“We are given to be in the intimate strangeness of being—always”

Why, then, do we say neither deconstruction nor reconstruction? We are given to be in the intimate strangeness of being—always. This is no construction, hence it cannot be deconstructed, cannot be reconstructed. Being thus given to be enables all construction, hence all deconstruction and reconstruction, but it is not any of them. Astonishment before the intimate strangeness of being given to be is at the beginning of our becoming mindful. Our perplexity can stay in communication with original astonishment, hence be in rapport with the intimate strangeness. It can also become definite curiosity. We make ourselves strange—”detach” ourselves, we think. We develop our difference, thinking it is outside the intimate strangeness, but it is not, cannot be outside. This happens all the time: we make ourselves “outside,” though we continue to be within the more intimate strangeness. And so we always need the shaking up of what, incognito, sustains every effort of determinate and self-determinate knowing. At its best, desconstructive thinking allows a probe of this incognito.

Metaphysics may indeed offer us forms of late-born thinking, either relative to determinate intelligibilities (categories, ideas) or relative to processes of determination (being as becoming; or knowing as relatively self-directed). But these and metaphysics cannot be abstracted from the more original source: the ethos of intimate strangeness. Otherwise they become false in becoming true. A fuller mindfulness of itself returns it to, reopens us to, this intimate strangeness. So too it is at the ready for forms of otherness that are never self-produced, nor vouched for by the possibility of a categorial intelligibility. This ready alertness, patient yet acutely energized, is more in the nature of a release of agapeic mind. This release is needed for “reconstruction.” In some way there is something here like revisiting a haunt, what haunts us (a theme recurrent in the later Derrida). What haunts us is old and new; neither old nor new, it is hyperbolic to epochal determination; it is something we are never done with, nor it with us.

Modern thought often suggests a kind of fall out of the ontological ethos of the intimate strangeness. In that sense, what we need is metaphysics more than anything else—not postmetaphysical thought, but elemental mindfulness of the intimate strangeness. True, given our knotted nature, we often have to suffer loss to lift up our eyes again in the mode of such elemental mindfulness. Metaxological metaphysics partakes also of posthumous mindfulness. Modernity is not always hospitable to the intimate strangeness of being. We see the loss in objectivism and in subjectivism; we see it reflected in the oscillation between foundationalism and relativism; and in it all, we sense lurking the sly instrumental reason, in which everything is a means, and nothing worthy simply for itself. When under the sway of a totalizing univocity, there is a kind of treason to contemplation in modern metaphysics. Of course, it becomes hard then to see that such a contemplation is not at all a disinterested neutrality. It has more of an affinity with religious meditation and artistic appreciation. This is theōria in an unmodern sense: nonpragmatic vigilance to the worthy. If our critique of instrumental reason is framed in a manner that frames the entire tradition of philosophy as “metaphysics of presence,” we are still too modern, not postmodern enough, in not being deeply enough in rapport with what is communicated in this celebrating vigilance, itself neither old nor new.

What are some of the happenings where this intimate strangeness comes above the horizon of our mindfulness? In art: naming of the astonishing sensuous show of the worthy in the milieu of being, without objectifying it. In religion: the mystery of the divine; of the good too, and not just in a moral sense: ontological worth—the good of the “to be”; communication of the “That it is” and that “I am”—and these as enigmatically good—worthy of our deeming them worthy, because they are worthy. In philosophy: in noninstrumental thinking: in agapeic mindfulness especially, in the thinking of the “to be,” of the enigma of the “I am,” of the mystery of God. In everyday life: walking down a sunlit street; or running a race; or sitting on a beach; or looking at a night sky; or scanning faces in a crowd. At their limits, the determinate sciences are also brushed by this sense of the intimate strangeness, though their drive will be to make it as cognitively determinate as possible.

What this suggests is that what we lack and need more than anything else is metaphysics. What kind of metaphysics? In my view metaxological metaphysics: thinking back down into the happening of the middle; becoming awake to our intermediate being, and to the intermediaries of the meaning of being. We always need to begin again. What if the truth of being’s intimate strangeness were so elemental as to nonplus us? The point is not any rejection of determinate thought, but we need memory of the original intimation, even in all determinate thinking. This is a perennially recommenced theme in the long history of philosophical thought: to begin again.

William Desmond

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3 Responses to “We are given to be in the intimate strangeness of being—always”

  1. brian says:

    A brief word about “posthumous mindfulness.” Desmond asks one to imagine having died and thus having transcended the anxieties and self-interested passions that normally accompany our striving passage through time. Would the “epochal blinders” of the particular social and ideological agendas that typically limit perception drop away? Perhaps a renewed reverence for the gift of being would arise, an awareness that recognizes the porosity of creation to the agapeic giver. Shorn of pettiness, recrimination, an egoistic desire for individual satisfaction, the sorrows of mortality are replaced by a higher order wonder beyond elemental childhood, a wonder that cherishes the unique being of every creature because each is chosen by love and God-drenched.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      This quote from Henri de Lubac is apropos: ““How can a conscious spirit be anything other than an absolute desire for God?”

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  2. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    For me, a periodic return to the wordless wonder that is experienced when I contemplate this intimate strangeness of being is necessary to keep me grounded. A lot of times I find it difficult to join together the things I say I believe regarding metaphysics and theology with my experience of being alive. I catch myself dividing things into separate categories where I have the world on the one hand and my mental realm on the other. God often gets lumped in with my set of ideas and concepts and then I struggle to ‘find’ Him in the ‘real’ world. It helps me to be reminded that existence itself is charged with mystery and wonder, and most wondrously, that I am a participant.

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