unholy ghosts

cranesModernity was built upon ‘technologies that made us all ghosts’, and postmodernity could be defined as the succumbing of historical time to the spectral time of recording devices. Postmodernity screens out the spectrality, naturalising the uncanniness of the recording apparatuses. Anyone hearing a recording of their own voice or seeing a photograph of themselves is presented with a double. The uncanny thought, often repressed or forgotten, is that the recordings and the photographs will survive us; that as we contemplate them, we are put in the position of a ghost.

— From “Phonograph Blues” by k-punk, from a decade-old blog I love, HERE.

 

simone weil – self-effacement

simone weil gravity and graceGod gave me being in order that I should give it back to him. It is like one of those traps whereby the characters are tested in fairy stories and tales on initiation. If I accept this gift it is bad and fatal; its virtue becomes apparent through my refusal of it. God allows me to exist outside himself. It is for me to refuse this authorisation.

Humility is the refusal to exist outside God. It is the queen of virtues.

The self is only the shadow which sin and error cast by stopping the light of God, and I take this shadow for a being.

Even if we could be like God it would be better to be mud which obeys God.

To be what the pencil is for me when, blindfold, I feel the table by means of its point—to be that for Christ. It is possible for us to be mediators between God and the part of creation which is confided to us. Our consent is necessary in order that he may perceive his own creation through us. With our consent he performs this marvel. If I knew how to withdraw from my own soul it would be enough to enable this table in front of me to have the incomparable good fortune of being seen by God. God can love in us only this consent to withdraw in order to make way for him, just as he himself, our creator, withdrew in order that we might come into being. This double operation has no other meaning than love, it is like a father giving his child something which will enable the child to give a present on his father’s birthday. God who is no other thing but love has not created anything other than love.

All the things that I see, hear, breathe, touch, eat; all the beings I meet—I deprive the sum total of all that of contact with God, and I deprive God of contact with all that in so far as something in me says ‘I’.

I can do something for all that and for God—namely, retire and respect the tête-à-tête.

The strict carrying out of ordinary human duty is a condition which makes my withdrawal possible. Little by little it wears away the ropes which fasten me to the spot and prevent me from retiring.

I cannot conceive the necessity for God to love me, when I feel so clearly that even with human beings affection for me can only be a mistake. But I can easily imagine that he loves that perspective of creation which can only be seen from the point where I am. But I act as a screen. I must withdraw so that he may see it.

I must withdraw so that God may make contact with the beings whom chance places in my path and whom he loves. It is tactless for me to be there. It is as though I were placed between two lovers or two friends. I am not the maiden who awaits her betrothed, but the unwelcome third who is with two betrothed lovers and ought to go away so that they can really be together.

If only I knew how to disappear there would be a perfect union of love between God and the earth I tread, the sea I hear…

What do the energy, the gifts, etc. which are in me matter?

I always have enough of them to disappear.

‘Et la mort à mes yeux ravissant la  clarté
Rend au jour qu’ils souillaient toute sa pureté…’*

May I disappear in order that those things that I see may become perfect in their beauty from the very fact that they are no longer things that I see.

I do not in the least wish that this created world should fade from my view, but that it should no longer be to me personally that it shows itself. To me it cannot tell its secret which is too high. If I go, then the creator and the creature will exchange their secrets.

To see a landscape as it is when I am not there…

When I am in any place, I disturb the silence of heaven and earth by my breathing and the beating of my heart.

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*‘And death, robbing my eyes of their light, restores to the day they sullied all in purity…
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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

homo sacer

A really clear, simplified explanation of Giorgio Agamben‘s discussion of Homo sacer: someone forcibly reduced to bare life, cf. Simone Weil’s forcible destruction of the “I”.

