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Schelling and Romanticism

Mourning Becomes Theory: Schelling and the Absent Body of Philosophy

David L. Clark, McMaster University

In the body, the knot of being is tied which dualism does not unravel but cuts. Materialism and idealism, each from its end, try to smooth it out but get caught in it. The central position of the problem of life means not only that it must be accorded a decisive voice in judging any given ontology, but also that any treatment of itself must summon the whole of ontology. —Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology
  1. What shall it profit a philosopher, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own body?

  2. One of the arguments that I would like to sketch out very briefly here is that this is the nascent phenomenological question that Friedrich Schelling asks in the wake of his philosophy of nature, a question whose opening to thought gains considerable momentum with the publication of his masterwork, Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom (1809). In the Freedom essay—written as it is in a mood of "melancholy [Schwermut]"—we see auguries of what might be called Schelling's dis-spirited thinking about embodied existence, a philosophy of life or of the "living ground [lebendigen Grunde]" (30; 7: 356)[1] that emerges first in the negative form of an often ambivalently executed critique of German idealism. That idealism, Schelling argues, suffers principally from disavowing the irreducibly corporeal nature of existence; in his words—which cannot in this instance be either simply figurative or literal—the philosophies of spirit have renounced "flesh and blood [Fleisch und Blut]" (30; 7: 356). Living spirit is embodied spirit: this Schelling had learned from Jacob Boehme, whose scandalously anthropomorphic imaginings of a yearning, craving, and troublesomely incarnate God gave Schelling a richly affective rhetorical and conceptual framework with which both to enliven or corporealize a European philosophical scene otherwise completely lacking in "depth, fullness, and vitality" ("Ages" 89), and to read the body of philosophy after Descartes symptomatically for these absences. Sehnsucht [longing], Sucht [addiction], Schwermut [heavy-heartedness], die tiefe unzerstörliche Melancholie alles Lebens [the deep, indestructible melancholy of all life], das Regellose [the unruly], der regellosen Bewegung des verstandlosen Prinzips [the unruly movement of the irrational principle], Schärfe des Lebens [life's intensity or keenness]: these and other terms of "Korporisation" (Of Human Freedom 65; 7: 387) form a language of the body that Schelling's text mobilizes against and within the discourse of philosophy.[2]

  3. Anticipating by more than eighty years Nietzsche's summary judgement of Western thought as so much "Egyptianism" (35), Schelling characterizes the systems of his contemporaries as "vain artiface," and scoffs at the monumental tombs that they have built in the name of a "dead philosophy seeking the essence of things in forms and concepts" ("Ages" 90, 89). Now the real problem with the dead, as Lacan reminds us, is that you cannot shut them up. The thanatological philosophies of spirit that Schelling here wishes were dead are in fact very much alive—hence the reiterated forcefulness of his censure. The quickness of these dead philosophies is evident not only in the imposing form of Hegel, under whose shadow Schelling could still be said to be struggling, but also, more anxiously and melancholically, in the "Hegelianism" that Schelling himself once powerfully advanced and was never able completely to disavow. Whether dead, or alive, or perhaps living on within Schelling's project, the philosophies of spirit can sometimes trigger a lurid rhetoric of renunciation that reminds us that his critique of idealism (culminating in his ferocious denunciation of the "monstrous" Hegel in the lectures On the History of Modern Philosophy), was always in some sense felt as well as thought. The irreducible idealistic remainder in Schelling helps explain the cutting violence of the language of loss that surfaces at key points in his negotiation with the philosophical tradition he inherited, his heartfelt disavowal of the systems that he diagnosed as themselves founded upon similarly feeling-full acts of disavowal. As Schelling argues in lectures that he delivered > in Stuttgart to explain his essay on freedom, philosophical idealism is at > root a 'war against all Being' (Stuttgart 232), a lightning raid which > reduces the body of the world to ashes. Such fury against what resists and exceeds conceptualization is for Schelling the paradigm of "evil" as a "positive" or angrily active presence in the world. Why "war"? Which is to say, why the wrathful affect of this disavowal? In the essay on freedom, Schelling insistently figures this assault as an attack upon the living body, and, in doing so, helps explain the phenomenology—the felt outrage—of its purposiveness:

