Carlo Suarès : Critique of Reason Impure : Reflections ranging from the complex to the simple

(Extract from Critique of Reason Impure by Carlo Suarés. 1955 Stock Edition)

After having posed the unthinkable, and decided to keep constantly in my mind the limits of thought, I posed the thinkable in the discontinuous world of objects and experience. The first temptation which is offered to thought is to seek the relationship between the unthinkable and the objects thought. I immediately reject this crazy gymnastics, having criticized it ad nauseam. Between a thought having a content (the object) and an unthinkable that I refuse to fill with my own presence, there is nothing. I have definitely rejected philosophies and theologies in the area of ??ramblings. All without exception, pose a conceivable discontinuous finite, and an infinite pseudo dream, and imagine themselves building bridges, between one mode and the other, towards Knowledge. Still holding this illusion in my mind, I do not see why my intelligence, which is a dissociation, could not perceive, examine, understand, the process of this dissociation. I do not see why I should go to seek so many extraordinary religions, instead of realizing the nature of my thought. If the discontinuous, the dissociation of space and time, arise both as objects and as thought, I do not see why thought could not think of itself, in the relation between the dissociated terms, relation which is none other than itself. Instead of putting my consciousness in a block, in an entity made up of two opposite poles, in front of a pseudo nonexistent entity, wrongly called "concept", since we do not conceive it, which we want to be convinced that is not contradictory in its nature, I do not see why thought could not simply be the witness, the spectator of its own process. Who says process, already says dissociation, since the word implies an evolution taking place, a duration, a "thing". Consequently, I no longer have any objection to considering myself, after Descartes, "a thing that thinks"; for my thought will apply to this "thing", currently sitting at a table, writing, and will have no tendency to disengage in Absolute Perfections.

(It is obvious that this "thing", which responds to my name, is not simply a "thing that thinks". It feels its body, it is hungry or is full, is tired or rested, its glands internal secretion function or not, this "thing" is the place of all conceivable and inconceivable emotions ... etc ... For the moment, let us not make the share of what is conscious and what apparently is not, of what is thought and what apparently is not: we must first cleanse thought, as a working tool, from its unthinkable impurities).

I just asked myself something "knowable". And two didactic methods are presented to me, both valid. I can, focusing my attention on human behavior, and highlighting the contradiction, which in human consciousness becomes tragic, show that it is found everywhere in nature, that it always obeys a single law, a single necessity; I can seek to extract this law, going from the complex to the simple. But I can also go from the simple to the complex, and start by defining the behavior, in its relation to "there is", of the objects that are the easiest to examine. It is with this second method that I begin.

I hold in my hand an iron object, partly devoured by rust, and a pebble polished by wear, which I found at the edge of the river. These objects are both very hard and resistant. I immediately try to define what objects are. I tell myself that an object is a discontinuous and provisional state of equilibrium. It is discontinuous, limited, occupies a place in space; and provisional, because I know that nothing lasts: I know it from experience, as well as from my acquired knowledge. The most considerable stars are born and die, appear and disappear. In truth, physicists tell me that the manifested Universe had a beginning, only two billion years ago, and I can logically admit that it will have an end ... I have already said to myself that this state of non-manifestation would still be "there is". I tell myself all this, knowing very well that I cannot understand it. I will only use it, therefore, in the way that mathematicians use certain signs, like ? , this "infinity", essential in certain calculations, but which the resolution of the equation must eliminate. So I say to myself, in the most banal way, that the indestructible "there is" is only made of destructible objects. These objects are all in a state of provisional equilibrium. But these balances have very different virtues, which range from the rigid and inanimate balance of my iron object and my pebble, to the eminently vulnerable state of a newborn child. On the basis of these quite obvious and simple observations, if I can understand the behavior of these provisional equilibria as a function of "there is", perhaps I will be able to get an adequate idea of ??what a human being is. , this "object", this "thing", whose provisional state of equilibrium is so different from that of a piece of iron.

