Issue #51 April 2022

With Them Without Words: A non-dual heritage of future language in Tzara, Derrida, Schlegel, and beyond

Max Ernst - from The Hunting of The Snark, An Agony in Eight Fits - (1950)

“Both the song and the silence my beautiful country of joy”

—Tristan Tzara

Introduction: A Heritage of Tearers

Weare familiar with the idea that as human beings we dwell in language. Our sense of being and our thinking is greatly shaped by the language(s) we inherit – national languages, local languages, as well as many specialized languages (that of chemistry, philosophy, etc.). We use these languages to express who we are and what we know. Nonetheless, we are also aware that we are not exactly at home (chez soi) in these languages. There is a remainder, an outside, and we may conceive of it variously: a silence that cancels or quiets language, an animal inarticulateness that will not submit to letters, an affect that is lost the moment it encounters the sentence, an excess of Muse or Spirit that transports us to the raptures and disasters of poetry, and so on. I will not dwell on these except to illustrate that, whether we are aware of it or not, language is filled with gaps, indeterminacies, strangenesses, failures, inconsistencies, all of which can serve as a wellspring for innovation in thought and expression for the adventurous. Despite our lexicons and histories, despite our stories and rationalizations, despite the flattened discourse of averages and explanations, there remains an indefiniteness about language, an unfinished quality that, once intuited, proves providential in the quest for greater truth. Though it causes us discomfort, we overlook it to our peril, for the failing aspect of language points rather to its power of nascence, its openness to transformation and free use.

If we recall those moments in life when one is obliged to obey the predefined language – for example, a job interview with its rules about what to say, what not to say, how to say it, etc. – we can easily see how a certain freedom of articulation is then compromised. Whenever we must obey the extant set of grammars and significations (and of semiotic norms more broadly), our listening to language itself suffers. The pressure of self-identity especially renders listening in the interstices of language difficult. Of course, the world as we conceive of it is by and large delimited by this extant set, these semiotic habits. They instantiate that very totality we call world. And though we witness daily minor variations on a theme – a new news items, a new article written in predictable tone, the same conversation with a twist of venue, etc. – this set of habits reproduces itself tenaciously: an ouroboros of meaning feeding on regurgitations of itself. And not only that. If perchance some slice of language manages to tear through this fabric of accepted grammars and significations, well, by and large the sentences go on linking with each other as if nothing had happened. The world covers the wound, the novelty in conception and speech, as if nothing had been torn. The hegemony of accepted sense reasserts itself pervasively; yet so that much stronger must our fidelity to the tear and its heritage be.

In this essay, I will argue for what I call a non-dual heritage of future language. This may be looked at first as a heritage of tears. It represents a more or less clandestine tradition of creative tears into the accepted fabric of reality (as it is conventionally defined by the extant language and perceived by those resigned or stricken to obey it). We understand intuitively that the world’s primary incentive is to cover over or mend these tears, to reconstitute its language as the primary one and, moreover, as the only one that counts. By contrast and indeed in rebellion, those in the heritage of tearers say otherwise. They say – in announcements attuned to their time yet exceeding them into the future – that another destiny than conformity to the world-fabric is possible for humans.1placeholder They wield the power of the counter-sensical, to force a disruption in accepted network flows. They tap into a more originary potentiality of language, namely, one which is not ipso facto in obedience to the management of actualities (which today we recognize in the hegemonic techno-scientific consumerist discourse of corporations, politics and media). Those who tear, who resist and revive, who pierce through the artifice to consecrate a new art of life, convey to their witnesses that valid and new truth processes can emerge from time’s ruins. These processes call for our activity, our allegiance to the cause of these tears of truth.

My inspiration in what follows is Tristian Tzara’s Dada Manifesto, then later Friedrich Schlegel’s Romanticism. My interest in their work does not pertain to literary criticism or intellectual history per se but to what they can teach us about the heritage of tearers. We are on the trail of certain features to recognize, certain gestures, operations, and interventions that can inform our own inquiries and inspire us in fidelity to the cause of the tearers. Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida’s work on messianity and the khōra will help us understand and visualize the activity and call of this tradition in its philosophical specificity. Before beginning, however, and for the sake of economy, I wish to simply list some of the features that unite this non-dual heritage of future language (which I, of course, nominate as real):

ironic stance toward any thesis statement, logic, reason, philosophy
—centrality of movement over stasis, construction over edifice
—awareness of the spectrality or transience of words and language as artifice
openness to reformulation and rearticulation even of basic truths and guiding principles
—priority on communication between spirits, rather than doctrines, meanings, debates
—focus on a freedom conditioned by the desire for justice as a human constant
—exhortation to the chance-like, spontaneous and dispersed process-nature of creation
—insistence that poetry and life must never be separated

All of these features will be touched upon as we go forward, but my essential reflection here will bear on poetry. In line with Tzara and Schlegel’s own efforts, a messianic-type vision of poetry2placeholder will be advanced – poetry not as a genre, an art of language, but as a movement of life itself in its freedom to tear down what brings death in language and resist what exploits language to kill.

Poetry renders language essential to human betterment and becoming. It creates a space for encounter with the undefined and indefinable – and so for an encounter with that which escapes the capture of the world-totality, that is, with human others in their otherness, as well as with all creation in its otherness to the designs of the world. With poetry, we encounter the strangeness of being (in) language. This forces us to question our accepted situatedness in it and respond by re-situating ourselves qua outside it, in its margins and inconsistencies. Thus do we re-situate language itself. We lend it a more appropriate being-for-us to the end of a freer, redeemed humanity. Such a transformation of language – as means for a more human(e) cause and truth – is predicated upon the insight that all dualisms are “artificial.” The poetic making of word and world shows forth a Real beyond the deceit of duality—first of all, the duality between experience and language—, while making use of artifice to do so. To respond to the artifice of language with poetry is to enter a living signifying process, no longer duped or trapped by set significations and world-totalities. It is to participate in a redemptive tear that insists as an exception to what exists, in the imago of a poetic becoming-never-finished dedicated to the betterment of humans and, paradoxically, the perfection of the world.


I. Artifice against Artifice

Tzara’s response to the deceitful configurations of ideology, philosophy and argument was to unite poetry and life: to reignite the being of language. In his cultural context, this meant the harshest nihilism as a way to combat the use of language as a tool for ideologies and influence. He combined his rejection of large scale programs (nations, religions, aesthetic categories) with a general mistrust of words to convey anything at all. Nietzsche had already written years earlier: “That enormous structure of beams and boards of the concepts, to which the poor man clings for dear life, is for the liberated intellect just a scaffolding and plaything for his boldest artifices.” Tzara shares Nietzsche’s non-dual recognition that all our truths are constructions built on the shifting sands of words and grammar, as well as the goal of liberating the intellect. Language as artifice can become real – a plaything for freedom – only by surrendering to the truth of its artificiality. This surrender gives way to a new, utterly singular voicing which gives this truth about language a body by giving way to language-events that proceed from this awareness.

