The Nothing as Something

Being is by nature what-is-not (das Nichtseyende).3

(F. Schelling)

[A]ll that exists lives only in the lack of being (manque-à-être) 4

(Jacques Lacan)

It is possible to argue that the logic of nihilism is made manifest in the age-old metaphysical (ontotheological) question: why something rather than nothing? The logic of nihilism reads this question with a particular intonation. That is, why something? Why not nothing? Why can the nothing not do the job of the something? This leads me to define the logic of nihilism as a sundering of the something, rendering it nothing, and then having the nothing be after all as something.5 Indeed, each of the philosophical dualisms involved above can embody this logic. For example, Spinoza, who is discussed in Part I, Chapter 3, has a dualism-within-monism of a single substance that is God or Nature. It is argued that this epitomises the logic of nihilism because each is never present except in the other: God is made manifest in Nature, Nature manifests in God. This allows Spinoza to have both in the absence of each. And this is to construe the nothing as something. Another example is that of Hegel, whose work is examined in Part I, Chapter 5. Hegel has a dualism within a monism of Geist that is both the finite in the infinite and the infinite in the finite. This is more easily understood if one uses the analogy of a Gestalt effect of aspect perception. Take the example of Jastrow's duck-rabbit.6 One either sees the duck or the rabbit - never both at the same time. The mind oscillates between the two. But what must be remembered is that the appearance of two (God or Nature, duck or rabbit) disguises the one picture upon which they are made manifest. In this way there is only ever one, but this one picture is able to provide the appearance of two despite their actual alternating absences: nothing as something; the completely absent rabbit as duck, which is yet equally the completely absent duck as rabbit. Likewise, the finite or the infinite are but Geist, God and Nature are but Substance. Yet Geist only occurs as the insistent nothing of the infinite, which is also the insistent nothing of the finite; Substance only occurs as the insisting nothing of God, which is alternatively the insisting nothing of Nature.

An important word in this book is provide. 'Provide' etymologically stems from the word videre, meaning to see, and pro, meaning before. This word is employed in relation to nihilism so as to bring out the logic of the nothing as something. It performs this task because it can be made to suggest that nihilism 'provides' what it does not itself have - namely being. In this way for Spinoza, God 'provides' Nature and vice versa. This provision is referred to as the provenance of nihilism.

Nihilism, therefore, endeavours to have the nothing as something; it provides something out of nowhere. Such notions sound abstruse, and yet are characteristically exemplified in modern fields of learning. An example would be in the philosophy of mind, where an almost fanatical effort is made by some to reduce consciousness to nothing, at least nothing significant - yet still maintain that this pre-conscious essence of consciousness provides consciousness. Certain forms of evolutionary biology do the same in so far as they articulate the person purely in terms of genetic makeup, natural selection and so on. A notion such as the genome can act as a mechanism that allows phenomena to be reduced to their parts, while permitting the whole to remain as an epiphenomenon. Thus from one perspective the genome is an invisible abstract 'nothing', but from another the epiphenomenon of the biological body is itself the nothing; again we have two mutually exclusive aspects: genetic duck or actual rabbit. This is what one commentator calls the univocal Esperanto of the molecule.7 Even the search for life elsewhere in the universe embodies the logic of the nothing as something. It does so because such efforts are, in some sense, guided by a wish to relativise life here: if we find life elsewhere life is no longer as significant. Cosmology often repeats such sentiments in a different form, because the pursuit to understand the beginning of life does in a sense eradicate that beginning; the before the universe is before 'before', just as we now have the living without life, and consciousness without consciousness. As one Nobel Prize-winning biologist puts it: 'Biologists no longer study life'8 - which is another way of paraphrasing Michel Foucault's observation: 'Western man could constitute himself within his language . . . only in the opening created by his own elimination.'9 Indeed, life has become a 'sovereign vanishing point' within every organism.10 Are we not become, as Doyle says, '[A] meat puppet run by molecular machines'?11 Is this what Blanchot means when he says that 'our suicides precede us'?12 Discourses, such as Biology, appear now to be dealing with cadavers.13 This is the nothing as something.

