Sunday, July 25, 2010

dESIRE Gloss 003513 EN

BEWILDERMENT. “So rational speculation leads to bewilderment [hayra] and theophany leads to bewilderment. There is nothing but a bewildered one. There is nothing exercising properties but bewilderment. There is nothing but Allah.”[i] Bewilderment means perplexity as a not-knowing-where-one-is-going/not-knowing-where-to-go that never stops moving, in any direction, or without direction, or in a direction that cannot be decided, a direction that might be either, but is absolutely neither, right or wrong: a direction that is pure direction and not direction at all.[ii]  Beyond from and to,[iii] bewilderment relocates movement, making it “the omnipresent term of equation between anywhere and everywhere.”[iv] “The term hayra (perplexity) often renders aporia in Arabic translations from Greek. Aporia means that no passage (poros) has been found to the solution of a puzzle or impasse.”[v] Bewilderment is the unfinishably perfect perpetuation of aporia’s stalling, the pure anti-freezing of impasse into a plenitude of beautiful procession and flow. “Water. Millions of decaliters. A treasure. Greater than treasure, Usul. We have thousands of such caches, and only a few of us know them all. And when we have enough, we shall change the face of Arrakis.”[vi] Bewilderment is the mood of ultimate architecture: totalitarian porosity. All is passage, every way is the way because “the way after all—it does not exist!”[vii] All is process, the perpetual flashing of unending interstitial interchange between problem and solution, branch and intersection. “This conjunction [and] carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be.’ Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you heading for? These are totally useless questions.”[viii] Follow me![ix] This is the only way of staying with the center: constantly succeed to the furthest boundary of its infinite outside.[x] The motional essence of bewilderment—on this point the English etymology is ideally confused[xi]--is captured in the unspelled difference between hayra and hira (whirlpool).[xii] This image likewise locates you at the fountal threshold between spectatorship and existence. Not his drawable face, but something like this is what Narcissus really sees, an object of supreme confusion between image and self, line and substance. Only by standing over here, on this side beneath impassible overhanging barriers, does the eight-sided star convexly dip to kiss my crown.[xiii] Simultaneously, these marbly horizontals are absolutely steps that I am walking down, into the drowning death of living.[xiv] Image, dESIRE, is the guide: “guidance means being guided to bewilderment, that he might know the whole affair is perplexity, which means perturbation and flux, and flux is life.”[xv]