    Modern European philosophy as a whole, from its beginning (in Descartes) has this common flaw: for it nature does not exist, it lacks a living ground. Spinoza's realism is in this regard as abstract as Leibnitz's idealism. Idealism is the soul of philosophy; realism its body; only the two together constitute a living whole. Never can the latter [i.e., realism, as the Leib of philosophy] provide the principle, but it must be the ground and the means in which the former actualizes itself, assumes flesh and blood. If a philosophy lacks this living fundament—which is usually a sign that the ideal principle too was originally only feebly at work in it—it loses itself in the kind of system whose attenuated concepts of aseity, modifications, etc., stand in sharpest contrast to the vital force and fullness of reality. Yet wherever the ideal principle actually works its effects to a high degree [. . .] it generates a turbid, wild enthusiasm that irrupts in self-mutilation or—as with the priests of the Phrygian goddess [i.e. Cybele]—self-emasculation [da erzeugt es einen trüben und wilden Enthusiasmus, der in Selbstzerfleischung, oder, wie bei den Priestern der phrygischen Göttin (i.e. Kybele), in Selbstentmannung ausbricht]. (7: 356-7)
  4. Much could be said about this scene, as David Farrell Krell's illuminating commentary on it amply suggests. (It is Krell's more accurate translation that I cite here ["Crisis"].) There is something oddly sympathetic and symptomatic about the passage, as if the contempt underlying idealism's disavowals were contagious, itself becoming the object of Schelling's contempt. We might note by way of evoking a philosophical context for Schelling's rhetoric that slighting allusions to Cybele and her cult were certainly not unknown among the Germans. In the Athenaeum fragments, for example, Schlegel castigates the French for their abstraction and superficiality, their "fetish[istic]" attachment to "joyless" formality. "Who doesn't recognize in this portrait the priests of the temple of belles lettres who have the same sex as Cybele?" (45), he asks. (What that sex might actually be, and how it plays out in Schelling's allusion, is a question worth considering more fully. For Schlegel's immediate purposes, as indeed for Schelling's, though, the point is that Cybele's sex is not male.) At one level, a "joyless" fetish, like military intelligence, would seem to be a complete contradiction in terms, but it is a contradiction that inadvertently speaks to a paradox about the excessive and recursive nature of desire that Schelling exploits in the Freedom essay's figure of enthusiastic self-mutilation: namely, that bodies are those curiously profligate sites in which the mastery of desire is itself desirous. With Schelling's comparison, however, the stakes are considerably higher than in Schlegel, since it is not the French who are demonized as simultaneously unsexed and effeminate, but modern European philosophy in its entirety. As Krell points out, this is only one instance of what amounts to a bloody-minded leitmotif of disfigurement and castration woven into the complex texture of the Freedom essay—a leitmotif that deserves to be read much more closely than I can manage here, especially for the ways in which it performs a certain amount of philosophical labour beyond that of Schelling's ostensible argument. What deserves emphasizing is that this rhetoric forcefully registers his suspicions about idealism's triumphalist faith in the power of the philosophical imaginary to spiritualize reality, without remainder, into idea and form. As Schelling comes increasingly to recognize (although never without equivocation), reality is much more than formal intelligibility; it is also an open-ended question of existence and of the brute confrontation with the enigma of the actual. On the way to developing what he eventually names positive philosophy, Schelling confronts the ineluctable operation of the negative within existence: this includes the unsublatable power and reality of evil acts, the irrational and other-than-rational, the irreducible remainders that haunt spirit with the memory of matter, as well as "the uncanny" and "the unconscious"—we might recall that the latter two terms are effectively put into the circulation of German philosophy by Schelling. To this list—in effect, the philosophemes of human finitude—we might add one other term: the lived body, especially its affects. Modern European philosophy is what it is, Schelling contends, precisely through the disavowal of these alterities, but at its own risk—as his violent rhetoric of self-castration vividly suggests. When thinking disavows "flesh and blood," when idealism is most spirited and abstracting, it suffers a kind of hubris, a prideful "falling off" that the philosophical body paradoxically experiences as the opposite, as an act of mastery. Like the Phrygian priests, idealists misrecognize loss for gain, but in an affectively imbued manner that leaves behind trace elements marking the violence of this disavowal as well as its incompleteness. For a symptomatic reader like Schelling, idealism's abjection of its Lieb is never neutrally a given, never coolly a fait accompli, but always an ongoing task whose very rage remembers at an affective level what it otherwise tries to forget in the realm of "rule, order, and form" (Of Human Freedom 34). Five years after the publication of the essay on freedom, Schelling continues to rail against the work of his contemporaries in the same pugnacious manner; but we should not let his polemicism blind us to the way in which he keeps his eye resolutely focussed not only on how European philosophy conducts its work but also the tellingly choleric way in which it is executed: "You have maligned nature for deploying the senses, for failing to create man on the model of your own abstractions," he writes; "You have abused and maimed [geschändet und verstümmelt] his nature to suit yourselves; in insolent fury you have raged against her, like those who in earlier times castrated themselves for heavenly bliss [ver schnitten un der Seligkeit willen]"[3]

  5. A strange logic organizes these figures of disfigurement, where fury directed against the feminine so easily reverts to bliss, and where spirit marks flesh with the denial of flesh. Hegel too had mobilized the figure of Cybele. In his early theological writings, she is the dazzlingly invisible divinity of the mystery faiths (which include the hidden god of the Jews as well as the sources of sublimity in Kant) who "prevents her priests from the possibility of 'knowing' her—sexually or intellectually" (Hamacher 56). The feminine is a vacuous, undisclosable, and fetishistically invested otherness that at once saps her worshippers of energy and sharply delimits their command of the world. In Schelling, on the other hand, the feminine other which is nature must also play several roles, lack and deprivation to be sure, but also plenitude in the form of a grounding potency whose disavowal is the source of philosophy's faint-heartedness. By failing to attribute to nature its vitality, the male philosophers suffer a loss that Schelling does not hesitate to call "womanly": by excluding the feminine, idealism somehow manages to "feminize" itself.[4] According to masculinist assumptions that certainly do not need to be rehearsed here, Schelling makes femininity stand for both fullness and lack, fertility and castration, the origin of power and the sign of weakness. In Hegel we see a somewhat different ambivalence: the hidden divinity who emasculates (male) thinkers is herself "emasculated" (i.e. gendered female), and because of that her worship can only be false, an empty idolization of nothingness that leaves men "unmanned," as Hegel says, "in body and in spirit" (cited by Hamacher 55). Schelling queers the same figure by requiring the feminized real to play several roles: as the living fundament and source of actualization, she is richly potent, and thus antithetical to what Hegel makes of her. She is also symbolically castrated, but that cut goes in two ways: i) as I have said, Schelling's masculinism compels him to identify femininity with lack; ii) yet the figure of a castrated goddess also registers the exclusionary violence of modern European philosophy. What idealists do to themselves reproduces what they have always already done to the real, i.e., "wild[ly]" re-rendering it/her so that it/she can be incorporated into the spiritualized body of idealistic thinking. Where in Hegel the castrated Cybele is the emptiness that distracts, in Schelling she is the fullness that excites an attack in the form of a ritualistic consumption of her body.