I take back my iron object and my pebble, and I wonder if this very hard form of balance can not teach me something already. Iron is devoured by rust. Hard as it is, it is the toy of circumstances, the defenseless place of all the chemical combinations that chance will provoke in it. It is convenient for me here to make an abstraction. I abstract from this iron object, from its state of equilibrium, the notion that this object resists, in its own way, external changes, as well as internal decomposition, which would make this object no longer this object. I will call this resistance, the for-itself of this iron object. I suppose that this for-itself is completely devoid of conscience. At least, that's how I imagine it. I do not imagine that there is a conscious energy, inherent in this piece of iron or this pebble, which strives to maintain these objects in their integrity. I imagine, on the contrary, that there is all the less consciousness in an object that it is more homogeneous in its constitution. In particular, on examination, my pebble reveals, when I break it, a very fine grain and identical in all its parts. A less hard stone would have been more abused from the outside, a less homogeneous stone would have disintegrated by the existence, in it, of two or more different equilibria in their for-oneself. This last case is that of my iron object. Indeed, I find it heterogeneous: it consists of iron and rust. The iron for-itself and the rust-for-itself, or oxidized iron, are chemically in opposition, hence the disintegration. I conclude that the more the for-itself of an object is homogeneous, simple, uniform, elementary, the better this object is for-itself, not disintegrated. This ideal for-itself is therefore necessarily inert. However, because of its very inertia, it is defenseless. This fundamental contradiction of the provisional equilibria of the movement is the first great law which emerges from their simple observation. We can see how muddled is the judgment of philosophers, with the invention of an in-itself, that is to say of a primitive "identity" of the contradictions not yet developed, which are hidden in a thing. Where we do not know how to see contradiction, we imagine, in objects, an involuted, primitive phase, where, instead of contradiction, there is an "identity".

This metaphysical "identity", as a result of a kind of miracle, is suddenly transformed into a for-itself, the nature of which is as different from that of the in-itself as the number is different from infinity. Sudden jumps, mutations do indeed exist in nature: see this egg hatched by the hen, and note, some time later, that it is broken, that there is no more egg, but a chick and shell fragments; but do not conclude that at the formation of the egg, at the very beginning, there was identity between the germ of the chick and the shell. In truth, the in-itself does not exist. There is no object, no phenomenon, no concept.

yIt does not exist, because what exists is necessarily defined in its relations with the there is, in a system of coordinates. And there is no more consciousness-in-itself than object-in-itself. For, even if, in the train of metaphysicians, we proposed to speculate on a cosmic consciousness, immanent, absolute, divine, we would be forced to say that such consciousness does not exist, because, irrefutably, exists a there is. A "divine consciousness" (these words are allegorical) should necessarily be situated in its relations with the there is; and situate itself in its relation to my observation "there is".

From the simple knowledge of my observation "there is", if there is a "divine consciousness", it is necessarily a consciousness for-itself, and not a consciousness in-itself.

These considerations result in the elimination of the problem of Knowledge, in favor of the simple observation of what there is, in the there is. The search for Knowledge always poses a fixed point in the mind, called: in itself, transcendence, Absolute, Atman, immortal soul, or otherwise; who has nothing perfect except his quality of being perfectly inconceivable; and it is because this Total Knowledge arises, that ignorance exists. In truth, thought, by creating an illusory fixed point, within the enormous there is, constantly in motion, with unpredictable tomorrows, kneaded from the dead of all that there is, only obeys to its essential character of provisional balance, eminently simple and static. This character is that of simple bodies. The laws that govern these bodies also govern thought. Thought does not exist in a pure state. There is thought only of something: object, or for-itself of the thinker. Thought is as incapable of interior movement as a piece of iron, like a pebble. A thought is incapable of being modified: any change of thought is another thought. Thought is unable to adhere to the movement of there is. Anyone whose psychic structure owes its stability to a thought or a thought system is disengaged, in a state of self-destruction.


From the static and defenseless equilibrium of a piece of iron or stone, to the static equilibrium (and disengaged, behind its defense systems) of the fixed idea "I am", nature offers all possible gradations of the for-itself. The for-itself is always resistance: resistance to change. The for-itself is therefore mass. Mass is the fundamental contradiction of our Universe, in its constitution. In one of the first chapters of this work, it was defined, in accordance with contemporary physics, resistance to a change of speed. However, the greatest possible resistance to a speed change is none other than the highest possible speed. This speed is that of light: only light can resist a change of speed. A lower speed can be accelerated or decreased, that of light is a constant. An object which would be carried away at a speed tending towards that of light, would tend to disappear as an object, its volume becoming smaller and smaller. Joining the light, his for-itself would therefore cease to exist as such. The largest possible mass would be energy.

