Unreal Nature

September 30, 2014

Ends as Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… These pictures are means, let there be no mistake about that — means to the gratification of man. When they are removed from sight their purpose is violated.

This is from ‘The Storage of Art from Germany at the National Gallery, Washington’ (1946) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

As we all know from the newspapers, two hundred important paintings by masters ranging in time from Giotto to Daumier have been brought to this country from damaged or destroyed museums in Germany by the United States government for safe-keeping in the storage rooms of the National Gallery at Washington. They will be returned to Germany whan “definitely established as being of bona fide German ownership … and when conditions there warrant.” Meanwhile, “it is not contemplated that any of these works of art will be exhibited to the public at present.”

I have seen the list of the pictures involved in this transaction, and the number of great masters and the quantity in which they are represented take my breath away …

… That these works should come to this country and remain unseen is of a piece with everything else that distinguishes an age which, even when it wants to, can no more tell the difference between man as an end and man as a means than it can tell the difference between things as ends and things as means.

These pictures are means, let there be no mistake about that — means to the gratification of man. When they are removed from sight their purpose is violated. And to handle them at the same time with such care (air-conditioned storage) is to regard them in effect as objects solely of great material value, which is to pervert their function. The money value the pictures represent becomes more important and more of an end than the delight they would afford countless people in this country who will never be able to travel to see them in Europe.




September 29, 2014

“Incoherent, Inarticulate, Amateurish”

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Activities that aim at producing a different hearing and a renewed viewing are undifferentiatingly confused with obscurantism and hastily dismissed as sheer incompetency or deficiency.

This is from the essay ‘All-Owning Spectatorship’ by Trinh T. Minh-Ha found in Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985, second edition, edited by Zoya Kocur and Simon Leung (2012):

… Here is where the earth becomes blue like an orange. To say red, to show red, is already to open up vistas of disagreement. Not only because red conveys different meanings in different contexts, but also because red comes in many hues, saturations, and brightnesses, and no two reds are alike. In addition to the varying symbols implied, there is the unavoidable plurality of language. And since no history can exhaust the meaning of red, such plurality is not a mere matter of relativist approach to the evershifting mores of the individual moment and of cultural diversification; it is inherent to the process of producing meaning; it is a way of life.

… It is easy to commit an outrage on those (men) who fulminate against what they call “those school boyish evidences” (referring here to statements in a film uttered by women’s voices), when the work succeeds to lure them into a spectacle that shows neither spectacular beings nor sensational actions; offers neither a personal nor a professional point of view; provides no encased knowledge to the acquisitive mind; and has no single story to tell nor any central message to spread, except the unconcealed one(s) about the spectators themselves as related to each specific context.

The inability to think symbolically or to apprehend language in its very symbolic nature is commonly validated as an attribute of “realistic,” clear, and accomplished thinking. The cards are readily shifted so as to turn a limit, if not an impoverishment of dominant thinking into a virtue, a legitimate stance in mass communication, therefore a tool for political demagogy to appeal to widely naturalized prejudices. Since clarity is always ideological and reality always adaptive, such a demand for clear communication often proves to be nothing else but an intolerance for any language other than the one approved by the dominant ideology. At times obscured and other times blatant, this inability and unwillingness to deal with the unfamiliar, or with a language different from one’s own, is, in fact, a trait that intimately belongs to the man of coercive power. It is a reputable form of colonial discrimination, one in which difference can only be admitted once it is appropriated, that is, when it operates within the Master’s sphere of having. Activities that aim at producing a different hearing and a renewed viewing are undifferentiatingly confused with obscurantism and hastily dismissed as sheer incompetency or deficiency. They are often accused of being incoherent, inarticulate, amateurish (“it looks like my mother’s first film,” says a young to-be-professional male), or when the initiating source of these activities happens to be both female and “articulate,” of “intellectualism” — the unvarying target of attack of those for whom thinking (which involves reflection and reexamination) and moreover thinking differently within differences remains a male ability and justifiably, an unwarranted threat. As the proverbial line goes, He only hears (sees) what He wants to hear (see), and certainly, there are none so deaf (blind) as those who don’t want to hear (see).

… One day, someone asked a [Chinese] painter why he painted his bamboos in red. When the painter replied “What color should they be?,” the answer came: “Black, of course.”