  6. We might well be curious about the community of ambiguously gendered but decisively sterile philosophers that Schelling sees around him, the men who are said to be hysterical and effeminate because they disavow—or rather, they are always disavowing—the feminine. These gelded philosophers bring to mind another euphemistically named group described in the opening lecture of Lessons on the Method of Academic Studies, where Schelling shamelessly identifies the threat to the university's organic social system with a certain dangerous (a)sexuality. Beware the "sexless bees [geschlechtlose Bienen]" among "us," he warns, i.e., the ones who pass for virile and productive philosophers but who have not been granted the capacity to create. These sterile thinkers lend nothing to the fecund "totality" of the beehive, Schelling contends, but rather wallow in their own "inorganic excretions" (On University Studies 11; 5: 217).[5] What Krell rightly calls the "curious recoil of the castration imagery" ("Crisis" 19) in the Freedom essay, the queer way in which modern (masculine) philosophy feminizes itself the more it spurns the feminine, is partly explained if we treat the object of Schelling's phobic reaction not only as un-sexed but also as members of a third sex. Let me call them gay scientists. These "shallow Precieux [seichter Schöngeister]" (Of Human Freedom 81; 7: 401), as Schelling scathingly puts it, are creatures who are more at home in the temple of belles lettres than in the more virile academy. —All the better, so it would seem, to throw into relief Schelling's philosophical manliness, his sturdy willingness to embrace what the aesthetes and mere pretenders to philosophy would deny, namely the irreducibility of ardent affective life. As Schelling says, only a public that has un-manned itself refuses to accept the fact that "the passions," far from being the object of morality's disavowal, are "the very strength of virtue itself and its immediate tools" (Of Human Freedom 81). (And here we might recall Schelling's prominently heterosexual presence in the hive of the German university; after all, he was the busy bee for whom Caroline Schlegel left her husband.)[6]

  7. What then are we to make of these ritualistically pierced male bodies in Schelling's figure? What other inscriptions are their vulnerable surfaces made to bear in his philosophical imaginary? The sheer viscerality of this fantastic scene is telling: passionate frenzy on the verge of possession, ceremonial (i.e., reiteratively significant) acts of self-amputation—this complex figure in effect re-members the bodies that the idealists have forgotten and dis-membered, for although, like seraphim, they claim to have sublated "flesh and blood," in Schelling's symptomatic reading they have flesh enough to harm themselves. Schelling puts to us that modern European philosophy is constructed through a fiercely exclusionary mechanism, so that idealism invents its integrity not only in opposition to the alterity of the "real" but also by rendering the "real" as insignificant to the work of philosophy. In characterizing idealism as destroying something as proximate—and as irreducibly distant—as its own body, Schelling also suggests that what is excluded is not simply an exterior to the interiority of spirit, but bounds that spirit as its constitutive outside from within. Operating as the absent body of idealism, the real is the unconscious of philosophy that both enables its articulation but disables its absolutist pretensions. As such, the "real" troubles idealism as the ongoing chance of its trespass and recontextualization. In other words, the fact that Schelling attacks idealism's instrumentalization of nature in bodily terms reminds philosophy that the body is not one object among many, but precisely a surface that is narcissistically invested with significance. Contrary to what the idealists believe, bodies matter; indeed, they matter absolutely, a fact that Schelling puts to us by identifying God as fully embodied and also, more radically, by claiming that corporeal life exceeds even his powerful grasp. As Schelling says, God's will "to universalize everything, to lift it to unity with light to preserve it therein"—that is, his impulse to be in the world in the manner of modern European philosophy; in Schelling, God can take on a distinctly Fichtean and Hegelian personality—necessarily confronts an irreducible counter-force, namely the "will of the deep," a resistant negativity whose forceful effect is "to particularize everything or to make it creaturely" (Of Human Freedom 58; 7: 381). In order to deny its creaturely genealogy, then, idealism must ensure that the Word is stripped of its flesh. This melancholic and emasculating work Schelling sees in modern European philosophy's reduction of God into "a mere moral world-order" and in its calculated refusal to believe that "he has in him quite other and more vital activating powers than the barren subtlety abstract idealists ascribe to him" (Of Human Freedom 30). (Contemporary theologians like Jean-Luc Marion argue that this deracinating "idolization" of God continues through Heidegger, notwithstanding Schelling's example and opposition.)[7] Lacking the grounding of a fully realized philosophy of nature (that is, a philosophy capable of admitting to God's life[8]), frenzied idealism seems out of control; yet at the same time it is utterly in control and about nothing but control, creating as it does a closed circuit of desire in which the spirited renunciation of the flesh has itself become the source of a secret, masochistic pleasure in the manner of the Phrygian priests. But far from this desire being the engine of the dialectic, the means by which the philosophical subject—paradigmatically masculine—self-consciously confirms himself, it is instead the secreted source of that subject's unworking.