Part I traces a somewhat loose genealogy of the logic of nihilism as it has been defined above. Chapter 1 begins with Plotinus, for it is he who takes the One beyond being. It could be suggested that Plato is also guilty of this, but as Gadamer has pointed out: 'Plato's one is not at all a Neoplatonic hen (One).'14 This is true because Plotinus' One is epekeina noeseos, which involves a 'double beyond';15 the Plotinian One is beyond being (ousia) and also beyond thought (noesis).16 By contrast, for Plato the Good is the unifying one of the many,17 which grounds the Logos. Consequently, I place the 'beginning' of the genealogy developed below with him. It is Plotinus' meontology which spells the 'beginning' of the logic of nihilism. Yet this is true only when Plotinus' meontology is combined with the Neoplatonic understanding of causality, whereby one comes from one, and the element of causal necessity that this involves.

From Plotinus I turn to Avicenna, Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, each of whom, it is argued, develops the logic of the nothing as something. What is important in this chapter is the introduction of the idea of a univocity of non-being. The univocity of non-being embodies the indifference being comes to display in relation to both God and actuality. That is to say, Avicenna develops the notion that metaphysics is about being, and that being prescinds from a consideration of both God and creatures, as it is indifferent to both. It is suggested that this notion, which is carried further by Ghent, Scotus and Ockham, is secretly a corollary of the Neoplatonist understanding of causality, its meontology and its necessitarianism. It is really because being, taken in mainly conceptual terms as univocal, does not concern itself more with existence than with nonexistence, that it does not concern itself more with God than with creatures, and is thereby unable truly to think their difference. Bearing in mind the meontological impulse which governs the birth of this logic, it seems fair - conceptually if not historically - to characterise this univocity as one of non-being rather than being.

Part I, Chapter 2 examines the notion of intuitive cognition as found in Scotus and Ockham, doing so in the hope of demonstrating the logic of the nothing as something at work in this Scotist-Ockhamist doctrine. Chapter 3 turns to the work of Spinoza, and substantiates the points made above in relation to Spinoza's monism. Chapter 4 discusses Kant, arguing that his philosophy embodies the logic of the nothing as something, in so far as each of the Critiques 'provides' something in the distinct absence of that which is purportedly given. For example, the first Critique endeavours to 'say' something about 'truth', in such a way that truth is made to apply only to a world of appearance. In a way, then, the 'nothing' that does not appear 'provides' appearances, which yet as only appearances are themselves 'nothing'. Chapter 5 examines the work of Hegel. Just as Kant causes everything to disappear, Hegel causes everything to vanish within a univocity of Geist, which has two alternating modes: the finite and the infinite. Chapter 6 discusses Heidegger's understanding of Being. Since Heidegger's Being rests on das Nicht it is argued that his philosophy falls within a Plotinian legacy. The last chapter of Part I offers an interpretation of Derrida, one that suggests that his philosophy combines both Plotinus and Spinoza. In so doing, he too develops the logic of the nothing as something, which he fails to deconstruct; Derrida has a dualism of Text and Nothing, which is akin to Spinoza's Nature and God, and this dualism likewise remains within a monism - now of differance, the new substance.

