…. the Corpus Hermeticum: “God is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”. It is this that awakened my new thinking about Nancy’s Being Singular Plural, Listening and a new vision of the coming community. The trajectory of significance of these words over many centuries inspired me to imaginatively interpret Nancy’s presentation, as well as to coax it further by turning, once again, to the ancient piety of the Logos.
Jorge Luis Borges traces the history of the different moods effected in thinkers by this idea of the infinite sphere that god, or the logos, or whatever it is we use to refer to the divine, is more in us than we are in ourselves, and furthermore that our being is always being together with the vast kosmos in a way that we are neither absorbed nor marginalised by it. Giardano Bruno was ecstatic at the liberation he felt in the immensity of possibility and infinite intelligibility, but not even a century later, Pascal found himself contemplating this idea and staring into a “frightful” abyss. The kosmos seemed so vast and incomprehensible, and God so distant; though he yearned for intimacy with the divine, he restated the metaphor, “Nature is an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” The ecstasy of the immensity and fullness that animated Bruno’s dizzying fascination with the infinitely large and the infinitesimally small, which were united in his visionary cosmology by the promise of a mutually revelatory communal energy, is matched by reciprocal pathos and despair in Pascal, who associated with this indefinite and unknowable vastness, a power that threatened all determinate knowledge with its infinitude. Borges writes, “…seventy years later [in the time of Pascal]…men felt lost in time and space. In time, because if the future and the past are infinite, there cannot really be a when; in space, because if every being is equidistant from the infinite and the infinitesimal, there cannot be a where. No one exists on a certain day, in a certain place; no one knows the size of his own face.” Such despair seems only to have been shaken by the emergence of a new faith – not in an infinite God, but in humanity’s own mastery over the kosmos by the manipulation of technology. The “logic” of control descends from a deaf indifference to the Logos and an ethical amnesia that effaces community.
Perhaps Nancy would re-intone this metaphor by saying, “Being singular plural is participation in an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” As beings, specifically persons, with irreducible uniqueness and exemplary peculiarity, we are served with the mandate of defining or delimiting our being in community with profound appreciation of the “now”, of the “with”, and of the ethical imperative bound up in our togetherness.
In my discussion of Nancy’s emphasis on the ‘being’ and ‘with’ of singular-plural community, I will attempt to re-articulate his notions in terms of ‘logos’ (for ‘being’) and ‘kosmos’ (for ‘with’ or ‘between’) because the ancient Greek words carry with them an enduring power that communicates community with the force and verve of centuries bound up in the incipient thinking of human togetherness with each other and with nature; because the conjunction of these ideas reminds us of our inheritance of the ancient divine imperative to “know thyself”; and because ‘logos’ and ‘kosmos’ imply an inherent intelligibility, order and beauty to coexistence, a form of poetry that at the heart of being and thinking, is NOT value neutral.
Loss of the Human in the Will to Control: the necessity of abandoning being;
Derrida comments on the loss of humanity in the free-wheeling democracy in a dizzying remark: “It has made a return, turning around me, turning and returning, turning around me and turning me upside down, upsetting me, as if I were locked up in a tower unable to get around, unable to perceive or conceive the workings or turnings of a circular machine that does not work or turn just right.” This turning and returning is more than a hermeneutic circle, for us, who live the topsy-turvy event of democracy at large. It seems that Pascal’s mood infects our present experience of human community: the conception and birth of our nation, our community, was as grand and noble (since it was based on ideals like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”) as it was freely open and/or vague. “On the horizon without horizon of this semantic disturbance or turbulence, the question of the democracy to come might take the following form, among others: what is ‘living together?’ And especially: ‘what is a like, a compeer?’”
The vertiginous spiralling of questions results from the disintegration of an Idea and identity in the West. Much like Pascal, we find that we cannot know our time or place, and we cannot know either our own face or the face of our neighbour. Our illusion of occidental security and homogeneity has been challenged by the radical other, our hegemony threatened, our sovereignty put to question: “Sovereignty is round; it is a rounding off. This circular or spherical rotation, the turn of the re-turn upon the self, can take either the alternating form of the by turns, the in turn, the each in turn…or else the form of an identity between the origin and the conclusions, the cause and the end or aim, the driving cause and the final cause.” The challenge that faces us is to think the principle of relationality, or togetherness, with each other and with nature, in time and space, in history and culture as a new idea or ‘place’ for humanity and the ‘idea of humanity’ beyond the self-devouring circle of thought thinking itself. It seems that we are trapped in an infinite sphere, the centre of which is nowhere, but the circumference everywhere. Everywhere we find divisions, boundaries, limits, vivisections of the horizon of community.
