“I guess this is how things start, some sort of beginning.”
I first wrote these words living in Prague, about 4 years ago. I was a foreigner in a new place, attempting to start fresh emotionally, attempting to start something new. Yet I was terrified by the abyss that stood before me. This abyss was my own. It was the abyss of freedom.
It was one of the last lines of “Something Like Sunrise,” a book I wrote there. The content of which I won’t touch upon now, the relevant point to us here is the formal gesture of ending with a beginning. In retrospect, maybe, this was my project all along – sketching out an economy of beginning.
Living as I was in Prague, the words of Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic’s first president, had become my guiding light. He had written about hope, a notion that, for me, had become something of a raw material, the foundation for my beginning. Havel writes, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out” (Disturbing the Peace, 181).
This awoke something in me. In the words of William Carlos Williams, “A curious force awakens. It is HOPE long asleep, aroused once more” (Collected Poems v1, 184-5). Yes, hope is the raw material of beginning, and I was building something new. Something radically new that approached from all sides. Williams goes on to say, “It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING” (Ibid, 182).
Hope, the certainty that following one’s heart makes sense. That, like Spring, it can create a space for newness. A beginning. My project, then, and now, is this: what does it mean to bring newness into the world? What type of radical space does beginning create? Is it violent? Certainly. But it is also beautiful and true. And maybe that’s the point; maybe that’s the only Truth, beginning.
As Rilke writes, “Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast” (Letters, 24).
There is a great becoming in beginning. It is a stepping forth, a stepping out of the known and into the new. Just as I am starting this first meditation very citation heavy, so too must beginning stem outward from sources. Not just to read, but to re-write, to make the familiar strange and new. For isn’t beginning unheimlich? Beginning, like living in Prague, like art, finds the usual unusual. Everything is new. Thus, as beginners, as artists, we must learn to feel at home in the not-known.
Badiou writes, “How will I, as some-one, continue to exceed my own being? How will I link the things I know, in a consistent fashion, via the effects of being seized by the not-known? (Ethics, 50).
What does he mean, “being seized by the not-known?” Is this not our project, beginning? Isn’t the new, by definition, that which we do not yet know? Our projects seem the same, then – this pursuit of newness. But where, you might ask, can one find such radical newness?
Newness, just maybe, can be found in the space that hope creates, as Havel so eloquently defined. It is the space created through a fidelity to one’s own heart, to that which wordlessly makes sense.
Havel, here, doesn’t refer to logic. When he speaks of the “certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out” he doesn’t mean knowing. He’s not talking about the encyclopedia, no. There is a distinction to be made between knowledge, what we can call the encyclopedic, and Truth, which we shall call evental. Knowledge is optimism, it’s playing it safe, betting on the winning team, it’s finance, it’s calculated. Truth, however, can be defined as the radical newness found in the space created by hope.
When a space for newness opens up, when something can finally begin, something happens. This something, then, becomes an event in our lives. By event, I simply mean the physical experience of this newness. There you are, living life as if everything makes sense, until suddenly something arrives. Something new that can’t be spoken, because it has no name, not yet. You cannot articulate it but you can feel it, and you know, as you gather up your hope and your upward beating heart, that nothing will ever be the same. This is what it means to fall in love. This is what it means to encounter art. This is what it means, politically, to bring change into the world. This is the definition of an event.
Truth, then, is not a thing. It isn’t some pure form sitting at the top of a hierarchy, but a process. The process of beginning. Truth is the process of being, quite literally, true to an event. Truth is evental fidelity, another word for beginning.
Thus the name for this blog. Badiou writes, “Even for those who wander on the borders of evental sites” (Being and Event, 294). Allow me to move quickly for a moment: there is no totalized meaning, no God in the logocentric sense, no pre-determined center to life. There is only an abyss. We circulate around this very centerlessness, as the poet Gustaf Sobin writes, “organized as we are about a certain naught” (Breaths’ Burials, 69). This abyss is the void. Ø. But despair not! The void is not an emptiness, but rather the form of the unnamed. An event, then, is when life collides with the void. This means, quite literally, that when the unnamed ruptures our symbolic world, newness is introduced. Truth is then created by being true to this event, by entering into a process of fidelity with this newness, and, simply put, beginning.
Thus, the evental space is our project of beginning. But what does it take? What does it require of us, this fidelity to newness? Badiou writes, “A fidelity is not a matter of knowledge. It is not the work of an expert: it is the work of a militant” (Being and Event, 329). So let us be revolutionaries.
Let us be the revolutionaries of unspeakable newness. Our fidelity will be pointed toward the unfathomable within ourselves, the pure precipice of our beginning. Let our laughter pour into its abyss!
Nietzsche seems to be in dialog with Hölderlin when he writes, “One must have wings, if one loves the abyss” (Amid Birds of Prey). For Hölderlin writes, “From the abyss, namely, we began” (FA Einleitung, 74-5). Let us grow wings, then, for we, as beginners, love the abyss.
For we, as artists, use our steady hands to trace the flight patterns of newness, as lovers we build evental spaces with the raw material of hope, as philosophers we enter into processes of fidelity to Truth, and as revolutionaries we stare fearlessly into the violence of the void, standing at the precipice of its terrifying beauty, the sublime, the nameless, the unspeakable, the foreign, the new: beginning.