On the Occasion of the Ordeal: A Response from Joshua Ramey to Dan Barber’s “Experimental Life and Ordeal’s Necessity”

Joshua Ramey was moved to respond to Dan’s post immediately and that response follows below – APS

First I would like to say how grateful I am for the opportunity to respond to these comments about The Hermetic Deleuze.  Those of us who are able to write academic books, and there are many of you following this blog who write those books, know that it is, in the end, a solitary and even an isolating affair, and that even with publication the chances that one’s work will be noticed or responded to are slim.  In this age of increasing destitution and de-investment in higher education, blogs like this one are becoming more and more important as places for those of us compelled by these thoughts can meet and take our chances together.  Each of the writers who have agreed to respond to my book are people whose work I deeply admire, and the opportunity to continue to think with them, and with those of you who read and respond to that thinking, is an extraordinary occasion in my life. 

To speak of the occasion, as Dan does in his beautiful and deeply thought piece, I want to affirm, first of all, that absolutely, there is a connection between reading and ritual, reading and mantra.  There is an occasionalism to reading.  For example, the Synousia group at the AAR, founded by Jason Smick and Rocco Gangle, has tried to center philosophy on a reading practice that is explicitly occasionalist, that explicitly (at times) introduces the chance or aleatory dimension of the occasion into philosophical reflection.  I once tried to define this practice in terms of an inversion of the Signature Event Context problematic as defined by Derrida.  What if one could, instead of constantly trying to ward off chance (logocentric metaphysics) or exert vigilance over it (deconstructive ethics), one explicitly welcomed chance, welcomed the aleatory, invited chance to speak?   Peter Ochs’ “scriptural reasoning” project at Virginia, to which Dan and others were exposed who are part of Synousia (all are welcome to join us whenever we convene, generally at AAR meetings) was the inspiration for this practice.  It is a practice that does blur the lines between philosophy and religion, since it defies the strictly rationalist or strictly reflective moment in philosophical reasoning that would take the occasion as indifferent to thought, or take thought as supervenient upon the occasion.

Part of the necessity of ordeal, and the ordeal of necessity, is the inextricability of thought from the occasion.  This is not to say the collapse of thought into the occasion, but something more like an identity of thought and occasion “in the last instance” (Laruelle), an identity that is nothing more or less than difference, as such.  And yet, what is at stake often in Deleuze (and very much at stake for me) is that there seem obviously to be a variety of processes or procedures—various “ordeals”—that, as it were, distinguish or clarify, almost in an alchemical way (hence the evocation of hermeticism), differences “in themselves.”  There is indeed something both univocal (radically identical) and equivocal (radically different) about each ordeal, and yet there are series of ordeals that uncannily resonate (through disjunctive synthesis, connection through difference, by difference).

Dan asks a series of mesmerizing, “leading” questions, about the occasion:

What you find, or produce, is contingent on your reading practice, of which there are many. Does this then make it impossible to insist on the necessity of reading Deleuze (among other things) in a certain way? Does the necessity of reading practices make it necessary to give up on the notion of necessity? This would especially seem to be the case insofar as Ramey’s treatment of Deleuze rightly presses us to see that there are various ways of enacting events—would this amount to saying that it is necessary to live contingently? And even the word “live,” or the notion of a “viable” reading, which I have already invoked … what is the relation between them? Should we say that what renders Ramey’s reading viable is that it accords with life? And is such accordance necessary?

I am tempted, here, to want to double down and simply answer “yes” to all of these questions.  Yes, it is impossible to insist on the necessity of reading Deleuze or anything else, in this way, but paradoxically this is because it is not we who insist upon necessity, but necessity that (contingently) insists upon us.  I can’t really fully elaborate what I mean by that, here, but it’s at the core of what I’m trying to think through in the book I’m writing right now about divination. Divination practices deal with the conjunction of contingency and necessity, but the practice itself makes what is contingent (chance) and what is necessary (i.e., represented in the possible readings—the arcana, if one is reading tarot, or the hexagrams, if one is reading I Ching, etc.) resonate in a way that is itself contingent, so there is some kind of hyper-complex modal doubling going on where what is contingent is contingently necessary.  I am still trying to work this out logically and metaphysically.

