Sunday, May 24, 2009

Your gaze is a speculative reality

Your gaze is a speculative reality,
A gradual from an unknown monastery.

Zerodimensionally, it perforates air,
Opening without opening somewhere very.

Disease me. Be for me as I am your disease,
Sack the City of God with love-dysentery.

Their conference, even on the moon, leaves all unchanged;
Professing, they forget to practice, heresy.

Outside opens from within, making all woman,
Whoring world perfectly like the Virgin Mary.

Inside opens from without, manning everything,
Erecting it as infinite commentary.

Nicola's vision crashes right through the windshield,
Thrown by distracting eyes, a fresh fatality.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dust mote dictates empyrean conspiracy

Dust mote dictates empyrean conspiracy,
Ice sings antarctic black metal conspiracy.

It hurts ego to hear cosmos is one big tree
Infinitely ramifying conspiracy.

Witness thought's betrayal of thinking's own body,
Keeping secret everybody's conspiracy.

Who is my only and non-essential essence,
The halo of this event as conspiracy.

A single anything spontaneously kills
All chance of there not being a conspiracy.

Individuation glitches every system,
Endlessly out-conspires every conspiracy.

Ecstatic mnemonic paralysis seizes
Nicola's heart in the sweetest conspiracy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Still Sphering

lo peregrino spirito la mira

MY EYES AND I have a bargain: they say what I cannot speak and I tell them what they cannot see.[i] Being in wonder keeps us busy. So the pilgrim spirit's looking through her splendor is an identical inner relation, an intimate respirating exchange between seeing-as-speaking and speaking-as-seeing that produces silence for profit, the plenitude of sense and medium of all real transaction.[ii] "The soundless gathering call, by which Saying moves the world-relation on its way, we call the ringing of stillness. It is: the language of being."[iii] La mira comes here, to the unstopping completion, the quiet saturation from which poetry, or the re-saying of silence, initiates anew "la gioia che mai non fina."[iv] Gazing on her, lo peregrino spirito enters the circumambulation (tawaf, pradakshina) that is the beginningless beginning and endless end of its wandering desire, "the pneumatic circle within which the poetic sign, as it arises from the spirit of the heart, can immediately adhere both to the dictation of that 'spiritual motion' that is love, and to its object."[v] The amorous circulatory system of the sonetto, participating in the trinitarian processions of being it evokes, is inscribed in its subtle self-reflexive numerology, founded on four fives (4+5=9=Beatrice): "cinque parti," 5 rhymes, 14 lines (1+4=5), 4 stanzas + 1 poem = 5.[vi] So the line groupings (2, 2, 4, 3, 3) place Beatrice (9=2+4+3) at the center. What is the point? In keeping with the conjecture that "counting was born in the elaboration of a ritual procession re-enacting the Creation,"[vii] the sonetto processes its own creation in the breath that speaks it, counting in a circle charted by the two persons (lover and beloved) and their personified relation (sospiro/pensero/spirito) so as to arrive, return, and mystically re-arrive at Beatrice. That is easy.[viii] A truer question is where is the point? That is the end of this line, the place of the gaze to which love ever returns by always never being able to leave. [N]

[i] Cf. "to speak is in God to see by thought, forasmuch as the Word is conceived by the gaze of the divine thought" (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province [New York: Bezinger Brothers, 1947], 1.34.1).

[ii] In one moment (the only moment) of silence / Are dying all of my ideas about silence. / As sound beyond sound, beyond hearing, and beyond / Beyond is the densest openness of silence. / There is an endless loveliness in your eyes while / I am trying to say something about silence. / See the past, present, and future of all language / Created, preserved, and destroyed inside silence. / Speak your heart to me, dear one, whoever you are, / In these uncertain moments enclosed by silence. / Word-truth, our rarely achieved alchemy of sense, / Is a sound transmuting silence into silence. / Keep quiet Nicola, failure of what you know, / While we keep listening for answers in silence. "And Nature, asked by it brings forth works, might answer if it cared to listen and to speak: 'It would have been more becoming to put no question but to learn in silence just as I myself am silent and make no habit of talking. And what is your lesion? This; that whatsoever comes into my being is my vision, seen in my silence, the vision that belongs to my character who, sprung from vision, am vision-loving and create vision by the vision-seeing faculty within me" (Plotinus, Enneads, 3.8.4). "Si cui sileat tumultus carnis, sileant phantasiae terrae et aquarum et aeris, sileant et poli et ipsa sibi anima sileat . . . none hoc est: Intra in gaudium domini tui?" (Augustine, Confessions, Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951], 9.10). "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. There is no beginning to silence and no end . . . When silence is present, it is as though nothing but silence had ever existed" (Max Picard, The World of Silence, trans. Stanley Godman [Chicago: Regner, 1952], 1. "He who never says anything cannot keep silent at any given moment. Keeping silent authentically is possible only in genuine discoursing. To be able to keep silent, Dasein must have something to say—that is, it must have at its disposal an authentic and rich disclosedness of itself" (Martin Heidegger,Being and Time , trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson [San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1962], I.5.165). "Things that are real are given and received in silence" (Meher Baba).