September 28, 2014

This Riven (Gaping? Open? Offered?) Present

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… ploughing them, scratching them, pinching them, piercing them, moving thus to the far side of accomplishment, into beginnings …

This is from the essay ‘Changing of the World’ in A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… we are talking about major ruptures that affect everyone, every generation, and all their images, languages, ways of life. From one moment to the next, this opens in us, allowing us to see this vast drift [dérive] of the world. From one moment to the next, we find ourselves sensibly and physically outside ourselves, outside the blind slipping away of our little stretch of time. We see the night that borders our time, and we touch on some aspect of it — not the future, but the coming of something or someone: the coming of something that is already of us and of the world, but that has to come from somewhere else, displaced elsewhere into an unimaginable elsewhere.

Perhaps it is an ability to touch, in the darkness, this coming elsewhere, this breaching of time, of space, and of all orientation, that will have defined a character trait specific to modernity. Modernity knows itself to be exposed (this is both a threat and a desire) to what is not itself and is not there, but is nonetheless very close or continually approaching.

Exposed: turned toward, yes, but without thereby having either a specific course or a guide, perhaps without even an awaiting, but in a situation that verges on exceeding both waiting and nostalgia. Finally, despite everything, an inclination to be and to practice this riven (gaping? open? offered?) present.

[ … ]

… We have no other discourse; all we know is that something has been interrupted, broken down at the heart of discourses that, once cherished, have now become untenable (philosophies of history, moral philosophies, and even philosophies, literatures, and poetries as a whole). We have no other discourse because it is undoubtedly — we’re just beginning to sense this — the general function of discourse itself that’s at stake here: sense’s distinction is coming to an end. It is as if all possible sense had been produced and, ultimately, “sense” itself turned out to be a crazed machine and the demand for it a senseless one.

… Art is displaced, therefor; it stops seeking out new forms and instead transforms itself and, imperceptibly, transports itself outside its site. Its horizon is no longer that of transfiguration, therefore, but of a patient practice this side of figures, flush against surfaces, bodies, clays, pulps, beats, or rhythms, in the very place where objects become strange, where the world is emptied, decomposed, or recomposed through and through.

It is no longer a matter of the composition of forms but a matter of touching on grounds, ploughing them, scratching them, pinching them, piercing them, moving thus to the far side of accomplishment, into beginnings, nascent states, alongside unfettered energies and unleashed tensions, the breaks and tremors of origins.




September 27, 2014

The Nature of Parasitism

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… it may be irresponsible since it always has the responsible thing it feeds on to sustain it and keep it alive.

This is from the essay ‘How Shall the Poem Be Written?’ found in The Collected Essays of J.V. Cunningham (1976):

… The motive is rebellion, now become a habit, which is sufficient to destroy but not to establish.

This is the inconclusive issue of that revolution in the arts, poetry among the rest, which began in the first decade of this century, culminated in the twenties, and achieved almost universal cultural acceptance in the forties. I myself came into it in the late twenties, the latest possible moment to be touched by the original impulse. Soon afterward — let us date it by Eliot’s tenure of the Charles Eliot Norton professorship at Harvard in 1933-34 — what had been the advance guard had become practically the whole army. Everyone felt special in belonging to a club to which everyone belonged.

[ … ]

… norm and variation is relevant to, is, in fact, the generating principle of parasitic meter. The term is descriptive and pejorative. Such meter presupposes a meter by law which it uses, alludes to, traduces, returns to. To perceive it one must have firmly in mind the prior tradition from which it departs and to which it returns. The locus classicus is Eliot’s “the most interesting verse which has yet been written in our langauge has been done by taking a very simple form, like the iambic pentameter, and constantly withdrawing from it, or taking no form at all, and constantly approximating to a very simple one. It is this contrast between fixity and flux, this unperceived evasion of monotony, which is the very life of verse.”

… If it seems from this account that meter can be parasitic in many and devious ways, this is true, for the only consistent principle is that it depart from and return to a norm. It is the nature of parasitism that it may feed in different ways, that it may be irresponsible since it always has the responsible thing it feeds on to sustain it and keep it alive.

