“The problem of transcendence at Cioran” (Vasile Chira)

Blogul lui VASILE CHIRA, August 5, 2010

The Cioranian oeuvre bears the reputation of a completely unsystematic articulation. In spite of this character, which is mainly due to the preference Cioran has shown for the fragment and to the aphoristic form the expression of his obsessions has described – his work has yet several unifying coordinates, which though not allowing for a systematic construction, could still function as “metaphysical milestones”, i.e. “metaphysical constants”. These constants can be said to concentrate, to curdle the entire mass of Cioranian fragments around one single constellation.

Just like Heidegger’s existentials were all reducible to the nuclear existential of “care” (Sorge), in a similar fashion we uphold the thesis that all of Cioran’s existentials (dominants) are derivable from the profound and fundamental existential of Transcendence.

The antinomy of transcendence is the crucial attribute of that allow for the deduction and comprehension of all the existential structures of the Cioranian metaphysics. Due to this antinomy, the erotic ecstasy, the musical ecstasy and climactically the mystical ecstasy – find an explanation at the hand of the enlightening/luminous and generous attribute of transcendence, which triggers the urge of breaking free from the shackles of human condition and reaching the ecstatic union with the Absolute. It is this very antinomic character of transcendence that allows for the existence of non-sense, the absurd, sickness, ultimate experiences and, generally speaking, sufferance.

1. The Development of the Concept of Transcendence in the History of Philosophy

The question referring to the ultimate grounding which makes possible the act of being sweeps obsessively through the whole of the Western history of philosophy from the school in Miles to Heidegger. The principle nature was called in turn: One, Primordial Engine, Pure Act, Matter, Absolute Identity, Indetermination etc. The difficulties posed by the deciphering of this ontological code have generated self-contradictory solutions, metaphysically, logically and gnoseologically speaking. Thereby, the divergences which have marked the history of Western thought refer not only to the rationalisible character of the principle as opposed to its cognitive inaccessibility, but also to the nature of this principle that has been described by means of self-contradictory enunciations. Neither the transcendental, not the immanent character of Being have been spared of controversy.

The aim of our investigation will be that of identifying several major moments in the development of the concept of transcendence in the history of European metaphysics and afterwards to detect the sources, occurrences and the meanings of the idea of Transcendence in Emil Cioran’s system of thought. With Plato Transcendence is thematically explored especially when he poses the problem of the ontological condition of Good, more accurately, when he refers to the position Good entertain in its relationship with sense and sensitivity. Plato suggests the possibility of a super-intelligible character of Good, i.e. a transcendence infinitely more radical than the transcendence of paradigms as compared to things.

The problem of the corruptibility of the world, which has decisively marked Cioran’s metaphysics, will be re-configured with deeper implications when defining the concept of transcendence by means of Aristotle. In order to avoid the idea of a regressus ad infinitum, Aristotle infers an initial cause of motion, which in its turn should not be moving, a sort of stillness in motion. The substance of the Prime Motion? Is a pure act which is not conditioned by ability, does not undergo any changes. Being self-conditioned, the PM conceives in its act of self-thinking the entire coherence of the universe. Being in full debate with the Eleats on the issue of the homonymy of Being, Aristotle retrieves by means of the doctrine of Prime Motion  – in his Metaphysics XII – the sense of the eleatic identity between thinking and Being, an identity which may become the onset for the personal character of Divinity.

With Kant, the supreme idea of reason is the idea of totality, which – if hypostatized, represented as an individual – becomes the Transcendental Ideal. This ideal hypostatisation of the substance of predicates, out of which the determined predicates are selected, and which constitutes an absolutely perfect Being that presents all the attributes, i.e. the affirmative predicates, excluding the negations. Owing to the piling of all affirmative predicates, this idea of totality, this Transcendental Ideal is also called by Kant ens realissimus, i.e. the Being which presents a supreme degree of reality. Kant also upholds that this idea of totality exemplifies best the concept of the unconditionally necessary Being, this being the speculative source of the ontological argument. Although Kant does not admit to the necessary existence of this totality, taking a critical position as to the ontological argument, he acknowledges though the sublime character, the greatness of such overwhelming an idea.

The problem of transcendence is thematically re-approached by Hegel, who suppresses the opposition between essence and Being, which consequently leads to the suppression of the transcendence of Being. Spinoza’s substance could not explain the process of becoming, let alone temporality; for it only could conceive of an eternal present. This how Hegel’s question came into being: what is the way of reaching the state of becoming by means of a substance which is absolutely affirmative, as long as becoming involves negation? Hegel co-relates this ontological question with the problem of the relationship between determination and indetermination. Any determination is negation, and any indetermination is the absence of negation. But as any determination is also an affirmation, any indetermination is also the absence of any affirmation. As absence of any negation, indetermination is Pure Being; as absence of any affirmation, indetermination is Pure Non-Being. Hegel eliminates negations as well as affirmations, this speculative operation resulting therewith in the identity of Being and non- Being.

In his phenomenological project, Husserl will change the meaning of this term, applying it to the relation between cogito and cogitatum. The next step in the phenomenological redefining of the concept of transcendence belongs to Heidegger. The above mentioned thinker is characterized by having made a clear distinction between the concept of transcendence as such and its theological acceptation, and transcendence as the coinage of modernity. According to him, both acceptations present a crucial flaw: the representation of inwardness, as basically defining subjectivity. For Heidegger, the transcending force is the Dasein, while the aim of this transcendence is again the Dasein, which does overcome itself by means of itself but not in the sense of a transcendental alteration as it happens with Divinity.

The question over the meaning of being, as well as that over the relationship between the sacred, temporality and the abyss, finds its continuation in the investigation of poetic expression, as well as in the attempt to reveal the intimate relation between being and logos. It is only now that the question over the absence and the waiting for the God appears to be completely entitled. The God is absent, withdrawn from our “night of time” and expecting men to prepare his dwelling place. Yet men cannot do as such, no until they have not reached the abyss, not until they have brought to completion this “night of time”.

2. Cioran and the Negative Rehabilitation of Theological Transcendence

By denying the absolute character of the Being, as defined by metaphysicians, and by upholding the thesis of the constitutive finitude of this being, Heidegger’s experience of non-being is not a radical one. The only form of nothing which is truly radical is the one that becomes antonymous, and which assumes an oppositional relationship to everything, excluding cosmological totality, but including the theological one, as an absolutely infinite one. Therefore, Cioran’s anguish becomes possible only at the hand of the retrieving of the theological concept of transcendence, and provided the fact that we are aware of our living in a cosmos that is but a mere dim reflection cast by the luminous halo of transcendence. For Cioran, cosmological immensity is equivalent to the nowhereness of Divinity and man, while the prerequisite for a genuine nihilism is the existence of recollections of paradise lost, which basically amplify the contrast between our cosmic condition and the transcended territory. With no receptivity as to mystical ecstasy, there can be no ultimate existential source of nihilism… [+]

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