Michel Deguy (translated by Wilson Baldridge)

Letter to Gérard Bucher regarding On the Vision and the Riddle

     You are one of these Orpheuses (a figure of research) whose perscrutation (a word that you like) plunges into the abyss of what has forever disappeared (turning the absence of traces into traces of absence) and who brings back up towards the light an aletheic Eurydice indeed (torn away from Lethe) who runs the risk of vanishing in the eyes of others at the very instant she appears in daylight because she blends in with the light of light.

     Your meditation is an anthropogenesis, which would not be satisfied with conjecturally retracing anthropomorphosis but which would itself constitute the end, in both senses of the term, of this anthropomorphosis. The first book of the Book is Genesis, and your book, which in a certain way presents itself as a last book, would be a Genesis of this genesis; what to call it, a “genealogy of the End”? How to write the genesis, that is the problem ¾ a genesis at once real and ideal, which changes all aporias into resources and which, while meeting the difficulties or even the adunata of the genus head on, believes to have solved them in the speech of vernacular language.

     The audacity of your thought is considerable, astounding, and it intends to resolve epistemological and philosophical problems through a poetic thinking which would repeat, though on a higher curve of the spiral, Vico’s New Science.

     Inasmuch as your discourse belongs to a genre, it is philosophy; you say so several times and explicitly reclaim for your investigation a strictly philosophical status.

     The scope of your project is so vast that it is difficult to measure; and it is necessary to vary the angles and slants in attempting to do so. For example it holds in check, reverses the course of the centrifugal dispersion of the Human Sciences fallen from branches of the Cartesian tree come up from metaphysical roots, in order to retake them, win them over again, bring them back under the yoke of philosophy... at the cost, not of its shattering or (impossible) dialectical surpassing, but of its Heideggerian “overcoming” (of ontotheology) and of its metamorphosis into a new kind of writing that refuses “the dwelling upon separate mountaintops” of philosophical thought and of poetry (see the end of the book).

     To restore to philosophy all together the anthropomorphotic, or genetic, time of the pre-philosophical, that of myth and earlier, or of the unitary matrix of meaning and the sacred, and the positive assertions of empirical anthropology, and modern nihilism (renewed with hopefulness in safeguard of the non-negative Mallarméan Nothing, and the Other), that is the project. Hence a refusal of the epistemological breaks, and in particular of the foreclosure of the question of the origin rejected both by Science (since no primitive anthropogenic fact is observable) and by philosophy (since the origin of the beginning is pre-phenomenological) ¾ no such thing as a “Greek miracle” because thought must measure the whole “aeonic” stretch of time since the thanataphoric deflagration, inducing the amazement of its indefinite repetition, without any “reason” for getting over it, through the post-archaic age or egress from muthos and right up to this conclusion on the Mallarméan nothing or work of Art, turning Nihilism into paternity of the void, of silence, of the Other.

      Philosophy : its subject is not an object of “scientific knowledge”; but breaks loose from itself, “reflects” itself to seize itself once again in its becoming, its figures, its tests, without being able to desert itself, and therefore its meditation always will be “tautological,” in the element of the Logos which seeks to universalize itself in and “against” the singularity of the mother tongue that helps it to speak; one can always say that its paraphrase leads to nothing besides its empty recognition, even if paradoxes complicate the schema of this “independent jurisdiction.”

     It is not just about going from its alteration to its sameness or identity, from the other to the self but, as you say in an abstract passage, to open up thought to the radical Other which is not the other of the self as in Hegelian dialectics but the self absorbed and dissolved by the other appearing. In order to open up and go outside itself, the subject of thought interposes the altogether other or Nothingness, that’s the extreme test ¾ and there was nothing extreme that was not also initial and initiating.