[iii] Martin Heidegger, "The Nature of Language," in On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 108.

[iv] Guido delle Colonne, "Gioiosamente canto," I poeti della scuola Siciliana: Poeti siculo-toscani, ed. Rosario Coluccia (Milano: Mondadori, 2008), 67.

[v] Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, 128.

[vi] "The sonnet could be divided more subtly, and more subtly clarified; but it may pass with this division, and therefore I do not concern myself to divide it any further" (Vita Nuova, 41:9). I proceed through some trinitarian passages. "The same appetite with which one longs open-mouthed to know a thing becomes love of the thing known when it holds and embraces the acceptable offspring, that is knowledge, and joins it to its begetter. And so you have a certain image of the trinity, the mind itself and its knowledge, which is its offspring and its words about itself, and love as the third element, and these three are one (1 Jn 5:8) and are one substance" (Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Edmund Hill [Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1991], 9.3). "[T]he Son proceeds by way of the intellect as Word, and the Holy Ghost by way of the will as Love. Now love must proceed from a word. For we do not love anything unless we apprehend it by a mental conception. Hence also in this way it is manifest that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the son. . . . Therefore in rational creatures, possessing intellect and will, there is found the representation of the Trinity by way of image, inasmuch as there is found in them the word conceived, and the love proceeding" (Aquinas, Summa theologica, 1.36.2, 1.45.7). "The ecstatical unity of temporality—that is, the unity of the 'outside-of-itself' in the raptures of the future, of what has been, and of the Present—is the condition for the possibility that there can be an entity which exists as its 'there'" (Heidegger, Being and Time, 2.469). "The fact is, that when the latent infinite trio-nature of God is gradually manifested out of the gradual projection of the finite Nothing, and when it simultaneously protrudes the projection

of the finite Nothing as Nothingness manifested ad infinitum,this very same infinite trio-nature of God, at this stage of manifestation, becomes enmeshed in the apparent and false infinity of the Nothingness and thus gets itself expressed as the finite triple nature of man with capabilities demonstrated ad infinitum. How (1) the mind, (2) the energy and (3) the body, as the triple nature of man, demonstrate their capabilities ad infinitum in Illusion is clearly experienced (1) through the inventive mind of a scientist, who finds no end to discoveries and inventions; (2) through the release of nuclear energy in Illusion, which has reached a stage where it threatens with its own force of illusion to destroy the very Nothingness out of which it emerged and evolved into such a terrific force; (3) through the body (typifying happiness) which, now keeping pace with the advanced progress of the evolution of the Nothing, is infinitely urged to seek greater and greater happiness to such an extent that happiness actually becomes the very basis of the life of illusion. The only reason for such infinite demonstration in the field of Nothingness (which is Illusion) is because the basic finite triple nature of man—energy, mind and happiness of Nothingness—is upheld and stretched out ad infinitum by the basic infinite trio-nature of God—infinite power, infinite knowledge and infinite bliss of Everything" (Meher Baba, God Speaks, 90-1).

[vii] T. Koetsier and L. Bergmans, "Introduction," Mathematics and the Divine: An Historical Study (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2008), 13.

[viii] The movement through the imagistic steps of the sonetto is of course more complex and involves several eddying, microcosmic motions. At this level we begin already beyond the widest sphere, then penetrate it from this side via Love's weeping in a motion that is virtually re-initiated from the heart in a kind of syntactic time-warp. Then thought's arrival at the lady and its getting lost in the epicycles of honor and splendor and gazing. Then the sigh's subtle retelling of the gaze caused by a secondary motion of the heart that first moved it. Then the mystical understanding of thought's unintelligible speech through an apophatic anamnesis of the beloved's name. And finally a gentle expansion into a refined social atmosphere.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dialetheic Divinity, Auto-Spectrality, Life After Death

These are some comments in the wake Reza Negarestani's "Instrumental Spectrality . . ." and Quentin Meillasoux's "Spectral Dilemma" (Collapse 4). Surely there is not a proper argument here, only some fast-and-loose haunting thoughts that demand exorcism by/in writing. Plus, I can come up with no purer procrastination (than attending to myself as ghost, discussing the divine (in)existence, and thinking about life-after-death). And it is likely that this whole theological spectrality thing will fatally inform my Sorrow of Being project, seeing that it is all about, only about, the sorrow that one is as the ultimate and most extreme auto-mourn.

