Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Catena: Labor, Language, Laughter

The unitarian Beyond is an indivisible and indescribable infinity. It seeks to know itself. It is of no use to ask why it does so.

Who will hold fast the human heart so that it may stand and see how eternity,
standing beyond past and future, speaks both past and future? Is my hand capable
of this? Or can the hand of my mouth accomplish such a great thing through language?

Tools for the hand, language for the face, are twin poles are the same apparatus.

The husbandmen correspond to the feet, which always cleave to the soil and need the more especially the care and foresight of the head, since while they walk on earth doing service with their bodies, they meet the more often with stones of stumbling, and therefore deserve aid and protection all the more justly, since it is they who raise, sustain, and move forward the weight of the entire body.

The ambiguity of the body is consciousness. . . . This body, a sector of an elemental reality, is also what permits taking hold of the world, laboring. . . . Consciousness does not fall into a body—is not incarnated; it is a disincarnation—or, more exactly, a postponing of the corporeity of the body. This is not produced in the either of abstraction but as the concreteness of dwelling and labor. . . . This ambiguity of the body, by which the I is engaged in the other but comes always from the hither side, is produced in labor.

Susteyne and love hem also that laboure in the grete alquemie. That is to seye: the labourers of the erth.

He did not seem to work so much by reason or by instinct . . . but merely by a kind of deaf and dumb, spontaneous literal process. He was a pure manipulator; his brain, if he ever had one, must have early oozed along into the muscles of his fingers.

For in all action what is principally intended by the agent, whether he acts by natural necessity or voluntarily, is the disclosure or manifestation of his own image. Whence it happens that every agent, insofar as he is such, takes delight. For, because everything that is desires its own being and in acting the being of an agent is in a certain way amplified, delight necessarily follows, since delight always attaches to something desired.

Know thy work and do it. ‘Know thyself:’ long enough has that poor ‘self’ of thine tormented thee; thou wilt never get to ‘know’ it, I believe! Think it not thy business, this knowing of thyself; thou art an unknowable individual: know what thou canst work at; and work at it, like a Hercules! That will be thy better plan.

[T]his is the werk . . . in the whiche man schuld have contynowed yif he never had synned, and to the whiche man was maad, and all thing for man, to help him and forther him therto, and by the whiche a man schal be reparailed agein.

[T]he essence of action is accomplishment. To accomplish means to unfold something into the fullness of its essence, to lead it forth into this fullness—producere. Therefore only what already is can really be accomplished. But what “is” above all is being. Thinking accomplishes the relation of being to the essence of the human being. It does not make or cause the relation. Thinking brings this relation to being solely as something handed over to thought itself from being. Such offering consists in the fact that in thinking being comes to language. Language is the house of being. In its home human beings dwell.

“By clothyng ne by carpynge knowe shaltow hym [Charity] neuere,
Ac thorw werkes thow myhte wyte wher-forth he walketh.
Operibus credite.
He is þe murieste of mouthe at mete þer he sitteth,
And compenable in companye, as Crist hymsulue techeth:
Nolite tristes fieri, sicut ypocrite.

How many in our day understand what the absurd is? How many in our day live in such a way that they have renounced everything or have received everything? How many are merely so honest that they know what they are able to do and what they are unable to do?

The rational soul, when it understands and preserves its honor, is something noble and lofty. It is far removed by nature from rustic lowliness and degeneracy, since it is free and able of its own power to command all things and make them serve its wishes, governing them with its authority. This is proper to one with royal dignity. For this reason man is born defenseless, devoid of natural protection, to such an extent that whereas nature appears a happy mother at the birth of other living things, for man she seems a sorrowful stepmother. . . . No other animal does she bring to the light of day for so many tears so soon. In all ancient and recent history, Zoroaster alone, that inventor of the magic arts, is said to have been born laughing, so that he who was to attack the established nature of things by his evil arts would stand out by his own unnatural and ill-omened beginning.