… the nature of parasitic meter can be more clearly seen in what is perhaps the best passage in Eliot’s Gerontion:

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us.

Let us go through some of this, line by line. “After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now” is a normal iambic pentameter with feminine ending. It has a slightly odd movement, but that has nothing to do with the metrical principle. The next line consists of a complete clause forming a normal iambic pentameter, but with the appositive phrase “contrived corridors” tacked on extra. “And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions” has an unusual variation in the second foot. “Guides us by vanities. Think now” contains an easily recognized part of a normal line, with the repetition of “Think now” added. We return in the next line and the line following to blank verse, with an unusual variation in the last foot of the latter. “That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late”; this will not fit a standard pattern. The complete clause, however, could be taken as a headless pentameter, and the added phrase is supported by the repetition of “gives.” The next line returns to the normal. Finally, “In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon” is a standard line with the repetitive “Gives too soon” added. And so on.

An inductive examination of these poems, with no antecedent knowledge of English metrical tradition, would yield no metrical principle.




September 26, 2014

The Unclearness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… the way that we … decide that something … is a thing and the rest of it isn’t a thing is odd …

This first is from a 1973 Artnews interview with Vivien Raynor, found in Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews, edited by Kirk Varnedoe and compiled by Christel Hollevoet (1996):

[ … ]

We drifted for a while into a discussion of whether art had become just another industry. For him this was not the precise word for the situation, but it led him to comment on what he called the “unclearness” of society, so that “the things which were the foundations of art — the conventions and oppositions to conventions — no longer apply. Society is now too rich to accommodate that kind of simplemindedness, so some like me — I end up with just me, and I do what I do without any strong sense of its importance. At a certain point, one feels idealistic — that one will put oneself to good use … being a painter. Then later on, one comes up with the question of whether it is of any use — I’m not sure whether it is or not. but in my life, it’s too late — I mean, it would just be a hideous tragedy if I decided it were completely useless” — he broke out laughing at the thought — “unless I just did it with some sense of humor, and I’m willing to do that. Nevertheless, I’ve trained myself to deal with the things I deal with too completely to throw them aside. I don’t think I could just throw over my devotion to the visual arts.”

“Do you believe new art is a criticism of the old?”

“I think art criticizes art, I don’t know if it’s in terms of new and old. It seems to me old art offers just as good a criticism of new art as new art offers of old.”

The following is from a 1979 interview with Christian Geelhaar:

[ … ]

Christian Geelhaar: I have come to notice things in your work which, I think, are basically related to each other, but which have been developed in quite different directions. You once described the flag as a thing which is seen but not examined. The Stars and Stripes is an emblem which is taken for granted. It’s a unit. If one does examine your first Flag painting, however, one realizes that it is composed of three panels. I can recognize ideas related to this in some of your more recent paintings. In Untitled, 1975, or in Scent, the cross-hatchings create sort of an all-over pattern which you may see at first as one undivided thing which it is not. Do you think I am justified in drawing relationships between ideas such as these?

Jasper Johns: Yes, I do. Such things run through my work, relationships of parts and wholes. Maybe that’s a concern of everybody’s. Probably it is, but I’m not sure it is in the same way. It seems so stressed in my work that I imagine it has a psychological basis. It must have to do with something that is necessary for me. But of course it is a grand idea. It relates to so much of one’s life. And spatially it’s an interesting problem. In painting, the concern with space can be primary … the division of space and the charges that space can have … the shifting nature of anything … how it varies when it’s taken to be a whole and when it’s taken to be a part. Aside from such problems of identity, the way that we use space and decide that something in the space is a thing and the rest of it isn’t a thing is odd and is always changing.




September 25, 2014

Its Weird Fullness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… The power of cinema’s images stems from their not lacking anything (as a supposed representative of an absent Real), from their own plenitude as material and real in themselves …

This is from Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality by John Mullarkey (2009):

Deleuze and Guattari happily maintain, along with other psychodynamic theorists, that the unconscious is a site of desire, of libidinal forces. But, for them, these forces are a plenum, not a vacuum: they lack nothing and are wholly productive. Once again we are on philosophical territory. One tradition, from Plato through Hegel, to Sartre, Lacan and Žižek, has always seen desire as a lack, as a teleological need: desire aims at a transcendent object, the possession of which alone will satiate the desire. ‘Desire as lack’ renders any perception of the object specular and representational, a permitted or defeated access to reality:

To a certain degree, the traditional logic of desire is all wrong from the very outset: from the very first step that the platonic logic of desire forces us to take, making us choose between production and acquisition. From the moment that we placed desire on the side of acquisition, we make desire an idealistic (dialectical, nihilistic) conception, which causes us to look upon it as primarily a lack: a lack of an object, a lack of the real object.

