Nicola Masciandaro – prose


Going Through Withdrawal—“What It Is Is Negated In It”

            The dark matter of sorrow everywhere surrounding the crucifixion, in the willful secrecy of matter’s being otherwise than matter, is like a perfect inverse projection of the Neoplatonic and mystical principle that the “created world . . . is the vision of God—in both senses of the word,”[i] a reflective shadowing of the hidden fact that everything is optimally enclosed by and ordered towards the loving, omnipresent, and uncircumscribable gaze of the Infinite. There is every reason, therefore, to identify the crucifixion darkness with the divine image, the hyper-generative analogy in which the human, out of nothing, comes to be as the special creature capable of seeing and becoming beyond being. As explicated by Eriugena, the divine image is constituted by ontological auto-eclipse, the brilliant obscurity of being to itself, its self-visible occlusion of essence: “the Divine likeness in the human mind is most clearly discerned when it is only known that it is, and not known what it is . . . what it is is denied in in it [negatur in ea quid esse], and only that it is is affirmed.”[ii] And this essential incomprehensibility is likewise seen in all creatures—“no substance or essence of any creature, whether visible or invisible, can be comprehended by the intellect or by reason as to what it is”[iii]—so that the divine image is, as if indistinguishably, at once something properly within the human specifically and the general visibility of the image to the human within all things, a living visibility or image-being that the human, in the immanent space of its own being to itself, actually is. Fulfilling the ontic role of an entity paradisically placed in the midst of a divinely improper world—“what is properly divine is that the world does not reveal God”[iv]—the human is the unaccountable visibility of the divine darkness, the obscure comprehensibility of the Incomprehensible and discernible indiscretion according to which the world’s non-revelation of God is not simple privation but a strange plenitude that does not not reveal God.   

Such an apophatic and positively negative concept of the divine image is visible in the negative epistemic aspects of the crucifixion darkness: the spiritual blindness of “they [who] know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), the radical question of divine abandonment marking the darkness’s end (Matt. 27:46), and the fearful supernatural mystery of the visible darkness itself: “and they were filled with awe [ἐφοβήθησαν]” (Matt. 27:54). Along the universal continuum connecting the hidden superessential deity to the inscrutable essences of visible nature, these dark rays of the divine image, emanations of the whatless and whyless That, intersect formally with the exegetical clarification of the darkness as sorrow, withdrawal, and mystical vision—intersections which themselves show the conncetion between unknowing and understanding, between obscurity and the light of commentary. For that the exegetical elaboration of the crucifixion darkness moves in this three-fold direction is itself an instance of the divine image—a movement wherein the commenting mind sees the divine cosmicity of its own essential obscurity reflected in the crucifixion darkness—for that is exactly what the divine image is: a sorrow (or negative feeling of the fact of being, the negativity of being’s being a fact), a withdrawal (of the substance or what of being vis-à-vis its supervenient facticity), and a mystical vision (in the sense of a blind seeing of a hidden something that one cannot properly see). Here we see a new literal sense of the Cloud’s definition of perfect sorrow, whose specialness—“Alle men han mater of sorow, bot most specyaly he felith mater of sorow that wote and felith that he is”—is special not only in the sense of intensity or particularity, but in the more substantial sense of being constituted by image or appearance (species). Accordingly, to follow or trace these intersections between what commentary sees in the crucifixion darkness (sorrow, withdrawal, mystical vision) and the negative epistemic elements inherent to its event (spiritual blindness, the question of divine dereliction, supernatural mystery), as we will now see, is precisely to arrive touch upon the identity of feeling perfect sorrow and seeing the image of matter. In other words, the interpretation of the understanding of the crucifixion darkness will show, through the negativity of interpretation’s own will, that sorrow is the species of matter, that materiality itself is the ‘tears of things.’     

