“The project of creating in a secular culture an institution that can manifest a dark, hidden reality is a contradiction in terms”
(Susan Sontag in Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings, Edited by Susan Sontag. Translated by Helen Weaver. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1976, p. xlv)
The tense relation between philosophy and hermeticism (increasingly, in my work, “hermeticism” is a generic term for the “spiritual sciences”) is a kind of double-cross. There is a kind of conflicting and twice-over short circuit between necessity and contingency that binds and blocks these two levels or modes of apprehension. On the one hand, philosophical concepts are grounded or founded upon a putatively universal appeal, an appeal to what would be or might be necessary for anyone with reason to assent to. On the other hand, there is the contingency of the perspective from which any such an appeal is made. I have argued in the book that philosophers themselves do a lot of work (and have a lot of work done to themselves) at the level of their perspective, having it shaped by a distinctive but often suppressed or unexpressed spirituality, a set of disciplines or practices that inform and potentially transform their explicit or stated concepts. (This is, incidentally, what the entire opening of Deleuze’s book Nietzsche and Philosophy is cryptically about).
But that is only the first cross. The double-cross is formed by the pressure upon reflection to bracket or encompass the entire situation of the relation between contingent and necessary, perspectival and absolute—here, for the moment, hermetic and philosophical—within some yet-more-abstract account that can encompass or “englobe” the relation between concept and referent, or between thinker and thought, or to put it in the idiom Anthony is using here, between creature and its apprehension of/affective relation to createdness. There seems to be tremendous pressure, that is, on philosophy to account for the status of its own discourse, generally in response to something like the question, “Even if you are right [in your concept], how can you [philosopher] place the demand of that truth upon others, unless you can demand also that someone else, per impossible, occupy your (nonconceptual) perspective?” It is probably Laruelle who has seen the problem of this doubling in the history of philosophy as the problem that somehow has to be avoided or sidestepped through what he calls “dualysis,” which, at least on my reading, is in part a strategy designed to undo the double-cross (no more philosophical saviors!), refuse or resist the very move from the first level of enunciation to the second, thus preventing the double-cross, in advance (or at last undoing it after the fact, producing an uncanny effect of a positive, necessary truth only where there is irreducible perspective: the-last-instance). It is important to evoke Laruelle, here, because of the by now famous fact that at the end of What is Philosophy?—whether or not Deleuze and Guattari characterized Laruelle’s project correctly—D&G pointed to something like “non-philosophy” as the perspective from which the question of what philosophy is should be answered.
In a flatfooted way this just seems like the eternal problem of the status of reason itself in relation to reality, and perhaps it is. How can the rational make claims upon, and thus bind us to, the real? But for me the question is sharpened and focused by the contingent necessities of the felt contemporary challenge to philosophy to be modern, to be secular, and to be pluralist, and, for me, how philosophy’s repressed but consistent hermeticism complicates that challenge. I do not think these demands—be modern! Be secular! Be pluralist!— are very well understood, but are profoundly felt. In a certain way I read Deleuze’s relation to his own hermeticism as symptomatic of a philosophical era (which may be an era much longer than the 20th century, or even of the “modern era”) whose attempted modernity, secularity, and pluralism remain constitutively haunted by the archaic, religious, and absolute demands of a spiritual perspectivalism that cannot be directly countenanced, but that is necessarily “misknown,” as Anthony puts it.
In this sense, Plato himself is the first, since it is clear that much of his system is dependent upon an appreciation of the mystery cults, although it is unclear whether and to what degree Plato participated in those cults, with their affirmation of an eternal life (and I intend, in my final word for this book event, to return to Christian’s question about the “eternal” perspective implied in hermeticism). Plato is constantly having Socrates hesitate to affirm directly any “religious” truth, and to present it in the form of “it is said by the wisest among us,” or “those with experience say,” or some other caveat for distancing the necessity of some religious experience from the necessity of philosophical truth. That latter truth is supposed to be able to stand alone, to be assented to or denied in the context of a dialogue, or a dialectic, in abstraction from a transformative experience. I don’t know what else I want to say, exactly, about that situation in Plato, other than to simply point to the fact that the double-cross already seems to be there, operating. In order for reason to be what it is—that is, to make necessary claims on everyone who thinks, apparently reason must present “as contingent” the experiences that lead to (or at least enable us, through paideia, to adhere to) its necessary truths. The question then becomes, and here comes the double-cross, is this entire situation necessary or contingent?
What Plato does so brilliantly is that he at least presents the necessity of reason as a kind of indirect revelation itself contingent upon power relations, on antagonisms within a given social milieu, antagonisms that may or may not reflect cultural universals or cultural particularities. Formally, if Plato is correct to do what he does in presenting philosophy the way he does, this implies that, at the very least, philosophical discourse is necessarily indirect. Is reason the rhetoric of the necessarily misknown?
In his ridiculously neglected New Science, Gimbattista Vico proposed that philosophy was the rhetoric of democracy, grounded upon a politics of “equity” in which each is presumed able to reason (in principle if not in fact). Philosophy seems somehow wedded to democracy (despite Plato, after all). Philosophy has to draw upon the profundity of experience without articulating that experience directly (in Vico’s theory of the three ages of cultural evolution, occupying the role of the “phatic” or “esoteric” would be a cultural devolution for philosophy, a reoccupation of the poetic language of the heroes, their esoteric discourse). One can read the history of philosophy since Plato as continuing to struggle with this problem, precisely in relation to hermeticism, such that it is the ongoing struggle of the spiritual sciences that is always the referent of philosophical speculation: how is it possible to draw from heroic or even gigantic experience without making those particular experiences (which are contingent) necessarily binding?