Nancy picks up on the problem of the coming community, and his critique focuses on the fact that history can no longer be presented or represented as a “grand narrative” driven by some will to conceptual meaning. Concepts, or Ideas in the post-Cartesian context, are products without real aura, and therefore exhibit the demonic character of a false purity and an aesthetic attraction fatal to thinking. Traditional philosophy has taken such master concepts as history, sovereignty, freedom and the absolute to cover or mask and manipulate things according to a reflective will to power. In such a scheme, the word and the Idea have emerged as a pure work of metaphysics, and philosophy was merely an aesthetic technique that empowered things with an illusory essence. On this view, reality was shaped (or romanticised) into a product of wishful thinking, and the philosophical language itself appeared solely as an artwork of rationality, consistently distancing words from the things as they are.
Nancy writes, “Let us remember that the Idea of History – History itself as an idea, and what the Idea of History should reveal or produce – is nothing but the Idea of humanity, or Humanity as an Idea, as the completed, presented shape of Humanity…. Accomplished Humanity is no longer historical.” If the Idea of Humanity has vanished with the Idea of history, we must try to re-think our “place” in the “now” of this post-human era: the era of Dasein. Are we no longer human but beings-here, beings-in-capital, beings-on-the-web? Philosophy of the modern and post-modern eras is no longer focused on a “what”, neither in that it refers to some determinate substance in an Aristotelian sense, nor is it the content of what philosophy thinks. Nor has philosophy been concerned with a “how”… The subject is time and our kosmic spacings, how we articulate the “we”, but also how we appreciate the “I” within the “we”, or perhaps the “I” as “we” and the “we” as “I” in a hyper-metaphysical extension of Mitsein, or a style (in the Merleau-Pontian sense) of being-in-common.
Have we suffered a reverse apotheosis of the Idea of Humanity, which entails nothing other than a loss of that ancient piety for that sense of a primal and reciprocal openness and absorptiveness of soul and Logos beyond the confines of univocalising conceptualisation? Have we, the emerging postmodern community, lost faith in all of our governing Ideas, the Idea Dei, Justice, Nature (which for Spinoza is power, joy, and eternal history), because of our fearful suspicion of transcendence? We have a new piety without the fervour, a new piety that is instead characterised by anxiety or fetishism. The attempts to regain a form of piety have taken different shapes, like the political imaginaries having to do with the global community, communism, the coming community, the democracy to come, and the aesthetic salvation of history. The danger of globalisation is a faith in whatever happens (inasmuch as it will inevitably always matter (but here it matters as a consequence of an objective reality with which we must deal, though there is nothing necessarily or intentionally salvific or even constructive in such events). But how are we to know that this is something that we want, if there is no connexion or continuity with “we, now” and our purposive hopes?
Our, humanity’s, response to the indirection of our wandering hopes is the endless and fruitless production of new political imaginaries: the recovery of Eden, the palace of Xanadu, or perhaps a Walden Pond – but these are not viable options for community anymore. The vision of a lawless society, where people play with ideas and laws as children play with disused objects… Are these merely dreams, or gestures that point to nothing real, or stupid slavish or schizophrenic pieties that fall into the dangerous lap of capital’s seduction? If we are no longer human, were we ever? Is the post-historic humanity confined to new waves of finite histories that de-naturalise the “we” by waving farewell to the very essence of the historical event?
Nancy seems somewhat nostalgic for the traditional Idea of Humanity as a meaning that emerges from narrative history. He says, “History can no longer be presented as…a ‘grand narrative’, the narrative of some grand, collective destiny of mankind, a narrative that was grand because it was great, and that was great because its ultimate destination was considered good”. He continues, “Our time is the time, or a time, when this history at least has been suspended: total war, genocide, the challenge of nuclear powers, implacable technology, hunger, and absolute misery, all these are, at least, evident signs of self-destroying mankind, of self-annihilating history, without any possibility of the dialectic work of the negative”.