First, the identification of the darkness with mystical vision corresponds with its sublime, aweful spectacle—a connection embodied in the figure of Dionysius as its neither-present-nor-absent observer and orginary authority on mystical apophasis or “know[ing] beyond the mind by knowing nothing.”[v] Within the indiscrete eye of this ideal witness—an indiscretion only intensified in the subsequent revelation of the pseudonymous author’s negative self-authentication by means of the darkness event itself, its serving as an essential term for his not-having-been-where-he-was and having-been-where-was-not in the contemplative interest of becoming “neither oneself nor someone else”[vi]—the miraculousness of the “ineffable and divine miracle of the solar eclipse [divino atque ineffabili miraculo solaris eclipseos]” lies not only in its scientific inexplicability but in its mysterious point of indistinquighability from “the ray of the divine shadow.”[vii] In other words, Dionysius’s witnessing of the darkness communicates the otherwise invisibility of all things “if that ineffable ray [radios ille ineffabilis] were not diffused into all, in order that all might subsist and be made one in it and be joined to their beginning,”[viii] and thus also speaks to the the common sense of the mystical as not supernatural experience but the secret ground of experience itself. What gives access to this ground, what ‘explains’ the poetic transposability of cosmic eclipse and mystical vision within the Dionysian figure is, precisely, the element of a primordial affective negativity, specifically, the continuity of sorrow and apophasis as twin, affective and intellective reflections of the vexed and indiscernible identity of thought and being. Rendering this explicit, Dionysius, as presented in Lucas Fernández’s Auto de Pasión (1514), a work written during the period of controversy over the humanist deconstruction of Dionysius’s authority, will introduce himself in words that effectively voice and personify the patristic exegesis of the darkness as compassionate elemental sorrow: “I am Dionysius of Athens / and, when Astronomy failed me [faltarme], / I was able to feel the pain, / overflowing with sorrow [fatigas], / that this God had suffered.”[ix] In this moment it is as if Dionysius, exactly when the integrity of his work was in turn failing and being eclipsed by new science, is at last freed into the divine indeterminacy of identity and suddenly able to properly name himelf in a mystical way via an exegetical fictive excess that couldn’t be more true, to say what he really is by speaking himself simply as an obscure body, a dark matter that feels beyond itself and painfully knows what it properly cannot.



An early 17th-century prayer card

As the Dionysian corpus is being philologically reduced to historical materiality, a base on which rests the severed identity of their author, the figure of Dionysius is sublimated into the sorrowful mystery of matter itself, into an obscure something whose life is perfectly founded on feeling what ‘it’ already has and never will. Displaying all the more authentically the creative destruction of identity his work demands, Dionysius is now unveiled to be, as the above lines from Bernard of Clairvaux indicate, the very opposite of a fraud: “He is truly faithful who neither believes in himself nor hopes in himself, holding himself as a broken vessel.” Such self-defiance is not properly a victory over matter, but the utmost fulfillment of matter’s very darkness as the real analogy of intellect’s darkness to itself: “You cannot do better than to place yourself in darkness and unknowing. ‘Oh sir, must everything go then? Is there no turning back?’ No indeed . . . there is no turning back, but only a pressing forward, so as to attain and achieve this possibility [perfection]. It never rests until it is filled with all being. Just as matter never rests till it is filled with every possible form, so too intellect never rests till it is filled to capacity.”[x]

Second, identification of the crucifixion darkness with sorrow corresponds with the spiritual blindness of the crucifiers, a blindness which is at once specific to the event (not knowing that one is killing the God-Man, denying human divinity) and generic to humanity (simply not knowing what one is doing, willfully being ignorant). The simultaneity of the specific and general senses of this blindness make it a figure for the negative spirituality of human stupidity, the substantial coincidence of spiritual sleep and materialism, as suggested in Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on the darkness, 

and this was a plain sign unto the Jews, that the minds of those who crucified Him were wrapped in spiritual darkness, for “blindness in part hath happened unto Israel.” [Rom. 11:25] And David in his love unto God even curses them, saying, “Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see.” [Ps. 69:23, Rom. 11:10] Yea! creation itself bewailed its Lord: for the sun was darkened, and the rocks were rent, and the very temple assumed the garb of mourners.[xi]