"To be atheist is not simply to maintain that God does not exist, but also that he could not exist; to be a believer is to have faith in the essential existence of God. We now see that the thesis of the divine inexistence must, to gain ground against such an alternative, shift the battle to the terrain of modalities: Its is a question of maintaining that God is possible—not in a subjective and synchronous sense (in the sense that I maintain that it is possible that God currently exists), but in an objective future sense (where I maintain that God could really come about in the future. At stake is the unknotting of the atheo-religious link between God and necessity (God must or must not exist) and its reattachment to the virtual (God could exist)" (QM). Here we see at once the most alluring speculative call and the most egregious philosophical error of QM's proposal for the solution of essential spectres.[i] A wonderful radical exposure of thought to the extra-divine contingency plus a pathetic chaining of that exposure to an all-too-human hyper-deficient understanding of time. "God"/God was, is, and will be (unless humans manage to get it together and get down to the business of immaculately conceiving a new concept that would primordially replace "God") the term or name or word (and all three) that par excellence breaks with "everyday" time. (Indeed, philosophy tends to rely on the concept of the "everyday" in the same way that science relies on "we": both are sneaky self-preserving ways of confessing-without-confessing what these discourses do not know, of staying "discourses," of keeping their failure at bay before themselves and before the people they think they are talking to). QM here deifies linear finite time (contra Augustine, Boethius, Barbour et al) and thus talks about God in a manner that cannot make sense. Just to say "God," even once, even without thinking about it, is to intuitively admit that one does not know what is really happening and that the relation between this happening and time is messed up. The simplest and most easily grasped aspect of the messed-up-ness of the relation between time and event is what stares one in the face all the time: the fact that although one's life is saturated by time and cannot properly happen without it, the event of it is timeless/atemporal (Why am I me? Why is it now now? And so on). Cleary this is and is not QM's point, to use pathetic time to lever open to our vision a new space of thought/experience and at the same time to naturalize or habituate our vision to it via pathetic time, i.e. make us feel at home with God as possibly existing despite his apparent absence. R.N. catches the scent of this contradiction as specifically time-bound when he sees that QM's "recourse to hauntology . . . obliges him to assume a decisional position which not only dampens the speculative drive mobilized by the absolute contingency but also makes his philosophy amicable to instrumental and neo-moralist regimes of ethics and politics" and that this decisional position confesses "the hackneyed ethical responsibility of the philosophy qua the living who is compulsively obsessed with doing justice to the dead on behalf of his living brethren." In other words, there is a whiff here of an existential progressiveness that makes for-other and for-future decisions so as to sweep under the rug of itself as rationality the radical arbitrariness of its own event and thus "obstruct the speculative tempest unleashed by the absolute contingency of the cosmic abyss" (RN).

What is called for then is a deeper entering into the time of the spectre. Think Hamlet. The appearance of the ghost is all about its simultaneously momentary and durable temporality, the fact that its regular brief diurnal appearance indexes the deeper, magnified, unbearable time of purgatorial experience. In other words, the time of the spectre is a beyond time within time, an eternalizing or extra-temporalizing adjunct of pathetic time. Here we see the link between speculation and spectrality. To speculate is to see a spectre. To see a spectre is to think in its time, to hear a story from time's outside. To assume a decisional position vis-à-vis a spectre (i.e. become its mourner/avenger) is to be tricked by it into forcibly re-belonging to pathetic time on a spectral behalf. This is the ghost's typical hunger, as folkloric wisdom bears out, to consume a little portion of one's life, suck one's breath, etc. To do what a spectre wants = to cease talking to it = to stop speculating. Deciding from the spectre, Hamlet ceases to be a philosopher and thus becomes fatally haunted by philosophy. This constitutes his western modernity, his embodiment of modern philosophy as the haunting of cogitation by philosophy as an outside, as something dead on whose behalf thinking must proceed. Similarly, it is possible that is QM tricked by essential spectres into "bringing back the omniscient God in the guise of hyper-chaos" (RN). The mechanism of this trickery is the essentializing of spectrality itself, which is precisely the trick of every spectre, the content of every spectral lie: "I am special [and you must do something about it]." The arbitrary indication of some spectres as essential (Which ones? What not that one?) is simply a generalized form of the selfishness of mourning, an abstract expression of the self-sting of death wherein it goes forgotten that it is always for oneself that one mourns (hence my desire to turn back the art of mourning on itself). The spectral claim to specialness preys upon human desire to be special, to believe in the specialness of its being alive, when in fact everything is alive, even and perhaps especially the dead, insofar as they are. RN addresses this confusion over the livingness of the dead under the heading of "the ontological apartheid of the living . . . the myth of the living." And yet it does not seem that QM is really tricked by any essential spectre, or that there is a a real spectre in "Spectral Dilemma." Rather there is an idea of spectres as a generalized essence, a choral class of spectres singing theodical verses. But how can essential spectrality be generalized?