Read also Achille Mbembe on people reduced to being conceived of as surplus or waste:

“Perhaps to a degree hardly achieved in the rest of the Continent, the human has consistently taken on the form of waste within the peculiar trajectory race and capitalism espoused in South Africa. Traditionally, we speak of “waste” as something produced bodily or socially by humans. In this sense, “waste” is that which is other than the human. Traditionally too, we speak of the intrinsic capacity of capitalism to waste human lives. We speak of how workers are wasted under capitalism in comparable fashion to natural resources. Marx in particular characterizes capitalist production as thoroughly wasteful with what he calls “human material” just as it is with “material resources”. It squanders “human beings, living labour”, “squandering not only flesh and blood, but nerves and brain, life and health as well”, he writes. In order to grasp the particular drama of the human in the history of South Africa, we should broaden this traditional definition of “waste” and consider the human itself as a waste product at the interface of race and capitalism. Squandering and wasting black lives has been an intrinsic part of the logic of capitalism, especially in those contexts in which race is central to the simultaneous production of wealth and of superfluous people…

… One of the most brutal effects of neo-liberalism in South Africa has been the generalization and radicalization of a condition of temporariness for the poor. For many people, the struggle to be alive has taken the form of a struggle against the constant corrosion of the present, both by change and by uncertainty.

In order to reanimate the idea of “the human” in contemporary South African politics and culture, there is therefore no escape from the need to reflect on the thoroughly political and historical character of wealth and property and the extent to which wealth and property have come to be linked with bodily life.”

And HERE is another discussion, by Richard Pithouse, which further sets out the colonial history of the discourse around people in a state of exception (in the context of shack dwellers).

simone weil – the self

simone weil gravity and graceWe possess nothing in the world—a mere chance can strip us of everything—except the power to say ‘I’. That is what we have to give to God—in other words, to destroy. There is absolutely no other free act which it is given us to accomplish—only the destruction of the ‘I’.

Offering: We cannot offer anything but the ‘I’, and all we call an offering is merely a label attached to a compensatory assertion of the ‘I’.

Nothing in the world can rob us of the power to say ‘I’. Nothing except extreme affliction. Nothing is worse than extreme affliction which destroys the ‘I’ from outside, because after that we can no longer destroy it ourselves. What happens to those whose ‘I’ has been destroyed from outside by affliction? It is not pos- sible to imagine anything for them but annihilation according to the atheistic or materialistic conception.

Though they may have lost their ‘I’, it does not mean that they have no more egoism. Quite the reverse. To be sure, this may occasionally happen when a dog-like devotion is brought about, but at other times the being is reduced to naked, vegetative egoism. An egoism without an ‘I’.

So long as we ourselves have begun the process of destroying the ‘I’, we can prevent any affliction from causing harm. For the ‘I’ is not destroyed by external pressure without a violent revolt. If for the love of God we refuse to give ourselves over to this revolt, the destruction does not take place from outside but from within.

Redemptive suffering. If a human being who is in a state of perfection and has through grace completely destroyed the ‘I’ in himself, falls into that degree of affliction which corresponds for him to the destruction of the ‘I’ from outside—we have there the cross in its fullness. Affliction can no longer destroy the ‘I’ in him for the ‘I’ in him no longer exists, having completely disap- peared and left the place to God. But affliction produces an effect which is equivalent, on the plane of perfection, to the exterior destruction of the ‘I’. It produces the absence of God. ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’

What is this absence of God produced by extreme affliction within the perfect soul? What is the value which is attached to it and which is known as redemptive suffering?

Redemptive suffering is that by which evil really has fullness of being to the utmost extent of its capacity.

By redemptive suffering, God is present in extreme evil. For the absence of God is the mode of divine presence which corresponds to evil—absence which is felt. He who has not God within himself cannot feel his absence.

It is the purity, the perfection, the plenitude, the abyss of evil. Whereas hell is a false abyss (cf. Thibon). Hell is superficial. Hell is a nothingness which has the pretension and gives the illusion of being.

Purely external destruction of the ‘I’ is quasi-infernal suffering. External destruction with which the soul associates itself through love is expiatory suffering. The bringing about of the absence of God in a soul completely emptied of self through love is redemptive suffering.

In affliction the vital instinct survives all the attachments which have been torn away, and blindly fastens itself to everything which can provide it with support, like a plant fastens its tendrils. Gratitude (except in a base form) and justice are not conceivable in this state. Slavery. There is no longer the extra amount of energy required to support free-will by which man takes the measure of things. Affliction, from this point of view, is hideous as life in its nakedness always is, like an amputated stump, like the swarming of insects. Life without form. Survival is then the only attachment. That is where extreme affliction begins—when all other attachments are replaced by that of survival. Attachment appears then in its nakedness without any other object but itself—Hell.