Cyril is here reprising Paul’s discussion of spiritual blindness in Romans 11, which also looks back to Isaiah 29, in which the unintelligibility of spiritual insensiblity is significantly figured in terms of the absence of material cause: “Stupefy yourselves and be in a stupor, blind yourselves and be blind! / Be drunk, but not with wine; stagger, but not with strong drink! / For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes” (Is. 29:9-10, cf. Rom 11:8). Accordingly, the sorrowfulness of the crucifixion darkness as a visibile manifestation and general projection of mass human blindness consists precisely in its immaterial materiality, which is the form of both spiritual blindness itself and its being an object of sorrow. Generic spiritual blindness, particulary in the sense of the especially religious condition of “people [who] draw near with their their mouth and honor me [God] with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Is. 29:13), is properly represented, correctively, by the general sensible privation of the sensible because such privation expresses at once the painful material unintelligibility of spiritual blindness—a blindness so inexplicable that it seems negatively miraculous and effected by a divine cause (“For the Lord has poured out . . .”)—and the paradoxical materiality of its inherent senselessness, the fact that spiritual blindness, far from being simply a blindness to the spiritual, is as much a failure to truly or authentically see the material, as shown in Campbell’s classic critique of the non-materialist nature of consumerist materialism and in Augustine’s confessional investigation into the phantasmatic and collective charater of sin: “I would not have committed that theft alone: my pleasure in it was not what [quod] I stole but that [quia] I stole: yet I would not have enjoyed doing it, I would not have done it, alone.”[xii] So the spectacle of cosmic sorrow, in which the entire material universe darkly mourns and refuses the event of ignorant human action, is the very image of spiritual stupidity as the inane and banally self-centered whatless and whyless that whereby our reality is diurnally mystified. The crucifixion darkness as sorrow is an impossible seeing and being moved which reflects, through perfect inversion, the inexplicable unmoving sleepy blindness of the ordinary matter-bound human who, as Bonaventure says with respect to the sensible plenitude of the world, deserves that that world itself revolt against him:             

any person who is not illumined by such great splendors in created things is blind. Anyone who not awakened by such great outcries is deaf. Anyone who is not led from such effects to give praise to God is mute. Anyone who does not turn to the First Principle as a result of such signs is a fool. Therefore open your eyes, alert your spiritual ears, unlock your lips, and apply your heart so that in all creation you may see, hear, praise, love and adore, magnify and honor your God lest the entire world rise up against you.[xiii]

At the same time, the spiritual lesson of the sorrowful darkness is, by inescapable internal necessity, as much a lesson against spiritual blindness as a lesson for the pure, loving seeing of its fact:“Father, forgive them . . .” (Luke 23:34). This seeing is love, not in the sense of sympathy or some kind of irrational affective attachment, but in the sense of the self-less, direct perceiving of the simple fact of the matter, a factical through-seeing which is nothing but love itself: “Seeing something simply in its being-thus—irreparable, but not for that reason necessary; thus, but not for that reason contingent—is love.”[xiv] The binding spiritual lesson of the darkness is that one is not to sorrow over the spiritual blindness of which it is the image, as doing so—a phantasmatic materialization and reduction of the cosmic darkness into a object of sorrow—is only another not-knowing-what-one-is-doing no different from the spiritual darkness which one is refusing. Like the Cloud’s definition of perfect sorrow as nothing other than the most simple knowing and feeling of being itself, the crucifixion darkness thus demands experience of an obscurely self-liberating and seemingly impossible sorrow that is and is not one’s own, a sorrow of those “who weep as not weeping [qui flent, tanquam non flentes]” (1 Cor. 7:30). That there is matter or grounds for sorrow cannot be denied. That one ought ever sorrow is absolutely deniable. Such is the theoretically darker and frightenly more practical lesson—a truth interminably lost on the religious or venerative misperception of the event as sacrificially accomplishing my salvation—of the crucifixion, as Eckhart observes:

Christ says, “Whoever would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That is, cast out all grief so that joy reigns in your heart. Thus the child is born. And then, if the child is born in me, the sight of my father and all my friends slain before my eyes would leave my heart untouched.[xv]

