Sunday, April 26, 2009


e luce sí, che per lo suo splendore

SPECTACULAR INTIMACY, or, the brightness of light becoming itself. Splendor is not a quality, but the condition of the overcoming of quality. It is not something seen, but the visible approach of the place where seeing becomes the seen.[i] "In this state of absorbed contemplation there is no longer question of holding an object: the vision is continuous so that seeing and seen are one thing; object and act of vision have become identical; of all that until then filled the eye no memory remains. . . . the vision floods the eyes with light, but it is not a light showing some other object, the light is itself the vision."[ii] Syntactically, the line temporalizes splendor, traces the becoming substantial of the relation between seeing and seen as a time delay within their distinction. Suspended in this light-filled air, can I say what splendor is? Luckily Dante, being one who breathes love back into philology (the exhale of his taking note when love inspires), is here to help.[iii] Commenting on the descent of divine power as sight (In lei discende la virtù divina / sì come face in angelo, che 'l vede), he explains splendor via Avicenna as not only reflected light, but the visible/visual becoming of a thing toward the virtue shining on it.[iv] Seeing is not simply splendor's external measuring tool, but the very efficiency of its cause. To see someone's splendor, to experience how she shines, is to witness her becoming like what she sees and thus belong by parallel process to her being. Splendor is the ideal form of seeing as participation, the term of beauty's neither-subjective-nor-objective being in the eye of the beholder, the self-forgetful love-seeing or ocular "erotic anamnesis . . . that transports the object not toward another thing or another place, but toward its own taking place—toward the Idea."[v] So the sigh returns in the lady's splendor to its own very cause.[vi] So is splendor what speaks the being of love: "Non per aver a sé di bene aquisto, / ch'esser no può, ma perché suo splendore / potesse, risplendendo, dir 'Subsisto,' . . . / s'aperse in nuovi amor l'etterno amore" (Paradiso 29.13-8).[vii] [N]

[i] Cf. "The sensual thing itself has a unified and basically ineffable effect on us, one that cannot be reduced to any list of traits. But if such a listing of traits does not sever a thing from its quality, there may be another way for this to happen. . . . The separation between a sensual object and its quality can be termed 'allure.' This term pinpoints the bewitching emotional effect that often accompanies this event for humans, and also suggests the related term 'allusion,' since allure merely alludes to the object without making it its inner life directly present" (Graham Harman, "On Vicarious Causation," Collapse 2 [2007]: 198-9).

[ii] Plotinus, Enneads, 6.7.35-6

[iii] "I' mi son un che, quando / Amor mi spira, noto, e a quell modo / ch'e' ditta dentro vo significando" (Purgatorio 24.52-4) [I am one who, when Love inspires me, takes note, and goes setting it forth after the fashion which he dictates within me]. Signification itself is a work of love, semiosis an amorous occasionalism.

[iv] "Ove è da sapere che discender la virtude d'una cosa in altra non è altro che ridurre quella in sua similitudine; sì come ne li agenti naturali vedemo manifestamente che, discendendo la loro virtù ne le pazienti cose, recano quelle a loro similitudine tanto quanto possibili sono a venire. Onde vedemo lo sole che, discendendo lo raggio suo qua giù, reduce le cose a sua similitudine di lume, quanto esse per loro disposizione possono da la [sua] virtude lume ricevere. Così dico che Dio questo amore a sua similitudine reduce, quanto esso è possibile a lui assimigliarsi. E ponsi la qualitade de la reduzione, dicendo: Sì come face in angelo che 'l vede. Ove ancora è da sapere che lo primo agente, cioè Dio, pinge la sua virtù in cose per modo di diritto raggio, e in cose per modo di splendore reverberato; onde ne le Intelligenze raggia la divina luce sanza mezzo, ne l'altre si ripercuote da queste Intelligenze prima illuminate. Ma però che qui è fatta menzione di luce e di splendore, a perfetto intendimento mostrerò differenza di questi vocabuli, secondo che Avicenna sente. Dico che l'usanza de' filosofi è di chiamare 'luce' lo lume, in quanto esso è nel suo fontale principio; di chiamare 'raggio', in quanto esso è per lo mezzo, dal principio al primo corpo dove si termina; di chiamare 'splendore', in quanto esso è in altra parte alluminata ripercosso. Dico adunque che la divina virtù sanza mezzo questo amore tragge a sua similitudine" (Convivio 3.14, <> [Here we must observe that the descent of virtue from one thing into another is nothing but the causing of the latter to take on the likeness of the former; just as in natural agents we clearly see that when their virtue descends into things that are receptive, they cause those things to take on their likeness to the extent that they are capable of attaining to it. Thus we see that the Sun, as its rays descend here below, causes things to take on the likeness of its light to the extent that by their disposition they are capable of receiving light from its virtue. So I say that God causes this love to take on his own likeness to the extent that it is possible for it to resemble him. And the nature of that causation is indicated by saying As it does into an angel that sees him. Here we must further know that the first agent, namely God, instills his power into things by means of direct radiance or by means of reflected light. Thus the divine light rays forth into the Intelligences without mediation, and is reflected into the other things by these Intelligences which are first illuminated. But since light and reflected light have been mentioned here, I will, in order to be perfectly clear, clarify the difference between these terms according to the opinion of Avicenna. I say that it is customary for philosophers to call luminosity light as it exists in its original source, to call it radiance as it exists in the medium between its source and the first body which it strikes, and to call it reflected light as it is reflected into another place that becomes illuminated (trans. Richard Lansing,>)].

[v] Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 2.

[vi] "ché 'n sue belezze son cose vedute / che li occhi li color dov'ella luce / ne Mandan messi al cor pien di desiri, / che prendon aire e diventan sospiri" (Convivio 3) [Her pure soul, which receives from him this salvation, For in her beauties are things seen that the eyes of those in whom she shines send messages to the heart full of desires that take air and become sighs].

[vii] "Not for gain of good unto Himself, which cannot be, but that His splendor might, in resplendence, say, 'Subsisto' . . . the Eternal Love opened into new loves."

1 comment:

Heather said...

What thoughts, and how put together! _It_ often takes the shape of a woman, doesn't it? I particularly like the second passage (funny how these things have been there all along). It helps me with some of the ideas on objects and sight I am trying to sort out, particularly the idea of how in its becoming and advancement, a thing loses its shape, we forget about representation, form... even beautiful ones lose themselves to a present that I can’t describe as anything but seventh sense. These days I am thinking there is also a resistance there, maybe it is the moment on the brink of the object losing its form? I am wondering why we are so attracted to privileging the process, the imperceptible accretion and coming into. Why do we want to imagine that it "must be happening"? I guess it can only go downhill, from there.