Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Beginning of Writing

The end of the book, the beginning of writing

The end of philosophy, the beginning of writing

The speculative realists, particularly those advocating OOO, are frustrated with philosophy primarily concerned with texts, writing, “signifiers,” and feel that, while we need to take account of these things), philosophers have limited themselves by refusing to think of words as material things that are always mediated, just like any other ‘object.’ For instance, the words I am using now are “material” as they exist in the blogosphere and, as such, may be read by anyone – or not. The results depend on my circulation of these signifiers—do I post this on facebook? Do I email it to friends (to whom I know I’ll read). Texts, then, are not ideal but material and thus should take their place amidst all other objects, which includes everything from a corporation to Jacob Riley to the straw currently sitting on my table. A couple quotations from Levi Bryant’s recent blogposts will serve to illustrate what I mean by an attempt to de-center texts as the main concern of philosophy:

“When speaking of society or culture, the story goes, we will only speak of mental entities, norms, ideologies, and linguistic entities.  We will here only speak of texts.  When speaking of nature we will only speak of causes and so-called “material things” [. . .] The problem is that this way of proceeding entirely distorts our understanding of society.  We speak as if the glue that holds people together were only beliefs, ideologies, norms, texts, language, signs, etc.”

“Instead, those working in the tradition of the early Frankfurt School (and primarily Horkheimer and Adorno), post-structuralism (Foucault, Derrida, Butler, Baudrillard), structuralism (Althusser, Levi-Strauss), and psychoanalysis (Zizek), tend to treat the social world as merely a text to be deciphered and power as residing in texts alone”

I can understand Levi’s frustration with this focus on texts, particularly if all we do with texts is “decipher” or “interpret” them.  We in the humanities do tend to treat the world and its components in a “textual” manner. Furthermore, despite the insights that Derrida, Blanchot, Jean Luc-Nancy, etc. (and their followers) have yielded for philosophy including OOO, they maintain metaphors related to writing: trace, line, significance, sense. Writing in the “vulgar” sense seems to be their default structuring metaphor and, as such, privileges “text” over the material world—or so it seems (we will return to this later).

But we might ask: why do these philosophers talk about “writing”? I would argue very simply: because they are writers rather than philosophers first and foremost, believing that writing disrupts our usual ways of comprehension. Levi recently posted on the problem of “philosophical style.” Levi identifies his work within the continental tradition and even a cursory glance at Democracy of Objects provides more than enough evidence for this claim. Levi claims, and again, there is significant evidence for this, that he does not abandon the “correlationist” thinkers, but rather learns from them and then seeks to expand from their philosophy. However, of their “styles” he writes,

“A number of us Continentals have abominable style as well (I’m looking at you Hegel, Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, and Adorno). Yes, yes, I know some folks delight at the “poetry” of these guys. I don’t. I generally read these thinkers despite their style, not for their style. In this regard, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask for clarity. I know the arguments as to why these styles are necessary. Nonetheless, you’re still asking readers to invest their time. You should take some time in return.

First off, I agree that we can ask for “clarity” or, as he puts it citing Harman, “vividness,” but to suggest that these thinkers are not taking their time writing and that this is why their style and points are so convoluted is to miss the point these thinkers are trying to make, which I would claim is something like the end of philosophy and the beginning of writing. That is, even though Levi’s writing is lucid and powerful, supporting and defining of his position with “real world” examples, he and the other OOO’s want to still do philosophy. To say that Derrida, Deleuze, or Nancy (although his name is not explicitly mentioned) do not take time in their writing is to assume that it is more difficult to write “clearly” in support of a position then it is to write a different style of thinking. That is, to write in such a way that is powerful and inspires more thinking, but does not devolve into meaningless nonsense. The way that Levi uses the word “poetry” as a way to dismiss the style of thinking that these writers (I will not call them philosophers) advocate and practice, is to think that the style has little to do with the thinking involved. In one sense, this claim in understandable, since he may be able to reduce the style to a position that jives with Levi’s own and that “teaches us” or “reminds us” of a certain claim (phrases that every academic uses in order to get away from the interminable introductions like “Derrida writes,” “Deleuze states” – I will use these in this post etc.).  Maybe it’s not academically worthwhile to struggle with their text’s styles or poetry, but for me, the passion of literature (to borrow a phrase from Derrida) is to undergo these folks’ texts and deal with their texts as texts. Yes, texts have a materiality in the sense that they are deployed in a medium, but at the same time, language itself has a materiality, a resistance to meaning.  Derrida writes in “Typewriter Ribbon Ink” on the ‘materiality’ in De Man,

