Introduction: religion in modern Islam -- The essence of religion and Islam's essence -- The value of religion and Islam -- Religion, Islam and identity -- The meaning and symbol of the Islamic state -- Religion between sharīʻa and law -- Reading Islamic feminism: modernism and beyond.
Mohammed Arkoun is one of the Muslim world's foremost thinkers. His efforts to liberate Islamic history from dogmatic constructs have led him to a radical review of traditional history. Drawing on a combination of pertinent disciplines ? history, sociology, psychology and anthropology ? his approach subjects every system of belief and non-belief, every tradition of exegesis, theology and jurisprudence to a critique aimed at liberating reason from the grip of dogmatic postulates. By treating Islam as a religion as well (...) as a time-honoured tradition of thought, Arkoun's work aims at overcoming the limitations of descriptive, narrative and chronological modes in history by recommending that the entire development of Islamic thought ? from Quranic to present-day fundamentalist discourses ? be subjected to a critical analysis guided by these categories. The expected outcome of such a strategy is an emancipated political reason working hand in hand with a truly creative imagination for a radical re-construction of mind and society in the contemporary Muslim world. (shrink)
Machine generated contents note: 1. Spoken, intended and problematic divorce in Hanafi Fiqh; 2. Between person and property - slavery in Qudūrī's Mukhtasar; 3. Pig, purity and permission in Mālikī slaughter; 4. Islamic and other perspectives on evil; 5. The language of love in the Qur'ān; 6. Virtue and limits in the ethics of friendship 7. Drinking and drunkenness in Ibn Rushd.
This is a fresh and contemporary introduction to the Jewish faith, its philosophies and worldviews. Written by a leading figure in the field, it explores debates which have preoccupied Jewish thinkers over the centuries and examines their continuing influence in contemporary Judaism. Jewish Thought surveys the central controversies in Judaism, including the protracted arguments within the religion itself. Topics range from the relations between Judaism and other religions, such as Islam and Christianity, to contemporary issues such as sex and (...) gender and modernity. Central themes such as authority and obedience, the relations between Jewish and Greek thought, and the position and status of the State of Israel are also considered. The debates are further illuminated by reference to the Bible, as a profoundly realistic text in describing the long interaction between the Jews, their ancestors and God, as well as discussions about major thinkers, and passages from the ancient texts: the Mishnah,Talmud and Midrash. (shrink)
"Neusner moves beyond the interpretation of individual texts to grasp as wholes two systems of Judaism, that of the Mishnah and that represented by Rabbinic documents of the fifth century. He thus provides an entirely fresh approach and a new answer to the central question 'What is Judaism?' At the same time, by providing a sound model for the evaluation and comparison of diverse religious systems, this book has an important place within the study of the history of religions in (...) general."--Alan J. Avery-Peck, author of The Talmud of the Land of Israel: Shebiit An eminent scholar of the history of Judaism, Jacob Neusner shows in this work how Judaism changed from a philosophy to a religion between 200 and 400 C.E. The Transformation of Judaism is a work both revolutionary in its method and unprecedented in its results. Comparing earlier and later sets of Judaic writings, Neusner sets forth how philosophy--abstract, elegant, orderly, and intellectual--turned into religion--tangible, down-to-earth, chaotic, and concrete. In the process, he offers an account of the birth of Judaism that has become normative. Moreover, Neusner's methodology can be applied to the study of religions other than Judaism because it examines the underpinnings of how a society sees the world (philosophy), orders itself (politics), and sustains itself (economics). "This prolific author provides in this book yet another of his clear and scholarly explorations into the nature of Judaism... Scholarly detail does not preclude clarity of style and more general reflection on the character of religion in relation to other modes of thought."--Peter Byrne, Religious Studies. (shrink)
Speech : an eye that sees, an ear that hears -- Time : considerations of temporal priority or posteriority do not enter into the Torah -- Space : the land of Israel is holier than all lands -- Analysis : hierarchical classification and the law's philosophical demonstration of monotheism -- Mixtures -- Analysis : intentionality -- Integrating the system -- Living in the kingdom of God.