     Your “philosophical” meditation, resolved to “cut the matter short,” that is, to connect the most archaic with the most imminent, as they have never been, the origin, which did not take place, with the beginning and with our present at the edge of the abyss, in other words to go outside of time so as to give once again a meaning to the immortal, the posthumous, or mortality forever bequeathed as stated in the treatise on the sublime: that is, a meaning of meaning that answers Gauguin’s three-part question (“Where do we come from, who are we, where are we going?”), your ana-chronology, retro- and prospective, plunges philosophy once more into the heart of its mythical phylum, dripping with “matrical” wetness, with its selfsame ante-archaic placenta, this “bath” of anthropomorphosis wherein time itself became time (“temporalization of time”) of which strangely and forevermore we know nothing in terms of experimental anthropology, even though we know that the great things of the anthropogenesis, inventions gone forever, of speaking, manufacturing, cultivating, domesticating, ritualizing, mythifying, were given birth there, and that humankind, or pre-humankind, were much more the same there than they have become ¾ since men have become so foreign to one another, more fiercely foreign than at the beginning of the Leviathan itself, that the final solution they invent is not that in which the vision of the riddle overtaking the riddle of the vision opens up again a thought as ecstatic as hospitality, of fraternity and of peace, but that which [Claude Lanzmann’s film on the Holocaust], Shoah, presently recollects for us.

     The repercussion of the origin, or beginning, “will have been” at once interminable, longer than the long term, heavier than heavy-duty history, and instantaneous, big bang and fiat; a time of which you measure the paradoxical stretch in order to speak its disproportion. Such paradoxes are among the ones you distill, and I’ll come back to them.

     You lead philosophy back to its non-philosophical ground, to the co-naissance of the sacred and of meaning, in the oblivion of which philosophy went on to ensure its language of the fundamental. It does not require, in your view, a reduction that would abolish the question of the epigenesis of its conditions of apparition. You go back (even further upstream, as you say quoting Char) against the obviousness of a given, already always distributed in terms of sensible/intelligible. You reproblematize the whole discourse on the propositional assertion where Michel Meyer recently demonstrated (in his “problematology”) that philosophy closes itself upon its own power of questioning. The Greek Dasein (since Heidegger sometimes speaks that way) was not the only one; the historial has a history, and the existentials a genesis.

     “The look that composes the steady, appeased, entirely secured and orderly horizons of this world then recognizes itself to be haunted by a remote event which, poetically, shall not have ceased to release the abyssal essence of things...” ¾ the whole page is eminently quotable.

      How to write the genesis?

     Death is so much more than death.

     That is why the logo-analysis must speak, pleonastically, of death as thanatophanic or thanatophoric.

     Does the genesis have two sources (since you speak of sources of the genesis), this death and the quest, this movement of human gestation to go into ecstasy against death right up to the (you say: “kairological”) event of the meaning of death, of MEANING, and which “finally” consists in understanding the quest... which is the logo-analysis. An immense tautology whereby, out of the sacred Logos, both “tacit” and a praxis, comes, dislodges itself, the profane logos, out of which comes language, out of which comes understanding (hermeneutics being not an accompaniment but an agent and a catalyst of becoming), out of which comes the logo-analysis: spirals and a loop, coming back through “vertically” by way of the same, but ascendingly and in a movement of retroactive foundation (what else to call it) wherein the End, like a great Cause, produces an effect, let’s say “has quite an effect,” not only upon “us” (present day readers) but upon the conditions of its concrete completion.

     What you call “kairological restructuring,” in other words the (cata or anastrophic) Event, repeats itself homologically; it has the type of suddenness of the gestaltist insight, and the idea that that’s how one sees is carried over into the becoming, or genesis, of the thing itself. A strange reverse, “anachronological” phenomenology, which is met, at the right point in time, by a phenomenon that did not take place but will have only taken place, therefore, when its light, emanating from the origin, hits the telescope, or the retroscope, of the logo-analysis.

     It seems as though in spite of thorough precautions, the “demanding tenderness” of your approach, to close the gap between etiology and teleology, to draw them together, so far as to “chiasmize” them through finely diminished transitions, to bind them together while hunting for the missing link... there’s always a sort of discontinuity (a “syncope” in the understanding) across which one must vault, and the vault, in the moment of the somersault, turns to land in sentences in the future perfect.