“The materiality in question – is not a thing; it is not something (sensible or intelligible); it not even the matter of a body. As it is not something, as it is nothing and yet it works [. . .] this nothing that therefore operates, it forces, but as a force of resistance. It resists both beautiful form and matter as substantial and organic totality. This is one of the reasons that de Man never says, to seems ot me, matter, but materiality” (350).

Call this philosophical idealism if you must, but is not this resistance, this ‘materiality’ of a text or a body or an object or whatever, a resistance to understanding – a kind of “withdrawnness” of whatever we attempt to write about or understand, but without the metaphysical OOO claim that objects are “withdrawn”?

While Levi may be pushing philosophy further in terms of content, I think it can be argued that these  other folks are resisting the categorization of “philosophy,” “theory,” or “poetry,” by their styles (Tim over at fragilekeys has a great post on the difference between ‘poetry’ and ‘theory’ HERE.) Indeed, Derrida, for instance, reads Being and Time as an event, a ‘work’ rather than a philosophical text. In Aporias he writes, 

Being and Time would belong neither to science, nor to philosophy, nor to poetics. Such is perhaps the case for ever work worthy of its name: there, what puts thinking into operations exceeds its own borders or what thinking itself intended to present of these borders. The work exceeds itself” (32). 

Maybe that’s the problem: maybe this phenomenon called “thinking” (that Heidegger took as an explicit challenge) which is related to writing is too anthropocentric and too “correlationist.” “Thinking” might be different from philosophy. Maybe this is an attempt at an “ideal” rather than “material” entity. But I don’t think it can be because thinking never coincides with itself, but is always on the way (again, I recognize the kind of quasi-poetic, unclear language I put this in – maybe that’s what makes it an idealism in disguise).

Tim’s blog, fragilekeys, have prompted me to revisit Jean-Luc Nancy to a greater degree than I ever have before, which has gotten me to think once again about “writing.” Nancy is really talking about the end of philosophy rather than its reconstitution or its salvation. He writes,

“The end of philosophy is, without a doubt, first of all a question of style in this sense. It is not a matter of stylistic effects or ornaments of discourse, but of what sense does to discourse if sense exceeds significations. It is a matter of the praxis of thought, its writing in the sense of the assumption of a responsibility for and to this excess” (Sense of the World 19).

We need another style, another gesture, tracing, or marking of what Nancy calls “sense.”  In contrast, the “style” of literary effects would be OOO’s constant reference to example and “vivid” writing. But “vivid” writing implies that the goal would be to represent the real – to describe it in the most accurate terms possible. In contrast, “style” has something more to do with what Tim has called “syntax.” This is not necessarily that it has to be “poetic,” in the general sense of “flowery” or “beautiful” but rather “poetic” in the sense of resisting a fullness of sense (a fullness which would correspond to a kind of “mythic” sense – that is, that we know exactly what that word signifies).  As someone who has studied literature, it is not the outside of the text that is the most interesting, but rather, how the text resists me as a reader – oh wait, I’ve fallen back into correlationism – it’s what it is “for me” again.

 I quote again from Nancy (due to the style of the thoughts):

“the end of philosophy is consequently not the reconstitution of myth—of which romanticism still dreamed—but rather to renewed tension, the exigency of writing, with any ideal or model of ‘style,’ turning style against style, “philosophy” against “literature,” sense and truth against each other, both of them being “auseinandergeschrieben,” to use Paul Celan’s untranslatable word”

When Nancy calls for these ‘styles’ to be against each other, we must take “against” not in terms of dialectics or as an agonistic contestation, but rather in the sense of up against one another, leaning on another, if you will. Nancy is a thinker of surfaces and of bodies rather than flesh. Matter is always singular or singularized it is signed, but not signified – to be signed is “sense as a singular coming” – the signature is always “a body, a res extensa in the sense of an extension—areality, tension, exposition—of its singularity [. . .] signature along the surface of the hide, the hide of being. Existence tans its own hide” (58).