Translated by Drew S. Burk and Anthony Paul Smith. Excerpted from Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy , (Minneapolis: Univocal Publishing, 2012). THE END TIMES OF PHILOSOPHY The phrase “end times of philosophy” is not a new version of the “end of philosophy” or the “end of history,” themes which have become quite vulgar and nourish all hopes of revenge and powerlessness. Moreover, philosophy itself does not stop proclaiming its own death, admitting itself to be half dead (...) and doing nothing but providing ammunition for its adversaries. With our sights set on clearing up this nuance, we differentiate philosophy as an institutional entity, and the philosophizability of the World and History, of “thought-world,” which universalizes the narrow concept of philosophy and that of “capital.” We also give an eschatological and apocalyptical cause to this end, of “times” or “ages” rather than those of philosophical practice. Last but not least, it is the Future itself in the performativity of its ultimatum that determines this end times, reversing these times from the Identity the Future accorded to it, withdrawing the thought-world from the lie of its death. Why this style of axioms and oracles, these more or less subtle distinctions, old and debased, with an appeal to the ultimata , to end times and last words? We fight to give, parallel to the concept of Hell, its new theoretical position, for its philosophical return and its non-philosophical transformation. No more so than any other word, Hell is not a metaphor here, just the Principle of Sufficient World. Every man, no doubt, has his “hell” readily available, connivance, control, conformism, domestication, schooling, alienation, extermination, exploitation, oppression, anxiety, etc. We have our little list that the Contemporaries established in the previous century in the same way one used to construct lists of virtues and vices or honors and wealth. They invented it for us without knowing it, for us-the-Futures who have as our responsibility to invent its use. In the Christian and Gnostic tradition, the struggle of the End Times takes place “on earth.” The most sophisticated of believers have it taking place in Heaven as well, above all in Heaven. The various kinds of gnosis imagine infinite falls and vertiginous highs, the vertigo of salvation. On Earth as in Heaven, a hell is available. The Marxists have the law of profit and the control of production, the class struggle Capital imposes on man. The Nietzscheans, the dull grumble of the struggle in the foundations of World and History, the domestication of man, the society of control. The phenomenologists, the capture of being, the most superficial amongst them, the age of suspicion. But all of these “hells” are taken from World, History, Society, and Religion. What we call Hell is no longer of the order of these specific and total intra-worldly generalities, it is both more singular and more universal, no longer being at all of the same order, it is the determinant Identity of these small hells strung out through history but unified here in the name of the last Humaneity. It is even found within the French idiom for hell [ enfer ], en-fer literally means “in-irons.” We are as much “in-irons” as we are “alive” [ en-Vie ]. We believe in Hell but as non-philosophers and it is even because we are non-philosophers that we can believe in it outside of any sort of religion. Hell is less mythological than ideological, it combines philosophizability with universal capital. Under what form? A single term could work for them without being a metaphor or something they would participate in by analogy, a more innovative and conjectural term than control, more universal than profit. It would denote the growing and permanent extortion of a surplus-value of communication, of speed and of urgency in change, in productivity and in work, in the pressure of images and slogans. It would be worse than solicitation, more tenacious than capture, more active and persecutory than control, softer and more insidious than a frontal attack, just as perverse as questioning and accusation, less brutal and offensive than extermination, less ritualized than inquisition, it would be soft and dispersed, instantaneous and vicious, it would be a crime without declared violence. Collusion and conformism, it would be afraid to show itself. Related to rumor, from which it borrows its infinite and tortuous ways. It is harassment. As a modernized form of Hell, perhaps harassment has a long future in front of it, of innocent torture, slow assassination, in short the fall, but radical with no way of recovering and which tolerates only salvation. THE PHILOSOPHICAL PAST OF NON-PHILOSOPHY Non-philosophy is thus Man as the utopian identity of the philosophical form of the World, a utopia destined to transform it. We still have to understand these equations, in particular that of the being-uni-versed from Man, and this book adheres to this by re-exposing non-philosophy in a different way via one of its new possibilities. It uses this opportunity to once again take up formulations that lead to objections answering certain external critics, as well as revisiting diverging interpretations specific to non-philosophers. A portion of this book is devoted to going through these theories via a strict or “lengthy” presentation of non-philosophy, and its defense against more expeditious solutions. This work of rectification is the occasion, merely the occasion, for refocusing non-philosophy on Man (the “Man-in-person,” “Humaneity”), and in a more innovative manner, on its utopian vocation established since the book Future Christ . As for this “occasion,” it is quite obvious. A school of posture, not to say a school of thought, supposes a minimum of closure from the most liberating of knowledge, a heritage, its utilization, and its no less certain dispersal. Within its development, a variety of interpretations will no doubt appear, deviations that are as much normalizations, and a struggle against this multiplication of divergent tendencies. These are perhaps not inevitable evils, especially here, merely a normal development according to the twisting paths of history. But the problem is made worse by the fact that this school of non-philosophers is that of utopia. Not the former attempts devoted to commenting on the worst authoritarian and criminal forms of the past and the present, but utopia as the determinant principle for human life, or to put it another way, of the Future as an irreducible presupposition of (for) thinking the World and History. Non-philosophers are engaged in an aleatory navigation between the respect for the most rigorous utopia, whose rules are not that of the reproductive imagination but those from the Future determining imagination itself, as well as the temptations, diversions, and remorse of history. Little by