At the Core
At bottom, at the core of things, there is “immanence,” where no distinction between objects exists. It is a form of nonsense: “There was no landscape in a world where the eyes that opened did not apprehend what they looked at, where indeed, in our terms, the eyes did not see.” At bottom there is a dislocation of all meaning—“a depth which is unfathomable to me.” At bottom, there is nothing. There is a swampy emptiness beyond the boundaries of meaning, of sense, of any structure to the world. Slow motion bokeh of dyed water flowing into itself (or is it a play of lights?): it is just blurry and unintelligible without form and void. This is the beginning of Georges Bataille’s Theory of Religion. We build the rest from there, positing objects and subjects and things that become utilities and “projects.”
For the Biblicists, God speaks stuff out of this void. The world is shaped by categories determined by language. For some, this initiates a project of salvation.
Fernand Deligny plays with a similar idea, noting that religions have those types of origin stories that play into their projects, or their images of the self. These religions know that at bottom, the world is without form and void, until God spoke and created a project for humanity to engage in (God made the world so you can save it! God made the world for man and woman! God made the world for you to steward! God withdrew God’s-self from the world so that humanity could repair it! etc.). Or, if you’re a materialist, then your project is “man,” (or a humanist project) and you might have forgotten your origin story because you might have rejected everything that is innate in man (all you have is project). Without the project, we land in the void again.
But for Deligny, the void is not nothing. It contains an embodied gesture for both the mystic trying to escape the self and for the autistic with no consciousness of self. There is the kneeling of prayer, and the kneeling of the individual with no intention; there is the rocking shared between the autistic and the mystic performing a prayer. There is gesture used as recourse for the meanings of different projects. A body like an instrument, escaping illusion of self.
What Deligny imagines, eventually opening up to what is human, is an open palm that means nothing. Just skin and lines. No image of mankind, no palm-reading prediction of the future, no image of mankind or no religious project, no sense of self. Open palm with no gaze of the other. Meaningless.
What is required of us, if we want to understand the human, is, according to Deligny, to transgress the self-images that create implicit boundaries, probably wandering into a space of meaninglessness in a body with no image. It is a transgression giving up the self (for Bataille: a symbolic sacrifice into the realm of “intimacy”; for Rene Gerard: a single crucifixion). “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it,” says Jesus. Give up the project, means Jesus.
Deligny’s core is the body performing gestures with no intelligibility; Bataille’s core is a world without perception. Both of these are radically negative, like a world-rejecting religion. The core provokes an “individual, growing up, hands joined, gazing at the sky: one would think he had come straight from a painting evoking some mystic from the days of old.” Is this what we are to do all day? Nothing?
Here, a shift, clarified in Albert Camus’ rebellion. To give up the project opens space for a generosity that makes no calculations; a generosity that gives all to the present preferring the “man of flesh and blood” to the abstract man. To give up the project, to give up the images of mankind, to give up the calculations of a movement is to give birth to existence.
So, secretly, hidden under these “nothings,” there is not nothing. There is life. There is intimacy, later in Bataille’s theory. There is the humanity, so often denied, of Deligny’s autistic, which drives his essay. There is, for Camus, love and generosity. Gazing at the sky, with open palms and no images in mind, has to do with life and love and intimacy and humanity, like a mystic burning with compassion, in a way that no project, no language, no religion, no things can determine.