It is hoped that by the end of this section what will be apparent is the meontological (meontotheological) impulse involved in nihilism. For each thinker will, to some degree, have been shown to have a constitutive 'Nothing' that resides outside the 'Text' it enables. When Derrida comes to state that there is 'nothing outside the text', what may well seem now obvious is the 'traditional' nature of such a tactical pronouncement. Here are a number of examples. Plotinus has the One, as non-being, outside the 'Text' of nous; the same goes for Avicenna, whose essenceless God resides outside or before the generation of intelligence. Ghent, Scotus and Ockham develop and employ, to a greater or lesser extent, an intensional modality, one that places possibility outside the domain of the real, including God. Descartes, somewhat under the influence of Scotus' and Ockham's conception of divine omnipotence, constructs the 'Text' of the cogito by his 'method of doubt' which enables him to suspend (or bracket) existence. Spinoza has Substance reside outside the aspectual 'Text' of God or Nature, and it is this Substance which forces God to appear only in Nature, and Nature to appear only in God. Kant constructs the 'Text' of the phenomenal only by the no-thingness of the noumenal which lies beyond it. Hegel has the 'Text' of the finite by placing the infinite 'outside' it, to the degree that every finite manifestation is both enabled and negated by this infinitude. Husserl generates the 'Text' of the phenomenal only by bracketing (epoche) the question of existence; Heidegger has the 'Text' of Being only by invoking das Nicht; Deleuze has the 'Text' of sense only by having a non-sense outside it; both Sartre and Lacan have existence only within the lack of being. Levinas can only exist in a manner which is otherwise than being, which means that he too must have something constitutive outside the 'Text' of being; Badiou has the 'Text' of what he calls the event, by way of the void which resides outside it. Consequently, we can understand why Badiou asserts that man is 'sustained by non-being (non-etant)'.18 From the above it seems fair to suggest that Derrida's position is not atypical: what Part II of this book will have to cope with is a possible riposte, one that argues that theology's doctrine of creation ex nihilo places it, too, within a similar predicament. Another important point is that the Plotinian notion of causality, in which only one comes from one, plagues most of the thinkers who appear below. For example, Derrida's nothing can only allow for one text; this univocity appears again and again throughout the following chapters.

Part II, Chapter 8 offers a preliminary critique of nihilism, one which is heuristically useful but less than conclusive. I then begin to develop an alternative logic ungovernable by the logic of alternating absence, and irrefutable by it. This is a theological logic. It takes the form of a discourse that articulates itself in terms of analogy, participation, the transcendentals, and divine ideas. Chapter 9 takes up many of the themes of Chapter 8 and seeks to deepen their validity. It examines what it means to have knowledge of something, arguing that knowledge relates to difference. Consequently, paradigmatic knowledge is God's knowledge of creation, as this knowledge knows difference to the extent that it is able to create difference, and other knowledge is only possible as an approximation to this: so as participation in divine and angelic knowledge and as anticipation of the beatific vision. Chapter 10 reexamines the logic of nihilism, arguing that its logic of nothing as something can be construed in a somewhat positive light, in so far as this logic can point to the idea of creation ex nihilo: nihilism's notion of creation ex nihilo is presented with particular reference to Deleuze and Badiou, and then to Sartre, Lacan and Zizek. In this way, there is a certain place for a meontotheological logic, which, however, cannot stand on its own, for on its own it too becomes monistic. It must be supplemented by 'theo-ontology' - yet the non-dominance of God by being retains a certain meontological moment; but this moment does not simply take us beyond being, rather, being is itself beyond.19 In other words, being qua being is beyond. This is what Blondel called the 'beyond of thought'; not something beyond thought, but the beyond of thought, which being is.20

The 'discovery' that nihilism offers the possibility of a doctrine of creation should not wholly surprise us, for was it not Newman who spoke of the 'dispensation of Paganism'? Consequently, Paganism was an ore to be mined for the truth it contained. Indeed, this caused Newman to move away from an approach that was 'either/or', to one of 'both/and'. This is certainly to be encouraged. Yet it may be fair to suggest that Radical Orthodoxy deepens this principle. For it too calls us to move from 'either/or' to 'both/and'. Yet this move is somewhat radicalised, to the degree that it becomes an approach of 'both/and - either/or'. For is it not true, that if God is said to be anywhere, God is nowhere; but if God is somewhere, God is everywhere?

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