It seems that we moderns prefer the anxious insomnia of metaphysical suspicion and the frenetic competition of the will to possession over the refreshing surrender of “giving over” to what the logos communicates from beyond. This “giving over” is an opening for inspiration, invigoration – it is an attunement to unapparent harmonies in the silent poetry of the kosmos, the lost and forgotten home of man. Such a repose relaxes our spastic endeavouring to allow for an absorption in the natural and divine passio essendi, a being-taken-up in the togetherness of community.
We have been suffering from a Kosmic amnesia.
Recovery of the Community in Listening;
Why listening? Nancy summarises the problem with the dominant attitude of the philosophical interrogation (of nature, self, other, and God): “Isn’t the philosopher someone who always hears (and who hears everything) but who cannot listen, or who, more precisely, neutralises listening within himself, so that he can philosophise?” Here, of course, he is criticising the philosophical will to conceptualisation – we philosophers have a tendency to be too busy (or narcissistic) making meaning instead of letting being be by appreciative dwelling in it and allowing its meaning to well up in our relations to it and to the kosmic community. Therefore, when speaking of “listening” we do not limit this to the acoustic phenomenon of sound waves on an ear drum, because listening involves an attentiveness to the Logos, which makes no specific sound yet communicates meaning by “calling” its participants to a certain relation or order (kosmos). The Logos evokes us from our sleepy recalcitrance, to manifest its order, beauty and harmony in the community of being, yet this harmony is not an “apparent harmony” confined to linguistic or other sonorous expression (music), and it is all the more beautiful and powerful in its deep mystery.
Listening already suggests a fundamental posture receptive to the primal Logos, and therefore to what is primordial and other. The being-with that already assumes the communion of “others” not reducible to the self is the communion of being-together in and through the ultimate communication: the Logos. Nancy suggests a porosity of the “I, We, now” beyond contemporary methods of interpretation, which redirects the kinesis of philosophical activity: the point of philosophy is not to question but to listen. The task of thinking, therefore, is to turn from a dialectic of grasping, manipulating, and controlling (the order of words and things) to being silent – a bold, provocative way of listening. Nancy writes, “…it is a question of going back to, or opening oneself up to, the resonance of being, or to being as resonance. ‘Silence’ in fact must here be understood [s’entendre, heard] not as a privation but as an arrangement of resonance: a little – or even exactly…—as when in a perfect condition of silence you hear your own body resonate, your own breath, your heart and all its resounding cave. It is a question, then, of going back from the phenomenological subject, an intentional line of sight, to a resonant subject…” (which is no longer a philosophical subject of any sort, but more of a trans-subjective subject, if we must preserve this language at all). Paradoxically, listening is regarded as an innovative way of dealing with language. In short, it means listening to the word not as a term that conveys information but as a promise of a world yet to come, a better future.
The Logos calls for a “new earth” – a place of healing for all beings and becomings – a reintegration of displaced, alienated, or forgotten singularities within the embrace of the kosmic Logos. In listening, there is a quiet letting-become of the kosmos within us – this freedom from the feeling of being possessed by the things we possess endows us with a mood that is the new precinct where we welcome and celebrate again the eternal divine Logos in the spirit of receptivity and porosity to truth. Human creativity and poetry, then, does not merely express something but, more importantly, philosophically, it reveals the necessary presence of silence permeating the kosmos. Silence is how the kosmos performs in all Being. It is the style of the kosmos challenged by the anthropo-logocentric noise of the artificial world that distracts us with temptations of possession – advertisement urges us to possess products, the media to possess information, Hollywood to possess people, the Academy to possess knowledge, and Disney to possess untenable dreams. Quite simply, then, silence begins philosophy anew by listening to what has been left unsaid and unthought in the history of philosophy, perhaps since its most ancient inception – namely the relation of the Logos to the kosmos. In the past, philosophy emerged as reason’s line of flight away from the kosmos by retreating within to itself, promising freedom and idolising autonomy, yet viciously circling back upon itself to devour itself. Now, philosophy announces another path for thought beyond the circular thinking of itself: the beauty of the kosmos, the silent and forgotten home of man.
