Among Other Things: Intrusions of Plurality between Stevens and Nancy Darren Hutchinson Keywords: Jean-Luc Nancy

, Wallace Stevens, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Deconstruction
Abstract: To meaningfully enunciate something is to do that thing a certain justice, to be appropriate to it, to respect it for what it is (among other things). In what follows, among other things, I (We-for, with, against one another?) will trace some of Steven's judicious deliberations on the plurality of beings from his poem(s), eventually linking these deliberations to those of Jean-Luc Nancy on the poise of the saying of the singular-plural of being. The stakes of this juxtaposition of French Philosophy and American poetry (among other things: Heidegger's language joins the entire discussion, both binding and externally participating, Nietzsche’s celebration of the earth provides a stitched link) will involve (among other things) the negotiation (between traditions, genres, cultures, voices, strategies . . .) of language(s) (writing, speaking, symbolization, communication . . .) true to the things themselves, sutured together, held apart, shared, beyond sharing.

This essay will concern itself (among other things) with the saying of the plurality of being. It will not concern itself with “Mere Being” (as if there could be such a thing) nor with manifold range of beings (which would be reduced to one in the designation of a totality) nor with the differing ways in which being can be said (which would indicate vantages on a single ground). After all, what really concerns us in the question of “Mere Being”? When being is understood as the generic multiplicity of things or as a unified presence, it is thereby rendered in terms of the abstract and the inert (things, presence), beyond the range of concrete relevance. I am concerned with the wonderful sushi dinner that awaits me, my cat who sits curled at my feet, the unfolding words of this essay, the plight of my elderly mother (among other things), but none of these “things” are mere things, mere beings, Mere Being. These “things” are not (For me? In themselves? For us?) merely beings with the appendage of properties or meanings, and neither are they the outcome of an ontological division of a whole into parts: these “things” are what they are (sushi, my cat, my mother): they are Husserl's “things themselves” before any ontological determination, but thus, they are not things either. I am (One is? We are—for, with, or against one another?) confronted with the problem of saying the plurality of being, even though the term “being” is no longer fully appropriate to “that” which is to be addressed. Even if “being” is understood as phenomenon, unfolding, irruption, event, projection, etc. (and so understood “it” is already plural, or better, “it” pluralizes), such determinations hardly do justice to the “things” with which I am concerned: My dinner is not merely an unfolding, my cat is not merely an irruption, my essay is not merely an event, and my mother is certainly not merely a projection. Poetry is the same as philosophy in many ways (Philosophy is not an activity and neither is poetry.) Like philosophy, poetry discloses. Like philosophy, poetry represents. Like philosophy, poetry gestures. Like philosophy, poetry imagines. Like philosophy, poetry describes. Like philosophy, poetry thinks. Also, like philosophy (although in a different manner, as differently as poetry takes place in the instances above) poetry confronts problems. Among other things, the poem “Of Mere Being” by Wallace Steven confronts the problem of the meaning, not of being, but rather of the plurality of being. Or even, one might say, it confronts the problems of the meanings of the plurality of being. To meaningfully enunciate something is


to do that thing a certain justice, to be appropriate to it, to respect it for what it is (among other things). In what follows, among other things, I (We-for, with, against one another?) will trace some of Steven's judicious deliberations on the plurality of beings from his poem(s), eventually linking these deliberations to those of Jean-Luc Nancy on the poise of the saying of the singularplural of being. The stakes of this juxtaposition of French Philosophy and American poetry (among other things: Heidegger's language joins the entire discussion, both binding and externally participating, Nietzsche’s celebration of the earth provides a stitched link) will involve (among other things) the negotiation (between traditions, genres, cultures, voices, strategies . . .) of language(s) (writing, speaking, symbolization, communication . . .) true to the things themselves, sutured together, held apart, shared, beyond sharing.
Of Mere Being1 The palm at the end of the mind, Beyond the last thought, rises In the bronze decor. A gold-feathered bird Sings in the palm, without human meaning, Without human feeling, a foreign song. You know then that it is not the reason That makes us happy or unhappy. The bird sings. Its feathers shine. The palm stands on the edge of space. The wind moves slowly in the branches. The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

I will not beat around the bush (or the palm, in this case). I will resist the urge to allow the poem to slowly unwind in my words like a long strand of string. I will go straight to the point of Wallace Steven’s poem where everything falls apart, where it disjoins from itself, where “it” disjoins from itself and carries Mere Being with it into a silence beyond comprehension. “You know then that it is not the reason” What does “it” refer to here? What does “it” ever refer to? As the impersonal or the neuter, “it” can circulate between all beings, attaching “itself” (even to itself) to one or the other, even attaching itself to being “as such,” even attaching itself to that which would “be” beyond being, as in the German formulation of the “Es gibt Sein.” But such attachment is tenuous, since it is always uncertain what “it” actually attaches to. Of course, this is so for any word, but the non-specificity of the “it” encapsulates this tenuousness with “its” generic inscription in an essential way. The “it” would mark the objectivity of the object or even the thingliness of the thing or even the eventuality of the event, but yet, in so doing, it would risk losing everything,

Wallace Stevens, "Of Mere Being," in Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, and Prose, ed. Milton J. Bates (New York: Vintage Books, 1989).


becoming an empty sign, a neutralized instance of “itself.” Given the generic non-specificity of the “it,” there is no doubt that “it” could never be the reason for our happiness or unhappiness. In the instance of Steven's poem, the “it” marks a site neither of happiness nor unhappiness but rather one of bare confusion concerning reference. Is “Mere Being” the “it” which gives no reason for our happiness or unhappiness? Or is “it” the palm? The bird? The end of the mind? The inhuman, foreign song? Some unspecified other? In questions where there can be no answer, there is no use in guessing. But importantly, in the absence of an answer, emulation occurs: the “it” becomes a representative for the generic, non-specificity of “Mere Being,” even without determinate reference. “Mere Being,” after all, only appears in the title of the poem, as an undetermined name: “Mere Being” was already as opaque as an “it” without clear reference, even if “Of Mere Being” seemed to announce something which would be heralded with a litany of praise. After its first appearance, however, palms and décor and feathers and branches manifest, but “Mere Being” does not show itself again. Does this mean that the palm, the bird, and the space at the end of the mind are “symbols” of “Mere Being?” In order to determine this, we would obviously require some content for the phrase “Mere Being.” Something can be symbolized only if it already (partially, incompletely, through definition but not appearance, through appearance but not definition) shows itself. But “Mere Being” has never occurred; there has neither been an instance of Mere Being, nor a definition of Mere Being, nor even a partial disclosure. There has only been a plurality of beings such as birds and palms and minds and space and graphic inscriptions such as “it.” We have begun the poem, after all, with the happiness of palms and birds and the mysteriousness of the distance of the last thought, and the unhappiness which (perhaps) death brings to everything, but “Mere Being,” even though seeming to head, organize, and direct everything has done nothing for us. Stevens' most astute critic, Harold Bloom, reminds us that the “Mere” in Mere Being may be heard to say not only “bare” or “simple” but also “pure” (from the Latin merus) and perhaps even draws connotations from the root mer which indicates flickering.2 He also speculates that the purity and simplicity of “Mere Being” recalls Stephen's image of “The First Idea.” But in this case, the First Idea would neither be a Platonic Form nor a primary being but would rather stand revealed (perhaps flickering) as a palm, a bird, bronze décor (in fact everything), the end of the mind opening onto the “pure” superabundance of beings, even the stage of the end included in its own pluralized proscenium. Here, one might recall Heidegger's series of question from his text on Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ 1–3 in order to question whether Steven's poem fits into it, perhaps as it would fit folded into a jar:
Is this one being (Sein) something before all unfolding, that is, something that exists for itself, whose independence is the true essence of being? Or is being in its essence never not unfolded so that the manifold and its foldings constitute precisely the peculiar oneness of that which is intrinsically gathered up? Is being imparted to the individual modes in such a way that by this imparting it in fact parts itself out, although in this parting out it is not partitioned in such a way that, as divided, it falls apart and loses its authentic essence, its unity? Might the unity of being lie precisely in this imparting, parting out? And if so, how would and could something like this happen? What holds sway in this event?3
2 3

Harold Bloom, Wallace Stevens: The Poems of our Climate (New York: Cornell University Press, 1980), 371. Martin Heidegger, Aristotle’s Metaphysics θ1–3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force, trans.