But for now, for Dan’s next question, yes, it is necessary to give up on a notion of necessity that can be clearly or simply opposed to contingency (for reasons that divination practices, and spiritual ordeal generally, somehow suggest).  There is, in the ordeal, some kind of unthinkable conjunction of necessity and contingency, and the different ordeals, we might say, are marked by different degrees of intensity of that conjunction (which is why you have a kind of pragmatics, or practical advice, from Deleuze and Guattari, to the effect of “intensify—but to the degree possible, or the degree necessary”).  What is necessary is that there is no limit to contingency. There is no limit to the degree to which one can intensify existence, such that all is experimentation, “we know not yet what a body can do” –Spinoza.

I would like to try, eventually to defend something like the following thesis:  no other world than the actual world will have been possible, but this is not yet and never will be the (fully) actual world, so actuality is becoming.  But the Gnostic or mystic places herself “within” becoming to such a degree that she appears to be both moving at an infinite speed and standing completely still:  voila, the actual and/or the virtual.  One occupies this position, strategically, in order to reveal the falsehood of all “blends” or “mediations” or “balancings” of contingency and necessity.  In fact, I would claim that what divination tools do (when they can do it) is precisely return us to a strategically “split” position (in this way fulfilling, perhaps, the Lacanian imperative to embrace one’s split subjectivity, but perhaps more precisely performing what Laruelle calls dualysis).

What interests me in Deleuze, precisely, was his exploration, over the course of his writings of the “in so far as” of the passage Dan quotes from Spinoza:

In so far as the mind understands all things as necessary, so far it has a greater power over the emotions, or, it suffers less from them” (VP6).

The relation to necessity comes in degrees of intensity.  If necessity “is” ontologically ultimate, or absolute, in the sense that everything will have actually been only exactly as it was (and I just heard Hegel knocking at my door, and I’m going to try to keep him locked out for now), our relation to necessity is contingently defined by degrees of intensity of its “realization,” figured in Deleuze as the intensification of difference.  Deleuze of course splits this process into an actual/virtual dyad, but one way to misinterpret that dyad (as Hallward does) is to say that the ordeal is “really” just a “spiritual” one, where spiritual is taken as equivalent to “virtual,” and virtual as “ideal” rather than “real” (a blatant distortion of Proust’s dictate, followed by Deleuze, that the virtual is ideal without being abstract, which makes it all the more real).  But the more accurate reading is that the ordeal has something to do with the radical conjunction of material and spiritual repetition Deleuze is trying to comprehend in Difference and Repetition, and with their “identity in the last instance,” i.e., as the result of a certain process or processes, “ordeals.”

So what interested me, the more I read Deleuze, were his attention to various procedures, from the modernist work of art to the psychedelic experiment, that seemed to have a common goal of “absolute immanence.”  If actually nothing can be an example of anything else, in this game, virtually everything can be an example of everything else (as it is in Lewis Carol).  We keep those two levels distinct, in thought, in order to hold open the experimental possibility of their indiscernability.

I share with Dan and many others in this milieu a certain passion for the mystical, apophatic, and esoteric discourses and practices at the heretical margins of religion.  I in fact situate Deleuze there, in those margins, although I am sure that he (or at least one of his masks) would resist that situation.  More standard theologians might insist this insight can only be developed as a mystical perspective on theology (Jewish, Christian, Islamic . . .) and that therefore it is parasitic or beholden to the “orthodox” insights and formulations.  I would argue, however—with Laruelle’s theory of the fundamental autonomy of heresy and gnosis—that the reverse is the case, that it is orthodoxy that is more or less parasitic, in the long run, on religious experiences that are too wild, too intense, too idiosyncratic to regulate, order, and habituate.  (It’s true that Bergson’s view of religion is similar, but I don’t hold to Bergson’s ontology of development, which overemphasizes continuity).

From that perspective, let me engage in some heretical theology.  The logic of exemplarity in standard Christian philosophy is a logic that attempts to provide limits or conditions for possible spiritual experimentation, in advance of ordeal.  But from my perspective, and the perspective that I call “the hermetic Deleuze,” since every ordeal potentially is unlimited, any ordeal can exemplify any other, to the degree that it resonates with any other ordeal.  This is where Bruno did not so much reject incarnationalism as rather accelerate it into a kind of terracarnationalism or cosmicarnationalism, a becoming-divine or being-divine of everything in relation to everything else.  This has obvious overtones of mystical theophanies such as Eriugena’s, and in alchemical theologies like Boehme’s.

