the secret steals away always
But it is Kierkegaard to whom I have been most faithful and who interests me most: absolute existence, the meaning he gives to the word subjectivity, the resistance of existence to the concept of the system – this is something I attach great importance to and feel very deeply, something I am always ready to stand up for, said Jacques Derrida. Ultimately, even that which some people thought they could interpret as a reduction of philosophy to literature, as a way of reducing the philosophical to the literary, stems from that gesture. It is not that I find literature desirable for its own sake, but that for me it also represents this singularity of experience and of existence in its link to language. In literature, Derrida continues, what always interests me is essentially the autobiographical – not what is called the ‘autobiographical genre’, but rather the autobiographicity that greatly overflows the ‘genre’ of autobiography. Indeed, I find the vast majority of autobiographical novels not nearly autobiographical enough.
How strange, that when our eyes meet, I see you seeing me, without seeing myself (seeing what you see), and you see me seeing you, without seeing yourself (seeing what I see), Z. said to me once. How pathetic. Yet you see me as I am, which can only mean that I am other than myself. And that my self is a gift from you to me. The antithesis of solipsism, the rejection of the cogito: I am only insofar as I am for another. I know I exist because you are.
Did you know, Z. tells me, that Anne Carson once wrote, I suppose you do love me, in your way, I said to him one night close to dawn when we lay on the narrow bed. And how else should I love you - in your way? he asked. I am still thinking about that.
But what now, Z. whispers, when everything has become a sign of my abandonment, of which I am no longer sure if I am being abandoned or doing the abandoning, or if there is any difference at all between the two?
To write of oneself would be to exile the self from the self. And this exile from the self is in the first place necessary for writing to be possible. It is necessary not to be ‘myself’, still less to be ‘ourselves’, as Simone Weil writes. The city gives us the feeling of being at home. We must take the feeling of being at home into exile. We must be rooted in the absence of a place. Presence is imaginary, but absence is very real. If writing asserts only that which is absent, then loss is the first principle of writing. The present is lost to writing, in writing. The present nevertheless addresses itself to writing (when else does one write, except in the present?); a gift unasked for, unacceptable, unanswerable. The gift of loss, of death; the gift of writing, of writing’s possibility. To lose someone: we suffer because the departed, the absent, has become something imaginary and unreal. But our desire for him is not imaginary, Weil writes. We have to go down into ourselves to the abode of the desire which is not imaginary. In arguing the necessity of this downward movement, Weil contradicts her prior assertion that obedience to the force of gravity is the greatest sin. Thus we corrupt the function of language, which is to express the relationship between things. But Weil also writes that contradiction alone is the proof that we are not everything. Contradiction is our wretchedness, and the sense of our wretchedness is the sense of reality. For we do not invent our wretchedness. It is true, Weil writes. That is why we have to value it. All the rest is imaginary.
I have nothing to say to no one, nothing to write, and even if I had something to say to someone, something to write, I would not say it, would not write it, Z. insists, even if, if one is to be entirely honest, I wish above all I had been able to say anything to anyone, to write anything, to write everything, to say everything to everyone, words disgust me, they mean too little or they mean too much, Z. says, thus I cannot write and will not write, cannot speak and will not speak, refusing as I do to mean too little or too much, and yet I must write and do write, must speak and do speak, meaning too little and too much, for if meaning comes only as a flood or a drought, and certainly this metaphor is already too little and too much, then should signs not also come only as a flood or a drought, should I say nothing because I cannot say everything, should I say everything because I cannot say nothing, should I say nothing because I can say everything, should I say everything because I can say nothing?
there is no
one beautiful or beloved
I am so tired, Z. continues, so let me say, and do not despise me for saying so, that I want to die, I want to forget everything, I want to belong to history, if history is the end of memory, I am so tired of memory, yet do not hate me for this confession, this disgusting and despairing outburst, I would much rather say nothing, and in fact I doubt if I say anything by saying as much, perhaps only by saying everything can I truly say nothing, express nothing, yes, Z. goes on, when at last this language which speaks nothing has been exhausted I will be able to speak nothing, when this language which forgets everything has been depleted I will finally be able to forget everything, yes, though I wonder if I am making sense to you?
these eyes will not see and have
no hope for sight
Yet why don’t you leave me alone, Z. asks me, why am I speaking to you, whom I have made up, who are nothing more than, as they say, a figment of my imagination, why do I talk to you, who do not listen, and you whom I indeed hate, or rather whom I would hate were not I so overcome with utter indifference towards you, indeed towards everything in existence, such that I would no longer remain in this world, yes, I desire nothing more than to vanish completely from this world, so utterly indifferent I am towards everything in it, but especially utterly indifferent towards you, who are no more than a fiction, a shadowy figment whom I write into being, who would otherwise be inexistent, Z. says, looking me in the eye, I am so indifferent to you that I cannot bear to look upon your face, it is so full of kindness and so false, so why don’t you leave me be and never look me up again, never speak to me more?
rambles, pt. 2
In Camera Lucida, Barthes writes:
'The necessary condition for an image is sight,' Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: 'We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.'