Would “Mere Being” thus exhaust itself in its gifts of the poetic particulars which present themselves? Would the edge of space (as universe), the imagined end of the mind, the imagined bird, the real poem, the transcendent palm, the bronze décor of fantasy, the branches which provide the paper for the printing of the poem, the feathers giving the quill for writing (among other things) “be” the end of being? Would the endlessness of seemings be the finale of being? And yet, would “Mere Being” continue to hold everything together in a unity of dispersion? Would it (as a German “Was” in “Was west . . . ?”) continue to hold sway in the opened, pluralized field of differences, in the ineliminable question of the field itself? Unlike Heidegger, Stevens is silent concerning such questions. Perhaps such silence indicates an essential difference between poetry and philosophy in confronting the problem of pluralization. In no place does “Of Mere Being” re-invoke what might be called “The question of Mere Being” other than (perhaps) to express its irrelevance. Perhaps, even, a bit of a game is being played, where an expectation is provoked and then frustrated, perhaps even therapeutically (poetry, like philosophy, can also be therapeutic) laid to rest. The poet (Stevens, assuming he is the speaker, and not some other or others, a possibility which cannot be eliminated) would put forth the title “Of Mere Being” as a ruse, inviting a seeking of essence, an attempt at penetration, an ontological plunge, but then poet would merely remain silent concerning being altogether, neither negating it nor denying it nor even saying (whatever this would mean) that “it” does not exist. The poet would indeed put forth images, images which could be taken for symbols of “Mere Being,” markers which would point into the transcendent void, but such markers would be given their value only through the expectations which would govern their interpretation. After all, without the title “Mere Being,” the palm, the bird, the “last thought,” could be taken to be anything, they could drift endlessly across semantic fields, showing the strangeness of the natural world, the foreignness of the voice of the other, or even the loneliness of Key West as one looks out onto a palm with a bird in its fronds, a bird whistling an inhuman tune beyond the genius of the sea. And even with the title, they could be so taken, since the title means nothing “in itself”. In such a case, there would not be an attempt to move from “Mere Being” to its pluralization through a philosophical strategy of destruction. There would only be a reminder (an indeterminate mark) of the site of an obsession and then nothing more of it save a renunciation, nothing other than the practice of pluralization “itself” in poetic writing, or even writing beyond the concept of pluralization (as it opposes itself to identification) in the articulation of beautiful words. Of course, in the philosophical saying of this pluralization, even to deny that “it” properly takes place in the poem, both it and the beings mentioned, in their heterogeneity and singularity, are re-linked to the philosophically-appropriated title “Of Mere Being” and Heidegger’s questions are again enjoined. The “Of Mere Being” of the poem then insinuates to us that the “Of” implies a proceeding from, a genesis, a flowering, a possessive origin: the multiplicity of singular beings are all “Of Mere Being,” even if that Mere Being “itself” gets lost in the dispersion it orchestrates. “Of Mere Being” (the words, the marks) can easily slide into the realm of philosophical thinking, even if these words appeared merely as the title of a poem which disowned it. One would have to say, even, (among other things) that the title “Of Mere Being” “itself” is pluralized, as it fluctuates (among other things) between being merely a title, a provocation, an ontological description, and even an immanent exemplification (insofar as “Of Mere Being” is indeed Of Mere Being: the words are things among other things).
W. Brogan and P. Warnek (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 25.


Yet, in the joining of the poem to a philosophical essay such as this one, both the title and the poem sit silently alongside as well, remaining mute, impenetrable, only touching through a mere juxtaposition. For instance, as I write this essay, I continually scan back up to “the poem itself” as it rests comfortably between the drawn lines demarcating “its section,” as comfortably as a palm might sit at the end of the mind. I may indeed quote from the poem and I may indeed bring its words to resonate with the thought which happens here, I may “use” these words (which means I allow them to intrude, or even I do not allow them, they merely intrude) as I write, and they may be linked to ontological and even post-ontological questioning (which is always already still ontological) but they also perpetually separate themselves from this thinking, reverting back to what they are: the things themselves and nothing more. “The palm stands on the edge of space. The wind moves slowly in the branches. The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.” Obviously, the words of the poem say something. They say what they say. Obviously, I can, in a moment of philosophical criticism also take the words to say “something philosophical” (whatever that means). The Palm can be taken to represent the ocean (an archaic sense of “mere” as in Mer) of Mere Being, as it becomes the universal space of mind and matter in which we dwell, as the wave-winds of becoming sweep through and deliver the scintillations of beings, as the scintillating, flickering birds of reality sing their inhuman songs towards their annihilation, as their feathers dangle down with the gravity of death. Or the Palm can be taken to represent the boundary (another archaic sense of “mere”) of Mere Being, the marker which cannot be crossed, the end of the mind itself, the decoration of everything shielding the abyss/being beyond the edge, an abyss/being which yet transgresses inhumanly, blowing through everything, vastating the vastness of the world. But in relation to philosophy, it has to be acknowledged that even though the words of the poem speak and even though they speak in a plurality of voices and senses, they also remain silent, imply nothing, indicating nothing, held in reserve. Perhaps, even, the poem demarcates its own silence through including a philosophical moment within it (as poetry can intrude on philosophy, philosophy can intrude upon poetry). Perhaps the “it” which is not the reason for our happiness or unhappiness is “the poem itself,” even the Mere Being of the poem, as it sits silently at the end of our minds, as silently as a palm with a bird in the wind. In attempting to think the poem, the poem “Of Mere Being” and even the poem as Mere Being, the poem (even of itself) withdraws into a plural silence which even “Mere Being” is not sufficient to name. And yet, the impulse towards such naming is harbored (even silently?) within the poem and hovers (silently?) outside, drawing the voiceless poem near to philosophy, which has always been the attempt at the proper sounding of Mere Being, even if this sounding only occurs in the vast(ated) echo-space of abyssal withdrawal. What if “the pluralization of being” could be taken to indicate this plural situation “Of Mere Being,” that is, Mere Being which is not only plural in the sense of being manifold within “itself” and not only in the sense of exhausting itself in pluralization but also in the sense of “Mere Being” being outside “itself” in the silence of a poetic reserve, a reserve which can never be thought nor even serve as an impetus to thinking, a reserve which a priori pluralizes “Mere Being” in an ineradicable way? In such a case, we would neither be thrown back upon the “unsayable” or “the mystical” (which are already said philosophically) nor would we find ourselves propagated towards an unheard of thinking to come but rather we would find ourselves poised at the edge of silence (or even at the edges of silences), curiously inclined towards the ends of our minds, like rats come out to see.


