La Condition inhumaine. Essai sur leffroi technologique (ESSAIS) (French Edition)
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Mackay, When Site Lost the Plot. Quand toutes ces ombres de Dieu ne nous troubleront-elles plus? Pour consulter la version initiale, avec quelques observations sur Badiou :. Gusdorf, Le savoir romantique de la nature. Nous en sommes bien loin.. So I tried to produce material for this meeting, and to be brief it fell apart, either by lack of proper work on my part, theoretical dead-ends, or the cruel demands of time.
What I am interested with regards to mysticism, is the way these phenomena deal with the notion of the Self , and might help us produce a different understanding of the self, a reconfiguration of it even.
I want to look at this topic, this interest, in a very cautious way, because it is, I find, extremely easy for a philosopher to deal with extra-philosophical material or practice as a sort of playing ground, exploiting it as some form of outside given , thereby elevating it to a status of undiscussed, empirical truth, and, at the same time, reducing it to some crude material for one to produce intra-philosophical, cheap speculation about. This is observable with regards to science, to artistic practices, obviously, but I find it particularly troubling with regards to what we call mysticism, which deals, in one form or another, with extra-ordinary types of experiences.
An interesting displacement, then, would be to bracket out this relationship to the visual, because there certainly is a lot of talk of light and darkness, but there is, it seems to me, not so much a litteral notion of images to be found, which is what I think happens in what is called religious transport, or enthusiasm, and the maybe more characteristic forms of mysticism, where what is encountered is in some sense beyond images, beyond imagination.
The language seems to have quite a bit to do with touch, with warmth, with presence, with interiority, with feeling, rather than vision. If we look at someone like Simone Weil, which we could call a twentieth-century mystic, I believe, we encounter something else, more interesting. And truth can be gleaned only by relinquishing, by not relying on these fictitious categories of thinking.
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Now when I read this, as a philosopher, my instinct is to think of someone like Spinoza, who refuses contingency, who believes imagination is a second-order form of encountering the world, one which deals more with a mode of reception of affects than with anything properly deemed actual. In Paris, in , the Bishop Tempier wrote a full list of philosophical theses of them, with some overlaps that were forbidden from teaching in the faculties of theology a term which in this context encompasses both theology and philosophy, including what we would call physics or cosmology, e.
Among these inacceptable theses, then, the autonomy of the active intellect and the deprivation of individual human from the locus of thought was one of the major recurring themes. One of the major points she makes, is that, when struck with the experience of illumination and annihilation, the soul does not recognize itself, does not belong to itself. In Nietzschean terms, we could say that this correspond to a shift from a slave morality to a master morality.
So in the space of 35 years, you find these two ideas that are judged to be not just wrong, but actively dangerous, which both affirm in some sense that the soul does not relate to itself as a thing that acts and wills and speaks and wants, but as a thing that is completely free, by virtue of not being tied to itself as a contingent being, by virtue of a superior, more intimate relationship with God in the case of Porete, or by virtue of understanding the workings of the soul as intimately rational in Averroes.
You do not think, but enact thinking that traverses you, you do not will, but you are acting upon what is to be done, and so on. There is this notion of the relinquishment of imagination, of false notions about the soul, and the ultimate relinquishment, not of independent thought, but of thought as something that can be yours, of action as something that flows from you as a point of origin.
Further on, you get to a sort of intellectual stage, where you are trying to attain a similar kind of relinquishment, but this time a relinquishment with respect to ideas, with images, with concepts as things that are supposed to be fixes, to be stable, to be something other than oneself.
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You have a relinquishment of meaning, through a rigorous gymnastic of the intellect this is the stage to which philosophers lay claim from time to time. God wears himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it. If it allows a pure and utter consent though brief as a lightning flash to be torn from it, then God conquers that soul. And when it has become entirely his he abandons it.
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He leaves it completely alone and it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it. And that is the cross. The soul has to work through, in what I can only assume is an extremely painful process, to reach God again. So this notion of a first stage of pure annihilation, of pure abandonment of the soul, I find quite interesting, because you have to first be acted upon, be touched, in some sense, and, then you have to acquiesce, to say yes to this seemingly destructive force acting upon you.
So there seems to be this very sharp edge to mysticism, an intense deconstruction of mind and self, at which point you become available for the possibility of an encounter with the divine. And then, maybe, afterwards, if the destruction is not fatal, it becomes possible to reconstruct the self, to reconstitute it anew.
In its most radical form, this reconstruction is a self-less reconstruction, where the soul does not have a self to speak of anymore, in the sense that it acts from God rather than from a sense of self. Michel de Certeau, who has this fascinating historical account of mysticism as writing, says that if you look at the places and the times where mystics appear, it happens in times or in place where the relationship to the Church, to organized religion, starts to break down, to crack down.
Established codes of meaning, of the symbolic order, stop making sense, are unable to capture experience of what is going on, and so the spiritual capacities become unmoored, detached from institutional framings. If you look at Christianity, at St John, at Eckart, at Porete, well, it seems to happen in places where there is some form of crisis, where things unravel, where meaning is starting to crack.