     In any case (allow me to express it this way), on the one hand I do not possess the competence (but who would faced with such a synthesis), and on the other your thought is irrefutable, as it acknowledges by denegation: “It would suffice, by right, for a single datum to be proven irreducible to the proposed theory for this latter to be discredited and rendered null and void as to the sum of its conclusions.”

     So it is about something else. And I shall attempt, not to summarize the content so as to revisit the same, what’s the use, but to underscore with warmth, I was about to say exploit, a turn of thought here, a methodological instrument there, ¾ then give free rein again not so much to objections, as to the chasm of a “certain incredulity.”

     From the first perspective, for example, it seems to me of paramount importance that everything here is connected with seeing insofar as like-seeing, that is, with a radically comparing, figurative, imagining intuition, and with the paradoxical in general, that is, with the simultaneity a and non-a of a sort of initial and incessant Double-Bind (p. 27)... But then the objection, or the incredulous astonishment I mentioned, arises: what is the difference (or how to maintain it) between a paradoxical formation and a “square circle,” or a nonsuit of thought? For you speak of transcendental empiricism or of the “nascent-integral” characteristic of the supposed primordial fact (at once Big-Bang and Fiat), and the difficulty is to distinguish the paradoxical from the inane or insane.

     Unless (I said to myself) it is precisely the feature of an axiomatics, the mathematical characteristic of definition: how to generate a figure, a reflective volume, is your problem, and it is “mathematical”: requiring indeed an essentially paradoxical definition:

     Indeed to proportion oneself to nothingness, our task, would require a definition, a finishing or “finition” via the de-, if I may venture to say so, that one could call mathematical in general, thinking of mathematical definitions that nullify what they advance in order to pose the being they construct, the same way geometry figures the “unfigurable,” a point without dimension, a line without origin, a plane without thickness (etc.). By the impossible everything hangs together ¾“to die of not dying,” “knife with no handle whose blade is missing,”; “flower absent from all bouquets” … Each time a nullification of which the work is the trace.

     Impossible ¾ and pointless ¾ to take up again in detail, or even briefly, the contents of the table, or even the table of contents. Your future readers will have to appreciate (and perhaps someday “will have appreciated”) the vigor of the tetrad and the hyperlogical vitality of the semio-hiero-genetic. You do not of course intend to be read in a syncretistic but rather in a systematic way… and I say read because the reality of the real of reference receives the name text in a renewed sense, not metaphorical in the ordinary sense but which is meant to be the undivided matter of all divisions and figures located upstream from all subsequent metaphorical transactions between the two “sides,” the shares of human sharing as ultimately the ontotheological text, in a restricted sense, “will have divided” them (into visible-invisible, etc.). Hence it is about reinstating all the material prior to meaning whose play “will have constrained,” pre-formed, the archaic anthropomorphosis, let’s say will have given way (as in: “it’s giving way, it’s coming!”) to “humankind,” from hominid to “humankind” ¾ that with which the pre-human, becoming posthumous, will have manufactured humanity, at once “coerced” and freed: sent out in his mortiferous freedom, destined to be an-nihilated; how he will have been equipped with nothingness, or rather with the nothing, till coming to be the one who is.

     And thus doomed to sink narcissistically into death (“long live death”) or to safeguard protective nothingness against nihilism, for having been capable of “death to death”: this fork in the road would be where we “stand,” and on the path to this demanding and difficult thought of liberation through nothingness, Mallarmé and Heidegger “will have” preceded you.

     Rather, I shall enumerate what a reader looking over your shoulder (I’m not saying: “down from above,” how could he?) learns “formally,” that is, pinpoints as instruments of thought, your “organon,” your methodology, the ways and means of knowledge: so, a sort of quick list.

     Perhaps, at the root, a principle of Hope: despite the absence of illusions:

     “The hope for a perfect humanization in keeping with the superhuman purpose of the human will have been present in a latent mode from time immemorial and finally needs to be entirely recaptured and recognized.”