It is important to flesh out, then, what exactly we mean when we say that language is artifice, for this recognition is a primary feature of the non-dual heritage we are tracing out.

Writing about the poet Paul Celan, Derrida discusses what he calls the essence or the general experience of language: that words, from the very moment of their emergence, partake of revenance, a return from a long absence. The word (spoken or written) returns for a moment from this absence and immediately recedes into it. Words always leave a kind of vacuous space, where meaning evaporates into thin air just a moment after utterance. The word is like a phantom, language like a corpse. What they refer to, therefore, their power of reference, is much more unstable than we might think. This is our first clue to the artificiality of language: words do not agree to function in the stable manner we wish.

Derrida summarizes this experience of language as artifice as the “spectral errancy of words,” adding that, “whoever has an intimate, bodily experience of this spectral errancy, whoever surrenders to this truth of language, is a poet, whether he writes poetry or not.” When this universal experience, which is normally ignored or chased away, is instead presented by the poet as such (whether in poetry or not), then we are put in relation to this truth of language, with all the uneasiness it entails. This as such is of utmost importance, the criterion for having the experience – the threshold to poetry, so to speak. Yet it is the heaviest thing to recognize, for it goes beyond mere readability, while crossing over it. Then, to achieve such a presentation, to write of it as such, is even more demanding. Not only does it mean navigating all the ghosts of language, it also draws us near to the desert of sense (khōra, discussed below), where meaningness in language as it were evaporates, where we encounter a radical resistance to all human design. Yet this confrontation and effort is necessary if humans are to understand exactly the artifice in which they really (do not) dwell with their being. 

While recognition of spectral errancy is of general value, it can only be presented, shown, played out, or exemplified in singular and unsubstitutable wayspoetic waysby singular beings in response to particular finite conditions and potentials, ghosts and errancies. The poet does not back down from this hard experience. What seemed an irrevocable tragedy, that language is never really with us, never really our instrument, this very vacuity opens space for a dynamic way of being—marked first and foremost by a kind of silence. It is a recognition intuited long before it is presented as a fact or in a concept, for one can only respond in truth when this intuition is presented without pretention, without convolution, as such.3placeholder In sum, it is the intuition of language as always in danger of becoming a dead language; it implies a taste for the silence at its heart. When Nietzsche writes, “The word is not made for these intuitions; man falls silent when he sees them,” he evokes such a recognition. Note that silence does not follow reading but seeing the word. The work that follows such seeing manifests these perceptions, as it were, indirectly, through indefinability. It puts itself in relation to other beings who can share this general experience. As Derrida will put it, it manifests “an intense familiarity with the ineluctable originarity of the specter” as such and likewise, simultaneously, in the same breath, “the ineluctable loss of the origin.” Such works therefore bring us to halt at discourse, nullifying it while transforming it, offending us and asking us to believe words in a new way: to hear past the massive attack on the cranium, the objections of the trees over the clatter…

To surrender to this experience and accept our own responsibility before it is to come close to language as corpse, to its remains, and thus to accept to steward these traces into a more just future. And this means acknowledging their artificiality as the only way to touch upon their realness, though this contact be one of originarity and loss simultaneously. Hence the aegis of movement, dispersal, revocation and the ever-fresh start. The non-dual ever bursts from ash to ash, a secret fire of mercy, awe and gladness, cold as it is piercing of the glare. Poetic experience, defined in this manner, is thus marked by the resurrection of the word from oblivion. At the same time, nothing removes or mitigates the general experience of spectral errancy. Poetic creation is not a control or cap over this, but rather a re-situation of what language can do. Resurrecting the word from the stale dualisms of language, a non-dual vision arises to inflect all conventions otherwise, opening a space for beings to speak themselves. Following Celan, this is where language becomes “voice, direction, breath,” becomes person: the site of an encounter that under-comes the world and discloses, as it were, our mortal infinity. 

Max Ernst - from The Hunting of The Snark, An Agony in Eight Fits - (1950)

II. Singular Idioms of Freedom and Justice

What becomes apparent when we surrender to the truth that language is specter, that words partake of revenance, is that language cannot be owned or appropriated. This truth is presented throughout Tzara’s “Dada Manifesto 1918.” He begins immediately by saying, “The magic of a word—Dada—is of no importance to us,” in order to bat back all journalistic and literary attempts to appropriate it, any attempt to understand and situate it in history. Seeming to stem from Cubist and Futurist influences, Dada refused any appropriation to artistic school or philosophical system. Tzara’s Dada was not a word, nor a poetic practice, but first and foremost a recognition of the general experience of language as specter. “Dada is not a doctrine to be put into practice: Dada—if it’s a lie you want—is a prosperous business venture.” Tzara expects the words to err and go astray, in fact he expects nothing less, for anyone can make anything of Dada that they wish. The dispersal and counter-coding of words cannot be stopped. The inventor has not monopoly or control over the invention. And so his poetic articulation absorbs this fact, consenting to let the ghosts be confused and misrecognized, and without needing to appropriate the term, school, symbol, or practice of Dada for himself. The inventor can only remain vigilantly faithful to the silent kernel, the indivisible point that inspired the invention. He is necessarily radically unattached to the words that present it, while nonetheless charged with charging words with this very radicality.

Extrapolating from this explicit refusal to be anything, we can say that Dada enacted a radical critique of the tenability of any word as an accomplished category of reference – again another consequence of awareness of language as artifice. Tzara took seriously Nietzsche’s letter of support for “the repudiated world versus an artificially built ‘true, valuable one’” and the corresponding mandate to “overcome the values that pass judgment.” Judgments, along with a whole cabaret of psychic traumas, were for Tzara “dupes of the sound’s attraction.” He overcame the dupe in many ways: repudiating Dada and himself; parodying the folly of judgments on stage before his bourgeois audience; calling for freedom through chance operations and the intensity of moments; trust in spontaneous processes; the enthusiasm of entering the unknown endlessly – these are all ways to revive one’s relationship with the other, however this is conceived.  In the aftermath of the first World War, to truly overcome the judgment-passing values and link up language with the dis-adherent,4placeholder Dada had to unleash its poetical arsenal on all thinking:

“What we need are works that are strong straight precise and forever beyond understanding. Logic is a complication. Logic is always wrong. It draws the threads of notions, words, in their formal exterior, toward illusory ends and centers.”