I have elsewhere arrived at a somewhat similar perception of ontological apartheidism in the midst of commenting on the line Exists a creature of frost from High on Fire's "The Yeti": "Being an elemental creature means being what one is made of, being a being that is its own substance. Within the Yeti, there is no space between creaturely being and frost's existence. But human being, suspicious of itself, guilty and disoriented, is both haunted by a sense of being other than what it is made of and faithless of this other's substantiality. Auto-heretic, the human sees everyday the ghost of itself and still does not believe. Instead, it thinks and feels itself as made out of something else, something more elemental than itself. Hence the human fears and romanticizes—one coin's two sides—death as dissolution into elemental substance, as evaporation. Yet my voice, complaining or consoling, betrays itself, carries back to me its elemental, ownmost whisper, a voice within voice that is also mine, a secret suggestion that death's loss is my missing of death, its darkness my blindness to it. A big delusion, silliness to think that I am both other than and reducible to my elements, to cast myself as a spell of never being myself, neither in life or death! I AM. And my being here as body and self is not only proof but the very reality of that fact as substantial, ineradicable. 'There is no unbridgeable gulf separating the finer aspects of nature from its gross aspect. They all interpenetrate one another and exist together.' The 'impossibility' of our being here forecloses the possibility of our not being here, of death as such, wherever here happens to be. From the horizon of the beyond beyond, the Yeti calls us back to life's continuity, self-continuous life, the happy life of being one's own substance. Emblematically, Yeti is Yet-I, the self-saying speaking self that exists despite whatever surrounds it, the atemporal 'yet' that is the event of the I." So we can say that the Yeti (and other similar luminous, liminal monsters), as a supremely accidental spectre that not only does not demand mourning but terroristically insists on one's own happiness in the face of all catastrophe, is a proper antidote to the myth of essential spectres.

Yet it is hardly complete to say that QM only instrumentalizes spectres on behalf of the "living," rendering the dead "liveware (the instrument of the living)" as RN says. QM's essential spectres are more importantly godware, instruments for re-conceiving God, midwifes of the divine: "Must this future and immanent god be personal, or consist in a 'harmony', a becalmed community of living, of dead, and of reborn? We believe that precise responses to these questions can be envisaged, and that they determine an original regime of thought, in rupture with both atheism and theology: a divinology, yet to be constituted, through which will be fabricated, perhaps, new links between men and those who haunt them." In other words, QM is really only conjuring essential spectres as a fiction that evaporates before the rising of God as the the spectre of spectres, the Spectre whose instrumentalization is out of the question and with whom one might finally, infinitely, and already converse in speculation into the most absolute and post-absolute contingencies. Here the possibility of a harmonic horizon between QM and RN becomes visible, with the latter doing the work proposed by the former, as pathetic time poetically dissolves into the space of the yet and the perhaps. Which is why I expected RN's response to QM to reopen the divinologies of Cyclonopedia, especially those that formally evoke QM's god to come, namely: Zurvan Akarana, the original God whose "Outsideness can neither possess nor be possessed" and "Incognitum Hactenus—not known yet or nameless and without origin until now . . . a double-dealing mode of time connecting abyssal time scales to our chronological time, thus exposing to us the horror of times beyond." Incognitum Hactenus is totally on the way to QM's god to come the only way that god can be to come, by not being on the way at all. Cf. "The cause which led the most finite Nothing, latent in the infinite Everything, to manifest itself as infinite Nothingness, is the original cause called the 'CAUSE.' This Cause is just nothing but the WHIM or lahar of God. This original whim can also be called the first 'WORD' uttered by God—'WHO AM I?' . . . How is it then possible for the latent original infinite whim to surge in God and make manifest itself and all that is latent of the Nothing as Nothingness? Whim after all is a whim; and, by its very nature, it is such that 'why—wherefore—when' can find no place in its nature. A whim may come at any moment; it may come now or after a few months or after years, and it may not come at all. Similarly, the original infinite whim, after all, is a whim, and too, it is the whim of God in the state of infinitude! This whim may not surge in God at all; and, if it surges, either at any moment or after thousands of years or after a million cycles, it need not be surprising" (Meher Baba).

To try to cut to the chase regarding the divine inexistence (the presence of which was most recently palpably produced in Eileen Joy's "The Light of Her Face was the Voluptuous Index of a Multiplicity of Guthlacs"), the question is certainly not (as QM and RN know) whether nor not God exists.[ii] That question, now well into running its course, is only a worn out device of human self-deferral or method for continuing one's own existence in the mode of a spectre, in the worried faux-freedom of spectral wandering (I don't know where or who I am and don't care as long as I have my X). Nor is the question really whether and/or when God will exist in the future. That feels like Chaos-fetishism of a kind that would preserve a certain comfort for discourse, a certain we will keep talking in the pious thought that our thinking both belongs to a historically responsible getting better of things and still cooly performs our dark awareness of abysses even God could not glimpse. The moment Chaos is indicated as the abyssic foundation of everything Chaos itself is consumed by it, ingested by the implacable singular monstrosity of the there is. The real question, rather, the one that really grips me and "in which factical Dasein is ruthlessly dragged back to itself and relentlessly thrown back upon itself" (Heidegger), is the question of how God at once exists and does not exist, how God, existing, truly and actually manages not exist, and how God, not existing, yet truly and actually manages to exist. In short the question is not whether God exists, or how God might exist in the future, the question is WHO is God? A deeper and darker question that could face God as the real spectre, that does not require God to exist or not, that could confront the spectrality of the fact that anything is happening at all, a question that God has trouble answering, that energizes rather than hampers "the speculative vector" (RN) . . .