little, we will begin to understand that the Future as we understand it no longer has any temporal consistency or positive content, without being an empty form or a nothingness, but that it is foreclosed to past and present History, just as it is foreclosed to the place of places, the World, and that it is the only method for establishing the practice of thinking in a non-imaginary instance. Because it is the World and History that are imaginary and have a terrible materiality, it is not necessarily utopia. We will overlap two objectives here: the defense of non-philosophy against the (non-) philosophers that we are, only occasionally, and the introduction of philosophy to a rigorous future. Together they set out to definitively render, without any possible return to philosophical conformism or towards the facilities of the past and present, the non-philosophical enterprise understood as utopia or uchronia. Imagination and speculation, left to themselves and thus undistinguished, are quite good for participating in the grand game of History but have little value or worse for the Future which is unimaginable and unintelligible and must be maintained as such. MAN-IN-PERSON AS SUSPENSION OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL CHORA The point where philosophical resistance is concentrated is without a doubt the invention of the Name-of-Man, first name, oracular as much as axiomatic, of the determining cause for the non-philosophical posture. And that which concentrates the differends is the style of non-philosophy as identity that possesses the dual aspect, of discipline and of the oeuvre, of the theorem and of the oracle. But the real difficulty in understanding the simplicity of non-philosophy is profoundly hidden in the depths of philosophy itself. Because philosophy, from Parmenides to Derrida, even Levinas, continues to be a divided gesture, without a veritable immanence, transforming its thematic contents of transcendence in also forgetting to transform the operative transcendence in the element from which the ontology of surface is established which we will call, in memory of Plato, the chorismos. The general effect of the chora literally gives place to philosophy, demanding binding and sutures to which we will once and for all “oppose” the Man-in-person, his power of cloning, and his future being. All philosophy contains a hinter-philosophy in which it deploys its operations and weaves its tradition like an understudy of a topographical nature and in the best of cases being itself topological. Philosophy as well consists of two levels, its pre-ontological operative conditions on the one hand, and its superficial theme on the other, it too has its presupposed, but is not aware of it or erases it within the unity of appearance named Logos. Rightly, the Logos, and its flash or lightning nature, possesses a “dark precursor,” the chora, which is as much a virtual image, and philosophy, dazzled by its own lightning flash, seems to completely forget about it at the same time it sets itself up within it. Non-philosophy risks taking this same path, of confusing what it believes to be the real with its phantom double, contenting itself to working on the thematic level of philosophy, not its surface objects and its idle chatter (we stopped talking about this a long time ago and in any case they are merely simple materials for inducing a work of transformation), but the transcendence-form of its objects. In the end it risks, through precipitation, taking back up the heritage of philosophy, a heritage of a misunderstood presupposed, even more profound than the play of transcendences. This is what the imperative of the radicality of immanence meant, to treat immanence in an immanent manner, not to make a new object out of it. And from here we get non- (philosophy) and its refusal of the Platonic chorismos , symbol of all abstraction, and thus all transcendental appearance. There are no illusions. The message will leave a heritage in tattered pieces and interpretations. But it was difficult not to dispute the differend to its core. There will be complete confusion of the multiple, possible, and necessary effectuations of non-philosophy with its interpretations. The non-philosophical or human freedom of philosophical effectuation and the philosophical freedom of interpretation. Effectuations demand non-philosophy to return to zero from the point of view of its philosophical material and thus also but within these limits the formulation of its axioms , but in no way providing from the outset divergent interpretations of the aforementioned axioms. They are divergent because they do not take into account the material from which these axioms are derived within non-philosophy, and because they do not see themselves as symptoms of another vision of the World. The utterances of non-philosophy are not mathematical theorems and pure axioms, they merely have a mathematical aspect . They are, by their extraction or origin, mathematical and transcendental. And by their determined function in-Real, within non-philosophy, they are identically in-the-last-Humaneity entities which have an aspect of an axiom and an aspect of interpretation (or an oracular aspect as we say) that attempts (sometimes it is ourselves who provide the occasion) to isolate and transform, in complete freedom of interpretation. There will be an opportunity to complain about the complex character of the language of non-philosophy, an idiom saturated with classical references, sophisticated in a contemporary way. Its freedom of decision up against the whole of philosophy demands these effects of “complication” and “privatization,” as the saying goes. But it also demands fighting against the drift [ dérive ] of the pedagogical-all and the mediatic-all that leads philosophy into the shallow depths of opinion, which is the site of its impossible death. The noble idealism of “pop-philosophy” has been consumed into a “philo-reality;” against this we propose philo-fiction. Parricide, which is at the bottom of these interpretations and which we can judge as being quite fertile, although it has informed tradition, only takes place once or within one lone meaning. In regards to Parmenides, it was possible; Plato introduced the Other as non-being and language, bringing into existence the philosophical system of the World, but is it possible to repeat it again with the same fecundity in regards to non-philosophy, this time in introducing (non) religion or (non) art, still mixing them without taking into account this mixture, alternatively as a philosophical or religious resentment? If philosophy begins via a crime, it is no doubt obliged to continue down similar pathways, to the effect that the crimes of philosophy, once the founding crime has been committed, are a reaction of self-defense. It is undoubtedly from this that we get Marx’s declaration that