What is the relationship between philosophy and non-philosophy? Already, such a question is too simple. There is no such thing as “mere philosophy?” And the “nonphilosophical” cannot be “merely” dialectically opposed, since in being so placed in a negative relation to philosophy, the “non-philosophical” is exposed as touching philosophy, simultaneously as true dialectics is exposed as a lie, since there are no simple opposites. It would be perhaps better to say that philosophy is always among other things . . . . It is among other things both in the sense that it stands in the midst of things which it touches but does not unite and in the sense that it is always other than itself, divided by pluralities of languages, traditions, genders, cultures (each of which are also so divided, as scissions beget scissions) which touch one another without synthesis, or even if there is a synthesis, it only occurs through touching an outside which it cannot comprehend. Philosophy only occurs in language. But language is never merely language. Language is always others than itself, as breath, as mark, as sound, as transmission, as image, as inscription and as delivered from many vantages, across many vantages, bearing death/life conjoined as in a symbol for reincarnation carved into an Egyptian tomb. Language is (of “itself”) pluralization. Nancy: “Language is the exposing of plural singularity. In it, the all of being is exposed as its meaning, which is to say, as the originary sharing according to which a being relates to a being, the circulation of a meaning of the world that has no beginning or end. This is the meaning of the world as being-with, the simultaneity of all presences that are with regard to one another, where no one if for oneself without being for others.”4 Here, Nancy inscribes “beingwith” as the (co-)essence of being. This does not say that being gives rise to being-with, even essentially, but rather that being-with is the (co-)origin of being. “being” would thus never be “Mere Being” (by itself) but rather already with-itself, spaced from within, given to “itself” by the non-capitalized others before and between it. “Language” would inscribe this (co-)essence through exposure in a plurality of ways. A.) The written word (such as “Mere Being”) would be fractured in its appearance (like “all” of being) as it would always singularly manifest, in the repetition of sensible iterations, always uniquely different from itself, its identity requiring the encapsulating inscription of (yet another) singular mark. B.) The written word (such as “Mere Being”) would also divide in the darkness of its sensible reserve (like “all” of being), as it withdraws from appearance into the blind materiality of graphite, ink, liquid crystals, electrons, the endless underlay of beings which are the curious unconscious of any manifestation. C.)The written word (such as “Mere Being”) would drift across planes of meaning (like “all” being), as it would flow from philosophy to poetry, from etymology to mad association, from scientific ontology to the theological saying of God. D.) The written word (such as “Mere Being”) would manifest differently before a hundred eyes (like “all” being), seen from the singular-plural perspective of each life that confronts it, the privacy of the multitude carried into each instance of its apparition. E.) The written word (such as “Mere Being”) would also be voiced (or pressed, as in braille for the blind, or signed to the deaf) again and again, to him, to her, to you, to myself, to the many in me, to the many in them, to all of us, to those yet to come, even to those who preceded, even to the unknown within and beyond us, even to the silence of being itself, gestures and sounds thrown to the uncomprehending sky (like “all” being). F.) The “Mere Being” of all the preceding, as (one, we, me, you, us . . .) would enfold it would yet stand alongside all the others, the set of all sets withdrawing into itself, becoming a member, joining its fellows in togetherness without comprehension (like “all” being).

Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, trans. R. Richardson and A. O’Byrne (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 84.


The pluralization of being precedes the being of language and world and self and community, already dispersing all beings into the “with,” and then, in a final stroke, a hit, a surprise, “it” (even as the spacing of joining/dispersion) stands alongside what it would join and disperse. Being is always already among other things. As an “instance” of such being, both in and as its capacity to say, language exposes the dispersed jointure of being. But if this is so, then one might properly ask, “What role remains left for philosophy specifically?” If being already shows “itself” as pluralized and if language as an “instance” of being (repeating “it” differently, uniquely, always) exposes this pluralization in “its very being,” then what does philosophy offer to what already takes place, here and everywhere, now and then, from one to all? In relation to the plurality of being, we seem to be in a classical double bind: it is necessary to say the plurality of being, yet it is impossible to say the plurality of being. It is necessary because in some sense, the plurality of being seems to be forgotten, occluded, and erased from memory, like a vanished tribe. It is not “Mere Being” which is lost in the incessant absorption in the ontic world of myriad beings, but the myriad beings themselves that are lost in the appellation of “beings,” already linking them to being, already abstracting, unifying, annihilating singularities, annihilating personalities, quieting voices of older gods from darkened shores who spoke of things other than being or beings. The “plain sense(s) of things” seems to have sailed with the ships of conquest, now adrift, incapable of return without guidance. We find it our lot, our assignment, our necessity, insofar as we do not wish to “disown ourselves and others and the world” in our very being to rectify this injustice, to return what Nancy calls the singular-plural to the voice(s) of existence(s). The world rages towards machination, towards homogenization, towards centralization (under the guise of a globalizing cosmopolitanism), towards reduction to the material and to the informational, towards capital and to the sociality of a “New World Order.” (But notice that there is not one threat, one enemy, one monster, not even “the metaphysics of presence” or “technology,” or “alienation.” The dangers to a pluralized world are as pluralized as that world itself.) The Wordsworthian dictum “we murder to dissect” must now be replaced with the even more ominous “We murder to keep things whole,” the natural harmony of Romanticism transformed into a horrible caricature as nature becomes a host of cybernetic organisms. In order to do justice to the plural being of the world (to singular organisms effaced as species are extinguished (even effaced through the now possible “speciation” in the advent of genetic engineering), to individuals dissolved in the fluid of group politics, to groups coerced into national identities, to strange formations given elemental forms, to the strangeness of “Mere Being” “itself,” apart from such orders, among other things), we must find a way to address the vastation of this plural being taking place “at its very heart.” Nothing seems more necessary than such a task, which seems not only the task of another way (or other ways) of thinking but also the task of life learning to live (again, for the first time, over and over), both human life and the life of the world which the human represents. This goal would involve what has been called “the meaning of life,” though (as Nancy reminds us) this meaning is not something beyond us but rather the meaning that we are, uniquely plural, uniquely strange.5 However, this goal seems also forever out of reach from the grasping hands of

Nancy: But we are meaning in the sense that we are the element in which significations can be produced and circulate. The least signification just as much as the most elevated (the meaning of " n a i l " as well as the meaning of "God") has no meaning in itself and, as a result, is what it is and does what it does only insofar as it is communicated, even where this communication takes place only between "me" and "myself." Meaning is its own communication or its own circulation. The "meaning of Being" is not some property that will come to qualify, fill in , or finalize the brute givenness of "Being" pure and simple.' Instead, it is the fact that there is no "brute givenness" of Being, that there is no desperately poor there is presented when one says that "there is a nail


philosophy, wrenched from them by the other side of the double bind. First, insofar as language perfectly instantiates the pluralization of being in each instance, every syllable, every mark displaying it a priori, there seems nothing special which I (we/one/together/apart) could do to “improve upon” this situation. Language always already pluralizes as the plural being(s) “it” is, never “Mere Being,” always other(s), but thus when I attempt to show this, for instance in this sentence, I show nothing other than what is already shown in any other sentence, for instance in Steven’s “Every time the bucks went clattering over Oklahoma a firecat bristled in the way” which disperses the herd of bucks into words and deer, where the “firecat” is a cat and a symbol and the driving force of the imagination “itself” and the irruption of the word “firecat” in the poem (among other things), where it continually diverts the poem from itself, becoming many things always.6 Even “the cat is on the mat” will do, since the cat is already word and image and sound and noun and object and possibly even metaphor and possibly even a word itself (as in a paper with the words “the cat” written on it, left lying on the ground.) One might put this in the simplest of terms: the mere facts of ambiguity, indeterminacy, polysemia, interpretation, disagreement without end, language as politics already give the plurality of being, and each of these intensifying sentences intensify nothing: they only serve to write some more what is already written. Also, however, the philosophical exposure of the plurality of being seems impossible because as exposure, in each of these sentences, in the essay itself, plurality receives thematization, thus drawing it back into the sovereign identity of the “it” which unifies through neutralization. The essay on plurality and pluralization cannot do other than efface plurality through conceptual grasping, as the singular rocks and leaves of grass and spiders (among other things) are now regarded as “instances of pluralization,” brought under the sway of the exemplarity of the example. Even though it is always already pluralized, philosophical language also comprehends, annihilates, and occludes difference in the grasping abstraction of its neuter voice. In the midst of our necessity, and in the face of this plurality of impossibility, we must retain our poise. It is almost as if we stand at a doorway which leads between utter dispersion, difference without end, the impossibility of saying anything other than difference, the singular interrupting every word in its midst, communication destroyed, the possibility of both revelation and unity in the face of destruction decimated before any counterforce to that destruction can be applied and utter union, enframed life, the monstrous figure of the “Es” returning to shelter “Sein” at every point, shelter as a euphemism for imprisonment, the containment fields of identity following the flowings of projections and the meteoric shots of events and the nihilational exhaustions of gifts without end, rendering all of them into tropes for the same. Philosophers often act as if the saying of difference is done with the saying of “difference,” but as Derrida reminds us, “if things were simple, word would have gotten around.”7 The mere fact that word “gets around” (circulates, passes between) indicates that things are not simple. The mere fact that word “gets around” (comprehends, always encloses, properly names and destroys) indicates that things are not simple. The strategics of endless fragmentation, displacement, dispersion can always be taken to do both nothing and the opposite of what it wishes. We must retain our poise. Poised, perhaps, as Steven’s “it” is poised between “Mere Being” and the silent plurality of palm, branches, birds, and feathers at the end of the mind.
6 7