Deleuze, on the other hand, sees desire in the tradition of Nietzsche and Bergson: it is material and ‘immanent’ to the world — it has no transcendent object constituting it. Nor is it teleological, for it wants for nothing.

The consequences of these different notions of desire are fundamental to both the Freudian and the Deleuzian conception of the cinematic image. For those in the Freudian tradition, the film image is a representation that we lack. Combined with our negative desire for plenitude, filmic representations are able to position us as masochists, sadists, scopophiliacs or fetishists — a whole panoply of neurotics and perverts. For Deleuze, however, the cinematic image is an object (a physical process) itself, not just a transparent sign of a missing object. As the Deleuzian film analyst Steven Shaviro writes:

the fundamental characteristic of the cinematic image is therefore said to be the one of lack … But is it really lack that makes images so dangerous and disturbing? What these [psychoanalytic] theorists [of film] fear is not the emptiness of the image, but its weird fullness; not its impotence so much as its power.

The power of cinema’s images stems from their not lacking anything (as a supposed representative of an absent Real), from their own plenitude as material and real in themselves, and as all too present and affective to the viewer. Where, for example, we sympathize with events on-screen that we would normally represent as morally reprehensible — as in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) when we want Norman Bates to succeed in clearing up the bloody mess after the first murder committedd by ‘mother,’ and then later again in his attempt to sink Marion Crane’s car — it is the processes, physical and minute, that gain our empathy directly as processes impinging upon our senses, not the representation of any ‘wicked’ character (that we might like or loathe). It is Norman’s movements, as well as the car’s and that of the changing perspective (due to the camera’s own movement), that directly affect us … .

This direct presence of the image does not only preclude the Freudian symbolic approach, though, but any linguistic one too; that is, any approach that makes the film image a representation or symbol. Instead, cinema for Deleuze ‘is a plastic mass, an a-signifying and a-syntaxic material, a material not formed linguistically even though it is not amorphous and is formed semiotically, aesthetically, and pragmatically.’ He wants to replace the linguistically dominated semiological approach with a ‘semiotics’ — a ‘system of images and signs independent of language in general.’ Any language system only exists in its reaction to a non-language material that it transforms.

My most recent previous post from Mullarkey’s book is here.




September 24, 2014

Annealing Hardships

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… but for the “twice-born” … the sting of that domain — its ambitions, envies, and power struggles — has been removed.

This is from Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society by Victor Turner (1974). The first sentence, below, quotes Sartre; the square bracketed second word is Turner’s:

… “I [agree] that social facts have their own structure and laws that dominate individuals, but I see in this the reply of worked matter to the agents who work it. Structures are created by activity which has no structure, but suffers its results as structure.” I see liminality as a phase in social life in which this confrontation between “activity which has no structure” and its “structured results” produces in men their highest pitch of self-consciousness. Syntax and logic are problematic and not axiomatic features of liminality. We have to see if they are there — empirically. And if we find them we have to consider well their relation to activities that have as yet no structure, no logic, only potentialities for them. In long-established cultural systems I would expect to find the growth of a symbolic and iconographic syntax and logic; in changing or newly established systems I would expect to find in liminal situations daring and innovation both in the modes of relating symbolic and mythic elements and in the choice of elements to be related. There might also be the introduction of new elements and their various combination with old ones, as in religious syncretisms.

The same formulation would apply to such other expressions of liminality as Western literature and art.Sometimes art expresses or replicates institutionalized structure to legitimate or criticize; but often it combines the factors of culture — as in cubism and abstract art — in novel and unprecedented ways. The unusual, the paradoxical, the illogical, even the perverse, stimulate thought and pose problems, “cleanse the Doors of Perception,” as Blake put it.

