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The Second Aporia: What is Man? (The Abyss) IV

The abyss in me cries out to the abyss in God
Tell me which may deeper be?

Angelus Silesius

The landscape lies far and fair within
and the deepest thinker is the farthest traveled.


The Privilege of Unknowing

The perplexity of answering the question on man now reveals behind it its true face: man is a nothing, that means, he is un-determinable and un-limited where to determine and to limit him would be to circumscribe him into a this or that, a thing, an object, and finally a concept. Spinoza said, "figura non aliud quam determinatio, et terminatio negatio est" ("figure is nothing but limitation, and limitation is negation"). This is why man is yet to be figured out. He escapes the bounds, limits, figures and forms which are imposed on him by his sheer incomprehensibility, by his sheer excess. As the case when each time one tries to grasp himself -- Who am I? -- what one finds is an abyss where one can never hold on to something, one can never be secure. And the depths of an abyss mirror the depths of man.

Man is a not-yet (to be determined, to be understood, etc.); this is why man is still a question to himself -- a real question which seeks for answers, or better, a question which is on the way to its answers. Man: on the way. On the way to what? On the way to building for himself his self, on the way to finding himself. As a question yet to be answered, the knowledge of man is the science (episteme) that is always sought but always missed. He knows the way but he is yet to arrive his destination. And perhaps he doesn't want to arrive in his destination just yet. As the unfinished narrative
par excellance, the story continues to unravel more and more the multitude of his mysteries, the glory of his being, and the excesses of his spirit.

For to restrict man to the rank of an object or a concept would be like, as Jean-Luc Marion says, finishing him. This is why man -- you, I -- can never be reduced to something other than a subject, an I. The I: the unlimited , the unfathomable, the unrivaled thinker and knower yet to be known because forever unknown. To reduce the knower to the known (as object of knowledge, as being) would be to consign the abyss of the I to the object of the me. As Marion says in "The Privilege of Unknowing":
...I do not know myself insofar as I know. . . but in so far precisely as I am simply known, and thus by the same right as any other known, which is to say as any other object. Strangely, I thus never know myself as I know, but only as a me who is known, and thus as an object. I only know myself as that which I am not, as the me-object.

And the incomprehensibility of the I as this abyss of man remains absolute in the strict sense that one can only try to reach it by the thousand and different ways inside the soul, but one can never attain it or know it: so deep is its abyss (Heraclitus). In a word, the abyss of the I is masked and is in itself an impasse. The self: the unmaskable being. As Marion continues:
Thus am I masked and lowered to the dishonorable rank of an object. Rather than giving me access to the man that I am, this distinction between the I and the me forbids me from drawing near to the man that I am and disfigures the very stake of anthropology -- the self of each human being.

By the sudden shift from man to the I the difficulty turns into a dead-end. Man is not yet to be known for he is in his very essence incomprehensible. However, instead of stopping thought and reason from further pursuing what man is, this impasse beckons man to seek farther, to know more and to experience more so as to reveal the many names and faces that man shows to himself and to the world. That the philosopher should be a "perpetual beginner," as Husserl says, where to begin again would be to seek for new insights, new facets and new problems that man presents through time. This is also why Kant said that anthoroplogy is the fundamental philosophical science.

To know man would thus no longer mean to exhaust him through knowledge; first, this is impossible, second, every answer to the question what he is would finish him and do away with him. To know man is to know him as unknowable. And this aporia opens a new way of understanding him, not through another concept, to be sure, but through another light which already shines though men rarely recognize it.

To know man would now mean to be this man: to live man. And it is by virtue of this living that one can reach any insight into what he is or, more importantly, who he is. By laying down this life on the line, by staking it, one can finally see it as it is and as a whole, that is, one can finally know himself as only he can best know himself: as this I, as this person at stake. The task is not for man or for men in general; it is my task, it is your task. And it is by throwing yourself into the abyss -- living as one can best live: in an abandon so frightening as it is liberating -- that one may perhaps finally swim in the depths of incomprehensibility and find one's way in the luminous darkness of man.

To conclude, Buber says of this abandon:
Here you do not attain to knowledge by remaining on the shore and watching the foaming waves, you must make the venture and cast yourself in, you must swim, alert and with all your force, even if a moment comes when you think you are losing consciousness: in this way, and in no other, do you reach anthropological insight. So long as you "have" yourself, have yourself as an object, your experience of man is only as of a thing among things, the wholeness which is to be grasped is not yet "there"; only when you are, and nothing else but that, is the wholeness there, and able to be grasped.

To let man be: to leave it to itself on its way to be. It is through this releasement (Gelassenheit) that man may finally shine forth and show itself as itself -- naked, but whole.


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