The question of the cross, of actually inhabiting the cosmic darkness surrounding it, is the question of sorrowing without sorrow, of refusing evil without refusing its fact, of withdrawing from blindness without entering into the worse delusions of worry.[xvi] This means, in short, becoming familiar with the twin shadowiness or shared negative nexus of sorrow and matter, of making friends with the objectlessness of sorrow, with there being nothing the matter, nothing other than sorrow’s own species, the actual apparency or face of something to sorrow over. As per Plotinus’s understaning of the correlative non-being of matter and evil, according to which matter “is only evil when looked at in itself and seen to be that final term of the scale of Being which is totally impotent,”[xvii] sorrow is a negatively willful gaze into the mirror of matter, a gaze which composes materiality around the inversive curvature and perverse apparency of its own coming-to-be, the primordial evil of individuated being whose being, joined to the cosmos by separation, is indistinquishable from sorrow itself: “the being of Da-sein is care [Sorge].”[xviii] But this matter, the neither-transcendent-nor-immanent materiality of the impossibile and inevitable fact that one is, is another order of matter, a stranger matter that, unlike the incorporeal and unreal materiality of the sensible, does not have “no reality” and is not “not capable of being affected.”[xix] Neither the mirror nor the one gazing into it, this matter, the hidden matter of matter, which sorrows and suffers the evil of itself, which faces everything in the image of its own blindness, is, to maieutically force the figure where it cannot yet must go, tears. There is sorrow in you because ‘you’ are sorrow. Such is the superlative good news—a truth bigger than the fact of God and precisely one that you cannot accept—which the crucifixion darkness, if one shows the courage to see it in its simple identity with the actual silent expanse of cosmic darkness surrounding us all, instructs you in, pointing the way back beyond the suffering of law and before the trauma of beginning.[xx] In these terms, the crucifixion darkness, as the projection of the generic spiritual blindness in which people live, re-presents, or rather cinematically exposes in the too-real spectacle of a representation that sees, the ordinary cosmos as a universal vale/veil of mourning: “I clothe the heavens with blackness” (Is. 50:3). Pressing itself upon and inwardly imposing itself within the dark blankness of the human gaze, the crucifixion darkness forces the fact that this black universe, inseparable from the obscurity of your being in it, is at once the place and hiding of the place where the false lights of the world must and most paradisically fail: “The condition of the world, the strife and uncertainty that is everywhere, the general dissatisfaction with and rebellion against any and every situation shows that the ideal of material perfection is an empty dream and proves the existence of an eternal Reality beyond materiality.”[xxi] To the one who grasps oneself in the world but not of it, who sees that one’s own appearing is the only sorrow ever known,[xxii] sorrow itself is neither a fact of life nor a response to it, but the abiding sign and constant knowledge that everything is openly enclosed or unboundedly walled, para-dised, within the world beyond. The inseparability of sorrow and matter is the perfectly superficial surface of the durable fleshlessness of the world, the hyper-solid deathlessness of what—never born—dies to it, no problem.[xxiii]    