Tzara’s critique here is global. “Everything one looks at is false,” he writes, echoing Nietzsche: “It is not true that the essence of things appears in the empirical world.” All the programs of logic (nation-states, finance, religious dogmas, aesthetic ideals, etc.) are faces of the same desire to appropriate language in a program – to control the errant specters for purposes catered to the artificially built world, which he wished to repudiate unreservedly – to stabilize becomings in illusory ends – to shackle the play of the free spirit to false centers. Against language’s use-value for any system, Tzara must degrade his own Dada, following Nietzsche: “Now everything is false through and through, mere ‘words,’ chaotic, weak, or extravagant.” 

To recognize language as artifice thrusts into question all the constructs of identity and definition built up to protect us from this truth. The prevalence of conventional, calculative, self-assertive uses of language in most cases suggests that this recognition is anything but average, or even generally considered possible. Insofar as the West is built upon identity and difference, the principle of non-contradiction and the oppositional form, Tzara must repudiate its very foundations – yet from within and using its own resources, too, exploiting them in a non-dual form (e.g. a thought of poetry that transcends the literary genre). The non-dual intuition Dada puts to page is not read from it one-to-one, as if directly scanned; rather it saves words from this very type of utilization by promoting the singularity and paradoxical unsayability of its intuitions. Thus Tzara’s call for “active simplicity” (superseding active nihilism), “spontaneity” (to calculate in light of the incalculable), and a “Dada” disgust (without ressentiment and playful). All of these intend a return to the materiality of words and liberation from programs. They are manners of dis-adherence that simultaneously promote a confederation of free spirits. Tzara says he writes his manifesto simply “to show that people can perform contrary actions together while taking one fresh gulp of air.”

Derrida’s distinction between language as idiom and language as property is helpful here. What is idiomatic resists appropriation (ownership) and remains untranslatable, even within its own particular language of articulation. For Derrida, this is a political lesson: the idiom is produced from a heritage – a matrix of responses to this impossibility of owning language – yet without recourse to the various political modes of appropriating that heritage. There is no “direct communication” of this experience: we are brought only indirectly to recognize language as specter. Outside even the realm of the meaningful and communicable, Tzara’s texts encounter us so that we might, for ourselves, come to the recognition these texts embody. The non-dual text calls us to respond to this truth of language without giving us a rubric for how to respond, except to tell us we must come to these recognitions on our own. Yet our response to this recognition is never only for ourselves, for what comes to us after we surrender to this truth and give way to the language-events that proceed from it are manifested, not for ourselves, but for the other too, for the wholly other.

Speech outside the appropriated and appropriable is the idiomatic: it is the writer’s ownmost speech, yet also what neither language nor its users can own. The poet, aware of spectral errancy, knows this. It is never a matter of deriving language from given materials, i.e. through words as accomplished signifiers. Rather, one must produce the idiom each time, as though it were the first time. This occurs in relation to what exceeds signification, to what is an exception to signified givens. It is this trait of being for the other, indirect and untranslatable, that marks the idiom: “When you look for what is most idiomatic in a language… you approach that which, throbbing within the language, does not let itself be grasped.” It is this passion en route that is passed on and left largely unsaid – even as it is said, given its proper place – for the recognition of language as artifice cannot be said (even if this truth commands we respond to it).

In sum, Tzara’s Dada shares in a non-dual heritage that, advancing in fits and starts, has always recognized language as artifice and has, so to speak, repudiatedly founded the real from outinside it. This play helps us understand the place Dada might assume in our inheritance of Nietzsche’s prophecy: “The wasteland grows…”, but also the degree to which it has liberated humanity for its future nature (which of course is simultaneously – but in which time? – its immemorial nature). For us to speak to what Tzara recognized and responded to, we cannot just rely on the texts he bequeathed to us. We must produce this recognition as such and anew, giving new body to this essence of language, donning our own finite context with a manifestation of this recognition. This is poetry’s response to the dead language in which it finds itself: to breathe life into the specters while respecting spectrality. Such a response is always subject to forgetting, like all phrases. And with its forgetting, the loss of the recognized truths it embodies. As Derrida says of poetry and its archive: “Oblivion is always possible.”


III. Messianic Abstraction in the Desert of the Desert

The abstraction that expands and grows, particularly in idioms of poetry, coincides with a radical gesture of reception and openness to the other in its singularity and creativity. To better understand this, I will now look to Derrida’s thinking of the “desert,” which is greatly echoed by Tzara’s nihilistic work. I wish to show how these thinkers – and we – share in this “desert of abstraction” under a permanent stake: as an exposure to what infinitely exceeds our extant significations, in the context of a radical fidelity to the other-to-come.

In the desert of abstraction, the writer experiences both this excess and this fidelity in many ways. However, what they leave behind is only a trace of the demolition of being and thought under its pressure: a wasteland of meaningless text, written by and for no one, that enters into or succumbs to its own thetic reversibility, a text spread across a dissociated corpus in an almost theatrical display of language’s decomposition. Yet, on the fiduciary side, this decomposition is the same process as the awakening of a future humanity, for it opens a vision of language beyond its oppositional and commoditized structures, beyond the philosophemes and epistimemes that harness into oppression the creative human spirit. In some cases, this decomposition brings us to poetry as a hatred and renunciation of poetry (Bataille); in other cases, a renunciation of prayer, of any assuredness regarding to whom our faith is directed (Celan). We leave our comfortable territory of knowledge and concepts and enter the “desert of the desert,” which Derrida designates as our place, poetic and “more than archi-originary.” However, it is precisely this desert that links us before any community or political determination, before any identity or -ism. Derrida points to the need for scrupulous attention and responsibility here, for it is literally an openness to the radically unplaceable. We cannot decide between void and other, so our quest to do justice to the other necessarily leads us to decide in the void. At the point of this extreme abstraction, what emerges is the human constant of faith in the unknown other – that to whom all our efforts and effects in the desert are, in the last instance, devoted. In our withdrawal from set determinations, systems, and common appropriations of language – in our self-expropriating venture into the void of signification and world – we point towards an originary experience of language which is simultaneously a fiduciary experience of the future. “The abstraction of the desert can thereby open the way to everything from which it withdraws.”

