Thursday, August 12, 2010


Resuscitating an earlier conversation regarding the problem of past love -- the problem, that is, of whether love can, as time passes, ever retain (or even resuscitate) its very essence, indeed, of whether love must not of necessity contradict and so lose itself the moment it should take leave of the present and become a thing of the past, Amos of KTL has seen fit to expound upon the likeness obtaining between such a past love and a god that has passed away:

If [the god] is gone and dead, how can it have been a god? Certainly, it is not the God who "at every time and in every place,...draws close to man" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1). By withdrawing from me after exacting my promise it has withdrawn its right to be called a god. But a god does not change, so it never was a god. Never to have been a god: this is how a god dies.

The logic of divine death --unmistakably Nietzschean in origin --is in a certain sense deceptively simple. Among the many who have revisited its simplicity since it was first proclaimed through the mouth of a "mad man", in that famous failed attempt to teach the common man the basic principle of a fröhliche Wissenschaft, it is Jean Luc Marion who offers perhaps the most succinct formulation of its general shape:

A “God” who can die harbors already, even when he is not dying, such a weakness that from the outset he falls short of the idea that we cannot not form of a “God.” And is it not the least of courtesies that he should satisfy a propaedeutic concept, even if it is only our own? A “God” who decides to die dies from the beginning, since he undoubtedly needs a beginning –which means that the “death of God” sets forth a contradiction: that which dies does not have any right to claim, even when it is alive, to be “God. (The Idol and Distance)

Omitting for the nonce a consideration of, for example, Marion's conspicuous use of a double negation (" we cannot not..."), we may yet appreciate how crucial the function of temporality is for this logic of divine mortality: a single moment --that moment of terrible epiphany in which it is finally ascertained that god is no longer --this single moment, it is claimed, reveals as so much illusion all the moments, indeed, the entire history, that had lead up to this very moment of revelation. Prior history, as the history of the god who has been, is simply the process by which its own farcical nature has now unfolded. The logic's conclusion thus offers itself straightforwardly: the god never was. If anyone has promised things or himself to such a god, those promises are to be esteemed null and void ---unless, as Rainscape has suggested, it can be supposed or in someway believed that another, this time immortal, god was evesdropping on such promise-making all along. But what if one, upon carefully examining the temporality by which god's life becomes a lie, were to object that somewhere along the way the original problem at stake had become conflated with another, entirely different problem? After all, is the problem of a despondent 'god' the same as the problem of a god who has become despondent? It is Nietzsche himself, who refused to lose sight of the double edged necessity of this logic: the truth of the moment of the death of god required god's previous life precisely to the extent that it would be capable of denying it. The Moment, if it was going to mark the beginning of an eternity in which god never existed, would have to mark it off from an eternity in which he always existed. Thus does Nietzsche have Zarathustra recognize the remarkable and confounding demands such a moment would have to make upon the one who endures it (I shall quote at length):

“Look at this gateway! Dwarf! It hath
two faces. Two roads come together here: these hath no
one yet gone to the end of.
This long lane backwards: it continueth for an eternity.
And that long lane forward—that is another eternity.
They are antithetical to one another, these roads; they
directly abut on one another:—and it is here, at this gateway,
that they come together. The name of the gateway is
inscribed above: ‘This Moment.’
But should one follow them further—and ever further
and further on, thinkest thou, dwarf, that these roads
would be eternally antithetical?”—
“Observe,” continued I, “This Moment! From the gateway,
This Moment, there runneth a long eternal lane backwards:
behind us lieth an eternity.
Must not whatever can run its course of all things, have
already run along that lane? Must not whatever can happen
of all things have already happened, resulted, and
gone by?
And if everything have already existed, what thinkest
thou, dwarf, of This Moment? Must not this gateway also—
have already existed?
And are not all things closely bound together in such
wise that This Moment draweth all coming things after it?
consequently—itself also?
For whatever can run its course of all things, also in
this long lane outward—must it once more run!—
And this slow spider which creepeth in the moonlight,
and this moonlight itself, and thou and I in this gateway
whispering together, whispering of eternal things—must
we not all have already existed?
—And must we not return and run in that other lane
out before us, that long weird lane—must we not eternally
Thus did I speak, and my speech grew ever softer: for I was
afraid of my own thoughts, and the thoughts behind my thoughts.
(Thus Spake Zarathustra)

The moment of the death of god, the moment of eternal contradiction that contains the impossible yet necessary union of two eternities --this moment is extraordinary in its very structure as a moment, its very temporality. Even without asking what truly singular thing is happening in this moment, there is the easily overlooked question of how it is happening. How does this moment itself happen? Zarathustra proclaims at the turning point of his discourse to the dwarf -- the culminating moment of his discourse on the Moment --that "This Moment draweth all coming things after it...consequently—itself also" (bold mine). Nietzsche elsewhere, both through the double of Zarathustra and through his own private letters, refers to this moment as the moment of his "loneliest loneliness". But with this characterization, Nietzsche is not giving some "biographical context" for his thought, as if the moment should be situated within the extensive background of a solitary life; he is rather describing the very intensive structure of the moment and it only. For if god is to die in such a moment, then this moment must take place as the expression of its own impossibility. Of course it is true that the eternity of god's presence can never have been an eternity if it ends, AND the eternity of god's absence will never have been an eternity if it begins. But above all even the moment itself cannot have happened ---and this because of what transpires in it: an event which denies a priori both its past  (god's presence) and its future (god's absence), thereby denying also the possibility its present, namely the moment itself. The moment therefore steals itself away. It is a time not spent but stolen. It is nothing but the moment of its own withdrawal, and it is therefore nothing all the more, indeed emphatically.