     ¾ The step of the return upstream, as you say quoting Char, towards the Masters of thought, that is, those for whom thought was the master, or, to use Pascal’s phrase, for whom the event was the master, on condition of understanding “Event” to mean the event of meaning, namely what you call the “kairological”; from Kierkegaard to Heidegger, from Mallarmé to Artaud, and even more archæologically, and on towards the end, that rereading of tragic theatre in which you perceive an unhindered way out.

     ¾ Thinking through the chiasmus, a thinking about the interweaving and the criss-crossing of reciprocity, that Merleau-Ponty so emphasized in his final works, and which I could call, quoting Mallarmé this time, a kind of proof by “the exchange of a reciprocity of proofs,” a thinking about antidosis a priori wherein the giver is changed into the receiver by the gift, and vice versa.

     ¾ Paradoxicality, or a thinking that attempts to overcome the empty victory of dialectics. As when you speak of “the intimate fusion of the sacred and the profane and by extension the paradoxical unity of all fundamental dichotomies. With the assumption of the paradox as ultimate insolubilia, the unrecognized hyperbolic text may itself appear as a remainder and a quotient of history.”

     As to contradiction : no “dialectics” will come and restrict on the same plane, put into contradiction (nor force into resolution, etc.) the radical un-conscious duplicity of the subject (perhaps, there, not a “subject”... but... “human”?). “It’s human” ¾ What is “human”? At the same time “he” believes in (elaborates) “another life,” the double of this one, in any case entirely relative to this one (the two were co-constituted in the course of the anthropogenesis, one by the other!), AND in what you call the Other, the other that is absolutely other, the leap, without relation, “the absolute,” faceless death, the “nothing.” All thought is divided, bifid, completely forked in this regard, and without suffering any apparent harm from it. What Christian believes in that other life in which he believes?

     ¾ Thought which thinks thinking, “despite” the split between the sensible and the intelligible, as the look, therefore, of a like-seeing or an imagining thought.

     Doubtless it is the question of the recursive loop, disturbing because of the facilitation it procures, which resists, and I shall begin to slip towards the difficulties I have in following you:

     “At the heart of the process, it is the foreclosed solitary crisis which, converted to the common arena of deployed meaning will have conditioned the reflexive looping back of the matrix and accomplished the simultaneous awakening of a transcendent cause.”

     Is there not a certain concordism in your recollection? On the one hand in the lateral assurance you take from the parallelism between the spirit of your research and that of modern thermodynamics, so-called “order through disorder” or, according to a title by Atkins, “heat and disorder.” On the other hand in the recuperation (this word is a bit strong) of all the theory in what has been called modern Theory (so as to distinguish it more or less vaguely from philosophy): you let nothing escape and you breathe new life into modernity by reutilizing all of its instruments, those of Saussure, Freud, Lévi-Strauss, but also Foucault, Derrida, and Serres, no matter what may have been, or may be, the oppugnancy among their ways of thinking. You want to please everyone... Which leads me to this remark: it is difficult for high ambition to avoid the step of pretension ¾ even just in passing, with no arrogance whatsoever, and rather with naïveté ¾ which takes things in from on high, from afar, from very far away, in a word: from the future perfect, as regards for example the thought of Heidegger and Derrida: “It is well known that Derrida alone, in proposing an enlarged conception of writing, will have suspected the filiation, etc.” Is there not a bit of naïveté in believing that Heidegger’s thought can be thus enveloped, when its complete unfolding in volumes is not yet done; and in believing to perceive the prodromes and premises of the Logo-Analysis in a work in progress (Derrida’s)? Is the one just arriving, the last of the just, more of an authority than the second-to-last authority? Is the penultimate defunct?

     Perhaps in spite of the criticism it aims at René Girard, the vision here takes up again, one displacement aside, the totalizing henological belief, reformulating an Hypothesis with a capital H which apologizes, while therefrom absolving itself, for its “hypothetical” character, without liability for debts it asks us to count upon.