  8. In a text that will have important things to say about the nature of desire and longing, and especially about mourning and melancholia, one could argue that in identifying idealism's asceticism as an encrypted love of the flesh, Schelling here diagnoses philosophy after Descartes as suffering from a melancholic attachment to the body that is displaced into a disgust with its most libidinally invested parts. Because of idealism's ambivalent and unrecognized dependence on the feminized other, its improperly grieved loss leads to the sorts of outrages that Freud associates with unsuccessful mourning: notably, manic self-beratement and self-laceration, and the hallucinatory identification with the lost object so that the subject assumes the shadowy form of the beloved. Here, the male philosophers preserve and conserve what they unsuccessfully mourn through the heightened mimicry of a spectralized feminine, thereby becoming—in a manner of speaking—what they disavow. Or rather, they appear to become what they disavow, since these men are characterized as imposters, philosophers caught up in a (dis)embodied form of drag, whose ideas are better suited, as Schelling says, for the gynaeceum, the "lady's boudoir" (Of Human Freedom 19; 7, 401). But if the idealists really are like the priests of Phrygian goddess Cybele, then their culthood is strange indeed, for the goddess to whom they are dedicated was born both male and female. Horrified by this indeterminately gendered creature, the gods who witness this birth castrate Cybele, interpellating him/her into the Symbolic order through a viciously normalizing act that the goddess in turn angrily visits upon her male followers. Perhaps behind Schelling's insistent allusion lies another story, the body of which is mostly denied by virtue of his misogyny: read against this fantastic background, modern European philosophy's revulsion with the real is a displaced expression of an older exclusion, a melancholic self-laceration that disavows an original, dreamily bisexual body, a sexual difference that is more ancient than any ontological Scheidung.[9]

  9. What would it mean then for philosophy to take on flesh and blood, to get a life? If idealism suffers from a certain absence, then it is always possible for a philosophy of flesh and blood to seek in embodiment the consolation of simple self-presence, thereby substituting one generality for another. As Schelling points out in his Cybele allusion, realism can be as abstract as idealism. Schelling's philosophy is itself never entirely free of the risk of this sort of symmetrical inversion, especially in the later work, organized as it is around oppositions of "positive" and "negative" that make such a substitution—which we could call "Hegelian"—all but irresistible. Perhaps this is one of the lessons that Marx takes from Schelling in his own critique of Hegel's disavowal of "life": a philosophy of life will not break with a philosophy of spirit as long as life is treated as the other of spirit, which is to say caught within the orbit of spirit's negative determination. To break orbit, life will need to be reconsidered as that which exceeds the antithetical oppositions of corporeality and spirituality, materialism and idealism, life and non-life—that is, as a resistant negativity that refuses to be worked over and worked through by the dialectic.[10] And, indeed, we see signs of such a reconsideration in the Freedom essay, where Schelling suggests that grasping corporeality in a radical fashion means talking about unquenchable desire and irreducible loss down to the very ground of God; it means reinscribing creatureliness as an indeterminate "nexus of living forces [ein Band von lebendigen Kräften]" (Of Human Freedom 41; 7: 365) rather than a simple substance that might punctually and irrevocably be brought into the light of reason. After Boehme, Schelling argues that human freedom has its source in a more primordial act of embodiment, namely God's self-originating struggle to become a determinate being out of his darkness. But what is the sex of this being? In a surprising move that, in the final analysis, probably exceeds the philosophical tolerances of the Freedom essay, Schelling calls the dark, originary ground "longing" [die Sehnsucht]. It is a designation that triggers a dense unfurling of metaphors, as if Schelling were averting his eyes from the prolific site of God's nativity. Among other things, this longing is the unruly, "the surging, billowing sea" (Of Human Freedom 35) and the birth place that Schelling explicitly associates with the Platonic chora, a complex association that I have discussed elsewhere ("Tropics of Negativity"). Out of primal longing is born an image of wholeness in which God first recognizes himself as an individuated entity, and thus sets himself upon the manly path of self-consciousness. Or rather, God mis-recognizes himself, since longing does not spring from an already constituted body; instead a body image emerges out of the projection of unruly, primordial desire. Moreover, in this mirror stage, God not only construes himself as distinct and intact; he also mistakes himself as male, even though Schelling's language insists that the energetic source of this reflection is feminine. On the far side of this specular moment, God is masculine, but on the near side he is a she. It seems to me that through this looking glass, we are witnessing the staging of a number of phantasmatic effects, each of which depend upon the violent exclusion of an alterity figured as feminine. We do not see the birth of God as much as the genesis of a certain masculinization of desire, the harnessing or transformation of (feminized) longing into the dialectical work of (masculine) self-consciousness, or what Hegel calls, in the Phenomenology, "Desire in general" (para. 167). (We might quickly recall here that in his Aesthetics, Hegel goes out of his way to denounce and delimit melancholia and longing as symptomatic merely of a wasteful Romantic irony: "That longing," Hegel writes, "is only the empty, vain subject's desire of nullity, and he lacks the strength to escape from this vanity and fill himself with the content of substance" [67].)

