Overcoming Ontological Shit

The neat world which we have constructed through linguistic division, in our effort to decompress being, hides the reality which it seeks to cover up; but from underneath the blanket comes the indelible stench. And we can catch sight of this reality – the what is not, that lies beneath the what is (Conor Cunningham, Genealogy of Nihilism, p. 256)

Society makes distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate desires and, in doing so, hides the undifferentiated, indivisible reality beneath our random life meanings. However, despite our attempts to ignore and clean up the Real it remains always slipping through the fissures of existence through remainders and traces. It was the great masters of suspicion that denuded the façade of culture and pointed to the “pulsating reality that lay behind the accepted account”. This reality that lays beneath is the Lacanian Real, the “really real” (ontos onta): “pure reality, absolute shit, devoid of shape and distinction” (p. 257). Rather than being a relativism, the Real—ontological shit—is the epitome of idealism; a new objectivism. The objective horror and shit that flows in, with and under us is “the kernel of reality” that we seek to domesticate, or at least jettison. To a certain degree, there is a good deal of truth in nihilism. Every idealization, such as “friendship, family, employment, money and so on” distracts us from this kernel of reality and acts as an “insidious opiate”. “We are indeed sedated by the mindless chatter of gossip; call it politics, sport, economics, romance or whatever…” (p. 256). This domestication is nothing other than a colonization of the world by holding captive the desires and thoughts that do not conform to the established symbolic system. Meillassoux correctly categorizes this in anthropological terms, the symbolic is merely a projection of what humanity apprehends.

The difference of theology is that it does not interpret the void as an ugly excremental horror but the excess which life is. “Hamann would surely have disagreed with Žižek’s pejorative interpretation of the Real, because for Hamann all that is made is clean, in so far as what God makes is clean, so we must not call it profane” (p. 258). To put it in other words, the idealism of radical finitude discerns the Real inappropriately and lacks a charity of hermeneutics. According to Merleau-Ponty, the world carries an “inexhaustible richness” and this excess or plenitude can never be domesticated in the way vain metaphysics would like. In this way anthropomorphism is avoided because every object is phenomenologically resistant to totalization. We merely get a glimpse of the gift of creation through our perception.

There is certainly some similarity between theology and nihilism and this similarity lies in their mutual agnosticism towards perception. Liberalism, on the other hand, is a victory march of self-certainty. In contrast to the implicit agnosticism of theism and atheism, liberalism naively believes it can adequately describe objects and deal with them by a reductive logic. But language is always ecstatic which means that objects exceed language. As such, there is always a trace of an object’s excess in language, and while it may violate an object to some degree in its representation, it “carries the evidence of the crime with it” (p. 262). Cunningham however is clear in maintaining that the correlation between object and subject is indeterminate, but not “the indeterminate”. In other words, we are bereft of comprehension because our categories are exhausted by plenitude, not because of an infinite indetermination. Although Cunningham is not directly addressing Meillassoux here, his comments could apply towards surpassing the imbalanced relativistic/fideistic double-bind:

Theology cannot have a pure reason or a pure faith, because following de Lubac, it can be understood that there is no pure nature; conversely there is no pure unmediated supernatural. This means that there can be neither a natural theology nor a fideism. It is easier to see why when we realize that each contains an element of the other. Natural theology must have faith in its reason. That is, it must supplement rationality with a mode of faith (as an analogy, Gode’s ‘Incompleteness’ theorem comes to mind here). Furthermore, faith in retreating into its own ghetto does so for its own reasons (p. 274)


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