The Non-religious Essence of Gnosis

December 30, 2012

Indeed, we can only infer from an immanent excess, a certain image, icon, or notion of Being; Other, or Void, all set down as plastic facsimiles of transcendence. But that already involves a double operation: 1) a gaze, 2) a return gaze, all from the position of the subject. Contentiously, it is in itself another distinct operation, this very positionality of the subject, yet not counted as such. Here, some kind of subtractive ontology is at work.
Refusal of Creation
It is always a decision on its part. As is always the case, a decision invokes the null in the last instance. Why?
Because the subject, if it desires to persist, cannot make its position totally accessible to the chaos of the Outside, which contrary to Meillasoux’s opinion does not actually destroy, rather, it really does the opposite. It creates as it throws everything into the unbreakable consistency of contingency.
The subject is the very refusal of creation, needless to say. Its positionality is its en-owning, ultimately, its right to die vis-à-vis the Void that promises life via the creative process. Incidentally, philosophy would later embrace this Void, for different reasons, as its foster child, having lost the poetic and the Open after its falling out with Heideggerianism. You are right if you recall Deleuze.
Minority principle
Let us state the definitive position of this nullity: The (sub)ject has to keep something to itself (the ‘sub’ entails that it is a minority principle), something by which it can retain its integrity despite its lack of integrity. The minority principle (we are extending Laruelle’s minority principle) is the last bastion of the self, digging in trenches to be protected from the outside. The Outside: one is free to call it the majority principle.
The subject of this null operation has continuously decided to grow in the sense of expanding its superfluity, and not just to live. To live without the benefit of excess, or the Bataillean waste, would be to accept the offer of life, of a certain totalization, or to sacrifice the gnosis to the creative redundancy of Chaos. It decides to grow even in the absence of a natural image of itself by way of othering itself into an image, already a practice of growing ‘in excess’. But as an alterity this image or excess has no obligation to stay in the subject.
The most basic alterity/image/excess would be the poetic. Without a doubt, as Bachelard says of this image, “it is transubjective” (Poetics of Space). We can take it from there that the poetic image is an alterity that, once again, has no obligation to stay.
Gnostic basis of emergence
On this limited basis alone, the immanent excess, the gnosis, first intuited by poetry, is originally non-religious, that is, by contrast, if we mean religious as an invocation of either a/cosmic God or cosmic God, both characteristically esoteric. (But this is already quite un-Durkheimian). It is rather the monotheistic God, always challenged by the pangs of solitude, that invokes an alterity. God, who else but the saddest of all solitary beings, its sadness bordering on animality–its lack of world (Heidegger).
By claiming omniscience, God also claims to have no need of alterity, no need of gnosis, which means vis-à-vis the poetic image that the image has no right to flee. Yet this very claim will turn on itself. God learns that its self-image is no less its own alterity, its possessiveness. He is His own gnosis. At this point, He believes the image chooses to stay.
By that He becomes His own claim to ownership of an image (Marx was thinking of the priest-ideologist), but also His own unlearned knowledge in His state of obliviousness to the transiency of the image, which He has to learn/remember anyhow. Alterity always demands attention. It can hold one hostage as Levinas would agree. It demands attention according to its natural tendency to withdraw, to flee; the object of the Heideggerian pointing-towards-what-withdraws is precisely this alterity.
God learns by rediscovering the very process of self-learning via the ekstatic, also as self-oblivion. As He learns He transforms all the more into delusional, but more than that. He cannot transform His positionality as the ground of History. He would not allow His hallucination to leak into the clinic, hence, His ekstasis, His standing-apart from Man/History/Knowledge, His murmuring words, His unwritten speeches, the heart of His true revelations.
For any poetic being this ground is absolutely private. I mean the poetic as the original gnostic that has its own hallucinatory history.