Feeling this question means thinking the divine (in)existence dialetheically, seeing God as always both existing and not-existing in an infinitely unpredictable manner that wholly fulfills being and non-being simultaneously with and without contradiction. Here Pseudo-Dionysius's understanding of the universe as divine ec-stasis comes to mind: "the very cause of the universe in the beautiful, good, superabundance of his benign yearning for all is also carried outside of himself in the loving care he has for everything. He is, as it were, beguiled by goodness, by love, and by yearning and is enticed away from his transcendent dwelling place and comes to abide within all things, and he does so by virtue of his supernatural and ecstatic capacity to remain, nevertheless, within himself." In other words, we can think of God as auto-spectral, both in the sense of the universe being a divine shade or ghost and in the sense of "God" being a spectre haunting the universe. In divine auto-spectrality, the mutual misunderstandings of the spectre and the haunted, the "dead" and the "living" are simultaneously and cosmically present in an infinitely purposeless and perfect way. God, the divine, is thus both a singular, special being who relates to cosmos auto-spectrally and the very ghostly relation of each thing to itself. Cf. "God or the good or the place does not take place, but is the taking-place of the entities, their innermost exteriority. The being-worm of the worm, the being-stone of the stone, is divine" (Agamben). God is dead, but does not know it, and hangs around life as its own. God is alive, but is haunted by himself as dead, and does things to dispel himself as ghost. And so on. Interestingly, divine (in)existence as auto-spectral fulfills QM's epigraph—"every man has two things belonging to him, namely, a life and a phantom" (Tylor)—better than the futuristic spectral solution. Cf. "What is properly divine is that the world does not reveal God" (Agamben).

Cinema, or life as animation, is one instrument for holding in mind the complexity of auto-spectral being. A mixture of common sense and rumor, going back at least to the middle ages, lets us know that life near/after death is intensely self-filmic: "The fret and fury of immediate responses to the changing situations of earthly life is replaced in life after death by a more leisurely mood freed from the urgency of immediately needed actions. All the experience of the earthly career is now available for reflection in a form more vivid than is possible through memory in earthly life. The snapshots of earthly life have all been taken on the cinematic film of the mind and it is now time to study the original earthly life through the magnified projections of the filmed record on the screen of subjectivised consciousness" (Discourses 3.64). Auto-spectrality is cinematic in the sense that watching the film of one's life means being both alive and dead in a wonderful way. My life is over, but I am still experiencing it. I still live, but I am already dead. Something like this seems to be the natural state of all things to themselves, the reality of their being whoever they are.

And Chaos, instead of being an absolute place or principle from which everything contingently hangs, would then be the spontaneous cosmic machine or ultimate undesignable instrument through which the auto-spectral existence of each being is maintained simultaneously as itself and as a relation to innumerable other unpredictable beings (world).


[i] "Essential spectres are those of terrible deaths: premature deaths, odious, deaths, the death of a child . . . We will call essential mourning the completion of mourning for essential spectres" (QM). Karl Steel, this is the article I realized you would appreciate in the middle of your talk on "Woofing and Weeping: Mourning with Animals in the Last Days" and this is why (apocalyptic animals as essential spectres, etc. Cf. Hegel, "Every animal finds a voice in its violent death; it expresses itself as a removed self").

[ii] Cf. "'Does God exist?' I cannot imagine a more terrible question, and at the same time a more absurd one. . . . By raising the question about God's existence is to place God on the plain of the contingent, that is to say, on a level where creatures live" (August Plinth, Princples of Levitation [1971], 13).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Through the Tiny Sandstorm . . . Oriental Black Metal



"For hours I waited, till the east grew grey and the stars faded, and the grey turned to roseate light edged with gold. I heard a moaning and saw a storm of sand stirring among the antique stones though the sky was clear and the vast reaches of desert still. Then suddenly above the desert's far rim came the blazing edge of the sun, seen through the tiny sandstorm which was passing away, and in my fevered state I fancied that from some remote depth there came a crash of musical metal to hail the fiery disc as Memnon hails it from the banks of the Nile. My ears rang and my imagination seethed as I led my camel slowly across the sand to that unvocal place; that place which I alone of living men had seen. In and out amongst the shapeless foundations of houses and places I wandered, finding never a carving or inscription to tell of these men, if men they were, who built this city and dwelt therein so long ago. The antiquity of the spot was unwholesome, and I longed to encounter some sign or device to prove that the city was indeed fashioned by mankind. There were certain proportions and dimensions in the ruins which I did not like." (H.P. Lovecraft, "The Nameless City")

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Grave Levitation: Being Scholarly


[T]he problem of knowledge is a problem of possession, and every problem of possession is a problem of enjoyment.—Giorgio Agamben[i]