     As Manuel de Dieguez put it, the presupposition of a meaning given to the human adventure, and even of an absolute meaning is still a presupposition; no “scientific” proof exists that man is not merely a monkey whose brain would be “quantitatively” superior to that of his ancestors. And an anthropology meant to be both philosophical and scientific must justify as scientific its anthropological knowledge, which is incomplete, leaving aside a great many aspects and elements of “empirical” humanity. At times it seemed to me that as far as the details are concerned, such and such a quest, that of Eric Gans for example, not quoted, on the “origin” (of language) laid out more meticulously his etiology of the anthropogenesis...

     Perhaps there is still some entity in the air, something of the metaphysical age in virtues: “We could postulate that the phenomenon of culture [...] proceeds by virtue of [= in accordance with] a creative kairological dynamics...”

     There always has been a struggle, or rivalry, between the Tradition (understood here as the Science of religious thought itself borne by a belief-oriented experience of the sacred; cf. Mircea Eliade) and the philosophical tradition in the sense of repetition and deconstruction. Philosophical rigor fears the hermeticism of gnosis, and, even if it is a play on words, there is in the lovely hermeticism of your neologization, this speech which the language of the Logo-Analysis articulates, at least the risk of speaking to “initiates” rather than to the contemporary addressee whom it seeks nonetheless to convert... In other words: the extreme difference between the meaning of death lived as a for-itself by “ordinary” (?) human beings up until today and the Orphic comprehension of death which animates your Logo-Analysis (a comprehension that must leave aside the political and sociological dimensions as well as immense segments of mythology and history) ¾ while the reconstitution of Meaning finds in the common undifferentiated race of the archaic human the conditions of its own illumination, which then ought to communicate itself, not as a message or as knowledge, but through fire, if it is the truth of the former ¾ makes one fear that Meaning may be unsharable.

     There is something on the order of wishful thinking in your principle of hope, and, at times it seemed to me, a too benign (“optimistic”) estimation of our era, “era of technology,” and sometimes ¾ if I may be allowed ¾ something old fashioned in your anachronological retrospective: I am alluding to this: you speak sublimely of Greek tragic theatre while cinema and audio-visual imagery in general are what have changed scenes and meaning and soon language ¾ about which there would be cause for concern.

     Perhaps I would summarize as follows the summary of my widespread concerns: the untiring virtuosity in the revival of the fundamental motif, the extreme skillfulness in the art of reformulating your proposition is troubling if one perceives therein what could be called the theological passion of discourse: where theology is understood as the logos’ aptitude in surmounting all oppositions, in turning all objections into proofs, the minimum into the maximum, all impossibilities setting out to prove God and in particular (if I may venture to say) the impossibility of God. Theology is infallible.

     The extraordinary productivity of the ontological proof no longer needs to be proven; and one would say it is secretly at work, the optimization of essentiality refined to the maximum in an ideo-logical system produces the evidence of the existence of that which it conceives, turning the end into the cause, while of course refraining from generating it. Being is thus so illuminating, so manifest, that it comprehends the existence of the essence. Ontological argumentation learned from Leibniz how to account for things apparently impossible-to-be-thought-together, and finally from Kant even “the existence” of a refutation of the ontological argument ¾ to be overcome. The argumentation integrates paradoxicality as a whole, nothing escapes it; it escapes contradiction through paradox, and chance itself becomes necessary for the genesis of that which will have been what could have not been.

     The discourse of the future perfect is captivating. The future perfect is the tense of explicative comprehension. Through it is accomplished the phenomenology of a phenomenon forevermore defunct. The Cause of humanization will have been the cause of hominization; teleology absorbs etiology: they “exchange a reciprocity of proofs.”

     What-is makes sense from having been made-into sense like water into ice, in a single stroke which on the one hand never took place and on the other will have been repeated indefinitely, a stroke of holy terror throughout the millennia. That’s the least a stroke which “abolishes chance” can do! And meaning thus conditioned becomes the unconditioned, retroactively giving meaning to the conditions of meaning prior to meaning.

     And surely it is about “overcoming” (“Überwindung”) metaphysics and the partition of ontotheology’s complementary oppositions, but... the looping spirals of the Logo-Analysis give the reader vertigo at times.