  10. Whatever God imagines himself to be, Schelling is careful to insist that primal longing is never entirely reducible to the Apollonian shapeliness envisaged in the mirror stage. "[T]he world as we [. . .] behold it, is all rule, order, and form," he writes;

    But the unruly [das Regellose] still lies in the ground as if it could break through once again, and nowhere does it appear as though order and form were original, but rather as if something initially ruleless had been brought to order. This is the incomprehensible ground of reality in things, the irreducible remainder [der nie aufgehende Rest] which with the greatest exertion cannot be resolved into reason but always remains in the ground. (Of Human Freedom 34; 7: 360)
    A residue of longing remains in the form of a materiality that is forever unresolved by reason, and that survives as the disavowed condition of reason's possibility. This resistant remainder throws into relief the provisionality of the Law—i.e. "the world of rule, order, and form"—, its revealingly anxious and contingently reiterated attempt to discipline what haunts it from within. There is no overcoming this resistance to the Law, because the Law is itself this resistance, the productive grasping for the dark ground that is ever more about to be grasped, and that, in truth, grasps us as creatures of desire. Having always already withdrawn from the nature of things, longing is the radical loss that sets existent life—including God's existent life—upon its mortal way. Schelling's rhetoric is once again conspicuously affective: human beings "never gain control" of their dark nature, he writes: "This is the sadness which inheres to all finite life [. . .] Thence the veil of sadness [der Schleier der Schwermut] which is spread over the whole of nature, the deep indestructible melancholy of all life" [die tiefe unzerstörliche Melancholie alles Lebens] (Of Human Freedom 79; 7: 399).
  11. Indestructible melancholy and irreducible longing are Schelling's figure for the agonistic rapport that existent beings share with what conditions them, but which forever eludes them as an originary lack. Importantly, this is not a veil that can be lifted, not a pathologized melancholy against which one might imagine the work of a more proper mourning, a mourning whose pretended "success" was for Schelling the ultimate failure of modern European philosophy. Indestructible melancholy in fact names an impossible mourning. Impossible, because the lost object is absent from the start, and thus utterly unsalvageable, a form of yearning that Schelling has the resolve to concede was never punctually present. How "properly" to negotiate with a loss that was never, as it were, a gain? Even God cannot renounce this loss, cannot end the interminable clinging to his own ground so as to become all in all. Life, as life, must negotiate interminably with a loss for which there can be no complete recompense, no eventual renunciation, not if the living are to remain alive. Of course, the fact that the subject cannot obliterate its relationship to the ground upon which it is dependent does not prevent it from trying and claiming to do just that, which is to say from attempting carrying out a campaign, in the name of spirit, against that which grounds and resists spirit. This disavowing—but finally impossible—effort Schelling describes as the structural conditions for evil itself, and it is why, in a counter-intuitive move that attracted Heidegger, he points out "It could indeed be argued that evil is the most spiritual [Geistig]" phenomenon, "for it wages the most vehement war against all Being (Stuttgart 232; 7: 469) . Under these conditions, mourning cannot be anything but interminable. As Derrida says in a different context, "this is the law, the law of mourning, and the law of the law, always in mourning, that it would have to fail in order to succeed" ("Force" 173).

