root *ag- ‘to drive, draw, move’” (Online Etymological Dictionary).
[15] Cioran, All Gall is Divided, 92.
[16] E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Arcade, 1975), 47.
[17] E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Arcade, 1983), 68.
[18] E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Seaver, 1973), 176.
[19] Cioran, Drawn and Quartered, 68.
[20] Cioran, Trouble with Being Born, 176.
[21] As emblematized in Petrarch’s shift of mind atop Mt. Ventoux: “Then a new idea took possession of me, and I shifted my thoughts to a consideration of time rather than place” (Ascent of Mt. Ventoux, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/petrarch-ventoux.asp). See Edward Casey, The Fate of Place (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). “What recent philosophers have termed forgetfulness of being [Seinsvergessenheit] is most evident as an obstinate willful ignorance of the mysterious place of existence. The popular plan to forget both oneself and being is realized through a deliberate nonawareness of the ontological situation” (Peter Sloterdijk, Bubbles: Spheres I, trans. Wieland Hoban [Cambridge, MA: Semiotext(e), 2011], 27, my emphasis).
[22] E. M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay, 155.
[23] E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints, trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 46.
[24] Rasu-Yong Tugen, Baroness de Tristeombre, Songs from the Black Moon (gnOme, 2014), 13-4.
[25] See Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy, Vol. 1 (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2011).
[26] Letter to Fransworth Wright, July 5, 1927, cited from H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness, introduction by China Miéville (New York: Modern Library, 2005), xii.
[27] H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu,” in The Whisperer in Darkness (Ware, UK: Wordsworth Editions, 2007), 34.
[28] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 262. 
[29] Cioran, Trouble with Being Born, 31
[30] Cf. “Plotinian sensible matter just is the principium individuationis, which serves as the horizon for becoming by spatiotemporally individuating Forms as sensible objects. The principium individuationis 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 indentified as primary evil, or evil itself” (John A. Pourtless, “Toward a Plotinian Solution to the Problem of Evil,” Aporia 18 (2008):13-4.
[31] Cioran, Tears and Saints, 52.
[32] E. M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair, trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 86.
[33] Sloterdijk, Bubbles, 629.
[34] Cioran, Short History of Decay, 33.
[35] Cioran, On the Heights of Despair, 4.
[36] Rumi, Mystical Poems, 61.7.