“What is outside the cosmos the sage locates as there but does not sort out. What is within the cosmos the sage sorts out but does not assess.”
“No one lives longer than a doomed child.”
If there is one theme in The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal that I think causes the most ambivalence for myself, and for contemporary philosophy, it is the possibility, today, of conceiving thought—any thought, whether hermetic or rationalist—as some kind of affirmation of life. My overwhelming impression of much of contemporary continental and post-continental reflection is that it is conditioned by an almost paralyzing combination of dread, horror, and malaise over the ongoing ecological holocaust (and its twin, economic endgame) through which we are currently “living,” if one could even call it that. The most difficult thing I continue to try to come to terms with, in my own life and work, is what it means to engage in thought and spiritual discipline as some kind of intensified relation to “nature” when “nature” has become something like absolute contingency, incarnate. At this phase of the neoliberal dominum, is it not becoming brutally clear that what we have called long called natura is not a source of enduring strength, comfort, solace, or joy (however enigmatic or elusive) but rather an increasingly toxic stew of threat, catastrophic loss, and death, utterly subject to the black magic of technological rape, domination, and ultimate destruction? I don’t at all mean, here, that previous generations have not been aware of the destructive (Hecate, Kali) element in reality, or that philosophy (and religion, for that matter) have not long encouraged us to look beyond or look elsewhere than to mater materia for the element of truth, let alone for eternal life. Badiou and Žižek here stand in a long line of philosophical reflection that insists upon the un-worldly, or at least completely non-natural (even if paradoxically materialist) status of truth (whether evental or dialectical, their premise, nature is meaningless, is shared).
I have often been haunted by a suspicion that my own perspective, which resists the dismissal of nature in both event-philosophy and dialectics, and refuses the idea that eternal truth is something opposed to radically immanent existence, might be nevertheless conditioned in the last instance by some kind of transcendental nostalgia for an enchanted cosmos, and that my thought is some kind of paean to or eulogy for the lost world I had the radically contingent occasion to spend my earliest years in—the redwoods, mountains, rivers, oceans, and pristine airs of Northern California. My memory of those years is not really a memory, at all, but a kind of super-saturated sense of overwhelmingly beneficent presence, of elements that were absolutely intent upon giving me life, more life than I could possibly contain or receive or even acknowledge. My most direct and immediate response to that intensity was another intensity, music, that somehow allowed those natural powers to continue and modulate in a way that I could participate in, and even the intensity of philosophical analysis is somehow a further modulation.
But what of it? How now? Here I sit, at my desk in a broken, battered, forlorn Philadelphia neighborhood, slowly gentrifying, slowly “improving” as the souls who made this place soulful slowly fade into the night, faced with rising property taxes, dying ancestors, and an unrecognizable future. Is hermeticism doomed to become an exercise in futility (if not in mourning), attempting to harness or evoke or transmute the forces of life, when clearly such forces are so fickle, so fleeting, and above all subject to increasingly restricted access: who can afford to live in Northern California, let alone the remaining wilds and woods and liminal zones of the world, unless one is either among the elite wealthy, or the hopeless poor? And who can ever, if one ever could, make a decent living making music? As I even consider my increasingly limited ability to “go outside,” to experience something other than four walls and a screen (and the chemical platforms that keep us “sane”), I find myself beginning to even refuse what opportunities I do have, to get to the beach (down the shore, as we say here in the tri-states), the near-by Appalachians, or occasionally out to New Mexico where I am lucky enough to have a friend with some land in the Enchanted Circle. I feel an almost moral compulsion rising within me to refuse to enjoy these places, in the face of neighbors who can’t even reach the succor of decent groceries. This would just be stupid white liberal guilt if I didn’t feel it so intensely, and if it didn’t force me to think.
So I think, What is eternal life? This seems to be a problem that both Gnostic hermeticism and Christian incarnationalism share. What is the perspective of eternity, how does one occupy it without obliterating or annihilating one’s existence, let alone obfuscating or denying the reality of contingent, temporal nature? But of course this is not a problem for Western lines, alone, being also in some sense the problem of Atman in nondual relation to Brahman, the problem of a Tao that is neither yin nor yang, the problem of enlightenment without effort in Zen, the list goes on.