history begins by tragedy and repeats itself or ends in farce. The preservation of rigor and fecundity is, in every respect, a psychologically difficult task within a theory such as non-philosophy. Having posited an essential objective of liberation in regards to philosophy and its services, one has often understood this objective as an authorization of providing particular interpretations of its axioms and ends up obliterating their scope. This ends up confusing, on one hand, two kinds of freedoms in regards to non-philosophy, the freedom of its interpretations and the freedom of its effectuations. On the other hand, any defense of “principles” against precipitated interpretations is immediately taxed with a will to orthodoxy, a prohibitive objection when we are dealing with, as is the case here, a heretical theory of thought. Nevertheless, it is time to stop confusing heresy as the cause of thought with an ideology of heresies, which is certainly not at all our object, but rather a form of normalization. As for the “disciplinary” aspect, which is not the only aspect, it demands something other than philosophical “answers to objections,” a precision in the definition and use of its procedures in the formation of utterances, since non-philosophy is neither a supplementary doctrine interior to philosophy nor a vision of the world but one whose priority is a “vision of Man,” or rather Man as “vision” that implies a theory and a practice of philosophy. In the end, struggle is only one aspect of non-philosophy, not its whole or telos, struggle coming only from its materiality. In particular, if the discipline of non-philosophy is inseparable from struggle, it is not a question of reducing the monomaniacal obsession of its “marching orders.” This would reduce its complexity and kill its indivisibility, deploying it in a “long march” and a form of Maoization whose philosophical presuppositions no longer have any pertinence here, a case of the One and the Two, which are now cloned and no longer tied together. More generally, non-philosophy is a complex thought composed of a multitude of aspects, which is to say, unilateral interpretations, of a philosophical origin but reduced by their determination in-the-last-instance . The “liberalism” of non-philosophy is merely one of the aspects of which it is capable, not an essence. Similarly, it is only capable of having a “Maoist” aspect. Let us generalize. The weakness of non-philosophy is due to a specific cause, the determination-in-the-last-Humaneity of a subject for the World. Everything that has a right to the philosophical city can be said about it in turn and in a retaliatory mode since Man contributes nothing of himself that Man takes from the World. We can consider non-philosophy as being pretentious, absurd, idealistic, empty, materialistic, formalistic, contradictory, modern, post-modern, Zen, Buddhist, Marxist; it endures or tolerates, perhaps “appeals” to, or at least renders possible, sarcasms, ironies, and insults without even talking about the misunderstandings, partly for the same reason as psychoanalysis. All of this goes beyond simple “deviations.” They are its aspects, which is to say, its “unilateral” philosophical interpretations in both senses of the word, being either sufficient coming from the mouth of philosophers, or reduced to their absolute dimension of sufficiency and totality in the mouths of non-philosophers, and both times due to the weakness and strength of Man-in-person as their determination only in-the-last-instance. The non-philosopher is certainly not a Saint Paul fantasizing about a new Church. The non-philosopher is either a (Saint) Sebastian whose flesh is pierced with as many arrows as there are Churches, or a Christ persecuted by a Saint Paul. What is engaged in here is the practice of retaliation. A negative rule of the non-philosophical ethics of outlawed discussion by way of argumentation (the sufficient is you, the orthodox one is always you, you are the fashionable one, and when a master you are someone else) that is founded on the confusion of effectuations of non-philosophy and of its overall interpretations. Retaliation is the law but as with any too-human law, it must acquire a dimension that displaces it, or rather emplaces it and takes away its authority but not all of its effectiveness. If the non-philosopher is only authorized by himself, which is to say by philosophy but limited by the Real-of-the-last-instance, its critique of other non-philosophers can merely be retaliatory under the same conditions, only by the Real limited in-the last-instance. THE TREE OF PHILOSOPHICAL SAINTLINESS The thematic horizon or material of these debates is in the relationships between philosophy, religion as gnosis, and non-philosophy. It is inevitable, regarding non-philosophers in general (whether they are non-philosophers by name or simply its neighbors) that we often end up evoking Marx’s Holy Family and imagining, arranged on the neighboring branches of the tree of philosophy and annexed, sometimes abusively, to non-philosophy, authors who would quite evidently and quite rightly refuse this label. So it is that we find, for example, a Saint Michel, a Saint Alain, a Saint Gilles 1 without even mentioning the youngest who aspire as well to the freedom of “saintliness” and who make their muted voices heard here. If there is a Holy Family of non-philosophers, it extends completely beyond these three, provided that the sectarian spirit can save us. This book is organized in the following manner: To begin, in order to recall the essential part of the problematic, we have organized a Summary of Non-Philosophy , a vade-mecum of notions and basic problems, in a classical style. Secondly, there is Clarifications On the Three Axioms of Non-Philosophy , designed to posit their proper use as much as to elucidate their meaning. Thirdly, an analysis of Philosophizability and Practicity , both being extreme constituents of philosophical material or the contents of the third axiom. Fourthly, the heart of this work: Let us Make a Tabula Rasa of the Future or of Utopia as Method . Fifthly, we have a theoretical outline of a non-institutional utopia, The International Organization of Non-Philosophy, L’Organisation Non-Philosophique Internationale, (ONPHI) already created in practice but under the conditions of possibility and functioning from which here we put into question “de jure,” thus not without a perplexity concerning “facts,” in any case, without the capability of “getting to the bottom of things.” Sixthly, an essay characterizing The Right and the Left of Non-Philosophy , a brief topology of several philosophizing and normalizing positions of proponents or tenants of this problematic. Seventhly, Rebel in the Soul: A Theory of Future Struggle , a systematic discussion starting from a confrontation of non-philosophical gnosis and