But if, then, the moment has this problematic yet emphatic character of preceding itself, along with everything that has come before it and everything that will come after, if it "draweth all coming things", that is all things which come and go, "after it", then it is so unprecedented that it threatens to lose its character as a moment. And again, such a loss would necessarily not be one that occurred at any subsequent time, but would occur in and as the moment. The moment is thus a moment of self-loss; it can never really happen, can never really have happened, at best it is a flash of what is already the case, namely god's presence or his absence. And this is in fact what Nietzsche's German famously calls it, for the English "Moment" does not render the German appropriation of Latin, i.e."Momente", but rather the truly Germanic "Augenblick". The moment under consideration here is a sudden flash, a momentary lapse, a blink of the eye, an Augen-blick. Like the Anglo-Saxon blican, the German blicken signifies "a glance, a glimpse, or a glittering, a shining." Not insignificantly, Blicken itself passes through such terms as blinzen and blinzeln, to wink and to blink, and is found in such expressions as blinz-äugig, that is, blink-eyed or weak-eyed. The term then passes on to designate a complete privation of sight as in Blinde-kuh, or that ancient children's game "blind man's buff".

The deceptively simple logic of divine death leads to this compound loss: the loss of time in time ---Die Ewige Wiederkunft des Gleichen in der Augenblick. It now becomes apparent that if we hold fast to the demands of this logic, then not only the god but also the death of god withdraws --and with it the very moment in which all of this happens. But this withdrawal of everything --so radical that it requires that everything never have been, that everything be essentially gone --this withdrawal itself, surely it (to return to the conspicuous use of a double negative) is not nothing. It is this peculiarity of the withdrawal, that it is not nothing, even if only (and especially) because it gives nothing ---it is this peculiarity that Heidegger, that one and only speaker of a word still missing, was compelled with gadfly-like insistence, never to cease invoking in our memory. And indeed, not only the death of the divinity or the moment of this death, but also the logic of this death, has a place in our memory that antedates the death itself, a place that stretches much farther back than its Nietzschean variety, a place to be found, then, not only at the Nietzschean end but at the Platonic beginning, and even at that beginning it is imbued with a waning mythical echo:

"The μύθος is that appeal of foremost and radical concern to all human beings which makes man think of what appears, what is in being. Λόγος says the same; μύθος and λόγος are not, as our current historians of philosophy claim, placed into opposition by philosophy as such. On the contrary, the early Greek thinkers (Parmenides, fragment 8) are precisely the ones to use μύθος and λόγος in the same sense. Mύθος and λόγος become separated at that point where neither μύθος nor λόγος can keep to its original nature. In Plato's work, this separation has already taken place. Historians and philologists, by virtue of a prejudice which modern rationalism adopted from Platonism, imagine that μύθος was destroyed by λόγος. But nothing religious is ever destroyed by logic; it is destroyed only by the god's withdrawal." (Was heißt Denken?)