What does it matter you didn’t turn out so well? How much is still possible! So learn to laugh over and past yourselves!

Brother Leo: “Then what is true joy?”
Francis: “I return from Perugia and arrive here in the dead of night. It’s winter time, muddy, and so cold that icicles have formed on the edges of my habit, and keep striking my legs and blood flows from such wounds. . . . I stand again at the door and say: ‘For the love of God, take me in tonight!’ And he replies: ‘I will not! Go to the Crosiers’ place and ask there!’ I tell you this: If I had patience and did not become upset, true joy, as well as true virtue and salvation of my soul, would consist in this.”

[Laughter] comes into the class of all artistic phenomena which indicate the existence of a permanent duality in human being, the power of being at once oneself and an other.

It is fitting for truth to laugh, because it is happy, to play with its rivals, because it is secure.

The question whether human thinking can reach objective truth—is not a question of theory but a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, actuality and power, this-sidedness of his thinking. The dispute about the actuality or non-actuality of thinking—thinking isolated from practice—is a purely scholastic question.

Even as fire breaks from a cloud, because it dilates so that it has not room there, and contrary to its own nature, falls down to earth, so my mind, becoming greater amid those feasts, issued from itself, and of what it became has no remembrance. “Open your eyes and look on what I am; you have seen things such that you are become able to sustain my smile.”

We see that finally, given the exercise of knowledge, the world is likewise situated completely out of the reach of this exercise, and even that not only the world, but the being that we are, is out of reach. There is, in us and in the world, something that reveals that knowledge was not given to us, and that situates itself uniquely as being unable to be attained by knowledge. This, it seems to me, is that at which we laugh. And fundamentally, one must to say it immediately, when it is a question of the theory of laughter, this is what illuminates us and what fills us with joy.

For I do not seek to understand, so that I may believe, but I believe, so that I may understand.

I am all for knowledge [laughter], for science, for analysis, and . . . well, okay! So, this non-knowing . . . it is not the limit . . . of a knowledge, the limit in the progression of a knowledge. It is, in some way, a structural non-knowing, which is heterogeneous, foreign to knowledge. It's not just the unknown that could be known and that I give up trying to know. It is something in relation to which knowledge is out of the question.

And with the Oompa-Loompas rowing faster than ever, the boat shot into the
pitch dark tunnel, and all the passengers screamed with excitement.
'How can they see where they're going?' shrieked Violet Beauregarde in the
'There's no knowing where they're going!' cried Mr. Wonka, hooting with

Sources, in order of appearance:

Meher Baba, Beams (Harper & Row, 1958), 8.
“Quis tenebit cor hominis, ut stet et videat, quomodo stans dictet futura et praeterita tempora nec futura nec praeterita aeternitas? Numquid manus mea valet hoc aut manus oris mei per loquellas agit tam grandem rem?” (Augustine, Confessions, Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951], 11.11).
André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech, trans. Anna Bostock Berger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 20.
John of Salisbury, The Stateman’s Book, trans. John Dickenson (New York: Russell & Russell, 1963), 65.
Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 165-6.
The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers, ed. John William Sutton (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2006), 2.257-8.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick (ed. Charles Feidelson (New York: Macmillan, 1964), ch.107.
“Nam in omni actione principaliter intenditur ab agente, sive necessitate nature sive volontarie agat, propriam similitudinem explicare. Unde fit quod omne agens, in quantum huiusmodi, delectatur; quia, cum omne quod est appetat suum esse, ac in agendo agentis esse quodammodo amplietur, sequitur de necessitate delectatio, quia delectatio rei desiderate semper annexa est.” (Dante Alighieri, De monarchia, ed. Pier Giorgio Ricci [Verona: Mondadori, 1965], 1.13.2-3).
Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present, ed. Richard D. Altick (New York: New York University Press, 1965), 196.
The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Patrick J. Gallacher (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), 4.340-3.
Martin Heidegger, “Letter on ‘Humanism’,” trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, in Pathmarks, ed. William Mc Neill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press:1998), 239.
William Langland, Piers Plowman, the C-Text, ed. Derek Pearsall (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1978), XVI.340-2.
Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), III.149, p. 101.
William of St. Thierry, The Nature of the Body and the Soul, trans. Benamin Clark, in Three Treatises on Man: A Cistercian Anthropology, ed. Bernard McGinn (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1977), II.6, p.135
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Adrian Del Caro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), Part 4, “On the Higher Man,” p. 240.
Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, eds. Regis J. Armstrong, J.A. Wayne Hellman, and William J. Short (New York: New City Press, 1999), I.166-7.
Charles Baudelaire, “De l’essence du rire,” Oeuvres complètes: curiosités esthétiques (Paris: A. Lemerre, 1890), 358-9.
“Congruit et veritati ridere, quia laetans; de aemulis suis ludere, quia secura est” (Tertullian, Adversus Valentinianos, PL 2: 550).
Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, trans. Easton and Guddat, in Selected Writings, ed. Lawrence H. Simon (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), thesis 2, p.99.
“Come foco di nube si diserra / per dilatarsi sì che non vi cape, / e fuor di sua natura in giù s’atterra, / la mente mia così, tra quelle dape / fatta più grande, di sé stessa uscìo, / e che si fesse rimembrar no sape. / ‘Apri li occhi e riguarda qual son io; / tu hai vedute cose, che possente / se’fatto a sostener lo riso mio’” (Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Charles S. Singleton [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975], Paradiso 23.40-8).
Georges Bataille, “Nonknowledge, Laugher, and Tears,” The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, trans. Michelle Kendall and Stuart Kendall (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 135.
Anselm, Proslogium, ch.2, PL 158:227. Cf. “Omnis homo vult intelligere; nemo est qui nolit: credere non omnes volunt. Dicit mihi homo, Intelligam, ut credam: respondeo, Crede, ut intelligas. (Augustine, Sermones ad populum, 43.3.4, PL 38:255)
Jacques Derrida, “’There is No One Narcissism’ (Autobiophotographies),” in Points . . . Interviews, 1974-1994, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 201.
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (New York: Random House, 1964), 90.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mysticism, Place, Chora, Body

The content of mystical longing, as the impossible desiring-questioning of impossible place, is not a perceived object, a there, but a must be or unseen is grounded in the actuality of what is here, in the inexplicable fact that something is happening, that one actually does exist, has body, the most intimate wrestling partner through which and with whom we struggle to get a grip on ourselves, cast off sleep, determine the truth about things, find where here is. The question “where am I?,’ traversing a space bounded from within by the intensity with which it is felt, desires what is most remote, not objectively, for the sake of asking about it, but only as that which would give place to the present, locate it somewhere. If, when the question achieves this location, it is not by hitting its mark or finding a point that discloses the questioner as on a map, but only by mirroring the questioner, giving place to her or his presence, the facticity or actuality or that which is so wonderful/terrifying/beautiful that it might as well be called (and may very well be) God. Chōra, called by Derrida “a strange mother who gives place without engendering,” is the place of the question and is question itself. What can be said of the question can be said of her. And acknowledging this identity may also help to clarify the boundary/friendship/(en)gendering between philosophy and mysticism. Philosophy also originates in erotic, felt, impossible questions, but puts the passion and the body that birthed them aside, to leave them (rather than let them place one) in the abyss, as if in deferral of their consummation, preferring to appropriate questioning as praxis, to replace the question’s original passion with a passion for questioning. So philosophy is haunted by chōra as its original eros, the forgotten love within it that gave/gives the question and which being forgotten remains perceivable only externally, barely, through the dream of questioning, in the form of remotest all-containing space. Mysticism, on the other hand, takes up the questions it is given as passion, as belonging to the place that conceived them. It knows and insists even foolishly that the question’s answer is not its understanding but its desperate and everyday experience and so lives with questions, places itself with them as with body, with what will not go away.