Gift (22:9) was an installation created for a local art event. The aim of the piece was to explore the idea of the gift as sheer giving without anticipation of reciprocity. From the write up on the piece,
Deep down inside everyone of us believes that there is something more to life than a System perpetuating self-acquisition, but we have all been trained from an early age to snuff it out. In consumer society only nihilistic “freedom” remains that has no aim, no telos, but only the acquisition engendered by a will-to-power. This culture has proceeded to toss out all of the hold scriptures that would’ve given subjects the tools in which to understand that they are slaves to their own desires.
What about giving without the expectation of a return, without anticipation of acquisition as instead giving out of the gratuitous act of giving? If you love those who love you, then what credit is that to you? If you do good to others that do good to you, then what credit is that to you? If you lend to those whom you hope to receive, then what credit is that to you?
The piece sets ups a dialog between art’s table and a table unseen. Tables are surfaces for fellowship with the other. The Gift is a table setting and also a conveyance to imagine a table unseen. As art goers enjoyed their pursuit of happiness, what was also going unseen? Currently in the same two there were other human beings that were going hungry. The Gift became art’s table and on the other side there’s another table where there will be fellowship. Around the table unseen is a group of young people whom the art goers will never meet. Accompanying the piece was a small black box in which to place donations: whatever donations were made during the exhibition go directly to purchasing food to provide a dinner.
The project is not complete until the entire process is documented (raising funds, purchasing the food, serving the dinner). It therefore imagines what is unseen yet also remains to be seen. Eventually I will be posting on the blog the remainder of the project (more pictures of the process).
Okay, so the art project is based on a few points of interest. The first is to imagine a gift that is fully given, without the element of an exchange where the will-to-power expects a return. The second part of this blog post will elaborate on the aim of the art piece. None of the text was included in the actual exhibition, of course, but retroactively it is nice to assess what has been done and why.
The issue, as I see it, is a fundamental one: a gift freely-given insinuates a break with postmodernist presuppositions concerning the gift, being, and aesthetic event.
I used to really be into Deleuze and into “process philosophy” (vaguely Delandian) in general. For years my paintings revolved around explorations of materiality affect as it structures itself on surfaces, irrespective of formalist compositional elements. The point, at least as I saw it at the time, was to practice a method where material engendered itself as a “beautiful” object. It remains my understanding that information is directly inscribed into matter, such that the aim of a “process” painting had been about retrieving a certain amount of rest that seemed to “work” out of the sheer difference of impacts.
But over the years I have explored in more detail some of the presuppositions of “immanent ontology” and I have come up rather parched. It gets boring to continue to create the same kind of painting over and over again, albeit not the same in final appearance but similar in method. But hey, that is the point of a differential repetition that excludes analogy (that forms meaning between beings): it merely propagates itself in an empty series. I soon realized that if boredom sets in within the method itself then there is no point in continuing, so I took a bit of a hiatus (I often do, sometimes for more than 4 months). During this break from painting I dove into other projects where I could absorb rather than expel, so I sought out new inspirations of music and I also read. The latter is what posited a shift in my presuppositions, because soon I stumbled upon The Philokalia, the complete text on the desert fathers, and read through David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite. I had rediscovered the beauty of theology but from an angle I had been familiar, and it led me to rethink the implicit insinuations of “immanent ontology.”
In particular, Deleuze (following Nietzsche’s “evaluation” or the creation of values through aesthetic judgement) posits that affirmation must be univocal, i.e. a part of a whole, in order to be affirmation. That became the first part of contention: that of questioning philosophies of the whole. Notice that this does not provide us with any content of particularity in difference but only with difference as such, making it an indivisible universal of otherness that seals off all being against analogy, for example. While the issue remains one of the eventuation of chronos and the es gibt (it gives) of being, Deleuze insists on being’s “necessity” such that he imagines no context that pivots outwardly, no transcendental contour that could determine the value of what is, and in so doing there is no distance in which to value an aesthetic judgement. This goes for postmodernism in general: the philosophy of the whole becomes a totality as Heracleitean flux. Inevitably, this approach insinuates that there can only be an economy of violence.