  12. Although both before and after the period of the Freedom essay Schelling proves himself quite capable of referring to the body in more Hegelian terms as merely the "tool" or "implement of spirit [Werkzeug des Geistes]," as Krell points out (19), I think it is still possible to find the conceptual origins of his revisionary understanding of corporeality in the First Outline of a System of Philosophy of Nature, where we witness Schelling describing life in dynamic terms as the exchange of forces. Here, he argues, the thinking subject is not opposed to the world of objects, but is itself a lively part of the living nature it would analyze. Because knowledge of nature is irreducibly a situated knowledge, that is, produced by an entity that is itself corporeally immersed in what is being investigated, the field can never be completely grasped. Something always drops out, yet continues to make its presence felt, and that "something" Schelling names "the universal productivity" [der allgemeinen Produktivität] (3: 289) of which human embodied existence, like all living phenomena, is a kind of moment by moment inhibition or repression.[11] As Andrew Bowie points out, the productivity is not "a separate inaccessible thing in itself (even though it is not an object of knowledge) because it is also at work in the subject, as that which moves the subject beyond itself" (36). Interestingly, Schelling implicitly associates this irreducibly displaced subject, this subject always somewhere else than it appears to be, with an "eddy" [Wirbel] (3: 289) in a stream. Human corporeality, as the supreme instance of living nature, is the site of constantly shifting surface resistance through which the currents of certain unconscious depths are only transversally "visible." For Schelling, life is a kind of "hovering" [Schweben] (3: 277), a sustained activity of deferral and differance which is "prevented," as he says, "from exhausting itself in its product" (cited by Bowie 41). In developing this kind of rhetoric of absent presences, I would argue that Schelling's Naturphilosophie is responding to the Cartesian indifference to embodiment with a corporeal model that Drew Leder has recently called the "dys-appearing body" (69-99), that is, a body whose flickering presence is felt but not known. For Schelling, as for Leder (whose work, as Tilottama Rajan has argued, constitutes an extension of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology [Rev. 262-3]), the body is effectively missing in action; or better, embodied life is a species of virtual phenomena, its permanence not one of substance but of dynamic process, the unstable site of a churning eddy whose elements are constantly being exchanged. Still, where the Naturphilosophie can speak of corporeality in relatively abstract terms of "products" and "productivity," the later Freedom essay concretizes and complicates matters by being more insistently concerned with affect, the universe of feeling that it unabashedly places at the heart of things. The epistemological problem of the subject unable to see itself seeing is reconfigured as an ontological question of being in the world in a mode of agonistic loss. Drawing heavily from Boehme's theosophical mysticism, that is, from a pronounced distance outside of the discursive regime of modern European philosophy, Schelling mobilizes a symptomatic language to reframe the disembodied discourse of idealism. Unruly and originary longing and unappeasable melancholy: these are the affective dispositions around which Schelling's essay revolves in its reflection on the nature of existence, both human and divine, dispositions, which like nausea in Sartre, or perception in Merleau-Ponty, evoke borderline states that bring out the mutual dependence of subject and object in the experience of felt life, and that remind us that we are possessed by the bodies that we possess. This sense of corporeal dis-possession is perhaps no more strongly evident than in Schelling's decision to characterize individual embodiment, which is to say the point of maximal particularization at the farthest distance from the universal affairs of spirit, in terms of an originary craving or addiction [die Sucht]. As Heidegger observes in his lectures on Schelling, "man" is uniquely the instantiation of "the deepest self-craving of the longing of the ground [der tiefsten Eigensucht der Sehnsucht des Grundes]" (Schelling's Treatise 141; 42: 244). A realized philosophy of flesh and blood could then be said to characterize the embodied subject as a form of addiction to oneself—that is, if the priority and integrity of the "self" were not precisely what is put into question by Schelling's notion of a longing and a craving for which subjectivity is in fact a kind of (side-)effect. "Eigensucht" is a curious contradiction in terms, for addiction constitutes the dispossession of the composure, ownership, and autonomy implied by "Eigen." How does one "have" a body (of one's own)? How does God have a body? In the form of a compulsion, Schelling scandalously says, indeed, a perfect, ferocious addiction that Ronell would call a "pure instance of Being-on-drugs: it is only about producing a need for itself" (25). The work of mourning is of course another name for the complete inability to renounce one's needs, and that work could not be more interminable when addiction is a matter of craving oneself (i.e., the embodied self as the site of the craving for itself, insatiable as such). Under these heavy-hearted conditions, addiction does not follow clean and sober health, no more than mourning follows death; instead, mourning and addiction work upon life, and are indissociable from it.[12] We see why for Schelling corporeal existence is awash with "the deep indestructible melancholy of all life" [die tiefe unzerstörliche Melancholie alles Lebens] (Of Human Freedom 79; 7: 399).

  13. Of course, in describing the fundamental structures of reality in terms of the lived body, Schelling opens himself up to the charge of anthropomorphism. In defense of Schelling, Heidegger responds by pointing out that anthropomorphism presumes some comprehensive knowledge of what it is to be human. That is exactly the kind of knowledge that Schelling's essay puts into question, and never more so than in attributing a pre-thetic primacy to longing and melancholy. Heidegger smartly asks:

    For who has ever verified the supposition that longing is something merely human? And who has ever refuted thoroughly and with sufficient reason the possibility that what we call longing, which is where we are, in the end is something other than we ourselves? Does not longing conceal something that denies us any grounds for limiting it to humankind, something that would sooner give us cause to grasp it as that in which we human beings are unfettered out beyond ourselves [über uns weg entschränkt]? Is it not precisely longing that proves the human being to be Other, other than a mere human being? (Schelling's Treatise 124; 42,216)
    Heidegger's leading questions urge us to grasp the more "authentic" man of disembodied Dasein, the one resolutely oriented toward—and thus fundamentally othered by—the question of being. But as Levinas says, this "Dasein [. . .] is never hungry" (134) (and, we could say here, never addicted, never longing and languorous), and is so dangerously benumbed to the life of the so-called "merely human" that it never feels the pain of fleshly loss. I cannot say that Schelling altogether avoids this kind of denegating idealism, and that his attractiveness to Heidegger, in particular the Rector of the 1930's, is therefore accidental. But we need not go down Heidegger's sexless path of thinking to grasp his point—that Schelling's longing is not exhausted by the thought of the subject, and especially not the thought of "man." What, then, is that "something other than only a man," the alterity that haunts and disrupts the boundaries of the "human"? Schelling's text answers tentatively, but in a sexed and symptomatic language that anticipates Kristeva more than it does Heidegger. Like Schelling, Kristeva evokes the Platonic chora as a figure for the always already there, the unruly that (un)works the world of rule, order, and form while also being constitutive of it. For Kristeva, the chora contests the primacy of the Logos, and puts the self-sufficiency of the "father" into question. In so far as Schelling's irreducible remainder operates as a negativity that refuses to be absorbed into the Symbolic order of the law, it is analogous to Kristeva's notion of the Semiotic. Heidegger in fact refers to Schelling's longing as "the nameless," as that which is "lacking the possibility of words" (125), a characterization that recalls Kristeva's notion of melancholy and other, related dispositions, as an obstructed form of signification. In Tilottama Rajan's phrase, these dispositions constitute "a language stuck in the body, signifiers that have not yet become linguistic" (Rev. 263).
  14. The "something other" that originary longing evokes and commemorates for Heidegger nevertheless compels the subject to become what it is only through the circuit of the Symbolic. As Schelling repeatedly says during the last thirty years of his philosophical career, in coming into existence, the subject unhappily takes on a role, puts on a face: it "cannot grasp itself as what it is, for precisely in attracting itself it becomes an other, and this is the basic contradiction, we can say the basic misfortune, in all being" (On History 115). In a sense, Schelling's anthropomorphisms mimic this structure of substitution, putting a human face on the primal yearning and addiction that that face also necessarily disavows. Zizek[*] reads this crucial turn of thinking in Lacanian terms; as he says, the price of the subject's positing of itself out of the ground of obscure longing and in the form of the Word is "the irretrievable loss of the subject's self-identity" (47). After Lacan, Zizek characterizes this structure of identification and loss as "symbolic castration," a term that should remind us not only of the self-inflicted fate that Schelling conveniently attributes to the members of the cult of Geist, but also that thinking of loss in terms of "castration"—"symbolic" or not—may not be entirely appropriate given the sexual complexity of Schelling's primal scene. Perhaps Derrida is more useful to us here, especially the work of the last decade that reflects so movingly on the trace-structure as a form of "grieving" that is older than the subject. I have said that for Schelling mourning and melancholia do not wait for death; they are at work in life, and as life; in talking this way throughout this paper, I in fact recall Derrida's argument that the "subject"—among all other philosophemes—is a "bereaved memory" of a radical other that was never punctually present, a commemorative figure for a nullity that "will never allow itself to be reanimated in the interiority of consciousness" (Memoires 65). What is other and radically absent resists the closure of our memory, exposing it to a resistance that was there, as it were, from the start, indeed, as the start of the subject. It cannot be remembered; yet it cannot not be remembered, and it is in the midst of this curious aporia that Derrida situates a bereavement that is neither entirely mournful nor melancholic, a process by which "we people the 'present'," as he says, "with figures of death" (Memoires 59). Derrida: "The self appears to itself [Schelling: "it becomes an other"] only in this bereaved allegory, in this hallucinatory prosopopeia—and even before the death of the other actually happens, as we say, in `reality'" (Memoires 28-9). Perhaps this is the other-scene of Schelling's anthropomorphisms, in excess of their role as phenomenological markers designed to relocate the philosophical subject in lived experience; beyond the absent body, as it were, they register a more original "materiality" and answer to a more fundamental obligation.

  15. But this is another paper, and one that risks disavowing the body that I am claiming Schelling ambivalently recalls. Quickly by way of concluding, I'd like to suggest that Schelling's notion of a primal longing raises the possibility of an alternative modelling of desire, one that plays out as "feminine" to the "masculine" forms of longing and loss that structure desire in a line connecting Hegel to Lacan. As Judith Butler argues, in this dominant lineage, desire is typically engendered as masculine, and figured as the pursuit of mastery through the appropriation, consumption, and negation of "what is different or unassimilable in the Other" (377, 379). For Schelling's purposes, the Phrygian priests of modern European philosophy embody the spiritualizing violence and recursive loop of this desire, desire that even puts the resistant negativity of the body to efficient good work by libidinally investing its very disavowal, that is, by secretly deriving pleasure out of the ascetic renunciation of pleasure. Primal longing, on the other hand, promises a form of desire that refuses to absorb and to reinvest loss in the manner of the philosophers of spirit. As an unresolved remainder, it is a negativity that will not be economized by the engine of the dialectic. In Kristeva's psychoanalytic terms, it is a loss that is always already introjected rather than incorporated, hived or encrypted "inside" embodied creatures where it is magically preserved and denied. In Schelling's language, longing is the indeterminately locatable dark matter that is neither wholly inside nor outside God, and whose uncertain agency silently unsettles the distinctions—masculine/feminine, body/spirit, mourning/melancholia—upon which the intelligibility and the ideological investments of the thetic world rest. It is the abjected waste and interiorized Other that God must interminably put behind himself, the embarrassing "caput mortuum" (Of Human Freedom 89), invested with powers of horror, that marks a certain structural in-efficiency within the dialectic. Lacking the possibility of words, this unused and unusable negativity nevertheless makes itself felt in Schelling's text—apprehended rather than comprehended—as the residue of an affect, as melancholy. A burning fire shut up in the bones, this desire is finally a figure for the Law's anxiety and in-efficacy. Melancholy is the unspoken sign both of the Law's incapacity to bring all of the depths into light and sense, and of its inability to give up that Apollonian desire for mastery.

  16. Schelling ultimately flinches from the most radical implications of his own anthropomorphisms, so that the alternative genealogy of desire to which I have so briefly referred here functions like a Kristevan genotext within the phenotext of the Freedom essay. In returning idealism to the question of embodiment, Schelling unavoidably confronts the concomitant question of sexual difference; but he also holds the question away, and economizes it to the degree that his argument is itself complexly interpellated into the patriarchal structures of the Symbolic order. In that sense, the Freedom essay is emotionally radical but philosophically conservative about the nature of negativity; it is, in other words, simultaneously a "work of mourning and [a] work about mourning" (Derrida, Memoires 115). Recent readings of Schelling have increasingly emphasized the continuities between his critique of idealism and the dispersion of the subject in post-structuralism. But the promise of an alternative genealogy of desire rooted in a phenomenology of the body might remind us that the disembodied ultra-textualism that is sometimes identified with recent theory may itself register a melancholic disavowal of that very genealogy.