Max Ernst - from The Hunting of The Snark, An Agony in Eight Fits - (1950)

When Tzara proclaims, “There is a great negative work of destruction to be accomplished” – which he follows with a whole series of abolitions and renouncements of logic, future, memory, prophets, social hierarchy, and objects – this comes in response to a crisis of meaning that is not, however, new. Though intensified in the age we live, what is at stake is an immemorial crisis of the word’s spectrality, an awareness of the link between artifice and reality. In Derrida’s terms, this awareness progressively opens a new kind of desert from out of the desert of signification. Specifically, he describes the dual origin of “the desert in the desert” as a recognition of khōra and the response of messianicity. I will now briefly explore these in the context of Tzara’s work. 

Khōra is no being and nothing present but rather “the abstract spacing, place itself, the place of absolute exteriority.” It resists all presentation as Being, History, God, Nothing, or Man and never presents (itself) as such (it is not an ‘it’). However, khōra does not announce itself as a program of negation or via negativa. Khōra resists every process of historical revelation and anthropo-theological experience; it defaces all situations and contexts; it is inappropriable by any system; it is space, oscillation, relation. Khōra thus destabilizes any (appropriable) discourse before it is even spoken. It thrusts us from any pure psychic unity of meaning, returns us to the artifice and exteriority of our means of expression – to incohesiveness, to non-systematicity without no matter what system. This is the ordeal of khōra which cannot be sacralized, humanized, cultivated, historicized. Khōra is “the very place of an infinite resistance, of an infinitely impassible persistence [restance]: an utterly faceless other.” Khōra says the immemoriality of the desert in the desert, neither a threshold nor a loss.5placeholder This destabilization confronts all of us, for with it we confront a pervasive absence of meaning, a general condition of counter-sense that requires we keep constant watch over our words with scrupulous response. 

For Tzara, our reaction to this ungraspable truth of khōra is either the cowardice of the common or supreme risk of the new human, whereby the old laws whither away. This is the response that characterizes Derrida’s messianicity without messianism as well. To respond to khōra, the messianic traces its desire for justice in the absence of a transcendental signified, absent any messiah, absent any “meaning-to-say” (vouloir dire). It is an openness to the coming of the other, to the absolute surprise, without any assurance, without “horizon of expectation and without prophetic prefiguration.” This is the welcoming of the “to-come,” l’avenir in contrast to le futur. Le futur is what is planned, programmed, foreseen, and predicted; it is what happens as par for the course with totality, according to the accepted fabric of reality, etc. L’avenir by contrast is that future event that is other to all system, other to every present, escaping every prévision. Thus, abstract messianicity is unprotected, exposed. In being open to the other, it even risks death and an encounter with radical evil. Yet its invincible desire remains: that justice occur. Messianicity belongs to an experience of “faith without dogma” (without -ism) that is irreducible to knowledge (calculation, and makes its way through “the risks of absolute night.” No traditional opposition can contain it (faith versus knowledge, mysticism versus reason, atheistic versus theistic, materialist versus idealist, etc.). For Derrida, the justice sought here permits us to hope for a “universalizable culture of singularities” that liberates “a universal rationality and the political democracy that cannot be dissociated from it.” Thus we can say, messianicity liberates a culture of idioms of free responsibility and justice that respect the otherness of other idioms while translating them ever afresh – a heritage of tearers who share, vulnerably, in each tearing.6placeholder

I believe that Dada, from within its own finite and limited situation, attempted to find and did find this to-come. It meant a “Flight Out of Time” (title of Hugo Ball’s fantastic diary of those times) that let a newfound, unexpected, unforeseen “history” interrupt history. Defying all traditional oppositions, it showed the foundation of its law as a performative event which does not belong to the set it founds – an act of faith, a testimony, reliant wholly on the capacity of reception in others. Its the foundation is unjustifiable, that is: it is haunted by the need to make it just, continually unworking itself to honor the coming-other it loves. As we translate it here, too, we tear at the fabric of Dada to honor its truth, resituating its language in our own, as we too found our own testimony in the desert of the desert, losing our own traces in its movement.

When Tzara writes, “Order=disorder; ego=non-ego; affirmation=negation: the supreme radiations of an absolute art,” both khōra and the freedom it lends the messianic are implied. It also expresses a premonition that Baudrillard phrases years later as “the imminent reversibility of the sign.” In Tzara’s work, especially in the manifestos, this reversibility is immanent in the sign as a recognition of this truth, as creative-metamorphic response. Much like a decomposing body, this movement returns language to the truth of its materiality, its inseparability from life, a flourishing display of automatic dissolution that composes a revival, escalating language into a new status, as bearer of freed potentials and futurality. All that has dissolved remains ruin, or in a recomposed form, en route to the wholly other or to-come. This truth of the reversibility of signs finds its mark through the performance of the messianic, in closest relation to khōra, which “giving place to oppositions, would not itself submit to any reversal.” Messianity, in this sense, is the non-dual vanishing point between khōra and the future human real.

When Tzara claims Dada is “for and against unity and definitely against the future,” he recognizes that there is no futur without l’avenir. In the absence of an openness to the unseen coming, the future is merely the execution of a plan; it has no future. Thus Tzara’s only thesis: life and poetry must meet. The world-context must be torn, disrupted, transformed for the glory of creation to shine through. I have emphasized this meeting as predicated on a recognition of khōra (poetic experience of spectrality) and the response of the messianic (infinitely open to the other, passing by abstraction, negation, art, poetry). This human constant, as formulated in the Manifesto of 1918, is as paradoxical as it is non-dual: “The divine thing in us is our call to anti-human action.” That Tzara’s formulation appears so negative indicates the severity of the situation of the “desert in the desert” and the need for us to hollow out new spaces of response, of messianic abstraction, that mark this recognition for the sake of all beings.


IV. Anti-Human Action

In Tzara’s age as well as ours, the intensification of a crisis in signification and meaning requires that the human constant be formulated this way: as anti-work and anti-communication, in contrast to language as a use-economy. When Tzara writes, “From the point of view of poetry, or of art in general, the influence of Dada on the modern sensibility consisted in the formulation of a human constant which it distilled and brought to light,” this human constant resonates with all Derrida means by l’avenir as a movement outside what is, i.e. outside of language and history: a testament to freedom and responsibility for freedom before the other. Tzara found it necessary, in 1918, to present this constant as anti-human, a real recognition of the reversibility of signs and also for substantive reasons: increasingly, what is sold as human is inhuman, what is undertaken in humanity’s name is disgusting. Therefore, only anti-human action has a chance of righting the ship. This is not done out of misanthropy or an urge to modify the human by techno-scientific means, but out of love for futural humanity unknown – for what is constant in terms of freedom and an orientation to justice in the human soul. Such reversals allow for a dynamic mode of being-in-language that founds a counter-history and counter-sense, that tears the fabric of oppressive reality, even refusing literature for the sake of disadherent life instead.