Here again, we encounter the privilege of writing metaphors again: the signature of being. Nancy’s “description” (if we can call it that) is not an attempt to make any particular object vivid by choosing a signifier that conjures up a particular image of an object, but rather an attempt to describe how the “signature” of being operates/functions. The last line “existence tans its own hide” is a phrase that some may call “poetic,” a phrase that does not give us much “meaning,” or “clarity” but rather than ignoring it, I am pricked or touched by it. I linger over it and am hesitant to try and explicate it or interpret it in any definable manner or within any definable system. All matter—all existence-- in Nancy’s text, is a singularity in the sense of an idiom:

“But writing as an idiom is also the fact of the voices, silences, and gestures that do not appear as or in the work. The words, their concepts and images, provide for this praxis its relays of signification and communication. In the end, each one is a ‘new idiom’ in the process of being born, and the world is the common space of idiomatic significances” (163).

I want to focus briefly on the last clause of this quotation, “and the world is the common space of idiomatic significances” because this seems to compare the ‘existence’ of the world (another term that would need more clarification—existence rather than ‘subject’ or ‘object’ – the “there,” etc.) to a linguistic idiom. In other words, the “signatures” of matter are the idiomatic marks of being. Perhaps what OOO’s are so concerned about with this is that this does not take into account the other metaphors that we might use rather than “writing”?  That by reducing “existences” (at least on the level of the word) to “signatures” we are trapped in a kind of correlationsim because even though we know that “writing” does not merely mean “text” or does not merely mean what I am doing right now, the term still maintains that common denotation. And perhaps this is what Ian Bogost means when he writes that “writing is dangerous for philosophy—and for serious scholarly practice in general. It’s not because writing breaks from its origins as Plato would have it, but because writing is only one form of being” (Bogost 90). Bogost goes on to cite Levi Bryant, who writes “The differences made by light bulbs, fiber optic cables, climate change, and cane toads will be invisible to you and you’ll be awash in text, believe that these things exhaust the really real” (90).
That writing is only one way to engage with being is correct. Even if we understand other objects as “writing” too (in the Derridean use of “writing” to mean trace, mark, etc.) we are still using writing as the dominant metaphor to describe our relation to being. I have a difficult  time arguing against this claim and when Bogost writes (I cannot find the quote right now) that we should multiply correlations and multiply relations. Furthermore, for Bogost, we should think about “doing” philosophy in different ways other than writing texts—by making things. He calls this, drawing on Harman, “carpentry.” Bogost suggests that “perhaps a metaphysician ought to be someone who practices ontology” (91).  

But by making things are we really “practicing” ontology? If this is so, then this is where Bogost’s ontology gets interesting because the ontology he sets up in the book is simple and flat (following Levi Bryant’s ‘flat ontology), but he calls it a tiny ontology

“I call it tiny ontology precisely because it ought not demand a treatise or tome. I don’t mean that the domain of being is small—quite the opposite, as I’ll soon explain. Rather, the basic ontological apparatus needed to describe existence ought to be as compact and unornamented as possible” (21).

Fair enough. But if the ontology is that simple, then we wouldn’t be practicing ontology¸ but practicing phenomenology through making things, right? Or is it that each time we make something – getting our hands dirty in material things – we are building an ontology – contributing to the different types of being?

 “Practice” vs. “Praxis”
I will write more about Bogost later, as I’m at odds with his strategy of “ontography” and Latourist litanies, but for now I want to return to Nancy.