non-religious gnosis to the extent that they pose, posed or perhaps still will pose themselves as rivals to non-philosophy in a mixture of fidelity and infidelity. Despite the fact that it can also be read as putting non-philosophy into perspective: it pits against a standard Platonism two contemporary appropriations of Gnosticism. On the basis of the paradigm of Man who never ceases to come as the Future-in-person, each one of these moments strives to reestablish not the “true” non-philosophy and its orthodoxy, but the minimal conditions to respect in order to allow for its maximum fecundity. And in order to bring about one of the last possibilities of its development, making explicit Humaneity as a utopia-for-the-World. In introducing these considerations in the form of a “testament” and “ultimatum,” we want to indicate two things: First, that this is the last time we will intervene in order to caution non-philosophers against the temptation of returning and looking backwards towards philosophy. Only a disillusioned nostalgia for the former World and its traditions barely remain permissible to us.… Secondly, that non-philosophy is also a sort of ultimatum for considering one’s life and transforming one’s thought from the perspective of a uni-version rather than a conversion. Man as future is this ultimatum in action, not an impatient self-proclaimed genius, and philosophy is his testament. It is obviously the ultimatum that determines this testament as “old” with a view towards a life that is, itself, non-testamentary. In and of itself, the “old” can never bear a veritable eschaton. Thus, this book intersects according to the logic of this paradigm, under the sign of the ultimate or “last” as future, philosophy as testament and cautionary note for maintaining the non-philosophical oeuvre as “future” or “utopian.” We will see that between these two dimensions it cradles a theory of struggle. In the end, this book envisions non-philosophers in multiple ways. It inevitably sees them as subjects of knowledge, most often academics insofar as life in the world demands, but above all as close relatives of three great human types. The analyst and political militant are quite obvious, for non-philosophy is close to psychoanalysis and Marxism insofar as it transforms the subject in transforming philosophy. Here again, one must have a sense not of certain nuances but of aspects (of the interpretations, albeit unilateralized) and not in order to construct a simple proletarization or militarization of thought as theory. To be rigorous, rather than authoritarian or spiteful, is its task. And lastly, non-philosophy is a close relative of the spiritual but definitely not the spiritualist. Those who are spiritual are not at all spiritualists, for the spiritual oscillate between fury and tranquil rage, they are great destroyers of the forces of Philosophy and the State, which are united under the name of Conformism. They haunt the margins of philosophy, gnosis, mysticism, science fiction and even religions. Spiritual types are not only abstract mystics and quietists; they are heretics for the World. The task is to bring their heresy to the capacity of utopia, and their utopia to the capacity of the paradigm. NOTES We will recognize allusions, and sometimes references, to closely related or distant themes, but which are related, in the work of Michel Henry, Alain Badiou and via the representative of “non-religious” gnosis of a Platonic origin, in Gilles Grelet. It goes without saying that these discussions are current and local, neither concerning the ensemble of doctrines nor prejudging the eventual evolution of certain amongst them. This concerns defining certain proximities with non-philosophy (rather than adversaries which in some sense they are) and typological and emblematic differends (rather than conflicts with a certain author). (shrink)
From the Upanishads to Homer -- Philosophy, did the Greeks invent it -- Pythagoras and the divinity of number -- What is there? -- The Greek tragedians on man's fate -- Herodotus and the lamp of history -- Socrates on the examined life -- Plato's search for truth -- Can virtue be taught? -- Plato's Republic, man writ large -- Hippocrates and the science of life -- Aristotle on the knowable -- Aristotle on friendship -- Aristotle on the perfect life (...) -- Rome, the Stoics, and the rule of law -- The Stoic bridge to Christianity -- Roman law, making a city of the once-wide world -- The light within, Augustine on human nature -- Islam -- Secular knowledge, the idea of university -- The reappearance of experimental science -- Scholasticism and the theory of natural law -- The Renaissance, was there one? -- Let us burn the witches to save them -- Francis Bacon and the authority of experience -- Descartes and the authority of reason -- Newton, the saint of science -- Hobbes and the social machine -- Locke's Newtonian science of the mind -- No matter? The challenge of materialism -- Hume and the pursuit of happiness -- Thomas Reid and the Scottish school -- France and the philosophes -- The federalist papers and the great experiment -- What is enlightenment? Kant on freedom -- Moral science and the natural world -- Phrenology, a science of the mind -- The idea of freedom -- The Hegelians and history -- The aesthetic movement, genius -- Nietzsche at the twilight -- The liberal tradition, J.S. Mill -- Darwin and nature's "purposes" -- Marxism, dead but not forgotten -- The Freudian world -- The radical William James -- William James' pragmatism -- Wittgenstein and the discursive turn -- Alan Turing in the forest of wisdom -- Four theories of the good life -- Ontology, what there "really" is -- Philosophy of science, the last word? -- Philosophy of psychology and related confusions -- Philosophy of mind, if there is one -- What makes a problem "moral" -- Medicine and the value of life -- On the nature of law -- Justice and just wars -- Aesthetics, beauty without observers -- God, really? (shrink)