Tzara’s work retains its ambiguity and incomprehensibility, its distance from all theses, on this and other points. It comes to us with a wink to its process, an incitement to the human constant it displays. To see every contradiction, if it is not to make us sick with ourselves, is also an affirmation of freedom and of being— and therefore also of language. It is a call to a living act. That is why Dada is the “exploitation of ideas,” a way to “escape destiny,” “the dictatorship of language,” “the death” and “the dictatorship of the spirit, “a croak croak croak and full of lies, a way to be “the editorial office and bathroom of God who every day takes a bath in us in the company of the privy emptier.” Dada is what remains when we do away with those who explain the terms, for the explanation is only satisfying for those who do not wish to learn, who need a refuge of stable world. Explanation relies on the beams and boards of the concept (Nietzsche would also add: of morality) and offers a haven of imaginary correctness, a comfort zone dissociated from khōra and the necessity of response. Whereas we respond to khōra and to the history of the messianic as a writing of this disaster in the desert of the desert with “the authority of the mystic wand formulated as the bouquet of a phantom orchestra made up of silent fiddle bows greased with philtres made of chicken manure”—in other words:

“To complete oneself, to perfect oneself in one’s littleness, to fill the vessel with one’s individuality, to have the courage to fight for and against thought, the mystery of bread, the sudden burst of an infernal propeller into economic lilies.”

This is why art is a private affair and the poet is happy to be insulted or disregarded, for it is proof that art cannot have within it a use-value (except perhaps as “unworking”): it must undermine all the uses of logic, all the schemas of influence that circulate blindly. This theme is present throughout Nietzsche and Tzara, whose supreme egotism is at the same time the most daring act of self-effacement. It can only be read, perhaps, by those who will recognize it for what it is (a trace of decomposition), who do not exalt it for its thetic qualities, who can read from the same place of negativity or the same desert from which it was composed. A trill, the work of art is a movement between an infinity of modulations of the voice without center. Not a squabble, but a conversation thrust into the turmoil of language/silence, between generic visionaries who can only speak it from a point where language itself is ventured to its utmost.

“We must sweep and clean,” Tzara says, because we have become too complacent with our tongues. We know our song is over. We know language is loss, yet not lost. Thus the emptiness of any word that does not breathe new life into it. We find an EAR between the consonants in our words heard and heart, an ear that will “emerge of its own accord”: we find an art that can hear. It remains secret, just as Tzara says the real Dada remains secret, for its truths are only recognized by those open to listening to it, heard only by those who have begun to respond. To see that language is not just a tool for influence is prerequisite on the poetic process having already begun moving in our life, defacing everything, repudiating and remaking the world-vale from out of its silence. This implies the unbending, infinite risk of the individual and all that he or she thinks of him or herself: the destabilization of our belief in the efficacy of words, yet for the sake of an efficacy and expediency outside expectation and goal. It is a bodhisattva’s vow to sing, an awakening: “Like the word Jim— es-specially, more than the words” (Spicer). 

Exquisite Corpse, with Valentine Hugo, André Breton, Tristan Tzara, and Greta Knutson - (1933)

V. Dada Bodhisattva in Early German Romanticism

The recognition of khōra (artifice, spectral errancy, “the implications of the nothing”) and the messianic response (human constant, faith in a coming humanity) which characterizes Tzara’s writings situates his work in what I am calling a non-dual heritage of future language. I believe it crucial to aver this heritage of tearers as transhistorical, in the sense that it is unified not by identity but by attitude, not by theses but by trajectory. The tear is accomplished at a single point that does not reconstitute itself save in a new tear. In rereading the succession of tears, with any luck, we can discern above all the single point that we ourselves must strike.

In this section, I situate Friedrich Schlegel, as representative of early Romanticism, alongside Tzara in this heritage. It is my contention that it extends back in time as long as humans have had language and sought a true and free dwelling in it. Irony, play, negation, and openness to contradiction are immediately recognizable here, regardless of the finite context from which they arise, for these examples withdraw from language as an economy of manipulative use and open to a future language – in truth, a future syntax and semiosis of living beings. Where works in this lineage present the (de- and re-)signifying process as such, they draw us to the essence of language, as we withdraw ourselves from the dupes of judgment. But if we consider that the thetic possibilities of language are only possible through the dualisms of language, we concede that it is impossible to directly say the non-dual, or even conjecture a thesis about it. We are never free of the specters, nor need we wish to be. Non-duality instead inspires a performative act that is less concerned with telling (which uses language as it is) than with showing (which transforms language into something else).

All this follows the method of useful means (upaya) set down thousands of years ago by the Buddha in the Lotus Sutra: the message of a One (non-dual) Vehicle whose message entailed a resistance to the dualisms of language (to any belief in them) and that had to formulate its Dharma as empty and beyond formulation. Tzara himself remarked, though perhaps half in jest, that Dada was a return to a “Buddhistic religion of indifference.” The Buddha recognized that speech was bound by dualisms and thus prone to entrap the mind in problems that do not help but only impede life. It is recorded that he resisted speaking after awakening, and when he did speak, he told of new Buddhas who would come after him to renew and retrace the non-dual. These beings, later called Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition, come to address language and the state of the dualistic mind in each finite context, thereby reinvigorating time and history with what is outside or free of it. They “turn the dharma wheel,” gracing each age with a vision of the non-dual that is as singular as the signifying body itself. They bring a transtemporal insight (Tzara’s “durationless globule”) into historical time in a quasi-impossible movement of infinity crossing the finite – a movement between hearts and peoples, not just words and discourses.

Tzara and Friedrich Schlegel offer us an ample comparison. Despite their young age and the rejection of their movement by the public, both fostered tightly-knit, though spatially dispersed, avant-garde communities. Both were at the center of highly-active, short-lived and internally-combustible bursts of creative and communal energy, thinking, and writing that embraced a vast multitude of perspectives while rejecting any narrow definition of itself. To be sure, both individuals also drew greatly from their peers and precursors, and their efforts would have been greatly diminished without them. To do their ideas due justice, both writers should be read with their cohort in mind, not just in isolation. In speaking of a non-dual heritage it is as wrong to forget Hölderlin, Schelling or Novalis as it is to forget Schwitters, Ball or Arp. We must remember the whole lineage of strikers – Rimbaud, de Nerval, Baudelaire, Mallarmé… (Indeed, it is the generic light of messianic writing in the khōra that we wish, ideally, to propound.) 