We might focus here by a return to Christian Kerslake’s question in response to my first response, to Dan Barber: what is a specifically hermetic incarnationalism? I agree with Christian that something like tantric sciences, focusing on the body, breath, chakras, and extremely local/animist divinities is somehow closer to Deleuze’s own thinking than perhaps any other spiritual tradition. And yet Deleuze receives his spiritual sciences mediated through a line of Western estoericisms that both incorporate and struggle against Christian theology. It is this struggle that fascinates (and involves) me, in and beyond Deleuze, which is part of why I force the name “hermetic” on Deleuze: to recognize the forced or “taken” (inthesaltmine’s wonderful term) character of thought in relation to a religio-spiritual matrix, and yet attempting, following Thrice-Great Hermes, to recreate (in) that very takenness. How Christology inflects hermeticism, for me—and why I think Bruno’s struggle with the doctrine of incarnation is illuminating for the reading of Deleuze—is that Christological incarnationalism (keyed in an heretical or orthodox way is for the moment irrelevant) allows us to pose the general problem of eternal life in a specific way: What is resurrected life? What is an eternally necessary being that does not simply “negate” itself but that goes through a singular, unrepeatable ordeal of birth, life, death, and resurrection? And if the ordeal is the “ideal game” of the production of sense (meaning) itself, who is this necessary being that is neither God nor man Deleuze evoked in Logic of Sense?
I would like to hazard the admittedly outrageous thesis that such a necessary being can be named: resurrected life.
Or perhaps, undead life, although this brings me uncomfortably close to my great antagonist, the ever-instructive Slavoj Žižek. Leaving Žižek aside for the moment, the thought of an undead or perpetually resurrected life may be the clue to the specifically creative dimension of esoteric thought and practice that seemed to interest Deleuze, at least as it was filtered for him through the creative practices of the modernists and the 19th and 20th-century avant-garde. It is as if he saw Proust “resurrecting” a dead sign, Bacon re-vivifying our dead and dying flesh, and the filmmakers of the nouvelle vague and Italian neo-realism re-animating dead time, dead space, gathering the shards of existence, the mummy’s shrouds, in an act of artistic necromancy, necrophilia, mediumship. This is probably the line, a truly “gothic” line in Deleuze with which I feel the most affinity, and I hope after finishing my book on divination this year to begin working on a kind of generic theory of resurrected bodies that will take up this theme in greater detail. There I would like to defend the following provocative and outrageous thesis, in two formulas:
There is nothing but resurrected life. Existence is resurrected life.
What do I mean? Well, to be honest, I do not yet know what I mean. But it has something to do with love, and with something philosophy has not yet said, or is unwilling to say, yet, about love. Resurrected life is love. But what is it to love? In part, to love is to be drawn to what is broken. It is interesting that the great critics of Christianity Deleuze admired (and in many ways I count my allegiance to them)—Nietzsche, D.H. Lawrence, Artaud, Bataille—could not but admire the figure of Christ as Love. In the case of Christ, we could say love meant to pay absolute attention: teach, to heal, and to institute a revolutionary conception of salvation as both more universal and more singular than any tradition, any culture, even any particular experience of revelation. Even Nietzsche, and after him Bataille and Deleuze, could not but admire this man. (And as an absolute universalist about religion I make no “exclusive” claims for Christianity, at any level, although I am interested philosophically in the distinctive singularities of traditions).
In the image I have included at the top, an anonymous plate from an early medieval Syriac Bible, we have the inscription, in Latin: “Thou, who spreading out thy hands upon the Cross, drew all the ages to Thyself.” The image shows the 5 wounds of Christ corresponding to the ten Sefirot of Kabbalistic mystical Judaism. John the Evangelist has his attention transfixed by the scene as he writes, “in the beginning was the Word.” I am drawn to this image by how it draws the lines, unequivocally, between creation, suffering, and the sustaining of existence, the totality of the scene flickering between undeath and resurrection. For me there is something generic here, something that cannot be domesticated by Christian doctrine and practice, let alone by theology. We have yet to wrest the generic significance of this image, esoteric and multiply-coded as it is, from the imperial pretensions of right-belief and right-practice.
But not only for the orthodox (radical or not), it is also a challenge for the cosmic esotericisms that have heretically or Gnostically adopted Christ as a figure of the magus and/or of the cosmos. What is the significance of the fact that here is figured a God Incarnate that “embraces” but does not merge fully with cosmos, but works as one suffering being includes all of reality in itself? One way of thinking such suffering as creation, for hermeticism, is to think Jesus as the return or resurrection of Adam. In reference to Rocky and Christian’s fascinating exchange earlier on this issue, the problem with the presence of the “Adamic” reference point in modern political theory, part of why that attempt at grounding failed, is the attempt to retrieve some original Adamic state as model for an already lived experience of life. What would paradise have been like? Model the ideal society on that. But even from the most banal of Christian points of view, we do not yet know what paradise was like, because the experience of losing paradise is essential to the construction of paradise. If resurrected life is real life, if Adam is only fully Adam as return, or even as resurrection, then ideal life, perfect life, is not so much “not yet” as some unthinkable conjunction of always-already-and-not-yet.