Having reached this point in my meditations, I can see that I have already created in my mind a whole allegory. Knowing this, I do not have to defend myself from it or to forbid myself. On the contrary, I feel the need to pursue it, in order to represent the theme of its action as best I can: I have the feeling that it will be easier for me to find it in myself. I am certain to find in myself the elements in their reciprocal relationships, which it will be up to me to define: there is the for-itself of my body, the psychological for-me, and this double resistance and absolutely contradictory, which still seems somewhat mysterious to me, are there, I know; and I know that each human being is the place of their interaction, transformed, without knowing how and why, in a horrible conflict.

We know, thanks to Dr. Einstein, that the Universe is not a problem but a mathematical equation, an equation that poses and contains everything there is, including ourselves (accompanied by what we liked. 'call transcendence but which is only the resolution of the equation, necessarily contained in the equation, because if the equation had no solution it would be unreal, but if it were solved it would no longer exist). There is, in the acceptance of this fact, perception of the contradiction between the equation and its resolution. This perception, projected into his own consciousness, is his own resolution. The acceptance of the there is, as an equation, is the acceptance of its resolution, insofar as it is contained in the equation (without which this would be unreal) and as it defeats it , since it solves it.

This eminently logical perception is eminently irrational since it poses our consciousness as a mathematical variable. A variable escapes the law of identity, since A remains A there, while not being equal to itself, and the law of causation, because the process of an equation in the process of resolution has neither cause or effect. If the equation were not solved, there would be nothing, nothing would exist: the there is is its solution. If the equation were solved, there would be nothing left: the equation, which is there, would be dissolved. I am forced to accept these two contradictory reasons, and it is only their whole which can, at the same time, make me accept the there is and the movement of there is, in the reciprocal action of the fugitive states of balance of all there is.

I know very well that the solution assumes the aspect of a phenomenon called life. But this word is, in spite of its false appearances, one of the most vague there is, and certainly one of the most mysterious. It has been used in all ways. Jesus (and others) said "I am the Life"; religions proclaim that "Life is One"; that there is "eternal Life"; moreover, men of science speak to us about "the life of metals"; etc ..., etc ... the word life has been used to designate everything and nothing, the Universe and myself; its borders are everywhere and nowhere; in short, except for practical questions, this word seems unnecessary to me.

But I can see, without difficulty, that the spider on the lookout at the corner of its web or the businessman on the lookout behind his phones, ready to go after their prey, behave quite differently than my earlier iron object, or my pebble. To say that these behaviors imply an element called "consciousness" - or instinct of the species in the spider, or egocentric sense of enjoyment and possession in the businessman - explains nothing. The intervention of the word "conscience" is not an elucidation of the phenomenon. In fact, the word "conscience" is even more vague and more ill-defined than the word "life". And my allegory in no way needs speculation about the degree of unconsciousness or lucidity of a reaction. Whether my piece of iron is destroyed by rust, it doesn't matter to me that he knows nothing about it. What interests me is to see how its equilibrium is broken by the intervention of another equilibrium (that of rust) and devoured by it. Likewise, it does not matter to me whether the businessman is aware of what he is doing when he makes a big profit in the morning; and to tell me that if he was aware of the real meaning and scope of his act, he would not commit it. But it interests me to find out how and why the for-itself is found to act against the life of the species, while the spider conforms to an instinct to conserve the species.

These reflections lead me to consider consciousness only as a phenomenon of relationships. Just as there is thought only about something, so there is consciousness only about something. There cannot exist consciousness-in-itself: 1 0 because, because of the very there is, all consciousness must be posed in relation to it; 2. If consciousness does not arise in relation to something, it cannot be perceived. Consciousness, such as it exists - or does not exist - in the state of deep sleep even escapes Sartre's definition: consciousness is a being for which it is in its being consciousness of the nothingness of its being. Consciousness can be nothingness at all, total absence of itself, and yet give a posteriori proof of its proper functioning. Thus it happens that, sleeping deeply, one wakes up with a start, at the exact time that one had set to get up; immediately, we consult our watch, and we note the time with astonishment. Consciousness completely annihilated (to itself, therefore as consciousness, therefore truly annihilated) has thus demonstrated to conscious consciousness that it can happen to it to be more lucid than it.