In The Sense of the World, Nancy claims that he, too, is concerned with praxis (slightly different than “practice”). But it seems to me like Nancy sees writing as praxis, which is different than “practice.” For example, Nancy (and, if I remember correctly, I think Blanchot has similar sentiments) says that “writing is thus political ‘in its essence’, that is, it is political to the extent that it is the tracing out of the essenceless of relations” (119). Nancy here is clearly stretching the “sense” of the political. But Nancy does not harbor some sort of delusion that by describing the world or writing the world we can therefor forget about acting on the world. He writes,

“Every discourse on the sense and significance of the world can be suspended, tipping over in insignificance, through a conflagration of misery or sovereignty, through a major technological mutation, through an unheard-of genetic manipulation, through a catastrophe inextricably mixing “nature” and “society,” as well as by an accident, a suffering, a joy, in my immediate surroundings [. . .] delivering my discourse up to the derision of ‘all talk, no action. But this in itself bears witness to sense” (79)

I’m not quite sure what to make of this passage, given that many would argue that his discourse is already offered up, by most people, to the derision of “all talk, no action.” Is this to say that this writing is to spur us on to action or to force a response in writing? If the former, could not the OOO’s argue that by dealing with “the great outdoors” or concrete examples they are able to philosophize in a better way that would lead to better action? If the latter, are we just swimming in an endless array of texts in obscure idioms that break the easy categories of “philosophy,” “theory,” “poetry,” or “literature”? Does that lead us toward anything? Does it lead us toward the world (as Nancy puts it)?

Works Cited
Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology
“Hominid Ecology,” “Reflections on Style,”
Derrida, Jacques. Aporias
            --“Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Ink (2) (“within such limits”)
Nancy, Jean-Luc.  The Sense of the World


  1. First, we have to deal with the fact that when people read a text, they go looking for what they want to read in it, and not only that, but they go looking for the type of thing that they read for. This is already an exposition of existence. When you refer to Levi's preference for "vividness" when it comes to explicating claims, this tells me nothing about "vividness." It tells me that what is vivid and 'real' for Levi has to do with claims. He thinks that when an author writes, and what an philosopher or theoretician is supposed to do, is to make claims. This is what he reads for, and this is what he uses as the "material" for his own writing.

    There is therefore a vicious loop between what we are looking for and what we see. Levi takes it that claims of someone like Adorno are divorced from materiality, whereas I would claim that they are only divorced from materiality if one reads in an immaterial way, looking for "claims." This is a way of reading that looks for the significance and the signification of what the author has said. In other words, it is not a type of reading that reads for "sense," it is not a type of reading open to the access to sense. It is not a type of reading that looks to be transformed oneself by what one reads; it reads to gather information to be churned out in new forms, or rejected as misguided, etc. This is the supreme irony (or I might say contradiction) between the explicit claims OOOer's make and their actual "textual" practice: they denounce emphasis on signification, and yet they appear to be unable to read philosophical or theoretical texts as anything other than exercises in signifying, and when they write their own texts, they are obsessed with accurate representation, this strange version of "vividness" that can only mean "signify your claims precisely," "say exactly what you intend to say." In other words: SIGNIFY! Or as Bogost says, "describe existence."

    It is therefore obvious to me that OOO, in general, has no idea what it means for "sense to exceed signification by a factor of infinity." I do not know Bogost's work well at all, but his claims are only sensible from the point of view where writing = signification. In my opinion, to try and delude yourself into thinking that "acting" is something different from "writing," or that writing itself is not an act, is to be totally ignorant of what "writing" really is. Writing in Nancy's sense is existing, where existing can only mean the exposure of an existent to itself and to the magnitude of what is outside of it. "Writing," taken in this sense, is not the only metaphor for being (as you put it), but it is an apt one. However, to understand why it is "apt" is to understand it as much more than a metaphor. It is to modify ones own conception and lived experience of "writing" and "existence," not to take some boring idea of "writing" and dismiss the metaphor as inapt because "writing just has to do with signification, representing, treatise writing, etc." It is to modify that conception, to speak like Nancy, in the direction of EX-position, rather than IM-position. And isn't that what OOO amounts to? They take positions and impose necessities on other people: stop talking about texts, start talking about objects; stop writing texts, start making things. Oh, imposers of "necessities," when will they see how evil this practice is, how evil is the imposition of a necessity!