            Third, identification of the crucifixion darkness with withdrawal corresponds to the radical question of divine dereliction that marks the darkness’s ending: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Hanging in a kind of infinite suspension between the withdrawal of God and the withdrawl of matter, between the divine darkness of mystical vision and the essential darkness of everything the eye lights upon, this question voices a universal affective abyss and eternally ancient negative will whose emergence as voice spontaneously shatters all darkness in the endless light of its own inexplicable origin. Before all hermeneutic rendering and probing of the meaning the question, over and against every answering and explanation of its why?, there stands the absolutely free and independent truth of the question’s own actuality, a pure actuality silencing all questions about it. Whatever the theological truth of the abandonment signified, in the intensive reality of the question—a reality more real than the real it questions—there is no abandonment whatsoever. Such is the significance of the question as the end of the cosmic darkness, that the question’s emergence marks its perfective conclusion, at once completing it and destroying it in the paradox of finality captured in John’s version of Jesus’s last words: “It is finished [τετέλεσται]” (Jn. 28:30). The darkness is total—there is no more darkness. On the one hand, this radical question, the question of divine dereliction, is an absolute darkness, a negative indication of an eternal negativity. The given ground of the question is something that could not be darker, a loss of Everything that swallows all lights, all the more so if any are left after the loss. On the other hand, the question’s negative indication of its ground, the infinitely ordinary yet equally miraculous capacity of the question not only to indicate this eternal negativity, but, in the non-difference of its own substantial negativity, to speak it, is a superessential positivity, an affirmation beyond affirmation and denial. The actuality of the radical question of divine dereliction, what makes it radical in the first place, lies in its fulfillment of the superessentiality of negation, the apophatic principle that “the negations are not simply the opposites of the affirmations.”[xxiv] The abyssic profundity of this question goes far beyond the transcendent mystery of its unanswerability, the insolubility of its being the opposite of a hidden answer, for that mystery is both affirmed and denied in the immanence of the question, in the still greater mystery of the question’s real remaining, a remaining that ‘answers’ the question precisely by not answering, by remaining silent. The question silently answers itself, not propositionally, but in its own being. In being voiced, the question resurrectively survives itself so to speak, dispelling the darkness of its substance or what with the brilliantly dark light of its own fact or that.[xxv] The perfect absence of an ‘answer’—the presence of silence—in the actuality of the question is the best of all possible answers.[xxvi] In these terms, it is imperative to take seriously and matter-of-factly exactly what seems most impossible regarding the optimal and pessimal statements defining the beginning and ending of the cosmic darkness, namely, that the today of paradise and the why? of divine abandonment are the same, the very place of being with God. Similarly, to extend the auto-destructive darkness of the question to the surrounding senses of the crucifixion darkness elaborated above, the universality of the darkness is the identity of the withdrawal of matter and the withdrawal of the divine, a unitary coincidence of the essential whatlessness of everything before the superessentiality of its that. The radical question of divine abandonment is, literally and figuratively, the cosmically silent sorrowful voice of matter itself, a saying of absolute abandonment showing the impossibility of being so.  

            What saves this reading of the crucifixion darkness from being only an intellectually gratifying speculative conceptualization of mystical Christian truth is the reality of sorrow itself, a reality that is the very condition of truth, as per the obverse of Ecclesiastes 1:18: he who does not increase sorrow, does not increase knowledge. For it is only in sorrow that the coincidentia oppositorum of the crucifixion becomes more than a mystical conceit, only in the actuality of tears that cosmic darkness around it is more than an interesting image. Like the nigredo of the alchemists, the darkness of sorrow is the creatively self-destroying term that opens the corporeal to the substantial nothingness of matter and the infinity of its immanent beyond. So at the level of mind, “it is only in the starlight of sorrow that we become conscious of other worlds.”[xxvii] As the crucifixion darkness is seen externally as a medium of stupefying, supernatural transition—“An awful darkness, which was entirely supernaturally and terrible! Here a new world was begun”[xxviii]—so sorrow itself, internally, is a kind of supernatural or magical problem, a problem whose problematicity, if actually understood, abolishes all problems and inverts today into paradise: “Understanding our sorrow is pure magic. When sorrow is truly understood it ceases to be sorrow.”[xxix] According to the Cloud of Unknowing, the ground of such magical contemplative mutation of the pessimal into the optimal is the brute inescapable fact that being simply is a sorrow to itself, a sorrow cosubstantial with its own unearthly material: “but most specially he feels matter of sorrow that knows and feels that he is.”[xxx] Ultimately, the only thing the matter with anything is the mere/pure fact of one’s being, apart from anything about one’s being. The matter of sorrow is a literally essential negativity moving between being and the experience (knowing and feeling) of being. Paradoxically, this supreme and originary sorrow is both disclosed and overcome only by assuming and entering it. As the Cloud-author explains in another work, this is the real crucifixion, your own:

For all the sorrow that exists [alle the woo that may be withoutyn], apart from that, is nothing in comparison [not a poynte to that]. It is then that you are yourself a cross to yourself. This is the authentic exercise [trewe worching] and the way to our Lord, as he says himself: “Let him carry his cross”: first, the painful heaviness of self [peynfulnes of hymself], and then “follow me” into joy [blis] or the mount of perfection, tasting the sweetness of my love in godlike experience [godly felyng] of myself . . . this dark unencumbered [nakid blynde] feeling of myself . . . is a feeling not of my activity [doynges], but of myself. Many men identify themselves with their activity [clepen here doynges himself], and it is not so. For I that do is one and my deeds done are another. And it is the same with God; he is one thing in himself and his works are another. I would rather weep till my heart should break because I lack this feeling of God and of the painful heaviness [birthin] of the self, and thus inflame by desire to have and to long for that feeling of God, rather than enjoy all the well-devised imaginative and speculative meditations that men can tell of or find written in books, no matter how holy or worthwhile they appear to the subtle regard [ighe] of your speculative mind [corious witte].[xxxi]

Entering and assuming the sorrow that is oneself means making it actual and new, realizing it in the authenticity or self-doing of honest, true work. This working is neither an activity nor an inactivity, but something outside and between doing and being whereby being overcomes itself—becomes beyond being—by means of a contrition of being, a woeful crushing and crucifixion of itself under its own weight, within a gravity of sorrow that spontaneously converts into the freest paradisical flight. Where “melancholy is the unconscious music of the soul,”[xxxii] a movement of being that stays within the circuit of the self-world correlation, mystical sorrow is the soul’s conscious music, a movement of being that escapes being’s correlativeness by crucifying it to itself, by ceasing to call oneself with the names of doing and desisting to flee the torture chamber of one’s own existence. Being the actual com-motion of a sorrowful universal passivity, the crucifixion darkness is the real manifest image of this music. Mystical sorrow, letting oneself be swallowed by this cosmic darkness, is not really your feeling of this dark universal music. The music is the hidden, sorrowful sound of the universe feeling you.[xxxiii]          


[i] Thomas A. Carlson, The Indiscrete Image: Infinitude and Creation of the Human (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 94.

[ii] John Scotus Eriugena, Periphyseon (De Divisione Naturae), eds. I. P. Sheldon-Williams and Édouard A. Jeauneau, trans. John. J. O’Meara, 4 vols. (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1999-2009), IV.73.

[iii] Eriugena, Periphyseon, I.39.

[iv] Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 90. The principle is proportional to Pico della Mirandola’s idea of the human as the extra, supplemental ‘someone’ who perfects divine creation in contemplating it: “But when the work was finished, the Craftsman still longed that there were someone [aliquem] to ponder the meaning of so great a work, to love its beauty, and to wonder at its vastness” (Oration on the Dignity of Man, 3.12,

[v] Pseudo-Dionysius, Mystical Theology, 1001A. The general association between mystical vision and witnessing the crucifixion darkness is evident in the biographical matter of Dionyius. Eriugena, in the prologue to his translation of the Dionysian corpus, portrays Dionysius as an intellectual luminary effectively converted by the eclipse which eclipses his own reason: “Dionysius the Areopagite and brillian sage / adorned Athens with his stellar light. / He was shaken [commotus] forthwith by the moon’s drawing near the sun / at the time when our Lord was fastened to the cross. / Overcome [stupefactus] by the frightful eclipse he was soon coverted” (Carmina, ed. Michael W. Herren [Dublin: School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1993], 11). In Hilduin’s Passio Sanctissimi Dionysii, Dionysius describes the darkness as a signifying and speaking divine light: “haec nox, quam nostris oculis novam descendisse miramur, totius mundi veram lucem adventuram signavit, atque Deum humano generi effulsurum, serena dignatione dictavit” (PL 106:27B) [This night, whose new descending we marvel upon with our eyes, has signified the true light to come into the whole world, and has spoken with bright dignity that God will shine forth upon the human race].  

