“Whylessness” Excerpt

Heresy with regard to the beginning is present in the story of the beginning, it is right there at the creation of the world, as if the writer of Genesis were haunted by the universe. This biblical text wants to tell us about the creative act with which God began the world, but it cannot do so without telling us about what was already there, before the beginning. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” We can easily imagine this deep as an indication of the Black that was there in the beginning. Soon after, God utters light into existence and sees “that the light was good.” God “separated the light from the darkness,” and thus begins the war of light and darkness, the opposition that can never be settled, precisely because the two opposed sides belong to one another. They belong together as effects of God. Light and darkness are separated but this separation points to a common origin. They belong to one another, even when they oppose one another, because they both belong to God. But does God belong to anything? Or is there anything that does not belong to God?

The answer to these questions is there in the text, it is there in the deep, which does not belong to God but is, on the contrary, before God. In fact, we could say that God belongs to the deep, to the Black—that God needs, depends upon, the darkness that was there in the beginning, before God starting laboring, before God put darkness to work, turning it into an employee. It is true that, according to the biblical account, everything in the world comes from God. All of the world is God’s creation. But what is less noticed is that the biblical account lets on that not everything is of the world, not everything is of God. As long as one remains in the world, there is no escape from God—but there is an escape from the world. This possibility of escape is what Laruelle names when he says: “Black prior to light is the substance of the Universe, what escaped from the World before the World was born into the World.” We can escape from the world because black has already escaped it. But to escape the World is not to fight a war over the world. The point is not to pose black as the enemy of light, but to find the priority of black over light. This priority is real—even the writer of Genesis admits it—but it must be exercised by way of escape. And mysticism, if it means anything, must mean experimentation with such escape.

Escape, however, is not redemption—especially as we think of redemption in terms of light. If this section of “On the Black Universe” echoes the Hebraic creation story of Genesis, it likewise echoes the Christian redemption story of the gospel of John. Like Genesis 1, and like section 2 of “On the Black Universe,” John commences with the phrase, “In the beginning.” But John has something to add to Genesis, which is that in the beginning there was not just God, there was also the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He continues by asserting that everything that has come into being has done so by way of the Word, and he names this everything, taken together, as life: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Light is thus allied with being, with life, whereas darkness is what people need to be redeemed from. In fact, the promise of John’s gospel, its ontological basis for hope, is that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” No matter how dark things may appear, the last word is given to the Word of God, which is light. The light has entered into the darkness, and the darkness cannot subsume the path of redemption this light makes available. This is not to say all people side with the light. John speaks of a “judgment,” which is “that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.” Nonetheless, the decision made by such people does not hinder the narrative of redemption towards, and by way of, the light.

What we see here, in John, is the paradigmatic example of the war between light and darkness, the war that Laruelle wants to escape by way of the black universe. In this war, light is opposed to darkness, but asymmetrically so. It is not just that light and darkness are opposed, it is also that light is somehow primary; to be in and to see the light is to be in a condition that is superior to remaining in the darkness. So John’s narrative is dualistic, but it is a dualism in which one side supersedes the other. Being, and life itself, are on the side of light, and what redemption names is the achievement of a condition that is properly in being, in life. Redemption thus names a solution to a problem, which is that we do not initially find ourselves in the light of being. In fact, the implication would be that we do not even initially find ourselves in life.

What we, as commentators on John, need to attend to is not just the operation of redemption as solution, we must also attend to the operation of redemption as problem—or as what creates a problem. There is no redemption without the problem, for it is the problem that generates the need, to which redemption responds. So how does Laruelle interpose himself in John’s narrative? Laruelle’s black universe should not be understood as siding with the darkness in its war with the light. His concern is to become, or to remain, indifferent to both sides. More to the point would be to say that the black universe opposes not the light but the redemption set forth by the light. As Laruelle puts it, “Light strikes the Earth with repeated blows, divides the World infinitely, solicits in vain the invisible Universe.” When Laruelle looks at the light, from the vantage of the black universe, he does not see something that redeems. He sees, instead, something that “divides.” The essence of the light is not to redeem but to strike with blows, and it is the consequently divided world that produces the milieu from which the need for redemption arises.

Our response to this division should be to leave it in place and to step outside of it, and we can do this only insofar as we see the light for what it is: something that divides the world, but that cannot solicit the Universe. We do not need to oppose the light, but we will be able to become indifferent to the light’s war only if we are able to escape the light, or more precisely to escape the need produced by the light. Such escape is what Laruelle indicates when he pronounces that, “The Universe was ‘in’ the World and the World did not see it.” Note how this pronouncement both mimes the structure and undermines the force of John’s own pronouncement that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” For John, the light and the darkness are engaged in a war over the world; the world is enshrouded in a darkness from which light provides escape. For Laruelle, the world itself, in the totality of its bellicose oscillations between light and darkness, is defined by its failure to see the Universe that is always already there. It is as if Laruelle wants to reveal John’s narrative of redemption as inescapably provincial. Light solicits the universe in vain, it is intrinsically unable to become adequately expansive or focused. Whatever goes on with the light—its divisions, its introduction of need, its labors of redemption—belongs to a game in which we do not have to participate.

