Nothingness is the peculiar possibility of being and its unique possibility.109
Nothing exists except on the assumed foundation of absence.110
The idea that nothingness is the foundation of being seems strange, if not wrongheaded, but this should not surprise us, for was it not the stranger in Plato's Sophist who argued that nothingness was the source of difference; nothingness was the 'Other'.111 Deleuze appears to concur, for he argues that 'Non-being is difference.'112 Likewise, Blanchot: 'Pure absence wherein there is nevertheless a fulfillment of being.'113 This difference of fulfilment is what Lacan refers to as 'the being of non-being (être de non-étant)',114 which is an 'absence made of presence'.115 None of this, though, dissipates the strangeness which surely accompanies such an idea.
For Lacan, the creationist perspective is essential, mainly for two reasons. First, the creationist perspective is 'consubstantial with thought';116 second, it affords the possibility for the radical elimination of God.117 Why should creation from nothing give rise to these two possibilities? An answer to this lies close to the central role which nothingness plays. Sartre, Lacan, Blanchot, Deleuze, Derrida, and Badiou, not to mention Hegel and Plotinus et al., all approach 'creation' through a negation of what can be termed 'the One'. By 'voiding' the
One, many arise, and it is this belief which seems to guide their philosophy. For example, Badiou states explicitly, that for him, 'the One is not';118 indeed, his philosophy is based on a 'destitution of the One'.119 We pay witness to this voiding in the work of Lacan and Sartre, for each has man - or the subject - nihilate being so as to generate the many. Being - the One - is regarded as 'solid',120 because it is a 'full positivity';121 this 'compressed' One precludes difference because it is inherently 'indistinct'.122 Consequently, only by its being 'nihilated' can existence arise. Sartre calls such a move a 'flight' from Being.123 This flight does not go elsewhere, for where would one go? Rather, any movement is but on the spot, as being is decompressed, because the One is voided by nothingness and this allows for difference.124 As said, according to Sartre nothingness arises in the world through man, before whom there was no world: 'Thus the rise of man in the midst of the being which "invests" him causes a world to be discovered.'125 A world is discovered because man, as the for-it-self, nihilates being: 'It is as the nihilation of the in-itself [être-en-soi] that the for-it-self [être-pour-soi] arises in the world.'126 Man, as the for-it-self, bores a hole127 in being, inducing a 'break in being'.128 This decompression is firmly based on nothingness, for man, as the for-it-self, rests on a constitutive lack; just as the subject, for Lacan, is that which lacks being (manque-à-être): the for-it-self 'has the being of a lack and, as lack, it lacks being'.129 Badiou's event which breaks with the being of the multiple (which Badiou contrasts with the 'neoplatonism' of Deleuze's pre-ontological virtuality) follows the same trajectory.
For both Lacan and Sartre, we can only attain difference in the absence of being, in terms of nihilation. Lacan expresses this by rewriting Descartes' famous dictum, cogito ergo sum: 'I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.'130 This echoes Sartre: the for-it-self 'is a being which is not what it is and which is what it is not'.131 As far as these two are concerned, being - as the One - precludes difference, because its full positivity leaves no space for otherness.132 Consequently, difference can only exist as it escapes being, and it does this by lacking being. Badiou expresses this sentiment well when he argues that 'non-being sustains man'133 - although Badiou more contrasts the significant universal difference of the event, with the meaningless ontological 'many'. Sartre tells us that 'the possible is the something which the for-it-self lacks in order to be itself.134 Why must it lack possibility? Maybe because possiblity signifies the presence of a determinate essence, one that could easily confine the would-be for-it-self in the in-it-self. For this reason, the for-it-self - man or the subject - must be essenceless, and in so being they elude the grasp of compressed being - the indistinction of Lacan's réel (or Badiou's ontological manifold). It is here that the full force of nothingness becomes apparent, because the name which this nothingness goes by in this situation is death.