An economy of violence? Well, I don’t believe in violence. I don’t only consider it in bad taste but I notice that from the “immanent” vantage there is actually no scaffolding in which a value of bad taste could be made: one person’s bad taste is another persons joyous “affirmation” and there is absolute no bulwark as far as it being so. All or nothing: that is the stake of Dionysus, the god of many joys but simultaneously also the destructive, even maliciously baneful god. Or, like Saturn devouring his children, it is the god who tears the human apart and who delights in spilling blood. Nothing stops the “affirmation” of Dionysus’ exuberance from pivoting from good taste to bad taste, from the joy of creation to destructive cannibalism or infanticide, or in the case of the black shirt fascists, into extermination camps. Where is the buttress in which to consider extermination camps an evil within the philosophical regime of a spontaneous or autotelic force of pure will? It doesn’t exist. And notice that it is here where postmodernists become a joke because they peddle backwards in hope to devise a measure of morality, turning again to the ghost of a Kantian subject that they had incinerated (Foucualt retreats to his Stotic “care of the self,” Derrida pivots towards Levinas, and Deleuze himself, having followed the sad absurdity of “Nietzschean moralism” is stuck in a condition that engenders every act of evaluation an empty one, but this doesn’t stop him from attempting to devise the limited forms of resistance – resistance by whom? – as lines of flight) in order to convey a sense of consequence for their unioval and absolutely indifferent violence. Inevitably, Dionysus can only measure himself in the hopes of becoming greater still, which is to say, more sublimic in his cruelty. Postmodernism is rather ignoramus as to how its endorsement of will to power can transform into a will to power, for it posits in all practical express an ontology of force, and instantiating such force there is nothing left for it expect for a ubiquitous, variable, innumerable strife subjugating everything to regimes of domination.
What I have noticed is that this postmodernism has become a narrative of force has also becomes the convenient go-to for the System whose political desire is a pervasive violence. It is not a coincidence that “liberalism” and its nihilistic mode of “freedom” necessitates on its opposite end the reinforcing of a strong police State — the two are of the same momentum, the same thematic structuralism. Just as liberation becomes more and more idealized in the postmodernists schemes it is in proportion to an ever-increasing regime of power where the prerogative of the herd outstrips the “myth” of the individual. So notice what happens: the postmodernists all begin swimming back to the now-sinking Kantian subject, which they deconstructed, to save them from the flood of totalitarian expressions of power. To consider the es gibt: what is given-over can only be set “free” in their schemes as difference conceived, no matter how much gaiety of the “creatively” in imparted, as a totalizing narrative of ontological violence that strips out any sense of a moral distinction. There really is nothing within their own themes that can delineate between the jeu joyeux of a good taste and that of fascism.
Well, okay, so much for “immanent ontology,” but now what?
The understanding of affirmation in theology is quite different: Christianity’s notion of the es gibt derives from the conscience of the Jews. It was the Jews who gave us the understanding of being such that God creates out of pleasure without need, meaning that what is conveyed is itself through an aesthetic distance of approbation. In the Torah God pronounces creation “good” but also inscribes it with an ontological justice that simultaneously condemns what is in the creature that would be “sin” (i.e. a repetition of absence, a privation of being).
If Dionysus convenes with corpses, as through a univocal “affirmation” of all things, then his other name is, in context, the satanic celebration of the mutation of all fallen light (matter), a perpetuating reinforcement of a continuum of privation and violence. Rather than subsisting out of the good of God’s splendor, there is construes an endless play of wanton flesh. Dionysus simply cannot be concerned to retrieve those who fall by the road along the way: everything eats and will be eaten. But the God of covenant whose delight creates out of love pursues the loss or privation of being (in death, for example) even unto death himself on a cross. This is Christianity’s story where God dives into the depths of hell to affirm all things, which is to say, that the Light of Light, the enduring and unoriginate Light, cannot be contained by any tomb. And as the Light of Light is the first thing, the thing that posits the entirety of creation as “good,” the creation story is a story of boundless worth, a giving-over of the es gibt of being freely.