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  3. What is "needed" is not an operation that would be secondary to the very existing of existence itself, and the "essence" of existence is the ex-position or exposure of whatever position I might take. In other words, "claims" dislocate themselves from themselves, "positions" undo themselves in the very moment of their articulation. This is what is meant by the "excess of sense over signification": this excess is not something to operate on, or to write, it is something to accept as "fact," as the very fact of existing itself. This fact, this excess, undoes my intentions, undoes my claims, undoes my programs for others or for ontology, undoes the necessities I think I can willy-nilly impose on other existences.

    Nancy's "texts" are worthless when they are read from the vantage point of "what kinds of claims is Nancy making?" He is not making claims; he is exclaiming existence as it exists for him, as he is exposed to himself and to the whole world. One does not read Nancy to "read Nancy," but to expose oneself to oneself, qua him/his text, and to expose oneself to the world, qua the materiality of the "reading" experience. Nancy's emphasis on "Here is my body, given for you" in Corpus means: this text is not just text; this text, here, this text here, here is my body. Ex-clamation, ex-actly.

    I realize I have not addressed your text here directly Jake, but I have tried to get closer to the essence of the problem you have raised as it stands for me, and I am thankful for the opportunity. As a friend, I would advise you to stop reading for the sake of discovering what writing should be, or how we should write. I believe one has to take absolutely seriously Kierkegaard's requirement that, "you must not look at the mirror, observe the mirror, but must see yourself in the mirror." In other words, quit with reading for claims, significations, but see how you are reflected in what is said. To use the terribly inadequate English term: APPLY what you read absolutely to yourself: expose yourself to it: live as if it was addressed only to you: and when it says "existence," do not think something has been reflected, but think only of "YOUR" existence, for if you are not implicated in the writing of existence, then you will not know what it means to exist, or to write, in the first place. "Existence tans its own hide"...

    For my writing, as for Nancy's, one has to take what is said in earnest. There is no critical distance. No claim but in the raw exclamation of existence, touching on and touched by an excess of sense, which is also the absence of any constituted sense, and both of these senses in one-which-is-not-one but the articulation/disarticulation of "me" as an existent thrown/exceeded, again and again exposed in-common in the world of us all. Kierkegaard again: "My life is too earnest to be able to be served by the prop of an orator's technique... But those confounded people muddle into one speech everything I develop piece by piece in big books, always leaving behind in each book one stinger that is its connection with the next. But the insipidness of some speculators and of some clergy is incredible."

  4. Let me append a post-script (in three parts, since there are these ridiculous character limits).

    On the surface I appear to be speaking "against" those who take a reductive view wherein texts are only about claims, representing, signifying things/ideas, etc., but it's important to acknowledge the flipside: that such a reduction cannot really take place. The text is always more to us than we can know or cognize. If it doesn’t do something to us, we’re just lying to ourselves. Now, just because I care about what a text does to us doesn’t mean I don’t care about claims; obviously, they are all tied up. But if the claims don’t make me bleed, if I can’t touch and be touched by the absent body of the text – what good is it? This is why I find it so difficult to write “about” another thinker, and why as a writer myself I simply pursue my own material-writing. I speak about Nancy because his body has become a part of mine, beyond everything the text might signify. In my post Common Ontology, I warned against ascribing to Nancy anything I might have said, not out of fear of responsibility for my words, but because at no point do I care about accurately representing Nancy’s thought. I simply think myself, make no citations unless they provoke me in my writing, and surrender my voice up to the public as my own. Because I don't think it's helpful to get in to a battle over claims. We shouldn’t always be so concerned with getting our appraisals of another thinker’s thoughts exactly right; or at least, if we really let their thoughts seep into ours, this should be freeing, not restricting. I read to be set free, not to be restricted.