[i] Ibn al ‘Arabi, The Meccan Revelations, ed. Michel Chodkiewicz, trans. William C. Chittick & James W. Morris (New York: Pir Press, 2005), 198.2.  Chittick explicates the concept: “To find God is to fall into bewilderment (hayra), not the bewilderment of being lost an unable to find one’s way, but the bewilderment of finding and knowing God and of not-finding and not-knowing Him at the same time. Every existent thing other than God dwells in a never-never land of affirmation and negation, finding and losing, knowing and not-knowing. The difference between the Finders and the rest of us is that they are fully aware of their own ambiguous situation. They know the significance of the saying of the first calip Abū Bakr: ‘Incapacity to attain comprehension is itself comprehension’” (William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989], 3-4).
[ii] Counterpoint: Dante’s Belacqua, who stays still precisely by knowing where he must go: “O frate, andar in sù che porta? . . . Prima convien che tanto il ciel m’aggiri / di fuor da essa, quanto fece in vita, / per ch’io ‘ndugiai al fine I buon sospiri” (Purgatorio 4.127-32) [O brother, what’s the use of going up? . . . First must the heavens revolve around me outside it, so long as they did during my life, because I delayed good sighs until the end]. Sloth’s contrapasso is the self-imprisonment of being a profane qutub.   
[iii] “For the bewildered one has a round [dawr] / and a circular motion around the qutb / which he never leaves / But the master of the long path / tends away from what he aims for / seeking what he is already in / A master of fantasies which are his goal / He has a ‘from’ and a ‘to’ / and what is between them / But the master of the circular movement / has no starting point / that ‘from’ should take him over / and no goal / that he should be ruled by ‘to’ / He has the more complete existence / And is given the totality of the words and wisdoms” (Ibn Arabi, Fusus al-hikam [Bezels of Wisdom], chapter 3, cited from Michael Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, 101-2).      
[iv] Nicola Masciandaro, “Becoming Spice: Commentary as Geophilosophy,” Collapse VI: Geo/Philosophy (2010): 31.
[v] Joel L. Kraemer, “Maimondes, The Great Healer,” Maimonidean Studies 5 (2008): 10.
[vi] David Lynch, Dune (Universal Pictures, 1984).
[vii] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Adrian del Caro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 156.
[viii] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 25.
[ix] “. . . Swaying drunkenly to and fro like the branches, fresh as raw silk, which the winds have bent. Gloss: ‘Swaying drunkenly,’ in reference to the station of bewilderment (حيرة)” (Ibn Arabi, Tarjuman al-Ashwaq [Interpreter of Desires], trans. Reynold A. Nicholson [London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1911], 22.13).
[x] “That bewilderment is achieved in the continual transformation from form to form and in the circular motion beyond the dualism of origin and goal” (Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, 102). 
[xi] According to the OED: from wilder, meaning “to cause to lose one's way, as in a wild or unknown place,” “of uncertain origin: prob. (by an unusual process) extracted from wilderness on the analogy of the form of wander).” I.e. wilder turned wilderness into a verb on the motional model of wander.
[xii] “‘The [Universal] Order is perplexity, and perplexity is agitation and movement, and movement is life’ [al-‘amr ḥīra wa-l-ḥīra qalaq wa ḥaraka wa-l-ḥaraka ḥayāt]. I read the Arabic word حيرة here as ḥīra not ḥayra following Ibn ‘Arabī’s intention to identify ‘perplexity’ and ‘whirlpool’. حيرة ‘perplexity’ can be read as ḥīra not ḥayra, Arabic dictionaries tell us, and ‘whirlpool’ (ḥīra) is one of the favourite images of universal life and order in Ibn ‘Arabī’s texts. The ḥā’ir ‘perplexed’ human being finds himself in constant movement. He cannot gain a foothold at any point, he is not established anywhere. This is why Ibn ‘Arabī says that he is ‘perplexed in the multiplication of the One’: this ‘multiplication’ is not just epistemological, it is ontological as well, and the perplexed human being is moving in the whirlpool of life and cosmic Order and at the same time realises that he is at that movement” (Andrey Smirnov, “Sufi Hayra and Islamic Art: Contemplating Ornament through Fusus al-Hikam,” paper presented at Sufism, Gnosis, Art: The Thought of Ibn Arabi and Shah Nimatullah [Seville, 22-23 November 2004]).
[xiii] “The Cosmos is like a net which takes all its life, as far as ever it stretches, from being wet in the water; it is at the mercy of the sea which spreads out, taking the net with it just so far as it will go, for no mesh of it can strain beyond its set place: the Soul is of so far-reaching a nature—a thing unbounded—as to embrace the entire body of the All in the one extension; so far as the universe extends, there soul is” (Plotinus, Enneads, 4.3.9).
[xiv] “For if anyone follow what is like a beautiful shape playing over water—is there not a myth telling in symbol of such a dupe, how he sank into the depths of the current and was swept away to nothingness? So too, one that is held by material beauty and will not break free shall be precipitated, not in body but in Soul, down to the dark depths loathed of the Intellective-Being, where, blind even in the Lower-World, he shall have commerce only with shadows, there as here” (Plotinus, Enneads, 1.6.7).
[xv] Ibn Arabi, Bezels of Wisdom [Fusus al-Hikam], trans. R.W.J. Austin (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 254.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ramon LLull's Sermones contra errores Averrois (translation)

Some exhumed grad school work, a translation of Ramon Llull's Sermones contra errores Averrois. My favorite passage: "Averroes, however, was a sensible and imaginative man, because all of his reasons come through sense and imagination. And therefore what wonder is it if he denied the incarnation? For according to nature it is impossible that infinite being and finite being would be one subject. It is not impossible, however, that the divine principles and their acts, which are able to cause the most unitary, the best, and the greatest effect, cause it, so that the whole universe may be exalted in the ultimate end, so that every and all of the divine principles may be the most unitary [unissima] cause. And therefore, because every divine principle is absolute, what is there that is not an absolute cause that would be able to impede it? Because if there were any such thing, that which is not absolute would impede that which is absolute; which is impossible."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Monads are meeting, only in bewilderment

Monads are meeting, only in bewilderment,
Conversing in long spirals of bewilderment.