Pleasure and pain occur as follows. When a lot of air mingles with the blood and makes it light, which is a natural occurrence, and pervades the whole body, pleasure is the result. When the unnatural happens and the air does not mingle, the blood gets heavier and weaker and thicker, and pain is the result.—Diogenes of Apollonia[ii]

Gravity is a mystery of the body devised to hide defects of the spirit.—François de La Rochefoucauld[iii]

Mainly, the question is how light or heavy we are—the problem of our 'specific gravity'.—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science[iv]

Our world has inherited the world of gravity: all bodies weigh on one another, and against one another, heavenly bodies and callous bodies, vitreous bodies and corpuscles. But gravitational mechanics is corrected here on just one point: bodies weigh lightly.—Jean-Luc Nancy[v]

[I]t must have been like seeing one of the huge pillars of the church suspended like a cloud.—G.K. Chesterton, describing Thomas Aquinas’s levitation[vi]

Medievalist bodies, embodied medievalists! How do medievalists become bodies? How do bodies become medievalist? What is the place of pleasure in these becomings? These are terrible, silly, impossible, questions to inflict on ourselves. Yet insist and inflict I will, like a perverse medieval mystical body, like a flagellant subjecting you to the spectacle of my own affliction.

There is of course a more generic question here, a typical but powerful question about the place of the body and its pleasures within the broader set of practices to which medieval studies institutionally belongs. This question flows in many directions and could lead me to consider the medieval as a site within corporeal hermeneutics generally and how the study of medieval stuff contributes to its practical and theoretical evolution. And here there is an unmistakable medievalist presence, for example: John Milhaven’s recuperation of mystical bodily knowing and mutual loving so as "to affect all areas of human decision and action"; Hans Gumbrecht’s call, also grounded in a premodern cosmocentric subject, for "a relation to things of the world that could oscillate between presence effects and meaning effects"; Carolyn Dinshaw's invitation to a queer tactile historiography that works "through affective connection . . . and the collapse of conventional historical time;" Giorgio Agamben's stilnovistic pneumophantasmological indication of the neither-subjective-nor-objective as the "'third area' that a science of man truly freed of every eighteenth-century prejudice should focus its study"; and my own hyperarticulated desires, buttressed by the temporality of Talmudic pilpul and the sensuousness of medieval exegesis, for commentary as the spicy form of geophilosophical becoming.[vii] Such lines of flight invest in the present embodied space of pleasure as the proper place of scholarship, the workshop of its facta, and speak towards the realization of mobile communities that may supercede, perforate, and perfect the conventional forms of life they inhabit.

Here I wish not to float past but to orbitally slingshot my way around this discursive mass so as to arrive somewhere else. The metaphor has special meaning in relation to the observed gravitational anomalies whereby spacecraft have inexplicably increased velocity during Earth flybys.[viii] It suggests, perhaps as the local analogue of the similarly anomalous accelerating expansion of the universe that we live in or lives in us, the potentiality of gravity to be something otherwise. So I fling myself towards scholarly pleasure measured gravitationally, as affecting the weight of bodies, hoping to arrive at medieval studies in the middle of the moment where the heavy becomes light, where gravity is flight.

Pleasure's deep relation to gravity is evident generally in our tendency to speak of its quality in terms of weight. Pleasure presents itself through a scalar sense of my body's weight, a mood of relative corporeal heaviness or lightness. Joy is literally uplifting and sadness literally depressing. In regard to pleasure more specifically, the relation is clearest in the context of the distinction between love and lust, which I take as wholly applicable to the quality of intellectual desire. As Meher Baba explains, in terms that invite translation into the relational spaces between scholarly subjects and objects, the amorous zones of philology and philosophy,

In lust there is reliance upon the object of sense and consequent spiritual subordination of the soul to it, but love puts the soul into direct and co-ordinate relation with the reality which is behind the form. Therefore lust is experienced as being heavy and love is experienced as being light. In lust there is a narrowing down of life and in love there is an expansion in being. To have loved one soul is like adding its life to your own. Your life is, as it were, multiplied and you virtually live in two centres. If you love the whole world you vicariously live in the whole world, but in lust there is an ebbing down of life and a general sense of hopeless dependence upon a form which is regarded as another. . . . Lust seeks fulfillment but love experiences fulfillment. (Discourses 1.160)

These distinctions speak especially to how otherness and sameness function as twin containers for lustful, appropriative scholarly relations whereas loving, expansive scholarship is a movement in relation to an object whose being is not collapsed by these alternatives, what Agamben names whatever being, "the loved one with all of its predicates, its being such as it is."[ix] I will highlight the crux of the distinction, the moment where lust gives way to love, where heavy self-centered movement becomes a mobile multi-centered lightness, where bodies become planetary. This moment is grounded in the potentiality of lust as already a form of love, an already that is visible as the inescapable movement or desire of gravity itself, "a dim reflection of the love which pervades every part of the universe" (Discourses 1.156), "l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stele" (Paradiso 3.145). That it is the other stars who have Dante's final word unveils love's unity with an originary otherness legible in gravitation as a motion toward other centers, i.e. a movement whose perfection would realize the old definition of God as a sphere whose center is everywhere and/or the Nietzschean death of God—"The middle is everywhere. Crooked is the path of eternity"—for which Meister Eckhart famously prayed: "I pray to God to rid me of God."[x] In other words, the lust-to-love transition, as a movement of being, is a kind of corporeal cosmic flow between the poles of gravity's double signification of singular essential weight and omnipresent primordial movement.