15 thoughts on ““Whylessness” Excerpt

  1. Reminds me a bit of Agamben: “Their nullity, of which they are so proud, is principally a neutrality with respect to salvation–the most radical objection that has ever been levied against the very idea of redemption.” (TCC, 6) Except it seems that Laruelle takes us a bit further by first taking us further back.

  2. The event’s going really well. One more eve still to go, Alex tomorrow night. There’s going to be an audio coming, i’ll try to remember to post it when available.

  3. Adam, glad you liked it. The larger context of the paper is a discussion of Eckhart, the inability to get any sort of discourse about life as such, and love, particularly as Kabbalist tradition criticizes Noah.

  4. Really provocative piece. Made me think of Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep. Quick question, why is ‘Kanye West’ one of the categories?

  5. Interesting piece. My observations: The text doesn’t say, “In the beginning when.” It just says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”:

    ‏בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ

    There is no ‘deep’ before God because there is no space before God.

    It’s in terms of “space” that I think we can conceive of the distinction between dark/light being/nonbeing. I’m not sure if light is ‘superior’ to darkness, so much as it is dependent upon it; light is what fills the dark space. Without the void, there would be no place for light to inhabit. This means that darkness and light are both necessary in a universe in so far as darkness provides the space for which light can expand into.

    Anyhow, I thought the Kanye tag is apt:

    “You’re my lies, you’re my truth
    You’re my war, you’re my truce
    You’re my questions, you’re my proof…”

    I don’t know about the masseuse line though.

  6. Aric, no doubt about the “when” – that’s nrsv, which is certainly reading some things into the text. I’ve seen it elsewhere even as “with beginning.” But i do think one can presume a “before” at work, given that as you said the light presupposes a dark space to fill. So what i’m tyring to highlight is this dependence, as you put it, and to push that further in the sense that while light cannot be thought without dark, dark can be thought without light. It’s this latter possiblity that’s interesting, and it’s also the possibility we tend to forget by fixating on what God does, i.e. the introduction of the distinction. So in this sense God, or at least God’s action, would be secondary to the deep, at least ontologically. And in this sense i’m not sure that i get why you would say there’s no “space” (an ambivalent term to be sure, but meaningful nonethelss i think) before God.

    Daniel, not sure i can do it justice in this comment, but if interested the audio should be available soon!

  7. Hi Dan, I mean ‘space’ in the most literal way possible. I’m trying to say that before God there was no space (nor time); dimensions as we understand them did not exist, hence, “In the beginning, God created…”

    What I would posit is that if we are to speak of a ‘before’ God, it is something unintelligible to the human intellect.

    According to the text, when God created space (a physical dimension) this dimensionality was first totally dark; a void, if you will. Afterwards, this darkness was filled by light. This doesn’t make light ‘superior’ to darkness, but rather contingent upon it; that is to say, without space there is no place for light to travel in. So I’m with you when you say, “we can conceive of dark without light” but not the other way around.

    I don’t know if this allows us to posit that God’s action is ontologically secondary to the void, however, as God’s action (according to the text) precedes the void (as the void is simply space with nothing to fill it).

    That’s why the addition of “when” here is so crucial: If the text reads, “While the universe was in this void state, God started creation” it is very different from “There was nothing (not even a void) before God created”.

    I suspect this would render a different reading of John: Not a war between dark and light, but rather an understanding that darkness is intrinsically passive: it waits for light to fill it (and doesn’t ‘fight’ at all). I know this reading diverges significantly with your thesis here, but I thought it noteworthy how important the reading of “when” in Genesis 1 is when discussing ontology in the creation myth.

  8. “while light cannot be thought without dark, dark can be thought without light.”

    I don’t get this. If it’s a conceptual point, it seems false: neither of a pair of contrary concepts can be had without the other. And if it’s a metaphysical point, it also seems false: why do I need to imagine a light against a dark background? Why can’t I imagine a limitless expanse of light, and then think of dark as only a privation of that limitless light?

  9. Daniel, the Zohar, as You may hear Dan relate in the audio, showed G-D giving Noah a choice before the flood as to whether of not it would occur, alluding to Abraham’s futile bargaining with G-D before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen.18:16-33.) What more Daniel, your choice of words “beef with Noah” is marvelous owing to the institution of beef consumption as a portion of the postdiluvian covenant (see Gen.9:3 as opposed to the antediluvian vegitarian givenness of Gen.1:29-30.)

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