I am become death

There is a beautiful passage in Logique du sens – a book that tugs at me as I think about intoxicants and the Mordspiel. And not only intoxicants – the little things that loom large for Schloezer move eerily between addiction and normality. In the biography of Thomas Beddoes, the radical doctor friend of Coleridge and Humphrey Davy, we read these thoughts from the great man, circa 1800:

“The use of salt as a condiment to meagre diet as to potatoes only he condemns upon the authority of Dr Darwin as injurious. He considers it as having a great share in inducing glandular relaxation and tending to the production of scrophula. Could opium he enquires be used as a substitute in minute quantities? He hesitates in recommending it for fear of its leading to the adoption of bad habits. It is probable however, he adds, that some seasoning for poor food which did not increase the production of sensorial power and at the same time promote the expenditure of this power might be found. Between the oriental spices and the garlick of the French there is great choice. An obstacle to the introduction of that seasoning which may have the best title to supplant salt may be apprehended in the prejudices and habits of the people but is this a reason why we should not immediately set about to ascertain which that best seasoning is? It cannot be adopted before it is known The seeds of benefit to the human race have generally been sown for ages before any fruit became ripe for gathering.”

The meager diet of the poor and how to create the necessary illusion that it stretched to fit the exigencies of the rulers – that is the question.

Not only for the rulers, but for the universal historian. For whom I interpose my translation of the 15th series, of singularities, from Deleuze:

“The two moments of sense, impassibility and genesis, neutrality and productivity, are not such that one could pass for the appearance of the other. The neutrality, the impassibility of the event, its indifference to the determinations of interior and exterior, of individual and collective, of the particular and the general, etc. are very much a constant without which the event would not possess an eternal truth and wouldn’t be distinguishable from its temporal effectuations. If the battle is not one example of an event among others, but the event in its essence, this is without doubt because it is effectuated in many ways at the same time, and that each participant can grasp it on a level of a different effectuation in its variable present: hence for the comparisons that have become classic between Stendhal, Hugo, Tolstoy such that they “see” the battle and make their heroes see it. But it is principally because the battle “flies above” [survole] its proper field, neutral by relation to all its temporal effectuations, neutral and impassible by relation to the winners and the defeated, by relation to the cowards and the braves, and even more terrible because of all of that, never present, always already to come and already passed, only being able to be grasped by the will that it inspires itself to the anonymous, the will that must be called “indifference” in a soldier wounded mortally, keeping himself there where the event is, and thus participating in its terrible impassibility. Where is the battle? It is on this account that the soldier sees himself flee when he flees, and leap when he leaps, determined to consider each temporal effectuation from the very eternal height of the event incarnate in it and, alas, in his proper flesh. Still, it taks a long conquest for the soldier to arrive at this moment beyond courage and cowardliness to that of the pure grasp of the event by a “voluntary intuition”, that is to say, by the will that makes him the event, distinct from all the other empirical intuitions that correspond to these effectuations.”

To fly above – survoler – doesn’t this sound like dissociation? It is common, in the lumbering reports of the sexologist and the tendentious anecdotes of the psychologist, to encounter the trope of the out of body experience during sex. Women, for instance, who feel the braces of the body slide away and, loosened, float above the couple on the bed in their embraces. Is this vision from the ceiling a vision of the event? What else could it be, in Deleuze’s terms. Above the bed or the battlefield, soldier or lover, it is at this high point that the neurotic, the traumatized, and the universal historian meet and – to the latter’s respectable horror – join. One might call this the moment of perverted solitude – for solitude will not be downed or drowned in the mingling of bodies. Funny that Deleuze does’t mention either the Iliad or the Bhagavad-gita at this point. Oppenheimer, watching the atom bomb bloom in the New Mexico desert, recalled, famously: “A few people laughed. A few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line form the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says: Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” [In Atomic Fragments: a daughter’s questions, 235]


sfauthor said…
Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?