[vi] Pseudo-Dionysius, Mystical Theology, 1.3, 1001A. See Charles M. Stang, Apophasis and Pseudonymity in Dionysius the Areopagite: “No Longer I” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[vii] Eriugena, Versio operum Sancti Dionysii Aeropagitae, PL 122:1032, and Pseudo-Dionysius, Mystical Theology, 1.3, 1001A, respectively.

[viii] Paul Rorem, Eriugena’s Commentary on the Dionysian Celestial Hierarchy (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2005), 189; Latin supplied from PL 122:135.

[ix] Lucas Fernández, Auto de la Passión, ed. María Josefa Canellada (Madrid: Castalia, 1976), 214, cited from Luis M. Girón-Negrón, “Dionysian Thought in Sixteenth-Century Spanish Mystical Theology,” Modern Theology 24 (2008): 693. The Cloud-author, in reference to Dionysius, similarly defines knowledge of God as failure of knowledge in God: “For have a man never so moche goostly understondyng in knowyng of alle maad goostly thinges, yit may he never bi the werk of his understondyng com to the knowyng of an unmaad goostly thing, the whiche is nought bot God. Bot by the failyng it may; for whi that thing that it failith in is nothyng elles bot only God” (Cloud of Unknowing, ch. 70).

[x] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 4, p. 57.

[xi] Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary Upon the Gospel of Luke, trans. R. Payne Smith, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1859), II.722. 

[xii] Augustine, Confessions, trans. Sheed, 2.17.  “[T]he spirit of modern consumerism is anything but materialistic. The idea that contemporary consumers have an insatiable desire to acquire objects represents a serious misunderstanding of the mechanism which impels people to want goods. Their basic motivation is the desire to experience in reality the pleasurable dramas which they have already enjoyed imagination” (Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism [Oxford: Blackwell, 1987], 90).

[xiii] Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, I.15.

[xiv] Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, 105. On the need to develop infinite forbearance, the capacity to “accept the world as it is” in the midst of acutely suffering “the gulf between that which is and that which might have been if only the world . . .” see Meher Baba, Discourses, II.119-21.

[xv] Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 7, p. 75.

[xvi] “Worry is the product of feverish imagination working under the stimulus of desires” (Meher Baba, Discourses, II.121). Cf. “If you are awake you cannot be worred, if you are worried you cannot be awake” (Vernon Howard, “Don’t Answer the World,” Titled Talks: Volume One, audio recording).

[xvii] John M. Rist, “Plotinus on Matter and Evil,” Phronesis 6 (1961): 162, italics mine.

[xviii] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 262. Cf. “Plotinian sensible matter just is the principium individuationis, which serves as the horizon for becoming by spatiotemporally individuating Forms as sensible objects. The principium individuationis imposes a veil of obscurity on noetic activity . . . [and] causes an ontological illusion whereby the sensible world and the real are conflated . . . The principium individuationis . . . is hence to be indentified as primary evil, or evil itself” (John A. Pourtless, “Toward a Plotinian Solution to the Problem of Evil,” Aporia 18 (2008):13-4. 

[xix] Plotinus, Enneads, III.6.7.

[xx] “‘There is a God’; but this cannot make me blessed, for with this I acknowledge myself as a creature. But in my breaking-through, where I stand free of my own will, of God’s will, of all His works, and of God himself, then I am above all creatures and am neither God nor creature, but I am that which I was and shall remain for evermore” (Meister Eckhart, Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 87, p.424). “That faint light in each of us which dates back to before our birth, to before all births, is what must be projected if we want to rejoin that remote glory from which we shall never know why we are separated” (Cioran, Trouble with Being Born, 157). “Beginning and end and all the paraphernalia of things and becomings that go along with them are what constitute opposites to God . . .  Law binds equally all, except those who become free . . . But all experience is in ‘nothing’. There is no suffering. When I say this, you grouse. Since you do not know the law of nothingness, you think there is nothing like justice. When one escapes ‘law’, and merges in God who is beyond law, he becomes God” (Meher Baba, God to Man and Man to God, ed. C. B. Purdom [London: Victor Gollancz, 1955], 267-8).

