As a deer longs for flowing streams, / so my soul longs for you, O God. / My souls thirsts for the living God. / When shall I come and behold / the face of God? / My tears have been my food / day and night, / while people say to me continually, / “Where is your God?” —A Maskil of the Korahites
This meditation comes from two related but distinct streams of thought: first, from intimate reflection on the nature of the divine darkness on the mount Sinai, and second, from critical studies in the traditions of literary theory and phenomenology. But more so, each of these streams springs from a more original well, or perhaps a wound, a space of churning and seething somewhere within me (which is also to say, before me, prior to yet always ahead of me).
In the previous essays here on the notion of the chasm I have written about the unknowable, the element, tactility, and hapticality, drawing on James Bridle’s book, New Dark Age, and the writings of the likes of Michel Serres, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, Martin Heidegger, and Emmanuel Levinas.
But this thought, for me, finds its ground, its own primordial hold, in Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, beginning in I.46:
Since he was alone, by having been stripped as it were of the people’s fear, he boldly approached the very darkness itself and entered the invisible things where he was no longer seen by those watching. After he entered the inner sanctuary of the divine mystical doctrine, there, while not being seen, he was in company with the Invisible. He teaches, I think, by the things he did that the one who is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible and (lifting up his own mind, as to a mountaintop, to the invisible and incomprehensible) believe that the divine is there where the understanding does not reach.1
As scholars have demonstrated, Gregory is here relying upon an exegetical tradition established by Philo and Clement of Alexandria,2 a tradition that reckons with certain peculiarities of the Jewish scripture which might seem problematic to later Christian writings like the first epistle of John: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”3 There is an impasse. How can God be as darkness to Moses on the mount while also being devoid of darkness to John in Ephesus? For one of my own tradition, this impasse presents itself as an irremediable paradox.
And yet, Gregory’s reading of Moses presents a synthesis, or at least a willingness to let the paradox be, speaking to something of my own experience, and especially something of my faith experience—that doubting, skeptical fracture that I call myself, the split, hiatus, or deferral of an essence always to come, cast ahead of itself, caught up in the world, given to a being that is not it but is always its own. I am thrown, I am sent—driven down and out into the world as if risen into another. And so, there is this darkness, this occlusion of both my reasoning and my belief. This darkness is true, but it cannot truly be conceived or represented, only felt. In Life of Moses II.162, this is the luminous darkness of the divine. So John also writes, and Gregory highlights, “No one has ever seen God.” There is an invisible light, this radiant hiddenness.
I step into the other stream.
There is the region (Gegnet) before the clearing (Lichtung). The region precedes the exact formalization of language, the symbolic,4 but it is still possessed of a meaning, some meaning, the a priori perfect structure of an ur-signfication.5 The chasm is the impossible-possibility that comes before, that is always already before, perfectly incomplete, distinctly cryptographic.6 Something always escapes: the rustling of Levinas’s element, or what Galloway describes as “noise, randomness, modularity, curves and lines, heat and energy, fields, areas, transduction, quality, intuition”7—everything that cannot be made discrete, cannot be formalized, symbolized, rationalized. This is what Heidegger tries to touch in his Discourse on Thinking, after elaborating the structure of clearing so many years before, which is only a beginning, can only be a beginning, a beginning that comes after, a beginning that points back to its own genesis in time. There is a lossiness to being as element, as chasm: “the world tends toward its own encryption.”8 The world is small and shrinking, but its surface extends as infinite and utterly complex depth.
From out of this silence of reason the stones shout out,9 doing so with voices that cannot be contained, “inarticulable” and “unthought,”10 in tongues which cannot be made into instruments of a searing, branding reason.
These supernal and submarine tongues speak from the woundedness of impossible, incomplete, inarticulable creation, the torsional, möbius binding of the surface of things that winds itself into the great lyre of being—cacophonous harmony, lyric delirium, manic stillness, sheer silence. All one, splintered and healing: a dysphoric shout, a joyous proclamation.
I still have this wound, this thorn.11 But as Gregory writes, there is a “Radiance which shines upon us through this thorny flesh” (II.26). Such is the “mystery of the Lord’s incarnation,” the twinning of hidden being and hidden God, the kenotic thicket that evades complete understanding (II.27). The night of scripture is found in the incarnate abolition of the Law, but in this body is seen the glow of morning, the birth of a new language in the myriad tongues of angels and beasts, roots and sea—and sometimes, we humans too.
Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson (New York: Paulist Press, 1978). ↩
Martin Laird, “Gregory of Nyssa and the Mysticism of Darkness: A Reconsideration,” The Journal of Religion 79, no. 4 (Oct. 1999): 592-616. ↩
1 John 1:5, NRSV. ↩
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh, rev. Dennis J. Schmidt (New York: State University of New York Press, 2010), 83, 85. Which is to say, time. ↩
See Alexander Galloway, Laruelle: Against the Digital (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 9. ↩
Galloway, “The Black Box of the World,” October 8, 2018, http://cultureandcommunication.org/galloway/the-black-box-of-the-world. ↩
Galloway, “A Lossy Manifesto,” January 15, 2017, http://cultureandcommunication.org/galloway/a-lossy-manifesto. ↩
Luke 19:40, NRSV. ↩
Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 145. ↩
2 Corinthians 12:9, NRSV. ↩