The frontiers represented by 'starting from zero', ex nihilo, is . . . the place where a strictly atheist thought necessarily situates itself. A strictly atheist thought adopts no other perspective than that of 'creationism'.135
The Antichrist can adopt the very symbols of the Messiah, using them of course in an inverted sense.136
We saw above that, according to Lacan, the subject can only think in the absence of being, for only in lacking being can difference arise; a noetic structure is not possible in the One. In other words, nothingness - death - is the possibility for man (Sartre) or the subject (Lacan) to exist. Lacan argues that 'Truth is akin to death.'137 Here he seems to be following Hegel,138 who called Death 'the absolute master',139 which encourages Kojève to refer to Hegel's work as a 'philosophy of death'.140 Indeed, Kojève, taking Hegel's lead, tells us that 'there is no freedom without death'.141 Death frees us from being, viz., from every incarcerating essence and the monolithic One. Lacan, and to some degree Sartre, concur. For Lacan, death is indeed freedom from being, a freedom he sees in Oedipus at Colonus. Oedipus asks: 'Am I a man in the hour when I cease to be?'142 This ceasing to be brings one beyond the world of essences and of being, and it is the analyst's job, according to Lacan, to 'make death present';143 to encourage the realisation that we are 'already dead'.144 In this way, freedom - existence - stems from death; we are to look into the mirror until nothing looks back. In other words, by realising we are not, we can escape being via the hole - the break - this truth displays in being: you are not, so be! The One as being is voided, its grasp eluded, and for this reason noesis is possible.
From where does this freedom come? It seems that language is the escape route that man takes. Blanchot argues that 'Language begins only with a void.'145 And this void is the 'voiding' of being. 'The word gives me what it signifies, but first it suppresses it . . . It is the absence of that being, its nothingness.'146 In other words, speech 'is the life of death'.147 Furthermore, 'It is clear that in me the power of speech is also tied to my absence of being. I name myself; it is as if I were pronouncing my funeral chant.'148 Why is speech linked to death? It is because, according to Lacan, the word 'murders the Thing'.149 But this is not wholly negative, for language also makes the world of things: 'It is the world of words that creates the world of things.'150 Why? Because language accommodates the Sartrean nihilation of being, and so affords articulating difference about which the Eleatic stranger had already spoken; it is only through this nothingness that a world is discovered. As Lacan says, 'Before speech, no-thing neither is nor is not.'151 In other words, 'Emptiness and fullness are introduced into a world that by itself knows not of them.'152 Furthermore, as Sartre insists, 'It is only a nothingness in-itself separating all the thises.'153 Language is, then, to be understood as the speaking of death because it is the speaking of a separation; it separates being, sundering it. This is Lacan's murder of the Thing (das Ding); das Ding is what Silverman calls 'a non-object',154 since das Ding is not some object that preceded a division, rather it is the name of loss that is lost. Lacan calls das Ding a 'primordial function',155 which he also likens to 'nothing',156 and also to creation: 'The notion of creation ex nihilo is coextensive with the exact structure of the Thing.'157 (Badiou's Cantorian ontology of incompatible infinite multiples also belongs here.)
Two aspects conjoin to produce a sophisticated atheist doctrine of creation from nothing. First of all, we have a univocity of non-being, in the sense that univocity precludes any difference in the understanding of being. This being the case, death (always of particulars) is the truth of this monistic being. Second, this death sets us free, as it frees us from being; an escape enabled by language, for it kills the Thing, allowing for the creation of a world of things. Being is (a)voided, nihilated, and this affords us difference. In this way, the power that being might be thought to hold over us is eluded, for being makes us dead, and language resurrects us in this very demise; we do not look to being to let us exist, but instead language murders the Thing - being - and divides it up. Indeed, Hegel does something similar. Consequently, those who think that everything is captured by Hegel's system are quite wrong; Kojeve and Lacan seem to have realised this. Hegel's system rather brings being to a halt, but this stillness - this univocity - allows for utter eruption. In other words, Hegel's system kills us to set us free; hence Kojeve is correct to see it as a philosophy of death. Geist is exhausted, wearied, brought to ground; this being the case, existences can then 'diagonalise' out from within this 'inconsistent multiplicity': being and essence are silenced, existence speaks! Thus, for Hegel the absolute is realised in the resumption of indifferent choices, in a consumerist residue. This type of creation, which Lacan equates with the Thing, tells us: being is dead, long live life. Such creation is so radical it has no need of a creator; it is radical, simply because it is a 'true' creation ex nihilo or, rather, creation out of No-One.
Language shatters the Thing, and in so doing desire is eternalised,158 for being now lies in rubble and das Ding is also the name of this eternity; an eternity that is the loss of loss, because pure and utter creation can have no place for such loss; creation is given to such a degree or in such a manner that it gives beyond loss. Indeed, with the death of das Ding - the voiding of being - loss is lost because being was itself the impossibility of difference. Yet the ontological or meontological truth of existence is revealed in death. For in existing we can now die. This mortality, marked by biological death and the endlessness of desire, which scratches out an existence within the ruins of being, displays our truth; we are not, hence we exist, consequently, we will not be. Death is the truth of our lack of being (manque-à-être). Nonetheless, we will have existed, doing so in the absence of God; this, it seems, is genuine creation!