Tzara himself links these two avant-gardes immediately after suggesting that Dada formulated a human constant, as we saw above. He relates Dada directly to Schlegel’s group:

“It was in the same way that Romanticism, by defining an existing state of mind, was enabled not only to delimit a permanent aspect of the individual sensibility but to broaden this state of mind so as to constitute a source of intellectual values which in certain epochs was to play an important role in the interpretation of social phenomena. It is too soon to estimate the historic importance of Dada, but even now it can be stated that by supplying the germ of the surrealism it created, in the realm of poetry and art, a new intellectual climate which in some measure still survives.”

The definition of a state of mind is only that, a mere definition, a formulation, an artifice, and yet here it is one that is aware of itself. As intending an attitude before the day’s hegemonies, a creative trajectory into the future, it has an historical sensibility of itself as artifice. By formulating for us a poetic or artistic Idea which resists formulation, it submits itself as a formulation to be surpassed, even so far as to permit present recognitions to that effect. It opens itself to its own present supercession, thus embracing its “desert in the desert” status. Already in 1797, Friedrich Schlegel had written that,

“A critical judgment of an artistic production has no civil rights in the realm of art if it isn’t itself a work of art, either in its substance, as a necessary impression in the state of becoming, or in the beauty of its form and open tone.”

In other words, the artwork or piece of philosophy must carry within itself its own critique, a criteria unique to its own organic arrangements which “unworks’ itself. This allows the work to be received in a way that goes beyond artifice even as it situates itself within it. If Schlegel’s work sought to break down distinctions between art and criticism, poetry and philosophy, Tzara’s sought to break down distinctions between art and anti-art: between poetry and life. Why? Because, in a statement that reads as if Tzara or Nietzsche would say it,

“All the greatest truths of every sort are completely trivial and hence nothing is more important than to express them forever in a new way, and wherever possible, forever more paradoxically, so that we won’t forget they still exist and that they can never be expressed in their entirety.”

As part of its transgression of genre boundaries, Romanticism saw itself opening a new sphere within art that would eventually make room for a new kind of religion. Instead of seeing Dada as a refusal of this sphere of art-as-religion, I think we ought to see it as an intensification of our crisis – that even art must be disbanded as such a category. “L’art s’endort pour la naissance du monde nouveau.” I have drawn on Derrida’s thinking of the desert in the desert, his emphasis on the messianity of abstraction, to stress that the unifying threads between these movements seek a new way through religion and art, by reconceiving faith and creativity at a zero-level. These non-dual movements (bodhisattvic, Dadaist, romantic, deconstructionist, etc…) exhibit the appearance-as-disappearance of the messianic as transformative of particular finitudes in relation to the khōra, the abyss of discourse in revenance; and to the invincible desire for justice, the infinite Idea of a free and just humanity.


VI. In Praise of Incomprehensibility 

We inherit non-dual questions and challenges as they’re posed to our context, and they invariably propel us to the limit of our context. According to a quasi-Madhyamakan logic, we are both outside and inside our time, neither outside nor inside, nor neither outside nor inside. Applied to a project of liberation, this can only mean a creative-messianic response (attuned to the other, to justice) in the khōra (infinitely resisting us and so infinitely starting us over). The work we have to do requires that we dwell at that limit – the limit of an interrogation, but also of a pleasure. It is the pleasure of the discovery of the futural, including when we discover it in what is old. As Derrida puts it, “One is never installed within transgression; one never lives elsewhere.7placeholder

If there is anything Dadaists registered more strongly than the Romantics, it was the sense that there are no sacred words anymore, not “romantic poetry” or “the absolute.” (Though, of course, the absence of a Name for the god was already registered by Hölderlin.) Tzara extends his critique to each revenant word, saying in a “Note on Poetry” (1919): “Without pretensions to a romantic absolute, I present some banal negations.” Poetry can no longer be only sonorous, it must be formal action. Yet Schlegel, in his own idiom, says many similar things, for example: the artist is anyone who educates their intellect and carries the center within themselves; we never are a philosopher or poet, but always becoming one; to be alive, we must always join ourselves to poetry. In 1798 he writes, “A definition of poetry can only determine what poetry should be, not what it really was and is.” Tzara says essentially the same thing 150 years later: “Poetry is defined as a reality which is not valid aside from its future”; “the tabula rasa which we made into the guiding principle of our activity was of value only insofar as something else would succeed it.” Perhaps most importantly, for both authors, creative works must retain their incomprehensibility if they are to remain classical texts, for only in this way do we read language’s illegibility and come to its poetry, seeing its counter-sense (Sinnwidrigkeit) widen the scope of understanding in this process.8placeholder

Understanding, as poetic and living, can only begin when the vexation over incomprehensibility is lifted.9placeholder Entering into incomprehensibility was for Schlegel the only “salvation” of families and nations. For the Romantics and Dadaists, this meant bringing the vexation to a boiling point through challenges and provocations of every sort. To understand, the mind must take all content as a seed to germinate, rather than as fruit to eat. Tzara’s anti-human action flows right into his advocacy for a human constant. Non-duality is not a separable proposition, nor a duality-canceller; rather, it is the patient unworking and reinfection of dualisms with a vision to their productive unity. Negative formulations and reversals continue to strike until the vexation against incomprehensibility is lifted, until we cease to explain away and begin to listen. Until finite judgement cedes its logos to the desire for justice and infinity. Until we meet that irreversible constant of redemption which asks our utmost participation and commitment if it is to live. Incomprehensible asides, beguiling palimpsests, nugatory rants, ironic interjections, etc. – whatever the method, the goal is to unlock a resistance in the listener, so that the essential attitude, tendency, passion, verve and vivacity can be discerned and engaged. As Schlegel said, only a kindred spirit can unlock “the magic book of art” and free “the imprisoned holy spirit.” This intuitive apprehension of the sense, this sober learning by playful osmosis, this formation in the shadowy splendor of wit, initiates us into the lineage of strikers, the heritage of tearers.

Max Ernst - from The Hunting of The Snark, An Agony in Eight Fits - (1950)

Works that attest the bodily experience of the spectral errancy of words straddle the line between the impossibility and the necessity of “complete communication,” for it is the voice of quasi-silence, a non-message, approaching the generic or neuter voice – the voice of future’s ghost. Words rooted in this interplay between language and silence, saying and listening, prepare encounters. They disappear for the sake of a directionless moving-out-toward. Dada can fail because its language is not a sales pitch, it does not participate in reportage, in the rhetoric of correctness and facts. On the other hand, what could be more convincing, more overflowing with human facts, than effusions such as Tzara’s? Implicitly, we are rescued from the sphere of dualisms by this movement: the oppositional horizon no longer makes sense unless it colludes in undoing itself. Future language is a counter-violence, a discourse aiming at nondiscourse and peace, that we wage against the violence of discourse. This is the mark of a process impossible to pin down, a negativity of thought wherein the illusion of the for-myself is pierced and we exclaim as Tzara does: “My name is THE OTHER/desirous of understanding THE OTHER”; “for myself has never been for myself”; “I broke away from Dada and from myself as soon as I understood the implications of nothing.” We aspire to this understanding; it is mystery.