Perhaps the problem with the traditional perspective on salvation in relation to Christology, is basically that it over-emphasizes the receptive or even passive dimension. One must “receive” salvation, one must “accept” the revelation, one “bears witness” through one’s body that Jesus is Lord. What the Gnostic, alchemical, esoteric, and mystical “heresy” demands is a more active model of participation. Here we arrive, of course at the problem of protestant individualism and modern Prometheanism. Is hermeticism just some weird, overly complicated form of Protestantism or puritainism? Or am I simply a backslidden pagan, advocating “heroic humanity” in the place of God, when I should be accepting the death of God and man, together? I don’t find easy answers to any of these questions, but I would like to say “none of the above” (unless, so below).
Here is something I might be able to say. The immanent meaning of the resurrected body is active submission. But this of course brings us again to the problem of authority: to whom must we submit? For it is only in submission, surrender, that we find the power and not simply the abstract rights without which we cannot truly live. But perhaps this is one of the problems that define the liberal, secular, modern era: in the absence of overt sovereignty, and with the increase of biopower, there are too many authorities, too many gods. They are everywhere, they are in your beer, in your porn, in your email, in your debt.
Most of hermetic mysticism and practice, including alchemy, theosophy, and the Western adoption of tantrism, yoga, and meditation, all seems to be carried out under the sign of Joachim de Fiore’s “Age of the Holy Spirit,” an era in which there is a mesmerizing, uncanny, and ultimately nondual relationship between humanity and divinity (In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze makes tantalizing reference to Fiore, as well as to Vico, in his attempt to explain the relation of the syntheses of time to historical repetition. He is basically critical, but then as Kerslake has shown, later finds his way to an oblique affirmation of Toynbee’s universal history with its repetition of 22 essential archetypal phases, corresponding to the 22 major arcana of the Tarot). This is a very different perspective, it seems to me, than the Feuerbachian-cum-death of God point of view that points to the total disenchantment of the world. This is an apocalypticism that is somehow not an announcement of the “end of all things,” and the total evisceration of meaning from existence, but of its obverse, a kind of more absolute identity (in the last instance?) of eternity and time, divinity and humanity, where the problem is not that life is meaningless but that there is too much meaning, even too much God. Even Žižek, who favors the death-of-God trope, is not immune to this theme, as he is constantly championing the Hegelian dialectic under the aegis of the “holy spirit” that animates the undead revolutionary collective.
For centuries alchemy was the model for the age of the spirit: mind finds is genuine element in the ordeal of continuous processes of bodily dissolution, extraction, reprocessing, distillation. Carl Jung perhaps got no further than this in his conception of the psyche. But if nothing else, we must stay with the insight that alchemy always fails, and fails most completely when it succeeds (as we have now succeeded in being able, through super-colliders, to transmute lesser elements into gold). No matter how good it is, no matter (sic) what, “there is crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”). Synthesis, integration, wholeness, cannot be the answer, for nature or for us. “Sustainability” is a pipe-dream of mechanistic homeostasis.
All of the images of the alchemists are dominated by the duality of lovers, and the longing for a hermaphroditic overcoming of that duality (the young Deleuze was no less immune to this dream than was Sacher-Masoch). For most of us, the first and last ordeal is love. And how many magicians—Faust, Prospero, Sweedenborg, Crowley—seemed to have had one and only one ultimate aim of magic: to find, bind, keep, create, manage, control, compel, evoke, channel, coerce, temper, demand an ultimate love, a love so simple as to defy all skepticism, make moot all inquiry, vanquish all doubt. And yet Deleuze spoke to us very little of love, and sang rather of joy and vision.
The love of hermeticism, of spiritual science, is a cosmic love, a love that makes impossible demands. But here is why I am not a theologian. I do not know why we cannot love. I truly do not know what it means that we are left in the difference between an absolute, immediate, yet peculiar and indefinitely distant revelation, and a series of relative, mediated, yet generalizable and conceptually definite experiences that are exactly specified by and yet cannot exactly specify some absolute, immediate, yet peculiar and indefinitely distant revelation. That is why I am not a theologian, insofar as it seems to me that theology is the attempt to tell us why, or tell us a story of why this, and not something otherwise, is all that is the case.