… In everyday life people in tribal societies have little time to devote to protophilosophical or theological speculation. But in protracted liminal periods, through which everyone must pass, they become a privileged class, largely supported by the labor of others — though often exposed by way of compensation to annealing hardships — with abundant opportunity to learn and speculate about what the tribe considers its “ultimate things.”

… It would seem that where there is little or no structural provision for liminality, the social need for escape from or abandonment of structural commitments seeks cultural expression in ways that are not explicitly religious, though they may become heavily ritualized. Quite often this retreat from social structure may appear to take an individualistic form — as in the case of many post-Renaissance artists, writers, and philosophers. But if one looks closely at their productions, one often sees in them at least a plea for communitas. The artist is not really alone, nor does he write, paint, or compose for posterity, but for living communitas. Of course, like the initiand in tribal society, the novelistic hero has to be reinducted into the structural domain, but for the “twice-born” (or converted) the sting of that domain — its ambitions, envies, and power struggles — has been removed. He is like Kierkegaard’s “knight of faith” who having confronted the structured and quantitative crowd as “the qualitative individual” moves from antithesis to synthesis and though remaining outwardly indistinguishable from others in this order of social structure is henceforth inwardly free from its despotic authority, is an autonomous source of creative behavior. This acceptance or forgiveness, to use William Blake’s term, of structure in a movement of return from a liminal situation is a process that recurs again and again in Western literature, and indeed, in the actual lives of many writers, artists, and political heroes …

… Symbols may well reflect not structure, but anti-structure, and not only reflect it but contribute to creating it. Instead, we can regard the same phenomena in terms of the relationship between structure and communitas to be found in such relational situations as passages between structural states, the interstices of structural relations, and in the powers of the weak.




September 23, 2014

Field-grown Monsters

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… While Giacometti could raise his monsters by hand and in a hothouse, Hare has to meet the rush of a horde of late, hot, field-grown monsters coming from every direction …

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of David Hare’ (1946) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

Hare stands second to no sculptor of his generation, unless it be David Smith, in potential talent. But like Smith in his latest phase and like all those who practice the baroque seriously at this moment, he is overwhelmed by the challenge of what is thought to be the contemporary mood.

Hare’s is the most intensely surrealist art I have ever seen — in the sense tha tit goes all the way in the direction of surrealism and then beyond, developing surrealism’s premises with a consistency and boldness the surrealist doctrinaires themselves have hardly envisaged.

David Hare, Magician’s Game, 1944 [image from WikiArt]

Hare preserves Giacometti’s demiurgic ambition to create in each work of art a non-aesthetic personality, a new element of “absolute” experience, but he has failed to possess himself as yet of a sense of style comparable to Giacometti’s at his best. And he is not concerned enough with the necessity of making sure that the work of art be at least art before becoming a personality. There are, of course, extenuating circumstances in Hare’s case. While Giacometti could raise his monsters by hand and in a hothouse, Hare has to meet the rush of a horde of late, hot, field-grown monsters coming from every direction of present day history [1946]. They are not as easy to control as Giacometti’s horrors.

Hare’s art as a whole suffers from its diversity, its lack of a unifying formal principle, of a consistent plastic bias. The twenty-three “personalities” on exhibition belong to at lest seven different periods of geology. Their variety is upsetting instead of stimulating, because it is the result of the absence of style and the presence of elaborations and complications too often motivated by nothing more than exuberance or mechanical facility. Nor does the individual excellence of so many of the pieces — some are superb — remedy their failure to relate to one another.

As I have said, Hare has a prodigious amount of talent. The linear inventiveness of his sculpture cannot be denied; it is almost possible, in fact, to argue that he is a great draftsman– which is, perhaps, why he is not a successful sculptor in any final way. He still derives too closely from painting and fails to distinguish between the different orders of feeling proper to it and to sculpture. And in this respect, particularly, gothic surrealism, with its deliberate obliteration of such distinctions, is a handicap. (Perhaps it is necessary to remind the reader that the surrealism of Picasso, Miró, and Masson is not gothic.) Only when Hare comes to include his surrealism in something larger and outwardly more impassive and controlled, something that scorns to compete with nature in procreation, will he realize the fulness of his unquestionable talent.