Though never articulating an ethic, the process Tzara enters by renewing and invigorating language is ethical, if only to the extent that it annihilates and thrusts into question the ‘who’ of the ethical being. It questions if the ‘who’ involved in the ethical relation is not, from the beginning, entirely shared – or always already crossed by the other – and therefore irreducible to itself. We see our own impermanence qua self (“I is another”), as well as our own capacity for freedom (“the other gives me my decision”), within and without language. It is this being-at-a-distance from our imagined language – so as to forgive it – that gives pleasure, for it indicates an unutterable freedom of the breath that brings language to its most creative display, that is, its most lasting and necessary. The idiom for the future emerges where we surrender ourselves to patiently trace the incomprehensible – the most rigorous detailing of life-death that could be.10placeholder

Schlegel and Tzara share in the negativity beyond negation or negation’s negation, a negativity none other than the singularity of the signifying body in its idiomaticity, inappropriable by signification or world. The latter we surpass in a messianic-type vision which associates the dissociated, which sees in discontinuity a possible continuum of thinking and writing that embraces and disengages, re-casting the historical in u-topic light. From Schlegel’s Ideas: “Versatility consists not just in a comprehensive system but also in a feeling for the chaos outside the system, like man’s feeling for something beyond man.” This chaos exists within each system as much as between systems, for all carry the schisms inherent with the passage of time. Given to movement of understanding and incomprehensibility, being and language meet at silent point pregnant with all speech – “Both the song and the silence my beautiful country of joy.” There, the addressee is always in question, the encounter always crucial. 


VII. Future Language Ready in the Wake

When Schlegel writes, “Only someone who has his own religion, his own original way of looking at infinity, can be an artist,” we must hear Tzara’s mandate “to divest one’s church of every useless cumbersome accessory; to spit out disagreeable or amorous ideas like a luminous waterfall.” It is an ironic silence when language enters its own quietude and begins speaking from its own otherness to itself, from a being it could never expect. This is an Idea spread out across the whole spectrum of thinking and writing, which it is free to violate, contort, fabulate. Schlegel writes, “No idea is isolated, but is what it is only in combination with all other ideas.” This echoes Lessing’s vision of a new “eternal gospel” that will appear as a “single book” spread out across all books, developing eternally and uniting the infinity of the process with the finitude of beings and language (history). At each contextualized moment, that which lies outside that context, i.e. outside of language, manifests a new time, the mark of what is to-come. It affirms a process that renounces goals and answers, which, for Nietzsche, was only the case, “if something were attained at every moment within this process— and always the same.” Or, to invoke Laruelle, what’s at stake is the Answer-in-person. As Tzara says,

“We want to make men realize afresh that the one unique fraternity exists in the moment of intensity when the beautiful and life itself are concentrated on the height of a wire rising toward a burst of light, a blue trembling linked to earth by our magnetic gazes covering the peaks of snow. The miracle. I open my heart to creation.”

What links all the players in this non-dual heritage is the Now of recognition. The past hopes we unearth correspond to the present hopes we inspire; past and present exertions to redeem humanity conspire together (Benjamin). That recognition is the core criterion, for as Schlegel says, “Spirits reveal themselves only to spirits.” This revelation – burst of light, miracle – implicates a spiritual response – open the heart to creation – no matter who we might consult as representative of this heritage. Their words are with us, yet they have not the words to say why, for they themselves do not fully comprehend. In truth, they are shared words, idioms loosed to ours, adventuring at the limit in a u-topic march. To take Blanchot’s word for it: “the one who begins to write, in the insouciance that makes him master of the infinite, perceives, in the end, that he has at best devoted all his strength to searching for only one single point.11placeholder” That single point cannot be plainly stated but only surrendered to – discovered in traversing the dispersed specters, the splintered representatives of a more human love (Rilke), the strewn ledgers of unique fraternity where we are both magnetically enlivened and justly effaced.

In the non-silence of the non-dual, language with all its dualisms becomes invested with its greatest energy and pertinence. Yet it also comes closest to its corpse. It is this skeletal heritage of non-dual recognitions and responses through which we come to produce our own idiom – an idiom consecrated to a future language. Future language arrives as a message that does not enter into the realms of the meaningful, perhaps not even into the realm of message-sending. It haunts us like a non-message for no one and from nowhere, destabilizing all physio-pyscho-political determinations, including self-expression, by subjecting them to the messianic operator of the as-not. Its non-dual heritage – but where, when, did it begin? – gives birth to readers by way of a free and creative negation. This takes great risk and compassion, for here our sights are set on the radically Not-Yet-World. Yet it is without pretention, ironic, serious as it is playful, because it does not need to convince you of itself, or coerce a system of influence. Its radiance is in its own effacement. The future language embalms itself for a hermeneutic to come of infinite truths. It readies its future self in its own wake. Staring into the black and empty tomb of language, we see suddenly that neither we nor it is dead, for already we await, by living it today, its resurrection.

Take a good look at me!
I am in idiot, I am a clown, I am a faker.
Take a good look at me!
I am ugly, my face has no expression, I am little.
I am like all of you!

Anno domini Dada. Take care. And remember this example…

Timothy Lavenz is a poet, philosopher, and translator. Many of his writings can be found at

Works Cited

Blanchot, Maurice and Charlotte Mandell. The Book to Come. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Derrida, Jacques and Gianni Vattimo, eds. “Faith and Knowledge,” Samuel Weber, trans. Religion. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Derrida, Jacques. “Khōra,” Ian McLeod, trans. On the Name. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995.

Derrida, Jacques and Alan Bass. Positions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Derrida, Jacques. Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.

Jullien, Francois. Resources of Christianity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2021.

Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe and Jean-Luc Nancy. The Literary Absolute, trans Philip Barnard and Cherly Lester. New York: State University Press, 1988.

Murdoch, Iris. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. London: Penguin Books, 1992.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-moral Sense.”

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. trans. Kaufman. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.

Schlegel, Friedrich. “Critical Fragments,” “Ideas.” Classic and Romantic German Aesthetics, ed J.M. Bernstein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Schlegel, Friedrich. “On Incomprehensibility.” European Romanticism: a Brief History with Documents, Warren Breckman, ed. Boston: Bedford Press, 2008.