Once His speeches reached the immanence of the other in History, or Man, Knowledge, the gnosis that is His alterity becomes doubly removed from the immanence of the absolute ground, hence, the business of interpreting the Gospels.
Already untouched by the process of immanent/historical learning insofar as it remains a null operation where all interpretations fall flat, and by all hallucinatory rights that He grants to this ground, the gnosis starts to dictate the direction of learning/remembering via the ekstatic. In this sense exegesis is a process of remembering, on behalf of He whose words are now scarcely understood, the absolute ground that is His that has all along resisted interpretation.
We can cite Zizek’s words for all their worth: “You know why I do it? Because I’m terribly afraid that if people were to see me, to put it naively, how I really am, they would be terribly bored” (Interview with Salon).
NB: This interview has become viral. Check it out at I am not the world’s hippest philosopher! – . But also check out a critical review of Zizek’s Less than Nothing at
Learning is thus operationalized from the void, again, the gnostic precondition of knowledge. Yet this time the gnosis is dictated by the nihilism of the ekstatic, a creative territorialization of Chaos, the great triumph of Life! The poet turning into a philosopher.
The same case applies to the Hindu poet of the pre-Vedic and Vedic traditions down to Upanishads. Already driven to the excess of gnosis to the point of dyslexia in the guise of Knowledge, in the universal guise of Light, the light serving as his state of self-learning, the Hindu poet confuses his poetry with the Real that is nothing less than the simplicity of emergence. The poet is ignorant of this  simplicity that the Real (Meillasoux’s Great Outdoors) is emptying itself of light as it offers the poet a life, the same life that reaches the Hindu poet, what reaches any poetry, what has reached the language of poetry as ‘emergence’, what philosophy has turned into Reason.
In the meantime, we can state here that Deleuze’s Fold has historicized this process in terms of affirming a realist commitment to Creation. The theological Deleuze.

It is on this basis that gnosis as ‘unlearned’ knowledge does not arise as a plastic form of transcendence (a/cosmic God or God’s cosmos, both hermetic to knowledge) after the most basic operation of first-order immanence, the enowning of a position; rather, gnosis is the very operation that guarantees emergence, including that of God, and not to mention, philosophy.
In lieu of conclusion
It always takes language to capture a mystery, but since language is for the most part bound to a culture, it is always a matter of cultural transcription, not without an effective expansion of power. In this case, Christianity has been successful in operationalizing the term gnosis, either for stigmatic purposes or with a certain accommodation in mind.
Lastly, it is not at all bad to affirm that this knowledge can only be achieved via the affective (M. Henry). The affective is a good starting point on the assumption that one is restricted to a limited world. As I can infer from the phenomenological directions of Henry’s works, a limited world has certain advantages. In fact, a limited world is what originally philosophy envisioned itself to be dwelling in, a world where real friendship (philia) could flourish. A limited world is a world where the subject can most ably refuse Life. We cannot say however that it has ever proven itself successful.
Rightly so, almost everyone would agree that Life cannot be defeated.



This is my long reply to Noir-Realism ( See his comments on the comment section of my post entry “Flush Thoughts: Laruelle’s Gnosticism,” Needless to say, I’m grateful to Steven’s comments.

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6 Responses to “The Non-religious Essence of Gnosis”

  1. noir-realism Says:

    Ok let me set this up:

    From Descartes time on there was this great divide between two type of knowing: the rationalists went with the ‘categories of understanding’; the empiricists went with sense perception. Kant internalized both forms in synthesis. Yes I jest… but do not have time to fill this out correctly. What this resurgence in gnosis is trying to do for secular thought is to formulate a third form of knowing that is neither Conceptual nor by way of Sense Data.

    Between the sense perceptions and the intuitions or categories of the intellect there has remained a void. That which ought to have taken its place between the two, and which in other times and places did occupy this intermediate space, that is to say the Imagination, has been left to the poets. Philosophy severed this form of knowing a long time ago as irrational. That’s the main reason for Plato kicking the poets out of his precious kingdom. He would have none of it. For him one could attain the perfect world of the Forms only through his philosophical approach ( leave that approach for another time).

    We know that the notion of the Imagination reentered thought through Ibn ‘Arabi and many others by way of the Arab revival. I speak of the his neologism for the Arabic term ‘alam al-mithal, which is translated as ‘mundus imaginalus’ (i.e., the imaginary and the imaginal).

    Obviously for the gnositcs as for the Arabic Shiite Ismali Sufic traditions arising out of Plato, Neo-platonic, Hermetism, Alchemy, etc. this is all an accepted. But for them this is the imagination of the spiritual plane, whereas many of these post-modern philosophical approaches are trying to reintegrate these traditions with in secular materialist frameworks. Only time will tell how this works out. As a poet I’ve studied these traditions for the ‘Poet-in-the-person’. Rumi and Yeats have been the models for me of this path. Two of the greatest gnostic poets.

    For philosophy this whole tradition from Bruno and Ficino on down to our time has been more or less castigated… I see its slow and methodical revitalization by other means in some of these new philosophers. Laurelle is not explicit in his neologisms and graftings of these traditions, but I think from his use of these newer terms that they are there nonetheless.