In engendering creation from the first, God turns face to face with creation, regards it, and continues to await for response (the repetition of the gift). Through this boundless worth of life, owed to us from the God of the Jews, there is a distance for judgement, critique, and thus also for redemption, precisely because the differences of being are affirmed in particularization because God ‘immanentizes’ exactly those differences.
God is pure liberalis who gives to the others the true gift. In contrast, postmodernist “affirmation” is only ever a discourse on philosophy, not theology…even though it pretends to feign theological problems, as it can only obliterate the Prime Mover (Aristotle) or the One (of Plotinus) by turning it inwardly. Too bad the theological God is neither the Prime Mover nor the One. The God of covenant sets up no dominoes to be left to their own devices, and God’s oneness is triune. The Trinity is rotational as a differencing-within-itself. The God of creation delights in difference and desires this alterity for itself.
Hence also the persistent belief on the part of the Jews (and the Christians) for the resurrection. No doubt this is an inheritance of the Pharisees: when there is one world and many gods there is nowhere to go, yet for the Pharisees there is one God and two worlds. Rather than a god consigning difference to the flow of time irretrievable, it is God himself who acts to liberate the creaturely from its non-being, privation and death, such that nothing of the continuum of alterity is wasted, and nothing is lost. Or, as Christ says on his way to into Jerusalem, “even the stones shall rejoice.”
What differs in being is by the distance of that which is not God, but it is God itself whose own difference to itself allows for the differentiation to unfold between his own divinity and the creaturely. God bestows the free gift of es gibt as the only chora, a distancing and distinction which is from the divine a goodness bestowed through aesthetic alterity.
The problem with Deleuze’s presuppositions is that in determining to exclude all depth of transcendence, as if distance is only part of a topology of the surface, there is conflated the notion that transcendence ought to always concern itself with identity and negation. Perhaps this is the verse taken cue from the history of philosophy, i.e. an inheritance from Hegelianism and also from Platonism’s hierarchy of resemblances, but it has little if anything to do with theological truth. The former can only convey the abyss of the One or else the dialectics of a Geist that presides emptily over everything, whereas theology says something radically different: God over the creaturely (transcendence) means that the otherness itself of transcendence is involved intimately with every actuality, and does through every particularity to unfold an endless spectrum of alterity yet without violent force. The postmodernists can only view the singularity of a “substance” (through their univocity) such that they cannot think difference even as radically as Christianity thinks it – the latter remains much more radical than they, really, because only theology pivots in the move towards a real expressive rhetoric which actually frees up complexity. Don’t be fooled by postmodernism’s feigning of “freedom” that immediately confines itself to a univocal immanentism that only ever pushes it into the arms of an absolutuist monism (Hegel called it “Spinozan emanationism”). Positing basically a sheer abyss Abgrund and incapable of thinking alterity except as uniform tautological violence, as vacant also of any analogical structure that would give particularity its content and different of meaning, there is with the philosophers of violence no escape (no real “freedom” or “liberation”) from the destructive series.
The philosophy cannot think God itself as an unoriginate transcendent that is always-already positing its own rotational alterity, and thus of a God that has little if anything to do with Platonic hierarchies, schemes of orders of being. The postmodern can only reduce difference to untruth, inheriting all of the baggage of Plato, but in inverted form such that it rebounds the same old metaphysics. Whereas God’s transcendence that differs within itself allows difference to differ, which is to say, God permits the medium to exist between different series.
In any case, what determines the goodness of the gift is the style of impartation. Further, hell is the locality to God’s glory without the interval of the gift.
III. Truth of the Gift
To the God of the covenant there is absolutely no detail of what is given over that is merely dispensable: all difference is willed by the creator. This also means that there is actually nothing that is inherently necessary. In this way God simultaneously affirms and judges such that there is pronounced the goodness of all things simultaneous to the condemnation of evil (the depravity of being’s glory).