catching. . . . " Being Singular Plural, 2. Wallace Stevens, “Earthy Anecdote” in The Collected Poems (Vintage: New York, 1954). Jacques Derrida, “Limited Inc. a b c . . .” trans. Samuel Weber in Limited Inc., ed. Gerald Graf (Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 119.


Poised, perhaps, as signs ourselves, between the madness of the central soul and the war of the infinity of machines which constitute the body. Poised, perhaps, between this time, this instant, this now, this history, this destiny and the eternally irrupting differences of times as they intrude on one another, envelope one another, direct one another, stand apart and together in temporalization without the finality of “a time in which we live.”

341. Das größte Schwergewicht8 Das größte Schwergewicht. — Wie, wenn dir eines Tages oder Nachts, ein Dämon in deine einsamste Einsamkeit nachschliche und dir sagte: "Dieses Leben, wie du es jetzt lebst und gelebt hast, wirst du noch einmal und noch unzählige Male leben müssen; und es wird nichts Neues daran sein, sondern jeder Schmerz und jede Lust und jeder Gedanke und Seufzer und alles unsäglich Kleine und Große deines Lebens muss dir wiederkommen, und Alles in der selben Reihe und Folge — und ebenso diese Spinne und dieses Mondlicht zwischen den Bäumen, und ebenso dieser Augenblick und ich selber. Die ewige Sanduhr des Daseins wird immer wieder umgedreht — und du mit ihr, Stäubchen vom Staube!" — Würdest du dich nicht niederwerfen und mit den Zähnen knirschen und den Dämon verfluchen, der so redete? Oder hast du einmal einen ungeheuren Augenblick erlebt, wo du ihm antworten würdest: "du bist ein Gott und nie hörte ich Göttlicheres!" Wenn jener Gedanke über dich Gewalt bekäme, er würde dich, wie du bist, verwandeln und vielleicht zermalmen; die Frage bei Allem und jedem "willst du dies noch einmal und noch unzählige Male?" würde als das größte Schwergewicht auf deinem Handeln liegen! Oder wie müsstest du dir selber und dem Leben gut werden, um nach Nichts mehr zu verlangen, als nach dieser letzten ewigen Bestätigung und Besiegelung?

In Being Singular Plural, Nancy heralds the thinking of the eternal return as “the inaugural thought of our contemporary history.”9 But the inauguration of this thought is “the affirmation of meaning as the repetition of the instant, nothing but this repetition, and as a result, nothing (since it is a matter of the repetition of what essentially does not return).” The logic (if it can still be called “logic”) in such a determination of the eternal return is immaculate. The thinking of the return is always already outside the return, as the transcendence of the metaphysical stance withdraws from the immanence of being forever, and yet, this very thought is endlessly delivered to singularity in its withdrawal, repeated in its difference, eternally other than itself: also it is eternally the thought of “nothing” since the return appears in none of its singular instances, emptied of content, yet returning anyway as the mutely written sign “eternal return.” Thus this thought is, according to Nancy, “an impossible thought, a thinking which does not hold itself back from the circulation it thinks, a thinking of meaning right at [à même] meaning, where eternity occurs as the truth of its passing.” Nancy of course recognizes the futility of the thought of the return. In truth, insofar as it becomes “just another thought,” repeated in endless variation among endless others, the thought yields nothing, says nothing, does nothing: to the extent that this thought threatens to become a symbol of futility itself, the futility of thought, the futility of philosophy to say anything other than what is already said. Nancy: “We make sense [nous faisons sens], not by setting a price or


Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, in Nietzsche: Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1988), 570. Being Singular Plural, 4.


value, but by exposing the absolute value that the world is by itself. “World” does not mean anything other than this “nothing” that no one can “mean” [“vouloir dire”] but that is said in every saying: in other words, Being itself as the absolute value in itself of all that is, but this absolute value as the being-with of all that is itself bare and impossible to evaluate.”10 As a thought of all being (“Mere Being”), the return, in comprehending everything (except its own imagination), comprehends nothing, repeats what is already endlessly repeated. After all, if the return were “really true,” one would not have the freedom to think it: one would return along with the plurality of beings, again and again, with no comprehension (even the simulated comprehension of the return from within itself would be one more unacknowledged spectacle.) Either it is not true and there is only the endless difference of becoming, or it is true, and there is only the endless difference of becoming, unified within a “repetitional interior” whose lack of difference from other returning things makes it just another event, a singular irrelevance. Yet, in Nancy’s formulation of the return, of its slippage into singularity, of the emblem of the total fold of being becoming an instance of itself and thus its thought becoming the thought of nothing, nothing other than the incomprehension of thought at the pluralization of becoming, a remarkable thing occurs. Nancy gives an example of the passing of being and thought from view which would be instantiated as the thought of the return. “For instance, at the moment at which I am writing, a brown and white cat is crossing the garden, slipping mockingly away, taking my thoughts with it.”11 Out of nowhere, out of nothing, in the midst of the formalized selfdisplacement of philosophy that Nancy’s writing threatened to become (another trope for difference), a strange cat emerges (along with a garden, along with its grass, with the window from which it was viewed, so many things), a cat which bears the weight of the return, the greatest (non-)thought of the contemporary world, the (non-)thought which “made us who “we” are today, here and now, the “we” of a world who no longer struggle to have meaning but be meaning itself.” In the midst of such prominence, a cat intrudes, and does so in such a way as to supplant the thought, even become what it would seek to be, in the wake of its impossible arrival. It is almost as if, when one thinks the return, when one attempts to comprehend being, where all beings become “Mere Being” circled into the eternity of a closed loop, meaning nothing because meaning everything, out of nowhere, almost like magic, singular unrepeatable things intrude, as if nature abhorred the vacuum of the formal futility of philosophy, stepping in to insert her decorations into its sparse cathedral. When Nietzsche asks the reader to imagine confronting the possibility of the return above, for instance, in its initial public presentation, it is not only oneself who is to be imagined as returning. There will also be “this spider” and “this moonlight between the trees” and “this moment” and even the return of the demon (as the ghost of supernatural inspiration) itself. And although the demon does not return in Thus Spoke Zarathustra where the scene is repeated (or perhaps he does, perhaps Zarathustra is the one who comes in the loneliest loneliness, showing that we are never alone), the spider (the same spider?) reappears as “this slow spider, which crawls in the moonlight,” along with “this moonlight itself” (the same moonlight?12 As if light could ever be the same, even repeated, even turned into an eternal flame). When poised before the great demon, before the great gateway, before the decision to accept “being as such,” “life itself,” “the meaning of the earth,” (among other things), perhaps we will inevitably find ourselves a victim to intrusions, intrusions which do not come because “we want to say them or mean them as the opposite of philosophy, as poetry in
10 11 12