It is by this mechanism that to those in affliction life appears as the one thing desirable, at the very time when their life is in no way preferable to death.

In this state, to accept death is total detachment.

Quasi-hell on earth. Complete uprooting in affliction

Human injustice as a general rule produces not martyrs but quasi-damned souls. Beings who have fallen into this quasi-hell are like someone stripped and wounded by robbers. They have lost the clothing of character.

The greatest suffering which allows any of a man’s roots to remain is at an infinite distance from this quasi-hell.

When we do a service to beings thus uprooted and we receive in exchange discourtesy, ingratitude, betrayal, we are merely enduring a small share of their affliction. It is our duty to expose ourselves to it in a limited measure just as it is our duty to expose ourselves to affliction. When it comes we should endure it as we endure affliction, without referring it back to particular people, for it cannot be referred back to anything. There is something impersonal in quasi-infernal affliction as there is in perfection.

For those whose ‘I’ is dead we can do nothing, absolutely nothing. We never know, however, whether in a particular person the ‘I’ is quite dead or only inanimate. If it is not quite dead, love can reanimate it as though by an injection, but it must be love which is utterly pure without the slightest trace of condescension, for the least shade of contempt drives towards death.

When the ‘I’ is wounded from outside it starts by revolting in the most extreme and bitter manner like an animal at bay. But as soon as the ‘I’ is half dead, it wants to be finished off and allows itself to sink into unconsciousness. If it is then awakened by a touch of love, there is sharp pain which results in anger and sometimes hatred for whoever has provoked this pain. Hence the apparently inexplicable vindictiveness of the fallen towards their benefactors.

It can also happen that the love of the benefactor is not pure. Then, in the ‘I’, awakened by love but immediately wounded afresh by contempt, there surges up the bitterest of hatreds, a hatred which is legitimate.

He, on the contrary, in whom the ‘I’ is quite dead is in no way embarrassed by the love which is shown him. He takes what comes just as dogs and cats receive food, warmth and caresses, and, like them, he is eager to obtain as much as possible. As the case may be, he either attaches himself like a dog or accepts what comes to him with a certain indifference like a cat. Without the slightest scruple he absorbs all the energy of whoever tries to help him.

Unfortunately in every charitable work there is a danger lest the majority of its clients should be composed of people with no scruples, and above all, of people in whom the ‘I’ has been killed.

The weaker the character of him who endures affliction, the more quickly is the ‘I’ destroyed. To be more exact, the limit of the affliction which destroys the ‘I’ is situated at a greater or lesser distance according to the quality of the character, and the further it is the more the character is said to be strong.

The position of this limit, whether near or far, is probably a fact of nature in the same way as a gift for mathematics, and he who, without having any faith, is proud of preserving his morale in difficult circumstances, has no more reason to be so than the youth who is conceited because mathematics come easily to him. He who believes in God is in danger of a still greater illusion—that of attributing to grace what is simply an essentially mechanical effect of nature.

The agony of extreme affliction is the destruction of the ‘I’ from outside: Arnolphe, Phèdre, Lycaon. We are right to fall on our knees, to make abject supplication when that violent death which is going to strike us down threatens to kill the ‘I’ from outside even before life is destroyed.

‘Niobe also, of the beautiful hair, thought of eating.’ That is sublime, in the same way as space in Giotto’s frescoes.

A humiliation which forces us to renounce even despair.

The sin in me says ‘I’.

I am all. But this particular ‘I’ is God. And it is not an ‘I’.

Evil makes distinctions, it prevents God from being equivalent to all.

It is because of my wretchedness that I am ‘I’. It is on account of the wretchedness of the universe that, in a sense, God is ‘I’ (that is to say a person).

The Pharisees were people who relied on their own strength to be virtuous.

Humility consists in knowing that in what we call ‘I’ there is no source of energy by which we can rise.

Everything without exception which is of value in me comes from somewhere other than myself, not as a gift but as a loan which must be ceaselessly renewed. Everything without exception which is in me is absolutely valueless; and, among the gifts which have come to me from elsewhere, everything which I appropriate becomes valueless immediately I do so.