Life, ambivalently overrated deathtrap,
Is stupendously nothing sans bewilderment.

Hold to my standard just those whose standard I hold,
Or lose my sole consolation: bewilderment.

Eking out existence is our actual state.
Slow breath abysmally down to bewilderment.

Time, time, time is forever arriving at this:
Never repetition, newer bewilderment.

Like a green desert, like orthodox heresy,
Like finding home being lost is bewilderment.

The real riddler is whoever Nicola is,
A creature from black lagoons of bewilderment.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wormsign (paper proposal)

Wrecche gost, thou wen away, hou longe shal thi strist laste? 
Wormes holdeth here mot, domes byndeth faste; 
Maked he habbeth here lot on my fleyshe to caste, 
Mony fre bodi shal roten, ne be y nout the laste.[1]
– “In a thestri stude y stode” 
‘You'll learn about the funeral plains . . . about the wilderness that is empty, the wasteland where nothing lives except the spice and the sandworms.’
 – the Reverend Mother, Frank Herbert, Dune
Abdul Khâliq Mastân (April 15, 1944): Brought to Baba in Pimpalgaon for one day. He is a seeker, and at that time had a maggoty wound on his body. When the maggots dropped off he used to pick them up and put them back on the wound, telling them, “This is your food, why do you get down?”
 – The Wayfarers

I am a worm, and not a man.
– Psalm 22.6

The worm stands for not standing, for anything. The stance of the worm, its status in the order of beings, thus has important, subterranean affinities with the multiform position of Black Metal towards the world: anti-human, (a)transcendent, annihilistic, iconoclastic, essentialist. The generic body of Black Metal is perforated with desires to inhabit, to itself be, a zero-term space of transformation, a musical transi tomb, on par with the “nethermost caverns” celebrated in Lovecraft’s The Festival, a dark place “not for the fathoming of eyes that see” in which the worm operates as prime agent of the ungrounding and alienation of the order of life: “Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. . . . For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.” The post-organic potential of Black Metal’s complicity in such in-vernal springing of horrid life is rendered explicit, for example, in Absonus Noctis’s Penumbral Igorgantia. Says Mortifer: “Penumbral Inorgantia is a chronicling of a man's journey to ancient underground kingdoms haunted by the inhuman entities that once dwelt therein. He must seek their arcane instruments to rid earth of all organic life after sinking into the abysmal pools of their souls to shed his human frame and assume an elevated, blackened, and immortal state of being, enabling him  to eternally reign over the desolation he has created. Each song represents a specific stage in his journey and shall consequently engulf the listener in an experience of metamorphosis into inhumanity.” [2]

I propose to practice melancology under the sign of the worm in the form of a swarming commentary on the first song from Mgła’s Presence, an album whose twilight cover shows something like Nietzsche’s ‘mad’ form as a sculpture/idol being shaped/sounded by the hammer of philosophy: 

 The song begins “Worms, hungering for all the dimensions . . .” and describes a divinely entropic total corruption that will result in “ultimate desolation,” “inner peace,” and the “Eradication of all what was taught and perceived.” This annihilating process will be interpreted in dialogue with some interrelated medieval vermicular concepts: 1) Body/soul debates, in which the work of the worm is identified with philosophical dialogue itself (cf. the early fifteenth-century A Disputacioun betwyx þe Body and Wormes, in which the worms assume the role conventionally occupied by the soul); 3) Patristic exegesis on the worm as figure of the God-Man;[3] 3) generic ideas about the nature of worms: born from terrestrial matter without sex, a being defined by its style of movement and life within other bodies.[4] Though this vermicular interaction I hope to open up the following lines of thought:

Ecology is basically a body/soul debate whose only ‘hope’ or fulfillment is for both sides to despair of winning, to hopelessly lose. Melancology is post-debate, nigredic ecology, ecology according to which life is finally seen and understood and enjoyed for the maximal self-contradiction that it is: life=not-life, living is annihilation. No more matter guaranteeing the transcendence of soul. No more soul grounding the baseness of matter. No “the spirit is a bone” without the worm that eats all the flesh. Consciousness realizing itself as a worm in the cosmic body. The worm is the essential instance and figure such life in the sense of being: a) a corporeal soul or spiritual body subsisting beyond and within the spheres of (re)production; b) the nexus of animate life, the inside of its outside, original culture: “When we behold a wide, turf-covered expanse, we should remember that its smoothness, on which so much of its beauty depends, is mainly due to all the inequalities having been slowly levelled by worms. It is a marvellous reflection that the whole of the superficial mould over any such expanse has passed, and will again pass, every few years through the bodies of worms” (Darwin); c) the living limit of the thinkability of animate being, its daily interface with the mineral and vegetable world as well as the form of its passing into eternal realms (Dante’s transhumanar; the worm-bile in Dune – “And he lay as one dead, caught up in the revelation of the Water of Life, his being translated beyond the boundaries of time by the poison that gives life” – comparable to the transformative substance ingested in Lovecraft’s Ex oblivione: “But as the gate swung wider and the sorcery of the drug and the dream pushed me through, I knew that all sights and glories were at an end; for in that new realm was neither land nor sea, but only the white void of unpeopled and illimitable space. So, happier than I had ever dared hope to be, I dissolved again into that native infinity of crystal oblivion from which the daemon Life had called me for one brief and desolate hour.” Black Metal, among other things, is a comparable melancological narcotic, a musical poison that sonically passes life through the insides of the worm that it is. Into to the gaping hell-mouth of humanity (cf. Leviathan), hungry for an ‘answer’ to its self-spawned hydra-headed ecological ‘problem,’ Black Metal flings a most nourishing and necessary food: the waste of life itself. 


[1] Wretched soul, go away. How long shall your quarreling last? / Worms are holding their own debate, binding fast their judgments; / Maggots are casting lots on my flesh. / Many a noble body will rot. I am not the last (“In a dark place I stood”).  
[3] For example, John Scotus Eriugena comments thus on Psalm 22.6, cited above : “For none of the material things in nature is more lowly than the worm, which is conceived from simple earth. Nevertheless, through this is represented the incarnation of the Word of God, which transcends every sense and intellect [Phil 4.7]. ‘Who will explain his begetting?’ [Acts 8.33, from Isa 53.8, cf. Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms: ‘In what sense “no man”? Because he is God. Why then did he so demean himself as to say “worm”? Perhaps because a worm is born from flesh without intercourse, as Christ was from the Virgin Mary. A worm, and yet no man. Why a worm? Because he was mortal, because he was born from flesh, because he was born without intercourse. Why “no man”? Because In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; he was God  It can also be understood thus: ‘I am a worm and a human is not,’ that is, I am a worm and human is not a worm. As if he were to say, I who am more than a human penetrate the secrets of all nature, as a worm [penetrates] the bowels of the earth, which no one participating only in human nature can do. With the sense agress that which is written in another Psalm, ‘and my substance in the depths of the earth [PS 139.15], that is, and my substance, which is wisdom in itself, subsists in the depths of the earth, that is, the innermost folds of created nature. ‘For the divinity beyond being is the being of all.’ Thus the worm that penetrates the hidden things of all creation is the Wisdom of the Father, which, while human, transcends all humanity” (Commentary on the Dionysian Celestial Hierarchy).  (Jn 1.1)’]
[4] “The worm, vermis, is an animal which is generally born, without any sexual union, from flesh, wood, or from any terrestrial thing. Some, such as the scorpion, are born from eggs. There are worms of earth, water, air, flesh, leaves, wood, or clothing” (Isidore of Seville). “Worm. As. wyrm, G. wurm, Lat. vermis, worm ; Goth, vaurms, serpent; ON. ortnr, serpent, worm. Sanscr. krmi, a worm ; Lith. kirmis, kirminis, kirmele, worm, caterpillar; kirmiti, to breed worms; Let. zirmis, maggot, worm. The origin, like that of weevil, lies in the idea of swarming, being in multifarious movement, crawling. Pl.D. kribbeln, krubbeln, krcmelen, krimmeln, kriimmeln, to be in multifarious movement, to swarm, boil. ‘Idt was daar so vull, dat idt kremeled un wemelde:’ it was so full that it swarmed. Up kribbeln (Hanover krimmeln) la/en: to let the water boil up. Du. wremelen, to creep ; Da. vrimle, to swarm ; vrimmel, a swarm” (Wedgwood & Atkinson, A Dictionary of English Etymology). Isidore of Seville: “Vermis non ut serpens apertis passibus vel squamarum nisibus repit, quia non est illi spinae rigor, ut colubri, sed in directum corpusculi sui partes gradatim porrigendo contractas, contrahendo porrectas motum explicat, sicque agitatus perlabitur (Etymologiae , “De vermibus”) [A worm does not creep like a serpent with visible traces or by the exertions of its scales. Unlike a snake, its spine has no rigidity, but it unfolds its motion gradually, in direct line, stretching out the contracted parts of its little body and contracting those extended parts. So set in motion, it glides along.] 