The stain of existence: An indivisible remainder159
The One, or being, is for nihilism voided; as a result, difference escapes out from under its 'skirt'. For Sartre, this voiding was a result of man's nihilation of being, while Lacan attributes it to language. Likewise, Deleuze, here following Heidegger, understands the voiding of being to arise from a 'universal ungrounding'160 afforded by the perpetual repetiton of a question; namely, the putting into question of being: 'Everything has its beginning in a question, but one cannot say that the question itself begins.'161 Now, what is important here is how such a questioning not only puts being into question but does so with beings, so inducing the aforementioned war of all against all; the erasure of all specificity. Indeed, in voiding the One, beings are also voided. It is said that the One is not, but this 'vertical' pronouncement falls out of a now denounced sky onto 'earth' and horizontally negates every-one, so to speak. The voiding of the One becomes the a-voiding of everyone, as a result of the Plotinian understanding of causality which governs this movement, whereby one comes from one. The nihilation of the One gives rise to only one effect, which is able to escape from the plenitude of its 'desert' only by repeating a 'desertion'. We see this problem running from Plotinus, through Avicenna, and on to Derrida: Derrida has but the one effect emanate from the nothing, and this is the Text; the univocity of one text.
Now, this one effect that squeezes out from the nihilated, reflects its source, in the sense that difference is problematic. As Schelling says: 'What is not . . . is under what is.'162 In a sense this is the bare existence that precedes every essence. Schelling goes further: 'If we were able to penetrate the existence of things, we would see that the true self of all life and existence is horrible.'163 This horrible truth is what Lacan calls the Real (réel), which is, in a sense, être-en-soi, to put it in Sartrean terms. And, according to i ek, 'The Real is the unfathomable remainder.'164 We see such a remainder becoming apparent in Sartre's novel Nausea: 'Existence has suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category . . . all these objects . . . How can I explain? They inconvenience me; I would like them to exist less strongly, more dryly.'165 The crisp, clean, ideality of words, categories, and so on slip from every face, revealing something that escapes us; a horrible excess, one that leaves us suspended before a sublime void; words slide from their objects, on which they had settled in a contented fashion, like a hen on her eggs. Instead, these eggs hatch a fox that eats the hen. For such words are moribund in the face of this ineluctable, indivisible remainder. This is the naked strengh of compressed being, the Real. For Schelling, Sartre, Lacan and i ek, to mention but a few, this remainder is ugly. Indeed, i ek speaks of the 'shock of ugliness',166 an ugliness arising from the 'Kernel of reality', for this kernel is horrible; it is the 'horror of the Real'.167 Furthermore, this kernel that remains beyond and in a sense before every essence, every idealisation, is 'excremental';168 the Real is 'shit', as i ek puts it.169 The neat world which we have constructed through linguistic division, in our effort to decompress being, hides the reality which it seeks to cover up; but from underneath the blanket comes the indelible stench. And we can catch sight of this reality - the what is not, that lies beneath the what is. We see it in the stain which every desire seeks to ignore, to clean up. For example, the social construction of wife and husband, which is there to disguise the univocal nature of eros,170 domesticating it, by hiding desire in the clothes of legitimate relationships. But the truth of desire does not know any such distinction; like being it suffers indistinction. In other words, the truth of eros is just as much a desire for the mother as it is for the spouse. Indeed, and even more disturbingly, it is as partial to children as it is to the other parent. For example, this 'truth' can be 'witnessed' - the Real of eros is seen - as it erupts, striking out from underneath the settled hen in the form of rape; but rape is no more or less dramatic than other manifestations of univocal desire. Was this not what the great masters of suspicion had begun to tell us, for each in his own way pointed us beyond the façade of the name, to the pulsating reality that lay behind the accepted account?