Here is an alchemical legend: the issue (offspring) of Adam is the issue (product) of resurrection. Hermeticism is the Western version of bodily esotericism. Yes, Deleuze’s thought is in many ways closer to Tantrism. I “force” the issue of Hermeticism strategically as a way of locating Western philosophy within a specific impasse between reason and spirit. But that impasse “is” in some sense the problem of the body (or to use the older term, nature, or the one we are now learning to use, ecology). That is what is really the limit of Descartes’s “ordeal”: the specific deliverances of what the body might be are forsaken in the name of what the body appears to be, to the mind. It’s almost as if there is simply a mind-mind problem in Descartes, and as if he never reaches the level of the body—the subtle, alchemical body, the body of the chakras, kunadalini, and the mercurial body of Adam Kadmon. The specific role that Hermes plays in alchemy is the role of the “mercurial” element, the moist, flowing element that “revives” matter from its slumber. Mercury is the element of resurrection, and Hermes is a psychopomp.
Above, Hermes as Psychopomp, under the heading “Our Son.” But who is the source and who is the offspring? Who is carrying and who is being carried? And who is the water, and do we sometimes play different roles?
The problem of resurrected life is not the problem of the mind but the body, the resurrected body. The entire problem is not a mind that surveys body from eternity, that “knows” itself as surviving multiple actualizations or incarnations, but the problem of a body that is, through a singular series of contingently creative ordeals, somehow resurrected. This is the problem of Adam Kadmon, and also of Shekinah in Kabbalistic mysticism. This is why, in the end, there really is a kind of convergence of my perspective with Dan Barber’s, even though I seem to be on the side of contingency and he on the side of necessity—his ordeal being to accept the end of the world and wonder how we survive multiple endings, endless endings that are somehow also beginnings. For me the problem is the metaphysics of the resurrected body, the perpetually resurrecting body, the light body or subtle body. This is also Love’s Body, as in Norman O. Brown’s work.
Why resurrection? The problem of spirituality today is the problem of survival. This is why, although I have been to Esalen and tasted its nearly supernatural bounties of health and healing, I can only peruse its catalogue and its denizens with a rueful eye.
Who can afford this, anymore? And what would be the point, if one or some of us could? But perhaps I am wrong, perhaps it is always a matter of some, a few, somewhere, holding open the possibility of life, of something more than mere survival, at any cost, no matter how lavish, how extravagant, how difficult to find (and to their credit Esalen has all kinds of scholarships and programs for people without money). But more and more, I feel compelled, forced to think of spirituality not in terms of moments of reprieve but moments of crisis, moments of contingent necessity. Moments, like now, when it seems that survival is at stake. And it seems to me, increasingly, that the problem of survival is no longer that of the conditions of life, but the conditions of a kind of undead life, a resurrected life that is stronger than life, an “ecology” that is more supple, more subtle than any natural or even biological account can comprehend (although of course we need every scientific insight we can attain). And yet this is where it strikes me that the ancient perspectives are more relevant than ever, since they insist, over and over, against the positivism of the moderns, that the immediate is not the actual. And I think Deleuze is allied, here, to archaic wisdom. For Deleuze also seems to aver that it is never the “direct” confrontation with the actual that operates upon the contingencies most relevant to survival, where survival means persistence beyond life and death, beyond living and dying.
The indispensible role Christology plays for me in my own unfolding hermeticism is not so much a metaphysical one as it is a simply human one. My reading of Christ, at this point, is deeply colored by Laruelle’s conception of Christ as “man-in-person.” What is “cosmic” about Christ, for my own hermeticism, is not so much the idea that the universe is the cosmic body of Christ, the corpus mysticum, but that human existence (or in some transcendental sense existence as such) is irreducible to essence, not so much for the metaphysical reasons Ibn Sina and Aquinas already saw, but because when it comes to Jesus, to the figure of man-in-person (both he and every victim) let alone to ourselves, we have always already said too much. “I call to her/I call to her/but I don’t call soft enough” (Leonard Cohen, “There Ain’t No Cure For Love”).
In thinking we have always already thought too hard, we have already confused what we have to say with what can be said. It seems to me that Laruelle’s dualysis provides something like a new vista from which to be able to say less about Christ. And by extension, since Christ (Future Christ) is humanity-in-the-last-instance, it is an opportunity to stop explaining ourselves and—what?—start expressing our existence? Resurrect? Insurrect? Resist at all costs?
I want to thank Anthony and Adam for making this book event happen, and to all the readers of AUFS for spoiling me with all this attention. I won’t pretend it was not gratifying to imagine your eyes and minds at the terminals where this network mutates and continues in your own thinking and living. Most of all I want to thank Dan, Beatrice, Rocky, Dan, Anthony, and Jacob for giving me the occasion to think further through this matrix, and to Christian Kerslake for being such a constant ally in this research and for contributing so much to the dialogue through his comments. Thanks also to inthesaltmine for profound insights and deeply personal comments, and all the others of you who took the time to comment as things unfolded. Mirari non rimari sapientia verum est.