Ibid. Ibid. Friedrich Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra, in Nietzsche: Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1988), 200. (translations mine).


philosophy, as the singular thing which destroys generalization a priori,” but rather because they come of their own accord, in leaps of the imagination, as it fills in the vacuum of thought, just as all the things that give themselves to us in our lives fill the vacuum of those lives “themselves.” Here, philosophical writing does not find itself merely tracing a line of indecision between literature and philosophy, exposed to the war of concept and image, within and between one and both and it does not merely find itself delivered into the limit of the fragment, marking the opening at the end of philosophy in the enigma of succinctness, but rather it finds itself poised, waiting for a gift from the gods, as the ancient peoples waited for manna from heaven, even as they waited for the tears of rain from the eyes of the mournful gods. Perhaps, this is a rule for all philosophy at all times: philosophy can never concern itself “only with Mere Being” or “entirely with language” or “with the concept comprehending itself” or with “the writing of writing” or with “the being of being” or with any other neutralizing absolute, since unbidden and unannounced, the other things will come, the others will come (and your voice too, and your eyes, and your breath as you read this sentence, so many things), incalculable, standing more silently than any mysticism could ever lower its voice. Indeed, Zarathustra lowers his voice following his initial confrontation with the vision and riddle of the return. “Thus I spoke more and more softly: for I was afraid of my own thoughts and background thoughts (Hintergedanken). Then, suddenly, I heard a nearby dog howl. Had I ever heard a dog howl so? My thoughts raced back. Yes! As I was a child in my most distant childhood: there I heard a dog howl so, bristling, its head up, trembling in the stillest midnight, where even dogs believe in ghosts—and I had compassion. For the moon moved over the house in deadly silence. It even stood still, a round ember still on a flat roof, as if on foreign property. From this, the dog was upset, since dogs believe in thieves and ghosts. And when I heard such howling again, I took compassion thereafter.”13 The imagination of the return, in its inclusive implosion, with the force of the images in its formulation, with the promise of the terror of the nothingness of the earth repeated forever , as “all the meaning there is” drowns out the speaking which puts it forth, leaving wakes of memory, fevered dreams, more riddles, more promises. At the edge of thought’s ecstasy, fear arises, neither fear of something particular nor fear of death but rather fear itself, just fear, as it fears going on forever, never ending, which is part of the fearful essence of fear. And with it, as it comes unbidden, comes the frightened dog, howling at the ghost of the stranger and the thief of the moon. Is such an image a parable? A riddle to be solved like the riddle of the gateway? Does it symbolize the “anxiety of beingtowards-death” as one eyes the impossibility of the return, thrown into the mortality of being? Is such a memory-image a mad association, thrown forth from the background, with no meaning at all, as little as the meaning of the earth, yet to be created? Is such a memory-image even part of “Nietzsche’s thought”? Or does it stand alongside or hover above it in silent stillness? Along with finding Nietzsche’s “thought of the eternal return” to be “the inaugural thought of contemporary history,” we may indeed find “it” and its surroundings to be intruded on by unthoughts (Hintergedanken, thoughts behind thought), not merely in the formalized conceptual interruptions as the “Mere Being” of thinking is exposed in the midst of its occurrence but also as “the plurality of being.” Insofar as Nietzsche’s thought affirms through Zarathustra (already a companion as his voice speaks to itself, together with itself, apart) the plural being of the earth, saying Yes and Amen to it, it may even be said that this “thought” is nothing other than a poise which allows the intrusions of the earth to flow through it, holding itself rigorously in place, also cancelling and displacing itself, but yet then not finished in the

Also Sprach Zarathustra, 200-201.


nihilation of its event, rather waiting for things without end, ancient memories, childhoods songs and fears, visions of fairy tales and ordinary human horror. On such a “reading,” (which would show that Thus Spoke Zarathustra could never be read, that its images exceed even the endless task of interpretation, since they stand in dead silence like the moon in memory, upsetting the gaze they invite), Zarathustra would neither be a proclaimer of “Mere Being” nor a prophet of its eventual overcoming, neither a herald of the “meaning of life” nor an advocate of nihilism, neither the last metaphysician who turns being into becoming nor the writer of the end of metaphysics, who has generically “written what he has written.” Of course each of these occurs as well in his thought, but always among other things. The sayings of Zarathustra are also riddles and parables, always pointing beyond themselves to that which must be guessed or realized. “You riddle-lovers! Riddle the riddle of what I saw then, interpret for the vision of the loneliest. For it was a vision and a prophecy. What did I see in parable?”14 But neither riddles nor parables efface themselves as one passes beyond them, They maintain the strange distance of the singularity of their “being put so,” imagined thusly, placed alongside that which they would show. The riddle is also imagination (from the Old English rǣdels) and the parable is also a throwing alongside (from the Greek παραβάλλω). The parabolic imagination of philosophy as it occurs does not only yield parables to be revealed and riddles to be answered, it does not only distil itself in thoughts which must eventually turn on themselves, leaving nothing in return. Thought must be tightly structured, it must stringently hold its position, even as it flows forth along the indecision of its inscription, attending to the passages and diversions and interruptions therein. But thought is also riddled, filled with holes (from the old meaning of riddle as sieve) and the holes let in whatever passes through, as many plural beings as will fit in the narrow constraints of its doorway.

IX15 The last leaf that is going to fall has fallen. The robins are là-bas, the squirrels, in tree — caves, Huddle together in the knowledge of squirrels. The wind has blown the silence of summer away. It buzzes beyond the horizon or in the ground: In mud under ponds, where the sky used to be reflected. The barrenness that appears is an exposing. It is not part of what is absent, a halt For farewells, a sad hanging on for remembrances. It is a coming on and a coming forth. The pines that were fans and fragrances emerge, Staked solidly in a gusty grappling with rocks. The glass of the air becomes an element – It was something imagined that has been washed away. A clearness has returned. It stands restored.
14 15

Also Sprach Zarathustra, 202. Wallace Stevens, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” in The Collected Poems (Vintage: New York, 1954).


It is not an empty clearness, a bottomless sight. It is a visibility of thought, In which hundreds of eyes, in one mind, see at once.