    With much of OOO theory, all I can see are restrictions: terminologies, references here and there, “readings” of people and traditions, grafting from one theory to another, melding all sorts of ideas together, making demands left and right. They have yet to say one coherent thing about freedom, love, suffering, etc., at least as far as I can see. Now, will an OOOer say that I'm focused too much on human concerns when I care most about this element of "deep communication" of suffering, sadness, hope, etc.? Perhaps; but I would only say that suffering and hope are not strictly human phenomena. In my eyes, just as it's a mistake to think we know what 'writing' is, it's a mistake to think we know what 'human' means. 'Human' does not represent anything; if anything, it is simply a name for what is "in us more than ourselves," a name for this enigmatic being-in-common that we as speaking beings share. Because the human cannot be defined as rational or as animal (as Laruelle says); the human is without essence, without existence if you like, we are inconsistent, we don't make sense, we are non-signifying. These are not downfalls; these are what need to be defended. I care much more about sharing, extending myself, risking myself. I care about wagering, challenging, and inventing, not deducing, organizing, or constructing (to follow Laruelle again). This is why those authors closest to me are those who make, in their "texts," a manifest trial of their own existence (I'm thinking of Bataille, Artaud, Berryman, Spicer). I’m not a paranoid person, and I’m consigned to being incorrect. But I’m incorrect because sense exceeds significance. I cannot help but miss my mark. As Bataille writes, “Poetry is an arrow aimed at something. If I've taken good aim, what's important (what I want) isn't the arrow— or goal— but the instant the arrow is lost, dissolved, in the night air: so even the memory of the arrow is lost.” This is an acknowledgement, a sadness, and a hope.

  5. I'm writing this post-script to express my "regret" over the very fact that these duels between ideas get set up, because obviously these duels happen on the level of claims where we have forgotten that we share a common condition of “being human,” that is, being exposed, dissolved, lost, forgotten. In what I wrote above, I too made claims, opposed claims of others, etc. What madness, that we get caught up in the very games whose validity we deny, in the very course of our denunciation! But let me just admit that that type of writing is so unfavorable in my eyes, and as I mature, I hope to leave it all behind. I am already starting to temper my attention to blogs devoted to making theories and claims like Levi’s. I hate lecturing writing, I hate writing that tries to address academia or modify its standards. And yet, I am a philosopher, I care about truth, and “taking positions” is unavoidable. Feeling moved by profound disagreements is therefore also unavoidable (at that point, I can only hope no one takes it personal, because then, if we go down that road, I feel we are obligated to stay on the level of the abstract and impersonal). And yet, I know there is a higher road: recognizing, or embodying, the fact that every position is immediately overtaken in the material thrust of existence. I myself would like to be the loss of life as such in that thrust; and to make a “text” out of it. A text that would breath, that would be a body, a life. At that point, one stands alone, and there is no sense in worrying over the admonitions of the “theoreticists” (Laruelle again).

    We need to speak to each other, not to ideas; and when we speak, we have to do all we can to send ourselves far ahead of ourselves, or to keep in touch with "sense" by keeping in touch with what exceeds us in the instant. Obviously, to say so can only make sense insofar as my reader follows a direction of their own, divergent, not mine (since I am one arrow more lost!), realizing that it is impossible to follow a communal path, even if we go off on our own in-common, sharing a splintering affect.

  6. Let me close with what sparked off the need to write this post-script, a quote of Hegel’s from an early text of his, which resonates with Kierkegaard’s above: "Nowhere more than in the communication of the divine is it necessary for recipients to grasp the communication with the depths of their own spirit... This always objective language therefore attains sense and weight only in the spirit of readers and to an extent that depends on the degree to which the relationships of life and the opposition of life and death have come into their consciousness."

    Who is able to read this? Some have an aversion to the "divine": this word conjures up certain things, it represents or signifies certain things, etc., and what it supposedly signifies is increasingly rejected in our age (I imagine by OOO, as well). But keeping all I've said in mind, isn't there a different way to read? Isn't there a way to read such that my heart and mind absorb the word "divine" in an unknown way, without immediately knowing what it means or is meant to indicate? And can't I read all these words that way -- "life," "death," "consciousness," etc.? I think what scares me, saddens me, is that we read Hegel or others and think we've understood something. We treat language in this “signifier” way that OOO rejects and yet remains caught in (in my opinion). Again, it isn’t as easy as explicitly saying one is going beyond the signifying appropriation. It can only mean total transformation in what it means to be a “speaking being.”