Deleuze’s early work, through Difference and Repetition, is really struggling with this problem of grounding or founding in philosophy. What does it mean that I “expose” or “out” Deleuze on his esotericism? Does it mean, unlike Deleuze, that I am willing to “betray” philosophy, to call its blulff? Anthony is right, we can’t answer the question of why he suppressed his early, explicitly esoteric writings. But perhaps this is not because Deleuze is too singular or his biography too unique, but because in this way he is all too common, all too like his other modern forbears. Perhaps we cannot answer the question of why he “misknew” himself unless we look at an entire series of philosophers who effectively make exactly the same move, from Plato (mystery cults) to Aquinas (Albertus Magnus) to Leibniz (Kabbalah), Newton (alchemy), Hegel (von Baader’s theosophy), Bataille (eroticism), Derrida (negative theology), and more recently Sloterdijk (Osho). It may be that there is no answer to this question (why does philosophy suppress its hermeticism) because it may be that the strategic suppression of the spiritual sciences defines the rhetorical gambit that philosophy in some sense is. And I am betraying, or have in some sense betrayed it? Does this make me a “non”-philosopher, because I am stepping to the side of this tradition rather than assuming the mantle of secrecy? Or is there some yet more secret apocalyptic pressure that animates my own work, some change in the nature of philosophical discourse of which my own work is symptomatic? I am not trying to be self-aggrandizing here. This is incredibly painful. Philosophers who have in some way attempted to be more explicit have been persecuted or driven mad or just ignored. But more importantly, in the “Mathesis, Science, and Philosophy” article, Deleuze seems to realize that the whole problem has somehow to do with democratic versus aristocratic visions of power, and the alliance philosophy wants to try to make with democracy, with a people to come.
To conclude I am going to totally change tactic. I am going to ask a question I think Anthony might ask. What is hermetic ecology? What would happen if I revealed that I could not think or would not think or would not want to think without or other than through certain things that have happened to me, or happened to us? The hermetic practices have one rule: through a realization of consciousness as a body, one passes from the perceptions of one’s experiences as one’s own to the state in which other experiences, other creatures, other realities, are folded into one’s own body, one’s own consciousness, such that to attend to, and to become aware of one’s own body and consciousness, is to immediately develop an ability to interact with a number of others, and an increasing number of others. Hermeticism is a kind of “ecstatic ecology.” It is the development of sympathetic, vibrational relations, both implicit and explicit, that may or may not be verbalized or named, but that seem to insist in signs or signals within a complex, self-refracting milieu. I would like to call it, riffing on Anthony’s provocation, a nonstyle of misknown nonnaming.
Most spiritual disciplines and practices seem to converge on an intensification not of some “abolition” of the self, but some opening of the self onto the immediacy of a multiplicity of relations in a mode that makes coming to awareness of those relations an ability to unite with, belong to, and transform or be transformed by a multiplicity of others. One can easily get lost here. But on the other hand, is there really anything else left for us to do?
For example, under certain circumstances that were particularly painful for me, some of the details of which I strategically suppress, conditions were such on Holy Saturday, 2012, that I had the ability to hear a song being sung by the walls of my house, a song emanating from the broken sidewalks, shattered glass, and endless sorrows of my neighborhood. This song, however, was as much “me” as it was “them.” It was not “their” grief or “their” words any more or less than it was mine (it was generic). Anthony now shares this neighborhood with me, shares some of its brokenness, some of its slowly gentrifying “potential,” some of the souls that have lived and died here, stuck here.
Holy Saturday Blues
Don’t know what I came here for
Don’t know where I’m going to
Preacher tell me there be a place
Going to go up when I die
But when I see his face
I’m gonna ask him please
Why Lord you leave us here
Why we have to work so hard
I working every day
I working for the man
Don’t understand his plan
He don’t even know my name
Don’t know where I came here from
Don’t know where I’m going to
Lord why did you leave me here
Just to let me sing these blues
All the long day and night
They say we’re going to paradise
But if I get there Lord
I’m going to ask you good
What did I do sweet Lord
To make them do this to me
Take my family away
Take me to be some slave
Take me to work some land
I can’t eat no bread from
Lay down and cry all night
No one to comfort me
Lord Lord, why did you do this to me?
Was I a sinner man, did I do something wrong?
Why did I come so far from where I belong?
These Holy Sat’day blues
Be what I sing to you
Till you done raise me up
To drink that loving cup
To wipe my tears away
To keep me there to stay
Where they will know my name
Where I can sing my song
But will you answer me
Lord will you answer me
Will you come down and see, see
What they’ve done to me,
These haunted voices, these ghosts, are the walls of my house. These bricks and fumes are my nature, at least for now, at least if I allow myself to be sensitive, to sense what it is to be here, to be this, now. This prepares me for something I would not otherwise be prepared to do, but it softens me, or is my softening. Acceptance, forgiveness, grief. What can I do, now? Not much, but I am convinced that I am prepared to do something, more than I would be able otherwise to do, by surrendering myself to the enigma of how I am implicated in what this is, of what this reality is.
So, yes, Anthony, I need to reveal some of my own ordeal—and I just did, I think— because somehow, now, even for a trained philosopher like me—that seems contingently necessary.
Nature is not hidden, it is overexposed. Or at least that’s how I’m starting to feel. Or maybe part of my ordeal has been that gospel music that inflected my soul so deeply, so early, that I can only, for the most part, access it indirectly, or relate to indirectly, such that I am not really hiding anything, but rather feeling overexposed in my “misknowing” of myself. Maybe there is no other kind of knowing but misknowing, like trying to know one’s own relation to gospel music, and why those deep old songs with the simple words rip your guts out, make you weep, and why that is its own truth, some truth that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone else yet somehow I’m undyingly grateful for, and have no other choice but to well, sing by other means, or by any means necessary.