Listening involves the feeling of being and becoming, of flows and flight and of thinking-silence. It prescribes a letting-become as well as a letting-be of the non-linguistic transformations that precede and ground linguistic power. Language is here viewed as a way of thinking belonging intimately to silence. It is an opening to the abyss rather than a questioning of the ground, though we will see that ultimately the abyss and the ground of the thinking of being and becoming is one and the same. The abysmal nature of the ground – the silence of the Logos – is the condition for the possibility of free, creative discourse. Our silent thinking of the Logos is the apocalypse of the call of the kosmos for its own rebirth.
Any attempt to deride the silent modes of poetic intervention for their “historical” abstraction falls victim to the very servile stratification under something like the state apparatus that philosophy must invariably question in pursuing a horizon of free discourse – the abysmal earth-ground. Indeed, the silence of questioning challenges the systematic inauthenticity of metaphysics as well as the empirical contamination of the word. Both the metaphysical and empirical perceptions of the word relegate language to political presencing. In one case, the word merely serves the state of construction, in the other, the construction of the state. In both, the word merely breaks the silence of listening-being and listening to being.
Silent-thinking also questions the privilege of questioning. Questioning is itself the aesthetic manner of the political inasmuch as what is questioned always turns out to be thought of as a being amidst other beings of various stratic classifications. The act of questioning then becomes subservient to the narrow register of the politically relevant. Listening to an experience of language other than what is spoken about beings frees thinking from the ancient pseudo-piety of questioning so long as that privilege concerns the question of being. Or does thinking’s responsibility to investigate and arbitrate (the original meaning of historia) remain the only hope for the true shining of presence (a presence that exceeds the play of presence and absence) to reveal in a new light an idea of content emancipated from the musty concept of substance to freely play in the spacing of a new “how” articulated by the heterogeneity of the origin?
Morality as Community: beyond the law;
Is Nancy seeking a post-moral community, where community itself (as more than just an idea or a new political-theological imaginary) redefines goodness, truth, relationality, justice and piety as the contours of a new kosmic representation beyond mimesis and law, that limits by giving form and fullness that transcend the limitations of exclusive boundaries and imaginary fractures dividing human “being-with” as well as the human relation to non-human co-existents (nature, the earth, God)?
“Here, now” is the between which grounds the condition for the possibility of any relation. But this between is not a space, a container or a stage that happens to entertain the coincidence of individual existents, whether that “space” is conceived as an historical epoch, an idealisation of the Human, a culture, a society or a code of morality. “Here, now” is the new figuration of “spacings” of “being-with” that bears with it the imperative of justice which appeals to a ground higher than reductive universals, whimsical commonalities or narcissistic mythologies: it requires a logic of the between, a metaxology, that taps into a more primal ethos. This is, perhaps, a re-vision or re-visitation of the ancient astonishment at the fluid intelligibility of the Logos of the kosmos. The Logos informs the contours of kosmic being (inseparable from kosmic meaning), which was infinite for some (Anaximander), and finite for others (Parmenides).
Nancy realises that wisdom, authentic piety, and the wondering characteristic of philosophical attunement to the kosmic logos manifests a true care for truth as it expresses itself in the structure and relation of the origin, the whole, and the radically singular beings that comprise the kosmos as more than just a sum of disconnected or coincidental parts. This world-view affords him an abysmal ground for situating the place of the human being within the kosmic whole as one who is not merely able, but responsible for articulating the logos within the community, thereby ministering to the forces of order and beauty that constitute kosmic relationality.
Nancy states, “Community does not mean common happening, but happening itself, history. Community is the ‘we’ happening as togetherness of otherness”. The community itself is not a substance held in common by a multitude, like a sail held above the heads of a group defined by its edges. Nancy says that “Happening consists in bringing forth a certain spacing of time, where something takes place, in inaugurating time itself”. This happens in time, or perhaps to time, by being ours. “Time gives us, by its spacing, the possibility of being ‘we’, or at least the possibility of saying ‘we’ and ‘our’”. But who pronounces or announces the ‘we’? Who determines the ‘we’ and who articulates this decision? Nancy seems to suggest that on the lips of every singularity, there is a plurality, a “we”, but how far does each different “we” extend? The challenges that face Nancy involve discovering the edges of the “we” by marking the differences in style of overlapping and intersecting pluralities.