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And so there is all this spiritual demand, this spiritual energy, either at the social or the individual scale, where people are rejected, abandoned, marginalized from a prior position of relative grounding, where then the floor starts to give in below them. And so they are pushed, forced even, to make sense of their experience in terms that are not fixed anymore, that are yet to be invented. So this might seem quite a bit reductive, as an account of mysticism, but I think it can also be looked at in a way where whatever inkling of truth and meaning and social and affective investment was contained within institutional forms, cannot be found there, cannot be contained therein, then you have to do that work of symbolisation and formalization of experience yourself.
At least, some people do, they have to come up with a new framework, and this framework, by virtue of being independently constructed, takes the form of an immediate contact with the divine, with the numinous. The body mystic, that was the Church, which is where the populace, the whole of the people are joined in a single community, a perfect collective harmony.
The Church is what keeps the universe in place, in spiritual terms at least. Again, when you are trying to purify yourself, you go through exercises that try to enact a certain balance of the body, an extension of the limits of what it can do, a restriction of its need to the minimal amount, as well, and then you go through all these steps, intellectual, moral, spiritual, at the end of which there is this quite erotic, quite embodied kind of account of experience.
So this is where I am in terms of what I can articulate, of what I can share.
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There are some aspects I am quite familiar with, others where I am quite on a limb, and this is all very inchoate, very basic in some sense. Thank you for listening. What exactly the notion of God is, with the people you mentioned? I mean, the thing is that what you see in these kinds of texts, is that it is both very culture-dependent, in terms of what is said of God, at least at the stage of writing, which is already a stage or re-interpreting and formalizing a prior, inaccessible to us experience. So the concept being invoked in these kinds of experience is quite difficult to talk about.
The one which I know best, which is Plotinus, who was a Pagan, is that he talks of something that is beyond being, that is called the One, or the Good. It is felt as this purely positive notion, which is the principle of all things, in which the self comes to be engulfed, where thought comes to its extinction. It is described, alternatively, as being transcendent with regards to everything, or on the contrary as being present in all things. But it is always lacking.
You are pretending in a way that all these different people talk about the same things in different forms, but if you look at the details you find orthodox mysticism and wildly deviating mysticism, some people who were rejected or burned and so on because their experience, their account, did not fit with what was accepted as legitimate discourse on the divine.
And sometime you find that, years later, it is not a problem anymore, you are part of the canon of religious text. There is this guy, whose name I cannot recall, who says that his I, his self, is the I of God, and he was killed for that, because how dare you equate yourself to God? But now it is not a problem anymore to talk in this way. So to come back to the question of the concept that is present in these texts, that is a question that you can only ask afterwards, and that actually only people which are interested in these kind of experiences from a remote standpoint, who do not experience them themselves but still want to talk about it, are asking, because you find yourself in a sort of bind about that.
It is this lack, this point that cannot be properly inscribed symbolically, or even the World itself as fact, or the principle of the world, something that is beyond the world as such.
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I guess that in French, le mystique , the mystical, is what is to be attained, or what is signified in these experiences, and that la mystique is the whole field of experience and discourse that you can have about it. Another thing I wanted to talk about, in relationship to language, is that maybe the crudest way of talking about la mystique, about mysticism, is to call it a litterary genre. So we have writing, which are accounts both of practices, and of experiences. So we have all these discourses, which are all these different ways of talking about le mystique, about what is mystical, to relate to it.
In some cases there seems to be a kind of accomplishment, or something more connected to suffering and self-negation.
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Is there a way to classify these different kinds of figures? So Plotinus was consumed with the One, his whole life was oriented towards telling people about this reality beyond being in a way that people could understand it and make sense of it within the metaphysical framework of the time. He was enacting this relationship he claimed to have with the One, reading people, practicing virtue and so on, his entire life was organised around this reality, and this experience that he had, and the relationship between this reality and the world around him. And Porphyri says, in twenty or thirty years he spent alongside Plotinus, he had seen him experience union with the One, ultimate communion, three or four times in total.
And so, it puts things into perspective, I mean, these people are trying to talk about something that can only appear as a rupture within the ordinary continuum of experience. This point of union, this point of perfect harmony, at which the relinquishment of the self gives way to another dimension, that is something extremely rare, and we should not kid ourselves about the possibility of humanly attaining that.
About this night of the world, this moment of pure destruction, an interesting way of looking at it is, you look at the different kinds of account you have, and try to think, not about what they might have seen, but what is the level, the stage of consciousness, is indexed by the kind of description you have. From the standpoint of a certain experience, a certain stage within the soul, things looks a certain way, God is accounted for in a certain manner.
So if we take this distinction between the joyous, ecstatic embrace of God, and the night of the Soul, where all you have is pure emptiness, pure darkness, such as in Bataille, well the account you are likely to get are going to be quite different. Is there not some kind of narcissism involved, to profess access to a higher relationship with the divine?