The Unground of Our Being



Nothing is real, if “real” is taken to mean anything beyond a momentary existence. Everything is ambiguous and transitory, unstable. People, which is to say, humans, can only perceive their perceptions. The perceiving of perceptions enables people to be affected. But even this affectedness is not a universal. The perceiver, which is to say the “I,” who is an I by the very nature of her being a perceiver, does not always allow affectedness. In order to enable affectedness, where affectedness means something like what Slavoj Žižek calls being moved to the point of the movements being traumatic (though in a good sense), one views the Other with which one is confronted as a “Thou.” Insofar as one views the Other one encounters as an “It,” she will be incapable of this engagement.

The traumatic affectedness of encountering the Other in all of her Thou-ness does not merely affect one in such a way that one is moved to a greater or lesser degree but remains stable, but moves one in such a manner that the very makeup of her world is altered. Her perceiving of her perceptions change, not because she is nearer the “actual truth” but because the mode of perceiving as well as the Others that she perceives have been fundamentally altered. There is only present, and present is never and will never be static or stable. The past is only existent insofar as it is re-membered and re-présented (that is, [ɹiˈpɹɛzɪntɪd] in IPA, or [ree-prez-int-id] in free form). There is no Kantian “thing-in-itself” that simply cannot be reached or perceived; there is only continual re-ideation of existence.

With this in mind, I think a great linguistic misappropriation has brought confusion and disorientation (vis a vis “faux-stabilized orientation,” as it were) into the “Christian” lexicon. Even this word, “Christian,” has seen stabilizing attempts. Where to travel to “God” through the “Spirit” by “Christ” should be existential and constantly moving, never ceasing to undo and re-ideate, a concerted effort has been made to capture it and ground it, keeping it from its “beyond control-ness.” These other words–“God,” “Spirit,” and “Christ”–are also taken captive by a grounding motive. “God” becomes this being, this entity, this force, moving away from the perplexing “I am who I am/will be.” “Spirit” becomes this force that can be called upon, manipulated. “Christ” becomes this entity that can be asked into one’s heart, understood by one and described.

Instead, these words should be understood as sorts of verbs, or perhaps allowed their own descriptor that is not so limiting. Their ideations are not, I think, either to be understood as grounded in any sense other than their co-temporary grounding as potential affectors and affecteds.

The world is made up of a continual bouncing between the particular “I’s” who are not allowed to remain still, ever, though they cluster together in packs and try to hold on to some groundedness. These clusters try to trap others in their faux-grounding, causing those who “are” otherwise-than-the-faux-grounding to despair in their present. The hope for the future (again, “future” is only ever a part of “present”) is a hope that, though one is trapped by those who would ground the ungrounded, a loosening of the cracks might occur that in turn might affect an irrupting of this faux-grounding, allowing “I” to be affected–traumatized, in a good sense–by the other “I’s” with whom she is confronted.


5 thoughts on “The Unground of Our Being

  1. Alan thanks for the post. I very much agree with your general conclusions regarding what things like “Christianity,” “God,” etc. *are* especially the notion of those as verbs and not nouns.

    I was wondering if you explicate this for me a little more: “The perceiving of perceptions enables people to be affected. But even this affectedness is not a universal. The perceiver, which is to say the “I,” who is an I by the very nature of her being a perceiver, does not always allow affectedness.” It sounds like you’re speaking phenomenologically here, but I’m wondering whom you’re drawing on for this. I think Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze, for example, would probably not agree with the use of the “I” here as so distinct from what is perceived, and would especially object to the idea that “I” could somehow disallow affectedness. Thanks.

    • I’m not sure that I’m drawing explicitly on anyone, though certainly several thinkers are at play here. I’ve been reading a bit of this new “historical phenomenology” stuff, especially Bruce Smith, so no doubt that has wormed its way in here, particularly with the close tie between “I” and “perception.” Other than that, Buber is always a pretty central influence, for me. Probably some drawing on Berkeley, too.

      I think your concern is with the second (well, in that line it falls first, but conceptually it’s second) “perceiving.” I would want to quickly talk about “reactiveness” as the response to the initial “perception” and “affectedness” as the potential response to the second “perceiving” (of those perceptions). Reactiveness, then, would be the sort of reflex response that cannot be disallowed, though it could be shaped. With the “does not always allow affectedness” bit I’m certainly drawing on Buber and the I/Thou vs I/It relationships. Only the first can result in this sort of affectedness, which Buber terms “genuine meeting.”

  2. I wonder what is to be said here of the manner in which the other-in-Christ gives itself, certainly in contrast to “God” (here I would use Gxd, precisely insofar as Gxd is not the “God” of Being grounded) or the “Spirit.” That is, the event of “Christ,” the Incarnation, would seem to be a self-giving into groundedness. To be sure, the violent gaze and as much the idolater seizes this opportunity and reduces Christ to the realm of objects and extinguishes him, and theologically this violates the Incarnation in its significance. However, Christ seems to give himself into the horizon of Being precisely to be “Christ” itself and not merely Gxd, free in its crossing of Being but nonetheless freely given to more stabilization than Gxd (the “Father) or the “Spirit.”

    The phrase is raised, “asked into one’s heart,” and indeed among the other issues it raises itself, it is certainly prone to domesticating “God” (an idol). Yet my observation is that the manner of Christ’s or “Christ”s givenness could be said experientially/theologically to be that it re-presents itself not just anywhere or wherever it pleases but precisely “in one’s heart,” reliably, at each gaze–and this, importantly, not due to the initiative of the gaze but the *free* initiative of the gift. Surely it is not thereby stabilized, no, and thus domestication is no more just. However, this manner of appearing (to perceiving) seems significantly different than that of Gxd (“God”), such that while stabilization/domestication is not a possibility, a notion of radical freedom neither seems fit, and perhaps something intermediate like ‘domiciling’ actually enters as a possibility for the “Christ” phenomenon.

    • Interesting. I think, though, that the manipulation of the “Spirit” in which she becomes but a tool for power, and “God the Father’s” presentation as “the same through the ages” or “never changing” or something makes each of their persons easy to perceptually stabilize, as unfortunate as those moves are. In fact, I would have wondered if Christ was not the most difficult to stabilize, in his paradoxical living into physical immanence as transcendent spirit (which, historically, has been a contentious point throughout the church).

      I think one issue with “in one’s heart” is that it is a place that doesn’t exist; there is no “individual” but only interdependent “I”s, none of whom could be I’s without there being other I’s. Christ, in particular, is a historical figure who has been re-membered generation after generation and passed on in this sort of re-presenting. Thus, Christ is destabilized through the process of re-presenting the perceiving of perceptions again and again, in addition to his destabilized personhood.

  3. Pingback: More than you think - Mutual Spiritual Affinity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s