In hypnosis, subjects can behave in an apparently normal way but do not remember anything on waking. Cases of double or triple personalities have been studied for a very long time. Cases of amnesia following shocks are well known. Furthermore, experimental psychology has revealed to us, in animals, an organization of consciousness, deeper and more flexible at the same time, than we thought, both in individuals and in species. Scientific observation of the life of insects is of recent date. The penguin society seems to contain psychological elements that were hitherto only attributed to man. The prodigious migrations of eels and salmon have not yet been explained. The most conservative assumptions about what is called instinct, come up against unknown forces which seem to belong, not to species, to the planet. The human being, who seems so distant, by his physiological evolution from the purely animal stage, falls there if the environment pushes him there; the case studied in India, of two little girls, stolen and raised by a wolf, who behaved like wolves, smelled for miles the carrion on which they fed, ran very quickly on all fours, howled at night at fixed hours , and whose immobile faces ignored a smile, etc ..., etc ... showed that the influence of the environment can defeat the most solidly established hereditary characters. As for the world of microbes, it is one of the most confusing by its extreme capacity to defend itself, to adapt, to transform, to turn around, to survive, against everything that science can invent to fight it.

Can we, from the top to the bottom of the scale of there is, speak of "consciousness" without inventing a word for each level, or rather a series of words for each state of each level? And, therefore, what good is it? What good is it to create the "superconscious", the "subconscious", the "subconscious" of the conscious consciousness and the individual or collective unconscious? That some of these words have a practical utility, of classification, it is possible, although one can wonder if all these stratified layers of consciousness exist elsewhere than in the theories of the psychoanalysts and if the explanations which result from it do not have the effect of launching the knowledge of the man on false tracks. One of the symptoms of this danger is the metaphysical conception to which the different schools of psychoanalysis lead. The superego joins the cosmic ego, Atman, the eternal soul and the whole range of words without content. If psychoanalysts have recourse to him, it is because the decomposition of the ego in detached parts and its recomposition on explanatory bases, far from revealing its contradictory process, camouflages it and freezes it in a representation. The superego is a for-me disguised as an absolute, indecomposable element and, by definition, escapes all examination, since whoever the observer is, he settles above him, as an observer of the observer. And if he pretends to climb another step, the superego gains speed and signals him even higher. From altitude to altitude, we come to a cosmic consciousness.

There was a time when elements of geometry, such as the properties of triangles, were part of Sacred Science and were only taught to initiates, in the sanctuaries of the Temples. We imagined that knowing the laws that govern similar triangles was to receive revelation from part of the Great Mystery. No doubt it was true in a way, but the Great Mystery was not long in reconstituting itself entirely a little further, just beyond the theorems on triangles. The same illusion filled with emotion the contemporaries of Galileo, then those of the men of science who discovered the physico-chemical world, biology, physiology, and finally psychology. But each time the mystery rebounded and one found one's mind weighed down with representations, knowledge, techniques, inventions in a world escaping knowledge the more that one poured more knowledge into it. Our minds are filled with everything they have integrated. And now, in addition, in overload, here are all the mythologies, from all eras, which are jostling to occupy a place in our psyches. If it is not Diane herself it is her complex, if not Mithra, it is her symbol. Everything is there, the cross, the triangle, the star, the round, the square, the pointed. It seems that spontaneously each of us makes all the symbols of the world. It is undoubtedly true, I do not want to doubt it. We are no longer lacking, in the wake of our philosophers, only to create a phenomenological psychoanalysis, unless we prefer an ontological psychoanalysis, or a phenomenological metaphysics, or an ontologico-phenomenological metaphysics; to tear Isis off her last veil. However, as this veil is thick with the entire thickness of our discoveries, we will only have to reject them.

And I come back to the allegory I want to tell myself. It will be difficult for me to find, for this purpose, words which escape my own criticism, words having real content, and which will not come under any system. In a cautious and very hesitant way, my choice will stop at the words mass and radiation. I will try to follow them and see if they can tell me what I have to say to myself. It will be an allegory, I say, a story, perhaps an epic, and certainly a drama, the drama of the human conscience trapped there.

Reflexions allant du complexe au simple par Carlo Suarhs - 3e millinaire