The problem with the “standard Christian philosophy,” as Bruno saw it, and as Deleuze put it borrowing a phrase from D.H. Lawrence, is that it is not yet ready “to have done with judgment.”  That is, standard Christian philosophy always wishes to judge, in advance, the contours, limits, and spiritual legitimacy (i.e. orthodoxy) of what is to be taken as authentic existence, “redeeming” existence, and so on.  Christian philosophy does this by making use of typological reasoning—i.e., Adam and Job and Jonah prefigure Christ, who retroactively redeems Job and Adam by finally being and doing what they only suggested or hinted at could be done, or needed doing.  In the “age of the Holy Spirit” individual believers exemplify Christ by expanding or elaborating that typology further.  In a certain way “orthodoxy” is the set of judgments, determinative for the-church (Laruelle’s phrase), of what can and cannot, does and does not count as exemplary of Christ, and indeed this judgment passes by way of analogical reasoning, a reasoning which attempts to embrace contingency over and above necessity.  Theologically speaking, contingency is part of the nature of creation as “gift,” which cannot be foreseen, either in its causes or its effects and is thus subject to no necessity, even when, again “contingently,” the universe has fallen into sin and thus become apparently subject to an endless number of deterministic and chaotic causal chains [sic].

Even if “I,” as I suffer, am also Christ, as Spinoza suffered as the Christ of philosophy, one has to ask, what is the (contingent) point of this (necessary) declaration.  Why do I “have” to bear witness, “have” to confess, if Christ is truly universal, if all suffer as Christ, if Christ suffers as all?   What is the point of insisting upon that naming, on that name?   With the mystics, with Simone Weil, with Eckhart, perhaps with Bruno, perhaps even with Deleuze, one bears witness to the “Christology” of ordeal by refusing theology, refusing to name the name.  And, of course, this is not a choice.  And if it is a strategy, it is contingently necessary.

In response to what Dan says here (paraphrasing my presentation of Bruno):

Christ becomes exemplary for the cosmos, such that the highest aim, or the highest degree of viability, belonging to the cosmos is to imitate, or to become analogous to, this example. The life of Christ becomes exemplary of, or for, all of life. We could say, then, that what is being rejected by Ramey’s reading practice is the standard (Christological, incarnational, analogical) reading practice of standard Christianity.

I would like to try to say, or to think through, a certain conjunction of Christological exemplarity and cosmic exemplarity, a conjunction which I would like to think has some resonance with Dan’s desire to read equivocally and univocally simultaneously, without collapsing one into the other, without taking the path of easy or obvious mediation.  I am in search of a kind of non-conceptual, non-analogical mode of mediation, something like a frame instead of a model.  I am barely at the beginning of this thought and can’t really say more about it, yet.  But I have less at stake in the strategic rejection of Christology than of its acceleration, its intensification, and its conjunction with a notion of mediation and exemplarity that is, like Bruno’s, more pagan and animist in inspiration.  Those are the frames my work at this point is trying to hold together without collapsing into one another.  And part of my current immersion in Laruelle has to do with a perspective I think he has analyzed according to which it is not necessary for thinking, to be thinking, to transcendentally unify or synthesize potentially competing frameworks.

… is it possible to (contingently) experiment with this world while believing in (the necessity of) this world, i.e. while not believing in a better world?  Furthermore, how might an answer to this question already be implied in Ramey’s practice of reading Deleuze in “eschatological” terms? (And would it make a difference if we replaced “eschatological” with “prophetic”?)

I would hope that my reading of Deleuze as “prophetic” indicates, in part, that what I call the heremetic strand in his thought, or the strand of hermeticism I hold that his thought continues, is an unfinished project.  I have very little interest in championing Deleuzian “solutions” to contemporary “problems,” any more than I have in inviting people to fold their contemporary desires for life back into some perennial or archaic hermeticism.  Everything remains to be reinvented.  I am much more interested in how Deleuze’s problems are still our problems, and how yes, I think that there are hints and rumors of future possible “solutions” to those problems, but perhaps the problems have already become unrecognizable, on strictly Deleuzian “terms.”  But if one looks at his own “metaphilosophical” comments, I think he would agree that such a situation defines philosophy, as such.

 

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3 Responses to “On the Occasion of the Ordeal: A Response from Joshua Ramey to Dan Barber’s “Experimental Life and Ordeal’s Necessity””

  1. ‘We Dance These Beasts’: Capitalism, Animism, Believers of the Future « An und für sich Says:

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  2. phil_style Says:

    “Why do I “have” to bear witness, “have” to confess, if Christ is truly universal, if all suffer as Christ, if Christ suffers as all? What is the point of insisting upon that naming, on that name? ”

    Isn’t (glancing at Girard) the imitation of Christ borne out not when the believer identifies with the suffering of Christ, but rather when the believer names and identifies with the sufferer (the innocent victim) – whomever that sufferer is. It was Christ who identified with the victim. Therefore to follow that example, we don’t identify and name Christ when we suffer, but rather publicly identify-with and name the sufferer, advocating for the victim.