We are specks of dust (Stäubchen vom Staube) in the world. Why would it be more appropriate for us to say that we are “persons” or “subjects” or “bodies” or “minds” or “subjects” or “souls?” Are we not specks of dust, both considering that cosmic particles compose us and considering that that the conglomerate material of our being is miniscule in relation to the gigantic? Stevens: “It is not in the premise that reality/ Is a solid. It may be a shade that traverses /A dust, a force that traverses a shade.”16 Why are not we the dust that the shade of being brings into flickering and darkness in its sunbeams? In section IX of the poem “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” (above) Stevens poetically imbricates the clearing of being as thought ends, giving rise to the pluralized phantasmagoria of everyday images. “The barrenness that appears,” the empty outflowing of “Mere Being,” twists itself into a caesura of thought, becoming “a halt for farewell, a sad hanging on for remembrances.” The caesura “itself” becomes becoming, opening, flowering, also seduction (“coming on and coming forth”) in the new opening of no “Mere Being” at all, “The pines that were fans and fragrances emerge/ Staked solidly in a gusty grappling with rocks.” Indeed, instead of a strife between earth and world, or between the opening of the endless horizon and the withdrawing intimacy of “Mere Being,” there is a war between the trees and the rocks, these trees and those rocks, as they anchor one another (the rocks’ weight holds the trees in place, the trees’ roots prevent shift and erosion) also pull and press in this anchoring, evincing the only meaning that strife has ever really had. In fact, the very ethereality of the ether, the dimension of spiritual light, the shining opening of presence itself, invisible yet ever present, giving life without end, which in fact was nothing other than the air we breathe, becomes an element, something tangible, something real, a plain thing among other things, no longer capable of bearing the everything on the winds of its currents. After all, when one loses the spectrality of “Mere Being,” whether it presents itself as the intelligible ground of all sensibility or the shattering of the intelligible into sensible fragments or the drawing void of becoming or the projection which begins as moment, ever anew towards an impossible future, one loses only something that had to be imagined anyway, and now it is “something imagined that has been washed away.” The ocean of “Mere Being” is engulfed by the other endlessness of the sea. Yet, in the midst of this manifestation, which might be called the re-manifestation of the real or the recommencement of the things themselves, if such appellations did not carry us back to the imaginary shores of “Mere Being,” something else occurs, something equally as real as the rocks and the trees and the fragrances of flowers. A “clearness” returns, perhaps the clearness of what Stevens calls “the plain sense of things” in the poem of that name, a clearness which is not the clarity of Platonic vision, not the revelation of the light of God, not even the clarity of scientific reason as it turns all the older myths of light into darkness. As well, it is not the clearness of emptiness itself, neither of the abyss as the absence of ground nor of vertigo of the displaced gaze into which the abyss enters, the one reflecting the other perpetually. It is neither the sight of the bottomless nor “bottomless sight.” Rather, this clearness is the “visibility of thought,” a visibility which happens, for instance, when trees and rocks and fragrances intrude

“An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” X.


into dialectics and ontology, making them into the servants of the things themselves, when the emblems of thought materialize as emblems, teaching us a lesson about what there really is (a parable is also an emblem: παραβάλλω= ἐμβάλλω). The imagination of the other world becomes (as it is said) an imagination of this world, realized in each word. And in each word, each thought (for what is thought but a word, in all senses of this relation), a hundred eyes see at once, both yours and mine, for instance, and the others before who watch in memory and the others who we do not know who will come to read and even the ones who stand outside uncomprehending, or even those who do not comprehend but merely see in darkness, with the eyes of blackbirds. This “one mind,” the one I have, the one we have, that we share, apart and together, will always have a hundred eyes, that is the clarity of “the perspective of consciousness” as the mystifications of the soul are washed away. If thought is unbound from “Mere Being,” if thought shows itself as a thing among other things, if it takes place in the thickness of its real occurrence, as real as the reality of the created image and the reality of written language, all co-implicated to the point of being almost indistinguishable, then it “takes its place” in the world as a freed thinking, no longer constrained by the rage which both casts it out from the world (hating the thinker, the ice in the laughter of the crowd) and which yet despises the world from its vantage (esteeming spirituality, “higher ideals”). If thought is neither mere abstraction nor mere intellect but rather “something real,” then quite literally “thought has a voice.” In Steven’s terms, the voice of thought would be nothing other than the clearness which has returned, which must perhaps always return, as thought tries earnestly to give itself to words.
And leaves in whirlings in the gutters, whirlings Around and away, resembling the presence of thought, Resembling the presences of thoughts, as if, In the end, in the whole psychology, the self, The town, the weather, in a casual litter, Together, said words of the world are the life of the world.17

It is not only that thought makes the world through the words which name it as such, thus, but also that the world returns to thought, making it part of its litter (as debris, also offspring, originally straw strewn on the ground for a bed). In becoming part of the world’s litter, resembling leaves as much as anything else, thoughts become “free,” like leaves, no longer bound to hierarchize themselves as the archetypes of being, no longer bound to trace after the being which they lack, no longer bound to circle in on themselves, rather opened always to the exterior that they have become, Steven’s “exterior made interior; breathless things broodingly abreath/ With the Inhalations of original cold/ And of original earliness.” (VII) In our necessity to say the plurality of being, we would be bound to unbound thought in language, freeing it to allow the things themselves of reality to emerge, freely coming on and coming forth without coercion. Philosophy would not be “about being” or “about freedom” or “about the concept” or “about the truth” but would rather practice the “freedom of the concept” and “existence as thinking,” becoming “thinking for being-in-the-world,” enacting its own pluralized truth, an avatar of reality. Nancy: “Thus philosophy does not produce or construct any “freedom,” it does not guarantee any freedom, and it would not as such be able to defend any freedom . . . . But it keeps open the access to the essence of the λόγος through its history and all

“An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” V.


its avatars.”18 For instance, it would do this through the avatar of “avatar,” as this world plurally crosses from the concept of a substitute or an image to the Sanskrit avatāra as the embodiment of Vishnu, a god who descends and passes over into the corporeal realm, through which one would find the image in the virtual reality of cyberspace (also an avatar) given over to its materialization, as it would be linked to the reality of the history which it has forgotten. The enacted freedom of thinking as λόγος would allow for such free passages, “at the very heart” of what it is about. Thus (Nancy continues), “Philosophy is incessantly beyond itself—it now has a thematic knowledge of this from the very concept of philosophy—not because it is the Phoenix of knowledge but because “philosophizing” consists in keeping open the vertiginous access to the essence of the logos . . . . But this maintenance is not an operation of force or even one of preservation: it consists in testing in thought (which means: inscribing in language) the fold of freedom that articulates thought itself (which means: inscribing in language the freedom that articulates it and never appropriates it).” On the one hand, certainly, such an inscription would involve nothing other than folding language back on itself, doubling it so that it speaks from itself, hovering between instance and expression, tracing the line of indecision between philosophy and literature as it is demarcated from within, becoming attuned to its own soundings and spacings as the words blow away like leaves in the wind. The pluralization would freely issue forth from philosophy in its impossibility, precisely at that juncture where it fails to say what it is precisely when it “knows everything” about itself. But on the other hand, this testing inscription would also involve allowing “the Phoenix of knowledge” to arise, a phoenix which Nancy seems to disavow within the inscription of his thought here. In its rebirth in the philosophical text, after all, the phoenix indeed does give us something to know that we would not have known otherwise. It gives us not only an image of rebirth from the ashes of the death of philosophy, as it exhausts itself in the flames of its consciousness and is reborn as a living thing among living things, awaiting death once again. It gives us not only the intrusion of the Phoenix as the Phoenician, both as the ancestor of the Phoenicians and as the gift of Kadmos when he apocryphally brought the phonetic alphabet of the Phoenicians to the Greeks, thus bequeathing them with the λόγος itself ("So these Phoenicians, including the Gephyraians, came with Kadmos and settled this land, and they transmitted much lore to the Hellenes, and in particular, taught them the alphabet which, I believe the Hellenes did not have previously, but which was originally used by all Phoenicians.")19 It gives us not only an irruption of blood in the text, both in the fire of the Φοῖνιξ as it dies and in the Greek φόνος (murder, blood red color) which it at the origin of the Greeks appellation Φοινίκη (the Greek name for Phoenicia) which stems through Φοῖνιξ (Tyrian purple, crimson), perhaps so named because of the Phoenician production of royal purple dye. But also, it even crosses to other regions, other uses, other genres, as the Phoenix also become the Palm tree itself, not merely sitting in it, as perhaps Stevens recalls from Ovid, who attributes the teaching to Pythagoras (“Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth,


Jean-Luc Nancy, The Experience of Freedom, trans. Bridget McDonald (California: Stanford University Press, 1988), 64 Herodotus, The Landmark Herodotus: Histories, trans. Andrea L. Purvis (New York: Pantheon, 2007) 391.


destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent's sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.”)20, since Φοῖνιξ is also the Greek word for the date palm, perhaps Stevens’ palm at the end of the mind, where the “Phoenix of knowledge” would reduplicate itself as a tree, as its fire-fangled feathers (which are also mere fronds allowing the sunlight between them) dangle down. Here, among other things, λόγος disperses itself beyond the “Mere Being” of its words, where, at the limits of its test, as it sinks into the gravity of its irrelevance, it is reborn and carries its dead signs forth. Philosophy as the freedom of thought which gives forth the plurality of being would be nothing other than the free flight of this Phoenix, between the corpse and the temple of the sun.
Poetry is a Destructive Force21 That's what misery is, Nothing to have at heart. It is to have or nothing. It is a thing to have, A lion, an ox in his breast, To feel it breathing there. Corazon, stout dog, Young ox, bow-legged bear, He tastes its blood, not spit. He is like a man In the body of a violent beast Its muscles are his own... The lion sleeps in the sun. Its nose is on its paws. It can kill a man.