Saturday, July 03, 2010

On the Love of Commentary (In Love) - CFP

 On the Love of Commentary (In Love)
A Roundtable
International Congress of Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI, May 12-15, 2011
Sponsored by Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary (

“Every person is free to pursue thought and experiences, however sublime and exquisite, that are his by special insight, on the meaning of the Bridegroom’s ointments.” (Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Song of Songs)

“Taste and see (Psalm 34:8). Taste refers to the affectus of love; see refers to the intellect’s cogitation and mediation. Therefore one ought first to surge up in the movement of love before intellectually pondering . . . For this is the general rule in mystical theology: one ought to have practice before theory.” (Hugh of Balma, The Roads to Zion Mourn)

“[I]f anyone wishes to judge a woman justly, let him look at her when her natural beauty alone attends her, unaccompanied by any accidental adornment; so it will be with this commentary, in which the smoothness of the flow of its syllables, the appropriateness of its constructions, and the sweet discourses that it makes will be seen, which anyone upon careful consideration will find full of the sweetest and most exquisite beauty. . . . all the causes that engender and increase friendship have joined together in this friendship, from which we must conclude that not simply love but most perfect love is what I ought to have, and do have, for it. . . . This commentary shall be that bread made with barley by which thousands shall be satiated, and my baskets shall be full to overflowing with it” (Dante, Convivio)

The exegetical orientation of medieval commentary finds special expression in textual traditions centered on love. As indicated by the samplings above, the most conspicuous of these are: commentaries on the Song of Songs, affective Dionysian mysticism, and the erotic lyric commentary tradition inaugurated by Dante (a form with precedent in Arabic literature, e.g. Ibn Arabi’s auto-commentarial Tarjuman al-ashwaq [The Interpreter of Desires]). These contexts involve significant forms of intersection and rapprochement between commentary and love, realizing in new and diverse ways Augustine’s insistence on hermeneutics as a ‘building up’ of love: “Whoever . . . thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build [aedificet] the double love of God and our neighbor does understand it at all” (De doctrina christiana). This session aims to explore medieval instances of significant relation between commentary and love, both in and of themselves and in connection to living questions about the amorous potentialities of commentary in the present age. Possible topics include: the erotics of commentary, commentary as appropriation and/or gift, commentary and contemplation, aesthetics of commetary, critical desire, etc. Presentations that take commentarial form, that follow Hugh’s advice to put ‘practice before theory’, that are in love, are encouraged. Please send abstracts of 200-300 words to Nicola Masciandaro ( by August 31th. The roundtable will consist of 5 or 6 presentations of 10-12 minutes each.