Nancy writes, “There is a common measure, which is not some one unique standard applied to everyone and everything. It is the commensurability of incommensurable singularities, the equality of all the origins-of-the-world, which, as origins, are strictly unexchangable. In this sense, they are perfectly unequal, but they are unexchangable only insofar as they are equally with one another. Such is the sort of measurement that it is left up to us to take.” But this measurement is one of the esprit de finesse not the esprit de geometrie. Pascal’s insight reminds us here that the measure of the “with” cannot proceed by way of a mathematical univocalisation of being but through a finesse that reconciles radical otherness with the common endeavour of togetherness. The representation that we need for the idea of our community issues from an attentive listening to the Logos: Nancy remarks, “…if there is a necessity to mimesis, then it is because logos does not present itself of its own accord – and maybe because it does not present itself at all, because its logic is not the logic of presence.” This is why listening – listening in an almost prayer-like mood – is absolutely essential in manifesting the logos. We ‘imitate’ or ‘mimic’ the logos by representing it in our social interactions, by letting it inform our relationships. Nancy says, “This amounts to recognising that ‘social logos’, the logic of association, and ‘association’ itself as the logos all require mimesis. Has there ever been a logos that was not ‘social’?”
Nancy is alarmed by the tendency toward a reductive univocalisation of being and becoming whether it is in textual dreams or theories and practices of techno-political organisation. Western thought and culture is conventionally identified by an aesthetic totality of meaning. Nancy criticises this understanding of representation rightly because it precludes any sensitivity to mysterious flows and multiplicities that course through and intersect all things in accordance with the silent in-formation of the Logos. The bloodless mimesis of blind, desiccated thought is worse than a parody of truth because it is not even funny. But not all representation is as such – this is only a one-sided understanding of representation that overlooks the complexity of the history of thought because it derives from a problematic reading of re-presentation – one that is intimately connected with the political urge to sanitize social being. The Logos can never be perversely limited or rigidified as the warp of an anthropo-logocentrism that is essentially principial, teleocratic, calculative, manipulative, epochal, polemical, aggressive and ideological: to see the Logos merely as a conceptual rigidification and a linguistic overcoding is a myopic interpretation if not violent butchery of that which exceeds the perversions it suffers in anthropocentric reduction. If, on the other hand representation invokes or evokes a kind of authentic piety beyond that attached to sovereignty, there is still an Idea of humanity to come. (Foucault points out that there can be good representation beyond the subject in his treatment of Las Meninas.)
Is all the contemporary opposition to mimetic representation, the abandonment of the idea of Humanity, and the embrace of our uncanny thrownness into community, not just a veil to hide the fact that we (philosophers especially) have been seduced by the worm of nothingness coiled in the heart of being, a poor understudy for the snake that seduced Eve? Perhaps in this case we should say that we are not seduced but bitten into by despair at the receding futurality of the vision of the consummation of order, harmony and beauty in the infinite unfolding of the Logos. Or perhaps the endless generation of political imaginaries represents a deeper pathology that arises in the deepest ontological fear of nothingness: the nothingness in change, in difference, in striving (strife), in death… such that thinkers of “difference” are really scrambling to cover up difference with euphemisms, ignorance, false and lukewarm inclusiveness, polite deference. Love, however, the heart and crown of Logos, is only possible in difference. It becomes a bloodless nostalgia after the vampirism of those disguised as “sexy philosophers” who have forgotten the last treasure of Pandora’s Box, and substitute for it their myopic imaginaries instead.
The endless generation of new political imaginaries reveals a surplus of spastic textual energy which covers, masks and re-presents the nature, history and world and its human and non-human dwellers by means of a regimatic will to meaning. The metaphysical distancing of words from the meaning of being, which lies “deeper” than any regime of signs or signals can apprehend or signify, becomes a philosophical act of pleasure which confines experience to ultimately frustrated re-presentational interests. Such epistemic distancing is precisely what is aesthetic in a mimetic, non-aleitheic relation to language.