    Works Cited

    1 German references are from the Sämmtliche Werke; parenthetical references for citations in which the German is included list page(s) for the English translation first, and follow this with volume and page number(s) for the corresponding text from the Sämmtliche Werke. Although for the most part I have used Gutmann's translation of Schelling's Philosophical Investigations into the Nature of Human Freedom (entitled Of Human Freedom), I have in some cases adopted elements from two other sources where Gutmann's translation proves inadequate: Priscilla Hayden-Roy's more recent translation for The German Library and selected passages translated by David Farrell Krell in "Crisis."

    2 I recall here Foucault's distinction between "language" and "discourse" outlined in The Order of Things (43).

    3 Schelling's remarks come from an unpublished essay of 1812, cited by Krell (31 n.6).

    4 Krell: "At the outset I shall leave in suspense the curious fact that precisely when the (masculine) modern philosopher ignores (feminine) nature he sacrifices his own (masculine) nature" (18).

    5 But aren't most bees "sexless," i.e. infertile workers (that are chromosomally female)? "Geschlecht" here hovers indeterminately between connotations of fecundity, productivity, and sex. On the one hand, Schelling's slur follows logically from his masculinist identification of sexlessness with femininity: the infertile thinkers are for him also "womanly." On the other hand, his figure of the fecund hive of the university is dreamily illogical, since it requires him to masculinize (and "fertilize"?) a communal space that is in fact mostly inhabited by infertile ("geschlechtlose") female workers whose management of the male drones (the fertile bees) is the chief source of its radically cooperative sociality. Schelling can only unsex his colleagues at Jena by sexing the creatures to whom his colleagues are held up and found wanting, sterile. See also note 6.

    6 Schelling:

    Whatever cannot be incorporated into this active, living whole [i.e., the ideal university] is dead matter to be eliminated sooner or later--such is the law of all living organisms. The fact is, there are too many sexless bees in the hive of the sciences, and since they cannot be productive, they merely keep reproducing their own spiritual barrenness in the form of inorganic excretions. (On University Studies 11; 5: 217)

    A certain continuity joins these polemically cutting remarks to the later essay on freedom, notably i) the conspicuously sexualized and corporealized figuration of philosophical labour, and ii) the thought that life means not only reproduction but also excretion. Yet the freedom essay returns to these tropes of fertility and waste with a difference. In the 1809 text sexlessness is not the threatening symptom of thinking that refuses to conform to the totalizing law of the living organism (i.e., the law that treats resistant negativity as death to the university's imagined life) but the very mark of a conforming to ideals of totality and totalization that has deadened the mind of Europe; and, as we shall see, excreted waste and the caput mortuum are not so much terms for what stands over and against life (i.e., "in-organic"), as the irreducible remainder that quickens life from within and that materially remembers--as the by-product of life's interminable work with non-life--the ways in which the organic and the inorganic are folded one into the other.

    "Sexless bees" appear again as a figure in Philosophy and Religion (1804): "For above all Germans are prone to enthusiasm, resembling sexless bees, though only therein, since they industriously seek to carry away and rework that which blossoms and is produced independently of them" (cited by Gutmann, Of Human Freedom 100 n335).

    7 See, for example, my discussion of Schelling's importance for Marion's critique in "God Without Ground: Schelling, Marion."

    8 Schelling calls for a philosophy of nature that includes God's nature (or more precisely the "nature" that is where God is) thus: "Since nothing is prior to or outside of God, he must have the ground of his existence within himself. All philosophies say this, but they speak of this ground as of a mere concept, without making it something real and actual. This ground of his existence which God has within himself is not God viewed absolutely, i.e., in so far as he exists; for it is only the ground of his existence, it is nature--in God, a being which, thought inseparable from him, still is distinguished from him" (PI 32).

    9 It may be possible, then, to read the essay on freedom in a way that Krell suggests with respect to the later Ages of the World: "I believe that it would also be possible to show [. . .] that Schelling's Weltalter sketches lead him beyond the merely abstract assertion of God's embodiment (which is something altogether different from orthodox phallic Incarnation) to the question of the essential bisexuality of divinity" (31 n6).

    10 For useful discussions of Marx's insight into this problem and into the "philosophy of life" (that I am suggesting he inherits and adapts from Schelling), see Derrida's Specters of Marx (especially 187) and Warminski.

    11 The ways in which this die Hemmung anticipates cognate figures of denegation in Freud would take up another paper. But see Krell's extremely suggestive remarks on the subject in Contagion: Sexuality, Disease, and Death in German Idealism and Romanticism [90-99].

    12 For a much more developed discussion of the figure of addiction in Schelling, see my "Heidegger's Craving: Being-on-Schelling."

    * Technical note: Zizek, proper spelling is the proper spelling here, acheived in this note by use of an image. Hypertext Markup Language does not currently support the "z" character in its character entity set.

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Published @ RC

January 2000