Even at its best, even as it enacts the freeing of the singular plural “at its heart,” even as it allows (among other things) the legion of beings to show themselves from themselves, even as it is true to the plural phantasms of the imagination as they drift, becoming the ghosts of the mind in the night of moonlit skies, even as it clears itself and becoming clearing, a tangible airy ether outside in the world it would have presented, philosophy also attacks the very things it loves, ruining the earth as representation, binding the sky as the horizon, bringing the light as a source of reason within the cave of the mind, formally symbolizing the howls of agony at the loss of sense with flow-chart tropes of excess and expressions of astonishment with the proverbs of wonder, making everything into a riddle for the clever and the grist for the mill of “philosophical” employment. For anyone capable of thought, philosophy should always be seen


Ovid, from Metamorphoses XV, collected in Thomas Bulfinch's The Age of Fable (South Carolina: Bibliobazaar, 2009) 371-372. Wallace Stevens, “Poetry is a Destructive Force” in The Collected Poems (Vintage: New York, 1954).


(among other things) as a destructive force, something undertaken or unearthed with the deadliest of cautions. And this is true whether philosophy is twisted into a thinking which would succeed it or whether it destroys itself in the process of its destruction or whether it avails itself of the poetic essence of its interior (with the poetic breath of the external intrusion). Like death, the danger never passes by, it stays always, and the very definition of “good” philosophy has to be formulated in relation to awareness of this danger. Philosophy not aware of the danger of its destructive power, even if it is used to comment on significant work, even if it is used to raise awareness of the neglected and oppressed, even if it cultivates critical capacities and exposes violence and prepares for peace, is bad philosophy. In fact, all philosophy is bad philosophy, but following F.H. Bradley’s quote concerning pessimism at the beginning of Appearance and Reality, “Where everything is bad, it must be good to know the worst.”22 Those who are “good at philosophy” would be none other than those who know the worst in philosophy, perhaps the only inheritors of Socratic ignorance who attend to something other than progress in philosophical life. In the poem above, Stevens evinces similar concerns regarding poetry. Philosophy has often naively believed that poetry is a form of the disfiguration of the real but it has also (as a retreat from its exclusions and denials) just as naively believed poetry is a form of hope, a revelatory partner which gives philosophy back to itself in a figuration beyond it, the promise of a new beginning. But for Stevens, the consummate poet, poetry shares philosophy’s plight. In bringing language to everything, in bringing everything to language, the poet constantly risks removing the heart of everything, leaving a miserable nothing in its place. “That’s what misery is, /Nothing to have at heart. / It is to have or nothing.” To want to go to the “things exactly as they are,” to want to have everything because if one does not have everything then one has nothing at all, only the sound of the strings of the poem, more poetry, more words, this is the erotic misery of the poet. But it is this nothing, this misery, this emptiness in the heart that makes the poet precisely utter words incessantly, speaking without end, bringing everything to language and praising herself for doing so, thereby destroying every thing, leaving no thing, and worse, inviting a more pervasive nothing to dwell within, a consummate misery. It as if one would want to draw the foreign heart of being inside oneself, even not “Mere Being” (since those are already poetic words) but rather the plurality of beings of which one would speak, engulfing within one the Spanish heart of the foreigner (as Stevens brings the Spanish Corazón into English, obliterating the phonetic signs), the dog, the bear, all raging inside one’s breast. It would be almost as if the body no longer represented things outside it, no longer brought them to the presence of the mind, even to the cleared encounter of authentic engagement, but rather incorporated them, swallowed them whole, bringing them to abide within, the body a living zoo of the world. As incorporating master of the world, such a person would taste the blood of the world within (not spit, the essence of interiority) and the body of the world (incorporated, raging like a beast) would be the poet’s to control, “its muscles his own.” Yet, outside the poem (in the sun) the lion sleeps. On the one hand, to say in the poem that the lion sleeps in the sun outside destroys the lion, makes the lion into a poetic symbol, perhaps even a symbol of destruction itself. Perhaps as Zarathustra’s lion in the desert of the world destroys the last masters, the last values, the lion in the poem would destroy the mastery of the thing which would exceed it, the things outside it, the things themselves. Since the poem cannot in fact encapsulate the beings beyond it, since they remain forever beyond its reach,

F.H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality (New York: MacMillan, 1893) xv.


beyond the edge of the mind, then they must go. The lion becomes an image of a lion, a symbol, a trope, a value, an idea and consumes in its semiotic belly the entire world. But if the things of the world are so devoured, the very desire to create a poem which would say nothing other than the things themselves would be exposed as forever unfulfillable. In its expansive encompassment, poetic language would empty itself, becoming consummate misery. A lion can indeed kill a man (if a human is nothing other than her spirit, her search for meaning, her hope, and her devotion to the things themselves), even if this lion is nothing but an image, an image which expands to devour the plurality of being. But on the other hand, the lion sleeps in the sun outside the poem. It waits there, the thing itself, beyond. While absorbed in the reading of the poem, the lion could sneak up and kill the poet in her meditative reverie. As well, by its “Mere Being,” the lion kills the poet as poet, since she cannot bring the thing itself to words, forever losing “it” in the tip of inscription. “The lion” as lion remains beyond, literally able to puncture the poet and the poem with its teeth, to eat the poet’s volcanic heart as it would consume the stout dog, the young ox, or the bow-legged bear. In the face of the lion, the poet winces. “The lion” in the poem, insofar as it is not “nothing,” since it can neither be “the lion itself” (thus empty) nor the lion as symbol (also empty) can be nothing other than a wince within the poem, a mark of the touch of reality, the teeth of the lion puncturing the heart of the poem in its name, between having and nothing. I cannot justly end this work on the intrusion of the plurality of being into the heart of philosophy, as “the heart” of philosophy (among other things) without allowing Nancy’s essay “L’intrus” on the intrusion of the heart also to intrude.23 But instead of asking Nancy’s all-too-personal questions about the intrusion of the heart, both of one’s own heart as it fails and of the heart of the other which replaces it, as well as the intrusions “at the heart” of the body in the wake of immunological treatment following transplantation, questions which I cannot properly ask, because “I have never experienced such things,” because my heart has never failed, it is still with me, failing; because philosophizing should always begin with what one knows and what one owns, since otherwise philosophy drifts into the journalistic reporting on the experiences and thoughts and lives of others, a practice which has become all-too-common, intruding into “the heart of philosophy,” at its very core (Corazón comes from the Latin root cor: the heart and the core are one), I will instead ask rather intrusive questions concerning the intrusion of philosophy upon such intimate things, the attack of philosophy upon the “heart of things.” Nancy’s heart within L’intrus “makes us wince.” How could we not wince, feeling a kick within our own chests, when we read such words?:
The means of survival themselves, these, first of all, are completely strange: what can it mean to replace a heart? The thing exceeds my capacity to represent it. (Opening the entire thorax, maintaining the organ to be grafted in the proper state, circulating the blood outside of the body, suturing the vessels . . . I fully understand why surgeons proclaim the insignificance of this last point: the vessels involved in the bridging grafts are much smaller. . . . But it matters little: organ transplant imposes the image of a passage through nothingness, of an entry into a space emptied of all property, all intimacy—or, on the contrary, the image of this space intruding in me: of tubes, clamps, sutures, and probes.) 24
23 24