So the medieval studies I am thrown into is a gravely levitating scholarly being, the lovely becoming light of weight in all senses: metaphoric, literal, and above all in the truest most palpable sense of the phenomenal poetic zones of indistinction between the two. This means, in tune with the Heraclitan oneness of the way up and the way down, not flight from but the very lightening of gravitas itself, the finding or falling into levitas through the triple gravities of the discipline: the weight of the medieval (texts, past), the weight of each other (society, institutions), and the weight of ourselves (body, present). Towards this end I offer no precepts or to-do list, only an indication of the wisdom and necessity of doing so, of practicing our highest pleasures, in unknowing of the division between poetry as knowledge and philosophy as joy[xi], in opposition to the separation between thought and life that best expresses "the omnipresence of the economy,"[xii] and in harmony with the volitional imperative of Nietzsche's "new gravity: the eternal recurrence of the same": "Do you want this again and innumerable times again?"[xiii] This Middle Ages? This medievalist?

The medieval possesses me with a peculiar specific gravity, like Chaucer's being "a popet in an arm t' embrace / For any womman, smal and fair of face," like Boccaccio's authorial weightiness—not grave but so light he floats on the water, like Dante's body made macro [thin] by a poema sacro, like Aquinas's airy bovine corpus, like the fiery mealtime conversation of Francis and Claire that seems to consume the nearby church, like the floaty Neoplatonic discourse of Monica and Augustine: "And higher still we ascended, thinking and speaking and wondering."[xiv] These light weights pull me to levitate gravely in a way that may be called aggressive contemplation, thinking contemplation both in the medieval sense of the hermeneutic fruit that gives "a foretaste, even in this life, of what the future reward of good work is" and in its original meaning, to mark out a space for close, augural observation.[xv] As Hugh of St. Victor explains, whereas meditation is an "assiduous and shrewd drawing back of thought . . . [that] is always about things hidden from our understanding," contemplation is "a keen and free observation of the mind expanding everywhere to look into things . . . [and] is about things as manifest."[xvi] Such work, as the Cloud of Unknowing explains, has the proportional power of "suddenly and graciously" making pleasing and beautiful the appearance of the "worst looking man or woman."[xvii] Contemplation, setting up shop at the ancient place Nietzsche calls "the whole Olympus of appearance," attends to surfaces as the deep space of life, the place of pleasure where the burdens of understanding the past and planning the future become an unpredictable baroque frame for remembering the present. Aggressive contemplation, like the accelerating centerless expansion of the cosmos, does not wait for but moves forcefully into itself, territorializing the unbounded, unwalled space of its pleasure with nothing other than pleasure's movement, the ravished-ravishing taking place of taking pleasure. Here our seeing totally does not translate into the life-deferring instrumental transparency that keeps us from speaking to each other. Here, responsible for my own happiness and for producing the perfume of its truth, I float with Aquinas and burn down the church with Francis. Or as the appropriately named heavy metal band High on Fire sing it, "Come all ye losers, don't you know you're the children of life? / Follow me now and we'll burn down the pillars of time."[xviii]

[i] Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture, trans. Roland L. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), xvii

[ii] The First Philosophers: The Presocratics and Sophists, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 200.

[iii] "La gravité est un mystère du corps inventé pour cacher les défauts de l'esprit" (Collected Maxims and Other Reflections [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007], V.257).

[iv] The Gay Science, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff and Adrian Del Caro (Cambridge: Cambrdige University Press, 2001), 5.380.

[v] Corpus, trans. Richard A. Rand (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 93.

[vi] Collected Works, 11 vols. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 2.505.

[vii] John Giles Milhaven, Hadewijch and Her Sisters: Other Ways of Loving and Knowing (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 120; Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, The Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), xv; Carolyn Dinshaw, "Getting Medieval," Journal of the History of Sexuality 10 (2001): 203; Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, 59; Nicola Masciandaro, "Becoming Spice: Commentary as Geophilosophy," Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development (forthcoming).

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

[x] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “The Convalescent,” 175. R. Schürmann, Meister Eckhart, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1978, p. 219.