Heidegger is here, as usual, exercising a very particular care over his words. The audience of his lecture is at once the recipient of a daring proposal and of caution as to how it should be understood. Although ontology, if it is to take its first step, must recognize that it does not involve itself in "μῦθον τινα διηγεῖσθαι", in that is, "telling a myth" (Plato's Sophist, 242c) --a phrase famously quoted and insisted upon by Heidegger some 25 years prior to his delivery of the Was heißt Denken? lectures, nevertheless we are here told that μύθος itself "makes man think of what appears, what is in being." Μύθος not only engenders but compels a thinking of what appears, what is in being. We cannot here consider how cautiously Heidegger lays this comma down --more cautiously then if it were a stick of dynamite; for "what appears" precedes "what is in being" not only in the order of Heidegger's sentence. But for the immediate purposes of the question at hand, it is enough to underscore the surprising compulsion of myth upon thinking, the seemingly implausible force that through the "green fuse" of thinking drives philosophy and its logic to flower. It is this unexpected claim that gives the further support for Heidegger to assert that "philosophy as such" is entirely innocent of the crime of making μύθος and λόγος oppose each other; μύθος belongs to a soil altogether subterranean to philosophy, and indeed, one by which its first growth, its first appearance, is made possible and even "compelled". No, not philosophy as such, which is indebted to μύθος, but both μύθος and λόγος themselves are to be held responsible. What is it that they did? They did not, and more precisely could not keep to their original nature. Only thus did they come into conflict in such a way that λόγος was fated to overtake μύθος and to bid it farewell. What is this not-keeping in which a failure of essential proportions takes place? We may gather at least this much en route to an answer: the original nature of μύθος and λόγος are of such a sort that they need to be kept, to be preserved. When they are not kept, they are given, and thus given away, lost. Only in the loss of this their original nature --a nature in which their appearance remained concealed, that is kept, do the two come into opposition. Philosophy as such, before the time of Plato, thought of "what appears, what is in being" but it did not expose the original nature of what it was thinking. The Presocratics could not achieve this, because what they were thinking was of such a nature that they had to keep it in their thoughts; they had to keep thinking about it, for it had not yet ever been thought. But Plato, who, we are told, in some measure had to achieve this exposure, was faced with the vexing problem that he could no longer keep thinking in the way Parmenides had, and therefore he could no longer keep in thought the original, concealed nature of μύθος and λόγος. Such failure was emphatically not Plato's doing --rather it is only the lucidity of Plato as opposed to the chiaroscura of the Pre-Socratics that attests to the fact that "this separation has already taken place." But as nonchalant as Heidegger is in delivering such a "fact", he is at the same time speaking with masterful care: the separation does not take place in Plato's work, but "has already taken place" in Plato's work; indeed, it has taken place as the very condition for the possibility of Plato's work, even though it is precisely this separation that will be problematized in Plato's work. We are thus faced with a curious state of affairs: it did not yet happen in the Presocratics, only to have already happened in Plato's work. When then --at what moment --did such an event take place? Instead, like the death of god, this event of separation in which μύθος and λόγος both fail to keep to their original essence steals away unseen, unexperienced, unsuffered, untranspired, only to be proclaimed later, in a thought out of season. There is no present moment of separation. There is only the time when it has not yet happened, and the time when it has already happened. In the former time, such a separation is not yet conceivable, that is to say, it is not yet possible. In the latter time, such a union is no longer conceivable, that is to say no longer thinkable. The separation testified to by the work of Plato, like the death testified to by Nietzsche, both obey a logic in which the testimony each thinker gives buries the event to which it testifies. Both falsify so completely the past from which they are breaking that even the moment of the break is cast into an enigmatic obscurity. And amidst the ruction of such a break, certain quiet questions slip away unasked and unaccounted for. Why was something like a break ever needed? What can account for this original and long lasting entanglement with μύθος? Why did god need to die? What was this comforting and great illusion of the eternal existence of the god? These were not nothing. Nor were they deliberately decided upon or contrived, as I have had pause to consider elsewhere on this blog:

First, it must be admitted that we do not ever decide to be involved in that dimension in which the divine brilliantly flashes. If the Greek gods were by no means the stupendous, ex nihilo inventions of the poets, still less were they the fruits of a some sort of consensus among the people. Ancient man was pre-committed to hierophany. The failure to recognize this pre-commitment to such a hierophantic realm is what in part characterizes the essential presumption of modern impiety. Ancient piety, understood in terms of this characterization, is not --at least in the first place --a personal decision, since it could only be something fit for the scales of phronetic deliberation if it has beforehand lost all of its gravitas as a compelling, commanding hierophany, i.e. as something quite other than either a fact or a contrivance. Homer himself offers his testimony in this respect:"Far-darting Apollo descended upon the Achaian camp as the night." This is neither contestable nor incontestable. It occurs in a realm whose stillness and purity lies before any possibility of contention. From out of the overwhelming brilliance of such a realm, men find themselves pouring libations and sacrificing in holocausts in accord with a need which they have not yet understood ---a need which has all the same been given for them to attempt to fulfill. Such need, such necessity understood as ἀναγκὴ, is the pulse of the tragic essence of the Greeks, which means of course the Greek essence of tragedy, namely τραγοιδία as the scape-goat's song of sacrifice.

What can account for this pre-given experience of the god? What can eradicate it? If the god once was, yet is now no longer, does this falsify the god? Does it destroy the god? Or is this destruction of the god, like that of myth, one that is preceded by a certain inexplicable concealment? Does all destruction always fall short of truly destroying, since it can never destroy the past that preceded it? Does not this past, not simply as what is past, but as what has indeed once been envelop in perfect remove what is now destroyed? The withdrawal of what once appeared limits the very reach of destruction, and so this withdrawal itself gives testimony to whatever has withdrawn. But the withdrawal is of the god. The god who is asserted to never have existed on the basis of his evanescence, is a fortiori the god who once was. But what god is this whose very flight testifies to his arrival and above all where can such a god be found? As the culmination of Heidegger's Beiträge would have it:

Flight and arrival of gods now together move into what has been and are removed from what is past.
But the futural, the truth of Seyn as refusal, contains within itself the ensuring of greatness, not the empty magnitude of empty and gigantic eternity, but of the shortest pathway.

Is then, the once irresistible love, which, in departing from the heart in which it once had burnt and abandoning it to the tragedy of an inexplicable fragmentation, not all the more undeniable for that fact?