  3. cleokearns Says:

    A pleasure to jump into this conversation, hypcrites lectures, mes frères, mes semblables. Joshua has some remarks on typology in his
    recent post that I’d like to take up. He notes that standard Christian philosophy always wishes to judge, in advance, “the contours, limits and spiritual legitimacy” of a given practice or thought-practice, and that is does so by means of a long established method of typological association and reasoning. It is in this way, we note, in his and other examples, that the fathers cited for instance Isaac as a prefiguration of Christ, Elijah as a prefiguration of John the Baptist, etc. But this domestication by analogy, as we might call it, does not work: as Joshua says, “the aspect of contingency in the equation always operates as gift, as something unforeseen.”

    I have complex reasons both for assenting to this view and yet for defending the practical efficacy of typology, if nothing else in inducing this salutary breakdown, just as we sometimes have to “induce” labor. Indeed, I would argue that the work of Christ (especially in relation to the work of his mother) is in part precisely to bring forth this power and weakness of typology. I can develop this best by alluding to my long-standing fascination with a typological figuration I seem to have been rather alone in pointing out, though I have in my view quite orthodox and persuasive rationales for it the pairing Abraham/Mary.

    I’ll spare you the textual and iconographical data here or the full hand of philological, narrative and theological motifs I have tried to play out in my work in its regard. Suffice it to say that for me Abraham’s hineni, “here I am,” is a typological prefiguration of Mary’s fiat mihií, “let it be done to me.” The result is that Mary is saying yes to a prior typological structure, even perhaps a kind of contract or covenant, that has at least in the past stipulated that a beloved and divinely sent first born son will not die a sacrificial death, but will by a singular act of exemption and substitution, live on to bear future sons for the patriline. (Pages of anthropological explanation here. Think Durkheim. Think Burkert.Think Nancy Jay.) Perhaps she is even saying this yes consciously, since the iconography for the Annunciation often presents her as a reader of scripture; Botticelli even portrays her as holding in her lap a text that is clearly in what he took to be Hebrew letters.

    I am not suggesting that her yes was qualified. But she does say “be it doing to me according to thy word,” does she not? It is only later, on Jesus’ presentation in the temple, that a sword pierces her heart in premonition of the cross, and only much later that she endures it, endures, that it is to say, precisely the literal, the bloody, the painful and – at least in relative terms, and what other terms have we? – the definitive death of her son. Surely at that point, whatever immediate or obvious or naïve faith we have in this pattern must come under question, to put it mildly. (I am aware of the extreme crudeness of this way of speaking. But typology is crude….and naïve…yet also persistent, and it requires a risk of at least secondary and perhaps even corrupted naivete to discuss it. Of this more anon…or not.)

    Sure, with the resurrection, the contract, or covenant, or promise or whatever was “fulfilled” in some way– or so they claim. But given the extreme contingency of the event of the cross, what temerity allows us to invoke that typological “fulfillment of the pattern” with any degree of ease? Do we, when Job’s daughters are returned to him, simply sigh with narrative contentment and walk away? How much more so are we prevented here.

    The whole question, with its tension between narrative resolution and absolute challenge, is not unprecedented, either in the Hebrew Bible or beyond, though each instance has its own contingencies
    and frames. In the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, Krishna, encourages Arjuna to join battle, and rightly so, the theology tells us, for it was the right thing to do, and all would come right in the end. Arjuna, as we know, after much questioning and dialogue, says yes, and in a sense it does all come right: justice is served. But at the very end of the Mahabharata, the long tale that frames this dialogue, there an often unremarked last word. Krishna is cursed for his advice, and cursed effectively, by a mother whose children had died in that war. She says he must endure the fate of having to watch all the members of his family die in battle before his eyes.

    But to return to typology, Mary, Abraham and the cross, what we have here is an intense case of the paradox of exemplarity, no? There is the pattern, and there is the contingency which evacuates it. I do not quite know what to do with this. That is what makes the last words of Joshua’s comment so pertinent for me. He writes, “I would like to try to say, or to think through, a certain conjunction of Christological exemplarity and cosmic exemplarity, a conjunction which I would like to think has some resonance with Dan’s desire to read equivocally and univocally simultaneously, without collapsing one into the other, without taking the path of easy or obvious mediation. I am in search of a kind of non-conceptual, non-analogical mode of mediation, something like a frame instead of a model.” I want to be around for that project. Thanks for the chance to be here.