continent. 1.1 (2011): 27-32. “My”—what does this word designate? Not what belongs to me, but what I belong to,what contains my whole being, which is mine insofar as I belong to it. Søren Kierkegaard. The Seducer’s Diary . I can’t sleep till I devour you / And I’ll love you, if you let me… Marilyn Manson “Devour” The role of poetry in the relationalities between people has a long history—from epic poetry recounting tales of yore; to emotive lyric poetry; to (...) rude, irreverent limericks; to Hallmark cards which have ditties that allow one to cringe, and somehow fall in love at the same moment. Without going into a notion of aesthetics, or attempting to choose which form of poetry is superior, we might want to consider why the form of poetry itself has long been a part of relationality. And whilst doing so, we might always keep in mind that poetry—especially poetry that moves, transports us—is the form that Plato has been warning us about, particularly if we want to become good citizens.As Avital Ronell teaches us in Stupidity : the poet, irremediably split between exaltation and vulgarity, between the autonomy that produces the concept within intuition and the foolish earthly being, functions as a contaminant for philosophy—a being who at least since Plato, has been trying to read and master an eviction notice served by philosophy. The poet as genius continues to threaten and fascinate, menacing the philosopher with the beyond of knowledge. Philosophy cringes (287). And considering that the philosopher is the lover of wisdom, we might begin to ask ourselves why one lover is warning against another—if the philosopher is in love with wisdom, then is the poet perhaps his rival, his challenger, for that very love? For, one must also remember that Plato—through Socrates—mentions constantly that Homer is his favourite. Moreover, by adopting both his own voice, whilst mixing it with Socrates’, Plato is adopting the form of poetry that he warns most about—the warning almost serves more as a homage to poetry than anything else. Here, we might open the register that one of the main reasons that he ejects a particular kind of poet is on the grounds of effecting effeminacy on the populace—good poetry moves you, affects you, transports you, shifts you beyond reason, puts you “out of your mind.” However, Plato also teaches us that rhetoric in its highest form requires divine inspiration by way of the daemon, or the muse. This moment of divine intervention is one that seizes—perhaps even ceases—you; putting you “beyond yourself.” In other words, a good rhetorician must always already be open to the possibility of otherness—the same otherness that possibly resides in the feminine. One could also trace this back to the poet that he both loved, and feared, most—Homer. Perhaps the effect of effeminacy that Homer's poetry opened is precisely the source of its power: through listening to Homer, one's body, one’s habitus is opened to the possibility of the feminine. And here, one must remember that the source of all learning—and all teaching—also lies in mimesis, in repetition, in habit. Once the habitus is opened to the possibility of invasion, of intervention, of otherness, there is quite possibly no possibility of distinguishing whether the mimesis is that of reproduction, or if there is always already a productive aspect to it. And by extension, if learning cannot be controlled, the very notion of teaching itself is shifted from a master-student relationality to one where the master is potentially changed as well—the relationality between the master and the student is not only inter-changing, but one cannot even know who is teaching, or learning, at any point. All that can be said is that they are in a relationality; which means that one is ultimately unable to locate the locus of knowledge, of wisdom—the site of which Plato is attempting to convince us is the sole domain of the philosopher. And it is this that philosophy is cringing from. To compound matters, philosophy is striving for wisdom; which can only come from the Gods. In other words, this is a gift that has to be bestowed on them—and more than that, wisdom is always already exterior to one’s control and knowledge. At best, it is the role of one to recognise the gift, to answer the call as it were. Here, if we listen carefully, we can hear the echo of Alexander Graham Bell, and the telephone. And as we are attempting to respond to the call of wisdom—the call that both poetry and philosophy are listening out for—it might be helpful to recall the agreement between Alexander Graham Bell and his brother Melville. In the biography, Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude , Robert V. Bruce notes that Aleck and Melly made a “solemn compact that whichever of us should die first would endeavour to communication with the other if it were possible to do so” (63). Since Melville was the one who passed on first, this pact put the onus on Aleck to receive the call of his brother. If you take into consideration the fact that until Melville’s death, both brothers had been working on an early prototype of the telephone, the instrument of distant sound can be read as an attempt by Aleck to maintain the possibility of keeping in touch with Melly, of hearing the voice from beyond. However, this was a connection that was not premised on any knowing, reason, or rationality; it was rather, one that was based on hope, and born out of love. And here, if we eves-drop on a cross-line with The Telephone Book , we can pick up the voice of Avital Ronell once again and hear, “the connection to the other is a reading—not an interpretation, assimilation, or even a hermeneutic understanding, but a reading” (380). In other words, the telephone can be read as the openness to the possibility of responding to the other; one that might always remain unknown. Even in this day of caller-identification, we can never know for sure who the other person on the line is until we pick up: hence, the only decision we can make—the effects of which we remain blind to until it affects us—is to either pick up or not, to either respond or not. And it is not as if the decision to pick up comes without risks: each time we answer a call, we run the risk of it ruining our day. Even when we don’t know who the caller is, perhaps especially when we don’t know who the person on the other end of the line is—and here one only has to think of prank calls—we are leaving ourselves completely open to being affected by another. Thus, philosophy finds itself in the position of Vladimir and Estragon. Since they have no idea who Godot is, they can never know if or when he shows up—thus, if he (and we are taking his gender on the word of the boy, some boy—we don’t even know if it is the same boy—who comes round in the evening) has already come, they would not be in the position to know it. And even if someone comes to them and announces that “I am Godot,” the wait would not be over—without referentiality to the name, they would have to take on faith that that person is indeed Godot. Hence, all they can know is that they are waiting for Godot; and Godot is the name of that waiting itself. All philosophy can know is that it is waiting; and wisdom is the name of that waiting itself. Which brings us to Tina Turner’s eternal question, “what’s love got to do, got to do with it?” In order to begin to consider that, we have to first attempt to examine the notion of love itself. Perhaps we might begin to consider what the difficulty of the statement “I love you.” For, if love is a relationality between two persons—both of whom remain singular, and are attempting to respond to each other—this suggests that neither of them subsume the other under themselves. In other words, the other remains wholly other. If