Photography is an Orphic game - it captures, above all, above even the image, loss itself. Blanchot writes, ‘Memory says of the event: it once was and now it will never be again.’ What the photograph does is to objectify this loss. To hold a photograph is to hold loss in one’s hand. By holding loss in one’s hand one need no longer hold it one’s mind. By turning it over in one’s hand one need no longer turn it over in one’s mind. Photography is the doubling of loss, an arbitrary commitment to arbitrary loss. If memory engages us, then the photograph marries us to loss. Now loss is real, now loss is in the world; at the same time, the photograph is the ocular proof that loss was always already with us.
I previously quoted Kierkegaard: ‘One enjoys something entirely accidental, one regards the whole of existence from this standpoint, lets its reality run aground on it.’ This describes with uncanny perfection the phenomenology of photography, whether of taking a photograph, or gazing upon one. (One notes: the daguerreotype was invented when Kierkegaard was 26.) There is, strictly speaking, no ‘right’ moment to release the shutter. There is only the arbitrary commitment to a particular moment (which is always the moment when one hears the camera click and never any other moment) which afterwards takes on the appearance of necessity, which is guaranteed by the photograph itself. In order for this photograph to exist, I could not have released the shutter at another time, could not have framed the shot differently, could not have set a different focus, a different aperture setting.
In showing what was, the photograph also guarantees that what could have been never could have been. The infinite potentiality of reality runs aground on it; the photograph is the record of this loss of reality. Commitment is unreal, arbitrary, unnecessary, accidental. To commit is to lose reality itself; in love, suddenly everything is angled differently, everything turns to face the beloved. There is a dizzying loss of perspective; I see everything as if not with my own eyes. Like looking at a photograph - the person who took this photograph is not me, or is not me any longer. Yet - I see exactly as she sees, as she saw. More uncanny yet - I might be in this photo - I see myself through the eyes of another. This experience is unnameable. Barthes called this the punctum, we who are less elaborate might call it love, but, as Bernard in Woolf’s novel The Waves says,
No, that is too small, too particular a name. We cannot attach the width and spread of our feelings to so small a mark.
[to be continued…]
rambles, pt. 1
Nostalgia is, perhaps, always nostalgia for that which had never existed, that which was always already lost. This is why nostalgia can be called “infinite”; it combines in itself yearning and mourning, loss and the denial of loss. The nostalgic refuses to choose take up residence in either the past or the present, so of course he feels rootless, vagrant; he desires this freedom above all. Or rather, the nostalgic desires a pure relation to the object of his sentiment, one completely unmediated by history, by culture, or even by his own desire. The gods forbade Orpheus to gaze upon Eurydice, therefore Orpheus was obligated to turn back. True intimacy between Orpheus and Eurydice, an intimacy not intruded upon by the gods, could only be founded on loss - this loss in defiance of the gods’ dictum. Let us say: the relation of loss is the only pure relation. Loss is always irrevocable, therefore nothing threatens it. In its denial it is more fully affirmed. In its purity it is the one truly infinite relation, and perhaps also the one truly intimate relation. Thus Orpheus had to gaze upon Eurydice, and the nostalgic will never return home.
The nostalgic refuses the either/or choice between returning and not returning. The either/or is false because return does not exist; one can return to nothing, nowhere, no one. The river has changed since you last dipped your toes in it. ‘It is not this return of which I speak,’ one might claim, ‘but as in to return something borrowed, something owed.’ Even this return is false, however. What is given one necessarily takes for granted, and can thus return to nothing, nowhere, no one. And then, that which is possible to return is not truly owed. To claim the relation of indebtedness is to attempt to account for loss, to measure and economise its distance. But loss is infinite, it is unfathomable. One does not choose between returning and not returning - the decision is out of the question, literally; the question is to be discarded.
