Clayton Crockett | The World is Gone
In this episode of The Catacombic Machine, Preston Price and Matt Baker speak with Clayton Crockett, Professor and Director of Religious Studies at the University of Arkansas, and author of a number of books, most recently Derrida after the End of Writing: Political Theology and New Materialism. He is a co-editor of the book series “Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture” for Columbia University Press.
Reading: Kathryn Higgins
Vast, glowing vault
with the swarm of
black stars pushing them- selves out and away:
on to a ram’s silicified forehead I brand this image, between the horns, in which,
in the song of the whorls, the marrow of melted heart-oceans swells.
does he not charge?
The world is gone, I must carry you.
In Derrida’s late seminar The Beast and the Sovereign, the suggestion is made that ethics begins where the world ends, and conversely, that the end of the world marks the beginning of ethics. To help make this point, Derrida turns to a fragment taken from Paul Celan’s poem, Vast Glowing Vault. The world is gone, I must carry you. By means of repetition, Derrida deploys this fragment to complicate and subvert Heidegger’s theses on world that deprive stone and animal of a world.
As with all poetry, Celan calls us to participation in a world existing somewhere between the semiotic and the explicit, and we enter into this world at the highest level of abstraction and velocity possible. The scale and vector from the outset is strikingly cosmic as we experience a swarm of black stars rushing by. There is a sense of chaos here, yet there is clear direction as well as we plunge almost immediately into a thick atmosphere, slowing our descent, and downward deeper still, into a direct confrontation with the charging sacrificial ram in blood-drenched groves where pious men leap heavenward in their sacred rites. We pause here, asking why is it that the image of slaughter, of purification by means of bloodletting always accompanies the exultant cry of man’s making of the world that is at once his unmaking? But this inquiry only returns to us in the dead-eyed and open-mouthed silence of the slain ram.
We follow the blood, burrowing into the earth, the dark riches of soil pouring in around our bodies, blocking out every thinning ray of of light until at last, we come to rest in the final line of the poem where the world has gone. It is, in this very moment of the world’s disappearance, in the darkness of mo(u)rning, that you and I, and every other, come into full view. What remains when the world is gone is the face of those we must carry with us. Cast now within a receded and vaulted light, this face is radically changed, altered, transfigured into an infinite series of strange objects passing before us. The face of the other is hence the face of every other, including the face of the earth, over which a shadow now passes.
Crockett’s reading together of Derrida, Malabou, Deleuze, and Barad, among others, creates a singular relationship of differences where several series interact to generate an altogether new intensive series. What might we say of this new identity, or of its dark precursor? Another way of asking this might be: what is the spirit of this text? As with our reading of Celan, were we to push our way past the letter, its technicity, and apocalyptic implications toward the event it harbors, what remains when the world of the text is gone, if not a passion; for life, the earth, its inhabitants, their continuance, and event/ual disappearance.