Perfect joy excludes even the very feeling of joy, for in the soul filled by the object no corner is left for saying ‘I’.

We cannot imagine such joys when they are absent, thus the incentive for seeking them is lacking.

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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

simone weil – to desire without an object

simone weil gravity and gracePurification is the separation of good from covetousness.

We have to go down to the root of our desires in order to tear the energy from its object. That is where the desires are true in so far as they are energy. It is the object which is unreal. But there is an unspeakable wrench in the soul at the separation of a desire from its object.

If we go down into ourselves we find that we possess exactly what we desire.

If we long for a certain being (who is dead), we desire a particular, limited being; therefore, necessarily, a mortal, and we long for that special being ‘who’… ‘to whom’…, etc., in short that being who died at such and such a time on such and such a day. And we have that being—dead.

If we desire money, we want a medium of exchange (institution), something which can only be acquired on certain conditions, so we desire it only ‘in the measure that’… Well, in that measure we have it.

In such cases suffering, emptiness are the mode of existence of the objects of our desire. We only have to draw aside the veil of unreality and we shall see that they are given to us in this way.

When we see that, we still suffer, but we are happy.

To ascertain exactly what the miser whose treasure was stolen lost: thus we should learn much.

Lauzun and the office of Captain of Musketeers. He preferred to be a prisoner and Captain of Musketeers rather than to go free and not be Captain.

These are garments. ‘They were ashamed of their nakedness.’

To lose someone: we suffer because the departed, the absent, has become something imaginary and unreal. But our desire for him is not imaginary. We have to go down into ourselves to the abode of the desire which is not imaginary. Hunger: we imagine kinds of food, but the hunger itself is real: we have to fasten on to the hunger. The presence of the dead person is imaginary, but his absence is very real: henceforward it is his way of appearing.

We must not seek the void, for it would be tempting God if we counted on supernatural bread to fill it.

We must not run away from it either.

The void is the supreme fullness, but man is not permitted to know it. The proof is that Christ himself was at one moment completely unaware of it. One part of the self should know it, but not the other parts, for if they knew it in their base fashion, there would no longer be any void.

Christ experienced all human misery, except sin. But he experienced everything which makes man capable of sin. It is the void which makes man capable of sin. All sins are attempts to fill voids. Thus my life with all its stains is near to his perfectly pure one, and the same is true of much lower lives. However low I fall I shall not go very far from him. But if I fall I shall no longer be able to know this.

The handshake of a friend on meeting again after a long absence. I do not even notice whether it gives pleasure or pain to my sense of touch: like the blind man who feels the objects directly at the end of his stick, I feel the presence of my friend directly. It is the same with life’s circumstances, whatever they may be, and God.

This implies that we should never seek consolation for pain. Because felicity is beyond the realm of consolation and pain. We become aware of it through a sense which is different, just as the perception of objects at the end of a stick or an instrument is different from touch in the strict sense of the word. This other sense is formed by a shifting of the attention through an apprenticeship in which the whole soul and body participate.

That is why we read in the Gospel: ‘I say to you that these have received their reward.’ There must be no compensation. It is the void in our sensibility which carries us beyond sensibility.

Denial of Saint Peter. To say to Christ: ‘I will never deny Thee’ was to deny him already, for it was supposing the source of faithfulness to be in himself and not in grace. Happily, as he was chosen, this denial was made manifest to all and to himself. How many others boast in the same way—and they never understand. It was difficult to be faithful to Christ. A fidelity in the void was needed. It was much easier to be faithful to Napoleon, even if it involved death. It was easier for the martyrs to be Faithful, later on, because the Church was already there, a force with temporal promises. We die for what is strong, not for what is weak, or only for what is weak momentarily and has still kept an aureole of strength. Faithfulness to Napoleon at Saint-Helena was not faithfulness in the void. The fact of dying for what is strong robs death of its bitterness—and at the same time of all its value.

To implore a man is a desperate attempt through sheer intensity to make our system of values pass into him. To implore God is just the contrary: it is an attempt to make the divine values pass into ourselves. Far from thinking with all the intensity of which we are capable of the values to which we are attached, we must preserve an interior void.

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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.