[xxi] Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing (Beacon Hill, Australia: Meher House Publications, 1963), 55.

[xxii] “Everything is wonderfully clear if we admit that birth is a disastrous or at least an inopportune event; but if we think otherwise, we must resign ourselves to the unintelligible, or else cheat like everyone else” (Ciroan, Trouble with Being Born, 98).

[xxiii] “Thus it is Christ’s sweeping assertion about himself that must be considered with regard to man and his true essence: ‘They are not of the world any more than I am’ (John 17:14). Just like Christ, as a man I am not of the world in the radical phenomenological sense that the appearing out of which my phenomenological flesh is made, and which constitutes my true essence, is not the appearing of the world. This is not due to the effect of some supposed credo, philosophical or theological; it is rather because the world has no flesh, because in the ‘outside-itself’ of the world no flesh and no living are possible—they cannot take shape anywhere other than in Life’s path­ētik and a-cosmic embrace” (Michel Henry, I Am the Truth: Toward a Philosophy of Christianity, trans. Susan Emanuel [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003], 101).

[xxiv] Pseudo-Dionysius, Mystical Theology, 1.2, 1000B.


[xxvi] Reaching beyond the question as action, silence is here to be thought as what is transacted in the unanswered question: “Things that are Real are given and received in Silence” (Meher Baba); “Silence is nothing merely negative; it is not the mere absence of speech. It is a positive, a complete world in itself. Silence has greatness simply because it is. It is, and that is its greatness, its pure existence” (Max Picard, The World of Silence, trans. Stanley Godman [Chicago: Regner, 1952], 1). Any answer breaking this silence—“Because . . .”—would be at once no answer at all and the worst of all possible answers.

[xxvii] Ricard Le Gallienne, The Romance of Zion Chapel (New York: John Lane, 1898), 238.

[xxviii] Martin Luther, Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, trans. P. Anstadt (York, PA: P. Anstadt & Sons, 1899), 154.

[xxix] Vernon Howard, The Power of Your Supermind (Pine, AZ: New Life Foundation, 1967), 124. Cf. “Feel sorry for yourself rightly by feeling sorry that you have a self” (Vernon Howard, A Treasury of Trueness [Pine, AZ: New Life Foundation, 1995], no. 689).

[xxx] Cloud of Unknowing, ch. 44.

[xxxi] A Letter of Private Direction, ch. 8, in The Pursuit of Wisdom and Other Works by the Author of the Cloud of Unknowing, trans. and ed. James Walsh (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 237. Middle English supplied from English Mystics of the Middle Ages, ed. Barry Windeatt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 95.

[xxxii] E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints, trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 104.

[xxxiii] “Music” is used here, not metaphorically, but as a categorical term for the willful, being-in-motion of being, its being always something beyond and in excess of being, an excess necessarily understood in the negative, as shown by the nature of indication—“the significance of the This is, in reality, a Not-this that it contains; that is, an essential negativity” (Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: The Place of Negativity, trans. Karen E. Pinkhaus and Michael Hardt [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991], 14)—and realized in self-denial: “Being is dying by loving” (Meher Baba, Discourses, 6th ed., 3 vols [San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1973], I.29).



Nicola Masciandaro is Professor of English at Brooklyn College and a specialist in medieval literature. He is also founding editor of the journal Glossator. Current projects include a book on mystical sorrow, Sorrow of Being, and Sufficient Unto the Day: Sermones Contra Solicitudinem, a collection of essays against worry. 





About gobbet

gobbet is a literary magazine dedicated to publishing the very best experimental poetry and prose. Intellectual perversity and explorations of dark themes are positively encouraged. We are only interested in work that is progressively experimental. We want to see risks, and we want to see them pay. No previously published work. Prose should not be longer than 1000 words. There are always exceptions. Send 3-5 poems. Include a short bio. Send submissions to Work will be published every 5-10 days. We also intend to publish anthologies of selected work published in gobbet. We will do our best to reply promptly. Most submissions will receive a decision within a month.
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