     The light-years of meaning would come down “finally” from the lost origin which eventually begins and catches up with us in the glory of the Mallarméan future perfect provided we have at our disposal the appropriate telescope. There is, indeed, something like an astrophysical metaphor at play in all of this; something teleological without providence and without as-thoughs; a kind of fate despite randomness; a kind of orientation that results in the searching mind’s skill at self-detecting: at the moment when the anachronological vision coincides with the arrival of the light of the enigmatic Big-Bang that turned into Fiat. You quote Teilhard de Chardin, but I recall the debates on the “human phenomenon,” and the question of whether caritative love also was contained embryonically in atoms ¾ even though today, according to Mr. [Hubert] Reeves, Necessity is at the mercy of our mortiferous arbitrariness.

     The phenomenon of meaning and the meaning of the phenomenon took off “staggered,” and meaning catches up with the phenomenon, its “target” for our simultaneously endogenous and exogenous perscrutation; philosophical, impartial... is it possible? We will have been the target, and the rocket, and the binoculars...

     The sacred thanatophanic deflagration produces the moment of its reflexivity and of its knowledge which at the same time causes it to have been and is its end.

     The recursive loop heals the metaphysical split, and that in which, as its medium, the loop of meaning can come full circle, the ether in which the return upstream can take place is this Other, the opening up of meaning’s beyond which makes meaning possible.

      “The first upsurge of meaning that only can be glimpsed since it is, in itself, necessarily always open onto meaning’s beyond makes harmonic conciliation possible (etc.).”


     “The origin of all innate knowledge will have to be acknowledged here as the significant and unsignifiable crease of the implicit and the source of all inborn science as of all poetic inspiration.”

     The writing of your thought takes up the challenge of hope and passion referred to Mallarmé: your architecture presents itself as the extreme effort to keep the all from escaping words. Only in the speech of language does the all not escape words... in keeping with the conditions of the metonymico-symbolic relation (pars pro toto) of the whole to its part, for and through Thought. Against this technological stampede, outside the speech of language, threatening that the future (which no longer would be our future) might abolish the future perfect still speaking here, your encyclopedic effort to gather “logoanalytically” the symbolic whole of the human phenomenon, throws anthropology into the fire of meaning one “last time” blazing... while another memory, “computative,” prepares another human kind of mutation?

     As I finished (?) reading your book, I was thinking back to a recent conversation with a young, powerful, high-ranking civil servant who, with non-eloquent vulgarity, forgot, omitted, abolished the eloquent essence of the Vulgar idiom, and, by means of a ridiculous and simplistic attack on spelling, stopped trusting the language of thought and gave his confidence over to the one-on-one mapping of software (he said more or less, claiming one sound for one meaning...) that is, over to the “rational power” of a social semiotics capable of processing the great “human” fluxes...

     Yes, if, “still” speaking, a subject destroys all the beliefs and contents which, comprised by language, gave him his own capacity therefor, then, worse than being forgotten (since oblivion preserves), “I” dis-integrate: we no longer shall be the Gespräch that we were (will have been?) since before Hölderlin.

     Your hope ¾ and the proof: this piece of writing ¾ is that destruction will not occur and that forever the symbolic, and thought stepping back within itself to silence (of which you speak so magnificently), may awaken the deflagration of original sacred time, the temporalization of time in accordance with the schematism of imagination, the contemporaneousness of the instant and the eternal (Gœthe).

     Your writings enigmatically recharge the power of vision. I admire the proems of an imagination that sets the stage for the unrepeatable scene that did not take place wherein Imagination brought itself into the world; the echoes and repercussions of the mutation called “mankind.” All of that has to do with the sublime, i.e. the bequest of mortality upon dying.

     The last sentence will be yours: among many admirable pages I choose the sentence that speaks of “fire ¾ this preservation of its pure undying palpitation at the heart of the abode…”

G. Bucher, La Vision et l’Énigme: Éléments pour une Analytique du logos (Paris: Éd. du Cerf, 1989). Translator’s note: Deguy’s “Lettre à Gérard Bucher” originally appeared in PO&SIE 53 (June 1990): 118-126 (Paris: Belin). All translations from Bucher herein are my own.

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