The Self-Emptying Subject Book Event: A Few Words for the Wretched (Immanence and Impersonal Life)

It is good to read a philosopher praising joy. Not the joy of subservience, gratitude and self-sacrifice; nor the pleasures of being the entrepreneur and curator of one’s own branded life. But a joy impersonal and common, liberated from instrumentalism, teleology and transcendent goals.
Reading The Self-Emptying Subject is an exercise in abandonment. It is – gloriously – a useless book. Its careful scholarship belies an intensity, a refusal to allow life to be co-opted and put to work in the service of some distant end.
I admit it: I am a little in love with this book. Not least its portrayal of Eckhart, who finds in Christian theology the material to experiment with the divine and speculatively affirm the immanence of life beyond the tragedies of the interpellated subject. Dubilet discovers an immanence which undermines the ethics of alterity and those of self-cultivation; an immanence which outstrips the mutual recriminations and positioning of the theological and the secular. Why be so mean, so confined in your darkened ego with its altars of bone? Why create yourself in the image of what you lack? You are uncreated, infinite life. A life without ‘a ‘you’ to care, or care for.
In a word: joy.
But is there a word to spare? A word for the wretched of the earth as wretched?
What I mean is: what is left in infinite, impersonal joy of the singular selves, of the indelible marks of their passage through the world? Or the violence of a passage they are made to undergo? What is left of their kinship and their touching – however constructed, however compromised? Is it more blessed to forget, to let go, to release . . . or is there a time and theory of stubborn resistance?
In her In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Christina Sharpe writes of ‘wake work’. In the wake of slavery’s violent creation of race, in the wake of violence continuing to be visited on black communities, in the wakes of slave ships and those which mark a passage to death: what needs to be thought, held, remembered, noted, archived? Out of the violent constructions of black subjectivity, the ongoing imminence and immanence of black death, Sharpe affirms that antiblackness is not a ‘total climate’, that ‘We are not only known to ourselves and each other by that force’.
I am asking about the force of that ‘We’ – a ‘We’ woven out of battered threads of a specific history into a singular resistance and endurance (one which I cannot co-opt). Does it have a word to say in the uncreated and impersonal life of joy?
This is not intended as criticism, because I know that Alex is deeply engaged with these voices and currents of thought. In terms of The Self-Emptying Subject I think it has to do with his account of that dynamic immanence, in which the cause remains in the effect, rather than stationed hierarchically above it. This immanence is arguably that in virtue of which Sharpe can say ‘We are not only known to ourselves and each other by that force’, since it precedes and exceeds every act of subjection.
But Alex also affirms that immanence is itself affected by the effect, and so presumably by its specific expression in singular lives and events. How is this? How does immanence register such a passage, such a wake, without seeing it disperse into nothing? We know the whiteness of hate would like nothing better than to dissolve ‘identities’ (except its own). How do we honour the experience and wretchedness which has shaped us – (and there is more than one ‘us’) – without making a fetish of subjection? What is the immanent politics of memory? Is a non-instrumental identity possible in a life ‘without why’?
Thanks to this book, I appreciate more deeply and joyfully how immanent, uncreated life undoes the self whose sinews are resentment and debasement. There is an echo of this protest voiced in the Corpus Hermeticum: ‘But if thou lockest up thy soul within thy body, and dost debase it, saying: I nothing know; I nothing can; I fear the sea; I cannot scale the sky; I know not who I was, who I shall be;—what is there [then] between [thy] God and thee?’. Get rid of the prison you have created: between ‘thy God and thee’, the text affirms, there is truly only indistinction and equality.
What Alex’s book has also made me wonder is: beyond the debased body, within this life in common, can immanence still cradle a flesh which bears the marks of its own gravity and history?

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