this is so, then the “you” in the statement always remains shrouded in mystery. And even if the “you” was replaced with the name of the person, the veiling remains: for, names refer both to the singularity that is the person, and also every other person bearing that name, at exactly the same time. To compound matters, the only time one has to utter a persons name is in their absence—thus, the correspondence of a name to that particular person is at best an affect of memory. And if we consider the notion of memory, we have to also open the register of forgetting—bringing along with it the problem that there is no object to forgetting. For instance, when one utters “I forgot,” all one is uttering is the fact that one has forgotten, and nothing more—the moment there is an object to the statement, one has strictly speaking remembered what one has forgotten. Moreover, we have no control over when forgetting happens to us. And since it is always already exterior to us, affects us, and has no necessary object, there is no reason to believe that every moment of memory might not bring with it a moment of forgetting. Hence, whenever we utter a name—even if we accept the correspondence between the utterance and the person in front of us—all we are doing is uttering the fact that we are naming. Thus, it is not so much that ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ but more appropriately, ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’—the relationality between its name and the phenomenon of its sweet smell can only be established after that moment of naming, that instance of catachresis. So, whenever one utters “I love you,” not only is it a performative statement, it is the very naming of that love—all you are doing is establishing a relationality between you and the other. And since there is no necessary referent—one is naming that referentiality as one utters it—this suggests that it is always already a symbolic statement; without which the mystery of the other cannot me maintained. In other words, one cannot love the other without maintaining this symbolic distance—through a ritual; in this case the utterance “I love you.” This might be why Valentine’s Day seems to provoke such a massive reaction: the most common one from people (besides florists) being, Valentine’s Day is mere commercialism. Those among the nay-sayers who maintain a soft spot for Karl Marx would proceed to call it the commodification of relationships; those who prefer the Gods would claim that the sanctity of relationships has been profaned; the gender theorists would note how the fact that males buy the gifts only serves to highlight the unequal power-relation between the genders. Whichever side and variation of the arguments they choose boils down to this: the discomfort lies in the fact that they are confronted with the notion of relationships moving into a mediated sphere. The underlying logic is that love is between two persons only; it should not only remain between them, but more pertinently, be an unmediated experience between two persons. Which of course completely misses the point. For, if we reopen the register that relationships are the result of a negotiation between two persons, there must then be a space between them for this very negotiation to occur. Otherwise, all that is happening is, one person is subsuming the other within their own sphere of understanding; effectively effacing the other. If that were the case, there would no longer be any relationality; all negotiation is gone and the other person is a mere extension of the self—one is in a masturbatory relationality with one’s imaginary. Hence, any relationship must always already carry with it the unknown, and possibly always unknowable. The other person is an enigma, remains—must remain—enigmatic to you. This is the only way in which the proclamation “I love you” remains singular, remains a love that is about the person as a singular person—and not merely about the qualities of the person, what the person is. For, if the mystery of the other is unveiled, then the love for the other person is also a completely transparent love: one that you can know thoroughly, calculate; a check-list. And if they are knowable, this suggests that they can also be negated, and hence, the love can also go away. Only when the love for the other person is an enigmatic one, one that cannot be understood, can that love potentially be an event—and if it is an event, then strictly speaking, it cannot be known before it happens; at best, it can be glimpsed as it is happening, or perhaps even only realised retrospectively. At the point in which it happens, it is a love that comes from elsewhere: this strange phenomenon is best captured in the colloquial phrase, I was struck by love;” or even more so by, “I was blinded by love.” This is a blinding to not only the subject of the encounter—the self—but also of the very object of that encounter, the “you”—all that can be said is that there is an encounter. And it is for this reason Cupid is blind: not just because love is random (and can happen to anyone at any time), but more importantly because even after it happens, both the reason you are in love, and the person you are in love with, remain blind to you. Since there is an unknowable relationality with the other person, the only way you can approach it is through a ritual. This is the lesson that religions have taught us: since one is never able to phenomenally experience the God(s), one has no choice but to approach them symbolically. These rituals are strictly speaking meaningless—the actual content is interchangeable—as it is the form that is important. Rituals allow us momentary glimpses at secrets; and secrets are never about their content(s). Rather, secrets entail the recognition that they are secrets; the secret lies in their form as secret. This can be seen when we consider how group secrets work: since the entire group knows the secret, clearly the content of the secret is not as important as the fact that only members within the group are privy to this secret. Occasionally the actual content can be so trivial that even other people outside the group might know the information; they just do not realize its significance. For instance, if I used my date of birth as my bank-account password, merely knowing when I was born would not instantly give you the key to my life savings. In order for that to happen, you would have had to recognise the significance of the knowledge of my birthday. This means that you have to know that you know something. Since the God(s) are, strictly speaking, unknowable, this suggests that rituals put one in a position to potentially experience the God(s). The meaningless gestures on Valentine’s Day play precisely this ritualised role. It is not so much what you give the other person, but the fact that you give it to them. The gift in this