September 22, 2014

In Whose Frame

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… Making fiction does not mean telling stories. It means undoing and rearticulating the connections …

This is from the essay ‘Contemporary Art and the Politics of Aesthetics’ by Jacques Rancière found in Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985, second edition, edited by Zoya Kocur and Simon Leung (2012):

… A community of sense is a certain cutting out of space and time that binds together practices, forms of visibility, and patterns of intelligibility. I call this cutting out and this linkage a partition of the sensible.

[ … ]

… If Brecht remained a kind of archetype for political art in the twentieth century, it was due not so much to his enduring communist commitment as to the way he negotiated the relation between these opposites, blending the scholastic forms of political teaching with the enjoyments of the musical or the cabaret or discussing allegories of Nazi power in verse about cauliflowers. The main procedure of political or critical art consists in setting out the encounter, and possibly the clash, of heterogeneous elements. The clash of these heterogeneous elements is supposed to provoke a break in our perception, to disclose some secret connection of things hidden behind everyday reality. This hidden reality may be the absolute power of dream and desire concealed by the prose of bourgeois life, as it is in the surrealist poetics. …

… In recent years many artists have set out to revive the project of an art that makes real objects instead of producing or recycling images, or that undertakes real actions in the real world rather than merely “artistic” installations. Political commitment thus is equated with the search for the real. But the political is not the “outside” of a “real” that art would have to reach. The “outward” is always the other side of the “inward.” What produces their difference is the topography in whose frame the relation of in and out is negotiated. The real as such simply does not exist. What does exist is a framing or a fiction of reality. Art does not do politics by reaching the real. It does it by inventing fictions that challenge the existing distribution of the real and the fictional.

Making fiction does not mean telling stories. It means undoing and rearticulating the connections between signs and images, images and times, or signs and space that frame the existing sense of reality. Fiction invents new communities of sense: that is to say, new trajectories between what can be seen, what can be said, and what can be done. It blurs over the distribution of places and competences, which also means that it blurs over the very borders defining its own activity; doing art means displacing the borders of art, just as doing politics means displacing the borders of what is recognized as the sphere of the political. It is no coincidence that some of the most interesting artworks today engage with matters of territories and borders. What could be the ultimate paradox of the politics of aesthetics is that perhaps by inventing new forms of aesthetic distance or indifference, art today can help frame, against the consensus, new political communities of sense. Art cannot merely occupy the space left by the weakening of political conflict. It has to reshape it, at the risk of testing the limits of its own politics.




September 21, 2014

Nothing But Chances

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… existence is engaged in this absence of the given in order to give sense every chance …

This is from the essay ‘Responding to Existence’ in A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… Sense is only guaranteed by its own movement of expansion and flight — or, if you prefer, its own imminent contagion or its own transcendent excess.

Sense, then, has the same structure as responsibility: it is engagement, oath. Spondere is to engage by a ritualized oath. To one’s sponsio, the other’s re-sponsio responds. The response is first of all a re-engagement — an engagement in return for what engaged us or what engaged itself for us: the world, existence, others. It is a guaranteed exchange without any guarantee of making sense. It is a mutual pledge to truthfulness without which neither speech nor expression [regard] would be possible. So, when one answers for, one also responds to — to a call, to an invitation, to a question or to a defiance of sense. And when one responds to, one answers for — for the sense that is promised or guaranteed. If I’m asked the time, I guarantee that I will give the right time. If I’m asked about love or justice, I guarantee the unassureable infinity of these words. What we usually call a “response” is a solution; here, though, it is a matter of the referral or the return [renvoi] of the promise or the engagement. Sense is the engagement between several beings, and truth always, inevitably, lies in this between or in this with.

This is our responsibility: it isn’t a task assigned to us, but an assignment that constitutes our being.

… This responsibility is as empty as it is absolute. This emptiness is its truth: the opening of sense. This emptiness is everything, therefore, everything except nothingness in the sense that nihilism understands it. Nihilism affirms that there is no sense, that the heavens of sense are empty. In a sense, absolute responsibility says the same thing: that there is no given (present, available, configured, attested, deposited, assured) sense, that sense can never be given. It says that existence is engaged in this absence of the given in order to give sense every chance — indeed, perhaps sense is made up of nothing but chances.




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