    What I believe Nancy teaches us, or at least, what I think he has taught me more than any other person could, is how to suspend this “signifier” way of reading and thinking altogether. It can only transform ones life, ones practice of commenting on other's work, ones practice of thinking as such. How? Because then every signification, every sense, enters into suspension—including, above all, my sense of self. Every truth is disrupted; I am dead. Suddenly, everything is much less "constituted" than we once thought, the direction we are headed in more uncertain. There ends up being no sense to that endeavor that would go looking for "claims" or making them. I realize this takes me far afield of "theoretical analysis." But what matters is the mumbling eloquence of existence and what gets shared in it. What matters is this auseinandergeschrieben: this being-written-exposed of the one/another from out of the other/all the others/One. Vulnerability at its utmost: the skyline, courage.


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  8. Tim,

    You say that you have not addressed my text "directly" but if the text made you re-spond then this was the goal. As you say, we are always missing the mark, in a sense, and, even though oblique answers risks talking past one another, this is only to say that sense opens itself up to a mis(communication) which is also a communication, but a communication of sense rather than signification-- a Saying without a said, to use Levinas' language.

    I regret to say that most of my blogs here will deal with claims rather than an exposing of myself, due to the fact that, alas, I am a nascent academic in rhetoric and composition trying to do almost the opposite of the type of praxis-writing that exposes rather than imposes myself -- at once an impersonal and deeply personal writing, but not in the sense of Flaubert where the author withdraws from the scene--quite the opposite--where, as you say, the author "risks" himself as well as his ideas, where the author gives way to the writer as a body in-common, and where the writer is less worried about making claims and open to being claimed by existence in order to then write a living, breathing text. Not in a naïve sense of making the words as “alive” as speech, but rather, as you put it in your essay on poetry, that it is recited “by heart,” in-corporating and inscribing into our being—in the way that you said Nancy’s body becomes part of your body (the writer says: this is my body, given up for you—an infinite gift of the text. Do this (im)memory of me).

    That said, Nancy’s (body) of language and your (body) of language is seeping into my own text and my own way of writing, just as one might catch a flavor of Blanchot, Levinas, or Derrida in my discourse, all writers who expose themselves in an (im)personal text, taking risks, making new gestures of style—writing poetry in the sense that you give it in your essay. Poetry is not about making claims in order to solve problems; if you read Levi’s post on philosophical style, he begins with an anecdote about how he felt at home with the analytic folks since they are talking about issues and problems and forwarding positions rather than “figures.” From what I grasp from your text, you would say that this is a false set of decisions --- that talking “about” figures does little to incorporate their bodies of discourse—neither touches poetry in the sense that it gives access to sense/making. Poetry’s resistance to solving problems: an apo(et)ria.

    As an academic, but not as an academic philosopher, I get a bit more freedom with how I deploy “theory,” but due to my own beginning position as a beginning scholar, I do have a duty to a kind of clarity and position/argument writing. This is what was so refreshing about a course I took where we just read Blanchot, Derrida, and Barthes; I used that class to simply undergo (‘go under’ –Nietzsche) these texts, to suffer them in my being. Nancy shifts from Derrida’s use of the word “passion,” which is maybe too Christian, to suffering, but a suffering “without remission” and in this sense “without passion.”

    I find myself part of an academic machine that draws on these thinkers like sources rather than suffering them in the desert. As Nancy says, “the end of sources, the beginning of the dry excess of sense.” I myself do the same thing—I cannot help it.
    Let me end by just saying that I thank you for your response to my text. I look forward to reading your blog for writing that takes writing as “more than a metaphor,” writing that pushes thought beyond itself and touches the infinite in the finite. It’s good to see someone still taking the time and the risk.