God as a transcendent fountainhead blesses all what is immanent difference by sustaining all out of God’s own nothingness, such that all difference is willed freely as an immanently divine theme given-over in being as a gift. That there are beings at all is a gift provided by the sheer donation.
Transcendence neither necessitates identity or depravity, and just the same the immanent condition of contingent happening does not necessitate an eternal return of the series, tautological in its violence. “Creation” is in accordance to the splendor of God as nothing less than theophony, and it is a theophony of willed-difference, or of an endless alerity that knows no violence but only God’s goodness. So how to account for violence? It is only a secondary economy, a confusion. What appears suspended in the void is an aesthetic continuum (a casuality) and contains its force, but what appears appears as rhetorical effect, a range of endless responses, an invention, an artistic embellishment of being, and appears in the continuum of exchanges as first given-over as such, as donation of the Light. That being is being at all is because God abides it as a donation.
The gift is itself a gifting. It is a gift of the will to difference that God initiates such that the realization on our part that “it gives” can only breathe because of a radiance always-already intimate in all of the beautiful measures of (aesthetic) distance. God prismates the Light as endless truth in all of its variations, ornamentations, always in proportion to delight.
This is a theology of God in immediacy to his own love and own mediation. Trinity is precisely this: the immediacy deferring and rotating where each donates and redonates itself to the other. This is the God that wills all difference. Difference is given-over because God itself is in proportion to itself its own disclosure of difference, as divine composition. The God of covenant is not a God of the One where difference is begotten in successive stages or hierarchies of dissemination. The One of public philsophy’s paganism is extremely limited to an apparently infinite God. It could be said that Trinity is One but One in its own relationality, as being One in an endless self-donation or rotation. The One is not a One where multiplicity distorts it: it is not a Neoplatonism of higher and lower orders of being. With Trinity there is no stillness prior to relationality, no unrelated gaze of God because God is always-already relating to God. God’s own relation to God is condition for the relationality of all other forms of alterity. God holds in regard God, as his own other.
There is no high that stands over a low but only God as infinite act of distancing, the (aesthetic) distance itself emerged out of God’s own differentiation: God’s chora is not immanentist ontology’s nothing – a sterilized nothing that is also a displacement – rather, the chora is a plenitude, an infinite place.
What is the impact of an ontology of rupture? Ultimately it is only a positing of an economy of violence, which has become the
metaphysical certitude of postmodernist tautologies of violence (because ultimately unveiled ever-more in negation after negation ad nausem). Oh well, it perhaps knows no truth and it is apparently proud of its blunder.
“As the God who gives difference that is more than merely negative and that opens out analogically from the “theme” he imparts (the theme of free differentiation, oriented in love toward the other and all), he shows that difference is – still more radically, more originally – peace and joy. This is a thought of difference that lies outside any “metaphysical” scheme (Hegel or Deleuzean, for instance), an ontology without need of determinate negation and without any inherent tedency toward opposition or rupture: in neither sense need it ever cross the interval of the negative. Nor is there any negation or alienation in the relation of God to creation: the latter is but a further address, another modulation of the way in which he utters himself, in that which is infinitely different from him and which is – and for this very reason – his tabernacle and the manifestation of his beauty. When Derrida asks if God is the name that already opens ontological difference , the virtue of his question exceeds the predujices that prompt it; he means to ask a thoroughly philosophical question, which presumes already to understand the nature of the difference that “the divine” brings into view; but the trinitarian name of difference is one that makes the ontological difference of which Derrida speaks – the constrain whereby beings are shown in the erasure of being – merely another fable concerning the totality of the one and the many.”
– DBH, Beauty of the Infinite 181
When all being is donation, a donation that is difference because God itself is his own other, the gift is illuminated. It becomes truly covenantal.
God wills alterity but not as an aleatory violence, a sheer mutation that cannibalizes itself, a closed series, but as a glorification of distancing, an open series open in its anological professing of every utterance, of every immanent object-to-object relation. All things shine in the enduring splendor of the good such that what is given-over engenders its causality (or aesthetics) from the peace of the enduring Light of Light.
 Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 149.