[xi] "The scission in question is that between poetry and philosophy, between the poetic word and the word of thought. . . . the scission of the word is construed to mean that poetry possess its object without knowing it while philosophy knows its object without possessing it. In the West, the word is thus divided between a word that is unaware, as if fallen from the sky, and enjoys the object of knowledge by representing it in beautiful form, and a word that has all seriousness and consciousness for itself but does not enjoy its object because it does not know how to represent it. The split between poetry and philosophy testifies to the impossibility, for Western culture, of fully possessing the object of knowledge (The scission in question is that between poetry and philosophy, between the poetic word and the word of thought. . . . the scission of the word is construed to mean that poetry possess its object without knowing it while philosophy knows its object without possessing it. In the West, the word is thus divided between a word that is unaware, as if fallen from the sky, and enjoys the object of knowledge by representing it in beautiful form, and a word that has all seriousness and consciousness for itself but does not enjoy its object because it does not know how to represent it, that is, of language). In our culture knowledge . . . is divided between inspired-ecstatic and rational-conscious poles, neither ever succeeding in wholly reducing the other. . . . What is thus overlooked is the fact that every authentic poetic project is directed toward knowledge, just as every authentic act of philosophy is always directed toward joy" (Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, xvii).

[xii] Raoul Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit: General Considerations and Firsthand Testimony Concerning Some Brief Flowerings of Life in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and, Incidentally, Our Own Time, trans. Randall Cherry and Ian Patterson (New York: Zone, 1994), 18.

[xiii] “The Recurrence of the Same,” notebook entry from August 1881, cited from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Graham Parkes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), xxii; The Gay Science, 4.341.

[xiv] Sir Thopas 701-2; "io confesso d'esser pesato, e molte volte de' miei dí essere stato; e per ciò, parlando a quelle che pesato non m'hanno, affermo che io non son grave, anzi son io sí lieve che io sto a gall nell'acqua" (Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Cesare Segre [Milan: Mursia, 1966], 676); "Se mai continga ch 'l poema sacro / al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra, sì che m'ha fatto per molti anni macro . . .(Paradiso 25. 1-3); "One effect of Thomas's amazing concentration in prayer was that several times, as he prayed, his body was seen lifted off the ground, as it if followed the movement of his mind, as with him who said 'The Spirit raised me up between earth and heaven'" (Bernard Gui, Life of St. Thomas Aquinas, ch.23, in The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas: Biographical Documents, trans. and ed. Kenelm Foster [Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1959], 42); "And in the meantime Saint Francis had the table prepared on the bare ground, as he usually did. When it was time to eat they sat down together: Saint Clare with Saint Francis; one of the companions of Saint Francis with the companion of Saint Clare; then all the other companions gathered humbly at the table. And as a first course Saint Francis began to speak of God so sweetly, so deeply, and so wonderfully that the abundance of divine grace descended upon them, and all were rapt into God. And while they were enraptured in this way, their eyes and hands lifted up to heaven, the people of Assisi and Bettona and those of the surrounding area saw Saint Mary of the Angels burning brightly, along with the whole place and the forest, which was next to the place. It seemed that a great fire was consuming the church, the place and the forest together" (Little Flowers of Saint Francis, ch. 15, Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, ed. Armstrong, Hellmann, and Short [New York: New City Press, 2001), 3.591); "Et adhuc ascendebamus, interius cogitando et loquendo et mirando opera tua" (Augustine, Confessions, 9.10).

[xv] Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon, trans. Jerome Taylor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), 5.9

[xvi] "Meditatio est assidua et sagax retractatio cogitationis, aliquid, vel involutum explicare nitens, vel scrutans penetrare occultum. Contemplatio est perspicax, et liber animi contuitus in res perspiciendas usquequaque diffusus. Inter meditationem et contemplationem hoc interesse videtur. Quod meditatio semper est de rebus ab intelligentia nostra occultis. Contemplatio vero de rebus, vel secundum suam naturam, vel secundum capacitatem nostram manifestis" (In Salomonis Ecclesiasten Homiliae XIX, PL 175:116-7).

[xvii] "Whoso had this werk, it schuld governe him ful seemly, as wele in body as in soule, and make hym ful favorable unto iche man or woman that lokyd apon hym; insomoche that the worst favored man or woman that leveth in this liif, and thei mighte come to by grace to worche in this work, theire favour schuld sodenly and graciously be changed, that iche good man that hem sawe schulde be fayne and joyful to have hem in companye, and ful mochil thei schuld think that thei were plesid in spirit and holpen by grace unto God in theire presence" (The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Patrick J. Gallacher [Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997], 54.1874-80).

[xviii] High on Fire, "Hung, Drawn, and Quartered," Surrounded by Thieves

Saturday, May 02, 2009

See here, there, the pure horror of the human form

See here, there, the pure horror of the human form,
Self-burning, perversest orthodoxies of form.

From where have you snaked your scalar self into being,
You slithering sometimes eloquent mass of form?

If we speak together, even for a moment,
It is as feeling the inner despair of form.

And sometimes a surface becomes like blood-stained snow
And in my entrancement I conquer every form.

Was it you we saw wandering vagabondish
Over the steep steppes of thought, or was it your form?

If the world elects to continue even once
I will smash it as idol of my own heart's form.

Here is where I even get to say Nicola,
Most sincerely broadcast the emptiness of form.