Kierkegaard would have agreed with this sentiment. In his Either/Or, he presents the reader with a choice, suggested by the book’s title, between two realms of existence - the aesthetic and the ethical. One chooses either to remain in the aesthetic realm or to make a commitment and enter the ethical realm. This is, of course, a false choice. Kierkegaard believes there is a third option. Yet in Either/Or he never shows this third option, hinting at it only obliquely. It is in his other works that we learn he advocates a leap of faith, which is accompanied by a ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’. Remembering that the ethical is constituted by a commitment, the leap of faith can thus be named the will-to-loss.
There is reason to suspect that Kierkegaard broke off his engagement with Regine Olsen with the full and absurd expectation that she would be returned to him, just as Isaac was returned to Abraham. Return, as we know, is impossible. Isaac did not belong to Abraham but to Yahweh, and only byacknowledging this always-already-loss in the act of sacrificing Isaac did Abraham finally gain a son, as if for the first time, in a relationship whose originary moment was that of sacrifice, of loss. Not a return to, but a leap into the unknown. Not a return of, but the gift of something new. Kierkegaard had to lose Regine in order to become truly intimate with her, in the infinite relation of nostalgia, in the intimacy of loss.
What is this intimacy of loss? It is the intimacy of writing. It is widely accepted that one cannot properly understand Kierkegaard’s thought without some knowledge of his relationship with Regine. If not for Regine, if not for his break from her, Kierkegaard would say, he would not have become a writer. Paradoxically, writing also seems to have been Kierkegaard’s way of maintaining this absolute relation of loss to Regine. By writing the loss, obliquely, he could lose her over and over again and thus maintain their intimacy; the whispering current that flows through Kierkegaard’s oeuvre intimates loss. In writing, loss becomes the originary relation between Kierkegaard and Regine; it is not that he possessed her then lost her, but that he had always already lost her. She was never anything but a figment of his imagination, the fascinating object of his love. In the unreal space of literature the absoluteness of this loss can be experienced fully, and a true relation established. Writing mimics the Orphic gaze; writing makes disappear while maintaining intimacy with that which disappeared in order to make writing possible.
A quality of intimacy, perhaps its most important quality, is its arbitrariness. None of the major sources for the story of Orpheus and Eurydice tells us how they met, why or how they fell in love. Rather, they mostly begin with Eurydice’s death. As far as we are concerned, their love, a love Orpheus would descend to Hades for, is completely arbitrary, without reason. Arbitrariness is precisely what Orpheus seeks to preserve in their relationship; the command not to look back is not arbitrary enough for him. It still bears traces of teleology: don’t look back so that Eurydice will not vanish. Thus Orpheus chooses the most arbitrary act of all, to look back at Eurydice at the moment when he has passed the threshold but she has not yet; in other words, giving her up exactly when he is on the verge of possessing her. It is an insensible act, but Orpheus desires precisely this authentic intimacy beyond sense. Thus Eurydice vanishes, lost forever to the senses of the living. Her loss is arbitrary, senseless, thus absolute.
For Kierkegaard arbitrariness was linked to commitment. To transcend the aesthetic realm is to make an arbitrary commitment to a certain code of ethics; in Either/Or this is presented as the commitment to marriage despite the dazzling variety available to the seducer. For Saussure arbitrariness was the essence of language, signifiers have no inherent relation to their signifieds. Writing is thus a double arbitrariness, with the written word arbitrarily signifying the spoken signifier which already arbitrarily relates a “real” signified. So is marriage, of which Kierkegaard wrote incessantly. Marriage is an arbitrary commitment to another arbitrary commitment which precedes it (the engagement) which is in itself an arbitrary commitment to a single love from an infinity of possible loves, each one as true as the next, available to the seducer.
Why arbitrary? Because to weigh one’s love is already to deny it. Commitment is absolute, it faces towards infinity. It brooks no calculation. Only its arbitrariness guarantees its authenticity from any kind of necessity, of determinism. As it is with love, so it is with language (there is no metalanguage) and so it is with nostalgia (return does not exist). This is what Kierkegaard had to say on the matter:
The whole secret lies in arbitrariness. People think it requires no skill to be arbitrary, yet it requires deep study to succeed in being arbitrary without losing oneself in it, to derive satisfaction from it oneself. One’s enjoyment is not immediate but is something quite different which one arbitrarily injects. […] One enjoys something entirely accidental, one regards the whole of existence from this standpoint, lets its reality run aground on it.
here, it’s new/ it’s a bond/ i have nothing else/ it’s time, let’s go/ so, goodbye