Spicer, Jack. “A Textbook of Poetry.” The Collected Books of Jack Spicer. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1975.

Tzara, Tristan and Mary Ann Caws, trans. Approximate Man and Other Writings. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2005.

Tzara, Tristan. Dada Painters and Poets, Motherwell, Robert, ed.. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Tzara, Tristan. Dada est Tatou. Tout est Dada. Paris: Flammarion, 1996.


Emerson: “The sign and credentials of the poet are, that he announces that which no man foretold.”


See Lavenz, Timothy, “Utopic Expressivity” in Oraxiom Journal, Issue 1, pgs 1-2.


Wallace Stevens: “The poetry of a work of the imagination constantly illustrates the fundamental and endless struggle with fact.” Of course ‘fact’ is far from a univocal term. Compare Emerson’s dictum “Ask the fact for the form”: the fact of thought and experience must drive the creation of the form. Charles Olson contends with the non-duality thus: “It comes down to fact and form. A writer, I dare say, goes by words. That is, they are facts. And forms. Simultaneously.”


See Francois Jullien, There is No Such Thing as Cultural Identity and Resources of Christianity.


See Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge,” Religion, §23-25.


See Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge,” Religion, §21-22.


Derrida, Positions, p. 12.

The reader interested in a more rigorous conception of the non-dualizing work ought to consult these programmatic pages of Positions, where for example Derrida speaks of the need “to transform concepts, to displace them, to turn them against their presuppositions, to reinscribe them in other chains, and little by little to modify the terrain of our work and thereby produce new configurations… Breaks are always, and fatally, reinscribed in an old cloth that must continually, interminably be undone. This interminability is not an accident or contingency; it is essential, systematic, and theoretical. And this in no way minimizes the necessity and relative importance of certain breaks, of the appearance and definition of new structures…” (p. 24)

Elaborating “a kind of general strategy of deconstruction,” Derrida indicates the need to avoid “both simply neutralizing the binary oppositions of metaphysics and simply residing within the closed field of these oppositions, thereby confirming it.” It is worth sharing here how he describes this double writing or double science:

“On the one hand, we must traverse a phase of overturning. To do justice to this necessity is to recognize that in a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand. To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment. To overlook this phase of overturning is to forget the conflictual and subordinating structure of opposition. Therefore one might proceed too quickly to a neutralization that in practice would leave the previous field untouched, leaving one no hold on the previous opposition, thereby preventing any means of intervening in the field effectively. We know what always have been the practical (particularly political) effects of immediately jumping beyond oppositions, and of protests in the simple for of neither this nor that. When I say that this phase is necessary, the word phase is perhaps not the most rigorous one. It is not a question of a chronological phase, a given moment, or a page that one day simply will be turned, in order to go on to other things. The necessity of this phase is structural; it is the necessity of an interminable analysis: the hierarchy of dual oppositions always reestablishes itself. Unlike those authors whose death does not await their demise, the time for overturing is never a dead letter.

“That being said—and on the other hand—to remain in this phase is still to operate on the terrain of and from within the deconstructed system. By means of this double, and precisely stratified, dislodged and dislodging, writing, we must also mark the interval between inversion, which brings low what was high, and the irruptive emergence of a new “concept,” a concept that can no longer be, and never could be, included in the previous regime.” (p 41-42)


I borrow the theme of Sinnwidrigkeit from Kris Gleichmann.


“A difficulty is a light. An insuperable difficulty is a sun.” –Paul Valéry, quoted as epigram to Iris Murdoch’s Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals.

The two contexts in which Murdoch utilizes this quote pertain to the fecund non-duality between experience and language in the thinker’s course, as her attention gradually leads her to think through creative images:

“[Wittgenstein says]: ‘A mediocre writer must beware of too quickly replacing a crude, incorrect expression with a correct one. By doing so he kills his original idea, which was at least still a living seedling. Now it is withered and no longer worth anything. He may as well throw it on the rubbish heap. Whereas the wretched little seedling was still worth something.’ Here, with a free and apt use of metaphor, with swift intuitive imagination, Wittgenstein describes the experience of thinking. Yes, it is like that. We can come close to these things and do them justice. At the border-lines of thought and language we can often ‘see’ what we cannot say: and have to wait and attempt to formulate for ourselves and convey to others our experience of what is initially beyond and hidden. We look out into the abyss, into the mystery, intuiting what is not ourselves. A difficulty is a light, an insuperable difficulty is a sun. Great poetry may be for all thinkers an ideal image of ‘pure creativity’ (compare ‘pure cognition’). Of course philosophy is definitely not poetry. (I stay with the ‘old quarrel’.) But, even in philosophy, language is not a cage.” (§7, p 283)

“The artist or thinker concentrates on the problem, grasps it as a problem with some degree of clarity, and waits. Something is apprehended as there which is not yet known. Then something comes; as we sometimes say from the unconscious. It comes to us out of the dark of non-being, as a reward for loving attention. An insuperable difficulty is a sun. Simone Weil, speaking of anamnesis, calls it ‘an orientation of the soul toward something which one does not know, but whose reality one does know’… The good artist, the true lover, the dedicated thinker, the unselfish moral agent solving his problem: they can create the object of love. The dog’s tooth, when sincerely venerated, glows with light.” (§19, p 505)


Chanter of Personality, outlining what is yet to be,
I project the history of the future.
—Walt Whitman, “To A Historian”


Blanchot, The Book to Come, p. 205. To accomplish the ‘leap’ of literature – which leaps beyond the instrumental language that maintains the work world – we must “write without end, write straight from the infinite.” Literature, in this sense, is this movement of surrender to that infinite distance of “fiction” (artifice, image, thought) whereby we are divested of ourselves and emptied of world, subjected to the demand of (non-dual, neutral) writing as the call of the unheard-of future (the community without community to come (Nancy, Inoperative Community)). As Blanchot tells us, the very nature of “immediate language” changes in the writer’s hand; yet that most intimate language only expresses the writer by “disappropriating him, by making him Other.” Our hands are hands that no longer belong to anyone—”I am no longer myself and can no longer say ‘I’.” (p. 208-9)


April 2022


Recollection & Life: Bergson’s Metaphysics of Memory

by Rowan Anderson

The Reality That Would Be Dreamed: George MacDonald's "Lilith" as a Response to Solipsistic Illusion

by Antonio Wolf

With Them Without Words: A non-dual heritage of future language in Tzara, Derrida, Schlegel, and beyond

by Timothy Lavenz

Mantriatic Reality and Living After Postmodernity

by Diego Galán