Monday, June 04, 2007

Values, Things, Love

"To think against 'values' is not to maintain that everything interpreted 'as a value' -- 'culture,' 'art,' 'science,' 'human dignity,' 'world,' and 'God' -- is valueless. Rather it is important finally to realize that precisely through the characterization of something as 'a value' what is so valued is robbed of its worth. That is to say, by the assessment of something as a value what is valued is admitted only as a object for human estimation. . . . thinking in values is the greatest blasphemy imaginable against being. To think against values therefore does not mean to beat the drum for the valuelessness and nullity of beings. It means rather to bring the clearing of the truth of being before thinking, as against subjectivizing beings into mere objects." (Martin Heidegger, "Letter on Humanism," Pathmarks, 265)

"Mistakes in valuation arise owing to the influence of subjective desires or wants. True values are values which belong to things in their own right. They are intrinsic, and because they are intrinsic, they are absolute and permanent and are not liable to change from time to time or from person to person. False values are derived from desires or wants; they are dependent upon subjective factors, and being dependent upon subjective factors, they are relative and impermanent and are liable to change from time to time and from person to person." (Meher Baba, Discourses, III.139)

"The human is the being that, bumping into things and only in this encounter, opens up to the non-thinglike. And inversely, the human is the one that, being open to the non-thinglike, is, for this very reason, irreparably consigned to things. Non-thingness (spirituality) means losing oneself in things, losing oneself to the point of not being able to conceive of anything but things, and only then, in the experience of the irremediable thingness of the world, bumping into a limit, touching it." (Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, 102,3)

How, then, to know the values of things without reducing things to values, without blaspheming being? By sitting at the feet of things, in wonder, in love. Love is knowledge of the value of beings, an illuminating keeping open of the boundary between beings and things. So philosophy is not only to love thought but to think love, to understand within love's opening up of the the thing itself.


J J Cohen said...

Nice, Nicola. Can you say something about what you understand wonder to be, and how wonder is related to love?

Nicola Masciandaro said...

The question has got me wondering.

My first thought is that love is not only a wonder but is itself a wondering, an experience of the loved which is knowing and unknowing, an experience that knows itself as more than experience, as actual incommensurable co-being with another. Love demands the presence of the loved and is already that presence. Wonder similarly takes place in the presence of things and is the very means of bringing them into presence, of seeing things "for the first time." Love is never old and wonder is always seeing the new, even the newness of the past.

Love and wonder are fundamentally bound to the recognition of real being, to actuality, to the fact that something is. If desire is a disappearance of the subject into the object such that the object, paradoxically, becomes completely subjectivized, love is a disappearnce of the object into the subject such that the subject becomes completely objectified, whence I suppose the excitement of desire (loss of self and other) vs. the tranquility of love (knowledge of self and other). Love witnesses the disappearnce of all negativity from the fact that something is and of how it is. Love is at home in the way the loved one is. In wonder our desire for something to be other than it is similarly goes out the window. The matter of wonder is that something actually is the way it is.

Love and wonder recognize 'prediscursive,' individuated being. They are essentially metaphysical, not because they may be the ground for positing or believing in a metaphysical beyond, but because they keep open the question of what the physical is in the first place. How? By witnessing (i.e. not only seeing but seeing-in-the-presence-of) things in their fulness, which means seeing them in the emptiness of impossibility that surrounds all things. Love and wonder know beings as always already metaphysical, in their fixed and free suspension within (and somehow also containing) the "miracle" that anything is happening at all.

Which doesn't say much about the difference or boundary between love and wonder, but I think of the two as dialectically related, of wonder as question and love as answer.

Eileen Joy said...

Nicola, you concluded this post by asking,

"How, then, to know the values of things without reducing things to values, without blaspheming being?"

To which you responded,

"By sitting at the feet of things, in wonder, in love. Love is knowledge of the value of beings, an illuminating keeping open of the boundary between beings and things."

I have a sneaking suspicion that you already know that I will agree with you in your answer [which, frankly, I love--the way you articulate wonder and love], but I am thinking, too, that for scholars such as myself and yourself and JJC [and others who want to talk about love and wonder and humanistic thought/philosophy], that we will be chastised, perhaps rightly so, for trying to dance too artfully away from the question/conundrum of value.

You see, it's quite easy [maybe even too easy] to think "against values," even though, vis-a-vis all the fabulous citations you provide, it would appear quite necessary, if we care about things/entities/persons "in their own right." All right. But when "push comes to shove," as they say, in a particularly incendiary political/historical situation, in which real lives are at stake, and we have to choose, or decide, that *one* thing more "value"over another, what will we do? Say the question/decision is beside the point?

Or, to be more hopeful in the vein you have already drawn here and elsewhere, is there a new humanism we might develop together [and with others, including the anti-humanists], that would help us to avoid the situation of ever having to choose?