Jean-Luc Nancy, L'intrus, trans. Susan Hanson (Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 2002) L'intrus, 7


And there comes a certain continuity of intrusion, its permanent regime: added to the more-than-daily doses of medication, and being monitored in the hospital, are the dental effects of radiation therapy, the loss of saliva, alimentary supervision as well as that of contacts that may be contagious, the weakening of muscles and kidneys, the diminution of memory and of the strength to work, the reading of medical analyses, the insidious returns of mucositis, candidiasis, polyneuritis, and the general feeling of no longer being dissociable from a network of measurements, observations, and of chemical, institutional, and symbolic connections, which do not allow themselves to be ignored, as can be those of which ordinary life is always woven. On the contrary, these connections deliberately keep life constantly alert to their presence and surveillance. I become indissociable from a polymorphous dissociation.25

How could we not wince, feel pressed to avoid, almost wanting to look away from such disclosures? Such disclosures carry with them the pain of the plurality to which we (for, with, and against one another) are constantly exposed. These are the pains of empathy, as we passionately worry for Nancy, worry for him now, but also worry for him then, when the transplant took place and thereafter, even though he has obviously survived until now (as I write). One indeed can worry for a dead man, one who is long gone in the vanishing of the past, since this vanishing, as vanishing, still presents itself to vanish. These are pains of sympathy, of Mitleid (“with-suffering”) as we flinch from the injuries of the cuts, the sutures, the injections, the radiation, imagining them performed on ourselves, as language carries us into the sterilized hospital room and puts us on a bed beside Nancy, even in his body, awaiting the next puncture, together as one, a suffering community. These are the pains of hypochondria, as we check our pulses, feel our hearts, making sure that they are still beating properly, or perhaps of identification, if we have discovered that they are not. These are also the pains of helplessness, the pains of being-with, yet being-beyond, simultaneously, touching separated by an interior void, like the hollowness of an empty chest space. There comes an agony at the realization of the limits of what Heidegger calls “FuerSorge.” We of course cannot reach Nancy through the words which bring him into touch with us, we cannot traverse the distant space-time which we touch, which is still here with us in its departure. But even if we were “right there” with him, we could only do so much, only help so much, we could never take over his cares for him, even if we were to sacrifice ourselves and “gave him our hearts” (since he would have still had to undergo the same ordeal, despite our sacrifice). They are also pains of helplessness concerning ourselves, knowing that no matter what we do, no matter how much we take care, “the same thing may happen to us,” the same or another trauma inflicted beyond the work we do, beyond all our projects and projections. As well, there intrudes empathy, sympathy, helplessness beyond help for the pains of institutionalization, pains which we share separately. The coldness of the intrusions of metal scalpels and x-ray beams, of the infiltration of catheters and needles, of the implantation of injectors and monitors along with the eyes, the charts, the data records, the samples, so many parts of ourselves pulled outside, all of these things place us, at times, in time, together with Nancy’s foreign plight. Even though his doctors and the administrators were “there with him” and “helped him make decisions” during this ordeal, they were also intruders into his life, detached and clinical, observers, making him into an object, a project, an experiment, as we all become when the sovereignty of the technical stance bares the “Mere Being” which we become.

L'intrus, 12.


But such pains should also carry us into the pain of the destructive force of philosophy. Not only the pain that behind all these words, behind all these thoughts (and even beyond all Hintergedanken), there was a “thorax, maintaining the organ to be grafted in the proper state, circulating the blood outside of the body, suturing the vessels” as there were “the weakening of muscles and kidneys, the diminution of memory and of the strength to work, the reading of medical analyses, the insidious returns of mucositis, candidiasis, polyneuritis,” pulsations of things which make words into the dryly shed dead skin of a snake, beyond the viciousness of its bite, things which are bloody and real, almost too horrible in their plural reality to be spoken of, if one did not have to speak of them to cure them, to give an account, to remember and acknowledge. So not only the pain of losing what one says as one says it, losing the heart and all its bloody nature through transplanting it into the word in a sterile assimilation, but also the pain of the becoming symbol of everything, as the transplant becomes “the image of a passage through nothingness, of an entry into a space emptied of all property, all intimacy.” Nancy: “The intrus is no other than me, my self; none other than man himself. No other than the one, the same, always identical to itself and yet that is never done with altering itself. At the same time sharp and spent, stripped bare and over-equipped, intruding upon the world and upon itself: a disquieting upsurge of the strange, conatus of an infinite excrescence”26 In these concluding lines to L’intrus, this painful risk of language is intensified into a blinding point, gambling everything, even the most important things, not only the “plurality of being” or the “singular-plural” of existence, but also “those scars,” “that foreign heart,” “this blood,” generalizing them all into the strange écriture of the (alter)ity of singular being. One may indeed wince in such a case, as if one were in a room separated from the screams of another, hearing them through the wall, knowing that the sounds are of a body, of a life beyond sound, being unable to approach, unable to touch, yet touched by the echoes of the dying. On the one hand, there is no philosophy (or thinking or interpretation or . . .) without such a risk, nor it there the demarcation of a disfiguring juncture of overcoming. As Stevens shows, there is even no poetry without such a risk, which is also an inevitability. We must say that we occupy the generalized position of the transplanted, the intruded, undergoing the inhalation of exteriority at every instant. We must say that we are, as we are, perpetually transplanting ourselves, becoming other, whether we are becoming living-dead cyborgs or genetically altered creatures beyond our imagination. In such a case, the “heart-transplant recipient” that Nancy has become demarcates the general sign of the human condition, the condition of “man himself.” Without such identification, there would be nothing to suture Nancy’s account together, for him, for us, between us all. Without our account of this account, repeated without end, there would be nothing to bind us to Nancy and to ourselves in the loss which our words bring about, the generative loss of “transplantation” itself. But on the other, without Nancy’s blood (and the blood of the others, received through transfusion) seeping into these words, staining us not merely with the death of words but also with the death that can kill a man, the rupture of the heart at the heart of rupture, then these words threaten to become the death of all philosophy, as it loses through devouring the things it loves and fears. Without the “cancerous cell and the grafted organ,” and “the bits of wire that hold together my sternum,” and “this injection site permanently stitched in below my clavicle,” and “these screws in my hip and this plate in my groin” grafted onto the deployment of concepts, touching them, giving them meaning, but also withdrawing from them, pulling one out the flow of thought with a wince, then the risk of symbolization turns into the tropic misery of empty

L'intrus, 13.


dialectics, concepts without the intuitions.27 The word which folds on itself, the “self” which divides in the deferring passage of its inscription, from here to there, from me to you, the “nothing” which is “nothing other than being,” and the “infinite excrescence” of the grafted supplement would be an even emptier nothing without the lymphoma of glands growing out of control, the injected stem cells as the alien defends against the alien (which bring about “a strange odor of garlic”), and the “high fevers, mycosis, and an entire series of disorders” which shake the body of the philosophical text to the core, to the heart of its core, leaving it wounded, essentially disfigured, as the painful things of life intrude, a necessary cancer.28
III29 The poem refreshes life so that we share, For a moment, the first idea . . . It satisfies Belief in an immaculate beginning And sends us, winged by an unconscious will, To an immaculate end. We move between these points: From that ever-early candor to its late plural And the candor of them is the strong exhilaration Of what we feel from what we think, of thought Beating in the heart, as if blood newly came . . . .

27 28

L'intrus, 13. L'intrus, 11. 29 Wallace Stevens, “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction” in The Collected Poems (Vintage: New York, 1954).


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