The curious man lacks devotion. There are many such persons, devoid of praise and devotion, though they may have all the splendour of knowledge. They make wasps' nests that have no honeycombs, whereas the bees make honey.171
There is certainly a degree of truth in nihilism, to the degree that reality does exceed every idealisation that would seek to domesticate it. And it is true to point out, as Samuel Beckett does, that notions such as friendship, family, employment, money and so on distract us from life, like an insidious opiate. We are indeed sedated by the mindless chatter of gossip; call it politics, sport, economics, romance or whatever. There is a shameful absurdity in this, for do we not juxtapose incongruous bedfellows; the management consultant and the emaciated child? And is this not what both the Old Testament and the New Testament condemn? 'Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock' (Psalm 137, v. 9). 'Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple' (Luke, ch. 14. v. 26). Is it not true that desire is held captive by such 'worldly' categories, making it easier to colonise? And does not the above call to dash one's children against the rock and to hate one's father and mother, life itself, not check this colonisation, disrupting the domestication of desire?
To be sure, nihilism draws our attention to this facile, yet extremely dangerous, incarceration of desire, and domestication of existence within the odourless idealities that divide up the spoils of being, while hiding us from the reality of being: 'you are not!'. We live in a world without chairs, true, and from this we learn much. But a corollary of this is that we live, then, in a world without neighbours; lives without life. Furthermore, is not the notion of the indivisible remainder, of ontological shit, not the epitome of an idealism, however perverse? For is not the Lacanian Real still the really real (ontos onta)? And does not this reality, this kernel, one so typical of philosophy in its endless pursuit of the essential, represent a pure ideal: pure reality, absolute shit, devoid of shape and distinction? Is this brown - monochrome - world not a univocal being or non-being? Let us hear Badiou's translator explain this philosopher's achievement: 'It is Badiou's achievement to have subtracted the operation of truth from any redemption of the abject, and to have made the distinction between living and unliving, between finite and infinite, a matter of absolute indifference.'172 And we know already that Badiou is 'indifferent to differences'. Since all the various incommensurable events of new truth and new love still rest on the same univocal 'grace' of self-referring finite origination.173 In this way, there is but one difference that emanates from the one void - the nothing outside the text; here we are still with Plotinus and Avicenna. There is also a blatant Gnosticism in the embittered nihilist who sees horror and shit as the kernel of reality: 'If we want to get rid of the ugliness, we are forced to adopt the attitude of a Cathar, for whom terrestrial life is a hell and the God who created this world is Satan himself, master of this world' (i ek).174 Not forgetting the excess which does escape our idealisation of existence, is there not a whiff of resentiment fuelled by the bitterness of the impotent? In other words, is this nihilism not the fruit of the castration complex, of a disappointed idealist who is no longer playing the game because he cannot win: 'I cannot capture life, therefore there is no life.' Indeed, does the nihilist not, then, move to re-capture being by invoking a new name; for example, the Real, indivisible remainder, différance, etre-en-soi, the void, and so on?
It is well known that Parmenides equated being and thought. To be sure, there is something problematic with this, and the history of ontotheology, as creatively delineated by Heidegger, displays this with acumen. What Lacan and Zizek seem to be pointing to is the incongruity between being and thought, and with good reason. It seems to be true prima facie that being does exceed thought, and that if it did not there could not be creation, so to speak. For all would suffer the paralysis of a strict idealism; as we witness in ontotheology, which confines being with its unthinking categories and presumed significance. Indeed, can it not be said that life can only take place - existentially occur - in the space between thought and being? In other words, the difference between the two allows for difference. Yet the problem with such an approach is that it invites a new idealism, in the form of a new 'name', which actually realigns thought and being by bridging, and so removing, the difference; it is arguable that this is what meontology is guilty of. These new names come in many guises. For example, because thought and being are not the same, accidents happen, tragedy arises. But the danger is that if one simply renames life as tragic, tragedy disappears, for its now 'metaphysical' status - its reality - leaves it without the requisite space for tragedy to occur. To put it another way, to say that the world is full of suffering and so is meaningless, is to dilute the very suffering that initially motivated the negative judgement: there is suffering in life, therefore life is meaningless, therefore there is no suffering. Absurdity and nihilism operate in a similar fashion, for they are names that settle into the gap between being and thought, reforging a novel chain. This is the 'Devil of the Gaps', who is a bridge to the void, after which it lusts.
The stamen of existence: An irreducible reminder
What God has made clean, you must not call profane.
There is little doubt that being's excess becomes a pornography of the void in the works of Zizek, Lacan, et al., as Graham Ward has argued.175 For Zizek does seem to display a lust for the void based on the excremental horror he claims to discern in life's excess; the excess which life is. Hamann would surely have disagreed with Zizek's pejorative interpretation of the Real, because for Hamann all that is made is clean, in so far as what God makes is clean, so we must not call it profane.