Nancy is looking for an original intimacy in heterogeneity, but ever since Sartre wrote his haunting truism, “Hell is other people,” and perhaps before that, it seems that we can have no faith in ‘otherness’ either. Yet perhaps we are haunted by Sartre’s insight precisely because Nancy is right, that each singularity, as an original opening by which we touch the origin, is precisely because others are the common creators of our world, and if they have no authentic piety, no ideal of the good, or the one, or the beautiful, or some idea of humanity that is more than the lowest common denominator, then we are condemned to a schizophrenic alterity frustrated by a kakophonic discord of linguistic being that does not admit of concrete unity or real communicability.
What we, perhaps, ought to attempt to conceive instead of a naked happening is a “blossoming”. This is the poetic moment where ‘moment’ as ‘instant’ implies a severing of all social horizons, a break from context, but not a frigid or anonymous “ekstasis” or a lonely poetic “epoche” that maintains the ‘distance’ of conceptual strata which define ‘subject’ and ‘object’ – the blossoming moment as instant expresses the tragic nature of human being whose destiny is intimately linked with the phenomena and flows of non-human be-comings. Blossoming expresses the heroic nature of human being as the one capable not of autoimmune political imaginations, but of listening to the silent whisper of the oldest faith, the hope for the unhoped for. Heracleitus says, “Unless he hopes for the unhoped for, he will not find it, since it is not to be hunted out and is impassable”.
Nancy proposes a way of thinking the Logos today that offers to us new ways of thinking being as being-in-common. Nancy writes, “A world is neither space nor time; it is the way we exist together. It is our world, the world of us, not as a belonging, but as the appropriation of existence insofar as it is finite.”
It “is not the time of an origin, nor the origin of time: it is the spacing of time, the opening up of the possibility of saying ‘we’ and enunciating and announcing by this ‘we’ the historicity of existence.” And so, Nancy has brought us out of Pascal’s vicious sphere, and the wanderings of a Spirit lost to itself – in community, the coming community, it finds itself again as the ‘being-with’ spaced by the unapparent harmonies of the kosmic Logos.
Paradoxically, the Logos in the kosmos is an innovative way of dealing with eternity in time. We are infinitely finite in the spacings of betweenness where the essential swaying of truth emerges in time as time emerges out of itself as a world. In short, Logos means seeking the idea not as a term or telos that governs a political constitution, a state apparatus, but as a promise of a world yet to come, a better future. What sort of coming community will fugitive (or refugitive) humanity find to harbour and protect its Idea?
Perhaps Nancy’s movement towards being-in-common in the spaced time of our “now” is an attempt to fortify the reciprocity of the “our” and “now” of time’s offering, in order to say ‘we’ not as the inclusion of all mankind, but as the articulation of singular commonalities defined by authentic flights of piety, i.e. heterogeneous yet compatible styles of being-together in the joyful harmonising of discordant, striving or even rivalling elements. It remains to be argued then, that there is no community, no event of being-in-common for those seduced by inauthentic pietism. The community of all mankind is only possible if we recognise that the essential swaying of truth emerges in an agon of the Logos, and the threatening nature of the appearance or constitution of certain “nows”. The crisis of the decision of the “now” is burdened by being the “now” of whatever time – the now always matters. But the offering of the event is always to let go, or let be whatever happens in the new comedy of presence, the coming to presence of freedom which admits of no sovereignty other than the Logos.
Nancy is the herald of a new epoch that has not yet arrived – an age of post-technology-fetishism, where we can live with our technology without idolising it, and where we can live with each other without marginalising the other or the ‘stranger’, or trivialising his needs and cares. Nancy advises, “We have to decide to – and decide how to – be in common, to allow our existence to exist. This is not only at each moment a political decision; it is a decision about politics, about if and how we allow our otherness to exist, to inscribe itself as community and history.” In this circle of coming community, we, radically unique singular beings every and all, are each the centre of an infinite community, defined and contoured by the Logos, in accordance with what is good, beautiful and orderly.