  9. In my estimation, you've said a very truthful thing here: "I find myself part of an academic machine that draws on these thinkers like sources rather than suffering them in the desert." I myself wonder about this: why the signifying appropriation? Why the placement, posturing, and positioning? Why the operation of appropriation, as such? It is not only a function of capitalist competition; or rather, the latter must be a function of a greater misapprehension of existence. A whole knot of references comes up here, especially Marx's admonition against taking humanity as a "means" and instead insisting we must take ourselves and our activity as both means and as an "end-in-itself." I think also of Bataille, his notion of "useless expenditure", and his lifelong resistance to the putting-to-use and the signifying appropriations that "go to work" in theoretical and philosophical texts (especially in his proclamation that inner experience, existence, is not a project!). I think of Blanchot, his omnipresent "theme" of désœuvrement, variously translated as "inoperation," "undoing," "unworking," etc. For Blanchot, we should add, this "unworking" is the most intimate (non-)operation of the work itself. It is death itself set free in life (not unlike the exposure or disruption emphasized in my previous comments). And then, of course, I think of Nancy's absolutely singular thinking on "community" as such, the community that resists all substance and meaning, which refuses to be "put to work," the community of existences without final accomplishment and without any constituted Meaning. And how does one not think of mysticism or spirituality in general, whose basic matrix means the "rejection" of worldly significance, "rejection" of self-appropriation, the "giving freely" of oneself, etc.

    I always say, it is not the system that is the problem, it's how we use it. We are far too often creatures of habit, and worse, creatures that mimic other creatures, creatures that seek recognition from other creatures, creatures who modify their behavior according to the "law of agreement" (Nietzsche). How do we make of ourselves, within the system, an unwilling participant-- manifestly "going with it" and "rejecting it" all at once? I believe there is only one answer: "write" texts that foil every expectation, follow the path that blazes for you to such heights of intensity that even if onlookers do not understand it they will recognize its "worth." This is no easy task, and all along the way the temptation of "citing your sources" will try and lead you astray. But clearly, we have examples of those who were able to navigate the system outside of it; they should be our standard bearers, and let the babbling crowds in the merchant halls of academia squawk away with their feigned sense of earnestness and "academic standards." I think that already, even as you are able to read these words, this is the case for you-- although, again, how easy it is to be led astray. At any rate, I am not discouraged by your obvious requirement to make claims and "impose" yourself; I am much more encouraged by your recognition of what is so limiting of these requirements. Because in the course of our writing, what we know cannot hide itself, our attitude toward sense and signification cannot hide itself. And we ourselves cannot hide ourselves. Imposition/exposition is not a duality, not a choice to be made. The choice to be made is between feigning and holding-true. At that point, I think, no height can be kept from us, because "height" itself means: holding to the true-- holding to the hiccup, suspension, drop, intimation-- of sense.


  10. In order to write vividly and to draw on real life examples, one has already jumped the gun. In other words every approach to reality, in which one draws analogies from, relies upon a certain epochal disclosure of being.

    I think 'writing' functions in a similar way to how OOO employs the term 'forging relations' in order to make a point that everything has a genesis. I think where 'writing' makes an advance over 'forging relations' is the synchronic axis of language, that is, the materiality of language itself to make connections independent of ones intent. Which I think gels nicely with your comments...

    “As someone who has studied literature, it is not the outside of the text that is the most interesting, but rather, how the text resists me as a reader – oh wait, I’ve fallen back into correlationism – it’s what it is “for me” again.”

    I personally would not frame it in terms of interest, as to do so is to be anthropomorphic. However, I would make a stronger statement regarding the impossibility of 'direct access' (as in full contact) to the outside of the text. Your closing quote from Nancy, again, gels with what I am trying to articulate.

    “Every discourse on the sense and significance of the world can be suspended, tipping over in insignificance...delivering my discourse up to the derision of ‘all talk, no action. But this in itself bears witness to sense”

    Translation: “Oi idealist! You can assume direct access to the world all you like, that doesn't efface the materiality of language. Further, the condition of possibility for you to make your stoopid idealist criticisms of my style is grounded in the very thing you rescind. Fool!