Indeed, according to Christianity, God became man and so He had genitalia, bowel movements and so on. Consequently, Hamann rejoices in the very physicality of the body: 'It is noon and I enjoy what I eat and what I drink and also just as much the moment I become free of both and give back again to earth what has been taken out of her.'176 Hamann goes on: 'Man must not deny the pudenda of his nature. For to do so would mean estrangement from God';177 in a letter to Herder, Hamann continues this idea: 'The pudenda seem to me to be the unique bond between creation and creator.'178 Dickson puts it well: for Hamann, 'God has made us, passions, desires, excrement and all; what God has made, we must not call unclean.'179 Indeed, just because that which manifests itself escapes our categories (appearing ugly)180 to dismiss it as horrible is to remain reactively consituted by an idealism that displays a distinct lack of caritas. For as Jean-Luc Marion says, 'The very disfiguration remains a manifestation.'181 This means that for the Christian, sin is a matter of egurgitation, as it does not stem from the world, but comes to it. Furthermore, we cannot abandon what is because it appears to be less than ideal. For this reason, to name the world as horrific is to entertain the Devil of the Gaps. Instead there must be, and here I somewhat follow Adorno, a priority of the object. For does the object - reality - not call to us in all its rich forms; forms which, as Adolf Portmann puts it, are a 'conveyance for receivers'?182 Indeed, is Roger Caillois not correct to speak of 'An outrageous outpouring of resources beyond vital interest'.183 For this reason, nature is not to be deemed a 'miser'.184 As a result, we can agree with Portmann when he calls for an expansionist approach to existence,185 one that responds to what Merleau-Ponty calls an 'inexhaustible richness',186 that lies in the perceived; a richness that is an 'urge to self-display', to use Portmann's phrase.187 Consequently, is it not correct to agree with Caillois when he speaks of an 'autonomous aesthetic force in nature',188 a force present in the very being of manifestation? When Adorno calls for a prioritisation of the object, he does not leave it at that. As Buck-Morss puts it: 'Truth resided in the object, but it did not lie ready at hand, the material object needed the rational subject in order to release the truth which it contains.'189 Hannah Arendt echoes a similar sentiment: 'All objects because they appear indicate a subject, and, just as every subjective intention has its intentional object, so every appearing object has its intentional subject.'190 The accusation of anthropomorphism can easily be levelled at such an understanding of appearance. However, this accusation is contradictory, because non-anthropomorphism is itself anthropomorphic; just as nihilism is somewhat anthropocentric: 'I can't do it, so it can't be done.' Anthropomorphism is avoided because man is not fully present to himself; man, too, exceeds his name. This is the non-identity which Adorno finds in being. And it is this non-identity which discerns the present excess, an excess that does not lead to an elsewhere, but moves - resonates - on the spot. As Adorno says, 'What is, is more than it is.'191 For this reason we must, as Adorno suggests, view everything from 'the standpoint of redemption'.192 Such redemption stands within the disruption that the aforementioned excess is. Interestingly, Adorno finds hope in what he calls 'the name'.193 Yet, as Duttmann reminds us: 'A name always wants to be the only one to name what it names, that is its narcissism, narcissism itself.'194 But, of course, this is to repeat the problem, for narcissism here threatens to become the only name; the name of every name. Instead, the hopeful name displays a certain amnesia, and therein lies its redemption: 'Forgetting always involves the best; for it involves the possibility of redemption' (Benjamin).195 And here we can agree with Zizek when he says, in a manner reminiscent of Péguy, that 'Christianity calls upon us to thoroughly reinvent ourselves . . . Christianity enjoins us to REPEAT the founding gesture . . . '.196 We return to the object because it calls us again, and we have forgotten the hue of its beauty, for we cannot quite recall the plenitude of its form; is such a non-identical repetition not the only way to return to the face of our lover? Indeed, is this not the rich thrust of desire, one that keeps pulling us back to the very depth of the surface? Consequently, the phenomenological resistance met in the handshake or in intercourse, is not to be read as a failure of intimacy; resistance being read as an excluding distance. For such resistance does not mock our efforts to encounter; indeed, the logic that generates such an understanding is governed by a vicious idealism that hates the body, which it deems a creation of Satan, and which it seeks to destroy; to meet the demands of pure encounter, would the hand not have to be squeezed to obliteration, which would be annihilation, not intercourse? In returning to the object we answer a call - this is our calling - doing so with the offer of a hopeful name; and we are called by a name that we too exceed. In this way, being is not beyond thought; it is the beyond of thought.
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