    Cleo

    Joshua has comments about typology in his recent post that I’d like to take up. He notes that standard Christian philosophy always wishes to judge, in advance, “the contours, limits and spiritual legitimacy” of a given practice or thought-practice, and that is does so by means of a long established method of typological association and reasoning. It is in this way, we note, in his and other examples, that the fathers cited for instance Isaac as a prefiguration of Christ, Elijah as a prefiguration of John the Baptist, etc. But this domestication by analogy, as we might call it, does not work: as Joshua says, “the aspect of contingency in the equation always operates as gift, as something unforeseen.”

    I have complex reasons both for assenting to this view and yet for defending the practical efficacy of typology, if nothing else in inducing this salutary breakdown, just as we sometimes have to “induce” labor. Indeed, I would argue that the work of Christ (especially in relation to the work of his mother) is in part precisely to bring forth this power and weakness of typology. I can develop this best by alluding to my long-standing fascination with a typological figuration I seem to have been rather alone in pointing out, though I have in my view quite orthodox and persuasive rationales for it the pairing Abraham/Mary.

    I’ll spare you the textual and iconographical date here or the full hand of philological, narrative and theological motifs I have tried to play out in my work in its regard. Suffice it to say that for me Abraham’s hineni, “here I am,” is a typological prefiguration of Mary’s fiat mihií, “let it be done to me.” The result is that Mary is saying yes to a prior typological structure, even perhaps a kind of contract or covenant, that has at least in the past stipulated that a beloved and divinely sent first born son will not die a sacrificial death, but will by a singular act of exemption and substitution, live on to bear future sons for the patriline. (Pages of anthropological explanation here. Think Durkheim. Think Burkert.Think Nancy Jay.) Perhaps she is even saying this yes consciously, since the iconography for the Annunciation often presents her as a reader of scripture; Botticelli even portrays her as holding in her lap a text that is clearly in what he took to be Hebrew letters.

    I am not suggesting that her yes was qualified. But she does say “be it doing to me according to thy word,” does she not? It is only later, on Jesus’ presentation in the temple, that a sword pierces her heart in premonition of the cross, and only much later that she endures it, endures, that it is to say, precisely the literal, the bloody, the painful and – at least in relative terms, and what other terms have we? – the definitive death of her son. Surely at that point, whatever immediate or obvious or naïve faith we have in this pattern must come under question, to put it mildly. (I am aware of the extreme crudeness of this way of speaking. But typology is crude….and naïve…yet also persistent, and it requires a risk of at least secondary and perhaps even corrupted naivete to discuss it. Of this more anon…or not.)

    Sure, with the resurrection, the contract, or covenant, or promise or whatever was “fulfilled” in some way– or so they claim. But given the extreme contingency of the event of the cross, what temerity allows us to invoke that typological “fulfillment of the pattern” with any degree of ease? Do we, when Job’s daughters are returned to him, simply sigh with narrative contentment and walk away? How much more so are we prevented here.

    The whole question, with its tension between narrative resolution and absolute challenge, is not unprecedented, either in the Hebrew Bible or beyond, though each instance has its own contingencies
    and frames. In the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, Krishna, encourages Arjuna to join battle, and rightly so, the theology tells us, for it was the right thing to do, and all would come right in the end. Arjuna, as we know, after much questioning and dialogue, says yes, and in a sense it does all come right: justice is served. But at the very end of the Mahabharata, the long tale that frames this dialogue, there an often unremarked last word. Krishna is cursed for his advice, and cursed effectively, by a mother whose children had died in that war. She says he must endure the fate of having to watch all the members of his family die in battle before his eyes.

    But to return to typology, Mary, Abraham and the cross, what we have here is an intense case of the paradox of exemplarity, no? There is the pattern, and there is the contingency which evacuates it. I do not quite know what to do with this. That is what makes the last words of Joshua’s comment so pertinent for me. He writes, “I would like to try to say, or to think through, a certain conjunction of Christological exemplarity and cosmic exemplarity, a conjunction which I would like to think has some resonance with Dan’s desire to read equivocally and univocally simultaneously, without collapsing one into the other, without taking the path of easy or obvious mediation. I am in search of a kind of non-conceptual, non-analogical mode of mediation, something like a frame instead of a model.” I want to be around for that project. Thanks for the chance to be here.

    Cleo


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