sense is very much akin to an offering; the gift opens the possibility of an exchange. Gift-giving does not guarantee that you will like what is returned; there is always a reciprocation of the gift, but what is returned to you is never known in advance, until the moment it is received. This means that the worst thing that one can do is not give the gift: that would be akin to a cutting off of all possibilities, a complete closing of all communication with the other person. This at the same time also means that you cannot wait for the other person to give you something before you get them their gift: if that were the scenario, the reciprocal gift would be nothing more than a calculated return. The only manner in which both persons can give true gifts is to offer them independently of the other person, whilst keeping them in mind. In this way, the two gifts are always already both uncalculated (in the sense of not knowing what the return is) and also a reciprocation for the other (without knowing whether the other person actually has a gift in the first place). Naturally, this would seem like an irrational, even stupid, way of buying gifts. But it is precisely the stupidity involved that saves the relationship from being banal—more importantly, stupidity prevents it from entering the mere profane. This is not to say that an enigmatic love cannot end—of course it can. However, the difference lies in the fact that if the relationality is wholly transparent, it is subsumed under reason—completely predictable, within the self, and thus never open to the possibility of otherness, exteriority, musing. A love that is an event is one that is also open to the possibility of the divine, the sacred—always already closer to the possibility of wisdom. If we establish that both love and wisdom are exterior, to our knowledge, and the finitude to our selves, this suggests that both are names for the possibility of openness to otherness. In other words, and what choice do we have here but to use the words of the other, the philosopher—the lover of wisdom—is a name for one who is waiting, and nothing more. But that still leaves us with the question of this uncomfortable relationality between philosophy and poetry. But before we address that question, we have to take a momentary detour, and consider the whether it is possible to call one a poet. For, if we take the notion of a poet to be one who reaches the highest levels of rhetoric (beyond the lawyer, and the orator, who only aim to either please the crowds, or convince by way of sophistry), then we must also acknowledge that one can only become a poet at the moment of seizing, the point of inspiration, by the muses. Without this divine moment, all (s)he can do is practice her craft. As no one can control when the muses make their appearance, one could always be practising in vain—in some way, one is always already practising to be least in the way when the muse whispers into one’s ear; one is practising so as not to be vain. And since one cannot know when the muse will appear, there is no time frame to the practising—unlike the lawyer who speaks against a clock, poetry knows no time; the only time that matters is the time appropriate to poetry itself. Thus, all the poet (if one can use this term) is practising for the possibility of effacing her/him self—and waiting. Thus, in order for poetry to occur, in order to be seized, the poet—along with all her concerns—must cease. In other words, there is no poet; there is only the possibility of poetry. However, even as there is no time frame to this waiting, even as all we can say is that poetry is a name for waiting, the one who is practising is always already also in time. And since (s)he is in a symbolic relationality with the possibility of poetry, this suggests that the practising is her sacrifice, and time is precisely what she is sacrificing. Here, it might be helpful to turn to a strange source when it comes to poetry—Georges Bataille—and consider his teachings in the first volume of The Accursed Share where he reminds us that, the “essence [of sacrifice] is to consume profitlessly .” This is where each exchange is beyond rationality, beyond calculability, beyond reason itself, “unsubordinated to the ‘real’ order and occupied only with the present.” He continues: Sacrifice destroys that which it consecrates. It does not have to destroy as fire does; only the tie that connected the offering to the world of profitable activity is severed, but this separation has the sense of a definitive consumption; the consecrated offering cannot be restored to the real order.” (58) Since there is no need for a physical change in the object of sacrifice—“it does not have to destroy as fire does”—this suggests that the tie is severed symbolically. Hence, there is an aspect of trans-substantiation in this sacrifice: the form remains the same; in fact there is no perceivable change—this is the point at which all phenomenology fails—but there is always already a difference, an absolute separation from the “real order,” from logic, calculability, reason. The object of sacrifice, the victim [,] is a surplus taken from the mass of useful wealth…Once chosen, he is the accursed share , destined for violent consumption. But the curse tears him away from the order of things…” (59). And it is this tearing away from the order of things—the order of rationality—that “restores to the sacred world that which servile use has degraded, rendered profane” (55). For, only when it is no longer useful, when it is no longer abstracted—subjected, subsumed under—merely a use-value, can the object be an object as such, can a subject be a subject as such; be a singularity. Thus, it is never so much who or what is sacrificed, but the fact that there is a sacrifice. So even as (s)he is sacrificing her time to poetry, it is always already beyond her knowledge whether what (s)he is doing is actually preparing her for poetry or not—all (s)he can know is that she is sacrificing and nothing more. Hence, all (s)he can do is to open her self to the possibility of this relationality—all (s)he can do is be in love with poetry. At the moment the muse whispers into her ear, (s)he ceases to be, and becomes a medium for poetry—and since this possession is always already beyond our cognitive knowledge, this is also a moment of divine wisdom. In other words, there is no difference between poetry and wisdom—the moment of poetry is the moment of wisdom. And this might be the very reason for the philosopher’s aversion to poets. Not so much because they may corrupt the youth (this is after all the aim of all thinking, all philosophy), but precisely because in order to do so, the philosopher must wait for a moment of possession, for divine musing, for poetry. Hence, all thought, all thinking, all philosophy, is nothing but the waiting for the possibility of poetry itself. (shrink)