Sunday, December 7, 2008

Love and Community

There were many questions about a community as specific structure of being–with. And to say first, regarding the Wittgensteinian nightingale, I would say what interests me is that is the different are together. The question is, what is "to be with", which as you know is a question that Wittgenstein did address. Wittgenstein is aware of and very attentive to the singularity as such and to what makes it possible to share something singular. First it is a question which comes to me through Heidegger, because he is the first to introduce a very simple, almost self–evident concept of Being–With. There is, however, a very strange thing in "Sein und Zeit", that besides so many precise, long and complicated analyses, he makes no analysis of the "With" as such and that seems to be very important, perhaps because the "With" is a quasi–empty category for all philosophy. The whole scheme of our culture knows very well what is to be in or out, to be and to identify with something or to be totally exterior to it, to be homogeneous or heterogeneous. But to Be–With, this is the same thing to say that the glass is with the pen on the table and "be on" is a way to "be with", or I am with Wolfgang and Avital on this side of the table, you are each with the other. What is that? In a certain way this is nothing, because "I and Wolfgang" to a certain extent are like "the glass and the pen", we have nothing to do with the other. Then you’ve got a lot more to do. First, because he is the director, I am the teacher, etc, and perhaps if we go a little further we find that we are two human beings, so we share something biologically, etc… So the "with" has very interesting property in that it shows a proximity, it implies a proximity, and so once again we have the "nearest". But it is proximity without recovering one through the other. If the pen is hidden behind the glass, you can’t say that they are "with". Or if I hide myself behind Wolfgang there is no longer Jean–Luc with Wolfgang. So, "With" implies proximity and distance, precisely the distance of the impossibility to come together in a common being. That is for me the core of the question of community; community doesn’t have a common being, a common substance, but consists in being–in–common, from the starting point it’s a sharing, but sharing what? Sharing nothing, sharing the space between. "With" is in a certain way always between, or implies an in–between, and so from there we can go to the question which Victor asks. Yes, I would say that what I take here from Bataille is of course this central meaning that communication implies a gap between the one and the other, and that communication is not a continuous transmission, because the continuous transmission is a transmission of a information. Information is a concept. What I don’t share absolutely with Bataille is the way he goes from that gap to the cut and then slowly to the sacrifice, which implies that there is still another realm, a sacred realm to which I could transfer something. In the end however Bataille did himself write "what I call the sacred is nothing else than the communication of passions", and from there we could return to love, etc, regarding passion, and once again for you the man with the concept, in the communication, it shall still be a communication of passion, even if it is through or by the means of concept. This is in a certain way like Kant who wrote "I cannot read Rousseau without being too much troubled and so I have to read Rousseau twice, because the first time I could not sustain my emotion." It is perhaps a very good example of communication between men of concepts. I think that touching seems to me to indicate the same thing. That is the distance in the approach, but it avoids all questions of cutting, sacrifice etc. I disagree as well with Bataille who is always presenting the sex of the woman as a wound, because it implies that there is some penetration into the flesh. Sex doesn’t cut the body any more than the mouth or the anus, or any bodily orifice cuts the body. It is an opening, which is something different. This is why, regarding eroticism, I like to say there is no penetration, that penetration in a certain way has no proper meaning. To penetrate is to enter into the internal structure of the matter, but in physical love as well as in spiritual, it is the same — there is no penetration into, there is everywhere only a touching.

It’s a topological issue — for me the body is first a hole, a tube if you want, and around the tube is a skin. The first character of this topology is that it is a resounding thing. The air can go through the tube and you have the skin over it and you produce music. The body is first a certain sound, and that sound is the voice. And yes, with a little more time I would claim that to make love is to produce a sound — sometimes a real sound, even with words, but even in the silence there is a certain sound that is a certain resonance, resounding or vibration. The only place where the two lovers can really penetrate themselves into each other and become one thing is in the grave, like it is in the story of Tristan and Isolde . There is one flower, the rose grows from the grave of Tristan and goes into that of Isolde. I would argue that the community is always a community of Being–With, that the With is characterised by the touch, and that the touch is characterised both by proximity and by distance, but by proximity as distance. In the touch you still need to have both. This is the impossibility of penetration. The conclusion then is that a community is a community of bodies and nothing else. This doesn’t mean that it is a community like the glass and the pen — It means that to be "in common" we need the exteriority of the bodies, contrary to the very old model where the community should become a pure community of spirits becoming One Spirit. Now to return just for one moment to Christianity: in this very point there is an enormous ambiguity within Christianity, which gives the model of one body for all. This model is called the mystical body of Christ. Normally the mystical body of Christ was understood as a unique body of all men, but a couple of theologians even understood it as a totality of the universe. At the same time, however, in a way which for Christianity is quite contradictory, the singularity of each man, not only of each man but of each creature of God, each being, is impossible to suppress. And that is the meaning of the resurrection. The resurrection is a resurrection of the body. The resurrected body is not precisely a spirit, but a body to be touched or not touched. You know the story about Jesus and Magdalene: "Don’t touch me!" All this means that a community as a community of bodies means a community of mutual presentation of the common absence of common substance. Which is another way to say what Lacan says, with the father as being "because of" the mother as a common substance. However, to become an individual means precisely to go out of the common substance, and then even the brother and the sister are separated from the substance. The father, then, is a common law suppressed as death, the father is a dead father as it is said by Lacan. The only thing that I disagree with there is precisely that Lacan needs once again a figure of lack, of castration, and so the figure of the center of signification is an empty center, a zero point. I prefer to take that in the way of the no–thing, as I did before. So then, you are asking about the community’s relation to its enemies. What I said about love did already answer to the question of the enemy – I answer that the meaning of "to love even the enemy" is the meaning of love understood as having nothing to do with predilection such as friendship, or what is the contrary, hostility.

... Love and Community, Jean-Luc Nancy

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