    • In fairness to Plato his reasons for banishing the poets from the Republic were not because he deemed poetry as a lowly discipline or second-rate with regard to the contemplation of the Forms. It is also not the mimetic structure of poetry, though his criticism of it was rather vocal, nor poetry’s unique way of grasping the Forms yet strictly confined to the intuition of Forms and certainly short of getting through what in the Timaeus Plato would describe as “the secret of the Father and the Maker of the Universe.” We may ask, why can’t poetry get through this secret? Because this secret is the province of natural science that was not separate from the philosophical discipline as the PreSocratics practiced it all the way to Plato. Nietzsche had this in mind when he described the ancient period as the “republic of geniuses from Thales to Socrates.” To Nietzsche, Socrates remained a naturalist philosopher, though it is debatable to him if Plato could be included in this group. But then we can only make sense of Socrates as the Platonic Socrates. Nietzsche made it his lifelong battle to separate Plato from Socrates, but this is another matter.

      Yes it is true that poets should be banished from the Republic, but not poetry. For Plato it is not about poetry, but the practice of poetry by the poets. We need not belabor the point that Plato himself wrote much in the poetic form. What he was insisting against the poets is that their practice of poetry dangerously crossed the line between words and things, which for philosophy should remain separate. This danger had something to do with the closeness of poetry to the public sphere. But the heart and soul of the philosophical practice is to work on the premise of separate worlds if only to give much time and space for the intensive labor of wisdom to discover what makes the separation real. Plato established ‘this’ very ideal of science for which he remains unacknowledged. In poetry, this separation is largely unproblematic but is fatal when translated into the public ridicule of philosophy that would insist on two-worlds. Socrates was its first victim, needless to say.

      Many Platonists believe that Plato has an esoteric side. They refer to the chora discussed in the Timaeus and some other unwritten dialogues of Plato that were actually written except in these texts Plato was believed to be implying esoteric teachings. This can be explained by the ideal of inquiry into the investigation of the Real itself–Plato was a partisan of two-worlds premise, which to him could only be discussed with diligence, caution, and the kind of inter-subjective warranty that today’s scientists practice among themselves. So when Plato declared that he had discovered the secret of the Father and Maker of the Universe (which should be understood as a cosmological proposition) he was quick to add that he “cannot declare it to everyone.” Just why he couldn’t declare it to everyone is not the cause for believing that Plato had an esoteric teaching; the point is, He would not be understood by the public that was already averse to these disciplines.

      The conflict between these two cultures would spread into the modern (rationalism vs empiricism, idealism vs materialism, and so on), which the postmodern would prey upon in terms of experimenting on difference that has no real value for it except that it is arbitrary, so we are allowed to play on an infinite number of possibilities of conversion and reversal and so on. But that period of the postmodern is already in crisis because whether the postmodern agrees or not there is a positive substantial separation between words and things, between facts and propositions, etc. The separation always asserts itself. The Real always challenges our naivety. Many say that Sokal put a final blow to this childish play of postmodernism.

      Today, there are attempts to bridge this gap. But you are right that these attempts are not new. Still, all these attempts carry an assertion that the two-worlds premise is unreal, giving inspiration to the quest for unification. But by whom? For Plato, certainly not by the poets because the proper line of inquiry into the Real remains a province of philosophy and science. Plato did not survive how these two disciplines eventually separate, but it does not destroy the two-worlds premise. Unfortunately, this very doctrinal separation incurs a high cost on the promotion of the Real itself, the secret, the gnosis (if you may), the secret that Plato couldn’t declare to everyone in his time, much more today when philosophy, due to its romance with theology, can no longer live up to its original task.

      Such I think is the battle that Laruelle is waging, this time against Philosophy. But I am still watching Laruelle. No huge deal if I find him short of his self-appointed task.

      But I have been talking about a secret. What is it by the way? I have briefly outlined an answer to this in my World Philosophy Day talk intended for undergrads: Plato knew the laws of extinction. This explains the reason why Plato was resistant to the poets. We can better prepare for extinction with the two-worlds premise informing the direction of public policy as regards city planning, urban management and so on. His Republic is an attempt at such planning. The poets were rather concentrating on something else. (I wish I could delve more on this but my computer is already complaining..haha).

      Thanks Steven for another stimulating conversation. I wish we could have more of this and the like.

      • noir-realism Says:

        true… :) haha… no need to explain… I obviously reduced Plato to an obvious figure rather than try, as you did, to explain the whole tradition of this battle between philosophy and poetry. Well done! haha

  2. [...] on their blogs have found gnosis to be a resurgent aspect of many philosophers see Vergilio’s The Non-religious gnosis and Terence’s Gnosis and Anamnesis. Most of this could take us back to Plato and the battles [...]

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